Sunday, 28 September 2014

Jethro Tull (VII): bombastic and melancholic

In my last post about Jethro Tull, I said Warchild is not as good as the next album the band would release. I guess that, after more than a month, it’s time to explain.

It was 1975 and Ian Anderson, I believe (feel free to correct me), was going through a divorce. This not precisely pleasant situation didn’t stop him from making music, although it did influence the mood of the album. Minstrel in the Gallery combines some relatively hard rocking moments with many acoustic sections that sound reflective, nostalgic, sad.

Let’s wait a second though, first it’s time to quickly write a couple of facts about the album. I mean, album facts that are not specifically about the quality or meaning of the music. Ok I’m getting stuck here. What I wanted to say, first of all, is that the album was recorded in Monte Carlo, in their four-wheeled recording studio, the Maison Rouge Mobile. It was apparently the first of some recordings made there. Second, that not only Anderson, Barre, Hammond, Barlow (what a drummer, in the 1978-1979 posts I’ll talk more about him) and Evans are the musicians here. Katharine Thulborn (cello), Patrick Halling, Elizabeth Edwards, Rita Eddowes and Bridget Procter (violin) play an important part here, under the guidance, as always, of David Palmer, who was still not listed as a permanent band member at the time. The music, not surprisingly, was composed by the ever-inspired and unstoppable Anderson, with only Martin Barre sharing credits on the title track (at least according to Wikipedia, the album notes don't say so).

Back to the music, then. As I said, there’s a big contrast between the delicately (often) sad moments and the bombastic rocking ones. Sometimes the contrast comes from comparing two songs, sometimes a song changes its mood and tempo in the way only Tull can do. Three are the songs that fit into the second category: the three first songs on the album and that mini-Thick as a Brick that is Baker Street Muse.

The title track, which, as it happens often, is not the best song on the album, is divided on a slow acoustic part featuring Anderson’s voice followed by one of the few moments on this album where Martin Barre can go wild. After a while, the rest of the band decides to join Barre in his rocking frenzy.

In Cold Wind to Valhalla, the change is much more unexpected and the song goes from elegant and solemn to absolutely chaotic. Not to worry, Ian and the boys know how to make chaos sound good. I’ve heard several versions: the original, and a couple of remastered ones. Depending on the version, the string quartet or the chaos are highlighted more.

The lusty Black Satin Dancer (desperate breathing/ tongue nipple-teasing) is also an example of this. Some may argue it’s a bit too pompous, but I have to admit I’ve grown fond of this song over time. Baker Street Muse is a sixteen minute epic composed of five sub-songs (Baker Street Muse, Pig-Me and the Whore, Nice Little Tune, Crash Barrier Waltzer and Mother England Reverie); more than enough time to change the tempo and mood quite a few times.

The other three songs are delightful acoustics. Actually, not really, Grace is kind of pointless, to be honest, it’s a nice little epilogue, and in the remastered version, not even that, as there are more tracks coming. Requiem and One White Duck/ 010 = Nothing at All, on the other hand, are just lovely. The first one is extremely sad but oh so touching; the second is also melancholic in its first half, when the string musicians make their presence noted.

The bonus tracks include two better than average acoustic fillers (Summerday Sands and March the Mad Scientist) and the wonderful Pan Dance, which sounds like a classical dance piece. Many people argue that Bourée is the best Tull instrumental, but with songs like this one, a second thought must be given.

To sum up, here are some conclusions, thrown here in a list-like and not very poetic way: the album is excellent with not a single bad song on it (Grace’s not that good, but it’s only fifty seconds); the string instruments play an important part and their inclusion is definitely a winning move; the contrast between tip-toey acoustic and energetic, sometimes corrosive moments makes Minstrel in the Gallery an album which never gets dull; finally, the general mood is rather melancholic, maybe because of the divorce thing I mentioned before.

By the way, here's a playlist with the whole album, in case you're interested in the rest. I'd put links to all the songs here but I think it may make some devices work too slowly.

As a final note, this was Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond’s final album with the band. Soon after this, he would go back to painting, his first love, and would stop playing the bass forever, according to Ian Anderson’s notes in the remastered edition.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Glenn Cornick: not too old to rock 'n' roll and certainly too young to die

This is going to be a very short post which will basically consist of simple information and not so much of my silly babbling and rambling, because I just listened most of the stuff I’ll talk about so my knowledge about it is not precisely wide. I’m very busy lately so anyway I don’t have time to write a proper post these days. Still, this may be interesting enough for some people.

Glenn Douglas Barnard Cornick was born the 23rd April, 1947, and died a few days ago, the 28th of August. First of all, he played in some minor bands, music that is nowhere to be found these days. He was best known for being the original bassist of Jethro Tull; he played in their first three albums (for more information, click here and here), plus he’s also featured on the album Living in the Past, as some of the songs there are from before he left the band.

