Friday, October 28, 2011

FDF Volume 3 Issue 245: Richard Ashcroft - Alone with Everybody

By: March

Album – Alone With Everybody
Artist – Richard Ashcroft
Key Players – Richard Ashcroft – guitars, bass, drums, percussion
Produced By – Chris Potter and Richard Ashcroft

Release Date – June 27, 2000 (US)

What caused me to blow off the dust? - For some reason I just started humming one of the tracks off this records.

Overview – This was the first solo record released by singer Richard Ashcroft. Ashcroft, at the time, had come off the disbanding of the group he fronted “The Verve”. Ashcroft would play the bulk of the instruments and surround himself with a series of others to create the record. Ashcroft would also take a few leftover Verve tracks for this record.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) – The 11 song, just under 60 minute album opens with “A Song for the Lovers”. Filled with strings that are then complimented by trumpet (Duncan Mackay). Ashcroft comes up and has a particular drawl to his voice. He sings in a fluid baritone and strums the guitar as it starts to get a little busier musically. The lyrics are sung a little on the speedy side for a song with this feel. A strong album opener that wouldn't alienate listeners of Ashcrofts prior band. There is some extended full band moments as well. This is a solid opener. “I Get My Beat” continues with the quiet string intro. Flutes and trumpets are also present. Ashcroft plays a laid back choppier acoustic. Playing more short chords the supporting players seem to get more of a look over. Judd Lander offers up some harmonica fills while Jim Hunt will swap between saxophone and flute. Ashcroft strums his guitar as “Brave New World” begins. BJ Cole offers up some very laid back slide guitar that adds a haunting feel to the track. Pino Palladino joins on bass and adds a very solid bass line. The tone of his bass notes just grab the ears as he and Cole really seem to shine. Cole gets a little more room as the chorus approaches as well as after. The album has not really opened up to this point, we are getting some pretty acoustic lead tracks and that is an okay thing. One of the tracks taken from The Verve was “New York”. Palladino and Cole both return on this track. A slow to build track before drummer Peter Salisbury sets it in motion. This is the first more “rocking” song on the record. It is a welcome change of pace. Ashcroft seems to be pushing himself and the guitars have that bit of distortion that gives it a little dirt. Ashcroft also does some harmonies with himself on some looped and delayed backing vocal portions. These are the parts you long to have repeated and they go ahead and do that. Chuck Leavell plays the hammond organ as “You on My Mind In My Sleep” begins. Complimented with strings and then switching to piano Ashcroft joins and sings the first verse. Drummer Peter Salisbury rolls across and the track seems to dig in. Ashcroft seems hesitant at times to really get going. His songs have feeling and emotion, but he tends to let the whole experience take you in. Cole on Slide guitar, the piano and organ from Leavell as well as the “just at the right time” Palladino bass fill. A pretty song indeed. BJ Cole continues to be a strong force on the record as “Crazy World” gets underway. Steve Sidelnk is on percussion and seems to be in a rush, pushing everyone to join him. Salisbury is along for the ride Ashcroft is capable of singing at this quick pace and offers a real nice change between tracks. The backing players continue to shine, he really did a strong job finding such a great supporting cast. We slow it down again, seems to be the trend here, with “On A Beach”. There is not a lot of new ground here. Pretty guitars, nice slide guitar, strong bass work cap it off with strings or horns. Hands down my favorite track on the record comes with “Money To Burn”. Almost starting with a country feel heavy on the harmonica from Judd Lander. Ashcroft seems pointed on his vocal and when the hook of the chorus comes its just excellent. There is just something that strikes a chord with me personally when he “ooohhhhhhh baby's” in to “my sweeeeeeeeeet savior” etc. The congas, the bass, the harmonica with the string fills are great. On the liner notes there is no indication of backing vocalists so it leads one to believe that the vocals were mixed and Ashcroft as a solo work. Easily the song I'd play for any new listener first. Ashcroft has a thing on this record for five plus minute tracks which makes the 3:44 track “Slow Was My Heart” sort of unusual. Again, we go back to a much more mellow track. Still, a very listenable track but Ashcroft seems confident in his co-players that he almost wants to show them off. Another track rumored to be left over from the Verve is “C'mon People (We're Making It Now)”. Ashcroft opens with a bouncing piano line before the bass and drums join in. Ashcroft seems very comfortable and capable with us craft. I never knew personally how much he can play with regard to instruments. He may not be some virtuoso player, but he really seems to focus on his talents and won't overdo it. I personally find his uptempo songs, like this, just more fun. The album concludes with “Everybody”. Keeping with the uptempo/downtempo tracks we end on a more somber but musically competent conclusion.

