All posts by adrian

My Record Collection 130

The Highwaymen – A country music supergroup of the late 80’s.  Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, kris Kristoffersen and Willie Nelson; all Superstars whose stars had maybe faded as times changed.  They had appeared together in a film and recorded 3 albums over 10 years.  A few country hits but eventually they went their separate ways.  I have a Greatest Hits Collection as I am a big fan of both Cash and Kris.  I had barely heard any of these songs before I bought the record – again, a charity shop find I suspect.  Quite a nice listen, a touch too country in some ways, but pretty good.  They all take vocal duties, but best are those by Johnny Cash.  Quite a few of the songs are re-recordings of Kris Kristofferson songs – ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ and also a great version of ‘Deportees’, which I think first appeared on a Byrds album, but which Dylan covered brilliantly on the Rolling Thunder Tour.  Maybe I should look out for some of the original albums…

Rupert Hine – A surprise favourite, ever since I bought an LP back in the early seventies called Unfinished Picture.  I knew nothing about Rupert but had read a review in City Limits and took a punt.  He had released one album prior to this, which I tracked down a few years ago.  Pick Up A Bone (1971) was a flop but was the debut album by Rupert and his then writing partner David McIver.  I think Rupert did all the singing and David wrote the lyrics.  A strange album, sometimes whimsical and sometimes a bit angry sounding.  I came to this after his second album and was quite disappointed, but being the completist I am I had to have it.  Re-listening I see signs of the artist that Rupert would become but this record seems a bit hesitant, a bit unsure of itself.  Best songs, ‘Me You Mine’ and ‘Landscape’ – but most of the rest leave me wondering just what was the point.  Still, this was 1971, when record companies were willing to take a chance on new artists, and more importantly give them the freedom to mature and produce really good stuff like Rupert’s second album Unfinished Picture (1973).   This album, by a then unknown artist, was rarely off my turntable.  I loved his off-kilter style and the crazy lyrics (again by David McIver); it was in fact ‘Indie-Pop’ long before the genre was invented.  Rupert plays guitar and piano, and some of the tracks like ‘Doubtfully Grey’ are acoustic, almost a demo but hauntingly beautiful; on others, the production is quite incredible – the whole album was recorded in a church in Paddington; the track ‘Anvils In Five’ featured a thunderstorm recorded as the track was sung.   Rupert was already recording other artists and his skills are used on this record to great effect.  I love every track and especially his voice; as you know it is the voice I especially love with singers, where they are instantly recognisable and the words sound as though they really mean them and are singing just for me. Other great tracks ‘Don’t Be Alarmed’ and ‘Concord(e) Pastiche’.  All round a superb album.

Rupert spent the rest of the Seventies in a band Quantum Jump, I had both albums on vinyl and cassette but so far not on CD.  Then in 1981 a new solo album Immunity.  And what an album, the voice and lyrics emanate panic and danger – lyrics on this and the next 2 albums by poet Jeanette Obstoj, music, production and most instruments by Rupert.   This is one of my all-time favourite records, the production is so clear and different from almost everything else I might have heard.  And the singing and the words are just brilliant.  Hard to pick favourite tracks as they are all good; maybe ‘Samsara’ really stands out, and ‘Psycho Surrender’ and ‘Surface Tension’ always give me that warm feeling of recognition.   Obviously on a roll he followed this the following year with Waving Not Drowning (a quote from Sylvia Plath, and incidentally the title of a different song by Clifford T. Ward {see W}).  Another excellent album, if slightly too close in tone to Immunity.  Still pretty good, favourite songs – ‘The Set Up’, ‘Dark Windows’ and ‘The Outsider’.  The following year he released The Wildest Wish To Fly.  At the time, 1983, I thought he was sounding too samey – but on re-listening I hear new elements to his music.  True, the same sense of danger but a slightly softer production – and the songs seem to have more sections in them.  Anyway, another pretty damned good record from Mr. Hine – best songs – the title song, and ‘Firefly in the Night’.  In the late Eighties, as well as being a full-time producer he released a trio of albums under the band name Thinkman – which was essentially Rupert and a handful of session players.  The first was The Formula (1986).  I came to these rather late, as I had not realised who Thinkman were – however, the albums are pretty good and not that different really from his eponymous records.  This one seems a bit flat and samey; best songs ‘The Formula’ and ‘There Shines The Promised Land’.   Next was Life is A Fulltime Occupation (1989) ; well not my favourite record of his – it seemed a bit too much like its predecessor, a bit ranty – best songs ‘Dance Yourself Sane’ and ‘Bad Angel’.   He did release one other Thinkman disc but I don’t have it (yet).  Then his last solo album in 1994 The Deep End, which surprisingly is really good.  Quite a few slower, dare we say it, love songs – or at least more conventional sounding.  The production is still crystal clear and full of unusual sound collages, especially the final track ‘The Other End’.  But really quite a good record – which was completely ignored by the buying public as per usual.  Favourite songs include ‘Thursday’s Child’, ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘Silver Shoes In The Rain’.  A lovely album.  And sadly Rupert passed away in 2020 – so that is it…

Rupert Hine | Discography & Songs | Discogs

My Record Collection 129

Paul Heaton – the genius behind The Beautiful South (see B), Paul broke up the band and released a solo album in 2001 under the name Biscuit Boy; Fat Chance was surely once intended as a group album.  Without the band the songs are a bit thin, but quite good anyway.  Actually, as so often, on re-listening I really quite like it.  No really outstanding songs but pleasant enough anyway; maybe ‘Man’s World’ and ‘Poems’ stand out.  Soon after Paul resurrected Beautiful South for a few more albums.

