Wesley Britton – Blogcritics https://blogcritics.org The critical lens on today's culture & entertainment Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:24:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 58763955 Music DVD Review: Jack Bruce – ‘Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts’ https://blogcritics.org/music-dvd-review-jack-bruce-rockpalast-the-50th-birthday-concerts/ Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:24:54 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5424994 'The 50th Birthday Concerts' was Jack Bruce's party celebrating his long career with a wide menu of styles and a cast of all-stars.

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Jack Bruce RockpalastOn October 25, 2014, the legendary Jack Bruce left us, a victim of liver disease. Of course, he’s best remembered for his tenure as bassist, lead vocalist, and songwriter for the immortal Cream. His later career is less familiar, including his stint working with Leslie West in another hard-driving trio consisting of West, Bruce, and Laing. Before the glory days, Bruce had come up the ranks working with the likes of Alexis Korner, John Mayall, and Manfred Mann. After the ’60s, Bruce remained musically active, but he was never again to get the public acclaim he had once enjoyed, at least in the States. In Europe, and Germany in particular, it was a different story, as evidenced by the new audio and video release Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts.

On November 2 and 3, 1993 at the E-Werk in Cologne, John Symon Asher (aka Jack Bruce) threw a late 50th birthday party for himself by inviting a host of musical friends to join him onstage. These included drummers Ginger Baker and Simon Phillips, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, guitarists Gary Moore and Clem Clempson, pianists Bernie Worrell and Gary Husband, bassist François Garny, and singer Maggie Reilly.

In many ways, the concerts were an opportunity for Bruce to host a number of reunions. After all, his career really began in 1962 when he worked in Blues Incorporated and its successor, the Graham Bond Organization with both Heckstall-Smith and his longtime bandmate and sparring partner, Ginger Baker. Bruce played with Phillips in 1977; as a session player for Gary Moore around the same time; and, in 1980, Clempson was a member of “Jack Bruce and Friends.” Altogether, the wide range of these performers and the breadth of Bruce’s musical interests resulted in a varied and lengthy (235 minutes) two-disc concert set. (A shorter audio CD version, Cities of the Heart, came out in 1994 in Germany.)

To begin what Bruce called an “epic journey,” The 50th Birthday Concerts opens with acoustic instrumentals including Bruce playing cello on “Improvisation on Minuet No.1” and piano on “FM.” He continues on solo piano but also sings poetic lyrics on the arty ballad, “Can You Follow.” Husband joins Bruce on “Running Thro’ Our Hands” and “Childsong” as the two keyboardists and vocalists add synthesizer sounds to the mix.

Then, Bruce picks up his bass and is joined by Baker and his “mentor and musical Dad” Heckstall-Smith for the bebop instrumental jams “The Tube,” “Over The Cliff,” and “Statues,” the latter two drawn from Bruce’s second solo album, 1970’s Things We Like. Yes, there’s plenty of space for ole Ginger to flash, splash, rumble, and crash. More of this to come.

Then guitarist Clempson joins the ensemble and the quartet gets down with the blues in “First Time I Met The Blues.” R&B singer and Hammond organist Bernie Koppell adds his funky soul to the sophisticated arrangement of “Smiles and Grins,” on which Husband switches over to the drum kit. Then Bruce dedicates “Bird Alone” to Charlie Parker, telling us the song was written by Pete Brown, Bruce’s collaborator on many a hit for Cream. With this number, we’re finally hearing what can be fairly described as a rock concert with a progressive bent, as in Cream meets King Crimson.

The band expands further when a horn section and drummer Simon Phillips join the revolving cast on “Neighbor, Neighbor,” the Albert King/Cream classic “Born Under A Bad Sign,” and “Boston Ball Game 1967.” (“Neighbor, Neighbor” goes way back as it appeared on the Graham Bond Organization’s 1965 The Sound of ’65.) The show becomes mellow again when singer Maggie Reilly duets with Bruce on the lovely “Ships in the Night” before she adds some gospel belting on the rather plodding Stax-flavored “Willpower.”

Jack Bruce
Bruce playing a fretless Warwick Thumb bass guitar at the Jazzfestival in Frankfurt, Germany on 28 October 2006. Photo by Christian Sahm

The 19 songs on Disc One go out with the jaunty, jumping “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune,” a splendid rendition of “Theme From An Imaginary Western” (which Mountain made famous at Woodstock), and one more slow ballad, “Golden Days.”

Cream fans may prefer to start with Disc Two. It opens with an acoustic rendition of “As You Said.” After a Baker drum solo, later we also get the first of two new versions of “NSU,” “Sitting On The Top Of The World,” “Politician,” “White Room,” and a full brass band version of “Sunshine Of Your Love.” Bruce’s main guest here is singer and percussionist Peter Brown, co-writer of both “White Room” and “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Along the way, we get other ditties such as an apparently unrehearsed “Rope Ladder To The Moon” from Bruce’s first and most successful solo album, 1969’s Songs for a Tailor, an album that had featured Heckstall-Smith on sax. (Other choices from that album included “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune,” “Theme from an Imaginary Western,” and “Boston Ball Game 1967.”) But, wait, the best is yet to come!

When guitarist Gary Moore joins the mix, the energy really kicks in on the second rendition of “Life on Earth” and very hot versions of another look back at the Cream songbook, with seriously burning readings of “NSU,” “Sitting On The Top Of The World,” “Politician,” “Spoonful,” and “White Room.” Can two-thirds of Cream plus Moore outdo what the group with Eric Clapton laid down all those years ago? In my mind, the answer is yes. The musicianship is more subtle, the timing more precise. No wonder that in the aftermath of this gig, Bruce, Baker, and Moore temporarily formed a new power trio, BBM. Now, there’s an element of poignancy as both Bruce and Moore are no longer with us.

Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts is available in several editions including a Special Edition DVD/CD, CD/DVD Digipack, DVD, and Digital Formats. The double DVD digi comes with a 12-page booklet, new liner notes and previously unreleased photos. I can’t attest to their glories as my review copy had just the two DVDs in a simple cardboard package. I’m not complaining. While it took too long for this version of Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts to see the light of day, this release is a worthy tribute to the recently departed Scottish bard. Whether you get it in cardboard, plastic, or as a download, this is a concert that might not please you in its entirety, but there are sections for every music lover of any genre.

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Music Review: Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls – ‘Soul Brothers’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-otis-clay-and-johnny-rawls-soul-brothers/ Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:07:25 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5424773 The Soul Brothers – Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls – bring back the '60s Memphis sounds with authenticity and heart.

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Soul Brothers Otis Clay Johnny RawlsI remember AM DJs of the ’60s announcing new records by the likes of Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and Otis Redding as good ole “sock ‘n’ soul.” I always liked that short but descriptive term. It applied to just about all of the Stax/Volt records along with singles from similar labels of the time. It applies just as perfectly now to Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls‘ new Soul Brothers.

The genesis for this project began in 2013 when Otis Clay joined Johnny Rawls as a special guest on three tracks of Rawls’s multi-Blues-Music-Award-nominated CD, Remembering O.V., a tribute to Rawls’s mentor, O.V. Wright. Beyond their mutual respect for Wright, the two singers discovered they had much in common. After all, Clay and Rawls have been traveling in the same circles for decades and have over 20 Blues Music Awards nominations between them. So it seemed a natural progression for the two to do a full album together.

But while the “Soul Brothers” name is intended to refer to Clay and Rawls, their backup band, the Rays, are equally worthy of that label. It includes Richy Puga (drums), Bob Trenchard (bass), Johnny McGhee (guitar), and Dan Ferguson (keyboards). The brass section is also absolutely indispensable, adding the power and punch to every track. The horns are blown by Andy Roman (sax), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Robert Claiborne (trombone), and Nick Flood (sax). The Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – add the background vocals. Joining in the sessions is Southern California percussionist Jon Olazabal, notable for the drums on the opening number, Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.”

Mason’s hit, made famous by Delaney and Bonnie in 1970, is one of three covers on Soul Brothers. The others are Tyrone Davis’s 1970 “Turn Back the Hands of Time” and the album’s standout track, a magical reworking of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” The rest of the 10 songs were written by Rawls, Clay, Trenchard, and others including Kay Kay Greenwade who penned the closer, “Waiting for Dreams.”

While Clay and Rawls are best known as blues singers, the set is pure “sock ‘n soul” throughout. On each number, the two trade lead vocals on the verses and join together on the upbeat refrains. They have fun with old blues subjects like “Voodoo Queen” and get down and Gospel on “Hallelujah Lord.” Songs like “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” “Living on Borrowed Time,” and “Road Dog” clearly reflect how Clay and Rawls feel about growing older with lots of touring miles behind them and years of experience to look back on. But despite the singers’ respective ages (Clay is 72, Rawls is 63), Soul Brothers has a driving energy from start to finish that both invigorates the leaders and players and revs up the engines of any listener.

Simply stated, if you liked the music Clay and Rawls are reviving, Soul Brothers is a must. Even if you weren’t around when Sam and Dave were singing about being a “Soul Man,” the Soul Brothers will make a soul man – or woman – out of you. It’s the “rill thing.”

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Book Review: ‘These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series, Season Three’ by Marc Cushman https://blogcritics.org/book-review-these-are-the-voyages-the-true-history-of-star-trek-the-original-series-season-three-by-marc-cushman/ Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:08:13 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5424632 Marc Cushman covers the third season of the original 'Star Trek' in exhaustive detail with revelatory surprises and a balanced approach.

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Mr Spock Star TrekI’ve had the privilege of reading all three volumes of Marc Cushman’s mammoth These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series. Without question, we now have the most comprehensive and authoritative history of the first three-year run of Star Trek we’ll ever need.

All three volumes share the same deep well of sources and the same detailed format. For one matter, both Gene Roddenberry and producer Robert Justman gave Cushman access to a treasure trove of original studio archives including staff memos, contracts, schedules, budgets, and network correspondence no one else has had access to. Over the past 20 years, Cushman interviewed many of the participants including writers, directors, and guest stars as well as members of the main cast.

No wonder it took so long to synthesize all this information, especially when Cushman took the time to also find out what the actual Nielsen ratings were for each original broadcast. For decades, the story has been told that Star Trek was cancelled, twice, for substandard ratings. That story was far from the truth. In his examination of the third season, Cushman exposes even more myths of Star Trek lore.

