Thursday, December 22, 2011

John Denver - "Christmas in Concert"

In celebration of Christmas, which is this Sunday, I am breaking my usual alphabetical routine to write a Christmas post.

As you may remember John Denver is one of my all time favorites, his "Rocky Mountain Christmas" album is in a tie (with Carpenters "Christmas Portrait") for my favorite holiday album.

This album, "Christmas in Concert," is actually a recent gift from my parents. It was recorded in Washington DC on December 19 & 20, 1996. Denver would sadly pass away less than a year later in October 1997 in a plane crash. And this album was not released until 2001.

This concert showcases Denver with the World Children's Choir (led by Sandra Harness) and The National Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Richard Kaufman). The majority of the songs were featured on Denver's three holiday albums "Rocky Mountain Christmas," "Christmas Together (with The Muppets)" and "Christmas Like a Lullaby."

John Denver is his wonderful charming, goofy, and funny self. Interacting with the children and audience with ease, telling funny stories and anecdotes. His voice is also in top form with that gleeful laugh of his. The song choice is strong with a nice balance of familiar holiday songs, "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night" and songs that Denver made popular, "Christmas for Cowboys" and the wonderful "A Baby Just Like You." There are also some less familiar songs that appeared on Denver's Christmas albums, "Alfie, The Christmas Tree." The show closes with the little known Denver gem "Falling Leaves (The Refugees)" which has become an unintentional Christmas song. There is also a mini set of "Country Roads," "Annie's Song" and "Calypso" at the end of the disc.

This album is a wonderful addition to the Christmas catalogue of holiday records and a perfect companion to Denver's "Rocky Mountain Christmas" album. There is a short booklet in the liner notes, for the most part the sound is good, sometimes it does not seem mixed real well but by and large it sounds good. John Denver is one of those musicians that was so suited to the Holiday Season with his warm appeal and Colorado lifestyle. Thank you John for the Christmas gift.

"Merry Christmas EVERYONE!!!!!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Billy Joel - "Turnstiles"

"Turnstiles may not have been a hit, but it remains one of his most accomplished and satisfying records, clearly paving the way to his twin peaks of the late '70s, The Stranger and 52nd Street." - All Music Guide

In my opinion this is Billy Joel's finest album and like the quote above says it may not have been a huge hit but it is an immensely satisfying record with many of the songs becoming fan favorites. After recording his first three records in California, Joel decided to return to the greatest city in the world his hometown area of New York City. Joel's song writing abilities were at their peak at this point (he also sustained his abilities for over a decade) and he uses the album not only a vehicle for himself but also as something of tribute to his idols.

The opening track "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" is a tribute to Phil Spector (even borrowing the drum beat from "Be My Baby") and the pop styles of the early 60s. "All you Wanna Do is Dance" and "James" are Paul McCartney styles the former a caribbean influenced number. "New York State of Mind," one of the best love songs to the city, is Ray Charles. "Prelude/Angry Young Man" has echoes of The Who's rock orchestras (and also influenced John Mellecamp's "I Need a Lover" as well as McCartney's "Rockestra Theme"). The Sci-Fi album closer "Miami 2017" is a Broadway style show stopper. Yet despite all the tribute being paid Joel never ceases to make the songs completely his, sure they are inspired by other musicians but they are purely Billy Joel songs.

Then there are two of Joel's finest songs "Summer, Highland Falls" and "I've Love These Days." Critics have often harped on Joel about his lyrics but with lines like, "They Say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known," will easily silence those nay-sayers. These two are pure Joel. 

His melodic skills are on full display and the album is full with beautiful sonic landscapes and stories. These turnstiles are ones you will want to pass through again and again.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Billy Joel - "Piano Man"

Billy Joel is one of my all time favorite musicians, his "River of Dreams" album was the very first CD I ever owned. Joel is one of those artists that despite a massive amount of hits, great songs, awards, and huge fan base he is still not given the credit he really deserves (much like Sheryl Crow and Joel's idol Paul McCartney). Well all us Billy Joel fans know how great a musician he is and love him for it.

After listening to "River of Dreams" I went back into Joel's catalogue and started falling in love with his music. "Piano Man" was his second album and really the record that started his career. The autobiographical title track became Joel's signature song and he became know as The Piano Man.

Released in 1973 this album by and large takes a cue from other 1970s contemporaries by creating a series of characters and story style scenes, some of which Joel inhabits other times he is simply the narrator. His first album was firmly planted in the singer songwriter genre and this album employs some of those songwriter elements, "You're My Home" and "If I only Had the Words" but really he expands his sound into what would become Billy Joel trademarks. His excellent melody abilities are on massive display that make all the songs sound spectacular. He also employs Western/Cowboy theme through the album, such as the banjo hoedown of "Traveling Prayer," the "Magnificent Seven" style "Ballad of Billy the Kid" and the country tinged "Stop in Nevada."

Occasionally Joel sounds like Elton John, particularly on "Ain't no Crime," but by and large this is Billy Joel finding his musical voice and identity with three of his best songs, the title track, "Ballad of Billy the Kid" and the rocking album closer "Captain Jack."

This is one of his best albums even though it has a terrible and creepy cover that has nothing to do with the album. I almost did not put a picture up because the cover freaks me out. Billy Joel is one of the greatest pop/rock musicians of all time and this was his genesis.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jefferson Airplane - "Volunteers"

I just want to say first off, I am not a huge Jefferson Airplane fan (or Starship for that matter) but I do think they have a handful of good songs, particularly "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit." I have always been interested in the late 60s and 70s counter culture rock arena and I think one of the best Anti-Vietnam songs ever is "Volunteers."

Released in 1969 this is a great bookend to the tumultuous decade. The band is in full revolution mode thumbing its nose at  the White House, calling the 60s youth to arms, and trying to instill a sense of Woodstock style brotherhood.

Airplane has fashioned a concept album of sorts that embraces the communal hippie lifestyle and return to nature over the confusing climate of the United States at the time. The opening track pop anthem "We Can Be Together" is a call for universal brotherhood and the country tinged "The Farm" blatantly calls up the wonders of living in a farming community. There are also the folky "Good Shepherd" which is a wonderful church/folk style song. "Eskimo Blue Day" is another virtues of nature song in which Grace Slick's chorus announces, "The human name doesn't mean shit to a tree."

Airplane returns to their psychedelic sounds on the over long and slightly weird "Hey Frederick" as well as their version of Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Wooden Ships" which Airplane singer Paul Kanter wrote with Crosby and Stills (who both appear here as back up). Though the lyrics are exactly the same in both versions CSN's, which I prefer, definitely links the song to the (at the time never ending) Vietnam War; but Airplane's version is more discomforting and focuses more on the Science Fiction elements that were the original basis of the song. It paints a bleak future in which all the war of the present day has led to a lawless state where people live in Wooden Ships, interesting and scar at the same time.

The album ends with the aforementioned title track, with its pounding surging fierceness that gets stuck in your head no matter what. One of the best protest anthems (even though it started simply because a "Volunteers of America" garbage truck woke Marty Balin one morning).

All members of Jefferson Airplane really shine on this album Kanter, Slick and Balin with their strong vocals, Spencer Dryden on drums, and Jack Cassady on bass. The real star of the album is guitarist Jorma Kaukonen with his killer razor sharp guitar lines and his wonderful interaction with guest pianist Nicky Hopkins.

The 2004 reissue has some great sound and an excellent booklet which features an essay/interviews by Airplane aficionado Jeff Tamarkin; as well as five live performances ("Somebody to Love" and "Plastic Fantastic Lover" included) as bonus tracks.

This album really marked the end to many era's: this is Jefferson Airplane's last really well received album in a string of hits, both Dryden and Balin left the group after this album, released in 1969 it was the end of the 60s, and shortly after the album's release Airplane performed at the now tragic and infamous Altamont Rock Concert (where Balin was knocked out by the Hell's Angel's "security") which essential put an end to the prolific San Francisco music scene of the 60s and ended the Summer of Love for good.

