segunda-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2012

The Chocolate Watchband - The Inner Mystique 1968

Inner Mystique seems to be the Chocolate Watchband album that fans and casual listeners know best, even though it was the one of their three records that was most disconnected from any active incarnation of the group. Slapped together in late 1967, in the wake of the virtual collapse of their lineup and rushed out in February of 1968, its original first side contained not a single note played or sung by the Watchband itself. Instead, engineer Richie Podolor assembled a group of studio musicians, playing a pair of languid psychedelic instrumentals -- "Voyage of the Trieste" and "Inner Mystique" -- in which the sitar flourishes and flute arabesques hung like jeweled ornaments, sandwiched around a new recording by singer Don Bennett (who'd already supplied some vocals without the group's knowledge or approval on their first album) of "In the Past," the latter a song originally written and recorded by the Florida-based psychedelic-punk band We the People. The second side was comprised of a hodgepodge of superb finished Watchband sides -- most notably "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "I Ain't No Miracle Worker," mixing punk bravado and angst, which have long been the album's selling points -- and outtakes such as "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and "Medication," with Bennett's vocals replacing David Aguilar's, and one remixed and partly redubbed version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." As with the group's first album, however, Inner Mystique is sort of "guilty with an explanation" -- yes, it's a mess in terms of continuity, with two different singers and three different vocal/instrumental combinations present, but the three full Watchband tracks are killer recordings that can hold their heads up with the best rock records of 1967; what's more, even the Bennett-sung/studio band played "In the Past" is worthwhile, Watchband or not, as a piece of shimmering psychedelia with a great beat and arrangement; and even "Voyage of the Trieste" and "Inner Mystique," as pieces of psychedelic background music, were good enough that one of them ended up on Rhino's Best of the Chocolate Watchband collection. And that's not bad for a 28-minute album with only eight cuts on it, pieced together with only the barest (if any) participation by the band. AMG.

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Jefferson Airplane - Crown Of Creation 1968

The group's fourth album, appearing ten months following After Bathing at Baxter's, isn't the same kind of leap forward that Baxter's represented from Surrealistic Pillow. Indeed, in many ways, Crown of Creation is a more conservative album stylistically, opening with "Lather," a Grace Slick original that was one of the group's very last forays (and certainly their last prominent one) into a folk idiom. Much of what follows is a lot more based in electric rock, as well as steeped in elements of science fiction (specifically author John Wyndham's book The Chrysalids) in several places, but Crown of Creation was still deliberately more accessible musically than its predecessor, even as the playing became more bold and daring within more traditional song structures. Jack Casady by this time had developed one of the most prominent and distinctive bass sounds in American rock, as identifiable (if not quite as bracing) as John Entwistle's was with the Who, as demonstrated on "In Time," "Star Track," "Share a Little Joke," "If You Feel," (where he's practically a second lead instrument), and the title song, and Jorma Kaukonen's slashing, angular guitar attack was continually surprising as his snaking lead guitar parts wended their way through "Star Track" and "Share a Little Joke." The album also reflected the shifting landscape of West Coast music with its inclusion of "Triad," a David Crosby song that Crosby's own group, the Byrds, had refused to release -- its presence (the only extant version of the song for a number of years) was a forerunner of the sound that would later be heard on Crosby's own debut solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name (on which Slick, Paul Kantner, and Casady would appear). The overall album captured the group's rapidly evolving, very heavy live sound within the confines of some fairly traditional song structures, and left ample room for Slick and Marty Balin to express themselves vocally, with Balin turning in one of his most heartfelt and moving performances on "If You Feel." "Ice Cream Phoenix" pulses with energy and "Greasy Heart" became a concert standard for the group -- the studio original of the latter is notable for Slick's most powerful vocal performance since "Somebody to Love." And the album's big finish, "The House at Pooneil Corners," seemed to fire on all cylinders, their amps cranked up to ten (maybe 11 for Casady), and Balin, Slick, and Kantner stretching out on the disjointed yet oddly compelling tune and lyrics. It didn't work 100 percent, but it made for a shattering finish to the album. Crown of Creation has been reissued on CD several times, including a Mobile Fidelity audiophile edition at the start of the '90s, but in 2003, RCA released a remastered edition with four bonus tracks from the same sessions including the mono single mix of "Share a Little Joke," the previously unreleased 8 minute "The Saga of Sydney Spacepig," Spencer Dryden's co-authored "Ribump Ba Bap Dum Dum," which is a spaced-out assembly of noises, effects, and pop-culture catch-phrases, and the more accessible "Would You Like a Snack?," an atonal piece of musical scatology featuring Grace Slick and co-authored by Slick and Frank Zappa. AMG.

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The Small Faces - Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake 1968

There was no shortage of good psychedelic albums emerging from England in 1967-1968, but Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is special even within their ranks. The Small Faces had already shown a surprising adaptability to psychedelia with the single "Itchycoo Park" and much of their other 1967 output, but Ogden's Nut Gone Flake pretty much ripped the envelope. British bands had an unusual approach to psychedelia from the get-go, often preferring to assume different musical "personae" on their albums, either feigning actual "roles" in the context of a variety show (as on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album), or simply as storytellers in the manner of the Pretty Things on S.F. Sorrow, or actor/performers as on the Who's Tommy. The Small Faces tried a little bit of all of these approaches on Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, but they never softened their sound. Side one's material, in particular, would not have been out of place on any other Small Faces release -- "Afterglow (Of Your Love)" and "Rene" both have a pounding beat from Kenny Jones, and Ian McLagan's surging organ drives the former while his economical piano accompaniment embellishes the latter; and Steve Marriott's crunching guitar highlights "Song of a Baker." Marriott singing has him assuming two distinct "roles," neither unfamiliar -- the Cockney upstart on "Rene" and "Lazy Sunday," and the diminutive soul shouter on "Afterglow (Of Your Love)" and "Song of a Baker." Some of side two's production is more elaborate, with overdubbed harps and light orchestration here and there, and an array of more ambitious songs, all linked by a narration by comic dialect expert Stanley Unwin, about a character called "Happiness Stan." The core of the sound, however, is found in the pounding "Rollin' Over," which became a highlight of the group's stage act during its final days -- the song seems lean and mean with a mix in which Ronnie Lane's bass is louder than the overdubbed horns. Even "Mad John," which derives from folk influences, has a refreshingly muscular sound on its acoustic instruments. Overall, this was the ballsiest-sounding piece of full-length psychedelia to come out of England, and it rode the number one spot on the U.K. charts for six weeks in 1968, though not without some controversy surrounding advertisements by Immediate Records that parodied the Lord's Prayer. Still, Ogden's was the group's crowning achievement -- it had even been Marriott's hope to do a stage presentation of Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, though a television special might've been more in order. As with most Immediate Records releases, it has gone through multiple reissue cycles on vinyl and CD; the original LP came in a circular sleeve in keeping with the design of the cover, and was reissued in a more convention jacket during the 1970s and early '80s. Most of the CD versions until the 1990s were, in keeping with the poor state of the Immediate Records tape library, substandard in sound, but since 1994 or so there has been a succession of good-sounding digital remasterings. AMG.

