Murray Attaway: In Thrall

inthrallOn “Living In Another Time,” Murray Attaway alludes to being born five centuries too late. That may be a stretch, but based on the pictures in the liner notes and the songs, he is a man a bit out of time looking for a genre. It’s a shame that the music industry can’t figure out how to deal with talented songwriters who don’t fit neatly into any category, but Attaway seems to be a victim of that shortcoming.

This is Attaway’s only solo album, and I have it only because its third song, “Allegory,” was featured on the awesome compilation DGC Rarities, Vol. 1. Like a cross between Rick Springfield and R.E.M., Attaway writes smart, sharp lyrics that lead you through his complex, lush arrangements that branch out from guit/bass/drums into keys and strings. The songs feature catchy melodies but also enough depth that, even after having listened to this dozens of times, I keep hearing more and deepening my appreciation for it.

I can hardly find fault with anything. There are moments in “Under Jets” and “Fall So Far,” among others, where the timbres he’s chosen or the melody he lays on top of a harmony doesn’t work quite right in the way it’s introduced, but even in those cases it works to create a very nice variety of sounds and structures that make an already lovely album a real treat to get through from beginning to end.

It’s probably good enough for a 4.5-clown rating, but there’s something about my love for this that is more academically pleasurable than viscerally exciting, and I tend to reserve anything higher than four full clowns for that kind of heart-grabbing lust. Still, I keep coming back to this semi-frequently over the past two decades and enjoy it each time.

Rating:
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Mix: “No Tears Tonight”
Love: “Home”
Really Like: “Allegory,” “Living In Another Time,” “The Evensong,” “My Book”
Like:
“Under Jets,” “Angels In The Trees,” “Fall So Far,” “August Rain,” “Walpurgis Night”
Filed Between: [I don’t know, my CDs are all packed up for our move]
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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Led Zeppelin: IV [Deluxe Edition]

ivdeluxeI actually already reviewed my physical copy of the original CD release of IV over at the old place. But, you know, I’m walking through these Led Zeppelin deluxe editions released last year and, so, why not stop and see what they did with this one, too? Eh?

So over at the old place I gave it a rating of four [clowns], harped on its weaknesses, and basically said it didn’t deserve its enshrinement as like the greatest hard rock album of all time. Now, it may not be the best such record, but for the rest of the review, I don’t know what I was thinking. I criticized “The Battle Of Evermore” and “Going To California,” which I guess may be the two worst songs on the album, but they’re still both great.

I’m much more fond of the disc now. Maybe the biggest difference is my gained appreciation for much of Side Two. “Misty Mountain Hop” should be a drag, with its repeated, droney guitar line and vocals, but, on the contrary, I want to put it on my next mix. The first verse of “Going To California” is so precious and wonderful and … perfect. It’s just a perfect mood. And then there’s “When The Levee Breaks,” which is probably my new favorite Led Zeppelin song.

And that’s another thing, the sequencing here is perfect. There’s no other order these songs could go in and they just nailed it. The open to “Black Dog” is so unique that it can only go first, but then you want “Rock And Roll” as high as possible because that’s your barn burner, and so it comes in at number two. And you have to have “Stairway To Heaven” end Side One because (i) it’s definitely got to close a side but (ii) it obviously can’t close the album. So now you have to break up “Rock And Roll” and “Stairway To Heaven” because holy crap you need a palette cleanser, and “The Battle Of Evermore” serves that purpose best with its strong taste of mandolin. Likewise, “Going To California” is the only thing that can lead into what needs to be the album closer, “When The Levee Breaks,” which leaves only two songs for the last two slots and, hell, maybe those could have gone in either order, but I do think “Misty Mountain Hop” both leads off a side better and is the cleaner break from “Stairway To Heaven.”

Here’s the thing, not only do I have more of an appreciation for, basically, all of Side Two, I can’t really find fault with anything on the album. Honestly, the worst part about it is probably the legacy of “Stairway To Heaven” as the exemplar of all that’s overblown about big rock and roll, but even there I’ve always maintained that when I listen to it with the freshest ears I can (admittedly still encumbered by its punchline history), I still really like it.

