In this installment of As The Disc Spins we're spotlighting five recent multi-media DVDs that  run the gamut of America's rich and varied musical heritage, while presenting a wide range of artistry that is unquestionably Made In America.

 

 
Volume 5, Number 5 - December 12, 2008
 
   

 
Tori Amos - Live at Montreaux:1991-1992
(Eagle Eye Media)

 

Singer/songwriter Tori Amos (piano/vocals) can be seen and heard at a pivotal point in her career within these two consecutive annual appearances (in 1991 and 1992, respectively) at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Even though the sets -- which clock in at roughly 45 minutes apiece -- share over half of the same material, the energy is strikingly different due to the demands of Amos' globally-ascending star and subsequent popularity. The dates are practically a year apart and during the interim, Tori Amos had quite literally gone from obscurity to international acclaim.

Her debut long player Little Earthquakes (1991) not only spawned significant critical and popular notice, but is also the primary source for her live repertoire. At the core are the classics "Crucify," "Silent All These Years," "Precious Things," "Winter," and "Happy Phantom" -- each getting a respective workout during both shows. The 1991 gig also played host to "Leather" and "Happy Phantom". In 1992 the title track "Little Earthquakes" opens the proceedings, while the haunting a cappella "Me And A Gun" is by far one of the most riveting zeniths on Live at Montreux. Amos' renown prolificacy surfaces throughout, particularly on the non-LP and CD Single b-sides "Song For Eric" and "Upside Down". She similarly reels off superbly-chosen and stunningly-executed covers of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" -- which not only caps the first set, but was then reprised in a medley with "Whole Lotta Love" the following year -- as well as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," at the conclusion of the 1992 performance.

Audio playback includes DTS Digital and Dolby 5.1 Surround as well as an equally effective PCM stereo option. Speaking of which, a 16-track audio CD version -- excluding the 1992 readings of "Crucify," "Silent All These Years," and "Happy Phantom" -- is also available for inclined parties. Both the DVD and CD are accompanied by liner notes booklets with text by Q magazine's Mark Blake and reproductions of the original festival artwork.

 

 
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama: The Rockpalast Collection
(Eagle Vision)

 

The pair of programs -- on this nearly two-hour title -- bookend three-decades in Lynyrd Skynyrd's formidable career. The lengthier (of the two) 14-song gig hails from the Loreley Open-Air Festival in late June of 1996. However, it's the December of '74 Hamburg, Germany clips -- where Skynyrd were the support act for (of all folks) Queen -- that will undoubtedly garner the most attention from those eager to experience the band's premier incarnation in all their ragged glory.

The Skynyrd reunion centers around Gary Rossington (guitar), Billy Powell (keyboards) and Leon Wilkeson (bass/vocals) -- all of whom survived the October '77 plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant (vocals) and Steve Gaines (guitar/vocals). Further augmenting the '90s nine-piece lineup is Skynyrd co-founder Rickey Medlocke (guitar/vocals) and Hughie Thomasson (guitar) from the Outlaws.

The 1996 Loreley Fest is jam-packed with over a dozen Southern Rock staples, commencing with the dynamic double-barrel "Workin' For MCA" and "I Ain't The One" pairing that opens their venerable One More From The Road (1976) live album. The combo  continue with such timeless rebel rousin' entries as "Down South Jukin'," "Double Trouble," "Saturday Night Special," "What's Your Name," "That Smell," "Simple Man," "Gimmie Three Steps," Sweet Home Alabama," "I Know A Little," as well as their cover of J. J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze." And absolutely no Lynyrd Skynyrd concert could be complete without a (literal) show-stopping reading of the anthemic "Free Bird".

