‘Pearl’ gems; Dead concert films boxed

By Tom Von Malder | Apr 29, 2012
Photo by: Columbia/Legacy Records This photograph was taken during the photo shot for the cover of Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” album, which was released on Jan. 11, 1971, three months after her death.

Owls Head — Janis Joplin: The Pearl Sessions (Columbia/Legacy, 2 CDs, 2:13:49). “Pearl,” unfortunately, turned out to be Joplin’s final studio album, as she died Oct. 4, 1970 from a mixture of alcohol and heroin at the tragically early age of 27. She had been a ferocious singer, hailing from Texas with a boogie and blues-influenced sound. She never held back on her emotion while singing. This was the only album she ever recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, a touring ensemble that backed her on the Festival Express concert tour by railroad across Canada in 1970. That tour also included the Grateful Dead, the Band (which just lost the great Levon Helm to cancer) and others. Songs from “Pearl” -- the album was named after the band’s nickname for Joplin -- had been introduced to audiences during the tour.

The album also was one of her beast, and topped the Billboard 200 for nine weeks. Among the highlights are her cover of Kris Kristofferson’s  “Me and Bobby McGee” and her off-the-cuff a cappella “Mercedes Ben,” which I often find myself singing. Equally fine, in a more upbeat fashion, are the opening two tracks: “Move Over,” propelled by guitar and drums; and “Cry Baby,” which appropriately opens with a cry. “Trust Me” is smoother, “A Woman Left Lonely” is one of several tracks featuring organ, “My Baby” is solid and “Buried Alive I the Blues” is an instrumental. The main album on disc one is fleshed out by the mono single masters of six of the songs. All were produced by Paul Rothschild, well-known at the time for producing the first five albums by the Doors.

Disc two dives deep into the sessions, with previously unissued takes of “Get It While You Can” (3), “Move Over” (3), “Me and Bobby McGee” (2, including demo) and others, as well as a lot of studio chatter (some X-rated) as you hear Joplin and the band working out the songs’ arrangements and vocal approach. The 75-minute disc also contains the instrumental “Pearl,” recorded after Joplin’s death. This is an edited version of what was a 12- to 14-minute mini-jam. Finally, there are two live tracks: “Tell Mama” from Toronto as part of the railroad tour; and “half Moon” from the Aug. 3, 1970 “The Dick Cavett Show.” Grade: A

Bear’s Sonic Journals Presents Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 (Columbia/Legacy CD, 70:59).
This 13-track recording, previously unavailable except for the few tracks that appeared on the 1972 double-record set, “Joplin in Concert,” captured the June 23, 1968 show. At the dials was legendary soundman Owsley Stanley, aka Bear, who supervised the mastering of this release before his fatal car accident on March 12, 2011. Bear supervised the sound at the Carousel Ballroom, a former big band dance palace at the corner of Market and Van Ness in downtown San Francisco. For a few months in 1968, the venue was operated by a collective formed by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Bear made his reputation with his mixing live sound for the Dead in 1966 and he ran the sound system for the Carousel until Bill Graham took over and rechristened it the Fillmore West in the autumn of 1968. Bear always recorded the shows he was involved with as a way to improve his live system set-ups.

The fierce show captured here, when the band was at its peak (and sadly only two months prior to its breakup), is presented in a non-stereo mix. The vocals and the drums, which came through the PA system, come through the left speaker, while the rest of the band comes through on the right. Bear suggested listeners push their two speakers together. All the early classics from Joplin’s career are here, from the opening “Combination of the Two” through their cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” (props to guitarist James Gurley here, who said he based his style of John Coltrane’s sax solos), the duet “Call on Me” and the hits “Piece of My Heart” and “Ball & Chain.” A bonus selection is a very different take on “Call on Me” from the night before. Grade: A

Grateful Dead: All the Years Combined, The DVD Collection (Shout! Factory, 14 DVDs, 38 hours).
While this may not be the Holy Grail as the material has been previously released, the set does bring together 12 concert films; a 40-page book containing rare photos and new liner notes by Blair Jackson; and all the bonus features from the previous DVD releases. The special bonus extra for fans is an exclusive bonus disc with five previously unreleased live performances from the Grateful Dead archive (“Friend of the Devil“ was recorded July 2, 1989 at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.); “Backstage Pass,” the 1992 documentary directed by Justin Kreutzmann; and a new interview with Dead archivist David Lemieux. It probably is a fact that the Dead were the most live recorded band in history.

