Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Byrds - 'Just Before You Get To The Dream' -Younger Than Yesterday LP 1967

Long loved and often revisited, today in the rock room spins a mono version of the diverse ‘Byrds’ 1967 LP, Younger Than Yesterday. The record is a wonderful document of the post-Gene Clark group, showcasing Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman’s blossoming songwriting and composing skills.  The four piece band would soon fracture due to their increasingly divergent styles and personalities but in the case of this featured recording, the tincture of blended talents equate to a multifarious and spectral slice of mid 1960’s psychedelic, jazz and sonic experimentation.
The record opens cinematically with the famous ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’ the, luscious mono mix popping with Hillman’s plump and excited bass lines. Jazz star Hugh Masekela blows horn over the undulating percussion driven groove. Hillman’s maturation as a songwriter and bass player has now equaled his fellow Byrds by this point in their respective careers, taking into account his output on this record. Groovy horns, artificial screams, and driving instrumentation make up this famed Byrds track and sly dig at the then current state of the music scene.

The chunky and Hillman penned “Have You See Her Face’ follows and spotlights a full Byrds spectral vocal blend.  Special notice to McGuinn’s fearless and distorted guitar quote, a departure from his usual tone and injecting a crunchy melody that makes the song. The tone is mouthwatering.  This song sways with an absolutely stellar groove and offers the finest contributions from the entire band. Michael Clark pounds the skins with a Rand B fervor that tightens down the bolts. The mono mix of the song is of note, as it is full of groovy details and close mic’d vocal nuance.

‘C.T.A.-102’ develops clandestinely and appears as an extra terrestrial number born from Roger McGuinn’s interest in outer space and futuristic technologies. By the end of the tune the aliens have made contact and the song is transmitted to a distant quasar to which alternate life is perplexed by the earthling’s sonic offering. The tune’s most endearing quality is its mixing of traditional verse construction with far-out electronic manipulations. This album was released in Feburary 1967, so its experiments with sound manipulations spearheaded by producer Gary Usher, were contemporary and cutting edge. Hillman plays with authority once again, disseminating experimental lines that defy the gravity being created in the oscillating waves of found sound.

‘Renaissance Fair’ follows and in my humble opinion is the band’s finest moment on this LP.  McGuinn’s circular and ringing picking signals the tune, Crosby then slashes the starry veil with thick strums, while Hillman struts up and down the fret board in a flowery and glorious syncopation. Clarke snaps the snare and the Byrds velvet blend begins its walk into the dreamy summer season of verses. This song streams, a regal flag that illustrates and distills the essence of the 1960’s into a two minute song eliciting hopefulness and a simplistic flamboyance.
Hillman takes lead vocal duties on ‘Time Between’ another one of his numbers that hold up as some of the strongest in the Byrds catalog. Future Byrd guitarist, Hillman friend and guitar master Clarence White takes a stringy series of sweet ‘B-Bending’quotes under and on top of the verses. Country rock? This is it. One of the first examples of the juxtaposition of the genres in Pop, if that is your thing. This song is so god damn catchy it makes you wonder why it wasn’t all over the FM airwaves. Probably because it was located a bit too far down the overgrown back roads for the mainstream public.

Quintessential Crosby, ‘Everybody Has Been Burned’ closes out the first side with bluesy and dramatic psychedelia. Only David Crosby could compose the idiosyncratic changes and content of a song such as this. It drifts like smoke… transparent yet tangible, only coming into focus when passing in front of light. The song rotates with its eyes closed on McGuinn’s spinning top picking. Hillman swells with a simple but effective statement, over it all Crosby pours warm honey with his tranquil vocal delivery. McGuinn later takes a minimalist solo that scratches every itch through singular chorused Rickenbacker plucks.

The flip side of the record becomes more experimental and slowly reveals its sonic secrets like an aural black light poster. The second side begins with the Chris Hillman penned song and total contrast to ‘Time Between’,Thoughts and Words’.  The ethnic purple paisley sounding verses elicit George Harrison through the vocals and by the chorus turns a groovy garage funk. Backwards guitars leave day-glo paint streaks through the tension filled changes.  When the verses again return the vocals are then embraced with alternating and echoed vocal lines. Ace classic rock goods to be enjoyed here.

‘Mind Gardens’ follows and is the exact type of song that got Crosby removed from the Byrds. Too weird for some of the band members, this is the kind of tune that Crosby fans loves him for. It is written that McGuinn DID NOT want this song on the LP. Over shimmering 12 string guitar Crosby creates vocal melody lines that drone, soar and dissipate into themselves above a constantly shifting river of rhythms and reversed studio created sound. Formless but glowing with color, ‘Mind Garden’s isn’t a song to grace a single, it’s a forward thinking musical creation born of following the muse.
The only Dylan song to be featured on the LP, ‘My Back Pages’ allows the perfect and recognizable triad of Byrds vocals to pyramid from the speakers. The title of the record influenced from the lyrics of this song. As was often their wont the Byrds take Dylan’s poignant declaration and form it into an electrified three part harmony attack. The internal conflicts of the band are illustrated here through a track listing. Crosby’s expansive drug fueled flip outs versus the reliance on the Dylan warhorses to please the masses.

Hillman is given another lead vocal on his own ‘The Girl with No Name’, in my opinion slightly inferior to ‘Time Between’, but nonetheless a solid song well deserving of its position of the LP. Chewing on straw the song slyly gets a country kiss on its rock and roll cheek. Hillman shows off his ability to swindle up a memorable melody line with the best of em.

Crosby’s song ‘Why’ closes the album in a move often questioned because of its inclusion as a ‘B’ side on the previously released ‘Eight Mikes High’ single. Regardless of the motivation, the version featured here contains a quivering ‘raga’ solo by McGuinn during the middle of the song and hula hoop bass licks by Hillman throughout. Crosby is draped in his perfect early career voice that soothes even when crooning aggressively.

With that, the LP reaches its conclusion, a solitary thirty minute volume in the turbulent history of the ‘Byrds’. A fine record by any account, it reveals a group with willingness to experiment and ability to cross pollinate genres while exhibiting a tangible growth as musical artists. The album itself plays beautifully and contains instrumental personality as well as sonic clarity. The mono mix is highly recommended. Enjoyed front to back, the ‘Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday can take the willing listener on a trip through the past, into the present and the thoughtful, onward toward the future.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Put the Boot In: Pink Floyd 'Stoned Alone' September 13, 1967 Copenhagen, Denmark

Dug out of the 'rock room' archive today comes a live 'Pink Floyd' recording from 1967 featuring founding member Syd Barrett. One of only a couple of circulating live recordings with Barrett, this purported audience master has its sonic issues but all in all is an enjoyable and sometimes hallucinatory experience. The vocals are unfortunately nonexistent for the most part, but the instruments are clear and well balanced. I believe the field recording must have been recorded 'behind' the PA speakers, hence the lack of vocals. The concert took place at the Star Club in Copenhagen on September 13, 1967 the last night of a three night stand. This is a rough and ready document of the Pink Floyd in their embryonic stages as space splitting psychedelic sonic travelers.

The recording opens with 'Reaction In G' aka 'Stoned Alone' an unreleased Barrett instrumental. The band comes out a shapeless hallucinatory beast. Molten waves of silver guitar fly's inches from the audience heads. Waters bass is lysergic rope lassoing the auditory nerves of anyone within ear shot. The band swells and deflates, a liquid acid trip. Mason and Barrett wind serpentine spectrum of sound around one another. At close to four minutes the music starts to swallow itself whole, Barrett doesn't solo in a contemporary sense, he coaxes electric waves and crawling insect string work.  While the sonic's of the recording muffle at some points, this mammoth jam is well preserved and the anomalies are forgotten

A quick 'thank you' from the stage and the band begins 'Arnold Layne', their first single release. A well played black light psychedelic classic, unfortunately here the vocals are obscured. What the tape does capture though is a fuzzy stomp and a syrupy collaboration that puts to shame the sometimes contrived efforts of contemporaries likes the 'Rolling Stones' and the 'Beatles'. This version of 'Arnold Layne' does stay close to home as far as arrangement, but is a nice sampling of early live Floyd.
A short bit of tuning and a Waters introduction and then the band enters 'One In a Million', another unreleased Barrett song. 'One In a Million' is a shady flat line stomp that leaves a waxy trail in its wake. The vocals are improved on the tape somewhat on this song with Barrett on lead and being supported on the chorus by Waters (I think). A scratchy static washboard rhythm, deep rich bass and roughly textured keyboards are the chemical make up of the song. Mason keeps a bricklayers beat ( I wish he came in a bit clearer) and at four minutes initiates comets starting to streak and the song losing its gravity. Invisible doors open, spectral shadows hide for cover and the sinister vocals again return, edgy, a group of druggy punks.

A restrained round of applause is received before the band begins 'Matilda Mother'. Richard Wright takes on vocal duties for the stratospheric fairy tale. The liquid light song reveals its central change perfectly, Wright moans, puddling organ flourishes while Waters and Barrett envelope themselves in a delirious tumble through spilled paint. The song builds to a raving climax, a wash of sound steered through the multi-colored fogs by Waters deeply rooted bass. The song concludes in a weightless drift with the three drum-less instrumentalists embracing arms around an alien sun. Heavy.
Another unreleased' Floyd track follows with , 'Scream Thy Last Scream' a tribal and erratic track that was slated to be a Floyd single and one of Barrett's final contributions. Here it is given a sludgy but well arranged workout. Barrett's Danelectro guitar drags its silvery nails across the Waters/Mason rhythm section. The song rotates, a crystal hung in direct sunlight, spectral moments captured and dispersed. Everything is breathing with the organic drone that slowly gains purchase. First Wright, then Barrett discover glistening pieces of found sound from the aural rubble. Mason gets excited and begins to pummel his kit, Waters stutters on a scale before strangling his instrument in satisfaction. The band coalesces into a bubbling melt landing in a a trippy restatement of the songs theme.

Soon to become a Pink Floyd classic, the concert closes with the first song off of their debut LP, 'Astronomy Domine'. Another Barrett penned number, the song became a concert favorite when he was in the band and continued to be played into the early 1970's. The version here is a dynamic attack with the entire band showing an attentiveness and high concentration to performing a great version. Barrett plays of series of flashing quotes on the theme with Waters mirroring them in kind. The tension builds as Floyd tug at the edges of the song building the anticipation before relieving themselves in the chromatic howling chorus. The concert ends in a sticky downhill tumble before the band lands perfectly into a lush green pile of ancient sticks and stones.
While this concert takes place toward the end of Syd Barrett's tenure with the Floyd, the concert still finds Syd in fine form and at moments displaying other worldly guitar communications. The rarity of the song choices as well as the performance and recording make this unique concert a must have for any psychedelic music collection. The existing recording also proves the there are always differing views of history as the band sounds strong, as well as breaking new ground throughout the concert. Many reports have Barrett being a deterrent to the group during this era, which he may have been, just not on this particular night. The original four piece Floyd on an ancient tape is the stuff dreams are made of. For those interested, also hunt down the November 13, 1967 recording from Rotterdam which also finds the Barrett led group enjoying an extremely hallucinatory evening. That recording is sonically similar to this reviewed recording and likewise features an incendiary display.

One In A Million-9/13//67

Matilda Mother 9/13/67

Arnold Layne 9/13/67

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Now Playing: Badfinger - 'We Can Make It Better' Set of Six Live 1972

Granada Goes Pop was the brain child of Granada television producer Muriel Young. The short lived show aired on British television a different popular musical artist performing their hits in front of a live studio audience. The musical series was called Set of Six, but was unfortunately cancelled after one season. Fortunately, one performance still exists and circulates in reasonable color video quality. This particular show contains a rare and fine representation of the group 'Badfinger' during arguably their greatest live era. Underrepresented by live footage, this set of music is a welcome glimpse of the band playing some of their finest compositions.

Now Playing in the 'rock room' is this aforementioned 'set of six', featuring Badfinger running though a hot to the touch serving of a few of their popular hits as well as a couple of deeper depth album cuts. The set alternates between Joey Molland and Pete Ham penned songs and closes with a roaching snippet of 'Johnny B. Goode' that only circulates as audio. The existing video is reasonably clear color footage, only slightly blurred and trailed but nonetheless a highly acceptable visual document of the troubled and highly talented group. This performance follows and supports the February 1972 LP release Straight Up, considered the bands finest recorded moment by many. Fortunately caught on celluloid this era represents the peak of the groups erratic career.
The show begins with the credits rolling and the opening bars of the bands highest charting UK single, 'Day After Day'. The song had moved toward the Top 10 shortly before the recording of this particular concert. This classic FM hit produced by George Harrison is a rock staple and should have been more than enough to cement the legacy of 'Badfinger' in the annals of rock history, but alas it was not to be. Pete Ham plays a searing slide guitar on the track, replicating the dual slide guitars played by himself and George Harrison on the studio version. Interestingly enough, Ham is playing Harrison's Gibson SG guitar, which was given to him as a gift by the former Beatle. For those gear geeks interested the guitar can be seen in the Beatles promotional videos for 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain' as well as this video. The live reading of 'Day After Day' represented here is big, bombastic and features tight group backing vocals by Evans and Molland.

Acoustic instruments are donned for the following Joey Molland track, 'Sweet Tuesday Morning' a standout song featured on Straight Up. Delicately thumped conga percussion by Mike Gibbons tickles the three acoustic guitars played by Molland, Ham and Evans that are sewn together into a shimmering web of wooden reverberated sound. The three guitarists stand stoically, a modicum of concentration. Molland sings eyes closed fully invested in the performance. A highlighted document of a underrated LP track and united band performance.

The vibe stays pensive when Pete Ham sits at the piano for an exceptional reading of 'Take It All', the opening track off of Straight Up. In the 'rock room's' humble opinion this song is one of Ham's finest officially released compositions. The song is the perfect conglomerate of melodic prowess, instrumental attitude and emotive lyrical content. Ham and Evans intimate vocal blend is stirring and poignant, their magical collaboration on the chorus chill inducing.  Also of note is Molland's clean tone recitation of the melody played within a tasteful Gibson SG solo. This live reading is sparse in comparison to the official studio reading. The clarity of just the four instruments allows for the melody to let out a breezy exhale and for all of the colors of the song to slowly bleed through, revealing a musical changing of seasons.
Following the reflectiveness of the opening three songs the band now bears down on the the throttle dispersing a plethora of sharp rock and roll riffs. A stage favorite, a song about the road, 'Suitcase' starts things off with a distorted and scratchy Molland rhythm track that is soon doused with the melting wax of Ham's syrupy slide guitar Wah-wah's runs. Ham's guitar abilities are on full display when he is not needed for vocal duties and is allowed to wail. Here Ham is a statue of virtuosity, stone still, pumping the pedal, fully enveloped in his measured guitar neck explorations. The band locks arms, igniting a wood cutting groove that is built around sturdy palm mutes and Evan's weighted bass thumps. The song stretches its legs allowing the central portion of the jam to open quickly like an anticipated package on Christmas Eve. Molland and Ham each take solos before joining together in a jam more about building the groove than showing off guitar licks. Evans restates a verse of the lyrics in his best gritty rock and roll throat before signaling a descending dual guitar riff that kicks down the door revealing the songs conclusion. Wow.

Before the assembled crowd can take a respite the band blasts into a high tempo version of the 'B' side single, 'Better Days'. Another Molland penned track, 'Better Days' is perhaps the highpoint of this particular performance finding the band deftly weaving their way through the song at an extreme tempo. In comparison to the studio version this is a raucous high speed romp with Gibbons rattling chains behind the kit. Ham solo's endlessly under the verses fully amped, in a fashion that would make any of the 1970's guitar gods blush. The guitar work here is worthy of inspection and amazement. Visually you can tell that the band is getting off as well, wearing looks of enthusiastic satisfaction. The preceding jam that took place in 'Suitcase' lubed up the gears for this nimble and torrid rendition. Off microphone asides and sizzling licks abound before the song ends as quickly as it started. Again, Mike Evans enthusiastic backing harmonies are an absolute pleasure to behold.

The televised concert performance now comes to a conclusion with Badfinger's first and most recognized hit up to this point, the 'A' side to 'Better Days, 'No Matter What'. The band, still feeling it, tears through another high tempo and note perfect rendition of this power pop classic. A humorous moment is when Molland gets caught by the camera and lends a funny look of surprise and raised eyebrows to the approaching cameraman. The reading of the song is solid and filling, closings the concert with a crisply executed version of an enduring rock classic.

45 seconds of audio for the post performance 'Johnny B Goode' exists, but only as a teaser, as the song was only played on top of the closing credits. No video exists for this, but as previously mentioned there is a quick audio snippet available to help to complete the performance. It's a shame as it sounds like a smoker!

This classic footage of Badfinger is an excellent primer for those just getting introduced to the band's catalog, as well a being a welcome addition to the collections of well versed fans. Even in the sterile environment of a television sound stage, the talent and musical abilities of the band illuminate the performance with perfect power pop. The tragic stories contained within the group can be temporarily forgotten and their legacy remembered through this multifaceted performance.

Day After Day-Set of Six

Sweet Tuesday Morning-Set of Six

Take It All-Set of Six

Suitcase-Set of Six

Better Days-Set of Six

No Matter What-Set of Six

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade: 'Pictures of Lily' Keith Moon's Custom Premier Drum Kit

As recognizable as the flamboyant drummer himself, Who drummer Keith Moon's custom Premier drum kit, often referred to as the 'Pictures of Lily' kit is the focus of 'Tools of the Trade'  today in the 'rock room'. Moon's drum set ups and specifications were as particular and peculiar as Moon himself. He was often as interested in the aesthetics and destructive capabilities of the drums as well as their ability to disseminate his unique brand of playing. Premier Drums were the manufacturer and the company that Moon often returned to for his kits. The 'Lily' drum set was used by Moon from mid 1967 through the end of 1968. The Who's performance in December of 1968 at the Rolling Stones 'Rock and Roll Circus' show Moon no longer using the drums so I will use that performance as a cut off point.

It's been reported that the first appearance of the drums came in July of 1967 when Moon first received them during the Who's US tour. The drums took six months to create to Moon's specifications and contained many unique features. Who lighting manger and friend John Wofff helped to design the drums and bring Moon's imagery to reality. Everything down to the smallest piece of hardware was developed and ruminated upon by Moon.
The first interesting detail about the kit is that it was completely hooked together as one unit. Each individual drum was attached and the double kick drums were outfitted with the ability to be attached to the stage floor due to Moon's hyperactive rudiments and penchant for destruction. Unfortunately and reportedly none of the originally created kits exist in their complete form due to Moon's explosive stage antics. Although many of Moon's acquaintances report Moon's drum detonations were well planned out and never really destroyed anything but hardware. Reportedly four kits were originally developed by the company for Moon.

 The second fascinating detail about the drums and their defining characteristic are the specially commissioned pop art panels requested by Moon that decorate the kits shells. Psychedelically painted 'Pictures of Lily' as well as 'Who' emblems adorn the outside of the kit. The finest and greatest of these panels contain the moniker, 'Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer' in typical Moon self promoting fashion! The skins covering both bass drums featured the 'Who' logo flying in three dimensional glory and emanating from a head shot of Moon.
The kit was of course subject to change depending on Moon's needs but its original format contained (2) 22' Bass drums, (3) Floor Toms, (3) mounted Toms and a snare drum. As Moon grew older and his demands greater his drums would grow to extravagant sizes, but this set, his most recognizable offered him a fluid movement as well as a flashy instrument to fully compete with his guitar player's on stage antics. Moon's crash cymbals were situated on either side of him in performance with a single ride cymbal sitting at twelve o'clock. His high hat would nestle to the right of the kit in contrast to other drummers (if he used it). In the heat of battle Moon would alternate between the crash cymbals at three and nine o'clock while eliciting a stampeding herd of beasts with his double bass drum feet.

Included at the bottom of this 'rock room' rant is the complete footage of the Who on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967, that features Moon miming with the Lilly set as well as detonating it with a bass drum packed with explosives at the conclusion of the performance. This act has long been rumored to be part of the impetus for Townsend's hearing loss. The incident also imbedded a rogue piece of cymbal shrapnel into Moon's arm. As far as I know there is no other footage that exists of the kit in action, although there are a number of photographs. 
 Mirroring the personality and abilities of its owner and creator, Keith Moon's 'Pictures of Lily' drum set is not only one of the most recognizable in rock history but an instrument completely representative of its manipulator. Moon was a drummer who hated solos but who's playing could often be interpreted as a 'lead' instrument. The 'Lily' kit offered Moon a spotlight piece to not only illuminate his talent but express his artfulness and aggression.

