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#101 – Fresh Cream (Cream)

In 124-100, Top 150 on November 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Okay, it’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything. Truthfully, I’ve listened to this album, Fresh Cream, a few times, but didn’t know what to write about it. And it’s definitely grown on me, as much of the music I’ve listened to does after a while.

So yes, Cream. This album was released in January 1967, although the UK version was released one month prior. It included one track that the US version does not. The US version includes the single, “I Feel Free”, where the UK version includes “Spoonful” instead. Just prior to the release of the UK album, “I Feel Free” was released as a single. For Cream, this album came as their debut record so it makes sense that it did well – it was released by a new supergroup of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

To me, the album is good, but not phenomenal. Yet, it’s rated higher than Disraeli Gears on the list of the greatest albums. “I Feel Free”, “Four Until Late” and “Toad” are my favorites tracks on the album. The other tracks seem a bit lack luster to me. I feel like the second side of the LP release is where the real magic starts to happen. It’s almost like the first half of the LP was a warm up until you flip the record over and get to hear the real juicy stuff on side two. And on the second side of the LP you really get a sense of diversity on the album. Ranging from the airy amp up anthem, “I Feel Free”, which starts off the entire album, to the country feeling in “Four Until Late”, to the more classic rock sound in “Toad”…this album definitely delivers a sense of diversity by the end.

Many of the tracks I really enjoy, but for some reason as an album, it doesn’t excite me. That said, it is an iconic album in history, and it’s driven by Eric Clapton’s incredible guitar and vocals. And something else cool about the release is that it was officially released in both stereo and mono recordings for LP. I would love to get my hands on one of those LPS and give it a good listen. Classic rock was made with analog sound and personally, I think it would sound even better with the warm and depth of that mode of sound, as opposed to mp3 or CD.

Anyway, I’m happy to listen to Cream, and I really dig Clapton, but this album isn’t one of my favorites and I’m okay with that.

Track Listing (US Release)
Side One
1. I Feel Free
2. N.S.U.
3. Sleepy Time Time
4. Dreaming
5. Sweet Wine

Side Two
1. Cat’s Squirrel
2. Four Until Late
3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
4. I’m So Glad
5. Toad

#104 – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Ray Charles)

In 124-100, Top 150 on June 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I haven’t written an entry for two weeks now, and its been mostly because I haven’t been sure what to do with this album. I’ve listened to it start to finish a few times, and was a little caught off guard. I love Ray Charles and specifically, my friend helped me clarify that I love the live music I’ve heard from Ray Charles. But something shocked me when I listened to this album. It wasn’t as soulful and expressive as I expected. At least, not on the first listen.

When I first listened to Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, I thought it sounded like Ray Charles was singing over the background tracks of really white music. The precision and stiffness of the choral background tracks, and the string arrangements…it just didn’t seem to add up for me. But I listened to this album a few more times, and finally, decided to do some reading, and discovered the songs from this album were selected from about 250 country and western songs that one of Ray’s producers sought out for him. He selected the final tracks on the album, but wanted to make his own versions of these tracks. Ray played piano in a hill-billy band when he was young, and so he was heavily influenced by country music in his early days. He also said that country and western music is just like blues and jazz, and that the lyrics are not smoothed out  the same way that other music might be – they are honest, they are blunt, they say it like it is. And I can definitely say I agree with this. Most country songs I’m familiar aren’t incredibly poetic, rather they tell a story in clear and plain English and that story is what people connect to. My understanding of this album is that Ray believed the same thing was true of Blues, and as a result, he fused the two genres by taking country and western songs and making his own R&B, blues, and jazz versions of them.

