Album reviews: The Doors, Daniel Bachman, J Cole, Thom Hell and more

Plus The Olympians and The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini

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The Doors, Live At The London Fog, May 1966

★★★☆☆

Download this: Rock Me; Baby, Please Don’t Go; You Make Me Real; Strange Days

The London Fog, on LA’s Sunset Strip, was by all accounts as grim as its name suggested when, one night in May 1966, film student Nettie Pena was invited by her college chum Jim Morrison to record his band’s set. She taped two reels of the band in its tyro glory, the first time they were committed to tape, and had she not subsequently mislaid the second reel – containing, amongst other things, a version of “The End” – this would surely have stood as one of the landmark live albums of all time. As it is, these seven surviving tracks capture a group in transition from R&B covers outfit to something more significant.

Not that you’d know that from the audience response, which despite a few shouts of encouragement and smatterings of applause, remains little more than barroom chatter. But within a year, the band would be hurtling towards the top of the charts with “Light My Fire”, racing with the speed of a briefly-flaring comet towards unimaginable fame, and ultimate tragedy.

The set opens with Morrison in quiet croon mode on “Rock Me”, bringing snakelike menace to the line, “I ain’t no stranger – I used to live with ya!”. “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, which follows, replaces the frenetic energy of Them’s hit single version with a chugging, churning groove, Robbie Krieger’s waspish guitar lines crawling across Ray Manzarek’s rolling, hypnotic organ riff. Morrison’s barked vocal, as if literally trying to “be your dog”, brings to the song the sense of drama which would so viscerally animate his own later work.

Elsewhere, Muddy Waters’ “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” lacks the required propulsive punch, and a raggedy version of Little Richard’s “Lucille” rather exposes the shortcomings of the three-man backing, compared to the honking swagger of Little Richard’s Upsetters. But secreted amongst these covers are a couple of The Doors’ own songs that would take a few years to make it onto record.

The early version of “You Make Me Real” reveals its roots in Chess Records’ supercharged blues sound, with Krieger’s spindly guitar licks possessing a similarly undernourished, wiry intensity to the Stones’ early R&B. And although the primitive mix obscures much of the charm of “Strange Days”, it’s clear that the essential elements of The Doors’ appeal are just about all in place: the tumbling organ riff, the jazzy drums, the wheedling guitar, and most of all the sinister croon which Morrison entwines around the song. It’s history in the making, as raw and untutored as it must be to work its magic.

Daniel Bachman, Daniel Bachman

★★★

Download this: Brightleaf Blues I & II; The Flower Tree; Wine And Peanuts; A Dog Named Pepper

Daniel Bachman is a skilled acoustic fingerstyle guitarist whose self-titled album reveals a clear affinity with guitar legend John Fahey. Much of Daniel Bachman comprises resonant, raga-like pieces (“The Flower Tree”), languid slide-guitar blues (“Farther Along”) and lollopy, swinging ragtime instrumentals (“Wine And Peanuts”); but the Fahey influence is most evident in the exploratory openness of the two versions of “Brightleaf Blues”. The first opens the album with a piercing, resonant drone with the sonic character of a knife-grinding wheel, before a relaxed, ruminative slide-guitar finds its place amidst flurries of fingerpicking; the second, 14-minute take displays a more settled balance between drones, strums, slides and picked figures. It’s warmly meditative, as is the wistful “A Dog Named Pepper”, where the guitar gives way at the end to a distant car approaching on gravel. Recommended to fans of Michael Chapman, Ryley Walker and Jack Rose.

J Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only

★★★☆☆

Download this: Immortal; Foldin Clothes; 4 Your Eyez Only

Jermaine Cole’s fourth album is highly principled and skilfully wrought, but those aren’t always the most prized or effective elements when it comes to hip-hop. Inspired by the rising toll on black lives, and especially the violent death of his childhood friend James McMillan, 4 Your Eyez Only splits roughly into two halves. The first features images of hardship, crime and despair in tracks such as “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Immortal”, against which are posited the simpler, more rewarding values of love and domesticity later outlined in the likes of the parental celebration “She’s Mine Pts 1 & 2” and particularly “Foldin Clothes”, a tribute to the selfless pleasure of menial tasks. It all climaxes in the lengthy title-track, where Cole gives his late friend a voice for an extended letter to his daughter. Not a dry eye, perhaps, but not all that exciting, either – which is part of the point, of course.