 Smothers Brothers 1967 Complete

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Put the Boot In: Faces- 'Wicked Messengers' - Boston Tea Party 1970

 Playing in the 'rock room' today is a rough and ready soundboard recording of 'Faces', hailing from their first US tour in 1970. The band's debut LP First Step had just been released on March 21, 1970, read about that record here and to support the album the band undertook a 28 date tour still sometimes billed as the 'Small Faces'. This master soundboard recording circulated in 2005 and finds the band in early form playing with fire and attitude. There are a few tunes that quickly disappeared from the repertoire that are featured on this recording that add to the performances relevance. The soundboard has an acceptable balance of instruments, but does suffer from some level fluctuations, hiss and distortion at times. These minor anomalies are minor when compared to the rarity and demonstrated power of the concert capture. With the exception of 'Looking Out the Window' and 'Three Button Hand Me Down' the band plays the entirety of the first album in addition to a down right ornery version of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'.

The band played three nights at the famed 'Boston Tea Party' over March 26, 27, 28, the recording spotlighted here purportedly hails from the 27th, but has circulated under other dates. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the band on this recording is admirable. They play with dynamics, attitude and bank vault tight collaborations. The band would be playing stadiums before they would realize and the popularity of the band (especially their singer) would rocket through the roof within the following 4 years. This capture finds the band young, hungry and with an intimate group of admirers standing witness to their growth. The band was actually second billing to the Lee Michaels Group for these performances, but due to the aptitude and explosiveness of concerts like this one they would soon be filling their pockets with the headlining slots. The band is feeling good and playing well with the slight scent of alcohol permeating the recording.

After a vibe setting ambient view from the stage and introduction by Boston Tea Party MC Charlie Daniels the group detonates Bob Dylan's 'Wicked Messenger'. The opening track of their debut LP, this threatening version holds a knife to the listeners throat with slicing slide guitar by Ronnie Wood and string rattling Ronnie Lane bass runs. The song cascades over its descending riff, thumping over a rocky road to a clandestine hell of its own design. McLagan's organ lends a secular fog over the proceedings, contrasting the fist through the wall percussion and stone sharpened guitars.

With barley a pause except for an off mic 'Yeah' by Stewart, Woody plays the opening riff to 'Shake, Shutter and Shiver' a Lane/Wood composition that would have limited on stage exposure. Similarly to the opening track, Woody's guitar is exemplary driving the band into a steel toed stomp. Lane and Stewart share vocal duties and Kenny Jones deserves mention for his heavy handed firecracker percussion.

Bringing the vibe down to delicate and beautiful the band begins the 'Mayfield' influenced 'Devotion'. Lots of off mic asides and interjections increase the soulfulness of this rendition which culminates in a screeching and stretching Ronnie Wood guitar solo. Bonus point to the always poignant middle section spotlighting Lane and Stewart swapping gentle vocal lines.

My personal favorite highlight of the recording and performance follows with a menacing reading of Willie Dixon's 'Evil'. The song was one of the first tracks ever played by the band as illustrated by the rehearsal take from Summer 1969 included on the band's box set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar. This version tears through the band's start/stop arrangement, by using dramatic and scratching guitar mutes that interchange with washes of cymbal swells and McLagan's R and B rips. At 3:25 all band members disappear as the entire group melds into one player, a rolling musical maelstrom that deftly drops into a bedtime recitation of the verses. Stewart spits the vocals in inspiring fashion, syncopated and abrasive, so rock and roll. The second instrumental excursion follows and fires the song arrow straight through to its conclusion, but with some unfortunate mix issues appearing on the recording. Regardless, another imposing climax is reached with Lane's bass providing the darkened bedrock before the band ends perfectly united.
Following some on stage diddling Stewart announces the the band is going to play 'Flying'. One of the greatest songs in the 'Faces' catalog, this reading is studio perfect, while still containing some raw Stewart vocal approaches. The concluding jam is triad of musical intercourse, with Lane, McLagan and Wood intertwining their respective melody lines into a tangible object of soaring musical joy.

Mellowing the mood, the rarely played 'Nobody Knows' begins with electric piano, tasteful slide and stirring Lane and Stewart collaborative vocals. The Lane/Wood penned song drifts on an unmistakeable Lane melody line, blissfully ending before it even feels like it begins. The song is representative of the brotherhood of the band during these early concerts and is one of the most underrated of Faces songs.

The Ronnie Wood instrumental 'Pineapple and Monkey' follows after some on stage discussion of how long left the group has to play. A slightly smart ass introduction by Stewart precedes the multifaceted and funky instrumental. Wood takes a couple of crispy solos in addition to his statements of the songs thematic basis, beautifully echoed by McLagan. It amazes me how many solid and virtuous solos Wood takes, knowing that he would not be allowed the same freedoms after joining the Stones in a few years.

Often the groups' basis for improvisation, 'Around the Plynth' follows next, a slippery and undulating slide guitar groove the extends past six minutes and is a Ronnie Wood as well as a Kenney Jones showcase. Jones thumps out a kick drum clinic in which Wood and McLagan drape their sweeping statements. This version is still in its formative stages but spotlights some steely sleek playing by Wood. As has been the trend for the entire show Stewart is posing as rocks greatest vocalist, disseminating a flurry of melodic and edgy vocal lines with glamorous attitude and with no worry for slight pitch variations. The mid point jam of the number peculates with frothing energy, encouraged by Lane and Jones.
Stewart announces the closing track, 'It's All Over Now' as a song from his new solo record, a small sign of divisions to come in the future. The band hits this one over the green wall at Fenway, although the recording cuts off before its conclusion, most of the jam is captured. A fitting and crashing rock and roll conclusion and a swaggering introduction of the Faces to a US audience. Rod sounds slightly fuzzy at this point, but I'm sure the communal bottle was close by. A number of groups such as the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Neil Young and Crazy Horse earned their keep in front of the tough Boston crowds, only to emerge better bands. This particular soundboard recording captures the Faces doing the same thing, only coming in as outsiders and foreigners and proving their musical worth to skeptical strangers.

Fans of the Faces owe it to themselves to seek out this soundboard recording and compare it to the other circulating recordings from the bands heyday. In the 'rock room's' opinion this concert compares favorably and only enhances the bands mythology and influence. Take a trip, join the crowd and witness unadulterated rock and roll hailing from a legendary venue in rocks greatest era.

Nobody Knows 1970

Flying BBC 1970

Faces Documentary 1970

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Neil Young and Crazy Horse-'Long Ago In the Museum'-1976 LP Zuma

Imagine two outstretched arms, extracting themselves from a dirty roadside ditch, fingertips dug into the flesh of the earth pulling a hidden body out into the blinding sunlight. This is the imagry representing Neil Young and Crazy Horse's 1976 LP Zuma, recorded following Young's so called mid 1970's 'ditch trilogy', comprised of the records, Time Fades Away, Tonight's the Night and On the Beach and respectively recorded between 1973-1974.

In addition to collecting some of Young's most revolutionary and long standing music, the aforementioned records also set out to shatter the illusions and myths that had surrounded Young since the beginning of his career. The music was an infected flesh wound, some fans had to look away, some listeners opened the door and decended to the basement. During this prolific era, there was also a failed attempt at recording an LP with CSNY, as well as a huge amount of Young music that being recorded but remained shelved. Right up to current days this music has yet to see an official release.

Young was peaking as an artist, suffering as a person and searching for for new ways of expressing his art, even developing films for his restless mind.  Following these creatively hectic days, Young reunited and retooled 'Crazy Horse' for the subject of this 'rock room' rant, 1976's LP Zuma. The original rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot was supplemented by guitarist Frank Sampedro who stepped in for, but never replaced Danny Whitten who was lost to a drug overdose in 1972 and was the inspiration of 1974's Tonight's the Night. The group had last recorded with Young during sessions for 1970's After the Gold Rush and their street cowboy punk attitude was the perfect tonic for Young's musical ill regarding a band..

This record would eventually become responsible for permanently casting the 'Crazy Horse' sound and providing Young with his most trust worthy and surefooted medium of musical dissemination. The band's rough hewn and gritty attitude locked in puzzle piece syncopation with Young's artistic sensibilities, allowing him a freedom and challenging creative outlet. The 'Horse' may have been simple, but they were always real. Raw electric emotion has always mattered to Young more than musical showboating and self important ideals. Zuma would develop into a representation of Young's new direction, a swinging electric bar band armed for sonic assaults and based in melody and big guitars.  The conglomerate of compositions and ideas Young had strewn around his mind collided with a group hungry to back him. The results are documented as explosive and definitive, The band would stand witness to these ideas providing a charged and quaking musical backdrop. The band equal to a well oiled road machine of unparalleled power, rattling windows as it travels down the back roads, pipes exposed.

The album opens with the country thunder of 'Don't Cry No Tears', a song developed from a melody that had been rebounding around Young's head since he was a youth. The track introduces as well as encapsulates the 'Crazy Horse' sound, illustrating a creaky swinging rhythm and weaving dual guitars that glistening with a chrome luster. Edgy instrumentation and wildflower melodies, the perfect harmonious combination for Young's eclectic band of brothers..

'Dangerbird' is the song the truly reveals what the 'Horse' was truly about and what they would become, to be illustrated in full glory on 1978's Rust Never Sleeps. Unfortunately faded out on the official LP release, the song illicits memories of the formative Horse excursions such as 'Cowgirl In the Sand' and foreshadows the upcoming musical travelogues like 'Cortez the Killer'. The song reveals itself on a bass pulse and feedback note, its slow metallic dirge opposing the imagery of flight. The first solo flaps furiously over scratchy guitar support, Young's notes quaking with a nervous vibrato. The music fights gravity, struggling to become airborne, its silvery sonic streaks shedding weight, aiding its levitation. Young's second solo soars in spite of being made of solid stone, lifting, then finally fracturing into a dizzying array of quaking riffs.

The following song, 'Pardon My Heart' lowers the dynamic with an acoustic rendition of a track that had been floating around Young's songbook since early 1974. He plays all of the instruments on this recording except for bass guitar which is played by Tim Drummond. Young's vocals are picture perfect, at one point answering his own plaintive backing calls. Reminiscent of the future Young composition, 'Will To Love' in its recording approach and vibe, I will always classify 'Pardon My Heart' as a 'lost' classic.

