Never too much Stephen Stills
Owls Head — The Rides: Can’t Get Enough (429 Records CD, 48:13). Back in 1968, Stephen Stills made one of my all-time favorite albums, “Super Session,” with keyboardist Al Kooper (then with Blood, Sweat & Tears, although he left the group after their first album) and the late Mike Bloomfield (co-founder of Electric Flag with Barry Goldberg). Stills and Goldberg are now both managed by Elliot Roberts, who suggested they write together, and the idea was born to create a homage to the “Supper Session” album. Then, Stills met Shepherd at a Super Bowl jam session, leading to the creation of The Rides, a functioning blues band that is on tour.
Four of the 10 tracks are co-written by all three. They includes the opening “Roadhouse,” a typical blues number about being on the road and “playing for a bunch of college kids.” There is a very nice second guitar solo. It should be noted that, on the majority of the album, Stills and Shepherd flip their usual approach to guitar playing, with Stills here being the more conservative one. Stills is in fine voice throughout, especially on the trio-written “Don’t Want Lies,” with its pretty melody and Crosby, Stills & Nash influences. The trio also wrote “Can’t Get Enough of Loving You,” which Stills sings with a bit of a growl and there is both a tender-to-tough guitar solo and dual guitars later on, and “Only Teardrops Fall,” with sweet guitar on the instrumental portion.
Shepherd sings most of the blues covers, including Elmore James’ “Talk To Me Baby,” with rollicking piano by Goldberg. However, Shepherd also sings lead on the unexpected cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.” Another solid cover is of Crosby’s frequent bandmate Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which becomes a workout and Stills’ vocal owning the song. The album ends with Stills’ Latin-flavored rocker, “Word Game,” originally written when he was with Buffalo Springfield, but never recorded by that group. The protest song did show up on Stills’ second solo album. The trio co-produced the album with former Talking Head Jerry Harrison. The drummer is Chris Layton of Shepherd’s band and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble, and the bassist is Kevin McCormick, who has worked with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jackson Browne. Grade: A
Stephen Stills: Carry On (Atlantic/Rhino, 4 CDs). Released earlier this year, this excellent anthology covers all of Stills’ career. It was produced by Joel Bernstein and Graham Nash with Stills, and follows similar collections devoted to David Crosby and Nash. There are 82 tracks in all, including very early solo work and a number with The Au Go Go Singers. Eleven tracks feature Buffalo Springfield, including the classic “For What It’s Worth” (mono version), “Bluebird” and “Rock & Roll Woman.” “Everydays” is a previously unreleased Buffalo Springfield track. In all, 27 tracks are released for the first time.
The 18 Crosby, Stills & Nash selections include the classics “Helplessly Hoping,” “You Don’t Have To Cry,” “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and “Southern Cross.” The unreleased CSN material includes a different mix of “4+20,” demo versions of “So Begins the Task” and “The Lee Shore,” and a 2012 live cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” Of the five tracks featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, only “Woodstock” was previously released. New are an alternate mix of “Carry On/Questions”; a 1971 live version of “Find the Cost of Freedom,” recorded in Boston; a group version of “Black Coral” (the song also appeared on the Stills/Young Band album, “Long May You Run”); and a live 2002 cover of Otis Redding’s “Ole Man Trouble.”
Stills also did two albums under the band name Manassas (more favorites of mine), with former Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, longtime drummer and collaborator Dallas Taylor, bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, keyboardist Paul Harris, percussionist Joe Lala and pedal-steel player Al Perkins. From them come the ballads “Song of Love” and “It Doesn’t Matter,” the countryish “Colorado” and the Latin-influenced “Rock & Roll Crazies”/ “Cuban Bluegrass.” The unreleased “No Name Jam” has Stills playing with Jimi Hendrix. The music is terrific and there is a detailed 116-page booklet. Grade: A+
Bryan Ferry: Live in Lyon (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 143 min.). Ferry’s voice is one of the most identifiable in rock, a gift he honed during his years fronting Roxy Music and then in a very successful solo career. Ferry may look older, but the voice has aged well, as evidenced by this July 25, 2011 concert at the ancient Roman amphitheater in Lyon, France, part of his worldwide Olympia tour. Ferry is backed by a medium-sized, but very strong band, including his third son, Tara, on drums and 25-year-old guitarist Oliver Thompson, who together also make up two-thirds of the band Rubber Kiss Goodbye. The band also includes musical director/keyboardist Colin Good, guitarist Neil Hubbard, drummer Andy Newmark, bassist Jerry Meehan, sax player Jorja Chalmers, four backing singers and two dancers.
