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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Canned Heat: Live At Topanga Corral

CANNED HEAT: LIVE AT TOPANGA CORRAL (1971)

1) Bullfrog Blues; 2) Sweet Sixteen; 3) I'd Rather Be The Devil; 4) Dust My Broom; 5) Wish You Would; 6) When Things Go Wrong.

Another weird discography adventure here. Apparently, Canned Heat still wanted to release a live album that had both Wilson and Vestine on it, and they had the tapes to do it, but there was a catch: after the commercial failure of the previous live album, their label (Liberty Records) had no wish to issue another one, so they took the tapes and claimed that they were from their live shows at Topanga Corral in 1966 and 1967, when they were not yet under contract — when, in fact, the recordings were really made at a 1969 show at the Kaleidoscope in Hollywood. This allowed them to release the album on a different label (Wand Records), at the expense of a little bit of dishonesty, perhaps — but every bit worth the ruse.

The thing is: maybe Harvey Mandel is the better known and the more inventive one of the two guitarists, but Vestine actually belonged in Canned Heat: a straightforward blues guitarist with a rocking heart — with very few special tricks, yet an ability to get to the heart of the matter where Mandel would more often get stuck in a psychedelic haze. You get this exactly one and a half minute into the record, when Vestine takes over from The Bear on ʽBullfrog Bluesʼ and strikes out a solo almost on the same level of fire-and-brimstone as Clapton on the famous Cream ver­sion of ʽCrossroadsʼ — too bad the rhythm section is nowhere near Cream in terms of intensity, because Henry is totally in the zone here: fast, fluent, precise, ecstatic, everything you'd need from a generic, but heartfelt fast-paced blues-rocker. Later on, Wilson comes in with his usual «I'm gonna play some simple, pretty, slow riffs and we'll call that a guitar solo, okay?» approach, and Vestine waits with impatience to break out from under The Owl's lead and kick some more ass, and it's really more fun to observe the contrast between Wilson and Vestine than between Wilson and Mandel.

Unfortunately, the album never quite lives up to that explosive start. The old blues covers are either way too predictable (ʽDust My Broomʼ? Not again!), or way too ambitious — it's one thing when they update really old acoustic classics, but the attempt to outdo B. B. King on ʽSweet Six­teenʼ is certainly misguided: Vestine does a good job, yet he cannot even begin to hope to capture all of King's subtle overtones, and it is hard to think of the track as completely detached from its King association. ʽI Wish You Wouldʼ is rather poorly mixed, with the repetitive riff groove ri­sing way over everything else, so, even if there's some nice harmonica playing and another ex­cellent solo from Henry with a razor-sharp tone, eight minutes of constant "cham-CHOOM-cham, cham-cha-CHOOM-cham" is a bit too much (at least the ʽBoogie Chillenʼ riff is aggressive, whereas this one is just nagging). On the other hand, Elmore James' ʽIt Hurts Me Tooʼ (here renamed ʽWhen Things Go Wrongʼ, but nobody's fooling anybody), suddenly recorded with plenty of echo, unexpectedly becomes a feast of plaintive, lyrical solos that take the song way beyond the scope of the original — I think that Wilson is responsive for the weeping, whereas Vestine delivers the angrier solos, and in between the two (and the odd echo that seems to feed Wilson back all of his complaints in a very psychedelic manner), they generate a great feel.

So, kick-ass start, mind-blowing finish, and some nice, unexceptional blueswailing in between — the record pretty much lets you see everything that made Canned Heat so cool in their heyday, and everything that prevented them from becoming a first-rate act both in the short and the long run; in particular, the work of the rhythm section here is fairly pedestrian, and, with all due re­spect for The Bear, he never ever was that great a singer: he just honestly does his job, but most of the time I just wait for him to move over and let Jimi, uh, I mean, Henry, take over. Still, the highs are high, and the lows are in the middle, so it all works out to a thumbs up in the end.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cher: Bittersweet White Light

CHER: BITTERSWEET WHITE LIGHT (1973)

1) By Myself; 2) I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; 3) Am I Blue; 4) How Long Has This Been Going On; 5) The Man I Love; 6) Jolson Medley; 7) More Than You Know; 8) Why Was I Born; 9) The Man That Got Away.

