Category Archives: DVD

Review: Acoustic In Concert – Simple Minds

There certainly aren’t many artists daring enough to re-record their songs in an acoustic format. But that’s not true of Simple Minds, whom, late in 2016, released an album of much-loved classics in a stunning reintroduction. Oh yeah, here were those who recorded live sets unplugged. But not many of them actually going into a studio to do it. With Acoustic, Kerr and Burchill has easily produced a new and enduring classic with reimagined classic Simple Minds tunes. Songs like “Promised You A Miracle” (recorded with KT Tunstall), “See The Lights”, “Someone, Somewhere In Summertime”, “Alive and Kicking”, “Waterfront”, and of course, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, are delightful to listen to and carry a high caliber of replay value. I know. Today, some nine months after release, it’s a regular in rotation.

Eagle Rock Music released a BBC Music live set from Simple Minds’ show in London at the Hackney Empire. The show was a response to the popularity of the Acoustic album, and was warmly attended by fans. The set, Acoustic In Concert, is a combo CD/DVD and a BD set that can be viewed and, with the DVD set, equally enjoyed on the run. What’s as surprising about the Acoustic In Concert set is how vibrant the show was. Kerr and Burchill may be older now, but their age has no impact on their ability to parade their famous songs in great glory. It’s evident that they’re proud of those songs.

Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill have employed Cherisse Osei as their drummer and percussionist. Her performance is lively adding to the currency value of the show itself. The band is rounded out by current member, Ged Grimes, and vocalist Sarah Brown. Simple Minds are as valid a band long after their sales peak as can be enjoyed. Their previous album, Big Music, was released in 2014, and was filled with excellence. I’ll say this, it was easy to remain a Simple Minds fan long after the retreat of Once Upon A Time from 1985.

Not only have I enjoyed listening to Acoustic for these many months, I have enjoyed watching this amazing band on In Concert. There’s little doubt that I will regularly revisit the DVD just like I do with a few other great concert DVDs. I won’t compare it to others because each band brings their own presence to the stage. But suffice it to say, listening to the mates perform classics like “Sanctify Yourself”, “Promised You A Miracle”, “New Gold Dreams”, and “Chelsea Girl”, is a heart-warming experience. There’s even a good cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” within. The DVD’s video quality is quite amazing. I could only imagine the beauty of a BD.

If the band decided to do an Acoustic, Volume II, I’d be first in line for it. As for their Acoustic show, I’d definitely attend. Acoustic In Concert is an able convincing media for that resolution.

Acoustic In Concert – Simple Minds

01 New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)
02 See The Lights
03 Glittering Prize
04 Stand By Love
05 Waterfront
06 Andy Warhol
07 Chelsea Girl
08 Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)
09 Dancing Barefoot
10 Speed Your Love To Me
11 Promised You A Miracle
12 Don t You (Forget About Me)
13 Sanctify Yourself
14 Long Black Train
15 Alive And Kicking
16 Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)

 

Review: The Rolling Stones-From The Vault-LA Forum-Live In 1975 (DVD) – Talia’s Overflow Notes

Stones LA ForumIt has to be said straight off. If you want to pick up a great deal for the newest installment of the physical product release for the From The Vault series from The Rolling Stones, then make sure to pick up the DVD/CD bundle of-L.A. Forum-Live In 1975. When this particular title came out during the download series, there was only one show released and it had been billed as being from the July 12, 1975 show. With this bundle, it was thrown about online that this was going to also be advertised as being from the 12th. Instead, a great thing has happened (whether purposely or by accident). It turns out that by buying this bundle, you will be getting two separate shows-the DVD being from July 11, 1975 and the two CDs are from the July 13, 1975 show. Somebody from back in ’75 or now mislabeled these shows.

This release is taken from the first tour after Mick Taylor had left the band. Ronnie Wood stepped in to take over most of the lead guitar roles and to eventually work himself into the intricacies of weaving with Keith Richards (where the distinctions between lead guitar and rhythm get blurred to the point where you can’t tell what either are doing). At this point in time, everybody thought Ronnie was just stepping in and that he was not officially a member of the band.

Since many Rolling Stones fans were also fans of The Faces, people figured that he would be a good fit. Given that people as diverse as Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, Wayne Perkins, Harvey Mandel and Nils Lofgren, among others, were considered as the eventual replacement for Taylor, Wood was the one who made the cut for his being an Englishman and for the fact that he was willing to immerse himself with what direction Keith Richards wanted to take the guitars from this point on.

Though the more strict division between lead guitar and rhythm that denoted the playing between Taylor and Richards would now disappear with the introduction of Wood into the lineup, it would not disappear completely overnight. As shown among both sets presented in this release, Wood was doing a lot of distinctive leads which are easy to spot. Wood is in the left channel while Richards is in the right. The listener will come across times when the playing between the two starts to blur, but it would not be until the ’78 Tour of the U.S. before the weaving pattern between the two of them became perfected. This is not to say that the ’75 tour was one where Wood wasn’t thrown that quickly into the fire.

