Sunday, 29 May 2016

The MOJO CD - Blonde On Blonde Revisited

The best MOJO covers CDs are usually their classic album reinterpretation extravaganzas. This time around it's an album that probably gets in every Bob Dylan fan's top five, the iconic and groundbreaking Blonde On Blonde, half a century old this year. This artist is a natural for the MOJO treatment, as it has often been the case that Dylan's more accessible songs in particular often sound better performed by someone else. I mean, even the most fanatical Dylanologist cannot deny that Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower takes that song into another universe. That's probably the most obvious example, and as you know, there are several others.

However, some Dylan songs can and should only be played by the Minnesota Bard himself, and there are many of those on this classic album, so let's see how it rolls...

Malcolm Middleton - Rainy Day Women #12 & #35

As ever, the best way to cover an iconic tune is to reinvent it, and here Middleton does just that, turning Dylan's stoned showband stagger into a menacing electro-drone march of the undead, which I would imagine is an atypical approach for the indie-folkie. You don't have to be stoned but it probably helps. A promising start.

My Darling Clementine - Pledging My Time

MOJO being a mainstream magazine, and me being buried deep within the obscuranist culture bunker, it comes as no surprise that most of the artists on this CD are names hitherto unknown to me, and this country duo are no exception to that rule. This is so stripped back and downhome, you can almost see the porch of the tumbledown shack from which these two strum and croon their thang. Yee-ha!

Steve Gunn - Visions of Johanna

His voice may sound like this anyway, I wouldn't know, but Gunn's otherwise warm-hearted countryfied cover of this song struggles with and occasionally fails in its task to not become an admittedly decent Zim impersonation, but an impersonation nonetheless.

Chip Taylor - One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

A funereal atmosphere pervades a claustrophobic version of the tune from the songwriter best known for penning Wild Thing. Unusually for the Zim the song contains a relatively literal lyric that is not much open to interpretation. Taylor turns up the melancholy to 11. Pass the hankies. One of the better covers on this album.

Phosphorescent - I Want You

Dylan's allegorical paen to desire given a subtle treatment by American singer-songwriter Matthew Houk aka Phosphorescent. Although there is nothing particularly remarkable about this version, as with others on this CD, the strength of the song easily overcomes any tendency by the artist in question to meekly follow in Bob's footsteps. Quite nice actually

Promised Land Sound - Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

Ah, this is more like it, someone with the cojones to stamp their own identity on a well-known tune. Country-psych reverb-heavy wigginess makes this a joyful little romp that while not as radical as Malcolm Middleton's approach does enough to be different, flying off into the cosmos at the end in a heady swirl of sound.

Michael Chapman - Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

One wilful and highly individualistic talent covers another, and such is Chapman's weight of experience, the tune becomes instantly his. Some great slide work at the end of this 12 bar boogie-shuffle is a delight to behold.

Peter Bruntnell - Just Like A Woman

A common approach on this album is for the artist to strip away the music and expose Dylan's lyrics for the wonderful things they are, and this is another that takes that route, slowing the tune down to a crawl into the bargain. The trouble is, it seems to suck the life out of the thing. A good cure for insomnia, methinks.

Thomas Cohen - Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine

Whereas the last one was soporific, this fizzes with attitude and a funky swagger and is far better as a result. Another of the better ones on here.

Kevin Morby - Temporary Like Achilles

Kevin Morby and his acoustic guitar do Woody Guthrie covering Dylan, and given the obvious connection it works just fine. Sounds like it was recorded on one microphone in his kitchen, which only adds to the atmosphere.

Marissa Nadler - Absolutely Sweet Marie

This CD is somewhat lacking in female representation, and here we have only the second female voice on the album. Marissa Nadler, who has already released an album of cover versions that included two Dylan songs turns in an ethereal version of the tune with an elegiac feel. Spooky.

As for the lack of female interpretations, I would have loved to have heard The Unthanks cover one of these tunes.

