Talk From The Rock Room: March 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Put the Boot In: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"- The Allman Brothers Band 5-23-1970

      In honor of the recently released Duane Allman Anthology, I decided to break out a prodigious and rare Allman Brothers Band recording featuring the original founding line up. This recording catches the band on a evening in May of 1970, though opinions vary on the exact date and location of the recording. What is listed on this version is May 23, 1970 Dacatur, GA Columbia High School Auditorium, but the show has also been listed as "Spring 1970" and as having originated from The Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Ga. The version I have is a remastered soundboard recording (Peach Cobbler 6) similar in its sonic fingerprint to the Ludlow Garage official release, though still bootleg in its genesis. The recording is a partial, but the music it contains is unparallelled. Most of the concert is missing, or has not circulated as of yet, what this recording does contain is the last song of the set, a fifty plus minute reading of "Mountain Jam", and the double encore of "Don't Want You No More" into "It's Not My Cross to Bear". The "Mountain Jam" is more than enough to digest and is arguably the best version featuring the original line up.
     The tape starts slightly into the beginning of "Mountain Jam". The sound quality is great, with minimal analog hiss, and all instruments coming through clearly and equally. Traversing the slopes of "Mountain Jam's" delicate Donovan penned melody, Betts and Allman weave colliding lines that counterpoint against one another. At around 2:40 Duane takes the first solo, ascending the mountain face on sharp and edgy metallic licks that immediately take the song up a level, into the thinner alpine atmosphere. Following Duane, Gregg takes a round, playing some slippery Hammond riffs that slowly build the band into a peculating and frothing Southern stew. The band is cooking now, as Betts steps in to stack musical bricks on the grooving foundation being layed down by drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Betts starts to develop the tension at six minutes, at first rising and then stretching notes like a fresh dough, thick soft buttery southern tones that bring to mind a peeling and humid front porch in the swamps of Georgia or Florida. A direct contrast to the icy bee sting, needle stabs of Duanes first solo excursion. At a bit past seven minutes Duane piggy backs on a Betts riff, and they start to weave together a tangled web of musical of "old man's beard".The organic peak swells into a paisley hallucination of spongy breathing hills, shouldered by mountainous slopes protruding through the low clouds.
     Duane fires of flashing "ray gun" shots of alien tones as Barry Oakley sends chunky boulders of sound rolling down the slopes. The drummers thrash around as the slow burn of sound drops quickly into a primal and thunderous drums interlude. Trucks and Jaimoe serve and return poly rhythms, chuchuttas, and accents like tennis players on acid. It's drum interludes like this that make me think how underrated these guys are, especially when compared to Billy and Mickey of the Grateful Dead, who get the press. These drums compare or surpass many of the 1970 GD drums which in my opinion did get kinda redundant (ducks from flying tomato's). I digress, Oakley enters the drum battle as the drummers sit back with hi hat strikes and a simmering percussive backdrop to which Barry can have a solo spot. Oakley replies with an stunningly amazing bass solo littered with a creative high melodicism, and detonated "Barry Bombs". Oakley's frighteningly fast fret work eventually becomes a groovy swing fest with the drummers sympathetically listening and responding to Oakley's statements. After the rhythm section hits a frozen mountain plateau, Oakley climbs the rungs of the ladder to expose a dual guitar explosion that leads back to the bedrock of "Mountain Jam".
     Dickey and Duane return to familiar territory and explore the barren mountain landscape, with intertwining and sometimes dueling lines. At around twenty four minutes in Duane puts on his slide initiating a ethereal and dreamy panorama. The cymbals chime and create a otherwordly enviroment where the air holds an electric charge and is tangible to the eyes. Oakley is constantly inventing new ways to avoid the root note as he dances delicately on the precipice. Duane's slide spot develops into a swinging strut which quotes "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Duane "sings" the traditional melody through his attentive playing. The meshing gears of the band slowly wind and accelerate, Betts joins Duane's slide work and the two start to create a tapestry of notes, euphoric, and mind boggling. Oakley sneaks underneath the maelstrom of spindrift notes, thundering a deeper melody.
     At thirty minutes or so an orchestrated theme similar to ideas found in "Black Hearted Woman" develops with Betts and Allman peeling off notes like they are eating oranges. The jam again rises and rises with the entire band on board playing for the muse, and going whichever way their journey takes them. In a moment they top off at a scenic overlook, and the band tumbles into a "Hey Bo Diddley" themed segment that in a creatively herky jerky fashion begins. Similar to an alpine icicle the music smoothly drips into a crystaline dual guitar statement of the theme. Greg's shifty organ work dynamically moves in conjunction the churning guitars. Dickey and Duane then enter a call and response portion that is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Two instruments, one mind.   
     Betts and Allman both begin to use a over driven tone, signalling the drummers to pick up the pace at roughly thirty seven minutes. This patiently develops into a monstrous guitar driven orgasm that exhibits both beauty and then a crashing return to a twinkling and levitating space. Deconstructing "Bo Diddley" into a fragmented expanse, Duane and Dickey space out with unique melodic statements, with only Oakley's thick woody bass holding them to the mountainside. This transforms into a nice improvisational segment where each of the string players take turns leading the band into unmapped territory. Oakley's playing is awe inspiring and mind blowing.This extended jam then again disassembles itself into a tapestry of stars, where the music just hangs in the balance directed by an unseen force.
     I'm losing track of time because of the constant development of new ideas and the shifting aural portrait created by the band. But I will say at around forty four minutes the band leaves the improvisational snow field and hits on revolving dual guitar line that pushes them closer to the wind blown mountain summit obscured by hazy clouds. Oakley drops heavy chords under Duane and Dickey's two guitars as they probe the unseen mountaintop. Their notes colliding and then splitting down the middle and traveling different paths, sometimes unable to be differentiated from one another. Sometimes one of them taking off like a down hill skier alone to explore, while one rests on a hollow frozen log, only to rejoin in perfect harmony. A straight rock and roll jam matures from the return to the "Mountain Jam" ideas. Duane, Dickey and Gregg each take a mini breakdown as the band navigates through some rock changes. This continues a diverse and amazing display of instrumental virtuosity, as I feel I have traveled to many musical worlds in the span of an hour. In the blink of an eye the band returns to the "Mountain Jam" theme right on time and right on target. The group coalesces back into one organism to restate the theme, an unbroken circle, blissfully unaware of the magic that they have just created. The song concludes in a large finale of sound and crashes to its end. The crowd is ecstatic, I am snapping, and Gregg thanks the appreciative people who have gathered.
     If what has just transpired is not enough, the band returns, and Gregg states, "This is our hometown and you only have to ask us but once". The group then explodes into the double hitter of "Don't Want You Know More" segued into "It's Not My Cross to Bear". "Don't Want You No More" is a quick prelude but contains its many complex and groovy changes. Gregg takes a first solo, followed by Duane and then Betts, settimg the table for the soulful and well sung 'It's Not My Cross to Bear". 'It's Not My Cross To Bear" is the show stopper it continues to be right up through today. Greg growls the verses like a bluesman wise beyond his young years. Beginning the song with a powerful and stirring "Oh Yeah", Gregg sings it and makes the assembled crowd listen. Duane and Dickey both take slick and emotive solos, building until they coalesce with machine gun rapid snare hits and furious fret work by Oakley. The song climaxes and concludes stunningly, a fitting end to the over an hour of intense musicianship. The band says "Thank You", and that's that. The venue must be still reverberating with the intense musical alchemy that took place that night. I know that listening to this historical snapshot has caused some revolutions in my head!
     This soundboard recording captures the Allman Brothers Band at the time when they are finding out what kind of musical beast they have created, and what they can do with it. There is a generous helping of improvisational magic to be conjured during a listening session of this performance. All of the band members receive an opportunity to express and share their musical prowess. I can only hope that the songs leading up to the climatic "Mountain Jam", and double encore somehow find their way into our hands eventually. I can safely assume that they are as devastating and powerful as the tracks we have. This line up of the Allman's would be too short lived, as within the next three years "Skydog" and Barry Oakley would be gone from this earth, and ironically the band would start to receive its greatest popularity, but at the price of losing its heart and soul. This is the "real deal", accept no substitutes, the "Allman Brothers Band".

