A tale of two Harrys: Styles and Debbie

By Tom Von Malder | May 17, 2017
Photo by: Harley Weir/courtesy Columbia Records Harry Styles has released his first, self-named solo album.

Owls Head — Harry Styles: Harry Styles (Columbia CD, 40:23). Styles is the second member of One Direction to issue a solo album. Last year, Zayn Halik, who quit the popular band while it was still a viable group, issued a heavily r&b-flavored album. Overall, Styles had gone the pop route, filled with influences from the past. The initial single, "Sign of the Times," which has topped the charts in more than 84 countries, starts as a slow ballad, then rocks on the chorus. Overall, the song builds well, recalling Queen or David Bowie. Styles co-wrote all 10 songs.

The album's first five tracks are the best. They include "Meet Me in the Hallway," which is mainly voice and acoustic guitar. Styles supplies the backing vocals, which are closely aligned with his lead vocal, and he plays Omnichord. After the single comes "Carolina." It is Beatlesque in its strings and guitar and has a sly melody. "Two Ghosts" has an adult contemporary feel and is an acoustic-based look at lost love. Another ballad, "Sweet Creature," opens reminiscent of The Beatles' "Black Bird." Styles then turns to aggressive raunch for both "Only Angel" (about a bad girl he had to resort to meeting in hallways; it has Keith Richards style guitar playing) and "Kiwi" (very hard rock, yet with Bay City Rollers type shouts in the background). Elton John gets a nod with the "Bennie and the Jets" like start to "Woman." Styles is at his most reflective in the lyrics of the closing "From the Dining Table," as he sings about empty hotel rooms.

In addition to a vinyl version, the CD also is available in a limited edition hardcover format with 32 pages of photos taken during the recording process. It is very nice. Grade: A-

Blondie: Pollinator (BMG CD, 52:16). By definition, a pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower. This helps to bring about fertilization of the ovules in the flower by the male gametes from the pollen grains. Or in the music sense, it is a band, such as Blondie, that has heavily influenced other artists, many of whom collaborate on this bright, tuneful album that mixes typical Blondie sounds with the more typical production of the day. Half of the current Blondie lineup is made up of original members Debbie Harry on vocals, Chris Stein on guitar and Clem Burke on drums. Fleshing out the group are Leigh Foxx on bass, Matt Katz-Bohen on keyboards and Tommy Kessler on guitar. This is the band's 11th studio album.

The 12-song album -- the last track, "Tonight," a collaboration with fellow New York Laurie Anderson, is a hidden one -- opens with four tracks that feature strong hooks. A drum roll opens "Doom or Destiny" and Joan Jett duets with Harry on vocals. Even better, "Long Time," co-written by Devonte Hynes, aka Blood Orange, has an electronic sheen and goes soft for a verse near the end. Also buoyant pop is "Already Naked." Then comes the recent single, "Fun," which adds Nile Rodgers style guitar. "Fun" was co-written by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and it tends more towards disco rock. Johnny Marr (The Smiths) plays guitar on the cover of his "My Monster," while Sia contributes "Best Day Ever," which she co-wrote with Nick Valensi of The Strokes. Charli XCX co-wrote "Gravity," which is a dense mess. There is a marching band style sound with the drums and horns on "Love Level," which features comedian John Roberts of "Bob's Burgers." Also good is "Fragments," a 2010 song by Adam Johnston, aka an Unkindness. It is slower at the start, then speeds up, with some rough language. Grade: A-

Grateful Dead: Cornell 5/8/77 (Rhino/Grateful Dead, 3 CDs, 2:41:59). Grateful Dead recordings keep being issued as the band very nearly recorded all of its more than 2,000 concerts. None, however, continues to spark interest and provoke discussion quite like the band's performance at Cornell University's Barton Hall on May 8, 1977. The show is one of the most collected, traded and debated concerts by any band ever, has topped numerous fan polls through the years and a copy was added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2011. Now that concert has been released as a three-CD set, a limited edition five-LP set and part of an 11-disc box set, "May 1977: Get Shown the Light," that features the commercial debut of the Cornell University show, along with three other previously unreleased concerts: Veterans' Memorial Coliseum, New Haven, CT (May 5), Boston Garden, Boston, MA (May 7) and Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY (May 9). The latter is available from Dead.net. The recordings are from the legendary Betty Boards, which Jeffrey Norman has mastered in HDCD. The transfers from the master tapes were produced by Plangent Processes to make this the best, most authentic that Cornell has ever sounded.

"These four concerts have been the holy grail of wish-list releases both externally and internally for a long, long time," said David Lemieux, Grateful Dead archivist and the set's producer, in a press release. "During the 18-plus years I've worked with the Grateful Dead, no concert has garnered as much attention and as many requests for release as Cornell, with the New Haven, Boston and Buffalo shows following very closely behind. For those who didn't know the history of these master tapes and about their absence from the band's vault, and for those who have, like us, lamented this hole in the collection, we join with you in celebrating what might be, minute-for-minute, song-for-song, the most high quality Grateful Dead release ever produced."

