Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (CBS 63346) (1967)

A Winchester bootfair record that had been on “the list” since I first heard it a few years ago at friend’s late-night listening session. Compellingly (and compulsively?) unorthodox rhythmically, Eli is more Off-Broadway than off-its-head, betraying few hallmarks of its “Summer of Love” vintage (apart from an adventurous spirit) and more of the pop-soul vibe of a few years hence. Suffice to say, Nyro’s songwriting, vocal, arranging and instrumental talent is as prodigious as it is unique. An influence on a generation of quirky female singer-songwriters (and Todd R.) by effectively defining left-field in this context, a little Laura goes a long way, her idiosyncratic vox turning a bit shrill and precious at times. Still, this wilful, wonderfully alive, red wine record is perfect if you’re in the right mood. Which is right now.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm  Comments (1)  

It All Started Here (K 20025) and The New Age of Atlantic (K20024) (1972)

The title of This Is Where It All Started is vague and somewhat misleading. First of all, the antecedent of “It” is left tantilisingly unexplored and secondly, most of the music comes from the late 60s/early 70s quite a while after the time whatever “It” was had already pretty much got started. Still, an excellent overview of soul on Atlantic without recourse to the label’s biggest hits.

The recent acquisition of this pair of iconic and worthy early 70s Atlantic Records compilations got me to worrying about the changing face of music compilations–from cheapo kitsch and genre defining scholarship in the past to their present ubiquity and consequent devaluation over the last 10 years or so. Will the comps of today have resonance with future middle-agers? Of course, the Thrifty Vinyl pages are littered with compilations of all stripes, K Tel soul albums, TV themes, Boogie, all kinds really (just click on the Compilations category to get a full flavour of the breadth) that “my parents had” or “was the first time I heard rap” or etc.

Though there is plenty of overlap, I would divide Popular music compilations into the following types: Label Promotion (see above); Top 40/Popular Reviews, both Contemporary and Retrospective; Genre Definition-e.g. C86, Spiritual Jazz, Good God!, or, er,  The Best Dubstep Album In the World…Ever; Sound-a-Likes; themed Magazine Comps; Single Artist Best Ofs.

Many contemporary and retrospective Top 40 comps from the past (e.g. those from Ronco, K-Tel, Time-Life, etc.) were, of course, available at knock down prices through mail order television ads or cut out bins. These days, the Now That’s What I Call Music series (which commenced in 1983!), and its attendant spin-offs, have a lock on the Top 40 market (with Ministry of Sound largely cornering the dance market) outselling most single artist albums several fold. It peaked in 1999 with Now 44 selling 2.4 million copies in the UK. Full-price but shortly available cheap at bootfairs, their very ephemerality remains part of the Now charm. I have done my own alternate series of CD compilations of Now! CDs of the two to three songs (e.g. Amerie’s “One Thing”) per collection I like which I like to call No, That’s What I Call Music.

At this point in history, one could argue that the various artist compilation is stronger than ever with wide-ranging, brilliantly collated records by boutique labels such as Sub Rosa, Revanent, Jazzman, Blood & Fire (RIP), Mississippi, Numero, etc., etc. The twin models for this strategy are Harry Smith’s idiosyncratic folk music collection and the Origin Jazz Library (OJL) label which virtually jump-started a renewed interest in American roots music in the 50s and 60s. Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets did likewise for garage rock.  Significantly, these projects were the brainchildren of single-minded individuals. The music fan of today is overwhelmed with a glut of budget, past-copyright titles by right thinking companies like Proper (who’ve done great Bepop and Ellington collections) and magazine CDs from the  likes of DJ, Muzik (RIP) and Mojo who offer monthly themed collections. I get Mojo and some of their comps ( like this and this among many others) are really good (though their whole-album or one-artists covers comps are almost always poor). It’s a proverbial embarrassment of riches, the tyranny of choice. But if you’re a serious collector who must have an entire disc of “Heroes and Villains” “feels” or 6 discs of Charley Patton’s Paramount sides and the attendant “orbit” than this a golden age where astronomical sums are no longer required to satisfy your cravings. I mean, you can get the complete Byrds collection, bonus track and all, for under £30.

And it’s all about the music, right? Well, yes and no. I like decent sound, completism and I’m a sucker for the packaging. But while I am one of those obsessives, I’ve come back around to better pruned compilations and albums-as-they-were re-issues–a couple years ago and I would have had the SMiLE Sessions box set, these days I’m happy with just the two Lps.

Given it’s ubiquity, I’m happy that my son has not resorted to illegal file sharing; but he’s found a clever hedge–the online mixtape. So he can download and legally listen to his awful Odd Future and Wocka Flocka music, picking and choosing his favourites for the old iPod. This is the thing that will resonate most to his middle-age self. And so it continues.

