The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – L

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘L’.

 

L

 

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Shaka Zulu (WEA)

1987/Evening Post

It was inevitable that Paul Simon’s Graceland LP would start a tidal wave.

The record testified to the unexpected regeneration of Simon’s talents, but it wasn’t difficult to pinpoint the source of his inspiration.

Simon saw the sounds of black South Africa as a born-again rock and roll rush, likening its natural enthusiasm to the music that got him up there lengthening his larynx in the first place.

South African musicians transformed Graceland, contributing to song structure and even the lyrical content. Simon’s vision was rejuvenated and the combination helped to create an album that outsold even his biggest past successes.

There is a singer-songwriterly cool to Paul Simon that is disturbing. This dispossessed soul seems to long for a breathing culture to calm his tortured wealthy psyche, and South Africa could be seen as his latest victim. But that would be an unkind assumption. Graceland is a fine album full of concisely honed, intelligent songs and subtle dancing rhythms.

Simon also did the world a service by exposing this seldom-heard music. It seems that the very political measures adopted to attack the apartheid system have instead done a disservice to those oppressed by the system.

African music has received some degree of media attention in the past decade, although the small selection of available product scarcely acknowledges the many different sounds and styles begging for attention.

Similarly, the rash of South African releases barely hints at the variety and quality of talent still waiting for international recognition.

Paul Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Shaka Zulu. Featured on Graceland and visualised recently on Radio With Pictures, Ladysmith’s acapella call-and-response chant-songs get a surprisingly untampered with treatment on their major-label venture.

The native tongue sung on half the album isn’t a barrier to enjoyment. Lyric-sheet translations are there for the curious, and it pays to be; the songs deal with real-life and metaphysical truths with no pretence or contradictions.

The group’s quirky performance is both distinctive and charming, often verging on gospel, both in expression and the ways in which the singers egg each other on.

The sound they produce is itself rich and always environmentally untaxing, but in total there is just too much of a good thing. The human voice is an amazing instrument, but 40 minutes of nothing but voices cry out for embellishments. Perhaps it’s just a state of mind. 7/10

Shona Laing – (Glad I’m) Not A Kennedy (EP) (Virgin)

1987/Evening Post

New Zealander Shona Laing has developed her singer-songwriter roots to suit the age, and she’s currently finding some success with this single. This song has been sitting around for a couple of years, but thanks to contemporary British remixes it’s finding a worldwide audience.

While I find it difficult to relate to the song’s topic – personally, I’ve never felt too much sympathy for any politicians – it’s a tune that grows enormously with repeated listening.

There’s still a little of the alternately mournful and plaintive singing that characterised her early hit, ‘1905’, and like her early material, there’s a lovely string section adding to the song’s poignancy. There are, however, drum machines and sequencers on this record. Try the 12” where you can also sample producer Martin Rushent’s (Human League, et al) less-than-inspired remix. 7/10

KD Lang & The Reclines – Angel With A Lariat (WEA)

1987/Evening Post

For something a little more exhilarating, country-wise, try KD Lang and the Reclines on their new album, curiously titled Angel With A Lariat.

Who cares whether they have the background credentials, this record is one of the few blasts of fresh air in a year of predictability.

KD Lang is the star of this show, with a rich, fat, powerful voice that’s just brimming with personality. This gutsy recording (courtesy producer Dave Edmunds and a process called Direct Metal Mastering) is a veritable showcase for Lang’s singing and the simultaneously muscley-but-nimble playing of the Reclines.

This is a party record; if you close your eyes, you can almost imagine yourself at a barn dance. But it’s more than that. While Angel With A Lariat may lose points for authenticity, it entertains with a clever display of musical games.  On to the amphetamine Green Acres race of ‘What Your Step Polka’, or the rockabilly into boogie-woogie (with Andrews Sisters on vocals… just kidding) of the title tune.

These aren’t great songs, but they’re performed with gusto, imagination, flair and more than a little sense of humour. And the lyrics never fall prey to the country cutup method pioneered by every avant-gardists favourite cowboy, William Burroughs.

Sample this, from the trad vocal tour-de-force ‘Diet Of Strange Places’: I’ve got this hunger growling from the deep within, carving internal thunder/ a craving that wears me thin.” Well, perhaps it needs the singing sensuality to make it come alive!

The Topp Twins could stand to learn a thing or two from Ms. Lang. 7/10

Lip Service – Lip Service (CBS)

1980/Evening Post

The debut by locals Lip Service is probably the best-produced New Zealand album in some time. Unfortunately, the quality of songwriting fails to transcend the worthy production. This album’s a borderline case, which is inevitable; not everything in music can be neatly divided into good and bad. 5/5

 

Little River Band – First Under The Wire (Capitol)

1979/Evening Post

Australia’s Little River Band have become regulars on the charts and First Under The Wire is ample evidence of the band’s talent for writing nifty radio-orientated rock tunes, and producing stylish, sophisticated albums.

