Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Plant’s Influenza (Preston, January 1973)

ledzeppelin-plantsinfluenza-1973fFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Guildhall, Preston, England – January 30, 1973

Disc 1 (57:17): 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 (67:51): Dazed And Confused (includes Carry On, San Francisco), Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love (includes The Hunter, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling, Boogie Chillun’, (You’re So Square) I Don’t Care, Let’s Have A Party, I Can’t Quit You, The Shape I’m In)

This tape has a very strange history. The original Tarantura label folded in 1997 but in October of 1999, more than two years later, came the surprise release of Zep (TCD-100) commonly called “Four Cards” because of the cover artwork.

This was announced as being a title that was supposed to come out in 1996 but got lost in the shuffle (so to speak) and took three years to come out. Zep claimed to date from the December 17th, 1972 Birmingham show and ran from the middle of “Misty Mountain Hop” through the first eleven minutes of “Dazed And Confused.”

The following year Electric Magic released Strange Affinity (EMC-006A/B), a beautifully packaged two disc set which claimed to have the Birmingham fragment on disc one and “Stairway To Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” from the January 16th, 1973 show from Kings Hall in Aberystwyth in Wales.

When Plant’s Influenza came out in late 2003 it proved everything assumed about this tape to be wrong. This tape comes not from Birmingham but from the January 30th, 1973 show in Preston. And the second disc of Strange Affinity has nothing to do with Aberystwyth, but is another fragment from the Preston show.

Plant’s Influenza is the debut for the most complete version of the tape with the first three and a half songs, “Rock And Roll,” “Over The Hills And Far Away,” “Black Dog,” the first half of “Misty Mountain Hop,” the latter twenty minutes of “Dazed And Confused” and the first three and a half minutes of “Stairway To Heaven.” Reviews claim this tape is still not complete since the encore “Heartbreaker” is still missing. This may be true, although the supporting reason for this, that it was mentioned in The Concert File, isn’t convincing. Given the way the tape fades out at the end does support this, but after five years it still has not surfaced. What is present is a very clear and enjoyable mono audience recording with the main set from the show.

The audience were very quiet (and sarcastic) so there is very little interference and the music comes through very clear. The only significant cut is a tape flip at 24:12 in “Dazed And Confused” which eliminates the return to the main theme before the third verse of the song.

Led Zeppelin were originally scheduled to play in Preston on January 3rd but was cancelled due to Plant’s influenza. This make up date was tacked on to the end of the itinerary and would be their final appearance in the UK for more than two years. The tape begins with audience conversation and one punter saying, “my brain hurts” before the band launch into the opening “Rock And Roll” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.”

“Thank you very much, good evening! I see that since the last time they’ve managed to change the halls a bit. Whatever happened to that nice old place?” Plant says, referring to the Civic Hall where they played on November 24rd, 1971. ”Fell down” someone close to the microphone shouts. “It ain’t knocked down ’cause we passed it. Its just got tin around the windows.” Plant talks about the black lab and introduces “Black Dog.”

Before “Misty Mountain Hop” Plant says, “We’re just getting over Scotland, which was much better than California last time. That’s not too far from here. This is for all the Jacobites still around. This is what happens when you go through the municipal park on a Sunday afternoon and you bumped into a rizla agent. You might laugh. I bumped into one actually.”

Zeppelin liked to create interest by playing medlies and this set list is characterized by four. The one with this and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is the most bizarre since there is no strong thematic link between the two nor are they at the beginning or end of the show where it would be most effective.

Page’s burst of notes on the guitar bridge is pretty cool though. Before the next short medley Plant says, “Ladies and gentlemen. This is the last performance, I mean this is the very last one for about a month. And this is another song off the new album. This is for whistling John Bonham. And it’s called ‘The Song Remains The Same’ and is relative to us traveling a lot.”

Plant praises the mellotron at the end of “The Rain Song,” as they prepare for “Dazed And Confused.” At twenty-nine minutes long this is one of the longest played in the UK that winter. At about 6:47 in the song Page plays the opening riff of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Carry On” right before “San Francisco.”

During the violin bow section a heckler by the stage shouts “BORING!” Page carries on anyway unmoved and the improvisation turns out to be one of their heaviest. The final “Whole Lotta Love” medley reaches close to a half hour. Page plays the riff to “The Hunter” from the old “How Many More Times” medley and the rest of the band pick it up for a few bars. Before “Boogie Chillun’” Plant sings the chorus from Freddie King’s 1960 hit “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling”: “I wanna tell you about my girl / my girl been out looking good / the cops took her in / that girl she didn’t need no bail / she wiggled one time and the judge put the cops in jail”

The rest of the song contains the standard Elvis numbers ending with “I Can’t Quit You.” It is a pity the encore isn’t present, but having the main set is tremendous and Empress Valley did a good job with the tape. Compared to the older releases it is much clear with no distortion.

