Sunday, November 04, 2018

Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds Tour Featuring Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin at the Xcite Center, Parx Casino, Bensalem, PA, November 3, 2018

Photo of Wilson & Jardine courtesy of  Karin Ricci 
Brian Wilson is approaching the end of his Pet Sounds tour and if you are among the lucky people who had a ticket to one of these shows you won't be disapppointed. The Beach Boys' resident genius took the stage with his outstanding ten piece band that included his old group's original rhythm guitarist, Al Jardine, and his 1970s bandmate, Blondie Chaplin.

Wilson's voice has lost its high end and when he needed to hit the upper registers, his son-in-law, Rob Bonfiglio, took the spotlight. Bonfiglio led the way on "Don't Worry Baby" and several other early hits. Jardine also took his share of lead vocals.

The concert opened with a very nice take of the first Beach Boys song I ever heard, "California Girls," so it always holds a special place in my heart. From there they played "Dance, Dance, Dance" followed by more early chartbustng singles and a few deep tracks thrown into the mix for good measure.

Jardine took the lead on "California," part three of his superb "California Saga," that he wrote with Mike Love as the centerpiece for the group's 1973 Holland album.

I don't know why he was not part of the permanent on-stage ensemble but Chaplin did not make his appearance until several songs into the evening. He played guitar and sang Carl Wilson's "Feel Flows," a welcome obscurity from Surf's Up, and also "Sail On Sailor," his most significant contribution during his brief tenure with the band. Chaplin then left the stage and did not return until late in the show to play guitar and sing backup.

Then came all thirteen tracks of Pet Sounds in order. Even though the Wrecking Crew was not on hand this solid stage outfit supplied many of the nuances from Wilson's original recording sessions including wood blocks, barking dogs, train whistles, kazoos and more. They came as close as they could to replicating Wilson's intricate arrangements from the original LP.

After "God Only Knows" Jardine said it was one of the greatest songs of all time, by anybody - EVER! Many people agree with him and even though brother Carl Wilson was not on hand to sing it Bonfiglio made sure we didn't miss him too much. The song ended with a standing ovation.

For most of the rest of their classic album the fans provided appreciative applause but they did not react as you would expect them to for one of the most critically acclaimed rock records of all time.

After that, Wilson and the band were ready for the grand finale. Hit after hit, the ones that make audiences dance in the aisles, followed one another. All were played with perfection.

There was no encore. Wilson said that "Love and Mercy" would be his last song and he and the band left the stage to huge applause.

The star does not appear to be in the best of health. I wouldn't be surprised if this is his last tour so, I'll ask you this question. Would you rather see the master play his own creations or the Mike Love/Bruce Johnston lounge lizard version of the band that still uses the actual Beach Boys name? For me, the answer is obvious.

The brand new Xcite Center has great acoustics that suit a perfectionist like Wilson. It seats 1,500 and you can see well from anywhere you sit.

The setlist:
California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
Surfer Girl
Don't Worry Baby
Feel Flows
Sail On Sailor
Wouldn't It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That's Not Me
Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
I'm Waiting For The Day
Let's Go Away For Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There's An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline No
Good Vibrations
Help Me Rhonda (Jardine's first ever lead vocal on a Beach Boys' song)
Barbara Ann
Surfin' USA
Fun Fun Fun
Love and Mercy

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Stills & Collins - Everybody Knows (2017)

I've only recently become aware that people have been clamoring a long time for Stephen Stills and Judy Collins to work together. That time finally arrived late last year with their album, Everybody Knows. Now that it's happened I can say that, at least professionally, Judy Blue Eyes and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's best all around musician are a perfect pair.

Stills' vocals are less gravelly than they have been in recent years and Collins' angelic voice has not withered at all. She sounds exactly as she did in 1968 and when they duet she more than compensates for any aging in her partner's voice.

Song for song there is very little new music on Everybody Knows. The ten track set includes five covers, three Stills compositions and two by Collins. The originals are mostly older songs but it doesn't matter because the end result is quite rewarding.

The ten track album's rockier moments are all courtesy of Stills. The only two obvious rockers are a surprising cover of The Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" that opens the album and one of several new takes of their own songs such as the album closer, "Questions." The latter was taken from Buffalo Springfield's last album and rewritten to become CSN&Y's "Carry On" from Déjà Vu. If it wasn't for Collins' vocals both tracks could pass for Stills' solo work.

