Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Latest Jimi Hendrix Compilation: A Snooze or a Scream?

The great Irish-American rock band Black 47’s most recent album Bankers and Gangsters includes a very funny song, The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix. It’s based on the incident where Jimi Hendrix’ bassist Noel Redding absconded to Ireland with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, and used them as collateral for a mortgage there. Redding may well have had an extra laugh at the bankers’ expense – who knows if the tapes were in good condition, let alone if the playing was any good, considering how notoriously uneven Hendrix’ live shows were in the months before he was murdered. Likewise, is there any Hendrix worth hearing that hasn’t already been unearthed in the past forty years? With any icon of this stature, caveat emptor is the word here: just ask any former sixteen-year-old who dumped $15 or so on one of those Curtis Knight albums in the pre-napster era. The premise of the latest Hendrix compilation, a lavish 59-track box set titled West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, is that there in fact is some meat left on the bones, and as it turns out the compilers are right. To further whet Hendrix completists’ appetites, in addition to fifteen early-to-mid-60s tracks featuring Hendrix as a sideman, original engineer Eddie Kramer was brought in for some debatable remixes of original studio recordings. There’s also plenty of marginalia seeing the light of day here officially for the first time, although pretty much all of it’s been circulating for decades in one form or another. Consider this an amazing double album further fleshed out with some obvious if welcome choices, some stuff that will be prized by hardcore Hendrix fans plus the by-now expected album side, or more, worth of stuff that was never released because it shouldn’t have been.

The Hendrix-as-sideman stuff is surprisingly lightweight, notable only for the guitar. But Rosa Lee Brooks’ shot at a top 40 soul hit, My Diary, has Jimi stunningly foreshadowing Axis: Bold As Love; the Isley Bros. Have You Ever Been Disappointed and The Icemen’s My Girl, She’s a Fox are rich with eerie, tremoloing broken chords; Billy LaMont’s Sweet Thang is a deliciously snarling one-chord funk vamp; and one of the Little Richard songs here is an unintentionally hilarious attempt to squeeze Mr. Penniman into a cliched early 60s dance-craze style (it doesn’t work, not even close).

As much as the outtakes are also a mixed bag, this is where the real treasures are. A ragged acoustic take of the lyrical, Dylanesque My Friend resonates as a snide dismissal of shallow scenesters. Mr. Bad Luck, a mid-60s Experience tune whose rhythm parts were re-recorded by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell twenty years later, could be interpreted as a premonition of Hendrix’ ultimate fate. Hear My Freedom, a proto-metal instrumental jam with organ takes a while to get going, but when the galloping beat kicks in it’s genius, a style echoed even more intensely on a later instrumental simply titled Bolero. A collaboration with Arthur Lee, Everlasting First, has political overtones and would have been perfectly at home on Electric Ladyland. There are also a deliciously Hendrixized version of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue, just crazy guitar, vocals and drums; a pretty scorching, politically charged Shame Shame Shame, a Voodoo Chile soundalike; and inspired, peak-era psychedelic versions of Hey Babe/New Rising Sun, New Rising Sun and In from the Storm.

The live stuff is choice, although most of it’s been readily available for a long time: the best tracks are absolutely unhinged versions of Stone Free and Foxey Lady, by Band of Gypsys. The remixes are uneven. Muting the psychedelia and bring out the rock works terrifically with Are You Experienced, maybe because that song is so hypnotic to begin with, but Love or Confusion – Hendrix’ best song – misses the cohesiveness of the original mix, a series of layers that don’t gel well when separated from the original feedback-iced morass. Pretty much every track here is up on youtube – it would have taken us as long to track down the links for all of these songs as it did to put this piece up to begin with, so we’re leaving that up to you. To experience how surprisingly rich it sounds, you need the actual item. Interestingly, the complete edition is only available as a cd box; itunes is limited to just sixteen of the tracks.

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December 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/21/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #892:

Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power

A characteristically intense yet nuanced concert recording by the great blues guitarist, clearly amped to be playing in front of a captive audience at the Fillmore West in 1968, probably making twice as much as he did playing the chitlin circuit where he honed his chops. Like a lot of lefthanded guitarists (Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo), Albert King had an instantly recognizable, signature style, in his case a finely honed, bent-note attack where he could say more with a note’s subtle inflection than most players could say in an entire album. This album captures both sides of King, his subtlety and ferocity, in a mix of extended excursions – Elmore James’ Blues at Sunrise and a sprawling, ten-minute version of King’s own Blues Power – as well as a spirited blast through the instrumental Night Stomp and a bit later, B.B. King’s Please Love Me. Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr. is his magnificently understated, groovemeister self and the rest of the band hangs back and lets King do his thing without getting in the way. Ask any fan of electric blues if they have this and the answer is that most of them do. As good as King is on this date, he’d get even better as the years wore on: pretty much any bootleg from the 80s has at least a few transcendent moments. Here’s a random torrent.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/24/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #430:

Jimi Hendrix – Love or Confusion

Arguably the most straight-up song he ever wrote, as gorgeous for its layers of wild, wind-whipped guitar as for Noel Redding’s soaring bassline. From Are You  Experienced, 1967. Mp3s everywhere.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #472:

Otis Rush – All Your Love

Arguably the greatest Chicago blues guitarist, Rush is lefthanded. Perhaps partly for that reason, like Hendrix, Albert King and Randi Russo, his playing has a distinctively dark feel. In Rush’s case, it’s a combination of screaming, tortured bent chords and ominous passing tones that mingle in his flights up and down the scale, giving his sound a special eeriness. If you’re a blues fan, you know this one, scary intro and outro making a somewhat jarring segue with the upbeat boogie in the middle. Mp3s are everywhere. Like all the best blues guys, Rush is at his best live: the 1975 Live in Japan version is choice, but there are other equally good versions (Chicago Blues, NYC, 2001, for example) floating around in bootleg-land. The link above is a characteristically expansive live take.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Kelly Richey – Carry the Light

Admired by her fellow musicians and blues fans around the world, singer/guitarist Kelly Richey and her band live on the road, playing a punishing schedule throughout mostly the midwest and south. Like a lot of great blues guitarists, this immaculately produced studio cd only hints at the intensity she can generate onstage, although her playing here is supremely tasteful. She gets a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, but her style is considerably more terse than his ever was, a lot closer to the more thoughtful side of both Freddie King and Jimi Hendrix (think Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand). Richey also happens to be a terrific singer, a song stylist with the same kind of subtle command and inflections as late-period Chrissie Hynde. This latest cd is more of a rock album – the blues here tend to have more of a modern feel. But that’s ok. Like any other style of music that’s still being played, the blues are bound to evolve. Richey manages to carry the torch, doing justice to her influences while putting her own unique stamp on it.

 

The cd opens with Leave the Blues Behind, a fast soul song in a Robert Cray vein with terse chorus-box guitar, beautifully modulated vocals and an equally terse, tasteful solo. The following cut, I Want You is not a Dylan cover – it’s darkly creeping late 60s/early 70s style riff-rock a la Cries from the Midnight Circus by the Pretty Things with a tasteful Freddie King-inflected solo. What in the World reminds of a cross between gentle, pensive Hendrix and vintage Tracy Chapman. After Carry the Light – a Texas boogie with some sly Billy Gibbons-style guitar – there’s Angela’s Song with its gospel-fueled southern soul groove.

 

With its layers of guitar sustain and vocal harmonies, Jericho Road is a slowly swaying, sunbaked minor-key haunter building to an impressively big, whirling outro. The next track, Run Like Hell isn’t a Floyd cover: it’s a return to late 60s style riff-rock. When All Is Said and Done starts out something of a Little Wing ripoff, growing more stately and anthemic with its atmospheric, David Gilmour-esque layers of guitar. The cd ends with a couple of boozy, Led Zep inflected riff-rockers and then another big ballad, Time for a Change, equal parts Henrix and Allmans with some of the most beautiful vocals on the album. Fans of the current crop of blues guitar hotshots – Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and the rest won’t be disappointed. Or if you like the idea of John Mayer but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of his albums – or if you like Bonnie Raitt in concert but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of her albums either – this is for you. Or sneak this into the mix at a Clapton fan’s barbecue and watch the jaws drop: “Who’s that playing guitar? Oh, that’s her. She’s good!”

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments