Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Stick Out! (Copenhagen, May 1971)


Copenhagen, Denmark – May 3rd, 1971

Disc 1 (65:04): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dazed And Confused, Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way

Disc 2 (56:30): mc, What Is And What Should Never Be, Four Sticks, Gallows Pole, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, Misty Mountain Hop, Rock And Roll

The greatest benefit in collecting unofficial releases is in hearing the rare and unique performances. For Led Zeppelin there are none more so than the audience recording of the May 3rd show at the KB Hallen in Copenhagen. Although they did the club tour in the UK and a mysterious tour of Europe, this is one of the least documented of any period in Zeppelin’s history.

Outside of the Ireland tapes and the April BBC broadcast, Copenhagen is the best sounding and most complete live tape of the first half of 1971. The audience recording is very good and clear. The music is very enjoyable but Plant’s comments are very low. There is a small cut at the very end of “Black Dog” losing the final note, after “Stairway To Heaven,” after “Gallows Pole,” and after “Whole Lotta Love” and “Communication Breakdown.”

Two songs, “Four Sticks” and “Gallows Pole” are found on the vinyl Live In Copenhagen July 21 1971 & Staines March 25 1969 (Rock Solid Records SSA-B) along with “Dazed And Confused” from the Supershow and Loose Ends (Supercharded Records SC004) has “Four Sticks” and “Rock And Roll.” The earliest CD release is the Australian Poles And Sticks (Black Cat BC-33), which runs at the wrong speed. It can be found also on Copenhagen 1971 (Cobra 012), Loove! (Tarantura T2CD-9) and its European clone The 2nd European Tour (Whole Lotta Live WLL011/12).

Other releases include K,B (Image Quality IQ-051/52) and In Concert In Copenhagen (Empress Valley EVSD 113/114) which sounds very flat compared to the others. Previews & Novelties (Equinox EQ-00-016/017) was released in the summer of 2000 along with the other titles on this label and is one of the best sounding editions of this show. The others are cut fifteen minutes into “Dazed And Confused” but that is not found on Equinox. Stick Out! has the same very good sound quality as the best versions of this show.

The excitement builds early with the opening numbers, so much so that Plant sings the wrong lines in the first verse of “Immigrant Song.” After one of the heaviest “Heartbreaker” on tape there is a short delay with some in the audience causing a fuss. “Whoa, stop stop stop, whoa, tell him, tell him, tell him to stop. Tell him if there’s any trouble we walk off, right? We go.

“Leave him alone, leave him alone. We can’t play if there’s going to be this going on through every number. Somebody better tell him in Danish what the score is. We cannot, we cannot play if there’s going to be a constant passage of people moving. We’d rather people sit on the floor. So sit down. We want to give you a concert of music, and we cannot do it if there’s a lot of people running around.”

The arrangements of the pieces are most similar to the BBC broadcast from the previous month. “Dazed And Confused” in particular sounds very close with the same spaced out improvisations by the end. Three songs from the as yet released fourth album follow including one of the earliest versions of “Stairway To Heaven” before a live audience which is introduced as something that “goes on for some time and gets nice, another profound statement.”

The new song “Going To California” and “That’s The Way” form a two song acoustic set in the middle. Plant goes into introducing a fourth new song, saying we’re gonna try something that we have never tried before, and there’s every chance it’ll fall apart” before realizing they have to play “What Is And What Should Ever Be” next.

After the Led Zeppelin II track he continues with his nervous introduction, saying, “Now this is a thing, I was saying we’re never done before. It seems we had to come round to it, so, so here we go. This ah, this hasn’t even got a title yet, but we’ll think of one as the night goes on.” Page tunes his guitar to some applause and Plant replies, “for your entertainment.”

What follows is the first and only live performance of “Four Sticks” by Led Zeppelin and for such a difficult song they manage to pull it off well onstage. Plant is still able to hit the high notes and is effective in creating a tense and ecstatic atmosphere in the venue. The first full performance of “Gallows Pole” from the third album follows. The arrangement differs slightly since Bonham comes in with the drums during the first verse. The subtle build up of the studio recording is replaced by a live blast of fury.

A twenty minute “Whole Lotta Love” closes the set. The medley includes “Boogie Chillun’,” “Cumberland Gap,” “That’s Alright” with Page doing a great James Burton impersonation, “Mess O’ Blues” and “Honey Bee,” a carry over from the previous years medley. A long encore set begins with “Communication Breakdown” with a long bass solo by John Paul Jones and the first live reference to “Celebration Day” played in the middle.

