Idlewild South by The Allman Brothers

February 27, 2011

The Allman Brothers’ self-titled debut album in 1969 was a strong effort. Their sophomore effort, Idlewild South (1970) was tighter, more accessible, and ultimately better. The band moved in a radio-friendly direction as the songs tended to be more melodic, with its combination of jazz, rock, blues, and even a little gospel.

One of the major changes was the addition of Tom Dowd as the producer. Dowd was one of the best producers in rock history and his work with The Allman Brothers would produce three of the legendary albums of the 1970s. He was also responsible for introducing Duane Allman to Eric Clapton for his Derek and The Dominoes project.

The second change was the emergence of Dickey Betts as a songwriter, which would be so important for the band’s future success. His “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” would become an important part of the group’s stage act for decades.

The only negative was the relative shortness of the album, which clocked in at just less than 31 minutes. While it was a consistently excellent release, it was the opposite of its stage show where the songs were elongated through improvisation.

The first track, “Revival,” sets the tone for what would follow. It is a melodic fusion of rock and blues with a vocal that moves the track toward a gospel sound.

Two of the band’s eternal songs made their debuts. “Midnight Rider” was a haunting tune with one of the most soulful vocals of Gregg Allman’s career. He would issue the song as a successful Top 20 single during 1973. The aforementioned “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” is just about the perfect instrumental. It has a jazzy feel and features some of the best playing of Dickey Betts’ career. When you add the additional guitar of Duane Allman, you quickly realize it does not get much better than this.

The only cover song was Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Originally released during 1954 by Muddy Waters, it was honored by The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as one of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll. The foundation is provided by the thunderous dual drumming of Jai Johnny Johnson and Butch Trucks. Duane then adds his guitar parts, creating one of the better covers of this Hall Of Fame blues classic.

Possibly the best track was “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin,’” with Duane providing the slide guitar. He and Betts were one of the better guitar duos to ever record and perform together in the same band, and this song demonstrates why.

Idlewild South was The Allman Brothers’ commercial breakthrough. The band’s live performances quickly became some of the best in rock history. Everything seemed to be going well until just about a year later (in 1971) when Duane Allman got on his motorcycle for a ride home.

This second album remains one of The Allman Brothers’ best studio releases.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Idlewild South on Blogcritics.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul (DVD) by Jeff Beck

February 25, 2011

Les Paul passed away during 2009 at the ripe old age of 94. He was a recording star and one of the best guitarists in music history. If that weren’t enough, he made his own guitars, making the Les Paul model one of most respected and valued instruments. This pedigree would have been enough for most people, but his recording techniques and innovations may have been his greatest accomplishment.

Jeff Beck is one of music’s greatest living guitarists and has been so for nearly 50 years now. He is a double inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and his fusions of rock and jazz have been both creative and innovative.

Jeff Beck decided to throw a party to honor the old master. He invited some friends to join him on stage at one of Les Paul’s favorite haunts, The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. Sharing the stage with him are the husband and wife team of Imelda May and Darrell Higham. Higham is a rockabilly artist pure and simple and May is basically a blues singer. Stand up bassist deluxe, Al Gare, drummer Stephen Rushton, and keyboardist Jason Rebello complete the basic band. A brass section of Dave Priseman, Leo Green, and Lou Marini are on stage for the second half of the show. Special guests include Trombone Shorty, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Brian Setzer.

Jeff Beck made the wise decision to keep everything under control and to divide the show into segments. What emerged was one of the better concerts and films I have seen and heard during the past few years and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

The first segment is rockabilly with such tunes as “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Double Talkin’ Baby,” and “Cruisin’” which immediately ramps up the energy. Beck even takes the old warhorse, “Train Kept A Rollin’” for a ride.

The second segment features May as the vocalist as they travel through the Les Paul/Mary Ford songbook. She has the perfect voice to interpret this material. “How High The Moon,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Bye Bye Blues,” “Vaya Con Dios,” and “Mockin’ Bird Hill” are all fitting tributes. May’s vocal control and enunciation on “Tiger Rag” makes it a highlight.

The third section, complete with the brass section, travels in a number of directions. Beck’s guitar work on the classic instrumentals, “Sleepwalk” and “Apache” clearly presents him at his best and most precise. “Walkin’ In The Sand” is Jeff Beck playing the blues and Imelda May singing the blues. “New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds is always welcome.

The concert comes full circle with another Rockabilly section. Brian Setzer with “Twenty Flight Rock” and rousing versions of “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” bring the show to a satisfying close.

The concert was filmed well as the emphasis is always on the music. Beck is clearly the star of the show, but he is wise enough to step back when necessary and let others take the lead.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul is a fitting tribute to Les Paul. Hopefully, somewhere he is smiling and applauding along with the audience.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Jeff Beck – Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul on Blogcritics.

