Kronomyth 8.0: ARC OF A DIVERSE ARTIST. Co-produced with Steve Winwood, Fierce Heart is a conscious attempt to channel Winwood’s success with synthesizers into Jim Capaldi’s career. The result is surprisingly effective; in fact, this might be the best solo album he’s ever recorded. Capaldi doesn’t rely completely on synthesizers, but blends them into the approach taken on his last record, Let The Thunder Cry. The songs are once again reassuringly familiar; “That’s Love,” “I’ll Always Be Your Fool,” Living On The Edge” and “Runaway” use established rock motifs. Capaldi’s not trying to rewrite the book of rock, simply add his two cents to the conversation. The songs this time favor love over social change; the funky “Don’t Let Them Control You” (a rewrite of a Brazilian song, “Olhos Coloridos”) is the lone agitator in an otherwise smooth collection. The album—his first for new label Atlantic—was his highest charting since his debut, Oh How We Danced, and produced two hits in “That’s Love” and “Living On The Edge.” Although the year started off well enough for Capaldi and Winwood, it would end with the deaths of Chris Wood and Reebop Kwaku Baah (both of whom were also born in the same year, 1944). Still, Fierce Heart remains something of a high point in Jim Capaldi’s career and a sort of late-season fruition of his partnership with Winwood. It’s not as heavy as some of his other pop/rock albums, but it may be the best argument for his strengths as a singer/songwriter. If Winwood is your cup of tea, Fierce Heart is your capaldi. And that’s no bull. (You see, the cover has a picture of a bull on it and… eh, nevermind.)
Kronomyth 7.0: DISCO IS DEAD, LONG LIVE ROCK. Finally, a fitting followup to Short Cut Draw Blood. Let The Thunder Cry is a similarly pleasant potpourri of pop/rock with a good dose of social conscience and a little romance thrown in good measure. The first side of music is especially strong; so much so that, when a rocking cover of “Louie Louie” rolls around, Capaldi has earned the good will to pull it off. Highlights include the title track (a sympathetic rocker about Native Americans), the lithe “Favela Music,” “Child In The Storm” and the slightly edgy “We Don’t Need.” The melodies are familiar; you get the sense that you’ve heard “Only Love,” “Dreams Do Come True” and “Anxiety” somewhere before, but you’re happy to make their acquaintance again. In the case of “Old Photographs,” it seems that Capaldi has updated the classic “No Face, No Name, No Number,” and the two songs reveal that not so much has changed in the last twenty years. Capaldi’s range on this record is pretty impressive. He can rock, stir things up or play it smooth. The disco years may not have produced many timeless hits, but they do seem to have given him more confidence as a singer. The performances on “Warm” and “Only Love,” for example, are those of a first-tier balladeer. As with the aforementioned Short Cut, there really isn’t a bad song on here. It’s a solid, intelligent record that isn’t too commercial or antisocial. Once again, Capaldi carves out a niche for himself as an intelligent middle-of-the-road rocker who isn’t afraid to throw in a few love songs in between trying to save the world. [When this album was released on compact disc, it featured two additional songs: an acoustic version of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and the nastier “Bathroom Jane.”]
Again featuring contributions from Traffic members past and present, Short Cut Draw Blood produced the biggest hit of Jim Capaldi’s career with a discofied version of the old Everlys chestnut, “Love Hurts.” That song is a likeable but light number on an album that finds Capaldi stretching into everything from ska (“Johnny Too Bad”) to Dylanesque poetry (“Keep On Tryin’”). It’s his most stylistically varied album to date, although at its core it retains the percussion-propelled, dark musings of latter-day Traffic (“Goodbye Love,” “Short Cut Draw Blood,” “Boy With A Problem”). His last record was more consistent; this one is more surprising. As a bonus, the non-album single “It’s All Up To You” was included here; an outmoded lovesong that belongs somewhere between the British Invasion and Dave Mason. Short Cut Draw Blood does showcase Jim Capaldi’s range as an artist; the venomous “Living on a Marble” (one of my favorite tracks on here) and ethereal “Seagull” (a mini Traffic reunion of sorts) lie at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Of interest, Paul Kossoff plays on “Boy With A Problem,” a song written about Chris Wood’s struggles with alcohol that warns “Soon from this earth he will leave,” a warning Kossoff himself might have heeded. I would tell you that this record continues to make a case for Capaldi as the logical heir to Traffic’s legacy, but I say a lot of things in the course of a day and not all of it makes sense. He does seem capable of sustaining a solo career, which, in a world where Ringo reigned supreme, isn’t that surprising (“Love Hurts” was a ploy pulled directly from Ringo’s playbook). All in all, a bloody good record with a few cuts that would make my short list for the cream of Capaldi.