I’ve hardly said anything about the bonus disc. It’s the same songs in the same order, just mixed differently. The songs all have a bit of a different sound to them but never really get to the point of being significantly worse than the original. Two have no vocal tracks: “The Battle Of Evermore,” which suffers quite a bit as a result, and “Going To California” which holds up pretty well.

To wrap things up, at its best, I think I still prefer II to this album. However, II has those last two songs, and in particular the wretched “Moby Dick,” bringing it down quite a ways. So, on the whole, this is probably my favorite Led Zeppelin album. Which feel so…establishment.

Rating:
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Mix: “Black Dog,” “Rock And Roll,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “When The Levee Breaks”
Love: “Black Dog (Basic Track With Guitar Overdub),” “Rock And Roll (Alternate Mix)”
Really Like: “The Battle Of Evermore,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Four Sticks,” “Going To California,” “Stairway To Heaven (Sunset Sound Mix),” “Misty Mountain Hop (Alternate Mix),” “Four Sticks (Alternate Mix),” “When The Levee Breaks (Alternate U.K. Mix)”
Like: “Going To California (Mandolin/Guitar Mix)”
Meh: “The Battle Of Evermore (Mandolin/Guitar Mix From Headley Grange)”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s III and Presence
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Led Zeppelin: III [Deluxe Edition]

ledzeppeliniiiWhereas my review of Led Zeppelin’s debut album specified it only got its 4.5 clowns if you don’t consider the awful bonus disc, here I’m stipulating that this review definitely considers the bonus disc. I’ve actually had the original (CD) version since high school, but I’ve never reviewed it and, since I was going through Led Zeppelin’s albums anyway, I thought I’d check out the bonus disc of last year’s deluxe edition while I’m at it. (On a bit of a side note, there are a few cases where I have like what’s considered the worst album of a great band on CD because it was a few bucks cheaper than the others (it usually had a The Nice Price sticker on it), and why not start there? The other one I can think of off the top of my head is U2’s October, which, like this album, I think is unfairly maligned.)

Yeah, so, I don’t know why this album isn’t as well regarded as much of the rest of the band’s catalog. I mean, part of it is that the rest of their catalog is so good. But heck, I like this more than what’s generally considered their best: IV. (And in fact I have to go all contrarian and say that IV is the worst of their first four.) The obvious reason this wouldn’t be as appreciated is because it doesn’t have as much sledgehammer, ploddy heaviness on it, especially after you get past first side opener and closer “Immigrant Song” and “Out On The Tiles,” respectively. The rest of the album spends its time between bouncy, upbeat numbers (“Celebration Day,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”) and slow blues burners (“Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Tangerine”). But, hell, they’re all pretty good, with the notable exception of the weird final “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” making this the second album in a row the band couldn’t figure out how to end. What’s with that? Just pick one of the great ones and put it there.

Anyhoo, about that bonus disc. It’s a lot like that of II, where it’s like alternate mixes and mixes without the vocal (again, wtf?), and they’re generally hotter. Here, though, some of the alternate mixes come out with a higher rating than the original versions. The alternate mix of “Celebration Day” gets mixed, both versions of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” get the same rating because they bring different strengths to the table, as do the versions of “Gallows Pole,” whose alternate version sounds great in headphones where the bass is very prominent.

So, fine, I will admit that this is maybe the album that, in the first four, is kinda doin’ it’s own thing with so little heaviness. But, still, the non-heavy stuff is stuff they’ve got all over Led Zeppelin and throughout IV, too. And when they are heavy it’s “Immigrant Song” and “Out On The Tiles,” for cryin’ out loud, two of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs. It’s basically an album any band would love to have in its discography, but when it’s surrounded by Led Zeppelin’s discography it doesn’t look so awesome, I guess.

