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White Flag

Did Dido include too much or not enough of her music on a greatest hits collection?

Dido Greatest Hits 2

I’ll admit to being a big fan of Dido. A few years back, I took time off from work in order to purchase her then-latest CD at the very hour of its release. That was Don’t Leave Home, which had some good songs. However, the album was overly compressed so that it sounded both loud and lifeless. Fortunately, bad sound is not a problem with Greatest Hits. (Most of the songs sound glorious in this edition, but no one is credited with the mastering.) As we will see, another issue comes to the fore with this 18-track, over 76-minute long compilation.

Dido singles

To her credit, Dido provides background information on most of the songs in this collection and confirms that she selected them and placed them in chronological order. One thing that’s clear on a first listen is that her best songs were created between 1999 and 2008. Later compositions are unimpressive. Although not mentioned in Dido’s notes, four songs in this collection (“Thank You,” “Sand In My Shoes,” “Don’t Believe In Love,” and “Everything To Lose”) are based on unique ’80s rhythms that appear to borrow from the work of Sade.

Greatest Hits kicks off with “Here With Me.” It’s now obvious how much this sounds like “White Flag,” her mega-hit that followed four years later. As with all of the songs on Greatest Hits, the stereo separation is excellent and the sound is full. “Hunter” is a stunning, dramatic song about a woman who feels like she’s nothing more than prey to a man. “White Flag,” which was the “Every Breath You Take” of 2003, sounds rich and bold, so much so that it’s as if one has never heard it before. (The programmed percussion is now audible.) Impressive.

“Life For Rent” follows, with drums played by Andy Treacey. “I still don’t live by the sea but I wish I did,” adds Dido in the notes. “Don’t Leave Home” now sounds fine. This is not a song about travel. It is actually a song about addiction, in which a young woman offers her love to a man as a replacement for his drugs. The lyrics are casually and coolly brilliant, in the style of Joni Mitchell: “I arrived when you were weak/I’ll make you weaker, like a child/Now all your love you give to me/When your heart is all I need.”

“Quiet Times” is a throwaway lullaby, but worth listening to as Dido plays the drum kit. One of the highlights of the collection is “Grafton Street,” a touching song (never released as a single) about a woman mourning the death of her father. Dido refers to it as “the most emotional” of her compositions. The ever-excellent Mick Fleetwood provides the drumming.

Dido 1

“No Freedom,” from 2013, sounds pretty weak and unimaginative. “End Of Night” comes off as a poor man’s version of Abba. Sigh. It may be that Dido has become too eclectic, or adopted eclecticism for its own sake in order to ward off attacks that her songs are too similar. And it gets worse with three songs on which she pairs with others: “Let Us Move On,” which includes a rap from Kendrick Lamar, “One Step Too Far” with Faithless, and the painful-to-listen-to “Stan” with Eminem. These three selections take up about 14 minutes. They all should have been dumped.

The compilation recovers to some extent with the penultimate song, “If I Rise,” with A. R. Rahman. It sounds like a Sting outtake, but grows on the listener. “Rise” was nominated for an Academy Award (used in the film 127 Hours). And then there’s “NYC,” the Euro disco closing track that sounds like the Bee Gees circa 1977. One can almost visualize Tony Manero dancing to this in his white disco suit!

Greatest Hits again proves the dictum that sometimes less is more. As a collection of 14 singles with a bonus track (“Grafton Street”), it would have been a perfect sampling of Dido’s music career. This 18-track compilation may give her fans and new listeners more than they bargained for. Still, if you’re willing to skip past three less-than-artistic recordings, it’s a worthwhile addition to your music library.

Recommended, with reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by RCA Records.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-dido-greatest-hits/

This review also appeared on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Dido-Greatest-Hits-5176380.php

You can hear a sample of each of the 18 songs here:

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Day After Day

Music Review: Badfinger – ‘Timeless… The Musical Legacy’

Is Timeless a fitting introduction to the music of Badfinger?

