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 ‘W’.
Resident Wellington (expatriate American) dulcimer-plonking busker Michael Warmuth gets laundered, moulded and processed and this is the outcome. Not quite music for airports. Not quite music from the mountains. Not quite pan pipe putrescence. Not quite Clayderman-adulterated klassics.
Keyboardist by trade, Warmuth would probably be the first to admit Hammered Dulcimer is more marketing manoeuvre than artistic endeavour. No-one need be ashamed of that. It actually sets out to appeal as pleasant background music – it won’t upset your sensibilities – with a fair degree of taste. And tight musicianship.
No teeth-rotting saccharine-sweetened strings in sight, and Warmuth even gets to pen five of the fourteen compositions himself. Of the rest, the mostly trad tunes are in ye olde folk genre, the only real clanger being the ‘Chariots Of Fire’ theme which suffers through over-exposure, and ‘Greensleeves’ for similar but somehow vastly different reasons.
The cover is refreshingly arty, though perhaps unsuitable, and the contents of the busker’s money-box on the back cover is worth a laugh. Here comes Father’s Day. 5/10
The Waterboys long ago wrenched a leaf from the then fertile imaginations of Echo & The Bunnymen and proceeded to chisel a different kind of grandeur from the same passionate rock face. This is a great, grand mass/mess of waterfalling emotions. Group guru Mike Scott would appear to know all the tricks. The knack of twisting one of those deft barely remembered pop vocal melodies round a cascade of sound and over a bedrock of bottom. It’s all quite ridiculous of course, and preposterously silly. You can discern snatches of Dylan voicings and phraseology here and there, and the whole thing is adept at giving you impressions instead of realities, in the same way that U2 got away with their ill-defined impassioned bluster on Boy. I expect to thoroughly enjoy this rubbish for six months or so. 5/10
You’re right. There’s nothing new here. So what? ‘It’s Raining Men’ is a great big slab of orthodox disco/soul which would be quite ordinary but for two important characteristics: the song and the singing. It’s funny, exuberant and lusty. The Weather Girls (ex-Two Tonnes Of Fun) sing up a storm, so even without the song this would have been at least a cut above average. For some inexplicable reason that only the radio programmers know, this isn’t a Number 1. I want to know why. 7/10
The best thing about this novelty release is the back cover photo of a scrawny bunch of men and a caption ‘Feed the Weeds – Do they know it’s Christmas?’ A bit unseasonal, in any case, but the A-side itself is a lot of fun, albeit consisting of a two-chord dirge with no musical bridge. The Weeds were a conglomeration of people from bands such as The Bats and The DoubleHappys. The B-side, ‘Trouble’, is recorded live, and horribly. 5/10
Face Dances is The Who sounding irrelevant. Fans will like the album, as the recognisable trademarks are present. But there is precious little fire or passion in the music: most of the material sounds tired and trivial. Me, I liked the sincerity of Townshend’s solo LP. I liked his voice and the mature approach. With The Who, Townshend always fights the old battles: adolescence-going-on-middle-age/rock’n’roll, sex drugs and booze versus family responsibilities and spirituality. The songs are literally mostly about The Who and Pete Townshend, and they are lyrically inadequate at that. To compound matters, the songs are filtered through the trying vocal dramatics of actor Daltrey. As for bassist Entwistle’s two songs, they would have been better utilised on a solo LP. 5/10
Deneice Williams – When Love Comes Calling (CBS)
A classy soul album by sweet-voiced singer – her voice is reminiscent of the late Minnie Ripperton – who had a hit last year with Johnny Mathis (‘Too Much Too Little Too Late’). 7/10
No wonder they’ve got stagefright! This lot are Britain’s answer to early Grant Funk Railroad. In fact, they’re worse! Witchfynde are so bad you’ve gotta hear it to believe it. RTC, what’s got into ya? 1/10
Womack reaches out to his audience with the true blue humility of a human heart that’s felt much of what life has to offer, and given as much back. His evolving soul of the old school gives a refreshingly humane perspective on the things that make or break happy lives. But too often the backing is dominated by artificial instrumentation, which fails to offer the right rounded foil to Womack’s fat, phlegmy voice, and too often the material slips into sentiment. The compensations are many, however, and one has to go no further than the first track, ‘I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much’, to get some unfettered soul in a song in which the singer is seriously tempted to get serious with his best friend’s wife. 6/10
Hotter Than July marks the 20th year in the recording career of Stephen Judkins Hardaway, aka Stevland Morris, aka ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder.
This prompt follow-up to last year’s disastrous The Secret Life Of Plants sees the return of Wonder’s joie de vivre. It’s proof positive that Wonder’s on the right track again after several years of aberration.
His spark is strangely muted here, and therefore fires little innovation, but the music is that of a happy, contented man, and it’s great to have him back.
The second side is best, beginning with the incandescent spirit of ‘Masterblaster (Jammin’)’, one of the few bright spots heard on current daytime radio. Notably, it’s an ode to rather than a carbon copy of reggae music.
The album contains no side of Wonder we haven’t really heard before, but that’s no bad thing.
Side 1 is predominantly songs of love and relationships. The lyrics are often banal, Wonder as always balancing precariously but brilliantly on the thin wire between MOR stylishness and easy listening supper-club schmaltz.
The ethereal, superbly-crafted (as is the whole album) ‘Rocket Love’ can make one float in its euphoria, or wince at its cliched blandness, depending on the mood. 7/10
This was going to be a review of the label only, as that’s what we got sent. Apparently, the first batch were faulty, and the labels made cup coasters of.
Well, the label’s not nearly as pretty as the Eelman Pelicans coaster my piping coffee cup straddles day in and out. Let’s face it, the Jayrem logo wouldn’t win any awards for aesthetic beauty. And it’s just too garish and boring to be kitsch.
The other remarkable thing about this label is that the two songs (one side each) on this 12” EP are laid out like this: 1. THE PROPHET – and over on the other side – 1. UNFAMILIAR WAY. Now, if there was more than one song per side this numbering system would prove sensible, but…
As for the music. Well. It’s. How you say? Suffering identity crisis. Nice idea and all that, using acoustic guitars, and a worthy song, but where does that leave us? 6/10
Proving that the entire population of Dunedin aren’t genetic throwbacks to Lou Reed’s forebears, Working With Walt’s second EP finds an altogether better musical constitution than WWW MkI. The mix positively rings: adding to the driving drums are well-recorded flourishes of acoustic piano and guitar and excellent ensemble vocals like wot good pop groups should have. And hardly ever do these days. ‘Christina’ is the dud, and ‘Pound Of Flesh’ is the goods. Extra star because I didn’t expect it to be any good. 7/10