Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Dancing Again (Seattle, June 1972)


Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, WA – June 19th, 1972

Disc 1: Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker, Black Dog, The Ocean, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, Black Country Woman, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
Disc 2: Dazed and Confused (includes The Crunge), What Is And What Should Never Be, Dancing Days, Moby Dick
Disc 3: Whole Lotta Love (includes Boogie Chillun’, Let’s Have A Party, Hello Mary Lou, Only The Lonely, Heartbreak Hotel, Going Down Slow), Rock And Roll, Organ Solo (includes Everyday People, Louie Louie)/Thank You, Money, Over The Hills And Far Away, Dancing Days

That there has been four previous releases of this tape including two, Let’s Do It Again on Badgeholders and Lightbringer on Cashmere in the past year is a testament to how legendary this show is. This is one of the poorest sounding essential Led Zeppelin show to own. Empress Valley has done a good job with this on Dancing Again.

It is much better sounding and more complete than all previous issues. They did this by not tinkering much with the tape that was posted on the old STG website several years ago. After the initial high-end distortion in “Immigrant Song”, it settles down into a very listenable and enjoyable tape. Since this is the master cassette being used it can’t get any better.

What makes this show legendary isn’t necessarily all of the previews (“The Ocean”, “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “Black Country Woman” and “Dancing Days” played two times), but is the loose attitude of the band that enables them to do so. They play as if they are all alone in a room with no distractions and no pressure. There isn’t a hint of self-consciousness in the entire performance and the light and shade ethos really shines.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is one of the most ferocious versions committed to tape, yet is followed by a very gentle “Going To California” and one of the longest acoustic sets played by the band. “Dazed & Confused” is as intense as the second Nassau Coliseum version and even “Moby Dick”, despite the protest of the bystander by the recorder, is fascinating. What is especially enjoyable is Plant’s Roy Orbison impersonation for “Only The Lonely”.

The encores of any given concert are an indication of how well the show is going and Zeppelin don’t disappoint with five of them (six if you count the organ solo separately). It’s a shame the beginning of “Over The Hills” is cut, as it would be interesting to hear how Plant introduces the song. Empress Valley employs their thick cardboard sleeve for this release and it is beautiful.

The cover photo is very dramatic and brings you back to the days of vinyl where you can stare at the cover while listening to the music giving a total experience. This is a definitive version of this tape and well worth seeking out and owning.

The only way this can be improved upon is if another and better sounding source were to surface (and there is always hope!)

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Dancing Again | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Live At Royal Albert Hall: Jimmy’s Birthday Party (January 1970)


Royal Albert Hall, London , UK – January 9, 1970

Disc 1 and 3: We’re Gonna Groove, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, Heartbreaker, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

Disc 2 and 4: How Many More Times (includes The Hunter/Boogie Chillun’/High Flyin’ Mama/Leave My Woman Alone/The Lemon Song/That’s Alright Mama), Bring It On Home, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, C’mon Everybody, Something Else, Long Tall Sally (includes Bye Bye Baby/Move On Down The Line/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On)

Bonus track on Disc 4: Communication Breakdown

Fragmented bootleg titles have been released from this concert on both audio and extremely poor quality video countless times in the past. The official release on DVD from Atlantic Records in 2003 put all previous bootlegs to shame being professionally remixed with the film footage painstakingly cleaned up. “Heartbreaker” is reported as having unaccompanied visuals and is the reason they used only part of the song during the menu/credits.

“Long Tall Sally” was part of the original bootleg film portion, not included on the DVD, and it wasn’t until Empress Valley released The Lost Mixes EP Vol. 7 in 2005 that we got a superb sounding audio source for it, although largely edited. This was allegedly mixed in 2002 for the DVD project.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Organ Solo/Thank You” were also not on the official release for reasons unknown but fragments of the “Organ Solo” and “Thank You” do appear as part of the menus and extras on the DVD.

Discs one and two primarily sound excellent but they do contain sections of tape edited in from various lesser quality sources. I’m assuming that EV wanted to try and present the show in its most complete form. They include the “Heartbreaker” segment taken directly from the credits of the official DVD. “How Many More Times” has several edits where they restored missing sections of tape and “Communication Breakdown” has the second half of Page’s solo spliced back in, as well. “Long Tall Sally” from disc two is much more complete but entirely from the fair sounding video soundtrack.

