Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1985)

June 26, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Album Review, Albums Rated 7/10 | 1 Comment
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RATING:  7/10

Here we have one of the greatest voices in music playing to a small live audience. The fact that he is singing live doesn’t have an affect the quality of his sound. This is such an enjoyable performance to listen to, full of soul, energy, enjoyment and banter. Recorded only about one year before his death, this is Mr. Cooke at his best.

One can only wonder what it would have been like to be there that night, to see him in person, to get involved in the show. The people there must have treasured that experience forever. Not all the tracks are the best from his career, but it is the pure quality of his voice, performance and the atmosphere of the audience that makes this album stand out.

1. Feel It: After getting the crowd warmed up he leaps into his first song which just carries flawlessly to the end. ‘Don’t fight it, don’t fight it, don’t fight the feeling’ he sings and it’s hard not to. Such an easy track to get into, nothing amazing, but the beat and the soul that pours forth sets up the mood for the rest of the album.

2. Chain Gang: One of his more well known tracks is next and the transition to live performance is great. Sam has the chance to really get into his zone, grunting and ‘Ah’-ing and the crowd responds to it as you would expect. Listen to Chain Gang

3. Cupid: One of my favourite Cooke songs, Sam here makes it a little funkier and it works. Probably his best vocals of the night.  Listen to Cupid

4. Medley: It’s All Right/ For Sentimental Reasons: This is a lesson from Sam to guys about how to talk to your woman. After a brief intro he cracks into this gentle and soulful tune, his vocals as perfect as ever. A seamless link into the second half, as he sings you can imagine him picking out certain women and singing directly to them. He then gets the whole crowd to sing along. Throughout the album he is constantly talking throughout the songs, at the right times, getting the crowd involved and showing us that he is enjoying himself.

5. Twistin’ The Night Away: My favourite Sam Cooke song of all time, this is perfect for a live performance and he delivers it with style and class. What a showcase for his vocals and his ability to sing live and retain that quality in his voice. If the dance floor was sparse before then this song would have guaranteed it to be packed be the end. One of the highlights of the album. Listening to Twisting The Night Away

6. Somebody Have Mercy: A cool sax, upbeat rhythm and a great voice carries this so-so track through and makes it fit.

7. Bring It On Home To Me: There is a slow intro that lasts just under 3 minutes, it’s not really something that fits but when the song begins we have the groove and soul back. It feels as though this may be one of Sam’s favourites to sing live, something in his voice and interaction with the crowd shows that there is something more there. Then the track ends with the crowd getting involved once again, they clearly love their evening.

8. Nothing Can Change This Love: Again, top-notch singing is the highlight of this enjoyable track. Not the strongest track on the album but the performance is one of the strongest.

9. Having A Party: This song aptly sums up this album. Everybody’s singing, dancing to the music and they certainly were having a party. Everyone gets involved, you can also picture them swinging away with their friends and partners. A fitting end to a great performance.


U2-The Joshua Tree (1987)

June 25, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Album Review, Albums Rated 8/10 | Leave a comment
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What can you say about U2? Quite alot apparently. There are those that love them and those that loathe them. Whatever you say about them, there is no denying that The Joshua Tree is something special. No doubt this is the album that put them firmly on the map despite being around for about ten years and releasing considerable efforts such as War and The Unforgettable Fire. Most people knew them but when Joshua Tree was released tens of thousands actually owned a piece of their work.

Over twenty years old the album still holds its own and actually starts off sounding like a greatest hits album. Such classic singles such as With or Without You, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Where The Streets Have No Name are just so good and well known that its easy to forget that they all come from one album. I believe that this is the point that Bono found his true voice. In earlier releases he sounded like every other new band to come out during the early 80’s, but here his vocals are spot on and the start of the Bono that we have all come to recognise and, most of us, love. This in itself breathes freshness into the bands sound but add that to superior song writing and The Edge’s new guitar sound and we have a giant leap forward from the Irish lads.

There is a nice mix of songs here but they all help with the overall feel of the album. It’s easy to emagine being in the desert that is pictured on the cover as the sound perpetuating every track give off that feel of the desert. Every song seems to fit perfectly after the previous one taking us alone through this journey of the desert. All great albums should have this sense of wholeness within it, rather than being just a collection of songs, even if they are great ones. To me this is what Joshua Tree does. Put any other U2 song in and it wouldnt fit, take one of these ones out and the album would collapse. Each track relies on the others to balance out this mood.

However good your music collection may be, if this is not included then you having a glaring chasm in it. This is U2’s best. Even if you do not like U2 then you should at least try this album. It may change your mind and, if not, then at least you are being open minded.