The first two discs are “The Grateful Dead Movie” (1977, aka “The Grateful Dead”) and its bonus features. It is presented here in widescreen format with three different sound mixes and audio commentary by supervising editor Susan Crutcher and film editor John Nutt. It was filmed in 1974, when the band hired a crew to film five pre-hiatus shows at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. The extras include more than 96 minutes of bonus concert footage of 11 songs, with a visible lyrics option. There also are three documentaries: the film “A Look Back,” and looks at the making of the animated sequence and the making of the DVD. Next, and filmed in the same location, is “The Closing of Winterland,” filmed during the Dead’s annual New Year’s Eve concert in 1978. Featured guests include Lee Oskar of War, Matthew Kelly of Kingfish, John Cipollina of Quicksilver, Greg Errico of Santana and author Ken Kesey with his Thunder Machine. The sound is excellent, capturing a loose but intense evening. This film also comes with a bonus disc. It includes the documentary “Winterland: A Million Memories” and performances by Blues Brothers and New Riders of the Purple Sage (their new CD will be reviewed in my next music column), a making-of feature, an interview with Graham, a detailed chronological history of the Dead at Winterland and alternate camera angle option for three songs.

“Dead Ahead,” filmed at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall in 1980, is the next DVD. In celebration of their 15th anniversary, the band played 15 shows at the Warfield in San Francisco and then eight at Radio City Music Hall. In addition to their usual two sets, the Dead opened each night with an acoustic set as well. The final concert fell on Halloween and was simulcast as a closed-circuit pay-pre-view event at 20 movie theaters across the country. The songs here are from the final two nights, interspersed with comic bits from the “Saturday Night Live” comedy team of Al Franken and Tom Davis, who served as masters of ceremony.

Making its DVD debut as part of the set is the award-winning, 55-minute conceptual video, “So Far.” It includes footage from private sessions taped in Marin County, portions of the 1985 New Year’s Eve show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, and psychedelic visual material. Dead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia said of it: “The video is the Grateful Dead way of doing things, which turns out to be expensive, difficult and unrepeatable.” The next DVD, “Ticket to New Year’s,” filmed at Oakland Coliseum on New Year’s Eve 1987, was another national pay-per-view telecast “Truckin’ Up to Buffalo” is the complete show from Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. on July 4, 1989 (it has been released on CD as well). Next up is “Downhill from Here,” recorded two weeks later at the Alpine Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis. Only two songs repeat.

The next four DVDs are called “View from the Vault” and include shows from Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh (1990), RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (1991), Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif. (1990) and Oakland and Anaheim, Calif. In 1987. The set is monumental. Grade: A+

The B-52s: With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 131 min.).
Thirty-four years after their gig, the B-52s still deliver a fun show, with the sound basically intact. The band -- Kate Pierson on vocals, keyboard and others; Fred Schneider on vocals and various percussion; Keith Strickland on guitar; and Cindy Wilson on vocals, bongos and tambourine -- are augmented by drummer Sterling Campbell, keyboardist/guitarist Paul Gordon and bass guitarist Tracy Wormworth. The show opens with the fresh “Pump,” as fine as anything they have ever done. Next are two classic oldies, “Private Idaho” and “Mesopotamia,” showing the band’s ever-present humorous side. Then come “Ultraviolet” and “Dancing Now,” both from their 2008 “Funplex” album, their first album in 16 years (“Good Stuff” came out in 1992) and their seventh studio album overall.

The fun continues with “Funplex,” “Whammy Kiss,” the newer “Deadbeat Club” (one of several songs reflecting on the band’s beginnings in Athens), “Party Out of Bounds,” “Love in the Year 3000,” “Cosmic Thing” and “Love Shack.” Bringing the total to 20 songs and 97 minutes is the four-song encore of “Wig,” “Strobe Light,” “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster.” The thing I really like about the Eagle Vision Blu-ray concert releases is that, in addition to terrific sound, there usually is a very worthwhile bonus interview. This disc keeps up the tradition with a very engaging sit-down chat between the four members as they recall meeting in the then-mostly college town of Athens -- Wilson and Strickland are the natives, while Pierson and Schneider are both from New Jersey -- and the early days of the band. Especially poignant are the memories of the late Ricky Wilson, Cindy’s brother, who helped start the band by writing songs with Strickland. There also are tales of the early days in New York, and even meeting a celebrity such as Peter Frampton while recording their first album. Grade: A

Donovan: The Essential Donovan (Epic/Legacy, 2 CDs).
During the B-52s interview, Ricky Wilson is described as initially having a “folky, Donovan-esque” quality with his early songs and solo performances. Well, here is a hearty, 36-heaping from the original Donovan, another of my favorite artists. (longtime readers will have realized that for me, the best period for music was starting with soul music about 1963 through the rock of the mid-1970s.). Donovan Leitch, the British folk-pop troubadour, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14. He will turn 66 on May 10.