Where are they now? - Ashcroft has released three solo records and is a member of the band “RPA & The United Nations who released a record in July 2010.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I have never seen Richard Ashcroft as a solo performer.

FDF Overall Take - Ashcroft has a great voice, even under rated perhaps. There are some real gems on here and its a record you could put on an not be embarrassed to play, or own. I'd like a little more "rocking" like New York and the like, but it was his debut solo trying to give him room to spread his wings. Solid effort.

Official site is here.

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

The album can still be purchased here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

FDF Volume 3 Issue 244 Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange

By: March

Album - Orange
Artist The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Key Players - Judah Bauer- guitar. Russell Simins – drums. Jon Spencer – vocals, guitar, theramin
Produced By – Jon Spencer and Jim Waters

Release Date – October 1994

What caused me to blow off the dust? - Jon Spencer is one of those artists where I seemingly have everything they have put out, but I hardly ever listen to for some reason. Mood music I guess. Figured I'd go with the one that planted the seed with me to begin with.

Overview – Formed in 1991 the New York City based band Jon Spencer Blues Explosion would blend various styles such as rock and roll, with punk, mix in some blues here and there and go on to release seven studio albums (so far). Their sound would be emulated by bands such as the White Stripes

FDF Comments (aka the songs) – The 13 song 44 minute album opens with the track “Bellbottoms”. The guitar are choppy across the top and seem to have a muted feel but Simins works his best to get the bottom rolling. There is a string section on this track that fills out the sound. There is is a lot of “yelling” on the track of “hooooo” while the band works to find their place. Spencer only speaks a few lines of lyrics. They also have a few moments where the track comes to a complete stop before coming back in. Spencer stops the track and tells us he needs to tell us about “bellbottoms” and they chant the line as Simins hammers away. Bauer and Spencer battle back and forth on the track and it winds to a rowdy conclusion. The band has fun with the jamming style of their play. “Ditch” has a cool southern feeling blues riff. Bauer and Spencer find the right tandem with one taking more of a bass line approach to the guitar while Si minis just smashes his crash cymbal over and over. The tempo is mixed allowing for the chorus to have this big guitar sound that mixes right enough buzz with a ringing guitar sound. There is a John Zorn like saxophone solo at the tail end of the track and a cow bell clunks in the right speaker seemingly from nowhere. We keep it buzzy and quick as “Dang” starts. Simins slowly starts to build this before a heavily distorted harmonica blows over. Spencer's vocals are heavily distorted as well as he shouts and seems to fight the harmonica. Spencer launches in to a theramin solo as the three seem to make this overwhelming wall of noise. We slow it down some as “Very Rare” finds a different low end. Simins drums are tight and clear on the track as Bauer and Spencer look to get things underway. Neither wants to really take off, and you can hear some of the early sounds that like minded artist Beck was using. This is an instrumental track and is a track showcasing their quirky and fun style. “Sweat” seems to fall under the blues tag for sure. Simins keeps the drums simple as Bauer and Spencer once again find a way to have one guitar go deep and swampy while the other wants to ring over it all, being cheery. “Cowboy” has a twangy but compressed vocal portion. The guitars again have that wonderful diversity and Simins is quiet at the start. The riff repeats and the song seems to try to gain some traction but takes a bit to get rolling. Over all the track has a cool vibe, but it doesn't seem to hold attention like others have. Title track “Orange” follows. Guitars are a little cleaner and Simins starts off with a simple and pointed drum line. Strings return and the track has a big sound while at the same time seeming minimalist. Simins gets up on this ride cymbal clanging out a great tempo as Bauer and Spencer take over once more. “Brenda” sounds like a garage/demo tape until Spencer starts to sing in his falsetto. Rhythmically the track is a little stagnant until the twin guitars do a little feed off one another. “Dissect” is also similar, with Simins beating the tom toms as Bauer and Spencer wrestle their guitars. Musically this track feels all over the map with odd time signatures, stoppages and then big monster riffs. It has it all one could say. Single guitar opens “Blues X Man” and then a second drops in the 12 bar blues riff. Spencer doesn't really sing, he speaks in Elvis Presley like “good evening/hello mama” style. Female vocalists sing the chorus of “blues explosion man!” adding a nice touch. “Full Grown” seems to have Simins off to the races. He seems to cut loose on the track at the intro, working his whole drum kit complete with cowbell. Bauer and Spencer sit back and let Simins have his way and get excited on the backing vocal yells. Guitars are seemingly hesitant to really get rolling, sitting back until the right time. Guitars are more pointed at the start of “Flavor” which features Beck. Simins punches a tight back beat that constrained as Spencer and Bauer again work in tandem. Both are going in two directions, but always seem to blend perfectly. Beck appears at the end of the track reciting some lyrics. “Greyhound” is the album closer a nice heavy sounding track with that wonderful deep guitar/high guitar mix that you'll either love or hate on the record. Being instrumental adds to it, the slow blues the frantic punk rock vibe is solid.

Where are they now? - The band is still active as a unit, but haven't released anything new in some time. In 2010 Spencer was quoted as saying the band was having fun playing live/touring and the chances of new material seemed a possibility. They did a large re-issue of their prior releases in 2010 as well. The three members are active in other projects, production etc. They are busy that is for sure.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I saw the band one time. December 8, 1998 at Avalon in Boston. Someone my buddy and I got upstairs to the “VIP” area and were able to view the show on the rail with no obstruction. It was a rowdy set, with the band really active and fun on stage. It seems like they don't tour as much these days, I'd see them again.

FDF Overall Take – First things first, if you are looking for a “blues” record I'd be hard to sell this to you as being such. The perception of what the “blues” is, is the cause for concern. The band dabbles in it for sure but a blues record I wouldn't classify it as. The band is accomplished for sure, blending various tempos and instruments. For a track that might be challenging to a new listener the next would have you curious as to how they did that. “Orange” is a good record to start with, overall I'd recommend it.

Official site here.

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

You can track down the album here.

Friday, October 07, 2011

FDF Volume 3 Issue 243 - Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

By: March

Album – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Artist – Public Enemy
Key Players - Professor Griff – Minister of Information. Terminator X – Assault Technician. Flavor Flav – The Cold Lamper. Chuck D – Messenger of Prophecy
Produced By – Rick Rubin (executive)

Release Date – April 14, 1988

What caused me to blow off the dust? - Okay I realize this is one of those records that many probably say “how can you forget it?” Remember this site is all about the whole album, not just a track..and sticking with that..its been a very long time since I've listened to this front to back.

