Archive for June, 2012
Tucked away in the Blu-Ray/DVD Deluxe Edition of Martin Scorcese’s Living In The Material World, a biopic on Beatle George Harrison, is a 10-track CD made up of acoustic renderings and some early takes of Harrison songs, some of which run through the feature film.
The collection has also been released as a single CD or on vinyl, and is appropriately titled Early Takes Volume 1. The 1 teases at possible subsequent releases in what is presumed to be a series. That’s not guaranteed but has been indicated by Harrison’s widow, Olivia.
This set is nothing short of wonderful. A nice glimpse into George’s world, where he is in the early stages of getting songs down on tape, either purely with acoustic guitar and vocal or with a small backing band. Some of these tunes are so familiar to the Harrison fan that the many instrumental parts we’re all familiar with on songs such as My Sweet Lord, Awaiting On You All and All Things Must Pass, for instance, run through your mind in the background even while listening to the demo versions.
But it’s nice to hear the songs in their raw state. The listener gets a greater appreciation for the singer and the song. And in some cases those bombastic Phil Spector-produced tracks are improved upon in a more primal form.
There are some delightful covers as well, one of Bob Dylan’s Mama You’ve Been On My Mind and the classic early ’60s Everly Brothers ballad Let It Be Me. On Let It Be Me, Harrison delivers simple acoustic guitar accompaniment to his lead and harmony vocal tracks. One of the few times, if ever, Harrison sang a harmony part to himself on tape. The effect is beautiful on this gorgeous melody.
The only other listed musician on the album in Jonathan Clyde on mouth harp for the bluesy Harrison original Woman Don’t You Cry For Me from his solo album 33 1/3. (continue reading…)
Recently a tepid review of Roberta Flack’s latest offering put me off a bit on checking it out right away. But I thought to myself that Flack covering The Beatles sounded refreshing and intriguing. She is one of our great song interpreters and the album had to be worth a listen, no? What have I ever heard by Roberta Flack that I didn’t like?
I came across it in my local library and immediately scooped it up. I’m glad I did. Let It Be Roberta – Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles is a wonderfully inventive, imaginative approach to classic tunes many of us have grown up with. And why wouldn’t it be? This is what Flack does – brings her own special style and creativity to songwriters’ material.
With the help of a number of producers, but mainly the remarkably talented Sharrod Barnes, Flack has produced a poignant and mesmerizing set breathing yet new life into these standards. Her voice is alternately as delicate and as fiery as it ever has been and her way with a melody is, as always, rarely rivaled.
She takes In My Life, a Lennon tune from Rubber Soul, and gives it a Latin samba feel, infused with a middle eastern opening and repeating riff, while playing with the melody in various combinations, making it her own. McCartney’s Hey Jude is a stripped down acoustic folk number in contrast to the choral tour de force it becomes in The Beatles’ hands.
We Can Work It Out has a moderate R&B feel, while Let It Be retains its gospel roots but features a seering guitar solo by Barnes that stands in stark contrast to the original. Not necessarily better, but just as valid. Her bluesy take on Oh Darling places this ’50s style rocker in a new light and features another hot guitar solo, this time from Dean Brown. The Long And Winding Road, which employs a novel electric sitar in the backing, features a soulful duet vocal with Barnes, a form long associated with Flack for her stellar collaborations with Donny Hathaway.
The only misfires and they are slight are the dance house treatment of I Should Have Known Better and a quirky rhythmic feel to And I Love Her, though her vocal treatment on each is still exquisite. As it is on If I Fell, another that becomes Flack’s own as she weaves her way through the melody in myriad variations. On Come Together she almost sounds child-like and her inclusion of the Harrison tune Isn’t It A Pity is inspired, the only song from a Beatles solo album. Although in truth it was demoed for The White Album.
The set ends with a beautiful live version from 1972 of Revolver’s Here, There And Everywhere.
Not enough can be said about Barnes’ production and particularly the arrangements, which are all inspired and effective.
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Roberta Flack album. I’m glad I picked this one up. One of my favorites from this year’s releases.