DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK (EMI)
Me? Into Deep Purple? 'Fraid so. I first got this influential 1970 album when I was 11 or 12, buying it from an older kid at school. I sold it on myself after being converted to punk just a year or two later. During the brief period I owned the record 1975-76, when fuck all else was happening I played In Rock so often that even listening to the 'Anniversary Edition' a full quarter century on, I found myself successfully pre-empting almost every Richie Blackmore riff, every Jon Lord keyboard solo, and of course, every Ian Gillan scream.
As per its title, In Rock is one of the hardest albums of its time an era, crucially, before heavy metal posturing and pretentiousness became cliché. That means 'Speed King' and 'Flight of The Rat' are nothing more offensive than bruising rock'n'roll, and 'Child In Time' especially in full 10-minute version rather than the 4-minute edit I also found on the Caroline Calling compilation (see below) remains one of the best hard rock ballads of the era. Throw in that year's single 'Black Night,' and extra 30 minutes of out-takes, including a ferocious if hastily titled hard blues instrumental 'Jam Stew', and the £7 I paid for this seems every bit as much a bargain as the £1 I paid for the second-hand vinyl around 27 years ago. A gleefully guilty pleasure. A-
THE KILLS KEEP ON YOUR MEAN SIDE (Red Meat Heart)
Having previously expressed my shock that anything 'hip' should emerge from my old stomping ground of Gypsy Hill, I snapped up The Kills' debut album the moment I saw it priced at a conveniently affordable £6.99. Far from being representative of that little-known South London postcode SE19, the Kills have the visual and media appeal of the White Stripes (male-female duo, are-they-weren't-they-lovers?), and a lot of the same bluesy simplicity too. The difference is that while the man who likes to be called Hotel (but whom I think I will have to call by his real name, Jamie Hince, formerly of Scarfo) plays guitar a la Jack White, it's his partner VV (known to her mum as Alison Mossheart, formerly of Florida band Discount) who takes most of the vocals, in a manner eerily reminiscent of the great Patti Smith. When the duo rock as on 'Pull A U', 'Cat Claw' and especially, the surprisingly cheerful 'Fuck the People' they're up there with the White duo. And even when they roll, casually, on some deep south blues like 'Kissy Kissy,' 'Monkey 23' and 'Fried my Little Brains,' they do so with charm. By the way, that's Deep South London we're talking about not just the Delta swamp. A-.
KINGS OF LEON YOUTH & YOUNG MANHOOD (Handmedown/BMG)
'The best debut album of the last 10 years,' says the NME. It would be nice to comment on Kings of Leon without paying attention to such hyperbole, but given that this quote is proudly stickered on the front sleeve in bigger type than both the band name and album title, it's impossible to separate myth from music.
In fairness, the group's visceral appeal is so obvious that you wonder who wouldn't gush about them: three Followill brothers and their first cousin, born into the United Pentecostal Church, spending childhood on the evangelist circuit (living in cars and trailers, being home-schooled or at single-class Pentecostal schools), picking up rock'n'roll as readily as religion, moving to Nashville, making music, scoring a record deal, then breaking Britain as the latest American guitar sensation to take one step into the future for every two steps into the past.
But still, as someone who's yet to see the group in the flesh, I'm not going overboard in my enthusiasm. There's a trio of great songs on Youth & Young Manhood the purposefully slack 'Wasted Time,' 'California Waiting' (with its straight-up Strokes riff) and the official closer 'Holy Roller Novocaine' and a hint of greatness in much of the rest of it. By all accounts, this is a promising band delivering a quality album. But given that it's no better than, for example, the Kills' debut reviewed up above, it hardly lives up to the NME sticker shock. And the fact that parent company BMG won't let me play the album on my Mac for fear I'm going to burn copies for all my friends is an insult. (What, I couldn't burn them on a PC too? You're going to choose what I can play on my Mac's CD drive? I'm tempted to burn copies off for the sheer hell of it...)
As an important aside, I read several interviews with the group in the UK they're all over the press there - and not one feature tackled the group on their religious beliefs, or the role of religious dogma in our increasingly confrontational society, and I'm not sure why the band gets a free pass on that when a Bible-bashing country singer would surely not. Certainly, I'd like to know a lot more about their upbringing and how it's influenced their current way of being. So like all religion, I say take from Kings of Leon what you need and desire, and leave the rest of it especially the promise of miracles by the wayside. B.
