Reloaded: Joe Walsh and Jimmy Cliff
Owls Head — Joe Walsh: Analog Man (Fantasy CD, 47:04). Walsh always has been one of my favorite guitarists, going back to the “Rocky Mountain Way” in 1973 and even James Gang days before that ... and look what he did to invigorate the Eagles on “Hotel California.” Amazingly, this solo effort by the 64-year-old is his first in two decades. The album is co-produced by his good friend Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra), who also plays four instruments and sings backup. Four songs are co-written with noted country songwriter Tommy Lee James.
The album opens with the wonderful title song, which is quick evidence that Walsh has retained his sense of humor. It begins: “Welcome to cyber-space, I’m lost in a fog/Everything digital -- I’m still analog/When something goes wrong I don’t have a clue/Some 120-year-old smart-a** has to show me what to do.” The following “Wrecking Ball” -- based on hanging out with the late Keith Moon of The Who and learning how to destroy a hotel room -- has a surprisingly uplifting chorus, even as it is “dedicated to everybody on probation.” Walsh’s brother-in-law, Ringo Starr on Beatles fame, plays drums on “Lucky That Way,” which is sort of a sequel to his 1978 solo hit, “Life’s Been Good,” a send-up of rock stardom. This time, though, Walsh is singing about a contented life, rather than a wild one. The track features pedal steel guitar by Jay Dee Maness and Greg Leisz.
“Spanish Dancer” is a nice song that has a rocking middle, which originally belonged to another song he had been working on. Lynne suggested the two pieces merge. Joe Vitale plays sitar and Ringo is back on drums for “Band Played On,” which asks is America is going down like the Titanic. Vitale, Walsh’s classmate at Kent State, performed with Walsh’s post-James Gang band Barnstorm as well as with Walsh for many years, and also joined Crosby, Stills & Nash’s band. Walsh wrote the string arrangement on the quiet “Family,” which features supporting vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash. “One Day at a Time” is based on Alcoholics Anonymous and is about staying grounded in the present. It is nicely played and sung. An earlier version exists on the Eagles’ “Live in Melbourne” DVD. The rocking “Hi-Roller Baby” was written by Tim Armstrong of Rancid and features Armstrong on guitar. “Funk 50” is one of Walsh’s fun songs and is based on a one-minute instrumental he wrote for ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” show. Closing the album proper, Walsh dips into electronica for the opening of the instrumental “India.”
I suggest buying the deluxe version, which includes two bonus tracks and a 17-minute DVD. The first bonus song, “Fishbone,” is actually based on the time his wife got a fishbone stuck in her throat at a diner party in Monte Carlo and they had to fly home to Los Angeles to have it removed. The other is “But I Try,” an old recording of the James Gang jamming with Little Richard, who handles the vocals and piano. The DVD includes performances of “Analog Man,” “Wrecking Ball” and “Lucky That Way,” recorded at the Troubadour, where Walsh also is interviewed among the songs and album. Lynne joins him onstage for the first two. Grade A
Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth (UMe CD, 46:14). Tim Armstrong of Rancid also is associated with this album, as both producer and guitarist. It is reggae legend Cliff’s first studio album in eight years and he goes back to his Jamaican roots. (Cliff, of course, rose to international fame with the music for the 1972 film “The Harder They Come,” including “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers To Cross” and the title song. He also acted in the film.) The new album includes 11 originals and two covers.