Plant’s Influenza is worth having.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Plant's Influenza | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Coherence (LA Forum, June 1977)

coherence_fFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – June 27th, 1977

Disc 1 (75:17): Intro., The Song Remains The Same/Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (73:27): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Going Down South/Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, Dancing Days, White Summer/Black Mountain Side/Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot

Disc 3 (72:42): Out On The Tiles/Moby Dick, guitar solo/Achillies Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love/Rock and Roll

The Millard tape for this final show in Los Angeles, and one of Zeppelin’s final shows in the US, has been released many times. Previous titles include The Legendary End (Silver Rarities SIRA 206/207/208), The Legend of the End (Tarantura T19CD-16-19), Sunset (TDOLZ Vol. 55), Farewell To L.A. (Rabbit Records RR 001/2/3) and Deep Striker (Empress Valley EVSD-26/27/28/29).

Watchtower claim they have used the master tape Coherence. It is certainly more clear and dynamic than the others. Like many of the other tapes from the LA Forum this is an amazing sounding stereo audience recording that sounds almost like a professional recording. All of the instruments are perfectly balanced along with the audience noise.

This concert is notable for being the final show of the second leg of their eleventh tour and for being their final concert in Los Angeles. But even more, along with the March 21th, 1975 Seattle and May 25th, 1975 Earl’s Court, one of the longest concerts every performed by Led Zeppelin. The set list played at a normal pace averaged two and a half hours, but the expanded numbers in the show on this night push the show more than an hour past the average and is one of their legendary epic marathons.

One gets the impression listening to this show that, since it was their final in Los Angeles for the tour, they wanted to squeeze every note and savor every second onstage. The band showed signs of needing a break in this long tour and the performance itself is erratic and the first five songs sound like they are teetering on the edge of disaster (but always being saved at the last minute).

For this reason it is overshadowed by the other concerts in LA, but is very satisfying in the end. “I might say welcome to the Forum because it’s becoming like our front room. Know what I mean? As this is the last night out of six nights; six nights out of seven we’ll do our best to play…until we fall over” is Robert Plant’s opening words before the first song from Presence is played, an excellent version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

“Over The Hills And Far Away” follows and contains an interesting guitar solo by Jimmy Page where it sounds as if he is fighting his instrument. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is introduced as about “a little bit of distress in a relationship as is usually the case” and is dedicated to DJ J.J. Jackson. The rough moments are overshadowed by what is one of Page’s finest solos.

“No Quarter” begins with an introduction of John Paul Jones with “strawberry tart in his pockets.” This version is thirty-three minutes long and is the first highlight of the night. During the long improvisation in the middle they play a catchy 12 bar boogie before the dark, brooding and intense solo that is magisterial in construction.

The ending of the acoustic set is unique with a minute long rendition of the 1948 Muddy Waters hit “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (listed as “Going Down South” on the liner notes). Plant sings the chorus and mumbles the second verse before they go into “Black Country Woman” which is segued with “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.”

This version is expanded to include a John Paul Jones stand-up bass solo, a Page solo, and the band playing “Dancing Days,” a song that sounds much better acoustically than electric. Page’s “White Summer” and “Black Mountain Side” solo reaches almost five minutes with parts of “Swan Song” and “Kashmir” thrown in before the band crash in with “Kashmir.”

Bonham’s drum solo “Moby Dick” is about the only piece that isn’t longer than normal, reaching only fifteen minutes. Page’s second long solo of the evening is close to a half hour and includes “America” from West Side Story in addition to “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Dixie.” This is segued directly with “Achillies Last Stand” which Page plays with an out of tune guitar and is among the weakest versions of the tour. The rest of the show is enjoyable, however, and despite the mistakes is an effective concert.