Mountain Jam 5-23-1970 (8 mins)

Whipping Post 9-23-1970


Friday, March 15, 2013

"On the Cosmic Range"-Gene Clark's 1974 LP No Other

      There is a beautiful record being caressed by my turntable's needle today, aurally stitching multicolored strands of sound into a delicate design. Released in late 1974 Gene Clark's 'No Other" disappeared quickly from distribution and circulation as its unusual musical contents were in direct contrast to what Clark's label was in search of, and what they believed the public craved. "No Other" is a highly experimental record containing only eight extended and artfully expansive tracks. By 1976 the album could no longer be found and had been deleted from Asylum's catalog. In a ironic twist of fate the LP is now viewed as Clark's masterpiece, as well as one of the great misplaced records of the 1970's. Clark's disappointment in his 'masterpiece' being pushed to the side, and not promoted, signaled the end of his career as a major label artist. Conflicts with David Geffen, and a refusal to conform to the normal business practices of the music industry sealed Gene's fate as a highly misunderstood, and hard to work with artist. The LP's eclectic cover art, extended tracks, and lack of a "hit single" set the stage for its collapse. I believe now music fans are understanding the value of Clark as an artist. It's my opinion that the music world has finally caught up with an album that was about twenty years ahead of its time, and Clark is finally receiving his dues as one of the finest singer/songwriters of his generation, and as the forefather of "country rock" and "Cosmic American music".

     The LP opens with the silver ring of Clark's acoustic guitar and the swing of 'Life's Greatest Fool". Cementing his argued position as one of the developers of country rock, Clark opens the experimental record with a straight forward, melodically pleasing, country swing. Clark's soaring tenor takes off on the chorus's with a hearty vibrato, that is chill inspiring. Adding to the "homegrown" feeling of the opening track are Jesse Ed Davis's recognizable Telecaster twangs. The highly sought after rhythm section of Leeland Sklar and Russ Kunkle pushes the groove in their locked down rhythmic dance. Tasteful backing vocals, and a toe tapping chorus make "Life's Greatest Fool" an easy song to hear, and a nice introduction to the rest of the LP, before things start to get strange!