Surprisingly, this isn't that bad. Temporarily (actually, for the last time) under Sonny's productive control again, Cher retains the Vegas angle, but now it is applied to material that is more Vegasy by definition — the Great American Songbook — and the entire record is given over to lushly arranged, sprawling, time-taking covers of the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and other Tin Pan Alley wonders. Of course, for a formerly «rocking» (to some extent) artist to record an album of golden oldies in the middle of 1973 was bound to be a commercial suicide, and so it was — prompting another rift between Cher and Sonny, and the eventual return into the hands of the more «modern-sensitive» Snuff Garrett. But nowadays, as we don't expect all that much from any Cher album by definition, it somehow manages to stand out as a particularly odd curiosity, for at least a couple of reasons.

One: it is curious to hear Cher's powerhouse approach applied to these songs — usually, you hear them as romantic and sentimental, or as melancholic and introspective if they're done by a Billie Holiday, or, you know, Sinatra-style, or Ella-style, but how about hearing them done in "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in" style? Because most of these Tin Pan Alley creations are really only what the performer makes them — and Cher takes a big whip to all of them and makes them scale epic heights, as if, you know, she was some kind of Juno and the average male protagonist of every song was some kind of Jupiter, and we'd be sitting in the amphitheater and watching them sort it out on Olympus through a looking-glass. (Although that does not prevent her from having her little jokes — it is quite telling that the first song in the ʽAl Jolson Medleyʼ is ʽSonny Boyʼ: "Climb upon my knee, Sonny boy / You are only three, Sonny boy" — I do so hope the dynamic duo made good use of that line on the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour).

Two: the arrangements. They are actually above the generic Vegasy level, because Sonny Bono, the great lover of complex, multi-layered sound, drags just about every instrument possible in the studio and produces really thick, lush, polyphonic tracks — listen to ʽWhy Was I Bornʼ, for in­stance, where, in addition to the strings, you have flutes, brass, piano, harps, electric guitar (actu­ally, two electric guitars in a call-and-response session), and once Cher ceases singing, there's also a lengthy semi-psychedelic coda, with each of the instruments forming a gentle swaying wave of its own: honestly, it is hard to imagine the staggering amount of work that must have gone into this arrangement — and for what? Just so that the album could flop, because everybody would predictably concentrate on the a priori foolishness of the idea of Cher singing Tin Pan Alley material?.. Geez, Sonny boy, perhaps you were only three after all.

But on the other hand, it's really not that foolish. The combination of Sonny's production with Cher's Gargantuan vocals results in something that's somewhere half between kitsch and artistic bravery, and besides, you'd need Gargantuan vocals to rise above all the wall-of-sound ruckus created by a dozen or so musicians at once (listen to ʽThe Man I Loveʼ — strings, trumpets, gui­tars, and piano all compete with each other, caught in a wild bet on who of them, precisely, will be able to drown out Cher's voice... they all lose in the end, as she sustains that last note for about 20 seconds, which, come to think of it, comes a good quarter century before A-ha's ʽSummer Moved Onʼ, so, Morten, eat your Harket out!). So, in the end, there's something good about the idea, even if I can't quite put my finger on it. Really, I can't give the album a thumbs up because, honestly, I, too, couldn't care less about Cher doing the G.A.S., but at least they tried a highly unusual angle here, and it's up to anybody to decide if that angle really means something or if it's just a failed attempt at genre appropriation. In any case, worth hearing at least once.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Brian Eno: The Ship

BRIAN ENO: THE SHIP (2016)

1) The Ship; 2) Fickle Sun (I); 3) Fickle Sun (II): The Hour Is Thin; 4) Fickle Sun (III): I'm Set Free.

Back to solo territory, and to (almost) pure ambience again. The major difference being that this is the first of Eno's ambient albums where his own voice serves as one of the ambient instruments: the original plan was to simply have the whole thing as another «installation», but then, as Brian told Rolling Stone, he suddenly discovered that he was able to sing the lowest notes of the piece due to the aging of his voice — and this impressed him so much that he decided to add vocal support for the whole piece. Which certainly does not make it «poppier» or more accessible — merely adds another layer of sonic support to the picture.

ʽThe Shipʼ in question is the Titanic, of course — the idea is that of a conceptual piece that is probably focused on the adventures of the broken Titanic underwater (where «adventure» is to be understood philosophically — in a sense, if nothing whatsoever happens to you, this is by itself quite an adventure). The «lyrics» to the piece were not written by Eno himself, but rather selected by him from a string of sentences randomly generated by a Markov chain algorithm from a data pool that included a passenger's account of the sinking of the boat, plus some translations of dirty French songs from World War I for a change (although that last detail might be a hoot — don't see any particularly dirty tidbits in the lyrics; perhaps the algorithm included a modesty clause); fun, but ultimately pointless, in my opinion — although, come to think of it, quite consistent with Eno's general fatalism, belief in luck, and fascination for stuff like Tarot cards (and maybe help­ful in some way — he did rant, for instance, about the greatness of the line "the hour is thin" that was totally computer-generated, and, uh, he just might have something there...).

Anyway, what's really good about The Ship is that its ambience is of a stern, metallic character, with elements of the industrial style consistently incorporated throughout — for ʽThe Shipʼ, you really do get the impression of being placed underwater and watching the huge metal monster groan and moan while tiny currents and occasional biological organisms swish and swoosh past the metallic covering. Ropes and seams are creaking and straining, little gas bursts escaping, and multiple vocal overdubs sound like a mix of ghost apparitions and aural hallucinations. After twenty minutes of completely static ambience, the first part of ʽFickle Sunʼ comes on in a much more dynamic manner — as a slow anthem of death, with almost Gothic overtunes, gradually gaining in intensity, with grinding feedback waves and quasi-orchestral pomp (reminiscent of classic Coil, really) — and then, again, somewhat randomly, the same «suite» continues as ʽPart 2ʼ (with a professional, but boring voiceover by Peter Serafinowicz over a simple ambient piano melody) and as ʽPart 3ʼ, which, out of the blue, is a very 1970s-sounding cover of The Velvet Underground's ʽI'm Set Freeʼ, beautifully sung by Eno and once again featuring Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins on additional instruments.

Fans of Eno's melodicity will most definitely want the album for that cover — it is quite prover­bially gorgeous, stripping away all the lo-fi «ugliness» of the original and replacing it with a paradisiac atmosphere: violins, violas, layers of keyboards, and, above all else, the semblance of a beautiful tribute to Lou Reed, who, upon finally being «set free», certainly does deserve an ange­lic tribute from the man who, after all, forty years back, raised the «angelic standard» to nearly unreach­able heights: this is a fascinating cross-breed of Velvet Underground values with Eno values, even if I still struggle to see its relationship with the bulk of the album. But as for the bulk of the album, well, it's not generic Eno by all means, but it is neither the beautiful ambient Eno nor the dark and mysterious out-there-in-space ambient Eno, and I am not sure I am capable of squeezing yet another ambient Eno in my storage room — I'd just say that the album is sufficient­ly atmospheric to be a curious listen, but I can't say it really gave me a whole new perspective on what it would be like to spend 100 years in incorporeal form at the bottom of the ocean.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cat Power: Moon Pix

CAT POWER: MOON PIX (1998)

1) American Flag; 2) He Turns Down; 3) No Sense; 4) Say; 5) Metal Heart; 6) Back Of Your Head; 7) Moonshiner; 8) You May Know Him; 9) Colors And The Kids; 10) Cross Bones Style; 11) Peking Saint.

