ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Garland, Judy. London. 1969.

I stumbled across this record at a Half-Price books store. I had never seen it, nor have I seen it since. Judy. London. 1969. Considering I was already a Judy Garland fan and knew that she had died in 1969, I had to pay the 4.99. It is billed as her very last recording on the sleeve.

I’ve read many articles over the legendary Judy Garland and have watched numerous IMG_4938documentaries. I have watched over half of her movies and would say she had me wrapped up at “Somewhere.” The struggles this legendary Hollywood star went through were tragic. They all seemed to stem from low self-confidence and persistent questioning of herself. She was always good enough for her audience, but never for herself.

From my research, there wasn’t a lot of material from Garland since 1967, three years before her death. I do not know what happened to her voice during this time, but I know she had a hard fall from her failed TV show. We all know about the pills and alcohol that plagued Garland, and who knew if they had taken a toll on her voice during these years.

How completely wrong I was.

The album is mixed mostly with Garland’s biggest hits. There are also a few songs that were only recorded on this album. Although, this is by no means a professionally mixed album. Garland was being encouraged to start recording again, but as I mentioned before, self-doubt was getting the best of her. Her then-husband, Mickey Deans, recorded her performances on the second tier of the auditorium to prove to Judy that her voice was still in superb form. So the recording is a little scratchy, sometimes distant sounding, but it caught the essence of the Garland touch.

IMG_4939The album opens with “I Belong to London (London Belongs to Me).” This was a real crowd pleaser with her English audience. She then goes into her signature hit “Get Happy” from Summer Stock. Then she goes into one of my all-time favorites, “The Man That Got Away.” This is one of her best recordings of this song. For once she didn’t sound plagued with its negative connotations, but she was able to sing it as if she was giving advice. She also inserted a few stylization changes in there, that portrayed a new chapter. The first side then closes with “I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning.” A song written specifically for an album of new material for Garland, but was never made.

Side two opens with “Just in Time.” This is the only recording of this song by Garland. She then goes into her classic melody of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song.” She then performed “For Once in My Life” and “San Francisco.” The former is her only known recording of the song, but the latter song she performed many times.

Throughout the whole concert Garland is cracking jokes, talking to people in the audience, and being the excellent crowd pleaser she always was.

Then there was the closing song, her signature, “Over the Rainbow.” For each live Garland album I own, I always hold my breath for this one, especially in her later years. You could sense and feel the hurt and anguish that was in her life, but this version took a different twist.

During this rendition of “Over the Rainbow” Garland sounded happy. She sounded close IMG_4940to her rainbow. Was she almost there? Or was that actress coming out in fine form? It makes me ponder these last moments in her career and life that ended on June 22nd, 1969, just four months after this recording. I hope she was happy. I hope she was satisfied and realized just how amazing she truly was. This was the last recording of her London engagement.

She was always Judy. That unstoppable, 4’11” performer who always brought the house down. Her smile often fooled, but all loved to see it. For us who were not able to see it, we love the pictures. Her voice still feels as warm as it ever was on her recordings and her talent nonetheless.

Often, I believe music and film scholars forget just what a tragic year 1969 was for the industry. Not only did they lose a legend, but they lost something the industry will never have again. There is only one actress, one voice, and one smile that could touch like hers. Judy’s legendary career is sealed in history books, but her voice will always live, making you warm on winter nights, happy on summer days, and hurt on lonely evenings. There’s no more “O why can’t I,” for she did.

ALBUM REVIEW: Reba McEntire, Whoever’s in New England

This album is the benchmark of Reba McEntire’s Career. Her album Whoever’s in New England was her 10th studio album. It was her first to reach the top spot on the Billboard Country Album chart and later that year she won CMA’s Entertainer of the Year.

Now, before I fully indulge in this review I must reveal my bias. I am a HUGE Reba fan. I photo (2)always have been and always will be. I am extremely proud to say that she is from Oklahoma and I believe she is the queen of modern country music. I’ve seen her twice in concert, and plan on going every time she’s within a 100 mile or so radius from me.

Whoever’s in New England is the essence of what true country music should encompass, both in content and musically. The album is comprised of mostly sad songs, but also some jolly breakup songs as well. The content includes how the man went out on her, she’s gonna take him back, she’s leaving him, she’s rushing into a relationship, etc. The only thing she left out was the horses back home in Stringtown.

