Category: Reviews: S-V

Cat Stevens – Matthew & Son

ARTIST: Cat Stevens                         220px-Matthew_and_Son_cover

TITLE: Matthew & Son

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #173 US, #7 UK

SINGLES: I Love My Dog (#118 US, #28 UK), Matthew & Son (#115 US, #2 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Here Comes My Baby

LINEUP: Cat Stevens, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins, other session players

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A young singer and songwriter releases and album with a surprise hit or two in the UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This is more of a pop oriented album than his more famous work, but that doesn’t mean its  just trifly throwaways.

Cat Stevens was just 18 when he started to record this album with some sessions that became singles and slowly worked on the album as time allowed. When it was released, it was better than you’d expect. The original for “Here Comes My Baby” is surprisingly strong with interesting percussion and the two hits are definitely keepers.

His voice is pretty unmistakable, even in his teenage years. The downfall is some of the tracks are a bit over-orchestrated and Stevens struggles to find his voice in the midst of the orchestrations. Still it’s pretty darn decent as these things go.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In the US, they cut it from 14 tracks to 12, of course.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes a later single “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun” (#6 UK)

 GRADE B: A baroque-pop album with little filler but a tad too much orchestration at times.

Slade – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Slade               slade

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: All of em: Of Note: Coz I Luv You (#1 UK), Look Wot You Done (#4 UK), Take Me Back ‘Ome (*97 US, #1 UK), Mama Weer All Crazee Now (#76 US, #1 UK), Gudbuy T’Jane (#68 US, #2 UK), Cum On Feel the Noize (#98 US, #1 UK), Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me (#1 UK), My Friend Stan (#2 UK), Merry Xmas Everybody (#1 UK), Everyday (#3 UK), The Bangin’ Man (#3 UK), Far Far Away (#2 UK), My Oh My (#37 US, #3 UK), Run Runaway (#20 US, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were in the UK and were a Slade-head

LINEUP: Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, Don Powell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Glam rockers, huge in the UK, barely made a ripple in the states until Quiet Riot covered them, and then they got their deserved hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Glam rock barely caused a fuss over here, except on rare occasions when singles by some artists hit the airwaves (Mott the Hoople, Sweet). No band was unjustly denied their rightful place over here more than Slade.

From mid 1971 through 1974, they released 12 singles in the UK, and every one of them hit #4 or higher, including six #1 singles. And they weren’t just copy cat hits (they did change it up a bit, honestly), they were solid songs like “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” (on a K-Tel record, even) and Gudbuy T’Jane. They ran out steam and by the punk era they were off the charts.

But they had more life in the early 80’s, as two singles hit the Top 10 again n the UK and gave the band their much deserved Top 40 hits in the US.

Sure, it’s kind of simple – memorable guitar riffs, Noddy Holder shouting about something, and the band chanting and stomping all around. What’s not to like?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, they felt the title they gave their first self-written single didn’t fit with the sound, and thus they named it “Coz I Luv You”. A career of spelling errors ensued.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: I may have bumped this up a bit…but I mean, this is just packed with memorable shouters and bangers. What’s not to love?

 

James Taylor – James Taylor

ARTIST: James Taylor     James_Taylor,_James_Taylor_(1968)

TITLE: James Taylor

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #62

SINGLES: Carolina On My Mind (#118), Knocking ‘Round the Zoo, Something’s Wrong

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Something In The Way She Moves

LINEUP: James Taylor, Mick Wayne, Louie Cennamo, Freddie Redd, Don Shinn, Bishop O’Brien. Paul McCartney and George Harrison guested on one track. Richard Hewson arranged all the strings so you can blame him for those.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album on Apple Records didn’t sell and wasn’t promoted well. But it had a few lasting tracks, and others almost ruined by string interludes and syrup.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After failing to hit the big time with his band (called The Flying Machine – no, not that one), Taylor was signed as a solo artist on Apple Records after auditioning for Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Harrison nicked the first line of “Something” from a Taylor track.

When Taylor plays along with the studio musicians, and without the orchestra, it’s a perfectly nice folk-rock record. A track like “Taking It In” shows some liveliness and uses a harpsichord along with a nice bassline and acoustic guitar, while Mick Wayne’s lead in the opener “Don’t Talk Now” is strong.

