Category Archives: Reviews

Allman Brothers’ Formative Years Explored on 4 Reissues From ABB Records

When the Allman Brothers Band’s debut album arrived in 1969, it sounded like nothing else – an amalgamation of southern blues, hippie rock and jazz improvisation.  But brothers Duane and Gregg had been honing their craft for years before, perfecting this blend of disparate styles.  Four albums from Allman Brothers Band Records reveal their road to greatness – through experimentation and detours.  Each is making their digital debut.

Allman Joys – Early Allman

This is the brothers’ earliest recordings, dating back to 1966, when Duane and Gregg were fresh out of high school.  “Gotta Get Away” is an excellent slice of driving, garage rock, with Duane on distorted guitar, but Gregg is so young, you can’t even tell it’s him.  “Oh John,” another original, is kind odd with its strange chord changes and keyboard sounds.  It was actually recorded at the legendary Bradley’s Barn!  “Street Singer” a Roy Acuff composition, is slow but interesting.  “You’ll Learn Someday” a Gregg original, has a decent chorus.  But, why “Ol Man River”? 

Way before “Bell Bottom Blues,” Gregg wrote “Bell Bottom Britches,” a so-so original. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” is really good and actually got some radio play.  Although the track sounds out of phase.  All of a sudden, on “Doctor Fone Bone,” Gregg actually sounds like himself. These tracks were all released in 1973, but have been out of print ever since.

Hourglass – 1967  

This early Allman band featured Gregg on organ and vocals and brother Duane on guitar (although you can barely tell he’s there quite often).  Also of note is Johnny Sandlin on drums, a frequent collaborator of the Allmans over the years.  

The album leads off with “Out of the Night,” not even 2 minutes in length, it’s a decent slice of horn-driven blue-eyed soul – but no Duane on this track at all.  “Nothing But Tears” does feature some soloing from Duane, but he sounds handcuffed.  “Love Makes the World Go Round” is a decent take on the Deon Jackson song, but the background vocals are kinda cheesy and this cover doesn’t really add anything to the original.  

Also on the record is a very early Jackson Browne composition called “Cast Off All My Fears” – Duane has a pretty cool fuzz guitar here.  This sounds more like the Beau Brummels or something like that, then real soul.  They do Curtis Mayfield’s “I’ve Been Trying” but Gregg is struggling to sound older, and the track sounds forced. “Heartbeat” is tepid, just not passionate.  The production is watery and no punch.  

Not surprising, the most rockin’ thing on here is a Gregg Allman original, another version of “Gotta Get Away,” this time featuring some searing Duane guitar, a juiced up, and a pounding beat; it’s the best thing on the record.  Unfortunately, it’s still not as good as the original cut as the Allman Joys.  

Any momentum is soon lost by the banjo-led Del Shannon cover “Silently” – ugh.  Then comes “Bells,” with a spoken piece and fazed out guitar  – this is just dreadful.  What the band lacked was a real solid direction.

Hourglass – Power of Love

We have producer Dallas Smith to blame for the atrocity that was Hourglass’ debut.  He was brought back for the followup, Power of Love, but he seems to have given more creative control to the band this time around.  The album cover featured testimonials from Neil Young and Stephen 

Stills, who were both in Buffalo Springfield at the time.

Things have gelled better in the year since their debut. Gregg’s singing is more assured, the band sounds more confident, and everything appears more together.  “Power of Love” is actually decent song.  It’s not a direct soul rip off, but something different, and Duane is allowed to add some tasty fills.  It was penned by the Muscle Shoals’ gods Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.  But most of the record is written by Gregg.  “To Things Before” has the same chord progression that would be used to better effect on the Allman’s “Melissa” and has echoey background effects which are unnecessary.  

A lot of these songs are just not memorable, Gregg was still finding his way.  “Changing of the Guard” is so so, and an okay chorus saves “I’m Not Afraid.”  “I Can’t Stand Alone” is better, maybe a little too poppy a chorus, but it’s progress, and how bout that fuzz guitar from Duane!  The horns are mostly gone and so are the cheesy background vocals – also a marked improvement over their debut.  Eddie Hinton’s “Down in Texas” is much closer to the blues rock of the Allmans.  “I Still Want Your Love” is an atypical Gregg song, it’s actually bouncy – but it does feature a gritty vocal.  