This was the first Jim Capaldi album I ever owned and, truth be told, I didn’t dig it much at first. I filed it somewhere between John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges and Ringo’s “with a lot of help from my friends” albums, but without the magical mystery of The Beatles. Since then, however, I’ve done a lot more digging in the latter-day Traffic albums and Capaldi’s first album looking for something of value, and find that none of them deliver the goods quite so much as Whale Meat Again. Recorded between Traffic albums and once more featuring the Muscle Shoals band, Capaldi’s second album is structured very similar to his first; “It’s All Right” even sounds like a breezy version of “Eve.” Whale Meat Again also feels like a weightier record. The seven-minute “Yellow Sun” and eight-minute “Summer Is Fading” invite comparison to Traffic’s longer tracks, while songs like “Low Rider” and “Whale Meat Again” return to Capaldi’s dark lyrical haunts (i.e., no bad/sad couplets here). The vocals on this album are better too, channeling John Lennon on “My Brother” and “Whale Meat Again” (the title track always reminds me a little of “Woman is the Nigger of the World”). Missing here is the scorching lead guitar work of Paul Kossoff and Dave Mason, replaced by the in-house artistry of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. It could be Kossoff and Mason that tilt critics in favor of Capaldi’s first record, but I’d argue that his second is stronger. It’s also a nicely packaged record, with an illustrated lyric sleeve that recalls Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Jim Capaldi’s first solo album owes as much to abdominal inflammation as inspiration. Steve Winwood had developed peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal lining, which effectively shelved the next Traffic project while he recuperated. In the interim, Chris Blackwell (never one to miss an opportunity to market Traffic) bankrolled a studio album by Traffic’s lyricist, occasional singer and tambourine player, Jim Capaldi. Oh How We Danced featured Traffic mates past, present and future as well as Free’s guitarist, Paul Kossoff. Despite the heavy Traffic presence, Oh How We Danced doesn’t sound like a Traffic record any more than Dave Mason’s albums did. In other words, if you’re expecting another “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone,” all you’ll be left is disappointed. Now, that said, a lot of people enjoy this album; I’m just not one of them. Ringo Starr’s records, for example, were a lot more fun than this. I came here expecting great lyrics and dark shadows, and all I hear are middle-of-the-road rock songs with very average (or worse) lyrics. Case in point: “Don’t be a hero, heroes are sad / Don’t be a hero, it’ll make you feel bad.” I’m not saying Capaldi wasn’t a great lyricist, I’m just saying you wouldn’t know it from this album. So if you’re wondering what’s really on Jim Capaldi’s mind, you won’t be any the wiser after Oh How We Danced. I guess that’s my main complaint with the album; it feels like Jim Capaldi trying to make a Dave Mason record rather than a Jim Capaldi record. Subsequent albums followed the same formula, though, so maybe it was just that Traffic’s lyricist didn’t have much to say on his own. I know, that’s not what you wanted to hear. Honestly, it’s not what I wanted to write. I would have loved to tell you that here was a hidden treasure, and maybe you’ll still discover one (if everyone had my taste, record stores would only carry Jethro Tull discs), but you didn’t hear it from me.