Rating:
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Mix: “Out On The Tiles,” “Celebration Day (Alternate Mix)”
Love: “Immigrant Song,” “Celebration Day”
Really Like: “Friends,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Gallows Pole,” “Tangerine,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You (Rough Mix),” “Bathroom Sound (Track – No Vocal),” “Gallows Pole (Rough Mix),” “Jennings Farm Blues (Rough Mix)”
Like: “That’s The Way,” “The Immigrant Song (Alternate Mix),” “That’s The Way (Rough Mix),” “Key To The Highway/Trouble In Mind”
Meh: “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” “Friends (Track – No Vocal)”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s II and IV
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tori Amos: Under The Pink

underthepinkTwo years after Tori Amos’ debut album, Little Earthquakes, she released her second, Under The Pink. Stylistically it’s very similar to its predecessor, and I tend to think of these two as a pair. But part of that is the fact that the next album, Boys For Pele was such a radical departure (and I still think its the outlier in her discography in many ways), because this is quite a strong step away from Little Earthquakes.

After she eases you in with the very familiar and excellent “Pretty Good Year,” she’s off to the races. “God” is synth- and scrapy-guitar-heavy and a much more interesting take on patriarchy than I found on her previous effort. “The Waitress” is a dark, internal monologue dealing with how women hate on each other, and “Icicle” is about masturbating on Easter while your father’s Baptist congregation et al is downstairs. You know, that old saw. And “Space Dog” almost wraps things up (and probably should have) with even more synths than “God”; it would have fit well on To Venus And Back.

These departures are distributed nicely throughout the album, which is also made up of piano/vocal/string arrangements that help bring fans along from the previous album. The closest thing to a bad song is album closer, “Hey, Anastasia,” and that song’s excellent if you’ve got the time to let its nine-and-a-half minutes open up to you. A few clunks here and there, never for a whole song, but really, this is basically the perfect sophomore album, exactly how you want your favorite artist to execute.

Rating:
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Mix: “Pretty Good Year,” “God,” “Space Dog”
Really Like: “Past The Mission,” “Cornflake Girl”
Like: “Bells For Her,” “Baker Baker,” “The Wrong Band,” “The Waitress,” “Icicle,” “Cloud On My Tongue,” “Yes, Anastasia”
Filed Between: Tori Amos Silent All These Years bootleg from San Juan Capistrano, September 4-5, 1992 and the Cornflake Girl single
Song Notes: After the jump
Continue reading

Aerosmith: Greatest Hits

aerosmithgreatesthitsI just don’t know what to make of Aerosmith. This is something I documented thoroughly back when I reviewed, and was meh’d by, what are considered the band’s two greatest albums: Toys In The Attic and Rocks, both of which are represented here. And, of course the band has been all kinds of crap ever since Get A Grip, but this…I just can’t get over how so very close to perfect this album is. And I don’t even like greatest hits albums as a general rule. I mean, the worst song is their cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and that’s basically an Aerosmith song penned by The Beatles.

One way to get to the bottom of this mystery would be to go study Aerosmith’s entire 1970’s catalog. That might turn out to be enjoyable. But I’m not really willing to take that risk. I might be willing to give Draw The Line a chance given how much I like the song of the same name and “Kings And Queens.” Maybe the self-titled debut because “Dream On.” But no further! Life is too short.

So, lacking that comprehensive review, I’m just going to surmise that over the course of five albums they created ten songs that were all really good and went well together and kind of stumbled in a cocaine-induced haze onto this album.

This is a wonderful 37-minute collection that makes you want to go listen to more Aerosmith. In 2004 they released a 68-minute version that probably makes you want to pull out all your pubes in madness, but I’m not gonna try.

Rating:
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Mix: “Dream On,” “Walk This Way”
Love: “Draw The Line,” “Kings And Queens”
Really Like: “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”
Like: “Same Old Song And Dance,” “Sweet Emotion,” “Last Child,” “Back In The Saddle,’ “Come Together”
Filed Between: Aerosmith’s Rocks and Permanent Vacation
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Melvins: 26 Songs

26songsMelvins launched their recording career in 1986 with the aptly-titled Six Songs on C/Z records. Five years later, they re-recorded (or re-mastered or something) those six songs, added one song to the end of each side and re-released it on vinyl as Eight Songs. At the same time they also added two more songs to the end and released that collection as 10 Songs on CD. These were all small releases that would barely see the light of day after that (I do have a cassette version of their next album, Gluey Porch Treatments, with Six Songs tacked on to the end), until 2003 when Ipecac would release the aforementioned 16 tracks, along with ten other odds-and-ends as this 70-minute beast entitled 26 songs.