I’ve decided to do a track by track rundown of this record because I took notes on each song and they are all great.

Track 1: “Can’t Stop Now.” This song explains how Reba has rushed into a relationship and that now the “love we made has a life of its own.” The song is traditional 80’s country with a classic country twang. I don’t two-step well, but I would really like to give this track a try.

Track 2: “You Can Take The Wings off Me.” This song explains how one is losing their innocence and I will say no more. I look at Reba like I look at my mom.

Track 3: ” Whoever’s in New England.” Legendary. This song has been a long time favorite of mine. I can’t resist it. It crosses genres. My favorite line “When the icy wind blows through you remember that it’s me, that feels the cold most of all.” And, o my, that high note at the end, strums my heartstrings every time. This was the first song she made a video for. Recently in concert, she was showing a montage of her videos and she quipped, “Look at that hair!” Did I also mention this song went number one?

Track 4: “I’ll Believe it When I Feel It.” This is a nice soft country song that I would also like to two-step too. McEntire talks of a man leaving her and how her friends say she will have “it” again with another man, to which she replies, I’ll believe it when I see it. I love the drums during the chorus and their crescendo effect.

Track 5: “I’ve Seen Better Days.” This is a beautiful breakup song. She even says a rainy day with him holding her is better then what she is feeling now, a little ironic. McEntire provides a nice prayer at the end of the song.

Open. Flip. Side B.

Track 6: “Little Rock.” This is a happy little ditty about divorce. She talks about slipping off that “little rock” on her finger because “there’s more to life then what I got.” This song went number one. It portrays the character of a strong woman, willing to take her life back in her own hands, even if they don’t have any diamonds on them.

Track 7: “If You Only Knew.” This song takes on a different twist. It’s a breakup song but through the lens of friendship. McEntire explains how her friend comes to her, envious of her single life. She then reveals that it is not what it’s cracked up to be when you’re “always in control.” She encourages the young damsel to “put your anger down, turn around, and go back home.”

Track 8: “One Thin Dime.” This song is classic country. It is upbeat and talks about a breakup. Although, she is not bitter for she states how she will always be there and is one thin dime away. I’m assuming “one thin dime” refers to what they call pay phones. I’m still getting used to the rotary at my house.

Track 9: “Don’t Touch Me There.” This is a ballad about a person being slightly afraid to dive into a relationship. She says he can hold her hands, kiss her lips, wrap his arms around her, and run his fingers through her hair, but there’s just one place he cannot touch, her heart.

Track 10: “To Make That Same Mistake.” This is another fast two-step breakup song. It’s a great end to the album, considering it opened with rushing into a relationship and now she just hopes she can make that same mistake again, which would be falling in love. A great conclusion to a landmark country album.

There is one word I use to describe Reba’s voice: gold. Her voice has been never changing since the late 1970s. Her vocal ability is unparalleled with her contemporaries. I have personally witnessed this in her live performances. Her performances are high energy, with sprinkles of red dirt. She has made her state proud.

So I am still trying to figure out who exactly could hate this album. I mean even if you don’t like Reba, you have to admit it’s legendary. If not you can probably just move, to New England preferably.

The first Reba video…

ALBUM REVIEW: Hoyt Axton, Less Than a Song

Hoyt Axton- Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not many know the name Hoyt Axton, but everybody knows the songs that he wrote. Amongst his hits was Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain” and “Joy to the World (Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog).”

Axton was born in southwest Oklahoma inDuncan and grew up in a little town, Comanche. Songwriting ran in his family. His mother, Mae Axton, co-wrote Elvis’ first hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” Throughout his childhood, he was encouraged to learn music through his parents. His mother started him in piano lessons, while his dad helped him develop his baritone vocal technic. Axton became popular in the folk music scene when he left the Navy. He had also previously attended Oklahoma State University and played football (Go Pokes!).

In 1973 Axton released Less Than The Song on A&M records. He did not sing any of his popular songs on this release, but he took a much different approach to the modern musical stylings. The album contains barely any drums and each song is mellow. This was a different venture when compared to other recordings in the early ’70s. It wasn’t nearly country, rock, or folk.

