Talk From The Rock Room: 2023

Friday, September 1, 2023

Take One: Joni Mitchell - "Urge for Going"


Prior to the release of her debut record in 1968, Song for a Seagull, Joni Mitchell worked the coffee shops and night clubs of Saskatoon and it’s surrounding areas. She was a Canadian artist who fashioned herself a folkie after Joan Baez and Judy Collins, and sang only as a hobby. Her love was painting and singing was fun. Joni discovered her musical acumen in 1964. In 1965 she had a child. Later in the same year she gave up her child for adoption. The life struggles she encountered at this time were life changing and painful, but they also informed her growth as a musician. 

Joni referred to herself  uring this time as “disturbed,” and composed insightful songs about her experiences. “Both Sides Now,” “Little Green,” and the subject of this rock room rant, “Urge For Going,” are some of the early songs she wrote while  growing up and struggling with the realities of adulthood. 

Joni left Canada, and moved to the United States in order to see if she could make a career out of singing. Soon after arriving in America Joni met musician Tom Rush who instantly fell in love with her evolving catalog of songs. Rush cut Joni’s tune, “Urge for Going” as a single in 1966. He  eventually ended up cutting a few songs from Joni’s early composition notebook, including “Tin Angel,” and “Circle Game, which he would use as the title of his 1968 LP.” 

The first Joni appearance of “Urge for Going,” on tape comes from the Joni Mitchell Archive Collection. Captured around the time Rush first heard the song, the 1965 Myrtle Anderson Birthday tape was recorded at a Detroit house party in early 1965. The song’s melody is fully intact, yet Joni’s voice is obviously far from its full maturity. It’s played in a standard tuning, and the tune’s lyrical rhythm brushes lightly against the corners traditional British folk. 

What instantly made the song a cornerstone of Joni’s early repertoire is the fully mature lyric which connects seasons, the passing of time, and humans innate longing for someplace that they can call home. Joni uses effective metaphor, and the natural cycle of the season as a canvass for expressing human emotion. Joni sings of winter’s chilly force of hand and how the trusting warmth of the sun becomes the bearer of bad news as it adjusts its gaze. There is disappointment in decay, but there is also the hope for rebirth. But what is worse, getting the urge, or never going, regret or hopefulness?  Joni expresses a deep far-sickness in the song, the German's call it, “Fernweh.". 

In order to help promote the Tom Rush version, Joni shot a promotional film in August of 1966 in front of a raging river on the Canadian television show Mon Pay, Mes Chanson.  The show captured Canadian artists in their natural environment. Joni's performance of "Urge for Going" is perfectly placed against a stunning backdrop of majestic mountains. 

An early live reading from November 1966 comes from the 2nd Fret in Philadelphia, PA and is also featured on the Joni Mitchell Archive Volume 1. The tape reel is crystalline, and Joni’s voice emits a bird song warble, attributed both to youth and an affinity to Joan Baez. Joni’s guitar picking and her vocals act as one instrument, a pressed flower between lyrical pages. Tom Rush had just released his version of the song and Joni had added it to her sets at the time because in her words, “I like to plug it because I get royalties on the song of course.” 

George Hamilton IV, a square country singer heard Rush’s version and decided to cover it himself on his album Folksy. Hamilton took his own interpretation into the top ten of the country charts with a thick drawl and some spoken narration.

An additional live version from Joni that traces the growth of the song is featured on the Joni Mitchell Archives, and comes from a performance at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, MI, October 27, 1967. On this live take, the song has found its perfect tempo through recitation. Joni’s vocals bide their time investigating the landscape and looking for pastoral avenues of escape. She sees herself in each blade of dying grass and every winging bird. Her voice a reassuring narrator, crooning contemplatively.

Joni continued to mature the song in concert, and the version from Carnegie Hall on February 1, 1969 may be the definitive reading. It is available on the Joni Mitchell Archives Volume 2. While she puts her guitar back into standard tuning, Joni quips, "It's a long way from rom Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Carnegie Hall." She then explains that the song is about winters in Saskatoon and plays a perfectly rendered version.

The next time that "Urge for Going" made an appearance, was in the studio during sessions for Joni’s seminal 1971 album, Blue. Joni cut an acoustic version in consideration for the album and then cut a version with overdubbed strings that would also remain unreleased at the time. 

The attempts on the song that Joni cut for Blue are a culmination of its journey. A straight acoustic reading and a haunted opening, colored on its deckled edges with the ink of the Blue sessions. Joni sings the song with sweet intelligence and soft hindsight. She had finally found her way inside the song and could sing it more convincingly than anyone. 

On the version overdubbed with strings, which was recently released in celebration of Blue’s 50th anniversary, the orchestration is transparent, fading into the finger picked navy of Joni’s lacy guitar lines. The strings only come into full focus on the third verse with the “warriors of winter,” line lending an emotive swell to the already chilling verses. 

In the end, neither of the versions made the final cut. The song floated aimlessly, spreading its melodic wealth wherever and by whomever it was played but never settled down. Joni realized she needed to take ownership of the tune and placed the version (minus the strings) on the B side of her 1972 single, “Turn Me on I’m a Radio.” The song would be the only non-album B side of her entire career, but “Urge for Going” finally had a place in Joni’s own discography. 

Recorded on the same day the Blue was released, June 22, 1971, Joni’s close friends David Crosby and Graham Nash cut their own version of “Urge for Going” that is a stone rubbing of Mitchell’s original intent. Intended as a single for Crosby and Nash, the song drifts in on a woody breeze and moves through like a 1966 Byrds cut. For reasons unknown David and Graham never released their attempt on the song either. But, their smooth swapping of the verses and their affinity for Joni make the version another special chapter in the life of the track. 

Many years later, it a typically Joni move, she placed the 1972 single version of the song as the opening track of her 1996 Hits collection. A deserving move for the long traveled song.“Urge for Going,” has had interesting journey as well as an extended shelf life. The song was responsible for drawing attention to Joni as a songwriter and acted a stepping stone for her move to becoming a serious musician. It’s mysterious and multifaceted melody and lyric represent a vital era of Mitchell’s creative journey.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Neil Young - Chrome Dreams - "Where Chaos Reigns"

In what was one of the most prolific eras for any songwriter in rock and roll history, Neil Young’s mid- 1970’s output was met by few if any. In the years 1974-1977, Neil released  the albums Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach, Zuma, and American Stars and Bars. He left the records Homegrown, Hitchhiker, and the subject of today’s rock room rant, Chrome Dreams in his vaults. 

Similarly, to his friend and contemporary Bob Dylan, Neil often left his most affecting work on the cutting room floor or behind a locked door. Now, over 45 years later, Young has pulled the long rumored and legendary record from a dusty tape box and officially released it. While it’s impossible to know Neil’s true intent, by tracing a broken arrow’s journey toward its end target the artistic design of Young’s music comes into a sharper focus. Neil has opened the weighted doors of his historical vaults, he has excavated several legendary songs and discarded artistic choices for reassessment. His unreleased records hailing from the same era, Homegrown and Hitchhiker both share connective tissues with Chrome Dreams. All of the songs Young was composing during this era were related, floating around, and often considered for the current or next project. 

