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Led Zeppelin Baltimore Jack (June 1972 & July 1973)

zep_baltimorejackFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Baltimore Jackis one of the final titles produced by The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin, and was one of their attempts to produce a deluxe boxset. It collects together two shows whose share a common locale. It is limited to 250 copies.

The discs are stored in flimsy plastic sleeves that fit into the box. The other TDOLZ boxsets produced at this time like Rock Of Ages and Hang On To Your Heads at least had the plastic sleeves slip into a paper sleeve for storage, but this one does not. There is a nice booklet enclosed with a track listing and photographs from the 1972 tour.

The sound quality of the tapes are to be expected for a late nineties. The 1972 show is quite common, having seen several releases. But the value of the set is with the second show. Baltimore Jack is the only release of the 1973 audience tape and makes this release still worth having.

Civic Center, Baltimore, MD – June 11th, 1972

Disc 1 (56:20): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way

Disc 2 (67:40): Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Dazed & Confused, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (40:27): Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, Communication Breakdown

There are so few very good documents from one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest tours. Barely half of the shows of the US tour in 1972 were even taped and of the existing documents, the ones that are actually enjoyable can be counted on one hand (Charlotte, second New York, Los Angeles and San Bernardino). The tape source from Baltimore is one of the good ones which had not seen its definitive release.

Previous releases include Baltimore 1972 (Immigrant IM-026~28), Nutty & Cool (Baby Face BF-9604-1-A/2-B/3-C), The Axeman Of Cometh (Flagge) all before Baltimore Jack. Two subsequent releases, Baltimore 1972 (Wardour-018) and Triangle Of Love (Tarantura TCD-109), use a lower generation tape and sound much better than TDOLZ.

All of the tapes from this tour are welcome and this is among the very best. Zeppelin were touring North America for the first time since the release of their fourth LP and “Stairway To Heaven” had already become a classic, receiving tremendous ovations at every stop. They were also conscious of competing with the Stone’s tour occurring at the same time and the tapes reveal how ferocious they can be in concert.

There is an air of confidence and unfettered creativity that would disappear after this in their determination to become more professional in their musical presentation. The basic set list is very similar to the previous tour with an expanded acoustic set with “Tangerine” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and with “Dazed & Confused” being placed later in the set. About two weeks after Baltimore they would experiment even more with the inclusion of some songs from Houses Of The Holy about a year before its release.

“Dazed & Confused” really reached an apex with the usual inclusions of “The Crunge” and riffs from the songs “Walter’s Walk” and “Hots On For Nowhere”. The version played on this night doesn’t have the former song, but it does have the latter with Plant scatting over it. Plant speaks about seeing an Elvis Presley show the previous night in New York City before “Going To California”.

The “Whole Lotta Love” medley has the special inclusions of “Need Your Loving Tonight” and “Heartbreak Hotel” joining the standard “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Hello Mary Lou”. During “Going Down Slow” the rhythm section lock onto a jazzy beat under a very tense Page solo.

Civic Center, Baltimore, MD – July 23rd, 1973

Disc 4 (63:46): Rock and Roll, Celebration Day, 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 5 (45:01): Dazed and Confused, Stairway To Heaven

Disc 6 (57:03): Moby Dick, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean

Led Zeppelin’s date in Baltimore comes right at the very end of their longest, most grueling and successful tours to date. The shows in Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and New York are at the point when they are exhausted from nonstop touring (almost from the day they began in 1968). Page himself confessed to journalist Richie Yorke that he was operating on automatic pilot, not even able to articulate which songs were in the setlist.

Baltimore is one of the best, most energetic performances in the era. So much so that even Plant is able to hit some high notes he hadn’t been able to reach in years. Unfortunately this is one of the most poor sounding audience tapes to make it onto a commercial title but once the ears adjust it becomes tolerable. The taper moves around a bit during “Dazed And Confused” moving closer to the stage improving the sound slightly.

The setlist remains the same, but the odd thing about the show is “Dazed And Confused.” Page’s head wanders and, after the initial fast improvisation, doesn’t go into the “San Francisco” part. Instead, he starts the “call and response” interlude and Plant follows along. Afterwards they get into “San Francisco” and continue the track.

Another interesting point is how Plant and Bonham sing a bit of “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” as an introduction to “The Ocean,” the only time they referenced the song live.

As a curiosity, it was around this time filming began for The Song Remains The Same. Some footage comes from this show, including showing Peter Grant yelling at someone for selling pirated photos of the band and some of the Baltimore police being interviewed (the ones in the white shirts – the blue shirt police officers are NYPD). It’s not known if any concert footage, or a soundboard, exists.

1973 would be the final Led Zeppelin performance in Baltimore. When they returned in 1975 and 1977 their Maryland shows would be at the Capital Center in Landover outside of Washington DC.

Better sounding copies of this show are in circulation but haven’t been booted, and probably never will either. Its fidelity limits it to hardcore Zeppelin collectors, who themselves would only lit to this on occasion. Since it is the only silver pressed version of the latter show, Baltimore Jack is worth having.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Baltimore Jack | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Mercy On Me (Hamburg, March 1973)

100615020201From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Muzikhalle, Hamburg, Germany – March 21st, 1973

Disc 1 (56:48): Rock And Roll, Over The Hills And Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (72:15): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean

Led Zeppelin’s Hamburg 1973 performance is one of the heaviest, darkest, meanest, and most brutal from one of their most brutal tours. The most common tape on silver is a three song fragment, “Dazed And Confused,” “Stairway To Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” from a detailed soundboard recording which first surfaced on the famous April’s Fool Day (mistaken as a Paris show) and most recently on disc three of A Soundboard Platter (Scorpio LZ-07005-01~04).