Published in: on December 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)

And in other CSN news….


Walrus tusked David Crosby spent the weekend baby-sitting his grandchildren Ben, 9 and Melissa, 11, regaling them with tales of the various ways he’s let his freak flag fly. These include sex with multiple partners simultaneously, growing his hair quite long and bushy, onstage paranoid rants about the Warren Commission report into the Kennedy assassination and keeping a handgun spring-loaded in the glove compartment of his car while driving high on PCP.


Bitter at his self-betrayal, Stephen Stills is suing himself on grounds of negligence for allowing himself to take second billing in Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Ahmet [Ertegun] told me we needed a two-syllable name upfront and, like a fool, I believed him.” Experts estimate the cost of damage to Stills’ ego at around a hundred thousand million billion dollars.


Graham Nash is selling his Hawaiian property. He identified its main selling points: “It’s got two cats in the yard, flowers in a vase and windows illuminated by fiery gems of sunshine.”

“Basically, it’s a fine house,” the estwhile Hollie trilled, adding, “A very, very, very fine fucking house.”

No prizes for guessing which of CSN eventually went bald.

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 8:04 am  Comments (3)  

Paul Simon – The Rhythm of the Saints (1990)


Speaking out at Shari Newman’s Hallowe’en party on Chittenden Avenue in Columbus’s Ohio State University district this weekend, Dokken fan Alan Rich dismissed Paul Simon’s new Rhythm of the Saints album as “not a patch on [just released Don Dokken solo Lp] Up From the Ashes. It may not even be as good as [current Ratt release] Detonator.”

Dressed for the party as the Unabomber in a simple grey hooded sweatshirt, fake mustache, curly wig and sunglasses, Rich called himself an “eclectic” music fan with an “real open mind” though readily admits to being an “absolute, A-number 1 Dokken fan.”

“Basically, I dig everything from classics like Zep, Sabs and Purp to modern stuff like G’n’R and Bon Jovi. So it’s not like I’m not willing to try new things. But this record, with its smooth, complex ‘jungle’ rhythms and literate, cosmopolitan lyrics lacks the basic Les Paul and Marshall stack guitar sound and 4/4 beat that makes great music. I don’t hear one chorus that says ‘party anthem’ like ‘Stay’ or ‘Mirror, Mirror.’ And the ‘The Obvious Child?’ Seriously, what’s that even about?”

“It ain’t obvious to me,” he added with a chuckle.

Pointing out the loud volume at which Rhythm was being played, Rich noted that “It doesn’t even sound good cranked up,” calling that a “sure sign” of the record’s deficiency.

But pre-med student Newman, who received the record in September as a birthday present from long-time boyfriend Kevin Nelson, said she likes music from other cultures, citing David Byrne’s Rei Momo, a Ladysmith Black Mambazo compilation and Simon’s earlier Graceland as evidence of her “world music” credentials. Costumed as Vampira, with black eyeliner and a figure hugging black dress with plunging neck line, Newman enthused about “how he [Simon] continues to use the same conversational style and tone of singing…which works so well set against the vaguely African and Brazilian polyrhythms. The record is more groove oriented and less poppy than Graceland–I think I like it better, but that may be because I’m so sick of Graceland.”

She quickly rejected Rich’s critique, saying, “Oh [Alan] just doesn’t get it if it isn’t heavy metal crap.”

“Anyway,” she said, “he hates Paul Simon because everyone always used to sing ‘You Can Call Me Al’ every time he walked into home room at CAHS [Columbus Alternative High School].”

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Paul Simon (CBS 69007) (1972)

Through careful scripting and attention, Paul Simon’s first post-Garfunkle solo album actually sounds and feels less self-conscious, more mature than S&G. Remarkably, too, proto-forays into world music, “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” do not come across as patronising or contrived. These are paradoxes. Elsewhere, Simon uses unlikely words like befreinded, destituted, and misinformation and phrases them in such unexpected yet natural ways it amounts to a songwriting and performance masterclass. Acoustic guitar led, Paul’s got the likes of Hal Blaine, Airto, David Spinozza and Larry Knechtel to offer sympathetic, understated support.

Over the past year, I’ve managed to thrift all three of Paul Simon’s 70s Columbia studio Lps–I can recommend the lot.

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 10:37 am  Comments (1)  

Clifford T. Ward – Mantle Pieces

A collection of cloyingly whimsical relationship songs, kicking-off with the truly vomit-inducing “Scullery”, which would’ve infuriated the feminists I’m sure. Yet strangely there are moments on this album that remind of Ariel Pink…I wonder if there was any influence there..?

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

James Taylor – Greatest Hits

You've got a friend...not!

I really did think this was going to be one of those albums that I hated myself for liking.

It turns out I hate it.

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm  Comments (2)