3 times: One Direction, Eric Clapton
Owls Head — One Direction: This Is Us (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 92/106 min.). When released to theaters, this film was criticized for being an overly-sanitized view of the extremely popular British boy band. Well it is. For example, one member reportedly is a chain smoker, but there is nary a cigarette to be seen, and certainly no views of any girlfriends. However, the film was not meant to be a documentary; it is instead a love letter to One Direction’s many fans all over the globe. And at that, it succeeds marvelously.
One Direction was put together by Simon Cowell, after the five lads tried out for the 2010 British edition of “The X-Factor.” The five -- Niall, Zayn, Harry, Louis and Liam -- only finished third in the TV show competition, but they then went on to take the world by storm, helped by savvy use of the internet and social media. The Blu-ray DVD includes both the 92-minute theatrical cut and a 106-minute extended version that includes four additional songs. Most of the concert footage is from the group’s six-night stand at London’s O2 Arena. Director Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) does the smart thing and, in most instances, leaves the performance of each song whole, and the concert portion of the film really stands out. Performed live are “Up All Night,” “She’s Not Afraid,” “Heart Attack,” “I Would,” “Teenage Dirtbag” (the rare pure rocker), “Little Things” (a ballad),” “C’mon, C’mon,” “Change My Mind,” their cover of “One Way or Another,” “Back for You,” “Summer Love,” “Kiss You” and “What Makes You Beautiful.”
There are some rehearsal scenes, flashbacks to “The X-Factor” auditions, numerous stops along the road that include Madison Square Garden, Japan, Paris and others, and lots of playing about by the lads. Also shown is a rare visit home and some of the pranks they have played on fans by dressing up as completely different people. One more of introspection has them sitting a round a campfire, discussing their future. Extras include a more extensive look at their visits home; extended versions of the fishing trip and when they talk about each other; a look at their fans (included in the extended version); a fascinating look at their was puppet heads being finished for Madame Tussaud’s; and the funny music video for “Best Song Ever.” Grade: B+
One Direction: Midnight Memories (Syco Music/Columbia CD, 47:46). The quintet’s third album suffers from several lackadaisical ballads, but opens with two smash hits in “Best Song Ever” and “Story of My Life.” They borrow guitar riffs here and there that recall the Beatles or Rolling Stones, but those rockers proved enjoyable too. They are “Midnight Memories” and “Little Black Dress.” The boys are definitely at their best when doing the upbeat material, such as “Happily” (sure to be a future hit), the anthematic-sounding “Through the Dark” and “Little White Lies,” with its good beat and somewhat playful vocals. What drags the album down is the likes of the soft “You & I,” although even it picks up with a harder, and better, ending. Also noteworthy are “Right Now,” a song of yearning that reflects on their travels around the world during which “everything is new to me,” and the closing “Better Than Words.” Group members had a hand in writing 11 of the 14 songs. Grade: B
One Direction: Reaching for the Stars (Inception DVD, NR, 64 min.). This is one of those unofficial biographies that come across like tabloid television. The problem with these, of course, is none of the group’s music can be used because it is unauthorized. There also is perhaps too much emphasis on the boys’ love lives. Nonetheless, the documentary does fill in some of the gaps left by the concert film. We now know Zayn Malik is a Muslim, Liam Payne has only one kidney, Niall Horan is Irish (kind of obvious), Louis Tomlinson was raised in an acting family and Harry Styles likes older women, up to his mom’s age of 44. Grade: C
Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival (Rhino/Reprise, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 288 min.). This is the fourth festival that Clapton has produced to benefit the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, a premier center for the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. The lineup and the wonderful music it produces cannot be topped as, musically, this release is superb throughout. The video is not up to the quality of the audio, but that seems to have been director Martyn Atkins’ choice.
