Saturday, January 19, 2013
Spinning on the turntable this week in the "rock room" is the somewhat obscure 1977 LP release "Rough Mix" by Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane. A perfect little album well known among fans and friends, not so much in mainstream rock circles. This LP also features many of the duo's musician friends such as Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, and Ian Stewart contributing to the collaboration. What started out as a Ronnie Lane solo excursion with Townshend acting as producer, became a special joint effort and magnificent collection of songs.The inside of the LP reads "Ron and Pete play various acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins and bass guitars, banjos, ukeleles and very involved mind games". Both musicians were suspended in air at this point in their careers; Lane, post-Faces blowing through money with not enough hits, and Townshend in constant flux, undecided about the Who and battling demons. Shortly after the completion of this record Townshend would return to The Who, and Lane, would commence his long battle with multiple sclerosis. The LP is a sometimes forgotten segment in both musicians long and varied careers, and it should not be. Track by track its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and its has aged very well.
"Mix One" of the LP opens with the strident and hopelessly catchy "My Baby Gives It Away" with Townshend taking on the vocal duties. Supported by slashing shimmery acoustic guitar strums and a bopping picked guitar lick, the song is fitting opener and a strong Townshend composition. The rich sounding edge of the slightly disco drums race toward the fine woman who gives it up "totally free". The Glyn Johns production is tasteful and timeless, and in no way dates from the album.
Following the opener comes Lane's first contribution to the LP and one of my personal favorites, "Nowhere To Run". When the song opens a warm autumn breeze smelling of burning leaves, full moons, and harvest time settles over the morning. Lane's parchment tinged vocals sound world weary but reassuring. A methodical banjo line quietly rises into the mix like a child's balloon reaching for the sun. A whistling organ swells with the gently rolling rhythm of the song. Even with Lane's gentle warning that there's "nowhere to run" the song continues to breathe optimism.
A true collaboration, the title track and instrumental "Rough Mix" soars out of the grooves like a classic Who number, then with a heavy funk, breaks down in the middle similar to a classic early Faces tune. An unmistakable Ronnie "Plonk" Lane bass line reinforces the track, in conjunction with big "windmill" moments and percussive punctuations. This instrumental showcases the musical strengths of both the album's collaborators.
"Annie" tip toes in next, a joint writing effort between Eric Clapton, Lane's wife Kate Lambert, and Ronnie. The track is delicate and blue sky clear ballad, with the chorus having the fingerprints on "Slowhand" showing on the glass. A simple song with a wholesome content, dealing with a uncertain future and wishing for protection for your treasured ones. Lane is one rock songwriter whose lyrics are often concise and straight forward, yet always emotionally stirring, without being coy. A melodic treasure and in my opinion a highly undervalued song, "Annie" revels itself on this LP like a garage sale bargain, or a small golden token exposed by the wind on a vast white beach of sand.
Townshend's "Keep Me Turning" follows and keeps the run of melodically appealing and instrumentally interesting songs going. Pete's friend and Who member/helper Rabbit adds a touch of omnipotence to the song with some stained glass church organ flourishes. The content of the song is a familiar topic of Townshend's, being the contrast between the world of celebrity and a solitary artist life. The narrator is begging for the help of a mystical lady or even from God.
Mix One ends a reeling and rocking with the Ronnie Lane led "Catmelody". A straight barn burner with no chaser, "Catmelody" burns with a flourish directed by the "fifth Rolling Stone" Ian Stewart's honky tonk tickling of the ivories. Nothing too deep awe or inspiring here, just a cooking rock and roll groove and a fitting closer to side one of the album.
Mix Two starts with the quirky Townshend number, "Misunderstood" featuring a unique bouncy groove driven by a harmonica riff and some bubbly percussion. The mysterious Bijou Drains is featured as playing the "gulp". For those in the know, the moniker Bijou Drains is AKA Pete Townshend who used the alias while producing the Thunderclap Newman LP. The track takes on the personality of one of Townshend's home demo recordings, which is not a bad thing, as many of his demos surpass the finished products. A quirky tune, with a lot to offer when looked at in detail.
