Saturday, August 27, 2011

Record and Book Reviews (migrated from MySpace)

I won't be doing a lot of these. But since I'm getting this started here, I figured I'd take these and use them for something to start with, anyhow!

  • Jan 15, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (MCA Box) - review

Oh, this is just such an awesome collection! Since Jimi Hendrix came into my life in the winter of 1967-68 in a big way, I have been an admirer and aficionado of his work, although to be true, nowhere near the extent I am of the Dead, Bob Dylan, or the Byrds- nonetheless, the greatest guitarist of his generation gets great representation on this wonderful collection of tracks, many of which are the original studio edits, only, RAW. Some would not call Hendrix a "virtuoso"- you wouldn't put him in the same breath as Segovia, necessarily- but out of all the rock stars of his time, only Jimi had the chops to send Everyone back to their woodsheds and re-thinking their own approaches, and even, their status at the top (esp. Paul McCartney!). As if there was, Before Hendrix, and After Hendrix.
This collection spans his recording career marvelously, in more or less chronological (but not necessarily!) fashion. Disk One features the original studio edit of Purple Haze, the original tracks of Third Stone From The Sun, Foxy Lady, If Six Was Nine, and Burning of the Midnight Lamp. It also has some gems hiding for you (all the disks do!) An interesting track called Takin' Care of Business that seems a precursor to the My Friend blues of the Cry of Love, and the live track from the Monterey Pop Festival performance of Like A Rolling Stone.
Disk Two begins with the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that sent Paul McCartney home from the Saville Theater shaking in his boots, A live Midnight Lamp, a stellar live performance of The Wind Cries Mary, the extended sudio take of Axis:Bold As Love, and the disk finishes with the masterwork of the entire box set, the studio rendition of The Stat Spangled Banner. Jimi pulls out all the stops here, with multi-tracks of double-speed guitars, excruciatingly masterly use of feedback, and melodic and timing sense that is genius, if anyone ever lays doubts  on you of him having it, Play Them This Track! In comparison, while the Woodstock performance was incredibly virtuosic in itself and gives the illusion at times of his playing three guitars at once, this epic piece is as he conceived it in his new Electric Lady Studio, and all the work pays off here. I would almost urge you all to buy this box set solely for this track, it's that wonderful.
Disk Three has a great live "Spanish Castle Magic", one of my favorites of all his material, and jammed viciously here with the band. A live I Don't Live Today takes care of business itself, and while this side isn't quite as lengthy as the other three, I find myself playing it often.
Disk Four incorporates a few of the Cry of Love songs such as Astro Man, Freedom, In from The Storm, Ezy Rider, and Night Bird Flying, along with extended live tracks, a couple of Chuck Berry tunes, and material that was, at least at the time, unreleased. Cherokee Mist is a beautiful mood piece in the vein of May This Be Love...
If there is anything I wish this set had, it is some of the tracks from Axis: Bold As Love and the first Experience album (May This Be Love and Can You See Me would have been nice) as would Wait Till Tomorrow and Castles Made of  Sand.
But hey, this world being what it is, you never quite get everything you'd like out of it, and this boxed set is no exception. But it is, still, exceptionally good Jimi Hendrix, the guy who came from outer space to save all our souls for rock and roll! May he play on, whatever star system has him now.

  • Nov 29, 2008

Best from Bob in a Dog’s Age (review: Bob Dylan/Tell Tale Signs -the Bootleg Series Volume 8)

