March 2017 music release review

NRBQ

NRBQ
High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective   
Omnivore Recordings
(5-CD Box Set)

5 stars

Not too many bands last for a half-century. In the case of the American rock ’n’ roll band from Kentucky, NRBQ has confounded, delighted, surprised and entertained countless fans with their shape-shifting essence, which incorporates rockabilly, jazz, blues, country, rock, pop, gospel, avant-garde, garage-band alternative, punk, folk and Americana. Now, for the first time, the totality of this genre-busting essence and good-time frivolity can be had within one amazing desert-island 5-CD box set, “High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective.”

Singer/songwriter/pianist/entertainer/professional weirdo Terry Adams is responsible for this eclectic mess. He could play some Count Basie, Jerry Lee or “Let It Be.” I have no doubt he would turn McCartney’s ballad into death metal emo. That’s just the way he is. Fifteen musicians have passed through the ranks of NRBQ (New Rhythm’n’Blues Quartet) but Adams is still there.

So many highlights, so little space. There’s 106 songs. No filler.

Disc 1 (2005-2016) starts off covering Sun Ra and Monk yet rocks ‘n’ rolls until the early morning light, making sure to interpret “Getting To Know You” from the Broadway musical “The King And I.”

Disc 2 (1966-1970) contains their retarded-cousin versions of Ray Charles (“Get On The Right Track, Baby”) and Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”) but it’s their demented originals (like The Three Stooges tribute track called “Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard”) that steal the show.

Disc 3 (1971-1978) covers Johnny Cash (Get Rhythm”), Rosemary Clooney (“This Old House”) and Big Joe Turner (“Honey Hush”) but their riotous live shows — never a set list — steal the disc. 

Disc 4 (1977-1980) has “Captain Lou,” about and with the late professional wrestler-manager Lou Albano, a cover of a Miles Davis cover (1929’s “S’posin’”) and stompin’ originals like “Smackaroo,” “Crazy Like A Fox,” Wacky Tobacky,” “My Girlfriend’s Pretty” and “Christmas Wish.”

Disc 5 (1989-2004) rocks the best. Terry Adams got down to the DNA of rock ’n’ roll when he wrote the riotous “Puddin’ Truck,” the kind of track will turn grown men into teenaged juvenile delinquents. Had he written it in the ‘50s, preachers would’ve preached against it. Then there’s Terry’s brilliant “Imaginary Radio” wherein he imagines Top 40 radio always playing Sun Ra.

This is a feast for the ages.

— Mike Greenblatt


LastWaltzDLX

THE BAND
THE LAST WALTZ
(40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
Warner Bros./Rhino (4-CD, 1 Blu-ray Box Set)

Forty years seems an auspicious enough anniversary these days, what with the transient nature of rock and the passing of so many of our musical idols. While 25 or 50 might have been a tidier milestone to mark The Band’s final hurrah, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this all star gathering still ranks as one of the most momentous superstar summits of all time and an event worth remembering; regardless of whatever anniversary might coincide. Besides, with a tribute tour currently underway — sans any of the original participants it might be noted — it would be a shame if the actual concert wasn’t represented as well.

And so it is, complete with a lavish 74-page book that chronicles the event in exacting detail. A sensational Blu-ray that gives Martin Scorsese’s original film a new found clarity rivalling the original theatrical release, and four discs of music representing the performance, the rehearsals and incidental studio sessions. Granted, the CDs don’t boast any newly discovered treasures; instead they simply replicate the offerings lauded on the expanded 2013 edition. Collectors may be dismayed by that noticeable lack of extras, but those willing to spring for the $60 or so necessary to purchase the entire package will find it well worth the acquisition regardless. There are other options — two and four discs of the music alone — but given the fact that those are simply standard issue, the extra dollars involved make acquisition of the entire set a worthy buy, all components considered.

