Saturday, June 20, 2009

Three More Albums

More album reviews. What makes mine different from all the others in the blogosphere?

They're written by me, that's what.

Roger the Engineer, by the Yardbirds

The Yardbirds had three different guitarists during their brief existence: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. 'Roger the Engineer' hails from the Beck era.

Half of what makes the album so fun is its uniqueness. Beck made his other band members recite peculiar chants, some of which seems downright Gregorian. The guitar is blistering, the songs alternate between snappy and reflective, and the themes, aparently, have no connection.

'Over, Under, Sideways, Down' is a great stomper, followed by 'The Nazz are Blue', a guitar show-off with typical blues lyrics, next accompanied by 'I Can't Make Your Way', which sounds like a demented piece of tambourine sunshine pop.

Throw in some really odd tracks like 'Hot House of Omagarashid' (lyrics: ya ya ya, ya ya ya. Repeat) and seemingly you'd have an aimless, incoherent mess.

Somehow, though, the album feels right. The tracks work well in sequence, and in tone claim a sort of afinity to one another. Perhaps it's Beck's deft giutar skill that bundles it together. Whatever it is, it works.

The Gilded Palace of Sin, by The Flying Burrito Bros

Five seconds into this album Sneaky Pete, the guitarist, lets you know you are in territory most classic rockers despise: country!

If you let the track go for another 60 seconds, though, you'll start to recognize some bizarre sounds, lost in the cliche of country: these are psychedelic rock noises. What are they doing here?

This album, which was made with recent ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman at its heart, tries to create something a bit off: psychedelic country rock. Some of the tracks are more successful than others, but the lyrics of even the most 'country' tracks, talking about green mohair suits, reflect the time and objective.

Less 'country' than the Byrds' feature 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' in which Parsons introduced the Byrds' audience to the notion of country rock, 'Gilded' has some great covers, fine originals, and a sound that had not yet been locked in to the stereotypes of what a country rock album had to be. 'Sweetheart' provides that model just fine.

The last track, sounds like Luke the Drifter somehow was transported from a Hank Williams album into 1969. "I was walking down the street the other day/A sight came before my eyes./ It was a little hippie boy/ I must've been twice his size/ His appearance typified his strange breed:/ Guady clothes, long stringy hair hanging down." The hippie admits that the two walking side by side are "a million miles apart", but, in true hippie optimism, suggests the two could still both enjoy the sunshine. This album tries to create this same sort of reconcilliation: and ultimately succeeds.

Moanin' in the Moonlight, by Howlin' Wolf

Most of the songs in the Howlin' Wolf catalogue are first encountered through covers: 'Spoonful', 'Little Red Rooster', and the rest have been covered by aritists as diverse as Etta James, Sam Cooke, the Grateful Dead and Cream. But these tracks are found on Howlin' Wolf's first album, and are not original to Wolf, anyway.

On 'Moanin' Wolf's material, often donated by Willie Dixon, is straight blues. His growls and howls of loss express, what else, his hard times and loss. His career having begun in his forties Wolf (Chester Burnett) distills 20 years of blues development in one knock-out album.

'Smokestack Lightening' is the oft-covered single. The tracks are swirl of bar room piano, driving beats, and 12-bar guitar, complete with harmonica solos. As an introduction to the feeling and sound of electric blues there is no better album.

The Wolf is always on the wrong side of some situation, either with 'No Place to Go' or 'Evil', or the wrong side of women 'I'm Leaving You' and the hilariously acerbic 'I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)'. Hence his need to sing, howl and, living up to the title, moan his blues.

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