Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Genesis 22: Live Over Europe

Following ten years apart, wherein Phil Collins did Disney soundtracks between solo albums and Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks twiddled their thumbs, the most profitable lineup of Genesis reconvened for a reunion tour. Not able to convince Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett to join, they called back Daryl Steurmer and Chester Thompson for support and off they went. (The documentary detailing the rehearsals and first shows is particularly hilarious when it’s clear Daryl and Chester know their parts far better than the other three know theirs.)
Following the American leg, Live Over Europe 2007 replicated the setlist on two full CDs. Beginning with “Duke’s Intro”, which melds elements of “Behind The Lines” and “Duke’s End”, they move to “Turn It On Again”, which was the handy name of the tour, and proceed through over two hours of expected hit songs (“No Son Of Mine”, “Land Of Confusion”, “I Can’t Dance”, “Invisible Touch”, and the like) as well as more ambitious epics (the complete “Home By The Sea” and “Domino” suites, an “In The Cage Medley”, “Firth Of Fifth” into “I Know What I Like”) and relative deep cuts (“Mama”, “Ripples”). The requisite dual drum solo is called “Conversations With 2 Stools”, named after the objects Phil and Chester beat for the first three minutes, and after a few encores of later hits, the set ends nicely with “The Carpet Crawlers”.
The performances are impeccable, and drawing from several shows ensures competency if not intimacy. The album was a nice enough souvenir, but it was soon to become part of a larger deal.
Being one of those bands audiophiles liked, it made good business sense for Genesis to revisit their catalog in the 21st century by releasing three box sets over a period of 18 months, each dedicated to a distinct period of the band. Each remastered CD was matched with a DVD containing the same studio album in 5.1 surround sound and other audio-visual content, and each set contained a bonus disc—and matching DVD—of “Extra Tracks”, such as B-sides (including “Match Of The Day” and “Me And Virgil”, which were omitted from the Archives #2 box) and other rarities.
A year after the final album box was released, their live legacy was reassessed much the same way, but not exactly. 1973-2007 Live included a CD and 5.1 surround-sound DVD pairing for an expanded Genesis Live, which added five out-of-order tracks from the Lamb tour, but not the fabled “Supper’s Ready” that had snuck out way back when. Seconds Out was also paired with a DVD, while Three Sides Live—in its all-live, no “Paperlate” version—did not get a surround mix. Neither did The Way We Walk, but that combined volume was rejigged to replicate the actual set lists as opposed to “short” and “long”. Also, “Drum Duet” was now called “The Drum Thing”, while “Mama”, “That’s All”, and “In Too Deep”, plus “Turn It On Again” as a bonus, were moved to the end, having been recorded on earlier tours.
A slot in the packaging was included for consumers to store their separately purchased copies of Live Over Europe 2007, which was nice of the designers, but even more exciting was the disc of extra tracks in the form of Live At The Rainbow, recorded in 1973 at the fabled London theater. Some of this was already on the first Archives box, and the jury’s still out as to how much of the vocals were touched up by Peter Gabriel decades later. (The DVD portion includes another 20 minutes of music from the show, sequenced in context. Also, folks gnashing their teeth about no DVDs for two of the albums only had to wait two months for The Movie Box 1981-2007, which contained five DVDs, plus their Behind The Music documentary and an empty slot for the When In Rome DVD from the reunion tour.)

Genesis Live Over Europe 2007 (2007)—3
1973-2007 Live (2009)—3

Friday, January 20, 2023

Frank Zappa 48: Best Band & Jazz Noise

Frank spent the first two years of the ‘90s visiting formerly Communist countries and overseeing the CD debuts of several catalog items. Then the summer of 1991 brought forth not one but two double-CDs dedicated to performances by the 1988 band, referred to directly in the title of the first set.
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life was likely the more accessible of the two for most people, consisting of more familiar songs plus comedic threads. Despite being cobbled from multiple locations, the first disc is presented much like a standard set, with something of an intro amid “Heavy Duty Judy”. Mike Keneally gets to hone his Johnny Cash impression, not only on “Ring Of Fire” but several songs after. A variety of old favorites make way for a reggae arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero” with a now-customary quote from “My Sharona”, and four songs from One Size Fits All close the disc.
The second disc sports some interesting covers, beginning with robotic stabs at both “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine Of Your Love” from a soundcheck. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” (performed on St. Patrick’s Day) segues into the theme from The Godfather before a “comedy” monologue in the guise of a Southern televangelist. Several lyrical changes ridiculing Jimmy Swaggart dot the next handful of songs, and the first part of “The Torture Never Stops” incorporates several classic TV show themes. The highlight of the album, and certainly the tour, was their arrangement of “Stairway To Heaven”, taken at a reggae pace, which switches to ska for the guitar solo, played note for note in unison by the horn section, then to the original’s tempo for the finale. (Not included, allegedly for copyright reasons, was the band’s “Beatles Medley”, which put new words, mostly about Swaggart, to the original melodies and arrangements of “Norwegian Wood”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”. One such performance would finally surface on Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show in 2021.)

