The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
A Camp (55.29)*** P 2001
Nina Persson's "debut solo album" (as described on the promo sticker) began life in Sweden in 1998, the same year as the Cardigans' Gran Turismo. It was completed in America throughout 2000 with producer Mark Linkous from the excellent Sparklehorse, during time off from the Cardigans, which had clearly taken on a life of its own, not entirely of her choosing.
A Camp was born in 1997 after a meeting with Niclas Frisk, who co-wrote most of the songs and plays on several of them. Boyfriend Nathan Larson (from Shudder To Think) also plays on all but one of the tracks and co-wrote the opening song. Frequent Flyer sets the mood of the album as it opens with eerie samples, theremin sounds, thuddy drums and Nina's gorgeously bittersweet vocals over an engaging melody. In fact the tunes retain a high standard throughout and the quirky production (though mainstream by Sparklehorse standards) is never less than complementary and interesting. Angel Of Sadness is a stand-out song although I Can Buy You made a first class single.
Although the album consists mostly of original material, a few stray covers shoe-horn their way in - the Replacements' Rock 'n' Roll Ghost; bizarrely, Restless Heart's old US hit The Bluest Eyes In Texas; and Walking The Cow, one of the best known songs of cult singer Daniel Johnston, whose 2003 album Fear Yourself was also produced by Mark Linkous.
A Camp manages the delicate trick of being unmistakably, instantly belonging to Nina Persson whilst at the same time being quite distinct from the Cardigans. May her future projects be as successful
(review filed 2 January 2005)
All About Eve
Return To Eden (Vol. 1): The Early Recordings (68.38)** R 1985-1987, P 2002
All About Eve have always been one of the more collectable eighties bands and record fairs seem to be full of desirable limited editions, promos, boxes with posters, and the like, all commanding a healthy price. For collectors of music rather than artifacts, though, this handy CD could save a small fortune.
All About Eve's career really kick-started in 1988 with their eponymous album for Mercury and the ensuing big hit Martha's Harbour, but they had been releasing records on their indie label Eden since 1985, and several of the songs on their album were new productions or remixes of songs they had put out as singles for Eden, including Flowers In Our Hair, In The Clouds, Shelter From The Rain and Lady Moonlight.
Return To Eden includes everything that was released on the Eden label including the extended 12" mixes of Our Summer and Flowers In Our Hair, plus the rare track Suppertime, previously only available on a Situation Two-related compilation put together for ZigZag magazine while Julianne was working there as a journalist in 1986; and some previously unreleased early studio demo versions of Apple Tree Man, Every Angel and In The Meadow, the latter two featuring different lyrics to the finished versions (all the lyrics being printed in full in the CD sleeve).
Most of the recordings are similar if slightly less polished to the sound of the band on the album, All About Eve, and consisted of Julianne Regan, Tim Bricheno, Andy Cousins and a drum machine (their drummer Mark Price having joined around the time they signed to Mercury), but the first two tracks, released as a single in July 1985 fascinatingly show a band in ferment, sounding in turn like the Cocteau Twins or Siouxsie and the Banshees, as they search for their own identity.
The band began life as the Swarm but both the name and the line-up had not coalesced either: the composer credits for those first two songs show Julianne Regan, Tim Bricheno, Gus Ferguson and Xmal Deutschland's drummer Manuela Zwingmann, but apparently by the time the single was made bass player Gus Ferguson had been replaced by James Jackson, and both had departed by the time of the second single the next year. Drummer Mick Brown from the Mission also puts in an appearance on the three tracks from the Our Summer single (and hung around long enough to co-write Wild Hearted Woman and Calling Your Name with the band).
These fully re-mastered recordings, many appearing on CD for the first time, appear on the band's own JamTart label and the CD has sleeve notes by Tim Bricheno, so this is a fully legal and band-approved release, and is therefore an obvious must-have for the many fans of the band.
(review filed 18 August 2007)
The Ugly One With The Jewels (71.00)* P 1995
I regard Laurie Anderson as the most important multimedia performance artist of the late twentieth century and enjoy the contradiction of her mistrust and articulate dissection of technology with the large-scale deployment of cutting edge electronics and digital gizmos in her own work, notably in United States I-IV. This to my mind remains her finest achievement and spawned the essential album Big Science. Exhibitions of her mixed media work are also highly recommended.