It’s a nice show to have after absorbing Eddie and Badgeholders. All this is on three CDs (some of the other labels stretched it over four) in packaging that is unimaginative even by Watchtower’s undemanding standards. But this is probably the most enjoyable version of this well circulated tape and definitely recommended.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Coherence | , | Leave a comment

Neil Young Year Of The Horse DVD (1997)

51GM97NE7ZLFrom amazon.com

Review The method of Jim Jarmusch has worked, to this point, to minimalize the actor’s environment as means of accentuating the spoken word. Relationships are shared usually between the audience and an intimate few; 3 (Stranger Than Paradise), 2 (Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes), 1 (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). Banter usually focuses on juxtaposing decisions made in the past with the decisions, although often not apparent, that are to be made within the quagmire of what is routine. Transient characters use expression and subsequent argument as the auteur’s mouthpiece to confront this routine. Year of the Horse is Jarmusch’s exception; rockumenting the band Crazy Horse and their lead man Neil Young on their 1996 world tour.

Jim Jarmusch, after teaming up with Neil Young for the soundtrack to his 1995 film Dead Man, has collaborated with Neil again, under the guise of Shakey Pictures, Neil Young’s pseudonym and label, to document Crazy Horse’s Broken Arrow tour. Old tour footage (1976 tour footage was directed and filmed by One West, the 1986 footage was taken from the film Muddy Track, a Shakey Picture, directed and filmed by Bernard Shakey) is included as means of juxtaposing the band’s transition in sound, set design and apparel, a testament to their consistency. The band – Neil Young (guitar/vocals), Ralph Molina (drums/vocals), Frank “Poncho” Sampedro (guitar/keyboards/vocals), and Billy Talbot (bass/vocals) – question Jarmusch’s ability to capture the essence of what truly is Crazy Horse as their tenure as grunge gods with an iconic leading man cannot be easily summarized. Or can it? “Some artsy-fartsy New York director gonna ask a bunch of stupid questions and pretend like you’re explaining what’s been a 30-year relationship.” Or can it?

As Crazy Horse’s tour meanders through the United States and Europe, Jarmusch’s camera documents each step of the way, the highlights of which allow the audience to witness a tour bus fight regarding the harmonies on the song Cortez the Killer, a hit off of the 1976 album Zuma. In fact, many of the references, and subsequent song and footage selection revolve around Zuma. Their 1976 tour/footage was captured while promoting the album, and the songs Barstool Blues and Stupid Girl both appear on the Year of the Horse set list, and are played admirably well some 20 years later. Jarmusch decided to use Super 8mm film stock to capture their 1996 concert footage, an obvious testament to the raw edginess to the band’s music. Behind the scenes footage is by way of interview, working as an homage to lives lost and as a celebration of continued success.

In an interview with Emmanuel Tellier from “Les Inrockuptibles” magazine, Neil intimates that with Year of the Horse “you can really feel the personal view of a film maker, and above all the movie is about the band. It’s more than a simple story; it’s an impression, a succession of feelings. I had the idea of doing this movie – I like this kind of stuff and I like to have a camera with me, but Jim made it possible…With Crazy Horse, we always work hard. Sometimes, people don’t understand how hard it is. Jarmusch’s film really shows that.”

The film’s set list, like its footage, is a blend of old favourites and new(er) tracks off of the bands 1996 Broken Arrow album. Neil says in the film that he “always hated calling the band Neil Young and Crazy Horse…we together are Crazy Horse.” The iconic frontman has wavered very little from his aptitude for great song writing, leadership that has kept this grunge band in check and sounding great for over twenty years.

Review This appears to be an effort to reflect the ragged, jagged, fuzzy, loose sound of Crazy Horse visually and attitudinally in a documentary. The film stock is low quality, the camera is hand-held and often jiggly, there’s lots of out-of-focus, grainy stuff, and the interviews and candid moments seem offhand and sometimes random. I don’t see why that couldn’t work in principle, but in this case it doesn’t amount to much. To me, at least, it isn’t that interesting visually or attitudinally because of any of those techniques. In fact, some people positively hate this film because of those techniques, so they may bother you too. However, there is some interesting stuff in the interviews, of a very basic sort. You get some flavour of what the band members are like and how they interact, and some history of how they got together.

The more valuable part of the film for me is the music. Most of it’s from 1996 concert performances, but there are some clips from earlier, back as far as the 70s, including a substantial part of “Like a Hurricane.” My favourite is “Tonight’s the Night,” which starts off with a quiet bass line and goes through several gritty stages, including some unusual guitar effects from Young. It’s introduced by interview bits about David Briggs, a producer and friend who died young of lung cancer, which sets a sober mood. The other songs are a mix of old and what was new in 1996: “F****n’ Up,” “Slip Away,” “Barstool Blues,” “Stupid Girl,” “Big Time,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “Sedan Delivery,” “My Girl,” “Like a Hurricane,” “Music Arcade.” They’re all well performed, with maximum energy.

