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Led Zeppelin A Celebration For Being Who You Are (San Francisco, June 1973)

gr636From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA, USA – 2 June 1973

Disc 1: Opening Anouncements, Rock And Roll, Celebration Day, [Bring It On Home Intro/]Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused [inc. San Francisco], Stairway To Heaven, Moby Dick

Disc 3: Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love [Inc. The Crunge/Boogie Chillen’], Communication Breakdown, The Ocean, Bill Graham Outroduction

This massive outdoor show, played in front of 50,000 people, was intended to be the final concert of the first part of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 American Tour, leading onto a break of just over a month before the itinerary resumed in Chicago on 6 July. It was supposed to follow two shows at the Inglewood Forum on 30 and 31 May (the latter, of course, oft-bootlegged as Bonzo’s Birthday Party) , though the first of these shows was rescheduled for the day after the Kezar Stadium event due to Jimmy Page injuring a finger. The Kezar concert was a daytime show and Led Zeppelin were supported by Roy Harper, The Tubes and Lee Michaels.

The show appeared on LP as Persistence (Roon Dog) and there has since been a plethora of CD releases. Four songs from the show (Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown and The Ocean) appear on Led Zeppelin: The Butterqueen (Unbelievable) and the complete show features on Vibes Are Real (Continental Sounds), Takka Takka (Tarantura), Persistence Kezar (Holy), Persistence (Cobla), Two Days After (Immigrant), Best Vibes In Frisco (Jelly Roll), Who’s Next? (TDOLZ), and The Grateful Lead (Tarantura). The tape does have small cuts in No Quarter, Dazed And Confused and a far more substantial one in Moby Dick, which excises the majority of the number. In 2001 a soundboard fragment lasting a little under half-an-hour and including approximately fifteen minutes of the drum solo, appeared on Imperial Kezar (Electric Magic), edited with the audience recording. The following year a further half-hour surfaced, giving us the complete performance of Moby Dick and running to the conclusion of the show. The soundboard tape was released on Led Five (Empress Valley) and Vibes Are Real (Watch Tower). Wendy’s issue, Mary Kezar, a three-CD set featuring the complete audience recording supplemented by the hour-long soundboard excerpt, was reviewed by gsparaco in April 2010. Wendy has recently reissued Mary Kezar in new packaging, featuring the same photograph as the new Godfather release on the front cover.

Led Zeppelin arrived extremely late for their performance and hurried on to the stage, only to find the start of the show held up by an equipment malfunction, so we hear Robert Plant talking to the audience for a while, before deciding to leave the stage. “Well, thank you very much for a great show,” he jokes, “we’ll see you in five minutes.” “‘Rock and Roll’ finally commenced the proceedings,” writes Dave Lewis in Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, “The band were a bit sluggish to start with, but didn’t take long to warm up.” The start of the show made a greater impression on attendee Gary Hodges, contributor to the website Brit Rock By the Bay, who remembers, “suddenly Led Zeppelin stormed on, opening with ‘Rock and Roll.’ The sound was huge and crisp – it almost felt warm.” Keith Shadwick, author of Led Zeppelin: A Band And Their Music 1968-2000, also detects no sign of sluggishness, calling it “a barnstorming version,” and it sounds suitably frenzied to my ears.

The tremendous momentum is maintained with a crunching Celebration Day and a thunderous Black Dog which here, as elsewhere on the tour, gains a few bars of Bring It On Home as an introduction. After all this mayhem, things calm down temporarily with the relatively subdued start of Over The Hills And Far Away, which Plant states, is “about the passage of man up and down the track.” During the heavier, almost brutal, latter part of the song, Plant makes his customary reference to ”Acapulco gold,” and prior to Misty Mountain Hop he goes on to comment on the smell of marijuana drifting up on to the stage, saying “smells good up here, it’s all going in the right direction.” At this point an enormous joint was thrown on to the stage, and we hear Plant stating that he will save for later.

Since I’ve Been Loving You is a very effective performance with an excellent vocal turn by Plant and atmospheric keyboards from John Paul Jones. As well as being an excellent performance in its own right, the song acts as an effective prelude to a ten-minute No Quarter, which, as Lewis puts it, “was developing into a showpiece all of its own.” With Jones, as Hodges puts it, “playing moody electric piano,” the song comes across as splendidly mysterious and dramatic in this performance. Dave Anderson, on the Underground Uprising website regards it as a “killer version,” and Argenteum Astrum, both on his Led Zeppelin Database website and on the band’s official site, argues that it is “one of the best 1973 versions” of this number.

Then we hear the two numbers which open Houses Of the Holy, then the band’s latest album. As I stated in my review of Godfather’s The American Return, the two songs complement each other effectively, for, as Jimmy Page stated in an interview with Guitar World in 1993, The Song Remains The Same ”was originally going to be an instrumental – an overture that led into ‘The Rain Song.’” Before The Song Remains The Same Plant makes scathing references to the press, referencing “a paper that’s published on the west coast that always seems to criticize poor old English groups,” and ironically dedicating the song, “to the musical papers that think we should remain a blues band.” The Rain Song is beautifully executed here, and it constitutes a splendid conclusion to the first disc, marred only by what seems to be an equipment problem which results in a few seconds of loud and horrible noise near the end. “I’m sorry about that strange, er, whatever it was,” says Plant.

A repeat of that sentence opens disc two, though now we hear Plant go on to say, “it really blew it, it really blew it. It could have been a lot nicer without it.” Returning to the subject of the press he then says, “Right, anyway, that was one of those things that we keep getting criticized for doing [laughs]. After five years of evolving, I think we can do a few things like that now and again.” Dazed And Confused is then introduced as, “an oldie but gooie that you might remember.” It is played in a superb version, stretching to half-an-hour, which brilliantly highlights the interplay of the musicians. As Argenteum Astrum comments both on his Led Zeppelin Database and on Zeppelin’s website, “Dazed And Confused is one of the best versions ever with Bonham and Jones going crazy at the end with the complex rhythms.” “Everything is played with extreme confidence,” asserts Anderson, “especially Dazed, with the rhythm section playing guessing games with Page.” I suspect that he tortured, menacing sounds Page wrings from his guitar with the violin bow are the source of Hodges’ description of this renditon as, “very psychedelic.” Tony Gassett, on Underground Uprising, rightly contends that Page is “on top form” here. Before this, an instrumental section that would later resurface on Achilles’ Last Stand leads into Plant singing a snippet of Scott MacKenzie’s 1967 hit San Francisco.