     One of Clark's most beloved songs, "Silver Raven" follows, again opening with a woody Clark acoustic guitar strum ,and embellished with a warm and slippery Sklar bass line. "Silver Raven" flutters across the room, its symbolism encoded in its dusky melody, and tempting electric guitar filigrees by riff master Danny Kootch, who can be found all over many great records of the 1970's. The "Silver Raven" travels through the simple instrumentation of the song,but contains a deep introspection and inner reflection throughout its verses. Clark's vocals drip over the melody a liquid chocolate, velvet and all encompassing, curling upwards at the ends of lines like the wind blown hair of a beautiful girl. "Silver Raven" looks down at the world below with a curious eye, and a heavy heart, asking the listener, "Have you seen the changing windows, or the sea beyond the stars, and the sky beyond the sunbeams, and the world beyond your dreams?".

     The title track, and centerpiece of the album appears next with "No Other". In my mind's eye I see a enigmatic shape hidden by mists, revealing its unknown properties through flashing glimpses, but never telling all of its secrets. The introduction of the song a series of bass and keyboard flourishes building in intensity with percussive hits. A slightly electronic vibe comes from the track, in total contrast to its organic content. Clark's vocals move seductively in conjunction with the keyboard melody lines, finally climaxing into Joe Lala's cowbell inspired mid song breakdown. There has never been a better use of rock cowbell in my opinion! "No Others" unique instrumentation should not obscure its intense message that no matter what, "All alone we must be part of one another". This track is based around mood and vibe more than arrangement, just listen to it, because words fail to express its power and intrigue.
      What feels like a suite of songs to my ears, "No Other" slips into "Strength of Strings", which is in my opinion the best song on the record, as well as one of my all time favorite songs in general. The dramatic instrumentation is driven by arpeggio piano flourishes that dance like spring rain flourishes across a green body of water. The song contains a heavy spiritual vibe that feels like its genesis was on another planet. Clark's vocals never more emphatic and ascending higher and higher in sound and emotional content. Introduced by wordless falsetto vocals, the song balances delicately through sound and silence until erupting into the majestic base of the track. Clark on a mountain summit, singing through cavernous canyons, creeks, and emerald gully's, his voice an omniscient presence raining to earth from the levitated clouds. That is the attraction of this LP,  the tasteful orchestration and production by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, that sounds spacious, but ends up subdued and slightly invisible enveloping the song in a tasteful transparent shroud."No Other" and "Strength of Strings" combine to make a powerful and definitive statement on the LP. It's puzzling why this recording was not a defining moment for Clark. During this period of the 1970's, in my opinion, only Bowie was creating such emotive soundscapes, this is a thinking man's music. You will be hard pressed to find another opening side of a record that reveals so much upon every listen.

     The second side of the LP opens with another extended epic based around a metallic piano melody. "From a Silver Phial" is a song that rolls gently across abandoned pathways and bi-ways, rumored to have drug connotations, but really a song that brings to mind images of castles, night skies, and mystics. Jessie Ed Davis's watery guitar solo sits at the songs center, and like all of his studio additions is amazing and perfect. The chorus of angelic voices that collaborate with Clark's lofty vocals lend the song a magical and glorious edge. Just when you think the LP has peaked, Gene pulls out another work of art that sounds timeless, classic, and futuristic all at once.
     Following next is "Some Misunderstanding", a song that reportedly came to Clark in a dream. This story is fitting because the song levitates in a dream like state for its duration. Smooth slide guitar, and drumless interludes draw focus to the personal and desperate lyrics. "We all need a fix at times like this, But doesn't it feel good to be alive". Every track on this album feels like a self contained piece of art. There are no throwaways here, the delicate detail and care is felt in every turn of phrase, guitar lick, and percussive hit. This track sets the stage for the spacy instrumentation that hangs like ancient vines all over side two of the record.

     "The True One" breaks the meditative spell of side two with a country lilt that brings to mind Clark's work with Douglass Dillard. "The True One" deals with illusion and reality, friends and enemies, all with a helplessly catchy melody. Pedal steel lends a weeping classic country ballad feel to the jaunty number. A fitting uplifting song that helps take the edge of the heavy vibe that is permeating the LP. Probably besides "Life's Greatest Fool", the most "normal" song on the record for lack of a better term. A song that grounds the listener who may be feeling numerous emotions during a listening session of the record.

     Ending the LP on a dreamy positive note, "Lady of the North" begins and I can feel a crisp mountain breeze mess my hair, and the rich scent of pine enter my nose and tickle my senses. The images of the song develop like an old Polaroid, "the earth was like a pillow", "the seasons roll under the sun". The song stretches for the sky, growing, until reaching the descending and slightly funky middle eight where the keyboards and strings converge in beautiful harmony. "Lady of the North" is a fitting conclusion to the record, whispering a breath of hope across the jagged landscape of mixed emotions expressed across the LP.

     "No Other" is a record that depending on your state of mind, can act as a therapeutic device for drawing out emotions and revealing clandestine feelings. Clark was a master as expressing numerous moods through straight forward but descriptive lyrical content. His throaty vibrato vocals act as the messenger, delivering the message in towering and powerful blasts. I hope that this entry will help to introduce or remind music fans of Gene's contributions to the music world. After leaving The Byrds, Gene continued to create and express, but unfortunately not in the spotlight, which was filled by fellow bandmates, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. The respect that Clark was due has just started to float his way, just much too late for him to reap the benefits. If as a music listener you are in search for something that you may have never heard before, or that has the strength to change the way you listen and view the world, this may be the record you have been waiting for.