Few have questioned that Star Trek‘s last season declined in quality because show creator Roddenberry virtually abandoned his creation. This resulted from his fight with NBC over the network’s decision to move Star Trek to a 10 PM Friday slot, a move the network hoped would lead to the show’s demise. But, as Cushman demonstrates, the story is more complex than one time slot shift.

To begin, NBC felt Roddenberry was a troublesome producer to work with, the network brass wasn’t keen on much of the series’ subject matter in the series, and both the network and Paramount Studios weren’t happy about the budgets.

In addition, when Roddenberry made himself a very remote Executive Producer, he didn’t promote Robert Justman, the associate producer who richly deserved to take over. Instead, Roddenberry tapped Fred Freiberger as his successor, an outsider who knew little about what made Star Trek tick. Ever since, Freiberger has been vilified as the man who ruined Star Trek.

Cushman shows, episode by episode, that blaming Freiberger for what happened on the Paramount lot simply isn’t fair. Freiberger was a man who had a challenging show dumped into his lap, a show that the network didn’t want and the studio didn’t care about. It was Freiberger who was caught in ongoing duels with Paramount’s Douglas Cramer, who was also making life miserable over at Mission: Impossible, over how to make a quality show on the lowest budgets possible. The Enterprise’s halls were empty because extras cost money. There was no shooting on location. Directors were brought back, or not, based on whether or not they could wrap up filming in the time frame expected.

It was now Freiberger who had to deal with often odd criticism from Stanley Robinson of NBC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices who worried about females showing navels, and open-mouthed kisses. Also, in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Star Trek wasn’t the only series asked to tone down on screen violence, which led to shorter fight scenes between Captain Kirk and his foes. As readers will discover, often Freiberger did quite well managing under such constraints and, equally as often, he was the man making exactly the right calls.

Among the many changes between the second and third year was new story editor Arthur H. Singer taking over the role formerly filled by the legendary D. C. Fontana. Like Freiberger, Singer too has taken shots over the years for his role in the disappointing third season, but Cushman ably demonstrates he was really an unsung hero of the show. In fact, the major contribution of the These Are the Voyages books is the extremely detailed examinations of how scripts evolved from draft to draft and the various participants, like Singer, who had a role in the changes, often for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Another unsung hero would have to be the often helpful Joan Pearce at De Forest Research, who was especially good at pointing out scientific problems with story premises or noting where names and terminology could be improved. In short, many third-season Star Trek episodes got very careful attention, which resulted in some pretty good shows. But as time went on and the writing was on the wall for the show’s future, or lack of one, morale declined, Justman departed, and scripts were rushed as Freiberger didn’t know from one week to the next how many, if any, shows NBC was going to buy.

Readers investing time in Cushman’s trilogy can’t complain about what might have been left out of his books. For each episode, Cushman opens with an analysis of what the program included, or should have included, before those detailed analyses of each script. Then he reveals what happened on each day of filming, what sets were used, and what times filming began and ended. These descriptions often include memories of what happened by both regular and guest cast members. These are followed by post-production notes including broadcast data including those revelatory Nielsen numbers.

But wait, that’s not all! Along the way, Cushman provides cultural context by telling us what songs were topping the charts each week of filming, how other shows were faring at the time, and what historical events occurred each week in question. Naturally, he describes the careers of guest stars and crew including their credits before and after Star Trek. He also includes (often pointlessly, I must admit) episode synopses by TV critics of the time, along with memories and letters by fans then and now. Perhaps to provide balance to his own critiques on each episode, he brings in perspectives by other Trek experts who have different views on particular episodes. Add to all that his sidebars on subjects such as an overview of women writers in the third season and the merchandising of memorabilia, and the numerous illustrations, notably the many unaired film trims courtesy of Gerald Gurian.

What stones didn’t Cushman turn over? The mind boggles to think there might be a pebble or two that was missed. If there are any complaints to make, the most obvious is the repetition. The most glaring example would be those Nielsen numbers. They are first laid out in the episode descriptions, then repeated for the nights they were broadcast while other episodes were being filmed, then repeated again in a section going show-by-show to nail down once again that Star Trek rarely beat out ABC’s Movie of the Week but ran pretty much neck-and-neck with CBS’s Judd, for the Defense. Based on the numbers, it’s more than clear Star Trek‘s demise had nothing to do with the viewership.

I don’t know how my review copy of the book might match up with the copy you might purchase, but you’re also likely going to come across scattered editing and proofreading issues. Cream’s chart-topping 1968 double-album was Wheels of Fire, not “Wheels on Fire.” But such nitpicking does not diminish Cushman’s impressive achievement. While these books are more for reference than for cover-to-cover reading, every Star Trek devotee will find them essential and often surprising. Credit Cushman not only for the fruits of his research, but also for his balance in presenting where the documents took him, and he takes us where no others have gone before with authority and depth.

The third volume of These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series will be available for pre-ordering on or shortly after December 16, exclusively through Jacobs/Brown Press at Jacobs/Brown’s web store and the book series’ own website.

Read Wes Britton’s review of These Are the Voyages – The True History of Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One here and his review of the Season Two volume here.

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Music Review: Robin Banks – ‘Modern Classic’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-robin-banks-modern-classic/ Thu, 11 Dec 2014 00:58:27 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5424627 Miss Robin Banks' 'Modern Classic' is essentially old school, small ensemble
jazz that deserves to expand her audience and deepen her already
appreciative critical reception.

