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Old 07-04-2011, 09:42 AM   #61 (permalink)
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Disclaimer: please note that all the tracks on this file are mixed together, segued so as to present a single, seamless piece of music. If you download it and find you don't like one or more tracks, you cannot simply skip to the next, as there IS no next --- it's all one track. So the only way to bypass tracks you don't like in the mix is to fast-forward through them. I mention this so that anyone dowloading these files knows what to expect. Comments are as always welcomed.

For those who really need to know, the mixing is done via Goldwave v 5.58, downloadable at GoldWave - Audio Editor, Recorder, Converter, Restoration, & Analysis Software. I copy each separate track and use the “mix” function to add it to the compilation. Some trial and error (mostly error!) is involved, but what I end up with is usually the best I can expect to get in terms both of equalising volume and cross-fading.

TRACK 1:- The loner (Gary Moore) from Wild Frontier.

I've always liked to start these mixes off with a track that fades in, and so the first ever of these particular mixes features the late, great Gary Moore, with a stirring instrumental from his 1987 album, “Wild frontier”. It's called “The loner”, and is a real example of how proficient and experienced Moore was on the guitar, but also how he could make it cry, sing, laugh, do anything he wanted. It's really emotive work here, perhaps all the more poignant now that the great man is no longer with us. One of the only instrumentals I have ever heard from the man, I must say, and even at that, it's not technically a true instrumental, as during the song he lets out what sounds like a cry of despair, and at the end he sings “So lonely”, but these are the only vocal accompaniments on something which is, to all intents and purposes, an instrumental track.

TRACK 2:- Wanted dead or alive (Bon Jovi) from Slippery when wet

Staying with 1987 then, as “The loner” fades out on some exquisite guitar, the dusty prairie wind blows in as Bon Jovi's huge hit from “Slippery when wet”, their most commercially successful album ever, and the one that broke them into the mainstream, kicks in. Written by Jon Bon Jovi himself and Ritchie Sambora, it's a tale of the Old West, of desperadoes and cowboys, likening these frontier bad boys to the rock bands of today. I guess everyone knows it, so there's probably no need to go too much into the details, but with lines like “Sometimes you tell the day/ By the bottle that you drink/ Sometimes when you're alone/ All you do is think” and “I walk these streets/ A loaded six-string on my back/ I play for keeps/ Cos I might not make it back”, you should be in no doubt as to what you're in for.

TRACK 3:- Toy soldiers (Martika) from Martika

Step two years on and we're into 1989, and we go all pop with Martika's “Toy soldiers”. Opinion is divided as to whether this was a song about drug addiction or just a bad love affair, the former being apparently claimed retrospectively by Martika when the song was a hit, but there's no doubting the drug-related lines in the lyric, such as “It's getting harder to wake up in the morning/ My head is spinning constantly/ How can this be? /How could I be so blind to this addiction?/ If I don't stop/ The next one's gonna be me” and “Only emptiness remains/ It replaces all of the pain.”

Either way, although this is a pop song and charted in the UK and US (reaching number one in the USA), it's a hard-edged pop song, and perhaps surprisingly successful, given the possible drug connection in the lyric. However, it was clear that this was going to be Martika's “big thing”, her one-hit-wonder, and true to form, her only other hit was a rather embarrassing reworking of Carole King's “I feel the earth move”, after which she disappeared from commercial sight. Not ever proven, but I would think fairly obvious that Martika was trying to hitch her star to, and cash in on the fame and attraction of another female mega-star who also used only one name and which also began with M and ended in A....

TRACK 4:- Father figure (George Michael) from Faith

I've never been a huge George Michael fan, but to be fair he did release some pretty good songs, and like many others, I “listened without prejudice” in 1990, and it was a hell of a good album. This, however, is from his first solo effort, the famous “Faith”, and one of the better tracks on that album in my opinion. Perhaps because he had already courted controversy by releasing “I want your sex”, the somewhat questionable lyrical content seemed to go unnoticed. “Father figure” is, essentially, a “Lolita”-like song, in much the same vein as the Police's “Don't stand so close to me”, focussing on the relationship between an older man and a much younger girl, in lyrics like “I will be your preacher teacher/ (Be your daddy)” and “That's all I wanted/ But sometimes love can be/ Mistaken for a crime”. The song is very laid-back, with a gentle, at times almost whispered vocal, and an extremely catchy eastern/arabic keyboard hook. It's this that opens the song, and fades it into the mix from the end of the chanting of the chorus on “Toy soldiers”, and which again brings it to a close.

TRACK 5:- Stronger (Faith Hill) from Cry

Although she claims to be a country singer, my own take on Faith Hill is that she is far more mainstream and pop than country. Strip away the steel guitar in her songs and ignore some of the more country-centric lyrics, and you have basic commercial pop songs. All great --- there's nothing wrong with that. I just feel that someone like, say, Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith deserves more to be described as country than Faith does. For me, she's more Shania than Crystal. But “Cry” is an excellent album, no matter the criteria you use to judge it, and this is one of the (sorry) strongest tracks. Beginning with a powerful acapella line, Faith tells us “This is the window to my heart/ I just want us to be free” and the guitar and piano pick up behind her as the song begins, with the full band coming in shortly after. It's the story of one of those “we-need-to-talk” moments, when one or both of the partners need space. It's a beautiful song, one of several ballads on the album, as she puts her case: “Maybe this is what we need/ A little bruisin', a little bleeding/ Some space that we can breathe in/ Silence in between.”

TRACK 6:- Baby can I hold you (Tracy Chapman) from Tracy Chapman

Proof, if any were needed, that a love song can be short and yet still effective. Clocking in at only just over three minutes , “Baby can I hold you” is a softly played and sung ballad, with a tough message, as the singer exorts her partner to admit their feelings: “Sorry is all that you can't say/ Years gone by and still / Words don't come easily/ Like sorry.” When Tracy Chapman burst onto the scene with the single “Fast car” from her debut album, it looked like she was going to take the world by storm. Sadly, that did not happen, and though she has gone on to release several albums since this, her greatest claim to commercial fame will forever doubtless be that Boyzone covered this song. Sad, but there it is.

