Classic Rock Review

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Hot Wired Guitar: The Life Of Jeff Beck by Martin Power (2012)

12866578From amazon.com

Review I’m a lifelong Jeff Beck fan, so buying and reading this book was a no-brainer, and I enjoyed every page. It’s important, though, to know what this is and what it isn’t.

What it is is a book about Beck’s life in music, an almost encyclopaedic account of just about every tour, influence, instrument, recording session, and collaboration in Beck’s career, framed by his aspirations, tastes, and, at the beginning of the book, his childhood discovery of the guitar and almost desperate drive to acquire one and learn to play it. We learn about his friends in music, some of them, like Jimmy Page, lifetime collaborators, influences, and thorns in his side.

What it isn’t is any kind of probing character study or psychological reflection on Beck as a person. Other than those childhood scenes at the beginning of the book and his relationships with other musicians, we don’t find out all that much about Beck’s personality, at least beyond what we already knew about his younger, prickly days and his later reputation as a humble, self-effacing, gentle soul. There’s some space given to his fanatic attraction to hot rods, relatively little to his marriages and other significant relationships.

All that’s fine with me — I don’t really care to have Beck’s psyche dissected for me. I’d rather hear and learn about how he developed his one-of-a-kind style, how he navigated (sometimes truly by random steering, it seems like) through all the musical fads and styles from the late 50s through to today. That propelled me through the book. I discovered more than I ever knew about the artists and music that inspired and influenced Beck, and spent more money than I probably should have chasing down a lot of that music on iTunes, eBay, and Amazon.

This book satisfied an itch for me, to understand more about Beck’s music, how he got to where he got (all the different places he’s gone), and maybe a little bit of why, of all the great guitarists we’ve seen, he is so unique that you find yourself saying that this guitarist or that guitarist, well they’re great, but they’re not Jeff Beck.

I’d like to have something more critical to say, and I’m sure someone’s going to find factual errors here and there (actually, I will mention that there are numerous typos in the book — missing words, wrong words — all the things that escape spellcheck), but this was a great learning experience for me.

Review “Hot Wired Guitar” is an exhausting and comprehensive biography of British guitar icon, Jeff Beck. There are a plethora of highlights including Jeff’s Yardbird years being the best of the band’s career.

When Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood were in the Jeff Beck Group they released the magnificent “Truth” CD which was a template for Led Zeppelin to emulate. Jeff Beck’s ground breaking jazz fusion masterpieces “Blow By Blow”, “Wired” and “There And Back” made Jeff Beck even more popular and respected as a fret board virtuoso. His tours with Stanley Clarke in the late 1970’s made for both interesting reading and really good music. The 1980’s were kind of a downer.

Jeff spent much time building his beloved hot rods. He was a great session guitarist on many stars’ albums but by far the paramount part of the the 80’s was his “Guitar Shop” CD. That was the album that really made many elite fellow guitarists consider him to be one of the very best. The emotive “Two Rivers” and the poignant pathos of the incomparable “Where Were You” were unmatched. Jeff Beck also toured with the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn a year prior to SRV’s tragic death. 1990 through 1993 were a brief but busy period when Jeff released critically acclaimed but not commercially successful CDs. The riveting “Frankie’s House” was an instrumental gem and “Crazy Legs” was an extraordinary rockabilly tribute to Cliff Gallup and Gene Vincent.

In the years 1999 to 2003 Jeff Beck released three sterling hard rock/ techno marvels, namely, “Who Else”, “You Had It Coming” and “Jeff”. Some of Jeff’s ultimate songs were on those CD’s including “Angel”(Footsteps), “Declan”, “Brush With The Blues”, “Blast From The East”, “Psycho Sam”, “Nadia”, “Dirty Mind”, “Plan B” “JBs Blues” and “Bulgaria”. By this time he was considered the greatest living guitarist by many of his elite fellow guitarists and several critics in the know. However, it was in 2007 when Jeff Beck finally regained his fan popularity.

He had an astounding performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads event in suburban Chicago. But it was the DVD and CD release of “Live At Ronnie Scotts” that ascended Jeff Beck into the highest guitar pantheon. The band, venue and music were impeccable and DVD sales were fantastic. A few years later Jeff Beck surprised all of us with the CD “Emotion And Commotion”. Amazing songs like “Corpus Christi Carol” “Hammerhead” the rousing “Nessum Dorma” and the melancholic but brilliant “Elegy For Dunkirk” were out of this world awesome. Jeff Beck then had two ensuing wonderful World Tours that elated his enthralled audiences. I like the fact the author loves Jeff Beck’s most emotive and poignant instrumental songs. There are gloriously performed live too !

Jeff Beck is peerless because he masters hard rock, blues, jazz fusion, funk, techno, rockabilly, and psychedelic musical genres. He can create a galaxy of heavenly and sad sounds with just his bare fingers and guitar without relying on effects. His life has been graced by Les Paul, John McLaughlin, Jimmy Page, Tony Hymas, Jan Hammer, Roger Waters, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Sir George Martin, Stevie Wonder, his recent manager. Harvey Goldsmith and an array of good friends including Macca, David Gilmour and Ronnie Wood. A personal note that the book omitted is the reality that for over 40 years Jeff Beck has been an animal lover who has taken care of hundreds of dogs and cats and many wildlife species. He’s also a Patron of the Folly Wildlife Rescue Trust in England.

It proves that a mod, blistering and cool guitar paragon can also have a heart of gold.

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May 6, 2013 Posted by | Book Hot Wired Guita The Life Of Jeff Beck by Martin Power | , | Leave a comment

Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs Of A Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor by Al Kooper (2008)

HL003319346193JVTQ8KLFrom amazon.com

Review Al Kooper has been rightly called the “Forrest Gump” of rock and roll. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s he seemed to turn up as a producer or band member with the right group of musicians until he either checked out of a band (the first electric Bob Dylan tour in 1965) or was thrown out (Blood, Sweat and Tears).

Over the course of 40 years he’s amassed an amazing amount of experiences that he’s collected in Backstage Passes and Back Stabbing Bastards. This is the third edition of his music biography first published in 1979, then updated in the mid-90’s, and now reissued covering 1998 to the present. “BP&BB” reads very much like a long-form interview you’d see in Rolling Stone (when it was good) or Mojo (always good). While he’s never quite gone beyond cult figure status on his own, behind the scenes he’s worked with some legends, most notably Bob Dylan and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dylan pops up at various times throughout the book and Al’s stories about him are alternately revealing but mostly hilarious.