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Joe Cocker - Mad Dogs & Englishmen 1970

Listening to this CD brings back a lot of memories. Mad Dogs & Englishmen was just about the most elaborate album that A&M Records had ever released, back in 1971, a double LP in a three-panel, fold-out, gatefold sleeve, with almost 80 minutes of music inside and a ton of photos, graphics, and annotation wrapping around it. A live recording done in tandem with a killer documentary film of the same U.S. tour, it was recorded at the Fillmore East, where the movie was a cross-country affair, and the two were, thus, completely separate entities -- also, as people couldn't "buy" the film in those days, the double LP has lingered longer in the memory, by virtue of its being on shelves, and also being taken off those shelves to be played. Unlike a lot of other "coffee table"-type rock releases of the era, such as Woodstock and The Concert for Bangladesh, people actually listened to Mad Dogs & Englishmen -- most of its content was exciting, and its sound, a veritable definition of big-band rock with three dozen players working behind the singer, was unique. The CD offers a seriously good sound, whether it's just Joe Cocker and a pianist and organist in the opening of "Bird on a Wire," or the entire band going full-tilt on "Cry Me a River"; the remastering was set at a high volume level and there was a decent amount of care taken to get the detail right, so you can appreciate the presence of the multiple drummers, and the legion of guitarists and singers, plus the multiple keyboard players. The lead guitar and solo piano on "Feelin' Alright," for example, come through, but so do the 34 other players and singers behind the lead. This record was also just as much a showcase for Leon Russell as it was for Joe Cocker, which A&M probably didn't mind a bit, as Russell was selling millions of records at the time. As is now known, and it's recounted in the new notes, the tour from which this album was drawn all but wiped out Joe Cocker -- on a psychic level -- because the music was presented on such a vast scale (and there is a moment in the movie where he mentions breaking up his former backing group, the Grease Band, with a hint of regret in his voice) and his own contribution was so muted by Russell's work as arranger and bandleader. He may well have been the "victim" of a "hijacking" of sorts, but the musical results, apart from the dubious "Give Peace a Chance," are difficult to argue about upon hearing this record anew, decades after the fact -- it's almost all bracing and beautiful. AMG.

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Leon Russell - Hank Wilson's Back! 1973

Leon Russell knows something about country music. Born in Oklahoma, virtually all of the country and blues made their way through Tulsa along with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. And while Russell is known primarily as a rock & roll performer, that doesn't mean jack. The 14 songs here offer a glimpse of where Russell's heart really lies. All classic country and bluegrass tunes, Hank Wilson's Back features Russell and a few dozen of his closest friends from both L.A. and Nashville tearing up the classics. With everyone from Melba Montgomery, Billy Byrd, Johnny Gimble, Bob Moore, Weldon Myrick, and Pete Drake to Carl Radle, David Briggs, Charlie McCoy, and fellow Okie J.J. Cale, Russell in his alter ego runs through standards such as Lester Flatt's "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Jambalaya," Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen," Hank Thompson's "Six Pack to Go," Leon Payne's "Lost Highway," George Jones' "The Window up Above," Jimmie Driftwood's "The Battle of New Orleans," and as a closer, Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene". This is no idle affair. Russell's reads of these classic songs from the country and bluegrass canon are played with fire, verve, and reverence, and he uses every trick in the book to get at the bottom of their meaning, allowing his voice to do things it never did before or since this recording. The playing is well rehearsed and stellar, and since it is played straight, the arrangements are minimal, making Cale's production job that much easier. Hank Wilson's Back is raw, immediate, and full of the kind of drunken passion that only someone who loves the country music tradition could execute. Highly recommended. AMG.

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sexta-feira, 24 de fevereiro de 2012

Gordon Haskell - It Is And It Isn't 1971

Gordon Haskell issued this solo album to absolutely no critical notice or public response of any kind in 1974, which is sort of a shame -- not that it's exactly an earth-shattering record, but it does represent a relatively light, lyric-oriented brand of progressive rock (almost resembling the Moody Blues more than it does Haskell's former group, King Crimson), and a good entry in the field. Latter-day Crimson member John Wetton is present here, playing bass and organ and providing backing vocals on this rather sweet-textured, languid, and highly melodic assembly of songs, which mostly show off Haskell's unusual vocal range but leave ample room for classical stylings on the electric and acoustic guitars and jazz-inspired fills on the drums. When Haskell does rock out, as on "Sitting by the Fire," the effect is startling, the crunchy electric rhythm guitar (courtesy of Dave Spinoza) and bold lead parts (by Alan Barry) wrapping around decent, memorable hooks and choruses -- "No Need" is a similarly accessible piece of romantic balladry that might have passed for an England Dan/John Ford Coley demo. And then there's "Worm," a pounding, too-serious-for-words meditation on (apparently) life, death, and being devoured, that repeats a cool opening electric guitar flourish in various guises and allows Barry the chance to stretch out on a related series of riffs. "Spider" is some kind of personal commentary on the music business, possibly referring to managers and their potentially devouring ways -- Haskell would know that best -- but it is funny and cheerfully upbeat in mood, with some pleasing choruses. And "Benny the Beaver," with its fascinating but confusing references to various elements of the music business, also seems to be about a subject that mattered to Haskell, and it's a pity he couldn't have shared it more clearly, but the principal acoustic guitar riff is pretty, and some of the transitions recall King Crimson's "Cadence and Cascade" (which Haskell sang), and the final section in which an old-style music hall showband picks up the riff demonstrates more humor than most entire art-rock albums of this period ever dared revealed. From a broader perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the recording is that it was produced by Arif Mardin, who, at the time, was moving into some much more profitable and visible projects with the Bee Gees that went in a completely different direction; on this album, Mardin's evident goal was to meld Haskell's pop-progressive sound with the clean, sharp mixes that King Crimson of that era was using on their albums, with the results that the drumming (courtesy of Bill Atkinson) and Wetton's bass, as well as Haskell's acoustic guitar, sound like they were recorded during leftover time from a Crimson session. All in all, this is a fun piece of King Crimson ephemera, and pretty pleasant on its own terms, and the 1998 Blueprint CD reissue is a real treat, with a cleaner sound than could be found on the generally lousy Atlantic vinyl pressings (most of which were promo copies), and all of the lyrics reprinted. AMG.

