Friday, June 21, 2024

Paul McCartney 38: One Hand Clapping

In 1974, it was safe to say that Paul McCartney had recaptured the stature that had been lost since he announced he was leaving the Beatles. His fifth album was a smash hit, and he was able to replenish the Wings lineup with lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton with an eye on getting back on the road. Having just recorded the soon-to-be hit single “Junior’s Farm”, and not quite ready to start on the next album, the band went into Abbey Road Studios for a few days to be filmed, in conversation and performing songs destined for their live shows, for a TV special to be titled One Hand Clapping. And like similar projects Paul started in the ‘70s, it was completed and promptly shelved. (For one reason, Geoff Britton barely lasted past the end of the year, given personal conflicts with members not surnamed McCartney.)

As would often happen, the audio and visuals were widely bootlegged over the years. It wasn’t until the second decade of this century that Paul officially released any of it, with some songs parceled out to bonus discs in various Archive Collection reissues, and the full film in grainy quality on the DVD in the 2010 edition of Band On The Run. Fourteen years later, that album was expanded for the umpteenth time for its 50th anniversary with a rough mix of the album in an alternate sequence without orchestrations. Then a few months after that, One Hand Clapping was finally released as an official album, remastered from the original multitracks, without the dialogue that was alternately pompous, drunk, or tedious.

The title track—or theme song, if you will—isn’t much more than a simple jam, but from there, the band goes through some very good selections from the catalog, some of which would soon be making their onstage debuts. “Jet” is always terrific, and “Soily” is very close to how it would sound in 1976. After the strange medley of “C Moon” and “Little Woman Love”, “Maybe I’m Amazed” isn’t there yet, but would always sound better on a grand piano than the electric piano used here. The film only had a snippet of “My Love”; here we get the full take, with orchestra added, Jimmy almost copping his almost-namesake Henry McCullough’s solo. “Bluebird” is slightly more electric, and Howie Casey comes in to play his sax part.

One segment of the film showed Paul in tie and tails playing solo at the (grand) piano; these included brief renditions of “Let’s Love”, which he wrote for Peggy Lee, the otherwise unreleased “All Of You”, and even “I’ll Give You A Ring”, which would emerge as a B-side in 1982. Both “Band On The Run” and “Live And Let Die” get a boost from the overdubbed orchestra, and we should mention somewhere that Linda knows her keyboard parts well. “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five” [sic] would not make it to a live setlist until well after that year, but this partially karaoke’d version over the album track is still pretty cool. McCartney favorite “Baby Face”, from the piano segment and with horns added in New Orleans, accompanies what would be the credits if you were watching instead of listening.

Of course there were plenty of other songs recorded during the course of the project, and the second disc of the set includes a pile of those, including some that hadn’t been bootlegged. “Let Me Roll It” would go on to be played on nearly every McCartney tour going forward to this day. “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was in the Wings set before they had enough of their own songs, and here gives Denny Laine a chance to shine on harmonica. (He also gets to do “Go Now” towards the end of the disc.) “Junior’s Farm” and “Hi, Hi, Hi” each pack a wallop, but “Wild Life” would be thankfully retired.

More bits from Paul’s solo segment include “Power Cut” (of all things) on organ, upcoming B-side “Sally G” on acoustic, the seemingly impromptu “Love My Baby” on celeste, “Let It Be” on harmonium, and a verse each of “The Long And Winding Road” and “Lady Madonna” on piano. Most striking perhaps is a slow, torchy run through “Tomorrow”.

Another portion of the filming had Paul playing acoustic in the garden behind the studio, for a featurette titled The Backyard. This too had been bootlegged, but in the end eleven minutes of the performance were included only on a 7-inch shipped with the vinyl version of the album ordered direct from his official online store. Especially irritating is that there was plenty of room for it—and then some—on the second CD. At any rate, he plays the inscrutable “Blackpool”, “Blackbird”, “Country Dreamer”, and three covers: “Twenty Flight Rock”, and Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”.

Still, One Hand Clapping is a fascinating look at a brief stage of McCartney’s career. Given the prolonged, inexplicable absence of two later Wings albums from expansion, it makes for a nice tribute to Denny, who died in December 2023. (The album was also dedicated to the memories of Linda, Jimmy, and engineer Geoff Emerick.)