BUT – dang it – Peter Asher and Richard Hewson added string interludes and a lot of syrup on tracks and in between tracks as interludes. Those wreck the continuity and detract from the intimacy of the record. Ack!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Knockin’ Round the Zoo” references Taylor’s old bandmate Danny Kortchmar.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A few demos and a B-side were appended.

GRADE  B-: I can rescue a few tracks from this, if I can somehow zap the string interludes.

The Styrenes – Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)

ARTIST: The Styrenes

TITLE: Essential Styrenes Vol. 1 (1975-1979)                    r-4432280-1364729490-3484.jpeg

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Drano in Your Veins, I Saw You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

LINEUP: George Klimek, Paul Marotta, Anton Fier, Mike Antle, Jim Jones, other various drummers and bassists

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Arising out of the ashes of the early avant-garde Cleveland scene, the Styrenes were born, and wallowed in serious obscurity until people started to pay attention to Pere Ubu. Then they were just obscure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Cleveland in the early 70’s produced some dark avant-garde rock, and after the first wave of bands came and went (including Mirrors and the infamous Electric Eels), the Styrenes formed.

Their first single (“Drano in Your Veins”) rather much captured it all. They weren’t loud and destructive – at least on record – they were subversive in other ways. The lyrics were just weird, art damaged maybe (early on), and the arrangements were a bit odd and off-putting. Later, they added saxes, shed members (many, like Anton Fier, joined Pere Ubu or other Cleveland bands) and Paul Marotta’s piano took more prominence. They were still weird.

This compilation covers their Cleveland years, containing the best two singles and album highlights. This was released originally as two 7” records, which was probably the perfect format for them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They moved to New York, recorded an album, waited about eight years, recorded another one, and somehow Marotta have kept a version going.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE C+: Google the lyrics to “Drano in Your Veins”. If you can dig it, you can dig this. It’s just inconsistent weirdness.

 

Robin Trower – For Earth Below

ARTIST: Robin Trower                 220px-robin_trower_-_for_earth_below

TITLE: For Earth Below

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #5 US, #26 UK

SINGLES: Shame the Devil

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It sold, but it’s not played now.

LINEUP: Robin Trower, James Dewar, Bill Lordan

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Trower plays it safe with his third album, basically a stylistic repeat of his breakthrough.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I suppose that there’s nothing wrong with an artist making an album in the same mode as their previous work, but the former Procol Harum guitarist made Bridge of Sighs 2 with this release.

Not to say that this is a bad record. There’s definitely some cuts here to thrill the rock-and-rollers and the guitar fiends. James Dewar’s vocals fit the blues motif of the songs pretty well, and Trower adds some spacey rock guitar all over the place. That’s fine, but it’s becoming formulaic.

This sold a lot of records, hence the chart activity, but it’s hard to listen to now unless a satellite radio station programs a cut somehow. That’s a shame, because even Trower repeating himself is worth a listen or ten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In case you were wondering, he’s a Startocaster maven/

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s perfectly okey-doke, but it’s not a revelation as his other solo albums were. It’s just workmanlike rock-and-roll.

The Thermals – Fuckin A

ARTIST: The Thermals                  220px-the_thermals_-_fuckin_a

TITLE: Fuckin A

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: How We Know

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um..doubtful

LINEUP: Hutch Harris, Kathy Foster, Jordan Hudson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Thermals move into being a real band, and their fury lit up the Pacific Northwest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s hard to believe that Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster were folkies before the Thermals, but they were. Now that Harris, Foster, and Jordan Hudson became the Thermals after Harris recoded and album under that name, there’s no ‘folk’ here, unless it’s the punk rock for the people as the new ‘folk’.

Harris’ guitar screams and howls, much like his vocals on many tracks. Foster’s bass is in the Laura Balance mode, distortion and volume and working in lockstep with drums. There’s definitely passion and fire here.

It’s under 30 minutes long, but it doesn’t seem like a rip-off. Harris’ vocals and lyrics point to the anger the youth felt about the world in the mid-2000’s. A leap forward and worthy of your catalog.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was recorded in four days, in a studio (unlike their debut)

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: The Thermals were a hidden gem of the 2000’s, and this record truly started them toward toward their glory days.

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf the Second

ARTIST: Steppenwolf                        220px-SteppenwolfTheSecond

TITLE: The Second

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Magic Carpet Ride (#3)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Radio stayed away from the rest, and still does.

