Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Rory Gallagher

Release Date: May 23, 1971

Produced by Rory Gallagher

Additional Personnel: Gerry McAvoy (bass), Wilgar Campbell (drums)

Side One: Laundromat; Just the Smile; I Fall Apart; Wave Myself Goodbye; Hands Up

Side Two: Sinner Boy; For the Last Time; It's You; I'm Not Surprised; Can't Believe It's True

Irish rocker Rory Gallagher (1948-1995) first came to prominence as a member of the power trio Taste in the late 1960s. After Taste disbanded Gallagher began a prolific solo career with his eponymous 1971 debut record. The record showed off his versatility as a musician and as one of the premier guitar players of his era, Melody Maker named him guitarist of the year in 1971. Always a respected figure in the rock community, he toured non-stop including live performances in Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles. In 1975 The Rolling Stones recruited Gallagher to join them, but was content to continue with his solo career. Rory Gallagher would be the first of eleven records he released during the 1970s.

"Laundromat" became a staple of Gallagher's live repertoire, a bluesy rocker exemplifying his signature style. "Just the Smile" revealed a folk influence in the style of Richard and Linda Thompson. "I Fall Apart" starts out on the jazz/folk spectrum and nicely builds up to rollicking guitar solo. "Wave Myself Goodbye" returns to the blues with a lovely piano, Gallagher almost sounding like Randy Newman on the vocals. "Hands Up" returns to the psychedelia infused blues of Taste.

"Sinner Boy" channeled the B.B. King blues that inspired Gallagher during his youth in Cork. "For the Last Time" breaks into an extended jam with some melodic interludes. The acoustic country western sound of "It's You" is a nice detour track. "I'm Not Surprised" is all acoustic guitar and piano, a melancholy rumination on loneliness and not connecting. At over seven minutes "Can't Believe It's True" showcases Gallagher's virtuoso guitar playing, sustained by a catchy riff and a saxophone solo. "Gypsy Woman" and "It Takes Time" end the record by a return to straight blues. 

Known for his generosity and dedication to his craft, Gallagher left behind a solid discography of studio and live albums.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Uriah Heep: Look At Yourself


Release Date: September 1971

Active Members: David Byron (lead vocals); Ken Hensley (guitars, vocals); Mick Box (guitars); Paul Newton (bass); Ian Clark (drums)

Produced by Gerry Bron

Track List: Look At Yourself; I Wanna Be Free; July Morning; Tears in My Eyes; Shadows of Grief; What Should Be Done; Love Machine

Uriah Heep's second release of 1971, Look At Yourself is heavy on the keyboards, I wonder if Christopher Walken was in the studio calling for more keyboards? Not only are the song titles sophomoric, the lyrics are equally inane. Opening track "Look At Yourself" is nonsensical and headache inducing. "I Wanna Be Free" is strictly Spinal Trap territory, "bring a silver horse to carry me away" indeed. "July Morning" goes on way too long and is unwieldy (the song led to a July 1 national holiday in Bulgaria.) "Tears in My Eyes" aspires to be a rocker but never clears orbit. "Shadows of Grief" is over eight minutes, the musical equivalent of a jumbo order of nachos you would get at a Speedway at 1:30 in the AM on a Tuesday. "What Should Be Done" is a bright spot on the record, the studio theatrics being taken down a few notches. And the unfortunately titled "Love Machine" is about as soulful as the HAL 9000 crooning in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Gentle Giant: Acquiring the Taste

Release Date: July 16, 1971

Active Members: Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, Derek Schulman, Phil Schulman, Ray Schulman, Martin Smith

Produced by Tony Visconti

Track List: Pantagruel's Nativity; Edge of Twilight; The House, the Street, the Room; Acquiring the Taste; Wreck; The Moon is Down; Black Cat; Plain Truth

Composed of all multi-instrumentalists Gentle Giant is often categorized as Prog Rock but in many ways their music defies easy categorization. Formed in 1970, at the core of the band were three brothers: Derek, Phil, and Ray Schulman. They came up in the mid 60s, fronting many soul bands most notably Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. Recording as The Moles in 1968, the single "We Are the Moles Parts 1 and 2" led many to believe they were The Beatles recording under a different name (with Ringo on lead vocals!). Frustrated with being pressured to follow pop music trends, the Schulman Brothers formed Gentle Giant as a means to defy commercial expectations and to follow their own muse. 

Gentle Giant's music became known for shifting into different styles often within tracks between blues, classical, jazz, rock, and soul. Their self titled debut was experimental in that style, but the follow up Acquiring the Taste became their manifesto. On the album sleeve the band included a statement, "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular." While mainstream success would elude Gentle Giant, they would find a loyal fan base who admired their unique sound.

