Original Motion Picture Score – Ned Kelly (1970)

This is an unfairly overlooked album, representing a pivotal period in the Outlaw country scene. The original Outlaw movement is generally attributed to Waylon Jennings, who did the actual rebelling-against-the-Nashville-mainstream-from-within-the-system that led to the scene’s ascendance, though both Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson were more than doing their bit from outside Nashville (and Johnny Cash had been all along). Other established acts soon followed their lead, including Bobby Bare, whose finest moment must surely be Lullabys, Legends and Lies, his 1973 double album of songs by Shel Silverstein.

Silverstein, it seems to me, is the great unsung hero of the Outlaw scene. He wrote for, and with, various outlaw-related artists including Jennings, Kristofferson and Cash and apart from supplying Bare’s best material, he did the same for Jennings’ cohort Tompall Glaser who also released a full album of Silverstein songs with Put Another Log on the Fire appearing on the the seminal Wanted: The Outlaws album.

In later years Silverstein supplied the songs for the Old Dogs album, a sorta-kinda Outlaw supergroup featuring Jennings and Bare with Merle Tillis and Jerry Reed. But back in 1970, pretty much Outlaw Year Zero (also released that year were Waylon’s transitional Singer of Sad Songs and Kris’ debut, Kristofferson), he wrote the song score to the movie Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger as the infamous Australian criminal. And you thought I was going to say “outlaw”.

The album credits Waylon Jennings as the main performer – in fact while he sings the lion’s share of the tracks, Kris Kristofferson takes three, stealing the show on Son of a Scoundrel while fledgling Nashville journeyman Tom Ghent handles the movie’s end title song Hey Ned. Jagger’s underwhelming onscreen performance of The Wayfaring Stranger also features, sounding out of place not least because it’s sourced from the mono location recording and processed for stereo here.

Silverstein’s songs are terrific, with the production (by Ron Haffkine) and arrangements absolutely in step with Jennings’ burgeoning movement. The lyrics reflect the film’s narrative but the songs work independently of the source material, together serving as a concept album.  Shadow of the Gallows and Lonegan’s Widow are wonderful tracks, which would and should belong on any “Best Of Waylon Jennings” compilation. Waylon’s singing on Pleasures Of A Sunday Afternoon is gorgeous, a reminder of just how technically good he was. Son of a Scoundrel is an unsubtle, raucous take on Australian ancestry with Kris on fine form, as he is on The Kellys Keep Coming, an atmospheric spoken word piece with a barroom crowd chorus.

The LP cover is quite the piece of misdirection, utilising the movie poster to the effect that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Mick Jagger album (a cynically packaged CD reissue in the mid ’90s repeated the conceit without even the excuse of using the original poster). I don’t think the album is currently available but it is absolutely worth tracking down (prices for the vinyl seem to start at around £20, which is roughly what my copy, in excellent condition, set me back a couple of years ago).  It’s a hell of a record, ripe for rediscovery.

Ned Kelly

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The Obligatory “Top Ten of 2016” Post

The obligatory Top Ten of 2016 post – it is what it is. And what it is, more or less, is split into halves: 2016 releases and older stuff I picked up throughout the year.  There’ll likely be full reviews of a lot of these titles to follow over the next wee while.

Top 10 of 2016

Albums

Some 2016 releases I haven’t been able to check out or pick up yet including at least a couple of heavy hitters, most obviously David Bowie’s Blackstar and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree.  There are undoubtedly others.  I was sadly underwhelmed by Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, ZZ Top’s Live Greatest Hits From Around The World (as perfunctory as its title) and The Cult’s latest but I’ll give them all a second chance at some point.  The same can’t be said for Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  It’s had its second chances.

Albums: Top 5 2016 releases

5.  The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos
Endlessly entertaining psych-prog.
4.  The Monkees – Good Times!
Their first new album since 1996’s Justus and it’s rather good.
3.  Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
Beck hooks up with London duo Bones to make what is easily his most compelling album since Guitar Shop.
=1.  Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
A lush, soulful, roots-rock diamond of an album.
=1.  The Rolling Stones – Blue and Lonesome
A covers album, no less; a wonderfully jagged-edge contemporary take on Chicago blues (reviewed HERE).