An audience recording was used on Suspended Animation (Image Quality IQ075/076), but was missing the opening two songs “Rock And Roll” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.”

Mercy On Me presents the entire Hamburg show on silver disc for the first time. No label follow the practice established by labels in the past by editing together both the audience recording and the soundboard fragment to utilize all the best available sources. The audience recording is used for the beginning through the first five minutes of ”Dazed And Confused.”

The soundboard recording cuts in and continues until he guitar solo in “Stairway To Heaven” where the audience recording comes in again. Finally, the soundboard tape cuts in again several minutes into “Whole Lotta Love” to the end of the song, and the audience tape is used for the encore “The Ocean.”

“It’s much better here than the Reeperbahn” Plant jokes, referring to Hamburg’s red light district. He continues by introducing the next song as being about four legged dogs and barks like one. Someone in the audience backs back to him. During the song he stops to encourage the audience to sing along, and is sarcastic afterwards when he tells them “nice to see you all joining in.” Jimmy Page plays a unique solo by the end, squeezing out the high notes and repeating them over and over.

More promotion for the just released new album continues after “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Plant calls “Dancing Days” “a song that brings out the good simple things in life, mainly chicks, mainly women.”

“Dazed And Confused” is one of the highlights of the show. The improv assumed pluriform arrangements on this tour. But the constant is Bonham’s thrashing his drum-kit to no end, bringing a barbaric tenor to the piece. “Stairway To Heaven” is, by contrast, a “beautiful song…that the world over, really makes everybody quite happy.”

The show ends with twenty minutes of “Whole Lotta Love” with the standard inclusions in the medley with “The Ocean” being the only encore.

Mercy On Me is a significant imporvement over Suspended Animation. It is the best best way now to hear Hamburg in its entirty. The artwork is rather dark with very 70s inspired type face for the liner notes.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Mercy On Me | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Denver 1970

frontFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Denver Coliseum, Denver, CO – March 25th, 1970

Disc 1 (53:00): We’re Gonna Groove, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Organ solo / Thank You

Disc 2 (51:25): Moby Dick, How Many More Times, Whole Lotta Love

Led Zeppelin’s low key debut in the US was in Denver on the day after Christmas, 1968. It was so low key that their first album wasn’t out yet and they were not even mentioned on the bill, supporting Spirit and Vanilla Fudge. Although, they did receive a review in the press, praising their heaviness. A year and a half later, after a hit single with “Whole Lotta Love” and with Led Zeppelin II hitting number one, Zeppelin returned to the Denver Coliseum as headliners on their biggest tour yet.

Denver occurs about a week into the tour and is a very good show, certainly a good prelude to their debut at the Los Angeles Forum in two days. Unfortunately the sound quality of the tape hovers between poor and fair. There is a cut at 5:54 in “Since I’ve Been Loving You” but otherwise has the complete show.

It is listenable from the beginning though John Paul Jones’ organ solo. At that point, the left channel has significant bleeding of the tape and there is a three second “prelude” of the music that’s to come. It is extremely annoying and renders the show all but unlistenable from that point on.

The performance itself is outstanding, starting off with a very fast and energetic version of “We’re Gonna Groove.” It’s followed by “I Can’t Quit You” which was the second number for almost every show since their beginning. It’s played for the final time before being dropped and “Dazed And Confused” moving into the second slot.

“I Can’t Quit You” would return at the end of the following year as part of the “Whole Lotta Love” medley. During the show, Plant reflects on their return to Denver: “About eighteen months ago, we played our very first ever gig in the U.S. in this coliseum and so much has happened since then. We’d like to say that we’re pleased to be back.” Denver is notable for containing a rare reference to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the “How Many More Times” medley.

TDOLZ package Denver 1970 in a single pocket cardboard sleeve with a 1971 tour picture on the front and a Royal Albert Hall photo on the back. It is one of their early releases and more adventurous titles, issued when they were attempting to press every Zeppelin tape in existence. Its poor sound quality limits it to serious collectors only.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Denver 1970 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Rites Of Manhood (Earls Court, May 1975)

zep_manhoodFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Earls Court, London, England – May 23rd, 1975

Disc 1 (58:57): Introduction, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song, Kashmir

Disc 2 (62:51): mc, No Quarter, Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot

Disc 3 (58:08): mc, Moby Dick, Dazed And Confused

Disc 4 (27:00): mc, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, mc

The initial plan for Led Zeppelin’s engagement in Earls Court was to have three concerts over one weekend starting on Friday, May 23rd. Given the “demand unprecedented in the history of rock,” two shows were scheduled to accommodate the demand for the preceding weekend.

May 23rd exists on three good to very good audience recordings in varying states of completeness. It is a very scarce show with few good versions coming out over the years. The earliest incarnation can be found on vinyl The Awesome Foursome Live At Earl’s Court (The World Joker JMP 9 A-H) and was copied onto CD on The Awesome Foursome (CG 42-43-44).