Paul McCartney & Wings One Hand Clapping (2024)—

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Jane’s Addiction 1: Jane’s Addiction

Straddling the hair metal and grunge scenes as the ‘80s turned into the ‘90s, Jane’s Addiction was one of the more striking bands of the era. Dominated as they were by banshee-voiced and self-styled artist slash poet Perry Farrell, it was easy to forget that the other three members were musicians as tight and inventive as their competition.

But before they went platinum they had to start somewhere, and their self-titled debut on a tiny L.A. label has never gone out of print. Co-produced by the guy who would go on to bring the Beach Boys catalog into the digital age, it was mostly recorded live at the Roxy, and copiously overdubbed.

With a drum break already patented by Pete Thomas, “Trip Away” explodes into being, providing a steady barrage of funk until an unexpected detour into a moodier middle section that leads right back into the main riff. Guitarist Dave Navarro makes his mark here. The bass intro by Eric Avery on “Whores” provides another band template of sorts, both in structure and profanity. The tempo seems a little wonky at the start of “Pigs In Zen”—not something we would expect of Stephen Perkins—but it finds its way and its dynamics, at least until Perry starts shouting his favorite four-letter word. “1%” is a protest song, not that you could tell from the buried lyrics, and the onslaught subsides for the overly romantic “I Would For You”.

Even in those days, the band played acoustic sets as well as electric ones, and “My Time” provides a catchy transition to side two. It’s even got a harmonica. “Jane Says” manages to stay interesting despite having only two chords, but this is far from the song’s best rendition. Any young band has to play covers, and their take on Lou Reed’s “Rock & Roll” is both reverent and fresh, segueing seamlessly into “Sympathy” (as in “For The Devil”). “Chip Away” provides a bookend of sorts, but consists mostly of jungle drumming and vocal effects.

Chances are most owners of this album came to it well after the fact, and considering their limited catalog, it would be cherished. But the band weren’t there yet, though it wouldn’t be long.

Jane’s Addiction Jane’s Addiction (1987)—3

Friday, June 14, 2024

Dwight Twilley 4: Scuba Divers

Speaking of Phil Seymour, he managed to get a solo deal with Boardwalk Records, the new label found by Neil Bogart after he had Casablanca taken away from him. Phil made two albums in succession, each with striking striped motifs (and the cover of Phil Seymour 2 was clever in its own way). The first had help from Bill Pitcock IV, and mixed originals, including the mild hit “Precious To Me”, with covers and contributions from Dwight Twilley and future Go-Go Kathy Valentine, while the second sported the first official release of Tom Petty’s “Surrender” and a remake of “Looking For The Magic”. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t a frontman.

But for those who loved the two Dwight Twilley Band albums, they had to tide them over while Dwight waited out his own label woes. When Scuba Divers finally appeared after a two-year delay, his original intentions had been reworked, shuffled, and sometimes left out. Four other producers besides himself were credited. He’d only slightly updated his sound to meet new wave standards, yet the secret weapon was the harmonic gift of none other than Susan Cowsill. (Her brother John played drums too.)

In fact, “I’m Back Again” could allude to his enforced absence, but overall it’s another catchy chorus with Petty-reminiscent touches. “Somebody To Love” had been a teaser single three years earlier; here it’s been remixed and a verse was added, but it’s still terrific. A title like “10,000 American Scuba Divers Dancin’” doesn’t always bode well, but there’s a fun summertime vibe to the tune. “Touchin’ The Wind” has a relatively quiet beginning, but once those handclaps start, they don’t let up. The menacing riff of “Later That Night” just screams girl-group car crash homage, like a less wordy Jim Steinman.

But for the production and the cowbell, “I Think It’s That Girl” could almost be Beatlesque, and we really gotta call out Susan Cowsill again for what she adds to these songs. While it has a rolling piano out of Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me”, “Dion Baby” is a sneaky tribute to his newborn daughter. Moreover, the mix completely obscures the lyrics of “Cryin’ Over Me”, which sounds like a cousin to “Feeling In The Dark”, and “I Found The Magic” is something of a sequel to the superior “Looking For The Magic”. “Falling In Love Again” has a mild ‘50s sheen, taking to the next level by Steve Douglas’s blaring sax solo.

