Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971) – CD review –
The Dark Side of the Moon of soul music. Artists on Motown records were only allowed to sing, and were not involved with the creative process, until Marvin broke free with this stone-cold masterpiece, which he helped write and produce.
Covering topical subject matter like war, race relations and pollution, you’d think What’s Going On is a bummer. But, that’s what makes this so special: Marvin wraps these songs in lush arrangements that are as sweet going down as honey. Yet, never once does he sound preachy. This is the art of gentle persuasion (something he would perfect in the bedroom suite Let’s Get it On two years later). “What’s Going On,” “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology),” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” were all singles, but the entire album is flawless. And the whole record fades from one song to the next, a trick Pink Floyd would use to great effect a couple years later. Marvin Gaye actually did the impossible: he made a listenable protest album. –Tony Peters
The story seems crazy now: a band of blues-rockers from a decade earlier became the darlings of MTV, and this is the album that did it. Sure, you have to give some credit to the clever videos with the 1933 Ford in them, but it’s the music that lingers even today.
As with many great albums, it’s true appeal is it’s danceability; a perfect blend of blues-rock and four-on-the-floor beat. The icing on the cake comes with the sprinkling of keyboards into the mix; this is ZZ Top with just a pinch extra. The Eliminator album produced several hit singles and radio hits, including “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “Got Me Under Pressure,” and “TV Dinners.” Instead of sticking to this winning formula, the ‘Top decided to jump headfirst into synthesizers. It’s kind of like eating a cake with nothing but icing: it’s just wrong, there’s no substance. The resulting album, Afterburner now sounds dated and misguided, while Eliminator still stands up. –Tony Peters
Quite possibly the greatest debut LP in history, Boston reset the standard for perfection in a rock album. Sure, there were other LP’s that had strived for sonic perfection, Dark Side of the Moon comes to mind, but that was meant as a “headphone album.” Boston rocks, yet every note is where it should be:
The guitars are big, the vocals soaring and the hooks are 100 percent grade A. Taking a good part of a decade to create, Boston still stands as one of the most fully-realized debuts in history. The album would yield the anthemic “More Than a Feeling.” The stratospheric height that Boston achieved would be a one-time deal. Don’t Look Back from two years later, sounds rushed and unfinished. Subsequent LPs were mired in legal battles and over-production. But the first Boston still stands up after all these years. –Tony Peters
Bad Company – Hard Rock Live (Image Entertainment) – CD review
The inclusion of hits and fan favorites makes this the finest collection of Bad Company songs ever assembled
Name any band from the seventies that’s still around. You can take anyone you want — I’ll take Bad Company. The band’s resurgence over the last ten years or so is nothing short of amazing. At the heart of it all is vocalist Paul Rodgers, who exited the band in 1982. Although the group sauntered on and had hits, it wasn’t really Bad Company. When Rodgers finally returned some 16 years later, he picked up right where he left off.
Rodgers is frequently mentioned as one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. Yet, what sets him apart from his peers is that, even at the age of 60, he’s lost none of the muscle and resonance that graced so many of the band’s hits. While there have been other live albums from Bad Company, there are several things that sets Bad Company – Hard Rock Live apart. For one, it marks the first time the remaining three members (Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs and drummer Simon Kirke) have played together in several years. Bassist Boz Burrell died of a heart attack in 2006. More importantly, this is the finest collection of Bad Company songs ever assembled on one disc. The hits are here, like “Can’t Get Enough,” and “Bad Company,” but the addition of such fan favorites as “Gone Gone Gone,” and “Burnin’ Sky” make this a great overview of a band still in top form. The set includes a DVD of the entire performance as well. — Tony Peters
Justin Currie – The Great War (Rykodisc) – CD review –
Perhaps it is time to give Justin Currie some credit. For almost 20 years, he fronted the Scottish band Del Amitri, guiding them through six albums filled with songs of failed relationships and unrealized dreams, wrapped in gleeful melodies that are as irresistible as the lyrics are bleak.
Therein lies Currie’s true talent; he makes the heartache sound so sweet. He took a sidestep for his first solo album; 2007’s What Is Love For was uncharacteristically maudlin, even by Currie’s standards. And, instead of the usual chiming melodies, most songs were filled with quiet, minor chords played on piano. Well, you might say Currie has let some of the sunshine back in for his new solo album, The Great War (Rykodisc). Sure, the lyrics are still barbed, with titles like “As Long As You Don’t Come Back,” and “Anywhere I’m Away From You.”
But, he’s once again surrounded these tales of misfortune with jangly hooks that promise to linger in your head. The first single, “A Man With Nothing To Do,” could easily fit right in next to Del Amitri’s best songs like “Roll to Me” or “Always the Last to Know.” And, that song contains one of Currie’s signature twists endings in that he’s “waiting to fall in love with you.” A must for fans of well-crafted pop songs. — Tony Peters
After sputtering for almost 20 years, Ratt finally has a CD they can be proud of.
It is dangerous territory trying to relive your past. Many bands attempt it, and most fall flat on their faces. Yet, with Infestation (Roadrunner), their first studio effort in 11 years, Ratt has set the “way back” machine to the mid 80’s and turned in their best effort in years.
