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~ Established 2011 ~

Last updated: January 4th, 2017

NOTE: This page is under construction, so some older reviews might appear different from the newest ones. Some changes may also affect the layout of artist pages, and some links may not work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: A CHILD IS COMING

This isn't exactly a Jefferson Airplane album, but at the same time, it kind of is. If that sentence confused you (hell, it confuses me when I re-read it), let me explain. With the start of the new decade, it seemed self-evident that many of those bands symbolic of the era would become relics, especially after the values they espoused came crashing down with a single murder at a Rolling Stones concert. The one member of the band to be physically impacted by the violence at Altamont, Marty Balin, had started to become disenchanted with the band, and his departure, as well as the departure of Spencer Dryden, gave the remaining members plenty of time to decide what to do next. Paul Kantner, the de facto leader of the group by that point, figured a solo album would be a good way to kill some time. So, he got fellow Airplane bandmates Slick and Casady to help, as well as members of many high and low profile Californian rock groups, most notably three Grateful Dead members (Jerry Garcia on a number of compositions, their two drummers on a track each) and David Crosby. Completing the line-up, and adding more relevance to the Jefferson Airplane ties of the LP, are new JA drummer Joey Covington and two future Jefferson Starship members, David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jorma Kaukonen's brother Peter.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: MY FATHER'S GUN or BURN DOWN THE MISSION

On a surface level, there isn't that much to differentiate Tumbleweed Connection from Elton's eponymous LP, or even his oft-ignored debut: ballads combining his piano and vocal talents with masterful orchestration, rockers with a balance of funkiness and old-school boogying as well as a balance between his Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired piano playing and whatever major accompaniment there is on a given tune (horns, guitar, harmonica, you name it), and maybe some tunes with a psychedelic/progressive or country influence. The difference this time around is, despite the lack of discernable hit to make the casual fan interested, this is probably Elton's most consistently great record, and the added conceptuality in the lyrics – Bernie Taupin seems to have developed an interest in 19th century Americana – and occasionally in the music only add to the coherence of it all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Genesis – Trespass

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: THE KNIFE

It didn't take Genesis very long to realize that if they continued on the path they were on – one of Bee Gees-style orchestral pop with concepts chosen by third parties – they would fade into oblivion and would go on to pursue whatever careers on which they'd fall back. The path they chose instead, one of long-winded progressive rock, was certainly a wise one, in retrospect anyways, but there were still plenty of kinks to work out. On a purely formal level, Trespass isn't missing a thing from their classic albums: an artsy cover with the members of the group nowhere to be found, a number of lengthy compositions, a wide variety of melodies, textures and instruments, lyrics with a heavy literary influence and of course, Peter Gabriel's big personality and distinctive voice to deliver them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Frank Zappa – Chunga's Revenge

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: TELL ME YOU LOVE ME

I don't know what halted Zappa's plans of releasing live archival recordings and studio outtakes made during the Mothers of Invention's original run – since, as future archive releases and posthumous albums would show, there was plenty more where that came from – but I guess it was only natural for a creator like him to feel the need to get back into the studio and create something new. As it often happens with Zappa, this isn't a pro-forma release. Rather than reunite with the original Mothers line-up (or the last configuration of it, since the "original" line-up gradually evolved over the course of their three to four-year run), he brought back Ian Underwood, recruited Don Ellis Orchestra alumnus George Duke on keyboards (a mainstay of Zappa's recording and touring unit from here on out), Aynsley Dunbar – a guy with quite the pedigree, from auditioning for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and losing on a coin flip, to playing with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Jeff Beck Group, to having his own short-lived group and nearly joining King Crimson – on drums, Jeff Simmons, a musician on Zappa's label, on bass, and Mark Volman (aka Phlorescent Leech, or Flo) and Howard Kaylan (aka Eddie) of Turtles(!) fame on vocals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bob Dylan – New Morning

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: NEW MORNING

In his last album before a three-year hiatus of near-inactivity, Bob Dylan steps back into the more serious territory of John Wesley Harding. That's not to say he acts as if Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait never happened: the diverse, lightweight roots rock sound with a more notable country flavour of those two records is present most of the time. But it adds that simpler musical style to the rambling piano chord sequences and introspective lyricism of John Wesley Harding in a way where the album could be a continuation of any one of the three albums without feeling like there's a missing link in between; that is to say, New Morning could have come out in 1968, in late 1969 or when it actually did and it feels like a natural progression in Bob's catalogue. Where it adds to them is that a) the kind of thoughtfulness in the lyrics is no longer focused on complex allegories, but rather on relatable topics of love, family, home life, religion and even death (a sort of compromise between the generic country lyrics of the later two albums and the complexity of the 1967 classic) and b) there are a number of other genres thrown into the mix, like gospel, country waltz, jazz and even Jewish prayer music(!)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: IMMIGRANT SONG or SINCE I'VE BEEN LOVING YOU

A lot of Led Zeppelin fans swear by this album: after all, in theory at least, the origins of this album indicate the makings of a true masterpiece. With two hard rock/heavy metal classics in the bag and plenty of successful touring, the band's decision to isolate themselves in Wales to work on their music mirrors the Beatles' decision to quit touring 4 years earlier (especially useful a comparison with the start of the new decade, since people were already calling Led Zeppelin the Beatles of the 1970s). Yet, as you can tell from the rating, I'm not one of those who readily hops on board this particular hype train. The problem with this album is that it shows them trying to expand their horizons. Now, I'm normally not one to complain when a generally heavy band wants to lighten things up on a couple of songs, but this particular album is made up of a majority of mainly acoustic-based tracks. When you're dealing with a band whose primary strength is in riffs, reinterpretation of blues/folk tunes as blistering rockers and dark atmosphere, having them go for melody-based writing can offer plenty of issues.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: ATOM HEART MOTHER

