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album reviews

Queen

Jazz Toshiba EMI

There's no Jazz on Queen's new record, in case fans of either were worried about the defilement of an icon. Queen hasn't the imagination to play jazz — Queen hasn't the imagination, for that matter, to play rock & roll. Jazz is just more of the same dull pastiche that's dominated all of this British supergroup's work: tight guitar/bass/drums heavy-metal clichés, light-classical pianistics, four-part harmonies that make the Four Freshmen sound fun... | More »

January 25, 1979

Elton John

A Single Man

For his first album in two years, Elton John's wiped the slate clean and exchanged longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin for War of the Worlds lyricist Gary Osborne. Instead of recording with a set band and producer Gus Dudgeon, John's coproduced himself and used studio musicians to turn out his sparest LP since Honky Chateau. But this move toward simplicity is a step into emptiness, since A Single Man is nothing more than a collection of trivial hooks performed about as perfunctorily... | More »

Dire Straits

Dire Straits

Dire Straits, an English quartet led by singer songwriter Mark Knopfler, plays tight, spare mixtures of rock, folk and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony. It's almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what's currently happening in the industry, but couldn't care less. As a writer, Knopfler pens terse little narratives about the mundane problems of his brethren: women trouble, money trouble, one's-place-in-the-world trouble. He&#... | More »

The Clash

Give 'Em Enough Rope Epic

The Clash rain fire and brimstone — with a laugh. Give' Em Enough Rope, their second album (The Clash, released in the U.K. in 1977, remains unissued here, as do several remarkable singles that appear on neither LP), is a rocker's assault on the Real World in the grand tradition of Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Produced by Sandy Pearlman, an American brought in by CBS and who's best known for his sometimes m... | More »

Aerosmith

Live Bootleg Columbia

With the passage of time, even the truly monstrous becomes bearable, maybe even enjoyable in a perverse sort of way. On their first record in 1973 Aerosmith came on like a really dumb heavy-metal band with borrowed Led Zeppelin chops and a lead singer who aped every garage-band Mick Jagger move in the book. Now, six LPs later, they're still a dumb heavy-metal band with the same Led Zep chops and the same lead singer doing the same Jagger moves. And they haven't gotten any better at ... | More »

December 28, 1978

Eric Clapton

Backless

Eric Clapton must want to be the Mississippi John Hurt of his generation: a sweet-tempered old soul who can communicate great pleasure and great pain in a mumble. The surprise is that he gets away with it so easily. In its way, Backless is a seductive record, if you're attracted to the interplay of Clapton's dolorous voice and Marcy Levy's raspy backup vocals, George Terry's slide guitar and Glyn Johns' pristine production. It's disheartening only if you're ... | More »

Jethro Tull

Bursting Out: Jethro Tull Live

Jethro Tull's double live album is almost too perfect. Bursting Out can't be faulted on any of the usual live-record stumbling blocks: the performances exemplify Tull's technical mastery and omnipresent energy, the track selection runs the stylistic gamut and provides a quick academic history of everything the group's ever been about. It's hard to see how the LP could be improved — yet there's a nagging feeling that something's horribly wrong. Technic... | More »

Styx

Pieces Of Eight

Styx is an arena band from the progressive school. Every gesture's writ huge to the point of flatulence, their pomp is highly circumstantial (it's the only way to get the last row's attention) and around every chorus lurks a whirring synthesizer, if not a pipe organ hauled in from a genuine cathedral. The strategy becomes obvious: Dennis DeYoung's synthesizer (though sub-Rick Wakeman fluff all the way) is crucial because without its bubblicious curlicues, Tommy Shaw's... | More »

Kiss

KISS Casablanca

Kiss is an exciting Brooklynbased band with an imaginative stage presentation and a tight new album. The music is all hard-edged — they call it "thunderock" — and throughout their electrical storm solid craftsmanship prevails. Paul Stanley's rhythm guitar is the star of the proceedings, barking out the coarse chord patterns that comprise the foundation of the band's material. Gene Simmons can thus provide an extra dimension to the band's music by playing fluid bass ... | More »

December 20, 1978

Santana

Borboletta

As Carlos Santana evolves musically and spiritually — for the time being the two paths seem to be one — he chooses his associates more carefully. The demands of the music he conceives are dictating his personnel and the Santana band has become, for recording purposes, an aegis under which various players perform. Borboletta and Illuminations are noteworthy for their rhythm sections. Bassist David Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who sparked Miles Davis's late Sixties band... | More »

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

More Song Stories entries »
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