Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
After a run of smash hit LPs, the Doobies had no trouble maintaining a winning streak in 1976 because this, their sixth release, was also their first with the man who would kick everything up a notch and strengthen its sound in a highly distinctive manner: vocalist Michael McDonald. There were always signs that the group had hidden blue-eyed soul leanings and MM’s presence, along with that of another Steely Dan refugee, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, ensured that the increasing levels of sophistication would render the band an AOR/FM staple. Classy, and not as far removed from ’Dan as you might imagine, in case you’ve always hungered for more from that outfit. Sound Quality: 87% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
For those in need of some distaff R&B amidst the incredible male performers captured live by Chad Kassem & Co, Texan songstress Greenleaf and her band Blue Mercy exhibit precisely the kind of fire and grit that exemplifies the great blues and (southern) soul belters of the 1960s and 1970s. Greenleaf acknowledges gospel inspiration and cites Koko Taylor and Aretha Franklin amongst her muses, so you can expect and do receive earthy, powerful interpretations of five tracks that suffer no sonic restraint. If the modernity of the recording’s crystal clarity jars with what is a genre of elderly vintage, think of this as you would a b/w movie filmed in high-def. This is shake your booty stuff.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
Mayfield was one of the very first soul artists to imbue his songs with serious political content. And this self-produced, solo debut from 1970 melded contemporary soul and R&B with production values rarely glimpsed before, resulting in Mayfield’s immediate elevation to the front rank. Overshadowed by masterpieces from Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye from the same period, Curtis expanded on the ground-breaking work he’d created with the Impressions in the previous decade. Sounding dated only in that it lacks the abrasiveness of the post-rap era, Curtis succeeds instead because of its intensity, beauty, intelligence and grandeur.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
Ms Ross, exactly 80 years old on the day that I’m writing this, is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets: jazz aficionados who know their onions appreciate that she is one of the best interpreters of standards in the business, so this set from World Pacific back in 1959 – featuring Zoot Sims on sax – ranks with any ‘Great American Songbook’ you can imagine. The stance here differs from her more famous work as part of Lambert, Hicks & Ross, the crack sextet (with a touch of big-band class provided by Mel Lewis on drums) accenting her vocals with uncanny precision. It may be a half-century old, but it can teach a few tricks to today’s crop of wannabees. Mesmerising.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
On Main Street, this has been made available as a separate purchase for those who didn’t buy the luxury box set. It is probably more Stones than you’ll ever need or want unless you’re truly part of their hardcore following: a documentary running to over two hours dealing with the making of a single album. Admittedly, some consider Exile to be their best, so it’s no conceit to honour it in the way one would document Sgt Pepper or Blonde On Blonde. Using amazing footage, and contemporary and new interviews, it tells the entire saga of their most louche period.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
Sundazed continues to plough a furrow that only a few other reissue labels dare, that of all-but-forgotten psychedelia. This time they’ve unearthed an ultra-obscure album by a band that might have been little more than a footnote, for once having included Elliott Randall in its ranks. But they produced one of those deliriously gloomy/druggy, proto-Goth sets that mix freakish originals with unusual covers: Love’s ‘Signed DC’, Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and even a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins track. The mix shows their eclecticism, but the best aspect of Creation – unlike too much from this genre which deserves to be forgotten – is that the music is terrific.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
Not that I needed reminding that the J Geils Band was one of the best live acts I’d ever enjoyed, this nearly two-hour long set from the Monkey Island period is the 200-proof, real deal. Frontman Peter Wolf demonstrated the showmanship that enabled him to work an audience; harpmeister Magic Dick and axemaster Geils were on top form; and the remainder of the band constituted the tightest rhythm section north of Memphis. They ran through their most famous material, including a raunchy take on the Supremes’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, while a peppering of instrumentals leave no doubt this was the best house party/bar band ever. Sound Quality: 80% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
There’s a strong case for regarding this as EC’s best album – if not of his entire career, which is too varied and complex, then surely of his early years. The magic ingredient was the arrival of the band that would accompany him through his strongest period, his most sympathetic backing of all: the butt-kicking Attractions, who injected enough adrenalin into these Nick Lowe-produced sessions to yield an embarrassment of riches – ‘Pump It Up’, ‘Radio Radio’, ‘Lipstick Vogue’ and eight more acidic tracks. It’s ignoble to suggest that Costello was maturing: he arrived fully formed and in no need of assistance. It was like giving a great F1 driver a faster car.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
If you enjoyed the gold CD edition, reviewed in March, then the LP will provide some surprises. Although The Cars were born in the analogue era, they embraced an artificial, otherworldly sound, which logic dictates might be favoured by digital. But so rich and layered were their recordings, and so distinctive the vocals, that the music lends itself equally to what should be passé technology in this context. Blessedly, The Cars were not as Fritz Lang-ian in their modernism as, say, the far-quirkier Devo, never allowing melody to be subjugated by studio wizardry, so even the proliferation of synths – which date the album – does not jar with analogue warmth.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
As this series of Nat ‘King’ Cole LPs, pressed on two 45rpm discs, concentrates on his golden era, you know what to expect: perfect sound quality, breathtaking arrangements, tasteful material and that voice. Aaah! That voice! It delivered so much, and was so inimitable that Cole could use it to make any song his own. This release from 1963, the last of a trio of LPs arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins, was themed with the subtitle ‘Songs of Love And Loneliness’. Cole creates the necessary mood with such completeness that you feel an ache in nearly every note.

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