Helicopter Girl – is the recording name of black singer Jackie Joyce, a 21st century eclectic singer who emerged in the dance music scene with her very original sound.  First album How to Steal the World (2000) was maybe her best, certainly my favourite. Some great moody arrangements and that silky almost sinister voice; best songs – ‘Glove Compartment’, ‘Escape Cloud’ and the weirdly wonderful ‘Putin Circle Stockings’.  A quite unique sounding record.  Four years later and Voodoo Chic arrived.   The record is a touch more mainstream, a bit more soul or r’n’b, a bit less electronica – consequently it doesn’t quite touch the same spot her previous album did.  Still, a nice record – but one I would probably not have bought without its predecessor.  Best songs – ‘Rivermouth’, ‘Her Lucille’ and ‘Umbrellas in the Rain’.  Of course, as so often happens in these reviewing days, I look at the music differently and see hidden gems I was oblivious to – or maybe just forgot years ago when I was seriously listening to these records.  How strange the mind is – you listen to an album, oh so many times, sometimes loving and sometimes dismissing, often not really listening at all; then on re-listening with the distance that time brings you hear it quite differently.  I will never tire of music – it is my main joy and occupation, if I have one at all.   Final album from Helicopter Girl is Metropolitan (2008). She seems to have been without a contract since then – a few tracks self-released.  It is getting so hard for new artists these days, what with wretched streaming and Spotify, where they earn so little and no-one except me and a few die-hards still buying CDs.   But back to this (so far) final album – a bit more rock sounding to my ears. Quite a decent album actually – fave songs ‘The Things You Do’, ‘Doesn’t Get Much better Than This’ and ‘Ghosts in the Machine’.  Not a bad record.  She self-released her fourth album and I seem to only be able to listen to it on Spotify or Amazon Music.  – Wanda Meant (2015).  If I like it I will try to but it. (just downloaded it on Amazon – I only download if CDs are unavailable).

Jimi Hendrix –  Well; one of the immortals really, only of course he was only too mortal in the very soon end.  His guitar playing was legendary and amazed us all in the Sixties.  My albums start with Are you Experienced.   It was an instant success, as were his first three singles.  It seemed at the time that Jimi had dropped into the London scene unheard of and fully formed, with his note-bending blues, fuzzy guitar solos and that gravelly deep voice.  Of course, the year was propitious – 1967 – when all things psychedelic were instantly loved.  And Jimi not only jumped on the bandwagon – he was the bandwagon and inspiration for thousands of guitarist imitators down the years.  It could be argued that the whole heavy metal scene was created by Jimi.  The LP is superb, and one of the best ever debut albums, every track is brilliant and considering that this was only a three piece band, the sound is enormous.  Best songs – hard to pick but I do love ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘May This Be Love’  and ‘Fire’.  The whole record lasts barely 38 minutes – but what a dynamic 38 minutes its is.  One’s first response is to immediately turn it over and play it again (that was in the good old days of 12 inch vinyl records).  Even now over fifty years later it still hits the brain like a bullet.   Later that same year the Jimi Hendrix Experience released their second album Axis Bold As Love; not quite as big a hit as the debut, and not such memorable songs.  Maybe it was rushed out as in those days Record Companies demanded constant new material to sell to eager fans.  Still, a pretty good record; best songs ‘Little Wing’, ‘If 6 was 9’ and ‘Castles made Of Sand’.  His final album while alive was Electric Ladyland (1968). This was a double album, self-produced and probably overlong, but he was bursting with musical ideas and ‘hot to trot’.  Most critics thought this his best album and it was his best seller.  But I found it far too long and rambling, some great guitar – but how much do you really need.  Best songs ‘Voodoo Chile’, ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’ and the Dylan re-invention ‘All Along The Watchtower’.  There have been numerous posthumous albums released since Hendrix overdose death in 1970 – but I have not bought them.  I do have ‘Smash Hits’ – which with ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ is really all you need.

Don Henley – The ‘voice’ of the Eagles (see E); that almost desperate voice that sung on most of their records – instantly recognisable and one of the greats.   Except, that as the Eagles disintegrated at the end of the highly successful Seventies Don tried for a solo career, and like so many, it sort of fizzled and popped but barely made him a Superstar.  He made several albums in the Eighties and Nineties – I only have his Greatest Hits (2009), again a charity shop pick as I remember.   And there is nothing wrong with his songs, almost good enough to have been on Eagles albums, the same formula – only slightly more disco-ish.  Best songs, the hits ‘The Boys of Summer’ and Not enough Love In The World’ of course, but also ‘New York Minute’ and the last three songs which show a maturity missing on the earlier songs – especially ‘For My Wedding’.  I don’t think I will be buying any others of his; this is quite okay but enough.

My Record Collection 128

George Harrison – Well, what can you say about the wonderful George?  Overshadowed by the song-writing genius of Lennon and McCartney, he came into his own on the last 3 albums, writing some of the best Beatles tunes ever.  But he was always there, his lead guitar licks embellishing the earlier tracks.  But in 1970 the Beatles split up, or confirmed that they were going their own separate ways, although in fact they often guested on each other’s records.  He had actually released 2 albums of electronic noodling, which I have never bought, but in the very year the boys called it a day he recorded and released what at the time was the first triple album entitled All things Must Pass.   In reality it could have been a double, but there were a couple of alternate versions and a couple of jams best forgotten.  Still, it was and remains one of the best ex-Beatle albums ever.  Strange that all three (and even Ringo) released great albums in the first couple of years after going solo.  Anyway, the album is a cracker.  Of course, the big hit single ‘My Sweet Lord’ but also ‘Wah Wah’ and ‘Beware of Darkness’ and even a Dylan cover ‘If Not For You’.  And some great session players too.  A triumph, which in fact not only established him, but defined him to the point that he never quite produced anything again as brilliant; I think it was, as usual, the quality of the songs themselves – and of course Georges gentle voice and soft note-bending slide guitar.  Almost as soon as the album was released George was shocked by the war between Pakistan and the break-away former East Pakistan, known as Bangla-Desh.  His immediate response was to put on a concert, which was filmed and another triple album released in 1971 The Concert For Bangla-Desh.   The album was mostly George, but with an opening Indian music section with Ravi Shankar, and Dylan himself closing the concert with a very rare appearance.  But also Billy Preston sang ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’, and Ringo singing ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ – Badfinger were on stage and a huge army of players including Eric Clapton and Leon Russell, who duetted on ‘Beware of Darkness’.  A great album really and for a great cause – it may well have been the inspiration for Live Aid itself 13 years later.  Dylan, slowly coming out of a self-imposed seclusion appeared nervous and unsure and safely stuck to songs from his first great period. George resumed his solo career in 1973 with Living In The Material World.  In a way the title of this album summed up George’s whole philosophy.  He was dedicated to the spiritual world and possible life to come, but meanwhile he had to live here in this life with all its imperfections, and George had many.   The album is in many ways a more mature reflection on life than All Things Must Pass; the production is far more acoustic, less bombastic, less ’rock-star’ and more ‘elder statesman’.   It was like its predecessor a huge hit with another number one single ‘Give Me Love (Give me Peace On Earth)’, there was a bitter reflection of the breakup of the Fab Four – ‘Sue me, Sue You Blues’ and a few heavily religious songs – but not joyful as in ‘My Sweet Lord’ but more worshipful and serene.  Along with that there are a couple of gorgeous ballads, my favourite being closer ‘That Is All’ a gorgeous song later covered splendidly by Harry Nillson (see N).  Another lovely song is ‘Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long’, which could have come off a Beatles album.  A gentle record but which pointed to Georges slow withdrawal from the role of ‘Pop Star’ and his further involvement in Eastern Spiritualism.  The following year George released Dark Horse; a less successful album with some disappointing songs.  It all sounds a bit rushed and uninspired.  George had just finished a huge world tour and was probably tired and wanting to escape the same frenzy he had rebelled against as a Beatle.   Anyway, the album is really quite poor, with song lyrics often about his break-up with Patti Boyd, and almost all the spirituality of Material World out the window, replaced by a pointless and unrewarding hedonism coupled with drug taking.  I quite liked George’s Christmas single ‘Ding Dong’ and the track ‘Far East Man’, co-written with Ronnie Wood is quite good too – but overall maybe his worst album – or one of them.  He followed this with another under-par disc Extra Texture (Read All About It) in 1975.  This was slightly better and had no songs about Eastern Religion.  It felt very much like he was desperate to just release something to keep the record company (his last for Apple) happy.  Although like his earlier albums it had a stellar cast of players it just sounds flat, the songs poor and even the singing sounds raw and forced.   A couple of half decent songs ‘The Answer’s At The End’ and ‘Tired Of Midnight Blue’.  1976 saw George on his own record label, Dark Horse, release his 7th album – Thirty-Three and a Third – both his age and the speed it played at.  George had been ill prior to recording and was indulging in alcohol and cocaine.  He seems though to have got it together for this record; his best since Material World.  A more upbeat feel and a together band and a good collection of songs.  Singles in America did well, less so in England which was in the middle of Punk and the music press considered the Beatles as well past it.  Best songs ‘Crackerbox Palace’, ‘This Song’ and Cole Porter cover ‘True Love’, and ‘You’. 1979 saw the release of a self-titled album ; George Harrison.   This far into a career this begins to look a touch desperate, however the album is almost his best so far.   After all the turmoil of the Seventies, when he needed to establish himself in his own light, and the touring and drug abuse, George seemed in a safer place.  His new wife Olivia (Patti Boyd had departed with Eric) and a child Dhani and George was leading a more settled life.  Money worries seemed to have eased too.  He was pursuing other interest; gardening – he was re-landscaping Friar Park; Formula 1 racing and of course his involvement with Monty Python and his rescuing the film ‘Life Of Brian’.  The songs, after almost three years, seem more mature and less hurried.  The singing is perfect and the production seems light and lets the music breathe.  Almost every song is a winner, hard to pick favourites though I especially like ‘Here Comes The Moon’ (almost a pair with the song on Abbey Road), ‘Faster’ about motor racing and opener ‘Love Comes To Everyone’.  At last George seemed happy, no longer anything to prove and in his mid-thirties a more mature man.   George was being pushed by Warner Brothers for new product and the slightly rushed Somewhere In England appeared in 1981.  Initially rejected he reworked some of the songs and discarded a couple.  George had been shocked by the murder of John Lennon the previous year and re-wrote the words to ‘All Those Years Ago’ – he also invited Paul and Linda to sing on it while Ringo played drums.  It is a fine tribute to John and became a hit single.  Other notable tracks – ‘Blood From A Clone’ (about record companies), ‘Teardrops’ and ‘Writing’s On The Wall’.  But a bit of a disappointment after the last album.  Then in 1982 and his last album for Warner Brothers Gone Troppo.   And this has all the hallmarks of the ‘Contractual Obligation’ album.  It was his least successful record – and I don’t think George could care less – at this point he had had it with the music business.   Nothing of real significance and my least favourite of George’s efforts.    George retreated into his film company Handmade Films….and now comes a curiosity.  In a moment of madness or sheer naivety George agreed to make a film, Shanghai Surprise, with Madonna and Sean Penn.  It was apparently a disaster from day one, despite George recording several songs for, and actually appearing (in the background) singing one of them.  The film bombed and NO soundtrack was released, but occasionally tracks have slipped out in strange place.  My son-in-law manged to collect 2 rare pressings of Cloud 9 which had these as extra tracks – and I copied them onto my own recording.  The quality, both of the songs and the production is poor – but, hey this was a Beatle.   Anyway, it counts as one of my records.  But it was 2 years later that George had a renaissance.  He got friendly with Jeff Lynne of ELO (see E) fame who was now a record producer.  Jeff had always revered and loved The Beatles and persuaded George that they could make a great record together.  Which they did – Cloud 9 came out in 1987 and it was possibly the best album George had ever made.   George had some good songs and now an excellent and sympathetic producer, along with his usual stellar cast of musicians.  His voice was mellower and silky but it was the upbeat numbers that were subtle and deftly played.  Almost impossible to highlight best songs but the single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ is a classic and was a huge hit worldwide.  At times the production seems almost too Beatle-esque (if such a thing is possible), but that is as much a complement as a criticism.  This is music for grown-ups – new tunes on old shoulders.  Specially love ‘Fish On The Sand’, ‘Devils Radio’ and ‘Wreck of The Hesperus’.   Eric invited George for a short tour of Japan with his band.  George rehearsed and played songs from his entire career – some like ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘Taxman’ almost better than the originals, some not so great – but a lovely double album appeared in 1992 Live In Japan.   Well, George had just made 2 albums with the Wilburys and no-one knew if he would record solo again, so it was a welcome release – at least for me, but maybe through poor promotion it didn’t sell that well.  Never mind, this was a Beatle and I loved it.  Best track is possibly ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.  Great to just hear George sounding relaxed and happy playing live again.

This late career success did not prompt George back into a full time return to music – but it maybe became the spur for his two albums with The Travelling Wilburys (see T).  Sadly, though he was working on a new album as he knew he was dying from cancer, his last album was released posthumously – Brainwashed (2002).  Actually, quite a good, if slightly subdued sounding, album.  The songs are pretty good and Jeff Lynne and son Dhani did the production.  Best songs ‘Any Road’, ‘Pisces Fish’ and ‘the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea.’.  A nice, if sadly posthumous, record.  Of course, in the nature of things this wasn’t quite the end.  Various Greatest hits, of which I have Let It Roll, a nice collection, reminding us of the large number of great songs he released – two slight rarities – ‘Cheer Down’ (a Tom Petty co-write from film Lethal Weapon 2) and a (as far as I know) never recorded song by Dylan ‘I Don’t Want To Do It’ (from Porky’s Revenge Soundtrack). Also 3 live Beatles songs from Bangla Desh concert, but strangely no Bangla Desh itself.  I would probably have included half a dozen songs not on this, but there you go.  George also contributed and was a driving force behind a charity album for his wife Olivia’s Romanian Angel Appeal.  The resulting album was Nobody’s Child released in 1990.   The title track was credited to the Wilbury’s but was mostly George and Jeff Lynne; George included a live version of ‘Homeward Bound’ a duet with Paul Simon; he also played guitar on 2 tracks, one by Eric Clapton of an unreleased George song ‘That Kind Of Woman’.  The album is actually quite good in itself and ends with Ringo singing ‘Little Help From My Friends’ live.   After his death his son curated and released Early Takes Volume 1 in 2012 (sadly volume 2 has never arrived) consisting of demo’s George made mostly for All Things Must Pass.  But a couple of real rarities – singing Dylan’s ‘Mama You’ve been On My Mind’ and ‘Let It Be Me’ another Dylan favourite.  Very lovely versions, stripped down and acoustic; a great coda to his music.  A couple of years after his death The Concert For George was released.   A truly stellar cast assembled at the Royal Albert Hall to play Georges music.  Some lovely versions and a whole disc of Indian Music just as George would have wanted.  Featuring Jeff lynne, Eric, Joe Brown, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Paul and Ringo – a star studded cast sung his songs: a beautiful tribute to one of my heroes.

Bark Horse: Beetles Eat George Harrison’s Memorial Tree ...

