He Played One Just for Free

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Let me give you a short version of my reviews: the music’s good, but I’m not a huge fan of the vocals. That pretty sums up every album shared with me this week.

Eric Johnson – Ah Via Musicom (1990)

Scott keeps sharing single songs (in this case, Cliffs of Dover), and there’s nothing wrong with that. But due to a desire to block out some coworkers listen to more good stuff and expand my musical horizons, I listened to the whole album those singles come from. And that means I reviewed them, too.

I wasn’t really impressed with the opening track. It was just kind of artsy noise. I wasn’t sure what to think of this. But my opinion quickly changed once Cliffs of Dover came on. It was really sweet. I may have heard this before. Eric Johnson’s name sounded vaguely familiar, but I know I don’t have any of his music. It has a vaguely ’80s feel to it. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it just dates the music. High Landrons, however, is very much an in-your-face welcome back to the ’80s. The guitar is sweet, I just don’t know how I feel about the effect he has on it. The vocals are just kind of meh. Righteous is also very ’80s, and impressive. “Righteous” is an appropriate name for the tune.

I think my favorite song was Song for George. It was a little jazzier than I expected, but oh man it really showcases what one guy on a guitar can do. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to play like this. But if I could, I would. Steve’s Boogie was also impressive and stylistically not something I expected. Trademark was pretty good. My favorite part was in the last 1:30 or so when the piece got more fanfare-ish. My least favorite was Forty Mile Town. It was a bit boring. Almost easy-listening. But still, this is a pretty impressive album. 3/5

Tower of Power – Monster on a Leash (1991)

I really haven’t listened to much Tower of Power. I’ve played some of their stuff, and so I’ve listened to their versions of those tracks, but otherwise I haven’t really sought out their stuff. Mostly because at the time I was more into classic metal and oldies rock. By the time I started listening to more jazz, I didn’t really think about these guys.

Attitude Dance is one of those songs that I had covered, so maybe I’m remembering it with undue fondness. Or we covered this because it’s one of their better tunes. Either way, it’s my favorite vocal tune on the album.

Which wasn’t really hard, as it turns out. That’s my one real complaint. I wasn’t a huge fan of the vocals on Who Do You Think You Are. And I felt like Personal Possessions got old really quick. Musically it’s fine, I guess. Maybe just not very interesting. The vocals sure weren’t. The music on You Can’t Fall Up (You Just Fall Down) was just okay. The vocal performance was actually alright, too. But the lyrical content was too cheesy for me. It was like they were trying to be clever, but it didn’t really work for me. Funk the Dumb Stuff was better in both music and lyrical content, but it was still just okay.

In fact, other than Attitude Dance, the only other vocal tune that was actually good was the opening track, A Little Knowledge (is a Dangerous Thing). Although the rhythm section sounded a little dated. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was the same way, but I would rather have a groovy instrumental with dated instrument voices than some of these vocal tunes. But that might just be me. 3/5

Gordon Lightfoot – Summertime Dream (1976)

I was a bit surprised to learn that I don’t really like his voice pretty much throughout the album. It’s not twangy like someone parodying a county singer, but there’s something in his diction that I don’t like. I’m blaming it on his Canadianness. The melody and harmony lines are okay. And the guitar licks are really good – especially in the opening track, Race among the Ruins.

I really enjoyed the interesting chord progressions on Spanish Moss, but I think I would have liked it even simpler. Like maybe just two guitars. And a different singer. I can imagine Joan Baez doing a cover of this. I can also imagine Glenn Yarbrough singing it, but would still prefer Joan.

The only song I had heard from this record is his big hit, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. And it’s really good. But I don’t think it was the best song on the album. I’d Do it Again is really strong. It has consistency and diversity, and I didn’t mid his voice so much. I like the movement in the backup instruments during the guitar solo. The lead guitar is also good. You can have a good solo on top of boring (which is usually the case) or . My main complaint is that the song ended rather abruptly. I wanted more.

The title track was pretty good too, except it felt dated and a little campy. But everything shared this week has something that really gives away when it was made. No two albums shared this week were in the same genre and can’t really be compared to one another (or at least shouldn’t), but I actually think I liked this one the most (out of ones shared with me anyway). Just by a little. 3/5.

Electric Light Orchestra – Balance of Power (1986)

Driving home Labor Day weekend, my wife threw on some ELO and I thought, “I should share this.” So I did.

This is their 11th and last album – if you don’t count 2001’s Zoom, which I don’t. Not that it’s a bad album. It’s that it’s pretty much a Jeff Lynne solo album and he’s cashing in on the band name. Only one other guy from ELO shows up on one song.

Moving on.

This is one of my favorite ELO albums (just behind Time). I don’t love everything they’ve ever done. Even on this album I don’t totally love Secret Lives and Without Someone (due to their super ’80s-ness), but there are so many other great songs that make up for those.

My favorite track is Send It. It’s got some movement and some sweet synths. I don’t know. I just like this track a lot. Other highlights include So Serious (I really like the guitar licks as well as the pre-chorus and chorus), Getting to the Point (I just feel like there’s a lot of emotion behind it)(even the gratuitous sax solo) and Calling America (a pop rock gem which may be my wife’s favorite ELO song).

.Feel free to share your thoughts on ELO, solo artists cashing in on a former band’s name, or whatever else in the comments below. Here’s what my friends thought:

“I really like ELO, but this album was too 80’s for me. I’m really not much into 80s pop. At first I cringed at how 80s it was, but I tried to really listen and its clearly ELO doing it. There’s great musicality, good structure and good stuff happening, I just don’t love the instrumentation. I appreciate the music, but I don’t love the sound.” 3.5/5 – Spencer

“Great album. Lots of groove and experimentation, without straying from who they were. Honestly, it was a great swan song. It flowed well from one song to another, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard many of the tracks on their own before. I suppose it is because their popularity had waned, but this album was fantastic…it just came at the wrong time I suppose.” 4/5 – Tim

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4 thoughts on “He Played One Just for Free

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