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album reviews

Leonard Cohen

Songs of Love and Hate Sundazed

Songs From A Room, Cohen's second album, was for me a great improvement over his first because of restraint in the use of strings, clarions and angelic choirs, and because the compositions themselves were fairly even in quality (with "Bird on the Wire" and "Story of Issac" two really tight, clean stand-outs). And short — he shouldn't be straining the frail but frequently quite lovely melodies to five and six minutes, as he does on Songs of Love and Hate. But this record, alas,... | More »

The Who

Who's Next Simply Vinyl Records

Who's Next, regardless of what you may have been led to believe to the contrary, is neither the soundtrack to the realization of Pete Townshend's apparently-aborted Hollywood dream, the greatest live album in the history of the universe, nor a, shudder, rock opera, but rather an old fashioned long-player containing intelligently-conceived, superbly-performed, brilliantly-produced, and sometimes even exciting rock and roll. Having said which, I will digress . . . If, instead of a H... | More »

MC5

High Time

It seems almost too perfectly ironic that now, at a time in their career when most people have written them off as either dead or dying, the MC5 should power back into action with the first record that comes close to telling the tale of their legendary reputation and attendant charisma. This may appear particularly surprising, given the fact that the group's live performances have been none too cosmic of late, but then the old saw is that you can't keep a good band down, and it'... | More »

August 19, 1971

The Allman Brothers Band

At Fillmore East Polydor

That rarity on the contemporary rock scene — an integrated group from the Deep South — the Allman Brothers Band has for a couple of years rivaled the Braves for Atlanta's affections the way the J. Geils Band stole the Red Sox' following (a good part of it, anyway) in Boston. Wherever they play throughout the South, in fact, audiences seem to regard the Allmans as their own. On the strength of their two previous albums and, more recently, a string of knockout live perfor... | More »

The Byrds

Byrdmaniax Line

What a boring dead group. But then again aren't they all? Right, that puts it all in a different perspective. Increments of pus. Anything unfestering is a bonus. Two halfway decent cuts makes an album a winner, maybe even one. The cover features death masks of the Byrds. But the eyes are closed and lots of stiffs have the eyes open. When you're alive and having your face cast you have to watch out for your eyes. So it looks like things have returned to the pre-fanatical days before... | More »

Randy Newman

Live

In its latest attempt to halt Randy Newman's kamikaze flight into oblivion, Reprise has mailed out this collector's item, a live recording of Randy's appearance at the Bitter End last fall, to people in the trade without releasing it to the public, nor with any plans to do so anytime in the future. As befits a composer of songs about anti-heroes, Randy has stubbornly remained an anti-pop-star; he has performed in public exactly three times and his two albums have withered on th... | More »

August 5, 1971

Nina Simone

Here Comes The Sun RCA

The old Nina Simone, the one without whom Laura Nyro would not have been possible, was terrific at dynamics. No one could build to a more dramatic crescendo, or squeeze out a more poignant decrescendo, or simply hold a rest to stronger effect. And dynamics was just one facet of Nina's overall theatricality. Her classic numbers – like "Mississippi Goddam," "I Loves You Porgy," "Irate Jenny" or "Ne Quitte Pas" – were nearly all dramatic performances in the grand manner, replete... | More »

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears 4

When Ed Sullivan welcomed Blood, Sweat & Tears to his show a while back he asked them where they got the unusual name from. From Churchill, they replied. Well, since the Kinks did Arthur, everybody knows Churchill isn't worth very much anymore, so as a result the name has been immeasurably weakened. So maybe they ought to shorten it (names of groups are too long nowadays) to just Tears. After all it's the Tears that have always been their most vital component. There really hasn&... | More »

Marvin Gaye

What's Going On Motown

Ambitious, personal albums may be a glut on the market elsewhere, but at Motown they're something new. These, from two of the Corporation's Finest, represent a subversive concept, allowed only to producers the overseerstars of Motown's corporate plantation as long as they didn't get too uppity. Both Gaye and Wonder have been relatively independent at Motown, their careers following their own fluctuations outside the mainstream studio trends, but these latest albums are dep... | More »

Joni Mitchell

Blue Reprise

The last time I saw Joni Mitchell perform was a year and a half ago at Boston's Symphony Hall, in one of her final appearances before she forswore the concert circuit for good. Fragile, giggly and shy, she had the most obvious case of nerves I have ever seen in a professional singer. Her ringing soprano cracked with stage fright and her frightened eyes refused to make contact with the audience. It wasn't until well into the second half of the concert that she settled down and began ... | More »

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »
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