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album reviews

Jerry Garcia

Garcia

If Garcia is any indication of what to expect from Round Records, the Grateful Dead's new spin-off label ought to be rechristened Flat. The production (pinned on John Kahn) seems determined to deprive the music of all edge, contrast and excitement (if there was any to begin with). Garcia boasts a lot of talent (Richard Greene, Maria Muldaur, Michael O'Martian, Amos Garrett and many others), but it all comes out jejune easy listening. "Let's Spend the Night Together," for instan... | More »

Elton John

Caribou MCA

In June Elton John signed what was reported to be the most lucrative contract ever negotiated by a recording artist. MCA, the record company involved, commemorated the event with full page ads in both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The latter paper followed up with a story headlining Elton as "The $8 Million Man," eight million being the sum thought to be guaranteed John as royalties on his next half-dozen albums. The magnitude of the deal was obviously inspired by the great s... | More »

James Taylor

Walking Man Warner Bros.

James Taylor's mosaic art embodies two primary contradictions: the public figure versus the private person, and more importantly, the schizoid quality of reflective intelligence. It is an art of balance, dependent on the juxtaposition of conflicting elements. The public Taylor is an aesthete, a musician's musician, who formalizes personal testament in rigorously crossbred traditional modes. These master-crafted harmonic structures provide the armor for his poetry, which is often sta... | More »

August 1, 1974

Curtis Mayfield

Sweet Exorcist

Like many an overextended or depleted artist, Mayfield has dug into his past for material for this album, which sounds hastily conceived and then competently executed to meet some contractual deadline. Four of the seven tunes were written prior to 1971, during the time Mayfield was trying to find himself as a solo artist. "To Be Invisible" comes from the Claudine soundtrack, which Mayfield recently wrote and produced for Gladys Knight and the Pips. The very titles of the two new numbers, "Kun... | More »

Captain Beefheart

Unconditionally Guaranteed

Leave it to Beefheart to take selling out literally. Only he would think to do it at a time when adventurous music like John McLaughlin's really has become commercial. Following on the heels of some of the most complex and fascinating rock records ever made — Trout Mask Replica, The Spotlight Kid and Safe As Milk — Beef-heart has begun to cannibalize his own innovations.   From the beginning, Beef-heart's source has been pure blues. Safe As Milk was directly roote... | More »

David Bowie

Diamond Dogs RCA

Clearly, David Bowie is not the "homo superior" he once claimed and many believed him to be. That claim and belief were based on Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, two records of startling genius which will be among the great albums of the Seventies. But since then Bowie has disappointed even his most rabid devotees. Aladdin Sane was frustratingly uneven, Pinups was trivial, and now comes Diamond Dogs, perhaps Bowie's worst album in six years. It would be presumptuous to pretend to explain ... | More »

July 18, 1974

Jefferson Airplane

Early Flight Grunt/RCA

Not surprisingly, what could well be the best Airplane album since the four-year-old Volunteers consists mainly of tracks from the mid-Sixties. To be sure, there is a boring blues jam, and the rejects from Takes Off, while competent, are not on a par with the original LP. But the two outtakes from Surrealistic Pillow are hardly throwaways. Skip Spence's "J.P.P. McStep B. Blues" is a welcome reprise of the softer, acoustic Airplane, and Marty Balin's pile-driving "Go To Her" is both ... | More »

Bee Gees

Mr. Natural RSO

It's been difficult to understand how the Bee Gees can consistently come off so unflaggingly moronic on television and still make good music. But, although their last three LP's (with scattered exceptions) seemed determined to prove they'd lost the knack, Mr. Natural is a different story. There's a vigor which has been missing from recent records: The group seems altogether more interested in writing good songs and making strong records. The title track, a natural hit that... | More »

July 4, 1974

Jimi Hendrix

Are You Experienced?

Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest rock instrumentalist of the Sixties. His blunt attack contrasted sharply with the meticulous virtuosity of an Eric Clapton; Hendrix preferred and angry metal whine, molten steel to Clapton's polished chrome. His rough edges conveyed far more than his awesome dexterity. In a genre where computerized pyrotechnics seem the rule, Hendrix played with a rawness transcending idiomatic formalities. | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Second Helping MCA Records

This group is frequently compared to the Allman Brothers but it lacks that band's sophistication and professionalism. If a song doesn't feel right to the Brothers, they work on it until it does; if it isn't right to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are more likely to crank up their amps and blast their way through the bottleneck. They do, however, play a solid brand of Allman-influenced blues rock, drawing on gospel and other components of southern music as well. Second Helping is distingu... | More »

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Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »
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