Thursday, September 27, 2012

Forgotten Music Thursday: Peter Green - In The Skies (1979)

The American LP cover on Sail Records
The American LP cover on Sail Records
Much has been written about the troubles of guitarist Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac.

After leaving the band in 1970 Green spent most of the decade either in jail or in hospitals due to mental illness that was heavily fueled by his unfortunate usage of LSD. If you want to read all of the sordid details about the personal problems that still haunt him today you can find them in Wikipedia and All Music.

Regardless, Green was considered one of the premier blues-rock guitarists of the classic rock era and many considered him the equal of Eric Clapton, the man he replaced in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

Green released one poorly received solo album, The End of the Game, not long after he left the Mac but it took another nine years until he issued In the Skies, quite possibly the best work he's done outside of his famous band.

Green sang lead on the LP's only four songs with vocals. The rest are instrumentals. He wrote or co-wrote all nine tracks and shared lead guitar with Snowy White, another renowned, English blues-rocker who was a member of both Thin Lizzy and the 90s version of Pink Floyd. White's lead fretwork is featured on the title tune and on the instrumental "Slabo Day."

In the Skies is not a blues album in the truest sense. The songs are solid, straight ahead rock but they remain outside the mainstream because of the unique work of both axemen. Every note is crisp, tasteful, and inspiring.

The highlight of the record is a slow, smoldering blues, "A Fool No More," that proved Green could still knock listeners' socks off when the world was going well for him.

In the Skies was widely released in Great Britain but in America it was issued on a very small label, Sail Records, after Green rejected a multi-million dollar contract from a major company.

The album isn't vintage, early Fleetwood Mac but it definitely is a joy to listen to. One spin on your turntable and you'll realize how great of a career Green could have had if his circumstances had turned out differently.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cream - Royal Albert Hall: London, May 2-3-4-5, 2005 (2005)

In 2005 Cream, the legendary blues power trio, played four shows together for the first time in almost 40 years at London's equally legendary concert hall.

Unfortunately, in this group's case, absence did not make the heart grow fonder. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker managed to make most of the songs from their classic repertoire sound indistinguishable from one another and the length of this double CD set made listening to the whole affair even more tedious than it needed to be.

Surprisingly, Clapton played with no fire. His solos were all by rote and sounded identical. We all know that "God" still has the goods but not during the week he played with Bruce and Baker.

Bruce can no longer hit the high notes and Clapton's still fine voice was forced to save him on numerous occasions.

Baker's drum work often included fills that were identical to how they were recorded on the studio originals. In fact, the concert promoters could have taken his drum work from "Badge," and downloaded it onto an ipod to accompany his bandmates on stage so the senior citizen could have stayed home and rested where he belongs. We wouldn't have known the difference.

Other lowlights include Baker's "Toad." We didn't need that interminable drum solo in 1967 and we certainly don't need it now. A weak rendition of "White Room" and an even worse "I Feel Free" had no life whatsoever.

Viewing the DVD is no better. Watching Bruce and Baker is no treat. The years have not been kind to either one. If you must see and hear these disappointing relics perform borrow a copy from a friend as I did and save yourself some cash.

To make things worse the CD cover features ugly, burnt orange, psychedelic artwork that adds to the belief the whole series of concerts were just a money grabbing act of nostalgia.

If this is what reunions of dinosaur rock bands yield it is best to take a pass when the next one comes along.

If you still insist on owning the discs you can buy them from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek (2012)

Brandi Carlile is all grown up now even though she's still young at age 31. However, on her new CD, Bear Creek, she's already reflecting back on her childhood ("Keep Your Heart Young" and "Just Kids"). She fondly remembers her youth and hints that we should hold onto it for as long as we can even while we enjoy the increased wisdom that comes with growing older.

Carlile is also beginning to show a bit of a spiritual side. There are religious references in the CD's liner notes and in the lyrics to the mighty rocker "Raise Hell," the sweet sounding "That Wasn't Me," and the cerebral "100".

Not only have Carlile's songs grown even more introspective over time Bear Creek sounds gorgeous too. Her always pleasing vocals are as powerful as ever, and her sense of melody is even more pronounced, perhaps because the new disc is more country influenced, offering less rock than all three of her previous studio efforts.

Some of the tracks feature cellos and violins that respect the songwriting, meaning they're not just intended to be middle-of-the-road backgrounds that soften the arrangements to make them more palatable for mainstream audiences. The strings have front row seats and contribute to the often melancholy mood. They alternate with tunes such as the vibrant "Hard Way Home," a song that deserves all of the radio airplay it's receiving.

As always, Carlile's twin appendages, The Hanseroth Brothers, are at her side and they prove once again that they are full collaborators, not just sidemen. Not only are they well-rounded multi-instrumentalists the brothers have as many composing credits on the album as Carlile does and three of the compositions are theirs alone.

Overall, Bear Creek just might be Carlile's strongest outing yet. Every song is worthy of your time. It's scary how good she could become if this trend continues.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Beaucoup Blue - East Coast Acoustic Blues

Beaucoup Blue is the unlikely father and son duo of David Mowry, 65 and Adrian Mowry, 41.

David plays dobro, acoustic, and excellent slide guitar while Adrian accompanies him on six and twelve string guitar. Both men share lead and harmony vocals. They occasionally use a sideman but usually it's just the two of them together in the studio and on the road.

Beaucoup Blue mostly play acoustic folk-blues. However, because they also include some R&B, country, and a little jazz in their repertoire they describe their music as "Americana," the term often used whenever anyone playing roots music can't fit their songs into a narrow, descriptive mold.

Beaucoup Blue's debut CD, Out of The Woodwork, released independently in 2003 is a twelve track journey through all kinds of American music. They cover John Lee Hooker's "Come Back, Baby," Leadbelly's, "C.C. Rider," and two Bob Dylan songs: "Corrina, Corrina," and "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry." There are songs by Robert Johnson, and Jimmy Reed as well as Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train." There is even a version of the old Phil Phillips hit, "Sea of Love." The CD's four original tunes fit in seamlessly with all of the old, classic stuff they loaded onto the album. it's a pleasing freshman effort.

Adding Jim Salamone on drums, percussion, and harmonica makes 2006's Hearts At Home, an even more fulfilling listening experience. Their second, more colorful, set included another Hooker tune, a cover of Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia," and Benny Goodman's "Stompin' At The Savoy." This time the duo added eight originals, all of them well done. Adrian Mowry’s "On My Way" is particularly enjoyable.

Both men have voices that mesh perfectly with the music they play.

Based out of Philadelphia, and able to take their show on the road, Beaucoup Blue have been playing their uplifting but quiet sounds in concert halls all along the East Coast. When I saw them live a couple of years ago their stage show proved that they are more comfortable in front of an audience than they are in the studio.

Unfortunately, due to Beaucoup Blue's limited performance schedule their albums are the easiest way to get to know them. In addition to the two discs discussed above they released Free To Fall in 2009 and this year their new, four song EP, 4 Stories, is available. All of their music can be purchased through CD Baby or iTunes.

For more visit Beaucoup Blue's website.