The Dead -- Jerry Garcia, Donna Jean Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir -- had just completed "Terrapin Station," the band's ninth studio album, when they hit the road for a spring tour that led up to the album's release in late July. The set list offers up a sweeping retrospectives of the band's career, touching on the early psychedelic days ("Morning Dew" and "St. Stephen") and the rootsy early-Seventies (a jaunty cover of "El Paso" and "Loser ," with a lengthy Garcia guitar solo) up to and including previewing songs from the "Terrapin Station" ("Estimated Prophet" and a joyous cover of "Dancin' in the Street," a song which the Dead had dropped from their performances after New Year's Eve 1971, but resumed playing in 1976). Grade: A

Some recent soundtrack releases:

Chris Bacon: Bates Motel, original soundtrack music (Lakeshore CD, 73:05). Much as I loved the TV show, which recently ended its five-year run, there is really nothing memorable or exciting here in Bacon's music (no sizzle?). It is a serviceable score that, overall, is more low key than dramatic. The music is appropriately dark for the subject matter -- the life of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) prior to the Alfred Hitchcock film, "Psycho" -- and, in a nod to the film's music by Bernard Herrmann, there are lots of strings on the main theme. Throughout the disc, there are lots of eerie and somber strings. There also is melody, such as the second half of "White Pine Bay," the lyrical "Treehouse" and the melodic "A Frickin' Warrior." The disc closes with the string-filled, very pleasing "Goodnight Norma. "'Til Death Do You Part" features stronger piano. Other cues, however, are too brief, such as "Mother Knows Best," which stops just when it is getting good. Grade: C+

Jeff Russo: Legion, original television series soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 75:31). This is music from the current TV show, based on the Marvel Comics character, David Haller, making it connected to the X-Men universe. The film "Legion" was scored by John Frizzell in 2010. Russo has stated that the music here is intended to set people off balance, and it succeeds. There is a steady organ tone on the opening "Young David," but "Seeing Things Hearing Things" is just a series of electronic beeps for percussion and "Choir and Crickets" sounds exactly as it is labeled. Highlights include the approximately nine-minute "174 Hours," which is melodic and builds nicely. "The Shift and Cascade" features a cello, while "Almost Legion" starts with a simple drumbeat, with an occasional stutter, and a low synthesizer going all over the place, before it ends with strings. Reportedly, Russo used the same type of synthesizer as Pink Floyd used on their "Dark Side of the Moon" album. "87 Days" is more weirdness -- I live beneath at airplane flight path and the track sounded like an airplane coming in for a landing. The disc ends with a full suite of the cue "Darkness." Grade: B+

Trevor Morris: Emerald City, original television series soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 69:53). Morris, who has won two Emmys, currently scores "Taken" and Marvel's "Iron Fist." The NBC series "Emerald City," an updated version of Dorothy (Adria Arjona) and Oz (with Vincent D'Onofrio as the Wizard), has been cancelled, but Morris rather good score will live on through this CD. The music was recorded in London with a live orchestra, which is heard to good effect on "The Great Wizard of Oz," "Dorothy and Lucas," "Witches Hung in Square," "Dorothy and Toto Escape the Castle" and "Snowing Inside." At times, such as on "Prison of the Abject," the music is very atmospheric, even eerie. "To Emerald City" has melodic sweep, "The Cowardly Lion" is sonorous and "Lucas Fights Lucas" is very percussive. Grade: A-

Marco Beltrami: Logan, original motion picture soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 57:44). From the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this film reportedly is Hugh Jackman's final go as Wolverine. Beltrami, known for his music for "Mimic," "Resident Evil" and the four "Scream" films, also scored the previous Wolverine movie. There are action movie cues here, but no "superhero" music. "The Grim Reavers" is appropriately ominous, while "Alternate Route to Mexico" is more upbeat. The action-oriented cues include the percussive "X-24," "El Limo-nator" (some wild piano), "Farm Aid," the very percussive "Feral Tween" (also has some strange sounds) and "Into the Woods." There are some nice sounds, including James Bond like strings, on "Logan's Limo." Grade: B+

Bear McCreary: Colossal, original motion picture soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 41:09). The film is a science fiction comedy that stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Simon Pegg, among others. McCreary is well-known as a composer, especially for his television work, which included the revamped "Battlestar Gallactica" and "The Walking Dead." He won an Emmy for his music for "Da Vinci's Demons," and has three other Emmy nominations for "Black Sails," "Outlander" and "Human Target." Here, "A Monster Hypothesis" features piano and strings, while "Jealousy" is more ominous. "Birth of the Monster" has a very familiar, swirling strings sound, while "Confronting Oscar" is nice. The most different track is "The Most Irresponsible Thing," which takes a rock 'n' roll approach. Grade: B

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