- Review -
How The Beatles Did It
The last couple of weeks I've been spending some time with Marc Platt's ebook "How The Beatles Did It."
Here are my thoughts. First of all, it would seem that there would be no new ways to present the monumental work of The Beatles, but that would be incorrect. Mr. Platt has figured out a very engaging way to communicate the details of not only their recordings, but their influences and the recording techniques used at that time. The site is easily accessible and user-friendly. The videos are concise but don't skimp on information. They are just the right length to keep our attention in these distracted times (the longest one is the Abbey Road Medley, but that's okay). The only thing you end up wanting is more of them. There aren't enough and you find yourself wanting to hear about many other songs. Especially those which the newer or average listener might not be as exposed to or know the significance of. Again, I'd love to hear more.
Here is what the website looks like:
There are six videos and 14 audio notebooks, not including the 78 page book. The book has a large amount of information and even acknowledges Chris Thomas as a Producer (which is something that other books don't come right out and say). For that reason alone, I would agree with the author when he says 'this is a content-heavy book with a lot of analysis. It is designed for Beatle fans newer and older." There is a lot of information here for those who think they know everything already (and there are plenty of us), while still having enough information for young people who may still be starting out and keep them interested. Overall, I highly recommend this ebook for all the reasons mentioned above. Lastly, you will learn a few new things about the group that you didn't know before and for that reason, it is a very valuable resource for long time fans and newbies.
You can pick up your copy by following this link:
- Review -
By Byron Mucklow
It easily required four full CDs to encompass even the first thirteen years of work released by the premier ‘rock 'n' roll band with horns’, and Disc 1 nicely begins with Chicago's first two albums –"Chicago Transit Authority" and "Chicago II"– in chronological order. Seventeen tracks were selected from a total of thirty-five songs on these two double albums from 1969 and 1970, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is", "Beginnings", "Colour My World", and "25 or 6 to 4". Surprisingly, "Wake Up Sunshine" from "Chicago II" was excluded. The ratio of originally released songs to those chosen for this disc is definite proof that Chicago's original dedication was well received.
Beginning with Disc 2 the effect of chronological order is slightly disrupted, but noticed only by those very familiar with early Chicago Vinyl. Though their next three studio albums, "Chicago III", "V", and "VI" are represented in sequence, the songs within the albums are not. Of the forty-two songs on the original studio records ("III" being another double album), fifteen tracks were used here, representing Chicago's work from 1971 to 1973. Among these are "Free", "Lowdown", "Saturday in the Park", and "Just You and Me". The live track, "A Song for Richard and His Friends" was taken from their fourth album, "Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall".
Of Chicago’s album releases from 1974 through 1976 –“Chicago VII" (another double album), "Chicago VIII", and "Chicago X" ("IX" was their greatest hits)– wherein a total of thirty-six songs were originally cut, fifteen tracks were chosen for Disc 3. As the band’s musical style began to make the transition from ‘rock `n' roll with horns’ to ‘easy pop with horns’ I recall grasping for the fewer and fewer songs that still reflected the original Chicago appeal. The last genuinely strong, brassy Chicago effort came with "Chicago X" in the tracks "Once Or Twice", "Skin Tight", and "You Get It Up", none of which appear in this set. Ironically, that album not only illustrated what was to end, but what was to begin, with such drippy love songs as "If You Leave Me Now".
Disc 4 spans the period from 1977 to 1981, wherein Chicago virtually completed its metamorphosis, releasing the albums "Chicago XI", "Hot Streets", "Chicago 13", and "Chicago XIV". Including another live cut from the Carnegie Hall concert, Disc 4 contains a total of fifteen tracks. As the band suffered the demise of Terry Kath and other personnel changes, they may have had no choice but to go where they went musically. Electric guitar gave way to strings and woodwinds as Chicago gradually became a pop-ballad machine producing shorter, more commercially suited love songs. Band members no longer shared lead vocals as Peter Cetera stepped up as front man.