For several years a bootleg, purported to hail from an acetate circulated among collectors under the title Chrome Dreams. In hindsight, and taking Neil’s working methods into account, it’s easy to deduce that Chrome Dreams, was an early working version of what would become American Stars and Bars. The title originated from a sketch that Young producer and friend David Briggs made of a grill of a car. When the picture was turned sideways, it looked like a beautiful woman. For the current version of Chrome Dreams, a Ronnie Wood drawing has replaced the now long gone Briggs sketch. The record ironically collected the best of the songs that Young laid down during his most creative era. Neil has always had a backlog of material; the proof can be found in the sheer volume of unreleased music he has already freed from his library. In the case of this era, some of his compositions didn’t fit into his specific vision for that time. The balance of Young’s records is found in the proper dispersing of thematic ideas, and melodies. Neil played Chrome Dreams for his friend Carole King shortly after compiling it and remembered later her saying, “Neil, this isn’t an album. It’s not a real album. I mean, there’s nobody playing, and half the songs you’re just doing by yourself.” Neil continued, “She was just laughing at me. Because she crafts albums.” 

Chrome Dreams plays like a greatest hits album, full of Young’s biggest guns it’s a conglomerate of recording studios, time periods, and ideas. It can be deduced that Young thought that there were too many of his “best” songs on one album. The official version retains the same song order as the original bootleg, lending credence to the fact that the circulating recording was at one point legitimate. Oddly, there is an alternate track listing in the new packaging listing two 24-minute sides in Young’s handwriting. In the alternate running order Young’s “White Line” was included on the hypothetical album. 

The album opens with “Pocohantas,” the same version sans overdubs that appeared on 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps. One of Neil’s most beloved songs, the timeless narrative a deft balance between Neil’s historic reporting and shifty artistic license. This original demo version recorded on August 11, 1976 is just Young and his guitar, and that’s all it needs to be. 

“Will to Love,” was recorded by Neil at Broken Arrow Ranch by a crackling fire. The track was analyzed in detail by the rock room here. The version of Chrome Dreams is the same the as the one that later graced American Stars and Bars. Continuing the acoustic theme, “Star of Bethlehem,” shimmers with the stoned sounds of 1974’s On the Beach. The song’s first official appearance would be on Young’s career compilation, 1976’ Decade record. It was originally slated for a place on the unreleased Homegrown, record, and the Chrome Dreams record. One of Young’s most exquisite and enduring melodies, and a song he obviously thought a great deal about for the number of times it was bounced around and considered.

One of Young’s major compositions, “Like a Hurricane” opens side two of the new Chrome Dreams with Crazy Horse in full gallop and the song becomes the focal point of the album due to its sheer electricity. While the song sits in striking contrast to its surroundings, it in no way loses any of its stormy power. The song would elicit the same effect on the American Stars and Bars album. 

A live concert staple and a song that didn’t appear on an official record until 1989’s Freedom. The Chrome Dreams studio version of “Too Far Gone” is a mellow, after coke binge sunrise. Neil’s silvery acoustic guitar and a plucky mandolin played by Pancho, act as lacy accompaniment to the singalong story of a prolific burnout. 

 “Hold Back the Tears,” is a brand-new version unique to the official Chrome Dreams. It’s an early demo highlighted by delightful and shaky double tracked vocals on the chorus. Sparse and stony, Young’s earnest delivery features a unrecorded verse and Young’s beautiful wordless la, la la’s. A completely different waltz styled version was released on American Stars and Bars. That one sounds like a lost track from Dylan’s Desire record, replete with steel guitar, violin and Linda Ronstadt vocals. 

 “Captain Kennedy,” a Neil Young Sea shanty, was designated for Young’s unrealized Hitchhiker project. It was first released officially on Young’s 1980 record Hawks and Doves. Percussive finger picked guitar and a salty sea fairing melody drive the mixed narrative through choppy waters. 

“Stringman,” is one of those spectral Neil Young piano ballads, similar to “Here We Are In the Years,” or “A Man Needs a Maid,” that defy simple descriptions. This reading is a fragile recitation, pregnant with soulful spaces and silences. Young sings his ode to a knotted-up loser, who is hanging by a tenuous thread. The version on Chrome Dreams was recorded live on March 31, 1976 to an entranced audience at the Hammersmith Odeon. The very next day Young performed overdubs on the live track at a studio in London, though the song remained unreleased until 2020. Young did perform a live version in 1993 for MTV’s Unplugged. The next electrified offering on Chrome Dreams is the official debut of the famed slow version of 

“Sedan Delivery” recorded on May 22, 1975 with Crazy Horse. Recorded on the same day that two members of the band were screaming high on goof dust, the Horse move the groove like a hearse with a flat tire. Young’s guitar elicits a prismatic vibrato, and is scribbled over the Horse’s hard clop increasing the nervous energy of the song. The raucous sludgy mantra had it’s rpm’s jacked on the live stage, but this grungy version has its own special charm. 

 The acoustic reading of “Powderfinger," is the penultimate song on the record. A song Young recorded in 1976 for his Hitchhiker project, by the time it saw official release on Rust Never Sleeps it was a packed musket of explosive riffs and devastating chord changes. The song is one of Neil’s most played and enduring cuts. The Chrome Dreams version is a testament to the diversity of Young’s catalog. The reading is a simple wooden arrangement with Young’s pleading voice and acoustic guitar. It amazing that the song would be transformed into a stadium sized story, buzzing with distortion and charged with the power of Crazy Horse by 1978. 

 The album concludes with “Look Out for My Love,” in the exact same guise as on 1978’s Comes a Time. It’s Young and the Horse at their most patient and tender. Recorded similarly to Young’s CSNY track “Helpless,” the group worked late into the night, the vibe had to be right, and when they found it, they got the take. 

While Neil Young continues to tear apart his ample vaults, we continue to be the lucky recipients of his finds. Some discoveries are lost songs and misplaced track listings, and in the case of Chrome Dreams fully unrealized albums. Each piece that is excavated and curated is an important musical part of a bigger picture that further completes the spectacular panoramic view of Neil Young’s career.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Rock Room On the Road: Tedeschi Trucks Band - July 11, 2023 - Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center


The annual Tedeschi Trucks Band summer tour visit to Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center pulled into Canandaigua, NY on the evening of July 11, 2023 with Ziggy Marley and his band in tow for an expansive and affirmative set of genre defying music. Like a family picnic, or reuniting with a dear friend after an extended absence, the mellow crowd and band met in the middle for a shared evening of magic and music making. At 8:30, following an expressive set by Marley and his group, Tedeschi Trucks Band took to the stage to an expected and typically enthusiastic response. 

In front of a packed house on a steamy lakeside evening TTB opened the show with Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman,” off his 1972 self-titled LP. A driving swampy funk was initiated by Trucks wiry scrubbed rhythm work and decorated with hearty golden huffs of horns. It didn’t take long for the band to slot into a deep groove while the lead vocals were passed along the vocalist’s like a burning ember. Susan entered the vocal queue last and belted out her verses to the explosive joy of the crowd. 

The band then fell into the summery “Anyhow,” a track off 2016’s “Let Me Get By,” and drifted into a perfect paisley pulse. Susan, armed with her Les Paul took the first big solo of the evening. It wasn’t until the third song, the bluesy waltz of "Do I Look Worried,” that Derek stepped forward for his first solo of the evening. A probing analysis of the song’s shifty changes and a confirmation that the band was ready to play. Ratcheting down the intensity so that the venue doesn’t detonate, the group played with the perfect combination of fire and ice. Raising the crowd into the clouds and floating their sensibilities delicately back to solid lush earth.