Other early vesions such as Tarantura’s first release of the show on Thunderstorm (Tarantura T4CD-5-1-4) and Welcome To the Show (TDOLZ Vol. 79) use the best sounding of the three tapes with a big cut in “Trampled Underfoot.”

Arabesque & Baroque The Third Night (Antrabata ARM 230575), Physical Express (Jelly Roll JR 16/17/18/19) and the last release of the show in 2002 on Complete Earl’s Court Arena Tapes “III” (Empress Valley EVSD-101/102/103/104) are multiple source edits meant to fix the cuts on the best sounding recording.

The Rites Of Manhood is also a multiple source mix, using the best sounding recordings to present the show in its three and a half hour entirety. The edit in “Trampled Underfoot” (at 5:30) is very well handled. There are several cuts between songs and one 10:04 in “Moby Dick.” Tarantura also didn’t mess with the tapes much, allowing it to sound as natural as possible, and it presents every available moment of the show.

Some argue this is the best sounding of the Earls Court tapes and the most enjoyable performance. The title comes from an entry about this show on the official Led Zeppelin website “The Mighty Zep and My Rites of Manhood My first trip to England.”

The tape starts with David “Kid” Jensen introducing the band, saying: “After an absence of something like four years I guess we’re all ready for a bit of physical graffiti” before “Rock And Roll” and ”Sick Again.”

Robert Plant is in jocular mood tonight, constantly telling many inside jokes and making funny asides. “Last weekend we did a couple of warm up gigs for these three, this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We believe that these were the first three gigs to be sold out, yeah? So these must be the ones with the most energy stored up, right?”

The show continues in a brisk pace at the beginning, playing tight versions of “In My Time Of Dying,” “The Song Remains The Same” and a gorgeous “The Rain Song.” The topic of travel and journy is frequently mentioned by Plant. Before “Kashmir” he speaks about his ”left arm is swollen beyond all proportion because I just had it chipped for cholera, and small pox, and everything else that we might catch while we go hunting in the jungle for new words and new songs for a new album…. the last time we had a chip in the arm and wander in the jungle nobody really went anywhere at all. We wrote a song called ‘Kashmir.’”

For John Paul Jones’ big spot, Plant announces: “This next piece also features John Paul Jones on keyboards. These days John is working a lot on keyboards. This features Jonesy, the maestro. It’s called ‘No Quarter.’” After a short delay and a few weird noises coming out of the organ, Plant jokes: “That’s Jonesy the maestro. Now we feature John Paul Jones on piano, whose bicycle clip is caught in his sock.”

(The “bicycle clip” quote is a reference to the Monty Python skit “Cycling Tour” where Michael Palin’s character Reginald Pither’s clip get caught, among other things).

Jones’ grand piano solo is very tranquil and melodic. He also shows much confidence at first, unlike some of the versions from the end of the US tour in March where he meandered a bit before settling upon a suitable melody. Page and Bonham come in to darken the mood, playing the more traditional “No Quarter” improvisation. Plant himself mentions the “sinister connotations” which are “plodding along.”

For “Tangerine,” he speaks about “the effect of love apart from squeezing lemons and other such vicious martial arts,” calling it “a beautiful song of love.” The band admirably pulls off four-part harmony. Since it’s only captured in the audience tapes (the soundboard recordings record only Plant singing), this is the best recording of such a rare Zeppelin event. Plant is quick to acknowledge it when the song is over: “Four part harmony featuring John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Reginald Pither.”

As the road crew are getting the band ready for the acoustic set, Plant gives a rambling introduction to “Going To California.” He speaks about their trip “along the A5 past Wellington.” He’s distracted by someone shouting in the wings (“Is my manager shouting at me?”) and by Bonham’s roadie setting up the microphone, saying, “This gentlemen here who’s altering the mic stand was arrested for swearing at passersby at a tube station six months ago, Mick Hinton. He was then arrested three months later for driving over a traffic island. Really gets so bad because it costs Bonzo a fortune. He’s now limping because Bonzo just gave him a dead leg.”

The acoustic set is a nice addition, breaking up the long meandering epics in the set. Zeppelin in the mid seventies were at their heaviest and (some say) self-indulgent, and having an intimate set with the audience is very welcome. It adds another half hour to the set, but since this a rare concert in England the audience don’t seem to mind. Plant makes a few jokes before “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” at Jones’ expense, speaking about his stand up bass which ”when he used to be with Jet Harris and Tony Meehan they were all the fashion.”

After “Trampled Underfoot” come two more epics. Bonham’s “Moby Dick” reaches twenty-give minutes and “Dazed And Confused” past thirty. Plant refers to the latter as coming from their first session together “the first thing that we did play together back in the summer of 68, in the days of Scott McKenzie.”

Perhaps because he mentioned McKenzie Plant sings “San Francisco” instead of “Woodstock” like he had been since the second leg of the US tour in March. He lets out several loud shrieks and Page’s violin bow interlude in appropriately creepy. The improvisation doesn’t have anything new but is delivered with breathtaking confidence.

Plant takes a shot at journalist Charles Shaar Murray, who were a bit critical of the first two Earls Court shows, before “Stairway To Heaven” telling him “there’s a psychiatrist on his way Charles. Just hang on. Keep those teeth gritted, but here’s one for you in you better moments Charles. Good old Charles.”