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldie McJohn, Rushton Moreve, Jerry Edmonton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Steppenwolf’s second (hence the title) is lighter at times, more psychedelic, more political, and more of a hodge-podge (and strained through a Leslie, as it were).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Magic Carpet Ride” was a monster hit, of that there is no question, and is one of the best hard psychedelic songs from the era. And at first listen, this record seems like it will be a worthy successor to their first album.

Yet upon more listens, it seems weaker and more unfocused.

The band does try to mix up their sound, getting quieter at times and diminishing the hard sound of the first album. But many of those quieter songs don’t really stand up to scrutiny, with only “28” really being outstanding, while “Tighten Up Your Wig” sounds nice but is a blatant rip of “Messin’ with the Kid”.

The sides end with lengthy tracks. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” is a ham-fisted pro-pot song, while the end of Side Two is a long suite with five tracks that range from hard rockin’ to scarily political. There’s some duds in there which dilute the quality of the suite.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Jerry Edmonton sings two tracks, the openers to each side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: There’s enough good stuff in here to have it over a greatest hits album, but it’s not as good as I thought it was when I was young.

Stellastarr – Stellastarr

ARTIST: Stellastarr          Stellastarr_Stellastarr

TITLE: Stellastarr

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Somewhere Across Forever, Jenny, My Coco

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Shawn Christensen, Amanda Tannen, Michael Jurin, Arthur Kremer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: NYC based band meshes a lot of influences into something that’s not quite original, but enjoyable.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Some good riffs, backing vocals by a female bassist, and a frontman that has a quirky shouty singing voice. It may be a little Column A and Column B, but it’s still enjoyable.

Shawn Christensen’s voice can be overbearing at times (he’s not subtle, but not outrageous), and he and Michael Jurin do a good job in making guitar sounds. They bounce from the 80’s to the 90’s in style, so they’re not breaking new ground here. And even if you don’t quite remember “Jenny”, you definitely recognize the motif. “My Coco” even has a little bit of Low in it at the beginning before it moves to an 80’s alt-rock style.

Some of their songwriting here is just average, and they don’t really slow down well. Still, it was a decent debut and one to re-visit if you missed it the first time.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Christensen, Tannen and Kremer met at Pratt Institute and had a band that dissolved upon graduation, but later added Jurin and formed Stellastar.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B+: Pleasantly cromulent 80’s and 90’s alt rock nostalgia.

Tsunami – The Heart’s Tremolo

ARTIST: Tsunami                       Tsunami-The_Heart's_Tremolo

TITLE: The Heart’s Tremolo

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Be Like That

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Jenny Toomey, Kristin Thomson, John Palmer, Andrew Webster

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: DC area band and record label owners second full length runs into a rut of same-same and bad production.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I guess I DON’T have to follow the hipster crowd on some things. One of these is this Tsunami record.

Critics loved this band, but they must have seen them live, because on record they sound flat, have same-same songs, and have mixing and production issues. I can her fits and starts of songs that sound good, but when they get to the chorus it blurs together, at least in my ears.

Tsumani has a great DIY and independent legacy, and I don’t mean to belittle that. It’s just…I don’t get this record. It’s probably on me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this, they took a hiatus as Andrew Webster finished his degree.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE C: It’s probably a cop-out review but I’ll exile this and see if my ears perk up for their final album.

20/20 – Look Out!

ARTIST: 20/20                                      R-2470935-1285873847.jpeg

TITLE: Look Out!

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

 

CHART ACTION: #127

SINGLES: Strange Side of Love,

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you adore power pop

LINEUP: Steve Allen, Ron Flynt, Joel Turrisi, Chris Silagyi.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from relocated Midwestern power-pop quartet is hooky and melodic

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Power pop was either a hit or miss (usually a miss) on the charts, since it fell in between radio-friendly rock, pop, and adult contemporary and only the catchiest tracks could catch on with the radio.

Which means a band like 20/20, who had catchy hooks, harmonies, and interesting songs and melodies, didn’t catch a break in the era when the Top 40 was transitioning away from disco and into new wave and arena rock.

This second foray by the band covers a lot of the same ground as their debut. Some of the tracks near the end didn’t work as well in reality as in concept, and at times it felt like a slight re-write of the first one. Still, there was enough here that it could have done better on the charts had radio taken a flyer on it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They added a new drummer, and after the album only Allen and Flynt remained.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two extra tracks.

 GRADE: B+: A few duds near the end, otherwise another good representation of power pop.