It was Dylan who gave Kooper his “calling card” to rock stardom when he overruled producer Tom Wilson and turned up the organist on “Like a Rolling Stone”. The organist was Kooper, who’d BS’d his way onto the session and only jumped on the organ (an instrument he couldn’t turn on let alone play) when Mike Bloomfield showed up and shattered Kooper’s guitar hero dreams just by tuning up. That session would be both a blessing and a curse for Kooper, who got a ton of session work from producers looking for “that Dylan sound” but left Al wanting something more substantive musically. Enter Dylan, who dragged him onstage at the legendary Newport Folk Festival when he went electric.

Al sets the record straight on that show and has a much different version of the event than the history books because he was right here. He was also “right there” when Bob went to Nashville to record “Blonde on Blonde”. Al’s relationship with Dylan has certainly evolved over the years and from his stories you get the impression that Bob’s been doing everything he can to run away from his legacy instead of embracing it.

From there, he joined the Blues Project until they imploded. Organized and performed at Monterey Pop, then formed Blood Sweat and Tears until he was ousted by their drummer following their debut album. That might be the end of the story right? Wrong! Taking the phrase “if you can’t beat `em, join `em” to heart, he became a staff producer at CBS Records under “Captain Clive” Davis. His first project would be the legendary “Super Session” album with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. Kooper’s work with “Bloomers’ is a case of missed opportunities, when things were good with him they were very good. They would produce 3 albums together but Mike could be exasperating to deal with. He only appeared on ½ of “SS” and “The Live Adventures”, leaving suddenly midway through both due to chronic insomnia and/or a heroin addiction that eventually took his life.

After leaving CBS, he relocated to Atlanta with the idea of forming his own record label (ala` Phil Walden at Capricorn Records). While scouting local talent he spotted a guitar army from Jacksonville and “Sounds of the South’s” first artist was Lynyrd Skynyrd. LS seem to have a love/hate relationship with Kooper. While grateful for producing their first 3 albums (as well as hits like “Free Bird”, “Gimme 3 Steps” and “Sweet Home Alabama”) his production methods seemed to soften the powerhouse sound they had live. It’s no wonder he was immortalized as “Mr. Yankee Slicker” in the song “Workin’ for MCA”.

The one story I wished he’d expanded on was playing with Jimi Hendrix on “Electric Ladyland”. They’d met at Monterey Pop and Al received one of Jimi’s Strats as a thank-you for his work. That guitar would prove to be more trouble than it was worth later on.

The last 10 years have been something of a rough road for Al. He became an associate professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, became a grandfather, and endured a long recovery from a debilitating eye disorder. But he’s still out playing live (with his academic colleagues no less!) and his dry wit is still there, can’t wait for volume 4!

Review The reviewer that tagged Al Kooper as the rock ‘n roll version of Forrest Gump hit the nail on the head. It’s the exact thought I had as I finished the book. He had an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Al Kooper was there whenever something monumental was happening in rock music – whether it was Bob Dylan, Monterey Pop, the Rolling Stones, the Tubes, Lynyrd Skynryd and so on. His discography is stunning! He has played on records by and/or produced a tremendous number of musicians – and not “nobodys”, people like Dylan, the Rolling Stones, BB King, Skynyrd, Rick Nelson, Gene Pitney, Judy Collins, The Who, Taj Mahal, George Harrison, Tom Petty etc… I can’t think of anyone who has this kind of discography! This book is entertaining, informative and well-written. It has to be in the all time top 5 of books written about Rock ‘n Roll. It’s also inspirational. Al Kooper makes no bones about not being the most talented player on the block – he had to “fake it till he could make it.”

This book was fetching upwards of $300 when it was out of print, so I was thrilled to see it revised and back in print. It’s all here – inter and intra band conflicts, stories of the road – both the “glamour” (not much) and the boredom (plenty), drugs, women, the music industry, club owners etc… It’s clear to me that Al Kooper must have a strong personality – he has some good musical vision (e.g. the horn band Blood Sweat and Tears was his concept). He also clearly rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and had numerous falling outs with band mates, women and business people. This probably cost him a lot – both in reputation and money/success. I would love to see a book detailing other people’s opinions of Al – I have read articles/interviews in Goldmine Magazine and Al was definitely controversial.

In his autobiography Al comes across as honest and a good guy, but it’s clear to me that he, like many rock ‘n rollers was very self-absorbed and probably couldn’t see himself objectively in many situations. Either way – get this book, it’s a must read!

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Book Backstage Pass and Backstabbing Bastards by Al Kooper | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Nuremberg 1973 (March, 1973)

lz_nuremberg73From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Messe-Zentrum Halle, Nuremberg, Germany – March 14th, 1973

Disc 1 (53:27): Rock And Roll, Over The Hills And Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (73:40): Dazed And Confused, Ramble On, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker

The final title released by the important The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin label remains the only compact disc release to date of the March 14th, 1973 show at the Messe-Zentrum Halle in Nuremberg. The extremely rare Japanese acetate Live In Nuremburg 1973 (Private Collection PC 016 A-B) has “Dazed & Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love,” but TDOLZ released the entire tape on two discs. It is a fair to good and very listenable audience recording taped a fair distance from the stage and whose biggest drawback is a rumbling bass throughout the show. There is a small cut after “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” two in “The Song Remains The Same” at 3:34 and 4:31 (which eliminates the very end of the song), one after “Dazed And Confused,”at 5:25 in “Stairway To Heaven” cutting out the beginning of the guitar solo, and on at 26:19 in “Whole Lotta Love.”

The set begins with the paring of “Rock And Roll” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.” Like many bands, Zeppelin liked to build energy at the very beginning of the show by segueing together some of their more energetic numbers. Playing “Over The Hills” in the second slot was a strange choice since it stopped any momentum built with “Rock And Roll.” This arrangement would be dropped at the end of this tour and the US would see three appropriate songs played in a row. ”Good evening, and despite the fact we can’t hear anything at all. This is something off the last album. It’s about a very groovy dog. It’s about a Black Dog” Plant says afterwards as the get into the fourth album track.

“Misty Mountain Hop” is dedicated ”to the police in Manchester in England” and Page seems to favor playing notes higher than on the studio album during the short solo in the middle. ”Since I’ve Been Loving You” is very dramatic in this recording and is one of the best numbers of the night. Plant says “Dancing Days” is “about our desire or feelings towards little school girls and dirty overcoats” sounding like a letch as he says it. Jimmy Page’s guitar sounds out of tune during this track and they deliver one of the more limp versions on record.

“Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is introduced as “a song from the third LP which was conceived on the side of a mountain in the country. The grand, the grand country of Wales. This is also a number where we get a certain amount of feedback due to our studio technicians, and their expense sheets. Happy days are on. It’s about a dog with blue eyes. We’re gonna take our time. We got to tune up.” Page plays a riff from “That’s The Way” during the solo. Right after Plant introduces “The Song Remains The Same” Page plays the opening riff of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” on the double neck guitar. It’s a curious little doodle and the only time they referred to Clapton’s classic onstage. John Paul Jones fights with an out of tune mellotron during “The Rain Song.” It sounds as if the tapes inside the instrument are melting and he spends time afterwards trying to fix the problem.

Every “Dazed & Confused” on this tour is notable. John Bonham plays the drums as a lead instrument, improvising at will and even tries to get the band into “The Crunge” while Page attacks the sections of the piece with ferocity. Afterwards they plays a little bit of “Ramble On” as an introduction to “Stairway To Heaven.” Page plays the Tarantella as an introduction to “Whole Lotta Love.” Jones and Bonham play a mid-tempo rhythm under Page’s theremin solo before they get into “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun’.” They continue with two Elvis songs “(Baby You’re So Square) I Don’t Care” and the popular “Let’s Have A Party.” A heavy, drawn out version of “I Can’t Quit You” closes the half hour long medley. “Heartbreaker” is the only encore present on the tape.

Many claim that Zeppelin’s tour in Germany 1973 is one of the highlights of their touring career. It sounds as if they were getting used to the new set list and were testing the boundaries of their improvising talent. Every tape is precious and worth having including this one from Nuremberg. It isn’t the best sounding tape, but it is good enough to be enjoyable and it captures a fantastic show. Reviews at the time of its release claim this runs too fast but that isn’t the case. This runs at the correct speed. TDOLZ used double sided inserts with various pictures from the US tour in 1973 including the conspicuous Plant photo on the front cover from Kezar. The insert opens up to reveal a collage of the final twelve TDOLZ releases in their catalogue. Overall this is a good production worth having.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Nuremberg 1973 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin July, 3 Mannheim 1980

lz_mannheim7_3156From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Eisstadion, Mannheim, Germany – July 3rd, 1980

Disc 1 (64:31): The Train Kept A-Rollin’, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Black Dog, In The Evening, The Rain Song, Hot Dog, All My Love, Trampled Underfoot, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 2 (50:54): Achilles Last Stand, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Stairway To Heaven, Communication Breakdown, Rock And Roll

The second show in Mannheim is an improvement over the first and except for Nuremberg, this is the second shortest show of the entire tour. While still not reaching the heights of the best shows on the tour, this show is tighter and more enjoyable than the first show at the Eisstadion in the beginning. All of the releases from this show are sourced from the soundboard recording. The recording is very clear and less hissy than the other but still a bit thin. There are cut after “All My Love” and at the end of “Kashmir” and tape flutter at the very beginning of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The earliest release can be found on Motivated Dinosaurs In Mannheim Pt. 1 (Flying Disc CD 6-820) and Motivated Dinosaurs In Mannheim Pt. 2 (Flying Disc CD 6-821). It is included also on Eye Thank Ewe (Tarantura T4CD-4EYE) with the July 2nd show released in 1994. A couple years later Tarantura released this show separately on Mannheim 7/3/80 (Tarantura 1980-23,24) and this was copied on The Last Day In Mannheim (Whole Lotta Live WLL024/025).

Several years later TDOLZ also released this show on Strangers In The Night (TDOLZ Vol. 066) along with the July 2nd show and is the only label to utilize the audience recording to plug the gaps in the soundboard. Song Remains Untaimed (MANN 1/2) also has this show with bonus tracks from Frankfurt, Rotterdam, and Stoke 1973. Flagge issued their version simultaneously with the previous evenings show. While the tape is still a bit hissy and thin, it is a marked improvement over the other titles. Some collectors claim it is closer to the master tape and that could be true. If Flagge would have followed TDOLZ’s lead and use the audience for the cuts this could have been definitive. It is packaged in the same style Tarantura used for the 1980 tour set with the set list on back and an unflattering photo of Bonzo on the front. The set list contains an error, listing “Rock And Roll” and “Whole Lotta Love” as the encores when they are really “Communication Breakdown” and “Rock And Roll.” It looks like Flagge simply copied the set list from the July 2nd show.

The concert gets off to a good start with tight versions of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Nobody Fault But Mine.” Page introduces “Black Dog” as “Stangers In The Night” just as he did the first night in Mannehim. And just like the first night Plant has to go into crowd control afterwards, saying, “Thank you very much, and a second good evening. May we had a really good time last night. We enjoyed ourselves very very much. Had a wonderful concert and the crowd was very good too. Just to try and keep that in perspective it becomes very obvious to us, there is too much moving. Please, move back just a touch. No, back, and then everybody can enjoy, please? Back. If you can move back at the back just take it back one meter maybe, then everybody, everybody can enjoy themselves without getting too much pain, OK? I thank you.”

And after they play a sinister version of “In The Evening” there are problems with the equipment. “This one’s a request for Benji Lefevre, the man who could rave all night and still go out with a Danish girl. It’s called ‘The Rain Song.’” There is a slight delay and Plant continues, “It was going to be the Rain Song, we just seem to have a little kind of Monty Python sketch on the one side of the stage.” Jimmy Page says something about his amplifier off mic and Plant continues, “that’s Jimmy there talking.” After more delay the audience become impatient and begin whistling very loudly and Plant says, “hang on, don’t whistle, shhh, please don’t whistle cause that’s no help at all, besides that it’s very noisy.” When the amp is fixed Page says to Plant, “Right, ready? Are you ready? The worst bloody noise. I don’t think they’re ready for it, do you?”

After a delicate version of “The Rain Song” they play “Hot Dog” in which Page plays a very peculiar, expressionistic solo not at all in keeping with the spirit of the song. But they follow with a pretty version of “All My Love.” “This next piece is gonna speed things up just a little bit. Dinosaurs are going to motivate and go very quickly” is how Plant introduces “Trampled Underfoot” and this evening’s rendition is another attempt at what Page might consider to be new wave. The way he weaves a cloud of sound is reminiscent of Fripp and Eno but set to the Stevie Wonder “Superstition” funk beat. But all of the energy seems to be expended on this song as the second half tends to limp along. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as bad as the first night in Mannheim with an even more disjointed solo.

