Talk From The Rock Room: 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Put The Boot In: 'Essential Led'-Led Zeppelin Essen Germany 3-22-73

     Today in the 'rock room' I am grooving to a resplendent soundboard recording of Led Zeppelin in the midst of their powerful Spring 1973 European tour. This is a partial soundboard recording that captures numerous highlights of two of their extended and improvised numbers. Listeners are able to complete this concert using an audience source in addition to the circulating soundboard if they wish. At this point in their careers Zeppelin's live show had developed into a three plus hour extravaganza of  definitive and diverse rock explorations. 'Dazed and Confused' in addition to 'Whole Lotta Love' have both turned into expansive jamming vehicles extending in length and girth. By the time the band returned to the US for Summer performances these tracks could reach a half hour in length. The recording I am enjoying is titled 'Essential Led', and its genesis I'm sure comes from the boatload of 1973 soundboards that found their way into collectors hands through their unfortunate theft from Jimmy Page's home in the late 1980's by a former employee. There are two more complete audience sources of decent quality available of this concert, but this soundboard fragment is a joy to listen to. Its intricacies and clarity offering a special insight into the alchemy of the band. Any performance by Led Zeppelin coming from this Spring 1973 European jaunt are worth searching out in their varying quality. The group was playing and improvising at a furious rate and approaching their creative zenith as performers and writers. According to Zeppelin author Dave Lewis this tour is considered by aficionados to be one of the finest the band ever played.

The tape picks up with a 'Dazed and Confused' in progress, the verses have been disposed of and Page is shredding full speed. Plant throws out some funky quotes of James Brown, singing 'Cold Sweat'. The band is kinetic with Bonham the director, charting the course with a hammer and anvil through the Dazed themes. The band slips into a fully realized and cosmic 'San Francisco' interlude, then creep quietly into the Page bow centerpiece. Light and shade, madness and sanity, dualalities of our existence reverberate through Page's dusty strings. Plant's distant moans communicate with Page's cave dwellers, who during the conjuring, hide from the light, bang on the rocks and scurry through moss lined stony entrances in the earth.

     Bonham signals the musical escape with hi hat strikes, to which Page responds with screeching, clawing, and spastic exclamations from his Les Paul. With JPJ, and Bonham welded in a firm bedrock embrace to the undulating groove, Page enters a trance state after eight and a half minutes. Lick after virtuous riff are peeled from his guitar with a unique clairvoyance. A breathtaking display with speed, dexterity and melodic construction all on display At half past nine minutes Page hits on a delicious melody that the band jumps into with both feet, the resulting splash a flamboyant clinic of rhythmic interplay and dynamic soloing. At half past eleven Zep takes the recognizable 'Hendrix' breakdown of this era's 'Dazed' and twists it into a unique improvisational passage where Bonham is an inspirational machine, keeping time, while attempting and landing daring fills and accents. Thick and funky Zep of the 'Crunge' lay it down dirty here in an notable display.

     The jam churns momentarily before blasting into a Page/Bonham start and stop rock and roll breakdown. The band accelerates back into the speedy 'Dazed' theme, reaching several lofty summits, Page touching on and incorporating his entire arsenal, Jones and Bonham making it all possible through their grandiose backing. Just when you think the next change is coming the band takes another aggressive round leaving towering flames and ashes in their wake.

     The syncopated outro jam contains another surprise as Plant seductively groans in time, Bonham plays like a group of twenty tribal drummers, laying down a flawless groove in which Page dances with a multitude of tones. A passage worth inspection as it is brimming with nuance and excitement. The twenty two minutes of 'Dazed and Confused' featured on this boot are well worth your time and contain some of Zeppelin's most exciting and dramatic playing captured on tape. Two days later in Munich the band would build on these 'Dazed' themes and perform perhaps the finest version of 'Dazed and Confused' of the year as a musical goodbye to Germany.

     The other track featured on this fine recording also picks up already in progress. 'Whole Lotta Love' cuts in during the tail end of Plant and Page's Theremin/Vocal battle which is disorientating right off the bat, but easy to enter into. The band leaves this space cruising at a high altitude and then proceeds to thrash through a blistering rock and roll jam session. This introductory jam morphs into a hybrid of "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love/Turn On Your Lovelight' that smokes like a fresh sticky joint. Bonham then signals the return to the body of 'Whole Lotta Love' with his military snare hit, which appears briefly before becoming a high speed stomp through 'Let That Boy Boogie' and 'Baby I Don't Care'. Greatest rock and roll band in the world? On nights like this no one else has a chance to compete. Plant is shaking his ass and crooning in his best Presley throat, and Page is picking and grinning, this is good stuff.

     The jam comes to a brief respite, only to slam into a rocks and gravel run through 'Let's Have A Party'. This is what its all about right here. The band is on. Heavy duty. 'I Can't Quit You Baby' comes next and Page asserts himself with translucent lines, icy sharp, sliding across the fret board furiously. His solo spot is crafted with the same care, a series of biting licks, becoming double time by the solos midpoint. The song builds, drops and rises again, then slides into a brief but slowly squeezed 'Lemon Song'. Jones and Bonham again, one mind, perfect. Any description of a rhythm section being 'locked in' is an extreme understatement for these guys. Plant invests his normal soul into the entire series of rock gold while also leading the band back and out of a 'Whole Lotta Love' reprise. Bonham puts his usual stamp on the conclusion of the song with a bombastic finishing touch.

     While this fragmentary soundboard is only a taste of the treats to be found on the recordings of Led Zeppelin's 1973 European Tour, it is a filling serving. Two of the bands most expansive songs featured on a line recording from one of their most impressive tours. What more could a Zeppelin fan ask for? If you a fan of the 'Song Remains The Same' soundtrack, do yourself a favor and search out this and similar performances for a different look at the group. The power and attitude of this recording cannot be denied, and if experienced for the first time will be a welcome addition to the listeners archive.

Dazed and Confused 3-22-1973

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Now Playing: 'Cranberry Sauce'- The Beatles-'Strawberry Fields Forever'

     For this edition of 'Now Playing' we will take a look at the work that was done this week in history on the revolutionary Beatles track 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. The song, one half of the double 'A' side 7 inch containing 'Penny Lane', was released on February 13th/17th 1967 in the US and UK respectively. On today's date in 1966 the Beatles were locked in Abbey Road studios working on the early stages of their eventually titled LP 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', as well as developing a new single for worldwide release. I have the original Capitol single spinning on my turntable, which I will follow by playing the unique snapshot of session tapes leaked from the Abbey Road vault at some point in the 1980's
     By December 15th the Beatles (especially Lennon) were toying with the development of  'Strawberry Fields' as well as discussing the direction and shape that the song would eventually take. What started as a Lennon demo performed as a gentle folk number on acoustic guitar, at this point was now receiving string and cello overdubs as well as Harrison guitar lines. The last week of November 1966 and into the first week of December were spent developing a suitable backing track, which I will call Version 1. By the time December 15th rolled around Lennon had decided to remake the recording started on November 24th, increasing the intensity and psychedelic madness lacking from the Version 1, into a more intense Version 2. December 8th was the evening that Lennon decided to begin a new series of takes eventually supplemented by outside musicians to more clearly let his vision for the song to come into focus. The takes of Version 1 are fantastic in their own right with stringy Harrison guitar lines, and the cozy warmth of the trademark Mellotron, but Lennon felt something was missing from these early attempts. The December 8th session saw a new direction and after the vocal string and horn overdubs were applied to this version 2 on the 15th, a few more days of work and contemplation would cause Lennon to eventually ask Beatles producer George Martin to jam the two different versions together into one coherent piece! In spite of their different keys and mismatched tempos, Lennon, Martin, and Beatles studio wizard Geoff Emerick took the original working version of 'Strawberry Fields' developed in late November, and puzzle pieced it in with the December 8th remake complete with overdubs from the 15th! Basically, the released version is these two different takes and ideas welded together. The eventual final version does contain an edit that is discernible to the concentrated listener, but I'm not gonna say where, why ruin a good thing!?

     One of the more interesting notes about the December 15th overdub session of the 'remake' of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' is that Lennon did two vocal overdubs at the session in addition to the brass and string sounds. One of these overdubs featured the far out moan of 'Cranberry Sauce' discernible over the tripped out conclusion of the released version. Forever misheard by fans and freaks as 'I Buried Paul', Lennon's 'Cranberry Sauce' can be heard clearly on the session tapes that exist from these sessions. Explained away as 'typical John Lennon', this goofy vocal reply caused Beatle scholars and 'Paul Is Dead' proponents years of sleepless nights in search of the real meaning and aural proof of the actual statement.
     This weeks anniversary in the annals of Beatle history is pivotal as it acts as a signpost to the Beatles progressive and more colorful direction. It signaled a change in their attitudes, a willingness to and love of experimentation, and the ability to let their artistic ideas lead the way to a new musical space. The Beatles decision to stop touring in 1966 also factored into this new found artistic freedom. No longer 'forced' into creating music for public consumption, the Beatles new found time allowed them the ability to stretch out, concentrate on developing new ideas, and to create music for themselves. Lennon's songwriting would never be the same, as 'Strawberry Fields' signaled a maturity and artistic development that would blossom beyond his wildest dreams. The bootleg, It's Not Too Bad, released by Pegboy records in 1997 is the definitive statement on 'Strawberry Fields Forever', tracking its growth and development from Lennon's Almeria, Spain 1966 demos through the aforementioned Abbey Road session tapes. A fascinating and worth while listen.
     One of the most dissected and well know rock songs in history, 'Strawberry Fields Forever' took its shape from humble acoustic beginnings, to electric Beatle interpretation, eventually becoming a towering psychedelic maelstrom of found sound, 'hidden' messages, tweaked vocal effects, huge additional instrumentation, and lyrics dripping with liquid surrealism and imagery. If its been a while since you have visited 'Strawberry Fields', stop by today, I have included links for your journey below.

