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album reviews

Dolly Parton

Heartbreaker

In the year since Dolly Parton's widely publicized crossover from the country genre to the MOR mainstream, the quality of her music has gone dramatically downhill while her fame vaults toward the tinsel regions of instant media celebrity. Actually, the quality hasn't gone downhill as much as it's disappeared completely. The only thing Parton's current output is good for is to be held up as a prop on television's late-night talk shows, and the only difference between h... | More »

The Who

Who Are You MCA

This is by no means a great record, but despite the doubt, guilt, worry and self-laceration in almost every song, it's a strangely confident one. Again and again, the persona is that of the cripple, the victim of disaster, but Who Are You is not the work of cripples, no matter how many breakdowns and bottles the Who have left on their fourteen-year-old trail. Certainly, the album kicks in slowly. The tunes lack a natural, kinetic groove (John Entwistle's "905" and Pete Townshend�... | More »

October 5, 1978

Curtis Mayfield

Do It All Night

Do It All Night is Curtis Mayfield's flimsiest solo album yet, an indifferent collection of flaccid disco music. God knows, Mayfield has usually been uneven, but until now he's always managed to crank himself up at least once per LP and push his pretty, quavery voice over the line into conviction. Even on an outright bad record like Sweet Exorcist, there was that amazing title song, with its fluky, amiable beat and the outrageously funny conceit of its main character. The new album... | More »

September 21, 1978

Jethro Tull

Heavy Horses

The secret of Jethro Tull's longevity is that the band always plays its cards sparingly. For example, "No Lullaby," one of Heavy Horses' two epics, deploys an extensive catalog of aurally exciting effects: flanged drums, echo on the vocal, a mightily distorted guitar cadenza. But each item appears only momentarily, to nudge the slow dirge into grandeur. Another case in point is "Acres Wild," a simple love song that's wrought entirely from the differences in timbre between Ian A... | More »

September 7, 1978

John Prine

Bruised Orange

Just for a minute, think about Larry McMurtry's T-shirt. Several years back, feeling passed over and generally bum rapped, McMurtry took to sporting a shirt of his own design, featuring a particularly nettlesome phrase from an unneighborly review emblazoned across his chest: minor regional novelist. Better than a hair shirt, anyway. But think what John Prine could have done with such a garment. "Faded Folkie" his might have read. "Troubadour without Portfolio." "Bard without a Beat." "S... | More »

Tom Petty

You're Gonna Get It! Gone Gator/MCA

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, released last year, was a debut album that declared almost nothing, but intimated all over the place. The music was intricate and deft, with spooky hints of everyone from J.J. Cale to the Guess Who, all played very close to the vest. Petty himself lived up to the "Mystery Man" title of one of the songs, practicing a terse and elliptical romanticism, always just out of reach. Anything more explicit might have made him banal: his very elusiveness was what gave t... | More »

August 24, 1978

Bob Dylan

Street Legal Columbia

It saddens me that I can't find it in my heart to agree with my colleague Dave Marsh that Bob Dylan's new record is a joke, or anyway a good one. Most of the stuff here is dead air, or close to it. The novelty of the music — soul chorus backup (modeled on Bob Marley's I-Threes), funk riffs from the band, lots of laconic sax work — quickly fades as one realizes how indifferent the playing is: "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)," the most musically striking number ... | More »

August 10, 1978

Nina Simone

Baltimore

Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra each had a moment late in their careers when, facing middle age, they turned a single song into a transcendent statement of what their lives had meant. Holiday elevated a torch song, "I'm a Fool to Want You," into a tragic prayer. Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" summarized a mode of erotic nostalgia. Nina Simone's first album in four years contains such a moment in Bernard Ighner's "Everything Must Change," a song previously recorded b... | More »

Cheap Trick

Heaven Tonight

Given Cheap Trick's boisterous indebtedness to rock & roll history, you could argue that the members of this foursome are not so much creators as dedicated fans. Exactly. Heaven Tonight, the band's third and best album, practically synthesizes the music of the Beatles, the Who, et al., into a series of superbly crafted and cleverly arranged original songs. While Cheap Trick may not be remembered as lovingly as its primarily British antecedents — the price one has to pay fo... | More »

July 27, 1978

Johnny Cash

I Would Like To See You Again

In recent years, Johnny Cash has made some poor music. He's recorded songs that didn't suit his peculiar, coarse subbaritone and struck saintly postures that couldn't help but look foolish on such a craggy tough guy. While you rarely doubted his sincerity, particularly in matters of religious fervor, the songs that such zeal inspired were, ah, uninspired. On I Would Like to See You Again, Cash modifies one of his earlier personas, the ex-con. In current country terminology, th... | More »

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Song Stories

“Don't Dream It's Over”

Crowded House | 1986

Early in the sessions for Crowded House's debut album, the band and producer Mitchell Froom were still feeling each other out, and at one point Froom substituted session musicians for the band's Paul Hester and Nick Seymour. "At the time it was a quite threatening thing," Neil Finn told Rolling Stone. "The next day we recorded 'Don't Dream It's Over,' and it had a particularly sad groove to it — I think because Paul and Nick had faced their own mortality." As for the song itself, "It was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on — don't dream it's over," Finn explained.

More Song Stories entries »
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