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Archive for the ‘33 1/3 (Bloomsbury)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JETHRO TULL-Aqualung (1971).

I loved Jethro Tull.  I have all of their records up until Crest of a Knave when I must guess I decided that they were uncool (as if they were ever cool).  But man are they ever cool and this book reminded me just how cool they are.

The whole record is solid from start to finish with string rockers, string riffs and then mellow folkie songs in between.  And the dynamic nature of Anderson;s voice–he could be five different characters.

How great is “Aqualung,” the song?  A terrific riff, a gentle middle section, a rocking section, some great bass lines all with some wild acoustic guitar and those lyrics–so graphic, so descriptive.  I am always taken with the drums–little thumps and a cymbal throughout the rocking verse.

It’s followed by the flute intro of “Cross-Eyed Mary.”  There’s rocking guitars and another complex riff with Anderson’s snarling vocals (echos on everything).  “Cheap Day Return” opens with a pretty classical-esque acoustic guitar intro and then Anderson’s more gentle vocals.  It’s a 90 second song that segues into the fairy tale melody of the flute for “Mother Goose.”  There’s some very nice harmonies on this song.

“Wond’ring Aloud” is all folk and the laughing that bounces around the headphones before the great riff of “Up to Me” on both guitar and piano.  And how neat that the lead guitar is circling around in one ear while the flute and vocals are down the middle of the song.

“My God” opens with a lengthy acoustic guitar display.  It’s quite pretty until the minor chords come in.  It’s followed by the piano and that distinctive voice.  Two minutes in, the guitar joins and the vocals get louder and more sneering.  There’s a terrific flute solo (complete with him giving a “yea” in the middle of it) and then a choral accompaniment that adds a whole new level of pious and impiety.

“Hymn 43” has a great heavy riff, chugging guitars and Anderson’s snarling lyrics (and so many whirling guitars solos and even a flute solo throughout).

It’s followed by the minute-long “Slipstream,” a pretty acoustic guitar song with gentle strings and more lyrics obliquely about god.  The song ends with some woozy up and down sliding on the strings which segue into the lengthy classical sounding piano intro of “Locomotive Breath.”

There’s a distant guitar solo under the piano before the guitars get louder and louder for the great chugging riff of the song.

The disc ends with “Wind Up,” a quiet intro on acoustic guitar and vocals that gets slowly louder;  and then the song rocks a swinging beat as he sings of excommunication and being packed off to school.  There’s a wild solo (different in each ear) in the middle of the song, which

and then the end where a jaunty piano accompanies these straightforward lyrics:

When I was young and they packed me off to school
And taught me how not to play the game
I didn’t mind if they groomed me for success
Or if they said that I was just a fool
So to my old headmaster and to anyone who cares
Before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers
Well, you can excommunicate me on my way to Sunday school
And have all the bishops harmonize these lines
I don’t believe you
You had the whole damn thing all wrong
He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays

[READ: July 1, 2016] Aqualung

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was the third book in the series that I’d read.  The first (Colin Meloy’s) was a personal take on one of his favorite records, The Replacement’s Let It Be.  The second (Steve Matteo’s) was a detailed look at the recording sessions of The Beatles’ Let It Be.  This book is all about interpretation–Allan Moore’s take on an album that has fascinated him since his brother bought it over 30 years ago.  He is quick to point out that right and wrong interpretations of art are kinda impossible, but that won’t stop him.  Ian Anderson has written “What listeners get from the lyrics is theirs, what the lyrics are for me is mine.”

Moore breaks the book up into sections–the first situates the album at the time of its release, the rest looks at various songs (including bonus tracks on new releases). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Let It Be (1970).

letI wrote about this album back in 2015.

Of all the fascinating details about Beatles releases, I don’t think any are more fascinating than the details about Let It Be.  I’m not even close to understanding everything that went on here.  But in a nutshell, it seems that they went into the studio to record an album called Get Back. They were even going to film the whole things.  It got scrapped.  Some members quit the band then rejoined.  And then they recorded Abbey Road.

And then the band did a concert on a rooftop (almost exactly 46 years ago!).  And soon after they broke up. Then some producers decided to release Let It Be as a soundtrack to the documentary made about their recording.  They used some of the material from Get Back and some from the rooftop concert and then Phil Spector got involved and put all kinds of strings on everything and then the album was released in the UK on my first birthday.

There’s lots of snippets of dialogue which seem designed to make it feel like a soundtrack (which it doesn’t).  There’s really short snippets of songs, there’s raw live songs, there’s overproduced string laden songs.  It’s kind of a mess.  But in there are some good songs too.

“Two of Us” is a pretty folkie number that I like quite a lot although I first became familiar with it from a Guster cover (which is pretty fine).  I never quite understood the title of “Dig a Pony,” but it’s a big weird sloppy song. It’s kind of fun to sing along to—especially the falsetto “Beeeecause.”  This song was recorded from their rooftop concert and it feels rawer than some of the other songs.

“Across the Universe” is a lovely song.  Evidently Lennon didn’t contribute much to Let It Be, so they threw this on to give him more content.  I actually know this more from the Fiona Apple version (which I think is actually better than this processed version). I don’t really care for the strings and echoes feel on this version. “Dig It” is a short piece of nonsense. It was exerted from a lengthy jam but for some reason only this little snippet was included on the record–it sounds odd here.

“Let it Be” is quite a lovely song. I don’t really care for the Phil Spectorisms that were done to it—the strings and choruses seem a bit cheesy.  At the same time, the guitar solo (which is quite good) sounds too raw and harsh for the song.  “Maggie Mae” is a traditional song, another bit of fun nonsense.  I like “I Me Mine,” it’s rather dark and the chorus just rocks out.  “I’ve Got a Feeling”, was also recorded on the roof, so it feels raw.  There’s some great guitars sounds on it. Evidently it was initially two songs, and Lennon’s part (the repeated “everybody” section) was added to it.

“One After 909” sounds so much like an early Beatles song–very traditional rock and roll (which means I don’t really like it).  Although the version is raw sounding (it was also recorded from the rooftop) so that’s kind of cool. Huh, Wikipedia says “the song was written no later than spring 1960 and perhaps as early as 1957, and is one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions.”   “The Long and Winding Road” is where all the controversy comes from.  McCartney hated what Phil Spector did to his song.  He HATED it.  And I have to agree.  It sounds nothing like the Beatles–it sounds very treacly and almost muzaky.  It feels endless.  At the same time, I’m not even sure if the song is that good–it’s so hard to tell after all these years. I think it kind of rips off the transition in “Hey Jude” which was used to much better effect.

“For You Blue” is a simple blues. I like it better than most of the Beatles’ blues, perhaps because of John’s slide guitar (and the funny comments through the song–which makes it seem like the band actually liked each other).  “Get Back” ends the disc as a fun rollicking romp.  I really like this song, although I’m surprised at how short it seems–I thought there was a lengthy outro.  The end of the song (and the disc) has John asking if they passed the audition–lots of fun going on in this contentious recording session.

So it’s not the best career ending disc, although I guess as a soundtrack it’s pretty good.  I’ve never seen the film, and I’m kind of curious to after having walked through all of these Beatles albums.

[READ: September 1, 2016] Let It Be

After reading Colin Meloy’s take on The Replacements’ Let It Be, Steve Matteo’s take on The Beatles’ Let It Be is really different.

Matteo did a ton of research into the recording of this record.  Indeed, this book feels really long (and it drags occasionally).  I have to assume that anyone who is a big fan of The Beatles will know much of what he covers here.  I didn’t, so this works as a pretty thorough introduction for me.  And, as my review of the record above notes: I didn’t know much about the recording in the first place.  So this filled in some gaps (more gaps than I cared about actually).

The book begins with the earth shattering announcement that in 2003 police had recovered more than 500 hours of stolen tapes from the Let It Be sessions (I hadn’t heard about that, so I guess it didn’t shatter the earth all that much).

Rather than talking about this record itself, Matteo talks all about what went into the creation of the record.  And, admittedly, it is a fascinating mix of ego, talent, angst, friendship, overworked-ness and nearly everything else. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Let It Be (1984).

letitbeI had posted about this record back in 2009.  This is what I write nearly ten years ago, and I’m pretty okay with it.

This is the final album the Replacements made before they moved to the majors.  This disc represents the culmination of their pre-major label sound and is one of my favorite “college albums” of the era.

The disc retains a lot of their sloppy/punk sound of the time, but the songwriting moves forward a little further.  Westerberg wrote some timeless anthems for this disc (“I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied”).   But, they also sprinkle the disc with silly tracks…not filler exactly…more like balance.  This keeps the disc from being too ponderous.

“I Will Dare” opens the disc. It is bouncy and poppy with an irresistible chorus.   But the bulk of the album is faster and more rocking.  Unlike on their their first two discs, however, the songs run a little bit longer, and they don’t attempt the hardcore feel quite as much.

In fact, there are a few songs that are quite clearly ballads.  “Androgynous” is a piano ballad (!) that could have easily been written by Tom Waits.  “Unsatisfied” is another ballad, although this one has more instrumentation.  Nevertheless, the feeling of yearning is palpable in Westerberg’s voice.  Finally, “Answering Machine” is another flanged-guitar filled song about romance in the age of modern technology (circa 1984).

These relatively light (musically, not emotionally) songs are balanced out quite nicely by the pair of punk/nonsense songs: “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.”  They add some (more) levity to the disc.  As well as some rocking guitars.

But perhaps the most surprising song is the cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It is surprisingly faithful to the original, (at a time when Kiss was not even ironically cool) and it rocks just as hard.

This album showcases the diverse aspects of The Replacements perfectly.  While some people say their next album Tim is their masterpiece, I am more inclined to go with Let It Be.  And, for some reason, I really like the cover.

[READ: July 1, 2016] Let It Be

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was an interesting book to start with because it really set the tone for the series, by which I mean, as far as I can tell, anything goes.

Colin Meloy (this was written when The Decemberists were just starting to get a buzz around them.  In fact he references his girlfriend who is now his wife) makes this a very personal account about his childhood and his exposure to this album (and others) from his uncle.  So this book is a lot more about (young) Colin and his friend than the ‘Mats, but it’s obvious that the ‘Mats made Meloy who he is.   There’s very little in the way of production information or “research” (until the end).  Rather, it’s just a good story–from a future storyteller. (more…)

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