“World Upside Down” is about the differences between the haves and the have-nots (“too much injustice/how can there be peace’). A more urgent beat and horns lift “One More,” as in “one more song I must sing.” Organ and a soft vocal open “Cry No More,” which features a rawer chorus vocal as he repeats the title, playing with the word “cry.” The following “Bang” is more urban rock, with some strings later and then a rocking guitar solo. A sample lyric goes: “They say the universe came in with a bang.” The first of the two covers is a wonderful version of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” (you should recall that The Clash more than dipped their sound into reggae), while later on he covers Rancid’s 1995 song “Ruby Soho.” There is bright fun in “Reggae Music,” and the outstanding “Rebel Rebel” features more play in Cliff’s vocal. The album ends with the fine pop song, “Ship Is Sailing,” and an alternate version of “One More” that I actually prefer. Grade: A-
Asia: XXX (Frontier CD, 60:18, plus DVD, 20 min.). Asia’s brilliant first album was a top-seller around the world in 1982 (and I was privileged to see them perform in Boston during their first tour). The title of the new album references that it has been 30 years, and it also is the third album since the original band reformed in 2006. The progressive music supergroup includes guitarist Steve Howe of Yes, drummer Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, bassist/vocalist John Wetton (his voice is still strong, despite his having triple bypass surgery five years ago) of King Crimson, U.K. and others, and keyboardist Geoff Downes of The Buggles and Yes. Seven of the 10 songs are written by Wetton and Downes.
The album actually starts with a weaker song, “Tomorrow the World,” which is done in by its lyrics, but then comes the melodic “Bury Me in Willow” and the rocking “No Religion,” and the album is on course. Howe also had a hand in writing “No Religion.” “Faithful” is a ballad, while “I Know How You Feel” has a floaty quality to its chorus vocals. “Face on the Bridge” is another rocker that launches a trio of terrific songs. There is nice call and response chorus, as well as percussion, on the swinging “Al Gatto Nero,” and the Howe co-written rocker “Judas” (“you put a knife in me”) has soaring backing vocals. The excellent “Ghost of a Chance,” featuring a fine guitar solo as the backing builds in intensity, is surrounded by two bonus tracks. “Reno (Silver and Gold),” written by Howe and Wetton, is melodic, with nicely layered vocals as it goes to an a cappella ending. The other bonus track is a Midnight Mix of “I Know How You Feel.”
As usual, there is a terrific Roger Dean cover, this time featuring a dragon. The DVD includes a making-of-the-album segment, in which the band members discuss songwriting, still being together and their future (and Wetton points out that all the songs end with hope), as well as the music videos for “Face on the Bridge” and “Faithful.” Grade: B+
Bachman & Turner: Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 94 min.). BTO (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) may be no more, but Randy Bachman and Fred Turner are still performing together, and obviously very happy to be doing so in this wonderful, often joyous, filmed concert. The music is great from the get-go, with Turner singing “Let It Ride” and Bachman turning in a nice guitar solo. It was one of BTO’s biggest hits, along with “Roll On Down the Highway,” the penultimate song of this evening. “Lookin’ Out For #1” is softer here than I remember, but it is followed by the rock boogie of “Stayed Awake All Night” (Bachman uses a drum stick to play his guitar). That leads into “American Woman,” Bachman’s huge hit when he was with the Guess Who. I really enjoyed the quieter, more Santana-like “Blue Collar,” a lengthy instrumental. Five songs are from their eponymous 2010 album, including “Rollin’ Along,” about the struggles of a band, and the Steely Dan-ish “That‘s What It is.” In introducing the mega-hit “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (one of the all-time great stutter songs, along with The Who’s “My Generation”), Bachman says the song “was never supposed to be on an album.” (An interesting note is it was this song that inspired author Stephen King to chose the pen name Richard Bachman for some of his novels.
Pianist Paul Shaffer, probably most famous for leading David Letterman’s TV band since 1982, joins on piano for the final three songs, including a cover of “Shakin’ All Over,” “Roll On Down the Highway” and “Takin’ Care of Business,” BTO’s other massive hit. The Blu-ray video is very good and the sound is simply outstanding. Bachman and Turner reunited in 2010, after both had lost considerable weight -- 140 pounds for Bachman and 122 for Turner. BTO had performed from 1973 to 1977, then from 1983 to 1991 with Bachman, and thereafter without. Grade: A
Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia CD, 41:57). The former guitarist/songwriter of The White Stripes has finally issued a proper, credited solo album, backed mostly by female musicians. It is one of those albums that yields different delights and treasures on each hearing. In fact, White seems to go for a different sound, especially with his guitars, on each song. The highlights here are many and include the opening “Missing Pieces,” with nice quiet spaces between the verses and a fine guitar solo, and the 1970s-ish “Sixteen Saltines,: with its big guitar chords opening. The acoustic “Love Interruption” is the other breakout song, with backing vocals by Ghana-born Ruby Amanfu. it’s sample lines go: “I want love to walk right up and bite me/Grab a hold of me and fight me/Leave me dying on the ground.”