Truth be known, the rehearsals that took place on Montauk in New York were very lengthy insofar as Wood had to become a human sponge. There’s a famous photo of Wood during these rehearsals where he looks like he’s going to go crackers because the band was grinding it out so hard getting the presentation worked out even though Wood had worked with Keith in 1974 for his solo project and for the title song of the It’s Only Rock N’ Roll album. When it comes to fires, this was Wood’s baptism which involved diving decidedly head-first.

And what does one make of these two shows? First, one has to consider the long-standing stereotypical thinking of longtime Rolling Stones fans in order to fully understand this release and why it surprises them. For a lot of people, the ’75 Tour was a letdown because of Taylor’s leaving and they also had to deal with the irony that they admired Wood with his time being alongside Rod Stewart and the fact that Wood was shouldering all of the guitar work when he was with Stewart. Many reports over the years from fans indicated that these shows were not that good.

I’ve listened to ’75 audience recordings, including the July 13th show, and I’ve spent years with the thought that the shows were good, but nothing to really get overly excited about. So, imagine my surprise when I put in the time to watch and listen to both of these shows and got jolted into realizing that these actually worked even though it is amazing that they did. Miles more than on the official live album released in 1977, Love You Live (taken from 1975 shows and 1976 Europe shows and being heavily worked on with studio fix-ups), this document really gives you two shining examples of The Rolling Stones in their most decadent mid-’70s phase and also its most gloriously sloppy that somehow miraculously manages to prop itself up amid its self-evident overindulgence. In other words, the times suggested itself. It was of the moment and entirely appropriate.

There’s plenty to criticize with both of these shows. For starters, Mick Jagger misses verses and repeats some of the same ones in order to to compensate during a few songs. His combination of overt campiness and exaggerated drawl-slang irritated many tape listeners for years. Some people had wondered why a percussion player, in this case Ollie Brown, was needed to help out Charlie Watts during this tour. And then there was confusion over why Trevor Lawrence was used on saxophone for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” rather than Bobby Keys and then they both end up making appearances at these shows together. There were also people who did not like the two song section of the show where Billy Preston played two of his own selections with the Stones backing him. Well, you know something? I guess it was their party and they could do what they wanted to. And besides, who was going to deny the talent of Preston? For the record, these two performances by Preston work out just fine. Plus, you really get the benefit of hearing Richards really tighten up-especially during “Outa-Space”. People need to remember that Billy Preston was a huge name back in 1975. He had the cred. Plus, he had already worked with them during the ’73 European Tour in order to take over for Nicky Hopkins.

The thing that really works about these two shows is the interaction between the two most important players throughout the whole careening shebang-Charlie Watts and Keith Richards. I guess it took a professional audio and video presentation of these two shows, warts and all, to make one realize that you can have all of the sloppiness and decadence going on about you as long as the drummer and the rhythm player remain locked into each other. This has been the one constant throughout all three guitar phases of the Rolling Stones’ career (Jones, Taylor & Wood). It absolutely astounded me to watch and listen to Keith Richards interacting with Charlie Watts during these two shows given that Keith was at the very height of his heroin addiction on this tour. Everything manages to work its way through and come out the other side without derailing completely. In fact, it comes out standing. I’ve always referred to the ’75 Tour and the ’76 European Tours as Keith’s survival tours. He was staying alive because of the music. If you want proof that I’m not exaggerating, then it’s all here in its ragged glory.

As a longtime fan, I do want to be clear. I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly decided that this tour stands equally with the earlier Taylor Era tours. But it’s now clear to me that there were some nights on the ’75 tour that were not nearly the disasters that perhaps some people have made them out to be over the years. I would have to think that there will be the possibility ’76 Europe shows being released (the obvious ones being Paris and perhaps Knebworth- the not so obvious one, Glasgow, is another). But if this series should end up becoming really comprehensive as time goes on, there has to be the possibility that the Cow Palace shows in San Francisco and the New York City run has to be considered in the running for eventual release from ’75-even if there’s no video footage available for these shows.

The rumor mill has been swirling around over what the next release will be. So far, the early candidates appear to be more of the downloads being made into physical releases. The specific candidates appear to be Tokyo 1990 and San Jose 1999. And I’ll keep repeating this until I’m blue in the face. Let’s hope an expanded 2-CD release of the A Brussels Affair ’73 (with Taylor) finally sees the light of day.