TRACK 7:- Crime of the century (Supertramp) from Crime of the century

All the way back to 1974 then, for the title track from the third Supertamp album, and in many ways one of their darkest. The song itself is pretty amazing, having lyrics for only two short verses with the remainder of the five-and-a-half-minute track taken up by piano and keyboard solos to the end, the piano in fact simply repeating the same sequence of chords throughout the song, with sax taking up a parting blast as the end fades out.

TRACK 8:- This island Earth (Glass Tiger) from Diamond Sun

Although best known for their hit “Don't forget me (when I'm gone)”, from their previous album “The thin red line”, this is the closer from their second release, 1988's “Diamond sun”, and is Glass Tiger's take on the “we-must-save-the-world-before-it's-too-late” theme. It's a long song (over six minutes) and closes the album really well, with fine vocal performance by Alan Frew, with a nice little guitar solo near the end by Al Connelly, and it leads rather well into the penultimate track on the mix.

TRACK 9:- Next profundis (Adagio) from Underworld

Featuring some of the most proficient piano playing I have heard on any rock record, “Next profundis” is the opener to French progressive metal band Adagio's second album, “Underworld”, and well worth checking out if you haven't already heard them. Vocalist David Readman sounds just like the late Ronnie James Dio --- and the fact that the great man's name is contained within the band name is, we have to assume, purely coincidental! --- reaching the highs and the lows with equal ease, while Kevin Codfert puts just about every prog rock keyboard player to shame with his skill. It's a long track, and no, I have no idea what the title means, but it's definitely worth listening to. A powerful slice of symphonic prog metal, not to be missed, and it ends on a piano run that happily slips seamlessly into the final track.

TRACK 10:- Hope for us (Shadow Gallery) from Tyranny

As I say, the piano intro to this track melds flawlessly (I believe anyway!) from the previous Adagio song to form almost a seamless crossover, and take us to the last track on my first mix. I've written about this track already in my review of “Tyranny”, so check there for more details. Suffice to say it's a gentle and fitting way to end this mix, as I hope you'll agree.

This mix can be downloaded here TenfromTrollheart1A.mp3

Best played through from start to finish, it runs for just over 52 minutes. If anyone is wondering, no, it's pure coincidence that the bulk of the material on this comes from the late eighties: I just thought all these tracks complemented each other, and I hope you will agree. If not, let me know!
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Old 07-04-2011, 05:17 PM   #62 (permalink)
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Borrowed time --- Diamond Head --- 1982 (MCA)


I know, I know! Again with the eighties albums! What can I say? They were my formative years, so I'm always going to look back kindly on the music of that period. Around the early 80s I was into my heavy metal period --- Iron Maiden, Saxon, Black Sabbath, Motorhead --- a real headbanger, I was! I was also into progressive rock, and this, the fourth album from Diamond Head, comfortably straddled both genres while never seeming out of place in either.

Known more for their out-and-out metal work on albums like “Lightning to the nations”, Diamond Head released “Borrowed time” in 1982, just as I was also at the height of my Michael Moorcock phase, reading all about the Eternal Champion, one facet of whom, Elric of Melnibone, forms the concept of this album. I couldn't have been happier! Sold!

Indeed, the sleeve for “Borrowed time” features a magnificent Rodney Matthews painting of Elric, Matthews having worked on the Moorcock book covers, and also well known in the rock world, having worked with the likes of Thin Lizzy, Tygers of Pan-Tang and Magnum to name but a few. The album cover, again a lavish gatefold sleeve, was reportedly the most expensive MCA had shelled out for up to that point. It's certainly eye-catching, and I'm sure it helped sell more than a few albums.

It starts as it means to go on, with a mid-paced cruncher, introduced by the powerful guitar work of Brian Tatler, until Sean Harris belts out the opening lines to “In the heat of the night”. There is a fantastic guitar solo at the end, and we crash into “To Heaven from Hell”, more of the same basic rhythm, with churning guitar and tortured vocals from Harris. Although this is a great album, I think it really suffers from a lack of keyboards. It's quite hard to make prog-rock without keys, and “Borrowed time”, great though it is, ends up coming across as an album that wants to be prog but is afraid to make the full conversion. The lyrics are cetainly worthy of any prog track though: ”On we go, up to the castle/ Death waits for our call/ Left unkempt, but quietly praying/ Remembers when to call .” The track speeds up halfway through and becomes a real metal workout, and as before, therein lies the problem with “Borrowed time”: it teeters on an edge between heavy metal and progressive rock/metal, never quite landing on one side or the other.

“Call me” is far more polished. It KNOWS it's a commercial song, a single, and has the hooks, the melody, the vocals that all bespeak airplay. It's also much shorter than those which have gone before. “Lightning to the nations” is actually a reissue of the title track of a previous album. It's heavy, fast and powerful, with a great boogie vibe and excellent vocals by Sean Harris. But as usual it's Brian Tatler's mesmeric guitar licks that carry the track. He, and Diamond Head, really deserved to do much better and be more successful than they turned out to be.

I recall Sean Harris talking in “Kerrang!” about how annoyed he was that people didn't know his band. As he tells it, the conversation would go thus:
“So, you're in a band then are you? What's it called?”
“Diamond Head.”
“Never heard of yer!”
It seems that the fans didn't like the new progressive direction Diamond Head were going in with this album and the follow-up, “Canterbury”, though I recall them both being excellent albums. I guess that explains, at least in part, why they aren't masters of the metal world.

To my mind, the album finishes on a trio of the best songs on the disc. The boys have, to coin a phrase, kept the best till last. The title track is a seven-minute epic telling the tale of Elric the Kinslayer, with urgent bass runs, dramatic guitar and as ever the passionate voice of Sean Harris weaving the tale. ”I have loved, I have lost/ I have killed those who have loved me so/ I have loved, at what cost/ Lord, I don't know!/ I'm living on borrowed time.” Great song, though again keyboards would really have embellished it and made it a true classic, I believe. It's followed by “Don't you ever leave me”, almost eight minutes long. To be honest, when it starts off it's nothing special, but halfway through Tatler ups the ante and delivers a truly soulful blues section, taking the song from the realm of the mundane into totally different territory. I'm actually really annoyed to find, playing the downloaded CD now, that it has a much shorter version of the track which doesn't include the blues part! Damn!

