Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #19. Puzzle-N.Y.C. [1974]

Here’s a case of a band that had the good fortune to get signed to major label in the early 70s. Unfortunately it was to Motown, who was probably thinking they had another “Chicago” on their hands. The fact is they were most likely pushed to sound like them. Having both formed in the same town was where the similarities ended. Puzzle had a more soulful vibe owing that fact to singer/drummer John Lavigni. They never had that one breakout song to get on them on the charts and by their second album (titled The Second Album – was the band losing interest already?) one can feel the despair creeping in and the feeling of being lost. No track captures that any better than the last track on the LP, N.Y.C. Lavigni sings about being kicked out of his apartment and having nowhere to go while the band plays shuffles to a funky latin beat. (Was he living in Spanish Harlem?) Even at their “lowest” point the band still feels like if there’s not hope at least we can have fun.

Motown had no idea what to do with the band and their 2 LPs nowhere as well as having been erased from Motown’s history. Even Lavigni changed his name to John Valenti and continued a solo career. Could they have ever had a better shot & a bigger career? That’s the real puzzle.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #20. I Had Him Down – Ten Wheel Drive [1971]

Nearly every horn/rock record featured at least one gratuitous ballad to showcase the more sensitive side of its writers and musicians. Chicago’s ‘Color My World’, and Janis Joplin’s ‘Maybe’ are two classic examples of the typical ballad fare. But in many instances, the ballad song-form became an additional vehicle for artistic expression within the genre. Such is the case with TWD’s ‘I Had Him Down’. Genya Ravan’s compelling vocal and TWD’s powerful horn section showcase both restraint and raw power all within 4 minutes. The usage of strings only further beautifies this masterpiece. But the importance of this piece should be noted for its usage of all the elements that made horn/rock unique and great by including complex meter, wide range of dynamics, well-crafted lyrics, outstanding arrangement, and great musicianship. TWD proved they could run on all eight cylinders even if the tempo was ‘down’.