A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around

‘Girl, where you been?’

That is the question people have been asking since Erin Moran (no, not that one) dropped her first full-length under her A Girl Called Eddy nom de plume.

Fifteen years and change later, she has finally released her follow-up, and it was almost worth the wait.

I mean, it is an absolutely stunning set of Brill Building-inspired brilliance tempered with that early 70s singer-songwriter bittersweetness that rose from Laurel Canyon.

And the words ‘Girl, where you been?’ are the first you hear on the album’s gorgeously sumptuously melancholic opener, Been Around.

It’s a slow, considered taking of stock, one that you could imagine coming from everyone from Carole King to Aimee Mann.

And yet, it doesn’t quite sound like anyone else.

It does, much like her first album, sound like something from a time before now.

Something overlooked back in the day.

Something that has, indeed, been around.

Which may be why the song is content to take its time, to keep building up, to offer truisms and observations about how even when you are broken,  you can still turn a situation around.

‘If losers never quit then I’m thoroughly equipped to keep on,’ she sings, in a way that suggests you can too.

I hope she does.

And that it doesn’t take another 15 years what she’s been up to and where she’s been.

Keep or Cull: The Carpenters – The Singles 1974-1978

IMG_20200220_150544Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices in pop music.

It was rich and resonant.

Somewhat melancholy.

And yet there was a sweetness, a lightness, to it that prevented rainy days and Mondays from getting you too down.

Because in anyone else’s hands, a song like the one I am referencing could have turned very bleak.

Carpenter was half of The Carpenters, a duo that really eptiomized 70s pop radio.

Politely produced to the point where it was almost scrubbed of any character, their songs really got over not just because they were drawing on talents like Paul Williams but also because Carpenter’s contralto gave them weight, or import.

She made them come alive.

And yet, she thought of herself as a drummer who sang.

But that voice brought her out from behind her kit into the spotlight, something she was not initially comfortable with.

That voice helped make The Carpenters a constant presence on the charts, starting with their cover of Ticket to Ride, a modest hit in 1969, through to their last minor hit, a cover of Beachwood 4-5789.

In fact, they had enough hits that, just four years after their first one, The Carpenters were anthologized by A&M with The Singles: 1969-1973.

Just five years later, another compilation appeared, this time gathering up everything from 1974-1978.

IMG_20200220_150613According to Discogs, it was released in the UK, Canada, and a couple of other countries, but not the U.S., where sales of their records had tapered off considerably.

Looking at the track listing, you can kind of see why.

There is one indisputable classic here that could and should have been on that first set of hits.

I Won’t Last a Day Without You.

Written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, that song was initially released in 1972 on A Song for You, but it was not released as a single until 1974.

So it really does belong on the first set.

The other songs on here are not at that level, but there are a couple that are relatively nice, such as Sweet, Sweet Smile, which Juice Newton co-wrote, intending to cut it herself.

And there is the absolutely odd choice of Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, a song written and recorded by Klaatu, a band that, for a brief moment, was thought to be The Beatles incognito.

But with one notable exception, nothing quite sticks with you the way that the songs on the first set of singles.

Even Karen seems a bit lost in the increasingly slick productions to the point where the longing and bittersweetness that added ache to songs like Superstar or Sing has been smoothed over, and you can hear why some critics dismissed them as saccharine, and why A&M declined to put this out in the U.S.

The selections just lack the tension, the sentiment, the depth that Karen applied to make The Carpenters stand out from other glossy radio fare.

If you want to hear her at her finest, that first singles collection is a must.

With every sha-la-la-la, every whoa-whoa-whoa, she makes it feel like yesterday once more.

So this one is a cull for me.

 

 

 

Keep or Cull – Renaissance’s Azure d’Or

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First up, Renaissance, a band that, even in the twisty world of prog rock, have a complicated history.

Formed from the ashes of The Yardbirds, the original lineup featured Keith Relf and Jim McCarty (as well as Keith’s sister), but the band started disintegrating before completing its second album, Illusion.

The then-keyboardist, John Hawken, brought in a couple musicians, including Michael Dunford, from his previous group,  Nashville Teens to try and finish that album

And then the original band, without Hawken, regrouped to do more work on it.

By the third album, Prologue, there were no original members at all, although McCarty contributed material.

As did Dunford, who would rejoin the band a couple of years later.

Confused?

Well, the original Renaissance, except for Keith Relf, who had passed away, reunited in the mid 70s as Illusion.

If the story of the band is very much like that of any prog rock band, the sound was somewhat unique.

Unlike pretty much every prog rock band, Renaissance was not entirely dominated by men.

Annie Haslam was their vocalist.

And many of their lyrics were written by Betty Thatcher, and that combination made their best material stand out from, say, Genesis or Yes.

Azure d’Or was their ninth album, and their last for Sire.

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You could be forgiven for thinkng that they are some kind of sketch comedy group based on that photo.

Azure d’Or was released in 1979, but apart from some synthesizer colorations, you’d never know it.

And it certainly doesn’t sound like anything you’d expect from the label that signed or licensed artists like The Ramones, The Replacements, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, and Madonna.

Azure d’Or is the sound of a band trapped in amber.

Something preserved.

But not like Lark’s Tongue in Aspic.

There is a quaintness about it.

A sense that it was recorded half a decade earlier, unearthed, tatted out with some synths, and sent out in the world with fingers crossed.

But between the production and the material, it didn’t connect with me.

It’s pretty, but it doesn’t really have that otherness that defined other prog bands like King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes.

It’s all smooth, pretty, and it settles comfortably into the background.

The only thing tactile about it is the cover, which has raised textures.

Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like what you’d associated with Sire Records.

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Of course, Sire had been around for several years before it filled its roster with artists like Talking Heads, Madness, and The (English) Beat, and for much of its early years, it had licensed a bunch of odd UK artists, including Renaissance, so there is a whole other history that, if you followed that, would make its punk and new wave titles seem odd.

I played this a few times and I cannot remember any aspects of it a few days on, except that it was a bit too well produced, a bit too pretty, a bit too elegant to resonate with me.

Don’t get me wrong, Annie’s singing is exemplary, the musicians are accomplished, and so there is clear talent on display.

But the songs are a bit too ethereal.

And the band sounds like it has tapped out it’s creative potential a bit.

In fact, the band splintered following the album’s release.

There have been subsequent Renaissance albums by various combinations of members, but I haven’t heard them.

I do have a few albums that precede this one, so now I want to revisit those and see how they sound.

At some point.

I have thousands of others to choose from.

And I add more regularly.

So this will be a long ongoing project.

But the verdict on this one is to cull it.

 

Keep or Cull – a statement of purpose

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I own a lot of LPs.

Like lots of them.

That picture you see here?

Thats some of my XMas albums.

And I’m a heathen.

So that gives you some idea as to why I say I have too many albums.

More than anyone needs to, or could realistically listen to in a lifetime, let alone two.

So I have decided to set myself a challenge: to randomly go through my record collection, pick items, and see if I need them.

Entries will provide some context about the selection in question, be it some encapsulation of the artist’s history, some background on the album, some personal connection to the music, and so on.

And as I do that, I will attempt to either assess the album in total or each song, coming to some decision as to whether I keep the LP or let go of it.

That said, I recognize there may be titles that do not resonate with me that you might be a fan of, and goal here is not to trade in the kind of self-satisfied dismissive nastiness most music critics do.

It all comes down to personal taste.

And mine changes on the regular.

So, with that in mind, let’s start picking apart a record collection that has been years in the making.