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album reviews

Bob Dylan

Before The Flood Asylum

Throughout Bob Dylan's performances on this in-concert album there is evident an effort to match the material — nearly all from much earlier in his career — with a suitable style of delivery, a vocal stance which can express in a later year the brilliant and sometimes malevolent energy contained by these pieces when they were first created. Dylan's principal solution is to sing in aggressive, uptempo fashion, borrowing voltage from the Band's rock backing to substit... | More »

August 15, 1974

Etta James

Come A Little Closer

Etta James possesses one of the R&B voices, and she has been pushing it past its limits since her classic sides for Modern—"Roll With Me Henry," "Crazy Feeling" — and her teenage years as an opening act for Little Richard. Her masterful Sixties recordings for Chess, preserved on the essential Peaches, became more and more infrequent as drugs took their toll. Last year she bounced back with Etta James, singing as superbly and soulfully as ever, and gave several of Randy Newman&... | More »

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 »

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Song Stories

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »
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