Although considerably shorter in length, the three-song mini set from German TV dates back to  December of '74. While certainly vintage -- especially when compared to the pristine digital audio/visual quality of the main feature -- a hearty "Workin' For MCA" kicks things off in the usual fashion. That is, if one can remotely qualify footage this rare as 'usual'. This is followed by a gritty and gutsy 13+ minute "Freebird" and appropriately stomping closer "Sweet Home Alabama". Seeing and hearing Ed King (guitar), Bob Burns (drums), Allen Collins (guitar/vocals) and, especially Ronnie Van Zant (vocals) is simply sublime for life-long Skynyrd enthusiasts. Not to mention an education for any and all subsequent generation of fans. 

Sweet Home Alabama: The Rockpalast Collection (2008) not only has a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack, but equally robust 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound options as well. The DVD is augmented by a six-panel foldout insert with liner notes from Peter Ruechel -- the Executive Producer of German TV's Rockpalast music show.

 

 

 
Ted Nugent - Sweden Rocks
(Eagle Rock Entertainment)

 

With all the hype and hyperbole created under the pretense of 'rock 'n' roll', there are few characters that can match the wit, will and wisdom of 'Terrible' Ted Nugent. This nearly two-hour DVD reveals why -- for nearly four decades -- he has been a musical force to be reckoned with. The concert finds The Nuge (guitar/vocals) fronting a trio, supported by Barry Sparks (bass/vocals) and Mick Brown (drums/vocals) for thousands of boisterous, supportive and obviously appreciative attendees of the 2006 Swedish Rock Festival.

For enthusiasts, one of the more endearing qualities of Nugent as a performer is his intensity. Not only does he bring the proverbial 110% to his audience, but he isn't out to blatantly hock his latest release. In fact, at the time of this June of '06 appearance, Nugent's most recent album of new material was the nearly two-year old Craveman (2004). Rather than bombard the crowd with tunes they didn't know, Nuge serves up -- "Klstrphnky," as well as "Rawdogs and Warhogs" -- from that critically-lauded platter. He even takes the bold step of presenting the yet-to-be-released "Still Raising Hell" -- a tune that would not surface for a year on his upcoming CD Love Grenade (2007).  However, the vast majority of the set consists of a dozen rock-solid classics. Among those seminal sonic sacrifices are the take-no-prisoners opener "Stormtroopin'," "Wango Tango," "Free For All," "Snakeskin Cowboy," "Dog Eat Dog," "Motor City Madhouse," "Stranglehold," "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" and an appropriately eye-rippin' reading of "Cat Scratch Fever".

The extras on Sweden Rocks practically equal the main show. There are live performances -- from the 4 Bears MusicFest (in June of 2007)  -- of the vintage Nugent song "Weekend Warriors," the title track of the aforementioned Love Grenade and a remake of "Journey To The Centre Of The Mind," from Nugent's days as an Amboy Duke. Nugent's obvious affinity for the number resulted in a razor-edged remake that can likewise be found on Love Grenade. Turning away from music, the DVD's 'Bonus Features' conclude as Ted Nugent the outdoorsman, offers some pointers on bow hunting and insights during a session on what is presumably his private firing range.

 

 
Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis - Live From Jazz at Lincoln Ctr, NYC
(Eagle Eye Media)

 

For nearly an hour-and-a-half, Willie Nelson (guitar/vocals) and Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) lead a septet through a genre-defying collection of musical Americana. The film was directed by Danny Clinch, whose duality as a musician and sincerely inconspicuous visual director is the hallmark of similarly stunning audio/visual projects from John Mayer (Where The Light Is), Pearl Jam (Immagine In Cornice), Foo Fighters (Skin And Bones), and the multi-artist documentary 270 Miles from Graceland: Live from Bonnaroo 2003. This time out, the stage is the considerably comfier confines of Lincoln Center's 508 seat Allen Room. Whether Clinch specifically chose the built-in set dressing  -- a 50-foot glass wall that provides an overview of Central Park -- is unknown. However, it is unquestionably the perfect venue for the meeting of the legendary Nelson and Marsalis -- the latter of whom just so happens to be Jazz At Lincoln Center's concurrent Artistic Director as well.

