Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A LIVE ONE



LIVE AT LEEDS

While the deaf, dumb and blind kid more than kept the band in the public imagination throughout the remainder of 1969 and into the new decade, The Who rode the crest of this monstrous wave on tour. Their relentless schedule served to sharpen their already brilliant live act, bringing them to a virtually unrivaled playing peak. Few groups of the time combined harmony, melody and yet still managed an all out assault on the audience in terms of decibel levels. Dynamic, tight and breathtaking on stage, they brought Tommy to the Metropolitan Opera house in New York and played a very memorable set at Woodstock, setting every venue on fire with their intensity.

Pushing into 1970, they had decided to review tapes of North American gigs to see what might be deemed worthy of releasing. Townshend was disappointed by what he had heard, claiming to have tossed the whole pile of recorded shows in a bonfire. Back in 1968, they had similarly considered putting out a document of a concert that they did at the Filmore East. This did not materialize, though the show has long circulated on bootleg in excellent sound quality.

So it happened that they decided to allow their February 1970 stops at Leeds University and Hull to be captured for posterity. Due to technical deficiencies, the Hull tapes didn't make the grade. Leeds yielded a winner, resulting in one of the finest live albums of the era, often cited as the greatest of all time, bar none.

The six songs that were issued from this date were just a fraction of the full set, though all carried the impact of a sledgehammer brought down on a box of cupcakes.

With pink frosting.

Mose Alison's "Young Man Blues" was chosen as the lead-off track as the trio burned behind Daltrey's blustering vocal. Moon made it seem like ten people were playing, his hands a mere blur and he kept up a furious pace, pinwheeling across the skins at the speed of a dentist's drill. Keep in mind that he would sustain this momentum for two hours plus.

This version was filmed in July 1970



Roaring through old Who favorites ("Substitute", "My Generation") as well as rock and roll covers ("Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over"), the original record culminated in an absolutely devastating "Magic Bus".

Any self-respecting rock fan should have a copy of this in their collection.

The cover was stamped in the manner of a bootleg release and was seen at the time to be somewhat of a stop gap measure (albeit an excellent one) that would keep their fans satiated until the follow up to Tommy materialized.

Speaking of pirate recordings, the complete show at Leeds made the rounds for years, warts and all. In the mid-90s, with the advent of far more advanced audio-post technology, the imperfections that wrote off many of the performances on the master tape were fixed. This paved the way for an expanded Leeds disc to hit the market. Great news for fans, though the die-hards knew that a full performance of Tommy was still in the vault. This officially saw the light of day in 2001 when the "Deluxe Edition" came out, thereby delivering the entire package for hard core collectors.

Or did they?


As of fall 2010, the lost Hull show was cleaned up and boxed with the Leeds sets. Apparently, the group had long thought that the Hull gig was far superior to that of Leeds and so the 40th anniversary edition was unveiled.

According to legend, Entwistle's bass signal was "lost" on pretty much all of the Hull recording. Seems like it was "found" just in time to mark another milestone. As with the live tapes that supposedly found their way into the pyre, it's very likely that this was an apocryphal tale.

Monday, December 27, 2010

THE BRAIN OPERA



TOMMY

For all of the invention of Pete Townshend's compositions through the 1965-67 period, there was to be a retreat of sorts during 1968 while he worked tirelessly on the next song cycle. Though they were a force to be reckoned with on stage and were well respected by their peers, The Who had not yet delivered the "monster hit album" prior to 1969.

The Walker boy would change everything.

Eight months of planning, discussion, recording, re-recording and mixing culminated in the breakthrough release that would make them superstars.

Given the amount of scrutiny that this record has been subjected to in a search for some higher "message" or "meaning" in its construction, there is little point in adding to the scrapheap of scribblings by armchair analysts. Pete has said that Meher Baba's teachings greatly influenced him during this time (and still do). Freshly inspired, he then distilled and subtly worked these philosophies into the framework of many of the songs that made the final cut.

That being said, the impetus for creating Tommy came directly from Kit Lambert, who really did not care much for rock music and pushed Pete to delve into something much more substantial. Lambert and Townshend kicked around ideas (Kit had actually typed up a manuscript) with multiple approaches. The song "Glow Girl", recorded during the Sessions for Sell Out contained bits that would be incorporated into the larger piece. (Rael has a section from which the main chord sequence for the "Underture" was taken and expanded upon)

Did Pete have The Lemon Pipers in mind when he was cranking out a certain section of the Overture?

Think about it.

On second thought, don't.



Very deft, impressive acoustic playing is the engine that drives much of the material, along with Moon and Entwistle who excel, as usual. Daltrey comes into his own, as he becomes Tommy, carving out a distinct position for himself in the group and projecting an iconic, onstage persona that would remain in place through the following decade.

There is a lightness of touch present on this record that the band would never quite return to. Yes, Moon still manages impossible flourishes across the kit and Entwistle's rollercoaster bassmanship is prominent, though the live attack that each instrumentalist was capable of was not in evidence.

I have no reason to be over optimistic/but somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather



Some of finest melodies in the Townshend catalog grace these grooves ("1921", "Pinball Wizard", "Christmas", "Amazing Journey" "I'm Free" "Sensation" all stand out in this category) though for all of the brilliance that is obvious here, the story itself is somewhat disjointed and weaves all over the road, narrowly avoiding the ditch as the curtain comes down and the "listening to you" refrain repeats and fades.

For me, having discovered the record in childhood, I got lost in both the sounds and the illustrations in the booklet that came with it. Without any conception of a deeper message, I only knew it was first class all the way. "Amazing Journey" was a far better summation of the disc as a whole (for a 12 year old at least). The plot line of Tommy has been hacked to bits and stitched back together in many different formats for the stage and film. None of these incarnations improves upon the original. (The 1975 movie is unintentionally hilarious) Plus, Townshend had done his usual job of talking himself into a corner before the album came out and was stuck with certain elements of the story that he could have easily pruned away to make it slightly more lucid.

It is to the credit of all involved that Lambert's suggestion of overdubbing an orchestra was vetoed. Entwistle's decorative horn parts and Pete's keyboards are the only augmentation and are quite tasteful, at that.

Again, all of this is trivial in light of the accomplishment itself. Tommy really gained strength as a stage piece and The Who played the shit out of it. It was a masterful performance that brought the audience to its collective feet every night (always at the same point as Pete recalled) and held them in powerful sway until the last note rang out.



Townshend created an almost impossible act for himself to follow. He would spend the next few years trying to do just that, attempting to raise the bar with each new project.

In terms of impact, it was so overwhelming that many thought Tommy to be the name of the band. The Who quickly became internationally known and all four were freshly minted millionaires almost overnight. Along with critical plaudits came the endless symposiums on what label actually belonged on Townshend's ambitious work: Was it a Rock Opera? A Cantata? An Oratorio?

I'd call it great rock record.

Listen and decide for yourself. After all, the whole point of this magnificent exercise is simply to realize that the "answers" to life's great mysteries (that we all ponder occasionally) can only be found within ourselves.

