Category: Reviews: S-V

Sly & the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

ARTIST: Sly & the Family Stone  220px-Slyfamstone-dance

TITLE: Dance to the Music

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION:  #142

SINGLES: Dance to the Music (#8 US, #9 R&B, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Higher (the original version, not the hit)

LINEUP: Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Larry Graham, Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Gregg Errico. The group Little Sister did some backing vocals as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: “Hits, we need hits!” While they weren’t a fan of it at first, they found a formula that combined their egalitarian vocal arrangements, the upbeat politics, and their funky grooves and it struck gold. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: First, you keep the peace and love lyrics, but then add each member getting a solo turn on vocals and / or their instrument, and keep the funky beat while making the record swing and radio ready. “Dance to the Music” was the result of their first experiment with that, and it was a smash success.

While there were some kinks to work out (the material wasn’t consistent and the medley at the end of side one kind of is a filler riffing on the single for the most part), the joyous nature of the songs and arrangement shine through.

It’s still not the place to start with this important band, but you can’t get the entire experience by compilations. Their albums from here until the mid-70’s were important culturally, as they reflected the optimism and the reality of the times.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sister Rose Stone joined the band, and everyone joined in on ‘vocal improvisations’.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some B-sides and stuff left on the cutting room floor.

GRADE B+: Yeah, there’s some filler here, but there’s some funky joy here and it points them toward their creative peaks.

Strawbs – Halcyon Days

ARTIST: Strawbs  Halcyon_days_uk

TITLE: Halcyon Days

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Lay Down (#12 UK), Part of the Union (#2 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Their albums charted here but really it was a select crowd.

LINEUP: Dave Cousins was the constant. Tony Hooper was his foil until 1973 or so. Dave Lambert, Ron Chesterman, John Ford, Chas Cronk, Richard Hudson, Ron Coombes, Rick Wakeman (yup!), Blue Weaver, and  John Hawken all appeared at some point.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fantastic, if not overwhelming, collection from a UK band that straddled folk, psychedelic, prog, and glam (a bit). Leader Dave Cousins had a knack for melody and lyrics that allowed for various instrumentations and arrangements.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Strawbs started in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1969 that they got their first record deal and immediately gained a foothold in the UK in the folky / psychedelic / prog lane, near the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and some of the earlier Yes records. But they weren’t easy to pin down, as their sound evolved with the various band members coming through the group.

The constant was Dave Cousins, who had serious songwriting gifts. His songs were complex and led themselves to various arrangements. Sometimes they were long and pastoral meditations, some were suites in line with the progressive bands of the time (like King Crimson in the early 70’s) and then sometimes they were in step with the synth / mellotron / guitar progressive rock of the mid-70’s.

For those not knowing about them, it is a bit much to bite off at once, especially if you don’t think you’re totally on board. But just a few tracks (like the opener “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus”) should make you a believer on some level.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sandy Dennis was in the band for a bit in 1967, and Rick Wakeman was on three albums before he decamped to Yes.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There are two versions, as the band differentiated between US and UK markets with their promotion The US version has tracks in chronological order, and this approach makes sense. The UK version is scattered, and has several different tracks (and three not streaming – probably due to issues with Rick Wakeman’s contract). They also have solo work from Cousins and the UK version has tracks from spin off group Hudson Ford.

 GRADE B+: There’s some impressive stuff here that everyone should like, but most of it is probably great for prog fans and not so much for those who don’t dig that scene.

Shoes – Black Vinyl Shoes

ARTIST: Shoes  R-4444570-1365064987-9145.jpeg

TITLE: Black Vinyl Shoes

YEAR RELEASED: 1977

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Power pop mavens only

LINEUP: John Murphy, Jeff Murphy, Gary Klebe, Skip Murphy

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Indie before indie. Three friends from Zion, IL decided to form a band, and after three years released this on their own label selling it via mail order. It was then picked up by an established indie label, and the buzz started! R-5062814-1383492565-7635.jpeg

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you weren’t punk rock, you didn’t do what the Shoes did. They decided to form a band, went away for a year to learn instruments, brought in a drummer, recorded two acetates, then after 3 ½ years released this collection on their own label. They recorded in their own studio and did everything themselves, until PVC / Jem picked them up.