"Volunteers" is one of those wonderful time capsule albums, sure some of the songs have dated badly, but when you play this album it really takes you back to 1969 when Musicians were less interested in hits and more interested with creating music and speaking with their audience at a time when everyone believed music could change the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Michael Jackson - "Dangerous"

The last stand of the king. In the progression of the king of pop persona this is where Jackson brought back the one glove except it was not a sequin one, it was similar to a white wrist brace that went about halfway up his forearm. His hair was now always long and curly and pulled back in a ponytail. The crotch grabbing dance moves started and his skin now had lost almost all of its pigment.

This is Michael Jackson's last album in a string of nearly flawless hits as king of pop. While he did release the "HIStory" album four years later and it was a multiplatinum smash with a number of hits (including "You are not Alone" the first ever single to debut at #1)  "HIStory" was really the end of his seemingly endless success and showed that his overwhelming fame was wearying him.

"Dangerous" is a better album than "HIStory." Jackson parted ways with Quincy Jones after his last album and has hooked up with producers Teddy Riley, Bruce Swedien and Bill Bottrell who are also Jackson's song writing collaborators throughout the album. "Dangerous" has a harder edge than any of his previous releases. Many of the songs took a rough street quality mixed it with hard rock (Slash guest stars on several songs) with a dash of Rap incorporated in a couple of the songs (by Heavy D and L.T.B. ) for good measure. There are a number of winning tracks on the album "Jam," "Why you Wanna Trip on Me," "Remember the Time" and "Gone Too Soon" (Jackson at his ballad best). Interestingly though with all the collaborations on this album the three best and best remembered songs are ones Jackson composed by himself: the excellent "Black or White," "Will you Be There" and the undeniably catchy "Heal the World."

There are flaws, it is over long with some really dull songs in there, the cover is interesting and strange all at the same time. Yet, one has to only look at the influence this album has had on current artists. At the time Jackson got a fair amount of flack for the Rap guest stars, yet every other pop song today has copied his model of having a popular Rapper rap in the middle of the song (Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, No Doubt are just a few examples).

Overall this is a very good album, that still went mulitiplatinum in the middle of the Grunge explosion, that is often overlooked in favor of his three previous albums. "Dangerous" is one of the first CDs I ever owned and it is a very strong piece of music; the last really excellent album of Michael Jackson's music career.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Michael Jackson - "Bad"

The king takes shape and claims his throne. "Thriller" was an extremely hard act to follow and Jackson did much better than most superstars do when they release follow ups to their classic albums. "Bad" broke countless records across the world, including being the first album EVER to rank 5 consecutive #1 singles, and is one of the best selling albums of all time.

This is where Jackson solidified his King of Pop persona, gone were the single glove and sequined jackets and in their place came a black biker style jacket. Also making its debut was the blank white undershirt and the open long sleeve collared shirt (usually blue) that allowed him to stand in front of wind machines and look very cool. He also grew his hair out and tied it in a pony tail and his skin got lighter. The "shomon" was introduced on this album and became a staple of Jackson's performance. This is also the last time he worked with super producer Quincy Jones.

"Bad" is really a harder edged version of "Thriller." Taking the hard rock stance and gritted teeth performance of "Beat It" and infusing it into, "Smooth Criminal," "Speed Demon," "Dirty Diana" and the title track. "Man in the Mirror" is this albums "Human Nature." "Leave me Alone," an autobiographical song, is akin to "Billie Jean." "Just Can't Stop Loving you" is something of a mix of "Baby Be Mine" and "P.Y.T." Basically Jackson took elements of "Thriller" and pumped them up to their breaking points.

While there is some filler on this album (whereas "Thriller" had none), "Liberian Girl," "Another Part of Me" and the Stevie Wonder duet "Just good Friends," it is expertly made filler that makes these three lesser songs seem better than they actually are.

Is this album as good as "Thriller" no it is not, but it is as close and Jackson could have got and by and large he succeeded in creating a master follow up to his master work album. "Bad" is definitely worthy of a King.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Michael Jackson - "Thriller"

The biggest selling album of all time, selling hundreds of millions of copies and still climbing. There was a time that I would listen to this album all the way through at least once a week.

There has been so much said and praised about Michael Jackson's "Thriller" that one wonders if it can really be as good as everyone says. In short it is as good as any great album ever released.

Jackson had had a giant hit with his previous album "Off the Wall" but nothing could prepare anyone for the hit the size of the known universe he had with "Thriller." Seven of the albums nine tracks became charting hits and there is something for everyone on this album. Taking the basic structure of "Off the Wall," Jackson expands the sounds to include Dance, Rock, Funk, Pop, Ballads and Soul into one flawless whole. Even the guest appearances by Paul McCartney (on the Wings style schmaltz pop of "The Girl is Mine") and Eddie Van Halen (the searing guitar that pulses through "Beat It") fit firmly into the overall arch of the album.

Listing the great tracks is pointless because literally every songs is a winner and offers something different to the pallet that is "Thriller." While some of the albums success can be attributed to the expert music videos that Jackson made at the time and aired on the, at the time, incredibly popular MTV channel; the album could stand on its own. Jackson has created the perfect pop album and many try to imitate it to this day.

For better or worse this also marked the beginning of the King of Pop. This album market the end of the day-glo tuxedo, big afro hairdo and began the one gloved, fedora wearing, sequined outfit that marked the  newly crowned king of pop. This is a great album, that some how never sounds dated, and in a word is a thrill to listen to.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Michael Jackson - "Off The Wall"

The beginning of the King of Pop.

Released between two Jackson Brother's records this was Michael's first real bid at solo stardom. He had released several unsuccessful solo albums over his teen years but this was the one that gave an inclination that Michael would be even bigger than he had been.

A big hit when released, the album, in my opinion, has dated more than its two follow ups ("Thriller" and "Bad"). There are still a number of strong songs "Don't Stop 'Til you Get Enough," "Rock with You," "She's out of my Life" and the title track are still strong.

This was an artist finding his individual voice and he almost had it but it would take one more record before he would truly grasp his power. When released it was quite a big hit and many wondered if he could do any better and boy were they in store for bigger and better.

While not as essential in my book as his next three albums this is still a strong album and for the many Michael Jackson fans out there a great addition to a music library.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bruce Hornsby - "Greatest Radio Hits"

Bruce Hornsby is one of those artists that despite a number of excellent songs, a fair amount of success, a decent fan following, and a couple of great albums, is remembered by many for a single song: "The Way it is." His first hit, a comment of the social problems of America, set to a pop beat with incredible melody and Hornsby's distinct piano lines.

Hornsby and his great back up band The Range (I love that band name) released two hit albums 1986's "The Way it is" and 1988's "Scenes from the Southside" both of which are excellent and focused on slices of Americana. The music on both is highly melodic, highly pop oriented, and feature Hornsby's strong voice and excellent piano skills. The pattern basically continued with "A Night on the Town" though with a  more rock oriented touch. In 1993 Hornsby left the Range behind and continued as a solo artist. The rest of his albums took on a heavier Jazz Pop influence, which was not bad actually.

Like I said earlier Hornsby made a number of strong albums (his first four maybe five albums are essential for big fans) he is often best showcased on individual songs and this long overdue hits collection shows his excellence. Of the 15 tracks eight are with The Range and seven are solo works. Though they are not necessarily huge hits they are his best songs and all his chart singles. Included is the wonderful "Set Me In Motion" from the film "Backdraft" and two live renditions of Hornsby penned songs that were hits for others. An accordion led rendition of "Jacob's Ladder" (a huge hit for Huey Lewis and the News) and a spare almost unplugged version of "End of the Innocence" (a big hit for Don Henley).

