Friday, September 29, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 30: Yaz - Upstairs at Eric's

Album - Upstairs at Eric's
Artist - Yazoo (known as Yaz in the USA)
Key Players - Alison Moyet, Vince Clarke
Produced By - Yaz and E.C. Radcliffe

Released - August 23, 1982

What caused me to blow the dust off this? Blame Sirius again for playing "Situation" coupled with the fact a week or so ago I was asked by a co-worker to 'borrow' the cd.

Overview - This was the first record from Yaz. The band formed in 1981. Clarke had just left Depeche Mode and was looking for a new creative outlet. By April of 1982 the band had released a single, that Clarke had originally planned to give Depeche Mode, they declined...the song hit #2 on the charts. (Only You). The band would release only 2 records before disbanding.

FDF Comment (aka the Songs): "Don't Go" opens the album up with every bit of an "80's synth sound" you'd expect. You can hear where the theme from Beverly Hills Cop was lifted from. "Too Pieces" allows Moyet to shine for the first time vocally. It's a mellower song than "Don't Go", but it allows you to hear the power in her voice. The intro to "Bad Connection" may have some folks rolling their eyes that are not familiar with Yaz. It sounds pretty cheesy and every bit "80's synth pop" that was later bastardized by other bands. "I Before E Except After C" is a very bizarre track. Its virtually a spoken word track in which loops and delays are heavily used. Although interesting on some levels its one that you can skip (only after you have listened to it at least once). "Midnight" opens with Moyet singing a few bars acapella. This is another song that really allows Moyet to shine vocally with not as much "gimmicky" synth work. "In My Room" is a little like "I Before E.." in that has a lot of spoke parts. Again its an interesting track as Clarke recites "The Lords Prayer" over the top of Moyets words. There are canned vocal lines shouted here and there and the keyboard is accentuated with a punchy drum machine. "Only You" continues along the same vein as some of the earlier tracks with a pretty simple synth pattern underneath the vocal tracks. "Goodbye Seventies" is one of the strongest tracks on the album. The music will have you thinking you are watching Blade Runner and the urgency in Moyets voice pushes this song to the next level. The track is also the shortest on the record clocking in at just a tad over 2:30, they quick get in and out very effectively. Out come the guns on "Situation". Its very easy to hear why this song was, for all intents and purposes, a club smash. Even 24 years later it would translate easily to dance clubs. Even the "standard" version of this track is the longest on the record. The band went from shortest to longest in these two tracks showing multiple angles on their talent. "Winter Kills" is almost confusing at first. Gone are the synths and a lone piano introduces the song. Moyet sings, almost downtrodden. It is a polar opposite to "Situation". "Bring Your love Down (Didn't I) closes the album out strongly. The nice synth work on the stronger tracks appears and Moyet sings in earnest leaving you wanting only more.

Where are they now?: Both have gone on to other projects. Moyet has released a series of solo records while Vince Clarke went on to form the band Erasure.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the live experience): Age is the problem on this one. Considering the band disbanded when I was hardly a teenager, coupled with the fact the only toured briefly I was unable to ever see them live. In reading the liner notes of Upstairs the band tour England as just the two members, a drum machine, computer and some movie screens.

FDF Overall take: Looking back, and listening to this record again you realize that so much what they did was really what defined early 80's electronica. As a total side bar to this, virtually every female I know around my age had this record, or had a sibling that had it. Even if the overall sales are low this is one record that was heard by a lot of people. In poking around you can find this cd used for about $3.00. Skip the starbucks one day (which sucks anyway) and give your ears a treat, you can thank me later.

Friday, September 22, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 29: The Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead

Album - Workingman's Dead
Artist - The Grateful Dead
Key Players - Phil Lesh - bass/vocals, Bob Weir -guitar/vocals, Jerry Garcia - guitar/vocals/pedal steel, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - keyboards/vocals, Bill Kreutzmann - percussion, Mickey Hart -percussion.

Produced by - Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor in association with the Dead

Released - June 14, 1970

What caused me to blow the dust off this one? Part of it comes from the jam station off Sirius while the other is just the sunshine in the fall. Some days just working in the yard it 'beckons" to be a "dead day".

Overview - Workingman's Dead is the fourth studio release from the Grateful Dead. Around this time there was turmoil in the band. Mickey Hart, who's father was managing the band at the time, had skipped town with a sizeable amount of the bands money. The band was also stressed over a recent drug bust in New Orleans. Even with all this, the band hunkered down in a studio in San Francisco and hammered out the record in just 10 days.

FDF Comment (aka the songs) - The album starts off with one of the bands classic/staple songs "Uncle John's Band", even people not familiar with the Grateful Dead know this song. At the time the band had found some influences in the harmonies of Crosby Stills and Nash. As the song progresses you hear that influence grow. The guitar playing is clean and the percussion does not overwhelm the vocals at all. "High Time" starts with a solo guitar and the classic Jerry vocal sound. After just a few bars Lesh comes up on bass and the band sings some beautiful harmonies, all accentuated with a glorious lap steel. "Dire Wolf" opens with a strong "country" feel that the band was working on at the time. A live show favorite the song has an 'easy' feel to it. In later years Garcia would get death threats and the band would always play this song with the line "Don't Murder me!". "New Speedway Boogie" has a grittier feel both musically and vocally. Its really a smoky bar room song. This song was about the incident at Altamont Speedway (someone was killed during the Rolling Stones set). "Cumberland Blues" has some great plucking by Garcia. The folk/blue grass flow of this track has your feet tappin' from the start. "Black Peter" and "Easy Wind" follow with the same feel. Bluesy harmonica fills portions of both tracks and the song makes you want to sit on your front porch in the rocking chair and watch the world go by. "Casey Jones" closes out the record and is also one of the most recognized Grateful Dead songs.

Where are they now? Jerry Garcia passed away on August 9, 1995. Jerry had battled tobacco and drug addiction, as well as being a diabetic, died while in rehab of a heart attack. Pigpen passed away March 8, 1973. Pigpen was a hard drinker and died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. He was 27. The surviving members at the time of Garcia's passing decided to dissolve the band and each did their own solo tours and then later the "Further Fest" would have one off shows with most members playing at least in the shows "jams". In 2002 the members played again as "The Other Ones" and after the tour they truncated down to just "The Dead". The band has had some tension over the last few years on how to handle the bands legacy, massive live show archive and merchandise. Lesh and Weir are the most active in the touring circuit as of 2006.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the live experience) Thankfully I saw the band twice on the same tour, which ended up being their last visit to Boston. We had obstructed view for the first two nights of the six night fall run of shows at the Boston Garden (9/27 and 9/28/94) and at the time it was "okay". People said that if Jerry was in a good mood that was a good indicator of the show pace/song selection. I knew not a lot of songs, and "substance free" I had a decent enough time. I go back to the live show tapes from these nights and they were really quite good.

FDF Overall take - I am first to admit I "didn't get" the Dead, but for all the wrong reasons. I had this perception of what they were and what they were all about. I am glad I "woke up" and had the chance to see them live. Some of the songs can bumble along while others are real barn burners. Never really well known as a studio band, live is where the band showed its true colors. The expression "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert" is 100% true. No road trip is complete without at least one dead album, and this is an easy one to digest and get the "feel" of the sound of the Grateful Dead.

Friday, September 15, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 28: Fiona Apple - When the Pawn....

Album - When the Pawn Hits....
Artist - Fiona Apple
Key Players - Fiona Apple, piano and vocals. There was a series of string players as well on the record.
Produced By - Jon Brion

Released - November 9, 1999

What caused me to go back to this record? - For some random reason in the past week the song "fast as you can" seemed to be on the brain, for no reason. No radio or TV influence seemed to cause the song being in the brain.