My Record Collection 127

Emmy-Lou Harris – She first came across my horizon in the mid-seventies on a concept album ‘The Legend of Jesse James’, where she sang a couple of songs.  A gorgeous sumptuous Americana voice.  She also recorded much of an album of songs by Gram Parsons (see P) who she was heavily involved with in the seventies.  But the earliest real album of hers I have is from 1980 Roses in The Snow, which I bought in a charity shop.  Well, it is a real country album – which is where Emmylou started – though she has moved more into Americana of late.  Not such a bad album for all that, though spoiled by a couple of real Christian songs; best songs are ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and Paul Simon’s ‘The Boxer’.  But I really got into her with her 1995 release ‘Wrecking Ball’.   Emmylou was 48, and though not washed up, past her prime.  But her choice of producer, Daniel Lanois (see L) and songs by Dylan, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and a couple by Lanois too; and she suddenly became the queen of Americana.  She had always had the voice, but had veered into traditional country music.  This album brought her to a whole new audience just as the American train was leaving the station.  Hard to pick a best song – they are all superb, but I really love ‘Every grain of Sand’ and ‘Goodbye’ – she manages to bring something to these songs that makes they fresh again.  A brilliant album and suddenly she was relevant again.   Her next album was Red Dirt Girl (2000), a departure as 11 of the 12 songs were written, at least in part, by Emmylou; previously she was an interpreter of other songwriters.  A very accomplished effort, if slightly overlong.  The production carried on from Wrecking Ball’s sound and very pleasant it is – best songs; ‘Michaelangelo’ ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It Now’ and ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’ – but there isn’t a weak song on the record – her voice soars above the melody and is instantly recognisable; one of the things I look for in singers.   The next record I bought was 2008’s All I Intended To Be.  Who knows why we buy everything from one artist and just certain ones from others – but I was never besotted by Emmylou.  And I was looking for another Wrecking Ball, which while very good, this album wasn’t. Emmylou had only written a handful of songs, but she had chosen some classics, best of which were ‘Kern River’, written by Merle Haggard, ‘Old Five and Dimers’ by Billie Joe Shaver.  Another good track is her collaboration with Kate and Anna McGarrigle ‘How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower’.  A pleasant record, but one that didn’t quite hit the hot spot with me.  My next of hers is Western Wall (1999) a collaboration with Linda Ronstadt.  This for me is almost her best album, the combination of the two voices works remarkably well.  Again, mostly covers and great choices too; ‘Sisters of Mercy’ by Leonard Cohen, ‘Across the Border’ by Springsteen, but best song is ‘Loving The Highway Man’.  Somehow the combination of voices adds that little bit of depth.  I also have a 1990 album Duets, which I bought on the strength of Neil Young and Roy Orbison among others who she sung with, but, in reality, she was often doing backing vocals on these tracks, although it is quite pleasant nevertheless

Emmylou Harris | Music fanart |

My Record Collection 126

Steve Harley – the frontman, and songwriter for Cockney Rebel.  Sometimes he records under his solo name and sometimes as S H and C R and occasionally simply as Cockney Rebel.  But the original Cockney Rebel simply made 5 albums (three as Cockney Rebel and 2 as Steve Harley and) and Steve discarded the band and name in 1978 with his first real solo effort Hobo With A Grin.  Wow, what an album.  Great songs from the word go!   ‘Roll The Dice’ as a great single, ‘America The Brave’ a superb critique and ‘Living In A Rhapsody’ a haunting ballad – but the prize must go to ‘Riding The Waves (for Virginia Wolff)’ – great song with a lovely rousing chorus.  Harley followed this in ’79 with The Candidate.  Never sure of this album, on replaying, it sounds a bit slung together, the songs lack depth and quality, however 2 tracks stand out; the title track and ‘Who’s Afraid, which harks back to his old Cockney rebel past.  Then nothing for a decade.  A few half-hearted singles and writing for Rod Stewart (see S) but no album.  Finally in 1992 he scrambled together an album of re-recorded older songs, and a few newer songs.   I haven’t listened to this album in a few years now, and it sounds remarkably vivid and new.  Strange how my memory was that this was a poor album, however it does contain  2 brilliant songs ‘Irresistible’ and ‘Star For A Week’ this last the story of Dino, a teenager who has run off with his motorbike robbing banks and shooting people and his wish to just be somebody – truly one of his best songs.  But re-listening I am really enjoying the songs, and the production is vibrant with Steve’s voice high up in the mix.  He followed this in 1996 with an album called Poetic Justice – and really it must rate as the poorest in his entire career.  The songs are unconvincing and the band sound very ordinary indeed, he even does a couple of half-hearted covers, best of which is Dylans ‘Love Minus Zero’ and a re-recording of ‘Riding The Waves’.   1999 saw Stripped to the Bare Bones – a brilliant live acoustic album.  Beautiful guitar from Robin Gladwell and piano and violin and not much else.  I saw him a few times around this time, and yes, he was brilliant live; raw and impassioned versions from his entire career, including old Cockney Rebel favourites.  Great stuff; best are ‘Star For A Week’ ‘Sebastian’’ and ‘Riding the Waves’; the sound is much more akin to his old Cockney Rebel records – and is highly enjoyable.  Most artists simply churn out old stuff with no new input, but here Steve reinterprets, or rather re-invigorates his old hits.  Another CD of Steve singing with the same small Acoustic set up came out in 2002 (on a different label – so not sure what was going on there) called Acoustic and Pure. This though features more of his solo later work with only a couple of Cockney Rebel songs.  Pretty damn good again.  Best songs are ‘Nothing is Sacred’ and ‘All In A Life’s Work’.  2005 and Steve released an album of new songs called The Quality of Mercy.  A somewhat quieter, more reflective album, the songs seem more personal.  I like it, it has less of the anger and vivid lyrics but is gentler and easier on the ear.  Best tracks; ‘The Last Goodbye’, ‘Coast of Amalfi’ and ‘A Friend For Life’.  Then another live set, again on a different label called Anytime, Anywhere came out a couple of years later.  Again, excellent – but just how many similar live albums do you need….no need to answer that.  But then in 2010 – a new album of new material Stranger Comes to Town.   Strangely I have never got into this record, the songs are okay, the singing good – but somehow it seems a bit lacklustre; as if this was not the album Steve really wanted to make.  Hard, after 40 years to come up with something meaningful and original I suppose.  Still I am not enamoured with this offering.  Much better was 2016’s Birmingham, which was a re-recording of the first two Cockney Rebel albums – but with a full orchestra and choir.   Maybe it is just the familiarity of these songs – after all, I have lived with them for all of those 40 odd years – some, almost constant companions.  I am not sure the orchestra really adds that much to the sparser originals – but still a valiant effort.  Just received, but not really listened to is his latest (2020) offering Uncovered, a covers album of personal favourites.  Just the one listen and I am quite impressed – this will go into my playlist soon.   And just to round up, a couple of compilation albums – A Closer Look, which came out on the late Seventies and feature mostly Rebel songs but a couple from Steve’s first solo albums.  And Face to Face – a live album of Cockney Rebel, when they really were an excellent live band; a scorching version of George’s ‘Here Come The Sun’ and a few anthemic sing-a-longs.  Nothing revolutionary, but still a great couple of records.  So, that was Steve Harley – a long career, but focussing on the early years when the songs blistered on the turntable.  Ah…the Seventies – best of times.

