Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Doobie Brothers: The Captain And Me (1973)


The Captain and Me is the third album by The Doobie Brothers on which they combine their trademark funk with just a touch of California folk and country-rock. Combined, this distinctive yet diverse record was their most substantial and consistent of their early years, offering differing sonic textures and enjoyable tunes for an overall fulfilling listen. The album is bookmarked by several songs from guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, including the album’s biggest hits and the title song which combine funk and rock with just a taste of traditional blues. In between and some contrasting, folk-oriented songs by keyboardist Patrick Simmons, which contain unique instrumental passages.

The group was formed in 1969 by Johnston and drummer John Hartman in Northern California. Simmons joined a year later along with bassist Tiran Porter and gained a strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels. In 1971, the band signed with Warner Brothers and released their self-titled debut album to little commercial success. Later that year the band added a second drummer/percussionist Michael Hossack, completing the classic band lineup. The Doobies second album, Toulouse Street in 1972, fared much better on the strength of a couple of hit songs.

Warner put pressure on the band to move quickly on producing their third album along with producer Ted Templeman. They began reworking old tunes and improvisational pieces that they played live. The label did help out with the album artwork, providing 19th century garments and the horse-drawn stagecoach from the Warner Brothers film studios lot.

“Natural Thing”, a decent melodic rocker with a funky flanged guitar and good harmonies, starts off the album. The song is notable for its synthesized horn effects, which were put together by programmers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff who overdubbed individual notes to create the chords. Johnston’s “Long Train Runnin’” evolved from a long-time, ad-libbed jam called “Rosie Pig Moseley”. Templeman convinced Johnston to write words to the pure funk song, which also includes a distinctive harmonica solo by Johnston and a heavy presence by the dual percussionists. “Long Train Runnin’” became the band’s first Top Ten single.

Another charting hit was “China Grove”, one of the catchiest rock songs of the band’s career, built on a simple but effective riff along with exquisite production. Although the song’s title is based on a real town in Texas, the story is largely a fictional, with lyric’s again added by Johnston to an instrumental track titled “Parliament”. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” takes a different approach, much darker than previous material. It is blue-eyed blues with good guitar licks, electric piano, and strings – almost Van Morrison in its feel.

“Clear As the Driven Snow” is Simmons first contribution to the album, a bright and acoustic folk song in the manner of John Denver, save for the fact that it morphs into a decent jam towards the end while never leaving the signature acoustic riff. Simmons also wrote “South City Midnight Lady”, an almost country acoustic ballad, which adds a serene, almost romantic element to the album. Pedal steel guitar is provided by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, then of Steely Dan, who would later become an official member of the Doobie Brothers. “Evil Woman” is probably the weakest song on the album, an unfocused and under-produced song which could have went somewhere had it been better developed.

The album’s closing sequence begins with “Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners”, a short acoustic piece by James Earl Luft which into segues into “Ukiah”, a tribute to a small town in Northern California where the band frequently played in their early years. The song has a Chicago-style upbeat with driven bass by Porter and great lead guitar interludes. “Ukiah” acts as bridge song to title song finale, an acoustic Tune which trys to give the album a bit of a “concept” feel. Still, the song contains soaring guitars and harmonies which concludes the album on a high note.

In all, The Captain and Me is a potpourri of sonic phrases which best symbolizes the heart of the early Doobie Brothers sound. Although the band would achieve greater commercial success later in the decade, it was with a different sound and mainly different lineup.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers The Captain And Me | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same (Remastered & Expanded) (2007)


There’s a memorable scene in Joel Schumacher’s 1994 film The Client where lawyer Reggie Love, played by Susan Sarandon, is challenged to name her favorite Led Zeppelin track by the cocky young kid she’s representing. After giving it some thought she replies “Moby Dick, live version. Bitchin’ drum solo!” The live version she’s referring to is found on the soundtrack album of Led Zep’s bloated and self-indulgent cinematic endeavor The Song Remains The Same.

Re-released in a newly expanded form, The Song Remains The Same CD now boasts a generous total of six bonus tracks not featured on the original release, as well as liner notes from former Rolling Stone editor Cameron Crowe. Originally released in 1976, the album provides a captivating, if somewhat lackluster, snapshot of Led Zeppelin at the apex of their ascendancy to global domination as the biggest, boldest and loudest rock band in the world.

While the film itself is an artless mishmash of candid backstage clips, concert footage and four dubious fantasy sections (one centering on each band member), the soundtrack album thankfully focuses exclusively on the live concert material.

Recorded by legendary sound engineer Eddie Kramer, the music is taken from three concerts the band performed at Madison Square Gardens on July 27-29, 1973. In this new expanded edition, the bonus tracks have been inserted throughout the running order to more accurately represent the set lists from those three nights in New York.

Kevin Shirley, who previously worked on the band’s How The West Was Won live album and 2005’s Led Zeppelin DVD, has worked wonders with the remastering of this album. Gone is the dull, tinny sound of the original album and in its place is a glorious brand-new mix, overseen by the band, that sonically sweetens the album immensely — breathing new life into what is, it must be conceded, a fairly pedestrian example of the band’s live repertoire.

This reissue, like the original album, opens strongly enough though with a hi-octane rendition of the classic song “Rock And Roll.” Jimmy Page’s revved up guitar howls viciously like a banshee and the explosive fury of John Bonham’s drumming comes on with a sound like a wrecking-ball colliding with condemned masonry. This opening salvo segues effortlessly into the second track “Celebration Day,” not giving the audience time to breathe. As a testimony to how potent the band had become at working the concert format to maximum effect by this stage in their career, it’s an unbeatable one-two combination.

The version of “Dazed And Confused” here clocks in at almost a full half an hour in length and is indicative of the worst musical excesses of the era. Led Zeppelin were never ones to shy away from stretching their songs out to extreme lengths in a live setting, and this track is certainly no exception. It starts off slowly, stirring like some awakening behemoth with John Paul Jones’ leaden bass intro leading the way for Jimmy Page’s chiming harmonics and Robert Plant’s opening vocal lines. Page takes the opportunity during this song to perform his party-trick of playing the guitar with a violin-bow and Plant playfully drops in a few lines from Scott McKenzie’s Summer Of Love anthem “San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair).” It’s during this violin-bow digression in “Dazed And Confused” that you get an opportunity to hear just how consummate a guitarist Jimmy Page really is. This is not just some ego-fuelled showboating but, instead, the sound of a virtuoso musician experimenting with the form and yet always remaining focused on the structure of the song.

Of the new bonus tracks, “Misty Mountain Hop” probably hits the hardest, skilfully weaving the mythology and mysticism of the song’s lyrics around Bonham, Page and Jones’ strident, indefatigable groove. Other highlights are an achingly melancholy rendition of “The Rain Song” and a crowd-pleasing version of the perennial “Stairway To Heaven,” introduced by Plant with the words “This is a song of hope.” The album closes with a disappointingly dull version of “Whole Lotta Love,” which features a cheeky rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Let That Boy Boogie” midway through the song, as if to acknowledge the debt the band owes to the blues.

It has to be said that although this album is a solid enough example of what a Led Zeppelin show was all about, the underlying problem is that The Song Remains The Same doesn’t come close to demonstrating just how incendiary the band could be in concert. Anyone who saw the Led Zeppelin DVD or heard How The West Was Won could attest to that. Many of the performances here are accomplished but somehow lacking in real fire and passion — a fact the band was acutely aware of, prompting Page to comment upon the album’s original release “Obviously we were committed to putting this album out, although it wasn’t necessarily the best live stuff we have. I don’t look upon it as a live album…it’s essentially a soundtrack.”

Still, with the excellent remastered sound and generous helping of bonus tracks, there’s plenty on offer here for fans looking to upgrade their collection with this new edition. For those just wanting a taste of what Led Zeppelin were like live, this album is reasonable enough, but there are much better examples of the band’s live prowess available on the How The West Was Won CD.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same | | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited (1996)


Despite the somewhat deceptive title, this certainly isn’t a Genesis album: it’s a pure Steve Hackett product destined to bring you back memories of blossoming Genesis classics from their ‘prog’ years so as to distract you from the murky crap of Calling All Stations… nay. I bought it out of curiosity quite a long time ago, and, since I didn’t have the least desire to start a Steve Hackett solo page at the time, I thought I’d review it here, like, you know, kind of a posthumous appendix for the whole band.

One might expect a helluva lot of fun and well-tingled nostalgia from this album, especially seeing as Steve was the only remaining member of the band that managed not to lose his ‘serious’ image over the years. Moreover, he was the guitarist, and through 1971-77 he was the strongest link in the chain that bound the band to rock music. You’d expect something brilliant on this record, wouldn’t you, now that Steve broke free and was totally free to reinterpret the classic Genesis tunes to his own liking? Well forget it. This album sucks. No, not as bad as Stations, because this last incarnation of Genesis should take its rightful place in Lucifer’s jaws alongside the Spice Girls and Puff Daddy, but still nowhere near as good as even the weakest product of Peter Gabriel.

There’s a cast of thousands on the album, with well-known stars like John Wetton, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Ian McDonald (guess Steve was really a big fan of King Crimson), Chester Thompson (the guy who drummed on Seconds Out), a ton of little-known vocalists and even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Talk of megalomaniacs! What they really manage to do, however, is successfully butcher half a dozen Genesis classics, plus adding their contributions to a couple new and totally forgettable Hackett compositions. When the record opens with ‘Watcher Of The Skies’, you’d think everything’s gonna be alright: they recapture the vibe with the soaring Mellotrons (whose existence was probably long forgotten by Tony Banks) and some good vocals from I don’t know whom (one of the main vocalists seems to be Paul Carrack of Roxy Music fame, but there’s just too many of ’em, including Steve himself), the only point of insecurity being electronic drums used in the middle section. However, this is the first and nearly last good moment on the record. Yup.

To cut it short, there’s so many songs on here that I really enjoyed in their original versions, but I just can’t stand these fantasy-less, sometimes atonal reinterpretations! ‘Dance On A Volcano’ is completely ruined by the affected vocals that get totally lost in the background (Phil, come and save us!) ‘Fountain Of Salmacis’ is performed as sloppily as possible – never in my life could I love the song if this were my first version. The delicate guitar and Mellotron lines are turned into a horrid mess of murky, synthesized sound, and the vocals are affected again by some totally unnecessary gadgets. The worst blow, however, comes when they deliver two of my favourites.

‘Firth Of Fifth’ starts off okay (I actually like that glockenspiel intro that replaces the pianos), but the instrumental section is tossed off as badly as possible – Steve does a good job on his trademark solo, but man, this passage was never limited to that solo! Where’s the beautiful flute? And what’s with that synth/drum battle in the middle? It sucks! What a horrendous version! Not as horrendous, though, as ‘I Know What I Like’ that’s transformed into a primitive reggae march with about zero percent of the power and the humor it initially possessed. Dang, dude, this is bad.

This is ear-offending for me! And to top it off, Steve offers us a reinterpretation of that classic tune from The Lamb, yeah, ‘The Waiting Room’, you guessed right. Here it’s called ‘Waiting Room Only’, but it’s only fair that it stinks even worse than the original. Six minutes of unlistenable cacophony that end only to lead us into the above-mentioned version of ‘I Know What I Like’. YUCK! YUCK! As far as I know, ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ and the reinterpreted version of ‘Los Endos’ that closes the record (and even includes a short, delicious snippet of ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’) are the only welcoming aspects of the record, but even so, they add absolutely nothing to the originals. And the two original compositions are blistering pieces of finest bullshit (especially the booming instrumental ‘Valley Of The Kings’). Shun this record, exclude it from your sight and hearing. If you really need to hear somebody ruining ‘I Know What I Like’, get Seconds Out: that one is at least substantial.

Oh! I almost forgot that they do ‘Your Own Special Way’ here! Well, doesn’t that prove my point that this is the best song on Wind And Wuthering? ‘Pop’! Hah! Actually, Steve Hackett likes it better than ‘One For The Vine’! Ha ha I say!

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited | , | Leave a comment

Van Der Graaf Generator H To He Who Am The Only One (1970)


Recently, Loznik presented a review of Curved Air, a woefully underappreciated band in the second tier of English progressive rock. These are the bands who made music as (and sometimes more) inventive, interesting, and grandiose as their more notorious comrades (the ELPs and Yesses of the world) while toiling in relative obscurity. These bands include Gentle Giant (to a degree), Nektar (actually a German group, but in this same territory), some of the better Canterbury school bands like National Health and Camel, and Van der Graaf Generator.

Van der Graaf Generator (VdGG)is an odd rock group – let’s put it on the line right away. First, their instrumentation is anything but normal – at their beginning they embraced a relatively normal voice-organ-sax-bass-drums with Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame) supplying electric guitar in the studio. By H To He, the bassist (Nic Potter) had left the group (although he appears on a few tracks) and the quartet that is VdGG’s “classic” formation was established.

A note on the players: Guy Evans is the drummer, and is heralded by many as a virtuoso second only to Carl Palmer and Bill Bruford. I think he’s on their level. David Jackson supplies alternatively strident and squealing woodwinds, both in a solo and rhythm capacity. Hugh Banton is the organist, and what a powerful organ it is – customized to the hilt by Banton (an electronics genius, if rumor is to be trusted), it spits out huge washes of doomy power and trumpet-like blasts of apocalyptic fanfare. The final member is the enigmatic Peter Hammill, a legend in progressive rock for a) THE most over-the-top vocal delivery in rock, complete with screams, whoops, etc., and b) some of the weirdest lyrics ever (“you are the man whose hands are rank with the SMELL OF DEATH!” is my favorite on this album).

Surprisingly, with all this eclecticism, VdGG is a very approachable band who writes catchy tunes (albeit six or seven of them per song) and sounds remarkably at times like the Doors.

H To He Who Am The Only One (the title refers to the chemical reaction that creates the majority of energy in the universe – I assume this was Hammill’s idea) is the group’s third album, after the psychadelic colored Aerosol Grey Machine (released 1969) and the more melodic and pleasant The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
(early 1970). The elements were in place to create a great progressive album, and do it they did. This record ranks in my personal top ten albums in progressive rock history along with their next album ( Pawn Hearts) and should be eagerly accepted by fans of melodic progressive, organ-based, depressing, or otherwise weird music.

So, you’ve got five pieces of music here, the shortest at five minutes, the longest at a hair over thirteen, all of them tremendous. “Killer” starts off, with a bass/organ/sax riff that you know you’ve heard before but can’t place. Hammill enters, full of blustering doom, telling the heartwarming story of a homicidal maniac (namely a fish) whose mother dies during birth and who can’t find anyone to love because he tends to kill anything that comes close. About halfway through it kicks into high gear with the introduction of a new, faster organ riff, and a killer disjointed sax solo over the melee. If VdGG had ever broken out in the States, it would have been on the strength of this song – it easily could’ve been their “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

“House With No Door” is the opposite – a gentle, piano-based ballad more akin to Hammill’s later solo output than the usual VdGG fare, but very good nonetheless. Here we see the other side of Hammill’s voice – gentle and capable of a stirring, beautiful falsetto that comes to the fore during the choruses. Lyrics dealing with alienation and lonliness, coupled with the sparse musical landscape (the exemplary production was handled by John Anthony) lead to a truly touching piece of music.

“The Emperor and his War-Room,” the first really extended track at about nine minutes, deals with (what else?) war and power, and (surprise) the corrupting aspects thereof. This one usually is singled out for praise – Hammill’s lyrics are especially tasty here, and the Evans/Fripp duet that begins the second part showcases the former’s considerable percussive talents. Still, for me, it’s the weakest track on the album (although considering the company it keeps that’s no slight).

The second side of the record features two expansive tracks that are much more exploratory and “difficult” than the first side. “Lost”, marked with swirling keyboards and saxophones over an alternately driving and plodding beat, is a real Hammill showcase – his yearning lyrics telling the story of the search for lost love are the real focus here. The climax of the piece, with crashing chords under Hammill’s plaintive cry of redemption is very satisfying.

The final track gives some insight into the genesis of the songs on Pawn Hearts. “The Pioneers Over c,” thematically similar to “Space Oddity” and 2001 and all the other stories of space travel prevalent at the time, is a truly linear song – many themes are introduced with different, catchy melodies, but only some are recapitulated as the piece continues, and often new melodic ideas crop up as well. This gives the listener the sense of being on a journey, or that the song is telling a story. I would compare it in this way to songs like “The Gates Of Delirium” by Yes and “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis (indeed, “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers” off Pawn Hearts is very reminscent of the Genesis epic, which came out the following year – unsurprising that these two closely linked bands were labelmates and toured together in the early Gabriel-era years). Highlights include the periodic organ fanfares courtesy of Mr Banton’s wonderful noisemaker, Hammill’s always exciting vocal shifts, and the minimalist woodwind instrumental section toward the end of the piece.

I heartily recommend this album to progressive rock fans. It’s high time that Van der Graaf Generator gets the first-tier respect they deserve for their short, but artistically successful career. If you’ve never heard any VdGG/Hammill, I would say this is the place to start.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Van Der Graaf Generator H To He Who Am The Only One | | Leave a comment

John Lennon Sometime In New York City (1972)


Now this is really not the place to start with John. We all fall into childhood sometimes, and he, too, seemed to decide that he had enough of making good music and fell into the world of political battles and demonstrations. (I heard he even wore Mao Zedong badges at one period, but that’s another story). Anyway, this album is nothing but a bunch of rather lame political protest songs with straightforward dumb lyrics. Even worse, about half of the songs are sung by Yoko – a crazy experiment which would unfortunately be repeated eight years later. And even more worse – and I know that’s grammatically incorrect, but I can’t say it any other way – even more worse, this is a double album, with the second one constituting the infamous ‘Live Jam’, parts of it being the same kind of friggin’ ‘experimental’ live jams that are so abundant on John’s early albums. In other words, keep your head down folks. Namely, there’s a century-long version of Yoko’s ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ that’s energetic but doesn’t go anywhere in particular and even some collaborations with Zappa (God save Oz!) ‘Scumbag’ is the most atrocious of the lot, with John and Frank singing this obviously mystical word for about six minutes and asking their audiences to participate. If you happen to get this album on vinyl, just burn the second part of it on the spot. And don’t even think about buying the double CD for a ‘nice price’. I have a bootleg copy with most of the crap edited out, but I’ve heard the complete version, and looking at my bootleg copy makes me all the more happy.

For the record: if you did buy the double CD, at least you might be consoled by the fact that the second disc has a passable, although overlong live version of ‘Cold Turkey’, as well as an old blues number with John in top form (‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)’). Even though the Lennon Anthology has a far superior studio version. On second thought, out of all the versions of ‘Cold Turkey’ I’m familiar with, this might just be the gloomiest and wildest, with Lennon throwing a series of virtual fits on stage that hasn’t ever been surpassed. And the instrumental backing from the Elephants Memory Band is gritty and crashing. Okay, do not burn this album, but don’t think too high of it, either. It’s truly an unpleasant “nostalgic” return to the crazyass days of 1969.

Now, about the studio disc. Here is where the explanation of my relatively high rating (and yes, a rating of six is exceptionally high for such a record – any other reviewer would probably cut it in half) comes in. The funny thing is, after repeated listens the songs do grow on you, and if you bring yourself to not noticing any of the lyrics – a pretty hard job, as everything is being articulated pretty distinctively – some, if not most, of the studio recordings turn out to have pretty well constructed melodies and an overload of sincere and brimming energy.

First of all, there’s the great feminist anthem ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ with Phil Spector finally stepping in on his own: zillions of rhythm tracks, booming drums, huge brass sections, and Lennon’s soaring vocals atop of all that – the regular stuff. It is undoubtedly John’s peak as the greatest anthem-writer of rock – the tune’s driving power smashes you against the wall, and John’s soulful and furious vocals are clearly heartfelt: yes, dumb as it may seem, but he really believed all the things he sang about, even more, at times he’s almost able to convince me that ‘woman is the slave of the slaves’, much as I’m sceptical towards the feminist movement (don’t get me wrong – I’m all for equality of sexes, but let’s not get carried away, ladies and gentlemen). Hell, the lyrics might have been even more generic, who cares – I tip my heat to the song that screams POWER POWER POWER with its every note. Pure musical ecstasy.

None of the other tracks amount to such unscalable heights, but that’s no big surprise. Instead, they’re just good. There’s the fast, rocking, upbeat and catchy ‘New York City’; unfortunately, it ain’t a Big Apple anthem, rather ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko Part 2’. Oh, never mind, it has lots of drive. There’s the pretty country tune ‘John Sinclair’, dedicated to, well, John Sinclair and human rights protection in general (unfortunately, spoilt by the rather annoying refrain ‘you gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta… gottan… gotta let him go’).

Two of the songs are dedicated to Ireland’s struggle for independence. The very fact that John had suddenly become aware of his Irish roots on the spur of the moment stinks of hypocrisy or, at least, of dumbness, and, as usual, Mr Lennon tends to exaggerate (‘as the bastards commit genocide’ is a way too harsh line in any case – why didn’t he sing about Cambodia instead?), but ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is still impressive, because it’s a harsh Lennon protest song and that genre certainly couldn’t fail. But I’m definitely not a fan of ‘The Luck Of The Irish’, and the middle part sung by Yoko makes me sick: what the hell did she know about Ireland to sing of the country’s goods and wonders? Pretty stinky.

That leaves us with Yokosungs (ha! there’s a good difference: ‘Yokosongs’ are songs about Yoko and ‘Yokosungs’ should be songs sung by Yoko. Ain’t I clever?) Anyway, these I won’t be discussing at all. Horrible generic crap marred by (if crap can be marred, of course) Yoko’s horrible vocals. I feel somewhat ashamed to admit that most of them are quite catchy – it took me years to throw the pedestrian melodies of ‘Sisters Oh Sisters’ and ‘We’re All Water’ out of my head. It irritates me even more that the unbelieeeevably dumbhead feminist anthem ‘Sisters Oh Sisters’ begins with Yoko saying something like ‘hey there male chauvinist pig engineer’. I wonder what did she mean? Maybe he dared making a remark about her singing talents? Sigh. The only thought that the record ends with a seven-minute Yokoscreamfest (‘We’re All Water’) makes me shiver and think about all the sickness this woman has brought into my personal life. And no I don’t blame her for breaking up The Beatles; I only blame her for daring to sing on the same record with John. She’d had a solo recording career by that time (starting with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band that came out in 1970 as a ‘twin’ to John’s record); why they had to join forces for this one, not to mention repeating the experience later on, is way beyond me.