This has to be the most complete Chicago story written, including the band’s musical influences and how they came to be, details and quotes from band members regarding albums and tours, and rare photos and color album covers. The booklet mistakenly credits five songs from "Chicago VI" as being tracks from "Chicago IV", mislocates a bold album dividing line, and identifies the "Chicago XIV" album cover as being the artwork for "Chicago XVI". Errors aside, the booklet and the four jewel-cased discs beautifully represent Chicago's history from 1969 to 1981.
No remixing took place here; this material was digitally re-mastered from the original master tapes, and the sound is clear and punchy. I compared the quality of these discs to my near-perfect Chicago vinyl records, and the wider dynamics and better stereo separation were clearly evident.
- Review -
With many pop groups, the initial creative drive bringing them together and carrying them through their first few albums often takes a turn, loses its intensity, or diminishes altogether. Luckily, with Chicago it only took a turn. Their initial dedication to ‘rock 'n' roll with horns’ drove their career with exciting force from 1969 to 1976. Luckily, as the band moved into the pop love song category, Chicago never lost their ability to write and produce hit records.
Click here to read the Liner Notes.
A few weeks back, I was asked if I would review these recordings for the site. Every now and then I get a request like this. I usually download or otherwise listen to the recordings (sometimes a CD is sent to me) and then I decide if I’m going to actually do it. There have been times when I feel that I’m not qualified to review a CD, either I don’t know enough about the genre (such as rap, I’m not well versed in the genre so it’s not fair to review it, in my opinion) or sometimes I don’t feel like the music is, frankly, very good and again – it wouldn’t necessarily be good to review it.
So I started to download these recordings and as they downloaded I was doing other things around my computer. The songs were playing only snippets as the downloading progressed. One snippet of a song grabbed me, but switched to the next song as it downloaded. When the last song finished downloading, it continued to play without interruption. I was intrigued, it was a good one. I sat at my computer and went back to find the other song that had grabbed my attention earlier, track 4 – “Country Girl”, the last song in the collection was called “Never Get Enough Of You.”
I then restarted the recordings from the top, Track 1: “Radio Song” all the way to the end, Track 7.
After living with these songs for a little while, let me give you a few quick thoughts. Number One: “Country Girl” (Track 4) is a small masterpiece. Simple as that. It’s a brilliantly written song, it pulls you in immediately. It’s laid back rhythm, steel guitar and strong, smart melody immediately struck me on the first listen and hasn’t let go yet. The song has a structure that is tight, each line of verse rises and then slowly starts you back down during the chorus, with interesting chords and a little psychedelia in the mix, it’s a marvel of a song. For this song alone, it’s worth the price of admission.
Number Two: My listening advice has always been this, when someone has written a good song – very often - there is another good one waiting in the wings. Such is the case with “Never Get Enough Of You” the last track in the collection. It starts out strong but then something surprising happens, the pre-chorus introduces some interesting chord choices. The deal is sealed with the chorus, another gem in this collection.
For me, “Country Girl” is the standout track in this collection, “Never Get Enough Of You” is a strong second, of course this is purely subjective. Your listening experience may be totally different and that’s great.
I’ve only focused on two songs here but the other songs in the collection are pretty darn good too. I can listen to any track in this collection without any problem whatsoever. The recordings themselves sound like demos on occasion, without the sheen and overly manipulated sound of a modern recording. The mixes are daring and the production isn’t standard, run-of-the-mill. There is texture and some rough edges, which is a welcome touch. “Never Get Enough Of You” sounds like it was a one take master, with little or no overdubs. I wish there was more than just the seven songs.
Just listening to well-written songs is a challenge these days, they simply don’t get the attention that they deserve. The more we get bombarded with sub-standard songs, the more the standard falls. Great songs don’t get elevated to art anymore and that’s what is clear about Dave Pahanish’s songs, they are art and deserve the attention.
It’s clear that Mr. Pahanish is a singer/songwriter that will be a major force in music. He has written hits and, as evidenced by this collection, has the potential to have many, many more. I urge you to listen.
- Review -
Just Tell Me That You Want Me
A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac - Various Artists
Listen to this at: http://www.panfish.bandcamp.com
Hear Music / HRM-33327-02
The tribute CD is a tough thing. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation. If you stick too close to the original rendition of the song – you’re not inventive or creative. If you are too experimental or change things around too much – you’re not sufficiently reverential (or whatever). You get what I mean, tribute CDs can really suck sometimes. This is one of those times.
