Aimee Mann An American singer-songwriter of this Century. Ever since Joan Armatrading and Joni I have been on the lookout for the next great female singer. I had hoped that Aimee might be that one, as it is she is pretty good but sadly not in their league. Nevertheless, for a while I really liked her and watched out for her albums. My first was her second, and breakthrough album I’m With Stupid (1995). A very interesting and recognisable voice with an edge of suspicion in there somewhere, great and cynical knowing lyrics and very good production – in short, a surprisingly good record. Best tracks ‘No Choice In The Matter’, ‘You Could Make A Killing’ and ‘Par For The Course’. This was followed in 2000 by Bachelor No. 2. Another good record, but which never really excited me at the time, don’t know why as now on re-listening I find it pretty strong. I suppose I was hoping that she might have moved on in the 5 year hiatus, but the sound and production are almost exactly the same. Best songs ‘Ghost World’, ‘Calling It Quits’ and ‘Save Me’….but really for whatever reason the album still fails to excite me. Next was Lost In Space (2002) – and really I sort of lost faith in her by this one. Again, nothing wrong, but somehow going nowhere. Maybe it was just me…I don’t know. Best songs ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the title track. I also have a hits – Ultimate Collection which is pretty good, and some of her later stuff does sound good – so why am I so disillusioned with her? I just suppose there are so many good artists it is impossible to keep with everyone. Choices we all have to make.Manfred Mann – well, there was a band in the Sixties that had lots of hits, we all loved them and discovered that Manfred was the keyboard player; the singer was either John Paul Jones or Mike D’Abo. They especially had a hit with a song Dylan home-taped with the band (later to appear on The Basement Tapes) The Mighty Quinn. Anyway, I have a Greatest Hits of theirs and great it is, full of good old sixties nonsense, but no Quinn – oh well, still some great tracks – ‘5-4-3-2-1’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Oh No, Not My Baby’. So, Manfred created a new band in the Seventies Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – I have three albums, and really I should have got more – but you know how it is…..first up is Angel Station (1979) and brilliant it is too, every track a winner and a great rock-pop feel to it, excellent guitar and organs and singing. Interesting songs, which I have no idea exactly what they mean – but sometimes you don’t need to. Best tracks – ‘Don’t kill it, Carol’, the Dylan classic ‘You Angel You’, ‘Belle Of The Earth’ and the Title track. A brilliant album which has a common musical theme dispute the variety of the songs. My next of theirs is Somewhere in Afrika (1983). Wow, what a great album, and a great anti-apartheid statement too. Written before the release of Nelson Mandela and the great sweeping away of white supremacy the record is poignant and powerful and full of both hope and despair. Of course, no-one then was to anticipate the failures of The ANC and that the lives of many many blacks would still be full of poverty and discrimination – though, this was more often along tribal lines from fellow blacks than whites, who quietly got on with making themselves richer and richer. But the album is simply fantastic. Starting with ‘Tribal Statistics’, where the blacks were counted and defined by race and tribe rather than as humans. This is followed by an old al Stewart song updated ‘Eyes of Nostradamus’ and the unifying ‘Brothers and Sisters of Africa’; some great African singing and rhythms and the best of all is a version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ – co-incidentally Bob is next on my list. This album always leaves me with a lump in my throat – somehow it reaches the parts that most others fail to. Last is a mostly instrumental album – Plains Music (1991). A very infectious record, full of nice rhythms and moods. Best track is Medicine Song. The whole album is really one piece of music I feel and a delight to listen to occasionally. I do have another un-listened to (as yet) album and ask myself why I haven’t got more of them.
Meastoso – was the name that Woolly Wolstenholme used when he returned to making music after many years away. He was a founder member of Barclay James Harvest (see B), probably my second favourite group of all time, but he left around 1980 citing musical differences. And in some ways he was right; the band had started with orchestral and electric instruments, the orchestra was soon replaced by Mellotron which Woolly played along with keyboards. However, slowly the group was moving into more synthesiser-based music (to a diminishing audience I must admit) and so Woolly left. He released 2 solo albums which sold poorly (see W) and then retired to his farm. Much later when BJH finally split he was encouraged to play again with John Lees (see L). He then started writing again, or maybe he had lots of pieces already and he released them under the name Maestoso (the name of his first album). Much more like the first few BJH albums these are quite joyful and varied albums, tinged with a touch of humour. The first was 2004’s One Drop In A Dry World. Some lovely lyrical tracks here – best are ‘Blood and Bones’ and ‘it’s U’. But not a bad record. Amazingly, the same year he released Fiddling Meanly, a live album of early BJH songs and a few from his first 3 records. Okay, but nit brilliant. Better was Grim (2005) – the title being a dig at Southerners who think the North of England is a poor place to live. I think on this record he excelled himself; much more like an early BJH album. Some great orchestral arrangements (no doubt synthesised) and some lovely singing. Fave songs ‘Love Is’ and ‘Hebden Bridge’. It may just be possible that these were originally old songs which were rejected for BJH albums, who knows. Lastly, he released in 2007 Caterwauling, sadly he took his own life in 2010. A slightly disappointing album, maybe running out of ideas, who knows. Best song ‘Shoes’ and ‘Matilda Yarrow. He was a complex character and suffered terrible bouts of depression all his life, which probably contributed to his leaving the band in the 80’s. He had often re-joined John Lees (see L) for concert appearances during this late flourishing period. In many ways he was the heart of BJH, always bringing them down from their excesses, but in a similar way to George in The Beatles, he was early on excluded in the choice of songs by the two stronger writers and possibly personalities in John Lees and Les Holroyd, often relegated to just one or maybe two songs per album. A great loss.
The Magic Numbers – This was another of those highly recommended new bands where I bought the album and was not really impressed. This was their 2005 self-titled debut, and the songs are okay, the vocals and harmonies are very good; in fact, there is nothing to not like, but equally nothing to rave about either. The album starts and you think…okay, not bad – but then the record ends and you cannot recall a single song. Oh well.
Magnetic Fields This is the name of a band, founded by and basically only an American called Stephen Merritt. Only the one album i (this is a 2004 album, but they had made records since the early 90s and beyond). Actually this is a delightful record – the novelty being that every track begins with the letter i; all are sung by Stephen and are quite varied in style and production. No songs really stand out though.
The Mamas and The Papas – While in Britain The Beatles were wowing us all with their ever changing style, over in California a whole other revolution was happening, led by The Byrds (see B) and Papa John Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot. A gentle harmonious sound melding old-fashioned melodies with modern beats and original songs; a delightful blend. Here, we only heard the singles ‘California Dreaming’ and ‘Monday Monday’. I have The Best Of…and sometimes that is all you need. All their hit singles are here and a few other tracks which showcase Mama Cass’s lovely voice. Fave track is ‘Creque Alley’.
Mandalaband – This was a strange one. I have always been a big fan of Barclay James Harvest (see B), and the band apparently played on a few tracks of this strange little album, a real prog-rock medieval tale set to music. Actually a pretty unremarkable record.
Kirsty MacColl – a singer songwriter from the late 80s and 90s who sadly died far too early. She was actually the estranged daughter of folksinger Euan MacColl but she ploughed her own and very different furrow. Her songs were full of humour and joy and great lyrics, even if her first fame came from singing Billy Bragg’s A New England (see B). Some of her songs were covered by Tracey Ulmann in the mid 80s, but her first and breakthrough album proper was 1989s Kite. I loved and still do, this album – possibly her best in originality. Every song has a certain English charm and her husband Steve Lillywhite produced it and it was a moderate hit. Favourite songs are ‘Innocence’, ‘Don’t Come The Cowboy With me, Sonny Jum’, ‘What Do pretty Girls Do?’ and Ray Davies song written for the Kinks ‘Days’ which she sung beautifully. She followed this two years later with Electric Landlady. And although another good album I never liked it that much. Hard to say why as the songs are good, and a big hit ‘Walking Down Madison’. I also like ‘My Affair’. Titanic Days followed in 1993, and WOW – what a lovely record, a bit gentler, a bit subtler maybe but with some great songs; ‘Soho Square’ (we’ve all been there), ‘Angel’ and best of all ‘Bad’. Her voice is so clear and crisp and she enunciates every word clearly – but there is a softness now to her voice, a bit less strident and the humour