Category Archives: Reviews

Travis – Live at Glastonbury ’99 (review)

Travis – Live at Glastonbury ’99 (Craft Recordings)

The band’s “shining moment”?

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Travis’ breakout year (1999), Craft Recordings has also issued Live at Glastonbury ’99, documenting the band’s career-turning performance at this popular English festival.  

The Man Who had been issued the previous month with very little fanfare.  The album was basically dead in the water.  Then, the band took the Glastonbury stage in June, and just as they marched into their single, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me,” it started raining.  This Queen-at-Live-Aid-type moment captured the spirit of the crowd and reversed the band’s fortunes.  Within the month, “Rain on Me” was in the Top 10, the album would hit #1 and Travis were on their way.

While all of that is well and good, this concert is, um, less than spectacular.  The first issue is that Fran Healey’s whispered delivery doesn’t transfer very well in this big setting.  His voice is flat A LOT. And it cracks OFTEN.  

Yeah, I know it’s live.  It’s hot, it’s the festival crowd.  But, R.E.M. turned in a truly career-defining moment under these same circumstances (for proof, check out their Live at the BBC performance from the same show).  

“Writing to Reach You” does have a little more kick than the album version, but a lot this midtempo stuff, just kind of lays there. The drums are mixed way down, so everything just sort of lumbers along.  Their older, more rocking material, like “U16 Girls” and “Good Feeling” are much better suited to the live format.  What about “Why Does It Always Rain On Me”?  Without the rain, it’s just a so-so rendition.

Travis is a great studio band.  As mentioned in the previous review, The Man Who still stands up.  So does Ode to J. Smith.  This?  I would only recommend to the truly devoted Travis fan.  —Tony Peters

Travis – The Man Who (20th anniversary edition)

Travis – The Man Who (Craft Recordings)

One of the finest albums of the late-Nineties gets the deluxe treatment

20 years ago, the Scottish band Travis issued their breakout album, The Man Who.  At the time, it was a departure for the group, whose debut, Good Feeling, had been a rockin’ good time two years earlier.  This new direction was darker, and more melodic.  It also paved the way for many other UK bands, like Coldplay, who went on to even bigger fame, with their own spin on this style of middle of the road fare.  

The Man Who still stands up – full of jangly guitars and gentle hooks, courtesy of leader Fran Healey.  There are times when he sings so softly, as on “Writing to Reach You,” that he sounds like he’s whispering.  

The gentle funk of “The Fear” – the chiming “Driftwood,” the Pepper-esque ballad “Last Laugh of the Laughter,” the slightly rocking “Turn” and the epic standout “Why Does It Always Rain On Me,” all contribute to an impressive song cycle.

The music is mellow, but still really catchy.  And the entire record is solid from start to finish.

The original disc has unlisted bonus material at the end of “Slide Show,” track 10.  After a 4 minute silence, the rocker “Blue Flashing Light” comes roaring in.  Recorded during the sessions, but oddly out of step with the mellower material.  

The original American disc has two extra bonus cuts not here, “20” and “Only Molly Knows.”  

The second disc comes with 19 bonus tracks – b-sides, live cuts, etc.  “Green Behind the Ears” is a great rocker, while “Only Molly Knows” is a gentle acoustic number that was a bonus cut on the US disc.  “Coming Around” is a great, Byrds-esque flavored single that came right after the album.  Some of the tracks rock like their first album, as on “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “High as a Kite.”  There are some odd covers – “Be My Baby” is, um, the Ronettes cover, slowed down.  There are two Joni Mitchell songs – “Urge For Going” is buoyed by acoustic guitar and “River” is her “Christmas” song, on piano. “Baby One More Time” is the Britney Spears song (why?).  And “The Weight” is their (not bad) version of The Band song.  There’s a great acoustic rendition of “Driftwood” which is another highlight. 

Travis would go on to release many more albums.  Some really good, like Ode to J. Smith, and some others, just sort of so-so.  But, The Man Who is still Travis’ masterstroke.  —Tony Peters

James Taylor – One Man Band (review)

James Taylor – One Man Band (vinyl edition)

James Taylor – One Man Band (Craft Recordings)

A very fine concert recording makes its debut on vinyl

For an artist who’s been making music for over 50 years, James Taylor has very few live recordings under his belt.  His best, One Man Band, was released in 2007, but has never been available on vinyl – until now, thanks to Craft Recordings.

