Music Reviews: May 2018 issue

VARIOUS ARTISTS
CONCERT FOR GEORGE
Concord Music 
(2-Blu-ray + 2-CD, 2-DVD + 2-CD, 2-CD or 4-LP)

5 Stars

This remastered version of the November 29, 2002 concert held at London’s Royal Albert Hall in memory of George Harrison is a total delight from start to finish. It features many of Harrison’s friends and former bandmates including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Joe Brown, Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston, Ray Cooper, Jim Keltner, Jim Capaldi, Monty Python, Gary Brooker, Jools Holland, and the female vocalist Sam Brown. Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison, performed with the band throughout the concert on guitar.

The concert brims with highlights. Clapton shines on a brilliant version of “If I Needed Someone.” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ take on “Taxman” features some fantastic guitar work by Mike Campbell. Petty and Lynne trade off lead vocals on a joyous rendition of The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Starr received a massive cheer from the crowd for great versions of “Photograph” and Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t.” Joe Brown, an old friend of Harrison’s for whom The Beatles served as a supporting act in the early 1960s, performed a beautiful version of “Here Comes The Sun.” A truly phenomenal version of “Isn’t It A Pity” featuring Clapton and Preston on vocals brought the house down. Preston’s lead vocal on “My Sweet Lord” was also a concert highlight. Clapton and Lynne both did some nice work while performing with Shankar’s orchestra. Clapton and McCartney share the lead vocal on a moving version of “Something” that McCartney starts off on ukulele before the band kicks in. McCartney also does a nice job with the lead vocal on “All Things Must Pass.” An incendiary “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” features lead vocals and astonishing guitar work by Clapton. And Joe Brown offered a fitting close to the show by performing a wonderful “I’ll See You in My Dreams” on ukulele.

It’s worth picking up the set that includes the video of the concert because the interview segments and the extras really enhance the enjoyment of the concert. (The Monty Python extra alone is worth picking up the video for.) In addition, some great segments of the concert are not included on the CD. Monty Python’s contribution is only available on the video. Following the performance of “Sit On My Face,” the Pythons offer the audience a very funny surprise. And Michael Palin leads the performance of “The Lumberjack Song” that features Tom Hanks, deputizing for the absent John Cleese, as one of Mounties. In addition, one of the real highlights of the show, a stellar take on “Horse To The Water” featuring Holland on piano and Sam Brown on vocals, is only available on the video.

— John Curley

 

THE DOORS
LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL 1970
Eagle Vision/Universal Music Group (CD/DVD)

4 Stars

This concert has previously made the rounds in collector’s circles; this marks its first official release, in a nice CD/DVD (or Blu-ray) package.

The Doors had planned their August 29, 1970 appearance at the Isle of Wight festival to be the kick off date for a European tour. But Jim Morrison’s trial for obscenity and indecent exposure at a Miami concert in 1969 was going on at the same time, leading to the cancellation of all dates but this one. It was the last Doors concert to be filmed in its entirety.

The surviving Doors have previously said it was a restrained and unremarkable show. It’s true that Morrison is no longer the firebrand lead singer he once was; he doesn’t leap around or dramatically drop to the stage (perhaps that’s perhaps partially due to the fact that delays meant the band didn’t take the stage until the early morning hours of August 30). But it’s nonetheless a powerful performance; even guitarist Robby conceded “If you listen to it, it sounds pretty good.” As keyboardist Ray Manzarek says in the liner notes, Morrison might have been “shackled” as far as stage movements, but adds, “We played with a controlled fury.” And so they do.

It’s a six-song set, beginning with the blues of “Back Door Man,” taking in the Doors’ biggest hit (“Light My Fire”) as well as “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” from their first album, “Ship of Fools” from Morrison Hotel, and the epic numbers “When the Music’s Over” and “The End.” On the latter two numbers in particular, the band extemporizes freely; it’s like being able to hang out with the Doors while they rehearse.

Perhaps because “Ship of Fools” is largely instrumental, the editors make the mistake of cutting in a lot of audience and festival during the number, when you’d rather the focus stayed on the band (an opening sequence featuring “Roadhouse Blues,” not from this show, also goes on too long). There’s also a short featurette with the band explaining the show’s circumstances, and how they’ve come to appreciate the strength of the band’s performance over the years. The Doors would play live on just two more occasions.

Definitely worth picking up if you’re a Doors fan.

—Gillian G. Gaar

 

MICHAEL NESMITH & THE FIRST NATIONAL BAND
MAGNETIC SOUTH + LOOSE SALUTE + NEVADA FIGHTER
Sundazed (LP Bundle)

4 Stars

It’s surprising that none of Michael Nesmith’s country-rock themed albums with his First National Band generated much excitement when they were initially released in 1970 (Magnetic South and Loose Salute) and 1971 (Nevada Fighter). Just a few years later, bands like the Eagles were taking country rock to the top of the charts; yet all of Nesmith’s records stiffed. It was a bitter, discouraging pill for him to swallow; “I was heartbroken beyond speech,” he recently told Rolling Stone.

But someone out there was listening. When Nesmith put together a new First National Band for what he assumed would be a one off show at LA’s Troubadour club last January, the show sold out, prompting the immediate booking of four more dates, with a possibility of other shows happening later. Which makes it an appropriate time to reissue the FNB’s albums, in packages replicating the original releases, and on colored vinyl.

Magnetic South includes the group’s highest charting single, the melancholy “Joanne,” a nice showcase for Nesmith’s voice (just listen to him hit those high notes). Five of the 11 songs were first recorded during Nesmith’s time with The Monkees (“Calico Girlfriend” appeared on The Monkees Present; other tracks appeared on compilations like the Missing Links series). But here he makes them truly his own, working with a crack band (O.J. “Red” Rhodes on pedal steel guitar, John London on bass, and John Ware on drums), and no longer having to satisfy anyone’s expectations but his own. Other highlights include the pedal steel work and Nesmith’s yodeling in “Mama Nantucket,” and the dreamy closer, “Beyond the Blue Horizon.”

“Silver Moon” (country pop with a touch of Latin influence) was the hit single on Loose Salute, peaking just outside the U.S. Top 40, and reaching the Top 20 in Australia. There’s a harder edge to the album, as in tracks like “Dedicated Friend” and “Bye, Bye, Bye,” and a greater musical diversity (the Latin swing of “Tengo Amore”). There’s also a few tracks from Nesmith’s Monkees’ days (a more countrified version of “Listen to the Band,” as well as “Conversations,” recorded for The Monkees under the name “Carlisle Wheeling”), and a poignant take on Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.”

Nevada Fighter is divided between cover songs and Nesmith’s originals. The originals have less of a country-rock flavor than on the previous albums, and the record gets off to a fine start with the clever “The Grand Ennui.” Nesmith also digs back into his Monkees catalog once again, serving up a new, more uptempo version of “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care).” Of the covers, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” gets a lovely arrangement, while Nesmith’s take on “Rainmaker” is wonderfully imaginative.

If you liked Nesmith’s Monkees songs, you’ll enjoy these albums. But country-rock aficionados should give these records a spin as well. It’s high time Michael Nesmith & the First National Band got the attention they deserve.

—Gillian G. Gaar

 

 

JERRY GARCIA
GARCIA LIVE, VOLUME 10
Round/ATO (2-CD)

4 Stars

A return to the stage after the diabetic coma that nearly felled him for good in 1986, Jerry Garcia and friends’ performance at Hilo Civic Auditorium — an Earth Day concert benefitting the Ocean Recreation Council of Hawaii — was a return to form that no one could have expected. With his health issues well behind him, at least for now, Garcia and his crack band — Melvin Seals (keyboards), Gloria Jones and Jacklyn LaBranch (backing vocals), John Kahn (bass) and David Kemper (drums) — offered up a set of standards and standbys that not only did justice to the originals, but in many cases brought them to new heights.

This latest in a series of retrospective releases may be the best of the offerings so far, adding to a stockpile of archival recordings that is beginning to rival the Dead’s own in terms of quantity and frequency. Yet where earlier volumes often lean more towards free-flowing jams and the more jazzy designs of his efforts with keyboard player Merle Saunders, Volume 10 finds the band wholly embracing a set of songs that are gleaned as much with melody as they with musicality. As a result, Garcia only briefly revisits his solo catalog with an obligatory take on “Deal” and tackles a pair of Dead tunes with “They Love Each Other” and “Run for the Roses,” but he mainly opts for the numbers that became such an inherent part of his solo repertoire. Here again we get re-workings of several Dylan numbers (“Tangled Up in Blue,” “Forever Young,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”), a pair of soul gems (“The Way You Do the Things You Do,” How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”) and a couple of reggae tracks that always suited his style to a tee (“The Harder They Come,” “Stop That Train”). Far from treating these numbers as another perfunctory showcase for his verve and versatility, Garcia and company add a fresh energy and enthusiasm that emphasize freshness over familiarity.

In other words, one need not worship at the altar of Garcia or the Grateful Dead to embrace and appreciate the full measure of energy and enthusiasm on display herein. Garcia’s vocals are as expressive as ever, and his guitar playing naturally rings with its trademark zest and definition. There’s a decided drive and determination here, whether it’s rocking or reflecting, making even key classics such as “That Lucky Old Sun” and “Tears of Rage” take on an extra measure of spunk and spark.

It’s hardly likely that Garcia live offerings will cease any time soon, but any hint of excess or redundancy is easily eased here. Garcia’s greatness has never been more evident.

—Lee Zimmerman

 

 

ROBERT PLANT & THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
LIVE AT DAVID LYNCH’S FESTIVAL OF DISRUPTION
Eagle (DVD)

4 Stars

Like many of the elders of his generation, Robert Plant has evolved as a musical chameleon of sorts as the decades have gone by. While he’ll be forever identified — and rightfully so — with Led Zeppelin, his work has gained far broader parameters in the years since the band’s breakup, encompassing folk, Americana and Third World rhythms in ways that reach well beyond his original teeming template. All that comes to the fore in this new DVD that captures Plant and his current band the Space Shifters in a benefit concert in Los Angeles for the David Lynch Foundation. While the film is fairly straight ahead and unadorned — no dazzling effects, intimate asides or other unnecessary distractions — the music proves mesmerizing throughout. Plant is, and always has been, a singularly compelling performer, an artist who never settles for anything that’s less than intelligent, intriguing or challenging. Here, he and his six-piece band tackle nine songs that represent both his current catalog and a handful of Zeppelin standbys (“Going to California,” “Black Dog,” “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” et al.) and yet, it’s a perfect mesh. Embellished with exotic arrangements and Middle Eastern accents, the songs flow smoothly, one into another, and although the older material naturally grabs attention due to vintage value (listen as the crowd eagerly joins in for the “uh huh” refrain on”Black Dog,” for example), there’s no disruption in tone or tempo. Even the less familiar tracks prove equally enticing. Credit “Rainbow” for one, as a soon- to-be standard.

Ultimately, a David Lynch commentary is made to suffice as the sole bonus feature, but no matter. Plant and company make this film soar on musical merits alone. Consider this Plant with a purpose.

—Lee Zimmerman

 

 

THE PAUL McCARTNEY ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Paul McCartney: McCartney, McCartney II, Tug Of War, Pipes Of Peace
Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram
Paul McCartney and Wings: Band On The Run
Wings: Venus And Mars, At The Speed Of Sound (PRNewsfoto/Universal Music Enterprises)

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney Archive Collection
MPL/Capitol/Ume (8-LPs)

4 Stars

Capitol/UMusic has released (or re-released…or re-re-released, depending on how one looks at it) the first eight Paul McCartney Archive Collection titles in three formats: as CD digipaks, as black vinyl single LPs on 180gram audiophile vinyl, and as limited edition, 180gram colored vinyl pressings. (All are straight reissues of the original albums, sans any of the bonus tracks that accompanied previous reissues under the Archive Collection umbrella.) The vinyl versions each feature MP3 download cards, as well as fully restored artwork — this means, for example, that Venus and Mars contains both posters originally inserted in its gatefold sleeve, as well as the “Venus and Mars are Alright Tonight” and “planet” stickers. The only noticeable difference in the artwork from the original releases seems to be on a handful of the record labels — the original Apple, Capitol and Columbia labels have been replaced by custom ones, newly designed when the albums were released earlier in the decade via Concord/Hear Music.

These eight releases are obviously aimed at collectors, especially the colored vinyl versions, with independent record stores the only physical retailers in the United States carrying them. (For the record, here’s the rundown on the various colors: McCartney – red vinyl; McCartney II – clear; Tug of War – blue; Pipes of Peace – silver; Ram – yellow; Band on the Run – white; Venus and Mars – split red/yellow; and At the Speed of Sound – orange.) Oddly, the Ram vinyl — which is supposed to be yellow — is actually closer to lime green in color.

