Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Richard Thompson - Bloody Noses EP - 'Some Old Campaign'

On July 3rd, 2020 famed guitarist and singer Richard Thompson quietly released a six track EP via the website Bandcamp. This collection was recorded during his and all of our recent quarantine during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Thompson, like countless other working musicians has been unable to perform live (his main source of income) and has cancelled all of his scheduled concerts as well as his 2020 guitar camp. The one positive result of (if there is one) of musicians such as Richard being off the road has been a welcome plethora of home recordings, live streams and stunning new works of musical art which has been developed during lockdown.

Thompson’s six song EP is titled Bloody Noses and the songs all dangle from the same threads of confusion, fear, hope and faith. No matter our profession or artistic drive, at the present we are all facing the same world issues in addition to our own private battles. Richard Thompson has always been adept at bringing the dark into the light and revealing to his listeners that no matter how black the evening, we may never witness the dawn, and that is ok.

Recorded at home with all instruments played by himself and additional vocals by his partner Zara Phillips this all acoustic EP features the usual intelligence, humor and virtuosic playing we have come to expect from RT. Currently the EP is available as a digital download (both MP3 and FLAC), but during one of his recent live streams RT did say we will see a physical release at some point.

The EP begins with the track ‘As Soon As You Hear the Bell’. Using boxing as a life metaphor, Thompson sings richly about accepting the fights and the injuries that may come, and making sure that when the bell rings there will be no giving up. A fitting melodic attitude for our current situations. The hopeful chorus is a cool compress onto the listener’s fresh bruises.  Thompson’s acoustic playing is a blend of Curtis Mayfield playing an English folk song groove. Every stringed nuance is magnified through RT’s lacy picking and fresh vocals.

‘She’s A Hard Girl to Know’ follows next on the EP, and in the ‘rock room’s opinion stands alone among the six tracks because of its gossamered picking and shimmering chord changes. The airy arrangement, like many of RT’s songs allow for the narrative to peek through the yellowed pages of melody. Thompson’s construction reflects the ‘unknowability’ of the song’s subject. This aforementioned thematic approach of the ‘wild woman’ that Thompson is often attracted to has also played out in classic Thompson tracks like ‘Beeswing’ and Cooksferry Queen’. Here, Thompson per his usual wont, takes a well-worn look at relationships through a brand new angle and using a specialized lens.

‘If I Could Live My Life Again’, is a track that Thompson was playing during his most recent acoustic tour of January and February of 2020. In addition, RT took to showcasing it during his recent lockdown live streams from home. This typically strong RT track plays out as a tender acoustic blues. Pensive and hopeful, Thompson fingerpicks a muted rock and roll rhythm that is accentuated by plucky chords and dizzying circular licks. To the ‘rock room’ this track brings to mind the contemplation of a lost chap walking wet cobblestone streets wondering why he/she went left when the path bared right. A song of  past regret carried by a melody that moves into the future.

Thompson’s talented partner Zara Phillips joins RT on harmony vocals for the next song titled, ‘The Fortress’. This substantial cut is chunky and deliciously catchy. ‘The Fortress’ is our protective shell, our shield, which unfortunately has been breached by disease, media, and disrespecting friends. Life has been interrupted by true realities, and how we react to this and protect our ‘Fortress’ is the true test. Thompson’s verses and melody immediately seep into my head. RT’s chopped strums allow his descending vocals to wrap around my synapses allowing me to enter into the song. The expansive chorus diverts from the melody quickly and scrawls its message across the fortress entry way. Thompson and Phillip's co mingled vocals inspire hope and induce chills.

Track five of the digital EP is titled ‘Survivor’ and is in the ‘rock room’s humble opinion a welcome addition to the Richard Thompson vault of stunning compositions. The song sways with the breeze of a light country waltz and sings with a glass held high and a nod to another fellow survivor. Similarly to all of RT’s most enduring songs, the narrative is the final puzzle piece fitting into one empty space of 1000 different emotions. Thompson is offering a cheers to everyone, those who have lost love, misplaced hope and those who have given up or lost everything but continue to move forward and live. Thank you Richard for these beautiful songs.

The final song, ‘What’s up with You?’ moves with a pulse that RT compared to ‘Celtic Rockabilly’ during his recent online performance of the song. In addition to this musical clue, Thompson also notes a Buddy holly influence. The song swings with jolly attitude, with the title line being the axis in which the song spins. The narrator presses the song’s subject to reveal what exactly the crux of their issue could be. High speed strumming and pure rock riffing bring RT’s six song collection to a wonderful but short close.

Per my usual practice of leaving a link of the music I review, today, I ask if you are reading and are able please visit Richard Thompson’s band camp page:    https://richardthompson.bandcamp.com/album/bloody-noses-ep  and make a donation. You will not only receive an amazing collection of songs, but you will also assist in keeping Thompson’s head above water during his time off of the road. If you are a fan, getting this EP is a no brainer. If you are just getting to know RT, donate and discover.  As previously stated Thompson has said that as things return to a new kind of ‘normal’ his hope is that these songs will get a physical release (vinyl, CD). He also has noted that a second collection of songs are in the oven and will come out when fully baked in the next couple of months. In the meantime, let's ‘now be thankful’ for the songs RT has provided for all of us 'survivors'.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Put the Boot In: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Fillmore East May 10, 1968 – 'Getting My Heart Back Together'

On May 10, 1968 the Jimi Hendrix Experience played two shows at New York City’s famed 2,600 seat Fillmore East. Hendrix was in town working diligently on his upcoming record yet to be named, Electric Ladyland. It worked out perfectly that while Jimi was recording in the city at the Record Plant, he could and would also play some local concerts.

Today in the ‘rock room’ spins a fantastic hi fidelity audience recording documenting the May 10th evening performance at Fillmore East. I am listening to a lossless file set taken from a silver pressed CD titled, The Jimi Hendrix Experience Fillmore East 2nd Show and pressed by “No Label”. This particular audience recording has been circulating for a number of years, under an array of different titles but has usually contained a number of aural issues.  The aforementioned version I am enjoying is the most complete thus far, has a minimum of cuts and is sonically stunning. The vibe of the venue is tangible on the recording and Hendrix’s guitar has its face against the glass. Redding’s bass is audible and Mitchell’s multifarious attack across his kit can be felt as well as heard. There is a sly psychedelic lilt to Hendrix’s playing, culminating in a crushing and closing version of ‘Purple Haze’. In addition to the amazing playing are a couple rare musical nuggets placed in the setlist that will excite any Hendrix Experience fan.

This particular era for the Experience found them enormously popular, prolifically creative and playing seditious concerts throughout the year that left audiences stunned while growing Hendrix’s legend. Jimi’s fame was ascending at a furious rate and he was revolutionizing guitar with every concert and recording produced. Which takes us back to May 10, 1968’s evening performance. Following the afternoon concert and evening concert’s opening act, ‘Sly and the Family Stone, Hendrix took the stage to a sold out room. The Joshua Light Show morphing the stage into a pulsating, liquescent musical mass.

The evening begins with ‘Lover Man’, an extended introduction features an exotic bit of riffing illustrating Hendrix is feeling frisky this spring evening in NYC. Jimi’s guitar tone is paunchy and the sound of Bill Graham’s room is crystalline. The Experience stomps through their opening number with deft precision. The first Hendrix solo takes off with Redding’s giant bass grumble setting the foundation. Jimi immediately struts his stuff with a vertiginous series of soaring and diving bends. Devastating stuff, and the crowd responds in kind.


Following ‘Lover Man’ Hendrix explains to the crowd that any odd sounds they may hear are caused by the amps, and they had not had a chance to get them overhauled. (Hendrix concerts always featured equipment on the verge of a breakdown) A searing reading of ‘Fire’ follows hot on the heels of ‘Lover Man’. Textbook perfect, the band has the arrangement in their crosshairs. Mitch Mitchell is punishing his kit filling each empty pause in the song with a crashing series of alien triplets.

Hendrix is obviously in a groovy mood as he and Noel Redding takes a chance to speak to the crowd following ‘Fire’. Hendrix quotes the opening riff of the Beach Boys ‘Surfing USA’, saying he ‘had a big flash’.  Foxy lady follows, possibly related to the ‘Surfin USA’ quote and begins with the buzzing of electricity and hissing of overdriven amplifiers. The band is frightening in their sound, Jimi barley stays tethered to the earth during the first solo spot. What begins as a smooth bluesy exploration quickly becomes a clinic of molten strings and elongated bends, Jimi’s lady in see through top and hot pants.

A pause between the songs, features someone from the crowd yelling to the stage, ‘Take off your hat!’ To which Jimi replies, I’ll Take off my hat if you take off your pants’. The centerpiece of the show then follows and is a deep and conversational reading of a 15 minute ‘Red House’. What makes this reading even more special is that Hendrix breaks out his black right handed 1956 Les Paul Custom for this rendition. There are pictures by famed rock photographer Elliott Landy available for perusal which immortalize this moment. Three different Gibson Les Paul’s were owned by Jimi Hendrix, but the 56’ may be the most beautiful. The following ‘Red House’ ranges from delicate to distorted and then decorated with silvery strands of feedback. Hendrix does a call and response throughout the verses with his six string vocals

‘Red House’ begins, with a delicate groove and smooth probing by Hendrix. His tone, a sweet velvet beam, or a musical insect exploring for the rich pollen payoff. While ‘Red House’ was nearly always a highlight of Hendrix shows, here it ascends to different and multiple levels. The journey over yonder is filled with detours and unique fragments maybe not always related buy nonetheless stunning. Hendrix’s guitar positively moans during the prelude. The sound improves on the recording unbelievably as the cymbals and bass are not as loud so Hendrix’s tone can be discerned reverberating off of the walls of the hall.

Hendrix lets out a couple ‘Yea’s’ early on and lays on the blues thick with perfectly placed notes and absurd bends. At approximately two minutes and twenty seconds Jimi switches pickups to a rounder more overdriven sound. The first verses take their time getting to Hendrix’s baby with patient vocals and a smoky groove. Each verse is responded too with a singing guitar melody, when Hendrix mentions that the ‘key wont unlock this door’, he manifests a deep magenta stream of reverberating decay. Maybe a minor display but one that makes Jimi the best ever. Hendrix, sets the stage for the first solo break with a ‘Look out’, then a deeply felt metallic bend.

By Elliott Landy

Hendrix lets loose with a plethora of rutted and gravel filled licks and with a nonverbal signal takes a spin around the drive with dirty trill to which Mitchell matches with a tempo increase. Let off his leash Jimi begins to move at a different time and space than Noel and Mitch diverging into his rock and roll tool belt with some inexplicably abrasive takes on recognizable licks. At seven minutes, Redding and Mitchell come to the forefront as a delicate shuffle coagulates. Hendrix taps his strings, a breeze pushing the jam forward. Mitchell takes a brief solo spot as Redding and Hendrix fade. The crowd appreciates his abilities and responds in kind. At around ten minutes Hendrix returns with a succulent watery tone from his wah-wah, the band drops out as Jimi constructs a hallucinatory narrative. Someone in the crowd whistles and before too long Hendrix pulls the rip cord. From a bit after twelve minutes forward Jimi scribbles out a letter to his girl and nails it to the front door of the ‘Red House’ with a blade. The letter is dizzying and aggressive and leaves nothing to chance. A return to the verses is a welcome relief from the jaw clenching Hendrix solo spot.

A substantial wall of soaring feedback follows and precedes a strutting and crowd pleasing ‘Hey Joe’. This is the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the peak of their fame in one of the most famous music venues in history, playing one of their most popular cuts. The song is ignited with high octane gas and burned to ash.

A quick ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ snippet, not long enough to qualify as a song is introduced as, ‘That was the Monkees, now we’d like to do something by the Monkees’ to the crowd’s great amusement. Hendrix replies, ‘we have to keep things balanced’. A small tune up and Jimi plucks out the elastic opening lick of ‘Hear my Train’. In late 1967 on the BBC the Experience played a formative version of what would come to be known as ‘Hear My Train a Comin’. Hendrix also referred to the song as ‘Lonesome Train’, or ‘Getting My Heart Back Together’; and like ‘Red House’ the song would become one of Hendrix’s show shopping astro blues numbers. The tasty musical gruel was comprised of a heaping spoonful of Delta blues, a dropper of Oswley’s finest and the electric sensibilities of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. The imagery is classic blues with the main symbolism of the train referencing freedom, something always at the core of Hendrix’s songwriting. Here, on May 10th, 1968 is an early formative version of ‘Hear My Train’ comes smoking uncontrollably down the track.

It sounds to the ‘rock room’ that Jimi has returned to the Gibson he donned during ‘Red House’, but I cannot confirm that. His tone is thick and sweet as the richest New York maple. Mitchell stomps out ‘Train’s churning groove. Hendrix places well timed exclamations from his strings that elicit front porch blues gatherings from southern jukes. Jimi pauses to introduce the song as ‘Something we’ve never done before’, before singing the introductory verse.

Autobiographical but still firmly rooted in the blues, Hendrix testifies while harmonizing with his instrument. The first solo break immediately jumps the track and begins a runaway journey downhill. Hendrix snarls as he plays a variation on the central theme, fully overdriven and setting the table for the next series of courses he is ready to serve. Hendrix has a plump organic fuzz to his playing, Redding continues to grumble leaving a comfortable station for Hendrix to return from his journey.

The intensity increases, Jimi grabs a hold of a trilling riff on the lower part of the next causing the music to swirl. Mitchell throws his kit down the stairs and Jimi starts to use feedback to develop his next series of string narrative. His tone grows even gruffer and suddenly at round five minutes and twenty the train leaves the tracks and takes off streaking across the night sky, a human made comet, a UFO, musical disorientation and aural chaos ensues. Jimi rides the E string back to the verse licks, bringing the band dynamics down before letting off the gas for the third verse. Following the concluding vocals, Hendrix returns to his trademark vocal/guitar harmonization for the songs outro peak with a series of ‘Here My Train’ exclamations that bring the stunned crowd to their feet.

After a cut on the recording a nimble and somewhat rare cover of Bob Dylan’s 1965 single, ‘Please Crawl out Your Window’ follows. Hendrix was a huge admirer of Dylan, illustrated by his covers of ‘Drifters Escape, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘Watchtower’ and the aforementioned ‘Crawl out Your Window’. This live reading remains close to Dylan’s studio recording with Hendrix singing really well. What the ‘rock room’ finds wonderful is Hendrix’s portrayal of guitarist Robbie Robertson’s solo breaks which he plays perfectly. The lightning fast version is topped off with a succinct ‘shave and a haircut’ conclusion.

A considerable sonic prelude comes next, creeping across the stage like a psychoactive fog. Hendrix brings to life flashes of war, peace, truth and lies through his sound experimentation. Similar to previous preludes as ‘Are You Experienced’ and foreshadowing his Woodstock soundscape coming in 1969, this found sound preface is one of the major highlights of the show. Hendrix turns the Fillmore East into a deep space aquarium, bubbling space melodies appear before dissolving into blue atmospheres. Things detonate before soaring away unknowingly, suddenly the undulating introduction to ‘Purple Haze’ appears.

‘Purple Haze’ is suffocating, in a good way. Played with a studio standard, the Experience crowns their evening concert with stunning and ear splitting perfection. Before a breath can be taken by the collective crowd the band readies to enter into the set closing ‘Wild Thing’. The song is unfortunately cut, but what is available is consistent with the rest of the show….amazing. Hendrix introduces the song as a ‘delta blues’ after asking the crowd to singalong with the band. The volume is thunderous and the excitement and enthusiasm is tangible on the antiqued field recording. As previously stated ‘Wild Thing’ cuts quickly, but its reverberations echo through the spheres.

With the plethora of stellar Hendrix material available to hardcore fans, in addition to his own limited discography it is often difficult to pinpoint the ‘best’ concerts. In the case of Fillmore East 1968, we are lucky to have an audience recording with such amazing fidelity. In addition to the tapes sonic gifts, the capture found one of the most amazing artists our planet has ever witnessed in his prime. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Superlatives often fail to express what Hendrix and his band did for rock and roll music, so now we can just sit back, and let the music play tell us the tale.

Other Hendrix rants by Talk From the Rock Room:

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2014/01/the-jimi-hendrix-experience-miami-pop.html

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2015/04/put-boot-in-jimi-hendrix-experience.html?m=1

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2013/03/jimi-hendrix-lord-theres-got-to-be-some.html

https://www.talkfromtherockroom.com/2014/01/now-playingthe-jimi-hendrix-experience.html?m=1




Thursday, June 25, 2020

Take One: Bob Dylan – ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ – ‘Weave a Memory’

With very little fanfare and minimal publicity in May of 2014 Bob Dylan issued a lovingly crafted cover of Frank Sinatra’s 1945 song “Full Moon and Empty Arms” via his official website. The single was accompanied by what ended up being the official album cover image. The picture, a moody black-and-white shot of Dylan in the style of a classic jazz recording also included the title Shadows of the Night.

It was confirmed that the song was mined from a new Dylan record, to be released later in 2014. What was unknown at the time of the single release was this would be the first in a trilogy of ‘songbook’ records to be released by Dylan also including the later titles, Fallen Angels, and Triplicate from 2016 and 2017 respectively. This covers project would certainly place Dylan in good company among his contemporaries, following similar excursions by the likes of Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and Neil Young.

What makes the release of ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ so important in hindsight is that the song and eventual full length followed a road tested album style that has been Dylan’s modus operandi since 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Dylan had not strayed much from the nimble, sepia-toned, 78-record blues sound that he had spent the last 20 years developing. But Dylan's approach was altered in a big way with his deep dive into the classic tin pan alley songbook. Arrangements lightened, becoming sparse and airy. Dylan's vocals softened, the gravel edges sanded down by swirling instruments. His breath and vocals became a focus and silences became golden.

The key to this aforementioned aesthetic is that now with the release of Dylan’s 2020 record of originals Rough and Rowdy Ways a clandestine glimpse into Dylan’s working methods and song construction can be glimpsed. Looked at as a whole, Dylan’s career has always been a series of musical detonations followed by a period of rest, reloading, and retooling. An example of this can be seen with Dylan’s 1992 and 1993 records, As Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong. Following a blurry period of unfocused musical attempts, Dylan, per his wont, reached backward to move forward. Dylan recorded the aforementioned two LP’s featuring solo acoustic renditions of his influences and beloved traditional melodies from his formative days.

Dylan’s reassessment of his own directive after coming out of the 1980’s with the acoustic numbers initiated him to apply newly learned or revisited approaches to his own music. It inspired him to return to things once left behind, as this is the man who always lived by the creed, ‘Don’t Look Back’. Dylan has always been good at ‘repurposing’ and making the old new again. So while he peeks in the rear view, his is always looking forward into the sun with his foot on the gas. The result of this personal musical diversion being 1997’s Time Out of Mind, a record Dylan could not have attempted or made without Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. A record that collaborated elements, production values, melodies and memories that Dylan pulled from the restful stir pot of traditional song.

The release of ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ is the signpost that directed Dylan once again to unblazed approaches and faint herd paths of song. The resulting 5 LP’s (Triplicate is 3 LP’s) over the next three years, assisted Dylan in rediscovering his voice through others songs, inventing a new way to arrange his own music and most importantly looking at his own abilities from a distance enabling him to once again draw influence out like blood and inject his own ideas with those of rich history and timelessness. One cannot hear Dylan’s stunning new LP, Rough and Rowdy Ways without smelling the passing scent of Dylan’s ‘Sinatra’ records. The live sound of Dylan’s vocals, all the musicians in the same room and a stoic sense of melancholy and the impossible permeate both projects. The diversion into the classic songbook expanded Dylan's pallet and vocal musicality.

Back to the subject of the blog, the song, Dylan’s take builds on the Sinatra reading by exchanging a weeping pedal steel for the original strings, and laying down a world weary vocal that illustrates the depth of the Tin Pan Alley era Kaye/Mossman penned song. The results play out like whisked evening clouds, and the warm pulse of the stand up bass, a gentle initiator. Dylan is deeply invested in his vocals, crooning a transparent duet with a Sinatra’s ghost. Each nook and cranny of Dylan’s weather worn vocal distills the emotion of the song down to its essence. The obvious reason for these recordings was that Dylan was moved to sing; this song and others, his voice is invested in such a way it would eventually seep into his own studio work and live arrangements. The band’s musicianship is strong, cinematic and sympathetic to Dylan’s vocals. The silences as stunning as the instrumentation, Dylan’s rhythmic cadences as well oiled as the instruments.

Played back to back with the original for context and not comparison, Dylan obviously cannot compete with Frank’s moonbeam vocals. But taken for straight emotiveness and soul, Dylan and his band are able to show ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ its own reflection while also revealing underlying currents of emotion and melody reveled by Dylan’s approach. As previously stated, returning to these standards with a deep investment assisted Dylan in connecting with melodies of his past, but also made him reintroduce himself to his own songs. The result, just like in 1997, is a reconnecting and and stacking of bricks on top of his sturdy songwriters foundation. Dylan's approach should come as no surprise as he famously stated in 1965, ‘He not busy being born, is busy dying’.

For fans of Dylan's storied career, it should come as no surprise that  would reach back to earlier musical influences to encourage his own ‘Modern Times’. His recent studio releases have been a conglomerate of found items, ranging from hallmarks of literature to traditional song forms, pop culture icons, classical music and motion pictures. His career is littered with subterranean cover versions and live interpretations of dusty, forgotten melodies. Whether observed as part of a bigger picture or taken as a stand-alone item, “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is a tribute (perhaps an introduction) to the deep musical waters of song smiths and performers from the past, and a reintroduction of Dylan to his musical future.