Other covers include Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe," Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" as well as Stills' "So Begins The Task," and "Judy," another song about his good friend and former lover. Collins revived her own "Houses" and Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," a song that became a standard for both of them.

The album takes its name from a fine version of Leonard Cohen's well known song.

It may first appear that Stills and Collins took the easy way out by recording mostly decades old songs but the duo sounds great. The album is very pleasant and extremely well put together. It makes one wonder that if the veterans had teamed up earlier, when their creative skills were at their peak, what great work they may have come up with.

If you're assigning stars to Everybody Knows it would get three out of four.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Hilary Scott - Don't Call Me Angel (2018)

Don’t Call Me Angel is the twelfth album in Hilary Scott’s catalog so she is not a newcomer to the business even if she is not a household name.

It's a shame that so many things written about Scott include a statement similar to this: Singer-songwriter Hilary Scott (with only one "l") should not be confused with the "double l'd" Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum fame but I'm sure she understands why comments like this one are inevitable and necessary.

Any confusion surrounding Scott's chosen stage name has to be especially galling to her because she took it as a tribute to her late brother who passed away twenty years ago and because she preceded her more well known namesake on the music scene.

Scott's music has always leaned toward the country side of things but her new album cannot be categorized easily. You can call it a country record, a singer-songwriter affair, or even classify it in the too broadly named Americana genre and you'd be right in every instance.

The songs on Don't Call Me Angel are pleasant sounding enough and are very well crafted but Scott's lyrics are the most important reason to listen. The tracks are all about relationships but they’re not drippy love songs. This set is full of tension and emotion.

Except for the cover version of Prince's "Kiss" the ten track disc is entirely self-written. Scott took his 1986 song and turned it into a "bluesy heartbeat" because she enjoys recreating other people's work into something that is totally unrecognizable, thereby making it her own.

A great example of the singer's writing turns up on the CD's final song, "Here I Am." She believes being in love is worse than a gambling addiction. "I am a mess. How could I let somebody play with my heart. A gambler can leave the table, walk away if he's able. But I'm showing more than my cards."

Does Scott's outward appearance hide an inner toughness? On "You Will Be Mine" she opens with "I am not nice....I am fire and ice" and on the title track she tells her lover, "Don't call me angel....I never looked good in white."

Musically, Scott receives a great support from her crackerjack band that includes her husband, drummer A J Gennaro, and she gets a huge assist from keyboard veteran Mike Finnigan on Hammond B-3 organ. She has a very pleasant voice that reveals an edgy tenderness.

I have to admit to being completely ignorant about the rest of Scott's extensive output but based on what is offered here her back catalog is very much worth looking into.

Scott's official website can be found here.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Buried Treasure: King Cole Trio - Transcriptions (2005)

This is a re-posting of a review that originally appeared here in 2005. It has been edited slightly.

Transcriptions were studio recordings made exclusively for radio broadcast that were never intended to be released to the public via commercial records. Transcriptions began in the 1930's and were used on radio for decades. Even as late as the 60s The Beatles used the transcription process for their British radio show appearances, most of which have since been released on their two double-set Live At The BBC releases in 1994 and 2013.

Micheal Cuscuna, a long time jazz fan and impressario, explains further in his excellent liner notes for the King Cole Trio's excellent Transcriptions box set on Blue Note Records.
"In the 1930's, when radio featured live music, the playing of commercially available 78 rpm recordings was frowned upon on the premise that the listener was less likely to go out and buy a record that he or she could hear over the airwaves for free. Many records issued in the 30s and 40s even stated on the label: "not licensed for broadcast".

Still, local stations needed more than network shows and local affairs programming to fill their broadcast day. Out of this vacuum came a number of transcription services that took bands into studios and recorded material that would be edited into 15-minute segments for broadcast purposes only. These sessions were usually a little more informal than phonograph record dates and often boasted a higher level of material because artists were not trying to cut the latest song-pluggers tripe in search of a hit.

Most of the transcription services were independent operations, not part of a label. But RCA started the Thesaurus transcription operation in the late 30s and Capitol got into the act in 1945. When the King Cole Trio's transcription deal with C. P. MacGregor expired, Capitol moved to sign them to its new service (they had been signed to Capitol's regular label since 1943). The results of the relationship, which ran from 1946 to 1950, are contained in this 3-CD set."
Old time jazz fans will love this box of radio transcriptions recorded by Nat King Cole and his jazz trio precisely for the informality and the "higher level of material" that Cuscuna discusses. All that is good about jazz piano shines through on these recordings that weren't commercially available until 2005.