"Pantagruel's Nativity" opens the album, setting the tone with its forays into jazzy interludes with a xylophone at the forefront, monk chants, and melodic guitar solos thrown in for good measure. The influence of Sci-Fi concepts on Prog Rock (or Space Rock) would meld perfectly in the 1970s, and this track could be theme for an imaginary Science Fiction film of the era. "Edge of Twilight" is a multi - layered lullaby. "The House, the Room, the Street" fuses rock with medieval folk coming in at the end, the blend of electronic and earth bound effects creating a disorienting effect. "Acquiring the Taste" is an instrumental on the mini moog synthesizer, sounding similar to the work of Wendy Carlos featured in A Clockwork Orange that same year. 

"Wreck" is meditation on a long forgotten shipwreck that incorporates rock and roll with hints of a Sea Shanty in the chorus. "The Moon is Down" alternates between folk and classical, while "Black Cat" is the most sensuous song with its gothic undercurrent. The track "Plain Truth" utilizes tape loops, string concertos, bluesy lyrics, and jazzy piano flourishes.

Appropriately titled, Acquired Taste will either be a feast or famine for the ears depending on the listener. After recording "Revolution No.9" John Lennon allegedly said "this will be the music of the future." A collage of different sounds and styles was the equivalent of abstract art coming from a soundboard, and that's the the vibe one gets from this record. It sounds both dated and new, in other words a niche record in the best possible sense. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Wilson Pickett: Don't Knock My Love

Produced by Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford (Atlantic Records)

Track Listing: Fire and Water; (Your Love Has Brought Me) A Mighty Long Way; Covering the Same Old Ground; Don't Knock My Love Part I; Don't Knock My Love Part II; Call My Name, I'll Be There; Hot Love; Not Enough Love to Satisfy; You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover; Women Let Me Down Home

Wilson Pickett recorded some of the most iconic hits of the 1960s for Stax and Atlantic records including "The Midnight Hour", "634-5789", and "Mustang Sally." With Atlantic Records from 1969-70 he recorded the highly regarded albums Hey Jude, Right On, and In Philadelphia. Pickett also appeared on the live album Soul to Soul recorded in Ghana to celebrate the African nation's 14th year of independence. 

Don't Knock My Love would be the final LP Pickett recorded with Atlantic before moving on to RCA. Pickett's last No. 1 single "Don't Knock My Love Part I" appeared on the record, a throwback to 60s soul with some elements of funk. "Don't Knock My Part II" was an instrumental featuring horns and strings with some psychedelic guitar added into the mix. "Call My Name, I'll Be There" was a top ten hit on the R&B charts offers straight up positive vibes. "Fire and Water" also charted, a version of a rock song originally recorded by the British band Free. A version of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come" (also a big hit for Three Dog Night) also charted the following year in 1972 highlighted by Pickett's distinct vocal style.

"A Mighty Long Way" is another highlight, a bluesy pledge of devotion. "Covering the Same Old Ground" is a plea for reconciliation, while "Hot Love" offers unquestioned devotion. "Not Enough Love to Satisfy", "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover", and "Pledging My Love" are all in the classic soul style. "Women Let Be Down Home" closes the record on a defiant note. 

The year 1971 captured so many artists at the peak of their powers. Don't Knock My Love is a solid album featuring Wilson Pickett's immortal blend of  soul, blues, and R&B.


Friday, June 4, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Link Wray

Release Date: June 1971

Produced by Steve Verocca, Ray Vernon, and Bob Feldman

Track Listing: La De Da; Take Me Home Jesus; Juke Box Mama; Rise and Fall of Jimmy Stokes; Fallin' Rain; Fire and Brimstone; Ice People; God Out West; Crowbar; Black River Swamp; Tail Dragger

Link Wray (1929-2005) was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and needs to be more widely known. The 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World highlighted Wray's contributions to rock, in particular his 1958 classic "Rumble" which used power chords and influenced everything after. Wray released a number of singles throughout the 1960s and in the early 1970s recorded what became known as the "Shack Sessions." His 1971 eponymous album Link Wray was the first of three albums to emerge from the sessions all recorded at his brother's farm in Maryland. 

"La De Da" channels Wray's frustration with the music industry, infused with the early spirit of rock and roll it builds to a soulful catharsis. "Take Me Home Jesus" is a gospel stomp. "Juke Box Mama" has an earthy sound not all that different from what Dylan and The Band were doing up at Woodstock a few years before. "Rise and Fall of Jimmy Stokes" tells a bluesy narrative. "Fallin' Rain" is more in the folk rock vein with its social commentary. "Fire and Brimstone" is infused with gospel and the blues sounding like a stripped down Rolling Stones song from the era. "Ice People" is anti-establishment agitprop. A fuzzy guitar riff drives the ecologically themed "God Out West." "Crowbar" is a bluesy rocker with an infectious tempo, reminds me of Dylan's "Meet Me in the Morning" on Blood on the Tracks. "Black River Swamp" romantically recalls childhood memories. "Tail Dragger" ends the record with a barnyard jam.

With spare equipment (a can of nails was used for snare drum) and a defiant spirit Link Wray is a must listen album from the era. The sound is in the same style and spirit of The Basement Tapes and proved a major influence on what would become the Americana genre. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #2: You're Gonna Get It

Release Date: May 2, 1978 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass); Stan...