Don't follow leaders and watch your parking meters



Cast of characters:

Tommy: Main character
Father: "Captain Walker", who is presumed missing in battle but returns home unannounced and unscathed
Mother: Mrs Walker
The Lover: A romantic partner of Tommy's mother, killed by Captain walker upon his return
Uncle Ernie: Tommy's 'wicked uncle', a paedophile who molests him.
Cousin Kevin: Tommy's cousin who brutalises him when the two are left alone.
The Hawker: A pimp for prostitute the Acid Queen, who peddles her services.
The Gypsy: A prostitute who deals in acid and exposes Tommy to the drug in an attempt to heal him.
The Local Lad: Reigning champion of the game of pinball, until Tommy beats him.
The Doctor: Attempts to heal Tommy and realizes that his disabilities are psychological rather than physical.
Sally Simpson: A minor character, who tries to climb on stage to touch Tommy at one of his appearances in his newfound messianic role and falls, cutting her head.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

LENNON



JL

One of the last interviews with the late John Lennon, conducted two days before his death. This is part one of a long piece. His voice is familiar to me as that of a family member. Without a doubt, many of you feel the same way.



It is hard to believe that 30 years have passed. I was 12 at that time and was shocked upon hearing the news the morning after. The rest of that week was simply surreal.

On a more upbeat note, here he is in his element, working on a track ("Oh My Love") for the Imagine LP.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

TIMOTHEOS



HIEROSOLYMA

Described as a musical meditation on Jerusalem, the listener is presented with ten ambient soundscapes, expertly conceived and executed on guitar and synths by Timotheos. In addition to the musical component, there is also a visual bonus with this disc as the elaborate artwork on the outer and inner sleeve was crafted by the artist himself. Combining the two streams provides a small feast for the senses as the most successful concepts allow for the audience to lose themselves in the images that accompany the music.

Taken as a whole, this is the sound of introspection and deep silence. Many of the pieces build in a subtle fashion, gently washing over the stereo pan quite like the ebb and flow of the tides.

Best appreciated in headphones


Relaxing and multi-layered, Hierosolyma bears repeated listening as you will discover nuances that may not be evident on the first pass.

Investigate for yourself and learn more about the artist here

Hierosolyma is available for purchase here

Sunday, November 07, 2010

SELLING OUT



THE WHO SELL OUT

Townshend: "It wasn't just the Who that were made by pirate radio, it was pirate radio that made the music scene in this country. It made the Beatles, it made the Stones, it made lots and lots of people that were around at the time."

Unlike the USA, which boasted countless stations with tunes on tap across the dial, Mother BBC was the only game in town when it came to radio in the UK, pre-1964. Very little airtime was granted to pop music. This situation turned around when Radio Caroline became a floating (and illegal) transmitter of rock and roll.

Pirate radio brought a wealth of fantastic music to Britons in the mid sixties.

The passing of the Marine Broadcasting Act in 1967 would mark the beginning of the end for these pioneers. The few ships that remained to send out their signals would soon cease and desist. Truly disappointed by this turn of events, Pete hit upon an intriguing concept for the next record. He envisioned a fulsome tribute to both the pirate and American top 40 formats, complete with linking jingles and commercials. There was even talk of selling ad space on the disc to large corporations (in the end, Coke was the only taker). There could be no greater contrast to the ideals that were espoused by the burgeoning hippie movement of that era than casting your lot in with the ultra-capitalistic "establishment", offering up a piece of your art to the highest bidder.

What's for tea, darling?


To my ear, Sell Out is to the Who what Their Satanic Majesties Request represented for the Stones in that they haven't done anything even remotely like it, before or since. Climbing aboard that train of thought, let’s look at the elements that make this markedly different from the other entries in the Who discography.

1) With one or two exceptions, Keith Moon’s drumming is subtly muted for many of the tracks. His usual frenetic playing is pared down considerably to simply keeping time.

2) Rich, Beach Boys style, block harmonies pervade most every selection (the beginning of "Rael" would have sat comfortably alongside anything on Pet Sounds).

3) Melodies are to the fore, with the grittier side of the group's raucous stage personality toned way down.

A minor point gets deducted here for some unfinished business. The continuous run of great music interpolated with quirky, mock adverts is quite engrossing until the second song in on side two, where the listener experiences "concept interuptus".

Why wasn't this approach carried through to the end of the project?

The most likely reasons involve a combination of the heavy price of additional studio time and the hectic touring schedule that the band sorely needed to tackle mounting debt. Despite this fact, Sell Out stands one of the three best discs that they ever issued. Pete Townshend's genius as a composer had been glimpsed prior to this. Now it flowered in ways that amazed. There is a bounty of truly exceptional material, from the masterful "I Can See For Miles" to the increasing emphasis on narrative that makes "Tattoo" and "Odorono" so engaging.

Townshend: "When I write today, I feel that it has to tell a little story. Like Odorono, which I dug because it was a little story and although I thought it's a god song, it was about something groovy-underarm perspiration> He rushes backstage to congratulate her and it looks like she's all set, not only for stardom but also for true love. And then, underarm perspiration cuts the whole thing. And you know, without getting too serious about it, because it's supposed to be very light, that's life. That really is life."




Darling, I said what's for tea?


Throwing everyone off the plot, "Armenia City in the Sky" crashes in following the robotic "days of the week" snippet. Pounding along with dissonant swells of feedback guitar, the song was authored by one John "Speedy" Keene who also shared vocal duties with Roger on the track. The Who never really indulged in psychedelia, so the cloud of incense that hovers over the proceedings, while redolent of the sounds of 1967, is also slightly disingenuous. It proves to be a red herring as the selections that follow have little to do with the tie-dye, love me-love my dog philosophy that briefly ensnared some of the biggest acts of that era.

Keene would go on to find his feet with the excellent, albeit short-lived, Thunderclap Newman who wound up scoring a worldwide hit the following year with his tune "Something in the Air", produced by Townshend.

Pop intellectuals found themselves smugly nodding in appreciation at the nostalgic in-joke that was etched deeply into the grooves of this remarkable platter. Ivory tower elitism is never a great reason for liking something, nor should it be attached
to your appreciation of Sell Out.

Very well constructed music is what should (and will) reel you in.

Plus, Daltrey in the tub of beans is pretty fucked.

Owing to a predilection for tampering with the running order of great works in a revisionist effort to make them even better, I would have kicked off Entwistle's "Silas Stingy" and replaced it with "Pictures of Lily". This would have landed two tunes with a theme involving the handling of the male member for naughty purposes (or happy endings) on the same album. Speaking of which, "Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" has an interesting, Latin-flavored acoustic break.

Heavy for its time (and a few steps ahead as well) was the single, "I Can See For Miles". Largely due to the idiosyncratic structure of this monster, it rarely featured in their live shows.



Very little filler is found on Sell Out. As previously mentioned, aside from the psychedelic poster that came with the original pressings, there is no great attempt to embrace that style. This is important, as most every major rock act of that period was straining to do "Sgt Pepper Part II", binging on acid and more often than not coming up with a load of pretentious garbage. (Dylan and the Kinks musically kept away from the "Summer of Love-In as well). The sensibilities of the individual members really helped to keep the Who from heading down that path. Moon actively hated hippies, while Roger and John took little notice of that movement. John and Keith spent a lot of time in the pubs, where they ultimately came up with most of the commercials, including the run-out groove joke response (Track Records jingle) to what the Beatles had done at the end of Sgt. Pepper. Only Townshend really got into LSD in any major way, though he would shortly back away from drug taking following a harrowing STP trip on the plane back to England after they played Monterey in June of 67. "Relax" has a slight echo (no pun intended) of Syd Barrett's work with Pink Floyd, but the rest do not bear the stamp of "flowers and beads".



Townshend's musical range was expanding. He learned to properly play piano as these songs took shape and he deftly handled most of the keyboard parts during the sessions by himself. The progressions in "Our Love Was" and "Sunrise" are an extension of his continuing education. The overall sound of this record is vastly superior to anything that they had done up to this point. Though there was some legal turbulence surrounding the use of some Radio London jingles, Sell Out was a tremendous success in terms of cohesion and strength in composition. Not yet superstars, a brief period of water treading would follow until Pete found the plot for their next odyssey which would bring far greater glories than anyone had imagined.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

WHO TWO



A QUICK ONE

Image plays a significant role in putting a band across to the public. Like all good consumers, we hungrily devour a product when there is a brilliant marketing strategy behind it. The Who began as favorite sons of the Sheppard's Bush Mod scene. 1966 would see them emerge from that chrysalis as brightly colored purveyors of pop art. A cursory glance at the eye-catching cover of their second album would tell you as much. Inside the wrapper was a rather disparate collection which featured contributions from each member of the group.

Wasn't Pete supposed to be the main supplier of original material?

He certainly was, though a band that trashes its gear on a regular basis has a tendency to bleed cash. Performance fees disappeared quickly on repairs and replacement instruments.

Manager Kit Lambert, in an attempt to draw much needed funds, signed the quartet to a songwriting pact with Essex Music. The proviso? Receipt of 500 pounds per man was assured if each wrote two songs for the new LP. The deal really didn't make a great deal of sense, considering that Townshend seemed to be the only one with any real inclination (not to mention aptitude) for composing. Plus, they had just slogged through an internal battle over what artistic course to pursue.

These developments could have spelled disaster.

Fortuitously, the end result produced a solid second writer within the fold who turned out a veritable Who classic.

John Entwistle, enter and sign in please.

Keith and Roger managed only three songs between them, none of which would be mistaken for substantial works. Henceforth, Pete would handle the bulk of the songwriting duties, with Entwistle chipping in one or two per disc.



A Quick One has moments where it soars ("So Sad About Us", "Boris the Spider" "Run Run Run" and the title track) but the lesser cuts really drag down the proceedings. The inclusion of "Substitute", "I'm a Boy" and "Disguises" would have made this one of the top long players of 1966.

"Cobwebs and Strange" is a perfect example of a one note joke that was taken too far. Ripped directly from a track called "Eastern Journey" on Tony Crombie's 1960 soundtrack to the U.K. television series Man From Interpol, how Keith was able to claim authorship of the tune is questionable. The saving grace is Moon's vicious assault on the drums as the pace accelerates, punctuated only by his exuberant yelling.

Elsewhere, the power pop of "So Sad About Us" would serve to inspire a slew of cover versions, not to mention stylistic imitations. "Boris the Spider" was ground out under duress following Entwistle's bluff answer when asked if he had a second song ready to fill his quota for the album (and secure his publishing money). This inventive, chromatic romp up the fretboard was born out of a night out, getting pissed with fellow bassist Bill Wyman. Their discussion about why people were afraid of spiders triggered the lyric, which saw the hapless arachnid get squished in the end. The falsetto "creepy-crawlies" contrasted sharply with the "cookie monster" vocal treatment found in the chorus. It's a startling creation for that time and it would remain in their set list for years.



Dig that guitar sound in "Run Run Run"


"A Quick One While he's Away" owed it's very existence to a suggestion from Kit Lambert that Townshend write a ten minute suite to flesh out the running time of the LP. Objecting at first, he then took up the challenge and created what Lambert termed as a mini-opera (or "Tommy's parents" as he joked in announcing the song at Leeds four years later). This first stab at the form was quite an ambitious piece of writing from a musical standpoint, but dealt with a fairly mundane lyrical theme.

The plot: A young lady pines for her boyfriend, who has been gone for nearly a year, crying over the distance that separates them. She takes comfort in the arms of Ivor the engine driver. Upon her lover's return, she confesses to her tryst with Ivor and all is forgiven.

Curtain.

OK, so the story is a bit short weight.

Musically, it showcases everyone to great effect. The six distinct themes allow plenty of room to stretch out for each instrumentalist and the close harmonies that open the proceedings are in evidence throughout each cycle. Everyone, save for Keith, plays a character in the framework of the narrative and they sharpened their live performance of this gem to a fine point. The most well-known footage is their legendary rip through this in December 1968 as part of the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus film, though the Monterey Pop version is more of a "warts and all" live example.



Impeccable playing majestically lifts even the slightest material found here, which makes things a bit more palpable. Despite the critical praise that gets heaped on this record, I really wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone that was curious about delving into The Who's work. There are far better starting points in their discography to choose from. Once again, the US release came months after it appeared in the UK. Re-titled Happy Jack for the North American market, it also included this song which was only available as a single in Britain in 1967.

Their next full length project would be a huge stride forward for the band, proving the idiom regarding the third time being the charm.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

WHO'S FIRST



MY GENERATION

Even after being presented with the sheer significance of this record, the jaded contemporary listener may still stifle a yawn and wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, even casual music fans have had a taste of grunge, punk, death metal, hardcore rap and other genres where volume and violence win the day. So what's the big deal?

Here punk, shake hands with the Godfather.


Landing on the scene with a force equal to several megaton bombs, The Who's debut set contained elements that were without precedent in 1965. Pete Townshend's forays into feedback, John Entwistle's astonishing bass chops and an eight-armed, teenage dervish named Keith Moon who attacked his drum kit with an intensity unmatched in rock, drove the songs on this remarkable album to greater heights.

Roger Daltrey wasn't bad, either.

Occupying a very curious position in the pecking order of the truly great rock bands that emerged from the UK in the early sixties, The Who managed to both insult and influence their contemporaries all at once.



Getting to the point where they were ready to record their first LP was an arduous process. Their set list was, for the most part, made up of R & B/Motown covers alongside rock standards with the occasional detour into surf music. By 1965, The Beatles had established new rules of engagement for groups going into the studio. If you weren't crafting your own material, your fate was left in the hands of outside songwriters. When that well dried up, so did your career.

Roger liked the status quo, playing songs that people knew and reacted favorably to. The Who needed to grow a writer if they were to progress. With much encouragement from their manager (Kit Lambert) Townshend stepped into this role, though Daltrey was not on board with doing original material at first. There was a power play involving his leadership, as Roger was the one who put things together in the first place. Doing Pete's tunes meant losing part of that power, though it was the only sure way to garner notice from someone who was established in the business.

Roger conceded.

Enter Shel Talmy.

Townshend had written a song that was intentionally similar in structure to the hits that Talmy had produced for The Kinks. Designed to grab Talmy's ear, he heard it over the phone and was impressed enough to bring the quartet into the studio to lay it down. Management made an extremely lopsided deal with Talmy in exchange for him shopping the disc to his contacts at various record companies.

