Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Best of Fernando Ortega: Live in St. Paul
****

I was introduced to Fernando Ortega years ago when he opened for Michael Card. He has since become one of my favorite artists. This concert recording was originally available only as a DVD, but is now fortunately also available as an audio recording.  Including 19 songs, this concert was recorded in 2004 at Northwestern College’s Maranatha Hall as Fernando was on tour supporting his 2004 album Fernando Ortega.  He plays 7 of that album’s 12 songs here, including the touching and humorous “Mildred Madalyn Johnson”. The recording features Ortega and band, including an accordion, but the focus is on Ortega’s gentle vocals over his piano.
If you’ve seen Ortega in concert you know that one of the best things is often times humorous introductions to his songs, which are not included here, the focus being solely on the music. In addition to the songs from Fernando Ortega, he includes many of his most-loved songs, such as “Creation Song”, “Lord of Eternity”, “Children of the Living God”, “This Good Day”, “Sing to Jesus” and “Our Great God”. This is Ortega’s only live album and it’s a gem.

Flowers in the Dirt (Special Edition) – Paul McCartney
****
This 2-CD “Special Edition” (the release comes in a number of different configurations), of McCartney’s excellent 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt features a remastered version of the original 13-song album (plus Où Est Le Soleil?, which wasn’t on the original album), on one disc, and nine previously unreleased demos McCartney recorded with Elvis Costello on the second disc. The demos are what really got my attention on this release, the 10th installment of McCartney’s Archive Collection, all of which have been personally supervised by McCartney. This album has special significance for me as well. It was the album McCartney toured on for his 1989-90 World Tour, on which I saw three of the shows, the first of now twelve concerts I’ve seen of the former Beatle.
Listeners will be pleased with the remastered version of the original album. It features such strong songs as “My Brave Face” (his last Billboard solo Top 40 hit), “This One”, “Put it There” and the 89-90 World Tour opener “Figure of Eight”. The original demos with Costello are: Continue reading


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ALBUM REVIEWS and NEWS

Album Reviews:

Cinco: The Album – Jim Gaffigan
****

Jim Gaffigan is my favorite comedian. Sometimes called “the clean comedian”, he gives us his common guy take on everyday topics such as his children, belts and morning people. I’ve seen him in concert in the past few years and will be catching him on his new tour later this year. This is the audio version of his fifth television special.
I found this material to be very funny, classic Gaffigan. My favorite bits were on seasons, leaves (my favorite), being fat (of course), binge watching, travel, eating fish, and a hilarious bonus clip about his Dad from 2001.
Included is a bonus disc is Gaffigan and wife Jeannie talking about each of the comedy bits on the special. Although not overly funny, I did find it to be interesting.

Therapy Session by NF
****

I came late to the NF game. It was only after hearing a few of these tracks – “I Just Wanna Know” and “Oh Lord” – on the radio that I decided to pick up the album, and I’m glad I did. Therapy Session is the sequel to the debut album Mansion by 25 year-old rapper NF (Nate Feuerstein). NF has had a difficult life thus far and he writes about that in these fourteen songs. The themes here are dark, and include pain, addiction, loss, depression and his critics. All songs are written by NF and Tommee Profitt, with the exception of Grindin’, on which Marty of the Social Club Misfits contributes.  Most of the songs were produced by Tommee Profitt unless otherwise noted.

Below are a few thoughts on each of the songs:    Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Beatles (Deluxe Edition) 
****

