Apr 022020
 

SteveReidell_Dukejenn champion the blue album
2020 marks the 40th Anniversary of Genesis’s true breakthrough album, 1980’s Duke. It was their first album to hit #1 in the UK as well as their highest charting album in the U.S.to that point. It also featured their first top 20 single in the states, infectious unrequited love opus “Misunderstanding”. But enough of the facts, I’m about to say something controversial so all of you prog rock purists might want to look away for a second. Here goes…

I think Genesis got better once Peter Gabriel quit the band.

Significantly better.

Once detached from the confines of Gabriel’s cryptic conceptual costumed creations, the melodic impulses of the remaining band members, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett (he until 1977) were finally able to run unencumbered and free. This of course meant they could fulfill their destiny as the the glorious pop-prog hybrid behemoth gods they were always meant to be.

From the very first release after Gabriel’s departure, 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, the sonic shift was in full effect, its songs possessing both a brevity and succinctness that had only ever been hinted at on previous albums. The lyrics became more relatable, the emotions were no longer obscured by arcane imagery. Most significantly, there was a hearty head nod to pop. Over the years there’s been a bit of a disagreement between the purists who prefer the Gabriel-helmed version of the band and the pop fans who love PHIL, as to which version of the G-Men is better (in broad strokes, it sometimes breaks down as older fans vs. newer fans and, yes, men vs. women). As a member of the latter demographic, I can say that my personal disagreements with other Genesis-loving nerds have consistently, predictably unfolded in this fashion (all in good humor, though, I swear). I think the stretch of studio albums sans Gabriel, released from 1976-1983, represent Genesis at their absolute creative peak. And I just want to offer up one last factoid: Duke, one of the poppiest, most personal, never-met-a-radio-it-didn’t-like albums they ever made, is keyboardist Tony Banks’s absolute favorite Genesis album.

And so with that, meet Steve Reidell.
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Feb 102020
 

Bonny Light Horseman reviewYou could be forgiven for thinking Bonny Light Horseman is an album of original material, so rigidly is it embedded in a certain sound, that of the bevy of (largely) acoustic troubadours who occupy that hinterland between folk and country, producing a timeless style of music that could have come from anywhere in the last 30 years. But no Americana, this. What we have here is material culled from way further back. All these songs are centuries old, usually with Anglo-Celtic roots, often veterans of the trans-Appalachian routes that applied new tunes, new arrangements and new interpretations, with the lyrics ever-evolving. And so here, as when many modern themes become seamlessly drawn into the mix.

Title track, and the name of the band, “Bonny Light Horseman,” is a good case in point. Nominally a song about Napoleon, it somehow also seems to cast reference to current political leadership foibles. This is no celebration of hey-nonny-no or of toora-loora-lay, barely (bar that Napoleonic name check) does any sense of the past or of any austere tradition creep in. Even the album’s best known song, “Blackwaterside,” scarcely reminds of previous iterations, whether the “authenticity” of Anne Briggs or the casual appropriation of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin. That takes some skill when acoustic guitars and light percussion are all you have to play with. OK, having some more than half-decent voices is no hindrance.
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Nov 292019
 

MOSE-ALLISON-IF-YOURE-GOING-TO-THE-CITYMose Allison is possibly best known these days through his association with Van Morrison, who released Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison in 1996. Morrison probably gave Allison’s career a late boost, presenting him as a somewhat kindred spirit, albeit having a few more years on him, and hopefully a more benign presence than Van the Man, if even harder to classify.

I had always filed Allison under jazz, though blues was probably closer to his idiom, yet here we have If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison, which sees him being covered by a slew of largely rock music gentry from the past few decades. Listening to this selection, it becomes easier to see that blues is at least the template to Allison’s songs. Not necessarily a version familiar to the backstreet bars of Chicago, this is a more polished version of the blues, with echoes of both supper club and Tin Pan Alley – though in Allison’s hands and voice, they sound perhaps a shade less archaic. These are fine songs and, if these covers succeed in pointing attention back to the originals, then at least part of the work of this collection has been done.
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Nov 222019
 

Come On Up To The HouseThere are several reasons why Come On up To The House: Women Sing Waits had to be more than good, not least the fact this is scarcely the first such project. Waits cover albums by individual female artists – Holly Cole and Scarlett Johansson, just as a couple f’rinstances – are already lining up in judgement and for comparison. Then there are the myriad individual covers songs scattered across the repertoire of innumerable women of note. Why, I can find ten quality female-sung versions of “The Heart of Saturday Night” at the drop of a pork pie hat.

So why should this be so? What’s the draw here? Firstly must be the innate quality of the songs, somehow inhabiting a timeless era unsullied by the insistent imprints of any one style or structure. Secondly – and I tread carefully here – Waits’ voice and arrangements aren’t overly, shall we say, to all tastes, the combination of corncrake and clatter sometimes masking the delicate beauty in some of his work, especially the later years. The female voice will often draw this closer into focus than ol’ ‘Frank’ at his wildest, silk purses from, well, you know. Finally, it is now so very long since any new, it seems timely to have a reminder of him. And maybe a prompt for his muse? Continue reading »

Nov 152019
 

JHsingsThePoliceJuliana Hatfield Sings the PoliceJuliana Hatfield Sings the Police is the latest (second) in, now, what must be a series of such projects, her JH Sings Olivia Newton-John being released barely 18 months ago. Eclecticism clearly a calling card, the sweepstakes on whomsoever is next in line must have long odds: Metallica? The Beach Boys? Putting such thoughts aside, Hatfield has always had a way with covers, quirky versions of songs peppered throughout her long and varied career. We’ve commented upon this here many a time; I even gave her a grudging shout-out in a recent Led Zeppelin Five Good Covers piece on “Rock and Roll.”

I have always considered her together with Evan Dando, either the mythology or my imagination suggesting she perpetually the good girl to his bad boy, just saying no to anything other than close musical collaboration. It’s a good story oft played, bringing each a shared notoriety, fueled by their somehow always seeming to find themselves together on a stage, whether planned or otherwise. A child of the late 70’s, she purportedly acquired her love of music from a babysitter, who introduced her to the works of L.A. punks X. Kicking off her career in 1992, with the eponymous Juliana Hatfield, guess who was already alongside, as one of the guitarists and singers (Hatfield’s main instrument being the bass guitar)? If you guessed Evin Dandow, you really need to work on your spelling.

Whilst he didn’t appear on the follow-up, the debut by the Juliana Hatfield Three, or the subsequent eight albums, credited solely in her name, Hatfield cropped up a fair bit on or in Dando’s releases, notably the two biggest and most influential of his Lemonheads releases, It’s a Shame About Ray and Come On Feel the Lemonheads, in 2002 and 2003 respectively. 2012 saw another record, called merely Juliana Hatfield (confusingly, as that was her debut’s name too), which was all covers, from which the aforementioned “Rock and Roll” hailed, along with staples from Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Who, as well as lesser known fare from Teenage Fanclub and Liz Phair. A couple more solo efforts and the second JH3 record dropped 22 years after the first, followed by the ONJ tribute. And yet another solo release, so she can never be accused of being idle. In her spare time she has also been part of other bands and collaborations, notably the Blake Babies and Some Girls. Phew!
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Oct 282019
 

jenn champion the blue albumI’ll pull no punches: Janiva Magness is one of the best blues voices you maybe won’t have heard of. Despite being only the second ever female artist to win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, she has been operating largely under the mainstream radar since the early ’90s, quietly building up steam, aided and abetted of late by the retro chops of Brian Setzer/Dan Hicks producer, Dave Darling. Now, with Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change in the Weather, she sets out to cover the work of a voice that’s been hears far more often.

Magness has done Fogerty before: she included “Long As I Can See the Light” in her 2016 release, the Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Clearly this hit a chord, as this time she runs with a further dozen, both CCR material and some later songs. But make no mistake, this is no cut’n’paste job, settling for substituting her husky vocal for his hoarse holler; rarely does she revisit the swamp-pop murk of the originals, applying instead varied shades of classic blues to the palette, giving new life and, dare I say it, depth. So, rather than the potential overkill of listening to a Creedence greatest hits selection, the varied timbres bring added nuance to the lyrics, bringing forth more — and again I falter — subtlety than the bombast Fogerty and the band gave the material (rightly so in their case, as it worked for the needs of their audience at the time).

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