The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Electric Ladyland” (1968) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-02-14 23:30:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  2.5 / 5 stars

Let me begin by saying I love and have the utmost respect for Jimi Hendrix’s music, as much if not more than the average music fan.  Although many simply know a couple hits (and are, even from that sampling, able to acknowledge the fact that he was a guitar legend), I have heard all of his albums multiple times — hits, misses, deep tracks, and all.

Although Electric Ladyland is widely considered the pinnacle of his recording career, I must adamantly argue that it is not.

There is no denying the mastery that Hendrix demonstrates on the third and final studio release of his brief career.  Even on a track like “Little Miss Strange,” his guitarwork is intricate, interesting, and unsurpassed.  “Voodoo Chile” is a testament to his mastery (and his justification for moving beyond) the blues.  And his production on “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” is nothing short of expansive and impressive.

And yet, great songs do not in and of themselves a great album make.

To be fair, there are some excellent tracks on this album.  In addition to those aforementioned gems, the highlights of Electric Ladyland are certainly to be found in the brilliant rock’n’roll of “Crosstown Traffic” and their electrified take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” a version that redefined the way Dylan himself approached the song in concert.

On Electric Ladyland, the Jimi Hendrix Experience is tighter and yet more relaxed than on any previous release.  Hendrix is more experimental stylistically and vocally, Noel Redding’s bass parts are even more manically masterful, and Mitch Mitchell’s drums are both an anchor and a vivid instrument unto themselves.  There’s something compelling about a band that can run through a fourteen minute blazing blues epic like “Voodoo Chile” and go on to construct such a melancholy opening as you find on “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Electric Ladyland" (1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Electric Ladyland" (1968)

Where this album begins to fall short is in all the nooks and crannies, all the self-indulgent jams that stretch some wonderful tracks out beyond a reasonable length, all the inferior, overly-simplistic tracks that never would have found their way onto a previous Experience release.

From the opening, Electric Ladyland is a unique and exciting album.  “…And the Gods Made Love” is a forgettable, albeit tone-setting album opener.  “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” is a warm, inviting, and promising number.  “Crosstown Traffic” and “Voodoo Chile” make good on that invitation, putting an outstandingly tight, single-worthy track back to back with a jam-based track that takes its time — a quarter of an hour, to be more precise.

After this is where the album loses some of its focus.

The Redding-penned “Little Miss Strange” suffers from the same assessment as Axis: Bold As Love‘s “She’s So Fine”:  it’s okay.  Nothing more, nothing less — neither the track you’ll run to first, nor the track you’ll skip.

Then comes a trio of tunes that are not terribly impressive.  “Long Hot Summer Night” is good, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” is an excellent, unique take on this cover, and “Gypsy Eyes” has its moments.  If this is the best that can be said about these tracks, then they have no business being at the heart of a Jimi Hendrix Experience album.

I can even look beyond the ho-hum nature of “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” if only for its thematic, lyrical tie-in three tracks later on “Still Raining, Still Dreaming,” but it never ceases to amaze me how, depending on the artist and on the general trends in music criticism at the time, an album that has strong ties to what has come before can either be a masterful sampling of genres or a derivative romp in mediocrity.  In this case, the former was decided upon, as evidenced by the slew of five-star ratings the album has accrued.  Still, I find it difficult to view some of these reviews as unbiased.  Is Electric Ladyland a breakthrough effort, an album that took the ways we view genres and recordings and turned them upside down?  Yes.  But is that to say it should overshadow the cohesion, uniqueness, and beautifully tight arrangements of Are You Experienced? Should it cause us to set Axis: Bold As Love aside as a sophomoric, somewhat forgettable effort?

No!

Let us not forget that this is an album with a track like “Moon, Turn the Tides… gently gently away,” a song with no content and with no discernible purpose as anything more than a transition between tracks, perhaps a tone setting device.

By the time “House Burning Down” comes, I often find myself suffering from jam fatigue.  This is an excellent track, and yet I have a hard time getting fired up for it, or for the album-closing “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).”

I do find myself seeking sweet refuge in the track that comes between them… “All Along the Watchtower.”

This is what Electric Ladyland lacks — others may praise the jazz mentality of this record, but I find myself yearning for the rock’n’roll mentality that Jimi Hendrix practically created on his first two releases.  Others see the expansive and the interpretive as mastery, but I long for the tightness and originality of those early Jimi Hendrix recordings — hits like “Purple Haze,” “Stone Free,” and “Bold As Love” and deep tracks like “Love or Confusion,” “51st Anniversary,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” and “Little Wing.”

It is no wonder that John Mayer has gone to the Hendrix well thrice for covers — an excellent version of “Wait Until Tomorrow” for the Experience-imitating John Mayer Trio, an okay take on “Bold As Love” on Continuum, and “The Wind Cries Mary” live in concert.  After all, his career has generally followed the patterns I see in Hendrix’s: a mind-blowing debut, a strong follow-up, and a critically acclaimed, if inferior third release.  Say what you will about Mayer — channeling Hendrix, however criticized a move it may be in some circles, has worked as planned.

So, I will continue listening to Electric Ladyland and loving it at times.  For me, it can’t compare to what came before, and to what may have come after…

The Weekend Review: February 2013 Report

Originally posted 2013-04-06 05:00:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

Spirits of the Western Sky (Justin Hayward)

Producer: Justin Hayward & Alberto Parodi

Released: February 26, 2013

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “In Your Blue Eyes” & “One Day, Someday”

 

For Moody Blues fans, it has been a long stretch indeed since the band last released a studio album of all-new material: since 1999’s Strange Times to be specific.  With the release of this latest Justin Hayward solo album, his first since 1996, it would be difficult not to see this as the most exciting Moody Blues-related recording of the past decade and a half.  (No pressure, right?)  Whether you are a glass-half-full person who sees any new Moodies-related music as a win or a glass-half-empty person who feels his/her expectations impossible to meet after all this time, Spirits of the Western Sky has something to offer, though it may be less than a new Moodies album would offer.  From the signature Hayward opening track “In Your Blue Eyes” to the soaring “One Day, Someday” and the beautiful, expansive “The Western Sky,” Spirits gets off to a strong start.  “The Eastern Sun” is well-rendered, if a bit underwhelming, but the pacing is promptly reinvigorated by the rollicking “On The Road To Love,” a track vaguely reminiscent of a late sixties rock-paced album track.  The pace again slows down for the aptly titled “Lazy Afternoon,” though this track offers many more subtle layers and charms for repeated listens.  “In the Beginning” follows, offering up one of the mid-album gems that have practically become expected on Moody Blues albums since the sixties.  The following three songs form a suite of country/bluegrass tracks, only one of which is previously unreleased.  (Ironically, at least one Spirits  review has referred to these songs as a new direction for Hayward.)  Fans will quickly recognize Present alum “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart,” as well as his solo track “Broken Dream” that was first released as track two on The View from the Hill (1996).  “What You Resist Persists” is the clear standout here, and not only because it is the only new effort.  The album proper concludes with “Captivated By You,” a fittingly dynamic ending to a strong solo effort.  What follows – an alternate, extended version of “One Day, Someday,” the hiccup of “Rising,” and two progressively worse remixes of “Out There Somewhere” – is a bit baffling, especially considering that it is not separated from the core tracks by so much as an extra space on the back of the album.  All told, with a couple exceptions, Spirits of the Western Sky is what you would expect from a Justin Hayward solo album and should only serve to fan the flames of desire burning in the hearts of Moody Blues fans for another release from what is perhaps the greatest, most ambitious studio band in the history of rock music.  For now, Spirits will have to do; and, to be fair, it is clearly a labor of love that is equal parts soaring energy and careful production, evidence that Justin Hayward’s smooth vocals and expert guitar work are as strong as ever, and a reminder that time and age have not removed or diminished the ambition and vision of this Moody Blue.

Music Review: The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” (2009 Stereo Remaster)

Originally posted 2009-09-09 22:43:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Of all the remastered Beatles discs, the Fab Four’s debut album might seem the least likely to be the first you’d want to hear.  After all, it is their most raw effort, not only for the fact that it was their first experience in the studio but also because they were pursuing a “live” sound.  It was essentially recorded in a day under the supervision of a profoundly talented producer (George Martin) and four boys with a tremendous deal of potential (John, Paul, George, and Ringo), all five of whom had yet to re-create — or, really, create — the genre in which they would spend much of their respective careers and earn much of their respective fame.

Perhaps for all those reasons, Please Please Me is an excellent place to start.

"Please Please Me" - the Beatles' debut album, remastered for 2009!

“Please Please Me” – the Beatles’ debut album, remastered for 2009!

Amidst all the controversies over mono versus stereo, should the remasters have been remixed?, etc., Please Please Me has been released in the awkward stereo format — instrumentation at the left, vocals panned right — that would have been available only to “a small number of hi-fi enthusiasts,” as the liner notes recall.

I had to chuckle to myself as I sat in the parking lot today, cellophane wrapper on the floor and new-CD smell filling my nostrils, as I imagined how exciting and fresh this format must have been at the time, a hint of what was to come in the not-so-distant future.

For the first time today, I too was excited to purchase a Beatles album.  Each of my previous purchases of a Beatles record on CD left me feeling empty.  Sure, the music was excellent — phenomenal and mind-altering, even — but the packaging has always been far too sparse, nothing more than the cheapest of cheap jewel cases and a one-fold booklet.  The packaging of this 2009 remastered album makes it worth the purchase alone.  There are reprinted liner notes, rare photos, and a mini-documentary that, although very brief (less than four minutes), includes entertaining footage and interesting narration from all four band members as well as George Martin.

The songs themselves sound as good as they ever have.  The Beatles’ rapid ascent to pop music stardom becomes clear after hearing tracks like the energetic “I Saw Her Standing There,” the vocally superb “Please Please Me,” and George’s lead vocal debut “Do You Want to Know A Secret?”

