Thursday, June 27, 2013
"Inspiration, Move Me Brightly'-The Grateful Dead May 1977 Box Set-Part I -5-11-1977, 5-12-1977, 5-13-1977
The newest addition to the Grateful Dead's extensive collection of vault releases is the new and limited edition May 1977 CD box set. The collection spans fourteen CD's and encompasses the dates of May 11th through May 17th during the Dead's legendary and well documented Spring tour. I am now the proud owner of this collection and will travel through the set chronologically, ruminating on highlights, low lights, sound quality and other thoughts that may occur during the trip. This will most likely be a two part series because of the wealth of information involved. Well versed 'Deadheads' are aware of the plethora of quality performances that are found during this period of Grateful Dead history. The Boston, Cornell, and Buffalo shows taking place on the 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively are some of the most highly circulated and discussed performances from the tour due to unparallelled sound quality and monster performances. Ironically enough, these shows (along with others) do not exist in the Grateful Dead vault and are owned by an individual who wants an extremely high price for these master recordings. This is the only reason that the aforementioned recordings are not included in this May 1977 collection. Lucky for us at some point in the tale an enterprising Deadhead transferred these shows, hence the widespread circulation they see today. This is a very interesting and involved story that can be enjoyed here for those interested: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/11/26/121126fa_fact_paumgarten
As a testament to the power and majesty of these concerts, releases have already been culled from the May 19th, 21st and 22nd shows in the Dick's Picks series, May 25th is a Dave's Picks release, May 28th is an official live release titled 'To Terrapin', and the April 30th show was unearthed for the short lived 'Download Series". The 'May 77' box fills a gap in the middle of the month, post Cornell, and prior to the barn-burners to close out the tour. Every night contains a highlight and the band is operating at a level of consistency that they would not reach again until the late 1980's. Crisp and in tuned playing is the norm for this era in Grateful Dead history, with 'gestalt linkage' being displayed on a nightly occurrence, and in unparallelled sound quality (thanks to Betty Cantor recording genius). The band has never sounded more orchestrated or in control, and the recording media is brimming with warm reverb and balanced instrumentation. While opinions vary as to the 'greatest' year in Grateful Dead history 1977 is always in the running because of its consistency, sound quality, and runs of legendary performances.
The box begins in St Paul, Minnesota two days after the smoking Buffalo show finding the band in full swing with a boppin and weaving 'Promised Land opener. A long and involved first set includes detailed readings of "Ramble On Rose' and tour jewel 'Peggy-O in which it seems every version gets a little better every night. The set starts it's levitation from the earth with the charged 'Lazy Lightning/Supplication' that sets the stage for the set closing ride. During the grey area between the pair of songs Jerry deftly scurries over glimpses of melody, pausing for curly bends and hard punctuation. The real magic of the first set occurs in the set closing 'Sugaree'. In a rare first set finale position the song soars to opportunistic peaks and shakes it on two perfectly constructed jams by Garcia that reach swelling peaks. From perfectly placed fluttering hummingbird trills, to sustained swells, to full on scrubbing peaks, Garcia displays all of his guitar prowess on this beautifully constructed 'Sugaree'. In a month that has many top versions to enjoy, this one contains its own special charm. A well played and attention keeping set by the guys.
The second set opens with a trifecta of songs played almost every night of the tour, although normally reaching some nice peaks, there are numerous strong versions to choose from. 'Samson and Delilah', 'Brown Eyed Women', and the newly introduced 'Estimated Prophet'. 'Brown Eyed Women' would hit its peak during this tour, and this version is no different. 'Estimated' would require a bit more time in the oven, but these early performances are full of Garcia's liquid 'Mutron' effects and churning drums. The real meat of the second set begins with a 'Scarlet->Fire->Good Lovin' that while not reaching the high standards set during this tour (5-17 is the best 'S/F' of the box), features a amazingly developed middle section of 'Scarlet' with Godchaux and Garcia intertwining into a percussive peak that falls into the 'Wind in the willows verse'. The journey into the 'Fire' contains the sillage of other May 'Scarlet's' but is more delicate and slithers along quietly until at 8:25 Garcia hits upon an attention getting riff that ups the ante for the whole band. The band changes form and begins to gain momentum tumbling into the segue with well played dynamics. The entire group syncopates into the jumpy, 'Happiness is Drumming' groove, crisply executed, all elements of band fall together into place riding Lesh's recognizable bass figure into the melody of 'Fire on the Mountain'. Godchaux's playing scurries across the sound scape like a spider in shock from a turned on light in a dark room. Garcia's thick and rich Mutron tones drip sugary sweet tones that pour themselves into euphoric peaks,and unique melodies, eventually falling into a crowd pleasing 'Good Lovin'.
After a tuning break the band begins a king sized 1977 'Uncle John's Band' that then develops into a solo Garcia excursion following the coda of the song. A few of these Garcia extended solo spots can be found sprinkled throughout the Spring tour, either when Garcia's playing starts to negotiate twists and turns the band cannot keep up with, or when the band falls into a contemplative space and Jerry keep spinning the vortex. 'Uncle Johns Band' is played deliberately and with most of the lyrics remembered! The drummers are bouncing balls of a wall in perfect harmony, accents and poly rhythms driving the slightly Caribbean flavored 'Uncle John's. Quoted by Garcia as being a 'major effort' to compose and 'get right' playing it live, I believe this is the era when 'Uncle John's' joined songs such as 'Playin' as an important contributor to the improvised jams. 'Uncle John's could pop up as an encore, as a set opener, or as in the case of 5-19-1977, turned inside out in the middle of an extended jam. This version is watery, laid back, and really hits its stride during the outro jam, which returns to the vocal reprise and then starts to become a bit more shaded. At about 8:30, Garcia starts to dig away at 'Uncle John's' and the band follows him into the cool and dark recesses of his discovered cave. Lesh hits large singular notes that Garcia decorates with sparkling repetitive picked swells, the drummers move to the cymbals and the band starts to be manipulated by the breeze of the muse. 'China Doll' appears ever so briefly and then plays hide and go seek, as Garcia elicits a soft tone leaving 'Uncle John's' in the rear view window and heading for an unknown area of the map. The entire band except Garcia drops out and Jerry now starts to solo with a over driven tone through the waste land of mixolydian scales. Bending, stretching, working up to, and away from the 'note' Garcia peels away showers of notes until he works his way to the crashing opening chord of 'Wharf Rat'.
This 'Uncle John's-> 'Wharf Rat' is definitely the peak of this particular second set, and a nice glimpse into the development of the band's second set journeys coming later in the tour. 'Wharf Rat' features both Godchaux's playing their roles extremely well, Donna in great voice, and Keith adding the seasoning of some roly-poly honky tonk piano. The muscular conclusion of 'Wharf Rat' continues with Garcia's constant search up and down the neck of his guitar for the 'Answer' as in the previous solo segment. The drummers pound salt on their kits with rattling percussive statements, directing the band as when to swell and when to deflate. 'Wharf' builds to two nice peaks adorned with Weir harmonics, before falling into a bombastic and set closing 'Around and Around'. 'Around and Around leaves the crowd in a rock and roll tizzy as the band cruses into the double time jam with great aplomb. Everyone in the band plays their collection of rock and Chuck Berry riffs to the crowds great satisfaction. The group then returns for a heart wrenching and well played 1977 'Brokedown Palace' (before its eventual occurrence as a nightly encore). That finds us at the conclusion of the first show of the May 1977 box set, a typical 1977 performance in that the show is large, tempered, and contains numerous musical highlights. The energy is dispersed in a way that the entire show is developed as a story and not only contains well played singular songs, but also a concentrated improvised second set that is focused and direct.
Following the St. Paul show, the band traveled to Chicago for two performances at the historic Auditorium Theater where the band had spent many a quality nights. Starting on Thursday night the band continued the trend of the Spring 1977 tour in that every night had something to offer. The boys open with a funky and smooth sailing 'Bertha' that illustrates them as ready to go. Weir quotes the 'China Cat' riff during the verses for a unique twist on the tune. The solo segment of 'Bertha' is noticeable for the Garcia and Godchaux alchemy as they work together as one mind. The first set of the 12th feels slightly shorter that the 11th but again features a monster in the set closing position. After solid versions of 'Tennesse Jed', 'Jack Straw' and 'Minglewood', the boys close the set with a 'Mississippi Half Step->Dancin In the Street coupling. 'Half Step', similarly to many versions in 1977 floats down the rolling lazy river until reaching its destination where it expands into a climactic and inspiring ending. Garcia coaxes metallic cresting waves out of his Travis Bean while Billy and Mickey punctuate with crashing accents. Godchaux is again a master and uses his crazy fingers to echo, follow and expand on Garcia's leads. Just as 'Half Step' ends Weir signals 'Dancin In The Street' with his wispy funk riff reading, and the entire band jumps on board. The drummers are very active in this version, with both drummers hot on the tail of the other. Garcia's envelope filtered guitar wobbles psychedelically, quoting the 'Dancin' melody, and then shimmering through eight minutes of luscious jamming. The 'Dancin' which is the glistening jewel of the set and maybe the tour, is yet to come on the 15th, but we will talk about that in Part II! At about 5 minutes into the tune Garcia finds a loose thread and keeps pulling and pulling until it starts to unravel quickly. Billy and Mick hit double snare shots in the midst of their 'disco' beats and Lesh pops his heavy head from below the musical storm. Garcia gets a some more treble from his slurping guitar lines and holds onto some slippery notes that gets the band fired up. At nine minutes he switches back to a clean tone and he and Weir hit a helplessly peculiar groove riffing back and forth, prepping for the drop into the famous descending, syncopated riff added to the song in 1976. The band has a bit of trouble hitting it together, but eventually they all fall in line for a bit more riffing. Sliding into the acappela ending, the track fades to silence, where Bobby announces the upcoming set break. That concludes a nicely developed and energetic set closing similar to the previous night with the breathtaking 'Sugaree'.
The second set begins with the aforementioned trifecta of songs that matured during the Spring 77 tour but were also played almost nightly. 'Samson', 'Brown Eyed Women', and 'Estimated Prophet'. The set opening 'Samson' is hot to the touch, with the entire band creating what is maybe the best version on the set. 'Brown Eyed Women' and 'Estimated' are also top shelf versions, with the 'Estimated' featuring the first extended soling of the second set. Donna Godchaux's 'Sunrise' sneaks into the second set for a brief appearance and is well played but unremarkable to these ears.
The real heart of the second set comes with the opening strums of 'Terrapin Station', which opens the portal leading to the evening's eventual destination. This is a fresh and majestic 'Terrapin' that presents an attitude that would somehow be lost in later versions. The huge coda euphorically twists and turns until it falls straight into the lap of 'Playin In the Band'. After disposing of the verses the band drops into the expansive section of the song. 'Playin' quickly dissolves into into a Lesh/Garcia march with aggressive and eager accompaniment by the drummers. The jam moving a bit more quickly then other May versions of the song. Keith is noticeably absent during the exploration, and Weir starts to present ideas at around five and a half minutes. Lesh is quirky and shifty in his probing, with things getting very quiet and almost disoriented. This 'Playin' to me is about the search, because most of the twelve minutes is the band looking for the sacred spot, which as we will see is eventually found after drums. At around seven minutes things pick up and start to get interesting, with Billy making some unique percussive statements, and Garcia starting to mine melodic statements from the fertile ground. Just as I feel the jam is going to take off, Garcia drops out and the band leaves the stage to the drummers. A bit disappointing due to the possibilities that were starting to become unearthed in the jam, but as we shall find out Garcia and the band return to these ideas before the end of the show.
Drums take over for a deep rumbling tribal beating that immediately shows signs of the upcoming 'Not Fade Away'. This is how 'Not Fade Away's' used to roll, slow, heavy, thick, and long. Culminating with the enormous version on 9-3-1977, these mid 1970' NFA's' pack a punch that post 1980 no version can hold a candle to. Kudos to Weir's expert riffing and melodic ideas which keeps the 'Bo Diddley beat' squeezing out new ideas. Garcia uses his 'phased trumpet' tone for the first round of jamming that negotiates hairpin turns like an out of control semi truck. The group mind is in full effect for this as everyone starts to peak. At around six minutes the entire band in locked in, and Garcia'a playing becomes more loose, more improvised. Dizzying circular riffs bring the band to a boil, with Garcia then starting to play with a overdriven tone at around seven minutes that leaves fingerprints of a 'Mojo' jam on the glass. 'NFA' now starts to break through the earth and present itself as a hulking and towering mass of improvised funk. Lesh and Garcia bring it down at ten minutes with some playful and light bounces on the 'Not Fade Away' theme, and this is when things get a bit weird. Going back to the abandoned 'Playin' jam, the group starts to coalesce into a unique grey area, that becomes bright and then shaded, black and white, and then glorious technicolor. Garcia hits on a peculiar descending lick that the entire back jumps on and uses as the opulent gateway to the beautifully tender 'Comes A Time' that develops from the space. 'Comes A Time' is a song that can can make a set, or a performance with its deep Hunter lyrics and careful instrumentation. It's appearance in Spring 1977 sets is a welcome one, and it usually comes in the mist of a book-ended 'Playin' jam. The delicate and fluid guitar outro jam is carefully built back into the 'Playin' reprise by Garcia and Weir which gallops triumphantly across the finish and closes the show. The band returns to leave the crowd with some good ol' rock and roll with a kinetic Johnny B. Goode. So ends night one of two in Chicago, with some interesting things to follow!
The evening of the 13th is the last in Chicago with a day off following before the St. Louis performance on the 15th. The first set of this show was one of the first that I ever received as a blossoming 'Deadhead', and a favorite to this day. After some on stage announcements and tomfoolery the band breaks into a smoking 'Music Never Stopped' opener, while lacking a central jam, features a fiery closing guitar battle. The first set highlights are a large orchestrated 'Ramble On Rose', the premier of 'Jack A Roe' which glides across choppy water smoothly, and a set closing 'Scarlet->Fire'. The 'Scarlet' is excellent with Garcia scrubbing til he makes suds during the middle guitar break. The segue between the two tunes is different in that Phil is responsible for the transition with chunky and off kilter bass notes that develop into the signature 'Fire' riff. Garcia's guitar may be having issues as he is somewhat quiet for this unusually brief segue, but as soon as 'Fire' is reached he lets loose with a series of syrupy solos deconstructing the melody lines. This is an odd version for the month as far as the joining of the songs, but like previously stated, once 'Fire' is reached Garcia lets loose with series after series of jams. The drummers are right there with him with multiple cymbal rhythms, and rolling tom toms. A blazing and smoky 'Fire' to close the set and prep the crowd for what is to come.
The second set begins with the persuasive pairing of 'Samson and Delilah' and 'Bertha'. After a banging percussion filled 'Samson', Garcia starts the opening strums to 'Bertha'. While it takes a second to come together, once the verses begin 'Bertha' becomes a slick and groovy version decorated with great piano work and alternating percussion accents. Garcia and Godchaux embrace is a swirling ball room dance during the instrumental breaks. After a short pause the band starts up another 'Estimated Prophet', which does not stand alone, but this time drops into drums to begin the jam of the evening. Similar to early 'Playin's' these 'Estimated Prophet's' stay close to the central theme, and solo off of those changes. By June they would start to expand the song into other places and unknown universes, and this version starts to hint at that eventual growth. Lesh is popping like Bazooka bubblegum, locked in with Hart, shifting the floor underneath our feet. The jam floats around for a bit until it uneventfully trickles into drums. The drums is an energetic version full of 'Other One' rhythms that preface the upcoming journey.
The 'Other One' does not include a Lesh bomb to open the door, but Hart can be heard screaming a count off that introduces the song. This 'Other One' I believe is the longest of the tour, and contains more than a few highlights. I recommend checking all the 'Other Ones' from this tour as all of the versions have something special to offer. (5-25-77 is another personal fave) Garcia changes tones a few times early on in the jam and adds different spice to the churning tincture. At around three minutes the group gets into a breezy swinging 'Other One' themed jam, that has Phil tapping out quick neck runs that scurry underneath Garcia's probing lines. The drums lay back to give the music just enough movement like a flag being slightly lifted by a leafy wind. Around six minutes Garcia hits his spot and peels off multitudes of notes, hitting his mark the temperature of the band starts to rise slightly. This 'Other One' has a more positive edge than other versions, its shifty and swingy, lacking a scary edge, it lingers, and sometimes meanders only touching the 'Other One' but then rising out of view like a lost balloon looking for the sun. At around nine minutes the band drops out (Weir stays briefly) and Garcia is left on his own to investigate aural mysteries. A few shows from this tour develop into these Garcia solo excursions usually when Jerry has a lot to say (5-22-77 comes to mind) and are a unique opportunity to see Garcia take a spotlight in an era full of egotistical guitar players. After Jerry's solitary search the band crashes back into the main theme and Weir sings the only verse. Fully over drivin and full of fire and brimstone the band thrashes through the post verse jam, with Phil unusually quiet, but nonetheless active. Garcia steers the band toward 'Stella Blue' and they land gently at her doorstep. Unfortunately this version is somewhat marred by tempo issues between the drummers, Lesh, and Garcia. It shapes up to be a quality version with emotive vocals and a adequate closing jam, but it seems if Bill and Mick are having a hard time making up their mind of how to play this one!
As 'Stella' fades Garcia slips in the opening riff to 'Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad' and the band jumps all over this one with a reckless abandon. The three guitarist are in the front car of a out of control roller coaster, up, down, barley holding on, and full of excitement. Similar to 'Comes A Time' its a special thing when 'Goin Down the Road' pops up in a set, and its almost certain that it will be a rubber burning version, passing truck stops, and blowing through toll gates. Garcia sings this one like he means it, and Lesh comes alive, taking the wheel to negotiate any detours. Garcia's second solo just sings and cant help but put a smile on your face, gaining more momentum on every pass, until it explodes in celebration! Whoo hoo! An extreme group effort that adds up to a perfect and fitting show closer, until Weir slips in a 'One More Saturday Night' after the coda to really put the crowd over the top. Just when you think the band is spent they roll out one more time for a patriotic 'US Blues' closer. Perfect masters of moods, the band takes the crowd to the edge of space then back to earth again for three screaming rock and roll numbers.
Three very different and well played concerts make up the first look at the May 1977 box set. The shows I will feature in Part II of this review will be the 15th and 17th which conclude the box. As you, my dear reader can see already each night will have something special to offer the listener. The strength of the this tour is the group's ability to draw something significant out of normally placid songs or from areas they had never explored before. There is a patience, grace and quiet power to the collective performances. I hope this review inspires you to not only search out this set, but other shows on the tour that contain the same amazing playing and unique sets such as 4-23-77,4-27-77 5-5-77, 5-18-77. As always, thanks for reading, and I will see you for part II!
Friday, June 21, 2013
While I continue to work my way through and review the new Grateful Dead May 1977 box set, this week's 'Talk From the Rock Room' will concentrate on new rock news, what I have happening in and around the 'rock room', and act as a general 'Greetings!' to my loyal 'rock room' readers. I do have a 'real' job unfortunately and cannot always listen and write as much as I like. So today's blog will be to catch up, disseminate, greet and rant. As I previously stated though, I do have some stuff in the oven coming out, so prepare to be served! With the Grateful Dead March 17th 1968 performance melting like a candle in the sun and oozing from my speakers as my soundtrack, I give you this edition of' Talk From the Rock Room'.
First I would like to offer any of my readers in Upstate New York the amazing opportunity to see and hear two 'rock legends' this weekend in Cazenovia, NY. The show 'A Small Face and A Badfinger' will feature rock and roll hall of fame keyboardist extraordinaire for the (Small) 'Faces' Ian McLagan working with and joining 'Badfinger' guitarist Joey Molland for an evening of rock tales, reflection and classic music. I will be traveling this weekend for this performance, hence the truncated edition of 'Talk From the Rock Room'. I look forward to a very special evening of music shared with two pillars in the history of rock.
Secondly, if you did not get a chance to witness the Paul McCartney and Wings, 'Rockshow' premier in theaters these past few weeks, do not fret, it is now available on DVD and Blue Ray. If you are not familiar with this film, it is a chance to experience Wings when they were at their recording and performing peak. The film was shot in Seattle during the 1976 'Wings Over America Tour' and finds the band reaching a musical summit and finds Macca in glorious voice. This is the period when Paul's 'second' band was becoming the most popular group in the world. Do not miss this one. Too many highlights to list! Oh, and check out McCartney's landmark 38 song set from Bonnaroo this month, where he proved age has no bearing on the level of performances that he is still kicking out! Macca also showed up on the Stephen Colbert show where the interested can see a sampling of the new songs Sir Paul is breaking out this tour such as, "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite', and 'Hi, Hi Hi'.
Another bit of 'rock news' I must offer you my dear reader is to check out the brand new 'Black Sabbath' LP '13' which was released to great excitement this month. The record is a modern day mirror reflection of the group that defined and even created a genre of music on their own. Sabbath's own variety of 'dark blues' heavy steps and rattles chains across the new record produced by musical veteran Rick Ruben. Ruben made the group revisit the first record ever created by Sabbath as a reminder of how forward thinking and revolutionary they really were. '13' feels vintage, and carries the vibe of what made Sabbath great. Only lacking drummer Bill Ward due to contract disputes, the record carries the torch, and a bloody sword of remembrance for the band that in the 1970's steered 'rock and roll' toward 'heavy metal'.
In total contrast, Rod Stewart also has a new LP out called 'Time' which has softened the rockers hard edges slightly, but contains tunes that have all been penned by Rod. Steering away from the standards he has been covering for the last few years, Rod has come up with a highly creative and unique collection of songs. While not everyone's cup of tea, it is a well made, melodically pleasing record that deserves a spin. I have included a link below.
The Stones continue to work there way across the States on their 'Fifty and Counting Tour' with amazing reviews poring in, and a multitude of guests joining in and appearing with the group. The tour has also been busting out fan requests and rare goods at almost every stop. I missed this one, but if you get a chance to see the guys, I suggest you do so! Breakouts include, 'Sway', Can't You Hear Me Knockin', 'Bitch', 'Worried About You, 'Emotional Rescue', and 'Factory Girl' among many others. These guys are still the best garage rock band, rough and ready, bringing the goods every night.
On a few final notes before I leave for my 'real' job, and prepare for a weekend of some great times and amazing music, I want to give a quick directive of some 'rock gold' on the horizon. The 'Americana Tour' will be coming to a town near you soon! Featuring 'My Morning Jacket', 'Wilco', and Bob Dylan and his band, this tour is sure to blow away all fans of definitive songwriting and timeless melodies. On Jerry Garcia's August 1st birthday the legendary film 'Sunshine Daydream' will premier in theaters for one night only. Containing the astonishing August 27th 1972 Venetta, Oregon concert, this film has Deadheads all over the world salivating. Updated in both visual and aural quality this is sure to be one of the rock highlights of the year. If you have never seen the film, prepare to be destroyed, if you have seen it, prepare to witness it in a way you have never have before!
Then on a personal note, during my recent travels to the flea, as well as my fathers prowess in finding great record scores, I have acquired an original 'Buffalo Springfield Again (mono) LP, and (finally) a beautifully delicate and mint copy of the Bob Dylan Milton Glaser poster included on LP copies of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits! Yeah, I'm a rock geek.
In conclusion I also want to take a second to say a prayer for the 'rock and roll' deaths that have happened in 2013. It's unfortunate that this year has already taken so many of the rock legends that we know, respect and love away. Rest in Peace, Ray Manzarek, Alvin Lee, Peter Banks, Jeff Hanneman, and others on the list that will unfortunately keep growing. The important thing is that the music you have created will carry your life energy on eternally into the ears and hearts of your admirers.
As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for keeping rock alive. It's not an easy thing in this day and age of digital manipulation, auto tuning, and corporate sponsorship. There is always more rock news happening and being prepared, and I will try to find the relevant information and pass it on to you, but I encourage you to pass it on to me also! As I previously stated this quick entry is to let those who are interested know what's happening, 'Here, There, and Everywhere'. Keep and eye on this spot as I will return to my normally scheduled features and reviews coming soon! I hope that all of your 'rock' dreams and travels are special and all that you want them to be. Oh yeah, will somebody get Jimmy Page to release this 'long awaited' solo LP this year?!
Paul McCartney-2013-Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Black Sabbath-13 Full Album
Rod Stewart-Time Full LP
Thursday, June 13, 2013
This LP is unique in the way that not many records from this era have the sound that this one contains, featuring symphonic guitar orchestrations, big wartime drums, distorted horns and rubber band bass. The band was unknowingly creating a new rock aesthetic. Recorded at Caribou Studios in Colorado the record bleeds crisp sound and defined instruments. The record opens similarly to previous 'Badfinger' releases with a Pete Ham penned jewel. Flawless in its cut and clarity 'Just a Chance' detonates from the speakers with rotund guitar strokes, and a fat and bouncy Tom Evans bass line. In a time where glam was exposing its made up face, and disco and punk were on the horizon, this LP is a representation of pure rock and roll and impressive songwriting. Ham's 'Just a Chance' feels like a single because of its contagious melody, and towering harmonies. The track is a fitting opener lyrically based on the personal and business troubles Ham and the band were going through at the time. 'All I want from you is just a chance to try, anyway we can', Ham inquires. A tasteful Joey Molland guitar solo smoothly slithers across the instrumental section of the song.
The LP moves along with one of my favorite songs on the record, 'You're So Fine' a song penned by drummer Mike Gibbins who always had a most melodically pleasing song tucked away on all of Badfinger's releases. A swinging country jam, brimming with delicious harmonies by Gibbins, Molland, Ham, and Evans, the song sparkles like a cool back country stream. Ham's high harmony vocals are inspirational and chilling at the same time. The acoustic guitars shimmer with crisp and sharp tones during the breakdowns that glimmer like sunshine passing through a crystal. A good ol honky tonk country stomp by some purely British boys. Again, the deft touch and definition of Tom Evans bass is the glue that holds the wildly careening song together, with sneaky warm thumps.
Joey Molland's shady,"Got To Get Out Of Here" follows, opening on a rigid guitar strum and sustained organ line. Obviously based on his feelings regarding his future and eventual leaving of the band, the song is simplistic in its construction, yet dynamic in its melody. Evans inserts his unique high harmony as the song moves forward acquiring a tambourine and kick drum rhythm. I love the track for its moodiness, and its complex simplicity. A fantastic song, and probably a contributing factor to why Molland felt like he could leave the band and stretch out on his own because its such a quality track. A fine display of writing and arrangement.
'Know One Knows' fires off shots next with an explosive introduction containing colossal echoed drum rolls for emphasis. A perfect little three minute song that carries a superlative 'pop' melody and is the perfect definition of 'power pop'. The Pete Ham composition expresses the double meaning of the songs title, and his statement of love to the songs subject. Mike Gibbins drumming deserves special notice as its his detailed drumming that draws attention to the shifting rhythms of the song. The middle eight contains a watery dual slide guitar solo by Ham and Molland that contains a female voice reciting Japanese words over the top. An interesting addition, as it adds an underlying erotic vibe to the track. A very original and truly 'Badfinger' song.
The close of side one comes with 'Dennis', a song that spans many different moods and emotions, moving from minor key foreboding to jumpy and positive expressions of love. The song was written by Pete Ham for the son of his girlfriend who he had been especially taken with. One of Ham's finest compositions and most melodically complex. The track opens on a lone piano and vocal and is then joined by an early 'Phil Spector' sounding 1960's drum beat. When the transcendent guitar joins in, the song begins to take on a new form, with 'Beatlesque' backing vocals levitating the song higher into the stratosphere. The dark edge to this positive song is what makes it so appealing, the guitar melodies full of prophesy. The song brimming with sunshine, but once in a while retreating to the shadows. Ham's vocals are deadly serious but comforting at the same time, with Tom Evans joining in for the lyrics that end, 'But don't you worry, you love of ours, They look like weeds, but they're really flowers, And they'll soon be gone'. The song then takes a sudden corner and races into the positive and upbeat 'middle eight', which bounds joyously on the acoustic piano, and Evans bass. I feel this track is a close as a listener can get to being inside the head of Pete Ham with its up and down emotions, shifting moods and metamorphosing melodies. Ham's vocals at this point in the track range from the gritty to the delicately falsetto changing as quickly as the song. The apex of the tune suddenly hangs in the balance, suspended, and buoyantly floats on heavenly 'oooh's' and Ham's emotive words, 'There's a way through, There's a way to take away blue', which seem to be directed at Dennis, and himself. Dreamy and as smooth as wet glass the song fades to black. What a way to close the first side of the LP, and such a shame the song would be unable to reach its intended audience because of business dealing effecting the creation of art.
The second side of the LP opens on a droning spaced out collection of horns, guitars and manipulated effects that slam into the jagged piano punctuated and cacophonous 'In the Meantime/Some Other Time'. Mike Gibbins 'In the Meantime' was combined with Molland's 'Some Other Time' to form this variable collaboration. Both Molland and Gibbins share vocals between the segued songs that again spotlight 'Badfinger's songwriting talents as there are multiple changes, melody and harmony lines intersecting, and extreme detail to the arrangements. During 'In the Meantime' the rug is pulled out from under our feet with a complex guitar and piano melody line that acts as the connecting tissue between the changes. The orchestral arrangement moves underneath like moonlight water lapping at an abandoned shoreline as the song drops into 'In the Meantime's' illusory and enchanted breakdown decorated with collaborative and effected vocals by the group. The section elicits an alien landscape with sounds and voices appearing and manifesting into colored hazes and warm mists. From this scene the song returns to the body of the song preparing to segue into Molland's 'Some Other Time' in which it fits like a hand in a glove. Molland's vocals are admirable, and both he and Ham's guitar playing acts as the work of one player as they both state lines so tastefully and respectfully. A highly original piece of art, which like I previously stated is unlike anything other rock bands were attempting. The song eventually comes full circle and returns to the end of the beginning.
Another Joey Molland composed song follows next with the sensitive 'Love Time'. An acoustic love song that features a simple and dry acoustic sound and stirring vocals by Joey. It sits in contrast to the preceding songs in its woody and airy simplicity. All of the guys in this band could write such great melodies, its mind blowing! There is some complex spiderweb acoustic riffing underneath the vocals that really make the song. The middle eight contains another double tracked guitar solo that restates the warm theme of the song. Every song on the LP offers something that makes the listeners ears perk up and want to listen again.
The only Tom Evans song on the record comes next with 'King Of The Load' which opens on a tinkling toy electric piano that trickles in. Evans vocals are clean and naked for the verses, and then joined by Molland on the chorus. The song, like the ones before it is well written and catchy, but it does seem slightly distracted when looked at with a critical eye. Evans had his own issues during the recording of the record, hence his lack of material. Pete Ham's guitar solo is short and to the point but emanates professionalism and a keen attention to detail. A solid song that sits just slightly below the other songs on side two.
The LP comes to a close on another collaborative song that features two tunes pushed together into a mini suite. 'Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke is a chunky hard rocking closer full of highlights and comprised of Ham's 'Ranch', and Molland's 'Smoke'. 'Ranch' chugs along on a dense and rough guitar rhythm, and Ham's slick soulful verses. There are some great echoed vocals by Molland underpinning Ham's vocals on the chorus, as well as some stabbing serrated guitar licks by Joey that adorn the song. The tunes fit together seamlessly, the only way to tell them apart is when the vocalists switch, but again the songs are a true collaborative effort. When Joey's 'Should I Smoke' busts in the song's makeup changes slightly and a spotlight shines on the vocals, as the song slows to a astral horn adorned interlude. Then as quick as it slowed the song rips back into the thick riffing of 'Ranch'. I absolutely love this LP ending segment, like a sweet thick moist piece of marble cake these two tracks are blended together with elements of one appearing and disappearing into the other. Both Joey and Pete have their fingers in each others pies.
It's a very emotional undertaking to listen to this record because of the multiple occurrences that happened during its creation, release, and eventual disappearance. It would be the final 'Badfinger' release with the original members, and unfortunately the group would never get a proper sendoff. Within a year Pete would be gone, which would signal the conclusion of the 'real' 'Badfinger' vision. The real disappointment about this record is that it is so unique and melodically special, and very few would be able to enjoy it. Even today it only exists in its original LP format, unless you buy an overpriced import version on CD. I feel it deserves a deluxe edition treatment with live tracks, demos, and the of course the original track listing in glorious remastered sound.' Badfinger's' original Apple records got the remastered treatment a few years ago, and if any LP deserves to be reintroduced to the world its this one. Enjoy the songs I've included below, this work of art needs more exposure, and a greater recognition. EDIT 1/2018- Rhino Records have reissued this LP on a limited edition green colored record.
You're So Fine-Wish You Were Here
Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke-WYWH
Dennis-Wish You Were Here
Sunday, June 9, 2013
This capture finds the group on their European tour, playing tight practiced shows after an introductory tour of various venues in the states. The band swings with a 'Stax' R and B attitude helped along by the groovin three piece horn section. Janis is in fine throat despite the perils of her impending heroin addiction and she sings here with her usual aplomb, reaching stratospheric gritty falsettos, and deep sludgy groans and moans. Her vocal gymnastics a refection of the emotion pouring from her troubled soul. The show is a clandestine peek at the direction Joplin would be taking her new music. Similarly to her musical peer Jimi Hendrix, who would also meet a premature demise, the possibilities of her future development are thought provoking and endless.
The performance opens with a throbbing instrumental that spotlights the horn section, who weave solo segments above the oscillating funk of the rhythm section made up of bassist Brad Campbell, and drummer Brad Markowitz. Elvis Presley's late 1960's and early 1970 performances come to mind as the backing band would usually open with a cooking instrumental setting the table for the Presley to appear and rip into the opening number of the show. The same occurs here as Janis can be heard exclaiming, 'All right' after the opening number, preparing for the heated and sweaty of 'Summertime' that follows. The horns, guitar and organ coalesce into a regal sounding introduction that knots itself around the prelude of the song. Janis comes in with her stones and gravel vocals, gravitating between a rough and ready shout and smooth soothing Southern Comfort coos. The band scurries across the melody lines with quick shots of color and pin prick riffing, above it all Janis lets it go. As steamy as the late afternoon sun, both Janis and band elicit a warm summer breeze created from their musical closeness.
'Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)' follows, and opens on a bass pulse and percussive maraca accents. Slowly building in intensity,there are some sly guitar and snare rim shots, Janis slinks in through the back door, seductively asking her man to 'try' just a little bit. Until she decides that asking nicely doesn't work, so she erotically caterwauls from a lofty apartment fire escape for all the city to hear. Squishy keyboards and chunky guitar form a musical circle around Janis. Hip falsetto vocals by the band sit in contrast to Janis's superior sandy and gritty lines. The song breaks down into a call and response vocal segment that really gets things moving. Janis wails and screams, raps and squeals the band into frothing maelstrom. This aint' no modern day diva vocalizing, this is the real deal, a back porch blues jam or a sunset field holler. Not to knock modern day female vocalists, but none of them can hold a candle to the 'from the gut' vocalizations that Janis is pulling from her pipes. No theatrics needed. Wow.
Next up, Janis breathlessly introduces horn player extraordinaire Cornelius 'Snooky' Flowers to the audience and chats briefly. 'Snooky' steps into the spotlight for a moment to take the lead vocals on a careening version of Otis Redding's 'Can't Turn You Loose'. The band shakes and rattles on this one, with 'Snooky' really digging into it vocally, containing some great off mike and on mike asides by Joplin. Similar to a 'Grateful Dead' primal era 'Lovelight', Janis and 'Snooky' let the band groove as they rap, scream, yelp, and groove around the pulsating rhythm whipped up for the seven minute jam. This song is a prime example of the 'soul' direction Joplin was racing toward as she left the psychedelia of 'Big Brother' in her rear view mirror. Big horn blasts with swirling organ are the bedrock in which the jambalaya of soul is built.
The performance does include a 'trip' back to the heady days of Joplin's psychedelic grooves with a 'big band' version of 'Combination of the Two' complete with a fuzzy heavily hallucinogenic Sam Andrew guitar breakdown. One of my favorite Janis songs because of the delicious groove and celebratory vocal overlapping. A funny moment occurs when the song hits its opening groove punctuated with falsetto 'Ohh's", and the soundboard recording picks up Janis's struggle to hit the note. This does not last for long as shortly after, she shreds her vocal lines with unparallelled intensity. A cool moment just to witness the usually infallible Joplin hit a slight clunker. The tasteful addition of the horns again take this swinging tune and turn into a hot to the touch R and B review.
In my opinion the highlight of the performance comes next with a snapping, stuttering, and screaming version of 'Ball and Chain'. Janis's apathy for the European audiences during this tour has been well documented, and I feel that performances like this one show the effort she put forth in getting a reaction from the 'cold' assembled crowds. The weighty version of this song clanks like a welded chain link as Janis scats and yelps along in sandy ecstasy. The bands tasteful movements swell, accessorizing her every move with musical dynamics. The band becomes a musical river ebbing and flowing with Janis's every whim, tumbling and slamming into musical debris. Joplin's breathy vocals coming through crystal clear on the FM broadcast recording, a beautiful gift to be treasured.
'Ball and Chain' segues seamlessly into the show closing 'Piece Of My Heart', the expected and well played closer. The chorus is emphasized by horn blasts and cymbal crashes, the band putting a new twist on an oft played and well recognized classic. Janis, per usual sings the shit of what many consider to be her biggest hit. The crowd explodes in recognition as the performance concludes, Janis definitely content in her job of waking the coolly detached European audience.
While there are numerous Joplin performances available released both officially and through bootlegs that may equal or surpass this performance, I have a special love for this show from Spring 1969. It finds Janis in a period of flux, and a period of personal turmoil. But yet her stage persona shines brightly like the solitary star her soul portrays. Her voice still inspiring chills and her musical effort and love unquestionable. The band acts as a breathtaking and ornate picture frame, surrounding the priceless art that is Joplin's muse. Dig this one out of the vault for a captured moment with a woman who at this point in time was the greatest female vocalist the rock world had ever seen, and who's legacy remains forever carved in rock.
Can't Turn You Loose
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
The opening track of the album is the brief and introspective 'Bookends Theme' which sets the stage for rest of the collection. Reflective in its tone and clarity the tenderly picked melody line stirs a mixture of coincidence and chance. The simple figure contains a multitude of emotion in its brief appearance, enough depth to encapsulate and surround the collection.
This moment of reflection is detonated by the startling opening of 'Safe the Life of My Child' captured like a Polaroid in mid development,a young boy is balanced precariously on the ledge of building ready to take his own life....or possibly to fly away. Psychedelically produced, cotaining layers of dialog and vocal gymnastics that peek their heads out from behind the hedgerow of anxious acoustic guitar strums. The striving for songwriting perfection and ongoing musical development of Paul Simon is on full display on this record. His songs are dressed in tasteful instrumentation, unified and lofty vocals, and of course, thought provoking and cinematic lyrics. The song builds to the moment of decision on aggressive guitar strums and then leaves the listener to interpret the conclusion. As 'Save the Life of My Child' deconstructs, it segues into the road weary opening hums of 'America', one of the greatest songs written by ANYONE is given its first airing on the record.
'America' is a dusty musical scrapbook for any artist or poet who is in search of the ever elusive. The search for I don't know exactly what, begins and ends with the simple panoramic lens of Simon's pen. Not only is the protagonist of the song representative of the mental and physical movements of the 1960's, but of Simon himself and of the plethora of listeners over forty years later. Acoustic guitars slightly chorused shimmer under Paul and Art's blended singular voice. A whistling organ breezes in punctuated by empty kettle drum hits, the song rises and falls dynamically with the emotion of the lyrics. The lines leading up to the apex of the song, 'Kathy, I'm lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping, I'm empty and aching and I don't know why', blossom into a glorious emotional peak that is one of those musical moments that defy proper expression. Phew.
