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Music Review: Paul Rodgers and Friends – Live at Montreux 1994

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The distinctive voice of Paul Rodgers has been heard on some of the best rock albums released over the years from Free to Bad Company to The Firm to Queen. Not surprisingly, he’s made many friends along the way. So, in July 1994, Rodgers put together an all-star band of his friends to support his 1993 Grammy nominated Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters. However, few of the players on that studio release were tapped for Live at Montreux 1994, now on both CD and DVD. Only Queen’s Brian May (guitar), Journey’s Neal Schon (guitar), and Black Country Communion’s Jason Bonham (drums) returned to join the other performers on stage in Montreux. New players included Ian Hatton (guitar), John Smithson (bass), Toto’s Steve Lukather (guitar), and blues musicians Eddie Kirkland, Sherman Robertson, Luther Allison, Robert Lucas and Kenny Neal.

As a result, this concert became something of a paint-by-numbers rock/blues evening with some of the best artists in the business filling in the colors. The first two numbers, “Travelling Man” and “Wishing Well,” are ‘70s arena rock warm-ups. The show really begins with “Louisiana Blues” (the first song taken from the studio record) and “Fire And Water” before the ensemble gets down and Delta-dirty with “Muddy Water Blues,” which had been recorded in both electric and acoustic versions for the tribute CD. Other live performances taken from the studio work include Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready” and a shuffle version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl” featuring May. While he had been on the Muddy Waters album, Beck is only present in spirit with “Let Me Love You Baby.” This track retains the same arrangement heard on Beck’s 1968 Truth LP.

Out and out rock and roll returns with “Little Bit Of Love” and “”Mr. Big” before Rodgers starts alternating his greatest hits with other blues standards. From Bad Company, Rodgers revives laid-back versions of “”Feel Like Making Love” and “Can’t Get Enough.” He then kicks things up a notch with Free’s “All Right Now.” The rest of the set provides the most energetic performances of the concert with the driving version of “The Hunter” (another sample from the Muddy Waters studio tribute) and a hopped-up jam on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” The grand finale is the Willie Dixon/ Muddy Waters’ standard “Hoochie Coochie Man,” where all the artists trade licks and vocals with Rodgers.

In the end, the concert should please Rodgers fans as everything is workmanlike, reliable and predictable with no particular tracks jumping out from the pack. There are some delicious guitar leads, but none that outshine any of the others. While the show is available on both CD and DVD, the better choice is clearly the film. Viewers can immerse themselves in the experience and can more readily identify who’s playing which parts. It’s a pleasant evening, but not historic or indispensible.

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