The closer is a blistering seven-minute-plus again, kicking in with a fantastic version of Holst's “Mars, the Bringer of War” from the “Planets” suite before it metamorphoses into a deft little riff and then takes off as “Am I evil?” gets going. More Black Sabbath than Black Sabbath, this is the song you've been waiting for. A tremendous closer and an example of what Diamond Head could do when they really tried.. ”As I watched my mother die I lost my head/ Revenge now I sought/ To break with my bread/ Taking no chances you'll come with me/ I'll split you to the bone/ I'll set you free.” As it progresses the song speeds up, till it's almost into thrash metal country. It's a great closer, and a final reminder, if one were needed, of the talent of Brian Tatler.

The NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) brought a lot of new bands to the public ear. Some went on and did really well (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard etc), some faded out and died (Quartz, Vardis, Trespass, Fist and hundreds more), and some, taking perhaps bad advice, tried to change at a time when metal was king, and their fans only wanted metal. Prog was, at that time, played by prog bands like Marillion and IQ, and although it would later branch out and reinvent itself as prog metal, this was not the time. Sadly, Diamond Head tried to be all things to all men, and it was their undoing. For all that, I still think “Borrowed time” stands as one of their greatest albums, and certainly showed, if nothing else, what they were capable of.

TRACKLISTING

1. In the heat of the night
2. To Heaven from Hell
3. Call me
4. Lightning to the nations
5. Borrowed time
6. Don't you ever leave me
7. Am I evil?



Suggested further listening: “Canterbury”
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Old 07-05-2011, 10:52 AM   #63 (permalink)
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Door to door --- The Cars --- 1987 (Elektra)


The swansong from a band who had brought us the likes of “My best friend's girl”, “Shake it up” and “Just what I needed”, “Door to door” was the follow-up to the multi-platinum “Heartbeat City”, which gave the Cars almost total dominance of the charts in 1983, with its smash hit singles “Drive”, “You might think” and “Magic”. “Heartbeat City” was always going to be a very tough act to follow, and the boys did not rush out a sixth album, taking instead three years to produce what to these ears was their most fitting finale.

It's full of both the quirky, upbeat songs that characterised the Cars in the early 80s, as well as a decent few ballads, with some surprises in store too. Opener “Leave or stay” gets things moving, with some typical cars “talking” keyboard/vocoder, which has become their signature sound , and is a boppy, upbeat number, while “You are the girl”, slightly slower but not much, keeps things rolling in a very pop-oriented way. Both songs in their own way recall elements from the hit single “Magic” from the previous album, while “Double trouble” goes for a much harder approach, very rock with its growling guitars and snarling keyboards, both Elliot Easton on the former and Greg Hawkes on the latter in fine form: three years away from recording does not seem to have dulled their proficiency with their instruments. The songs on “Door to door” are generally short, very little over five minutes and not too many over four --- some in fact less than three --- so there are no epics here, but then that's not the Cars' style. “Heartbeat City” had no songs over five minutes, and many under four. That's what the Cars do – snappy, short, catchy tunes that radio Djs and record labels alike love. A song may be the greatest ever recorded, but if it's six or seven minutes long it's unlikely to get real airplay or chart success, unless as a very truncated version. Pretty much all of the tracks from this album could have been released as singles.

Things slow way down then for “Fine line”, a smouldering little ballad on which we really get to hear the bass work of Benjamin Orr, as well as the drumming talents of David Robinson. Of course, riding high over everything is the ever-distinctive voice of Ric Ocasek, able to go from hyperactive rocker or popstar to moody balladeer at the drop of a hat. Hawkes' pan-pipe-style keyboard work also contributes a lot to this track, and it is in fact the longest on the album, clocking in at 5:22. It's pretty much the one melody throughout, which does not detract from the song at all.

Then it's pedal to the metal again for “Everything you say”, a pleasant, jaunty little rocker with some nice jangly guitar from Easton, almost veering into Country territory, but staying just shy enough of it not to be considered a country song. All songs on the album are written by Ocasek, bar the penultimate one, on which he collaborates with Hawkes. He certainly knows how to write a hit song: he's the Cars' equivalent of Jeff Lynne, and almost everything he turns his hand to turns out well. But what can you say about “Ta ta wayo wayo”, the next one up? Total lunacy, a crazy song which surely must have started out as a jam, it's just great fun and allows the band to blow off some steam, kicking the pace up several notches and showing that the Cars know how to laugh at themselves and have a good time in a way some bands would do well to emulate.

It's back to business then for “Strap me in”, another slowburner, which was actually the highest charting single from the album. I don't personally feel it's better than, say, “Leave or stay”, “Double trouble” or even “Everything you say”, none of which were released as singles, but it's a good track, with quite a heavy vibe, good heavy guitar from Easton, and it leads into a much ligher and boppier “Coming up you” before things slow down completely for “Wound up on you”, another ballad in the vein of “Fine line”. The boys then revisit “You are the girl” for “Go away”, a pleasant track that hops along at a nice mid-pace, almost on cruise control, and could perhaps have been the closer. But it isn't.

Probably poking gentle fun at the punk rock scene, the Cars go wild with the final, and title, track, Easton hammering his guitar like a lunatic, Robinson pounding his kit like Keith Moon at his most frenetic, and Ocasek singing like a cultured Rotten. It's a hilarious end to the album, and as it was to be their last as a band together, a great one to bring down the curtain. As the track crashes to a close, there's even the sound of a slamming door to denote the end. Brilliant.

Although the Cars broke up after this album, they did reform in 2010 and have in fact a new album out this year. However, in the interim Benjamin Orr was taken ill, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died in 2000, so for the new album the guys are down to a four-piece, Greg Hawkes taking on bass duty as well as keys. The album was dedicated to Orr's memory, which is only as it should be.

Whether this will be a one-off or a new revival of the Cars remains to be seen, but what is not in doubt is that the original Cars left us a great legacy and a fine final album.

TRACKLISTING

1. Leave or stay
2. You are the girl
3. Double trouble
4. Fine line
5. Everything you say
6. Ta ta wayo wayo
7. Strap me in
8. Coming up you
9. Wound up on you
10. Go away
11. Door to door


Suggested further listening: “Heartbeat city”, “The definitive Cars”, also Ric Ocasek's “This side of Paradise” and Benjamin Orr's “The lace”
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Old 07-05-2011, 04:03 PM   #64 (permalink)
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Brigade --- Heart --- 1990 (Capitol)


Yay! I made it to the 90s!! The much-mooted follow-up album to 1987's chart-smashing “Bad animals”, I actually believe “Brigade” to be a far superior album. Although I love “Bad animals”, and that album was in fact my first introduction to Heart, I love this album more. I find it rockier than its predecessor which, on the back of the success of singles like “Alone” and “Who will you run to”, seemed more pop-oriented. There are some fine tracks on this outing, and hardly a bad one, which is not often the case on Heart albums.