I'd seen Bob Dylan perform live only once previous to the fall of 2001, when Love and Theft was released. This was at the Oakland Stadium, with the Grateful Dead- a good performance from both was turned in, though I was so far back in the stands that he was about the size of a Tom Thumb, and I had to leave anyway, a little early, in order to secure a space on BART with my then-wife. The Love and Theft album promised a new, revitalized, literary Bob, and while the album was something of a hit-and-miss affair for me (I took hold of really only one tune, Mississippi, with any real  commitment & self-knowledge) and his follow up, Modern Times, while sonically solid, seemed to be pretty much a one-shot deal –it seemed like he had finally found the live sound he wanted, and when you put both albums together, they pretty much added up to one similar.
His live performances, however, are always zen-like, he gets so far into the Moment of performing, he carries you along. Add to that the fact that his audiences are a true cross-section of American life (with a little foreign flavor always tagging along)  and generations and you have a true phenomenon, only comparable to what Grateful Dead concerts were like- only Bob's audiences are much
    What Bob has done with this recording however, is to take some of the songs he left off both the latest albums, and some of the songs he included, and polished them and left them to shine on their own. I happen to enjoy these one-off type of recordings because they catch him in different poses and attitudes, and I think, in many ways, that this is an album I will play much more often than Love and Theft or Modern Times simply because it's a little more honest, a little less slick, and there's some songs on it that would have been better than the selections made for the albums in question, even.
     Without going into a track-by track analysis (which I consider a review technique a little too "b-anal" for my sis), I would like to mention the cuts I like better than the album selections first- these are- The first Mississippi outtake, Red River Shore, Born in Time, Marchin' to the City, Can't Escape From You,  God Knows, Huck's Tune, and Cross the Green Mountain. All of these might have taken the place over droll tunes he rarely (if ever!) plays live like Po' Boy or Floater and the overdone Nettie Moore and Workingman's Blues 2. Those two are a guaranteed snooze for me) at the shows…
For the tracks I prefer to their album counterparts, again, the aforementioned Mississippi take 1 from Time Out of Mind, Someday Baby, Ain't Talkin and High Water (live.) these all rock and/or make the musical statement in ways the albums cannot measure up to… With the addition of a couple more trad oriented tracks, like 32-20 Blues and The Lonesome River, which features bluegrass great Ralph Stanley, the whole package adds up to a variety pack of spice-o-life entrees.
In fact, I would not be surprised if I never played those two albums again and contented myself with the two disks of the set that I bought!
    Dylan is a one of a kind, much imitated, far-influencing, and his place in history is assured. Albums like this are excellent additions to the legacy because they allow people to see the process of change and re-write he often applies, and also the way arrangements change in sometimes unexpected, powerful ways. "Ring Them Bells (live)" is one such example- while the Oh Mercy track is  a bare skeleton, the live performance is something else again.
     I'm committed to going to Bob's concerts -til I get a live performance of Mr. Tambourine Man- but as I said, these two disks are a great complement or even improvement over the last two albums. The Lord worketh in mysterieth ways-  & so doth the Bob.

Jul 23, 2008

Confessions of a Milk Freak (book review, orig. posted at

Review- Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh

I like Phil's book. I like it a whale of a lot more than I do Dennis McNally's egotistical cop-out from writing the "authorized biography" of the GD. Phil writes in a nice style, with not a touch of the supposed "arrogance" attributed to him in his younger years evident. In fact one could assume that, due to the changes he needed to make in his lifestyle just to survive in the past decade or so, that also included eating a few large pieces of crow-pie, washed down with genuine humility and probably at times some real tears.
Phil goes into the story of the band, and it's nice to hear him speak of it in his own words and terms, as much as it is to read Jerry's account in "Signpost To New Space." I'd rather listen to either one of them for what they have to tell than from anybody else, for that matter… He talks a bit about the pre-Grateful Dead years when the band were becoming acquainted socially and somewhat "extra musically" which as we all know, eventually led to the Warlocks and history. But it's nice to hear the things he has to say about those early years and times in Berkeley, Palo Alto, Las Vegas and SF as though that pre-1966 magic- whatever real gem of magic existed in the Haight scene before the over-hyped "Summer of Love" cast its fell shadow upon the city, and also the adventures or misadventures they had leading up to the formation of the band-propre.
He also writes about the band as a musical experiment, or an experiment in more than music, as a psychedelic adventurer, and this actually to me is its real value as a book. That he obviously survived acid (some would argue "nobody could take that many trips and remain sane!") but you find the proof of it in his lucid writing, and his great memory.
I have always had something of an issue though with some of the premise he puts forward as one of the band's raisons d'etre, that at times, the audience reacts to the music and vibes of the hall as would a school of fish, in the "one-mind" or "group-mind" mode, and as if this is always to be viewed as a positive thing. Lemmings also react in a group-mind mode, and where does it ever usually get them?
Still, it is good to hear the words of one of the original participants in this "noble experiment" make his arguments and his judgments upon social idioms, and he really CAN write well about music itself, and about the actual structural mechanics of many of their great songs.
It's a shame we haven't got Jerry here to give his own thoughts about this book, but then, there's the possibility that with him here, Phil never would have felt the need to set it down like this.
I give it five stars- anyone who loves the Grateful Dead or San Francisco Rock & Roll and desires to know as much as possible about it's genuine sources and flavors owes it to themselves to pick it up. You might not put it down again until you're done.

