Live In Japan by George Harrison

September 27, 2010

After the negative experiences of his 1974 Dark Horse tour, George Harrison did not go on the road for over 15 years. It took a call from old friend Eric Clapton to entice him to perform live again. He and Clapton would share the stage for a series of successful performances during December of 1991. Following the tour, he would become involved with The Beatles Anthology project. As such, it would be the final live performances of his lifetime and the resultant album, Live In Japan, would be the last release before his death.

He was accompanied by Eric Clapton and his touring band. Guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low, bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, pianist Chuck Leavell, drummer Steve Ferrone, and percussionist Ray Cooper are typical of the excellent hands Clapton would assemble to support himself in concert. Of course, having Harrison and Clapton sharing lead guitar duties is a treat.

Harrison’s set, as represented on this album, is a fine retrospective of his career. He reaches back to some Beatles obscurities and well-known performances, plus a nice selection of his solo work.

“I Want To Tell You,” from Revolver and “Old Brown Shoe,” which was originally the B-Side to “The Ballad Of John and Yoko” single were inspired choices, as they resurrect some lost gems in a live setting. I could have done without the lyrical updates to “Taxman,” but the dual guitar work by Clapton and Harrison on “If I Needed Someone” is excellent.

The guitar work on “Something” veers a little from the original, but his takes of the White Album composition “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Abbey Road’s “Here Comes The Sun” are classic.

Most of his well-known solo hits are present. “My Sweet Lord,” a jazzy version of “All Those Years Ago,” “Isn’t It A Pity,” and a rocking “What Is Life” all find him at his post-Beatles best.

The album comes to a fitting conclusion with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which was a Beatles staple during their live shows.

George Harrison could not have chosen a more fitting live album to present his legacy. It remains a fine representation of his music and talent.

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Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 by The Traveling Wilburys

September 22, 2010

The second Traveling Wilburys album may not be as consistently excellent as their debut, but it remains a very good release in its own right. Maybe it was due to the loss of Roy Orbison, who was treated as the grand old man of the first release, or possibly it did not contain the surprises of the group’s first album.

George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne returned to the studio during April and May of 1990. The result was Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. There had been no volume two; skipping that number was a joke to confuse their fans. They also took on new names: Harrison was now Spike Wilbury, Dylan was Boo, Lynne assumed the name Clayton, and Petty became Muddy.

The album was released October 29, 1990 and while it did not achieve the massive commercial success of its predecessor, it did receive a platinum sales award for selling over a million copies and reached number eleven on the United States album charts.

My favorite tracks have always been the first and last. For the opener, the rocking “She’s My Baby,” they imported guitarist Gary Moore to play lead; and play he does as he dominates the recording. And I never get tired of “Wilbury Twist,” the amusing piece of pop paradise that closes the album.

There are a number of other excellent songs as well. “If You Belonged To Me” is a nice outing by Bob Dylan, harking back to his folk days of the ’60s complete with some nice harmonica work. “The Devil’s Been Busy” has more lyrical depth than most of The Traveling Wilbury compositions, featuring a Petty/Dylan vocal with Harrison providing some backing on the sitar. “7 Deadly Sins” has a ’60s feel and the sax work by Jim Horn is exemplary. And like before, good old Jim Keltner was back as the drummer.

The album finds Tom Petty and Bob Dylan dominating the vocal and probably writing duties even though all compositions are credited to the group. And while he co-produced the album with Harrison, it primarily bears Jeff Lynne’s imprint. Harrison is most active as a musician, playing acoustic and electric guitars, sitar, and even some mandolin.

While it remains a cut below their first volume, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 contains a nice selection of early ’90s rock/pop. It is certainly still worth a listen twenty years after its initial release.

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Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by The Traveling Wilburys

September 22, 2010

The Traveling Wilburys were one of the most understated and consistently excellent supergroups to ever grace the American music scene. Their saving grace was just having fun and not trying to overreach or become something they were not.

Some groups were just meant to be. George Harrison needed a B-side for a European single he was about to release. He was having supper with Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison and they decided to work on the song together. They then called Bob Dylan who had a home studio. By chance Harrison had left his guitar over at Tom Petty’s house and so he came along for the ride.

The result was “Handle With Care,” which the record company declared too good to release as a throwaway flip side. The five musicians then agreed to create a whole album together and went into the studio during the spring of 1988.