“Achilles Last Stand” is devoid of mistakes, but “White Summer” sounds very erratic. Page gets lost in the middle and can’t find his way out and even his method of duplicating a mistake to make it seem like that is what he wanted to do doesn’t work. The worst is “Stairway To Heaven” where Plant can’t even pretend to enjoy singing. Page stumbles at the beginning of the solo and it never takes off. Two very short encores, “Communication Breakdown” and “Rock And Roll” close the show. The two Mannheim shows have not been released much in the past (Flagge is the latest to issue them ten years ago) and there is an obvious reason why. One gets the same feeling listening to these shows as they get watching The Beatles movie Let It Be. Rather than being a celebration of their art, it is a morbid glimpse into a dying band with nothing to look forward to. The final two shows on Zeppelin’s tour in Munich and Berlin would be much better than these two.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin July 3 Mannheim 1980 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Heavy Metal Hullabaloo (Madison Square Garden, February 1975)

lz_hullabalooFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – February 3rd, 1975

Disc 1 (43:05): Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (51:18): Kashmir, No Quarter, Trampled Under Foot, introduction, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (51:32): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, Communication Breakdown

After the cancellation of the St. Louis show and gigs in Greensboro, Detroit and Pittsburgh, Led Zeppelin played the first of six shows in New York. Spread out over eleven days, they also played shows in Montreal, Philadelphia and Maryland during this stretch. The first night in New York is interesting because they had already dropped ”The Wanton Song” from the set, but also drop ”How Many More Times” and replace it with ”Dazed And Confused” for the first time. Heavy Metal Hullabaloo is a 1997 release on The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin and is thus far the only silver pressed version of the show.

The sound quality is good and clear but, since it is taped by ”noisey Artie,” is marred by the comments by a bunch of stoned Long Islanders talking throughout the show and commenting on the action on stage. This is the perfect example of what Robert Fripp commented on about bootlegs, that they feature the audience as performer and the artist as backing music. Sometimes their funny comments do enhance the listening experience and the music can be enjoyed once one listens past the tapers. There are cuts in the tape after ”The Rain Song,” “Trampled Under Foot,” two small cuts in the drum solo, “Dazed And Confused” and ”Black Dog.”

The tape picks up with the general frenzy of the house lights going down and the taper’s friends lighting up a joint. And one of the friends correctly points out that Plant’s voice “sounds like shit.” His vocal chords are very weak and he tries his best for the two and a half hour show. “Sick Again” is good enough for one of the tapers to remark by the end, “I can tell already I’m gonna get the new album.”

Plant’s opening words to New York are, “it’s our great pleasure, and apart from that, it’s very nice to be back. Whatever happened to ah, whatever happened to nice warm weather? It’s so cold, yes? Never mind. I think we can overcome that tonight. I’d like to thank the guy from the narcotics squad. Thanks very much indeed. We intend tonight to try and cut through a cross section of what we would consider a spectrum of the music that we been able to create in the last seven years. So, so this means that it’s not gonna be, it’s just gonna be a little this, and a bit of that, and a bit of this, and a bit of that. Tonight we’ll do some new stuff from the new album that comes out shortly, Physical Graffiti, and then we’re gonna come out with a heart attack in the end. This is one that isn’t particularly new.”

“Over The Hills And Far Away” is developing in length with some of Page’s most experimental guitar solos. He tries an Celtic-tinged melody in the middle in keeping with the song’s opening theme. “In My Time Of Dying” is introduced as “some new stuff…even before FM radio.”

“The Song Remains The Same,” by contrast, “isn’t a very new one. It’s Whole Lotta Love. Whole Lotta Love. It’s a song that we really enjoy playing because we wrote it in retrospect after visiting parts of the American empire, after one of the tours that we did. We went to Bangkok, and places like that, and we had communications with people of all different races, sects, and creeds. We didn’t get to Harlem, and we found in the end that everything is relative. That the personality supersedes the race, and everything else.”

After “Kashmir” they continue with the journey theme, which is at the heart of all of Led Zeppelin’s best songs. “No Quarter” features “the vanishing keyboard player,” a that is a “wintry number…a lot of bull shit.”

These early 1975 versions are similar to the ninth tour with Jones staying on electic piano throughout the entire piece. He seems to stumble along in the early half of the solo and is thankfully rescued by Page’s delicate, pastoral guitar work. Plant mumbled the lyrics in the second verse.

“Trampled Under Foot” has “vague sexual connotations….linked to an automobile…it’s an old pinch off one of hte blues guys who used to live in the Mississippi that you never knew about.” Already the song has taken on a stage life of its own, but this version is sloppy and uninspired.

After an eighteen minute “Moby Dick,” Plant says, “we’re gonna do something that we haven’t done since Jimmy had a little accident on the way to rehearsal. Our train services aren’t too good, and Jimmy tried to catch a train that was trying to go without him, and he caught his finger in the door and broke a bone in the end of his finger which is giving him quite a bit of a problem. It meant that he couldn’t get married on this tour, and it means that it’s restricted his playing ability to only two fingers. So tonight we’re gonna try something because we’re back in New York, and because, and because of we don’t work our balls up we’re only gonna end up a the 82 club all night. We’re gonna try something we haven’t done since we were actually on this stage last a year, last August.”

They play a twenty-four minute version of the piece. They are tentative at the transition points and Page gets into the final verse too early, but it’s good for the first performance in a year an a half.

“Stairway To Heaven” is labeled “one of our brighter moments led us along this path.” The solo is outstanding, one of the highlights of the show. After the first encore of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Black Dog,” Plant admonishes, “Don’t forget soccer’s the new sport for America. That went down like a ton of bricks.”

They play a short James Brown funk melody as Plant sings a bit of The Yardbird’s “I Wish You Would” and “I’m just trying to find the bridge” from “The Crunge” before getting into “Communication Breakdown.” Plant’s voice is the strongest of the night in this song. Although the shows would improve, this is still a strong opening night in New York.

The title Heavy Metal Hullabaloo comes from a New York Times article from the previous month reporting on the high demand for tickets for this run of shows. It comes packaged in a glossy cardboard gatefold sleeve with several photos from the tour on the artwork. It is a listenable tape of an interesting show and, since it is the only silver pressed edition, is worth having.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Heavy Metal Hullabaloo | , | Leave a comment

Aerosmith Get Your Wings (1974)

MUDD593From starling.rinet.ru

An entirely different matter already – this is vintage Seventies hard rock at its most glaring and obvious, dude. Dark, sleazy, no respect for the authorities, let alone all them fuckmachines of the female sex.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to go crazy all over it, and I’m absolutely not crazy about the average vibe of most (heck, all) of these songs. Aerosmith’s image as that of an offensive cock rock band had now been firmly established – just compare the black album cover of the album with the innocent sky tones of the debut – and the singing, lyrics and melodies all tend to confirm to that image as close as possible. Even that could be forgettable if they’d bothered to come up with better melodies. On the average, they did not.