When the come out for the encores John Bonham acknowledges his father in the audience by shouting “HELLO DAD!” His brother Mick was also there and mentioned this event in his boot My Brother John, writing: “Come May 23rd, Jacko (father), Debbie (sister) and myself, along with a good friend of mine set off to see for ourselves how the band had progressed since we had last seen them at Trentham Gardens. As soon as the band walked onstage, to rapturous applause, we were in awe at the whole bloody size of it. Showco had shipped in the PA system and light show that was used on their American tour and above the stage a huge video screen showing close up views of the band as they went about their business. For three and a half hours, we were treated to rock music from a band that you just know were glad to be home. Every enthusiastic move by the band was highlighted in a show that was second to none. Laser beams fired above the heads of the audience gave the effect of flaming arrows when they reflected off a mirror ball, filling the vast hall with snowflakes and stars.”

“Whole Lotta Love” contains the theremin duel and segues into “Black Dog” to close the show. At the end Plant quotes William Blake: “…and did those feet in ancient times. Thank you very much England, and Wales, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and may the best team win. Good night.”

The Rites Of Manhood is packaged in a thick, four-fold cardboard sleeve. The front has a famous Earls Court photograph of Page playing theremin during “Whole Lotta Love.” Inside Tarantura use never before seen amateur photographs from the Earls Court shows including one from this gig (the point of the show where Bonham stands up after “Tangerine.”) It’s unique to see such candid photographs. Overall, this is the best version of this rare show and is worth having.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Rites Of Manhood | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Last Concert In America (Oakland, July 1977)

pr00101986448From collectorsmusicreviews.com

The Day On The Green, Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – July 24th, 1977

Disc 1 (79:14): The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore

Disc 2 (78:43): Going To California, Mystery Train, Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, White Summer/Black Mountain Side (suite), Kashmir, Jimmy Page solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, closing mc

Led Zeppelin’s 1977 tour had its dead-beat moments and its magical. This tour Peter Grant took it upon himself to ensure the little private world they or he, had created around the band would no longer be taken advantage of in any way by scalpers and promoters no matter what their reputation. Grant went about hiring flat out thugs surrounding himself and the band, from his old wrestling days to ensure this would happen, no matter the status of a legendary promoter. It was at the Oakland Coliseum, a giant and deep hole, wrapped up with cement, where Grant and some of his thugs would, on July 23rd. beat one of Bill Graham’s assistants into a near coma just because they thought he assaulted Grants son.

The assault never actually happened, and Grant and his thugs were supposed to be arrested on the 24th, in a big show of force, after the concert. They somehow managed to get away. Bill Graham figured he’d get them next time. Tarantura has presented Led Zeppelins final American concert, a very good audience tape of the July 24th. show at Alameda County Coliseum. The taper is close to the stage, and something I find really cool about the opening is that, even though the band is taking the stage late, a person close to the taper can be heard saying “it’s twenty-five to four”, as the band is taking the stage.

There really isnt any open airy-ness to the sound, it does actually sound somewhat tight, which again is very good. However, the opening first couple of minuets of The Song Remains The Same is a bit distant and a canned. There are people yelling sit down right into the tappers mic, there’s a girl screaming, the bass and drum are up front with Plants vocals distant, as is Pages guitar. At 4:39 into TSRTS, it does open up, becoming much brighter, fuller and more balanced, with the audience somewhat removed. Yells of “sit down” right next to the taper come through loud and clear well into a rip-roaring Sick Again.

I can detect what sounds like a slight cut between songs, before Nobody’s Fault But Mine, but most importantly about this whole release is that Tarantura found a way to fill in all of the openings to most songs, or another source, because all of the openings to every song is here. The first few notes of each song are not cut off and there is a nice flow to most of the show. All the Plantations are here, without any cuts.

Since I’ve Been Loving You starts with the typical Page intro, which to my ears does sound to be EQ’d to high, as are Plants vocals. About two minuets in, the volume drops and it slowly works its way back up. But, it is very balanced over all. At the end of the song, a Kodak Instamatic Camera can be clearly heard being used, and the film advanced. Plant dedicates No Quarter to Bill Graham and it clocks in at a total of 22:40.

Dazed And Confused was not played on this tour and there is speculation if Moby Dick was played at all as well on this night, because it was not played every night on this tour. That could be why its missing from this show. No Quarter does have the full John Paul Jones piano solo, the song is muffled in parts and does get a bit organ/bass heavy towards the end, but the Page solo comes through and clear around 19:50.

During Ten Years Gone, Plants vocals are a bit muffled,but Pages guitar and his solo come through nice and clear. It really cleans up even more at 6:30 in.

The acoustic set as a whole comes through in excellent quality being nice clear and balanced. Mystery Train sounds spontaneous by Plant and after a couple of lines the band joins in.

Both Trampled Under Foot and Achilles Last Stand are smokin. They’re played with real intensity like the way the band is capable of playing them. I say it this because its a bit of a shame they book end White Summer…, Kashmir and Pages guitar solo in which he plays the Star Spangled Banner. White Summer sounds like the tape is sped up, but it is just Page going off on a tangent. Kashmir is pretty mellow, its kind of like being on a wave going up and down, with the intense Achilles leading into Stairway To Heaven. Unfortunately, there is still no complete Whole Lotta Love. It stops at 1:16 in, which is at the end of the 1st. verse, and there is a seamless cut into an incredibly intense version of Rock and Roll, which is how Led Zeppelin would leave America.

