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album reviews

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 »

Bruce Springsteen

Darkness On The Edge of Town Columbia

Occasionally, a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock & roll, the way it's recorded, the way it's played. Such records — Jimi Hendrix' Are You Experienced, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Who's Next, The Band — force response, both from the musical community and the audience. To me, these are the records justifiably called classics, and I have no doubt that Bruce Springsteen's Darkness... | More »

July 12, 1978

The Kinks

Misfits Velvel

After twenty-odd albums, either you follow the Kinks or you don't. If you don't ("Gently pity those you can't persuade," as Jonathan Swift put it), it's unlikely you'll acquire the habit with Misfits, especially since none of the songs sounds like an immediate hit single. But if you do, this LP can make you cry. Not because Misfits is a bad record — on the contrary, it's the Kinks' best since, at the very least, 1974's underrated Preservation Act ... | More »

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

More Song Stories entries »
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