There are some good liner notes and the songs show what a great musician and songwriter Hornsby is. A perfect single disc career retrospective and hits compilation for a too often over looked artist.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Hootie & the Blowfish"

This is the last Hootie & the Blowfish album that I have purchased thus far. Released in 2003 it had been five years between their last studio album ("Musical Chairs"). In between, however, they released a covers album "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" in 2000.

Their self titled fourth album follows the same format as their previous three. Catchy hooks, ringing guitars, pounding drums, and Darius Rucker's distinctive voice. The best cuts are "Innocence," "Space," "The Rain Song" and "Little Darlin'." There is also a pretty good unlisted song tacked onto the end of the last track. Only problem is you have to wait through several minutes of blank space to get there.

The songs on this album are much easier to get into than the ones of "Musical Chairs." Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band made good and they embrace their bar band sound. The music is fun and catchy and plays well on long drives or when doing house work and especially in a bar. Basically if you enjoyed any of Hootie & the Blowfish's previous albums you will probably enjoy this.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Musical Chairs"

After Hootie & the Blowfish became the most popular band in America with their 1994 debut "Cracked Rear View" which sold 13 million copies and produced a slew of hit singles.

They released their 1996 sophomore album "Fairweather Johnson" which followed much the same formula as the debut but did not contain any instant hit songs like its predecessor. Despite going multi-platinum and topping the charts most people wrote the album off as a failure and Hootie & the Blowfish left the national spotlight.

This gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do, tour and perform for the fans. They retained a large and dedicated fan base who were more than happy to sell out concerts and buy whatever albums the band decided to release.

In 1998, without the pressure and massive media spotlight that glared on their second album, Hootie released their third album, "Musical Chairs." The seemingly winking title concerning the music scene's ever changing hands. While billed as a return to form by many critics this album actually follows the exact same format as their previous two efforts. Catchy bar band folk-pop-rock played with pounding drums, acoustic guitars, and good old southern charm. They occasionally add an orcestral section here but for the most part it is the four man band sound of their previous records. The songs, again, play heavily on lead singer Darius Rucker's powerful vocals. What sets this album slightly above "Fairweather Johnson" is that they find some great catchy singles like the excellent "Only Lonely" and "Michelle Post."

This is a very good listening in the car album and there are some great songs for Hootie fans. Not sure if every song is worth the price of the album so this maybe better as an iTunes purchase picking the best tracks and leaving the rest. Overall "Musical Chairs" is a solidification of their sounds. Hootie & the Blowfish know what they do well and know what their fans like; and they are going to keep on doing it as long as they want.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Cracked Rear View"

I received this album as a Christmas present one year and for a while I was really into Hootie & the Blowfish.  Not to say I no longer enjoy their music but I am just not so fanatic anymore.

"Cracked Rear View," their debut album, released in 1994 quickly became the most likely and unlikely megahit to be released in the 1990s, selling 12 million copies and catapulting the band to superstardom.

The four band members met at the University of South Carolina in 1989 and became a popular local college band performing covers of R.E.M. Eventually writing their own music, much of which appeared on this album.

The reason I call them the most unlikely superstars is that they were a completely unknown band aside from the college towns and their music was seemingly out of touch with the time; in the early 90s every thing was engulfed in the Grunge hard rock of Seattle.

On the other hand they were the right band at the right place at the right time. Kurt Cobain had killed himself shortly before this album was released. The overexposure of Grunge music had killed the market (much like the 80s Hair bands or the Boygroups of the 2000s). Also the depressing and dark content of much of the Grunge style was getting a little much for many listeners and they wanted a simple happy refresher from all this darkness. Not to mention Bill Clinton had been elected the year earlier and was turning out to be a really awesome President, especially compared to his two predecessors.

So here comes "Cracked Rear View" in the Summer of 1994 a simple straight ahead folk-rock roots pop album filled with damn catchy hooks and melodies with some heavy MTV video and radio rotation. The music is sharp and Darius Rucker's powerful vocals help the music to no end. The songs are certainly not innovative but Hootie knows exactly how to frame and execute them. The songs all basically follow a generic pattern but the chorus' are all memorable and sing-a-long. The good time vibes of many of the songs as well as the every man qualities of the more serious songs like "Let Her Cry," "Time," and "Drowning" provide a wonderful feel that American music listeners were looking for in 1994.

Like Huey Lewis & The News, Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band that is not really interested in being the most important band since The Beatles. They want to have a good time, make some good music, and throw back a few cold ones at the end of the day. For a time all of America wanted to join them. Like I said earlier I was one of those, I still enjoy their music and there are some days when "Cracked rear View" is all I need to feel better (particularly when I'm driving).  Every now and then I Only Wanna Be with Hootie & the Blowfish.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jimi Hendrix - "Live at the Fillmore East"

This 1999 'official' release, by the Hendrix family, is a strong companion piece to my last post's "Band of Gypsys" album. Both were culled from the same four shows at the Fillmore. While the original "Band of Gypsys" album is six songs picked and edited by Hendrix himself, this album is 18 raw performances picked from the four nights. The nice thing about this release is also that which performance the song came from from is indicated in the track list.

Hendrix really tears into these songs and his guitar work is spectacular. Drummer Buddy Miles gets a bigger role on this release but his 'singing,' or wailing is probably a better term, is sometimes a little much. Thankfully, Hendrix never lets the center of focus leave him for very long.

This album gives a better view of the concerts even the off key "Stop" and the sometimes unevenness of the record add to this great view of Hendrix live in concert. For Hendrix collectors there is a great deal to gain from this album because even when songs from the "Band of Gypsys" are repeated here they are drastically different; such as "Who Knows" which is nearly instrumental here and the jamming "Power of Soul" (titled "Power to Love" on the "Gypsys" album). As are the two versions of the now classic "Machine Gun" that are presented here.

In the end if you only want one Hendrix live album (but really how could you want only one?) "Band of Gypsys" is the one to get. If you can find room for more than one, check "Live at the Fillmore East" I also enjoy "Live at Woodstock" but it feels long. I am interested in hearing the new recently released "Winterland" live tracks though. Anyway this is a good live recording with a great package and booklet. For now readers, I say until next time, happy listening. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jimi Hendrix - "Band of Gypsys"

"Band of Gypsys" is the only live album supervised by Hendrix before his death. This also may be his finest live recording despite the seemingly endless live recordings released in recent years by the Hendrix family.

In June 1969 The Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded but Hendrix needed one more album to complete a record contract he had signed years earlier. He recruited Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass, and went on to perform four concerts (two each day) at New York's Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970.

The concerts were a radical change in Hendrix's musical identity. Gone were the psychedelics and guitar burning stage antics. Instead focusing on a more blues/rock feel with definite touches of rhythm and blues. He also chose to play very few to almost none of his previously released songs with sets consisted of completely new material he had been working on.

While Hendrix's three studio albums (I am not counting all the random compilations and supposed new albums released by his family) are essential to any rock or guitar fan, particularly "Electric Ladyland." This, however, is the album (along with its companion album "Live at the Fillmore East") that proves what a killer he was in a live setting. What is amazing is all the guitar virtuosity Hendrix can fit into these relatively short songs. In an era when groups like Cream and Led Zeppelin were making 15 and 20 minute jam songs, Hendrix seems to fit the same amount of guitar virtuosity into a six minute song.

In the past Hendrix, much like a gypsy fortune teller, was always able to conjure up other worldly sound from the guitar, sounds that no one knew a guitar could make until Hendrix showed them it was possible. In this album's centerpiece track, the 13 minute "Machine Gun," he uses his magical guitar to again conjure up unheard guitar sound but this time in a social context. He creates harrowing images of war and a battlefield complete with air raid sirens, gun shots, bombs, and airplanes all through the six strings in his hands. It is an incredibly powerful statement for peace that only Hendrix and his gypsy powers could create.

