[So speaking as we were yesterday of producer Lewis Merenstein, I thought I'd repost this piece from 2013. Enjoy, if possible. -- S.S.]
Okay, I'm about to admit something that I've never admitted to another living soul, and certainly not to another living rock critic, for what will be obvious reasons.
I do not now care, and have never particularly cared, for Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.
Okay, there I've said it.
Which, of course, given the album's status as pretty much the holiest bovinae in the entire rock album canon, is more or less akin to confessing I was glad the Greek colonels overthrew King Constantine.
And lest you think I'm just being difficult, or trying to generate some sort of blog-hit controversy, I'm not. I don't dislike the album; it simply doesn't talk to me. Maybe it's genetic, I dunno, but I just find it a little dull. So sue me.
I bring all this up because the other day -- having some more than usual time on my hands -- I finally got around to purchasing a copy of an album called Tax Free that I've been meaning to check out for ages. And therein lies a tale.
Longtime readers are aware of my fondness for a Dutch 60s beat group called The Outsiders (not to be confused with the American greaseball outfit of the same name and era who hit it big with "Time Won't Let Me.")
The Dutch Outsiders never had any of their music released in this country, but they were pretty big in Europe and they've developed a cult following in recent years; some folks claim they're the best 60s band for whom English was not their original language, and while I won't go that far, they were pretty damn good. Maybe not world class, but definitely worth hearing in that sort of Stones/Pretty Things snarling r&b derived rock style that was all the rage back then.
In any case, Tax Free was the band Outsiders singer Wally Tax formed after the breakup of that bunch, and unlike the rest of his previous oeuvre, their eponymous elpee was actually released -- albeit to an utterly oblivious public -- in the US of A.
What I didn't know until recently is that Tax Free's eponymous album has often been compared to Astral Weeks, presumably because it's produced by Lewis Merenstein (who produced AW), it features Richard Davis (who did similar duty on AW) on upright bass, it's in the same pastoral more or less acoustic quasi-jazz style as AW, and because it, like AW, makes me very, very sleepy.
Have I mentioned that John Cale plays viola on the album?
Anyhow, all of this is a very roundabout way of setting up a Compare and Contrast that may prove edifying.
From 1965, it's the angry young Them (featuring Van Morrison) and "I Can Only Give You Everything"...
...and from 1968, it's the not so angry Van Morrison (from Astral Weeks) and "Cypress Avenue."
Meanwhile, from 1967, here are the savage young The Outsiders (featuring Wally Tax) and "Story 16"...
...and from 1970, here are the far more genteel Tax Free (featuring Wally Tax) and "Yiva."
Seriously -- do either of those examples strike you guys as some kind of musical evolution? Or at least one worth writing home about?
Because what I hear in both cases -- and yes, obviously I'm exaggerating to make a point -- is more like a failure of nerve.