Laurie Anderson describes the tour of these readings from her book, Stories From The Nerve Bible, as "the most low-tech show I've ever done. I sat on the stage with keyboards, digital effects machines, a violin and a twenty-four input mixing console and mixed the sound myself."
Reduced even further to just an audio track on a CD the collection becomes even more intimate and engaging; "a kind of mental movie", as she describes it in the sleeve notes, a movie of stories that cover twenty years of her work as an artist, told with guile and craft and not a little warmth and humour from this remarkable performer
(review filed 17 July 2004)
Sulk (71.16)**** P 1982, P 2000
What an extraordinary voice and sound Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine captured in Camden Town back in 1982. It seemed to belong to another time then, cutting across the prevalent banality of New Romanticism with surreal lyrics and music from a parallel world, as in masterpieces such as Party Fears Two and Club Country; and so it does equally today. This contains the full original UK album on CD for the first time, plus unreleased tracks and the double-A side hit 18 Carat Love Affair and Love Hangover, their unlikely cover of the Fifth Dimension hit that was later disco-fied by Diana Ross
(indexed 21 August 2003, modified 17 July 2004)
David Axelrod - The Warner/Reprise Sessions: The Electric Prunes & Pride (76.34/70.42)** R 1968-1970, P 2007
The re-evaluation of the work of David Axelrod, stimulated by the extensive sampling of his sixties and seventies output by hip hop producers like DJ Shadow, the Beatnuts and DJ Premier, continues apace with this 2CD. The Warner/Reprise Sessions pulls together the work he did for Warner/Reprise between 1968 and 1970, in parallel with his output on Capitol, some of which is collected on Stateside's 1968-1970 An Axelrod Anthology.
The first disc contains three complete albums, two ostensibly by the Electric Prunes that are relatively well known, and one by a studio band called Pride which has wallowed in obscurity for the past 35 years. The second disc contains the instrumental versions of the material that made up the two Electric Prunes records, and is all previously unreleased, making this a generous package both for the uninitiated and the cognoscenti.
It wasn't the Electric Prunes' idea to record a psychedelic rock Latin mass for their third album. They had recently completed a European tour during which their live sound and approach had developed considerably, and were keen to hone their new-found musical strengths in the studio. The idea was that of their manager Lenny Poncher, who also managed David Axelrod, and their producer, Dave Hassinger.
Dave Hassinger had built up a good reputation as a sound engineer, having worked with the Rolling Stones in their mid-sixties prime, and on early Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane albums. Unfortunately, for the Electric Prunes, he and Lenny Poncher regarded them as a purely commercial commodity, bringing in outside material for them to record with little regard for their own preferences or musical direction. For their third album, David Axelrod had been commissioned to write Mass In F Minor, a mass for rock group and orchestra. To their credit, the band went along with this ambitious, if unexpected idea, in reality having little choice in the matter.
The Electric Prunes, though, being creative musicians but not necessarily the fastest interpreters of unfamiliar musical scores (and only one of them read charts), found themselves being sidelined by session musicians, hired by David Hassinger just three hours into the first day of the week-long session for the album.
It turned out that the band name was owned by Poncher and Hassinger, and that they were expendable on their own record, replaced with whoever they chose to employ. By this time, however, they had already laid down tracks for the three songs on Side One, Kyrie Eleison, Gloria and Credo, which doesn't seem a bad rate for three hours work. Kyrie Eleison, it seems, had been completed, whilst reports vary as to how much of the other two feature the original band. However Jim Lowe and Mark Tulin's chant-like vocals feature throughout the whole album, augmented by Bill Henderson (brought in from the Collectors, a Canadian band also managed by David Hassinger). The rhythm section of Mark Tulin (bass) and Michael "Quint" Weakley (drums) was also retained for the whole album.
Session men involved included Richie Podolor, a guitarist who was also an engineer, and who owned the American Sound Studios where the album was made. A veteran of surf bands, he had also stood in for Chocolate Watch Band musicians on a number of their records. He and Bill Henderson replaced the Prunes' guitarists Ken Williams and Mike Gannon on most of the tracks, using Kyrie Eleison as the model for the style of further recording. Top L.A. session jazz player Don Randi added keyboards, while cello quartet and french horn quartet completed the ensemble.