No Other-Complete


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Put the Boot In: "Rock Your Soul"-Van Morrison Anaheim California November 16, 1974

     Today, a sunny winter day seems to be a fitting backdrop to a jazzy and loose audience recording of Van Morrison and band from fall of 1974. Featuring a stripped down four piece unit, this recording features Morrison at his (in my humble opinion) most expressive, and spotlights his numerous and amazing musical abilities. This recording is of an unknown lineage and contains moments of heavy chatter and noise, but regardless of these anomolies, the drums pop, the keys are crisp and the vocals come through like a wind chime ring on the cool breeze. The drums do have moments of being slightly muffled, but all in all the stripped down band gives the instruments ample room to breathe. The performance is a superlative and sophisticated collection of songs from a cross section of Morrison's career, played with great care and enthusiasm. I can tell you my dear reader, that this is one of the most enjoyable "Put the Boot's In" that I have composed. I hope you enjoy it too.

     After an introduction by bass player and stand in MC Jerome Rimson, the band consisting of drummer Peter VanHook, and keyboard player Pete Wingfield groove quietly preparing for Morrison's entrance to the stage. Coinciding with Van's appearance the group breaks into the funky Fender Rhodes infected "Naked In the Jungle", a tune never making an appearance on a official release until The Philospher's Stone CD collection. This recording sounds amazing on headphones, with the ambiance of the venue and sound of the band shining nicely. Quick hitting hi hat exclamations, and Van's groovy motown vocals make this a stellar and rare opener to the evening of music.

     Without missing a beat the band slides into "Wild Children" off of 1973's "Hard Nose the Highway", with Van laying down dreamy and pointed acoustic guitar licks prior to the vocals. Another bonus of this stripped down band is that Van is the only guitar player, and his musicianship glistens under the steamy stage lights. "Wild Children" rolls like a dusty wheel on an antique automobile, turning over and over in a steady dance with the two track highway. The four instrumentalists join together in delicate note filled pirouettes that touch fingertips, and then spin away, echoing, replying, and sometimes gazing into each others eyes. The crowd is very appreciative during this number, caught in their own introspective minds as Van, with a history stained voice remembers the "war children", and the memories that bind his generation together through his soaring soulful vocals.

     Pausing briefly, the band then digs into the striding opening guitar strikes of "Bulbs", off of Van's recent LP release Veedon Fleece. Huge applause pours in from the crowd as the band cooks through the song at a slightly more accelerated pace than the original version without sacrificing any of the emotional content. Van's throat a heavenly instrument of flesh, creates it's own tempo's around the rotating groove of the group. His vocal timbre flying like a speeding erratic bird, diving, climbing, and soaring. The accompanying piano gently tip toes across the percussive acoustic guitar strokes like a fire walker. I can honestly say that this version of "Bulbs" is so melodically enriching and chill bump inspirational, that I feel levitated and warmed in a spiritual way. This is essential listening.
     After the enlightening version of "Bulbs", the crowd can be heard letting out a collective sigh as the recognizable bass line to "Into the Mystic" begins. The tune is loose, slightly funky and perfectly groovy. The great Celtic story teller Morrison is feeding off of the communal vibe that translates from the venue, across the years and to the tape. "Into the Mystic" stretches its legs nicely, but there are longer versions (not necessarily better) that exist on this tour. Van gets the crowd going with his accented and punctuated vocal gymnastics, that dangle of the music in their own tempo and time. The spongy Fender Rhodes squishes softly for the "fog horn" lines, contributing a soaking color. The song reaches a fitting climax with Morrison digging in for the "rock your soul" ending with raspy peaking screams, interacting perfectly with the instrumental swells.

     Starting as the applause from "Into the Mystic" is still fading to black, "Help Me" shuffles in with a downtown confidence, and bluesy longing. A Sonny Boy Williamson number that Morrison preformed throughout his career with a loving intensity, this version contains Morrison's harp joining with Wingfield's piano out of the verse in a euphoric and awe inspiring tango. Echoing and confirming a voice from the audience that can be heard on the tape replying, "Van is doing everything tonight"!

     Nestled in a recording full of highlights, the one that shines the brightest is the performance of "Cul de Sac" off of Van's 1974 LP "Veedon Fleece" that follows next. Preformed only two times ever, this version contains a breath taking Morrison saxophone solo and tempo shifting and accentuated Morrison vocals. Van growls, grunts, wines, and soars vocally in much the same way he blows saxophone, fluid, elevated and melodic. The reaction on the recording by the audience tells me that the crowd is aware that they just witnessed something special. One of Van's greatest songs, captured for posterity on this amazing field recording.

     Without pause the band initiates a pulsing cadence and swings into "Joyous Sound", another song that would not see official release until some years later. Again, Morrison digs deep for some soulful swinging saxophone, and scatting vocals. The band chugs along like a nimble jazz quartet impressively for the short and sweet jazzy interlude. The floating sparse arrangement serves this band lineup well as they can really steer the groove to whatever direction suits them.

