Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Jimi Hendrix Nine To The Universe (1980)


The album that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt why Jimi Hendrix still reigns supreme as the God of Guitar. Jimi takes no vocals on any of the six tracks, preferring instead to let his guitar cry and sing. This is a brilliant example of Jimi’s fluid improvisational genius.

His playing is ratcheted up another notch in the fertile jam-session setting of these astounding recordings, which showcase his creative energy and virtuosity. We are able to hear Hendrix thinking aloud, and he consistently astounds the listener with the force of his ideas.

He pairs up on one track with legendary jazz organist Larry Young (who played with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew), creating a jazz-rock masterpiece that outshines in intensity anything recorded by latter day guitar heroes. The electrifying interplay that he and Young achieve leaves one wondering what kind of music Jimi could have made with Miles Davis, had he not died just one week before they were scheduled to record together in a London studio.

This session hints strongly at one of the many possible directions Jimi’s music was headed prior to his tragic death in September 1970. This long out-of-print masterpiece deserves to be immediately re-released. Write to your local congressman.

•Jimi Hendrix – Guitar
•Jim McCartey – Guitar
•Larry Lee – Guitar
•Larry Young – Organ
•Billy Cox – Bass
•Dave Holland – Bass
•Buddy Miles – Drums
•Mitch Mitchell – Drums
•Juma Edwards – Percussion
1.Nine to the Universe (8:46)
2.Jimi/Jimmy Jam (7:58)
3.Young/Hendrix Jam (10:22)
4.Easy Blues (4:17)
5.Drone Blues (6:16)

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Nine To The Universe | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock (1999)

From Amazon

I borrowed a video of this concert from a friend and had to replace it with this CD when he made me give it back (in a distinctly more worn condition than when he gave it to me!).

This concert also introduced me to Jimi’s post-Experience work. A life-changing moment.

Rather than reiterate much of what has already been written about this concert, I would simply like to draw attention to three particular tracks (I’m a bit surprised that no one has mentioned them yet, although I have seen references to them in reviews on other CDs):

Message To Love – this, in my opinion, must be the all-time greatest festival song ever performed! The superb riff, the pounding, driving rythm, the “come alive” refrain, the usual mind-bending guitar work. For the surviving swamp-dwellers at Woodstock, this must have been the perfect rallying cry and the most exquisite reward for their endurance and faith! To me, this song sounds totally contemporary and very reminiscent of modern blues of the garage- or basement- variety, by artists such as T Model Ford or Paul ‘Wine’ Jones (although with the benefit of having been performed by a virtuoso!).

Izabella – this was the only song that the band had fully rehearsed before the show, and is clearly one of the most orderly and structured of the entire set. IMO, it also happens to be one of the most brilliant guitar riffs ever, and is without question one of my favourite Hendrix numbers. Given that this was the only song that Jimi felt entirely happy with prior to the performance, I like to think that this song represents the essence of the musical shift that he was making by leaving The Experience and by hooking up with his old army buddy, Billy Cox (on bass).

(More significantly, I think that these two tracks reveal, unambiguously, that the shift that Jimi was making was away from the melody-based material of the JHE, and towards a much more rythm-based sound – more in keeping with Jimi’s true love, the blues.)

Hear My Train A Comin’ – I think Jimi had a deep lonely streak in him, (arising from his difficult childhood and the death of his mother while he was still only a wee lad) and that this lonliness left him with the ability to feel and communicate powerful emotions through his music. Hear My Train is a beautiful, emotion-drenched, classic blues song, that, IMO, epitomises the true genius of Jimi Hendrix and the priceless gift that he left us, ie. the combination of traditional and pyschedelic blues, with virtuoso guitar-playing, deep deep feeling, and great great soul.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Trunk Show (2010)


You may regard Neil Young as 75% relentless preacher, 25% creaky balladeer, and 100% annoying performer, whose own act doesn’t touch the entertainment value of Jimmy-Fallon-as-Young doing “Pants on the Ground.” But watch Neil Young Trunk Show, Jonathan Demme’s capture of two concerts at Pennsylvania’s Tower Theatre, however, and you’ll likely come away with a different impression: Young can still rock.

The Rachel Getting Married director, who also filmed Young for 2006’s Heart of Gold, spent more time with the singer during 2007’s Chrome Dreams II tour. But Demme keeps the behind-the-scenes footage to a minimum, instead splicing the best of both concerts together for a mostly-music 82 minutes. That said, the film includes one touching and revealing offstage moment, when Young meets with some special-needs kids before the show, whispering to one boy and making him beam. (Both of Young’s sons suffer from cerebral palsy; and his daughter inherited his epilepsy.)

The film starts in grainy Super 8 as “Sad Movies” plays over clips from the shows. Then when it’s time to train the camera on Young and his band (Ben Keith, Ralph Molina, Rick Rosas, Anthony “Sweet Pea” Crawford, and wife Pegi Young) on stage. Here Demme goes high-def: you can see every crag in Young’s face, his thinning hair blowin’ in his self-generated head-bobbing wind… and, occasionally, virtually up his nose, given the director’s preference for upward shots. The stage itself is nearly a character, with one man painting canvasses as if alone in his studio and various tchotkes scattered about.

There’s a bit of fancy filmmaking at the beginning, with Young superimposed and then multiplied over a background scan of the set. But soon the decoration is ditched—and not only is nothing lost, the momentum of the concert is gained. Young admits backstage that he’s happy about his latest performances, saying that although back in the day he’d “get into it and I’d be rockin’ with the [Crazy] Horse,” he can now play more variety with his current lineup. With the exception of a few slower numbers (“Ambulance Blues,” “Mexico”), however, Young still rocks with the Trunk Show, which is dominated by the 64-year-old’s most combustive singles such as “Spirit Road” and “Dirty Old Man.”

The highlight of the film by far is “No Hidden Path.” For 21 minutes (!), Young and his crack band tightly manipulate this epic jam as most of the audience infuriatingly stands—or, worse, sits—still. Eventually Young’s whaling on his trusted Gibson does wake them up, and he earns every whoo!—after often looking as if he were in pain. Not “pain” pain, of course, but the glorious affliction of becoming One With Old Black.

“No Hidden Path” is especially transcendent, but Trunk Show as a whole will leave any music lover giddy. It earns the highest compliment a concert film can get: you forget you’re watching a movie and instead feel like you’ve got the best seats in the house.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Trunk Show | | Leave a comment

Neil Young: Le Noise (2010)


Neil Young is easily the most frustrating of the old-school rock legends. His M.O. puts a premium on spontaneity, which means that a number of his albums feature ideas that could have benefited from a little refinement, or, in some cases, that should not have come to fruition at all (“I’ll write an album about my electric car!”). At the same time, though, this approach has also yielded his most compelling music, including some made after many of his contemporaries had ceased even aspiring to relevance. This is why I’m not alone in believing that Neil Young has one more classic album left in him, when few would express similar hopes about, say, the Rolling Stones. I’ve also been afraid that this great album would trickle out, one song at a time, over Young’s next eight or nine records.

But then comes “Hitchhiker”, and it’s incredible. It’s as nakedly personal as anything Young has written since the Ditch Trilogy. The first several verses are straight autobiography, a laundry list of drugs, infidelities, and other transgressions. About four minutes in, it takes a turn for the surreal: “I thought I was an Aztec / Or a runner in Peru.” Young has previously said that his songs often don’t have literal meanings, so much as connotative meanings arising from words and dreamlike images. But coming after verses with such clear autobiographical content, and relying on such well-worn Young tropes as time travel and indigenous peoples, it’s hard not to see this as some sort of commentary on Young’s songwriting, perhaps as a vehicle for escape. After that verse, the song ends abruptly on a more direct and sobering note:

I tried to leave my past behind
But it’s catching up with me …
I don’t know how I’m standing here
Living in my life
I’m thankful for my children
And my faithful wife

The juxtaposition of the Incan fantasy and this conclusion seems to present an intriguing dilemma: disappear into art and fiction (and drugs), or take a chance on real-world redemption, which carries with it the inescapable fact of past mistakes? “Hitchhiker” also casts some previous songs in a new light, perhaps revealing the source of some of the frustration in “Angry World”, and amplifying the reflective tone of “Love and War”. In short, it’s exactly the sort of song you’d hope to hear from an elder statesman of rock and roll: mature, with wisdom and perspective, but still vital and rebellious.

It would almost have to be downhill from there. “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” is the most traditional Neil Young-type song on here, a seven-minute epic about westward expansion. Its lyrics about massacred buffalo and pollution could have been trite in lesser hands, but here Young conjures up a kind of aching majesty—sort of a Californian “Cortez the Killer”. “Rumblin’” ends proceedings on an ominous note, combining imagery both natural (“I feel a rumblin’ in the ground”) and personal (“When will I learn how to feel?”).

By turns mellow and heavy, personal and abstract, Le Noise encapsulates nearly everything that you’d want or need from a Neil Young album, and does so in a novel yet organic way. That Young takes risks with his music at this stage in his career is remarkable enough; that this one has paid off so handsomely is nothing short of spectacular. Welcome back, Shakey.

Thankfully, Le Noise solves that. It’s fantastic. It’s his best in decades, at least since Ragged Glory.

It’s also without a clear precedent in Young’s catalogue. Sidestepping the mellow acoustic/barnstorming electric dichotomy that characterizes nearly everything Young has done, Le Noise is solo electric—just Young and his crushing guitar. It’s loud and heavy enough to satisfy adrenaline junkies and Crazy Horse fans, but retains a starkness and immediacy that would be difficult to replicate in a full-band setting. Its relatively concise 38-minute runtime keeps the admittedly limited sonic palette from wearing thin, and the swirling echoes of Young’s voice and guitar (presumably courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois) fill out the sound, and add an air of psychedelic mystery.

The opening songs, “Walk with Me” and “Sign of Love” are perhaps the record’s least successful. They’re still really good, mind you; it’s just not until the minor arpeggios and falsetto vocals of “Someone’s Gonna Rescue You” that the album truly kicks into high gear. “Love and War” changes the tone with an acoustic folk song about the titular topics, as well as a songwriter’s attempts to make sense of them. “Angry World” marries ambiguous lyrics that are either a howl of frustration or a condemnation of bitterness and cynicism to a brutally heavy riff. It works. It’s awesome.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment

Neil Young: Le Noise (2010)

From The Guardian

It perhaps befits a wilfully contrary artist that a bad review might act as the best advert imaginable for his new album. One august rock critic has already deemed Le Noise, his collaboration with U2 and Dylan producer Daniel Lanois, unlistenable. It’s a response that should cause the ears of long-term Young fans to prick up. His worst records don’t really incite that kind of violent reaction: they’re just boring. Furthermore, someone like him said something like that at every vital moment in Young’s career – from David Crosby’s spluttering disbelief that he’d abandon CSNY for Crazy Horse, a band that “never should have been allowed to be musicians at all”, to the yells of horror that greeted Tonight’s the Night, to Graham Nash’s response to 1988’s return-to-raging-form Eldorado: “I absolutely hate this record.” It’s hard not to picture the august rock critic huffing away without thinking: “Hmm, this could be interesting.”

Your interest might be piqued further not so much by Lanois’s sonic approach – which largely sets Young’s singing against the sound of his own ferociously distorted electric guitar, occasionally looping his voice to unsettling effect – but by the circumstances surrounding the album. While you don’t want to wish the old guy any ill, contentment doesn’t suit Neil Young, at least artistically. His best work – from 1974’s On the Beach to 1995’s Sleeps With Angels – has been born out of turmoil, and Le Noise arrives haunted. Filmmaker Larry Johnson, who collaborated with Young for four decades, died suddenly in January, while longstanding sideman Ben Keith died of a heart attack at Young’s home in July. Judging by Le Noise’s contents, their deaths seem to have simultaneously rattled and re-energised him.

Whatever the qualities of his recent fair-to-middling efforts – they all had their moments – his songwriting here sounds more pointed and self-aware than it has in years. “Walk with me,” suggests Young on the album opener. A cynical voice – possibly belonging to Crosby, Stills, Nash or another musician who’s enjoyed a mercurial relationship with him over the years – might note that this is a fairly resistible offer, given that walking with Neil Young almost invariably ends in Neil Young suddenly buggering off with someone else and abandoning you in the middle of nowhere. But Young is there before you: “I lost some people I was travelling with,” he cries, sounding genuinely regretful, as the song dissolves into tumultuous feedback.

In recent years, Young has dipped into his vast catalogue of unreleased songs in order to prop up albums of uninspired latterday material, with inevitable results. The 25-year-old Ordinary People was so much better than anything else on Chrome Dreams II that it sparked glum thoughts. Even his material from the 80s – a decade when Young was widely presumed to have gone completely bananas, given that he spent it insisting A Flock of Seagulls were the future of music and worrying that Aids could be transmitted by touching potatoes that had been handled by gay men – was vastly superior to the contemporary stuff.

This time, however, an old song works, partly because it doesn’t overshadow everything around it: Hitchhiker was written around the time of 1992’s Harvest Moon, but fits far better here alongside Rumblin’s dark intimations of nameless dread and the uncertainty and cynicism of Angry World than with Harvest Moon’s aura of middle-aged contentment: “Everything’s gonna be alright yeah,” he sings, sounding exactly like the nervous, abrasive young man who screamed at his hippy fans to wake the fuck up in the early 70s. A weird lyric even by the standards of a man given to writing songs about riding a llama across Texas in order to smoke weed with Martians, it details the various drugs that Young took at different junctures in his career – “then I tried amphetamines” – before inexplicably bursting into the chorus of an entirely different song, Like An Inca. Perhaps he figured that, as Like An Inca came at the end of his synth-pop experiment, Trans, an album all but the doughtiest listener bails out of pretty quickly, no one would actually notice. Hitchhiker seems of a piece with two earlier slices of ponderous and troubled autobiography, 1970’s Helpless and 1973’s Don’t Be Denied. But while the former found solace in the “dream comfort memories” of childhood, and the latter in Young’s own obstreperousness, here there’s no relief: just a despairing howl of bewilderment and fear at encroaching old age – “I’ve tried to leave my past behind, but it’s catching up with me” – then Young’s voice, spookily looped into incomprehension over a final, doomy chord.

Occasionally, the confusion and grief seems to overwhelm the songs: Love and War quickly establishes that Young has written a lodda songs about love and a lodda songs about war, but still doesn’t understand either, then spends five trying minutes telling you that a lodda times. More often, however, it leads to something gripping and fresh and honest. Le Noise demands more effort than some listeners might be willing to put in, but at its best, it repays that effort pretty handsomely. In that sense at least, it pretty much sums up Neil Young’s entire career.

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Neil Young Le Noise | | Leave a comment