Friday, November 14, 2008

by Chrille

David Ackles - David Ackles (1968)


















Ackles' self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman's. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara's celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley's early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. "The Road to Cairo," covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity, is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in "His Name Is Andrew," or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in "Sonny Come Home." ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide


David Ackles - Subway To The Country (1969)




















The late songwriter David Ackles used his third album to further separate himself from the California tunesmith Cosa Nostra. Ackles was always a horse of a different color anyway. While comparisons to Randy Newman are natural and, in places even valid, they fall short of the mark. Ackles' music is much darker, already deeply entrenched in the American Gothic his fourth album would be named after. While the post-Tin Pan Alley stylings of Newman are evident here, Ackles' inspiration is in the original texts and not his Cali counterparts. Other sides of Ackles come from John Stewart and the folk revival, and no less than Scott Walker's early work and Jacques Brel. Subway to the Country portends itself a rootsier record, but it is rooted only in the tradition of American song itself. From the bleak vaudevillian cabaret of "Main Street Saloon" to the shimmering string arrangements and chamber textures in "That's No Reason to Cry" to the surreal muted winds and brass in "Woman River," Ackles is like a Western Kurt Weill. His knowledge of song form and nuance is encyclopedic, and his command over his singing voice is total. He can rumble smooth, swinging blues in the lower register as he does on the latter track, or shift it into loopy swirls and theatrical splashes as he does on "Inmates of the Institution." The most beautiful track on the album, however, is the title track that closes the album. Full of muted tones and colors, the backing orchestra holds itself close to Fred Myrow's arrangement as Ackles promises a lover that if he "Ever gets three bucks together/I'm gonna buy three tickets on a train/And I'll show you the rain." Ackles could milk the drama from a song without effort because he created the drama. Here he seeks in vain for a lighter heart and an older house to hand his song pictures in, but to no avail. Once one is an innovator of such dimension, one always has a restless creative soul, seeking to go ever-deeper levels in the well. Subway to the Country is not the classic that American Gothic is, but it remains a fine testament to Ackles' truly awesome poetic power as both a writer and a singer. ~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide


Alexander Skip Spence - Oar (1969)





















Like a rough, more obscure counterpart to Syd Barrett, Skip Spence was one of the late '60s' most colorful acid casualties. The original Jefferson Airplane drummer (although he was a guitarist who had never played drums before joining the group), Spence left after their first album to join Moby Grape. Like every member of that legendary band, he was a strong presence on their first album, playing guitar, singing, and writing "Omaha." The group ran into rough times in 1968, and Spence had the roughest, flipping out and (according to varying accounts) running amok in a record studio with a fire axe; he ended up being committed to New York's Bellevue Hospital. Upon his release, Spence cut an acid-charred classic, Oar, in 1969. Though released on a major label (Columbia), this was reportedly one of the lowest-selling items in its catalog and is hence one of the most valued psychedelic collector items. Much rawer and more homespun than the early Grape records, it features Spence on all (mostly acoustic) guitars, percussion, and vocals. With an overriding blues influence and doses of country, gospel, and acid freakout thrown in, this sounds something like Mississippi Fred McDowell imbued with the spirit of Haight-Ashbury 1967. It also featured cryptic, punning lyrics and wraithlike vocals that range from a low Fred Neil with gravel hoarseness to a barely there high wisp. Sadly, it was his only solo recording; more sadly, mental illness prevented Spence from reaching a fully functional state throughout the remainder of his lifetime. He died April 16, 1999, just two days short of his 54th birthday; the tribute album, More Oar: A Tribute to Alexander "Skip" Spence, featuring performances by Robert Plant, Beck, and Tom Waits, appeared just a few weeks later. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide


Van Dyke Parks - Song Cykle (1968)


















Van Dyke Parks moved on from the Beach Boys' abortive SMiLE sessions to record his own solo debut, Song Cycle, an audacious and occasionally brilliant attempt to mount a fully orchestrated, classically minded work within the context of contemporary pop. As indicated by its title, Song Cycle is a thematically coherent work, one which attempts to embrace the breadth of American popular music; bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes -- nothing escapes Parks' radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable. Opening with "Vine Street," authored by Randy Newman (another pop composer with serious classical aspirations), the album is both forward-thinking and backward-minded, a collision of bygone musical styles with the progressive sensibilities of the late '60s; while occasionally overambitious and at times insufferably coy, it's nevertheless a one-of-a-kind record, the product of true inspiration. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide


John Cale - Vintage Violence (1970)


