     Morrison keeps the energy up with an earthy rendition of the Ray Charles number "I Believe to My Soul" that sneaks through the venue on a hazy midnight creep. Containing a smokey and slinky groove, Morrison pulls out his saxophone again, for a series of blue notes that joust with the plush keyboard funk that echo his musical sentiments. Morrison dynamically serenades the assembled crowd with creamy smooth lines and gruff sandy growls honoring Charles original version. "I Believe to My Soul" again, with barley a pause pours itself into "Listen to the Lion" seamlessly. Song after song the performance keeps topping itself.

     "Listen to the Lion" begins with a rolling acoustic Morrison solo guitar excursion full of original melodic ideas that leave me shaking my head at the wealth of musical statements that Morrison conjures from the atmosphere. This 1974 tour was filled with extended versions of "Listen to the Lion" and this version is probably no different, but unfortunately cuts out at a bit over four minutes.  In that four minutes we do get to hear some aggressive and gritty Morrison vocals that aurally feel like sandpaper grinding on a fresh scented slab of wood. I wish there was more of this version available, but so is the world of bootlegs, where we have to be happy with what is available.

     Where "Listen to the Lion" cuts at the end we are thrown into a "I've Been Working" that is already in progress and join as it speeds along city streets, late for its time clock punch. The band drives a sturdy version at a furious rate containing popping high hat strikes and harp wines that take my breath away. The crowd claps along sprightly with the cooking group pushing them to greater heights. The band eventually fades the song down to silence leaving only Van to introduce "Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket" with several freight train harmonica blasts. Spotlighting the harp and some Otis Spann like rolling piano, the group vamps on some straight Chicago blues showcasing their adept abilities at moving from jazz to blues, to straight rock, no chaser.

     Following the previous two crowd pleasing smokers, again a master of moods, Van brings the groove to a gentle place as the band twinkles and swirls their way into a stardust bedazzled "It's Not the Twilight Zone". Again, this is a song that would not see release until 1998 and was unfamiliar to the crowd at the time. Van raps his way through the beginning changes of the tune, sharing a intimate dialog with the audience, about late night coffee and smokes. Cozy and plush, brushes and tinkled keys, Van sings in a honey drenched falsetto that elicits yells of appreciation from the crowd. Similar to "Cul de Sac" Van keeps the attention of the crowd with his shifting and emotive vocals that range from slippery woodwind to raspy screaming horn blasts. There are some slight microphone rumbles in the beginning of the song, but nothing to distracting from the dynamic performance. The sound of the recording stays pretty consistent throughout the show with minimal distractions. There is a slight cut/blip during this song, but again it is a minimal deterrent. Once Morrison and the band hit the proper groove, Van starts to free flow, and sing off microphone to the delight of the crowd. The crowd responds in kind, and the back and forth of crowd and performer is a pleasure to behold on the recording. The MC announces, "Van Morrison everybody!", and the show reaches its conclusion.

     After the encore break the band returns and immediately shakes their way into "Moondance" making their way through the changes instrumentally prior to the verses. "Moondance" charges forward in a tempo that fluctuates at a faster rate than the studio version, and then slips its way into a temperature raising version of "Fever". Sandwiched by "Moondance" on either side "Fever" is nestled comfortably by the cool moonlight that surrounds it. Morrison uses "Fever" to introduce the members of the band, before completing the cycle with a sax interlude, and a slick return to "Moondance".

      The obvious crowd pleaser and proper show closer, Van and the band shimmy into a "sand in your sandals" sounding version of "Brown Eyed Girl" that brings to mind visions of Jimmy Buffett. "Brown Eyed Girl" bats her eyes longingly and quickly, while she sips a drink by the bronzed steel drums player. The crowd sings and claps along to a celebratory version, bringing to a close a wonderful and diverse set of music.

     Van Morrison's live act in the fall of 1974 was a loose and minimal affair that in my opinion injected a improvisational and unique groove to Morrison's catalog. His prior 1973 "big" band brought out different aspects of his "soul" side, while this group, I assert, revealed his multiple instrumental talents, with a focus on the "song". Like all great artists Morrison would soon move in another direction, but during this featured era he was writing prolifically, and performing uniquely. I highly recommend digging into the performances available from this time period for a glimpse of unreleased music, instrumental prowess, and towering vocal displays.

Cul de Sac Anaheim 1974


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jimi Hendrix: "Lord, There's Got to be Some Changes" -People, Hell and Angels

 Uh oh, another Hendrix reissue? I found myself saying the same thing when I heard the word there was going to be another posthumous archive release coming out this March. Well, I got my hands on it this week, so of course, it is what's spinning in the "rock room" today. I'll admit I bought the compact disc version of this release, as I could not make the vinyl happen, so that is what I'll be reviewing here. The title "People, Hell, and Angels" is created on the theme of Hendrix moving outside the parameters of the "Experience" and mixing and matching with various musician friends. Many of the tracks on this release have been restored to their original "versions", with the tampering of post-Hendrix producers removed.  This is a proper release, and warranted, containing a few surprises for the hardcore, and familiar melodies for the newer initiates into the Hendrix catalog.

     The collection opens with a late 1969 "Band of Gypsy's" version of "Earth Blues", unadorned, and stripped to its basic elements, a fitting opener to the set. Cox and Miles are locked in a earthy groove in which Hendrix's transistor radio funk riffs, shake off their electric fuzz. Nothing earth shattering, but a nice opener to the collection. An important glimpse into Hendrix's musical development in a era of constant flux.

