Pendulum by Creedence Clearwater

April 29, 2009

Creedence Clearwater Revival is safely ensconced in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame and its leader, writer, and lead guitarist, John Fogerty, is recognized as a living musical genius. Today the group is mainly remembered for their string of single releases that dominated the American airwaves in the late 1960s and early 70s. Such songs as “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Run Through The Jungle,” “Travelin’ Man,” “Fortunate Son” and a host of others have proven to have eternal appeal as new generations have embraced them.

The Concord Music Group purchased the Fantasy Label catalogue and has reissued the first six Creedence Clearwater albums complete with bonus tracks. Only the group’s last studio release, Mardi Gras, is missing. The packaging is true to the original releases. It is the sound, however, that makes the difference as it has a clearness that was not present on the originals. While Creedence Clearwater may best be remembered for the aforementioned singles, their albums sold in the millions and any or all of these reissues are worth acquiring as they helped define American rock ‘n’ roll at a critical period in United States history.

Pendulum was the sixth Creedence Clearwater studio album and the last to feature all four members of the group as Tom Fogerty would depart shortly after its release.

This album is different from the five that preceded it as John Fogerty decided to take the group in new directions. He may have over reached at times but the sound remains an interesting glimpse into what they may have been moving toward had they not disbanded.

There are three classic sounding Creedence songs for traditionalists. In a way Fogerty may have been hedging his bets. The two sided hit single, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain/Hey Tonight,” contain the tight song structures and harmonies that had made the group famous. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” was issued at the height of the Vietnam War and is still a reminder of those times. “Molina” could have been another hit single as it is up-tempo, catchy, and stays in the mind for days.

The Legendary Master Series Vol. 4 by Eddie Cochran

April 29, 2009

Eddie Cochran is an artist who remains lost in the mists of time for many people. He was always more popular in Europe than the United States, yet he was one of the most influential guitarists of the rock ‘n’ roll era. His guitar intro to “Summertime Blues” is genius encapsulated into about 15 seconds. Through his music, he would create a series of story songs as good as any that were being produced in the late 1950’s.Unfortunately, Cochran was killed in a car accident in England in April of 1960. Fellow rocker Gene Vincent would survive the crash but be in pain until his death in 1971.

Cochran’s catalogue of songs has been released in a number of ways and forms over the years but I still migrate back to The Legendary Masters Series Vol. 4, which is now 36 years old. Not only does it cover all the highlights of his career but also contains some of the best liner notes ever written.

Most rock aficionados remember the Who’s version of “Summertime Blues” or possibly the bludgeoning of the song by Blue Cheer. Neither really holds up to the original by Cochran. The guitar playing is crisp and clear and is the focus of the song. He also possessed a superior rock type voice which he puts to good use on this song. “Summertime Blues” remains one of the most influential and best of the pre-Beatles rock songs and essential for anyone interested in the development and progression of the American rock ‘n’ roll sound.

“20 Flight Rock” has been covered by The Rolling Stones among others but Cochran’s original version is not cluttered with extra instruments and over production. His interpretation is clean and stripped down to basics, which allow the guitar and vocal to stand and ultimately shine on their own.

“C’mon Everybody,” “Somethin’ Else,” “Pink Peg Slacks” plus a number of known and lesser known tracks emerge in pristine condition years after their creation.

Eddie Cochran’s career was unfortunately very brief. Today his songs are mainly played on late night radio or appear on greatest hits oldie albums. The Legendary Masters Series Vol. 4 remains superior to many of his newer CD compilation releases. It is an excellent place to experience his music and legacy all in one place.

Live In Concert (DVD) by Johnny “Guitar” Watson

April 29, 2009

Johnny “Guitar” Watson, (1935-1996), never really received his due as one of the more creative guitarists and vocalists of the past fifty years. He progressed from a jazz and blues artist in the 1950s to a 70’s funkster. He even managed to play some great rock ‘n’ roll along the way. He recorded his first album in 1953 and toured with the likes of Little Richard, Johnny Otis, and Larry Williams. It was, however, as a sharp dressed, jive singing funk artist in the 1970s that finally brought Watson some fame.

The heart of Live In Concert is his appearance at the 1993 North Sea Jazz Festival. This 11 song, 78 minute performance presents a good retrospective of the last 25 years of his career. He has a brass section in support, and while they may flirt with jazz, Watson’s vocals are pure funk throughout the performance.

“Booty Ooty” serves as a warm up for Watson as he just fronts the band as a singer and cheerleader. He creates an energy in the concert hall and forms an intimate relationship with the audience. He finally picks up his guitar, if only for a short time, on “I Need It.” “Superman Love” is one of the strongest tracks on the DVD. It is more melodic than many of the other songs, yet leaves some room for vocal and instrumental improvisation.

“Gangster Of Love” shows what a creative and technically sound guitarist Watson can be when he is so inclined. The lyrics may be funky but the guitar playing is rooted in the blues. At least on this album he does not sing and play at the same time. He also shows a knack for letting the members of his backing band step forward and shine without interfering.

The DVD extras include three live tracks from the 1996 Blues Fest Leverkusen concert just before his death. It shows the high quality of his live act at the end of his life. Also included is an interview from 1987 and vintage footage from 1980.

If you are a jazz/blues Johnny “Guitar” Watson fan then this DVD is not for you. If, however, you would like a little funk from a deceased master, then Live In Concert is a good place to start.

Greatest Hitss 1974-1988 (180 Gram Vinyl) by The Steve Miller Band

April 29, 2009

To paraphrase Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore in the movie Apocalypse Now; “I love the smell of fresh vinyl in the morning.” One of the most unique smells I can remember is opening a record album and sniffing the just opened package. If you have never experienced that pleasure you have truly missed a very unique experience.

Once in awhile a company makes a good decision. In this case, The Capital label has decided to release a number of classic albums on 180 gram vinyl. Thus The Steve Miler Band’s Greatest Hits 1974-1978 returns to its original form.

A 180 gram record is noticeably heavier than the norm and is made from virgin vinyl. Records in the United States from the 1950s through the 1990s were made from recycled vinyl which took away from the overall sound quality. When the music is remastered and issued on this heavy virgin vinyl it sounds as good, if not better than, a CD. The issue is having a good stereo system on which to play it and taking care of the record. This means having a top of the line needle so that the record grooves will not be damaged. Capital has done everything right as the sound is spectacular.

Greatest Hits 1974-1978 by The Steve Miller Band was a good choice for inclusion in this series. It is currently ranked as the 33rd best selling album of all time with 13 million copies sold. Steve Miller started out as a blues/rock fusion type artist in the late 1960s. His albums released from 1968-1971 are still worth seeking out with Sailor being a standout. During the 1970s Steve Miller produced a string of memorable and catchy singles that were gathered together for this album. “Jet Airliner,” “Take The Money and Run,” “Swingtown,” “Jungle Love,” and “Fly Like An Eagle” all represent this slick and very commercial sound.

What it basically comes down too is that if you like The Steve Miller Band you probably have these songs or this album in some form. Purchasing this 180 gram limited edition LP will provide a different experience. It is a trip back to the days of vinyl without sacrificing any of the modern sound.

If Greatest Hits 1974-1978 is representative of the other releases in the series then it will occupy an important and entertaining niche in the music listening and entertainment field.

Modern Times by Bob Dylan

April 23, 2009

Bob Dylan released Modern Times on August 29, 2006 and it became his first number one album since 1976’s Desire. At the time, he was the oldest artist to reach the top position on the National charts. Neil Diamond has since surpassed that record.

Dylan borrows heavily from traditional blues tunes of the 1920s and 30s and adapts some interpretations of those songs to his unique style. While he does not credit some of these performances, the folk and blues traditions in the USA are filled with copying and interpretation of songs. Dylan received some criticism for this tactic but people have been copying him for years. The other often forgotten point is that all the songs were in the public domain. However he came to these songs, the updated versions would give the release a sound rooted in Americana by way of a modernization of pre-rock ‘n’ roll blues. The result was an accessible and brilliant release that was one of the best of his career.

“Thunder On The Mountain” is the first track and is a call to the faithful. Whether you interpret the song as revelation or a love song, it just rocks along. The precise phrasing of Dylan’s vocals would set the tone for the rest of the performances.

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” has appeared under a number of titles throughout its history. Dylan’s version comes closest to that of Muddy Waters although Robert Johnson would provide a raw and sparse version. Other modern interpretations would include Johnny Winter, Cream, and Canned Heat. Dylan strips the lyrics back and adds two new original verses.

“Someday Baby” is based on the old Muddy Waters tune “Trouble No More.” It would win the Grammy Award as the best rock performance of the year and deservedly so.

Dylan takes the old Memphis Minnie blues tune, “When The Levee Breaks” and changes it to “The Levee’s Gonna Break.” He fills in the sound which pushes it toward rock ‘n’ roll and also adds new lyrics which moves it from a natural disaster theme to more apocalyptic in nature.

“Workingman Blues #2” is presented as an easy flowing blues tune. Political, spiritual, and love themes are all mixed together.

“Ain’t Talkin’” is a somber song that borders on depressing yet was a fitting conclusion to the album.

Bob Dylan is now 67 and it remains to be seen how many albums he has left in him.

Love and Theft by Bob Dylan

April 23, 2009

Bob Dylan released “Love and Theft” on the memorable date of September 11, 2001. The quotation marks are an official part of the title. It was his first album since 1997’s Time Out Of Mind. While that album would be dark and even fearful at times; Dylan would return to his blues and folk roots in a positive manner. Though far different from each other, both were successful in their own way. It would be Dylan’s highest charting album in years reaching number 3 on the National charts. Rolling Stone Magazine would place it at 467 on their 500 greatest albums of all time.

I can’t help but think that Dylan had fun writing and recording the songs for this album. There is an old time feel to it, especially on the blues numbers. The lyrics were strong and the song structures tight. The music itself has a beauty. Dylan was also wise enough to use his touring band in the studio rather than assembling different combinations for each track. The fact that they had been playing together regularly shows. The only problem I have with the album is his voice. It has a gruffness and sounds lower than in the past, but he manages to get by.

This is not as personal or as thoughtful as many of his past efforts. Instead the focus is upon the songs themselves and this was a wise decision. Dylan, who was now forty years into his career, had decided to just create some music with no hidden agenda or at least very little.

It is the blues songs that dominate the album. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is Dylan paying homage to a man who influenced not only his music but American music in general. Also known as Charlie Patton, he was one of the originators of The Delta Blues sound. The song looks at southern racial history as well.

Other original blues tunes dominate this release. “Po’ Boy” is right out of the 1920’s. “Sugar Baby” can almost be imagined as being played at a funeral procession in New Orleans. “Bye and Bye” has been used in his live act and the sweet music provides shelter from the intensity of the lyrics. “Summer Days” almost makes a turn into an early country swing sound.

The most memorable track on the album is “Mississippi.” It is a melodic folk ballad of alienation and regret. Both Sheryl Crow and The Dixie Chicks would change this song around and create memorable versions.

“Love and Theft” is an album I do not play enough. When I do give it a spin I find new delights. Bob Dylan proved, that even as his life entered its sixth decade, he is still a master of his craft.

Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan

April 21, 2009

Bob Dylan would return in 1997 with his first album of all new original material in seven years. Time Out Of Mind would reach the top ten on the national charts and achieve platinum status with over one million units sold. Daniel Lanois was brought back to produce this release and under his guidance it would win the Grammy for best album of the year.

1997 would find an aging Dylan, who was now well over thirty years into his career. He was not the same person as he had been in the early 1960s and his songs would reflect that fact. His compositions were more philosophical as he continued to explore the world around him, but now from the perspective of a mature, and in some ways a world weary, individual. As such, he would continue to redefine and solidify his legacy.

“Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” find him contemplating his spiritual journey as many people do when they reach his age. Dylan is just able to put his thoughts and feelings into words and music. “Not Dark Yet” would find him thinking about death which is another topic that invades the mind as people age.“Make You Feel My Love” is a straight forward and passionate love song. “Standing In The Doorway” is an emotional track that is wistful and shows a longing.

“Highlands” would be the longest track of his career clocking in at over sixteen minutes. It is a novel set to music, and while it does drag at times, it has enough imagery and parables to keep the listeners attention. It is a song of looking back that gradually moves toward acceptance with the words: “And that’s good enough for me now.”

Time Out Of Mind was a comeback album commercially but a repositioning album personally. Dylan had new things to think and talk about and would bring them to life through his words and music. This album of mature subjects and stories would be a superior effort. It really should not be compared to his best work of the 1960s and 1970s as it is far different in vision and scope. It is enough to just appreciate it on its own terms.

World Gone Wrong by Bob Dylan

April 21, 2009

The positive reception for his album, Good As I Been To You, prompted Bob Dylan to release another album of traditional folk and blues songs. World Gone Wrong was released October 26, 1993 and received another round of positive reviews. Both albums would find Dylan accompanying himself only on acoustic guitar and harmonica.

His choice of material would be darker this time and he would write his own liner notes explaining the songs. This may have been due to the fact he had been successfully sued for using arrangements that were not original to him without providing compensation or recognition. Also the album cover shows him wearing what appears to be the same top hat as on the jacket of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid.

What has always been amazing to me is that Dylan was familiar with so many and different types of traditional songs. These songs would literally define him as a person and musician just as well as most of his own compositions. The songs chosen for this album may be more intense and less positive than his past selections but they are performed with passion and sincerity. It all adds up to the fact that, at his best, he is a folk singer.

He takes two old blues songs from the 1930’s, originally performed by The Mississippi Sheiks, and simplifies them back to their basics. “Blood In My Eyes” is an intensive love song while “Delia” is a ballad of murder, prison, and death.

“Two Soldiers” has appeared in Dylan’s stage act, off and on, for years now. It portrays death in war and the pain of a mother left behind. “Lone Pilgrim” contains some of the most expressive vocals of his career.

World Gone Wrong contained a set of songs that meant something to him. He proves here that good songs are never dated when recorded and sung well. The tunes contained on this album will always be good company.

Good As I Been To You by Bob Dylan

April 21, 2009

Early in 1992 Bob Dylan went into the studio with David Bromberg and recorded an album’s worth of material. None of these tracks would be used on his next album. Dylan would return to the recording studio and record a large number of cover songs that would become Good As I Been To You.

The first thing that I noticed about this album was the personnel listed on the jacket. It read Bob Dylan-vocal, guitar, harmonica and that was it. This was far different from the multitude of singers and performers that had been appearing on his recent albums. The original Dylan had returned.

Producing an album of cover songs worked well for him. This return to his simple folk roots seemed to rejuvenate his career. He began as an interpreter of songs and remains one of the best in the business when he selects the proper material, which he does here. He may not have written these songs but they are his nonetheless. His use of only his acoustic guitar and harmonica served to accentuate the performances.

“Frankie & Albert” has been recorded hundreds of times, but he takes the song in a blues direction by using Mississippi John Hurt’s version. “Jim Jones” was an old Australian ballad. He had a penchant, at times, for using other artist’s renditions without acknowledgment or compensation. This time he got caught as Marc Slocum sued him and won for copying his version of the song.

There are a lot of stellar moments on this album. “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is the old blues tune by Walter Vinson. He strips this 1930’s blues classic to its basics. Just compare it to the version by the group Cream. “Tomorrow Night” has some classic harmonica playing. “Black Jack Davey” is a folk ballad from the early 1700’s and “Canadee-i-o” is from Canada. Both come to life as wonderful story songs. “Arthur McBride” is a violent Irish protest song and on it goes.

The album concludes with a six minute version of “Froggie Went A Courtin’” which generations of grade school children have sung in music class. This 16th century traditional Scottish song was a wonderful way to end the album in a fun and relaxed manner.

Good As I Been To You was an excellent release and proves that sometimes simple is best. Somewhere Woody Guthrie is smiling.

Under The Red Sky by Bob Dylan

April 18, 2009

I have now listened to Under A Red Sky four times in the last two days and frankly I don’t get it. I also have the feeling that this may have been Dylan’s intent. On the surface it appears to be a children’s album of nonsensical nursery rhymes or possibly The Brothers Grimm on crack.

Dylan had been busy working on the Traveling Wilburys second album with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Looking back it seems that Dylan enjoyed his time with The Wilburys as he appeared relaxed and happy. It may have been that for once all the focus and expectations were not solely on him. It was basically a fun time for all involved. I think that some of that whimsy carried over to Under A Red Sky. The problem was that only Dylan was in on the joke.

Don and David Was were hired to produce the album. This was not a good choice as they were much to pop oriented and slick for Dylan’s sound. I’m not sure that they really understood him or his music. Then there was the who’s who of musicians making contributions to this project: George Harrison, Slash, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elton John, and a host of others.

I find that the music itself is fine and fairly melodic. It is the incomprehensibility of the lyrics that is the problem. Dylan’s gravelly voice does not help matters either.

The first two tracks set the tone for what will follow. “Wiggle Wiggle” is just plain odd. I played this track over and over and it just got stranger. “Under The Red Sky” would feature a beautiful guitar solo by George Harrison that would be overshadowed by the seemingly meaningless childlike lyrics. Even David Crosby can’t save such songs as “Born In Time” and “2 X 2.”

And so, gentle readers, I leave it up to you. It seems that Dylan went from the poetry of Oh Mercy to the nursery rhymes of Under The Red Sky. Maybe I’ll just play this album for my six year old granddaughter. Her interpretation will probably be as good as mine.