MAGNET’s Kevin Friedman works next to a record store, which on Sundays is manned by a man named Marty, who puts out vinyl LPs from his own collection for a couple bucks each. Marty doesn’t adhere to any specific genre; the emphasis is on classic rock but there’s plenty of jazz, soul and funk in there, too. Kevin goes over at least twice a month with about $20 to see what he can find. Here is what he picked up this week:
Neil Young Comes A Time: $4
A wholly acoustic album, very folksy and calm, in contrast to the electric angst of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or the existential sadness of Tonight’s The Night. This is a golden example of Young as stellar country songwriter. “Human Highway,” “Motorcycle Mama” and “Field Of Opportunity” invoke Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. Young effortlessly expresses deep sentiment without coming off as corny or clichéd. The production is minimalistic with understated flourishes coming from pedal-steel guitar and the occasional female backing vocals, as on the devastatingly gorgeous “Four Strong Winds.” An album as stripped down as this evidences the strength of the material. Young’s voice, so unadorned, expressive and otherworldly, isn’t one that most aspiring musicians would imagine as ideal for a professional singer, but its singularity is one of his greatest strengths.
Christine McVie Christine Perfect: $4
Somewhat amazingly, Christine Perfect is Christine McVie’s real name. Before she joined Fleetwood Mac, she had a band called Chicken Shack. In 1969, in between the two bands, she recorded this album of blue-eyed soul, which sounds like a cross between Dusty Springfield and, well, Christine McVie. The finest cut, a cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” was actually recorded with Chicken Shack and features her then-soon-to-be husband/Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie. Much of this sounds like it was cut at Muscle Shoals with the MGs. Throughout, she sings in her familiar dusky alto, occasionally sounding a bit too blonde—or is it English?—for the material, but it also provides an interesting contrast between the raw soul grooves and the melodious vocals as on “No Road Is The Right Road.” “When You Say” tips tellingly toward the British folk rock of the ’60s, “For You” is a blues-rock stomper comparable to Dylan’s “Highway 61,” and “And That’s Saying A Lot” features a drum intro that’s as sample-friendly as the one on Al Green’s “I’m A Ram.” It’s a lazy shuffle that sets the song on its langorously soulful path.
Harry Nilsson Nilsson Schmilsson: $3
This is the kind of album that most songwriters would donate testicles to make. Not only is it a fully realized LP of first-rate songwriting and varied arrangements highlighting Harry Nilsson’s dynamic vocal range, but it also had three huge hits (“Without You,” “Coconut” and “Jump Into The Fire”), all of which were radically different in style and tone. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney proclaimed Nilsson as their favorite American songwriter in 1968, which is as high praise as one can ask for. The album doesn’t adhere to any particular rules of genre, except loosely of those of pop and, occasionally, rock. “Jump Into The Fire” is a raging party famously employed by Scorcese in GoodFellas, “Coconut” is doo-wop calypso, “Without You” is dramatically plaintive and verging on syrupy, and “The Moonbeam Song” might seam cornball if it weren’t so beautifully done.
Eric Clapton Clapton: $3
Eric Clapton’s first solo album, produced and arranged by Delaney Bramlett (who not only helped Clapton develop his singing but also apparently taught George Harrsion how to play slide guitar), features Clapton’s singing as much as his guitar playing. Instead of blazing blues and rock riffs, the album starts off on a folkish stance with “Told You For The Last Time,” co-written by Bramlett and Steve Cropper. A considerable gospel influence shines through on “Don’t Know Why,” written by Bramlett and Clapton. There are no shortage of all-stars on this record: Bobby Keys (best known for his sax work with the Stones), Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett and even Rita Coolidge and Stephen Stills make appearances. Here was the rock god turning his back on his past and one of his most successful chapters to embrace the role of soulful Southern troubadour, flipping yet another page in what has been an extensive tome.
Stephen Stills Stephen Stills: $1
Yeah it was the hit, and sure I used to dig it in high school, but “Love The One You’re With” just kind of grates on me these days. Still, I picked this one up because Marty pointed out it features one of Jimi Hendrix’s last performances, soloing on the track “Old Times Good Times.” Not to be left out, Clapton shows up on the next track, “Go Back Home.” But there’s plenty of other stuff to make this album stand out, too, in particular Stephen Stills’ songwriting, singing and acoustic guitar on the waltzing gospel of “Church” or the raga-like folk of “Black Queen.” Side two leads off with another bossy proclamation, this time to “Sit Yourself Down,” and is as self-righteous and pretentioius in its hippie dogma as “Love The One You’re With.” Once he dispenses with the condescention, Stills gets down to serious and beautiful music, as on the vibes, strings and French horn augmented “To A Flame,” which would fit nicely on Tim Buckley’s Starsailor or Goodbye And Hello. Electricity doesn’t serve Stills that well here. He goes raga again on “Cherokee” (um, yeah … ) and then full-on epic on “We Are Not Helpless,” with a full gospel choir chanting “amen” behind his sermon. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time and you can’t blame him for over-reaching, I guess, but it sounds pretty forced and pompous in retrospect.
Ray Charles What’d I Say: $1
As anyone who’s seen the biopic Ray knows, Ray Charles was pretty much unstoppable by 1959, when he could improvise a song like “What’d I Say” on the bandstand to make a set last longer. He’d moved beyond trying to sound like Nat King Cole (though “Roll With My Baby” strongly proves that influence) and firmly established his own sound and identity of sexually charged gospel and soul.
While call-and-response back up singers were nothing new, there is no mistaking the Raelettes, chiming in on the title track, “Tell Me How Do You Feel,” “What Kind Of Man Are You” and “That’s Enough,” providing contrast and admonition to his vocal lines. Charles utilizes Wurlitzer electric piano on the title track, Hammond organ on “Tell Me How Do You Feel” and straight gospel piano on “What Kind Of Man Are You,” highlighting his versatility with instrument and style. The interplay between Charles’ piano and vocals, the Raelettes’ choruses and the horn section’s fills are amazing in their seamless fluidity.
The Who The Who By Numbers: $3
After aiming high with concept albums like Quadrophenia and Tommy, the Who got back to a simple collection of individual songs linked together only by a theme of disillusionment. Given the title of the album as well as songs like “However Much I Booze,” with the lyrics, “I see myself on T.V./I’m a faker, a paper clown … But however much I booze/There ain’t no way out,” it is clear that Pete Townsend had grown weary of being a rock star at this point in his career. Now expected to smash his guitar at every performance and dulled by the mundane aspects of relentless touring and recording, he was coming to terms with the realization of a dream and the understanding that there is always a wizard behind the curtain, pushing knobs. On “How Many Friends,” Townsend asks, “How many friends have I really got?” Even John Entwistle gets in on it with “Success Story,” singing “Back in the studio to make our latest number one/Take two-hundred-and-seventy-six/You know, this used to be fun,” before launching into one of his trademark, seismic bass solos. With “Blue Red And Grey,” however, Townsend recorded the anti-Who song. Accompanying himself alone on ukulele, he presents a tender ballad of appreciation for “every minute of the day.”