Talk From The Rock Room: 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Take One: Paul McCartney and Wings - 'Take It Chaps' The 1974 Single 'Sally G'

In today's edition of Take One the 'rock room' is enjoying the obscure 1974 'B' side by Paul McCartney and Wings, 'Sally G'. The song is known as the the flip side to the rocking pot farm paean 'Juniors Farm'. 'Sally G' illustrates McCartney's penchant for creating timeless melodies out of countless genres of influence. Country melodies are found patchworked throughout McCartney's musical history, developed in famed tracks like 'Rocky Racoon', 'Two of Us', 'Country Dreamer' and a host of others.

'Sally G' is a shit kicking and muddied boot country lilt recorded when McCartney and Wings glided into Nashville in 1974 for a series of recording sessions. Wings proper is supplemented by Nashville hot shot session men Lloyd Green, Bob Willis and Johnny Gimble Willis contributing on steel guitar, dobro and fiddle respectively while also adding to the legitimacy of Macca's country excursions. The resulting 'B' side which was also McCartney's last Apple single release ended up making an appearance in the country charts as well as a high spot with 'Junior's Farm' on the Billboard charts.

The song's inspiration hails from McCartney's late night visit to 'Painter's Alley', a famed Music City location of note where he took in a host of musical performances by the local talent. 'Sally G' is an alias for any number of the magic Nashville ladies he probably saw that evening. Lyrically the song stays close to the classic country music themes of regret, longing andlosing placed against the setting of a Southern bar room. McCartney deftly collaborates the aforementioned themes into a typically catchy McCartney melody and a middle eight that ties the elements together in your head for the remainder the day.
The classic country influence sparkles under McCartney's British wit tinkering. The track opens on the the breezy swell of steel guitar and fiddle that introduces the gently undulating prairie jaunt. The rhythm is a nod of the cap to the Tennessee Three clip-clopping along while McCartney sweetly croons the verses. The chorus features Linda and Denny Laine joining with Paul and stirring up the signature Wings vocal blend. 'Sally G's' last initial is accentuated with a hayseed falsetto hiccup that cheerfully contributes to the originality of the song.

The tune then rolls into the middle eight where McCartney's melodic prowess takes shape with a flowy 'Beatle-esque,' for lack of a better term, melodic quote that halves the beat while leaving Paul's fingerprint visible in the barn door's wet paint. The change beautifully contrasts the honkyness of the verses. The song returns for a reprise of the verses and concludes as a successful and succulent country honk pop song.

Similarly to his to his excursions into vaudeville, hard rock, funk, electronic and world themes, Paul McCartney's composing abilities always felt like a home cooked meal when bare booting into the warm Southern reaches of influence found in the country music of the United States. In addition, McCartney's early exposures to Country music's greats that were transmitted to his family radio in Liverpool not only sank into his flesh, but also influenced the rock and roll artists McCartney would come to idolize. The early acknowledgement of talent and recognition of influence not only combined to create one of the most unique songwriters of all time, but also some of his most original musical expressions.
Paul McCartney and Wings 1974 single release 'Sally G' was only available for years as the flip on the original 7' vinyl record. That changed with its inclusion as a bonus track on the 1993 compact disc release of Wings at the Speed of Sound and more recently on the 2014 Venus and Mars remaster. As is often the case with prolific artists such as McCartney, (Dylan) some of their best music is inexplicably left off of their mainstream official releases completely or left to languish on the 'B' side of a single that will eventually go out of print. Such is the case with 'Sally G', a lost tune with a limited exposure but brimming with addictive and quintessential McCartney elements. Go dig this one out of the collection, or take a seat in the 'rock room' for a spell to enjoy a deep cut from the McCartney archives.

Sally G

Junior's Farm from Abbey Road

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Put the Boot In: Van Morrison - November 1, 1978 The Bottom Line 'Sugar Was Tough'

Playing in the ‘rock room’ today is a warm and ambient WNEW- FM broadcast of Van Morrison and his 1978 band. Featured in a small classic NYC venue in support of his then current musical offering for the marketplace. Van, along with guitarists Bobby Tench, Herbie Armstrong, bassist Micky Heat, drummer Peter Van Hooke, keyboardist Peter Barding and backing vocalists Anna Peacock and Katie Kissoon appeared at the ‘Bottom Line’ club in the Fall of 1978 for a two show bill broadcast live for a listening audience. 

New instrumental sounds, supported by an original palette of soul, rock, and R and B originals found Morrison again at an artist moment of renewal and of experimentation. Armed with the aforementioned edgy rock band backing, Van used these intimate concerts at the Bottom Line in New York City to present new material from his recently released Wavelength album in addition to some battle tested road warriors. I am enjoying the preserved version of the late show FM broadcast. The early show does circulate as well, but the late show seems to have a slight edge performance wise. 

The set lists are similar between the performances with Van and band opening both shows with a heavy stepping “Moondance’, allowing the crowd to hear Morrison’s most popular number right off of the bat and enabling them to be openly receptive to the new songs to come. Morrison trades verses with a female backing vocalist before he takes a brisk horn break. The immediacy of the band line up and Morrison’s directive is obvious from the opening track.

