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Archive for January, 2015

CD review/ Zikr Tera — Roopkumar & Sunali Rathod


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Zikr Tera/ Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod

Genre: Ghazal

Label: Copyright Roopkumar Rathod; published by Turnkey Music & Publishing

Price: Rs 200

Rating: *** 1/2

OVER the past two decades or so, the ghazal duo of Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod has released some popular albums like ‘Ishaara’, ‘Mohabbat Ho Gayi’, ‘Mitwa’, ‘Khushboo’ and ‘Bazm-e-Meer’. To mark their 25th wedding anniversary, they have now come out with ‘Zikr tera’, which is also a tribute to the late Jagjit Singh.

Featuring eight ghazals, a highlight of the album is the choice of simple yet effective poetry, mostly penned by newer names. Each ghazal contains only three or four shers, which help the songs attain a certain compactness. The arrangements by Deepak Pandit are melodic, with some neat solos and interludes.

The collection has five solo songs by Roopkumar, two by Sunali and one duet in the opening song ‘Haathon mein haath’. Penned by Shakeel Azmi, it impresses with the matla “Kuchh is tarah se milein hum ki baat reh jaaye, Bichad bhi jaaye toh haathon mein haath reh jaaye”. The poet also writes Sunali’s ‘Aur kuchh din’, which begins, “Aur kuchh din yahaan rukne ka bahaana milta, Is naye shahar mein koi toh puraana milta.”

The young poet Saani Aslam contributes with ‘Zaroorat uski’, which goes, “Rukh badalte hue mausam si hai fitrat uski, kuchh dinon ke liye main bhi tha zaroorat uski” and the veteran Madan Pal writes ‘Sawaal sabne kiya’. Both songs are sung by Roopkumar.

A highlight of the album is Parveen Kumar Ashhk, who writes the last three ghazals. On Sunali’s ‘Abr guzra’, he shows a distinct influence of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the opening sher “Abr guzra hai bekhabar kitna, zard hai aaska shajar kitna”. Both ‘Meri chaadar tha’ and ‘Zamin ko aye khuda’ have been sung by Roopkumar, with the latter having the wonderful lines, “Mohabbat mein badal jaaye siyaasat, Khuda Lahore Dilli se mila de.”

The rendition of the poetry is assisted by the clear diction of the singers. Among the musicians, Deepak Pandit shines on the violin, with Ashvin Srinivasan and Rakesh Chaurasia chipping in on flute, Sunil Das playing sitar, Heera Pandit handling tabla and percussion, and Sanjay Jaipurwale contributing on guitar.

On the whole, it’s a well-produced album, though one wishes there were a couple of duets more. That would have created a perfect balance.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

The Demis Roussos radio days


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IN my last blog, I talked of how I was first exposed to American band Eagles through the radio. Yesterday, barely a week after its publication, we heard of the death of Greek singer Demis Roussos, who was incidentally another artiste whom many of us first experienced on the radio. In fact, the news came barely an hour after we learnt of the demise of India’s greatest cartoonist RK Laxman, who was an institution by himself. While Laxman was mourned across India and by its diaspora, Demis’ death came as a double blow for a small section of us who have admired him earlier on.

Unlike the Eagles, whom I continued to explore over the years, and do so even today, my following of Demis’s music by and large ended in the 1970s itself. Yes, a few songs are definitely part of my childhood memories, and I have occasionally heard them in recent years. These include ‘My only fascination’, ‘Goodbye my love goodbye’, ‘Lovely lady of Arcadia’, ‘Forever and ever’, ‘My friend the wind’ and his version of George Baker Selection’s ‘Una paloma blanca’. Some would have heard his progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, formed in the late 1960s with famed keyboardist Vangelis. And, of course, the hardcore Hindi film music fans would know that RD Burman’s ‘Mehbooba mehbooba’ was actually a direct lift of his ‘Say you love me’.

In the 1970s, in the absence of music television, one was acquainted with Demis only through his voice on the radio. He had a distinct timbre, which was deep and sensuous, and though it wasn’t necessarily so as a rule, just by listening to him, one might have suspected that he was a towering personality. Only after seeing his photos in magazines like ‘Sun’ and ‘JS’ could one confirm that his bulk and his extra-colourful kaftans matched his enormous voice.