Has it really been 50 years ago that we first heard Paul McCartney sing that opening line “It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play?” Yes, believe it or not, the Beatles classic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which many (including me), consider the greatest rock album of all time, was released in the U.S. 50 years ago on June 2, 1967 (having been released the previous day in England).
Back then there was no Internet, Twitter or iTunes. I bought my albums at the local K-Mart, where mono albums sold for $3.44 and stereo for $3.77. I remember looking at the albums on this particular night and only realizing that this strange looking album, with the band sporting facial hair for the first time and colorful uniforms, was a Beatles album, by seeing “BEATLES” spelled out along the bottom in funeral flowers.
My Mom worked evenings at the IAA building at that time. As we picked her up from work, from the back seat I excitedly said to her, “Mom, there’s a new Beatles album out!” I can remember her response like it was yesterday. She replied “I was afraid you’d find out about it”.
Much has changed in those 50 years. Mom is gone, K-Mart is gone, and so are two of the Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison. And I’ve since heard most of these songs performed live in concert by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. And the soon to be 75-year old McCartney was only 25 years old when he released “When I’m 64”.
For the 50th anniversary celebration, the remaining Beatles and their representatives turned to Giles Martin, the son of their long-time producer George, who died in 2016. Giles had assisted his father, then 80, on the excellent 2006 Beatles’ release Love. Giles worked with Abbey Road audio engineer Sam Okell on the new project. Continue reading


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My Review of U2’s The Joshua Tree Tour and Album

 Last Friday, U2, my favorite band, marked the 30th anniversary of their 5th studio album, 1987’s The Joshua Tree, with the release of a reissue, available in several formats. I picked up the digital version of the Super Deluxe edition, containing 49 tracks. Incredibly, The Joshua Tree was listed as the top album of 1987 by two publications as diverse as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) magazine, and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone ranked it #27 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
The following evening on Saturday, June 3, we attended The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour, my 8th U2 concert; a sold-out show in Chicago at Soldier Field along Lake Michigan with 60,000 of our closest friends. The average age of the crowd was about 45.  My nephew saw the Houston show on an earlier tour stop and called it, “a religious experience”. U2 has always been so much more than just a band. After all, it was how U2 brought their faith to their music that attracted me to them in the first place. And of course the band, particularly front man Bono, is very active and outspoken on social and political issues.
My love affair with the band began when as a new believer, I bought their 1983 War album, featuring songs such as “New Year’s Day”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “40”, a musical version of Psalm 40. The first time I saw U2 in concert was on their 1992 Zoo TV Tour at the then World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. Fast forward 25 years on a beautiful warm June evening in downtown Chicago, the band played The Joshua Tree in its entirety, bookended by some of the most beloved songs, for a total set of 21 songs.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

There were many highlights for me, beginning with Larry Mullen Jr. pounding out the first beats to the opening song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on a small stage at the end of a runway built in the shape of a Joshua tree. Watch them perform the song here.  After the opening set, they moved to the main stage to perform The Joshua Tree album in song sequence order, beginning with “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Watch them perform the song here.  Throughout the concert, video images would be projected on the large screen behind the band, with the band occasionally portrayed on the screen as well. I was surprised that, given the large stadium that the concert was being held in, the band didn’t provide constant video of the band.
After completing The Joshua Tree, the band came back for a six-song encore. Here is the complete setlist. My two favorite songs were “Elevation” and the closing “I Will Follow”.
The band is still going strong more than 37 years since their 1980 album Boy. Incredibly, they have had no band member changes in all that time. Bono is still an incredible performer, on vocals, harmonica and band spokesman, at age 57, and he is backed by perhaps the world’s tightest band, with Edge on guitar and keyboards, Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen on drums.
Throughout the evening Bono, sensing the divide in our country, tried to bring people together, saying it didn’t matter who you voted for, all were welcome at the show. The band took a not so funny shot at President Trump, using what looked like an old western film. After all, it was U2, who after completing their Songs of Experience album, said in January that they were delaying it and reconsidering it in light of Trump’s election.
During the encore, Bono used the song “Miss Sarajevo” to highlight the Syrian refugee crisis and dedicated “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” to women, with images of many women portrayed on the large screen behind the main stage. Why Angela Davis was among those women I can’t tell you. During this time Bono asked pastors not to be judgmental, perhaps due to his open support of two women he recognized that had just gotten married. It was about that time that I heard someone say, “Just shut up and sing Bono”. But that’s just what you get from Bono. He’s not just a rock star, but an activist. You may not agree with all of his views, and I don’t, but that’s who he is, love him or not.
This wasn’t the best of the eight U2 shows I’ve seen, and it wasn’t the worst. After a very strong start, the show lost some momentum during the performance of “side two” of The Joshua Tree, and in my opinion when Bono “got political”. But it was still an excellent concert. And a nice unexpected addition to the evening was seeing a long fireworks show from nearby Navy Pier near the end of U2’s main set.
I’ve read Greg Kot’s music reviews in the Chicago Tribune for many years. Check out his review of the concert.
The show was opened by the Lumineers, who came on stage more than a half an hour late. I wasn’t familiar with their music, which reminded me a bit of NEEDTOBREATHE, but I enjoyed their set, especially their more upbeat songs. My favorites were “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love”. Here is their setlist.
For U2 fans who already have the 2007 remastered Deluxe edition of The Joshua Tree (which I do), purchasing the 2017 Super Deluxe edition will present a decision. Knowing that we would be going to the concert the following day, I decided to purchase it.
The Super Deluxe edition contains the original 11-song 1987 album, outtakes and B-sides, using the same versions from the 2007 Deluxe edition. Of the 49 tracks on the Super Deluxe edition, the only thing that will be “new” for those who have the 2007 Deluxe edition will be an excellent 17-song 1987 concert recorded at Madison Square Garden, six new remixes and two previously unreleased songs – Steve Lillywhite’s alternate version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Brian Eno’s 2017 “One Tree Hill Reprise”. The other 24 tracks have been previously available. 
Now, I’m not a huge fan of remixes, or live albums for that matter. To me they are kind of like seeing a movie in 3D; usually not worth the cost. The six songs here are new mixes by producers familiar to U2 fans, such as Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite and Flood. One remix that really stood out for me was Lillywhite’s “Red Hill Mining Town”, which I thought was outstanding in how it effectively brings horns into the mix. The band used that version in their June 3 concert in Chicago.
Picking up The Joshua Tree in one of these available formats and catching them on this tour is a great way to celebrate one of the greatest rock bands and their timeless album.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert – Bob Dylan
****

