Monthly Archives: April 2009

103. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Three”

Sorry for silence – I was interstate for work (and with James Brown for company).

By CD number three, JB has got almost too funky for his own good.

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-cover2This album is a fiesta of multi-movement pieces. Five out of the 14 tracks clock in at over 5 mins, 4 at over 7 mins. The man has moved beyond normal pop song constraints into a world of musical mastery. This is the foundations on which the lunacy and other worldness of Parliament and Funkadelic (I guess that’s the Bootsy Collins connection).

His band is just outstanding, responding to his commands, understanding his various grunts and signals, and laying down grooves that rise and full and bubble along in such a timeless fashion. The horns are sharp, fast and sexy. Again, this is rich pickings for samplers wanting an infectious hook.

Sorry Andy, I do think Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine is Brown’s true masterpiece, and it sits perfectly here between Funky Drummer and Super Bad (Parts 1 & 2). But let’s have some dialogue here. Which do you all prefer?

Cold Sweat

Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine

In a race I would back Disc 2 as slightly more diverse than this volume, but you won’t find too much to complain about here.

File under: Jump back and kiss yourself

102. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Two”

Our journey through the Brown box set continues…

When we left James he was busy editing down Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. This album kicks off with the 2.08 min single version, which is hard to fault. Then into I Got You (I Feel Good). Can it get any better?

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-cover1Not for a little while… but it doesn’t drop off too much. Money Wont Change You shows how much the underlying music is now dominating relative to (ad-libbed) vocals. The “huh!!” is becoming more and more prevalent and the band is getting funkier every song…

As the vocals become less important, it can become harder to remember which tune is which. But each of these tracks is a dancefloor winner. The back-t0-back pairing of Cold Sweat and Get It Together is about the best 16 minutes of jamming you are likely to ever hear.

The pace and fun is relentless. This is even better than Disk 1 and James seems unstoppable. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud stands as a testament to read the market and mood perfectly too. Give It Up or Turn It a Loose demonstrates that lyrics have almost passed their use-by date.

Just keep playing this CD til you can dance no more…

File under: Get down with your bad self

101. James Brown – “Star Time Disk One”

Oh, another reviewing protocol dilemma. This box set showcasing James Brown’s career could be reviewed as a single item, but it is effectively 4 distinct CDs, so I’m treating them as such…

I chased up this collection after reading about in a fantastic history of Funk book. It was heralded as the definitive collection from the Godfather of Soul.And it is pure gold.

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-coverThe box set is pretty much in chronological order, so you can see the evolution of Brown’s sound. Disk 1 encompasses the most substantial transformation. On the early tracks he is very much in the soul world, with sweet singing, do-wops and the like. The tunes could just as easily come from anyone across the Motown, Chess etc world.

It’s all cute and catchy, but it only gives a hint of the huge leap Brown was about to make. By I’ll Go Crazy, the beats and bass are starting to take over, and Brown’s vocals are taking on a more rhythmic role. Think sees us well and truly in the new world of funk. We start to hear basslines, horn riffs and the like that sound very, very familar. That’s because they would later become the most sampled sounds in hip-hop.

This is wonderful and captivating stuff. The CD closes out with a great 6:56 minute long 3-part version of Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag which was edited down to make his classic single. This version is better and even groovier.

Brown was a true icon and this CD starts to show us why.

File under: Get some funk in your trunk

100. Dan Brodie and the Broken Arrows – “Empty Arms, Broken Hearts”

How appropriate that this blog should hit triple figures with a killer release that so confidently swaggers through the rock’n’roll oeuvre.

dan-brodie-borken-arrows-album-cover-empty-arms-broken-heartsThis album sees Dan Brodie delivering on his promise. He hardly takes a wrong step.

The opening track is flawless – slow vocal-heavy intro cataloguing the status of his family members and his own trials with the bottle, a plea to Jesus Try and Save Me, drums kick in, addition of important rider to title “(from myself)”. This CD is the one where Brodie transforms from Ryan Adams clone to the next Steve Earle. It’s all tales of a slightly lawless life on road breaking hearts and facing inevitable reciprocity.

Take a Bullet is even better and should have been a huge hit. He probably didn’t do himself any favours with this video (which muddies up the mix in the name of art – but also captures my typical reaction when hearing it – i.e. singing along):

In searching for that vid I found one of his first album which is better (and in a century-acknowledging indulgence I have added it into yesterday’s review)

This clips a ripper though:

There are several more stand out tracks on this album and I cannot recommend it highly enough. As a sad footnote, I awaited his next release with much hop, attended the CD launch and was mightily disappointed. He went all soft and MOR and he won no custom from me.

File under: Brylcreemed bluesy rock brilliance

99. Dan Brodie and the Broken Arrows – “Big Black Guitar”

I had a big soft spot for the work on Dan Brodie for several years. He was a bit of an outlier on the Melbourne pub scene, strongly wedded to a country-blues ethos.

dan-brodie-and-the-broken-arrows-big-black-guitar-album-coverThis was his first full-length release, and does a reasonable job of capturing his life persona, although the recording leaves a bit of the energy and rawness out.

Brodie could be described as the Aussie Ryan Adams, as he shows enormous passion for the roots of country-rock, and also portrays a life filled with misadventures in love. Brodie lacks some of Adams’ songwriting acumen, but also a whole lot less of the pretension. His tales are very likable and honest.

The title track is a good rollicking life tale (of following in his dad’s musical footsteps). Ride On is the rockingest effort and presages his greater confidence and where’s his strengths really lie – in almost Hank Williams-esque honky tonk.

There are a few too many forgettable tracks on here for this be a real fave, but Brodie certainly showed a lot of promise.

Here’s the standout track in thigh-slapping living colour (yeeeeehaaaaa):

File under: A rising star

98. Bright Eyes – “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”

This is the only CD I own from US wunderkind wordsmith Conor Oberst.  In many ways, he’s a shares a lot with Will Oldham, burdened as he is with a warbly voice and a penchant for multiple band names. He is much more palatable however, with less idiosyncrasies in delivery plus Teenbeat good looks (so you’re much more likely to see him on tele and splashed across the magazine pages). Hence his much great success.

bright-eyes-im-wide-awake-it's-morning-album-coverHis fanbase is a refreshing outcome, as his work is not overly immediate. This album, for example,  is a ‘grower’, filled with little tales that benefit from multiple listens.  Oberst sings in such a fashion that you want to understand him and share his experience. There is biting satire and pithy commentary in amongst it all.

The underlying orchestration feels eerily familiar.  He’s treading very similar ground to other ‘sway and swoon’ type efforts from Neko Case and Martha Wainwright. It is a damn effective genre, as long as you’re willing to listen hard.

Intriguingly, this album came out at the same time as an ‘electronic’ album by the same crew.  I’ll have to chase it up to hear the contrast.

File under: Subtle but effective

97. The Breeders – “Last Splash”

This album is an old fave, and has had many, many spins over the years.  Indeed last year it got a good airing as I warmed up for viewing said act as they toured Australia again.

the-breeders-last-splash-album-coverThis, for mine, is by far the best post-Pixies effort from any member of said indie legends (it doesn’t have that much opposition really).   

I like the contrast on this album.  There is a strong sense of urgency – like the band wants to tell you everything at once. Even the gaps between tracks are short. But somehow, there is also a relaxed chilled out, almost Hawaiian vibe. 

 The stand out track is, of course, Cannonball, an incredibly distinctive composition which rolls over itself in such an evocative manner. The rumbling bass and drums, and non-conventional song structure always makes me smile. There is so much more to love here:  I Just Wanna Get Along, Divine Hammer, Drivin’ On

Seeing them last year made me happy… the Deal sisters were as whacky and inspired as always. Good times.

File under: Joyous sporn

One row done!

So, after 96 reviews in 103 days (so not quite one a day), I have finished the first row on CD rack #1…

stereoFor those of you with CSI quality ‘zoom and enhance’ technology, you may be able to see what’s coming up next in the pic to your left (although the CDs have been reshelved slightly since that photo shoot).

So we’re 1/4 of the way through rack #1. The other rack has 11 rows but they are only 5/6ths of the capacity. And then there’s the LPs too…

This is a marathon folks…

96. Breather Hole – “Schwa Schwa Schwa”

We travelled a long way from Bragg to Breather Hole. These guys are much more at the arty end of the musical spectrum.  Its not quite aTap-esque ‘free-form jazz exploration’, but there a huge dollop of self-indulgence  and ‘musicality’. Thankfully there is enough listener-awareness to deliver something that hasn’t completely disappeared up the band members’ back orifices.

breather-hole-schwa-schwa-schwa-album-coverThat sort of crude expression does give some taste of the material here.  This CD shares something with the early work of The Headless Chickens (before they got all dancefloor oriented).  Slightly shouty vocals over excessive bass action.  It’s almost stream of consciousness stuff.

Having looped this CD for the past few hours, I can say that it starts to sink in and doesn’t grate too much.  The Grandpa Simpson-like ranting on Fishing is worth a listen.

Oh, and one final comment about the cover.  It might not be clear from the picture, but it features ‘scratchy’ pics.  Nice gimmick, and even after all these years, I haven’t scratched them all off.  I guess I’m holding out for the band members to go on to huge things and my copy becoming some collectors’ item… not sure I should bank on this to fund my retirement however…

File under: Not bad noodliness

95. Billy Bragg – “Billy Bragg and the Red Stars Live Bootleg”

And thus we come to the final installment of our Bragg-fest.

billy-bragg-album-cover-red-stars-live-bootlegThis is a live set recorded at a festival in 1993 (and bought around 1995 from the merch desk at the last Bragg show I attended). And I would consider this a rarity among my live CDs in that it is pretty listenable, and also strongly representative of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed most of the Bragg gigs I’ve seen.

The sound is very, very live. There appears to have been little to no post-production. Billy’s vocals are way up front in the mix, and his between song banter is included.

The format of the set is a plus. He opens with four solo tunes strumming his guitar, including the almighty A Lover Sings. The band tracks are nowhere near as overblown as his studio efforts, and the energy levels are engaging. He even covers a Wedding Parties Anything tune (Ship in My Harbour). The two encores are just as you’d expect – laden with hits – The Price I Pay, Levi Stubbs Tears and more.

I recommend this album as a nice insight into why Bragg was such a live favourite amongst many.

File under: A gig worth hearing