My Record Collection 137

Kraftwerk -They seem to have been around forever, along with Tangerine Dream (see T), the epitome of German Electronica.  And very good they are too.  I only have the one album Man Machine (1978), not sure why – as I really like it.  Still.  It is a very upbeat album where Tangerine Dream are often slower numbers.  I can see exactly where Bowie and Moroder got their ideas from.  Best tracks – ‘Robot’. ‘The Model’ and the title track.  A nice diversion from my seeming main diet of singer-songwriters.

Speaking of which, up next is Kris Kristofferson – the country singer who was, along with The Eagles (see E), instrumental in re-incarnating Country for the rock generation.  The story goes that Kris was an aspiring songwriter and was working in the studios in Nashville.  He recorded his debut album as a sampler for other artists to pick up on and possibly record his songs.  Well, true or not it is an exceptional debut – called originally Kristofferson – but better known as Me and Bobbie McGee – it came out in 1970; the very best of years for emerging new talent.  Almost immediately Janis Joplin (see J) recorded a blistering version of Bobbie McGee which was an enormous hit.  Several other songs on this collection became hits for others too.  Almost impossible to choose favourites but – ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and ‘Darby’s Castle’ certainly are irreplaceable.  What an album.  And a year later he almost repeated it with The Silver Tongued Devil And I.  The production is better and more instruments and violins etc:.  As to the songs, well – brilliant, of course, and who can compare songs anyway.  Almost every song is a winner – but best are ‘Loving Her Was Easier Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again’, ‘Jody And The Kid’ and ‘When I Loved Her’.   Less songs about drunks and losers and more about love, with the exception of the brilliant ‘The Pilgrim Chapter 33).   Kris was on a roll and could do no wrong.  He started seeing Rita Coolidge (see C) and she began to sing on his live shows and now in the studio too.  1972 saw Borderlord.   This seems a rushed album, only 7 months from its predecessor – and it shows.  Some of the songs date back to the Sixties (which he had obviously rejected) and the whole album has a sad almost redemptive feel.  The vocals are lightened by Rita’s cool harmonies but it looked a bit like burn-out.  Saying that, it still sounds pretty darned good all these years later.  I was a huge fan and loved his voice and country sensibility, which was really the beginnings of Americana.  He appealed to both the new rock crowd and the classic country and western fans.  Best songs – ‘Josie’, Smokey Put The Sweat On Me’ and ‘Getting By, High And Strange’.  And of course – as so often happens on re-listening a couple of times you realise that actually it was a damned good album.   By this time Rita was singing backing and even sharing vocals with Kris.  Later in ’73 Kris released 2 more albums – Jesus Was A Capricorn – which does seem to be a bit mawkish and over Religious.  Quite a few of the songs were duets with Rita.  Not his best album but ‘It Sure Was Love’ and ‘Nobody Wins’ are pretty good.  He then released a whole album as Kris and Rita; Full Moon.  This is much better – though almost unavailable on CD these days except at an extortionate price as a Japanese import.  It features mostly other writer’s songs and is all the better for it.  Rita and Kris had just got married and were deeply in love and it shows.  The album is worth it really for the last 4 songs; the joyous ‘I Heard The Bluebirds Sing’, ‘After The Fact’, ‘Loving Arms’ and ‘A Song I’d Like To Sing’.   Kris hit almost rock bottom with his 1974 album Spooky Lady’s Sideshow, which might have been a reference to Rita – who knows.  The album was pretty poor with really very little to redeem it.  I don’t like the songs – full of drugs and self-pity, which is such a pity.  I sort of stopped buying Kris then, except for the occasional bargain that slipped my way.  But later that same year and only 4 years since his brilliant debut Kris and Rita recorded another great album . Breakaway – almost as good as Full Moon.  A bit more upbeat – I loved it.  Best songs ‘Slowdown’ A great Kris song – though it was mostly cover versions.  I also really liked ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’ and ‘I’ve Got To Have You’ a song Kris wrote earlier for Carly Simon (see S). but, for whatever reason the album sold poorly, besides Kris and Rita were soon to go their separate ways.  I caught up with Kris on 1979’s Shake Hands With The Devil.   Well, not a great improvement 4 years on.  Still, not so bad really – best songs ‘Whisky Whisky’ (not written by Kris, ‘Come Sundown’ and ‘Once More With Feeling’.   Kris was spending more time on his acting career than making good music. 

