Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 by Etta James

September 30, 2012

I assume the first time I ever heard Etta James was when some oldies station played her hit “The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry)” during the late 1960s. By the end of the decade she was sharing time on my turntable with the likes of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.

Jamesetta Hawkins (1938-2012) was a seminal music figure during the mid-1950s as she was a connector between classic rhythm & blues and rock and roll. While she never really crossed totally over to a rock format, her style and sound helped to clear the way for artists who would follow.

Her recording career began during 1954 and continued to near her death. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during 2008 but managed to issue her final album, The Dreamer, in 2011.

If there is anything better than Etta James in the studio, it is Etta James on stage. She was a constant presence at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Eagle Rock Entertainment has now gathered 11 of her performances spanning four appearances at the festival, 1975-1993.

She always had a strong blues foundation and “Dust My Broom” (1975) and “Sugar on the Floor” (1989) returns her to those roots. The six performances, recorded July 15, 1993, have a cohesiveness that is somewhat missing from the second half of the release as they tend to fit together well. Songs such as “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “Come to Mama,” and “A Lover Is Forever” explores the gritty and passionate R&B side of her career.

The two most interesting tracks are from her 1975 appearance. The nine-minute “Respect Yourself” and the 10-minute “W.O.M.A.N.” find her at the height of her career and demonstrate how she could work a crowd for an extended period of time.

The album purports to present the best of her Montreux performances. Personally I would prefer to have the entire performances rather than just various songs from a number of sets and years. Whether any more of her material exists from these shows is unknown to me at this time, but the recording of older Montreux shows was spotty.

Still, it’s nice to have the debut of these songs as they present a fine introduction to her music. Etta James passed away January 20, 2012, and Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 is a statement that her like may not pass this way again.

Article first published as Music Review: Etta James – Live At Montreux 1975-1993 on Blogcritics.

Live At Montreux 2010 by Gary Moore

October 1, 2011

Gary Moore had been a fixture at The Montreux Jazz Festival down through the years. Little did he know that when he took the stage at the 2010 festival, he had about seven months to live. His last performance, Live At Montreux 2010, has now been released by Eagle Rock Entertainment in CD, DVD, and Blu-ray formats. The DVD and Blu-ray contain two extra tracks from the concert plus four bonus songs.

He was one of the better guitarists alive when he took the stage during July of 2010 and his performance confirmed that fact. I have in my possession the CD and DVD and my preference is the CD version, even though it lacks the extra material. The problem with the DVD is visual. He did not look well, as there was a severe weight gain and his voice was not as strong as in the past. In retrospect, it is not surprising that a heart attack would claim his life February 6, 2011. In this case, I prefer to just listen to the man play and enjoy the music without being distracted by his appearance.

Over the course of the last couple of decades, Moore had established himself as an excellent electric blues guitarist. This performance, however, takes him in a different direction, returning him to his rock roots. Gone are most of his blues songs, and instead, he resurrects some of his old rock material. He was also in the process of recording a new rock album, which he never finished. Three songs meant for this new album are presented. “Days Of Heroes,” “Where Are You Now,” and “Oh Wild One” were previewed during the concert.

The first two tracks quickly show that he is playing straight rock ‘n’ roll “Over The Hills And Far Away” with fine solo work, and Phil Lynott’s “Military Man” established a style and sound that would dominate the concert.

The three new tunes are all different. “Days Of Heroes” would have fit in fine with his older Thin Lizzy material. “Where Are You Now” is more atmospheric, as the keyboards share center stage with Moore’s guitar. “Oh Wild One” finds him cranking up his instrument for a guitar-based anthem track. He is backed by keyboardist Neil Carter, bassist Jon Noyce, and drummer Darrin Mooney.

Gary Moore shall not pass this way again. This is as close as he will come to leaving behind his last will and testament as the music and especially his guitar virtuosity is as good as ever, which is very good indeed. Live At Montreux is the final chapter in the career journey of Gary Moore.

Pictures: Live At Montreux (DVD) by Status Quo

November 14, 2009

The roots of Status Quo reach back to 1962 when Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster formed The Spectres while in school together. By 1967 they had assembled The Status Quo. They would eventually shorten that to just Status Quo and the group would embark on a four decade plus career.

They are a band that has flown under the radar in the United States. They have released more than a dozen albums in the USA but have only met with very moderate commercial success. They remain best remembered for their 1968 hit, “Pictures Of Matchstick Men.”

In their native country, though, they are now an iconic and legendary band. No rock group has placed more songs on the English singles charts, which has now passed the sixty mark, including four number ones and three number twos. Their albums have sold well over 100 million copies worldwide.

2009 found Status Quo returning to the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival for only the second time. They are by no means a jazz band. Early in their career they flirted with a psychedelic sound but by the early seventies had become a pure hard rock band and there they have remained.

Status Quo: Pictures Live At Montreux presents them is all their head-ringing glory. If you have not been exposed to their music in the past, this is a good place to start. The 22-song set is career spanning as it traces their sound from their earliest hits to their most recent releases while adding in a few surprises along the way.

The opening tracks set the tone for what will follow. “Caroline,” with its two-guitar attack—supported by a boogie-sounding keyboard with drums and bass providing the foundation—is hard rock at its best. They even manage to transform Dion’s “The Wanderer” into a hard rock anthem. “Picture’s Of Matchstick Men,” “Ice In The Sun,” “Creapin’ Up On You,” “Rockin’ All Over The World,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music/Bye Bye Johnny” are all brought to life with thunderous performances.

This DVD finally enabled me to put faces to the group. After 42 years in the studio and on the road they are consummate professionals and excellent musicians. The sound is superb and the video captures their stage energy well.

Status Quo: Pictures Live At Montreux presents a legendary band at their best and will hopefully gain them some acclaim in the United States. It would be well deserved.

Live At Montreux 1997 by The Chieftains

September 6, 2009

The Chieftains are, at heart, a traditional Irish instrumental group. They were formed in 1962 and remain a popular worldwide act. They have received eighteen Grammy nominations, winning the coveted award six times.

1997 found them returning to the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival for the first time in 21 years. They may have seemed like an odd choice but their brand of entertainment, complete with step-dancers and bagpipe players, fit into the flavor of the festival just fine as they presented Irish culture and music at its best.

This 1997 incarnation of the group consisted of uilleann pipes and tin whistle player Paddy Moloney, flutist Matt Molloy, percussionist and vocalist Kevin Conneff, harpist and pianist Derek Bell, plus fiddle players Martin Fay and Sean Keane.

The concert highlights include two long medleys from recently released albums. The Long Black Veil, released in 1995, included the likes of Van Morrison, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler and Tom Jones. Without these superstars present for this performance they take “Have I Told You Lately/Mo Ghile Mear/The Rocky Road To Dublin/Reels and Dance” in new directions. They fill in the musical gaps with a multitude of traditional Irish instruments.

Santiago, released in 1996, won the 1997 Grammy for Best World Music album. The medley of “Galician Overture/Dueling Chanters” has depth, sophistication and a constantly changing tempo, making it the most interesting piece on the album. “Guadalupe,” also from Santiago,is presented as close to the studio track as possible with Bea Riobo filling in for original vocalist Linda Ronstadt.

“Did You Ever Go A Courtin’ Uncle Joe” allows each musician to step forward for a solo, showing their individual expertise on a variety of instruments.

The sound and visual quality are excellent and there is a clarity which greatly enhances the performance. The group appears relaxed as they create an intimate setting for their audience.

Live At Montreux 1997 is a superb glimpse into the world of The Chieftains and Irish music. It is a world in which the music not only entertains but also makes you feel better for having been present.