Make A Jazz Noise Here gets its title from an aside in “Big Swifty” that includes quotes from several classical pieces. As a whole it’s more concerned with instrumentals, solos, and improvisation, but he made sure to include an opening “Stinkfoot” to talk more about Jimmy Swaggart. A long piece combining various chunks from “Pound For A Brown” featuring manipulated samples gives way thankfully to the “Orange County Lumber Truck Medley” into “Theme From Lumpy Gravy”. A lengthy “King Kong” is given the reggae treatment, with a monologue from Bruce Fowler about prehistoric fish and Congressional samples breaking up the solos, that degenerates into a free-for-all titled “Star Wars Won’t Work”.
The second disc is devoted to more noodling for fans of the more adventurous material of the previous decade, including “The Black Page”, “Dupree’s Paradise” (much shorter than on the Helsinki album), and “Sinister Footwear”, with a couple of detours into brief performances of pieces by Bartok and Stravinsky. We suspect “Stevie’s Spanking” was included simply because Mr. Vai had been more visible in the hair metal tape racks, but it’s an opportunity for Frank to shred, as he also does on “Alien Orifice”, “Cruisin’ For Burgers”, and “Advance Romance”. “Strictly Genteel” provides, as always, a nice finale.
If you like the other releases by the 1988 band, Make A Jazz Noise Here does complete the set, but it’s much more indulgent and geared towards musos and other geeks. Its rating therefore reflects its necessity.

Frank Zappa The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (1991)—3
Frank Zappa
Make A Jazz Noise Here (1991)—

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Eric Clapton 5: 461 Ocean Boulevard

Seemingly finally off junk for good, Eric Clapton headed back to Florida. With the help of Tom Dowd in the control room, and former Domino Carl Radle bringing in some players from Oklahoma, he managed to complete his second real solo album, named after the address of the house where he was living. With the addition of labelmate Yvonne Elliman from the Jesus Christ Superstar albums, he also established a band that would serve him for the rest of the decade.
Right off the bat, “Motherless Children” recalls the Dominos with a galloping beat, constant organ, and melodic slide for a great starter. He immediately turns things down for the spiritual “Give Me Strength”, and underscores it with a truly wimpy rendition of “Willie And The Hand Jive”. “Get Ready”, co-written and sung with Yvonne Elliman, is an improvement on both, but as the third slow song in a row, it’s easy to overlook. But then its reggae beat is immediately elevated with a cover of “I Shot The Sheriff”, which certainly made more people aware of Bob Marley.
“I Can’t Hold Out” begins with a dirty guitar, but mostly sleepwalks through a standard 12-bar written by either Willie Dixon or Elmore James. “Please Be With Me” is something of a Duane Allman tribute, being written by the leader of Cowboy, who were signed to the Allmans’ label and toured with the band; their original version featured Duane on dobro, which Eric plays here. Even though Jim Carrey co-opted it 25 years later, we’re still a sucker for “Let It Grow”, an incredibly melodic little wonder that slightly modifies “Stairway To Heaven” chord changes into something of a power ballad that showcases multiple guitar tones. Robert Johnson continues to be a touchstone, as “Steady Rollin’ Man” is injected with some funk. George Terry—aka the other guitarist on the album—provides the riff-happy “Mainline Florida” for a catchy finale.
For better or for worse, 461 Ocean Boulevard establishes the Clapton brand going forward: competent, easy listening rock that’s neither challenging nor groundbreaking, steeped in the blues, but still focused in the present. He’s best when he simply plays his guitar; unfortunately he can’t always carry an album. If this is your thing, go forward happily. Personally, we prefer more grit.
Due to a publishing dispute over “Give Me Strength”, that song was pulled from later reprints of the album and replaced with “Better Make It Through Today”, a track from his next album. When 461 was first released on CD, this new sequence was the same, but with “Give Me Strength” stuck at the end. The mid-‘90s remaster finally restored the original 10-track lineup. 2004’s deluxe edition filled out the first disc with some in-studio jams, and added a second disc compiled from London shows at the end of the year, opening with a gospel-tinged version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”. (Further studio outtakes were added to 2013’s Give Me Strength: The ’74/’75 Recordings box set, making both expansions required for completists.)

Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)—3
2004 Deluxe Edition: same as 1974, plus 16 extra tracks

Friday, January 13, 2023

Ginger Baker: Air Force

After Blind Faith imploded, Eric Clapton took solace by sitting in with the Plastic Ono Band and then Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. Ginger Baker saw no reason to stop, and convinced Steve Winwood and Ric Grech to stick around for an even bigger supergroup. Denny Laine, who hadn’t really done anything since singing “Go Now” with the Moody Blues, was brought along to support Winwood on vocals and guitar. Chris Wood from Traffic, Baker’s old boss Graham Bond, and Donovan sideman Harold McNair made up the horn section, while Nigerian drummer Remi Kabaka and Baker’s instructor Phil Seamen filled in the back line. Jeanette Jacobs of the girl group the Cake, who happened to be married to Chris Wood, provided helpful harmonies. The conglomerate was dubbed Ginger Baker’s Air Force, and shows were immediately booked.
The band’s second gig, at the Royal Albert Hall, was recorded by producer Jimmy Miller, and released mere months later as a double album with cover art resembling an inside-out Wheels Of Fire. (The American labels kindly credited vocals and instrumental solos where applicable.) Ginger opens the proceedings by warning the audience that they are about to hear some “very strange numbers.” The first of these is “Da Da Man”, credited to McNair, that stirs up an almost Santana-like frenzy over seven minutes. Winwood leads the singing on “Early In The Morning”, which seems to predict Traffic’s future. He also provides the vocals (with Jeanette) for the meter-challenged “Don’t Care”, which seems to go off the rails anytime the horns try a key change. “Toad” isn’t immediately recognizable as the players start it in a minor key and don’t really follow the original melody, but since we’re here for the drums, that becomes moot.
After 13 spellbinding minutes of Kabaka’s “Aiko Biaye”, Denny leads a horribly out-of-tune slog through “Man Of Constant Sorrow” that’s thankfully under four minutes. “Do What You Like” is well received; the horns attempt a few key changes and Ginger soon leaves behind the other percussionists to solo completely alone to the crowd’s delight. Ginger introduces the band members, and they go out with a jam called “Doin’ It”, credited to Baker and Grech, which ends with a reprise of “Do What You Like”.
Given the number of people and instruments on the stage, Ginger Baker’s Air Force is understandably muddy in places, but holds together well. This is especially astounding considering the pharmaceutical habits of certain band members, several of whom would be dead within a few years.

Winwood wasn’t planning on sticking around after the Albert Hall anyway, and by the time Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2 was recorded—this time in the studio—most of the band was different. The other drummers were gone, replaced by “Speedy” Acquaye on “African percussion”. Grech and Laine were on some tracks, as was Harold McNair, but two other horn and flute players dominated, as did two or three females who sang in unison. While it also featured a backwards cover, just like the live album, it simply doesn’t keep the momentum going, even over two sides.
Graham Bond is still here, and he bellows the songs that bookend the set: Pops Staples’ “Let Me Ride” and his own “12 Gates Of The City”. The ladies dominate a cover of Cream’s “Sweet Wine”, which opens like a Christmas song, “Do U No Hu Yor Phrenz R?”, which cruelly fades out and back in, and “We Free Kings”, which sports a laundry list of strange imagery in Ginger’s accent but not his voice. Denny revives “I Don’t Want To Go On Without You” from his Moody days, while “Toady” is a retread of the drum solo with insipid lyrics added. (Some countries sported an alternate track order with different tracks from the same sessions, including an unnecessary cover of “Sunshine Of Your Love”, the island lilt of Harold McNair’s “Caribbean Soup”, another song each from Laine and Grech, and an alternate of “We Free Kings” that more directly copies the Xmas song. These can be heard on the currently streaming version of the album, if you must.)
Both Air Force albums have been in and out of print over the years, but this was slightly rectified by 1998’s Do What You Like compilation, which augmented the standard versions of the two with two singles plus Baker’s 1972 album Stratavarious, which took his African interests even further via collaboration with Fela Kuti. (The tracks from the “other” version of the second album were not included.) The first album is still easier to digest.