It's Not Too Bad Complete Strawberry Fields

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Now Playing: The Kinks-Victoria b/w Mr. Churchill Says

     In addition to my normal reviews, including the 'Put the Boot In' feature, to keep things interesting for both my readers and myself, I will also include a 'Now Playing' article that will concentrate on the song of the moment for me personally, or possibly the song that pertains to that day in history, or a myriad of other reasons I cant possibly think of right now. Regardless, I'm gonna do it, I hope you like it, as always comments, discussions, and requests are always welcome. So, the tune (actually 7' single) that gets the special treatment for today is........ 'Victoria' by the Kinks, as it was this week 44 years ago that the single 'Victoria/ 'Mr Churchill Says' was released in the UK.

     'Victoria', the opening track on the Kinks 1969 LP Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) and is a kinetic history lesson full of patriotic expression. Most of the time it seems the song is sung with tongue firmly in cheek by songwriter Ray Davies. Staying true to his thematic songwriting choices, 'Victoria' echoes the Nationalism found running rampant in Ray Davies songwriting in this era, and right through to this day. But as always with Ray, you never can really tell. A striding acoustic guitar hi hat opening is the foundation for Dave Davies smooth and round reciting of the melody line on his guitar.Tastefully double tracked the guitar sound is vivid with color. The song cooks Chuck Berry style thought the verses quickly, before dropping off of the cliff into the dramatic 'land and hope' bridge, that swells with a prideful mischief and irresistible vocal melody. Dave Davie's understated guitar work throughout the song is masterful, from the hide and seek work in the verses, through the George Harrison-esque picking in the chorus, and specifically the minimalist and ice cool guitar solo.

     Similarly to 'Pinball Wizard' of the 'rock opera' Tommy, 'Victoria' is the big song to be pulled from the Kinks thematic opus. The song the center in which the rest of the collection revolves. The live versions available of this tune are especially good, and the various BBC versions are a treat. I have included a wonderful version below for your review.

     The 'B" side to the British version of the 'Victoria' single is also culled from the LP Arthur. The track 'Mr. Churchill Says' starts as a home style, yet funky, loyal and resolute reflection on post war England. Sturdy in its composition, serious in content, but injected with Ray Davies always satirical delivery. Swinging old time anthem for part of the tune, the song then flashes forward to the time of its development, an electrified 'Wake Up Little Suzie' riff appears in conjunction with a rotating air raid siren and takes the track on a new musical direction, complete with rhythmic and tribal bell cymbal dings, and an extended tropical Dave Davies guitar flurry. The song hits a moment of transcendence just as it escapes the hypnotic beat, then breaks into a doubled descending guitar bridge. The crashing gorilla drums thump out a patriotic high school football chant that pulls a whip saw and races toward the songs conclusion. The groovy Ray Davies vocals move throughout, ranging from the bottom of the rock scale and up through falsetto, hitting everything in between. ending in the aforementioned chant. One of my personal favorites on the record, and an ace choice for a UK 'B' side.

     The 'Victoria'/'Mr. Churchill Says' single of December 1969 would usher in a new era for the Kinks, where within the next year their popularity would reach unbelievable levels. The single also places two foundational pillars of the narrative of Arthur out of context, but displaying their perfect construction. Below are the components of this single for your enjoyment.

Mr. Churchill Says

Victoria Live BBC


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger-'Manifestation at Brooklyn Pool' 11-23-2013

     On November 23, 2013 Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl's expanded edition of the GOASTT played a melodic and multifaceted musical set at Brooklyn's intimate Union Pool.  A small but excitable crowd of 150 to 200 people sprinkled with respected musicians, as well as Lennon's Mother Yoko Ono were on hand to bear witness to a musical display brimming with originality and invention. Backed willingly and professionally by Brooklyn group the 'Invisible Familiars', featuring Jared Samuel, Tim Kuhl and Robbie Mangano the band conquered the Union Pool with psychedelic expressions, unique grooves and far out sounds. The group had been obviously road tested by their shows with Tame Impala and the Flaming Lips and were much tighter as a band than the fantastic show I had witnessed at the end of September in Kingston, NY. The group has become not only more aggressive in their approach, but more expansive in their instrumental coloring and communication, especially Lennon's anomalous guitar work.
     The band appeared promptly on the diminutive crimson lit stage at 10:30 and immediately opened with a few well timed waves of rippling feedback breakers and Mellotron clouds, segueing nicely into an adrenaline infused 'Jardin du Luxembourg'. Following 'Jardin' the band continued without pause, blending seamlessly into a song off of their upcoming record, a nameless funky workout, irresistible, and solidly locked in place by the rhythm section of Muhl and Kuhl. Spectral and transparent harmonies delicately draped over the hard groove like a cozy winter coat, initiating a swirling musical contrast.
     The set was similar to others on the tour, but with a shuffled order, the limited length due to the fact that the band is in the process of building their catalog. Two more new songs came in quick succession again spotlighting dreamy vocal blends and glistening metallic grooves. 'Xanadu' was cultivated into a mantra of flashing Super 8 images and a flexing rhythm encouraging even the most rigid of spectator to move in erotic time with the band. The band had their foot pressed firmly on the gas, there was no letdown in tempo or intensity.
     The mid section of the set continued in much of the same impressive fashion, with the GOASTT revealing musical mysteries during their slow musical wade through thick seas of psychedelic jelly. Lennon's guitar prowess was on full display during 'Charlotte's Song(?)' a track thematically channeling South Africa through thumping tribal percussion and a majestic guitar exploration by Lennon. Charlotte's vocals sweet and warm, a welcoming whisper amidst the cacophony of instrumentation. 'Midnight Sun', loving referred to as 'Midninght Schlong' from the stage, wore a groove pinned on its chest that brought to mind the Harrison/Clapton classic 'Badge'. Mangano and Lennon collaborated on a shaky phased dual guitar line that shimmered under the fractal light from the gentle evening glow.
     A long time highlight of GOASTT performances and a song that the last two times I have seen  the band has established itself as a centerpiece, followed with the dramatic 'Last Call'. The band rolls this one up into a tight circular package that swings between drama and hope, prefaced by a watery slide guitar introduction and highlighted by the quintessential GOASTT vocal blend. Everyone in the band looked lost in the music at some points, a genuine feeling of investment eminated from the stage.
     The ten song set came to its quick and unfortunate conclusion with another as of yet unreleased song, this one dealing with the topic of Alien conspiracies, that again featured an immense guitar solo by Lennon, dual harmonies and a substantial heavy feedback conclusion. A disappearing into the dark horizon version of Syd Barrett's 'Long Gone' then ended the set, the band became smaller and smaller as they moved away, heading toward the pinched end of a flat earth. Some musical chairs occurred as Samuel moved to bass and Muhl to keyboards for this considerable and weighty reading. Deep, dark and edgy this version was a fitting ending to the show and a proper summation of the talents and abilities of the group.  These final songs appeared fully formed and blossomed from cracks in the frigid Brooklyn streets, defeating the concrete, becoming alive with leafy green stalks, supporting multicolored and panoramic musical heads, their aroma rich in musical statements and organic creation.
     I find it a pleasure to watch Lennon kick off the shoes of his past and manifest the GOASTT into a tangible performing creation worthy of inspection and respect. With the music able to take its own natural course it feels to me Lennon has found his identity, free from the obvious historical connections that may or may have not stunted his previous artistic growth. The GOASTT will be releasing their new music next year, to the anticipation of this writer and many others. The band is experimenting and finding the alchemy needed to create magic, the pleasure is found in witnessing the journey and reaping the aural results.

GOASTT-Clip From First Show/New Line Up

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Van Morrison 'Our Souls Were Clean' 1974 LP Veedon Fleece

        There are a slew of superlatives that can be used to describe Van Morrison's 1974 LP Veedon Fleece. Hardcore fans of Van the Man know the album well, it's moodiness, it improvised grooves, the relentlessness of Van's soulful vocals. The album comes at a time when Van was reinventing his musical presentation, going through a divorce, traveling, as well as writing some of his most affecting melodies. The record reminds me emotionally and in some ways musically to Dylan's own soul bearing 1974 LP Blood on the Tracks. Both records subscribing to the theory that 'pain' sometimes creates the best art. Morrison's recording sounds if created by an ancient Celtic troubadour, with sound as spacious as an open horizon, loose, alive with breath. The album not only analyzes Morrison's emotional status, but is a reexamination of his Celtic roots. Today in the 'rock room' I am spinning Veedon Fleece on a cool fall afternoon, sun bleeding through trees, the evening slinking in. The music fits the scene, a warm wool covering to keep out the chill.

