Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Alarm Clock"

Richie Havens:  “Alarm Clock”
Secondhand Vinyl Album  (Purchased at Total Drag, Sioux Falls, SD)
Original Release Date:  1971 Stormy Forest Productions 

Side 1
Here Comes The Sun
To Give All Your Love Away
Younger Men Grow Older
Girls Don’t Run Away
End Of The Seasons

Side 2
Some Will Wait
Patient Lady
Missing Train
Alarm Clock

    “I am alone, you are alone, and alone we face each other in order to eliminate every misunderstanding.  You see, I met your organization the other day and in no way were they organized.  Each had a different idea of me, as each was alone and never knew it.”  The above excerpt is a quote I took from the back cover of the album, “Alarm Clock,” by Richie Havens.  While it certainly sounds deep, I can’t be certain I truly understand its’ intended meaning.  However, I chose to include it in my review for two key reasons.  The first being I believe it to be a testament to the poetic artist it represents.  The second reason I featured this quote is due to the irony I felt while reading it.  While this tidbit seems to be a commentary hinting at the topics of tolerance and the overall unique journey each of us individually faces throughout life, this blogger couldn't help but feel like she’s part of some type of artistic community while listening to this record.  In other words, even though I listened to, “Alarm Clock,” solo I never really felt alone.  Perhaps this unexpected irony was the intention of the artist, considering Richie Havens started his career as a beatnik poet before actually discovering his undeniable talent as a musician.  Intentional or not, I found the combination of this quote and Havens' communal festival sound to be a genius contradiction that inspired a lot of thought in this, often admittedly thoughtless, listener.
   “Alarm Clock,” begins with a cover of George Harrison’s beloved song, “Here Comes The Sun.”  Upon noticing this title on the album I feared what another artist might do to such a classic.  Now after MULTIPLE listens I’m ashamed to have doubted the pure genius presented here by Richie Havens and his band.  Between the absolutely absorbing beats of conga drums and the serenely calming pitch of Havens' deep voice I’m ready to confess, with supreme humility, that I prefer this version of the song to Harrison’s original.  However, I want to make certain to acknowledge not only George Harrison’s extreme talent in the music industry, but his seemingly remarkable devotion to spirituality and introspection.  Keeping this last statement in mind, I can only reason that the like-mindedness of Richie Havens regarding these topics made him an excellent candidate to perform Harrison’s song.  Basically, my decision to favor Havens' version of, "Here Comes The Sun," is owed to the fact that I prefer his voice to Harrison's…and those conga drums really didn’t hurt either.
   Regarding the topic of Richie Havens' voice, songs like, “To Give All Your Love Away,” and, “Younger Men Grow Older,” are excellent examples of this artist’s ability to balance lyrics of peaceful reflection with the complex sound of relaxing rasp.  It’s also notable to mention that during these songs Havens also possesses a remarkable ability to display remarkable talent while simultaneously remaining accessible to the everyday listener.  For example, this blogger immediately recognized the sheer skill of Havens' guitar and vocal abilities.  However, I couldn’t help but feel like this artist was somehow secretly singing, “Come in!  Sing and dance with us!  This groove’s for you too!”  And yes, I just wrote the word, “groove.”
   I guess it’s thoughts like this that allow a listener to feel like they're part of some kind of artistic hippie community while listening to, “Alarm Clock.”  While Havens' voice is certainly one of my favorite aspects regarding this album, I believe it needs to be clear that it would not be nearly as remarkable without the accompaniment of the talented musicians in his band.  Outstanding examples of this can be found during the songs, “Some Will Wait,” and, “Missing Train.”  It’s this blogger’s opinion that the spirit of both of these songs are dominantly driven by the featured percussion sections.  Likewise, the entrancing piece, “Patient Lady,” proves to be an unabashed threesome between two acoustic and one electric guitar, leaving this listener lusting for more.  I suspect it’s the overall talent displayed by, not only Richie Havens, but also his entire band that makes this listener feel like the album, “Alarm Clock,” contains commentary deeply rooted to the earth and all the people that inhabit it.
   Lastly, it’s impossible for me to choose the song I like best on an album like, “Alarm Clock,” due to the fact that I adore all of them.  It’s true troubadours like Richie Havens that solidify my faith that at one time, not so long ago, honest-to-God hippies existed.  At that time these sometimes outcast individuals may have recited introspective verse like, “You see, I met your organization the other day and in no way were they organized.  Each had a different idea of me.”  I want to reassure anyone reading this that the only idea I have regarding Richie Havens is, “I can only hope he would have let me into his community of artists and introspects, because judging by their music not only did these people really think, I believe it's most likely they could seriously dance.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Duran Duran:  “Rio”
Secondhand Vinyl Album  (Purchased at Last Stop CD Shop Sioux Falls, SD)
Original Release Date:  1982 Capitol Records
My Rating:  (5 Stars)