‘Wavelength’ follows next, the title song from his current album and begins with a weightless introduction punctuated with Morrison’s well timed groans while paired with tasteful and spacey keyboard interjections. The song soon gallops breathlessly into a signature Van Morrison musical sprint by rolling green hills and through cloudy morning mists. The tempo is unwavering and pulsating as Morrison, as will become a theme for the evening grooves over the top with his collaborative vocal excursions. Van enters into a rung by rung duet with the synthesizer before entering a melodic wash that ‘Into the Mystic’ escapes from seamlessly.

‘Into the Mystic’ returns the crowd to familiar territory and is a fine gentle version. Smoothly sung by Van the timeless melody settles into a contemplative drift only woken by big guitar and backing vocals. A song of many versions and this is one of the good ones. The 'Wavelength/Mystic ' duo is a highlight of the show.

Replying in contrast, ‘Checkin It Out’ from the Wavelength album, is an inconspicuous number but is worth a double glance as this version cranes the neck with awesome playing. Carnival keys and jazzy changes are the hallmarks of a deeper Van Morrison cut.

‘Hungry For Your Love’ and its yearning descending melody set a smoky mood for the next  moment of note.  Slightly buzzing late 70’s synth’s echo Morrison’s moody vocal lilt but remain perfectly contemporary shadowing his shaded singing. Morrison gets off with the backing vocalists for a vocal outro jam that again highlights a top performance of the evening.

A high speed, calypso keyboard ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ pays the audience off for their new song patience. As pleasing as ever, Van and band pull of a flawless Summer day performance that becomes a celebratory sing-along complete with percussive synthesizer breakdown. Another big song two-fer is completed with the following number. ‘Crazy Love’ comes next and cools things down with Katie Klasoon taking over lead vocals offering a  unique prospective twist on Van’s original composition.
‘Kingdom Hall’, the opening track from  now hangs its head out of the window on its way to Sunday mass.  With lyrics as free and hopeful as the revival rhythm, Morrison and his backing vocalists get it together with Van’s eye winking commentary. Stand up for this one....its ok, none is looking.

‘Tupelo Honey’ continues the deft set list mix of hits and introductions and follows true to its description. This version is a sticky sweet soul review with whipped keyboards and dynamic vocals by Van the man. Extended for horn, guitar and keyboard solo spots, ‘Tupelo Honey’ acts as a decorative centerpiece of the performance. 

‘Natalia’ follows delicately balanced on the edge of disco but with enough dirt on its shoes to remain truly Van Morrison. A danceable remembrance of love past and possibly recaptured Morrison sings it true and the crowd is right there with him. By songs end he turns the lamps down and sings the song to smouldering embers and evening silence.

Stage favorite ‘Help Me’ comes next entering with a pleading shuffle. Van opens on harp and then digs in for some classic R and B crooning. Perfectly extended, Van’s old band mate from ‘Them’ Peter Barding empties a huge swirling solo onto the track that brings the song to a roaring swell. The responding guitar solo has the same effect. Used as a showcase for the band,‘Help Me’ sizzles for its duration.  Van gets raspy and gritty when asking for his ‘night shirt’ as the song returns to reprise the verses; his vocal grooving is effective in getting the crowd properly worked into a tizzy by the songs conclusion.  

Breathlessly, ‘Wild Night’s strident open guitar picks up from ‘Help Me’s’ concluding notes. ‘Wild Night’ hauls ass and means it. Morrison is in full blow and the band is unable to be stopped. Once again keyboards color the landscape while remaining true to the songs original intentions.  Van mentions allusions to the ‘Slim Slow Slider’ as the band breaks down and he free forms over a slight reggae groove. Morrison intro’s the band while they lay back, before exploding from the island into the closing reprise of the song. 
Again, there is no respite as the band chugs into ‘Joyous Sound’ as ‘Wild Night’ ends, the song perfectly placed as a goodbye to the crowd, exclaiming ‘Whenever we meet again’. The song twirls and whirls the show to a crazy conclusion as the crowd captured on the recording can attest. The version of 'Joyus Sound' acts as a fitting 'Radio I Ching' moment representation for the evening. Van leaves the stage and lets the crowd roar and stir leading him to a encore presentation. The description by the radio broadcaster as they await Van’s return to the stage at this point in the recording is quite humorous.

For the encore Morrison and the band over a slow roll of ‘Caravan’, watery in its presentation and laid back in its dissemination. Morrison in conversational manor slinks his way through the song building to a hand-clapped break down where he brings the assembled crowd to the edge of the precipice increasing the tension with his playful dynamics. Approaching a percussive silence, Morrison finally reveals the ‘Turn it up!’ signal and the band detonates in kind on time to an appreciative crowd!

