Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Mother Truckers - Broke Not Broken (2007)

The Mother Truckers took five years to record a followup to their debut CD, Something Worth Dying For, and that is a very long time between releases for any band trying to hit the big time. I don't know The Truckers back story so I have no idea why there was such a long wait before their sophomore effort, Broke Not Broken, saw the light of day. Nevertheless, the Austin, TX based country-rockers have turned out another album of great songs that their loyal fans will be certain to cruise to in their pickup trucks or party with on a Saturday night.

Gone are the small unedited musical snippets and patter between tracks that gave Something Worth Dying For a looser feel. The new disc is more meticulously produced than their debut and the tighter arrangements make it a more mature set of songs. The band's website describes The Mother Truckers as "a kick-ass rock 'n' roll band" but there are still enough pedal steels and dobros in their music, as well as a strong dose of Texas and the deep South in their lyrics, to brand them as a country band too. One of the two founding Truckers, lead guitarist Josh Zee, unleashes some very non-country, flaming throwing, rock 'n roll solos. He is the "kick-ass" member of the band.

Teal Collins can easily sing rock, country, ballads, or screamers. Broke Not Broken's best track is a cover of the Bonnie Raitt/Chris Smither classic "Love Me Like A Man" in which she shows off every vocal trick she owns. There is nothing country about this arrangement. It's just a straight ahead blues in which both she and Zee give inspired performances. The rest of the CD was written by Collins and Zee together.

Apparently we won't have to wait another five years for their next CD because a new one is slated for release later this year.

The Mother Truckers are even better live. They are a must see if you ever make it to Austin.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang's Big Night Out (2007)

I'm sure classical music fans will howl about the crimes committed on the latest release by The Brian Setzer Orchestra so let this be a warning to those of you whose ears are easily offended: Wolfie and Ludwig never rocked like this. Even to this band's most ardent fans Wolfgang's Big Night Out may appear to be the biggest gimmick this side of Weird Al Yankovic but somehow it's a contrivance that works.

I don't know if Setzer meant this album as a joke or not. He takes some of the world's most famous classical masterpieces and hilariously renames them after totally reinventing them. Beethoven's "Fur Elise" became "For Lisa," "Blue Danube" has evolved into "Some River In Europe," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" became "Take A Break Guys." The "1812 Overture" is now "1812 Overdrive." The title track was derived from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and Mendelssohn's famous wedding march is renamed "Here Comes The Broad." I'll let you decide if the last title is offensive.

Most of the disc is fast and loud, offering a "party hearty" atmosphere for all who listen. As usual, Setzer mixes his distinctively flamboyant electric lead guitar with brass and reeds that rock and roll from start to finish. Ten of the twelve tracks are instrumentals. It has been written more than once that this album's jazz-rock arrangements are quite intricate (it is obvious that a lot of time and effort went in to the CD's production) suggesting that my comments about this disc being a prank on serious music may not be valid.

The best track is the small group arrangement of "For Lisa" featuring violin, clarinet, and Setzer on acoustic guitar. It's a quiet, tasteful, and serious adaptation that jazz, folk, and classical fans can all love. On the other hand "Take A Break Guys" will blow up your speakers if you jack the volume up to ten. Setzer's guitar solo on the track reminds me of Eric Clapton's on the Cream standard "Crossroads." It's an intense piece but still a rocking good time.

The popular big bands of the 1930s and 40s frequently adapted the classics into jazz arrangements so what Setzer has done here is not a novel idea. In fact, I assume he is also stealing his own idea from the orchestra's first Christmas album, Boogie Woogie Christmas, that featured a version of the "Nutcracker" based on an arrangement by Les Brown's old swing band. Setzer and his crew give a whole new meaning to the term "classic rock" because now we know that the classics can indeed rock.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Beatles - Acoustic Masterpieces: The Esher Sessions (Unreleased)

Hardcore Beatles fans already know that most of the band's 1968 double LP, The Beatles, (the masterpiece more commonly known as The White Album) was written in India when all four band mates visited there to study with the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The White Album would be their first real LP since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the spring of 1967. In between Pepper and The White Album was the TV show Magical Mystery Tour, whose songs were released in the U. K. only as an EP on a double 45 RPM set. In America the songs from the TV show were combined with several tracks from the Pepper era that were previously released only as singles to form a whole new LP.