Remarkably energetic, "I Can't Explain" put The Who on the map in the UK.



Keith Moon provided the band with a built in hydrogen furnace. His gun shot smacks on the snare in the break before the chorus and inventive rolls provide the fire, pushing the rest of the band to play harder. The follow up single ("Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere") was greater still, with early guitar pyrotechnics courtesy of Townshend's growing bag of tricks.

Rehearsals for the sessions that would produce My Generation kicked off in the fall of 1965. Captured in mono, the sound is aggressive, with most every song aiming to tear your head off. In many respects, the Who engine was likely far too powerful for the studio frame of that time. VU meters are buried well into the red, unwittingly creating the "indie" style well before its time. Leading the attack is Moon, who shreds all rock drumming conventions and proceeds to set new skin-bashing standards on each track. There is a small concession to Roger as the three covers offer a glimpse of the band's "Maximum R & B" personality. Hindsight being what it is, it's quite easy to see that the Who would have had very slim prospects for success had they not forged their own musical identity. These performances are alright, though they represent the most dispensable portion of the LP.

There is a cockiness that pervades here, drop-kicking convention over the ledge from twenty floors up, watching it smash to bits on the ground. This exact energy went into the execution of the title track, which destroyed everything in its path in 1965. Leaping out of the speakers today, it is no less compelling. Moon beats the living shit out of his kit, Townshend and Entwistle ride the crest of his madness as they hug those power chords and Daltrey spits out the lyric with a contempt that's palpable 45 years away.

Topped by four "fuck you" bass solos from Mars

Entwistle ripped the strings off of three Danelectros (he had to buy a new instrument for each pass as it was the only way to get the strings that came with it) before completing his mission and sealing his position as one of the most innovative rock bassists of all time.

Ratcheting up the tension with a key change, the end game comes with anarchic feedback as Moon flies over every tom, empty paint can and anything else within striking distance. There was nothing to touch this in its time. In the intervening years, Townshend has talked himself down a long hallway, past the ice machine, through a fire exit and up his own arse trying to explain away that infamous line. No matter, as it doesn't detract one iota from this ridiculously inspired performance.



Sure enough, the runner up in the pack is "The Kids Are Alright" which makes use of the poppy, close harmony driven style of some of their contemporaries, though they bring it home with enough of an edge that it avoids being cute. Both Moon and Townshend have solo moments that soar (you can't miss them). Townshend's writing style was definitely unique from the beginning and he would continue to flower in astounding fashion. "A Legal Matter" pounds along, aided and abetted by the imaginative keyboard work of Nicky Hopkins who battles it out with Moon over a droning chordal structure. (Hopkins provides the glue that centers several cuts.) The riff creeps in occasionally to tie the whole thing together, though the lyrics touch on unconventional, quirky subject matter for the time. Sort of an anti-love, not going to be happy together forever thing happening. "The Good's Gone" shares the same cynical lyrical mood and the work is quite mature given the tender age of its creator at that point.

Special mention goes to "The Ox" an instrumental which showcases Moon, Entwistle, Townshend and Hopkins performing a mixture of anarchic noise and a British interpretation of "Wipeout", although any lines previously drawn in the surf are crossed here by 100 miles. It is one hell of a performance.

The Keith Moon show was officially in full swing, as it is his drumming that stands out on one of the most ear-catching debuts in rock history.

Of course, the band publicly disowned the album shortly after it was released, citing the fact that it was a rush job.

In the US, the disc was issued in early 1966 with a different cover, title and did not include "I'm a Man", which was replaced by "Circles". It would be another year before the group started to develop a following in North America.



The Who singing My Generation? Much too polite. Slaying their generation by inspiring them out of their skulls is more like it.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

THE WHO



MAXIMUM R & B

One of the most exciting bands to come out of the UK in the mid sixties, bar none. Their influence was far reaching in terms of musicianship and presentation, especially when you look at the stage acts of their contemporaries. Equipment suffered, audiences were shocked (initially) and the group went deep into debt as many of their early shows culminated in a wave of instrument destruction. They would not be consigned to the garbage heap of gimmicky, one trick ponies in the fickle world of rock, though.

Peter Townshend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey produced a string of the most powerful, imaginative discs of the 20th century. I am going to tackle all output recorded by the original line-up, from their 1965 debut through to their last release prior to the death of Keith Moon in 1978.

Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

RED'S CONCERT REVIEWS

Great live music is always best enjoyed with good friends and adult beverages. Should you miss out on a concert event, it's always a bonus when you read a review of the show that was written by:

a) A person who actually likes the band/artist in question.

b) Someone who can convey the excitement of the gig and inject humor into the piece all at once.

Too often, when you open your local paper to see what the latest act that blew through town was all about, it is a huge disappointment. Usually, you get a few poorly scribbled lines from someone who didn't want to be there in the first place.

Red's Concert Reviews totally changes the game.

Red Curtis writes in a very descriptive, conversational style that is always entertaining and makes you feel like you are one of his buddies, beer in hand, watching a great rock show as it's happening.

We have seen quite a few concerts together and his summaries are always spot on.

Check out his blog, as it comes highly recommended and is an excellent read.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

BUCKET AND CO. (DAVE COLWELL)



GUITARS, BEERS & TEARS

Following years of providing stellar fretwork for iconic groups such as Humble Pie and Bad Company, Dave "Bucket" Colwell has stepped out to showcase his talents as a world class writer/guitarist with a rock solid, debut solo disc. Colwell has enlisted quite a cast of heavy friends to contribute to his record, including IRON MAIDEN's Adrian Smith, Edwin McCain, Steve Conte from the NEW YORK DOLLS, THE QUIREBOYS' Spike, Danny Bowes from THUNDER, Bekka Bramlett and BAD COMPANY's Robert Hart.

For listeners who have bemoaned the lack of visceral, contemporary hard rock with a melodic edge, Bucket and Co. are coming to the rescue with Guitars, Beers and Tears.

This is a fantastic set.

Opening with a brief, swelling keyboard line that gives a nod to the salad days of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, the title track wastes no time getting to business. Kicking in with salvos of scorched earth policy riffing, the tone is set perfectly. Guitars and beers often go hand in glove, though the only tears here will be those of joy as this marks the beginning of a banquet laden with fist-pumping anthems interspersed with very pleasant surprises.

Despite the presence of multiple lead vocalists, Colwell's vision of a big, unashamed rock record remains intact and not one iota of continuity or momentum is lost. His personality shines through in the writing and is never submerged at any point in the proceedings. Formidable skills in the guitar department allow him to light up each cut, with impeccable and tasteful playing being the rule rather than the exception.

Graciously, he chooses to shine the spotlight on his guests as much as possible. The presence of Adrian Smith is strongly felt, with a brilliant recasting of "Reach Out" (which was the flip side to Maiden's "Wasted Years" single). Smith acquits himself quite well in the role of lead vocalist, while the band burns behind him. Very much a highlight of the pack. Speaking of which, my personal favorite here is "Life" which is built on a strong hook, features great changes and is topped by a passionate vocal from Danny Bowes. Running a close second is "Hey Mr. Nobody" which is the lone tune that features Bucket himself singing lead. It's a pity that he didn't take the opportunity for more mic time as he turns in a great performance.

