Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Second Helping"

Lynyrd Skynyrd:  "Second Helping"
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1974 MCA
My Rating:  (5 Stars)

Side One
Sweet Home Alabama
I Need You
Don’t Ask Me No Questions
Workin’ For MCA

Side Two
The Ballad Of Curtis Loew
Swamp Music
The Needle And The Spoon
Call Me The Breeze

   I’d like to begin this review by stating, “When the least compelling song on an album is, “Sweet Home Alabama,” a listener can be sure they’re in for one hell of a ride.”  While I’ve always considered myself a fan of the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, I’m ashamed to admit my exposure to their music never ventured past the typical, “Greatest Hits,” collections.  Recently, I stumbled across the album, “Second Helping,” at a local record store.  I was immediately attracted to the colorful illustration on its cover, as well as the individual band member photos featured on the back.  Despite what one might think of their music, it can’t be denied that these dudes look like they were a whole lot of fun to hang out with.  It’s here that I’d like to interject that the song, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the album art accompanying it have little to do with why a person should immediately seek out this record.  To put it simply, my reasoning for finally purchasing, “Second Helping,” was embarrassingly, “wack.”  However, thank God I followed it.
   Now don’t get me wrong, “Sweet Home Alabama,” is a darn fine tune.  It even inspires this admittedly die-hard Yankee to sing along to lyrics that dis on her beloved musician, Neil Young.  Keeping this in mind, it’s this blogger's opinion that, “Second Helping,” provides much better examples of this band's unbelievable talent.  While it may not be the most memorable song on the album I believe, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions,” gives the best depiction of Lynyrd Skynyrd's overall persona.  Despite the fact that this song seems to be addressing the trials and tribulations that accompany fame, this listener can’t help but attach her own meaning to the chorus line, “So, don’t ask me no questions, And I won’t tell you no lies.”  To explain, whenever I hear a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, I immediately feel like an outlaw.  Regardless of this song’s true intended meaning, I can’t help but label these musicians masters at portraying a seamy underbelly vibe through likable, even lighthearted, songs.  I credit this mostly to the unbelievably talented lyrics written by lead vocalist, Ronnie Van Zant, whose  rollicking swagger rivaled even the most impressive guitar solos on this album…and there’s more than a few.
   In fact, one of these spectacular solos can be found during the song, “The Needle And The Spoon.”  Here, is yet another example of this band’s uncanny ability to transform the, “dark,” side of life into a damn fun rock song.  By the end of this track, Ronnie is preaching, “Lord, they’re gonna bury your boy!  Don’t mess with the needle, Now, I know!” to his audience over a chorus of Godly guitar gobbledygook that could drown out almost any vocalist.   However, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s insane instrumentals still don’t have enough gas to outrun the guttural chanting of this twenty-something singer.
   Keeping with the outlaw theme, the song, “Call Me The Breeze,” is another tune that can’t help but inspire the imagery of freewheeling, rambling man, drifters who maraud around the country side breaking laws and hearts everywhere they go.  Basically, think of it this way, “Call Me The Breeze,” is a song that warns women everywhere of the heartache that is bound to happen to them if invited on the band’s tour bus after the show.  Think lots of dust and screeching tire tracks immediately after you emerge, hair disheveled, from their vehicle.
   Of course, a true lady would never think of doing something so inappropriate were it not for songs like, “Workin’ For MCA.”  Yes, it’s true rock and roll anthems like this that get a girl all excited to hang out with these popular mavericks, for a night…or twenty minutes.  I can honestly say that a song like this could make even the most conservative, northern 36 year old slingshot her cable knit turtleneck onto the stage just to get the attention of these self-proclaimed rock stars.  It goes without saying that, “Workin’ For MCA,” is the song that makes a woman say, “Screw it, I’m getting on that bus after the show.”
   Lastly, this listener’s favorite song on the album, “Second Helping,” is without a doubt, “I Need You.”  Here, raw emotion is conveyed by simple lyrics that have Van Zant confessing, “Oh baby, I love you,  What more can I say?”  My answer is, “Absolutely nothing, Oh baby, you got me!”  It truly is a mystery how Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to rock so hard on a song that possesses such a slow tempo.  However, it’s also a mystery to me how despite the warning these rowdy rebels gave me during, “Call Me The Breeze,” this woman still falls in love with these talented bad boys every time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Crowded House"

Crowded House:  “Crowded House”
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1986 Capitol Records
(My Rating:  3 Stars)

