ALBUM REVIEW: Joan Jett, Bad Reputation

Recently I was lucky enough to walk away with six Joan Jett and the Blackhearts records. One of my favorite vinyl shops, Monkey Feet Music, has just received a lot of 6,000 records. Needless to say when I get paid, I’m making another trip.

FullSizeRenderOne of the albums I picked up was Bad Reputation. After doing research, I found that this album was actually Joan Jett’s self titled solo debut. This album is her first album after leaving The Runaways.

The album’s opener is the Jett classic “Bad Reputation.” This is one of my favorite Jett songs and is a great anthem to sing while driving to work. There is nothing like yelling, “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation!” right before walking into a dreaded business meeting.

Although what really stood out to me on this album was Jett’s covers of the 1960’s classics “You Don’t Own Me,” “Shout,” and “Woolly Bully” (Technically “Shout” was released in September 1959, but I figured it was close enough). These songs were recorded off the heels of rockabilly, so it is only natural that Jett would pay homage to these founding songs years later.

IMG_2476When listening to anything that Jett touches, you must remember there is rock and roll and then there’s Jett’s version. Her version mixes a punk image with a rhythmic guitar rift and gritty vocals. It’s quite unpredictable.

This is evident on her version of “Shout.” No longer is this a cheery pop song, but it’s a rock anthem of rebellion. I love Jett’s clever rewording of the song, “Take my pants off and shout!” I could easily see myself at a Jett concert or in the comfort of my own home hopping around, beer in hand, screaming these words with or without pants. The same goes for “Woolly Bully.” This song was “dirty” for the time, pushing the limits when it comes to content. Naturally, Jett just piles on all the dirt it needs with a dash of her brand of sex appeal creating a version that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in 1969.

Yet, the true gem out of these tunes is Jett’s cover of “You Don’t Own Me.” This song was originally sung by Lesley Gore who I would consider sweet, wholesome, and just plain cute. Those are some sentiments Jett quickly turns around in her version.

IMG_2477Jett gives this song a completely new persona proving that lyrical content often lies in the hands of the vocalist. No longer was it a sweet girl you felt sorry for, this was a girl you were scared of! She became the girl the boys had to fight for and treat right. Jett played by her own rules and she was not afraid to swing a few punches.

In many ways this album and her 1960’s covers only foreshadows the rest of Jett’s trailblazing career. She was already a bull out of the gates with songs like “Bad Reputation” and “You Don’t Know What You Got,” but it is the little things that remind you of the Jett’s true musical genius and artistry.

For her to go back and cover three 1960’s song on her first effort after the Runaways is brilliance. This shined a light directly on her pure musical talent. It shows Jett’s respect for those who came before her, but it also showed she had a complete style all her own, a style only she is capable of.

It’s safe to say Jett truly loves rock and roll and it’s foundation, but she gives it a new reputation.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Rydell, The Great Ones

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.

ALBUM REVIEW: Rose Maddox, A Big Bouquet of Roses

Last weekend I went by one of my favorite vinyl spots, Trolley Stop, to dig for some Jody Miller albums. The owner, John, let me go to his back storage where he has multiple boxes of classic country lps. I was successful in finding many Millers, but I also came across an artist I don’t see often, Rose Maddox.

806a4aac7022870e4ada31adb4cd65f2The career of Maddox is largely a mystery to me and a lot of her career still remains this way. I knew she had hit songs, yet I couldn’t name them. I mostly heard her name when she had been cited as an influence to many greats like Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, and Emmylou Harris. So there has to be something about this lady.

My limited research foretold that Maddox started her career with her brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, Henry (after Cliff’s death in 1949), and Don. They performed what I would classify as “rhythmic country.” The music they performed ranged from bluegrass to classic country and a bit of early rockabilly. The band eventually dismembered and Rose set out on a solo career.

The album I found was 1961’s, A Bouquet of Roses. This album contains her top 20 hit, “Conscience, I’m Guilty.” It’s a mix of western swing and country. It contains the classic country and pop hit, “Lonely Street” and the rock and roll smash, “Jim Dandy.” The versatility of Maddox’s vocals are well on display in this bouquet.

