Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Murder Ballads"

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds:  “Murder Ballads”
New Reissued Double Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1996 Mute Records
My Rating:  (4 Stars)

Side A
Song Of Joy
Henry Lee
Lovely Creature
Stagger Lee

Side B
Where The Wild Roses Grow
The Curse Of Millhaven
The Kindness Of Strangers
Crow Jane

Side C
O’Malley’s Bar
Death Is Not The End

   To begin, I can’t address the topic of Nick Cave’s album, “Murder Ballads,” without first recalling a personal memory of my own.  As discussed in earlier blog posts, it’s an unfortunate fact that I used to enjoy a drink…or five… much more than just once in a while.  During this time in my life I would often find myself crashing overnight at multiple friends’ homes due to lack of safe transportation, reliable mobility, or simple consciousness.  During these frequent, "sleepovers," my nights would consist of chain smoking, drunken rants, and of course, lots of good tunes.  I know what you’re thinking, “Who parties to an album titled, “Murder Ballads?”  Well, my answer is, “Not me.”  However, it definitely sounds like something my friends and I would have really been into at the time.  Actually, the reason, “Murder Ballads,” reminds me of those crazy nights is because more than once I recall waking up on my friend's basement apartment floor with the jewel case to this CD stuck to my face.  It would go like this;   My eyes open to a large cigarette burn on the carpet.  As my senses come back to life I realize I’ve been sleeping on the large pile of albums we were singing along to the night before.  My head is pounding and I try not to shift my eyes too much when suddenly I catch sight of the cover, “Murder Ballads,” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.  I think,  “Wasn’t that the first thing I saw when waking up last week on this floor?  We should totally listen to that.”  I then do a triple back flip onto my feet, apply perfect makeup to my face, and arrive to work ten minutes early.  Okay, that last part was a total lie.  However, I was telling the truth when stating I always wanted to listen to, "Murder Ballads."  So for the, “record,” this particular post is definitely a true example of me, “Filling In The Gaps.”
   Today, about 12 years after peeling it from my face for the first time, I’m so glad I finally got around to listening to this album.  I guess the only way I can think to describe, “Murder Ballads,” is as a supremely demented version of the play, “Our Town.”  From start to finish, this record tells stories of murder from the perspectives of victims, criminals, and bystanders.  The reason this blogger could not get the comparison to, “Our Town,” out of her head is due to the familiarity Nick Cave creates between all of the songs on this album.  Not only are many of the songs set in locations one would find in a small community, but several characters mentioned during these ballads have the same last names.  Taking these two facts into consideration, while also acknowledging that one of the song titles is literally called, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” this listener began to feel like she was experiencing a musical play about a town rather than listening to an album.
   Notable moments during, “Murder Ballads,” include songs like, “Where The Wild Roses Grow.”  During this piece it’s apparent how talented a storyteller Cave is when opposite perspectives of a sublime tale of violence is revealed through the unlikely pairing of Cave’s handsome timbre and vocalist Kylie Minogue’s angelic voice.  Likewise, impressive guest performances on this album continue to be found on songs like my personal favorite, “Henry Lee.”  During this performance, Cave is joined by the dazzling PJ Harvey who lulls a listener into false comfort through tenderly singing about a serial killer.  One can barely resist her haunting voice as it exclaims, “And the wind did howl, and the wind did blow.”   Of course, this leads perfectly into the next song, “Lovely Creature,” whose instrumental introduction is seriously reminiscent of the howling wind Harvey was previously singing about.  Coincidental, I think not! 
   Other examples of Cave’s uncanny ability to construct the perfect scary story can be found through songs like, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” and the rather epic, “O’Malley’s Bar.”  As mentioned before, I find, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” to be the song that sums up this entire album the best.  Not only does it create a sense of community between the characters mentioned throughout this entire record, but the actual music itself mimics that which is previously presented during, “Henry Lee.”  In addition the song, “O’Malley’s Bar,” is the perfect companion piece to, “The Curse Of Millhaven,” since it's extremely easy for a listener to envision mass murder taking place at a cursed establishment in Cave’s extremely unfortunate town of Millhaven.  The only question is, “Was the murderer in, “O’Malley’s Bar,” the previously mentioned, “Henry Lee” or could this killer be his bastard brother…cousin…uncle…neighbor…mentioned in the song, “Stagger Lee?”  How do these two characters know each other, and why in God’s name is anyone in the cursed town of Millhaven even going outside anymore? 
   Lastly the album, “Murder Ballads,” surprisingly ends on a high note with a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan’s song, “Death Is Not The End.”  Throughout this piece all of the contributing artists on the album are featured individually, as if giving a final bow to their audience during curtain call.  It's this particular song that allows a listener to finally find some peace with the multiple morbid topics presented.  At the same time Cave ends his, “story,” with a powerful nod to the afterlife.  The afterlife, perhaps it could be the topic of his next play…I mean album.