One of Taylor’s strengths is his warmth, and it comes through in waves on this 2-LP set.  The title, One Man Band, might have you think that it’s a solo, acoustic thing, when actually it refers to the one accompanist, Larry Goldings, who plays piano, organ and bass throughout.  

Honestly, Goldings should be given equal billing, as many times the two musicians interlock, as on a very fine run through of “Country Road,” where Taylor’s voice is surprisingly strong as well.  Unlike so many of his rock contemporaries (Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, etc), James Taylor never screamed.  Perhaps that’s why, unlike them, he’s still got his voice, fully intact, after all these years.  

Of the 19 total songs, most are familiar, but there are surprises too.  Goldings shows off his boogie woogie chops on “Mean Old Man,” while “Chili Dog,” originally from One Man Dog, is good fun.  There’s a “drum machine” (actually a real person) on the funky “Slap Leather,” while a backup choir joins things on “My Traveling Star.”  

Taylor is the ever-professional.  Just think how many thousands of times he’s done “You’ve Got a Friend.”  Yet, he still turns in a mesmerizing performance where his voice is clear, and his finger picking is as supple as ever.  He’s always been an underrated guitarist, and he shows off his chops on electric guitar on “Steamroller Blues.”  In fact, this may be the finest version of that song ever put to tape.  With Taylor on electric and Goldings on Hammond, there’s lots of space for each musician to roam.

The choir returns for the gospel-tinged “Shower the People,” before Taylor does a solo acoustic “Sweet Baby James.”  He does tell a few stories, like the inspiration behind “Carolina in My Mind.”  

The mostly-acoustic instrumentation sounds fabulous in the vinyl format.  The LP’s are quiet, and the music leaps out of the speakers.  The gatefold jacket shows off a nice photo of the venue, The Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  

Taylor did release the album Live in 1993, and it sold millions of copies.  Yet, that concert is a full band recording, which dulls some of his appeal.  At his roots, James Taylor is one of the greatest songwriters of our time.  One Man Band gives his talents a chance to fully shine.  —Tony Peters

Bill Evans – Evans in England (review)

Bill Evans – Evans in England (Resonance Records)

Previously-unreleased live recording of jazz giant in 1969

No label has done more for jazz in the last decade than Resonance Records. Their co-president, Zev Feldman, literally traverses the globe in search of rare recordings by legendary artists. Yet, it’s the label’s attention to detail that truly puts them in a class all their own. Each new release comes with an exhaustive booklet, featuring rare photos and extensive background notes, adding further detail to each recording, and, as a result, enhancing the legacy of jazz itself.

Their latest project is a concert recording by Bill Evans from 1969 entitled Evans in England. The piano legend is joined by longtime bassist Eddie Gomez along with drummer Marty Morell, who had recently joined the trio at the time of these shows. The recordings were made by a fan of Evans’ for personal enjoyment, not commercial release, yet they are of surprisingly good quality.

The venue, Ronnie Scott’s in London, was a favorite of Evans. It was a place he felt comfortable. And, this is an important factor: when an artist feels at ease, the performance becomes more than just a paid gig – it gives him a chance to be himself.

The track listing for the two-disc set is impeccable, covering a lot of terrain, from standards like “Stella By Starlight” and “Our Love is Here to Stay,” to Evans’ classics like “Waltz For Debby.” But, the trio also tackle the Miles Davis classic “So What,” which Evans played on the original recording from Kind of Blue – it’s a thrill to hear this familiar classic reworked for the trio setting.

There’s a buoyancy to these performances. Evans is one of the all-time great melodicists on piano – yet often in his career, there’s a shroud of sadness that lingers. Here, a lot of the music seems to be floating – as on the superb version of “Round Midnight.” “Elsa” is another song Evans tackled many times, but rarely at this fast of a tempo. “Stella By Starlight” is bouncier than the version he cut with Miles, and gives Gomez a chance to really shine.

And there’s more here than just great piano playing – listen how all three musicians talk back and forth as on “Very Early.” The set closes with a gorgeous rendition of the standard, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”

There are multiple essays in the accompanying booklet that go into how these rare tapes finally saw the light of day. Really, for a single microphone recording, you can hear all three musicians clearly.

There are a handful of minor quibbles with the sound: from time to time, when all three players are really cooking, the music will distort (remember, this wasn’t intended for actual release). Also occasionally, the tape slows down (as if someone bumped up against one of the reels), like on the intro to “Waltz For Debby.” Yet, Evans is so joyful in these performances, it doesn’t matter.