And so, with this context in mind, I re-listened to the album and discovered a whole new sound and an entirely new experience. Suddenly, this album has so much more weight as an artistic expression and also as a piece of musical and social history. Ray combines the two genres with ease and every song sounds like his own.  Before, I thought Ray was not as soulful and expressive as other recordings I’ve heard, but now that I listen with a new perspective I feel like he kind of tricked me. Like this album was so much smarter than I imagined it to be when I first listened. He is soulful and soft and honest on tracks like “It Makes No Difference Now”, and with the slow and easy horns and drums on this track, it feels like its straight from Ray and nobody else, like there never was version of this song before this album was released. Some of my personal favourites are “Hey, Good Lookin’” from the original release, and “Here We Go Again”, which was on the 1988 re-release of the album, possibly because I feel like they both capture the deep, soulful vocals that so many of us know  and love about Ray Charles. I never knew this was a country cover until I was researching this album, but now that I do, it seems completely obvious that the main vocal line has country influences.

So yes, Charles was successful at combining Country and Western music with Blues and Jazz, two genres which he already said were so similar. What’s even more exciting about this album is that it was one of the best selling albums by a black recording artist at the time. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was released in April of 1962, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The combining of genres on this album was symbolic of the movement to move past racism and prejudices. The recording significantly increased the amount of white listeners that Ray had, without losing his established listener base, which was mostly black. This album was a unification of American music and of American society, and as a result, it is incredibly significant in music history.

I have to admit, I was getting annoyed over the last two weeks, thinking about this album, wondering what I really had to say about it. Now I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I actually think this has been one of the most transformative listening experiences for me so far, because my opinion and my view of the album changed so much from the first time I listened to it, until now. I’m really thrilled that I had such a fascinating learning experience from listening to this album. That’s what this project is all about.

Enjoy and please let me know your thoughts, as well.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Bye Bye Love
  2. You Don’t Know Me
  3. Half as Much
  4. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  5. Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way)
  6. Born to Lose

Side Two

  1. Worried Mind
  2. It Makes No Difference Now
  3. You Win Again
  4. Careless Love
  5. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  6. Hey, Good Lookin’

#108 – Aftermath (The Rolling Stones)

In 124-100, Top 150 on April 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm

The British version of Aftermath was release in 1966 by Decca records, followed by the U.S. version. I listened to the U.S. version of the album, since that is what is listed on the Rolling Stone list of Top 500 Albums of All Time.

It was a bit of a strange experience for me listening to this album, because I listened to it with all the general knowledge of the Stones being a great rock band. So I approached it from a different, and I must admit, biased mindset. It was interesting for me though because at first, I didn’t love it. My first thoughts, admittedly, were a bit of disappointment. These songs seemed so simple to me, but not in an exciting and powerful way. I had more of a feeling of “That’s it?”, and thinking the songs sounded more amateur than I expected (I feel like I’m saying musical blasphemy here…).

The more I played the album start to finish, and really listened to it (as opposed to putting it on in the background), the more I began to like it. Even as I’m writing this, its playing and I’m realizing how some of the songs I am starting to love more and more. Right now, “Under My Thumb” is playing, and I just love the marimba riff in the background that has this mellowed out tonal quality that also lightly softens the sound of the song.

From my understanding, this album was notable at the time of release because of the musical diversity and experimentation. The marimbas on “Under My Thumb” are a great example, however you can still hear the rock-blues base that the Rolling Stones built on. It was also the first album completely written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, which is pretty huge.

As a side note, I’m listening to this album right now wishing I had a vinyl copy and a record player here, because I feel like this album would be seriously phenomenal on vinyl.

The by the fourth or fifth song on this album, I began to recognize that the songs have this loose pattern of one catchy lines that’s followed by the songs main riff (as in “Doncha Bother Me”). I guess that kind of corresponds with the bluesy inspirations.

I also felt like I recognized tracks on this album, even though I can confidently say that I’ve never played it before (at least, not knowingly). I instantly recognized “Paint It Black” and the opening riff to the song, and the album, which immediately, I thought “Oh yeah, I know this…” The first side of the album was more familiar to me, although songs like “High And Dry” and “I Am Waiting” sounded familiar too. Actually, I really love the ho-hum, drifting, calm, repetitiveness of “I Am Waiting”, and how it really brings up those feelings of calm anticipation you experience when you wait for…anything!

I’m happy to finally have listened to this album – my first second full Rolling Stones album. So now, tell me…what memories do you have of this album? What does it remind you of?