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If you were not around in the ’60s and’70s, or simply did not listen to music then, Apple Records has released a compilation to introduce you to the band Badfinger, Timeless. The Musical Legacy contains 16 tracks, 14 of which were originally recorded for Apple and two for Warner. I will not revisit the sad personal story of the band as it’s well covered in Dan Matinova’s definitive book, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (Revised Edition; 2000).

Let’s take a look at the songs on Timeless so that you can decide whether it should be in your collection. (All comments about recording sessions and band member quotes are sourced from Matinova’s book.)

Beatles Yellow Submarine

Badfinger B&W

[Look-alikes, The Beatles and Badfinger.]

Timeless opens with “Day After Day” from Straight Up, Badfinger’s masterpiece. George Harrison handled the production and played the lead guitar with Pete Ham. Harrison’s friend Leon Russell was brought in to play the piano. This remastered version allows you to hear the beautiful piano work as well as the harmony vocals.

“Without You” is the original version by the band, later covered and made into a smash single by Harry Nilsson. Badfinger’s version is understated compared to Nilsson’s dramatic take, but there’s a nice Procol Harum-style organ line that carries the song along. Ham said this about Nilsson’s version, “We knew that was the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve.”

Tom Evans intended “Rock of All Ages” to be a screamer in the style of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” but as recorded – with Pete Ham and Mike Gibbins – it came off like a variation on The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” This was especially true as Paul McCartney played piano on the track, which he also produced. A great live number (I saw Badfinger in Berkeley in 1972), the fine remaster allows you to hear the background vocals. “Dear Angie” was a track from the days when Badfinger was known as The Iveys. It’s a pleasant song sung by Ron Griffiths, the band’s original bass player. The tune has nice stereo sound effects, but it is far from essential.

McCartney was also involved in the song that made Badfinger famous, “Come and Get It,” which he wrote and produced. The sound is great here and McCartney proved to the doubting band members that he could fashion a hit single using sparse instrumentation: bass, drums, tambourine, and piano. It worked.

McCartney told Badfinger that “Maybe Tomorrow” was bound to be a hit single. That was not to be and today it sounds like an ornate song from the Bee Gees 1st album. “No Matter What” was a great, chunky-sounding single that reached number eight on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. It segues quite well into “Baby Blue,” the band’s best-ever, Beatles-quality single. Matinova called it “a superb showcase of Badfinger’s classic chemistry.” The version included on Timeless is the American stereo single release, which included an added snare drum. It’s snappy but the sound is fuller and richer on the Straight Up mix.

“Believe Me” is one of the best songs from No Dice. It is followed by a track from Straight Up, “Name of the Game.” The drumming gives it a “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” feel. This version comes off as a bit dull compared to the earlier version, with horns, that’s a bonus track on the remastered Straight Up CD. “I’ll Be The One” was recorded for, but dropped from, Straight Up. It should have been a single as it sounds like the Beatles doing country rock.

“Apple of My Eye” was Ham’s bittersweet tribute to Apple Records. “Suitcase” is included and it’s the right take. This is the early “Pusher, pusher on the run” version recorded before the modified “Butcher, butcher…” take found on Straight Up. It’s a heavier version and reflects what the band sounded like live. As Molland said, “The original ‘Suitcase’ was more of what Badfinger was.”

The title track “Timeless” is a good song that, unfortunately, goes on too long, dissolving into a type of Baroque Traffic jam. At 7:40 it is needlessly longer than “Hey Jude.”

“Dennis” is another non-essential track, but it’s interesting because of a few Brian Wilson-like touches. The compilation concludes with “Love Is Gonna Come At Last,” a nice, airy, pleasant pop song written by Molland that sounds like Badfinger crossed with America. This may be an alternate take from the 1979 Airwaves sessions since Matinova writes that the album version was “tepid and slow.”

Longtime Badfinger fans will have all or most of this music in their physical or digital collections. But the compilation will work for those who would like a decent sampler. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to hear Badfinger at their very best you should consider acquiring either Straight Up or No Dice (or both).

Well recommended, for its intended audience.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Apple Records.