"Where The Wild Roses Grow":         

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"The Band"

The Band:  “The Band”
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1969 Capitol
My Rating:  (4 Stars)

Side One:
Across The Great Divide
Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
Whispering Pines

Side Two
Jemima Surrender
Rockin’ Chair
Look Out Cleveland
The Unfaithful Servant
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

   To begin, I’d like to note that the record, “The Band,” by The Band was the specific album that inspired me to start writing a music blog.  Let me clarify the reason was not because I find this album to be one of my all-time favorites.  While I find The Band to be extremely effective at communicating the subjects it sets out to convey, at times I find the overall themes of this album to be a bit tiresome.  I guess what I’m getting at here is, one has to be in the mood to hear a true concept album when listening to, "The Band."  This being stated, I really have nothing else to criticize about this album.  In fact, I find it to be a fine piece of art that poetically illustrates 19th century rural Americana.  I guess if I was really fishing for complaints I could mention that the reason it’s taken me so long to approach reviewing this record is because I find the idea of it such a daunting task.  To put it simply, the album, “The Band,” is music for musicians.  The songs presented here contain instruments that range from mandolins, to tubas, to mouth harps, to something called a clavinette!  What the heck is a clavinette?!...and how did it find its’ way to my turntable?  Put together these rich sound combinations with complex tempo changes, and troubadour lyrics and what you have is a pretty dense evening of listening that could intimidate even the most narcissistic blogger.  However, what they hey, right?  I’ve got the time and the means to write just a few more words of praise for an album that has received plenty from critics, much more qualified than I. 
   To begin, I should state I’m a big fan of many things, Western.  Now, I’m not talking about fringe shirts with pearly buttons or country singers like Blake Shelton.  I’m talking Western like the race to build the railroad across the country.  I’m talking Western like coonskin caps.  I’m talking Western like Josey Wales.  Now, if you’re reading this review and find yourself nodding in agreement that, “Yeah, that’s the type of Western music I’m looking for!” I recommend you go and buy the album, “The Band,” right now and spare yourself the rest of this review’s painful drivel.  I guarantee I just described the whole feel of this record in three sentences, but will I stop there?… of course not.
    At this time I’d like to mention that the lyrics and instruments played during the album, “The Band,” make a listener feel like they’ve time traveled back to the year 1869.  Of course, this record also makes a listener feel like the 1800’s character they’ve become has sprung forward to the year 1969 where they find themselves in a time when music with this instrumental complexity was actually considered somewhat mainstream.  So wait…what year are we hanging out in while playing this record?
   I have to admit that in addition to the overall nostalgic feel of this album, it certainly doesn’t hurt that my particular vinyl copy contains some fairly prevalent snaps and pops that only heighten the overall old-world charm.  Combine these little, “flaws,” with the reeling sounds of violins presented in songs like, “Rag Mama Rag,” and this listener finds herself wanting to put on her fanciest prairie skirt and lace up those granny boots in order to hit the nearest barn raising party.  As ridiculous as this statement sounds, this imagery is not that far of a stretch from some of the stories told in the actual lyrics presented.  Songs like, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” and one of my personal favorites, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” are perfect examples of how The Band is a group who excels at creating a story that appeals to even the most unlikely audience.  During the latter of the two, this lifelong, "Yankee," blogger unexpectedly found herself feeling a tug of jealousy toward romantic Southern pride.  Suddenly I felt the need to run out on my front porch, hand against my brow, and yell, “Virgil, quick come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!”  I guess I can attribute this to the fact that the song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” was actually written by J.R. Robertson a native from Canada.  Maybe many of us Northerners have a secret curiosity for Southern culture.
   In conclusion, I find it hard to critique individual songs from, "The Band," because it’s such a cohesive record.  I guess if I was pressed to pick an overall favorite I would choose the song, “Whispering Pines.”  Out of all the songs on this album it’s this one that feels like it could stand alone.  Some listeners may see this as a negative thing since it feels like this particular piece does not altogether fit with such an otherwise perfect concept.  However, this listener appreciates not only the reprieve from such a rigid theme, but also the imperfections found in the vocals of singer Richard Manuel.  Not only does his unique voice create a feeling of real emotion, but the abstract lyrics of, “Whispering Pines,” allows a listener to drift into their own serene place without being steered into it by the songwriter.  I guess my point is this blogger found a lot of beauty when allowed to imagine her own theme.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down":

