Category: Reviews: S-V

Richard Thompson – Hand of Kindness

ARTIST: Richard Thompson Hand_of_Kindness_(Richard_Thompson_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Hand of Kindness

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION:  #186

SINGLES: The Wrong Heartbeat, Tear Stained Letter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt it, really

LINEUP: Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Kirkpatrick, Aly Nichol, Pete Thomas, Pete Zorn.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After the breakup of his marriage and partnership with Linda Thompson, Richard Thompson releases his second official solo album and erases some of the gloom that inhabited the work with his ex-wife.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: No longer part of a duo (professionally and personally), Richard Thompson resumes his solo career in an unexpectedly bright sounding album. Reunited with his old bandmates (Pegg, Mattacks, and Nicol), and adding sax, accordion and violin, Thompson’s sound is somewhat jaunty. That masks some of the lyrical content about bad relationships and marital issues.

Yet, Thompson himself sounds sunny and energized. The opening “Tear Stained Letter” would have surprised anyone who had been following his duos with Linda Thompson, as here Thompson has a fire and wink in his voices. His guitar playing is stellar, of course, but he also allows his band chances to be out front as well.

The playing is fun for the most part, and while some songs are a bit down and depressing (can’t always be happy), the mood is upbeat. The songs aren’t his best for the most part, but the music world was glad he emerged relatively unscathed from his marital hell.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The guitar he’s holding on the cover was made by Danny Ferrington

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B: Not the best song-wise, but it will please any Thompson fan.

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

ARTIST: Corin Tucker Band 220px-Album_cover_for_the_album_1,000_Years_by_Corin_Tucker_Band

TITLE: 1,000 Years

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  #9 Heatseekers, #49 Indie

SINGLES: Doubt

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Seth Lorinczi, Sara Lund. Juliana Bright, Kate O’Brien-Clark, and Douglas Jenkins added support.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Back at it after the Sleater/Kinney hiatus, Tucker wrote and recorded an album that is quieter but just as powerful.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not diving into the vocal yelps except on rare occasions (“Doubt”), toning down the sound, and generally making things a bit more even keeled, Corin Tucker’s first solo album after the hiatus of Sleater/Kinney adds a unique chapter to her musical biography.

There’s still hints of her band’s work, but only hints. “Half a World Away” could definitely be an SK song, but here the arrangement is more controlled and her vocals more restrained, and it works better. Some of the better moments are on the quieter songs, where she’s reflective of her place in the world as a mother and a musician.

This album shows Tucker as more than the punk rocker she was for years. She’s got depth and breadth, and it’s a refreshing look at her as she moves to middle age.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She said that Seth Lorinzi (bass player and producer) really shaped the sounds on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: As solid as any Sleater/Kinney record with a maturing outlook.

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms

ARTIST: Surfer Blood 220px-1000_Palms

TITLE: 1000 Palms

YEAR RELEASED: 2015

CHART ACTION:  #160, #11 Indie, #16 Rock

SINGLES: Grand Inquisitor, I Can’t Explain

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: John Paul Pitts, Thomas Fekete, Kevin Williams, Tyler Schwartz, Michael McCleary.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Returning to the indie labels, Surfer Blood makes a looser record, but not a better record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It seems that Surfer Blood, as time has gone on, has cut down on the elements that made them unique – their unpredictability. Even a return to the indie label circuits didn’t make them more adventurous. Instead, it codified their safety in their formula where they would have melodies somewhat buried in dense but sonically safe production.

“Grand Inquisitor” starts things out fine and hopeful, with tempo and sonic changes in a short period of time, but from there, the record becomes less and less memorable, with songs almost interchangeable for the most part. Only the final track, “NW Passage” changes it up a bit, moving into indie pop / folk land. That’s nice but not what they’re known for and it’s not their best work.

While decent, this is kind of disappointing and it really lost the band some momentum that they’d never recover.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Guitarist Thomas Fekete was diagnosed with sarcoma., and had to leave the band shortly after recording. He passed away in 2016.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B-: Decent enough, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t take more chances.

Shellac – Terraform

ARTIST: Shellac 220px-Shellac-Terraform

TITLE: Terraform

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Todd Trainer.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More of the same Shellac like the first album, and it does seem like a retread.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Out of the gate, Shellac graces it’s second official full length release with a 12-minute exercise in repetition. That doesn’t seem like a great way to start, and anxious listeners may itch for the fast forward button (or go and pick up the needle on the record).

After that, the tracks are shorter, and punchier. The star of the proceedings is the bass work of Bob Weston, who keeps things interesting even during the long opener. Todd Trainer’s drums are also solid, alternating between primitive driving beats and precise rolls and fills.

Believe it or not, the weakness here is Steve Albini. His guitar tone here isn’t interesting or groundbreaking, and the lyrics to the songs don’t bite. They’re also mixed low, which is kind of normal, but here it’s a detriment.

Shellac’s career is stop and start due to production and engineering duties, but there was ample time to get this right and it doesn’t seem right.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Disgrace” has a long silence in the middle, which may have caused some vinyl buyers to see if the record was still playing or if there was a problem with their unit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B-: I’m not 100% down on this record, it has some interesting parts. But it could have been better than this.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.