This article was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-badfinger-timeless-the-musical-legacy/

It was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper site:

http://m.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Badfinger-Timeless-The-Musical-5144246.php

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Everything Changes

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

Everything Changes

Julian Lennon’s sixth studio album, his first since 1998, is called Everything Changes. Originally released on a limited basis in 2011, this re-release adds two bonus songs to the 12 that made up its initial pressing: “Someday” and “In Between.”

It might have been called “Entropy,” to reflect a belief in disorder or uncertainty or degradation in our personal and universal existence. Lennon is concerned about many things here. He sings that, “Nothing stays the same/When you’re lost and when you’re broken.” Interestingly, his views on the hazards of life and living are much like those expressed by James McCartney on his Me album. (Is there something about being the son of a Beatle?)

Fortunately, matters are positively resolved before the end of this 65-minute plus collection of music. Lennon concludes that, “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.” He also reminds us that, “We’re all in it together/One love now and forever.”

Here’s a look at the songs on Everything Changes, now available for downloading on iTunes and elsewhere, as well as on CD.

From the opening notes of the title song, “Everything Changes,” this sounds like a song from another Beatles-influenced musician; something that would prove to be true of other songs on this 14-track album.

On the song “Someday,” Julian joins with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to ask an interesting question: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Wait, haven’t we heard this before? Yes, Lennon borrows a line from a Beatles song in a tune built around a Magical Mystery Tour-style sound. Think of “I Am the Walrus” melded with “Blue Jay Way.” Having Lennon and Tyler sing together seems like something that wouldn’t work, but oddly enough it does and it works quite well.

While “Someday” is an almost joyful tune, Lennon notes that when it comes to life, “it’s just about holding on.”

“Lookin’ 4 Luv” is like a lost ’70s tune by the Beatles or Badfinger. It’s alternately sad and hopeful: “Why do you look the other way/When I’m trying to see your soul?… I’m searching in all the wrong places/I’m down but I’m fighting back again.”

“Hold On” is a piano-based tune on which Lennon sounds frighteningly like John Lennon: “Shall I give my heart to break again/Can it be real that I have lost a friend?” The recording includes a partially distorted vocal track, a technique of which John was fond. “Touch the Sky” is a composition that may have been inspired by the 2009 death of Lucy O’Donnell (the inspiration for John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”): “We all want to touch the sky/We all ask the question why/We all need a helping hand.” Lennon’s wishes in the song are in accord with the Beatles’ values: “I just hope and pray peace will come one day.”

“Invisible” is Beatlesque: “Remember love forgotten… I know that love surrounds you/It’s invisible.” Had this been recorded by the Beatles, George Harrison would likely have sung it.

“Just for You” is a track that sounds in virtually every respect, save for the absence of a keyboard instrument, like a Brent Bourgeois (“I Don’t Mind at All”) recording. Lennon sounds like Bourgeois in his phrasing and vocal inflections. There’s a soft opening, broken by a strong bridge with angst-filled and religious-inspired lyrics: “You know I’ve talked to the Virgin Mary/Prayed to the Holy Ghost/Hung with the Bodhisattva for the one I love the most/And I’ve danced with the fallen angels/Sold my soul to the shadow mind just for you.”

It turns out that there are multiple tunes in the Bourgeois style on Everything Changes. It’s best left to the listener to determine the actual number.

“Always” is a surprise with its Pink Floyd instrumentation, while “Disconnected” could have fit on either Magcial Mystery Tour or Revolver: “Cradle life and love and let it flow.” “Never Let You Go” is another song in the style of Revolver.

“Guess It Was Me” is a nice ethereal track that calls to mind Crowded House. “In Between” is a completely original song in which Lennon laments that, “Reality was only in my mind.” (This might be his “Eleanor Rigby.”)

Julian Lennon

Those who download this album might be surprised to find that the two closing songs are listed as “Track 13” and “Track 14.” Not to spoil the surprise, but track 13 is “Don’t Wake Me Up,” on which Lennon sings in the style of Harry Nilsson. Track 14 is “Beautiful,” a very moving and heartfelt tribute to Julian’s father: “The feeling still remains/(Though) you’re on a different plane.” It’s a song of resolution and perhaps redemption.

