Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: James Taylor “Before This World”

Sweet Grown Man James
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Hard to believe we've waited 13 years for new James Taylor songs, but "Before This World" was well worth the wait. His voice, still pure and world-weary has changed little over the decades, even matured a bit, The songs are comfortable, like your old blue jeans. He waxes nostalgic on "Stretch Of The Highway," touches a political nerve on "Far Afghanistan," and lays claim to an oldie for "Wild Mountain Thyme."

This is aural comfort food, impeccably produced with some lush orchestrations and often offering breathing space between the singer and his songs (IMHO a lost art among many current artists). The harmonies are lovely and there's even a drop by from Sting (on the title track). I particularly like "Angels Of Fenway," a tribute both to his Grandmother and a salute to the 2004 World Series winning Boston Red Sox. As a fellow member of Red Sox Nation, I've been wanting to hear the studio version ever since he sang it live at Fenway Park in early May (broadcast on NESN). I was not disappointed.

"Somehow I haven't died," James croons over the opening mellow folksiness of "Today Today Today." "Before the World" often looks back at his life, and to our benefit, James sound confident enough that maybe the next album will come before a 13 year gap occurs. But for now, enjoy "Before This World." Where singer/songwriters are concerned, there just isn't anyone to compare to James Taylor.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Todd Rundgren “The Definitive Rock Collection”

Name Your Price, A Ticket To Paradise...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Trying to boil Todd Rundgren's prolific output down to two CD's basically means nobody will ever be completely satisfied. That holds true for this "Definitive Rock Collection." While it tries mightily to give Todd's music a fair shake, I will still say that there's songs that I wished were here. But that hardly matters, as everything here is good to great. Not a dud in the set.

Todd has a little bit of everything. Classic pop songwriting ("Hello It's Me"), soul bred from his life in Philadelphia ("The Want of a Nail" with soul legend Bobby Womack), and harder rock (mainly with Utopia, represented here by "Hammer In My Heart"). There was even the prog-rock that some albums ("Ra" or "Something/Anything") reached for that is sadly not represented here. You do get many songs here that should have been hits (probably because of Bearsville Record's notoriously chintzy promotional tactics) like "Time Heals" or "Real Man." Same with Utopia, who were cheated out of a hit when England Dan and John Ford Coley covered "Love Is The Answer." However, this being the first Rundgren anthology that includes choice Utopia songs does give this set an edge over others. We can also add that the re-mastering is excellent and begs the question of why there haven't been deluxe editions of some of Todd's best (Come on Rhino, you already have the catalog).

I have some personal faves here, like "Compassion," "Love In Action" and "Change Myself." You get the hits themselves, "Hello It's Me," "We Gotta Get You a Woman," "I Saw The Light" and "Can We Still Be Friends" but not Todd's top 40 remake of "Good Vibrations" from "Faithful." The almost hits "Bang On The Drum All Day" (which has become something of a radio staple since), "A Dream Goes On Forever" and "The Verb To Love." Then there are the unsung heroes like the terrific Utopia songs, "Cry Baby," and "Love In Action" or Todd's "All The Children Sing."

As I noted previously, there are those who will nit-pick that "The Definitive Rock Collection" miss a whole batch of prime Todd (like skipping The Nazz's "Open My Eyes") but for a primer for Rundgren and Utopia, you'll have a tough time finding better short of your own playlist.