Ultimately, “The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Edition” mimics the accomplishment it originally attained on its release — that is, an excellent overview of The Band’s musical legacy, faithfully executed and expounded upon by an amazing array of guest performers — Dylan, Clapton, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond and Joni Mitchell included. Each artist is captured at his or her prime, exempting the presentation from any claim that it was a mere comeback concert. To hear songs such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight,” “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “Up On Cripple Creek” recharged with this live vitality makes the studio versions pale in comparison. The same can be said of any of the singular songs sung by their guests.

Monumental seems an adequate description overall, but even then, the word simply doesn’t do these proceedings justice. “The Last Waltz” was, after all, a singular event, one of the greatest concerts of all time, and in retrospect, that status hasn’t diminished with age. Four decades on, it’s as stirring as ever, and this lavish document of that amazing evening brings it all back home.

— Lee Zimmerman


Heart-Live-At-The-RAH-DVD-cover-hr

Heart
Live At The Royal Albert Hall With The Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra
Eagle Rock Entertainment (DVD, Blu-ray)

In June of last year, Heart debuted at this gorgeous venue in London, England, and came packin’ with an entire orch! The result makes for a 16-track Heart attack of favorites including “These Dreams,” “Alone,” “What About Love,” “Barracuda” and “Dreamboat Annie” with the still strong-voiced Ann Wilson and the rampaging guitar histrionics of Nancy Wilson carrying the evening. Backed by a whiplash tight band of drums (Ben Smith), bass (Dan Rothchild), guitar (Craig Bartock) and keyboards (Chris Joyner), they bring the house down to kick out the jams on the opener:  a terrific bare-bones garage-band version of “Magic Man” before introducing the men and women of the Royal Philharmonic for “Heaven.”

Highlights come fast and furious. These sisters have always known how to inhabit a stage and light it afire with raw emotion. Plus, they’ve always loved and covered Led Zeppelin better than most, and here, their version of “No Quarter” is one for the ages. Touring in support of their 16th album, “Beautiful Broken,” they do its title song and by the time the whole shebang hammers to a close with “Kick It Out,” Heart fans will undoubtedly just want to start the whole thing over again. Thus, this is a worthy addition even if one already owns the original recordings.

— Mike Greenblatt


bonamassaJoe Bonamassa
Live at the Greek Theatre
JR Adventures (2-CD Set)

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Joe Bonamassa returns to the stage in tribute of the three lost Kings of Blues Guitar:  BB, Freddie and Albert. Leave it to Joe — whose non-profit “Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation” funds music scholarships — to rev up the Hollywood crowd at the Greek with a surging set of songs by these three late masters.

As produced by longtime partner Jerry Shirley, the 22 songs on two CDs sound studio quality, with troublesome crowd noise kept to a minimum. (It closes with one studio track, a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Riding With The King,” only here, of course, it’s plural.)

The Three Kings Blues Band is sterling. Its two-guitar/keyboards/bass/trumpet/two tenor sax/bari sax/three background female vocalists all pushed along mightily by all-star drummer Anton Fig. Joe’s vocals have never sounded more assured and soulful. He stings his array of guitars fit to burst with inventive ideas that go way beyond the template left to him. He’s not so much emulating the solo tics, quirks and asides of the masters, he’s adding a few new wrinkles.

Material? Despite the fact that it’s much more fun not to know what’s upcoming here, letting the shock of recognition hit you like a smile, highlights include Freddie’s “Going Down” and “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling”; B.B.’s “Let The Good Times Roll” and “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jivin’ Too)”; and Albert’s “Cadillac Assembly Line” and Born Under A Bad Sign.” Albert’s “Cross Cut Saw” is the obvious omission but when you’re in tribute to three legends who were on this earth for a combined 200 years, you’re not going to get to everything. Highly recommended.

— Mike Greenblatt


play-it-loudPlay It Loud: an Epic History of the Style, Sound, & Revolution of the Electric Guitar
By Brad Tolinski & Alan Di Perna  
Doubleday (Hardcover)

I’ve never been a big gear guy, but it’s testimony to the clear and concise writing and logical storytelling ability of Tolinski and Di Perna that “Play It Loud” could be an engaging and informative book, through subterfuge, getting the layman reader into the story.