Harking back to a time when the music sold itself, without recourse to artificial spectacle, Bucket and Co. put craftsmanship ahead of all other consideration to great effect.

All of the components that make a successful end product are present on Guitars, Beers and Tears, with top class production being the icing on a very satisfying, layered cake. Listeners will feel compelled to give the volume a healthy nudge toward the sky (as I did) and revel in the pleasure of one spectacular rock record.

Find out more about the artist and grab yourself a copy of the CD here

Let's now give credit where it's due:

THE BAND


Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell Guitars/Vocals
Jaz Lochrie Bass/Vocals
Gary ‘Harry’ James Drums

Guitars, Beers & Tears (Colwell)
Vocals - Chris Ousey

Girl of My Dreams (Colwell)
Vocals - Spike (The Quireboys) Keyboards - Mark Read (A1)

Make Up Your Mind (Colwell/Adrian Smith)
Guitar/Vocals - Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)

Somebody To Love (Colwell/Tommy Lee James)
Vocals - Robert Hart (Bad Company)

Why You Call (Colwell)
Vocals - Edwin McCain Sax - Andy Hamilton Keyboards - Mark Read

If You Need Me (Colwell)
Guitar/Vocals - Steve Conte (NY Dolls)

Reach Out (Cowell)
Vocals - Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)

I’d Lie To You (Frankie Miller)
Vocals - Spike (The Quireboys) Backing Vocals - Bekka Bramlett

Survive (Colwell)
Vocals - Edwin McCain Harmonica - Judd Lander

Life (Colwell/J. Leo)
Vocals - Danny Bowes (Thunder) Keyboards - Mark Read

Why Can’t It Be (Colwell)
Vocals - Seth Romano

Mr. Nobody (Colwell)
Vocals - Dave Colwell Backing Vocals - Lauren Harris

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-JACK BRUCE



SONGS FOR A TAILOR

Another criminally overlooked platter from the archives of forgotten music. Jack Bruce dove headlong into the solo sweepstakes with an imaginative debut, which is a few summers ahead of its time.

Dedicated to a friend (clothing designer Jeannie Franklyn) who had been recently killed in a car accident, Songs For A Tailor displays a perfect balance of great writing, musicianship and production. Felix Pappalardi was at Bruce’s side as producer with Andy Johns behind the board. Dream team comes to mind when you connect the dots. You can have the best chefs and ingredients money can buy at your disposal, though without the right recipe the end product will not satisfy. Bruce brought top shelf material to the sessions, much of which fulfilled his aspiration to marry jazz motifs with rock arrangements.

Conspicuously absent is the style of heavy blues that he regularly indulged in with Cream.

Innovative, quirky yet still quite accessible, all nine selections mark a definitive break with “that other band” and certainly made it tough to mourn their passing. Enlisting a few heavy friends to help deliver the instrumental goods, the core lineup has Jon Hiseman on drums, Chris Spedding on guitar and Dick Hextall-Smith on sax. Hiseman and Hextall-Smith formed the core of Colosseum, who were a powerhouse group in their own right. Bruce himself handled bass, piano, organ and cello along with some guitar.

A few other special guests contributed as well.


“Never Tell Your Mother That She’s Out of Tune” must have shell-shocked listeners who first applied the needle to this LP back in '69. Pushed along with a driving rhythm and very prominent brass section, it is a startling opener, indicative of the fresh path that the artist was setting out on. “L’Angelo Mysterioso” (George Harrison) makes his second appearance on record alongside Bruce, though his guitar work is somewhat overshadowed by the horns in the final mix. According to session lore, Harrison showed up an hour early, ready to play live on the track if need be. Working under the pseudonym was a necessity because he was under contract with EMI and guest appearances that helped other artists sell records for competitors were not looked upon kindly.



For those who are only familiar with Mountain’s cover of “Theme For an Imaginary Western”, you get a chance to hear how Bruce handles it here. Both versions have much going for them, though I generally lean toward recordings performed by the original artist.



Three cuts that were conceived around the time that he was working with Cream on Disraeli Gears finally saw official release. (“Weird of Hermiston”, “ Boston Ball Game 1967” and “The Clearout”) Allegedly, their lack of commercial promise was seen as a barrier to issuing them on that record. They are all highlights of this eclectic masterpiece. Reportedly, he even dusted off a few musical ideas that he had composed while still in his early teens, weaving them into the fabric of this remarkable set.

My personal favorite is “Rope Ladder to the Moon”, which prefigures the acoustic, open tunings that Led Zeppelin would explore in depth on their third LP the following year. Longtime collaborator Pete Brown provides the lyrics, as he does for the majority of the album. Esoteric, at times unfathomable, though never boring, Brown’s poetic sensibilities were finely tuned and quite well matched to Bruce’s musical flights of fancy.



Uniformly excellent, this is easily his finest hour as a solo artist.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TRISTAN CLOPET



PURPLE EP

Adventurous and melodic with soul dripping out of every note only begins the list of superlatives that apply when describing the songcraft of Tristan Clopet. Creating music that appeals to a wide range of listeners is a tall order to fill, though the songs on this EP serve as testament to the fact that it can be done.

In style.

Clopet manages to effortlessly mix funk, dirt under the fingernails rock and pop, deftly tying it all together with arrangements that you would gladly step over a family member to call your own. "Proximity Bomb" and "Black Panther Party" get singled out for special merit, with razor sharp, spine snapping bass grooves and tasteful guitar fireworks.

Deploying a bag of tricks that musicians will appreciate, while maintaining the hooks that are sure to enthrall those who simply appreciate a great tune, here is one writer that has carefully considered every angle of his compositions. Clopet's not so secret weapon here is his voice, which is capable of a wide range of expression, adding great depth to everything he touches.

Dynamics? Just take a listen. Once you let these songs into your brain, they will take up residence there, urging you to go back to this disc for repeated spins. It's a pity that there are only six tracks as I definitely was left wanting more. Especially after getting caught up up in the multi-layered gem, "So Alive".

And you will, too

All of this begs the question of why there isn't more music of this caliber in the mainstream. You can proudly crank this in your 1970 GTO ragtop, burning across the blacktop at dusk on one of those summer nights that are rife with possibility.

If there is any sense of balance in the universe, you will be hearing much more about this talented individual. For now, please check out his site



Saturday, August 07, 2010

MATT STEVENS



SONG FOR DAN

Framing a personal loss with words is an arduous task. Nothing that anyone can say can truly make the situation more palatable. Matt Stevens was recently dealt such a blow with the passing of his friend, filmmaker Dan Wilson. "Song for Dan" is Stevens' fulsome tribute to him via a meditative, instrumental, acoustic improvisation.

It is quite an expressive and tasteful way of playing him on and you may listen here

Stevens: "Its a 18 minute song for our friend Dan Wilson, who was a lovely,inspirational,kind man,a wonderful filmmaker,friend and musician and missed by us all. Dan was the bass player in a band I was in for many years."

Please watch his short films here and here

Saturday, July 31, 2010

DEEPSEAGREEN



DEEPSEAGREEN

UK indie rock quartet Deepseagreen have put their heart, soul and considerable chops into the ten songs that comprise this fine, self-titled debut disc. The additional charm lies in the fact that the tracks were done live, off the floor in a two day blow-out back in the fall of 2009.

Rock and roll that's raw, sweaty and real still exists. You have to look a bit harder for it these days, though.

Stripping it down to basics, the two-guitar, bass and drums lineup of brothers Jon and Dan Jefford, Marco Menestrina and Trent Halliday deliver tight, melodic compositions that suggest the glory days of the classic rock era. Allowing the instruments to breathe, the production job scores points for capturing the immediacy of impeccable ensemble playing coupled with a great, natural sound in the room. This disc will resonate with listeners who remember the warmth of the analog recording process. Perfect example is the lone guitar riff that heralds "On the Steps of Summer", which reverberates off the studio walls without recourse to digital manipulation. When the band kicks in, they make it count.

Another great bonus is Halliday's voice. He is spot on, throughout, without a trace of the frightful, auto-tuned aura of insecurity added to almost every contemporary recording. Highlights are plentiful here in terms of quality songs. It's quite easy to let these ten cuts play through, though several really stand out ("Black Maria", "Polarise", "Janine").

Personal favorite for me is "Plastic Lazarus". Opening with a twisting, distorted guitar figure, the expectation is that the rhythm section is going to slam, head-on, into an over-driven tempo.

Surprise.

Instead, it's a very smooth transition into a feel that suggests reggae while maintaining a razor-sharp, rock edge. Clever lyrics top a fine performance.

These guys have their act together. Deepseagreen will almost certainly find a very large audience with work of this quality. I would highly recommend that you check out their CD.

Learn more about the band here

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-ART GARFUNKEL



WATERMARK

Following the demise of his artistic partnership with Paul Simon in 1970, Art Garfunkel briefly flirted with acting, teaching and then saw fit to carry on with a solo career that brought a modicum of success. Briefly reunited with Simon in 1975, they managed to fit in a few appearances and recorded one new tune (“My Little Town”) before going their separate ways again.

1977 saw Garfunkel paired with selections from the Jimmy Webb songbook, all of which would be recorded for his third, full length disc.

Well, at least for the initial release.

The completed LP hit the stores in late '77 and was unceremoniously yanked back by the record company as the first single was a no-show on the US charts.

Enter Paul Simon, who joined James Taylor and Garfunkel in a brilliant recasting of Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World”. The arrangement is quite different from the original, almost surpassing it in terms of structure. Breathtaking vocal parts really make the difference as all three singers nail the harmonies in glorious fashion, each taking a lead line in the verses.

Serving its purpose, the lone non-Webb penned track was not only added to Watermark (which was then cleared to be sent back into the marketplace in early 1978), but also released as a single where it jumped into the top 20.

Including this stunner lifted the commercial fortunes of the record, though there are many treasures to be found on Watermark. Garfunkel applies his trademark, dulcet falsetto in interpreting Webb’s compositions, which were carefully chosen and impeccably rendered.

"Saturday Suit" is a high point.



Phil Ramone acted as co-producer and helped Garfunkel assemble a veritable "cast of thousands" to back him up. David Crosby contributed vocal parts and the cream of the session-playing crop showed up to grace these grooves. (Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Hugh McCracken, the Chieftans just to name a few.) Staying away from the huge hits in Webb's impressive catalogue was a very astute move, as it allowed Garfunkel to put his own stamp on each selection.

Incredibly, this phenomenal collection of songs has been relegated to the netherworld of late seventies soft rock. Unjustly, it finds a home in the category of forgotten music.

Spinning my vinyl copy was certainly no chore. It revealed nuances that I hadn't previously noticed, bringing a new appreciation for Webb's lesser known tunes. Garfunkel acquits himself quite well, never seeming overwhelmed by the production that swirls around his natural tenor. "Crying In My Sleep" was the lead-off 45 that failed to dent the top 100, though listeners at that time really should have been more generous with this one. Perhaps the disco-addled brains of the masses couldn't appreciate its subtle charms.



Everything clicks here, with the title song being a personal favorite. Should you happen upon a copy, be sure not to pass it up. This is a very successful marriage of two great talents that deserves to be heard.

Friday, July 23, 2010

RUSH



2112

Persistence, virtuosity and a staunch decision to follow their instincts have been a recipe for success in the case of Rush.

Defying gravity on stage? No problem.

Creating a diverse and layered body of work over 36 years? Check.

Did the band members themselves think that the ride would last this long?

No way.

In the late sixties, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were high school kids from the suburbs of Toronto. Music meant a great deal to both and they quickly formed a bond through playing together and emulating their favorite bands. The impact on their grades was likely pretty severe, but they were teenagers during the golden age of rock. How could they not be smitten by acts like the Who and Cream?

Signal distortion, more advanced PA and monitoring systems were making it possible for fewer musicians to make a bigger sonic impact playing live. The age of the “power trio” (not to be confused with The Kingston Trio) dawned in the mid-sixties. Casting off the 2-3 minute formats into which pop had been straight-jacketed, many groups began to explore the outer limits of improvisation. Out of these non-linear jams, brilliance could easily slip into self-indulgent flights to the Republic of Tedium. Nevertheless, there were groups that devoted themselves to long form, multi-part epics, brimming with inventive playing. No more would the rhythm section tap or plunk out basic foundation work, while the guitarist and singer reaped all of the glory.

Happily unfettered, everyone now had their chance to shine.

With interminable soloing.

Progressive rock was born.

Truth be told, this genre was around for many years. It was called Jazz, though it wasn’t amplified by 100,000 watts with an accompanying laser light show.

Hey! Weren’t you supposed to be writing about Rush?


Indeed!

Fast forward to 1974: Our protagonists, Geddy and Alex, along with drummer John Rutsey, had long been full time gigging pros who had recorded a single and were furiously doing late night sessions to complete their self titled first album. Owing more than a small debt to the sound of the mighty Led Zeppelin, Rush had placed themselves squarely in the game.

Then John Rutsey announced that the touring grind was not for him, especially with the added burden of increasing health issues in the form of diabetes. He bowed out.

What to do?

Enter Neil Peart, whose explosive percussive skills won him the job following his audition/jam session. They had also gained a lyricist in Peart, with Lee and Lifeson more than happy to strictly work on the music.

Personnel crisis averted they then sharpened their focus, recording two more LPs (Fly By Night and Caress of Steel), toured incessantly and despite their obvious talent, saw little in the way of any significant breakthrough.

Neil Peart picks up the story:

"The ensuing tour in support of Caress of Steel was half jokingly referred to as the "Down the Tubes Tour", and it was a pretty depressing string of small towns and small clubs, and a lot of unwelcome pressure from certain quarters about making our music more accessible and more salable. It was uncertain for a time whether we would fight or fall, but finally we got mad! We came back with a vengeance with "2112", perhaps our most passionate and powerful album yet. We were talking about freedom from tyranny, and we meant it! This was the first real blend of our diverse and schizophrenic influences, and it was also our first really successful album. We felt at the time that we had achieved something that was really our own sound, and hopefully established ourselves as a definite entity. The side long title piece itself became a featured part of our live shows, as much fun for us as for our audiences, and the trend was all upwards from that point on."


