Thursday, June 25, 2015

Curve, Lush And The Shoegazer Music Boom of 1991-1992

I might be in the minority but I always liked shoegazer music, which really was alternative music back in the early 1990s.  Terms of feedback guitars, straight ahead beats and words that nobody could make out what they were saying.  My Bloody Valentine might be considered the best of the shoegazers but that is debatable.  Jesus And Mary Chain could be considered the pioneers of shoegazer  music but that's also terms of discussion. Even The Stone Roses are considered shoegazers although they're more Brit Pop than MBV.

In the scope of shoegazer, Ride to me offered the best of this type of music.  While critics call Nowhere their best album, Going Blank Again is their classic to these ears.  The continuing swirl of sounds on Leave Them All Behind is the best indication that you could get lost in the noise.  Still, it seems that Ride got tired of this sound and tried to venture out into different directions with Carnival Of Light before ending their career as purveyors of guitar rock on the forgotten Tarantula and broke up, Andy Bell moving on to Hurricane #1 before joining Oasis.  The longest lasting of these bands, The Charlatans UK started as Madchester  beats, which is part of Shoegazer music and their first two albums Some Friendly and Between 10th And 11th were part of the original alternative radio before Corporations like Clear Channel turned that into Modern Rock but even they got tired of Shoegazer and with Steve Hillage producing changed course with Up To Our Hips and eventually The Charlatans became the modern Rolling Stones, the highlight Tellin Stories before losing their keyboard player in a auto accident and their drummer in 2013 from cancer.  The lesser known The Darkside made two shoegazer albums that borderline more on psychedelia of the 60s rather than the Madchester sounds of The Charlatans UK. All That Noise, shows The Darkside's fondness of The Velvet Underground. The Seeds  and The Charlatans (US Version that is), but perhaps their shining moment was the 9:52 song Rise from their final album Melomania.  Out of all the shoegazer bands The Darkside were the most trippiest.  Fellow labelmates The Dylans may have bit more straight ahead rock and roll, like The Stone Roses, their best moment was the dreamy Godlike from their first album.  And like the Stone Roses, The Dylans couldn't build upon their first album, Spirit Finger finding them spinning their wheels and poor sales and indifference and the band was no more.

Which leaves us with the Inspiral Carpets, a band best known with a organ sound similar to The Doors. They started out pretty good with the almost hour long Life, but each album was less and less interesting.  Picking up their best of is the better buy, like The Doors The Carpets could get very wordy and lose focus, which makes getting The Very Best Of Inspiral Carpets the best deal, but I'll stand by Life as probably the only Inspiral Carpets album you would ever want to own.

Perhaps the best shoegazer bands were the ones lead by women. Although fans and critics have spoken highly of Slowdive, I wasn't impressed with the album that I heard, they reminded me of a noisy Cowboy Junkies.  Lush on the other hand started out as a shoegazer type of band. Led by Miki Berneyi's breathy vocals and the songwriting  and backing singing of Emma Anderson, their debut album Spooky and the EP collecting Gala are perfect examples of shoegazer dream pop. They recorded for 4AD, one of the top alternative labels out there in the early 90s, home to The Pixies and Breeders as well.  It also helped that Robin Guthrie (Choctaw Twins) produced Spooky.  But unlike the Dylans, Lush followed Ride's trail and started making albums not so much shoe gazer but more alternative rock, with mixed results.  Split, like Ride's Carnival Of Light is Lush trying to find a new sound that will fit them better but not quite getting there yet.  Their final 1996 effort Lovelife, they went for a sound that was somewhat like Elastica, getting minor hits like Ladykillers and a duet with Pulp's Jarvis Crocker on Ciao. a disjointed version of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra for the 90s. The record was probably their best seller but drummer Chris Acland's suicide ended Lush once and for all.   Their best of Ciao! captures most of their highlights.

Certainly the nosiest has to be Curve, who existed right in the middle of the shoegazer craze of 1991 and 1992 and perhaps the most related to My Bloody Valentine and Jesus And Mary Chain of noise music.  They made three albums for Charisma/Anxious,  Doppelganger, Pubic Fruit and Cuckoo. Led by Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia, they were produced by Flood and Alan Moulder, Moulder would greatly in the mixing of albums from Ride, if anybody gave Shoe Gazer music its sound, that would be Moulder.  Doppelganger takes a while getting going but toward the end of the album the angry guitars and looping drum tracks take hold on Wish You Were Dead and Fait Accompli, the latter track would be expanded and added on, as well as three EPs that comprised Pubic Fruit, to which like Gala from Lush, composes Curve to be a very noisy dance shoe gazer band. Cuckoo, as uneven as it is, still is remarkable, the title track one of their best overall songs.  Curve would later break up and then reunite through the years although I have not heard anything outside of Cuckoo.  Kevin Sheilds of MBV fame did play on their 2002 album.  Overall fact remains that while Curve may have been a noise band and their sound did base an influence on the more popular US band Garbage in the mid 90s that underneath the noisy guitar and blurred singing from Halliday, Curve, like Lush was a very good pop band.