They had fun with the group name, portraying themselves as the Wilburys, who were half brothers. George Harrison was Nelson, Jeff Lynne took the name Otis, Bob Dylan was Lucky, Roy Orbison was Lefty, and Tom Petty assumed the name Charlie T. Jr.

And while he was uncredited on the album, longtime Harrison drummer Jim Keltner provided the percussion. He eventually appeared in some of the group’s videos as Buster Sidebury.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released October 18, 1988 and was an instant smash, reaching number three on the U.S. album charts and eventually selling over three million copies. It also went on to win a Grammy Award.

The music is joyful, polished pop. Lynne and Harrison produced the album and they added a sophisticated sheen that served the music well. The harmonies were some of the best of the eighties.

It is an album without a weak track. “Not Alone Any More,” which features Orbison’s tenor soaring above the mix, takes on an additional poignancy considering the legend died suddenly less than two months after the album’s release. Both of the Dylan tracks, “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” and particularly “Dirty World” are excellent and present his humorous side. “Rattled” is close to a rockabilly sound and has a nice lead vocal by Lynne. And “Handle With Care” features a Harrison/Orbison vocal with some expert slide guitar from George.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 is the lighter side of eighties pop music at its best. Five superstars managed to keep their egos under control and just have a good time, culminating in an album that should be a part of everyone’s collection.

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Cloud Nine by George Harrison

September 17, 2010

Cloud Nine was George Harrison’s first studio album in five years, and the absence from the recording studio served him well. He put together a very accessible release which provided him with a much needed comeback from 1985’s abysmal Gone Troppo. Unfortunately, it would be the last studio album to be released during his lifetime.

His first stroke of genius was to ask Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra to co-produce the album. If there is one thing Jeff Lynne can do, it is produce a pop album. He would remain a fixture in Harrison’s life through their work with The Traveling Wilburys. It would be his most commercially successful album since All Things Must Pass reached number eight on the American album charts and received a platinum award for sales in excess of a million copies.

He assembled a number of long term friends to provide support. Guitarist Eric Clapton, pianists Elton John and Gary Wright, drummers Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner, bassist Jeff Lynne, and sax player Jim Horn all provided stellar backing on the album.

Cloud Nine yielded two hit singles which were both catchy concoctions and rank with his better compositions. “Got My Mind Set On You” was an odd and brilliant choice for a cover song. It was written by Rudy Clark during the fifties and released as an obscure single by James Ray in 1962. Harrison would turn it into a pop masterpiece which would top the American singles charts in October of 1987.

The flip side of the 45 was the long lost “Lay His Head,” which had been rejected by A&M for inclusion on his last album. “When We Was Fab” was also a hit single. It was an amusing tune about The Beatles when they were famous. It even included Harrison playing the sitar. The video featured Elton John dressed as a walrus.

There were a couple of other songs of note. “This Is Love” was well crafted, melodic, and featured some nice guitar playing from Harrison. “Wreck Of The Hesperus” has a nice bluesy feel.

Not all was well with the album. “Breath Away From Heaven” and “Someplace Else” were pulled from the film Shanghai Surprise and make it seem as if he had run out of new ideas. “Just For Today” is a track that just falls short.

Cloud Nine was not a perfect album, but in the final analysis was pleasant and entertaining. Once you get past All Things Must Pass and Concert For Bangladesh, this is probably the one to own.

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Gone Troppo by George Harrison

September 17, 2010

Gone Troppo either means gone tropical or is an Australian expression meaning gone crazy. Whatever the album title implied, it was George Harrison at low ebb.

He had become disenchanted with the music business plus he owed his record company one more album. That is not a good combination for any musician.

He decided to fulfill his contract as quickly as possible and issued the album in early November of 1982. The company provided little promotion and it only reached number 108 on the American album charts, which is amazing considering the George Harrison name. It got worse in his home country as it did not even sell enough copies to register on the English charts at all. He would not release another studio album for five years.

The album was recorded over a four month period and he used a couple dozen musicians. Some of his supporting cast included bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Jon Lord, pianist Neil Larsen, keyboardist Billy Preston, and his eternal drummer Jim Keltner.

The opening track, “Wake Up My Love,” was released as a single and quickly disappeared reaching only 53 on the Billboard Magazine pop singles chart. It was a very ordinary 80s keyboard based song that has not held up well over the years.