My biggest take aways from this album are “Tall Men,” “Early in The Morning,” and “Read My Letter Once Again.” Maddox’s voice doesn’t flow over these tracks, it demands sentiment. She sings gently at times, yet she always has command. Her voice is a pillar of strength, portraying both a strong person with a gentle heart and one who isn’t to be messed with.

rosemaddoxFrom this album it is easy to see where the above mentioned singers found inspiration. Maddox was one of the first “flamboyant” western swing singers, wearing full rhinestoned, sequined, fringed, and ric-raced ensembles. Although her influence is obvious, she doesn’t receive the recognition she deserves. She should be mentioned with Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, yet I discovered her in a dusty shed.

Many founders are rarely recognized for their complete impact, but the greatest country stars have cited Maddox as an influence. It seems that she didn’t seek the spotlight, it looked for her. Her legacy is cemented in those who are performing today. The stars of yesterday look at her as an influence and today’s stars look at them as their influences.

So in essence, she may not be an obvious rose, but she has received a lot of water through the years. Her vocal style, fashion, and pioneering performances are mimicked time and time again.

maddox_rose_1377187743274Her legacy and influence is apparent through her voice. She’s heard all the way
from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Miranda Lamberts “My Little Red Wagon.” You see, Rose’s voice is as pretty and soft as a rose petal, yet she can cut you with her thorns if you do her wrong.

That is the essence of the female country singer. They are always pretty, yet never mess with them, they have thorns, shotguns, and skillets. Maddox has taught me that’s not something new. They have had it them for a while.

ALBUM REVIEW: Wanda Jackson, Country!

I love Wanda Jackson.

But I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. I have nearly every album she has made. I discovered her music when I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life. Her music brought me through that storm and brings me unmeasurable joy and comfort. I confide in it.

R-2146286-1306477702Lately I have been listening to one of her 1970’s releases simply entitled Wanda Jackson Country! It’s a great album that showcases her spunk and candor. Each song is single worthy because most of these songs were singles. Jackson had been releasing some hard-hitting country tunes in the late 60’s, but none of them were featured on a full length album, thus, Country! was born.

Long before there were Miranda Lamberts and Kacey Musgraves, and even before Loretta Lynn, there was Wanda Jackson. She is the consummate goddess of country music. This album shows Jackson’s talent at its feistiest, yet it also portrays vulnerability and heartaches . She knows when to reel it out (“My Big Iron Skillet”) and when to bring it back in (“The Pain of It All”).

The album opens with “Skillet,” which is one of her biggest chart toppers. Through her passive aggressive vocals she explains to her man just how she’s going to love him if he doesn’t straighten up….with a big iron skillet. Something tells me she isn’t making eggs. No need for shotguns, Jackson just wanted to teach him a lesson, and she does just that through her beautiful smile and a little fringe.

This album also shows Jackson’s innovative and progressive artistry. By this time in her medium_wanda-jacksoncareer she had already paved the way for female rock and country singers alike. She continually saw where music was going and didn’t mess around. This is obvious in both “Everything’s Leaving” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”

“Everything’s Leaving” sounds like something straight from the mid to late 1970’s. Her voice possesses raw vulnerability, yet confidence as she declares she’s ready to move on. “Try a Little Tenderness” has a guitar rift that could easily fit into modern-day country. She always saw the box, but she was more interested in the rectangle.

Later in the album she gives an answer to Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.” In Jackson’s version she recognizes all the major landmarks he drives by, but there’s one thing he doesn’t know as he is driving.

She simply does not care, because she had already found somebody else.

“By The Time You Get to Phoenix” turns this whole song upside down by changing just a few words. Her husband, Wendell Goodman, helped her find this lyrical mix. Not to mention this song was already written by fellow Okie, Jimmy Webb.

wandajackson2Jackson was building a legacy and you can hear that clearly with Country! Today she is hailed as one of the greats and rightfully so. She made the hard-headed woman an everyday staple in society and shattered the glass ceiling. Jackson could rock with the best of them and she had nerve, a first for a woman in music.