By all accounts Shoe Gazer pretty much fell apart around 1992 when Nirvana and grunge took over the alternative airwaves although some bands did try to keep that sound going. Blind Mr. Jones put out Stereo Musicale on Cherry Red (Herb Cohen's Bizarre/Straight issued it two years later).  Blur started out as dance shoe gazer with Leisure but then Damon Albarn and company started writing Kinks influenced songs before changing gears with the Pavement tribute S/T album of 1998.  And Catherine Wheel  Frement album for Fontana is their most hypnotic album, with their classic Black Metallic, before they abandoned Shoe Gazer with a more mainstream modern rock album of Happy Days.  Ocean Colour Scene, late to the party, their 1992 S/T album probably the final noteworthy of the shoe gazer music as we knew it back then, before they went with a more soulful direction.  I'm sure I'm missing a few bands from all of this but these were the most noteworthy of bands.  But in any case The Shoe Gazer Music was perhaps the final music genre that I gave much thought about. Alternative Music today is nowhere near as varied as it was back in the early 90s.  But in any case, you really didn't need much thought into playing this music. Just hit the play button start the beat and let the music take you where it leads.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Alison Moorer-Down To Believing

Perhaps the bigger story of this year was not of the new Steve Earle Terra-plane album which had the Earlster putting out a blues album but rather his new ex wife's album Down To Believing which came after she filed for divorce after 7 years of being with him.  In some ways it's not a answer record in the matter of Richard And Linda Thompson's 1982 farewell Shoot Out The Lights.  Moorer's is more subduded and not as venomous.    She can rock out like Miranda Lambert on lead off track Like It Used To Be, to which Moorer sangs Don't want to say goodbye but it will set me free.  I think the key track is the 2 and half minute next song Thunderstorm/Hurricane which probably a more read between the lines of washing herself away from the strains of her marriage.

Overall, Moorer has recorded off and on for various labels of varying degree.  Like Shelby Lynne, it's hard to pin Moorer as a straight country act or Americana one.  She employs the usual Nashville session folk on this record (Kenny Greenburg who produces, Fred Effingham, Chad Cromwell, Dan Dugmore, Michael Rhodes all play on this record, Ray Kennedy and Justin Niebank record and mix parts of this album as well).  Unlike her previous albums, Down To Believing is a bit more darker as Moorer, who has stayed very silent talking about her breakup in the press, chooses to express them in the songs at hand (Tear Me Apart, Blood, I Wish).  While the songs are fairly good, the Nashville Session hires don't exactly bring the anger into music, it's rather more passive then aggressive.  Her cover of CCR's Have You Ever Seen The Rain is like the original, note for note and not that all bad.  It does pick up better towards the end with perhaps the best song is I'm Doing Fine, to which throughout it all, she's getting on her life as best as she could be.  Second best song is probably Gonna Get It Wrong, which could describe our lives as well; as much as we all try to do our best, we all going to get it wrong somehow. 

Certainly Down To Believing might be Alison's most  emotional album to date although the jury is still out if it's her best overall (Alabama Song is considered her best).  But while her ex continues to play live and host his own XM radio show and still remains the ultimate outlaw singer songwriter, Down To Believing is Moorer's answer to it all, while she continues to live her life and bring her autistic son up in the world and make a new album that won't get noticed in the country world, this record has more brains than the average Luke Bryan song.  And I give it an extra point for being raw and emotionally honest.   She's keeping quiet on the social media set but the words and music on Down To Believing indicates she's speaking her mind.

Grade B+

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dillard & Clark

While critics and historians tend to think that Gram Parsons was the new visionary of the new country rock, Dillard And Clark are just as important to the legacy of the new and exciting world of Country Rock or Americana.  Of course 1968 was a new year.  A year earlier, Parsons and the International Submarine Band recorded Safe At Home on Lee Hazelwood's LHI label before joining The Byrds for the more well known Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.  Gene Clark, was once a part of that band, giving them a classic with I Feel A Whole Lot Better and a few others, Doug Dillard played in a band called The Dillards but he joined forces with Clark on Gene's first solo album with The Gosdin Brothers, which has remained in print off and on, most notably on Echoes, an album that Columbia put out in 1991 that had selected Clark tracks and the complete Gosdin Brothers output.  Anyway, Dillard and Clark decided to record together and A&M picked them up.