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Paint It Black
  2. Stupid Girl
  3. Lady Jane
  4. Under My Thumb
  5. Doncha Bother Me
  6. Think

Side Two

  1. Flight 505
  2. High And Dry
  3. It’s Not Easy
  4. I Am Waiting
  5. Going Home

Allen Stone’s self-titled debut album

In albums, current listenings on March 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm


Allen Stone’s self-titled, self-released album from October 2011 is beautifully soulful and expressive. Only 24 years old, Stone has released three albums, including this one, and isn’t even sign to a record label. Allen Stone hit the R&B/Soul charts on iTunes with a bang, topping off at number 2 and subsequently bringing him exposure by major media outlets such as MTV, NPR, CNN, and The New York Times.

Track by track, Allen Stone’s third album has a mix of deep passion and a sense of humour and fun that adds excitement to the listening experience. The first track on the album, “Sleep”, is a great example of this, which has great spoken-word banter back and forth with his band of musicians. Most notable on this album is Stone’s smooth and pitch-perfect vocals, which sound effortless. Combine his groovy vocal talents with the gospel-style rock organs and the rest of his backup, and you have a sound that is reminiscent of James Morrison, Jamie Lidell, and even Stevie Wonder, while remaining unique and distinct.

His lyrics tell stories ranging from sleep problems in the first track, to just plain celebrating life in “Celebrate Tonight”, to the sexy-groovy tune, “Your Eyes”, where Stone and his instruments croon about a not-so-good relationship with problems that seem to become irrelevant when he looks into his lover’s eyes. And the instrumentation on the album is just as diverse as his lyrical abilities. Stone starts the album off with a punchy, poppy gospel-esque tune (“Sleep”), transitions into a slower groovier sound with a bit of dirty bass on “What I’ve Seen”, and then picks it up again with some “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”-era influences on “Say So”.

A friend of mine recommended this album to me, and it was a pleasant surprise. If you want to have a listen before you buy, check out Allen Stone’s website for a live-stream version. And if you dig it, pick up a copy on iTunes and support this unsigned artist (its only $5.99)!

 

Article first published as Music Review: Allen Stone – Allen Stone on Blogcritics.

#112 – Disraeli Gears (Cream)

In 124-100, Top 150 on February 20, 2012 at 9:00 am
Sharp's cover for the album Disraeli Gears

Cream's Disraeli Gears (November 1967)

Would you believe me if I told you that until a few months ago I didn’t know that Eric Clapton was part of Cream? I’m such a music terd! Seriously, I’m shocked at how little I DO know about music when I listen to these albums and start writing about them. But anyway, now I do know Clapton was part of this band, and that’s that.

This album was released in the heart of that psychedelic rock movement of the late 60s, and you can both see and hear those influences on this album. The cover art is vibrantly coloured and features a collage of illustrations that point clearly to the psych-rock era. And when you listen to the album, the tracks all incorporate the typical psych-rock rounds of wailing guitars with a full, complex, layered sound (at least during the climax). Disraeli Gears differs from other albums I’ve listened to from this time period because  you can hear the heavy blues and jazz sound, which creates a diversity that is unique from other albums of the time. On “Blue Condition”, you can hear the blues piano and even a slow variation on some of the typical blues guitar riffs. And again, “Outside Woman Blues” has a really blues-y sound (clearly, look at the title!).

I think what is most interesting about this album to me, is that I don’t recognize any of the tracks! Most of the other albums I’ve listened to by major artists (Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc.), I recognize at least some of the songs, or the sound. But the only thing I recognize about Cream is Eric Clapton’s distinct voice, and occasionally,  the sound and style of his guitar playing (which has clearly changed quite a bit since 1967).  Okay, no, that’s not 100% true. But there is only one track I recognize, and I think its just the main riff of “Sunshine of Your Love”, but nothing else.