The record thus far has continued to flow as one entity, as with the next song, 'Overs' is connected to 'America' by the sulfur smell of a match strike and a heavy breath. 'Overs' balances on wooden arpeggios, and Simon's astute finger picking techniques. The song looks through a peep hole at a long term relationship destined for failure, but surviving on familiarity and old love. Simple in its instrumentation, the song sits under glass like a museum piece for others to admire and learn from. Garfunkel's solo verses in the middle eight add a ghostly lace over the proceedings, as his clairvoyant tenor pours over the melody lines.
After 'Overs', the Super 8 quality of the album continues with 'Voices of Old People', which is exactly that. Art Garfunkel recorded the conversations of the elderly at various locations during the recording of the LP. The segment sits in the flow of the record well, as it matches the stated themes of, loss, age, questioning, time and hope. The record's timelessness is because of the seriousness and relevance of the content of the tracks. Add to this the masterful melodies and immaculate production, and its obvious why this record is so strong. The 'Voices of Old People' track offers a glimpse of the reality of what time does to us all, and the unavoidable ravages of illness and loss. But yet it retains a poignancy that is confirmed by the appearance of 'Old Friends/Bookends Theme' which pushes through the remnants of the voices on a rocking chair guitar strum.
The song is a portrait of two friends together on a city park bench, passing time, reflecting, or maybe time has passed them by? Simon from the point of view of a youth asks the lyrical question, 'How terribly strange to be seventy?' A very astute and self aware set of lyrics by young man who had many many years of living still ahead of him, and still does. As 'Old Friends' inflates with a rush of orchestration that washes out of the speakers in colored waves, the 'Bookends' theme reappears from the ashes, but with lyrics this time. 'Long ago it must be, I have a photograph, preserve your memories; They're all that's left you'. So concludes side one, a constant sweep of music joined thematically and maturely developed in its content.
Side two begins riding a startling siren sound on hand claps that drops into the helplessly funky 'Fakin It'. Situated on a merry go round swinging acoustic guitar lick, the song picks up its tempo as it races toward the climatic chorus. Simon and Garfunkel sing jointly on this sweet track that feels like it goes by in a microsecond. Catchy and groovy, the lyrics capture the crisscrossed emotions of the narrator who is either telling his story, or talking to himself. There is another 'audio verite' moment at the end of the song as the narrator of the tune questions what he was in a prior life, and if he was indeed 'Fakin It' then too! The song makes its exit on the same whining sound that ushered in the opening of the second side.
'Punky's Dilemma' follows and features Simon singing a stoney number that finds our narrator wishing he was a 'Kellogg's Cornflake', or an English Muffin, where he thinks if he had a toaster, 'He'd ease myself down, comin up brown'. Finger snaps and a jazzy guitar strum give the song a chewey organic vibe. A danceable bass line pushes up against Simon's jumpy club riffing, as the song floats on whistles and smoke, eventually coming down red eyed and leaving on tip toes by the basement door.
The second side contains no segues as each song stands alone. The following track should be recognizable to any music fan as its the most popular song in the Simon catalog, 'Mrs Robinson'. Featured in the movie, 'The Graduate', the song was a single, but also nestled nicely on the second side of the 'Bookends' LP. The groovy picked acoustic riff and tribal thumps propel the song, that now fills the classic rock airwaves in every city in America. There's not much to say except its an exceptional song that like the rest of the LP is perfect in its production and melodic sensibilities.
The most 'rocking' of the songs on the album comes next with 'A Hazy Shade of Winter', a tune also made popular by the 'Mama's and the Papa's' who covered the Simon penned song. I prefer this album version which similarly to the rest of the record, deals with the decay of time, and the hopefulness of a rebirth, hence the representation of Winter and Spring in the song. The chunky acoustic guitar riff is catchy and kinetic as the duo's urgent vocals almost race ahead of the music. The song feels disorienting to me as its has a rushing and rotating feel that, just when you think it should slow, it hangs in midair, and then takes off again. The snare pounds the dirty ground emphatically with triple hits of the tambourine adding a dusting of snow to the landscape. Chilly crystalline vocals by the duo highlight this classic number in there undeniable fashion.
The LP then concludes with the song 'At The Zoo', a simple ditty that eventually turns into a celebratory skip through the animal farm. Someone told Simon that 'It's all happening at the zoo', and this track is the trip to finding out what its all about. The list of creatures encountered on this journey all have personality traits that are explained in the song, which is light fair, especially when compared to some of the more serious emotions displayed on the record. Somehow it becomes a fitting closer for the LP. The song trickles in with dings and dongs and an acoustic, eventually picking up its bags and heading for the bus in a full sprint with some jangling piano. The smile can be heard in Simon's voice as he almost cracks up at one point in the track. Not only is the song an invitation to the listener, it is also a farewell, as the tune signals the end of the LP.
Simon and Garfunkel created one of the most emotional stirring and perfectly designed albums of the 1960's. The LP is easily in the 'rock room's' top twenty when ruminating about 'desert island' albums and what not. I digress, the album is a serious statement in what feels like an effortless display of songwriting and harmony. The record 'feels' like a record because of its unforced thematic tendencies and consistent ideas. I believe that it contains many of Simon defining moments as a developing songwriter, as well as allowing him to expand his endless horizons as a poet. Garfunkel was singing better than ever, and was a perfectionist when portraying his harmonic ideas. This beautiful record is easy for a listener to connect with and I always like going back to visit for a spell.
America -LP Version
Hazy Shade Of Winter/At The Zoo LP Version