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Steve Hackett – later days.   And what a return to form.  1993’s Guitar Noir is really one of his very best records.  A beautiful selection of varied songs, some heavy rock, some gorgeous melodies and occasional acoustic guitar.  He manages to sound different on every track and yet the same unique Steve Hackett sound overall.  Hard to pick a favourite from so many good songs; maybe the first three ‘Sierra Quemada’, ‘Take these pearls’ and ‘There Are Many Sides To The Night’ – which incidentally happens to be the title of his next (live) album.  I bought this as a double 2 cds some time in late 90’s but it was a 1995 release – There Are Many Sides To The Night.  This is a lovely live record of a mostly solo set by Steve where he plays sumptuous mostly acoustic guitar pieces.  He had released a couple of classical guitar albums in the late 80’s and a blues one too, so lots of tracks I hadn’t heard before – and some that were familiar have softer arrangements on this recording.  The Genesis Files is up next, and album from 1999 where Steve both revisits and re-interprets some of the songs he wrote for Genesis or was inspired by,  A couple of new numbers ‘Valley of the kings’ and ‘Waiting Room Only’, and some fine old tracks re-recorded – best of which is ‘Firth of Fifth’.   My next album is To Watch The Storms (2003).  A really excellent album, lots of variety and including a song by Thomas Dolby (see D) ‘The Devil is An Englishman.   I am often amazed how artists keep coming up with new songs, and in Steve’s case, entirely new sounds – but he does, and of all the Genesis musicians, who have all pursued solo careers, he has released far more and varied records than the others.  I remember I bought this CD in Orleans while we were driving back to England, recognising it instantly by the Kim Poor cover.  And it really is a great album.  Hard to pick best tracks really but here goes; some of the tracks are really heavy rock, some blue, some acoustic and some have a fairground feel.  But standouts are ‘Circus of Becoming’, Come Away’ and ‘Serpentine Song’.  Really one of his best albums.  He followed this with Wild Orchids (2006) another strong and varied album.  Some artists simply keep getting better, writing stronger songs and producing amazing albums; not many, but some.  Best songs; opener  ’Transylvanian Express’, the sinister ‘Down Street’, sung in his mock horror voice and the Dylan classic ‘Man In The Long Dark Coat’.  But really a splendid record with not a filler or duff track on it, full of surprising sound effects and interludes of delicate guitar.   My next album is Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth )2009), which despite its title is quite a gentle album, at least in large part – there are a few louder heavy songs but a surprisingly lyrical feel mostly.  Best songs are the last two, ‘Still Waters’ and ‘Last Train To Istanbul’ – with its eastern feel.  A nice record all round.  My last is Live  Rails, which was from the tour promoting Tunnels mouth, and it is a really dynamic live album, lots of old favourites and some really loud stuff.  A great way to end on. 

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Steve Hackett – Early Years.  The guitarist in the classical Genesis.  Peter Gabriel was in the process of leaving and during touring for ‘The lamb Lies Down’ Steve passed his time composing random pieces of music.  After Peter left he discovered that the remaining trio had grown closer and the songs for the next two Genesis albums tended to exclude his efforts.   Not that there was ever much acrimony, in fact Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins both played on Steve’s debut solo album Voyage Of the Acolyte (1975), which was released a full years before Steve decided to leave the band.  The random pieces were polished up into an album; Steve choosing to name each track after Tarot Cards, which of course bore no resemblance to the songs (well, it was the Seventies).  Anyway, the album was a surprise hit with the public, reaching 26 in the album charts.  Maybe this was because the sound harked back to the Genesis sound of Foxtrot and Nursery Crime.  Anyway, as an avid Genesis fan, I bought the album.  And was delighted; mostly instrumental because Steve was conscious that he had never sung on a Genesis album, even backing vocals.  Standout track is ‘Shadow of the Heirophant’ with it’s imfectious and gorgeous melody, shifts in pace and superb vocals by Sally Oldfield.  But in fact the whole album is superb.  It makes you think that really Steve Hackett was maybe the soul of Genesis, overshadowed as he was by Peter Gabriel’s vocals.  Other notable tracks are ‘Ace of Wands’ and ‘Hands of the Priestess’.  What a great debut album. 