Their cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” got the exposure on the Allman Brothers box set years ago.  This jazzy interpretation is just instrumental, and features Duane on sitar

Duane and Gregg 

These tracks feature future Allman drummer Butch Trucks and were done as demos for the band 31st of February.  “Morning Dew” features some electrifying guitar from Duane.  The sessions were helmed by former teen idol Steve Alaimo. “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” sounds like a garage recording.  “Down in Texas” is a better version of the Eddie Hinton song that they cut with Hourglass.  

Most importantly, this is the first appearance of the Allman Brother classic “Melissa.” Gregg’s voice is a little tentative here, but the Duane fills are very nice.  The arrangement is delicate and the chords are slightly different in the middle section.  The very next track, “I’ll Change For You” sounds like a variation on Melissa, with similar chords and feel.  In fact, much of this material is gentle in nature.  “Back Down Home With You” is better, more soulful.  

The tapes for this record are in pretty bad shape, with drop outs and loss of sound in channels, definitely apparent when you listen in earbuds. The driving  “Well I Know” is the closest to something that the Allmans would become, Duane does a pretty nice solo.  

All in all, there’s at least a couple of revealing tracks on all four releases.  If you’re a dedicated Allman fan, these are definitely worth adding to your collection.  —Tony Peters

Four Albums From Mister Rogers Make Their Digital Debut (Omnivore)

Mister Rogers reissues (Omnivore Recordings)

We could all use a little Mister Rogers right now

With the release of first the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and then A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), we’ve been reminded of the genius of Mister Rogers.  Omnivore Recordings first put out It’s Such a Good Feeling last year, which collected songs from various releases over his career.  Now, they dig deeper with a quartet of albums that Rogers released, all four making their digital debut.

You Are Special

You’re Growing

Bedtime

Coming and Going

Honestly, now more than ever, the world needs Mister Rogers.  His sheer brilliance was right there in front of us the whole time.  But, we were too busy being adults.  Now, when we feel our most vulnerable, just like a child, it’s music that touches us deep, and gives us comfort.

Three of the albums came out in 1992, followed by Coming and Going, which came out in 1997.  Each album is only loosely based on the title.  Mostly, it’s just Rogers doing his thing. 

He’s backed, as always, by the multitalented Johnny Costa, who is talking and singing too – just on the piano.  These recordings, just like the TV show, are a dialogue, not just between Rogers and his audiencem but also between Rogers and Costa.  Also part of his erstwhile band is Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on percussion. 

Each disc opens with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and closes with “You Are Special,” providing a familiar bookend.

When he spells out the word FRIEND in “You Are Special” or asks questions like “why aren’t live babies like my other toys” in “Some Things I Don’t Understand,” you realize Rogers had an ability to relate to exactly how a child felt.

He also tells stories, like on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” – but here we get to see his genius.  We know in the story, the girl ate porridge, but he changed it to “lunch” – far more understandable for everyone.  The accents of the story are punctuated by Johnny Costa’s melodic piano.  Again, at the end of the story, there’s changes.  The bears made their beds, fixed Baby Bear’s chair and divided the remaining lunch.  Then, they discussed how afraid having Goldilocks in their house was. 

“I’m a Man Who Manufactures” features some great piano, we just take it for granted.  This was the first introduction to jazz for thousands of little people.

“It’s You I Like” – Rogers isn’t a gifted vocalist, but there’s such a warmth in these recordings – even as adults, you can’t help but get goosebumps.  His gift is capturing the wonder of children, like in “Pretending.” 

He’s also not afraid to tackle very complex emotions too, like with “The Truth Will Make Me Free,” which deals with why we shouldn’t hide our feelings. 

“You Are Growing,” the classic title track, somehow has this genuine yearning.  “Are You Brave” is the kind of song that we need during troubling times.  “Are you brave above and under especially when you’re inside out.”  He reminds kids to take their time growing up before the addition lesson of “One and One Are Two.”

