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.
July 6, 2011
His days on the big stage in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans may be over, but it’s a certainty that making music and sharing it with fans is not something Jon Anderson is ready to stop doing yet. It appears that quite a few people are curious about what he’s up to these days, how his health is holding up and why he’s not on the road with his old group as they tour with fellow classic rock legends Styx this summer.
Those issues have been given space here in the past, but perhaps it’s worth posting an update regarding Anderson’s current activities. It looks like his health is holding up pretty well given his current activities and that is great news for fans who wondered if he would ever perform again after his health scare during 2008.
Yes fans who now consider themselves more enthusiastic about Jon Anderson than a revamped Yes with a new front man occupying Anderson’s place on stage may be in luck this summer, but that depends a lot on where they live or their willingness to invest the time and money it would take to travel in order to catch one of his shows. These days he’s playing smaller and much more intimate venues which will give his fans a unique opportunity to get much closer to him than the amphitheater and casino venues where Yes is performing.
Anderson’s summer tour is not particularly ambitious when one considers that only nine shows are planned between now and August 11th. There could very well be a very good reason for that, however, since those serious health problems that kept him from re-joining his Yes band mates may be forcing him to take things a little slower these days. Still, Anderson seems to be making a favorable impression on fans and critics alike as reviews of his newly-released CD surface.
With his early summer tour of the east coast behind him, Anderson will be stepping out on July 9th to begin the tour that’s being billed as the one that will officially support his new CD, Survival & Other Stories. Among the reviews of the CD that I’m hearing about, a quote from one particular review caught my eye. Nick DeRiso of “Something Else Reviews” said, “Anderson, right from the first, simultaneously sounds more YES than he ever has as a solo artist and yet somehow different.”
As an old-school Yes fan, it’s interesting to hear that Anderson’s new CD may be more reminiscent of his work with Yes than his previous work as a solo artist. Although many Yes fans are clearly disappointed that he was unable to be part of the current Yes tour, this new CD may help soften the blow a little bit for those that simply cannot accept the group as Yes without Anderson.
Jon Anderson’s summer tour schedule is as follows:
July 9 – Courtenay, BC Vancouver, Canada – Vancouver Island Musicfest at Exhibition Grounds
July 10 – Courtenay, BC Vancouver, Canada – Vancouver Island MusicFest at Exhibition Grounds
July 12 – Seattle, WA – The Triple Door
July 14 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
July 31 – Vernon, BC, Canada – Komasket Music Festival Komasket Park
August 3 – Lincolnshire, IL – Viper Alley
August 5 – Saint Charles, IL – Arcada Theatre
August 7 – Jerseyville, ON – Festival Of Friends Ancaster Fairgrounds (with America)
August 11 – Shirley, MA – Bull Run Restaurant
June 10, 2010
It’s been 17 long years, but The Steve Miller Band is back with a brand-new studio album that’s set to hit stores on June 15th. Those anxious to get a listen can check it out for free online at Yahoo Music.
For those of you that are still reading, it’s probably fair for me to say that I’m not and never been a huge Steve Miller fan. I’ve never bought one of The Steve Miller Band’s albums, but at the same time, I never considered their music a “channel changer” either.
That means if I was tooling round town in my 1973 Chevy Laguna back in the old days, and a Steve Miller song came on the radio, I would not have changed the channel. It was one of those acts that I liked enough to listen to on the radio, but not quite enough to buy the record, the cassette or the, ahem, 8-track.
The new album is called Bingo! and I’m listening to it as I write, hoping the impressions will flow smoother “in the moment.”
First things first. I really do like this album. And believe me, nobody is paying me to say that. Unless of course you consider a digital download of the album for review purposes a “pay off.” With all the shenanigans going on these days just about everywhere, I think it’s important that readers know that I don’t do “paid reviews.”
Back to business. When I first fired up Bingo! in the MP3 player (what’s an “8-track?”), what struck me right off was, “Hey, that’s Steve Miller!”
What I mean is that he sounds just like he did in 1973! It seems as if the man’s voice has not changed at all in 40 or so years! That’s not a bad thing, it was just kind of cool for me to put that on after many years of not hearing him, and discovering that he sounds exactly the same. Maybe I’m alone on this one, but it just struck me as kind of weird – in a cool sort of way.
Track number one is called “Hey Yeah,” and it introduces us to a more blues-oriented Steve Miller with a dash of funk thrown into the mix. The entire album sounds more laid back to me when compared with some of his previous hits, but since it’s Miller indulging the blues side of his musical persona, that’s to be expected.
“Who’s Been Talking” takes us firmly into blues territory, and although I’m hesitant to compare anyone to the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan, it sounds a bit like something he might have done. Not being a huge blues guy, SRV is one of a very few genuine blues guitarists I’ve spent any significant amount of time listening to. In fact, Bingo! includes some cover tracks written by SRV’s brother Jimmie, among others by legends like B.B. King.
Rather than running down the entire list, I feel pretty safe saying you will probably like this new album if you are a fan a bluesy, guitar-driven rock and roll. The band is solid and the album also features some very capable guest performers, including Joe Satriani and the group’s newest member, vocalist Sonny Charles (formerly with the Checkmates) whose sound cannot not be improved upon much if you’re looking for a guy to make a blues album with.
Miller has described Bingo! as a “party record,” a description I find no fault with. I can easily imagine this album fueling a dance floor crammed with gyrating party goers. On the other hand, it’s a good foot-tapping album to just sit and listen to as well, particularly for guitar lovers. Not terribly surprising since we are talking about Steve Miller here.
Changes in the music business have really shaken things up in recent years, and as a result, fans have access to stuff we would have never dreamed of years ago. Take advantage of the digital revolution and check Bingo! out for yourself online now.
October 19, 2009
Tomorrow marks the release of the new Jethro Tull live CD/DVD set. From their Heavy Horses tour, the video and audio was recorded during a performance at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden and beamed around the world live via satellite. Something of an event in the days before satellite communications became so commonplace. In fact, the show had to be broken up into three segments due to the lack of broadcast time that was available on the satellite at the time, with the middle portion being shown on television.
The set consists of a single DVD and a single CD. The DVD includes just the audio for the first segment of the show which is comprised of three songs.
The middle portion of the show was televised and the resulting 50 or so minutes of video footage is included on the DVD. Eight songs are performed for the middle segment including hits like “Aqualung” and “Thick As A Brick.” Fans should not expect to see video footage presented in wide-screen “movie” format since the show was being shot for broadcast on television, and as we all know, there certainly was no HD in 1978.
The final segment on the DVD features the audio from three more songs, including “Cross Eyed Mary” and an encore of “Locomotive Breath.”
I had not seen Jethro Tull perform live before this, but I can say without any hesitation that they were certainly not a boring group to watch. Ian Anderson’s energy is extraordinary, and I’m not quite sure the man stood still for a single second during the entire performance. There is little doubt that both Anderson and the rest of the group poured every ounce of energy and ability at their disposal into that show.
Although the group took liberties with the arrangements of some well-known material, as one might expect during a live show, none of the changes diminished the quality of the performance for me. As is typically the case, the frontman got the lion’s share of the face time, and although some of us might have appreciated a little bit more attention directed at some of the other musicians, that appears to be the nature of show business and is not unique to this recording.
As anyone who has read my reviews of live albums in the past will know, my main sticking point is always the sound. I freely admit I am a bit of an audio snob, and I am often disappointed with live albums due to the mix, the acoustics, the microphone placement or any number of other circumstances I might be find disagreeable.
I’m happy to report that the sound quality of this live set is quite good. Especially when one considers that it was recorded 31 years ago! Kudos to Robin Black and Peter Mew, two gentlemen who were responsible for the mixing of the original recording and the newer 5.1 Dolby and stereo mixes respectively. Those are the names that most fans probably never notice among all the others in the liner notes, but they contribute enormously to the quality of the finished product. It really is a superb live recording.
Although I’ve been a fan of Jethro Tull since the 1970’s, I’m not sure I ever listened as carefully to their arrangements as I might have before receiving this new set. Certain passages are almost fusion-like to my ears, and reveal an impressive quantity of talent on that stage that I may have never fully appreciated before.
The CD that accompanies the DVD contains all the audio material from the DVD with the exception of the encore performance of “Locomotive Breath” and a few short non-musical segments like band introductions and such.
Although it is probably obvious by now, I would not hesitate to recommend this set to any Jethro Tull fan. As rare as it may seem coming from me, the quality of this recording elevates its status to one that is worthy of listening to for the audio alone.
Ian Anderson is currently on tour here in the U.S. Having finished up for the remainder of this month with a show yesterday in Connecticut, he will next appear in Phoenix at the Dodge Theatre on November 3rd.
Thanks to the folks at EMI for the review copy of this recording. At the same time, I should also mention that I was not compensated in any way for this review beyond the review copy of the set that I received.
September 30, 2009
Canadian rockers Rush are breaking new ground with the up-coming release of a “Best Of” Live compilation. The new compilation is set for release on November 17 and will be released on DVD through Rounder and on CD by Atlantic.
Working Men is the title of this new release and will include material that has been taken from the group’s three other live DVD releases, Rush in Rio, R30 & Snakes and Arrows Live. In addition to the recordings previously available on other releases, there will also be a previously unreleased track entitled “One Little Victory.”
Although Rush seemed to attract a cult following for much of their career, recent developments have signaled an appeal to a wider audience. Appearances on popular television programs such as Comedy Central’s Colbert Report and in movies like I love You Man, it appears that the group is recognized by more rock fans today than during it’s early years when albums like 2112 and Hemispheres were being eagerly devoured by their dedicated fans.
Recent comments from the group indicate they more new material is in store from Rush. The group seemed to find new inspiration by working with producer Nick Raskulinecz on their last studio album, Snakes & Arrows. Raskulinecz is said to have pushed the group beyond their perceived limits and proved to them that they still have what it takes to fill stadiums and sell millions of albums.