Overview - This album was Fiona Apples second release. It has gone platinum in the USA and faired well on the US Chart, but it did sell less than her debut "Tidal". The first bit of trivia on the album is the title. The actual full album title is:
When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King
What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight
And He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring
There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might
So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand
And Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights
And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land
And If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right

This was a poem that Fiona wrote after she read a poor review of her first album "Tidal". The title length is trivia in and of itself for another reason, its the longest album title ever. This album was pretty much split down the middle with regards to reviews. It was either hailed, or panned. In 2001 the album was nominated for 2 Grammy Awards, one being best alternative album. She did not win either award.

FDF Comments (aka the songs)

"On the Bound" opens up the record with some heavy piano notes. Fiona hits them with authority on this song. Her voice is in fine form with almost a "smoky/whisky" raspyness. "To your Love" has a very haunting chorus. Fiona seems to change both key and pitch well during the chorus. "Limp" starts off quietly and slowly builds to a rap tap drum line that has Fiona barking the chorus with strong conviction. She keeps the quiet/loud working throughout the song. This is the first song on the record that showcases a little more of the "band" with driving drums and a rock solid bass line holding it all in place. "Love Ridden" is a much more somber affair with the string section brought to full use. "Paper Bag" was the second single to be released from the album. If want to know what Norah Jones listened to before she "broke out" listen to this track. "A Mistake" could not be called a major departure from what you have heard to this point. Fiona really is in strong voice and again leads this with strong piano leads. "Fast as you can", this was the lead off single for the record and its obvious once the song gets started. This song has a great, almost spoken word delivery, and the band goes off at the end with Fiona on the organ. "Get Gone" has a more somber intro, using brush strokes on the snare drum but with the drums kicking in, it quickly becomes a stand out track on the record. The strings and vibes a nice touch. A song about relationships it would appear, it does offer some colorful language, but it pushes the urgency all the better. "I Know" wraps up the record on a quiet note. Fiona sings a little more "breathy" and the emotion in her voice adds a wonderfully haunting touch. It doesn't' end on a huge up note, but the overall listen is rewarding.

Where are they now? Fiona Apple toured in 2005 and 2006 for her 2005 release of "Extrodinary Machine". She worked with Johnny Cash on American IV doing a duet of the Simon and Garfunkel's classic "Bridge over Troubled Water".

FDF Personal Comments (aka the live experience) - Personally I have not seen her live. Each time she tours there are always underlying reasons for not getting a ticket and getting out to see her live. One of these days I'll smarten up.

FDF Overall take - Fiona gets sort of a bum rap for some reason. After her breakdown on stage in 2000 in which she cursed journalists and then stormed off the stage, to her bizarre MTV Awards speech, she seems flighty for sure. Sadly, many people have this pre-conceived notion of her. The popular opinion is probably even more biased since she has obsessive compulsive disorder and is a strict vegetarian. All that aside, if you play Fiona for a first time listener, they too, will find the beauty in her voice and song writing that is sadly overlooked.

Friday, September 08, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 27: Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Uplift MoFo Party Plan

Album - The Uplift MoFo Party Plan
Artist - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Key Players - Anthony Kiedis - lead vocals, Flea - bass, Hillel Slovak - guitar, Jack Irons - Drums
Produced By - Michael Beinhorn

Released - September 29, 1987

What brought on the new listen? - Personally been a fan for many years and saw some recent live footage of the band on the High Def Music Channel, got me to head back for a new listen.