Well, three years later and Steve had left Genesis and produced his second solo album Please Don’t Touch.  And what an album, really my favourite of all his records. Every track is different and brilliant.  And three different guest vocalists present the songs in such a gorgeous light.   Randy Crawford sings ‘Hoping Love Will Last’ a great soul track.  Richie Havens sings two songs, best of which is ‘How Can I’ possibly his finest composition – and oh that voice I remember so well from the film and album Woodstock.  But also some other great songs ‘Narnia’ and ‘Racing in A’, and a great instrumental; the title track itself.  Seriously, one of my very favourite records.   The following year he brought out Spectral Mornings, another great album.   No guest singers this time, though again Steve barely sang, leaving these duties to Pete Hicks.  He had formed a new touring band who recorded the album.  Some great songs – and again, such a variety, even in the same song; which was very Genesis.  Best songs ‘Every Day’, ‘Tigermoth’ (a WW1 tale) and ‘The Ballad Of The Decpmposing Man’, which is a comedy, almost throw-away track – but with an infectious melody and mock Northern vocals from Steve who also plays pipe organ and harmonica on the track.  There is also a Spanish Guitar track and a Japanese Koto instrumental and a superb guitar led title track to close the album; truly an accomplished record – but which somehow doesn’t quite have the warmth of its predecessor.   The following year saw Defector (1980).  Now, for whatever reason I never really liked this album, despite it being his best seller.  No accounting for taste of course, but I felt there were too many instrumentals and a harsher sound.  Still not so bad – best songs were ‘Time to get Out’ and. ‘Sentimental Institution’. 

Steve had toured continuously since joining Genesis and for three years as a solo artist and was exhausted.  He disbanded his backing group and took a three month break with his wife Kim Poor in her native Brazil.  Here he recovered and worked on songs with his keyboard player Nick Magnus for both a new album and a warmer more ‘Rock’ or even ‘Pop’ oriented style.  The resulting album’s title Cured (1981) says it all.  The album still retained a couple of heavier instrumental tracks , but more vocals, all by Steve himself now, and a gentle almost classical guitar track.  I much preferred it to Defector; it is warmer and the songs are better.  Favourites are opener ‘Hope I don’t wake up’, ‘Cradle of Swans’ and ‘Turn Back time’.   In 1983 Steve released Highly Strung.  Apparently he was having major difficulties with his record label Charisma, and the recording sessions were fraught.  However, the album is really good; a bit rockier than most and some good tunes.  Favourites are ‘Camino Royale’, ‘Cell 151’ and ‘Walking through Walls’.  Then after one more album I didn’t get Steve seems to have stopped recording for a few years, not sure why…I missed out on a couple but resumed in 1993

Spectral Mornings (Remastered 2005)

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Groove Armada   Introduced to me by my daughter Laura, who loves dance music. The record she bought me was Vertigo (1999)  , and I was immediately entranced; the band are really a duo, who are supplemented both in the studio and live by other musicians, and most notably vocalists.  Vertigo was actually their second album and very accomplished it is.  It features the singles ‘I See You Baby’ and ‘At The River’ (which has been used in many adverts and documentaries).  It is really quite varied too, with a handful of fast funky infectious tracks like ‘Chicago’ and some slower songs like the sublime ‘At the River’.  A lovely album; I especially love the use of the trumpet, sometimes muted and sometimes bleating.  The following year they brought out ‘Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub’ – which was supposed to be a more clubby record, but there were still some bucolic tracks, in fact the last few tracks are all quite slow.  Best songs were the huge hit ‘Superstylin’ and the charming ‘My Friend’.  I must admit that the simply instrumental tracks left me wondering….just a groove with no direction home.  Next up is Black Light (2010).  It seems that Groove Armada were on half working time, barely producing anything new for a few years.  Black Light (2010) is my next album of theirs.  And a very disco-ish record it is, lots of female vocals (and even a track sung by Brian Ferry).  Very dancey but almost all the same beat throughout, almost as if it is the same song really. Best tracks – ‘Warsaw’ and ‘History’ – but nothing really like their earlier stuff.    I also have a double album 10 YR Story – which is basically remixes of some of their old songs.  Quite nice, especially disc 2 which is all slow stuff. ; a lovely long version of ‘Blue Skies’.  But probably only for hardcore fans.  And of course the obligatory Greatest Hits, which is sometimes all you need.  This record would be great for a dancey party, but listening on your own ?  Not so great.

The Best Of

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Macy Gray – Well, almost a one hit wonder.  Her debut album sold incredibly well thanks to the hit singles, but since then she has struggled to make an impact.  Strange, as On How Life Is – was such a great album.  But I, like so many, only ever bought the first record.  Saying that this was a really excellent record; a subtle mix of Soul, Blues with a dash of hip-Hop (thankfully only a dash).  Best songs – the big hit single ‘I Try’ and ‘ A Moment To Myself’ and ‘Why Didn’tcha Call Me’. Still enjoyed listening to it.

Carol Grimes – well, another in the long list of artists you probably haven’t heard of.  Which is a pity as Carol was a vocalist of rare talent.  I discovered her, like so many other, by accident.  There was a pub in North Finchley, called I believe The Torrington.  One evening, after a meal at the local Chinese, Joy and I went for a drink there.  I distinctly remember they were playing tracks from Band On The Run, so it must have been 1974 0r 75.  Then the live band came on, and it was Carol Grimes with her band.  And wow, she blew me away.  Now she has never been a ‘hit’ artist but has steadily plodded on through the years, with rock and jazz and bluesy records. I worked back and her first album was Warm Blood (1974).  This was a typical early Seventies rock and blues album, quite listenable but not remarkable really.  Best songs are ‘You’re the Only One’ and ‘Wait For me Down By The River’.  But not a bad solo effort.  The following years eponymous album Carol Grimes was much better, always loved the cover with her and her son.  This is much better, the songs are more distinctive and better production.  Best songs are ‘Brand New Tomorrow’, ‘My Baby Specialises’ and ‘Dynamite’.