Albums: Top 5 “finds” of 2016

5.  Dave Arcari & the Helsinki Hellraisers – Whisky In My Blood (2013)
Yer raucous, rootsy alt.blues.
4.  Donovan – Barabajagal (1969)
Properly groovy psych-folk (with contributions from Jeff Beck).
3.  Prince and 3rdEyeGirl – Plectrumelectrum (2014)
One of Prince’s best latter-day releases, much of it straight-ahead heavy rock.
2.  James Gang – Rides Again (1970)
No matter how much music you listen to over the years, there’s always a stone classic that’s passed you by.  Damn!
1.  Eli Radish – I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (1969)
Outlaw Country forerunner, a set of covers of wartime songs (from the American Civil War through to Vietnam) given the Woodstock-generation treatment.  I’d been ages looking for this one and it was worth it.

Movies.  

I didn’t get to see half of what I might have wanted to; cinema is a too-expensive night out these days.  I’ll no doubt catch up on home releases (anyway, this blog is meant to be about physical formats, right?).

I’m sick to death of superhero movies, though.  I made the mistake of double-billing Batman v Superman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in one seemingly endless night; watched through heavy eyes, it turns out they’re exactly the same film.

Movies: Top 5 2016 releases

5. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Underrated comedy drama based on a true story starring Tina Fey as a TV reporter in Afghanistan.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A tense and enjoyable wee sci-fi suspense thriller (even if the basic set up was pillaged from the pages of Métal Hurlant).
3. Hail, Caesar!
Brash, bright and loud – the Coen brothers at their least subtle with a very funny send up of McCarthy-era Hollywood.
2. The Nice Guys
A quality addition to Shane Black’s long list of quality buddy-comedy /thrillers.
1. The Lobster
Mental, though eh.

Movies: Top 5 “finds” of 2016

5. The Vanishing (1988)
Superior Dutch/French thriller which takes some surprising turns.  Until the dodgy ending, right enough, which unfolds as if from a rejected script for Tales of the Unexpected.
4. Empire Records (1995)
Hollywood knock-off of Clerks is way more entertaining than it has any right to be; a throwback to old rock’n’roll movies and ’70s fare like FM.
3. Bread (1971)
Obscure British movie trying to appeal to that elusive “hippies who are big Robin Askwith fans” demographic.  Lots of great footage of little-known rock bands of the day.
2. St. Ives (1976)
J. Lee Thompson directing Charles Bronson as a writer-cum-private-eye, with Jaqueline Bisset being all sexy-like. Can’t go wrong.
1. Calvary (2014)
Bleakly funny, if ultimately just bleak.  Brendan Gleason, though.  Wow.

Waylon Jennings: Leavin’ Town (1966)

Leavin’ Town was Waylon Jenning’s third full-length album release, his second for RCA with production by Chet Atkins. Though worth a listen, the album is most notable, as with much of Waylon’s early RCA output, as a prime example of what he would soon be railing against as he went on to spearhead the Outlaw movement.  Here, much of the vibe is conventional, Waylon’s non-mainstream sensibilities just about making themselves felt in the choice of some of the material.

The title track, a Bobby Bare composition, is an enjoyable piece of light country pop given teeth by some stinging lead guitar, likely from Jerry Reed (Atkins’ go-to studio player at the time, present on many of Jennings’ RCA sessions of the mid-’60s). If You Really Want Me To I’ll Go is a standout due to Reed’s unmistakable guitar arrangement, here on Dobro rather than his signature nylon strung instrument.

Next up is a Harlan Hubbard song, with a title losing enough in translation to tickle the funny bones of any British schoolboy.  It’s called Time to Bum Again.  Alright.  Settle down.  Once the culture shock passes it’s a nice enough number with the Dobro to the fore.  There’s more Hubbard balladry later on this side; clearly Waylon was a fan, as the following year he recorded a whole album of Hubbard’s songs (Ol’ Waylon Sings Ol’ Harlan).

The rest of the side is ballad heavy, mostly typical of Nashville’s Countrypolitan sound if a touch more “down home”.  In amongst that there’s the odd welcome Tex-Mex touch, and Time Will Tell the Story, the first Jennings original of the album (his only sole writing credit here).

Side Two shows clear signs of Waylon’s genre-stretching approach with its folkier/rootsier vibe informed in part by the use of writers from a distinctly non-Nashville background, Rod McKuen and Gordon Lightfoot. Kicking the side off, though, is a Mel Tillis number, You’re Gonna Wonder About Me.  It’s good but seriously hampered by overdone “heavenly Chorus” backing vocals.