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The Human League:  “Dare”
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1981 A&M Records INC.
My Rating:  (5 Stars)

Side One
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
Open Your Heart
The Sound Of The Crowd
Do Or Die

Side Two
I Am The Law
Love Action (I Believe In Love)
Don’t You Want Me

   Picture it, the setting is New York City and the year is 1981.  On this particular evening you happen to be one of the many bodies smashed onto the dance floor of a grimy nightclub.  With barely enough room to move among the roiling masses you find yourself concerned with getting a cigarette burn on your beloved gold lame’ motorcycle jacket.  Not to mention with all the people and strobe lights you find yourself torn between which is more uncomfortable, the temperature of the club while wearing a coat, or your unbroken in black leather stilettos.  You’re about to call it a night on dancing and begin to hobble your way to the bar for yet another unnecessary drink, when all of a sudden you hear the lyrics, “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you…”  Instantly, you find yourself in a frenzy to join the rest of the floor.  It no longer matters how much your feet hurt.  You could care less how badly the crowd reeks of sweat, booze, and cigarettes.  Nobody’s considering who’s taking who home, and will you be able to find it anyway after this next drink.  All that matters is that moment, dancing in a red blinking light, a light much like a heartbeat.  You think of this light as the synchronized heartbeat of a crowd coming together over a monumental single by The Human League.
   Cheesy as it sounds, that’s how the album, “Dare,” by The Human League makes this blogger feel.  From its’ first note a listener can just tell they’re in for something special.  The dichotomy created between the pop inspired heavy synths/drum machines, and, often cryptic lyrics make, “Dare,” an album that definitely takes more than one spin on the turntable in order for the average listener to, “get it.”  What is easy to immediately understand is the members of, “The Human League,” are definitely no dummies.  Despite the fact that songs like, “The Sound Of The Crowd,” and the amazing, “Love Action (I Believe In Love)” are undeniable dance anthems, this blogger believes their lyrics have the potential to drench a listener in thought as well as sweat.  Who knew that, “club kids,” could be so complex?
   Notable moments on the album include songs like, “Darkness,” where the band takes a short interlude from it’s dance driven beats and focuses on the song’s mysterious introduction.  It’s moments like these that make this blogger wonder if The Human League should be a given a little, “shout out,” for participating in early Goth.    Of course, this thought is quickly diminished by the inevitable return of danceable pop that is presented during the chorus.  It’s this bloggers opinion that instead of categorizing the album, “Dare,” as either club music or Goth one should think of it as its’ own entity entirely.  So I present to you, The Human League, creators of Dark Dance, my new favorite genre.
   This being said, my favorite songs on the album are certainly the best examples of this new category. Whether it was intended or not, this listener views the songs, “I Am The Law,” and, “Seconds,” as two parts to the same song.  On its’ own, “I Am The Law,” stands out as awkward, and even uncomfortable, due to its’ extremely slow tempo.  However, when viewed as the slightly Gothic introduction to the absolutely awesome song, “Seconds,” the two transform into an overall epic piece.  In the words of The Human League, one song is about keeping the public from, “doing the things that you know they’re dying to do.”  At the same time, the yin to this songs’ yang mentions, “it took seconds of your time to take his life.”  The album, "Dare," makes it clear that only a band as cerebral as The Human League could take a listener from maxim to murder and make one want to dance to it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"Let's Stay Together"