Stairway To Heaven follows, providing another indisputable highlight of the show. Hodges states that, “Jimmy Page played his red Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck guitar during a monumental version of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’” This is another song on which Gassett maintains that Page is “on top form,” and another of Anderson’s “killer versions.” Disc two then concludes with what gsparaco rates as a “very exciting” rendition of Moby Dick, with John Bonham demonstrating his astounding virtuosity on the drums for in excess of twenty-seven minutes.

A storming version of Heartbreaker, complete with lengthy guitar work from Page, opens the third disc and this is followed by an equally exciting Whole Lotta Love. The latter song was pruned back after the European dates earlier in the year, the band largely dispensing with the lengthy medleys and including just The Crunge and John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’ during most shows of the American Tour. The first encore is a blistering Communication Breakdown and then the show closes with The Ocean, the third song from the show to feature among Anderson’s “killer versions.” The event, and disc three, conclude with an “outroduction” from promoter Bill Graham.

This is a tremendous show, which as gsparaco contends, “is a great performance all around by the band…They play one of the most laid back yet slick concerts that summer.” Other commentaters are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Lewis states that, “the band turned in a superb performance, one of the most memorable outdoor appearances of their career.” Gassett calls it a “generally superb show,” and Anderson rates it, “one of the best from this period.” Hodges states that, “they were at the peak of their career – relaxed and confident, solid and tight, yet also taking chances.” David Miller, Assistant Editor/Photo Editor of Brit Rock By The Bay, writes, “musically, it was a great concert. Led Zeppelin were at their best.” Dan Cuny, a contributor to that site, adds that, “throughout their set, I was mesmerized by the showmanship of the band. It was truly one of the best performances I have ever seen.” Tee, posting on the official Led Zeppelin website, argues that, “it was excellent…the show itself was just spectacular in every respect.” Pete MacDonald adds that, “to this day this concert ranks, by far, as the most amazing performance by musicians I’ve ever seen,” and Matt Roberts calls it a “seminal show.” Also on the band’s site, in addition to his own, Argenteum Astrum enthuses, “a really big outdoor festival show and one of the greatest concerts ever! The sound is amazing and Robert’s voice is very powerful…he screams and gets right up there for perhaps the last time in his career…his range would be lessened on the following tours…The entire band shines on this show…and the entire show is excellent!”

The press did not necessarily agree. Philip Elwood, writing in the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, argues that, “the quartet’s performance lacked the dynamic spark of earlier local presentations. Plant’s vocals and bodily gyrations seemed tired and routine, and drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones had trouble solidifying their back-up sounds in in the early going.” Such a lacklustre performance might have resulted, if Rolling Stone is to be believed, from the band’s financial motives in playing to such a large audience; the magazine states that, “Zeppelin are back doing what they do best – converting heavy metal into dollars.” Comments such as these are perhaps unsurprising, given the negative attitude shown towards the band by large section of the press at the time, particularly in the USA. As Danny Goldberg, the band’s press agent at the time, points out, “the rock critics were brutal to Led Zeppelin.” One who was most certainly not was Charles Shaar Murray, who wrote in the UK music paper New Musical Express that, “Led Zeppelin and 50,000 San Francisco people got together to provide one of the finest musical events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend…altogether a magical concert…a revelation.”

For a tape recorded in an open-air venue amidst an audience of fifty thousand people in 1973, the sound quality is very impressive. As gsparaco (who considers the sound quality “excellent”) points out in his review of the Wendy release, “the taper was very close to the stage and is able to capture every little detail emanating from the stage that afternoon.” All audience-sourced releases derive from the same tape; most are broadly similar and are rated as “excellent” by Argenteum Astrum on Led Zeppelin Database. However, Persistence Kezar (Holy) is clearly inferior in terms of sound. It is rated as merely “good to very good” by Argenteum Astrum, who states, “this is the worst sounding of all June 2, 1973 releases.” Susumu Omi, on Underground Uprising, is even blunter, stating, “HORRIBLE!..sound quality is much more inferior to both ‘Persistence’ [LP] and ‘Vibes are Real.’” The latter release also has its problems. As Ingham points out, Continental Sounds ”used fairly high generation tapes that ran 3% too slow” and also failed to present the songs in the correct running order. (For further detailed and specific comparison of the various releases, see the Title Comparisons section of the BootLedZ website.)

Of the Wendy release, gsparaco goes on to point out that, “the audience tape sounds as good as the other releases…Wendy did slow the tape down a bit to be closer to the actual pitch. Likewise the soundboard recording does not sound harsh as the previous two titles.” Godfather’s A Celebration For Being Who You Are presents the audience tape with the soundboard only being utilized to fill gaps where appropriate, including the Bill Graham outroduction, which the taper did not capture. This decision emanated from the label’s desire to maintain “the same atmosphere” throughout the show. When details of the Godfather appeared on the Recent Updates page of his Led Zeppelin Database website, Argenteum Astrum stated, “the title presents a mix of audience and soundboard sources and is reported as a truly definitive and speed/pitch corrected version of this excellent show.” Posting a comment on the News & New Releases section of CMR Argenteum Astrum goes on to say that, “this is a huge…improvement over few past titles, such as ‘Mary Kezar’ (Wendy) or ‘Imperial Kezar’ (Electric Magic). The sound isn’t amplified, the speed/pitch seems to be corrected and splice between audience and soundboard are done in a truly perfect way, not missing any note from actual show!” Godfather states that work has been done on the tape to eliminate fluctuations in sound and to reduce wind problems, an obvious potential hazard with an outdoor concert. The cut/edit a little before twenty-two minutes in Dazed And Confused (which seems to excise no actual music) is still noticeable but a little less jarring. The overall result is a full, clear and dynamic sound which results in a satisfying listening experience.

A Celebration For Being Who You Are comes in Godfather’s customary tri-fold sleeve, which features photographs from the show, including two of Plant holding one of the white doves released during the band’s set. The colouring is quite bright with the track listing on the back given a deep yellow background and the photograph of Jimmy Page on the front being rainbow-hued. There is a foldover, four-panel booklet with further onstage shots and brief notes, based largely on Lewis’ book, credited to “Paul De Luxe.”

