Monday, December 2, 2013

Al Kooper - New York City, You're a Woman (1971 us, unique blend of orchestrated blue eyed soul, jazz and r 'n' r, japan remaster)

As the 1960s came to a close, the Band changed the orientation of rock temporarily with their earnest, scholarly take on roots rock. Suddenly, it became de rigueur, especially among performers who took themselves dead seriously, to have sepia-tone album covers, tasteful mandolin flourishes and lyrics about outlaws and Civil War soldiers.

One of the most surprising albums in this vein, in retrospect, is Elton John’s 1971 album Tumbleweed Connection. It’s hard to imagine a time when the flamboyant pop Liberace behind the maudlin tribute to Princess Diana and the bathetic schmaltz of The Lion King soundtrack was considered a bona fide rock performer, but this record survives as evidence.

Tumbleweed Connection, particularly the astounding bass playing of Herbie Flowers, left a deep impression on Al Kooper, who responded by recording his own sepia-tone solo record, New York City (Your’re A Woman), making use of Flowers’s services and covering John’s “Come Down in Time”.  Kooper’s main claim to fame now may be his organ playing on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde albums, but in the 1960s he also played in the Blues Project, one of America’s first blues-rock revivalists, and then later put together the original Blood Sweat & Tears lineup, unleashing horn-section rock on an unsuspecting world.

After being booted from that band in a clash of egos, BST would go on to record one of the signature albums of the era, whose hits—“And When I Die”, “Spinning Wheel”, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”—continue to pollute oldies stations’ playlists and whose success spawned the likes of Chicago. Meanwhile, Kooper became an A&R man for Columbia Records and something of a rock history footnote. He released several genre-fusing solo records, musicanly albums seemingly made for other session musicians’ appreciation that accordingly left no particular impression on the listening public.

Though Kooper’s albums seem largely to have been unfortunately forgotten (mostly out of print and never reissued in the US) , none is more deserving of rediscovery than New York City (You’re a Woman). It features some of the best of his original compositions and is free of his tendency to include reinterpretations of over-familiar songs like “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and James Taylor’s “Country Road.” The album’s tone of grim determination is established immediately with the sweeping title track, an unsentimental tribute which wastes no time in letting us know what sort of woman New York City is (“a cold-hearted bitch”).

Amid the string arrangements, the massed backing vocals and florid keyboards, Flowers’s searching bass runs cut through. Perpetually surprising, his bass playing here is almost impossibly expressive, as mercurial and difficult to assimilate as the city itself. This is followed by “John the Baptist (Holy John),” which sounds like a hyper-orchestrated version of the Band, down to the Rick Danko impersonation Kooper offers in his vocal.

But Kooper is nowhere near as self-consciously rootsy; he is too much enamored of concocting complex arrangements to keep anything rugged and rudimentary. “John the Baptist” and the similar “Can You Hear It Now (500 Miles)” which follows both feature dense yet subtle arrangements, with a variety instruments coming in and out of the mix—a sudden flute or trumpet line here, an organ swell there, a background vocal suddenly cutting through, a guitar lick punctuating a drum fill.

After the opening trio, the album falls off some. “Ballad of a Hard Rock Kid” sounds like session pros aping Mott the Hoople, and “Going Quietly Mad” attempts to approximate the Beatles but is sunk by Kooper’s strained vocals, which makes one wonder if he’s performing the song straight or doing a Zappaesque parody. And his obligatory 60s soul homage, the medley of “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You” and “Love Is A Man’s Best Friend,” is competent but perfunctory, more a signal of where Kooper’s heart is at than a satisfying recording in and of itself. It’s impeccably played and produced, but it won’t make you forget about Wilson Pickett. His cover of Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” works a little better; that it sounds like he’s trying too hard manages to come across as endearing.

But the record regains its footing with the exuberantly loopy “Back on My Feet” and the cover of Elton John’s “Come Down in Time”, a rival for the original. Here Kooper’s vocal limitations actually serve the song well, especially next to John’s take, which seems bombastic in comparison. Kooper also clears the arrangement out to highlight Flowers’s bass. The solo passage shifts the tempo and gives the song a more dynamic feel as well, once you get used to keyboard’s initially off-putting pseudo-clarinet tone.

The album concludes by returning to the mock Band sound. “Nightmare #5” is another Flowers showcase, with a storytelling lyric about a cosmic hitch-hiking trip, and “The Warning (Someone’s on the Cross Again)” returns to the religious motifs that permeate the record. But the explicit appropriations of Christian imagery seem to have less a spiritual than musical purpose; they just seem part of the accoutrements of approximating a gospel sound. They signify Kooper’s lofty artistic goals without muddying them with any particular message, biblical or otherwise.

