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Simon Evans CD Reviews for June 2023

Undecided what to listen to, or in need some inspiration? Simon Evans has the answer. 

Bob Dylan - Shadow Kingdom - (Sony)Bob_Dylan_Shadow_Kingdom_album

Originally recorded for a curious ‘live stream’ in the summer of 2021 that was actually anything but live and instead featured Dylan and his band miming to new recordings, this collection of 13 ‘early songs’ finds the great man on top form and in good voice. His definition of  ‘early’ is obviously as elastic as ‘live’ (the most recent song dates from the 1989 Oh Mercy album) but who cares when you have such gems as a delightfully weathered Queen Jane Approximately, and a sprightly I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, newly shorn of its country twang, while Forever Young, sung by an artist now in his ninth decade, is impossibly moving. The quicksilver sound of the mid-Sixties may have been replaced by something rather more sedate but Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and Tombstone Blues still sound great as does a gorgeous It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and swaggering country-blues take on Watching The River Flow.

Tubular_Bells_Mike_Oldfield_albumMike Oldfield - Tubular Bells:  50th Anniversary Edition - (UMC)

Expectations weren’t high in May 1973, when the first album on the newly-launched Virgin Records label reached the nation’s record shops. For one thing its creator, Mike Oldfield, was largely unknown, while his curiously titled Tubular Bells took up both sides of an old-school LP, making daytime air play on Fab Radio One unlikely.

Gradually, however, word got around that Tubular Bells was rather special helped, hugely, by John Peel playing both sides on his late night radio show. Enough punters (who presumably hadn’t taped it off the radio that night) bought the album in large enough quantities for it to enter the lower reaches of the album chart, but it was only when an excerpt turned up in the horror film The Exorcist (without Oldfield’s permission) and a clumsily edited US single was released (again without Oldfield’s input) for Tubular Bells to hit the top of the charts. It is now one of the biggest selling albums of all time.

Wisely Oldfield has chosen to keep the tinkering to a minimum for this special edition release, just the odd tweak here and there (he now admits the decision to re-record it completely for the 30th anniversary was a mistake). And the piece still retains its aura of mystery and melancholy beauty, especially the first side which – remarkably – was recorded in less than a week, despite Oldfield playing pretty much every instrument, necessitating hundreds of overdubs.

Bonuses for this new edition are an excerpt from the trance-dance remix album Tubular Beats, Oldfield’s performance of Tubular Bells from the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony and a demo for what was attended to be a new Tubular Bells work (to add to the several sequels already released) but abandoned when Oldfield announced his recent retirement. A wise choice, you would think, for what could ever come close to the sheer genius and uncanny beauty of the original.

Yes_Mirror_to_the_sky_albumYes - Mirror to the Sky - (InsideOut Music)

Robert Fripp has often described his band, King Crimson, as an entity that exists above and beyond whatever line-up happens to be in place at the time, a spiritual force that, at the appropriate moment, leans over and “takes the musicians into its confidence”.

Much the same can be said of Yes, whose multiple line-ups over the past 55 years have produced a lot of great music, and a certain amount of dross, but all of it recognisably Yes. The current line-up features no members from the original 1968 line-up, but guitarist Steve Howe, who joined for the 1970 The Yes Album LP and has been in and out ever since, is present and correct, as is Geoff Downes, who first appeared on a Yes album back in 1980.

This new album follows hard on the heels of last year’s well-received The Quest, and is the band’s first release since the death of long-time Yes stalwart, drummer Alan White. Opening track Cut From The Stars is in the classic Yes mould, the suite-like title-track, majestic nine-minute All Connected and Luminosity recall the early Seventies glory years and those classic albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, while Circles of Time, one of the album’s outstanding moments, is in the classic Yes mould of And You and I and Wonderous Stories.

T_Rex_whatever_happened_to_the_teenage_dream_1973_albumT Rex - Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream - (Demon Music)

With their glorious hit singles Ride A White Swan, Get It On and Hot Love, Marc Bolan’s T Rex spearheaded the early Seventies glam-rock movement, a pop movement that marked a clear generational break from what had gone before. The Beatles were gone, Sixties idealism had been shattered and the answer to the grim realities of early Seventies Britain was a varied selection of bands who, in their different ways, put some of the colour and fun back into pop.

By 1973, however, there were the first signs of unravelling in Bolan’s career. Although still capable of producing memorable three-minute singles – Children of the Revolution, Solid Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy – the magic touch was starting to desert him, at least when it came to albums. This four-disc set charts that decline, featuring all three of the aforementioned hits and their B-sides, as well as others from the period, including the The Groover and Truck On Tyke. The albums Tanx and Zinc Alloy and their associated bonus tracks are also included as well as, interestingly, a disc focussing on Bolan’s forays into soul music, including an abandoned album. There are also out-takes, demos and an informative, fully illustrated, book.


All the featured albums are available on CD and to stream on Spotify and Amazon Music

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