Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 3. 14th March 1973
Stone The Crows : "Continuous Performance" Polydor 2391 043.
The first indication that Stone the Crows could be set apart from average purveyors of heavy rock came with the release of their first album. The first side was a collection of competently-performed white blues, good but not exceptional. "I saw America", which occupied the entire other side with its impressionistic collage of an outsiders view of American Society, served notice that here was a group capable of bigger and better things.
The promise displayed on that first album was not, unfortunately, extended to its successor "Ode to John Law", and by any standards, the third album, "Teenage Licks", was a retrogression. Still the three albums contained just enough ideas to tantalise, and this together with the reputation the group enjoys as one of the most potent and memorable live acts on the English circuit, nurtured the hope that one of these days Stone The Crows would produce a real shitkicker. "Continuous Performance" isn't quite it, but it's two steps on the way. It has to be seen as a transitional album, following the death of their lead guitarist, Les Harvey, who electrocuted himself at a college gig, and to whom "Continuous Performance" is dedicated.
Harvey plays on five of the tracks, but his former overpowering approach has been mellowed by the bringing forward of pianist Ronnie Leahy, resulting in more balance over which Bell's voice out-Joplins Janis. The opener, "On the Highway", highlights the group's tendency towards the excessive, and should have been compressed.
"Penicillin Blues", a not-so-sublime sexual metaphor written by bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, has Harvey sympathetically counterpointing Bell's amazing gymnastics : "I promise not to scream or wriggle / I want it to last all night long", becomes more obvious and orgasmic as the lyric progresses.
Harvey's replacement Jimmy McCul-loch, turns in creditable performances on two numbers, "Sunset Cowboy" and "Good Time Girl". During the latter his runs blend well with the pulsing undercurrents laid down by Colin Allen and Sieve Thompson, and the punchy brass work. McCul-lock should eventually fill the gap left by Harvey's demise, and lighten the group's approach.
Maggie Bell's finest moments to date are "Niagra", a ditty about selling one's soul to the devil and throwing rocks at policemen, and "Sunset Cowboy", an emotion charged, gospel-tinged tribute to Harvey.
One minor niggle : In their usual ham-fisted manner, Phonogram Records have mutilated what was originally a fold-out cover, removing the capital "C" from the title, so look for "Ontinuous Performance", The mistake is repeated on the label, but rectified in the small print on the spine. It's really nice to see a company take such an obvious pride in presenting its product to the public.
Rossini : Overtures — Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert Von Karajan No.2530144
These overtures will be familiar to most people from the ingenious uses Stanley Kubrick made of them in "A Clockwork Orange". But in this disc it's a delight to hear such comparatively lighter music being performed by artists of the status of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.
The orchestra, is obviously enjoying itself yet its characteristic precision and beauty is always evident. Similarly while Karajan's control of the overall structure extends right down to the finest nuance of string texture, he never imposes, never introduces rigidity into the magical relationship he enjoys with this orchestra.
Some individual passages stand out; listen to the principal oboist in "The Silken Ladder", to the way he creates a carefree atmosphere for the rest of the orchestra throughout the overture. Or, take another example, the magnificent horns after the opening bars of "Semiramis".
The Lone Ranger and Tonto still dominate the final section of "William Tell", a crime for which the dunderheads responsible for the TV programme should be throttled. The version here is treated with great bravura and excitement, and the less well known but exquisite cello solo in the opening section is played with admirable evenness of tone.
The only complaint I have is that for some reason the tympani sound curiously thin, although the bass drum is recorded well enough. The recording otherwise is good, withstereo separation quite distinct, but here and there you may need to give a slight bass boost. Overall, this is a magnificent tribute to Rossini; (here are no pretensions to profundity in this music — just an invitation to enjoy yourself.
Chester Burnett AKA 'Howlin' Wolf' — 2 Record Set Chess 2CH60016
This is one of a series of reissues of Chess Blues material which will also include Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Like them, Howlin' Wolf has been badly represented here until this double LP. There were two good LP's in the 'Real Folk Blues' series which put in a brief appearance, but otherwise we've only had a lavish psychedelic LP which Wolf called dogshit, and recently "The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions" which is merely tame. Apart from these observations his output has been consistently excellent, and Chess would have had no trouble finding four LP's worth of material. As it is there are 24 tracks ranging from 'Moaning at Midnight' of 1951 to 'Killing Floor' of 1965. The selection seems to have been made with an eye to the rock market, as it includes nearly everything that has been attempted by other people — 'Smokestack Lightnin', 'No Place to Go', 'Spoonful' 'The Red Rooster' 'Backdoor Man', 'Sitting on top of the world'.
Howlin' Wolfs trademark is of course his rich, roaring voice. Singing from deep in the throat is a device common in early gospel singing whence it filtered through into soul music; But Wolf takes his inspiration more from those Mississippi blues singers who took the style over into country blues, notably Charlie Patton and Tommy McLennan; and the result is a much more individual, powerful and expressive vehicle than the rather synthetic throaty roars common in soul music.
[Maybe his size has something to do with it - the song "300 pounds of Joy" was almost literally true at one stage : he weighed 20 stone and had to be carried on stage in a chair]
Very rarely is the vocal style used just for effect. Within the limits of the usual blues verse patterns there are constant variations of melody, phrasing and tone which all contribute to a definite emotional flavour. On the earlier tracks especially there is often a repeated riff which allows a lot of variety. As vocals these are probably the best. But they couldn't be done without the very sympathetic backing band (as witness the London Sessions). Though pretty rough technically at first, the band has lots of bite and vigour and knows how to emphasize the vocal lines without cluttering them. Later on the backing becomes more regular and tends to Tight the vocals a bit. In fact there's a general move in the later material to submerge the individual style in favour of spectacular instrumental and vocal work projecting the fat backdoor man image — the crassest example being 'Tail Dragger' and the best I think 'Built for Comfort'. Still it's all good stuff and whether you've heard Howlin' Wolf before or not this is the best anthology there's likely to be.