Overall, this set, which features a stunning performance, the best sound yet for the audience tape and very attractive packaging, is another exemplary Led Zeppelin release from Godfather. It would be terrific if the label went on to supplement it with its own version of the soundboard segment.

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March 24, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin A Celebration For Being Who You Are | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before? (Seattle, March 1975)

ledzep-haventFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA – March 17th, 1975

Disc 1 (58:20): Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir

Disc 2 (58:03): No Quarter, Trampled Under Foot, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (68:55): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

The latest Led Zeppelin soundboard to escape the Showco archives is the March 17th, 1975 Seattle show. There have been many releases of this show in the past sourced from two audience tapes, but Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before? is the debut of the complete professional recording. Unlike the Nassau Coliseum and Baton Rouge soundboards, Seattle is very clean and enjoyable sounding. John Paul Jones’ bass is a bit high in the mix, but overall it is closer in timbre to the Dallas recordings.

The first night is very good and is sometimes neglected in comparison to the more well known second Seattle show on March 21st. Plant’s voice, which had been quite weak at the beginning of the tour is very strong and he’s able to unleash some impressive vocal dynamics.

A rather negative review was published in the newspapers. “Squeeze all the air out of a three-hour Led Zeppelin concert at the Coliseum and you might have an hour of music and visual effects worth your attention. Nevertheless, a sellout crowd that broke four plate-glass doors and brought a two-feet-deep stack of counterfeit tickets gust to get into the place, sat spellbound, despite the fact that ushers and police relieved them of the equivalent of a green garbage dumpster full of booze. Led Zeppelin’s appeal might be explained by the fact that they’re known in the trade as a ‘street band,’ meaning that their following precedes critical attention by about two years.”

Although calling Zeppelin a “street band” is a bit condescending, the author does correctly point out that the band were ahead of the critics in the seventies. The appeal is best summed up by Donna Gaines when she writes in Teenage Wasteland that Zeppelin brought grace to bleak suburban landscapes. A trip to the record store to buy a Zeppelin LP was a trip to Camelot by restoring dignity to an otherwise humiliating life.

The setlist in 1975 was all about journey, movement and travel, dramatically carrying along the listener. Robert Plant himself emphasizes this ethic repeatedly on this (and other tours). Opening with the fanfare “Rock And Roll” segueing into “Sick Again,” a short commentary upon their previous tour, Plant sets the stage, joking with the audience how they’re happy to be back in Seattle “a town of great fishermen, including our drummer,” and that they will offer “a cross section” of their catalogue.

“Over The Hills And Far Away,” which “sums up the looking ahead and wondering,” follows. Instead of being a travelogue, it sets an anticipatory mood for things to come. The melody came out of various “White Summer” improvisations in 1970 and the solo lifted (more or less) from “Immigrant Song,” two other tunes with strong connotations of movement and change.

The newspaper article called “Kashmir” a “spooky tune” which has some distortion in this recording. But the epics come off very well. John Paul Jones’ piano solo in “No Quarter” sound meandering in the audience recording, but sounds much better on the soundboard. Page’s dramatic crescendo is one of the high points of the night.

Plant begins to babble before “Trample Underfoot,” rambling on about the meaning of the song and offering soccer scores, telling Seattle “Wolverhampton Wanderers seven, Chelsea One. Trampled Underfoot.”

Before “Dazed And Confused,” while Plant is giving his long introduction, someone throws something on stage. He reacts by singing the first line of Max Bygraves 1954 novelty tune “You’re A Pink Toothbrush.” (Could we assume a toothbrush was thrown onstage?) The song (sort of) gives this release a title.

“Dazed And Confused” reaches thirty-five minutes and includes the “Woodstock” snippet. By this time in the tour the song began to take life past the previous tour’s improvisation to be a much more deliberate, slow, and drawn out affair. Some may call it self-indulgence, but Page is taking his time to explore ideas more fully.

“Stairway To Heaven” closes the show and the encores include “Whole Lotta Love,” with a long “Licking Stick” interlude, segueing into “Black Dog.”

Haven’t We Met Somewhere Before? is packaged in a quad fatboy jewel case with high quality inserts with tour photographs. The design is clean and basic, recalling the great Silver Rarity releases from the protection gap days. Unlike the previous couple of soundboards, this one is worth seeking out.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Haven't We Met Somewhere Before? | , | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird: The Movie (1996)

0000418633_500From starling.rinet.ru

As the title suggests, this is, historically, a soundtrack – to a supposedly fabulous rockumentary featuring the band on their very last tour with Steve Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. As all the performances are live, captured at one or several shows in July 1977, the album functions perfectly well as just a live record, with no necessary movie connections; good thing, too, as the movie is supposed to be considerably harder to find (though probably well worthwhile).

The big problem with the record is that the shows that provided the material were taped just a year after the release of One More From The Road, and both records are basically superfluous, featuring the same lineup and more or less the same track listing; the minor differences are that One More is longer, thus including more material (the current edition occupies 2 CDs, while Freebird is captured on only one), and Freebird includes some of the first and rawest performances from Street Survivors, the album that they were intending to promote at the time, namely, ‘What’s Your Name’ and ‘That Smell’. These differences aren’t, however, essential enough to make both records worth buying for somebody who isn’t a diehard; therefore, Freebird is rather a collector’s item than a serious ‘independent statement’.

Nevertheless, the material itself is pretty awesome for Skynyrd. It’s especially painful to realise that such a terrific ass-kicking band was plainly stopped in mid-air while it was cruising at lightning speed. The performances are energetic, gritty and completely ‘authentic’. With Steve Gaines and Ronnie fully in control, Skynyrd obviously were intent on re-capturing their earliest image: that of reckless, boozy barroom rockers ready to burn the house down at any given moment. Never mind that the actual performances take place in a stadium: this ain’t real arena-rock, as the boys’ souls are clearly in the instruments and the playing rather than in the image and audience entertaining. And the setlist rules as usual: mostly highlights, hardly any duffer at all.

‘Freebird’ is still the main attraction of the concert, of course. By 1977, Skynyrd were definitely taking the number a bit too seriously: the song is played at least twice as slow as the regular studio version, so as to let the people ‘smack’ and soak in every single guitar note and every single change of intonation in Ronnie’s voice, not to mention funny bird-imitating noises from the guitars and the obligatory extra-Billy Powell keyboard solo. But when the fast’n’furious solo section comes in, all the pomp is lost and the boys just rock out like nobody else ever did (or could) – and kudos to Mr Gaines for learning his part so well and so quickly.