Over all, this is a very good audience recording, meaning one below excellent. A girl does shout “PAGE” at quite a few moments between songs right into the mic, but that just adds to the atmosphere. Over all, the band is really on this day. There are some mic movements at various parts on CD 2, but nothing that interferes with the music. It is balanced over all and very listenable, given that its at a stadium with over 67,000 people on who knows what inside. Again, the first few notes of each song are not cut off, but the show is not complete, with missing Whole Lotta Love.

Tarantura has done an excellent job with editing that did have to be done, and with EQ’ing. This is now the definitive release for Led Zepp’s last concert. It comes in a nice heavy duty cardboard jacket with glossy pictures on the front and back of the venue. Glossy pictures on the inside show Page playing a brown Telecaster, and one from his back, playing his double neck. Shots of the crowd and stadium on the inside as well as clippings from local papers. The CD’s have silk screened pictures of Plant and Jones sitting during the acoustic set. Highly recommended.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Last Concert In America | , | Leave a comment

Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory ? (1995)

tumblr_m98qfeU4Um1rd2fmzo1_500From sfloman.com

Although this album is now often considered the band’s “masterpiece,” initial reviews were lukewarm. It was only after people started buying the album in bucketfulls (I think that this is the bestselling British album ever) that it was critically reappraised, even snagging Q magazine’s “Album of the Decade” accolade.

This is the album that gave the Gallagher brothers the world domination that they craved, largely on the strength of the smash hit “Wonderwall,” an evocative ballad with all the makings of an instant classic. This album is largely made up of mellower, more sensitive compositions, as Oasis expands their grand grungy sound to include instrumentation such as cello, keyboards, harmonica, and mellotron. Only “Hello” and “Morning Glory” really crank up the amps like on their debut but fortunately do so quite convincingly.

Elsewhere, “Roll With It” is awfully catchy, while the truly sublime “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is a big Beatlesque ballad, this time with Noel on vocals. “Hey Now” has another nice melody, while its subsequent instrumental segue is harmless if unnecessary. “Some Might Say” is one of the album’s harder hitting and best tracks; after listening to this song you just gotta give Noel his due as a songwriter, and when Liam sings “we will find a brighter day” damn if it doesn’t brighten my day.

The airy, melancholic “Cast No Shadow” (love those sighing backing vocals) gets my vote as this album’s overlooked gem, while the sing songy “She’s Electric” is minor but also quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, track ten is a waste of 39 seconds before the album ends with “Champagne Supernova,” another epic power ballad and instant classic, though its overly long length provides an ominous foreshadowing of their next endeavor. Still, when Liam sings “where were you while we were getting high?,” the answer for many people in 1995 was “somewhere listening to this album.”

Perhaps Morning Glory isn’t as attention grabbing or as exciting as Definitely Maybe, but this album has a diversity that their debut doesn’t. Some argued that The Beatles’ influence was again all too apparent, and Oasis also liberally borrows from T. Rex, samples Gary Glitter, and steals a melody from R.E.M. This may make Oasis unoriginal, but it doesn’t mean that they’re uncreative, since Noel is a highly effective musical plunderer who is a supreme melodist in his own right.

Besides, the band sounds great throughout (new drummer Alan White was a nice addition whose work really enhances several songs), and the years have only been kind to this mid-’90s classic.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Oasis (What's The Story) Morning Glory? | | Leave a comment

Oasis Heathen Chemistry (2005)

Heathen+Chemistry++PNGFrom sputnikmusic.com

It says something about the quality of Oasis’s first two albums, that even after the release of Be Here Now, and Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, this record was still hotly anticipated, especially as it followed changes in the band’s line-up, leading many people to think that Oasis might change their approach, and possibly return to the fresh-sounding glory days of earlier in their career. Although there is the odd song on here that stands up favourably to anything that Oasis have ever recorded, it’s fair to say that by and large this is not the case, with this album not being the one that Oasis fans were praying for. Mercifully though, the band seem to have generally put the bloated nature of Be Here Now behind them, with most songs on here being of a reasonable length (Better Man is not actually 38 minutes long, but merely plays on, despite the song ending a fraction of the way into the track).

The songs:
1. The Hindu Times. Based on this song, very cleverly put at the start of the album, you would imagine that you were in for the best Oasis album since 1995. It’s by far and away their best song since (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? with it being built around a classic riff by Noel Gallagher, while Liam has his trademark arrogance back in his vocals, adding the air of menace that propelled Oasis into mega-stardom. Even the lyrics, such as “‘Cos God gimme soul in your rock’n’roll (babe)”, are drawing on one of their favourite topics; that of good old fashioned rock and roll. An obvious high point of the album, and a great Oasis song, this gets 5/5.

2. Force Of Nature. The brilliance of the opening track here makes this even worse than it already is. Featuring a lead vocal from Noel Gallagher, there is only one way to describe this, and that’s an uninspired dirge, with what sounds like Noel complaining about a wife/lover (he denies it’s about his ex-wife, Meg Matthews). Lyrics such as, “You’re smoking all my stash, you’re burning all my cash” are deeply uninspired as well, while the instruments pound away in the background, without really adding anything to the song, or giving it a sense of purpose. The kind of song that a pub rock covers band would put low down on their wish list of songs to rehearse, this gets 1.5/5.

