Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Roll Over Beethoven (Miami, February 1969)


Thee Image Club, Miami, FL – February 14th, 1969

Disc 1: Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed & Confused, Killing Floor (includes Lemon Song, Needle Blues, You’ll Be Mine), Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (includes Reflections On My Mind), How Many More Times (includes Roll Over Beethoven)

Disc 2: White Summer/Black Mountain Side, As Long As I Have You (includes Fresh Garbage, Hush Little Baby, Shake), You Shook Me, Pat’s Delight

When this tape first surfaced it caused a considerable amount of discussion about its date. It was first thought to be from the January 17th, 1969 show in Detroit and all of the silver releases have reflected that. Snowblind on Archive Productions (LZ-SC-80-04) was the first commercial release and has most of the tape except for “How Many More Times” and “Pat’s Delight”.

The Image Club (RDM-942002A/B) Rag Doll Music is the first to feature a more complete edition with the omitted tracks from the Archive release included. Tarantura released Yellow Zeppelin (T2CD-011-1/2); a lavish production with the band and their manager transported into the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie and comes with a T-shirt of the cover design. (What the connection is between the two is still a mystery). Finally one of the first Image Quality releases was Reflections On My Mind (IQ-005/6) which was basically a copy of the Tarantura release.

Roll Over Beethoven is the first release of this tape in more than a decade and the first to have the corrected date, February 14th, and the correct venue, Thee Image Club (and not The Image Club as the others). Recently another piece of date appeared which challenges the date.

An article titled “Going To California” in the magazine Q Special Edition Led Zeppelin, Dave DiMartino writes: “As fate would have it, this writer was in attendance during the group’s final shows of the first tour on 15 February, 1969 at a small club in Miami called Thee Image. A revamped, hippyfied bowling alley, the club featured a surprising number of A-list acts…As fate would further have it, somebody had a tape recorder running” and goes on to describe this tape exactly. Since the tapers themselves say this is the first of the two Miami shows that is most likely correct. DiMartino’s claim would be more convincing if he had a ticket stub or something else to corroborate his story.

There are no strong indications on the tape itself that would place this on the first or second show. Plant mentions, “we’ve been here four days”. The show previous to this was in Memphis on February 10th, so the comment seems to back up the February 14th attribution. Regardless it is a good to very good audience recording taped close to the stage and is very clear. Like many other gigs on the first tour the small venue works to the taper’s advantage.

“How Many More Times” is cut after eleven minutes during the violin bow solo missing most of the medley and the second set ends with “Pat’s Delight”. It is possible their show ended with the drum solo (the December 31st, 1968 Spokane tape does), but it is hard to believe they didn’t end with “Communication Breakdown”.

They weren’t opening for anyone, so perhaps they went over a curfew? The two discs cover each set and they list is pretty standard with no big surprises. There are some missed cues like Plant missing his entrance in the opening song and Page stumbling out of the violin bow solo in “Dazed & Confused”.

This is the third recorded reference for “Killing Floor” and the longest with Plant throwing in many blues references almost turning this into a medley. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” contains the mysterious “reflections on my mind” lyrics. The highlight of the second set is one of the best versions of “As Long As I Have You” with the earliest recorded glimpses of “Heartbreaker”. The tape ends with an energetic drum solo in “Pat’s Delight”, one of the better versions from the first tour.

The tape cuts out abruptly after that. This comes packaged in Empress Valley’s unique long box cardboard case. The cover picture is one of the Chateau Marmont shots from Los Angeles in May 1969. The back picture is from a summer festival with heavy police security. Sometimes this packaging is annoying but here it works well giving a lot to look at. EV seems to have boosted the volume more than the others making this more listenable and is well worth having.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Roll Over Beethoven | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Empire Strikes Back (Wembley London, November 1971)


Wembley Arena, London, England – November 20th, 1971

Disc 1 (60:21): Introduction, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Rock and Roll, Stairway to Heaven, Going to California, That’s the Way, Tangerine

Disc 2 (56:41): Dazed and Confused, What Is and What Should Never Be, Celebration Day, Moby Dick

Disc 2 (24:06): Whole Lotta Love

Led Zeppelin’s first London shows after the release of the fourth LP were two at the Wembley Arena billed Electric Magic. These were two five hour long extravaganzas with many opening acts like Stone The Crows and performing animals on stage. Nearly 10,000 tickets were sold out within an hour before the second night was added. Empire Strikes Back presents the almost complete tape for the first night.

It is a distant and distorted but listenable recording. There is a cut in at 23:52 in “Dazed And Confused” and one after “Whole Lotta Love” eliminating the encores “Communication Breakdown,” “Thank You” and whatever else they chose to play. The earliest releases of the show include The Electric Magic Show (Mad Dogs-033/34), Magik (Tarantura EM-001, 2), and Electric Magic Show(Apple No. 376) on CDR. These three were all missing missing “Immigrant Song” and most of “Whole Lotta Love” and the Tarantura and Apple were also missing “Tangerine” and most of “Moby Dick.” 2352

In 2003 Electric Magic Show Definitive Edition(Electric Magic EMC-023 A/B) was released with contained ”Dancing Days” from the December 23rd, 1972 London show and “What Is And What Should Never Be” and “Celebration Day” switched places. Empire Strikes Back has all of the known tape from the show in the correct order and without the inserted faux-”Dancing Days.” For silver pressed editions, this stands as the definitive statement of the Electric Magic show at Wembley.

The press were very enthusiastic for this performance. Melody Maker claimed “the atmosphere almost leaps off the stage. Led Zeppelin performed Friday night and 9,000 of them put their hands above their heads and got their Saturday night rocks off” and NME writes that this is “What the true essence of rock and roll is about.”

Despite the plaudits received, this is a good show but Zeppelin sound too uptight for it to be a magical night. There are some embaressing moments too such as the loud bum note at the end of “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The were contending with various factors such as the length of the show and the temperature in the venue. In fact, Plant’s first words to the audience are “are you cold?”

Things do warm up as the show progresses however, especially with very heavy version of “Black Dog” and “Stairway To Heaven,” two newer numbers. But the acoustic set in the middle is truly intimate and a highlight of the set. By the winter UK tour they had added “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” but that is dropped from the set this night, so the acoustic set is three songs long instead of two.

There is a bit of a “technical hitch” before they proceed with “Dazed And Confused” which still holds similarities to the version played in the BBC the previous April including the spaced out coda. “Moby Dick” makes a rare appearance in the set since it has been dropped for this particular tour. ”Whole Lotta Love” lasts twenty-five minutes and includes the normal songs in the medley with “Boogie Chillun’,” “Hello Mary Lou” and ending with “Going Down Slow.”

Empire Strike Back is limited to 150 numbered copies. The discs are enclosed in a thick tri-fold cardboard sleeve which is housed in a box with the same cover design ad the sleeve and with a T-shirt, much in the same design as the Winterland boxset. Given this the sound quality and this is the only silver release with the complete tape, this stands as definitive (until another tape surfaces).

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Empire Strike Back | , | Leave a comment

Stanley Clarke The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection (2012)


Legacy Recordings’ recent spate of Complete Albums Collection box sets have righted a whole slew of wrongs by bringing long out-of-print recordings back in a reasonably priced and tidily collected series. They may be relatively light on production values—simple clamshell-style boxes, mini-LP cardboard sleeves, and booklets whose information, beyond detailed track and personnel listings, is largely dependent upon how much the artist has to say, if anything at all—but the opportunity to collect an entire discography from a specific period in time is plenty compelling enough.

Some boxes have included sought-after bonus material to entice existing fans, like the recently released Mahavishnu Orchestra The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (2011) which, in addition to a bonus live track tacked onto the group’s seminal The Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971), fleshed out the skimpy, single-disc Between Nothingness and Eternity (Columbia, 1973) to a two-disc set with a full extra hour of music. Elsewhere, however, the addition of two CDs containing Weather Report performances of compositions by founding member Wayne Shorter seemed like an odd way to flesh out the saxophonist’s The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (2011), given that three of the four other recordings in the box were long out of print and, for completists, incentive enough.

Stanley Clarke’s The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection doesn’t have any bonus material, and the virtuosic bassist has less than fifty words to contribute to his booklet. Still, by collecting his five recordings from 1974-78 (some out of print for years) plus a live recording that was not released until 1991 (Live 1976-1977), Legacy presents a good opportunity to look back and reassess the music of a bassist who, back in the day, was amongst the most influential on his instrument—for better and for worse. Clarke’s meteoric rise was, perhaps, only eclipsed by the late Jaco Pastorius, whose own one-two-three punch in 1976— Jaco Pastorius (Epic), his first appearance with Weather Report on Black Market (Columbia), and lyrical work with the increasingly jazz-focused singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell on Hejira (Asylum)—demonstrated greater compositional and stylistic breadth, and a stronger jazz disposition, even as Clarke moved further into the arenas of funk and rock over the course of these recordings.

Stanley Clarke (Epic, 1974) was the bassist’s second album following Children of Forever (Polydor, 1973), and in some ways those two recordings mirrored Clarke’s ongoing work in Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, his debut, a more acoustic and straight-ahead session that reflected the similar (albeit more Latin) bent on RTF’s self-titled 1972 ECM debut and bigger cross-over hit, Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973). When RTF went more fully electric later that year, with the guitar-heavy, high-octane Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973), so, too, did Clarke—even going so far as to recruit Hymn’s six-stringer, Bill Connors, for Stanley Clarke. It’s no surprise, either, that the line-up mirrors RTF, although in order to provide some differentiation Clarke opts for drummer Tony Williams and, in a particularly inspired move, ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra keyboardist Jan Hammer, whose guitar-like Mini-Moog synth playing was always more credible than Corea’s less meaty tones. There’s plenty of formidable soloing, amidst writing that ranges from the straightforward and groove-laden (“Lopsy Lu,” “Vulcan Princess”) to the more ambitious (“Spanish Phases for Strings & Bass”) and expansive (the four-part “Life Suite”), both orchestrated by Michael Gibbs and some of Clarke’s best overall work on record.

Journey to Love (1975) delivers more of the same, though the same amping up of testosterone that was taking place over in RTF-land with the recruitment of Al Di Meola to replace the departing Connors, means that Clarke’s third album as a leader began pumping up the muscle, too. Still, a core group with drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist David Sancious and, in particular, keyboardist George Duke (with whom Clarke would later collaborate for three records with the Clarke/Duke Project between 1981 and 1990) meant that the grooves were even deeper on tracks like “Silly Putty” and the title track. Blasphemous though it may seem, when it came to laying it down with direct and largely unadorned simplicity, beautifully behind the beat and always in the pocket, Gadd trumped the often busier Williams.

The album also introduced a larger cast of characters beyond the strings and horns, with RTF-mate Corea and Mahavishnu’s John McLaughlin collaborating on the all-acoustic, two-part “Song to John” (dedicated to saxophonist John Coltrane that made Journey to Love even more eclectic than its predecessor. Jeff Beck—whose Blow by Blow, released on the same label that same year and which moved the British rock god closer to Clarke with his own brand of fusion—guests on “Hello Jeff,” a sign from the bassist that he was taking the “rock” side of the jazz-rock equation very seriously, while “Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra” demonstrated the Clarke had learned some lessons from working with Gibbs on Stanley Clarke, though Gibbs never demonstrated the same degree of outright bombast.