Release Date: November 17, 2014
Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Website – Official
Availability: DVD, BD (CD, LP)

–Steve Talia

1) Introduction 2) Honky Tonk Women 3) All Down The Line 4) If You Can’t Rock Me / Get Off Of My Cloud 5) Star Star 6) Gimme Shelter 7) Ain’t Too Proud To Beg 8) You Gotta Move 9) You Can’t Always Get What You Want 10) Happy 11) Tumbling Dice 12) It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll 13) Band Intros 14) Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) 15) Fingerprint File 16) Angie 17) Wild Horses 18) That’s Life* 19) Outta Space 20) Brown Sugar 21) Midnight Rambler 22) Rip This Joint 23) Street Fighting Man 24) Jumpin’ Jack Flash 25) Sympathy For The Devil

Review: The Rolling Stones-From The Vault-Hampton Coliseum-Live In 1981 (DVD) – Talia’s Overflow Notes

StonesHampton Coliseum - 1981It needs to be stated right off the bat. An official Rolling Stones vault release series needs to be supported. Now that the Stones organization has begun releasing physical product versions of shows they originally started releasing as download-only a few years back, it is up to long-time supporters of the band to step to the plate and help to keep this series going. They also need to play this stuff to the younger fans to show them the proof of why they are so great. There are rumors floating around that Mick & Keith plan to allow more shows to be released as physical product beyond the original download-only shows from a few years ago. This is a band who is worthy of a series from any era of the band. Be it the Jones, Taylor or Wood Era, there are moments to treasure from almost any show of theirs. The Hampton ’81 show is no exception even though you would discover that there are a lot of people who prefer different eras and tours over others.

In order to more fully understand what it is that you would be watching on the DVD release of this show, it is important to bear in mind that this show comes from a period in time when the band was transitioning from what some would consider their last “dangerous” phase (the 1978 Some Girls Tour of the United States) to becoming a corporate entity with the 1981 North American Tour and its Jovan sponsorship. Their 1981 and 1982 European Tour was also the last with Bill Graham and his organization. Their sound was also beginning to change. Things were beginning to sound cleaner while the volume grew louder. In their excellent book, Rolling Stones Gear, Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost explain that Keith began to hike the volume of his amps with new gear that he acquired. All of this becomes a philosophical point among Stones fans who argue over this particular dividing line-among others.
This show takes place on the last stop of the tour. They are firing on all cylinders relative to the ’81 tour. The beauty of this particular show is that the band rises above the debates among the fans as well as the time period that this show took place during the final half of the show and most especially the final quarter. From Keith’s performance of “Little T & A” onwards to the end, the viewer will be transported to that other level that all of the greatest bands take their fans on a consistent basis.

The only thing which possibly hurts this show is that the Stones are playing so cleanly that the element of a train going off the tracks is not so present as it was on previous tours. It is a thoroughly professional show even though the legend of the past remains hanging over the proceedings. Make no mistake about it, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were not complete saints by any stretch of the imagination at this point in time. What was ironic was that Keith was actually keeping an eye on Ronnie throughout this period and further into the ’80s while Keith was going along through the process of having stopped some of his excesses (but not all).

This is also a show to savor in one other regard. This was just before all the hell was going to begin breaking loose between Keith and Mick Jagger the following year in Europe when they toured over there. Keith was now seeing the business end of things just as clearly as Mick.

Sadly, this DVD is also a document of the last time American audiences would get to see of their original piano player in the form of Ian Stewart, whom along with Faces stalwart Ian McLagan, really give you a last-time feel of some of the friends who helped to make the band function so well. One of the strange things about this tour was that sax player Bobby Keys fell out of favor with Mick Jagger for this tour and they used Ernie Watts for most of the songs that required sax. But Keys gets to play on a few things thankfully so that things can harken back to an older era of the band.

One great thing about The Rolling Stones is that they never stopped dropping in some great cover songs during their shows. Eddie Cochran’s “20 Flight Rock” is one one of them. The other is a particularly great version of “Going To A Go-Go” from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Keith locks into the groove and practically wills the song along on his own. Some of the performances from this show made it onto the Still Life live album that came out not long after the tour.

Depending on your point of view, Jagger’s use of a crane to go and commune with the crowd can be a distraction at times, but focus always manages to reassert itself. But there were potentially dangerous moments to be had. At the beginning of the final song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, a fan runs up on the stage to seemingly celebrate Keith’s birthday on this night. Whether the fan was drunk, stoned or just genuinely excited, Keith took his guitar off and swung it at the guy as he got very close to him. People need to remember that this took place only a year after John Lennon was gunned down in front of the Dakota building in New York City. Major touring music acts had a very heightened sensitivity to fans rushing to them while they were onstage. Richards, at this time period, took to carrying a loaded handgun with him at all times when he wasn’t onstage. This moment, which is captured for posterity on this neat document, added to the legend that is Keith Richards.

