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March's CD reviews

Simon Evans reviews the latest music releases 

Rod_Stewart_with_Jools_Holland_Swing_Fever_CD_coverRod Stewart and Jools Holland

Swing Fever (east west)

Rod Stewart began investigating the Great American Songbook – essentially standards that predate the rock and roll era – back in 2000 so it always seemed inevitable that he would eventually team up with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. The only question is, what took them so long, because this album is an absolute joy.

Even back in the days of Squeeze Jools was expressing his love of barrelhouse blues and boogie-woogie and these days no one captures this golden era of music like his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. There’s a real drive and urgency to standards like Sentimental Journey, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Lullaby of Broadway, while Love Is The Sweetest Thing, with its Hammond swells is just the right side of corny.

As for Rod, his vocals on the album are a revelation; if anything his voice has improved with the passing years, weathered and multi-textured like the fine malt he holds aloft on the front cover.

It must have been a blast to make this album – you can almost feel the smile on Rod’s face as he whoops with joy at the end of Lullaby of Broadway – and that sense of fun is what you can’t help but take away from this hugely enjoyable album.

Steeleye_Span_Live_at_bottom_line_1974_CD_coverSteeleye Span

The Green Man Collection  (Park)

Live At The Bottom Line 1974 (Omnivore) 

Anyone familiar with Steeleye Span from their hit-making mid-Seventies period will find parts of this odd collection of tracks rather puzzling. Part showcase for new material, part recent retrospective, part live album, it demonstrates how far removed the band has become from the days of Gaudette and All Around My Hat.

A listen to the two versions of the recently rediscovered song that gives the collection its name is especially revealing. Originally recorded in 1985, it finds Steeleye tentatively embracing keyboards and electronica while the version recorded last year is altogether more muscular, with both versions far removed from the woody, traditional sound of the band’s early years.

There’s nothing wrong with a little reinvention – Steeleye’s folk-rock contemporaries Fairport Convention are past masters – but Francis Rossi’s guest slot on a Quo-ified version of Hard Times of Old England is just bizarre, and a cover version of Elvis Costello’s Ship Building is strangely lightweight – Robert Wyatt’s heart-breaking rendering is simply peerless.Steeleye_Span_The_Green_Man_Collection_CD_cover

Many of the tracks will be familiar to those who have come to the band in recent years, with a sprinkling of tracks from the albums Dodgy Bastards and Est’d 1969, again with the emphasis on rock rather than folk, although Cruel Brother does recall that Seventies heyday.

Rounding off the collection are live performances of old Steeleye perennials Edward and Sir James The Rose. Edward has an odd transatlantic feel and lacks the menace of the original recording, but the version of Sir James The Rose is perfectly serviceable.

Live At The Bottom Line 1974, taken from a radio broadcast of the time, is more like it though, featuring tracks from the band’s great early Seventies albums Parcel of Rogues, Below The Salt and Now We Are Six, including Cam Ye O’er Frae France, Thomas the Rhymer and recent hit single Gaudette.

There are also sneak previews of Little Sir Hugh and Robbery with Violins, which would not appear until the following year’s Commoner’s Crown, and – a real treat this – rare versions of Summer Is A Comin’ In and Staines Morris. The eagle-eyed will spot that Staines Morris featured on the 1972 Morris On album, the brainchild of Steeleye founder member Ashley Hutchings – it’s a cracking version.


Band_On_The_Run_CD_cover.Paul McCartney and Wings

Band On The Run: 50th Anniversary Edition (Capitol)

Originally released just before Christmas, 1973, this album is regarded as one of the highlights of Paul McCartney’s solo career and it certainly boasted a consistency of material and smoother edge than its immediate predecessors, with moog synthesiser very much to the fore in the sound palate.

An argument could be made that the earlier albums Ram and Red Rose Speedway, especially in their CD bonus track editions, with appropriate singles and B-sides added, are more viscerally enjoyable, but this album certainly displays McCartney the pop craftsman at the height of his powers, able, for instance – so the story goes – to coax the song Picasso’s Last Words seemingly out of thin air in response to a dinner party guest’s request to write a song there and then.

Jet is, of course, pop perfection, and the title track, which reflects the turbulent circumstances surrounding the album’s creation, is an absolute masterpiece. Of the other album tracks Bluebird and Let Me Roll It stand out, the latter, sonically, a fond tribute to John Lennon, with whom McCartney had recently been reconciled.

This special edition features a remastered version of the original US album, which means the inclusion of Helen Wheels, a stand-alone single over here that would have sounded more at home on Red Rose Speedway. No arguments with the mix, though, which brings a clarity and definition to the tracks. The second disc features a stripped down version of the album and, although interesting enough, it’s not something you are likely to return to very often.

Alan_Hull_Singing_a_song_in_the_morning_light_CD_coverAlan Hull

Singing A Song In The Morning Light (Cherry Red)

Nearly 30 years after his death, Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull is now regarded as one of Britain’s greatest-ever songwriters, thanks in the main to his songs recorded by the group, including Lady Eleanor, Winter Song, Run For Home, All Fall Down and Newcastle’s very own national anthem Fog On The Tyne.

This brilliant four-disc set features demos recorded in the late Sixties, when Alan was still working as a psychiatric nurse by day and singing in the folk clubs of Newcastle by night. They were recorded at the studios of his manager with a view to both copyrighting the songs and possibly selling them on to other artists to record, but they ended up as the bedrock of the early Lindisfarne albums.

Featured are fascinating early versions of Lady Eleanor, Winter Song, Clear White Light – Part 2, as well as recordings with the band Brethren, the nucleus of the future Lindisfarne. Collectively they give a valuable insight into a unique artist.

Live_and_Let_Die_CD_coverGeorge Martin

Live and Let Die Soundtrack Expanded Edition (La-La-Land Records)

The 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die was Roger Moore’s first appearance in the role so it made sense for the soundtrack to have a fresh approach, too. The fact that John Barry, who had scored all the previous Bond movies (with the exception of the 1967 spoof Casino Royale), was unavailable was, however, a more practical reason to invite Beatles producer George Martin to take the helm; that and the fact that Paul McCartney and Wings had already been invited to provide the title song.

It was a reunion made in heaven, and Live and Let Die is still one of the most distinctive of Bond songs, and a regular fixture in Macca’s set list.

This new two-disc edition features a new remaster of the original album as well as a remix of the complete soundtrack. Influenced by the then-popular blaxploitation films Superfly and Shaft, the soundtrack also boasts some of the elegant orchestrations that were always the hallmark of the great George Martin, and of course there’s that brilliant title song.


Lou_Reed_CD_cover.Lou Reed

Ultrasonic (Homespun)

Lou Reed could be an erratic, infuriating artist, someone who appeared to regard audiences at live performances as an annoying inconvenience.

This radio show performance from December 1972 is therefore something to be treasured, for not only does it capture Reed at the height of his powers, having just released the landmark, David Bowie-produced Transformer album, but also finds him unusually focussed on his performance and material.

An extended Walk On The Wild Side is, if anything, an improvement on the studio version that would provide Lou with an unlikely hit early in 1973 and the old Velvet Underground tracks Sweet Jane and Heroin are given lively make-overs. A particular highlight is the brooding Berlin, a song that both looks back to Lou’s first solo album, where it first appeared, as well as anticipating the 1973 LP of the same name.

All the featured albums are available on CD and through major streaming services

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