When old was new: Dylan, Hendrix, The Clash

By Tom Von Malder | Dec 06, 2019
Photo by: Columbia/Legacy Recordings The cover of the latest Bob Dylan official bootleg collection.

Owls Head — Bob Dylan: Travelin’ Thru – The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 1967-1969 (Columbia/Legacy, 3 CDs, 134 min.). Smaller than the usual official bootleg editions, the latest installment in the series covers Dylan’s journey to Nashville between 1967 and 1970. The release includes recordings from the “John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline” and Self Portrait” sessions. This time there are at most two versions of in-studio tries at a song, and usually only one, as Dylan had more of a sense of what he wanted, and that was usually a very stripped-down sound. Also, many of the original tapes were lost in a fire or have been misplaced. These mostly never-before-heard recordings include his collaboration with Johnny Cash, with 25 previously unreleased tracks featuring Dylan and Cash in the studio.

Highlights include takes on several of Cash’s hits, including “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” covers of Jimmie Rodgers and Carl Perkins, including “Matchbox,” with Perkins himself on guitar, and a unique medley of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and Cash’s “Understand Your Man,” both written to the same melody. They also cover Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama,” again with Perkins on guitar; Perkins plays on seven tracks in all. Only their duet on “Girl from North County” made Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” album. The recordings give a peek into Cash and Dylan trying to remember lyrics, such as on “Five Feet High and Rising.” Another cover is “Mystery Train,” fused with “This Train is Bound for Glory.”

A month after “Nashville Skyline” was released, Dylan made his first live TV appearance in five years on “The Johnny Cash Show.” That performance is included here, with ­ “I Threw It All Away,” “Living the Blues” and “Girl, from North County” -- as are two Cash covers, “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” recorded during the sessions for “Self Portrait.

This box set closes with a 1970 collaboration between Dylan and famed banjo player Earl Scruggs, plus Scruggs’ two sons, Randy and Gary, respectively on guitar and bass. Recorded in upstate New York for a PBS special on Scruggs, this informal session features renditions of Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline Rag” and others. Two of the Scruggs collaborations have previously been released.

The 56-page booklet includes a remembrance by Rosanne Cash, who was 13 when she watched her father work with Dylan. There also is a lengthy historical essay by Colin Escott and many wonderful vintage photographs. Grade: set A

Jimi Hendrix: Songs for Groovy Children – The Fillmore East Concerts (Experience Hendrix/Legacy, 5 CDs, 315 min.). This hardcover box set contains four concerts by the then new Band of Gypsys, which consisted of Hendrix on guitar and vocals, Buddy Miles on drums and vocals and Billy Cox on bass and backing vocals. The concerts are the first and second sets on Dec. 31, 1969, and the first and second sets on Jan. 1, 1970. Of the 43 tracks, more than two dozen have either never before been released commercially or have been newly pressed and newly remixed.

These concerts marked a critical turning point in Hendrix’s career, marking the first public performances by the new group, whose debut eponymous album featured six songs from the Jan. 1 shows, including “Machine Gun,” one of the new songs created for the band, as were “Power of Soul” and “Burning Desire.” Mills had been a founding member of the Electric Flag in 1967. Cox, whom Hendrix has befriended when both were serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in 1962, had originally backed Hendrix at Woodstock, part of the then called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows backing band. Band of Gypsys only lasted a few weeks; it was finished by the end of January.

The trio went from the slow blues of “Hear My Train a Comin’” to newly-written “Earth Blues” and “Stepping Stone.” Miles is vocally featured on his own “Changes,” while both he and Hendrix sing “Stop.” For “Ezy Ryder” (13:39), the pair kind of make up the lyrics as they go along. Miles does a bit of a drum solo on “Fire,” and then a legitimate drum solo on the lengthy (17:21) “Stone Free.” For a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” Hendrix does it in similar style to his take on the “Star Spangled Banner” that so electrified at Woodstock. In addition to the new material, the band played Experience favorites “Foxey Lady,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Wild Thing,” “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze.”

The set comes with a 40-page booklet, filled with unseen photos by Fillmore East house photographer Amalie Rothschild, Jan Blom (his color-saturated images provided the artwork for 1970’s “Band of Gypsys” album) and Marshall Amplifier representative Marc Franklin, who had full access to the backstage dressing room. There also is a remembrance by bassist Cox, plus liner notes by author/journalist/filmmaker Nelson George. The music was remastered by Grammy-winning engineer Bernie Grundman. By the way, tickets for orchestra seats to the shows were only $6. A vinyl release of the set is due Dec. 13. Grade: set A+

The Clash: London Calling Scrapbook (1979, Columbia CD, 65 min., + book, 120 pages). Forty years ago, on Dec. 14 in Great Britain and in January 1980 in the United States, The Clash released this, their third album, a true classic. The music was brilliant, from the opening rocker title track to the closing change of pace, “Train in Vain.” Other standout tracks include “Clampdown,” “The Guns of Brixton,” “Death or Glory” and “Lover’s Rock.” The original release was a double-vinyl set.

The 19-track album, remastered by Tim Young and The Clash in 2013, comes inside a 120-page hardcover companion book that contains hand-written lyrics, notes, photos and previously unseen material from the period in which the record was made. The latter includes set lists, fan mail, press clippings and other writings.

According to Beatrice Behlen, senior curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London, “’London Calling’ is The Clash’s defining album, a rallying call for Londoners and people around the world. The album’s lyrics reflected contemporary concerns, many of which are still relevant today, as it moved away from traditional punk by adopting and reworking much wider musical influences.”

The Clash was formed in West London in 1976. The classic lineup consisted of Joe Strummer on vocals and guitar, Mick Jones on vocals and guitar, Nick Topper Headon on drums and Paul Simonon on bass. They issued five albums, including this double and the “Sandinista” triple, between 1979 and 1982.

Through spring 2020, there is a Museum of London free exhibition of more than 100 items from the band’s archive. Grade: album A+, scrapbook A-

Sarah Brightman: Hymn: Sarah Brightman in Concert (Eagle Vision, Blu-Ray or DVD, 97 min., + CD). Brightman, the world’s best-selling soprano, presented this concert at the Festspielhaus in the Bavarian Alps. The two-part presentation was conceived and created by Brightman, Anthony Van Laast (“Mamma Mia,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and Frank Peterson (former Enigma producer and Brightman’s producer since 1992). The first part, dubbed “The Opera,” is a filmed piece, while the second half is a concert before an adoring audience. Brightman is accompanied by her band, the Bavarian Philharmonic Orchestra, a 50-voice choir and the Ludwig Ensemble of dancers. There also are several guest singers for duets.

Brightman is known for her three-octave range and for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement. After beginning her career as a dancer, she issued several disco singles – Brightman is the only artist to have simultaneously topped Billboard’s dance and classical music charts – and then became a star in London West End musicals, including “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” both by Andrew Lloyd Webber, whom she married (1984-1990). She has earned more than 180 gold and platinum awards in more than 40 countries. The soundtrack to “The Phantom of the Opera,” featuring her as Christine Daae, a role she originated, has sold more than 40 million copies.

Most of the songs from “Hymn,” her 15th studio album, which debuted at No. 1 on both the Classical and Classical Crossover Billboard charts when released in November 2018, appear in this presentation. The Blu-ray and DVD contain 25 tracks – three of which are instrumental – while the accompanying CD is pared down to 15 tracks.

Highlights of the film portion, in which Brightman changes costumes and tiaras at least five times, include “Fleurs  Du Mal,” “Stranger in Paradise” (several of the dancers are holding candelabras as they follow her), “Carpe Diem” with guest singer Mario Frangoulis, “Anytime Anywhere,” and “Beautiful” and “Follow Me,” both of which utilize a pool setting. She performs Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever,” including keeping the rock ending and having the “fog” machine form what appear to be clouds. At the end of the filmed portion, she is joined by Japanese pianist Yoshiki for “Miracle,” one of several songs from the album “Hymn.”

In the portion with a live audience, she uses the big choir on the pop-rock of Better is One Day.” Singer Vincent Niclo joins her for both “Sogni” and “There for Me,” the latter being a song that she originally worked on in the 1970s, but abandoned and forgot. Narcis, whose contribution seems negligible, joins Brightman for “Pie Jesu” from Webber’s “Requiem,” before the brand new “Fly to Paradise” rocks out and features a rain of light at its end. Brightman plays piano on “Time to Say Goodbye,” performed with English lyrics as a rock ballad. She wrote the lyrics 20 years ago. To end the concert, she performs Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” with Frangoulis and the new “Sky and Sand.”

The Blu-ray includes 50 minutes of bonus material, including a dialogue-free behind-the-scenes look that includes rehearsals (14:26). There also is a look at the “Hymn” album’s production, including a photo session and interview with Peterson (7 min.); a photo slide show (3:18); and a very good, very informative interview with Brightman and Peterson as they go over the “Hymn” album track by track (24:35). Grade: A

Toto: 40 Tours Around the Sun (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or DVD, 164 min.). This is the film version of the concert previously reviewed here as a double-CD on Sept. 20. In addition to the 25 songs, this release includes a featurette on the tour. Below is my review of the CD version:

Toto has been touring the globe during 2018-19 in celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary. This live set was recorded March 17, 2018 in front of 18,000 fans at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. The 25-song set list includes the band’s hits, rarely performed live deep cuts and the two new tracks they recorded on their new greatest hits album, “40 Trips Around the Sun.”

The core of the band throughout those 40 years have been vocalist-guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardist-vocalist David Paich and keyboardist Steve Porcaro, joined here by longtime vocalist Joseph Williams and touring members percussionist Lenny Castro and saxophonist Warren Ham, both with the band since the beginning, drummer Shannon Forrest and new bassist Shem Von Schroeck. The band lost founding member Jeff Porcaro to a heart attack in 1992.

The show opens with the band’s newest song, “Alone,” followed by the hit, “Hold the Line” from their 1978 debut album. Not long after, they play “Spanish Sea,” the band’s new single which has echoes of their huge hit “Africa” in its opening. Several songs last about the 7-minute mark, including solid versions of the mid-tempo “I Will Remember” and the rocking “English Eyes,” both highlights. “Lea” is bolstered by its layered vocals.

Mid-concert there is a mini acoustic set that features some rarities: “Human Nature,” which Steve Porcaro originally wrote and the band recorded as a demo that Michael Jackson’s producer, Quincy Jones, heard and grabbed for Jackson, who had the Top 10 hit version; and first-time-live versions of “Holyanna” and “No Love,” the latter now that the band has Ham to play harmonica. Later in the concert, both “Mushanga” and “Stop Loving You” are played from “The Seventh One” album. Also being played on this tour live for the first time is “Lion,” which features two Lukather guitar solos. There also are two instrumentals: “Jake to the Bone” and, my favorite, “Dune (Desert Theme).”

Two of the band’s biggest hits get the big treatment, with a rocking, 8-minute version of “Rosanna” and an 11-minute version of “Africa” that includes a drum solo, solos by Castro and Ham and a crowd sing-along. Grade: A

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