The DVD chapters (on my copy, at least) don’t usually correspond to the beginning of a song, which is inconvenient for those who might want to hear the songs more often than the interviews and such that are between them.

There are three versions of this DVD available through Amazon right now. The one I have is a bare-bones region 1 Canadian version, UPC 774212009235, with a Warholish cover of four differently coloured versions of the photo of the midsection of Young playing guitar. The sound quality, in Dolby 2.0, is pretty good for a live concert. The image quality is supposed to be distressed, and it is. It’s nonanamorphic widescreen, meaning it will have black bars on the sides on a widescreen monitor, but given the generally low video quality, that hardly matters. The only extra is a trailer. (It’s worth checking the Canadian Amazon site for cheaper prices on this one.)

There’s a region-free Brazilian version that has Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 sound options, plus a photo gallery, biography and discography.

The US release has Dolby 2.0, 5.1 and DTS 5.1. It also has a 26-minute interview with Young and director Jarmusch, plus additional interview material with Crazy Horse. The additional stuff is said to be about as interesting as the stuff that’s in the interviews in the film itself, but I haven’t seen it. There’s also the trailer (and a couple trailers for other films). The DTS sound is said to be good, if you have the system required for it. The video is nonanamorphic widescreen. Obviously, of the three, the US release is the one to get if you can, but all these DVDs are out of print, and that version is currently the most expensive.

There’s also a 2-CD set called Year of the Horse, but the music on it isn’t the same as on the DVD.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Year Of The Horse DVD | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Baltimore 1972 (June 1972)

baltimore72_fFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Civic Center, Baltimore, MD – June 11th, 1972

Disc 1 (65:02): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp

Disc 2 (57:48): Dazed & Confused (includes Walter’s Walk), What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (41:09): Whole Lotta Love (includes Everybody Need Somebody, Boogie Chillun’, Need Your Love Tonight, Hello Mary Lou, Heartbreak Hotel, Going Down Slow), Rock And Roll, Communication Breakdown

There are so few very good documents from one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest tours. Barely half of the shows of the US tour in 1972 were even taped and of the existing documents, the ones that are actually enjoyable can be counted on one hand (Charlotte, second New York, Los Angeles and San Bernardino). The tape source from Baltimore is one of the good ones which had not seen its definitive release.

Previous releases include Baltimore 1972 (Immigrant IM-026~28), Nutty & Cool (Baby Face BF-9604-1-A/2-B/3-C), three discs of the six disc set Baltimore Jack (TDOLZ Vol. 96) and The Axeman Of Cometh (Flagge). Most of them used high generation tapes and the Flagge title, the most recent and previous definitive, has a poor editing job. Wardour makes the claim that its source is the master tape. While it is difficult to tell, this is a substantial improvement over the TDOLZ version of the show. The older versions sound very dull with the music getting lost in a smudge of noise.

Baltimore 1972 is still distant and there are a couple of minor cuts, but the sound is much more sharp, crisp and focused. All of the tapes from this tour are welcome and this is among the very best. Zeppelin were touring North America for the first time since the release of their fourth LP and “Stairway To Heaven” had already become a classic, receiving tremendous ovations at every stop. They were also conscious of competing with The Rolling Stones tour occurring at the same time and the tapes reveal how ferocious they can be in concert.

There is an air of confidence and unfettered creativity that would disappear after this in their determination to become more professional in their musical presentation. The basic set list is very similar to the previous tour with an expanded acoustic set with “Tangerine” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and with “Dazed & Confused” being placed later in the set. About two weeks after Baltimore they would experiment even more with the inclusion of some songs from Houses Of The Holy, about a year before its release.

“Dazed & Confused” really reached an apex with the usual inclusions of “The Crunge” and riffs from the songs “Walter’s Walk” and “Hots On For Nowhere”. The version played on this night doesn’t have the former song, but it does have the latter with Plant scatting over it. Plant speaks about seeing an Elvis Presley show the previous night in New York City before “Going To California”. The “Whole Lotta Love” medley has the special inclusions of “Need Your Loving Tonight” and “Heartbreak Hotel” joining the standard “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Hello Mary Lou”.