Despite the single and some MTV exposure, Scuba Divers didn’t blow up the charts. Perhaps people were already busy with Marshall Crenshaw. But he kept at it anyway. There’s a lot here to enjoy.

Dwight Twilley Scuba Divers (1982)—3

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

David Bowie 44: Brilliant Live Adventures

Perhaps killing more time while fans waited for the next box set in the chronology, the Bowie estate spent part of 2000 tidying up the aisle in the vaults dedicated to the ‘90s. First came two odd mini-albums. Is It Any Wonder? consisted of three Earthling outtakes—remakes of the Tin Machine tracks “Baby Universal” and “I Can’t Read”, and the quasi-instrumental “Nuts”—plus a new arrangement of “Stay”, the rarity “Fun” (both from the tour rehearsals), and an Eno remix of a re-recording of “The Man Who Sold The World” from the Outside sessions that had snuck out as a B-side. The more straightforward Changesnowbowie offered predominantly acoustic-based arrangements of mostly early ’70s songs—the outliers being “Shopping For Girls” and “Repetition”—recorded specifically for the BBC to celebrate his 50th birthday.

These were mere precursors to a curious program entailing the release of six live albums that would be made available individually, on CD and vinyl, for the purpose of being collected in a slipcase labeled Brilliant Live Adventures (1995-1999). These releases basically offered two glimpses each from three tours, supporting the Outside, Earthling, and ‘hours…’ albums in turn. “Glimpses” is the key word here, as one is a compilation from various shows, and two of the concerts are abridged, perhaps to fit on one disc. It was an ambitious program, to be sure, considering that the release schedule was sporadic and the quantities were limited, plus the general chaos resulting from the worldwide COVID pandemic threw even more wrenches into the works. But each title was uniquely packaged and designed, and looked as good as they sounded.

Along with such stellar players as Reeves Gabrels, Carlos Alomar, a fully reinstated Mike Garson, Zach Alford on drums, and the, frankly, brilliant addition of Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals, the Outside tour was supported by Nine Inch Nails, their set melding into Bowie’s. However, none of their onstage collaborations appear on either Ouvrez Le Chien or No Trendy Réchauffé. Yet along with new arrangements of deep cuts, the songs from the album he was supporting translated much better to the stage. (The latter disc, recorded two months after the former—which adds two songs from the latter as bonus tracks for some reason—was a shorter set from a festival environment, with some different songs as well, including a strong “Jump They Say” and two performances of “Hallo Spaceboy”.)

The Earthling tour was stripped back to just Gabrels, Garson, Alford, and Dorsey, yet the keyboards and sequencers made everything sound big and full, if processed and programmed, and a little too close—rather, identical to the album. LiveAndWell.com was originally given away to website subscribers in 1999 and compiled from a handful of shows, concentrating on material from Outside and Earthling. Some editions included a bonus disc of remixes; this incarnation got new artwork and added the radical reinterpretations of “Pallas Athena” and “V-2 Schneider”, credited to “Tao Jones Index” when first released. By contrast, Look At The Moon! presented a full show on two discs (or three LPs). As with its brother, some of the rearrangements are repeated from the previous tour, but there are some new surprises, such as “Fame”, “Fashion”, and even a cover of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” sung by Gail Ann. Also, “The Jean Genie” starts acoustically, and is prefaced with a snippet of “Driftin’ Blues” for some reason.

1999’s much shorter tour—exactly nine shows, if you count the VH1 Storytellers appearance—was notable for Helmet’s Page Hamilton on lead guitar, following the abrupt departure of Reeves Gabrels. Sterling Campbell was also swapped in on drums, Mark Plati played guitars, and two women added breathy backing vocals. As befit the album he was promoting, the approach to the set was less frenetic and mostly softer, yet still energetic. The shows here are similar but not exactly identical; selections from Something In The Air had already been B-sides, while At The Kit Kat Klub was a small exclusive show recorded a month later and simultaneously webcast, which was spanking new and generally bug-prone technology at the time.