But by the Nineties, he had sobered up somewhat and was clean (more or less) of drugs.  A Moment Of Forever (1995) is much better.   Some of the songs are political  – ‘Johnny Lobo’ – about an Indian activist.  But also about his own failures with drink and drugs; ‘Shipwrecked In The Eighties’.  And a few love songs – ‘Good Love Shouldn’t Feel So Bad’ and ‘New Game Now’.   A welcome return to decent song-writing and a semi decent album.  He returned to some of his best songs with The Austin Sessions (1999).   Well, this has been quite the fashion. To re-record your best early songs.  No doubt that the arrangements and super session and guest artists add something – but… also lose that excitement, that enthusiasm for the songs as they first appeared.   This is perfectly pleasant – but pleasant is all it is I am afraid.   Closer to the Bone came out in 2009 after a nine year break from recording.   This is a much quieter affair, almost acoustic and the songs are more reflective – of a life well lived and ageing.  A bit rambling but quite enjoyable too.  Best are ‘From here To Wherever’ and ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’.  I also have a sort-of hits called The Country Collection – which is made up of a couple of political albums Kris made in the 80’s; too many songs about El Salvador and Nicaragua.  A bit boring.  And then there is The Very Best Of…which is of course just great, even a rare duet with Joan Baez, well worth listening to. 

Kris Kristofferson

My Record Collection 136

Mark Knopfler – was essentially Dire Straits (see D); singer, lead guitar and songwriter.  He quietly disbanded them in 1995 after more than a decade of huge success – but even before that he had been recording soundtracks and a handful of collaborations.  The Notting Hillbillies was a group of session players, featuring Mark, and mainly Brendan Croker singing, Guy Fletcher on keyboards and a few others to flesh out the sound.  Brendan was a folk singer who Mark admired and so the single album Missing, Presumed Having A Good Time was released in 1990.  A relaxed bluesy record where Mark takes mostly a back seat (he sings on ‘Your Own Sweet Way’ and of course his guitar picking is recognisable.  (Incidentally he also produced and played on Dylan’s Infidels in the late 80’s too).  This is just one of those records you can happily smile and drift away too.  Best songs – ‘Bewildered’, ‘Will You Miss Me’ and ‘That’s Where I Belong’.   The same year Mark also made an album with Chet Atkins called Neck and Neck.  Mark obviously loved his guitar picking style and this was maybe meant to be a purely instrumental album at first.  It is just a happy feelgood record, some instrumental, one or two sung by Chet and a couple by Mark.  Not the highlight of his career, but highly enjoyable – best songs – ‘There’ll Be Some Changes’, ‘Yakety Axe’ and ‘The Next Time I’m In Town’.  Mark’s first proper solo album was 1996’s Golden Heart.  And what an album; maybe his best, many of these songs would have graced a Dire Straits album.  But there is a folky feel to some of the songs and a scattering of gentle ballads too; a great mix, almost too many good songs.  Favourites include opener ‘Darling Pretty’, ‘Cannibals’ and ‘Are We In Trouble Now’ – but really I could have stuck a pin in and chosen any three.    Four years later and we saw Sailing To Philadelphia.   Another great album, maybe not quite as good as Golden Heart, just a touch tired sounding sometimes.  Best songs – the title track, ‘Who’s Your Baby Now’ and ‘Do America’.   2002 and The Ragpickers Dream came out, led by the theme song of the rejuvenated TV programme – Auf Weidershein, Pet – ‘Why Aye Man’ – a great rollicking song celebrating the North-East.     The album is on the whole quite pastoral and gently folky, mostly acoustic and glides along perfectly.  Maybe not his very best but so pleasant you just have to smile along to it.  Other good songs ‘Quality Shoe’ and the title track.  This album was accompanied by a live 4 track bonus disc.   Shangri-La appeared a couple of years later.  A much quieter affair, more folky and softer in tone.  I liked it but maybe it just felt that Mark was repeating himself and not really going anywhere new.   Although the record got better towards the end…’All That Matters’ is beautiful and ‘Lonnegan’s Gone’ ( a tribute to Lonny) – and best of all, the final track ‘Don’t Crash The Ambulance’.   He has continued with his solo albums but I haven’t kept up.   I did buy All The Roadrunning – a collaboration with Emmy Lou Harris (see h), but was slightly disappointed.  The sum of two brilliant parts not quite living up to expectations.  Oh, the songs are okay – and the singing and playing perfect – it just seems to lack a spark I had expected to find, and never really gets alight.  Best songs are ‘I Dug Up A Diamond’ and ‘Bellestar’.  I think it falls between the folk/rock style of Mark and the Americana of Emmy.  Oh Well.  Still a great artist and I may well return to him sometime

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