Stereo Review In Review: May 1978

At fourteen, I was evidently too young to appreciate, to virtually any extent, music outside of what I heard on Top 40 radio. Forty-three years later, the education continues…

Articles
Loft Jazz, by Chris Albertson
Albertson chronicles the developing jazz scene in NYC as it migrated from 52nd Street to lofts in the SoHo district near Greenwich Village, and surveys a five-LP recent release called Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions.

How to Read a Record Jacket, by Steve Simels
Dripping with sarcasm, Simels attempts to decode the significance of all the terminology in liner notes, as their length had exploded over the past decade. Here are two snippets that give you a taste. 1) Producer: “All in all, however, be he hack, artiste, skilled technician, or visionary, his basic function is to sit in the control room and nod knowingly after the musicians have finished a take.” 2) Background Vocals: “This particularly odious form of cronyism was originally pioneered by Stephen Stills, who once not only recorded a chorus consisting of David Crosby, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, John Sebastian, and Mama Cass Elliot, but somehow managed to get all to sound like clones of himself.”

This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance. There’s lots to cover, so let’s get to it.

Best of the Month
–Art Garfunkel, Watermark (PR) “Garfunkel has exactly the right spare, intelligent vocal style for (Jimmy) Webb’s intense, deeply felt lyrics and the nonchalant but enormously secure musicianship the elusive music demands.”
–Gordon Lightfoot, Endless Wire (NC) “…his rockingest album yet…(h)is songwriting is everywhere crafty and in spots exceptionally bright.”
–Jay McShann, The Last of the Blue Devils (CA) “…certainly among the last of a vanishing breed of musicians whose performances are designed to stir the soul and make the feet stomp…”

Recordings of Special Merit
Pop/Rock/Soul/Country:
–Blossom Dearie, Winchester in Apple Blossom Time (PR) “Like a new book by Jean Rhys or a new sculpture by Louise Nevelson, a new album from Blossom is a welcome reminder that there is still civilized, urbane life on this planet…” Maybe like me, you know Dearie best as the singer of “Figure Eight” or “Unpack Your Adjectives”—seems it’s high time I diversify that portfolio. (Schoolhouse Rock asides: I have it in my head that “Figure Eight” was the first of those shorts I ever saw—it was almost certainly my introduction to the infinity symbol. And it’s interesting enough that a little calculus knowledge is used in “Unpack Your Adjectives” as a sign of being brainy.)

–Al Green, The Belle Album (PG) “Admittedly, some of his recent albums have bogged down in banality, but he has broken out of that slump with this one, which should rank among his finest…ironically, the most danceable tracks are the more religious ones.”
–Anne Murray, Let’s Keep It That Way (NC) “Thematically, the album is not focused at all, but sonically (producer Jim Ed) Norman has pointed everything toward the clear and beautiful tones Anne Murray makes.”
–Roomful of Blues, S/T (JV) “…like most rhythm-and-blues combos of the era they re-create, Roomful of Blues combines barrel-house slugging power with a concern for jazz.”

Jazz:
–Double Image, S/T (CA) “…a cross between Balinese music and that of the late Modern Jazz Quartet.”
–Bill Evans, Alone (Again) (CA) “Evans doesn’t just play a tune; he caresses it, embellishes it, and turns it into a new and very personal experience.”
–Charlie Haden, The Golden Number (CA) Four duets, with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and Hampton Hawes.
–Charles Mingus, Three or Four Shades of Blues (CA) “Mingus has never moved with commercial trends…which is one reason his music endures.”

