Dick’s Picks Volume Six By The Grateful Dead

September 27, 2015

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The year was 1983, the date was October 14, the place was the Hartford Civic Center, and the band was the Grateful Dead. As I settled into my seat in back of the stage, I was surrounded by about 16.000 hard core Dead fans. I was young, had a full head of hair, and was about to experience my second, and as it turned out, last Grateful Dead concert. As the band reached the stage and began with “Alabama Getaway,” a number of strange aromas wafted through the air. Who knew that nearly 32 years later I would be reviewing that concert?

As with all the volumes in the Dick’s Picks series, the sound is average by today’s standards and there are places in this set where it is less than that.  All the volumes come with a disclaimer that the concerts are a snapshot in history and not a modern professional recording. The main problem is the concert was originally recorded on a two track cassette.  In one way, the rawness of the sound enhances the Grateful Dead concert experience but be prepared for an uneven quality.

The Grateful Dead of 1983 were guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia, drummer Mickey Hart, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardist Brent Mydland. This particular incarnation of the Dead lasted 11 years (1979-1990). By 1983, Mydland had been incorporated into the core band and they had settled into a groove that would last a decade.

The second of the three discs present the band at its improvisational best. The four songs, “Scarlet Begonias,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Eyes Of The World” stretch out to over an hour and create the mesmerizing mood that the band produced when they were in a live performing zone.  Songs they performed hundreds of times took on new textures and moved in unexpected directions. This disc is one of the better ones in the entire series and offsets the uneven quality of the first.

The main issue with the concert’s beginning is the voice quality of Garcia and Weir. Garcia completely loses his voice a couple of times but the band carries on as they increase the energy as they progress through “C.C. Rider,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Hell In A Bucket,” and “Keep Your Day Job.” Through it all the musicianship remains excellent.

The final disc contains an energetic “Drums” and comes to a satisfying conclusion with “Sugar Magnolia” and “U.S. Blues.”

Being at the concert and listening to a recording over three decades later is a totally different experience. Dick’s Picks Volume Six is a typical concert from the era that soars on the middle disc. That disc alone makes it a must for any fan of the Grateful Dead.

 

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Sometimes People Forget By Translator

September 27, 2015

During 2007, Translator reformed and performed at the SXWX Festival and then released a new album in 2012, more than a quarter of a century after dissolving.

The band formed in 1979 with singer/guitarist Steve Barton, bassist Larry Dekker, and drummer Dave Scheff. Guitarist Robert Darlington was soon added and the band’s line-up was complete.

During the band’s existence, 1979-1986, they released four studio albums. They were  the darlings of college campus’ and small alternative radio stations but never received huge mainstream success. Their music fused west coast psychedelic rock with a raw post punk energy. They had a stripped down approach and at times unsettling lyrics, which in many ways fits the music scene of today better than the first half of the 1980’s.

Now, Translator has returned with a unique release. Omnivore Recordings has assembled 22 of their demos recorded between 1979 and 1985. Twenty of the tracks are seeing the light of day for the first time.

The tracks are presented chronologically, beginning in 1979 when the band was a trio. As such, it allows one to follow their evolution and when combined with their officially released material, it brings their career full circle.

From the raw ramp of “Lost,” “Everywhere That I’m Not,” and “Fiendish Thingy” to growing sophistication of “Is There A Heaven Singing” and “Breathless Energy,” the music is simple, energetic and connected.

The included booklet contains an extensive history of the band and music. The sound is very good, even by today’s standards.

Sometimes People Forget presents the essence of Translator and a glimpse into their creative process. They had and still have a rabid fan base, who should embrace this new release.


Directly From My Heart: The Specialty And Vee Jay Years By Little Richard

September 19, 2015

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Little Richard Penniman is a preacher, a churchman, a product of the early southern honky tonks, a bluesman, a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and one of the originators of rock and roll. His songs “Jenny Jenny,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Lucille,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” “Rip It Up,” and “Tutti Fruitti” helped define the sound and parameters of early rock and roll, while his personality and stage persona helped change American culture.