Side One
World Where You Live
Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Don’t Dream It’s Over
Mean To Me
Love you ‘Til The Day I Die

Side Two
Something So Strong
Hole In The River
I Walk Away
That’s What I Call Love

   To begin, I’d like to examine a concept that became extremely clear to me while listening to the album, “Crowded House.”  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I have a terrible habit of labeling any record that’s cover art looks remotely abstract, and was released in the mid-eighties as New Wave.  I believe I do this because I really admire the New Wave genre.  I can imagine my father reading this post now and asking, “What the heck is the New Wave genre?”  Well dad, according to Google, New Wave music is, “A musical genre of pop rock created in the late 1970s to mid-eighties with ties to 1970s punk rock.”  I guess I’d call this a basically accurate description.  Of course, I might follow it up with, “Dad, think lots of synthesizers, drum machines, vocalists with British accents, and of course, asymmetrical hairstyles.”   I can imagine my father’s blank stare in response.  This all being stated, my explanation of the New Wave genre would be totally unnecessary when regarding the band Crowded House and their self-titled album, due to the fact that it’s simply not New Wave. You're now asking, "What?!  The album cover has that surrealistic feel, and isn’t the release date 1986?  What the heck could we possibly be dealing with here?"  Brace yourselves people, because I’m here to tell you that mid-eighties… GASP…Pop music…sigh, also used synthesizers and abstract album art.  Sneaky, isn’t it?
   I initially snagged this album because it has the song, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” on it.  This popular song is, not surprisingly, one of my favorite 80’s ballads.  When I hear this song I immediately want to grab the nearest 5’4” juvenile delinquent with a mullet and slow dance with him.  Of course, keeping in mind that I'm 5’9” and 36 years old this would be a rather awkward looking scene that would probably end up with me taking a quick trip to jail.  However, during this song I can’t help but feel like the gangling, still 5’9," teenager I was so many years ago.  Yes, slow dancing was a hunched over, ugly experience for me then as well.  I guess what I’m saying is a song like, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” inspires a lot of nostalgia in this listener.  Not only that but it’s sublime keyboard solo, mixed with stylistically wavy guitars coerce an audience into an expectation of a New Wave album.  I mean, how many Pop bands are able to construct a lyric like, “Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup.”   
   Well, it's now clear to me, at least one.  I think the most glaring proof of this band’s Pop status can be found in the songs, “Now We’re Getting Somewhere,” and, “Mean To Me.”  Despite the fact that both of these pieces contain extremely promising examples of what Crowded House is capable of doing with instruments, this blogger couldn’t help but envision some sort of cheesy sitcom montage while listening to them.  Suddenly, I was yanked from the song, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and the charm of my artless adolescence, only to feel like I was being force fed imagery from a show like, “Friends.”   Here, people are laughing, line dancing, and probably throwing cake at one another in at least one scene, all the while having perfect hair.  In this blogger’s opinion these songs are about as realistic as the sitcoms they remind me of.  While vocalist Neil Finn deserves credit for attempting to convey some honest emotion during these songs I can’t help but feel like it’s all just too perfect, even the, “gritty,” parts seem planned.
   I will state that the song, “Hole In The River,” was a nice surprise on this album.  During this particular number the album takes a turn towards a darker, more narrative driven piece.  Here, Crowded House was able to display their awesome quirk filled instrumental interludes without getting cutesy.  No longer was this blogger thinking about the iconic, “Rachel,” haircut.  I was thinking crazy carny music.  Which, if one really considers it, is probably closely related when it comes to freaky things.  The song, “Hole In The River,” proved to this listener that the band Crowded House was capable of not only using the sounds of keyboard runs and bright shiny horns for upbeat, “good,” Pop songs, but also for just a glimmer of the, “evil,” New Wave genre.
   In conclusion, I would like to clarify again that the record, “Crowded House,” is a Pop album of the ‘80’s.  Granted, it’s a complex one, full of interesting sounds provided by a talented group of musicians…horns especially.  If you like horn sections this album may be your thing.  However, despite the really dense instrumental tidbits going on here the majority of this album seems a little too, “fun,” for this blogger.  I was around in 1986 and even as a kid I didn’t think life was that perfect.

