Thursday, April 26, 2012

Janis Joplin- The Pearl Sessions review

 Janis Joplin - The Pearl Sessions
Janis Joplin
The Pearl Sessions
Rating: ****

The Pearl Sessions is the latest archival release from Janis Joplin. Released by Columbia/Legacy, the two disc set includes the classic 1971 Pearl album (which was released posthumously as Joplin had died in October 1970) along with a whole disc worth of outtakes for the album. This marks the third time Pearl has been reissued. Although this set wasn’t really necessary, The Pearl Sessions should be a treat for all Janis Joplin fans.

            As mentioned before, the first disc is basically the Pearl album itself. Again, this is an example of the record labels releasing something that doesn’t need to be re-released. I didn’t bother listening to the first disc. However, I did run a sound test on it to check if the album had been remastered at all. Using the Dynamic Range program via their website, it’s basically the same remaster as the one released in 1999 (along with Joplin’s other three studio efforts, two of them being with Big Brother) issue and probably on the 2005 Legacy Edition reissue. Still, this is good for those people who don’t own Pearl. I think Sony did the right thing in not remastering the album because it already sounds fine.

As for the album itself, it’s fantastic (to read my 40th anniversary article on Pearl from last year, click here). There are six bonus tracks on the first disc, which I did actually listen to. The six bonus tracks are all mono single versions of “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Half Moon”, “Cry Baby”, “Get It While You Can”, “Move Over”, and “A Woman Left Lonely”. All of them sound pretty interesting in mono, as you do get to hear a few things not heard on the stereo album. Still, I prefer the stereo versions of these tracks.

Looking at the run times for the tracks, I noticed “A Woman Left Lonely” is a whole minute longer. This is because at the 3:40 mark, there’s a hidden track. The song is “Happy Trails”, which Joplin and Full Tilt Boogie had recorded as a 30th birthday message to John Lennon. It was one of the last things Joplin recorded as she died on October 4, 1970 (when Lennon’s birthday was on October 9). The Legacy Edition includes this as its own track, so it makes me wonder why they’d hide it at the end of “A Woman Left Lonely”.

The second disc of this set is the real treat for collectors and/or completists. According to the tracking list, nine of the 20 tracks on disc two have never been issued. The others may have turned up on the 2005 Legacy Edition but it doesn’t matter to me because this is all new to me. It’s really interesting to listen to the second disc. It almost feels as if you’re in the studio with Janis Joplin. As you can imagine, the outtakes sound different from the versions that end up on the final album. After listening to three different takes of “Get It While You Can”, you can tell the playing of the members of Full Tilt Boogie is different. As for Janis, you can barely recognize the difference. She really was on top of things and gave it her all on each take. There are also three different versions of “Move Over”. Of them, I find take 13 the most fascinating of the bunch as it utilizes the use of hand claps for a majority of the track.

Another thing I love about the second disc is hearing Janis talk. Some of the things she says are pretty funny and had me laughing. One of my favorite bits was hearing her rant about how everybody she knows is crazy “except President Nixon, man…he’s just a bore.” The alternate version of “Cry Baby” is worth a listen, as Janis seems to improvise one verse in which she talks about needing to go Africa. The instrumental “Pearl” is very sorrowful track: it was recorded by Full Tilt Boogie six days after Janis died. While sad to listen to, it’s very beautiful. There are two bonus tracks: a live version of “Tell Mama” (not the one on the 1999 issue) and the performance of “Half Moon” performed on The Dick Cavett Show.

The Pearl Sessions is a very nice archival release. If you already have Pearl, it’s all up to you if you want to pay more money for another copy of the album with the bonus disc. Personally, I enjoy this set. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm- dead at 71

Mark Lavon "Levon" Helm
May 26, 1940- April 19, 2012

Levon Helm, drummer of the influential Canadian rock group  the Band, died today in New York after a long battle with throat cancer. Helm was 71. Two days ago, Helm's family announced that he was in the "final stages" of cancer.

Helm was the drummer for roots rock band, The Band. The group were originally apart of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, formed by Ronnie Hawkins in 1959. Hawkins change the band's line-up from time to time but he eventually hired Canadian musicians Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass),Garth Hudson (keyboards/organ) , and Richard Manuel (piano) along with Helm. In 1964, the group ditched Hawkins and went on their own as the Hawks. The Hawks later became the backing band for Bob Dylan in 1965. It around this time when Dylan had switched to electric guitar. Helm briefly left during this time due to the negativity of the crowds but in 1967 after the Hawks recorded with Dylan what later became The Basement Tapes, Helm rejoined. 

The group recorded their debut album in a pink house, which they referred to as "Big Pink". It was around this time when the group changed their name to The Band. In 1968, Music From Big Pink was released to positive reviews. The album's hit single was "The Weight", which is probably their most popular song. The group followed the debut up with a self titled album in 1969, The Band. The Band also received positive reviews, some thinking it was better than the debut. The Band enjoyed success going into the 1970's, even releasing two albums with Dylan in 1974. By 1976, the band decided to retire. Their last show was on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom, with special guests such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan performing. That show was later released in the 1978 Martin Scorsese documentary The Last Waltz. In 1980, Helm co-starred in Coal Miner's Daughter, a biopic about the life of Loretta Lynn. 

The Band would reunite without Robertson in the 1980's. Even after Manuel had committed suicide in 1986, the group kept going on. They would release three albums in the 1990's before splitting in 1999 after the death of Danko. In the late 1990's, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. Still, he kept performing and releasing critically praised albums. His last album was 2009's Electric Dirt.

It's very sad that Levon has died. He was a very talented musician and seemed like a really cool guy. He will be missed, for sure.

RIP, Levon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ronnie Montrose's cause of death: suicide

According to Guitar Player and various other sites today, guitarist Ronnie Montrose's death has been ruled as a suicide by the San Mateo County coroner. An autopsy conducted on April 6 says that a self-inflicted gunshot wound was found on Montrose. Montrose, who died on March 3, was thought to have died from prostate cancer. The toxicology report says that Montrose's blood alcohol level was at 0.31 %, almost four times the legal limit in California. It has also been report that when the 64-year old guitarist was found in his home, he was holding an unregistered .38 caliber revolver. Montrose's family have released a statement on the guitarist's official site: 

"By now, the devastating truth of Ronnie’s death is public knowledge. We hope you can understand why we wanted to keep this news a private family matter for as long as possible. We can only hope that you will choose to celebrate Ronnie’s life, and what his music meant to you, rather than mourn his passing. Ronnie would have wanted it that way. He loved being a guitarist, a composer, a producer, and a creator of magic. He fully understood his gifts, and yet he constantly pushed himself to evolve, improve, and make better music. He did this for himself, and he did this for you, because he adored and appreciated his fans. Please keep his energy, his joy, and his love in your hearts.
Please note that there will be no more statements from the Montrose family at this time. We ask that you respect the family's privacy."

I'm shocked that Ronnie killed himself. That's just horrible. At the same time, I'm not too surprised. I read Sammy Hagar's autobiography a year ago. Sammy was almost painting this picture of an angry man who was an amazing guitar player. I think it was smart for Montrose's family to keep the cause of his death on the down low because people would've been dwelling on the fact that he killed himself instead of remembering Ronnie by listening to his music. 

RIP, Ronnie. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Rolling Stones' Hampton Coliseum and L.A. Friday reviews

So far, this year has seen the release of two more additions to the Rolling Stones’ bootleg series on the Google/Android music store. In November 2011, The Brussels Affair was released and was indeed an impressive release. The next two live albums/bootlegs are fantastic.

 The Rolling Stones - Hampton Coliseum (Live 1981)
The Rolling Stones
Hampton Coliseum (Live 1981)
Rating: ****

Hampton Coliseum is a nice follow up to The Brussels Affair. The show was recorded in Virginia on December 18, 1981 as the Stones’ last stop for their 50 gig US tour for their latest album, Tattoo You. The show has been available for years and years. In fact, the show was filmed and can now be seen for free on Wolfgang’s Vault. While I prefer The Brussels Affair, Hampton Coliseum is still a great show. The band runs through 25 songs in just two hours. Unlike The Brussels Affair, Hampton Coliseum has a more wide selection of tunes from the band’s first 20 years. I personally love the performances of the material from the 1960’s, including “Under My Thumb”, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “Time Is On My Side”, and even “Let It Bleed”. The band also plays a couple of song off of Tattoo You. The rendition of “Waiting on a Friend” for this show is very different from the one on Tattoo You, which is just great. It was also Keith Richards’ 38th birthday and during the band introductions track, Mick Jagger and the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Richards before Richards goes into “Little T&A”.

 The Rolling Stones - L.A. Friday (Live, 1975)
The Rolling Stones
L.A. Friday (Live 1975)
Rating: **** 1/2

 L.A. Friday might be the title of the third bootleg but the show was recorded on Sunday July 13, 1975. The Rolling Stones were performing a series of gigs at the L.A. Forum and the show on Sunday is the one heard on L.A. Friday. These shows are an important part in the band’s history as it was their first tour with new guitarist Ronnie Wood. The band is also backed up with a few other musicians, including Billy Preston on keyboards. L.A. Friday has this very raunchy sound, much like The Brussels Affair, which I like (Hampton Coliseum, while great, is a little too polished). The band performs 24 songs in an astounding two and a half hours. The performances of “Gimme Shelter”, “Star Star”, and “Heartbreaker” are amazing as always. The band even manages to crank out 15 minute jam versions of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Midnight Rambler”. Billy Preston also gets to perform two songs, “That’s Life” and “Outta Space”. The Stones even play “Sympathy for the Devil”, which they had begun playing again after a five year hiatus from the band’s setlist. Some believe it was because it was the song the band had played at Altamont when Meredith Hunter was killed, but this is false (it was after “Under My Thumb”).

Both shows are fantastic and a must have for all Stones fans. Once again, each album is on Google Play for the low price of $4.99. It’s a no brainer: get them. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ian Anderson's Thick As A Brick 2 review

 Ian Anderson - Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?
Ian Anderson
Thick As A Brick 2
Rating: *** 1/2

Forty years have passed since Jethro Tull released their classic album, Thick as a Brick. In celebration of its fortieth anniversary, Tull’s leader Ian Anderson has decided to release an unexpected sequel to the 1972 album. The album, Thick as a Brick 2, is nowhere near as good as the original album. Still, it’s a solid effort from Anderson and manages to be a good album.

In 1972, Jethro Tull released their fifth album Thick as a Brick. The album consisted of one song only, split into two parts. The album followed the concept around a boy named Gerald Bostock, who is disqualified from a poetry competition as his poem is deemed inappropriate. The poem is performed by Jethro Tull for their new album of the same name. Thick as a Brick had original been written by Anderson as a response to the critics who thought Aqualung was a concept album. Anderson’s idea was to make Brick the “mother of all concept albums”. As for why Anderson decided to release the sequel as a solo album (his fourth solo effort), Anderson has his reasons (which you should probably look up and read for yourself. He’d explain it better than me!). The most obvious reason why Thick as a Brick 2 isn’t a Tull album is because there are no members from Jethro Tull on it (even long time guitarist Martin Barre).

The concept for Thick as a Brick 2 is pretty clever: the album asks the question “Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock?” No one knows…but Anderson has a few ideas. Unlike the original album, Brick 2 consists of 17 tracks. The tracks are split into nine parts, all of which predict what might’ve happened to Gerald Bostock. Bostock could be a banker, homeless, a soldier, a chorister, or an ordinary man.

“From A Pebble Thrown”, along with “Pebbles Instrumental”, serves as the introduction to the album. Anderson might be using the idea of throwing pebbles as the parallel universes of Gerald Bostock. When a pebble is thrown in a body of water, there are ripples. Perhaps each ripple is a different path Gerald has taken. Whatever the case may be, both tracks are great and are not too far away from the Tull sound. “Banker Bets, Banker Wins” explores the idea of Gerald as a banker. As a song, “Banker Bets, Banker Wins” is a real “blast from the past” sounding track. The droning of the keyboards, the guitar playing, and the stomping beat really make this song stand out. “

Swing It Far” and “Adrift and Dumfounded” ponder the idea of Gerald as a homeless person. Of the two tracks, “Adrift and Dumfounded” is the stronger one. The blend of acoustic guitars with keyboards on this one is just amazing. Also, the instrumental section is quite impressive. “Old School Song” and “Wootton Bassett Town” deal with Gerald as a soldier. “Old School Song” is probably my personal favorite song off the album. If you are a fan of the original album, you may notice that the entire song relies on the 12:30 mark of the first part of the original. Also, the song is quite catchy. The weakest of the parallels is probably the one with Gerald as a chorister. Still, I think “Give Till It Hurts” is quite funny. Other highlights include the aggressive “Shunt and Shuffle”, the eight minute epic “A Change of Horses”, and “Kismet in Suburbia”.

If you’re a fan of Jethro Tull and/or Ian Anderson, Thick as a Brick 2 is worth picking up. It’s different from the original album, that’s for sure. Still, it manages to be an enjoyable album. The way I see it, sequel albums are usually not very good. I would consider Thick as a Brick 2 as one of the stronger ones.