Thursday, June 30, 2011

Forgotten Music Thursday: Thelma & Louise - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1991)

A few years ago I wrote about Mark Knopfler's soundtrack to the movie Local Hero. It featured some of my all time favorite movie music and it just happened to accompany one of my all time favorite flicks. Back in 1983 I believed the situation was unique, but then the same thing happened again in 1991 with Thelma & Louise. Not only is Ridley Scott's picture another one of my most loved films it too has a soundtrack that moves me just as much as the film does. Because lightning struck twice I now firmly believe that great music and a great film will definitely complement each other.

The eleven track CD is a real mixture of styles. It offers blues from B.B. King (a fine performance of "Better Not Look Down)" some R & B from Martha Reeves (a soulful cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Nights"), and British invasion star Marianne Faithful delivered "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" with lyrics by Shel Silverstein. Country singer Kelly Willis belts out a tough sounding "Little Honey."

The late Chris Whitley contributed the hard country-rocker "Kick The Stones." Charlie Sexton, who is cut from the same cloth, was allowed two spots: first with "Badlands" a song with some great electric guitar riffage (Is that a word?) and the more country influenced "Tennessee Plates."

Film composer Hans Zimmer, who scored the original music for the movie, closes things out with the instrumental "Thunderbird," a tune that was a bonus track on the CD and not available on the cassette version that was released at the same time. Pete Haycock, former lead guitarist for Climax Blues Band, plays tuneful slide guitar on this piece that runs with the final credits.

It's great that Scott found space for artists who were not well known such as Whitley, Sexton, Toni Childs, and Grayson Hugh, but fittingly, the highlight of the CD is its opening track by a member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Glenn Frey's Part of Me, Part of You, is six minutes of acoustic rock featuring his wonderfully smooth voice. It's a very moving song because of it's relationship to the plot and the closeness the title characters shared right up to their very sad ending. This track, by the former Eagles' leader, won't mean as much to anyone who hasn't seen the film but, to those of us who grew to love these nice girls who suddenly turned into reluctant outlaws, the song is quite emotional. It's among the best songs Frey has ever written.

The only questionable track on the CD is a result of Faithful's quite troublesome vocals. Age has not been kind to her voice but Silverstein's song is a good one so its still worthy of a listen.

In addition to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis the movie also featured Harvey Keitel in a supporting role and let's not forget Brad Pitt's small but extremely important appearance. Pitt's character sets up the crucial turning point in the film that has also been cited as the turning point in his career.

While Thelma & Louise was both critically acclaimed and a box office success it's music has been unjustly forgotten.

Let's close things out by listening to a shorter version of Part of Me, Part of You.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peter Wolf - Midnight Souvenirs (2010)

Peter Wolf is no longer content to just pump out the boogie tunes he regularly sang with Boston’s favorite party band, The J. Geils Band. His new, fourteen song, Midnight Souvenirs is what JGB may have sounded like if they grew up and never disbanded. Wolf's stellar eighth solo album still discusses the same subjects his old band tackled but now, instead of proclaiming "Love Stinks," the protagonist takes on a more worldly and mature view of his situation. Today, when he falls for a girl he views her as more than just an "Angel in a Centerfold."

There are three duets. The CD's opening track is an outstanding performance with country all-star Shelby Lynne. "Tragedy" is a gritty, up tempo ballad that is pure rhythm and blues peppered with just enough of Lynne's country twang that allows the song to please fans of both genres. There is a second duet, "It's Too Late For Me," with Merle Haggard, and just as Lynne does with her turn, the country veteran puts his own stamp on a ballad that would fit quite nicely on a Haggard record. Finally, on "The Green Fields of Summer," an unexpected ballad about true love, Wolf shares the spotlight with the more contemporary Neko Case.

