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

Roy Wood – Mustard

Roy Wood - MustardFollowing up on the not-quite-success of his amazing 1973 solo debut Boulders and some equally underground releases (commercial-success-wise, that is) with his band Wizzard, ELO co-founder Roy Wood regrouped and decided to do another truly solo album. Woody can play a few dozen instruments, you see, so locking this guy into a recording studio by himself for a few weeks with a fresh batch of songs is not a problem. What he emerged with, while not quite up to the innovation level of Boulders, is still stunning.

I have to admit a certain level of amazement with those gifted individuals who can play it all for themselves, and Roy Wood is among the most amazing of those musical hermit crabs. Who else could get away with using bagpipes in an intro to an all-out 70s style rocker? And actually play the bloody things himself?

That’s not the only stylistic innovation on Mustard; on two tracks – the title track intro and “You Sure Got It Now” – Wood does an uncanny vocal impersonation of the Andrews Sisters, complete with scratchy-record effects on the former. The latter overlays that all-female trio sound on a somewhat bluesier, rockier rhythm track, and it works in a weird, cultural-collision sort of way. And keep in mind, it’s all Roy Wood’s vocals. (The only guest vocals are Phil Everly – yes, as in the Everly Brothers, who coincidentally later had a song produced by Wood’s former ELO cohort Jeff Lynne – on “Get On Down Home” and Annie Haslam singing higher backing vocals on the excellent ballad “The Rain Came Down”.)

The highlight for me is easily “The Song”, which slowly unfolds into a lovely instrumental in its second half, and it’s easy to tell that the starting point for the song’s sound – if not the music itself – was The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”.

This being a 1999 CD reissue, fully half of the tracks are added bonuses from non-album singles and B-sides (the original Mustard ended with “Get On Down Home”), including the sitar-heavy “Bengal Jig”, and some more of the 50s-style rockers which Wood has made part of his unique style – “Oh What A Shame” 4 out of 4and “The Rattlesnake Roll”. An ELO-worthy instrumental with equal helpings of sax and Moog synthesizer, “Strider”, is also included, as are some very interesting liner notes placing Wood’s work into the context of British rock history and what other acts were doing at roughly the same time. A highly recommended package for fans of Woody’s work – or even for those unfamiliar with it.

Order this CD

  1. Mustard (1:27)
  2. Any Old Time Will Do (4:12)
  3. The Rain Came Down On Everything (6:34)
  4. You Sure Got It Now (5:29)
  5. Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs (4:32)
  6. The Song (6:35)
  7. Look Thru The Eyes Of A Fool (2:55)
  8. Interlude (1:24)
  9. Get On Down Home (7:29)
  10. Oh What A Shame (3:50)
  11. Bengal Jig (2:13)
  12. Rattlesnake Roll (4:01)
  13. Can’t Help My Feelings (5:11)
  14. Strider (2:49)
  15. Indiana Rainbow (3:53)
  16. The Thing Is This (This Is The Thing) (5:43)

Released by: Edsel Records
Release date: 1975 (reissued in 1999)
Total running time: 68:39

Roy Wood – Exotic Mixture

Roy Wood - Exotic MixtureEven though Jeff Lynne is a bit of a recluse, his prominence during the rise of the Electric Light Orchestra in the 1970s often obscured the memory of the band’s other original co-founder, ex-Move multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood. But ask anyone for an example of Roy Wood’s work and you’ll likely draw a blank. Exotic Mixture redresses that imbalance nicely.

Spanning from Wood’s first solo album, 1973’s Boulders, on through various configurations of his bands – Wizzard, Wizzo, and the Helicopters – Exotic Mixture combines a selection of excellent (and occasionally weird) singles, along with much rarer (and occasionally even weirder) B-sides from those singles. I must admit to liking some of the B-sides better! The very catchy instrumentals “The Premium Bond Theme” and “Music To Commit Suicide By” (!) are still stuck in my head, in fact. Wood’s true skill is as a synthesist, gathering together the best elements of British pop into one style which can truly be called his own. There are plenty of unconventional chord progressions and instruments that draw comparisons to the 4 out of 4Beatles, but the voice and the songwriting are most certainly Roy Wood.

Many of Woody’s albums are out of print, so this 2-CD collection is a real treasure trove of music that most of us in the States have never heard. I strongly recommend trying to get your hands on a copy now before this set vanishes from Repertoire’s catalogue.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. When Gran’ma Plays The Banjo (3:13)
  2. Wake Up (3:49)
  3. Nancy Sing Me A Song (3:28)
  4. Dear Elaine (4:09)
  5. Songs Of Praise (4:41)
  6. Going Down The Road (3:03)
  7. The Premium Bond Theme (4:26)
  8. Forever (4:19)
  9. Music To Commit Suicide By (2:48)
  10. Oh What A Shame (3:53)
  11. Bengal Jim (2:15)
  12. Look Through The Eyes Of A Fool (2:56)
  13. Strider (2:52)
  14. Mustard (1:28)
  15. Indiana Rainbow (3:02)
  16. The Thing Is This (5:43)
  17. Any Old Time Will Do (4:15)
  18. The Rain Came Down On Everything (5:22)
  19. The Stroll (5:22)
  20. Saxmaniacs (3:05)
    Disc two

  1. Jubilee (6:05)
  2. I Never Believed In Love (3:38)
  3. Inside My Life (4:49)
  4. Dancing At The Rainbow’s End (3:36)
  5. Waiting At The Door (4:24)
  6. (We’re) On The Road Again (3:47)
  7. Rock City (4:08)
  8. Givin’ Your Heart Away (3:51)
  9. Green Glass Windows (3:47)
  10. The Driving Song (3:34)
  11. It’s Not Easy (2:44)
  12. Moonriser (4:07)
  13. We Are The Boys (Who Make All The Noise) (6:42)
  14. Rockin’ On The Stage (3:43)
  15. Under Fire (4:23)
  16. On Top Of The World (3:27)
  17. Sing Out The Old – Bring In The New (3:44)
  18. Raining In The City (4:17)
  19. One-Two-Three (3:02)

Released by: Repertoire
Release date: 1999
Disc one total running time: 74:18
Disc two total running time: 77:57