IMG_4868The album opens with “Sweet Misery.” I was hooked by the initial guitar picking. The song speaks of how misery often loves company, yet he turns it around with a simple, primary twist. In the second verse, he offers the listener a puppy. He explains how the puppy will treat you and goes on to say that the listener seems happy. A great ode to enjoy the simple things in life and not join those in misery.

The next song on the album is the title track “Less Than the Song.” This composition expresses humility and the helping of others singing “Take my hand if I stumble and fall. It’s the strength that you share when you’re growin’.” He goes on to state that he wouldn’t rest until “your dreams are real sweet mama.” This is the essence of the song, he finds himself to be less than the woman he is with. Both points are excellent.

He finishes off this side with “Peacemaker.” This is a song speaking of draft dodging, which was a hot topic during this time (Vietnam War). Axton uses his higher register in this song as he crones “He was almost to sweet Canada’s border when he ran into a man who was high on gunpowder and a federal order.” The draft dodger is killed in the song, yet it talks about how a war bond paid for his birth and how his father was fighting overseas to help pay for his illnesses. He suggested that this seemed to be a country of restraint rather than freedom. Axton concludes that the dodger died for his country and was not mistaken. I may not fully agree with the context of the song, but this is a true gem.

On Side B, track 2, Axton goes into “Oklahoma Song,” my personal favorite of the whole album. He expresses small-town Oklahoma by explaining music being played on the front porch. This song projects Axton pride in his home state saying, “Red River water runnin’ deep in my blood” and how he was happy for his childhood. He also used the vocal style of growling and played the piano on this track. He speaks how he eventually did leave Oklahoma, but it seems he has fond memories. This song would bring a smile to any Okie’s face. 

Courtesy of Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame
Courtesy of Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame

After Axton explains a “Mexico City Hangover” with a drunk rooster, he goes into “Hungry Man.” This is a song of irony and hope. He expresses how people are mean and how often Christians can be two-faced. He counters this action with the simple bridge, “Jesus is a friend when you’re hungry….hm, hm, he’s going to be a friend to you.” Axton concludes by saying that we need the Lord to come back down and that we will all gather at the “Beautiful River of Life.” Sounds a bit like a line out of U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Axton concludes the album with “Blue Prelude.” This song was written in 1944 and he performs it acapella with sheer dark vocal velvet. His baritone vocals fit this blues song like a glove.

Axton left this world in 1999 after suffering a heart attack. One of his most famous lyrics was, “Well I’ve never been to Heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma.” In his eyes, he had lived Heaven on earth and he is now living the real deal. The King singing Axton’s “Never Been to Spain.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Linda Ronstadt, Don’t Cry Now

Picture this: all instruments were made into a table surface. The guitar, piano, fiddle, drums, etc were all just connected to make a rather jagged and smooth surfaced table. Now take a bottle of red wine and slowly pour it over this odd structure slowly.

You now have Linda Ronstadt’s voice. lindaronstadt

According to Charles Baudelaire “One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” I chose to frequently get drunk with music and Ronstadt’s voice is the most expensive red you can purchase.

In 1973 Ronstadt released Don’t Cry Now. She was 27 when this album came out, which is surprising. Her voice had the maturity of an older adult, yet it still possessed hints of vulnerability. I believe that Ronstadt’s voice is one of the best voices of the 20th and 21st century. It is high, yet low, it’s soft yet hard. Her voice encompasses a wide array of adjectives of which I cannot list and would also make this post more like a grammar lesson.

For the most part, this is an album of ballads and soft rock songs, with a hint of country. The first stand out track is “Love Has No Pride.” The song explains situations in which one would have a sense of pride, yet how one has none when it comes to a certain someone. Rondstadt’s vocals slowly glide over this tune effortlessly. It is followed by the heavily country “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” This song is classic and when it is done the right way an artist can never go wrong. She did no wrong.

dontcrynow-305x305The title track “Don’t Cry Now” is a song everybody can relate to. This song explains where everyone will find themselves at some point. Everyone experiences loneliness, being taken for granted, being emotionally or physically strapped, etc. Although the song’s theme is quite somber, I interpret it as giving encouragement. One must get up, wipe their tears, and walk on. This song was also written by J.D. Souther of whom Ronstadt was later romantically involved with.

Side B opens with “Sail Away.” This is a great homage to the essence of being an American and wanting every person to experience this freedom, satisfaction, and happiness. Later, Ronstadt crones “Everybody Loves a Winner.” I couldn’t help but connect it to Cabaret’s “Maybe This Time,” but it is far from it. This song just comes from the loser’s point of view and there is no maybe.

The best track on this whole album is Ronstadt’s classic rendition of the Eagle’s Linda+Ronstadt++1“Desperado.” This has to be one of the best recordings not only of Ronstadt’s career but in the history of recorded music. Her vocals sound effortless and lonely as she encourages the desperado to come to their senses. This is pure vocal beauty.

Recently, Ronstadt has released that she has Parkinson’s disease and cannot sing a note. This is a heavy punch to the music world and proves that talent can often be limited, but never taken for granted. She’s made us drunk many times, and hopefully, she’ll be able to serve another glass one of these days.

ALBUM REVIEW: Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” rings in my head every time I hear it sung. It makes me ask 2 questions. Who would do this for me, and more importantly, who would I do it for? This song even rings clearer when you realize it is coming from a close friend standpoint, and that this is the story of the actual performers.

Simon and Garfunkel began their friendship in their elementary years. They both knew Simon and Garfunkel concert Ohio University 10-29-1968each other from school and realized that they could harmonize together. In high school they released their first single, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” which was a modest success, selling around 100,000 copies, and charting at number 49. At that time they were known as Jerry Landis and Tom Graph, or better yet, Tom and Jerry. They had a few follow ups, but none with the same success.

They then departed ways and attended different colleges. Simon majored in literature and Garfunkel in architecture. They both became interested in the upcoming folk scene, and once Simon dropped out of law school, recorded the album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

After this record did not show much success Simon moved to England and began playing music in the English scene and recorded a solo record. While he was in England he was told that a song from their previous album, “Sounds of Silence,” was number 1 in the U.S. It was a reproduced version that added electronics to the recording, thus making it folk rock.

simon-garfunkel-bridge-over-troubled-water-learn-to-playThey proceeded to make 4 more albums, the last of which was Bridge Over Troubled Water. This album came at a particularly rough time in their relationship. Garfunkel had begun filming his first film, Catch 22, while Simon was still wanting to pursue music full time. This caused rough traction within the recording process down to the point that they couldn’t decide on what songs to record. It was originally planned to be a 12 track album and was released with 11. This album is now heralded as their best and has sold around 25 million copies, is ranked 51 on Rolling Stone’s best albums, and won 6 Grammys.

The conglomerate theme of the songs is a walk through a glorious, yet public partnership and private friendship. I find it often ironic that Garfunkel is participating in songs written about himself.

The album opens with the gospel studded “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It was written by Simon, but the vocals were recorded by Garfunkel. The vocals soar across a sea of emotion that only a song could express. The song is literally a bridge over what they were going through together.

The next song is “El Condor Pasa,” a folk anthem for freedom. The song expresses the qualities of freedom through effectiveness, control, and nature. A great song with powerful metaphors. This song could be expressing how both wanted to fully control their career and not have any other outside forces.

The last song on Side A is entitled “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.” This is a farewell ode from Simon to Garfunkel. It is clear in the lyrics, “Architects may come and Architects may go,” and “We’d harmonize till dawn.” The song is quite bittersweet running over memories past, yet ready to say so long to a life long friend. On the flip side, Simon expresses his musical loneliness without his partner in the song “The Only Living Boy in New York.”

Side B opens with the hit “The Boxer.” This is the original fighter anthem, wrapped in a simon-garfunkel-bridge-over-troubled-water-back-coverstory anybody can relate to. It’s again genius writing on the part of Simon. The song explains how becoming a fighter is a trade only acquired through living life.

Closing the album is “Song for the Asking.” This song expresses optimism for both frontmen. The song ends with “Ask me and I will play, all the love that I have inside.” A perfect ending to an album that concludes an extraordinary career.

Although Simon writes all but one song on this album, it is both men’s feelings and emotions being told in a musical whirlwind. Simon uses lyrics, whereas Garfunkel uses vocals.

In the end, we have all lived under the bridge, teetering off the edge. If one is fortunate, they have someone willing to be their bridge. This bridge may have holes, it may be worn, and it may not block outside deterrents, but always be thankful for the bridge. The relationship may come and go, but always be willing to do the same. Always sail right behind.