The timbre is like a signature of the voice. Though a distinct timbre is no guarantee for greatness or success, it’s definitely an advantage for those who possess it. Accompanied by flawless expression and good compositions, it can do wonders. Among the male English singers, there have been quite a few with a completely unique texture. Besides Demis, examples would be Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Roy Orbison, bluesman John Lee Hooker, James Taylor, the nasal Bob Dylan, later-day Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richard, Paul Anka, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, and among the newer singers Richard Hawley and the National’s Matt Beringer.

The thing about such voices is that they stand out, even when the compositions or words aren’t great. Though the singer may be influenced by someone from the past, he uses his timbre to sound completely new and unique. Moreover, it’s extremely difficult to copy the singer exactly the way he sounds, unless one is a master mimic. Whenever someone tries to ape these singers, one can easily detect that he is just a clone, and vastly different from the original.

Demis’ voice had all these qualities, but what made him even more different was that he possessed a thick Mediterranean Europe accent which one hadn’t heard much in English music. There was a mix of pop, gospel, old-school opera and modern theatricality in his rendition style, and some people even called him the ‘pop Pavarotti’. And by mixing all this with lush, balladsy tunes that pleased the ear, he had a concoction that stood apart by miles.

Though Demis has sold a whopping 60 million records in his lifetime, his success was restricted to the 1970s. He released successful songs like ‘Follow me’, ‘I need you’ and ‘Island of love’ in the 1980s, but he couldn’t penetrate the much-changed pop market which relied more on Michael Jackson’s dance-driven showmanship, Madonna’s stage presence or Prince’s flamboyance. Later efforts to re-release his greatest hits on cassette or CD met with a limited response, restricted to the hardcore fans. Though he continued to perform live shows, he remained largely unseen on video. Unless one had heard him on the radio during his hey day, one barely got exposed to his music.

BACK in the 1970s, English music radio in India was a completely different scene. Most of us heard songs on All India Radio or Radio Ceylon, and a few tuned in to Voice of America or BBC. On AIR, Mumbai had slots on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Growing up in Delhi, I regularly switched on to ‘Forces Requests’ on Monday, ‘A Date With You’ on Friday and the 25-minute Monday-to-Friday programme ‘In The Groove’, which also became well-known because guest RJ Geeta Chopra and her brother Sanjay were kidnapped and murdered while returning after recording an episode in 1978, in what turned out to be the Billa-Ranga case.

The airplay on the radio shows primarily consisted of pop, evergreens and country, with a bit of radio-friendly rock thrown in. The teenagers couldn’t afford too many vinyl records, and the recorded cassette fad was yet to begin. So the best option was to catch the best songs on radio.

Broadly, one may divide the popular radio artistes of those days into three categories. The first comprised those who one first heard on the radio, and continued to pursue by buying vinyl records or cassettes, and much later, CDs. These included the Beatles, ABBA, Boney M, Cliff Richard, Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Cerrone, John Denver, the Carpenters, Bread, the Eagles, Uriah Heep, Santana, specific Pink Floyd songs like ‘Time’, ‘Money’ and ‘Another brick in the wall’, and songs from the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’ soundtracks.

Secondly, there was a category of singers who were primarily recognised for one or two songs in India, though they weren’t necessarily one-hit wonders abroad. Examples were Carl Douglas for ‘Kung fu fighting’, George McRae for ‘Rock your baby’, Mary Hopkin for ‘Those were the days’, Johnny Wakelin for ‘In Zaire’ and ‘Black superman’, Tina Charles for ‘Dance little lady’, Baccara for ‘Yes sir, I can boogie’, Helen Reddy for ‘I am a woman’, Gloria Gaynor for ‘I will survive’, the Archies for ‘Sugar sugar’, Susan Raye for ‘LA International Airport’ and even the versatile country singer Glen Campbell, who we in India knew only for ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. There were also acts like Mungo Jerry and Terry Jacks, whose respective songs ‘In the summertime’ and ‘Seasons in the sun’ were revived through remixed versions in the 1990s.

Thirdly, there were these acts which were quite prolific on radio in the 1970s, but lost much of our attention in the following decade, though some of us still bought their greatest hits compilations many years later to refresh memories of days gone by. These included Paul Anka, Perry Como, Lobo, Diana Ross, Brotherhood of Man and George Baker Selection.

Needless to say, Demis Roussos belonged to this last category. Those who heard radio during the 1970s would have specific memories of his ‘Goodbye my love goodbye’, ‘Lovely lady of Arcadia’ or ‘My only fascination’, and the news of his death would have taken them down melody lane. Significantly enough, even four decades after he created these songs, one can’t think of any singer who sounds remotely similar to him. That was the uniqueness of his style.