What do we have then? Polished power pop, with hooks and great choruses. The three principals (the Murphy brothers and Klebe) all sing in a similar airy, breathy way and harmonize well. For 1977 / 1978, the music press was gushing about this record, as an alternative to staid corporate rock and toward the promise of what Big Star and the Raspberries held a few years before.

And yes, there’s some resemblance to the Cars. But the Cars were local in Boston at this point without a record deal. The mined the same lode for their sounds, that’s all.

As a listener now, you get a sense that the band was almost ready to escape Zion, IL and go national. They crammed 15 tracks onto two sides of vinyl, and while this isn’t as consistently good as their major label records that would follow, it’s fairly amazing that kids from a Chicago suburb (almost Wisconsin) could do this all themselves without any help in the 70’s. R-2886208-1406157665-3279.jpeg

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded two other albums before this – an acetate for the four of them, and a 300 count pressing that occurred when Klebe was in France.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B+: You can sometimes tell this is in a home studio, if you really want to pick nits, but it’s pretty impressive record and got them noticed.

Del Shannon – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Del Shannon R-3844037-1363413923-3560.jpeg

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Runaway (#1 US, #1 UK), Hats Off to Larry (#5 US, #6 UK), So Long Baby (#28 US, #10 UK), Hey! Little Girl (#38 US, #2 UK), The Swiss Maid (#62 US, #2 UK), Little Town Flirt (#12 US, #4 UK), Two Kinds of Teardrops (#50 US, #5 UK), Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun) (##9 US, #3 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Stranger in Town, Handy Man, Do You Wanna Dance

LINEUP: Del Shannon and session players. Max Crook was the inventor and player of the Musitron, which gave Shannon’s records that neat keyboard sound.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An unlikely pop star for the early 60’s, as he was almost 27 and wrote his own songs, Shannon deserved more accolades for his entire work, but Runaway is still an all-timer.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Del Shannon met Max Crook in 1959, and together the two changed rock music for good in 1961 when they struck gold with “Runaway” featuring Crook’s Musitron as a lead instrument. The Musitron was arguably a synthesizer and that keyboard sound helped widen the sound of music besides simple piano or organ.

Besides “Runaway”, Shannon had a decent pre-Beatlemania career in the US, and a longer stretch of hits in the UK (where the Beatles were big fans). But as time went along, Shannon fell out of favor despite embracing psychedelic pop for a couple of fine late 60’s records.

This collection has all of the early 60’s high points and shows that Shannon’s songwriting had some depth (even if the Musitron solos all were similar in his early stuff), with the only nit to pick was the anonymous and very white female backup singers. He later had alcohol and depression issues, and took his life in his mid 50’s even as he was being considered to replace Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was the first US artist to cover the Beatles, as his version of “From Me to You” which hit #77 in the US (and was the flip to a hit in the UK).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The Rhino version isn’t streaming, but there is one streaming that adds on three later songs instead of the final three tracks. You take what you can get.

 GRADE B+: “Runaway” is an all-timer, and some of his other hits are must have for your collection.

Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow

ARTIST: Phoebe Snow Phoebe_Snow_-_Phoebe_Snow

TITLE: Phoebe Snow

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #4

SINGLES: Poetry Man (#5), Harpo’s Blues

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Where Eagles Dare

LINEUP: Phoebe Snow and many sessioneers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut for jazz-pop-folk singer is her career highlight.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: In 1974, things were looking up for Phoebe Snow. Her acoustic based jazzy and folk inspired songs gained critical acclaim and a deserved hit for “Poetry Man”.

Her voice was unique; she had range and dynamics. The production and arrangements by Dino Airali and Phil Ramone complemented her songs and her voice well, staying out of the way of the songs yet enhancing them. Eight of the ten tracks were originals, and she showed promise as a songwriter.

For various reasons (most notably being a parent of a special needs child that she refused to institutionalize), her career never materialized into long lasting success. So this is probably the best thing to pick up if you heard “Poetry Man” and were intrigued.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She had record company issues as well (Shelter Records reared its head again – like it did for Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty). There are compilations that have bits and pieces of her other albums streaming, but this material is only streaming on the original album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with demos and B-sides.

 GRADE A: A very pleasant record. Her songs are well written and evocative, and the arrangements fit them well.

Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods

ARTIST: Silversun Pickups 220px-Silversun_Pickups_neckofthewoods

TITLE: Neck of the Woods

YEAR RELEASED: 2012

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #1 US Indy, #86 UK

SINGLES: Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings) (#7 Alternatve, #16 Mainstream), The Pit (#3 Alternative, #31 Mainstream), Dots and Dashes (Enough Already) (#30 Alternative)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Christopher Guanlao, Joe Lester

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More atmospheric alternative rock with all kinds of sonic tricks in the mix, and a few tracks change up their normal mode.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Silversun Pickups are still moody, atmospheric, and have a to-die-for guitar sound. But as they mature, their songs are getting more complex. On this, their third album, they don’t rely on their same song structures as they have in the past.

Now, tracks have definite discrete sections, tone and tempo changes, and production that evolves during the track to emphasize the mood and feel of the song. And while there are stretches that could put you into torpor, the changing tones snap you out of it.

The Pickups never sound stale, but they do have a tendency to elongate their songs on occasion. Here, nothing is shorter than 4:39 and one stretches to almost seven minutes. That’s the one drawback here – sometimes they seem like their filling time with their intros and outros. Still, this record moves them forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: MTV streamed the album in full online.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B+. Some tracks linger on too long, but overall this record is still quality.

Silversun Pickups – Swoon

ARTIST: Silversun Pickups SilversunpickupsSWOON

TITLE: Swoon

YEAR RELEASED: 2009

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #1 US Indy, #107 UK

SINGLES: Panic Switch (#92 US, #1 Alternative, #4 Mainstream), Substitution (#17 Alternative, #26 Mainstream), The Royal We (#5 Alternative, #21 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Chris Guanlao, Joe Lester

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A more atmospheric album than their debut, adding layers of textures and sonic ephemera to build the songs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not contend to reproduce their debut, the Silverun Pickups went into the studio with a collection of more mature songs that they then built into layered, moody tracks that enhanced their basic sound.

Brian Aubert’s voice is perfectly suited for this – his whispery, gentle tenor lies above the texture yet not overpowering it. His guitar work is still solid – using the Billy Corgan setting many times on his axe. The rest of the band settles in and knows their place, though the studio musicians, strings, and other production sometimes limits their effectiveness.

The record does have tracks that seem to run out of steam, and with all tracks between 4:40 and 5:54 in length there’s a tendency for them to run together. But this record shows the band moving forward, enhancing their sound without falling into formula.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had a song on The Vampire Diaries soundtrack and released a three-son outtakes EP in 2010.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-. This build on their success and enhanced their sound with little problem

The Temptations – Psychedelic Soul

ARTIST: The Temptations psychedelic soul

TITLE: Psychedelic Soul

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Cloud Nine (#6 US, #2 R&B), Runaway Child, Running Wild (#6 US, #1 R&B), Don’t Let the Jones Get You Down (#20 US, #2 R&B), I Can’t Get Next to You (#1 US, #1 R&B, #13 UK), Psychedelic Shack (#7 US, #2 R&B, #33 UK), Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) (#3 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK), Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World) (#33 US, #8 R&B), Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (#1 US, #1 R&B, #8 UK), Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Ar) (#18 US, #8 R&B, #32 UK), Papa Was a Rolling Stone (#1 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), Masterpiece (#7 US, #1 R&B), Plastic Man (#40 US, #8 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They did versions of War, Friendship Train and Smiling Faces Sometimes

LINEUP: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendrick and David Edwards were the ‘classic five’. Richard Street replaced Paul Williams in 1970.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Norman Whitfield era of the Temptations features multi-lead vocals, and funky, funky grooves from the Funk Brothers, who were allowed to jam on the album cuts.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The music world was changing, while the Motown Sound was stagnant. The Temptations were one of the first Motown acts to ‘modernize’, as they chose producer Norman Whitfield, who along with Barrett Strong wrote some great socially conscious songs, and Whitfield used the Funk Brothers to jam like crazy as well.

This collection grabs the album cuts, which can range up to over 12 minutes long (that’s one way to fill out an album side!), and while it is jamming it’s the Funk Brothers, so it’s not pointless noodling. They also did a few tracks made famous by other Motown artists to put the Psychedelic Soul spin on them. (“Friendship Train” just cooks.)

This era of the Temptations did have a few ballads (“Just My Imagination”) but most of it was funky, funky music. Those tracks allowed each of the Temps to shine as soloists in songs, and gave them a unique sound in soul and funk.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Temps revolted a bit in 1973 due to the long, long tracks that Whitfield kept recording. He was let go, and starting in 1974 they went back to shorter tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A+ Even with the long tracks, there’s no filler. Can you dig it?