Then there are the upbeat Americana rockers, "I Don't Want to Know" and "The Night Comes Down" (dedicated to the late Willy Deville) with their radio-friendly arrangements, as well as the pure funk of "Everything I Do (Gonna Be Funky)" and The Rolling Stones influenced "Watch Her Move." The two latter tunes are as close as Wolf comes to his old JGB days. The Philly soul of "Overnight Lows" sounds like Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Hall & Oates, and anyone else who ever recorded in The City of Brotherly Love. The track would make Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff proud.

Over time, we've learned that Wolf's knowledge of American pop music is far deeper than most fans would have ever suspected back in his hit making days with Geils and it helps make Midnight Souvenirs satisfying in many ways.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Research Turtles - Mankiller, Part 1 of 2 (2011)

Research Turtles are back with a new EP, the independently produced Mankiller, Part 1 of 2. It's a brief 15:38 set of music that shows off the Louisiana quartet's growing pop sensibilities while still taking advantage of their natural inclination to rock hard. They can write melodies and shatter windows at the same time.

The short "Girl Like You" is mostly an acapella track with pleasant vocals and gentle acoustic guitar. It completes its job in just 1:13. "Bugs In A Jar" is a very nice ballad made for radio and "You Are So" is catchy pop-rock with some clever electric guitar licks. The band kicks things up a notch on the boisterous title track and then closes the disc out with the rampaging "Rhinestone Gal."

Bassist-singer Jud Norman wrote all of the songs on their debut but this time around credit is shared with guitarist-vocalist Logan Fontenot, drummer Blake Thibodeaux, and newcomer Joseph Darbonne who replaced Jud's brother, Joe Norman, on guitar and vocals.

Slightly reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne, Research Turtles can sing, play, and compose as well as many veterans bands who have achieved far greater success and, based on what they've offered us on Mankiller, they're also poised to hit the big time soon.

You can purchase Mankiller on Research Turtles' website.

Here is the review of their first full length album.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

An Album By Album Analysis of The Beatles Catalog: Part 5, The End

Yellow Submarine (1969)
The soundtrack from The Beatles third movie is not much of an album really, just four new songs, a couple of older tunes, and a whole side of soundtrack music written by George Martin. Two George Harrison rejects from Sgt. Pepper, "It’s All Too Much" and "Only A Northern Song," both sound like they belong in the psychedelic period from where they were born and the childlike "All Together Now" is a catchy, fun, sing-a-long but not much more. The highlight is John Lennon’s "Hey Bulldog." With its tough, piano driven groove it should have been a hit single. Better is Yellow Submarine Songtrack, released in 1999.

Abbey Road (1969)
The Beatles saved their very best album for their final recording sessions. It is well known by now that Abbey Road was the last album the gang from Liverpool ever recorded together even though it was released before Let It Be. It is also the record that finally gave George Harrison the respect he craved and deserved. Both of his entries were favorably reviewed and were as strong as any of the Lennon – McCartney tunes they shared space with. The ballad, "Something," was Harrison’s first "A" side single release and it has since become one of pop music's most covered songs. "Here Comes the Sun" also deserved the accolades it received. Abbey Road is what The White Album could have been if it had been pared down to one record. Every track is worthy in some way although Ringo Starr's "Octopus's Garden" could be considered too cute for its own good. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" may sound like it should fall into the same category but its lyrics are too subversive for Lennon to hate the McCartney track as much as he did. The rest of side one is excellent. Side two's medley is outstanding and was capped off by my all time favorite Beatles song(s), the wonderful finale, "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End." While they are technically separate songs this trio of tunes needs to be experienced together to be fully appreciated. Other favorites include, "Oh Darlin," "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)," "Because," and "You Never Give Me Your Money." By the time Abbey Road was recorded the negative vibes the band felt toward each other were way beyond repair yet The Beatles still took enough pride in their work to say goodbye to the world with an album for the ages.