But it would be Clarke’s third album for Epic, 1976’s School Days, that would introduce two players who would remain key for the rest of Clarke’s ’70s Epic tenure. It was Clarke’s most successful album, charting the highest in both the Billboard pop and jazz charts. A more focused recording that retained all the bass pyrotechnics that Clarke had honed on his earlier releases and through extensive touring with RT—the bassist sometimes reaching a degree of blinding speed unequalled by anyone until Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, two unmistakable Clarke protégés, emerged about a decade apart—but with a leaner, more direct approach. With the exception of the episodic closer, “Life is Just a Game” and the acoustic reprise with McLaughlin and, this time, percussionist Milt Holland on “Desert Song,” there was also a focus on largely shorter songs, including a very radio-friendly 2:55 running time with the frenzied funk of “Hot Fun.”

Drummer Gerry Brown appears with Clarke for the first time, and it’s his work here, combining some of Gadd’s grease with a busier approach more in keeping with the rest of his band mates (Gadd often flying in direct contrast, capable of massive chops but rarely resorting to them) that, no doubt, led to his recruitment for RTF following its post-Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976) flip from guitar-heavy to brass and string-driven. Guitarist Raymond Gomez leaned considerably more to the visceral feel of Bill Connors, rather than the admittedly virtuosic but somehow soulless mechanics of Di Meola, but possessed greater dexterity to match some of Clarke’s seemingly impossible gymnastics.

If Clarke’s first three recordings for Epic represented a muscular and extremely impressive trilogy of outrageous bombast, bringin’ home the funk, arena rock-centricities and the occasional glimmer of tasteful restraint and lower-volume acoustics, then 1977’s Modern Man amplified the very worst of Clarke’s traits and almost completely eliminated the positives. Clarke had sung before, and on each of his recordings—not to mention becoming more key in that role, alongside Corea’s wife, Gayle Moran, in the MusicMagic (Columbia, 1977) incarnation of RTF—but Modern Man features his singing on two radio-intended Earth, Wind & Fire rip-offs (“He Lives On” and “Got to Find My Own Place”) and an extended and excessive rework of one of RTF’s best songs on the first side of No Mystery (Polydor, 1975), the ebullient “Dayride.”

“It’s people like you what’s cause unrest,” Monty Python’s John Cleese once said, and it’s tracks like “Opening (Statement)” and “Closing (Statement)” that began to give ’70s fusion a (somewhat deservedly) bad name, including kitchen sink production values (including Clarke’s “Cast of Thousands” footstompers and James Fiducia’s 44 Magnum gun), with too much information vying for attention, and most of it superfluous and downright distracting. If School Days represented Clarke at his powerful best, Modern Man was the bassist at his ego-fueled worst.

With little else to go but up, I Wanna Play For You was a significant improvement, although its odd combination of live and studio recordings makes for an uneven listen. In the studio, Clarke continues to move towards a strange mix of R&B and flat-out rock ‘n’ roll, with the synth-driven “All About” sounding like a strange harbinger of what was to come in AOR—and not in a good way. And if “Jamaican Boy” finds Clarke getting “ire with I,” the actual melodies have become a little repetitive—Clarke’s thumb-popping, finger-slapping approach to layering themes over low-end harmonic movement beginning to lose its freshness.

Still, there’s less excess, as Clarke relies largely on smaller groups and guest turns by saxophonist Tom Scott, George Duke and Freddie Hubbard, though the trumpeter is hard-pushed to do much with the discofied, handclap-driven “Together Again.” This double-disc release of I Wanna Play for You does, however, return it to its original running order, the previous CD release omitting three tracks, in order to squeeze it onto a single CD, and reordering it so that the studio and live tracks are segregated. Not that it was a bad idea, as the live material definitely eclipses the studio tracks, even the more straight-ahead “Blues for Mingus,” which sticks out as a superfluous piece of esoterica. Still, Clarke’s high-speed volleys over Gerry Brown and pianist Michael Garson’s incendiary playing on the too-brief “Off the Planet” makes clear that Clarke’s lost none of his jazz cred—he’s just chosen to bury it.

Live 1976-1977 is the album that delivers on I Wanna Play For You’s promise of four live songs totaling just 30 minutes. The only crossovers are the title track to School Days and the softer “Quiet Afternoon” from the same album, here given an even better reading with the inclusion of Bob Malach and Alfie Williams’ flutes. And while “Dayride” is expanded from the version on RTF’s No Mystery, this version works where the one on Modern Man didn’t, sporting a set-defining soprano saxophone solo from Williams. The heavily scored “The Magician,” first heard on RTF’s Romantic Warrior, actually works better here, with Al Harrison and James Tinsley’s horns grounding it more than Corea’s synths. Recorded largely from two tours with line-ups that, including horns, range in size from the duo of “Bass Folk Song No. 2” to the full-blown septet of “Lopsy Lu”—and with Raymond Gomez and Gerry Brown the constants throughout—these performances are leaner, meaner and far better than anything on I Wanna Play for You.

All of which gives The Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection a score of somewhere considerably less than perfect: four superbly strong recordings in Stanley Clarke, Journey to Love, School Days and Live 1976-1977; one dud with Modern Man and one middling recording with I Wanna Play For You. Sometimes you’ve gotta take the bad with the good, and if the bad here is, indeed, very bad, then the good—for fans of a time when major labels supported unfettered (and, admittedly, sometimes overreaching) experimentation, to the betterment and detriment of all—is very, very good. Clarke’s successes largely outweigh his failures, rendering them, if not exactly acceptable, then certainly ignorable.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Stanley Clarke Complete 70s Epic Albums Collection | | Leave a comment

Santana Abraxas (1970)


Aaaahh, the days when bands were so productive that you knew what to buy your loved ones each Christmas Day. Abraxas – the name was copped from Herman Hesse’s Demian – was released a year after the eponymous debut and basically continues in the same vein as its predecessor. However, this impression results more from the fact that the band’s sound was so unique and convincing, and not because they didn’t evolve. No other band sounded like Santana at the time (and yes – no band ever sounded like them since), and no guitar player has ever succeeded in successfully imitating Carlos’ stellar guitar playing.