Taken all together, it’s six hours of music with a lot of repeats. Even with that, he was both busy and unpredictable throughout the latter half of the ‘90s. Collectors have to have them all, but luckily it’s possible to pick and choose. (Look At The Moon! gets a slight edge for length and variety.)

David Bowie Is It Any Wonder? (2020)—
David Bowie
Changesnowbowie (2020)—3
David Bowie
Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) (2020)—3
David Bowie
No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95) (2020)—3
David Bowie
LiveAndWell.com (2021)—3
David Bowie
Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97) (2021)—3
David Bowie
Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) (2021)—3
David Bowie
David Bowie At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99) (2021)—3

Friday, June 7, 2024

Fairport Convention 2: What We Did On Our Holidays

Bands had to work fast in the late ‘60s, often juggling gigs with studio work and revolving members. By the time their first album weas out, Fairport Convention had already shed singer Judy Dyble, replacing her with one Alexandra Denny, and that made all the difference. Known forever as Sandy, she’d already written a song that was covered by Judy Collins, which we’ll get to soon enough. Ian Matthews was still in the band, but it’s Sandy’s presence, via her rich voice, that drove the sound of What We Did On Our Holidays. (This was the first Fairport album released in the U.S., using the cover shown but no title outside the band’s name. For simplicity, we’re using the British title, since that’s how everybody knows it now.)

She makes her mark right off the bat with “Fotheringay”, an original that sounds like it’s been around for centuries. This haunting portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots imprisoned in a castle is sideswiped by the 12-bar blues of “Mr. Lacey”. (The titular character was an eccentric artist, occasional actor, and inventor, whose robots can be heard taking a solo of their own after the guitar break.) Something of happy medium is achieved in the melancholy “Book Song”, which incorporates swirling harmonies, electric guitar, and even sitar. Sandy’s alone with Richard Thompson’s slide guitar somewhere in a field to hum “The Lord Is In This Place… How Dreadful Is This Place”, a lengthy interlude before Ian’s more rocking take on “No Man’s Land”, on which Richard pounds an accordion. Everything truly comes together on Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, which they probably learned from the Judy Collins version, but wonderfully harmonized.

Doing an obscure Joni Mitchell song was a coup, as her own version of “Eastern Rain” wouldn’t emerge for half a century, and those were from her coffeehouse days. Fairport’s arrangement is meteorologically evocative, with sped-up guitars darting in and out of the mix. “Nottamun Town” reclaims the melody Dylan borrowed for “Masters Of War” and gives it a near-raga arrangement for guitar with harmonies. For contrast, there’s the tinkling harpsichord throughout “Tale In Hard Time”, another strong original from Richard. It’s back to the traditional with Sandy’s wonderful reading of “She Moved Through The Fair”, which is a wonderful setup for Richard’s immortal “Meet On The Ledge”. Still sung today at the close of innumerable folk festivals, this contemplation on lost friends, childhood, and the future never fails to stir. It makes Simon Nicol’s closing “End Of A Holiday” instrumental that much more effecting.

While it’s still all over the place, What We Did On Our Holidays is quite the leap from the band’s first album. Things were starting to coalesce, and they were barely out of the gate. (The later expanded CD issued overseas included three bonus tracks: the bluesy B-side “Throwaway Street Puzzle”, Muddy Waters’ “You’re Gonna Need My Help” from a BBC session, and the outtake “Some Sweet Day”.)

Fairport Convention What We Did On Our Holidays (1969)—

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Thomas Dolby 4: Astronauts & Heretics

The ‘80s were already a distant memory by the time hair metal gave way to grunge, so where did that leave an innovator such as Thomas Dolby? Most recently he had made a cameo as the schoolmaster in Roger Waters’ all-star staging of The Wall in Berlin, which he actually pulled off. Meanwhile, on Astronauts & Heretics he continued concocting accessible, quirky pop colored by synthesizers but not dominated by them.