Ryley Walker - 4th Time Around

American folkie Ryley Walker plays out a respectful and atmospheric cover of Dylan paying homage to Lennon paying homage to Dylan...or summat.

Night Beats - Obviously 5 Believers

This version of the energetic Obviously 5 Believers by Night Beats, whom MOJO describe as a "psych-soul" band fair zips along with youthful zeal. Sounds like an 18-year old Dr John, heavy on the voodoo gumbo.

Jim O'Rourke - Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

...and we end with only the fifth artist I'd heard of before on this compilation. The multi-talented O'Rourke is a natural to cover the "epic" on the album, Dylan's song of awe to his then new wife Sara Lownds. Mixing found sounds with simple but effective instrumentation over its gently unfolding 13 minutes, this is a great way to end a largely successful album of reinterpretations.

MOJO Magazine

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Vertiginous Musings - Part Five

And so we reach the final part of my Vertigo "swirly" reappraisal. It has been fun revisiting these albums, most of which had not been played in many years, and some gems have been rediscovered, as well as some real clunkers. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

6360 066
Warhorse - Red Sea

Not difficult, but an improvement on the first album, but still sounds both dreadfully dated and derivative, the title track being a complete lift from the Purps version of Hush, for example. Elsewhere the riffage still plods wearily, more like an asthmatic pit pony than a warhorse.

6360 067
Jackson Heights - Fifth Avenue Bus

Having been uncermoniously dumped by Keith Emerson, it's no surprise that Lee Jackson's next band would turn away from the overwrought classical bombast of his former leader in The Nice. I'd not played this album in years before writing this, which is a shame as it contains some nice loose-limbed West Coast flavoured pop featuring intricate arrangements and harmonies. Mike Giles occupies the drum stool.

6360 068
Magna Carta - In Concert

My one and only contribution to the vertigoswirl website, I came across an Indian release of this otherwise nondescript folk album from the steadfastly uninteresting Magna Carta.

6360 069
Gordon - Gordon

Rumoured to be the lowest selling swirly, and justifiably so, as this is very dull singer-songwriter fare performed by the lesser known half of Peter & Gordon. There is absolutely no reason to own this poor waste of resources unless you've been bitten by the collecting bug. Sometimes old records sold next to no copies for good reason. I'll give it a mark for turning up...

6360 070
Gentle Giant - Three Friends

After the stunning Acquiring The Taste it is unsurprising that such lofty heights were not quite attained for the follow up, a loose concept album on the development of friendship. Peel The Paint contains Gary Green's greatest exhibition of plank spanking for the group, and this album while not a "10/10" is still stonkingly good!

6360 071
Black Sabbath - Vol. 4 say this is the "best Sabbath album on Vertigo". No it isn't, obviously that was Paranoid. To my uncouth ears, this is too slick by half, and the innocent Mary Jane of Sweet Leaf has been replaced by the cynical superstar marching powder of Snowblind. All a tad too smooth, but it still rocks like a beast. The penultimate great Sabs album.

6360 072
Freedom - Freedom Is More Than A Word

More varied instrumentation, better tuneage and less plodding boogie make this a far better album than the debut. Still not much to write home about.

6360 073
Beggars Opera - Pathfinder

The third album from the Scottish proggers shows that the small advances made on the previous release were as good as it was going to get, which was slightly below average. This is another distinctly unremarkable album, replete with a rather pointless cover of MacArthur Park, a supremely daft piece of nonsense in the first place!

Another lavish six-panel cover showcasing Peter Goodfellow's fantastical painting of a spaceman astride a rabid horse in a futuristic scene. This is the album's only redeeming feature.

6360 074
Catapilla - Changes

The Gothic psychedelic jazz-rock band return with a second and if anything, even starker album. Anna Meek is on fine form, her sometimes wordless vocals conjuring dystopian images as the rest of the band do their bare bones swamp jazz thang. Play this loud with the lights out! Great lurid die-cut cover from Roger Dean's brother Martyn tops it off.

