The Trick Is To Keep Going

Archive for July, 2009

Neil Young’s North Country

by on Jul.30, 2009, under Music

The final music disc in Neil Young’s DVD Archive Box Set deals with the time surrounding the release of Harvest, his most successful album commercially. This is the record that inspired Young’s famous — or perhaps infamous — quote after the record’s success about him deciding to musically stay in the middle of the road or drive into a ditch.

neil-young-north-countryBy Young’s account he drove into the ditch and stayed away from the mainstream. That might be a little overstated. He’s had artistic and commercial successes since during his long and buoyant career and some were planted firmly in the mainstream.

But it is arguable if Harvest was really a mainstream record per se. It was if you’re only measure is commercial success. But in any era or in fact any time frame, Harvest is a perfect album at a perfect time, a synthesis of accessible songs combined with artistically uncompromising ones, ranging from acoustic and electric country-rock to hard rocking fare that struck at the right moment of the singer-songwriter era of the early 1970s.

The disc includes songs from Harvest, inexplicably not all of them, and a bit more musically. It also contains the most video content of the entire set — at least in my searching — either hidden on the Timeline or tucked neatly under the main menu of songs in the Video Log. And it’s all very interesting and fascinating. (continue reading…)

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Hillman, Pedersen perfect sidekicks

by on Jul.26, 2009, under Music

Chris Hillman became a country star as leader of The Desert Rose Band in the 1980s. Before that he had a reputation as being the ultimate sidekick.

chris-hillman-herb-pedersen-in-concert-1-smallFirst to Roger McGuinn and David Crosby in The Byrds, then to Gram Parsons in the seminal country-rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers and to Stephen Stills in Manassas. Now he has his own sidekick. Or rather Hillman and Herb Pedersen are sidekicks for each other.

They’ve been playing together since Desert Rose and are on tour as a duo with Hillman mostly on mandolin and Pedersen acoustic guitar. At their stop Thursday at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass., they displayed consumate muscianship as they ran through a set of each other’s songs, Byrds tunes and classic country numbers.

What really sets this pair apart, though, is their beautiful vocal blend. Their voices mesh so well it’s like hearing one voice in perfect harmony. Pedersen has long been known as an excellent harmony singer, going back to Emmylou Harris’ breakthrough country hit in 1974 If I Could Ever Win Your Love, which Hillman and Pedersen performed second in their set.

Hillman and Pedersen have a wonderful rapport on stage and play it fast and loose, as Hillman said early in the set, they have a list of songs but don’t follow a setlist and play what they want to play. (continue reading…)

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Farnham’s fresh take on solo artistry

by on Jul.23, 2009, under Music

A few weeks back on a Friday night, I randomly decided to take a ride over to Border’s in Meriden to browse the books and the store’s ever-shrinking CD collection.

kala-farnham-epFrom the moment I walked in I was struck by the sound of a young woman’s voice. She was set up in the cafe playing solo, accompanying herself on a Yamaha electric piano. As I walked around I kept being drawn to the woman’s accomplished classical-leaning playing and her smooth, proficient and captivating vocals.

Finally I walked to the back of the cafe, sat on the window ledge and listened to the rest of her set. The character of her voice was pleasing and compelling. And her songs were something else.

I was so impressed I bought Kala Farnham’s seven-song EP, Raincloud, and have been listening to it since. In some ways her music is a throwback to the singer/songwriter era of the early 1970s. Her classically-oriented playing reminds one briefly of Joni Mitchell, but the style, composition and melodic structure of her songs are clearly Farnham’s own.

At first the CD didn’t seem to quite capture the impact she made live for me. But after repeated listenings and growing more familiar with her material, the EP started making its mark. It proves a strong showcase for Farnham’s talents. (continue reading…)

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Electrified Levon

by on Jul.20, 2009, under Music

Two years ago, Levon Helm, legendary singer and drummer for The Band, released his first solo album in 25 years, Dirt Farmer. A bluegrass leaning record with elements of country, blues and R&B, it brought Helm back in a big way after his bout with cancer of the vocal cords in the early 2000s.

levon-helm-electric-dirtHis voice had changed somewhat but the trademark quality that graced so many of The Band’s signature tunes was intact with a slightly raspier flavor.

Now Helm has followed up the Grammy winner with Electric Dirt, on which he comes a little closer to the style of The Band while retaining his own musical identity. With the help of extraordinary guitarist/producer Larry Campbell, who among many other projects has played with Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour band, Helm’s daughter Amy of Olabelle and a host of other distinguished musicians, Helm has shaped a rocking, bluesy, down home sounding record that is about as earthy as it gets when it comes to roots music.

There are tracks as good but none better than the opener Tennessee Jed, a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter tune, on which Campbell plays an infectious slide riff in answer to Helm’s vocal. It’s augmented by a full horn section that includes Howard Johnson on tuba. An easy rocking groove makes this a song you can’t sit still to. (continue reading…)

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Rosanne Cash and The List

by on Jul.16, 2009, under Music

It’s not common that a gifted songwriter is also an excellent interpreter of other’s songs. Sure, many of our great songwriters will occasionally record cover versions and quite well, but few do it on a consistently wide-ranging basis and do it with few peers.

rcash-w-guitarRosanne Cash does that, perhaps as well or better than anybody. At the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut Tuesday night, Cash mixed songs from Black Cadillac, an album dedicated to her late father Johnny Cash, and a few requests with songs from her upcoming album The List, which will consist of some of the pillars of the great American country songbook.

