Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live And More

November 29, 2017

 

 

 

Big Star was one of those bands whose influence was far greater than their commercial success. Formed in 1971 by Alex Chilton (1951-2010), Chris Bell (1951-1978), Andy Hummel (1951-2010), and Jody Stephens, they have influenced a generation of alternative rock and indie bands who have followed them. Known for their precise harmonies, jangling music, and incisive lyrics, they left behind a small but brilliant number of album releases.

Their legendary third album, which was basically just Chilton and drummer Stephens, sat on the shelf for a number of years before its release. It was a complicated work, complete with strings, and had never been totally reproduced live. Chilton’s death in 2010 set in motion a series of events that led to its recreation and this release, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live…And More.

Shortly after Chilton’s death, a number of musicians including Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (Posies), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mike Easler (Let’s Active), and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens performed a full-orchestrated version of the third album in Charlotte, North Carolina. They then took the show on the road. This culminated with a recorded concert at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, in April of 2016. Added to the mix were Robin Hitchcock, Benmont Tench, and the Kronos String Quartet.

The concert included material from the bands entire career but its foundation is their third album. The music goes beyond the simplicity of many Big Star performances. The enlarged band and the presence of a string section help to explore the full musical vision of Alex Chilton. They are able to present the textures, layers, and sound that up until now were only present on the studio version. In many ways it is superior to the original music as it is both modernized and expanded.

Big Star, especially its early incarnation, shall not pass this way again. The music left behind, particularly from its third album, has now taken on new life courtesy of some friends and devotees. A must listen for fans and a good stand alone release for anyone who likes creative rock and roll.


God’s Problem Child By Willie Nelson

November 29, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Willie Nelson is like Old Man River; he just keeps rolling along. At the age of 84, he has returned with one of the better albums of his career titled God’s Problem Child. Lately he has relied on cover songs and albums dedicated to other people’s music, but now all 13 tracks are newly recorded songs, including seven co-written by Nelson.

While my copy of the album is on vinyl with a crystal clear sound, it has also been released digitally and as a CD.

Nelson is now considered an American musical icon. His voice is instantly recognizable and he has the ability to interpret songs from many different styles. His voice may have lost a little of its power but he makes up for that fact with wonderful phrasing.

His new album travels in a number of directions. There have been a number of reports Nelson’s death and “Still Not Dead” is his making fun of the situation. The more serious “Delete and Fast-Forward” are his thoughts about the recent Presidential election.

There are two tracks that reflect his age. The title track includes a vocal performance by Leon Russell, in what may have been his last performance before his death. The album’s final track, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone, is his eulogy to friend and fellow-country musician Merle Haggard.

Perhaps the best track is “Little House on The Hill.” It was written by the 92 year old Lyndel Rhodes, who is the mother of producer Buddy Cannon. It is a classic Nelson performance.

That Willie Nelson is still recording and performing about 100 concerts a years in his mid-80’s is remarkable. That he is able to create such a high quality album is a testament to his talent as one of country music’s most creative musicians.

God’s Problem Child is a must listen for his fan base and lovers of country music.


Truth, Life, And Liberty By Jaco Pastorius

November 29, 2017

Truth, Liberty & Soul: Live In NYC, The Complete 1982 Jazz Alive Recordings

Jaco Pastorius

Resonance 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jaco Pastorius, 1951-1987, was one of the more influential bass players of the last half of the 20th century.  His fusion of Latin funk with jazz, his use and development of harmonics, and his innovations with a fretless electric bass set him apart from his contemporaries and influenced a generation of bass players who followed him.

He worked as a side man; check out his work on Joni Mitchell’s four jazz oriented albums, 1976-1980, a member of Weather Report, 1976-1981, and as the leader of his own group.

He recorded his second solo album in 1980 titled Word Of Mouth. On June 27, 1982, he brought his Word Of Mouth band, harmonica player Toots Thielmanns, and a bevy of brass players for the concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. Parts of the concert were broadcast on radio but now 30 years later the entire performance is being released.

Truth, Liberty & Soul: Live In NYC, The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive Recordings is over two hours of Pastorius at his innovative and ground-breaking best. The 2-CD edition includes a 100 page book and 19 essays and interviews. The sound has been remastered and has a wonderful clarity.

His live performance finds him in a rare big band setting. Listening to songs such as “Sophisticated Lady” and “I Shot The Sheriff” take on new textures when a bass is the lead instrument. The 14 minute extravaganza “Bass And Drum Improvisation” is the holy grail for just about any bass player.  When Thielmann’s harmonica is added to the mix, it adds a unique counterpoint to his bass.

Jaco’s studio albums are a treat but this live album is an exploration of his musical vision. The live setting and his spontaneous improvisations are a perfect setting to appreciate just how innovative a musician he was and this album captures him at the height of his power. Truth, Liberty, & Soul: Live In NYC is a must for jazz aficionado’s and particularly bass players.


Beneath The Blood Moon By Jim Roberts And The Resonants

November 14, 2017

Jim Roberts has had two distinct periods to his music career, divided by 16 years as a police officer and raising a family. Before leaving the music scene he opened for such acts as Ricky Nelson, Della Reese, and Danny O’Keefe. He even made a television appearance on the Mike Douglas Show during the 1980’s.

Today he is firmly entrenched in the blues, who backed by his band The Resonants, has just released his new album Beneath The Blood Moon. He is an excellent slide guitar player but it is his expertise with a three-string cigar box guitar that defines his sound. It gives his sound a more primitive feel, which is an important part of his approach to the blues.

Roberts music is direct and hard-hitting. Songs such as “Dog Done Bit My Baby,” “Gold Train Fever,” “Dark Down The Delta,” and “The Hell Hounds Due” are all energetic excursions in the realm of the blues with some stops in Americana and roots rock.