“Misty Mountain Hop” is played for the first time and the only time as an encore. It would form part of the regular set by the end of 1972 and the final new song ”Rock And Roll,” introduced as “It’s Been A Long Time” closes the event. There is very little mastering done on the tape so it has a very dynamic and natural sounding timbre.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Stick Out! | , | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Morning Symphony Ideas (2000)


First, I’d like to mention the Dagger Records’ philosophy (which I already did in another review): ”To service Jimi’s fans, we have created Dagger Records, a unique label established to release bootleg’ recordings which further detail Jimi’s illustrious legacy”.

These lines are available on the official Hendrix site and each album released under this label is considered as official bootleg and is supervised by the Hendrix family (mainly Janie who is his half sister). It is the first Dagger album which was not a live one and it only features unfinished (and unpolished) material. All tracks were taped in ’69 and ’70.

Now, specifically about this recording (from the same source): “Morning Symphony Ideas is an extraordinary collection of previously unreleased studio and home demo recordings”.

I wouldn’t be as laudatory for sure. Die-hard Hendrix fans (to whom I belong) can enjoy some of these moments but half an hour of “Keep On Groovin” jam offers little memorable moments for the casual listener. But this album is not meant for them.

There is a well known track available here (“Room Full Of Mirrors”) which was already released on the excellent “Rainbow Bridge” album. “Strato Strut” was also featured in an early version on the album “From Nine To The Universe”.

It is of course always emotional for a die-hard fan to listen to Jimi’s voice while introducing a track (“Jungle”). Still, it is quite attractive: a smooth guitar to start (as one could have experienced in “Hey Joe”), and some “Villanova Junction” mood later on which evolves to a furious and wild jam party (with great drumming from Miles). This ensures for one of the best track available here. Definitely the most accessible for non Hendrix maniacs.

My votes go to the extended version of “Room Full Of Mirrors”. The most accomplished one; damned good actually even if it sounds quite raw and to some extent crazy. “Strato Strut” is the more complete one in terms of a band. It features the whole “Band Of Gypsys” (which is not my fave line up, but I mentioned this already in another review of the great man) and sounds quite jazzy.

Getting into the long “Scorpio Woman” is quite an achievement which requires some definite and deep love for the great man.

As I have said, this album is of course not dedicated to everyone. I’ve added it to the PA database because I am profoundly touched by the genius he was and I believe that each of his official release deserves a review but I wouldn’t rate this album with more than two stars.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Morning Symphony Ideas | | Leave a comment

Nick Drake Five Leaves Left (1969)


I guess I went through the usual initiation ceremony most Nick Drake addicts go through – the first listen to the man’s debut didn’t make a single impression. Maybe occasional interesting tidbits, moments and smidgeons. The guy’s humility and lack of a pretentious “I’m wiser than the world, see me prove that” atmosphere was nice, but I kinda failed to see what good qualities Nick had to counteract that perspective. His guitar picking is nice and professional, but it’s obvious he’s not about the guitar; if you wanna hear some really weird quasi-folk acoustic picking, check out Tyrannosaurus Rex instead. His dim, inobtrusive baritone leaves you with a friendly feeling but equally fails to impress on his own. The melodies are dang near non-existent as far as instrumental work goes and are very hard to spot as far as vocals go, besides, several songs actually share more or less the same vocal melody. And the lyrics, solid and thoughtful as they are, just can’t compensate for everything else. Besides, the man hasn’t got even a tiny streak of humour.

That’s the first Nick Drake listen for you. The only good thing about that initial experience is that deep down inside you are left with the urge to listen to this for the second time, because somehow you feel that you don’t like the album because you don’t get it, not because you already got it. And then it starts growing. And in the end the record comes out as the minor folksy masterpiece it is. Too bad I can’t remember a single song of it even if I’m way through my eighth or ninth listen. But enough ME. It’s a Nick Drake record. It’s almost purely acoustic, although occasionally Nick is backed by Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention playing modest electric licks in the background. Danny Thompson contributes bass, Paul Harris joins in on occasional piano, and Robert Kirby arranges all the strings on the album, which also form an essential part of the experience (of course, there will always be dorks saying that the strings actually spoil the experience, but it’s not my fault if somebody’s been fed up with Fifties’ Hollywood movies, nor is it Robert Kirby’s who actually arranges everything in good taste).