Morrison returns for a second encore by giving a ‘thumbs up’, before beginning on acoustic guitar a reflective and well timed ‘Cyprus Avenue’. This is what it’s all about; Morrison directs the sympathetic band through a slowly building version of the Astral Weeks classic. The song rises and falls between verses while Morrison offers a restrained but powerful rendition of the song. Spectral keyboards play hide and seek while the drums offer steady punctuation to lyrical moments of note. Vocals are perfect, adorned with unique exclamations and asides. Similar to previous songs of the evening Van brings it way down, playing with the crowd, before popping the cork and entering into a roaring finish. The band winds their way around Morrison and the backing vocalist soulful back and forth on a ‘revelation’ mantra. The guitars build, Morrison screams heartily and the band suddenly frees itself into a fully off the rails acceleration that builds to such a furious rate there is nothing else for it to do but implode onto itself. Revving up for another round, Morrison ends the second conclusion, with screams of ‘Baby’ and ‘It’s too late to stop now!’ as the band plows through another nitrous powered rocket ship finish.

Hailing from an era where musicians like Van Morrison were sometimes viewed as passe’ by certain media channels and mainstream musicians this concert reveals more proof of the superior concerts and stellar songwriting coming from a somewhat clandestine period. Morrison, an artist of constant reinvention is revealed here as an musician willing to restructure, reorganize and retool previous glory’s while constantly creating new and exciting work. This 1978 live performance is a perfect representation of Morrison in another era of change and is worthy of official release and constant inspection.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Put the Boot In: Led Zeppelin March 24, 1973 Offenburg, Germany 'Cold Sweat' - European Tour

Today in the 'rock room' I am enjoying another stellar performance from Led Zeppelin's 1973 European tour. The 'rock room' previously reviewed the excellent Essen, Germany concert from two days prior on March 22, 1973 which can be found here. Everything fell into place for the band on this tour as the perfect combination of health, wealth, practice, friendship, talent and even drugs combined to make the early 1973 performances of Zeppelin definitive statements of peak artistic musical expressions. The recording I am listening to is titled 'Cold Sweat' and features a beautifully captured field recording that not only spotlights a pleasing instrumental balance but an ambience that secures the feel of the crowd, PA and venue. Almost every performance from the third European jaunt for the band offers some moment of virtuous moment of musical madness, but this particular performance from Offenburg finds the best overall show track for track. Here the 'rock room' presents Zeppelin at the peak of their powers and improvisational prowess.

The nicely balanced mono audience recording begins with the MC introduction preceding the typical opener for the era, Zeppelin VI's 'Rock and Roll'. The band crashes into the opener like the echos of post war gunfire. Rumbling like a pair of work boots thrown into a dryer Bonham is especially spunky in his approach. A quintessential and explosive opener for the show and era.

The new for the time 'Over the Hills and Far Away' follows next in its infantile state, with the release of Houses of the Holy approaching within the week. By 1975 renditions of the track would stretch  into musical ridge line alpine excursions and nightly concert highlights. Here this young version features a truncated Page solo spot that still highlights substantial bundles of riffing. The audio of the concert shines here spotlighting Page's over driven Les Paul sounding like multiple guitar players.

Plant speaks to the crowd for the first time introducing a heavy duty reading of 'Black Dog' and the following 'Misty Mountain Hop'/'Since I've Been Loving You' combo. The 'Misty Mountain Hop'/SIBLY' combo contains the same segue illustrated in the Song Remains the Same film but here approached with a deft hand and proper approach. 'Misty Mountain Hop' 'sits stoically in the clouds and releases an avalanche of John Paul Jones keyboards and chest pounding Plant vocals. The real magic occurs when the band slips into 'Since I've Been Loving You', brimming with full band dynamics this particular version steps into the footprints of past versions but leaves the map behind and takes its own unique twists and turns along the musical path. There is a creeping foreboding that emanates from the songs verses that bracket the stunning central solo. Plant uses all of the tools in his vocal arsenal helping to make this an all time rendition.
While the concert does not feature a full acoustic set, it does contain a shit kicking 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp'. The song is Plant's campfire paean to his pup 'Stryder', in contrast to the preceding musical thunder this track acts as a feather on the wind. Lush strums, Bonham backing vocals and a melodic quote from 'That's the Way' are only a few of the highlights.
Following this great version of 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp' is a version of 'Dancing Days' that is missing from the recording.

The Houses of the Holy combo 'The Song Remains the Same'/'The Rain Song' follows and is another musical clinic featuring light, shade, power, grace and dynamic instrumental expression. The band rolls to a boil through 'Song' before settling into the Tolkien-esque world of 'The Rain Song' where fantasy becomes reality and love blooms from the warm musical precipitation. A great version of an oft-played combo freshly minted from their new LP release.

The lofty cloud obscured summit of the show and quite possibly of the entire tour follows as John Paul Jones begins the recognizable opening figure of 'Dazed and Confused'. The introduction stirs like a beast with one eye slightly ajar apprehensive of its surroundings. Page plays a series of harmonics and vibratto'd laser lights to which Bonham responds accordingly. 'Dazed and Confused' uses the same basic format that had been developed throughout the tour for its jam sequence but here is stretched and formed into new and exclusive areas.

After disposing of the verse and chorus the band cracks open the core of the song revealing the rich center. The song accelerates into a downhill groove that rotates around itself gaining inertia and momentum. Page and Bonham intertwine like threads of hearty boat rope under tension. After a mini climax the jam descends into a syncopated theme that opens the gate to Plant's 'San Fransisco' lyrical quotes. Slightly more extended than usual its obvious the band is loving the on stage interactions on this evening.
'San Fransisco' retreats to the mists and Page starts to conjure wispy screams of despair and guttural groans for the expected 'bow' segment .Playing his guitar like a fiddle of he dark lord, Page conjures mythical creatures and mystical spells through his sonic explorations. Plant enters into a carved circle of the earth for a call and response area that sounds inciting yet remains slightly menacing. The duo's song spreads its black wings to pick up John Paul Jones as the band detonates into the famed 'Dazed' mid song mantra. Laying the foundation with a builders hands Jones and Bonham wrench down the infrastructure tightly leaving room for Page's string scribbles.

Changing masks yet again the groove morphs into a 'Crunge' like funk before becoming a more mature jam. The rhythm section is all the rage displaying their adeptness at switching between the poles of musical genres. A brief 'Purple Haze' statement peeks around the corner before Page soars, eyes clenched and strings bent to their breaking point. The jam climbs astonishingly before Page pulls the rip cord, descending back toward the earth. At 19 minutes Page hits on a brisk melody with the band close behind him, he states a theme adjusting on the fly, swimming deep in improv.

The jam has the rug pulled out from under it giving all parties involved a brief respite to catch their breath. Plant and Page again duet with strings and chords to the crowds great pleasure and excitement. Page invites Jones and Bonham to join him once again and the band returns to the molten core of the 'Dazed' central jam. At 21 minutes an awesome run takes place in which Page maliciously strangles notes from his guitar neck as Plant watches in interested delight.

From this point on in the jam Page eradicates the venue and ravages the crowd with an astonishing array of licks, melodic quotes and inspired guitar work. This is the stuff of magic as an open faucet of ideas runs free from Page's ample library of musical alchemy. Jimmy removes himself from the earthly realm with multiple and deranged scales that clamp down the aural capabilities of the audience. This is the essence of Led Zeppelin, a microcosm of their individual elements, the sum greater than the parts. A moment thankfully captured by a fan, immortalized forever, cataloged so that listeners can witness years on what Led Zeppelin is all about.

Page, Bonham and Jones land back into the body of the song, reprising the chorus. The band swaggers as they have to know that they just knocked this one out of the park. Page continues his amazing playing through the verses and mines the same rich vein discovered in the central part of the song. The band slides into the concluding jam and Page reaches for the high hanging fruit, stretching for the ripe and juicy melodic magic. The band comes together for a spectacular conclusion to a special half hour of music.

How do you follow something as stellar as the preceding collection of songs? With a monumental reading of the most recognizable song in rock history, 'Stairway to Heaven' and then another half hour reading of your biggest hit 'Whole Lotta Love'. After a galvanized 'Stairway', which a number of superlatives has already been written comes another elongated jam session.
Once the verses of 'Whole Lotta Love' have been sung Bonham immediately bops into a hi hat smashing and compressed drum accent groove. Page steps on his cry baby stirring the jam into a thick mixture. Plant exclaims, "Do the James Brown' and 'Cold Sweat' and the band enters a statement of the James Brown track even more fully realized than other attempts made during the tour (like 3/22). Things get seriously funky and remain so even as Page starts to conjure sonic anomalies from his Theremin. While Jones and Bonham continue their bridge bolt tight R and B relations Page's sound experiments make a spectral appearance. While Page's 'dogs of doom' howl, Jones and Bonham enter into a sympathetic  drum and bass syncopation; machine like in its rhythmic precision. Page then starts to unravel through multiple diversions from the theme.

Plant joins in with the festivities and right when I think that Pages recognizable studio guitar segment is about to appear Zep rises and a new improvisational passage begins. This segment morphs into a rockabilly rendition of Solomon Burke's 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love'. The song slowly takes shape and soon becomes the recipient of Bonham's slam bam blast beat drums encouraging Led Zeppelin's version of the song into a incendiary 'rave up'. Page's recognizable solo spot comes out from behind the electric curtain and becomes everything you would want it to be. Plant's vocals start to show slight strains at this point, but the music grows in stature.

After an oh so groovy return to the 'Whole Lotta Love' theme the stage grows silent Page and Plant enter into the gritty 'Boogie Chillun' section of the track. Singing to each other through their respective instruments Page and Plant invite Bonham to join in the festivities. The band smashes the glass door leading into 'Boogie Mama' with Page disseminating a plethora of crisp and clean lines. Similar to 'Dazed and Confused' the following series of jams to follow are arguably the best of the year. Sure and steady the band swings while Page reveals riff after jaw dropping riff. The Led Zeppelin jukebox in full effect!

Page continues to solo endlessly while he honky-tonk's the band into a rough and ready 'Your So Square, Baby I Don't Care' where Plant now channels Presley and Bonham navigates the changes with a hammer. Pagey's amphetamine Carl Perkins licks and Eddie Cochran riffs are delightful, respectful, yet wholly original. The real stars of the show here are Jones and Bonham who display not only their rock and roll prowess but how their crispy execution and error free grooves are the impetus that allow Page and Plant the freedom to decorate the songs melodically and at will.
The confetti flies and the jamming continues with a hip grinding 'Let's Have A Party' (also previously covered by Elvis). This is a knee deep dirty and grinding rendition with Plant perfectly on point. Page takes a patient and buttery guitar break and leads the group to an anticipatory pause before perhaps the definitive reading 'I Can't Quit You Baby', tucked inside this tasty rock and roll sandwich.

'I Can't Quit You Baby' is played as a full version and should be in the running for a 'best of all time' version. Regal soling from Page is the hallmark as the mid song solo segment moves from a shuffle to a double time groove. Page's soloing is biting and aggressive with barely a note wasted. He directs Bonham and Jones with pauses, scrubs, climbs and bluesy melodic quotes that differ in their dynamic approach every time. This portion features Page at his very best and Zeppelin at their most powerful. Plant quotes the 'Lemon Song' and as close as a shadow the band follows him. With puckered the jamming the band grips the fruit unleashing the juice and falling into the 'woman' interlude leading back to the 'Whole Lotta Love' conclusion. Woah.

The show concludes when the band returns to the stage with a spiky version of 'Heartbreaker'. On this evening it is as if the band cannot stop! 'Heartbreaker' plows along before it too enters into a Page solo segment which offers up a quote of the '59th Bridge Street Song'. The band tears through the concluding jam with Jones leading the charge before ending the show succinctly. The crowd howls and just like that, Led Zeppelin has performed and finished one of the finest shows of the era.

Beginning on March 4, 1973 in Sweden and concluding on April 4th in France the month long 1973 European tour was a lofty summit of sorts for the band. Building on the previous 5 years the band had developed an impressive catalog as well as second sense when improvising as a band. The groups popularity had exploded  and their nightly concert rituals become mass meetings of clairvoyance, destruction and musical alchemy. While their were many years of magic to come and a number of amazing songs to be written the definitive performances in 1972-1973 would never be equaled by the band. I am sure Talk from the Rock Room will again jump start the time machine and visit this stellar era for the group as there is much more gold to be mined. As always, thanks for reading!

Led Zeppelin 3-24-1973

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Take One: Bob Dylan - 'Abandoned Love' 'The Clown Inside of Me' 1975

Bob Dylan’s legendary career, brimming as it is with enough unreleased tracks to make ordinary songwriters blush, has often puzzled both fans and critics alike. At times, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to his decisions regarding which composition to release and which to leave languishing in the can.

Famed by clandestine tracks such as “Blind Willie McTell,” “Lord, Protect My Child,” “Series of Dreams,” “Caribbean Wind” “Red River Shore” and countless others have gained notoriety not only because of their power and grace, but because of their exclusion from Dylan’s official releases. We may never know the true reasons that Dylan would discard such lyrical and musical gems, but we can retrieve the available remnants for analysis and enjoyment. 

One of these obscured classics from the Bob Dylan discography is the exquisite composition “Abandoned Love,” written and recorded in the midst of Dylan’s 1975 Desire sessions. The song would eventually be left off of the album, replaced by “Joey” and seemed destined to languish in the vaults until its appearance on the comprehensive 1985 collection Biograph. In the interim, George Harrison as well as the Everly Brothers would also make beautiful recordings of the song — though Harrison’s take was likewise unreleased. 

The song’s deep lyrical content balances on the crumbling precipice of a failing relationship and the impending decision of whether to stay. In Dylan’s case, the song focuses on the disillusion he felt regarding his failing marriage to his wife Sara. Dylan may have felt that he had covered these thematic emotional topics thoroughly on 1975’s Blood on the Tracks, hence the disappearance of “Abandoned Love” from its follow up. The magic of the song, however, is its ability to draw a sense of hopefulness out of the barren landscape of love lost. The song navigates deftly through a beautiful and positive melody, only slightly tinged by the apprehension of loss and the unknown.
The unreleased studio version of “Abandoned Love,” recorded on July 31, 1975, contains the rustic hallmarks of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue line up — especially the smooth velvet violin of Scarlett Rivera, which drizzles like warm honey over the top of the song — as well as Dylan’s jangling acoustic guitar and lonesome, train-whistle harp. The cinematic atmosphere initiated by Dylan’s words is enhanced by the long drawn out vocal melodies that benefit from Bob Dylan’s towering 1974-75 gymnastics on the mic. 
The emotional content of “Abandoned Love” is a swirling maelstrom of contrasts drawn between the inspired melody, the nervous and conflicted lyrics, and painfully beautiful vocal attack. The aforementioned studio version is a tremendous band performance that eventually would end up collecting dust until ten years of time had passed. 

All of the factors that make the studio version of “Abandoned Love” so special are escalated when the only live version of the song is examined. Depending on whom you ask, this thankfully preserved moment in Dylan’s storied history might be one of his finest performing moments . Premiered four weeks prior to the aforementioned studio version while at the Bitter End (Other End) club in New York City, Dylan surprised the assembled hundred or so musicians and patrons with a one-time solo acoustic performance of this lost classic. The performance holds a freshness and confidence that is often found in the premier creative moments of a song's genesis. It is a rare dissemination that leaves Dylan's soul bare for all to see.

On July 3, 1975 while attending a performance by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot at the club with some friends, Dylan decided spur of the moment to join in on stage for a few numbers. After joyusly accompanying Elliott on two songs, Dylan began strumming his acoustic in preparation for a debut of this new song to the unsuspecting crowd. According to witnesses, Ramblin’ Jack moved to the shadows and let Dylan blow the collective crowd’s mind with his newly created piece of art. After the unanticipated ans stunning performance, Dylan quietly returned to his seat at the back of the venue like nothing had happened. 
Thankfully, there was an enterprising fan in attendance with a hidden recorder capturing this moment for posterity. The version is fortunately available for all to hear and enjoy, and this embryonic reading of “Abandoned Love” as performed that evening is spellbinding, making the studio version pale in comparison due to its alchemical properties. Perhaps Dylan felt he could never capture the emotive content the song disseminated on this evening in a studio setting, hence the song’s quiet retreat to the vaults.
Beginning on a pensive and probing acoustic melody search, a patient Dylan sings his way through the litany of images confidently. The crowd cheers and lends echoed asides to the new lyrics being birthed on the dimly lit stage. The song unfolds slowly, with every elastic syllable and every nuance of Dylan’s syncopated and lush melodic developments hanging weightless in the thick blue air of the club. His voice adds a gripping tension to the song, by pulling both affection and detachment from each line and every word. Dylan wants to “see her smile before he cuts her loose,” before finally concluding that he also needs to “see her love one more time before he abandons it.” Similar to a poet spotlighted at a private reading, Dylan's tempo and enunciation is as important as the words themselves. He navigates the fluid melody, pausing to take in the sights along his newly discovered route.

'Abandoned Love' is a study of the emotional contrasts and general disillusionment experienced during the painful conclusion of a relationship. Per his usual unparalleled lyrical expressions, Dylan flawlessly expresses the internal relationship between his head and his heart in poignant fashion, never revealing too much, but in reality holding back nothing.

Dylan’s mastery as a songwriter is irrefutable; his ability to focus in on the human condition and decode its mysteries and complex aspects is what makes him the greatest lyricist of our time. What has been questioned is his ability to wade through his plethora of compositions while successfully picking the best candidates for release. Dylan sifts through the melodic gravel and grit, revealing the translucent pieces of musical gold, but often leaves them sitting in the pan until another day. The collection Tell Tale Signs covering 1989-2006 is proof that this long-standing practice continues up through recent times. 

“Abandoned Love” is one of these numerous, historic, resplendent stones — lost in the pebbled wash, languishing in the vaults, banished to obscurity, only to reappear years later, eager to establish its own musical legacy.

Abandoned Love - 1975 Bitter End

Abandoned Love - Studio Version 

This article by Stephen Lewis has also been published by Something Else! Reviews

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Joni Mitchell - 1974 LP Court and Spark -'Everything Comes and Goes'

Today, a brisk autumn breeze blows through the windows of the 'rock room' catching the strains of Joni Michell's 1974 album, Court and Spark. Mitchell's best selling record is a study or relationships, using Michell's perfect microscopic focus and lyrical prowess to elicit a number of feelings through snapshot narratives and stirring instrumental movements. Bob Dylan reportedly fell asleep when the album was played for him by Mitchell, ironic because the LP captures the female view of relationship building, whereas Dylan's Blood On the Tracks dissected the male side of relationship deconstruction. The record elicits a loose jazzy sensibility and a consistent thematic thread that connects the sides of the collection. Mitchell analyses he inner conflicts, hopes and misgivings about love and the prospects of love. Her astute character developments and wordless sketches of internalized feelings make the record a stunning achievement.

The opening of the album reveals itself like the approaching of day with the cathedral sounds of Mitchell's piano. The title track features soft pedal steel flourishes and spacious chiming bells of sound. Mitchell introduces the album displaying her thick comforting vocals and easing the listener into a comfortable space in order to join the narrative. The thematic statement of 'Court and Spark' drawn in the song as the wish for many and the objective for others.

'Help Me' excites the tempo using acoustic guitars and is hallmarked with Mitchell's signature silvery strumming patterns. A very popular single pulled from the LP 'Help Me' is a breezy ocean side reflection, glistening with Joni's luminescent falsetto exclamations. The sensual call for help from Mitchell is caused by her awareness that she is indeed being taken into the arms of love like it or not. A consistent emotional progression is being created both lyrically and musically through musical contrasts and thematic relationships.

Another big track off of the LP is 'Free Man in Paris' which follows next and places Mitchell in a role reversal expressing her male characters new found respite from responsibility and discovered freedom as a stranger in a strange land. David Crosby and Graham Nash add their voices to the songs internal harmonies and the striding acoustic base carries the songs desirable melody line. A classic Joni song if there ever was one containing a unique point of view and attentive character development.
The first side of the album closes with the song suite of 'People's Parties/Same Situation' a melodic Kodachrome of social interactions and observations as well as human misunderstandings. Built upon Mitchell's rhythmic lyricism the dynamic opening segment runs like water over clicking sticks and  river bells. The detached observer sizes up the scene before settling back in contemplation. Joni's specialized  lyrical content is expressed as a living stage setting through her cinematic arrangements. A proper close to side one.

Side two begins in earnest with the funky anticipation of 'Car On the Hill'. Overlooking a series of jazzy changes, the song honks its way through a delicious driving groove. Finally settling in for a mid song angel choir. There is a R and B outline to Mitchell's eagerness for the headlights to illuminate her driveway. Mitchell's sly vocals tease the groove endlessly. A 'rock room' favorite, this track is an ace opener for the series of music to come on side two.

'Down to You' follows and has to be considered the 'big' song for the album. Joni and her piano begin a matched pair and are eventually adorned with feathery guitar sweet strings and choral drapery along with long time pal Crosby again making an appearance. The song acts as the ornate emotional centerpiece of the record. A reflection of time, change and conclusions exposed by Mitchell's vivid descriptions and her black and white keys. The song arcs into an emotive mid song instrumental, substantial in its cinematic qualities and as powerful in its expressions as Joni's words. The arrangement returns to the piano melody for a reprise of the melody and the core of the record has been reached.

Rolling along in contrast, 'Just Like This Train'  begins with a succinct ascendant introduction that rides the rails with a clip-crop groove building on the proposed metaphor of the title. Perhaps the sexyist vocals on the album, Joni's voice is rich and thick as winter syrup. The blurred landscape outside the song's window is expressed by sleek guitar swells and sensitive percussion. Once in a while a woody fiddle melody appears and then retreats to a dot on the landscape. A creative and pleasing song tucked away on side two, the song elicits a transparent funkiness through its quirky arrangement.
'Raised On Robbery', another single release off of the record begins with squishy sponge keyboards and a rhythmic Jon Mitchell vocal strata. The song soon becomes a rock and roll romp featuring Robbie Robertson guitar work in the mix. The 'heaviest' track on the album burns like a 'Band' tune and spotlights a raunchy horn solo that Joni enters into a competition with by elongating her vocal attack with sweet extended lines.

The sneaky alternating vibe of  'Trouble Child' swings between blue and yellow as the groove walks through shadow and light. Mitchell speaks to the blissfully unaware subject who she expresses a detached analysis of. She speak sings through shady verses before opening up plaintively for the melodic change that represents the sunny side of things. A lone gritty horn appears in the song and acts as the tonal segue into the scat jazz finale of 'Twisted'

'Twisted', written by Anne Ross is perfectly suited for Mitchell's diverse range of tones, percussive vocalizations and breathy falsetto hiccups of perfection. Mitchell is quoted as thinking of the song as an encore on the album. She scats over the swinging backing and her enjoyment in singing the tongue in cheek lyrics is notable as a fair haired and sly smile of Joni's is discernible in the music. Cheech and Chong make a guest appearance on the song which should illustrate the vibe of the track for those who have not heard it before. After the stark emotional dissemination of the preceeding songs on the album, 'Twisted' is a perfect garnish to the previous musical spread.

A popular album for the time, but also a record deserving of contemporary enjoyment, Joni' Mitchell's 1974 release Court and Spark is a serious collection of mature themes and emotionally soaked melodic expression. At the time of its release Joni was still a maturing artist and her personal concerns as well as her shared talents are the recipient of this records personal and musical explorations and growth. The mellow vibe of the songs is contrasted by heavy content and detailed arrangements. The collection plays well as one movement; enjoyed during a single sitting where one can let the segues play out while assisting mentally with the aural picture being painted over the two respective sides of the album.

Court and Spark Entire Album

Friday, October 16, 2015

Simon and Garfunkel -Live 1969 'Here Is My Song For the Asking'

 In late 1969 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had just (almost) completed their famed LP Bridge Over Troubled Water, a record that would unfortunately be the duo’s last, but one that would leave an indelible impression on the world of music. Following the recording of the record the pair embarked on a October/ November tour that I believe began on Halloween in Detroit (anyone know?). In spite of the clashes that would sever the partnership in 1970 Simon and Garfunkel played a series of ornate ‘evenings with’ that would be recorded by producer Roy Halee with the hopes of recording a follow up live album to Bridge Over Troubled Water. 

Pristine recordings of the November 11, 1969 Miami University concert have circulated for years and the belief is that the entire tour was recorded. Well, it looks like the tour was recorded, based on the tracks available on the focus of today’s rock rant. The recording I am spinning in the ‘rock room’ today is titled Live 1969 and was released in 2008 as a Starbucks only release for some odd reason and then saw a full retail release in the next year. The live compilation collects 17 performances from the 1969 tour and gives us the follow up live album that never was after the duo’s split. The concerts on the 69 tour started with Simon and Garfunkel playing as an acoustic pair per usual, then returning with an electric band comprised of Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel playing keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass and Fred Carter Jr. on guitar. This smoking little quartet along with Simon’s terribly underrated acoustic guitar work injected the sets with a funky aesthetic that only strengthened Simon’s lyrics creating a different viewing frame for the poet’s tales. 

The Live 1969 compact disc features performances from Long Beach, Carnegie Hall, Detroit, St. Louis and Carbondale, Illinois. The sound quality as to be expected is stellar and the performances chosen are spot on. The design of the release follows the normal concert set construction; we get Paul and Art spacious and intimate with only acoustic guitar and voices, then the band joins to lend some swing.

‘Homeward Bound’ opens the disc and hails from Long Beach, Paul and Art sing like brothers, Simon’s literary imagery flashes by in a series of sonic highway streetlamps. Garfunkel’s ghostly wordless echoes of the songs melody are inspired and timely. ‘At the Zoo’ comes next, the closing song from 1968’s Bookends LP, this rare performance drifts in syncopated stoniness. Simon’s voice quivers with investment while Garfunkel’s harmony vocal lines are a thick coat of paint on Simon’s artistic ruminations. 
‘The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin Groovy) follows and you will not find a better version. The ‘rock room’s’ personal favorite comes next with an inquisitive and poignant reading of ‘Song for the Asking’. Art reveals that the song is the most current of the new tunes that they have recorded. A crystalline version follows with Simon’s central acoustic riff a tale of its own, the wordless interlude speaking volumes and the vocals close relationship indistinguishable as separate entities.

Before I can gain composure from this stirring display of stunning musicianship, For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her follows in dramatic fashion, Simon’s knitted 12 string work creates an emotional webbing in which Garfunkel expresses some of his finest vocals committed to tape.  Wow, this is an intense performance, taken from a show in St. Louis.

A Carnegie Hall cut of ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ ends the acoustic segment and precludes the entrance of the band. The joyous cadence of ‘Mrs. Robinson’ soon begins and is driven by Simon’s chunky and driving acoustic guitar, but when the organ enters the song becomes something else.  The groove is tom-tom driven and infectious. Folk-rock!

Art introduces the band before a rendition of ‘The Boxer’ from Long Beach, the pulse of the drums propels a stunning reading of the duo’s most current single. The famous narrative of the solitary fighter in the ring battling his way through existence cuts its path to a celebratory sing a long conclusion.

‘Why Don’t You Write Me’ from the yet to be released Bridge Over Troubled Water is a definite reason the duo thought to bring the band along on this tour. This song is a highlight of the 1969 shows and this particular version from Long Beach spotlights busy vine hopping bass by Osborn and absolutely golden Garfunkel vocals that warble with a soulful pleading. The song is saturated with the famed Paul Simon rhythmic sensibility that seems to dip into multiple worlds of influence effortlessly.
Another yet to be released song, ‘So Long Frank Lloyd Wright’ features beautifully understated backing by the band, and alternating vocals by Paul and Art. A breezy pulsating groove is developed between Simons plucked chording, the hollow hand drums and warm bass. A highlight of the recording is these current  for the time Bridge Over Troubled Water songs and their live disseminations. 

A full band acoustic version of Gene Autry’s ‘That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine’ again from Long Beach comes next and is a conglomerate of dusty clip-clop country and the Everly Brothers. Paul and Art are hand in glove with their vocals and their enthusiasm can be felt through the magnetic tape.

‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ comes next and is unique in that it is introduced to the Carnegie Hall crowd as an unknown song, yet to grace an official recording. Art’s vocals are transparent and brimming with a resplendent vibrato power. I can pick up on the fact that he wants to knock it out of the park in front of the hometown crowd. Absolutely stunning and the recorded crowd agrees.

’Sound of Silence’ from Carbondale follows so you get the 1-2 punch of the pairs most amazing creations. The song builds organically with only the sound of shoe leather on stage adding additional instrumentation to Simon’s guitar. The crowd sits in rapt silence. ‘I am a Rock’ follows from the same show and stays with the same formula, building intensity through Simon’s lyrical arrangements and his dynamic rhythm guitar which rises and falls with the breath of the duo’s vocals.

In what sounds like it would be a hypothetical encore, Simon and Garfunkel return with only Simon’s troubadour acoustic for the fitting ‘Old Friend’s/Bookends Theme. Orchestrated yet simplistic in its instrumental approach this acoustic movement is everything I hoped it would be. It’s timeless melody able to draw my own memories out of my skin and mind. Powerful stuff.

Started amongst the rumble of a rowdy and appreciative Detroit crowd, ‘The Leaves That Are Green’ silences the throng when it drifts in Simon’s finger picking like a lazy falling leaf too tired to fight. Even when separated by pauses and frozen moments like after the second verse, Paul and Art’s vocals again merge as one to soar. Here is featured a performance for the ages and one that epitomizes the musical core of Simon and Garfunkel.

The collection closes with ‘Kathy’s Song’ another new song for the time. I am unaware of the song’s context in the St. Louis performance for which it hails, but here it acts as a stirring conclusion to the series of songs and concert. Simon sings solo accompanied only by his circular finger picked guitar melody. Stripped of everything but Simon’s honest emotion and poetic sensibilities ‘Kathy’s Song’ is a song you crawl into in order to fully receive everything it has to offer. I can't really say more, except I am grateful this rendition was documented.

Thankfully someone had the foresight to realize the gaping hole left in the Simon and Garfunkel discography because of no proper live document from their late 60’s era of touring. This collection while not perfect (no ‘Fakin’ It’?) offers fans a document of peak performances, a few rarities and endless classics. The duo’s internal struggles shriveled away when they were joined through their companionship of music, enjoy those long ago heady days with this stellar recording.