Hello, My Treacherous Friends Vol. 14

This was a busy week for me, so not as many reviews as some weeks. Still, there are nine albums here, a couple of CD singles, and if you still want more, there are a couple On This Day entries from earlier in the week featuring Johnny Cash and R.E.M. So let’s get on with it.

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Bel Canto
1996
Magic Box
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This is a difficult CD because, while I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just so far afield of my normal tastes that I can’t make heads nor tails of it. Some of Anneli Drecker’s vocal delivery is very Kate Bush which, again, is not good or bad. It’s just the closest parallel I can draw.
Musical styles vary between world music, club drumbeats, soft synth pads, something that sounds like an actual music box, and what could be leftovers from a Tom Tom Club session.
The album doesn’t seem to latch on to any one style or direction, or maybe the Eastern-tinged world music notes and tones – which I have always found jarring – are too prevalent for me to enjoy the songs. A couple songs come close to being pleasant, but then they overstay their welcome, stretching to four-and-a-half, five minutes or more.
Overall, not for me. If you like English language world music with a nightclub vibe to it, then this is likely going to appeal to you. I’ll give it a pass.
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The Black Crowes
1992
The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
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I was never a Black Crowes fan in the ‘90s. In fact, I once almost accidentally bought tickets to a Black Crowes show (this was back when you used to line up outside a box office or your favorite record store the day tickets went on sale – there was no internet) when I meant to buy They Might Be Giants tickets. I realized my mistake at the last second and went to see TMBG.
Over the years, though, through perennial exposure to their hits every summer, I’ve come to really enjoy their sound. Chris Robinson’s voice, in particular, is quintessentially rock’n’roll, perfectly suited to the material at hand while retaining a classic-rock throwback quality that is endlessly appealing. It is easy, listening to this album, to see why bands such as The Black Crowes cropped up in defiance of the synth-saturated pop sounds that dominated ‘80s radio.
Riff-heavy rock and blues influences pervade certain cuts on this disc – “Hotel Illness” and “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” – and hard southern rock informs numbers like “Sometimes Salvation” and “Sting Me.” The overall sound of the album is not unlike their first record, Shake Your Money Maker.
Every song from this album’s “a-side” was released as a single, but the second half of the record is equally impressive, including a cover of Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” and deep cuts like “Black Moon Creeping” and “My Morning Song.”
There are certain acts that just sound like summer to me. Tom Petty is one of these. The Black Crowes are another. Even as we slip into November and days are getting colder and shorter, this album still sounds like sweating at the grill with a beer in hand.
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Black Pumas
2019
Black Pumas
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Black Pumas is one of the most exciting releases of 2019. I learned about them when Neal Francis (who has an equally excellent 2019 debut album – already in the stack for future review) started talking about touring with them in the second half of the year. I was blown away by Neal when I saw him live earlier in the year so I looked up Black Pumas to see what they were about.
After listening to just one or two songs online I ordered the CD. It makes sense that the two acts toured together (not getting as far as Boston, sadly) since they both embrace a ‘70s AM Radio vibe that, for Francis, brings to mind blue-eyed soul acts like Hall & Oates and, for Black Pumas, R&B outfits like The Commodores.
For a more modern-day parallel, Black Pumas have a sound not dissimilar to The Heavy, a deep-seated, funk’n’groove sensibility as the driving creative force, with the songwriting and vocal chops to back up that ambition.
I can’t pick out one song that really stands out above the others, not on the first couple listens, anyway. What does really stand out is how fully they commit to the sound of the record. You could be told that this is a lost gem from 45 years ago and you’d be hard-pressed to argue. Great care was taken, though, to make it sound timeless rather than dated – like, say, Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” sounds timeless even though its sound is from a specific era. This doesn’t sound like a nostalgia piece, either. More, it sounds like the type of thing that’s missing from today’s musical landscapes – more talent than titillation, more soul than sex.
Old men, we love to complain about how “the music of today…” can’t compare the music of our youth. And yet here are a couple young dudes out of Austin making music whose sound predates our own youth. Paradoxically, that ends up being incredibly refreshing.
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Box Scaggs
Hits!
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I don’t know how I got to this advanced age – and collected this many albums – without hearing or knowing any Boz Scaggs. I recently picked up this compilation as a starting point and to see if I could find anything worthwhile here. I’ve seen his name since I first started buying my own records back in the ‘80s but I didn’t know of anyone who owned his albums or loved his music. That alone made me curious.
The first track on the disc, 1976’s “Lowdown” isn’t familiar from its title but I recognize the chorus right away. Okay, I sort of know the song but didn’t know it was Boz Scaggs. Let’s see what else is on this collection.
