Chris Hadfield – Space Sessions: Songs From A Tin Can

Space Sessions: Songs From A Tin CanSpace Sessions: Songs From A Tin Can is Canadian astronaut (and former International Space Station commander) Chris Hadfield’s long-promised album of songs he recorded, at least in part, while in space. Holed up in his tiny sleeping cubicle on the station after “work hours”, and trying to brace an acoustic guitar against his own body so it could actually be played, Hadfield used an iPad to generate a click track by which to keep tempo, and to record his guitar and vocal parts as separate tracks. (His sleeping area was the quietest place aboard the ISS; air handling and life support systems created too much noise anywhere else. Turns out that the 1980s/90s Star Trek series, with their constant “air conditioning” roar in the background, weren’t far off the mark.)

Aside from the obligatory appearance of his mesmerizing YouTube favorite cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as a bonus track, everything on Space Sessions is written by Hadfield himself in a folk-country style. A great many of the songs are, somewhat predictably, space-themed, though it’s worth noting that some of them were written while in orbit, while others were penned on the ground before liftoff. But even with the constant subtext of space in the background, there’s everything from a musical prayer for the reliability of the technology keeping space explorers alive (“Big Smoke”) to a number about getting accustomed to zero-G disorientation (“Feet Up”) to a story song about a woman giving birth while her husband is in space (“Caroline”).

3 out of 4All of it is performed with a strong singer/songwriter sensibility (I think John Denver would have approved of both the music and the venue in which it was made). Only a couple of tracks suffer from having been recorded in a sleeping cubicle on a real orbiting space station, but this can probably be forgiven for the following reason: recorded on a real orbiting space station. In all seriousness, however, Hadfield’s got the goods to command a space station or belt out a tune. This stuff would be worth a listen even if it was completely earthbound.

Order this CD

  1. Big Smoke (3:37)
  2. Beyond The Terra (4:05)
  3. Feet Up (2:57)
  4. I Wonder If She (4:19)
  5. Caroline (4:12)
  6. Jewel In The Night (3:08)
  7. Daughter Of My Sins (2:26)
  8. Window Of My Mind (3:15)
  9. Space Lullaby (3:25)
  10. Farm Auction (3:08)
  11. Ride That Lightning (3:20)
  12. Space Oddity (5:19)

Released by: Warner Music Canada
Release date: October 9, 2015
Total running time: 43:11

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.

Order this CD

  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

Hot Butter – Popcorn

Hot Butter - PopcornA novelty for the early 1970s, Hot Butter helped to drag electronically generated music into the American mainstream. Actually the brainchild of session keyboard player Stan Free, who had played on albums and on stage for numerous other artists, Hot Butter had to ease its listeners into the concept of music generated by machine by doing covers of familiar tunes, including the one that actually made it onto the charts, a cover of an obscure instrumental called “Popcorn”.

The novelty of it all is that, where the British and European listening public had been getting a steady indoctrination of electronic music via the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other sources for years, often with a psychedelic connotation, the American public wasn’t yet on that same IV drip of music made with machines. There are wavering bass and melody lines in Hot Butter’s songs that simply couldn’t be performed, with the degree of consistency and accuracy heard here, by a human being. To smooth the shock of the new, there are some “real” instruments in the mix, usually drums.

Some of the best pieces here were echoplexed ’60s instrumentals – “Telstar” and “Apache” – that lent themselves well to the Hot Butter treatment. Other fairly well known songs also adapt easily to Hot Butter’s style, though nothing is as surprising as “Amazing Grace”, played bagpipes-style by synthesizers. That synths were at the core of the music was amazing enough at the time; that they were taking the place of an easily recognizable instrument in an almost universally-well-known arrangement was just another shock treatment, 3 out of 4 starsand it works wonderfully.

Though always intended to be a novelty act, Hot Butter may have had some life in it yet, and it’s a bit sad, after hearing Free’s virtuosity here, that the Butter didn’t keep simmering, leaving this act a bona fide one-hit wonder.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Popcorn (2:34)
  2. Day By Day (3:49)
  3. Apache (2:53)
  4. At The Movies (2:34)
  5. Tristana (3:29)
  6. Song Sung Blue (3:36)
  7. Telstar (2:26)
  8. Tomatoes (2:21)
  9. Amazing Grace (2:58)
  10. Love At First Sight (2:58)
  11. Song Of The Nairobi Trio (2:16)
  12. The Silent Screen (2:12)
  13. Mah-Na-Mah-Na (1:51)
  14. Masterpiece (2:18)
  15. Percolator (1:59)
  16. Skokiaan (2:12)
  17. Slag Solution (2:28)
  18. Sounds (3:13)
  19. Space Walk (2:52)
  20. Syncopated Clock (2:16)
  21. Tequila (1:49)
  22. Wheels (1:54)