For Lovin’ Me, the Lightfoot composition, sounds like “proper” Waylon, steeped in his rock and roll origins.  It’s a great track, easily the best on offer here.  However the McKuen song, Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name, is a real relic of its time, suffering from cloying lyrics and more of those overwrought backing vocals.

Anita, You’re Dreaming is a co-write between Waylon and Don Bowman which fits firmly with Waylon’s later ballad style, bringing to mind the likes of This Time.  Falling For You is another Tex-Mex flavoured number surprisingly written by legendary steel player Ralph Mooney who would go on to be a fixture in Waylon’s touring and recording band.  The album finishes with another Jennings/Bowman cowrite in that same ballad style, I Wonder Just Where I Went Wrong, with its brief Doors-like organ break keeping things interesting.

Leavin’ Town is a pleasant enough 29 minutes with a few standout moments. If you’re hoping for Outlaw-style material though, you’d be best to look elsewhere.  As for early Waylon, there are many reissues and compilations drawing on his first, independent and somewhat more rock’n’roll release, JD’s, which are more than worth your time.

Tapes For My Walkman - Waylon Jennings - Leavin' Town

The tape, an ’80s budget reissue in excellent order, was bought for about a quid online.

Jerry Reed: East Bound and Down (1977)

An interesting wee release this.  Throughout the ’70s, Jerry Reed was still churning out albums on the punishing but standard Nashville schedule of two ten-song albums a year and, particularly with movies taking up an increasing share of his time, the occasional compilation inevitably took up some of the slack.  In 1977, Reed had co-starred with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason (not forgetting Mike Henry, Tarzan fans!) in Smokey and The Bandit, boosting his already high profile.  Music for the film is credited to Bill Justis and Jerry Reed, although several other writers were involved, and a soundtrack album on MCA accompanied the movie’s release.  Reed was signed to RCA so, presumably as part of some sort of inter-label agreement, three of the Smokey and the Bandit songs were given their ‘own’ RCA album with the rest of the mandatory ten song total being compiled from earlier releases.  The notes list only the back catalogue cuts as having been previously issued, so it looks like East Bound and Down was the first release of the three Bandit tracks, beating the soundtrack album to the punch.

Side one kicks off with East Bound and Down itself.  Exuberant, banjo-driven fun, it’s firmly rooted in the harmonised electric guitar approach Reed adopted from the mid-’70s on.  By contrast, Lightning Rod (from ’75’s Mind Your Love), is a truly jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental drawing from country, bluegrass, flamenco and gypsy jazz to create a unique whole.  Reed’s nylon-string playing is staggering.  It’s back to Smokey and the Bandit for The Bandit, a rootsy ballad written by Dick Feller, with Jerry on full-on Nashville crooner mode and none the worse for it.  Led by the standard guitars/bass/banjo/drums line-up, there’s a slightly psychedelic wah-wah melody part where we might have expected to hear some steel guitar, which is a nice touch.  Bake, originally found on ’75’s Red Hot Picker, is another instrumental, this time highlighting Reed’s innovative fusion of funk and country.  It leads in nicely to the last of the Bandit cuts, The Legend, infectious storytelling balladry drawing comparisons between Reynolds’ Bandit character and Jesse James etc.

On side two all pretence at this being a ‘proper’ album go out the window as, fresh out of Smokey and the Bandit material, it’s all back catalogue from here.  There’s no obvious theme although the sequencing works well throughout, making for a good listen.

Framed (Ko-Ko Joe, ’71) is Leiber and Stoller’s rock and roll classic reframed (sorry) as an Uptown Poker Club-styled pice of Jerry Reed comic froth while You Took All the Ramblin’ Out of Me (Hot A’Mighty, ’73) is a reminder of Reed’s position as one of the greatest country songwriters there ever was.  Rainbow Ride, from ’73’s Lord Mr. Ford is a strings-saturated pop ballad that works, while Just to Satisfy You from 1970’s Cookin’, is a sweet psych-pop re-imagining of the early Waylon Jennings classic.  Love it.  Wrapping things up is Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right from When You’re Hot You’re Hot (’71).  Unlike Waylon’s own versions of this one, pure-voiced and tender, this a fun reworking of the Dylan original, a virtual re-write with a killer new arrangement and lyric changes (“You’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t walk the line …”).