seeps through rather than hitting you hard. A great effort. Sadly her last album was in 2000. She had taken a few years out to raise her 2 sons. She was tragically killed in a speedboat accident off the coast of Mexico shortly after the album’s release. It was called Tropical Brainstorm and was very Latin influenced which is okay but I think it tended to drown out some of the lyrics. Still, a nice record over all. I particularly like ‘In These Shoes’ and ‘England 2 Columbia 0’ and ‘Treachery’. Who knows what she might have achieved had she lived. As it is she may always be remembered for the brilliant duet ‘Fairytale Of New York’ with the Pogues. A couple of retrospectives after her death – The One and Only – features a few rarities and singles – ‘A New England’ and ‘Terry’ and a duet with her estranged father, but best are a couple of tracks with Billy Bragg, especially ‘Welcome To The New Brunette’. I also have What Do Pretty Girls Do – which is similar but a bit broader in timespan. Best songs – ‘There’s A Guy Works Down The Chipshop Swears He’s Elvis’ (well he’s a liar and I’m Not sure about you) and ‘Darling. Let’s Have Another Baby’. Sad that she died so young…
Madness – Well, it may have been madness to buy this – but it was a fee CD on Daily Mail once – and besides, there was no harm in the nutters…best song ‘Baggy Trousers’. Madonna – Now, I must declare an interest. I have always thought she was an overrated self-publicising singer. My daughter Laura worshipped her, and I do accept the part she played in making teenage girls more aware of their powers. However, I never liked the singles or the videos. BUT…I do have one CD – and even my daughter admits it is by far her best album – Ray of Light. I think that this is because, apart from the title track, this is a quiet gentle lyrical album – adjectives one doesn’t normally associate with Madonna. Best songs are ‘Candy Perfume Girl’ and ‘Frozen’
Little Feat – an American outfit, from the Deep South, featuring Lowell George on vocals and guitar and Bill Payne on keyboards. They played a mix of swampy Southern Rock with hints of soul and country. The key player was always Lowell George, who had a remarkable voice and style. I bought their, what turned out to be, third album in 1973 – Dixie Chicken. Much later I bought a box set of their first five albums, which coincides with George’s membership of the band. So, starting with the first eponymous album Little Feat (1971) – I am not very fond of this record, it doesn’t seem to have any real direction – the songs come and go and leave no trace behind, maybe best are ‘Truck Stop Girl’ and ‘Willin’. But, I suppose as a debut album it was okay though not great. Sailin Shoes (1972) was a bit better, a more defined sound and better production. Best songs – The title songs and a re-worked ‘Willin’. But far better was their best album – Dixie Chicken. This album has a unique feel, a wholeness, a completeness, a perfection all of its own. Hard to pick a best song because there isn’t a weak song on the album – but favourites are the title song and ‘Fat Man In A Bathtub’. A truly great and by far their best album. They followed this on ’74 with Feats Don’t Fail Me Now which may be somewhat prophetic, as this album seems to slip back into the shouty noisy first two albums. Not a terrible record really but compared to Dixie Chicken it is poor. The final album before Lowell George left and went solo (to a nondescript career and early death) was The Last Record Album. Well, slightly better I suppose, but still not great – or even moderately good really. Just how many shuffling boogies do we want?
Loggins and Messina – Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina teamed up for a handful of albums in the mid-seventies, carrying on the sound of the Eagles but with a softer, possibly more lyrical touch. The best of the 2 records I owned are now available as a single album The Best Of – Sittin In. Lovely to hear these songs again, especially from the first album, Sittin’ in; the bucolic ‘House At Pooh Corner’, ‘Same Old Wine’ and ‘Danny’s Song’ – not forgetting the joyous ‘Vahevalla’.
The Low Anthem – Just the one record form this US 90’s outfit, the gloriously named Oh My God Charlie Darwin. Some really nice stuff, almost spoiled by a handful of raucous noisy ones. Still, a half decent record. I like the title song and ‘Ohio’ – but then my concentration slipped and nothing stuck.
Graham Lyle – one half of Gallagher and Lyle (see G) the lovely Scottish duo, who I think split because it all got too much for them. They both took a long holiday and only sporadically returned to making music; Graham wrote a few decent songs for others, Tina Turner being one. I have only 2 further albums by Graham Lyle – Something Beautiful Remains (2003) – this is a sort of resume of his post Gallagher and Lyle career, a few hits by American artists, but to be honest – Graham’s versions are limp and weak, almost instantly forgettable. A pity, as he wrote some great songs for others. Much better was an earlier album, just after he split from Benny Gallagher he linked up (again) with McGuiness (formerly of McGuiness Flint (see M); of course he used to be in that band along with Benny in the early seventies. The album Acting On Impulse (1983) is much better with some great songs. I suspect these were maybe written earlier as possibly Gallagher and Lyle songs. A really nice album, most of the sogs would have been great recorded by the duo and stand up well here. Of course – the album sank without a trace. Best songs – ‘Elise’, ‘Faded Photographs’ and ‘Acting On Impulse’.
Shelby Lynne – An American singer-songwriter who has mainly performed in the country arena. Just the one album 1981’s Love Shelby, which had a good write-up at the time. Not a bad record at all, a bit poppy and a bit country. I really don’t know why I collect avidly everything by some artists and have just one album of others. Choice is always an arbitrary thing I suppose. But reviewing and re-listening I find this quite a rewarding record; best tracks – ‘Trust’, ‘Jesus On A Greyhound’ and ‘Tarpoleon Napoleon’ (if only for the great title).
Lindisfarne – A North-East folk-rock band I first saw (like so many others) at Weeley in 1972. I loved them and sought out their albums and have seen them live a few times. And their debut was a triumph; it came out in 1970 and was called ironically Nicely Out of Tune. It is quite possibly their best album too. The group had been together for a couple of years and had built up a great following. The first track and single was picked out for praise by John Peel, and was a beautiful heady mix of fantasy and passion – ‘Lady Eleanor’. But almost every song on this album is brilliant; the raucous singalong ‘We Can Swing Together; the jaunty old Guthrie tune ‘Jackhammer Blues’ and ethereal ‘Clear White Light’ and the haunting ‘January Song’. But the record sold a mediocre amount despite the great songs and the Media raving about them. It wasn’t until the follow-up the next year Fog On The Tyne, that they really made their breakthrough. Another classic album, although I slightly prefer their debut. The title track was a hoot but my fave tracks are ‘Train in G Major’ and ‘January Song’. Suddenly they were a huge act and I saw them a couple of times in the early Seventies. Their third album though sold poorly – I really don’t know why….it was a bit more experimental. Dingly Dell which came out in 1972 was pretty good in my estimation. But I think the final and title track put people off; ‘Dingly Dell’ was a whimsical dreamy distorted guitar sound followed by a lovely chorus – I loved the track. Most of the rest of the record was more traditional Lindisfarne fare – ‘Court In The Act’ and ‘Mandolin King’ are especially good. I used to have most of Lindisfarne records on vinyl and then taped onto cassettes but I bought a 4 CD box set recently called The Charisma Years and it features a live concert from 1971, which is superb. I suspect this may have originally been broadcast live on BBC Radio as it seems very familiar. No real new tracks but extended versions of songs from their first two records; a real party album. Lindisfarne were famous for their live gigs and I saw them at Weeley and in London. Their fourth album Roll On Ruby (1973) was another slight departure – a more conventional rock sound, slightly country if anything. And although some songs were quite good, the overall feel of the album was a bit tired really. I believe that after the previous album a couple of the original members went off and formed a new band, Jack The Lad. Their replacements meant the sound moving away from their folk origins. Best songs on this their fourth record are ‘North Country Boys’, ‘When The War is Over’ and ‘Roll On River’. Their final album before they (temporarily disbanded the group) was Happy Daze 1974. Not such a bad album, but actually you wouldn’t even recognise it as a Lindisfarne record – and that meant it sold poorly and spelled the end of the band. Only tracks I really like are ‘Nellie’ and ‘Tomorrow’…but all was not lost.
4 years later, after a couple of successful gigs the original line-up got back together again and recorded a new album – Back and Fourth (though this was the sixth under the Lindisfarne name it was the fourth with the original members). And a much better record it was too – so maybe the break did them good. Big hit single ‘Run For Home’ was great but I also love ‘Juke Box Gypsy’ and ‘Warm Feeling’. Well, the band have continued in much the same vein but I have sort-of lost track of them except for the occasional disc I turn up in second hand shops; first of which is Buried Treasure volume 2 , which along with a few rarities has a handful of band commentaries. Best other songs ‘Save Our Ales’ and ‘Golden Apples’. Then there is Caught In The Act – a live set from mid-seventies. Nothing really new, but a great set as usual, Lindisfarne being one of those acts better live than in the studio. Also in my collection is maybe one of my biggest mistakes – or a guilty pleasure. Lindisfarne released an album of old Rock and Roll Classics called Party Doll. Great versions of these famous tunes. It maybe sold quite well. But hardcore Lindisfarners may have been shocked, to say the least. Finally, I have a greatest hits album. Now, I am always in two minds about these; sometimes they are great, more often than not simply collecting stuff you may already have. But this was a delight to hear again all these wonderful Lindisfarne songs.