Overview - This is the third album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was also the final studio album with original guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons. The band was formed in Los Angeles in 1983. The band performed a one off show at Fairifax High School in California and then the band members went off to do various other bands. Flea and Anthony worked on RHCP while Irons and Slovak worked on others. By the time of this albums release RHCP had rotated out the their drummer and guitar player making room for Irons and Slovak. The album was released in the early fall of 1987 and the band hit the road. This would be the first RHCP to actually "chart" (Billboards hot 200 #97). The band toured for the record but this only exacerbated the bands problems with drugs. Kiedis had been taking hard drugs for a few years and introduced Slovak to them. Slovak missed shows and acted erratically. In June of 1988 Slovak was found dead of a heroin overdose. Kiedis fled to Mexico skipping his friends funeral. When he returned Irons called band meeting and announced his was leaving the band because he didn't want to be in a band in which his friends were dying. Since the release of 1988's "Mothers Milk" the band has only grown in popularity.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - After a 4/4 clap off "Fight Like a Brave" starts the record. The bass is punchy, the guitar is jangly, the drums are basic, but hit with purpose. Kiedis, not known then (or now) as a strong singer, speaks more lyrics that he does 'sing'. Mid song there is a break down with some of the flashy bass work from Flea. Slovak responds with a quick solo. "Funky Crime" follows along the same path. Kiedis has portions of his vocal tracks heavily compressed but the fan, even only on the second song, quickly establish their trademark sound. "Me & My Friends" is the only song from this record the band played live at least thru the last tour. The bass intro by Flea leads in to the "me and my me and my me and my friends" always had the new fans confused but the old fans singly along joyously. This is the RHCP at their most raucous. The song barley fades and "Backwoods" starts. Backwoods was one of the songs for an early Chili Peppers video. Slovak opens the track with a very distorted and compressed guitar sound and Flea swoops in with some punchy bass work. The bass slaps and pops over the wah/wah guitar of Slovak. "Skinny Sweaty Man", is pretty much a throwaway track. Over the top silly lyrics, even for the Chili Peppers is punctuated with silly vocal effects. The band makes up for it quick with "Behind the Sun". Slovak plays the Sitar on this track. What is not the norm for the bands sound it seems to sound right in place. Behind is also the strongest song on the record and in listening now you can see it was an early look to their current direction. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is a Bob Dylan cover and most Dylan purists would press "skip" before the song gets very far. It is "funked up" but its not really meant to be done this way. "Special Secret Song" follows and it shows the very juvenile side of the band. The actual chorus to this song is "I want to Party on You Pussy". Part of you feels embarrassed the band "went there" but musically its one catchy song, too bad you can't play it within ear shot of most people. "No Chump Love Sucker" returns to the sounds they band made on the early parts of this record with the driving drums and slapping bass."Walkin' On Down the Road" has the feel as the title would suggest..a perfect "walking down the road" song. "Love Trilogy" and "Organic Anti-Beatbox Band" wrap up the album. "Love Trilogy" slowly builds into a crashing finale with the band feeding off one another and Kiedis covering the vocals in his trademark "rap" style.

Where are they now?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been making music for over 20 years. After the death of Slovak the band had a revolving door of guitar players including ex-Janes addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. Jack Irons most notably played with Pearl Jam for a few years before semi-retiring in 1998 from. The band recently released the sprawling double cd "Stadium Arcadium". It is and was the bands first to debut at #1.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience). Always putting on a great live show they are a band I try not to miss. At least one time per album if possible. First was in May of 1990 at the Orpheum in Boston. Had about 4th row on Johns side. It to this day was a top 5 show...stunning. Up next was November of 1991. What made this show "one for the ages" is the support acts: a then unknown Pearl Jam, and the Smashing Pumpkins. This is a show that is always fun to say "I was at". In December of 95 was another then in July of 2000 was the 4th. That show was special/fun for 2 reasons. The first is I got front row tickets to for free, and VH1 was there taping a show called "Fan-atic" I was not one of the looney freaky fans but shots of the audience had me bobbing up and down. The last time was in September of 2003. By this time the band sounds beyond good (I even warm up to the vocals of Kiedis a smidge) John F is just unreal..his solos are always locked in. There is a potential to see them in October of this year just need to get some money in order.

FDF Overall take - There seem to be two waves of fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fans of the old and fans of the new. The "new" RHCP have sold the bulk of the records. Long time fans often will go as far as " Blood Sugar Sex Magic" before calling the bands sell outs. The early version of the RHCP can be confusing to new listeners. The "soccer mom" pop was not even in the bands mind at the time. A true testament to someone being a fan is someone that can listen to these older records and "get it". Even if the sound is not to the listeners liking, one must respect what they came from. What they came from was one hell of a funk/rock band that spawned so many imitators the RHCP often too flack for it. The older/wiser RHCP have some terrific musical chops. John Frusciante is one of finest guitar players out there and Flea is often looked at for his ground breaking work on the bass.