Although The Flying Burrito Brothers got better treatment from their label, Dillard And Clark put out two albums. The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard And Clark and Through The Morning, Through The Night, the latter album I managed to find used at a Goodwill store. The Fantastic Expedition, if you compare it to the Burritos or The Byrds is much more bluegrass than either band and features Bernie Leadon as a very important player in the band, helping out to write the songs and give it a more country bluegrass flavor. Clark wrote most of the songs except for a cover of Lester Flatt's  Git On It Brother (Git In Line Brother), a nice gospel bluegrass number.  Leadon helps co write 6 of the songs and Dillard 3.  The Eagles would cover Train Leaves Here In The Morning.  If nothing else, Leadon's presence on the first three Eagles album could be considered an extension of what he was trying to accomplished with Dillard and Clark, with him joining Eagles, they were more country rock before Don Henley and Glenn Frey decided to go more of a harder rocking direction.  The Fantastic Expedition is very hard to find album but one should pick it up since it's heart is in the right place, just like Sweetheart Of The Rodeo or Safe At Home.

While Doug Dillard was an outstanding banjoist in his own right, he didn't write very many songs, but rather be comfortable covering a Reno And Smiley song (No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine), Everly Brothers (So Sad) or the famous Rocky Top (Donna Washburn, later a cookbook expert on the internet sang that song and backup on Through The Morning, Through The Night).  Which left Gene Clark being the main songwriter and he came through with a few great songs, the title track, Polly, and Kansas City Southern.  But the second album showed more of a slant toward electric music rather than the goodtimey Fantastic Expedition.  A trade of drummers, Mike Clarke went to the Burrito Brothers, Jon Corneal replaced him.  Dillard moved on after the recording, A&M tossed out Don't Let Me Down as a promo 45, it didn't sell.  Despite a bizarre number (Corner Street Bar) Through The Morning, Night still holds up.  Like the first album, that too was a failure and Dillard And Clark were no more, Clark moving on to a cult solo career and briefly rejoining Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn for the short lived Hillman, McGuinn Clark band in the late 70s. Doug Dillard continued on a solo artist till he passed away in May 2012 at the age of 75.  Second only to Earl Scruggs as one of best banjo players ever.

BGO managed to put together both albums and three songs that only made it to 45 for a two on 1 CD that is basically the Complete Dillard And Clark Output.  Why Not Your Baby was later covered by Velvet Crush, and yes it was another failed single.  Strange to hear the Strings come out of nowhere and drown out the band on the instrumental middle and fade out of the song.  It would have been a better fit on the second album rather than the first.  Rather than adding the songs between albums, they tacked them on at the end.  Still it's nice to have that song in any context.

In the end, while Dillard And Clark's albums never did much for chart showing, it's clear that they do hold their own against the Gram Parsons and The Byrds output.  Perhaps it may have been too bluegrass for the country rock fandom but they no less essential than Sweetheart Of The Rodeo or Gilded Palace Of Sin.  Even the clerk at the bookstore had no idea who they were and when I showed them the CD to buy, he asked me if these guys were from England and who were they?  I answered it's Gene Clark of The Byrds and Douglas Dillard of The Dillards joining up.

Somebody needs to brush up on their music history.

The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard And Clark (A&M 1968) (Reissued via Water 2008) A
Through The Morning, Through The Night (A&M 1969) B+
The Complete Dillard And Clark A&M Years (BGO 2011) A-

Later revision.

Sundazed Records issued Fantastic Expedition on vinyl in 2011, but the second album has not (judging from what I have seen from Amazon).  BTW, I bought the Through The Morning, Through The Night album at Half Priced Bookstore......for a dollar.

Train Leaves Here In The Morning/Out On The Side (A&M 995)
Why Not Your Baby/Lyin' Down The Middle (A&M 1087) (reissued as a Sundazed 45)
Don't Let Me Down/Rocky Top (A&M 1165)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: O.C.Smith-Together

Something found for a dollar.

The late O.C.Smith was one of the better baritone vocals of the 60s and early 70s and best known for Little Green Apples but 8 years later, he found himself on Caribou/Epic Records in search of one last hit that would keep him going.  Together turned out to be his final CBS effort.

For contemporary soul music of the late 70s, it's not bad.  Jazz drummer John Guerin along with Max Bennett gives Smith some decent uptempo soul music with I Found The Secret and Wham Bam (Blue Collar Man) along with the ballads that O.C. was famous for.  While the title track didn't chart in the states, it managed to hit number 32 on the British charts, not bad for a country that was more into punk rock than soul music.  Even Joni Mitchell helped co write side 1 lead track Just Couldn't Help Myself. Empty Hearts does sound a bit like Larry Graham's One In A Million You.  Like Brook Benton, Smith could phase a lyric and turn it into a romantic song such as Empty Hearts or Simple Life.

However in 1977, people were more interested in disco music rather than soft soul music and Together got lost in the shuffle and Together would be O.C.Smith's final album for CBS Records. It is a lost soul classic, professionally done by the session players (including Mike McDonald of the Doobie Brothers perhaps?, and David Foster).  Smith would continue to record off and on before passing away in 2001 from a heart attack at age 65.  While he'll be forever remembered for Little Green Apples, Together proves that he was more than a one hit wonder, still giving it his all despite public indifference and no record sales.  Even the dollar copy was a Promotional copy.

I give it a B Plus. 

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