This live album is actually structured very similarly to his three studio albums, even if the style is very different. Hendrix has picked and edited six of the best songs/performances from the four concerts and as you can hear on "Live at the Fillmore East" he has even edited various performances into one seamless song. In my opinion, now granted I have not heard the recently released Winterland box set, these concerts were Hendrix's finest audio live show. Isle of Wight was plagued with equipment problems, Monterey is really a visual performance as opposed to an audio one, Woodstock is pretty good but his back up seems lost and he seems nervous. At Fillmore East he is in command, his band is ready and willing, the equipment is working, he has a great batch of new songs, and he simply owns the stage. It is amazing the things he did with an electric guitar and even more amazing that he was only a recording artist for about four years before his untimely death less than a year after this album's recording. True genius.
Tune in next time for my review of "Live at the Fillmore East"!

Friday, September 16, 2011

George Harrison - "All Things Must Pass"

If I were to ask which of the four Beatles had the first number one single and biggest selling first solo album? Most people would probably guess John Lennon or Paul McCartney but they would be wrong. It is the quiet Beatle George Harrison with his landmark debut solo album "All Things Must Pass." The first triple disc record ever released (now on two CDs) made it even more astonishing because it was slightly more expensive than a regular length albums.

As the Beatles essentially disbanded at the start of 1970 Harrison joined forces with record producer Phil Spector and gathered a who's who of musicians. Largely gathered from Delaney and Bonnie's group the musicians included Eric Clapton and the soon to be Derek and the Dominos (Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon), Dave Mason. As well as Billy Preston, the band Badfinger, bass master Klaus Voorman, and drummer Jim Keltner. There are also brief appearances by Ginger Baker and an unknown Phil Collins.

Harrison had been writing a massive amount of songs during the last few years of the 1960s. However, Lennon/McCartney were so prolific that they only allowed Harrison two songs on every Beatle album. He thus built up a large backlog of written songs that had to be recorded the majority of them became "All Things Must Pass."

Harrison never had a strong or distinctive singing voice but it serves its purpose here and thanks to Spector's wall of sound production Harrison's voice sounds very good and fits into the mix perfectly. Harrison's songs are also very strong and prove that he was a writer in the same league with Lennon and McCartney. Harrison was always interested in spirituality, particularly the religions of India, thus this album focuses on themes and ideas of Spirituality. The music is so melodic and pop/rock oriented that the songs never cease to be accessible, despite sometimes having philosophical, religious, or spiritual content. He also for the most part is not direct about the spiritual connotations of the songs. Only "My Sweet Lord" and "Hear Me Lord" blatantly call up higher powers. The rest of the songs could just as easily be about the love of a woman, the state of the world, and the state of life itself.

Sure the album is long but for the most part everything is a keeper, I personally may have removed "I Dig Love," "Let it Down" and "Apple Scruffs" but even those are pretty entertaining. The real flaw is the Original Apple Jam that ends the album (originally the third disc of the Vinyl Record). The Jam consists of five instrumentals (two are ten minutes) in which Harrison and Derek and The Dominos along with certain guests for each track basically just, well, jam. I think I know why Harrison included them; he was never really allowed to jam with The Beatles. Beatles music was a very expertly structured and arranged entity and they never allowed Harrison to really break out and jam on the guitar. So these sessions are a way for him to let out all his pent up guitar fury that had been built up during The Beatles.

The problem I find with the Apple Jam is that they are not all that interesting simply because there is too much going on at once. The 60s and 70s groups that jammed the best often were very small; like Cream Clapton was the main focus, Hendrix, CSNY focused largely on Stills and Young during their live jams. Harrison, however, often has seven or more people playing on the jams. Perhaps in a nod to Delaney and Bonnie's large band and Spector's wall of sound the music is very encompassing and thus makes it hard for any particular element to stand out, because there is so much going on at once. So often the jams are kind of boring and repetitive and are probably hardly listened to by many owners of this album.

None the less the 2001 remastered set makes everything at least listenable. The remastering makes all the difference. I remember I borrowed the original late 80s early 90s CD version of this album from my friend and I thought the album was awful. But when I heard all the glowing reviews of the 2001 remaster I decided to pick up the album and the thing sounds spectacular. Amazing what remastered sound can do; turning what I thought was awful into a great album. There is a wonderful booklet inside as well as one new song bonus track (that should have been on the original album), some alternate takes and a new version of "My Sweet Lord." The 2001 remaster is a great addition to any Beatle fan's music library.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "The Rising" September 11 2001

To honor the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 I am breaking my usual alphabetical postings to write a post about that harrowing day in America's history.

I remember waking up ten years ago to the sound of my radio alarm. Yet the normal classic rock that played to stir me from my sleep was a news report that morning. I groggily looked up at my alarm clock and wondered why a rock station was playing a news program and also why were they talking about New York City? I eventually got the facts that the World Trade Center had been destroyed by two airplanes. I rose from under the sheets and turned on the TV to find every station with the same images of the smoking towers. Living in Hawaii the attacks had happened many hours before it was morning where I lived. I was a Junior in High School and the day before was the birthday of this girl I had a crush on; I had spent much of the weekend looking for a gift for her. All that seemed very trivial a day later. I had never been to New York City, or the east coast for that matter, all I knew of the Big Apple or the World Trade Center was what I read in books or saw in Movies and TV. I was not sure how to feel as I did not know anyone who live in that part of the country and I felt so far removed. All I felt was sadness for all the people and the black cloud that covered that city of dreams known as New York.

In the following weeks the newspapers and TV screens were filled with information, specials, and fundraisers in support of the victims of 9/11. I along with the rest of the country was filled with a new found patriotism. Being a teenager and coming from the most isolated state in the union I never really felt the pull to say I am American. Never really thought about being American, I just thought of it as the country I lived in. Yet I suddenly found myself with a true identity of being an American. I watched the nearly eight hour "Concert for New York City" on television and wished I could be there.

As always in history music became the only place many people could find comfort and explanation whether it be the "Concert for New York City" or the music telethons "America, A Tribute to Heroes" and the like. While the concerts were definitely life affirming and tear jerking, in this confusing and troubling time none of the Music really captured the America of Post 9/11; neither did the music written especially for the tragic events such as Paul McCartney's "Freedom" or Neil Young's album "Let's Roll." Then ten months after 9/11 Bruce Springsteen released "The Rising."

More than any other modern musician Bruce Springsteen is identified with the American Landscape and so it is only fitting that the only true American musical poet be the only one to accurately and excellently capture Post 9/11 America.

In his first studio album with his excellent E Street Band since 1984's "Born in the USA." They reunited in 1999 after Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So it is only fitting that this is a return to form for The Boss after his poor albums of the 1990s. He is backed by a full band and he is writing American anthems again as only he can. The album is focused and direct yet it expertly captures the cloudy and uncertain feeling of America after 9/11. Even the artwork is cloudy and dark with only blurry images of the band members as if we are looking though all that dust at Ground Zero.

Bruce brings all his considerable Rock and Roll knowledge and his personal history with songs that could have fit on such landmark 70s albums as "Born to Run," "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Nebraska." The songs are obviously dark and inspired by a very dark day in history, yet in the end there is hope and the overall message that there is a greatness in everyday life. Some of the songs are truly great and excellent additions to Springsteen's vast catalogue including, "Lonesome Day," "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," "Mary's Place," "My City of Ruins" and particularly the title track. When the songs are not great they certainly are pretty good. He takes all different views, from a fireman who feels he's just doing his job on "Into the Fire" and"Nothing Man," to seeing things with non American eyes "World's Apart," "Paradise" and "The Fuse." To everyday people who have lost friends/family "You're Missing" and "Empty Sky." In the end the album closes with "My City of Ruins" where the people can only pray to whatever they believe in for the strength and the faith to rise up. The final words we hear on the album are Springsteen and a choir chanting "Come on and Rise Up." A call to all of America that we heeded. Thank you Bruce for helping us find the Rising. Thank you Bruce from the confused teenager that found some focus in your songs.

So on this tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 may we remember those who fell. May we remember the patriotism for this truly great country called the USA. May we remember that it does mean something to be American. May we not loose sight of the wonderful life we live. May we "Come on up for the Rising, Come on up Lay your Hands in Mine, Come on up for the Rising Tonight."