This collection emphasizes the first decade or so of his career, when his name was spoken in the same breath as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Beatles and the emerging psychedelic movement. Listen to “Universal Soldier” for the Dylan, and “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow” for the psychedelic. (By the way, “Sunshine Superman” features future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page -- then 22 -- and “Mellow Yellow” was arranged by John Paul Jones, another future Zep.) The collection contains all 18 songs that entered the Billboard Hot 100 and UK National chart between 1965 and 1973, plus 14 select album tracks. More than half the tracks on the first disc are heard in their mono mix, including all his acoustic-based folk-rock tracks recorded for UK label Pye Records (released in this country on Hickory) in late-1964 and 1965 and a number of Epic sides from 1966. Donovan’s big breakthrough in America started in 1966, when he began to work with hit-making UK producer Mickie Most (the Animals, Herman’s Hermits) and became the first artist signed to Epic Records by Clive Davis, then the new head of CBS Records. His first Epic album, “Sunshine Superman” and included the oft-covered “Season of the Witch” (also check out the Mike Bloomfield-Al Kooper-Stephen Stills version on their “Super Session” album).

Donovan’s “The Hurdy Gurdy Man” album (a reference to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) yielded “Jennifer Juniper” and the title track. Other hits here include “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “There is a Mountain, “ “Lalena,” “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting” (whose single B-side was the terrific “Atlantis,” one of my all-time favorite Donovan songs), “Barabajagal” with the Jeff Beck Group and “Happiness Runs. This collection includes four tracks previously unreleased on CD in the United States -- thus the need to add this to your collection, if you already have the more complete box set. They are: “The Land of Doesn’t Have to Be” in early mono version; “Sunny Goodge Street” and “Sand and Foam,” both recorded Nov. 17, 1967 at the Anaheim Convention Center; and “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” from the Japan-only release, “Live in Japan -- Spring Tour 1973.” Grade: A+

Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (Columbia CD, 51:45).
Usually, a new Springsteen album is an event for me, but this one never really clicked with me. Heck, there’s even female rap on one track (“Rocky Ground” featuring Michelle Moore), which seems totally out of place. It seems a deliberate attempt to modernize his sound, while the lyrics convey a lot of anger. The album literally opens with a thump, as “We Take Care of Our Own” is more of a sing-along. ‘Easy Money” goes for a down-home country style, while the better “Shackled and Drawn,” about the lack of jobs, is more folkish. It is a highlight. After the slower, stripped down “Jack of All Trades,” the break of which sounds almost funereal with its horn, comes the album’s best  track, “Death to My Hometown,” a bit Irish, a lot like a call to war and against the robber barons. Things turn grim on “This Depression” and the title track does not double its speed until the first break. The album closes with two of the better tracks: “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which opens with Moore singing in front of a gospel choir and later adds some BIG guitars (it seems an update of the folk song “This Train”); and “We Are Alive,” which has a bit of a Mexican flavor. The late Clarence Clemons sax solos appear on the title track and “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Grade: B

One Direction: Up All Night (SYCO/Columbia CD, 45:19).
This album by the current boy band sensation suffers from too much sameness in the sound, which overall is relentlessly punchy. Give me Big Time Rush any day. And that is what the opening “What Makes You Beautiful” turns to in sound, after an initial Beatles beat. “Gotta Be You” is a string-drenched ballad, but the better ballad is the nice “More Than This.” The two songs I like best are “One Thing,” with its nice opening verse, although the chorus is a bit overblown, and the likable “Save You Tonight” with its catchy chorus. “I Want” seems very Queen-like, even to its guitar, but it has a very blanc chorus. The album ends with “Stole My Heart,” which is like “Save You Tonight,” but sweeter. Grade: C+

Ian Hunter Band featuring Mick Ronson: Live at Rockpalast (MIG DVD, 74 min.).
This concert DVD was recorded April 19 and 20, 1980 during performances on the German TV show. Ronson, who also gained fame by playing with David Bowie, opens the show with the instrumental “FBI. Hunter had led Mott the Hoople and they perform that band’s hits “Angeline,” “All the Way from Memphis,” “I Wish I Were Your Mother” and “All the Young Dudes” (which Bowie wrote for the band). From Hunter’s solo career come “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “Cleveland Rocks.” There even is a cover of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me.” Hunter plays piano on “Irene Wilde” (the love story of a 16-year-old girl) and the rocker “Just Another Night” (about spending night in an Indianapolis jail). They also perform the then-new rocker “We Gotta Get Out of Here.” Grade: A-