3. Hung In A Bad Place. This is the only song on here that was written by Gem Archer, and is another Liam lead vocal set over guitar riffing that would be better were it not for the occasional discordant blast, that really lowers the tone of the song. The song itself is similar to something likeHello, but again, it just doesn’t have the energy that was so important to Oasis, and indeed to bands similar to them. It’s got a good guitar solo that raises the level of the song, but that apart, this is another Oasis song that isn’t really up to much. 3/5.

4. Stop Crying Your Heart Out. This song always reminds me of England’s exit from the 2002 Football World Cup, as it was seized upon as an anthem by all the main TV channels. From that point of view it does its job well: it’s Oasis tapping into the national consciousness again, but that aside, this doesn’t really rise to the levels of their previous ballads. Lyrically, again, it’s somewhat uninspired (“Take what you need, be on your way, and stop crying your heart out”), although it’s a pleasant enough song to listen to, with it’s main weakness being that nothing much happens in it, combined with the fact that it lacks the majesty of their best ballads, such as Champagne Supernova, in spite of the string arrangements. 3.5/5.

5. Songbird. This is a definite contender for most bizarre Oasis song ever. It’s also one of the best moments on the album. Written by Liam Gallagher, it’s a breezy, acoustic guitar led track, with him in strangely reflective mood, and even singing, rather than resorting to his trademark vocals. Dare I say it, but it’s actually a rather beautiful love song, that’s made even more remarkable, and therefore better, by the fact that it’s so short. The keyboards in the background give more layering as well, and improve the mood of the song. 4.

6. Little By Little. This was a single taken from the album, and features Noel Gallagher on lead vocals, in what can only really be described as a power ballad. Although it’s another of the better songs on here, the lyrics let it down again, with the final bellows of “Why am I really here”, sounding strangely like Thom Yorke doing a Britrock style pastiche of his band’s earlier days. As with many Oasis songs, his guitar work is a definite quality of the song, again raising the standard of the music. 4/5.

7. A Quick Peep. Andy Bell’s only composition that made it onto the album, this is a purely instrumental, semi-psychedelic piece, that somehow contrives to be both bland and somewhat discordant at the same time, and really should have been left off the album. Too short to achieve much, this nevertheless sticks in the listener’s throat, due to the combination of tribal drumming, and aimless guitar work. 1/5.

8. (Probably) All In The Mind. The piano and spoken word intro to this sounds strangely like it could have been on The Dark Side Of The Moon, and almost sounded good on it. Then Liam’s vocals come in, and the song turns into a disaster. Honestly, I’m trying to find a redeeming feature about this song, but I just can’t. Liam’s vocals sound like he’s bored and not really trying, and the backing music, although well produced, sounds like nothing more than a basic outtake of what Oasis used to produce. 1/5.

9. She Is Love. Although it’s got competition, this is probably my single least favourite song on the album. It’s basically Oasis attempting to do a folksy acoustic guitar led ballad, with some of the most hideously cliched lyrics imaginable: “She is love, and I believe her when she speaks”. The synthesised backing music, and clapping beat later in the song, makes this a positive embarrassment when put next to their earlier music, but even by the standards of this album, it’s terrible. 1/5.

10. Born On A Different Cloud. Well, compared to the three previous songs, this is a marginal improvement, although it suffers from Be Here Now syndrome, of being far too long, repetitive, and aimless to begin with. It’s Oasis doing melancholy, which actually works better than might be imagined, particularly with Liam Gallagher on vocals, but it’s noticeably flagging before the 3 minute mark of the song is reached, especially as the vocals seem a bit too low in the mix, and buried under some of the guitars. This could possibly have been quite a good song, if only it had just been shortened, but due to the fact that it’s quite frankly boring, this gets 1.5/5.

11. Better Man. Well, credit where credit’s due, and this is actually a good album closer. The edgy guitars, combined with Liam’s snarling “Yeah yeah” vocals, make this the second best rock song on here, behind The Hindu Times, and again, the key to this is the menacing, arrogant, laddish attitude that Oasis at their best give off. They were never the most talented musicians, but one thing they had in huge amounts was attitude, which made the Gallagher brothers in particular into icons. It’s just such a shame that this attitude, which is so evident on this song, couldn’t be bottled up, and used over the whole of this album. One thing that really annoys me here though is the fact that from 4:20 to 33:13, absolutely nothing happens, and even then, the hidden track isn’t really worth the wait, as it’s just an instrumental, which contributes nothing to the album. 3.5/5.

As you can tell, I don’t believe this album is quite frankly much good, and definitely ranks as one of Oasis’s worst efforts, probably along with Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. The band are currently working on their sixth album, but another record like this might finally drive away their last remaining devotees, as the band have been struggling for too long now, and are putting out records that are nowhere near the standard of their earlier work. The Gallagher brothers are still household names, showing probably the support that the band still attracts from the general public, but realistically, the group are now approaching the last chance saloon, as a result of their music, internal struggles, and appalling publicity. This album shows though that, sad as it may be, the Oasis that strode over the British music scene for a period in the mid-1990s may be well and truly dead.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Heathen Chemistry | | Leave a comment

Donald Fagen Sunken Condos (2012)

donald-fagen-albumFrom jazzwax.com

For many fans of Steely Dan, Donald Fagen’s snakeskin voice is the sound of college, the start of intellectual life and newly won independence from parents’ clutches. Today, he’s the overlord of the territory where jazz, R&B and rock intersect. In this bump-and-grind world, horns come and go, a harmonica wails, a rock guitar weeps, an organ mutters, the beat is strong, and lyrics are about sound textures, wordplay and rich imagery.