Take A Letter Maria 45 by R.B. Greaves

February 25, 2011

“Take A Letter Maria” was one of those singles that seemed to come from nowhere. Released October 19, 1969, it rose to the number two position on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Chart.

It was a classic pop song that almost had a early raggae flavor.

R.B. Greaves was a nephew of Sam Cooke, and had a wonderful voice. His career would go on but he would only have one more top forty hit.

“Take A Letter Maria” remains on of the better singles of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

My Love 45 by Petula Clark

February 25, 2011

Petula Clark was in her early 30’s when she had her first hit in The United States. She would go on to have 15 top 40 hits betwwen 1964-1968.

“My Love” was released Christmas day, 1965. It would become her second number one hit, topping the American charts for two weeks. It was typical of her single releases at the time as it was well produced up-tempo pop.

She was a rare female artist to have multiple hits during The Beatles era. Now in her late 70’s, she still regularly appears in concert.

Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best Of The Crystals

February 25, 2011

The Sony Music Company has just reissued a number of releases from the Phil Spector catalogue. Albums by Darlene Love, The Ronettes, the famous Phil Spector Christmas album, a best of compilation, and the subject of this review, The Crystals, have all been assembled and remastered from the original tapes.

The Crystals were one of the legendary girl groups in music history despite their short career, 1961-1964, and the different line-ups that recorded under the group name.

The original Crystals were signed to Phil Spector’s Phillies label during 1961 and became a part of his famous Wall Of Sound. Barbara Alston, Mary Thomas, Delores Kenniebrew, Patsy Wright, and Mema Girard formed the group in Brooklyn where they came to the attention of Spector. They quickly produced two top 20 hits, “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown.”

Meanwhile in California, The Blossoms with Darlene Love also came to the attention of Phil Spector. When it became inconvenient to bring The Crystals to California for a recording session, he used The Blossoms to fill in. The result was the number one hit “He’s A Rebel” and “He’s Sure The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” with the lead vocal by Darlene Love. He continued to use The Blossoms as The Crystals as they recorded “Da Doo Ron Ron” with Love’s lead vocal. A contract dispute then arose between Love and Spector.

Meanwhile back in New York, La La Brooks had replaced Girard as a member of the original Crystals. Spector had her re-record the lead vocal for “Da Do Ron Ron” and it became a number three hit single. Everything worked out fine for Darlene Love as she kept performing with The Blossoms and as a solo artist, plus in a couple of weeks will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Meanwhile still in New York, the original Crystals, with another lead vocal by Brook, recorded the classic “Then He Kissed Me.”

Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best Of The Crystals gathers all of the previously mentioned tracks plus such gems as “All Grown Up,” “Little Boy,” ”I Wonder,” and “Please Hurt Me.” There is even a previously unreleased track, “Woman In Love (With You).” They even had the good sense to leave off what is probably the worst track in Spector history, “Let’s Do The Screw.”

Phil Spector produced some of the best music of the early 1960s. His recording techniques were innovative and the sound he produced has withstood the passage of time well. The Crystals were one of his better projects as they produced some of the best music of the pre-Beatles era. While they may have been primarily a singles oriented group, when you assemble their best material onto one disc, the results are excellent. Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best Of The Crystals is an essential early rock ‘n’ roll listening experience.

Article first published as Music Review: The Crystals – Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best Of The Crystals on Blogcritics.

Fire and Rain 45 by Richie Havens

February 24, 2011

Richie Havens is best remembered for his performance of “Freedom” at Woodstock but he has been recording and performing live for close to fifty years now.

While he only had one single reach the charts, “Here Comes The Sun” in 1971, he released a number of other fine songs.

His version of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was one of the more unique interpretations of the song. While it never received any chart action, it is worth locating if you are a 45 collector.

The Allman Brothers Band by The Allman Brothers

February 24, 2011

Duane and Gregg Allman may have been young in 1969, but they were experienced. The brothers had been members of three bands; The Escorts formed in 1963, followed by the Allman Joys in 1965, and finally Hour Glass in 1967, with whom they released two commercially unsuccessful albums.

The fourth time was the charm for Gregg and Duane. The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969 and would quickly become recognized as one of the best and most creative bands in the world. The original six members included vocalist/organist Gregg Allman, guitarist Duane Allman, guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, drummer Butch Trucks, and drummer Johanny “Jaimoe” Johnson.

They released their self-titled debut album November 4, 1969. It would be a hit in their native South but receive little notice outside of that region of the country. It would peak at number 188 on the Billboard Album Chart. People didn’t know what they were missing at the time as the album introduced southern-style rock to the world, fueled by one of music’s legendary guitarists.

While The Allman Brothers would become noted for their live performances, their debut was one of their better studio releases as it fused rock, blues, and even a little jazz into a soulful mix. Gregg Allman has a perfect blues voice and the combined lead guitars of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts made for one of the best combinations in rock history.

The album is just about a perfect selection of five original compositions by Gregg Allman plus two cover songs that blend into a cohesive unit as each builds upon one another as the album progresses.

From the opening notes of Spencer Davis’ “Don’t Want You No More,” you know you are in for something different. It sets up the blues of their own track, “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” which introduced the world to Gregg’s voice with one of his finer performances. “Black Hearted Woman” was a total group effort from one of rock’s tightest bands. “Trouble No More” is an old Muddy Waters tune and the band updates it in a good way.

As good as the first four songs are, I have always considered the three songs that formed the second side of the original vinyl release as superior. “Every Hungry Woman” starts with some slide guitar by Duane before moving into full rock mode. “Dreams” is a nice slow blues song that at seven minutes gives Duane some room to improvise. The album ends with “Whipping Post,” wherein the guitars of Dickey and Duane intertwine together. It would become a famous part of their live show and, years later, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would honor is as one of “The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘N’ Roll.”

The Allman Brothers Band was a consistently excellent album that would begin the career of one of America’s best bands. It holds up well 40 plus years after its release.

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Strangers In The Night 45 by Frank Sinatra

February 22, 2011

Frank Sinatra was in his early 50’s when he released “Strangers In The Night” on May 7, 1966. He may have been far from his teen idol years but he was still one of the most popular singers in the world .

“Strangers In The Night” would be his last solo number one single. It was a smooth performance in the Sinatra tradition and a surprise big hit at the time during the mid sixties.

The Chairman Of The Board proved he still had it!

I Could Make You Mine by Dave and The Marksmen

February 21, 2011

David Marks is the lost Beach Boy. He was a member of The Beach Boys for about 18 months during the early sixties and played rhythm guitar, plus provided background vocals, on their first four albums. He left because of an altercation with Murrey Wilson. For a very short time both he and Al Jardine were members of the band.

He would go on to play in a number of bands and become a solid session guitarist.

His own group, Dave and The Marksmen, were only together for a short time.”I Could Make You Mine” was one of their singles and while it received no chart action, it was representative of the California music scene at the time.

David Marks would return to The Beach Boys during the late 1990’s and play over 300 shows with the band. He continues to tour with various members of his former band. plus make an occassional appearance with The Beach Boys itself.

The Legendary Sun Records Story by Various Artists

February 21, 2011

Sam Phillips’ Sun Label has become legendary as the first musical home for such rock ‘n’ roll giants as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. It was also the home of dozens of other artists who may not have been as well known, but who produced equally proficient and, at times, spectacular rock ‘n’ roll.

The Legendary Sun Records Story is a three-CD, 60-track box set that presents a nice introduction and overview of the music recorded for the label. In addition to the aforementioned legends, artists such as Sonny Burgess, Carl Mann, Eddie Bond, Vernon Taylor, Billy Riley, Warren Smith, and a host of others are represented by some of their best material. The only artist missing is Elvis, which was for contractual reasons. He is really not missed, though, as his material has been constantly re-issued down through the years; plus it’s nice to hear some of the label’s lesser known songs.

Women were few and far between on the Sun Label, but those who were there could rock just as hard as their male counterparts. The RCA label signed Janis Martin as the female Elvis Presley. Sam Phillips responded by signing dance band vocalist Barbara Pittman and re-inventing her as a rock ‘n’ roller. Her included tracks, “Everlasting Love” and “It’s Getting Better All The Time,” represent some of the better female rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950’s. Linda Gail Lewis is the younger sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. Her rendition of “Nothin’ Shakin’” is a fiery song that should have made her brother proud. She continues to record today with her two daughters as The Lewis 3. Jean Chapel was as close to a female sex symbol as the Sun label would come. She recorded a gospel-tinged rendition of “Welcome To The Club.”

There are a number of other artists contained here that are worth exploring as well. Harold Jenkins recorded a moody “Gimme Some Love” during 1956. He would change his name to Conway Twitty and become one of the most successful country artists in history. Ray Smith was a pianist who could rock as his “Break Up, Shake Around” and “Right Behind You Baby” clearly shows. Billy Riley was a session guitarist and harmonica expert and his “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” are rockabilly at its best. Sonny Burgess is rockabilly personified. His “Red Headed Woman,” “Itchy,” and “We Wanna Boogie” are all energetic pieces of 1950’s music history. The most unique track here is Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat,” which was his answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”

There is also a generous offering of well-known tracks. “I Walk The Line” and “House Of The Blues” by Johnny Cash,” Blue Suede Shoes” and “Match Box” by Carl Perkins, “Breathless” and “High School Confidential” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Domino” and “Rock House” by Roy Orbison are always welcome.

Sam Phillips is sometimes remembered as the man who sold Elvis Presley’s contract to the RCA Label. He always ran his company on a shoe-string budget and the money from the sale enabled him to record much of the music on this box set. The Legendary Sun Records Story is an excellent introduction to many of the famous and not-so-famous musicians who provided the foundation for the development of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Article first published as Music Review: Various Artists – The Legendary Sun Records Story on Blogcritics.