John Lees – Lead Guitarist, vocalist and one of the main songwriters in my second all-time favourite band – Barclay James Harvest (see B). In 1972 the band had huge problems both financially and with their record company. Out of contract and unable to perform even, John recorded a few songs he had written and made a solo album A Major Fancy. Pretty soon the band got a new record deal and got back together again. So, the album remains a bit of a peculiarity; a dangler, a what-if….and it is really quite good, if a bit demo-ish. One song ‘Child Of The Universe’ made it to a BJH album, but in a way I almost prefer this solo version. A few of the songs are simply untitled and there is an Eagles (see E) cover – but I really like ‘Sweet Faced Jane’, ‘Witburg Nights’ and ‘Long Ships’. John has never released any solo stuff since and now records very rarely and plays in John Lees Barclay James Harvest. It seems that early on writing songs was easy – now in old age far more difficult.
Lemonjelly – a present from my daughter Laura, who tries (often with success) to keep me abreast of Modern Dance Music and Electronica, and my favourite ‘TripHop’. As seems to be quite common nowadays Lemonjelly consists of only 2 members, Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen, who appear to be more computer geeks than musicians. Saying that they have produced 3 superb albums before going AWOL, or on hiatus as they claim in 2008 and releasing nothing since. They had 3 Eps (now very expensive and hard to find before releasing their debut album KY in 2000. This soon became a favourite, and remains so – I think they started to repeat themselves after this really. The only real vocals are often spoken not sung and are usually very funny and often have nothing to do with the music really, which is laid back and almost jazzy and quite simple but very effective. Apparently, the album is really their first 3 Eps slightly remixed. Best tracks are ‘The Staunton Lick’, ‘Homage To Patagonia’ and ‘Page One’. Great stuff but superior ‘Osborne and Little’ Wallpaper music at the end of the day. Their second album was Lost Horizons, released 2 years later. A quieter affair really. Again, mostly instrumental, nice tunes but nothing really brilliant. Best – ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ and the sinister ‘Experiment’. In 2005 they released 64 – 95, which used samples from songs originally released between those years – but for the life of me I barely recognise them. Quite a bit more varied this album and a bit louder too. No bad thing as they were getting boring. Best tracks are ‘Don’t Stop now’, ‘The Slow Train’ and ‘A Man Like Me’.
Ute Lemper – A German singer singing songs by Kurt Weill – not rock and roll at all. I first heard Weill or rather saw the Opera ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ which I loved. I particularly like her singing ‘Alabama Song’, ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’ and ‘Speak low’. Not for everyone I suspect – but I like it.
John Lennon – What can you say about the legend that is John Lennon. The Beatles had effectively split in ’69, although Abbey Road was a triumph, but all the Fab Four were busy making solo albums. John and Yoko attended Primal Therapy and the result was John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – his debut solo album (or not quite as he and Yoko had made 3 unlistenable albums with of found and nonsense noise). But this album was brilliant, despite quite a few of the songs being about their pain. The songs are very very good, the singing is heartfelt and honest and the production amazing. I really love this record; hard to find favourites as almost all the songs are beautiful. There are a couple of lovely love songs – ‘Love’ and ‘Hold On, Yoko’. There is the classic ‘Working Class Hero’, but I really love ‘Mother’. This is possibly his best album, as incidentally almost all of The Beatles first albums were. Then in ’71 came Imagine, which many rate as his Masterpiece. There is of course the great title song and ‘Jealous Guy’ – both great songs, but I am not so impressed with most of the others ; I do like the exuberant ‘Oh, Yoko’ and ‘Crippled Inside’ but I don’t like the Paul-baiting ‘How Do You Sleep’. Then came what some consider a moment of madness, but I quite like Some Time In NYC the following year. This is a John and Yoko Record, with them alternating on vocals. I only like John’s stuff, which is quite different and, in my mind, enjoyable. Best are ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, ‘The Luck of The Irish’ and ‘John Sinclair’. A very political album – John was going through some turbulence and making revolutionary comments and gestures. Overall the album fails but has a couple of decent tracks and the live extra CD is awful. 