7 Park Avenue
The mere fact that Badfinger was originally signed to the Beatles' Apple label unfairly stigmatized the British popsters as a surrogate Fab Four. But unlike their labelmates, Badfinger's story did not include highlights like soldout shows at Shea Stadium. That story, chronicled in Dan Matovina's new book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, is indeed one of tragedy -- one in which mismanagement and deception culminated in the 1975 suicide of vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Pete Ham. Two decades later, some of Ham's unreleased material is beginning to see the light, thanks to a collaboration between Ham's heirs and Matovina. The first glimpse of these tapes is 7 Park Avenue, a compilation of eighteen Ham originals, all of which stand as a brilliant reminders of the talent that died when Ham hanged himself at the age of 27.
Because his bandmates Tom Evans and Joey Molland were also first-rate songwriters, Ham was often limited to only four songs per Badfinger album. On 7 Park Avenue the Badfinger gem "No Matter What" is presented as a soaring, acoustic demo. But the real stunners are the songs never cut by the group. "Would You Deny" is done minimally, with a falsetto vocal that evokes Cream-era Eric Clapton, while "Catherine Cares" is a gently rocking song offered by Ham as an apology to his mother for his lifestyle of rock and roll misbehavior.
7 Park Avenue ends with "No More" and "Ringside," both of which address Ham's suicidal state. They were among the last songs he recorded. "No More" especially shows the schism within Pete Ham; listening to this song is almost like indulging in a morbid voyeurism. Its chorus, a repetitive "N-n-n-n-no, no, no, no more," is offered with a sweetly cloying sound that should show listeners too young to remember Badfinger exactly what a pop record should sound like, while its lyrics hint at the sad end to the Pete Ham story.
-- Steve Kistulentz
Like fellow Florida native and contemporary Ray Charles, alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderly used a gospel base to craft an approach to jazz that attracted a mass audience. While Adderly never became a pop star like Charles, he did put five singles in the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1970, with 1967's "Mercy Mercy Mercy" (represented here) peaking at number eleven.
Adderly didn't do it by consciously going pop in the way talented horn men like Grover Washington or David Sanborn did. In fact, he began as a hard-bopper in the Forties, heavily under the sway of Charlie Parker. It took several years for him to open up and allow his roots and inclinations as a preacher to define his unique sound. This quite literally included preaching, sometimes with a sociopolitical edge (he had Jesse Jackson with him on wax before much of the country knew who he was).
That sound is well represented on Jazz Profile, which is just that, rather than a greatest-hits album. A tune like Adderly's own "Sack O' Woe" clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, yet it's eminently danceable, featuring extended soloing from Cannonball, his younger brother Nat on cornet, and Victor Feldman on piano. Each soloist deviates from the tune's funky pulse with great skill without dampening your urge to get up out of your seat.
Jazz Profile also shows Adderly holding his own with several jazz legends: Miles Davis squeezing out sparks on "One for Daddy-O" from 1958, Yusef Lateef on flute and tenor on the epic "Gemini," Adderly discovery Wes Montgomery on Charlie Parker's "Au Privave," and Joe Zawinul's fleet piano on the previously unreleased "Bohemia After Dark." Throughout this wild variety of sound, Cannonball's aggressive solos keep pace and keep surprising, much like an NBA player who puts his shoulder into an opponent to get some space for a move without yet knowing what it will be.
Although he died of a stroke in 1977 at the young age of 48, Cannonball Adderly left a large body of work that still sounds fresh today. Jazz Profile is a key that can open the door for everyone from acid-jazz fans to technique-obsessed musicians.
-- Lee Ballinger
One Fierce Beer Coaster
This is a totally offensive, juvenile record that any self-respecting white liberal should utterly loathe. I love it.
A quintet of twenty-somethings hailing, roughly, from Pennsylvania, the Bloodhound Gang is one of those genre-bending outfits who insist on lionizing their heroes and eating them too. The band pays homage to old-school rap, for instance, by covering Run-D.M.C.'s "It's Tricky," but in such a way as to render the tune nearly unrecognizable. Guitarist Lupus and bassist Evil Jared lay down an ungodly grind, drummer Spanky G blisters the skins, while frontman/producer Jimmy Pop Ali yelps the lyrics at warp speed. The result sounds more like speed metal than hip-hop.