The only thing this album suffers from, in my opinion, is the songwriting contribution of mega-producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who penned the truly awful “All I wanna do is make love to you”, the second track on the album. It was a big hit, but the lazy rhyming couplets in it (”So we found this hotel/ It was a place I knew well” and ”Then it happened one day/ We came round the same way/ You can imagine his surprise/ When he saw his own eyes.” What???) really annoyed me. While I would never disparage the man's work --- I know he has won several awards, written some great songs and is one of the most successful and respected producers in the music business ---- everyone can have an off-day and write a turkey, and this one should be on someone's plate with some ham and potatoes at Christmas!

That aside, I have few complaints about this album. It starts off well, rockin' hard with “Wild child”, and things get off to a great start before the aforementioned “All I wanna do...” spoils things briefly, but that's quickly forgotten as “Secret” gets going. It's a powerful ballad in the mould of “Alone”, with Ann Wilson in fine voice as Nancy accompanies her on acoustic guitar, swapping it for her electric during the chorus, then back to acoustic for the verses. Really nice. Kicking back into top gear then for “Tall dark handsome stranger”, a good rocker, great stabbing keyboards here from Howard Leese, managing to make it sound like a whole horn section !

The acoustic intro to “Fallen from grace” is very effective, and sets up a powerful mid-paced rocker, with keyboards recalling Van Halen's 1984 hit “Jump”, and is in fact penned by ex-Halen man Sammy Hagar, with Heart drummer Denny Carmassi. ”I'm left with all these feelings/ But nothing fills the space/ Of the love that once was/ That's fallen from grace.” This starts off a trio of very commercial songs, any of which would have made a good single. “Under the sky”, up next, is another acoustic opening, with a great boppy beat and a terrific line in drums, while “Cruel nights” completes the trio. Written by Dianne Warren, it's a real slice of commercial pop/rock, and leads into “Stranded”, another ballad with a hard edge. There's just time for one more rocker before things wrap up with two slower tracks, and “Call of the wild” fits the bill.

As I say, the album comes to a close on two slow tracks, two ballads, one being “I want your world to turn”, which is the faster of the two, and the final track simply entitled “I love you” is an acoustic-sounding --- though I'm pretty sure it's played on electric guitar --- ballad which gives the finishing touch to a really great album.

I personally consider this to be one of Heart's best efforts, though I haven't yet heard their latest. The two girls are on top of their game all through “Brigade”, and ably supported by the other members of Heart. It would be another three years before they would release the flawed gem that is “Desire walks on”, eleven before the one after that, “Jupiter's darling”, and a further three years before their most recent in 2010, so no-one can say they rush albums! If the result of that length of time between albums is releases the quality of “Brigade”, it's well worth the wait.

TRACKLISTING

1. Wild child
2. All I wanna do is make love to you
3. Secret
4. Tall, dark, handsome stranger
5. I didn't want to need you
6. The night
7. Fallen from grace
8. Under the sky
9. Cruel nights
10. Stranded
11. Call of the wild
12. I want your world to turn
13. I love you



Suggested further listening: “Heart”, “Bad animals”, “Desire walks on”
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Late night grande hotel ---- Nanci Griffith --- 1991 (MCA)



One of my all-time favourite country artistes, Nanci Griffith has to date recorded seventeen studio albums, of which this is her eighth. The production is a little more polished than her previous outings, and there are some quite commercial/pop songs on it, but unlike some artistes who started out as country and branched out to other genres, Nanci has never made the crossover to mainstream music of any kind, nor seemed to want to. She has her dedicated following, and is more interested in writing her own music as well as paying homage to the greats of her genre than having a hit single. This of course means that outside of those who listen to country music, few will know her name, except perhaps for the hit “From a distance”, but she is an accomplished artiste in her own right, and while few rockers may number her albums among their collection, I'm sure there are one or two who have a copy of “Lone star state of mind” or “Last of the true believers” squirreled away.

Personally, I have most of her collection up to 1997's “Blue roses from the moons”, but this remains one of my favourites of hers. Less out-and-out country than, say, “Lone star” or even its follow-up, “Little love affairs”, it's nevertheless a great album, with well-crafted and played songs, most of which are her own compositions.

The album starts off with a bouncy number; “It's just another morning here” finds Nanci as ever in fine voice, and can possibly be seen as autobiographical, a portrait of the artist as a young lady, as it were. It gets things going nicely, before the title track slows everything back down with a stately ballad sung with Nanci's characteristic passion and often pathos. The lines ”It's not the way you hold me/ When the sun goes down/ It's not the way you called my name/ And left me stranded on the ground/ It's not the way you say you hear my heart/ When the music ends/ I am just learning how to fly away again” bring to mind a bad love affair, further backed up by the advice ”Maybe you were thinking that you thought/ You knew me well/ But no-one ever knows the heart/ Of anyone else/ I feel like Garbo in this/ Late night grande hotel/ Cos living alone is all I've ever done well.” It's a great song, backed by a full orchestra and has the drama and flair that has perhaps been missing from earlier albums.

“It's too late” is a short, sharp ode to making do, with backing vocals from Tanita Tikaram, while “Fields of summer” tries to recapture those heady days when we were first in love. Nanci asks ”When the night has come/ And I would race the moon across the sky/ Would you chase me through /Those open fields of summer?” There is some great drumwork here, very restrained when you would expect flourishes and flurries, and it works really well. “Heaven” is the first cover version on the album, and it's by Julie Gold, whose song “From a distance” Nanci included on her “Lone star state of mind” album, and which proved her only crossover hit. Sung against a simple piano melody, it's a powerful little ballad, with a very simple message: ”I think I'll go to Heaven/ Cos Heaven is in your eyes.”

