Tag: Louis Clark

Annie Haslam – Annie In Wonderland

Annie Haslam - Annie In WonderlandTaking a break from her “day job” as the lead female vocalist of ’70s prog rock outfit Renaissance, Annie Haslam set out to record a solo debut that was an outlet for her self-penned tunes that just didn’t fit the Renaissance house style – but that doesn’t mean it sounds like anything else released in 1977. Haslam recruited former Move, ELO and Wizzard frontman Roy Wood to produce the album, and Wood was already known for his own distinctive style. He also didn’t exactly have a long list of production credits for projects that weren’t The Move, ELO or Wizzard.

The result is a quirky and eminently listenable album that showcases Annie Haslam somewhere between her Carole King-esque singer/songwriter mode and something closer to Kate Bush territory, and also gives multi-instrumental whiz kid Wood full reign. A blast of brass opens the album with “If I Was Made Of Music”, but the production work never overshadows Haslam’s voice, which always has center stage. “I Never Believed In Love” is one of three songs actually written by Wood, and it bears the hallmarks of his vaguely-Beatlesque oddball Move-era songwriting.

It’s the next song, however, that can blow your hair back – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You” (from the musical Carousel) gives Haslam’s considerably vocal range a real chance to shine, accompanied by an ocean of multi-tracked balalaikas. It’s not like any other rendition of this particular song or, indeed, like anything else you’ve heard before. (It’s not for nothing that, of all the songs on Annie In Wonderland, this song was chosen to be dissected and analyzed in detail on a BBC Radio special celebrating Roy Wood’s career.)

Almost as mind-blowing for its sheer display of Haslam’s near-operatic range is the soaring, wordless vocal of the otherwise-instrumental “Rockalise”. Drastic key/octave changes are also central to “Inside My Life”, which is as close as thiis album comes to typical ’70s singer/songwriter stylings – and in the capable hands of Haslam and Wood, it’s still not terribly close to typical.

What’s most surprising here is that this was the first and final collaboration between Annie Haslam and Roy Wood, but there’s another story there: they got engaged as Annie In Wonderland was being recorded, and never married over what’s said to have been a four-year relationship. Annie In Wonderland was a career-making album in the UK (and sadly overlooked elsewhere), and by all rights should have kick-started Wood’s career as well as Annie Haslam’s. 4 out of 4That it didn’t is truly sad; this album’s inventiveness and willingness to overstep the usual bounds of pop music are off-the-scale. Future collaborations could have been beneficial to all involved, but alas, it wasn’t to be, leaving Annie In Wonderland as a singular achievement that launched Haslam on a whole new career trajectory away from Renaissaince. Very highly recommended.

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  1. Introlise / If I Were Made Of Music (4:46)
  2. I Never Believed In Love (3:40)
  3. If I Loved You (4:39)
  4. Hunioco (7:33)
  5. Rockalise (6:09)
  6. Nature Boy (4:56)
  7. Discuss it!Inside My Life (4:51)
  8. Going Home (5:01)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1977
Total running time: 41:35

Kelly Groucutt – Kelly

Kelly Groucutt - KellyReleased on vinyl in 1982, and then reprinted on CD circa 2001 as a fan club exclusive and again as a general release in 2009, Kelly is the sole solo outing for the late Kelly Groucutt, whose musical claim to fame was as the bassist and soaring backup vocalist for ELO and, later, ELO Part II / The Orchestra. Groucutt had the help of most of his bandmates in recording his album, with the most conspicuous holdout being Jeff Lynne himself; perhaps not surprisingly, the entire album is very much in the style of ELO’s halcyon days (namely the mid/late 1970s). Groucutt was already an integral part of the ELO sound from that period, and Kelly can almost be seen – or heard – as an audition for the opportunity to take an even wider role creatively within the group.

As always, Groucutt’s vocal range is beyond merely impressive, and his singing voice doesn’t thin out when he edges toward baritone or falsetto. Having seen him play live with ELO Part II, I can vouch for the fact that the man could, quite simply, belt out a tune – and with his vocal abilities, he could belt out nearly any tune you can think of. But Kelly also shows off his songwriting abilities, and it’s quite evident that Groucutt was paying very very close attention to how songs were put together in ELO’s signature style; much of this album could fit in seamlessly on nearly any ELO album between Face The Music and Time (the ELO album whose release immediately preceded Kelly).

Songs like “Am I A Dreamer” (presented here in both demo and finished recordings) and “Sea Of Dreams” seem like they could’ve been strong candidates to become classic ELO songs. Groucutt also clearly shared Lynne’s love of classic ’50s rock – his background vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Lynne’s work, but they also have just a hint of doo-wop to them. “Midnight Train” and “Black Hearted Woman” show ’70s roots, but the former especially highlights the unique rapport between Groucutt and ELO violinist Mik Kaminski, who provides hoedown-worthy fiddle work as well as coaxing “train whistle” effects out of his violin. The two would later form OrKestra, which would later be absorbed by ELO Part II.

There is, however, one huge problem with the re-release of Kelly that’s distressing: the sound quality. I’m assuming that the original vinyl release of Kelly didn’t sound like this does: the CD winds up sounding like it was mastered from a very well-worn cassette tape. Disappointingly, most of the songs sound tinny and hollow, with almost no bass frequencies… which is almost a slap in the face to the memory of someone who was, in fact, a bass player. Actually, I have a confession to make: back in the heady days of Napster, before this album was re-released, I downloaded several individual tracks from someone’s vinyl-to-CD-R copy of Kelly because I’d heard of the album but had never actually heard any of the songs… and to be brutally honest, the commercially-released CD sounds like it was mastered from those very badly-recorded, lo-fi MP3 tracks.

I give high marks for the music: Kelly Groucutt was willing, ready, and capable of taking a more direct creative role in the future of ELO, but – again, to be brutally honest – by this time Jeff Lynne had almost certainly realized that his future fortunes rested with holding the publishing rights to ELO’s output, and therefore wasn’t about to let go of the “central / sole songwriter” role. Which is unfortunate, because his sideman was clearly ready to help out. (I have to say that this also makes me reconsider Lynne’s more recent complaints, in some of the remastered ELO catalog’s liner notes, about bearing the heavy creative burden of the group alone; having heard Kelly, I call BS. More creative energy was there if he had only permitted it. I’m not going to say that a Lynne/Groucutt songwriting partnership would’ve 3 out of 4been another Lennon/McCartney, but it might have kept ELO on track or extended the group’s life span.)

Now I’d just like to see someone honor Mr. Groucutt’s memory by carrying out a proper remastering of his one solo album. These are great songs – I’d just like to hear them in a sound quality that befits the quality of the songwriting and performance on display here. (Feel free to do the same with OrKestra’s unreleased-on-CD album too, while you’re at it.)

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  1. Am I A Dreamer (3:45)
  2. Oh Little Darling (3:29)
  3. Dear Mama (4:33)
  4. You Don’t Need To Hold Me Tight (3:56)
  5. Black Hearted Woman (3:27)
  6. Midnight Train (3:52)
  7. Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again (3:12)
  8. Anything Goes With Me (3:33)
  9. Can’t Stand The Morning (3:11)
  10. Old Rock & Roller (3:48)
  11. You’ve Been Telling Lies (3:10)
  12. Sea Of Dreams (4:47)
  13. I’ll Cry For You Tonight (4:06)
  14. Am I A Dreamer (3:42)

Released by: Renaissance
Release date: 1982 / reissued in 2009
Total running time: 52:31

Electric Light Orchesta – Out Of The Blue (remaster)

ELO - Out Of The BlueOut Of The Blue is, quite simply, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s, hands-down. It seems that, despite its intricate arrangements and impeccable musicianship, this album will simply never have the rock critic cachet of, say, Dark Side Of The Moon. And yet these days, one hears more young artists coming out of the woodwork trying to achieve the sound of Jeff Lynne and company than one hears Pink Floyd sound-alikes. You can do the math there if you like.

This remastered edition adds only a handful of bonus material, largely because the original double LP takes up most of a single CD. (I would’ve been happy to go to two CDs, a la the remasters of ELO’s first two albums, but there’s not much indication that there was really enough material to go that route.) The one full bonus track that isn’t a demo or other form of outtake is the lovely “Latitude 88 North,” a song which, according to the notes, was partially written at the same time as the other Out Of The Blue tracks but just didn’t make the cut. Of the various bonus tracks that have come along since the Flashback box set ushered in this new era of “remastered with a few freshly recorded bonus tracks” activity, “Latitude 88 North” is the best one to come along since “Love Changes All” and “Helpless” (or, for that matter, Zoom). Even if it’s clearly a recent recording (at best, the song itself may be 30 years old, but the track itself is much more recent), it’s a great song that hearkens back to ELO’s glory days, and it at least sounds closer to that classic style than “Surrender” (from the remastered A New World Record) does. Bringing up the rear are an excerpt from a demo of “Wild West Hero” (which demonstrates great harmony, but lousy lyrics that were replaced in the final version) and the rousing instrumental “The Quick And The Daft”, which most certainly is a 1977 original – good material for serious fans and students of ELO’s work to chew on, but nothing that will really excite casual listeners.

Fortunately for casual listeners, one of the most iconic albums of the ’70s is still here, perfectly intact and remastered, and it’s never sounded better. The remastering isn’t so radical as to have me reassesing my favorite songs, but it’s nice to hear them cleaned up and sounding sharper than ever before. The booklet-style case is also a treat, with an extensive set of notes about the making of Out Of The Blue. There’s a standard version of this CD with a slightly pared-down version of that booklet, but the deluxe edition – bound like a little book, featuring the full liner notes and even a miniature replica of the original LP’s punch-out cardstock spaceship – is a real treat for fans of the band’s work. I’ll admit I just haven’t had the heart to punch out the spaceship and build it, though; I did that with the one that came with the LP, years and years and years ago, and lost track of that one; I think I’ll leave this one intact, and maybe when my own child is around the same age I was when I first heard this album, it’ll be punched out and put together.

Rating: 4 out of 4Not a bad package at all, celebrating an album that means a lot to quite a few people, even those who would never in a million years profess to be ELO fans. Though I’d wager that the original release of Out Of The Blue created plenty of those as well.

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  1. Turn To Stone (3:49)
  2. It’s Over (4:08)
  3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:49)
  4. Across The Border (3:53)
  5. Night In The City (4:03)
  6. Starlight (4:31)
  7. Jungle (3:53)
  8. Believe Me Now (1:21)
  9. Steppin’ Out (4:40)
  10. Standin’ In The Rain (3:59)
  11. Big Wheels (5:32)
  12. Summer And Lightning (4:15)
  13. Mr. Blue Sky (5:03)
  14. Sweet Is The Night (3:27)
  15. The Whale (5:07)
  16. Birmingham Blues (4:23)
  17. Wild West Hero (4:45)
  18. Wild West Hero (alternate bridge – home demo) (0:26)
  19. The Quick And The Daft (1:50)
  20. Latitude 88 North (3:24)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1977)
Total running time: 76:18