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Saturday, May 30, 2009

BETTY BARNEY meets CHILI PEPPERS meets THE PAZANT BROTHERS : Momma, Momma/Chicken Scratch (1969)

Apologies for the confusing title, but it's a confusing story! GWP was a record label based in New York City that produced singles for a number of jazz, soul, and funk acts. The 'house band' for the label was a group called The Pazant Brothers, with real brothers Al on trumpet and Eddy on sax. They played as the rhythm section on many of the singles, and had many great funk singles of their own. One the artists was singer Betty Barney, who recorded only one single "You Want My Lovin'". The track "Momma, Momma" is the funky b-side, and Barney is just belting out the lyrics. You can hear the typical staccato horns of the Pazant Brothers in the background. An interesting use of string swells occurs throughout.
Now, what makes it slightly confusing is that GWP re-released the song later in the same year, but this time keeping it instrumental and calling it "Chicken Scratch". Yet instead of making it a Pazant Brothers single, they went under the pseudonym, Chili Peppers. Thus, as the Chili Peppers, this was the sole single! Either way, you get to hear how nice n greasy the track is. Barney would continue to sing for the Pazants, particularly on their later album, "Loose And Juicy".

Song : "Momma, Momma" by Betty Barney
Single B-side (GWP 502) 1969

Song : "Chicken Scratch" by Chili Peppers
Single A-side (GWP 511) 1969

Both of the songs can be found on the compilation, "SuperFunk. Volume 4" (BGP) 2004
Get them here :
Momma Momma
Chicken Scratch

Saturday, May 23, 2009

BILLY COBHAM : Stratus (1973)

Here is a classic track by master fusion drummer Billy Cobham. Since he was already playing in the intense environment of Mahavishnu Orchestra, it became apparent from his solo output that Cobham wanted tunes that were more funky.
Allmusic has words:
This is one of the most potent instances of the viability of the jazz-rock merger. Of course this style had been done a few years earlier with acts like Tony Williams Lifetime and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact Cobham was a member with Mahavishnu when this was recorded. As tension began to give off sparks in that unit, he thought about doing a solo album. "Stratus" was the most influential track from Cobham's debut, "Spectrum", from 1973. How "Stratus" is different is that it featured guitarist Tommy Bolin's rock style. It proved especially incendiary in the jazz-rock idiom. Throughout "Stratus" his playing was less concerned with sounding "pretty" like many jazz guitarists, and his burning solos just go for the jugular. Of course that's not unlike Cobham's drumming style. No wonder they played so well together. Unlike a lot of the era's finest work, "Stratus" has endured.
In 1991 elements of Lee Sklar's loping bass part were used in Massive Attack's "Safe From Harm." For Bolin, he continued to be respected in jazz and rock until his death from a drug overdose in 1976. Posthumously, live versions of "Stratus" have appeared on solo albums released on the label Tommy Bolin Archives. This version of "Stratus" was the perfect way for Cobham display his skills as a composer and to kick off his successful solo career.

A 10-minute groove from start to finish, which leans more towards that funk than jazz. You can really hear Cobham go crazy at the finale at 9:52, with a rock-ish riff. Jan Hammer came from Mahavishnu to help, before going on to his own solo career. Tommy Bolin was just getting his big break, as he had just joined The James Gang. Lee Sklar, even the studio bassist, was just there to add this album to his thousands of sessions.

This song was also featured in the "Grand Theft IV" video game soundtrack.
Song : "Stratus" by Billy Cobham
From the LP "SPECTRUM" (Atlantic) Oct. 1, 1973

Billy Cobham : drums
Tommy Bolin : guitar
Jan Hammer : electric piano, Moog synthesizer
Lee Sklar : bass

Get it here : Stratus

Saturday, May 16, 2009

BLACK SABBATH : Heaven And Hell (1980)