6360 075 - assigned to Paul Jones' unfinished second album for the label.

6360 076
Ian Carr - Belladonna

Karl Jenkins and John Marshall have departed for Soft Machine, and Jeff Clyne's bass has been picked up by another future-Soft, Roy Babbington. With all these changes Carr has ditched the Nucleus name and taken over most of the composing duties. There's a thirteen-minute long riff in one key and one tempo on this record, and that's the opening and title track. In lesser skilled hands than these it would degenerate into a dirge, but this thing is hypnotic. Also features one Allan Holdsworth on surprisingly low-key guitar. Marvellous!

6360 077
Jackson Heights - Ragamuffin's Fool

Second album from Lee Jackson's band seems to indicate that they were running out of gas. The first side is full of great prog-pop, but the second is an aimless affair, and even includes a cover of a Nice song. It's never a good idea to go back, in any area of life.

Tastefully embossed single cover, with a poster. The only UK Vertigo swirly in a single cover, the Atlantis album (see the last entry in this list) being a Vertigo Germany release originally.

6360 078 - Various artists compilation "Superheavy Vol 2" released in Peru

6360 079
Jade Warrior - Last Autumn's Dream

Now up to their third album, the formula has been perfected. Soon to de-camp for Island where they became far more meditative, toning down the Hendrix guitar flourishes. I much prefer their raucous Vertigo period.

6360 080
Gentle Giant - Octopus

Could the Giant get back to the peaks of musical achievement attained on Acquiring The Taste? Yes, with knobs on! Now with the "classic" line up, John Weathers having taken over the drum stool, nothing is left to chance. Rhythmically mind-boggling, tight as a nut, and boundlessly energetic Octopus is another prog rock golden nugget from this most eclectic of bands, crammed with classics of the genre. If you consider yourself a prog rock fan, you already have this in your collection, surely? A great Roger Dean cover too, that for some reason was not used on the USA version.

It may be even better than Acquiring The Taste, but this isn't Spinal Tap, I'm not about to give a score of 11!!

6360 081
Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed

One of a handful of really well known albums on the label, this was the LP that thrust Alex Harvey's bunch of Glasgae hard cases into the spotlight. As hard as nails, the "Are ye starin' at me pint?" threatening air is established right from the opening blast of 12-bar aggro that is the title track. Fabbo!

6360 082
Status Quo - Piledriver

Gu-dunga-dunga-dunga, before it became boring. Includes the hit single Paper Plane.

6360 083
John Dummer's Oobleedooblee Band - Oobleedooblee Jubilee

One of only two releases on the soon to be shelved UK version of the the Vertigo swirly label design in 1973, and the only UK-originated release, so therefore the it has the honour of being The Last Official UK Swirly.

This somewhat prosaic country rock/R&B band features the guitar of Dave Kelly, and his skill on the instrument is the only thing that lifts this album above "entirely forgettable". John Dummer is, fittingly enough, the drummer, and the keyboard player is one Kingsley Ward, presumably he of Rockfield studios fame?

...and there ends any logical sequence of chronological catalogue numbers. What follows is a seemingly random selection of numbers assigned to other releases on the "swirl" Vertigo label:

6360 500
Rod Stewart - Gasoline Alley

Rod's second solo album is every bit as classy as the first. This time around the backing band is The Faces and no-one else, and the end result has that familiar classic about to fall apart effortless boozy rock'n'roll swagger synonymous with the leery lads. It helps that Rod has picked some classic tunes to cover too.

6499 407/408 (6657 001)
Various Artists - Vertigo Annual 1970

If you only search out one Vertigo compilation, this is the one to go for. Not a bad track on its two LPs, and a great introduction to the label. The iconic Keef cover tops it off. Marvellous!

6342 010
Lighthouse - One Fine Morning

Guess who designed that cover? That apart, this is a mostly failed experiment in the large ensemble mould. An 11-member band consisting of rock instruments, brass and string sections, with poorly arranged multiple vocalists sounds like a mess on paper and that's what it is on record. Some of the tunes show promise and some of the brass/sax solos are good, but it's not an album I play often, if at all. In fact before writing this I couldn't recall anything about it!

6325 250
Thomas F. Browne - Wednesday's Child

Who he? I have no idea, but he has some names in his backing band - Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson, Gary Wright (I assume it's the Spooky Tooth keyboard player) who, despite their pedigree cannot lift these dull songs out of their slough of despond. A singer/songwriter cash-in by the label that fails to realise that it helps to have at least some half-decent songs as a starting point.

6342 011
Lighthouse - Thoughts Of Movin' On

Less than a year after the debut comes Lighthouse's second album. The tunes are more consistent, but it's somehow less involving. The sprawling mess of the debut now seems to be a plus point!

6333 500/501 (6673 001)
Aphrodite's Child - 666

Every self-respecting prog or psych fan knows this record. A trail blazing acid concept album about the apocalypse, including screaming orgasms. Demis Roussos soon left all this behind to become the suburban housewives' favourite, as immortalised in the withering Mike Leigh play Abigail's Party, and Vangelis became a one-man musical industry. Neither surpassed this marvellous double album. The spiky acid-fried guitar of Silver Koulouris is the star, leading these anti-Beatles compositions down the Styx. A true classic!

6360 700
Jim Croce - You Don't Mess Around With Jim

Pretty nondescript country rock from American singer songwriter backed by a competent bunch of session musos. Not a lot more to be said, really.

6360 701
Jim Croce - Life And Times

THIS IS BLOODY ANNOYING! Last time I looked at before writing this series was a few years ago, and back then this was only credited as a rumoured release on swirl, but it now appears to be a bona fide ultra-rarity, and therefore means that my collection now falls not one but two short of the total. Dang!

Musically, this is a big improvement on the previous rather undynamic album and is quite fun. Includes the Sinatra-covered Big, Bad Leroy Brown, royally ripped off and camped up...err, Queen for their Bring Back That Leroy Brown.

6499 268/269 (6641 077)
Kraftwerk - Kraftwerk

A genuine musical landmark, in two parts. The first two Krafwerk albums, released separately in Germany on Philips as Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2, and here put out as a budget double album for the princely sum of £3 are landmark releases in the formative years of Krautrock, and far more interesting and utterly different from the band's later trademark "robot" music, if somewhat less musical.

1 features the motorik drums of Klaus Dinger and much flute and primitive elctronics, lending it a hypnotic air. The music has hints of the scale repitition honed to perfection with the introduction of synths a few years down the line. By 2 Dinger's services had been dispensed with, and the visceral organic nature if the debut is replaced by a far less rhythmic and more disparate and experimental sound, epitomised by Atem, which consists of three minutes of treated breathing. 

This album gets a high mark more for its importance in an emerging sound culture than for its content, if I'm honest. However, it is definintely worth a listen.

6360 609
Atlantis - Atlantis 

The rump (heheh) of the Big Brother-blusey German rock band formerly known as Frumpy re-convene as Atlantis, with a rockier and frankly less exciting sound. "An average band with outstanding vocals" says, and this time they're dead right. Inga Rumpf provides the full-throated Joplinesque singing, and it's the only thing that makes this record vaguely interesting.

Thw dullness is compounded by the disappointingly simple single cover. A direct lift from the German Vertigo run of releases, possibly in the hope that a UK release would spark interest. It didn't.

Well, that's your lot. All that remains now is to give thanks to that invaluable resource tool, the best label-dedicated site I know of. How better to finish off than an interview with the founder of Vertigo Records, Olav Wyper, published in July last year in

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

2019, the insanity grows...

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