The 99-minute concert opens nicely with “I Put a Spell on You” and Roxy Music’s “Slave to Love.” After “Don’t Stop the Dance,” comes a rocking cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues.” Ferry has done a whole album of Dylan tunes, “Dylanesque,” which was the first album guitarist Thompson appeared on, and Thompson turns in a very nice solo here. Ferry moves to keyboards for Roxy Music’s “If There is Something” (here Hubbard’s guitar solo shines). Other highlights including a rocking “You Can Dance,” “Oh Yeah” and a cover of Dylan’s “Like a Hurricane,” featuring fine solos by Thompson and Chalmers on their respective instruments. The sole instrumental is “Tara,” from Roxy Music’s “Avalon” album. It is followed by a theatrical version of “Bitter Sweet” and the ballad, “My Only Love,” which has a riotous guitar solo by Thompson and wailing singing by Aleysha Gordon. Tara Ferry finally seems to break out of a shell and have some real fun on the rocking “What Goes On” and “Sign of the Times.” Late highlights are “Love is the Drug,” Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” one of Ferry’s classic covers.
The disc comes with a 40-page booklet, including brief bios of the band members and a 44-minute bonus film,” The Making of Olympia,” Ferry’s most recent album. Each format also is available in a deluxe edition, with a 72-page hardcover book and a bonus CD of the concert. Grade: A
Santana & McLaughlin: Invitation to Illumination, Live at Montreux 2011 (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 136 min.). It has been 40 years since Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin last played together on stage (a 1973 tour), but the magic, and connection, are still there. That 1973 tour followed their album collaboration, “Love Devotion Surrender,” which celebrated the music and spirit of John Coltrane and their collective musical muse. During the concert, all selections from the classic album are performed except for “Meditation.” McLaughlin brought along his bassist, Etienne M’Bappe, a noted guitarist, vocalist and bassist from the Cameroons who was a member of the Joe Zawinul Syndicate, Sanata brought his rhythm section, bassist Benny Rietveld, conguero Raul Rekow, rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony and keyboardist David K. Mathews, plus drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. The two additional vocalists were Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas. The day of the one-time show, July 1, 2011, drummer Milton Dennis Chambers joined the band on stage.
The emphasis is on jazz from the beginning, with “The Life Divine,” a staple of the Santana/McLaughlin Band of the 1970s, following the introduction. Next comes a medley that begins with Coltrane’s “Peace on Earth” and moves through Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (with Santana playing lead guitar on the first half, and then McLaughlin taking over), Albert Ayler’s “Our Prayer” and Santana’s own “SOCC,” a tribute to keyboard mystic Sun Ra. By now, it is evident the music would cover a broad spectrum, perhaps a too broad a spectrum for the two-hour-plus show. Next up is Miles Davis’ “Right Off,” which McLaughlin played on the original, having been a member of Davis’ band at the time of the albums, “Bitches Brew” and “In a Silent Way.” Here, keyboardist Mathews summons up the Farfisa organ sound that Herbie Hancock provided on the original.
Next is a tribute to the late drummer Tony Williams by McLaughlin and Blackman Santana on rough, but compelling versions of “Vuelta Abajo” and “Vashkar.” McLaughlin was a member of the original Tony Williams Lifetime in 1969, but had not played the material in 45 years. (Williams played with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s, while Rietveld was another Davis stalwart. One of the highlights of the night is their version of Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” and later they perform Sanders’ “Venus/Upper Egypt.” Blackman Santana performed in Sanders’ band for nearly two years.
Santana and McLaughlin then perform sir-down acoustic duets on “Naima” by Coltrane and “Lotus Land,” the latter the more up-tempo, with some Spanish feel and superb Santana playing. Back with the full band, they rock Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Downstairs,” with a bit of Thelonius Monk’s “Blue Monk” mixed in. Santana plays some blistering guitar on “Venus/Upper Egypt” and the main concert ends with Santana and McLaughlin’s “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.” The encores include a wonderful take on Miles Davis’ “Black Satin,” a Blackman Santana drum solo, a special version of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Up and Go.” Grade: A-
Santana: The Early San Francisco Years Anthology ’68-’69 (Cleopatra, 3 CDs, 3 hours). Much of this material has been available before in other forms, but this box set brings together early live performances, demos and early versions of what would become classic songs, as well as improvisational jams. There also is a poster with far too little detail about the recordings, and a wall hanging. The best disc is the first, which includes a 7:50 live version of “Evil Ways,” a performance that helped get the band signed to Columbia Records. There also are early versions of “Soul Sacrifice” and “Jingo,” the latter with wonderful percussion and which extends to 9:48. Carlos Santana plays nice guitar on the slower-paced “Latin Tropical,” which runs an epic 11:20. Also likable is “Fried Neckbones and Some Homefries.” However, the closing “Hot Tamales” just churns and goes nowhere.