Roy Buchanan: Live at Rockpalast (MIG DVD, 76 min.).
This is a Feb. 24, 1985 show by the extraordinary guitarist (Rolling Stone lists him at number 57 of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time). Buchanan, who was born in Ozark, Ark., was a pioneer of the Fender Telecaster sound. The set opens with the showy “Thing in G (Short Fuse),” which is very impressive. Covers here include Booker T. Jones’ “Green Onions,” with organ; “Hey Joe,” which Jimi Hendrix made famous; Hendrix’s own “Foxy Lady”; and Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams.” On “Roy’s Blues,” he sings about “going to the graveyard” to see “my baby one more time.” Grade: A

Public Image Limited: Live at Rockpalast (MIG DVD, 72 min.).
PIL was the band former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten created to carry on his musical career under his real name of John Lydon. He and the band created a solid rock sound with spacey keyboards and, of course, Lydon’s own unique voice. It proved surprisingly danceable at times. I was lucky enough to see them open for New Order once. For this Halloween 1983 performance six years into the band’s career, only Lydon and drummer Martin Atkins were left from the band that recorded the first three classic albums. Songs from that period include “Public Image” (it both opens and closes the show), “Chant” and “Under the House.” They also cover the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK.” Other songs provide a preview of the 1984 album “This Is What You Want … This Is What You Get,” including their soon-to-be smash hit “(This Is Not a) Love Song.” Grade: A-

Also just released in the same series is “Michael Schenker Group: Rockpalast” (MIG DVD, 64 min.). Guitarist Shenker first found fame with the German band Scorpions and then UFO, but left the latter to form his own group, which is captured live Jan. 24, 1981 at the Markthalle in Hamburg, Germany. This night, the band performs almost all of its debut album (and almost in the same running order). They also cover two UFO songs, “Doctor Doctor” and “Rock Bottom.” The other release is “Charlie Daniels Band: Live at Rockpalast” (MIG DVD, 76 min.). Here, Daniels and band -- a lineup of two drum sets, bass, keyboard and two guitars -- plays all its greatest hits, including “Legend of Wooley Swamp,” “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again. The show closes with an 8:45-long version of “Orange Blossom Special. The show was recorded Nov. 28, 1980 at Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany.

Strange Fruit: The Beatles’ Apple Records (Chrome Dreams DVD, 162 min.). This documentary could have been a lot better, but since it was not sanctioned by the Beatles, we have none of their input. Even key Apple artists like James Taylor and Mary Hopkins (the smash hit “Those Were the Days”) are missing. However, the subject matter is fascinating. Apple Records was founded in 1968, the year after the Beatles stopped touring and create the “Sgt. Pepper” album. One of the driving forces behind it was the idea of investing in a business rather than paying the very large British tax bill. Paul McCartney named it Apple Corps Ltd. and said music publishing should be part of it. Also part of the original plan were record stores and boutiques. The first Beatles project was the TV film “Magical Mystery Tour,” which bombed.

Jackie Lomax was one of the first musicians signed and he is interviewed extensively, as is Ron Griffiths of The Iveys. Of course, The Iveys’ real fame came when Joey Molland (also interviewed here) joined the band and they became Badfinger, recording McCartney’s “Come and Get It” for their first big hit. Taylor was brought in by A&R head Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon fame), but he soon quit and took Taylor with him. Taylor then signed with Warner Bros. and started his huge career. Beatle George Harrison signed Billy Preston, who had played on the last couple of Beatles albums, but he never became the star he should have. Two hours into this lengthy documentary marks the arrival of Yoko Ono (John Lennon’s wife) and her first two albums. Street musician David Peel (“The Pope Smokes Dope” has his album) and members of Elephant’s Memory (they backed Lennon and Ono on the “Sometime in New York City” album) also are interviewed. The record label, however, basically ended when Bad finger’s “Ass” has released in 1973, and Apple Corps Ltd. bit the dust in 1975.

Overall, the interviews could have been stronger, but the subject matter covers over a lot of the faults. Non-musicians interviewed include Beatles expert Chris Ingham, author and journalist Mark Paytress and Apple biographer Stefan Granados. There is a bonus interview with Stephen Friedland, a member of the Tokens who, as Brute Force, recorded a satirical song that immediately got banned. Grade: B

James Horner: Music from the Motion Picture Titanic, Anniversary Edition (Masterworks/Sony Classical, 2 CDs).
The first disc is the soundtrack remastered, featuring Celine Dion’s massive hit, “My Heart Will Go On.” The second disc, previously unreleased, is music by I Solonisti, playing music of the day. I Solonisti was the five-piece quintet that appeared in the film as the ocean liner’s house band. The collection is reissued due to director James Cameron’s re-release of the film in 3D, which ties in with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage. The CD booklet has new liner notes and previously unseen photos, and there are four vintage Titanic luggage stickers. There also is a Collector’s Anniversary Edition with two more discs, making the total four. They include the “Back to Titanic” soundtrack and “Popular Music from the Titanic Era,” a new compilation of songs from the early 1900s. Grade: A

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