blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
In Charge
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Sounding more supple and vested than anyone could have expected at this stage of her career, "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss" finds Sinead O'Connor still exploring her themes of romantic bruising, the push and pull of theology and the inner turmoil that has marked her work since the beginning. Her voice has gained a rougher edge over the years, which is masked on this album by multiple vocal overdubs. The pure voice is no longer there, but she hasn't completely ruined it (ala Joni Mitchell). She also seems a little more playful, in the tone of the album's title and latex love goddess cover picture.

While that playfulness slips into the songs ("How About I Be Me") and occasionally upping the tempo ("Take Me to Church" another theology rant bucked up by self-empowerment), it makes the album a delightful listen. There's also the O'Connor who creeps under your skin, especially on the potent "Streetcars," which loses the multi-tracked vocals and allows her to use that powerful voice backed by little more than a piano and bells. It closes the CD with a reminder of just how potent an artist O'Connor can be when she's at her best.

On the opposite end, she's trod this ground more than a few times and there's not much here thematically than you've heard if you've been a longtime follower. I like the song "8 Good Reasons," but I am weary of her railing against the music industry. She's had a career that many singers would die for, even if she's not the Miley Cyrus type that she's publicly chastened. But as she states on the CD's inner sleeve, "This Album is Dedicated to Me." She still has melodic fire and opinions to be outspoken with, and with "I'm Not Bossy..." O'Connor makes a nice return to form in the manner in which she wants to make it.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
And it's finger popping.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming off the rocking success of "Eat To The Beat," Blondie hit 1980 ready to do whatever struck their fancy. The result, "AutoAmerican,' was a hodgepodge of styles, everything from disco, rap, rock, cabaret, a surprisingly well done showtune from "Camelot," even reggae. The album starts of eclectically enough, with the mostly instrumental drone of "Europa," which ends with Debbie Harry robotically speaking about phase gridlock and being left on your rims. Getting that out of their systems quickly enough, "AutoAmerican" breaks into a disco groove with "Live It Up," which seemed, in comparison the such monsters as "Heart Of Glass" and "Call Me," a bit tepid.

Which sets the tone for much of "AutoAmerican." Blondie was so all over the map that many of the songs kind of pale in comparison to other songs from earlier albums. The hits off the album itself show those flaws in sharp relief. The number one "The Tide Is High" (a cover of a Jamaican band called The Paragons) took reggae and used Harry's breathless vocal to make a striking pop song that stuck to the roof of your brain like the best of their singles. Then there was the truly unique "Rapture," in which a mostly underground and novelty form of music suddenly found itself at number one. It could easily be the first rap/rock crossover single. and still holds up remarkably well after over three decades.

One of the things missing from "AutoAmerican" was the rock. There's nothing here to compare to the explosive "Dreaming" or the muscle of "The Hardest Part" from just one album back. There are a couple tries, like the wild abandon in "Walk Like Me" and the horn driven "Go Through It." It also shows up on the bonus tracks, where the extended version of the number one "Call Me" blows away many of "AutoAmerican's" weaker moments. Harry was at Force 10 against Giorgio Morodor's Eurodisco pumping pulse. Which means that the best of the album are the singles, one of which is a bonus track. It didn't much matter at this point as the band was beginning to splinter (Frank Infante had to sue to be on the album) and the limp "The Hunter" would quietly close this chapter on Blondie. (They've made a couple of very strong reunion albums, including "No Exit" and "Panic Of Girls" in the new century, however.)

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Ah hey ma ma ma ma...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Long overdue but well worth the wait, "The Morning Lasted All Day" finally collects a solid set of The Dream Academy's best from their three albums, a few B-sides and oddities and the brand new "Sunrising." Augmented with a comprehensive booklet written by Nick Laird-Clowes, exquisitely remastered with his supervision, this is about as good a Dream Academy anthology as a fan could hope for.