CroNaMyth 3.0: WASTED ON THE WAIT. Each C&N album seems a little less magical than the last, as if with each rubbing of the lamp their collective genie-us grew weaker. There was still enough magic left to produce a gold record out of Whistling Down The Wire, but not enough to produce a hit single from “Out of the Darkness.” I’ve listened to this album dozens of times (it was the first C&N album I owned) and, even so, rarely walk away humming any of it. The two Crosby-Nash songwriting collaborations—“Broken Bird,” “Taken At All”—are the obvious highlights, as they deliver on the promise of pretty harmonies and thoughtful pacing. I also enjoy Nash’s bittersweet “Marguerita.” The rest of the record could accurately be described as mid 70s studio rock, of which there was hardly a deficiency during the decade. The subsequent CSN reunion revealed the Crosby & Nash collaboration for what it was: a gold solution to a multiplatinum phenomenon. When CSN dissolved again, Nash continued the experiment on his own with Earth & Sky while Crosby wrestled with his demons. Given the troubled history of CSN&Y, there’s no reason to believe that the Crosby-Nash affiliation was motivated by anything other than money. Of course, lots of things are motivated by money, and some of them still have benevolent consequences. As I’ve mused elsewhere, the Crosby-Nash albums were a kindness to fans because they put the pair’s best feet forward, one foot from each. And they had the support of the Mighty Jitters, one of the best backing bands this side of Muscle Shoals. You’ll want the proper CSN albums before this, the first two solo albums from Crosby and Nash individually and the first two C&N albums too; if you’ve acquired those and still wish for Wire, have at it.
The pair’s second project together produced another gold record and a minor hit in Crosby’s “Carry Me.” Although nothing on here is as catchy as “Southbound Train,” it’s still a solid effort, buoyed by excellent playing and some good material from Crosby (“Low Down Payment,” “Homeward Through The Haze”). The songs from Nash are crankier this time and less satisfying, with “Mama Lion” being the best of his bits (the album smartly leads off with its two best tracks). A pair of songs credited to Crosby and Nash together are also highlights and invite the closest comparison to the work of CSN: “Naked In The Rain” and “To The Last Whale.” Listening to this record, I’m often reminded of Steely Dan. The songwriting isn’t nearly as strong, but the backing band (The Mighty Jitters) does a great job of adding the right touches to the music. “Bittersweet” and “Homeward Through The Haze,” for example, might have dissipated into nothing if not for the flesh-and-blood arrangements of the band. Crosby and Nash also call in a few favors with guest appearances from Jackson Browne, Levon Helm, Carole King and James Taylor. None of them feature prominently in the music, but you can’t help but be impressed. The closing “To The Last Whale” is arguably the most ambitious thing that the pair have tried together. It starts with a kind of plainchant opening (“Critical Mass”), then shifts into the title track, which seeks to save the whale by song and remains one of my favorite Crosby/Nash moments. It’s certainly not a perfect record and not on a par with the best of CSN, but Wind On The Water promises smooth sailing for Crosby/Nash fans.
Kronomyth 1.0: THE GRAND DADA OF THEM ALL. The Camper’s debut album featured a sticker on the outside packaging that wondered aloud what an absurdist/surrealist folk cum California punk band would sound like if they set out to write songs about TV dogs traveling to the moon, communist leaders lost in idle reverie and fictitious folkscapes from faraway places. The answer is a polka band tripping balls, about seventy-five percent of the time anyway. Which is not as much fun as you’d think. Sure, there are some great laughs on here—“The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon,” “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” “Club Med Sucks”—but you’ll need to wade through a lot of Ukrainian folk/punk/whatever in the meantime. The instrumentals (a/k/a the bulk of the album) are either ethnic ska or noisy folk/art or sometimes both (the winning “Balalaika Gap” for example). At their best (e.g., “Border Ska”), the instrumentals are short, guilty pleasures. At their worst, you’re reminded of why no one else was making music like this. The talent is definitely there, especially on the vocal tracks, which include an embellished cover of Black Flag’s “Wasted” and the perfectly titled “Ambiguity Song.” Wisely, the band inverted the vocal/instrumental ratio on subsequent albums, and the world warmed up to them. Here, however, it all feels like a soundtrack to an Eastern European art film, especially if you pick up the expanded edition that folds in the contents of the mostly instrumental Take The Skinheads Bowling EP. The deadpan vocal delivery, screeching violins and psychedelic garage sound are unmistakable as the Campers, but they initially set up camp pretty far out on the fringes, and it’s a bit of a hike just to hear a few good punk/pop songs.
