New Classics: Looking Back On Big Echo by The Morning Benders

Of the many albums that have come out in my years as a music blogger, there are a choice few that really stand out as excellent albums and one of my favorites, the one that I will start with, is Big Echo by The Morning Benders.

It’s strange to realize that the album, or LP (whichever suits your preference) has once again taken a back seat to the single.  Thanks to the internet’s ability to grant us instant gratification, most listeners no longer have the patience to sit through an album.  iTunes and other per-MP3 vendors are in part responsible for this, as it’s a much cheaper deal to buy a single song for a dollar than a whole album for 10 or more.

But what of the exceptions? The listeners who do still crave a full album experience? It’s for them that I chose Big Echo, an album whose first 4 tracks are absolutely stellar as stand alone numbers, while the remaining tracks work more as a cohesive unit, one that rewards repeated listens.

Continue reading New Classics: Looking Back On Big Echo by The Morning Benders

Classic Album Series: Ram On….Give Your Heart To Somebody Soon…Paul McCartney’s Ram, Reviewed

While it is common fact that Paul McCartney officially called the Beatles quits in the spring of 1970, most people don’t realize the immense struggle it put McCartney through.  While Lennon, Harrison, and Starr went on with solo careers with the vigor of free men, it was McCartney who seemed to suffer.  This struggle was rampant through his songwriting of the time; usually a songwriter who prided on third person narratives and story-telling, McCartney was  writing about something completely new, himself.  “Two Of Us”, “Let It Be”,  “The Long and Winding Road”, “Carry That Weight”, even perhaps “Oh Darling”  are all not only skilled love songs and some of his best material, but they also reflect a man troubled on the inside.  McCartney, his eponymous debut still showed the scars of this massive breakup, with “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Junk” both showing the man with his heart on his sleeve, and the ragged production not only a sign of his talent but perhaps his mood at the time.

However, McCartney is too much of a showman, and too much of an immense talent to let such things bother him for long, although his writing partner was perhaps more famed for his fight for the working class, it was McCartney who had really come from one, and thus this hardship was almost a challenge for him to do better.  Music never seemed to be the issue, McCartney’s appreciation for music was only eclipsed by his talent for it, and of his previous band’s members, he was the most well rounded.  Yet this was an unknown commodity of the time, it was a scarce few people who knew that he had played drums on numbers such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence” as well as lead guitar on songs such as “Taxman”, “Good Morning, Good Morning” and the like.  Many musicians who have met the man in fact will attest that he is a guitarist of prodigious skill, and only limited by his choice to play bass.

So McCartney set about recording Ram in late 1970 and finished in March of 1971.  It had been recorded partly in McCartney’s home studio in Scotland, and it was finished in New York.  This accounted for the intriguing overall soundscape of the record, it wasn’t quite polished, but it wasn’t as ramshackle as its predecessor , McCartney, had been.  The inclusion of a formal studio led McCartney’s whimsical and homespun melodies to get full production treatment, and let his vision be un-compromised in scope.

Critics, hungry for the sound of his former band, were very harsh at first with the overall consensus being that it was full of whimsy but not much else.  However as time played its course, many began to find new insight into Paul McCartney’s second album, some even called it the first indie record, a label which given the range of styles found on the record, seems rather fitting.  The album, track by track, after the jump.

Continue reading Classic Album Series: Ram On….Give Your Heart To Somebody Soon…Paul McCartney’s Ram, Reviewed

We’re Riding out Tonight to Case the Promised Land: Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975

Escape, that’s what most people look for out of music, a way to leave hum-drum reality behind and be part of something bigger, those who play it aspire to be remembered, to leave this Earth knowing they’ve accomplished something and mean something greater than existence itself.  It’s no easy thing to accomplish and there’s proof in the pudding, for every band that made it big, there are thousands of others that drifted in unrecognition, dreams never realized, their existence at best maybe a footnote in some musical history book (if they’re lucky).  It takes a combination of unstoppable focus and drive to make it big, and even more to stay once you’re there, but the reward is worth the risk for if you succeed, you will be remembered for a long long time.  Perhaps there was no greater example than Bruce Springsteen.

He wasn’t completely unknown before Born to Run came out, he had two albums released previously, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle which both garnered critical success and comparisons as “the next Bob Dylan” and “the next Van Morrison”, high praise but both misunderstood his genius and commercially he was a failure, only having a small gathering of fans from New Jersey, ground zero for the development of his E Street Band.  Both his two previous efforts had shown his artistic promise, but for the common consumer they were too wordy and musically too busy (see Blinded By the Light) and the great songs from that time period (New York City Serenade, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Kitty’s Back, E Street Shuffle) were in danger of becoming footnotes rather than starting points.  His pianist David Sancious  had departed for a career in jazz fusion and his drummer at the time Vinnie Lopez would leave in 1974 after fighting with the bands manager over money issues.

He convinced his record label, Columbia, to grant him a larger budget for one last chance at making a commercially successful album,  if it failed, his career would be pretty much over.

Springsteen knew that he wanted this album to have an epic scope.  His album productions which were predominately heavy and warmly mixed would be replaced by a wall of sound technique (made famous by Phil Spector and Motown) to augment his songwriting in a midst of grandeur and epic beauty.  He would later recall this decision saying he wanted the album to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Spector.”  During the early writing of Born to Run, Roy Bittan, a pianist, and Max Weinberg, a drummer were added to the E Street lineup, and the modern version of the E Street Band was born.  The album would take him 14 months to complete, 6 months alone were spent on Born to Run itself, with 11 guitar tracks in on the mix, and Thunder Road the albums opener is rumored to have 30 different guitar overdubs.  Simply put Springsteen was a perfectionist, spending hours looking for the right sound because he had huge aspirations “When I did Born To Run, I thought, ‘I’m going to make the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever made.’ “

And what a record it is, when it comes to songs, one of the most important things is the introduction, if you get a listener hooked at the very beginning, you’re pretty much guaranteed a hit song, Born to Run didn’t just have one good introduction, it has 8 of the best introductions in rock and roll.  From the bittersweet harmonica and piano opening of Thunder Road, to the horn and drum swaggering rhythm of Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, to the immediacy of the snare drum and saxophone blast of Night, to the beautiful swirling piano intro of Backstreets, to the epic snare drum and guitar line of Born to Run, the low guitar rumble and high organ playing on She’s the One, to the stark piano and horns of Meeting Across the River, to the absolutely beautiful violin and piano intro of Jungleland.  Born to Run doesn’t let up from beginning to end.

Lyrics are another key element of songs, ones that have a strong chorus and message are the ones that stand the test of time, and Springsteen’s on Born to Run are a thing of epic grandeur, the finest poetry ever committed to rock form.  Springsteen is so detailed you not only hear his words but you can see his characters fleshed out.  Mary dancing across her front porch listening to Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely” on the radio.  Bad Scooter (Bruce Springsteen) overcoming the odds to find himself on top with a band, saved by the Big Man (Clarence Clemens) and his saxophone.  Driving around at Night with the world busting from its seems, driven to escape from the menial day time job and breathe in the beauty of it all, thats just the first three, all of them are magnificently written.

Springsteen would never look back after Born to Run, becoming a huge commercial success and have a great live act.  Only Dave Matthews Band would hold only a candle to the reverence with which his followers held his live act and there was no one better from the 70’s-80’s.  Born to Run is by all means a classic album, and is in the Top 10, if not the Top 5 of all time.

Top Picks: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Backstreets, Born to Run