Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Albums of 1971: O.V. Wright: A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Willie Mitchell

Track Listing: Don't Let My Baby Ride; Born All Over; Ace of Spades; Eight Men, Four Women; He Made Woman for Man; I Can't Take It; Afflicted; When You Took Your Love From Me; A Nickel and a Nail; Don't Take it Away

In a year of superb soul albums, O.V. Wright's 1971 LP  A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades was among the best.  With The Memphis Horns and the Hi Rhythm Section supporting Wright's passionate vocals, the record is stellar from the opening to closing track. O.V. Wright (1939-1980) was known as one of the great gospel singers who like Sam Cooke transitioned into secular music, building a lasting reputation as one of the great soul performers of the era.

"Don't Let My Baby Ride" is the classic Memphis sound personified with vocals and instrumentation wonderfully playing off each other. "Born All Over" recalls Wright's beginnings in Gospel.  On "Ace of Spades" Wright sings "I ain't no fool/I'm Memphis Cool" in a swaggering soul song. "Eight Men And Four Women" refers to a jury, creating vivid imagery and muses on the lengths one will go for love. "He Made Woman For Man" is a tender hymn of devotion. 

The bluesy "I Can't Take It"  is a lament of loss, "Afflicted" a haunting expression of devotion that turns into obsession. On "When You Took Your Love From Me" Wright intones "I'm a prisoner of your love baby" in another ballad of emotional wreckage. With the horns playing minor chords on "A Nickel and a Nail" reflects on (almost) losing everything and coming out stronger on the other side. "Don't Take it Away" ends the record with a plea for reconciliation. 

The upbeat first side is countered by the more brooding second side emphasizing loss and loneliness, bordering on gothic. Despite legal and personal issues, Wright continued recording throughout the 1970s, passing away from a heart attack at age 41 in 1980. Wright's impressive body of work continues to influence a new generation of soul singers. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Isley Brothers: Givin' It Back

Release Date: September 25, 1971

Members: Ronald Isley (vocals); Ernie Isley (lead guitar); Marvin Isley (bass); O'Kelly Isley (vocals); Rudolph Isley (vocals); Chris Jasper (piano); Chester Woodard (guitar)

Produced by Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley

Track List: Ohio/Machine Gun; Fire and Rain; Lay Lady Lay; Spill the Wine; Nothing to Do But Today; Cold Bologna; Love the One You're With

The Isley Brothers began their career in 1954 as teenagers when rock and roll was still in its infancy and continue performing and recording seven decades later. Their astoundingly long and varied career is a history of modern popular music itself. Yet there's no book length study of The Isley Brothers, at least nothing like the tomes written on so many other artists from the era. Hopefully that will change with a documentary in the works.

The Isley Brothers hailed from Cincinnati. They started out as a gospel group and recorded many crossover hits in the early 1960s including "Twist and Shout" and "Shout" and many other charting singles with various labels. Motown was their home base from 1966-69 where they continued recording hit singles, but they were just getting started. With younger brothers Ernie and Marvin joining the group in 1970, their sound continued to evolve with each record - ranging from rock, folk, and funk. 

Givin' It Back is an album of covers by mostly white artists, returning the favor since so many white bands had covered them, the freaking Beatles chose "Twist and Shout" as the grand finale on their debut LP!

The album opens with "Ohio/Machine Gun", a hypnotic mash up of Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix (a former guitarist for the Isley Brothers). The original CSN&Y recording featured an onslaught of sonic infused anger, the Isleys incorporated gospel, doo-wop, while retaining the rock roots of the song, creating a complex emotional journey on the ramifications of  the Kent St. massacre. "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor begins as a soulful lament and settles into an impassioned acoustic number. Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is reimagined as a ten minute long reggae/country western foot stomper. 

A rendition of War's "Spill the Wine" never strays too far from the original source (even includes the flute). "Nothing to do Today" by Stephen Stills is performed as easy going soul in the polished Motown style. "Cold Bologna" written by Bill Withers is a reflective acoustic track recalling childhood in Harlem. Another Stephen Stills cover, "Love the One You're With," ends the record on a festive note. 

Givin' It Back features the versatility of The Isley Brothers at the start of a revolutionary decade in their epic career - highly recommended!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse

Release Date: 1971

Produced by Joel Dorn

Track Listing: The Lord is Back; Jagger the Dagger; Lovin' Man; Headless Heroes; Susan Jane; Freedom Death Dance; Supermarket Blues; The Parasite (for Buffy)

Eugene McDaniels (1935-2011) was remembered as a "Sixties Soul Hitmaker" in many obituaries, but during the 1970s he recorded two influential albums that continue to resonate decades later, Outlaw (1970) and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971). 

McDaniels began his career a soul/pop recording artist in the early 1960s who recorded several chart topping singles including "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" and "Tower of Strength." He wrote the protest song "Compared to What" for Roberta Flack, the 1969 live version by Les McCain and Eddie Harris became famous. In 1970 McDaniels recorded Outlaw for Atlantic, the album skewered Nixon's America with soul infused songs embedded with a Dylanesque punch to the lyrics. Headless Heroes was recorded the following year took a more impressionistic approach to the cultural climate, supported by members of the jazz fusion band Weather Report.

The album opens with "The Lord is Back," blending rock with jazz with lyrics inspired by the Book of Revelation. "Jagger the Dagger" is moody and improvisational, telling of a figure being manipulated by evil forces within society. "Lovin' Man" follows a messianic figure who may conceal a sinister agenda. "Headless Heroes" examines the roots of hatred, suggesting nefarious forces at work (a companion song to Dylan's "Masters of War"). "Susan Jane" celebrates an independent woman with folkish style vocal. "Freedom Death Dance" offers a warning:

There's no amount of dancing we can do
That will ban the bomb
Feed the starving children
Bring justice and equality to you and me

A blend of jazz, pop, folk, and soul with a weighty message: flower power will not save the world.

The narrative of "Supermarket Blues" deals with a racial confrontation at a grocery store, viewed as satirical at the time, in 2021 such an occurrence is not beyond the imagination. The narrator is at the store to return some tainted items, the manager argues and things escalate. The police are called as white customers taunt the narrator with racial slurs. More violence ensues, the narrator wishes he stayed home and gotten high.

At nine minutes, the historically themed "The Parasite (for Buffy)" recalls English settlers landing in Massachusetts and encountering the indigenous population and deceiving them, spreading disease, and displacing the natives from their land and culture. The song was inspired by singer-songwriter Buffy St. Marie who was blacklisted by American radio during the 1970s. The sorrow of McDaniel's vocal builds to a crescendo, ending the record with a cascade of terrified screams. 

Headless Heroes drew the ire of the Nixon Administration. Vice President Spiro Agnew allegedly complained to Atlantic Records and demanded that the record be suppressed. By the 1980s, Headless Heroes was obscure, but returned to public consciousness when hip hop artists used samples from the album. Still potent, the record may be more relevant 50 years later. 

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.


The Albums of 1971: O.V. Wright: A Nickel and a Nail and Ace of Spades

Release Date: 1971 Produced by Willie Mitchell Track Listing : Don't Let My Baby Ride; Born All Over; Ace of Spades; Eight Men, Four Wom...