      The next track "Somewhere" is a different beast altogether. Whereas the first track "sounds" like an outtake to these ears, "Somewhere" sounds like a fully fleshed out composition. Featuring Stephen Stills an bass, and Buddy Miles on drums, this version of "Somewhere" is unaffected by insensitive overdubs, or meddling producers hands. Hendrix flows through the lyrics rhythmically, like a stone skipping across a glass lake. He pours liquid wah wah notes in between verses that develop into an uplifting melodic change at two minutes. A levitating and rotating major key riff floats inches above Stills melodically slithering bass underpinning. Quickly changing, the jam shifts into a swinging bluesy climax that slickly slides back into the body of the song. A searing series of instrumental highlights fill up this early track on the collection.

     The next song is recognizable for its inclusion on numerous Hendrix's releases, and rightfully so. "Hear My Train A Comin" is a song that anyone would be hard pressed to find a bad version of. The performance included here is from the first "Band of Gypsys" session on May 21, 1969. While not as extended as some live versions, there is a palpable enthusiasm quaking throughout this studio recording. Buddy Miles plays with a bricklayers hands, as Cox per usual, is attentive to every slight twitch or look Hendrix gives, with melodic ideas as endless at a Delta country road. At around four minutes Hendrix starts to unravel, and hits a country blues groove as thick as maple syrup, real blues. Wow, another Hendrix reissue? Yes, please. Keep finding these rare goods, I'm sold!

     From the same session a funked up, juke joint version of "Bleeding Heart" follows. Punctuated by "Have mercy!" yells, and Delta flavored off mic hollers by Jimi, this is the real deal. A completely unique version according to the liner notes, and a special one confirmed by my ears. Slowed down, with every nook and cranny investigated, this is also a spectacular find.

     The next song "Let Me Move You" is a Hendrix original and comes from a March 1969 Record Plant session, and features Lonnie Youngblood on saxophone and vocals, and Jimi on "public saxophone". Playing with various backing musicians Hendrix psychedelically surfs over the top of the shimmying soul stew being layed down. This song is a prime example of the direction that Hendrix was drifting toward, with a more "big band" feel, reminiscent of a group such as "Electric Flag". This one is hot to the touch, with Jimi's quicksilver guitar spraying shots of creative ideas, that spring from an endless multicolored well. This number approaches seven minutes, and there is plenty to be digested in this version.

     The cut of "Isabella" that comes next was recorded after the "Gypsy, Suns, and Rainbow's" experiment the occurred at Woodstock. Hendrix's "big band" recorded this version of "Isabella" featuring Larry Lee on rhythm guitar and two extra percussionists, two weeks after the festival. The song has a elastic and loose groove, in contrast to the eventual 1970 single release. While not a "definitive" version, a nice glimpse into Hendrix's creative song development, and a view of what "Isabella" sprouted from.

    "Easy Blues" is another one of those songs that make this collection so worthwhile. Recorded at the same session as the previous track, this selection again uses Hendrix's Woodstock line up. The instrumental track saw a release previously on the deleted Hendrix LP, "Nine to the Universe". The version on this set in unedited and extended. Based around a jazzy Billy Cox bass line, and jumpy Larry Lee rhythm guitar, Jimi plays some slow watery licks that develop into mid tempo swing, and eventually into a ambling rock jam, peaking out with a series of repetitive treble filled Hendrix screams from his Stratocaster. The band sounds much tighter here than their Woodstock performance, with the intimate confines of the studio most likely adding to their chemistry. Mitch Mitchell's diverse and multilayered poly rhythms, playing tag with Hendrix's jumpy riffing is a wonderful highlight.

     Following "Easy Blues" comes the track "Crash Landing", a song which was completely dismembered for the posthumous LP release of the same name in the mid 1970's. Again, featured on this set is the original April 1969 recording untouched from the way it was recorded. Layed down with Billy Cox and "The Cherry People", this embryonic version of "Freedom" is a tempo shifting groove fest. At a bit past two minutes Hendrix groans a series of prickly engine noises which make this version worth its wait in gold. Another beautiful choice for the set by the powers that be.

     Following "Crash Landing","Inside Out" is a song that hails from June 1968, and features Mitch at the drum stool and Jimi on guitar and bass. The track is a hybrid of some of the tempos that would become "Ezy Ryder", and also from the Experience cover song "Tax Free". Basically an instrumental jam,the song is interesting because of Hendrix playing both bass and guitar, his multiple abilities on full display. Highlights include virtuous moments on both stringed instruments, and Mitchell's always fascinating quilted drum patterns.

     "Hey Gypsy Boy" comes from a March 1969 session and unlike much of the rest of the collection does sound like they may have scraped the bottom of the barrel a bit with this track. Now, I am of the opinion that all Hendrix is good Hendrix, but this early version of "Hey Baby" feels slightly out of place nestled amongst the other items on this set. It does feel like a practice more than even a take, but still has a few great moments that all Hendrix lovers will take solace in.

