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More New Old Music

December 1, 2016

       I added to my music library a week or so ago, taking advantage of an iTunes Store special on classic rock albums, via two of the three types of purchases I detailed in a May post on this blog.

       Falling under The Road Less Travelled heading — works of artists and groups whose music I have little or none of —  was “Liege and Lief” by Fairport Convention. I was Filling in the Corners with the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” and “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits, both bands that I own several albums by, but want to expand or complete my collections of.

       Fairport had always intrigued me, perhaps for the same reason that the Incredible String Band and Jethro Tull did — there’s a lot of English in my blood, and groups inspired by the music of my ancestral homeland must have resonated with it. And two tunes off “Liege and Lief” have gotten FM and sat radio airplay over the years, “Matty Groves” and “Tam Lin.”

       Fairport is credited with helping to launch the English folk rock movement, and increasing interest in the traditional music of the British Isles. In particular,“Liege and Lief” is considered a benchmark of the sub-genre, named by some as the first English folk rock album, and was also a commercial success, getting into the U.K. album Top 20.

       The 1969 album also jumpstarted the careers of two of its significant artists, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson — although, interestingly, it was the only FC disc on which both performed. The former had a powerful voice, formed the short-lived folk rock band Fotheringay and had some solo success before dying of a brain injury in 1978, at age 31.

       Denny was also a songwriter of some note, penning the oft-covered “Who Knows Where the Times Goes?” and other notable tunes like “Solo.” She also had the distinction of being the only guest vocalist ever to perform on a Led Zeppelin studio album, just ripping it up in a duet with Robert Plant on “The Battle of Evermore,” from LZ’s fourth LP.

       Thompson was only 18 when he joined Fairport, and performed on just the one album. But he went on to have artistic and commercial success as a solo artist, and is considered one of the great acoustic guitarists of the modern era.

       Most of the songs on “Liege and Lief” are derived from traditional folk songs and stories, “Tam Lin” in particular being of great antiquity. That tune, and “Matty Groves” — the story of a poor boy who is seduced by a nobleman’s wife, and pays (as she does also) for it with his life — are worth the price of admission alone, but I think most of the rest of the songs are going to grow on me.

       I already owned several of the Stones’ classic late 60s and early 70s albums, but “Some Girls” was from a period where I thought the World’s Greatest Rock Band had kind of gone off the rails. (“Emotional Rescue,” released two years later, being an example.) I had heard the title tune several times recently, and decided to give the LP a try.

       Some of the lyrics in the song “Some Girls” — for instance, the observation about what black girls want to do all night — make you wonder if the Stones could have gotten away with recording it in these politically correct times. And “When the Whip Comes Down” and “Shattered” skate off into Lou Reed territory.

       “Miss You” was a No. 1 single for Jagger et al, and although inspired by disco music, works for me despite that. “Beast of Burden” also made it to the singles Top 10, and I would consider it to be a Stones’ classic. (Although Buckwheat Zydeco did a version in concert that just blew it away.)

       “Just My Imagination” is a good cover of a Motown classic, but Smoky Robinson is a tough act to follow. Then you’ve got “Far Away Eyes,” which is further proof that the Stones don’t do country all that well — they just sound forced.

       Critics called “Some Girls” a return to the quality of “Exile on Main Street” and the late-60s/early-70s albums (it was the first Stones’ album to be nominated for a Grammy, too). I wouldn’t go that far — “Exile” is still their best, in my opinion, and “Sticky Fingers,” particularly side one, is right up there — but it’s going to get some ear time with me.

       But will I ever fill in all the corners of the Rolling Stones’ oeuvre? Not sure — they’ve recorded a lot of albums over five-plus decades.

       “Brothers in Arms” was the fifth and final (at least from their first phase) studio album by Mark Knopfler and Co. It is an interesting MTV-Era artifact in a several ways: it was the first album to sell more than a million copies as a CD, one of the first to be recorded digitally, and also produced one of the classic music videos of the 80s, “Money for Nothing,”

       But set aside the early-technology computer-generated graphics of the video, and listen to the lyrics, which come off as rather dismissive of regular working folks. Ascribing bigotry and misogyny to others isn’t something that Knopfler does much of otherwise, and the music isn’t as cleanly crafted as most of Dire Straits’s work.

       “So Far Away” and “Walk of Life” got some airplay back in the day, and the latter was in regular MTV rotation, as I recall. (Although I don’t know why, because I don’t remember it being all that interesting visually.) The rest of the songs on the album haven’t got any hooks into me yet, but I’m going to let them keep trying.

       That wasn’t the situation with the first DS album I bought, “Communique,” their second, which I still think is their best. It’s lyrically quirky and complex, and musically more interesting.

       “Sultans of Swing” is what first interested me in the band, and it’s still fun to listen to. The line that ends the next-to-last verse always gets me: “They don’t give a damn/About any trumpet playing band/It ain’t what they call rock and roll/And the Sultans … play Creole.”

       But I’ve owned the album from which it comes, their self-titled debut LP, for a year or two, and it doesn’t do for me what the follow-up does. “Love Over Gold,” their fourth album, has its high points, specifically the epic “Telegraph Road” and the subversively funny “Industrial Disease.”

       I like “Romeo and Juliet,” but that’s about the only song I know from their third, “Making Movies.” Dire Straits, though, is one of the more insightful rock bands from the late 70s and early 80s, and I think I’ll end up owning, and appreciating, all their albums. Knopfler’s guitar work is worth it, by itself.

 

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