Category Archives: Reviews

Still Whitesnake, Still David Coverdale, Still Good to Be Bad (review)

Whitesnake – Still…Good to Be Bad (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino)

Diehard Whitesnake fans left in an abyss with the cancellation of the US 2022 tour, will find the “Still…Good to be Bad” box set a welcome distraction. The new, four CD package is chock full of goodies, including a remastered original album, a new 2023 album remix, a Blu-ray disc that includes various live and acoustic performances, a 60-page hard cover book, replica tour book, poster, and previously unreleased demos and alternative versions. 

Whitesnake founder and lead singer David Coverdale says the box set is a “retrospective journey” that “revamps, revitalises and revisits” his legacy. Part of that rich history comes from Coverdale’s innate knack for choosing talented “snakes” like guitarist extraordinaire Doug Aldrich to be part of an ever-revolving band. The chemistry between Coverdale and Aldrich is undeniable. Aldrich co-wrote and co-produced on the original album and a different version of his guitar solo is offered on the song “All for Love” on the new CD. 

“Good To Be Bad” released in 2008, was the 10th album in Whitesnake’s repertoire. The new collection has 58 songs, of which 28 were remixed or remastered. That translates into 4 hours and 54 minutes of listening pleasure.   

CD#1: New remix 

CD#2: Remastered 

CD#3: Features new background vocals from the recording studio Hook City Harlots, along with the Hook City Horns, and long-time Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge. 

CD#4: “Evolutions” highlights previously unreleased recordings and explores the creative process that goes into the song writing and demos to the finished recording. 

There is a lot to unpack with the “Still..Good To Be Bad” collection. True Whitesnake aficionados will enjoy unpacking it, comparing different song configurations, and most importantly, reminiscing. –Ann Stevens

Viva Garage Rock! Nuggets Turns 50 (review)

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968: 50th Anniversary Box Set (Rhino)

The seminal, original double LP get expanded to 5 discs, offering even more garage-rock heaven

The original, 2-LP, Nuggets set, released in 1972, was unbelievably influential – essentially setting the stage for the back-to-basics punk movement which would emerge later in the decade.  Curated and annotated by critic Lenny Kaye, the 27 songs helped usher in what later became known as “garage rock.”  The original set has been enlarged for its 50th anniversary, adding a Nuggets vol. 2 that was slated for release, but never actually issued, plus a 5th LP titled “Also Dug-Its,” featuring even more songs that were considered, but left off, the initial collection.

Leading off with the trippy, fuzz guitar of The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” the first Nuggets set features plenty of punk sneering, like “Dirty Water” from the Standells and “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds.  But, you also get Beatle knockoffs like “Lies” by the Knickerbockers, the Dylan ode “A Public Execution” by Mouse, and a pre-Aretha version of “Respect” by the Vagrants.  There’s party rock, like “Farmer John” from the Premiers, and acid rock freak-outs like “Baby Please Don’t Go” by the Amboy Dukes.  

There were out and out pop perfections like the Beach Boys’ inspired “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, the jangly “Sugar and Spice” by the underrated Cryan’ Shames, and the dizzying height of “Open My Eyes” by Todd Rundgren’s first band, The Nazz.  

If all of this sounds sort of difficult to categorize, it is.  In the new liner notes, Kaye admits that he just compiled a bunch of his favorite songs in hopes that Elektra records would like his idea.  They did, and Nuggets created a mild sensation.  

After the initial Nuggets release, there were plans for a followup – a tracklist was assembled, but nothing materialized, largely due to difficulty in trying to license the songs.  This proposed album has now emerged as Nuggets Vol 2.  It starts with the rather un-garage “Do You Believe in Magic” from the Lovin’ Spoonful, but Kaye had posed the question in the first Nuggets’ liner notes of whether “the magic’s in the music…”  

Heavy-hitters like “Seven and Seven Is” by Love and “Little Girl” by the Syndicate of Sound sit alongside the more obscure, proto punk of “Action Woman” by The Litter, and the clever knocking percussion of “Open Up Your Door” by Richard and the Young Lions.  Kaye admits that “96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians is sort of the garage rock “holy grail,” because they were unable to license it for the original Nuggets, but it’s here now (but honestly, where is “Gloria” by Shadows of Knight?). 

There are several tracks by artists who would gain fame later.  The Pleasure Seekers were made up of all girls, and fronted by Suzi Quatro, and are here with “What a Way to Die,” while the jangly “It’s Cold Outside” from The Choir featured 1/2 of the future band, the Raspberries.  