Where The Streets Have No Name: A great opener for an album.  This track slowly builds up to the hit that it is well known for being.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Another classic single, this track can be read on many levels.  Perhaps this is one reason why it was so popular.  People identified with it in different ways, people’s questioning life and answers, looking for that special someone or that drive in life.  All or none of these can be applied to this song.  Bono surely has his own interpretation of it but he purposely leaves it ambiguous for the listener.
With Or Without You: Maybe the best known, and over played, track of the album, and perhaps their entire career.  Listen to With Or Without You

Bullet The Blue Sky: My least favourite of the ‘big songs’ on here, this track is still quite powerful and deserves its place.  The guitar and drums in the intro again evoke the desert feel.
Running To Stand Still: It’s a tragedy that this track isn’t more well known.  This is such an understated song, Bono tempers his voice well here, not overdoing it but putting the exact amount of feeling into it.  A beautiful and simple pleasure, easily one of the best U2 songs ever. Listen to Running To Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town: Some of Bono’s finest vocals are present on this track.  Bono screams ‘I’m hanging on, You’re all that’s left to hold on to’ and you can feel it in his voice.
In God’s Country: A catchy song that doesn’t quite impress but is a good listen nontheless and should never be skipped when listening through the album. Listen to Red Hill Mining Town
Trip Through Your Wires: The harmonica that opens the song seems a bit out of place, especially this late on in the album.  There is nothing really special about the song, it’s pleasant enough but too mediocre to follow the previous great tracks.
One Tree Hill: Again, another understated song.  Whilst this isn’t as good as other tracks, it is still a good solid piece.  Just about everything is underplayed, the guitar, the vocals but the lyrics are really quite good.
Exit: For me, this is the weakest of the album.  It doesn’t fit as much as the other songs and it sounds more dated, harking back to a sound of the early 80’s. The slow build up really doesn’t end with anything worthwhile.
Mothers Of The Disappeared: A simple tribute to the women who lose their children to kidnappers and slavery.  A beautiful guitar riff plays gently behind Bono’s soft singing.  A slow track but definitely one to listen to several times before being judged.

Pulp-Different Class (1995)

June 25, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Album Review, Albums Rated 9/10 | Leave a comment
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RATING: 9/10

In 1995 Pulp managed to do three great things. First off, they gave a fantastic performance at Glastonbury that put the other acts to shame. Secondly, they released Different Class and thirdly, Jarvis Cocker invaded a Michael Jackson performance at the Brits. Well, ok, maybe two great things.

In the mid-nineties the media, and thousands of ‘sheep’ trying to be cool by following everyone else, were hyping the battle for best album between Blur and Oasis. Unfortunately, both bands failed to deliver anything thought provoking or different. What’s The Story (Morning Glory) was a good album, filled with anthems for a generation, but lacked any real depth to it and was weaker than Oasis’ debut effort.  The Great Escape by Blur again was weaker than its predecessor Of course, those thousands rushed out and bought them and raved about them in all the ‘cool’ music magazines.

However, 1995 produced at least two better albums. One was Stanley Road by Paul Weller and this one.

The first thing that makes this album stand out is the lyrics. Cocker is a master of writing witty lyrics that make you laugh and smile and are also a brilliant observation on everyday life. He writes about anxiety, struggles, frustrations, excitement, love and bewilderment and his singing pushes this to an extra level where you can feel all of this emotion in his performance. A clear contrast to when he is talking in a near-monotone voice. The songs and Cocker’s singing contain so much energy where needed and the quality of the vocals can be surprising sometimes.

All the songs are truly fantastic, over ten years on and they still sound just as good. It was a breath of fresh air when it was released and maybe it is because it doesn’t sound like the rest of the ‘Brit-pop’ that it doesn’t sound dated.
Pulp go to show that it is ok to look nerdy and to be different than what is considered cool. Cocker is a vast contrast to Liam Gallagher and yet he displays a presence whilst performing on stage that Liam could never achieve, with a voice that can portray more emotion than most of the ‘cool’ bands around at that time. Different Class? Yes. Better Class? Definitely.

Track listing:

1. Mis-Shapes: A catchy anthem for people who look ‘different’ saying how it’s ok to look geeky and not as cool as the rest of the crowd, and how these people are going to take over someday. Listen to Mis-Shapes

2. Pencil Skirt:  A pleasant little tune about Jarvis, a girl and the problems of young love.

3. Common People:  This tune was the anthem in Britain during the summer of 1995. Common People quickly became the ‘anthem’ of the year, and rightly so. It was more infectious than anything Blur or Oasis had to offer that year. Awesome lyrics, fantastic vocals and brilliant melodies.  Even the amount of times this was over played on the radio couldn’t kill its effectiveness and brilliance. Listen to common-people

4. I Spy:  More great lyrics, haunting undertones and another excellent example of Cocker’s vocal prowess, his low tones give this song its edge.

5. Disco 2000:  Very catchy disco tune that you can’t get out of your head, more great humorous lyrics.

6. Live Bed Show: A song that grows on you, tells an interesting story.

7. Something Changed:  A run of the mill love song that sounds a bit out of place but still a nice little tune.

8. Sorted For E’s & Whizz:  A song about going to raves and the morning after, lovely tune and interesting images left in the mind.

9. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E:  An odd song that isn’t without its good points, takes a while to get going though.

10. Underwear:  The angst of teenage love is expressed in this great song.  Great lyrics and stunning vocals. Listen to Underwear

11. Monday Morning: Catchy upbeat tune, lyrics are top notch.

12. Bar Italia:  This one really grew on me, a nice end to a fantastic album.

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