After many listens, it becomes clear that Abraxas digs deeper than Santana, offers a bit more variation and contains more substantial material, as some of the early material was obviously the result of many hours of jamming. For some reason the band wasn’t that pleased with the sonic quality of the debut and spent much more time and money on recording Abraxas and it is noticeable as it sounds absolutely immaculate, organic and warm, with enough muscle and attention for detail. Just crank up the volume during “Se a Cabo” and listen to the percussion, check out how it exploits the potential of stereo, how it jumps into your living room, targets your hips.

The music is – if possible – even classier than before: sensual percussion and exotic grooves, nicely flowing organ parts, swirling guitar work-outs that sound like the psychedelic/bluesy counterparts of John McLaughlin’s spiritual fusion. From the exotic mood piece that opens the album (check out the feverish organ-parts and creepy guitar effects) to the arousing dittie that closes the album, Abraxas is, as the album cover suggests, an exotic fusion of the sensual and the spiritual, of mind and body, primal beats and refined playing. It’s exactly this combination that makes many fusion bands out there quite boring and clumsy, but this band got away with it, as the sincerity speaks for itself and relentless creativity keeps it focused. It’s quite stunning that the album managed to keep such a great flow intact, as no less than four band members contribute songs.

The marvellous album highlight “Incident at Neshabur” was written by Carlos and blues pianist Albert Gianquinto and seems to include nearly every facet of this band: there’s some red-hot percussion action, jazzy soloing by Carlos which takes ’em closer to the Mahavishnu than ever before and when the song suddenly transforms into a moody laidback vibe, you’re – as the liner notes suggest – suddenly damn close to Burt Bacharach’s orchestrated lounge-pop. The other Santana-composition, and the one you’re likely familiar with, is “Samba Pa Ti.” Hated by some (I have a friend who insists on calling it “Samba Paté”), loved by others, it’s the band at its smoothest, with vaseline-soft guitar playing by Carlos and subtle backing by the rest of the band. Usually these songs that are fondly remembered by 40-50-somethings (“Do you remember that was the first time you kissed me, Robert?” – “Yes, I do” answers Robert as his eyes don’t leave the TV-screen for a second,… it’s the Super Bowl!) are nothing much to speak of, but in this case I’ll make an exception: it’s downright pretty and even sexy, in a way.

Percussionist Jose Areas also adds two contributions: the short album closer (“El Nicoya) and the more traditional sounding “Se a Cabo,” a fierce combination of salsa heat and rock energy. As opposed to those, Rollie adds the more rock-oriented songs to the album: “Mother’s Daughter” and “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” with especially the latter sounding powerful, driven by a tough riff and topped off by some exquisite soloing. However, ultimately it’s the covers that made people by this album in the first place, as the Santanasation of Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” peaked at #4 in the charts and probably became the most familiar version of the song (even with the “Gypsy Queen”-part tagged to the end). “Oye Como Va” functions as this album’s “Evil Ways” – a combination of the familiar (rock tradition) and the unknown (exotic sounds) that appeals to the audiences of both.

By many considered to be the absolute peak of Santana (the band), Abraxas still stands as the band’s most accessible, and perhaps most innovative record, one that can easily compete with most “classics” from its era.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Santana Abraxas | | Leave a comment

Supertramp Crime Of The Century (1974)


Sheez, if every following Supertramp album is going to have the same rating (third time in a row already!), they’ll have to earn the title of the most consistently “pleasant mediocre” band in the world. Heck, they probably were the most pleasant mediocre band in the world, so who cares?

Anyway, after a couple years of decline and a radical change of band lineup (which now featured a near-full brass section and a new drummer), Supertramp emerged on the British art-rock scene again, with a record that hearkened back to the debut, but with a few significant changes in the sound. Apart from ‘Dreamer’, all of the songs are consistently ‘artsy’, with no straightforward rockers or rootsy inclinations at all; on the other hand, the running times for most of the songs lie somewhere within the five-six minutes range, so at least the band stays away from massive overblown epics. Any special sound characteristics? That’s the most intricate moment: it’s very hard to characterize Crime, as there are too many subtle variations on the basic style to sum it up in one sentence. Roughly speaking, you might envisage it as a continuation of the style developed on Supertramp (i.e. the jazz-folksy vibe a la Traffic), with a bit more pomposity and ambitious seriousness thrown in for good measure. Plus, don’t forget that Supertramp were always making their music more accessible for the general public – most of these songs could have served as decent pop numbers in another age. Even so, I can’t really accuse the album of inadequacy: this might be a pop record disguising itself as an ambitious progressive symphony, but there’s enough humbleness and enough taste and modest scarcity in the arrangements not to make you puke.

Of course, it’s another question if somebody actually needs this album. Because none of the songs, not even the best ones, have any kind of immediate hooks or unique moods, and when, after a lot of listens, these hooks and moods finally appear, the reaction is, like, ‘That’s it?’ Perhaps the best thing about the album is the ominous harmonica solo that opens the lead-in number, ‘School’, after which it just gets all neat and tricky, with cutesy little guitars popping in and out, Hodgson’s ‘miserable’ vocals once again reinstating the feeling of loneliness and being outcast, and a pretty piano-based ‘dance’ mid-section. Very nice mood music. In contrast, ‘Bloody Well Right’ is a bit more gruff – the lengthy introduction has a great gimmick in the short period of wah-wah riffage, while the main part has Rick Davies borrow on music hall legacy once again. Very funny throwaway piece.

‘Hide In Your Shell’, meanwhile, is far darker and even more ‘miserable’ than ‘School’, in parts, a six-minute mini-epic that has its nice moments, but really lacks solid riffs or gorgeous vocal hooks to help it get along. I mean, that ‘if I can help you if I can help you…’ section is pretty catchy, but not in a McCartneyesque kind of way. In that respect, I really prefer the pathetic soul groove of ‘Asylum’, where Rick Davies makes his finest performance on the album. I don’t even want to know what the heck he’s singing about, but he’s singing well, and you gotta admit, just to hear him groan ‘please don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum, I’m just as sane as anyone’ is extremely pleasant. A hard-to-take song it is, though, quite unlike ‘Dreamer’, the most poppy number on the album, with Hodgson assuming a particularly ‘kiddish’ vocal tone that undoubtedly made many a rock lover vomit on the spot. Not me, though – I can take even that kind of bubblegum.

Then there’s ‘Rudy’, which is very similar to ‘Bloody Well Right’, and there’s ‘If Everyone Was Listening’, which is very similar to ‘Rudy’ and also very similar to some song off The Lamb Lies Down I can’t remember the title of right now, and then there’s the title track which is slow and grim and over-orchestrated and multi-layered and actually quite impressive because all the layers in the lengthy coda are underpinned by a wonderful piano riff. And then there’s the realisation that the album’s over, and then there’s that ‘That’s it?’ thingie I already mentioned. Because, to be frank, there’s just nothing that special – all the time, you’re kinda waiting that the band is gonna take off NOW, and they actually never take off.

But don’t get me wrong: this is a good album, the kind of album that may become one of your personal favourites on repeated listenings. You know the best thing about good albums? Any good album (if only it is good, and not bad) may become a great album on repeated listenings! That’s where Supertramp fans come from! Thank God I have to go listen to other records now – with a couple dozen more listens, I’ll become a Supertramp fan!

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Supertramp Crime Of The Century | | Leave a comment

The Faces Long Player (1971)


The Faces had entirely worked out their formula on their second LP – so, without further thought, they just named it ‘LP’ for short. And that formula? Play whatever you want, however you want and for whatever purpose you want. Long Player is essentially ‘punk for bluesheads’: your typical barroom band guaranteed to give you enough pleasure while you sit and sip at your beer, but – for some perverse reason – elevated to the position of superstars.

Oh well. Perverse, maybe, but not accidental. The biggest problem with this record is that it goes for far too long without being completely adequate: there are, like, maybe two or three minor original ideas on the album, and even when they take somebody else’s idea, they hardly manage to improve on it. Need proof? Just put on track number five, a live rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. It’s actually not bad at all – apart from the fact that Ronnie Lane sings the first verse and he’s got even less of a singing voice than Ronnie Wood. But no amount of piano heroics courtesy of Mr McLagan and even no amount of wailing by Rod Stewart himself are gonna make me prefer this version to the original, simply because a song like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ isn’t supposed to be played that way. That is, the song is perfectly suited for an arena-rock atmosphere (and it was probably envisaged that way), but it has to be played tight, compact and improvisation-less, just to let the listener catch hold of all the subtle details of the melody. These guys just sound like they had one too many Martinis. ‘Just about warming up and getting into it right about here’, Rod says at the end, and it seems like the absolute truth – problem is, these guys always sounded like they were ‘just about warming up and getting into it right about here’.

Nevertheless, the sheer raw enthusiasm of several of the tracks on here and the Faces’ instrumental prowess do compensate for the bad, ‘distracted’ sides of the record. Ronnie Wood opens the album on a great note, with a sneering, ragged riff that constitutes the meat of ‘Bad ‘N’ Ruin’, and the band rips into one of the best rockers of their career: Stewart’s screams of ‘MOTHER YOU WON’T RECOGNIZE ME NOW!’ will light the inner fire in your soul and wake the sleeping dragon in your heart, if I might use a couple cliched poetic metaphors. (Actually, I hate cliched poetic metaphors; that’s probably why I’m so keen on using them.) And if that’s not enough, ‘Had Me A Real Good Time’, the album’s heaviest and most uncompromised track, is even better, with Kenny Jones kicking away with a nearly John Bonham-ish force and the band reveling in their braggard, raunchy style for all its worth. I, for one, wish Stewart’s powerhouse vocals were a wee bit higher in the mix (which reminds me of a problem – the glorious word ‘shit’ is too melodious an epithet to describe the album’s production), but then again, maybe it’s only for the better: the vocals blend in with the screeching guitars and boogie pianos to form a single, multi-headed monster of a sound. Those who don’t seek anything but innovation in music will probably be horrified, but those who emphasize sincerity and effectiveness will be delighted more than a wolf in sight of a lamb. (Today’s my day for idiotic metaphors, it seems). And to top it all, Stones’ veteran Bobby Keys adds some delightful sax solos in the ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ vein.

Of course, they almost manage to ruin it by including an eight-minute live version of Big Bill Broonzie’s ‘I Feel So Good’, but there are three factors that redeem it: (a) it’s a generic blues cover, and who can resist a great generic blues cover?; (b) the boys play like drunk schizophrenics, which is great fun; (c) Rod totally delights in his functions, especially when he fools around with the audience, urging it to sing along. Hmm. I actually see that out of the three reasons above, only the last one can qualify as a pro argument. Never mind, let’s move on.

The rest of the album is considerably softer – a couple ballads and a couple countryish/folkish ditties. When it comes to ballads (quite funny, that one), it becomes quite clear, at least, to me, what exactly makes a typical folk ballad superate a typical soul ballad. Namely, Lane’s ‘Tell Everyone’ is monotonous, repetitive, simplistic and only highlighted by a sincere enough Stewart vocal delivery, while the entire band’s ‘Sweet Lady Mary’ is a definite highlight of the record: beautiful interplay between acoustic and electric guitars over the background of a swirling, winterish organ is complemented by the most passionate, tender and loving vocals on the entire record. The song is a perfect ballad for your beloved one – just substitute the ‘Mary’ for whoever you want and whoops, you have your serenade ready. Just don’t forget to grab Ronnie Wood along when you head for your beloved one’s windows, as nobody but the man is able to play these delightful slide fills in the instrumental part.

