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Staff Picks Category: Rock music

Sensation: The Story of Tommy []

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I first heard the Who’s Tommy as a teen or pre-teen after borrowing a copy from the Russell Library in Middletown, CT. That’s really the age to delve into both the angst and sensitivity of the Who… in fact, it’s the best time to explore music in general as that feeling of the world opening up to you begins. What followed this library trip was a huge Who obsession and, after the realization that Pete Townshend and I share a birthday, I was convinced there was some sort of connection between myself and the music. I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenager who felt this way.

Martin R. Smith’s documentary doesn’t focus on the stellar musicianship of the band (that coverage can be found anywhere… I mean, listen to a Who album!); rather, it leads the viewer through Tommy‘s high concepts and tells the story of a band in a state of transition. It is evident we have a “pre” & “post”-Tommy Who for the history books. Tommy, an album many consider as the first “rock opera”, legitimized Pete Townshend as a true composer, gave Roger Daltry the confidence to stand out front as the powerful lead singer (often in fringe), took the Who to opera houses around the world and turned the band into a stadium rock monster.

The film features interviews with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltry, John Entwhistle (archival), Keith Moon (archival), former Who manager Chris Stamp, Tommy album artist Mike McInnerney, Who biographers and a couple Rolling Stone Magazine nerds. It also has audio recordings of Townshend demos and several live performance clips.

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Made In California by The Beach Boys []

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Wow.

New paragraph: this Beach Boys box is something to behold. Set up like a high school yearbook with large glossy photographs, interviews, articles and fake advertisements, Made In California is a thing of beauty. We flip to the last page and we see six cds filled to the max with hits, album cuts, rarities, outtakes and live versions. The set commemorates 50 years of Beach Boysdom from Brian’s “Surfin’” demo right up to their 2012 single “That’s Why God Made the Radio”.

Made In California has enough newly unearthed material for completests, music scholars and other varying degrees of nerd. It is also consistent in high standards so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming for someone who is just discovering that this group isn’t a band that only sings about surfing and cars. You need not have to comb through sub-par tracks.

Obviously, the genius Brian Wilson is at the forefront of the productions here. We truly realize how special the body of work he had produced and see the heights of creative genius and musical innovation. Wilson can safely be put alongside Gershwin, Copland and Ellington in the Hall of Great American Composers (this building does not exist). His baby brothers shine as well; Dennis, the drummer/rebellious middle child, is represented with a multitude of brilliant heart-aching ballads (mostly unreleased until now) and Carl, the finest singer of the lot, is clearly the soul of the Beach Boys. The latter comment becomes evident as you make your way through the recordings… trust me on this.

If you’re familiar with their catalog, look out these newly issued gems “Sail Plane Song”, “Sound of Free”, “California Feelin’”, “You’re Still A Mystery” and “Where Is She?”. For those unfamiliar to the Beach Boys, how I envy you to be able to experience hearing this wonderful music for the first time.

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The Third Eye Centre by Belle & Sebastian []

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The Scottish pop group Belle & Sebastian are rather prolific. Along with releasing several albums over the course of their nearly two decade career, the band has also put out several ep’s (i.e. short albums) and non-album track singles. The compilation The Third Eye Centre gathers up interesting ep tracks and b-sides spanning 2003 to 2010.

In this collection, we see the wide range of influence and also the musical versatility Belle & Sebastian possesses. They bounce from perfect pop song to ballad to Bossa Nova to disco to country & western and then back to perfect pop song again.

Singer/songwriters Stuart Murdoch, Stevie Jackson and Sarah Martin provide backstory forall of the tracks in the beautiful attached booklet with this small boxed set. It’s baffling that songs such as “Last Trip”, “Long Black Scarf” or “Blues Eyes of a Millionaire” were cast aside and not included on the band’s albums from the 2000’s. The Third Eye Centre is a really fun, diverse collection that has also enough consistency to make it work as a proper album.

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Longtime Companion by Sonny & the Sunsets []

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Step one after a break up is to write and record a country album. San Francisco native Sonny Smith has followed this guide, only he’s unexpectedly added a little bounce, shuffle and humor. I saw Sonny & the Sunsets on the Longtime Companion tour at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA and he played a number of songs from this record alongside his usual catchy, sometimes surfy, melodic fair. He also took off his pants.

Smith’s deadpan delivery over the groovy “I See the Void” had me sold on his version of country music. He and the Sunsets played a mini set of their hip take of twang with nods to Buck Owens, The Flying Burrito Brothers (the self-titled number takes me to that “Hot Burrito no. 2″ place with steady soul bass over a simple chord change) and even a little Beachwood Sparks.

For a record dealing with heartbreak and separation, Sonny & the Sunsets offer the listener an enjoyable experience and while forging new ground within a classic genre.