Side One
My Own Way
Lonely In Your Nightmare
Hungry Like The Wolf
Hold Back The Rain

Side Two
New Religion
Last Chance On The Stairway
Save A Prayer
The Chauffeur

   Have you ever had the urge to travel back in time?  I ask, because this blogger experiences the urge at least once a week.  Unfortunately, despite all the progress modern day technology has made in areas like cell phones and self-piloted automobiles, scientists still have not figured out how to time travel.  At least I don’t believe they have.  Until the, “powers that be,” decide to reveal this mystery to the general public the only way I can figure out how to travel back to let’s say…1982, is through music.   It’s this blogger’s opinion that only perfect period piece albums like Duran Duran’s, “Rio,” are truly effective at doing this. 
   To state it simply the record, “Rio,” is a pristine representation of 1980’s pop culture.  Heck, even this album's cover makes one feel like they’re sitting under a hairdryer at some Beverly Hills salon, circa 1984.  Yep, this artwork alone hints at the subjects of excess and frivolity that dominated a decade often jaded by such topics. 
   Of course, I do have to admit that my attraction to Duran Duran’s music does not just revolve around my obsession with returning to the past.  It would be dishonest of me not to share that I also have personal reasons for loving this album.  Back in 1998, also known as my first year of college in Fargo, ND, I found myself to be a much more social person than I am today.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, often these social situations involved rampant partying with a delightfully rag-tag bunch of like minded misfits.  Specifically, there was one male individual who would always show up at the same social functions I frequented.  This person seemed to be a kind of mysterious, "loner type", who pretty much kept to himself, despite the fact that he was ALWAYS AROUND.  As a result of his wallflower behavior, I probably would’ve never recognized his presence had it not been for his appearance.  I mean, the man had frosted teased hair and wore button down shirts, collar always popped, paired with preppy blazers!   I take back my earlier statement about time travel.  He too was an instant time warp back to 1982.  My friends and I never learned this rather odd individual’s name.  However, throughout the years we dubbed him, “Duran Duran.” I will never forget the night we found ourselves finally new residents of Minneapolis.  A friend and I had gone to a bar in order to celebrate our successful move to the city when we looked up and she said something like, “No frigging way!  There’s Duran Duran!” 
   I guess it’s not surprising I have a strong affinity for this album.  Apparently, so did the rest of the country considering the success Duran Duran experienced during their career.  The album, "Rio," kicks off with its’ title track.  This song showcases Duran Duran’s exceptional talent in synth and bass music.  In addition to the crystal clear vocals of lead singer, Simon Le Bon, this particular song also features an awesome sax solo that screams, “We’ve returned to 1982, so pop that collar kid and get out the Aqua Net because it may be windy on the deck of the yacht!”  Uh yeah, there’s just that much excess.
   Interestingly enough, the theme of 80’s excess continues in the smash hit, “Hungry Like The Wolf.”  Here highly suggestive, almost savage, lyrics are mixed with pure pop fun.  Upon actually reading these lyrics for the first time this blogger couldn’t help but wonder what a metal band could create with them.  (Someone please contact Type O Negative right now because I think I just thought of their next genius cover song.)
   Other notable aspects of the album, “Rio,” include Duran Duran’s ability to successfully introduce the guitar in songs like, “Lonely In Your Nightmare,” and, “New Religion.”  Again, considering the year was 1982 and artistry did not seem to be a priority for some musicians back then, I was pleased to realize this band possessed some talent regarding more instruments than just the synthesizer. 
   Lastly, I initially suspected my favorite song on the album, “Rio,” would be, “Save A Prayer,” considering I've always loved it’s hypnotic synths and devilish lyrics.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that my favorite piece turned out to be, “The Chauffeur.”  I will state this song doesn’t seem to fit the theme of the rest of this album.  Here Duran Duran seems to abandon the 1980’s pop feel completely and opt for a more 1970’s abstract, progressive rock, feel.  Doesn’t it just figure that the moment I finally make it back to 1982 I decide it would be cooler to experience 1978?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"From the Choirgirl Hotel"

Tori Amos:  “From the Choirgirl Hotel”
New Reissued Double Vinyl Album
Original Release Date:  1998 Atlantic Recording Corporation
My Rating:  (5 Stars)

Black-Dove (January)

