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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer


Update April 24, 2015

A strong case for the future

Ronnie Lane, See Me (GEM)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in June 1980.*
What a long, strange trip it’s been. All the way from Small Faces through Rod Stewart & Faces to Slim Chance and beyond. Ronnie Lane chose the gypsy life and left the rock’n’roll circus behind. He transformed into a wandering minstrel, taking his music, musicians, barkers, tents and family with him on a raggle-taggle convoy of painted wagons and rickety old vehicles through Britain, delivering roots music of a very special kind. Bob Dylan copied his carnival-concept a year later with the Rolling Thunder Revue, but Ronnie Lane did it first and almost went bankrupt on the way.
“See Me” is his first LP since 1976 (not counting “Rough Mix”, which he made with Pete Townshend in 1977). It is not a Slim Chance-album, but he has kept some of the musicians from that loose concept of a band. There are big shots here as well, like Eric Clapton, Ian Stewart, Henry McCullough and Mel Collins.
The music is gorgeous as always. An acoustic vanguard of guitars, mandolin and fiddle - with the support of organ, piano, accordion and saxophone. Lane’s voice makes everything shine. It’s nasal and croaky, but also wonderfully sensitive, like a rusty heartache with a warm, melancholy smile on its face. The voice soars over fields and meadows, through tiny villages and urban alleys. Tin Pan Alley in the 1920’s, blues from the gutter and rural British folk. Wistful, soothing.
“See Me” is definitely not the sound of the 80’s, it’s something so much greater than that as Ronnie Lanes has a rare gift of making the past relevant, and turning it into a strong case for the future. Timeless music, that’s what it is, and it’s good for you. Trust me.
2015 update: I didn’t know Ronnie was ill (by multiple scleroses) when I originally wrote this review and that this would be the last album he ever released. I always loved the man and had the privilege of meeting him, both in Norway in 1975 and in his London apartment in 1983. Please check out “The Passing Show – The Life And Music Of Ronnie Lane”, a wonderful BBC-documentary from 2006. It’s available on DVD and can also be viewed in several parts on You Tube.
Released: June 1980
Produced by: Fishpool Productions
Contents: “One Step” (Ronnie Lane, Alun Davies) /”Good Ol’ Boys Boogie” (Lane)/”Lad’s Got Money” (Lane) /”She’s Leaving” (Lane, Davies) /”Barcelona” (Lane, Eric Clapton) /”Kuschty Rye” (Lane, Kate Lambert) /”Don’t Tell Me Now” (Lane) /”You’re So Right” (Lane) /”Only You” (Lane) /”Winning With Women” (Lane) /”Way Up Yonder” (traditional, arr. Lane)

Update April 16, 2015

Bowie reincarnated

Psychedelic Furs, Forever Now (CBS)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, and original album review written in October 1982.*
The sound of Psychedelic Furs, led by Richard Butler’s rickety, world-weary voice, is David Bowie reincarnated. An updated Aladdin Sane surfacing from a thick, electric stew. Irresistible. I have to admit that.
The xylophone intro and Butler’s cracked voice turns “Love My Way” into an “Ashes To Ashes” overlap, but Psychedelic Furs are so skilful they get away with it, and it’s impossible not to get hooked, that’s how brilliant they are, the copycats.
Electrifying ambiance, cunning arrangements, a pumping rhythm section that is both fat and focused, clever song structures that accelerate you into the choruses, and there’s a battalion of guitars snapping at you, cursing and humming and blasting off into the high heavens like epic fireworks, overwhelming. And then there’s Bowie’s vocal doppelganger, Richard Butler.
Their third album, “Forever Now”, is all this and more. It shakes you up, its sucks you in, it gives you the shivers, it puts you in a trance-like celebration mood. And even if the Furs have vanishingly little of interest on their minds and despite Butler’s obvious, brazen thefts (his phrasing sometimes is even more Bowie than the master himself), you don’t feel disappointed. OK, Bowie writes much better songs and lyrics, so what? When a record sounds as great as this, it deserves your attention.
Released: September 25, 1982
Produced by: Todd Rundgren
Contents: President Gas/Love My Way/Run and Run/Merry-Go-Round/Sleep Comes Down/Forever Now/Danger/You and I/Goodbye/No Easy Street
Richard Butler – vocals
John Ashton – guitars
Tim Butler – bass guitar
Vince Ely – drums
Additional personnel:
Gary Windo – horns
Donn Adams – horns
Ann Sheldon – cello
Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) – backing vocals
Todd Rundgren – keyboards, saxophone, marimba

Update April 10, 2015

Life is not an easy ride

Aztec Camera, High Land, Hard Rain (Rough Trade)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in May 1983.*

Roddy Frame and his Aztec Camera have mysteriously managed to climb the British  charts.  You won’t find music less fashionable in 1983.  No blasts of funk, no robotic synth.  Aztec Camera’s musical expression is some kind of whimsical folk-pop, easy on the ear, airy with an extensive use of acoustic guitars – and a discreet addition of organ/piano, bass, drums and electric guitar.  The song structure is quite old-fashioned: Verse-chorus-verse-chorus, the arrangements usually tighteing up as the songs reach their climax.

The music possesses an indisputable naive charm, although the individual songs lack melodic identity.  You’ll have to listen to the album quite a few times before you are able to distinguish the songs apart.  The record has a strong integrated sound, but is weak on individual factors, so to speak.  But it’s selling like hotcakes.  Partially due to the lyrics as they  play a prominent role.

Frame’s lyrics are ambitious, and the pictures they paint are loaded with strange images and esoteric symbolism, some of it beautiful, some of it plain weird - but always fascinating.  And behind the picturesque stanzas hides a troubled heart - striving for freedom, redemption and love.

I love the disillusioned revolution romanticist in "Release": "You'd better summon your soul because we're leaving this place / with a red, red flag for a souvenir."  And the precise introduction to a distorted relationship that opens " We Could Send Letters ":"You said you're free, for me that says it all / You're free to push me and I'm free to fall."

Frame never becomes particualry introverted, his lyrics are accessible and relevant to anybody who has found that life is not an easy ride.  He speaks for a blank generation marked by a helpless emptiness and anger, and which carries a spiritual thirst in its heart.  He is not the angry mouthpiece of these youngsters (check out "Walk Out To Winter"), his voice is gentle, but his visions are those of heartbreaking despair.  The music alone might not add up to much, but combined with that voice and those words, it transformes into genuine greatness.

But is it commercial enough?  The British charts say YES!

Released: April 1983

Produced by: John Brand, Bernie Clarke

(All songs written by Roddy Frame)

Contents: Oblivious/The Boy Wonders/Walk Out to Winter/The Bugle Sounds Again/We Could Send Letters/Pillar to Post/Release/Lost Outside the Tunnel/Back on Board/Down the Dip


Roddy Frame – vocals, guitar, harmonica

Bernie Clark – piano, organ

Campbell Owens – bass

Dave Ruffy – drums, percussion

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

A strong case for the future

Bowie reincarnated

Life is not an easy ride