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Bobby Charles by Bobby Charles []

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No album better represents the sound of a bunch of guys hanging out, having good times and recording music than Bobby Charles’s  self-titled album.  Charles, celebrated for writing “See You Later Alligator” for Bill Haley and “Walking To New Orleans” for Fats Domino, found himself relaxing with The Band in Woodstock, New York in ’71.  The circumstances for his east coast residence have something to do with a divorce and hiding out from a Nashville marijuana bust.
The Band (with Dr. John in tow) back Charles through a set of lazy melodies with New Orleans influence and a loose, country bounce.  With this all-star line-up, it’s really not a shocker that the backing is as cool as can be.  However, it’s Charles’s voice that shines brightest.  There is a exceptional fullness and soul in each word that Charles projects and yet he sometimes gives the listener the impression that he’s singing softly, almost narrating a local tale.
The feeling of living out in the country, slowing down and finding peace are intertwining themes throughout Bobby Charles.  On “Small Town Talk”, after a whistled intro, Charles croons “and it’s small town talk, you know how people are/they can’t stand to see someone else doing what they want to”.  “Tennessee Blues”, the album’s closer, is also no exception to this sensibility.  The song is so perfect and timeless, one might imagine Charles ripped it from a book of standards at least 25 years earlier.  With one of my all time favorite vocal performances (Doug Sahm’s version is definitely worth hearing as well), Charles sings:
Find me a spot on some mountain top
With lakes all around me
With valley and streams and birds in the trees
And lakes that surround me
A place I feel loose
A place I could lose these Tennessee Blues

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Dr. John Teaches New Orleans Piano []

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I didn’t learn to play New Orleans style piano watching this DVD. You might, if you are already a competent pianist, or simply more patient than I am, but this is a rewarding movie whether you intend to become rock and roll pianist or not. Dr. John is an amazing musician; when he plays it looks easy, but just try following along at the piano!

Dr. John looks relaxed (though often worried, as if something else is on his mind). At times he hardly seems to move—but the piano keys move, quickly, and in syncopation, and the music is wonderful. He plays Frankie and Johnnie, C. C. Rider, Blueberry Hill, and others, playing each in some flavor of the New Orleans Rock and Roll, Fats Domino inspired, playing for which he is known. We are given an overhead view of the piano keyboard, as well as a more conventional angle from the side, which lets you really appreciate the fluidity with which the Doctor plays, and is invaluable if you want to try playing his licks yourself. He breaks many of the tunes down, playing the left hand or right hand parts separately, slowing down the tempo, or demonstrating alternative turn around and improvisations. He discusses what riffs are easiest when accompanying your own voice, and briefly describes the interaction between the pianist and the other members of the band.

I really enjoyed this DVD. In fact, I think I’ll probably revisit it in a few months—after I’ve practiced the piano a bit more!

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The Rolling Stones: All 6 Ed Sullivan Shows []

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Recently added to the steadily-growing Forbes DVD collection is this wonderful 2 disc set I recently checked out. It has all of the Rolling Stones appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. From black and white to color television shows, the quality is the best I’ve seen so far and to watch the musical performances was a treat. An added feature is being able to select single acts or watch the complete show (vintage commercials included). Seeing early Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield AND Tom Jones all on one evening’s show was a fun experience for me.

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Talking heads Chronology []

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An official retrospective DVD compilation of rare footage and performances from throughout the Talking Heads illustrious career. The footage spans chronologically from mic tests and rough 1976 black and white footage of the band in NYC to television and festival performances during the height of their fame in the early 80’s. As the quality of the footage improves, the band becomes tighter and more assured, adding members until it culminates in the art-house funk monster period of Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. This development and gradual expansion of the band in style and number mirrors the sequences of Stop Making Sense, the bands epic masterpiece concert film, but also allows a rare live glimpse of the late 70’s Heads whose angular tightly structured charm was just as innovative for its time as their later afro-cuban funk explorations. Talking Heads fans have waited for years without any significant “archived material” from the band and few releases outside of greatest hits compilations, and this release provides the perfect companion to Jonathan Demme’s 1983 concert film. The DVD is bound within a book with some great photographs of the band and extensive liner notes by Lester Bangs, who lets loose with his usual unrestrained hyperbolic blurt.

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Wild Flag by Wild Flag []

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Dear Reader,
I would never lie to you.  And when I say to you that I like to rock, I hope you understand that what I am saying is an absolute truth.  Wild Flag’s self-titled debut album is what rock n’ roll ought to be: loud, fast, played live and without a lot of fuss.  This supergroup features ex-members of Sleater-Kinney, The Minders and Helium.  What stands out most to me musically is Carrie Brownstein’s (of Portlandia fame) blistering riffs, the spirited drums fills of Janet Weiss and the harmony sound the four vocalists create.  The stellar musicianship of this bassless, garage rock quartet often propels these excellent songs into uncharted territory.
Just a couple examples for you… The lead off track “Romance” has some reverbed out surf overtones and a chorus that can’t help getting stuck in your head.  On “Glass Tambourine”, the group certainly draws from the Nuggets archives, but then moves into a spaced out heavy jam that the late Jimi Hendrix would certainly appreciate.
I love this album and that’s a fact!
Sincerely,
-JSM
P.S. Please enjoy this music video directed by Tom Scharpling.