Flying with the Eagles


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SOME time in the early 1980s, my first exposure to the Eagles came through the radio. Strangely, it wasn’t with their super-hit ‘Hotel California’, but with two other gems ‘Lyin eyes’ and ‘One of these nights’, both of which impressed me instantly. Those days, I was just getting into rock, but by tastes were quite strong on pop and country. As the Eagles used a bit from all these genres, I loved their sound.

Memories of my early and subsequent exposure to the Eagles came alive again on Saturday, January 17, when I attended the performance by Scottish tribute band Hotel California at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. Almost 20 years ago, I had seen another tribute band whose name I don’t remember, at the Sophia Bhabha Hall. Needless to say, I enjoyed both shows thoroughly, but one of my regrets is not seeing the original band live.

On Saturday, the Scots played many of the popular songs, right from ‘Seven bridges road’, ‘Peaceful easy feeling’, ‘New kid in town’, ‘Take it easy’, ‘Desperado’, ‘Lyin eyes’, ‘Best of my love’, ‘Witchy woman’, ‘Already gone’, ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘One of these nights’, ‘Life in the fast lane’, ‘Take it to the limit’, and ‘Hotel California’, to some solo numbers like Don Henley’s ‘Boys of summer’ and Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain way’. They also omitted a lot of favourites, like ‘Heartache tonight’, ‘Pretty maids all in a row,’, ‘The long run’, ‘Doolin-Dalton’, ‘Love will keep us alive’, ‘Get over it’, ‘Victim of love’, ‘In the city’, ‘I can’t tell you why’, ‘Waiting in the weeds’ and probably because they didn’t have a saxophonist, ‘The sad café’.

The tribute band definitely provided many moments of nostalgia, and musically, they excelled with their crisp vocals and tight guitars, with Jim Bowie producing some amazing slide and wah-wah riffs. The strong point of the Eagles music was their vocal harmonies, and the duplicates blended them well, though at times, one felt they never went as effortlessly high as the originals. One guesses they should have been given more time, shortening the performance of opening act Silvia, who buoyantly sang some bubbly pop and disco hits, but whose music wasn’t really in sync with what was in store. Another four or five songs by Hotel California, and it would have been perfect.

THAT much about the tribute. A bit more on the Eagles influence.

To me, the Eagles is one of the three American bands to release relatively fewer albums, and yet consistently produce sing-along anthems. The other two bands I am referring to are Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and the Doors featuring Jim Morrison. If one excludes the two Doors albums without Morrison and includes their ‘An American Prayer’, which posthumously used recordings of his vocals and spoken words, all these three bands released seven studio albums of fresh material.

The Doors released their first six albums between 1967 and 1971, when Morrison died, and ‘An American Prayer’ was out in 1978. CCR released their seven albums between 1968 and 1972, the year in which the Eagles came out with their self-titled debut. The latter released six great albums till 1979, and then after a really long gap, came out with ‘A Long Road Out of Eden’ in 2007. Their songs continued to be played, and there was a sudden Eagles wave in 1994 when they released ‘Hell Freezes Over’, essentially a live album with four new studio recordings thrown in.

The Doors, CCR and the Eagles thus released very few albums. But their consistency with whatever they released was too high. The only other band which arguably beat them in the frequency of widely-known hits was the Beatles, despite releasing more albums. And if one includes the pure pop world, Swedish group ABBA were probably equally high in consistency over eight studio albums.

With such a perfect record, it’s no surprise that the Eagles are one of the world’s most popular groups. And the best thing about them is that had could attract rock fans, pop fans and country fans. They had what is called a ‘four quadrant appeal’, in that they were loved equally by young people, old people, males and females. That’s what makes them the largest selling American band, and the fifth largest selling musical act, in history, with figures exceeding 150 million records.

MY own experience of listening to the Eagles can be divided into many phases. First came the radio phase, with ‘Lyin eyes’ and ‘One of these nights’ followed by ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Take it easy’. Those were the days I enjoyed the basic melodies and sound. From their accents, it was obvious they were an American band, but for many years, I had no clue they represented the southern California sound.