During “Going Down Slow” the rhythm section lock onto a jazzy beat under a very tense Page solo. This is the one of the few releases by Wardour of a Zeppelin title and they did a very good job with it. The artwork uses photos from the actual tour but is given a drab tint making it not too attractive. But it is limited to three hundred copies and can be considered the best version of this show available.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Baltimore 1972 | , | Leave a comment

Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)

untitledFrom starling.rinet.ru

Let me apologize beforehand if I overabuse the words ‘wonderful’, ‘beautiful’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘outstanding’, etc., etc., in my description of this album. The fact is, while bands like the Beatles were primarily intent on recording music that was ‘great’ in all possible senses, Stevie Wonder’s main function was to write music that was ‘beautiful’ by definition, and I can’t really call these songs by anything but their own proper names. Okay, on to the review now.

One day I sit and think that this monumental double album could have made a much better single one. The other day I stand up and think that there’s just too much great material to reduce it to one disc, and so maybe it is better to leave everything as it is. One thing’s for sure, though: this is the artistic/conceptual peak of Stevie, the album that left him so drained and exhausted that he’s never done anything at least vaguely approaching Songs since. This is his ‘Lifehouse’ – the vast Stevie Wonder encyclopaedia that summarizes all of his beautiful (and not so beautiful) aspects; only, unlike Pete Townshend, Stevie managed to bring his gargantuan task to completion, and so what the hell am I talking about? Leave all this filler on record, it wouldn’t be the same without the filler!

Where do I really start with this magnificent album that’s an absolute must for everybody with at least a little interest towards black pop music? Well, first of all I must say that it’s not very easy to get into it, because, as with every Stevie Wonder album, its charm is very ‘uneconomic’. The biggest problem is that a very large per-cent of the songs are terribly prolongated – so much, in fact, that if you’d only trim the lengthy codas to ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’, ‘Ordinary Pain’, ‘Black Man’, ‘Another Star’ and others, the album would have automatically been reduced to a single LP. This is, indeed, a problem that a lot of people find really confusing, and for a short while I hated them as well. Then, however, it struck me.

These lengthy codas are necessary for the album, because one thing it isn’t: a collection of short catchy pop songs. Nor, however, is it an overblown ‘progressive’ record: the songs are for the most part firmly grounded in common problems – love, hate, pity, home-level spirituality, nostalgia, racism, social injustice, etc. But the fact that the songs are so long serves as a ‘stabilizing’ factor: it demonstrates that these songs aren’t just your basic for-the-moment hits that you rush through your head and forget the next day, or, in fact, the next minute.

Almost every song here is a statement of sorts, a heartfelt, sincere confession, and the fact that it’s long only speaks in favour of the song’s seriousness and importance. Not to mention that most of the codas are hooky: Stevie either charms you with some emotional, tear-inducing singing (‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’), or a dumb, but crazy-fun danceable rhythm (‘Another Star’), or something like that.

And as for the songs themselves, well, it’s easier for me to list the filler than the good material, just because their numbers are incomparable. In fact, there’s just about three or four songs out of twenty that don’t have their ‘magic’ moments, at least, they don’t seem ‘magic’ to me – they might seem so to you. In particular, I’m not that fond of the instrumental ‘Contusion’, a funky dance tune that doesn’t really seem to belong to the album (although it’s nowhere near offensive); the above-mentioned ‘Black Man’ whose social message is much too straightforward, not to mention the bizarre call-and-answer session between teachers (?) and pupils near the end where the ‘teachers’ scream at the children as if they were in a concentration camp, not a school; the soulful, but much too simplistic acoustic ballad ‘If It’s Magic’; and the ridiculous Latino nonsense number ‘Ngiculela/Es Una Historia’.
But how could this puny list serve as a serious objection against a song as stunningly beautiful as ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’, one of the most gorgeous love ballads ever written? Notice how the humble (and brilliantly twisted) verses contrast with that wonderful bombastic chorus (‘but I love you I love you I love you’)? That’s catharsis for ya, I say! And how could this wretched list ever hope to make one forget about the unhidden passion of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, a song devoted to Stevie’s little daughter? Possibly the best ‘father-child anthem’ ever written by a living man, it has such an uplifting, warm melody that it’s able to move a stone, and that harmonica solo that seems to go on forever and forever… well, it’s a little bit short for me. Out of the more ‘bloated’ numbers, I vote for ‘Joy Inside My Tears’, a song that’s ‘angelic’ by definition; the chorus alone is worthy of inclusion into God’s list of preferred recordings. Lovers of simple, unadulterated dance music will certainly get their kicks out of ‘Another Star’ with its endless ‘na-na-nahs’ that might seem stupid but are at least memorable. And if you’re hungry about Stevie’s jazz roots, what about ‘Sir Duke’, a charming tribute to all the jazz masters of the past?