"Lookin For A Love 'is a cloudy ray of sunlight bottled inside a lean melodic country lilt. What sounds to me like Young's glorious Gretch White Falcon, the notes ring out in harmonic intercourse with Sampredro's crisply picked rhythm. The Horse play it straight and let the well traveled melody lines carry all of the heavy lifting. The last tracks allow for a nice respite from the stampeding and anxious Horse.

The first side of the record concludes with the quintessentially Neil Young, 'Barstool Blues'. In my humble opinion one of the finest tracks on the record, 'Barstool's' lyrics flash fleeting spectral glimpses of Danny Witten next to the bar, the passing scent of Young love interest Carrie Snodgrass and the blurred imagery of a darkened head in hand establishment. The vocals are live and upfront on this studio track, and the music reminisces as well as forebodes. Young's shaky solos sing in a voice that match his own rattling throat. Slam the door, take a gulp and get rowdy for this one.
Side two opens in audio verite' fashion with the sludgy beginning of 'Stupid Girl' that slickly shifts into double time as the verses begin. The blunt accusations of 'Stupid Girl' are slightly disconcerting, but brutally honest and that's why we love Neil. The song spits out insult on a dry bobbing lick and concludes on a highly lyrical solo of contrasting beauty and forgiveness.

'Drive Back' follows and ups the intensity with abrasive soloing and late in the evening back road tire scorching. The song wants to lend a feisty hand of encouragement but cannot help but display its clandestine knife edge. This is the place where the 'Crazy Horse' plays best, there is the overwhelming smell of gasoline, Poncho is smoking a cigarette and the band is holding a burnt match.

The definitive 'Neil Young and Crazy Horse' epic 'Cortez the Killer' comes next, its historic genesis born from this record. The song would soon be extended and twisted into smouldering heaps on later concert tours, but here it sits in its purest unadulterated form. The introduction of the song slowly bobs past three minutes on Young's patient exploration of the watery theme. Young reportedly built the song based on a history lesson learned at at school, the lyrics both tell a tale and portray a heavy mood. The songs basic structure is custom build for expansion and development through extended guitar soloing. A well deserving and recognizable classic.

Always the master of moods and contrasts, the LP gently concludes with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash making an appearance for the airy 'Through My Sails'. Unable to get it together for their own LP, Young must have not wanted to waste the possibilities presented in this beautiful song. A sweet, even optimistic composition from Young, closes the door on one era in his career, revealing a time where the 'Horse' would become old dependable and CSN quite dispensable.

Zuma is a record that further entrenched Neil Young's electric identity by providing another, yet familiar avenue for his creative expressions. The LP would prove to be a formative foundation in the explosive performances yet to come from Young and the Horse. The rest of the 1970's would find Young morphing yet again into uncharted musical realms, but always having the 'Horse' in the stable awaiting his return. This continued gravitation back to a comfortable pair of sonic shoes for Young would remain the catalyst for the groups deep and lasting musical relationships. These enduring friendships, forged deeply during the recording of Zuma, continue right on into the present day.


Cortez the Killer-Zuma

Through My Sails-Zuma

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eric Clapton - 'Beautiful Thing'-1976's No Reason To Cry LP

 Spinning on the turntable today in the 'rock room' is Eric Clapton's 1976 LP No Reason To Cry. Highly underrated in the spectrum of Clapton's catalog, the record contains a plethora of special guest musicians, co-writers and friends lending to the boozy celebratory vibe of the record. Recorded at 'The Band's' Malibu clubhouse 'Shangri La' studios, the record offered Clapton his long standing wish to become a default member of 'The Band'. All members of the 'Band' appear on the LP in some form as well as Clapton cronies, Bob Dylan, Jessie Ed Davis, Billy Preston, Ronnie Wood, George Terry, Georgie Fame, Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy among a host of others. The famous story that emanates from these sessions is of Bob Dylan camped out in a tent at the bottom of a hill near the studio and popping in to offer musical assistance or songs to Clapton.

These were heady days never to be witnessed again, resulting in a recorded document of friendship and collaboration featuring the some of the most respected musicians of the time. It's a low key affair, light on guitar fireworks but stewing with a smoky and boozy soul. Soon, Clapton's next LP, 1977's Slowhand would overshadow this particular record, producing three huge singles and rocketing up the charts. So, No Reason To Cry  remains a clandestine member of Clapton's discography; birthing only one Top 40 single, his fourth solo LP stands a wonderful collection of good time music, drenched with Jim Beam and soaked in comradery. It has some soft spots, but the payoff is worth the wait. While only containing three true Clapton compositions, the LP still contains some gems. Co-produced with long time Clapton comrade Carl Radle and Band associate Rob Fraboni, this is the record that had to be created in order for Clapton to make the next natural move in his career.

The record begins with the Manuel/Danko composition 'Beautiful Thing' originally composed around 1966 in the late days of 'The Hawks' and the formative days of 'The Band'. There is a delicate and beautiful demo recording of the track on 'The Band's', A Musical History box set coming from 1966 which illustrates the songs early beginnings. Unfortunately, Manuel or Danko could never shoehorn the song onto a 'Band' record, holding on to it for ten years until Clapton used it for the opening song on his own record. Churning on a instantly recognizable Richard Manuel piano melody the music drips with watery lament, dressed in overlapping slide guitars and secular organ lines. The chorus is sung by the collaborative ladies visiting the studio eliciting all of the emotion from Manuel's original intent. Clapton's whiskey and cigarettes voice is the proper fit for a song that precariously balances on hopefulness and loneliness. Clapton would fulfill his wish to become a member of his favorite group with the multiple collaborations with the principals of 'The Band' on this record. Ronnie Wood and E.C. both play dueling slide on the track, intertwining their licks into a cloudy swell.
The second track of the record is a jumpy fairground calliope of music, with the Clapton composition, 'Carnival'. The song opens on a shouted 'Oye!' that sounds suspiciously like Ronnie Wood. Settling into the groove of what would later be mined for 'The Core' on 1977's Slowhand, 'Carnival' is comprised of flashing organs, chunky rhythms and expletive percussion. The lyrics are very simplistic, an invitation for a chosen lady to take a late night night to walk through the midway. Not Clapton's finest lyrical moment, but the song is more about the groove than any deep philosophical content. The construction of the song illustrates the upcoming musical developments and approach developed on future Clapton releases.

The acoustically rooted Bob Dylan composition 'Sign Language' follows next and is a charming result of Dylan's visits to the recording sessions when leaving his tent. In typical Dylan fashion the song places the listener into a developed scene with minimal effort, highlighted by Robbie Robertson's fluid guitar work and flexing tremolo bends.The rhythm track shifts with bellowing acoustic rhythm and syrupy dobro slithering.The solos are an absolute chill inducing blend of swells, picked harmonics and plucky punctuations. Dylan and Clapton share lead vocals (no easy feat) encouraging the mind image of them standing at the microphone arms around one another, bottle hanging by their side. Dylan's vocals still retain the 'Rolling Thunder' era push and are a highlight to crane an ear for.

The bluesy stomp of the Alfred Fields song 'Country Jail Blues' originally released in 1941, follows and finds Clapton at home with a straight blues stomp. The song would stay with Clapton for years, making an appearance on stage during his 1994 Blues tour. Here it is Clapton's comfort zone, a straight forward campfire blues, shackled ankles and black and white stripes. The song swings on what sounds like heavy left hand Richard Manuel piano and multi-tracked electric and wooden slide guitars. Billy Preston's organ underlines Clapton's sing/speak vocal approach and his dagger sharp guitar solo.
The first side concludes with another fine collaboration with a member of 'The Band'. The song, 'All Our Past Times' is a co-written number by Rick Danko and Clapton which would later be revisited during the 'Last Waltz' and performed by Clapton with the 'Band'. The song is unfortunately tucked away at the end of side one on this often forgotten LP, but did end up with some longevity. Toward the end of his life Danko would resurrect the track for one of his own solo recordings. This is a straight up 'Band' song minus Levon Helm, featuring Eric Clapton and full of sensitive playing and a reflective ambiance. Danko and Clapton trade lead vocal duties and Robertson and Clapton flip guitar solos on this song that reflects on the forging of deep and lasting friendships regardless of the passing of time. Golden.

Side two in my humble opinion is slightly inferior to the first, but still contains fine moments of note. 'Hello Old Friend' is the big single from the record and is a good representation of the sought after sound of the LP and the direction in which Clapton's music was traveling. A harmless but very catchy song, 'Hello Old Friend' welcomes the listener with hearty backing vocals and a cascading chorus piano. A positive beginning to side two of the record for one of Clapton's more recognizable numbers.

Soon to become a concert showcase of Clapton's, 'Otis Rush's 'Double Trouble' follows and again finds Clapton with the seat back, driving the blues to his true home. This studio reading is no slouch exhibiting a shredded vocal attack by Clapton and a smoke blue backing. This song also features the first 'big' soloing of the record with Clapton exhibiting his usual form. The rendition is a highlight of side two without a doubt.

Clapton then introduces collaborators for the next two songs, the Marcy Levy/Clapton penned, 'Innocent Times' and the Sims/Levy track, 'Hungry'. Levy sounds invested and powerful on 'Innocent Times', a slow waltz and country swing that suits her voice well. The following tune, 'Hungry', while containing interesting instrumentation, sounds too much like a poor rewrite of 'Keep on Growing' from Layla and Assorted Love Songs to these ears. Check it out and decide for yourself.

The album closes with the unassuming Clapton deep cut, 'Black Summer Rain'. Clapton reveals the Richard Manuel influence by singing in a sweetly strained falsetto. The lyrics are direct, pastoral and self deprecating. The song contains within a slightly extended outro jam that contains crisply understated and taffy sweet riffing played by Clapton. The organist contributes some cinematic and swirling church organ that drives Clapton to even greater heights. (it sounds like Billy Preston to me) The album certainly redeems itself here, (if it had to) by closing with a smoothly inspired and slightly 'lost' classic.

The 1976 LP No Reason To Cry was a communal attempt by Clapton and his associates to make a great record while still helping to define the next direction in his career. The record works in some spots and struggles in others. What cannot be denied is the soulfulness of its best songs. The collaborations are timeless and the' music as therapy' approach is tangible. Clapton would soon be approaching greater fame and dealing with more intense struggles. But for these captured musical moments it was all about 'work as play', with mostly positive results. Worth searching out alone for the diverse combinations and unique approaches contained within.

Black Summer Rain

Beautiful Thing

No Reason To Cry-Entire Record