The album’s rather strange title is based on the fact that for decades a famous Bob Dylan bootleg known as The Royal Albert Hall Concert was incorrectly labelled, having actually been a performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966.  That performance was officially released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. This is actually the recording of the Royal Albert Hall concert, recorded May 26, 1966, and originally recorded by Dylan’s CBS label for a live album. This is the 2-CD version, which is also included in the massive 36-CD 1966 Live Recordings box set.
From a historical context, Dylan was fresh off of the release of his classic Blonde on Blonde double album just ten days prior to the concert. His set included material from his incredible trio of albums from that period Bringing It All Back Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The first CD is the acoustic set and contains seven songs, including an epic version of “Desolation Row”. Dylan’s voice sounds great, and he is backed only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The sound quality is excellent, and you hear the crowd’s appreciative but somewhat restrained applause.
The second CD is the electric set and has Dylan backed by the Hawks, who would become better known as The Band. The sound quality is not as a good as the acoustic set for some reason. The set begins with Dylan and the Hawks ripping into “Tell Me Momma”, a song he would never release a studio version of, and would play only 15 times on the 1966 tour, the final time being the concert after this one at the Royal Albert Hall. The music is raw and intense, led by Robbie Robertson’s guitar, and Dylan’s expressive vocals, spitting out the lyrics, quite a difference from the acoustic set. The crowd is energized and you hear Dylan interacting with them, stating before the start of a blistering “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, “Are you talking to me?  Come on up here and say that”. The blistering eight-song electric set ends with “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
Recommended for Dylan fans and music fans who might not already have heard the earlier The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Triplicate – Bob Dylan
****