Friday, September 01, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 26: Echo & The Bunnymen - Heaven Up Here

Album - Heaven Up Here
Artist - Echo & The Bunnymen
Key Players - Will Sergeant - Lead Guitar, Ian McCulloch - Vocals/Rhythm guitar, Les Pattinson - bass, Peter de Freitas -drums, Leslie Penny - woodwinds
Produced by - Hugh Jones

Released - May 30, 1981

Overview - Echo & The Bunnymen were formed in Liverpool England in 1978. Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson were part of the original line up of the band. Rumored to have put on "Echo" in their name as a name of their drummer at their formation the band denies to be true. By the time of their debut album Pete de Freitas was brought in as the drummer. The band would release a string of records but mainstream success in the USA never really materialized. The closest they would come is with the 1987 self titled release that had such songs as "Lips Like Sugar". McCulloch left the band in 1988 and the band vowed to continue, the results were just a single release with new singer Noel Burke. Sergeant and McCulloch would get back together for a bit as "Electrafixtion". Pattinson rejoined his fellow bandmates and Echo was reborn. The band would release 2 more albums before Pattinson left to take care of his ailing mother. McCulloch and Sergeant whom have both had solo albums released continue as Echo & The Bunnymen with their most recent album being 2005's Siberia.

Reviewed for this installment is the bands second major label release.

FDF Comments (aka the Songs)- Want to know where indie hipsters Interpol draws inspiration? Listen to the first 30-40 seconds of "Show of Strength" that leads off the album. Even the shiver in Ians voice is duplicated. "Over the Wall" is a dark and moody song that has the drums changing speaker channels during the verse. "It was a Pleasure" Ian sings the chorus with a stuttered voice to add tension to the song. The hauntingly beautiful, and watermark moment of the record "A Promise" follows. The music is really lead by the bass line on the song, swooping up and down as the groove is locked in. The call and response chorus as it fades out adds a nice touch. The chorus of "There is light on the water, we'll sail on forever is just repeated, looped one over the other. "Heaven up Here" as slightly more, and about as rocking, as Echo & the Bunnymen gets. "No Dark Things" appears a little later in the record and it too is an uptempo affair for the band. Will Sergeant has quick chopping guitar lines but knows when the right time is to let the melody flow. Virtually every song on the album "fades out" as well which on some levels is a good thing, but there are times when one would like to hear a song "end". The album closes with "All I Want". Pattinson uses a chorus effect pedal on various portions that add a nice chiming bass sound to the song. Also ending on an upswing it is a perfect album closer.

There is a remastered version of their catalog(s) that adds on some extra tracks.

Where are they now? - Pete de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Ian and Will continue to write, record and tour as Echo & The Bunnymen.
In researching I was unable to find any updated information on Les Pattinson.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - The times this reviewer saw the band they always sounded great but were never a whole lot to watch. The first time was August 18, 1987 on a tour with New Order and Gene Loves Jezebel. The second was June 30, 1992 but this was without Ian (who has a voice that can not be duplicated). The final time was October 24, 1997. This was a good return to form. There have been a few chances to see them once again, and the venues local to me seem to be getting smaller and smaller. If the chance comes I'd go partially for nostalgia but mostly for the music which was so very (and still is) important.

FDF Overall take - If someone were to come to me and ask "Which Echo to start with" an obvious and very safe choice would be their "best of" collection called "Songs to Learn and Sing". Its a very good introduction to the band. There will be a new version of this cd released in September of 2006 that will have more songs as well as a DVD that has 8 of the bands videos. Once you fall in love with the "best of" a purchase of "Heaven Up Here" should be added to your shopping list. Also, the album cover is wonderful.