As if these weren’t enough, the other Lennon/McCartney originals round out the set nicely — the classics “Love Me Do” and the lesser-known but equally catchy “Misery.”

Even the covers, like “Anna (Go To Him)” and “Twist and Shout,” shine almost as bright as Lennon/McCartney originals.  Although I have always maintained that “A Taste of Honey” is disposable, it is interesting to hear the first instance of Paul’s double-tracked lead vocals on a recording.

Throughout this remastered album, as with the original release, the words that continually come to mind are “energetic” and “fun.”  In all reality, the remastered tracks are merely cleaned up versions of the original mixes — the same as always with a sharper focus, so to speak.

If the past four decades are any indication, this may be the last overhaul of the Beatles catalog for a very long time.  For those of us “hi-fi enthusiasts” in 2009, it seems a shame to go on for the foreseeable future without all the Beatles’ material — arguably the most essential albums and tracks of rock and pop music — in full, lush stereo sound, each vocal and instrument standing out.

And yet, even if you feel this way, the 2009 remaster of Please Please Me — with all its simplicity and raw energy — should provide nothing but pleasant listening and reading.  And if you’re interested, make sure to check out all of our Beatles cover songs here on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog!

Locksley’s “Don’t Make Me Wait” (2006, 2008) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2012-03-11 09:58:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 3.5 / 5 stars

Earning a spot on the 2007 edition of the Alternative Press’ “100 Bands You Need to Know” list didn’t bring Locksley any closer to recognition even from an independent music store regular such as myself.  In fact, for such an under-the-radar band, Locksley has accumulated quite the resume in their six years together.  Aside from being featured in magazines like SPIN and Elle, their music has appeared in conjunction with multiple retailers, they have played live for both Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, they have opened for bands such as Hanson and Rooney, and they have the distinction of being the first unsigned band ever to have their music played on MtV.

I truly had no inkling of any of these accomplishments when I noticed a somewhat beat up copy of Don’t Make Me Wait in the used CD rack of my local Newbury Comics store.  Their very simple packaging and retro look caught my eye, and despite the fact that I could have produced this cover on a Windows 95 computer, I had a good feeling about the look of the band.

And, for $3.99, I figured, how could I go wrong?

Well, the answer is, you couldn’t with Locksley.

Theirs is a derivative sound, to be certain, and it rings strongly of early sixties Beatles.  Perhaps most prominently, there’s a “Twist and Shout” John Lennon-esque crackling lead vocal on “Let Me Know,” and the dual leads throughout many of the songs will lead any fan of Please Please Me-era Beatles to draw comparisons.

And yet, Locksley is not simply a Beatles rip-off, a band begging to be sent back to stagnation in cheap bars only interested in cover songs.  There’s an uncanny blending of garage rock with their roots-based sound.  In fact, for all the blunt distortion guitars and their practically punk rock mentality, there is no confusing this band for a sixties group.

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Locksley's "Don't Make Me Wait" (2006, 2008)

Don’t Make Me Wait is probably best described as the best of both worlds, and it is clear that Locksley is playing around, experimenting with harmonies (which are subtle in some places, beautiful in others), lead guitar parts, and overall composition.  The title track leads off the album, and sets the tone for what is to be an upbeat, energetic collection of tracks.   The dual lead vocals are as interesting and excellent as ever on “All Over Again,” just as their vocals on “My Kind of Lover” hint at the potential for truly great vocal work on future releases.  Still, my favorite aspect of this album — and the reason I have listened repeatedly — is the tremendous lineup of catchy, quick tunes like “Into the Sun,” “Up the Stairs,” and “She Does,” to name only a few.  As soon as one ends, the next kicks in with just as much energy as the one preceding it.

In this sense, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.  Locksley’s Don’t Make Me Wait suffers from the shortfalls of a sophomore release.  It is energetic, fun, and brimming with potential, and yet there is nothing about this record that is so unique as to be outstanding in and of itself.  Even a track like “All of the Time,” simple as it may be, suffers from the “one-gear” mentality they generally embrace on this record.  I feel certain that they are poised to flex a considerable range, particularly from songs like the “For You” suite that closes the record, the bonus track “Safely From the City,” and even the alternate performance of “All of the Time” I’ve heard on YouTube.

Don’t Make Me Wait is an album that expresses considerable potential, and ironically, fans have had to wait since 2006 for a true follow-up to this record.  As recently as last week, the follow-up album Be in Love — originally scheduled for release this week — was pushed ahead to late February for digital and mid-March for physical.

Waiting appears to be the name of the game.

While we wait, Don’t Make Me Wait is a youthful, vibrant album that captures all the drive of an unsigned band, living from one gig to the next.  That somehow translates on this record, and it is that energy and sincerity that compels me to look past the derivative nature of their sound.  How their next album plays out will suggest a great deal about this band’s ability to evolve and make progress without losing all the rock and roll ground they’ve gained here.

The fact that we have to wait until March to reach a verdict only adds more anthemic meaning to this opening track, “Don’t Make Me Wait”!