Similarly to "Nowhere to Run", the next song "April Fool" is one of the finest Ronnie Lane tracks he ever penned. Spotlighting Eric Clapton on Dobro and foot taps, the song takes flight with Lane's emotive opening verses. Clapton slips in like a late night visitor during the second verse with tasteful and tender slide guitar lines. During Clapton's solo, which continues until the song ends, large deep double basses growl in fantastic deep shades contrasting Clapton's virtuous licks. I feel like I am in a dusty wood paneled antique store, and with every isle I travel down, and with corner I turn there is a Ronnie Lane song under glass. Preserved like a delicate flower, collecting dust, but ready and willing for discovery for those who search.
The third track on "Mix Two" of the LP is the Townshend composition "Street In The City", a "Day In the Life" like observation song. Starting with a crystal clear Townsend acoustic guitar filigree that sparkles like a clear mountain stream, the moving orchestrated backdrop shifts beneath the melody line, encouraging the song to blossom. Scored by Townshend's father in law Edwin Astley the song is the most mature on the LP, meaning the most lyrical and musical complex. The song is all about the orchestration and its relationship with the acoustic melody lines, working in conjunction with the sung melody lines. A really nice piece of work tucked away on Mix Two of the LP.
"Heart to Hang On To" is the next to last song on the album, and is unique for the shared alternating vocals by Lane and Townshend. A slower track balanced on the edge of ballad, which patiently gains momentum over the course of the song. The instrumentation is somewhat sparse, with the song containing alot of 'air and space". A song of longing, the number benefits from the addition of Who bass player John Entwistle's brass. Worth the price of admission alone for the dual vocals and picturesque lyrics.
The closing number is a breezy country lilt "Til the Rivers All Run Dry" sung gently by Townshend. A slow number with a gospel vibe, that for me contains shades of Delaney and Bonnie. Again, Clapton and his Dobro make an impressive appearance. The song feels like a paean to Meher Baba, and is probably just that, with Pete and Ronnie both dedicated followers of the holy man. The song, like much of the aforementioned tracks contains a wishfulness, and a longing that can only be remedied by spiritual or loving support. A fine closing to a diverse and musically satisfying LP.
Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's "Rough Mix" is an album often covered by the sands of time, and when the breeze blows right, it is revealed in all of its glory. What is displays are two class act musicians caught in a time of uncertainty and change. Townshend's support of his comrade Lane is beautifully portrayed through his additions to Lane's songs as well as his personal expressions through his own composed numbers. Despite the production methods of the era it was created, the LP remains fresh, relevant, and sounds great off of the original vinyl. There are more than enough unique goose bump moments to keep any fan of either man interested and excited. There is now available a remastered version of the album on CD with bonus tracks, but as previously stated, for this review I listened to the original LP release, so did not listen to those included bonus tracks.
As an addendum to this review, recently a bootleg under the title "Unsurpassed Masters"-Rough Mix started to circulate around the web. This recording is purportedly from the original 10" multitrack reels, pressed direct to silver CD. It sounds absolutely amazing, and contains instrumental versions of many "Rough mix" songs as well as two tracks not contained on the album. Using the official release in conjunction with the bootleg will give the fan an all encompassing and definitive view of this record.
My Baby Gives It Away-Rough Mix
April Fool-Rough Mix
Saturday, January 12, 2013
"Canned Heat" along with the "Butterfield Blues Band" are one of the original and most adept "white boy" interpreters of the blues. This performance is solid documentation of the group exposing and spreading their love for the genre as well as its effect on their own originals. Their adept stew of psychedelia and country blues gathered them fans of all types, as there was not a band quite like them.