Ronnie Lane contributes two more forgettable tunes – I’ve never been able to really get into the stupid, brain-pounding ‘On The Beach’, and ‘Richmond’ is only slightly better, with some really impressive steel guitar parts. The steel guitar is also resurrected for the album’s big question mark, an instrumental version of the traditional hymn ‘Jerusalem’ that forms the coda to the album; it sounds like Ronnie Wood recorded it in the studio alone, late at night, and secretly pasted it onto the end of the record so that nobody would guess the fact until it was too late. Don’t try to prove I’m wrong.

On the other hand, I feel like I’m getting a bit too harsh. After all, dem Faces are dem Faces, ‘sall. Dem Faces have to be taken like they have to: with all their flaws and misfires. If you accept the Faces’ flaws and misfires as a lawful part of the whole package, you might even understand why the All-Music Guide gave this album a ‘best-of-genre’ rating. But just one small request of you: before you buy this, buy Sticky Fingers. Please. For me.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | The Faces Long Player | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Riot House (Alexandra Palace London, December 1972)


Alexandra Palace, London, England – December 22nd, 1972

Disc 1: Introduction, Rock And Roll, Over The Hills And Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love (includes Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, Boogie Chillun’, Let’s Have A Party, Heartbreak Hotel, I Can’t Quit You), Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker

Disc 3: Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love (includes Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, Boogie Chillun’, Let’s Have A Party, Heartbreak Hotel, I Can’t Quit You), Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, mellotron solo, Thank You

There are two sources for the first of two shows at the Alexandra Palace in London in the middle of Zeppelin’s UK winter tour. The first, presented on the first two discs of the current release, runs from the beginning through to the second encore and unfortunately doesn’t capture the organ solo and “Thank You”.

This source is good to very good but very flat and dull sounding. The music has a plastic spork hitting mashed potato quality. Previous releases of this source include the vinyl Alexandra Palace and Riot House on P. Jump Records (JMP 2) and on cd as Flawless Performance on Image Quality (IQ-013/14/15) and Riot Show on Cobra (006).

The second source is documented on the third disc runs from “Stairway To Heaven” through to the very end and recording the complete encore. This tape is significantly more clear detailed, dynamic and powerful with a hint of distortion present and has been released as Riot House on Chad (G.60 where it is erroneously dated from the following night and coupled with material from Raleigh, North Carolina April 7th, 1970), Alexandra Night on Right Stuff (RS-21012) and used by Image Quality to complete the first tape source on Flawless Performance.

The two London shows are a highlight from their longest tour of the UK that winter. After “Over The Hills And Far Away” Plant complains about the freeze, comparing it to their last show they did in London in 1971. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” sounds interesting with Jimmy’s howling guitar underlying Plant’s moans.

While Page tunes his guitar Plant dedicates “Dancing Days” to “summer, inebriation and good times, and also requires a different tuning. This is dedicated to those who might still be in high school.” The guitar solo in “Stairway To Heaven” contains some haunting riffs at about the eight-minute mark that sound like a variation of the riff used in the final verse at the end.

Before “Whole Lotta Love” members in the audience are shouting out requests. There are several votes for “Gallows Pole” but they don’t get it. There is a cut at 11:40 during the medley but is otherwise complete. Plant comes in too early for “Let’s Have A Party” during Page’s boogie improv.

The encores are the longest for the UK winter tour with the complete “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker” that was used for two years as the set opener. This is the final time this was heard in public and this is also the penultimate recording of “Immigrant Song” (the final being on the Bradford soundboard).

The long show ends with John Paul Jones’ mellotron solo leading into a rare version of “Thank You”. The solo is three minutes long and is similar to the versions played in Nagoya on October 5th and Newcastle on November 30th and Cardiff on December 12th. It’s a fast paced and catchy tune played mostly with the string sounds. He plays the mellotron also for “Thank You” giving the song a different, softer feel. This is one of JPJ’s more interesting on-stage experiments and the second tape source for the first London gig is the best recording of the four.

Unlike previous releases, Wendy chose to archive the two sources instead of editing them together for a complete show so there is some duplication of material. They also chose to follow the Cobra release in duplicating the old vinyl artwork with the picture of Jimmy taken from the Sydney, Australia show the previous February.

On the back Wendy presents some nice pictures of the Hyatt West Hollywood aka “The Riot House”. It is rather strange since the concert is from London and not LA. Also on the back is a photo of the band c. 1975. Sometimes it is nice to honor a past vinyl title on a cd release but perhaps this shouldn’t be one of them. However this is a bit of an improvement over past releases, sounding pretty good and mastered at the correct speed.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Riot House | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live In Cincinnati 1970


Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970

Disc 1 (acoustic): On The Way Home, Broken Arrow, I Am A Child, Helpless, Dance Dance Dance, Sugar Mountain, Don’t Let It Bring You Down, The Old Laughing Lady

Disc 2 (electric): The Loner, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Winterlong, Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown, Wonderin’, It Might Have Been, Down By The River, Cinnamon Girl, talking at the end of the show

Live In Cincinnati 1970 presents an almost complete soundboard from the first show on one of Neil Young’s early tours with Crazy Horse. A middling audience recording exists for this show and has been released before on the two LP vinyl release Winterlong. The acoustic set has been released on Acoustic Tokens and The Loner (along with tracks from the January 21st, 1971 Boulder, Colorado tape). The electric set has been issued as Electric Prayers.

This recording is listenable and considered one of the better tapes from this tour, but it is incomplete with only a fragment of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and “The Old Laughing Lady” missing from the first half. This soundboard tape has been issued before on the two cdr set Winterlong on The Swingin’ Pig (TSP-CD-042-2) but the master reel-to-reel surfaced recently with much better sound.

Seymour was the first to press it on to silver disc with Danny By The River (SR-025/26) released several months ago. Waterface is the second label to release this tape. There are faint traces of hiss during the acoustic set and the emphasis is upon the middle frequencies with an overall dull and quality. The mix of the instruments is very good in the electric set with only a cut eighteen minutes into “Down By The River” eliminating some words of the final verse of the song. The sound quality is very good to almost excellent and, compared to the audience recordings circulating, offers the best sounding document.