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Robin Banks Modern ClassicToronto-based songstress Robin Banks (often billed as Miss Robin Banks to distinguish her from other folks with that name) is usually categorized as a blues singer. She’s been compared to the likes of Etta James and Dinah Washington. Those who know the current blues scene will notice that Banks’ new album Modern Classic was produced by the ubiquitous Duke Robillard in Rhode Island, and features his band, along with the Roomful of Blues horns.

But most listeners hearing Modern Classic are more likely to think jazz more than what they might associate with the Chicago or Memphis styles of the blues. True, the opening track, “A Man Is Just a Man,” evokes the early rock ‘n’ roll of the Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson variety. “I’ll Meet You There” is pure ’60s Memphis soul. The slow ballad “A Place in the City” is a reminder of the days when record stores stocked racks of Country and Western vinyl LPs.

If you want the sho’ nuff blues, there’s the jumping “You Boogie Too Fast for Me” and “Bite Your Tongue” where the 51-year-old singer advises a potential lover, “you’re too young for me.”

But the rest of the set takes us back to the tradition of Peggy Lee, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan blended with the sort of West Coast jazz where a guitarist like Wes Montgomery might stop by with some smooth, fluid licks. (It’s Robillard who channels such players on Modern Classic.) For example, there’s the syncopated “Superhero” and the skatty “Really Dig You” featuring Bruce Bears tickling the ivories and Doug James and Mark Earley on sax. There’s the upbeat, good-time “Crazy,” the track selected as the first single. There’s the sexy, smoldering “My Baby Loves Me” punctuated by a soft muted trumpet (courtesy of Doug Woolverton), the bossa nova-flavored “A Little Bit of Heaven,” and the swinging “Tonight” with a spotlight on bass player Brad Hallen. (The final member of the combo is drummer Mark Teixeira.)

In short, Modern Classic is another sophisticated example of the new interest in bringing back the stylings of the American Songbook as demonstrated by recent albums from Joe Jackson and Rod Stewart. The main difference between Modern Classic and such albums is that Banks is not only a skilled songstress, she also excels at autobiographical songwriting. She wrote every track on Modern Classic. This continues her compositional work from her four previous collections, Permanent Record (1997), Honestly (2000), Live After Dark (2001), and Livin’ Life (2010). Collectively, these releases show the evolution of a performer who’s toured Europe extensively and called Texas, Jamaica, and Canada home.

So while her latest album might capture the sounds of a bygone musical era, her stories are her own. And the odds are, despite the hyperbolic title, Modern Classic should be regarded as just that and is likely to appear on many a best-of-2014 list. After all, modern classics are few and far between these days.

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Book Review: ‘A Banquet of Consequences: True Life Adventures of Sex (not too much), Drugs (plenty), Rock & Roll (of course), and the Feds (who invited them?)’ by Jake Rohrer https://blogcritics.org/book-review-a-banquet-of-consequences-true-life-adventures-of-sex-not-too-much-drugs-plenty-rock-roll-of-course-and-the-feds-who-invited-them-by-jake-rohrer/ Mon, 24 Nov 2014 00:41:27 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5423048 'A Banquet of Consequences' is Jake Rohrer's memories of his time with Creedence Clearwater Revival, his years as a drug runner, and his life in prison.

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The full title of Jake Rohrer’s new memoir is hard to beat for being a concise summary of the book in question:  A Banquet of Consequences: True Life Adventures of Sex (not too much), Drugs (plenty), Rock & Roll (of course), and the Feds (who invited them?) As Jake told me in a recent interview, all our lives are indeed “banquets of consequences” resulting from our choices and actions. Of course, not all of us are going to share the same consequences as Rohrer because we haven’t all lived lives of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and what happens when the FBI takes a dim view of our actions. As Jake puts it, those Feds don’t have much of a sense of humor.

What is going to draw most readers to Banquet of Consequences are the sections that describe Rohrer’s time with Creedence Clearwater Revival, first as a high school bud and then as part of their publicity and touring staff. Jake knew them back in 1960 when the group was first known as the Blue Velvets, then briefly as the Golliwogs, and finally CCR. He remembers the band as being one of the most honest, straight forward high school bands when there were few such ensembles. Then, Tom Fogerty joined the group and the girls started to go crazy.

Rohrer recalls how Creedence Clearwater made some important radio connections when they played benefits for striking DJs fighting with the management of KMPX. When that staff moved over to KSAN, the jocks repaid the band by happily playing their demos before the first LP was released. Then came 1969 and Rohrer left the auto dealership he’d been working at to first become CCR’s press agent, a role that expanded to include supporting the band on the road. In fact, Rohrer told me he hopes readers will especially enjoy getting insights into what went on behind the scenes when CCR was on tour.

Yes, Rohrer gets into the sad break-up of the band and does so with an even hand. He managed to remain friendly with the various members afterwards, and one of the most interesting sections is his descriptions of his time with John Fogerty hunting, camping, and jamming with the locals near Troy, Oregon. If you ever wondered what Fogerty was doing between the demise of CCR, the Blue Ridge Rangers, and Centerfield, here’s part of the answer. Much of that time in the musical wilderness was literally spent in the wilderness.

But be warned. Perhaps 1/5 to ¼ of this book deals with CCR and the rock business. In fact, you’ll be 59 pages into Banquet of Consequences before we meet John Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford in high school. Rohrer isn’t telling his story in chronological order, but instead introduces himself by describing his years in prison for drug running. After sketching his time with CCR, the rest of his book gets into how he ended up in jail and his unhappy interaction with the Feds. He admits that, while his title plays with the FBI by saying ‘”who invited them,” he now admits “I did.”

Obviously, fans of Creedence Clearwater Revival will be keenly interested in Rohrer’s insider accounts. In addition, Rohrer thinks that, beyond the rock biz, a wider readership will appreciate his portrayal of the times that CCR was part of. His days in prison aren’t the most harrowing you’ll ever read, and his years as a drug dealer aren’t much different from other such convicts. But, put together, this fast-paced anecdotal autobiography does have a place in the ever-growing genre of rock memoirs. It’s entertaining, but not cover-to-cover indispensable reading.

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Music Review: Love – ‘Black Beauty’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-love-black-beauty/ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-love-black-beauty/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 23:39:37 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5422692 The newly released CD of Love's long lost 'Black Beauty' is for completists and archivists of late-'60s West Coast rock.

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Back in 2012, High Moon Records proudly issued a vinyl edition of the long lost album by Love, Black Beauty. Now, High Moon is really going all out for Black Beauty by issuing the collection as a TrueSound Audiophile CD with six bonus tracks accompanied with a lush, 62-page Hardbound Eco-Book. The package includes 35 photos by Herbert W. Worthington and an essay by Ben Edmonds describing how Black Beauty was never released because Love’s label at the time, Buffalo Records, went out of business in 1973. As many other reviewers have already noted, the new edition prompts many questions. Had Black Beauty come out when it was recorded, would it have made any difference in the career of Love’s main motor, Arthur Lee? How would it have fared in a year where the charts were topped by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Jackson Browne, David Bowie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, and Mott the Hoople? Hmm. I have another question. Is Black Beauty really worth all this belated hype and hoopla?

Love Black BeautyI’ve always thought of Love as being akin to another California band of the period, Moby Grape. Both groups had decent label support, both bands earned considerable critical attention, but neither ensemble reached a wide audience beyond their largely local cult followings. In the case of Love, they were a band that started out with promise. In 1966, they released songs like “My Little Red Book,” a jaunty version of “Hey Joe,” and “7 and 7 Is.” That was when Love included members like Johnny Echols and Bryan MacLean, who were valuable contributors both as players and co-songwriters. Then came the legendary Forever Changes (1967) and then everything indeed changed.

I stopped paying attention after that, and I wasn’t alone. I vividly remember picking up 1970’s False Start from a bargain bin and getting excited hearing the first track, “The Everlasting First,” mainly because of the blazing Jimi Hendrix guitar solo. The rest of the LP, well, I played it once and never again. Had Black Beauty come out in 1973 as intended, I likely would never have played it. I felt burned by False Start.

Well, that was then and this is now. I started reading publicity for Black Beauty a few months back and read terms like “classic” and “masterpiece.” I got excited all over again. I think my expectations got too high.

First, this version of Love, being Lee and guitarist Melvan Whittington, bass player Robert Rozelle, and drummer Joe Blocker, had been together a very short time. While produced by Paul Rothchild, Black Beauty was played by this rough and ready band with minimal polish. Of course, that was by design. This edition of Love could almost be described as punk/blues rock. I admit, there’s always been an audience for the bare bones approach, so that primitiveness wouldn’t necessarily have damned the LP in 1973.

True enough, there’s no avoiding the many comparisons critics are making between Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee. Certainly, there were many personal connections between Hendrix and Lee, and many have claimed the second song on Black Beauty, “Midnight Sun,” had Hendrix as a guest. Apparently not. But it’s clear Lee did his best to evoke the vocal style of Hendrix on this one. Other Hendrix touches are more subtle. One of the set’s best tracks, “Skid,” is nicely mixed with throbbing bass and jingling percussion with verses reminiscent of “All Along the Watchtower.” The aching soulful “Can’t Find It,” another highlight, is a tad reminiscent of “Little Wing.”

But it would be unfair to dismiss Black Beauty as merely being Hendrix-light. Lee and company touched a number of other bases along the way. “Walk Right In” sounds like what the Rooftop Singers hit would have become if the Grateful Dead had given it a try. “Beep Beep” is poppy calypso (not really reggae as some have claimed) and “Stay Away” is pure strobe light, garage rock psychedelia.

Other tracks make it clear Black Beauty can’t be really considered a “masterpiece.” In particular, the straining vocals of “Lonely Pigs” and “See Myself In You” are simply painful to listen to. Finally, the original album concludes with the live “Product Of The Times” which, again, harkens back to the approach of Hendrix, but the times Lee sings about had largely come and gone by 1973.

Speaking of live material, three of the bonus tracks on Black Beauty were recorded at the Electric Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland on May 30, 1974. For the most part, they show a rambling band that had moments of fire but little magic. To be fair, “Every Time I Look Up, I’m Down,” “Nothing,” and “Keep On Shining” (sadly from False Start) were not professionally recorded and the songs sound like they were captured on a personal cassette recorder.