But even without ‘Freebird’, the level of energy rarely falls below ‘pump-pump’; the boys don’t tease us with too many ballads (there’s none), and normally the songs are sped up rather than slowed down. Thus, ‘Call Me The Breeze’ is fully redeemed for the forgettable studio version, as Gaines and company tighten the structure and engage in rapid, lightning-speed sequences of licks that’ll send you gasping. ‘Workin’ For MCA’ and Jimmy Rodgers’ ‘T For Texas’ are also highlights, but you probably already know all about them if you’ve heard One More…

The two new songs (first tried out live, as Street Survivors wasn’t even in the process of being recorded at the time of the concert) are also done very well; I’ve never been a big fan of ‘What’s Your Name’ since it’s a bit too derivative for me, but ‘That Smell’ is great, with perfectly placed female backup voices (The Honkettes) and a terrific soulful vibe throughout. The song is indeed one of Skynyrd’s most ‘epic’ compositions, but, as is common with many ‘epic’ compositions, it only truly comes to life on stage. As for Ronnie’s roarings and all the magnificent solos, they do a fine job of saving the song from sounding hollow and generic.

Any complaints? Well, some. Apart from the obvious complaint voiced above (that the album mostly reduplicates One More), I’m not exactly happy with the sound quality – the audience noises almost overshadow the music at times, and this at a concert recorded in 1977. Go figure. Either the recording was so poor, or the engineers just wanted to share ‘the atmosphere’ with us, but I’m not too happy either way. The keyboards are mixed way too low down – as if poor Billy Powell belonged to the rhythm section. And, of course, there’s no way you can actually tell the three guitars apart when you really want to. This is particularly nasty in tunes whose crunch and potential is hidden one hundred percent in the guitarwork, like ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or ‘I Ain’t The One’. On the other hand, after a bit of casual listening one might get used to them; pray to the Lord it ain’t a bootleg, at least.

Another complaint, of course, is that this is nowhere near as diverse as an actual Skynyrd record, but what the heck, it’s a live experience. It’s supposed to be rough and tough and punchy. Who needs a live rendition of ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, for Chrissake? Let’s kick some ass now! Look at us – we kick it better than AC/DC!

And there’s a one-minute acoustic snippet of ‘Dixie’ at the end! Raise the flag, boys! Trot out the Lowenbrau!

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird The Movie | | Leave a comment

Joe Walsh Analog Man (2012)

Joe Walsh Analog ManFrom nodepression.com

It’s great to have Joe Walsh back as the main event. Even better, his trademark yowl and stinging guitar seem to have survived the ravages of time and self-abuse pretty much unscathed.

Even though the title cut has Walsh yearning to travel back in time, his accompanying music is timeless. “What’s wrong with vinyl,” he asks, reproducing the same James Gang era sounds of his that debuted on vinyl in ’68, this time with the help of another power trio with producer Jeff Lynn on keys and percussionist Steve Jay.

Walsh’s first solo outing in two decades is strong all the way through; lyrically, vocally and instrumentally. His self -deprecating sense of humor still shines through. “When something goes wrong/ I don’t have a clue/ some ten year old smart ass has to show me what to do,” he moans as an analogue man trying to get by in a digital world on “Analogue Man.”

Also included are a couple of musical updates on his life since ‘78’s autobiographical “Life’s Been Good.” Walsh theorizes that since his career “started in the middle of nowhere/ (he) didn’t have far to fall” on “Lucky That Way.” On “One Day At A Time,” he realizes “I was the problem when I used to put the blame on everybody else’s shoulder but mine.”

But Analogue Man is no preachy, post-rehab follow-up It’s lively performance from a guy who still has a lot to say and whose voice has been missed. Nobody else’s vocals ever sounded like Walsh, and he didn’t need autotune to get that sound. And on guitar, Walsh’s voice was and still is one of the most unique ones around. “Funk 50,” his update on the James Gang classic, “Funk 49” still has that crackle and crunch that made the original jump out at you. The new version, with Walsh the sole musician on the cut, playing bass and drums as well as contributing guitar and vocals, slaps you upside the head as hard as the original.

He finishes up with the wiggly and crunchy instrumental “India,” stompin’ funk with Walsh darting in and out with stinging barbs.

And as if this comeback wasn’t enough payback for loyal fans who have been hoping for years for Walsh to come screeching back, it’s being reported that he’s been holed up in a Cleveland studio with the rest of the James Gang recording new versions of their classic rock. Although it took a while, now at last life has been good to Walsh fans as well.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Joe Walsh Analog Man | | Leave a comment

Steely Dan Aja (1977)

Steely-Dan-ajaFrom rollingstone.com

Aja Is The Third Steely Dan album since songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen discarded a fixed-band format in late 1974. Since then they have declined to venture beyond the insular comfort of L.A. studios, recording their compositions with a loose network of session musicians. As a result, the conceptual framework of their music has shifted from the pretext of rock & roll toward a smoother, awesomely clean and calculated mutation of various rock, pop and jazz idioms. Their lyrics remain as pleasantly obtuse and cynical as ever.

Aja will continue to fuel the argument by rock purists that Steely Dan’s music is soulless, and by its calculated nature antithetical to what rock should be. But this is in many ways irrelevant to a final evaluation of this band, the only group around with no conceptual antecedent from the Sixties. Steely Dan’s six albums contain some of the few important stylistic innovations in pop music in the past decade. By returning to swing and early be-bop for inspiration — before jazz diverged totally from established conventions of pop-song structure — Fagen and Becker have overcome the amorphous quality that has plagued most other jazz-rock fusion attempts.

“Peg” and “Josie” illustrate this perfectly: tight, modal tunes with good hooks in the choruses, solid beats with intricate counterrhythms and brilliantly concise guitar solos. Like most of the rest of Aja. these songs are filled out with complex horn charts, synthesizers and lush background vocals that flirt with schmaltzy L.A. jazz riffs. When topped by Fagen’s singing, they sound like production numbers from an absurdist musical comedy.

