Bettye LaVette – Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) – CD review –
Bettye is like a fine wine – she had to get good and old before people would start to enjoy her. The singer, now aged 64, is having the biggest success of her career. A video of her performing the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors became a Youtube sensation. LaVette didn’t just sing the song, she reinvented it and made it her own. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook asks the question: “can she do it again”?
The answer is a resounding “yes”! Interpretations is an excellent name for this collection, because of the 13 tracks, she rarely plays the arrangements straight. If you don’t look at the track listing, you might find yourself going through half of the song before recognizing it. To say that she breathes new life into these tired old rock classics is an understatement. Bettye recreates these songs, often times singing behind the melody, turning every one of these into spine chilling soul classics.
The arrangements are sparse: slinky Stax-infused guitars, Hi-records strings and Lavette’s gravelly but powerful voice cutting through. “It Don’t Come Easy” the jangly Ringo Starr song, is transformed into an acoustic-based blues, “Maybe I’m Amazed” becomes a sermon for her to sing from the pulpit, even Zeppelin’s “All My Love” becomes a soul shouter. Plenty of artists have tried similar projects and wind up sounding like bad karaoke. LaVette not only pulls it off, she begs the question: “where the hell has she been all these years”? — Tony Peters
Scorpions – Sting In The Tail (Universal) – CD review –
Yes, there is still venom left in the band from Hannover, Germany. The Scorpions have decided to call it quits after their current tour and if Sting in the Tail (Universal) is indeed their final studio record, (17th to be exact) it is worth the purchase. This album of 12 songs could have easily fallen somewhere between their best known album of the 80’s “Love At First Sting” and their most commercially successful foyer into the 90’s “Crazy World”.
Beginning with the current radio hit “Raised On Rock”, which has a definite “Rock You Like A Hurricane” feel, guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs deliver crunchy riffs and some solid solos to please any rocker. 62 year old Klaus Meine (yes that’s right, he’s 62), sounds in great vocal form on tracks like “Slave Me”, “Rock Zone”, and “Turn You On”. “The Good Die Young”, featuring the Finnish symphonic metal singer Tarja Turunen, is the weakest of the bunch, suffering from some less than stellar verses lyrically, but rebounds during the chorus.
There are even a few ballads, which the Scorpions always did well, (ala “Still Loving You” and “Winds Of Change”) in the songs, “Lorelei” and the album closer “The Best Is Yet To Come”. The lyrics are at times, unsophisticated. But, that’s not the reason anyone has ever listened to the Scorpions, right? The band have stated that the reason for their impending retirement is that “they want to end the Scorpions’ extraordinary career on a high note”, and they’ve done a pretty decent job with this CD. They are currently on the road in the U.S. and Canada through the end of August, so get out there and GET YOUR STING AND BLACKOUT before these guys call it quits. More info at the-scorpions.com. – Allen Roenker
AC/DC – Iron Man 2 Soundtrack (Columbia) – CD review –
AC/DC has long had an aversion to doing a “Greatest Hits” album. That stance has paid off in the continued success of their albums Back in Black and Highway to Hell. They have, however, allowed soundtracks to be created entirely made up of their music. The first one, Who Made Who, came out in 1986 as the soundtrack to the Stephen King flop Maximum Overdrive.
That collection seemed to have no rhyme or reason, and only contained eight tracks. The Iron Man 2 Soundtrack is completely different. This is AC/DC at their balls-out, fist-pumping best. Of the 15 songs, eight are from Brian Johnson and seven from original leader Bon Scott. The one omitted song that prevents this from being a “hits” package is of course, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the song that even grandma will get up and dance to. But, that slice of pop-metal would sound out of place here.