It is up to you to decide whether this was the tour where the Stones were beginning to ride on their history as a band or not. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that they were touring off of the Tattoo You album and that there were still new chapters to add to the band’s legacy. The bottom line is that this show is worthy of being in one’s collection regardless of any caveats I may wish to want to point out. It is hoped for that Jagger and Richards will work out some deals with the Allen Klein organization to get more Brian Jones and Mick Taylor Era shows out there with the launching of this series. Plus, it is absolutely essential that an affordable version of the A Brussels Affair release from the 1973 European Tour (the final tour with Mick Taylor before Taylor left the band) gets released as part of the physical product releases. I welcome supporting this series. Will you?

Release Date: November 04, 2014
Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Website – Official
Availability: DVD, BD (CD, LP)

–Steve Talia

TRACKLISTING:

1) Under My Thumb 2) When The Whip Comes Down 3) Let’s Spend The Night Together 4) Shattered 5) Neighbours 6) Black Limousine 7) Just My Imagination 8) Twenty Flight Rock 9) Going To A Go Go 10) Let Me Go 11) Time Is On My Side 12) Beast Of Burden 13) Waiting On A Friend 14) Let It Bleed 15) You Can’t Always Get What You Want 16) Band Introductions 17) Happy Birthday Keith 18) Little T & A 19) Tumbling Dice 20) She’s So Cold 21) Hang Fire 22) Miss You 23) Honky Tonk Women 24) Brown Sugar 25) Start Me Up 26) Jumping Jack Flash 27) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

 

Review: Live At The Avenue B – Iggy Pop (DVD)

[I just watched this again tonight. And so I bring an old review back for another round, simply because this DVD is so good!]

IggyLiveAtThe AvenueBDVDRock ‘n’ Roll is pretty damn primal at its core.  The closer to the heart of it you get, the hotter the core boils.  I really don’t think that it gets any hotter than one of Rock’s better creative forces, Iggy Pop.  And nowhere do you get a front row view of that primitive force than on Live at The Avenue B DVD.

Iggy Pop’s validity at being one of Rock’s early children is indisputable.  He has stinted with The Stooges and made several classic albums with that lineup.  He then created one of the most potent pre-punk albums ever made with Raw Power.  After lanquishing for a time, being then resurrected by David Bowie, Iggy Pop went on to show just how great a performer he could be.  Now, some 35 years later, 35 FREAKING YEARS later, this man can STILL show anyone how it’s really done in that molten hot core of creation.

Within the first few songs, Iggy has already sacrificed himself to the audience, launching from the stage and into the hands of the very essence of his craft, the people.  Do I sound like I’m in awe?  You’re bloody right, I am.  Nothing captures the incredible energy that this man puts forth like Live at The Avenue B.

With 21 songs, many of them classic Pop tunes from every era of his career, along with a small dose of covers like “Louie Louie,” and “Shakin’ All Over,” Iggy’s 1999 show from Brussels underscores his unending dance with the ultimate purity of Rock.  In this show, Iggy discourses with the audience, comes into extreme close contact with them (including a swarming of fans on the stage), and powerfully centers the universe at his feet.  He mocks, he adores, he dances, he entertains.  He does all of this in magnificent widescreen and choices of beautifully mixed Stereo, or if you prefer, 5.1 Dolby or DTS.

Iggy Pop IS the Rock’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Live at The Avenue B easily explains why Iggy is its reigning icon.  I rave not because I’m a fan, which I am.  I rave because this DVD showcases a powerful display of rock n roll, the like of which I have never before seen on DVD.

You owe it to yourself to pick this one up. No shit!

“I’m a product of the paranoia of the age I’m in…” – Avenue B

Release Date: July 19, 2005
Label: Virgin
Website
Availability: DVD                                                      

–Matt Rowe

Review: The Rise And Fall Of The Clash (DVD)

RiseAndFallOfTheClashDVDThis is a sad film.  In it, there is a murderous plot, protagonists, a Svengali-like antagonist, and plenty of bad things occurring within a story that should have had a happy ending.  I’m talking about the death of The Clash.  And yes, all of the seemingly fictionalized elements I’ve mentioned do indeed happen.

The Clash is typified as one of Rock’s most important bands, mentioned often in the same breath as The Beatles, and other extremely important groups.  The small catalog of albums that carries their name are home to songs that will be remembered for decades, if not forever.  But because that band allowed one man to essentially mold and shape them, their fall was a crushing blow to their enrapt and loyal fans.

Essentially, from the formation of the band, Bernie Rhodes, a one-time co-conspirator with Malcolm McLaren, called the shots, manipulating, directing, and otherwise pitting one against the other in an attempt to make The Clash a vision of his own design. Needless to say, the fact that other personalities were involved in this tug of war only served to insure that there would be fallout.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash chronicles that fall out as you walk past the differences between Strummer, Jones, Headon, and Simonon, with minor players that include Terry Chimes, and the other short roll-call of replacement members.  Its in-depth review of the entire affair is deeply, often sadly recounted by not only Mick Jones, but by many of the replacement band that made up the death throes of The Clash including their final album, Cut The Crap.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash should be a required view for dedicated fans of the band. But beware, there will be anger, and hatred, and deception, and, well, the collapse of the only band that mattered. At the end, you watch as Strummer, who tried to keep The Clash an important band through every foolish decision suggested, and acted upon, attempt to resurrect The Clash in a pursuit of the important Mick Jones, who was already successful with his Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.).

The story is a cautionary essential for bands beginning.  But more importantly, The Rise and Fall of The Clash will let you in on the secret that killed the band in intimate detail told by the inside people.

–Matt Rowe

Release Date: April 29, 2014
Label: Shout! Factory
Website

Availability: DVD

Review: Songs From The Road – Savoy Brown

SavoyBrownSongsFromTheRoadIn a time where the basic argument is that many of our beloved bands from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, for the most part, cannot hold court with their past achievements, you can always count on at least one that doesn’t know the calendar has shed pages.  This is a good thing for fans that feel the same way – or at least wants to feel that way.

Savoy Brown has been around for quite some time.  Since their formation in 1965, as a matter of fact. The band itself has undergone a myriad of line-up changes, more so than the average established band.  The mainstay, Kim Simmonds, guitarist extraordinaire, has remained throughout.  At one time, three-quarters of the band contained the future founding members of Foghat (“Lonesome” Dave Peverett, Roger Earl, Tony Stevens – how awesome was that?!)  Still, throughout the continuing span of Savoy Brown, Kim Simmonds has exhibited incredible wisdom in choosing carefully who would perform under the Savoy Brown name.

There are more than enough Savoy Brown studio albums to remember the band by.  Some of you may have your favorites.  I know I have mine.  I will confess, however, to having a love for almost all things Savoy Brown throughout the decades, including their last studio gem, Voodoo Moon from 2011.

It’s always a thrill to be able to experience Savoy Brown in a live setting.  The band is firing on all cylinders.  Simmonds’ guitar work is blistering.  I’ve been fortunate over these years to see the underrated band several times.  And so when there’s a new Savoy Brown album and it’s a live one, then it’s easy for me to say yes to picking one up.

Songs From The Road contains twelve songs that scatter from Voodoo Moon (six of the twelve), and a classic re visitation from three brilliant early albums (“Looking In” – Looking In (1970), “Street Corner Talking”, “Time Does Tell”, “Tell Mama”, “Wang Dang Doodle” – Street Corner Talking (1971), “Hellbound Train” – Hellbound Train (1972)).

There are two ways that Songs From The Road is available.  The standard CD issue, which is really all you need, and a CD/DVD Special Edition, which is a filmed document of the performance tracks heard on the CD with a bonus of two extra tracks (“Little Red Rooster”, “Louisiana Blues”)

Songs From The Road is a blazing sun of music, searing and all enveloping.  The show that the songs are taken from was in 2012.  But you can hardly tell it because the band and Simmonds are in tip top shape, perfect in every way, just like they were performing in 1971.  While I’m a fan of Savoy Brown, this review is telling it like it is.  This album is representative of a band that never left the stage, and still knows how to craft  – and play – brilliant and fiery bluesy rock songs.

And if you haven’t heard Voodoo Moon yet, this genuine live album will most certainly lead you to it.

Release Date: April 9, 2013
Label – Ruf Records
Website
Availability: CD, CD/DVD, DD

–Matt Rowe

Release Pieces: Loud Like Love, New Album From Placebo

PlaceboLoudLikeLovePlacebo, the London band, who received the 2009 MTV Europe Music Award for Best Alternative Band, last album was released in 2009.  That album is  Battle For The Sun, which went on to sell a massive number of copies and achieve high charting in as many as 30 countries.  With earlier albums and hypnotically punkish pop-rock style, leading up to this kind of fan-base, the anticipation for a new album has been high.

Universal Music plans the release of Placebo‘s newest album, Loud Like Love, on September 16 throughout Europe, and September 17 (in the US).  The band’s new album will contain 10 new tracks, all recorded in London during 2012, and the early part of 2013.

Loud Like Love is expected to be released in multiple versions that include the standard CD issue, as well as a CD/DVD Deluxe Edition (Live Session at London’s RAK Studio DVD), and a splashy Super Deluxe Box that will include a 10″x10″ 3D lenticular, the expected 10-track CD, two DVDs (DVD1: Live Session at London’s RAK Studio, DVD2: ten promo videos), three 10″ vinyl LPs, with one of them artistically etched, five postcards, an art print (with the first 1000 signed), and a download rights card for lossless WAV files of the ten tracks.

In addition to the CD sets, there will be a 2LP set with 12″ 180g-weight colored vinyl, both housed in a gatefold jacket.  And we won’t forget the new habit of DD releasing so popular these days.

Placebo

Placebo will follow up the new album with a 23-date European support tour, which is scheduled for kick-off on November 12 in Poland, and ending on December 17  for two shows at the O2 Academy Brixton in London (2 shows due to overwhelming ticket demand).  This leg of the tour will be expanded as the band signs up for North America, Africa, and other locations.

It’s time for your your Placebo rush to take effect! (Click here for more Placebo).

Enjoy this video of Placebo covering Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”.

Review: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories – Steven Wilson

StevenWilsonRavenI’ll start off by saying that if you already are a Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree fan, then this is a must-have album, with whatever format you choose to listen. I was lucky enough to grab one of the Book/CD/DVD/BluRay packages before they were gone and I will be reviewing this “little” paperweight.  If you are not a rabid fan like me, or if you haven’t heard Wilson’s work before, then I also hope I will give enough info to spur on some exploration.

I’ll set the stage with who is playing on this album.  Steven Wilson sings and plays guitars, keyboards, bass, and the original King Crimson mellotron (imagine!).  Nick Beggs (Lifesigns) is on bass and Chapman stick and backing vocals, Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats) on lead guitar, Adam Holzman on keyboards, Marco Minnemann (Aristocrats, UK, Eddie Jobson) on drums and Theo Travis (Robert Fripp) on flutes, saxes and clarinet.  Additional musicians are Jakko Jakszyk (Robert Fripp, Schizoid Band) on vocals and Alan Parsons on guitar.  Yes, THAT Alan Parsons (Dark Side of the Moon), who Steven had engineer the album!  If you’ve watched and listened to the Get All You Deserve concert film, then you know how amazing these musicians are.  Leave it to say that this band (also Wilson’s touring band still) is one of the finest collections of musicians since, well, since maybe the double trio Crimson of Thrak.

Since I mentioned Alan Parsons, I’ll talk about the audio now.  The CD sound is wonderful, with Parsons engineering and Wilson mixing, how could it be otherwise?  The depth of the music, the subtleties, the dynamic range, are captured in warm analogue tones – it is a pleasure to listen to. The BluRay and DVD versions are of course mixed in brilliant 5.1 by Wilson, and “authored” by Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant). To be honest, I am not sure what that means exactly, but it is an expert job and you won’t be disappointed in whatever system you have. See more below.

The book, a massive tome, features short stories by Wilson and illustrated by Hajo Mueller.  The Raven that Refused to Sing is co-authored by them both.  The music complements the stories perfectly (or is it the other way round?) but in any case, it is interesting reading.  In my opinion, these are well-written pieces although they lack some originality and held no surprises for me.  The prominent recurring theme is death, spirits and haunting and the haunted, not exactly cheery subjects, and the music reflects this in no uncertain terms.  In other words, the deep and sad parts of Porcupine Tree’s The Incident are carried on here.

So for the music:  I think if you are a long time listener of the Steven Wilson family (solo, Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield) then this will fit snugly into your expectations.  The sound and tone of the album is not new, so don’t expect a sudden freak out with Donna Summer (one of Steven Wilson’s big influences – believe it or not) or a right turn into Country Music – this is pure Wilson borrowing from his library and sprinkling the compositions with some Canterbury (National Health, Caravan) and a brief moment of Opeth metal.  But let me say that the songs here are new and fresh sounding and take you to a place that is quite deep and spiritual.  You might think that with the powerhouse musicians playing that it could be some techno fest, but it is not. There is wonderful soloing to be sure but it is in keeping with the pieces, not overshadowing them.  This is about theme, song, words, and orchestration too (Dave Stewart of Egg, Hatfield and the North and National Health did the string arrangements).

There are 6 songs that, together, total 55 minutes, keeping with Steven Wilson’s belief that shorter is better (at least 55 minutes in the Proggy world is short!).
“Lumninol” is over 12 minutes and begins as a driving piece of jazzy, funky up-tempo Canterbury to start, then develops into soft, Crosby Stills and Nash-like vocal and answering harmonies with Govan’s jazz guitar lightly playing along.  Holzman’s piano takes a turn next, with beautiful, subtle runs that are breathtaking.  Like in most if not all of Wilson’s work, he knows how to hook you with melodic lifts that cause an addiction of sorts.  The music then becomes a sonic wall of beautiful mellotron and brings back the days of Court of the Crimson King, intentionally no doubt.  This sweeps you away and the piece comes to a pulsing close as it started with guitars and keyboards counter playing until the end.

“Drive Home” at over 7 minutes takes a quiet turn with guitar and piano in a simple melody that has a Porcupine Tree sound without a doubt.  Nick Beggs’ walking bass here really comes through the mix. It has almost a Celtic feel to it, or perhaps Nordic folk.  Just a presence of something out there that is hard to quantify but sounding somewhat ancient to me.  The music builds until it reaches a climax of sorts with Bevan showing that he is not just flash but capable of real emotional playing.  Think “Comfortably Numb” here.