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V.A. - Vanishing Point OST 1971

The 1971 movie Vanishing Point managed to become a cult hit, with its story of a Benzedrine-popping driver (Barry Newman) in a race for his life with the police of several states, but somehow the soundtrack managed to remain out-of-print until 2004, when Soundtrack Classics reissued it on CD. The music is surprisingly cohesive, primarily built around different aspects of country-rock as embodied variously by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the Doug Dillard Expedition, and Jerry Reed, with some gospel tracks by Segarini & Bishop and Big Mama Thornton, plus Mountain's "Mississippi Queen." The music is all eminently listenable and then some, and has an earthiness that makes it more than a little bracing -- only the lyrical, string-dominated love theme, provided by Jimmy Bowen and his orchestra, breaks that mood and even it works within its own musical context, and is explainable given the time in which the movie was made. The entire release rather favorably recalls the soundtracks to Easy Rider and Zabriskie Point, but Vanishing Point stands up quite nicely musically on its own. AMG.

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Richard Wright - Wet Dream 1978

Richard Wright, often known as Rick Wright, was an English keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter who was a founding member of Pink Floyd. Though best known for his longtime membership in the legendary progressive rock band, he also released a couple solo albums. Born July 28, 1943, in Hatch End, Middlesex, England, he co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, and Nick Mason. The band made its full-length album debut in 1967 with the psychedelic classic The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Wright is credited on the album with organ, piano, and vocals (most notably singing "Astronomy Domine"); he is also credited as a songwriter. Pink Floyd released a long line of albums in subsequent years, including the masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon (1973), before splintering in the early '80s. During the early years of Pink Floyd, Wright was an integral member, though his creative input lessened over the years as Waters increasingly assumed control of the band. Ultimately, Wright was kicked out of the band by Waters during the recording of The Wall (1979), and while he toured with the band in support of the album, he didn't participate in the recording of The Final Cut (1983), the final Waters-era Pink Floyd album. In the wake of Waters' departure from Pink Floyd, Wright returned to the band for the latter-day albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994). He also toured with the band and is featured on the live albums The Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Pulse (1995). As a solo artist, Wright released two albums, Wet Dream (1978) and Broken China (1996). He also co-founded the short-lived band Zee, which released one album, Identity (1984). He died of cancer on September 15, 2008. AMG.

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Paul Butterfield - Put It In Your Ear 1976

Paul Butterfield was the first white harmonica player to develop a style original and powerful enough to place him in the pantheon of true blues greats. It's impossible to overestimate the importance of the doors Butterfield opened: before he came to prominence, white American musicians treated the blues with cautious respect, afraid of coming off as inauthentic. Not only did Butterfield clear the way for white musicians to build upon blues tradition (instead of merely replicating it), but his storming sound was a major catalyst in bringing electric Chicago blues to white audiences who'd previously considered acoustic Delta blues the only really genuine article. His initial recordings from the mid-'60s -- featuring the legendary, racially integrated first edition of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band -- were eclectic, groundbreaking offerings that fused electric blues with rock & roll, psychedelia, jazz, and even (on the classic East-West) Indian classical music. As members of that band -- which included Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop -- drifted away, the overall impact of Butterfield's music lessened, even if his amplified harp playing was still beyond reproach. He had largely faded from the scene by the mid-'70s, and fell prey to health problems and drug addiction that sadly claimed his life prematurely. Even so, the enormity of Butterfield's initial impact ensured that his legacy was already secure.

Butterfield was born December 17, 1942, in Chicago and grew up in Hyde Park, a liberal, integrated area on the city's South Side. His father, a lawyer, and mother, a painter, encouraged Butterfield's musical studies from a young age, and he took flute lessons up through high school, with the first-chair flutist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra serving as his private tutor for a time. By this time, however, Butterfield was growing interested in the blues music that permeated the South Side; he and college-age friend Nick Gravenites (a future singer, guitarist, and songwriter in his own right) began hitting the area blues clubs in 1957. Butterfield was inspired to take up guitar and harmonica, and he and Gravenites began playing together on college campuses around the Midwest. After being forced to turn down a track scholarship to Brown University because of a knee injury, Butterfield entered the University of Chicago, where he met a fellow white blues fan in guitarist Elvin Bishop. Butterfield was evolving into a decent singer, and not long after meeting Bishop, he focused all his musical energy on the harmonica, developing his technique (mostly on diatonic harp, not chromatic) and tone; he soon dropped out of college to pursue music full-time.

After some intense woodshedding, Butterfield and Bishop began making the rounds of the South Side's blues clubs, sitting in whenever they could. They were often the only whites present, but were quickly accepted because of their enthusiasm and skill. In 1963, the North Side club Big John's offered Butterfield's band a residency; he'd already recruited Howlin' Wolf's rhythm section -- bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay -- by offering more money, and replaced original guitarist Smokey Smothers with his friend Bishop. The new quartet made an instant splash with their hard-driving versions of Chicago blues standards. In late 1964, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was discovered by producer Paul Rothchild, and after adding lead guitarist Michael Bloomfield, they signed to Elektra and recorded several sessions for a debut album, the results of which were later scrapped.