The title song actually is country soul, while “Weep Themselves to Sleep” is a piano-led rocker with weird lyrics, Next is a cover of Little Willie John’s 1960 R&B classic “I’m Shakin’.” Later, there is a British folk feel to “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and wonderful fuzz guitar on the closing “Take Me With You When You Go.” Grade: A
The Raconteurs: Live at Montreux 2008 (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 90 min.). Singer/guitarist/songwriter Jack White of The White Stripes created The Raconteurs, based out of Nashville, with his friend, guitarist/songwriter/solo artist Brendan Benson, after they wrote “Steady, As She Goes” together in Detroit in 2005. Brought in as the rhythm section were Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence, both of The Greenhornes. The show opens with two rockers (“Hold Up” seems a bit redundant), then White moves to piano for the softer “You Don’t Understand Me,” which turns hard in its second half. White turns to acoustic guitar for “Top Yourself,” and a fiddle is featured on “Old Enough,” which is sung by Benson initially and then by the two together. All three songs are concert highlights.
Covers include Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean” and Terry Reid’s “Rich Kid Blues,” written for Marianne Faithful in 1984, but not released until her 1998 album. (Jimmy Page once asked Reid to become the singer for the New Yardbirds, who evolved into Led Zeppelin, but Reid was committed to open for Cream in the United States and he suggested Page try Robert Plant instead.) After a fine “Intimate Secretary,” with White using a device to alter his voice, the concert enters a really hot section with the rocker “Level, the bouncy “Steady, As She Goes” (with nice call and response guitars opening), the Benson-sung “The Switch and the Spur,” “Rich Kid Blues” (it starts with a soft Benson vocal, the turns very Who-ish) and the bluesier “Blue Veins,” which really rocks by its ending. The four-song encore is highlighted by “Many Shades of Black,” and also features the hard rock of “Broken Boy Soldier” and the punkish “Salute Your Solution.” Again, the Blu-ray version looks and sounds terrific -- you feel like you are sitting in the audience. Grade: A
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live at Berkeley (Experience Hendrix/Legacy CD, 67:34). Hendrix and his manager re-assembled the Experience after his work with Band of Gypsies, but Hendrix was still estranged from Noel Redding and brought Billy Cox from Band of Gypsies to join him and original Mitch Mitchell in the trio. Any Hendrix show is great, but there are some true peaks here, including “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), then new, and “Lover Man,” a favorite of Hendrix’s live repertoire (Hendrix ends the song by grinding his guitar against the microphone stand). He immediately launches into “Stone Free,” dating back to the group’s early days in 1966 (this show, the second of the night, was recorded May 30, 1970). The marvelous music continues with “Hey Joe,” albeit a slower, blues-based tempo that he had not previously used (there is a momentary bit of amplifier interference). Hendrix’s playing is searing on “I Don’t Live Today,” with sustain and tremolo bends. The show also includes an 11:22 version of the brooding “Machine Gun” (dedicated to all the soldiers fighting in both Berkeley and Vietnam) and a 10:49 version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” featuring a loose vamp of the in-progress “Keep On Grooving’” at its end. This closer followed versions of “Star Spangled Banner” and “Purple Haze.” The booklet has solid notes and some nice photos. Grade: A
Jimi Plays Berkeley (Experience Hendrix/Legacy, Blu-ray or standard DVD, 55 min.). This historic documentary film chronicles both shows from May 30, 1970 at the Berkeley Community Theatre. The current release is made from a new, digitally-restored transfer from the original 16mm negative and incorporates more than 15 minutes of previously unseen documentary and performance footage, including the songs “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Machine Gun” and “Hear My Train a Comin’.” While some of the documentary footage, like a group protesting outside a movie theater showing the film “Woodstock,” seems extraneous, the music segments are solid and look surprisingly good. The film features a 5.1 surround stereo soundtrack, mixed by original Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer and commentary by Abe Jacob, the audio engineer who recorded the concerts. A wonderful bonus is an audio-only presentation of the complete second show (see above CD), but also mixed in 5.1 surround sound. Grade: A-