“Don’t Dream It’s Over:”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Few Words About Bowie

   Since hearing the news of David Bowie’s death, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of what I was going to say on this blog.  Before knowing of his passing, I’d intended this week’s post to be the usual random review of one of my vinyl albums.  Initially, I thought I would just proceed as usual with this plan.  However, once I actually sat down to compose this post I realized it wouldn’t be right to not acknowledge the impact David Bowie’s music has made on my life.  Keeping this in mind, I was not about to write a review on an icon who just passed away.  In my opinion, a time of mourning is not a time of critique.  I concluded that the best I could do, would be to pursue the route that I do best.  I would write a stream of consciousness piece regarding an individual that often played a starring role in the soundtrack of my life.  I can only hope that the words I choose here are worthy of a man whose own words I have found myself repeating many times…often boisterously…and horribly off key.
   I will never forget one of the first parties I attended upon moving back to my home state of South Dakota.  At the time, I was in a rather fragile emotional state.  I had recently endured a fairly lengthy and extremely painful breakup which had caused me to, "hightail it," back to the safety of not only the, “boring,” rural plains, but also my parents basement until I could piece together the shambles of my life.  I remember I had just started a new job, when a coworker of mine asked me if I would like to join her and some friends at a house party that evening.  I hesitantly agreed, petrified of my seemingly growing inability to relate to the general public.  However, at the time I was a heavy drinker and knew that after a few I would at least be able to relax. 
   The night proceeded fairly painfully.  Due to the fact that I knew virtually no one at the gathering, and seemed to have absolutely nothing in common with the people there I began to predict a bleak future in my newly acquired surroundings.  I believe it was at this time that the host, bless his charitable heart, must have sensed my growing despair and led me to his shelf of music telling me to pick out whatever I wanted to hear.  Yeah, we’re talking CD's people.  Man, I miss those things.  Anyway, there it was staring me right in the face, a fairly complete David Bowie collection!  I looked no further, grabbed the predictable choice of, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” and threw it in the stereo, skipping ahead to the song, “Starman.”
   What happened next was truly magical.  Again, keep in mind I was a pretty big mess at the time.  For about nine months I had barely spoken to anyone other than immediate family.  It was a HUGE deal that I had agreed to go to a social gathering.  My confidence had been destroyed by past events and issues that were still plaguing me.  Basically, I was just one big bubble of social anxiety ready to burst at anytime.  However, on this particular evening, right when I thought I may start screaming and jump out the nearest window in order to avoid another horrifically awkward conversation full of lies on how I, "found myself so happy to be back in South Dakota",…yes, on this evening David Bowie arrived and rescued me.
   All of a sudden I found myself theatrically belting out the lyrics, “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky.  He’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”  Considering this was the most I'd said the whole evening... and I was kind of singing, kind of half hysterically screaming many of the party goers looked rather shocked in response to my voice.  However, I didn’t care.  I loved the song, “Starman.”  It was a song that friends and I had sung together millions of times in the past…the way past…the good times before all the bad.  Sitting there drunk in that roomful of strangers, silently mourning the loss of my relationship, confidence, and independence it felt amazing to say, “Fuck it, this just feels good.”  So, I kept going, “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky.  He’s told us not to blow it cause he knows it’s all worthwhile,” I shouted.  Some of the people at the party started to laugh at my, “drunken,” outburst, but others began to join in.  Soon about four of us, including the host, was bellowing, “Starman,” at the top of our lungs.  It felt amazing.  I was singing.  I was singing so passionately I was spitting, but most of all at that moment I was smiling.  Finally, I caught a flicker of the person I used to be. Finally, for just a moment I'd returned to being that overly cocky girl at the party who wasn’t afraid to sing out of key.  Of course, after that evening of drunken sing-alongs I returned back to my socially paralyzed state.  However, at that particular party I realized I had the ability to find an individual in me I thought I had completely lost.   
   In conclusion, if I could speak to David Bowie now I would say, "Mr. Bowie in a way your music brought me back from the dead.  I had the ability to love the song, "Starman," during a time that I hated life most.  It's realizations like this that assured me I still had the capability and desire to become the woman I ultimately knew I was destined to be."  That's why I know David Bowie can't be dead. He resurrects the dead.  Like Bowie's character, Ziggy Stardust, we all rise and fall during the course of our lives.  However, I suspect the most talented and extraordinary individuals among us ultimately end up going to live with the spiders from Mars.  The rest of us plain Earthlings just sing about them.