     The LP opens with 'Fair Play' like a weather worn wooden door slowly opening, its matted moss and tangled vines parting to reveal the crystal waters of Killarney's blue lakes. Intimate instrumentation skips on light brushes and cozy descending guitar lines. The glorious horn that is Morrison's vocal attack, sings a montage of scattered shots from his consciousness. Syncopated vocal images ricochet off of the expertly arranged and courteous band. A magnificent opener and mood maker, 'Fair Play to you Van', the song is one of his finest moments.

     'Linden Arden Stole the Highlights' begins with the gentle duo of piano and guitar weaving the introduction to Morrison's tale of toughness, attitude, and responsibility. As the strings stir, Morrison's vocals soar to the summit, to the place where only his voice can reach the note. Stunning. A brief pause and 'Who Was That Masked Man' enters, a decedent of Linden Arden, moving slowly, coming closer, with Van's comforting falsetto taking center stage. His exclamations answered by rain water clear acoustic guitar replies, and wine class piano taps. The tone definition of the stand up bass on this vinyl is likened to a big warm plush fuzzy ball, ticklish, defined.

     The shady introduction to 'Streets of Arkow' begins the slow dark march down moist cobblestone streets, hearts on fire. The flute over Van's vocals creates its own melody line that ascends high above Van's narrative. The music is slightly dim, then turns dramatic as strings enter, initiating a call and response conversation including the piano, and flute. The song then peaks, increasing in dynamic attitude, swelling organically, rolling to a gentle stop. A mature song fully realized and excitedly intense.

     What I would call the 'centerpiece' of the record comes next, this song being the sun in which all the other songs orbit around. 'You Don't Pull No Punches, but You Don't Push The River', is a cinematic ride on a roller coaster of clouds. The song rolls over on top of itself constantly changing, feeling frisky, locked in a loose jazzy groove. The music sensually pulses with every change in Van's vocal approach.  The stripped down band undulates relentlessly on this developed jazzy mantra, Van directs the approach vocally, as the strings enter coloring between the lines created by the the woody groove. The Veedon Fleece is name checked in this song, referred to as something Van is constantly looking for. 'Punches' rolls on for over nine minutes, finally cascading into a gentle eddy, slowing to a conclusion and ending side one. One for the books, an absolute all timer, and we are only half way through.

     Side two opens with the pastoral imagery and 'Celtic Country' of 'Bulbs'. It must be said if you can pick up any of the live versions of this track from Van's 1974 tour, I promise it will fulfill all of your musical desires. I digress, the studio version of "Bulbs' breaks dirt and blossoms into striding and beautiful version worthy of repeated listening. If you love Van, you know this one well.

     The slow turn around of another timeless song residing on Veedon Fleece follows with the moody mid tempo 'Cul de Sac. You will be hard pressed to find another vocal performance that compares to this one. Grunts, growls, horn wails, icy smooth deliveries, and soulful screams, this one has em all. The rhythm section is so in the pocket they sound related. Soul music. The twisted call and response guitar and vocal climax the makes up the extended outro is where its at. Van the man, machine gun scat, barking commands. Dig it.

     After the heavy experience that is 'Cul de Sac', 'Comfort You' is a tender come down. Morrsion's plea to be the 'rock', and offering himself up to the lady of the song is set to a transparent waltz. The back porch serenade becomes something bigger as understated strings drizzle sweetness over the acoustic instruments. The song, similar to previous tunes of the LP, builds and drops nicely, breathing organically. The strings ring, the piano is a blue bell, restrained, yet virtuosic.

     'Come Her My Love' is a fitting follow up, it feels like one piece with the previous, both songs decorated with delicate wooden instruments. 'Come Here' is a stark acoustic guitar and vocal performance, reminding me of Neil Young's 'Will to Love' in atmosphere. Van sweetly sings of showing his love the way to escape through the wonder of nature, accompanied by crisp finger-picked acoustic backing. This is candle light music here, no doubt about it.

     The record concludes with the enchanted unveiling of 'Country Fair'. A song of innocence, a song of remembrance, a song that I will admit moves me deeply when I hear it. The song hangs weightless, a thin clean cotton sheet, windblown, rising and falling on the line. The melody developed by Van is the only sturdy thing amidst the swaying instrumentation made up of swirling and brilliant musical particulates, coming together for moments, then drifting apart. Containing acoustic guitar, flute and bass for form, the lyrics are a pale water painting, expressing worlds of emotions through simple images, and then reveling other views of those worlds through the movement of the music and through every detailed edge of Morrison's voice. These are the times I struggle to adequately describe what I hear, and wish for a deeper sense of expressing what this song is. But such is the greatness of music, and why we love it, and probably why you are reading this article. It's impossible to properly verbalize the magic we hear, but it sure is fun to try.

     Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece is only one small segment in a long and varied career brimming with amazing moments. I can tell you it's my favorite Van record...obviously, but what is amazing to me, is that the record often goes unnoticed and upraised in grand scheme of Van's career (even by Van). In previous rants on this page I believe I have discussed that certain type of record, that has to be played in its entirety, and has to be played at the right moment for full enjoyment. This is one of those records. When played the LP takes on a life of its own, containing transportational qualities engrained in its grooves.  For those who need it now, I have included some gold in the links below. As always, thanks for reading.

Fair Play
Country Fair


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Put the Boot In: Faces-'To Drunk for the BBC'-BBC In Concert 2-8-1973

     Groovin in the 'rock room' today is a rocking little set by the Faces for the BBC, hailing from February 2, 1973.This original performance had been thought to be lost in the mists of time, submerged in the bottoms of the forgotten dead soldiers of imbibed wine. The band was originally thought to be 'too tipsy' during the concert, therefore the BBC never originally aired the performance as planned. The tapes languished on the dusty shelves of the BBC tape archive to be forever forgotten--- until 2003. The mythical concert was then aired on BBC6 digital for the first time ever, by accident! Another tape had been planned to be aired and instead this show sneaked its way from storage an onto the airwaves. The airing was thankfully captured by an enterprising listener who obviously knew the importance and rarity of the performance! The concert has since been pressed to silver CD under the monicker 'Too Drunk for the BBC', which is the recording I am currently enjoying. This is a mono live recording taken direct from the 2003 accidental broadcast. Whereas the BBC had their opinion of the boys during the concert, a listen forty years later shows the band hot, slightly inebriated, Stewart in a rambling and talkative mood, and a set list played with flush excitement and eager enthusiasm.

     The show begins with John Peel's stately introduction, as the band slithers into the opening 'Silicone Grown'. Woody enters with the fuzzy and buzzy opening guitar introduction, that is followed by the rest of the group falling into place like a shuffled deck of cards. The tune swings with a boozy swagger, with McLagan the early star, sliding across the back and whites in a rock and roll fervor. Barley taking a breath, Rod exclaims, 'One, and now we'll do two', as the band grinds into a rough and ready Cindy Incidentally'. McLagan and Lane bounce buoyant counter melodies off of Jones bricklayer rhythms, as Stewart and Woody bump body parts hovering around the stage.

     Rod is obviously excitable on this evening and feeling fine, but there is no doubting the power and range of his golden throat. Jimi Hendrix's 'Angel' comes next and is a faithful reading and fitting tribute. Allowing the crowd time for contemplation and a cooling down, the 'sing a long' Angel appears in silver and gold outlined in clouds and is elegant version.

     The following two songs find the band hitting their stride and the concert reaching its first boiling point. To my ears the sound quality improves at this point almost sounding as if the recording moves to a slight stereo. 'Memphis, Tennessee' rolls like a flat tire on a Cadillac, with a rotund groove that increases in tempo allowing Woody to disperse a plethora of Chuck Berry riffs, answered in kind by McLagan who replies with well timed rainwater glissando's. Lane's pulsing bass moves enough air to act as another lead instrument, which reaches virtuosic qualities when the band follows 'Memphis' with a florescent version of 'True Blue', a song originally featured on Stewart's Never a Dull Moment LP.

     The opening chunk of Wood's introductory guitar riff garners applause from the studio audience, as the band flies a colorful rendition of the Stewart classic. The mid section breakdown of the song accelerates and shifts tempos, featuring the group speeding along asking, 'Don't you think I'd better get myself back home?' The collaborative lyrics are sung over racing and well timed statements by Wood, and McLagan. A welcome and well played version. At this point in the band's career their set included a varied selection of covers, Stewart 'solo' tracks like 'True Blue', and Faces songs. By this point in their career the band assimilates all of these songs into their own, making classification pointless.

      An always consistently played version of Sam Cooke's 'I'd Rather Go Blind' follows and its always a difficult task to find a bad performance of this track, which Stewart always invests himself in so fully. Wood answers Stewart's pleading vocals with his own clear tear drop assertions that pirouette under Rod's vocal lines. The Faces inject a dramatic anticipation into the song that never fails to elicit goosebumps. Through Mac's tender organ underpinnings reminiscent of the Band's Garth Hudson, and Wood's own vocal workout through his guitar's strings, 'I'd Rather Go Blind's'
dynamic creep is a keeper, its emotional content becoming even more honest with the urging of flowing booze.

     After the compassionate version of 'Blind' the band returns to the vehemence of the earlier tracks with a 'song of much renown', 'You're My Girl' (I Don't Want To Discuss It). This track kicks off a four song run of intensity and rock fervor. 'You're My Girl' is a jumpy multifaceted shred that tells the songs subject exactly like it is. Stewart will except no excuses from his lady friend, and has the Faces there to back him up. Woody ferociously attacks his instrument answering Stewart's pleads by flashing sharp teeth and clenched fists. Jones and Lane are lock and key holding the songs subject in a tight embrace, working together to expose the melodic statements of Stewart, McLagan, and Wood. The song hits a well timed musical orgasm, and concludes as intensely as it started.

     An interesting vocal exchange between Stewart and an audience member precedes the raucous and easy 'Twistin the Night Away' that follows. Rod invites the audience member to 'come up here' if the spectator does indeed 'want a job'. 'Twistin' teeters precariously on Woody's edgy slide licks and Jones pots and pans drumming. Characteristic of the Face,s this track feels as if it could fall apart at any moment but retains a kinetic energy that emanates through the magnetic tape.

     A husky and chunky 'It's All Over Now' keeps the loose bar band attitude going. At this point in the show is becoming slightly unshackled musically but somehow more intense. The beast has escaped, is looking for the nearest pub, and is stumbling through everything and anything in its path. "All Over Now' bangs recklessly through its changes and segues quickly into a similarly characteristic 'Miss Judy's Farm'. Lane's funky bass is the centerpiece on which the loopy groove balances, as the band plans their attack on the sinister Miss Judy using slicing and distorted riffs. Quintessential Faces.

     An always welcome opportunity for Ronnie Lane to take some vocal duties comes next with the Faces cover of Paul McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed'. The introductory vocals are met with various on stage chuckles and snorts for some unseen reason. This is a bombastic version featuring Kenney Jones snare shots, and Lane with an original take on the melody line with his 'lead' bass playing. Wood stretches out his ropy solo over the syncopated lead in to the final round of chorus vocals, eventually falling into the originally unique conclusion the band tacked onto the track.

     The dual lead riff between bass and guitar signals the introduction to 'Three Button Hand Me Down' the concluding track on the Faces 1970 debut LP. What begins slightly out of tune and out of sync, becomes a raucous back door slam, hanging from one hinge, chipped paint, rusted hardware and all. Stewart replies at the songs conclusion, "That was really horrible', which is hard to find the truth in, because of the joy felt in listening to the performance!

    The recording and concert conclude with a obstreperous reading of 'I'm Losing You' that shakes like with rock and roll desperation. Prior to the song beginning Stewart mentions that this will be the last song of the evening because the 'pubs are closing and we want to get there'. The band then screams through an insistent reading of one of their most well known performances. The few mistakes during the track actually add to its uniqueness and its edgy reading. The 'Ohh, ohh' vocal breakdown is littered with giggles, and emphatic expressions. The tempo pulls, dragging weight, and then suddenly breaks free running with wind blown musical hair. Jones cavernous drum solo precedes the musical detonation that culminates with jangling keys, thumping bass, and ravaged guitar then ends as quickly as it started.

     John Peel follows the end of the performance with the statement, 'The Faces, still the best rock and roll band in the world for those of us who really care', a fitting declaration for those who have enjoyed this recording or any of the Faces concerts when they really hit it. It's somewhat strange to listen to this recording and realize that it was left collecting dust for thirty years because the BBC felt the band was not 'sober' enough to warrant its broadcast. Only because of an error are we even able to enjoy it now, or it would still sit unheard. Only those familiar with the history of the BBC's carelessness with tapes and recordings will realize how lucky we are that these tapes didn't end up in the bin!

      In less than six months from this concert Ronnie Lane would be gone and the Faces would never be the same. Woody would start his affair with the Stones, Stewart with his ego, and Mac and Jones would be temporary left behind. Throw this recording on in your own 'rock room' and see if you agree with Peel's assertion on who was the best rock and roll band in the world. I know how I feel.

True Blue 2-8-1973
I'd Rather Go Blind-2-8-1973  
I'm Losing You 2-8-1973

Friday, October 25, 2013

Yoko Ono + Plastic Ono Band-'Getting Invisible'-Take Me to the Land of Hell LP

     Yoko Ono, the name elicits images of long black hair, howling, screaming and emotion inducing artistic statements. Well, it should also now bring to mind, relevant and thought provoking rock music on the cutting edge of a musical blade. Working in conjunction with son Sean Lennon and other musical heavyweights the current Plastic Ono Band Yoko's newest creation, 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' is a divergent collision of dance, Avant-garde, trance, rock, swing and about any other genre of music that you can possibly think of. Spinning in the 'rock room' today, this consciousness stretching piece of art is a work that any connoisseur of experimental yet melodic music will want to dig in to. The images created by Lennon/Ono/Honda's tasteful production techniques frame the narratives of the songs, adding visual mind images to the sounds. Retaining some of the hallmarks of the elder Lennon's collaborations with Ono, this new Plastic Ono Band work, 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' blossoms into a familiar but distinctly expansive and continuously changing direction.
      The album begins outside, the evening conversation of nightfall creatures, bird chirps and insect bleats set the scene. Yoko narrates through clouds, and the inky blue veil drawn over her vocals. The music changes, a dance beat appears then explodes into full on Yoko vocal blasts. The music becomes dramatic with Nels Cline's recognizable guitar strikes lifting the song to a new level. The song becomes a massive theatrical opening to the record, including multiple elements of the bands arsenal, finishing with scathing found guitar sound that segues perfectly into 'Cheshire Cat Cry'.
     Spotlighting the trio of Ono, Lennon and Lenny Kravitz (playing clavinet and drums) this funky street savvy jam slinks along dropping a down beat reminiscent of David Bowie's 'Fame'. Yoko seductively preaches, smiling slyly, similar to the songs subject. The content hasn't changed for Ono, 'Stop the violence', stop all wars' is the message, a mantra over the fat bass being played by her son.
     The third track on the album is the sticky 'Tabetai', the song teeters on percussive rhythms, alternating sounds and cosmic effects. The tasty lyrical content is reflected by the mischievous instrumentation and Ono's pleading vocalizations.
     'Bad Dancer' follows, and begins as a true 'dance' track with fuzzy hypnotizing bass and jumpy programmed beats. The track becomes gradually twisted by the musical additions of Adam Horovitz and Mike D (Beastie Boys) who remixed the track to feature aural hallucinations. Already in the first four tracks the diversity and talent of the collected musicians is fully on display and appropriately mind blowing.
     One my personal favorite tracks on the record is the autobiographical 'Little Boy Blue you're daddy's gone', featuring electronic specialists the 'Tune-Yards'. This song contains no guitars, and is an aqua colored drift through soft Fender Rhodes accents and tender bass pulses. Yoko carries the melody vocally, while a fusion of synths, shakers and samples create a comforting layer of sound to which Yoko adds here longing vocalizations. The songs dissipates into a swirled and weightless interlude with Ono emotively lamenting. Another uniquely developed and produced track that only the mind Yoko Ono could have developed. More of a mood than a movement.
     'There's No Goodbye Between Us' contains all of the hallmarks of a Ono ballad, similar in scope to past glories such as 'Hard Times Are Over' and 'I Want My Love To Rest Tonight'.  A song about acceptance, regret, and hopefulness for the future, Ono interprets this song beautifully and tenderly, as it contains more ace production techniques covering the song in a spacy mist.
     '7th Floor' comes rolling in on pulsating percussion and a funky guitar/keyboard combo groove. Direct and aggressive vocals from Yoko seductively speak over the unjulating sea of electric swells and guitar breakers. The strata of the song exposes the essence of Ono's talent and musicianship. Reminiscent in content to past Ono work 'Yang Yang', and containing as delicious of a groove, this track is a peak moment on the album. Kudos to Nels Cline, Sean Lennon, and Jared Samuel for intense contributions, and sympathetic instrumental support.
     'N.Y. Noodle Town' begins as atmospheric folk number sung endearingly by Ono, and by its conclusion morphs into a silvery sound scape of guitars. A paean to her adopted hometown, the song rises skyscraper high, and basks in the warm sun. Cline's lap steel is very much a centerpiece, elegantly outlining the text of the song.
     'Take Me To The Land of Hell', the title track, is the most straightforward song instrumentally, but also the most naked lyrically.  Containing piano, cello, and hummingbird guitar the song chronicles Ono's journey up the 'blood river', to meet her lover 'soul to soul'. Dramatic in its construction, the slightly grim innards of the song increases its gripping power.
     Featuring Sean Lennon on china doll piano and spotlighting an accompanying string trio, 'Watching the Dawn' sits perfectly in contrast to the previous 'Take Me to the Land of Hell'. The song is an airy Ono directive to, 'Remember we were offsprings of lovers and dreamers, Remember we are descendants of thinkers and builders'. The first blush of day breathes in the gentle accompaniment as Ono adds an obvious but not always heeded reminder that 'We are here together'.
     'Leaving Tim' changes things up completely with a 1920's saloon swing, reminding me of 'I'm Your Angel' off of 1980's 'Double Fantasy'. Lightening the mood slightly, the track has an audio verite sound and contains infectious good time foot tapping. Yoko sounds like she having a good time too.
     Again playing 'Yin/Yang with the track listing, the next and final song 'Shine, Shine' opens with Ono howling like a hammer, her vibrato moans working in conjunction with incendiary instrumentation tastefully remixed by record producer extraordinaire Cornelius. The circular porcupine bass line underpinning the song is massive, providing structure the crisp disco guitar riffs. Ono's performance vocally colors between the lines, adding cinematic contrasts to the pulsating groove. The song taffy pulls in multiple directions at once causing aural disorientation, instruments bounce in and out of the mix, creating a windy vortex of white noise that appears in an almost tangible form, then becomes transparent, dissolving into the swirling sound.
     Ono's 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' is a divergent array of styles, musical guests, and instrumentation tied together by Ono's songwriting, vocals, and production. The LP is a testament to her continued devotion to peace and artistic expression. Similary to Ono's earlier recorded efforts with Sean's famous father, Sean Ono Lennon has now taken a lead role as a musical arranger and partner with his mother on her Plastic Ono Band projects. Reaching her 80th birthday, Ono is still relevant artist, collaborating most recently with 'The Flaming Lips' for a live version of "Cheshire Cat' on the David Letterman show. Regardless of any preconceived prejudices about her voice, or her involvement in the breakup of any famous rock bands people may have, Ono's importance in forward movement of art cannot be denied. Whether it be musical or conceptual, Ono's ideas initiate thought and cause reaction. Join the Plastic Ono Band on an excursion through the 'Land of Hell', marvel at the images and sounds revealed to you.

Cheshire Cat Cry-David Letterman

Moonbeams-'Take Me To the Land of Hell'


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Put the Boot In: 'Interstellar Overdrive'-Pink Floyd May 6, 1968 Rome, Italy

     Today in the rock room I am exploring a FM broadcast of three songs and a interview from Dutch radio of Pink Floyd, hailing from May 1968. These tracks come from the groups performance at the Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome, Italy for the First International Pop Festival. Other bands on the bill included the 'Byrds'(with Gram Parsons) and the 'Nice'. Mid 1968 was a strange time for the group who were in the process of reinventing themselves after kicking principal songwriter and group founder Syd Barrett from the band. According from the text 'In the Flesh' this concert is from May 5th, the CD packaging says May 6th, which I believe may be the broadcast date. This is like previously stated a FM broadcast so the sound is relatively good with proper levels and nice clarity. The recording has only 3 songs and an interview, so it is a quick but enjoyable listen, from a interesting period for the band. The group during this performance is a four piece featuring Roger Waters (Bass, Vocals), David Gilmour (Guitar, Vocals), Richard Wright (Keyboards, Vocals), and Nick Mason (Drums), this would remain their line up until 1979.

     The concert begins with the MC's introduction along with the radio broadcasters introduction. The first track is the Morse code opening of Syd Barrett's 'Astronomy Domine'. The first song of the groups debut LP sneaks out with dramatic vocals and percussive statements. The instruments tumble and fall like ancient stones, dropping into an abyss of descending chromatic runs dressed in enigmatic organ swells, and cymbal washes. The song tumbles over itself weightlessly, often referred to as 'space rock', the band was not enamored with that term, but it is quite apt in some cases. The song balances on its quirky changes, moving through the falsetto howls of the chorus, and eventually peaking in a heavy reinstatement of the theme.

     The next track on the recording is an interview with Roger Waters where he states his beliefs regarding the staging of a pop festival in Rome, and the misgivings of doing so. He is also asked about the 'progressive' or 'experimental' aspect of 'pop' music and where the Floyd fits in to this movement. Interesting listen.

     The following song is the strange and abstruse 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' penned by Roger Waters. The tune which would remain in Water's set lists in different arrangements for years, here is played early and close to its original ideal. Opening on hollow tribal tom tom rolls that on the studio version were played with Tympani mallets, the song slinks along without bass and containing only terror inducing keyboards and Waters sinister whispers, 'Witness the man who raves at the wall, making the shapes of his questions to heaven'. Gilmour's muted cotton covered riffs move in and out of the track like a snake in the grass, sliding up against Wright's keyboard statements. The clandestine mantra starts to gain momentum, rotating, gathering cosmic ice. Gilmore joins with an over driven tone, playing droning licks similar to Indian raga riffs. The song then again falls dynamically into just keys and woody drums, only to rise from the psychedelic ashes to a well placed peak. The conclusion of the song hangs draped like a veil over the parchment portrait of a spectral woman. Waters bass appears toward the end at around eight minutes to help usher in the ending smoothly.

     The bootleg recording concludes with 'Interstellar Overdrive', a song thematically related to the earlier ''Astronomy Domine'. The song begins on the chirp of Waters psychotropic guitar birds that squeak and squeal in conjunction with Wright's merry go round keys. The song becomes a cluster of celestial horses jumping stars, eventually becoming a weightless improvisation floating through dark recesses. The song becomes minimalist, similar to 1970 Grateful Dead 'Dark Stars' then enters into a Waters bass groove. Gilmour is throwing out strange schizophrenic statements, that quickly disappear after four minutes leaving Waters and Wright to gaze at each other through darkness. Formlessness becomes form, Mason comes thrashing in with weighty drums and the band coalesces into a thick reinstatement of the theme in a big way. A highlight of the recording. Brief applause can be discerned at the conclusion before the tape cuts off.

     Apparently only 400 people attended this performance, probably the reason for Waters negative comments during the interview portion of the recording. Regardless, this capture is a adequate sounding representation of Pink Floyd during a time of reinvention and musical questioning. While extremely short, it is a very enjoyable listen with more than a few highlights. While my discovery was because I was virtually thumbing through a hard drive directory of music to enjoy, and this one stuck out as needing a good solid listen. If it sits silent in your collection I would recommend doing the same. There is also available, limited filmed footage of Floyd's performance which some I have included below. This is a good reference to enjoy in conjunction with the audio. There is apparently more hidden in the depths of someones vault, but only time will tell.

Pink Floyd-Interstellar Overdrive 5-5-1968 (Video)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Rides-'Can't Get Enough'-Stills, KWS, Goldberg

     Playing in the 'rock room' tonight is a release from last month that caused a buzz, but surprisingly under the radar. If it is to be labeled, 'Supergroup' would be an apt title for the 'Rides' debut album 'Can't Get Enough'. The 'Rides' being Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg with support in the rhythm section from rock and roll stalwarts Chris Layton on drums and Kevin McCormick on bass. This collection is a ten track blues rock attack. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Stills both collaborate and duel, paying close attention to the detail in their playing. All of the original songs on the album are collaborations between all of the principals involved. Highlights include Stephen Stills return to form vocally with some of the most emotive singing of his recent career, possibly since the 1991 CSN acoustic tour. Goldberg and Kenny Wayne have both encouraged Stephen musically, and its obvious on the recording through the exciting and invested playing. This band cooks, and this new album is worthy of your attention.
     The album opens with the heavy Delta swamp stomp of 'Roadhouse' hitting hard and fast. Stills mojo is tangible as he growls with an attitude, soulful but slightly menacing. The thumping groove is dressed in Goldberg's bluesy dressings. The first solo by KWS is highly charged and fly's off of the handle immediately with a few elastic bends. Stills takes the second and states some sweet twists on the theme in his recognizable tone, using needle sharp statements. A smoking introductory view of the collaboration, with the first track a showcasing all of the bands strengths.
     The next song sounds chrome covered and is driven by Kenny Wayne Shepherd at unsafe speeds. The cover version of 'That's A Pretty Good Love' once performed by Big Maybelle in 1958, is a tribal version that rolls off of the back of Layton's jangling rhythm. Smooth and swinging, Kenny Wayne Shepherd's guitar roller coasters rotund notes that scurry across the shifting groove. Under it all Goldberg's left hand pounds away relentlessly, while his right glides across the black and whites.
     The third track is another band original that slows the tempo a bit and is called 'Don't Want Lies'. Counted off by Stills the song drifts between emotional poles and has all the hallmarks of a Stills melody. The song also contains some falsetto Stills vocalizing on the chorus for a nice touch. A strong track with a sneaky solo courtesy of Kenny Wayne, the second solo a phased response by Stills. An additional moment of note is a solitary Stills vocal that hits the right spot.
     A surprising and heat seeking version The Stooges 'Seek and Destroy' comes next and brings the temperature to nuclear levels with impassioned vocals and incendiary soloing. The band digs their heels into this one hard. Thus far the album is a diverse and well placed selection of covers and originals played joyously.
     My personal favorite track on the collection comes next and starts off a pair of ace choices. First, the foreboding title track, 'Can't Get Enough' is a dynamically constructed mid tempo blues that bears the fruit of this bands line up. At two minutes in Stills lets out a startling and powerful scream that ushers in the chorus, absolutely great. Kenny Wayne takes off inspired with a rocket fueled solo attack that gains intensity, then suddenly descends to a clean tone butterfly flutter. Possibly the solo of the record, then back to a detonating restatement of the theme. Buzzing in his cloak of distortion  Stills takes the second solo with a measured and sinful series of statements, following them with another shredding vocal scream. Heavy blues.
     What better way to follow up a smouldering original blues then with one penned by a master? The band steps into a smokey saloon version of Muddy Waters 'Honey Bee'. Goldberg opens the song with a rolling acoustic piano opening, and later with a wind through the trees Hammond organ solo excursion. 'Honey Bee' extends past seven minutes and gives the band ample opportunities for flybys. KWS peaks with an orgasmic announcement containing tightly coiled virtuous runs. Stills later answers with a metallic clean tone that shimmers brightly, illuminating Goldberg's glissando replies. Kenny Wayne takes another feisty run at it before the song concludes the two track blues clinic.
    Another variety of cover song follows with with a daring version of Neil Young's 'Keep On Rockin In the Free World', an accurate statement in the context of this record. This version does warrant inclusion on this record, regardless of the tunes somewhat overplayed nature. The Rides match the enthusiasm and aggressiveness of previous versions comprised of an all together different pedigree. Stills again impresses with dominant vocals, and channels his brother in arms Neil, playing twisted vibrato filled hulks of smoking metal that become guitar solos.
     The last cover was Muddy, this next is Elmore James's 'Talk to Me'. Kenny, Goldberg, and Stills in that order buff this one til it shines, glistening with remembrances of their roots, and priceless quotes from their respective and impressive careers. Call and response vocals mixed with ass shaking grooves inject the song with a juke joint attitude. A highlight performance.
     Following a series of three well played covers, 'Only Teardrops Fall' walks in with heavy steps and dirty boots. A well written introspective song laced with silvery guitars. A song about life trials and a persons eventual reappearance on the other side after facing these battles. A prime moment is when Stills and Shepherd meet for a musical embrace, with two guitars quoting the melody line together. An enjoyable original worthy of repeated listens, and a soothing prelude to the finale.
     The final track on the LP reaches back to Stephen Stills 1971 LP, Stephen Stills II where it was performed in an acoustic guise. A favorite live performance piece for Stills, the still relevant 'Word Game' is given a harsh electric workout over forty years later. Retaining its original melody, a deadly serious Stills rants over honky tonk piano and profane guitars. A potent conclusion to a weighty and professional collection of songs.
     It's refreshing to know that in this day and age of sterilized music, rock fans can still find records that are 'all killer, no filler' in the blues/rock genre. While holding only ten songs, 'Can't Get Enough' is a conducive record that contains a concentrated energy. While 'supergroup' collaborations are often overblown and sometime disappointing, in this case the result exceeded its principals.  The Rides perform no frills, dirt road, fast car rock and roll. The enjoyment felt by the musicians is tangible on the recording which in turn increases listener enjoyment. Jangling piano, in the pocket drums, screaming guitars are the ingredients that make up this tasty rock and roll stew. Dig in.

Roadhouse-The Rides
Can't Get Enough-The Rides

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Put the Boot In: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band-'Dropping Out' Live at Fillmore Auditorium 1966

There are blues on the ceiling of the rock room this morning emanating from a early live performance by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Shuffling like a sexy street walker from my stereo speakers, the band struts it stuff. Hailing from the Fillmore Auditorium on September 30th 1966, this concert finds the band in the midst of their most revolutionary period, shortly after the release their influential LP 'East-West. The Butterfield Blues Band not was only leading the way with their introduction of exotic influence and expanded improvisational movements to rock music, but they were also a mature blues band featuring a mixed line up of race, almost unheard of for the time. The San Fransisco bands often looked to the "BBB" for inspiration and  the groups importance cannot be understated, and is reflected in the improvisational attitude of bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Moby Grape to name a few, who looked to guitar god in the making Mike Bloomfield for direction. The expansion and development of cracking open songs and letting the contents fall where they may can be traced to the Butterfield Blues Band and their ballroom performances.

     Obviously Butter is the axis in which the band revolves, his virtuosic blues harp playing some of the best the rock world has ever experienced, rooted in the abilities of Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Walter Horton, and Little Walter. This performance at the Fillmore finds the group in their peak and ecstatic to be flaunting their plumage. The Butterfield Blues Band was a group that straddled the musical fence, touching toes into the sweet grass of psychedelia and improvisational journeys as well as keeping their other foot rooted in the earthy attitude of the blues. This concert features the six piece line up for the group with members Paul Butterfield (Harp Vocals), Mike Bloomfield (Guitar), Elvin Bishop (Guitar), Mark Naftalin (Keys), Jerome Arnold (Bass), and Billy Davenport (Drums). The recording I am listening to has an unknown lineage, but has wonderful presence, with all instruments and vocals coming through clearly and with consistent levels. It seems to be an audience recording, but sounds like in could be a straight line recording with light mileage. Regardless, it sounds nice, and feels good.

     The concert opens earnestly on the fuzzy bounce of Bishop's guitar, presenting a 'Droppin Out' that had not yet been unreleased on LP. 'Droppin Out' has that rotund Butterfield band 'sound', but contains a fluttering melody that is helplessly 1960's. Bloomfield immediately comes out swinging with a stringy chorused solo that contrasts the spiked backing by Bishop and the rhythm section. The song concludes amongst a wash of feedback and squealing microphones quickly. A quick and fitting opener.

     The band immediately jumps into 'Mother In Law Blues' a Junior Parker cover, and the band starts to slip into something more comfortable. Butter takes his first harp blast of the night and the temperature begins to rise, as the band percolates under his breathy accents. A series of twisting gusts carrying Butter's musical muse wrap around the song like a snake squeezing life from its prey. The second solo is Bishop, whose over-driven Gibson 335 takes a slightly different route than Butter cutting down dusty back roads to reach his chosen destination.

     Following 'Mother In Law Blues' Butterfield introduces a song from the bands debut LP, 'Drifting', as 'My love is drifting'. Bloomfield now starts to take over the performance with a clinic of chorused, wormy lines that slither, booze soaked and quaking with the anguish of the lyrical content and Bloomfield's own personal demons. The breath leaving Butter's lungs is as emotive vocally as it is through his harp. The first solo by Bloomfield is a melting ice cube, sliding across a table leaving a trail of icy cool remnants behind. Davenport's drums skip like a happy child leaving school for the day, his jazz sensibilities lending a sturdy swing to a normally rigid blues beat. The band coalesces into one of the finest examples of the Chicago blues played flawlessly by a group of young white boys.

     Next up comes a 'Born In Chicago' that brings the concert to a new level, and discovers the band locked in tight. Written by 'BBB' songwriter and comrade Nick Gravenities, the song features the chemical makeup of the Chicago blues, injected with a modern day sensibility. The start/stop groove comes out fighting against itself in a tug of war. Orchestrated, the three soloists Butter, Bloomfield, and Bishop mesh their musical gears into a conglomerate of blues riffs. The song then hits double time during Butter's crunchy harp soling, gaining momentum, eventually falling back into the oscillating body of the song. Butter and Bloomfield then initiate a tight embrace, winding themselves around each other for the second solo break. As the song races toward its conclusion Bishop takes a clean tone picking break that dissipates the tension, eventually joining with Butter for another musical meeting that brings the song to a gentle conclusion. Yes!

     After the exciting 'Born In Chicago' the band enjoys an iced whiskey and smoke by putting the next track under a blue streetlight with a soulful take on 'Willow Tree'. The fidelity of the recording exposes every detail of this deep jam. 'Willow Tree' spotlights a guitar duel between Bloomfield and Bishop that reveals the unique abilities of each man, and their collaborative strengths. Butterfield sings the shit out of this one with a natural vibrato and deadly serious attitude. Bloomfield answers each verse with his own lyrical melodies increasing the tension. Solo one is Butter, carrying with him a drawn out see-saw harp escapade, seamlessly connected to a dual guitar conversation between  Bloomfield and Bishop that is inspiring. The series containing 'Born In Chicago' and 'Willow Tree' is a definite highlight thus far of this performance.

     Butterfield hero and idol 'Little Walter' gets a name drop and representation with the cover of 'My Babe' that comes next. Teetering on the snare shuffle of Davenport and Lay, Butter displays his ample ability with a plethora of Little Walter quotes, acting as the primary soloist. At three and a half minutes all the primary soloists stick their thumbs out to hitch a ride, squeezing into the back seat with tasteful additions, carefully leaving room for the other riders. A picture perfect representation of a blues translation, left with the 'BBB's" own distinctive thumbprint on the glass.

     A unique surprise comes next with a cover of 'Kansas City' featuring Bloomfield taking over the lead vocal duties. The band rolls like a soft tire on a highway truck, smooth, with some bumps for good measure. Bishop answers Bloomfield's first slippery solo with a careful and measured discussion containing crisp bends and repeated lines that wind up quickly before they fly away like the string on a runaway kite. This one just chugs on down the line, all killer, no filler. Priceless.

     The concert recording and I believe the entire performance concludes with an extended reading of Cannonball Adderly's 'Work Song'. Lingering bast 13 minutes, this version of 'Work Song' is a prime example of the exploration into the dark recesses of song expansion that the Butterfield Blues Band were undergoing. Brought into the repertoire because of Bloomfield's investigation into the world of jazz and his interest into extended improvisation used by Coltrane and Miles Davis, this track in addition to 'East/West' were the vehicles the group used to display their musical abilities and induce musical conversations. Using Adderly's recognizable melody as the launching point the band splits the song open and reveals the juicy goodness inside. After stating the theme on harp, Bloomfield lifts off with a echoed and tightly twisted rope of a solo, Lay's bass peaks it head up intermittently after Bloomfield finishes a phrase, and finally Butter too pops in as Bloomfield starts to reveal the core of the track at a bit after three minutes. Taught and sustained notes, worked up to, and away from wrap around the swirling groove.