“I Love You Goodbye” takes us to the bayou—literally, with not only Cajun legends Michael Doucet and Wayne Toups on the track, but swampy percussion and sound effects. It’s a wonderful musical blend that unfortunately doesn’t permeate the album, but it’s a terrific way to start, and at least it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Two fairly short songs follow; “Cruel”, basically a duet with Eddi Reader, is a much softer change of pace, then Michael Doucet’s fiddle (and some of that percussion) returns to color the jaunty “Silk Pyjamas”. “I Live In A Suitcase” sounds most like his Flat Earth period, if a little more contemporary-sounding.

As long as we’re looking back, the clattery “Eastern Bloc” is pointedly designated as “Sequel To Europa And The Pirate Twins, 1981”, which is obvious in the second verse. It’s a throwback, but not a retread, particularly with Eddie Van Halen on lead guitar. Eddie also plays on “Close But No Cigar”, but we wonder how much the overt Beatle sample cost to procure. It relies a little too much on the title for the lyrical content, but it leads in well to the slightly retro “That’s Why People Fall In Love”, this one featuring harmonies from Ofra Haza. The mood turns way down for “Neon Sisters”, prefaced by a dramatic dedication, and featuring a few members of Siouxsie’s Banshees. Given the times, it’s not clear whether the subject of the song succumbed to AIDS or addiction, but it’s haunting nonetheless. We’ve had a lot of pop so far, and then “Beauty Of A Dream” provides a timeless conclusion, with the added pleasure of both Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia on the track.

The album’s bookends make Astronauts & Heretics a pleasant surprise. It’s pretty catchy, with his past wackiness completely toned down. One gets the idea that he was more concerned in making an album he wanted to make, stocked with his wish list of collaborators. He then pointedly stayed away from courting the pop charts to further explore to possibilities of music in the computer industry. Which made perfect sense.

Thomas Dolby Astronauts & Heretics (1992)—3

Friday, May 31, 2024

Todd Rundgren 30: New Cars and Arena

One of the stranger—and certainly unexpected—detours of Todd Rundgren’s career was his brief stint fronting The New Cars. This star-studded tribute band included original Cars Greg Hawkes and Elliot Easton (fresh off a decade with Creedence Clearwater Revisited) plus Rundgren regulars Kasim Sulton and Prairie Prince. Todd did a decent job copping the vocal stylings of both Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr, as heard on It’s Alive. This live album delivered the familiar Cars hits, plus “I Saw The Light” and “Open My Eyes”, but they blew the chance to play “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, “Bye Bye Love”, and “Moving In Stereo” in order. They did come up with three new songs; nobody’s going to mistake “Warm”, “More”, or “Not Tonight” for Ocasek originals (that last one in either its live or studio version).

Still, Todd sounded engaged throughout, but when the tour was over, he went back to Hawaii and recorded his next album completely by himself, again, on his laptop. The resulting Arena has an apt title, as the songs are guitar-driven, alternately rocking and brooding, but all designed to keep crowds on their collective feet and pumping fists.

In keeping with the last album, one-word song titles are the norm. The intricate acoustic picking on “Mad” soon gives way to power chords and pounding drums with a yelled chorus. “Afraid” harkens back to Pink Floyd’s “Learning To Fly”, but this an arguably better song overall. We start to enter a theme, first on the angry monologue in “Mercenary” and then on the blatant parody in “Gun”. “Courage” is more along the lines of an ‘80s feel-good anthem, and while “Weakness” sports sludgy riffing to suggest another attack, the chorus gives away the sensitivity. Similarly, “Strike” sounds familiar, until you hit the chorus, which could almost be mistaken for AC/DC.

“Pissin” takes down a boor at a party, but it’s mixed in such a way that the music is the focus, not the action. Synths frame the arrangement of “Today”, but “Bardo” returns to the mysticism of his mid-‘70s lyrical endeavors. Lest people think it’s getting too deep, the swaggering “Mountaintop” has a buried fable. “Panic” ramps up the tension even while telling us not to, and “Manup” is a more direct call to action.

He’s consistently made solo albums that are completely solo, but his fascination with technology and speed in the digital age have often come off cold. Not so with Arena—even the drums, which are programmed, sound real. The album may sound big and stupid at points, but it’s worth it.

The New Cars It’s Alive (2006)—3
Todd Rundgren
Arena (2008)—3