The recording fittingly opens with the scream of a female fan, and the band slinking into "Aint That Loving You Baby" a Jimmy Reed cover. "Aint' That Loving You Baby" shuffles confidently out of the speakeasy and into the dark New York streets on Al "Blind Owl" Wilson's slinky harp blasts. Vestine takes the first guitar solo break taking three rounds. The first solo brings to mind a dark dusty, dilapidated wooden floored shack on the back roads of Mississippi, suddenly electrified by neon lights and amplified guitars. Voted one of the top 100 guitarists of all time "Sunflower" Vestine deconstructs the classic blues into something bigger and more virtuosic. After the second soulful but rudimentary slide solo by Alan Wilson, the band drops out so Larry "The Mole" Taylor can take his first of three fine bass solos over the course of the evening. As the bass solo ends the band slides like a whiskey across a wooden bar into a stomping harmonica shuffle which leads into Vestine's climactic and dynamic concluding solo. Vestine has been recognized posthumously as one of Rolling stone's top one hundred guitarists off all time; while this is a great honor, I assert that his talents and abilities on his ax have been too undervalued for too long. This recording spotlights his incredible dexterity and feeling on the instrument.
After a short introduction, "Bullfrog Blues" a Canned Heat original hops out of the swamp and settles on the stage. The taper exclaims "ribbit ribbit" as the Heat begin their honky tonk swamp stomp through the reeds. One thing that catches my attention is the volume of the band at this point is extreme! Taylor's bass when played high up the neck reaches a "groovy test tone" status ringing through out the Fillmore. Vestine again blows the crowd's hair back throughout the venue with his up front and inimitable blues riffing. The band chugs like a locomotive slightly out of control smoking down the track. The crisp chiming rhythm guitar of Wilson loans the song the "classic" Canned Heat boogie instantly recognizable on their hits such as "On the Road Again". Unfortunately Bob "Bear" Hites vocals are somewhat obscured by the crowd and volume of the band on these first numbers, but that changes with what I feel is one of the highlights of the recording coming next.
Both Hite and Wilson's inspiration for creating Canned Heat was found in their record collecting addiction, which coincided with their love for updating and disseminating classic blues works and lost masterpieces. Nowhere on this recording is this expressed more conclusively than in the version of "Sugar Mama" respectively dedicated to Sonny Boy Williamson. "Sugar Mama" is a country blues containing only Taylor's bass, Wilson's harp, and "Bear's" impassioned vocals. I feel as I'm sitting on a hazy, dusty back porch somewhere in the Delta, sharing a whiskey, and observing the seasoned street musicians soulfully expressing their art in the thick mossy air. "Sugar Mama" takes its time, and even though only containing two instruments and a voice, sounds orchestrated, and swings like a cickle in a sharecroppers hand. Wilson's dirty and breathy harp blasts cradle the haunted melody of the song against the bass line like a mothers child. Wilson grinds the harmonica to dust with his impassioned and respectful playing. Hite's off mic shouts of "Oh my God" and his bluesy growls express the pure soul and emotion the band is charged with when paying respect to their heroes and inspirations. This is a deep blues, and one of the most intense interpretations of a blues done by a 1960's revival group.
"On the Road Again" follows and it contains an extended jam that rises and dips like a bluesy roller coaster ride for the assembled crowd. I find myself wishing for a soundboard recording at this point, because the jam is so good, I'm sure more detail and band interplay would reveal itself with a crisp version. "On the Road Again" becomes a fuzzy stomp through the flower garden with the songs tell tale buzzing drone audible on the tape. Train like harp blasts signal the guitar "freak out" that finally reaches a stuttering fire breathing climax and strides back into the central boogie riff under the cover of night. The "Heat" is rising steadily through out this jam, and if not for some sound issues it would be a definitive glimpse of the original Canned Heat line up. Banter by the tapers can be picked up after the songs ends, and is often as enjoyable as the performance. A woman can be heard shouting "Boogie! Boogie!", and a man near by can be heard exclaiming, "It's only 10:30"! Another voice, or the same guy, can be heard remarking "how loud" the band is! This is the reason pirate and bootleg recordings are such a valuable addition to any band's catalog. These are the goods that "rock geeks" pine for, and are fortunate to be able to enjoy.