(I highly suggest singing along)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Blind Faith"

Blind Faith:  “Blind Faith”
Secondhand Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1969 Atco Records
(My Rating:  5 Stars)

Side One
Had To Cry Today
Can’t Find My Way Home
Well All Right
Presence Of The Lord

Side Two
Sea Of Joy
Do What You Like

   Upon finding this record at one of my favorite secondhand music shops, I was delighted to see the name of the previous owner written in perfect cursive on the back of the album cover.  There it was in the upper right hand corner in pristine script, albeit faded over time.  Susan Jordan it said, and at that moment I knew Susan and I should have been friends.
   To expand, I have a strange proclivity for collecting items that have been previously owned.  I love the idea that I’ve found a treasure that not only someone else valued, but also helped shape their history.  I imagine that an item embodies the story of its’ previous owner, whether it be a vintage paisley skirt or a Blind Faith album.  Lucky for this blogger, I generally create a pretty entertaining story for each of my secondhand finds.  This being stated I’m certain that, Susan Jordan, the previous owner of my, “new,” Blind Faith album must be dead.  I know that you’re thinking, “You say that about everything that you thrift.”  I admit this statement is true.  However, never have I felt more vehemently certain than when I first heard Susan’s record, because nobody living would give this treasure away.
   The album, “Blind Faith,” opens with the song, “Had To Cry Today.”  From the beginning, I realized this music was serious Rock & Roll and required a loud volume.  Let me repeat, the first song on, “Blind Faith,” needs…no… deserves, to be played LOUD.  Immediately, a listener realizes the type of musical miracle that is happening between these future rock icons.  Clapton’s repetitive guitar riffs combined with Winwood’s soaring vocals create an almost mantra feel, transforming this song into something like a prayer.  It’s this bloggers opinion that during a song like, “Had To Cry Today,” it’s simply not important what the actual lyrics are.  It’s merely the sounds that matter.  By the time a listener gets to the, darn near holy, guitar solo they find themselves already converted to the cult of Clapton.  In eight short minutes the song is over and this blogger couldn’t help but long for another cup of Blind Faith’s Kool-Aid.
   Thankfully this is served through the beautiful juxtaposition of the following song, “Can’t Find My Way Home.”  This particular piece shows a complexity of lyrics that the first song crushes by pure power.  During, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Steve Winwood proves his voice to be as compelling as Clapton’s guitar playing.  The difference is Winwood inspires empathy, whereas Clapton’s playing on, “Had To Cry Today,” is pure aggression.  Let me point out the staggering fact that this range of emotion is felt by a listener all within the matter of the first two songs!
   Later on the album, Winwood’s uncanny capacity to evoke emotion is again demonstrated by the song, “Sea Of Joy.”  I have to say that it’s this song in particular that I believe best showcases Steve Winwood’s incredible vocal abilities.  Is it because his vocal performance is perfect?  To answer that question simply, “No.”  It’s because of the absolute urgency one can hear in his voice while singing the lyrics.  While singing, “Sea Of Joy,” Winwood sounds honest.  His voice reaches octaves, uncomfortable for most, causing it to be unpredictable and almost needy.  Mostly, it sounds human, amongst songs that are so damn good they seem anything but. 
   Of course, one can’t review the album, “Blind Faith,” without addressing the song, “Do What You Like,” a piece of music that lasts fifteen minutes long and is about as abstract as the aforementioned topic of religion.   Despite its’ rather trying length, I believe this song to be a perfect example of the decade it was recorded.  In this blogger’s opinion, the drawn out, jam session solos performed here are not only a testament to the abilities of the band, Blind Faith, but also to the culture of the 1960s.  I found it incredibly hard not to imagine a young Ms. Susan Jordan, circa 1969, sitting on an Indian carpet, while burning incense, and listening to, “Do What You Like.”  Maybe that’s because Ms. Rayna Hallman, circa 2016, was doing that very thing.
   Lastly, my absolute favorite song on the record, “Blind Faith,” is, “Presence Of The Lord.”  Oddly enough, it’s the only piece on the album written by Eric Clapton.  I find this song to be not only painfully beautiful, but equally inspiring.  “Presence Of The Lord,” continually leaves this listener pondering what her lord is.  The only conclusion I seem to come to is, I feel closer to my version while listening to Clapton’s passionate playing.  This song proves that nirvana can be found in the most unexpected places.  (Such as, a used record store)  Now in the year 2016, I sit listening to Blind Faith by candlelight and hope that the possibly deceased Susan Jordan has, “finally found a place to live, in the presence of her Lord.”