Sunday, January 13, 2019

Jimmy Lafave - Peace Town (2018)

Too few people are aware of the late, great Jimmy Lafave, one of Austin's finest and most revered musicians. His untimely passing from a rare and aggressive form of cancer at age 61 in May 2017 was sad indeed.

While the Oklahoma native was never a household name the respect he earned within the Austin music scene was never ending. Critic Dave Marsh aired a deserved tribute to him on Sirius XM shortly before his passing and three days before Lafave died friends staged a sold out concert in his honor at the Paramount Theater in Austin. Fortunately, their honoree was able to attend.

Lafave wrote most of his own material but unlike most singer-songwriters he also recorded a lot of cover versions, many superior to the originals. More than half of the songs on his eighteenth and final album, Peace Town, a twenty song, double CD set he released last year, are covers.

A perfect example of Lafave's penchant for remaking a song is Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door," a tune I never cared for mostly due to Townshend's unpleasant singing. (When I first heard it I knew why Roger Daltrey was The Who's lead singer.) Here, Lafave slowed it down and made it his own, unique work. Keyboard player, Stefano Intelisano, added some superb Hammond B3 organ.

Other great covers include a rocking take of Chuck Berry's "The Promised Land" and "Don't Go to Strangers" by J.J. Cale. The best one is Robbie Robertson's "It Makes No Difference" that is just as good as The Band's original and there are three Bob Dylan songs, which is no surprise. Lafave was a well known Dylan specialist.

On three other selections, including the title track, Lafave added his own music to lyrics written by Woody Guthrie, another one of his idols.

The set alternates between folk music, country, and rock and Lafave used his outstanding sidemen to the best of their abilities.

Lafave had a pleasing and gentle voice that was a perfect fit for his songs.

Peace Town was not initially intended to be a farewell album. Rather, its sesssions were part of a giant project in which Lafave was going to record a hundred tracks for future release. These songs are the only ones he was able to finish.

Peace Town was recorded in the last few months of Lafave's life after his unfortunate diagnosis. It's probably his final statement so his fans need to savor it now.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Chicago - VI Decades Live (This Is What We Do) (2018)

If you've heard Chicago's last two studio albums you would know that they were very unimpressive, to say the least. However, when I first heard about the huge live set they released this past April that consisted mostly of songs from the Terry Kath years I was looking forward to it even though, based on what I've read and heard from other devoted fans, I was expecting a very mixed bag of treats. It turns out my expectations were accurate.

As the title suggests, VI Decades Live is a large package of four CDs and one DVD that features performances from every decade of Chicago's career. The first three CDs are from their most artistically productive years and ends in 1977 after Kath's unfortunate passing. The fourth disc spans the rest of their career through 2014 and the DVD covers a single performance from 1977 along with a bonus track.

The Booklet
Let's start with the very colorful 24 page booklet. It contains some great, never-before-seen photos and old newspaper stories including an old interview with trombonist James Pankow. The booklet is only informative if you're not a diehard fan. Nowhere does it discuss who is singing or playing on any of the tracks which is especially frustrating when listening to disc 4 because this is the era when the band became a revolving door of personnel changes. It would have also been nice if there were comments from the band about why a particular track was chosen for inclusion.

CD 1 and CD 2
Chicago's headlining, Isle of Wight show from August 1970 is presented in its entirety on the first two CDs just as the band was about to become very famous and very rich. The concert includes much of their best work from their first two outstanding double albums and one unreleased song from their third. The concert reveals the septet to be a real, hard rocking band with blaring horns supported by huge doses of Kath's outstanding lead guitar work. The future hall-of-famers leave us no doubt they were already a well rehearsed but loose ensemble who were creating genuine grooves while having a ton of fun.

Unfortunately, the show is ultimately hindered by less than stellar audio. While the Isle of Wight concert possesses far better sonics than the original Live at Carnegie Hall LP it's still not up to the standard set by the lesser known Live in Japan double album. If you're going to be annoyed because this show won't send you to audiophile heaven you may want to buy a copy of Japan instead.

CD 3
Some of the music on this CD mines the same general period as the two previous discs but it also includes songs from Chicago 5 and later. Much of it is well recorded but a very long "A Hit By Varese" should have been left off because it sounds like it was recorded on a fan's portable cassette machine. Disc 3 also doesn't flow as well as the first two do because the performances come from from different concerts. It's incongruous that "Varese" is followed by "If You Leave Me Now." The two tracks don't belong together.

CD 4
Buyer Beware. You may want to skip this disc. It starts out with some nice, early post-Kath performances of "Hot Streets" and "Little One" but from there things go dark. Covers of R & B classics that are not particularly well done, post-Peter Cetera ballads, an awful track ("America") by Lee Louhgnane from their last studio record, and big band arrangements dominate the CD. If the group wanted to showcase the 80s and beyond, their hits from the brief but productive David Foster/Peter Cetera era should have been included instead. It's astonishing that there is nothing from 17, their all time biggest selling record. I've never believed that it was one of their better albums but once Cetera departed most of their music became unlistenable. This disc proves it.

The DVD is a complete two hour concert from Germany’s Rockpalast television series from February 12, 1977, and with Kath still on board the original seven plus Laudir de'Olivera show that they are still functioning as a well oiled live act. The enjoyable set includes a couple of questionable song choices such as Kath's "Hope for Love" that proves the band began their lengthy decline while the late axeman was still with us but, overall, this concert is a worthy addition to the total package.

Disc 1 (Isle of Wight Festival 8/28/70)
1. Introduction
2. South California Purples
3. Beginnings
4. In the Country
5. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Free Form Intro)
6. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
7. Mother

Disc 2 (Isle of Wight Festival 8/28/70)
1. It Better End Soon
2. Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
3. 25 or 6 to 4
4. I'm a Man

Disc 3
1. Poem for the People (Paris, France 12/8/69)
2. 25 or 6 to 4 (Paris, France 12/8/69)
3. Liberation (Paris, France 12/8/69)
4. Goodbye (The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D.C. 9/16/71)
5. Now That You've Gone (Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, Australia, 6/26/72)
6. A Hit by Varèse (Chicago Stadium, Chicago, IL 8/13/73)
7. If You Leave Me Now (Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA 12/1/77)
8. Takin' It on Uptown (Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA 12/1/77)

Disc 4
1. Hot Streets (Greek Theater, Los Angeles, CA 8/11/78)
2. Little One (Greek Theater, Los Angeles, CA 8/11/78)
3. Forever (Pensacola Civic Center, Pensacola, FL 3/21/87)
4. Medley: In the Midnight Hour, Knock on Wood, I'm a Man, Get Away (Pensacola Civic Center, Pensacola, FL)
5. You're Not Alone (Starplex Amphitheatre, Dallas, TX 5/30/92)
6. The Pull (Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV 3/20/94)
7. In the Mood (Caesar's Palace, Atlantic City, NJ 7/28/94)
8. Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Caesar's Palace, Atlantic City, NJ 7/28/94)
9. Look Away (Acoustic) (A&E Network, Live by Request 9/5/02)
10. America (WHYY, the Grand, Wilmington, DE 5/7/14)

Disc: 5 (DVD) (Rockpalast - Grugahalle, Essen, Germany 2/12/77)
1. Anyway You Want
2. Saturday in the Park
3. Skin Tight
4. Just You 'N' Me
5. Hope for Love
6. You Are on My Mind
7. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
8. Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
9. Beginnings
10. Scrapbook
11. A Hit by Varese
12. Call on Me
13. Takin' It on Uptown
14. If You Leave Me Now
16. (I've Been) Searchin' so Long
17. 25 or 6 to 4)
18. Got to Get You into My Life)
19. I'm a Man
20. What's This World Comin' To (Bonus track from CHICAGO LIVE IN THE ROCKIES)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Carole King Vs. Stevie Nicks For The Rock Hall Of Fame

Stevie Nicks is the first woman to be enshrined into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame twice: first, for her accomplishments with Fleetwood Mac and now for her solo career.

Getting straight to the point, I contend that on her own Nicks is, at best, a borderline case for the hall. There are female artists with more chart action and greater influence who haven't even been nominated.

Many of Nicks' top selling singles were duets and to me that detracts from her overall accomplishments. Would she have had the same success without Don Henley, Tom Petty, and Kenny Loggins? What did Nicks do on her own that Carly Simon, Tina Turner, Carole King, and others haven't? Historically, unless you're Joni Mitchell, female singer-songwriters have always gotten the short end of the stick.