"Why's Everybody Always Pickin' on Me?" opens with a seductive, acid-jazz riff that slowly builds intensity, allowing Ali to launch into a mellifluous rant that ends with the breathtakingly weird and wonderful declaration "The drummer from Def Leppard's only got one arm." This line is then repeated, ad nauseum.
Another delightful contribution to the disc is "Boom," a dark, pulsating rap featuring Rob Van Winkle (yes, the onetime Vanilla Ice), whose blustery lyricism underscores Ali's relative verbal dexterity. While the Ice Man sputters lines like "Stop as we drop this bomb/Blow up this place like another Vietnam," Pop zings off couplets like "Sneaking up like celery, yeah I'm stalkin'/I squeak like Stephen Hawking, yeah but I'm walkin'." Annoying as Vanilla Ice may be, you've got to credit the Bloodhound Gang for sporting him the cameo. If nothing else, it takes guts. So does sampling Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" on the mini-epic "Your Friends Are Only Make-Believe." Or slowing the Rockmaster Scott and the Dynamic Three hit "The Roof Is on Fire" into a dirge, as the B-Gang does on the MTV hit "Fire Water Burn."
To be sure, there are moments on this record in which Ali's idiocy gets the best of him (most notably the deplorable "I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks," and "Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny.") But he seems as willing to tease himself as anyone else, and for the most part this disc is a joyous romp through the gutter of his mind.
-- Steven Almond
The Harp Consort
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)
If you think the name Turlough O'Carolan is a mouthful, then you should try its Gaelic equivalent: Toirdhealbhach O Cearbhallain. He was born in Ireland in 1670 and went blind from smallpox at age sixteen; it was then that he took up the harp. Within three years he had become an itinerant bard who traveled the land as a poet, musician, and storyteller. His death in 1738 took from Ireland a man who united the Catholics and the Protestants through his parables and who fertilized traditional Irish music with more sophisticated dance forms of the European mainland.
This CD is an excellent introduction to O'Carolan's work, which is mostly meditative but occasionally boisterous. Almost 78 minutes long, the disc contains dance tunes and other instrumental music played on authentic instruments such as the lyra viol, the psaltery, and -- of course -- the Irish harp. There are songs, too (some in English, others in Gaelic), and these and the jigs are what make this disc so difficult to classify: Is it an early-music CD or is it a folk CD? Well, it's really both -- kind of like a backwoods antique store, but classier. The members of the Consort come from both of those musical worlds. Notable among them is harpist Andrew Lawrence-King, who has already recorded several splendid harp CDs for this label. Mention should also be made of Caitriona O'Leary, whose beautiful voice can be heard on several other folk and early-music CDs. Don't wait for next St. Patrick's Day before listening to the music of Turlough O'Carolan.
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-- Raymond Tuttle
Blues Come Home to Roost
These days it may appear that the Mississippi-based Fat Possum label has a lock on all the worthy bluesmen from that state -- from R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough to Cedell Davis and Dave Thompson. Not true. Jim O'Neal and the folks at Rooster Blues in Clarksdale have, along with other luminaries, James "Super Chikan" Johnson in their corner. This lifelong Delta resident writes verse about everyday life while making the rounds as a truck driver. He sets it to fetchingly fresh blues music that features his au naturel take-it-or-leave-it singing and playing of electric guitar, harmonica, and piano alongside a no-frills rhythm section and, in spots, a tenor saxophone. "Crystal Ball Eyes" is wonderfully disarming in the way it hangs on an infectious little guitar figure and the most homespun of lyrics. "White Rock Rooster" and "Super Chikan Strut" get by as witty barnyard parables, while "Bleeding from the Heart" finds him trying to make sense of love trouble. Don't be misled by his fowl nickname; Super Chikan is an insightful and capable musician drawing on the same spirit, the same resolve, that sustained his ancestors who worked the land he lives on today.
-- Frank-John Hadley