“The Holy Drinker”, at just over 10 minutes, begins in a jazz-rock fusion vein and reminds me a lot of Return to Forever.  Then it develops into a hard rockin’ song that could have been on Fear of a Blank Planet.  It changes time more than once and features heavy Hammond organ with Deep Purple vibes.  Again, that National Health reference is here, with piano and flute exchanging leads. This is the most jazz that Wilson has incorporated into a whole album thus far.  I think too that this song really creates the dividing line between his PT stuff and his solo recordings. The song ends with eerie tones and his haunting voice floating away.

“The Pin Drop”, at 5 minutes, has a real Radiohead vibe to it.  Harmony vocals blend with Travis’ blazing sax until gentle guitar playing background to vocals and an interesting pulsing. I also think that early Ambrosia is in there too, especially from “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled”.

“The Watchmaker” at almost 12 minutes is a beautiful suite.  It begins with dreamy folk music guitar.  And then for me, it moves along in a Genesis way, slowly adding layers of melody, Yes-like bass and finally becoming a bit metal sounding for the last couple of minutes with grinding guitar and explosive drumming to finish; Endos might be a reference point too.

“The Raven that Refused to Sing”,  at nearly 8 minutes, is a soft lament compared to the other pieces before it.  It is the longest of the stories in the book.  With quiet piano and gentle guitars it is quite mournful and emotional.  There is something very personal going on here, beyond the fact that it is a solo record.  As I listened to the album a second time, I couldn’t help but wonder if Steven Wilson was letting us in to some of his deepest emotional places.  And that, in the end, makes this the most special record of his career to these ears.
The set comes with a second disc, labeled Demos, which is an alternate take on the album with an additional unused song.  Wilson does most of the guitar work himself here, and this “rehearsal” disc could stand as the main release too.  Not as rich in instrumentation, my overall feeling was that the drumming was a bit more aggressive and the overall playing a little looser. My point here is that it is not a throwaway extra but a great album too.

The BluRay and DVD are identical, except for one thing.  On the BluRay, there is an additional choice for Master Audio in 5.1.  This particular choice is better than any other 5.1 mix offered in this package, though all the 5.1 versions are amazing.  The breakdown of each instrument is clear and precise and the sound moves around you as good as any surround I’ve heard.  Steven Wilson has made his name by being the 5.1 guru these days and this is no exception.  Besides the album, there are also two picture galleries, one of the book artwork and another featuring stills during the recording process.  Then there is a “making of” documentary, filmed by long-time collaborator Lasse Hoile.  The album was recorded in one week, by the way.  Not surprising with the brilliant artists associated with this project.

So there you have it.  Whichever way you decide to listen to this album, you will not be disappointed.  The Raven that Refused to Sing and other stories is a masterwork in song, musicianship and just plain craft.  It is a journey worth taking and is worth many repeated listens.

Here is the link to Steven Wilson’s site.  And I would recommend that you watch the illustrated video of the title track while you listen to beautiful music that, needless to say from my perspective, is pretty hard to beat these days.

Release Date:  February 26, 2013

–Bob Metcalf

Review: A Life Within A Day – Squackett

In case you don’t know, Squackett is Chris Squire of Yes, and Steve Hackett of Genesis (and a solid body of solo work, including some awesome Classical works).  When I first heard about this, my head swam with the possibilities of this being, at long last, something I could really get excited about with Chris Squire.  Recent Yes has been, to these ears at least, enjoyable but didn’t really grab me.  After all, works such as Fragile, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Relayer are classics of the Progressive genre and some of the finest Rock albums ever made.

Squire’s Fish Out of Water (1975) is a masterpiece and must be heard!  Steve Hackett’s guitar from his Genesis days still amazes.  His solo work, particularly Spectral Mornings, are also classics of Progressive Rock and, dare I say it again, must be heard!

So now that I have given you my reasons for my high expectations, let’s get down to business.  If you were expecting early Genesis or Yes or any permutations of those two great bands there are definitely some entries, but that is not what this entire LP is all about.  “A Life Within a Day” can sit squarely in the ranks of FM radio songs.  Proggy at times, heavy occasionally, but all in all, this is a listen that is smooth, careful, and technically brilliant commercial songwriting front and centre.  I couldn’t help thinking of the more adventurous outings of Alan Parsons actually.