Discs three and four sound superb all the way through and are missing the sections edited into discs one and two. This presentation of the show, I suspect, was mostly copied from the DVD. The version of “Heartbreaker” here on disc three is longer than the version on disc one and features two minutes more than what the DVD offers, including the song’s introduction. Why they wouldn’t use the longer one in both versions is beyond me. Both of them sound excellent.

“Communication Breakdown” is featured twice on disc four. The first is unedited, containing all of Jimmy’s solo (consistent in sound quality), and the bonus track is the edited version that matches the DVD exact. The bonus version is irrelevant and redundant, in my opinion. “Long Tall Sally” is basically the same one used for EV’s The Lost Mixes EP Vol. 7 with slightly more time after the song.

This is a great show with some rarely played encores and is another document of early Zep at their best. Nothing beats watching the DVD, but listening to the audio alone brings a new perspective to this truly incredible performance. I’m surprised Atlantic Records didn’t release a CD version of this show but there is always hope for the future. They could certainly expand on it and maybe include some of the tracks not featured on the DVD.

Empress Valley packaged this in a double gatefold digipack housed in a slip cover and includes many black and white photos from the show. The songs have also been placed in their proper running order. The packaging, superb sound, and inclusion of “Heartbreaker” and “Long Tall Sally” make this title well worth owning. (WGPSEC)

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Live At Royal Albert Hall: Jimmy's Birthday Party | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Dragon Slayers (Landover, May 1977)


Capital Center, Landover, MD – May 28, 1977

Disc 1: The Song Remains The Same, The Rover Intro/Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2: 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: Out On The Tiles / Moby Dick, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll

Led Zeppelin played at the Capital Center in Landover over the Memorial Day weekend. Audience recordings for the four concerts that range from fair to very good exist, and several years ago a soundboard recording surfaced for the second of the four several years ago. Dragon Slayers documents the third of the four nights with the second soundboard recording to surface from this series of concerts.

It contains the same edit of soundboard and audience recordings as found on the Empress Valley release The Powhatan Confederacy (in “No Quarter” from 3:35 to 4:16, in “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” at 1:40 that runs through to 4:22 in “White Summer,” and in “Moby Dick” from about 32:16 to 34:23.) Although this is a somewhat dull sounding soundboard, Eelgrass lower the volume a bit on it so it isn’t as loud, and there is a digital glitch forty-three seconds into “Ten Years Gone.”

The show itself is a mixed bag (which can be said for most on Zeppelin’s eleventh tour). The opening two numbers, “The Song Remains The Same” and “Sick Again” sound slow, disjointed and painful to listen to. “Good evening Maryland. Good evening. What a very nice gift. Well thank you. It’s very nice to be back here yet again….I believe here in the United States it is a holiday weekend. We’ll try to make your holiday just a little higher,” Robert Plant says before “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” This, one of the two songs played off of the new album Presence, and the following “In My Time Of Dying” are a considerable improvement.

“It seems like another time and another place, doesn’t it?” is Plant’s enigmatic introduction before “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” “No Quarter” is about twenty-five minutes in this concert. The first half of the improvisation is dominated by a very melodramatic and sad melody on the grand piano. It sounds as if Page doesn’t know how to handle it and his guitar solo takes the song in another direction that Jones reluctantly follows.

They are on more solid ground during the second half of the solo, but Bonham sounds strangely hesitant throughout. Some claim “The Years Gone” to be among the very best from the tour since Page delivers an excellent solo in the middle. “I guess the things that songs are made of come from all sort of experiences that hit you along the way…it could be the area you live in” Plant says before “The Battle Of Evermore.”

John Paul Jones sings the Sandy Denny part on the studio recording, but it sound like either Jimmy Page is singing along with Jones or Jones’ vocals are double tracked. “A little piece of history was just made there. John Bonham finally sang on stage after nine years. I think he’s gone off for a beer now to celebrate” Plant says afterwards.

His claim isn’t exactly true since Bonham sang along to “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” five years before. In fact Plant was saying similar things about Bonham’s singing back then. “White Summer” sounds very good but leads into a very sluggish version of “Kashmir” that made some wonder if the tape speed is correct.

“Moby Dick” is more than a half hour long and is very unfocused. Curiously, the same can be said about the guitar solo following. This segment of the show usually includes Page playing some anthems and recognizable melodies, but on this night he merely hints at the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Dixie” without committing to either one of them.