Of course, it helps when the two Guitar World legends plunder their action-packed archives for quotes with all manner of acts, of particular interest to myself being sections on Steve Vai, Carlos Santana (who also provides a foreword), Joe Walsh and Eddie Van Halen. But the duo also take you down side roads, including an informative treatise by George Gruhn, owner of Nashville’s Gruhn Guitars. There’s also much talk of Jimi Hendrix, and landmark moments like Dylan going electric. As well, the entire early history of the guitar is explained, inextricably tied to the blues and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the duelling banjos being Fender and Gibson. There’s also a literary device where the guys focus on 12 essential guitars, but all of this is secondary to the storytelling format, where icon after icon routinely shows up.

The book ends with a nice timeline, of which the major points correspond to some of the detailed story points within the book. By the end, I’m still not convinced of the importance of the guitar versus, say, songwriting and lyrics, but what falls out of this indeed “epic” journey is how much of the inspiration for these guys came directly from the instrument put into their capable and callous-hardened hands.

— Martin Poppoff


Myles Goodwyn Just Between You and Me coverJUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME: A MEMOIR
By Myles Goodwyn  
HarperCollins (Hardcover)

Myles Goodwyn credits The Guess Who for paving the way for Canadian rock bands, and a 30% Canadian content law for Canadian radio stations being enacted, timed with the release of the first April Wine album, for their homeland success. April Wine had over a dozen Canadian Top 40 hit singles and many gold and platinum albums, which this band leader walks the readers through in his memoir, “Just Between You and Me.”

We learn of Myles Goodwyn’s humble, rural beginnings, growing up with an outhouse in the Canadian freeze, to becoming the leader of April Wine. The band got their first break as the opening act in the summer of 1970 Canadian tour for Mashmakhan, a group who had a No. 1 single at the time, “As the Years Go By,” which also reached the U.S. Top 40. Three of its members would join April Wine over the ‘70s.

In the U.S., there was a big gap in the Top 40 between 1972’s “You Could Have Been a Lady,” which we learn was originally a hit in England by Hot Chocolate, and “Roller” in 1979, based on a trip to Las Vegas. In between, their many Canadian hits included their version of an early Elton John flip side “Bad Side of the Moon” and the beautiful ecological plea “Lady Run, Lady Hide.”

In March of 1977, April Wine was the opener for the surprise act at Toronto’s El Mocambo club, The Rolling Stones, and met the band and Rolling Stones fan Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. Four of the songs by The Rolling Stones, including their cover of the Chuck Berry flip side, “Round and Round,” comprised side three of The Rolling Stones’ successful “Love You Live” album.

April Wine would pay tribute to both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles on their song “I Like to Rock” with guitar parts from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Day Tripper” competing at the song’s finale. They also recorded a slowed down version of “Tell Me Why.”

On August 1, 1981, they became the first Canadian band to have videos on the first day of MTV with multiple showings of “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” and their biggest charting U.S. single, “Just Between You and Me.”

Myles Goodwyn continues to write, record and perform in Canada.

— Warren Kurtz


new-orleansVarious Artists
New Orleans: Music In Exile 
MVD (Blu-ray)

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. The devastation was compounded when the levees broke and the national response by federal, state and local officials was totally inadequate. Just months after the carnage, filmmaker Robert Mugge, who earned his stripes with profound cinematic flair on such music documentaries as “Deep Blues,” “Gospel According To Al Green,” “The Kingdom Of Zydeco” and “Rhythm’n’Bayous,” took his cameras not only to the Crescent City but to Houston, Austin and Baton Rouge where displaced musicians gathered.

Originally released in 2006, it has been restored and re-released. Timeless in its essence, you can actually see and feel the hurt, the shock and the sadness on the faces of the still-grieving musicians like Dr. John, Irma Thomas (who cameras follow as she inspects for the first time the club she ran with her husband), Cyril Neville, Marcia Ball, Kermit Ruffins, The Iguanas, Jon Cleary, Rebirth Brass Band, Eddie Bo and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Their post-Katrina performances are sterling.