The ultra-talented keyboardist Gabe Dixon got his moment in the spotlight with the quivering beat of “Gravity,” which rose from the ground with a flourish. Trucks scribbled in elegant cursive over the top of the chunky arrangement. Midway through the song Davis laid down a spicy piano segment that Trucks entered with a screaming and overdriven exploration of the changes. Trucks peaked with mind numbing scrubs and string bending excitement that took the song over the top. It’s during these unique musical exchanges that you realize you are witness to one of the best players to ever handle a six string. The horn trio joined in on the the movement lending old school “Chicago,” horn section style squawks and blasts to the smoky gumbo. 

Speaking of “Chicago,” the heavy stepping “Learn How to Love,” featured the moaning horn section eliciting the feelings found in the grooves of the first Chicago Transit Authority record. A stellar saxophone solo by Kebbi Williams balanced the tightrope between melodic and atonal before Derek joined in. Derek played a cherry red Gibson 335 hollow body guitar as the crushing rhythm section churned its way to a huge husband and wife guitar duel that ignited the venue. 

Derek, sans slide, skinned the neck of his guitar clean, as he snaked in between and around the poly rhythms disseminated by the drummers. His tone as sharp as a spear point, sliced through the evening humidity looking for the mark. Susan kicked in the door to discover what Derek was up to and lit the fuse to the evenings first eye bulging highlight. 

Both Susan and Derek attentively expressed their relationship through the intimate conversation of their taught strings. Ask and answer, question and response, joke and cojole, the duo revealed the internal workings of their band through their expressive engagement. Their interaction intimate, yet made for the prying eyes of the performing stage.

In breezy contrast to the guitar onslaught that almost brought down the shed, Wet Willie’s, “Keep On Smilin',” gave the crowd a groovy respite from the intensity that was released from the stage. Susan’s vocals were both encouraging and inspired, eliciting a toothy smile. The backing vocals sang in angel choir accompaniment and Derek put the finishing touches on the song with a thorough exploration of the melody. 

The concert then rode the crest of a beautiful wave with an extended vamp on Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How To Be Free,” that was prefaced by a tough trumpet driven improvisation, with Derek moving to side stage to play off of the stringy soloing laid down by Ephraim Owens. The resulting rendition and jamming was a freeform celebratory revival, with every band member contributing in some way. Handclaps, percussion and joyous collaboration was the order of the night and the crowd lost themselves in the music. When vocalist Alecia Chakour and Mark Rivers joined together in a chilling call and response at the end of the song, the crowd gave it all back to them and more. 

Following a well jammed improv prelude, the band slipped dynamically into the chunky “Yes We Will,” from their most recent album. Again Susan and Derek swap asides with the band and rolled through a series of well timed peak before dissolving into a gentle keyboard and Derek driven space. This cinematic drift slowly culminated in the vibrant introduction to a welcome “Midnight in Harlem,” which everyone in the assembled audience recognized and responded to in kind. 

If we had thought that the concert had reached its summit, it surpassed all expectation with a serrated reading of Dr. John’s, “Walk on Gilded Splinters.” Relentless in its shifty expression, the song pounded the dancing crowd into submission. Straddling the fence between Dr. John’s moody original and Humble Pie’s live cover, TTB looked at both paths and then took the road less traveled. 

With no time to recover the concert climbed into the clouds and concluded with, TTB’s soul driven “I Want More,” which moved through impressive bass and drum interludes before blossoming into “Beck’s Bolero,” an emotional and breathless tribute to the recently departed Jeff Beck. The famed “Bolero,” covered the venue in washes of sound, as Derek expressed a number of his own variations on the Beck theme, touching the edges and then drawing an entirely new focus over the existing artwork. An ambitious rendition and a stunning, well-placed conclusion.

Acting as masters of emotion and ceremony, the band returned to the stage with the slow and soothing Susan reading of Bonnie Raitt’s, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Played as a duo, with keyboardist Gabe Dixon accompanying, the spacious rendition, steeped in silence, was sat out under the cool dusk for a moment of crowd contemplation.  One of the best moments of the performance.

Then, sending everyone off in a proper and proud fashion, Ziggy Marley and his band were invited back to the stage to join in on a Sly and the Family Stone tribute. The double banger of“Sing a Simple Song” segued into “I Want to Take You Higher.” was the perfect combination for group rock, and collaborative music making. The stage quaked with the weight of so much talent and musical expression that the joy could be felt in thick fat waves. Bodies shook and smoke signals drifted from the lawn seats. For a moment there was nothing else in the world, or in your own mind, except the inspiration and love being gifted from the stage to the crowd, and then reciprocated back in kind. The music was so filling, it almost felt if the tented stage would burst into feathers and falling stars.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is both a flashback, and fast forward as their music not only successfully blurs genres through their creativity, but also pays tribute to their piles of influence through careful recitations of their musical heroes songs. Everything that you hope to find at a concert, Tedeschi Trucks Band offers freely through their egoless performances and shared enthusiasm for song. There is no other touring band the offers such a diversity of players, a wealth of inspiration, and guarantee of specially curated and emotive music. No matter what you look to find in your favorite artist exploits, Tedeschi Trucks Band will touch upon it and share it with honesty and inspiration.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Yusuf / Cat Stevens – King of a Land – “A Peaceful Heart”

Yusuf Islam recently referred to his new album, King of a Land, as a mosaic. The record took a decade to craft after 2014’s Tell Em’ I’m Gone and contains a collection of biographical parts and pieces hailing from his long and storied career. When these various bits are compiled, a narrative arc appears, and in turn reflects the long-held themes of Yusuf’s songwriting. The basic tenants of Cat Stevens and now Yusuf’s compositions have always been the search for and pursuit of peace. After reconciling the rules of his conversion to Islam with his own internal creative drive for music, Yusuf has been able to join both sides of his being into song. 

King of a Land is Yusuf’s sixth album since rejoining the world of popular music in 2006 and his seventeenth career LP. The record is a result of his previous discography, and his current recordings. Yusuf touched upon his past with the 2020 reimagining of his 1971 record Tea for the Tillerman. In hindsight, this look backwards was a necessary step forward on the path to King of a Land

Yusuf's current creativity blends the essence of his religion, his beliefs, and his history, into a melodic expression that also explores the basic elements of humanity. Never didactic and always comforting, Yusuf is sincere in his expressions and his playing. That has always been his way. By placing himself into and looking through the lens of the most innocent time in one’s life, childhood, he can access an unobstructed view of the world. Whether in previous songs from his 1970’s catalog like, “Father and Son,” “Oh, Very Young,” or “If You Want to Sing Out,” Yusuf has always used a child’s eyes to more honestly assess the world around him. Yusuf’s new album illustrates what is possible when the innocent mind of a child is put in charge of the direction of our world. The white sheet of our birth, while slowly scribbled on over time by cultural graffiti can still be cleared. Yusuf’s songs, while they can’t save the world, try to strip away the layers of misunderstanding to reveal simplistic beauty in song. His compositions offer a message and a gentle prompting of how things can work by practicing simple acts like love and peace. 

The 12 songs on the record act as individual vignettes as well as a thematic whole and harken back to the same sort of delicate songwriting analysis found during Yusuf’s earlier Cat Stevens days. King of a Land, begins with a vibrant image of a “Train on the Hill,” the peace train, idling for its journey of discovery. The backing is cinematic, a soaring bird’s eye view of a imaginary landscape. The optimistic harpsichords and vibrant horns take the fragile melody and turn it into a hopeful prelude to the collection. The train elicits the motion and emotions that transport us through the journey of the album. Ranging from lush to sparse, full band to acoustic troubadour, Yusuf, and longtime producer Paul Samwell-Smith build a sonic world from the bottom up using Yusuf’s deft imagery and melodically addictive chord progressions. 

We meet the young boy of the tale via the title track. The song is quintessential Cat Stevens. Every single piece of instrumentation in its proper place. The backing vocals optimistic and hopeful. The boy dreams of a better place for his people, laying on his back in a field. He stares into the deep blue and fixes all his and the world’s problems through faith. 

The album traces growth and chance through the circular riffing and strident guitar work of “Pagan Road.” In contrast to the innocence portrayed in the first songs, this track touches on the realities and temptations of growing up and away. Yusuf’s vocals have a dusty edge illustrating what he has lost on the pagan run. “All Nights, All Day’s,” is an appealing and syncopated melody that straddles the fence line on a country border. The chorus is helplessly addictive and helps to deliver the darker themes of the song. 

Closing side one of the record,"Another Night in the Rain,” is a beautiful multifaceted track with cross referenced melody lines sung and played into a swirling collaborative of keyboards and acoustic guitar twinkling. I am instantly brought back to Cat Steven’s more experimental work on Numbers and Back to Earth. The chorus features lofty Yusuf vocals that sound as they have been preserved like a rose petal between the pages of a book. 

The flip side of the record begins with the breezy finger picking of “Things.” This song and the following “Son of Mary,” recall the heady acoustic days of Mona Bone Jakon. While “Son of Mary” may be too pious for some, that shouldn’t factor into admiring the songs beauty. “Things,” sounds a bit like a lost Wilco song covering Cat Stevens. Which means it’s fantastic! 

Things pick up with the gospel-tinged reach of “Highness” which looks skyward and marches to a heavy beat and bubbling orchestral swells. “The Boy Who Knew How to Climb Walls,” is the moodiest song on the record reminiscent of “Ruins,” a Cat Steven’s song that explored similar themes. The growth of the character undertaken on the record reaches its nexus when the main character in the song finds his friend gone forever. “How Good it Feels,” is intimate, the penultimate song of the collection. Yusuf’s vocals mic’d closely, his breath and nuance perfection. The song’s gentle recitation and reflection becomes an emotional horizon through is emotive orchestral movements. 

The closing song on the record, “Take the World Apart,” was released as a single, and sums up the journey of the record in a succinct message. A buoyant melody played over rhythmic handclaps support a delicious wordless melody line. The directive, do whatever you can to find your peace. Keep looking high and low, and you will find your place, and your heart. 

King of a Land traces a hero’s journey through song, Yusuf’s journey, and our own. Some reviewers have a certain expectation for the record, but are missing the point entirely. This album is the documentation and culmination of Yusuf’s journey. It contains elements from his past, and future, all in collaboration for something uniquely now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Put the Boot In: Eric Clapton - Live at Budokan 2023 - Trying To Get The Music Right

On April 24th, 2023 the final evening of a six-night residency at the legendary Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan, Eric Clapton and his band capped off a stellar residency of music. Supported by his band of long time mates comprised of Nathan East/bass, Sonny Emory/drums, Doyle Bramhall II/guitar, Chris Stainton/keyboards, Paul Carrack/organ and backing singers, Katie Kisson and Sharon White, Eric let his entire band shine as he offered a bluesy, yet diverse cross section of his career to the assembled crowd. 

The famed and octagon shaped Budokan, is a favorite venue of Clapton's and he thanked the crowd a number of times over the course of the weeks while also expressing his enjoy at playing for them. The performance on April 21st had been Clapton's 100th gig at the venue. Armed with a light wood grain signature Stratocaster, Eric looked the part and played strong at age 78. While the setlists for the shows had remained static, by this final evening everything was played with a practiced freedom resulting in supreme versions of all the songs. 

A clear and well balanced field recording has circulated since the performances, and that document is spinning in the rock room today. Eric Clapton, Budokan Night Six is purported to be the best sounding source. For the intrepid rock geek, there is also audience shot footage that can be found with a quick search of the normal internet hang outs

Opening the show with a brand new instrumental called "Blue Rainbow," the mood was set. Reminiscent of some of Clapton’s past instrumental work on the Rush soundtrack, Clapton delicately explored a lofty azure theme with brisk soloing that soared from one end of the song’s melody to the other. A mid song key change exploded into a series of diverse three dimensional guitar riffs by E.C.. 

Midway through the instrumental, Bramhall and Clapton touch fingers for just a moment, quoting a delicate dual melody line, before diverting back to their respective paths. Clapton breaks through the clouds with a series of licks that illuminate the song and take it into the stratosphere before bringing the song to a proper conclusion. 

With just a small pause, a wah-wah drenched rendition of "Pretending" cracks open the performance with gritty vocals and edgy soloing by Eric. The driving rhythm of one of Clapton's contemporary songs is just the right tonic to get the evening going. Eric's solo screams through the venue, still resonant and powerful. 

The following double barrel shot of blues lets the crowd know the Eric has settled in and is ready to play. Both "Key to the Highway," and "Hoochie Coochie Man" change the regal Budokan into a musty juke joint if only for a few moments. "Key to the Highway" turns over the ignition and features prime solos by Bramhall and Stainton before being topped off with a high octane Clapton rip through the song's changes. 

Word had spread after the conclusion of the residency that the versions of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sherriff" were particularly exciting. The version played on the final night was one to be reckoned with. The circulating recording confirms this as the song surpassed nine minutes and was full of enthusiastic jamming. Clapton begins the song with some brush stroke riffing that soon becomes a sneaky vamp, highlighted by Nathan East's thick "one drop" bass variations. 

After singing the opening verses, at five minutes in Clapton brings the band down to a light ska-tinged groove. The ambiance of the Budokan comes across clearly on the recording as Clapton plays a series of delicate picked variations on the "Sherriff" theme. The band plays like a stone across salty water, a waft of smoke carried across the sand. Clapton responds in kind. Soon, Clapton and East volley melodic ideas before Clapton signals a return to the song proper. The band picks up the intensity and Clapton unleashes a torrent of fiery riffs that culminate in an explosive climax. 

Clapton's solos throughout the evening are built upon the strong rhythmic foundation of East and Emory and are expressed with a creative tension that culminates in Clapton's expressive playing from the fretboard. A master at work, his skills honed by time, his vocals aged to perfection. 

 In what amounts to an opening electric set, E.C. expresses his sincere appreciation to the Japanese crowd before sitting down for an unplugged segment. Robert Johnson's "Kindhearted Woman" is played with a reverence and airy aesthetic, the first in what would be three Johnson numbers on the evening. 

"Call Me the Breeze" is performed like a funky headwind as Clapton and the band blow through town. The groove is transparent and the vibe light. The band effortlessly glides through a dynamic and percussive tribute to Clapton's friend Cale. A highlight performance.

"Sam Hall," is a special choice, the British folk song about a criminal who has been sentenced to death. On previous evenings of the run, the song was dedicated to Jeff Beck. Also covered by Richard Thompson, Clapton plays a rustic reading of an idiom that he is not often associated with. His singing tender and the reading sincere. 

In what could be considered a run of the mill "greatest hits" series to conclude the show, is in reality an emotional and expressive second half of the performance. Following an poignant acoustic reading of "Tears in Heaven," to conclude the acoustic portion, Clapton opened the second set with a big version of his George Harrison collaboration, "Badge.” The next three songs are classics, and Clapton played each with freshness and aplomb. An on-stage standard of Clapton's long career, his soloing in "Badge" was accurate and everything a listener could hope for. "Wonderful Tonight, " was more of the same, allowing the crowd to reminisce and for the band to play to their memories. 

A distorted solo prelude to "Crossroads,” sets the stage for a hard and road practiced version. Then, an expansive ten plus minute reading of Robert Johnson's "Little Queen of Spades" allows the band to reveal their hands with excellent soloing by Bramhall, Stainton and Carrack. 

The song begins with over a full minute of classic Clapton blues explorations before the first verse. The band brings it way down for the vocals, and Clapton's sings it like he's lived it. Beat up Fender in one hand, bullet mic in the other, he glances over with one eye closed at the dark eyed queen leaning against the jukebox. After crushing solos by his bandmates, Clapton, takes things over the edge with intensely mournful playing while collecting his winnings and heading for the door. 

An eager version of “Cocaine” concludes the main set and once again spotlights a full band effort rather than just Clapton doing the heavy lifting. The band then finishes the show and the residency with a rocking "High Time We Went," a Joe Cocker/Chris Stainton co-write from Joe's 1972 Cocker record. Paul Carrack takes the lead vocals on a song the recalls Clapton’s sideman days with Delaney and Bonnie’s band. 

Eric Clapton and his band’s April 2023 residency at the Budokan illustrates, that like his idol, B.B. King, Eric Clapton will continue to peddle his stringed wares around the world for those who still want to listen. He is the elder statesman of guitar, a wise sage, and a bluesman by trade. He has grown into his given name of "Slowhand," and continues take his time while performing his blues.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Between the Lines: The Who: Concert Memories from the Classic Years 1964 to 1976 - Genzolini

A new expertly researched and lovingly curated book by author Edoardo Genzolini is set to be released this year by Schiffer Publishing. The Who: Concert Memories from the Classic Years 1964 to 1976, is a substantial tome and focuses on a specific era with a granular focus, which is a speciality of Genzolini. The text targets the touring career of the original Who, and captures the peak era of the band with drummer Keith Moon. Pete Townshend commented on Genzolini's text and found the book to be an, "intriguing and extremely insightful take on The Who and myself."

The Who, one of the loudest and best performing rock and roll bands of the genre, routinely brought the house down on live stages across the globe. From the Marquee Club, to Fillmore East, from Woodstock, to Young Vic, Genzolini traces the band's development from a seat in the audience at their greatest shows and also from behind the stage. 

The alchemy of the book can be found in the expansive collection of remembrances and anecdotes from fans, friends, and band insiders. Genzolini has constructed a nesting egg of information on the Who's on stage career, with each factoid and tidbit of information revealing another layer of minutae. 

Hundreds of never before seen photographs color the group's live concert narrative of purple hearts,  power chords and auto destruction in vibrant detail. Intimate views of the group on stage, off stage, or caught unaware fill the volume to the brim. Ganzolini reveals previously clandestine moments to the reader and then details them via a number of first hand accounts thankfully retrieved from the unforgiving jaws of time.

Defining and influential concerts in the "The Who's" performing career are brought to life through, reflection, and ephemera. The resulting collection is a carefully compiled narrative of one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history. Filled with unseen archival material and recently excavated memories, The Who: Concert Memories from the Classic Years 1964 to 1976 is a welcome in depth excursion for the Who expert, and a proper introduction to the power of the live band for the curious novice.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Paul Simon - Seven Psalms -"It's Time to Come Home"

Paul Simon’s new album, Seven Psalms, is exactly what the title says, seven individually crafted songs and morality musings. Seven proud and beautiful prayer flags, wind worn and strung on a frayed and unifying line. The album, a thirty-minute song cycle rooted in acoustic guitar, and ornately decorated in timely percussion, exotic flourishes and vocal choruses. The seven elements comprising one piece of music, one narrative told through Simon's poetic constructs. As explained on the Paul Simon website, “Psalms are hymns that are meant to be sung rather than spoken”.

Reaching back to move forward, Simon’s approach on Seven Psalms, feels coffeehouse, but the results are orchestrated and contemporary. The songs were born by his acoustic guitar, drawn by hand, and then the places of interest and locations of note colored in with additional artist’s tools.


While it was thought that Simon was retired and not writing music for the past five years, the muse once again visited him unannounced and at a pale hour. Simon has revealed that the Seven Psalms album idea came to him in a dream, and the compositions were completed in the witching hours. The record sparkles, like sunlight warmed dust floating around a white room. The songs acknowledge our eventual end, not in a sad way, but a hopeful, honest one. Simon’s guitar is crisp, serious, his voice an earnest gospel instrument. He is at his most lyrical and poetic, the album contains imagery in abundance. 


The recording begins with the gently disorienting ring of soft round bells ushing in an instantly recognizable Paul Simon acoustic guitar riff. “The Lord,” is an introspective overture, Simon sings, “I’ve been thinking about the great migration.” A line that lets us know the source of the record’s pious meditations. 


The song’s central lick reappears throughout the record, a meditation, a central locale to return to. Stern, forgiving and omnipotent, just like the subject of the song.  Simon’s guitar playing is intimate and complex. Each lyrical fragment, matched with a delicate string played melody, the marriage of the two resulting in an entire living universe.  


While Simon’s lyricism glimpses mortality seriously and with an analytical side eye, his humor has not left him either. In the quirky cool, “My Professional Opinion," groovy riff that creates its own inertia, and is supplemented by a squishy harmonica and some quirky electronic coloring.


The album feels like resignation and acceptance. It sounds like repentance and forgiveness. 

The songs are shards of a beautiful sound, miniature movements that Simon has captured and trumpeted from his instrument in an earthly form. “Dip your hand in heaven’s waters,” Simon sings in an exotic refrain, one that reflects the glory of God, yet lacks any preachy religious conviction. These songs are compiled images Simon has been given, and now must revel to us through his sacred harp.


The second side of the record reminds me at times of David Bowie’s Blackstar, an album that uncovers similar submerged emotions through atmospheric choral voices and sonic contemplation. While Simon and Bowie’s respective aesthetics may differ, their resulting messages are similar. The idea that comfort can be found in song, and that human mystery can be solved through joyous melodic wonder.


                                        Photo: Paul Simon

Simon’s wife, Edie Brickell also lends her vocal talents to the second side of the record, adding a contrasting voice to the conversation. The final song of the record, “Wait,” is a stunning piece of music. The track’s instrumentation feels like a conglomeration of the entirety Simon’s music career. The overarching subject of the song, the elephant in the room.  

It feels like a lost balloon being tossed between a dark realization of the inevitable, and the delicate awakening of an eventual beautiful release. Brickell sings a garden verse chorus in exciting opposition to the deep blue recital by her husband. Their voices together meaningful and symbolic. The album and song then conclude with Simon and wife singing the word “Amen” together in chorus, an appropriate closing to such a deep album long narrative.


Seven Psalms, is a serious piece of music by one of the finest singer/songwriter poets in music history. In the twilight of his creative years, Simon continues to compose wonderful music, his resolve strong, and his mind sharp. What he has conjured with this album surpasses his most recent musical expressions. Seven Psalms sounds inspired, and feels serious, it’s multiplicity and depth worthy of our time and our ears.



Monday, May 15, 2023

Stephen Stills: Live At Berkeley 1971 - "Gotta Move On"

Stephen Stills new hand picked live release from the depths of his 60 year musical vault is a special project. Stephen Stills - Live at Berkeley 1971 illustrates the culmination of fertile era in Stills career. After his early days founding both Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, he was a principal creative force in the "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" supergroup. Following the collision of egos in CSNY in 1970 that resulted in musical infernos burning down the ship, Stills and his mates took to divergent paths in order to discover their own musical futures. It's vault excavations like this current Stills dig that the rock room lives for.

Stephen's second solo album, Stephen Stills 2 was released in June of 1971 and this accompanying performance in support of the record was recorded over two nights on August 20 and 21st 1971. The dates were the final two concerts of his 52 concert, 1971 North American tour, sometimes referred to as "The Drunkin' Horns" tour. Stills was prolific during this era and was on a streak of writing, recording and producing a string of fantastic albums and songs. While in the media, Stills talent, indulgence, and fame often overshadowed the music. What is undeniable is the deep wealth and wide span of his abilities during this period.

Luckily now, a reassessment is due, and this newly released recording allows us to do so. Stills jittery creative fire explodes off the crystal clear analog recording. Stills said to American Songwriter in 2023, "The thing is fantastically recorded. It never has any distortions. There’s so many things that are right about it, besides a few awful songs and some of the singing that’s a stretch of imagination to call it singing.”

The new live release captures an anticipatory Stills as he embarked on his first solo tour. Using the same format as the "CSNY" shows, Stills played an intimate acoustic set before taking the stage with the Memphis Horns for a full blown electric second half.
                                    Photo By: Henry Diltz

The two LP version of the set opens with "Love the One Your With," played with a loose jubilation and with Stills accompanied by friend and long tome percussionist Joe Lala. Guitarist Steve Fromholz then joins Stills and plays a welcome and country bluesy "Do For the Others" from Stephen Stills 1.

The duo then collaborate on a rare version of "Jesus Gave Love Away For Free," which would later end up on Stephen's first"Manassas" record. Fromholz lends pitch perfect harmonies and Stephen picks out a boozy benediction with his plucky fingering.

In what would be the first time one of the members of CSNY joined another onstage, Stills introduces David Crosby to the audience. Buttering both sides of the bread, Crosby slides right in between Fromholz and Stills vocals on "You Don't Have To Cry," and a different three way blend rises to the surface. Stills then joins Crosby by adding a beautifully delicate harmony on Crosby's own "The Lee Shore." A perfect addition to the collection and well timed tribute to the recently departed Croz.

A crushing solo acoustic version of "Word Game," that rivals the reading on 1975's Stephen Stills Live, leaves the crowd cheering for more. The acoustic set covers the multiplicity of Stills acoustic guitar playing, who is of the best rock and roll hollow bodied players around.

In the 'rock room's opinion, the highlight of the collection is Stills solo piano rendition of "Sugar Babe." While Stills stage persona often walked the high wire between beauty and beast, "Sugar Babe" is a reflection of the former. The song is an underrated confection, and is comprised of sticky sweet Stills serenading. His voice a warmed taffy, stretching notes to the horizon line with effortless control. His clustered chording and dancing finger moves on the piano are a special highlight. The performance one of a string of stellar Stills piano compositions of his career including but not limited to, "As I Come of Age," and "Got It Made."

Staying on piano, Stills plays a roly poly rendition of his "49 Bye-Byes/For What It's Worth," medley (minus the preaching which he notes) before playing a version of a song previously released on Four Way Street, "Black Queen." Stills, known as "Captain Manyhands," illustrates why, as he next dons his banjo for a honky version of "Know You Got To Run," from the then current Stephen Stills 2 and concluding the acoustic portion of the collection.

The real interest for both the hardcore and newly onboarded Stills fans is the intensely played electric set on the flip side of the second record. The electric songs offer a specialized glimpse into Stills attempts at assimilating his songwriting with contemporary horn heavy arrangements featured by groups like, Chicago, and Blood, Sweat and Tears. The concert's second half is also made up of deeper cuts from Stills catalog, songs that following the tour would rarely be performed on stage.

Stephen and the Memphis Horns work well together and the music has a funky bed that works well with Stills love of exotic rhythms. Beautifully ramshackle, Stills and his CSNY rhythm section of Fuzzy Samuels and Dallas Taylor blast their way through the "big" numbers from Stills first two records. Paul Harris is on keyboards, Fromholz, second guitar and Joe Lala on percussion.

"Bluebird Revisited," from Stills 2, receives an enthusiastic run-through, with Stills quoting the original Buffalo Springfield "Bluebird" mid-song."Lean On Me," written by horn player Wayne Jackson gets a bombastic groove going. Stills is in full growl mode, answering his gruff hollers with slick riffed guitar responses. The horns blast, Stills shreds, and the resulting jamming is exciting and aggressive.

Both "Cherokee," and "Ecology Song," come to life on the live stage with substantial horn-centric exclamations. While the record is only a snapshot of the tour's electric sets which also featured songs like, "Open Secret," and "Go Back Home," it is a welcome addiction to Stills canon. "Cherokee," a highlight from Stills debut solo record, reaches ten minutes, and is an active and moody piece of music. A fleeting arrow, heading for it's mark the arrangement slices through the air on Paul Harris's sneaky organ flourishes and Lala's constantly creative percussion. The song streaks impatiently, trailing recklessly toward its target.

A mid-song spotlight for the horn players cracks the center of the song open spotlighting extended sax and trumpet solos over the agitated rhythm. When Stills enters for his guitar segment he plays with a spiky and fuzzed out tone that increases the intensity of the playing by Dallas Taylor. Stills riffs with a spacey feel, not always found in his playing. The solo peaks in a steamy feedback wave as the vocals return. Stills then brings the song to a proper conclusion with thrashes of big distorted chording."Ecology Song," has the same feeling of motion, and spacious plane landscapes as "Cherokee". The horns blow breathlessly and the drums pound the arrangement into the soil. Stills sings in a full throat ranging from snarl to falsetto, a soulful and husky serenade.

Stephen Stills and the "Memphis Horns" tour of 1971 is hopefully the first in a long line of new Stephen Stills archival releases. His friend and bandmate Neil Young has opened his vaults and it appears Stills has signed off on doing the same. It's long overdue that Stills career is given a deeper more detailed analysis. When releases like this allow the listener to do so, an entirely new view of his music is revealed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Between the Lines: Cream: Clapton, Bruce, and Baker - Sitting on Top of the World - By: Edoardo Genzolini

A recent and worthy addition to the lexicon of rock and roll composition is archivist and writer Edoardo Genzolini's new book on British supergroup Cream. His text, Cream: Clapton, Bruce, and Baker - Sitting on Top of the World, San Fransisco, February - March 1968 places the spotlight on a specific era in the group's short history when they were the best improvisational rock band in the world. The book captures the top of the arch for a group that would explode on stages in fits of multifarious improv, before flaming out only two years from their inception.

The book is built for rock geeks and those interested in the minute details of legendary rock musicians. Genzolini provides a strata of information regarding Cream's west coast assimilation including instruments played, songs featured, and the group's towering influence on other San Francisco bands. Genzolini, who composed a wonderfully crafted and detailed look at The Who's concert history, in this piece has created the same focused view of a fertile and critical musical moment for Cream and it's principal members.

Released by Schiffer Publishing, Genzolini's text places Cream's visit to San Francisco,1968 in a wider musical context. The book provides the background on Cream's first meetings and traces their development and how their performances in California took the group to a new level of popularity and musical freedom.

Genzolini reconstructs Cream's legendary San Fransisco performances at both Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland through deft research and new interviews from attendees. Both Tony Palmer and Bill Halverson, who worked with the group previously on both music and film projects contribute to the book.

The text is a culmination of flavorful writing, new insight, unreleased photographs and a plethora of impressive research. Genzolini traces the band moving through a critical era in rock history when every element of rock performance was designed to entice and excite. The venues were psychedelic playgrounds, the band's fearless, and the audience attentive, forgiving and longing for shared experimentation.

Genzolini has illustrated a knack for indelible research, a finite attention to detail and a deep immersion in his subjects. His telling of Cream's story traces their explosive growth on the stages of the left coast. Using reconstructed setlists, tape logs, and unreleased photographs a newly developed look at the performances that shaped the group come to life through his written word. 

Get the book here

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Neil Young - "Harvest Time" - A Musical Bounty Captured on Film

Shot between January and November 1971, Neil Young’s docu-film Harvest Time is a cinema verité capture of Neil Young‘s most prolific era as a songwriter. Caught bounding between locations in the Bay Area, London, Nashville and New York, the film documents Young’s work on  his most popular LP, Harvest. The celluloid finds the Young produced film in the midst of creative growth, coming to terms with his increasing popularity, and on the ceaseless search for inspired song.

The Harvest Time film played in theaters for limited engagements and is included in Young’s 50th anniversary deluxe edition box set documenting the Harvest record. The film in turn procures a collection of intimate moments and diverse locations during the development of the record. While sometimes rambling, a bit shaky, and always stoned, the cut of the film reflects the intent of its producer and originator.

Convivial recording sessions in Young’s legendary barn highlight the early segments of film. Nashville musicians Ben Keith, Tim Drummond and Kenny Buttery were invited to Young’s rustic compound after a timely meeting the previous year. Christened by Young as the “Stray Gators,” their early sympatico is evident in the existing footage. For Young’s hardcore Rusties, the film is a revelation, once mythical happenings have now been reanimated with an inspired soundtrack.

Young’s long time manager Elliot Roberts is often found running through frames, while keeping things in line. Young’s friend and arranger Jack Nitzsche is also a collaborator lending piano, slide guitar and an attentive directive to the proceedings.

Extraordinary footage shot just over the tops of the piano keys finds Young with his famed Gretsch White Falcon guitar directing the stony groove of the group with lidded eyes and a genuine smile. Surrounded by antique farm implements, hay bales, farm dogs, a mess of gear and lots of marijuana, Young and his new bandmates get down to business in the pastoral air of Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch.

The film follows a loose narrative as the album is developed between varying locals and times. In Neil’s barn, “Alabama ” and “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” are volleyed about through extended and patient jamming. The camera captures Young’s textural work with feedback and detailed vibrato on his Bigsby, as he attempts to shade the arrangement. The band cooks the basic stock of the soup before additional ingredients are added.

The Nashville rhythm section of Buttrey and Drummond are a latch board on the barn door, keeping things in the stall and the arrangements orderly. Ben Keith, who would remain one of Young’s best friends following the sessions, spreads butter on the toast with slick tasteful steel. Young often sits back on a bail with curt melodic statements and dynamic chording while letting Keith’s strings sing. The ambiance of which songs recorded at the ranch can be easily discerned on the official record after watching the film by recognizing their hearty resonance.

The Wally Heider remote recording truck sits outside of the barn so the Stray Gators and Young can listen to their work. As the band and crew gather, the cameraman captures Neil walking across the field away from the barn. He catches up with Young, finding him lounging on the ground with a Coors and a joint. An extraordinary interaction takes place in the scene with Young documented musing about his creative exploits and  ultimate goals.

“Are you happy with this one?” Young is asked by the filmmaker. “No,” Young answers, smiling. “It’s nice, though. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know till I hear it. I just don’t know.”

Young muses as his work is reflected back at him by the surrounding green hills. The glimpse of the artist in his own natural environment cultivating his creativity is an essential moment in the film.

Following the basic tracking taking place at the barn the film jumps from country to city to the vocal overdub sessions with two of Young’s bandmates from Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young.  Stephen Stills and David Crosby gather around a microphone at Wally Heider’s lending their vocal acumen to a barn recorded version of “Alabama”. The film offers priceless insight into the volatile brotherhood between the Crosby, Stills and Nash team and the inspiration is ripe as the triad gather around the studio piano to work out harmony notes. 

After work on “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” Graham Nash adds vocals at a session in New York. A tremendously entertaining segment between friends and an insider view of their harmonies in production.

The Young team is transplanted to England for a session with the London Symphony Orchestra. The contrast between the talented but stuffy and all male LSO and the rich hippy aesthetic of Young and his pals is fascinating. The segment illustrates the orchestra’s attempts at following Young’s music and how his ultimate vision comes to fruition. Both “A Man Needs a Maid” and “There’s a World” are fully formed, with nary a detail missed by Young. Midway through this essential sequence, Young debut’s a lacy fragment of “Harvest” on acoustic guitar in the canteen between takes.

Toward the conclusion of the narrative Young and the Stray Gators find themselves in a cramped studio in Nashville during a heated groove. After enjoying a unique improv segment the viewer is moved to the control room as tape is being spooled and final mixing of the record is about to take place. A high powered cannabis contraption is procured by Tim Drummond for the band and crew and a joyous listening session for Young’s developing LP is captured for eternity. 

We are placed in front of the DJ desk as Young sits in on a local Nashville radio show. Young is asked by the DJ Scott Shannon the intent behind the film crew and if the result will ever end up in the theaters. Neil replies, “Maybe pretty soon.” Similarly, to many of Young’s inspired projects, he is confident that it will come to fruition, just not sure when or how.

In one of the final more surreal clips, Young and his entourage run into Gil Gilliam, a 12-year-old Nashville personality who is seen at the station. The interview between Young and the excitable star is natural, different, and highlighted with young Gilliam asking the tough questions. The honesty in their interaction lends the movie a poignancy that hadn’t occurred in it up to that point. 

While some may find the documentation of recording sessions and other musical minutiae tedious, for the Neil Young fan and music lover Harvest Time allows a deeper understanding of the creative artist at work. Young’s obvious perfectionism, varying approaches, as well as his relationships with his collaborators illustrates his endless quest to find inspiration by following any and all paths. Harvest Time is truly a must see music documentary.

Similarly, to Peter Jackson’s on screen portrayal of the Beatles during their famed 1969 sessions in the Get Back documentary, the mundane becomes revelatory. Relationship dynamics and creative emotions are laid bare. Filmed snippets of song, musical connections, and captured clandestine comments not only help us to better understand the artist, but get closer to the heart of the music.

Harvest Time Trailer

Monday, February 20, 2023

Put the Boot In: Flying Burrito Brothers Live at Altamont Speedway 1969

Recently appearing in varying corners of the intraweb, and in general circulation for those who seek it is a crystalline soundboard recording of the “Flying Burrito Brothers” live at the infamous 1969 Altamont festival. A day that will be remembered not because of the music, but because of the death of young Meredith Hunter who was murdered at the hand of a group of Hell's Angels. In addition to his tragic murder, there were three deaths on the day and a general malaise in the air. Rightfully overshadowed by the day's horrible nonmusical events, there was indeed some good music presented on the stage. 

Documented in the "Rolling Stones" film "Gimmie Shelter", the left coast Woodstock had a pall bad vibes from the very beginning. Poor planning, bad decisions regarding security and general disorganization doomed the gathering from the start. Confirmed for the festival was a plethora of left coast area artists willing to contribute their time and talents to the concert. The scheduled line up for the event (in order of appearance) included "Santana", "Jefferson Airplane", "The Flying Burrito Brothers", "Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young", "The Grateful Dead" and the "Rolling Stones" as the headliners. Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969 was picked for the accommodations. 300,000 folks showed up and chaos insured. In the end, the Grateful Dead ended up not playing, and Marty Balin of the Airplane ended up getting punched in the face. 

As one of the early acts of the day the Burrito's flew in from Los Angeles and were able to play before the sun dressed day descended into ominous night. Recently circulating for our aural pleasure is a soundboard line recording of the entire Burrito's set. While a reasonable audience recording has circulated for a number of years, this well-balanced document is a welcome addition to the groups catalog. The tape is missing the closing encore of "Bony Moronie,” but can be completed with the audience recording. 

Keith Richards had become close friends with Gram Parsons, as the duo had bonded over their shared love of country music and getting fucked up. It was Richards doing, that the Burrito's had secured a slot in the festival's line up. In segmented footage from the Burrito’s set, Richards can be seen grooving on the festivities. The cross-pollinating influence between the two was deep, with Parson's even imitating Mick Jagger's dress and mannerisms at Altamont with a pretty blouse and some ass shaking. 

The Burrito’s released their debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin in December of 1968 and were working on the follow up. The first two albums together would encapsulate the pastoral return to the roots movement of the current rock scene. Because of this prolific work, several new tracks would get workouts on the Altamont stage. The band had retooled its line up since their debut as bassist Chris Ethridge had left the band. Chris Hillman moved back to his natural instrument of bass, guitarist Bernie Leadon was added on guitar. Sneaky Pete Kleinow remained on pedal steel and former "Byrd" Michael Clarke took up the drum stool. There were now three former Byrds wrapped in this hot Burrito line up. The group asserted themselves well in such a strange venue and in front of a humongous crowd. The played for half an hour and laid down a rickety honky tonk space country aesthetic. While the group usually played smallish local venues like the Palomino Club or Avalon, the guys didn’t flinch at the massive crowd. While not known as a band that could rock the socks off of everyone, they certainly could make you think of the woman you lost, or look forward to the next stop on the highway. 

The vibe was still one of anticipation and groovyness as the Burrito's took to the small open-air stage. After an introduction by Stones manager Sam Cutler, the group immediately entered a slippery and wide eyed throttle through "Six Days on the Road". Powered by diesel and blowing smoke rings in the air, the metallic string scrubs of Leadon and Sneaky Pete throws sparks. The group is jittery and Parson's sings in in an earnest warble. There is footage of this opening track in the film "Gimmie Shelter", the vibe is light and the crowd is getting off. 

The horny two step of "High Fashion Queen" from the group's yet to be released second LP keeps the tempo high with swinging dual lead vocals by Parsons and Hillman. "Cody, Cody" follows, another new number built on a gentle Byrds' like sway and containing one of the finest Burrito melodies. Sweeping Sneaky Pete steel lines underpin the shared vocals by Hillman and Parsons. Mid-song the guitars meet, intertwine and increase the melodic effect of the shimmering chord changes. Parsons can be heard expressing well timed off mic asides. 

The group thanks both the audience and the Stones before firing up "Lazy Days," a Gram Parsons number that he recorded with every single band he had ever been a member of. In 1970 the Burrito's released the song as a single, unfortunately it was lazy in its movement up the charts. Parsons starts the song by singing the opening line and the rhythm section falls into place quickly. Silvery, summer rain steel shifts the rhythmic currents. Both Parsons and Hillman sing like hopped up cowboys in contrast to the songs title. In some choppy audience shot footage Parsons can be seen agitating a tambourine while acting quite like the lead singer of the headlining group. 

At this point of the show its obvious on the tape that the Burrito’s are showing out. A steamy special, Buck Owens, "Close up the Honky Tonks" gets down to what GP is all about, eliciting a good time lilt and deep investment. Here in lies the uniqueness of the Burrito’s, wicked messengers of the country gospel. Heaping spoonful’s of classic country fed to the collective hippy demographic. An exuberant on stage howl, is followed with an onstage quip of, "We hope that got you off" at the end of the song.

In a “rock room” recommended highlight of the performance, Waylon Jennings "Mental Revenge" gets an aggressive slide centric reading, highlighted by Parsons and Hillman's backcountry vocal blend. Leadon takes a short and sweet but well played solo, while Sneaky Pete threads a moonshine laced line throughout the verses. Clarke chugs along with a straight up rock indeed. 

An emotive reading of the "Bee Gee's", "To Love Someboy” increases the performances emotional power. If you are an admirer of Gram Parson's vocals this version will hit the bullseye. Like his later interpretation of “Love Hurts”, Parson’s jump in with both feet. His vocals, honest, yet cracked in all the right spots, the Burrito's move the song from one side of the room to the other creating an entirely new look at a familiar space. 

A hard to hold "Lucille" is a nod and a wink to the band's rock and roll roots and gets the hippies back on their feet. Clarke’s dinging bell cymbal propels the band. Sneaky Pete, turns the thumping changes into a watery mantra with his sleek playing. Hillman and Parson’s harmonies keep the rock standard from sounding the anything rock at all. 

Buck Owens "Together Again" gets a false start and then becomes a last call. A sozzled swing allows Parson’s to don his acoustic and croon out one of his favorites. Out of the solo spot Parson’s sings from the gut and pushes out a warbled emotive yelp. The set proper then closes with Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and the song wings around the sharp corners of Altamont Speedway, leaving only streaks of feedback and the sizzling of the amps in its wake. Leadon and Pete collaborate on lead lines that suddenly appear out of the air and meld back to the arrangement. The song threatens to outrun Parsons recitation of the verses at one point, but Gram lands on time and takes the finale to a fabulous finish. 

A historic, strange day, often recognized for the negative acts that took place more than for the music created (for good reason). Now, over 50 years later audio from a forgotten “Flying Burrito Brothers” set allows for a reassessment of not only the group, but of one of the weirdest concerts in the annals of rock history.