“Achillies Last Stand,” which was the new epic that summer, sounds very tight and effective. “Stairway To Heaven” begins strong, but Page seems to run out of gas about halfway through the guitar solo and the song limps to its conclusion. The encores are played out of habit instead of joy. The result is this is a good concert from a good soundboard recording.

It certainly isn’t an essential document from an uneven tour. Since Dragon Slayers is about half the price of the Empress Valley release, it is a more viable alternative for owning this show.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Dragon Slayers | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Condition Breakdown (Indianapolis, January 1975)


Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, IN – January 25th, 1975

Disc 1 (55:58): Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir, The Wanton Song, No Quarter

Disc 2 (38:39): Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick, How Many More Times, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love ~ Black Dog

Condition Breakdown was released in the mid-nineties and is thus far the only release of Led Zeppelin’s January 25th, 1975 appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana. After effective shows in the final night in Chicago and Cleveland, Plant’s voice regressed and is in the worst shape of the entire tour in this show. The next show, scheduled for January 27th in St. Louis, would be postponed until February 16th to allow him to rest his vocal chords before continuing on January 29th in Greensboro, North Carolina. The tape is a good audience recording that exists as a decent record of the show and becomes clearer as the show progresses. The higher frequencies are emphasized with the drums and bass pushed to the back and the sound is rather brittle in places.

There are numerous cuts on the tape beginning with one after “Over The Hills And Far Away” with the following song “In My Time Of Dying” missing. It isn’t clear if it is cut from the tape or if the band dropped it from the setlist that night although most collectors favor the latter opinion. There is a big cut between “The Song Remains The Same” and “The Rain Song” eliminating the final two minutes of the former and the first two minutes of the latter.

There is mic handling noise in “The Rain Song” and a cut between that and “Kashmir.” There is a small cut at 1:24 and a rather large one at 11:15 in “No Quarter.” The second cut eliminates the transition from the solo into the second verse. A cut after “Trampled Under Foot” cuts out a bit of dialogue and a big cut in “Moby Dick” removes most of the drum solo. Another one afterwards cuts out a bit of dialgue before ”How Many More Times.” That song is cut at 3:09 and comes back at the very end missing the violin bow episode and most of the soloing.

After a sluggish beginning Plant is apologetic, saying, “Well, sorry about the delay, but we came from Chicago where the weather isn’t good. Tonight, we intend to first of all, get over our ailments, and secondly try to give you some of the spectrum of what we’ve been getting up to for the last six or seven years.” Jimmy Page plays a very angry, disjointed solo in the middle of the piece while Plant ignores the high notes altogether. “Kashmir” is introduced as a new track with John Paul Jones on the mobile orchestra, and his contribution is audible as he plays cliched middle eastern melodies beneath Page’s guitar.

The fifth and final recorded reference to “The Wanton Song” follows. This was played in the warm up gigs in Europe and the opening week, but would be dropped after this performance never to surface again. Plant coughs he way through the introduction, saying, “we’re having a bit of trouble here with the monitor system it seems to be flashing. I think there’s some crushed window pane stuck in the speaker. This is another new one. It’s called…it’s about a topic which we’re not really very familiar with, that of females.

So we got a long way to go before we really refine this line of melody, if you’d like to call it that. This is called ‘The Wanton Song.’ All we got to do is get the equipment right. Here comes cool hand Luke.” It is a shame they dropped it since it is a good live number that could have developed as the tour went on.

“Thank the stars for lemon and honey” Plant says as he takes a sip of tea. ”This is another one that features Jonesy on keyboards. The man in constant darkness.” John Paul Jones plays a jolly little melody on the organ before Page comes in to deliver the apocalypic doom. ”Trampled Under Foot” is rendered limp because of Plant’s poor voice and fails to really take off. “Moby Dick” sounds a tremendous in this recording and it’s a shame the solo is cut out.

“How Many More Times” is introduced simply as “a very very very very old one” and again, it doesn’t make sense why there is a big cut in the middle. Is the taper holding on to it? It’s a shame because this is an intense version with Bonham in particular bashing the hell out of the piece by the end.

