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Posts Tagged ‘Billy Joel’

By Joel Francis

Our trawl through my world of vinyl continues.

Various Artists – Stroke It Noel: Big Star’s Third in Concert (2017) To butcher the cliché, probably not everyone who bought a Big Star album back in the ‘70s started a band, but it’s a fair bet that at least one person from most of your favorite bands did (unless you are super into, say, Norwegian death metal, in which case, thank you for branching out and reading this blog).

It’s been ten years to the month since Big Star’s frontman Alex Chilton died on the eve of his celebration at South by Southwest. The impromptu tribute that emerged from that tragedy morphed into a series of concerts around the world celebrating Big Star’s troubling third album. It’s wonderful to hear members of Wilco, R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, the Posies, Semisonic, the dbs and more pass the mic and hike through these songs. But the live reproductions are so faithful they miss the fragile, alluring qualities that made the original studio versions that almost seemed to disintegrate before coalescing into beauty – if they made it that far. So yeah, I dig this, but hearing R.E.M.’s Mike Mills bounce joyfully through “Jesus Christ” or Django Haskins struggle with “Holocaust” doesn’t make me a bigger Big Star fan. It just makes me glad that the people I’m into have such immaculate taste.

Robert Fripp – Exposure (1979) I have a great deal of respect for King Crimson, Robert Fripp’s groundbreaking progressive rock ensemble, but to my heathen ears their music is like listening to calculus. I can get behind Exposure, though. You can almost hear Fripp smirking as he takes the listener from wordless, off-kilter a capella harmonies to an endlessly ringing phone and then a boogie woogie pastiche – all in about a minute. It’s almost like Fripp is daring us to meet us where he is, then abruptly changing course and challenging us to follow him over there. This is also an apt description of his entire career. Listening to Exposure is like playing tag. You never stay in one place and may find yourself out of breath at times with the quarry just out of reach, but it’s always fun to play. Special mention must be made of the definitive version of “Here Comes the Flood” with Peter Gabriel on vocals.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear – Skeleton Crew (2015) This mother-son duo was poised to be the next big thing to break out of the Kansas City music scene when this debut album came out. They appeared on one of the last episodes of The Late Show with David Letterman, the Today show, Later with Jools Holland and played Bonnaroo and the Newport Folk Festival. Things have been quiet since then – only one EP in 2018 – but these laid-back, folk blues romps are still a fun spin.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. (2017) Damn. was my favorite album the year it came out and it remains a compelling listen today. The fact that I can say this despite a concert that nearly left me in tears is a testament to its strength. When the Damn. tour announced a date at the Sprint Center, I quickly jumped on tickets. Not wanting to take out a second mortgage, my friends and I got seats in the upper level, extreme stage right. The sound was fine for the opening acts, but when Lamar took the stage it was like the sound blew out in the speakers directed at our section. You know it sounds you’re just inside the doors, waiting to get in and the show starts without you? All bass with just a hint of vocals? That’s how it sounded inside the arena. Some ushers kindly moved us to another section where the sound was slightly better, but the spell had been broken and the show was a bust. All this and I still can’t wait to hear what Lamar does next.

Rush – Power Windows (1985) I know everyone loves the hard, sci-fi prog of Rush’s late-‘70s peak, but I am strongly partial to their synth-heavy early ‘80s material. This mostly boils down to the fact that during high school I played the band’s 1989 live album A Show of Hands so often I thought the laser would bore right through the CD. So you can have your “Cygnus X-1” and “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” and I’ll stick with “Marathon” and “Manhattan Project,” thank you very much.

Husker Du – Everything Falls Apart (1982) Playing this record (included in the Numero Group’s essential early-days collection Savage Young Du) is like flying down the interstate on a Japanese motorcycle without a helmet. Insects slap your face and the wind stings your eyes as gravity forces you closer to the ground. Danger is imminent, but you twist your wrist and accelerate even more. Stopping is not an option. Oh, and there’s an entire side of bonus tracks.