CERYS MATTHEWS COCKAHOOP (Blanco y Negro)
I loved Catatonia. Madly. Deeply. At least in their very early days; their indie singles formed by far and away their best album. (You can hear them compiled on the Sublime Genius of
though to be fair, both International Velvet and Equally Cursed And Blessed had their moments of greatness.) Actually, scratch all that, I never really loved Catatonia. It was Cerys I was in love with, and I even remember the moment: she was performing in sunglasses in a darkened basement in Manchester (something to do with a hangover) and as far as I could tell, and it sounded like she was singing in a totally foreign language (which in fact she was: most of the band's early songs were in Welsh) but she was hypnotizing, mesmerizing. With or without the band, she was destined for the big time.
So I picked up her first post-Catatonia solo album on sight, without having heard a note or read a review or even, I have to admit, known that it had been released. This means I was unaware that Cockahoop had been recorded in Nashville, Catatonia's straightforward rock approach jettisoned for country, roots and folk arrangements, full of banjos, pedal steels, clarinets, fiddles and string quartets, with nary an electric guitar in sight. The 'novelty', such as it is, proves initially disconcerting, but the songs soon dig in for the long term as Cockahoop reveals itself to be impressively solid. Matthews' voice is no less husky than ever, but with these musicians (too many to mention, so let's just credit producer Bucky Baxter for assembling them), she doesn't need to scream to be heard, which means she can pull off campfire singalongs like 'if you're lookin' for love' and 'the good in goodbye' and sound completely convincing.
Now that I've got the album, I've also been to Cerys' web site and read her dairies from the Nashville sessions. Her fear ("in the night, after hearing a song over and over, it becomes a map of stumbles that need fixing,") makes refreshingly frank reading, and her asides simply inspire laughter, like this entry from last June: "i got the biggest tv installed however, ready to watch england vs brazil. then i harped on about it for days, since i arrived, then i messed up with the dates, then i messed up with the hours, then the cable wouldn't work, then i missed it, then i found england had lost, then i cried. bugger.bugger bugger." Probably for the best. Cockahoop sounds nothing like England. Nothing like Brazil. And 'arglwydd dyma fi' aside, it sounds nothing like Wales either. It does, however, sound like nobody but Cerys Matthews. I'm still in love. A-
'weightless again' likens the floating feeling of love with the desire to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge (and throws in a brief soliloquy to American Indians in the process). The strongest section comes at the end, with the aforementioned rabblerousing 'if you're lookin' for love' and 'the good in goodbye' followed by the shamelessly derivative but surprisingly successful 6/8 waltz of 'the gypsy song' and a brave and surprisingly successful finale of the traditional 'all my trials'. However, a web site like mine could not conclude the review discussing anything other than Cockahoop's opening song, 'chardonnay'. I might disagree with her choice of tipple mainly because 'chardonnay drinkers' has become a British byword for middle-class trendies, and Cerys is nothing of the sort, and also because there's too much bad chardonnay around and Cerys is surely a woman of class but the song's lilting melody is just as lovely as the lyrical metaphor: "When I'm sad and blue you are my friend, constant and true, I dedicate this night to you, and I would like to take you home with me, tonight."
Well, you don't listen to a song called 'chardonnay' with a glass of syrah in your hands. For a detailed summary of the chardonnay conflict, you can read my report from the 2002 tastings. For an easy-going, budget bottle, pick up the Cartlidge and Brown from California; given that it's made by a British wine maker in America, it seems highly appropriate to accompany Cockahoop. And if you're a committed member of the ABC club that's Anything But Chardonnay jump straight to the Viognier Pages instead.
SMALL FACES THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION (Sanctuary/Universal)
I saw this priced on sale in the UK priced anywhere from £9.99 to £15.99, but even at £25, it would be value for money. The Small Faces are fondly remembered as Britain's archetypal mod band, and one of the nation's most consistent singles groups throughout the glorious sixties. But 1968's conceptual psychedelic music hall masterpiece Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake aside, they've never really received credit as an albums' band. In compiling some fifty songs onto just two CDs, the Ultimate Collection goes a long way to rectifying this critical lapse, and by separating the songs into two eras the R&B-flavored Decca recordings on CD1, and the progressive music for the influential Immediate label on CD2 we also get a clear sense of the group's artistic growth.
So, yes, all the great 45s are here 'Sha-La-La-La-Lee,' 'Hey Girl,' 'All Or Nothing,' 'My Mind's Eye,' Itchycoo Park,' and 'Tin Soldier' being just some of them but this is so much more than a Greatest Hits. I'm only now discovering tracks like the hefty R&B instrumental 'Grow Your Own', the oft-forgotten 'You Better Believe It' and, especially on CD2, 'Talk To You' (with Steve Marriott's vocals at their bluesy best), 'My Way Of Giving' and the vaguely jazzy 'Eddie's Dreaming.'
And while I'm more familiar with the beauties of the Ogdens' album, it's always a thrill to hear the cheerful 'Song of A Baker' and 'Mad John' as well as the album's two hit singles, 'Afterglow' and 'Lazy Sunday.' The instrumental title track, meanwhile, justifies the musical reputations not just of guitarist Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane and widely renowned Ian McLagan, but also that of the generally maligned drummer Kenny Jones, too.
The chronological and comprehensive nature of the package also allows us to note several comparisons between Steve Marriott and Paul Weller. Though The Jam never excelled at music-hall singalongs ('Just Who Is The 5 O'clock hero?' is hardly a match for 'Lazy Sunday'), they otherwise followed a similar arc to the Small Faces, emerging from a rhythm and blues background to become a pre-eminent singles band, but a frustratingly inconsistent albums act. More specifically, you can hear in Marriott's steadily strengthening blues voice Weller's prime vocal influence, you can see in the pictures his prime visual guru, and you can read in Paolo Hewitt's sleeve notes a prior example of a leader disbanding a group at their peak. "In 1968, Marriott was keen to be seen as a skillful musician above everything else," writes Hewitt. "Steve was now 22, he had been with Small faces, day and night, for four years, now...they were growing up, reaching that age when they had to pursue their individual dreams, as opposed to collective ones." No surprise that former Cappucino Kid Hewitt is at work on a full Marriott biography. Solid A+.
T. REX THE VERY BEST OF (Music Collection)
I've got great gaping gaps in the CD collection, and given that I wasn't buying albums back in 1972-3 (unless they were by Alice Cooper) some similarly wide holes in my vinyl stash. So, when I see The Very Best of T. Rex at £7, I have no choice but to pick it up immediately. And I'm thrilled to have it. All the same, I'm disappointed that a supposed 'Very Best Of' couldn't do what the Small Faces' Ultimate Collection manages, and compile tracks from both Marc Bolan's major record labels. As it is, we miss out not just on Bolan's 1968 and 1969 minor hits, but also 'Ride A White Swan,' 'Hot Love', 'Get It On' and 'Jeepster' all of which hit either number one or number two in the UK and established Bolan as the very first of the 1970s glam stars.
So while 'Telegram Sam,' 'Metal Guru' and 'Children of the Revolution' are essential components of any decent record collection, and 'New York City,' 'Born To Boogie' and 'London Boys' are worthy of re-examination, a good half of this 20-song compilation does more to explain Bolan's steady decline than his initial appeal. What seemed like a bargain has come to seem a fair price and I'll happily dish out another £7 for a similar 'Very Best Of' that covers the Fly recordings era and before. A-.
VARIOUS ARTISTS - FUNK ESSENTIALS: A FURTHER ODYSSEY IN FUNK (Beechwood Music)
I bought a previous 4-CD set under the same title at the airport for a mere fiver a few years back; and I've been dropping its Ike and Tina Turner, Meters and Joe Tex obscurities into DJ sets ever sense. A Further Odyssey In Funk understandably moves forward into the 1970s, and while I'm all up for Funkadelic, Roy Ayers, Buddy Rich and The Jones Girls, I'm less likely to use them as a DJ. Then again, any four CD compilation that gives us all those and then throws in Curtis Mayfield and Jimmy McGriff - and all for under a tenner - is hard to refuse. B+.
VARIOUS ARTISTS 70'S FLASHBACK: RADIO CAROLINE CALLING (Disky)
Probably the most bizarre multi-CD set I've ever bought, 70's Calling claims to reflect the musical taste of that once esteemed maritime pirate station Radio Caroline. In reality, it swings back and forth through the decade's musical waves both pre-punk and post-punk with such abruptness it instead inspires some of the same seasickness the literally rocking shop once caused in its DJs. By which I mean we have Don McLean's 'American Pie' up against XTC's 'Making Plans For Nigel,' Pilot's 'Magic' followed by Blondie's 'Sunday Girl' and UFO's 'Shoot Shoot' competing with Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights.' Still, at just £7 for 54 tracks, and especially in this era of I-Tunes, where I can rip the wheat and discard the chaff, it's hard to complain. I'm mildly pleased to now possess a few tracks on CD I wouldn't otherwise have gone out of my way for, including 'Whole Lotta Love' by CSS, which was also the former Old Grey Whistle Test's theme tune, 'The Air That I Breathe' by The Hollies and 'Moonlighting' by Leo Sayer. And I'm positively thrilled to add a whole bunch of classics to my CD collection, among them 'Radar Love' by Golden Earring, 'Silver Machine' by Hawkwind, 'Sylvia' and 'Hocus Pocus' by Focus, and the John Kongos hit that launched the most memorable cover version of the Madchester era
yes, we're talking none other than the original 'Step On.' B.