As Rosanne tells it they come from a list her father gave her. When she graduated from high school in 1973, she went on tour with Johnny Cash, and when he asked her if she was familiar with a particular country song and she said no, he asked about another. When she couldn’t identify three he named, he said that’s it and made a list of 100 country songs for her to learn as her musical education. (continue reading…)

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Illness postpones Taylor’s tour

by on Jul.14, 2009, under Music

Here in the Northeast this summer, we were going to be lucky enough to see the outstanding blues-rock guitarist Mick Taylor on a small club tour.

mick-taylor-live-11He rarely plays in the States but Taylor was scheduled to be at four venues in or near Connecticut: Toad’s Place in New Haven, Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass., or if you wanted to drive a little further, Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, R.I.

Unfortunately according to a release from his manager that is posted at Black-Eyed Sally’s, Taylor has been hospitalized with a blood clot in his chest and pleurisy. It appears what was suspected as dehydration is a bit more serious. He has canceled all of his U.S. gigs, but his manager is eager to reschedule in the fall after Taylor’s recovery, which is expected.

Taylor, of course, is best known for having replaced Brian Jones on second guitar in The Rolling Stones. He played with the superstar group in the late ’60s and early ’70s and was part of one of the Stones’ most creative and productive eras, which included the albums Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out (live), Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. For me, probably their last truly creative and productive period. (continue reading…)

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The Beehive Queen

by on Jul.12, 2009, under Music

I’ve known Chris Ohlman for more than 40 years, but unfortunately have only seen her perform a handful of times. And some of those were when we were on the same bill in different groups at charity events.

cohlman-w-colbath-smallI caught The Beehive Queen and her remarkable band Rebel Montez Saturday night at Cafe Nine, a tiny club that might hold 200, in New Haven, Connecticut. Chris showed why she is one of the state’s legendary R&B/soul singers as I watched her play the first of two 90-minute sets that included original tunes from each of her five albums and a number of meticulously chosen covers that not only put her vast talents on full display but also carried a sense of blues and soul history.

One of the first groups Chris sang with in the late ’60s was called Fancy, which included her brother Vic Steffens and was based out of Wallingford, CT at Syncron Studios, later Trod Nossel, managed by Doc Cavalier.  In the ’70s, she fronted the ultra popular and ultra hot regional act The Scratch Band, which also featured G.E. Smith, later a leader of the Saturday Night Live Band, and bassist Paul Ossola, also with SNL. Chris as well has been a singer with the SNL Band since the early ’90s. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 7: Jethro Tull

by on Jul.08, 2009, under Music

In 1969 and 1970 I saw Jethro Tull in concert three times. Looking back on the first show, the venue seems so unlikely given their later worldwide success. It was in a small club under a Pegnataro’s Supermarket just off the highway in downtown New Haven, Connecticut.

jethro-tull-stone-balloon-smallThe place was called The Stone Balloon and was fashioned directly after the Cafe Au Go Go in New York. It was a long, narrow room with a low ceiling. Tables and chairs took up most of the audience area in front of a small stage on the right-hand side wall toward the front half of the room. Unlike the Au Go Go it was brightly lit between sets. The Au Go Go was always like a cave.

They served no alcoholic beverages, just fruit drinks, soda and snacks, again much like the Au Go Go. Still, this club had an amazing array of talent pass through it in what I believe was perhaps about a year of being in business. We saw John Hammond, Taj Mahal and his band with Jesse Ed Davis as well as Tull, and others such as Neil Young & Crazy Horse passed through. (continue reading…)

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Woodstock Extras

by on Jul.05, 2009, under Music

It couldn’t have been more than two hours after writing Woodstock revisited and stating it was unlikely I would be purchasing the latest re-release of the rock festival that I walked into Costco and found a copy of the 40th anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition at a price I wasn’t expecting. So low, that is. Of course, I picked it up and bought it.

woodstock-extras-discMy main interest was not in the Director’s Cut, which I had bought back in the early ’90s, but in the Extras disc, Woodstock: Untold Stories. It includes about three hours of material with nearly 150 minutes of previously unreleased performances, the rest consisting of documentary video segments.

The inclusion of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was the main attraction for me, despite the band performing only one song, but the disc also includes The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Joe Cocker and first-time appearances on a Woodstock disc by Johnny Winter and Creedence Clearwater Rivival.

The viewer will have to sit through a somewhat painful first half of the disc though to get to the good bits. That may affect your decision on buying the set at all. You can skip over most of that of course, but it does reduce the portion of the footage that will draw you back for repeated viewings. (continue reading…)

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Neil and Macca

by on Jul.02, 2009, under Music

Speaking of The Beatles. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video below, which is a combination of the sublime and the surreal.

Paul McCartney joined Neil Young onstage at his concert in Hyde Park, London, a few days ago for Young’s closing number, The Beatles’ A Day In The Life. McCartney joins in mid-song to pick up the singing on the bit he wrote of The Beatles classic from Sgt. Pepper’s, a song with which Young evidently has been closing recent shows.

The sometimes ragged collaboration finishes with Young literally ripping the strings off his Les Paul and then joining Macca at the vibraphone for a little one-note finale or something like that.

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