Larry Knechtel (1989) Mountain Moods (LP) Universal Master Series (UVL-6279)

Larry Knechtel
Mountain Moods
1989
Universal Master Series (UVL-6279)
Produced by Norbert Putnam and Jim Horn
*** noteworthy

While a set of mellow pop-jazz instrumentals from the late 80s sounds like something that should be lost and soon forgotten, this was the first solo album by legendary session man Larry Knechtel so it should not be surprising that it’s quite enjoyable.

The mellow sound might come as a surprise to listeners who knew Larry as the bassist on the Doors’ first album, a member of Duane Eddy’s Rebels, and an important part of the Wrecking Crew and their “Wall of Sound,” but this man also played a big part in the band Bread, contributed piano and arrangements for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” played bass on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and offered Hammond B3 organ on Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

His more reflective work from the past foreshadows the music on this album, but this seems mostly a reflection of his many years in the Pacific Northwest. This was recorded in his new home in Nashville after living for many years in Yakima, Washington. While this perhaps has some slight connection with Chet Atkins and Nashville’s use of sophisticated arrangements to compliment their down-home sounds, this was clearly Larry Knechtel’s project. As the title suggests and the sound supports, this seems much less a reflection of his new home in Nashville and more a remembrance of his mountain home in Washington.

When he was barely 30, he might have been frustrated with the soft-rock of Bread, but here he seems completely comfortable, slipping into the music like slipping a flannel jacket over your shoulders, and this comfortable feeling makes listening to this music so enjoyable, like taking a stroll down a mountain road. This certainly is not an essential outing, but if you have a weakness for softly spoken instrumentals by talented musicians, this is worth a listen.

— winch (author of

 

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Ivan Conti (1984) The Human Factor (LP) Milestone (M-9127)

Ivan Conti
The Human Factor
Milestone (M-9127)
1984
Produced, written & arranged by Ivan Conti

*** noteworthy

Solo outing from the drummer for the Brazilian jazz-funk trio Azymuth, here Conti offering up a mixed bag–regarding styles and quality–starting off with a rather uneventful version of fusion, perhaps a notch above most of the fusion from this era but that’s not really saying that much. Fortunately, about ten minutes into the proceedings–about halfway through the first side–Arturzinho’s popping baseline rises in the middle of the second cut. This focus on rhythm leads us to the third cut that closes the side–the tribal percussion workout “Pantanal II (Swamp)” taking us into the massive wetlands of Conti’s homeland.

The original electronic-heavy “Pantanal” from Azymuth’s 1980 album used electronic sounds to likely mimic the buzzing/chirping/squealing of the swamp fauna, while the sequel on this album discards the keyboards and focuses on four percussionists running down the voodoo and doing their thing, a frantic dance around the fire, a run through the jungle, the rhythm of the hunt, the beat of the heart. A fourth musician offers some whistles to help paint the wetland scene, and Conti doubles up with some vocoder to apparently represent the growl of some sort of fauna, all the instruments sounding like they are conversing, the mix of old tribal and new electronics both recalling the roots of fusion put down by Miles Davis and Weather Report and helping to reveal the jungle roots of that innovative music. With its percussion-heavy tribal electronics, this cut also helps pave the way for things to come. While the selection isn’t groundbreaking, it does get the earth shaking, causing the listener to stand up and take notice.

The flipside eases into the proceedings with moderately enjoyable jazz fusion, picking up the pace with a jazz-trio piece (drums, acoustic piano, and electric bass), and slowing down again with a brief solo number–the drummer offering vocals, acoustic guitar and splashes of synthesizers. The set concludes with the title track, another multi-tracked Conti solo number, this one just drums and synthesizers, sounding extremely dated and fairly charming, very intentional and robotic–in many ways in sharp contrast to the closer of side one. While the rest of the set was recorded in Rio, this title track was recorded where the set was mastered and mixed–in Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.

This isn’t an essential outing, but for better or worse, it has plenty of variety, and the more interesting selections make this set at least worth a listen.

 

— winch (author of

Ozzy Osbourne (1981) Diary of a Madman (LP) Jet Records 37492

Ozzy Osbourne

Diary of a Madman 

Jet Records 37492

Produced by Max Norman, Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads

1981

**** Recommended


Ozzy’s second solo album, without a doubt his second best.

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This would be his last with the Blizzard of Ozz band: guitarist Randy Rhoads (ex-Quiet Riot), bassist Bob Daisley (ex-Rainbow) and drummer Lee Kerslake (ex-Uriah Heep).  Most of the songs are credited to all four members, two credited to all except Kerslake.


Within a year’s time the entire band would depart, Rhoads the last to go–dying in a plane crash early in 1982.


After two mediocre albums (Bark at the Moon in 1983 and the Ultimate Sin in 1986), he’d hook up for a long-term relationship with guitarist Zakk Wylde for the forgettable No Rest For the Wicked album in 1988, two noteworthy albums in the 1990s (No More Tears in 1991 and Ozzmosis in 1995), and two halfway decent sets in the 21st century (Down to Earth in 2001 and Black Rain in 2007).  He’d eventually depart with Wilde and release a set of covers (Under Cover in 2015) and Scream in 2010, but his only truly essential studio albums were his first two with this Blizzard of Ozz band.

— winch (author of )

 

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Ozzy Osbourne (1980) Blizzard of Ozz (LP) Jet Records 36812

Ozzy Osbourne

Blizzard of Ozz

Jet Records 36812

Released September 1980 in the UK, March 1981 in the US.

Reached #7 in the UK, #21 in the US

Produced by Osbourne, Daisley (bass), Kerslake (drums), and Rhoads (guitar).

••••• Sounds Good

The aging dinosaurs of the early 1970s had left their mark but their time had come and gone as the decade rolled on, certainly by the time it rolled over to the new decade. Even hard-rockers who weren’t interesting in looking for new bands weren’t expecting their idols to return to their thrones. Most were happy to get high and listen to their old albums. To make it even more challenging for folks such as Ozzy, few fans of hard rock gave a rat’s ass about singers, especially singers who didn’t play instruments. Vocalists were for fans of soul music and old music. Hard rock focused on the guitar players: J. Geils, Robin Trower, Montrose, Nugent, Van Halen…70s hard-rock bands were usually named after the guitarists not the singers.


When Ozzy’s debut solo hit the American shops, the label obviously had big plans. When I entered Boogie Records in the spring of 1981, I was greeted by a life-size cutout of Ozzy–a giant version of the Blizzard of Ozz album. While I’d been raised on Sabbath–listening to their albums nearly every week for the years that lead up to 1981–I had no idea who Ozzy was. Sure, I recognized him from somewhere, had rolled countless numbers on the Paranoid gatefold, but Ozzy hadn’t bitten off any heads at this point, and eight tracks didn’t offer song credits or names of band members and the photos were pretty dinky. Reading about singers or bands were activities for teeny-boppers looking through glossy snapshots of Shawn Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. And even when I discovered that Ozzy had been the singer for Black Sabbath, that didn’t really spike my interest. I’d just seen the Sabbath 1980 tour with Rainbow’s singer (Dio), and that was fine with me.  They had fire and menace and loud music.  Who cares about the old singer who used to sing for them. That was like caring what Robert Plant was doing without Zeppelin.

But Ozzy wasn’t ready to give up the ghost and likely had noticed what Alice Cooper had done when he’d gone solo years before this. Alice had always managed to place himself above the guitarists, and while the band might not have been named after him, he was wise enough to name himself after the band. That had helped Alice considerably: when he went solo, most people just saw the release as another Alice Cooper album. Of course, fans might have noticed the complete change in the line-up if Alice hadn’t made another wide decision. He made sure that he launched his solo career with a good album. Ozzy followed that example.


Ozzy’s debut might not be as classic as Alice’s Welcome to My Nightmare, but like Alice’s debut solo, this wasn’t as good as the best from his past but it was close enough for rock and roll.  Like Alice’s debut solo, this was also the best Ozzy would ever offer. Like Alice, Ozzy’s career as a solo artist was built on theatrics on stage and off, a reputation as a bad boy on stage and off, and perhaps mostly because of the first album.


When most of these aging rockers turned 30 and/or went solo, they took a more mature approach. Meanwhile, Ozzy followed Alice’s example and went in the other direction, made his solo career more juvenile. When most artists went solo, they offered new sounds, but while Ozzy didn’t mimic Sabbath, he certainly maintained the main ideas. He retained some of the old fans while pulling in new ones.  Like with most solo albums, this was more personal than what we’d heard with his previous band, but for so many reasons, it was hardly a complete departure from his years with Sabbath.


On one hand, it’s not surprising that this album (perhaps more than anything) helped launch his long-term success as a solo artist. On the other hand, it’s a little crazy that this could happen…crazy like a “Crazy Train.”

— winch

 

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Cool R (1986) Let’s Talk About It (LP) Half & Half ST 62525 

Cool R

Let’s Talk About It 

1986

Half & Half ST 62525

*** noteworthy


Obviously influenced by every master of funk in the 80s, this has a small-town charm all its own.  While this is a varied set, it grabs you from the get-go with the 8+ minute opener “Dangerous.”  The set is produced and written Nathaniel Phillips, the band’s bass player, and that’s not surprising considering the popping bassline is a huge part of the charm.


Perhaps this offering from Portland, Oregon is not worth what you’d likely end up paying for it, this is certainly worth a listen if you dig obscure funk from the 1980s.

— winch (author of

The Wedding Present (1989) Bizarro (LP) RCA 2173-1-R

The Wedding Present

Bizarro 

1989

RCA 2173-1-R

**** recommended


For this second set, guitarist/ vocalist David Gedge and his ever-changing line up go with a major label but continue with the three-chord rhythm-guitar rock, fast without losing the underground pop-rock rhythm, moving along like a commuter train, ringing like a warning bell by the tracks, looking back to England glory days of a decade earlier when some of the punks kept the energy while losing some (but not all) of the anger.

The set moves along like a roller coaster, mixing romance with bitterness, the safe with hints of scary, focusing on the fast but slowing down to pull you in, mostly fun but hints of menace to keep it interesting.  While it’s easy to hear influences, it’s even easier to hear how this likely influenced bands in the decades that followed.

— winch

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The Breaks (1983) S/T (LP) RCA 4675

The Breaks

The Breaks

1983

RCA 4675

produced by Vini Poncia

***

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This one’s only for fans with a huge penchant for 80s pop-rock fronted by female vocalists, but if that’s your bag, this set is worth a listen, features an LA new-wave sound with the band’s Tennessee roots showing–especially in Susanne’s vocals. This Memphis outfit was fronted by the Taylor siblings, Susanne Jerome the cutie on vocals (and made into a new wave southern belle sexpot on the “She Wants You” video.)

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While she has her right hand firmly planted in the pocket of her cute 80s skirt on the album sleeve, she appears to be flipping the bird. That about says it all, LA trying to make her into a 80s pop tart, but this Memphis girl showing her roots with that twang and attitude in her voice, that grin on her face and that middle finger firmly planted in her pocket.

 

 

Most of the songs are written by the Taylor siblings, the set produced by Vini Poncia (Ringo’s songwriting partner through most of the 70s).  Apparently the rest of the band is made up of siblings, Rob and Russ Caudill providing the rhythm section, and keyboardist Tom Ward showing up on song credits with a D. Ward.  The first side stays upbeat and fairly cute and enjoyable with an 80s power-pop sound, and then after the opener “Wishy Washy,” Side Two–for better or worse depending on the listener–sticks with the ballads and sounds like the party’s over.  And likely the party was over because this is apparently the only album by this outfit.

— winch (author of

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