She seems to have stopped recording for a few years, maybe bringing up her son, or teaching music.  But in 1986 she re-emerged with a new band and a new album Eyes Wide Open, and she had discovered Jazz.  This is a great album and definitely not pop or rock.  The jazz arrangements allow Carol’s remarkable voice, a slightly softer version of Janis Joplin (see J) to come to the fore. There is space for her to swoop and dive around the melodies.  More and more I like this record – some great songs – ‘Your Blues’ (a tribute to jazz and soul musicians and singers) ‘Mau Mau’ a sort of autobiographical song) and ‘Alexandra Dance’.  Of course the critics and the public largely ignored this comeback, but luckily she was still able to continue making records.  Daydreams and Danger came out in 1988; another very good jazz infused album, some tracks recorded live and some in the studio.  Best tracks –‘ Heart to Heart’, the title track and ‘Mental Mood’.  I haven’t really had this album so long and am still really appreciating it.  I really should listen to it more often – but, you know how it is.  Why Don’t They Dance followed a year later; another jazz infused collection of songs, some standards and a few originals.  Her voice is quite incredible and she suits the scat-sinigng jazz style.  Though in a way it gets a bit repetitive.  Still, a competent record – best songs ‘Heart in my Hnads’, ‘Two Step’ and ‘Stay With Me Baby’.  1990 saw a duet album with a jazz-singer Ian Shaw – Lazy Blue Eyes.  A sumptuous album with sparse arrangements and a beautiful blend of their two voices.  Some great songs too – the title track, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most’, and ‘The Snake’.  This was the album that I spotted and made me realise that Carol was indeed recording again – and I went back and found the previous three records.  The last (so far) in my Carol Grimes collection is Live At Ronnie Scotts, a 1996 recording, with a very small band of piano and drums and bass.  A very nice record again which allows her voice to fill the sound completely.  Fave tracks – ‘Solitude’, ‘Wild Woman’ and ‘Who Do You Want’.  She still records and releases the occasional record, but they are rarely available, even on Amazon. 

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Grandaddy – an American Indie band.  Just the one CD; Under the Western Freeway (1997),  This was their debut album; I had read the review but found it a few years later in a charity shop.  It is quite an interesting record; a few unusual sounds, some sweet vocals and unusual songs.  But….as so often I am left wondering exactly what it was all about, it simply went in one ear and out the other. I am afraid that my capacity to take in and appreciate new music, in this case American Indie, is limited.  I am stuck in old grooves mostly, preferring singer-songwriters and bands that I know and instantly recognise.  Never mind.

David Gray – became famous with the release of his fourth album White Ladder.(1998).  No-one had really noticed him before this, yet somehow he managed to get it all together with this record.  His song-writing was as good as ever, but it was the introduction of infectious beats which brought him to a larger audience.  The album though released in 97 did not do anything at first but slowly it grew and grew, especially with the release of hit singles and reached number one in 2001.  It is a wonderful record.  Almost every track is a winner.  If I have to choose favourites then of course the two big singles ‘Babylon’ and ‘Sail Away’ – but actually the best is the final track – a cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ which is almost better than the original.  I then worked back and bought the predecessor; Sell, Sell, Sell (1996). A much rockier album but still pretty good.  Best songs ‘Late Night Radio’, ‘Magdalene’ and ‘Forever is Tomorrow is Today’.  Quite a satisfying record but originally it sold hardly at all, it was only after the success of White Ladder that people like me discovered it.  His next album was Lost Songs 95 – 98.   These were written prior to his breakthrough but recorded as White Ladder was taking off and released in 2001.  And a strangely subdued set of songs they mostly are; all that lightness of touch of White Ladder seems to be dulled down a bit.  Despite that it is quite a nice record – best songs; ‘Flame Turns Blue’ and ‘January Rain’.  But we were all waiting for something new and the following year he brought out A New Day At Midnight. Well, White ladder it wasn’t; that slow dance beat was missing from most of the tracks.  Saying that his voice was as plaintive as ever and the songs pretty good too.  Favourites are ‘Dead in The Water’, ‘Be Mine’ and ‘The Other Side’.  Another number one album which he followed three years later with Life In Slow Motion.   Well, it seemed to me that David was sinking into some self-obsessed oblivion.  It was as if all the lightness of White Ladder had dissipated.  Not that some songs weren’t quite good, it was just that the whole feel of the album was a huge downer.   A couple of good songs though; ‘Ain’t No Love’ and ‘Disappearing World’.  I sort-of gave up on him at this point and resolved to not buy him anymore.  My daughter Laura however did buy me his next effort Draw The Line (2009).    I must admit, the record is okay, but somehow I had grown tired of David Gray.  He still sounds pretty miserable and his songs are very samey, although he has a couple of faster numbers on this record.  I haven’t really managed to get into this album but a couple of the songs are okay – ‘Stella the Artist’ rocks and the duet with Aniie Lennox (see l) Full Steam is quite good.  He has continued to release the occasional album but so far I haven’t been tempted.  A few years ago he lamented that the success of White Ladder had pigeonholed him and boxed him in. I wonder what hw would have been doing without it though….

David Gray recording studio where Eurythmics and Dylan ...