The audience recording and I believe the performance ends with a twenty plus minute jam on "The Boogie", which I assume is the encore. Again, patience and a discerning ear is needed as the speed issues again rear their ugly head. But cutting though the sonic problems is again a conclusive and special jam. A delicate Alan Wilson slide guitar introduction ushers in the groove that bands such as ZZ Top would soon make a career out of. After jamming on the groove for a bit with a shout from the crowd of "Don't stop now!" "The Mole" steps forward for his third bass spotlight of the evening, and the most aggressive of them all. The bass solo thumps and then melts back into the boogie march among a stop and start synopated wash of sound. Eventually this bass interlude segues into a guitar segment for Vestine who sprays the crowd with transcendent speed induced riffing. Sounding in my opinion very "Allman" like, you can get an idea of the kind of guitar work being layed down by "Sunflower". Slinky, ethnically tinged, but pure blues Vestine steals the moment. Each band member receives a focused spotlight segment to express their talents throughout "The Boogie". Biting at the heels of Vestine's guitar feature comes Adolfo de la Parra's rhythmic and enticing percussion spotlight.
The drum solo receives intense applause, with scattered shouts and screams. Adolfo's mastery of numerous rhythmic tinctures is evident as he illustrates a plethora of grooves. The band follows Adolfo's blazed path back into the framework of the song, and bring the twenty minute blues boogie to a crashing conclusion. The final two extended tracks on this recording are essential for any fan of Canned Heat or the blues, we can only hope that somewhere there exists a beautiful sonic document of nights like this one for our enjoyment. Until then its treasures like this recording that keep musical moments frozen in time for future music fans to enjoy.
If you are ready, willing, and able to wade through the sound issues and tune into this performance there are numerous magical and consciousness expanding moments waiting to be discovered. I am sure that Canned Heat would be even more recognized than they already are if more evenings like this were readily available for listeners, and in great quality. If you are already familiar with the Woodstock and Monterey performances by the band and are looking for more, this recording is a great place to start. Let yourself sink knee deep in the blues and see how bands such as the Heat were and are still responsible for bringing the now recognized blues giants into the public vision. By studying and spreading the gospel of the blues through their own interpretations, Canned Heat made not only a name for themselves, but made many of their unrecognized blues idols household names as well.
A Change Is Gonna Come Fillmore West 1969
Canned Heat-Dust My Broom-Monterey Pop 1967
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Playing today in the "rock room" is a Grateful Dead Productions official release from the "Road Trips" archive series. Released in late 2009 "Road Trips" Vol. 3.1 features the Dead in the middle of their New Years run of concerts at the Oakland Auditorium on December 28, 1979. This era finds the the band rejuvenated and with a fiery sense of purpose. Since the arrival of keyboardist extraordinaire Brent Mydland in April, the group had been gaining momentum, with all of their performances improving steadily throughout the fall, and eventually peaking during the aforementioned New years run.
Since Brent's addition early in the year, the band's penchant for improvisation had returned updated and focused; with the Fall 1979 tour being filled with particularly noteworthy concerts. The December 28th concert is the second of five performances to be featured from this New Years Run. "Dick's Pick's 5", which spotlights the 12-26-79 performance is also highly recommended. It is of my humble opinion that this concert, 12-28 is the strongest of the run. Garcia's brand new custom "Tiger" guitar is loud and proud during this era, displaying a growling intensity. The drummers chase one another around the kits, playing as one, and keeping the tempos relevant and popping. Lesh is his usual bipolar self, playing with great restraint and shading, as well as detonating explosive bass charges from the stage. Weir has stepped into his rock and roll front man spot with great confidence, and is playing some of the best guitar of his career, despite learning to play slide guitar on stage without a net, with varying degrees of success. The usual minor missteps associated with this era do occur throughout the performance( missed ques, flat vocals), but these minor misses are surpassed by the power and grace of the peak moments.
