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album reviews

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Deja Vu Atlantic Records

Along with many other people, I had hoped that the addition of Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, and Nash would give their music the guts and substance which the first album lacked. Live performances of the group suggested that this had happened. Young's voice, guitar, compositions and stage presence added elements of darkness and mystery to songs which had previously dripped a kind of saccharine sweetness. Unfortunately, little of this influence carried over into the recording sessions for ... | More »

April 25, 1974

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Bachman-Turner Overdrive II

This four-man band from Vancouver may be short on flamboyance, but producer-guitarist Randy Bachman (formerly a mainstay of the Guess Who) has a sure sense of dynamics and tone. He brought B.T.O. from nowhere nine months ago with a pair of singles ("Blue Collar" and "Let It Ride") and two good-selling albums, while everyone followed flashier stars. Guitar sounds dominate their albums, as they reverberate meanly and crash through the group's uncomplicated material. Bachman plays lead wit... | More »

Deep Purple

Burn

Deep Purple's first album since last year's departure of vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist/composer Roger Glover is a passable but disappointing effort. On Burn, new lead singer David Coverdale sounds suitably histrionic, like Free's brilliant Paul Rodgers (rumored to have been Purple's first replacement choice). But the new material is largely drab and ordinary, without the runaway locomotive power of the group's best work.   The title track is a notable excepti... | More »

The Grateful Dead

Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of Grateful Dead

The Dead pretend they're a singles band in this collection of their best-known shorter tracks. The cumulative results are distinguished, not by profundity or virtuosity, but by a characteristic pleasantness. The album boasts attractive melodies and supple rhythmic patterns. But the anthology also exposes some ongoing weaknesses: dull recorded sound, thin instrumental arrangements, frail vocals (except for Bob Weir's occasional leads) and, more generally, music consistently without s... | More »

Van Morrison

It's Too Late To Stop Now Warner Bros.

Like the white middle class it entertains, rock music exhibits a certain rootlessness, a lack of a living history. This is rock's greatest asset — it is spontaneous and free, contemporary and temporary — but it can also be a liability. The ever-recurrent rock revivals and our fondness for golden oldies express the absence of a past, the very word "revival" indicating that the past is dead. Many artists are exploring that past, but the then and the now are so disjunct that mor... | More »

April 11, 1974

Etta James

Etta James [Platinum Disc]

Though the album was recorded in Hollywood, Gabriel Mekler's production of one of the great soul singers sounds as though it were made in Muscle Shoals, circa 1966 — the sight of great past sessions. Etta James socks home nine bitter songs in an unadorned gospel voice, backed by brass, strings and vocals that never detract from the main event — the phenomenon of James herself, an expressive vocalist without bogus pop pretensions. Of special interest: three Randy Newman songs ... | More »

Aretha Franklin

Let Me in Your Life

Aretha Franklin's Let Me in Your Life is one of the few recent R&B albums that places the emphasis entirely and deservedly on a voice. Many R&B producers have been making records on which the singer is outshined by the song, the arrangement and the sound. Treating the vocal as just another band on a 16-track tape, they sometimes prefer unobtrusive singing that highlights their production effects rather than strong personal singing that might deflect attention from it. Atlantic&... | More »

Muddy Waters

Can't Get No Grindin' Chess

Muddy Waters has caught up to his legend and made an album of straight Chicago blues, sounding as fiery and nasty as he managed to 20 years ago. His unjustly ignored guitar acts as a fine counterpoint to the lyrics, as well as providing extra energy in its own right. "Mother's Bad Luck Child" and "Garbage Man" are the best developed songs but there are good rockin' instrumentals, "After Hours" and the classic "Muddy Waters Shuffle," as well. The album's title tune and the deriv... | More »

March 28, 1974

Lou Reed

Rock 'N' Roll Animal

This is a record to be played loud. Like a Formula One car, it doesn't really begin to perform until it's pushed close to the limit. As background music it isn't much, but powered up on a strong system loud enough to make enemies a quarter-mile away, Rock n Roll Animal — recorded live at Lou Reed's Academy of Music concert December 21st — is, well, very fine. Making enemies is all tied up with Lou Reed, anyway. I first heard Reed when he was part of the Velvet... | More »

March 14, 1974

Willie Nelson

Phases and Stages

Willie Nelson has written some of the most chilling, bluntly honest portrayals of the anguish of separation and the shock of finding oneself suddenly alone. With his second Atlantic album, Nelson attempts one of the most ambitious country projects ever: a concept album on the subject of breaking up. Ordinarily, concept albums strike me as pretentious bores (someone will call this one "the Sgt. Pepper of C&W," "the shitkicker's Tommy"), but I find Phases And Stages extraordinarily con... | More »

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

More Song Stories entries »
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