Thom Hell, Happy Rabbit

★★★

Download this: 1985; Famous; When I Was A Child; The Voyage Home

Norwegian musician Thom Hell’s eighth album is an inventive meditation on growing up, starting with the warm reminiscence of Hell’s childhood in “1985”, when “we would build a treehouse, as children should”. From there, a quick leap takes us to the youthful egotism and ambition of “Famous”, which with its plonking piano, pop sensibility and arch lyric recalls John Grant and Nilsson, though their subtleties are later abandoned in favour of the more ponderous pomposity of Queen for the ballad “In The Night”. Elsewhere, there are paeans to marijuana (“Without You”) and the comforting reliabilities of the past (“Leave Me To Die”), with reality looming in “When I Was A Child”, about Hell’s struggle to raise both a child and a song concurrently. Ultimately, it all washes up on the shore of the lengthy “The Voyage Home”, with the singer’s concluding advice to “get over yourself”. Wise words.

The Olympians, The Olympians

★★★☆☆

Download this: Sirens Of Jupiter; Saturn; Apollo’s Mood; Europa And The Bull

Inspired by a recurring dream that pianist Toby Pazner had in Greece – in which a Greek god instructed him to re-tell the ancient myths through the medium of music – The Olympians is the latest of Daptone Records’ ongoing resuscitations of Seventies soul modes. Each of the eleven instrumentals features carefully-observed applications of specific soul sounds – the drum-machine driving “Europa And The Bull” comes straight from “Rock Your Baby”, for instance, while the flute and staccato horns of “Saturn” glide over a weightless Curtis Mayfield-style groove of strings, congas and wah-wah guitar. It’s a delight, full of rich textures and subtle touches, from the harpsichord, hi-hats and horns of “Apollo’s Mood” to the sumptuous opener “Sirens Of Jupiter”, where the strings, harp glissandi, warm horns and wah-wah funk groove come straight from the Marvin Gaye playbook for songs like “Inner City Blues” and “Mercy Mercy Me”.

The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini, The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini

★★★★☆

Download this: Caterpillar; Blood Red; When We Dance; Jungle Drum

Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini is a serial collaborator of long standing, working in a variety of genres with a series of far-flung groups, the latest of which is the exploratory Belgian ensemble The Colorist. Apart from one track, this live album offers new arrangements of Torrini songs such as “Caterpillar”, on which strings and percussion combine to establish a creaking, almost oriental, bed of sound, across which tiptoe delicate pizzicato, glockenspiel and hammered mbira, lending a furtive, somnambulant gait beneath her awed vocal; and “Today Has Been OK”, which resembles the Penguin Cafe with added beats. The depth of The Colorist’s percussive range is transformative, bringing explicit form to the simple expression of romantic excitement in “Jungle Drum”, and rendering the enchantment of the new song “When We Dance”, with its image of “you and I align[ed] among the stars”, through an engaging matrix of marimba and other tuned percussion.

Various Artists, Rhythm On The Radio: Oval Records Singles 1974-1987

★★★☆☆

Download this: Promised Land; Lucky Number; C’est La Danse (Kwanza Kwanza)

A small British independent label, started several years before punk popularised the notion, Oval Records was founded by Gordon Nelki and Charlie Gillett, a writer/DJ blessed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock’n’roll and great taste – as evidenced by their debut release, Johnnie Allan’s great cajun swamp-rock classic “Promised Land”, a feverish, accordion-driven cover of the Chuck Berry song. Sadly, their grasp of punk and new wave proved less reliable, and subsequent successes were restricted to quirky pop outliers like Lene Lovich’s frisky “Lucky Number” and Holly & The Italians’ “Tell That Girl To Shut Up”, amongst a tranche of landfill new-wave and novelty one-offs. But by the mid-Eighties, Gillett’s attentions were increasingly drawn to African music, of which the best example here is African Connexion’s lovely highlife/soukous groove “C’est La Danse (Kwanza Kwanza)”.

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