Released by: Castle
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 56:58

Home Cookin’ – Mmm, Mmm, Mmm

Home Cookin' - Mmm, Mmm, MmmA snapshot of Home Cookin’ at the height of its funk-with-a-live-horn-section greatness, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm may not make a big splash with those who weren’t there when this kind of music was all over the radio. For those of us who did grow up in the ’70s, this is the big, orchestrated sound of funky soul, and it was good to find someone still keeping that alive in the ’90s. Had A Feelin’ and Home Cookin’s signature single “X-Rated Superstar” may well be the best examples of that sound on here. “All Talk” soft-pedals the funk elements in favor of an almost Caribbean sound complete with steel drums, while “Golden Rule” has a nice simple message about not treating people badly – a neat little number that puts Home Cookin’s pedigree as purveyors of true ’70s-style feel-good soul on proud display.

In the wake of the band’s break-up, many of the rhythm section players have reformed as Mo’ Friction, and while I’m sure they’re at the top of their game, there was nothing quite like Home Cookin’ blasting away at full 4 out of 4volume with a real live horn section. Sure, maybe it made the band large, top-heavy and hard to keep together as a unit, but that sound – you know, the one we rarely hear these days outside of modern acts sampling the hell out of real vintage ’70s soul – has almost got to be worth the logistical headaches. And if only for that sound, I miss Home Cookin’. Maybe we need a reunion gig or two, guys?

Order this CD

  1. X-Rated Superstar (3:34)
  2. Hold Tight (3:08)
  3. Against The Grain (3:10)
  4. All Talk (2:38)
  5. Somebody (2:54)
  6. Needle’s Sting (4:15)
  7. Golden Rule (4:54)
  8. Had A Feelin’ (4:41)
  9. Soul Space Express (4:17)
  10. Words (3:27)
  11. Rock It Man (4:48)
  12. Cricket (3:40)
  13. Shine It On (4:17)
  14. Second Guess (4:56)

Released by: Fly Records
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 54:39

Hall & Oates – Rock & Soul, Part I

Hall & Oates - Rock & Soul, Part IYou couldn’t swing a radio dial in the late 70s and early 80s without it hitting a Hall & Oates song. The original purveyors of “white boy soul” – and in many respects still the best – Daryl Hall and John Oates launched a string of hits into the airwaves.

Highlights on this collection include “Sara Smile”, “Kiss On My List”, “You Make My Dreams”, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “One On One” – and those are just the ones I liked. Other hits include “Maneater” and “Private Eyes” (both major chart hits, though they were overplayed to the point where I tend to skip those tracks these days), as well as latter-day hits like “Adult Education” and “Say It Isn’t So”, which never really tripped my trigger like the earlier stuff.

I do, however, have an axe to grind here – how could they leave out the excellent live version of “Everytime You Go Away” from the Live At The Apollo album featuring David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick!? That was one of the biggest hits Hall & Oates had, and it’s a rare case of a song which, despite radio 3 out of 4overexposure, I still like. The live version of “Wait For Me” is on here, but it’s hardly a substitute. What were they thinking?

Other than that, the oddly-titled Rock ‘n’ Soul Part I is a worthwhile collection – though maybe it’d help if more people knew this was the greatest hits album.

Order this CD

  1. Say It Isn’t So (4:18)
  2. Sara Smile (3:10)
  3. She’s Gone (3:27)
  4. Rich Girl (2:26)
  5. Kiss On My List (3:54)
  6. You Make My Dreams (3:07)
  7. Private Eyes (3:28)
  8. Adult Education (5:28)
  9. I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) (3:45)
  10. Maneater (4:33)
  11. One On One (3:56)
  12. Wait For Me (live) (6:05)

Released by: RCA
Release date: 1983
Total running time: 47:35

Listen To What The Man Said

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney“What’s this?” I asked. “A Paul McCartney tribute album benefitting cancer charities and featuring the Finn Brothers? Sign me up!”

Actually, this nice little selection, proceeds from which go toward the fight against breast cancer, has many good covers of Macca’s post-Beatles best. Owsley kicks things off with a picture-perfect reading of “Band On The Run” which doesn’t stray very far from the original Wings recording. SR-71 turns “My Brave Face” – one of my favorite latter-day McCartney solo tunes simply by virtue of the fact that it isn’t “Hope & Deliverance” – into a gleeful hard-rock thrash. Semisonic also faithfully replicates “Jet”, rocking it out a bit but not so much that it’s unrecognizable. The Virgos give a similar treatment to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, while the Merrymakers punch up “No More Lonely Nights” (another personal favorite) a bit. Some of the other renditions fly under the radar a bit – Matthew Sweet’s “Every Night” for one.