Flipping a proverbial middle finger at prevailing musical trends and record company hacks, they put all of their energy into making 2112.

Conceptual pieces were not new in the world of prog-rock. Many artists had already mined this territory, with the Who’s Tommy being one of the most successful examples. Yes, Genesis and scores of other bands would devote much effort to album-side length suites that followed a loose storyline and took listeners on a journey.

So it was with side one of 2112.

Granted, this seven part suite is graced with very engaging instrumental passages, impeccably played, though the story itself is somewhat slight:

In the year 2062, a galaxy-wide war results in the union of all planets under the rule of the Red Star of the Solar Federation. By 2112, the world is controlled by the "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx", who determine the content of all reading matter, songs, pictures - every facet of life. A man discovers a guitar and learns to play different music. When he goes to present this to the priests of the Temples, they destroy the guitar. He goes into hiding and dreams of a world before the Solar Federation. Upon awakening he becomes distraught and commits suicide. As he dies, another planetary battle begins resulting in the ambiguous ending:


’Attention all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control.’

As well they might.

Back in 1976, Rush pulled off a coup. In going against the wishes of their own priests of the temples of Syrinx (i.e. record company executives telling them to ditch the concepts) they gambled and won. 2112 grabbed the imaginations of young, predominately male listeners, who bought it in droves. Add to that the live draw of three world class players who mowed down every audience that they faced and the one-two punch was unbeatable.

There are plenty of magical moments through the first side (vinyl copies) of 2112, with all of the main motifs boiled down and condensed in the “Overture” (shades of Tommy). Signature riffs, tasty bass lines and muscular drum work all underpin Lee in full cry on the “Temples of Syrinx”.



In all fairness, there is enough detail in the twenty minute cycle to at least grasp the intended message, though not enough time is allotted to truly develop characters in any great depth. Hence the jarring, 90 degree angle drop experienced as the piece ends swiftly, with cold totalitarian forces (apparently) obliterating all who dare to bring any light into the lives of the masses under their control.

INTERMISSION

Let’s all go the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby and get ourselves some pot

In stark contrast to the claustrophobic, grim vision of a future without choices served up in the first half, the second side of 2112 starts out with a fantastic train trip through exotic locations. Each destination offers a chance to stuff your pipe with mother nature's finest.

A dope song? Yes and it's quite fine, complete with a fantastic harmonized lead guitar/bass figure. Best track from a very stellar set.

"We only stop for the best."

This hirsute gentleman guarantees it.





Balancing shorter compositions with the extended narrative that comprised the first act was a smart move. "Something For Nothing" is a strong finish to what would be an extremely pivotal LP for Rush. If you listen closely to the lyrics, there is almost a sense that some loose ends are being tied up with respect to the dystopian picture painted of 2112. Far from subtle, it does serve to nicely bookend the idea of a nightmarish society where freedom of expression is forbidden with a gentle reminder that certain rights and privileges are often taken for granted.

Or something like that.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GEORGE HARRISON



THIRTY THREE & A THIRD

Never one to mince words about his experiences behind the scenes as a Beatle, George Harrison looked forward to creating music on his own terms when the inevitable split became a reality. Roaring out of the gate with All Things Must Pass in late 1970, he viewed the group's demise as an emancipation of sorts.

Solo success brought additional pressure to top himself, not to mention his former band mates. His need to distance himself from these expectations pushed him toward some very interesting musical territory. The Dark Horse LP, in particular, flirted with elements of jazz and arrangements that his fan base found hard to embrace. The 1974 tour was marred by problems with his voice, took a critical pasting and left him disillusioned with the business that he had once been so keen to break into. By 1975, he released the half-hearted Extra Texture to dwindling sales. Coincidentally, this was the last release for George on Apple Records and the label on the vinyl copies depicted an eaten away core as opposed to the iconic Granny Smith that graced all previous discs.

Such seemed to be the state of his career and personal life at that time.

It did get worse before the gloom lifted.

1976 would see him lose the lawsuit filed against him by Bright Tunes, which charged him with lifting the melody of the Chiffons "He's So Fine" for "My Sweet Lord". The actual story on this one is quite bizarre.

Back in 1969, he accepted an offer to do a short tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Harrison's experience was quite positive and he enjoyed the simple act of playing as part of a great band, without the nuisance of screaming idiots drowning out every note. At one tour stop, Delaney Bramlett and George were hanging out after the gig and Harrison quizzed Bramlett about his song writing:

"George came over to me and asked what inspired me to write gospel songs. I told him that I get thngs from the Bible, from what a preacher may say or just my feelings toward God. He said, 'Well, can you give me a for instance? How would you start?' So I grabbed my guitar and started playing the Chiffons melody from 'He's So Fine', singing the words My sweet Lord/Oh, my Lord/I just wanna be with you. George said okay. Then I said, 'Then you praise the Lord in your own way.' Rita and Bonnie were there and I told them when we got to that one part to sing Hallelujah."


Over a year later, Bramlett was shocked to hear this tune blasting out of every radio station he tuned to. He called Harrison and told him that he did not intend for him to actually use that melody. George claimed that he had changed it, though certainly not enough to avoid legal trouble.

Bramlett was even more shocked when he learned that he received zero writing credit for his efforts.

Probably for the best as it turned out.

Back to 1976, he was now unencumbered by contractual obligation to Apple. Signing on with A & M Records, health issues in the form of hepatitis delayed the recording of his new album. A & M promptly sued for breach of contract as the master tapes were not delivered on time.

Enter Warner Brothers records, who gladly took him on and bailed him out of his litigation with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.

Are we there yet?


Yes.

Considered a return to form, Thirty Three and a Third benefited greatly from the injection of humor in some of the lyrics. Slapped for his more lugubrious excursions into spiritual subject matter, Harrison toned down his proclivity for proselytizing in favor of more down to earth themes.

This set of tunes found him singing about cars ("It's What You Value"), women ("Woman Don't you Cry For Me", "Beautiful Girl") recent legal tangles ("This Song") the absurdities of life in the good old material world ("Crackerbox Palace") and Smokey Robinson ("Pure Smokey"). Malaise thus lifted, it does seem that a great deal of care was taken with arrangements and acheiving the right sounds to match the mood of the music: light and breezy.

Melodic touch sharpened to a fine point, Harrison's slide work is impeccable throughout. The session crew that he employed was not much different from his previous outings (Billy Preston, Tom Scott et al.), though the material that he gave them to work with was far more upbeat. You can hear great joy infused in their playing as a result.

Taking honors as the standout of the pack, "Crackerbox Palace" marries a silky slide orchestra with some of the wittiest lines to ever grace a Harrisong.


George Harrison - Crackerbox Palace


Another factor that certainly helped this album was George's mining of song ideas from the late sixties. Revisiting no less than three compositions left unfinished between 1967 and 1969 ("Woman Don't You Cry For Me", "Beautiful Girl" and "See Yourself"), he likely found renewed inspiration in their completion. Managing to go back even further, the lone cover is a very clever update of Cole Porter's "True Love", originally sung by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the movie High Society.