I struggled with this one. I wasn’t sure if I should try to balance my criticism with positive comments but I’ve decided just to wing it and do what I want. I’m just going to put this out there – this CD wasn’t given to me, I bought it myself (at my local Starbucks). Thus, I do not feel any guilt about being honest - so there you go.
Fleetwood Mac is one of those groups that has such a large catalog of music that there could quite possibly be too much incohesiveness to make a cohesive tribute CD. The blues years versus the popstar years. Those years of massive hits and chart success cast such a shadow over the early years of the group that I think that this collection put too much emphasis on the jams. It seems like there are three factions present on this collection, the Peter Green contingent, the Stevie Nicks contingent and those admirers of “Tusk.” This is really too bad since there are a bunch of great songs that were written by Christine McVie. Ten of the 17 songs on this CD were written by Stevie Nicks, that's a little off balance to me.
It also feels like there was a concerted effort to stay away from “Rumours”. Which is a huge mistake, it feels like the elephant in the room. There are only two songs here from “Rumours” (except for “Silver Springs” – which was a B-side on a single, so I don’t count that one as being from “Rumours”). All three of these songs are Stevie Nicks songs. Unfortunately, “Dreams”, “Gold Dust Woman” and “Silver Springs” just don’t cut it. “Gold Dust Woman” is pretty much like the original, but without a compelling performance to keep our attention for long. “Dreams” is just disappointing and “Silver Springs” (which, in my opinion, happens to be quite possibly the most mournful, and powerful relationship song ever written – let alone captured on tape) is just simply lacking anything close to the emotional pain, hurt, exhaustion, love, regret and absolute anguish of the original. I’m not saying that Stevie Nicks has a great voice, but any one of the women singing these tunes could be exchanged for each other and no one would miss them. Don’t get me started on “Rhiannon” – it was one of the songs that intrigued me when I read the tracklist since it’s recorded by Best Coast. Frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking. They’ve completely changed the rhythm of the song to straight 4/4 time, it sounds like a kid taking piano lessons. You know: Teacher: “Play this to practice your sight reading.” Student: “Uh, okay. Let’s see. Plink, plink, plink.” It’s amateurish, really. The original arrangement was syncopated, it breathed, it stopped, it restarted, it moved. This version plods along with no attempt to make it interesting for the listener. Mission accomplished.
The New Pornographers version of “Think About Me” (the only tune penned by Christine McVie on this package) is pretty good, actually. I’m fascinated that the Liner Notes indicate that it was recorded in a slew of different studios: (from the Notes – “Recorded by John Collins at JC/DC; Kurt Dahle at Dahle House; Ryan Carl Dahle at Rec Room; Todd Fancey at The Office, Vancouver, British Columbia; A.C. Newman and Phil Palazzolo at Little Blue and The Humble Abode, Woodstock, NY; Colin Stewart at The Hive, Victoria, British Columbia”). I imagine they all had something to add to the recordings, overdubbing with abandon.
I’ve got to mention “Landslide” as performed by Antony (another Stevie Nicks song). As far as covers go, it barely covers it. It so close to the original that I’d rather hear the Dixie Chicks version, at least they arranged more harmonies and added a little depth to the song. (Tangent: It’s technically not a landslide anyway. If I see your reflection in a snow-covered hill, it would be an avalanche that brings it down. Sorry Stevie, had to clarify that.)
MGMT covers Bob Welch’s “Future Games” on this CD and it’s odd. I’ve read elsewhere that it’s the track to listen to. I’d agree. Listen to it once. It goes nowhere. It builds to nothing and it’s not at all inventive. Spoiler alert: the vocals are made to sound like a robot – get it? “Future Games” (Hey, let’s make it sound all futuristic! Yeah, we can use the barn!) After the first minute it’s revealed all that it will (and yet it continues for about eight minutes). It’s just not interesting. The original song was a muddled, lurching, languid song – rising and falling with actual voices, singing words that you could hear and understand (and had harmonies). So, so disappointing.