1973 saw a new and much better album Mind Games. The title track was a hit single and is gorgeous; the production is very nice and John’s voice superb. Other favourites are ‘One Day At A Time’ and ‘Bring On the Lucie (Freeda People). Altogether a very good album. He followed this with his most commercially successful album a year later Walls and Bridges, which despite being chaotically recorded during John’s famous Lost Weekend is still pretty good. Excellent songs, including big hit single ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’. The feel of the record is more dancey; John trying desperately to stay relevant and with-it I suspect. My favourite tracks on not really my favourite album are ‘Bless You’ and ‘Old Dirt Road’ (which he also recorded with Harry Nilsson on Harry’s Lennon produced album Pussycats (see N). Also, I quite like his vicious rocker ‘Steel and Glass’ apparently written about Allen Klein. Then, as a result of John using some of Chuck Berry’s lyrics on Abbey Road’s Come Together he had to record some of Chuck’s songs. The result was Rock’n’Roll (1975). I have mixed feelings about this album, in fact for years I disliked it, feeling it was a backward step. But later I ended up quite liking it, though I still feel it was a bit of a waste of John’s talent. Although, as ever, re-listening after a few years – I really love the sound of is voice, which has never sounded better. Then there was silence. John and Yoko had got back together and a baby was on the way. John gave up his music career and became a house-father to baby Sean. He was also fighting heroin addiction. But in 1980, shortly before he was shot, he released a lovely final record with Yoko –Double Fantasy. I am discounting Yoko’s songs as they simply distract from John’s. I really like the lead single, first track ‘Starting Over’, but also ‘I’m Losing You’ and best of all ‘Watching The Wheels’. It is very difficult to really look objectively at this record as it is bound up in all the emotion of his tragic death – but it is probably his second or third best since he left The Beatles. Yoko released Milk and Honey 2 years later; this was a collection of songs worked on at the time of the last album; either held over for a later record or rejected as not good enough – who knows? When a superstar like Lennon dies, and so tragically too, it is little wonder that with only 6 albums released after the Beatles there would be a huge demand for new material. But really, there is hardly any and what there is is poor. I bought Lennon Accoustic but discovered it was simply early takes or demos; really quite disappointing. Much better is one of the many (and boy, how many there are) greatest hits. I have Legend, which I think covers all the singles and best tracks. And so that closes the book on John. We have no idea if he would have gone on to achieve even better stuff, or ended up playing old Beatles hits live, or simply slid into obscurity. Our perception of him will always be coloured both by his Beatles years and his untimely death. As to the argument over who was the greatest – John or Paul – simply on post-fab four output Paul must win, though together they were greater than apart.
Ladyship Black Mombaza. Famous for their collaboration with Paul Simon on Graceland (see S) they sold quite well in the late 80s. I picked up a greatest hits Spirits of South Africa in a charity shop. Perfectly pleasant but not exactly my cup of tea.
Ray Lamontagne. A strange one, this. I first became aware of Ray because his debut album was being advertised on TV in 2004. Now, in my experience this is usually a sign of some desperation. However, the few snatches of song accompanying the ad were intriguing and sounded quite good. I read a couple of reviews which were positive so I bought the album Trouble – besides I liked the cover, not the most reliable of indicators but somehow it looked good. And good it was. A great debut album, great songs and a good individual voice, nice production too, mostly acoustic guitars, piano and drums. Best songs -the title track and ‘Narrow Escape’. 2006 saw a new album – Till the Sun Turns Black; a bit bleaker really and more orchestration, not that that leavens the mood. I am partial to a bit of misery, but I never really liked this record. 2008 saw Gossip in The Grain. Not so bad and yet I felt he wasn’t moving on, no progression – and I sort of stopped listening to him after this. Saying that – ‘You Are The Best Thing’ and the title song are quite good really.
Ronnie Lane – Ah…so much affection for this guy, who to me always seemed the heart of The Faces (see F) and the Small Faces (see S). I loved his gentler songs back then, but when the Faces finally called it a day, as Rod (see S) sailed off to America and world domination, poor old Ronnie was left a bit homeless and helpless. He did make a couple of albums – one with Pete Townshend (see T) and I have a sort of best of called How Come, released in 2001. Sadly, he had MS and died at age 51 in 1997. He was much loved by fans and musicians alike. The album is a bit patchy. I do like some of it – the ‘hit’ – ‘How Come’, of course and a few of the tracks, mostly bucolic celebrating a mythologised gypsy lifestyle as in ‘Kushty Rye’ – but apart from ‘Stone’ – it is mostly light stuff.