Closing with some cool jazz, "Learning How to Love You" was originally slated to be given to Herb Alpert to record. Considering the spectacular failure of George's short-lived partnership with A & M records, there is a certain incongruous calm displayed in this gentle offering that belied the business squabbles in which both were ensnared at that time.

I'm sure that in a parallel universe, there's a George Harrison LP called Fuck You, Herbie!

Definitely one of his strongest sets from the seventies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

CRAZY MARY



WATER ON THE MOON

"Got to be starting something, everything has got to change"


Opening their latest disc with a call to arms, New York's Crazy Mary convey a positive message in "Eyes Above the Clouds" exhorting listeners to "use the weapon of love". Freewheeling in their approach, each track is infused with stellar playing and a particularly soulful feel that nods in the direction of the late sixties. There is a great sense that these people really enjoy making music together, which bodes well for finding a loyal audience, as that natural ebullience is something which cannot be faked. People know when it's real and get swept up in the energy.

"Gravity" is my personal pick of the pack, with clever shifts in time signature and nice harmonies all wrapped in an ethereal chord sequence.

Reminiscent of the experimental side of the Jefferson Airplane, Crazy Mary at times takes chances in arrangement and form. While their songwriting heads are in the clouds, they do keep their feet on the ground with solid grooves.

Much to be commended here, though I am surprised that I have not heard of them until now. They have been turning out albums for the past decade and I have some catching up to do.

You may peruse their discography here and then take some time out to learn more about the band

Music of this caliber should be finding a place on the play-lists of contemporary rock stations. We should demand more of that medium. In the meantime, independent ideas still thrive on the net. Time for a change?

It's long overdue.

Here's one to enjoy from the Crazy Mary archives (2001). Water on the Moon is available now and comes highly recommended.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

THE KINGSTON TRIO





FROM THE HUNGRY i and THE COLLEGE CONCERT

Over fifty years have passed since the The Kingston Trio's close harmonies first made an impact on record buyers. Sporting haircuts that you could set your watch by, with vocal arrangements as sharp as their matching shirts, these guys were also excellent musicians. Their success was a product of possessing a fine ear for arranging traditional tunes coupled with raw talent. Commercially, folk music hit a rare peak in the early 60s due to the pioneering work of Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.

Criticized by purists at the time for taking more of a populist approach to the music that they turned out, hindsight reveals more versatility than audience pandering in their material.

From the Hungry i was the second release by the group in 1959 and was excerpted from two nights of recordings made during their month long engagement at this venerable San Francisco venue. "Tic Tic Tic" is my personal favorite. Tight playing and singing is the rule, rather than the exception with nary a note out of place.

Despite their appeal, they were often dogged by a dark, disingenuous cloud for claiming traditional songs that had fallen into the category of public domain as their own. It's one thing to co-opt dusty old melodies from another century (and many artists did so), though when they attempted to take credit for Pete Seeger's (co-written by Joe Hickerson) poignant "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", he politely asked that they drop any pretense of authorship.

For all that, their rendition is nothing short of perfect. Featured on The College Concert, it is one of many highlights on their first live disc with John Stewart who had replaced founding member Dave Guard in 1961. Guard's departure was apparently not amicable.

Nostalgia has been the primary driver for having these discs in rotation for the past few weeks. My parents had both of these LPs and I used to listen to them quite a bit as a child. (The cartoon depiction of the streets of San Francisco on the Hungry i album cover seemed like a page out of a coloring book to a four year old and I used it accordingly.)

Both sets hold up quite well.

The lads began to fall out of favor in the mid-sixties as more serious social concerns called for stronger language. People who chose to get their folk on now turned to singer/songwriters whose work reflected the turbulence of the times. British invasion bands helped swing the pendulum back toward rock.

Inevitably, they would call it a day in 1967, though the act has been revived with different line-ups in the intervening years.



I have made a few alterations to this write up in light of some great information passed on by writer Jim Moran via the comment section. His blog http://compvid101.blogspot.com/ is a treasure trove of insightful pieces on folk music . Currently, there is an excellent post on Bob Shane which is a must read for fans of the Kingston Trio.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

LIVE EVIL AND DIO'S EXIT



LIVE EVIL

Why can't we all just get along?

Balancing ego and accomplishment within the structure of a band is a tricky proposition. While some are content to play their role without demanding a greater slice of creative control or additional time in the limelight, many groups have fallen apart due to needless power struggles within their ranks. Fights about whose songs should be included, the overall musical direction to follow, image and a host of other contentious points have toppled many acts before they have had a chance to fulfill their initial promise.

So it was with Sabbath, Mach II, as 1982 drew to a close.

Please allow Tony Iommi to break it all down for you.

We'd worked so much and we'd been everywhere, non-stop work for years and then we recorded the live album and I say that loosely because of instead of being involved with it and listening to the sound in the [mobile recording] truck, it was recorded that quick at these gigs and we were more concerned with the gig than getting involved in the recording side.

When we got the [live recordings] in the studio, they were just bloody awful. It was so badly recorded that we had a big problem with it. We were pretty tired and our nerves were on edge and it just led to a bad feeling in the band.

And then to top it all, the engineer that was working with us was drinking more and more during these sessions and getting more and more pissed. One day, me and Geezer said, "It sounds different from how we left it last night" -- and this was going on for weeks – and the engineer said, "I can't take this any more! Ronnie's been coming in and adjusting everything and then you lot come in and adjust and then he comes in and adjusts it again and I just don't know what to do!"

And we said, "You're kidding?" and we broke up because of that! And of course, it was all hearsay and I don't really believe [what the engineer said] now but we did at the time.




Dio walked, taking Appice with him to forge a solo career.

Everything had been going so well...

Live Evil hit the racks not long after this bitterly acrimonious period of mixing, remixing, disowning and quitting took place. Quite good it is, too.

Courtesy of Circus Magazine, I recall reading a review of one of the gigs on the Mob Rules tour (Pine Knob amphitheater in Michigan) at that time, with mention of a forthcoming official live recording. This was the first Sabbath record that I was able to purchase when it originally came out. There were many debates revolving around Dio's handling of the Ozzy-era material, especially as Osbourne had released Speak of the Devil (a double live album of old Sabbath tunes) at roughly the same time. In the summer of 1983, I listened to both incessantly.

There are plenty of highlights, including the marathon version of "Heaven and Hell" welded together with "The Sign of the Southern Cross", complete with Ronnie's stage banter about recording/filming the show for eventual release and the audience participation segment. "Voodoo" has an extra verse, Iommi shreds, while Geezer and Vinny fill the spaces with beautiful noise.

If it's too loud, you're too old

It's worth mentioning that, for audiophiles, Live Evil exists in several formats, all with differences that range from track sequence (cassette has different running order than the vinyl copy), mix (CD vs. the record, UK vs. US masters) with the strangest being a CD release from Castle in 1996 that boiled everything down to one disc and eliminated Dio's between-song chatter. The Deluxe Edition, on the market since April 2010, has righted this careless tampering.

"Original Dio crowd interaction and audience noise restored."

Good.

Regardless of which copy you may own, it is a sterling document of this incarnation of Sabbath.