About the only exception from the rule this time around is the power ballad ‘Seasons Of Wither’, basically ‘Dream On Take 2’ but without the riff stolen from Big Brother. A lot of people like it, but I find it as melodically trivial as a pumpkin and, moreover, completely lacking any convincing emotion. (And whoever believed that Aerosmith, at that point, could really sound emotional even if they wanted to? Sure they were no AC/DC, but wouldn’t it be better if they had given up on ballads altogether? Not only would it manage to solidify their image at the time, it would also spare us the grief of having to contemplate an endless run of Alicia Silverstones on our MTV screen). No, scrap that, emotion it actually got.

It just doesn’t care to wrap it up in an interesting or less than trivial form. Anyway, even when taken on a purely objective level, the remaining seven rockers are very much hit and miss. I count one great original song on the album, the magic opener ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ which is Mark Prindle’s famous Aerosmith song and rightly so (that’s his only excuse for digging derivative offensive cock rock so much). Two reasons prompt me to highlight it. First, it features the only good riff on the entire record, with Joe Perry giving it his all; on most of the other songs, he either indulges in standard boogie or relies way too heavily on power chords. Second, it’s one of those select few Aerosmith classics where Tyler sounds really interesting – with that weird tremolo on his voice, it seems as if he were intentionally imitating Marc Bolan, and indeed, the song doesn’t stray too far away from T-Rex’s trashy, but fascinating glam formula. The saxes add some depth, too. And some glam-rock flavouring, very much of the times… although maybe just a wee bit behind the times, actually. Well now, everybody needs time to adjust to reality, even Aerosmith.

Elsewhere, nearly every song has something going for it, but has also something going against it. ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ is the best bet for good old silver: it has a solid drive, but sounds way too dumb and obnoxious without compensating for it with a memorable riff – like a perfunctory anthem to the Great God of Cock Rock. I’d be more pleased if it were an instrumental, with that fast keyboard rhythm being the song’s basis during all of its length, not just during the instrumental interludes. Still, credit must be given – it’s multi-part and quite experimental (for the Aerosmith level, of course), and its dumbness may be easily passed off for humour if you want it.

Their famous cover of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ used to leave me cold – most probably because I was quite familiar with the somewhat more exciting Yardbirds version (later inherited by Led Zeppelin who often performed it live, and from Led Zeppelin it supposedly came over to Aerosmith). But the decision to convert it into a two-part format, exploring both its “slower” and “faster” possibilities, was a good one, and where the Yardbirds used it essentially as a vehicle to see what unusual things could be done with a basic blues-rocker, such as their ‘irregular’ vocalizing and Beck’s fiery, but restrained and relatively “academic-style” solos, Aerosmith just milk its ass-kickin’ potential for all its worth. So both versions are about equally, but differently worthy.

Things get somewhat less stimulating after you’ve acknowledged the merits of these three songs and moved on, though. ‘S.O.S. (Too Bad)’ is decent, but passable – for some reason, the song highly resembles all those corny Rod Stewart synth rockers recorded in his worst period, only without the sometimes saving benefit of Rod’s voice (yeah, I know ‘Too Bad’ has no synths, but believe me, the problem doesn’t lie within the instrumentation); ‘Woman Of The World’ simply got to be one of the dumbest and (what’s much worse) yawn-inducing piece of cocky shit ever commited to tape; and ‘Pandora’s Box’ has about the same reason for existence as your average KISS song, except it’s longer than the average KISS song by two minutes at least. Okay, the chorus is mildly catchy (because it’s so repetitive). But it doesn’t even sound real sexy or anything. At least they’re familiar with Greek mythology.

The only thing on here that even vaguely approaches ‘experimental’ is the minor dark epic ‘Spaced’, opening with forty minutes of chaotic noise and continuing on a pretentious, self-elevating note. That said, it’s just as melodically primitive as most of the other stuff on here, and Tyler’s fits of vomit after each verse seem to hint that the state of being “spaced” is really quite a down-to-earth sort of procedure, if you follow me. An unfittable “climax” to an unfittable, if not completely senseless, album. As with every cock-rock album put out by a half-talented cock-rock band, its material could have been put to better use in somebody else’s hands, but ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ and maybe a couple other tracks still make it a worthwhile purchase for a price of ten cents total. The rest is… eh… why don’t you go out and buy some Stones instead. (There, I couldn’t help myself).

PS. After careful consideration, I still ended up giving this a 10. After all, three real good songs out of eight ain’t that bad, and only a couple other tracks can be labelled as ‘offensive’. Besides, there really is no super-amazing wide gap between this one and Toys In The Attic: the latter is simply more refined when it comes to displaying sexual aggression, and has Perry finally coming up with awesome riffs on a regular rather than severely occasional basis.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Aerosmith Get Your Wings | | Leave a comment

Free Fire And Water (1970)

Free-Fire-And-WaterFrom starling.rinet.ru

Wow, how annoying. I’m lucky I have this album paired together with Free on one CD – which means I have the best Free album in the world that money can buy (hey, don’t you notice the contradiction in that last sentence?).

Basically, this record features three songs that are absolutely essential to any Free collection, three of their most renown numbers; so that’s why the album is often hailed as Free’s most artistically successful, and while this point is debatable, there’s no doubt that it was also the peak of Free’s commercial success: the band really hit the big time with it, albeit for not more than one year in total. And yet, as you can see, my overall rating of it is significantly lower. And why? Why, would you ask? Would you suspect me of being able to bash the band’s biggest hits as if they were a damn bunch of fluff? Why, not at all! I’m just giving it a low rating because these three songs (which we’ll discuss below, as some kind of dessert) are immersed in a sea of filler.

Truly, now, these other four songs (and they’re all long as hell) have almost nothing to redeem them. The biggest embarrassment comes on ‘Remember’, a pedestrian rocker that… oh horror… yes, I just realized that it is a complete rip-off of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Remember’ with changed lyrics. Gee, how cute. Considering the fact that I was never thrilled by the original (I still consider it one of the weakest cuts on Are You Experienced?), you can guess how pleased I am to be hearin’ this carbon copy of it. Sue me if you’d like to, but this can’t be no small coincidence.

The other stuff that I prefer to turn my nose away from are three ballads that simply don’t hold a candle to the intricate, delicate material on Free. Like, for instance, ‘Oh I Wept’ has a more tight and a little more fast melody than all those lethargic numbers back there, but it also turns out to be far less memorable – because it has no atmosphere. Come to think of it, it has no melody – Paul is just standing there in the background playing a two-chord riff or something, and the only gulps of refreshment are again provided by some of Fraser’s exciting bass lines.