“There’s a crateful of lead-line pipes/A photo of laughing Navy types/On the island East of the Carolines/Lovely island” —Memorabilia

Sporadically, Donald has released four solo albums apart from Walter Becker. These include The Nightfly (1982), Kamakiriad (1993) and Morph the Cat (2006). Last month he released the long-awaited Sunken Condos (Reprise) and it’s his best yet—loaded with sauntering riffs, hypnotic melodies and tough-luck characters.

“Four old hippies drivin’ in the rain/I asked for a lift—they said: Get used to the pain/They gonna fix the weather in the world/Just like Mr. Gore said/But tell me what’s to be done/Lord—’bout the weather in my head.” —Weather in My Head

Donald’s imagination ages well. As with Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen and many of his solo songs here, lyrics center on older guys and their drive to remain sexually relevant with much younger, tireless women. Song themes dwell in a spongy zone between wolf whistles and AARP cards. On his new album, older guys get lucky but then must live with their Faustian bargains—keeping women half their age entertained and satisfied while listening to them yammer about things that are alien and meaningless.

“We went to a party/Everybody stood around/Thinkin’: Hey, what’s she doin’ with a burned out hippie clown/Young dudes were grinnin’/I cant’ say it didn’t sting/Some punk says: Pops you better hold on to that slinky thing.” —Slinky Thing

In this regard, Donald hasn’t gone the way of so many other classic rockers—strutting around on stage in tight leather pants, talking about rehab, or wearing baseball caps. His music fully embraces the male aging process, which is what makes him cool. He’s observing—watching girls go by and minding his own business, even in bowling alleys:

“Your move to the lane child/Played on my heartstrings/With your long skinny legs child/And your hoop earrings/When the stakes were sky-high/That’s when you’d always shine/The ball would ride a moonbeam/Down the inside line.” —Miss Marlene

And then there are songs that drop all pretense and get to the heart of the matter—an older guy caught in a young girl’s web. In Donald’s songs, guys who took their youth for granted become resigned to the passive role they must play in their latter stages. As if awaking on the back of a wild horse, these guys seem caught off-guard and baffled as they hold on—trapped between what they were trained to want and what they no longer can physically handle.

“When we go out dancin’—she’s always the star/When she does the Philly Dog—I gotta have CPR/She put on a dress last night made of plastic wrap/It was off the hook—crazy sweet/What everybody’s wearin’ on Planet D’Rhonda” —Planet D’Rhonda

Like guys who yearn for a Nedicks hot dog or an Orange Julius—fine things that once existed but don’t any longer—Donald’s characters are rooted in ’60s nostalgia but set in today’s bitter reality. And throughout the songs, a baritone saxophone barks, trombones and trumpets sigh, the bass bounces, a marimba mocks and the ubiquitous older dude gives his leather jacket a tug and is on his way. It’s Donald’s world. We just age in it.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Donald Fagen Sunken Condos | , | Leave a comment

Donald Fagen Kamakiriad (1993)

Donald%20Fagen%20-%20KamakiriadFrom ew.com

Both nothing and everything sounds out of place on Kamakiriad, the long-delayed return to the record bins of former Steely Dan singer, keyboardist, and jaundiced wit Donald Fagen. Steely Dan was the first slacker pop band, mixing in bits of hipster jazz rhythms and lingo into sardonic pop that was practically dragged kicking and smirking into the Top 40.

Kamakiriad, which reunites Fagen with Dan cohort Walter Becker (who produced and played bass and guitar), picks up almost where both men left off when Steely Dan unofficially disbanded around 1981. (However, their cult following has remained intact.) The music has the clean, metronomic precision of Dan albums like Aja, from bubbling piano chords and ultraprecise drumming to horns that zip in and out of the songs at just the right moment. Fagen has been working on this album for several years, and each carefully placed guitar flutter and trombone solo reflects that attention to detail.

No, they rarely make albums like this anymore-which is exactly what seems amiss. A good chunk of what is called pop these days, from sloppy grunge to jumping rap, sounds as if it were swiftly pieced together in someone’s basement. By contrast, Kamakiriad recalls a time when musicians and producers would spend months or years in the studio in search of the perfect pop record- and when melody, not crackling, jubilant noise, came first.

In that way, Kamakiriad is significant as more than just Fagen’s first album since his only solo release, The Nightfly, in 1982. The new record’s sparkling surfaces speak volumes about how pop-record making, even pop itself, has radically changed in a few short years.

To prove just how old-world it is, Kamakiriad is one of those antiquities known as a concept album. Set around the millennium, it revolves around a wide-eyed narrator tooling around the country in a steam-powered, environmentally correct car called a Kamakiri(Japanese for praying mantis). A cross between Blade Runner and Lost in America, the story includes visits to a virtual-reality nostalgia theme park (”Springtime”) and, in ”Tomorrow’s Girls,” a sighting of some sexy extraterrestrials.

On paper, that sounds as pretentious as a Pete Townshend concept record, but it really isn’t: Fagen’s lyrics are obtuse enough—in typical Steely Dan style—that unless you’re staring at the lyric sheet as you listen, you won’t even notice there is a plot. And Fagen’s voice itself is anything but ponderous: It has aged to a fine pop-nasal drip.