Al Green:  “Let’s Stay Together”
2009 Reissue
Original Release Date:  1972 Hi Records
(My Rating:  4 Stars)

Side One
Let’s Stay Together
La-La For You
So You’re Leaving
What Is This Feeling
Old Time Lovin

Side Two
I’ve Never Found A Girl
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
It Ain’t No Fun To Me

   I want to begin by stating an album like, “Let’s Stay Together,” by Al Green is automatically special to me for personal reasons.  However, these personal reasons must not be that private because I’m about to share them with the world through this review.  Does this album remind me of the desperation I felt when losing a long term love?  Nah.  Does it make me, “misty,” for the elation that comes with discovering a new relationship?  Nope.  Does it make me want to change my name to, “Judy?”  Well not initially, but after hearing the song so many times one does start to respect that girl.  So what is it about Al Green’s album, “Let’s Stay Together,” that does move this rather unromantic listener?  The answer may not be found in, “Judy,” but can be summarized by the name, Duffy’s.
   When I was in college there was a hole in the wall bar, (and everyone has one), that I hung out at constantly.  Duffy’s was that bar.  It was at this establishment that me and my fellow art majors would gather to commiserate over classes, binge drink, and most importantly feed the jukebox.  Due to our like-mindedness, (aka mob mentality), it was simply understood which songs were acceptable to play in this establishment.  Yes, during that time the Duffy’s ambiance was created by songs from The Pixies, Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, and yes, Al Green.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before our little hideout was discovered by the, “evil,” Jocks.  As a result, splashes of Nickelback and, “gasp, oh the horror,” Dave Matthews Band started seeping into our well-constructed playlists.  The situation got so serious us art majors made buttons reading, “DMB sucks!” in order to peacefully protest the hostile takeover of our beloved bar. This being said, it’s impossible for me to hear, “Let’s Stay Together,” and not think of these pretty ridiculous times.
   All nostalgia aside, this album has a lot to contribute to a listener.  Ballads like, “Judy,” and, “Old Time Lovin,” provide awesome examples of Green’s ability to use his voice to express tenderness.  This listener is particularly surprised by her fondness for the song, “Judy,” considering I generally don’t care for songs named after specific women.  I find it hard to relate to a piece of music when the lyrics are constantly mentioning another woman’s name.   Call me narcissistic, but I want to pretend these sweet songs were written about me!  However, by the third listen of, “Judy,” even the most self-centered audience starts to think, “Maybe this Judy lady isn’t so bad.”
   Other notable moments can be found in the song, “I’ve Never Found A Girl,” where the, “call and response,” style lyrics between Green and his background vocal team inspire even the most, "square," of listeners to sneak a little snap and sway action.  In addition tunes like, “La-La For You,” and, “So You’re Leaving,” span the emotional range between blind love and defiant desperation.  Of course, they do this through a soulful swagger that can only be created by a legitimate horn section and organ player.  A listener hears these insturments play, “Bwow, Bwow, Bwow, Bwow, Bwow…..” and can’t help but go, “La-La,” for Green.
   Lastly, it’s no surprise that my favorite song on, “Let’s Stay Together,” is, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”  Is it because my heart is broken from just too much love?  Ha, hardly!  No, it’s because this song reminds me of that foggy headed college girl sitting drunk at Duffy’s.  That girl would have definitely selected this song on the jukebox and sang it proudly off key with blurry eyes and a cigarette in her mouth.  What I wouldn’t give to tell her now that one could, “Mend A Broken Heart,” by simply singing it sober.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Fresh Fish Special"

Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray:  "Fresh Fish Special"
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1978 Private Stock Records
(My Rating:  5 Stars)