This was followed by the compilations phase, when I heard cassettes of ‘Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)’ and ‘Eagles Greatest Hits Vol 2’, discovering gems like ‘Peaceful easy feeling’, ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘Desperado’, ‘The sad café’, ‘I can’t tell you why’ and ‘Life in the fast lane’.

Naturally, I began exploring the studio albums, first buying vinyl copies of ‘Hotel California’ and ‘The Long Run’. This introduced me to the individual contributions of vocalists-guitarists Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, drummer-vocalist Don Henley and bassist Randy Meisner and his successor Timothy B Schmidt. I read in a magazine that singer Bob Seger did the back-up vocals on ‘Heartache tonight’ but didn’t get any credit, and that jazz saxophonist David Sanborn played the remarkable solo on ‘The sad café’.

After listening to earlier studio albums like ‘Eagles’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘One of these nights’, I also began appreciating the work of vocalist-guitarist Bernie Leadon. I discovered that Jackson Browne co-wrote ‘Take it easy’ and Jack Tempchin penned ‘Peaceful easy feeling’. The one album I have never heard completely is 1974’s ‘On The Border’, and was thus clueless of the Tom-Waits-written ‘Ol 55’, which the tribute band played the other day.

Barring ‘On The Border’, I heard the albums repeatedly, but like is the case with many bands, there was a temporary stoppage as far as the Eagles were concerned, the only exception being the song ‘Hotel California’, which was covered by half the bands on earth. There were some small forays into the band members’ solo albums, like Don Henley’s ‘The End of the Innocence’ and Joe Walsh’s ‘Got Any Gum?’ but most of the solo recordings were not available in India, and they didn’t sound as great as the band anyway.

In the mid-1990s, the release of the live album ‘Hell Freezes Over’ marked the return of the Eagles phase. The acoustic version of ‘Hotel California’ was stunning, the newer songs ‘Get over it’, ‘Love will keep us alive’, ‘The girl from yesterday’ and ‘Learn to be still’ had the Eagles class, and the live renditions of ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘Wasted time’, ‘Take it easy’, ‘I can’t tell you why’ and the Henley solo ‘New York minute’ was all superbly executed.

By this time, the way one appreciated music also changed. If I initially liked the songs more for the melodies and hooks, I now got deeper into the lyrics and the harmonies. The Eagles songs have such intricate vocal harmonies, and hearing them closely offered a completely new perspective. So I would hear all the old favourites again, but with special focus on the harmonies. I would appreciate the guitaring patterns in greater detail, and also the drumming of pieces like ‘Heartache tonight’ and ‘New kid in town’. One also started identifying more with the southern California sound they represented, and that added to the listening pleasure.

After another short pause, the DVD phase arrived. The ‘Hell Freezes Over’ DVD was out in the late 1990s, but the real masterpiece was the ‘Farewell Tour 1-Live from Melbourne’ double set released in 2005. Besides the popular hits, it had the Walsh solo ‘One day at a time’, which celebrated his recovery from cocaine and alcohol addiction. The 2013 documentary ‘History of the Eagles’ also makes for perfect viewing for fans.

The last album ‘Long Road out of Eden’, released in 2007 after a 28-year gap, had some great numbers too, specially ‘Waiting in the weeds’, ‘Busy being fabulous’, ‘No more cloudy days’ and ‘How long’. Sadly, many old-time Eagles fans didn’t get too deeply into it, even though it did commercially well, and was the highest selling album of that year.

As with the general trend, the past few years have involved discovering some rare Eagles footage on YouTube, including some fantastic live sessions from 1977. Now, after the recent tribute concert, another Eagles phase has begun. Of course, the immediate priority is to give a closer listen to ‘On The Border’.

For its part, the band has had some well-received tours since 2013. Though the shows continue today, Henley has indicated their performances may soon come to an end. The fact, of course, is that the Eagles have released enough great music which fans can relish forever. Even after 35 or 40 years of listening to them, one finds something new. That’s precisely why they are so special.

CD review/ Raagatronic — Shriram Sampath & Swarupa Ananth


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Raagatronic/ Shriram Sampath and Swarupa Ananth

Genre: Indo-fusion

Label: Times Music

Price: Rs 295

Rating: ****

THE blend of traditional Indian music with electronic textures has a large potential audience among the younger generation. Mostly, these listeners consist of people who like the ambience of Indian classical music, without really knowing much about the nuances, and want something modern and progressive at the same time.

