(Pictured: Brian Auger with Julie Driscoll and Aretha Franklin, 1968.)
I am just off another couple of days spent on the road, listening to music from my USB stick. Here’s a little bit about some of it.
Closer to It!/Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. When other people play air guitar, I am an air keyboard player. It has less to do with the two years of piano lessons I took than it does with how much I love the sound of keyboard instruments, including the Fender-Rhodes electric piano, the Hammond B3 organ, and the Moog synthesizer. Auger plays keyboards on Closer to It! with the showy virtuosity of a guitar hero, but he never makes just noise. On the album-opening “Whenever You’re Ready,” the organ is the rock-solid foundation of the track. On “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend,” the electric piano rocks like crazy. Auger’s not a technically great singer, but he makes it work, especially on “Compared to What” and on a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” (Hear the whole album here.)
Digression: I first heard of Closer to It! in a used-record store one Saturday afternoon, along with my friend Lance. This particular store played music at ear-bleeding levels, and on this particular day, it wasn’t anything either of us, then both in our 40s, would have been interested in. We’d been there awhile when the store stereo went silent, long enough for the clerk to put on something new. After he did, Lance and I made eye contact across a rack of albums and took off for the front of the store at the same moment to find out what we were hearing. The clerk wouldn’t sell the store’s copy, but by the end of the weekend I was on the Internet searching for it, and within a couple of weeks, I had my own copy of Closer to It!—a Spanish CD release that came in the mail from actual dang Spain.
City to City (Collector’s Edition)/Gerry Rafferty. I wrote about this edition of City to City a few years ago, and I was largely dismissive of the bonus disc containing mostly demos and “Big Change in the Weather,” the non-album B-side of “Baker Street.” Listening again last week, I liked that part of the album a lot better. The elaborate production of the finished tracks made City to City a #1 smash, but the demos could have made a perfectly good album on their own. And “Big Change in the Weather” was good enough to be an A-side.
Let It Be/Beatles. I like this album a lot less now than I used to. The Phil Spector-ization of “The Long and Winding Road” would have made more sense if it had been on a Wings album in 1975 (but it works a lot better on “Across the Universe”). The Beatles created some great art while they were stoned, but “Dig It,” “Maggie Mae,” “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are not examples of it. However: George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” are fine, and “Two of Us” should have been a single and would have been huge.
The Definitive Collection/Little River Band. One of the first CDs I ever bought, back in the late 80s, was the Little River Band’s Greatest Hits, the one with the blue cover featuring the bottom half of a swimsuit-clad woman in a swimming pool. That compilation, originally released in 1982, was replaced in 2002 by The Definitive Collection, which added some songs released before the band’s 1976 American breakthrough and included some post-’82 tracks. And a couple of those early tracks are fabulous. “It’s a Long Way There” was a modest American hit late in 1976 but is heard here in its full-length version; the Australian hit “Curiosity Killed the Cat” played in my head for hours after I heard it. Not only are the songs themselves really good, they’re beautifully recorded. I’m no audiophile, and I was listening in the car with road noise all around, but their clarity astonished me. I am guessing that in a quiet space with big speakers, you could hear the musicians’ heartbeats and the hum of the studio HVAC. I would have guessed that the band’s 1981 album with George Martin, Time Exposure, would have been their most beautifully made record, but these songs from years before, when nobody knew who they were, are better by a mile.
My travel season is over, thank the gods. But my USB stick will play on, even when I’m staying relatively close to home.