And it’s a ‘mood piece’, of course. So much a mood piece that sometimes I fail to notice the pause between tracks; only a slight shift in Nick’s intonation, a different hook or a different twitch in arrangement indicates that we’re on to the next part. As a ‘mood piece’, it, of course, shows Drake’s stylistic limitations – the man obviously doesn’t want and probably can’t shift to anything different – but since the songs themselves are pretty short, it’s no big problem. What is the mood, then, actually? Some call it depressing and bleak; I prefer to simply call it BLUE. Or GRAY, if you wish. Autumnal, as many have said. These songs are mostly minor in their essence, but it isn’t as if they’re written from the point of view of a bitter, thoroughly depressed person. It’s more like a position of a sceptical philosopher, contemplating his own and everybody else’s frailty and weakness in this mysterious and dangerous world. In other words, it’s a THINKING man’s album rather than a simply FEELING man’s album – not that there’s anything wrong with either.

It would be pretty hard to pick out highlights on the album; the only song that doesn’t do anything for me is the rather pointless ‘Cello Song’ which has no special hook as far as I’m concerned. The other nine all have something. ‘Time Has Told Me’ is a love song without any apparent ‘hidden message’, but there does seem to be some kind of concealed ‘menace’ in the ‘leave the ways that are making you be what you really don’t want to be’ chorus, the kind of strange attention-drawing trick that transforms a basic love ballad into an enigma. ‘River Man’, in stark contrast to its rather ‘upbeat’ predecessor, is somewhat creepy with its mystical allusions… somebody just shoot the dork who complained about the orchestration on, it’s the friggin’ best part of the song, with the gloomy cellos and the shimmering violins perfectly playing off each other to illustrate the ‘dark’ and the ‘bright’ of the song. ‘Three Hours’ gets us back to stark folkish territory with medieval overtones and even stranger poetic allusions – the ‘in search of a master, in search of a slave’ bit looks almost like something taken off a Leonard Cohen album. (Which actually reminds me that it would be quite an interesting matter to draw a more detailed comparison between the two. Anybody looking for a fresh topic on a music-related essay? Fresh topics for a penny!).

Anyway, it’s useless to go through all the other songs in a row, so let me just concentrate on the two last ones – ‘Fruit Tree’ is quite glorious, and wasn’t it written as a prediction? I mean, Nick Drake is obviously recognized better today than he was during his lifetime. Or will be recognized (or should be recognized), anyway. Fabulous oboe part, too. And I’m also quite partial as to what concerns the closing number, the jazzy piano-based ‘Saturday Sun’, which has – can you imagine? – a bit of a McCartneyesque feel to it, I guess. But maybe not. The vibraphone part is celestial.

Obviously, the most seductive thing about this all is how dang IN-OB-TRUSIVE it is. No loudness, no abrasiveness, and no rhythmic catchiness either. And Nick sings it all like he’s just standing out there at the window, like on the front cover, nonchalantly whistling away his little observations to no-one in particular. Married with his talent, this makes up for an album that’s so drastically subtle it’s in danger of being unnoticed…. which, come to think of it, it was. Maybe Nick Drake should have hired Mike Bloomfield or the Band to ensure his popularity. Then again, maybe he shouldn’t. What works well for ones works shittily for others.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Nick Drake Five Leaves Left | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Double Shot 2 (Landover, May 1977)


Capitol Centre, Landover, MD – May 30th, 1977

Disc 1 (69:45): The Song Remains The Same, The Rover / Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, In My Time Of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (49:12): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, White Summer, Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

Disc 3 (60:54): Out On The Tiles / Moby Dick, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll

Led Zeppelin played their fourth and final show in the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland on Labor Day, May 30th. Playing before a sold-out holiday crowd on a Monday night motivated the band to play their best show in the Capitol region and one of the best from the tour.

For many years a very good audience tape has been in circulation and been pressed on Destroyer III (Tarantura T3CD-8-1/2/3), Running On Pure Heart and Soul (TDOLZ Vol. 25) part of their Maryland Deluxe set, Dragon Slayer (Electric Magic EMC-005A/B/C) part of their Landover set and finally Supreme Destroyers III (EVSD-282/283/284) on Empress Valley where it’s paired with the two Cleveland shows in April.

Double Shot 2 features an excellent soundboard of the event. It has some balance problems similar to the May 25th tape in the beginning with the bass very high in the mix, but it soon settles down into a very nicely recorded and enjoyable recording. There is a big cut in “No Quarter” between 3:00 to 12:26 filled in by the audience tape and a twenty second cut in “White Summer” starting six seconds in.

Both “The Song Remains The Same,” function every bit as the fanfare it was intended to be, and “Sick Again” are very tight. ”Well good evening. I said good evening! Well we finally made it. Sorry about the little bit of delay. This is our fourth and final night here so … you know what last night’s in a town are? At least I do.” Someone ignited a firecracker during the opening song which isn’t audible on this recording but is on the audience tape. Plant responds, “I think you know we can have a contest all night between what’s the loudest, the band or those sort of things. Can we do without those firecrackers please?”

