Monday, January 30, 2006

Various Artists - Exile On Blues Street (2003)

I offer my deepest apologies to those people who believe the Rolling Stones really were the "world's greatest rock 'n' roll band" because I'm about to commit rock 'n' roll blasphemy with this statement: Exile on Main Street, the 1972 double-disc Rolling Stones LP considered by most critics of the musical cultural elite to be one of the finest rock albums ever recorded, is an immensely bad album. Maybe it's the very muddy sounding final mix that made every song -- except for the two big hit singles, "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy" -- sound the same, or it could be the crudity of many of the songs. After all, what is there to like about a song titled "Turd on the Run"?

Therefore, you may be surprised to find that I feel just the opposite about this compilation from Telarc consisting of 10 songs from Main Street re-recorded by a crackerjack blues band along with a host of blues all-stars.

Exile on Blues Street is another in Telarc's series of CDs in which they take classic rock albums and record new blues versions of them. Two other classics LPs they've reinvented are The Beatles' White Album, which the record company retitled The Blues White Album, and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde.

The studio band Telarc gathered for this CD includes Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, formerly of Stevie Ray Vaughan's band. Each track has a different lead vocalist and often a different lead guitarist. Christine Ohlman does a hot version of "All Down the Line," Otis Taylor sings and plays guitar on "Sweet Black Angel" with Cassie Taylor on backup vocal, and Tommy Castro performs a smoking version of "Rip This Joint." Another favorite is Lucky Peterson's version of "Ventilator Blues." Jimmy Thackery closes the 10-song disc with a fantastic version of "Rocks Off."

It is common knowledge that the Stones music was born from the blues, but they mostly played a hybrid fused with rock 'n' roll. This album is the real thing and is a great example of how the Stones would have sounded if they stayed in the blues genre rather than playing rock for more than 40 years. Listening to this CD will make you appreciate their music in a way you didn't before.

Fortunately, "Turd on the Run" is nowhere to be found.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chris Hyland - And Where Have You Been? (2004)

Chris Hyland of Ocean City, New Jersey has released a six song debut EP, And Where Have You Been? that is both lyrically intelligent and introspective.

Hyland, who wrote everything on the disc, sings two songs about his younger days at the shore, times that were obviously a big part of his life. Both songs are personal enough to make listeners feel like they are snooping in his diary. “Burn It Down” and “Mother’s til Midnight” talk about those experiences but each takes a completely different point of view. On “Burn It Down” the dark side of Hyland’s experiences are reflected ominously with lines like “you don’t like him so do him in/notify his next of kin/burn, burn, burn it down” and “a jury of your peers sentenced you/across the street for beers.” On “Mothers” he sings “Tell your Mother where you been boys/same place as last night/ Mother’s til Midnight.”

“Ameline” takes on the story of a mean girl going to New Orleans with her piercings and tattoo and ready to raise hell. “Give Us Your Money” rightly scathes TV evangelists.

His singing voice is slightly raspy with just a hint of John Mayer. Musically, the CD is eclectically arranged and diverse and is well produced. “Money” features a horn section, while some unusual percussion instruments such as gogo bells and timbales are featured elsewhere. The tracks are performed with a full band that adds color to the usually sterile “guy with a guitar” singer-songwriter style songs. Hyland plays lead and rhythm guitars and even some slide on “Burn It Down.” The melodies lean toward sameness but the eclectic and full arrangements compensate for this adequately.

This is a nice debut from a guy that has potential to be even better.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Tribute To George Harrison

I am happy to reprint, with permission from writer Chris Satullo, the following article that appeared in the "Sunday Review" section of the "Philadelphia Inquirer" on December 2, 2001. Four years ago, at the time of his passing, I was prepared to write my own tribute to George Harrison but when I read Mr. Satullo's editorial it perfectly expressed everything I would have written much more eloquently.
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IF NOT FOR YOU

By Chris Satullo

Let the guitars weep gently. Here's a shout out for the guy who stands in back, lets others take the spotlight, does his job and doesn't say much.

The patron saint of such stand-up guys is now George Harrison, whose life ended Thursday morning at a friend's house in Los Angeles. He died as one of the world's most famous people, yet also one of the most reclusive. Many an obituary will call him a "former" Beatle, but in the minds of millions, he never stopped being one.

