The Trick Is To Keep Going

Tag: Leon Russell

The Best of 2010

by on Jan.06, 2011, under Music

Here’s my Top 10 for the past year along with a few bonus selections and various related categories:

Elton John Leon Russell The Union1. The Union, Elton John & Leon Russell: A collaboration made in heaven and one wonders why it took so long for these two to get together. The record brings out their similarities, differences and a wonderful melding of their talents with some of their best songwriting in years. A truly inspirational collection.

2. Band Of Joy, Robert Plant: Another entry on the road of Americana from the transplanted Led Zeppelin lead man. Almost every bit as good as The Union with interesting and well-executed covers as only Plant has been able to deliver in recent years.

3. I’m New Here, Gil Scott-Heron: 28 minutes of bliss from the commander of narrative R&B. Scott-Heron is still here and as relevant as ever.

4. San Patricio, The Chieftains with Ry Cooder: A mythical adventure, cloaked in reality, that brings together Mexican, Celtic and American blues and country into one steaming pot of influences.

5. Tears, Lies & Alibis, Shelby Lynne: Stripped-down Shelby Lynne and she greatly benefits from the sparse arrangements putting the emphasis on her singing and songwriting.

6. Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom: It took a while to warm to this unusual songwriter with the reedy, young girl voice but this triple album is captivating and expressive.

7. The Stanley Clarke Band, Stanley Clarke: A bass hero for the ages re-engages with his jazz-rock roots on new and revisited material with a sympathetic and proficient group of musicians.

Esperanza Spalding Chamber Music Cover8. Chamber Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: One of the most unusual and ultimately satisfying collection of songs from a performer/composer who continually surprises and delivers.

9. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled): Fourth outing from a group with all the signs of breaking out big-time and it appears they’re finally starting to catch on in a bigger way.

10 Naked Honest, Kala Farnham: Honest, heartfelt, poignant lyricism backed with prodigious keyboard chops and crystal clear vocal styling from this rising solo artist. (continue reading…)

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Leon lights up the Infinity

by on Dec.09, 2010, under Music

I couldn’t resist putting this video of Leon Russell from 1971 on top of a piece that actually is about a recent show Leon played at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut.

This show was taped in Los Angeles with his Shelter People band and a bunch of hippies in attendance dancing, listening and even preparing food, a very relaxed atmosphere. The song is one of the great rock ballads of all time, A Song For You.

His performance is masterful, the song is melodically beautiful and the lyrics poignant and penetrating. One of the great lyric ballads. There is another performance at the end of this piece of more recent vintage, same song. You’ll see Leon hasn’t lost much. To testify to that, he put on a brilliant show at the Infinity of good old Rock ‘n Roll with an excellent band, which included guitar virtuoso Chris Simmons.

This is the third time I’ve seen Leon, the first two in 1971 and 1972. The 1971 show was at the Fillmore East with Elton John opening, a show I’ve touched on a few times and that I need to write about in more detail. The ’72 show was at the Long Beach Arena (Calif.), when Leon was probably at the height of his popularity capable of filling large auditoriums. Later I would learn it was the show used for his classic live album, Leon Live. More on that one later, too.

At the Infinity, which has a relatively small stage, the right-hand side was taken up by Russell’s elaborate, almost montrous keyboard setup. No more grand piano as in the early ’70s. He gets acoustic sound from an electronic grand and it works out just fine. The audience can really only see the back of the keyboard setup, which is built in a large anvil case for traveling. The back is open and has hundreds of wires and connections so completely entwined with one another, you wonder how that actually works without a hitch and if anything went wrong how would a keyboard tech track down the problem. (continue reading…)

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Three quick ones: Plant, Thompson and The Union

by on Nov.30, 2010, under Music

Three varied but commendable releases have graced my CD player and iPod of late from four, what you might call, elder statesman of the music world.

Robert Plant Band Of JoyThe first, Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, a follow-up to the hugely successful Raising Sand of three years ago with Alison Krause. This is not a sequel, as that broke down almost before it started, but it shares a lot in common with Raising Sand.

The title is the name of a band Plant played in before Led Zeppelin, but the music bares little resemblance to that never recorded blues-psychedelia mashup and even less to Zeppelin. Plant continues his journey through Americana-based country, bluegrass, blues and Rock ‘n Roll with a small, tight ensemble, featuring Buddy Miller on a variety of stringed instruments and as band leader and co-producer with Plant, and backing vocals from Patty Griffin.

These are mostly covers, but impeccably selected beginning with the opener Angel Dance from Los Lobos that rings with glistening mandolin and acoustic and electric guitars under Plant’s effective low-key delivery, at least low-key in comparison with what he is most noted for as the quintessential rock frontman. The track in underpinned by a churning, almost dirge-like marching rhythm.

The production on most of the album has a heavy sounding bottom that gives each track a dark, menacing drive, but each song also has adeptly placed ornamentation, including mandoguitar, baritone 6-string bass, octave mandolin, banjo and pedal and lap steel that lifts the overall sound up and all of which lends an Appalachian quality to the proceedings.

There is only one original co-written by Plant and Miller, Central Two-O-Nine, and the team arranges two traditionals, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down and Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday, both imaginative versions meticulously executed. But Plant loves good songwriters and has an excellent ear for them. (continue reading…)

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Johnette’s sketchbook

by on Feb.26, 2010, under Music

After coming out of the L.A. post-punk scene of the early 1980s, the members of Concrete Blonde found their niche in modern rock nearly 10 years later. The band was not a part of the pop-rock or hair rock genres of the ’80s and preceded the popular grunge movement of the early ’90s. Nonetheless, they enjoyed considerable commericial success once they were established on I.R.S., the label REM made famous.

Johnette Napolitano Sketchbook #3What they did bring was a punk attitude over a competent hard rock base, augmented by brilliant melodic structure, dark edgy lyrics and the distinctive and powerful voice of Johnette Napolitano. Let’s not forget Jim Mankey, who wrote much of the material with Napolitano, and displayed a highly proficient and inventive approach in his guitar playing.

Almost always a trio, except for an imaginative collaboration with Los Illegals in 1997, the band featured various drummers, including mainstay Harry Rushakoff. Since their successes of the early-to-mid ’90s, the group had regrouped on occasion before breaking up for good in 2007, with valid, creative efforts that had been largely ignored by the general public.

So what has become of bassist/singer Napolitano in recent years? Well, she has retreated a bit to Joshua Tree, Calif., but is still creating as an artist and as a musician with a solo release in 2007, Scarred, and occasional independent releases in her Sketchbook series. The Sketchbooks are not demos per se, but rather song fragments, ideas, flashes of brilliance caught in the moment, sometimes solo, sometimes in collaboration, often using GarageBand software.

I almost accidentally came upon Sketchbook #3 over at CD Baby when I was looking for a couple of other titles and I couldn’t be more pleased with the find.

Admittedly some tracks, although interesting and creative, can become a little tedious such as Bass Idea or Drum Practice. Perhaps she’s offering those to other musicians to expand upon. But in many of the other tracks, the old magic surfaces. That familiar proficient and explosive voice and that wonderful engaging of melody is still there. (continue reading…)

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Over at Wolfgang’s

by on Jun.10, 2009, under Music

Wolfgang’s Vault just posted two must-listen-to concerts: Delaney & Bonnie and Friends from a February, 1970 date at the Fillmore West and Derek and the Dominoes  later that same year at the Fillmore East.

delaney-bonnie-portrait-1The Delaney & Bonnie show features an all-star band with Eric Clapton, who sings I Don’t Know Why from his first solo album, along with Leon Russell, piano, Jim Price, trumpet, Jim Horn and Bobby Keys, sax, now with the Stones, Rita Coolidge on background vocals and future Dominoes Carl Radle, bass, Bobby Whitlock, keyboards, and Jim Gordon, drums.

The set list is a good one with Things Get Better, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, the Robert Johnson tribute Poor Elijah and closer Coming Home, among 10 songs.

The Dominoes gig has many of the band’s staples — Got To Get Better In A Little While, Key To The Highway, Tell The Truth — and material from Clapton’s solo album such as Blues Power, Let It Rain as well as a little Hendrix and Blind Faith.