Side 1
The Way I Walk
Red Cadillac, And A Black Mustache
If This Is Wrong
Five Days, Five Days

Side 2
I Want To Be Free
Twenty Flight Rock
Sea Cruise
Lonesome Train
Blue Eyes

   Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Fargo Record Fair held in the great state of North Dakota.  Being a collector of vinyl, I was quite excited by the opportunity to browse the selection of albums presented by many local vendors.  Actually, excited might not be the word for it.  I would describe that afternoon as more of a fugue state type thing.  Basically, I arrived at the Fair around 1PM and two hours later I left almost $200.00 poorer.  I did this with no concept of how I blew through my cash so quickly.  However, upon climbing in the car with my two accomplices I couldn’t help but wring my hands in anticipation of all the treasures we three had gathered.  Little did I realize at the time, how accurate the word, “treasure,” would describe one of the gems I had collected.
   This being stated, during my hysterical shopping experience, I’m proud to boast I had the sense to grab the album, “Fresh Fish Special,” by Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray.  Who is Robert Gordon, you’re all thinking.  I too was thinking that very same thing before immediately dismissing it with the argument, “Hey, Link Wray is involved and Robert is combing his pompadour on the cover of this album.  Where is the bad here?”  I would like to take this moment to pat myself on the back for probably the best reasoning I’ve ever done while contemplating a decision.  I now have a new mantra which is, “While vinyl shopping, if it’s Rockabilly it’s going in the cart.”
   After my first listen of this incredible album I was horrified at my good luck.  Horrified, because how could I not have known who Robert Gordon was?  I almost passed on this treasure due to ignorance!  Thank God I’ve never listened to the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  In this case, the cover was cool and the album was…what’s a greaser term…BOSS?! 
   Upon doing my research on, “Fresh Fish Special,” I learned Robert Gordon was a throwback artist of the 1970’s who modeled his career after several performers of the ‘50’s, especially Elvis Presley.  In fact, on this particular album his background vocals were provided by The Jordanaires, whom I learned were actually the same individuals to work with Elvis on several recordings.  Let me say in many ways The Jordanaires, “make,” this album for me.  I can’t help but long for my own team of background vocalists to follow me around in everyday life.  Songs like, “Twenty Flight Rock,” and the opening, “The Way I Walk,” make this listener desperately want to hear “Deyoueeyoueeyoueeyoueeyoueeeee…” after every sentence I utter.  It’s just so damn cool! 
   Other noteworthy moments on, “Fresh Fish Special,” revolve around the amazing guitar stylings of musician Link Wray.  For this listener a song like, “Lonesome Train,” provides guitar riffs that, “chug,” along hard enough to inspire a frenzied dance that would inspire the likes of Miss Patty Duke. Who knows, maybe Patty was jamming out to the song, “Sea Cruise,” during that shot in the introduction of her show.  It’s really too bad for her that Robert Gordon and Link Wray hadn’t yet released their version of this little ditty.  Perhaps if they had cousin Cathy would have finally joined in on the fun.
   My favorite moments of this album can be found in the songs, “Fire,” and, “Red Cadillac, And A Black Mustache.”  Basically, between the fervent singing of Gordon, the intricate playing of Wray, and the basic, but all too true lyrics presented here this listener finds it almost impossible not to sing along…and when I write sing, I mean SING, like from the gut…while snapping her fingers.  Note to reader;  if you don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself, only listen to this album alone.
   Lastly, Gordon’s cover of, “I Want To Be Free,” originally performed by Elvis during the movie, “Jailhouse Rock,” makes this listener almost weepy.  During this song one can tell how much respect the 1970’s Robert Gordon had for his predecessor.  It’s inspiring to think of an artist so passionate toward a genre of music that he refused to abandon its’ then, “outdated,” style.  Listening to this recording in the year 2015 makes me daydream.  I listen to the lyrics, “I look out my window and what do I see?”  Like Robert Gordon, I too long to see the world of the past and escape all the ugliness of this present date.  “I want to be free,” to live in a better time, a time when there was a Patty to every Cathy, and a Gordon to every Wray.