‘Heavy Load’ is one of their most pretentious songs of the period, and no, ladies and gentlemen, Free had better stay away from pretentiousness no matter how life conditions turn out to be in the end. It’s a gospelish number with huge emphasis on the piano that the band members didn’t actually figure out how to put to good use, and Rodgers sounds anything but convincing – maybe he is trying to pull a Rod Stewart (one of his idols, as far as I know), but he sure ain’t one. To put it short, they over arrange the number so it loses its potential folkie charm, but forget to substitute something for it. Maybe it would have sounded better with an acoustic guitar. And finally, ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ just plain drags, another lethargic ballad, but this time it’s just sappy and generic instead of heartbroken and pessimistic. Blah.

Now that the filler is out of the way, I can describe the three BIG numbers to ya. What’s the biggest, you wonder? Would it be ‘All Right Now’? Nah. The best song here is the title track, built on a fantastic distorted Kossoff riff (some hard rock at long last, right?), catchy, strong, tight, and compact, and it also has one of their best instrumental breaks, with Kossoff showcasing those famous vibratos that Eric Clapton so longed for. And then there’s ‘Mr Big’, a social protest song (at least this is how it sounds to me without the lyrics sheet) that sucks, but it is completely redeemed by the magnificent instrumental passage (yes, also one of their best) which is really all you need to be stunned by the playing power of Mr Andy Fraser. What he does is play a bass solo… wait, no, don’t run away! I hate bass solos as much as the next guy, but this is different.

They play as if it was not him, but Paul, who’s playing the solo. But Paul is actually just standing in the background (again) and playing loads of muffled power chords, like, you know, as if he was holding the rhythm down, while Andy goes all over the fretboard and actually concocts a lovely – and a finger-flashing at that – melody! It’s really undescribable, but I challenge everybody to hear that song and try not to agree with me that this mid-section is quite unlike anything you’ve heard before or since! Andy was a wonderful guy, certainly fit for a much ‘bigger’ band. Gee, what if we paired him with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After? Eh?…

So, that’s about it. Oh! No! How come I’ve been prattling so much about their biggest hit ‘All Right Now’ and haven’t still mentioned its presence on this record? It’s here all right, and it sure is famous, and I sure like it. I must say, though, they did songs far better than that. I’d guess it all stems from the population’s love towards simplistic, easiest-to-access riffs (the same thing accounts for the immense popularity of, say, Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’); but I guess I may be wrong here, too. That said, the song has easily the best Paul Rodgers vocal effort on this record, and is certainly the most raunchy, cock-rockin’ anthem that the band did.

If only the refrain were a little cleverer than just the dumb stutter ‘all right now, baby it’s all right now’, it could have been a timeless classic! As it is, it’s just a trademark for Free – symbolizing both its main strengths and its main weaknesses.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Free Fire And Water | | Leave a comment

Mick Taylor Mick Taylor (1979)

81ApBnPGQFL__SL1500_From starling.rinet.ru

Mick Taylor’s solo debut is surprisingly good. No, I mean it, really: not ‘great’ or ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘amazing’, just a good, normal, inoffensive record that would be heavily recommended for Stones fans and, of course, especially Stones fans of the Taylor period.

To tell you the truth, I never even expected that quality; in his Stones days, the only thing Mick excelled in was immaculate soloing, and I was really somewhat afraid that, being separated from the Riffmeister’s basis and Jagger’s sly hooks, Taylor would just go down the drain. In a certain sense, he did: Mick Taylor was his only complete solo album with original studio material that he had recorded until the very recent A Stone’s Throw, and most of the other time you almost heard nothing of him.

He sometimes rose out of the mist to play with Dylan (esp. on his Infidels album and the supporting tour, check out Bob’s Real Live for that), and on one occasion he even reunited with the Stones on stage, resulting in a concert whose quality is universally panned by fans (on the 1981 tour). And later on, he had a few remarkable (or unremarkable) collaborations with Carla Olsson, but that’s not being discussed at the time.

Anyway, this debut album will pose quite a few surprises for the listener. Out of nine songs, four are instrumentals, and the other five are pleasant pop/roots-rock tunes featuring Mick on vocals. Now he may not have a great voice, and actually, people like to bring on the vocals as the downside of the record, but I find few problems with that – his singing never really grates on you, and he’s got enough of a human touch to sound convincing on numbers like ‘Leather Jacket’ or ‘Baby I Want You’. In fact, sometimes I could easily describe him as a ‘Dylan without the hoarse’; that’s not a compliment, because ‘Dylan without the hoarse’ is actually not too interesting, but it’s not a putdown either.

And the songwriting is tons of fun. He follows the Stones in trying to diversify his approach while at the same time never really venturing out of ‘normal’ rock – cool experimentation you will find NOT. But he takes on several distinct genres and sounds self-assured and steady in most. ‘Leather Jacket’ is the most Dylanish tune on the album, a soulful folk rocker with a warm, live guitar tone and a catchy structure – I can easily imagine that one in the hands of the Bobster as one of the better tracks on something like Planet Waves. ‘Alabama’ steers us into country, and it contains a major misfire in its lyrical content: I can almost imagine Mick punching his head and trying to bash out something that would come out as ‘authentic’ and failing. Instead, he turned to Colin Allen to provide the lyrics, and the dude couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘only halfway through Louisiana/on my way home to Alabama’. Ooh, that rhyme makes my hair stand on end. Luckily, Mick compensates for it by inserting a marvelous, inflammatory guitar solo recalling some of his work on Exile On Main St.

‘Baby I Want You’ probably has some Dylan influences, too, but eventually it comes out as a slick pop song in the vein of, say, something Christine McVie used to write (he even shares the fabulous ‘McVie intonation’!) That’s okay; I’m a big fan of good old Chris, and if Mick had been listening to a little Mac on his way through the record, well, that’s… you know… that’s good. What else can I say? The guitar is fine and pleasant, the vocal melody is enthralling, and the rhythm is held all the way through. It’s better than some of Keith Richards’ balladeering stuff, that’s for sure.

Now ‘Broken Hands’ is more or less the only Stones-sounding track on here – a typical Exile-era rocker underpinned with ferocious slide rhythms and absolutely Stones-like electric licks. Actually, the number it reminds me most of all isn’t any Exile track, but rather ‘Hand Of Fate’ off Black And Blue: some licks are almost played in the same way as on that song, and even the guitar solo is similar. That’s all the more funny since I have no information about ‘Hand Of Fate’ being a Taylor era outtake (remember that Black And Blue was recorded already after Taylor had left). Did they conceive the song pre-1975 with Taylor taking the idea with him as he was quitting? Or did he just rip it off from Black And Blue post factum? Feedback, please! Finally, ‘S.W.5’ returns us back to folk-rock territory, and it’s a good number, this time highlighted by Jean Roussell’s piano and a high-pitched solo guitar.