While winning no awards for originality or imagination, LRB’s latest is an immaculate vocals-dominated pop album. Try the single ‘Lonesome Loser’ or the jazzy ‘By My Side’ for size. 6/10

 

The Long Ryders – State Of Our Union (Island)

It seems somehow sad that a US cow rock revival band would find it necessary to record their second album in England. They have ended up with a typical English production: clean and brittle and lacking grit.

Not contrived, but rather uninspired, State Of Our Union seems to be weakly searching for something to bind it all together with some purpose. The only time it even hints at getting interesting is when it sticks in a few novelty horns by none other than Snake Davis & His Longhorns. Who? Correct.

Over a decade ago, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band noted that ‘The Circle Will Be Unbroken’. If this is true, then perhaps The Long Ryders are an illustration of a full circle manoeuvre back to the pallid posturings of Grateful Dead offshoot The Riders Of The Purple Sage. 5/10

The Long Ryders – Two-Fisted Tales (Island)

1987/Evening Post

Alternating harmonious Byrds-like folk-rock with raunchy country rock, the overall effect is more calculated than inspired. ‘Gunslinger Man’ and ‘Long Story Short’ both boast decent riffs and raucous energy, and ‘Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home’ breaks the mould. For would-be cowboys and gunslingers only. 5/10

Lene Lovich – Flex (Stiff)

1980/In Touch

That’s Lay-na Lu-vich to you, toot. Betcha didn’t know that, didja? The image, the music, the name: Equi-vocal to the gimmick. Vocally, she’s Patti Smith MkII, but more stylised, more warbly and wacky. She (and her band, whoever they may be) uses a mock-gothic approach to lock’n’loll, from the overdramatic choruses to the macho Cossack-wearing back-up choruses.

For all the contrivances – the aforementioned image and redundant, pretentious stylisations – Flex utilises enough variety of rhythmic and creative devices to make the damn thing heartily enjoyable, as insubstantial and playfully deluding as it may be (maybe).

The first side definitely has the upper hand, with winners like ‘Bird Song’, ‘Angels’ and ‘The Night’. By the time the disc is flipped, Lovich begins to sound tedious. She goes for effect all the way; effect without sincere and serious intent.

She’s just another mildly talented subversive diversion. Enjoy her while she’s still hip. 6/10

Fay Lovsky – Fay Lovsky (Jayrem)

1986/Evening Post

I’ve just listened to, been captivated, sucked in and seduced by the freshest sounds on record by an unknown, unheralded quantity. Lovsky is a Dutch vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who has applied her avant-garde training to the creation of inspirational and unusual approaches to accessible music making.

In a more conventional context, the themes and melodies might sound twee, if not downright trite. But as on ‘Sway With Me’ – the very first song – there’s so much more to consider; that sensuous voice, the lush, exotic instruments, the discreetly-placed atmosphere enhancers. That voice is the ultimate intimate invitation and the complete instrument in one. And that accent has a daffy way of turning cliches head-over-heels into freshness again.

The album is a local collection of her work, taken from four-odd albums and showing two distinct approaches. The first is the timeless, poignant richness of her slow songs, which cruise along their path without percussive aid. Then there’s the cosmopolitan, jazzy angle which, however singing it may be, doesn’t match the persuasiveness of the first style. Fay Lovsky is a delight. 8/10

Low Profile – The Cutting Edge (Jayrem) 12-inch single

1986/Wellington City

Low Profile could teach Peking Man a thing or two about the Art of Funk. ‘The Cutting Edge’ has a groove that moves and contrasting riffs that biff the senses back and forth. It’s an immaculately recorded and played and edited cauldron of swirling, whirling polyrhythmic funk, with smooth, integrated vocals. The B-side is a long remixed version, with some of the tricks that treatment entails. 7/10

Low Profile – Elephunk In My Soup (Jayrem)

1984/TOM

Another Jayrem product with a stunning, funny video. ‘Elephunk’ is the followup to last year’s Quiet Streets, but this time Low Profile are slimmed to a nucleus of bassist Phil Bowering and drummer Steve Garden, and the 12” is a minor, playful romp through modern-day King Crimson/Talking Heads territory. Not bad! 7/10

Low Profile – Simon Says (Jayrem)

1987/Evening Post

Low Profile is a band concept that neatly sidesteps the problems of performing, or even being. This occasional studio outfit’s latest EP is Simon Says, which consists of a “sensible radio playlist version,” a “slightly bent but equally enjoyable version”, and a new take on their most popular release, ‘Elephunkin’.

Like last year’s underrated, underbought Cutting Edge, Simon Says boasts a cosmopolitan sound which is created with both precision and feeling. It’s got the funk but you can listen to it; pulsing basslines and unforgettable jazz signatures. 7/10

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