Sundays With Marty: Cream, Aztec Camera, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Leo Kottke And More

MAGNET’s Kevin Friedman works next to a record store, which on Sundays is manned by a man named Marty, who puts out vinyl LPs from his own collection for a couple bucks each. Marty doesn’t adhere to any specific genre; the emphasis is on classic rock but there’s plenty of jazz, soul and funk in there, too. Kevin goes over at least twice a month with about $20 to see what he can find. Here is what he picked up this week:

Cream Live Cream: $3
Slowhand this is not. Raw, distorted, white hot, excessive and indulgent it is. Basically from the first needle drop on, everyone’s soloing all the time. Cream was easily Eric Clapton’s finest point. Sure, he sold more records as a solo artist, and yeah, the Yardbirds were cool, but this was where he actually rocked. This is basically Cream’s version of Live At Leeds, and as with the Who, the members are equally gratuitous in displaying their abilities. And that’s just on the first track, “N.S.U.” “Sleepy Time Time” is a slower, swinging blues that Clapton brings to a boil with his paced but increasingly intense soloing. “Sweet Wine” is more free-form jamming with Jack Bruce and Clapton sounding like they’re improvising in separate rooms, occasionally fusing for peak moments of adrenaline (or cocaine)-fueled catharsis. Then Bruce takes a terrible bass solo while Clapton repeated plinks a single chord. On “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” a foot-stomping, juke-joint rave up, Bruce plays lead on harmonica and does an admirable job of it. This album pretty much perfectly captures the insanity that this band was—and why they wouldn’t last. Even though there were only three of them, everyone wanted to be the center of attention.

Aztec Camera Knife: $3
Glasgow’s Roddy Frame really should’ve been bigger. Sure he did all right in the U.K., but he never really caught on over here. It’s odd, too, because his style of pure guitar pop wasn’t much different than Split Enz, and that band sure sold some records. “Still On Fire” leads off with an almost Jackson 5-esque guitar vamp before leading into classic ’80s British pop. The drum sounds, all reverby, are a dead giveaway for the times (1984), as are the keyboard horns and pseudo-funk bass lines, which fall just short of ruining Frame’s songcraft. Fortunately, these production techniques (from Mark Knopfler, of all people) start edging toward the back as the album moves forward. “Just Like The U.S.A.” recalls the aforementioned brothers Finn. As the LP progresses, it becomes more reflective, melancholic and better, with songs like “Head Is Happy” and what by title alone should be a great gay anthem, “Back Door To Heaven.” Side two continues with the tremendous songwriting and adds some instrumental flourish as well as on “All I Need Is Everything,” with the guitar provided by Orange Juice’s Malcom Ross. “Backwards And Forwards,” a Willie Nelson-style country ballad, mixes it up a little, but then Frame returns to a glorious depression with “Birth Of The True,” with the line “It’s not you that gets me down/It’s just that sense of the impossible gratuitously handed down” And yes, he rhymes “down” with “down,” but it still sounds great. He closes with the title track, another broken-hearted beauty that’s expansive and dreamy in contrast to the previously sharply edited tracks.

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel: $3
Peter Gabriel’s sophomore effort after leaving Genesis was produced by Robert Fripp, which means there are some amazing guitar sounds and solos to be heard here. Further, King Crimson bassist Tony Levin is also in the house. Overall, the album features a more aggressive approach than one normally associates with Gabriel. “D.I.Y.” borders on punk, while “On The Air” sounds like a mix of Genesis and the Who. Fripp and Levin stretch out on “Exposure,” while “White Shadow” features some more of Fripp’s signature soloing. “Animal Magic” and “Perspective” add more aggro pop. Throughout, there is a dated heavy-compression effect on Gabriel’s voice that hasn’t aged well but is understandable based on Fripp’s love for effects. “Mother Of Violence” is the kind of heartfelt, acoustic, consciousness ballad that we’ve come to expect from Gabriel, as is “Indigo.” This album took a few tries before I warmed up to it. Ultimately, it’s a winner, primarily because of Fripp’s playing, even more than his producing. It would be pretty bad if you put Gabriel, Fripp and Levin in a studio and didn’t come out with something great. No hits, though.