Time and again, Rogers deals with unsavory feelings, like fear, as in “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny.” He not only says it’s ok to feel that way, he assures that you’re not the only one who feels that way.   The same goes for dealing with anger in “What Do You Do”? Rogers doesn’t sweep these feelings under the rug.  Instead, he assures us that it’s normal to feel that way.

Sophisticated thoughts like “Sometimes People Are Good,” approach the complex idea that things aren’t black and white – sometimes people are good and those same people are bad.  Yet, he has this way of explaining things so that everyone gets it.

“Going to Marry Mom” is cute, covering a feeling that a lot of us boys who admired our mothers feel.  That’s followed by the silly “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”

From the album Bedtime, when Rogers sings “I’m Taking Care of You,” it doesn’t sound corny, it sounds reassuring.  “I Like to Be Told” expresses everyone’s desire to know what’s coming next.  

The sweetness of “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” – in the hands of a more adept vocalist, this could’ve been a hit song – the lyrics are beautiful.  “Many Ways to Say I Love You” – who thought that there’s the “cooking way” or the “eating way” to say those three words?  “Nighttime Sounds” normalizes the evening noises that can be scary.  

The Coming and Going album came out five years later in 1997.  By this point, Rogers’ voice seems a little raspy.  Whimsical songs like “I Like Someone Who Looks Like You,” are intermingled with “Be Brave, Be Strong” to a light, marching beat, exuding confidence.  “Look and Listen” is another one of his classic of tunes, while “I Like to Take My Time” lopes along with Costa adding accents.  

There’s a pair of complex thoughts here too –  “I’m Still Myself Inside” and “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True.” Rogers shows off his ability to change his voice on songs like “Propel, Propel, Propel Your Craft” and “Museum Wares.”

In a world that seems crazier than ever, it’s too bad we no longer have a daily visit to Mister Rogers Neighborhood.  But, he did leave us plenty of comfort and direction in these fine recordings.  —Tony Peters

Rush – Clockwork Angels Tour (vinyl edition)

When I was a growing up in the 1970’s my neighbor owned a custom van. Both sides of the vehicle were the canvas for a larger than life painting of an owl, with piercing yellow eyes and outstretched wings; a meticulous airbrushed version of Hugh Syme’s original album artwork for Rush’s second album, Fly By Night. This was a van that belonged to a true Rush fan, a place where any music would do as long as it was all Rush all the time.  

My musical journey with the band started in earnest a few years later with my oldest sister’s copy of Exit Stage Left. There was and is something special about listening to music on vinyl.  I remember holding the album, reading the liner notes and seeing the artwork that Hugh Syme designed for the album, it would have looked great on an Econoline van.  

Fast forward to 2019, the five LP box set Clockwork Angels Tour (Rhino/Atlantic Records) arrives in the mail.  In the era of streaming music, it feels almost remarkable to see and hold an LP box set.  Clockwork Angels Tour is an exquisitely packaged and pressed live recording from Rush’s tour to support the studio album Clockwork Angels.  While it is possible to stream thefive-album box set,this is a body of work that begs to be consumed in a linear fashion, on vinyl.  Clockwork Angels Tour is an epic 31-song musical journey, that rolls, twists and intertwines, each song effortlessly slides into and beyond the other.  

The majority of the tracks from the exceptional Clockwork Angels album are found on Sides C-F of the box set.  These songs are not a separate act of the play, but a musical thread that weaves the incredible talent and development of Rush, it’s the evolution and pursuit of the craft.  With Rush this pursuit never seems to be complete, it is the process and the product. 

The brilliance of the band’s 38 years of musical creativity is on display, this is not a greatest hits album it’s a sample of the live experience with Rush. It’s a complex story that seems to be aimed at drawing you in and placing you within the interplay of all things that came before and will come after.  Clockwork Angels Tour is a musical and artistic work of art, that begs you to slow down, take some time and lose yourself in the remarkable musical talent of Rush.  —Brian Dzwonek

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (vinyl edition)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (180 Gram Vinyl Edition) (Fantasy/Concord)

This new version blows the original vinyl away

As a lifelong collector of vinyl, I will often tell you that “older is better.”  I’d rather search out an original pressing of an album than buy some new version.  The reason is that, in my experience, a lot of new vinyl is done with very little quality control.  Well, here comes Craft Recordings to, once again, prove me wrong.

Craft Recordings has recently re-issued both Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys on vinyl in celebration of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 50th anniversary.  They sent us Willy and the Poor Boys and we compared it to an original vinyl copy in our library.

The results are stunning.

While the original vinyl sounds pretty good, this new, 180-gram, edition is far superior in every way.  First, this new version is very quiet – the pressing was done with a great deal of care.  Second, and really the biggest difference, is that there is so much more depth to this new pressing.  The guitar at the beginning of “Down on the Corner” is rich, there’s more punch to the drums on “It Came Out of the Sky,” and the acoustic guitars on “Cottonfields” are warm.  

The album was created using the half-speed mastering process, meaning the original audio was played back at half the speed and the cutting lathe was also slowed down, allowing the grooves to be cut more precisely.  

Everything from “Fortunate Son” to “The Midnight Special” jumps out of the speakers.  These classic recordings have never sounded this good on their original, vinyl format.

As an added bonus, the album comes packaged in a heavy weight cardboard sleeve, replicating the original, tip-on jacket.  

CCR were one of the original, roots-rock American bands.  It makes sense then, that they should be enjoyed in analog.  

I sincerely wish that all vinyl reissues were given the same treatment as this Willy and the Poor Boys edition.  Vinyl fans rejoice!  —Tony Peters

America – 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits (review)

America – 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits (Rhino)

Celebrating their semi centennial with a solid career overview

For any band, reaching the half-century mark is a monumental achievement.  Years of touring, success, lack of success and friction of inter-personal relationships have caused the end of many a great band over the years.  The fact that America is still a working group, playing shows, year after year, is a testament to the dedication of both Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell to the same ideals that brought them together over 50 years ago.

A new collection, 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits, celebrates the high points of a long career.

The set opens with their first, and most recognizable hit, “A Horse With No Name,” a combination of CSN harmonies and Neil Young-like lead vocals, over a gentle, pulsing acoustic backdrop, that somehow manages to make a statement of the dying ecology; it still jumps out of the speakers, almost five decades later.  

What made America such a juggernaut is that back in their heyday, they had three capable vocalists and songwriters all adding their own elements to the band (Dan Peek was the third original member).  Beckley’s piano ballad “I Need You” was a counterpoint to Bunnell’s ominous “Sandman.”  

Three songs from their second album, Homecoming, show off their versatility.  Peek turned in the countryfied, 12-string jangle of “Don’t Cross the River,” which features some goose-bump-inducing harmonies on the chorus, while Bunnell gave us the iconic, acoustic-flavored “Ventura Highway” (with the crazy “alligator lizards in the air” lyric), while Beckley gives us another, McCartney-esque, “Only in Your Heart.”    

After the somewhat lackluster Hat Trick (I mean, if Captain & Tennille outdo your “Muskrat Love,” you might want to regroup and come up with a better plan, right?).  That plan was to bring in Beatles’ guru/producer George Martin.  This partnership brought immediate dividends in the gentle simplicity of Bunnell’s “Tin Man” and the absolutely gorgeous “Lonely People” (a highlight of Peek’s songwriting talents).  

Beckley gives us another great ballad in “Daisy Jane,” while Peek turns in the reggae-infused “Woman Tonight,” a forgotten track off of the album Hearts.  The real highlight off that album was the smash hit, written by Beckley, “Sister Golden Hair,” one of their finest singles.  

Another lost single, Bunnell’s “Amber Cascades,” was one of the high points of the album Hideaway.  Their final album as a trio, Hideaway, yielded the minor single, “God of the Sun.” After that, Dan Peek left for a solo career, reducing America to a duo.  They returned in 1982 with the Russ Ballard-penned “You Can Do Magic.”  

There’s also a 3-disc version of this collection that delves deep into their catalog.

The strength of 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits is that it’s concise (six less tracks than the somewhat bloated Complete Greatest Hits), but also contains all the highlights of the band’s career (something that the original America’s Greatest Hits does not).  Although there are plenty of great songs throughout America’s vast catalog, 50th Anniversary is a great starting point.  —Tony Peters

The Beatles – Abbey Road (50th Anniversary) (Review)

Beatles – Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Edition Remix) (Apple)

So good…it will make you cry

Abbey Road has always been my favorite Beatles’ album.  It’s the one I remember begging my mom to play again and again on our console stereo system, while I lay in between the large wooden speakers, basking in the glow.  The original album got so much love, it eventually developed skips, which I knew by heart.  

But, as much as I love that album, it always bothered me sonically.

The original version kind of sounded like shit.

While that statement certainly smacks of blasphemy, let’s examine things a little closer.  The original vinyl was mastered at a low volume, meaning all but absolute pristine copies are marred by pops and scratches, which overpower the music.  There’s also tape hiss that even shows up on those original pressings (just replay a vinyl copy of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” for proof).  

Things only got worse when the band’s catalog eventually moved to compact disc.  Not only was all that tape hiss louder, but many of the tracks sounded tinny and brittle.  How did this once-great album come to sound so lifeless?

All of that has been fixed with this glorious new remix by Giles Martin.

As the son of Beatles’ original producer George Martin states in his new liner notes, the goal of this project was to “peel back the layers and be as pure as we can.”  They have done that and more.

Sonically, it is a massive upgrade.  While we were critical of the somewhat heavy-handed approach of The White Album remix, there seemed to be a reverence surrounding this new project.  The result is something that all but the pickiest of Beatles’ fanatics will be thrilled with.  

One of the greatest triumphs is the spine-tingling remix of George Harrison’s “Something.”  His vocals and guitar are warm, the bass – big and fat, and the strings engulf you.  

A side-by-side comparison from the original CD version gives some insight into just how improved these songs really are.  Take, for example, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which on the original album, was full of midrange frequencies and had instruments that were panned hard right and left.  For this new remix, they were able to play Paul’s original piano track through speakers at the original Abbey Road studios, miking the sounds on the edges of the room, giving you the feeling that you are in the room with the band. Ringo’s drums have punch, and everything just sounds more human.  

In this new mix, “Sun King” leaps out of the speakers.  The chirping crickets are everywhere, while Paul’s bass is full, and less distorted, and Ringo’s thumping beat is enormous.  The harmonies in stereo are a nice touch.

What about “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”?  The hiss is gone, and what remains is a testament to just what kind of a blistering band the Beatles could be.  John seems to be working through some of the pains of his eroding band in the gritty vocals.  Not to be outdone, this new remix really shows what a fantastic vocalist Paul was as well on the impassioned “Oh Darling.”  

George’s other masterpiece is “Here Comes the Sun,” and everything, from the acoustic guitar, the strings, even the handclaps, are all upgrades in sound.

That glorious medley of songs that make up the original side two are made even more enjoyable by the new remixes.  Everything seems to build from song to song, cresting with “Carry That Weight,” with the strings and brass really shining through.  The guitar solos on “The End,” by Paul, George and John respectively, are more isolated, giving you a better appreciation for each’s approach to the instrument.  After a lengthy pause, the brief “Her Majesty” brings everything to an abrupt close.

I wouldn’t be a Beatles’ fanatic without a couple of minor quibbles.  There are points where Martin and company insert little “new” bits into things – there’s extra vocals and guitar parts at the end of the new “Come Together,” which to me don’t add anything.  There’s also extra guitar fills at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” even ones that sound like mistakes.  There’s also times where a different effect is used on the vocals, especially apparent on the “one sweet dream” part of “You Never Give Me Your Money.”  

There are several different versions available to purchase.  The two-disc set contains a second CD of rarities.  Of note here is a demo version of “Something,” where you can really hear the song coming together (pun intended).  There’s a fragility to this take which adds to its power.  The other tracks are interesting to hear once, but nothing stands out as revelatory. Either the vocals are rough takes or the instrumentation breaks down.

The real treat on the 4-disc set is “The Long One,” a 16-minute early version of side two, which has “Her Majesty” not at the end of the album, but sandwiched in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” There’s also differences in vocals and instrumentation on every song.  This is a nice addition, but you either have to purchase the more expensive version, or just stream it online.  A demo version of “The Ballad of John & Yoko,” proves that just John and Paul played on the track, while Paul’s version of “Come and Get It” is very close to what Badfinger eventually released as their debut single.  

There’s something always bittersweet about listening to Abbey Road.  As great as the music is, it’s also the final recordings by the Beatles.  A great deal of love and care has gone into this new remix.  —Tony Peters

Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow ’78 (review)

Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow 78 (Eagle Rock / Rhino)

Proof they really were THAT good

Foreigner sold millions of records, placed several singles in the Top Ten, and toured incessantly, yet never had a proper live album of the classic lineup of the band – until now.  

It was DEFINITELY worth the wait.  

Live at the Rainbow 78 finds the original six-piece in front of a rabid UK crowd after being on the road for over a year in support of their debut album.  

No covers – no senseless noodling – this is rock n’ roll with a purpose.

The concert kicks off with a rousing version of “Long, Long Way From Home,” fitting as half of the band were from America.  The real highlight on this track is drummer Dennis Elliott, adding frenetic fills throughout and building the excitement.  Guitarist Mick Jones turns in some truly scintillating guitar work on “I Need You.”  Then, he introduces “here’s one for the ladies here tonight, my mum included,” before kicking off “Woman Oh Woman,” with Jones and singer Lou Gramm trading off lead vocal duties.  

Gramm really shines on “Hot Blooded,” a song that wouldn’t be out for several weeks yet (the lead single from their second long player, Double Vision).  He effortlessly hits the high notes while Jones shreds on the solo.

Ed Gagliardi’s bass is intertwined with the keyboards on “The Damage is Done” – the live version has much more power, even grooving in the middle.  “Cold as Ice” opens with a cool stager before briefly pausing, allowing the crowd to roar in approval.  This live take is fueled by the keyboard duo of Ian McDonald and Al Greenwood.  The band had been playing this track for at least a year now, yet it still sounds fresh.  There’s even a nice acapella part, followed by a keyboard solo and a killer ending.

McDonald shows off his multi-instrumentalist skills, breaking out a flute solo on the spacey “Starrider,” featuring Jones on lead vocals.  This extended flute jam might be the only part where things drag just a tad. 

The twin guitar of Jones and McDonald are on display for another new song, “Double Vision” – and great harmonies in the middle and yet another great ending.

If you want proof that Gramm was one of the finest vocalists in rock, look no further than “Fool For You Anyway.”  Sure, he could belt out rockers, but here he’s soulful.  The Rhodes piano gives a gentle approach that the band would explore more fully on ballads like “Waiting For a Girl Like You” a few years later.

“At War With the World” is one of the hardest rockers the band ever played, while the concert closes with an extended take of “Head Knocker,” complete with Gramm getting behind another drumset and battling with Elliott – the entire song crests and whips the UK crowd once again into a frenzy, lasting over 12 minutes.

Live at the Rainbow 78 reminds us that Foreigner were a force to be reckoned with as a touring band.  A phenomenal live set that does nothing but add to this great band’s legacy.  —Tony Peters

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (review)

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (Roadrunner)  

Grizzled Canadians Return to the US City That Embraced Them First

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Rush’s Moving Pictures album – their biggest, and best album.  To celebrate, the band played that classic record in its entirety, along with an eclectic smattering of album cuts and hits.  Time Machine: Live in Cleveland 2011, the document of that tour, has just been issued for the first time on a 4-LP set on vinyl.

The city of Cleveland played a significant role in the band’s history.  DJ Donna Halper of Cleveland’s WMMS was the first person to play Rush’s music in the States (she’s actually thanked on the back cover of the group’s debut album).  So, it would only be fitting to play in front of fans that believed in them first.

Part of the, er…rush of a Rush concert is hearing the band effortlessly tackle their intricate studio arrangements in a concert setting.  That’s great live and in person, but usually doesn’t work too well on their countless live albums.  What sets Time Machine apart is the amount of humanity that shines through.  Okay, these tracks still mostly sound like the studio versions, but, for one, Geddy Lee’s voice has aged.  More of a squawker than pure singer, his vocals have a deeper, resonating quality to them and there’s a hint of rasp as well, giving some of these songs a “lived to tell about it” feel to them that isn’t apparent on the studio renditions.  

Other times, like in the early part of “Red Barchetta,” the band doesn’t seem to lock in quite like they used to.  Yet, there’s a kinetic sense of playing together for so long, that things don’t ever veer too far off course.  

The show kicks off with “The Spirit of Radio,” a little rough around the edges, and slower than usual, but still rockin’.  This jumps right into “Time Stand Still,” with the band still reprising Aimee Mann’s background vocals, courtesy of a sampler.  Other early highlights include a decent version of moody “Subdivisions” and the seldom played “Presto.”

A minor quibble is that Neal Peart’s drums seem somewhat buried in the mix.  Largely, he’s the main attraction here, as he still sounds in fine form.  Yet, at times he’s lost under the sludge of guitars.  

Moving Pictures comes at the midway point in the concert.  Only problem is, that means the album performance starts on Record two and completes on Record three (again, minor quibbling here).  Just for consistency, it would’ve been nice to have the complete album in live form on a single disc.  “Tom Sawyer” flat out rocks, while there’s some silly carnival sound effects at the start of “Limelight.”  It’s nice to hear songs like “Vital Signs” in a live setting.  

For the remaining tracks, the band digs back to their prog rock roots for the “2112 Overture” and  “La Villa Strangiato.”  At the same time, you also get both “BU2B” and “Caravan,” songs that were brand new and would show up the following year on the album Clockwork Angels.

And what would a Rush concert be without a mammoth drum solo by Neil Peart?  This one, originally titled “Love For Sale,” gets retitled “Moto Perpetuo,” clocking in at over nine minutes in length.

The concert ends on a surprising note, with the band diving into a reggae version of “Working Man” (hmmm…).  Thankfully, it morphs into the real song about 1:30 in.

By showing a band that’s aging, and a little rough around the edges (yet still in fine form), Time Machine is the most human of all Rush live albums, and that’s a good thing.  —Tony Peters

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers – It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of (Omnivore Recordings)

Johnny Costa – Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (Omnivore Recordings)

The Neighborhood, from a couple of different perspectives

It was easy to make fun of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as an adult.  Eddie Murphy certainly did several times on skits for Saturday Night Live.  His slow, deliberate delivery which he addressed his young audience could get on our nerves.  The music seemed trite and Rogers was anything but a great singer.  Oh, not to mention the cringe-worthy subject matter.  I mean, how dare he talk about DEATH on his show?

Of course, now we realize it was all pure genius

First came the 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  Now, coming in November of 2019, is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a movie starring Tom Hanks.  Yes, Mister Rogers is finally getting his due.  

Bridging the gap between those two films are a pair of reissues from Omnivore Recordings, which shed further light on Fred Rogers’ gifts. It’s Such a Good Feeling is a collection of many of the best-loved songs of the 5-decade long TV series, while Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood shows that the melodies laid under the lyrics were also a thing of brilliance.

As someone who watched the very first episode of Mister Rogers as a young boy, the mere sound of this familiar voice brings back feelings of warmth, like hearing a long-deceased relative whom you loved.  As the first born, Mister Rogers was my playmate and my confidant. 

The thing that’s so amazing is how intricate some of the melodies are.  I didn’t know I was listening to jazz at the time (sneaky, sneaky).  As an adult, I’m even more impressed that most of these were done live, on the spot, while the show was being filmed.

Make no mistake, Rogers was never a great vocalist that you’d pay to see at a nightclub, but he used the most of his limitations.  For example, listen how the bouncing melody and plaintive lyrics contrast the Art Tatum-like speedy piano fills of Costa on “Look and Listen.”  Most of these songs are true duets – Rogers sings “Be Brave, Be Strong,” and Costa echoes with his piano.  

And, Rogers’ true gift was being able to relate perfectly to the children in his audience.  “Pretending” has a tension to it that adds excitement, but isn’t scary.  “You Can Never Go Down the Drain” sounds completely ridiculous, yet Rogers pulls it in and keeps it earnest.  

Or take “Sometimes People Are Good,” where he sings “are the very same people who are bad sometimes.”  What other song better captures the duality of most of our personalities?  Or “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True” is a surprisingly sober topic for a kid’s show.

Of course, the real treats are the staples of his long-running program – opening with the insistent “Today is a Very Special Day,” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and ending with the optimistic “Tomorrow.”  

Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers Neighborhood marks the first time this album from 1984 has been available on CD.  Rogers’ accompanist takes the familiar melodies of the program and adds further colors, with the addition Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums.  

It’s here where you really do get a better appreciation for this music.  Stripped of the vocals, these songs are less childlike and more just incredibly uplifting jazz music.  You also get an opportunity to really marvel at Costa as a soloist.  The comparisons to the legendary Art Tatum are definitely warranted.  

The second half of his rendition of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” really swings, while “Then Your Heart is Full of Love” is very melodic.

Honestly, this is just great background music – put it on at a party and dare your friends to guess what it is!

In anticipation of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, take a walk down the old street again.  —Tony Peters

Hootie & the Blowfish – cracked rear view (Deluxe Edition) (review)

Hootie & the Blowfish – cracked rear view (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic)

A MONSTER album, 25 years later

We treat our pop stars very strangely here in America.  For the really big ones, we usually lap them up like the all-you-can-eat dessert bar, then toss them aside and pretend they never existed.  Take the Bee Gees for example.  In 1978, the Brothers Gibb were everywhere.  By 1980, they couldn’t get arrested in the States.  I saw Hall & Oates in a small club in Cincinnati in 1992 after they had been kicked to the curb (they were fabulous, by the way).  Other countries aren’t so rude (take Europe’s never-ending fascination with ABBA, for instance).  

Another such band is Hootie & the Blowfish, whose debut album, cracked rear view, sold a gargantuan 21 million copies before they were shown the pop culture door to Siberia. 

And, it’s a shame – they didn’t deserve it.  

cracked rear view is made up of simple songs – most are fueled by a repetitive riff and three chords with lyrics about relationships.  You could say it’s the precursor to modern country music – but instead of boots and pickup trucks, they sing about crying and hand holding (sometimes in the same song).  

The album opener, “Hannah Jane,” is pure power pop.  But, with Don Gehman’s muscled production, it comes off as Mellencamp meets the Gin Blossoms. The ballads are good, “Let Her Cry” and the even better “Time.”  “Only Wanna Be With You” mentions their club buddies Dillion Fence (“put on a little Dylan / Sittin’ on a fence), who were arguably far more gifted melodically, but never got even close to stardom.  Yet, “Hold My Hand” is the standout, even 20 years later.  It’s a universal song of people coming together with a great chorus.

Hootie & the Blowfish were a really good bar band.  I saw them in October of 1994 at Bogarts in Cincinnati.  “Hold My Hand” had just come out as a single to AOR rock stations.  My wife and I were pleasantly surprised by the packed house.  This band had obviously created a buzz.  For further proof, check out the live disc, recorded a few months later in Pittsburgh.  They do a fantastic job with Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” while somehow making Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” sound like they wrote it.  

There’s also a bonus disc of early material and b-sides.  “I Go Blind” was another monster hit (originally written by the Canadian college rock band 54-40), but left off the original album.  Another obscure cover, “Almost Home,” came from the Texas band, the Reivers.  “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” came from the Led Zeppelin tribute album.  

There’s also a bevy of early versions of these tracks on the album.  Honestly, Gehman didn’t do much to improve these songs – they were fully-realized years before their major-label release. 

Keep in mind – in 1994, the world was still knee-deep in Grunge – hailed at the time as the “savior of rock.”  We now know it killed rock – DEAD.  Rock stopped being fun – that’s why everyone listens to country music now.  

cracked rear view still stands up as a fun, sing-a-long album.  It’s time it got the respect it deserves.  —Tony Peters