Thursday, October 28, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: The Elton John Band Featuring John Lennon At Madison Square Garden, November 28, 1974

Even though I'm a huge fan of The Beatles I didn't post a tribute for John Lennon’s seventieth birthday because I wanted to do something a little different. That is why Dr. Winston O’ Boogie is this month’s featured artist on Forgotten Music Thursday.

Much has been made of November 28, 1974, the night John Lennon reconciled with Yoko Ono backstage at an Elton John concert after his infamous 15 month "lost weekend." There he began his legendary, six-year journey to find peace as a husband, a father, and a reasonable facsimile of a normal home life. Musically, the evening is also remembered as Lennon's last live performance. The legendary rocker appeared on stage near the end of John's concert and the two great friends sang three songs together. While it has been well documented that the holiday gig was a significant event that changed Lennon's life forever the music he made that day has often been overlooked.

If you were lucky enough to be at Madison Square Garden you were in for a treat. After the piano player's introduction of the former Beatle they opened their short set with Lennon’s "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," a hit that appeared on Walls and Bridges, Lennon's last album of original songs before his retirement. Next came "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" a Beatles' song that John had recently released as a single. He gushed that it was one of the greatest songs ever written. Finally, the duo closed things out with Lennon announcing they were going to play a classic song by "an old estranged fiancĂ© of mine called Paul." The crowd roared as they launched into a high energy arrangement of "I Saw Her Standing There."

The last song was previously released in February 1975 as the B-side of John's newest single, "Philadelphia Freedom" but it took until 1981 for an English label, DJM Records to release a seven inch, 33 1/3 RPM, EP that contained the entire brief affair. The project, overseen by John's producer, Gus Dudgeon, arrived in America only as a limited edition import.

In 1995 Elton John's catalog was remastered and upgraded and his live album, Here and There was re-released and expanded from a single LP into a double CD that now clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes. The newest edition includes all three duets near the end of disc two.

If you've never heard these versions you can listen to all three of them below.

Whatever Gets You Through The Night

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

I Saw Her Standing There

To view both the front and back of the record sleeve shown here in more detail just click on their images.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Allman Brothers Band - Hittin' The Note (2003)

If you ever want to know what The Allman Brothers Band sound like without having Forrest Richard Betts (a.k.a. Dickey Betts) onboard the last album by one of America's most talented and legendary rock bands is your big chance to find out. Hittin' The Note is the only ABB album in which Betts, an original member, was not part of the lineup.

Think back. The band was going to die along with Duane Allman in 1971, right? Fortunately, it didn't and Betts was a major reason why. Then, after he was fired in 2000 fans once again questioned the future of the great band from Macon, Georgia.  Well, not only did the Allmans survive Betts' departure too they're very much alive and kicking butt.  The septet still sounds like Duane is still alive because the dual lead guitars are back courtesy of Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule and the addition of Derek Trucks who, like Haynes, leads his own band. They, and the three original members, Greg Allman and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (Derek's Uncle), almost qualify the band as a supergroup.  New members, Mark Quinones on percussion and Oteil Burbridge on bass, round out the seven man lineup.

Haynes shares lead vocals with Allman and their collaboration on highlights such as "Desdemona," a mid-tempo blues/jazz workout, is astounding.  The twelve minute jam "Instrumental Illness" makes the listener believe he's watching the band back at The Fillmore.

Hittin' The Note serves up some blues, rock, and jazz, with a little acoustic slide work thrown in for good measure.  What is missing from the album, but not really missed, is the country blues sounds Betts often added to the stew.  I'm not taking anything away from Betts. I'm a fan of his playing and I've followed him through the years.  He deserves his place on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of all time great guitarists (He came in at #58) but in this setting, the one-two punch delivered by Haynes and Derek Trucks more than compensates for his absence.

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing the disc was recorded with Trucks playing in your right speaker while Haynes was always assigned the left side.  It's a cool way to compare and contrast their styles.