Supertramp – Retrospectacle: An Anthology

ARTIST: Supertramp 220px-Supertramp_-_Retrospectacle

TITLE: Retrospectacle – The Supertramp Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #9 UK

SINGLES: Charting: Dreamer (#13 UK), Bloody Well Right (#35 US), Give a Little Bit (#15 US, #29 UK), The Logical Song (#6 US, #7 UK), Breakfast in America (#62 US, #9 UK), Goodbye Stranger (#15 US, #57 UK), Take the Long Way Home (#10 US), It’s Raining Again (#11 US, #26 UK), My Kind of Lady (#31 US), Cannonball (#28 US), Free As a Bird (#95 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Crime of the Century, Gone Hollywood

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg were the main quintet. Early band members were Richard Palmer, Robert Millar, Kevin Currie, Davie Winthrop, and Frank Farrell. When Hodgson left, they added session players until their 1997 album. Thompson had left by then. Mark Hart, Cliff Hugo, Tom Walsh, Jessie Siebenberg, and Lee Thornburg were official members then.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Good size retrospective of long time prog rock band that became quite popular in the late 70s and early 80s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Before 1974, Supertramp were a footnote, noted only because a Dutch tycoon backed them. After 1979, they were prime examples of the merging of prog and mainstream rock. This compilation focuses a lot from 1974 through 1997, though it does give you a taste of their early days.

Supertramp were of two minds it seems, proggy songs that rambled on, and hooky rock songs that had prog elements. They also had two songwriters and singers who brought different perspectives and ideas to the band, which helped round out the band, but also led to its ultimate demise.

I reviewed their two best albums, and plenty of cuts here are on those. The other cuts are from their lesser works, where they were struggling to repeat success (or gain success), and post-blockbuster where the band was (and did) splinter apart. Later on, they released two albums before calling their recording career quits, though the fire was out by then.

Some tracks here are better off here without lesser tracks clogging them, but tracks from Crime of the Century and Breakfast in America are best served there. And some tracks will appeal only to true fans here anyway, and the live cuts don’t add much to the program. It’s their best comp, though, so if you’re curious, spin it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They’re still an ongoing concern, but Davies had health problems that forced them to cancel a 2015 tour.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B: When they were great, they were great. When they weren’t, you can definitely tell the difference here.

Supertramp – Breakfast in America

ARTIST: Supertramp 220px-Supertramp_-_Breakfast_in_America

TITLE: Breakfast in America

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: The Logical Song (#6 US, #7 UK), Breakfast in America (#62 US, #9 UK), Goodbye Stranger (#15 US, #57 UK), Take the Long Way Home (#10 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Gone Hollywood

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two sub-par albums following their breakthrough (to be covered in the compilation I will cover), Supertramp hit it out of the proverbial park.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Since their breakout in 1974, Supertramp had released two albums that didn’t light the world on fire, critically or commercially. While it wasn’t desperation as it was for Crime of the Century, it was possible that they were going to fade away if they didn’t release another successful record.

Well, consider this a success.

With four singles that are still played on rock stations, and well known by most everyone over 40 (maybe 30?), and deep cuts that are memorable without being ponderous or pretentious (for the most part), Breakfast in America is the album they needed, and probably their all-time legacy in music history.

Three of the four hits were anchored by Roger Hodgson’s falsetto voice, but the instrument that comes to fore is the electric piano of Rick Davies. The two also collaborate on vocals more (even though every song is credited to one or the other solely), making it seem like a true band effort. The rest of the group also add color and chops to the proceeding.

They didn’t throw away their prog tendencies (which does make some cuts linger a bit too long), and after their last two albums this was a welcome comeback to form where hooks and chops co-mingled.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the record was conceived as a discussion between Hodgson and Davies, but that was scrapped very early on.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE A: It’s really an enduring album with just a few tracks that seem to linger a bit long, but it wouldn’t be proggy if it didn’t have those, would it?

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

ARTIST: Supertramp  220px-Supertramp_-_Crime_of_the_Century

TITLE: Crime of the Century

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #38 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Dreamer (#13 UK), Bloody Well Right (#35 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Crime of the Century

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Struggling prog band finds some pop chops, and a little humor, and gets a hit record that sustains a long career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the dribs and drabs of their first two albums (on comps), Supertramp had talent. Leaders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson had their musical ideas (always different) but in reality the band wasn’t that much different than in their hit making phase.

This one, coming out in 1974, was basically their last chance. It was their last chance for good, as their original financial backer pulled out and A&M were going to lose patience if this one stiffed. Davies and Hodgson replaced the rest of the band, improved their songwriting, and threw in some humor and hooks along with their progressive and arty pieces. There wasn’t a lot of noodling – at least not as much as before.

Some songs do linger a bit too long, but a better and more sympathetic band helped out the songwriters. This record really introduced Supertramp to the world, and over the next decade (give or take) they were one of the bastions of popular progressive rock.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first two records aren’t streaming, and really are for uber-completists only.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE B: The deep cuts kind of ramble along, but the well-known songs are the ones that helped their career take a leap.

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.