k. d. lang…(all lower case) was originally a country style singer but who has veered more in classic torch song territory over the years. My first album of hers is Angel With A Lariat (1987) with her then band The Reclines. Many of the songs were so-written with Ben Mink, her guitarist. Best songs – the cover of ‘Rose Garden’ and ‘Watch Your Step Polka’ – but best of all is the closer torch song ‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’. Not a bad album, but a bit too country for me. She followed this two years later with Absolute Torch And Twang. Much the same template as her previous album and mostly written with Mink again. Best songs are ‘Big-Bones Gal’, ‘Holding Back The Reins’ and closer ballad ‘Nowhere To Stand’. I feel that k d was almost torn between these torch ballads and the faster country stuff. Anyway, she sort of lost her band The Reclines and recorded her second solo album Ingenue (1992) next. At the time this seemed a huge change of direction but the signs were there all along. This was a real tear-jerker album, full of broken hearts and loss. This became her biggest album by far, a feat she has failed to follow up on really. She had a huge hit with ‘Constant Craving’ but I also like ‘Miss Chatelaine’ and ‘Season Of Hollow Soul’ – but overall the album was just too samey for me, I grew tired of it quickly. One last album before I gave up on her was actually a soundtrack from ’93 – Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – This was a sort-of return to her more country sound, but really it was all second rate stuff.
Daniel Lanois – had produced 2 great Dylan albums so I knew the name. A musician in his own write though I have 2 albums. For The Beauty Of Wynona came out in 1993 and is great. Very atmospheric with his signature production of foggy sounds but very good and distinctive vocals. Very much in the modern ‘rock’ medium with excellent guitar work. I really enjoyed this album, especially ‘Still Learning How To Crawl’, the Cajun influenced ‘The Collection Of Marie Claire’ and ‘The Unbreakable Chain’ – but really there isn’t a poor track on a varied and accomplished record. My other album of his is 2003’s Shine. This appears to me a much quieter, more reflective album; brilliantly produced as usual, every instrument – and sometimes it is basically guitar – clear and yet with that trademark muddy sound of Daniel’s. Less varied I think than Wynona, but hauntingly beautiful too. Best songs – the instrumental ‘Transmitter’, ‘I Love You’ and ‘Power of One’. Not sure why I have only 2 of his albums….but, the choices we make are often arbitrary and well….there we are.
Cyndi Lauper – ‘Twelve Deadly Cyns’ is a greatest hits, and hits it is and great it is. Very Eighties, very Poppy, very synthy, very excitable vocals…a bit boring too, but you can’t help singing along – especially to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
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…..you 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.
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
Kaiser Chiefs – just the one album, Employment – which I think was their big hit album. Quite an interesting sound, a bit like a 21st Century Squeeze (see S) I suppose; quite laddish and upbeat songs. But also, quite forgettable too. They may still be around but they have had their 15 seconds of fame. Best songs – the single ‘I Predict A Riot’ and ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’.
Howard Kaylan – a real rarity this. Howard was one of the singers and songwriters with the Turtles (see T) who became along with Mark Volman, Flo and Eddie (see F) and now tour occasionally as The Turtles again. This single album Dust Bunnies (2006) doesn’t seem to be listed as an official release – and I suspect was made for a few friends and maybe fan-club members. I found it in a charity shop and recognised the name. It isn’t great I must admit but I keep it for sentimental reasons. It is all covers of songs…one or two are good though ‘Eloise’ and ‘Have I The Right’ – but most pass in one ear and out the other.
Keane – another hopeful band of the last few years…the hope was a bit overhyped. Only the one record – 2004’s Hopes and Fears. The record is quite pleasant and rolls along but apart from the big single ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ nothing else seems to penetrate to my brain. I am getting old I expect, but I really wonder; if this is the future of Rock and Roll, we are in trouble. Anyway, I have bought no more Keane since then – and they seem to have either disappeared or are just resting on their laurels.
Jonathon Kelly – was just another of those hopeful Seventies singer-songwriters. I saw him at The Roundhouse and bought his two solo albums. Twice Round The Houses (1970) was the first effort from this Irish troubadour – and lovely it was too. Very lyrical and folky – best songs ‘Madeleine’, ‘Sligo Fair’ and ‘Beware The Cursed Anna’. A couple of the songs almost rocked but most were soft and harmonic. 2 years later and Wait Until They Change The Backdrop appeared. More of the same but a touch rockier as the production was ramped up a bit. Not quite as good as his debut maybe but still a handful of good songs ‘Godas’ and ‘Anna’ and the quite rocky ‘Down On Me’. Jonathon sort of disappeared and made one last album in the late Seventies – but I had moved on by then.
