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Classic Rock News And Views
June 8, 2012
Heart’s brand-new box set, Strange Euphoria is a journey that takes fans four decades back through the group’s evolution with a lot of emphasis on their early work and featuring previously unreleased demo recordings and other gems that give this release an almost “new album” feel. Twenty of the fifty-one tracks on the set’s three CDs were previously unreleased.
As I put the first CD into the player, I was struck by the presence of Ann Wilson’s voice. Unlike a lot of other recordings where the vocals tend to get a bit lost among the other instruments at times, Ann’s voice with acoustic accompaniment came through as clear as I can ever recall hearing on any Heart album. Say what you want to about recording technology from the 1970’s, but these early recordings sound great.
Perhaps it had more to do with youthful ambition and ability than it did with the recording equipment. That first song, “Through Eyes & Glass,” was the first recording Ann and Nancy had ever completed in an actual recording studio and was possible only because the group they had been working with had some studio time left over after finishing their own tracks that day and allowed the sisters to use up the remaining time.
Although there are a number of songs that fans have never heard, there’s no mistaking who you’re listening to. Although I wish to take nothing away from Ann Wilson’s current ability as a singer, not one of us can escape the slow decline that accompanies us into our later years. Hearing her singing “new” material when she was 19 years old is like hearing Ann Wilson reborn.
There’s no denying that years of experience has allowed her to perfect her vocal technique and take her talent to its amazing limits, but there’s a raw element that reveals itself in some of these early recordings that makes clear the fact that these recordings were made at a certain time and at a certain place and that those moments can never be replicated. Those of us that have drifted into middle age realize now, more than ever, that we shall never be 19 again. Perhaps that realization becomes even more vivid as time goes on. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see.
The accompanying booklet sheds a little light on each recording with commentary from both Ann and Nancy which reveal bits and pieces that help provide answers to questions that might have been lingering in the minds of many fans, although I don’t doubt that there are a number of dedicated fans who may have figured many of these things out on their own. There are those of us that just want to rock with the music and there are those of us that want to dig deeper and try to understand the story the song is telling. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle although I probably lean a bit towards the former.
The DVD that’s included with this box set is another rare treat. Recorded during February and March of 1976, it showcases the group as they perform live at Washington State University. This is indeed early Heart and the somewhat awkward nature of Ann Wilson’s stage presence when she addresses the audience makes it clear that this is not the seasoned group of rockers that they ultimately evolved into. Indeed, although some of the dialog is a little awkward and tentative, it’s got an endearing quality to it as well.
Although the group likely faced a hard road ahead of them, it’s so refreshing to see the purity of a young and perhaps idealistic group who wanted to make great music for people. It’s quite easy to see for those of us not blinded by greed or the desire to be otherwise “rewarded” for offering contracts or other incentives to a new band trying to break onto the scene. I’m not privy to any specifics regarding the barriers that stood between the Wilson Sisters and success, but there are numerous clues that they have provided through their music – the medium described as “intimate, small conversations between Ann and Nancy and their audience.” Sometimes it ain’t hard to read between the lines.
If it is not abundantly clear by now, I’m pretty enamored with this box set. As a fan since the release of Dreamboat Annie in 1976, listening to the music, seeing the photos and reading the comments takes me back and spawns memories of various experiences in my own life that were being played out at the time. You can’t help but feel that Ann and Nancy Wilson are like old friends in some sense. They’ve always been as close as a turntable, CD player or MP3 file for all those years. They’ve been through a lot since those early day and so have their fans.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer at this point. If you’re a Heart fan – and particularly if you have been a Heart fan from the beginning – the $35 or so dollars you’ll drop for this box set is well worth it. I suppose it might be wise to include a disclaimer during troubled economic times like these and say something like: If you can afford it, it’s well worth grabbing a copy. At any rate, Amazon has it, along with just about everything else.
December 19, 2011
What good is a reissue anyway? In many cases, not much. One often gets the sense that reissues are just another way to milk a bit more cash from some classic music. Such is not the case with Jethro Tull’s Aqualung 40th Anniversary Special Edition and Collector’s Edition. This one is not one of your typical “remastered” releases, this one has been remixed and that’s what makes this release a very worthy addition to any Tull fan’s collection.
Fortunately for Jethro Tull fans, the fact that the original 1971 release of Aqualung was a bit flat – OK quite flat – sonically speaking, did not go unnoticed by Ian Anderson. The quirky frontman, it turns out, was disappointed with the final mix after spending many frustrating hours working with equipment that just wasn’t able to deliver the sound he had wanted. Although the material is brilliant and was executed superbly four decades ago, the sound quality of the album was always a disappointment, and left fans like myself wondering why they could not have done better. Now we know.
Although the quality of this new release is limited by the quality of those original master recordings that were used to remix this album, I can say without hesitation that the result was well worth every hour invested in it by Ian Anderson and Steve Wilson, the audio wiz behind this release. As revealed in the accompanying booklet, Wilson made use of the latest technology to bring out the best of the original recordings and tweak them just enough to finally make these classic tracks come alive.
Sitting here with both the original release and the new release queued up, comparing the two might best be summed up by saying that the original recording sounds as if someone has draped heavy blankets over my speakers while the new release brings the lows, the mids and the highs that were sorely lacking in the original release to life. For me personally, the lack of a good solid “bottom” (the low-end frequencies produced by instruments such as the bass, tom toms and kick drum) was always the most prominent deficiency on the original release.
I’m happy to report that the disappointments with the quality of the original release have been remedied by this new release. Although it might not be in the same league as something like Heart’s Dreamboat Annie which was recorded just four or so years after Aqualung, Steve Wilson deserves a massive amount of credit for milking an album’s worth of dramatically improved sound from those 40-year-old master tapes. Finally, one can crank Aqualung up to 11 and enjoy the full knock-you-down sonic experience that we’ve been missing for the past 40 years!
For those who may be struggling with the difference between a “remaster” and “remix,” perhaps Ian Anderson explains it best: “For those of you easily confused about such things, a ‘remix’ is not the same as a ‘re-master.’ Remixing involves going back to the original studio multi-track masters and balancing and perfecting the sound on all the individual instrumental and vocal tracks and creating from them a new stereo or 5.1 surround master.”
The Special Edition which includes two CDs and a 30-page booklet with photos, history of the group, details on the evolution of Aqualung tracks and a few words from Steve Wilson on the technical details of the remix process.
The limited collector’s edition includes a 180g heavyweight LP, 2 CDs, DVD, and Blu-Ray disc including various unreleased materials, a new stereo mix, the original Quad mix, and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital Surround. Also included is a 12″x12″ 48-page hardback book featuring liner notes and an interview with Ian, Q&A with engineer John Burns, Don Lawson, memoirs from band members, rare photos, lyrics and more.
After hearing the vastly improved audio quality of this new release, I suggest that serious Jethro Tull fans, run – not walk – to the store and grab a copy of this new release. As always, it’s available on Amazon.com as well.
November 7, 2011
Spinning up Journey’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 CD for the first time provided for me an experience that was true to the band’s name. Listening to those hits took me on a musical journey back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although the compilation includes tracks that were recorded between 1978 and 1996, it was those early songs like Stone In Love, Feeling That Way and Just the Same Way that really took me back to those Saturday nights sitting in my 1973 Chevrolet Laguna listening to the radio and hanging out with friends into the wee hours.
Of all the bands we listened to and loved during that time, I don’t feel as if I’m going too far out on a limb when I say that Journey’s share of airtime on rock radio probably outshined just about every other group. It’s not all that often I can put on a greatest hits album packed with seventeen songs and find each and every one of them instantly recognizable.
Even more impressive is the fact that I can look at the track listing from Journey’s Greatest Hits and realize that the same is true for that compilation. Although I was happy to listen to every Journey song that came on the radio during those days, I’m not sure I could have described myself as a bona fide fan since I don’t believe I ever purchased one of their albums and am certain I never attended any of their shows. I was never much of a concert guy, although I suspect my presence at a Journey show would have been a good bet if I was.
These days I believe I am justified when I consider myself a true Journey fan since I have acquired eight of their albums over the past decade or so, which has been increased to a total of nine with the arrival of this latest release.
The fact that this is a greatest hits album deprives me of the opportunity to opine about the songs themselves. I am, however, one who always seems to have something to say about engineering and sound quality. On that front I have no complaints. The mixes on my CD copy sound quite similar to the recordings I already had and are quite good for the most part. Perhaps I’d be considered unqualified to make that kind of judgment by vinyl aficionados since I find no fault with the sound quality I enjoy from a digital recording.
Speaking of vinyl, Journey’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 is also available on a gatefold double-vinyl edition which also includes an access code allowing the owner to download a digital copy of the re-mastered mix for vinyl. That move kind of makes my head hurt just a little bit, but maybe some vinyl devotees can muster the tolerance to endure the sound of a digital version while they are working on their computer or want to take the album on the go with them using one of those new-fangled iPods or portable MP3 players.
Leaving the not-so-thinly-veiled sarcasm aside, I actually think it’s pretty cool that a re-mastered vinyl version of this release is available for those who prefer that medium. Although I’m perfectly content listening to the digital version, I remain open to the idea that vinyl may indeed sound better in some way I don’t yet understand and would welcome the chance for someone with a capable set-up to convince me of that popular assertion some day.
Calling this a new release just doesn’t seem right despite the fact that technically, I suppose it is. What it represents to fans like me is a trip back in time that brings back a flood of memories of days (and nights) when I didn’t have to fret about forgetting my reading glasses at home, didn’t have to worry about hurting my back shoveling snow (ouch!) and couldn’t stop thinking about how those blue jeans fit on that girl from the other side of town who spent a few weeks hanging out with us. I believe she’s the reason I often mistakenly believe the title of Stone In Love is actually “Blue Jean Girl!”
May 25, 2011
The year 1979 must seem like ancient history to a good percentage of AC/DC’s present fans, kind of like when I hear my parents talk about 1952 or something. 1979 was ten years before my first son was born and during that time a youthful AC/DC was out touring the world. With singer Bon Scott still out front, the band probably had no idea the concert footage shot in Paris on that December day would be the last to include Scott. In a tragic and all-too-familiar exit from this life, he was found lifeless during the afternoon of February 20th, 1980 in a car after being left to sleep off a night of heavy drinking.
Although Scott was only 33 years old at the time of his death, the time he spent as the frontman for one of the hardest-rocking bands of all time certainly provided him with experiences that many can only dream about. Let There Be Rock will live on as a tribute to Scott’s brief, but highly-influential mark left behind on a group that continues to thrill fans world-wide some three decades later.
The untimely departure of Scott no doubt forced a profound readjustment for the group for obvious reasons, but beyond the emotional aspect, Bon Scott was a major creative force alongside the Young brothers as revealed in the DVD’s credits that list them as the composers of every song performed during that show.
Let There Be Rock might be what fans expect in many ways, since a good number of the bands hottest hits of the day are served up with a bit of interview footage sprinkled in between. The show features AC/DC staples such as “Live Wire,” “Highway To Hell,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Let There Be Rock,” and of course, more.
Although I’ve always found AC/DC to be a group I’m happy to listen to when it happened to come on MTV or a friend’s car radio, I don’t claim to be a hard-core AC/DC fan. Even so, some of the footage on Let There Be Rock took me back to a vivid memory of the first time I saw AC/DC on MTV or some other concert-oriented program of the day.
Obviously, the channel I was watching is not so indelibly etched in my memory, but the performance was another matter! In particular, the wild and nearly endless energy produced by human perpetual motion machine Angus Young. How he could play guitar (before the days of wireless no less!) and move his head like that and spin around on the floor like the “Tasmanian Devil” of Looney Tunes fame was, and still is, beyond me.
It was also interesting to note that Young’s “strip tease” routine is a well-rehearsed bit of comedy that’s been part of the show since at least 1979 when the film for this DVD was shot. It’s hard not to think of Young as a sort of second frontman given all the attention he seems to draw from the cameras as well as the fans.
As for the production of the DVD itself, the sound quality is very good on my standard DVD copy. As someone who might be considered notorious for my criticism of the sound on live recordings, that probably translates to the “sound quality is excellent” for those a bit less snobby with regard to studio vs. live recordings.
The video is also quite good, especially considering that it was filmed well before HD became part of the lexicon. How that original footage makes the transition to Blu-Ray on the limited collector’s edition is not known to me, but my suspicion is that it is worth picking up for those with the players and home theater systems that will permit the full high-quality experience of the show.
As one might expect, the whole live experience back in 1979 is not quite as extravagant as most of today’s rock shows where all the extras are concerned. There are no giant cannons or bigger-than-life Rosie dolls. Standard colored lighting and a flash of the full moon from Angus Young’s direction make do as the lasers, pyrotechnics and Jumbo Tron-style screens of the day. All of those extras are not necessarily exclusive to today, but Let There Be Rock is all about bringing the music to the assembled fans in The City of Light at that time. as well as those who to choose to add this historic recording to their personal collections.
Let There Be Rock is set for release on June 7th. The DVD features 97 minutes of color concert and interview footage featuring Dolby Surround Sound Stereo and 5.1 with closed captioning. The limited collector’s edition runs approximately 183 minutes and is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray.
February 28, 2011
I promise this will be my last “drummer geek” posting at least until I get back to the type of news I usually post here. Terry Bozzio, who has played with classic rock greats like Frank Zappa, certainly qualifies as a classic rocker as well as one of my all-time favorite drummers. If you tell just about any drummer that someone played drums for Frank Zappa, they’ll know you’re talking about an real stand-out player.
Bozzio first came to my attention back in the “glory days” of MTV when they actually played music videos. In fact, music videos where the only thing on MTV back in the early 80’s when they first came on the air. Bozzio was playing in a group called Missing Persons with his then-wife Dale who was the lead vocalist. Their single “Words” was played on a pretty regular basis during that period.
Although Bozzio certainly struck me as a solid and very competent drummer at the time, I did not follow his career or hear a whole lot about him until much later. I was unaware that he had played with Frank Zappa and replaced another great drummer, Bill Bruford, as a member of the progressive rock group UK whom he recorded two albums with.
I’ve since seen footage of Bozzio playing with both Frank Zappa and his Zappa’s son Dweezil. It was then that I realized what a phenomenal drummer Terry Bozzio is.
I hate to ruin it for everyone else, but this set of three DVD’s is not for entertainment purposes. This is drum geek stuff through and through. If things like rudiments, flams, paradiddles and polyrhythms turn you on, this is one DVD set you’ll want to check out. This guy is on serious percussionist and he actually explains things in a manner that is easy to understand even for drummers like me who simply play for fun and don’t get too hung up on technical stuff.
Although the DVD release is new, the material was originally recorded for VHS between 1990 and 1995. Even so, the material he covers is as relevant today as it was when it was back then. The guy played with Zappa! I think that says it all.
There’s plenty of demo footage were Bozzio shows exactly what he’s talking about, and as I pointed out before, he came across to me as a great teacher since I was actually able to understand a lot of what he was talking about, and I’m one who has always struggled with the technical aspects of drumming.
These DVDs are chock-full of great material for drummers who want to venture a bit into the realm of great drummers like Neil Peart, Vinnie Colaiuta and of course, Terry Bozzio. Topics included as part of this instructional set include:
Approach to the Modern Large Drum Kit
Improvising Within a Concept
Basic Approach to Ostinatos
Melodic Tom Patterns
Asymmetrical Hand/Foot Double Bass Patterns
Flam/Top Cymbal Combinations
Rudiments From Hell (Sounds like fun, eh?)
Two Part Contrapuntal Tom Melodies
Like I said, drum geek stuff, but very cool if you are that type of drum geek.
Total content is 254 minutes (over four hours!), so this stuff could keep someone busy for quite a while.
I hate to beat a dead horse here, but I’ll do it anyway. The best thing about this set for me was Bozzio’s teaching style. Although I don’t think I will personally spend a lot of time trying to master this stuff, it might be fun to play around with some of the ideas he presents whenever I manage to get myself set up with a kit and a place to play it some day.
For the serious student, I’d have to say this DVD set is a worthwhile investment. If you really want to learn advanced drumming concepts, there sure would be worse places to start than with Terry Bozzio. Say it with me: He played with Frank Zappa!