“Stairway To Heaven” closes the set and Page is in much better shape than Plant as he delivers a great solo in the middle. After he sings “there’s a songbird who sings / sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven” Plant quips “and I’m feeling that way myself.” Before the encores Plant says he they want to “try and go out with a bit of style.” A short “Whole Lotta Love” serves as an introduction to “Black Dog.” Page plays in interesting solo in the latter.

The tape ends there and it isn’t known if they played a “Communication Breakdown” as second encore as they had the previous nights. Condition Breakdown is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with various well known photos from the tour on the front insert. On the back of this, and on the Cleveland show also released by Holy, is a double photo of Page.

This is good release for the Zeppelin completists only, but there are much better concerts and recordings floating around.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Condition Breakdown | , | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix: Blues (1998)

4059f39359bd72aa0ebf1c3e8839d90d_fullFrom Guitar World

Let’s get the paradoxes out of the way right up front: the blues was a musical space to which Jimi Hendrix would always return in order to recharge his musical and spiritual batteries but, once refreshed, he generally couldn’t wait to leave.

The blues was ever-present in everything he did; it was something that traveled with him into musical realms unimaginable to others, something he carried with him into songs and pieces which had nothing whatsoever to do with the conventional structures and themes of the blues, into worlds which the music’s traditional grandmasters wouldn’t recognise as blues – or even as music. When he started out from a classical blues theme, he as likely as not ended up with something else entirely; but when he began with something strangely, terrifying, beautifully alien, it always turned back, one way or another, into the blues.

This collection of vault-gleanings – some never before released, others disinterred from long-deleted vinyl, all new to the US CD market – can therefore tell us only part of the story of Hendrix’s complex love affair with the blues. Mostly jams and outtakes, they find Hendrix with his pants down: goofing, exploring and just plain havin’ fun. We get two versions of ‘Red House’: one a jam with organist Lee Michaels, the other from the original UK version of Are You Experienced and, for my money, an infinitely deeper and funkier take than the one on the current CD.

There are two radically different versions of ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’’: an impromptu 12-string acoustic performance which provides a vague idea of how Robert Johnson might have sounded if he’d smoked a lotta weed and lived to hear James Brown, and a monumental 12-minute live jam marred only by severe tuning problems and the fact that the rhythm section – Billy Cox (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) – drag the tempo down a notch as soon as they make their entrance. There’s an early take of the slow-blues version of ‘Voodoo Chile’, the one just before it coalesced into the monumental performance you can hear on Electric Ladyland. There’s an ear-opening romp through Muddy Waters’ ‘Manish Boy’ – better known to Bo Diddley fans as ‘I’m A Man’ – which gets the same uptempo funkanisation that Hendrix gave Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’ and B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’ at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

There are a couple of intensely variable slow blues efforts, ‘Bleeding Heart’ (a.k.a. ‘Blues In C Sharp’) and ‘Once I Had A Woman’, the former a fine and funky performance with the Experience and the latter flawed by some truly rotten mouth-harp and the audible wax-ing and waning of Hendrix’s interest in the proceedings. And there’s an insanely bouncy 12/8 shuffle, ‘Jelly 292’, which – along with the Are You Experienced ‘Red House’ – should be this album’s first port of call for Stevie Ray Vaughan fans. There’s another Muddy dive with ‘Catfish Blues’, similar to the cut on Rykodisc’s Radio One CD but with the added bonus of a revved-up ‘showtime’ finale.

And then there’s ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’. This Albert King standard, custom-composed for the late lamented Big Guy by Booker T. Jones and William Bell in 1967 and covered by Cream almost immediately after its original release, starts out as you’d expect, with Hendrix putting his own unique spin on Albert’s time-honoured licks and bends, but before he even has an opportunity to open his mouth and sing the song, the Strat runs away with him. That riff becomes the springboard for some of the most thoroughly ‘outside’ stuff Hendrix ever played, a full guided tour around the musical attic where Hendrix kept toys old and new. You can leave if you want to – just jammin’ is all – but you won’t want to. Tone, timing, phrasing, attack, sense of space: if anyone needs reminding that Hendrix had it all, here’s your wake-up call.

Needless to say, some of this stuff is rough as hell: as well it might be, since most of it was never intended for release. Fluffed words, out-of-tune guitars and dropped beats fly all over the place, and if that kind of stuff upsets you, consider this a 3-star album and stick to the regular Hendrix albums. This one is for blues buffs and Hendrix freaks, and for them – or should I come clean and say us – this one earns all of its five stars.