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The 50 Greatest Hawai'i Albums of All Time"

Every year Honolulu Magazine devotes on of their twelve issues to the music of Hawaii with a large cover story about a specific artist or music style or period. In June 2004, after the success of Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Albums in 2003, Honolulu Magazine ranked the 50 Greatest Hawaii Albums of all time.

The original issue was such a success that the Magazine released a hard cover coffee table book, through Watermark Publishing, in late 2004. The book gave expanded reviews and interviews for each of the 50 albums and also included lots of glossy pictures. The following year they also had an hour long TV special chronicling the albums.

To coincide with the book the Mountain Apple Record Company released this 17 track compilation which picks one song from 17 different albums featured on the list.

The compilation is simple and satisfactory, like most music compilations, the one thing that makes this one falter though is that it is supposed to represent ALBUMS not simply songs. The 50 albums on the list worked as complete works where the individual songs are excellent but work together to make a cohesive whole. Picking one song from each album does not really give any insight into the album it simply says here is an awesome song. Do not get me wrong the songs on this compilation are excellent but they are just one part or the great albums that they came from. Also none of the out of print music that is featured on the 50 Greatest list is on this CD so all these songs can be acquired separately in their original album context. Overall this compilation focuses on the Renaissance and 1990s music and largely Hawaiian language tracks. All excellent songs I might reiterate.

This works like many various artist compilations it is a sampler and also a cash in on the book. So if you are unsure if you want to check out any of the albums on the list you can hear a song from them first. This was given to me as a present along with the book I cannot remember what the occasion was though. I really love the book this CD I just hang on to as a keepsake. In 2006 Mountain Apple released an 11 track sequel compilation. Honolulu Magazine has also released issues ranking the "50 Greatest Hawaii Songs" and in 2010 an issue chronicling "100 Years of Hawaiian Music."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hapa - "Maui"

So after the back to basics album "Namahana" the original HAPA Barry Flanagan and Keli'i Kaneali'i parted ways in 2000. Flanagan eventually recruited former Don Ho bassist and known solo performer Nathan Aweau to create the "new" HAPA. They began appearing live and touring in late 2003 and would eventually release the excellent album "Maui" in 2005.

This is easily HAPA's best work since their first two albums and the best Hawaiian music album of the first decade of the 2000s.

The album is a loose concept album involving not only the island of Maui on songs like "Haleakala" and "I Ka La'i O Lahaina" and its history "Paniolo 'Ona Slack-Key" referencing the Hawaiian Cowboys of the island. But also referencing the Hawaiian demigod Maui, "Papa E" and Hawaii's connection to Tahiti "Tahiti Manahune." This album is a comment on modern polynesia employing styles and sounds from Tahiti, New Zealand, and Hawaii along with Western music ideals. All the ideas and messages are interestingly centered around a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." This version starts as the simple acoustic ballad that Marley had originally written but eventually soars into an anthem with the guitars and English lyrics counter pointed by a powerful Hawaiian chant.

This incarnation of HAPA is to me equal or better than the original duo because now there are two songwriters. In the original HAPA Flanagan was in complete control. Here the songwriting is spread between Flanagan and Aweau giving the listener two voices to hear. Aweau is also an accomplished Bassist (which he shows on the song "Twinkletoes") and guitarist so now the group can compose for bass and guitar instead of just two guitars. The "new" HAPA's musical canvas is also much broader aside from the Tahitian and Maori (New Zealand) sounds, Aweau (a jazzman at heart) adds jazz stylings and even blues into the mix. "Paniolo 'Ona Slack-Key" even brings in the old west style cowboy tunings reminding the listener of sitting out on the range.

The packaging is also landmark, in this era when CDs are getting skimpier and skimpier, many Hawaiian musicians simply throw a cover photo and track list onto a cardboard flap and put the album on the shelf. This album is extraordinarily thought out in its presentation. There is a detailed booklet with liner notes written by Aweau and Flanagan explaining each of the songs. There is also gorgeous paintings by Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos depicting the demigod Maui  as well as ideas of Polynesia. A fully realized masterwork of an album, truly excellent. (NOTE: in the more recent printings of the album I believe the packaging has been sadly cut down to save money)

Flanagan has been claiming for the past four years to be working on a follow up album focusing on the concepts of Hula, but nothing has come forward to say the album will complete in the near future. In 2010 it seems Aweau and Flanagan have disbanded and a new ukulele playing partner has joined Flanagan as another "new" HAPA

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hapa- "Collection"

This is another slight cheat because I made my own collection of music by HAPA.

HAPA, one of the finest music groups to ever come out of Hawaii, a duo featuring New Jersey native Barry Flanagan and Hawaiian guy Keali'i Kaneali'i. Their self titled first album is a masterwork, a smash hit that is even more remarkable because all the songs are either instrumentals or Hawaiian Language. The extremely catchy songs have become woven into Hawaii's soundscape like much older classic songs before them.

Their truly excellent slack key guitar work puts them almost in the Rock or Jazz context. But they are firmly rooted in the music of a modern Hawaii.

Their second album "In the Name of Love," also excellent, focused more on english language pop than the previous album and used the U2 anthem "Pride" as its center point creating an anthem for all people (in this case Hawaiians).
"HAPA Holidays" was an adventurous christmas album that focused on the theme of love rather than simply showcasing familiar holiday tunes. "Namahana" had its moments but was not as good as their first two albums. These two latter albums returned to the instrumental and Hawaiian Language concept of their debut.

Then they took a sharp left turn with "Surf Madness" a 60s style (like the song "Wipeout") completely electric instrumental surf rock album. Never before had a popular Hawaiian group gone so far outside of the style that made them popular, usually once a group has a hit they stick with that sound till the bitter end. The album has its moments but in the end is more of a fun experiment than an actual album. After "Surf Madness" the duo called it quits and issued a compilation album.

The original incarnation of "Collection" is a skimpy ten track sampler that gives no insight into HAPA's excellence. Sure the songs are good but there are no instrumentals when half of the group's catalog is instrumental. Also there are no songs from the "Holidays" or "Surf Madness" albums and big hits like "Olinda Road," "Kaopuiki Aloha" and "Nani Wale O Kaiulani" are absent. Don't get me started on missing album tracks.

This is a penchant for Hawaiian music artists to not release comprehensive compilations in order to force consumers to pick up the individual albums to find actual hits. So I have created my own HAPA collection a comprehensive work that picks tracks from all their albums, spreads over two CDs and comprises 24 tracks much better than the lame ten track original. Sometimes you got to fight the system.

After the two parted ways, Flanagan reformed HAPA with Nathan Aweau and made the masterpiece album "Maui." It seems that grouping has split as well and sadly Flanagan has found interest in the ukulele because there are not enough ukulele players in Hawaii. Kaneali'i finally released his first, largely unremarkable mainly labor of love, solo album in 2009.

None the less HAPA created some of the best music Hawaii has to offer and whether you want to buy the original albums, the original collection, or make your own compilation their music is not to be missed.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Use Your Illusion II"

The second half of Guns N' Roses 1991 double release (a double album released as two single CDs) titled "Use Your Illusion I&II." Part 2 is a very different affair, while Part 1 largely retained GN'Rs blues hard rock 2 seems to take its cue from Queen and Elton John. Most of the tracks seem to take the excellent "November Rain" as a blue print which is a plus, and many of them are Rock Love Songs or more sophisticated Power Ballads, Axl's Grand Piano is featured on many of the songs.

The song writing for the most part is much stronger than on Part 1, where some of the lyrics seemed cobbled together to just get a song recorded. Here most of the songs seemed well thought out. The songs are largely slow to mid-tempo ballads and many are quite long (3 songs run nearly 10 minutes and most songs are over Five Minutes) which could have hurt the album but the longer songs are usually the better ones. "Civil War" is an ambitious social commentary which is quite good, "14 Years" and the excellent "Yesterdays" are power pop with a strong GN'R edge. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is good (of course its Dylan) but misguided electric guitar hero version. "Breakdown" is a wonderful Elton John tribute. Then there are the two "November Rain" songs "So Fine" and the truly excellent multi sequence "Estranged."