There are 45 performances spread across the two Blu-ray discs, starting with Clapton’s stripped down version of his “Tears in Heaven.” Clapton then performs “Spider Jiving” with Andy Fairweather Low and “Lay Down Sally” with Vince Gill. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper perform three selections, including a fine “Born Under a Bad Sign” and Jones’ classic hit, “Green Onions.” The Robert Cray Band shines on two songs, then is followed by Sonny Landreth, Doyle Bramhall II (one each with Alice Smith, Citizen Cope and Gary Clark Jr.) and Earl Klugh. Later on disc one, Clapton joins Kurt Rosenwinkel on “Big Road Blues.” John Mayer, who seems to be having the most fun, shines on “Queen of California” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” on which he is joined by Keith Urban. Buddy Guy and then the Allman Brothers Band (joined by Clapton on “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad”) close the first disc.
Disc two brings back song guitarists from disc one in different combinations, as well as Jimmie Vaughan, Los Lobos and a trio of Greg Allman, Haynes and Derek Trucks. The trio covers Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” and the Allmans “Midnight Rider.” Gill returns for two performances with Albert Lee and Keith Urban jumps in for their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice.” They are followed by Taj Mahal (keeping with the mainly blues base of the show), Clark and Jeff Beck. Then Clapton wraps up the show with seven selections, joined by Keith Richards on “Key To the Highway,” Robbie Robertson on “I Shall Be Released” (with a nod to the late Levon Helm) and nearly everybody on the closing “High Time We Went.” Clapton also performs “Got to Get Better In a Little While,” “Crossroads” and “Sunshine of Your Love.” Grade: music A+; film B
Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival (Rhino/Reprise, 2 CDs). The CD version of the event offers 29 performances, so you definitely get more with the DVD set. Nonetheless, you cannot beat the music here. Grade: A
Eric Clapton: Give Me Strength, The ‘74/’75 Recordings (Polydor/PDG, 5 CDs, 326 min., and 1 Blu-ray disc). Clapton reached the pinnacle of guitar godhood with the release of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by his short-lived band Derek and the Dominos in 1971. His rise to the top included work with the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith, However, for the next three years, Clapton released no new music, largely due to a crippling heroin addiction. This box set features remixed and expanded versions of the three albums he created in 1974 and 1975: “461 Ocean Boulevard,” “There’s One In Every Crowd” and the live “E.C. Was Here.”
For “461 Ocean Boulevard,” Clapton turned to Dominos bassist Carl Radle, who had kept in touch and had sent Clapton some demos recorded with drummer Jamie Oldaker and keyboardist Dick Sims, both of whom recently toured with Bob Seger. Clapton enjoyed the easy grooves and decided to change direction, using strong song structures and his vocals instead of flashy guitar solos. Those three formed the core of his studio band, joined by keyboardist Albhy Galuten, guitarist George Terry and backup singer Yvonne Elliman (of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fame). They jammed for several days, before setting down to record songs, and the 40-minute longer version of the album included here includes three of those jams, which are really very nice. The album yielded Clapton his first chart-topping single in a reggae cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” and reggae also infused their reworking of Johnny Otis’ 1950s chestnut, “Willie and the Hand Jive.” (It must be remembered that, at the time, reggae had made nearly no headway in the United States. Thus, this was a risky move, but one that helped expose reggae to rock audiences.) The album also has Clapton’s wonderful slide guitar and vocal on Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out.” Among the eight out-takes included are a sultry “Ain’t That Lovin’ You,” written by Jimmy Reed, Bill Broonzy’s “Lonesome Road Blues, Clapton’s “Eric After Hours Blues” (with a nice strut beat), an acoustic version of “Please Be With Me” and Clapton playing dobra on another version of “Give Me Strength.”
For the album “There’s One In Every Crowd,” Clapton added a second female singer, Marcy Levy, who had backed Leon Russell and Seger. The album opens with Blind Willie Johnson’s “We’ve Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon),” a gospel-reggae version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and more reggae in the Clapton-Terry written “Don’t Blame Me.” For blues lovers, there is a cover of Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” Late on the album comes “High,” a song originally recorded for the abandoned second Dominos album,” and the Clapton-penned closer, “Opposites,” which recalls the Dominos’ sound slightly. There are five out-takes, including more reggae in covers of Peter Tosh’s “Burial” and “Watcha Gonna Do,” a soulful cover of Mary Russell’s “I Found Love.” Also included are both sides of the “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” single, as Clapton turned the Bob Dylan song into a reggae song.