Barclay James Harvest, funny kind of name. The band originally seemed destined for great things, releasing two albums of psychedelic/progressive rock under the direction of Beatles engineer and Pink Floyd producer Norman Smith. Their second album, Once Again, is a minor classic in the annals of psych/prog rock, featuring such BJH staples as “She Said,” “Galadriel,” “Vanessa Simmons” and that quintessential BJH song, “Mocking Bird.” A BJH album from the Harvest period could be expected to contain pastoral ballads, scorching epics, classical arrangements and modest amounts of mellotron wrapped around the common themes of love, war and flight. What they didn’t contain were hits, and so the band moved to Polydor in pursuit of more aggressive marketing.
With the excellent Everyone Is Everybody Else, BJH began building its music almost exclusively around the songs of John Lees and Les Holroyd. A live double album captured the band in all of its orchestral glory, although it also marked the end of an era. Subsequent albums were progressively less progressive as the band courted more commercial tastes and began to pattern themselves after mainstream artists such as 10cc and The Eagles. The move paid off as BJH albums began to crack the UK Top 40 and extend their fanbase throughout Europe. The outstanding Octoberon is a highlight from this period.
The new direction didn’t sit well with Woolly Wolstensholme, however, and he left after the band’s 1978 tour to pursue his own classically inspired music with Maestoso. Beginning with their next album, BJH would (summer) soldier on as a trio, adding guest keyboardists along the way. While the band continued to have some success in their native country, it was in European countries such as Germany and Switzerland where they enjoyed true star status, including several #1 albums (Turn of the Tide, Berlin: The Concert, Face To Face).
In the new millenium, Lees and Holroyd decided to part ways, creating their own versions of BJH. Mel Pritchard, the band’s original (in every sense of the word) drummer, passed away in 2004. In 2014, Wolstenholme also slipped this mortal coil. Both leave behind a remarkable legacy of music in Barclay James Harvest that more people need to hear. And there you have it: a four-paragraph description of BJH that doesn’t mention The Moody Blues once. Oh, crud.
Kronomyth 2.0: MY BLUE HEAVEN. Not a little slice of heaven, but rather a lush and lurid limbo (or is it zimbo?) where the self-crucified Mac hangs like a puppet, frozen in time, frozen by self-analysis, refracting the sounds around him in brilliant opacity. Their first album, Crocodiles, was remarkable for its maturity and vision. But this album manages, miraculously, to imbue that vision with a whole new level of musical and lyrical detail. There are so many profound and indelible moments on here. Hold me tight to the logical limit. Did you say knowledge? Did you say prayer? Did you say anything? You could fill a book with what is said and what is implied on Heaven Up Here. And that’s true of the best of art: it doesn’t answer questions, it invites them. Their first album followed a kind of formula, a tension-release with everything pinned on the pummeling rhythm section. Here, in this Limbo, everyone is allowed to follow their own ghosts. Sometimes, the bass is barely a whisper; other times, the guitar seems to exist in a haunted, parallel universe. It’s a lot to take in, and listeners may find it unduly difficult in the beginning (I know I did). But Heaven Up Here is an album that deeply rewards study. Listen to it with headphones on. Listen to it with the lyric sheet in your lap. Listen to how Echo & The Bunnymen stop time on “Turquoise Days” or carry you along on dark waves of joy with “A Promise.” Lyrically, the theme of heaven reappears on this album, but this is no more a traditional Heaven than what Talking Heads imagined earlier. It’s boobytrapped with our own desires, fettered by our own failed ideals of freedom, crashing in a cacophony of sound as the conscious and subconscious collide. And, yes, it’s beautiful, the way that the burned image of the sun in our mind is beautiful as a dark mirror of the world. And maybe that is Heaven: a reverse image of what we experience in this world. In which case, Ian and the Bunnymen had it right all along.