APB – “Something to Believe In” (1985)

March 5, 2009 at 9:18 pm (Fran Fried, Reviews & Articles)

Fran Fried’s review from Amazon.com (Feb. 22, 2006). I’ve loved this compilation of their 80s singles ever since…well, the 80s. As a matter of fact, I believe it may have been Fried himself who turned me on to this album and group (back when he wrote for my hometown newspaper, the Waterbury Republican). Anyhow, this is one of the greatest white funk groups of all time. Find a copy of this album any way you can. You’ll thank either me or Fran someday.
By the way, APB got back together in 2006 and released a new album called
Three in 2007. I’ve heard a bit of it and it sounds pretty decent…  

 

Miracles Do Happen – The Ghosts Materialize!

 

Rewind to just over a year ago. The receiver I had owned since college had just finally crapped out (after 22 years!), and for a brief spell, the only place I could play music was on my computer. I was starting to miss playing some of my old ’80s records — like APB, the tightly wound Scottish punk/funk band who broke up in 1990, who were madly popular among the alternative/college radio crowd in the New York Tri-State area in the day. (I lived in Connecticut and was in college on Long Island when WLIR radio broke them big in ’82.)
In that spirit, I came here to Amazon looking for a CD copy of Something to Believe In, Link Records’ collection of the band’s early singles — and was appalled to see that the cheapest the out-of-print disc was going for was $100, and one copy was posted for $300. In a way, though, I was happy — it was an affirmation of just how good the band was and how their music held up. Still, I wasn’t paying $100 for songs I already had on vinyl. And the one act most conspicuously absent from ’80s compilation discs was still elusive to an audience who didn’t know what they were missing.
So imagine my joy when the news came out in January — miracle of miracles! — that a New York indie label, Young American, was re-releasing Something to Believe In as a 2-CD set, to be followed by a John Peel sessions CD and the re-release of their only studio album, 1985’s Cure for the Blues.
If you’ve waited this long for the disc at a reasonable price, your patience has been rewarded.
The joys can be found in the simple reasons CDs came into existence in the first place – to be able to enjoy music without the pops and scratches, the convenience of not having to turn over records…and the sound quality. The sound quality! I’d swear I was in the middle of Wilf Smarties’ studio as the trio (well, originally and in the end a trio, with some other folks in between) poured on the kerosene. On Disc 1 – the very disc some people were paying three figures for – every nimble bass run and every Scottish wail by Iain Slater, every attack of the high-hat by George Cheyne, every sharp guitar snipe by Glenn Roberts is incredibly pronounced. That the songs stand up is no surprise: the tribal chant and instrumental bodyslam of “Rainy Day,” the hyperactivity of “Shoot You Down” and “Help Yourself,” the dance-club cool of “One Day” and “Danceability,” the all-out passion of “Summer Love.” But all of them sound much more glorious now than then. And in the era of hyper bass and stereos on wheels, maybe “All Your Life With Me,” an instrumental B-side back then, will get the attention it deserves.
The second disc is just for giggles and curiosity, a throwaway, really – a bunch of live tracks from Hofstra University and Club Malibu on Long Island, with sound quality that a Scot would call dodgy at best, plus one strong B-side (“Crazy Grey”) and a few previously unreleased tracks that didn’t pass muster then (and still don’t). I would’ve liked to have seen the second disc used to re-release some more single sides (“When I Feel This Way,” “Funk Invective”), but maybe they’ll show up as bonus filler on the next releases.
Really, the reason for buying this collection is to have a pristine copy of that essential first disc without spending a mint. But in the end, it’s much better than that. Listening to this is like finding out that the sweet girl you had a crush on in college 20 years back is still a knockout…and she’s available…

Fran Fried

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Bruce Springsteen – “Working on a Dream” (2009)

March 5, 2009 at 8:55 pm (Reviews & Articles)

This Brian Hiatt 5-star review of Bruce’s recent album comes from Rolling Stone (issue #1071 – Feb. 5th)…  

 
Springsteen Makes His Most Expansive Album Since Born to Run

To understand the romantic sweep and swaggering musical ambition that define Bruce Springsteen’s first album of the Obama era, you have to go all the way back to an artifact of the Ford administration: 1975’s Born to Run. In those days, Springsteen was driving the E Street Band without a seat belt, staying up all night piling on overdubs: glockenspiel, surf guitar, violins, motorcycle noises. With a few exceptions, he’s been paring down ever since. But on much of Working on a Dream, Springsteen finally reignites his early infatuation with the pop symphonies of Roy Orbison and Phil Spector. It’s all there from the first track, an eight-minute-long, tragicomic Old West fable called “Outlaw Pete,” where he does everything short of dragging an actual horse into the studio: There are tempo changes, chugging cellos, Once Upon a Time in the West harmonica wails, massed strings, crescendo after crescendo — and a lyrical closing guitar solo worthy of “Jungleland.”