Jim Roberts has re-invented himself as a first class bluesman. If you like your blues direct and at times raw, then Beneath The Blood Moon is an album for you.


Novum By Procol Harum

November 14, 2017

“We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor, I was feeling kinda seasick, but the crowd call out for more.” So begins “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” in 1967, which propelled Procol Harum into the rock and roll limelight. They will now release their 13th studio album Novum in celebration of their 50th anniversary.

Procol Harum, beginning with their self-titled debut album in 1967, issued a series of albums including Shine On Brightly, A Salty Dog, and Live In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which combined elements of classical music with what would be shortly recognized as progressive music.

While musicians such as Robin Trower, Keith Reid, and Matthew Fisher have passed through the band, the one constant has been vocalist/songwriter/pianist Gary Brooker. The band now includes long term members Geoff Whiteman, Matt Pegg, and Geoff Dunn, plus lyricist Pete Brown of Cream fame.

They have wisely chosen not to re-invent themselves or their sound on their new release. In many ways the music is less complex but more melodic than in the past. Their ability to create a sound that allows the listener to just drift in the music remains intact.

Brooker’s voice shows some wear after 50 years but he is still capable of providing a smooth listening experience and he has wisely surrounded himself with a group of veteran musicians who have coalesced into a tight band. Brown adds some new dimensions and sophistication to the lyrics, which is welcome. His presence puts the emphasis more on the lyrics than the music, which is a new direction for the band.

Novum shows that Procol Harum is still relevant as a band after a half-century on the road and in the studio. It is at its foundation, an album of solid rock and roll.


The Waifs By The Waifs

November 14, 2017

Folk music is alive and well down-under. Little known in the United States, The Waifs are folk music icons in their home country of Australia, having plied their trade for the past quarter-century.

Donna Simpson, Vikki Thorn, and Josh Cunningham, with supporting musicians David MacDonald and Ben Franz, gathered at Cunningham’s home and recorded a live, mostly acoustic set of original songs. The result was their new album Ironbark, which is a two-CD, 25 song set.

Thorn, Cunningham, and Simpson have voices that are made for harmonizing together, whether in two’s or three’s. They also rotate the lead vocals, many times on the same song, and also have the capacity for providing dual lead vocals as well similar to the Everly Brothers style.

They write all their own material, which are story songs in the folk tradition. Instrumentation is kept mostly to a minimum in order to keep the focus on the words and voices.

Tracks such as “Ironbark,” “Song For Jacqueline,” “Higher Ground,” and “I Won’t Go Down” represent their approach. The stories are reflective while the music washes over you. It is music for the mind and soul rather than the dance floor.

Ironbark is a folk album in the traditional sense. The Waifs have put together an album of tales that is well-worth exploring.


No Time Like Now By Strongman

November 14, 2017

Steve Strongman is a guitar player who just attacks the blues. He is able to bend the strings in a way that creates a sound that is unique to him.

He has just released a new album titled No Time Like Now. It consists of nine original tunes written with producer/bass player Rob Szabo and the classic rocker “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” composed by fellow Canadian Randy Bachman, who guests on the track.

Strongman is able to fuse the blues and rock so that it emerges as an energetic concoction that washes over the listener.

Steve Strongman has produced a solid album of modern day electric blues. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.


Action Painting By The Creation

November 14, 2017

All right, boys and girls, it time to climb into the way back machine for a journey in time to the mid-1960’s English psychedelic music world.

For every English band that made it, there were hundreds who quickly disappeared and dozens more who shined brightly for a brief moment or two, and then were gone. Bands such as The Action, The Attack, The Sorrows, and Tomorrow fueled elements of the American Psychedelic movement and British rock, released a few tunes, but ultimately could not evolve with the changing music scene.

The Creation was one of the leading proponents of this British pych/rock movement. They existed from 1964-1068. They had one Top 40 hit in their home country and every once on awhile one of their songs appears on a compilation album of the era. Many people remember them for their last lead guitarist, Ronnie Wood, who would go on to fame and fortune with the Rolling Stones.

The Creation is one of those bands that represent a period in time. They had a raw energy that encapsulated the psychedelic era. Their entire recorded catalogue, plus four tracks from the pre-Creation Mark Four Band, has now been released as a two CD compilation titled Action Painting. The sound has been remastered and there is an 80 page booklet devoted to the band.

They had elements of the Who in their approach but without the power of their straight rock and roll. “Painter Man” was their only hit but it represents their style and sometimes odd approach as they use a violin bow to play the guitar. The new stereo mix adds depth to the song. They covered such tunes of the day as “Cool Jerk,” “Hey Joe,” and “Like A Rolling Stone” which are all journeys through the lives of struggling bands.

Action Paining is a must listen for anyone interested in the history of the psychedelic era. They represent a short but important stop in the evolution of British rock and roll.


Meeting My Shadow By Vanessa Collier

November 14, 2017

I always have a soft spot for saxophone players and Vanessa Collier is an evolving force on the instrument. She studied at Boston’s Berklee College Of Music and was further schooled on the road with the likes of Annie Lennox and Willie Nelson. She has just released her second album titles Me And My Shadow.

In addition to being a talented saxophone player, she is also a vocalist and an adept songwriter who penned eight the album’s eleven tracks.

While she travels into pop and soul; she is at heart a blues artist as her music presents her stories and experiences. She has a wonderful soul-styled voice that compliments her sax sound.

Whether it be her own “Whiskey And Women” and “”Devil’s On The Downslide” or covers of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head I Hear The Music In The Air” and “Deadric Malone’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry;” she presents her music with a combination of simplicity and sophistication.

Vanessa Collins is an artist whose music is well-worth exploring as she continues to progress and evolve.