As an album, Eastbound and Down works surprisingly well.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the compilation element is drawn from the strongest period of Reed’s recording career.  Definitely worth picking up.

At a guess an early ’80s reissue, the tape is in pretty good order and still sounds good.  This one was an unexpected transatlantic gift – thanks Mary!

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Jerry Reed East Bound and Down

Steve Earle: some albums (1986-1990)

I was mostly working in record shops when the ‘New Country’ thing (or was it ‘nu-country’?) was almost big in the mid-to-late ’80s, so I got to hear a lot more of those albums than I otherwise might have as a music-starved teenager in central Scotland.  Dwight Yoakam, Lone Justice/Maria McKee, Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang and, of course, Steve Earle were heavily marketed as alternatives to the sanitised, glossy mainstream country of the day.  There were ‘New Country’-branded stickers on the album covers, as if saying “Look!  it’s not all John Denver and Kenny Rogers!” – serving as a reminder that in the ’80s a lot of the apparent counter-culture figures were still on major labels, chasing airplay and MTV exposure right alongside Def Leppard and Madonna (which goes some way to explaining the horrendous over-production that plagued some of the recordings).

Anyway, I’ve picked up a few of those titles on tape recently.  Here are some thoughts on the Steve Earle ones.

Guitar Town (1986)

Earle’s first full-length album.  He was presumably being pushed as a Springsteen-type at the time, going by the small-town-working-class-gotta-get-outta-here chest-beating nature of the likes of Good Ol’ Boy and Someday (in which Steve’s Chevy is a ’67, as opposed to Bruce’s ’69 from Racing In The Streets).  There are some undoubted gems here though – the title track and Hillbilly Highway are standouts with a pleasing rockabilly touch throughout and some Luther Perkins-influenced guitar here and there.  Then there’s My Old Friend The Blues, as good as a song can be and more than making up for the mawkish Little Rock ‘n’Roller.

Copperhead Road (1988)

On its release this seemed to be a marked change of direction for Earle after Guitar Town and its follow up Exit O.  In retrospect, not so much.  Side one is a terrific collection of roots rock which I guess at the time just seemed to hit harder.  Now, it seems that most of this material could have been at home on either of the preceding albums.  There’s everything on here from barrelhouse piano to The Pogues, with legitimate classics including Johnny Come Lately, Devils Right Hand and of course Copperhead Road itself.  The tale of the son of a Vietnam vet carrying on a family tradition is the ‘rockiest’ item here, Celtic-flavoured country rock with a hint of Led Zeppelin.

Side two is a bit of a let down, though listenable enough.  MTV fodder throughout, assorted balladry and uptempo love songs, suffering horribly from Big ’80s Production (cheesy keyboards, oddly out-of-place programming and absurdly big “g’deesh!” drums – production here is by Steve Earle and Tony Brown) with Waiting On You transparently vying for the ‘New Springsteen’ title.  Not even the considerable talents of Maria McKee and Jerry Donahue can entirely save Nothing But A Child.  Maybe I have a particularly low sentimentality threshold but going out on a xmas song?  Odd choice.  Still a hell of an album, at least throughout its first side.

The Hard Way (1990)

Back in The Day, this was by far my favourite Steve Earle album.  Much to my surprise on doing a little Googlpedia reading I find it’s not highly regarded.  Oh well.

Apparently recording it was a bastard, as Earle’s addiction demons were getting the better of him.  Certainly it’s overlong (at not far shy of an hour) and overproduced (it may be from 1990 but Big ’80s Production gaffes abound.  Unwelcome, ill-fitting keyboards and absurdly gunshot-like percussion, all courtesy once again of the production skills of Earle himself, this time with Joe Hardy) and there is still some Springsteen chasing.  However, there are moments here that couldn’t be bettered as well as some fine songs in desperate need of a sympathetic arrangement.  Billy Austin, for instance is a powerful piece of songwriting hampered by a progressively intrusive keyboard-heavy arrangement and Have Mercy is robbed of what might have been an engaging fragility by the excesses of the production.  A close cousin to Copperhead Road, Justice In Ontario is an album highlight but those Big ’80s Drums – ooft!  “Can we have more reverb?” “No, Steve, there is no more reverb.  In the world.  We’ve used it all.”

I don’t know why I’m dwelling on the negatives here when the positives far outweigh them.  Check out the two, excellent, writing collaborations with Maria McKee – the straight-ahead country of Promise You Anything and the epic roots rock of Esmerelda’s Hollywood.  Great stuff.  When The People Find Out, Country Girl and Regular Guy are country rock done to perfection while This Highway’s Mine (Roadmaster) and West Nashville Boogie simply rock properly. Close Your Eyes is a tender track dressed up in more bombast but it works and serves as an effective album closer.

All in, the production and arrangement issues are problems endemic to their time but the quality of the material is more than good enough to compensate.  It might even still be my favourite Steve Earle album, as impressive as his output has been since then.

The tapes themselves I got for a couple of quid or so each online.  Copperhead Road has seen better days, The Hard Way is near mint and Guitar Town slowly died while I was listening to it (bloody thing).  Easy enough to source in the format of your choice, each is well worth checking out.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Steve Earle

Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan acolyte.  There’s a type of Mojo-reader (also Mojo editor, Mojo writer…) that worships at the Altar of His Bobness, throwing praise at his every croaky utterance, undeterred by mere accusations of plagiarism.  That’s not really me.

Bringing It All Back Home?  Wonderful. Highway 61 Revisited?  Oh yes.  Blonde on Blonde?  Fantastic.  Desire?  Good stuff.  Blood On The Tracks?  Aye, okay.  Other than that, there’s more quality material of course but he’s trotted out out mediocrity and shite in fairly equal measures.  He also popularised the rack harmonica, which is hard to forgive. Whatever; some of my favourite records are covers of Dylan songs (Jimi Hendrix’s comprehensive retooling of All Along The Watchtower and Johnny Winter’s immaculate Highway 61 Revisited are obvious examples, Roger Taylor’s odd, proggy/electronica take on Masters of War less so) and he gets points for the fact that he was actually in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.  Of course, he was also in that Hearts of Fire with Rupert Everett and Fiona but theres no need to get bitchy.

So then, the album (Dylan’s soundtrack for the great Sam Peckinpah film).  Regardless of his stellar reputation as a lyricist, I shouldn’t imagine many would rate Dylan as a particularly accomplished music composer and this is all too apparent on the opening pair of instrumentals (Main Title Theme and Cantina Theme) which drift by unremarkably.  They’re not even particularly well recorded, with one of the acoustic guitars overloading the mic noticeably throughout.  Still, the other instrumental on this side, Bunkhouse Theme is sweet enough.

The actual songs here, though, are very good.  There are three “Billy” songs on the album, entitled Billy 1, Billy 4 and Billy 7 respectively.  Just because.  1 and 4 are on side one and they’re both reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson.  Never a bad thing.  Perhaps Dylan was influenced by Kristofferson’s involvement in the film itself (he plays Billy – hardly a “kid” himself at the time but excellent in the role).  Regardless they’re nice pieces of country balladry.

Side two begins with Turkey Chase, a natty wee uptempo bluegrass instrumental replete with banjo and fiddle.  The other instrumentals on this side are Final Theme – there’s a flute on that one – and River Theme which serves as a short and sweet outro.  Song-wise there’s the third and final “Billy” – Billy 7, which drops the Kristoffersonisms and is perhaps surprisingly none the worse for it.  The album’s jewel, buried as the second song on side two, is Knocking On Heaven’s Door.  It would be perfect but for its brevity, barely clocking in at two and a half minutes where we could listen to it all night.  Over-familiarity with its multitudinous cover versions in no way overshadows the sheer beauty of the original, making it easy to cast Axl Rose’s strained warblings to the back of your mind and to mentally tell Eric Clapton’s cloying cod-reggae arse-gravy to fuck right off.

A first for Tapes For My Walkman – it’s only the sixth review overall, mind – this is an album I hadn’t heard before, at least not that I remember.  An interesting if slight listen, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a pleasant enough affair, peppered with glimpses of Dylan’s much vaunted genius and worth a purchase for Knocking On Heaven’s Door alone. 

The tape itself, picked up for a lucky £1.99 online, is an old one and in pretty decent playable order considering.  A couple of wee dropouts but that’s as bad as it gets.  Paper labels, pre-bar code with a surprisingly decent inlay which folds out to a nice wee Bob-centric still from the movie.  Still no musician or production credits but that was par for the course in the ’70s.  The track running order has been slightly re-jigged too (something that used to drive me nuts about tapes back in the day), to save all that pesky fast-forwarding between unevenly long sides.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid