Sunday, August 02, 2020

J. J. Cale - The Definitive Collection (1997)

J. J. Cale (1938 -2013) always lived on the fringes of fame so I guess you would have to call him a cult artist. Such is the fate of a lot of musicians who have been large influences on many of the world's most famous stars. That said, I've never known anyone who heard Cale's music and didn't like it.

For all of you who are new to Cale, he wrote "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," both heavily associated with Eric Clapton in the 70s. Cale's best known top 40 hit was "Crazy Mama," way back in 1972. It peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was his only Top 40 hit.

Cale's The Definitive Collection,  a twenty track, single disc retrospective, includes all three tracks mentioned above plus "Call Me the Breeze" covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, and John Mayer.

Lucinda Williams, Poco, Beck, Johnny Rivers, John Mayall, Tom Petty, and a host of other devotees have also covered Cale's work.

What is most appealing about Cale's music is how he could work up a groove without breaking a sweat. If you've heard Dire Straits' early pub-rock records you'll know what I mean. Cale didn't write "Sultans of Swing" but he could have. Matthew Greenwald of AllMusic described Cale's songs as having  a "deceptively laid-back intensity" and I can't think of better words that fit his gimmick free arrangements.

The Definitive Collection should be your place to start if you're not already familiar with the great guitarist from Tulsa, OK. All of Cale's songs on this album were recorded from 1970 through 1983, his best and most prolific years.

After 1984, Cale released a paltry seven albums, including only three this century if you count The Road to Escondido, a joint effort with Clapton, one of his disciples.

You won't usually find Cale on those often controversial lists of great guitarists, probably because he's not flashy enough, but he is an original who plays and sings with taste.   

If what you are looking for is rock that won't blow up your eardrums but will still dig deep into your soul the late J. J. Cale is your man.

Here is Cale's official website.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Joël Dilley - Wall In The Desert (2020)

Released this past March, Wall in the Desert is a solo project by jazz bassist Joël Dilley. The San Antonio native played all of the instruments and arranged, recorded, mixed, and produced it himself. It's quite an accomplishment.

The approximately thirty minute soundtrack is part of a documentary of the same name about the notorious and extremely controversial wall along America's Southwestern border.

I have only seen the trailer, not the entire film, so I can only make an educated guess about its message but the music is good enough to stand on its own.

According to an April 2020 press release from Dragon Lady Records, "all proceeds from digital sales and streaming will benefit the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, a faith-based collaborative movement meeting the changing needs of asylum seekers and immigrants at risk."

Wall in the Desert is a different kind of listening experience. If you're looking for hooks, riffs, and memorable melodies you won't find them here. Instead, the soundtrack is comprised of three long, mostly instrumental tracks that lean toward ambient or new age music with a little bit of rock and electronica added for good measure.

The title track opens with an excerpt from Robert F. Kennedy’s address to students at the University of Capetown's Day of Affirmation ceremonies from June 6, 1966 in Capetown, South Africa.

With the music bubbling underneath, RFK's speech is followed by a reading of Emma Lazarus's sonnet,  "The New Colossus." I'm sure you're aware of the latter half of it. A plaque of the famous work is on display at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The ending is "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Lazarus's poem is read by Dilley's wife, Bett Butler, who has had three of her own jazz vocal albums reviewed here. The remaining portion of the track is totally instrumental and possesses a propulsive drum beat that keeps it moving. It's the most interesting of the three pieces.

"Border Drifter" is change of pace. One of its highlights is the presence of a mystical and beautiful Native American flute that gives the arrangement a Middle Eastern feel. "Home," the final and longest composition, features Dilley playing a harp. 

This is out-of-the-mainstream music for sure but please don't let that stop you from listening to it. It will definitely be worth your time.

Dilley has recorded with Willie Nelson (NICE!) and played with jazz greats Herb Ellis and Arturo Sandoval. He has five previous albums to his credit. 

Read more about Wall In The Desert from this brief press release loaded with information and links to several websites you may find interesting.

You can stream and download the whole album at Bandcamp and be sure to visit Joël Dilley's website.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Almost Hits: Eagles - Busy Being Fabulous (2008)

Released in 2008, Long Road Out of Eden, the Eagles' final album, is a double CD set. One of its better entries is "Busy Being Fabulous," a song that shows Don Henley to be in typical high quality form.

Henley has always been a master at writing about relationships and also at writing scathing commentary about the Hollywood social scene even though he was a major part of it for a long time. Here, he combines both subjects in one song.

On "Busy Being Fabulous," Henley laments that his lady socializes with her "high-rollin' friends," leaving him home alone with the kids. While she is having a blast now she could be mortgaging her future, and what's important in "the long run" (pun unintended), because she's "too busy being fabulous, too busy to think about us." The famous singing drummer asks her, "Where do you go when the party ends?" Will it be too late to save their relationship when she's ready to settle down?

"Busy Being Fabulous" sounds like a typical Eagles ballad with a top notch melody, lead vocal, and harmony support by Henley's famous mates.

This very nice tune would have easily zoomed into the Top 10, if it had shown up on one of Eagles' 1970s LPs. Unfortunately, it only went to No. 28 on the country chart and No. 12 on the adult contemporary chart, while failing to make the Billboard Hot 100 at all so, it goes down in history as another hit that wasn't.
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Almost Hits is an occasional exploration into songs that failed to reach the top #20 on the American Billboard Hot 100. Many have become classics despite what their chart position would indicate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Worst Cover Version Of All Time: Blood, Sweat & Tears - Symphony for the Devil / Sympathy for the Devil (1970)

It is not by design that this is the third article I've written about Blood, Sweat & Tears in less than two months. It just kind of worked out that way. For those of you who think that number is too many, please take note, I don't foresee another one coming anytime soon. 

Until now, I've never heavily faulted an artist for genuinely heartfelt experimentation even if the attempt failed. That ends now.

Even though it went all the way to number one Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 was neither the artistic success nor the hit its predecessor was. That eponymous second disc went platinum four times.

BS&T 3 had some good moments but based on the song we're about to discuss today it appeared that the popular horn band was trying too hard to be loved by music critics who never really embraced the post-Al Kooper lineup. Was "Symphony for the Devil / Sympathy for the Devil," their brief foray into prog-rock territory, an attempt to impress the right people?

BS&T was often viewed as being too establishment for a number of reasons, most notably for touring Eastern Europe on behalf of the State Department during the Viet Nam era. It was a time when any cooperation with the federal government was viewed with contempt and the band's image suffered because of it. 

BS&T opened side two of their 1970 LP with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." Introducing the song was a brief, slow, eerie dirge, "Symphony for the Devil," written by keyboard player and arranger Dick Halligan. Then, a drum roll by Bobby Colomby takes us into the main theme that is horribly sung by David Clayton-Thomas. 

The arrangement gradually increases in intensity until it reaches a long instrumental section highlighted by an unmelodic sax solo by Fred Lipsius. Next, all the horns join in followed by a crashing gong that cues the whole band to speak the lyrics as part of a fade-in before the low volume instrumental finale.

The record label shows that the "Sympathy" portion of the track was broken down into sections with titles that were just as over the top as the sounds emanating from the grooves.

I - Emergence
     a - Fanfare
II -Devil's Game
     a - Labyrinth
     b- Satan's Dance
     c- The Demand
III - Submergence
     a - Contemplation
     b - Return

Did Blood, Sweat & Tears believe they were actually creating art? Who was their intended audience?  Yoko Ono? The track was pretentiousness for its own sake but I'm sure Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were laughing all the way to the bank because, despite it's failings, the album went gold.

I sold my copy of the LP years ago even though I liked some of it. Unfortunately, I allowed "Symphony for the Devil / Sympathy for the Devil" to ruin the entire record for me.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Tony Bennett & k d. lang - A Wonderful World (2002)

The music world has had a few unlikely pairings over the years. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss immediately come to mind with their 2007 collaboration, Raising Sand. Years earlier, an even more unlikely duo, Bing Crosby and David Bowie, created a Christmas classic from Crosby's last TV special, their adaptation of a "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth."

Tony Bennett and k. d. lang may seem like another odd couple to you but one listen to A Wonderful World will tell you that they belong together. Ms. lang proved that she can also be a talented torch singer after she broadened her repertoire beyond traditional country music.

Bennett and lang first sang together on his MTV Unplugged session and this 2002 album is a result of that very enjoyable program.

Bennett is one of the most talented and revered progenitors of the Great American Songbook. We all know his work and what he does has never changed in over 60 years. On the other hand, the much younger lang has evolved from an excellent but quirky country singer into an eclectic chanteuse who has recorded soundtracks, ballads, and singer-songwriter fare.

These sessions employed Bennett's band with some strings attached. They provided very nice support for the stars' interpretations of songs that many people will tell you have been recorded way too often. While hearing old chestnuts such as "La Vie En Rose, "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," "Dream A Little Dream of Me," and the title track again may cause some listeners to say, "enough already" you can tell both singers enjoy these songs and working together. As a result, the performances shine.

Nine of the dozen tracks are duets. Bennett solos on "That's My Dream" and lang takes two turns alone: "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" and "That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day).

Louis Armstrong recorded all of these songs over his long career. Supposedly, as hinted by the album's title, the set is a tribute to Satchmo even though it is never mentioned in the liner notes. There is also an uncredited portrait of the great singer and trumpet player in the booklet that was painted by Bennett.