Al Stewart – Year of the cat (Epic #304)

The Epic 2017 Project #304: 171031

Al Stewart – Year of the cat (1976)

Year of the Cat is the seventh studio album by Al Stewart, released in 1976 and was produced and engineered by Alan Parsons; it is considered his masterpiece and certainly always features in my ever-changing top 100 albums. Its sales were helped by the hit single “Year of the Cat”, “one of those ‘mysterious woman’ songs,” co-written by Peter Wood. The other single from the album was “On the Border”.

Stewart had all of the music and orchestration written and completely recorded before he even had a title for any of the songs. In a Canadian radio interview he stated that he has done this for six of his albums, and he often wrote four different sets of lyrics for each song. The title track derives from a song Stewart wrote in 1966 called “Foot of the Stage” with prescient lyrics about Tony Hancock, one of Britain’s favourite comedians who tragically committed suicide two years later. When Stewart discovered that Hancock was not well known in the United States, he went back to his original title “Year of the Cat”.

While Stewart is known for his guitar virtuosity, the song is recognized for producing amazing interplay of multiple guitars, piano, saxophone, violin and drums.

Steely Dan – Aja (Epic #303)

The Epic 2017 Project #303: 171030

Steely Dan – Aja (1977)

Aja (pronounced Asia) was the sixth album by jazz rock band Steely Dan. Originally released in 1977 on ABC Records, it became the group’s best-selling album. The credits for Aja list nearly 40 musicians, as band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players.

Peaking at No. 3 on the U.S. charts and No. 5 in the United Kingdom, Aja was the band’s first platinum album, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The record spawned a number of hit singles, including “Peg”, “Deacon Blues”, and “Josie”.

In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. In 2003 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and ranked number 145 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. Aja is often cited as one of the best test recordings for audiophiles, due to its high production standards.

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Epic #302)

The Epic 2017 Project #302: 171029

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (2012)

Marking his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, released in May 2012, features 11 new Springsteen recordings and was produced by Ron Aniello with Bruce Springsteen and executive producer Jon Landau. Said long-time manager Landau says…

Bruce has dug down as deep as he can to come up with this vision of modern life. The lyrics tell a story you can’t hear anywhere else, and the music is his most innovative of recent years. The writing is some of the best of his career, and both veteran fans and those who are new to Bruce will find much to love on Wrecking Ball

Sparks – Mael Intuition (Epic #301)

The Epic 2017 Project #301: 171028

Sparks – Mael Intuition (1977)

Sparks formed in Los Angeles in 1972 with brothers Ron on keyboards and Russell Mael on vocals. Sparks’ music is often accompanied by intelligent, sophisticated, and acerbic lyrics, and an idiosyncratic, theatrical stage presence, typified in the contrast between Russell’s animated, hyperactive frontman antics and Ron’s deadpan scowling. They are also noted for Russell Mael’s falsetto voice and Ron Mael’s keyboard playing style.

While achieving chart success in various countries around the world including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the United States, they have enjoyed a cult following since their first releases. During the late 1970s, when in collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, Sparks reinvented themselves as a new wave/synth-pop band, and abandoned the traditional rock band line-up. Their frequently changing styles and visual presentations have kept the band at the forefront of modern, art-pop music.

Mael Intuition was a best of compilation released in 1977.

Spandau Ballet – Journeys to Glory (Epic #300)

The Epic 2017 Project #300: 171027

Spandau Ballet – Journeys to glory (1981)

Journeys to Glory was the first studio album by Spandau Ballet. It was released on 6 March 1981 by Chrysalis Records, just ten days after its recording at Trident Studios. The first editions of the vinyl version (like mine) have an embossed cover. just 5,000 of these were pressed rendering it something of a collectors item some 36 years on.The album was re-released in a remastered and expanded 2 CD Special Edition on 8 March 2010.

When it was released the album was considered “fresh, bold, and even somewhat avant-garde”Many fans feel that the spare, drum-led, funk-undertones are more original than the group’s later soul-influenced recordings. AllMusic describes the recordings as “completely unforgettable” and Hadley’s semi-operatic vocals as “really strong” and demonstrating a “willingness to experiment”.

Son of Dave – Explosive Hits (Epic #298)

The Epic 2017 Project #298: 171025

Son of Dave – Explosive Hits (2016)

Benjamin Darvill (born January 4, 1967), known by his stage name Son of Dave, is a Canadian musician and singer–songwriter, based in the United Kingdom. He was a member of Grammy award-winning folk rock band Crash Test Dummies in which he played harmonica, mandolin, guitar and percussion before returning to his blues, Beat-Box and harmonica driven solo work in 2000.

Darvill moved to London in 1998 and has remained there since. He’s recorded six albums to date and performed over eight hundred shows across Europe, as well as performing in Canada, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Uganda, Japan, Russia, and Cuba. Explosive Hits was released in 2016.

The Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks (Epic #297)

The Epic 2017 Project #297: 1701024

The Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks (2012)

Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies (aka The Smoke Fairies) met at school in Chichester, West Sussex during the late 1990s. They spent 2002 in New Orleans, where they absorbed American blues music.When they returned to England they discovered British folk music at the Sidmouth Folk Week Festival while working as car park attendants. They later settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for a year before returning to London to start performing.

In 2007, Smoke Fairies toured the UK in support of Bryan Ferry and the following year they released their debut single, “Living with Ghosts”, on Music for Heroes. Richard Hawley was an early supporter of the act, saying they were “frankly the best thing I have heard in years”. They supported Hawley on his Truelove’s Gutter Tour of the UK in October 2009.

In December 2009, Smoke Fairies became the first UK act to release a single on Jack White’s label Third Man Records. The double A-side single, “Gastown” / “River Song”, was produced by Jack White who also played guitar and drums. Smoke Fairies performed at the 2010 South by South West (SXSW) festival in Texas and supported Laura Marling on a month-long tour of the United States.

They signed to V2 Records/Cooperative Music and released their debut album Through Low Light and Trees in September 2010, latterly self-released in the United States in June 2011 via Year Seven Records. The album was produced by long-term PJ Harvey collaborator Head and recorded at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall.

To promote the album the band was invited to record a live session for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6. And invited back for another session a few months later. The duo also recorded a live session with their band for John Kennedy’s “X-Posure” on XFM. In November 2010, Smoke Fairies’ recording of Neil Young’s “Alabama” appeared on a special Mojo album to mark the approaching fortieth anniversary of Young’s Harvest LP.

The band embarked on its first headline tour of the UK – a sell-out – in January–February 2011 and performed at several festivals that summer, including Primavera Sound in Barcelona.Before heading to the United States in June 2011 to perform at North by Northeast Festival and their own headline shows, returning again in August 2011 Jessica & Katherine toured the U.S. with Rasputina. Smoke Fairies again returned to the US in October to play support for Blitzen Trapper and Dawes making their second coast-to-coast tour of the year.

Smoke Fairies’ follow-up album, Blood Speaks, was released on 21 May 2012, again with a delayed release in the US of 23 April 2013. Produced by Head,Blood Speaks was recorded in West London’s Eastcote Studio and is inspired by London and by travelling. Here’s the title track.

The Smiths (Epic #296)

The Epic 2017 Project #296: 171023

The Smiths (1984)

After signing with independent record label Rough Trade, The Smiths began preparations to record their first album in mid 1983. Due to the suggestion of Rough Trade head Geoff Travis, the band selected Troy Tate (former guitarist of The Teardrop Explodes) as producer for sessions at Elephant studios in Wapping. During the following month the group recorded fourteen songs.

While recording a BBC session for Dave Jensen in August 1983, the Smiths met producer John Porter. Travis, harbouring reservations about the group’s session with Troy Tate, gave Porter a cassette of the sessions beforehand in the hopes that he could remix them. Porter told Travis that the sessions were “out of tune and out of time”. Feeling the Tate sessions were unsalvageable, Porter offered to re-record the album himself. Despite praising the work with Tate only a week prior to the press by stating “we’ve done everything exactly right and it’ll show”, Smiths singer Morrissey accepted (as did Travis), while guitarist Johnny Marr hesitantly agreed.

The Smiths began work with Porter in September 1983. Due to tour commitments, the band had to make the record in a piecemeal fashion. Recording started at London’s Matrix Studios, with the majority of the work undertaken during a week’s stay at Pluto, just outside Manchester. A final overdub session was performed at Eden Studios in London that November. After listening to a finished mix of the album the following month, Morrissey told Porter and Travis that the album “wasn’t good enough”. However, the album’s pre-production costs of £6,000 persuaded his otherwise and release went ahead.

The sleeve for The Smiths’ debut was designed by Morrissey. It features American actor Joe Dallesandro in a cropped still from Andy Warhol’s 1968 film ‘Flesh’. The photograph of Morrissey on the original card inner sleeve was taken at an early London concert by Romi Mori, who would subsequently play bass guitar for The Gun Club.

‘The Smiths’ was released on 20 February 1984. It was well received by the critics as well as the public and reached No.2 on the UK Albums Chart, staying in the charts for 33 weeks.

Skindred – Roots rock riot (Epic #295)

The Epic 2017 Project #295: 171022

Skindred – Roots rock riot (2007)

Skindred hail from Newport in Wales and were formed in 1998. They rather uniquely blend heavy metal and reggae to produce their own take on alternative rock.

They are well known for their energetic and involving live performances, and have won several awards including “Best Live Band” at the 2011 UK Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards and the “Devotion Award” at the 2011 Kerrang! Awards.

Roots Rock Riot was their second album