Monthly Archives: October 2009

Abstract Logic – JONAS HELLBORG – 1994

This is probably the best album by Swedish Bass giant Jonas Hellborg. The core trio here is Kofi Baker on Drums, Hellborg, and guitar phenom Shawn Lane, who sadly isn’t with us anymore. It’s mainly a fusion instrumental record, so I doubt if the Britney Spears fangirl/boy will take to this with open arms.

I must tell you that I’ll be dealing with the majority of the tracks here on an individual basis, because some of them are so WILDLY disparate, that they could very well be from entirely separate albums. Smack dab in the center of a solo album by bassist with a predilection for Indian classical music is a tempestuous 4 minute Piano solo!! Whodunnit? Either ways, it’s great.

Great album. But not for everyone.

Abstract Logic’s first track starts with a drum and horn intro which is massively reminiscent of Weather Report. Except that in the place of the immortal Jaco Pastorius, we have the soon-to-be-legendary Jonas Hellborg, who lets loose a heavy, grooving slap style that has become his signature. Though the first song ‘Serpents and Pigs’ starts off as a Weather Report redux, by the middle of the track it becomes a somewhat avant-garde rock trio thing, with Shawn Lane’s guitar flying high above a solid rhythm supplied by Hellborg and the drummer. It’s a memorable track.

There are several tracks here which are inflected with Indian classical scales. These are the ones that really stand out, ‘Rice with the Angels’ being the best one. It’s orgasmically good, with a beautiful hook that anchors the whole track down. Otherwise, the song is divided into intro-guitar solo-reprise intro- bass solo- reprise intro-drum solo-reprise intro. A simplistic format delivered with great panache by this trio.

I’m not especially fond of Hellborg’s tone. It works very (very) well for slapping and popping, when the thumps are really strong the pops have depth and no tinny-sound whatsoever. But in finger picked leads, it sounds extremely unclear and bogged down. If it were an animal, his sound would be an overweight hippo. When 8 months pregnant. Eergh. It’s a bit sad, because it is a notable detraction from a sonic documentary which is largely perfect in a non-commercial sort of way.

I’ve already mentioned the Piano solo. It’s turbulent and not terribly melodic, but virtuostic in a way that will make most rock keyboard ‘shredders’ look down and watch their penises shrink. I look at the next two tracks ‘Layla Attat’ and the title track as one track. The first is an unaccompanied bass solo and the second with accompaniment. I wouldn’t recommend either to anyone other that serious listeners. Being a bass-noob, I love it.

Lovely picture, great player. "Respec!"

By this time, we’ve had guitar solos, a bass solo and a piano solo. So what’s left? No prizes for guessing…..drum solo. It’s admirable that Hellborg doesn’t use a solo album as a platform to unleash his awesome bass chops, but gives other people full song length tracks to solo. A 6 minute drum solo, titled ‘Put a Shoe on the Other Foot’? A surefire recipe for commercial success, that!

The final track is the fantastic, if whimsically named ‘Throwing Elephants and Wrestling’. Really, Mr.Hellborg? Why not call it ‘Picking Gangrene off my Armpits’? ‘Incontinent Frying Pans in Venus’? Slightly ridiculous. Anyway, it’s a wonderful track, with Hellborg’s ear filling slap riff being particularly noteworthy in the heady mixture of Shawn Lane’s incendiary shredding, and Kofi Baker’s hard hitting drumming. Ginger Baker’s son has acquitted himself well.

This is merely my first exploration of Hellborg, a bassist who I’m starting to like very much, not only for his playing, but for his ability to get the perfect people to make a great album. Expect more Hellborg reviews from me. This, indeed, sounds right.

- El Bajista

For more HELLBORG (just one album at the time of writing this review), go HERE.

For more FUSION (also, only one album at date of publication), go HERE.

Cosmic Troubadour – BILLY SHEEHAN – 2005

This is the bass shred guru’s second solo album. Among the welcome inclusions is a real drummer, than some computer manipulating noughts and zeros. That helps massively. So how does this album compare to the extremely average Compression? Read on.

Well, the first thing that struck me was the presence of kicking rhythms from the get go. The bass takes up space and all, but surprisingly, it’s not necessarily mixed as the main instrument. Even so it’s impressive, Sheehan obviously serves the song. Sadly, the songs themselves don’t come in too many flavours. This album is crying out for more variety with regard to dynamics. Also, too many songs start and stop suddenly.

I noticed by the third song, that Sheehan has a predilection for swirling and swinging basslines that take up multiple frequencies and leave space for yet more swirling and swinging solos. Ah! The solos. Sheehan has all the bases covered (no pun intended) when it comes to soloing, but they are not necessarily memorable. Even so, I like his tone quite a bit. It’s heavy and mechanical. Excellent and unique.

Coming, to the lyrics, though they really aren’t the main point of the album, they are terrible. Also, you can tell that Sheehan isn’t a singer. Not that he can’t carry a note; its just that the phrasing is quite lacking.

As far as individual songs are concerned,  some songs kinda grow on you after some time, like “From the Backseat” and “Hope”, which is the only song with interesting chord changes. Other good songs are “Dreams of Discontent” and “Long Walk Home”, which sounds a bit like Santana playing bass. No bad thing, mind you.

My problem with this album is not with the playing. It’s that the chord changes and repetitive and unoriginal. Too many things start and stop suddenly. Too many things are repeated for 4 to 8 bars. The singing is average, the drums are so-so, as is the guitar playing. But the crucial question is this. Is Sheehan’s bass playing on this album memorable and great enough to save this to save this album from middle-of-the-road-ness? No. I’m afraid. No. Though there is a conscious attempt to serve songs-which is laudable-the songs themselves aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. Oh, and did I mention the songs start and stop suddenly too often? This does not sound right.



- El Bajista

For more HARD ROCK rubbish, click HERE.

Together through life – BOB DYLAN – 2009

We have a new occasional reviewer (yes another one). Please give a warm welcome, to The Real Cock n’ Cola. Err….yes. That’s his name. He brings opinionatedness (is that a word?) and his own musical knowledge and experience to thatdoesntsoundright. Enjoy.

You had better believe it. He is back. His mercurial wordplay sparkling, his June-born neverwhere-everything brimming over and the laughter you can almost hear in his voice (well, almost) cocked high. But then again, is he? Rather is it him, really? Sixty-seven albums, recordings and compilations later, folks I know, they insist on seeing the last century’s greatest troubadour as either of two avatars. Pre-1965/Pre-Bringing It All Back Home/Pre-Newport Folk Festival/Folk Bard and Post-The-Same/Electric Musician. Other folks I know, they say it all changed with 1967, after that fateful motorized mishap, following which John Wesley Harding and such materialized, with stoic contemplation of mundane comforts replacing all traces of social consciousness and spokesmanship (willing or otherwise) hitherto on display. Now I don’t know about them any more than I do about you, but what I do know is, show me someone who understands Bob Dylan, and I’ll show you Bob Dylan. Or, better still, show me someone who likes Bob Dylan in all his avatars, and I’ll show you a phoney. Me, I don’t care about stylistic changes much, or topical songwriting.

Where I stopped listening to Dylan was with Shot of Love. It was still excellent songwriting, and arrangements are arrangements, electric or not. I just lost it with the voice that Dylan had. See, Dylan had forsaken smoking, and he sounded, well, normal. Never a Caruso, Dylan had a voice of grit, gravel and gravity well beyond his years, and a rasp that sounded like he really, really meant things. Without a healthy layer of silt on his lungs, he sounded better, of course, but just not good enough. So, on ’Together Through Life’, the first remark springing is, ‘The Rasp is Back!’, and much, much more. Here is the intellectual critique of modern times in ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’. Here is the soulful, broken-hearted-ballad, ‘Life is Hard’ and of course, the romantic, wrathful, ‘Jolene’, with the topical, thematic approach that somehow still hasn’t won Dylan the inevitable Nobel laurel. One moment, though. This isn’t the voice I expected though, inasmuch it is not him, though unquestionably his. Truth be told, this is not as much passionate as it is plain phlegmatic. And, prejudice there is, but the overtone is still, very 1980 and thereon. Absent are the chords, the progressions of which may best be described as geometric. No trace of the uber-psychedelic Hammond-Fender-Rhodes-Vox arrangements. Where did the harp go? And why am I not smiling?

The only two pieces off this that will mean anything to me ever are ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’, with its wonderfully intricate underlying melody and the endless, endless ornamentation, sourced to David Hidalgo’s (of Los Lobos) accordion and the inimitable Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) on electric guitar, and the shamelessly danceable ‘Shake, Shake Mama’. ‘My Wife’s Hometown’ has its moments, but it does not transport me to the actual geography of it, nor does ‘Forgetful Heart’ impress or overwhelm me as did, say, ‘Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)’. The closing piece, ‘It’s All Good’ has a Chicago-shuffle-skiffle-bar rhythm section with lyrics both abstract and temporal, as only Dylan can provide, which is a relief. Irrespective of any and all other ‘transitions’, what Dylan has not lost is his ability to simply say things. “If you ever go to Austin, Fort Worth or San Antone, find the bar-rooms I got lost in and send my memories home’ croons he, on ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’, trumping introspection and poetic ability in one smooth typewriter stroke. He promptly destroys it with the silly sappiness of ‘This Dream of You’ with its opening blunder, “How long can I stay in this Nowhere Cafe before night turns to day.”

The upside of everything on ‘Together Through Life’ is the answer to The Band. Campbell and Hidalgo are resplendent, and Donnie Herron is a straight-up, back-up entity of solidity. It must be fulfilling for Dylan, to finally have three multi-instrumentalists supporting him, leaving him be to speculate and introspect unworried, especially considering Dylan’s touchstone, his voice is no longer the dominant force behind his music (though the literature still remains) and is better drowned down by electric washes and accordion licks than it would with a stripped-bare acoustic guitar and harp.

The record is not contrived, no. Nor is it unintelligent. What it is not is Bob Dylan, circa 1970 (substitute with era of preference). Be that as it may, it may still appeal to fanatics and men of poor taste and poorer information. I would consume it surely (classify in aforementioned segments as observed) but to recommend it is another question. The answer is not pleasing.

- The Real Cock n’ Cola

Electric or not, it’s still Folk Music. More of that, HERE.

Graham Central Station – GRAHAM CENTRAL STATION – 1973

This is the Funk-Soul debut by uber-funk guru Larry Graham’s second (and arguably better) band, Graham Central Station. Being a bass player, I was extremely excited to see what GCS had to offer. I mean, Larry Graham invented slapping. How cool is that?

Very. Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same thing for the album. It starts with an extremely well arranged a-capella with cheesy lyrics about the band waiting to play their songs. Not a bad start. As expected, the album is carried by Larry Graham’s dramatic and powerful bass-lines and singing. Speaking of which, I think he has one of the great voices of the 70’s and 80’s, which has sadly (but understandably, perhaps) been overshadowed by his status as a bass titan. It’s a powerful baritone that really fills a lot of space. Fantastic.

Better luck next time.

Better luck next time.

Speaking of the bass, Larry Graham’s tone is very different from today’s slap bass sound. You’d think it’d be like Flea, but less modern. But it’s VERY different. Much woodier, and not as steely. I like its ability of simultaneously hold a flatfootedly massive bottom end, while still venturing up the fretboard.

‘Hair’ is something of a landmark song. A classic bass riff that really gets the endorphins pumping carries the song, with Larry Graham’s baritone. Oh, and Chaka Khan is also AWESOME on this song- even though she is somewhat unsettlingly credited as ‘Chocolate’. Creepy. ‘We Be Getting Down’ is a terrible song by comparison, which amply showcases the downsides of lush arrangements and ornate singing by err….Chocolate. It’s used to cover up a lack of strong melody and lack of a strong groove. This is a recurring problem with this album. Chill out with the messy wall of sound, dude. I was actually relieved at the guitar solo in ‘People’, ‘cause the overly lush arrangements dropped out for a while.

Legend! :D

Legend, despite this not very strong album

The album should have been more sparsely arranged; I find too many voices, guitars, keyboards and horns jostling for space. Being Graham’s band, the bass towers over anything and everything, but that kinda leaves the rest of the arrangements a bit muddy. There’s too much counterpoint going on. It detracts from some strong melodies.

The best songs are dominated by the bass, thus subverting layer upon shitty layer of horns, keys and guitars i.e. ‘Hair’ and ‘Ain’t No fun to me’. I was expecting great things and fresh inspiration, but I got none, apart from these two songs, both of which I already knew. I say, download these two songs only, and spare yourself the trouble of sifting through some of the other gilded crap that does not sound right.

- El Bajista

For more of LARRY GRAHAM doing Christian Propoganda, click HERE. (Nothing else done yet.)

For more guys slapping a bass with an open E-String, click HERE.


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