Young played six shows with Crazy Horse in February 1969 at The Bitter End in New York, but Cincinnati is the first show on the first proper tour with his band as he explains before “Broken Arrow”, “This is the first of a series of concerts with Crazy Horse, mostly in the east. Only one west coast gig. Even though we live there we play here.”

They played ten shows over a month and this is one of the longest with sixteen different songs performed over an acoustic solo set at the beginning and a full band electric set in the second half. “On The Way Home” opens the show and is followed by the Buffalo Springfield tune “Broken Arrow”, which Neil sings in a very shaky and out-of-tune voice.

Before “Dance Dance Dance” he becomes very chatty and asks, “should I play one of those up temp ones for you? I don’t have many up-tempo ones. I live up tempo but play down tempo. This is a new song. It’s going to be on the next Crazy Horse album…It could have been a big hit by Tommy Roe” which ends abruptly after two verses with Neil saying “this is where the chicks start singing and I can’t do anymore”

Only a minute and a half of the new song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, making its stage debut, is played before segueing into “The Old Laughing Lady”. Whenever Young plays a solo acoustic set he brings warmth that add a lot. The electric set comprises is the bulk of the show. Whatever warmth is lost is balanced by the intensity of the band playing together.

“It Might Have Been” makes its live debut and is introduced as a song Young learned at a church dance and “kinda hokey”.

“Down By The River”, which reached thirty minutes in the Philadelphia show following this one, reaches a mere twenty in Cincinnati and is the only epic performed. It isn’t noted on the liner notes, but the post show talking is tracked separately. It is three and a half minutes of the audience calling for an encore and an announcer saying that the band are finished playing since they’ve gone past their contract.

Whenever an artist is preparing something tapes like these tend to escape and circulate which is probably true with this one too. This master probably surfaced due to the release last November of the disappointing Live At The Fillmore East CD with the electric set from the March 6th New York concert.

Hopefully there will be more surfacing since a recent press release states: “Neil Young’s ‘Archives Volume 1′ box set is finally going to see the light of day after almost a decade of promises. The box will contain eight CDs and two DVDs and be loaded with previously unreleased live and studio material from 1963 to 1972. It will also have concert footage from the first decade of Young’s career, which included time with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. While no release date has been set for it, the set is due out in the second half of the year.”

This is the first release by the mysterious Waterface label. There is no catalogue number and the graphics are very plain, containing several small stage shots of Neil on stage with the band and a photo of a reel-to-reel tape spinning in a tape deck. It is subtitled Unofficial Archives Vol. 1 which leads one to believe more might be coming.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live In Cincinnati 1970 | , | Leave a comment

Paul McCartney Off The Ground (1993)


In addition to copiloting the greatest bands in rock & roll history, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have something else in common: Both have watched their solo careers sputter. McCartney hasn’t placed an album or single at the top of the charts in nearly a decade, and only one album, an “unplugged” MTV concert, has broken the Top Twenty. Jagger waited until 1985 to test the solo waters and has thus far found them icy. His last album, Primitive Cool (1987), stalled at Number Forty-one, while its would-be anthem “Let’s Work” logged one lonely week at the tail end of the Top Forty.

No acts will ever rule the rock realm so completely for so long as the Beatles and the Stones. Times have changed; attention spans have shortened, owing to video overexposure (resulting in careers with the trajectory of a Roman candle), rigid radio formats, the corporate trivialization of rock’s mission and the sheer accumulated mass of music, old and new, being thrust at listeners. These days the sales go to the likes of Michael Bolton, Garth Brooks, Boyz II Men and Kris Kross, while living legends like McCartney, Jagger, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and arguably even Bruce Springsteen are consigned to an elder rockers’ Valhalla, where they bask in critical favor and do good tour business while watching their new work hobble and fall off the charts.

So why suffer the ignominy of being outsold by artists of far less luster? Why not stay home counting royalties and tending investments? For both Jagger and McCartney, pride and ego figure in, certainly; but there’s also the matter of creative viability. There’s plenty of ambition, not to mention craft, to be found on both Wandering Spirit and Off the Ground. McCartney, fresh from dabbling in light classical with his Liverpool Oratorio, imparts a mock-orchestral grandeur to his pop sensibility on Off the Ground. While occasionally slow-moving (McCartney could use a boot from an aggressive producer), Off the Ground contains some fine songs and sustains a guardedly optimistic mood that conveys a faith in the future. Jagger manages to paint in the primary hues of an inveterate rock animal on Wandering Spirit while decorating the margins with some left-field material that recalls the fervid eclecticism of the Between the Buttons-era Stones. If Wandering Spirit gets the nod over Off the Ground, it’s because Jagger sounds livelier and more welded to the present than McCartney.

The differences between the two can be illustrated by their lyrics. Whereas McCartney sings, “I feel love for you now” in “Winedark Open Sea,” Jagger growls, “I don’t ever wanna see your picture again” in “Don’t Tear Me Up.” McCartney is a family man whose idealism springs from his commitments; Jagger remains a realist and, true to the title, a wandering spirit whose blood runs hot. Wandering Spirit rises to a rousing boil, while Off the Ground maintains a mannerly simmer. They’re about as different as day and night, and as it was in the early days, when people were either Beatles fans or Stones fans, you’ll probably prefer one to the exclusion of the other.

Poking their heads above the manicured surface of McCartney’s song cycle are “Hope of Deliverance” and “Peace in the Neighbourhood.” The first is one of those perfect little tunes McCartney plucks from his songwriter’s subconscious like a pearl from a shell. Deceptively wispy, effortlessly catchy, it finds McCartney breezily proffering a positive attitude toward the days ahead: “When it will be right, I don’t know/What it will be like, I don’t know/We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us.” “Peace” is a cheerful, dreamlike vision of a halcyon world; its sunny, casually funky groove recalls odes to brotherhood by the likes of Sly and the Family Stone and War.