While it naturally is heavily weighted in favor of their dynamic debut, both "Remembrance Days" and "A Different Kind Of Weather" are given exposure. (I've always been of the mindset that "Weather," despite the fact that it didn't even chart in the US, has been vastly underrated.) The band's chamber-pop gets much of its otherworldliness from Kate St. John's oboe and other reed instruments flowing beneath Laird-Clowes' folkish guitars and vocal delivery. There's a lovely sort of soft focus to many of their songs that made the majority of them difficult to fit in during the synth-heavy 80's, leaving such contenders as "Indian Summer" and "Power To Believe" (included here both in its instrumental version as heard on the "Planes Trains and Automobiles" soundtrack, and the vocal version from "Remembrance Days") frozen out of the top 40.

The ethereal quality of their songs a times masked the presence of noteworthy contributors. Friend of the band and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour was a frequent collaborator and co-producer, Lindsay Buckingham co-producing and adding background vocals to "Indian Summer," and The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr playing on "Ballad In 4/4." It takes away nothing from the band's presentation, even offering proof just how powerful The Dream Academy 'sound' was to all the stages of the band's recording history.

I have a few of my own favorites to recommend as a fan, one of them being the lovely version of John Lennon's "Love," as featured on "Weather." Actually using a drum-loop, Laird-Clowes brings an emphasis to Lennon's message (including a portion of "#9 Dream") that few covers of Lennon have done. The cover of The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is good for a smile, and I have always thought "Indian Summer" was a single cheated out of deserved hit status. Then there's "Sunrising," the first new Dream Academy song in 30 years. It's a welcome treat and fits in with the band's legacy, with Gilbert Gabriel's piano painting the mood (alas, St.John is not featured on it).

Even with that minor wish not coming true, I am very happy to have "The Morning Lasted All Day" to augment my original CD's of The Dream Academy. The remastering enables you to hear things that were tempered in the originals, and makes for a satisfying listening experience. Now if only the original albums could get the deluxe treatment....

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Underneath The Serious Moonlight
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In the documentary "5 Years," there's a segment about "Let's Dance" that is kind of telling. When he arrived at the studio with producer Nile Rodgers, the consensus was that A) He wanted to make a 'hit record' and B) He was in fighting shape, buffed out from working out and taking boxing lessons. Those boxer gloves on the cover were not an affectation. Neither was the desire to have a commercially successful album. "Let's Dance" became Bowie's biggest hit to that date and racked up three hit singles, two of them top ten and only his second number one in the title track.

The album, as a whole, has held up quite well, given the production being very much of its time. Rodgers' bass lines are prominent, but the secret weapon was then little known guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. His sinewy guitar fires up "Modern Love" and the second recorded version of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)." (The original was a synth heavy and more ominous version produced by co-writer Giorgio Morodor.) It's the first thing you hear on the CD, firing off the trio of hits back to back; "Modern Love," "China Girl" (co-written with Iggy Pop) and the title track's triumphant dance wallop. Had the album been an EP of the first side alone, the rating would have been five stars.
Bowie lets dance

It's the lesser known songs that don't completely fulfill the early promise of "Let's Dance." That leaves "Ricochet," "Without You," "Criminal World," "Cat People" and "Shake It" to flesh out the album. I've already said how much I enjoy "Cat People," and of the others, only "Shake It" sounded like it could have been a follow-up single to the big three. The rest just can't compete.They aren't total tail-waggers, It's just that the initial salvos were flawless. Bowie is in fine form throughout, and he got his wish. "Let's Dance" still sounds like it was supposed to, and that is purely commercial, brainy and danceable pop.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
It's a Steal
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Having suddenly discovered what success tasted like, The Motels were more than willing to re-mine the same vein. "Little Robbers" kicked off just like its predecessor; "Where Do We Go From Here" is all but carbon copied from All Four One's "Mission of Mercy." But where "Only The Lonely" was the breakthrough ballad, this time, "Suddenly Last Summer" was the stunner and upped the ante of that first hit. Much like The Police's "Every Breath You Take," "Suddenly Last Summer" was a pitch perfect slice of radio pop. Martha Davis' sultry vocals work their magic on the hook-laden melody. It deservedly became The Motels' second (and final) top 10 hit.

The album also knocked off a second solid single with "Remember The Nights." Problem was, after the singles, "Little Robbers" was not as solid as "All Four One." There was even a groaner with "Isle of You," and some generic AOR stuff that hasn't held up so well. The best of the album can be found on The Essential Collection, much like their final album, Shock. Some really good stuff here, with Martha Davis remaining one of the 80's more charismatic female vocalists.

As for the remaster, like many of the Culture Factory re-issues, it leans toward loud and over-compressed. So if you have that old One-Way reissue from the early 2000's, don't let go of it just yet.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Checking In at The Five Star Motels
5 Out of 5 Stars

It is one of those stories that became all too prevalent in the 80's; decent band is forced to compromise for mega-success. Martha Davis and The Motels suddenly found themselves on the brink of stardom, and their record company didn't like the album they had prepared. An ultimatum was issued - go back into the studio with a producer of Capitol's choosing and his session hacks for a redo or no deal. The band swallowed hard (and nearly disintegrated). Val Garay (who had worked on the original sessions) delivered the keyboard dominated new sessions and "All Four One" was the result.

The final album treads a very fine line between arena rock and the edgy, arty new-wave the first two Motels albums were focused on. Only "Art Fails" and "Apocalypso" (the original album titles) sound like they came from that period. But the polished up Motels also brought lead singer Martha Davis into an even sharper focus, making the torchy "Only The Lonely" into the band's signature hit. The other two radio draws here; "Mission of Mercy" and "Take The L," pulled down radio play and established not only the Motels, but the crossover sound of safe New Wave. As such, "All Four One" is a classic album from the early 80's, helping to usher in a new sound.

There were also a pair of surprises here. Martha turned jazzy for the haunting "Change Your Mind," a major departure for The Motels' albums. The second was the inclusion of an obscure but controversial Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that Phil Spector produced for The Crystals, "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." An ambiguously angry song about relationship abuse (or a cheeky ode to SM, take your pick), the original song was released as a single and subsequently blacklisted from radio. It makes its selection as a cover on "All Four One" all the odder, seeing as the band was fighting Capitol to record an album that would be commercially more viable than the "Apocalypso" sessions had yielded. As such, it was pretty much a backhand to the suits and helped The Motels maintain a semblance of edge.

Granted, the sudden success made the band all the more eager to stay safe (Little Robbers is almost a carbon copy of this and even cleaner). However, there are still plenty of reasons to like "All Four One." The remaster will drive audiophiles nuts as the compression really flattens and over compresses the percussion in particular, but I'm glad just to finally have this CD back in my library.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I Wanna Go Hot Rockin'
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Sandwiched as it is between two five star metal classics, "Point Of Entry" suffers from being buffered by "British Steel" and "Screaming for Vengeance." There's plenty of high energy rocking coming of the disc, but it's only average high energy as opposed to classic stuff like "Breaking The Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming" from opposite sides of this release. There are a couple of tracks here that just feel like filler, which was rare for a Priest album.

But when the going is good, Rob Halford and crew were still delivering the goods. "Heading Out On The Highway," "Hot Rocking" and "Desert Plains" are as good as Judas Priest gets, but then you're saddled with the iffy stuff, like "Don't Go." There were some other inconsistencies, like the lack of the trademarked twin-guitar attack that is a huge part of the band's signature sound. It's also worth noting that most of the songs clock in at under four minutes, which means the band was given no room to stretch out. Perhaps it is because of the "large quantities of alcohol" the band admits to using in the liner notes or the fact that the songs were written in the studio without some road-testing to see what would or would not work.

Be that as it may, "Point Of Entry" lacks the drive and inspiration of most of the Priest albums in their discography and especially in the fertile period between "Hell Bent for Leather" and "Defenders Of The Faith." What makes Judas Priest so inspirational is simply missing, and there are many other better albums to pick up on.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Kiss Figure Out That Being Heavy is a Good Thing.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The old school fans of Kiss had been drifting away for a period when Kiss reconvened for "Creatures of the Night." Bored by the pop metal of "Unmasked" and left confused by the weird concept album of "Music From The Elder," it was too much even for Peter Criss, who'd already bolted and was replaced by the terrific Eric Carr, and Ace Frehley, who still appeared on the album cover but was replaced on the disc by future Kiss members Vinnie Vincent and Bob Kulick. There's even a funnier story behind Ace's departure/cover shot; allegedly Kiss's contract stated that at least three of the original members had to be in the group or their contract could be renegotiated. Since Kiss's fortunes were on a decline, they faked Frehley's presence as long as they could in an attempt to avoid rewriting the conditions of their contract, ergo their royalty rate.

Even with that scenario in place, Kiss came on strong with "Creatures Of The Night." The title track was one of the heaviest tracks they'd ever recorded, and Carr pummels the drums in a way Criss could never manage. Simmons stops being a demon clown and goes for the jugular for "War Machine." Paul Stanley digs deep for a loverman blues rocker titled "I Still Love You," one he liked enough to include it when the MTV Unplugged reunion happened a few years down the road. Then there was a rock and roll stomper aimed at the same anthemic status as "Rock and Roll All Night" and "Shout It Out Loud," "I Love It Loud."In fact. there's only one true clinker in the batch and that's Simmons, who just couldn't resist one more cliche in "Rock and Roll Hell." But that's a solid 8 out of 9 songs.

Still, "Creatures of The Night" did not return Kiss to previous heights of glory. They'd have to radicalize their appearance (good-bye make up) and keep the tougher sound for "Lick It Up," the real comeback.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Last Year's Model
2 Out Of 5 Stars

The 1987 swan song of the original Cars lineup delivered this album after their high watermark of "Heartbeat City" and after members had been establishing solo careers. That "Door To Door" sounds uninspired and not crackling with the imaginative songs that previous Cars albums did can be blamed on the separations or just the fatigue of being highly successful, but the material just doesn't measure up to previous standards. It makes "Door to Door" the Edsel of The Car's original six albums.

It's not for a lack of trying. The lead single "You Are The Girl" has all the trademarks of a cool Cars song; there are jangly synths from Greg Hawkes and the typical disjointed and enigmatic lyric from Ric Ocasek. The opening song, "Leave Or Stay" also promises better things, but the album starts falling apart afterwards. There aren't many memorable melodies or snap to the pop, making it even more noteworthy that two of the songs on "Door To Door" predate the 1978 debut ("Leave or Stay" and "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo"). Inspiration just wasn't coming. "Strap Me In" is the best of the rest, but "Door To Door" did not age well, the way other Cars albums have.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Pump Up The Volume
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Aerosmith continued their unlikely comeback with a second powerful album, "Pump." Working off the momentum supplied by "Permanent Vacation" and still collaborating with a few hired guns (Jim Vallance and Desmond Child snag a few songwriter credits), the Toxic Twins of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were back in a groove that rivaled their heyday. "I'm a .38 Special on a Saturday night," growls Tyler on "F.I.N.E." and he means every word of it.

Not only did they have their groove back, they were also now MTV darlings. It turned "Love In an Elevator," "Jamie's Got a Gone" "The Other Side" and the power ballad "What It Takes" into hit singles. But it's the unlikely turns that made "Pump" into a little extra. There's a Sgt Pepperish middle section on "Elevator" that comes from outside the band's usual meat grinder. And would you have ever expected Aerosmith to pick up a Dulcimer and rock out with it (as does the "Dulcimer Stomp" that precedes "The Other Side." Despite "Pump" being a through-and-through Aerosmith album, they were stepping outside their box.

"Pump" was the peak of Aerosmith's second act. The outside influences began to overrun the band come "Get a Grip" and soon after that, the usual rock and roll demons took control. However, for sheer song for song bang, "Pump" offered conclusive proof that Aerosmith were one of America's classic rock bands that had the goods to outlast many of their 70's peers.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Say 10 Hail Marys
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For a band that only recorded two proper albums, Danny Wilson (a trio as opposed to a single person, their name came from a Frank Sinatra movie), this "Best Of" holds together very well. Combining the best from their debut "Meet Danny Wilson" and the less well received "Be Bop Moptop," you get the best songs from each album.

American audiences will likely recall the signature hit, "Mary's Prayer." The remaining 10 songs showcase the band's sophisticated mixture of immaculate production and pop-craft, taking obvious inspiration from middle-period Steely Dan and following the trail of fellow travelers Prefab Sprout. Lead singer and songwriter Gary Clark has a pretty good blue-eyed soul voice, and the lyrics twist and turn in an enigmatic way (again, teasing out that Steely Dan influence). There's the moody "Broken China" - here in a live version - and the peppier "The Second Summer Of Love" from "Be Bop."

The only problem is that "Mary's Prayer" set such a high benchmark for the band that it became impossible to replicate the success afterwards. There are a couple of B-Sides here, including a chipper take on the standard, "Get Happy." Given the intricacies of their debut and the fact that "The Best of Danny Wilson" is a mere 11 songs, a couple more from the debut would have made this a more satisfying collection. Given that you can still find "Mary's Prayer" on the debut and any number of 80's compilations, I can only recommend this to the most ardent fans.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Some of them want to be abused
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming out of a somewhat obscure new wave band called The Tourists, Dave Stewart took to his band of synthesizers and stole away Annie Lennox to sing atop his chilly architectural constructs. Annie, possessed with the natural soul presence of a diva, breathed life into these compositions like few other synth bands, and when you added a knock out video for the title track, "Sweet Dreams" became a huge hit and made Eurythmics a sensation. Their 1983 sophomore album is a rarity of the period, a synth-pop disc that has held up surprisingly well.

Only Alison Moyet and Yaz came close to matching the ice and fire dynamics of Dave and Annie. Stewart had enough skills as both an instrumentalist and producer that he could make Annie exude the warmth that his songs didn't naturally evoke. So when Annie invokes a sarcastic kiss-off on "I Could Give You a Mirror," she manages to be a cool customer and at the same time she burns off her ex (it's also interesting to note that she and Stewart were ex lovers). Then there's the classic single, pulsing with energy and Annie's soulful voice, followed soon after by "Love Is a Stranger." As chilly as the new wave arrangements may have been, Stewart knew his way around a good hook. Annie could also be very soulful, to the point where the remake of Isaac Hayes' "Wrap It Up" comes off less ironic than you would expect.

"Sweet Dreams" lags a little bit in its final couple of songs, but what comes before more than makes up for it. Annie would become an even more expressive a singer as the band began running up hits, but "Sweet Dreams" is as good a calling card as they came in the MTV era.

As for the bonus cuts, the remixes are OK. The B-Sides are experimental but not worth a second listen, and the best of the bunch is a solid take on Lou Reed's "Satellite Of Love."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gunpowder and Roses
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Bridging the worlds between Beatlesque power pop and Who worshiping British Invasion rock, The Smitherrens looked like they were the next great rock and roll hope to spring from the wilds of NJ. With a string of powerful and dark jangle-pop singles, it sounded like they'd make good on that promise. They also brought in other instruments (vibes on "Blue Period" featuring Go Go Belinda Carlilse) and strings on their highest charting pop hit, "Too Much Passion." "Blown To Smithereens" is one of those great compilations; a CD filled with what sounds like classic singles from a band that only charted two, and they peaked in the low 30's.

When Dennis Diken (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), Mike Mesaros (bass) and Pat DiNizio (vocal, guitar) had their attack down, they literally did a blow-up of rock radio. "Blood and Roses" may be one of the darkest hits to straddle college radio and contemporary radio, When they found their way to a major label (Capitol), they got the promotional muscle to drive "Green Thoughts" to gold status "Smithereens 11" brought them a pop single in "A Girl Like You" and their highest charting album. In addition, you'll find DiNizio powering his way through should be classics like "Blood and Roses" (in my opinion, a masterpiece of the 80's), "Behind The Wall of Sleep" about getting a girl with "hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965" who "stood just like Bill Wyman," and a decent back to the barband roots joyous cover of "Time Won't Let Me."

Guitarist Babjack could fire off great solos, like on "Behind a Wall Of Sleep" and "Blood and Roses," with the band keeping rock steady behind him. The camaraderie put some other bands to shame, and they sounded like a band of brothers. "Blown To Smithereens" packs 16 songs onto its shiny CD, and there's nary a dud in the batch. They should have been megastars.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
...Goes to My Head
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most successful reggae band in the world (and at the very least in terms of American success), UB40 started life as a leftist political band and ultimately ended up a bizarrely successful cover band. Their name taken from the UK equivalent of an Unemployment form, this "Greatest Hits" collection does a real good job of making sure that you'll discover that the band was more than just their reggae-fied takes on 60's and 70's oldies.

Vocalist Ali Campbell had plenty of swagger and that helped to make the protest songs (like "One In Ten," a slap at Margaret Thatcher) convincing. He could also croons convincingly, as he does on "Please Don't Make Me Cry." The cover of the Gospel standard "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" presented Ali as a soulman, and the song became popular after being adopted by the 2003 English Rugby team. Ali and his brother Robin were formidable songwriters, and the bulk of the songs were full band efforts.

But it was the covers that made them stateside success, and they're all here. The breakthrough version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" is here, but in its single version (minus the toasting of member Terence "Astro" Wilson) and that holds my review from being 5 stars. (Also a minus, no real information/liner notes/photography other than songtitles and album credits.) The three "Labour Of Love" collections was where the bulk of the covers were taken, including the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," came from "Promises and Lies," and their version of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" (with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders) came from "Baggariddim," but was one of the band's first US hits. They'd try that duet trick again with "Breakfast In Bed," to lesser results.

The band eventually fell into the trap of aiming at the cover version singles as their bread and butter, losing their edge as a band. But the singles across all the albums were always UB40's strong suit, and this "Greatest Hits" spotlights the band in their heyday (before Ali left). You can choose your speed...the ultra-poppish covers or the stinging reggae of "If It Happens Again" or "Kingston Town." Either way, you'll come out ahead.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
This is a Public Service Announcement...With Guitars!
5 Out of 5 Stars

Way back when, some muckity muck in the CBS Records Promo Department had the brilliant idea to slap a sticker across covers of the new Clash double LP that read "The Only Band That Matters." Even if the rest of the artists on the CBS roster might have been wondering a hearty WTF were they, chopped liver moment, but in 1979, The Clash actually felt like they could be that band. The band that all the hopes and dreams of rock and roll prophets whispered about in dark rooms when they quietly mused to themselves that a savior would be born unto them, bearing loud electric guitars, politically savvy lyrics and swagger that would never end. In 1979, it really felt like The Clash just might be that band. Hence, the 5 stars for The Singles.

But we all know how those kind of dreams end up. When Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon kicked Mick Jones out of the band and recorded "Cut The Crap," the world suddenly gave a collective yawn, and the general consensus to "Cut The Crap" was somebody, please pull the plug. But from 1979 to 1985, The Clash charged forth with revolutionary single after single often attached to stunning albums. If you don't have "London Calling," stop reading this review and order it now. They may not have been the best singers or the most proficient musicians, but that didn't stop them from playing fast, loud and even early on, playing with reggae and other influences than their punk roots might suggest.

So while you get the fury of "Clash City Rockers," you have the single "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," backing up the guitar roar with a reggae tune...both from their ferocious debut. Even more incredible is just how fast The Clash got better at what they were doing. The big riff of "London Calling" was matched by the almost soulful "Train In Vain" (their US breakthrough single). They were also going deeper into other musical forms, soon cutting rap-influenced songs like "The Magnificent Seven" and "This Is Radio Clash." Even as bloated as "Sandinista" was, the singles "Hitsville UK" and the politically charged "The Call Up" could blow you over.

It's interesting that their final, absolute American breakout was arriving as the band was beginning to fracture; "Combat Rock" delivered the remarkable "Rock The Casbah" and the big guitar attack of "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The album cover itself had the band on train tracks, quite literally at a crossroads. But even after splintering, they still could pull one more ace out of "Cut The Crap," the lovely and ironic "This Is England." Then it was over, except for side projects (Big Audio Dynamite being the most successful). But for the 20 singles collected on this The Singles, the final song sums it up. These were "Groovy Times" indeed.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Red Sox, Shane Victorino and Bob Marley
5 Out Of 5 Stars

It was the World Series that drew me back to Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Legend." I hadn't pulled it out for awhile, but then Shane Victorino began using "Three Little Birds" as his walk-on music, and the Boston Crowd would boisterously sing "every little thing's gonna be all right." That was enough for me to put this in the car for a couple of weeks, and reminded me of just how great an anthology "Legend" is. It even surprised me in that I'd forgotten that "One Love" was squeezed into an episode of "Glee." If that doesn't sound of universal appreciation, I don't know what does.

It still boils down to the music. Marley championed reggae as a style that could be more than just the sound of Jamaica. In doing so, he became a global superstar, made even more iconic by his untimely death in 1981, a mere 36 years old. That makes "Legend" all the more amazing when you realize that these sixteen songs came out of a burst of activity that lasted from 1973 till his passing. It's an irresistible mix of songs that included songs that became international hits like "Buffalo Soldier," "Jammin'" and "One Love," among so many others. His music inspired many other artists to take songs and make them popular in other means, like "Jammin'" for Stevie Wonder, "I Shot The Sheriff" for Eric Clapton and "Waiting in Vain" for Annie Lennox, among others.

It's easy to listen to this and feed off the mellow vibes, but Marley was just as much an assertive political figure. "Get Up Stand Up" and "Redemption Song" were as forceful songs as anything from the 60's folk-protest years in America. Every song here is potently powerful, be they the "Songs of Freedom" "Redemption Song" calls for or the lovely "Stir It Up" (also transposed into an American hit by Johnny Nash). "Legend" is a CD that holds together as a single album, where every track matters and you'll not be wanting for any track to end so you can get to better ones. Thanks to the Red Sox for reminding me just why I enjoyed this album in the many years since I first listened to it in the 80's.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Songs Of Faith and Devotion
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming hot on the heels of their certified metal classic, "Screaming For Vengeance," it would be easy to slag off "Defenders Of The Faith" as sub-par. That would be a fool's errand, because while "Defenders" doesn't have the song for song knockout blows of "Screaming," it still delivers a mighty powerful blow. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip from the opening "Freewheel Burning," while adding sting to a couple of new Priest Classics, "Love Bites" and "Heads Are Gonna Roll."

This was the period in which Judas Priest were at their most aggressive, sometimes outlandishly so. The ode to rough sex, "Eat Me Alive," got the band in hot water with Tipper Gore and her Parents Musical Research Center (remember the PMRC and their obsession with dirty music overall and Prince in particular?) for its particularly graphic narrative. "I'm going to force you at gunpoint to eat me alive" can still rankle those of a sensitive nature, but this came from a band who titled one of their UK albums "Killing Machine." Between the snarling guitars, the double kick drums and Rob Halford's leather skybound howl, subtlety was not their watchword.

"Defenders Of The Faith" also marked the end of a creative run for Priest. After this, they got the jitters from the emerging new wave of metal and - oddly enough - hair bands, too. It lead to the underrated synth heavy "Turbo," an album that took the band several more albums afterwards to recover from. But when you look at the line-up of "Hell Bent For Leather," "British Steel," "Screaming For Vengeance" and then "Defenders of The Faith," it's a creative metal run matched only by the first four Black Sabbath albums.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
5 Out Of 5 Stars

There aren't too many figures in America Rock and Roll that have a footprint quite like Lou Reed's. From his start as part of Andy Warhol's factory band to his later status as a sort of NYC Poet Laureate, to even recording and album in cahoots with Metallica (not represented here, though), he is one of the USA's predominant rock icons. Or as he put it on one of his live albums, a Rock and Roll Animal. This "Essentials" set is a repackaging of "NYC Man," but still a great set if you don't already own that older package.

