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album reviews

Jethro Tull

A Passion Play

A Passion Play is the artsiest artifact yet to issue from the maddeningly eccentric mind of Ian Anderson. Conceived for live performance as much as for disk, its ultimate presentation incorporates a short film, written, directed and edited by Anderson, in addition to the madcap hysteria of the stage show. Having not seen the play, I can only comment on the disk, which is a pop potpourri of Paradise Lost and Winnie The Pooh, among many other literary resources, not to mention a vast array of m... | More »

Donny Hathaway

Extensions Of A Man

Like Stevie Wonder's Music of My Mind, Donny Hathaway's Extensions of a Man, produced by Arif Mardin, is an ambitious breakthrough album that significantly broadens the musical palette of a major black artist, fulfilling in large measure promises long-offered. But whereas Wonder has lately concentrated on expanding the textural definitions of R&B as it has evolved out of Motown, Hathaway shows himself to be a sophisticated traditionalist of great versatility, able to weave alrea... | More »

Cat Stevens

Foreigner

Cat Stevens' first self-produced album, much of it recorded in Jamaica, fails in virtually all of its fuzzy ambitions, the most conspicuous of which seems to have been an attempt to add some meaningfully avant-garde soul sauce to Cat's basically bland Anglo stew. The almost complete lack of integration between these elements is aggravated by Cat's singing, which has become increasingly ragged since Tea for the Tillerman. Cat seems determined to sacrifice the pleasantly hypnotic... | More »

Bob Dylan

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Columbia

Bob Dylan was the source of pop music's unpredictability in the Sixties. Never as big a record-seller as commonly imagined, his importance was first aesthetic and social, and then as an influence. It was from that vantage point that he accumulated unprecedented power and authority, to the point where it must have eventually threatened his peace of mind. Janis Joplin couldn't survive having so many people dependent on her to fulfill their fantasies; fate, in the form of a motorcycle... | More »

Willie Nelson

Shotgun Willie

With this flawless album, Willie Nelson finally demonstrates why he has for so long been regarded as a C&W singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter. Except for the excellent concept album, Yesterday's Wine, his recorded efforts for RCA were debased by the misapplication of Nashville mass-production techniques that drew the curtains over his exceptionally individual style. Since leaving the label, Nelson has moved from Nashville to Austin, Texas, signed up with Atlantic's fledg... | More »

August 17, 1973

Earth, Wind & Fire

Head To The Sky

A dream last week: I was walking through a crowded marketplace in a city that seemed to be Paris although I've never been there. I was singing to myself and everyone I passed was singing the same song, softly to themselves. It was "The World's a Masquerade" from the Earth, Wind & Fire album, especially the repeated final lines, "The world's a masquerade/ Can the whole world be lying?" I thought to myself, "That must be a very popular song," and then the dream moved on to ot... | More »

Rod Stewart

Sing It Again Rod

Sing It Again Rod touches all the solo bases since Stewart's departure from the Jeff Beck Band, wherein he cut his teeth on American audiences for $75 a week plus expenses, and wisely ignores his generally inferior work with the Faces. With only four solo albums to his credit, the retrospective is premature, even though it is pulled off with taste and imagination. Stewart's music has passed through blues, rock 'n' roll, pop, rock, Dylan and British folk music. He did some... | More »

August 16, 1973

Steely Dan

Countdown To Ecstasy

Steely Dan 1972. Five jaded guys from Gotham City going west to find the American Dream, only to find Los Angeles, where, as they say, you can't buy a thrill. Lo and behold, what do they find there in the promised land but two smash singles, a gold album and (drum roll) success. Steely Dan 1973. Countdown To Ecstasy is upon us with another dose of mainstream rock & roll, restating the basic themes of Can't Buy a Thrill, but this time concentrating a bit more on the rocking side... | More »

August 2, 1973

Jimi Hendrix

Soundtrack Recordings from the Film 'Jimi Hendrix' Warner Bros.

Necrophiliacs of the rock world unite! It's not one, but two records of posthumously issued Jimi Hendrix material, culled from the forthcoming documentary film Jimi Hendrix, featuring five hitherto unreleased cuts. Three are from Hendrix' final performance, held at the Isle of Wight, and reveal the dishearteningly desultory level to which his playing had by then descended. These two records document in words and music (each side concludes with brief interviews with Jimi's famil... | More »

Carole King

Fantasy

In the opening and title cut of Carole King's first, and I hope last, "conceptual" album, the format is made crystal clear: "I may step outside myself/And speak as if I were someone else/ ... In fantasy I can be black or white/A woman or a man." Subsequently we are treated alternately to a series of dramatic monologues, in some of which Carole King appears as herself, voicing personal hope and aspiration, but the majority featuring her as someone else, black, Latin American or otherwise,... | More »

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
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