One real nugget in the bonus tracks is the short title song from the motion picture Thomasine & Bushrod,  a folky bit of early ’70s pop which Lee composed shortly after the Black Beauty sessions. We also get lengthy conversations between Lee and various radio jocks which outline the history of Love and what Lee hoped for with Black Beauty. He discusses his work with Hendrix and admits his lack of interest in touring helped contribute to Love’s low profile in the ’60s. Finally, we get one additional foray into garage rock, “L.A. Blues,” which Lee performed with Ventilator.

In the flier sent out to promo Black Beauty, a concluding note reads: “There will be a Love exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens in 2015. Love’s Black Beauty album will be featured in the exhibit.”

For me, that announcement feels a tad ironic. For the most part, Black Beauty is essentially an artifact from the distant past now available for public display. I suspect there is an audience for this one, mainly those who already love Love, archivists of that period, and those collectors who like interesting packaging. I won’t deny there are folks who will be delighted to hear this collection. For me, however, it’s another Love album I’ll play just once. It’s interesting, but not essential.

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Music DVD Review: The Rolling Stones – ‘From the Vault-L.A. Forum-Live in 1975’ https://blogcritics.org/music-dvd-review-the-rolling-stones-from-the-vault-l-a-forum-live-in-1975/ Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:57:43 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5422408 Two new releases from the vaults of the Rolling Stones are remastered concerts from 1975 and 1981. Only one of these gets the review treatment here.

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Some time back, I inserted a Rolling Stones concert disc in my DVD player to educate my 13-year-old granddaughter about what rock and roll was all about. In short order, she proclaimed, “That’s not rock and roll!” Startled, I asked what she meant. “They’re not wearing black,” she replied, “and they’re not screaming.”

Well, if your definition of rock requires speed guitar riffs and Robert Plant imitation vocals, then a huge chunk of the rock canon won’t interest you. For the rest of us, The Rolling Stones have, for decades, pretty much defined what rock and roll is, was, and should be. That being said, it’s hard to imagine many fans feeling the need to own each and every official and bootleg Stones studio or live album issued over the past 50 years, not to mention the stream of DVD and Blu-ray concert discs issued to date.

Rolling Stones - L.A. Forum 1975Speaking of concert discs, here comes some more. This November, Eagle Rock Entertainment is launching their “From the Vaults” series beginning with From the Vault—L.A. Forum—Live in 1975 and From the Vault—Hampton Coliseum—Live in 1981.

Recorded July 12, the L.A. Forum gig came from the tour which introduced Ronnie Wood as the new second guitarist and featured Billy Preston on keyboards. The December 18, 1981 Hampton Coliseum concert represented the tour supporting the release of Tattoo You. As it happened, it was Keith Richards’ birthday and the set was the first ever music concert broadcast on television as a pay-per-view event.

Both concerts are now available on SD Blu-ray, DVD, CD, on vinyl, and digital formats. Both shows were restored and newly remixed by longtime Stones engineer Bob Clearmountain and both are two-and-a-half hours long. That’s a whole lotta Rolling Stones, but for this assignment, the review focuses on the L.A. Forum DVD.

In the main, From the Vault—L.A. Forum—Live in 1975 draws from the Mick Taylor period, much like the 1972 tour where the pre-1968 Stones catalog was largely ignored. This time around, one reason was due to the fact Black and Blue was far from complete and the Stones decided to instead plug their latest compilation, Made in the Shade which included tracks from Sticky Fingers through It’s Only Rock and Roll. In fact, the album was specifically released to coordinate with the tour and be a substitute for their next studio album of new material. For their live shows, the set was expanded to feature a handful of Brian Jones-era flashbacks including the obligatory “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Street Fighting Man.”

So the L.A. Forum show was full of workmanlike run-throughs of staples like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” “Angie,” “Happy,” and “Tumbling Dice.” Not surprisingly, there are few surprises in any of these presentations. That’s not to say that there aren’t magical moments for Stones fans.

For example, “You Gotta Move” has nice raw blues guitar interplay between Richards and Wood. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” has an extended jam with a lengthy sax solo from Trevor Lawrence. One atypical offering, “Fingerprint File,” was the Stones borrowing from early ’70s funk with Bill Wyman demonstrating the bass-slapping he’d later incorporate into “Miss You.” Likewise, Charlie Watts, supported by percussionist Ollie E. Brown, really shines on “Midnight Rambler” with more than his usual share of drum runs and mini solos.

Speaking of atypical, Billy Preston—who was a major contributor to the Black and Blue sessions—has considerable time in the spotlight. He has fun in “If You Can’t Rock Me”/”Get Off of My Cloud” by interspersing piano bits from nursery songs. He gets to plug his latest album by singing lead on his own “That’s Life” and revving up the crowd with his instrumental, “Outta Space.”

However, there are fans who might want to pause before jumpin’ on this disc. Back in 2012, the L.A. show filmed on July 13, one day after the “From the Vaults” concert was taped, was released as part of the “Rolling Stones Archive,” also remixed by Clearmountain. I could be wrong, but I suspect there’s likely very minimal difference between two shows presented only a night apart.