Raspberry Swirl
Jackie’s Strength

Liquid Diamonds
She’s Your Cocaine
Northern Lad

Playboy Mommy
Pandora’s Aquarium

   To begin, I’d first like to admit that this review is probably going to be chock full of bias praise for the musician Tori Amos.  To state it simply, “I love this woman.”  I think her talent and demeanor is absolutely magical and I would argue that she, herself ,might be some type of mythical creature that's too good to be true.  However, I was lucky enough to see Tori Amos in concert during her, “Strange Little Girls,” tour in 2001 and I can assure anyone who may be skeptical of her existence that she, and her enormous talent, are both very real.
   For those of you who are not familiar with her music, Tori Amos is a classically trained pianist and composer who ultimately rebelled against a conservative genre that threatened to restrict her prodigy.  It is said Tori received a full scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory of Music at the incredible age of five.  This scholarship was then discontinued by the time she turned eleven, due to her unrelenting interest in rock music.  It’s this blogger’s opinion that Tori’s educational misfortune was quite possibly one of the best things that’s ever happened in female rock history.  Please allow me to metaphorically compare this event to the realization that a beautiful prize horse is actually a Unicorn!
   Throughout Tori Amos’s illustrious career her passionate music has focused heavily on the often controversial subjects of sexuality, feminism, and religion.  The album, “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” is certainly no exception.  However, at the time of its’ release it was viewed as somewhat of a departure from her otherwise piano driven discography.  During this record Amos decided to rest the keys of her signature solo Bosendorfer and opted to focus her songs around an electronica sound.  Basically after the first listen of, “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” an audience begins to realize their previously discussed Unicorn actually has wings too, transforming it into the even more rare Pegacorn!
   The most explicit example of Tori’s, “techno,” transformation can be found during the song, “Raspberry Swirl.”  In my opinion this is definitely the most fun piece on the album.  This song begins with electronic sounds that subtly fade in like a boomerang until suddenly a listener is in full swing of it's rhythm and finds themselves wanting to, “Jersey Shore,” fist pump to Tori’s masterfully suggestive lyrics.  The audience hears, “I am not your senorita.  I am not from your tribe.  If you want inside her well, boy you better make her raspberry swirl.”  It’s hard for this blogger not to smirk at the irony of rocking out to what sounds like machismo club music while singing purely feminist lyrics.  I have a strong feeling Tori was probably also smiling when writing this piece.
   Other notable moments on the album, “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” include the song, “Cruel,” where this listener was absolutely mesmerized by the sludgy bass line that combined beautifully with Tori’s signature breathy howls.  Here she confesses, “I can be cruel.  I don’t know why.  Why can’t my balloon stay up in a perfectly windy sky?”  It’s songs like this that exemplify Tori’s undeniable ability to, “turn over rocks,” and show the slimy side of life.  All of a sudden I found myself nodding in agreement.  I thought, “Hey, I too can be cruel and don’t know why.”   In this bloggers opinion it’s not uncommon for a listener to instantly feel a conspiratorial bond with Tori Amos’s music.  It’s like we all know we’re doing this really unsavory stuff, but don’t feel too bad about it because Tori makes it somehow sound so enticing. 
   While most songs on this record are dominated by the sounds of ominous dance accompanied by Amos’s often desperate sounding soprano, there are moments where a listener is reminded of this artist’s classical roots.  The beautiful song, “Northern Lad,” is a perfect example of this.  Not only does this piece exhibit the incredible range of Tori Amos’s voice, it also reminds her audience that she has not forgotten her favored instrument of choice, the piano.  During this song she proves, yet again, to be a master at juxtaposition through mixing classical composition with provocative prose.  Again, I found myself smiling at the idea of a casual listener humming along to this admittedly beautiful and romantic sounding song.  Tori sings, “Girls you’ve got to know when it’s time to turn the page.  When you’re only wet because of the rain.”  “Wait…what?  What does she mean by that?” the casual listener thinks.  That’s the beauty of an artist like Tori, she’s a master of innuendo and is the only one who truly knows what her songs are about.
   Lastly, my favorite song on the album, “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” is well…"Hotel.”  I suppose it’s not a coincidence that I don't have the foggiest idea of what this song is truly about.  By the cryptic lyrics presented here I assume it’s about one woman’s struggle to survive a dysfunctional relationship but really, who the heck knows?  What I do know is that, “Hotel,” is by far the most musically interesting song on, “From the Choirgirl Hotel.”  It incorporates the large sound of electronica with softer, almost delicate, classical interludes.  Of course, all of this is happening while Tori shrieks about what I assume to be some ungodly relationship.  In my opinion, “Hotel,” provides a perfect retrospective portraying Amos’s career up to this point.  It’s also an awesome glimpse into the dark abyss that Tori’s music makes so inviting.  Think of it like finding out your beautiful Pegacorn is the color black instead of traditional white.  It just makes it so much more bad ass.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"A nod is as good as a a blind horse"

Faces:  “A nod is as good as a wink…to a blind horse”
Secondhand Vinyl Album (Purchased at Ernie November Sioux Falls, SD)
Original Release Date:  1971 Warner Bros.
(My Rating:  4 Stars)

Side One
Miss Judy’s Farm
You’re So Rude
Love Lives Here
Last Orders Please
Stay With Me

Side Two
Too Bad
That’s All You Need

   To begin, I'd like to paraphrase in three words my thoughts regarding the album, “A nod is as good as a wink…” by the band Faces.  In a nutshell this album could be described as rollicking, flirty, and most importantly frustrating.  I’ll state that the latter of these descriptors came as a major surprise to me considering this record starts out with a boisterous howl from lead vocalist, Rod Stewart, that had this listener immediately hooked.  If only Faces would’ve acknowledged the irreplaceable talent they possessed through his voice and had used it with complete monogamy.
   As stated earlier the album, “A nod is as good as a wink…” announces itself with a bang, or in this case Rod’s signature rasp, during the song, “Miss Judy’s Farm.”  This blogger believes that after it's introductory lyrics even a first time listener of Faces would clearly recognize who’s singing.  Here’s where I like to think a novice fan would state, “Oh, Rod Stewart’s in this band?!” while immediately turning up the volume.  Luckily, I was initially aware of who the members of Faces were and therefore already had my stereo cranked to the appropriate classic rock listening level…which is obviously loud.  At this volume it’s impossible to anticipate any sort of disappointment regarding the album.  Between the awesome guitar playing of Ronnie Wood, the intoxicating keyboard solos of Ian McLagan, and Stewart’s overall swagger, immediately presented during,  “Miss Judy’s Farm,” a listener is instantly confident they’re in for one heck of a, “5 Star,” record. 
   Of course just when I was settling into the idea of this album’s, “monumental,” status it transitions into its’ second song, “You’re So Rude,” and all of a sudden this listener was like, “Who the heck is this dude singing?!”  Yes folks, I hate to say it but Faces apparently thought their fans would be okay with using bass player, Ronnie Lane, as the lead vocalist on the songs he composed.  “WHY?!,” I ask them, “Why would you do such a thing when you have freaking Rod Stewart in your band?!”  My best guess is that Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood were both late additions to the band Faces and therefore didn’t have seniority when it came to making overall decisions.  This is the only way I can justify replacing Rod’s vocals with the, in my opinion, sub-par singing coming from the band's bassist.  While the song, “You’re So Rude,” is full of impressive guitar and harmonica solos that accompany extremely witty lyrics, a listener can’t help but feel disappointed that Rod took a backseat for this number.  “That’s so rude!” I thought.
   Unfortunately, bassist and founding member of Faces, Ronnie Lane continues to sing two more songs on this album including, “Last Orders Please,” and, “Debris.”  Again, both of these pieces contain solid instrumental examples of this band’s legitimacy among other classic rock giants.  However, this blogger can’t help but wonder what these songs could have been had Faces simply used Rod Stewart’s voice as the lead. 
   Some of the most notable moments on, “A nod is as good as a wink…” can be found during Faces hit single, “Stay With Me,” where Stewart’s, "hoots," and, "howls," have enough charisma to draw back in even the most disappointed listener.  It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you really didn’t like, “You’re So Rude,” but, “Stay With Me,” and I’ll show you what we’re capable of.”  In the end Rod holds true to his promise, especially with the last song on the album, “That’s All You Need.” Here guitarist, Ronnie Wood, plays a crunchy concoction of blues and country that perfectly compliments the sound of Stewart’s chanting.  It’s during this particular song that a listener really finds themselves believing in the combined power of Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart.  While researching this album I found out that these two musicians were also both members of The Jeff Beck Group prior to joining Faces.  It’s songs like, “That’s All You Need,” that make this blogger confident that these artists had a meaningful connection to each other that greatly exceeded their matching hairstyles.  No, the hair was just a bonus.
   Lastly, my absolute favorite song on this album is, “Love Lives Here.”  Admittedly, I’m a huge sucker for classic rock ballads.  In my opinion this song is an example of perfection regarding this genre.  While I continue to praise Rod Stewart’s voice as not only the soul, but the sass, of this album I find the keyboard playing of Ian McLagan to be simply gorgeous during this song.  It’s rare musicians of this type of caliber that make this blogger reflect on her own life.  During, “Love Lives Here,” I found myself recalling a favorite memory of mine where an ex-boyfriend had left a cactus for me on my kitchen table with a note beside it that read, “You make me feel like it’s summer all the time.”  Basically, that’s how this song makes me feel.  The sounds of McLagan’s keyboard paired with Stewart’s singing makes me think of sunshine behind closed eyelids.  It’s just that warm and fuzzy!  Despite how beautiful this song feels its’ lyrics are actually quite sad.  However in my mind this is perfect because, like my cactus memory, this song reminds me that some of the best things in life are fleeting.  Keeping this in mind, when one is presented with an album where Rod Stewart only gets to sing lead vocals on six out of nine songs remember to enjoy the hell out of these treasures.  Take my word for it, they have the ability to make you feel like it’s summer even if it’s only the beginning of March.