The resulting half-hour of six tracks didn't sell particularly at the time, but has stood the test of time surprisingly well. The Gregorian monk-like Latin vocals and fluid guitar work in the setting of a large ensemble flow with ethereal ease. It may have been conceived as a gimmick, a hip religious record for the kids, more in the service of Mammon than any higher calling, but it worked; for which credit is due to David Axelrod's composition. Ironically, the most successful and best known piece from the record is Kyrie Eleison, on which all Electric Prunes play, without added strings and brass, following its use in the soundtrack of the cult 1969 film Easy Rider, and on its successful album tie-in.
Unsurprisingly, by the time David Axelrod was ready to make a sequel later in 1968, having finished work on his William Blake-inspired Songs Of Innocence, the Electric Prunes had cracked under the strain and broken up. Lenny Poncher had recruited a completely new band to carry on the name, but it seems that they had little if anything to do with Release Of An Oath, apart from the singer, Richard Whetstone, previously from the band Climax, who does all the vocals.
David Axelrod was free to bring in top drawer session players to realize the concept album, this time based around the Hebrew prayer Kol Nidre, and Christian liturgy intended to release a penitent from an oath made under duress. The guitarists are Howard Roberts (sometimes referred to as the fifth Monkee), the legendary Carol Kaye and Lou Morell. Don Randi makes a return appearance and the great Earl Palmer occupies the drum kit. The lyrics, written by David Axelrod, are in English this time, and the production has a bigger budget feel to it. Nevertheless, neither Release Of An Oath or Pride quite capture a mood or atmosphere as successfully as Mass In F Minor does for me, despite some superb playing. The instrumental versions on the second disc highlight the guitar work, with all but two of the tracks reappearing in remixed versions without the strings and reeds and with clearer drums.
Work in 1969 on Faust, a further project to be released under the name Electric Prunes, never came out in its original form, and is not included here, but in 1970, after the Songs Of Experience Blakean sequel solo album had appeared, Pride was launched, an album by the session band of the same name. This was a mostly acoustic project with a Spanish/Latin-American feel and lyrics written by David Axelrod's son. Nooney Rickett, whose band had recently been assimilated by Arthur Lee to become Love, provided all the vocal parts. This time around Lou Morell, Don Randi and Earl Palmer were augmented by Tommy Tedesco (from Spector's Wall Of Sound Orchestra) and Al Casey on guitars, Gary Coleman on percussion and Arthur Wright on electric bass. It's the sort of music they could play in their sleep and was released to a wave of somnial indifference.
Now it can be reappraised in the context of his solo and group work, in a reasonably priced collection with a second disc of enlightening and intriguing instrumental session tracks.
(review filed 17 December 2007)
Joy Of A Toy (Promo) (67.26)*** R 1969-1972, P 2003
Despite his best efforts to avoid courting too much popularity, Kevin Ayers' emergence from the Canterbury scene first in the Wilde Flowers and then with Soft Machine is well known. Typically, he jumped ship from Soft Machine as they were taking off after a gruelling tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, selling his bass guitar to Mitch Mitchell and switching to guitar to write the songs that were to make up his first and finest solo album, a light, folksy, if occasionally sinister collection of songs that benefit from the arrangements and piano playing of classical composer David Bedford, who was later to join the Whole World and work on all Kevin Ayers' best albums. Robert Wyatt drums throughout most of the album and the rest of the Softs turn up regularly, separately and together, notably on Song For Insane Times. Kevin Ayers has been musically likened to Nick Drake and Syd Barrett but he lacks the melancholy and some of the poetic genius of Nick Drake and also the manic intensity of Syd Barrett. Happily, unlike either of them, he also could not be described as a casualty, but is distinguished by his English sensibility and winsome eccentricity, which is eloquently displayed on this atmospheric debut.
In its re-mastered form Joy Of A Toy has acquired half a dozen bonus tracks including two remixed versions of Lady Rachel, one of his strongest songs, and early versions of his first single, Singing A Song In The Morning, under the working title Religious Experience. One of these has Syd Barrett himself playing guitar, though his mental health proved counter to the task and on the final single mix we can hear that Kevin Ayers himself provided a more than passable pastiche, abetted on organ and bass by David and Richard Sinclair from Canterbury compatriots Caravan.
Personal note: I hadn't intended to acquire this re-issue of Kevin Ayer's first solo output as I had already bought the CD in its Beat Goes On label edition (from Our Price in Basingstoke in 1993), but the extra tracks became sufficiently tempting when I came across this promo copy in Replay Records in Bristol at a very reasonable price
(review filed 4 November 2003, revised 11 January 2004)
Banana Productions - The Best Of Kevin Ayers (73.04)* P 1969-1978, P 1989
This collection is valuable for the assortment of non-album tracks and previously unreleased tracks, drawn mostly from his strongest period, on the Harvest label, and includes the abandoned single Soon Soon Soon, and the shelved single version of The Lady Rachel. Both previously appeared only on the long-deleted and superior vinyl compilation Odd Ditties in 1976, though are now both now to be found on the remastered Joy Of A Toy. Other re-issues have bonus tracks that are duplicated here.
This collection is therefore generally of most use to first-time buyers and to those who have Kevin Ayers albums in versions that came without bonus tracks as there are no exclusive tracks here.
Nico guests on Irreversible Neural Damage from The Confessions Of Dr Dream (Island, 1974) and there are two tracks from Sweet Deceiver, a record he made for Island in 1975, plus two from Rainbow Takeaway, which he co-produced with Anthony Moore on his return to Harvest in 1978, including the stage favourite Hat Song, but these tend to lack the charm and individuality of his earlier work, and suggest that these albums are probably best experienced in anthologies such as this
(indexed 11 January 2004, modified 17 July 2004)
Bananamour (52.36)** R 1972-1973, P 2003
Kevin Ayers and the band 747 toured the Bananamour album in 1973 as Banana Follies and I was fortunate to see them both at Kent University (14 May) and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (26 May). The sleeve notes to this release mention that the preceding night's QEH gig on the 25th was recorded for a possible live LP "but Ayers' performance proved lacklustre and the overall result proved too disappointing to release". Perhaps they recorded the wrong night as I remember no such shortcomings and it seemed as if Kevin Ayers was on the verge of major stardom.
Although both the band and the material lacked the eccentricity and inspiration of his former outfit, the Whole World, it seemed that these concessions had made him and the band into more of a commercial proposition.
This is also true of this album. The whole affair is very restrained in a rather deliberate and British fashion, and this works to good advantage on some of the numbers, such as the excellent Shouting In A Bucket Blues, which features Steve Hillage on guitar, though at times there are lyrical weaknesses, and whimsical tributes to Syd Barrett and Nico both fail to show real insight into their subjects. Overall, though, this is still a strong and idiosyncratic album. Archie Leggett is allowed a lead vocal on the soully mock-sinister When Your Parents Go To Sleep, with a horn section featuring Howie Casey, and Soft Machine buddy organist Mike Ratledge solos on Interview.
Stardom failed to follow and Kevin's next release was on the Island label.
Of the bonus tracks, the highlight is a reggae reworking of old favourite Clarence In Wonderland, recorded with the band Greyhound, under the title Connie On A Rubber Band.
(indexed 24 October 2003, last revised 1 March 2006)
Whatevershebringswesing (51.26)** R 1971-1972, P 2003
After the experimentation of Shooting At The Moon, by Kevin Ayers And The Whole World, Whatevershebringswesing marked Kevin Ayers' return to the songwriting styles of his debut Joy Of A Toy. This time however the production was far grander with a full orchestra arranged by David Bedford on the opening song, and experimentation with tape loops. Song From The Bottom Of A Well works particularly well, and his best known song, Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes, is included (in two versions). Sometimes the experimental effects are merely distracting and irritating, as when a reprise of Joy Of A Toy Continued cuts into the middle of the stoned-sounding Champagne Cowboy Blues, and along with the whimsical Oh My is one of the weaker tracks.
As with Joy Of A Toy, guest musicians such as Robert Wyatt (from Soft Machine days) and Didier Malherbe (saxophonist with Gong) appear. Whole World member Mike Oldfield contributed lead guitar and bass and gets a sleeve mention for his solo on the wonderful epic title track, though the Whole World disbanded during the recording of this album.
Of the bonus tracks the B-side Stars is by far the best and perhaps should have been an A-side or at least on the album proper. Two songs were not released as singles, rightly in my view, but were then discarded completely and their inclusion here is welcomed.
(review filed 20 November, revised 11 January 2004)