Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #15. 1849 – Lighthouse

Lighthouse clearly lit the way for all Canadian bands in the horn/rock genre. Their output of 10 albums in five years was only half as impressive as the sheer girth of a group that included both a horn and string section along with a rhythm section and a boatload of singers to boot. After three albums of meager success their fourth, One Fine Morning, saw the group earn international success. One of the cuts that fully pronounced their musical abilities was the anthem-esque, 1849.

Most of the songs on One Fine Morning showcase the superb vocals of Bob McBride. On this tune, however, it’s a chorale of voices that tell the tale of wagon trains traversing the 19th century American landscape in search of riches. Even though the track is rich with harmonies from the voices, strings, and horns, it’s the lyrics that stand out as most impressive. The clever lyrical turn from hopeful expectation to reality almost gives you the sense that this group of Canadians singing about American pioneers from years gone by must be somewhat autobiographical. For just as those pioneers discovered the harsh realities of their material pursuits Lighthouse, too, must have experienced the harsh realities of emphasizing the word ‘music’ before the often-succeeding word ‘business’. Nonetheless, the musical achievement found here can stand on its own merits regardless of any harrowing back-story. And a live version from Live at Carnegie Hall the following year only adds to the group’s credibility.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #16. Was It I - Illustration

Was It I starts off like the musical equivalent of a Mack truck barreling down the highway, a thick rolling groove led by the Clayton-Thomas-like vocals of Billy Ledster. He growls and swaggers asking rhetorically Was It I that put a smile on your face knowing damn well that he did that and more while the horns stab from both sides blanketing the listener in a sonic warmth. Then all of a sudden as he asks again if it was he who made you fall in love, you can begin to hear the doubt creep in and the groove just falls apart. Then like a James Brown encore, the band tries to pick him up as Ledster, now losing his confidence wonders if it really was him after all. Blood, Sweat & Tears may have been more proficient musicians, but they never inflicted as much psychological torture on themselves than Illustration did on this song, from the highs of a roaring semi to the putter of a Volkwagon microbus all in 2 minutes and thirty seconds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #17. Ease My Mind - Gotham

Debut albums in the horn-rock genre are deceiving because many members of said groups typically had some sort of prior recording experience. Thus was the case with Gotham. Nearly every member of this New York powerhouse had his share of stage and studio time before a single note of Gotham’s debut album, Pass The Butter, was recorded. And this may be one reason why it’s difficult to single out one great track from this record. Nevertheless the responsibility has befallen us and we think we’ve chosen wisely.

‘Ease My Mind’ is a matrix for the ideal horn-rock tune. The triple-threat of a powerful horn section, a dominating vocalist, and a tight rhythm section lead by a guitar virtuoso are all the tell-tale elements of what made the music of this genre so respectable. And Gotham hits the trifecta on this number. Within 10 seconds of the tune, the band is already riding the pedal to the floor. And for the next four minutes they seemingly find a way to drive harder and harder. After one listen you’d be hard-pressed not to agree. The only thing that won’t ‘easy your mind’ upon listening to this gem is the knowledge that there was never a follow-up record. The other 10 songs on Pass The Butter will have to suffice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horn Rock Heaven Top 20 - #18. Flower Pot – Loadstone [1969]

1969 offered a cornucopia of music but few songs provided such variety as Loadstone’s ‘Flower Pot’. Clocking in at over 15 minutes, this ambitious piece provides elements of psychedelic, jazz, and horn-rock for the patient listener. Most music from this era that passed the five-minute mark was built almost exclusively around soloing. And although ‘Flower Pot’ dishes out a fair share, its really only one aspect of what is expressed.

The pristine musicianship and compositional skills are apparent for this group of Las Vegas hired-gun musicians. But few would guess that prior to the Loadstone album, these guys were backing the likes of Andy Williams and Bobby Darin. And with jazz-pianist-turned-producer Dave Grusin at the controls musicianship, and not self-indulgence, was likely the emphasis. Regardless, few groups succeeded, let alone, rose to this level of ambition on their debut record. And it’s hard to not consider ‘Flower Pot’ a mark of achievement and greatness in the rock genre. But as the song suggests, “It’s not what you are, it’s what you got”. And the listener may best decide that.