Cream has a unique sound. Its a bit more grungy, heavy and layered and has less of the classic, psychedelic-rock  sound. I like it, but I think it will take a few more listens for me to love it.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Strange Brew
  2. Sunshine of Your Love
  3. World of Pain
  4. Dance the Night Away
  5. Blue Condition

Side Two

  1. Swlabr
  2. We’re Going Wrong
  3. Outside Woman Blues
  4. Take it back
  5. Mother’s Lament

#116 – At Last! (Etta James)

In 124-100, Top 150 on October 12, 2011 at 11:16 am

At Last!

1961

 

After a one month hiatus from posting on this blog, I am happy (oh so happy) to return to this project with Etta James as the first album to listen to. At Last! is Jamesetta Hawkins’, aka Etta James’, debut solo studio album, originally released in 1961 as a 12-inch LP with ten tracks.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Anything To Say You’re Mine
  2. My Dearest Darling
  3. Trust In Me
  4. A Sunday Kind Of Love
  5. Tough Mary
Side Two
  1. I Just Want To Make Love To You
  2. At Last
  3. All I Could Do Is Cry
  4. Stormy Weather
  5. Girl Of My Dreams
At Last! is named after one of Etta James’ most famous songs, which is also a hit in most singing competitions and talent shows, although it usually doesn’t get the justice it deserves. The entire album is relaxing to listen to, with Etta’s beautifully supported voice which is motivated by a broad range of emotions. As a result, many of the tracks sound deep and vulnerable, including “A Sunday Kind Of Love”.

The album includes some R&B, Blues, Jazz, and a bit of a rock and roll influence. It has a classic sound, incorporating orchestral arrangements, with other tracks (like “Tough Mary”) that have more of a pop sound.

And of course, the beautiful track “At Last”, which has been featured in countless movies, commercials, karaoke bars, and weddings a like. I’m going to go ahead and say that if you haven’t heard this track, you must’ve made an effort to avoid it. But there’s a reason its so well known. It has perfect pace, and sexy, slinky strings that support Etta’s timeless emotional expression. Its short – only 3 minutes long), and perfectly captures that beautiful satisfaction of feeling completely content with a partner. And that’s a great feeling. This track is seriously timeless, and I’m sure it always will be.

If you haven’t listen to this album before, then check it out. This is definitely one of the pinnacle albums in the last 60 years. And its just got that awesome, awesome American blues sound that everyone loves. It just makes you feel good.

Enjoy!

#122 – Pearl (Janis Joplin)

In 124-100, Top 150 on July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am
Pearl (album)

Janis Joplin's album art for 'Pearl' (released January 11, 1971)

Janis Joplin’s posthumous album, entitled ‘Pearl’ was actually not completed because of her unexpected death, which is supposedly from heroin overdose when she was only 27 years old. In fact one track, “Buried Alive in the Blues” is instrumental because Joplin passed away before she could record the vocals.

In all honesty, I appreciate the significance of Janis Joplin in music history, but I’m not really drawn to her music overall. There are songs here and there that I like, but its not the kind of music that I can consistently listen to and say “Yep, I like that…and that track too, and also that…and that…and that…” et cetera, et cetera. That said, Joplin has an incredibly unique, raspy, vulnerable voice and she has this fantastic mix of Texan-country twang with a beautifully deep and soulful sound. It’s interesting to listen to her sing because she has such conviction – you can feel how passionate she is about her music as she sings…and as many of you probably know, she really wails!

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Move Over
  2. Cry Baby
  3. A Woman Left Lonely
  4. Half Moon
  5. Buried Alive in the Blues
Side Two
  1. My Baby
  2. Me and Bobby McGee
  3. Mercedes Benz
  4. Trust Me
  5. Get It While You Can
Joplin rose to success in just 5 years, between 1965 and 1970 and was in her 20s for the height of her career. She managed to break into the blues-jazz-psychedelic-rock scene when it was mostly dominated by male vocalists. Tracks like “My Baby” demonstrate her blues-rock talents and secure her in the list of top rock acts of her time.
Like I said before, I dig the album because of Joplin’s unique voice which is a major hybrid of so many genres. Ultimately though, the honesty and soul in Joplin’s music is what makes her interesting to listen to. In particular, “Pearl” was a huge success, and I’m sure part of that is due to her death before its completion.  Even though it was so popular, most of the tracks on this album I didn’t recognize before, although I do know “Me and Bobby McGee”. Then there’s this great social commentary on the track “Mercedes Benz”. At the beginning of the track, Janis says she’s going to do a song of “great social and political import”, which speaks well to Joplin’s involvement in the “hippie movement”, as her sister and parents called it.
I’m glad to have listened to “Pearl”. Again, I knew nothing about Janis Joplin or what music she sang, so itwas a great album to listen to on the Rolling Stone Top 150.

