Category: Mojo Reviews Challenge

Mojo Reviews Challenge #014 – Dave Edmunds – Chronicles (1994)

Dave Edmunds
Chronicles
1994 – Connoisseur Collection

Dave Edmunds has always been a bit of a Zelig like figure for me. He is associated with and hangs out with a lot of artists I love. But I have never explored his music.

I, of course, know two songs. Both were hits and written for Edmunds – Girls Talk by Elvis Costello and I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock N Roll) by Nick Lowe. He is scattered on various compilations (Live Stiffs, the Stiff Records box set, etc) I own, and guested on other records that I his name didn’t front.

I guess what kept me away from Edmunds was that he wasn’t a songwriter, and he didn’t have a special point of view. He just sang cool songs of others. Listening to this compilation, it is very compilation-y. This is a classic 90s best of where they just filled the disc to capacity.

This album is filled with familiar songs. They are all covers – John Fogerty’s Almost Saturday Night, the classical piece Sabre Dance (heard in lots of films) and more. The songs sound pretty good, Edmunds is a fine player and singer. I drift towards the less produced stuff like Crawling From The Wreckage.

In the end, I already had better versions of these songs. And for me, these songs are OK – they all seem to touch upon good time 50s rock n roll, which is not my favourite genre. It’s riff heavy, simple lyrics – I know people who love it, and they are the biggest Dave Edmunds fans I know. It is nice to have a great version of Girls Talk. The version of I Knew The Bride is fine.

After this, I’m not rushing out to buy a whole lot of Rockpile or Dave Edmunds albums. This pub rock era of British music was full of filler, and if this is the best, then I’ve heard it before. It ticks a box, solves a mystery. I’m sure he’s a blast live, he looks neat and has a good voice. His frequent collaborator Nick Lowe talks about Cruel To Be Kind (which Edmonds plays on), saying it was simply his turn to have a hit. Edmunds, he just kind of had a turn.

Mojo Reviews Challenge #013 – Victoria Williams – Loose (1994)

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

184433_1_fVictoria Williams
Loose
1994 – Mammoth

I’ve been quietly looking for this album for around 20 years. Victoria Williams came into my world in two ways. One, the moderately famous Sweet Relief compilation that was a tribute to her, featuring huge bands like Pearl Jam, Buffalo Tom, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams and others. The other was the wonderful song that the Jayhawks, and her husband Mark Olson, wrote about her.

That Sweet Relief tribute came about because Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Musicians don’t have health care, and her plight became a lightning rod for musicians in the 90s to set up the Sweet Relief Fund, to help musicians without health care. The fund still exists today, 23 years later, and still helps people.

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Loose actually comes after that tribute record, which had covered songs from her early albums. I’ve not heard those albums, but this one is apparently bigger and more ambitious. At a full 16 tracks (oh, the 90s…), and featuring a massive array of famous stars, it was designed to break Williams into the mainstream. It failed miserably.

The early 90s were full of eccentric records – it seems it came down marketing and personality. And Williams is a wonderful weirdo. I was expecting a low key folk-y, countryish, Freakwater-y album. But third song in, we get Harry Went To Heaven, which sounds like Kate Bush fronting a hotel jazz band. There’s a cover of Louis Armstrong‘s What A Wonderful World, with a string quartet. And maybe because I hear it in every female singer with a guitar, but the jazzy stuff sounds like jazzy Joni Mitchell. Which is only a good thing.

There’s more than a little 90s alterna-rock here. Crazy Mary was the single (and was covered by Pearl Jam) and by far her most famous song. A dramatic character study like, say, Luka, with big strings and a buzzy guitar and weird spoken verses, it doesn’t sound anything like a hit.

Williams, from her album covers, looked beautiful. And she would marry one of my favourite songwriters, Mark Olson of the Jayhawks. Their 1995 album Tomorrow The Green Grass is amongst my favourite albums, especially when I was 17. The second song was Miss Williams Guitar, a tribute to Victoria. I am still, today, so in love with that song that through transitive properties, it carries over to Victoria.

There’s a bit of Jayhawks on this album. Olson plays on it, and that soulful country mix almost makes this sound, in some places, like an early Jayhawks album with a different singer. Olson and Williams share a sweet duet called When We Sing Together.

Overall, the album is lovely. I feel like if I bought this album when I was 17 like I should have, when I was most obsessed with albums that sounded like this, this could possibly mean a lot more to me. I probably would have worked out the chords to these songs, jammed them with friends, put them on mix tapes.

Williams and Olson packed their bags after this and moved out to Joshua Tree. Olson left the Jayhawks, and that was a big issue in itself. But I bought many of the albums the pair made under the name The Original Harmony Creek Dippers, pretty much the most lo-fi albums you’ve ever heard. But as a songwriter in my teens, I had the fantasy of being a hermit, hiding in the country, me and a beautiful perfect singer, making little homespun albums. Williams and Olson lived that dream. It broke my heart when they broke up in 2006.

Loose is a sweet album, with lots of character and charm. Far too much to make her the next Lisa Loeb or Gwen Stefanie or whoever the label might have been thinking. As we are not in the 90s, it could easily lose 4-6 songs. But perhaps that’s the nice thing about those 16 track albums – more room to be weird. It’s far more jazzy than I anticipated, which I like.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #012 – Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

EdwynGGCollinsEdwyn Collins
Georgeous George
1994 – Setanta

When you become a massive record nerd, you find yourself drawn to certain times and cultures through history. For me, one of those eras is Glasgow in the early 80s. Please take me down the Byres Road with my Postcard Records knapsack, on my way to watch a Bill Forsyth film.

I buy into Postcard Records fully. And once you do, Edwyn Collins is a god. I have every album by his band Orange Juice. So why have I never explored his solo stuff?

A song from this album is definitely where it started for me and Edwyn. Years before someone gave me a copy of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (the first Orange Juice album) Edwyn had an unlikely worldwide hit with ‘A Girl Like You‘. A 60s garage fuzz pop burst, it was an unexpected throwback that worked.

Gorgeous George is the album that followed that worldwide hit. It’s nice to meet and really get to know the older Edwyn. Postcard Edwyn was always strange and hypnotic, cool older kid from your school. But he’s turned into a reflective young man still obsessed by rock n roll, some 15 years later.

The songs are still about the primal rock n roll food groups – girls, love, music itself, get-me-outta-here. The lyrics and stories are fun, but they aren’t the groundbreaking voice that roared into life in 79. Which is perhaps why this album is not remembered so fondly.

The album sounds great. It doesn’t sound dated at all, much like the best produced Brit Pop of the era. There’s those pretty smattering a of Northern Soul. There’s lovely lighter moments such as Low Expectations that recalls Lloyd Cole at his quietest. Collins voice is still full of rich yearning. His guitar playing is top notch – Lou Reed messy but on it when he needs to be. And somehow the Sex PistolsPaul Cook is on drums.

Highlights abound. Northern soul fans will find If You Could Love Me, the other single from this album and a song I can no longer live without. The title track is another soulful slice of pop. This really is an album best enjoyed in a flat above a shop in Northern Britain.

Collins suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 2005. He has been recovering and even toured Australia and I caught an amazing show. He is still making music and I am now making my way through his solo stuff.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #011 – The Wonder Stuff – If The Beatles Had Read Hunter…The Singles

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

CS1813972-02A-BIGThe Wonder Stuff
If The Beatles Had Read Hunter…The Singles
1994 – Polydor

I would count Brit Pop as my big light bulb moment of music. I loved chart pop and a little bit of grunge, but the war between Blur and Oasis – and the rush of bands that included Ash, Supergrass, Pulp and more – was the first music that was mine.

Which is unfair to Brit Pop because It was already on its second or third wace by 1994/1995. The few years before that are still largely a mystery to me, although I’ve heard of a lot of those bands. Take the Wonder Stuff, who had several chart hits and four albums (3 of them bothered the top 10) and had broken up and released a greatest hits before ‘Common People’ was even recorded.

My knowledge of the Wonder Stuff can be summed up thus;
– ‘Dizzy’, the friggin’ awesome single they did with Vic Reeves in 1991
– ‘Size Of A Cow’ and ‘Unbearable’ on various compilations
– The singer has long, curly hair

The kind of perfect amount of knowledge to bring in a Greatest Hits, then.

The title comes from a review of the band, (the Hunter being Hunter S Thompson) and it is a very generous assessment. They don’t have the clean lines of the Beatles, but they do have a lot of thrash-it-out energy, which is the most exciting part of this compilation.

There seems to be no order with this set, and I hate Greatest Hits collections that do this. Why? Why not just go chronological? Tell me a story. I don’t know your songs, and putting it in some biggest-hit-to-obscure-songs order helps me nothing. It is a bit of a jumpy listen straight through – production values and instrumentation (the violin in particular) come and go.

There’s a lot of catchy, fun stuff here, regardless. The songs I knew still shine. ‘Welcome To the Cheap Seats’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down Gently’, ‘Caught In My Shadow’, ‘A Wish Away’ – all lovely little pop confections. But there is filler too – a very British thing to have so many singles over a short career. The quieter stuff, the country-ish stuff, are nice but unremarkable.

(Here’s Welcome To the Cheap Seats, album in a longbox and Paul Schaffer on keys and everything)

Unremarkable also, because of history. Maybe it is my age bias, but the aforementioned Blur and Pulp would sweep in and add this level to artistry that would bury this band and other similar bands. I don’t know about the Thompson comparison – I don’t know if the lyrical ambitions are that literary. Maybe these were cool lyrics in 1994, but by 1996 they were pop fluff.

At some point, I’ll probably start deleting some tracks off the iPod and be left with like 10 absolute solid thumpers. I don’t know if anyone talks about these guys anymore, and history is written by the victors. They missed to Brit-Pop movement going mainstream and international, although they have reformed and put out new albums. They also look dated. They had some great songs, but they just didn’t have it.

One last note – ‘Dizzy’ is still an amazing track. One of the very best.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #010 – Portishead – Dummy

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Portishead_-_DummyPortishead
Dummy
1994 – Go! Beat

Dummy is an album that was very much around, but avoided. I guess, in 1994, I was falling madly in love with guitar bands from the UK. The strange sophistication of this record and Portishead came second to, say, Supergrass‘s ‘Alright‘. An age thing.

I did hear a couple of the songs. Heck, I remember the TV ads for his album – this was a big deal. So some of the big songs from this album are familiar. I know of their acclaim, and I’ve heard bits and pieces from their later records.

And yes, this album was exactly what I expected. Which isn’t totally good thing. The same reason I’ve not ever really felt the need to explore this band is all over this record.

We probably don’t talk about trip hop now, and the groundbreaking sound of trip hop has been absorbed and seem normal. The album has an interesting sound, but even by the late 90s, Moby, the Chemical Brothers and all would make it mainstream.

Listening to it today, it just seems nice. It drifts by. Yes, that Barry-Meets-EDM thing is clever, but it is not arresting. The real highlights come when Beth Gibbon‘s voice just….GOES for it. ‘Sour Times‘, ‘Glory Box‘ and others kicks ass, as Gibbons gives it her all. Songs like It Could Be Sweet, however – so light that they float away.

Lyrically, its all a bunch of nonsense. There’s a sense of longing and drama, but there isn’t much to say. Maybe I’m just coming to this record when I’m too old, and I care about lyrics more than ever. But it hampers this record. Repeated listens, and I found it to be all surface, little feeling. Maybe if I held more leftist dinner parties…

Gibbons is a gifted singer, and Geoff Barrow has put together a very interesting soundscape. It sunds great in films, and film music is no doubt a big influence. It won the Mercury Prize, and it definitely pushed the conversation of music forward. It certainly hasn’t dated.

I’ve given this album weeks, and I’ll give it a few more. But as I suspected about Portishead for twenty years seems to hold ture – its not really my thing. And it comes down to the songwriting. Gibbons sounds like she’s tearing her heart out. Why is mine still intact and bored?

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #009 – The Cookies – The Complete Cookies

1326006410_the-cookies-the-complete-cookies-fWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Cookies
The Complete Cookies
1994 – Sequel Records

This is a wonderful compilation. 12 tracks covers the complete As and B sides of this 60s girl group The Cookies. Four tracks by Earl Jean in solo mode round it out to 16. The Cookies were not on a big label like Stax or Motown and would probably be extremely obscure if not for their association with Carole King and Gerry Goffin. They were lucky enough to first sing some of the greatest pop hits.

I only really knew of The Cookies from that association, and their later work with Ray Charles. They are included on a couple of comps and box sets I own. So it’s great to have songs I know from later versions in original form. The classic ‘Chains‘, ‘On Broadway‘ and solo Earl Jean’s original of ‘I’m Into Something Good‘. I particularly love ‘The Old Crowd‘.

Ten of the songs here are King/Goffin compilations – making it an essential part of the Carole King discography. Goffin contributes to the other two, and the others are by other Brill Building stalwarts. It’s a tour de force of songwriters. It turns out that King continued to give Earl Jean financial support after her career ended.

I don’t know if this is an obvious point, but this was the first rush of teenage music from the girl’s point of view. It’s all about teenage concerns and a lot of romance. The mystery of the boys. A lot of it is pretty chaste – hugging and kissing. But the passion underneath – it’s pretty fiery.

These funny old regional girl groups. There are so many of them, and in many ways they caught into a fad. The Cookies didn’t even get an album out of it. Like so many more fads to come, be it Nuggets, Punk, Disco, Brit Pop, Grunge, New Rock etc. The Cookies were not one of the greats, and were not signed to one of the big labels. So they are a bit of an also ran, and there are lots of those. Who knows what treasures are hidden amongst those discount discs on obscure labels.

The production here is actually pretty good. They could sing, and sing with character. It hasn’t dated too much, and the songs remain solid. It’s a brisk listen – no filler and half a dozen absolute classics. A great compilation.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #008 – Syd Barrett – Barrett

Sydbarrett-barrettWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Syd Barrett
Barrett
1970 – Harvest

I’m not much of a Pink Floyd fan, although I must say in recent years I feel that wall breaking down. Maybe it’s age, but even listening to some of the new, apparently final Pink Floyd album, I find a lot of it nice. Maybe it’s what someone my age does instead of buying jazz….later Pink Floyd.

What I do like about Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett. He’s easy to like. Firstly, he looked great. Syd in 1967 was as striking as any figure in popular music – that mess of hair, those deep eyes, those fancy shirts. Not to mention that wild, wild imagination.

Musically, I definitely could have spent more time with him. Piper At the Gates Of Dawn is never one of my go-to’s. I love ‘Bike‘. Somewhere along the line I picked up The Madcap Laughs and quite enjoyed it. I never got any further, and his second a technically last record Barrett passed me by. If that Crazy Diamond box set didn’t look so awful, I probably would have picked that up.

So what of Barrett? It seems widely accepted that this record is more of the Madcap Laughs style acoustic mumbling. The pair would make a nice twofer, and are both reviewed together in this issue of Mojo. It’s part of the very first proper reissue of Barrett’s stuff.

The record – a lot of it is very nice, and his random imagination is still spinning. But this feels more Daniel Johnson than Ray Davies – it’s more naive pop, not a craft master.

There is some lovely stuff, and top of the pile is ‘Gigolo Aunt‘. A bright, sparkling pop song that maybe could have been a chart hit like ‘See Emily Play‘ if it had been performed by steadier hands. ‘Baby Lemonade‘ and the other English weird folk stuff still taste the best. The blues-y jams…god. Utterly disposable. ‘Effervescing Elephant‘ – genius. Overall it’s a fine record, and that naivety gives it quite a lot of charm. And god knows I love obscure little quirky records such as this.

Poor Syd. I think I’ve always liked the story of Syd Barrett more than his music. He was barely functioning at this point, and there’s probably an awesome biopic in the works that tells the rest. I’m probably still going to reach for Madcap first, but it’s great to finally cover off many of these songs.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #007 – Phil Ochs – All The News That’s Fit To Sing

Front Cover copyWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Phil Ochs
All The News That’s Fit To Sing
1964 – Elektra

It’s pretty interesting that I’ve never dived into the career of Phil Ochs. I love this era of music. The pre Beatles American folk scene – so well captured in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘. The period Chris Thile says that Greenwich Village was the world’s living room of beatniks and poets.

Phil Ochs is always held up as one of the best – and worst – examples of the era. His music managed to reach and connect people. But he doggedly refused to stray from his politics, even when the world moved on. His later years was also marked by personal problems and a struggle to change his sound.

But that is all later, as we are talking about his first album – All The News That’s fit To Sing. He is young, his voice is clear and his ideas are fresh. It is reviewed in Mojo alongside his second album ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore‘.

My knowledge of Phil Ochs pretty much comes from his mentions in Bob Dylan biographies and his most vocal champion, Billy Bragg. So as I got this album, I also decide to watch the documentary ‘There But For Fortune‘. It is excellent and tells his full story. There’s also heaps of footage, none of which I can find full clips for online. My one big takeaway from the film – how many men did Bob Dylan psychologically destroy? Ochs, Donovan, Dave Van Ronk, the fictional Llewyn Davis….what a jerk!

The worst things about 60s folk are nowhere to be found. The songs are melodic and memorable, not flat and droning. His lyrics are often clever and memorable. But what is most interesting to my new ears is how much heart is in the songs. He genuinely wants to save lives. His sad to see the world fall apart. His anger would rise, but now it seems like a young man sad and trying to change the world.

That he can sustain the one-man-and-one-guitar schtick is impressive. He has a couple of things going for him. One More Parade, Too Many Martyrs and others are emotional, filled with genuine sadness and regret. Or he fills his words with so many ideas and images that there is always something new to discover.

It’s dated, but it was always going to. Mentions of Soviets, Vietnam and Nazis, it could only be the sixties. Yet, it’s powerful stuff, and one wonders why there aren’t equivalent songs about our times. How chickenshit are modern bands?

It is kinda crazy that this album has not come my way earlier. There was a few years here when I would have been responsible for this album. Having never been given a lovin reissue by Elektra, it has passed me by. Which begs the question – why? When even Judee Sill gets lavish reissues, surely this album is deserving of the same treatment? A reappraisal is overdue.

Hippies get a bad wrap, and protest music is out of fashion. It went out of fashion very soon after this album in fact. The Beatles would destroy Ochs. But right now, the world could still be changed by one-man-and-one-guitar. It still sounds pretty good today.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #006 – The Auteurs – Now I’m A Cowboy

440px-AuteursNowImaCowboyWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Auteurs
Now I’m A Cowboy
1994 – Hut Records

Britpop was the first music that was mine. Grunge I had known loved a lot of, but it was my older brother’s thing. Britpop, and that blast of energy and melody, was mine and no one elses, and an era of music I still find fascinating. However, what I call Britpop was a few years too late. There was a scene before Blur hit it big, where bands like Suede were making fascinating inroads into the charts. Amongst them was The Auteurs.

I’ve been pretty aware of Luke Haines for a long time. His name just keeps popping up, especially in English magazines. Baader Meinhof, Black Box Recorder and The Auteurs were all band names I’ve heard of, but never heard.

This is Haines’ breakthrough, and biggest record, it seems. It features one big hit – ‘Lenny Valentino‘. It’s a hit that has somehow never appeared in any of the Britpop compilations I’ve collected over the years. I had never heard it until I bought this album. Lenny Valentino sounds like a hit single…a hook every 7 seconds indeed. In the clip, they definitey look more glam, before Britpop essentially moved north and into Oasis.

And oh, is it Britpop. There’s those jangly guitars mixed with loud guitars. There’s lots of lovely melodies and kitchen sink concerns. But there’s also a bit of Paul Westerberg here. There’s a graspy-ness to the vocal and a tenderness in the guitars. It makes sense that this did quite well (kinda) on radio in the UK and they toured the states.

Some really quite great songs. ‘New French Girlfriend‘ and ‘Chinese Bakery‘ are pretty great (as in pretty and great). That cello they have throughout adds a different colour, and used wonderfully on ‘A Sister Like You‘. Some of it has dated, and it doesn’t cover the stunning breadth of vision that, say, Parklife or Different Class would end up doing. There’s more than a couple of Britpop by numbers here.

What happened to The Auteurs was that Haines broke both his ankles in a drunken accident. It took them off the road and Haines came back with a downbeat record. There seems to be plenty of Haines devotees, people who follow his every band. I’m not sure I’m there yet. But dammit, that ‘Chinese Bakery‘ song is just so good. It’s definitely staying on the iPod. It’s actually getting better with every listen.

The review on Mojo #006 was broadly positive. They alsoe interviewed the band in the issue, about a recent tour with The Fall. This record was some success, to the point where it was actually reissued earlier in the year as a 2CD set.

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Mojo Review Challenge #005 – The Fugs – The Fugs First Album

The+Fugs+-+First+Album+-+Sealed+-+LP+RECORD-422006Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Fugs
The Fugs First Album
1965 – Folkways

This is more like it! This is a wonderful, wonderful record. I have no idea why I’ve not delved unto The Fugs. Maybe it’s because the 60s, there is just so much to explore. Maybe cos the records were kind of hard to find. And such is the import of reviews, blogs etc, to briefly hail-mary-pass a band like this in front of people.

The early 90s reissue of The Fugs First Album (and with it, The Fugs Second Album) managed to get a big review in Mojo #5. And rightly so. This band has it all – an interesting pedigree (New York poets with ties to the beat movement), an indie integrity (they were on the beloved Folkways label) and a rude sounding name.

It’s sounds very modern. In the era of the Bonnie Prince Billies or Jack Whites, the Fug’s lo-fi folk fits right in. It probably killed them in the 60s, but it sounds so cool now. The only thing that really dates this record is some of the topics. There’s a bit of free love on here, and dated references to Allen Ginsberg.

As challenging and weird as some of this stuff is, there’s still plenty of fun catchy songs. ‘Supergirl’ or ‘Slum Goddess’ could be pop songs. ‘I Couldn’t Get High’ feels like The Doors. In fact, here’s a weird interview with the band where they perform that song.

On top of that, it’s a great record. It starts fun, goes weird and ends with a bit of tenderness before ‘Nothing’, a great album closer.

This is exactly the kind of record I was hoping to dig up in this weird project. The Fugs are such a Mojo kind of band too. Easily the best record I’ve looked at in this project so far.

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