This is it, the moment of truth — if you don't like Moon Pix, you're probably more of a dog power than a cat power person; and if you like, but don't love Moon Pix (like I do), you must have serious problems with quite a lot of modern musical art, because Moon Pix is really it: a record that is modern-artsy to the extreme, a set of semi-improvisational, stream-of-conscious­ness-like rambling confessions that sound like they were recorded in a hazy trance. In fact, I don't know about «recorded», but legend has it that many of the songs were written by Chan in one night under the influence of a disturbing nightmare, involving dark spirits and demons and all sorts of stuff that, you know, can sometimes happen to a girl from Georgia overdosing on New York City. Perhaps that is why the album is called Moon Pix, even if the only song on the album with a direct reference to ʽmoonʼ is ʽMoonshinerʼ, and that's a different kind of moon.

Anyway, if I were a mean, evil person, I would have certainly taken the chance to mock the song­writer on account of a lyric like "It must be the colors / And the kids / That keep me alive / 'Cause the music is boring me to death". Honestly, when listening to Moon Pix, this is precisely the feeling I get — the music is boring me to death, but the colors of the album are what saves it from mediocrity. ʽColors And The Kidsʼ is basically just three piano chords put on repeat for about six and a half minutes, and her voice, fading in and out of the picture, sometimes cracking from excessive emotionality and sometimes dissipating from lack of training, is no great shakes either — but the first thing you realize with surprise is that somehow, this does not annoy your aural nerves (the only thing that does annoy me a bit is the sound of the piano lid closing at the end: cheap trick! cheap trick!), and from there, you can slowly build up appreciation for the odd atmosphere that she constructs, that good old optimistic pessimism, or pessimistic optimism, whatever, with just a touch of laziness and apathy because, you know, the universe is expanding or something like that, so what does everything else matter?

My biggest problem is that, even though she is now in Australia and recording with a completely different band, and the production is relatively hi-fi and the instrumentation relatively diverse (there's even a separate flute player), the music is still not up to par — mostly standard folk and blues patterns without any innovative or personal touches — and that, for all her talent, Chan is still refusing to take singing lessons, metaphorically speaking. I know I should be falling over my head with songs like ʽMetal Heartʼ and ʽCross Bones Styleʼ, but I am unable to perceive them as «magical», like so many fans do — pleasant, yes, mildly disturbing, yes, but nothing that would cut across the heart like a razorblade. Even ʽCross Bones Styleʼ, which is supposedly a dark folk lament over the horrible fates of diamond miners in South Africa (impossible to tell from the lyrics, but you can tell the song is mournful and disturbing), basically just rolls by like a chilly breeze — some jangly drony acoustic chords, some double-tracked folksy harmonies with high-low modulation, nothing too flashy and absolutely no secrets to come undone over the course of repeated listens. And repeated listens are necessary, because eventually you come to realize that the only source of real dread and creepiness would be the normality of it all — the total lack of any sort of flashy sonics or production gimmicks. Not that this wasn't the case with her previous records as well; it's just that Moon Pix is a clear step forward in terms of sonics and production, and since there are more instruments and some actual musicians backing her this time, you'd think you could expect something different, but no! You can't, really.

Actually, you know, I'm not exactly right when I speak about a lack of gimmicks — every re­viewer of Moon Pix feels it necessary to remind the reader of the backwards drum loop on ʽAme­rican Flagʼ that was, believe it or not, sampled from the Beastie Boys' ʽPaul Revereʼ (but why?); or of Belinda Woods' flute work on the folk ballad ʽHe Turns Downʼ (pretty, but quite low in the mix, and not really making much of a difference); or of the thunder bursts on ʽSayʼ, which make you feel locked up for safety in the room with the artist while nature is having a wild ball on the outside... but then again, almost every song on the album feels private and intimate anyway. So, essentially, the gimmicks are there, but they just don't matter.