Roxy Music Manifesto: $3
After taking a few years off, Roxy Music returned with this somewhat dark and proggy disco album. Maybe disco isn’t fair, but they did have a club hit with “Dance Away.” Throughout the whole album, the bass, played by Alan Spencer is mixed quite high. Phil Manzanera’s guitars are also prominent and great with their effects-drenched tininess. “Angel Eyes” is a chugging rocker with more washed-out guitars and a harmonized saxophone break on the chorus. On “Still Falls The Rain,” a gorgeous, Eno-style guitar lead (played by Manzanera) gives way to Bryan Ferry’s falsetto, with which he waxes melancholic before a perky chorus kicks things up. There are more quasi-eerie soundscapes on “Stronger Through The Years” over insistent fretless-bass tones. It gets a bit jammy toward the end but stays just this side of cool with some dubbed sax loops. “Dance Away” is practically a lounge song that could’ve fit in the closing credits of a John Hughes film. “Cry Cry Cry” reaches into classic America R&B a la Wilson Pickett. “Spin Me Round” is a contemplative and leisurely ballad. There’s a slithery synthesized sound all over this album that says “late-’70s digital effects” but in a good way.

Leo Kottke Greenhouse: $2
Like everybody else, I associate Leo Kottke with the acoustic guitar, so the bouncy electric number that opens this album comes as somewhat of a shocker. It’s a great fingerstyle boogie, but it’s so brisk and sudden that it might’ve worked more effectively either on acoustic or at least later on the album. Kottke swings in a totally different direction with “Tiny Island,” a folk ballad that he sings in his woodsy baritone. No fingerpicking here, just strumming for accompaniment. Another surprise, but mournful and beautiful all the same. On “Song Of The Swamp,” we get the fingerpicked acoustic and slide guitar that Kottke has become known for. It’s a Ry Cooder-meets-John Fahey mix. He continues, adding some acoustic 12-string into the mix. Narratives emerge from the instrumentals as Kottke is able to coax stories from the strings. Throughout, he summons and quotes Doc Watson, Fahey and the Reverend Gary Davis, and a fair number of these selections are Fahey arrangements. There are several more songs on which Kottke sings, and though they took a minute to get used to, there is a soothing, folksy quality to his voice that is comforting even when he existentially ponders the repetitions of mortality on “From The Cradle To The Grave.”

Ohio Players First Impressions: $4
This is a 1972 reissue of recordings made in 1968, prior to the Players’ first album. In contrast to the slick R&B they became known for, this is stripped-down funk and soul. There are just less than a dozen songs, every one of them a stone groove, with dirty guitar riffs, driving bass lines, sweet and slightly out-of-tune horn lines, funky shuffles and smooth vocals. “A Little Soul Party” is a list of dance moves with instructions. “A Thing Called Love” is early JB-style funk. They even cover “Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard Of Oz with soaring falsetto vocals. My favorite is “I Got To Hold On,” a shout-along anthem. The whole album plays like a vintage soul comp, which it pretty much is.

John Hiatt Two Bit Monsters: $2
Since he’s been hailed as one of the country’s greatest songwriters for at least the last 20 years, I decided I’d pick up this 1980 release of John Hiatt as a young rocker. I expected it to be gutsy barroom fare, but instead it’s along the lines of what Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe were doing at the same time. That would be herky-jerky rock leaning slightly closer to pop than punk. The songs are tight and well-crafted examples of what was solid about late-’70s pop/rock, but they all end up blurring into one nail-biting set of nervous energy. Still, it’s surprising that none of these songs broke onto the charts, as nail-biting nervous energy was all the rage back then. “Good Girl, Bad World” could’ve been a contender, and “String Pull Job” is awesome power pop fusing the best parts of Cheap Trick and the Knack.

Count Basie & His Orchestra Basie Meets Bond: $1
Picking a handful of winners and theme songs from the first four Sean Connery-cast James Bond flicks, this album puts the highball in Thunderball. Sorry, that was terrible, but it’s accurate. These swinging spy tracks range between the dramatic and the jaunty, often within the same song, as on “007” from From Russia With Love. Count Basie captures both the intrigue and the fun of the music and franchise. “Girl Trouble” is Mingus like with its brooding, minor-toned swing and menacing horn interplay. There’re a few calypso numbers, “Kingston Calypso” and Underneath The Mango Tree,” culled from Dr. No, but the real fun are Mancini-esque classics like “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “From Russia With Love,” which would fit as easily on a Pink Panther soundtrack as a Bond one. They’ll also work at your next cocktail party. Corny cover art, but nothing but fun underneath.