Anyway, despite the major and multiple flaws of the album, I still feel no problem about giving it a six because when we filter out the weeds, we are still left with a bunch of solid melodies, and melodies are always your backbone, whether you’re indulging in progressive sci-fi fantasies or blurting out acoustic songs of anti-Vietnam protests. Also, ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ still sounds fresh and mighty to these ears, and any album with this song deserves a high score.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | John Lennon Sometime In New York City | | Leave a comment

Paul McCartney Memory Almost Full (2007)


Today, Memory Almost Full seems to be most notable for being the first album to be released on Starbuck’s new music label. It’s my hopes that, in the future, it’ll be much better known for just being an album full of fantastic pop songs. This isn’t his best album, but it’s quite clearly up there.

Much of this was apparently recorded before Chaos. Who knows why he shelved it. I guess McCartney was wanting to honor the 15th anniversary of McCartney II or something. At any rate, it’s wonderful this album was released, ‘cos it’s very good. The most out-of-place song here is surprisingly “Dance Tonight,” which was released through a fairly popular music video on YouTube. It’s rather minimal and 100 percent pleasant. Somehow it still manages to be quite an endearing experience, and I’m glad that it’s included here.

But right after that, there’s “Ever Present Past,” one of his best straight pop-rockers in years. The bass guitar there is absolutely amazing… I guess that proves that McCartney’s reputation as one of the greatest bassists of all time wasn’t for nothing.

The vast majority of these songs, such as the fabulous “Mr. Bellamy” and “Only Mama Knows” contain such varied textures with wild and enchanting song development. Geez, this album definitely isn’t boring that’s for sure. I mean, don’t expect Metallica or anything — this is good ole Paul McCartney — but every track sounds like he cared about it. This is an interesting album and there’s nothing that even approaches throwaway status.

The variety throughout the album is definitely worth noting. A few songs sound quite a bit like Beatles throwbacks… I have no difficulty imagining “Vintage Clothes” to have been written for Abbey Road and “Nod Your Head” is nothing if it isn’t a tamer version of “Helter Skelter.” (Well, he’s reducing it to merely nodding the head, ya know.) Like Chaos and Creation before it, this album very much sees Paul looking back to his past. That said, there’s also a little bit of looking toward the future with an oddly optimistic song about his death, “The End of the End.”

The production is utterly wonderful. Everything’s in their proper place, and there’s very little that sounded like a bad instrumentation idea. All you need to hear to prove this point is the true gem of the album, “House of Wax.” It’s refined but somewhat unusual if you pay close attention to it, and it is some of the finest studio work ever to bear the name “Paul McCartney.” It’s really fabulous.

The one complaint I have with this is that the melodies aren’t always perfect. Certainly, I’m basing that from his already established reputation of being one of the finest songwriters of all time! These melodies are much better than most songwriters can ever make them. However, this is a minor shortcoming that’s worth noting.

I don’t wish to tout this album as some sort of great masterpiece, but it’s certainly a distinguished and entertaining work. This isn’t McCartney’s best work, but it certainly approaches that territory.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Paul McCartney Memory Almost Full | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck Performing This Week…Live At Ronnie Scott’s (2008)


It’s easy to love a Monet, an Ansel Adams, the Red Album Beatles. They are masterful yet accessible; the beauty of their work does not require a great deal of effort for their audience to discern. It’s a little more of a challenge to connect with an artist like a Picasso or an Andy Warhol or, since 1972, a Jeff Beck.

Since parting ways with first Rod Stewart and then with the entire idea of a vocal pop band, Beck has done two things. One is to repeatedly confirm his status as one of the most exceptionally talented guitarists of his era. The other is to make whatever kind of music he felt like that week/month/year/decade (twice in his career he has made only one album in a ten-year stretch) — critics, record labels and his audience be damned.

The results have varied from exhilirating (the blistering jazz-fusion of Blow By Blow and Wired) to invigorating (the heavy album rock of Guitar Shop) to exasperating (the electronica-flooded You Had It Coming). And most of those same adjectives apply to his latest outing, Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s, plus one more — astonishing.

The thing it’s important to understand about Beck is that there is simply no one else on earth who plays like him. Sure, there have been plenty of guitarists who have mastered speed-riffing, sustain, effects pedals, bent notes, tapping, etc., etc. But no one does what Beck does, which is, more often than not, to throw the entire bag of tricks into a single song, pour a lifetime’s worth of passion into his playing, and make it all work together. On a track off of 2001’s Jeff, guest Saffron raps “If the voice don’t say it, the guitar will play it.” Exactly. Except, most vocalists only wish they had the range of tone and emotion and expressiveness Beck manages using only six strings, ten fingers, and a few knobs and pedals. This album’s liner notes put it another way: “So does Beck play rock, blues, jazz, techno, funk, world music or rockabilly? The answer is yes. And often all of them at once.”

Opener “Beck’s Bolero” has all the bombast and technical wizardry of the Truth original, with 30 years’ worth of accumulated wisdom augmenting it. Future generations will listen to this recording for hours trying to figure how he got all those tones and flavors out of one guitar, live, on the fly. I don’t have a clue, myself.

Next he offers a nod to a major influence with a quick run at John McLaughlin’s “Eternity’s Breath” before stepping into the sixth dimension, wrenching otherworldly squonks and bleats out of his ax between runs at the assertive central riff of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus.” Soon after, “Behind The Veil” feels like an inside-out instrumental run at Eric Clapton’s version of “I Shot The Sheriff,” with its bluesy soloing over a reggae-tinged rhythm section.

“You Never Know,” from 1980’s There & Back, is one of the final statements from Beck’s Jan Hammer fusion phase and fits like a glove with the later-on (and spectacular) “Led Boots” from its predecessor Wired. In between, the gorgeous “Nadia” eases the throttle back and provides a spacious backdrop for a series of runs that range from swerving s-curves to gently soulful sustain. “Angel (Footsteps)” finds Beck soloing high on the fretboard over a slumbering blues rhythm section, bending notes to the point where they twirl like a kaleidoscope.

On “Big Block,” like the closing “Where Were You” taken from 1990’s Guitar Shop, Beck’s bandmates build a heavy foundation over which he layers solos that sound like Jimmy Page as heard through a trans-galactic wormhole — fat, shredding runs of distorted, extended notes that sound as otherworldly as anything Joe Satriani as ever managed.

A special treat near the finish is Beck’s mind-blowing take on “A Day In The Life,” a model of restraint in the early going as the maestro gives it a straight-up Albert Collins-style blues treatment and massages the melody beautifully. And then the psychedelic middle section breaks in and Beck is all over the place, spitting out phrases in multiple different voicings in a seeming attempt to cover every vocal and melodic nuance of the original with just his single lead instrument. Holy virtuoso, Batman. Un-fricking-believable.

As mentioned in the opening of this review, this is not an easy album to love. It twists and turns and sheds and adopts musical identities as quickly as an actor in a one-man show with 14 speaking parts. But for the audience member with the fortitude to listen and perhaps learn from one of the greatest guitarists of our time, my advice is simple: buy this and prepare to have your mind blown.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Beck Performing This week...Live At Ronnie Scott's | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix People, Hell And Angels (2013)

Hendrix People Hell and AngelsFrom The Independent

If there were any doubts about the lingering force of fabled rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix more than four decades after his death, his latest release should put them to rest.

The single “Somewhere” went to Number One on America’s Billboard Hot Singles sales in February. That bodes well for the latest posthumous album plucked from the Hendrix musical vaults, which producers say has stood up well to the test of time.

People, Hell and Angels, released on CD tomorrow, is billed as a collection of twelve previously unreleased studio performances by Hendrix, although some of the songs have emerged in other versions since his death at age 27 in 1970 from an accidental drug overdose.

The album arrives with the simultaneous release of newly struck mono vinyl editions of early Hendrix classic albums Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love.

The tracks on People, Hell and Angels, were planned as a follow-up to the influential guitarist’s chart-topping 1968 album Electric Ladyland.

“After the huge success of the (Jimi Hendrix) Experience and those first albums, he wanted to branch out more, and the blues sound on this is just different from the others,” said Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s step-sister and president and CEO of Experience Hendrix, the company founded by the musician’s father to oversee the star’s estate.

“This new album is very important for all his fans as it really showcases his creativity and a different side to him,” she said.

Feeling constrained by the limitations of the Jimi Hendrix Experience trio (which included drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding), the guitarist had already started working with an eclectic group of musicians.

They included the Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills, drummer Buddy Miles, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and bassist Billy Cox, with whom Hendrix had served in the U.S. military.

The resulting sessions, culled from 1968 and 1969, form the basis of People, Hell and Angels, co-produced by Janie Hendrix, original engineer and mixer Eddie Kramer and long-time Hendrix historian John McDermott.

“What we wanted to do with this new album is provide what we all felt are really compelling examples of Jimi’s artistry and also his often overlooked role as a producer,” said McDermott, a long-time collaborator with Experience Hendrix on various Hendrix projects.

“He saw right away that guys like Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, with whom he later formed Band of Gypsys, brought a new approach and sound to his songs and music. And Jimi was always very free creatively. He wasn’t afraid to serve the song,” McDermott said.

McDermott cites “Electric Ladyland,” which featured such diverse players as Stevie Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood.

“Working in the studio was a totally different palette for him, compared with playing live,” he said. “He could experiment with extra percussion, an additional guitar, organ – whatever he felt the track needed.”

And while those tracks, which include such titles as “Earth Blues,” “Baby Let Me Move You” and “Izabella,” are now 45 years old, the audio quality is superb, because nothing beats analogue tape for enduring sound quality.

“Jimi’s masters were recorded before the era of mass-production that caused the archival nightmares of the Seventies, for example, where tapes lose their glue backing, (so) we’ve never faced that problem with the Jimi Hendrix library. His whole tape archive is in very good shape,” McDermott said.

The new album is the latest in a slew of albums, films, tribute tours and books following Hendrix’s death in London, which far outnumber the three studio albums he released in his four-year career at the top.

“He’s a timeless artist and the technology’s finally caught up to what he was trying to do musically,” Janie Hendrix said.

“People are still hungry for real music and good songs, and Jimi was a great songwriter and one of the greatest guitarists of all time,” she said.

Every new generation regards Hendrix as a touchstone, said McDermott. “If you want to understand the role of rock guitar and listen to real virtuosity, then Jimi’s the man.

“People react to the originals, and that’s what he was, a true visionary whose music doesn’t sound dated at all nearly half a century later.”

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix People Hell And Angels | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop


Jeff Beck is the best example I can think of when someone says “acquired taste” in relation to music. Some people swear about his music and guitar playing, others swear at it, claiming it’s too disjointed. My first experience with Beck – namely, the album Wired, fell in the latter category. Someone had highly praised the album, and said I would love it; I later asked that person what they had been smoking.

However, in 1989, Beck released an album that just might be his most accessible work of his whole career. Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, a collaboration with keyboardist Tony Hymas and former Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio, takes about two listens to really appreciate, but it has some great moments on it.

In one sense, you can tell that the band is very loose when it comes to this material. “Guitar Shop,” complete with Bozzio’s used-car salesman voiceovers, is an incredibly enjoyable piece that, admittedly, starts off a tad slow. Beck shows why he was considered one of the three big guitar gods of the Sixties (the others being Clapton and Page) – flashy without being overbearing, his guitar work on this one, from rhythm to solo – fits the mood perfectly.

However, the greatest surprise on Guitar Shop is on a piece that features only Beck and Hymas, and is very much a ballad. “Where Were You” is most definitely a mood piece, but Beck makes his guitar almost sing the melody – probably the best I’ve ever heard him play. In one sense, I wish that Beck had included more pieces like this on the album, simply because it feels like he’s found his niche.

Of course, some of the rockers on this release are quite tasty. “Savoy” is a syncopated wonder that shows off the talents of all three musicians, while “Big Block” is a semi-decent song that was my first experience with this album back when I was in college radio. Another song featuring Bozzio’s spoken-word overlays, “Day In The House” is a slightly silly song with a serious message that we’re not paying attention to the earth around us. One almost wishes that Bozzio had provided more of a lyric in the song – the message would have been made that much stronger.

There are a few weak links on Guitar Shop – the album’s closer “Sling Shot” seems to stop suddenly, and is far too short. “Behind The Veil” is an okay piece that, on any other album, probably would have stood out strongly, while “Two Rivers” just doesn’t hit the mark.

Why Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop didn’t raise Beck into the stratosphere of superstardom is beyond me – I also wonder why there haven’t been followup recordings with Bozzio and Hymas as a three-piece. On this one, quite possibly Beck realized they had captured something special, and chose to move on rather than dilute the magic with other releases.

For anyone looking to discover Jeff Beck’s guitar work, Guitar Shop is as good a place to start – it holds the most lingering appeal compared to many other Beck albums I’ve listened to (and I freely admit I haven’t heard them all… but I’m working on it). Fans of Bozzio’s work with Frank Zappa should also make a beeline to grab this one.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Beck Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop | | Leave a comment

Paul McCartney Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005)


The more I listen to these recent albums, the more I’m convinced that there are two Paul McCartneys on the planet, having little, if anything, to do with each other. There’s McCartney the Public Figure, a fairly unconvincing, phoney-looking multi-millionnaire displaying a rare lack of intuition in publicly presenting anti-land-mine petitions to president Putin and pushing a barely-living, miserable-looking imitation of a happy Sixties vibe on life support with the zillionth live broadcast of ‘Hey Jude’ from some zillionth charity show. That doesn’t mean that his concerts aren’t a gas – they are, once you really get to the heart of it – but it is true, in my eyes at least, that the more public he gets in his ‘elder statesman’ persona, the more obnoxious he actually becomes.

All of this, however, has nothing to do with McCartney the Self-Sustained Artist. Well, okay, occasionally the Public Figure gets delusions of grandeur and thinks it can take over the Artist, which may result in a musical turd like ‘Freedom’, but these days, I’m happy to say, such contaminations are kept to a minimum, and on Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, an album titled by putting together lyrical bits from two of the actual songs, they are downright nonexistent. This is Paul’s third seriously personal album in a row, and this time he really means business.

Two technical details are of great importance. First, this is his third attempt at writing and recording an album all by himself, following in the footsteps of the 1970 and 1980 albums. Whoever and whatever inspired this decision, it is clear that if you really wanna go introspective to the max, this is clearly the way to go. I’m not saying that the full band sound was an impediment on Flaming Pie and Driving Rain; on the other hand, those two albums looked like Paul could easily do without a full-fledged rhythm section or an experienced guitarist at his side. It is only logical that third time around, he dismissed the band altogether and switched the vibe from “driving” to silky-soft.

Second, no regular players, but an outside producer: Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame. Now don’t worry, all the “McCartney Meets Radiohead” rumours about this album are completely false. Nothing here sounds like Radiohead. However, if you take the connection broadly, in the “adding extra acoustic layers and sound depth” department, you might have something there. Radiohead or no Radiohead, the McCartney-Godrich pairing is a one-of-a-kind combination, and it did produce a one-of-a-kind album. Certainly no other McCartney album has ever sounded quite like this.

If I were to use one word, I would describe C&C as Macca’s humming album. Until now, Paul never really made ‘atmospherics’ a focal point; any moodiness or other emotional impact you might have experienced were for the most part encoded right there, within the melody. This time, something is different. The melodies are there all right: most of them, odd enough, are strictly piano-based, which is probably explained by the fact that, when alone, it’s easier for Paul to channel his creativity into keyboard practice rather than guitar. But on top of the melodies, there’s always something seriously backgroundish, hooing and whooing (and sometimes, mooing) right into your ear. Might be choirlike vocal harmonies; might be strings; might be some kind of electronic noise or whatever Godrich likes to get rolling out there when he’s putting the final touches on Thom Yorke’s next chef-d’oeuvre.

At first, this is distracting; the backgrounds seem to clash with the melodies and, honestly speaking, leave me confused. The initial impression is that Paul, for the first time in his life, has made a conscious decision to throw away the fluffy Beatlish (or, as is the case of Flaming Pie, “faux-Beatlish”) hooks and release a pop album not-for-the-masses. Something that would firmly describe him as a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being and not as a pop hook automaton, especially now that he’s somehow earned the right to be all this after delivering ten times as many pop hooks as all those trendy indie nerdy hip guys with funny haircuts have in the past two decades. Also his work in the classical music (muzak?) department might have triggered this change.

That did not really disappoint me by itself, but I was a bit concerned about whether Paul would be able to pull it off. After all, this is clearly a new, experimental approach, and not all of his experimentalism had paid off in the past. But the more I listened, the better it got. The hooks were there all along, you just had to unwrap them from their moody wrapping paper, check them for safety and then, with a sigh of relief, wrap them back in the glossy paper again. Yes, they’re squishy and they’re often tired. But everybody will sound tired upon reaching 62 (and I do mean everybody, Neil Young and Mick Jagger included); the important thing is to turn your being tired to your advantage, and I must say Paul is doing a great job of that on C&C.

And the piano is fine. Odd enough, my least favourite song on the album is the only one that’s almost exclusively guitar-dominated, the acoustic balladry of ‘Jenny Wren’. It doesn’t exactly sound out of place, but it’s a very obvious and very predictable piece of uninspired nostalgia. Listen to these chords and you’ll hear traces of ‘Blackbird’, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, ‘Mama’s Little Girl’, and even, oh sweet Jesus, ‘Yesterday’ (the little rising pattern at 0:53 into the song and then later). I honestly do not like it when Paul does this. Rehashing yourself is all right when you’re, say, Ray Davies – he’s done it so many times and from such an early time you’d swear it was included in his original contract with the Muses – but Paul, for me, was always above this, and now he isn’t. So maybe it’s a good thing he mostly sticks to the piano these days – for some reason, I don’t hear as many recycled piano chords on these songs as I do on the album’s lone guitar track.

Actually, if you thought the entire album was slow, moody, introspective, and hard to take in one sitting, that’s not quite true. Perfectly radio-friendly material on here includes ‘Fine Line’, a catchy, driving pop single fueled by the kind of madly effective and almost offensively simplistic piano hooks that we all know from the likes of ‘Let ‘Em In’ – and provided with lyrics that may or may not be political but in any case are a huge improvement over ‘Freedom’. Considering that none of the other songs have any anthemic feel at all, I would doubt there’s any hidden political/social agenda in ‘Fine Line’: “there is a long way, between chaos and creation if you don’t say which one of these you’re gonna choose” may be deeply personal as well. After all, it’s Paul’s creation and Paul’s chaos we’re here to witness.

Another upbeat pop song is ‘Promise To You Girl’, which starts out in classic McCartney deceptive fashion and then suddenly becomes the album’s catchiest melody, one that is worth the entire Flaming Pie effort if you ask me. Slight, fluffy, silly, and yet bookmarked by a markedly sad ‘looking through the backyard of my life/time to sweep the fallen leaves away’ statement. A little reminiscent in spirit and structure (but certainly not in the actual melody) to ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, if you ask me.

The rest is simply a collection of the most calm, collected, and, if that word really applies, philosophical pieces of music Paul has ever produced. Occasionally he even seems to be writing for the sake of putting the cart before the horse, that is, the lyrics before the music. ‘Riding To Vanity Fair’, for instance, is a long rumination on the nature of friendship (which most people naturally think is about Paul’s relations with John – but wouldn’t it be a bit too unsensitive on Paul’s part to write lyrics like ‘And I was open to friendship / But you didn’t seem to have any to spare / When you were riding to Vanity Fair’ if he were really addressing that to his old pal’s memory? I mean, it’d be okay for the early 70s when the two boys made a hobby of assassinating each other in their songs, but jeez, he’s dead now, and…?). Yet the vocal melody is still memorable, and the arrangement – with the strings gradually rising up and down and the lonely chime going tink-tink at the top of each wave, as if some kind of steady “riding” was really involved – is truly hypnotizing. Yes, it’s different, but it’s good.

Every now and then the music is suspended halfway between “song” and “atmospheric noise”, but it all comes off naturally and with purpose. ‘How Kind Of You’ is probably about Heather but while the lyrics are generic in a ‘thank you for the music’ kind of way, the mood is sad, if not desperate, with grim minor key piano patterns and mourning-style vocal harmonies (okay, I sort of take my words back – I think the coda to the song would have made a fine piece for Radiohead). ‘Follow Me’ is awash in strings which are almost in discordance with the vocals, but once you learn to place the vocals in your left ear and the strings in your right, the left ear will happily sing along to the hooks and the right one will acknowledge that some of Paul’s “working classical” has actually paid off.

Speaking of favourites, it’s really hard to pick one. The easiest way would be to go along with ‘Fine Line’, but the album’s not really about ‘Fine Line’, and everything else is frustratingly even, with the unhappy exception of ‘Jenny Wren’ (which, on the other hand, is okay too if you’re ecologically minded and have nothing against recycling). Today, at this particular hour and minute, I happen to be most touched with ‘Too Much Rain’, because of the utter beauty of the ‘too much for anyone’ chorus. A few hours ago, I was mostly under the impression of ‘English Tea’, a little exercise in string-quartetting and piano playing that does not sound like ‘Yesterday’ at all; rather, it’s “working classical” again coupled with a newly-found national identity (maybe good old Ray happened to pass by Sir Paul’s window on one particular morning). Maybe a great way to get the difference between the ‘old’ Macca and the new one would be to play that song back-to-back with ‘Heart Of The Country’ – and draw your conclusions.

Another definite flashback is the ‘hidden track’ which emerges a minute after the final notes of ‘Anyway’ (which is, by the way, a pretty touching little thing as well – despite all the accusations about Paul shamelessly stealing the melody from Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’; it’s not the melody that counts as it is the vibe, which is pure Paul and zero Curtis). The flashback in question is just the sort of mumbled-jumbled instrumental, combining interesting and boring ideas, that you had plenty of on Paul’s first album as well as during the microscopic ‘links’ on Wild Life. But if anything, it’s yet another deception, because Chaos & Creation, unlike McCartney, is never half-baked – it’s a complete, self-sufficient effort where all the songs will easily stand on their own if taken individually. In a way, you could say that third time’s the charm, even if Godrich’s presence is sort of a cheat.

And if you miss ‘Junior’s Farm’ or ‘Beware My Love’ – well, go get them! I can’t say I’m glad that this album doesn’t rock, but it would be the last thing on my mind to condemn it for a lack of energy (which it does lack). After all, it’s supposed to be an old man’s reflections on love, friendship, loss, rebirth, childhood, and maturation. How else would you go around all these things? Yes, maybe a little more diversity couldn’t hurt, and maybe Driving Rain was a bit more sharp and jagged – and certainly much more dark and disturbed – but that was an album of a man on the brink of despair, and this is an album by a man who’s somehow found the light again. Could have been a disaster, but, with the help of Godrich and a host of supernatural forces, is, on the contrary, a minor triumph.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Paul McCartney Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard | | Leave a comment