But wait…there’s even more.  A fifth album is included, called “Also Dug-its,” which features songs that were in the running for the original collection, but never made it.  Some of these are sheer brilliance, like “99th Floor,” from the pre-ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons-led Moving Sidewalks, the pure pop of “Yellow Balloon” from Yellow Balloon, and the Mamas & Papas-esque “It’s a Happening Thing” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.  Others are head-scratchers.  What the hell is “Nina Kocka Nina” by the Dinks?  And, apparently, Elektra Record founder Jac Holzman wanted “Don’t Tie Me Down” by Little Anthony and the Imperials included on the original Nuggets.  Um, sorry Jack…it doesn’t fit.

Rhino has faithfully reproduced the look of the original set, right down to the replica “Something Out of the Ordinary” original Elektra inner sleeves.  The original liner notes by Kaye are included.  However, there are a few differences.  The running length of all the songs has been corrected – sometimes drastically different.  For instance, “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds was credited running at 3:03, when, in fact, it times at a leaner 2:37.  The sound quality is also vastly upgraded – these versions jump out of the speakers in clarity.  

The packaging, in a shiny silver box, really stands out.  There’s a booklet with several essays, and original notes from an early version of Nuggets – all adding to the mystique of this hallowed music.

The original Nuggets gave birth to “garage rock,” and in doing so, influenced a great deal of what came after.  This 50th anniversary set is a testament to the great legacy that lives on.  —Tony Peters

Terry Adams & Steve Ferguson – Louisville Sluggers (review)

Terry Adams & Steve Ferguson – Louisville Sluggers (Omnivore)

Two founding members of the Q, having a good time

It’s been a long, strange trip for NRBQ.  Known for their stylistic schizophrenia, both on record and in concert, the band is capable of doing just about any genre of music.  But, it all started with two Louisville natives, Terry Adams and Steve Ferguson over 50 years ago.  Ferguson only lasted two albums before exiting, but continued to stay near, showing up at gigs from time to time.  Louisville Sluggers, originally issued in 2006, finds the two rekindling their musical partnership.  This new reissue features bonus tracks and extended liner notes from Terry Adams’ brother, Donn, who also provides horns on the album.

Leading off with a swinging version of the Stan Kenton instrumental, “Peanut Vendor,” things immediately veer into the rockabilly of “Outer Space Boogie,” then the jazzy “Same Train.” This is just the kind of diversity that we’ve come to expect from five decades of NRBQ.  

No Q-related album would be complete without some weirdness, and the Texas shuffle of “Ichabod,” complete with marimba and harpsichord, and a killer Ferguson guitar solo, fits the bill.  Honestly, it sounds more like a theme to a Munsters-type TV show.  Things take another sharp turn with a Dixieland treatment of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” then an after-hours reading of the doo wop standard, “It’s Too Soon to Know.”  

Particularly nice is their cover of the Tommy Tucker nugget, “Hi Heel Sneakers”; I really dig Adams’ organ sound here as he solos, then Ferguson takes a turn.  The feeling is very relaxed – just two old friends having a conversation.  As if things couldn’t get any more out there, the pair tackles “Blue Monk,” a jazz standard, before closing things with a goofy version of “Hey Good Lookin.”

The bonus tracks are good fun as well: the Al Hirt instrumental, “Java,” becomes a showcase for Ferguson, while the bluegrass traditional, “Turkey in the Straw” shows off Adams on piano.  Then, there’s “Duet For Cousins,” which sounds like carnival music.

In Donn Adams’ essay, which accompanies this album, he admits that there were “no producers, no time constraints, no budget concerns, just Terry and Steve and friends.  It’s just the right thing.”  I agree.  —Tony Peters

Miles and Coltrane Kick off the Return of the Original Jazz Classics series (review)

Miles Davis – Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Craft Recordings resurrects the very popular Original Jazz Classics series

The vinyl resurgence has come with a huge caveat: quality control.  Vinyl records have flooded the market with often dubious results: inferior sound, noisy grooves, etc.  As a vinyl fan, oftentimes I just feel ripped off.

Luckily, there’s companies like Craft Recordings that continue to strive to excellence in their vinyl releases.  The company has decided to relaunch the Original Jazz Classics reissue series, which originally began in the 1980’s with Fantasy Records, making available hundreds of classic and long-forgotten jazz albums  The new reissues will be available in 180-gram vinyl and HD audio downloads.  

First, a note about these reissues.  Each album has been faithfully reproduced, right down to the original liner notes (the original, yellow Prestige label on the vinyl is a nice touch too).  The album jackets are made from a heavy grade paper, there’s even a wrap around (vinyl junkies know them as OBI’s) that gives historical details on each album.  And the vinyl?  Heavy, and most important, oh so quiet.  Very, very nice.

First in the series is Workin’ from the Miles Davis Quintet.  Featuring the blockbuster lineup of Davis on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and a relatively unknown sax player named John Coltrane (you may have heard of him?), the album was recorded as part of two marathon sessions between 1955-56.  These fruitful dates produced no less than five albums that saw release over the next few years.  Workin’ was the third in the series, which came out in 1960.

The album opens with the gorgeous “It Never Entered My Mind.”  Compare the new vinyl with any streaming version: at :19, Davis and Chambers come in.  The streaming version is distorted, while the vinyl is clean.  On the next cut, the dizzying “Four,” both Coltrane and Davis’ solos are sharp, while Jones’ cymbals are crisp, with no rolloff that would be evident if this were poorly manufactured.  

You really feel the warmth of Garland’s piano on “Your Own Sweet Way,” featuring an extended Coltrane solo.  Marvel at Chambers’ walking bassline on “Trane’s Blues,” or Garland’s melodic phrasing on “Ahmad’s Blues.”  Things wrap up with the hard bop of “Half Nelson.”  

Next up is Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane – a pairing of two, trailblazing musicians, who were both coming into their own at the time of these recordings (1957).  The title of the album is somewhat misleading – only three of the album’s six tracks are truly Monk/Trane collaborations (two cuts are larger band affairs with Coleman Hawkins joining on tenor sax, and one is a solo Monk piece).  Still, it’s the only document of these two giants of jazz coming together.

“Ruby, My Dear” is a ballad, really giving Coltrane a chance to show that he was more than a crazy soloist.  The track sounds big and warm in this analog environment.  Things shift quickly with “Trinkle, Tinkle,” with Coltrane playing some of his “sheets of sound” soloing which is just exhilarating.  Monk gives Trane a full three minutes before he takes the spotlight – playfully toying with the melody, before giving way to bassist Wilbur Ware.

Although credited to Monk and Coltrane, “Off Minor” is a larger band recording, that features altoist Gigi Gryce and Ray Copeland on trumpet – I don’t hear Coltrane or Hawkins here at all.  

I was taken by the tape dropouts about :17 into “Epistrophy,” but they’re apparently on all reissues (the tape must be damaged).  We do get a Coltrane solo here, but I’m not a big fan of this large band format – too many cooks.

The final track is a long (over nine minutes!) solo piece featuring just Monk on piano called “Functional.”  In this stark environment, you really appreciate how quiet the vinyl pressing is.  You feel like Thelonious is in the room with you.  

The label is planning lots more releases in the Original Jazz Classics series, including albums from Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, Coltrane, and Yusef Lateef.  Here’s to Craft Recordings for giving these classic albums the treatment they deserve.  —Tony Peters

Dionne Warwick – The Complete Scepter Singles (review)

Dionne Warwick – The Complete Scepter Singles (Real Gone Music / Rhino)

A whopping 74 tracks, and everyone of them a mini-opera masterpiece

I’m really not sure there was ever a more fruitful partnership between singer, songwriters and producers that yielded more fantastic results than the one pairing Dionne Warwick with Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  Their collaboration gave birth to a new kind of hit single, sort of a “mini opera,” full of sophistication, tension and release, and surprises at every turn, all packed into 2 1/2 minutes.  The trio netted numerous hits and Grammy nominations.  A new, 3-disc collection, celebrates this teaming with The Complete Scepter Singles, and it’s a fantastic set.

“Don’t Make Me Over,” Warwick’s first hit, sets the scene – lilting strings, her cool delivery, singing behind the beat.  Then, the middle eight rolls in, and Warwick shouts “accept me for what I am” in the upper register.  It’s a jaw-dropping performance – and she was just getting started.  

“Anyone Who Had a Heart” was her first Top Ten.  Had a Top 40 hit had that many time signature changes before? This was followed by her blockbuster, “Walk on By,” which still gives goosebumps today.  Warwick manages to be both cool and fiery, all in the span of 2:50. 

Marvel at the horns, piano and percussion on “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” as the backdrop creates a dialogue between the instruments and the vocalist, with the song building.  The ethereal “Alfie” was another high point.  

Warwick was just an unrivaled vocalist – compare her version of “I Say a Little Prayer” with that of Aretha Franklin’s.  Warwick’s version features more restraint on the verses, giving more contrast when she does finally let loose on the chorus.  

Warwick/David/Bacharach’s forte’ is the melancholy, but there are examples of different approaches too.  The rolling drums of “You Can Have Him” or the gospel-flavored “Let Me Be Lonely” are two. Or the sparse “Amanda,” which starts with electric guitar and percussion, before building to a big chorus.

I love her re-working of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”  I mean, she was the queen of the tension and release, so this cover makes sense. The breathy, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” was her last Top Ten for Scepter.  “Make It Easy on Yourself” shows her power in a live setting, while the gorgeous “Walk the Way You Talk” was sampled by DJ Khaled in his song “Shining.”

I am absolutely amazed at the high quality of not only the “A” sides, but the “B” sides as well.  “Any Old Time of Day” is the flip of “Walk on By” and it’s pure magic in the ascending strings, and Warwick’s playful delivery. “Reach Out For Me,” the “B” side of “A House is Not a Home,” features pounding drums and piano.  Or, how about “The Beginning of Loneliness,” the flip of “Alfie,” where the start of the track reminds me of the theme from Midnight Cowboy. 

There are also songs that ended up as big hits for others, including “Wishin’ and Hopin,” which Dusty Springfield recorded, “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” later performed by the Stylistics, and “Always Something There to Remind Me,” which was a hit in the Eighties for Naked Eyes.  Probably most interesting is to hear Warwick tackle “They Long to Be Close to You” way before the Carpenters took it to the top of the charts.  Warwick gives it a gentle, smoldering performance.  

The quality of each song is impeccable – I feel the need to write something about each one.  Thankfully, Paul Grein has already done just that in the extremely in-depth liner notes.  I have never heard a collection where both sides of every single were of such high quality.

Grein laments in the booklet that, despite all of the success that these singles garnered, Warwick is somehow still under appreciated.  The Complete Scepter Singles is simply a fabulous testament to the brilliance of Dionne Warwick, Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  —Tony Peters

What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? (Soundtrack Review)

Original Soundtrack – What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears (Omnivore Recordings)

Long lost concert footage of the band playing behind the Iron Curtain finally surfaces

In the summer of 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears became the first American rock band to play behind the Iron Curtain, doing a tour, sponsored by the State Department, of Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland.  For the “why” behind how this strange series of concerts came to be, you’ll have to watch the brand-new documentary What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears.  But, whether or not you do, this fantastic music stands on its own. 

It’s a miracle we’re hearing any of these performances at all.  Long believed to be lost, these tapes were recently found, restored, and remixed, with the help of original drummer, Bobby Columby.  

What we hear is just plain phenomenal.  Blood, Sweat & Tears were not just good – they were great; capable of absolutely blowing the roof off a venue.  

The set opens with a furious take on Joe Cocker’s “Something’s Coming On,” featuring vocalist David Clayton Thomas matching Cocker, blow for blow, plus blaring horns, and wild drumming that suddenly stops about midway through, getting slow and jazzy, building with an extended organ solo (listen to the bass while this happens), and then ending BIG.  It’s a thrilling ride, and it’s only the first song.  

The fire turns down to a smolder on their rootsy take on “God Bless the Child” – Thomas is really a fabulous, evocative singer.  Of course, the tender mood shifts gears for impassioned solos from the horns, who all seem to be trying to outdo each other.  It must’ve been absolutely mind blowing to these Eastern European audiences to see this kind of unbridled energy coming from the stage – freedom encapsulated in the music.

All three of the band’s biggest hits are here in fine form – “Spinning Wheel” benefits from Jim Fielder’s inventive bass work, pianist Dick Halligan shines on “And When I Die,” while the horns hit hard on “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”

Other surprises include guitarist Steve Katz’s tender, fragile vocal on “Sometimes in Winter,” Bobby Columby’s drumming on the highly reworked Traffic song “Smiling Phases,” and the show closer, the soul stomping “I Can’t Quit Her.”

For all of Blood, Sweat &Tears success on album, these performances are actually better – they’re grittier, heavier, punchier.  

Several bad decisions haunted the band, including choosing not to be filmed at Woodstock.  A tour sponsored by the U.S. Government in the wake of Vietnam War protests and the Kent State tragedy only hurt their credibility with the college kids.  But, the soundtrack to What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears shows that, however brief their moment was, BS&T were very, very good.

Seth Walker Kicks Off Latest Tour at Natalie’s in Columbus

Donning his signature Fedora, Seth Walker hit the stage with just himself and his vintage Gibson electric.  Admitting he had “no plan” on what to play, his 85-minute set touched heavily on his latest record, I Hope I Know, but also featured brand new, never-recorded songs, as well as old favorites.  

Things got rolling with “Grab a Hold” from his Sky Still Blue album.  Although he wrote “We Got This” while Covid was raging in 2020, it still holds up as a ray of hope in this post-pandemic uncertainty.  Another appropriate-for-the-times song was “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” off his latest record.  

He did sprinkle in a few covers – a soulful reading of Van Morrison’s “Warm Love” (which is also on his latest record), “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (where he gave a nod to Willie Nelson) and a surprise rendering of Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us.”  

He did a couple of new songs which were impressive (one mentioned hot and cold), so hopefully we’ll see a new album in the not-so-distant future.  

Aiding his solo performance is the fact that Walker is a fantastic guitar player, elevating these songs with supple fills and gritty solos.  “Fire in the Belly” off of Gotta Get Back stands out here.

He encored with one of his finest compositions, “More Days Like This,” before ending with “High Time.”  It was a high time indeed.

A note about the venue: Natalie’s Grandview in Columbus is a fantastic place to see a show.  They have two stages (Seth played on the more intimate one).  But, their food was amazing as well.  They’re known for their wood-fired pizza and it did not disappoint.  Staff was great, sound was excellent. Overall, a great time.

Soulful, bluesy, funny, and down to earth – Seth Walker was all that and more during his great performance.  Go see him if he comes to your town.  —Tony Peters

Stephen Stills – Live at Berkeley 1971 (review)

Stephen Stills – Live At Berkeley 1971 (Omnivore Recordings)

previously unreleased live recordings from the peak of his powers

“Stephen Stills is an unyielding force of nature”

So begins the liner notes to a brand-new, never-before-heard concert from Stephen Stills and it’s hard to argue with those accolades.  These recordings find Stills, arguably the most talented third of Crosby, Stills and Nash embarking on his first-ever solo tour with the Memphis horns.  

While the word “underrated” gets thrown around a lot with many people, it’s pure truth with Stills.  Very few artists had his vision and ability to pull off so many different kinds of music.

The set leads off with “Love the One You’re With,” which, at the time, had just climbed up the charts and given the artist his biggest solo hit.  It’s missing the great harmonies of the studio version, but it’s played with a joyful abandon.  

Things quickly turn somber with “Do For the Other,” which features the additional guitar and vocals of Steve Fromholz.  “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free” exudes a cowboy, campfire feel.  

A big surprise is the guest appearance of David Crosby – he adds his unique harmony to the CSN track “You Don’t Have to Cry,” while Fromholz steps into the shoes of Nash and does an amicable job on vocals.  I love the interplay here between the two guitars. 

Crosby then takes the lead on his composition, “The Lee Shore,” one of those songs that got played a great deal in concert, but never got an official release on any of their albums.  This is one of the most focused versions I’ve ever heard – Crosby sounds engaged – perhaps because he’s not playing guitar (to my ears, it doesn’t sound like it), he can concentrate on just singing.  

As Crosby leaves the stage, Stills gets political on “Word Game” – a totally solo piece for him, in which he shows off his unbelievable acoustic guitar prowess.  Then he switches to piano for “Sugar Babe,” and he sounds like a completely different singer; gruff, soulful.  His vocals are fabulous here.  

He stays on piano for a stripped-down version of “49 Bye Byes” coupled with a rousing, crowd clapping “For What it’s Worth,” from his old band, Buffalo Springfield.

Stills gets down to the blues with “Black Queen” and really shows off more fantastic finger work on the (National) guitar.  He switches to banjo on “Know You’ve Got to Run.”  

The full band joins in as he slips to the organ for “Bluebird Revisited.”   He does a song called “Lean on Me” which is actually not the Bill Withers’ tune (even though Stills played with the soul singer on his debut album).  There’s a jazz-infused number called “Cherokee,” which has a similar riff to the Moody Blues’ song “Story in Your Eyes.”   The extended piece features flute, sax, trumpet, and a fine Stills’ electric guitar solo.  The show ends with the horn-driven, rousing “Ecology Song.”  

Stephen Stills, the individual, tends to get overshadowed by his more famous partnership with CSN&Y.  Yet, it’s not an overstatement to list him as one of the most talented artists of the rock era.  Live at Berkeley 1971 is proof that Stills deserves more credit.  —Tony Peters

Peach & Quiet – Beautiful Thing (review)

Peach & Quiet – Beautiful Thing (Peach & Quiet)

Beautiful Thing is the latest release from the Canadian duo of Heather Read and Jonny Miller.  

The striking African Peach Moth on the cover of the new album from Peach & Quiet is something that we can all relate to. Post-pandemic, we’re all looking for something we can hope for – a fresh start. Like a lot of albums coming out now, this album was largely written during the recent lockdown.  Yet, there’s a warmth and reassurance that weaves itself throughout these twelve tracks.

On the opening cut, “Beautiful Thing,” Miller sings “I got waylaid and lost / but I figured it out” – a sentiment I think we can all relate to, as our worlds were turned upside down.

We’ve certainly been through some dark times, and that’s perfectly captured in “Pockets Empty.” Read confesses “Now I’m the one with an empty house / no honey and a big black eye,” graphically detailing the end of a poisonous relationship.  The last thing you hear on the track is Read’s voice, allowing that pain to linger. 

On the soulful, “This Time,” Read says over and over “This time /  I’ll get it right” – as if, by repeating this, it will somehow become reality.  By the end of the song, she realizes “you didn’t want me to be someone else / so I became a better version of myself.”  And, by the end of the song, she changes her tune to  “this time / I GOT it right.”

Haven’t we all fantasized about leaving everything far behind and starting over?  In “Oklahoma or Arkansas,” Miller does just that, as he sings “notify the country / and my next of kin / they can search my name / but that won’t help / you’ll never find me / I’ll be someone else.”

Good albums get elevated by little things – like the tremelo guitar on “Beautiful Thing,” or the weepy pedal steel on “Calgary Skyline,” or the echoes of the vocals on “Behind the Sun.” “Save Me Tonight” has an interesting keyboard that suddenly shows up near the end of the song, creating tension.

Read is a rather versatile vocalist – she approaches each of her songs with a different persona.  Obviously exposing a rawness on the aforementioned “Pockets Empty,” but her voice is angelic, clear and soaring on “Just Before the Dawn.” She pleads on “This Time,” and whispers the verses on “Song From a Tree.”

Both Read and Miller duet on “That is For Sure.” – I love the blend of the two of them together.

The album closes with “When You’re Gone,” featuring a loping melody and slide guitar.  Things end abruptly as Miller sings “I’ll see you in my dreams.”

One thing I really like about this album is that nothing overstays its welcome.  There are several times when I was shocked that the song was already over.  The only exception is the slow burn of “Behind the Sun,” which clocks in at almost six minutes. An enjoyable listen that begs to be repeated. –Tony Peters

Various Artists – Wattstax: The Complete Concert (review)

Various Artists – Wattstax: The Complete Concert (10-LP Box Set) (Stax/Craft Recordings)

One of the most important concerts in history gets deluxe treatment

On a recent trip to Memphis, my family stopped by the Civil Rights Museum.  Among all the fantastic exhibits was a section devoted to the Wattstax concert – at the time, the largest, non-protest gathering of Black people in history.  Craft Recordings, along with the resurrected Stax label, has just issued Wattstax: The Complete Concert, a 10-LP box set, documenting this historic event.

They said it couldn’t be done – over 100,000 African Americans, and not a single arrest.  The entire day was a celebration of Black culture – diverse and multi-faceted.  Everyone, from the musicians, the camera crew, sound people, security and audience, were all Black. The music ranged from soul and funk, to blues and gospel, to jazz and rock n’ roll – all genres stemming from this gifted race of people.  

Never before had an entire day’s music been sponsored by a single record label, Stax out of Memphis. They rolled out their fantastic roster of talent, from the Staple Singers, Carla & Rufus Thomas, to the Bar Kays and Isaac Hayes, among many others.

It has been dubbed the “Black Woodstock” and in many ways it was just as important as the original 1969 hippie fest.

For one, the concert was organized to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts Riots.  It also helped raise money for several charities.  But, most importantly, it showed the entire world that an event this large could happen peacefully. This is the place where the Reverend Jesse Jackson gave his famous “I Am Somebody” speech – and it still is chill inducing to this day.  

The concert opens with “Salvation Symphony,” an orchestrated piece written and conducted by Dale Warren, who had just added the great strings to Isaac Hayes’ now-classic Hot Buttered Soul album.  This very long piece, clocking in at over 19 minutes, goes through several movements, including some fiery guitar work.  

After a couple of impressive opening numbers from Kim Weston, and an inspired speech from Rev. Jackson, the Staple Singers storm the stage and immediately set the bar high with the funky “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom).”  “I Like the Things About Me” features a long spoken piece from Pops Staples, saying “no nationality goes through what the Black people went through and still survives like we do – right on”!  They end off with the one-two punch of “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” – the latter just seems to jump out of the speakers in this live setting, and Mavis Staples is a force of nature.  The Staple Singers got the second most time of any of the artists on this concert, yet you’re still left wanting more.

There’s a heavy gospel presence throughout the entire concert.  Jimmy Jones of “Handy Man” fame sings in a low voice “Somebody Bigger Than You and I.”  Several of the lesser-known acts on the Stax label each got one song to showcase their talents.  Louise McCord’s “Better Get a Move On” is phenomenal – her vocals are spine-tingling, while Eric Mercury does a rousing, tent-rising rendition of “I Shall Not Be Moved.”  

It’s amazing the diversity here, gospel numbers like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” rub shoulders with seductive,funk numbers like “Them Hot Pants.”  I particularly like the harmonica workout of “Wade in the Water” from Little Sonny.  One of the original Stax artists, the underrated William Bell, turns in a fantastic version of  “I Forgot to Be Your Lover.”  His delivery is so smooth; a stark contrast to a lot of what’s on display here – rough.  Another Stax veteran, Eddie Floyd, rocks hard with his signature “Knock on Wood.”  

There are plenty of surprises throughout this set, like the falsetto vocal of “Explain it to Her Mama” by the Temprees, or the heavy soul of the Rance Allen Group’s “Lying on the Truth.”  The Bar Kays work the crowd into a frenzy with “Son of Shaft.”  

Sigh.  Carla Thomas is in top form.  She had such a great voice.  Why she faded into obscurity is a mystery, but she has one of the best sets of the whole day.  “Pick Up the Pieces” is fantastic soul, while this version of “B-A-B-Y” is much faster than the studio rendition.  Then, she digs back to her very first hit, the tender ballad, “Gee Whiz.”

Legendary bluesman Albert King turns in a blistering set, including the slow burn of “Got to Be Some Changes Made.”  He really bends the notes on “Angel of Mercy,” making his signature Flying V guitar cry.

There’s a really interesting point during Rufus Thomas’ set where the crowd starts to overrun the football field and Rufus implores them “power to the people / let’s go to the stands.”  His songs get stopped multiple times and he ends up pointing out people individually, rather hilariously, to get them off the grass.  Eventually Rufus treats them all to an extended “Funky Chicken.”

Another left turn is the gospel crooning of Billy Eckstine’s “If I Can Help Somebody.” The warts and all approach to this set means you get 20 minutes of Eckstine also imploring folks to stay off the field (the promoters made a deal with the LA Coliseum to use the facility as long as fans stayed off the grass – home to NFL games).  

The headliner of the entire day was Isaac Hayes, who was arguably the hottest black artist on the planet at that point, having won Oscars and Grammys.  “Theme From Shaft” is actually done twice – there were technical issues with the first run through (although, I think it’s a better version).  Hayes has the ability to be real with “Soulsville” but then gets sensual with “Your Love is So Doggone Good.”  He ends off with the powerful, passionate “I Stand Accused.” 

Closing the over six-hour event was Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Jones doing a gospel version of “If I Had a Hammer.”  

Wattstax ultimately birthed two audio soundtracks and a feature film, all put out by Stax.  The film featured not only Wattstax footage, but also performances of artists that couldn’t attend the event, along with dialogue from a then up-and-coming Richard Pryor.  All of this can be found on the 7-CD and streaming version called Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection.

If you enjoyed the Summer of Soul movie and soundtrack, Wattstax: The Complete Concert is right up your alley.  This is historically significant recordings, but it’s the incredible performances that make this concert a must-hear.  —Tony Peters