The trio seldom used a percussionist, nor was one needed because Cole, a bassist, and an electric guitarist easily swing through seventy-one blues titles, ballads, straight jazz pieces, and even some novelty tunes. There are several Count Basie covers including "Lester Leaps In" and "One O'Clock Jump," some Cole originals, and a remake of his hit "Route 66." Ballads include an upbeat version of "Dream A Little Dream Of Me." Cole was a very tasteful, melodic, and gently swinging pianist. His voice was as smooth as silk, and his bandmates were up to their tasks as sidemen.

About a year after the last sessions Cole broke up the trio to become the singer most of us remember today. According to the All Music Guide many looked upon his change in direction with the same disdain Bob Dylan received from the folk community when he went electric in the mid-60s. As great as he is on the trio recordings most people only know Cole as the crooner of pop standards such as "Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa," and "The Christmas Song" (perhaps better known as "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire") all sung with a full orchestra loaded with strings.

Nat King Cole died of lung cancer in 1965 at age 45. I have loved him since I was a child and have often wondered what he would have accomplished musically had he lived.

Friday, September 28, 2018

In Defense Of The Beach Boys

A photo of the boys from the back of their 1985 eponymous album
Very few bands have reached the heights The Beach Boys soared to and even fewer have fallen from the mountaintop as far as they did.

The 60s icons' accomplishments are legendary and most are attributable to their main man, Brian Wilson. He was so dominant that he didn't even need the band in order to succeed. The proof is that much of their legendary album, Pet Sounds, lacked involvement by the other group members.

This post is not going to be a soap opera. No discussions of Wilson's health or the band's internal strife will be discussed here even though they both played a large part in The Beach Boys' decline. This post is only an attempt to properly place them within the pantheon of pop music gods.

There are music lovers who don't care for The Beach Boys because of the subject matter of their early songs. Surfing, cars, girls on the beach, high school and summertime fun can be considered quite lightweight and silly when stacked up against more serious artists who were making big names for themselves during the same era. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary immediately come to mind. By 1965 The Beatles had moved on from "yeah, yeah, yeah" to headier stuff. "In My Life," "Nowhere Man," "Help," "Yesterday," and "Day Tripper" all demonstrated maturity while "California Girls" (despite its sophisticated arrangement) and the bare bones production that is "Barbara Ann" were still catching waves at the top of the charts. Fortunately, in 1966 Pet Sounds soon appeared and elevated the group's artistic profile greatly.

Early on the boys tapped into American teenage culture perfectly. They were loved by those who were part of the Southern California social scene, by kids who couldn’t find a beach or a surfboard within a thousand miles of their homes, and by those who drove 1965 Ramblers instead of hot rods. They lived vicariously through the Wilson Brothers and their bandmates. The quintet became symbols of a Utopian, teenage lifestyle many 60s American kids wished for and some believed actually existed. The Beach Boys were the cool kids on the block.

Those very early Wilson/Mike Love compositions are classics but when the group's leader finally set loftier goals for them it was well past time. The Beach Boys couldn't sing about ocean waves forever, could they? By the mid-70s their best creative years were behind them and they became an oldies act due to either commercial considerations or lack of inspiration. In reality, it was probably both.

Their 1985 eponymous album, featuring Brian Wilson's return, had a song called "California Calling" that had Al Jardine singing the phrase "totally rad." This from a band whose oldest members were now in their 40s. Think about the contrast. More than a decade earlier John Lennon, who would be approximately the same age as The Beach Boys if he were alive today, gave the world "Imagine."

Many years ago a music writer, I wish I could remember who, claimed The Beach Boys were folk musicians because their songs contained a basic element of the genre. Per Wikipedia, folk music tells stories about a national or regional culture. It is probably pushing the wall of the genre to consider "Fun, Fun, Fun," and "Don't Worry, Baby," folk songs but I get his or her point.

For me it was always about the band's harmonies and melodies. Sometimes I didn’t care about their lyrics. I just wanted to hear the guys sing. I've heard it said that their falsetto voicings and doo wop influenced harmonies sound dated today but considering so many young musicians continue to recognize The Beach Boys as one of the great American groups of all time their legacy will live on. There are many abundantly talented vocalists who can harmonize quite well but no one has ever been able to do it as magnificently as Bruce Johnston and the five guys from Hawthorne, CA.