Small Faces: Small Faces deluxe edition (Decca/Universal/UMe, 2 CDs, 80:06). These are exciting days for updated reissues of classic albums. In the next music column I will be covering all of the Blur reissues and, on the horizon, is a highly-anticipated six-disc version of “The Velvet Underground and Nico.” For now, I am looking at reissues of two of the three Small Faces albums. Originally released in May 1966 (about the time I was graduating from high school), this album introduced the lineup of vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott (future Humble Pie, with Peter Frampton), keyboardist Ian “Mac” McLagan, drummer Kenney Jones (future The Who) and bassist Ronnie Lane, all Cockney (or close) teens. (After Marriott quite the band in 1966, Lane, McLagan and Jones formed Faces with singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood -- later a Rolling Stone. I got to see them perform at Northwestern University in the early 1970s.) Jones and McLagan have overseen and approved these new, definitive editions, including the remastering and artwork. All related non-album singles and alternate versions of the album session recordings -- many previously unreleased or released for the first time on CD -- have been added. The booklets include rare photos, memorabilia and liner notes by Mark Paytress, including interviews with surviving members McLagan and Jones.
The album opens with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and includes the hits “Sha La La La Lee” and “What’Cha Gonna Do About It.” Another cover is Willie Dixon’s (by way of Muddy Waters) “You Need Loving,” the ending of which seems to have inspired Robert Plant’s performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969! Overall, the sound is a bit raw, as the quartet does its take on American R&B. Listen to Marriott on the James Brown-like “Don’t Stop What You’re Doing.” There also is Who-ish guitar and drums on “E Too D.” Disc one has four bonus tracks, including the rocker “I’ve Got Mine” and the more soulful “What’s the Matter Baby.” Disc two consists of alternate takes (some mono, some electronically processed stereo. Grade: B+
Small Faces: From the Beginning deluxe edition (Decca/Universal/UMe, 2 CDs, 83:14). This hodge-podge of an album was issued by their recently fired manager Don Arden. It is a collection of A-sides, first album outtakes and four works in progress. Included are the top three hit “Sha La La La Lee” and the chart-topping “All or Nothing.” “Baby Don’t You Do It” is guitar-heavy, while there is a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” with singer Steve Marriott at his most soulful. The five bonus tracks on disc one include the instrumental “Almost Grown.” Disc two again features alternate mixes or different versions. Grade: B+
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, original soundtrack (Sony Classical CD, 45:42). The fictional film of the U.S. president (he learns his mother was killed by a supernatural creature at age 11 and later vows to stop the vampires from overtaking the country, axe in hand) features music composed by Henry Jackman (“Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class”). The score combines orchestral and electronic sounds, but curiously goes for no period music sounds. There are high-energy tracks like “All Slave to Something,” soaring ones like “Emancipation,” stirring ones like “Battle at Gettysburg” and dramatic ones like “The Burning Bridge.” Grade: B+
Maurice Jarre: Lawrence of Arabia, world premiere recording of the complete score (Silva Screen CD, 77:22). This is both an important recording and another wonderful one by the Nic Raine-led City of Prague Philharmoinic Orchestra. Jarre’s score for the classic David Lean film has one of the most memorable melodies in film music history. Jarre was a virtual unknown when he composed the score 50 years ago, but he soon earned the first of his three Oscars for the majestic work. The score incorporated both Western and Eastern melodic ideas. Here, Raine uses the original 1962 orchestrations by Gerard Schurmann. The booklet has detailed notes on each track by film historian Frank K. DeWald. Grade: A