The Temptations – Gold

ARTIST: The Temptations R-980461-1422001297-1914.jpeg

TITLE: Gold (Originally Released as My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations)

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #167

SINGLES: Top 10 Pop: My Girl (#1 US, #1 R&B, #43 UK), Beauty Is Only Skin Deep (#3 US, #1 R&B, #18 UK), (I Know) I’m Losing You (#8 US, #1 R&B, #19 UK), All I Need (#8 US, #2 R&B), You’re My Everything (#6 US, #3 R&B). I Wish It Would Rain (#4 US, #1 R&B, #45 UK), Cloud Nine (#6 US, #2 R&B), I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (#2 US, #2 R&B, #3 UK), Runaway Child, Running Wild (#6 US, #1 R&B), I Can’t Get Next to You (#1 US, #1 R&B, #13 UK), Psychedelic Shack (#7 US, #2 R&B, #33 UK), Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) (#3 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK), Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (#1 US, #1 R&B, #8 UK), Papa Was a Rolling Stone (#1 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), Masterpiece (#7 US, #1 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Way You Do The Things You Do, Get Ready, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg

LINEUP: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin were the ‘classic five’. Al Bryant was in the group very early on. Dennis Edwards replaced Ruffin. Richard Street replaced Paul Williams. Damon Harris replaced Kendrick. Others filtered in and out. Otis Williams is the only consistent member.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The commercial gold standard of Motown vocal groups rolled with changes in producers and styles (sometimes not too quietly) and dominated charts for over a decade.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s not the songs you know and hear all of the time. It’s tracks like “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”, “Get Ready”, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are”), and “Shakey Ground” that makes the Temptations one of the most popular vocal groups of all time.

Going from a typical Motown sound towards the “Psychedelic Soul” era without a hitch (except internally) showed their versatility. They took the losses of personnel without much of an issue. The backing of the Motown session musicians also was top notch, and the songs were memorable. You know this, no doubt, but the deeper cuts are where you realize that behind the Miracles, the Temptations ruled the Motown era (no dis to the Four Tops…or anyone else).

This collection storms through the big singles from 1962 through their last Motown hits in the 90’s, including a memorable side with Rick James. But their last singles aren’t as memorable, as the 90’s production doesn’t suit them. That’s the only blip here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There’s another Temptations compilation that has the long (and I mean long) cuts from their Psychedelic Soul era, and I’m going to review that one too.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There’s been larger comps, but this pretty much hits everything.

GRADE A: A few of the later cuts are disposable, but most of this stuff is essential.

Carly Simon – Anthology

ARTIST: Carly Simon 220px-CarlySimonAnthologyAlbum

TITLE: Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 20: That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be (#10 US), Anticipation (#13 US), You’re So Vain (#1 US, #3 UK), The Right Thing to Do (#17 US, #17 UK), Mockingbird (#5 US, #34 UK), Haven’t Got Time for the Pain (#14 US), Nobody Does It Better (#2 US, #7 UK), You Belong to Me (#6 US), Jesse (#11 US), Coming Around Again (318 US, #10 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah, unless you are a big fan.

LINEUP: Carly Simon and session players, sometimes she sang with her ex-husband James Taylor.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pretty complete overview of the highlights of Simon’s career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: She came out of privilege in New York (Simon & Schuster? Yeah, Simon’s her dad), yet she connected easily with audiences since she sang about love, loss, and family (functional and dysfunctional).

Musically, her songs have twists and turns, changing from minor to major keys with ease. Her voice is well-matched for her material and great for show tunes and standards. The one downgrade is that after the 70’s, she seemed to chase trends in production on her mainstream albums, and her genre-themed albums didn’t quite have the song selection or originality she once exhibited.

This collection hits all of the 70’s high points and does a pretty decent job of picking through her 80’s and 90’s material, and for non-rabid fans it’s well worth the streams.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This isn’t streaming but you can put it together, since the other compilations miss some key tracks. Though three soundtrack cuts aren’t streaming on any platform. She also suffers from stage fright – so much so she pre-taped her one SNL performance.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A-: Listening this made me realize the depth of her career and how much more she was to pop culture than “You’re So Vain”.