Also missing are any of the joke songs like “The Jack” or “Big Balls.” This is serious rock n’ roll fun. Incidentally, it makes a great driving album. Oh, and it works as a soundtrack too. One final note: for fans looking to buy as little AC/DC as possible, if you pick up this collection AND Who Made Who, there is no overlap between the two and you’ve got yourself just about every essential AC/DC track. — Tony Peters
For ten years, various record companies tried to put Shelby Lynne into some kind of category so they could market her to the masses, failing miserably in the process. The fact is, Lynne’s music defies categorization; there’s country, soul, rock and folk in most of what she does. To remedy this problem, she’s formed her own label, Everso Records, finally giving herself the freedom she has so badly wanted for years. Her new album, Tears, Lies & Alibis, is her first self-released disc, and it’s a more stripped-down affair, with Lynne’s guitar work at the forefront.
There are clues that a major label was forbidden to touch these tracks. Take for instance the fine “Why Didn’t You Call Me,” which clocks in at a mere 1:40. Certainly a corporate exec would’ve had her write another verse, and repeat the chorus several times, just to make it a more palatable 3:00. But, that’s just it, the song sounds fine in its brief form. Or “Something to Be Said About Airstreams,” which comes off more like a phrase someone would utter, rather than a song. “Alibi” is utterly beautiful; a flanged-out guitar adds a simple accompaniment to her sultry delivery of unfaithful love. In someone else’s hands, this would be a tear-jerker, but with Lynne, it’s self-affirming and matter-of-fact. “I guess I’ll have to meet / Your alibi.” Another in a long line of great ones from Shelby Lynne. — Tony Peters
Elvin Bishop – Red Dog Speaks (Delta Groove) – CD review –
Elvin Bishop has been making music for almost 50 years, and his latest CD, Red Dog Speaks, is a reflection of the twists and turns he’s taken throughout his career. The title refers to Elvin’s vintage Gibson guitar, which has become his axe of choice. Some tracks on the disc are sung by him, others by John Nemeth (the best of which, “Neighbor, Neighbor,” is a blistering cover of an old Jimmy Hughes song).
While Bishop has never been much of a singer, he does make the best of it by turning his songs into conversations, as in “Fat & Sassy,” where he bemoans a trip to the doctor, where he’s told all the things he can no longer eat; or “Clean Livin,’” where he wonders how he “ever got this old / It sure wasn’t clean livin.” There are several tasty instrumentals, including the “Doo Wop Medley” which melds “In the Still of the Night” with “Maybe,” two Fifties classics that let Bishop’s slide work really shine.
There’s also “Blues Cruise,” which was actually recorded on the boat of the same name, featuring many of the other musicians who were part of the trip. The real surprise is that despite the album’s hodge podge of styles, nothing comes off as a stretch; it all works. This dog might be old, but he’s still capable of surprises like this one. — Tony Peters
Gary Wright – Connected (Larkio Music) – CD Review –
It’s good to hear Gary’s voice again. This is his first rock-oriented album in 20 years. Over that time, he put out albums delving into world music and other experiments. The leadoff track, “Satisfied,” has a pulsating rhythm and a gospel choir chorus. Wright’s soulful rasp still has that familiar resonance.
Not surprisingly, Connected is a mostly keyboard-driven affair, with guests Ringo Starr on drums, and Joe Walsh & Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitars sprinkled in for good measure. The disc is full of hooks and catchy choruses. Perhaps it’s the kind of keyboards that he uses or maybe that some of these tracks have been lying around for awhile, but this disc has a decidedly 1980’s feel to it. This certainly isn’t a bad thing; I would rather Gary sound comfortable in some sound from the past than update his style and fall flat. If you purchase the disc through www.thedreamweaver.com there are several bonus tracks featuring the late George Harrison as well. — Tony Peters
Linda Ronstadt – Simple Dreams (1977) – CD review –
Linda Ronstadt walked away from rock n’ roll in 1983 and never looked back. Perhaps that’s why she’s mostly ignored by classic rock radio and rarely shows up on “greatest singer” lists. The truth is, Ronstadt was incredibly influential.
She showed an entire generation that women could keep up with the boys in the rock n’ roll department. She was also a gifted interpreter of other people’s songs, always being able to inject some new life into even the most shop-worn classic. Simple Dreams is her finest moment; a varied mix of rock, country and oldies, and Ronstadt handles them all equally well. She takes the obscure Buddy Holly song “It’s So Easy” and turns it into a rocker, Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” becomes a twangy masterpiece, and even “Tumblin’ Dice” keeps pace with the Stones original.
It’s not that these are vast reinventions of the songs; they’re basically the same arrangements, but filtered through Linda and her great band. And who else could turn Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” into a hit song? It’s time to give this lady some more credit. –Tony Peters
Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – CD review –
So much has been written about this album that it can be difficult to separate historical significance from the actual music. Upon its release, Sgt. Pepper sent shockwaves through the music industry. It stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable in pop music and it also introduced many elements of studio trickery that were equally unique. However, over 40 years later, what really matters is the music, and frankly, this is not the best the Beatles had to offer.
This isn’t their best album by far; it probably isn’t even in the top five (I would put Rubber Soul, Revolver, Abbey Road, Help and Beatles For Sale all ahead of this one). There are several songs here that simply aren’t that good, like “Lovely Rita,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and “When I’m Sixty Four.” Then, there’s the George Harrison Indian flavored “Within You Without You” which is experimental, but listenable?
Not really. Only “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Getting Better,”and “A Day in the Life” truly stand as spectacular moments. Greatness transcends time and circumstance. But, without the historical background, this album doesn’t really stand on its own. If you’re trying to explain the Beatles to someone who’s never heard their music, start with Beatles 1. –Tony Peters
Jann Klose is a Grammy-nominated entertainer, musician, singer/songwriter to be reckoned with. There is a need for this many titles for him because, well, the man is just hard to peg down to specifics or a genre. Reverie, Jann’s latest release, which contains 12 songs, has strong singer/songwriter qualities minus that big yawn that this sometimes means. “Beautiful Dream” is the first track off of his album and it literally will take you on a trip into, yes, a beautiful dream.
“Hold Me Down” has a nice groove that is a bit funky and not at all comparable to “Beautiful Dream”. “Doing Time” is more of the same, in that it is completely and totally different from the songs that lay in its wake. This song, featuring a ¾ time signature and steel guitar, is a demonstration of Jann’s wonderful range of musicality. The video for this one is just as entertaining as the song, and is shot in stop-motion which is reminiscent of a Peter Gabriel video. “Give Into This Life” is another golden one with its gorgeous harmonies and incredible passion; the best on the album. This song is authenticity — you will believe in what Jann is telling you in this song! “All These Rivers,” “Question Of The Heart,” and “Remember Your Name” all have one common thread and that is that you can tell it is the same artist performing, but the songs are all so uniquely their own, brothers and sisters to one another, but clearly not multiples.
One can hear all the different musical influences that may have played a role in what makes up Jann’s “musical soup.” He has lived in several different corners of the world, which include Kenya, Germany, South Africa, Ohio and now New York — all those lovely sounds are present. Reverie is something that you will continually go back to for a good listen to hear something familiar, comfortable, and solid in what it has to offer. Jann is someone to keep an eye on, for he has the same spark that people like Don Henley and James Taylor have. He is currently working on new material. In the meantime, Reverie is something that will be revered.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971) – CD review –
The Dark Side of the Moon of soul music. Artists on Motown records were only allowed to sing, and were not involved with the creative process, until Marvin broke free with this stone-cold masterpiece, which he helped write and produce.
Covering topical subject matter like war, race relations and pollution, you’d think What’s Going On is a bummer. But, that’s what makes this so special: Marvin wraps these songs in lush arrangements that are as sweet going down as honey. Yet, never once does he sound preachy. This is the art of gentle persuasion (something he would perfect in the bedroom suite Let’s Get it On two years later). “What’s Going On,” “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology),” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” were all singles, but the entire album is flawless. And the whole record fades from one song to the next, a trick Pink Floyd would use to great effect a couple years later. Marvin Gaye actually did the impossible: he made a listenable protest album. –Tony Peters