Hittin' The Note is probably The Allman's best album since Brothers and Sisters way back in 1973. You need to check it out because there may not be another one. Greg Allman recently underwent a liver transplant, Betts is gone, and no one knows how much time Haynes and the younger Trucks can devote to the band because they continue to work with their own outfits.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gin Blossoms - No Chocolate Cake (2010)

If you predicted back in 1992 that Arizona's middle-of-the-road, rock quintet, Gin Blossoms, were going to be big stars no one would have said you were making a bold statement. With strong, radio friendly offerings such as "Allison Road," "Hey Jealousy," and "Found Out About You" from their debut CD, New Miserable Experience, and "Till I Hear It from You," a big hit from a couple of years later, fame and fortune seemed like a sure thing. Unfortunately, group dissension, and the alcohol fueled firing of founder Doug Hopkins followed by his eventual suicide, tore the band apart and they broke up in 1997 after only two full length CDs and one EP.

However, in 2001, the survivors, including three original members (Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, and Bill Leen) and Hopkins immediate replacement, Scott Johnson, reorganized with a new drummer and the band has been back at it ever since. They recorded two more well received discs in the past decade and now they have given the world the newly released No Chocolate Cake.

No Chocolate Cake is a set of finely crafted pop tunes that aim for the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with that because Gin Blossoms are master craftsmen at what they do.  Lead singer Robin Wilson is at the top of his game and while the guitars of Valenzuela and Johnson don't jangle quite as much as they have in the past the group still produces rock 'n roll that is worthy of the space it will use on your ipod. Everything is helped along by The Rembrandt's Danny Wilde who was the right producer for the project.

Overall, this CD is another welcome and polished addition to the band's catalog.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

WXPN's 885 Ultimate Road Trip Songs

Every fall, beginning in 2004, WXPN, 88.5 FM, the radio station owned by the University of Pennsylvania, has entertained us with their annual listener's poll. In previous years fans have voted for their 885 favorite songs, albums, artists, and more. This year, the station will play back the 885 Ultimate Road Trip Songs as voted on by their listeners beginning at Noon on October 11, 2010.

This fall's list is a bit of a challenge. WXPN has asked voters to send in the ten songs that "make you want to hit the road." As expected, voters are mostly picking songs about cars, driving, freedom, and escapism, but any song, from any era or genre, qualifies.

These are not necessarily my ten favorite songs of all time but they are the ones that make me want to roll up my car windows, crank the volume up to eleven, blowup my car speakers, and hit the repeat button to do it all over again. Is there any other way to listen to music in your vehicle?

1. Chicago - 25 or 6 to 4 (Nothing sounds better on an open road than Terry Kath cranking it out.) Read more about this great song here.

2. Jackson Browne - Running On Empty (The very talented multi-instrumentalist David Lindley is not known as a guitar hero but here he gives it his best shot.)

3. Dire Straits - Telegraph Road (This very long track starts quietly and slowly then Mark Knopfler gradually works himself into a frenzy at the end. It's a British, prog-rock version of "Free Bird.")

4. The Beach Boys - Fun, Fun, Fun (One of the best intros to a rock song ever. Go Carl!)

5. Mark Knopfler - Going Home (Theme from Local Hero) (Michael Brecker on sax!)

6. The Clash - Train In Vain (Stand By Me) (These guys transcended punk. This song proved it.)

7. The Beatles - Drive My Car (It was the first song we played on the Bose speaker system the day my wife brought home her new Nissan Maxima)

8. The Cat Empire - Sol y Sombre (Olliver McGill's piano solo ranks among the best I've ever heard by anyone, anywhere. He could be a star in his own right.)

9. Brandi Carlile - The Story (My favorite song of the past decade.)

10. Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road (I know, I know, it's almost a violation if this tune was left off of anyone's list. I'm just a middling Springsteen fan but the lyrical images this tune conjures up are among the best in rock. "The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves"........)