David Axelrod- Song Of Innocence
From the hype sticker on the new reissue of David Axelrod's debut, "Song Of Innocence":
"...celebrated as psychedelic, the birth of jazz-fusion, the harbinger of hip-hop, a hybrid that no one, not even Axelrod could describe."
Well, let me try.
I have somehow managed to never hear a note of this record in the 50 years since its release. But the recent reviews of this anniversary edition, the record's reputation, and the fact that I love David Axelrod as a producer, specifically the records he made with Lou Rawls, made me finally decide, it was time to go in.
What we have here are members of The Wrecking Crew at their finest, anchored by the rhythm section of Carol Kaye and Earl Palmer. Rhythm sections are often taken for granted, unless you are a bass player or a drummer intently focused on those instruments, specifically listening for a Stanley Clarke slap or a Keith Moon fill. But here, the music is propelled by Kaye and Palmer and it is something to behold and hard to ignore.
Parts of "Song Of Innocence" remind me of those great movie and television soundtracks by Lalo Schifrin and David Shire. The record feels very cinematic and it is incredibly percussive, yet there is so much space in the arrangements and production, it manages to miraculously feel precious and never pretentious. You can easily fall into a gulf of brass or strings, which can be breathtaking. This suite, based on the writings of William Blake sometimes veers into funk and fusion. Sometimes, the music swings. There are also moments of complete insanity, as well as these enormous sweeping passages of beauty- think James Bond meets The Beach Boys "Smile." Or, "California Dreaming" meets the Manson Family. "Song Of Innocence" is nothing like anything you've heard before. As the sticker says, it is both "violent and sublime." And most important, it is always musical.
I am blown away by David Axelrod's work here. And for you vinyl freaks, this new pressing was cut from Axelrod's original EQ'd masters and the audio is stunning. This is the first of the trilogy, which includes "Song Of Experience" and "Earth Rot," two more records I have yet to hear, but look forward to as soon as humanly possible.
Warren Zevon- The Wind
This is more of a public service announcement than a review. Warren Zevon's wonderful final recording, "The Wind," had a short vinyl shelf life when it was first released. Original copies fetch up to $300 or more. A 15th anniversary vinyl release quietly came out last week and it's an affordable $20, for those who want to enjoy this record the old-fashioned way. Solid pressing and packaging, too.
Unicorn-2 (aka Too Many Crooks in the U.K.)
Omnivore Records sent out a press release a few weeks ago about their upcoming collection of rare Unicorn demos, produced by David Gilmour.
Huh? Unicorn? Another one that got by me. I did some research. Dave Thompson wrote this about Unicorn's sound for AMG:
"Lindisfarne before they got desperate, or The Beatles if Ashley Hutchings had produced them, this is British folk-rock at one of its most idiosyncratic extremes. On the one hand, Unicorn's roots in the sounds of the American West Coast are unmistakable. But, on the other, they never forget their English roots and, mindful too of their familial links to Pink Floyd. Like a great Al Stewart album, with the Flying Burrito Brothers behind him."
Wow, easy there Dave! In truth, all of what Dave Thompson wrote above is somewhat accurate. It was part of his review for Unicorn's second album, "Blue Pine Trees," which he thinks is their best. I found both in a used record store recently, and listened for the first time. I liked "Blue Pine Trees" just fine. But I, like most, also according to Dave Thompson, found their third (and second in the U.S.) to be better.
Both were produced by David Gilmour, and as a matter of fact, "Unicorn 2," first released in 1976, includes the original "No Way Out Of Here," which Gilmour covered on his first solo album. There is a great vibe happening on "Blue Pine Trees," but too often to my ears, that's all that's happening. A vibe. Good songs, but not great songs. "Too Many Crooks," as it was called in England, really sells that vibe with more hooks and stronger songs.
I was pleasantly surprised by both records, yet again, an example of how much good music is still out there. My first thought about Omnivore's demos collection was, "Why?" But after a few spins of these two gems, I am more interested than I had been. Maybe some stripped down versions would change the Laurel Canyon vibe to English folk, which always works for me.