“Down 'n' outer” is a terribly touching tale of someone who has fallen on bad times due to circumstances beyond their control. It tries to humanise the beggars we all see, and pass, on our streets every day, to remind us that these are men, and women, who were once as we are, and that “there but for the grace of God go I.” It has some excellent lines: ”Can you spare a dime/ Can you spare the time/ Can you look me in the eye?/ I'm down and out and I am lonely/ Do you ever think of me on Sunday?” and tellingly ”No I don't live across the water/ I live right here on this corner/ I'm just a bank account away/ From America.” Powerful stuff, and sung with real soul.

Nanci has fun with the privileged in “One blade shy of a sharp edge”, in a similar vein to Judie Tzuke on “Sportscar” (huh?), laughing at a guy who thinks his big car and money will attract her, but he had better look elsewhere, as she explains ”I'm a full-grown woman/ And you're lookin' for girls”, while “The sun, moon and stars” is a bittersweet little ballad, a lovely little song, and the album closes on a Tom Waits cover, from his second album, “The heart of Saturday night”; she picked a good one in “San Diego serenade”, and she makes a very good go of it, though of course no-one sings Waits songs like Waits.

Nanci seldom if ever produces a less than excellent album, and “Late night grande hotel” keeps up the tradition set by such albums as “Lone star state of mind” and “Storms”. Somewhat disliked by a section of her fans due to its more commercial/pop sound, it's nevertheless a great effort and a good example of an artiste who is not afraid to spread her wings and fly, if only a little way.

TRACKLISTIING

1. It's just another morning here
2. Late night grande hotel
3. It's too late
4. Fields of summer
5. Heaven
6. The power lines
7. Hometown streets
8. Down 'n' outer
9. One blade shy of a sharp edge
10. The sun, moon and stars
11. San Diego serenade



Suggested further listening: “Storms”, “Lone star state of mind”, “Little love affairs”, “Flyer”, “Other voices, other rooms”, “Once in a very blue moon”, “Last of the true believers”
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Old 07-05-2011, 08:39 PM   #66 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post


Disclaimer: please note that all the tracks on this file are mixed together, segued so as to present a single, seamless piece of music. If you download it and find you don't like one or more tracks, you cannot simply skip to the next, as there IS no next --- it's all one track. So the only way to bypass tracks you don't like in the mix is to fast-forward through them. I mention this so that anyone dowloading these files knows what to expect. Comments are as always welcomed.
I'm intrigued. Not crazy about some of these songs, but very interested to see how they flow together. Will report back!
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Old 07-06-2011, 03:45 PM   #67 (permalink)
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Thx NSW! Appreciate the comment. Do let me know your thoughts once you've listened to the mix.

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Old 07-06-2011, 04:20 PM   #68 (permalink)
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I've been talking for some time now about starting a new section which would focus on one particular artiste I admire, giving an introduction to them and their music, and telling you as much as I know or can find out about them. This is the first in that series, and features one of my all-time favourites, Steve Earle. Hope you enjoy it.
(Note: As usual, due to entry restrictions I have to split this into two parts. )

Just a Regular Guy, doin' it the Hard Way --- an introduction to Steve Earle
PART I: “I WONDER WHAT'S OVER THAT RAINBOW?”
There have of course been crossover acts for almost as long as music has been popular, from early jazz fusing with emerging rock'n'roll, blues tipping over into motown, even classical music has made the leap, at times, into a new and perhaps unexpected genre (remember those sexy lady violinists, Bond?). But one of the major crossovers in the past twenty years or so has been the slow and sometimes unnoticed proliferation of country and western as it sticks a cowboy boot gingerly over the fence into rock country, and pop country. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but in general country has become more accepted in the pop/rock sector these days than perhaps it would have been in earlier decades.

The likes of Leanne Rimes, Faith Hill, and (shudder!) Garth Brooks have all flown the flag for country in the pop arena, and of course the most successful and highest-profile crossover has been the Eagles, who made country music cool with their “Hotel California” album, bringing country to a whole new audience. Granted, there are those who would say that album is about as far removed from country as Dave Grohl is from chamber music, but the fact remains that, whatever they morphed into along the way, the Eagles began their careers as a full-out country band --- just listen to their earlier albums if you doubt me.

Of course, as Gloria Estefan once wrote, it cuts both ways, and more than one established rock or pop star has tried their hand at penning or singing country songs, again with mixed results. There are many reasons why a singer or band specialising in one area of music will try to break into another, or often more than one, the first and usually most important being cash: it's obvious that if you start out as, say, a blues guitarist and then break into the pop circuit, or indeed the country realm, you make more converts to your music and this translates into more sales, both of albums and concert tickets, to say nothing of the ever-lucrative merchandising deals. All of which equals more Dollars, Euro, Sterling or the currency of your choice in your bank account, or more likely, your manager and/or record label's account!

But there can be other reasons. Sometimes, it's a genuine interest in another music form, an experiment if you will, that causes your music to reach new ears. Sometimes it's boredom and frustration at perhaps the restrictions your particular area of music places upon you (not too many wild guitar solos in the world of electronica, nor songs about cowsheds or truck drivers in the punk pantheon!), and sometimes it may of course be your label pushing you to explore new territory, ie give them more opportunities to make money out of you! Then of course there is the chance meeting/jam with someone from another music spectrum who, after having played with them, opens your eyes as an artist to new possibilities you had perhaps not before considered.

And then of course, there's chance, or more correctly word-of-mouth, the fact that your music just sort of organically grows outside its own limits, when people come to see you play, or people hear you on the radio or see you on the TV (or these days, stumble across you via Youtube et al!), or even are recommended your music, either through a friend or an article in a magazine, and suddenly you find that you have a lot of new fans, and though your music is not exactly what they would usually listen to, it's making the transition and you're becoming more than the sum of your parts.

Where these crossovers have been less successful though, in general, is from country to rock. Country to pop, certainly, but actual rock? Not too many have made that transition, and whereas some rock and metal acts have flirted with the inclusion of country tracks on their albums (we all remember Poison's “Every rose has its thorn”, of course, and to some extent Bon Jovi's “Wanted dead or alive” could be considered at least partially country in its themes if not its actual execution, as could “Dry county”), typically the avenue has been more or less one-way and quite limited.

