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Monday, April 4, 2016

Alan Price: A Price On His Head

ALAN PRICE: A PRICE ON HIS HEAD (1967)

1) The House That Jack Built; 2) She's Got Another Pair Of Shoes; 3) Come And Dance With Me; 4) On This Side Of Goodbye; 5) So Long Dad; 6) No One Ever Hurt So Bad; 7) Don't Do That Again; 8) Tickle Me; 9) Grim Fairy Tale; 10) Living Without You; 11) Happy Land; 12) To Ramona; 13*) Biggest Night Of Her Life; 14*) Don't Stop The Carnival; 15*) The Time Has Come; 16*) When I Was A Cowboy; 17*) Tappy Tortoise; 18*) Love Story; 19*) My Old Kentucky Home; 20*) Trimdon Grange Explosion; 21*) Falling In Love Again; 22*) Sunshine And Rain; 23*) Is There Anybody Out There; 24*) Not Born To Follow.

Apparently, ʻSimon Smithʼ worked so well that, for a brief while at least, Alan Price decided to become for Randy Newman what The Byrds used to be for Bob Dylan — there's a whoppin' seven Newman covers on this album itself, and a few more among the 11 bonus tracks that were kindly added by the Repertoire label when the album was released on CD, all culled from con­temporary singles and whatnot. Throw in an extra Dylan cover and a Goffin/King one, and you will almost be missing out on the fact that there are also four Alan Price originals, which is about four more than on the previous record — a major step in the direction of artistic independence and the establishment of the man's personal identity.

Of the four songs, ʻShe's Got Another Pair Of Shoesʼ is a meatily arranged R&B number, not particularly original or exciting — sort of like a calmed-down James Brown tune, only distin­guished with a fluent, but weirdly out-of-tune piano solo. The other three, however, are firmly in the then-current Brit-pop vein, with vaudeville and music hall influences all over, but no traces of that «English haughtiness» that sometimes turns people away from (and, more rarely, on to) this kind of material — in other words, there's no danger of Alan Price ever developing the airs of a David Bowie or a Robert Fripp (come to think of it, his Newcastle-Durham background would probably be incompatible with such attitudes).

ʻThe House That Jack Builtʼ, in particular, is a catchy piece of lyrical absurdity, stuck somewhere between Dylan and Monty Python and oozing abstract sarcasm over its rise-up-and-shine arran­gement, all pianos and woodwinds and morning breeze. ʻDon't Do That Againʼ is more slight in nature, but is actually even more catchy, a half-comical number on personal relationship issues that shows an actual talent for vocal hooks — not an ability you'd suspect Mr. Price of owning based on his earlier career; and ʻGrim Fairy Taleʼ, a song that calls out loud for a tuxedo and top hat, is quite a serious compositional stake, with several distinct parts seamlessly merged together in a mini-suite that niftily shifts between ironically-happy and melancholic moods.

Of course, these are only his first efforts, and as far as meaningful-emotional compositions go, most of the covered Randy Newman tunes here are superior — in fact, Newman is an obvious influence on Price himself as songwriter; but at least Alan's interpretations of Randy's material do the material perfect justice — and, if you have a hard time warming up to Randy's creaky voice and raw, rambling arrangements (you shouldn't, but it would be understandable), then Price's smooth, pleasant deliveries and the tight control that he has over his brass section will be just right for a first impression. (Same as the Byrds/Dylan relationship, yes). At the same time, I can­not say that he really goes all the way to make the songs more interesting: in the case of ʻLiving Without Youʼ, for instance, I'd rather either go for the creaky-croaky original, or for the complete blazing power-pop reinvention of Manfred Mann — Price's version is middle of the road, retai­ning the minimal, demo-style piano arrangement, but not adding anything particularly outstan­ding in the vocal department. Just nice. (Admittedly, ʻNo One Ever Hurt This Badʼ is given an excellent coating of brass, guitar, and keyboards).

The bonus tracks generally add more of the same (for instance, ʻNot Born To Followʼ is yet another Goffin/King cover), but also shows Alan dabbling around in various strands of folk — American (ʻMy Old Kentucky Homeʼ) as well as British (ʻTrimdon Grange Explosionʼ, taking you all the way back to an unfortunate event in 1882). The selection is so comprehensive, though, that it covers all of Price's subsequent output all the way to 1970, meaning that you get his ex­cellent self-penned single ʻSunshine And Rainʼ, a piece of shiny funk-pop with an outstanding kaleidoscopic arrangement of brass, mandolins, psycho-keyboards that never overshadows the classy vocal hook. Overall, in between the original album and the bonus tracks, if you filter out a dozen or so throwaways, you are still left with a good LP's worth of very solid material, so unlike the debut, this one gets a well-deserved thumbs up. Hardly essential listening, but a must-own for all lovers of intelligent late-Sixties Brit-pop (and, come to think of it, there wasn't really that much of it in the late Sixties).

3 comments:

  1. Not related to this post - I have not listened to Alan Price before unfortunately - but I would like to note that your Beat Happening section of the "Two Cents" page still reads "jury out," despite you finishing reviewing them last year. Thought I'd remind you for next time you update that section.

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  2. You know, it's quite odd, Eric's concurrent record, Eric Is Here (credited to Eric Burdon & the Animals, for some reason), also contained a handful of Newman songs and a Goffin/King song (the same one, in fact). Arrangement wise, Price clearly wins out, with the music hall whimsy being far more his speed than orchestrated bubblegum pop was Burdon's.

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