Lennon has said that the songs on this release have “a dreamy, floaty quality.” This highlights one of the album’s flaws, a sameness to the ballads which can become wearisome. If only he had skipped one or more of the spacey songs and included a flat-out rocker like “Day Tripper,” “Helter Skelter,” or “Johnny B. Goode.” These are songs he’s performed gleefully on stage.

While Everything Changes falls short of being essential, it’s very close to being an excellent album and is well recommended.

Lennon is the son of a late musical legend. He shines on in his own way.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

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You Can Close Your Eyes

Music review: The Essential James Taylor

Does a buyer get his or her money’s worth with this 2 CD, 30 song collection?

Sony’s Legacy Recordings gets some props for truth in labeling with this collection. They could have simply placed James Taylor’s 20 best-selling singles on one CD and it would have constituted a purchase-worthy collection. Instead, on The Essential James Taylor the listener/purchaser has those 20 songs plus an additional 10 more on two CDs.

For any greatest hits collection there will be some quibbles. I would have left off the overly short “Long Ago and Far Away” (which seemed to be an idea for a song rather than a finished item, on which Taylor was accompanied by Joni Mitchell). Instead, I would have included “Mockingbird,” on which Taylor sang with his then-spouse Carly Simon – assuming the rights were available for licensing from Elektra/Warner. And I would have preferred “Suite for 20G” instead of the live take on “Steamroller.” Nevertheless, all of Taylor’s hits – as documented by their Pop and Adult Contemporary peak chart positions – and several lesser-known songs are found here.

The Essential James Taylor

“Honey Don’t Leave L.A.,” written by Danny Kortchmar, is one of the fun and unexpected selections in this compilation. Fortunately, “Her Town Too,” co-written and performed by Taylor and the very talented J.D. Souther, is included. There’s an interesting track, “Hard Times Come No More,” recorded with Yo-Yo Ma and a jaunty live version of the classic “Country Road.” “Secret O’ Life” – recorded live, is a nice surprise for those not previously familiar with it.

The second of the two CDs concludes almost perfectly with two inspiring and life-affirming songs performed live, “My Traveling Star” with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

A word about the sound. This compilation was produced by Bill Inglot and mastered by Vic Anesini. Anesini has been involved in mastering several Legacy discs, including Over the Bridge of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective (1964-2011). Here, the Inglot-Anesini team has delivered a set of discs with a nice, warm mid-range tone that’s generally pleasing to the ear. This collection is not a case where artificial “punch” and jarring loudness are added for dramatic effect. The sound is as soothing as Taylor’s voice. And Taylor’s and Kortchmar’s guitar work is easily heard in the mix. There are a couple of tracks that sound a bit flat, as if one were listening to the songs over a set of television speakers. But all in all, it’s a compilation that sounds consistently fine whether one is listening at home or in the car.

It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why Inglot placed the songs in almost, but not quite, chronological order. Perhaps it has to do with the segues, deciding which song would sound best followed by another particular song. I would not change a thing about the song order on either disc.

This fresh look at Taylor’s career that spans the years 1968 through 2007 reminds us that he is, like Paul Simon, a true American treasure. James Taylor’s music has not just helped to – in the words of the liner notes – “define a generation,” it helped a generation to grow, survive and prosper even when times seemed to be at their worst (“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”).

Thank goodness we’ve been able to experience his artistry in our times. How sweet it was and still is.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Sony Legacy Recordings.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site as an Editor’s Choice article:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-taylor-the-essential-james-taylor/

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Strong As You

Music Review: James McCartney – Me

Me James McCartneyMe

It’s not often that a musician releases his first full album at the age of 35, but that’s the case with James McCartney. James is not related to the pop rocker Jesse McCartney, but his father once wrote a catchy tune called “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It’s said that the senior McCartney also wrote a few other songs that have been played on the radio.