Now I actually have mixed feelings about the instrumentals – don’t even know why, they’re all quite solid. Maybe it’s because I was expecting some tremendous guitar heroics but didn’t get it? I mean, ‘Slow Blues’ bloozes along nicely, but is it all that special? Not at all. ‘Spanish’, at seven and a half minutes, drags on for too long, and while at times it does give us Mick playing, well, Spanish, it can’t really overshadow his Santana stylizations on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’. And I don’t particularly care for the piano-dominated ‘A Minor’, either, nice as it is. I suppose this has a lot to do with my passion for Steve Hackett and his Spectral Mornings of the same year – an album in which the man clearly demonstrated that the possibilities of the electric guitar were not yet entirely spent. Taylor, on the other hand, just often plays generic muzak, forgettable ear-candy that’s good for one seance and that’s about it.

That said, I really enjoy ‘Giddy Up’. It’s not too long, it rocks, and with that marvelous descending guitar riff, it just might qualify as my favourite number from the album. It doesn’t pretend to be ‘highly emotional’, like ‘Spanish’, and it doesn’t entirely rely on cliched blues formulas like ‘Slow Blues’; it just contains a brilliantly constructed solo that flows perfectly, never grates, and, I suppose, is a great thing for beginning solo players to learn. One thing I always liked Taylor for when he was in the Stones was his inventiveness with his instrument – he was always able to find new fascinating chord progressions and arrange them without having to rely to Hendrix- or Townshend-type gimmicks (in this he qualifies as my second-best preferred guitarist of the type after John Fogerty), and this is the track that best proves this on the album.

Ah, well. ‘I believe it’s time to go’. Kudos to Mick for not really disappointing us. I don’t know anything about his backing band (except that one of the drummers was an ex-member of the British prog-rock Gong, if you’re interested), so I won’t be naming them – what’s in a name, after all? Unless that name is Mick Taylor, of course. Recorded at the Rolling Stones Mobile, by the way – what a friendly gesture.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Mick Taylor Mick Taylor | | Leave a comment

Keith Richards Talk Is Cheap (1988)

album-talk-is-cheapFrom starling.rinet.ru

Keith Richards probably never ever even dreamt of making a solo album – until he was hard pressed to it by Jagger. He gave everything he ever had to the Rolling Stones, and he never had or, at least, always controlled his ambitions within the band. But when Mick dissolved the band (and yes, everybody knows that it was primarily Mick’s fault), what was a poor boy to do except to sing in a rock an’ roll band – his own rock an’ roll band?

So, as much as good ol’ Keith hated it, he was simply forced to assemble his own bunch of musicians, come up with some lyrics and croak out most of the vocals – himself, because, ambitionless as he was, he really didn’t want to become the next Jeff Beck. The guys he plays and jams with are mostly nameless, honest studio workers, and the ‘big star’ of the album is Keith’s co-producer Steve Jordan: he plays bass, drums and probably something else, plus he co-wrote most of the tunes with Keith.

Critics loved this album – and I can easily understand them. History has probably overrated it, but there’s no denying the fact that Talk Is Cheap was an astonishing accomplishment for Keith: nobody thought he would be able to do a record at least half that good. Now see here, it doesn’t always sound like the Stones, this one. First of all, it has no Mick Jagger on vocals. A banality, yes, but an important one. I’m not the biggest fan in the world of Keith’s vocals.

I mean, I certainly don’t have to bring up the fact that the guy can’t sing worth a dime – that goes without saying; and sometimes, his dreamy, croaky and soulful vocals can be an interesting distraction from Mick’s harsh, sly tone. But when he sings throughout a whole album, that’s damn hard to take still. Also, if you already enjoyed my Stones’ reviews, you probably already know that I’m not a fan of what I’d call ‘typical Keith-style boggy ballad’, stuff like ‘Sleep Tonight’, ‘Coming Down Again’, all that crud, which is very soulful and emotional, for sure, but lacks strong melodies completely.

Of course, Keith couldn’t miss the chance to insert a couple of such babes onto this record: ‘Locked Away’ and ‘Make No Mistake’, to be exact. The former just drags at five minute plus, and does nothing for me, although I understand perfectly that devoted Keith fans will get additional years of life out of listening to it. ‘Make No Mistake’ is a little better, maybe just because there’s something endearing in the way Keith gurgles out these ‘make no mistake… abooooout it…’ lines all the time.

But in any case, it’s not the ballads that are gonna make this album. For an ex-Rolling Stone (soon-to-be-Rolling-Stone again), the general tone on the album is remarkably soft: most of the rockers are subdued and subtle, with little distortion or ‘ass-kicking’ to get in your way. Nevertheless, Keith still plays that six-string in a way that no living man on Earth can. Listen to his pulsating, incredible licks on ‘It Means A Lot’ to know what I mean. How on Earth can he achieve that incredible rock-rock-rockin’ effect by playing just a few chords in a few places? Over the years, he’d learned that famous ‘syncopated’ style of his that could only be equalled by Pete Townshend in his prime days – but Townshend’s prime days are long over, while Keith is still in perfect form for a rhythm guitarist (not for a soloist, though). And most of the songs here display his guitar playing talents, thank you Lord – after all, the back cover of the album, with the famous fingers, the famous skull-ring and the famous guitar, should really tell you something.

Apart from ‘It Means A Lot’, there’s a great funky opener, ‘Big Enough’, that at first seems like a more self-assured, real-song-like rewrite of ‘Hot Stuff’ – but it isn’t, it’s actually a separate strong song in its own rights. ‘Take It So Hard’ is the song that rocks out the fiercest on here – with lots of prime riffage, some cool vocals and a great party atmosphere. And don’t bypass the jolly Fifties sendup on ‘I Could Have Stood You Up’ – together with some doo-wop harmonies and funny lyrics. Yeah, Keith is no great lyricsman, but he does well for a beginner. He even summons all his forces to write a venomous, How-Do-You-Sleep-ish message to Mick (‘You Don’t Move Me’), and succeeds – come to think of it, it isn’t even venomous, it just sounds like an innocent, angry, but not really thoroughly pissed off scolding of an older brother who’s always been an example but isn’t any more. ‘You made the wrong motion, drank the wrong potion’.

All in all, no Rolling Stones fan will ever be disappointed by this record. Arguably, it is considered the best offer by a solo Stones member that money can buy – and while I certainly disagree, because, shame on me, I enjoy Mick’s solo output a lot better, it is quite decent and, well, definitely better than Dirty Work, at least. It is, however, obvious that Keith really needs Mick. The Beatles’ solo careers proved that John didn’t need Paul, and Paul didn’t need John – they could get on by themselves just as well, even if with a diminished commercial and artistic success. Keith and Mick cannot successfully function without each other, not for a long time period of time, at least.