Honestly, I’m not familiar with too much of the earlier, blues-based Fleetwood Mac tracks and the recordings collected here are intriguing enough to listen to yet still make me want to track down the originals and hear them too, so that’s a good thing. For those listeners that have never heard Fleetwood Mac, I'm sure that they will find something to enjoy here.
Every incarnation of Fleetwood Mac had a dynamic. It isn’t something that you can just sit around and capture. They worked hard for it. In addition, the late 70s variation had the power of love/hate and a competitiveness that simply can’t be recreated. The performances captured in the three, late 70s releases – “Fleetwood Mac”, “Rumours” and “Tusk” – are steeped in passion (for music and love - and hate - for each other) that isn’t on sheet music. It’s intangible yet it’s on the tapes.
As for me wanting to listen to this CD again, that’s probably not going to happen. I’ve found that since I’ve put this CD on, I’ve listened to more original Fleetwood Mac recordings than I have in a while. That’s what I recommend you do, grab the original music instead of this. That way, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
To read these Liner Notes, click here.
Send me your angry responses: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Review -
The Legendary Demos
Hear Music / HRM-33681-02
I picked up this CD last night and I've been listening to it a lot today. Here are a few of my thoughts.
First of all, I've read from a few online sources that these recordings have been available for some time (if you knew where to get them). I've never had access to them before but I'm glad to hear this (legitimate) release now.
The one that grabs me the most is "Just Once In My Life." I've always loved this song. I was introduced to it by The Beach Boys version and it's a heartbreaking rendition. I wasn't as familiar with the version by The Righteous Brothers but it's a blurrier version of the recording The Beach Boys recorded years later. However, now listening to the original demo I'm struck by how much was there from the beginning. Number one: obviously they were writing for a duo (since Carole King sings the impassioned harmony in the chorus). I'm also amazed at the bass line she plays (on piano) for her demo recording. It's note for note what she wants to get across. The bass line on The Righteous Brothers version isn't as upfront as on The Beach Boys version (and the demo really brings it home). I guess I shouldn't be surprised that she knew what she wanted to present.
Some of these demos are pretty close to the versions we know, such as "You've Got A Friend" - without a few final musical thoughts to clean them. I love the released version of "You've Got A Friend" because the intro takes it's time and then turns right into the song. Nicely done. The original demo doesn't show that finesse had happened yet. Is it possible that only after performing this song on the stage did that flourish come around (or maybe in the studio)?
Her demo for "Take Good Care Of My Baby" is interesting. The verse is a little reminiscent of "Heart And Soul" on the piano (the song piano students have learned for the last few decades - the same one that Tom Hanks danced on the large floor piano in "Big".) She overdubs her piano to illustrate the little lick that strings would eventually play in the smash version for Bobby Vee.
The version of "Beautiful" on The Legendary Demos is basically a fully realized version of the final song (minus her band and the pounding drums). I think either version of "Beautiful" works, the final released version though is emphatic that we understand the words of the song. The rhythm and the aggressiveness of the music is an underline (and exclamation mark) to the power of the lyric in the chorus - from the fact that the intro to the song is: Bam! 'You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face' and the syncopated rhythm illustrates the importance. The verses are slightly quiet to force you to hear the power of the chorus. King's voice acting as a clarion call.
The song "Yours Until Tomorrow" begins - after a brief intro - with the word "tonight." Carole sing this with the same cadence and notes (and word) that opens "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow". It's possible that they were trying to invoke the earlier hit in a new song (which wasn't unusual songwriting tactic during that musical era).
Carole's demo of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" has her singing the lyrics with a slow, drawn out vocal, bending, stretching, holding and releasing notes with abandon. She sings some notes long, some short, speeds up and slows down with absolute control, extending some of the notes in the second verse far longer than we are used to (compared to any released version). Her own multi-tracked backing vocals don't get in the way of her strong lead, her bluesy vocals in the fade-out highlight her skills.
I find it interesting to listen to all versions that I can find of these songs, not to compare and find fault but to get some insight into the process of writing and recording (and absolutely arranging). Having access to demos and alternate versions of songs is the key to understanding the process that songs go through when being birthed. There's no better way to hear them.