The first set of this show is way laid back, with the band taking their time with every number, and showing great detail and care with each instrumental passage. Garcia in particular peppers the first set with extended renditions of his slower songs (Sugaree, Row Jimmy, High Time),all played with great emotion and intent. The show opens with a sensual west coast "Sugaree" that erotically swings her hips to the swaying groove enticingly. The warm and rich soundboard recording features all instruments in a perfect harmonious mix. Immediately exciting the first verse Garcia takes off in a flurry of on target chicken pecks. The second Garcia solo collaborates with Weir's "tasteful" slide playing and reaches a swirling musical climax. For this era, this is a wonderfully played opener and version of "Sugaree". While maybe not as definitive as the 1977 versions, this "Sugaree" has a lilting charm all its own, showing the band is ready to play, and is the perfect introduction to the rest of the set.
Following the jam extravaganza that was "Sugaree", it becomes "cowboy polka" time with Weir's selection of "Mama Tried/Mexicalli". Kudo's to the performance of Mexicali Blues" which I can honestly say with a straight face is an "all time" version. Garcia plays with a huge "trumpet" tone that brings to mind a dusty street musician blowing for change in front of a Mexican bistro. The entire band rolls to a boil like a hot cauldron of chili, almost boiling over the edge of the pot.
Just as Bobby ups the tempo, Jerry follows with a "Row Jimmy" that floats boyantly across the San Fransisco Bay. Drenched in dreamy slide guitar "Jimmy" is another top notch version played expertly. Adept at controlling emotive quality, flow, and vibe of the show, the Dead dial up another 'up" tempo tune when Weir signals "All Over Now". Ornamented with Lesh explosives, and containing a big fat groove, All Over Now" is another version pulled off of the top shelf. Garcia bends and pulls strings in multiple twangy directions as the drummers continuously chase each others tails. Bobby is full of spit and fire vocally, and Mydland's swooping Hammond licks are icing on top the ganja tinged pastry.
A relative rarity at the time with only six versions played throughout the year, the "High Time" that follows is a tender version full of silence and measured accents. A beautiful highlight of one of my favorite first sets of the year. Jerry vocals are of storyteller quality, and the instrumentation is poignant. Closing the set is a loose as a goose "Music Never Stopped" that reaches kaleidoscopic heights and prepares the assembled crowd for the second set. Introduced with a stomping beat, and bit of feedback and some goofy arpeggios, "Music" broadly paints a rainbow of sound across the winter night. The landing back into the framework of the song is a bit bumpy, but Garcia's liquid riffing more than makes up for any mistakes with a glorious climax. Bobby lets the assembled crowd know the band will be back momentarily, and we reach set break.
The second set roars to life with the combo of "Alabama Getaway" segued into the "Greatest Story Ever Told". I'm trying to not sound redundant,but this is another "exactly perfect" series of songs. "Alabama Getaway's" during this era are high octane screams, and this version is no different with fast and on the mark playing by the entire band. The quick transition into "Greatest" is like clockwork, and Garcia "Wah-Wah's" his way through the unique changes, dripping gooey melodies on top of the churning rhythm section. Lesh means business for the second set as a distinct increase in his bass volume is discernible. I feel out of breath all ready, and we have just started the musical journey.
Following the stomping thrash that was the second half opener the Dead settle in for the series of songs that will make up the core of the second set. "Terrapin Station" starts the extended suite of tunes, and is a version that stands among the all time best. "Terrapin" is a floating majestic version where the power of the song elicits visual images, and goose pimple melodies. The "Lady With a Fan" section sparkles with revolving Garcia statements that appear, then disappear among the dancing filigrees of sound. Everything someone would hope a "Terrapin" to be, is contained within this version, a graceful performance, containing both lightning and thunder, light and shade.