I don’t know “You Make It So Hard” but it’s a great little slice of ‘70s pop. “Miss Sun” is an R&B tinged number that would have been perfect for the roller skating rink. “Lido Shuffle” sounds like someone was trying to emulate Elton John, right down to the vocal delivery. Despite being completely derivative, it’s a fantastic cut and another that I’ve heard many times without ever knowing who it was (probably because I assumed it was an Elton John song from an album I don’t own).
Rita Coolidge made “We’re All Alone” famous, but the Boz Scaggs original is included here. “Breakdown Dead Ahead” is slightly familiar and enjoyable enough, and “Look What You’ve Done To Me” is extremely familiar but a bit too schlocky. “Jojo” is… not great. “Dinah Flo” sounds like a love song to an aftermarket automobile air filter. It’s decent but, again, derivative. Finally, “You Can Have Me Anytime” closes out the record in abysmal fashion.
There’s really no way to review most best-of collections other than track-by-track, so here you go. This is front-loaded with the best cuts and if it was on vinyl I couldn’t see Side 2 getting much attention at all. As it is, it was worth a buck for a handful of good singles, but I won’t be seeking out any Boz Scaggs LPs anytime soon.
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Bruce Springsteen
2007
Magic
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…in which I continue my exploration of The Boss’s back catalog. Of course, it goes without saying that I can’t be objective about Springsteen, so bear that in mind when the accolades start flowing.
Opening track, “Radio Nowhere” has a real hard-rock edge to it and it occurs to me that there isn’t all that much hard-rock from Bruce in the past decade. His voice is certainly suited to it and this song makes an argument for him doing it very well. There are a few of his songs that have the same sort of propulsive energy, but this opener has me hoping for a full hard-rock album reminiscent of some of his earlier work.
And just like that, we’re six songs deep before anything decidedly not-hard-rock shows up with “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” a whimsical, almost instantly nostalgic piece with Roy Bittan sprucing up the rhythm section on the organ. Not hard rock, but not yacht rock, either. Maybe my favorite track on the album so far.
“I’ll Work For Love” has that classic Springsteen feel, like most of the record. It would have fit easily alongside anything on Born In The U.S.A. more than two decades prior.
The title track is the first real mellow, reflective tune. There is a darkness to the lyrics belied by the quiet cheerfulness of the melody. It’s the first song on the record, however, in which the lyrics overpower the music and pull you out of the song to really pay attention to what’s being said. The only other quiet, primarily acoustic number is the would-be closer “Devil’s Arcade.” “Would be” because “Terry’s Song” is the final cut on the album even if it isn’t listed on the album cover. It’s a sweetly heartbreaking ode to a lost sibling and I actually found myself getting a little misty listening to this one.
Overall, I ended up getting my wish here. It’s not hard-rock from front to back, but overall it is much more similar to his early work than what has come in between. And while I don’t know if this album was overlooked at the time, I do know that it’s one I’ve never heard anyone mention. On first listen, I’d put this up among my favorite Springsteen albums. Can’t wait to listen to it again.
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Various
2004
A Cinderella Story (OST)
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I mentioned that I got about 2500 CDs in a lot purchase a year ago, right? I definitely mentioned that. That seems like an awesome score, but then discs like the soundtrack to this Hilary Duff vehicle rise to the surface and I have to listen to them.
That said, I haven’t listened to it yet so I’m admittedly going in with preconceived notions that it’s going to suck. I could be wrong. I was wrong once. It wasn’t as bad as everyone else makes it look all the time.
I should mention that the soundtrack is also a Hilary Duff vehicle, featuring her vocals on nearly half of the songs. I’d never heard of this movie and I had never heard anything by Hilary Duff, so I have no reason to expect it to suck, but I still do.
The first song on the disc is a surprisingly fun cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed” with a hard rock guitar behind it and a very capable vocal delivery. It’s great. Expectations are oh-for-one right out the gate.
Track two, “Anywhere But Here” should absolutely suck. Its overly earnest teenage girl lyrics are presented over a multi-layered major key arrangement with chunky guitars, synthesizers, and a string section. All of these ingredients combine – on paper – to form a giant Megazord of shit. But that’s on paper. As a song, it’s a perfect little pop single that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by any random indie-rocker guitar girl. Do you know how embarrassing it is to be enjoying Hilary Duff songs at my age? Oh-for-two!
The Jesse McCartney song sucks. I feel oddly vindicated.
Then there are four other Hillary Duff songs. They’re all mediocre at best. I’m beginning to feel my initial prejudice was justified.
They’re followed by a Josh Kelly version of Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.” There should not be any way to ruin this song. Alas, the opening line, “When the rain is blowing in your face,” as sung by Josh Kelly, sounds uncannily like “When your anus blowing in your face…” which is all you need to know about this song.
There’s an acoustic Goo Goo Dolls song called “Sympathy” that borders on okay. I don’t hate it. It’s better than your anus blowing in your face.