  • Jun 23, 2008

The Byrds at Royal Albert Hall 1971 (review)

This is one of those records you wish had been released back in the day when it happened. This lineup of the Byrds was always my favorite, due in no small part to the contributions of Clarence White. At the time that Untitled was released, it was made public knowledge that Fender would soon be adding "Stringbenders" (the innovation created by Gene Parsons and Clarence in order to acquire a pedal steel sound for the 6 string guitar, involving a lever activated by pulling the guitar strap, pressing the neck and stretching the strings a whole or a half step)-
 Not to mention, allowing a lot of other very cool things, dependent upon the guitarist's skill. As a Clarence White fan, I find an awful lot about this album to raise roof about.
There's Truckstop Girl, written by Little Feat, but so far as I am aware, never recorded by them- almost an improvement over Untitled, which was the definitive version for so many years- Jamaica Say You Will, in which Clarence nails the song, I think almost more endearing than Jackson Browne's original for the inimitable qualities of his voice…
There's also an interesting version of Mr. Tambourine Man, played acoustic sans-12-string, in which McGuinn sings verses he left out of the Byrd's hit single version- as well as taking a liberty or two with the lyrics as they are. This little habit of McGuinn's of either misinterpreting or mishearing Bob's lyrics (ie, "countless fire" in My Back Pages, for "pounced with fire" ) was probably one reason Bob sent him that "pack up your tent, McGuinn" message on the Dylan recording of You Ain't Goin' Nowhere. Speaking of which song, there's a cool, Clarence-lead-fill filled version here, as well.
The Real gems here though are a baroque-rock Chestnut Mare, completely nailed by the entire band, and a log introduction to Eight Miles High working in the band's signature bass-and-drum solo. This intro is notable as it begins the song with just a riff, a completely different riff than the Eight Miles High riff (see the Untitled live version as a comparison) and this works its way toward the drum solo & then, another three minute jam before the song proper. All in all, a better live recording than the Untitled-Reissued live "bonus tracks." Clarence White shines all over this record, one more sad awareness that his life was cut short prematurely, for who knows what may have come later had he but lived long enough to see his legacy come alive in his lifetime…
Some folks prefer the original Byrds for the vocal harmonies, however, I like this band & feel they had just as inimitable a vocal blend as the first Byrds did. Evidence of that is in the Amazing Grace encore.
There's also a rockin' Roll Over Beethoven in which Roger manages yet again to get another accent going (in addition to his phony redneck accent all over Sweetheart of the Rodeo) so that he just about  passes for a black dude here. George Harrison he's not, but then you must give an e-for-effort here as the band is really rockin' by the time they get to this point…
All in all, it's a band I would have given an eyetooth to have seen live, regrettably I didn't, but then this record is about the next best thing to that, esp. for all those younger people who may not have had the opportunity to follow the Byrds through their different phases, as they happened.

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