News footage of the flooding includes the elderly Fats Domino being assisted out of his house. Nothing could be sadder than to see these beloved musicians so affected. Still, though, the spirit of this most special American city, which has, indeed, come back, even if some of the musicians haven’t, is one of optimism. This reporter has been back there since the crisis and between the food, the culture, the people and the over-all ambiance, I can faithfully attest that there is no place on Earth imbued with such spiritual/musical magnificence. “New Orleans: Music In Exile” is a classic in and of itself.

— Mike Greenblatt


60sOceanEVERYBODY HAD AN OCEAN:
Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles
By William McKeen  
Chicago Review Press (Softcover)

It’s not so much the story of the 1960s Los Angeles rock music scene (Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The Byrds, et al) that author McKeen presents to the reader — it’s been covered many times, exceptionally well in Harvey Kubernik’s “Canyon of Dreams“ — but it is the overall structure of the book itself. It’s a rather brilliant way of chronicling the migration of the rock ’n’ roll business to Southern California and how a magical music culture bloomed organically.

Instead of being confined into chapters, the highlighted artists drift in and out of the narrative like the real-life, ongoing, drop-in visitors among the hippie celebrity abodes of Laurel Canyon. Unfortunately, due to this open door policy, uber-psycho Charles Manson and his zombie followers happened to wander in, take up residence and ruin the era. In “Everybody Had an Ocean” creative genius shines throughout but Manson’s demented and sordid presence looms over the California dream like an ominous, foreboding thunder cloud.

— Patrick Prince


 QUICK PICKS

John_Legend-2016-Darkness_and_LightJOHN LEGEND
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Columbia (CD, LP)

Genre: R&B
Summary: This aptly titled  album from Legend (born John Stephens) views his life’s contradictions and uncertainties (“Make me love you and hate you at the same time.”) with surprising rhymes we haven’t often heard. How many ways is an elevator metaphorical in “Penthouse Floor” with Chance the Rapper?


buck_owensBUCK OWENS AND THE BUCKAROOS
THE COMPLETE CAPITOL SINGLES: 1957-1966
Omnivore (2-CD Set)

Genre: Country
Summary:
An architect of southern California’s Bakersfield sound, Owens (1929-2006) boosted his honky-tonk tracks’ treble to enhance their sound on AM car radios. “Act Naturally,” “Together Again” and “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” are among this set’s 56 hits and flips that reflect country music’s divide between West Coast and Nashville.


guy-clark-duatoneGUY CLARK
THE BEST OF THE DUALTONE YEARS
Dualtone (2-CD Set)

Genre: Americana
Summary: The dean of Americana songwriting, Clark (1941-2016) was a genius at creating poetry from our everyday objects (“The Randall Knife”). This 19-cut package from his final label has recent songs (“The Guitar”), live versions of old faves (“L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes”) and three previously unissued songs.


TH_Neptune_Cvr_Final_rgb_3000x3000_300dpiTALL HEIGHTS
NEPTUNE
Sony Masterworks (CD)

Genre: Progressive Folk
Summary:
The Massachusetts duo’s choir boy harmonies recall Simon & Garfunkel’s, though these newcomers’ lyrics are more challenging. Acoustic and electric guitars, cello and cell phone feedback figure in the sophisticated, somewhat ethereal instrumentation.


Reverend-Freakchild-–-Preachin’-Blues-940x859REVEREND FREAKCHILD
PREACHIN’ BLUES
Treated And Released (CD)

Genre: Live Solo Acoustic Blues
Summary:
Dubbing himself a reverend of blues bardology Colorado-based Freakchild (a student of Tibetan Buddhism) delivers slashing resonator guitar riffs from the Mississippi Delta of yore. Besides gospel-tinged blues, there’s what he calls a purple song, “Kiss,” a salute to Prince in a gruff Son House vein.

—Bruce Sylvester

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