The rest of the album is the sort of dreck I was anticipating, right up to the incongruously rock’n’roll MxPx track to close the soundtrack. It’s a welcome departure from the tween pop that characterizes most of the album, even if the song itself isn’t very good.
A couple of enjoyable tracks, a lot of crap, and one tragically misheard lyric. I can’t really recommend this, but I sure had fun writing about it.
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Count 2 Infinity
2000
Once Is Not Enough
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I don’t know anything by or about Count To Infinity or this debut album. I’m interested in finding out what this disc is like.
It starts with a two-minute instrumental electronic excursion into self-indulgence. Then some lyrics pop up and the song continues on.
Very first impressions: this is reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys’ tendency to deliver their lyrics as almost spoken word with very little actual singing. This could just be the one song. Maybe it’s not like that on the whole album. We’ll see.
Several of the tracks go for a much harder boots’n’cats’n’boots’n’cats techno feel than most PSB works, but that softly spoken delivery remains in place and the juxtaposition of the two works well. The use of sampled eastern chanting here-and-there throws me off but the songs otherwise acquit themselves nicely and it all comes together.
This was clearly imagined as intelligent dance-pop and it achieves that end in good form. It’s not the sort of thing I listen to a lot of now, but if I’d known about if fifteen or twenty years ago I’d have loved it. As it is I enjoy it quite a bit.
Think ‘Moby-meets-Neil Tennant’ and you’ll get the overall idea. It doesn’t quite deliver on the level that such a collaboration might, but it doesn’t fall far short either. It is extremely well done.
Nearly halfway through the disc, “Twirl” is an outlier, sounding more like an outtake from The Beloved circa 1993. And album closer “Sleepless” is a bit of piano-driven psychedelia. Otherwise, the imaginary collaboration description remains apt.
The deeper I go into this album, the more I like it, so I decide to delve into the liner notes since there is a dearth if information about this performer online. Count 2 Infinity is a man named John Giacobello who performed every aspect of this album, excluding some backing vocals on its only single, “Jessica.” There’s virtually nothing else about the act to be found online through a cursory search. But he only released one more album under the Count 2 Infinity moniker and Once Is Not Enough is so good that by the time I’m through it for the first time I’ve already ordered the follow-up.
Before listening to this disc I’d guessed that the title was going to prove a bit of an optimistic overstatement and I was all ready with a quip about how, in fact, once was plenty. I’m pleased, at the end of it, to instead be agreeing with the idea that once is not enough for this album and I’m already looking forward to repeat listens… even if it’s not the sort of thing I listen to a lot of now.
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First Serve
2012
De La Soul’s Plug1 & Plug2 Present… First Serve
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I wasn’t even aware this album existed before I found it in a thrift store. But it said De La Soul on the front, even if the level of their involvement wasn’t entirely clear from the title. It’s De La. It deserves at least a cursory listen.
A little Wiki research and it turns out this is a collab between Plug 1 & Plug 2 of De La Soul and French DJs Chokolate and Khalid. Plug 1 & Plug 2 are fictional rappers Jacob ‘Pop Life’ Barrow and Deen Witter who in turn form First Serve, an act whose career serves up the narrative arc of this album.
It’s something of a hip-hop Ziggy Stardust or Duchess story, starting with Deen and Pop rehearsing in Deen’s bedroom while his mom pounds on the door. They find fame and success. The success comes between them and creates friction. Pop fucks off to Paris. Deen stays in the hood. They reunite and resurrect First Serve to renewed success.
Unlike Ziggy Stardust, it uses spoken interludes and skits to flesh out the storyline, but that’s in keeping with the genre, especially as it was De La Soul who were credited with first making skits a part of hip-hop albums. Also unlike those modern-day rock tragedies, this tale from the hood ends on a positive note as old friends are able to patch up differences and regain previously held heights.
And don’t sleep on the work of the producers Chokolate & DJ Khalid (not to be confused with DJ Khaled). Great samples throughout and lots of references to old school hip-hop luminaries. They work hard to create backing tracks that suit the mood of whatever chapter of the story being is being told in each song
Overall, this a great record and one that has never gotten its due. It never charted, wasn’t promoted, and, as I mentioned, I’d never even heard of it (and I kind of pay attention to this sort of thing). If you’re a fan of the old school De La sound, it’s worth coming at this with an open mind. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a very worthwhile (if not quite essential) addition to any hip-hop library.
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Depeche Mode
2004
Enjoy The Silence 04
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Rereleasing their biggest single of all time to promote their new remix compilation fifteen years ago was a no-brainer. The big draw here is the first track, “Enjoy The Silence (Reinterpreted By Mike Shinoda)” On which the Linkin Park co-founder adds some hard rock guitar and drums to Dave Gahan’s timeless vocals. It completely changes the feel of the song and is a pretty bold stroke for the band (and for Mike Shinoda, reimagining this classic).