Little Richard’s hits have been released dozens of times in many formats during the last half-century. The latest entry into the Little Richard sweepstakes is the comprehensive 3-CD box set titled Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee Jay Years. While all of his hits are included; this new release digs deeper into his catalogue for a number of rarely released performances. This is especially true of his material from his time with the Chicago Vee Jay label.

Even the most casual rock and roll fan is probably familiar with Little Richard’s early hits but they were only the tip of the iceberg during his time with the Specialty label. “Chicken Little Baby,” “Heebie Jeebies Love.” “She’s Got It,” “Miss Ann,” and “All Night Long” are representative of the quality of energetic music that he constantly produced during the second half of the 1950’s. There may be a clunker here and there but when taken together his time with the Specialty label produced the best catalogue of early rock and roll recordings this side of Elvis Presley.

The Vee Jay material was recorded during the mid-1960’s, when music was changing and veers more toward classic rhythm and blues. While not as strong as his early material, it has more of a funky feel. Included is his rhythm & blues hit “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me,” which features a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar.

The sound is good by today’s standards and the 24 page booklet with archival photos contains an essay by Bill Vera, which gives an over view of Little Richard’s career and influences.

Directly From The Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee Jay Years is not for the casual fan as it delves deep into his musical legacy. On the other hand, if you want an overview of the best of his career, this new box set moves to the forefront of his definitive releases.


Ball (CD Reissue) By Iron Butterfly

September 19, 2015

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Iron Butterfly, for better or worse, will always be associated with their 1968 album release In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, whose title track took up the entire second side of the original vinyl release. It remains one of the 50 best-selling albums of all time with sales of just over 30.000.000 copies.

The band formed in 1967 and released their debut album Heavy. Despite its commercial success, a year later only keyboardist Doug Ingle and drummer Ron Bushy remained from the original five members. They recruited bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist/vocalist Erik Braunn (or Brann) and the classic Iron Butterfly line-up was complete.

Iron Butterfly was at the beginning of the hard rock sound that would become much more sophisticated during the 1970’s. As such, the sound is somewhat primitive by today’s standards. Their approach was similar to bands like Vanilla Fudge in that they relied on a heavy, almost oppressive sound. It just hammered away at the senses, which in the late 1960’s was very different from the rock being produced by their contemporaries.  It was new and creative and their sound would be honed by a number of bands that followed them.

They released their follow-up to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in 1969. Ball was different from its predecessor in that the songs were short and the melodies stronger.

“In The Time Of Our Lives” begins the album in typical heavy fashion.  Brann’s guitar and Ingle’s keyboards slug away at it other and the rhythm section sets a bone-crunching foundation. They then morph into a lighter approach with “Soul Experience.” “Lonely Boy” is more dramatic than their usual fare. “Belda-Beast” is a piece of heavy psychedelic rock. Some overdubbing makes it less primitive than their usual approach and it features one of two Brann vocals tp appear on an Iron Butterfly album.

The band cut an additional non-album single in 1969 and it represents the last recordings by their classic line-up. “I Can’t Help But Deceive You Little Girl” and “To Be Alone” have been added to the release as bonus tracks. While a failure as a single, “To Be Alone” contains some creative guitar riffs and the use of some “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” melodies.

Iron Butterfly toured extensively in support of Ball, with bands such as Led Zeppelin and Yes as their opening acts, who would soon become the headliners and take hard rock and progressive rock in directions that Iron Butterfly was not capable.

The music of Iron Butterfly and Ball is a product of its era and needs to be approached as such. They never progressed beyond the sound of their third release and so it remains an excellent example of an early hard rock niche.

 


Eight Days A Week By The Beatles

September 12, 2015

 

“I Feel Fine” by The Beatles was  the number one song in the United States on January 1, 1965. After all their success in 1964, two months seemed like a long time between number one’s. On March 13, “Eight Days A Week” ascended to the top of the BILLBOARD Pop Chart and remained in that position for two weeks.

The song also marked a subtle change to their sound. The textures and melodies were becoming more complex and they were becoming more of a studio band than one that would play live. The song featured a double tracking of John Lennon’s  voice and a unique guitar fade in.

The flip side, “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” also made the top 4, peaking at number 39.  All in all it added up to their seventh American number one.

 

 

 

 


Stillness In Motion By Steve Vai

September 3, 2015

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Steve Vai embarked on his “The Story Of Light” tour on August 15, 2012, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The tour ended 52 countries and 253 concerts later on September 12, 2014, in Szczecin, Poland.  The 49th stop on the tour was at the Nokia Club in Los Angeles. Of all the concerts, this was the one chosen for release on the Stillness In Motion two-CD set or if you are so inclined, a DVD set with three and a half hours of behind the scenes bonus material.

Vai’s career began as a student of Joe Satriani and a guitarist for Frank Zappa. He also spent time with Whitesnake and David Lee Roth’s backing band.  He has toured with a number of artists including Satriani. His solo career began in 1983 and he has released over 15 studio and live albums.

Vai has always been an excellent composer and band leader but as a guitarist he ranks as one of the best in the world. His expertise is best chronicled on his live releases and Stillness In Motion brings his concert career and live performing up to date.

He and his backing band had jelled four months into the tour. Drummer Jeremy Colson, bassist Philip Bynoe, guitarist/keyboardist Dave Weiner, and stand-up electric harpist Deborah Henson-Conant are a veteran and tight band that are wise enough to allow Vai room for his guitar improvisations.

The 22 tracks span his career with about a third taken from his last release The Story Of Light. The music is not a regurgitation of his studio recordings but undergo re-interpretations. An example is “Salamanders In The Sun,” which is transferred to an acoustic piece. There is a new intro to his ode to “Frank” Zappa. “Pusa Road,” “The Moon And I,” and “Rescue Me Or Bury Me” find him delving  a little deeper into his catalogue of songs. The ringing “Taurus Bulba” was a good way to end the concert.

Vai has always been a road warrior and Stillness In Motion catches a master musician plying his trade. He may not explore a lot of new ground but he does produce a well-crafted rocking album and in this case, that is more than enough.

 


Live In Dublin (CD + DVD) By Hall & Oates

September 3, 2015

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Fresh from their induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Daryl Hall and John Oates performed in Ireland for the first time in their 40 plus year career. Accompanied by their touring band, they performed a 97 minute set at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin on July 15, 2014. That concert has been released as a two-CD and DVD Box Set.

The concert is basically the duo revisiting many of their hits from the 1970’s and 1980’s. The CD’s and DVD contain the same track list. Some of the hits are changed a bit, especially in the vocals and allowing the different band members to solo. Daryl Hall’s voice has become more soulful as he has aged, which gives many of the songs a different patina. John Oates is the lead vocalist on “Back Together Again” and “Las Vegas Turnaround,” but otherwise provides the tight harmonies that the duo is known for.

For better or worse, their place in rock and roll history is that of a pop/rock band who dominated singles radio in the 1970’s and 1980’s with a series of catchy hits. Songs such as “Maneater,” “Rich Girl,” “I Can’t Go For That (No One Do),” “You Make My Dreams,” “Kiss On My List,” “Private Eyes,” and more may not have been appreciated by hard rock fans but sold millions of records and are considered pop classics today.

The Olympia Theatre is an intimate 1600 seater, so the sound and energy bounces off the walls, which is very apparent on the DVD. Saxophonist Charlie DeChant shines with solos on “She’s Gone” and “I Can’t Go For That,” while guitarist Shane Theriot propels the music along.

Daryl Hall and John Oates have carved out a pop niche for themselves during the past four decades. Live In Dublin updates their career and brings it into the present, proving that they and their music still matter.