This is an album that you really have to look hard at in order to find some positive points. “That’s The Way It Goes” has some social commentary and subtle slide guitar. “Unknown Delight” is a fair to good ballad. “Dream Away” was a Harrison contribution to the movieTime Bandits and since there was no soundtrack issued, it was the only place to acquire the song. The most interesting song was “Circles” which was composed during 1968 as a possible track for The Beatles White Album.

My favorite was the cover of an old 1961 hit by The Stereos who were a rhythm and blues quintet from Ohio. “I Really Love You” featured group harmonies rather than a Harrison lead vocal and is pleasant pop.

Gone Troppo was George Harrison issuing an album because he had too, not because he wanted too. He had taken very little time off from the recording studio since his pre-Beatles days and he sounded tired. This is an album only for fans who want his entire catalogue.

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Somewhere In England by George Harrison

September 13, 2010

Somewhere In England traveled a long and bumpy journey from creation to its final release June 5, 1981. The Warner Brothers label rejected four of the original songs and the album cover as well. The rejected songs, “Flying High,” “Lay His Head,” “Sat Singing,” and “Tears Of The World” have been released down through the years and their inclusion would have made the album a much stronger release.

Harrison returned to the studio but before completing the album again, John Lennon was murdered. He restructured the song “All Those Years Ago” as a tribute to his former band mate. Ringo Starr was the drummer plus Paul and Linda McCartney provided the backing vocals. It was as close to a Beatles reunion that we had received up until that time.

Released as a single it became one of his biggest hits reaching the number two position in The United States. It was jazzy, catchy, and featured impeccable harmonies.

The rest of the album is a hit and miss affair. While it initially sold well, it would become his first solo album since 1969’s Electric Sound not to receive a gold record award for sales.

“Blood From A Stone” was a replacement song and it emerged as a biting criticism of the music industry. In addition, it was the first track on the original vinyl release which served to emphasize his point. “Life Itself” is a nice tribute to his wife Olivia.

On the other hand the two Hoagy Carmichael tunes, “Baltimore Oriole” and “Hong Kong Blues,” are a stretch vocally and style wise. Songs such as “Unconsciousness Rules,” “That Which I Have Lost,” and “Teardrops” fall into the dreaded average range of nothing bad and nothing good which adds up to forgettable.

He had many of his usual cast of musicians on hand. Bassist Willie Weeks, horn player and arranger Tom Scott, percussionist and keyboardist Ray Cooper, and old friend Jim Keltner provided excellent backing.

Somewhere In England added up to an average album which was representative of his mid seventies and eighties work. It would have a few standouts but they would be lost anong the weaker tracks. If you want to explore the solo music of George Harrison this is not the place to start.

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George Harrison by George Harrison

September 13, 2010

It took over two years for George Harrison to issue his self-titled follow-up album to 1976’s Thirty Three & 1/3, during which time he had remarried and had a child. Thus it was a contented and happy Harrison who went into the studio to record the tracks for this project.

George Harrison may be the most relaxed and cheerful of all his studio albums. While it received some criticism about it moving in a pop direction it nevertheless continued his commercial success in the United States, reaching number fourteen on the album charts and receiving a gold record award for sales.

His main backing band consisted of drummer Andy Newmark, bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Neil Larsen, percussionist Ray Cooper, and keyboardist Steve Winwood. Eric Clapton and Gary Wright returned to make guest appearances. The best part, though, was that Harrison stepped forward to play most of the lead-guitar parts.

The album was highlighted by one of his better singles, the uplifting light rock of “Blow Away.” The slide guitar solo is excellent and the track was perfect radio fare during the late seventies.

There is a lot to appreciate within this relaxed effort. Harrison keeps his philosophical preaching under control and even moves it in a positive direction. Both “Love Comes To Everyone” and “If You Believe” are upbeat and about keeping the faith. Eric Clapton’s guitar intro on the first is classic. “Faster” was made as a tribute to Formula One Racing. I could have done without the racing sounds but the basic track is catchy and melodic. “Your Love Is Forever” is one of the better produced songs of his career. The acoustic/electric guitar interplay, overdubbing, vocal, and lyrics all add up to a performance that rivals his hit, “Something.”

Two tracks harp back to his Beatles days and while neither is top notch, they are at least interesting. “Here Comes The Moon” is a follow-up to “Here Comes The Sun.” “Not Guilty” was originally written for The Beatles’ White Album but did not make the final cut.

George Harrison is an album that has aged well and its lighter nature fits nicely into today’s music scene. While not an essential stop in the George Harrison catalogue, it does remain a pleasant one.

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