Music Reviews

Popular Music CDs - Part 11 - January, 1999

Graham Vine




"One Way of Life"


China; 0521732

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The folk-rock sounds of the late 1990s are well illustrated in "One Way Of Life" by the Levellers. And it is successful on several levels. Taking the overall sound, there's a mixture of acoustic and electric, solo and harmony vocals, and all beautifully clear with each word communicated to the listener's consciousness through careful attention to detail at the recording and mix-down stages. Which neatly brings us onto another level for those who wish to go that far. The Levellers have made a political stand and use their songs as the vehicle to express their position. We'll not dwell on the politics - each to his own - but here merely acknowledge the thoughtfulness in the lyrics and therefore the conviction with which they tackle the songs.

As you can tell from the track-listing below, there are several of the band's UK chart successes on this album, but what you can't tell from that listing is that some of the songs have been freshened up by remixing and even re-recording, as in the case of "One Way" and "Carry Me". As someone who yearns for new music, I appreciated the extra effort the whole team had put in to make this more than just a 'turning the handle' exercise in producing a new CD.

There is one anomaly on "One Way Of Life": track 10, "This Garden", is quite awful. Its spoken lyric is just that. It's not rhythmic in a rap sort of way, it's not poetic, it's not even particularly well-spoken. It should have been excluded - it certainly is on my CD player.

That one track aside, we have here a very good representation of what the Levellers are all about. For their fans, it's a must-have. For those like myself who wondered if it is worth the risk. Yes, it definitely is worth the risk.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. One Way
2. What A Beautiful Day
3. Fifteen Years
4. Shadow On The Sun
5. Hope St
6. Belaruse
7. Celebrate
8. Too Real
9. Bozos
10. This Garden
11. Carry Me
12. Fantasy
13. Julie
14. Dog Train
15. Far From Home
16. Just The One

- GV -



Lou Reed

BMG-RCA; 74321 601812

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One of the seminal albums of the past 30 years was Lou Reed's "Transformer". So why a new review? The reason is a new digitally remastered edition courtesy of Andy Pearce of Masterpiece Studios in London. We need to ask if the new version is an improvement and, if so, does it warrant replacement of an existing "Transformer" CD.

First though, the album itself. Most people will be familiar with much of the material on the album. What an enormous boost to the song "Perfect Day" (track 3) there was in the UK when a charity version of the song was put together by the BBC, complete with Lou's blessing and a certain amount of input from him, too. But then with so many versions of it out there, this is well into that collection of songs we know of as 'standards'.

Then again, "Walk On The Wild Side" is all Lou. I'm always taken back to a TV documentary of a few years ago where all the characters in the song are identified. Indeed, they are real people, with very little alteration to fit into the song. Knowing that, listen again with a fresh perception.

Many of the other songs relate very clearly to Lou's period as the main driving force in the Velvet Underground. It is to the very great credit of co-producer David Bowie that none of his own trademark influences are forced into these tracks. There are some slight timing errors on a few tracks, but these give the effect of a set of tracks recorded straight through, not built up layer by layer.

To answer my initial question, yes, the difference is audible, but probably only on the finest equipment. See elsewhere on this site for advice in that department. I fancied the stereo imaging was a little wider, possibly through the introduction of a little anti-phase perhaps to enhance the stereo when played through self-contained systems. With the decreasing importance of mono-compatibility these days, that is no loss. Other areas of improvement seem to come in the crispening of the drums and a little less distortion in the harmonics of the violins giving a better timbre to those instruments.

Lou Reed completists will, of course, find this CD irresistible. The rest of us will undoubtedly reach for the new version when we want to hear "Transformer". If you can justify the expenditure, buy it!

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Vicious
2. Andy's Chest
3. Perfect Day
4. Hangin' Round
5. Walk On The Wild Side
6. Make Up
7. Satellite Of Love
8. Wagon Wheel
9. New York Telephone Conversation
10. I'm So Free
11. Goodnight Ladies

- GV -


"The North Star"

Roddy Frame

Independiente; ISOM 7 CD

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Aztec Camera were one of those '80s bands who captured a substantial fan-base at the time but did not find this support reflected in a commensurate amount of chart success. The stunningly good "Somewhere In My Heart" still receives its fair share of radio air-play, and well earned at that. Some say Aztec Camera were always a 'one-man-band', that man being Roddy Frame. His new solo album "The North Star" lends some credence to this view. He wrote all the songs, sings and plays on them (of course) and co-produced all the tracks along with Simon Dawson.

The album itself has many attractions. Nice songs in the Pop genre - some ballads, some with a more driving tempo. Roddy's voice has a little hesitation to it. Not exactly weak but I felt a little support from the electronics wouldn't have gone amiss. The production, the overall sound if you like, is rather light, and I felt more solidity in the bass region would have beefed-up the album no end. It's not an album of folk-songs, but it does have that lightness to it.

The record company made a good choice in the selection of track 8, "Reason For Living" as the first single to be taken from the album. There is a profusion of songs suitable for single-release, but let's see if the single-buying public is ready for Roddy before pinning too many hopes on a strong top-40 run. I'd personally like to see the title track out on general release, along with "River Of Brightness" and "Sister Shadow". All 10 of the songs on the album are good, and you can tell Roddy put a great deal of effort into his well-formed lyrics. Get this:

'While you were sleeping the reaper's been reaping . . .'

And this:

'From the ring on your finger so cold on my skin, to the diamond-light stars long ago . . .'

Roddy should do very well with this solo effort of his. It gets a 'recommended' vote from this reviewer.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Back To The One
2. The North Star
3. Here Comes The Ocean
4. River Of Brightness
5. Strings
6. Bigger Brighter Better
7. Autumn Flower
8. Reason For Living
9. Sister Shadow
10. Hymn To Grace

- GV -


© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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