What matters is the combination of largely predictable, though tasteful, folk and blues patterns, hookless vocals, ambiguous lyrics, and morose atmosphere. The one album that somehow springs to mind in connection with this is not even by a female artist — it is Nick Drake's Pink Moon, and guess what, I didn't even realize when I thought of it that it also had the word "moon" in the title. The difference being that Nick played a better guitar, had a better singing voice, wrote better songs, and could work that "don't-mind-me-I'm-just-humming-this-tune-in-the-corner" vibe much more efficiently than Chan Marshall, who can still occasionally come across as too narcissistic. Still, she's got one on him at least — she sounds a bit more human and relatable, whereas Nick was basically a Christ-like figure: you didn't really have a good idea of how to approach him, how to address him, whether he shits rose petals etc. — tons of mystery. This is where Marshall's «ordinariness» in terms of playing and singing really works well for her.

I give the record a thumbs up because I appreciate the rugged charisma, the lyrical originality, and the unquestionable progress in «formal» terms (more stylistic diversity, better production, interesting bits of studio experimentation), but I do wish that something more would remain in my head than the line "Yellow hair, you're a funny bear" that somehow got me trapped in a love-hate relationship — moving, yes, but also sounding a bit like the blueprint for everything that I hate about SIKC (Sentimental Indie Kid Culture), you know, that part of the universe where you have to get sad only because it's a sin to be happy, or, even worse, when all the bad things around you are only used as a pretext to get sad, because Sad is Cool. In other words, color me uncon­vinced — on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate the sadness of Moon Pix about 4 or 5 («not irritating be­cause the person sounds nice, not genuinely moving because the feel is an artificial one»). But that's just because I'm fairly jaded on sadness, I guess.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight

CHEAP TRICK: HEAVEN TONIGHT (1978)

1) Surrender; 2) On Top Of The World; 3) California Man; 4) High Roller; 5) Auf Wiedersehen; 6) Takin' Me Back; 7) On The Radio; 8) Heaven Tonight; 9) Stiff Competition; 10) How Are You; 11) Oh Claire.

You know what's a creepy song? ʽHeaven Tonightʼ is a creepy song, and the fact that it's placed right in the middle of an album of typically tongue-in-cheap-trick tunes, or even the fact that Nielsen himself called it a «parody» on anti-drug songs is able to do anything with the creepiness. I would be the first to agree that Cheap Trick is essentially a «B-level» band, one whose inherent sense of humor always prevented it from descending into the true depths of human psychology and emotionality (and when they'd lost that sense of humor in their Eighties shit period, it was too late to go deep anyway) — but no first-rate B-level band can exist without at least one or two A-level tunes, and ʽHeaven Tonightʼ is simply it.

The song has been compared to everything, from the Beatles' ʽI Want Youʼ to Led Zep's ʽKash­mirʼ, with both of which it does share melodic properties, but the vibe is different — it is distinct­ly funereal, a more-than-perfect soundtrack to the death of a junkie. Just a few transpositions, and the magical-mystical-Sufian ʽKashmirʼ vibe becomes a funeral march... but the most shiver-sending moment is, of course, when Zander lowers his voice down to that ominous whisper — "would you like to go to Heaven tonight? would you like to go to Heaven tonight?"... where ʽHea­venʼ signifies both the heavenly delight of a really solid dose of the stuff, and its direct con­sequences. A parody? This should be played at frickin' drug rehab centers — the only song I know that could compare to this directly in impact is the Stones' ʽSister Morphineʼ. Oh, and did I mention the instrumental banshee wail in the coda? I am still not completely in the clear what instrument that is — a musical saw? Or just a synthesizer imitating one? Regardless, it's as per­fect a symbolization of the poor soul finally getting on its way to Heaven as possible.