‘Raagatronic’, composed, arranged and programmed by Shriram Sampath and Swarupa Ananth of the group Filter Coffee, is a commendable effort in this direction. Shriram, a flautist, and Swarupa, who plays tabla and many other percussion instruments, use classical Hindustani raagas, and mix them with hypnotic electronic grooves and ambient sounds. For the main melodies, they have chosen stringed and bowed instruments like the sitar, e-sarod, guitar, dilruba, sarangi and violin, using a good balance between sampled sounds and live playing.

The album begins with raag Pilu, using a sitar sound, and uses violin on Darbari, guitar on Bhimpalasi, sarangi on Bhairav, sitar on Malkauns, dilruba on Yaman and e-sarod on Ahir Bhairav. The final piece, set in Bhairavi, uses the violin, veena and sarod. While the guest artistes include Chintoo Singh and Vipul Khunte on guitars, Manas Kumar on violin and Praashekh Borkar on e-sarod, Swarupa has herself played the tabla and percussions.

Incorporating many eclectic sounds and a wide assortment of rhythms, the tunes grow on repeated listening. Personal favourites are Bhimpalasi, Malkauns and Yaman, which have a good build-up and a perfect amalgam of the traditional raags and modern elements. Bhairavi impresses with its peppiness, and tight mix of sounds. The only jarring piece is Bhairav, where the sampled sarangi sounds rough in comparison to the actual sound of the instrument.

Being an experimental album, this may not impress the purists looking for the conventional way of gradually increasing the tempo to explore raags. But for audiences with an open mind, this is a good set to keep on loop. The pieces are roughly between four-and-a-half to a little over five minutes in length, and thus never drag. All in all, a good collection to boost your mood, with a soul that’s very Indian.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

CD review/ Melody Road – Neil Diamond


melody road

Melody Road/ Neil Diamond

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Labels: Universal Music

Price: Rs 395

Rating: ****

NEIL Diamond just has to be one of the best singers ever. His distinct vocal timbre, soaring range and ability to write great songs give him a special advantage. Having been prolific since the mid-1960s, he continues to churn out some incredible stuff today at the age of 73.

Tune in to his latest album ‘Melody Road’, and it’s amply clear Diamond hasn’t lost an iota of his charm. His songs are simple yet powerful, and his voice still has the magic we heard on earlier anthems like ‘Play me’, ‘Crackling Rosie’, ‘Beautiful noise’ , ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Soolaimon’, ‘Shilo’, ‘Kentucky woman’ and ‘Song sung blue’.

Setting this 12-track set into motion is the typically-Diamond title song, where he begins, “Melody road I’m on with you, all the way to the end, I know every song you lead me to is gonna be my friend.” On ‘First time’, he sounds like he’s about to slip into ‘Cracklin Rosie’.

These songs just build the mood, but on the third number ‘Seongah and Jimmy’, Diamond springs a complete surprise. A song about the love between a Korean girl and American boy, inspired by his brother-in-law, this is very unlike Diamond, and has a flute-driven theatrical ambience.

The other tunes brim with romance and emotion too. On the waltzy ballad ‘Something blue’, he sings, “I came with a little bit of sorrow, was maybe a bit too sad; But one day rolled into tomorrow, and you gave me the best you had; That’s how we started together, and how together we’re gonna stay.”

Then, on ‘Nothing but a heartache’, he easily gets into the higher octave to deliver the words, “You’re the sum of all my heartbeats, you’re the only truth my heart needs; Showed me how to make the journey. I can’t let you walk away; No, not today; ‘Cause I’ve already slept with heartache, time to chase the night away; Just the two of us together, does forever sound okay?; Say yes it does, say yes it does.”

The nostalgia-filled ‘In better days’, the haunting ‘(OOO) Do I wanna be yours’ and the uptempo, Billy Joel-ish ‘Alone at the ball’ grow on repeated hearing, whereas ‘Sunny disposition’ and ‘The art of love’ talk of romantic liaisons. The optimistic ‘Marry me’ is filled with celebratory trumpets, as Diamond sings, “Marriage’s not an easy thing, but look at all the joy it brings.”

Backed by charming acoustic guitars and moody string sections, the songs are tightly composed and neatly arranged. If you thought Diamond’s later albums ’12 Songs’ and ‘Home Before Dark’ were enough proof that he is showing no signs of slowing down, ‘Melody Road’ further substantiates that feeling. Like all his previous work, it’s his voice that works wonders.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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