#141 – Live At The Regal (B.B. King)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 16, 2011 at 11:29 am

‘Live At The Regal’ is widely considered to be one of the best blues recordings of all-time, and you can understand why when you listen to B.B. King’s live performance at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. It was recorded on November 21, 1964 and released in 1965.

Album Art

Track Listing

  1. Everyday I Have The Blues
  2. Sweet Little Angel
  3. It’s My Own Fault
  4. How Blue Can You Get
  5. Please Love Me
  6. You Upset Me Baby
  7. Worry, Worry
  8. Woke Up This Mornin’
  9. You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now
  10. Help The Poor
The album flows seamlessly from track to track as the audience roars and B.B. ad-libs and his band vamps a few bars in transition. The album oozes with soul and passion, and the recording beautifully captures the feeling of the concert. Or at least, I think it does. I don’t really know. But it’s playful, interactive, and exciting to listen to. According to a few sources online, B.B. doesn’t think this is his best recording, despite all the accolades received, including the #141 spot on the Top 500 Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone. 
Comparing this album to others I’ve heard so far from the mid-60s, what’s interesting are the subtleties in B.B.’s guitar playing – the vibrato, the slides on the guitar. B.B. gives his guitar a full voice, as though its a singer in his band. And now, comparing it to current guitarists, I notice similarities between the sound of John Mayer and B.B. King. I’m not a guitar expert, but that’s who I immediately think of. They both play their guitars as though they are a countering vocalist, playing off each other’s silences. 
What do you think about this recording? Is it the best Blues recording of all time? If not, what album do you think is?
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Barton Hollow (The Civil Wars)

In albums, current listenings on April 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

If you haven’t heard any of the music from this hauntingly-beautiful duo, then you need to drive yourself to HMV, or click yourself onto the iTunes music store and check them out.

The Civil Wars have only been known by that name for a year and a half. In fact, as I just read on their website, Joy Williams and John Paul White met at a call for country writers. Basically, they were in a room with a bunch of writers who were together trying to come up with a few new singles for a country band. From there, they connected really well (emotionally and musically) and started to write songs together. They aren’t married though! No White Stripes or anything.

Some of you may know their single ‘Poison & Wine’ from Grey’s Anatomy, and some may know their title-single, ‘Barton Hollow’, which has got a rockin’ guitar riff that drives the song with a mix of some seriously sassy vocal harmonies reminiscent of any sort of Alabama, Southern-U.S.A. music you might here. Their album is spectacularly simple: its just Williams, White and a guitar piano (and I guess bits of percussion added in too). Its a fantastic album to listen to, start to finish, because each song is a beautiful but secretive story that’s sung with conviction, passion, and emotional clarity that pours out of your speakers as you listen.

I would highly recommend this album to anyone who appreciates a little Nashville mixed with some really special vocal duets.

Oh, and I should mention: you can download a free live recording from their website, and its their second show ever. The album is Live at Eddie’s Attic, and I’m about to have a listen to it as well!

Enjoy, and special thanks to Alex Lepinski for another great find!

Album Art

Track Listing

  1. 20 years
  2. I’ve Got This Friend
  3. C’est la Mort
  4. To Whom It May Concern
  5. Poison & Wine
  6. My Father’s Father
  7. Barton Hollow
  8. The Violet Hour
  9. Girl With the Red Balloon
  10. Falling
  11. Forget Me Not
  12. Birds of a Feather
  13. I Want You Back (Bonus Track)
  14. Dance Me to the End of Love (Bonus Track)
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