And no, the rest of the album is nowhere near that heavy on the senses, even if it is very frequently heavier on the guitars. For many, Heaven Tonight remains the absolute peak of the band, and I almost concur, except I think that In Color may be just a tad more consistent, if, on the whole, lighter in tone. In a way, Heaven Tonight synthesizes the «rawness» and «titillation» aspects of the self-titled debut with the tightness and pop hooks of In Color, so its greatest songs (title track apart, that must be ʽSurrenderʼ and ʽAuf Wiedersehenʼ) are true pop masterpieces, and both of them sound as fresh and relevant today as they did nearly 40 years ago. In particular, ʽSurrenderʼ, with its theme of «hip unity» between teens and parents, has, in fact, only become more relevant with age, as parents and grandparents these days can often give their kids lessons in hipness ("Mom and Dad are rolling on the couch... got my Kiss records out" almost sounds sentimentally naive these days!).

And ʽAuf Wiedersehenʼ — now there's a tongue-in-cheek song for you! If you ever contemplated suicide, this song could actually present a cure: the very concept of suicide is sent up so brutally by these guys (basically, the message is "you want to kill yourself? no, really? wait, lemme just grab the popcorn!") that the very act of suicide, through this angle, becomes a moro­nic theatrical gesture rather than a true solution to your problems. Cue solid Dylan lyrical refe­rence (not that ʽAll Along The Watchtowerʼ ever endorsed suicide, but it was a dark tune all the same), an Alice Cooper-ish riff brimming with swagger and contempt, and some of Zander's wildest screaming ever captured on record, and you got yourself a kick-ass positive social statement (which, I have no doubt, quite a few idiots in their time may have mistaken for propaganda of suicide).

The rest of the record lags and sags a little bit in between the three big babies, although, truth be told, there is not a single bad tune — some are just okay, like ʽHigh Rollerʼ, a slow catchy cock-rocker based on a riff with AC/DC chords played Grand Funk style; or ʽOn The Radioʼ, which lifts its fun ascending melody from the Kinks' ʽPicture Bookʼ and goes for the same style of light-hearted nostalgia; or the music hall influenced ʽHow Are Youʼ, which is even more McCartney-esque than ʽI Want You To Want Meʼ — a fun, catchy, friendly song, but one that would pretty soon disappear off the radar (because who the heck would want to have to perform two ʽI Want You To Want Meʼs in a single show?). One song that did go on to become a show stopper, sur­prisingly, is a loyally performed cover of The Move's ʽCalifornia Manʼ (with a bit of ʽBronto­saurusʼ thrown in for good measure) — a perfect barrelhouse boogie for the boys, but certainly a bit unoriginal; Nielsen's glam-rock guitar soloing in the middle, with almost every single rock and roll cliché thrown in, is probably the high point.

In any case, even the least of the lesser numbers is still perfectly enjoyable thru and thru, and the album thrives on quirky little hooks and gimmicks that keep the interest up and running — even the final track (ʽOh Claireʼ), a one-minute arena-rock screamer with "oh, konnichiwa!" as the only lyrics: it is, at the exact same time, a send-up of their «tradition» of recording an ʽOh C...ʼ song on every album (ʽOh Candyʼ, ʽOh Carolineʼ), made even funnier by the fact that it is a pun on "Eau Claire, Wisconsin" — and an odd «preview» of the Budokan concert, perhaps recorded in the anticipation of the upcoming Japanese tour. (Actually, the song was not listed at all on the LP cover, being one of those ʽHer Majestyʼ-style little surprises... alas, it is impossible to write a single Cheap Trick review without a bunch of Beatles references, is it?).

Yes, Heaven Tonight is a monster of an album — and the last in the classic trilogy to work wonders with pretty much the exact same formula. It's almost a pity that already on the next album they'd start tinkering with the formula — and initiating their downfall in the process — but in 1978, there was still no end in sight to the power and the glory. An enthusiastic thumbs up: this is absolutely required listening for all lovers of heavy pop music.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Carole King: Really Rosie

CAROLE KING: REALLY ROSIE (1975)

1) Really Rosie; 2) One Was Johnny; 3) Alligators All Around; 4) Pierre; 5) Screaming And Yelling; 6) The Ballad Of Chicken Soup; 7) Chicken Soup With Rice; 8) Avenue P; 9) My Simple Humble Neighborhood; 10) The Awful Truth; 11) Such Sufferin'; 12) Really Rosie (reprise).