Don’t let the “previously unreleased” tag scare you off. Evans in England is a fantastic showcase of Bill Evans in his prime. —Tony Peters

The Delines new album is mesmerizing

The Delines – The Imperial

The Delines – The Imperial (El Cortez Records)

Incredibly evocative, this is music that draws you in

The Imperial is the welcome return of Portland, Oregon’s The Delines. Their second studio album took a lot longer than planned, when singer Amy Boone was involved in a car accident back in 2016. She spent over a year in physical therapy, having to re-learn how to walk. Thankfully, her voice, a whiskey-soaked version of Bobby Gentry, is still intact. Guitarist Willy Vlautin has put together another ten songs that work as mini stories, based on losers, and those down on their luck, and Boone’s voice is the perfect vehicle. These tales are wrapped in a blend of gentle country-soul that’s deceptively magnetic.

The album opens with “Cheer Up Charley.” With its horns on the chorus, it comes off like a psychobilly version of the Carpenters. But, then things really settle in with “The Imperial.” Boone evokes goosebumps as she asks “all those scars / what did they do to you” while the music gently swirls behind. I found myself turning out the lights and turning up the music – it’s been a long time since I just listened.

“Let’s Be Us Again” is a poignant love song that smolders along as she sings “I can’t wait to be like I used to be.” “Roll Back My Life” crawls along at a dirge’s pace – there just aren’t too many singers that could command restraint to pull this off.

“Side two” begins with the upbeat “Eddie & Polly,” but don’t let that fool you, the story of the doomed lovers is just as harrowing. Boone gives more of a matter-of-fact delivery on “Holly the Hustle,” the tale of a girl who had to grow up too soon. The gospel-tinged “He Don’t Burn For Me” compares couples breaking up to broken down cars left alongside the road.

Like the run-down apartment building on the front cover, the music tucked inside doesn’t attempt to sugar coat things. No 5-star hotel, this is real life, where the only things free are the stains on the carpet. If you give them a chance, the Delines will mesmerize you. —Tony Peters

Jewel’s Multi-Platinum debut is back on vinyl from Craft Recordings

Jewel - Pieces of You - vinyl edition

Jewel – Pieces of You – vinyl edition (Craft Recordings)

Jewel’s path to success is so unique, they should make a movie out of it.

Released over 20 years ago, her debut, Pieces of You, was a slow-moving juggernaut. At first, it bombed, yet eventually it sold over 12 million copies, yielding three huge singles. Craft Recordings has taken this landmark album, long out of print on vinyl, and reissued it with bonus tracks.

Jewel was just 18 when she moved from her native Alaska to Southern California to try and break into the music business. Famously, she was living out of her van when Atlantic Records saw a live performance and gave her a record contract. Pieces of You was issued in February of 1995 to little fanfare.

The album sold poorly at first. While most labels would have given up on this struggling artist, something kept them going. A year and a half later, “Who Will Save Your Soul” peaked at #11, and the parent album started to catch fire. An opening slot for Bob Dylan helped, and TV appearances started to happen. Then, she re-recorded “You Were Meant For Me,” and the more polished version struck a chord with radio and the record-buying public alike, eventually peaking at #2.

Tucked away on the b-side of “You Were Meant For Me” was another ballad, “Foolish Games.” As the former song fell off the chart, the latter picked up steam, sending the now-two-sided single back up the list. Eventually, both songs racked up a combined
(and largely unheard of) 65 weeks on the singles’ chart. The parent album, originally a flop, became one of the biggest-selling albums of all-time.

Listening back to these recordings after over two decades, there’s an innocence to all of it. This is the world seen through the eyes of a girl barely out of high school. Our treatment of people less beautiful, or of minorities hasn’t changed much in 20 years, so “Pieces of You” still rings true, even if its approach is a little blunt. The cloying “Adrian,” a song about a boy in a coma, wears out its welcome at over seven minutes when its point was made at about 3 1/2.

The slick hit singles notwithstanding, the remainder of her debut is largely under-produced. A lot of these are acoustic, in-concert renditions. While there’s an immediacy to the these tracks, her voice would benefit greatly from the better production she would receive on later albums. Yet, there is still plenty that still stands up here too. “Amen” sounds like it was sung by a much-older and wiser woman and is a gorgeous ballad.

There’s a sassy tone to the original version of “You Were Meant For Me” that isn’t present on the redone one. “Who Will Save Your Soul” is Jewel backed by Neil Young’s Stray Gators, and it still packs a whollop.

The vinyl format is perfect for the acoustic tunes. There’s a warmness to “Morning Song” (another great ballad) that just oozes from the grooves of the record. This does not sound like a teenagers’ romance.

There were a lot of non-LP and b-side material recorded around this time, and side 4 of the vinyl grabs five of the best (although “God’s Gift to Women” is surprisingly absent). “Rocker Girl” and “Cold Song” are both quaint, but “Everything Breaks” is phenomenal, and one wonders why it was never included on a Jewel album.

One of the benefits of the vinyl format is that you get all the photos and lyrics that originally came with the CD, but they’re much larger, so they’re legible! The gatefold cover opens with additional credits and a photo too.

Pieces of You might be the most-unassuming best-selling album of all-time (it ranks at #45 all time). Yet, it blazed a trail for the many female performers that followed, and the album’s blend of coffee-house folk and teenage sass still stands up today. —Tony Peters

Luther Russell – Medium Cool (review)

Luther Russell - Medium Cool

Luther Russell – Medium Cool (Fluff & Gravy)

Rock n’ roll done just right

Everywhere you go, music seems to have a label on it. Yep, categorize it, create a new sub genre, and market it, right? Problem is, we forget where all of this came from – rock n’ roll. Thankfully, there’s people like Luther Russell who still know how to deliver the goods – no bullshit, no agenda, no Auto Tune, just guys capturing a spirit. That’s what his latest long-player, Medium Cool, is all about.

Russell is not a household name, but he’s kept some good company over the years. He and Jakob Dylan were bandmates before the Wallflowers, he teamed with guys from the Black Crowes in another underrated group, and he frequently collaborates with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. He’s released a string of albums that have explored many different styles, yet never straying too far from straight-ahead rock. We talked with him in 2018 about his 2-disc anthology called Selective Memories

While his more recent releases have been heavily-produced affairs, Medium Cool is more stripped down, you can hear the sound of the amps echoing off the walls. And the title of the album is perfect for the music that lurks inside – not over-polished or heavily-distorted – but Medium Cool…indeed.

The album opens with the mid-tempo rocker “Deep Feelings.” The groove, guitar licks and heavy drumming capture the spirit of Big Star’s “O My Soul” without directly copying anything. “Can’t Be Sad” features churning verses that morph into a great chiming chorus that reminds me of Elvis Costello’s early work. There’s also a nice, long jam at the end of the song.

Russell has a gift for painting these pictures of fractured individuals, like the girl who’s drawn toward “The Sound of Rock n’ Roll,” with lyrics like: “she’s all torn apart / cause the drummer broke her heart.” This one features some great harmonies too.

The real standout here is “Corvette Summer” – a track that could be mistaken for a lost hit song from 1978, blaring out the single speaker on the dash of your car radio (or 8-track player). It’s fueled by an absolutely killer riff that reminds you of something, but you can’t put your finger on it, and features some damn good soloing in the middle. Fully in the moment, we hear him shout “dammit” at the end.

Taking a break from the rock for something gentle, we get “At Your Feet,” a poignant number played on the 12-string.

“Have You Heard” kicks off “side two,” name checking cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco and Milwaukee. It’s a cross between the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.” “Sad Lady” features cowbell and some fine chord changes surrounding a driving rhythm. Russell turns in a somewhat fuck-it-all vocal performance on “Talking to Myself,” which is too bad, because it’s probably the best song on the album; plenty of jangly chords here. Closing off the record is another 12-string number, “Can’t Turn Away.”

What sets Luther Russell apart from a seemingly endless array of indie artists, is that he’s genuinely a rock n’ roll dude – not a college alternative guy with a beard posing as a rocker. All this comes through in his new record, Medium Cool. —Tony Peters

Two new Alex Chilton compilations show depth of artist (review)

Alex Chilton – Songs From Robin Hood Lane (Bar None)
Alex Chilton – From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar None)

A pair of new compilations focus on the multi-faceted career of this power pop legend

Mention Alex Chilton’s name and you usually think of his brilliantly melodic, yet criminally under-appreciated work with his band Big Star, or the sugary-sweet, blue-eyed soul of the Box Tops. Yet, if you look at his entire oeuvre, you’ll find a far more stylistically-diverse artist than he’s given credit for. There were times when Chilton seemed far more intent on shocking an audience than creating lasting music. He would often embrace his past, then disown it, sometimes in the same breath. Two new compilations from Bar None Records attempt to add some clarity to the twists and turns in Chilton’s long career. From Memphis to New Orleans chronicles his post-Seventies solo career, while Songs From Robin Hood Lane compiles the best of Chilton mining the jazz standards of his youth.

Songs From Robin Hood Lane seems light years away from Big Star, but this is what the young Chilton cut his teeth on.

Three tracks come from a one-off collaboration assembled by bassist Ron Miller, featuring multiple vocalists, called Medium Cool. The project released one album called Imagination, which served as a tribute to jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who was enjoying a resurgence in popularity in 1991 (Chilton had often cited him as a big influence). The trio of songs Chilton recorded for the album: “That Old Feeling,” “Like Someone in Love,” and “Look For the Silver Lining,” definitely channel the late jazz legend in the cool, somewhat detached vocal delivery. All three tracks are augmented by excellent sax from Robert Arron. These are fairly hard to find, so it’s nice to have them available again.

A couple of years later, Miller reconvened the same backing band for a proposed full album of jazz standards featuring Chilton. The four songs from those sessions are all previously unreleased, but arguably are some of his finest performances of this genre. “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” (the Ray Charles’ song, not Gerry & the Pacemakers) is sweetened with a fantastic flute solo (also done by the multi-talented Arron), while “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Time After Time,” and “Save Your Love For Me” feature fine sax breaks. Chilton seems fully engaged here, his singing is passionate and soulful.

The remaining cuts come from a 1993 album called Clichés, which show a completely different side – Chilton alone, just vocals and guitar. This is some pretty heady material to tackle solo, yet he’s up to the challenge. Jazz chords adorn the extended opening to “Let’s Get Lost,” then he fluidly tackles “All of You.” He even whistles on the album’s closer, “What Was.”

From Memphis To New Orleans sums up Chilton’s mid-Eighties’ work, after returning home from a sabbatical in the Crescent City. He had left town after the noisy, unhinged Like Flies on Sherbet. The first four tracks come from 1985’s Feudalist Tart EP, and find him refocused. A pair of R&B covers track his journey – “B-A-B-Y” comes originally from Memphis native Carla Thomas, while “Thank You John,” now a Carolina Beach Music standard, was recorded by New Orleans’ own Willie Tee. Both these tracks are driven by a great horn section and fat bass.

“Lost My Job” was a biting Chilton original about his trials in cajun country, which features great harmonica and slide guitar, while “Paradise” sounds like a 1950’s country classic, but is actually another Chilton original.

“No Sex” is a blunt account of single life in the post-AIDS environment of 1986, featuring a honking sax, while “Underclass” is a self-deprecating slice of jump blues, featuring more great slide guitar.

There are no two songs that better sum up Chilton’s herky jerky career than the stripper anthem “Take it Off,” followed by the Skeeter Davis’ b-side “Let Me Get Close to You.” These both come from 1987’s High Priest, but damn – where the hell is he really going here? “Dalai Lama” is kind of The Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” turned inside out, while “Make a Little Love” is a somewhat goofy cover of an obscure song by Jimmy Holiday.

From the 1989 Blacklist EP comes a faithful cover of Ronny & the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” including the falsetto vocals, and, perhaps the best song on the entire set, “Guantanamerika,” which somehow name checks crop dusters and Tammy Faye Baker over one of the most melodic instrumentals he’s done in years. As an added bonus, Chilton does a respectful take on Charlie Rich’s Sun records’ nugget, “Lonely Weekends.”

Too often Alex Chilton’s solo output is summed up as “difficult” or “unfocused,” and while there was some of both of those elements at times, there’s still plenty of fantastic material to enjoy. From Memphis to New Orleans does a great job of grabbing the best of post-Big Star Alex Chilton, with plenty of surprises along the way. –Tony Peters

First-ever Linda Ronstadt live album is fantastic

Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood (Rhino)

Finally, evidence that she could bring it in concert

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most important female rock vocalists of all time. Yet, she often gets overlooked, because she abandoned the genre decades ago and never looked back. Scarce video footage and bootleg audio are all that remain as evidence of her onstage brilliance. To remedy this comes Live in Hollywood, the first-ever concert album from Ronstadt in her prime.

Recorded for an HBO Special back in 1980, the album grabs a dozen of the concert’s greatest moments, and the song selection is bulletproof. At the time of the performance, she was riding high off her Platinum-selling Mad Love album, which yielded three Top 40 singles (all of which are here).

Ronstadt had a gift for taking classic songs and giving them a boost. She opens with a rocked-up take on the Hollies’ “I Can’t Let Go,” before giving a grittier, slower performance of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy.” Things start to heat up with a passionate run through of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look.”

Anyone doubting her abilities should put on this live take of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” The sparse arrangement gives her plenty of room to work, while her vocals are a hybrid of country and soul. She even shifts to Spanish for the final verse.

Another one of Ronstadt’s many gifts was her ability to choose off-the-beaten-path material. She holds her own with Little Feat’s original of “Willing,” while her voice is stunning on JD Souther’s “Faithless Love.” She’s both vulnerable and strong, while Peter Asher sings backup vocals. It is absolutely gorgeous with banjo and pedal steel.

Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Hurts So Bad” has a lot more muscle than the studio rendition – the drums are louder, Ronstadt sounds more pissed off and the guitar is bordering on flying off the rails. She switches the gender for Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” yet never loses any of the edge. Very few artists could’ve pulled this one off without sounding cartoonish.

Another real surprise is an extended rendition of “You’re No Good.” Keep in mind that, by this point, she had been singing this one for over five years – yet, she’s razor-sharp with the performance, spitting out the lyrics, while the guitar-playing equals her fury. “How Do I Make You,” her attempt at punk, also comes off ferocious. These aren’t watered-down performances for TV or some pretty girl miming the camera – this is pure rock n’ roll.

She does a spine-tingling take on the Eagles’ “Desperado,” listen to where she takes it near the end. It’s fitting, since she helped start that legendary band.

The audio quality is top-notch, giving plenty of room for Ronstadt’s voice to cut through. Producer John Boylan writes the liner notes, and we find out how lucky we are to have this recording at all (the master tapes were feared lost for years).

Live in Hollywood reminds everyone just how great Linda Ronstadt was. –Tony Peters

Waiting: The Van Duren Story (review)

Original Documentary Soundtrack – Waiting: The Van Duren Story (Omnivore Recordings)

Van Duren came out of the same fertile Memphis music scene as cult heroes Big Star, and shared their gift of melody. In fact, Duren played with some of the members in post-Big Star bands. While Alex Chilton & Co. had their story told in the excellent documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (which featured interviews from Duren), Van Duren himself is the subject of a brand-new film called Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which will be made available later in the year. In the meantime, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a dozen of the under-appreciated artist’s finest moments on this new soundtrack.

The roots of this documentary can be traced to two Australian filmmakers, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, who basically stumbled across Duren’s music through social media. After becoming enamored with several of his songs, they wanted to explore why he wasn’t a household name.

“Grow Yourself Up” is a fantastic rocker that melds the melodicism of Todd Rundgren with the sophistication of Steely Dan. Yet, there’s a raw aspect that neither of the aforementioned artists ever achieved. There’s also some great guitar playing here (the song basically ends in a flurry of guitar echoes). The next track, “Chemical Fire,” features a funky bassline and strange, echoed vocals.

While the Big Star comparisons will obviously be there, I think Duren actually excelled in areas that Chilton’s band did not. For one, Van Duren is a fantastic rock vocalist – his growling at the 2:30 mark in “Chemical Fire” is fantastic. Yet, he is capable of great depth too, as on the gorgeous ballad, “Waiting,” where his voice soars like Emitt Rhodes (and dig that groovy, somewhat dated keyboard solo!).

The disc also includes a few in-studio performances recorded for a radio station. These tracks have a living room immediacy to them, but arguably Duren is even better here – his voice reminds me of the gruffness of John Lennon during the Let it Be sessions, especially on “Yellow Light.”

“Tennessee I’m Trying” has a country feel to it in its jangle delivery, featuring the great lyric: “And it won’t help if the home station won’t play it /never thought I’d have to change their mind.” There’s echoes of Eric Carmen on the tender ballad, “Positive (Wedding Song),” both in the chord progression and the singing.

But the surprises don’t stop there. Duren recorded tracks with Big Star’s drummer, Jody Stephens, and “Andy, Please” is as melodic as anything Stephens’ prior band recorded. Add in a great guitar solo at the end, and you wonder why this has remained in the archives so long?

Van Duren also covers fellow Big Star alumn Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene,” giving it a funkier groove, and again featuring a phenomenal lead vocal – especially when he shouts “I turned on the radio!”

The production level gets more slick on “Just You To Tell Me” but it still retains Duren’s keen melodic sense. The set ends off with a pair of songs from his band Good Question. These have typical Eighties’ production, yet are insanely catchy.

Above all, the music on Waiting: The Van Duren Story needs to be heard – it’s that good. Coupled with the unbelievable backstory, which we’ll get from the documentary, this should be Van Duren’s year. —Tony Peters