Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


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


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Live at the Hollywood Bowl – The Beatleslive-at-the-hollywood-bowl-the-beatles
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I had the album version – The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl that was released in 1977. That version was produced by the Beatles’ legendary producer George Martin. This version, including four bonus tracks, has been remixed and mastered from the original three-track tapes by Martin’s son Giles, who worked with his father on the Beatles 2006 Love album. In David Fricke’s liner notes, the reissued album is described as the essential companion to Ron Howard’s acclaimed documentary Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years. 
The album is comprised of songs from the Beatles 1964 and 1965 concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The concerts were the first and last times the Beatles were officially recorded in concert. The album contains recordings from three different concerts, which took place on August 23rd, 1964 and August 29th and 30th, 1965. Giles remixed and mastered the songs at Abbey Road with engineer Sam Okell. He has spoken about how advancements in technology since his father worked on the tapes almost forty years ago has resulted in in improved clarity, so that “the immediacy and visceral excitement can be heard like never before”.
This remains the Beatles only official live album, and shows that despite the constant screaming from teenage girls that they had to contend with, making it difficult for them to hear themselves playing and singing, they were still a really good live band, thanks to the thousands of hours they played in Hamburg, Germany and at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England.
The album features good liner notes and photos, including George Martin’s original notes from the 1977 release, in which he states that he reluctantly worked with engineer Geoff Emerick to bring the performance (the only live recordings of the Beatles in existence, minus inferior bootlegs), back to life.
The bonus tracks included here for the first time are “You Can’t Do That”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, George’s cover of Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” and “Baby’s In Black”.

pet-soundsPet Sounds – Beach Boys (50th Anniversary Edition) (2 CD)

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I recently read Brian Wilson’s excellent new autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, in which he writes extensively about the making of his classic Pet Sounds 50 years ago, widely considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded, with Rolling Stone having it at #2 on their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Wilson tells of John Lennon calling him about the album and Beatles producer George Martin saying that Pet Sounds was the chief motivation for the Beatles own classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album a year later in 1967.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this classic recording, an anniversary edition including 104 tracks, all but 14 of which had been previously available, has been released. I picked up the two-CD version, which includes the original 13 song, 36 minute version of the album in both mono and remastered stereo, an instrumental version and some previously unavailable live recordings from 1966 – 1993.
Casual fans of the band will recognize much loved songs such as “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows” (which Paul McCartney told Wilson was one of his all-time favorite songs), and “Caroline No” (which is Wilson’s favorite song on the album). But the genius of Pet Sounds and Wilson is the entirely of the album, not the hit singles. Listen to what Wilson did in the studio with the session musicians who would become known as the Wrecking Crew, while the Beach Boys were on the road. You can also see this depicted in the 2014 film Love and Mercy.
Even though there have been numerous reissues of Pet Sounds, I previously only had an early CD release, which was not of a very a good sound quality. Listening to the stereo version on this reissue produced by Mark Linett opened up new sounds on the album that I had not previously heard.  To really appreciate Wilson’s songs and the talents of the Wrecking Crew listen to the instrumental versions of the songs.  Wilson is currently on a Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour, playing the album live in its entirety. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

music-reviews-tape
rolling-stones-blue-lonesomeBlue and Lonesome – Rolling Stones

****

In their first studio album in eleven years, the Rolling Stones return with an album of twelve mostly Chicago blues covers, the type of music that they cut their teeth on when they started out. Having been largely introduced to the blues by my brother-in-law, I really enjoyed this album; it was one of my favorites for 2016. To read more about the blues music from a Christian perspective check out Stephen Nichols book Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation.    

This wasn’t the album that the band intended to record. While in the studio to record new material, they would play a few old blues songs to warm up. They had so much fun playing them they recorded this album with co-producer Don Was last December over just three days. As an added bonus, Eric Clapton, who was recording in the studio next door, came over and played guitar on two of the songs. Overall, the album feels like a labor of love for the Stones, who are joined by bassist Darryl Jones, who has been playing with the band since 1993, and pianist Chuck Leavell.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the album:

