The Trick Is To Keep Going

Tag: the Beatles

Best of 2012

by on Feb.01, 2013, under Music

There’s so much good new music out there. The best music of 2012:

1. Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: Invigorating blend of R&B, funk and jazz infused with top-shelf musicianship and an enticing lyrical quality. This is perhaps her best yet. Spalding sports a fluid, proficient and pleasing voice that delivers her poignant lyricism over the engaging compositions. Get the Deluxe Edition with a Making of DVD.

2. Locked Down, Dr. John: Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach gets an inspiration to record with the N’Awlins legend and they whip up a spooky, funky, voodoo dose of swamp funk mixed with hard rock sensibilities. Some of the best from recent vintage of the good Doctor.

3. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten: One of the truly remarkable and original sounding records from a singer/songwriter whose dense, penetrating lyrics are revealed through inventive arrangements that complement her songwriting.

4. Sunken Condos, Donald Fagen: At his wry, funky, satirical and stinging best. Glossed with a Steely Dan sheen but it still swings like mad.

5. Everybody’s Talkin’, Tedeschi-Trucks Band: Live outing from one of the best ensembles around today. A beautiful combination of blues, rock and pop whipped together with Derek Trucks’ slide lacing through it and the marvelous Susan Tedeschi’s soulful, blazing voice on top. Not to be missed live.

6. Sun, Cat Power: Return of the elusive, mercurial and magnetic singer/songwriter. Her best since The Greatest.

 7. Election Special, Ry Cooder: Venerable American music stylist gives his biting political take on the present state of affairs with his usual entertaining, insightful views served with a helping of exquisite string playing.

8. Driving Towards The Daylight, Joe Bonamassa: Another edition in the evolving style and development of one of our best modern-day blues guitarists, who happens to have a soulful voice as well.

 9. The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: From the opening strains of the remarkable title track through another set of inspired rock and pop, a step forward and upward from this New England-based group. Their roots are firmly planted in the fertile ground of the 1960s and early ’70s. All framing Potter’s gloriously wild and unrestrained voice.

10. Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan: Love him for his various collaborations over the years, not the least with Isobel Campbell, but there is something dark and compelling about this bluesy and funereal outing that is addicting. (continue reading…)

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Early gems from the quiet Beatle

by on Jun.18, 2012, under Music

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.

George Harrison Early Takes VolThe 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…)

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Roberta brings something new to The Beatles

by on Jun.12, 2012, under Music

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?

Roberta Flack Sings The BeatlesI 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.

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Beatles remastered: Revolver & Sgt. Pepper’s

by on Sep.23, 2009, under Music

In the summer of 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, fans of The Beatles didn’t get together with friends and listen to the mono version of this landmark album.

beatles-sgt-peppersI don’t recall anyone buying the mono version. Perhaps  if you couldn’t afford the $1 extra for stereo, because that’s all it was. But that’s not the point. The way to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s back then, as it is now, was in stereo.

I can remember at rehearsals and jams at the Aiardo Brothers house during the summer between the demise of the Bram Rigg Set and before I went off to school in Boston, we would take a break and listen to the entire album’s left channel.

Later the same afternoon we would listen to the whole album but just the right channel. Yeah, it was entertaining, listening to what George Martin and The Beatles were up to, but we were also trying to figure out what the hell they were doing as far as the recording process.

It wasn’t until several weeks later that I found out this album was recorded on a four-track machine. A four-track! Most studios in the States had long before installed eight-track recorders, including Syncron, later Trod Nossel, all the way out in Wallingford, CT, where my bands Bram Rigg Set and later Pulse worked out of.

Yet, The Beatles and Martin had produced an album on a four-track, albeit bouncing to a second four-track for many songs, and the album sounded extraordinary.

In a previous post on the recently released remastered versions of Help! and Rubber Soul, The Beatles albums that preceded these two, I wrote that bottom line the mono versions of those albums, even though I had grown up with the stereo, were my preference. OK, maybe not for Drive My Car and a few other tunes, but mono is the way to go for those: balanced, clear, direct and in-your-face punchy. (continue reading…)

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Beatles remastered: Help! & Rubber Soul

by on Sep.15, 2009, under Music

The Beatles remastered catalogue on CD has arrived. I decided to start listening with two albums that were originally released back-to-back in 1965, Help! and Rubber Soul.

beatles-helpThese two also are the only ones with three versions released over the various formats of the series. Both are available in stereo and can be purchased individually or as part of The Beatles Stereo box set. Those versions are the 1987 re-mixes by producer George Martin, the same mix as the original CD releases from the late ’80s but of course remastered.

The albums are also included in The Beatles in Mono box, each disc of which includes a mono mix, only available if you purchase this mono set, and the original 1965 stereo mixes remastered, the first time those mixes have been available on CD.

I also have the 1987 CDs of these titles. So, I was able to compare all four versions.

Why were these two albums remixed in 1987 by George Martin? Good question. He said back in 1987, after being completely overlooked by EMI on The Beatles first four albums of that remastering campaign, that these two albums along with Revolver sounded “woolly” and he wound up not changing anything but “hardening” the sound up.

He applied digital echo in the mixing process as opposed to the original echo chamber at Abbey Road from the ’60s and cut down a little of the background noise. But that really simplifies it. Check this link  for an interview with Martin in 1987 in which he gives a more detailed reasoning of the process. It can be quite illuminating.

In fact, the differences in the stereo mixes are quite subtle, but the differences in the new remastering applied are significant. But let’s start with the mono versions. (continue reading…)

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Cocker in translation

by on Aug.03, 2009, under Music

joe-cocker-woodstock-smallWith Woodstock’s 40th anniversary coming up later this month, we came across the famous festival performance by Joe Cocker singing The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends, only with a new twist. If you haven’t seen it, check it out at the link above.

And it appears plans by original promoter Michael Lang for a Woodstock 40th anniversary concert in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park are dead as reported in Rolling Stone. Apparently no one wanted to sponsor the $10 million event.


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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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The Beatles remastered

by on Jul.01, 2009, under Music

As reported earlier this spring, The Beatles catalogue on CD has been remastered for the first time since the 1980s and will be released on 9/9/09. Hmm. No. 9, No. 9, No. 9. In another coincidence of marketing strategy, a new Rock Band video game version featuring The Beatles will be released on the same day.

beatles-please-please-meFor details about the project, including specific mastering techniques, as well as a wealth of other information on The Beatles, check out

As I often react to these type of announcements, I was rather resistant to yet another wave of remastering by a major act, particularly since the results of these re-releases has been mixed at best in the past 10 years. Many audiophiles and purists are now claiming the original CD releases — you know the ones we sold, traded in or in some cases some collectors threw out! — actually sound better than the remastered ones because they came from better sources.

Add to this that I, for one, believe the original Beatles CDs from the 1980s, sound rather good. When first released I was a bit miffed that all the early albums were mastered in mono, since I grew up with the stereo versions no matter how retched they were. (continue reading…)

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69 (albums) from 1969

by on Mar.29, 2009, under Music

When I think of 1969, I think the end of the hippie dream, the fading of peace and love. After the violence of the Democratic convention in ’68, it appeared the Yippies were taking precedence over the original anti-war movement that so many of us bought into when we were at college.

the-band-the-band1Despite the triumph of Woodstock, the year ended on the foreboding trajedy of Altamont. It was the year the Beatles said farewell, another dream that was ending. So when I think about 1969, I don’t necessarily think of great albums first. But as Mojo Magazine points out in a recent special edition with a piece aptly titled 69 from 1969, which we acknowledge with the headline above, there was a motherlode of great music released in 1969. The music was changing and the early ’70s gave us another wave of great music as well with the dawn of the singer-songwriter era. But the decade’s last year included an impressive list of offerings.

You can find music just as good or better from any year in the ’60s. But since it’s 40 years on for this watershed year, we have a poll below in which you can vote. To refresh your memory, here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

jethro-tull-stand-upThe Band, The Band: Their second release and perhaps my favorite, along with Stage Fright, filled with songs that make up one of the foundations of today’s Americana movement.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young: His second, and although I for one liked the weak-selling debut, this unquestionably has several of his standards.
Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin: Some prefer the second, released in late 1969, but this really had the bigger impact as far as influencing the music scene. It was hard rock, but quite different in some ways than anything before.
Stand Up, Jethro Tull: Arguably their best, predating the more progressive leanings of the band.

slystandA Salty Dog, Procol Harum: Speaking of prog, but really is it? Using classical ideas and instrumentation in a tasteful combination is more like it.
The Gilded Palace Of Sin, The Flying Burrito Brothers: Gene Clark, the Byrds and others had recorded tracks and some nearly full albums of what was to be called country rock, but Gram Parsons’ first project as a leader really set the stage for the Eagles and those who followed.
Tommy, the Who: Many cite other Who albums as superior to this and that’s probably true, but none had a bigger influence in the grand scheme of things.

Stand, Sly & the Family Stone: This is loaded with classic Sly songs, Everyday People, I Want To Take You Higher, Sing A Simple Song, You Can Make It If You Try.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash: Deja Vu had some better songs on it, but as a trio this was their highlight.
Dusty In Memphis, Dusty Springfield: A peak  from a remarkably consistent vocalist, career defining.
Blind Faith, Blind Faith: The one-off, with about 15 minutes of filler, still holds up as a solid outing with at least a couple of rock ‘n roll classics.
Abbey Road, the Beatles: A fitting sendoff, which was recorded after but released before their official swan song, Let It Be.
In A Silent Way, Miles Davis: I preferred the first real experiment into fusion, Miles In The Sky (1967), but there is no doubting the impact of this outing.
Clouds, Joni Mitchell: I always think of this as coming out earlier than 1969, but her career didn’t take off in earnest as a solo performer until the ’70s with Blue and For The Roses.
Then Play On, Fleetwood Mac: The last gasp of the original Mac with Peter Green. It may have been the last but it has some wonderful blues romps, including Oh Well.
Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones: Their decided shift back to blues-influenced rock on Beggar’s Banquet is followed by incorporating country blues into the mix. One of their last great ones.

There are many others, the Allman Brothers’ debut; Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, not as well known in the States as the U.K., where it is a folk-rock staple; Santana’s and Chicago’s first. The list goes on.

What do you think? Vote for the best album of 1969.

This article is also available over at BabyBoom Review at this link.

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