Not having had the honor of growing up as a kid (or growing kids as a parent) in mid-Sixties America, I have missed the opportunity to become closely acquainted with the work of Maurice Sendak — however, as far as I can see, at least the verse part of his picture books (The Nutshell Library series) was fairly faithfully adapted by Carole King, and the lyrics are pretty cool: at the expense of being perhaps a bit too complicated for the average toddler, they have «family enter­tainment» value in that they may engage both kids and adults, and, of course, they have that «unsettling», «dark» angle that is so much all the rage today, as long as a particular author of children's literature wants to get a pat on the back from sophisticated critics and readers.

But truth be told, there's really no denying the talent of the writer, and it's twice as awesome that a melody writer as talented as Carole King agreed to put some of those lyrics to music. It may have been quite natural, too, seeing as how she had kids of her own who probably were growing up on that stuff (in fact, daughters Louise and Sherry are here in person, providing backup vocals throughout), and, as a progressive mother who is not afraid of a little bit of scary imagery, she herself is totally getting into the spirit of the thing. More importantly, it provides her with a great opportunity to get away from the too overtly mellow, wishy-washy structure of her emotional balladry and concentrate almost exclusively on those pop hooks that had pretty much died out after Tapestry (although Wrap Around Joy wasn't too bad in that respect).

The proper way to do this, actually, is (a) keep the tunes as snappy and upbeat as possible and (b) keep the arrangements to a minimum — most of the time, it's just a piano-bass-drums trio, with husband Charles Larkey and Andy Newmark keeping up the beat. In a few cases, there's also some guitar, usually in the appropriate contexts — for instance, ʽThe Awful Truthʼ, where the protagonist discusses her chances at "playing Mrs. Dracula", is accompanied by some histrionic distorted electric soloing; and, curiously, Carole herself is credited as the only guitar player on the album, so it's somewhat hilarious to think that her first experience playing distorted electric guitar may have taken place on an album for kiddies.

Anyway, if your toddler likes the books, he or she would probably be happy to recite the alphabet in the ʽAlligators All Aroundʼ order, empathizing with the I-don't-caring Pierre and the lion who had to eat him in order to cure him from an annoying attitude, crying at the terrible fate of Chicken Soup (Carole gets into this one with a particularly theatrical flavor, with probably her wildest bit of screaming ever captured on record), or learning the differences between the twelve months of the year, all of which have only one thing in common — ʽChicken Soup With Riceʼ. And if you are the parent of that toddler, you might (brushes sentimental tear off face) be happy yourself to provide him or her with that entertainment. Besides, if you just stick to the books, you'll never be able to recite them as effectively as Carole, so, you know, better leave it to the professionals.

No, honestly, it's not one of those rare records that «masquerades» as a children-oriented piece of entertainment, while at the same time containing hidden depth — Really Rosie is purely shallow fun-oriented stuff. But it is infested with Carole King charisma from top to bottom, and when the charisma is combined with a clever mix of cuddliness, sentimentality, humor, and macabre spoo­kiness... well, the overall result is far more enjoyable on a gut level, even for an adult, than quite a few «dead serious» albums in my memory. So, thumbs up: my only complaint is that it will now take at least a couple of weeks for my brain to clear out that "chicken soup, chicken soup, chicken soup with RIIIICE!" bit. Particularly painful, that one, given how much I hate the very idea of chicken soup with rice. (For a change, try humming "chicken soup with mice" or "chicken soup with lice" instead — I assure you that it won't spoil the spirit of the book or of the musical one little bit).