This music was made around a quarter of a century ago. Nevertheless, despite all that’s happened since in the guitar world via the Eddies and Randies and Yngwies and Stevie Rays and Joes and Steves and Nunos and Dimebags, Hendrix still sounds like a contemporary. And a leading, cutting-edge contemporary at that. If you play blues and you want to step up to some new ways of approaching traditional materials – or if you play rock and you want to inject some tough new blues into your musical muscles – just walk this way.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix :Blues | Comments Off on Jimi Hendrix: Blues (1998)

Led Zeppelin Rock And Roll Bonanza (Milwaukee, July 1973)


Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee, WI – July 10th, 1973

Disc 1 (62:35): Rock and Roll, Celebration Day, Bring It On Home intro / Black Dog, Over the Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song

Disc 2 (50:17): Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Moby Dick

The July 10th, 1973 Milwaukee tape is a distant, somewhat distorted but listenable tape of about three quarters of the entire show. Missing is the ending of the drum solo, “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love” and whatever was played as an encore. The tape first surfaced in the mid-nineties and was pressed on One More For The Road (Red Hot RH-012/013). Rock And Roll Bonanza came out almost a decade later. Electric Magic boosted the gain and corrected the speed to run closer to pitch.

Electric Magic is a label known to have ruined several of their releases with over zealous mastering and producing a nasty metallic whine over the music. Thankfully they didn’t do that with Milwaukee and this release actually sounds quite nice and enjoyable. There are cuts after “No Quarter” and one in “The Rain Song” at 3:35.

The press review was very positive. The most famous review comes from “Zeppelin Flying High” by D. Jaques and published in the Milwaukee Journal. He writes: “The Led Zeppelin soared high over Milwaukee Tuesday night. One of the granddaddies of hard rock groups, the Zep thoroughly entertained about 11,000 at the Arena. It had been three years since the group was in Milwaukee and rock music has taken some strange twists and turns since then.

Some very good rock groups have compromised their musical integrity by selling their souls to gimmicks, gadgets and the foibles of a few loud and abusive fans. But Zeppelin was as true to its music as it was the last time around. The group had stage smoke drifting out over the audience, apparently a necessity for all rock bands that consider themselves superstars.”

It’s well known how much of a slow start the second half of the tour was with mediocre performances in Chicago on July 7th and July 8th. Minneapolis was very good and Milwaukee continues the trend by being a very adventurous show. After the opening Plant greets the audience, saying, ”very nice to be back and…when did we come here last? 1969 was it? Remember that festival where it rained all day. Well things have changed since then.” Although their previous visit to Milwaukee was in late 1970.

There are some firecrackers early on and Plant tells the audience “methinks we’re gonna have a good night. On one condition. No more firecrackers, alright?” He continues to introduces ”Misty Mountain Hop” as a song ”not about firecrackers except the ones you put into cigarette papers.”

Also like the previous show in Minneapolis, “No Quarter” is extremely heavy and is showing progress in its on-stage improvisation in the middle. So good is it that afterwards Plant says, “Nice solo there from Jimmy and John. John Paul Jones synthesized piano. Mr. Bonham would like to be mentioned for his drumming too.”

“Dazed And Confused” also is showing more development with Page experimenting with a bizarre, majestic riff about six minutes in. It is unfortunate the tape cuts out during “Moby Dick” because it would have been interesting to hear what kind of improvisations would have occurred in “Whole Lotta Love.” Be that as it may, there are better sounding documents from this tour for the casual collector.

But for the Zeppelin collector this is a good title to have and a nice job by Electric Magic.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Rock And Roll Bonanza | , | Leave a comment

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)


After the break-up of a great band, the subsequent solo releases need to balance everything that is needed for a great record: sounding fresh, different and inventive without alienating the fans that you left behind. An example of a solo that was not so successful was Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis band Beady Eye, which took all the worst parts of Oasis and made an album out of them.

Their first album ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ was incredibly dull, even disappointing the charts by only reaching number three in the charts. Over six months later and Liam Gallagher’s brother and Oasis band mate, Noel Gallagher is releasing his first album under the name ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’

When ‘High Flying Birds’ first starts it sound not too dissimilar from Oasis songs such as ‘The Masterplan’ and ‘The Importance of Being Idle’. The ‘oh so familiar’ soft Manchurian voice from most of the better Oasis songs, the guitar solos, the Beatle’s influenced everything: Everything that made Oasis great in the first place.