Both worth checking out.

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From The Vaults: Hidden Treasure, No. 3

by on May.01, 2009, under Music

Of the three Kings – blues guitarists B.B., Albert and Freddie, all of whom I have great respect and admiration for – my favorite is Freddie. Freddie wrote and played on some of the great blues instrumentals of the late 1950s and early ’60s such as Hide Away and The Stumble, among others, and delivered signature versions of Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Five Long Years, I’m Tore Down, and his own Someday, After Awhile (You’ll Be Sorry).

fking-burglar-coverHis influence may very well reach the furthest of the three Kings with Eric Clapton and Peter Green among his disciples. And I played with him in a one-off concert in New York in the early ’70s. But more on that later.

After revitalizing his career in 1971 with Shelter Records for whom he recorded three outstanding albums in as many years with Leon Russell and friends – Getting Ready …, Texas Cannonball and Woman Across The River – Freddie cut a record in 1974 on RSO called Burglar, Hidden Treasure, No. 3 in our series. Nine of the 10 cuts were recorded in England with an all-star lineup of British musicians and produced by blues legend Mike Vernon, who also produced Treasure No. 1, Martha Velez’s Fiends & Angels. The remaining track was produced by Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios in Miami with Eric Clapton and his 461 Ocean Boulevard band guesting.

The Clapton track is a Mel London classic Sugar Sweet, a short uptempo funky romp that appears to feature Clapton on the intro solo and King taking his chorus toward the end of the tune. They sound very similar on this track. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 2: Blown away

by on Mar.25, 2009, under Music

Several times over the years I’ve seen opening acts blow away a headliner. I mentioned one such concert that involved the original Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart at Woolsey Hall in New Haven in 1969.

rtrower1Two stand out above the rest though. The more recent was on Oct. 18, 1977. I know the date not because I still have a ticket stub, but because the concert became an album release for the headliner, Robin Trower (left, top), titled King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents, recorded at the now demolished New Haven Coliseum.

I was a huge Trower fan at the time and had seen him in the same venue close to two years earlier after the release of his third solo album. His band included James Dewar on bass and vocals and drummer Bill Lordan, who had played with Sly Stone.

At that concert, most of the material came from the seminal hard blues-rock album Bridge Of Sighs (1974), including Day Of The Eagle, Too Rolling Stoned and others, and a smattering from his latest, For Earth Below (1975). By 1977, Trower had released Long Misty Days, not as popular as his first three, and had just released In City Dreams, which took a decided funkier and not quite as heavy turn.

rderringer1The opening act was the group Derringer, led by another guitar flash Rick Derringer (left). Since Derringer had released its first album in 1975, they had toured relentlessly and played in Connecticut frequently and New Haven often at the Arcadia Ballroom on Whalley Avenue, which at one time was a Nelke Motors dealership, selling Mercedes cars, and in Waterbury at the Red House.

I’d seen Derringer many times and his band was a solid hard rock outfit, with good songs and outstanding players. The original lineup included Vinny Appice, brother of Carmine (Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart)  on drums, the remarkable Kenny Aaronson on bass and Danny Johnson on second lead guitar. Neil Giraldo, who went on to play with and marry Pat Benatar, would replace Johnson within a year and Myron Grombacher took over for Appice. By the time of the Trower concert Mark Cunningham was on second guitar.

Derringer had a great stage show, but I always felt it was more suited for small clubs. I’d never seen the kind of pyrotechnics he had  planned for this opening slot. In addition to material from the Derringer albums, he also played  Rock ‘n Roll Hoochie Koo and Still Alive And Well, prior hits. Early in his set a large group of the audience rushed to the front of the stage where they were allowed to rock out. I was midway back on the floor and though I thought they sounded great, I also thought it was kind of strange that fans were rushing the stage, even for Derringer.

It all built to a heated and intense peak when Derringer and Cunningham stood on opposite sides of the stage and actually flipped their guitars high above their heads so they twirled in the air across the stage to each other, once, twice and then flipped them high in the air and caught them without a hitch. The crowd went absolutely bonkers. (continue reading…)

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