Mick needs Keith’s great riffs and his ‘primal’ sense of melody; whereas Keith certainly needs Mick’s vocals and sense of experimentalism. The latter is especially important: perhaps the greatest flaw of Talk Is Cheap is that it is horrendously formulaic. People complain about the Stones’ mythic ‘formula’ (although I hardly ever understand what they’re talking about); well, this album certainly has a ‘formula’, and it gets a bit tiring near the end, though on this particular release it never gets too tiring. Buy it still! And get Keith to autograph it to you! Hurry up – he’s still alive, miraculous as it may seem!

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Keith Richards Talk Is Cheap | | Leave a comment

The Rolling Stones Black And Blue (1976)

rolling_stones_-_black_and_blue_aFrom starling.rinet.ru

Badly, badly, oh so badly, underrated. The trademark Stones’ ‘groove’ album, Black And Blue doesn’t have any concept, any message, frankly speaking, it doesn’t even have too many songs – just eight, and most of them are grooves. Okay, so it’s obvious that the Stones gave up on “messages” two or three albums ago (depending on your personal views), but nowhere is this so blatantly obvious as on Black And Blue that ‘it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it’ indeed. Only ‘Hand Of Fate’ and ‘Memory Motel’ can be treated as serious compositions brought to finish, and even then they’re not very typical.

Recorded in 1975, right after Mick Taylor got the message (or, rather, sent it – nobody still understands quite well what brought Mick to this decision exactly), this was a serious mess: tons of session players arriving and departing, lots of other friends like Billy Preston visiting, so that in the end you hardly hear the Stones themselves. You can actually see Ronnie Wood, the band’s new guitar player, on the back cover of the album, but there’s not that much Ronnie on the album: at the time of the sessions, he was just another in a series of persons invited for ‘guitar audition’, which included Harvey Mandel of Canned Heat fame, Wayne Perkins, Ronnie (all of which you can hear on selected tracks here), and – as rumours say – even both Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, although I can’t really confirm that. It wasn’t until Ronnie’s previous band, the Faces, had officially split up at the end of 1975, that he took up the official position, and so most of the guitar work here falls on the shoulders of Mr Richards, making it a Let It Bleed of sorts. Joking, of course.

Despite all this, the resulting album was surprisingly strong. The typical accusation is that the compositions don’t really go anywhere – for the most part, things like ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Melody’ or ‘Hey Negrita’ just represent the band having mindless fun in the studio. But don’t forget that this is not just any band: this is the Rolling Stones, and nobody can make a silly groove and turn it into a near-breathtaking experience as efficiently as these guys. The entire album feels so homely and cozy, as if the band were just sitting in a corner of your living-room and jamming away and you were there watching ’em and admiring ’em.

And if you ever complained of the ‘post-classic’ Stones albums being too slick and polished, here’s ample proof that this wasn’t really that obligatory. That’s not to say the album feels too rough or too underproduced: not at all. All the instruments are firmly in place, and the sound is crystal clear, allowing us to hear basically everything that’s going on, every single little grunt from Jagger and every single little guitar pluck from Keith. This is the Rolling Stones gracefully allowing us into the midst of their creative activities, and at the same time making the final product more ‘artsy’ and accessible.

Another interesting feature is that Black And Blue might just be the most diverse piece of product in the entire Stones catalog – apparently, with the controls set to ‘jam mode’, the Glimmer Twins paid no attention to the exact genre they were practicing. Out of the eight numbers, no two ones fall into the same category, and thus you’ll probably hate at least something on here. But hey, that’s what eclectic people like me are for – I’m perfectly able to identify with every one of these eight songs, and consider this album – together with Satanic, though that one was an entirely different affair – ample proof that the band was always able to reach far further than the ‘rootsy’ tag stuck on them by those who can’t see very far.

Let’s just have a brief overview to prove that. ‘Hot Stuff’ is the band’s first (but definitely not the last) excursion into the world of disco, with a complete mastery of the form – the main guitar riff upon which the groove hangs is impeccably creative, plus Harvey Mandel adds some wonderfully fuzzed-out guitar solos that make your head go round. Let not the length bother you – remember, disco grooves were supposed to be long (‘Love To Love You Baby’, anyone?). Then, a radical change of style with ‘Hand Of Fate’, a desperate bluesy rocker, a fine and passionate vocal performance from Mick, and Wayne Perkins’ ringing solos making a near-perfect replacement for Mick Taylor.

Then – another radical change of style with a reggae sendup, ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, which seems to be one of the band’s most universally despised songs, but I don’t really get why so many people pretend to take this obviously parodic, tongue-in-cheek, goofy number so seriously. I just go wild over the ‘yeh-ay-yeah-ay-yeah-a-a-yeah-a-a-yay-yays’ which might be the funniest moment on the album. And finally, another radical change of style with the moving epic ballad ‘Memory Motel’ with both Jagger and Richards at the piano. This one can bring you to tears.
And that’s just the first side.

The second side opens with the Latin-tinged rockin’ groove ‘Hey Negrita’ (Ronnie Wood’s participating – the first example of the classic Richards/Wood interplay), continues with the oddball jazz sendup ‘Melody’ (Billy Preston on keyboards) that’ll definitely have you caught up in all the fun with a terrific ‘chaotic’ coda, and culminates in the cute ‘soft-pop’ ballad ‘Fool To Cry’, which some also despise because it reminds them of Barry Manilow, but hey, once again, people just don’t feel the tongue-in-cheek character of the song. Hint hint hint: pay closer attention to the lyrics. Another hint hint hint: listen to Jagger’s wailings of ‘I’m a fool baby yeah’ at the end of the number, which is pure delight. Last hint: pay close attention to Keith Richards’ neat tricks on the guitar. The line which leads from the last refrain into the coda (right before Jagger starts wailing ‘I’m a fool’) is what I’d characterize as ’emotional killer’. And we fizzle out with a bombastic glam-rocker, ‘Crazy Mama’, which is more Slade than Stones, but since I have nothing against Slade, that’s all right by me.

As a deep lover of diversity – particularly successful diversity – I have no other choice but to give the album a 13. Simply put, this is one of the finest ‘lightweight’ albums in existence, and I applaud the Stones, and Mick in particular, for deciding to let it out as it was, without over slicking the performances and without depending too much on contemporary fashion to avoid any possible accusations of ‘bandwagon-jumping’. I don’t care that the songs are underdeveloped or unfinished, because this is what they’re meant to be – the record is so deeply adequate it almost hurts. This (and not It’s Only Rock’n’Roll) is a fine and respectable swansong to the Mick Taylor era, and no Stones lover should overlook it. As they – unfortunately – often do.

May 6, 2013 Posted by | The Rolling Stones Black And Blue | | Leave a comment