After the group’s return from India the band’s three composers, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, convened at Harrison’s house in Esher in the south of England to informally demo their new songs to each other for the upcoming recording sessions. All three recorded their own songs, double tracked, using Harrison’s reel-to-reel home tape recorder. The double tracking enhances the songs a bit by adding a second vocal, additional guitar work, and even some light percussion. The sound quality varies from passable to very good, and while sometimes the performances are a little rough, the music is never less than listenable.

Lennon started things off with "Cry Baby Cry." He then moved on to the now familiar melody to "Jealous Guy," a tune that became one of his most beautiful ballads. The finished song eventually found a home on his landmark Imagine album, but here, at rehearsals, it had totally different lyrics. Originally titled "Child Of Nature" this early rendition opens with the line, "I’m on the road to Rishikesh" which gives you an idea of what it is about. He also debuted "I’m So Tired," "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill," Julia," and "Sexy Sadie." There are acoustic versions of "Dear Prudence," "Yer Blues," "Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey," "Revolution" and the awful "What’s The New Mary Jane," a song that fortunately was never finished and finally surfaced many years later on Anthology 3.

Harrison went next. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is similar to the version that appears on Anthology 3 and it's easily just as wonderful in an acoustic setting. The host also previewed "Piggies" and "Not Guilty." The latter song was finished with a fine electric arrangement but for some reason it was left off the album at the last minute. It was never officially released until it found a home on his self-titled solo album from 1979. The Beatles final version appeared much later on Anthology 3. Harrison also played two other songs that didn’t make the album, "Circles" and "Sour Milk Sea."

McCartney was the last one to show off his new stuff. "Blackbird," "Rocky Raccoon," and "Mother Nature’s Son" suit the acoustic format perfectly, and they aren’t radically different from their officially released versions, but an all acoustic and lyrically unfinished "Back In the USSR" eventually evolved into a very different song. McCartney also played "Junk" which didn’t see the light of day until his debut solo LP two years later. There is also an early take of Ob-la-di Ob-la-da.

I have no idea if the three Beatles got along well during this historic session but we all know that by the time the real recording began the turmoil and resentment within the band began to boil over and, despite making great music for a little while longer, the end of The Beatles was near.

You can read more details about The Esher Sessions and a complete track listing, in proper sequence, here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Dave Clark Five's Mike Smith: R. I. P.

The Dave Clark Five, from the Tottenham section of London, England, almost immediately followed The Beatles over to America in 1964 and briefly challenged them for the rock 'n roll throne that the mop tops had just recently claimed for themselves. I still remember a newspaper headline I saw when "Glad All Over" knocked "I Want to Hold Your Hand" out of the top spot on the charts. It read: "Tottenham sound crushes The Beatles." By 1967 the DC5 charted seventeen top 40 hits before disappearing from the music scene and disbanding in 1970. According to the All Music Guide they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show more than any other British act.

In addition to "Glad All Over" British Invasion fans will remember many of their other boisterous rockers such as "Bits and Pieces," "Catch Us If You Can," "Over and Over," "You’ve Got What It Takes," "Can’t You See That She’s Mine," and a whole lot more. Their ballads included "Because" and "Come Home."

It’s a sad event that makes me write about the Dave Clark Five at this time. The DC5 were a loud stomping band with an excellent and very soulful lead singer named Mike Smith. Smith passed away on February 28, 2008, less than two weeks before he and the band were to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. He died of complications he suffered from a spinal cord injury after a fall in 2003 that left him paralyzed below the ribs. Special arrangements were being implemented to transport him to America for the induction ceremonies.

Smith's passing is made even sadder because the band should have been inducted into the Hall last year. The only reason they weren’t is because Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner, the self-appointed head of the Rock Hall, interceded to make sure that Grandmaster Flash was inducted instead. On the final ballot the DC5 beat out the rapper by a mere five votes but Wenner used a technicality that allowed an earlier ballot to stand as the official tally causing Clark, Smith, and the band to wait another year. The Hall only allows five new members annually, and despite pressure put on Wenner to admit six acts last year, he refused, so the DC5 were left out in the cold. If Wenner hadn’t participated in what some people considered vote tampering Smith would have been alive to celebrate the group’s induction in 2007. In my opinion even last year was too late for The Dave Clark Five. They should have been voted into the Hall many years ago.

For a good sampling of their music listen to The DC5’s jukebox that is loaded with the band’s music.