You can never put Bob Dylan in a box. He will always surprise you. After 2015’s Shadows in the Night, he followed up with 2016’s Fallen Angels, a similar album of his unique interpretation of standards that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. His last album of newly written material was 2012’s Tempest. So after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, what does the 75-year old legend follow Fallen Angels up with, just over 10 months following that album? One might expect a stunning new album of songs about the state of our nation (racial tension, election of Trump, etc.). But Dylan rarely does what we expect him to do.  Instead he returns with the excellent Triplicate, his 38th studio album, a 30-song, three-album (his first triple album), project of newly recorded covers of mostly pre-World War II/rock and roll music songs known as the Great American Songbook.
Dylan, his touring band – guitarists Charlie Sexton and Dean Parks, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile and steel guitarist Donnie Herron – and arranger James Harper, went to Hollywood’s Capitol studios to record live (vocals recorded with instrumentation) hand-chosen songs from American songwriters such as Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Harold Hupfield, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. The project is thematically-arranged in three 10-song albums titled “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Late”, each 32 minutes in length, which Dylan has said is the number of completion, a lucky number, and symbolic of light.  Dylan has stated that the albums came out at the same time because thematically they are interconnected, one being the sequel to the other and each one resolving the previous one.
Interestingly, Sinatra released Trilogy in 1980, a three-album which too had a different theme for each album, “The Past,” “The Present” and “The Future.” The new project was produced by Dylan, under his usual pseudonym Jack Frost.
The 30 songs on Triplicate include classics such as “Stardust”, “As Time Goes By,” “September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather” and “Sentimental Journey” as well as less well-known songs such as Alec Wilder and Edwin Finckel’s “Where Is the One” and Jack Lawrence’s “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”
While many of the songs are slow ballads, often solemn and about loss, there are also a handful of more upbeat songs here as well. Dylan’s now road-weary voice, always an incredible instrument in itself, and which sounded really rough on Tempest, seems perfectly fitted for these songs and arrangements. He delivers vocal performances on these last three standards albums that I never thought I would hear from him again. Listen to his vocal and phrasing on “My One and Only Love”, for example. His touring band never gets in the way of Dylan’s heart-felt vocals within Harper’s intimate arrangements. Herron’s steel guitar is a highlight throughout. Horns are used sparingly, but effectively on songs such as “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “My One and Only Love”.
I preferred the more upbeat songs on the album, with some of my favorites being “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Stardust”, “Day in and Day Out”, “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me”, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “That Old Feeling”. Dylan ends the album with “Why Was I Born?” written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It includes the introspective lyrics “Why was I born? Why am I living? What do I get? What am I giving?”
While I would prefer new music from Dylan, I enjoyed and appreciated Triplicate, songs that Dylan says are meant for “the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person”. Will you enjoy it? My assessment is that if you enjoyed Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, you’ll enjoy Triplicate. If you didn’t, you’ll probably want to pass on this one, though I would encourage you give it a listen before immediately dismissing it. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


The Misadventures of Fern and Marty
****

The Misadventures of Fern & Marty is the first Social Club full-album release on Capitol Records after being independent artists, and their fourth studio album overall. The fifteen songs include themes of marriage, family, the grace and love of God and plenty of fun. There are a number of special guests such as Andy Mineo. Unless otherwise noted, the songs were produced by 42 North and Wit.

I really enjoyed this album. Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Vibes Vibes Vibes – This song is written by 42 North, Wit, and the Social Club Misfits. It features a good beat right out of the box, with Fern and Aha Gazelle trading verses on this autobiographical track.  It includes reference to their being signed to Capitol Records:

Now they say that we great
I just say that you late

Independent so long when the labels would call we thought it was fake

The song closes with a spoken word piece by about what it mean to be a misfit.

Pop Out Revenge – This song is produced by Amarl, and was the first single released from the album. It was written by Amarl and the Social Club Misfits and features some good beats. Amarl, Marty and Fern all take a turn at the lead vocals. Includes another reference to them being signed by Capitol.

Love 4 Real– This was the second radio single released. It was written by Wit, 42 North, Daramola and the Social Club Misfits. It’s a love song about dating, marriage and family. It has more of an easy-going vibe. Fern, Marty and Daramola share the lead vocals.

Who Else
– This is a fun song that features Andy Mineo and includes lines like “Bout to make chubby fellas cool again” and “Come to your door like I’m Newman”. It was originally made for their Friends and Family Tour.  It’s has a good beat throughout, and is my favorite track on the album, reminding me of the excellent collaboration Marty had with Mineo on “Paisano’s Wylin” from the latter’s Neverland EP. The track is produced by 42 North and written by Mineo and the Social Club Misfits. Continue reading