“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is plagued by several mistakes caused by unruly audience members. Plant flubs the harmonica solo when someone fires a bottle rocket at him, lighting his shirt on fire and forcing him to take it off. Also, Bonzo comes close to derailing the song by coming in too early after the guitar solo.

“I’ve heard of magic. I don’t really think that was really magical though, do you?” Plant says afterwards. ”Well it got the blood pleasure rising a bit though,” joking about the incident. ”I’ve got undressed before small parties, but never before twenty two thousand people so, I think I better get dressed again.”

(There is one shot in the surviving 8mm film showing a half naked Plant singing onstage).

“In My Time Of Dying” is a marked improvement with Plant’s pleadings of ”Maryland, do you believe me? That I did somebody some good.” They end the piece with a reference to “You Shook Me” like all the other performances on this tour.

Afterwards Plant jokes, “It’s debatable whether I need a fire extinguisher or I need a towel” before calling “Since I’ve Been Loving You” a song “we wrote ourselves … it’s also a blues.” They give a great performance of their blues as they also do in “No Quarter.” Jones plays interesting piano melodies in the first part of the piano solo. Page and Bonham follow with rather comedic little figures before they get into the proper “No Quarter” heavy jam session.

Jones takes his time getting ready for “Ten Years Gone.” Plant says he’s drinking wine behind the amplifiers and can’t keep up the pace and even calls him “an old wanker.”

Plant introduces the acoustic section of the show by speaking about a time when flower in the hair meant something, mentioning Arthur Lee’s band Love’s song “My Love She Comes In Colors,” namedropping the Stones and saying he doesn’t want Led Zeppelin to be remembered for “gunk gunk gunk gunk.” They play great versions of “The Battle Of Evermore” and “Going To California,” two songs from the fourth album. Before completing the set Plant sings a bit of the Elvis song “Surrender” as a prelude to “Black Country Woman.” He dedicates the song to Janine’s mom. ”Wherever you are, mom, you’ve got a wonderful daughter.”

“Kashmir” again is very tight and Plant comments afterwards “maybe we’ll meet again one day in Kashmir.” Bonzo’s drum solo is kept thrilling and compact. Page’s noise solo includes a strange little version of “Feelin’ Groovy” by Simon & Garfunkel. The violin bow episode sounds quite creepy in this recording, especially as it leads into a great “Achilles Last Stand.”

“Stairway To Heaven” is one that “tracks down the history of modern day laughter. When they return for the encores they play the short “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock And Roll” medley. Plant wishes the audience a happy holiday as they leave the stage.

Double Shot 2 highlights one of the most muscular and exciting shows from this visit. It’s only the third show to be given the Destroyer appellation and it certainly deserves it. Eelgrass package the title in a standard quad case with generic photos from the tour. Overall this is a great title to have in an affordable silver pressed edition.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Double Shot 2 | , | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)


What could the Doobie Brothers possibly do to follow-up the excellent The Captain and Me? Plenty. They started by inviting the Memphis Horns to inject more soul into their trademark, Southern-styled boogie rock. Next, they secured the services of Steely Dan virtuoso Jeff “Skunk” Baxter to supply guitar and pedal-steel parts.

And for extra spice, the band recruitedArlo Guthrie to play autoharp. The results? What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, the group’s most diverse album to date.It’s just one reason Mobile Fidelity is proud to include the 1974 effort in its phenomenal Doobie Brothers catalog restoration series.

Of course, no record is worth its salt without sharp songwriting. Fret not. What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits overflows with one memorable tune after another. It’s a true collective effort, with the material reflecting the musical strengths of each of the members. Picking up where the disbanded Creedence Clearwater Revival had left off, Tom Johnston contributes the rousing “Pursuit on 53rd Street” and “Down in the Track.” Patrick Simmons’ “Black Water” advances swamp rock, and gave the band its first Number One hit.

The Doobies also mine the country-rock vein like nobody’s business. “Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need)” and “Another Park, Another Sunday” cross roots rhythms with edgy melodies. And the instrumental “Flying Cloud,” contributed by bassist Tiran Porter, finds the Doobies further expanding their sonic palette while remaining faithful to their loose, good-time themes.

By every stretch, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits defies easy categorization yet soars on amiable vibes designed to satisfy the listener. Having reached #4 on the Billboard Album charts, it’s safe to say the public was indeed impressed.