Music this sophisticated wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the consistently tasteful employment of top studio musicians. Aja features two Miles Davis alumni (Wayne Shorter and Victor Feldman), Bernard Purdie, Tom Scott and a slew of others. In particular, Becker and Fagen have showcased a number of crack guitarists (Becker included), many of whose recent efforts elsewhere have been fairly bland (Elliott Randall’s New York. Larry Carlton on recent Crusaders’ albums, most of Rick Derringer’s material). But with Steely Dan they are given strong melody lines with original chord changes, resulting in some of the finest guitar solos ever recorded — try Katy Lied’s “Gold Teeth II,” “Kid Charlemagne” on The Royal Scam or “Peg.”

The title cut is the one song on Aja that shows real growth in Becker’s and Fagen’s songwriting capabilities and departs from their previous work. It is the longest song they’ve recorded, but it fragilely holds our attention with vaguely Oriental instrumental flourishes and lyric references interwoven with an opiated jazz flux. “Aja” may prove to be the farthest Becker and Fagen can take certain elements of their musical ambition.

Lyrically, these guys still seem to savor the role they must have acquired as stoned-out, hyperintelligent pariahs at a small Jewish college on the Hudson. Their imagery can become unintelligibly weird (Frank Zappa calls it “downer surrealism”); it’s occasionally accessible but more often (as on the title song) it elicits a sort of deja vu tease that becomes hopelessly nonsensical the more you think about it. Focus your attention on the imagery of a specific phrase, then let it fade out. Well, at least it beats rereading the dildo sequence in Naked Lunch.

The last album, The Royal Scam. was the closest thing to a “concept” album Steely Dan has done, an attempt to return musically to New York City, with both a raunchier production quality and a fascination with grim social realism. The farthest Aja strays from the minor joys and tribulations of the good life in L.A. are the dreamy title cut and “Josie,” which hints ominously about a friendly welcome-home gang-bang. The melodramatic “Black Cow” is about love replaced by repulsion for a woman who starts getting too strung out on downers and messing around with other men. “Deacon Blues” (a thematic continuation of “Fire in the Hole” and “Any World”) exemplifies this album’s mood: resignation to the L.A. musician’s lifestyle, in which one must “crawl like a viper through these suburban streets” yet “make it my home sweet home.” The title and first lines of “Home at Last” (presumably a clever interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey — I don’t get it) put it right up front: “I know this superhighway This bright familiar sun I guess that I’m the lucky one.”

More than any of Steely Dan’s previous albums (with the possible exception of Katy Lied), Aja exhibits a carefully manipulated isolation from its audience, with no pretense of embracing it. What underlies Steely Dan’s music — and may, with this album, be showing its limitations — is its extreme intellectual self-consciousness, both in music and lyrics. Given the nature of these times, this may be precisely the quality that makes Walter Becker and Donald Fagen the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Steely Dan Aja | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors (1977)

Lynyrd-Skynyrd-Street-Survivors1From sputnikmusic.com

Obviously, everyone has heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Whether it be a die-hard fan, or a cynic determined to criticize the band for being drawling southernor’s that produced songs like “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. Those two songs, actually, will probably haunt Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career for the rest of time. I mean, if it’s in a KFC commercial, it’s not going to die. Despite those songs though, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s album tracks, and albums as a whole, have been rather good.

Street Survivors was Lynyrd Skynyd’s last album, before regrouping in 1987. It was released just three days before the infamous and tragic plane crash in Mississippi, in 1977, that claimed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and manager Dean Kilpatrick’s lives. Too many, and especially myself, it is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best, and most diverse album.

“What’s Your Name” is an extremely catchy tune about a bar fight involving one of their roadies. The production is rather clean, and horn parts add an extra punch that makes the song even better. The song is almost instantly recognizable if you have heard it, and if you haven’t, you may think that you have heard it before, but you could never quite put your finger on it. “That Smell” is fairly reminiscent of Gimme Back My Bullets in the sense that the production makes the song sound very dark, which matches with the lyrical content.

The lyrics of the song are based on an incident where Gary Rossington was driving under the influence, and passed out. He hit into a tree and did thousands of dollars of damage., and had almost died. Next, after the rather depressing “That Smell”, is “One More Time”. The song is actually one of the oldest Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, and predates most of their other songs. The song is fairly slow, with a strecthed out, almost crooning chorus, and adds diversity to the first side of the album. “I Know a Little” is a great, fast paced song. The opening almost sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd had suddenly become interested in big band music, but the song goes into the normal Lynyrd Skynyrd fare.

The second half of the album is, surprisingly, just as good as the opening half. “You Got That Right” is another upbeat Lynyrd Skynyrd rocker, similar to “What’s Your Name” and “I Know a Little”. Although it isn’t the best track on the album, it keeps the flow perfectly and adds to the happy mindset that they were in at the time. “I Never Dreamed” is an introspective ballad that deals with the priorities Ronnie now faced after the birth of his daughter, Melody. To end the album, we have two more, good songs. The cover of a Merle Haggard song in “Honky Tonk Night Time Man”. Although it is a good song, I don’t think it belongs on the album, and does not fit well with the rest of the songs. “Ain’t No Good Life” ends the album on a more upbeat note, as is most of the album, and is a great way to end the album, and seems like a great farewell, even if it wasn’t purposefully like that.

In conclusion, I think that this is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best album. With the addition of Steve Gaines, the band had gained confidence and were happy about their place in the world, and it shows in the songs. It’s sad that they have never really been able to produce something as good as this since then. Sure, the album isn’t always recognized or mentioned among casual Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. Sure, they weren’t the raw, boozed up band. But this is definately their best album.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors | | Leave a comment

Steely Dan The Royal Scam (1976)

R-967757-1179998983From starling.rinet.ru

I find it very hard to like this one. Very hard. On Royal Scam, Steely Dan shifts their musical paradigm further – one more step, and they’re completely in jazz-pop land with Aja. Likewise, here they veer away from any signs of folk or traditional rock beat. These ditties are mostly bouncy, jingly-jangly and very danceable – whether you’d want to dance to a tune entitled ‘Don’t Take Me Alive’ is another matter, of course, but for the most part this is DANCE POP. And quite forgettable, uninspired dance pop, too. It’s obvious that the ‘new’ Steely Dan sound was not quite worked out yet: the instruments are way too blatant and prominent here, with generic MOR guitars slashin’ in and out, cheesy, conventional synth lines added at every juncture, and not even a tiny sound of emotional roughness which was so suitable on songs like ‘Black Friday’ and would be suitable on ‘Josie’ a year later.