Really, it’s simple: latter-day Ratt failed because they messed with their formula; whether trying to be bluesy or dancey, either way, it wasn’t what they did best. With Infestation, only their seventh overall, they concentrate on their strengths: crunching guitars, wailing twin leads (with the tasty addition of Quiet Riot axeman Carlos Cavazo), and catchy, melodic choruses, all traits of the band’s best work in the mid-80’s, way before flannel became the rage.
At least some of the credit must be given to producer Elvis Baskette, who resists the temptation to update the glam metal band’s sound. Instead, he captures a group that sounds downright re-energized. The album’s first single, “Best of Me,” is a pop-metal gem, complete with chiming chorus, sadly missing in rock for years. It’s as if the 20 years of hell the band went through actually benefited these guys. — Tony Peters
Solomon Burke – The Very Best Of (Rhino) – CD review –
His best songs will make you shout, just like you were in a gospel meeting.
Solomon Burke never enjoyed the chart success that some of his contemporaries, like Sam Cooke & Wilson Pickett had. But, that doesn’t mean he didn’t make incredible music. On the contrary, the songs collected on this disc are so full of passion and grit, they make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
This budget-priced collection does a pretty good job of collecting his seminal sides for Atlantic Records during the sixties. For money you could find in your couch, you get his early blend of country with R&B “Just Out of Reach,” plus the should of been smashes “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (both covered by the Rolling Stones). Another standout is “Gotta Get You Off My Mind,” written the night his friend, Sam Cooke, was murdered. “Can’t Nobody Love You” is Burke at his pleading best. As a bonus, the set contains “Soul Meeting,” a collaboration between Burke, Ben E. King, Joe Tex, Don Covay, & Arthur Conley. A great set by an underrated legend. –Tony Peters
Solomon Burke – Nothing’s Impossible (E1 Entertainment) – CD review
This record finds Solomon Burke teamed with legendary Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, whose signature staccato horns, loud kick drum, and sweet strings adorned the great Al Green singles of the early 70’s. Flash forward forty years, and everything is still intact. No attempt has been made to update the sound; this is classic soul, through and through
They just don’t make albums like this anymore. Real drums, real instruments, and Burke still growling away, like he has for the last 50 years. But, there’s something here, not present in his previous releases: an underlying hint of regret in his voice. Whether Burke is feeling his mortality or had somehow foreseen the tragedy that would fall his producer (Mitchell passed away just ten days after completing these sessions of cardiac arrest), the truth is, it’s there. It’s also what elevates these tracks to another level. Take for example the odd cover of Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me.” Her original is schmaltzy and vanilla, while Burke imparts so much emotion, cutting to the true essence of the song.
One of the best songs is “Dreams” where Burke sings “don’t wake me from this dream / or I’ll scream scream scream”. These are lyrics that will send chills down your spine. Even Burke’s daughter, Candy, wrote one of the better ones, “The Error of My Ways.” Burke won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 2002’s Don’t Give Up On Me, With this new disc, Burke should find himself once again accepting award for a great collection of songs. — Tony Peters
You may not know her name, but you certainly know her voice.
Darlene Love – the Best of – CD review – While it would be impossible to compile all of Darlene Love’s finest accomplishments on one collection, The Best of Darlene Love does a fairly good job of bringing together the highlights of her tenure with Phil Spector, her most fruitful commercially. The CD opens with “He’s a Rebel,” credited to the Crystals, but is in fact Darlene on lead vocals.
The song rocketed to #1 in the fall of 1962 and helped solidify Phil Spector’s status as a “rock genius.” Perhaps because of this notoriety, Spector became increasingly erratic in his dealings with his artists. This explains the schizophrenic credits on this CD: Spector would promise Darlene that the next single would be in her name, only to release it as by the Crystals. Next, she’d be credited as Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, for which they cut the odd Disney classic “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Still other tracks were inexplicably left unreleased, as in Darlene’s original version of “Chapel of Love,” later a monster hit for the Dixie Cups. “A Fine Fine Boy” and “(Today I Met) the Boy I’m Gonna Marry” are both fine examples of her strong clear voice: it’s as if she’s back in the choir singing gospel. The set closes with an added tidbit: “Lord If You’re a Woman,” a failed attempt at a comeback for Spector and Love from 1977.
Disc one packs such a wallop, did one guy do all these songs?
Tommy James – 40 Years – The Complete Singles Collection (Collectors Choice) – CD review – This two-disc set marks the first time that Tommy James’ entire career has been summarized in one collection. “40 Years: The Complete Singles Collection” opens with his very first hit, “Hanky Panky” from 1966 and ends with a string of Adult Contemporary hits from 40 years later.
Disc one focuses on Tommy’s hit-making years and the string of shining moments is an impressive one: “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Mony Mony,” “Crimson & Clover,” “Mirage,” “Sweet Cherry Wine,” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” are all timeless classics. One thing that sets this anthology a part from other collections is that, for the first time, the original, mono single versions were used. These were the mixes that were played on AM radio at the time and the ones that the kids of the Sixties bought up on record. Even though disc two chronicles Tommy’s decent into cult artist, the quality of the material remains surprisingly strong. — Tony Peters