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The Glasgow School by Orange Juice []

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File this one under “neglected”.

Due to odd sizes of items, value, age, et cetera, we sometimes have material here at Forbes that lacks a certain “browseability” or just isn’t given an ideal sight line.  The Glasgow School certainly falls somewher under this category.  This cd, filed with our boxed sets because of its book bound style case, may be a little off the radar for our casual music browser.

Orange Juice, fronted by Edwyn Collins, was a group that successfully meshed clever, highly literary lyrics with danceable musical accompaniment.  The songs on The Glasgow School collects the band’s first singles and outtakes.  These sessions sound more rough around the edges than the slicker produced records that followed.  Collins’ romantic, baritone voice handles the majority of the lead singing with James Kirk interjecting some gems here and there (Kirk would leave OJ after the release of the classic full length debut You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever).

Here we have inspired music from Scotland at the start of the 80’s representing the lighter side of the post-punk era.  Lyrically, they match wits with the best.  Collins laments in Blue Boy “Oh curse and bless him with the gabardine which surrounds him/See him writhe at the sight of your eyes which repel him”.  Their lasting influence is easily heard throughout the catalogs of the Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and hopefully, if people can find Orange Juice, many more musicians to come.

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Let’s Spend the Night Together by Hal Ashby []

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I remember watching the Rolling Stones in Let’s Spend the Night Together a few times on television when I was in high school.  I know this sounds unbelievable, but VH1 used to show concert films and was actually a music station back in the day.  Maybe I couldn’t get behind the 1981 renditions of the classic 60’s tunes at the time or was distracted by Mick Jagger’s football tights … truth is, I didn’t really dig the concert film when I first watched it.
Fast forward to last night.  I popped in this dvd for nostalgia sake and wound up really enjoying myself.  The performances are unbelievable!  In addition, I made the statement to my friend who was sitting next to me on the sofa that “this just might be the best Stones concert film ever.”
The boys barrel through 24 songs in under 90 minutes with the right blend of machismo and camp that we expect from the band.  Despite playing a huge stadium, they’re very, very loose with unexpected bendy guitar riffs distributed throughout by Ron and Keith , jazzy drum fills care of Mr. Watts and Mick’s wild singing.  If you look close enough, you may even see a smile on Bill Wyman’s face, too.  Some of the older songs appear to be unrehearsed to a certain extent while more recent cuts from Tattoo You, Emotional Rescue and Some Girls are played tight like a classic rhythm and blues review.  We’re also treated to a bonus keyboard section featuring Ian McLagan (of the Small Faces & Faces fame) sitting behind the organ and classic stones session man Ian Stewart on piano.
It’s also important to note that a serious filmmaker was on staff for Let’s Spend the Night Together.  Hal Ashby, whose credits include Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Being There and many other fantastic titles, directed the film.  It’s always interesting to see the difference between a standard concert film and one that was overseen by a true artist.  Martin Scorsese’s work on the Last Waltz and D.A. Pennebaker’s Montery Pop are other excellent examples.  They tend to spend more time with the performers and not make pointless quick cuts.  There is something to be said in what these filmmakers find interesting and insist the audience see on stage.
The real lesson learned however is that it doesn’t hurt to revisit films you may not have enjoyed at one stage in your life.  You never know in what direction your taste may take you.

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New Morning by Bob Dylan []

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The late 1960’s early/ 70’s happens to be a great period for Bob Dylan, thank you for asking. Nashville Skyline, the Basement Tapes, Self Portrait (though many have said I’m crazy for admitting I like this one), Pat Garret & Billy the Kid are the albums I return to the most within this artist’s prolific catalog. 1970’s New Morning may be the most enjoyable listen from this period.

The album kicks off with the pining romance gesture that is “If Not For You”. The song has an almost Velvet Underground pulse juxtaposed with bouncy organ and country guitar picking. George Harrison would record his version the following year on his album All Things Must Pass. The bluesy and rock n’ roll sounds predictably find their way onto this record. There’s also lighthearted moments in “Winterlude” where Bob croons “this dude thinks your fine” and in the silly jazz rap “If Dogs Run Free” featuring a barrelhouse piano send up at the top of the song.

Dylan’s voice and delivery began to shift around 1968. He lost a bit of the raspy quality that his earlier recordings possessed and started leaning a bit on the softer side in his vocals. This is not to say he’s taking a casual approach to his singing; Dylan is most noticeably passionate on the title track, “Day of the Locusts” and “the Man in Me” (featured in the soundtrack of the Big Lebowski).

New Morning is just another one of those perfect Bob Dylan records.

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