Carole King – Well, they don’t get much bigger than Carole. She was part of the famous Goffin-King song-writing duo – but she split with her husband and went solo. She hit the big time with Tapestry (1971) – and this album was in the charts for 2 years. This is where I, and most of her fans, came in so that is where we will start. This was the very early Seventies, when singer-songwriters were exploding onto the scene. James Taylor (see T) had already recorded with Joni and he now worked with Carole on ‘You’ve Got A Friend’. But Carole was the consummate songwriter – and had a huge back library to call on. She included ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. But most of the other tracks were new originals. Where does one start -almost impossible to choose best songs as they are all brilliant. Carole has a seemingly effortless delivery, gliding into the notes with an ease and maturity; she was already in her prime when she made the album. The early Seventies were a time of great parties, often impromptu, and always accompanied by Tapestry playing on the record player. My favourites are probably ‘Way Over Yonder’, ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ and ‘Natural Woman’. I have actually played this album to death over the years – and yet it always sounds fresh and takes me back to those heady years.
I then worked back and bought her earlier release Writer (1970) , which hadn’t made much of an impression when it was released. In some ways it is as good as Tapestry – same piano led songs and silky voice and great songs. A couple of old hits ‘Goin back’ and ‘Up On The Roof’ and some great new songs; ‘Spaceship Races’ and ‘Raspberry Jam’ and the sad ‘Eventually’. A lovely record and a great companion piece to Tapestry.
Much later I bought The Early Years, released in 1999 – but dating back to the late 60’s. These are much simpler arrangements, probably demos really. Actually, the production is much closer to typical 60’s hit singles – a la Phil Spector than her later albums. On investigation however I find that four songs are originals and the other 6 are poor copies from her third album ‘Music’. Still, an interesting rawer sound seems to emerge from this album so it feels new and fresh, Best songs are ‘Crying in The Rain’, ‘It started All Over Again’ and ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do’ – which always sounds good.
Another later release after she achieved fame is The Legendary Demos released in 2012 but recorded from 62 to 71. These do sound like genuine demo tapes, maybe recorded to help sell the songs of Goffin-King. This is much better, great songs of course – most by Goffin-King, including ‘Crying In The Rain’, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘Take care Of My Baby’ plus 6 demos from Tapestry. The follow-up to Tapestry came out in 1971 – Music – which was her third official release. As all artists must know it is almost impossible to release anything as good as a number one album that sold 7 million copies and was the anthem of so many of us in 1970. This record is pretty damn good, but lacks a little of the magic of Tapestry. The songs are just a bit quieter, more studied rather than seeming spontaneous – however it too was a great hit. Best songs – ‘Surely’, ‘Music’ and best of all ‘Back To California’. Carole was in the vanguard of the Singer Songwriter movement, but maybe her reluctance to sing live or her older years or just that we all began to suspect that her best songs were her collaborations with Gerry Goffin – whatever it was it, for me at least, it was slowly diminishing returns. The following year’s Rhymes And Reasons contained some excellent songs…and yet, it somehow failed to hit the mark she had set so high. This release only made it to number 2 and sold less well over the years. But, as so often happens, on re-listening my perceptions change somewhat and I have to admit it is quite a decent album. I think the problem was that all of her contemporaries (Joni, James Taylor, Neil Young etc) were moving on and up at a pace, especially in these early years of the new decade, whereas Carole seemed stuck in a very pleasant groove. Anyway, best songs ‘Peace in The Valley’, ‘Feeling Sad Tonight’ and ‘Been to Canaan’. Next up is Fantasy (1973) – I really gave up on Carole at this point. She went into a more jazzy style and I think she lost it. Only a couple of songs seem to have any quality to me, ‘Being at War with each other’ and ‘Believe in Humanity’.
Well – Carole has continued recording down the years, though she hardly ever performs live. I only have one other album Wrap Around Joy from 1974, which actually sounds better; much more like her original 2 albums. No really classic songs I think but a nice relaxing album. The title song is probably the best song; almost a soul classic. Also, not so bad are ‘Change in Mind, Change of Heart’ and ‘You Gentle Me’. I also have a greatest Hits Natural Woman which is all her best songs.