Just Your Fool – This song was written by and recorded by Buddy Johnson in 1953 and a Chicago blues version recorded in 1960 by Little Walter. This is the first of four songs on the album credited to Walter, a large influence on Jagger’s harmonica playing style. It’s Jagger’s harmonica that is the first sound you hear on the album. Richards’ and Woods’ guitars and Watts’ drums propel the song along. A great start to the album.
Commit a Crime – This song was recorded in 1966 by Howlin’ Wolf. It later showed up (titled “What a Woman!”), on 1971’s London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, which included Stones Charlie Watt and Bill Wyman. The song features some great guitar work as Jagger spits out that a woman poured poison in his coffee. He’s gonna leave her before he commits a crime. Jagger adds some excellent harmonica work here.
Blue and Lonesome – This slower sad song was recorded in 1959 by Little Walter. It again features Jagger on harmonica, who Richards once referred to as probably the best blues-harp player that he had ever heard, up there with Little Walter.  The song also features some excellent guitar work.
All of Your Love – This song was Magic Sam’s debut single in 1957 as “All Your Love”. He updated and retitled the song “All of Your Love” in 1957, just before his death from a heart attack at age 32. The slow blues song opens with some excellent guitar work and beat provided by Watts and Jones, which sets the pace for the song. Leavell adds some tasty piano work in the middle of the song and Jagger adds a brief harmonica solo before the song ends with a guitar solo.
I Gotta Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter with the Jukes. The song opens with Jagger on harmonica and gets going right away, propelled by Watts’ drumming. It’s a real toe-tapper, and it’s impossible to stay still listening to it. He’s got the blues and he can’t stay here no more. A great take on the song. One of my favorites on the album.
Everybody Knows About My Good Thing – The newest cover on the album, this slow blues song was recorded in 1971 by former Mighty Clouds of Joy member Little Johnny Taylor. The song opens with great slide guitar work from Eric Clapton, which makes this song another highlight for me. While the focus in on the guitar work, I also enjoyed Leavell’s piano.
Ride ‘Em on Down – This song was a 30’s era original by Delta blues legend Bukka White, then titled “Shake ‘Em On Down”. It was recorded with this title in 1955 by Eddie Taylor. It starts with some great guitar work, and a driving beat from Watts, which sets the pace for the song. The song features a blistering guitar solo mid-song and a harmonica solo from Jagger near the end.
Hate to See You Go – This song was recorded in 1955 by Little Walter. He got his start in Muddy Waters band before going solo in 1952. He would die at age 37 and is the only artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specifically as a harmonica player. The song immediately grabs your attention with a driving beat propelled by harmonica, guitar and drum.
Hoo Doo Blues – This song was recorded in 1958 by Lightnin’ Slim, a good example of his stripped down, swampy style. The song opens and features Jagger on harmonica, and the slower beat is driven by Watts’ drumming and Jones’ bass.
Little Rain – This song was recorded in 1957 by Jimmy Reed. The Stones have long admired Reed, having covered his “Honest I Do” on their first album. This is a slow blues song featuring some excellent guitar work before the bass and drum kick in behind Jagger, who adds a lengthy and restrained harmonica solo.
Just Like I Treat You – This song was recorded in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf as the B-side to his single “I Ain’t Superstitious”.  It starts out with a great beat right from the start, and amazingly sounds like it could fit nicely on a mid-1960’s Stones album (reminding me of 1964’s “It’s All Over Now”). It features some nice guitar work, tasty piano from Leavell along with some harmonica work from Jagger. One of my favorites on the album.
I Can’t Quit You Baby – This song was written by Willie Dixon for Otis Rush, who recorded it with him in Rush’s first sessions in 1956. You may recognize it as a heavy blues cover from Led Zeppelin’s debut album, which they built off Rush’s 1966 version. This slow blues song begins with a guitar and the bass drives the slow beat. He can’t quit her but he’s gonna have to put her down for a while. The song features some excellent guitar work from Clapton, and Jagger offers some of his most expressive singing on the album. Continue reading


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

hits-deep-liveHits Deep Live – Toby Mac
****

Eight years after his Grammy winning live album Alive and Transported, Toby Mac returns with another high energy live album Hits Deep Live recorded at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City, Louisiana. The 16 songs (64 minutes of music), are pulled primarily from his last two albums 2015’s This is Not a Test (9 songs), and 2012’s Eye on It (4 songs). There are also 2 songs from 2010’s Tonight and one song from 2007’s Portable Sounds.

Having seen Toby play many of these songs live, I’m convinced that his music is best experienced live in concert, and the sound quality here is excellent. He is backed by his Diverse City band and joined by several special guests – Colton Dixon, Britt Nicole and Hollyn. For “Love Feels Like”, former D.C. Talk bandmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max are not present, but their voices from the recording of the song are included, giving the feel of a live reunion.

With Hits Deep Live you get excellent songs performed well in a live setting, which adds to the energy. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I always thought that “Feel It” would sound great live and it doesn’t disappoint here.

This will be appreciated by Toby Mac fans and would also serve as a good introduction to the artist for those wanting to check out his music.

trip-leeThe Waiting Room – Trip Lee
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This 10-song mixtape is the multi-gifted (musician, author, pastor) Trip Lee’s follow-up to 2014’s excellent Rise, and it gives us some new music until his next full-length studio album, which he has said will be coming soon. The mixtape features excellent writing and musicianship, weighty topics, and some familiar friends (GAWVI, Tedashii, Alex Medina, etc.).

As far as the title, Lee has said that he wanted to give us music, a soundtrack that feels like the world we live in. One of the themes that kept coming up for him was how much waiting we have to do in this life. Themes of waiting, longing for God to heal him, what’s it’s like to be a Black man at this time in our country, and longing for Heaven come through in these ten excellent songs.

Below are a few comments about each of the new songs:

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