It all comes down to culminate in ‘The Fez’ – one of the most atrocious musical pieces ever set to tape by a decent band. Take this away and I’ll clench my teeth and give the album a nine; as it is, an eight seems to be a forced compromise. Yes, I understand that the utmost stupidity of the song was probably intentional: the guys have only bothered to write two lines repeated over and over again – ‘Ain’t never gonna do it without a fez on; that’s what I am, please understand, I wanna be your holy man’. If this is some kind of anti-Muslim provocation, I’m not too interested; what I am interested in is skipping the song whenever and wherever it appears on my CD player. The main synth riff that drives it, to me, personifies everything I could ever hate about mainstream braindead pop: for some reason, about a good third of the worst Russian pop music seems to have been based on endlessly recycling it. There are tons more ways of applying ‘provocative stupidity’ – just look at T. Rex’s ‘New York City’, for instance! Okay, okay, I’ve vented my frustration enough, so it’s time to talk about the rest.

Nothing on here except for ‘Fez’ really irritates me that much, but nothing is that attractive, either. I count one great song – ‘The Caves Of Altamira’, a tune about naive, romantic childish fantasies whose relaxed flow, with nicely ebbling saxes and keyboards and a driving, non-disco beat, perfectly suits the lyrics. The vocal melody is the greatest hook on here – ‘before the fall when they wrote it on the wall…’ That’s what I call a terrific resolution of the vocals-flowing problem. The song really belongs somewhere else – it would make a fine addition to Katy Lied and definitely improved its rating one point. Hey, woncha do that for me? After all, one great number still won’t save The Royal Scam of sinking to the very bottom!

Most of the other songs combine the formula ‘cynical, unconventional lyrics’ with the formula ‘bland, forgettable melody’… hmm, wasn’t that the case of the second half of Katy Lied? Oh, I forgot, it’s about the same band. I can easily tolerate the spooky ‘Don’t Take Me Alive’ – a cheerful ditty about such an innocent, ordinary subject as a bookkeeper’s son who’s not gonna give up and even has a case of dynamite to defend his case. The guitarwork on there is at least a little bit impressive, and the chorus is catchy. But I can hardly tolerate mediocre dreck like ‘Sign In Stranger’ or ‘Green Earrings’, not to mention the endless, droning title track telling the saga of two unfortunate drug dealers. I don’t even know how to start describing these songs – ‘jazzy’ is too diluted a word. Completely lifeless they are, lifeless, cold and vague – but not the kind of shiver-sending ‘coldness’ you’d meet on a contemporary David Bowie record. Just dull, energy-less coldness. No hooks, either.

‘Haitian Divorce’ is at least entertaining because it’s all built on a cool synth-processed guitar – they achieve the sound that would be taken over by Pink Floyd a year later and used on ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’. But that’s where the comparison ends: on ‘Pigs’, the sound was ideally suited to the very idea of the song – the synth treatment imitated the pigs grunting; on ‘Haitian Divorce’, the tone only dissettles the reggaeish groove the band is trying to establish.

And, while the lyrical matters of ‘Everything You Did’ are absolutely shocking, even more so than ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Movies’ (a husband accuses his wife of adultery, then proceeds to force her to show all the dirty things they did), after five listens the song still doesn’t strike a bell on me. I guess it’s all a matter of desperation. The melody is way too stupid and diluted.

Let’s sum up. One great song. Two decent ones (I haven’t yet mentioned ‘Kid Charlemagne’ – an energetic enough, menacing enough opening dance number with some obscure personal critique I’ve forgotten all about already). Two so-so ones, with a few interesting elements. Three completely forgettable ones. One atrocious, friggin’ worthless piece o’ crap. You do your little mathematics if you want to waste your time, but on my wasted intuitive level that more or less equals a weak eight. Which means I’ll hardly get the urge to listen to this tomorrow. You gotta give me my due – I have patiently listened and listened to this, hoping that the magic would finally show up. It didn’t. I’m not surprised.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Steely Dan The Royal Scam | | Leave a comment

Santana III (1971)

allcdcovers_santana_santana_iii_199From sputnikmusic.com

By 1971, Santana had already garnered a lot of success and popularity, much thanks to their performance at the legendary music festival Woodstock. With each album, the band only increased the creativity and quality of their songs. And Santana 3 was no exception. Strengthened by the addition of percussionist Coke Escuvedo (sp?) and Neal Schon, the original Santana line-up made their best and last album at the ultimate height of their fame.

1. Batuka
The album comes to a start with some nice percussion and then a great, great bassline comes thundering in. Then the magical dueling guitars of Santana and Schon take you for a ride. This is a great instrumental opener, full of sweet licks dripping in wah-wah and an amazing rhythm section. 5/5

2. No One to Depend On
Just like on Abraxas, the first track bleeds into the second. In this case, the two work very well together. They are a little similar except this one has vocals. Now, the lyrics or vocals aren’t anything amazing, but this band’s main feature isn’t lyrics, so I don’t care. The bass is great on this track, and the guitar is, well, astonishing. Neal and Carlos duel it out on the guitar solo, which isn’t far from the best ever, in my opinion. Not only can they play great by themselves, but they work together great as a team. They also work great with the percussionists. 5/5

3. Taboo
The mostly happy, upbeat feel of the first two tracks comes to a halt here. This song is very nicely done, because it has a great mood, like a dark swamp at midnight. Kind of difficult to put in words, but this one always gets me. It features some decent lyrics, though, by Gregg Rollie, who does the lead vocals very nicely. The song keeps it’s slow-paced, moody feel until the outro guitar solo, which is beyond earthshattering. It is like a hand grabbing onto your skull saying, hey, wake up, listen to me! Not that the rest of the song is boring or anything, but, man, these solos really wake you up. Overall, a great emotional song. You just can’t beat that. 5/5

4. Toussaint l’ Overture
This is a big fan favorite. Personally I think it’s a good song but sometimes it bores me a little. The big guitar solo at the end usually catches my attention, though. Also has a cool breakdown with some chanting in Spanish. Since the music is top-notch, I can’t give this a bad grade. 4.5/5

5. Everybody’s Everything
Well, this one is sure to change your mind if you think Santana is boring and one-dimensional. Talk about variety! When I first heard this song I thought the radio turned on somehow or the stereo switched CD’s. This song is upbeat, but feels very nice and refreshing after the more melancholy feel of the last two tracks. I’m not a huge fan of horns but there is some excellent horn work on this song, which I think is done by the Tower of Power. You’ll want to get up and dance when you hear this infectious tune. 5/5