If you like a couple of seasoned guys taking some risks and writing and playing what they want then you might really dig this.  Most of the songs feature great harmony vocals in the vein of Crosby Stills and Nash, Pilot, or Hollies.  And all of the songs feature some great guitar, both acoustic and electric, and of course, awesome bass lines.  Keyboards are handled by producer Roger King and drums by Jeremy Stacey.  Backing vocals are provided by Amanda Lehmann.  On to the songs:

  • A Life Within a Day – with a heavy riff right out of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, this title track allows the boys to do some fun playing with that pounding back beat.
  • Tall Ships – changes course (pun intended) here with a funky rhythm that has World Music elements.
  • Divided Self – a Hollies-sounding song with Brian Wilson/Beach Boys elements.
  • Aliens – could have been on Pilot’s Morin Heights album – a bit quirky and clever.
  • Sea of Smiles – The first real Steve Hackett-sounding track – definitely belongs on his solo albums, very open and spacious.
  • The Summer Backwards – The first truly Yes-sounding track, perhaps The Yes Album period, with an interesting acoustic melody part that reminded me of The Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy).
  • Stormchaser – back to heavier riffing, this belongs with the Trevor Rabin- era Yes to start, but then gets into King Crimson Starless territory; an interesting blend of styles. Probably the heaviest guitar solo of the LP can be found here.
  • Can’t Stop the Rain – A ballad that would fit into Chicago V with Steely Dan-style riffing.
  • Perfect Love Song – attached to the previous song, this ends the album with more amazing guitar.

Even the heavier parts are controlled, if you know what I mean.  So nothing is really going to bite your head off or make you play air guitar (okay, maybe in a couple of places).  But the changes from song to song, the great vocals, the sometimes-quirky lyrics (see Aliens) – all have their charm and make this a real winner.  I admire that they did an album like this; a nice change for them and a way for us to hear something, in part at least, different from their previous work.  The album is about 48 minutes – making it a perfect length for the kind of LP they created here.

My CD came with a DVD in 5.1 surround, mixed by Roger King.  The sound is awesome, in your face, giving the album a lift.  I prefer my music in stereo, but I have to admit I think this really is a job well done.  Either way, you can’t go wrong with the recording.  I do recommend this LP with a caution – it ain’t early Yes or Genesis.  I would strongly advise hearing samples before taking the plunge.

Visit!

Release Date: June 4, 2012

–Bob Metcalf

Review: Lark’s Tongues In Aspic (40th Anniversary) – King Crimson

At long last, the newest remix/remaster of this classic album is here!  Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp worked together on a fabulous new mix of the original album and it has exceeded all my quite high expectations.  To cut to the chase, if you are a fan of King Crimson and you were wondering if you should purchase yet another version of this classic album, the answer is you must!  Maybe there is something in the water in 2012 but I have been extremely happy with many of the reissues so far this year and this has to be in my top two or three for sure.  Of course, Thick as a Brick is on its way to me as I write this, so who knows what’s in store, but let’s carry on with this release.

About the new stereo mix:

Hold on to your hats, because the sound is so clear, warm, true, and the detail so precise, that you think that the band is in your listening room with you, I kid you not.  If you are familiar with the album, you know that it can go from whispering percussion, barely audible in the mix, to crunching guitars and bass reminiscent of something Opeth does today.  And all of this is captured so beautifully in exquisite detail.  It is hard to believe we are talking about a recording made in 1973.  In the same way that Wilson brought new life to the recent remixes of Aqualung and the ELPs, Larks’ has been done with the same loving care and you will be thrilled by the results.  Wilson says in the liner notes that he tweaked enough just to give it a bit more punch and that is an understatement!  I can’t see this ever being any better than it is in this edition.

About the 5.1 mix:

Okay, so I was wrong about this ever being any better – this is even more amazing!  Regular readers might recall that I am not in love with 5.1 mixes of my favourite albums.  Nothing against them, but I can give them a pass in favour of stereo.  This surround mix could certainly change my mind.  By increasing space between Jamie Muir’s percussion and Bill Bruford’s drums, the detail that it brings astounded me.  Never mind that the bass and violin are more pronounced, but you hear, perhaps for the first time, the intricacies of Fripp’s playing in more detail than I can ever remember.  In much the same way that a good Classical recording lets you experience the intimacy of the bow on strings, this recording lets you into the inner circle of the musicians like never before.

The extras:

On the CD, you get alternate versions of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part 1)”, “Book of Saturday”, and “The Talking Drum”.  They have placed a decent pause between the final rack of the album proper and these extra tracks – nicely done and more releases should do the same. These tracks are also well mixed and are worth at least one go.

Besides the 5.1 mix, the DVD also contains a lossless stereo mix, the 30th Anniversary mix and an alternate 5.1 mix of the entire album. You also get four videos, three live in the studio and one from German TV. The performances are one long improvisation, Exiles, and two versions of “Larks’ Tongues… (Part 1)”.

I can highly recommend this set.  I hope that with all his other commitments that Steven Wilson will carry on with the rest of the KC catalogue.

Release Date: November 27, 2012 (US)

–Bob Metcalf