Like Part 1, there is also a half albums worth of filler and clutter, "Shotgun Blues," "Pretty Tied Up" "Locomotive" and "You Could Be Mine." The alternate version of "Don't Cry" is so minutely different that it really does not need to be here. There is the pure childish crap of "Get in the Ring" in which Axl calls out all his critics by name and tells them @*%&$ Off, over some guitar riffs. He literally uses the F-Word on every other line. The album closing "My World" is truly a WTF moment, it is Axl moaning over weird noises for a few minutes. Sadly it seems like the precursor to all that late 90s goth crap that became popular in certain circles.

Overall like Part 1, Part 2 has excellent guitars and Axl's killer voice. This is more ambitious and thus more rewarding when the songs work, but when they don't they are ten times worse. This is the perfect iTunes album because you can grab the good half album and let the rest fade away. Like I said in the previous post "Use Your Illusion I&II" could have been a perfect single album; but as the albums stand when Guns N' Roses are good they are unbelievably excellent and have some of the best songs around, when they are bad they are BAD.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Use Your Illusion I"

The difficult second album for Guns N' Roses was more difficult than most. Their first album, 1987's "Appetite for Destruction," was a monster that made the GN'R one of the biggest bands in the world. The recording was troubled, particularly Axl Rose is incredibly hard to work with, numerous fights and massive substance abuse took the group till 1991 to release their ambitious "Use Your Illusion I&II" albums. Essentially these are a double album but released as two single disc CDs. Pretty good marketing considering, instead of getting people to buy a double album for $25 they got them to buy two single discs for $15-$18.

Anyway to the album, Part 1 is certainly the harder rocking of the two. The problem is that on some of the songs the Guns sound like they are trying to be the fierce band that they once were like they are wearing a mask. On their first album they fully felt real here sometimes it seems like they are trying too hard. Axl in particular said he wanted the second album(s) to be different from the first, which is fine but he did not seem to know how to make them different. He also seems to feel that he needed to take up the mantle of the spokesperson of the generation writing faux social commentary and trying to send a message which really does not work. All in all it seems the group does not really know what it wants to say and thus recorded a bunch of music that jumps all over the map.

Izzy Stradlin' actually comes up with some of the best songs "You Ain't the First," "Double Talkin' Jive" and "Don't Cry." Axl's "November Rain" a nine minute piece that features a whole symphony orchestra is a powerhouse and one of the best songs of the decade. "Back off Bitch" and "Don't Damn Me" are other gems. There is a decent harder edged cover of McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" but it seems odd that GN'R would cover a Wings song, come on a Wings song! it just does not match.

There is also half an album's worth of filler and lousy songs, "Coma," "Dead Horse," "Bad Apples," "The Garden" and "Garden of Eden (featuring Alice Cooper)."

Overall the guitars are constantly awesome, Slash and Stradlin' don't disappoint. Axl's voice sounds awesome as always. There are a number of strong even excellent songs but the album is messy and cluttered. Jumping all over the place this is one of those albums that will benefit from iTunes, that way one can buy the half album or so that is really good and let the rest go. In reality "Use Your Illusion I&II" had only enough good songs to make one killer album yet as the pair stands they are two flawed albums with brilliant moments among the clutter.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Guns N' Roses - "Appetite for Destruction"

In the early 2000s VH1 began airing segments of their "Behind the Music" series that instead of focusing on a specific artist they focused on a decade and its music or a specific year in music history. It was kind of like their current "I Love the (insert decade here)" but focusing only on music and in a serious vein.

This show is where I started discovering all kinds of great music and during the episode that focused on the second half of the 1980s is where I learned of the mighty Guns N' (F*&^ing) Roses. This, their debut album is one of the greats in Rock history and is a ferocious angry record with some killer guitar lines.

Released in 1987 "Appetite for Destruction" appeared in stores but it took over a year before the Guns really caught on thanks to the presence of "Sweet Child O' Mine" on MTV. But when they finally caught fire they came with every fricken barrel blazing and along with U2's Joshua Tree album (now there is a weird pairing) destroyed the Hair Metal Juggernaut that had completely taken over the rock scene in the 80s.

Guns N' Roses were a return to the 60s and 70s style rock, yet totally an original incarnation. Equal parts Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Van Halen yet they were fiercer and more angry than any of them. The first track "Welcome to the Jungle" clearly stated this was something different. Listeners were exiting their lipstick wearing, Aquanet teased hair metal and entering a Jungle filled with roses that turned out to fire big ass bullets. They were out to destroy the musical landscape and make it their own scary world. A world filled with drugs ("Nightrain"), dealers ("Mr. Brownstone"), paranoia ("Out to Get Me"), prostitutes ("It's So Easy"), pornography ("My Michelle"), homosexuals ("Rocket Queen"), where the F-Word is used just for the hell of it.
Yet in this weird jungle there was the ability to escape into tenderness and love ("Sweet Child O' Mine"), the possibility of a nicer world ("Paradise City") and the solace of a true love ("Think About You")

As for the music it is razor sharp, fast and aiming for the jugular. Axl Rose has one of the best voices in rock music, his low moan and that screeching howl that is instantly identifiable. Slash is a guitar god, just the opening riff of "Sweet Child" can testify to that. Slash and Izzy Stradlin are one of the best guitar duos in history.

This album is essential to any rock (especially Hard Rock) fan. All of us have an appetite and Guns N' Roses can satisfy it and then rip your stomach out. Nuff' Said.

Ghostbusters Original Soundtrack Album

Ghostbusters of my favorite movie. I love everything involving the Ghostbusters, The Real Ghostbusters is also my favorite cartoon. Ghostbusters video game is crazy awesome.

Anyway one Halloween my grandmother gave me this soundtrack album to the original film as a present. Basically this is straight 1980s pop (Air Supply appears on the album) but like most soundtrack albums outside of the movie the music is not all that great. With the exception of the awesome Ray Parker Jr. title track (which I don't think sounds like "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis), The Bus Boys' "Cleaning up the Town" and the two orchestra tracks by the great Elmer Bernstein the rest of the album is largely forgettable and is best when viewed as part of the movie. I am glad I own this because it makes me think of my wonderful Grandma, I used to watch the movie with her all the time. Thanks for the album.

Friday, August 5, 2011

George Street - "Living On Daydreams" and other albums.

In 1983 the trio from Hawaii known as George Street - Gail Mack, Gordon Kim and Steve Min - released their first album "Living on Daydreams." They had already established themselves as a popular live act performing at Chuck's restaurant in Manoa Marketplace. They had been performing together since 1980 and this started a series of successful albums and even a tour of Japan.
Their music is firmly planted in the acoustic folk style of 1970s and 60s pop like James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell mixed with the later 1980s easy listening pop of Christopher Cross, Stephen Bishop, and Chris DeBurgh.
Their style plays on Mack's strong singing voice, the fine three part harmony, and the acoustic guitars. Their first is probably my favorite album unified sound and just a strong set of songs "Strangers," "Estoril," "Maui," "Daydreams" and "White Rhythm and Blues" are the cream of the crop and also half the album.

They followed "Daydreams" with a Live recording in 1984 and then their second studio album "Magic lady" in 1985. Their second recording followed a similar pattern to the first, the focus was still the harmonies and acoustic guitars but they expanded their sound to add the Nueva Vida Rhythm Section which gives many of the songs a smooth Jazzy feel. My favorites from this album are "What's in this Name Called Love," "The Way that I Love You," "To Be with You" and the title track.