Rather than a strictly linear presentation, the best material from the pair of mid-January, 2007 performances are augmented with footage of the band in rehearsal, along with remarks and interviews that go beyond the primary players. One highlight of these non-musical interludes concerns Mickey Raphael (harmonica) -- who has accompanied Nelson for over three decades -- and provides some of the most insightful commentary. Speaking of support, the rest of the combo consists of Dan Nimmer (piano), Walter Blanding (sax), Carlos Henriquez (bass) and Ali Jackson (drums).

There is plenty of the primary participants extraordinary collaborations and sonic synergy captured within the wide array of pop, jazz, blues and gospel selections. Kicking off the festivities is one of the best of the bunch in the form of  the vintage swinging opener "Rainy Day Blues". Another is the rompin' stompin' "Bright Lights, Big City," that is custom-made for Marsalis' rich contributions. Less inspired in such a setting are the Nelson-led titles. Most conspicuous is the snoozer version of "Georgia On My Mind" or the similarly sluggish "Stardust". In a different context, both would have worked infinitely better. However, they fall flat when compared to the give-and-take heard and felt during "Caldonia," "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It" or the show-stopping rave up of the gospel favorite "Down By The Riverside."  
 
Audiophiles will revel in the flawless fidelity offered in either the DTS Digital Surround or Dolby Surround 5.1playback options. Not to mention a robust standard 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo mix that definitely holds its own. The disc is accompanied by a full-color six-panel liner insert with an essay from legendary music critic and curator for Jazz At Lincoln Center, Mr. Phil Schaap.

 

 
Paul Simon - Live From Philadelphia
(Eagle Rock Entertainment)

 

After years of circulating under a variety of formats and titles -- first on VHS and then Laserdisc as Paul Simon ... On The Concert Stage! -- rhymin' Simon's hour-long Live From Philadelphia is finally available domestically on DVD as part of Eagle Rock's no-frills 'Greatest Hits Live' series. Simon (guitar/vocals) is flanked by an all-star aggregate of heavy-hitters that have become practically synonymous with their respective work on Simon's meticulous studio albums. Specifically, Eric Gale (guitar), Richard Tee (keyboards) and an impeccable rhythm section consisting of Tony Levin (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums).

As it was more than half-a-decade before Simon would make his dramatic stylistic metamorphosis into World Music on Graceland (1986), here the artist honors his role as a more traditional pop rock singer/songwriter. With a formidable back catalogue of material from which to draw, it seems almost unfair (though understandable) that Simon would glean nearly a third of the DVD's contents from his most recent effort -- the film and subsequent soundtrack to One Trick Pony (1980). However, it nets hardcore aficionados the deep cuts "Jonah," "Ace In The Hole," the title piece "One Trick Pony" -- which chalked up a minor hit for Simon -- as well as the Top 10 entry "Late In The Evening."

The remainder of the 53 minute set is crafted from choice moments throughout Simon's considerable songbook. Having the original musicians who played on the familiar versions -- with which viewers will undoubtedly be intimately familiar -- pays off most substantially during "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard," "Still Crazy After All These Years," "Something So Right," "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and "American Tune". Those '70s solo entries provide a perfect platform for Simon to revisit a pair of Simon and Garfunkel staples, "The Boxer" and the resonant intimacy imbued within "The Sound Of Silence".

The original 2.0 Stereo audio has been retro-fitted with your choice of either an extrapolated Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 or the slightly beefier (especially in the mid and lower frequencies) DTS Digital Surround playback options. Environmentally-friendly kudos also to designers of the physical packaging, as it consists of 40% recycled paperboard, while the plastic tray that holds the DVD in place is made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials. This seems to be standard for all of Eagle Rock Entertainment's "Greatest Hits Live" packages.

 


 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
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Disclaimer: various news pieces may state a specific media publication or program as a source. All other news is considered 'rumour' only. That goes double for release dates.

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