Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)

bbc-sessionsFrom sfloman.com

Capturing one of the last performances of a very long tour, the band’s only previous official live release, The Song Remains The Same (which accompanied the widely panned movie of the same name) too often saw an exhausted band going through the motions.

Now that these much bootlegged BBC Sessions have finally been released, any lingering doubts about the band’s live prowess have officially been obliterated. Disc one features three BBC sessions from 1969, and these raw performances focus primarily on Led Zeppelin the blues band – albeit the heaviest damn blues band on the planet.

Disc two, which I prefer, comes from a single show recorded live at London’s Paris Cinema studios (which the BBC used regularly to showcase new and current bands at the time) on April 1, 1971, and this disc is notable for some spectacular performances (“Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Thank You”), and for previewing three songs (“Stairway To Heaven,” “Black Dog,” “Going To California”) from the band’s not yet released fourth album.

BBC Sessions shows off Zep’s improvisational essence, and it also features some notable covers, including Sleepy John Estes’ “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” whose main riffs would soon morph into “Moby Dick” (uncredited, of course). The band also tackles Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and interrupts “Whole Lotta Love” with an oldies medley containing songs such as John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun’” and Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama.”

Most of these songs come from the first two Led Zeppelin albums, and the performances are uniformly excellent and incredibly powerful, including “Travelling Riverside Blues” again (the same version from the box set). On the downside, Plant tends to go over the top at times with his histrionics, and the inclusion of multiple versions of several songs (including three takes of “Communication Breakdown” on disc one) amounts to overkill.

Granted, there’s some credence to the liner notes’ claim that “the band could play the same song ten nights in a row and come up with ten different versions”, and the two versions of “Dazed And Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” don’t have a hell of a lot in common with each other (and at least they’re on separate discs), but a better idea would’ve been to pick the best versions of each song, though few will find fault with the performances themselves.

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March 13, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Swinging In San Bernardino (1972)

swinging_fFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Swinging In San Bernardino (Empress Valley EVSD 303/304)

Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA, 22 June 1972

Disc 1 (62.12): Tape Drone/Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker/Black Dog/Since I’ve Been Loving You/Stairway To Heaven/Going To California/That’s The Way/Tangerine/Bron-yr-Aur Stomp

Disc 2 (77.02): Dazed And Confused/What Is And What Should Never Be/Moby Dick/Whole Lotta Love/Rock And Roll

Led Zeppelin’s eighth US tour in the summer of 1972 is one of their most legendary for consistently stellar performances (it’s no accident Jimmy Page chose two shows from this tour for the How The West Was Won triple package in 2003), and at the same time one of the worst documented in recordings, audience or otherwise.

The Charlotte and Los Angeles shows are perhaps the best sounding, as well as this, the San Bernardino concert. The tape has been released before on Tarantura (Route 66), Cobra (Berdu) and most recently on the Magnificent label (Born To Be Wild). They were plagued by poor sound, jumbled set lists, and excessive mastering causing the annoying metallic sound that is unfortunately common on many releases coming out of Japan.

This Empress Valley release suffers from none of the above problems. The front jacket proudly proclaims “Direct sound from Scotch reel to reel”. While I can’t verify that I can say that Swinging In San Bernardino is a fantastic sounding release from start to finish and is perhaps the best sounding release of this show. The band sound a bit distant but is very clear bringing out every nuance of the performance.

About the performance, the commonly held opinion is that although the set list isn’t as adventurous as the Seattle and Los Angeles concerts that came before and after (there are no songs from Houses Of The Holy, for example), the joy is in Jimmy Page’s improvisations throughout the entire set. There is some truth to that assesment although the show begins very sluggish. It isn’t until “Since I’ve Been Loving You” for the band to warm up and things get much better. ”Stairway To Heaven” is met with applause and Page delivers a classic solo rivaling the great ones from 1973.

But everything gets blown out by the fantastic “Dazed & Confused” which is probably the best from this tour and one for the ages. He includes many riffs including “Walter’s Walk”, “The Crunge” and the “Hot On For Nowhere” riff also heard on the December ’72 Manchester tape (Rovers Return). Swinging In San Bernardino is a great all around release and is perhaps the definitive version.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Swinging In San Bernardino | , | Leave a comment

Ten Years After Ssssh (1969)

zap_tenyears2From starling.rinet.ru

And at last, this time around there was no doubt these guys were gonna be a major act. Good lads, they seem to have realized all of the mistakes they made on Stonedhenge, and this time you’re in for a listen of your lifetime! No more stupid grooves or Leo Lyons solo spots. No more trippy quiet guitar sounds and no more muddy, ear-destructive production. What you are presented with is a gruff, rip-roaring, tearing-at-the-walls progressive blues album which boasts brilliant production – at last!

I may be a little biased towards this album, but really, you must realise it was a grandiose effort for the boys. Ten Years After was a homemade album of four guys getting together to play a couple of covers; Undead was a live album made by the same boys; Stonedhenge was a first try, but a failure; and this, this is absolutely fantastic. Well, not absolutely. Ten Years After never made an album that was ‘absolutely’ fantastic. Forget about ‘absolutely’. But this is definitely fantastic in the fantastic Ten Years After way.

Where was I? Ah yes, Ssssh. The only real trouble with that album is an ungly cover and the fact that you never can remember how many ‘s’ you have to write between the capital one and the ‘h’. Apart from that, there are some great blues numbers, some great ballads and some great heavy rockers the likes of which were not to be found previously. The very album opener (‘Bad Scene’) is not just heavy – it’s practically hardcore punk: a breathtaking speed and a gruff guitar tone that predicts the Ramones but also kinda outdates them. But there are also tricky changes in signature, a special jazzy middle-eight, Alvin’s trademark solos, strange electronically encoded vocals and… well, you get my drift. There’s everything that Stonedhenge sorely lacked.

The blues covers are all done wisely – generic, mayhaps (which blues cover ain’t?), but catchy, and every one has something special to boast about. ‘Two Time Mama’ has a wonderfully sweet slide guitar tone resulting from several masterful overdubs so that ultimately you seem to be surrounded by a sea of slippery guitar waves gently falling onto one another; and there’s also Alvin singing in unison with the main guitar melody, which is always a pleasure. The harder antidote ‘Stoned Woman’ is built around a mean mean highly distorted bass riff and features complicated time signature changes again. And the closing ‘I Woke Up This Morning’, with the most blatantly obvious title in the world, features an especially ferocious rapid-fire solo by Alvin. Put it next to anything on Ten Years After and you’ll see how high the mighty hath risen: he’s now able to play so fluently, without a single break for more than a minute, that the 1967 style by now seems naive and outdated. Notes just keep falling out of nowhere, with such diabolic precision and craftsmanship that I don’t have much choice but to tip my hat. For some reason, speedy and technically proficient as other guitarists might be, I have never even once heard anybody play like that.

The album’s highest point, however, is the cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ with lyrics revised and melody re-written: the lyrics suck in any case, but the riff is now breathtaking, one of the two or three mightiest that the band had ever in its credit. And you really don’t know how fond I am of these little riffs that repeat themselves over and over; it’s mean and strong, just like Alvin’s accompanying singing. Yeah, I know all they’re trying to do is imitating ol’ bluesmen, but they’re a great bunch of Brit guys imitating ol’ bluesmen! Kinda like a British analog of CCR! Youpee! I don’t quite dig ‘The Stomp’ because that one’s a bit too repetitive for me; with its creepy, quiet atmosphere it sounds like a Stonedhenge outtake, too, and that’s never quite good news. But that’s my one and only complaint about the track listing, and at least you can perfectly ‘do the stomp’ while listening to that one.

Oh, and if you’re anti-blues or something, then I can offer you the somewhat naive but charming ballad ‘If You Should Love Me’ which some might dismiss as flower power hip crap, but I DIG generic flower power hip crap, so I don’t give a damn. I love this ballad, as Alvin once again makes a complete clown out of himself, overemoting on this pseudo-Motown number and thereby transforming it into a ridiculous love declaration by a young naive charming idiot who keeps repeating the same cliches over and over because he really doesn’t know any other words to say but he really feels something with his poor little heart and does his best to go ahead and articulate it. Okay, this is just how I feel about the song, and this is also how I feel about much of the flower power movement. Now where have I put that Country Joe And The Fish record?..

Nah, just pulling your leg once again. I don’t have no Country Joe records. I do have a lot of Ten Years After records, though. And what you are doing now is reading my reviews of them, particularly the review of what I consider to be one of their two best albums. So don’t let me bore you with my second-rate crappy digressions. Let’s just reiterate: this record is a must for anybody with even a passable interest in Sixties’ blues-rock and should forever remain one of the crucial landmarks in that genre. That’s how obstinate I am, and now let’s move on to the next album.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Ten Years After Ssssh | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Mirrorball (1995)

neil_young_mirrorballFrom sfloman.com

Yet another great Neil Young album, one that has become quite underrated over the years in my opinion, this is perhaps his heaviest studio effort ever. Backed up by members of Pearl Jam (though Epic wouldn’t let the name “Pearl Jam” appear on the album) and recorded by their producer Brendan O’Brien, this album reveals both of their strengths, as Pearl Jam provides Young with dark, powerful backing without drowning him out.

Pearl Jam delivers tight playing, tons of energy, and an appealingly thick and muscular sound, while Young more than holds his own, writing some great if hurriedly written songs and battling the young bucks with his still-lethal guitar runs. Although the album was rushed (supposedly it was recorded in a mere four days) and many of the songs are therefore unpolished, I disagree with the common complaints that these aren’t well-written and well-recorded songs, and besides, it is the very raw immediacy and spontaneity of these explosive performances that makes this collection so consistently thrilling despite its flaws.

Yeah, perhaps some of these songs sound alike after a while, but I for one am completely intoxicated by the mad sailor chants of “Song X,” the catchy yet rocking “The Act Of Love” (both of these are anti-abortion songs), and the riveting “Peace And Love,” on which Eddie Vedder briefly makes his brooding presence felt (those searing guitar riffs don’t hurt either).

Elsewhere, “Big Green Country” and the anthemic “Throw Your Hatred Down” have good brisk grooves and more great guitar, “Truth Be Known” is more power ballad-y but is still quite good due to its soaring guitar crescendos, and the intense 9-minute “Scenery” stands out for being arguably the album’s best extended guitar extravaganza. Unfortunately, probably my least favorite song here, the more upbeat hippy ode “Downtown,” which is unrepresentative of the rest of the album, was released as the single, so this album never caught on like it should have.

There are also a couple of short but sweet mellow pieces that let you come up for air, but only briefly. Neil Young states in the excellent, epic groover “I am The Ocean” (arguably the album’s best song which like some others here makes excellent use of atmospheric pump organ), “people my age, they don’t do the things I do.” That’s for sure, and once I was caught up in the relentless wave of that masterful song I could only feel very grateful for that fact.

Note: Around this time Neil Young and Pearl Jam also joined forces on “Long Road” and “I Got Id,” both of which appear on Pearl Jam’s Merkin Ball two-song EP.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Mirrorball | | Leave a comment

Anthony Phillips The Geese And The Ghost (1977), Wise After The Event (1978) & 1984 (1981)

948Coveranthony_phillips_-_the_geese_and_the_ghost-frontFrom blogcritics.org

Back in 1965 Anthony Phillips formed a band called Anon. Sadly, Anon was just what they were destined to remain except for two very important facts. First, the band was formed at Charterhouse, a huge and expensive school near Godalming in Surrey. Second, Mike Rutherford was also in its ranks.

One of the first things Anthony wrote was a song called “Patricia”. As Anon evolved into Genesis, the line-up included not only Phillips and Rutherford, but also Peter Gabriel, and Tony Banks. Anthony's “Patricia” became “In Hiding” and would appear on the first Genesis album. After signing a recording contract and releasing a couple of singles From Genesis To Revelation came out. The year was 1969.

1970 saw Genesis supporting the likes of Fairport Convention, Deep Purple, and Atomic Rooster. This was also the year that they signed to the Charisma label, appeared on the BBC Nightride programme, and released the breakthrough Trespass album. A feature of that record and the early Genesis sound was the gorgeous guitar work of both Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford.

The venues quickly got bigger and bigger as Genesis emerged as one of the bands to see. The story goes that it all proved too much for Anthony Phillips who left the band on the advice of his doctor following a battle against stage fright. Genesis of course continued their meteoric rise and became literally huge. Anthony could only watch from afar.

Now thanks to the Voiceprint label his solo albums are being lavishly re-released. They have been re-mastered, and carry an additional disc of bonus material, including many previously unheard gems, along with extensive album notes and great artwork.

The Geese And The Ghost

At the time he left Genesis he had already started to write the material that would eventually appear on his first solo album, The Geese And The Ghost. Within days of his departure he had written “Which Way The Wind Blows”, “God If I Saw Her Now”, and “Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times”.

However, some of the ideas dated back much earlier. The title track itself had been co-written with Rutherford back in 1969 and had originally been called “D Instrumental”. Also from that era we have the track “Collections”. Sadly, the album was shelved for several years as Anthony decided to undertake formal musical studies at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

Richly set within Medieval themes of pageants, and battles the album has now been released as part of the Voiceprint series complete with an incredibly generous bonus CD. The effect on hearing this excellent album is like discovering an unheard Genesis gem from the Trespass, Foxtrot, or Nursery Cryme era.

To underline the point Phil Collins, who by the time the album was released, had replaced Peter Gabriel as Genesis’ voice, appears on “Which Way The Wind Blows” and the wonderful “God If I Saw Her Now”. Mike Rutherford, who was able to take a break from Genesis because of an injury to Anthony’s replacement Steve Hackett, adds his excellent guitar skill. The result is an album of spine tingling beauty and extraordinary quality.

Sadly, the release of the album was delayed even further when Charisma decided that it was somewhat out of step with the changing music scene of the time. It was 1977 after all. Fortunately US based label Passport rescued the album and the second half was completed.

Genesis manager Tony Smith, who also managed Anthony, went as far as to create a special label, Hit & Run, to help release the album in the UK.

The album fully justifies that sort of faith. The musicianship is of the highest possible quality and the writing has both depth and individuality with the end result setting it aside from its more illustrious counterparts. The Geese And The Ghost is a remarkable album, that radiates beauty, pageant, and fanfare at every turn.

At it’s centre is “Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times”, a seven part musical extravaganza. As you can imagine with track titles such as this the album is rich with a quirky quintessentially English flavour and despite the passage of thirty plus years it has aged remarkably well.

The bonus disc contains twelve additional gems. This is an absolute must for not only fans of Genesis but anyone who recognizes the sheer quality of the music, and writing on offer.

Wise After The Event
The following year, 1978, saw the release of Anthony’s second solo album, Wise After The Event. Some of the tracks namely “Regrets” again date back to his days in Genesis. Several more such as “Birdsong” and “Squirrel” were from the period immediately after his departure from the band.

This is more of a 'song based' album rather than the long intricate instrumental pieces that graced The Geese And The Ghost. Opening with “We’re All As We Lie” there are highlights aplenty in another highly satisfying set.

The gentle “Birdsong and Reprise” leads nicely into the gorgeous “Moonshooter”. For this album Anthony was encouraged to provide his own vocals. The result is a sometimes quaint, faintly quirky, and always endearing performance that sits nicely against his trademark quality writing.

The ten minute title track provides an excellent centre piece to the album. Lush orchestration is added to “Regrets” whilst the painfully sad “Now What (Are They Doing To My Little Friends?)” came from Anthony’s horror at seeing seals being clubbed to death in a cull shown on the news. “Greenhouse”, “Paperchase”, and “Squirrel” all maintain the album’s quality.

Again the bonus disc contains a wealth of goodies. This time fourteen tracks ranging from demos to alternative takes are included.

1984
1979 was a busy year for Anthony Phillips. Two more solo albums, Sides, and the first of the Private Parts & Pieces series were released and he also helped old friend Mike Rutherford on his Smallcreeps Day album. In 1980 he released Private Parts & Pieces Part 2:- Back To The Pavilion and commenced work on his latest idea, 1984.

1984 represents something of a sidestep in his career. Perhaps this is best explained by the man himself when he says in the informative album notes, ‘what did come to mind was an idea to use a lot of interesting synth sounds, current electronic sounds if you like but at the same time to be quite descriptive and almost semi-classical in a way’.

He had, in fact, recently acquired two synthesizers, a Polymoog and an ARP 2600. They had already appeared tentatively in some of his previous albums, albeit adding mere splashes of colour behind his characteristic acoustic style. For 1984, however, he constructed the whole album around the instruments. It came as something of a shock to his many followers and admirers alike and certainly divided opinion.

Having said that, Anthony had been engaged in studying music at an extremely high level for some time and as a result classical influences are written deeply into the music.

During the writing for the album he was also commissioned to write the music for a television series called Rule Britannia. He was asked to provide music that sounded like ‘Vaughan Williams with a twist’. He succeeded in his brief and his music for the series was extremely well received, successfully managing to tap into the essential ‘Englishness’ required.

Having completed Rule Britannia he returned to work on his 1984 project. The album is divided into four sections opening with the four minute “Prelude ‘84” and ending with the shorter “Anthem 1984”. Sandwiched between are the two central sections of the work.

“1984 Part One” clocks in at just over nineteen minutes whilst “1984 Part Two” measures up at fifteen and half. Anthony sums up the response to the album by saying, ‘many thought I’d deserted my acoustic roots and gone barmy; others notably in Italy and the US loved it.’

True enough you either like synth based albums typical of the era or you don't. Either way this one does contain some sweeping classically based movements that are compellingly attractive.

The bonus disc is made up of alternative mixes and early demos. Included in among them is the six part "Rule Britannia Suite", and the excellent "Ascension".

In summary, all three of these re-releases do justice, at long last, to the work and career of Anthony Phillips. Despite always being referred back to his time in Genesis and the reasons for his departure Anthony has subsequently carved out an impressive career in his own right.

Certainly, The Geese And The Ghost sits nicely alongside his former band’s early work. The additional contributions of Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford emphasize the point.

Meanwhile Wise After The Event sees him reluctantly tackling vocals, whilst 1984 captures him take a huge gamble by producing a synthesizer work that contains many classical inspired gems within its sprawling ambition.

Voiceprint have done an excellent job in releasing all three with high quality bonus material, artwork, and biographical album notes from all involved in the various projects including of course the man himself.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Anthony Phillips 1984, Anthony Phillips The Geese And The Ghost, Anthony Phillips Wise After The Event | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Just The Crowd And… (Ottawa, April 1970 & Milwaukee, August 1970)

zep_justthecrowdFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Just The Crowd And… collects two fragments from two radically different Led Zeppelin tours in 1970. In the spring 1970 Zeppelin were still touring off of the sucess of Led Zeppelin II and “Whole Lotta Love.” The setlist still had the feel of the 1969 set with “How Many More Times” as the set closer with many little tunes in a long medley and with several Jimmy Page set pieces with a foot firmly rooted in psychedelia.

The autumn 1970 tour came after the sucess of the Bath festival that summer and the imminent release of Led Zeppelin III. “How Many More Times” had been dropped in favor of “Whole Lotta Love” and psychedelia was replaced the folk emphasis of the acoustic set. These two tapes are grouped together since they are from the same year, and they they probably wouldn’t sell on their own.

What also binds these two tapes together is the tragedy that both of these shows are complete on tape but the missing portions are still being hoarded after all this time. Given the low maturity level the “Led Zeppelin tape collecting community” and the stupid political back stabbing and bad attitudes any expectation for a future release of the complete tapes looks bleak. With that said, this is another good release by Empress Valley that is definitely worth having.

Civic Center, Ottawa, ON, Canada – April 14th, 1970

Disc 1: Dazed & Confused, Heartbreaker, Bring It On Home, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Thank You, Whole Lotta Love

The first disc contains the incomplete fragment of the Ottawa show from late in the spring tour. This comes from a fifth generation copy of the master cassette and first surfaced in the mid nineties from the same person who also possessed various other tapes from Ontario shows. Flying Disc were the first to release the tape as Parliament Hill – TMQ Masters Vol 1 (FD 101-105) in a five disc set along with the Bonzo’s Birthday and Three Days After tapes.

Many were upset over its availability being exclusive to the box set and Elrond devoted half of their second title to this tape on Ottawa Sunshine (MG6740). This title was released early in 1998 and received rave reviews in Ice magazine at the time. Empress Valley’s is the first release since and makes available a very good sounding tape with crystal clear sound. There are numerous cuts on the tape between songs and very people close to the taper cough and talk at various points, but on the whole this is a very nicely recorded show. About an hour is still missing with “We’re Gonna Groove”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “Moby Dick”, and “How Many More Times” having yet to surface.

Empress Valley restores “Dazed & Confused” to its proper place in the set list. This source comes from a fifth generation copy and is no big improvement over the older releases but it hasn’t been seen in a while and is a good opportunity for collectors to pick up this fragment. The concert, which is their penultimate in Ontario, is outstanding. Coming by the end of their spring tour the band are tight and deliver a ferocious performance. The violin bow section of the first track is very tense with some creepy moments. “Heartbreaker” begins with the theremin effects but one of the highlights of the tape is one of the best versions of “Bring It On Home”.

It sounds like the band has a lot of fun with the drums-harmonica-guitar battle and the audience do too. It is a shame the tape is a bit muffled at this point but the power comes through just fine. “White Summer” reached to epic proportions on this tour and this is another with a nascent “Bron-Y-Aur” interlude thrown in the middle. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, the new song added to the set list, sounds very pretty and is followed by a strange organ solo that serves as a prelude to “Thank You”. It is remarkable how this love song that sounds so lyrical in the studio is transformed into a heavy set piece. The tape ends with the encore “Whole Lotta Love”.

Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee, WI – August 31st, 1970

Disc 2,: Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Dazed & Confused, Bring It On Home, That’s The Way, Bron-Yr-Aur, Since I’ve Been Loving You

The second disc is a re-release of the hour-long Milwaukee tape that first surfaced around the same time as the Ottawa tape and was first released on both SCAT (TDOLZ Vol. 56) and Latest Summer (Jelly Roll JR09). The Akashic label also released this tape in late 1999 on Milwaukee (AKA-16) along with a special chocolate candy bar as a bonus. This tape is a fifth generation which is very good although somewhat distant from the stage.

It captures the atmosphere of the event perfectly being very dynamic and enjoyable. This concert was originally scheduled to be on August 27th but was moved back several days so John Paul Jones could attend the funeral of his father. “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker” are the new set openers and is followed by a unique version of “Dazed & Confused”. During the improvisation Plant sings about ruling the world before Page gets into a rolling, descending riff that sounds very interesting.

Plant commands the audience to get their guns out during the call and response portion of the song before ending with completely different lyrics in the second verse. The acoustic set is met with silence and isn’t as well recorded as the rest of the tape, but the version of “Bron-Y-Aur” is simply outstanding and it is good to have another version of this rarity on tape. The tape ends with a heavy version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.

Another title by the currently budget conscious Empress Valley, this is good value for those who have not yet acquired these tapes since the older releases are now scarce. Although there is no significant improvement in sound quality over the other versions this is no worse than the others either and the label didn’t try to “improve” them either, which could potentially ruin what are otherwise very acceptable tapes.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Just The Crowd And... | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Trunk Show (2010)

neilyoungtrunkposterFrom avclub.com

Jonathan Demme’s 2006 concert film Neil Young: Heart Of Gold captured the venerable musician on the heels of a brush with death. Young had just survived a brain aneurysm and released the quiet, contemplative album Prairie Wind, and the film surrounded him with family, friends, and longtime collaborators, all shot in pastoral tones in the intimate environment of Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. It’s a quiet, respectful, beautiful-looking film, shot by Demme with great care, as if trying to preserve a delicate treasure. If Demme’s follow-up, Neil Young Trunk Show, has a mission statement, it’s “Fuck all that.”

Filmed over two nights during Young’s 2007 tour behind the Chrome Dreams II album, Trunk Show takes a rough-and-tumble, point-and-shoot handheld approach that mixes digital and 8mm footage. Trunk Show isn’t always pretty to look at, but the form suits the content. Though Demme does show a tour medic tending to a badly abused fingernail at one point, Young apparently feels much better. Here, he alternates solo, acoustic material with spirited full-band numbers, fronting a bunch of trusted collaborators—Ben Keith and Crazy Horse’s Ralph Molina among them—and feeding off the volatile chemistry of their shared instincts. Together, they’re loud and beautifully brutal, locked in grooves and lost in feedback.

Living up to its title and a subtitle that bills it as “scenes from a concert,” Trunk Show lays out an assortment of musical goods and wares without much comment. Some of it is familiar, and some is from deep in the catalog, including unreleased ’70s-era songs like “Mexico” and “Kansas.” (There’s even a performance of “The Sultan,” a local hit for Young’s teenage band The Squires.) Anyone not excited about seeing a crunching 20-minute version of the Chrome Dreams II track “No Hidden Path” should probably steer clear, though even those who are excited probably wouldn’t have minded a few more classics in the mix.

That said, Demme’s excitement for Young and his music is evident throughout, and the songs fit comfortably in the unvarnished setting. With Trunk Show joining the ranks of Year Of The Horse, Rust Never Sleeps, Greendale, and other concert films, Young is now one of the best-documented musicians out there. Trunk Show is a good document, though. It shows up, settles in, and lets the cameras roll, because sometimes the music needs little more than an audience willing to go where it will take them.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Trunk Show | | Leave a comment

Coverdale Page (1993)

Coverdale-Page-Coverdale-PageFrom sputnikmusic.com

Although critically lauded at its inception and during the subsequent album release, the collaboration of David Coverdale and Jimmy Page is a largely forgotten one. There were several rumored motivations behind this project. Robert Plant had long carried a passionate loathing for Coverdale, going back to his days in Deep Purple and 80’s era Whitesnake. Jimmy Page had been trying for years to convince Plant to acquiesce to a Led Zeppelin re-union. Coverdale himself had always seemed to revel joyously in the contempt he spawned in Plant. The melding and both direct and indirect involvement of three massive egos made for an interesting sub plot and story line, and as it turned out, Page got his wish for a reunion.

Coverdale, or “Cover-version” as Plant called him, was one of the more respected and talented vocalists in the hair metal genre. Although some would argue that this is similar to winning a fist fight with a quadriplegic, Coverdale had been around the block and was as close to a “professional” vocalist as you would find in the genre, save Sebastian Bach.
In his prime Page was a master of mixing melody and power blues that is largely credited for helping launch a genre. After the demise of Zeppelin, he spent the better part of 13 years doing little besides pretending not to dabble in the occult and releasing the occasional uninspired solo album. He had a lot of time to work on this album, and upon listen, it shows.

Musically the album expectedly sounds like a mixture of Whitesnake and Led Zeppelin, minus the unforgettable power drumming of Bonham and the experimental sounds of Zeppelin’s prime. Page is on his game, blending strong riffs with slow burning blues and mixing in a final touch of infectious melody. Lyrically, it is different than one would expect. The absence of Plant means there are no Celtic-dragon slaying storylines. From Coverdale’s perspective and history, there are predictably pieces of hair metal inspired tomfoolery, but for the most part songs are centered towards mortality, loss, redemption, and fear.

Coverdale has always sounded his best when he was most blatantly trying to rip off Plant. There are times throughout the record where he goes to a raspier, deeper voice, but he is most effective in blending between soft, almost spoken tones with passionate screeches like his predecessor. There is no “Still of the Night” like performance, but the record is strongest when Coverdale is strongest, mostly because there are very few weak moments from Page.

The album opens with “Shake My Tree,” one of the more formulaic and straight forward rock songs present. “Waiting On You” follows the trend, and has a chorus that sounds exactly like something taken straight from Whitesnake’s 1987 self titled album. As far as straight forward rockers go, they mostly hit and briefly miss on occasion. “Feeling Hot” is the requisite hair metal inspired “we are going to go out and get wasted and laid” theme, although it contains a crunching riff from Page. “Pride and Joy” was the lead single, incorporating a Mandolin led intro into a song dripping with sexual innuendos, a specialty of Coverdale’s. “Absolution Blues” finds Coverdale channeling Plant more than anywhere else on the album, and carries a riff that sounds like “Heartbreaker” off Led Zeppelin 2 on a healthy dose of speed. Overall, the straightforward rock numbers do a fine job of complimenting the respective talents and ensure the record is considered “hard rock.” Ultimately however, it is not where the album shines.

There are three slow burning epics on this album that catapult it from merely good to stellar. The three are spread throughout the album, although it would have been wise to put them in order at the end, creating a three pronged epic closing. Regardless of the order, “Take Me For A Little While,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and “Whisper a Prayer for the Dying,” are easily as good as anything Coverdale has ever done, and shows off a different side to Page. Many of Page’s stronger ballads from the Zeppelin era relied heavily on jangly acoustics and had an upbeat tone. These songs are dark on the surface, and rely heavily on somber toned picking from Page. “Take Me” is the strongest song on the record and is carried by a memorable lead break that takes place during and right after the chorus. “Whisper a Prayer” and “Don’t Leave Me” are much more brooding, but have a passionate and yearning undertone to them that stick with the listener. In short, they outshine the “Slow and Easy’s” of the world.

There are moments of filler, most notably “Over Now” and “Easy Does It,” with a heavier emphasis on the latter. “Over Now” was a single and has a huge riff but never really takes off. “Easy Does It” should have been left off the album. The final mentioned track is “Take a Look at Yourself,” a direct rip off of the Temptations “Tracks of my Tears.” A fan of soaring Power Ballads would be right at home here, and that is probably the point.

The final verdict is aside from the drama, the motivations, and the egos, this is a damn strong hard rock/blues record. It melds elements of hair metal, blues, and mid-era Zeppelin influence to create a sound that would have laid waste to most of the material that came out in the 80’s in the same genre. It may have also been strong enough to piss off Robert Plant just enough to reunite with Page.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Coverdale Page | | Leave a comment

Carlos Santana & John McLaighlin Love Devotion Surrender (1973)

Carlos_Santana_&_Mahavishnu_John_McLaughlin-Love_Devotion_Surrender-FrontalFrom musicdirect.com

Two guitar giants. A collective band comprised of virtuosic instrumentalists. One shared goal. And one tremendous album, commonly referred to as the equivalent of aural nirvana. Still the only meeting of Santana and John McLaughlin, Love Devotion Surrender more than lives up to the promise offered by its principal creators as it’s a spiritual journey based in divine faith, religious toleration, and the forward-thinking philosophy that music can take us closer to the truth. These enlightening concepts are reflected in the playing of Santana and McLaughlin, who repeatedly hit a higher plane on this stunning 1973 set.

Re-mastered from the original analog master tapes, Love Devotion Surrender benefits from Mobile Fidelity’s meticulous engineering, with the windows on the finite give-and-take passages, sustained notes, and acoustic textures thrown open on hybrid SACD with palpable transparency and exquisite detail. Brimming with atmospheric textures, three-dimensional spaciousness, and sterling microdynamics, this version follows on the heels of Mobile Fidelity’s definitive, critically acclaimed editions of Santana, Abraxas, and Caravanserai.

Having each become a follower of Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, Santana and McLaughlin began playing together in 1972, with each legend currently in the midst of personal and creative transition. Santana was moving away from rock-based songs in favor of exploratory jazz-rock fusion. McLaughlin had already achieved fame with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, on the brink of collapse due to disagreements within the band. On Love Devotion Surrender, the duo pools its interest in spirituality and transcendence into expressively gorgeous art steeped in improvisational lines, ecstatic chords, and sensitive organ accompaniment courtesy of the record’s best-kept secret, Larry Young.

In addition to the search for sacred soulfulness, the common denominator throughout is John Coltrane, who engaged in similar pursuits during the 1960s. Two of the five compositions are interpretations of Coltrane standards while the lynchpin, a nearly 16-minute investigation into the traditional “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord,” seamlessly integrates melodic structure, jazz phrasing, gospel mysticism, and tonal shaping into one of the most hopeful and uplifting pieces of music you’ll ever hear.

Laden with delicate acoustic touches and gentle piano touches as well as powerful staccato bursts and fast-paced bongo percussion, Love Devotion Surrender contains a highly dynamic mix of tempos, textures, and contrasts that have never shone like they do on Mobile Fidelity’s numbered, limited-edition hybrid SACD. This audiophile edition brings the performers’ spirituality to the fore with extraordinary realism, while the pinpoint imaging—Santana primarily on the left, McLaughlin on the right—allows each musicians’ contributions to soar. If you’re a fan of the guitar, jazz, or music that literally elevates you to an ethereal place, this is a must.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender | , | Leave a comment

Genesis Archives Vol. 2 1976 – 1992

cover_15372318102008From johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Not as essential as the first archive, but much better than it could probably be. The biggest problem with this boxset is that, aside from its logical status as a “sequel” to the glorious first boxset, it doesn’t have the greatest amount of justification for its existence. Nothing as “epochal” as, say, The Lamb came out during the Collins era, so there was no “need” for any of the band’s live cuts as much as there was from that tour. Plus, as good as some of the outtakes here are, there’s nothing quite on the level of Twilight Alehouse, though some might come close.

Still, the seeming superfluousness of the set as a whole doesn’t take away from the fact that parts of it are very enjoyable, and lead to it getting quite a high grade. The second disc is particularly enjoyable in this regard, a collection of live tracks from all the various periods of the Collins era (there’s also a couple more on the third disc). Of course, for the most part this material is much simpler than what we had during the Gabriel era, and as such there isn’t the benefit of an extra dose of energy based on trying extra hard to keep up with the studio versions, but they’re ok nonetheless. One of them, actually, is utterly spectacular – ho boy, was I right in suspecting that there was an utterly gorgeous creature lying beneath the occasionally tattered rags of arrangments of the studio version of Ripples.

Collins’ singing is even more moving than before, Banks seemingly sticks mostly to piano (keeping it relatively low in the mix), and the solo (which I thought was Hackett but actually isn’t – the perils of listening to a boxset without the liner notes) … oh man, I don’t think the solo is that much different from what it was before, but the mood created here by it is indescribable, even in comparison to before. During the time of that solo, nothing else in the world exists – my whole universe is a slow, winding passage with a gloriously ringing guitar tone, and my basest reaction is to put it back on right away.

The others don’t completely measure up. There’s three ATTWT songs, which theoretically doesn’t excite me, but they sound really good here. This is more surprising considering that I only liked one of the three songs originally (Burning Rope) – Deep in the Motherlode suddenly becomes catchy and even moving occasionally, and The Lady Lies suddenly sounds like something close to a classic (complete with a fantastic set of energetic guitar lines in the final push to the end).

Elsewhere, the allocation of live tracks is fairly spread out over the different eras – Trick also gets Entangled (pretty), Wind gets Your Own Special Way (not bad), Duke gets Duke’s Travels/End (which annilates its studio counterpart), Abacab gets No Reply at All and Man on the Corner (decent, though not spectacular – it should be noted that the attempt at replicating the horns with guitar isn’t very convincing), Genesis gets Illegal Alien and It’s Gonna Get Better (both are decent enough here, though I would’ve rally liked Silver Rainbow instead of Gonna Get Better), IT gets The Brazilian (good choice) and WCD gets Dreaming While You Sleep (not great, but could be worse). Basically, a good haul.

The rest of the material, however, is filled with studio rarities and dance mixes of various songs. The latter category doesn’t please me very much – I actually more or less liked three of the four remixed songs originally (Invisible Touch, Tonight Tonight Tonight, Land of Confusion, I Can’t Dance), but only the remix of ICD succesfully entertains me at all (though ironically, it entertains me a lot – it’s amazing how involving cheeziness can be when it wants). The 80’s corny production of the original IT tracks is magnified to an incredibly self-parodic degree (which I guess is the point of these things, but still), and I just can’t listen to these for more than a bit at a time.

The rarities are dispensable in some cases, but there’s some great material in here. On the Shoreline, a WCD outtake, is actually a very nice way to start the set. I get the feeling that the only reasons it was left off were (a) it’s clearly designed to be the opening track of an album, and wasn’t going to supplant No Son of Mine of its position and (b) it has some moments that were cannibalized into Driving the Last Spike. Still, it would have been one of the two or three best songs on that album had it been released, and the interaction of the guitars and keyboards make it sound more like a real Genesis song than much of what’s on that album.

Actually, come to think of it, pretty much every era (defined by album) gives at least one or two great new tracks. From the Trick sessions comes It’s Yourself, the first couple of minutes of which are a beautiful ballad that gets stuck in my head all the time, and the rest of which is a bunch of really lovely atmospherics that were later incorporated into the beginning of Los Endos. I actually keep meaning to figure out how to make a seamless splicing between this track and Los Endos; a version of Trick that would include It’s Yourself flowing into Los Endos would be even stronger than the album that currently exists.

From Wind comes a track that I somehow missed when I first reviewed this set, but which has gone down as one of my favorite post-Gabriel tracks. Inside and Out is a gorgeous Rutherford-style ballad (of course, if it’s not Rutherford and in fact I can’t really tell who composed what, I’ll be ready to just throw it in), with pretty singing and tasteful keys from Tony. Imagine something like Your Own Special Way with the compactness and good timing of Blood on the Rooftops (and an actually *gasp* energetic ending, with lots of great Hackett playing to counter Tony’s great playing), and there you go. From the Three sessions comes The Day the Light Went Out, an amazingly catchy synth-based rocker with a great chorus hook and effectively frantic energy in the verses and martial rhythms in the breaks.

Duke’s main contribution here is Evidence of Autumn, which technically isn’t new (it was one of the 3SL studio tracks: see that review for details on the track), but since it’s not available on CD otherwise, it might as well be. Abacab, apart from the mild fun of Paperlate, contributes a really strange groove in Naminanu, and a really pretty instrumental in Submarine, which gives the impression of watching fishes and mermaids and other things flow by. Genesis doesn’t really contribute anything new, with the exception of an early version of Mama. I used to hate this version, mainly because the HA-HA’s turned more into heh-heh’s, but I’ve come to enjoy it just as much as anything else on here. And even IT contributes a couple of gems, courtesy of Feeding the Fire and the seven-minute instrumental Do the Neurotic, which manages to be kinda “tough” sounding without crossing the line into stupid.

In the end, while some of the material ranges from kinda meh to mind-bogglingly stupid (e.g. the extended remixes of IT songs), there’s a good amount of really solid material here. I originally would have given this an 8, but the high points have grown on me through the years to the point that boosting this up a bit seems like the best course of action. Don’t buy it new, but definitely don’t avoid it used either.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Archives Vol 2 1976-1992 | | Leave a comment