And as for Tim and Neil Finn? It pains me to say it, but their cover of “Too Many People” is a mess – it sounds like an unrehearsed one-take-and-that’s-it wonder, without much effort. The arrangement isn’t organized, the sound quality isn’t even up to the standards of the brothers’ admittedly (and intentionally) lo-fi Finn album, and the vocals just smack of a cover band that’s been asked to play something they’d mostly forgotten. Sad to say, the Finn Brothers, who drew my attention to this collection, turned out to be its biggest disappointment. I was stunned. I was also looking forward to the They 3 out of 4Might Be Giants cover of “Ram On”, but it wasn’t so much disappointing as just inscrutably cryptic in its new arrangement.

Overall, a nice set – and one that truly turned my expectations on ear by introducing me to some excellent new artists while the known quantities gave me a wee bit of a let-down.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run – Owsley (5:14)
  2. My Brave Face – SR-71 (3:00)
  3. Junk – Kevin Hearn, Steven Page and Stephen Duffy (2:56)
  4. Jet – Semisonic (4:15)
  5. No More Lonely Nights – The Merrymakers (4:11)
  6. Let Me Roll It – Robyn Hitchcock (4:21)
  7. Too Many People – Finn Brothers (3:43)
  8. Dear Friend – The Minus 5 (4:45)
  9. Every Night – Matthew Sweet (2:56)
  10. Waterfalls – Sloan (4:21)
  11. Man We Was Lonely – World Party (2:59)
  12. Coming Up – John Faye Power Trip (3:43)
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed – Virgos (4:14)
  14. Love In Song – The Judybats (4:04)
  15. Warm And Beautiful – Linus of Hollywood (3:08)
  16. Ram On – They Might Be Giants (2:40)

Released by: Oglio
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 60:30

George Harrison – Brainwashed

George Harrison - BrainwashedRecorded in the months leading up to his death in late 2001, Brainwashed was always going to be George Harrison’s posthumous album. Knowing he wasn’t going to be around to apply the finishing touches, Harrison left copious notes on how he wanted everything to sound. That task was left to Harrison’s son Dhani and Traveling Wilburys collaborator Jeff Lynne. (Even that surprised some observers, given that Harrison was quoted in 2001 as saying that Lynne wouldn’t be involved in his next album because he didn’t want it to “sound like an ELO album,” though this may be yet another example of the dry wit that distinguished Harrison back in his Beatles days.)

In the end, though, Lynne did finish Harrison’s swan song, and it looks like Harrison planned it that way all along. Brainwashed is as fitting and haunting an exit for George Harrison as Mystery Girl was for Roy Orbison.

Given that Harrison knew the end was near, the slate of songs on Brainwashed is surprisingly cheerful and philosophical at the same time …and it’s no more downbeat than anything that came before. Given that the ex-Beatle had recently suffered through a prolonged series of cancer treatments, as well as recovering from being stabbed by an unstable fan, I doubt anyone would’ve blamed him for being a bit darker and more bitter…but in the end, that just wasn’t George Harrison. And maybe that, along with his music, is his legacy and lesson for everyone. And while he didn’t spend his last opportunity venting, he does wax a little more spiritual than usual – the outstanding “Rising Sun” (with its “I Am The Walrus”-esque cello backing arrangement) is a good example of this, as is the lead single, “Stuck Inside A Cloud”. He also pokes some gentle fun at the Catholic Church in the Wilbury-esque “P2 Vatican Blues” (which also shows more than just a little hint of Bob Dylan’s influence), and laments what he sees as the duping of society in the title track. Chances are, George Harrison mentions God more often in the course of Brainwashed than any other non-Christian mainstream album has in the past year.

I also have to say, for the record, that “Never Get Over You” is one of the best songs I’ve heard anyone do in the past few years; it has some incredible harmonies and the kind of non-date-specific sound that gives it a feel not unlike Harrison’s best music from the 70s. It’s that good. I tend not to put one song on continuous repeat unless it really trips my trigger, and I think I listened to nothing but “Never Get Over You” for two or three hours straight the first time I heard it. “Rising Sun” and the wistful “Marwa Blues” instrumental inspire that kind of compulsory repeat listening too. I’m not trying to be funny when I say I can’t get them out of my head.

Overall, it’s amazing stuff – it doesn’t sound like the last album of someone’s career, let alone the last album they’re going to make while they’re alive. And as for the naysayers who are complaining that George 4 out of 4Harrison’s final set sounded like “an ELO record,” relax…it really doesn’t. And almost as sad as the fact that George is no longer with us is the fact that he didn’t grace the world with more of his unique sound in the decade before his death. Brainwashed is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and not just for the nostalgia factor.

Order this CD

  1. Any Road Will Take You There (3:54)
  2. P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night) (2:41)
  3. Pisces Fish (4:54)
  4. Looking For My Life (3:51)
  5. Rising Sun (5:28)
  6. Marwa Blues (3:43)
  7. Stuck Inside A Cloud (4:07)
  8. Run So Far (4:08)
  9. Never Get Over You (3:28)
  10. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (2:36)
  11. Rocking Chair In Hawaii (3:08)
  12. Brainwashed (6:07)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 48:11