Carole King is already one of the hall's most worthy members and she was rightfully inducted with Gerry Goffin as part of the phenomenal songwriting team that influenced so many recording artists in the 1960s. Giants such as The Beatles and Aretha Franklin covered their songs. Anybody with a modicum of pop music knowledge does not need me to to go over her resume.

King should be in the hall as a solo artist just for Tapestry. You can sing the praises of Nicks' Bella Donna all you want but when you compare each one's best album it's no contest. King's has gone down in history as a truly seminal work. It feels like there are hundreds of female singer-songwriters performing today and Tapestry is a big reason why. The album was so influential that she can almost be credited with starting that whole rock sub-genre by herself. Mitchell was highly influential too but King's record seemed to be the one that was on everyone's turntable back in the day. After her 1971 classic became a hit, it became common for young women to pick up a guitar (or in King's case, a piano) and follow their muse.

I'm not dumping on Nicks. I was a Fleetwood Mac fan and "Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around" and "Edge of Seventeen" are both pretty cool tracks. But since people are making a big deal out of Nicks being the first woman to be inducted twice it should go to someone who deserves the honor more. After all, the rock hall's criteria for induction is based on "the influence and significance of the artists' contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll." If King doesn't qualify, no one does. Can you say the same about Nicks?

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Buried Treasure: Hamish Stuart - Let It Snow (2002)

In 2002 Hamish Stuart released Let It Snow, his 27-minute, eight song, Christmas CD in the U.K. in lieu of sending Christmas cards to his friends and family. He was originally going to record only "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas" but he and his band were having such a great time they kept the sessions going and included six more tunes.

Stuart, the former guitarist and bass player for the original Average White Band (1972-1983) and later a Paul McCartney sideman (1989 -1993), produced a tasteful, bare bones collection by keeping things simple. The breezy tracks are a hybrid of light R&B and jazz, the kind of stuff Stuart has always been good at. The arrangements include touches of flugelhorn, accordion, a little glockenspiel, and sleigh bells, of course.

Stuart does not offer us anything new. The eight tracks are overly familiar seasonal favorites that anyone who listens to pop Christmas music should instantly recognize. They could easily sound stale but the Glasgow, Scotland native and his mates put a fresh spin on all of them.

On Pledge Music Stuart wrote, "The concept was for the whole thing to sound very relaxed and low key, like there’s a little group playing in the corner of the room, hence the minimal production. With all that in mind I approached the vocals very gently. Nothing was sung louder than a normal conversation level."

Stuart doesn't have the world's greatest voice but it's good enough to get the job done on this quiet and unassuming disc that has never been properly released in The United States. It has long been out of print and it can be found at Amazon at ridiculous collector's prices.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

D. B. Rielly - Live From Chester (2018)

While not quite as compelling as last year's Live From Long Island City D. B. Rielly's Live From Chester is a very good followup and companion piece to its predecessor.

Rielly is one of the few musicians who is more effective with just his voice and a guitar or banjo than with a full band. For someone like me who often finds solo, acoustc performances on the dull side that is saying a great deal. He allows no distractions in this sparse setting so you get to know the very personable artist as he makes his songs the stars of the show.

"Your Stupid Face," "I'm Your Man," "Your Doggin' Fool," and Don't Think So Much," show off Rielly's pleasingly warped sense of humor but his serious side quickly indicates he is not a novelty act. He proves it with "The Sea" and an encore of "I'll Remind You Everyday," his Alzheimer's love song.

"My Ma" is almost a word for word retelling of his spoken intro to the last song and it's virtually an identical performance to the one on Long Island City. There are only two other tracks from Rielly's earlier studio albums so this makes most of his second live set a fresh listening experience.

Live From Chester is very short. It's less than thirty minutes long and that includes the singer-songwriter's between song banter and storytelling. You'll definitely want to hear more when it's over because a little bit of Rielly just isn't enough.

Please give this deserving artist a serious listen because his warmth makes you feel as if you are in the same room with him instead of listening in your car, your home, or on a cheap pair of speakers.

All of Rielly's music can be purchased directly from his website or you can buy and listen to it below at CD Baby.