Mr. Harrison joined John Lennon's band the Quarrymen in 1958. Youngest member of the band, he was not yet an accomplished guitarist when the Beatles first went "world" in 1963-4. Many of his solos on the early recordings were labored copies of his 1950s idols. But he improved rapidly. While the artistic growth of John Lennon and Paul McCartney overshadowed his own, nevertheless he made his own mighty contribution.

Twenty-two Harrison songs appeared on Beatles albums. On several, his were among the very best. On Revolver, "Taxman" is a sneering, knife-edged piece of social criticism. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on The Beatles stands out on that uneven dream of an album. He reached his peak as a songwriter with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," the two best songs on Abbey Road.

Harrison's discovery of Eastern mysticism awakened in him a yearning spirituality that endeared him to millions of fans in ways unusual for a rock star. "Within You Without You," a collaboration with producer George Martin, was the most profound offering on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It reminds the listener of what ancient Indian religion calls the maya, the "wall of illusion" preventing us from seeking the truth.

Echoes of ancient wisdoms ran through his songs: "With every mistake/We must surely be learning" ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps"); "The farther one travels/The less one knows" ("The Inner Light").

In a concert in the early 1970s, Harrison sang the Lennon/McCartney tune "In My Life," tweaking a line to sum up his philosophy: "In my life/I love God more."

The private, dignified manner in which that life ended seems very much in keeping.

What were his best moments as a musician? You know them. The brazen opening chord to "A Hard Day's Night." The ebullient fade-in and fade-out to "Eight Days a Week." The cascading intro to "Help!" An exultant two-bar break in "Got to Get You into My Life." The tabla harp work on "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the astonishing guitars, backward and forward, on "Rain." The crazy, in-your-face guitar screams in "Revolution." The wailing lead on "Come Together," and the best Beatle solo he ever played - sensitive, unexpected, a new way to use slide guitar - on "Something."

His career was not as distinguished afterward but, then, that holds true for all the Beatles. He was an absurdly generous philanthropist, a funder of films (Monty Python's Life of Brian), and an intensely private person.

George Harrison seldom may be ranked shoulder-to-shoulder with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But as an integer in history's most famous musical foursome, as a presence informing the music, as a spiritual figure, and as originator (both credited and un- ) of many of the Beatles' best achievements, he earned a place as one of the most influential pop musicians in history.

And he earned a particularly affectionate place in many fans' hearts. He was unassuming and self-erasing in a flamboyant band and time. He was a passionate, oceanic believer. And the boy could play a little. That is why on Friday morning, kids of 10 to 70 and beyond wept, and gently.

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Here is the complete list of songs George Harrison composed and recorded with the Beatles and the UK album in which they originally appeared.

Don't Bother Me (With the Beatles) 1963
I Need You (Help) 1965
You Like Me Too Much (Help) 1965
If I Needed Someone (Rubber Soul) 1965
Think For Yourself (Rubber Soul) 1965
Taxman (Revolver) 1966
Love You Too (Revolver) 1966
I Want To Tell You (Revolver) 1966
Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) 1967
Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour) 1967
The Inner Light (B-side to Lady Madonna) 1968
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles) 1968
Piggies (The Beatles) 1968
Long Long Long (The Beatles) 1968
Savoy Truffle (The Beatles) 1968
It's All Too Much (Yellow Submarine) 1969
It's Only A Northern Song (Yellow Submarine) 1969
Something (Abbey Road) 1969
Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road) 1969
Old Brown Shoe (B-side to The Ballad of John and Yoko) 1969
I Me Mine (Let It Be) 1970
For You Blue (Let it Be) 1970

There are several other Beatles compositions in which George recieves a composing credit. He and John Lennon co-wrote "Cry For A Shadow," an instrumental the Beatles recorded in Hamburg, Germany in 1961 with Pete Best on drums. He also appears as the co-composer on two songs with all three other Beatles. The first is the instrumental "Flying" from Magical Mystery Tour. The second is "Free As A Bird," a leftover John Lennon song he helped finish, along with Paul and Ringo, for Anthology One. He also wrote and recorded with The Beatles a song called "Not Guilty," originally intended for The White Album, but for reasons unknown it never appeared on any Beatles release until Anthology Three. A different version of "Not Guilty" appeared on George's self-titled 1979 solo album. Also, there are two superb, solo acoustic performances of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "All Things Must Pass," both which appear on Anthology Three.

Other Beatles Songs Featuring George On Lead Vocals

Do You Want To Know A Secret?
Devil In Her Heart
Roll Over Beethoven
I'm Happy Just to Dance With You
Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby
Free As A Bird (2nd lead vocal)