"Terrapin Station" rolls to a brief pause and launches into "Playin In the Band", the improvisational center piece placed among the crown jewels of the second set. The jam starts slightly meandering, but soon begins to pick up tempo with Garcia's plump envelope filtered shots across the fret board increasing the intensity. At around six minutes Weir starts to punctuate Garcia's statements with lush strums, and Mydland colors between the lines. Lesh, Mydland, Garcia, and Weir start to blend into one universal instrument tumbling across the poly rhythmic base built by the drummers. The band is starting to build a foundation which their glorious improvisational prowess can rest. At a bit past seven minutes a descending figure develops that sounds like "All Along the Watchtower" and is passed back and forth between Lesh and Mydland until is disappears, buried under the waves caused by Garcia's increasingly speedy riffing. Garica's semiautomatic licks are for the most part on target, his scatter shot notes striking the drummers on the rump, encouraging them to increase the tempo and direction. The jam begins to direct itself, like a car with no driver, facing a downhill route. Almost out of control but somehow gripping to the curves and corners. From ten to twelve minutes the band starts to achieve levitation, just above the stage they float. Lesh acts as the mortar that binds the instrumentalists as they take off together scattering in multiple directions. There is a change in the source from soundboard to audience for a brief period during this segment, but in no way is it disturbing to the listener. As "Playin" reaches fourteen minutes, the beast starts to show its fangs, and exhale weighty shady breathes. Lesh opens the gates to the underworld, groaning elephant notes as he pushes back the large moss covered doors revealing an unknown dimension saturated in hallucinatory images, scents, and emotons. Over this shifting guttural landscape Mydland fires off unusual flashes of spacecraft landings, shooting stars, and passing celestial bodies from his multitude of electronic and keyboard toys. Garcia blends into the cosmic stew tastefully playing phased licks that don't put him in the spotlight completely, but help to develop the picture being created by the group. The drummers thrash around the kit, eager to enter their drums spotlight, but still providing a landing pad for the instrumentalists floating in orbit. "Playin" languidly deconstructs itself and falls apart into drums which are very tasty indeed on this night. Acting in its usual role as the band's improvisational vehicle to outer space. this Playing surpasses expectations, and is one of the best of the year.
The drums contain a variety of rhythmic variations that are consistent for the era, as they are very diverse and enjoyable. The following space in contrast, is very short and acts as a quick prelude to the "Uncle John's Band" that develops. Premiered during the December 26 show after a two year absence, "Uncle John" makes its second appearance during the run. Both versions are fantastic, but this version out of space has an ethereal and celebratory vibe. Garcia's first solo makes me break out in a toothy smile because of the delectable melodic ideas expressed. The closing jam, similar to the "Playin" is overflowing with stunning playing by the guitarists, locked together in a musical embrace and listening to one another intently. The "Terrapin" through "Uncle John's" section of this show is an amazing journey, and one of the summits of the New Years run, as well as the entire Fall 1979 tour.
The rest of the concert in my opinion pails in comparison to the music that proceeded it, not that it is played poorly, just that it is a usual rock and roll race toward the finish line, as opposed to the carefully constructed suite of songs that proceeded it. The "Miracle", "Bertha", "Good Lovin" suite is energetic, well played, and I'm sure if I was one of the attendees of the concert I would feel an apt and special ending to the show. In hindsight, history shows the songs were slightly overplayed during the era, and a usual conclusion to a concert. The post drums "Bertha" is a smouldering version, that must be mentioned for its speed, strength, and crisp playing, and also for its well executed segue out of "Miracle". The band screams through the trifecta of songs leaving the crowd exhausted and satisfied. The dual encore features a somewhat rare for the time performance of "Casey Jones" which translates well to the recording as a snorting, and stomping good time. The natural conclusion of "One More Saturday Night" fits well as there would be no Saturday performance during this run, and concludes the show on a "high" note.
"Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 1" is a definitive glimpse at the Grateful Dead during a period of reinvention and new horizons featuring a new band member. The New Years 1979 run spotlights the Dead playing well and experimenting with new colors and developing songs in their contemporary setting. The moments of improvisation are unique and the performance features many "best of" and choice selections from their repertoire. 1979 is a year in the Grateful Dead's history brimming with special performances. unique jams, and showing a band back to hitting their stride. The New Years 1979 series of shows hold many extraordinary moments that open the door to the next decade of Grateful Dead concerts. For fans of Brent era Dead, as well as for Deadheads who have not delved into the year 1979, "Road Trips 3.1" is a portrait that needs to be hung, contemplated and admired next to other classic Grateful Dead shows.
Grateful Dead 12-28-1979 Terrapin Station