6. Guajira
The CD goes back to a deeper melancholy mode when this song starts. Has a very Latin feel to it. Not my favorite on the CD but still manages to stay in my head. Santana and Schon deliver some great solos, so this is a pretty worthwhile cut. 3.5/5

7. Jungle Strut
Starts with a spacey intro. Then a great guitar riff comes in, and the whole band does their thing. Mainly just a “jam” song, but it’s not just “noodling” for over 5 minutes, it contains some very memorable moments and isn’t something you’ll just forget very quickly. One of my favorites on the album. 5/5

8. Everything’s Coming Our Way
Sounds kind of like “Everybody’s Everything”, but with minor chords. I’m not sure who’s doing lead vocals, I think it’s either Carlos or Gregg Rollie with a falsetto. But whoever it is, the vocals are absolutely great. Very emotional. The song also has an organ solo that is really nice. Not that I don’t like the other organ solos, this one just really fits. 5/5

9. Para Los Rumberos
Horn-driven closer that really ends the album perfectly. No organ or guitar solos, just great work as a whole band. A memorable closer to a memorable album. 5/5

Bonus Tracks: The three live bonus tracks are all equally amazing. They are: “Batuka”, “Jungle Strut”, and “Gumbo”. They all get 5/5 because they capture the live energy of the band and don’t drag the album down at all.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Santana III | | Leave a comment

Steely Dan Katy Lied (1975)

steely-dan-katy-liedFrom starling.rinet.ru

Katy Lied is often hailed as a turning point in Steely Dan’s career, a moment when the band decided it finally had enough with ‘rock’ (not that the band was very much ‘rock’ in the first place) and veered off in the direction of a more jazz-poppy audience-friendly sound. It’s also the first record where ‘Steely Dan’ as such finally became an undisputable duo: just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker working together in the studio with tons of other session musicians, some of them past full-fledged band members, some not. They also weren’t touring at all at this point, and it’s easy to see why: this sort of music is really unfit for live playing, much more so than Can’t Buy A Thrill at least.

I’m not such a great fan of the notorious ‘trademark Dan arrangements’ of their second, session-musician dominated period, as many people seem to be: I consider all of these songs very tastefully arranged, but there’s hardly anything truly phenomenal here. If anything, one should emphasize exactly this fact: Katy Lied is a very ‘non-outstanding’ record (though certainly more ‘outstanding’ than, say, Aja, which runs along so smoothly I feel like skating on polished ice), yet it is also not pretentious and totally adequate.

Despite all the taste and smoothness, though, I didn’t feel like loving all of this record at first. The funny thing is, out of ten songs on here, I quite enjoyed the first five.. and used to quite despise the last five. Well, not ‘despise’. To a certain extent, they’re simply unmemorable. A few of these make the fatal mistake of getting on by lyrics alone, and that’s never the sign of true Dan genius. Yeah, whatever, I’m quite shocked (in the artistically-correct sense of the word) by the subject matter of ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Movies’, where a pervert waits for a child’s parents to go away and then proceeds to feed him with porno flicks; but as far as my limited musical competence is concerned, the song has no melody at all, and the stupid, vibes-driven refrain sounds like some demented dated doo-wop chanting.

Likewise, I suppose that many a broken-hearted intelligent person will happily identify himself with the protagonist in ‘Any World (I’m Welcome To)’, a song that has what might be passed for the most pessimistic refrain of all time; but the melody is routine, undistinguished lounge jazz – unmemorable, diluted piano chords with hardly any structure or serious rhythmic pattern. Now this is the kind of stuff you’ll never meet on a Bob Dylan record…

Mind you – none of these songs are nasty. After a couple hundred listens, one even starts to appreciate cute little snatches like the gentle-but-perverse refrain of ‘Throw Back The Little Ones’ or the relaxed organ of ‘Chain Lightning’ (possibly the best number on the second side, but still too soapy for me because the melody is way too primitive and the harmonies are way too unimpressive… and unexpressive, too). In a certain sense, the second side can even be extremely rewarding, as it’s the more “musically-oriented” side, with Steely trying their hand at funk and fusion and, well, all the stuff that places them in the category that I chose for them out of near-random principle. (So sue me!).

And yet don’t go away, because now I’m gonna blabber a bit about the first five songs. The best composition on here is the one that opens the album, and it’s a good thing, because this was my first Steely Dan record and you know how much depends on your first impression… ‘Black Friday’ is the hardest song on the album: a ferocious (well, ‘ferocious’ in the SD sense – no Jimi Hendrix poking around, that’s understood) blues workout, where the usually hard-hitting lyrics are ideally complemented by a brilliant guitar part and a wonderful vocal arrangement – the echoey effect on Mr Fagen’s voice was a brilliant idea, and it makes the song all the more spooky-spooky. Not that I really understand what the hell the dude is singing about; in any case, lines like “When Black Friday comes/I’ll stand down by the door/And catch the grey men when they/Dive from the fourteenth floor” sound much better when they’re echoed around the room, don’t they?

Then there’s the humbly gorgeous ‘Bad Sneakers’, a steady, solid piano ballad with… hey, you will not believe it – with a real hook. Yeah, I mean that little tricky time signature change when they sing ‘bad sneakers and a Pina Colada my friend’ – it drew my attention immediately and made me realize what a great song this is in its entirety. Good work. The guitar solos are nice, too, and Donald sounds uncannily like Dylan. Quite catchy. He also sounds very Dylanish on ‘Rose Darling’, a weird, but charming ballad where the protagonist invites his… err…. partner to… err… well.

Apparently, his wife which he lovingly calls ‘snake Mary’ is in another town and moreover she’s gone to bed, so there’s really nothing to worry about. But again, it’s not the lyrics that attract me, it might be those fully convincing vocals and the fluent guitar lines and the powerful piano chords in the refrain and… mmm, it’s very hard to discuss Steely Dan songs, they’re all so alike and yet all so different you have to choose your words very carefully.