John Cale had the strongest avant-garde credentials of anyone in the Velvet Underground, but he was also the Velvet whose solo career was the least strongly defined by his work with the band, and his first solo album, Vintage Violence, certainly bears this out. While the banshee howls of Cale's viola and the percussive stab of his keyboard parts were his signature sounds on The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat, Cale's first solo album, 1970's Vintage Violence, was a startlingly user-friendly piece of mature, intelligent pop whose great failing may have been being a shade too sophisticated for radio. Cale's work with the Velvets was purposefully rough and aurally challenging, but Vintage Violence is buffed to a smooth, satin finish, with Cale and his group sounding witty on tunes like "Adelaide" and "Cleo," pensive on "Amsterdam," and lushly orchestrated on "Big White Cloud." (Cale also gets a lot of production value out of his backing group, credited as "Penguin" but actually members of Garland Jeffreys' band, Grinder's Switch.) And anyone expecting the fevered psychosis that Cale let loose on later albums like Fear and Sabotage/Live is in for a surprise; Cale has rarely sounded this well-adjusted on record, though his lyrical voice is usually a bit too cryptic to stand up to a literal interpretation of his words. If Cale wanted to clear out a separate and distinct path for his solo career, he certainly did that with Vintage Violence, though it turned out to be only one of many roads he would follow in the future. [The 2001 CD reissue adds two bonus tracks: a previously unreleased alternate version of "Fairweather Friend," and the previously unreleased "Wall."] ~ Mark Deming, All Music Guide


Roger Rodier - Upon Velveatur (1972)


















Although Roger Rodier is Canadian, this rare early-'70s singer/songwriter album sounds almost as if it could have been made in Britain, such is its similarity to folk-rock recordings of the time by the likes of Al Stewart. In fact Rodier faintly resembles Stewart vocally, and has an inclination toward gentle, slightly sad songs mixing acoustic guitar, orchestration, and female backup vocals (a combination used by Nick Drake on Bryter Layter). But his voice, as a singer or composer, isn't nearly as distinctive as that of, say, Stewart or Drake. Upon Velveatur is a passable effort in this tributary, Rodier's mildly lisping singing evoking both delicate sensitivity and a certain sense of detached observation. He and his songs are a little troubled, but not distraught, with the exception of "While My Castle's Burning," whose angrily strummed guitars, dramatic strings, and vitriolic vocals project muted rage, albeit of a fairly inarticulate kind. Its mixture of placidity and brooding reflection might casually recall Drake, but Rodier wasn't working on as high a level. [The 2006 CD reissue on Sunbeam adds five bonus tracks, four taken from 1969 singles, the other from the 1972 non-LP B-side "Easy Song." Generally speaking, these are less ornate than the material on Upon Velveatur, though they have a similar light folk-rock base; "Have You?" sounds a little like George Harrison's folkiest early solo material, and the two songs from the first 45, "L'Herbe"/"Tu Viendras," are sung in French.] ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide


Judee Sill - Judee Sill (1971)


















Judee Sill's debut album (as well as the debut of the Asylum label) heralded a major new talent in the airy, contemporary folk world of the early '70s. The album employed the production skills of Sill's ex-husband Bob Harris, as well as ex-Turtle, ex-Leaves Jim Pons, and Graham Nash (on the album's sole single, "Jesus Was s Crossmaker"). Judee Sill featured all original compositions, many of which relied on Sill's own brand of cosmological Christian imagery to make their point. By turns spare and lavishly orchestrated, there is still a cohesive feel to all of the album; her lyrics are exceptionally poetic (to the point of being almost flowery) and her voice is smooth enough to bear heavy overdubbing with itself, giving every song a shimmery feel. The essence of the music is folk, the execution pop: the songs feel like a comfort blanket, a statement of hope from a troubled soul. ~ Alex Stimmel, All Music Guide


Judee Sill - Heart Food (1973)





















The second album Judee Sill made proved to be her last. This brief though enjoyable outing took its toll on Sill -- a notoriously slow songwriter -- during its making, turning her back to her recently kicked heroin addiction and away from the desire to create more music. Instead of using an outside arranger for the strings (as she did on her previous album), Sill did all of the work herself. Her lack of formal training and the immense amount of orchestral overdubs certainly would have made such an outing a hardship for anyone. The album doesn't suffer much from its sometimes syrupy exterior, though -- the songs are almost as strong as any of those from her debut. To wit, Heart Food suffers only in comparison to its predecessor; otherwise, it's a stellar example of the kind of singer/songwriter fare the music industry was mining in the early '70s. The supporting cast of top L.A. studio musicians solidifies Sill's unique brand of country-flavored pop, which moves from introspective meanderings to loping rock, often within a single song. [This edition of the album contains bonus tracks.] ~ Alex Stimmel, All Music Guide

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Fantastic things here-Thanks so much-Hackettup

29 November, 2008 22:19  
Anonymous geoffc said...

Love the Judee Sill,thanks.

17 December, 2008 20:44  
Blogger Thïrd World Man said...

Thanks so much for the Roger Rodier! While My Castle's Burning is a 10/10 song and reminds me of Peter Hammill; not many I can say that of!

Cheers.

24 April, 2009 18:54  
Blogger Paul said...

Well its 11.30 and I have listened to Judee since the first album came out when I was in fifth form.... how do I describe the joy this second album has given me over the years? The Bridegroom comes is the killer track on this lp listen and now be thankful

10 August, 2009 07:55  

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