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album reviews

Van Morrison

Veedon Fleece Warner Bros.

Van Morrison is an enigmatic figure. Although he practices the art of a flamboyant soul trouper, he maintains an oddly detached, awkward stage presence. His vision is hermetic, his energy implosive; yet his vocation is public. These are curious contradictions for a performer to sustain, but they help lend Morrison's art its resonance. His distinction lies in his fusion of a visceral intensity with an introspective lyric style — a potentially powerful amalgam owing as much to Bobby... | More »

December 19, 1974

Jethro Tull

Warchild

Ian Anderson, the guru and master musician behind Jethro Tull, had a good thing going. Ian would play the pied piper with his flute, dance about and dangle a leg while his band ambled through snatches of convoluted but impressive jazz/rock jamming. Jethro Tull, which had begun life modestly as a group specializing in fluted pop with some classical pizazz, became instead a didactic warhorse, the vehicle for Ian's obtuse sermons, a launching pad for ambitious messes of noodling like last ... | More »

Santana

Greatest Hits CBS

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 »

December 5, 1974

The Who

Odds And Sods Track/MCA

Odds & Sods, the new Who album, collects 11 outtakes, most of them cut between 1968 and 1972. It is an uneven lot. "Put the Money Down" finds vocalist Roger Daltrey at the nadir of an erratic career, while John Entwistle's "Postcard," like several other tracks, will hold more interest for curiosity seekers than music lovers. But the fumbling is almost as illuminating as the flashes of inspiration dotting this album. Far from exploiting a random set of discards, Odds & Sods gives... | More »

Rod Stewart

Smiler Mercury

The magnificent catarrh has a new album, Smiler, and it contains what by now you would expect: several energetic new examples of the Stewart/Wood world view, a couple of boozy renditions of classic R&B standards, a sentimental soundalike of Rod's smasheroo "Maggie May," at least two ho-hum instrumental interludes lasting an average of less than a minute, plus at least one good old Dylan song and maybe a stray ballad or two. This must be Rod's conception of what a well-rounded po... | More »

Billy Joel

Streetlife Serenade Family Productions/Columbia

Billy Joel's pop schmaltz occupies a stylistic no man's land where musical and lyric truisms borrowed from disparate sources are forced together. A talented keyboardist, Joel's piano style creditably imitates early Elton John, while Joel's melodic and vocal attacks owe something to Harry Chapin. Joel's lyrics also seem Chapin-influenced in their appeal to Middle American sentimentality. "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack," the centerpieces of Joel's last album, compel... | More »

Tom Waits

The Heart of Saturday Night Asylum

Tom Waits is an urban romantic poet whose lyrics echo the oral Beat poetry pioneered by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso in the Fifties. Like the Beats, Waits has an ear for the underlying rhythms of American speech and an impressive ability to catalog and juxtapose provocative snatches of cityscape while creating a grandly sentimental vision. Waits has the special ability to redeem cliches — to make such phrases as "lonesome ol' town" and "ol' bloodshot moon" at once... | More »

November 21, 1974

John Lennon

Walls And Bridges Apple/EMI
6

Walls and Bridges shows John Lennon to be as mercurial as ever. I anticipated an unbearable suffering occasioned by the collapse of one of this century's most public love affairs — after all, Yoko Ono was presented as the membrane between agony and peace for Lennon, between illusion and reality. Yet the relative clear-headedness of this album suggests that she may have been only the most recent in a series of causes from which Lennon is extricating himself with customary agility. H... | More »

Carole King

Wrap Around Joy Ode

Since her landmark Tapestry, Carole King has both oversimplified and overelaborated that masterful album's style until her music has become something more overtly but less effectively personal. The spontaneity and simple joyfulness of her earlier Brill Building music and the contemporary beauty of Tapestry eventually turned into the arid, stilted sound of her worst album Fantasy. On Wrap Around Joy she has taken her first faltering steps back to a more solid style.   On her first ... | More »

November 7, 1974

Bonnie Raitt

Streetlights

On her newest album Bonnie Raitt, one of the most gifted contemporary pop interpreters, partially succeeds in coping with uncongenial production by Jerry Ragovoy. The uneven results illustrate an important record industry problem: How are artists to deal with a sophisticated production technology that dictates the creation of flawlessly manufactured commercial "product" and tends to disallow the idiosyncratic, spontaneous and simple? Increasingly, the outcome is a bland MOR slickness that dep... | 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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