Let’s stick with the same time period mined in last week’s Songs Casey Never Played; in fact, the intersection of acts addressed below with that post is very much nonempty. Lots of good stuff in this one.
I think these late 70s/early 80s issues of SR are the ones nearest to my heart. The number of reviews in each issue declined starting around 1984, so I look back now and appreciate all the more the density of their efforts during this period. Additionally, as I was moving into my mid- and late teens, I perhaps recognized a higher percentage of the artists being written up.
Zita Allen interviews Stevie Wonder
Allen gives a brief overview of Wonder’s career to date and then talks with him about his most recent release, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The process Wonder undergoes to create the soundtrack for a movie, with the music keyed to the visual, is involved and interesting.
Our reviewers this month are Chris Albertson, Edward Buxbaum, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.
Best of the Month
–Gene Parsons, Melodies (NC) “Parsons, a former Byrd, has a serviceable plain voice, but he sings with feeling, and in this case he sings only songs he obviously cares about.”
–Ray, Goodman, & Brown, S/T (JV) “The prominent bass and the tenor/falsetto have not been in fashion for over a decade, but RG & B restore them to their original roles.”
–The Searchers, S/T (SS) “…the result—their first album in almost a decade—is something of a small miracle: a thoroughly modern, utterly captivating record that rocks like mad, retains the essence of the original sound, and in general is as fully (if not more) satisfying as anything churned out recently by the group’s younger heirs.”
Recordings of Special Merit
–Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, S/T (EB) “Do yourself a favor: before you dance your way through these songs, sit down and listen.”
–Blossom Dearie, Needlepoint Magic Volume V (PR) “To listen…is to be given a painless lesson in how very fine popular singing can be when it is practiced by a real artist. When you add to it Dearie’s wit, style, musicianship, and shrewd whimsey you have a one-of-a-kind listening experience.”
–Robert Gordon, Bad Boy (SS) “…probably the best album Gordon’s done, a near flawless mix of period re-creation…and rockabilly/New Wave fusion…”
–J. Geils Band, Love Stinks (JV) “J. Geils is probably the ultimate in blues-derived rock bands. Few other groups manage to embellish the two simple and limited forms without overloading them.”
–Cheryl Lynn, In Love (PG) “Her splendid new album, the second of her short career, is enough to propel even the stodgiest soul to his feet; it explodes with volcanic force, generating enough energy to fuel a cross-country bus.”
–The Specials, S/T (SS) “The Specials do (ska) very well; they know that, as with reggae, the sound is as important as the notes, which means some raggedness around the edges is necessary or the stuff degenerates into Sergio Mendes/Martin Denney island exotica.”
–Tavares, Supercharged (PG) “…the ear-catching arrangements and instrumentals are deftly interwoven with the voices, which are employed with polished flexibility.”
–Three albums by or featuring Chico Freeman (CA) “Freeman’s music gives me hope because it is original without being absurd, because it gets its tonal character from the inherent qualities of the instruments and its direction from his own distinct personality.”
–Peggy Lee, Close Enough for Love (PR) “There is a vague disco tinge to the arrangements, but that interferes only about as much as an up-to-date setting for a really important diamond would…”
–Mireille Matheiu, Mireille Mathieu Sings Paul Anka (PR) “Like Piaf, like Garland, like Streisand, her combination of torrential emotion and fierce conviction can singe the ears of anyone willing to give her a listen.”
–Bonnie Pointer, S/T (PG) “…she compensates for her vocal limitations with musical imagination and a keen sense of what works.”
–Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love (NC) “In lesser hands such a venture would have gone belly-up on the New Wave, but this—to the degree anyone can take it on its own terms—is a well-intended, spirited, almost plucky little album.”
–Grace Slick, Dreams (Mark Peel, before he was brought on staff) “What I do not hear is the Grace Slick who contributed to such Airplane successes as ‘Greasy Heart’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ and who, most important, contributed something that was, for better or for worse, recognizably and memorably hers.”
–Warren Zevon, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (SS) “In any case, slickness is not the problem with (this album). Chalk it up instead to a creative dry spell, celebrate the not inconsiderable virtues of the best things in it, and then hope that Zevon does what he promised he’d do after Excitable Boy—move to New York City.”
Other Disks Reviewed
–The Babys, Union Jacks (JV) “The mid-youth malaise they are currently dispensing isn’t interesting to anyone who has passed through it unless it’s expressed in an unusual or startling way.”
–The Buggles, The Age of Plastic (SS) “They can’t sing worth a lick, their technological obsessios are already clichés, and for all their studio tinkering, they finally come off about as moderinist as, say, the Electric Prunes.”
–D. L. Byron, This Day and Age (NC) “Byron’s songs are mostly the expected nonsense about scrounging around in the streets—him and his version of Wendy, they were born to run, you can bet your tee-shirt on that—and his singing is projected from the same physical spot as Springsteen’s, the voice gathered up in the top of the throat and squeezed out at ya.”
–Heart, Bebe Le Strange (JV) “Parts of the album are interesting, parts are dull, and parts are silly; some skill and talent do show through now and then.”
–The Jam, Setting Sons (Mark Peel) “They work in two time-honored British traditions: writing sardonically witty lyrics that strike right at the soft white underbelly of the bourgeoisie and affixing to these clever lyrics a barrage of noise from which the conventional musical elements of melody, harmony, dynamic variation, and rhythm seem to be absent.” Clearly, Peel was trying to impress the editors!
–The Knack, …but the little girls understand (SS) “Great composers steal, said Stravinsky, while mediocre ones borrow. Well, the Knack borrows like crazy here…and the recorded results prove that Igor was right on the money. There isn’t a note her that suggests an original idea.”
–Lipps Inc., Mouth to Mouth (EB) “Somebody’s got to get in there and pull the vocal tracks and the strings forward from time to time, to refocus our attention from the thumping monotony of the beat.”
–Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (JV) “Nobody so far has figured out how to use the synthesizer as an instrument instead of a machine, and Numan certainly isn’t a contender for the solution.”
–Rush, Permanent Waves (JV) “Loud groups that play overblown material at great length irritate me, but I’m inclined to be charitable with Rush. I suppose what I like about them is that they are personally modest, work hard for a living, and entertain rather than manipulate their audiences.”
–Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Against the Wind (Mark Peel) “I am more sympathetic to Seger’s reminiscences. At their most affecting—Seger is often a very affecting songwriter—they deal with the choices made, the friends left behind, the incidents of experience that must certainly weigh heavily on someone like Seger, now looking back down a long hard road.”