Unlike Oasis, however choirs and string sections are everywhere in this album, hiding behind guitar solos or between verses. Noel recently spoke out about a love of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western themes and it is not difficult to see their influences on the record.

The best songs on ‘High Flying Birds’ include the single ‘The Death of You and Me’ with its catchy tune (I’m whistling as I’m writing this) and its brilliant horn section, which pleasantly surprises you every time you hear it. Another great song is the albums opener, ‘Everybody’s On the Run‘, which is soaked in choirs and strings. One of the album’s highlights has to be the albums closer: Stop the Clocks which goes into a choir soaked build up to an instrumental at the end, reminding me of Pulp’s Sunrise mixed with A Day in the Life.

However, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is far, far from perfect. Some of the songs are too big for his soft voice. I’ve always said that I preferred Noel’s voice but just sometimes it sounds like he could do with a more natural frontman to fill his void. Some of the songs also sound too Oasisey.

Despite the strings and choirs he still sounds very similar to the Oasis days. Most of the best tracks on the album have been heard before in some form anyway, from being played live to bootlegs from the Oasis days.

If anyone likes a Beatles comparison its Noel: If High Flying Birds is similar to any post-Beatles record, its Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’. Filled to the brim with soft rock and radio friendly tunes but also remaining fresh and different, pleasing both the fans and the critics.

Compared to Oasis themselves, we often feel reminded of Oasis songs: the beginning of ‘If I Had a Gun’ sounds vaguely like Wonderwall, ‘The Death Of You and Me’ draws more than a few parallels to ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ and Wonderwall again on ‘AKA Broken Arrow’.

While listening to ‘High Flying Birds’ I got a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long while on an Oasis record: This is really, really good. There is no doubt in my mind what Gallagher brother is better. Not that there ever was anyway: Looking back on Oasis’ discography you see that many of their best songs are sung by Noel himself. Maybe this is because he feels more natural singing songs written for himself rather than for his brother.

Overall I think ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ is a solid album and has some great anthems on it, but it is possibly not enough of a departure from a familiar sound, especially for a songwriter as talented as Noel definitely is.

Noel Gallagher has a second album coming out early next year though, a collaboration with the experimental electronic outfit Amorphus Androgynous. Maybe this will be when we get to hear Noel get down to some serious business.

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds | , | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons: Going Up the Country – The Byrds and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

byrds-sweetheartFrom ICE

Though opinion differ on who recorded the first country-rock album, there is no question that the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the first one by a major rock group, and Sony/Legacy is set to debut an expanded two-CD version, with lots of bonus material, on September 2 as part of its new ‘Legacy Editions’ series.

As long-time Byrds fans will know, the Byrds by the time of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968 were down from five original members to just Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, with singer-songwriter Gene Clark and drummer Michael Clarke having exited on their own and David Crosby a recent victim of a pink-slip for his volatility in the recording studio during sessions for the preceding Notorious Byrd Brothers.

Joining McGuinn and Hillman in the new lineup were Hillman’s cousin Kevin Kelley, formerly the drummer in Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal’s Rising Sons, and Gram Parsons, then the leader of the little-known International Submarine Band, on keyboards. The album that resulted failed initially with both rock and country fans, the former put off by the twangy content and the latter by the band’s long hair, but has since become a certified classic and the foundation for Parsons’ role as a cult hero to alt-country musicians.

Disc 1 of the new Legacy Edition, supervised by Bob Irwin and mixed by Vic Anesini, starts with the 11 songs on the original Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, including those where McGuinn re-recorded lead vocals originally done by Parsons but dumped after the latter was discovered to be under contract to another label, Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Productions.

These tracks are then followed by the outtakes and alternates, including those with Parsons’ vocals, that first surfaced on the out-of-print 1990 Byrds Box Set – ‘Pretty Polly,’ ‘The Christian Life,’ ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ and ‘One Hundred Years from Now,’ ‘(You’ve Got a) Reputation’ and ‘Lazy Days.’ Also added to the first disc the previously unavailable Kevin Kelley vocal version of ‘All I Have Is Memories,’ which Irwin recently discovered in the vaults, plus the Columbia radio spot advertising the album that appeared as bonus on the 1997 expanded Sweetheart reissue.

Disc 2 then offers up a motherlode of unreleased and often revelatory alternate takes, along with several rare Parsons tracks that pre-date his short stay from January to July 1968 in the Byrds.

The disc opens with ‘Sum Up Broke’ and ‘One Day Week,’ the A and B sides of the International Submarine Band’s lone single on the Columbia label. Parsons and John Nuese co-wrote and sing on ‘Sum Up Broke,’ while Parsons has the microphone to himself on his solo credit ‘One Day Week.’ Both tracks are in mono, as is the subsequent ‘Truck Drivin’ Man,’ the B side of another ISB single done for the short-lived Ascot company. The A side, a prosaic instrumental tie-in for the cold war film comedy The Russians Are Going, The Russians are Coming, is not included.

Stereo recordings then kick in with three tracks – ‘Blue Eyes,’ ‘Luxury Liner’ and ‘Strong Boy’ – taken from the International Submarine Band’s one full-length album, Safe at Home. “We had the original two-track stereo masters for these,” Irwin tells ICE. “With these tracks we wanted to show what Gram’s history was before he joined the Byrds and indicate what he and Chris Hillman (who had country roots also) brought to the table – the musical palate they offered,” Irwin adds.

The disc then delivers 14 previously unheard rehearsal and alternate takes from Sweetheart sessions. They begin with a very funky version of ‘Lazy Days,’ driven by Jaydee Maness steel guitar.’ Irwin mentions the harmonies on the track as reminding him of what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were doing during Let It Bleed period. Parsons and Hillman, after they regrouped as the Flying Burrito Brothers, recut the song for Burrito Deluxe in 1970.

Disc 2 continues with an alternate version of the Parsons-written, but McGuinn-sung, ‘Pretty Polly,’ this time without the double-tracked McGuinn vocal used on the Box Set. This is followed by a take of Parsons’ ‘Hickory Wind’ recorded during the band’s week-long stay in Nashville before the Byrds became the first rock group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

Irwin next serves up two rehearsals each, with bits of studio chatter and occasional false starts, of Parsons fronting the band on the Louvin Brothers’ ‘The Christian Life,’ Merle Haggard’s ‘Life in Prison,’ Parsons’ own ‘One Hundred Years from Now’ and the old George Jones hit ‘You’re Still on My Mind.’

The disc closes with a pair of instrumental run-throughs of Kelley’s ‘All I Have Is Memories’ and a rehearsal of ‘Blue Canadian Rockies’ featuring Hillman handling the vocal. Altogether the second disc clocks in at 61 minutes of rare and previously unreleased material.

Irwin singles out original producer Gary Usher for his crucial role in crafting Sweetheart. ‘He was a member of the new school of producers as opposed to some of the older guys who would rein in the younger musicians back in the ’60s. He pretty much let them go and shape their music the way they wanted to and then offered very smart musical guidance . . . Roger McGuinn has great things to say about Gary. Certainly they feel that he fostered their creativity.”

Irwin also praises McGuinn, “A lot of credit has to be given to Roger’s openness and willingness to listen to the people he was playing with. I think that’s something that is often overlooked – the strength of Roger’s contribution. Even though the band was feeling the influences of this new music, Roger was still very much the main driving force behind the band when it came to shaping the music. You can hear on the studio chatter that he and Gram are calling the shots, but Roger is structuring the songs.”

Asked about Sweetheart, Hillman tells ICE, “I think it was a noble experiment for the time. There are some great songs, including two of Gram’s best, ‘One Hundred Years from Now’ and ‘Hickory Wind.’ He was like a young colt let out of the corral, rearing to go, and that was good for Roger and me. I think we opened a lot of doors for people who otherwise would never had listened to that kind of music.”

But Hillman does qualify his praise for Sweetheart. “I don’t think it was the best Byrds album we made. When I listen to things like ‘Life in Prison,’ sung by a trust-fund kid, it doesn’t quite gel. That was sort of a bad pick of material, [with] Gram singing ‘I’ll do life in prison for the wrongs that I’ve done,’ unless it was more of an insightful, abstract look at his own problems – ‘life in prison’ being suffering emotionally in his own mind.”

But having Parsons in the band, he says, was great for him. “I love country music, and now I had an ally, and we sort of nudged Roger along. Roger never really liked that kind of music, and to this day I don’t think he likes it.”

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo | | Leave a comment