Johnny Cash – Mean as Hell! (1966) Mean as Hell! is the single platter version of Johnny Cash’s double-record concept album Sings the Ballads of the True West. I think I got this at a garage sale, because who can resist an album with this title (with mandatory exclamation point) where a gaunt, drugged out Cash is dressed like a cowboy, holding a gun? The music isn’t as exceptional as the cover. The spoken-word bits are a little too somber. Cash sounds like a Southern preacher crossed with a National Geographic narrator on the title track and the studio version of “25 Minutes to Go” is nowhere near as fun as the live version at Folsom Prison. Despite these shortcomings, I’ll still put on my spurs for the ballads: “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Sweet Betsy from Pike” and album closer “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.”

Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (1994) No one liked this album when it came out. It didn’t sound like the Pixies, wasn’t as radio-ready as the Breeders and there was a lot of lingering animosity over how Frank Black ended the beloved Pixies. I didn’t know any of this at the time, however, because I was too busy listening to A Show of Hands. Coming to this album several years later, all I heard were nearly two dozen bright blasts of Black’s songwriting at its most accessible. Nurse a grudge all you want. I’ll be right over hear blasting “Freedom Rock” loud enough to drown out your whining.

Brian Eno – Reflection (2016) I don’t know enough about ambient music to tell you the difference between this album and Lux or the longer-form pieces on the Music for Installations collection. I can tell you that when it gets to the point in the day when I need some Eno, Reflection (and Lux) always comforts me. I also don’t think I have to get up to turn the record over as often with Lux, so there’s one difference.

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle (1973) This is one of my absolute favorite Springsteen albums because it’s the sound of him fumbling through different sounds trying to figure out what he wants to be. It all clicked into place with Born to Run, his next album. The guitars at the beginning of “Sandy” sound like the Allman Brothers Band before the accordion whisks in foreshadowing the opening section of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” Where else can you hear Springsteen rocking with a clavinet over a Doobie Brothers guitar line but on “The E Street Shuffle”?

The picture of the band is especially priceless. Half the guys have their shirts unbuttoned all the way, only a couple are wearing shoes and Springsteen is rocking a tank top and blue jeans. They look like a group that would get uncomfortably close and overly friendly with a stranger, ask to bum a cigarette and then inquire if he or she liked to par-tay.

Wild and Innocent is also the only time multi-instrumentals David Sancious appeared as Springsteen’s main musical foil. Sancious left to form his own band shortly after this album came out and went on to work with Stanley Clarke, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Eric Clapton and many others.

Lee Hazlewood – The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes and Backsides (compilation) If you’ve heard “These Boots,” then you’ve heard a Lee Hazlewood production. This collection doesn’t contain any of Hazlewood’s work with the Chairman of the Board’s daughter – which is good enough to warrant its own anthology – but it does contain duets with Ann-Margret and Suzi Jane Hokom and solo cuts that sound like cowboy songs in Cinemascope. Drag Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound to the wild west and your getting close.

R.L. Burnside – Too Bad Jim (1994)

T-Model Ford – The Ladies Man (2010) I saw T-Model Ford one time, right around the time The Ladies Man came out, a couple years before his death. The venue, Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, or just Davey’s, was about as close as you could get to a juke joint in Kansas City. Split across two storefronts, the bar was on the left side, where you’d traditionally enter. The area with music was on the right side of the wall. If a performer moved too far stage right he or she was liable to bump into a door leading out to the street. That would be bad. Despite these shortcomings, the sight lines were decent, the drinks were cheap and the sound was usually OK. I mention all this because Davey’s, a century-old Kansas City institution, was gutted by a fire just a couple days ago. Everyone reminiscing online about the great times they had at the venue made me reach for this album.

R.L. Burnside’s blues were cut from the same primitive cloth as Ford’s. I don’t know if Burnside ever played at Davey’s but I’m sure he would have been welcomed and would have liked it. The good news is that the Markowitz family, who have run Davey’s since the 1950s, plan to rebuilt the space.

Loose Fur – self-titled (2003) Recorded before Wilco’s career-defining Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but released afterward, Loose Fur is the sound of Jeff Tweedy shaking off the weight of Wilco and getting acquainted with two new collaborators. Opening track “Laminated Cat” is one of my favorite Tweedy compositions. It’s more than seven minutes here, but Wilco frequently tear it down onstage like a Sonic Youth number and stretch it even longer. Jim O’Rourke’s “Elegant Transaction” provides a more relaxed counterpoint and while the album doesn’t get that relaxed again until the closing number, “Chinese Apple,” the opening pair frame the album as a balancing act between tension, experimental noise and release.

Benny Carter – Further Definitions (1961) Impulse Records are frequently viewed as the playhouse for avant-garde jazz workouts by saxophonists John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef and Sonny Rollins. Further Definitions is proof that Impulse wasn’t so one-dimensional (at least in the early years). Pre-war legends Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins push each other to new heights in the confines of this small group anchored by Coltrane’s rhythm section. The result is an album that jazz fans can appreciate for its sophistication and intricacy but your mom can hum along with. A win for everyone.

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(Above: “Jefferson Jericho Blues” is one of several new songs Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been regularly playing on their tour this summer.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The sets Heart and Sarah McLachlan delivered back-to-back at last week’s Lilith Fair were studies in contrast. Sure their styles are wildly divergent, but each act presented three new songs during their one-hour sets.

Heart was proud of their songs, delivering them in succession. They may have gone one song too far, but the crowd responded positively. McLachlan, on the other hand, apologized for performing new songs. She sprinkled them throughout her hit-laden set and express regret before and after each one. She needn’t have bothered – the audience enjoyed them anyway.

Beloved songwriter James Taylor has only released one album of original material this decade.

Nostalgia is the single most lucrative element in the music industry today. Fans are wiling to shell out more than ever to see legendary artists in concert. Paradoxically, those fans are loathe to hear anything outside of the sacred catalog. This is a closed cannon. With a few exceptions, anything after two dozen hit singles or 10 successful albums is off limits. Some artists, like Billy Joel, are fine with this. Joel hasn’t written any new pop material in nearly two decades. Others, like Fleetwood Mac, shuttle most of their new music to individual projects (although the band did deliver a new album in 2003, their first in eight years).

Solo performers have fewer options. Paul McCartney and Elton John have bravely soldiered on, each releasing four albums in the past decade and highlighting his latest release in concert. James Taylor and Paul Simon have slowed their output to a trickle; both have only released one or two albums of original material in the new millennium, respectively.

Guitarist Junior Marvin and the Original Wailers have been playing material from their upcoming album alongside Bob Marley's classic material.

Then there are the rare established artists whose fans salivate over new material. In 2007, Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” hit No. 1 on the album charts. Despite a Clear Channel missive not to play any of the new material on its stations, Springsteen performed the majority of the album on his sold-out tour. When “Working on a Dream” appeared just 18 months later, it featured heavily in setlists as well.

The Original Wailers face an even more daunting task. Their catalog is not only the most popular and indelible in reggae, but Bob Marley, their frontman and songwriter, has been dead for 30 years. When the band performed in Kansas City earlier this year they boldly mixed many original songs from their upcoming album in with Marley’s classics. Surprisingly, the new riddims didn’t stop the dancing for a moment.

Artists have three choices onstage: ignore performing new material, apologize and play a couple new songs, or deliver a block of new material. None of these are optimal. (Quick caveat: the songs in question should be worthwhile additions to the catalog, not a cheap excuse to trot out the same tired hits yet again.)

Overconfidence in new material may send fans fleeing for the bathroom and bar. I’m confused why any artist would ever apologize for the music they perform, especially if it is something they have written or hold dear. Ignoring new work reinforces the same message as apologizing: I’m not proud of this material. If they’re not proud of it, why should fans bother?

Despite their perceived authority and glamor, artists have little power over how their music will be marketed, sold and received. Going onstage is as close to complete control that they will ever have. Songwriters should own all of their material, especially the latest and least familiar. Don’t be afraid to surprise. Weaving new material in with the old not only freshens the setlist, but shakes some dust off the favorites by placing them in a new perspective and context. It tells the fan “if you liked this then, try this now.” Remember: Today’s new songs are tomorrow’s sing-alongs.

Keep reading:

Review: Lilith Fair

Review: The Original Wailers

Review: Bruce Springsteen

Review: James Taylor and Carole King

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(Above: “Get Here” brought down the house at Oleta Adams’ recent homecoming concert in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Oleta Adams took the stage of Gem Theater on Saturday night with a smile and an apology.

“I’m sorry I’m dressed this way,” she said, wearing a stunning, strapless, turquoise dress. “I thought it was supposed to be spring.”

It would take more than a dumping of out-of-season snow to keep the nearly full house from seeing its hometown girl. For more than two hours, the singer, who was a staple of the local jazz scene in the 1980s, indulged them with stories, a wide selection of songs, and surprises.

The evening got off to a rocky start. Adams’ piano was initially buried in the mix. The drums, played by her husband John Cushon, and keyboards, played by Kansas City native Everett Freeman, Jr., overshadowed everything. The songs were played at a level reserved for noisy clubs or large theaters, not a respectful group in an acoustically sound room.

Adams’ powerful voice, however, would not be derailed by the sonic disarray. After opening with “Feelin’ Good,” the first of several cuts from her latest album, she led her four-piece band into “New York State of Mind.” By the time she got to the reworked bridge that ushered in a lengthy guitar solo, the song bore little resemblance to Billy Joel’s hit. “I Just Had to Hear Your Voice” displayed Adams’ dynamic range. The lyric-heavy melody found her working the verses in a lower register before opening up and soaring on the chorus.

After 40 minutes, Adams announced a short break. It felt premature, but the timing couldn’t have been better. When the group returned 30 minutes later, the sound issues had been resolved. Balance had been restored and instruments were complementing instead of competing. The always-upbeat Adams seemed happier with the situation, too. During “My Heart Won’t Lie” she held onto a note with a phrasing that recalled Nina Simone and drew big applause.

The biggest cheers of the night, however, didn’t go to Adams. After playfully introducing her band, Adams informed the audience that the mother of her bass player, Jeanne Arland Peterson, was sitting in their midst. With the spotlight focused on Peterson, Adams was able to coax her to come onstage.

Peterson looked fragile making her way up the steps, but spring to life behind Adams’ grand piano. After a breathtaking solo, Peterson launched into “All the Things You Are” with her son, Paul Peterson, and Cushon. The impromptu trio sounded like they’d been playing together for years (and, I suppose, two-thirds of them had). When the 88-year-old pianist wanted to hear a solo, she raised her left hand and shot her index finger at the musician in question as if holding a gun.

Once the massive standing ovation died down, Adams joined the trio for a romp through “More Than You Know.” Peterson’s hands slid across the keyboard with gusto and inspired Adams’ best performance of the night.

Clearly excited to be playing again in her adopted hometown, Adams relished talking with the crowd as much as performing. She sang the praises of the 18th and Vine District, and recalled her days playing at the Signboard Lounge in Crown Center.

“My favorite moment every night,” Adams said, “was waiting to see who got beat up in the bathrooms.”

Fights, Adams remembered, sometimes broke out because someone didn’t applaud the right way. Adams also told of a police detective who frequented her gigs. When someone would start talking too loudly, he would start polishing his badge, hinting at what might happen if the chatter didn’t stop.

“I always had the most dedicated fans,” she said, laughing.

The night ended with what Adams said she called the “fourth set” back in her Signboard days. After hinting at her gospel roots in the first set by prefacing “No Way To Love Me“ with I Corinthians 13, Adams took the assembly to church with a powerful one-two of “If You’re Willing” and “Holy is the Lamb.” Both songs were from Adams’ 1997 gospel collection “Come Walk With Me” and fans voiced their pleasure by clapping along and shouting amen.

The poignant “Long and Lonely Hours” is part of a new collection of prayers set to song that Adams hopes will be her next album. The invocation was written after her mother died after spending five months in the hospital, and deals with the feelings of abandonment, awkwardness and, ultimately, acceptance, one feels alone at night in the hospital.

Adams wouldn’t let the night end on a dark note, so she immediately sprang into “Get Here.” Fans burst into applause at the opening chord of her most famous number and several cried out with excitement. Expectations can be high for homecoming shows, but it was clear from the closing ovation that Adams had met them all.

“Tonight,” the woman sitting next to me said, “we got our own jewel, right here at the Gem.”

Setlist: Feelin’ Good; New York State of Mind; I Just Had To Hear Your Voice; I Hope You Dance; Picture You the Way That I Do; Circle of One. Intermission. The Power of Sacrifice; Let’s Stay Here; My Heart Won’t Lie; All The Things You Are (ft. Jeanne Arland Peterson); More Than You Know; If You’re Willing; Holy is the Lamb; Long and Lonely Hours (solo); Get Here.

Keep reading:

Review: Kind of Blue turns 50

Review: Sonny Rollins

Buck O’Neil: Sweet times, sweet sounds at 18th and Vine

15 jazz greats to emerge in the last 20 years

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(Above: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band back Chuck Berry at the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.)

By Joel Francis

“Rock Hall Live,” an exquisite nine DVD box set of performances and speeches from the past 25 years of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies is a treasure trove for all music fans, but it should especially attractive to Bruce Springsteen fans. Springsteen appears on all but two of the discs in more than a dozen performances and nearly as many speeches. As the unofficial MC of the collection, Springsteen makes more appearances than anyone else.

On Monday, The Daily Record examined the first half of Springsteen’s performances on the “Rock Hall Live” box set. Today, we look at Springsteen’s appearance at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his triumphant E Street reunion kick-off and sitting in with U2.

1995 – “Johnny B. Goode” (with Chuck Berry)

In the classic Chuck Berry film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” Springsteen tells the story of how he and his pre-E Street band backed Berry in the 1970s. More than two decades later, at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen reprises the role here, this time with his E Street brothers in tow. Springsteen is relegated to backing vocals and rhythm guitar, but Clarence Clemons punctuates Berry’s lyrical bursts with stings of saxophone a la King Curtis. Sporting a goatee and ear-to-ear grin, Springsteen sheds his backup roll to peel off a brief solo after Berry’s duckwalk.

1995 – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” (with Jerry Lee Lewis, rehearsal)

In this bonus feature Springsteen and the E Street band rehearses “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” with Jerry Lee Lewis before the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The musicians soundcheck their instruments as the crew preps the stage. There’s one dry run through the number, which is unfortunately edited out. Even though everyone is just messing around they still earn applause from the resting workers on the side of the stage. The footage isn’t incredible enlightening or interesting, but it’s worth watching once.

1999 – “The Promised Land,” “Backstreets,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “In the Midnight Hour” (with Wilson Pickett)

The E Street Band were on the cusp of their first tour together in 11 years when they teased the world with a four-song set at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. Although the entire performance is captured in the “Rock Hall Live” box, it is frustratingly spread across four discs. Springsteen calls each band member one at a time to join him during onstage during his induction to the hall. While there’s no rust from the decade apart in the opening “The Promised Land,” the band is still getting warmed up. There’s no sweat on Springsteen’s dress shirt at the end of the number.

One can tell from the opening chords of “Backstreets” that this is going to be a special performance. Springsteen unloads every ounce of his soul into the microphone and beats a great solo out of his battered Telecaster. The band is majestic and powerful and inspired the normally staid attendees to dance around their banquet tables.

As photos of a young Springsteen flash on video boards behind the band, the Boss drops to his knees as the classic Little Steven horn arrangement to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” kicks in. Sans guitar, Springsteen uses his arms, legs and hips to cue the band and animate the crowd. It works. Everyone onstage and in the crowd is firing on all cylinders when Billy Joel slips beside Roy Bittan on the organ bench and Wilson Pickett enters to deliver “In the Midnight Hour.” Pickett’s voice is as powerful as ever and Springsteen draws on his years of “Detroit Medley” experience to match that ferocity while delivering the second verse. The band burnishes their credentials as the best house band in the business. If anyone were looking to update “The Last Waltz” and showcase a classic ensemble and their influences, the E Street Band should be the top candidate.

2005 – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (with U2)

“When I say that America is not just a country, but an idea, I’m thinking about people like Bruce Springsteen,” Bono says, introducing the song over The Edge’s chiming guitar chords. As the second verse starts, we catch a glimpse of Springsteen in the wings, waiting for his entrance. It takes the Boss a moment to get oriented before delivering the third verse, which kills the momentum of the performance. The moment is a bit superfluous – U2 doesn’t need his help – bit it’s a nice gesture. Springsteen matches Bono’s vocal passion and closes the performance on a powerful note.

Keep reading:

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Review: Springsteen’s “Dream” Needs More Work

Springsteen in the Waiting Room: Drop the Needle and Pray

Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

New DVD Set Celebrates Rock Hall Performances

More Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Record

 

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(The iPod has come a long way since its introduction in Oct., 2001. What has commercial radio done over that period?)

By Joel Francis

The Daily Record’s two-week experiment ended yesterday. For the past two weeks, I’ve been listening to myiPod on all-song shuffle, dedicated to penetrating 10 percent of my 12,226-tune pocket library. The journey was not only a blast, but it’s also been very revelatory. Songs sound different when they arrive unannounced and stripped of all context.

At first blush, the Futureheads sound a lot like the Jam, and “Mystery Title” from Robert Plant’s “Pictures At Eleven” doesn’t sound that different from what Zeppelin were going for on “In Through the Out Door.” To these ears, Mavis Staples’ 2008 album “Hope: Live at the Hideout” paled in comparison with its studio counterpart “Down In Mississippi,” and Staples’ energetic stop at the Folly Theater on that tour. But “The Hideout”‘s “Freedom Highway” blew me away when it popped up.

The Nine Inch Nails track “Zero-Sum” sounded like something Peter Gabriel would have placed on “Security.” The shuffle rescuedthe magnificient “I’m A Lady” from its burial deep in the second half of Santogold’s album. Heck, even a Ghostface Killah’s comedy sketch managed to evoke a chuckle when it popped up between Dinosaur Jr and Billie Holiday.

Not to sound too much like a fuddy-duddy, but there are a lot of aspects of the old music paradigm that I miss. Record Store Day is a great new tradition, but it can’t compete with the rush and anticipation of New Release Tuesdays. I also miss the days when radio would actually turn me on to good music and artists. None my or my friends’ automobiles in high school and college had CD players, so we relied on the radio for entertainment. It wasn’t perfect – Kansas City still had way too much classic rock clogging the airways – but when you haven’t yet heard “Frankenstein” a million times, it didn’t seem so bad. We tried to sing the “woo-woos” all the way through “Sympathy for the Devil” (impossible) and memorize the lyrics to “American Pie” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” (Check and check. Also, sadly, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”)

I didn’t need to know anything about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to notice that radio started to suck that year. Eventually, though, we graduated and got better cars. I made sure mine had a CD player and turned my back completely on commercial radio. I have yet to find a compelling reason to go back. And while my iPod only reveals what I put into it, it’s nice to know there are still hundreds of treasures waiting to be revealed. Now if only I could figure out how to be the ninth caller and win that T-shirt.

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