Melting in the summer heat.
- Eternally Yours—The Saints. When Australia’s The Saints first kicked down the door in the Year of Punk with “I’m Stranded” they immediately set a very high bar for themselves and any other punk acts to follow. Though they’ve been largely forgotten by punk fans, “I’m Stranded” remains one of the greatest punk rock songs ever recorded. The album from which that song came was a strong collection of buzzsaw riffs and gargled vocals, but it was the band’s second album, Eternally Yours, that best defines the band. As time and the 1980s progressed, the Saints became more of a classicist rock band, marrying guitar-based hard rock with swinging, soulful horn arrangements. At its best (1987’s All Fool’s Day), the results were spectacular. 1978’s Eternally Yours carries the seed of this later sound. The opening blast of horns on “Know Your Product” is so breathtakingly in-your-face that you could be forgiven for thinking that the horn arrangements carry over to the rest of the songs. Once heard, this opening salvo is not forgotten, and while the horns do crop up again (in more muted fashion) on “Orstralia” the rest of the album is a solid wall of high-energy guitars. What matters here is the songcraft. For all of it’s punk brilliance, “I’m Stranded” would have been one of the lesser songs on this album precisely because the songwriting itself is so much better. Horns or not, these songs swing in a way that the first album didn’t. As early as this sophomore effort, the Saints were starting to branch out, incorporating not just the horns but acoustic guitars. The effect is to make this a far more listenable album than their first, while it retains all of the punk attitude and whiplash tempos.
- Dirt—Alice In Chains. I’m not sure this was the right time to immerse myself in Alice in Chains. With the sun shining brightly and the pretty girls on the beach and in the streets walking past in their summer finest, the relentless gloom of Alice’s drug-stained world was a tough listen. No wonder I alwways associate the alt-rock explosion of the early 90s with wintertime. Still, there is some greatness here. The opening blast of “Them Bones” is one of the best album openings you will hear, while “Dam That River,” “Sickman,” “God Smack,” “Down In A Hole” and “Would?” are all essential recordings. Many Alice fans would also put “Rooster” in that category, but I find the song dull. “Angry Chair” and “Rain When I Die” are also excellent, meaty slabs of Jerry Cantrell’s heavy metal guitars and Layne Staley’s tortured voice. But there is also enough mediocrity here to drag the album down. “Junkhead,” “Dirt,” and “Hate To Feel” are okay, but nothing special while “Intro (Dream Sequence)” is a 45-second waste of time. It is possible that heard another time this album may have sounded better to me. I found while listening to it that oftentimes I simply wasn’t in the mood to hear these songs of despair, drug addiction, and death. But for now…
- Summer Of A Thousand Years—The Grip Weeds. The gloom of Alice in Chains sent me running to the catchier, more summery harmonies and melodies of The Grip Weeds. However, this was not a particularly impressive effort. With a band as retro as the Grip Weeds it’s hard to criticize them too harshly because everything sounds good. Which means that more depends on the performance and on this album the Weeds simply don’t sound all that inspired. All of the elements are there: the Keith Moon-style drums, the Byrdsy harmonies, the Beatley guitars, a fabulously smart cover song (the Who rarity “Melancholia”), but what sounded explosive on The Sound Is In You sounds muted and by-the-book on Summer Of A Thousand Years. None of it is bad, but a lot of it simply sounds the same. It’s possible that had this been the first Grip Weeds album I heard I would feel differently, but it’s the third album of theirs that I’ve put into high rotation in the past year or so, and it’s all starting to sound the same. Sure it’s good, but what else do you have?
- Alone Together—Dave Mason. I haven’t listened to this album in probably more than 25 years. Back then I thought, “It’s good…but I’d rather listen to the second Traffic album.” This album is more than good. This is the last gasp of someone who was, briefly, a truly great songwriter and performer. Backed by a bunch of the raggle-taggle gypsys of Delaney and Bonnie’s band, Mason comes up with many of the best songs of his career. The opening “Only You Know And I Know” is the classic track, though it was never a hit for Mason, but the other songs are at least as deep and resonant. There’s a bit of a singer/songwriter vibe to much of this, but Mason turns in a much stronger set of songs than most of the mellow California crowd. “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” and “World In Changes” are gentle acoustic-based tracks that beats Stephen Stills at his own game, with the latter featuring a swirling keyboard solo when you least expect it. “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” rides an insistent wah-wah guitar back to Mason’s days with Traffic, the exquisite “Sad And Deep As You” is a piano ballad that is almost inexpressibly lovely, and the album closer “Look At You Look At Me” starts gently and builds before erupting into a shredding guitar solo that carries the song and album out. Alone Together is a forgotten gem of classic rock…excellent songwriting, strong performances.