Album Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Oct 01, 2003  |  0 comments

Aimee Mann’s pensive, surreal walk through a littered landscape of love gone wrong, double dealings, temptations (drugs and otherwise) and painful breakups (not hers— she’s still married to Michael Penn last time I checked) owes a great deal conceptually and lyrically to Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom—at least to my ears. You can almost hear El singing “Guys Like Me” and “Invisible Ink.”

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 01, 2003  |  0 comments

Baby boomers no more appreciated Sam Cooke’s slick conquest of the Jewish supper club set when it was first recorded and issued on RCA Victor in 1964—the same year Cooke died—than they did Bobby Darin’s. To some teens at the time, “You Send Me,” and “Splish Splash,” were theirs, but this dated style Copacabana review was their parents’. In retrospect, the million plus seller “You Send Me,” was much closer to easy listening than to rock’n roll, and while Darin’s foray into the teen market with tunes like “Splish Splash, and “Dream Lover,” was explicit to the point of being exploitive, Cooke’s chart success with songs like “Chain Gang,” was far more subtly drawn. Perhaps that’s because, having already succeeded as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers, and as a soul star on the black “chitlin’ circuit,” he was less in need of pop stardom. Darin may have roamed, but it was within a more limited territory, until events of the ‘60s—musically and otherwise— shattered his slick showbiz pretenses.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 01, 2003  |  0 comments

The Beatles made four unforgettable live appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 16, 23rd 1964, and one more, over a year and a half later on September 12, 1965. While the fourth was almost anti-climactic, the first three rightly retain a mythological status, with an amazing 73 million Americans tuning in for The Beatles’s first appearance. In those pre-VCR, pre-400 cable channels days, The Beatles literally appeared out of nowhere, drove the teenagers in the audience crazy, and then disappeared, leaving the kids gasping for air and wondering whether they’d actually seen their idols, or hallucinated them. There would be no taped playback at home, or excerpts on “Entertainment Weekly.” The Beatles didn’t make “the rounds” and visit other shows, because there really weren’t any. Some still shots in Life or in some teenybopper magazine were the best that could be hoped for.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 01, 2003  |  0 comments

Three of the most important elements in successful pop music making (I don’t mean the Britany variety), in my opinion, are tunes, craft and originality. Paloalto has two out of three, and that’s more than enough to push this pleasing disc into the spotlight. The missing element is the most difficult one to discover, create of whatever it is, and that’s originality. Paloalto follow partially in the footsteps of the British band Travis—and to a far lesser degree, Coldplay—and that’s all there is to it. Given that this sensitive, introspective genre is often called “shoe-gazing music,” in what else but footsteps would you expect them to follow?

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 01, 2003  |  0 comments

The heir apparent to the Elton John/Billy Joel musical fortune culled these 17 tracks from live performances recorded during a daring 6 month long nationwide solo tour. Daring because a guy and a piano needs to project like hell to fill some of the mid-sized halls in which Folds played, and he does. A guy and an acoustic piano can still fill a big space.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 17, 2003  |  0 comments

The Police have always been a well-produced, superbly recorded group. The first album, Outlandos D’amour, was an explosive, starkly recorded document. Issued as the punk movement ascended, the band chose to emphasize a propulsive, reggae infused rhythmic thrust rather than its considerable instrumental virtuosity. Stewart Copeland kept his pounding beats relatively simple, jazz virtuoso guitarist Andy Summers made do with slashing rhythmic attacks, and Sting shot his impossibly high-pitched rasp seemingly out of a cannon. Engineers Nigel and Chris Gray complied by keeping the miking close and the production simple, yet dramatically immediate and natural sounding. The first album was “in your face” big.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  1 comments

You won’t be buying these two LPs for their sonics. Primitive television show soundtracks from a Compton, California based local program recorded before an appreciative live audience, provide listeners with a “way back machine” glimpse of another time, and seemingly another universe—especially when you consider the music for which Compton’s currently best known.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  2 comments


Jon Anderson was always busy exhorting listeners to “Get up!,” “Look around,!” “See yourself!,” etc. His lyrics feel like a Tony Robbins self-improvement course (“Take the straight and stronger course to the corner of your life,”), but Anderson and co. were doing it first and setting the self-help lectures to bombastic musical constructions. Because of Anderson’s lyrical themes, Yes could be preachy, pretentious, mechanical and cold, but you had to respect the musical craft—especially the rhythmic suppleness (it was smart to unleash Bill Bruford) and the group’s sophisticated manipulation of dynamics.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  1 comments

If you were going to pick one album from the Kinks Katalog for an SACD remastering it wouldn’t be Low Budget and that’s all there is to it. Not that it’s a bad Kinks album. It’s just not one of their best, though it was certainly one of the group’s most popular. Leave it to the public to ignore Arthur, The Village Green Preservation Society and Lola Versus Powerman and the Money Goround not to mention Face to Face and Something Else while driving Low Budget to gold sales status.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  1 comments

The monophonic master tape of this 1958 Prestige session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack home studio has probably had more tape head contact over the past few years than it had for the first 30 plus years of its life. Along with this 2 LP set and SACD, there’s a 180g Acoustic Sounds LP still in print, there was a 1998 JVC XRCD reissue, a 1993 DCC Compact Classics gold CD, a standard CD, a 20 bit mastered edition, a Japanese 20 bit “LP sleeve” edition and probably a few others as well. Do a search on and you’ll find a confusing jumble of Soultrane editions priced from $6.49 to $49.00 (the out of print DCC Compact Classics gold CD), none of which are identified in adequate detail. As you’d expect, www.acousticsounds does a better job of identifying this recording’s many iterations.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  0 comments

In his 35 year recording career with Fairport Convention, with ex-wife Linda, and on his own, Richard Thompson has made some great records and some that were ill-conceived and didn’t work, but none, in my opinion, that could be declared complete failures. Thompson’s guitar always pulled him through the weaker episodes, even as the team of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake often sabotaged his sound during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s with their overproduction, studio tricks and other superflous sonic thickets. That’s just my opinion, and for all I know, Thompson loved that stuff. Maybe you’re a long-time fan who stayed away during that period, despite some superb songwriting and performances: 1991’s Rumor and Sigh (Capitol EST 2142 LP) for instance, which included the mischievous “I Feel So Good,” and the transcendent “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  1 comments

A cold-steel stoic intensity inhabits the faces of Canadian folksingers Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker on the cover of their 1965 Vanguard album Northern Journey. The photo’s low light and blue cast amplify the title’s message. Combine the front cover with the scholarly ethno-musicalogical liner notes you’ll find on the back—perhaps a reflexive reaction to the commercialization of folk music back then and an attempt to separate Ian and Sylvia from many trite, packaged folk acts of the time—and you have an almost forbiddingly chilly surface.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 01, 2003  |  1 comments

The good news is that playing before an audience, Alison Krauss and her crack back-up band Union Station can replicate the Bluegrass/pop fireworks—instrumentally and vocally—that they set off in the studio. That’s the bad news too, as whatever interplay there was between the group and the audience has been excised, and the arrangements and performances shed little new light on the mostly familiar tunes. That’s just fine by the fans, judging by the raucous, appreciative audience reaction at this concert, recorded at the Louisville Palace, in Louisville Kentucky, April 29th and 30th, 2002 while the group toured in support of New Favorite (Rounder 11661-0485 hybrid multi-channel SACD/Diverse Vinyl DIV001LP 180g LP). The fans at home obviously approved as well, as the album quickly went Platinum. One track, the familiar “Down to the River to Pray,” was recorded live on the “Austin City Limits” television program.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 01, 2003  |  0 comments

Ry's son Joachim started stringing tracks together last year attempting to create a cohesive picture of his father's soundtrack work- one which would sound like more than just a series of unconnected cues. Ry liked what he heard and this long overdue project was born. The two CD set contains highlights from most of Cooder's soundtracks: Paris Texas, Alamo Bay, The Border, Blue City, Crossroads, Johnny Handsome, The Long Riders, Blue City, Trespass, Geronimo: An American Legend, and the unreleased Southern Comfort and Streets of Fire.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 01, 2003  |  1 comments

The concert pianist Christopher O’Riley says Radiohead has been “the music in my head,” since he discovered OK Computer back in 1997. Because Radiohead’s music isn’t formally published, O’Riley took it upon himself to create transcriptions so he could play heavily embellished versions of the group’s themes for himself and then as station-break filler for From the Top the public radio show he hosts that spotlights young musicians. He later performed a longer set of Radiohead tunes on NPR’s Performance Todayand the band’s fan base responded positively, which set in motion the process that resulted in this album.