Discs three and four are an expanded version of the live “E.C. Was Here” album, assembled from two July 1974 shows at Long Beach Arena, two December 1974 shows at Hammersmith Odeon in London, and July 1975 performances at the Providence Civic Center and Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum. For this release, the original six tracks have been expanded to 16, including striking previously unreleased performances of “Crossroads,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Layla” and “Little Wing.” Carlos Santana joins the band for “Eyesight To the Blind/Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.” A version of Cream’s “Badge” also has been added.
Disc five is 35 minutes of Clapton playing in studio with Freddie King, who handles the vocals. Among the fours tracks is a 21:44 version of “Gambling Woman Blues.” The sixth disc is a Blu-ray disc with a previous unreleased 5.1 Surround Sound mix of “461 Ocean Boulevard,” as well as the original quadraphonic mixes of “461 Ocean Boulevard” and “There’s One In Every Crowd” albums. Everything is packaged I a 60-page hardcover book. Grade: A+
Eric Clapton: Clapton Unplugged deluxe version (Reprise/MTV, 2 CDs and 1 DVD). Clapton live with just his guitar made for a memorable evening. This set includes the original album, with “Before You Accuse Me,” “Tears In Heaven,” “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Layla,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “San Francisco Bay Blues” and others. Disc two contains six out-takes and alternatives, including “My Father’s Eyes” in two versions. The DVD contains the TV concert itself, plus an Unplugged rehearsal. Grade: A+
Morrissey: 25 Live (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 92 min.). This concert was filmed at the rather intimate venue of the Hollywood High School auditorium in Los Angeles on March 2, 2013 (he had performed at the Staple Center the night before). There are 19 selections from throughout his 25-year career. The show opens appropriately with “Alma Matters,” then come a flurry of my favorites, including “Ouija Board, Ouija Board,” “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “You Have Killed Me,” “November Spawned a Monster,” “Maladjusted” and “You’re the One For Me Fatty.” During the evening, he performs five songs from his days with The Smiths, including “Still Ill,” “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” “Meat Is Murder,” “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.” At two points in the show, Morrissey hands his microphone to crowd members and lets them make comments. Luckily, the traditional nonsense of fans trying to get up on stage to hug the singer is restricted to just the one encore song.
Kudos to the strong band as well, including newcomer drummer Anthony Burleigh (2012). Guitarist Boz Boorer has been with Morrissey since 1991 and guitarist Jesse Tobias was added in 2004. Bassist Solomon Walker came onboard in 2007 and keyboardist Gustavo Manzur in 2011. There is a nice bonus of in-studio recording sessions of “The Kid’s a Looker,” “Scandinavia” (particularly funny, but typical Morrissey approach to lyrics), “Action Is My Middle Name” and “People Are the Same Everywhere.” Grade: A
The Sound of Music, music from the NBC television event (Masterworks CD). Even though the TV event was presented live, I had a copy of this “soundtrack” prior to its airing. Underwood is joined by Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. Of course, the classic Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical is loaded with great, memorial songs, including the tile song, “Maria,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Me,” “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (sung wonderfully by McDonald) and “Edelweiss.”
John Williams: The Book Thief, original motion picture soundtrack (Sony Classical CD). The film, directed by Brian Percival, tells the inspirational story of a courageous young girl who transforms the lives of those around her when she is sent to live with a foster family in Germany during World War II. Liesel is played by Sophie Nelisse, while her adoptive parents are played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. The score includes moments for solo piano, and a slow oboe melody underscores Liesel’s relationship with the young Jewish man her foster parents are hiding. There are lively, upbeat moments too, such as in “The Snow Fight” and “Foot Race.”