     Beginning with some muscular tribal drum hits, the "Ghetto Fighters" "Mojo Man" was gracefully adorned by Hendrix when the "Ghetto Fighters" came to lay some vocals down for Jimi in August 1970. Hendrix then added his signature style to the already painfully funky track. Brimming with feedback laced notes that dance tunefully over the driving soul of the band, Jimi fits into place like he never stopped being a sideman, with respectful, dynamic, and mind blowing playing. Jimi is part of the band on this song, but also showing off individually with some of his most mature playing on record.

     The collection closes with a short "Villanova Junction Blues" recorded May 21st 1969 with the Gypsy's line up featured elsewhere on this collection. This is a work in progress, but acts as a fitting conclusion to the "People, Hell and Angels" set. Slow and moody, the band works on the changes as Hendrix riffs around probing the landscape for new life. There is a certain poignancy to the song in this infantile state, unfortunately right as Jimi starts to increase his riffing the track fades to black.
     The new Hendrix archive release exceeded my admittedly low expectations for yet another posthumous collection of music from Jimi's lightning strike career. I do recommend the set for any Hendrix fan who was on the fence regarding another anthology of rehashes. I have been intensely surprised by the new inclusions on the set, as well as the "Let Me Love You", and "Mojo Man" tracks which contain the usual jaw drop moments. I am not sure if there can possibly be anything left to release with the exception of live performances, as I was doubtful before the appearance of this collection! If we do not see another release, this set is a fitting conclusion, because Experience Hendrix did not sacrifice any quality by digging too deep, and releasing total crap. This set nestles nicely along side the other Experience Hendrix anthologies, which pay the proper respect to his studio outtakes and live shows. Put any doubts aside, and feel confident that there is still one good release to come from the Hendrix catalog. You need this one. Famous last words for all "rock geeks" and collectors.

Somewhere-People, Hell and Angels


Friday, March 1, 2013

Bob Dylan-"Mixed Up Confusion"- The 50th Anniversary Collection Limited

      Today in the "rock room" I am partaking in a strange, but definitive Bob Dylan release referred to as "The 50th Anniversary Collection", also known as "The Copyright Extension Collection Vol 1". This 86 track set of Dylan songs from the early stages of his career is a European only release and only around 100 copies were pressed. Strange? Yes. The reason behind this sets public release is to stop the escape of these tunes into the public domain. The songs on this collection hail from 1962-63 and due to European copyright loopholes, the set was sent to a few random European record stores at the end of 2012 to prevent the songs from entering the public domain half a century after their creation. European lawmakers have a "use it or lose it" provision regarding their copyrights, and all of the songs on this set were due to be unprotected by 2014. By releasing the songs, ownership remains with Dylan, and the speculation is that they are being readied for a future release, thus the "Copyright Collection". It remains to be seen if any other artists with threatened copyrights follow suit. Copies of the set in its plain brown "bootleg" type packaging have been fetching over $1000.00 on internet auction sites. How do I have the set? That's a secret, but you can hear all about it here in my blog! That's why I'm here!

     The Dylan set contains like I previously stated 86 tracks, so a song by song analysis is not reasonable for this space, but I will give a detailed overview of the assortment of songs contained. Many of the songs are "Freewheeling Bob Dylan" outtakes, but also included are crisp tracks from live performances at various musical venues such as the Gaslight, Finjan Club, and Carnegie Hall. Disc one of the anthology begins with tracks from April of 1962 and moves into songs recorded in July of 1962. There are multiple versions of many of the songs, including numerous "take ones". The sound quality is legendary with many of the outtakes sounding better than the official releases.

     Highlights of disc one are a backcountry version of  "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow" containing some honky-tonk Dylan vocalizations, and swelling railroad harp blasts, as well as a tumbling circular version of "Rocks and Gravel" that elicits a shadowy country road, and a longing, slightly darkened heart. Listening to this collection has a semblance of similarity to digging into a Son House, Robert Johnson, or Charley Patton stack of 78 records, or even a Alan Lomax collection of traditional tunes. Dylan's songs have a sepia toned historic importance to them. Even though Dylan is still recording and performing to this day, the breezes of time have made these songs part of the American patchwork, and an important documentation of folk, blues, and the formative stages of self penned rock and roll. Take 3 of "Baby Please Don't Go" is another dusty book pulled off of the shelf, spotlighting Dylan's quaint blues picking, and moaning harp blasts. The segment featuring Robert Johnson's "Milk Cow Blues" with Dylan on piano is soul stirring, Dylan channels the blues greats with his field hollers, and falsetto sailing vocals. I am not overstating it when I say that this collection is one of the greatest things I have ever experienced! Following the piano "Milk Cow Blues" is a acoustic guitar version that is just as moving. Other tracks on disc one worth mentioning is the take one of "Blowing In The Wind", and the horny, roll in the hay, "Baby I'm In the Mood For You".

     The second disc takes off with a series of outtakes from the October 1962 LP sessions. The takes of "Corinna, Corinna" are glistening, fragile examples of Dylan's play with phrasing and expressiveness while at work. You can't help but smile at the three takes of Dylan's arrangement of"That's All Right Mama" that sizzle like sugar to a flame. Foreshadowing the kinetic, electric days on the horizon, these takes are antique filaments, glowing, ready to erupt into multidimensional revelatory rock and roll. After take one Dylan can be heard, "do it again fast while we're still here", priceless gold. The sessions move into November and the seven takes of "Mixed Up Confusion" share a unique insight into the development of the song,(which never saw release in this guise) as well as Dylan's adept maneuvering in the studio. Again, Dylan's forward thinking and rock and roll roots are on full display by take ten, with Dylan and his band speeding down the line slightly out of control. Additional highlights of disc two are alternate versions of "The Ballad of Hollis Brown", "I Shall Be Free" and the ghostly finger picked unreleased Dylan tune "When Death Comes Creepin (Whatcha Gonna Do?)". The disc closes with the aptly titled and hum-dinging "Hero Blues", which would finally emerge from obscurity when Dylan broke it out with a super powered version by  "The Band" on their 1974 tour.

     Disc three opens with what is familiar to Dylan collectors as the 'Mackenzie Home Tapes", with six songs being featured. The final two discs of this set collect live performances, most recognizable to Dylan fans, but in pristine sound quality, and revealing  different faces than the normal "bootleg" releases. This "Mackenzie Tape" is dated from Fall 1962. Five songs then follow from Gerde's Folk City dating from April 16th 1962. Slightly hissy, but sounding studio quality, these performances are amazing. The give and take with the crowd is evident, with discussion and chuckles audible on the recording during a "straight up" "Talkin New York. Coffee rings are visible on the tables, smoke drapes itself over the hipsters as traffic noise filters in a swinging door to the rain soaked street, this segment of prime Dylan puts you there, gives you the "Deep Ellum Blues". Disc three closes with the complete Finjan Club performance from July 2nd 1962, which is in my opinion the definitive early Dylan performance as far as song choice, quality, and availability. The version of "Stealin" is leg slappin, stuttering, performance, with assured and confident playing. "Hiram Hubbard" is a rarely played social commentary song, that gets a sophisticated and deep reading here. My personal favorite highlights are a gentle puppy like reading of "He Was a Friend of Mine", that travels along a percolating bass note and and ringing melody line. Dylan sounds wise beyond his years, and everything he says, I am convinced is true. "Let Me Die In My Footsteps", "Two Trains Runnin", and "Ramblin On My Mind" all receive authoritative readings saturated with emotion and Dylan's investment to become the performer he was destined to become. Dylan's early of mastery of blues at such a young age is staggering to me. Two fun and chuckle filled attempts of "Muleskinner Blues" close out the performance and the disc.

     Disc four begins with he the complete Carnegie Hall Hootenanny audience recording from September 22, 1962, which to these ears sounds much better then what I have previously heard. Dylan opens with a well played "Sally Girl" stretched out instrumentally and with some huff and puff harmonica. Dylan tunes down for the "Highway 51" that follows and gives himself a chance to dip his ladle into the cool well of the blues, "Dylan renames the song "Highway 75" in his introduction. The performance then turns a bit more serious topically as he concludes his set with "Talkin John Birch Paranoid Blues", "Ballad of Hollis Brown" "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". The wealth and diversity of Dylan's catalog at such an early time and performed such a well known venue is an honor to witness aurally through these tapes. Wow. The collection concludes with absolutely immaculate  recordings of Dylan at the Gaslight on October 15, 1962. On the precipice of his world domination, these quiet and intimate recordings again feature Dylan ablaze, and offer the proof to why he is the songwriter. As Dylan fans know, the reading of "No More Auction Block" from this performance is tear inducing, the vocals so emphatic, the recording so affectionate, and the soul of Dylan so visible, it feels like a glimpse of something clandestine, that should only be glimpsed by the most private eyes. "Motherless Children" continues in the same vein, Dylan is the character's in these songs, he is the narrator and wise sage to advise us even fifty years down the road. Music this unadulterated has no style, it requires none. It's emotional content and portrayal of basic human emotions is what makes it valuable, whether it be Dylan penned songs, or his arrangement of traditional tunes, the tapping of the human condition is what keeps these songs relevant.

     I could compose a book about these aforementioned performances, I could ruminate for hours, and if you've made it this far in my blog, thank you for sticking with me. "Black Cross" is an arrangement of a poem by Joseph Newman, set to music by Dylan. A tale of religious persecution, prejudice, and hate, tellingly told like a child's night time story, accompanied by Dylan's patient acoustic strums. Again, a lesson that will never go out of style, as timeless as the songs Dylan was composing, he knew what was important, and the core value of the human condition. "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" the comes next is the definitive version, soaked in venom, sung like a desperate narrator screaming into the silent night. The collection ends with a version of "Aint No More Cane", familiar to Band fans and Basement Tapes aficionados through the version recorded up in Woodstock in 1967. This version is somehow a fitting conclusion to this set, a look toward the future, but still deeply rooted into the past.

     The 50th Anniversary Collection is a strange beast. The contents are amazing and in stellar sound quality . The reasoning for the release different than any other in music history, to protect the songs from becoming common property, yet did that reasoning fail? The songs are already a part of the consciousness of the world, but Dylan has also earned the right to protect them. I'm sure there will be an "official" release of these songs in the United States in the future, that's why they were protected in the first place. But now that they have been "released", even in a limited fashion, things have a way of getting around. Regardless, this is a timeless collection of music that we can learn from, enjoy, become educated through, and just jam. It brings to the surface things that are obvious but somehow obscured by time. It also reminds the listener about how vital Dylan is to the world of music. He truly is an American treasure.

Talkin New York -Gerde's Folk City

Rocks and Gravel