Ginger Baker’s Air Force Ginger Baker’s Air Force (1970)—3
Ginger Baker’s Air Force
Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2 (1970)—2

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Eno 24: Reflection

We’ve mentioned that many of Eno’s ambient albums are so complex that they sound different on each listening. That’s tough to do with physical media, as once something is mastered it’s set in stone, for lack of a better metaphor. As many of his ambient works are designed to accompany whatever environment he’s created, he’s always longed for something that could change naturally.
He kinda does that with Reflection, but not if you buy the CD. A $40 app from the Apple Store was designed to be completely generative, with the sound adapting to time of day and even the season of the year. Even the streaming version, which had to stick with one program, was updated from time to time; as of this writing there are four “single” versions on Spotify of varying lengths.
At any rate, the CD consists of a single 54-minute track, and has not changed since first play, at least as far as we can tell. (Thursday Afternoon was also a one-track album, but more happens here.) It begins quietly, suggesting a dark landscape like On Land, but soon finds a setting more like The Ship, only without voice. The tones, similar to bass electric piano notes and sometimes vibes as heard on Music For Airports, reverberate seemingly without end, until a distant high-pitched sound seems to appear from across whatever water we’re looking at around 18 minutes in. A variation sounds about four minutes later, bringing a major-chord change that resounds, then recedes. About a half hour in there’s actually a two-chord sequence; ten minutes after that some multi-note figures appear, and what we used to call space sounds. Eventually the program fades on what we used to call a loop, and then it’s gone.
We will admit to putting on Reflection specifically for falling asleep, so it does take some effort to experience the entire program. It’s easy to ignore, but rewarding when you don’t.

Brian Eno Reflection (2017)—3

Friday, January 6, 2023

Paul Simon 19: In The Blue Light

Even though he wasn’t exactly a road warrior, it was surprising to hear Paul Simon announce a farewell tour in 2018. Shortly afterward, he surprised us further with an album made up entirely of remakes of songs from his catalog. To his credit, In The Blue Light isn’t merely a reclaiming of songs in publishing limbo, nor is it the “let’s orchestrate them!” gambit. Rather, he’s taken songs he felt were “underappreciated” over the years, not least by himself, and given them “fresh perspectives”.
That’s all fine and well, but it’s still an album of remakes. “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” becomes a big band slow blues, whereas “Love” (one of four songs from You’re The One) isn’t all that different, except that now it has Bill Frisell. “Can’t Run But” does get an orchestral treatment from the yMusic ensemble, who we first heard on a Ben Folds album. “How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns” goes for late-night jazz, with help from Wynton Marsalis, who infuses “Pigs, Sheep And Wolves” with New Orleans gumbo.
The yMusic folks return on “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War”, downplaying the doo-wop references on the original but still lovely. “The Teacher” works better in this context, particularly with the focus on Spanish guitars and brief saxophone solos, but he still chooses to “act out” the emotions in “Darling Lorraine” rather than let the words and music carry them. That lengthy tune makes the moody jazz of “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” stand out that much more. It’s an especially nice lead-in to the very soft take on “Questions For The Angels”.
Throughout In The Blue Light his voice is tired, but he works with its limitations. Having different players on each track also gives the listener time to be immersed in each, rather than have them be lost in the sequence. It’s a nice album for easy listening.

Paul Simon In The Blue Light (2018)—3

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Mark Knopfler 12: Down The Road Wherever

We know Mark Knopfler can chicken-pick and solo like nobody else, but he’s suffered from relying on a lot of the same over the decades. Down The Road Wherever is another assortment of new songs, and it’s striking for the variety of music styles, sometimes from track to track.
“Trapper Man” fades in kinda like “Telegraph Road”, which is encouraging, but the similarity ends there, as the song stretches the metaphor to cover the music biz, and even has a funk breakdown. “Back On The Dance Floor” is either about that stated subject or a career criminal hoping for a big score; either way the chorus is stolen from “The Letter” via the Box Tops. The same narrator could be the subject of “Nobody’s Child”, for that matter. “Just A Boy Away From Home” sports a solo initially stolen from the Stones’ version of “You Gotta Move”, but goes into a completely different place with the most subtle of Stax horns to become a highlight of the album. Also nice is “When You Leave”, which has a prominent muted trumpet and sad piano like a lost torch standard, but “Good On You Son” just sounds too modern with its beats, despite the reference to Cockney Rebel.
We wouldn’t have expected a dour song with a chorus asking where somebody left “My Bacon Roll”, but here it is. “Nobody Does That” is another experiment with modern beats mixed with ‘70s funk; “One Song At A Time” is similarly upbeat, but the lyrics nicely travel through time. “Floating Away” seems based on “Spooky”, with striking lyrics about painting a portrait of a fat man, and likely symbolic, but “Slow Learner” is another piano-based torch song, and more resonant. “Heavy Up” is stuck between reggae and salsa for an interesting blend, but “Matchstick Man” is a lovely memory of a traveling musician during the holidays.
Down The Road Wherever appeared in a dizzying array of formats, with bonus tracks depending on category and country, which suggests that even he didn’t know how to present the album. We’re still waiting for another Making Movies or Love Over Gold, which is why we still pay attention.

Mark Knopfler Down The Road Wherever (2018)—3