1986 came "Friends" an album of cover songs, which I happen to be on the cover of, left hand side, at the age of one. In 1987 they released album "Goodbye to the Memories" in Japan which featured some previously released tunes with some new recordings. Mack appeared on Jerry Santos' (of Olomana fame) lone solo album "Expecting Friends" in 1989.

George Street returned with 1991's studio album "Seasons" which featured a similar sound to "Magic Lady" but with a 1990s feel, again it featured the smooth jazzy tones of the Nueva Vida Rhythm Section. Favorite tracks include "Blueboy," "Times with You" and the excellent title track. As time went on this eventually became their final album.

In 1995 the compilation album "To Be with You Reminiscing with George Street" appeared collecting songs from "Daydreams" and "Magic Lady" for their first appearance on CD. 1996 found Mack releasing the popular christmas single "Christmas Once More in Hawaii Nei" which she originally sang ten years earlier, due to its popularity she released a Christmas album under that title in 2006, which featured a new song by George Street's Gordon Kim. Mack also released the solo album, "Pacific Snowbird" in 1998 featuring songs written by Kim as well as a George Street reunion of sorts with Kim and Steve Min singing back up on one track.

Largely out of sight for much of the 90s and early 2000s. George Street began appearing live in mid 2006 in downtown Honolulu to the delight of their fans. But in 2008 the group called it quits and split up permanently. Kim and Mack eventually reformed as a duo, named Sunset Street in 2010. They have come full circle performing live at Sweet Thai Basil in Manoa Marketplace in the same spot where Chuck's (their first live stage) was located.

Well that was my Reminiscing with George Street :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

George Harrison and Friends - "The Concert for Bangladesh"

I am going to break with my usual alphabetical posts to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the spectacular "Concert for Bangladesh."

It was August 1, 1971 Vietnam was raging, Nixon was in the White House, Bangladesh was in shambles and in the music world Bob Dylan had vanished and The Beatles had broken up, which was a bigger blow to many Americans than all the other things happening at the time.

Upon the Beatles break up all 4 member released solo works Lennon's first solo album "Plastic Ono Band" and McCartney's "McCartney" while both were quite impressive (particularly Lennon's) they were met with low sales and harsh criticism.

Then came Harrison's triple disc masterpiece "All Things Must Pass" album with its No.1 hit single "My Sweet Lord" the album was nothing short of astonishing especially coming from the quiet Beatle. Ringo also had a big hit single with "It Don't Come Easy."

Ravi Shankar approach Harrison to help the problems facing Shankar's home area of Bangladesh and Harrison organized the very first superstar benefit concert. Two sold out shows on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden, New York City with some top tier talent including Ringo, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Shankar and his sitar band, Badfinger, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, and Phil Spector arranging it all (building a living wall of sound on stage) and recording a live album. Eric Clapton, who at the time was in self imposed exile, flew over from England to play back up guitar.

Then there was Harrison on top of the music scene and always the center to the concert, wearing his white and orange suit with the OM symbol on his lapels. This was the first time any of the Beatles performed live (barring the performance on the roof of Abbey Road and Lennon's impromptu appearance at the Toronto music festival).

When Harrison plays an acoustic version of "Here Comes the Sun" the rays really fill the room. In this time of problems here were a bunch of rock stars doing something good for other people (none of them got paid for their performances). Here was an audience that wanted to feel good again and Harrison gave them that for a few hours.

Then the sun really shines when the poet of a generation comes out of the shadows, a friend of us all Bob Dylan. Also at his most reclusive point Dylan had not and would not perform live for five years with the exception of this concert. Wearing his acoustic guitar and harmonica Dylan reaches back to his early days to play five of his greatest songs, including "Blowin in the Wind," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Just Like a Woman." He had not played these songs in a while and more over he plays them straight. It is truly a magical moment which the listener feels.

Then when Dylan leaves the stage to thunderous applause, Harrison launches into his best song "Something" just to remind us that he is awesome.

So for this 40th Anniversary of "The Concert for Bangladesh" check out the free streaming of the concert film at Download the album or songs from iTunes all proceeds go to The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. I own the Remastered set which has a cool booklet, great sound and the money I paid for it went to the George Harrison Fund. Long live George Harrison, the quiet one, who in 1971 made a lot of great noise.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Genesis - "Live Over Europe 2007"

This was a birthday present in 2008, from a very good friend of mine, whom I am sad to say, have not seen or spoken to in many years.

Anyway the power trio of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, the best incarnation of the band Genesis, reunited in 2007 for a massive sold out tour. This double disc is a compilation from various performance around Europe. Like all the band's live albums and performances they mix all the various eras and styles (which I talked about in my previous post). The band sounds great and very polished as if they never disbanded or stopped touring.

Like most reunion album as well as live albums this is more a souvenir and aimed at the die hard fan rather than an essential album (much like Cream's recent live reunion release). There are some good extended instrumentals on the more experimental tracks like "Domino" and "In the Cage" but overall most reunion tours are designed to create nostalgia, which this does in an entertaining fashion. Like I said this album is fun but not really anything essentially great. I keep it because of the person who gave it to me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Genesis - "Turn it on Again, The Hits"

Ok so anyone who is a decent size fan of the band Genesis knows that there are three distinct (well 4 if you count the one Post Phil Collins album, which I don't) eras of Genesis' music. The first era was the Peter Gabriel lead group of the early 70s. This era featured a largely experimental band that focused on Progressive Rock with elaborate concept albums. Gabriel left the group after a few years for his equally experimental but more successful solo career.

This started the second era when drummer Phil Collins took over as lead singer, the band continued in this progressive Rock style but Collins was making the music a little more mainstream.

Then there is the third and most popular era. Most of the original band left and the three remaining members, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks turned Genesis into a hit making machine with a series of smash pop songs and albums during the 1980s and 90s. This third era is really what a Genesis Hits collection should focus on.

By and large "Turn it on Again, The Hits" hits the mark, of its 18 tracks 15 come from the third era of the band. But whoever compiles these compilations is unwilling to focus on a single era: here they add two songs "I Know what I like," from the Gabriel era and "Congo" from the Post Collins era that we like to ignore. Neither of these two songs were actual hits and they take up space where two real hits "No Reply at All" and "Paperlate" should have gone. The "Platinum Collection" overlooks the same 2 hits and that spans three discs. There, however, is a nice new recording of "The Carpet Crawlers" that features both Collins and Gabriel in a duet featured here.

Overall this compilation features enough of the hits to make it a worthy collection and it is well priced. In 2007 an expanded edition was released, subtitled The Tour Edition, which features this entire disc plus a second disc. Again they mix together all the eras but they are spot on with the selection of the 2007 edition. "Turn it on Again, The Hits" is the choice for the budget conscious but if you have a few extra dollars, spring for the expanded Tour Edition.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peter Frampton - "Frampton Comes Alive 2"

Sorry for the long gap in posts, even if it seems no one reads these, I have been busy but I am back for the moment. Like the subject of this post.

Peter Frampton was a member of the band Humble Pie but left when he felt his excellent guitar playing was not getting the attention it deserved, by and large he was right. He embarked on a solo career releasing several moderately successful studio albums in the 1970s. His live shows were what really gained him a following and much of his popularity. So when he released his first solo live album, "Frampton Comes Alive!" in 1976, it made him a superstar. The album became the best selling live album of all time and it is a killer record, one of my favorites.

Yet the success of that album stymied the rest of Frampton's career. He was largely regarded as a one album wonder. He retained his large cult of fans but he lost to mass audience he gained with "Comes Alive!"

Then when the big nostalgia boom of the mid 1990s happened (that continues to this day) Frampton recorded and released a live sequel to his landmark live album. "Fampton Comes Alive 2" is not a bad album and he wisely does not use any of the songs from the original. It is a very slick record with some good songs, "I'm In You" and "Day in the Sun," but overall it is decent but not excellent. This release was his biggest seller in years and it sparked a creative resurgence in his music with a series of popular and critically praised albums like "Fingerprints," "Now" and "Thank you Mr. Churchill."

Originally released as a 14 track single disc "Comes Alive 2" is now only available in a two disc special edition, the second disc contains new live recordings of 4 of the big songs from the original "Show Me the Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do" among them.

Last year I had the opportunity to see Frampton live in concert and he does a killer show. He is a great guitarist and if the original "Frampton Comes Alive!" is his best and most recognizable album so be it, it is a damn excellent record and any artist would be proud to have it in their catalogue.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Footloose Original Soundtrack

Ok when I was younger, like in seventh or eighth grade, I really liked the movie Footloose. It was being rerun quite often on HBO and I caught it once and just really enjoyed it. I would watch it whenever I would stumble across it on the TV. I think I connected with the outcast feeling that Kevin Bacon's character felt, I also really liked the idea of dance being his only release or passion.

I may get crap for saying this, but I think the 1980s were a cool period in time. So I liked the music in the film, with catchy 80s pop like "Holding Out for a Hero," "Let's Hear it for the Boy," "Almost Paradise" and the title track (another of Kenny Loggins' hit 80s theme songs) it makes me feel good and a part of me wants to dance when I hear this album.
I also enjoyed the movie more when I discovered Dean Pitchford, who is from my hometown of Honolulu, wrote the screenplay and composed all the music. Kind of inspirational for me, if this guy can do it so can feeling that I needed back in middle school. I can be a writer as well. Overall this is a a nice time capsule to the 1980s and it is definitely dated, but it also makes the listener feel good.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fleetwood Mac - "Rumours"

Fleetwood Mac's most recognizable and best album period, also their biggest seller. Their previous work and their following albums would be successful but there is something transcendent about "Rumours." It is the Fleetwood Mac album that people who don't care for Fleetwood Mac own; it is the Fleetwood Mac album that critics praise even though they look down upon the group's pop leanings and their massive success.

The history behind the album has passed into the realm of legend. The five members were breaking up their romantic relationships (with each other) and having affairs and to paraphrase from great turmoil comes great art.

All the songs on this album are winners: from the acoustic guitars of "Second Hand News" to Stevie Nicks' characteristically flowing "Dreams" to the electric guitar driven "Go Your Own Way." The album is unabashedly pop oriented and that is fine it is pleasing to the ears, but it is also emotionally telling. All the songs grew out of the groups' personal problems, thus the songs are very relatable to the average person. Which could partially explain some of the massive success surrounding the album.

There has been so much said about this album that I don't really have to say anymore. I received it as a birthday present one year and I listen to it every so often. Basically if you are not familiar with this album (or any of its songs) you probably are not interested in music. Thats the bottom line.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mackey Feary - "Back to Back"

Mackey Feary was a member of Kalapana and thus was one of Hawaii's most popular musicians of the 1970s. Feary and Malani Bilyeu were the main songwriters for the group creating a Lennon/McCartney feel. Feary was more introspective and experimental while Bilyeu was more pop and melody oriented. Together they wrote some excellent music. Feary was more intriguing because he was quiet and aside from music he seemed like a shy individual. He also was the youngest of the band just turning 18 when the group made it big. Feary left Kalapana for a solo career after the release of the band's successful second album. he later returned in 1980s.

Feary released a number of solo albums which are hard to come by now (except as Japanese imports) and thus have become like collectors items. "Back to Back" is really a compilation released in 1995 and picking tracks from Feary's 80s albums "Touch Sensitive" and "Nite Life." The tracks have been remixed they are very dated, products of the 80s and early 90s Hawaiian music scene. Some of Feary's lyrics are good but this music pales in comparison to his work with Kalapana. Overall works as driving music.

Feary's tale is a sad one as he battled with drug addiction for most of his life and found himself in and out of rehabilitation and brief stays in prisons. I feel the drugs took away his musical muse and hurt his singing voice. He eventually committed suicide in 1999 at the young age of 44 after being sentenced to a rather long prison term due to drug problems.

Hawaii lost one of its great voices at least we will always have the music.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Frank Delima - "Babooze!"

Released in 1995 during his heyday this is another of Delima's musical parody albums. As with many of his other recordings these are not so much a series of jokes or stand up, but he instead takes familiar songs and writes new humorous lyrics to them. For example "Hawaii Sleeps Tonight" is a fun version of "the Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Delima made a name for himself as one of Hawaii's most popular comedians mixing a brand of "ethnic" humor with a number of zany characters and parody songs. Some of his most famous characters are Tita Turner, the Blalah, Abdullah Fatai and the Babooze. Some of his more popular songs are "Babooze," "Lucille" and "Black Dogs Roasting on an Open Fire." One of his most popular albums is "Don't Sneeze When You Eat Saimin." (very good advice)
During the early 1990s he started his yearly visits to nearly every Hawaii public elementary school entertaining children and speaking to them about the importance of reading and school in general. Around 1995 he also did several successful stage runs in Diamond Head Theater's Hawaii-ized version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, playing a funny Scrooge.

Delima's popularity diminished in the late 90's as did his visibility. He has continued his yearly visits to the schools and he does still release parody songs, usually in response to some current event. Most recently he responded to all the idiotic people concerned with Obama's birthplace by changing the lyrics to "Born in the USA" to reflect our President was "Born in Hawaii Nei." He has also written parody songs about the Furlough Friday situation, football coach June Jones leaving right after taking Hawaii to its first BCS bowl game and the false Tsunami warning earlier this year.

Delima is a very talented comedian and ranks among Hawaii's funniest people. His humor is very specific to Hawaii and may not appeal to those who have never lived in the Aloha State but for those of us who are blessed to live in this Island Chain he is a comedy treasure.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bob Dylan - "The Essential Bob Dylan"

Bob Dylan is one of the most talked about and influential musicians of the last 50 years he has made so many albums, written so many songs, and gone through so many styles that there is no real compilation that can capture Dylan completely (possible exception is his excellent box set "Biograph"which itself is really short at only three discs).

This compilation from the well done "Essentials" series is inevitably missing quite a bit of music but it does collect the majority of his most famous songs from "Blowin' in the Wind" to his Oscar winning "Things Have Changes" from the film "Wonder Boys."

This comp contains 30 tracks spread evenly over two discs. Disc one focuses on Dylan's heyday of the 1960s, disc two is 70s-2000 so there are far more overlooked songs on disc two. Basically this is designed for the newcomer for those who want a single compilation to represent a large career. There are no liner notes except some pictures. Basically a strong compilation. I own this because I was low on money, space, and wanted a Dylan career overview. All his most familiar songs are here those who want to dig deeper may be better suited with his three individual greatest hits albums (which cover four discs).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bob Dylan - "Blood on the Tracks"

"Dylan made more influential albums that this, but he never made one better" - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

This is Dylan's best album, followed by "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" and "Highway 61 Revisited," this is my favorite Dylan album.

"Blood on the Tracks" was released in 1975, when Dylan had somewhat disappeared from the popular mindset with a series of lackluster and/or unpopular releases ("Dylan" "Self Portrait") but this album returned him to prominence along with its Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Dylan has abandoned the screaming vocals he adopted for 1974's "Before the Flood" and he has dropped the sweet croon of "Nashville Skyline." Dylan has kind of returned to the folk sounds of his early albums and he has returned to the acoustic guitar.

He is not alone with his guitar he is backed by a quartet of fine musicians that add flavor and body to his excellent batch of songs but they are always backup they let the songs speak for themselves. Now to the songs, all the songs are excellent and some of the finest of Dylan's catalogue they feel like confessional singer songwriter tunes but Dylan wraps the confessions in riddles and stories that may obscure the true reality of them but he never hides the feelings and emotion. The songs all deal with relationships, mostly crumbling ones. Yet the songs are hopeful, melancholy and poignant all at the same time. This is a glimpse into Dylan's guarded soul one of the few glimpse we will ever get. This is the one Dylan album that every MUSIC fan (not just Dylan fans) should have and listen to often.