Featured Reviews
–Roberta Flack, Blue Lights in the Basement (PG) “There are some jewel-like moments on it, precious and shimmering, but involvement and depth of feeling seem to be missing almost throughout.”
–Tom T. Hall, New Train—Same Rider and Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson, Waylon & Willie (NC) “Taken together, these albums suggest that country music’s relationship to the world beyond its strongholds is much less predictable now than it was a few years ago…both appeal more to people who don’t know the artists than to people who do.”
The King and I (PK) “…the record so adroitly blends dialogue, ballads, and spectacular choruses that one gets the feeling of attending a real performance rather than of listening to a series of spliced-together excerpts from it.”
Saturday Night Fever (PG) “The music here has an unflagging thrust, yet it is sufficiently varied in style, mood, and instrumentation to transcend the trite strictures commonly associated with disco.”
The Smithsonian Collection (PK) An overview of the first three musical comedy selections in the series: Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, the Gershwins’ Lady, Be Good! (featuring Fred and Adele Astaire), and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
–Muddy Waters, I’m Ready (JV) “Waters proves that whatever the artfulness of the blues—and it is considerable—it derives not from ‘artistic’ pretensions but from professional entertainers’ need to please their audiences.”
–Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy (SS) “…gives you the guitar raunch of the Rolling Stones, the wit and verbal facility of Randy Newman…and some fantasies that make Elvis Costello’s seem as mundane as Barry Manilow’s.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Baby Grand, S/T (JV) “Once in a while it sounds as though a song and a performance are going to amount to something, but…alas, alas, ‘almost’ is a sad and final word.”
–Chet Baker, You Can’t Go Home Again (CA) “Except for one selection, this album is a disappointing, formula-ridden echo of the CTI sound that buried the artistry of so many fine jazz soloists over the past few years.”
–Eric Clapton, Slowhand (NC) “Clapton’s vocals have gotten even craggier and mellower, and I think I wish they were mixed a little louder here…maybe what I really want is for Clapton…to sing out, as in away from one’s own chest, which is where he seems to aim some of this.”
–Randy Crawford, Miss Randy Crawford (JV) “…early Aretha in style and bubbly all the way.”
–Doonesbury’s Jimmy Thudpucker, Greatest Hits (JV) “The album is a satire not only on the superstar figure, eager and kid-pompous song-writing, and the studio world but on the pop music audience itself…but the satire is so accurate that it occasionally becomes what it is intended to ridicule.”
–The Emotions, Sunshine (PG) “This material was apparently pressed by Stax years ago, probably between 1971 and 1974…but (it) sounds amazingly fresh.”
–Judy Garland, The Wit and Wonder of Judy Garland (PK) “It all makes one miss Judy Garland even more, for in her untranquilized moments she was not only a clever woman but a very funny one.”
–Leif Garrett, S/T (PR) “As is usual in most such cases, voice and technique are almost nonexistent, but the production by Mike Lloyd is as artful and cosmetic as a pimple pencil.”
–Andrew Gold, All This and Heaven Too (SS) “…indefensible, a totally tuneless exercise that seems to exist for no other reason than to allow him to demonstrate a bit of a Beatles fetish.”
–Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten-Cent Town (NC) “The slant I have on (this album) is that too many of (the songs) she chose for it suit her image rather than challenging her to grow as a singer. But she is growing anyway. And she is already one of the best.”
–Rupert Holmes, Pursuit of Happiness (NC) “Altogether—and the melodies, arrangements, and soft-spoken vocals do this more than the lyrics—Pursuit of Happiness seems much too accepting of the Way It Is to be coming from the kind of intellect Holmes apparently has.”
–The Jam, This Is the Modern World (SS) “There are, after all, plenty of windy bores on the side of the angels. The Jam isn’t quite that bad, but, with two albums down, it’s beginning to look like they will be.”
–Taj Mahal, Evolution (The Most Recent) (JV) “At times in his various recordings, Mahal has seemed alienated from his listeners and resentful of having to perform for them…In Evolution he’s an entertainer.”
–Meco, Encounters of Every Kind (Edward Buxbaum) “It’s like dancing through a space-time travelogue, for these are very ‘visual’ cuts, with the various settings evoked by appropriate music and sound effects.”

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