Me is an album about a person facing adversity in his life. He’s not sure about his love life, his career, his familial relationships, but he tries to display a stiff upper lip: “We’re on our own and we’ve got to go on….”; “I am strong enough to make it through / I am strong enough as strong as you….”; “You think I’m going to lose / But I will win in the end….” Still, he has his doubts, “…we’ve got to go but we can’t go on forever.”

Here’s a look at the lyrics and songs on McCartney’s Me:

“Strong As You” – “It’s hard for me to say how happy I am / Happy man….” On this single from the album, James sounds like Julian Lennon and the lead guitar part that he plays will remind some of George Harrison. Badfinger also comes to mind.

“Butterfly” – “Little bird you don’t quite understand / Everything is lying in the sand….” Here James sounds more like John Lennon, especially in the phrasing, than Julian. It’s a song that might have fit on the Imagine album and there’s a trace of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You” in the melody.

“You And Me Individually” – “You and me are different / You and me were different individually….” It’s acoustic guitar opening is reminiscent of “Blackbird” from The Beatles White Album and reflects the fact that James and his father reacted in different ways to the death of Linda McCartney. The lighter than air quality of the song shows that James may have listened to Harry Nilsson’s sui generis compositions.

“Snap Out of It” – “You know that I’m not here / The candle’s burning at both ends… And I know that I can make it / And I think that I can take it / I’m not going to fake it anymore….” This is a song that’s very much in the style of George Harrison, who often mixed fear and self-doubt with grit in his compositions.

“Bluebell” – “Something pulls me close to you / Like a moth to a flame like a music box / Unwinding rewinding / I’m on my own / I’ve got to go on but I can’t go on forever….” This melodic piece sounds like a cross between two of John Lennon’s songs, “Across the Universe” and “Beautiful Boy.” It’s nicely done although the slow pace of the music to this point begins to feel plodding. A change is on its way.

“Life’s A Pill” – “…now I’m bleeding still / I know the pain will leave / When troubles disappear… Life’s a pill give it to me now.” Now the rocking begins. “Pill” sounds like a merger of “Things We Said Today,” “Running On Empty,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and it’s just a warm-up for the next track.

“Home” – “I kind of heard it on the radio / Oh my god what am I to do….” James and his musicians kick out the jams on a song that’s a melding of Wings’ “Helen Wheels,” “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The drummer kicks, punches and violently pounds on the drum kit until it’s destroyed. Yes, some serious behind is kicked!

“Thinking About Rock & Roll” – “Walking around Disneyland / It’s so pretty me and Mickey the Mouse / And he turns and says / It’s so fine and it’s going to be mine / Life’s so fine and it’s already mine.” This is the “Silly Love Songs”-style track on the album. It’s a song about celebrating life and living and appreciating what one already has (rather than what one wants and desires). A bit silly, but fun.

“Wisteria” – “Baby if you know what love is for / Let me know what it means to you….” This one’s like a track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. It’s pure energy. Wisteria is apparently a woman’s name, although it might refer to Wisteria Lane.

“Mexico” – “Moving down to Mexico where the women treat you right / Moving down to Mexico where no one gives a shite….” A celebration of the joys of living in Mexico; it’s no threat to James Taylor’s song of the same name and theme.

“Snow” – “Nighttime falls on Manhattan city / New York like white snow / I’m on the fence for you / I’m in the zone glancing at you / Dancing with you for the very first time / Dance for the first time….” James channels John Lennon in a stunningly beautiful piano-based composition about love and winter in New York City. It’s like a lost love song written for Yoko Ono.

“Virginia” – “…my baby’s gone and left me… She left me at the station / And I don’t give a toss….” This is a non-essential bonus track that displays the McCartneys’ wry sense of humor. It would have fit well on the Wings Wild Life album.

Me is definitely a good album, but the question is where does James McCartney go from here? He is so clearly fascinated with the Lennon sound that it might make sense for him to join with 50-year-old Julian Lennon to jointly write and record a collection of songs together.

What would they call such an album? That’s easy, Lennon & McCartney.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by ECR Music Group.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-mccartney-me/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-James-McCartney-Me-4637098.php

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