Black Sabbath without Ozzy? How is that possible?? Well, it was possible for about 16 years after Ozzy left/got sacked. And for a brief time, Sabbath were more popular than they had been in years. They picked up Elf/Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, and went in a more 'traditional' heavy metal direction. The riffs were still there, just a little more theatrics, and those ubiquitous metal wizard-n-warrior lyrics.
Allmusic says it well with run-on sentences:
After Ozzy Osbourne left the mighty Black Sabbath, they hunted down Elf singer Ronnie James Dio and tried their hand at making an album with him. Bassist Geezer Butler stepped aside as head lyricist for the first time in a decade and allowed Dio to pen his own songs, which drastically changed the direction of the band and affected them years after Dio had moved on to do solo work. "Heaven and Hell" is one of the first songs they ever collaborated on, and the result is one of the best songs they managed to muster in their post-Ozzy years. A thunderous bass line (rumored to have been written by Geoff Nichols) carries the song throughout, while a slab of sludge guitar pops up whenever Dio stops singing. The lyrics are the usual doomy nonsense, but they focus much more on kings and bringers of evil and lose much of their Christian paranoia in exchange for a Dark Age mythology. Luckily, this recording forgoes Dio's later additions to the song, which included lyrics about "little white sheep" asking him to go to heaven, but he turns them down to rock with his fans. But the Dungeons and Dragons formula works well here, building to the raging second half where all the instruments meet up to carry Dio's campy theatrics to their natural end. But to even be able to notice a drop in lyrical quality when talking about Black Sabbath is a bad sign, and only two years later they would no longer have the musical chops to compliment the subpar words written by Dio. But for one brief moment it looked like the band would really pull it together, and this song was by far the best example of that optimism.

Other tidbits from wiki:
Dio explains the song is about how every individual has "heaven and hell" inside him or herself, as well the ability and the choice whether to choose good or evil.
In live performances by Black Sabbath or Dio, the song is usually stretched out with extended guitar solos, audience participation, and new or ad libbed lyrics.
The song is featured on the soundtrack for the 2007 movie "Halloween", and is featured in the 2008 video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" on the radio station "Liberty Rock Radio 97.8".

This song is basically written in three parts. The first part is the main body of the track, with the bass providing the pulse while Dio does his thing. Riffs come in an out, adding to the gradual buildup. After a well-balanced guitar solo, the second part begins at 4:16 which basically picks up the pace so the back can rock out. Finally, in true Sabbath fashion, a seemingly random coda ends the track with Iommi on double-tracked acoustic guitars playing a soft minstrel-like piece. Taken together, it captures the theme of the song quite well, balancing darkness with light.

Song : "HEAVEN AND HELL" by Black Sabbath (1980)
From the LP "HEAVEN AND HELL" (Warner Bros) Apr. 25, 1980

Tony Iommi : guitar
Ronnie James Dio : vocals
Geezer Butler : bass
Bill Ward : drums
Geoff Nicholls : keyboards

This version is from the recent 2008 remaster, released in the box-set "THE RULES OF HELL".
Get it here : Heaven And Hell

Saturday, May 09, 2009

DAVID BOWIE : Quicksand (1971)

Here is a grossly underrated song by Bowie; flowing lyrics and melodies over an acoustic guitar, with a tasty use of strings. Piano arpeggios were added by none other than Rick Wakeman, with backing by his soon-to-be Spiders From Mars band.

From allmusic:
One of Bowie's most mystifying (and, thus, most over-analyzed) compositions, "Quicksand" originally appeared on 1971's Hunky Dory album, closing side one with a lengthy examination of the emotional mire of politics and religion. (An acoustic demo of the song also appeared on the album's 1990 reissue.)

Churchill, Himmler, Crowley, Garbo, and Nietzsche all file through the "dream reality" of this gentle, but incredibly hard-hitting song, and its occasional appearances in Bowie's live set have always proven firm fan favorites. That said, Bowie only began performing the song in its entirety in 1997 — hitherto, it featured in a 1973-era medley with "Life on Mars?" and "Memory of a Free Festival."

However, he revived it for the 50th birthday celebrations; one version was included in the BBC's ChangesNowBowie broadcast, another — a duet with the Cure's Robert Smith — was aired at the Madison Square Garden birthday concert. The song then became the opening number throughout 1997's "Earthling" tour.
Song : "Quicksand" by David Bowie
From the LP "HUNKY DORY" (RCA) Dec. 17, 1971

David Bowie : vocals, guitar
Mick Ronson : guitar, vocals, Mellotron, arrangements
Rick Wakeman : piano
Trevor Bolder : bass
Mick Woodmansey : drums

Get it here : Quicksand

Saturday, May 02, 2009

DR. Z : Summer For The Rose (1971)

Dr. Z has to be one of the strangest projects in UK progressive rock. A occult-laden concept album written and performed by a Wales university professor. It was one of the worst-selling albums of the Vertigo label (something like 80 copies were sold), but by now has become a huge collector's item. Aside from the quirky music, the great album artwork has helped increase the value of this album.
Song : "Summer For The Rose" by Dr. Z
From the LP "THREE PARTS TO MY SOUL" (Vertigo) Sep. 1971

Keith Keyes : keyboards (harpsichord, organ, piano), vocals
Bob Watkins : drums
Rob Watson : bass

Get it here : Summer For The Rose