If this type of musical archeology intrigues you, you must pick up this CD. It's a must-have for the fan of songwriting and those that would like to learn a little about how it's done.
Read the liner notes for this release here: The Legendary Demos
To learn more about the career of Carole King, please visit her website at: www.caroleking.com or her page at AllMusic.com.
- Review -
Rave On, Buddy Holly
Fantasy FAN – 32670-02
It’s always a tough thing, to gather artists around an artist (or album) and try to make some magic. When the artist is an icon, that makes it tougher. This new collection brings together a slew of artists to honor the musical legacy of Buddy Holly. While I’m not going to go song-by-song, I would like to spotlight a couple of songs that represent the collection, in sound and style.
The CD opens with the Black Keys rendition of “Dearest.” The one constant theme within this disc is the lo-fi sound. A little noise, distortion or other retro stylings. The Black Keys have that style pretty much nailed down. The original version of this song was just Buddy and his guitar, recorded in his apartment in New York. We don’t have the luxury of hearing his idea of how this song would have ultimately sounded (likewise with Peggy Sue Got Married and Crying Waiting Hoping). The Black Keys do a great job with this one, letting us see it their way but still letting a little Buddy Holly rock ‘n’ roll shine through.
Paul McCartney’s version of “It’s So Easy” is exactly what I was talking about above. A ton of distortion on Paul’s lead vocal renders it almost other-worldly. It’s unlike something you may have heard Paul do before. The ad-lib parts tossed within and especially the end of the song are notable. Again, it’s Paul unlike you’ve ever heard.
Florence + The Machine’s rendition of “Not Fade Away” easily does away with the Bo Diddley rhythm of the original song. It’s percussive instruments sculpt an interesting backing track, with drums, a lively sousaphone riff, guitars, organs and other layered parts. Her vocal is powerful but still lets the instrumentation have its rightful place. Nice job.
“You’re So Square (Baby, I Don’t Care)” is fun, bouncy and almost loses Cee Lo Green in the recording. I love when an artist takes a total risk with their sound and lets their hair down to show a fun and interesting side. Cee Lo Green does just that. Unfortunately, it’s only 1:33 in length, seriously too short. I guess it’s better to leave us wanting more.
Disappointing is My Morning Jacket’s version of “True Love Ways.” They mostly try to cover the song close to the original, as a soft ballad with orchestration. I think it may have been more interesting to hear something totally fresh (I mean, if I want to hear it this way – I’ll put on Buddy’s superior version). Sometimes an artist thinks that this type of project calls for them to recreate the song they love, but there is the risk of failing by comparison. Better to grab the bull by the horn and change it around a little, make it stand out from the original. Easy for me to say I guess, I’m here typing. So whatever.
Kid Rock pulls “Well Alright” far from it’s cymbal-based original. Pulling it through with a Memphis sound, horns, pulsing bass and a nice amount of echo on his voice. I think that it’s good but there’s something still missing. Perhaps he could have changed something or not shown us all his cards at the beginning of the track. You know, build the arrangement a little.
Okay, I love Lou Reed’s “Peggy Sue.” Here’s why: it doesn’t have any respect for the original, you know what I mean? It takes the song from it’s original 50s rock ‘n’ roll and dips it into a psychedelic hodge-podge. The backing track sounds like it’s an outtake from The Beatles circa 1968 (actually, it sounds like a pastiche of “Only A Northern Song” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”). Lou has a dry voice, no echo or reverb on his voice (which makes it even more unsettling). A re-creation like no other.
The CD ends on a tender note with Graham Nash performing “Raining In My Heart.” When I saw his name on the tracklist, I had one of those “awww” moments. I guess I’m a sucker for tying it all together. What better way to end but with a Hollie? That being said, it’s a great, simple, precise and appropriate way to end the disc. If I had been using the criteria I used earlier, I might have said that it’s not daring enough or not original but I think putting it at the end nulls that opinion. It’s a perfect place for quiet reflection on the musical place Buddy Holly has in all our hearts.
So, grab this disc. You should listen to it, enjoy it. It’s a great spin and while you may not love every track, there’s most definitely something here you will love, trust me.
Read the liner notes for this release here: Rave On, Buddy Holly