Atonal sideways guitar licks lash across the shifting rhythm with Bloomfield expressing wobbly almost human sounding guitar screams from his amplification. Reaching the first summit, Butterfield steps up for his solo spot and takes an experimental stab at matching Bloomfield. A few well timed squeals punctuate the moaning train whistle blasts initiated by Butter. The song palpably breaths, rising and falling with Butter's blowing. As Butterfield concludes, a brief moment of pulsating rhythm by Arnold and Davenport keeps the heartbeat active and allow Naftalin to spread some haunted organ flourishes underneath the bubbling tincture. Bell like chimes ring out from Bloomfield's guitar, all rhythmically enticing, pushing and pulling against the beat, creating new variations on the theme. 

Approaching eight and a half minutes Bishop steps up to make another guitar statement. Whereas Bloomfield's statements bubble and spill like spring water over a smooth stone, Bishop's licks are more angular and aggressive, feeling like walking barefoot over hot rocks. Quick stinging and sliding movements up the neck punctuate Bishop's clinic. Butterfield, Bishop, Bloomfield, and Naftalin leisurely make their way to the middle to throw ideas at one another and see what sticks. Ideas and riffs start to be bantered about as the band his a delicious thumping swing groove. This momentary convergence explodes into a aggressive blast of guitar and harp fireworks that brings the song full circle landing eventually into a final statement of the theme. Screams of delight can be heard emanating from the stage during the building climax. Falling smoothly into the ending, Butterfield signals the end of the performance. Bill Graham is heard after the band finishes introducing the group with the recording cutting off before he can complete the line up.

     The September 30, 1966 Butterfield Blues Band concert at Fillmore West is a glimpse into a prime era of their development as a band as well as an expression of their unique mixture of jazz, Chicago blues, Indian, and psychedelic sensibility. Containing some of the most respected musicians in rock and blues history, the Butterfield Blues Band live in concert was an on stage hall of fame. Revolutionary respected, and influential, the original line up was short lived, but did alter the way other groups played and approached the blues and live improvisation. Their debut LP as well as 'East/West' were the records spinning on the turntables of not only fans but of fellow peers and musical artists. Early in their career the group was one of the few 'white' blues groups to gain the respect of the musicians that they were covering, proven by the fact the the original rhythm section hailed from Howlin Wolf's band! The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of rocks finest, most professional and talented bands. Search this one out in addition to the groups first two LP's, and prepare for a unique and powerful portrayal of a multitude of musical classifications.

Butterfield Blues Band-'Dropping Out'-Fillmore West 66

Butterfield Blues Band-'Our Love Is Drifting'-Fillmore 1966

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rod Stewart 'Rarities'-'A Friend to Lend a Guiding Hand'-Rare Rod

     The foundation on which Rod Stewart's career is built was laid during the period of 1969 to 1974. During this time he recorded five LP's for Mercury records, as well as recording with and fronting one of the decades best rock and roll bands, 'Faces'. A new CD collection was released this week chronicling Stewart's solo ascent during this time period, focusing on his solo career, but revealing buried treasure from all aspects of his recording life. Rod Stewart 'Rarities' is a two disc collection spotlighting alternate mixes, live tracks, unreleased music and offers a looking glass view into Stewart's impressive and extensive early career. An artist often misrepresented by the media, this segment of Stewart's career is also often overshadowed by his later flash, dash and big hair days. But make no mistake Stewart was and continues to be one of the finest interpreters and vocalist in rock history. A exemplary songwriter, producer and arranger, this collection contains a gritty accumulation of Stewart's folk, rock and R and B sensibilities.

     This collection also focuses on the core band Stewart used for these superior LP's. Along with the members of the Faces, Stewart also augmented his group with Jeff Beck Band drummer Mickey Waller, and long time collaborator and guitarist Martin Quittenton (co-writer of Maggie May). You would be hard pressed to find another studio band containing such attitude and ability. Many of the songs making up this 'rarities' collection are stripped down versions containing unique guide vocals, lacking overdubs, or are dust covered tapes from the webbed corners of the vault that contain a luster as bright as their officially released counterparts.

     The collection begins with the single version of 'It's All Over Now' as hot as the Gasoline Alley version, but slightly streamlined, and featuring a staggering booze scented Faces. Not super rare, but a solid opener. The following song is a 1970  BBC Radio One performance by the Faces of 'Country Comforts' the classic Elton John/Taupin penned number. Containing a bit more personality than the studio version, Rod's off mic asides, and the featured thick live air sliced by Kenney Jones bricklayer drums, make this a soulful definitive version. Stewart's vocals are indescribably special here, listen for yourself.

     The third track is the first of two versions of 'Maggie May' contained on the set, this one being a studio take containing a rough guide vocal with completely different lyrics. Sung convincingly by Rod, this version some unique rhymes and stream of consciousness lyrics, eliciting its own special charm. Lines such as, 'I don't mean to tell ya that you look like a fella, but I'll kick you in the head in one of these days', give a glimpse into the enjoyable listen that these early takes allow the listener. Good stuff.

     After a regal and unadorned alternate version of 'Seems Like a Long Time', based around a divine Pete Sears piano line and snaky Ron Wood guitar segment, an alternate version of 'Los Paraguayos' that sounds like it contains most of the Faces lineup highlights disc one of the set. The acoustic guitar opening meshes like golden gears tucked inside an antique clock. Rod's vocals are amazing, lush and full of fervor, a nice addition being the chuckles and added band directions. Lacking some of the overdubs that would appear later, this version churns with the striding rhythms, and boogies like a late night campfire gathering.

     Two early versions of songs from 'Never a Dull Moment' follow next, featuring band versions in progress and unique in their own way. 'Italian Girls' and 'You Wear It Well' are both ample readings and contain the fat sliding bass lines by Ronnie Lane and Woody that are hallmarks of the record. The songs feel like siblings, eliciting some of the same features as one another, melodies and phrases connecting them musically. 'You Wear It Well', similarly to the early take of Maggie May, holds the same instrumentation, but again contains particular lyrical variations unique to this version. The groove is in the process of being caught and refined, and at this early stage the song is finding its way, standing on its slightly wobbly legs.

     Two more alternate versions of songs from 'Never a Dull Moment' follow with tender readings of Etta James, 'I'd Rather Go Blind', and Jimi Hendrix's 'Angel'. 'I'd Rather Go Blind' was a showstopper for the Faces during their concert tours, and this full band version is no different. Spooky and blue, honest and true, Rod shovels away the dirt and grime, revealing the transparent soul of the song. McLagan's blurry organ embraces Rod's vocals tenderly, live and hot on the mic. In the same vein and vibe the reading of 'Angel' is sensitive and detailed, differing slightly from the official version in its live and rough ready attitude. Again, this is a full Faces version similar to live performances, a fitting tribute to Hendrix.
     The first CD of the collection ends with a triad of great music, beginning uniquely with the swinging jukebox reading of 'What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out of Me). Previously only available as the 7' 'B' side to 'Angel', 'Milwaukee' is a smoky version, leaving watery rings on the wooden bar in its wake. Containing moaning pedal steel and cascading piano, Stewart croons a lonely mans lament in one of the highlights of the set.

     Originally included on the 1973 'best of' set, 'Sing It Again Rod', a dramatic version of 'Pinball Wizard' from the feature film of 'Tommy' changes the tempo of the track listing slightly. Performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, 'Pinball Wizard' is transformed into a bombastic and mysterious display with Rod's abrasive vocals locking in with the additional choir and weighty orchestration. A nice and often forgotten addition to the line up of songs found here.

     The song that closes the first half of the set, begins a series of three songs moving to disc two from mid 1973 that Stewart recorded with the Faces, minus the recently departed Ronnie Lane. The cover of Cole Porter's 'Everytime We Say Goodbye' spotlights Stewart snugly contented in the land of 'standards', making the song his own through keen production and attentive arrangements. Ronnie Wood's astute and dynamic slide playing adds a new dimension to the the swinging classic. Carrying over and starting the second disc of the collection is the September 1973 non-LP single by the Faces containing, 'Oh! No, Not My Baby' b/w 'Jodie'. Put together for the first time on this collection, this 7' finds Stewart in the gray area between the early rock segment of his career, and his ascension to superstardom in the late 70's when his music would change dramatically (as well as his attitude). 'Oh! No, Not My Baby' contains the unmistakable Faces groove augmented with some soaring strings that take the edge off slightly. This track finds Rod laying down some of the best vocals on the set. The 'B" side "Jodie' is bouncy and animated, and is a musical collaboration between McLagan, Stewart, and Wood. Anchored to a descending Woody guitar lick and taught Jones snare hits the song is irresistible, eventually sliding into a very 'Stoney' breakdown. This collection was made for hidden 'B' sides like the aforementioned, songs otherwise obscured by the bigger hits or forgotten because of their disappearance from LP track listings. Great tune.

     The rest of disc two, minus the closing track is dedicated to Stewart's final Mercury LP, 'Smiler'. This record unfortunately, to even hardcore Rod fans seems to get the short end of the stick. It does come during a time of transition for Stewart, and a time of musical sterility for him and his studio band. The LP unlike his previous efforts was ripped apart by critics, fortunately for us this set contains some moments left off of that album, that in hindsight, now give us a better glimpse into its creation and its strengths. 'So Tired' and 'Missed You' are both Stewart originals left off the LP and only released posthumously on the his complete studio recordings set "Handbags and Gladrags'. Both songs are similar melodically, hence their being left off of the original album, but they both draw special attention to Stewart's emotive vocalizations. Proof that sometimes Stewart's interpretations are strength enough to carry even the more mundane compositions. 'So Tired' in my opinion is the stronger of the tracks, with a tasty keyboard/piano combination underpinned with some crispy acoustic work. 'So Tired' is repeated toward the end of the disc in a earlier studio version, a quick glimpse into the songs development, raising questions regarding its disappearance from the album lineup.

     A most memorable song on the set and a personal favorite of mine in all of its guises is, 'Think I'll Pack My Bags', a early work out of 'Mystifies Me', a song recorded on both Ron Wood's solo LP, and Ian McLagan's solo album. A testament to the strength of the song composed by Wood and Stewart is that three of the five members of Faces would record it. It's one of those goose bump numbers that seems to get better every time you hear it. The version here is sparse and a practice run through, but all of the elements of the track are available in their formative stages. Wood's caress of the melody line, inspecting every dusty nook and cranny is a pleasing insight. It's mystifying why Stewart did not include this on his 'Smiler' LP. Without sounding overblown (which I have been accused of) this is legendary, important, and a great reason to hunt this set down.

     The next three tracks are all alternate versions that can be found on the 'Smiler' LP in their official versions. A piano based reading of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country' that somehow draws more attention to the words, if that's possible, is inspiring. An intimate version of the Goffin/King/Wexler standard, '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man' is another reason to own this set. You can feel Stewart's breath on the microphone in addition to the closely knit instrumentation that turns the 'rock room' into a darkened chamber at Morgan Studio's in 1974. Cigarette butts in overflowing ashtrays, empty bottles of sticky Brandy, like fallen soldiers leaking their left over life blood, Rod behind the glass, alone at the microphone, eyes closed, letting it go. Must have.

     Starting to bring the rarities set to a conclusion is an extended early version of 'Farewell' that contains all of the hallmarks of those early Stewart/Quittenton compositions. The resonant acoustic guitars, full of personality are such a joy to hear, I would be hard pressed to find another record from this era that could get that distinctive ring from their acoustics, a special hallmark from this time period on Stewart's recordings. Cheers to Woody for being a catalyst in the charisma expressed on these LP's, he is an invaluable cog in the Stewart music machine, and obviously has done the same thing for his 'current' band.

     Both 'You Put Something Better Inside Of Me' and 'Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying' are covers that missed the 'Smiler' LP and remained in the vault until the previously mentioned 'Handbags and Gladrags' collection in 2002.  Both contemporary (at the time) songs, Stewart again injects the songs with his soulful personality and tempered production techniques. Both songs feel 'upgraded' by Stewart for lack of a better term, and illustrate that Rod was willing to look anywhere for inspiration, and would not discriminate when considering songs to cover, even checking the 'hit parade'. For 'unreleased' songs both feel polished, and have all of the details found in Stewart's finished and classic works. Special note to the arrangement of 'Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying' which retains the original Labi Siffre acoustic vibe, in addition to elongated organ, silky violin, and edge of disco drumming.

     The collection closes fittingly with a jagged and lovely live version of 'Maggie May' from September 28, 1971 on BBC radio featuring the Faces. This version is also available on the Faces box set, "Five Guys Walk Into A Bar'. This is an edgy reading that finds Rod and the boys in full glory, at their peak, performing a definitive version of Stewart's most beloved song. The song becomes something different when performed live on the stage, the sum of the parts changing it from its humble 'folk' beginnings into an anthem of universal status. Not much more needs to be said about the power and majesty of this performance.

     Whew, that is the new and aurally pleasing Rod Stewart 'Rarities' collection, a splendid and welcome addendum to his classic Mercury discography. Within this set you will find special moments of unheard goodness, recognizable moments in new ways, and hidden vault treasures unearthed for our smiling ears. For fans of Stewart this collection nestles nicely in with his official catalog, offering fresh insight to musical moments that have already left footprints on our psyches. For those who are not familiar with Stewart's authoritative early years, this is the kind of assemblage that can make you a fan, leading you down the untrodden path toward discovering his immense influence and unparallelled abilities as a composer, singer, and producer.

Rod Stewart-Los Paraguayos
Rod Stewart/Faces-Jodie
Smiler Full LP


Monday, September 2, 2013

Jam-balaya of Rock-'We Can Live As We Choose'-The Rides, McCartney, Dylan, The Band

      As I was a bit busy getting married to the love of my life this past weekend, the 'rock room' was in suspended animation until today. Firing up all of the gear for a bit of listening, today's 'talk' is going to concentrate on some interesting new music from familiar names, and some rare goods that rock geeks are going to want to get their grubby hands on.
     First things first, a few days ago Paul McCartney leaked a brand spanking new song called 'New' from the upcoming album of the same name. This record will be released on October 15th in the US and is Macca'a first full LP of new original music since 2007. The song is a bouncy jaunt featuring McCartney's trademark falsetto filigrees, and another perfectly timeless melody. Opening on a smiling harpsichord introduction the song flutters through three minutes of perfect pop production.To me the tune would fit perfectly in the Beatle era of 'Revolver'/'Pepper', bringing to mind past glories, 'Good Day Sunshine', "Got To Get You Into My Life', 'Lovely Rita' melodically and aesthetically. The song also features some vocal lines toward the conclusion of the song that bring to mind Brian Wilson's mid 1960's vocal arrangements. A tantalizing sample of what sounds like is going to be a fantastic McCartney LP produced by Mark Ronson. Sample of the song below.
     Another bit of new music causing some ripples in the deep pond of rock is the debut LP by 'The Rides'. The band is made up of Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, and blues pianist Barry Goldberg. The LP is a cross cut saw of slicing blues licks, heavy beats, and a Stills that has rediscovered his 1960's and 1970's vocal range. The enthusiasm and respect between the musicians is tangible on the recording with a plethora of inspiring moments being held in the jams. The trading of solos in the slow burn blues of 'Can't Get Enough Of Your Love' is as about as deep into the blues you can get these days in mainstream rock. Stills sounds reinvigorated playing with Sheppard, and Goldberg's blues sensibilities give the album an unbreakable steel backbone. These are must hear tunes, and I have included a sample at the bottom of this page for your listening pleasure.
     Other interesting developments come from the archive release front. Out in stores now is the long awaited Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Volume 10 'Another Self Portrait' 1969-71 collection. Available in a two disc edition as well as a four disc deluxe set, these collections cover the 'lost' Dylan era when he pulled away from the public and retreated into his family life, still composing vital compositions while reassessing his place in the music world. The deluxe edition contains the entire Bob Dylan and the Band set from the 1969 Isle of Wight as well as a remastered edition of Self Portrait. Legendary goods. Highlights are too numerous to list without a proper review, but the demo version of 'Went To See the Gypsy', the unreleased 'Pretty Saro', and a surprise 'Basement' track are a few of countless revelations. 'Rock night' MC 'Sick Dude Brad' calls this the most important Dylan release to ever see the light of day, and when he speaks, I listen.
     Another vital 'archive' release I want to mention will not be out until September 17th but is just as important. 'The Band Live at the Academy of Music' is a proper and definitive collection of the New Years 1971 concert run that covered December 28 through the 31st. Packed full of alternate versions and bonus tracks the set will become the ultimate addendum to the classic release 'Rock of Ages' that has been the go to document for these performances. Spanning three discs and a DVD the set will also feature three songs captured on video as well as 5.1 mixes. This is the Band at their best, and finds them when they when were quite possibly the best band in the world. Dont miss it!
     Finally, at the end of September we can finally look forward to the LONG awaited release of the Grateful Dead's 1972 performance in Venetta, Oregon, now titled 'Sunshine Daydream'. Played in select movie theaters last month for a 'sneak preview,' this ultimate document of the Grateful Dead captures the band fresh off of their Europe tour, and finds them peaking in more ways than one. Available on both CD and DVD/Blu-Ray the set has been lovingly packaged and remastered. The clarity is stunning, and the performance is one of the best of the year and possibly of the entire decade. You will get to see Garcia pumping the well of his Wah-Wah, culminating in a multicolored explosion of sound during the 'Dark Star' melt, Lesh in floppy farmer hat bouncing, laying biscuits, and locked into a musical embrace with Billy K. This is the collection Deadheads have been waiting for, and it will finally be available to feed their ravenous musical appetites.
     Like I mentioned earlier its been a crazy few days for the 'rock room', so plan on the next rant to be the same long winded and extended B.S. I usually post! I at least wanted to disseminate the important information, and next week get back to the dissections. As always, thanks for reading, I hope the holiday gives us all the time to jam the tunes we like! I always look forward to any comments, questions, or concerns you may have.

The Rides-Can't Get Enough Of Your Love
Paul McCartney-New
Dylan-Pretty Saro