Working on a Dream is the richest of the three great rock albums Springsteen has made this decade with the E Street Band — and moment for moment, song for song, there are more musical surprises than on any Bruce album you could name, from the Chess Records vocal distortion on the bluesy “Good Eye” to the joyous British Invasion pep of “Surprise, Surprise.” Producer Brendan O’Brien seems to have shaken something loose in Springsteen, who by the Nineties was so focused on his ever-more-novelistic lyrics that melodies and chord changes could feel like an afterthought. On their last collaboration, 2007’s Magic, Springsteen suddenly started writing lush, retro-pop tunes with inventive arrangements (“Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Your Own Worst Enemy”) — and singing out in an unexpectedly rich, open voice, one that for the first time in decades owed more to Orbison than latter-day influences Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie.

Working picks up where those Magic tunes left off, and then goes further. As much as anyone, Springsteen has mastered the key sounds of rock’s golden age, and he deploys them at will on this album, diving deep into influences that he’s only hinted at before on record. At least two tracks lean hard on the Byrds — the jagged, sitarlike guitars on “Life Itself” are pure “Eight Miles High,” as are the close vocal harmonies on the tough little rocker “What Love Can Do.” The twisted pop fantasia “Queen of the Supermarket” — the lonely narrator has an overblown obsession with a checkout girl — has a Sixties AM-radio vibe reminiscent of Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo.” And the dreamy, stacked backing vocals on the celestial love tune “This Life” owe as much to the Turtles as they do to Spector.

For all the overdubs on this album, the uptempo songs have a bracing, first-take feel, capturing the E Street Band’s elusive live essence — Springsteen’s freewheeling Seeger Sessions album may have helped bring that out. Roy Bittan’s deliberately sloppy roadhouse piano and Max Weinberg’s splattering cymbals make the standout “My Lucky Day” sound like Exile on E Street, with Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt sharing the chorus Mick-and-Keith-style. Springsteen has had trouble writing happy-relationship songs that rock (see Human Touch and Lucky Town), but he nails it on “My Lucky Day,” which is as much fun as his best Eighties hits.

The youthful energy of the album’s music collides neatly with the all-too-adult truths of the lyrics, which — at least on the surface — return to the personal and domestic, after the global sweep of his last few records. The sunny title track is a rare and timely moment of unabashed optimism, and there are some of Springsteen’s least conflicted, most devotional love songs here. But even the title character of “Outlaw Pete” can achieve no more than temporary redemption, and Springsteen wonders on several songs how we can hold on to our attachments — and the best parts of ourselves — in the face of “the burdens of the day . . . the weary hands of time.” Some of those tunes recount rough patches in a relationship that could stand in for larger, national issues: “Why do the things we treasure most slip away in time/Till to the music we grow deaf and to God’s beauty blind,” Springsteen sings on the disquieting “Life Itself,” which builds tension with claustrophobic rhythms anchored by Garry Tallent’s droning bass. “Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?”

If you don’t count the soundtrack tune “The Wrestler,” tacked on as a bonus cut, the album ends with “The Last Carnival,” a plain-spoken, heart-rending elegy for E Street Band organ player Danny Federici, who died of cancer last year. The tune doubles as a sequel to Springsteen’s beloved 1973 song “Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” in which the romance of the circus stood for life on the road — here, the circus is moving on without Billy. “Sundown, sundown/They’re taking all the tents down,” Springsteen sings in a choked hush, at the bottom of his range. “Where have you gone, my handsome Billy?” The song ends with a choir of what sounds like Springsteen’s and Patti Scialfa’s layered voices, vaulting up to infinity: For a fallen comrade, it’s one last opera out on the turnpike. 

 

 

Brian Hiatt

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Bob Dylan – “Modern Times” (2006)

March 5, 2009 at 8:38 am (Bob Dylan, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Joe Levy’s Aug. 23, 2006 Rolling Stone review of Dylan’s last album. I just read that he is coming out with a new one this April – no title yet…   

 

The new Dylan album starts with the voice of God in the mountains and the sound of pistols in the streets. Bad things are happening, and the ladies in Washington, D.C., are scrambling to get out of town. Dylan has ladies on his mind, too – Alicia Keys, who’s forty years younger than he is yet worth chasing through the Tennessee Hills just the same, but also good women who do just what you say, and the wicked women who drain your heart and mind. War and love are in the air. It’s time to get right with the Lord, maybe go back up north and try his hand at farming. But the pitchfork is on the shelf. The hammer is on the table. And from the sound of things, the hammer is coming down.