What’s most amazing about this release is how fully-formed Melvins emerged from nothing into the sludgemasters they would still be five years later on Bullhead. They’ve evolved, of course, over the nearly 30 years since this seminal release, but their early sound is fully intact and delivered with the confidence of adolescent males who are assured of the force of what they have to say.

What really impresses me about the young ‘uns here is their ability to stay so firmly grounded in their abilities. They’re already quite proficient players and understand song structure, but they kind of invent their own sludgy genre by, often, forcing this deliberate rhythm on you with a harmonic progression that doesn’t seem to follow a pattern and, therefore, lights up what might otherwise be something plodding into a delightfully interesting jackhammer of an experience.

The Six Songs songs suffer from some sonic problems, but for the most part the album sounds better than a lot of what’s put out today, which is especially poignant given how Melvins traffic in distortion and muddy lower frequencies. I could also do without the last 14 minutes or so, dialogue of the boys recorded with a character (who thinks he’s some kind of superhero?) named Hugh, but hell, I’m also not going to let that spoil the wonder of this document. Thank God for Melvins.

Rating:
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Love: “Grinding Process,” “Show Off Your Red Hands,” “At A Crawl (Six Songs version),” “Set Me Straight”
Like: “Easy As It Was,” “Now A Limo,” “#2 Pencil,” “At A Crawl,” “Disinvite,” “Snake Appeal,” “Over From Underground,” “Cray Fish,” “Easy As It Was (Six Songs version)”, “Now A Limo” (Six Songs version),” “Grinding Process (Six Songs version),” “Disinvite (Six Songs version),” “Snake Appeal (Six Songs version),” “Show Off Your Red Hands (v2),” “#2 Pencil (v2),” “Grinding Process (v3),” “At A Crawl (v3),” “Breakfast On The Sly”
Meh: “Snake Appeal (v2),” “Operation Blessing”
Hate: Ever Since My Accident/’Hugh'”
Filed Between: Melvins’ Hostile Ambient Takeover and Trick And Riddle Book from Neither Here Nor There
Song Notes: After the jump

Continue reading

Guns N’ Roses: Appetite For Destruction

appetitefordestructionAlmost certainly the most perfect rock and roll album ever made. And somehow it’s only #62 on the RS500 (and 27th best of the 80’s). I kind of want to say let’s make the whole damned thing a mix CD and be done with it. You just can’t improve on this.

Two things stand out to me that I missed in middle school, or at least these are things that I didn’t fully appreciate then. First, Slash is a fucking monster. This is easily the greatest rock and roll guitar record ever made. I think I used to listen to music in a much more holistic fashion, just kind of taking it all in as one, but now I realize just how fucking amazing his work here is and how basically almost everything that’s my favorite part of the album, which is kind of the whole thing, is basically him just completely fucking killing it. Second, these lyrics are really filled with an attitude of celebrating debauchery and degrading and objectifying women. Which was of course a big part of its overall appeal, at least the debauchery celebration but of course I’d be naive to think the misogyny didn’t appeal to many. Anyway, that’s the only knock on it and the only part of it that doesn’t hold up 27 years later. It’s telling how good the music is that I don’t knock it down a notch for that, because that’s kind of a big one. And, of course, when we revisit Guns N’ Roses on their next release, we’ll really get into some sickening lyrics.

Rating:
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Mix: “Nightrain,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Paradise City,” “Think About You,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
– “Welcome To The Jungle,” “It’s So Easy,” “Out Ta Get Me,” “My Michelle,” “You’re Crazy,” “Anything Goes,” “Rocket Queen”
Filed Between: The Gumdrops (Tight Pants) and Guns N’ Roses’ Lies
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading