Yes – The Yes Album

I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was. I mean, I always knew he was good – and all the members of Yes are great in their own right – but for some reason, when I cranked up “The Yes Album” just now, my ears started focusing in on his playing and…

…I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was.

Jefferson Starship – Spitfire

Replace a couple of key members from Jefferson Airplane and get a new lead singer with a smooth, almost crooning voice, and what do you get?

Jefferson Starship.

The third album by Jefferson Starship, “Spitfire” continued in the style of the two previous records by the band. Almost abandoned were the heavy psychedelic sounds and influences of Bohemianism from the Airplane days. They were replaced by a more rock, pop, and jazz oriented sound augmented with synthesizers and often fronted by the sultry vocal stylings of Marty Balin.

But “Spitfire” still had elements the were reminiscent of the earlier Jefferson Airplane. The most prominent being Grace Slick’s powerful voice and the wandering guitar solos of Craig Chaquico who manged to keep just a touch of psychedelia in his playing. It was a sound that proved successful for Jefferson Starship. Like “Red Octopus” the album before it, “Spitfire” sold over a million copies, giving the band yet another platinum record.

Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Herb Alpbert is the first artist to be signed to A&M records. Well, he wasn’t actually signed – he started A&M records, along with Jerry Moss as an independent label so he could release his music.

Originally there was no Tijuana Brass band. For his early records Herb Albert merely recorded his trumpet in the studio with numerous overdubs. Because of the unexpected popularity his music received, he eventually had to put together a band in order to tour. Although his music is not heard as frequently today as other artists from the 60’s, Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass had a perhaps the broadest popularity of any artist in music, crossing over to all generations of record buyers, making Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass one of the most successful bands in music history. They had five number one hits, sold over 72 million records, and won 9 Grammys. 1965’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” was one of their most successful albums selling over 6 million copies alone. A&M records also went on to become one of the most successful record labels ever.

The album cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” has become somewhat iconic, and has been copied by several recording artists through the years, sometimes in jest. It is immediately recognizable to record collectors.

Journey

When most people think of the band Journey, they think of the songs “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms”. When I think of Journey, I think of a band that had three distinct phases. Although those two songs are solid pop and classic rock songs, they sound almost nothing like Journey’s original phase.

The three phases of Journey were their progressive rock beginning, their middle Steve Perry years, and their later Jonathan Cain era. Although they are from Journey’s least successful era, I find myself listening to the band’s first three albums the most. Today, it’s Journey’s self-titled debut from 1975.

The members of Journey were exceptional musicians and that is what this and the two albums that followed it were all about. A combination of progressive rock with a touch of jazz fusion, the songs had longer instrumentals, fewer lyrics, and almost none of the vocal harmonies that became a staple of Journey’s sound once Steve Perry was in as vocalist. Also missing are the pop hooks of songs like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms” that dominated the band’s sound once keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rollie was replaced by his friend Jonathan Cain (from The Babys).

In their early years, Journey was all about hard rocking complex musical arrangements and intricate playing. Intense music that was meant to be intensely listened to.

Santana – Welcome

There never has been, nor will there probably ever be, and artist who combined Latin rhythms along with rock and roll better than Carlos Santana.

1973’s “Welcome” was Santana’s was quite possibly the most varied and experimental album for the renowned guitarist and his namesake band. Perhaps more than any other Santana album, “Welcome” combined jazz fusion, soul, and a little funk with the band’s already distinctive latino-rock sound.

“Welcome” also marked a significant change in the band lineup. Keyboardist and lead vocalist Greg Rollie had left the group along with second guitarist Neal Schon to form the group Journey. This left the band without their primary vocalist. Instead of replacing their former singer, Santana chose to feature a variety of guest vocalists for the songs on this, their fifth album adding to the album’s varied sound. The decision to use a variety of singers would be a hallmark of future Santana records as well.

David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

“Aladdin Sane” was David Bowie’ s sixth album, following in the footsteps, yet still breaking away from it predecessor, “Ziggy Stardust”.

Bowie was far from being an unknown artist when “Ziggy Stardust” came out, but it definitely raised him to the next level of success – and raised the bar of what record buyers expected of him.  David Bowie, much like the Ziggy persona he created, had become a superstar.

Rather than trying to duplicate his  prior album, Bowie set out to make something fresh.  A new persona, Aladdin Sane was created.  And there was a significant musical shift toward avant-garde jazz on many of the songs.

When it came out, “Aladdin Sane” received praise from both critics and fans. Today, it is considered to be one of David Bowie’s best records.

The Allman Brothers Band – Eat A Peach

There will never be another band like The Allman Brothers Band. Nor will there ever be an album quite like “Eat a Peach”.  One of the original jam bands, The Allmam Brothers seamlessly blended the Southern rock and blues akin to their Georgia roots with jazz infused improvisations that showcased the talents of the band’s members.

“Eat a Peach” was The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album and second live album. It was a double album that contained two sides of almost all studio material and two sides of all live material recorded at the original Fillmore Theater in San Francisco.

Two sides of live material taken up by one song, aptly titled “Mountain Jam”, which clocks in at just under forty minutes.

Most typical bands would have laid out the two parts of “Mountain Jam” back to back on subsequent sides. But the Allman Brothers Band are anything but typical. After closing out side one with the tender love song “Melissa”, side two kicks off the first half of “Mountain Jam” which fades out after an unfogettable drum and tympani solo by Butch Trucks. Instead of picking up where that leaves off, side three opens with a couple other live tracks, including the classic “One Way Out”, moves into more studio recordings and closes out with the beautiful instrumental “Little Martha”.

Side four picks up where “Mountain Jam” left off on side two, starting off where the drum solo transitions into Berry Oakley’s bass solo. Dual guitar solos by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts lead into an all member jam crescendo that closes an incredible jam on an incredible double album by an incredible jam band.

One of the original jam bands.

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 traditional 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 masterpiece “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 of 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 of 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.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery

Most people who know classic rock know of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Most people who know of Emerson Lake and Palmer, know the song “Karn Evil 9”, if not by name at least by its opening line “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends”. It is after all, their most often played song on the radio. But that song you hear on the radio is actually only a five minute excerpt from an epic song that is over thirty minutes long. It is the central piece of music on their fourth album “Brain Salad Surgery”.

ELP’ s music was always heavily influenced by Euoropean classical music. So it should come as no big surprise that the entire song “Karn Evil 9” is structured much like a classical composition, performed in 3 movements. The 1st movement is split into two sections. Part one takes up the second half of the first side of the “Brain Salad Surgery” and part two starts off side 2 of the album. The 2nd and 3rd movements of “Karn Evil 9” close out side 2. The part of the song that is most often played on the radio is actually “Karn Evil 9, 1st movement, part 2”.

The album “Brain Salad Surgery” is a masterpiece of creativity. The album starts out with a modern take of “Jerusalem”, a hymn commonly heavily ingrained in British culture and with the Church of England. It’s followed by an adaptation of “Toccata”, a rock adaptation of a piano concerto written by 20th century classical composer Alberto Ginastera, Carl Palmer adds a percussion movement to. It starts out on tympani drums and wraps up with a wild solo played on a synthesized drum set. “Benny the Bouncer” is a just for fun song featuring a Keith Emerson playing honky-tonk piano and Carl Palmer’s super-fast jazz style drumming using brushes instead of sticks – something almost unheard of by rock bands. “Still, You Turn Me On” is slow and beautiful piece and the final song before “Karn Evil 9” takes over the rest of the record.

If you think this all sound a bit self-indulgent and pretentious, well…It is. All three members of ELP were exceptional musicians and they aimed to flaunt it on their early albums. They were the epitome of self-indulgent, pretentios rock. I mean that in the best way possible.

Emerson Lake, and Palmer practically defined what becamee known as “progressive rock”. Keith Emerson was a classically trained pianist. He worked closely with Roger Moog, who creator of the Moog synthesizer. Emerson became a pioneer of the synthesizer, demonstrating its versatility and making a significant instrument in rock music. Carl Palmer, was far more than just a drummer. He is considered to be one of the best percussionist ever and could augment any style music. Greg Lake was a solid bassist who had one of the most distinct, immediately recognizable voices in modern music. Only musicians of their caliber could have pulled off album like this.