Although there is something Jackson just can’t get around. Her voice and attitude can fill theaters around the world, yet she only comes in at 5’2.” This is not a very intimidating height. Recently Wanda was asked why it was that so many female rockers are on the shorter side.

Her answer. “Well we can’t punch with our fists so we do it with our mouth.”

And that my friends is the essence of Wanda Jackson. Her voice is her revolver.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Elvis Presley, Christmas Album

I love Christmas music. I love Christmas music so much that I don’t want to listen to it, because it has a yearly expiration date. This year I have decided to embrace it and finally give the vinyl records I have collected a spin.

There’s not a better way to start it off then with the King.elvisxmasalbum566

The other day I busted out one of Elvis’ Christmas albums. It is cleverly titled Elvis’ Christmas Album. The album begins with “Blue Christmas.” I had never listened to all the words of this song. I personally just thought it was talking of Kentucky since everything is blue there. I was wrong and I soon realized it was a love song.

Elvis follows with many Christmas favorites. He sings some of my favorite Christian Christmas songs including “Silent Night” and “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” He does a rockabilly rendition of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and an excellent version of “White Christmas” ony Mr. Presley could do. He ends the album with a song entitled “Mama Liked The Roses.” Not positive how it ties to Christmas, but it is a Presley gem.

elvis_christmas_tree-x600What I find really interesting about this album is the fact that it touched almost every genre Elvis did during his vast career. There was rock and roll, gospel, and a little hint of country all with that drawl America can’t resist.

I just found my self perplexed at what kind of Christmas I was going to have. In Oklahoma it doesn’t snow much, so I don’t think I’ll be having a white Christmas. Although I am not anticipating the best Christmas ever, I don’t think it will be blue either. I guess only time will tell, but there is one thing I do know…

Christmas is just better with a lip quiver.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ella Fitzgerald, Get Happy!

In continuing with my alphabet series, I, like most people reciting the alphabet, came to the letter “F.” To be honest, I’m not sure if it is a widespread issue, but I did not have very many artist associated with the letter “F.”

Then came along Ms. Fitzgerald. I remembered I had a few of her vinyls and I ellafitzgerald-gethappyespecially am fond of one entitled “Get Happy.” This was one of those lucky Goodwill finds.

Now I am no expert on Fitzgerald, but from what I can tell she was nothing but highly acclaimed. She sang many “Songbooks” from composers, as well as recording original material. Her label at the point of this record was Verve which was actually created around the production of her albums.

I love a good Jazz record and Fitzgerald is one of the best, but I noticed something new as I listened this time around. I am familiar with many old blues and jazz artists, but I find one of the most influential figures in this musical movement is Lady Day, Billie Holiday. Fitzgerald seems to be an extension of where Holiday left off due to her untimely death.

fite007Jazz and blues music seems to encompass everything from arrangements, to instrumentation, to vocal styles. You can hear a song from this genre sung 100 different ways and every way be as good as the next. Vocals were flexible and nothing is out of bounds.

Fitzgerald continued to innovate and play with jazz and blues music through her vocal phrasing and her legendary scatting ability. One can point back to many of her vocal styles that encompass later pop vocalists. I thought I even sensed some rockabilly tendencies at times. Her vocal stylings were not exclusive to her genre, but universal to the sculpting of future performers.

The album opens with “Somebody Loves Me,” a tune about looking for the one who loves you (and it could be you!). She then goes into a vulnerable subject in “Cheerful, Little Fearful,” explaining the reluctance of hearing “I love you.” This song is especially interesting considering that this could make a great ballad, yet it is offset by a compulsive beat and rather “happy” vocals. Side One ends with “Cool Breeze.” You may have trouble looking up the lyrics to this one, it’s pure scatting.

Side two opens with “Moonlight Become You,” a beautiful ballad of the simplicity of Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie 12love. She does a great version of “You Turned The Tables on Me” and goes straight into a big band interpretation of “Gypsy in My Soul.” The real gem on this side is “Goody Goody.” This song will have you laughing and Fitzgerald’s deliverance has perfect comedic timing. She’s so happy her ex found someone else (goody! goody!), but is also happy when she breaks his heart (goody! goody!).