The songs themselves are more problematic. Averaging more than six minutes each, they’re not nearly as hooky as Steely Dan’s were. The low-energy melodies amble along in a pleasant but noodling way, with an exception being the jaunty ”Hey Nineteen”-like swing of ”Tomorrow’s Girls.” That’s where Fagen’s perfectionism gets in the way. You have to admire him for taking his work so seriously, but those diligent arrangements only tend to zap whatever spontaneity existed to begin with.

And spontaneity is the trademark sound of ’90s pop. To anyone other than the baby-boomer Dan fans who have been eagerly awaiting this album (and who will undoubtedly flock to this summer’s unexpected Dan reunion tour-the first since 1974), Kamakiriad will probably be perceived as a quaint theme park all its own: a pop world that has itself gone the way of the carnival calliope.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Donald Fagen Kamakiriad | , | Leave a comment

Oasis Don’t Believe The Truth (2005)

dont-believe-the-truth-4e7570335abe0From popmatters.com

The harder Oasis try, the more disappointing the result. It all started with Be Here Now eight years ago, a bloated album of bombastic rock anthems that quickly became yesterday’s news as Blur’s Blur, The Verve’s Urban Hymns, and Radiohead’s OK Computer took British rock into thrilling new directions that same year, leaving the Brothers Gallagher choking on their peers’ dust. Subsequent attempts to recapture the magic of 1994-95 have sputtered. 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants showed promise on songs like “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”, “Gas Panic!”, and “Where Did It All Go Wrong?”, but the rest of the record failed to deliver.

2002’s Heathen Chemistry, on the other hand, was a complete lost cause, an empty re-hash of Oasis cliches that even the addle-brained fun of “The Hindu Times” couldn’t rescue. All this time, Noel Gallagher has claimed each new Oasis album would be a huge, radical departure, but each time out, the resulting albums have always retreated inward to the comfy confines of tired Beatles rip-offs, boring rock riffing, and just plain lazy songwriting.

Still, people always hope the band can pull themselves together just one more time. Oasis is far too talented not to, but their extended downward slide makes the prospect of a return to form less and less possible with each passing year. Seriously, how much more crap do we have to put up with before we finally give up on these guys?

So now we have Attempt To Restore Credibility, Version 4.0. After the great disappointment that was Heathen Chemistry, you’d think there would be nowhere to go but up, and indeed, Don’t Believe the Truth is a considerable improvement. At long last, that big overhaul of the Oasis sound has happened: the production has been stripped-down, to the point of sounding tinny at times, the turgid guitar wanking is virtually nonexistent, and the record overall is the band’s most streamlined and focused in many years. Most noticeable is the drum sound; Alan White, while a very talented percussionist, was a big reason behind the band’s more overblown moments, and while his replacement, Zak Starkey (yeah, Ringo’s kid), lacks White’s flair, he brings a simplicity and directness to the music, and the rest of the band seems to follow suit.

Don’t Believe the Truth might be the best Oasis album in eight years, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be shaking your head in incredulity from time to time. Although his role as principal songwriter has been greatly toned down, Oasis is still Noel’s baby, and typically, his five compositions are inconsistent. First single “Lyla” is especially strong, a refreshingly catchy, hard-edged acoustic rocker that has Liam shamelessly copping the vocal phrasing from The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”.

“Mucky Fingers” plays like a ridiculously blatant rip-off of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For the Man”, but is quickly redeemed by Noel’s impassioned lead vocals and Starkey’s thunderous drum fills during the outro. “The Importance of Being Idle” is yet another forgettable foray into the Oasis of recent years, and “Part of the Queue” bears a striking resemblance to the shuffling folk of Badly Drawn Boy, but “Let There Be Love” turns out to be one of Noel’s strongest ballads, as the band actually shows some growth, opting for a more understated tone, instead of the musical excess we’ve come to expect.

While Oasis has always been One Band, Under Noel, the man has been gradually loosening the reins, and the more democratic, collaborative feel of Don’t Believe the Truth turns out to be its greatest asset. Liam is still struggling for consistency in his songwriting, as “The Meaning of Soul” and “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel” are, to be frank, atrocious, but much to everyone’s surprise, he pulls a rabbit of the hat with the superb acoustic number, “Love Like a Bomb”.

Many fans have wondered why bassist Andy Bell has never contributed more to the band, but the former member of Ride is responsible for two of the new album’s highlights, first, on the fiery opening track “Turn Up the Sun” (including the plum line sung by Liam, “I carry madness/ Everywhere I go”), and then on the wistful “Keep the Dream Alive”, during which listeners can detect a little bit of Ride’s shoegazer tones creeping subtly into the band’s sound. Gem Archer’s “A Bell Will Ring” is another standout, and while it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s a taut, uptempo song that has the band doing what they do best, simply ripping out a fierce rock tune.

Don’t Believe the Truth is far from a perfect album, but despite the four or five throwaway tracks, the fact that some actual positive energy can be heard in Oasis’s music for the first time in nearly a decade is enough to give fans hope that there may be some life in this band yet. They’re not all the way there yet, as Oasis still have to claw their way back to respectability, but if this album is any indication, they’re definitely up for the challenge.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Don't Beilieve The Truth | | Leave a comment