Elvis Costello rejoins McCartney as a songwriting collaborator on two numbers: “Mistress and Maid,” in which fanciful flourishes provide a Sgt. Pepper-style spin, and “The Lovers That Never Were,” a gorgeous, lushly arranged vocal showcase also taken at a swaying waltz tempo. McCartney falters when he tries to rock out on “Looking for Changes,” a literal-minded animal-rights broadside, and “Biker Like an Icon,” a quixotic character study. At this juncture, he doesn’t seem able to rock with authority, and he under-mines his effort by applying a sugary glaze, such as the inappropriately tame chorus to “Biker Like an Icon.” A clutch of longish songs — “Winedark Open Sea,” “C’mon People,” “I Owe It All to You,” “Golden Earth Girl” — seems calculated to cast an ambient stargazing spell, and McCartney closes the album with an Aquarian Age reminder to remain “cosmically conscious.” While the sentiments are commendable and the music pleasurable, Off the Ground is a tad undercooked — a souffle that doesn’t quite rise to the grand heights its creator envisioned.

Jagger, on the other hand, rocks with a willful, desperate abandon on Wandering Spirit, the most purposeful and assured of his three solo discs. With Rick Rubin coproducing, the album has a live, knife edge feel to it, from Jagger’s counting off the bristling opening cut, “Wired All Night,” on through to the reckless declaration of independence of the title track. While Wandering Spirit possesses a rock-solid backbone that will please Stones fans, Jagger adroitly tosses a few curves — a pure-country foray, some hard-hitting urban funk, a courtly overlay of harpsichord and Mellotron — to keep things interesting. And though not everything works — particularly problematic are “Handsome Molly,” a dire foray into Celtic folk, and a starchy retread of Bill Withers’s “Use Me” — Jagger communicates both laser-focused directness and far ranging versatility.

Jagger, who will turn fifty this year, seems determined to cede nothing to age, dismissing the idea of mellowing out as anathema: “I’m as hard as a brick/I hope I never go limp,” he rages from the center of the cyclonic fury of “Wired All Night.” His brashness and swagger are well intact on numbers like “Put Me in the Trash” and the doggedly relentless cover of James Brown’s “Think.” The first single, “Sweet Thing,” finds him applying a “Fool to Cry” falsetto to a danceable, “Miss You”-style track. On “Out of Focus,” a churchy piano-vocal intro segues into reggae-accented gospel-funk as Jagger deals squarely with a harsh comeuppance that tempts with autobiographical overtones: “Maybe I lied a little bit too much…. I saw the future just shatter like glass.” “Don’t Tear Me Up” is another sadder-but-wiser reflection bolstered by echoes of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The title song spells out his rootless dilemma with forcible resolve: “Yes, I am a restless soul/There’s no place that I can call my home,” he sings as the band ensnares him in a tight jump blues.

But Jagger isn’t content to let matters rest there. From this defiant perch he reveals the cracks in a vulnerable façade with three remarkable songs near the album’s end. “My cards are on the table/You can get up and walk away/Or stay,” he importunes in the country-flavored ballad “Hang On to Me Tonight.” Tart Memphis-soul guitar and a solid backbeat buoy Jagger’s bittersweet plaint in “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long.” “Angel in My Heart” closes this trilogy with a heartbreaking plea — “Stay with me till night turns to day/Let me in your dreams” — set to an exquisite melody reminiscent of “Lady Jane.” Wandering Spirit, then, illuminates the varied aspects of a complex personality. But best of all, it rocks like a bitch.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Paul McCartney Off The Ground | | Leave a comment

Robin Trower Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973)


Robin Trower‘s debut solo album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, has finally been reissued on compact disc courtesy of IconoClassic Records. I’ve sung the praises of Trower and Twice Removed before, and am happy to have a digital backup to my well-worn vinyl copy of this underrated album. And, the CD is stacked with a bonus track, “Take A Fast Train.”

Twice Removed is moody, melodic and a revelation to those who had heard Trower only in his more supportive role as Procol Harum‘s guitarist. In Procol, Trower had the chance to spread his six-string wings on tracks such as “Whiskey Train,” but the band’s biggest successes relied on Matthew Fisher‘s organ stylings (“Whiter Shade Of Pale”) and lush arrangements (“A Salty Dog”).

Eventually, Trower’s desire to merge the blues with rock was too much to deny and he struck out on his own, not knowing if he would ever be part of another recording. But, as the CD liners quote Trower, “Procol Harum were a keyboard band, and musically I was going off in a different direction. I had to find my own way to pursue that, and so I decided to form my own band.”

With little more than faith and the help of bassist/vocalist James Dewar and drummer Reg Isidore, the trio went to work recording a set of original material along with a stomping version of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby.” The songwriting – a partnership primarily of Dewar and Trower – showcased Trower’s controlled fire across some of the strongest material of the guitarist’s career. The brooding opener, “Can’t Wait Much Longer,” reunited Trower with Procol-mate Matthew Fisher (who also produced the original recording).

For me, it is Trower at his best. One of the coolest parts about Trower’s playing is his ability to create “circular-sounding” riffs from a handful of notes. Unlike Tony Iommi, who would bludgeon and trample listeners with brontosaurus-like chords, Trower would paint mysterious musical pictures drenched in feedback and heavy in atmosphere. The compositions are not complex, but they drip with the pure emotion of the blues and imbue a sparkle to rock.

Dewar on the mike was the perfect foil for Trower’s potent compositions. His bluesy-soaked voice, often compared to Paul Rodgers, gives tracks like “Can’t Wait..,” “Hannah” and “Daydream” a gritty glimmer that’s hard to imagine bettering. And Isidore’s drumming is heavy yet smooth as quicksilver.

Success would follow Trower and Twice Removed, when Bridge Of Sighs was released a year later, but his first solo album remains the benchmark for Trower and the many hopefuls looking to meld blues and rock.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Robin Trower Twice Removed From Yesterday | | Leave a comment