Another equally important ‘conceptual’ part of the album is social critique and Stevie’s role of ‘master of the minds’. The best example of a politically engaged song here is certainly ‘Pastime Paradise’, a somewhat stripped-down piano/acoustic shuffle that makes much better use of four-syllable Latin words than Bob Dylan made of three-syllable Latin words in ‘No Time To Think’. But ‘Village Ghetto Land’ (the number with one of the most interesting synth strings arrangement on the record) comes close in its prettiness, and then, of course, there’s ‘Saturn’, Stevie’s sci-fi tale of leaving the Earth with its problems. Don’t know why he chose Saturn and not Jupiter as his last abode (he probably chose the most realistic choice – Juppiter is too far away, while Mars is associated with war itself), but that chill-giving snarl at the beginning of the chorus is really something, anyway.

Behind all this, however, we mustn’t forget that Stevie’s primarily a musician and a composer (most of the instrumental work on the album is done by him, although there are a little bit more guest musicians than usually). And he’s an experimental composer at that, always willing to take risks. Where I’m pointing to? Well, I just wanted to remind you that at least two of the songs on the album feature outstanding, highly unusual arrangements that caught my ear immediately. ‘Have A Talk With God’, for one, features an incredible synth pattern that beats Pink Floyd to hell: have you ever bothered to carefully listen to that song? And ‘All Day Sucker’ (crazily enough, my current bet for the best song on the whole record) has such a catchy, mind-invading rhythm, also based on synths plus electronic encoding of the spoken title, that I can’t resist playing it one more time… wait a moment… oh, okay, I’m gonna listen to the nice, mellow instrumental ‘Easy Goin’ Evening’ that ends the record instead. There’s some cool harmonica playing there.

So what I really haven’t done is describe all the tracks, but there’s really no need to do that – I think I did give a more or less detailed picture of this incredible record. I don’t know how many bad people it managed to transform into good people, but, to my mind, this is exactly the kind of thing this album is destined to be doing. If you think you suck go out and buy it now. If you think you don’t go out and buy it anyway, because there’s no limit to being good in this world.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (1997)

28103416_700x700min_1From amazon.com

Review I bought this album awhile ago, and unfortunately, the first review I wrote was somehow lost in the system. Since I have a poor at best memory, I had to just hunker down, listen to the CD again and do a proper review….

While definitely not the best Hendrix album, it is probably the best posthumous one (that’s in print, at least), as far as studio work goes. Jimi had an obsession with capturing his ideas on record, and this just further exemplifies that obsession. While I’d obviously get his official recordings (AYE, A:BAS, EL, and BOG) and probably a live record or two (Woodstock, Fillmore East), this does prove to be an excellent record for the person who just can’t get enough Jimi…

Much more polished than “South Saturn Delta,” the release that followed “First Rays…”, this album was meant to compile the material that was to end up on Jimi’s fourth studio effort of the same name. While Jimi originally planned to keep recording and produce a second LP to go with the first, his death unfortunately cut that plan short, and record producers were forced to spread out what had been completed over three posthumous, now out of print releases (Rainbow Bridge, Cry of Love, and War Heroes).

What we have now on “First Rays Of The New Rising Sun,” is an attempt to compile the available material onto one disc, in an order as close to Jimi’s original wishes as possible. Unfortunately, any claims that the CD was produced directly from Jimi’s notes is a half-truth at best. No one could have possibly known Jimi’s plans, especially considering Jimi’s distinct style. He knew of a broad range of music, and so tracks may have been altered to give some a bluesy feel, or a jazzy feel.

Despite this, “First Rays of The New Rising Sun,” is still an incredible album, and still worth picking up if you are an intense Jimi-phile like me. Although some tracks weren’t mixed by Hendrix himself, and at least two tracks weren’t the masters that Jimi had been working at, they still provide fantastic insight into one of the most creative minds of the twentieth century. Intensely beautiful tracks like “Belly Button Window,” “Angel” and “Drifting” are separated by heavy rockers like “Ezy Rider” and mild blues/rock tracks like “Dolly Dagger,” and “Izabella.” Throughout, the album retains a sense of “togetherness,” with a feel that most of the songs fit where they are on the CD. It definitely is an intense listening experience, one that cannot totally be felt by just casual listening while performing other tasks. No, instead, invest in a good pair of headphones, turn out the lights and lay still as you take everything in…

While not being perfect, “First Rays” is probably the best of the posthumous Jimi releases, and definitely worth the time and money it may cost you. Even the liner notes are fantastic, including many rare photos, and almost 25 pages of fantastic track descriptions and essays.

If you fancy yourself a Jimi fan, than this record is for you. If you respect Jimi’s work, than this is for you. Get it, it’s probably one of my top 15 favourite CDs…

*(one warning though): If you have a multi-speaker surround sound system, then you might want to invest in a smaller unit. The mixes are sometimes fuzzy or tinny, and sometimes only are audible from a single speaker. Other than that, I don’t have any real complaints.

Review I think it’s important to understand that this is the closest thing to what Jimi had intended to release in 1971 as the follow-up to the seminal Electric Ladyland album of 1968…

Having said that I have to say that I think this is the most impressive material of his career. These are the tightest batch of songs he recorded in that none of them are too long and all have tremendous hooks and content. The performances here are considerably better than past recordings due in part to the fact these are musicians who have played and toured together for successive years and are literally at the top of their game. And it shows!!!

Hendrix’s vocals are more controlled and less gimmicky and he displays a lot more vocal range in general than before. His guitar parts are more structured and intricate. His solos less sloppy and more developed. His overall aura more tightly defined. And let’s face it. Noel Redding wasn’t the most impressive bass player (he was actually a guitar player by trade) and hearing Billy Cox on bass here makes you realize that Hendrix’s material is far more fluid and soulful w/ him in the mix.

Also, the production quality of the overall sound is better than his previous efforts. So much of it was recorded at his newly built Electric Lady Studios the Summer of 1970 and the fact that they were able to utilize the most state-of-the-art and up to date recording equipment is obvious when you hear the results.

It may be silly to say since Jimi Hendrix has become a bigger rock star since his death, but had he lived and kicked-off the decade w/ this release he would have owned the 70’s. Zeppelin? Sure they were huge then but he would have been THE rock star defining the decade, I’m sure of it.

Just have a listen to “Freedom” w/ it’s locked-in beat, searing, white hot guitar licks, and Jimi’s soulful vocal delivery. THAT is rock n’ roll. “Izabella” continues right where “Freedom” leaves off and that’s a good thing because “Freedom” seems way too short. “Dolly Dagger” and “Ezy Rider” are just pure ear candy. “Stepping Stone” has some of the hottest guitar licks ever recorded. Period. Just listen to the outro solo. “My Friend” is a pleasant surprise w/ it’s Dylan-esque vocals and overall vibe. “In From The Storm” slams you over the head from the first notes of the guitar riff w/ it’s dramatic hard rock delivery. The CD ends w/ the mellow blues of “Belly Button Window” and it’s incredibly creative and sensitive lyrics from the perspective of drummer Mitch Mitchell’s then unborn child.

I realize this was originally compiled and released in CD form back in 1997, but this is the first I’m hearing it and I have to say I’m completely blown away….

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix First Rays Of The New Rising Sun | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Loose Ends (1973)

cover_475991442009From amazon.com

Every now and then the music business abides by the truth-in-advertising laws and 1973’s “Loose Ends …” stands as a perfect example. Compiled by former Hendrix manager Michael Jeffery, musically these eight tracks were a true hodgepodge of studio odds and ends with the oldest stretching back to July 1967 (‘The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice’), the most recent effort being the leadoff track ‘Coming Down Hard on Me Baby’ which had been recorded in July 1970.

Whereas up to this point Reprise Records management had shown no concern with the Jeffrey’s four earlier posthumous Hendrix releases, citing concern for the poor quality of the material, this time around they refused to release the album in the States or Canada, though that didn’t stop Polydor Records from acquiring rights and releasing it throughout the rest of the world. Having heard those earlier releases, I can tell you this one really wasn’t that much worse. In fact, by my count four of the eight tracks were worth spinning more than once, That’s a pretty high winning ratio even for a studio set !

– Due in large measure to the fact it was one of the more complete and finished performances, ‘Coming Down Hard on Me Baby’ was one of the standout performances. That wasn’t to say it was anywhere near a classic Hendrix performance. Falling somewhere between studio jam and standard blues-rocker, on one of his studio albums it wouldn’t made much of an impression, but surrounded by the rest of these outtakes and castoffs, it was okay. rating: *** stars
– While it was billed as a cover of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, the fact of the matter is this one was nothing but stoned in-studio gibberish with Hendrix going on and on trying to get Buddy Miles to come up with the backbeat pattern he had in his mind. The first half of the track was a total waste of time unless you really felt the need to hear a stoned Hendrix mumbling on and on. When he actually started jamming the results were at least worth a spin. rating: ** stars
– ‘Jam 292’ was a faceless, bluesy instrumental jam. Even with the Hendrix solo, you’ve heard far better at your local redneck bar. rating: ** stars
– The earliest performance on the album (1967), ‘The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice’ was the most psychedelic and enjoyable song on the set. This one would have slotted nicely on one of the first three studio albums. In fact my only complaint about this one had to do with the voices that popped up on the backing tracks – they simply served to distract from the rest of the song. rating: **** stars
– I’m not sure why, but like The Byrds, Hendrix seemed to have an affinity for Bob Dylan covers and while ‘The Drifter’s Escape’ may not have been as impressive as ‘All Along the Watchtower’ it came pretty darn close. Another album highlight. Only complaint here was the abrupt fade out. rating: **** stars
– Even though it initially recalled ‘Dolly Dagger’, I’ll admit to liking the first part of the slinky rocker ‘Burning Desire’. The song also featured a standout Hendrix solo, My big problem with this one was it degenerated into a formless bluesy jam that seemed to go on forever, before returning to the main melody at the end, and the sound quality was abysmal. The song sounded like it had been recorded over a long distance phone line. Shame. rating: *** stars
– Sounding like a throwaway studio jam, ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ was at least fun to hear. Keeping it fairly simple and straightforward, Hendrix and company sounded like they were simply having a good time on this one. rating: *** stars
– Just Hendrix and his guitar, the brief instrumental ‘Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)’ served as another album highlight. To my ears this song fragment was all the more enjoyable and powerful for its pure simplicity. rating: **** stars

Sad to say, but even Hendrix looked tired (or thoroughly stoned) on this one … check out the back cover photo of the guitarist. A couple of others folks have already said it – unless you’re a Hendrix fanatic you don’t need this one.

The album was released with a bunch of different covers, including the wild French and original UK versions seen above. The material has also been repackaged a couple of times, including a 1983 UK package on the Contour label with the clever title “The Jimi Hendrix Album”.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Loose Ends | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup (1995)

cover_32762152009From amazon.com

I bought “Voodoo Soup” in 1995 when it came out, and not being aware of all the controversy of its production, was blown away. I was familiar with the vinyl albums released in the 70’s after Hendrix’s death, but they just felt clunky and odd.

I remember listening to those records in the late 80s and staring at the album covers like they were strange impostors that everyone was too polite to call out. They have great songs and sound well produced but there’s none of the theatrical presentation that had been evolving on his three original official releases. Those early posthumous albums sounded more like a random collection of songs.

“Voodoo Soup” actually has an extremely dramatic quality, a wonderful progression of tones and textures. There’s something of an arc to the changes across the track lineup. Some people find fault with having “Belly Button Window” as the first song that follows the intro, claiming “Freedom” is the logical choice here. If there’s one thing Jimi loved to do is shock and awe his audience, and I can’t think of anything more shocking and awesome than a pro-abortion song opening the show. I was simpatico when I first heard it in ’95 and I still am.

“Voodoo Soup” isn’t perfect, of course. I was disappointed that “Izabela” and “Dolly Dagger” were left off. I knew them from the 70’s records and expected them to be featured, but thanks to digital technology I can put ’em in there now and give myself a producing credit, like that Alan Douglas creep.

I didn’t know at the time that the instrumental numbers “Midnight” and “Peace In Mississippi” were from ’68, so I accepted them happily. In fact, I was unaware of all the remixing and overdubbing that criminal Douglas did, so I wasn’t predisposed to hate the whole project. I just grooved to its transcendental sounds and drifted with its ethereal flow, as happy as any idiot could be.

A few years later I listened to “First Rays of the New Rising Sun” and actually had a touch of that old feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that I was being conned just a little bit. “Voodoo Soup” had the luxury of being the first to make my acquaintance, and like a baby duckling seeing its mother for the first time, it left a deep imprint on my psyche.

“First Rays” would have to be pretty damn cosmically remarkable to replace “Voodoo Soup” as my sonic mommy. It didn’t. Something was off. Three song towards the end that are not on “Voodoo Soup” – “Straight Ahead”, “Earth Blues”, and “Astro Man” – are all actually a little weak, probably early roughs. And its mix of “In From the Storm” is cruder and clunky. “Rays” might be engorging the strident purists, but it left me somewhat limp.

It just kinda peters out. But “Voodoo Soup” builds to a crashing, apocalyptic three song finale. Very satisfying. Just no accounting for taste.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup | | Leave a comment