All of which leads us, via a very meandering road, to a young man who at age 14 decided what he wanted to do more than anything else in the world was play music. Stephen Fain Earle began a music career under the patronage of legendary country rocker Townes Van Zandt, and although his first actual album was more a rockabilly affair than a country one, what is generally accepted to be his first “real” album, “Guitar town”, is pure country. Released in 1986, its themes explore mostly the feeling of being at a loose end, or a crossroads in your life, the idea of being left behind, feeling the world is passing you by, and somehow knowing that there is something better out there. Most of the songs on the album reflect this, including the title track, “Hillbilly highway” and “Someday”, while others tackle other issues, issues that were to crop up and become more important in Earle's later life, and recordings.

“Think it over” and “Goodbye's all we got left” are standard songs about love, however they're not as might be expected ballads. The former tips a nod back to Earle's early (ahem!) days with rockabilly, whereas “Goodbye...” is a straight-ahead country-rocker. “Good ol' boy (getting' tough)” is a rant against the way the “little guy” is getting stepped on in Modern America, and how hard it is to get by, a theme that would re-occur through his later albums. He sings of his truck which ”Belongs to me and the bank/ And some funny-talkin' guy from Iran.”

Though there were some inklings of the rock power that would come to the fore on his later recordings here, “Guitar town”, despite its rock'n'roll title, is primarily a country album, and it would take his next release, “Exit 0” before the true rock roots would begin to break through. Nevertheless, his debut did get him nominated for two Grammys and noticed by mostly rock critics, whereas the country boys didn't seem to get it, at first. This would change with time, and in 2006 it was recognised by CMT (Country Music TV, the country equivalent of MTV) as one of the forty greatest country albums of all time. Not only that, but country legend Emmylou Harris covered the title track, no doubt a great honour to Earle.

The next year saw the release of his second album, the altogether more rocky “Exit 0”. With songs like “Angry young man”, “The rain came down” and “San Antonio girl”, the country was still there but was now beefed up by music that could comfortably sit alongside any rocker's music collection. It was rock, Jim, but not as we know it. There were still the country songs (and probably always will be on Earle's albums, as he's never denied or disparaged his connection to country music), like “Nowhere Road”, “No. 29” and the hugely enjoyable “Week of living dangerously”, plus some classy ballads. Credited to “Steve Earle and the Dukes”, the Dukes being his backing band, this was one of only two albums that bore that legend, and led to another two Grammy nominations for Steve.

It wasn't however until the following year that Earle broke completely over into the rock spectrum, with the release of 1988's “Copperhead Road”. The album is reviewed in its entireity on page one of my journal, so I won't go into too much detail about it here, but it did earn praise from both Rolling Stone and The New York Times, and established Earle as a bona-fide rock artist, albeit with country blood (or, one suspects, oil!) in his veins. He took two years to craft his next album, also released as “Steve Earle and the Dukes”, and in 1990 “The hard way” was released. Far more a rock record with echoes of country, this was how much of Steve's output (with some notable exceptions) would turn out from now on. It's a powerful album, with not one bad track, dealing with themes as diverse as the death penalty (“Billy Austin”), political responsibility (“When the people find out”) and murder (“Justice in Ontario”). Much of the mood of the album is centred on individuality or maverickism (is that a word?), like opener “The other kind”, and more powerfully “This highway's mine (Roadmaster)”.

Steve Earle's gritty voice is a sort of a cross between Tom Waits, Kenny Rogers's tougher brother and Springsteen, and he possesses a natural flair for tapping into the mind and heart of the common man. He writes songs about people primarily, making points --- political, religious or philosophical --- through the medium of his lyrics. He does not shy away from the more difficult, controversial topics, as evidenced on his 2002 outing “Jerusalem”, where he wrote “John Walker's Blues”, a song about John Walker Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban. His use of the phrase “There is no god but God” in the lyric, and the Islamic chant in the chorus, got a lot of people's backs up, but did not stop him from including it on the album. Renegade, maverick, lone wolf... call him what you will, Earle is not afraid to stand up for, and more importantly, write and sing about, what he believes in, and what he believes is right. A staunch opponent of the death penalty, he has written many songs on the subject, spoken at rallies and written about it, and campaigned heavily against the taking of a man's life for his crimes. He has been in trouble with the law himself, in his earlier days running guns and being involved with drugs, activities which eventually landed him in jail. On his release in 1994 he had kicked the heroin habit and began turning his life around, recording and releasing two albums in the same year. Almost.

Personally, “Train a-comin'” wasn't for me. Returning to his country roots, Earle recorded the album acoustically, and played with some other famous country stars on the album, including Emmylou herself. I need to listen to it more, perhaps, but my first impressions of it were such that, personally, I never felt the urge to revisit it. Perhaps that's something long overdue. At any rate, the album was again nominated for a Grammy (his first nomination since “Exit 0”, tellingly), and was joined fifteen months later by “I feel alright”, again with a country feel but more of the rock idea we had got used to on albums like “Copperhead Road” and “The hard way”. I like this album, and although as mentioned I probably didn't give “Train a-comin'” the attention it may deserve, this felt like an album of release, that is to say, it sounded like someone coming out of the darkness and into the light.

The opening tracks, the title track and follow-up “Hard core troubadour” set the mood for the album, and it's almost impossible not to hear the cries of “Hallelujah! I have been saved!” in the joyful lyrics, which is not to in any way slight Earle's time in jail, and the changes it forced upon him, or to suggest that he “found God” in jail: I have no idea whether or not he's a believer. He certainly believes in something. But there is a definite sense of redemption about this album. Perhaps a weaker man would have given up after two years of incarceration, and addiction to Sweet Lady H, but Steve Earle seems to prove the old quote “That which does not kill me only makes me stronger.” Interestingly, there's a track on it called “South Nashville Blues”, whereas on “The hard way” you can find “West Nashville Boogie.”

(Part two follows, stay tuned...)
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Old 07-06-2011, 04:32 PM   #69 (permalink)
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PART II: THE REVOLUTION STARTS....
Obviously energised by his release back into society, Steve kept up the pressure and the next year saw the release of what I personally believe to be one of his finest albums, 1997's “El corazon”. Spanish for heart, the title said it all, and the songs are certainly written from the heart. A lighter tone characterises the album, though you wouldn't guess it from opener “Christmas in Washington”, a politically-heavy fugue, or second track, “Taneytown”, addressing racial segration, but the bulk of the songs are stories of love and life, like “I still carry you around”, “If you fall”, “Somewhere out there” and “Here I am”, with some positively fun ones like “You know the rest” and “NYC”. This is an album of songs by a man who has testified, repented and made amends, and now just wants to get back to having a good time making music. Steve also employed the talents of the Del McCoury Band on one of the tracks here, an outfit with whom he would later collaborate on an entire album, “The Mountain”. I can't comment on that album, as I haven't heard it, but I believe it was basically bluegrass in nature, and well received.