Instead, listeners are left with a sense of musical ambition, even in the form of outright imitation, as an engrossing calling that requires discipline and permits only controlled release, and supplying, in the end, if not transcendence, then the pleasant exhaustion of energy well spent.
by Rob Horning
1. New York City (You're A Woman) (Al Kooper) - 5:20
2. John The Baptist (Holy John) (Al Kooper, Phyllis Major) - 3:34
3. Can You Hear It Now (500 Miles) (Traditional, Arranged By Al Kooper) - 3:27
4. The Ballad Of The Hard Rock Kid (Al Kooper) - 4:19
5. Going Quietly Mad (Al Kooper) - 3:54
6. Medley
.a.Oo Wee Baby, I Love You (Richard Parker) - 1:59
.b.Love Is A Man's Best Friend (Irwin Levine, Al Kooper) - 2:24
7. Back On My Feet (Al Kooper) - 3:22
8. Come Down In Time (Bernie Taupin, Elton John) - 4:39
9. Dearest Darling (Bo Diddley) - 3:55
10.Nightmare #5 (Al Kooper) - 3:00
11.The Warning (Someone's On The Cross Again) (Al Kooper, P. Major) - 3:00

*Al Kooper - Piano, Organ, Guitars, Mellotron, Harmonium,   Vocals
*Paul Humphries - Drums
*Bobbye Hall Porter - Percussion
*Lou Shelton - Guitar
*Carol Kaye - Electric Bass
*Herbie Flowers - Electric Bass
*Bobby West - Acoustic And Electric Basses
*Roger Pope - Drums
*Sneaky Pete Kleinow - Pedal Steel
*Caleb Quaye - Guitar
*Rita Coolidge, Vanetta Fields, Clydie King, Donna Weiss, Julia Tillman, Edna Wright, Maxine Willard, Lorna Willard, Edna Woods, Claudia Lennear, Dorothy Morrison, Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, Robert John, Mike Gately And Jay Seigal - Backing Vocals

Al Kooper
1969  The Kooper Sessions With Shuggie Otis
1968-69  I Stand Alone / You Never Know Who Your Friends Are
1970  Easy Does It 
1973  Naked Songs (Japan remaster)
with Blues Project
1966  Live At The Cafe Au Go Go (2013 Japan SHM double disc set)
1966  Projections (2013 Japan SHM two disc set)
1967  Live At Town Hall (Japan SHM remaster)
1973  Reunion In Central Park (Japan SHM remaster)
with Blood, Sweat And Tears
1968  Child Is Father To The Man
with Mike Bloomfield
1968  The Lost Concert Tapes, Filmore East
1969  Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper - The Live Adventures

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Pavlov's Dog - Pampered Menial (1975 us, significant progressive rock, 2007 xpanded and 2013 remaster)

While 1974 is considered to be the closure for classic English progressive rock, it was a promising, groundbreaking year for the Americans in the genre, with bands like Kansas and Rush releasing their debut albums. Pampered Menial, the forgotten debut album by St. Louis band Pavlov’s Dog, serves as a further testament to this.

Pavlov’s Dog can actually be the missing piece linking Kansas and Rush – mixing the accessibility of the first with the harder edge of the latter. While not as aggressive as early Rush efforts, Pampered Menial offers about 35 minutes packed with well-written, captivating songs that are dense with instrumental beauty and creativity – creating a sense of celebration from one side and a painful heartbreak affair on the other.

This concentrated, orchestrated work is clearly inspired by early European progressive rock albums (a sub-genre known as "proto-prog"), such as King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and Spring (another forgotten gem), with various keyboards, mellotron, flutes and strings being a substantial part of the work aside the varied guitar playing, giving it a symphonic touch. It all rocks with intensity, driven by highly dynamic, imaginative drumming, and filled with melody, much in the way Kansas did in their early days.

Lead vocalist David Surkamp’s high singing is very close to that of Rush’s Geddy Lee, both in tone and in delivery. In fact, Surkamp takes his muscular-feminine vibrating vocals to an even more extreme point, using them with more confidence than early Lee, in a way that can be seen as a cross between Lee and the goat-like trembling vocals that Family’s (a late 60’s-70’s outfit that offered orchestrated prog-pop material) Roger Chapman is remembered for.

In fact, Surkamp is not the only one who is performing with confidence. The entire band performs remarkably well and displays maturity and refinement that are sometimes absent from debut albums. Unlike the Led Zeppelin-ish early Rush, Pavlov’s Dog managed to bring on their debut a polished sound that is their own, thus making it a mandatory acquisition to anyone who is interested in American progressive rock.
by Avi Shaked
1. Julia - 3:10
2. Late November (S. Scorfina, D. Surkamp) - 3:12
3. Song Dance (Mike Safron) - 4:59
4. Fast Gun - 3:04
5. Natchez Trace (Steve Scorfina) - 3:42
6. Theme From Subway Sue - 4:25
7. Episode - 4:04
8. Preludin (Siegfried Carver) - 1:39
9. Of Once And Future Kings - 5:28
All songs by David Surkamp except where stated

Pavlov's Dog
*David Surkamp - Lead Vocals, Guitar
*David Hamilton - Keyboards
*Doug Rayburn - Mellotron, Flute
*Mike Safron - Percussion
*Rick Stockton - Bass Guitar
*Siegfried Carver - Violin, Vitar, Viola
*Steve Scorfina - Lead Guitar

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