Although it’s not too difficult to discuss the stunning blues ‘Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More’. The song’s built on an addictive guitar riff, and, again, the vocals sound so powerful and desperate you can’t help singing along. And then, of course, there’s ‘Doctor Wu’. This works as the magnum opus of the album, almost like a mini-conceptual-rock-opera in its own rights, and while I don’t find the melody as powerful as on the previous four songs, I simply won’t say anything bad about it. For trivia, there’s a very nice sax solo by Phil Woods on it which is well worth hearing.

In all, I fully agree with those who rate Katy Lied as a ‘transitional’ album: it’s almost as if they started out as a ‘rock band’ (‘Black Friday’), metamorphosed into a jazz band halfway through the album (‘Doctor Wu’) and fuzzed out into a mellow jazz-pop combo towards the end. The process is not a very pleasant one, at least, in my humble opinion; then again, the mellowed-out dudes might wanna reverse my judgements in exactly the opposite order. All the world is made of freaks, after all: it’s just that there are quite a few ways of freaking out.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Steely Dan Katy Lied | | Leave a comment

Steely Dan Pretzel Logic (1974)

steely_dan_pretzel_logic_lgFrom sputnikmusic.com

Although Steely Dan was an entirely studio-based act by the time they received their Grammy for Aja in 1978, the band toured and had a more or less standard, permanent lineup of musicians for the first three albums. Pretzel Logic is the final album in this sequence and can be interpreted as a transition between eras. And what a transition it is.

Although the songs on both of its predecessors, Can’t Buy a Thrill and Countdown to Ecstasy, were both composed by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the instrumental approach on CBaT and CtE was band-centric, featuring extensive soloing by Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter, the group’s permanent guitarists. There are still plenty of juicy solos on Pretzel Logic, but instead of being flashy, the solos are short and weave into the greater backdrop of the tracks, never quite breaking their way into the fore. The album is also more grounded in jazz after Countdown to Ecstasy’s brief foray into hard(er) forms of rock.

These musical changes can largely be attributed to a growing rift between two camps in the band. Donald Fagen, who suffered from occasional bouts of stage fright, wanted to stop touring; Walter Becker agreed. The other band members, especially Baxter and Jim Hodder, the drummer, thought the opposite. In response, Becker and Fagen began to use studio musicians began to increase their use of other musicians to fill in parts for the other band members, and Steely Dan’s studio iteration was born.

Track Ratings:
{E}: Excellent/Essential/Exemplary/Other word meaning great that starts with “E” track. If this is a metal song, you should ideally be air-guitaring or headbanging your way through the entire song. If it’s pop, you should feel compelled to sing along. Any album that has at least one of these is spared from a rating lower than 2.5.

{L}: Listenable track. While these tracks don’t have the raw intensity of Es, they generally contribute to the flow of the album and are worth your time.

{F}: Filler. A marginal or poor track that simply cannot be called good. On the upper end, the track may simply drag on a bit too long for its own good or have one section that tarnishes the entire package. On the lower end, it’s probably garbage through and through.

Track-By-Track:
1) Rikki Don’t Lose That Number: If you’ve listened to classic rock stations for any reasonable amount of time in the past, this is the track that you’ve probably heard off of this album. Rikki has an instantly-recognizable opening marimba solo and piano hook. Although this is isn’t one of my favorite Dan singles, Baxter’s solo and the vocal harmonies easily propel this track to classic status. {E}

2) Night By Night: The loudest track on the album, Night is driven along by a funky bass and a constant pulsating riff in the background. The guitar solos begin about halfway through and interplay with the vocals for the rest of the song. If my earlier description of solos that ‘weave into the backdrop’ didn’t make sense, this is a good primer track. {E}

3) Any Major Dude Will Tell You: Mellow. Harmonic. Catchy. Insanely so on all three counts. There are many draws here: the opening guitar riff, Fagen’s vocals during the refrain, the guitar/keyboard interplay in the lead-up to a new verse, and the brief, clear, almost Allman Brothers-esque guitar solo. {E}

4) Barrytown: The champion among champions; my personal favorite on the album. Is hypermelodic a word? No? It should be. Amazingly good piano combined with matched vocals. The “I can see by what you carry / that you come from Barrytown” phrase during the refrain bounces along perfectly with the keys. The bridge raises everything up to new heights with harmonized vocals before gently letting us down for another verse. {E! E! EEEEEEE!}

5) East St. Louis Toodle-Oo: Steely Dan’s only cover, this is a 1970s take on Duke Ellington’s classic jazz number. Completely instrumental, it provides a short break from the rest of the album’s material and is an excellent appetite-primer for the rest of the record. {E}

6) Parker’s Band: Another tribute, this time to Charlie Parker, Parker’s Band can best be described as ‘busy’ and is an excellent opener to what would have been the B-side of the album in the old days. Vocal harmonies, sax solos, fast drums, it has a little bit of something for most everyone. {E}

7) Through With Buzz: The one true low point of the album. The background horns simply don’t mesh well with the piano and vocals; a bit jarring in an album that otherwise heavily relies on interplay to make the tracks work. Fortunately, it’s only 90 seconds long. Sit through and nod your head or press skip, the distress won’t last too long. {F}

8) Pretzel Logic: The eponymous track is relatively slow and bluesy. Fagen has said the song is about time travel, but the first verse also appears to contain some not-so-subtle snarking about “traveling minstrel shows” (read: touring). More instrumental interplay here: during the second verse, a guitar is added to add a bit of flavor behind the vocals. It’s the little flourishes like this that truly make the album special. {E}

9) With A Gun: A short, sardonic number about murdering people…with a gun. You will be what you are just the same, after all. It’s an alright way to spend two minutes, especially if you share Fagen and Becker’s penchant for black humor, and the acoustic guitar underneath it all is quite nice. But it’s missing that certain something to elevate it to the standard of the rest of the tracks. {L}

10) Charlie Freak: Second-favorite track. The protagonist of this track buys a homeless man’s golden ring, the homeless man dies after using his newfound cash to buy drugs. Mortified, the narrator returns to Charlie and returns his ring. The fast-paced piano helps to add urgency to the track; combined with the sleigh bells at the end, one can almost picture Charlie sitting on the street on a cold winter day. I’m not normally one to pay attention to lyrics, but here they’re sad and beautiful. {E}

11) Monkey in Your Soul: Dirty, almost sleazy, just like the addiction the song describes. The bass lays down a funky beat while Fagen and the horns pile on top. A toe-tapping, groovy closer. {E}

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Steely Dan Pretzel Logic | | Leave a comment