At first, there was friction between Butterfield and Bloomfield, since the harmonica man patterned his bandleading style after taskmasters like Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter; after a few months, though, their respect for each other's musical skills won out, and they began sitting in together at blues clubs around the city. A song from their aborted first session, the Nick Gravenites-penned "Born in Chicago," was included on the Elektra sampler Folksong '65 and created a strong buzz about the band. In the summer of 1965, they re-entered the studio for a second crack at their debut album, adding organist Mark Naftalin as a permanent sixth member during the sessions. In the meantime, they were booked to play that year's Newport Folk Festival. When Bob Dylan witnessed their well-received performance at an urban blues workshop during the festival, he recruited Butterfield's band to back him for part of his own set later that evening. Roundly booed by acoustic purists, Dylan's plugged-in performance with the Butterfield Band ultimately shook the folk world to its foundations, kickstarting an electric folk-rock movement that effectively spelled the end of the traditionalist folk revival.

On the heels of their historic performance at Newport, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band released their self-titled debut album later in 1965. Now regarded as a classic, the LP caused quite a stir among white blues fans who had never heard electric Chicago-style blues performed by anyone besides British blues-rock groups. Not only did it sow the seeds of a thousand bar bands, but it also helped introduce more white listeners to the band's influences, especially Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Toward the end of 1965, drummer Sam Lay fell ill and was replaced by the jazz-trained Billy Davenport, whose rhythmic agility and sophistication soon made him a permanent member. He was particularly useful since Butterfield was pushing to expand the band's sound, aided by Bloomfield's growing interest in Eastern music, especially Ravi Shankar. Their growing eclecticism manifested itself on their second album, 1966's East-West, which remains their greatest achievement. The title cut was a lengthy instrumental suite incorporating blues, jazz, rock, psychedelia, and raga; although it became their signature statement, the rest of the album was equally inspired, perhaps due in part to Butterfield's more relaxed, democratic approach to bandleading.

Unfortunately, Mike Bloomfield left the band at the height of its success in 1967, and formed a new group called the Electric Flag with Nick Gravenites, which aspired to take East-West's eclecticism even further. Bishop moved into the lead guitar slot for the band's third album, 1967's The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (a reference to Bishop's nickname). Displaying a greater soul influence, the album also featured a new rhythm section in bassist Bugsy Maugh and drummer Phil Wilson, plus a horn section that included a young David Sanborn. Pigboy Crabshaw proved to be the closing point of the Butterfield Band's glory days; the 1968 follow-up, In My Own Dream, was uneven in its songwriting and focus, and both Elvin Bishop and Mark Naftalin left the band before year's end. Still hoping for a breakout commercial hit, Elektra brought in producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, a longtime R&B professional, which marked the first time they'd asserted control over a Butterfield recording. That didn't sit well with Butterfield, who wanted to move in a jazzier direction than Ragovoy's radio-friendly style allowed; the result, 1969's Keep on Moving, was another inconsistent outing, despite the return of Billy Davenport and an injection of energy from the band's new guitarist, 19-year-old Buzzy Feiten. 1969 wasn't a washout for Butterfield, though; his band was still popular enough to make the bill at Woodstock, and he also took part in an all-star Muddy Waters session dubbed Fathers and Sons, which showcased the Chicago giant's influence on the new generation of bluesmen and greatly broadened his audience.

After 1970's Live and the following year's studio effort Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin', Butterfield broke up his band and parted ways with Elektra. Tired of all the touring and personnel turnover, he retreated to the communal atmosphere of Woodstock, still a musicians' haven in the early '70s, and in 1971 formed a new group eventually dubbed Better Days. Guitarist Amos Garrett and drummer Chris Parker were the first to join, and with folk duo Geoff and Maria Muldaur in tow, the band was initially fleshed out by organist Merl Saunders and bassist John Kahn, both from San Francisco. Sans Geoff Muldaur, this aggregation worked on the soundtrack of the film Steelyard Blues, but Saunders and Kahn soon returned to the Bay Area, and were replaced by New Orleans pianist Ronnie Barron and Taj Mahal bassist Billy Rich. This lineup -- with Geoff Muldaur back, plus contributions from singer/songwriter Bobby Charles -- released the group's first album, Better Days, in 1972 on Butterfield manager Albert Grossman's new Bearsville label. While it didn't quite match up to Butterfield's earliest efforts, it did return him to critical favor. A follow-up, It All Comes Back, was released in 1973 to positive response, and in 1975 he backed Muddy Waters once again on The Woodstock Album, the last LP release ever on Chess.

Butterfield subsequently pursued a solo career, with diminishing returns. His Henry Glover-produced solo debut, Put It in Your Ear, appeared in 1976, but failed to impress many: his harmonica playing was pushed away from the spotlight, and the material was erratic at best. The same year, he appeared in the Band's farewell concert film, The Last Waltz. Over the next few years, Butterfield mostly confined himself to session work; he attempted a comeback in 1981 with legendary Memphis soul producer Willie Mitchell, but the sessions -- released as North-South -- were burdened by synthesizers and weak material. By this time, Butterfield's health was in decline; years of heavy drinking were beginning to catch up to him, and he also contracted peritonitis, a painful intestinal condition. At some point -- none of his friends knew quite when -- Butterfield also developed an addiction to heroin; he'd been stridently opposed to it as a bandleader, leading to speculation that he was trying to ease his peritonitis symptoms. He began to play more gigs in Los Angeles during the early '80s, and eventually relocated there permanently; he also toured on a limited basis during the mid-'80s, and in 1986 released his final album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again. However, his addiction was bankrupting him, and in the past half-decade he'd seen Mike Bloomfield, Muddy Waters, and manager Albert Grossman pass away, each loss leaving him shaken. On May 4, 1987, Butterfield himself died of a drug overdose; he was not quite 45 years old. AMG.

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terça-feira, 21 de fevereiro de 2012

The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out! 1966

One of the most ambitious debuts in rock history, Freak Out! was a seminal concept album that somehow foreshadowed both art rock and punk at the same time. Its four LP sides deconstruct rock conventions right and left, eventually pushing into territory inspired by avant-garde classical composers. Yet the album is sequenced in an accessibly logical progression; the first half is dedicated to catchy, satirical pop/rock songs that question assumptions about pop music, setting the tone for the radical new directions of the second half. Opening with the nonconformist call to arms "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," Freak Out! quickly posits the Mothers of Invention as the antithesis of teen-idol bands, often with sneering mockeries of the teen-romance songs that had long been rock's commercial stock-in-trade. Despite his genuine emotional alienation and dissatisfaction with pop conventions, though, Frank Zappa was actually a skilled pop composer; even with the raw performances and his stinging guitar work, there's a subtle sophistication apparent in his unorthodox arrangements and tight, unpredictable melodicism. After returning to social criticism on the first song of the second half, the perceptive Watts riot protest "Trouble Every Day," Zappa exchanges pop song structure for experiments with musique concrète, amelodic dissonance, shifting time signatures, and studio effects. It's the first salvo in his career-long project of synthesizing popular and art music, high and low culture; while these pieces can meander, they virtually explode the limits of what can appear on a rock album, and effectively illustrate Freak Out!'s underlying principles: acceptance of differences and free individual expression. Zappa would spend much of his career developing and exploring ideas -- both musical and conceptual -- first put forth here; while his myriad directions often produced more sophisticated work, Freak Out! contains at least the rudiments of almost everything that followed, and few of Zappa's records can match its excitement over its own sense of possibility. AMG.

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King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King 1969

The group's definitive album, and one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded by anybody. At the time, it blew all of the progressive/psychedelic competition (the Moody Blues, the Nice, etc.) out of the running, although it was almost too good for the band's own good -- it took King Crimson nearly four years to come up with a record as strong or concise. Ian McDonald's Mellotron is the dominant instrument, along with his saxes and Fripp's guitar, making this a somewhat different-sounding record from everything else they ever did. And even though that Mellotron sound is muted and toned down compared to their concert work of the era (e.g., Epitaph), it is still fierce and overpowering, on an album highlighted by strong songwriting (most of it filled with dark and doom-laden visions), the strongest singing of Greg Lake's entire career, and Fripp's guitar playing that strangely mixed elegant classical, Hendrix-like rock explosions, and jazz noodling. Lineup changes commenced immediately upon the album's release, and Fripp would ultimately be the only survivor on later King Crimson records. AMG.

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Soft Machine - Third 1970

The Soft Machine plunged deeper into jazz and contemporary electronic music on this pivotal release, which incited the Village Voice to call it a milestone achievement when it was released. It's a double album of stunning music, with each side devoted to one composition -- two by Mike Ratledge, and one each by Hopper and Wyatt, with substantial help from a number of backup musicians, including Canterbury mainstays Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings. The Ratledge songs come closest to fusion jazz, although this is fusion laced with tape loop effects and hypnotic, repetitive keyboard patterns. Hugh Hopper's "Facelift" recalls "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, although it's more complex, with several quite dissimilar sections. The pulsing rhythms, chaotic horn and keyboard sounds, and dark drones on "Facelift" predate some of what Hopper did as a solo artist later (this song was actually culled from two live performances in 1970). Robert Wyatt draws on musical ideas from early 1967 demos done with producer Giorgio Gomelsky, on his capricious composition "Moon in June." Lyrically, it's a satirical alternative to the pretension displayed by a lot of rock writing of the era, and combined with the Softs' exotic instrumentation, it makes for quite a listen (the collection Triple Echo includes a BBC broadcast recording of this song, with different albeit equally fanciful lyrics). Not exactly rock, Third nonetheless pushed the boundaries of rock into areas previously unexplored, and it managed to do so without sounding self-indulgent. A better introduction to the group is either of the first two records, but once introduced, this is the place to go. AMG.

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Dr. John - Dr. John's Gumbo 1972

Dr. John's Gumbo bridged the gap between post-hippie rock and early rock & roll, blues, and R&B, offering a selection of classic New Orleans R&B, including "Tipitina" and "Junko Partner," updated with a gritty, funky beat. There aren't as many psychedelic flourishes as there were on his first two albums, but the ones that are present enhance his sweeping vision of American roots music. And that sly fusion of styles makes Dr. John's Gumbo one of Dr. John's finest albums. AMG.

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Brian Auger's Oblivion Express - A Better Land 1971

Whereas Brian Auger had taken the lion's share of composing responsibility on the deft, labyrinthine, jazz-rock debut album by the Oblivion Express, guitarist Jim Mullen steps up to the plate in a big way here, writing or co-writing seven of A Better Land's nine tracks, and arranging "Marai's Wedding," a traditional tune. Auger wrote just one, "Tomorrow City," and co-wrote two with Mullen. The feel and vibe of the record is almost a mirror image of its predecessor from earlier in 1971. Mullen composed on the guitar, therefore, the languid, sparer approach to harmony is everywhere apparent. But it's the songs themselves, with their lush use of acoustic guitars, country music melodies, and early rock tropes, such as on "Dawn of Another Day," the Band-inspired "Trouble," and the ethereal melody of "Women of the Seasons." There is also a pair of tracks here written with future AWB boss Alan Gorrie. The lilting jazz in the lead is countered with infectious pop hooks. On the Auger tunes, "Fill Your Head With Laughter," and "Tomorrow City," R&B is at their hearts. A Better Land is one of the more enduring pop records from the era, with its ultra-sophisticated compositioning and arrangement skills. It's as if the Oblivion Express wanted to reveal themselves as capable of anything, which, of course, they were. This is a fantastic place to start any Brian Auger collection. AMG.

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Fela Kuti - Fela Fela Fela 1969

It's almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti (or just Fela as he's more commonly known) to the global musical village: producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw. He was all that, as well as showman par excellence, inventor of Afro-beat, an unredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac. His death on August 3, 1997 of complications from AIDS deeply affected musicians and fans internationally, as a musical and sociopolitical voice on a par with Bob Marley was silenced. A press release from the United Democratic Front of Nigeria on the occasion of Fela's death noted: "Those who knew you well were insistent that you could never compromise with the evil you had fought all your life. Even though made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa." This is as succinct a summation of Fela's political agenda as one is likely to find.

Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, north of Lagos in 1938, Fela's family was firmly middle class as well as politically active. His father was a pastor (and talented pianist), his mother active in the anti-colonial, anti-military, Nigerian home rule movement. So at an early age, Fela experienced politics and music in a seamless combination. His parents, however, were less interested in his becoming a musician and more interested in his becoming a doctor, so they packed him off to London in 1958 for what they assumed would be a medical education; instead, Fela registered at Trinity College's school of music. Tired of studying European composers, Fela formed his first band, Koola Lobitos, in 1961, and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and started another version of Koola Lobitos that was more influenced by the James Brown-style singing of Geraldo Pina from Sierra Leone. Combining this with elements of traditional high life and jazz, Fela dubbed this intensely rhythmic hybrid "Afro-beat," partly as critique of African performers whom he felt had turned their backs on their African musical roots in order to emulate current American pop music trends.

In 1969, Fela brought Koola Lobitos to Los Angeles to tour and record. They toured America for about eight months using Los Angeles as a home base. It was while in L.A. that Fela hooked up with a friend, Sandra Isidore, who introduced him to the writings and politics of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver (and by extension the Black Panthers), and other proponents of Black nationalism and Afrocentrism. Impressed at what he read, Fela was politically revivified and decided that some changes were in order: first, the name of the band, as Koola Lobitos became Nigeria 70; second, the music would become more politically explicit and critical of the oppression of the powerless worldwide. After a disagreement with an unscrupulous promoter who turned them in to the Immigration and Naturalization Services, Fela and band were charged with working without work permits. Realizing that time was short before they were sent back to Nigeria, they were able to scrape together some money to record some new songs in L.A. What came to be known as the '69 Los Angeles Sessions were remarkable, an indication of a maturing sound and of the raucous, propulsive music that was to mark Fela's career. Afrobeat's combination of blaring horn sections, antiphonal vocals, Fela's quasi-rapping pidgin English, and percolating guitars, all wrapped up in a smoldering groove (in the early days driven by the band's brilliant drummer Tony Allen) that could last nearly an hour, was an intoxicating sound. Once hooked, it was impossible to get enough.

Upon returning to Nigeria, Fela founded a communal compound-cum-recording studio and rehearsal space he called the Kalakuta Republic, and a nightclub, the Shrine. It was during this time that he dropped his given middle name of "Ransome" which he said was a slave name, and took the name "Anikulapo" (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch") . Playing constantly and recording at a ferocious pace, Fela and band (who were now called Africa 70) became huge stars in West Africa. His biggest fan base, however, was Nigeria's poor. Because his music addressed issues important to the Nigerian underclass (specifically a military government that profited from political exploitation and disenfranchisement), Fela was more than a simply a pop star; like Bob Marley in Jamaica, he was the voice of Nigeria's have-nots, a cultural rebel. This was something Nigeria's military junta tried to nip in the bud, and from almost the moment he came back to Nigeria up until his death, Fela was hounded, jailed, harassed, and nearly killed by a government determined to silence him. In one of the most egregious acts of violence committed against him, 1,000 Nigerian soldiers attacked his Kalakuta compound in 1977 (the second government-sanctioned attack). Fela suffered a fractured skull as well as other broken bones; his 82-year old mother was thrown from an upstairs window, inflicting injuries that would later prove fatal. The soldiers set fire to the compound and prevented fire fighters from reaching the area. Fela's recording studio, all his master tapes and musical instruments were destroyed.

After the Kalakuta tragedy, Fela briefly lived in exile in Ghana, returning to Nigeria in 1978. In 1979 he formed his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People), and at the start of the new decade renamed his band Egypt 80. From 1980-1983, Nigeria was under civilian rule, and it was a relatively peaceful period for Fela, who recorded and toured non-stop. Military rule returned in 1983, and in 1984 Fela was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of currency smuggling. With help from Amnesty International, he was freed in 1985.

As the '80s ended, Fela recorded blistering attacks against Nigeria's corrupt military government, as well as broadsides aimed at Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (most abrasively on the album Beasts of No Nation). Never what you would call progressive when it came to relationships with women or patriarchy in general (the fact was that he was sexist in the extreme, which is ironic when you consider that his mother was one of Nigeria's early feminists), he was coming around to the struggles faced by African women, but only just barely. Stylistically speaking, Fela's music didn't change much during this time, and much of what he recorded, while good, was not as blistering as some of the amazing music he made in the '70s. Still, when a Fela record appeared, it was always worth a listen. He was unusually quiet in the '90s, which may have had something to do with how ill he was; very little new music appeared, but in as great a series of reissues as the planet has ever seen, the London-based Stern's Africa label re-released some of his long unavailable records (including The '69 Los Angeles Sessions), and the seminal works of this remarkable musician were again filling up CD bins. He never broke big in the U.S. market, and it's hard to imagine him having the same kind of posthumous profile that Marley does, but Fela's 50-something releases offer up plenty of remarkable music, and a musical legacy that lives on in the person of his talented son Femi. Around the turn of the millennium, Universal began remastering and reissuing a goodly portion of Fela's many recordings, finally making some of his most important work widely available to American listeners. AMG.

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Big Joe Turner - The Boss of the Blues 1956

The premier blues shouter of the postwar era, Big Joe Turner's roar could rattle the very foundation of any gin joint he sang within -- and that's without a microphone. Turner was a resilient figure in the history of blues -- he effortlessly spanned boogie-woogie, jump blues, even the first wave of rock & roll, enjoying great success in each genre.

Turner, whose powerful physique certainly matched his vocal might, was a product of the swinging, wide-open Kansas City scene. Even in his teens, the big-boned Turner looked entirely mature enough to gain entry to various K.C. niteries. He ended up simultaneously tending bar and singing the blues before hooking up with boogie piano master Pete Johnson during the early '30s. Theirs was a partnership that would endure for 13 years.

The pair initially traveled to New York at John Hammond's behest in 1936. On December 23, 1938, they appeared on the fabled Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall on a bill with Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, the Golden Gate Quartet, and Count Basie. Turner and Johnson performed "Low Down Dog" and "It's All Right, Baby" on the historic show, kicking off a boogie-woogie craze that landed them a long-running slot at the Cafe Society (along with piano giants Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons).

As 1938 came to a close, Turner and Johnson waxed the thundering "Roll 'Em Pete" for Vocalion. It was a thrilling up-tempo number anchored by Johnson's crashing 88s, and Turner would re-record it many times over the decades. Turner and Johnson waxed their seminal blues "Cherry Red" the next year for Vocalion with trumpeter Hot Lips Page and a full combo in support. In 1940, the massive shouter moved over to Decca and cut "Piney Brown Blues" with Johnson rippling the ivories. But not all of Turner's Decca sides teamed him with Johnson; Willie "The Lion" Smith accompanied him on the mournful "Careless Love," while Freddie Slack's Trio provided backing for "Rocks in My Bed" in 1941.

Turner ventured out to the West Coast during the war years, building quite a following while ensconced on the L.A. circuit. In 1945, he signed on with National Records and cut some fine small combo platters under Herb Abramson's supervision. Turner remained with National through 1947, belting an exuberant "My Gal's a Jockey" that became his first national R&B smash. Contracts didn't stop him from waxing an incredibly risqué two-part "Around the Clock" for the aptly named Stag imprint (as Big Vernon!) in 1947. There were also solid sessions for Aladdin that year that included a wild vocal duel with one of Turner's principal rivals, Wynonie Harris, on the ribald two-part "Battle of the Blues."

Few West Coast indie labels of the late '40s didn't boast at least one or two Turner titles in their catalogs. The shouter bounced from RPM to Down Beat/Swing Time to MGM (all those dates were anchored by Johnson's piano) to Texas-based Freedom (which moved some of their masters to Specialty) to Imperial in 1950 (his New Orleans backing crew there included a young Fats Domino on piano). But apart from the 1950 Freedom 78, "Still in the Dark," none of Turner's records were selling particularly well. When Atlantic Records bosses Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun fortuitously dropped by the Apollo Theater to check out Count Basie's band one day, they discovered that Turner had temporarily replaced Jimmy Rushing as the Basie band's frontman, and he was having a tough go of it. Atlantic picked up his spirits by picking up his recording contract, and Turner's heyday was about to commence.

At Turner's first Atlantic date in April of 1951, he imparted a gorgeously world-weary reading to the moving blues ballad "Chains of Love" (co-penned by Ertegun and pianist Harry Van Walls) that restored him to the uppermost reaches of the R&B charts. From there, the hits came in droves: "Chill Is On," "Sweet Sixteen" (yeah, the same downbeat blues B.B. King's usually associated with; Turner did it first), and "Don't You Cry" were all done in New York, and all hit big.

Turner had no problem whatsoever adapting his prodigious pipes to whatever regional setting he was in. In 1953, he cut his first R&B chart-topper, the storming rocker "Honey Hush" (later covered by Johnny Burnette and Jerry Lee Lewis), in New Orleans, with trombonist Pluma Davis and tenor saxman Lee Allen in rip-roaring support. Before the year was through, he stopped off in Chicago to record with slide guitarist Elmore James' considerably rougher-edged combo and hit again with the salacious "T.V. Mama."

Prolific Atlantic house writer Jesse Stone was the source of Turner's biggest smash of all, "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which proved his second chart-topper in 1954. With the Atlantic braintrust reportedly chiming in on the chorus behind Turner's rumbling lead, the song sported enough pop possibilities to merit a considerably cleaned-up cover by Bill Haley & the Comets (and a subsequent version by Elvis Presley that came a lot closer to the original leering intent).

Suddenly, at the age of 43, Turner was a rock star. His jumping follow-ups -- "Well All Right," "Flip Flop and Fly," "Hide and Seek," "Morning, Noon and Night," "The Chicken and the Hawk" -- all mined the same good-time groove as "Shake, Rattle and Roll," with crisp backing from New York's top session aces and typically superb production by Ertegun and Jerry Wexler.

Turner turned up on a couple episodes of the groundbreaking TV program Showtime at the Apollo during the mid-'50s, commanding center stage with a joyous rendition of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in front of saxman Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams' band. Nor was the silver screen immune to his considerable charms: Turner mimed a couple of numbers in the 1957 film Shake Rattle & Rock (Fats Domino and Mike "Mannix" Connors also starred in the flick).

Updating the pre-war number "Corrine Corrina" was an inspired notion that provided Turner with another massive seller in 1956. But after the two-sided hit "Rock a While"/"Lipstick Powder and Paint" later that year, his Atlantic output swiftly faded from commercial acceptance. Atlantic's recording strategy wisely involved recording Turner in a jazzier setting for the adult-oriented album market; to that end, a Kansas City-styled set (with his former partner Johnson at the piano stool) was laid down in 1956 and remains a linchpin of his legacy.

Turner stayed on at Atlantic into 1959, but nobody bought his violin-enriched remake of "Chains of Love" (on the other hand, a revival of "Honey Hush" with King Curtis blowing a scorching sax break from the same session was a gem in its own right). The '60s didn't produce too much of lasting substance for the shouter -- he actually cut an album with longtime admirer Haley and his latest batch of Comets in Mexico City in 1966!

But by the tail end of the decade, Turner's essential contributions to blues history were beginning to receive proper recognition; he cut LPs for BluesWay and Blues Time. During the '70s and '80s, Turner recorded prolifically for Norman Granz's jazz-oriented Pablo label. These were super-relaxed impromptu sessions that often paired the allegedly illiterate shouter with various jazz luminaries in what amounted to loosely run jam sessions. Turner contentedly roared the familiar lyrics of one or another of his hits, then sat back while somebody took a lengthy solo. Other notable album projects included a 1983 collaboration with Roomful of Blues, Blues Train, for Muse. Although health problems and the size of his humongous frame forced him to sit down during his latter-day performances, Turner continued to tour until shortly before his death in 1985. They called him the Boss of the Blues, and the appellation was truly a fitting one: when Turner shouted a lyric, you were definitely at his beck and call. AMG.javascript:void(0)

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Betty Davis - They Say I'm Different 1974

Betty Davis' second full-length featured a similar set of songs as her debut, though with Davis herself in the production chair and a radically different lineup. The openers, "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him" and "He Was a Big Freak," are big, blowsy tunes with stop-start funk rhythms and Davis in her usual persona as the aggressive sexual predator. On the title track, she reminisces about her childhood and compares herself to kindred spirits of the past, a succession of blues legends she holds fond -- including special time for Bessie Smith, Chuck Berry, and Robert Johnson. A pair of unknowns, guitarist Cordell Dudley and bassist Larry Johnson, do a fair job of replacing the stars from her first record. As a result, They Say I'm Different is more keyboard-dominated than her debut, with prominent electric piano, clavinet, and organ from Merl Saunders, Hershall Kennedy, and Tony Vaughn. The material was even more extreme than on her debut; "He Was a Big Freak" featured a prominent bondage theme, while "Your Mama Wants Ya Back" and "Don't Call Her No Tramp" dealt with prostitution, or at least inferred it. With the exception of the two openers, though, They Say I'm Different lacked the excellent songs and strong playing of her debut; an explosive and outré record, but more a variation on the same theme she'd explored before. AMG.

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The Rolling Stones - England's Newest Hit Makers 1964

The British version of the Stones' first album has a nearly identical cover to its American equivalent, issued six weeks later, but a slightly different song lineup. Among these 12 songs, absent is "Not Fade Away," which was a hit single in England (where singles and LPs were usually kept separate), and in its place is the Stones' cover of Bo Diddley's "Mona (I Need You Baby)" (credited here as "I Need You Baby"), which had to wait until Rolling Stones Now!, a year later, for its U.S. release. It's not a big switch, a Bo Diddley-style cover of a Buddy Holly song bumping an actual Bo Diddley cover on the U.S. version. Otherwise, the main difference lies in the version of "Tell Me" included here, which sounds about two generations hotter than any edition of the song ever released in the U.S. -- it's the long version, with the break that was cut from the single, but the British LP and the original late-'80s Decca U.K. compact disc (820 047-2) both contain a version without any fade, running the better part of a minute longer than the U.S. release of the song, until the band literally stops playing. AMG.

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domingo, 19 de fevereiro de 2012

Grateful Dead - Live Dead 1969

The Grateful Dead's fourth title was likewise their first extended concert recording. Spread over two LPs, Live/Dead (1969) finally was able to relay the intrinsic sonic magnificence of a Dead show in real time. Additionally, it unleashed several key entries into their repertoire, including the sidelong epic and Deadhead anthem"Dark Star" as well as wailing and otherwise electrified acidic covers of the Rev. Gary Davis blues standard "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and the R&B rave-up "(Turn on Your) Lovelight." Finally, the conundrum of how to bring a lengthy performance experience to the listener has been solved. The album's four sides provided the palette from which to replicate the natural ebb and flow of a typical Dead set circa early 1969. Tomes have been written about the profound impact of "Dark Star" on the Dead and their audience. It also became a cultural touchstone signifying that rock music was becoming increasingly experimental by casting aside the once-accepted demands of the short, self-contained pop song. This version was recorded on February 27, 1969, at the Fillmore West and is presented pretty much the way it went down at the show. The same is true of the seven remaining titles on Live/Dead. The rousing rendition of "St. Stephen" reinvents the Aoxomoxoa (1968) prototype with rip-roaring thunder and an extended ending which slams into an instrumental rhythmic excursion titled "The Eleven" after the jam's tricky time signature. The second LP began with a marathon cover of "(Turn on Your) Lovelight," which had significant success for both Bobby "Blue" Bland and Gene Chandler earlier in the decade. With Ron "Pigpen" McKernan at the throttle, the Dead barrel their way through the work, reproportioning and appointing it with fiery solos from Garcia and lead vocal raps courtesy of McKernan. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a languid noir interpretation of Rev. Gary Davis' distinct Piedmont blues. Garcia's fretwork smolders as his solos sear through the melody. Likewise notable is the criminally underrated keyboard work of Tom Constanten, whose airy counterpoint rises like a departing spirit from within the soul of the song. The final pairing of "Feedback" -- which is what is sounds like it might be -- with the "lowering down" funeral dirge "And We Bid You Goodnight" is true to the way that the band concluded a majority of their performances circa 1968-1969. They all join in on an a cappella derivative of Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family's traditional Bahamian distillation. Few recordings have ever represented the essence of an artist in performance as faithfully as Live/Dead. It has become an aural snapshot of this zenith in the Grateful Dead's 30-year evolution and as such is highly recommended for all manner of enthusiasts. The 2001 remastered edition that was included in the Golden Road (1965-1973) (2001) box set tacks on the 45 rpm studio version of "Dark Star" as well as a vintage radio advert for the album. AMG.

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Charles Mingus - Mingus at Bohemia 1955

A live performance at the Club Bohemia in New York, this is the first Mingus recording to feature mostly his own compositions. Some are his future standards. Here are his first attempts at future techniques such as combining two songs into one. His bass playing really stands out. AMG.

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The Beatles - Let It Be 1970

The only Beatles album to occasion negative, even hostile reviews, there are few other rock records as controversial as Let It Be. First off, several facts need to be explained: although released in May 1970, this was not their final album, but largely recorded in early 1969, way before Abbey Road. Phil Spector was enlisted in early 1970 to do some post-production mixing and overdubs, but he did not work with the band as a unit. And, although his use of strings has generated much criticism, by and large he left the original performances to stand as is: only "The Long and Winding Road" and (to a lesser degree) "Across the Universe" and "I Me Mine" get the Wall of Sound treatment. The main problem was that the material wasn't uniformly strong, and that the Beatles themselves were in fairly lousy moods due to intergroup tension. All that said, the album is on the whole underrated, even discounting the fact that a substandard Beatles record is better than almost any other group's best work. McCartney in particular offers several gems: the gospel-ish "Let It Be," which has some of his best lyrics; "Get Back," one of his hardest rockers; and the melodic "The Long and Winding Road," ruined by Spector's heavy-handed overdubs. The folky "Two of Us," with John and Paul harmonizing together, was also a highlight. Most of the rest of the material, by contrast, was going through the motions to some degree, although there are some good moments of straight hard rock in "I've Got a Feeling" and "Dig a Pony." As flawed and bumpy as it is, it's an album well worth having, as when the Beatles were in top form here, they were as good as ever. [In November 2003, the Beatles released an alternate version of Let It Be called Let It Be... Naked, which mixed out Spector's contributions and deleted snippets of conversation scattered throughout the album. "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" were cut from the record in favor of "Don't Let Me Down," which was placed in the middle of an album that now had a considerably different sequencing than the originally released version of Let It Be.] AMG.

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