I fell Fitzgerald’s vocal abilities transcend time. She sounds just as fresh and crisp when compared with modern vocalists. Where Billie Holiday poured a foundation, Ella Fitzgerald built a house. For this music lovers we should be forever grateful, for I’m not sure what later music would have sounded like with out the influence of Fitzgerald and modern jazz music.

Goody! Goody!

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around

This is the most perplexing review I have ever written.

I don’t think Johnny Cash really needs another review, though, considering he has made 80+ albums. There are enough writings about him to fill hundreds of books.

One of those books is his autobiography entitled “Cash: The Autobiography.” I usually do 104473-johnny_cash_617not expect too much from celebrity biographies. It seems they always kindly omit the bad stuff and the times when they were in the wrong. This book is completely different. This was a real man examining himself and giving an explanation for many of his triumphs and tragedies to those that found inspiration through him: his fans.

That’s what brought this album alive to me.

I have owned “American IV: The Man Comes Around” for around a year now. I mainly bought it because I love Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt.” This was ultimately his last hit and last album of new material to be released before his death. The majority of the songs on this album are covers, with a few sprinkles of Cash’s classic writing. The listener is instead forced to focus on the depth of Cash’s voice versus his pomp and circumstance.

Here are the tracks that stuck out the most to me. I narrowed it down a few tracks, but in reality, each track holds it’s own.

cash__32306_zoom“The Man Comes Around” is the opening track. It begins and ends with Cash reciting Bible verses. I initially thought the song was about him coming back around, but it is about God’s impending judgment upon the world. The song expressed Cash’s contentment with his own life and his willingness to be judged on all his wrongs and rights. This was one of the songs written by Cash.

“Hurt” is the second track off this album that stood out. Everybody knows this song and this is Cash’s moving rendition of what one would consider a more contemporary song.  His voice lays over the instrumental like sand paper. The chorus sums up his feelings about his previous addictions and actions. He is asking his sweetest friend (June) what had he become. He had built an empire of “dirt” and “everyone left in the end.” This is early 60’s Cash coming back and taking blame for his actions.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the fourth track on the album with backing vocals by Fiona Apple. This song seemed to serve as a thank you to all those who had been his “bridge.” He had hit rock bottom many times and he always seemed to have someone come to his rescue.

“I Hung My Head” is the fifth track and was penned by the legendary Sting. This goes back to Cash’s country and outlaw routes. It also shows his excellent vocal acting ability. He told this story as an out of body experience for he became the protagonist in this rough song. This song also shows Cash’s excellent story telling ability.

“Danny Boy” is the tenth track off of the album. This is originally an old Irish folk song. Cash created the arrangement on the album. It is the track listed with the least personnel contributing, which is obvious in its stripped down composition. The song always seems very solemn to me and Cash’s rendition doesn’t fall short. This song is always up for interpretation and one could write for days over Cash’s version and what it meant for him.

“Desperado” is the next track off the album. The song is almost autobiographical to Cash. johnny-cash-portrait-650He had to let somebody love him (June) before it was too late (his own self-destruction). This song also featured vocals from Don Henley who also co-wrote the song.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on his closing song “We’ll Meet Again.” This is actually a very pleasant song about saying farewell, but having confidence that you will see “them” again one day. It’s a profound wrap up to an album that had extreme emotional highs and lows.

With the last strum of the guitar, I feel this album is essentially Johnny Cash’s obituary. I know this is not a new idea among the listening community when talking about this album. It’s a non-traditional obituary though, for instead of listing general accomplishments and family members, he tells of his life through the gravel of his voice. By using other words, we were allowed to hear the pure emotion and the cascading of passion of a man who had lived hard.

In the end, I feel this album is unexplainable. You just need to listen to it and find your own interpretation. This album is a great gift that Cash left all his then current listeners and to those who are just discovering him for the first time. I would suggest that you put on your black lenses and examine this masterpiece through your own life’s accolades and mishaps.