The tracklist is a varied set and covers most of his time with various incarnations and major labels (RCA, Arista and Warners). There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Lou himslef, describing the thought processes behind the songs. The sequencing is a bit odd, as the first song here is from "The Raven" (his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe) and then ends on disc two with "Transformer's" "Pale Blue Eyes." Reed describes his concept for the sequencing as "the point of view which songs relate to each other in the best fashion." Because of the really sweet remastering job (mostly from 2003), many of the songs, even from the Velvets, slip into the others sounding as contemporary as ever. There's the basic rock of "Dirty Boulevard" to the atmospheric guitar the grinds through "Rocket Minuet," which Reed viewed as worthy of following each other. (Minuet" also featured his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, on violin.) He could make any sound he wanted, and he did, without compromise.

I have my own personal favorites here, especially from the albums "Magic and Loss" and "New York," which in my opinion, were brilliant even if it took a few years for an audience to catch up to them. And while the Arista albums tended to get slagged, selections from the likes of "The Blue Mask" and "Legendary Hearts" are here and deserve a re-listen. Of course, there are the magical songs from "Transformer," including "Perfect Day." As a compilation, it's a great starter kit, although I'd recommend any of the albums mentioned here (and "The Velvet Underground and Nico") as perfect albums in their own right. "The Essential Lou Reed" is a terrific overview of one of Rock's greatest cantankerous characters, and the world is a slightly less interesting place because of his passing.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Trios and Errors
3 Out Of 5 Stars

When I picked this up in 1997, I just felt lucky that Volkswagon had re-popularized "Da Da Da Da" enough to force a reissue of some of Trio's music from the early 80's LPs "Trio and Error" and "Bye Bye" on to CD. The memorable stuff is here, which means "Da Da," "Boom Boom," "Anna" and "Hearts are Trump." They also do an outrageously fun cover of "Tutti Frutti." These guys were minimalists from the starting gate; Trio was drums and guitar (with an occasional keyboard played single finger style) and sung in German and phonetically enhanced English. I still love the simplistic fun of the main single and "Boom Boom."

The reason I drop this to three stars is that there are several digital skips in (thankfully) some of the lesser songs, most conspicuously in "Out In The Streets." It's basically a quality control issue. I would recommend the since released "Triologie."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
A Really Super Supergroup
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Roy Orbison. Bob Dylan. George Harrison. Tom Petty. Jeff Lynne. A cross generational, odd musical but stunningly workable combination, they dubbed themselves The Traveling Wilburys and cut this one off, one of a kind album. Each man brought their A-game and checked their egos. Ultimately, "Volume One" became a surprise hit, going Top Ten and generating a hit single via "Handle With Care."

Even as odd as the combination seemed, the members all had connections. Dylan toured with Petty and the Heartbreakers, Harrison had just wrapped up "Cloud Nine" with Lynne at the helm as producer, who had also produced Orbison and Petty. "Volume One" somehow managed to use the best of each member, making the album a light, fun affair. It's easy to feel the joy the band gets as they plow through "Tweeter and The Monkeyman," which is so Dylan, it could be mistaken for a Dylan parody. Or Orbison's ranging vocal on "Not Alone Anymore," using that mammoth voice of his to enchant the listener.

But the capper is "Handle With Care," where each member gets a turn at the mic for an utterly charming piece of rootsy rock. Same with the second single, "End Of The Line." Given the amount of talent in the room, it's amazing just how seamless this all is. Lynne's polished production job makes the blending also feel effortless. There weren't many supergroups that could flaunt the title without having a shoving match for the spotlight, but "Volume One" was that rare triumph.

Sadly, Orbison died shortly after the album came out, and the surprise success pretty much guaranteed a second try, but the chemistry was not there and the self-referencing (like "The Wilbury Twist") became obvious instead of effortless. You can get "Volume One" without worry, "Volume Three" is a fielder's choice.



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September 2015

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