Overview – This is the second album, and first major label release from New York rap act Public Enemy. Formed in 1982 the band would garner almost immediate fame with their politically heavy hip hop tracks. They'd mash up with Anthrax setting the metal and rap world on their heels. They have very few line up changes and barring some controversy in an article the band would be heralded as one of, if not the most import rap act. This album would be voted album of the year in the Village Voice and it continues to make “best of all time” lists to this day.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) – A BBC intro from 1987 comes in “Countdown to Armageddon” which is just a live show about to start. Air raid sirens wail as audience cheers and the London Audience is warned. As the show seems to start it fades and “Bring the Noise” starts. Chuck D is the lead on the track with Flavor Flav shouting out key words, mostly his famous “yeah boy”. This version is not the sped up metal version with Anthrax. That would come later. D and Flav tandem on the second verse heavy with the samples and scratches from Terminator X. Another one of the bands bigger songs comes up in “Don't Believe the Hype”. A little slower on the back beat D and Flav are back firing off one another. Flav stammers and uses a slight delay on his “Don't..don't don't believe the hype” for added punch. The track has a deep groove, but the band is not dishing the lyrics very quickly. Flav has a little freak out near the end, but the song remains steady. Flavor Flav takes the lead on “Cold Lampin with Flavor”. The heavy looped sample allows Flav to be right on task and he delivers at a rapid pace. Remember..Flavor Flav is in everything you eat after all. We go back to a live setting for the intro on “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic”. The audience chance shouts “Terminator X” when asked who the DJ is. The track starts and the song “Flash Gordon” from Queen is sampled and scratched/delayed before the lyrics from Chuck D start. Terminator X finds some good samples to really cut the song up nice giving D and Flav various ins and outs on the track. “Mind Terrorist” has a cool loop at the start with almost a jazz back beat. Flav shouts “get that bass for your face” and tosses the “Yeah Boy” and these are the lone lyrics really sung/repeated for the 1:15 track. “Louder than a Bomb” finds Flav right at the start and after a few lines the bass gets low and he shouts out to Chuck D who then starts his run of rhymes. Terminator X seems to get a little bit of a showcase here as well. We got back to a live setting for some stage chants as “Caught, Can We Get A Witness?” starts up. Personally these are the tracks that stand out for their speed and prescsion. They are on a mission on this track which just adds to the appear. The lyrics are sprung on you quick and the tempo of the back beat really pushes it forward. The cool wah-wah guitar sample is perfect. “Show Em Whatcha Got” uses a saxophone repeating the same few notes as D chants “Public Enemy Number 1” and there are various lines spoken as the sax loop continues for close to 2 minutes. Flav starts out all by himself as “She Watch Channel Zero?!” begins. We have a more metal riff feel on this, we can see its laying the ground work for their work with Anthrax. The guitar riff buzzes and the drums are a bit canned, but feel like a live drummer. The simple back beat doesn't have the focus the guitar seems to garner. D and Flav work off one another per the norm, and this song has a heavy and almost angry feel. “Night Of The Living Bassheads” is another track that seems to use horns in the back beat/loop. Chuck D has the main lyric and the horn loop is almost overpowering at times. It just seems to play the same honking note. There is a cool break, but it comes back to the honking note. I can't stop focusing on it, and its really sort of annoying, I can't finish the track. We head back to London for a stage announcement and then “Black Steel In the Hour of Chaos” starts. This is a little darker, slower track. The bass is heavy and the lyrics are a bit more pointed. When I worked as an intern in Boston radio the main jock I worked with/for used “Security Of The First World” as a music bed when he took calls. He used a re-mix version that was a little longer. It was fun to watch because even talking to callers he knew when he needed to hit the button and get back to the start. Just this sample brings back a lot of memories. “Rebel Without A Pause” has some Terminator X work once more (there needs to be more!) we have a shivering sample that runs through the verses which gets old, but the backing snare sample sounds cool with Flavor firing back to Chuck D. The track ends when we go back to London for some live stage banter. “Prophets of Rage”has some great Terminator X work (ask and you shall receive I guess). We close the record out with “Party For Your Right To Fight”. A mix of heavy samples and scratching. A plus way to go out.

Where are they now? - Public Enemy is still writing and recording. They are no longer on a major label and choose to do things on their own terms. They have a new album due in 2012 according to reports.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I have never seen the band live. Figure my best chance would have been as part of Lollapalooza.

FDF Overall Take – It is very easy to hear why this record has and had such a wide appeal. Few acts seem to 'rap' today and this seems so new even though it is over 20 years old. The members have passion and urgency and it is not cluttered with a lot of fluff. I can't speak for the more recent albums, but the early ones, like this, are well worth your time.

The official band page

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

The album is very much in print, you can grab it here.