The second disc features the blues and cover songs and the quality of sound varies considerably, and not for the best. Songs include The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends, Albert King’s “As the Years Go Passing By” (erroneously credited as “As the Years Go By” and a pretty decent “Persuasion.” The disc ends with three live tracks, with the sound on “Just Ain’t Good Enough” particularly bad. Disc three has six improvisational jams, two of which are live, and none of which stand out. Grade: B
John McLaughlin: The Complete Original Mahavishnu Orchestra Columbia Albums Collection (2012, Columbia/Legacy, 5 CDs). For those wishing to catch up on some of McLaughlin’s earlier work, I highly recommend this box set, which gathers the albums, “The Inner Mounting Flame” (1971), “Birds of Fire” (1973), “The Lost Trident Sessions” (1973), “Between Nothingness and Eternity” (1974) and the bonus disc of “Between Nothingness and Eternity Disc Two,” consisting of seven unreleased tracks. Also, the first disc includes a 15-minute live version of “Noonward Race,” which originally appeared on the “Mar Y Sol” live double-record set. This pioneering quintet lasted only four years. It consisted of McLaughlin on guitar, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin, drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Rick Laird. Together, they helped create the new rock-jazz fusion world that Miles Davis started.
Glee Cast: Glee Sings The Beatles (Columbia CD, 40:35). The 14 Beatles covers here represent a solid effort, if not an outstanding one. Certainly, a highlight is the opening “Yesterday,” sung by Lea Michele (Rachel) with a slightly mournful arrangement. One cannot help thinking of the July passing of actor Cory Monteith, the TV’s shows Finn, and Michele’s boyfriend in real life and on the show. Kevin McHale (Artie) sings “Drive My Car,” which gets a literal carnival bumper car depiction in the first of the two episodes devoted to The Beatles’ music. I like the idea of using a marching band on the version of “Got to Get You into My Life” by Chris Colfer (Kurt) and Darren Criss (Blaine). Other highlights are “Help,” “I Saw Her Standing There” (which lovingly recreates The Beatles’ appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” complete with black-and-white monitors) and the overall superb arrangement of “All You Need Is Love,” with wonderfully layered vocals. The closing “Let It Be” is powerful as well. For others of note, there is a pretty arrangement on “Something,” sung by Chad Overstreet (Sam), whose voice is quite not up to it, although he is better on the more rock part; and a duet by Naya Rivera (Santana) and guest star Demi Lovato (Dani) on “Here Comes the Sun” that has a pretty guitar beginning. Grade: B+
Elvis Presley: Prince from Another Planet (RCA/Legacy, 2 CDs and a DVD). There have been two special Elvis boxes this year for the fan who has everything Elvis. This 40th anniversary set celebrates Presley’s “Elvis Has Recorded Live at Madison Square Garden.” There are new mixes of both the afternoon and evening shows by Michael H. Brauer, each on its own CD. The 60-minute DVD includes a new 20-minute mini-documentary featuring interviews with Lenny Kaye, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Joe Guercio and Jerry Schilling, plus footage from the historic press conference and recently unearthed live fan footage of 20 minutes of the afternoon performance. The 48-page book includes a new essay by Kaye of the Patti Smith Group.
Elvis Presley: Elvis at Stax (RCA/Legacy, 3 CDs). In 1973, Presley was riding high with the success of his TV concert, “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite,” which was seen by more than 1.5 billion viewers globally. Presley decided to take control of his own business. He sold all his pre-1973 catalog to RCA, secured a new seven-year contract, and started a new publishing company. He also decided to record his next album at the famed Stax Studio in Memphis, where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes made many memorable recordings. For the recordings, Presley assembled members of The MG’s, The Memphis Boys and his own TCB crew. The three discs here include remastered audio and numerous newly remixed outtakes. Highlights of the sessions were “I Got a Feelin’ in My Body” and “Loving Arms.” The first disc is the R&B and country session outtakes, while disc two is the pop sessions outtakes and the July 1973 masters. The third disc is the December 1973 masters. The set also comes with a 40-page book with an essay by Memphis historian Robert Gordon and rare memorabilia and photos.
London Music Works: Music from the Iron Man Trilogy (Silva Screen CD). This disc presents music from all three films, five tracks from each. The composer for the first film was Hans Zimmer protégé Ramin Djawadi, a young German/Iranian who recently scored “Pacific Rim,” while John Debney did the music for the second film and Brian Tyler, the third. Tracks one and 13 here were performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, with additional guitars and programming by Rick Clark (who produced this disc).
Frederik Wiedmann: Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox (La-La Land CD, 59:04). The soundtrack to this Warner Bros. Animation film is a limited edition of 2,000. Wiedmann is a German composer who scored “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” for television. The music was recorded with a live orchestra and is quite hearty.
Carmine Coppola: The Outsiders (Silva Screen CD, 55:02). The soundtrack for the 1983 film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, has finally surfaced. It includes “Stay Gold,” performed by Stevie Wonder, both as it appeared in the film and in an alternate mix. Six other cues include previously unreleased music, and other bonus tracks include Bill Hughes performing both “Stay Gold” and “The Outside In.” The whole score has been remastered for this release. The film’s young cast included future stars Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Patrick Swayze.