Stanley Clarke

Jazz fusion is a style I need to add more of into my record collection.

When one thinks of Stanley Clarke, they think of two things: bass and jazz fusion music. Stanley Clarke is probably the person most singularly responsible for bringing recognition to bass as a lead instrument instead of just part of the rhythm section. Jazz fusion, with its freeform breakaway jamming style was absolutely the best fit for Clarke’s playing style. He is absolutely amazing to listen to.

Stanley Clarke recorded this self titled album – his second solo effort – while he was still in the band “Return to Forever” with Chick Corea. “Return to Forever” was a great fusion band, that for the most part, focused on traditional instrumentation. Usually, guitar or keys were the lead instruments. On Clarke’s solo efforts, it was all about the instrument he played. It was all about the bass.

Side one consists of more tradtional jazz fusion. That is, if one can really call any jazz fusion “traditional”. It’s really a style That’s all about playing what you feel and feeling what you play. Listening to Stanley Clarke, it’s evident that he feels it.

“Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass” kicks off side two with a combination of neo-classical and Latin music. That’s followed by the four part jazz fusion masterppiece “Life Suite”, which can be best described with one word: “epic”.

I think the reason I don’t have more jazz fusion in my collection Is because to me, jazz has always been a style of music that should be heard, and seen, performed live. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great studio recording. Stanley Clarke proves that here.

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Normally, when I buy a new album I like to listen to it a couple times before I write down my thoughts on it. But I wanted to try something new this time, so here goes…

I’d heard of Lana Del Rey from many people I know. I also saw her name pop up in the music news from time to time.  Really, if you are into music today, it’s impossible to at least not know her name. I had the opportunity to sample a couple tracks off her second album but never heard any of the songs on it in their entirety.  I was almost flying blind buying this album.  I knew this was the kind of album I would need to listen to for the first time when I was in the mood for something new. I only hoped that I would like it.

I want to state here that I won’t write anything here about an album I don’t like. I hate reading negative reviews, because, by their nature, reviews are always subjective to the critic’s opinion. If a reviewer doesn’t like an album they should write about something else. Be positive. I have listened many albums that others have hated, and loved them; and vice versa. If I don’t like an album, I simply wont write it here.

That said, you’re reading this, so I obviously like what I am hearing, otherwise I wouldn’t still be writing and this album would be shelved for a future listening. (I never give an album only one chance).

The title track, which opens “Born to Die”, grabbed me right away. Absolutely beautiful lyrics; and the music is hypnotizing and invigorating at the same time.  I’m finding the rest of the album that way as well. There’s an influence of hip hop which in overdose, I don’t care for. But here, Lana Del Rey finds the perfect balance between it and jazz and pop, with a feel of…what is it … … …baroque? It’s that touch of contrast that makes her music so unique.

Ornate on top but subdued underneath. Extravagant but simply stated. Only a true artist could do this music. Someone who’s not afraid to break new ground.

Okay. Side two…

There’s influence of Kate Bush here, as well as Amy Winehouse. Maybe that’s why I’m digging this album so much.

I’m not a big fan of the f-bombs on “Radio” though.  Not that I’m against swearing on an album if it feels appropriate. In this song, it feels kind of forced though – like she wanted to get that “parental advisory” sticker to enhance sales. It’s a great song and although the f-bombs don’t ruin it, they do detract from it bit. Their verbal force would have been more appropriate in the following song, “Carmen”.  Still, the songs on the flip side so far do not disappoint. Even if the closing song, “This is What Makes Us Girls”, disappoints me, I will have no regrets about buying this album. The last time I enjoyed a new album this much was when I heard “Lungs” by Florence And the Machine.

I know this is an album I will listen to many, many times.  Buying it was a great gamble that paid off.

Oh, by the way, the closing song did not disappoint.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Sometimes I wonder if I got it all wrong….

Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire  when they first came onto the music scene in 2004. Maybe my expectations were too high after hearing raves about their debut, “Funeral”. To me, it was good…but…meh.  I figured they were a one or two album album band destined to mediocrity. I was wrong.

I mostly use word of mouth and the Internet to check out new bands (I’m not a big fan of the  local commercial radio stations today). Thirteen years later, I was still hearing a lot of talk about Arcade Fire. So I went online and listened to them again and found a lot of songs really hit home with me, especially from their 2010 album “The Suburbs”. So much so, that I figured I’d pick up a copy of “The Suburbs” to listen to the album as a whole. It was one of the best musical decisions I have ever made.

Listening to the songs on “The Suburbs” mixed with tracks from other albums, I could tell it was going to be a good album. But the whole is so much better than its parts. This album is a creative masterpiece. The songs are themed around living in the suburbs – the good, the bad, and the mediocre, offering up the lyrics with diverse but uniquely identifiable arrangements.

After listening to “The Suburbs”, I will definitely be giving other Arcade Fire a closer listen. I wouldn’t be surprised if another album from them ends up in my collection. Maybe I should give “Funeral” another listen. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire’s originality when I first heard it.

Maybe I got it all wrong.

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

In the 1970s there were some bands that were against using synthesizers in their music, pining that they were artificial or inauthentic instruments. Then there were others who used synths extensively, feeling they opened new doors of musical possibilities. The Alan Parsons Project embraced synthesizers along with traditional rock band instruments and orchestral and choral arrangements to create incredible works of musical art.

Released in 1977, “I Robot” was the second album by the Alan Parsons Project. It was a concept album based loosely on a book of the same name, written by science fiction author Isiaac Asimov.

Conceptually, “I Robot” tells the story of man’s cretion of machines with artificial intelegence that eventually overtake him as the dominant species on earth. It closes with an instumental titled “Genesis Ch. 1, V. 32” alluding to a continuation of the biblical story of creation, only this time it is man who has created robot in his own image.

Steven Wilson – Transience

Four time Grammy nominee Steven Wilson is one of the most creatively talented recording artists around today. Yet so many people have not really heard of him.  If you happen to fall into that category, the album “Transience” is a great place to start.

Consisting of three sides of music recorded between 2003 and 2015 (the fourth album side is etched with lyrics to one of the songs) “Transience” is a collection of songs taken mostly from Steven Wilson’s previous solo albums. Three of them are reworked exclusively for this album and differ noticeably from their original incarnations. There is also a new re-recording of the song “Lazerus” which was previously recorded by Wilson’s former band Porcupine Tree.

If you haven’t given any of Steven Wilson’s music a listen, you owe it to yourself to do so. He has received praise from critics, numerous other musical artsts, and most importantly, those who have bought his records. He writes and records some of the most adventerous music being produced today. Sometimes intricate and complex, it quite often falls outside of the mainstream, but in no way does that mean his music is extreme or excessive.

The songs on “Transience” are selections that fall more in line with modern contemporary music. This is music that departs from the commonplace and defies being a mere musical backdrop. This is an album that is enticing and unique. It demands to be listened to; not just once but over and over. Because, as with all of Steven Wilson’s albums,  there always seems to be somthing new to hear.

Led Zeppelin IV

There are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection…

There is a reason Led Zeppelin’s fourth record is so iconic. It is an icredible collection of songs that few bands have been able to equal. The album practically defines rock and roll from the ’70s – the golden age of viny. It has become an influential and inspirational focal point for generations of rock band. It became the goal of almost every rock guitarist to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven”.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was the first record from the band that was well received by most critics, their previous album “Led  Zeppelin III” beingg the most severely panned. Record buyers obviously agreed with the positive reviews, as it has become one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Referring to to the album as “Led Zeppelin IV” is actually inaccurate. But then,  how do you refer to an album that has no name?  Zeppelin decided to officially not give it one. They even deferred from putting the bands name anywhere on the album cover.

Fans often refer to it as “Led Zeppelin IV” for a couple reasons. First off, It’s Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and it came out following “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III”. Secondly, the inner sleve shows four symbols that were created by each of the four band members. The album is also commonly referred to as is “Zoso” because the first of the four symbols was created by guitarist Jimmy Page which dolts that word.

Although it has sold millions of copies, it can be hard to run across an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album that is in excellent condition.  Partly because many people in the ’70s did not know how to properly care for vinyl records (vinyl takes a little more TLC than CDs) and also because when CDs came out, unless someone decided to get rid of their entire collection, this was one of the few the had to hold on to. After all, there are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather

There was a huge pawn shop just outside gate 4 of Fort Campbell. When I was stationed there back in the ’80s, I want to that pawn shop all the time to see if there were any goodies that I could pick up for a steal. When I visited it one particular day in 1984, my favorite radio station in Clarksville, Tennessee was doing a remote broadcast in the parking lot. When I approached the tent, they told me I could win a free record if I could correctly answer a music trivia question. I don’t remember the question I was asked, or answer, but I do remember the album I chose from their selection: “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I didn’t choose a Stevie Ray Vaughan album because I was a fan. I had never had of him. But the album had a add sticker on it that said he had been voted guitarist of the year by a guitar magazine. I figured “well, then the guy should be pretty good”.

I had no idea.

There will neverf be another guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had it all – the tone, the feel, the emotion, the skill. He was the kind of player that could make you stop dead in your tracks, forget what you were doing and just listen. He was, in my opinion, the best blues guitarist that ever lived.

Sadly,  the world lost Stevie Ray on August 27, 1990 when the helicopter he was flying in while on tour crashed shortly after takeoff.

This 2011 reissue version of “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” includes a second album of songs that were never released while SRV was still alive; many of them appearing on his posthumous  album “The Sky is Crying”. Included on the second album is Arvo incredible version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing”. Stevie Ray never had a chance to record the vocals for the song, but with the way he could make his guitar sing, none were necessary. I still get goosebumps listening to it.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (white vinyl)

Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album, “Rumors”, is one of the best selling albums of all time.  It has sold over 40 million copies and is one of the only albums to give Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” a run for its money as the all time best selling album ever.

The album was recorded in a tumultuous period Fleetwood Mac’s history. There were members of the band having relationships with other members – sometimes multiple members. This caused a lot of tension in the studio.   But it was that tension between the band members that caused huge spark of creativity and resulted in an incredible work of art that stands the test of time. “Rumours” sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1977.

Not surprisingly, given the personal conflicts going on within the band, most of the lyrics “Rumors” are introspective poetry that speaks of love, relationships, and emotions.

This edition of “Rumors” is a limited edition, pressed on white vinyl. There is no reason albums need to be pressed on black vinyl other than that’s the way it was always done. The color of the vinyl doesnt affect the sound quality so every now and then, limited runs of albums are pressed on colored vinyl. They usually cost a little more, but every now and then I have to splurge. After all, colored vinyl is cool.

Pink Floyd – A Dark Side Of The Moon Live

This is not an official Pink Floyd album. Some would call it a live concert bootleg. Others would call it an Italian import.

Copyright laws are not the same in every country. Italy in particular, has some of the least restrictive when it comes to live performances. I’ve never looked up all the legal mumbo jumbo, but however their laws are written, there are a lot of unofficial live recordings that come out of Italy on obscure record labels.

Typically, Italian Imports are from a specific concert performance. “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live” is a recording of a Pink Floyd concert at the Wembly Empire Pool in London, England on November 16, 1974. Its a double album on which Floyd performs their incredible 1973 album “Dark Side Of The Moon” in it entirety as well as their epic song “Echoes” from 1972’s “Meddle” as an encore. It is an incredible performance one of the best I have heard actually. But It’s not without its flaws in both performance and recording.

You see, that’s the good and bad of Italian Imports. On the good side, you get a rare recording of a band performing live, with no studio overdubs or post production cleanup. If the band makes a mistake, or there’s tape malfunction, It’s going to be on the record. But you really get the feel of the performance. On “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live”, there is a part of the song “Breathe” that is chopped out with a horrible edit in the very beginning. Other than that, the recording is flawless. And the sound quality is excellent.

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing with Italian Imports. Because they are unofficial, the original source of the recording could be through the mixing board or some dude out in the audience with a microphone. Decades ago, it was hard to know what the quality of an Italian Import record was until you bought it. Today, with the Internet in your pocket, it’s easy to do a little on the spot research to get an idea.

Italian Imports are typically for the hardcore fans of a band. I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, and have a few Italian Imports by them. Some are on CD, and some, like “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live” are on vinyl.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves

Bob Seger used to be known locally as Detroit’s best kept secret. By the time Seger’s ninth studio album was released, everything had fallen into place to ensure that the long kept secret was out.

On his previous studio releases, Seger had put together a top notch group of local players to back him up. They had one of the tightest rhythm section anywhere and were the perfect match for Seger’s compositions. They were his Silver Bullet to success. The “Beautiful Loser” album grabbed the ears of music lovers across the U.S. It was followed by “Live Bullet”, which had unprecedented success for a live record by an artist who had no huge hit album to date.

Enter “Night Moves”.

“Night Moves” was the album that finally gave Bob Seger the recognition he had so long before earned. It was kind of sad, knowing the secret was finally out. But I think most of us around Detroit who grew up with Bob Seger’s music, were happy to see him finally make it.

Bob Seger was always dedicated to Detroit – and Detroit always supported him. Struggling to make it for so long, he represented to many of us the spirit in the city of Detroit – the spirit of never giving up. He was the local underdog who had finally made it. The best kept secret was out.