Ian Anderson wrote in 2001 for the remastered edition of Benefit: “he had rather grown apart from the rest of us, being more of a party animal than the rest of his book-reading, early-to-bed band-mates and the time came to part company”. I’ve read from somewhere on youtube that they kicked him out of the band because he took drugs. That could be true, as Ian Anderson was always anti-drugs (apart from alcohol and cigarettes, that is). However, I have no real proof of that, so maybe Anderson’s words are an euphemism for that or they really just grew apart and decided to part ways.

After Jethro Tull, Cornick recruited some other musicians: Jon Blackmore (guitar), Graham Williams (lead guitar), John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers (drums) and Gary Pickford Hopkins (guitar, vocals). Together, they formed Glenn Cornick’s Wild Turkey, which shortened its name to Wild Turkey and also changed a couple of its members before the release of their first album.

Battle Hymn was released in 1972. I downloaded it a few days ago and I must say I’m positively surprised. Critics apparently agreed with me (ok, whatever, I agree with them), because the album reviews were good and the band played regularly in front of fairly big audiences (up to twenty thousand people) as support to Black Sabbath. It’s basically rock music, somewhat close to hard rock at times, although my favourite song by far is Dulwich Fox, which almost reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel. Lovely little tune.

After a couple of changes in the lineup, Turkey was released in 1973 but didn’t make much of an impact, so the band disbanded. I personally think it’s a pretty decent album and the band deserved better than an early death because of lack of popularity. A long time later, in the 2000s, the band reunited and recorded a couple of live albums. Ah, nostalgia. I guess they had fun doing that.

The next step in Cornick’s career was joining the German band Karthago: he only recorded one album with them, Rock ‘n’ Roll Testament. Here are a couple of songs from the album:

After that, he formed the band Paris, which recorded two albums, Paris, in 1975, and Big Towne, 2061, in 1976. The following year, the band disbanded and Cornick moved to the United States. As with Karthago and Wild Turkey, it’s not unforgettable stuff but it’s highly enjoyable.

He died in Hilo, Hawaii, on the 28th of August 2014 due to congestive heart failure. He wasn’t too old to rock ‘n’ roll and he was certainly too young to die.

P.S: as always, I end the post with some spam. This is the facebook page for the blog.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Simon & Gafunkel (I): first album

Some time after listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland, my parents decided to play some other cassette tapes during our long car trips. There was one I particularly liked which made me ask my parents something. Their answer confirmed what I already was fairly sure of: that “Simon” from Simon & Garfunkel was indeed Paul Simon.

Graceland was not played in the car as often as before, but I didn’t mind the change back then: true, their sound didn’t have that cool African influence, but listening to the duo sing together was heavenly. In fact, instrumentally speaking, their music is not especially complex, but when you combine two voices in such a perfect way, who gives a… I mean who cares about the instruments. Of course, there’s also the lyrics. Yeah, I usually don’t really pay attention to them, but some of them are beautiful (Kathy’s Song comes to my mind right now, for example).

Simon and Garfunkel had a relatively short but very intense relationship when it comes to music. Personally, their relationship is not that short, as they met in elementary school when they were twelve. In 1955, two years after meeting, they started recording Simon’s original songs as Tom & Jerry, and they even had a minor hit, called Hey, Schoolgirl, which sold about a 100.000 copies. According to what I have read, the Everly Brothers had a big influence on them back then. I say “according to what I read” because although the Everly Brothers do ring a bell, I don’t recall ever listening to them. Perhaps one of these days curiosity will beat me.

The duo disbanded as their next efforts were not successful enough, and they went to separate colleges. By 1963, they both had developed an interest in folk; Simon showed Garfunkel a few of the songs he had written and voilà, the duo released their first album in 1964. The used their real names, and not that Tom & Jerry thing, mind you.

Wednesday Morning, 3 AM contains a few traditional songs rearranged by them: Peggy-O, Go Tell It on the Mountain and the beautiful Benedictus. Some covers of songs written by other artists can also be found. A banjo, probably played by Simon, sounds in Ed McCurdy’s anti war Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The Sun is Burning is not an original either, and, finally, there’s a cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing.

The rest of the album was written by Simon. I’d like to mention three of those songs. First of all, Bleecker Street, because I can’t find the appropriate words to express how beautiful it is. Then, The Sounds of Silence, probably their best known song. However, some of you may be surprised when you hear this version (the original), as the one that became extremely famous worldwide is on their following album (I’ll talk about that in another post). The Sounds of Silence is much more… well, silent, in this album. Finally, He Was My Brother was dedicated to Andrew Goodman, who was their friend and a classmate of Simon's at Queens College. Andrew Goodman was one of the three civil rights workers murdered in the Mississippi civil rights workers' murders. Members of the Ku Kux Klan killed them because Goodman and the other two men were taking part in a campaign to help give African-Americans the right to vote.

The album’s formula is simple: guitar, bass (which is often not very noticeable) and then banjo on Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The duo’s music would soon evolve, but this time, there was no need for more. Their voices alone made, and make, the album stand tall.