Pink Floyd's first album of the new decade also marks a number of other firsts. It's their first "regular" album since Syd's departure if you regard More as nothing more (pun intended) than a soundtrack and Ummagumma as half live album/half half-baked experiment. It's the first album where they show some pretty major progressive tendencies, thanks to two lengthy numbers bookending it (which in itself is another first; a number of their 1970s classics follow a similar principle of bookending). And finally, it's the first album where they try to hide their psychedelic past with the artwork. Instead of a trippy portrait, an acid-tinged lagoon, or a weird mirror-trick, there's nothing but a cow. It's quite a nice cow, too. It probably confused a whole bunch of record buyers, especially with the lack of title or band name accompanying it, but it has since gone down as a "classic" record sleeve thanks to its simplicity and contextual irrelevance (although at least one of the subtitles to the title track's sections try to relate to the bovine cover).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fleetwood Mac – Kiln House

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: JEWEL-EYED JUDY

Following Peter Green's bizarre departure from Fleetwood Mac and until the group's success under the Buckingham/Nicks/McVie in-band songwriting conglomerate, they were in a seemingly perpetual transitional state. Fortunately, the first step in this transition was relatively safe and harmless. They completely avoided the more ambitious nature of the progressive blues style explored on Then Play On and opt for something far simpler. The biggest change here is that Jeremy Spencer is back in full force as the quasi-leader of the band (despite Kirwan being more present on the last album, although I guess he wasn't quite ready for the position just yet), but not in a way you would expect: long gone are his stale Elmore James rip-offs (there's only one significant rocking slide guitar part in that vein in an otherwise un-Elmore-like song), and instead we are graced with his other real love, 1950's rock & roll and pop.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: Umm... anything off of side one

If I were to be considered a "legitimate" Black Sabbath fan, I probably wouldn't have picked this album as their best. It might have been the next one for introducing the heavier, earth-rattling guitar tone and religious lyrics in their ironically satanic setting, or 1975's proto-prog-metal efforts on Sabotage, or even their debut for being their most innovative. And while I do love those albums, and I don't rate them far behind this one either (well their debut a bit more, but if you've read that review you probably already understand why), there's a solid reason that this one not only gets acclaim from the "true fans", but the casual fans and classic rock listeners only immersing themselves into the band's vision of heavy metal as a gothic/horror/cheap thrills type of genre. The fact that it contains the best elements of their debut – the aforementioned cheap thrills, the simple, yet devastating riffs – and predicts some of the best elements of their subsequent ones – the occasional more complex riff, lyrics and vocals (and vocal melodies) that are so stupid they're brilliant, some very scarce experimental ideas – while containing big hits, fan favourites and underrated gems all at once was enough of initial selling point for me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Byrds – (Untitled)

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: LOVER OF THE BAYOU (both versions)

I don't think anyone would have thought that in 1970, what the music world needed was a double album from the Byrds(!) with one live disc and one studio disc(!!). I'm almost surprised the immediate press reaction wasn't, "Who do they think they are? Cream?!", and for the media to leave it at that. Yeah, I guess it was clear to them as it is to me that the Byrds released this album with fairly clever timing: their commercial reputation was improving after the success of "Ballad of Easy Rider" thanks to the Easy Rider film it appeared on, and with Skip Battin on bass – a far more talented bass player than John York, as exemplified on the record – and Clarence White on lead guitar, they finally had an ensemble that could make the case of the Byrds being a pretty good rocking live band. And 1970 being a good year for live albums in general (what with both the Who's Live at Leeds and the Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!), this couldn't be bad even if they tried. The studio material is a bit spottier; the story behind it is that Roger enlisted Jacques Levy (future Bob Dylan collaborator) to help write a roots music/Americana adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt as Gene Tryp (an anagram that seems like it has a non-coincidental resemblance to drummer Gene Parsons, or ex-member Gene Clark) for a Broadway show, but with that project falling through, only a handful of survivals from the project would appear on this record and the next one, with some more to rot away in the vaults.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: MIDNIGHT RAMBLER

It's a funny coincidence that two of my favourite bands happened to release not only their best non-archival live albums, but two of the best live albums bar none, in the same year. It's actually kind of logical for both of them: while the Who had their first huge commercial success with the Tommy album and its ensuing tours, the Rolling Stones were finally settling into the role as kings of rock as the Beatles were coming to an end, and both wanted to fight the rise in popularity of live bootlegs. It helped that audiences were eager to hear the Stones on stage, what with their not having toured since 1967, and with Mick Taylor now on guitar rather than Brian Jones, it was certainly an added bonus, being the only Stone who could potentially be considered a "virtuoso" of his instrument (as a blues guitarist à la Eric Clapton or Peter Green, both of which he replaced in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, no less). And so, by recording a couple of shows at the end of the US leg of the tour in late November, they had enough for one excellent single-disc live album, and in the CD era, they expanded it a bit: it's not the generous expansion of the later Live at Leeds releases for the Who, but the equivalent of a full show's length spread out on two discs (the original album and five bonus tracks) and a bonus disc featuring accompanying acts B.B. King and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue's sets.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Beach Boys – Sunflower

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: ALL I WANNA DO or FOREVER

By the end of the '60s and start of the '70s, a lot of things seemed to be going wrong for the Beach Boys: their contract with Capitol was at its end yet the label owed them millions, their latest singles weren't especially successful, and while trying to record a new album for their new label, a couple of variations on it were rejected with the vague threat that they would lose their contract if the next proposal wasn't satisfactory. Fortunately, everything turned out alright, and the Beach Boys ended up making their Pet Sounds backlash album; in other words, it's the favourite Beach Boys for many of those who found Pet Sounds to be overrated.