Halfway through the first year of the new millennium and I had a definite favourite Steve Earle album. “Transcendental Blues” is a real return to form for Steve, featuring two “Irish” songs, the exuberant “Steve's last ramble”, on which he's accompanied by accordion star Sharon Shannon, and she also contributes to “The Galway girl”, another fine piece of songwriting, and damn good fun! The album has its darker side though, particularly the closer, “Over yonder (Jonathan's song)”, which again tackles the subject of the death penalty. This song was in fact based on a real person, whom Earle wrote to in prison and whose execution, at the prisoner's request, he attended. It's a powerful, emotional song, carrying as it does the last wishes and testament of the condemned man: ”Send my bible home to momma/ Call her every now and then” and where he apologises to his victim(s) and those left behind to mourn them: ”The world'll turn around without me/ Sun'll come up in the east/ Shinin' down on those who hate me/ I hope my going gives 'em peace.” You can't help but be moved. The only low point on the album, for me, is “The boy who never cried”. It's a doomy, plodding, quite boring and frankly monotonous song, which does not belong on this, or indeed any Steve Earle album. I've listened to it quite a few times, trying to like it, trying to see if there is something there I'm missing, but it now induces me to press the SKIP button whenever I spin this album. On balance though, definitely in the top three Steve Earle albums in my opinion.

It was two years before Steve's next album, and to be perfectly honest, I was disappointed. After the unshackled brilliance of “Transcendental blues”, I found “Jerusalem” very much lacking. There are good songs on it, but few great ones. It's based on a concept of America post-9/11, and this is reflected in the second track, “Amerika v 6.0”. Subtitled (“the best that we can do”) it's fairly obvious that the spelling of America is meant to reflect a sort of shadowy neo-Nazi/far right political force which Earle believes (probably quite rightly) is threatening the American way of life, and capitalising on the tragedy of the September 11th attacks. It's a harsh, unforgiving song, with little time for the “America the brave” jingoism that characterised much of the output from the US in the years 2001-2002. The lyric speaks for itself: ”There's doctors down on Wall Street/ Sharpenin' their scalpels and tryin' to cut a deal/ Meanwhile, back at the hospital/ We got accountants playin' God and countin' out the pills/ Yeah, I know, that sucks – that your HMO/ Ain't doin' what you thought it would do...”

The tone of the album doesn't really lighten, except for one or two tracks like “I remember you” with backing vocals by the great Emmylou Harris, “Go Amanda” (with help from Sheryl Crow) and the closer and title track. It's an album for realists, and there's little hope, false or otherwise, there. Steve plays a virtual plethora of instruments on the album, from guitar and mandolin to bass, organ and harmonica, and yet still assembles a full band, including one Patrick Earle on drums. Whether he's a relation to Steve or not I don't know, though his sister Stacey does sing on “Transcendental blues”.

This ain't an album you put on if you're a) a flag-waving patriot or b) depressed and want to cheer up, but it's a very gritty, powerful, outspoken and indeed brave recording, in particular the inclusion of “John Walker's blues”, which as already mentioned was about an American, John Walker Lindh, who “defected” to join the Taliban, and was therefore considered a traitor by most Americans. Steve takes a very straightforward and non-partisan look at what makes someone do such a thing, but of course even though he was careful not to be seen to be supporting terrorism, he got accused of it anyway, leading him to remark that he was simply empathizing with Lindh and attempting to understand his motivation through song rather than glorifying or forgiving terrorism. He said that, as a parent, he was moved by pictures of Lindh bound to a stretcher. "For some reason when I saw him on TV, I related it to my son. That skinny and that age, exactly. I thought, he's got parents somewhere, and they must be sick.” (Courtesy Wikipedia, from David McGee's “Steve Earle: Fearless heart, outlaw poet”)

Steve's next release would be two years later again, when in 2004 he unleashed “The revolution starts now”, timed as it happened to coincide with the eventually failed (ie doomed) presidential bid by Democratic candidate John Kerry. The album is bracketed by tracks entitled “The revolution starts...” as an opener and the full title track for the closer, and features a lot of (as expected) songs directed against the war against terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and US foreign policy in general. Songs like “The gringo's tale”, “Rich man's war”, “Warrior” and the hilariously tongue-in-cheek-insult of “Condi, Condi” all form part of Steve's mission statement for this album. But it has its lighter side too. “Home to Houston” is the tale of a trucker working in Iraq who just wants to get back home, while “I thought you should know” is a beautiful little piece of bittersweet country waltz, which would be at home in the hands of Willie Nelson, Randy Travis or even the late great Man in Black himself. Superb.

But the best track on the album I believe is the side-splittingly titled “F the CC”, which contains the glorious lyric ”F**k the FCC/ F**k the FBI/ F**k the CIA/ Livin' in the motherf**kin' USA!” Oh Steve, you devil! I'm sure many artists would agree with you. Again we see Patrick Earle in the credits, drumming away, and I'm beginning to feel like this may be Steve's own son?

Three years later, and having scooped a Grammy for “The revolution”, Steve returned with “Washington Square serenade”, itself also winning a Grammy, and the first of his albums to feature his current (and seventh!) wife, Alison Moorer, on one of the tracks, “Days aren't long enough”. It's a powerful album, continuing many of the themes explored on the previous outing, with probably one of the best tracks on it being the almost nuclear-angry “Red is the colour”, on which you can just sense the veins throbbing on Earle's powerful neck as he spits out ”Bad news everybody talkin’ ‘bout/ A short fuse a half an inch from burnin’ out/ All used up beyond a reasonable doubt/ Make way for his majesty the prodigal king/ Still taste the poison when you’re kissin’ the ring/ Don’t say he never gave you anything !”

That aside though, the highlight for me is that he includes a really good cover of one of Tom Waits' songs, “Way down in the hole”, from “Frank's wild years”. Apparently his version of the song replaced the one used on seasons 1-4 of the TV show “The Wire” for the final season 5, and Steve himself played a recurring character in the show. Oh yeah, and checking down the personnel list, there he is again: Patrick Earle on drums!

It's been four years since Steve released another album, putting aside the tribute to his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt, released in 2009, but this year he's back with a new one. I haven't yet heard a chance to hear “I'll never get out of this world alive”, but I'm hoping it's a continuation of the excellence shown on his last few records. Once I get to listen to it a few times you can bet it'll be here on my journal to be reviewed.

So that's our first “Centre Stage” entry written and posted. Definitely one of my favourite singers and songwriters; musician, writer, poet, activist, actor and all-round good guy. If you haven't checked Steve Earle out up to now, hopefully the writeup and the Youtube extracts here have convinced you to give him a try. You won't be sorry. So, if you “Feel alright” and are in need of some “Transcendental blues”, mosey on down to “Copperhead Road”, cos there's a “Train a-comin'” and it's headed non-stop right into the heart of “Guitar Town”. The revolution starts now!
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Old 07-09-2011, 11:35 AM   #70 (permalink)
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On air --- Alan Parsons --- 1996 (Digital Sound)


The second of Alan Parsons' solo efforts, “On air” was conceived with ex-Alan Parsons Project guitarist Ian Bairnson, and is a concept album, based on the theme of flight. It kicks off with a short little snippet of a song which will later be heard in its entireity, called “Blue blue sky”. The track begins with the sound of birdsong, then acoustic guitar as the vocal is sung in leisurely fashion by Eric Stewart, who sings one other track and will also reprise this in full later. This leads into “Too close to the sun”, as Parsons goes right back into antiquity and legend to relate the tale of Icarus. It's a basically keyboard-led song, with you-know-who at the keys, some nice sax and a taped part halfway where some children talk about the Icarus legend in the innocent way of the very young. Neil Lockwood takes vocal duties on this, while Stewart is back for “Blown by the wind”, a ballad but much more guitar-led, based on the sport of hot-air ballooning, which ties in nicely with the album sleeve. There's a great sense of freedom in the lyric, as the wind takes the balloon away, up into the blue: ”Now everything that we possess/ That fills our empty lives/ Is only good for leaving far behind.” Often felt like that!

Although this is credited as an Alan Parsons album, it's Ian Bairnson who writes or co-writes every song but one, with Parsons collaborating on four of the eleven tracks. One of those four is the next track, “Cloudbreak”, which is an instrumental, starting off with the sound of a propellor engine starting up. It's an uptempo track, lots of good keyboard but again mostly guitar, played by Bairnson himself. Definitely gives the idea of flight: you could imagine it as the backing track on one of those National Geographic shows or something like “Classic Aircraft”.

The fear of flying, a phobia many live with in their daily lives, is dealt with next in “I can't look down”, with Neil Lockwood again taking the mike. The track begins in very Alan Parsons Project style, with recordings of air traffic control over the opening, a sharp guitar as Lockwood sings ”Another passenger/ Your baggage, thank you sir/ I don't want to go!/ What am I doing here? / I feel so sick with fear/ Lord, please don't let it show!” As reluctant passenger settling into his seat, he worries ”What if the engine dies?/ These are no friendly skies.” It's a good rocky track, something in the mould of “Let's talk about me” from APP's “Vulture culture” album, and written entirely by Bainson.

Things get slow, and indeed spiritual next, for “Brother up in Heaven”, a song written by Bainson in honour and remembrance of his cousin, who was shot down over Iraq in a friendly-fire incident. It's a haunting piece, and you can feel the genuine pain in the lyric. It's a piano-led ballad, Parsons expertly restrained at the keyboard. Lockwood again takes vocals for this extremely personal song, and it's quite a highlight of the album as he sings ”It's strange here without you/ And it's so hard to see/ So brother up in Heaven/ Please wait up for me.” Some truly heartfelt guitar work from Bainson really nails this down as his song.

Another dedication, the next track, “Fall free”, while not a ballad, is a homage to skysurfing champion Rob Harris, who died in 1995 while filming a commercial. For this song the guys draft in the vocal talents of FM's Steve Overland, and he does a great job on it. Starting off low-key, with just bass and then electric guitar, the song mushrooms into a powerful ode to the fallen skysurfer. It's followed then by a very curious instrumental, bass-led with good synth lines, which uses audio clips of former president John F. Kennedy talking about the importance of going to the moon to make its point.
“Apollo” is about as close as Alan Parons has come to house music, and in some ways is quite reminscent of “Urbania” from “Stereotomy”, but with a much bouncier beat. You could dance to this!

“So far away” remembers the Space Shuttle program, is another ballad and has a very downbeat ending: ”Now they cry for justice/ As if justice will be done/ But the eye up in the sky/ Is flying too close to the sun/ Challenger is falling/ And the race has now been run.” Despite its doom-laden message, that's a very clever piece of writing, as it mentions Alan Parons Project album “Eye in the sky” and also one of the previous tracks, “Too close to the sun”. Another guest star on vocals here, this time the inimitable Christopher Cross.

In many ways, the centrepiece of the album is the penultimate track, “One day to fly”, which starts off as something of a ballad but changes halfway into an uptempo rocker, cataloguing the first efforts of Leonardo da Vinci to create flying machines, how he was ridiculed at the time, and how his vision came true, albeit hundreds of years after his death. ”Just a charcoal sketch on canvas/ Made them laugh, but now they see/ That the artist had a vision / That the wind would set us free.” It becomes a powerful little track and ends very dramatically, with a very typical Alan Parsons Project hook, leading into the closer, the full version of “Blue blue sky”, with Eric Stewart again on vocals, bringing the album full circle.

If you like the Alan Parsons Project the chances are you will like this album. If you're a fan of well-crafted and produced songs, you're probably going to like it. And if you're an aircraft enthusiast or have any interest in flight, it may have something to say to you. There's hardly a bad track on it, and I would certainly recommend it.

TRACKLISTING

1. Blue blue sky
2. Too close to the sun
3. Blown by the wind
4. Cloudbreak
5. I can't look down
6. Brother up in Heaven
7. Fall free
8. Apollo
9. So far away
10. One day to fly
11. Blue blue sky



Suggested further listening: “Try anything once”; also, by the Alan Parsons Project the following: “Eye in the sky”, “Pyramid”, “Ammonia Avenue”, “Stereotomy”, “Gaudi”, “Eve”, “Vulture culture”, “The turn of a friendly card”
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