Mobile Fidelity’s engineers had the same goals in mind when mastering this 70s rock classic from the original master tapes. And so the Doobie Brothers’ dual-drum approach now resonates with a punchiness it never previously possessed.Johnson’s high-pitched vocals no longer hit an artificial ceiling or lurk behind a veiled curtain.

The Memphis Horns’ brassy accents carry, and the all-important midrange sounds immediate, transparent, and dynamic.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989)


After bombing with synth-pop, Jeff just faded away – for four long years. Maybe he was doing drugs. Maybe he was just watching the world sink into decay and the old morals crumble. Maybe he didn’t give a damn anyway, and in 1989 he returned to the studio to record an album that was as far away from the disaster of Flash as possible. Namely, he’d preferred to stick to the old and true – instrumental fusion tunes, this time with a frinedly support in the face of synth wizard Tony Hymas and famous drummer Terry Bozzio (check out my Zappa reviews, willya?).

Apparently, he thought their help so significant that they’re even listed on the front cover – and by gum, ’tis gotta be one of the funniest covers in the world. See that? That’s a guitar that Beck is repairing! And the board says: ‘Proprietors: Jeff Beck, Terry Bozzio, Tony Hymas’. Great! And as if that wasn’t enough, the title track has a silly voice overdub that depicts all the good sides of a guitar – a veritable guitar commercial. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Fender or Gibson had bought the rights to the song…

On the other hand, the credits in big letters needn’t make you worry. Unlike Wired, the album isn’t keyboard-oriented at all. In fact, while Tony Hymas is indeed present on all the tracks (and has written or co-written every one of them, too), his presence is somewhat more subtle than Hammer’s: he doesn’t solo much, and he prefers short, economic rhythms to Hammer’s long-winded, complex phrasing. And Terry Bozzio is somewhat of a blessing – his drumming is awesome throughout, starting from the very first seconds of the title track.

However, the record’s main good point lies in its surprising diversity. I don’t know, really, but it seems to me that on no other album Beck had ever tried out such a great mishmash of all styles possible – jazz, blues, funk, pop, balladeering, even reggae, even punk (‘Sling Shot’ certainly sounds punkish to me!). And this, combined with the fact that his guitar playing only keeps improving with the years, results in an album every bit as good as his 1975-76 fusion efforts and in some ways maybe better. ‘Guitar Shop’ starts in and blows you away with that raving soloing and Bozzio’s mad, paranoid drumming (some people find the ‘commercial’ vocal overdubs annoying, but I think they’re just funny).

Then you’ll be forced to tap your foot along to the funky, punchy rhythm of ‘Savoy’, a number that tells you that this album is indeed a worthy successor to Blow By Blow. And check out how fine Hymas contributes to the ecstasy with his well-chosen delicious piano rolls, as Beck plays out his heart. Next, you have your silly reggae groove on ‘Behind The Veil’, a song slightly less impressive than the others but overly nice and quietly pleasant, before getting it all really ‘smoked out’ on ‘Big Block’, the record’s ‘blues masterpiece’. And do not forget that Beck always was primarily a bluesman – not a jazz player, not a heavy metallist, not a popmeister, no, blues is what he always did best, and he’s true to his credo, delivering the goods as rarely before. Plus, Tony has all these ‘majestic’ gloomy synths rolling on as if it were more Black Sabbath than Beck, and it gets so spooooky!

‘Where Were You’ is a bit of a letdown, because it has no rhythm: more mood than substance. Sorry, but Tony Hymas is no Brian Eno, after all: Beck does play nice guitar, once again, but I’m just not thrilled, and Jeff, please never try such things again! Your duty is to boogie! Like on ‘Stand On It’, for instance, a fine fine fine hard rocker with some more mad mad mad drum work by Terry and a crunchy crunchy crunchy guitar riff by Jeff. Overall, though, the second side of the album starts to get a bit repetitive – ‘A Day In The House’ and ‘Two Rivers’ still do not manage to inspire me. The funk groove is slightly overdone on the former, with its really annoying ecological message (‘Mother nature has suffered too long… Nothing is being done’, somebody keeps repeating all the time), and the synths, for once, sounding really cheesy and frustrating. And ‘Two Rivers’ is again much too slow and moody to be of any particular interest to anybody but soundtrack loving people.

And yet – the album is being saved from a seven by the closing ‘Sling Shot’, a pulsating, over-energetic rocker with Jeff at his fastest and the whole band finally locking up tight in the greatest groove on the album. What a great way to finish the album! Why hasn’t this idea occurred to Jeff until 1989, damn, after he’d been hanging around for more than twenty years? This stuff really kicks butt! It might be still a bit ‘fusion-flavoured’, but essentially, it’s just rock of the highest quality. And it’s short, like every trusty punk rocker should be.

In all, I really like this album – maybe the last truly great Jeff Beck record in all. No Jeff fan should be content without having it; and who knows, it might even convert a non-Jeff fan. Nowhere near as groundbreaking as Blow By Blow, of course – but if it’s quality we’re talking about, this album has got quality in spades. And after all, whoever said we need vocals in rock? We don’t!

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Beck Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix People, Hell And Angels (2013)

Hendrix People Hell and AngelsFrom

There’s been no shortage of posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases since the groundbreaking electric guitarist, singer and songwriter died at age 27 in 1970: Only three Hendrix albums charted during his lifetime, while more than three dozen released after his death have made it to the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

Still, the appearance this week of three Hendrix albums constitutes something noteworthy.

First up is “People, Hell and Angels,” a collection of a dozen previously unreleased studio tracks recorded in 1968 and 1969, sessions culled under the direction of the guitarist’s sister, Janie Hendrix, who administers his estate, and producer-engineer Eddie Kramer, who worked closely with Hendrix in those final years of his life.

The idea behind the album was to show new directions Hendrix was exploring, even as the Jimi Hendrix Experience was hitting its commercial peak with its first No. 1 album, “Electric Ladyland,” which spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in October 1968.

The tracks on “People, Hell and Angels” display a tighter, more intimate sound than the characteristic explosiveness of his signature work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the band he formed after that group broke up, Band of Gypsys.

In fact, one of the unreleased tracks included on the new collection, “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” was his first studio session with bassist Billy Cox and Buddy Miles on the road to recording the “Band of Gypsys” album with them. His version of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart” was recorded with Cox and Miles on the same day, May 21, 1969.

The album’s lead-off cut, “Somewhere,” features another ’60s rock guitar hero — Stephen Stills, who Hendrix invited in not for a lead guitar battle but to add bass to tracks that he and dummer Miles had already put down early in 1968. When “Somewhere” was released recently as the first single from the new album, it went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Singles Sales Chart, demonstrating the public’s continuing appetite for significant new Hendrix material from the archives.

Among the other tracks Janie Hendrix and Kramer chose to release are “Crash Landing,” a number that prefigures his song “Freedom”; “Inside Out,” a rock instrumental with a groove similar to “Purple Haze” featuring JHE drummer Mitch Mitchell and Hendrix on both guitar and bass after he’d fallen out with Experience bassist Noel Redding; the funk-rooted “Let Me Move You,” spotlighting saxophonist and singer Lonnie Youngblood; and the jazz-swing instrumental “Easy Blues” with Cox, Mitchell, rhythm guitarist Larry Lee and percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.

“People, Hell and Angels” is the second release of new studio material under a contract Experience Hendrix LLC entered three years ago with Sony Legacy, the first being 2010’s “Valleys of Neptune,” consisting of his final recordings with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix People Hell And Angels | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck Wired (1976)


Evidently, Blow By Blow left Jeff’s ambitions at least partially unsatisfied, because Wired is at the same time more of the same and a ‘step forward’. Yup, I put that last expression in quotes because I don’t really feel the necessity of these new additions, and, frankly speaking, I can hardly imagine how anything could be a serious improvement over Blow By Blow if its main genre specification was still left intact.

Some people actually prefer this one, but it all boils down to one important question: whether you can stand forty minutes of exclusively well performed, but primarily dance-oriented funk. While the playing might be a bit more tight and compact, the overall mood of the record is much too monotonous and strained in order for you to patiently sit through it in one sitting. After all, Blow By Blow was an interesting hodgepodge, with everything from basic rock’n’roll to funk to disco to reggae to soul thrown together in a melting pot.

On here, the band mostly sticks to a cleverly thought out, but very uniform funky groove, recreating just about three or four melodies throughout the whole record with nothing to hold on to them: for one thing, there’s nary a single interesting riff to be found; ‘Blue Wind’ is the one notable exception, but otherwise the tunes don’t really have a lot going for them in the memorability department. Beck’s soloing is as sparkling and technically brilliant as always, but isn’t a good solo just a fine bit of icing on the cake? Whilst the cake presented to us here is definitely not an exquisite one.

This might have something to do with different factors. First of all, not even a single tune on the whole record is credited to Jeff himself – a shame, since, for instance, the only song on BBB that he penned totally by himself, was ‘Constipated Duck’, and it had arguably the best and most exciting riff on the whole album. On Wired, he places all the songwriting in the hands of his half-inspired band members: thus, four of eight tunes are written by his drummer Michael Walden, one by his bassist Wilbur Bascomb, and one each by two of his keyboardists. (The eighth number is a sleepy, undistinguishable and undistinguished cover of Charlie Mingus’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ – some of Beck’s solos on that one do come close to ‘romantic’, but I usually shut it off because of the dreary, lethargic introduction).

Second, a significant factor in song arrangements has taken place: instead of George Martin’s orchestral arrangements, we now have new band member Jan Hammer move the group further into the direction of hi-fi technologies and robotic synthesizers. The keyboards are very prominent on the album: sometimes the synths are just used to distort Beck’s guitar, but most often they play an independent part, with Hammer reveling in his ‘techniques’ and turning the songs into an unlistenable mess (‘Led Boots’, ‘Come Dancing’, etc., all suffer from this hi-tech treatment).

Of course, they are in no way cheesy: the album’s mood is set to ‘funk’, and the keyboards are funky – what else should they be? But I’m just not that big a fan of funk – I can put up with a bouncy bassline or a generic wah-wah solo now and then, but forty minutes of ‘synthesized funk’ simply bore the daylights out of me. Especially when even the better numbers are constantly diluted with wanky filler like ‘Head For Backstage Pass’, with pro forma guitar solos that could have been marvelous on records by lesser acts, but sound indulgent and uninteresting by Jeff’s own standards.

I don’t even know how to describe these songs, they sound so much alike, except for perhaps the closing number, the semi-acoustic ‘Love Is Green’, which can be rated as an emotional masterpiece or as a deadly dull minimalistic piece, depending on your degree of Beck fanaticism. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the album is that it’s excellent to dance to – Walden’s ‘Come Dancing’, after all, invites you to do exactly that, and the drive and level of energy are so high that it’ll get you up (and down, and up, and down again). However, when they try to go for something more ‘serious’, they fail miserably.

Only on ‘Sophie’ and ‘Blue Wind’ (the first by Walden, the second by Hammer) they manage to strike some interesting chords. Namely, ‘Blue Wind’ is probably the most well-structured number on the record, with Beck’s guitar taking a highly prominent role and delivering some crunchy riffs and excellently constructed, memorable solos; and ‘Sophie’ has that weird, intriguing guitar line in the beginning and the end (i.e., in the slow intro and coda sections) that really shows Beck’s main talent – coming up with a brilliant melodic snippet once in a long while.

That said, professionalism and skill are still oozing out of every square inch of this record, and I figure it would be kinda rude to put down a record so flawlessly performed and recorded. And, come to think of it, there is a certain advantage to this kind of arrangements: Wired really sounds like the work of a band, not just a showcase of Beck’s guitar talents. Okay, a duet – apart from Beck and Hammer, the other players are understated – but a duet is still better than a solo, from a certain point of view, at least.

Not to mention that this is real great party music, especially for those who would like to go beyond Kiss and AC/DC for their parties. In other words, the album has enough small merits of its own to guarantee it a decent rating, despite the fact that it has nothing even closely remote to a ‘soul’ of its own. Oh, well, at least it ain’t modern classical.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Beck Wired | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix People, Hell And Angels (2013)

Hendrix People Hell and AngelsFrom

The folks who cobbled together “People, Hell & Angels,” for the estate of the late Jimi Hendrix, have been making a lot of broad claims about their product.

It’s supposed to give us 12 “previously unreleased” studio recordings “completed” by Hendrix. It’s also meant to provide a “compelling window into his growth as a songwriter, musician and producer,” offering “tantalizing new clues” to the direction Hendrix was testing for a fourth studio album. This was to be a proposed double-set sequel to 1968’s “Electric Ladyland.”

Of course, Hendrix never recorded — let alone released — that album, so it’s hard to say just how “complete” the man himself may have considered these songs. While it’s true none of these recordings have come out before, nearly all have been issued in different versions in the 43 years since the guitar god left this earthly plane.

In that time, it seems like more “lost” Hendrix recordings have been found than we now have reality shows — some of them every bit as dubious. As a consequence, only the most extreme Hendrix-ologist could divine the precise rarity of these recordings. But even a cursory listen makes this clear: The newfangled, and boldly explorative, Hendrix alleged here, captured between 1968 and ’69, doesn’t sound all that different from the one we’ve long loved. At root, it’s still killer psychedelic rock-soul, very much of its time.

The disc does find the icon working with some different musicians, including Steven Stills (on bass!), along with a second guitarist on some tracks (h is old friend Larry Lee).