There are three other remixes of the title track: the quieter, more reflective Timo Maas Extended Remix, the dance club friendly Ewan Pearson Extended Remix, and the trancelike Richard X Extended Mix. Each comes in around the eight-and-a-half minute mark so you’re definitely getting a lot of bang for your “…Silence” buck.
The single is fleshed out with new mixes of classic cuts “World In My Eyes” – called the Cicada Remix, the original track also from the record-breaking Violator album – and Some Great Reward’s “Something To Do,” presented here as the Black Strobe Remix. The former gets some chunky guitars and added synthesizers while the latter gets a long introduction that definitely enhances the mix.
Like most CD singles this is really only of interest to either completists or obsessive fans (and I’m both in this case). But hey, everybody’s got to have a hobby.
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Depeche Mode
2001
Freelove
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Caveat: Depeche Mode is one of those bands about which I have no objectivity whatsoever. A decade after their commercial heyday of Violator in 1990/91 they released their tenth album, Exciter, off of which “Freelove” was the third single.
Generally speaking, the remix single isn’t for the casual fan, but if you enjoy the occasional deep dive into your favorite artists, this one has some great cuts. The lead track is a fairly straightforward mix by occasional Depeche Mode producer and collaborator Flood. It is followed by the excellent DJ Muggs Remix which benefits from some chugging electric guitar work added to the mix.
The ostensible b-side to the single is “Zenstation,” a chill, quasi-instrumental that is reminiscent of “Oberkorn” from the A Broken Frame era. It is presented here in both a Single Version and an alternate version labeled Atom’s Stereonerd Remix – the latter both more percussive and disjointed than the original – that closes the disc.
Bertrand Burgalat did one of my all-time favorite Depeche Mode remixes when he transformed the unassuming filler track “Easy Tiger” into a hard-rocking funk instrumental on the “Dream On” single. On Freelove he tries his hand at the title track and creates a dreamy soundscape loosely bound by the lyrical structure of the song. The final version of “Freelove” is the Schlammpeitziger ‘Little Rocking Suction Pump’ Version which deconstructs and then reassembles the song into a nearly unrecognizable psychedelic collage.
Worth picking up for the hardcore Depeche Mode fan but of very little interest, I would imagine, to anyone outside of that rabid fan base.
Don Henley - The End Of The Innocence.jpg

Don Henley
1989
The End Of The Innocence
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I’ve always been a casual Eagles fan, likewise their solo work. But I have to admit a strong fondness for Henley’s ‘80s output, at least the singles. The End Of The Innocence came out the year I graduated high school and the year I lost my virginity. It doesn’t have any emotional significance for me, but I do like the coincidental synchronicity of the title. Plus, his appearance on the album cover would go on to influence Crispin Glover’s look in the Charlie’s Angels remake in 2000.
The title track – and lead single – was written and performed with Bruce Hornsby and it is very easy to hear his involvement here – it sounds more like a Hornsby song than a Henley song. In fact, all of the singles from this album – “…Innocence,” “The Last Worthless Evening,” “The Heart Of The Matter,” and “New York Minute” – are mellow, downtempo pieces. They’re all great songs, but not fully representative of some of the LP’s deep cuts.
“How Bad Do You Want It?” is a great rock’n’roll song that wouldn’t sound out of place covered by Springsteen. “Gimme What You Got” is a steady mid-tempo number. “I Will Not Go Quietly” has a swinging groove to it and some nice guitar work courtesy of Henley’s songwriting partner Danny Kortchmar.
And speaking of collaborators, there are a lot of “special guests” on this record that you’d only pick up on if you read the liner notes. The album features backing vocals by Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Axl Rose, Patty Smyth, Ivan Neville, and Edie Brickell. There are instrumental contributions from the aforementioned Bruce Hornsby as well as Waddy Wachtel, Larry Klein, Jim Keltner, and jazz great Wayne Shorter.
The singles are great, and if they were the best tracks on the album, I’d say you’d be better off just picking up Henley’s Actual Miles hits collection from the mid-‘90s since all four of them are included there. But if you like the rock’n’roll side of Don Henley, as featured on earlier hits like “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and “Dirty Laundry,” then you’ll want to check out this album for the non-singles.
As always, thanks for reading. Leave comments and let me know what I got right, what I got wrong, and everything in between. I’ll be back in a week with another stack of reviews. (I’ve been ripping about 20 discs while I was editing this week’s entry, though I can’t see getting to all 20 in one week – and who’d want to read that many reviews all at once, anyway?) Keep an eye out during the week for some more On This Day entries and, until then, keep spinning those discs.

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