 

That’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” the first song on Modern Times, Dylan’s thirty-first studio record and his third straight masterwork. Modern Times was cut in New York over the course of a little more than a month with Dylan’s road band, which had a mere 113 shows of the Never Ending Tour under its belt. The songs are almost evenly divided between blues ready-mades, old-timey two-steps and stately marches full of prophecy. The band – seasoned by night after night of responding to the spontaneous reinvention that makes Dylan’s shows the longest-running miracle in rock & roll – jumps at the master’s call, bringing rockabilly twang, Chicago street muscle, cowboy swing or le jazz hot languor. In sound and feel, Modern Times recalls the kind of music working bands–Muddy Waters’ bluesmen or Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys – would cut on the fly between gigs, a mixture of unique inventions and variations on hand-me-downs touched by the leader’s genius. Almost every song retraces the American journey from the country to the city, when folkways were giving way to modern times. The mood is America on the brink – of mechanization, of war, of domestic tranquillity, of fulfilling its promise and of selling its dreams one by one for cash on the barrelhead.

 

Since even before he asked for permission to forget about today until tomorrow, Dylan has said that time means nothing to him. During the past ten years, he has been making music that shows just this. There is no precedent in rock & roll for the territory Dylan is now opening with albums that stand alongside the accomplishments of his wild youth. Love and Theft, recorded when he’d turned sixty, was his toughest guitar rock since Blonde on Blonde in 1966, a combination of the mojo Muddy Waters had working at age sixty-two on Hard Again and the sweeping dystopic perspective Philip Roth brought to American Pastoral at sixty-three (with more than a touch of Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life).

 

Modern Times is something different. It’s less terrifying, less funny on first listen. But it has more command, more clarity. There is none of the digital murk of Time Out of Mind, and the snakebite live sound of Love and Theft has softened. This music is relaxed; it has nothing to prove. It is music of accumulated knowledge, it knows every move, anticipates every step before you take it. Producing himself for the second time running, Dylan has captured the sound of tradition as an ever-present, a sound he’s been working on since his first album, in 1962. (One reason Modern Times is so good is that Dylan has been making it so long.) These songs stand alongside their sources and are meant to, which is why their sources are so obvious, so direct: “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” gives a cowboy gallop and new lyrics to Muddy Waters’ 1950 hit of the same name (with its own history dating back to at least 1929); “Someday Baby” mellow-downs Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”; “The Levee’s Gonna Break” jumps off from Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks”; “Nettie Moore” lifts a line from a nineteenth-century ballad recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers; and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” motivates “Thunder on the Mountain.”

 

“Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air,” Dylan tells his lady on “When the Deal Goes Down.” “Tomorrow keeps turning around/We live and we die, we know not why/But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.” The forces of divine reckoning and mortal love are everywhere on Modern Times. It all piles up in “Thunder on the Mountain”: devotion, lust, the second coming, earthly troubles. The language is plain-spoken, pared down: “Feel like my soul is beginning to expand/Look into my heart and you will sort of understand/You brought me here, now you’re trying to run me away/The writing’s on the wall, come read it, come see what it say.” In the dance-hall ballad “Spirit on the Water,” Dylan invokes God’s creation of the heavens and Earth to describe his sweetheart’s face. There’s divine reckoning here, too, though: “I wanna be with you in paradise, and it seems so unfair/I can’t go back to paradise no more/I killed a man back there.”

 

And that’s one of the idyllic songs – Modern Times has plenty of love laments that turn into apocalyptic meditations. “Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains,” Dylan sings in “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Then darkness falls: “The night’s filled with shadows, the years are filled with early doom/I’ve been conjuring up all these long-dead souls from their crumblin’ tombs.” Dylan speaks as a preacher, a lover and a general at the same time, as though every song he’d ever recorded were coming together into one. Modern Times is the second straight album on which Dylan has invoked the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It is inevitable to read “The Levee’s Gonna Break” – with its “people on the road…carrying everything that they own” – in light of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, just as it was impossible to hear Love and Theft‘s “High Water” on September 12th, 2001, the day after its release, without thinking of the World Trade Center. But neither song is that simple. Both describe the end times Dylan has seen coming since his second album. Both suggest sex or love as an alternative. “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” though, has an odd promise of redemption the river brings, not just death and destruction but baptism and rebirth. The Great Mississippi Flood, along with the Charlie Chaplin movie from which the album takes its name and the Book of Revelations, form a triangle of tragedy, comedy and prophecy in which Modern Times unfolds.

 

And then at the end, we are somewhere near the gates of Eden. “Ain’t Talkin’,” the album closer, has the hard-boiled moralism of a Raymond Chandler novel. The setting is the Mystic Garden. One night a man goes out walking. Someone hits him from behind. There are no rules here. The gardener is gone. And in this godless place, where the cities of the plague run with hog-eyed grease, this lone man looks to avenge his father’s death and looks to his mother for guidance: “In the human heart, an evil spirit can dwell/I’m trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others/But, oh, mother, things ain’t going well.” His eyes are filled with tears. His lips are dry. His mind is clogged with thoughts of a girl he left behind. He carries a dead man’s shield and waits for his enemies to sleep so he can slaughter them. “Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’/I’ll burn that bridge before you can cross/Heart burnin’, still yearnin’/There’ll be no mercy for you once you’ve lost.” He walks up the road, around the bend, bound for “the last outback, at the world’s end.” His music trails behind him. And then he’s out of sight.

Joe Levy

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