Hendrix also brings in horns and other singers for some cameos. Even if these “clues” somehow “tantalize” you, they hardly provide solid evidence of any revolutionary direction fans might have imagined for the icon.

Of course, the mold Hendrix already set had more than enough juice and innovation to thrill, and if you’re a nerd about this stuff, the incremental changes teased here will excite.

It’s fun to hear the guitar immortal working with horns. In “Let Me Move You,” he features saxist Lonnie Youngblood for a blisteringly fast rock-soul workout, much in the manic mode of Ike and Tina Turner. “Mojo Man” sees Hendrix helping out old Harlem friends, the Ghetto Fighters, who sing lead, while horns pump and a rolling piano brings in a touch of New Orleans.

The funky take on “Crash Landing” rescues it from a 1975 version that caused a scandal by employing posthumously tacked-on studio musicians. But the most worthy cut is “Easy Blues,” an instrumental that’s twice as long as a take that appeared on a now-out-of-print album from 1981. As guitarist Lee plays foil, Hendrix peels out leads that fly so high, they’ll leave every guitarist who came in his wake reeling in wonder.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix People Hell And Angels | | Leave a comment

Supertramp Crisis? What Crisis? (1975)


Before starting the Supertramp reviews, I figured Crisis? What Crisis? would get a 10/15, which is a grade I reserve for albums that are good but have a number of flaws. The reason for that is this is the only classic Supertramp album from their 1974-1979 Golden Age that I rarely listen to. Another reason: This is a marked step down from their previous album, Crime of the Century, even though it’s done in the exact same style. And nobody likes inferior sequels.

It turns out there is a pretty good reason Crisis? What Crisis? succumbed to inferior-sequel-itis: After this group finally came out with an album that sold, their record company–being a record company–wanted a follow-up to come out as quickly as possible. The only way they could comply was to use leftover songs. Nevertheless, as I was listening to this album extensively to prepare this review, I found out that I was actually enjoying these songs quite a bit. Sure, it’s main problem is that these songs don’t quite hit me like the peak songs of Crime of the Century–nothing that quite matches the staying power of “Hide in Your Shell,” “Bloody Well Right,” or “School.” However, if you liked the other songs of that album, then you ought to like these songs almost equally as much.

It starts with “Easy Does It” a lighthearted, two-minute pop song that reminds me of solo-Paul McCartney. The melody is cute and likeable. What else do you expect from it? That’s followed up with “Sister Moonshine,” which is such a strong tune that I think it ought to be included on Supertramp’s Greatest Hits compilations. I guess the only thing holding it back was something technical: It wasn’t a hit. However, it contains so many melodic/instrumental turns that catch my ear and make the song into a delight.

“Ain’t Nobody But Me” is darker and characterized by a heavy, sultry piano, wobbly guitar and watery Hammond organ. The chorus it breaks into is more soaring and thoughtful, and you know, it’s choruses like those that made me turn into a Supertramp fan in the first place. It might not be as memorable as one of their hits, but it has soul. “Soapbox Opera” is a theatrical ballad that comes off as a bit unfocused and not nearly as BIG as I think it could have been, but I like its thick atmosphere, and there are also plenty of interesting vocal hooks interspersed throughout.

“Lady” isn’t a Styx cover, so you can safely remove your fingers from your ears as it starts up. It’s a pretty bright and punchy pop-rock number with solid pop hooks and *sigh* more of those rapid-pace electric keyboards. That is, I don’t particularly mind that style–on principle–but that’s another example of them shoving it at you. “Another Man’s Woman” definitely has its moments, but so much of its six-minute running length is little more than space-out fodder. Albeit entertaining space-out fodder.

“Just a Normal Day” is a ballad that starts off awfully slow, but a saxophone comes in during the final third and lifts my spirits quite a bit. Really, I think this is proof that all ballads need a good saxophone solo. Some even meatier saxophone plays during “The Meaning,” which is a rather dark epic featuring plenty of loud, soaring vocals weaving its way through a theatrical melody. The concluding song is “Two of Us” (not to be confused with The Beatles song!) which is a very slow-moving ballad with a strumming acoustic guitar and a thick church-like, organ in the background. It’s sort of an underwhelming conclusion; however, that oboe solo toward the end is beautiful.

In the end, this album was a step down for the group. However, it’s not as large of a step down as some people (including actual members of the group) claim it is. While this does lack a definitive hit single, the quality of these songs/arrangements continue to be high. From now on, I’m going to think of this as nothing less than a fitting companion piece to Crime of the Century.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Supertramp Crisis? What Crisis? | | Leave a comment