Wednesday, June 27, 2012

So serene (Jellyfish)

I know a lot of Jellyfish's 1993 album Spilt Milk album off by heart because it was on high rotate in the late 90s, early 00s as I was working on university assignments for a post grad degree in school management. For a lot of that time I was struggling with a thesis and Spilt Milk got me through!

I bought the CD from Real Groovy in Auckland and later tracked down their other album Bellybutton from Edinburgh's HMV in 2003.

Anyway...I'd put the album on as I started my labours for the day and hit repeat. The songs merged into a cohesive whole and the vocals by Andy Sturmer are really easy on the ear. So it was the perfect study music for me.

I'm a big big fan of the obscurely slurred,  muddy vocal delivery . Think Michael Stipe on early REM albums or Mick Jagger on Stones classics like Street Fighting Man. Andy is not that bad but he's close.

Andy has a great, distinctive voice and the backing vocals are so layered that at times it is nigh on impossible to make out what the lyrics are. Great!!

Jellyfish at times sound like The Beach Boys, Queen, The High Llamas, early Radiohead, Supertramp, and they are clearly influenced by The Fabs (the cover of Macca's Jet is note for note on the Bellybutton album) as well as powerpop outfits like The Raspberries, Badfinger and Big Star.

Usually that makes for a very derivative sound but Jellyfish forge a clear identity of their own.

The closest the San Francisco band ever came to a hit was The Ghost At Number One. A perfect little pop song.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Spare a thought for the working drummer (Headband)

Concerning the case of the singing drummer.

I don't know but I'm guessing that it is pretty tricky to play drums and sing at the same time. Every limb is doing something different and then the brain has to remember lyrics. Quite a trick but then again - maybe it's easy?

I'm leaning towards the view that it's tricky because I can count great singing drummers on one hand, and it pains me to say that Ringo can never be considered a great singer so I can't include him even though I love him to bits. Play drums well and sing well - now that is quite a thing.

Okay so the tight five?

Levon Helm who passed away recently is definitely a member. Best moment for me is Life Is A Carnival when he sings - buddy would you like to buy a watch, real cheap! His shuffling drum beats motivated some of the best songs ever recorded - The Weight, The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down, Up On Cripple Creek and on and on.

Karen Carpenter who died tragically distinguished herself on vocals but also was a mean drummer.

Mickey Dolenz is still with us thank goodness. Maybe not the greatest drummer ever but he was certainly talented in that area and one listen to something like Last Train To Clarksville and you know he could sell a song in a unique way.

Andy Sturmer - also still with us - Andy was the lead singer, lead writer and drummer for the American powerpop band Jellyfish who produced two superb albums in the early 90s - Spilt Milk and Bellybutton.

Dennis Wilson - another tragic death to add to the list. Denny was a great talent - just dig out The Beach Boys' Sunflower album (his four songs are the standout cuts on that album - one of The Beach Boys best) or try his solo album Pacific Ocean Blue.

Okay - you're probably thinking that there are some other notable absences -  Phil Collins? I'm not a fan of his singing at all but there is no denying his talent as a drummer.

And Don Henley? Yeah okay - Don is at number six so I do need to use my other hand after all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good times bad times, you know I've had my share (Led Zeppelin)

I felt like something loud to jolt me awake today. Go to album on these occasions is invariably something by Led Zep.

The first one is amazing. It rocks like a beast.

Good Times Bad Times kicks it all off in a powerful rock way.

Given it was recorded in 1968 by Jimmy Page and band (after The Yardbirds deserted him and Led Zep had started life as The New Yardbirds) it is amazingly unlike the Yardbirds in feel and execution. Clearly a work of vision.

What else was around at the time of construction? The Beatles double album called The Beatles on the sleeve but known as The White Album for evermore and Hendrix' Electric Ladyland were in a masterclass of their own. Led Zeppelin joins them for my money.

My old vinyl copy has been played so much there are a few scratches at unfortunate times so I have had to buy CD replacements. For today's session I needed that wonderful clunk as the needle hits the record and a bit of familiar hiss introduces this mighty opening track.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bow wow wow, honk your horn (James Taylor)

James Taylor featured on the Seventies blog by my mate GK recently. he wrote about his admiration for Shower The People.

JT is certainly a seventies titan but he also produced some excellent work outside of that decade.

Here's my top five JT songs that weren't recorded in the seventies:

1 Something in the way she moves
2 Carolina in my mind

Both come from 1968's debut album called James Taylor. I own it because it came out on the Beatle's Apple label. The whole album is kinda strange with those two solid gold standouts surrounded by a couple of other excellent tunes (Rainy Day Man and Night Owl are two), some lesser songs and orchestral interludes. Both were recorded by James for inclusion on his first Greatest Hits package but I prefer these versions. Carolina even has two Beatles playing on it (Paul playing bass and George).

3 Copperline (1991). The sap rises and the angels sigh!
4 Sun on the moon (from 1988's Never Die Young) is funky (yes JT can be funky!) with great drumming by Carlos Vega
5 That's why I'm here (1985). I love self referential material. The line about singing Fire and Rain again and again and again gets me every time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Can I come home with you? (Ten Years After)

I have a soft spot for Ten Years After and Alvin Lee - the guitar hero of the band.

What's not to love? Guitar pyrotechnics by Alvin, Chick Churchill's wonderful keyboards, Leo Lyon's rhythmic bass, and Ric Lee on drums; bluesy guitar wig outs and some brilliant rock'n'roll. That's where Good Morning Little Schoolgirl comes in.

An uptempo blues standard first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson (1937), in the hands of Ten Years After it becomes a driving rock showcase for Leo Lyons and Alvin's fluid bass/guitar lines.

Countless blues artists have covered the song, among them The Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton), The Grateful Dead, Rod Stewart, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison etc etc.

It may be sacrilegious but of them all I prefer the Ten Years After version.