Each of the albums was mastered at Abbey Road Studios (utilizing the same masters as the Concord/Hear Music versions), and on the whole they sound absolutely fantastic, particularly on vinyl. Band on the Run and the always-underrated Wings’ At the Speed of Sound in particular are stunning, but each of the eight releases are fresh-sounding and vibrant, filled with “I never noticed that before” moments — some percussion here, horns there, more present acoustic guitar, etc.

As far as the music, it’s been well-documented and analyzed to death over the years, but suffice it to say that much of what is presented on these eight albums is the soundtrack to the ‘70s and early ‘80s: McCartney classics (“Jet,” “Band on the Run,” “Maybe I’m Amazed”), relatively obscure yet choice album cuts (the Buddy Holly-esque “Eat at Home” from Ram, the gloriously effusive “Wanderlust” from Tug of War, the romantic “Warm and Beautiful” from At the Speed of Sound), and hit after hit after hit.

While some Paul McCartney fans may bemoan the fact that these eight albums are getting another Archive Collection reissue rather than still-untouched Macca long-players such as Back to the Egg, London Town or Red Rose Speedway (to name but three), it’s nice to have them presented in their original form. But since we’re not above a bit of niggling, why wasn’t Wings Over America included in this round of reissues? (It was released as part of the Archive Collection in 2013.)

—John M. Borack

 

 

ISAAC HAYES
HOT BUTTERED SOUL
Craft Recordings (LP)
4 Stars

SHAFT
Craft Recordings (2-LPs)
5 Stars

BLACK MOSES
Craft Recordings (2-LPs)
5 Stars

Isaac Hayes first established himself as a session musician, songwriter and producer at Stax Records before beginning a solo career of his own. His debut effort, Introducing Isaac Hayes (1968), wasn’t successful, but before too long he was turning out the records that are now regarded as soul classics: Hot Buttered Soul (1969), Shaft and Black Moses (both 1971).

Hot Buttered Soul set a new standard for Hayes; a dramatic cover shot (in this case, a close up of Hayes’ shaved head), and a unique choice of covers that are inventively reworked and expanded. In Dionne Warwick’s version, “Walk on By” was a sophisticated three-minute pop confection; in Hayes’ hands, it sprawled to over ten minutes, with a sweeping bed of strings and a crooning vocal that makes the song sound even more regretful. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” runs for nearly 20 minutes, and begins with an eight minute and 37 seconds spoken word recitation as Hayes carefully sets up the number, assuring the listener, “I’m gonna bring it on down to soulsville.” “One Woman” is lushly romantic and “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” is a fun bit of funk (or a funky bit of fun).

Hot Buttered Soul topped the R&B chart, and hit Top 10 in the pop chart. Shaft topped both charts, and the US jazz chart as well, and made Hayes a superstar. It’s best known for “Theme From Shaft” of course, one of the most iconic movie themes in cinema history (and when Hayes won the Oscar for Best Original Song, it made him the first African American to win an Academy Award in a non-acting category). “Do Your Thing” was the record’s other hit single; on the album, it settles into a cozy little groove that goes on for 19 minutes. Unlike other film soundtracks, you can enjoy Shaft without knowing anything about the movie; it’s a consummate soul album.

Black Moses is the most ambitious of these three reissues; perhaps that why it was less commercially successful than the other two records. The double album set has its share of idiosyncratic covers (“Never Can Say Goodbye,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” and steamy numbers like “Man’s Temptation” and “Need to Belong to Someone.” Most intriguing are the three numbers (“Help Me Love,” “Your Love is So Doggone Good,” “A Brand New Me”) preceded by a spoken word piece (“Ike’s Rap”), giving a new meaning to the phrase “fireside chat.”

The packaging of these reissues is first rate (the Black Moses cover even folds out into a cross-shaped poster, with Hayes’ depicted as the biblical savior, as the original release did), with the records themselves mastered from the original analog tapes and on 180 gram vinyl. So gorgeous to look at, they’re worth picking up even if you already have the music in another format.

—Gillian G. Gaar

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