Let It Be (1970)
The Let It Be recording sessions started out as rehearsals for a giant concert that Paul McCartney talked the other three Beatles into staging. Unfortunately, the accompanying film shows the tension of those rehearsals, the abandonment of the concert plans, and even the disintegration of the band itself. Much has been written about Phil Spector's overblown orchestra and choir productions wreaking havoc on "The Long and Winding Road," "I Me Mine," and "Across The Universe." Other distractions included tiresome song snippets such as "Maggie Mae" and the pointless "Dig It" as well as a lot of extraneous chatter that was tacked on to the beginning or end of several tracks. In 2003 the album was cleaned up and re-released the way The Beatles would have preferred but under the name Let It Be Naked. It was issued without Spector’s orchestra and choir and without the unnecessary commentary and snippets. The title track, "Winding Road," "Get Back," and "Two of Us," are among The Beatles best songs of the period. Also worthy is Harrison’s jaunty slide guitar tune "For You Blue" and Lennon’s "Don’t Let Me Down." The latter was added to the Naked version and should have been on the original. Overall, the first Let It Be isn't a bad record and it probably would have been even better if apathy hadn’t overcome everyone but McCartney.

Past Masters, Volume 2 (1996)
Similar to volume one, this CD captures fifteen more songs that were never released on the original British LPs, this time from the Revolver era forward. Included are big hit singles such as "We Can Work It Out," "Paperback Writer," "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and a bunch of "B" sides including "Old Brown Shoe," "The Inner Light," and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)." Also included are a few flip sides that really were hits in their own right: "Day Tripper," "Rain," and "Revolution." The single version of "Let It Be" is here as well as the pre-Phil Spector take of "Across the Universe." This compilation is outstanding.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Various Artists - A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan (1996)

Five years after his brother's death Jimmie Vaughan organized a tribute concert to Stevie Ray that was broadcast on Austin City Limits on May 11, 1995 before it was released to the public on CD. In the CD's liner notes (it was also issued on DVD) Jimmie said, "Doing this has been in the back of my mind for a long time. But I wanted it to be far enough removed from Stevie's passing (August 26, 1990) that it could be a happy, celebratory event." Vaughan's timing was perfect because the concert became a giant blues party.

In addition to Double Trouble (Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon, and Reese Winans) everyone who played with Stevie on stage during his last concert just a few hours before he died was there: Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and Jimmie. Also invited to pay their respects were Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, and two keyboard players, Art Neville and Dr. John.

Your first reaction may be, "Why get this CD when you can get the real thing?" Yes, the "real thing" (Stevie Ray himself) was spectacular, but when blues all-stars and Hall-of-Famers of this caliber get together, and are properly inspired, sparks fly. Please continue to love the late Texan but don't be afraid to love this concert too.

Stevie Ray wouldn't have allowed a wake in his honor. He would have wanted his friends to party hardy and that is exactly what they did here. Raitt, the queen of the slide guitar, opened the set with a tasty version of "Pride and Joy" and brother Jimmie followed with a dandy "Texas Flood." King and Lucille nailed "Telephone Song" and Clapton honored Stevie Ray with "Ain't Gone 'N Give Up On Your Love." Buddy Guy's cover of "Long Way From Home" is perfect. Cray never sounded better on "Love Struck Baby," and for a change of pace Dr. John's keyboard's keyboards shined on "Cold Shot."

But the best was yet to come. Everyone took the stage for the final three songs. The whole gang broke into "Six Strings Down," a Jimmie Vaughan original written as a tribute to his brother and released on his Strange Pleasure CD. Everyone took a solo, and these bluesiest of blues greats played off of each other for the common musical good. The peace anthem, "Tick Tock" followed and this jam showed that there is nothing depressing about the blues. Finally, they closed with a 9 minute instrumental, "SRV Shuffle." Everyone was featured again and the party ended with the whole gang feeling high and happy, because even though Stevie Ray was no longer able to be on stage with his friends, his spirit and music still lives within them.

No genre of music is shared among musicians as completely as the blues because blues music comes from deep within the soul. It's why A Tribute To Stevie Ray Vaughan was an ego free event that made this concert so enjoyable.