Of course, any evening you spend together with the Stones will likely be a happy one—the question is just how many such nights do you crave? There’s no reason to think the “Archives” will close anytime soon and now the “Vault” is open with more music in the queue. The time seems to have come when you can actually get what you want, and maybe much more than you need.

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Music DVD Review: Genesis – ‘Three Sides Live’ https://blogcritics.org/music-dvd-review-genesis-three-sides-live/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 21:23:22 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5422465 The new Blu-ray and DVD editions of 'Three Sides Live' offer an overview of what Genesis was all about in their 'Abacab' era.

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Primarily shot at the Savoy Theatre in New York on November 28, 1981 and the next night at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, Three Sides Live was a promotional film tied in with that year’s North American tour to promote the new Genesis studio album, Abacab. First released on VHS to coincide with the live album of the same name in 1982 , as a laser disc in 1991, the film’s original DVD release was as part of the 2009 limited edition box set, The Movie Box 1981-2007. Filmed in 16mm, Three Sides Live has now been fully restored and is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD as a standalone edition.

Roughly speaking, Three Sides Live is approximately 2/3 concert film, 1/3 a documentary full of interviews with the trio Genesis had become, namely Tony Banks (keyboards, backing vocals), Phil Collins (drums, lead vocals), and Mike Rutherford (guitar, bass, backing vocals). On stage, Genesis was supplemented with the very capable Daryl Stuermer (guitar, bass) and Chester Thompson (drums), the latter playing most of the drum parts while Collins stood center stage as the band’s frontman.

If you like this era of Genesis, it’s impossible to complain about most of the musical selections, the bulk of which are naturally from Abacab. A handful of songs are from 1980’s Duke, including the first three songs of the concert, “Behind The Lines,” “Duchess,” “Misunderstanding,” and the set’s closer, “Turn It On Again.” At one point, Genesis pays homage to their art-rock time with Peter Gabriel with a rather uninspired medley based on 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway titled “In The Cage”/”The Cinema Show”/”The Colony Of Slippermen.” This medley segues into “Afterglow” from 1976’s Wind And Wuthering, the final album with original guitarist Steve Hackett.

Genesis - Three Sides LiveBut be warned. Some of the songs are heard in full, some are broken up with interspersed interviews, and some are essentially excerpts surrounded by more interviews. In these conversations with both professional critics like Hugh Fielder from the music weekly Sounds and call-in questions from fans on a radio show, the band discusses how Abacab was a group effort with contributions by Collins, Banks, and Rutherford synthesized into fully developed songs. That way, their individual songs could be used on separate solo albums. They discuss using drum boxes, taking over their own production duties, the ability to take more time in the studio, audience responses to their changes, and adding the sound of the Earth, Wind, and Fire horns to “No Reply At All.”

Elsewhere on Three Sides Live, we hear Banks’ “Me & Sarah Jane” and a very short snippet of Collins’ “Man On The Corner.” Of course, not all the offerings are nuggets. I suspect there are few devotees of the percussive “Who Dunnit?” But music lovers should also enjoy the seven full-length audio-only bonus tracks including “Behind The Lines,” “Duchess,” “Me & Sarah Jane,” “Man On The Corner,” “One For The Vine,” “Fountain Of Salmacis” and “Follow You, Follow Me.” (The latter three did not appear in the film.)

The grainy analog visuals of Three Sides Live are a tad limited due to the original 16 mm source film. This is most evident in the black bar cropped sides, as a true widescreen edition would not be workable. But we do see some of the Genesis stagecraft like the use of dry ice and pink lights during “Afterglow,” and Collins taking off his shirt midway in the concert. Still, the pre-digital film looks vibrant enough and adds to the feel of this movie being a statement of who and what Genesis were at that time as they moved from experimental prog rock to commercial pop.

For many, Abacab was the zenith of the Genesis canon, so the 133 minutes of Three Sides Live is a document of a very creative period for Collins, Banks, and Rutherford. If you liked Abacab and don’t already own a previous version of this film, Three Sides Live is full of well-produced music and numerous insights into how it came about.

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Music Review: Marianne Faithfull – ‘Give My Love to London’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-marianne-faithfull-give-my-love-to-london/ Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:39:59 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5422174 Marianne Faithfull's 20th album celebrates 50 years in the music business and pulls together themes and styles from her distinguished career.

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If you haven’t been keeping track, Marianne Faithfull has been in the music business for 50 years. For the most part, she’s best known for her association with the Rolling Stones starting with 1965’s “As Tears Go By,” the notorious drug bust where she was naked wrapped in a rug at Keith Richards’ home, her relationship with Mick Jagger, and her co-writing “Sister Morphine.” During the ’70s, she famously wrestled with drug addiction which resulted in her voice becoming raw and gravelly with a gritty lower register. Then came 1979 and her magnificent Broken English with classic songs like the title track, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordon,” and a powerful take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

During the ’80s, two projects would prove to have longterm implications. First, in 1985 Faithfull performed “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife” on Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill. This was producer Hal Willner’s all-star tribute to one half of the Bertolt Brecht/Weill songwriting team. This led to Faithfull participating in a number of Brecht/Weill productions on stage and on record. Then, in 1987, Willner also produced Faithfull’s most highly regarded release of the decade, Strange Weather. On this release, Faithfull transformed herself into a cabaret-flavored jazz and blues interpreter.

Marianne Faithfull - Give My Love to LondonWhile she’s been drawing from a varied palate of styles ever since, her 20th album, Give My Love to London, shows she may be sending her ironic love to the British Isles, but her current approach still has one foot in Lotte Lenya’s Weimar-era Berlin and the other in Edith Piaf’s Paris music halls. Produced by Rob Ellis and Dimitri Tikovoi, it benefits from the contributions of a number of collaborators. Faithfull co-wrote the title song with Steve Earle, and there’s one clear reference to her Brecht/Weill inspirations when she sings, “I’m singing ‘Pirate Jenny’ as the blackship’s bearing down.” “Pirate Jenny,” of course, is a famous song from The Threepenny Opera which Faithfull performed in a stage revival of the production in Dublin and on her 1997 release 20th Century Blues, yet another example of her deep interest in Weimar-era musical theater.

On the other side of the musical spectrum, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters penned “Sparrows Will Sing,” the track selected for the first single. (Is it, perhaps, a nod to Edith Piaf who was known as “The Little Sparrow”?) In a similar mold, Faithfull sings Nick Cave’s piano-and violin-based “Late Victorian Holocaust” and the two co-wrote another piano ballad, “Deep Water.” I can’t think of a more appropriate contemporary poet/songwriter for Faithfull to cover than Leonard Cohen, and she does just that with the dramatic “Going Home,” a number Leonard composed with longtime partner Patrick Leonard. Faithfull too pairs with Leonard on “Mother Wolf,” a comment on war that has me speculating if she had a Brecht anti-war play in mind, namely Mother Courage.

The song that takes Faithfull furthest back to her early folk days is “Love More or Less,” an acoustic guitar co-write with Tom McRae. While the majority of the songs are Faithfull co-compositions, she does go back in time for some covers including the jauntiest song on the set, the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love.” The album’s closer, the smoky “I Get Along Without You Very Well” is from Hoagy Carmichael. For that one, we can almost see the single stage light over the singer dimming as the story fades out.

Other contributors of note, both as composers and players, were Anna Calvi (“Falling Back”), Ed Harcourt (“True Lies”), Portishead’s Adrian Utley, and members of the Bad Seeds. All in all, this cast of writers and performers give Faithfull everything she needs to support her world-weary “Baroness of Bohemia” theatricality.

Most reviews to date rate Give My Love to London very highly indeed, and deservedly so. While it marks her 50th anniversary, it shouldn’t be seen as her penultimate culmination, or at least not Faithfull’s grand finale. It’s a high point in her career and should hopefully draw in new listeners into her constantly evolving dark wisdom. It’s her best so far in the 21st century.

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Music DVD Review: The Doors – ‘Feast of Friends’ https://blogcritics.org/music-dvd-review-the-doors-feast-of-friends/ Thu, 13 Nov 2014 16:07:46 +0000 http://blogcritics.org/?p=5421926 After 45 years, The Doors' 'Feast of Friends' is now available packaged with other newly restored features from the period.

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Back in 1968, The Doors self-financed and produced a film about that year’s summer tour that was, for various reasons, never completed. Outside of bootleg copies and chunks used in other documentaries, Feast of Friends hasn’t been available in full until now.

Seeing the cinema veritae production all these years later, it’s easy to understand why there’s never been any urgency to officially release Feast of Friends. From the beginning of the project, in the spirit of the times, it was a film without a plan or point. As Jim Morrison said, The Doors weren’t making the film, it was “kind of making itself.” There’s ample evidence of the hit-and-miss filming in the special features on the new DVD. For example, guitarist Robby Krieger told the cameraman, “We’re wasting footage” when he was being urged to come up with some solo songs backstage. In other words, in its raw state Feast of Friends showed many rough edges in a low-quality hodgepodge of music and home movies.

Now, what makes the new release worthwhile is that with modern technology, Morrison’s original 16 mm negative could be restored with corrected colors and mastered in high definition. In addition, original Doors co-producer/engineer Bruce Botnick totally remixed and remastered the soundtrack, apparently drawing from the master tapes for songs released on albums like Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade along with the live location tapes reportedly recorded on a portable Nagra reel-to-reel recorder. (“Wishful Sinful” and “Walking Blues” from the latter album are eyebrow-raising choices, as those songs wouldn’t be released until the next summer.)

As a result, we can now hear top drawer music supporting clips of The Doors sightseeing, messing around on the beach, improvising a poem for a small audience, and playing cards in hotel rooms. At this point in their collective career, this was a group without egos, an assembly of equals who obviously enjoyed each other at work and play.

Of course, there’s ample concert footage intercut with both backstage interplay and conversations with concertgoers. For example, early on there’s a Vietnam vet talking about his opposition to the war despite his patriotism. There’s the “Minister at Large” who thinks Doors’ concerts are akin to religious rituals that began 50 days after the Crucifixion. In other words, the Doors created a trippy self-portrait that looks like the work in progress that it was.

Gratefully, Eagle Rock Entertainment and the surviving Doors seemed to realize that, on its own, the 40-minute Feast of Friends wasn’t going to attract much of an audience beyond devoted fans. So they added three bonus features that are much more than the usual interviews of participants recalling what they did all those years ago. First up is the newly produced Feast of Friends: Encore which includes footage shot during the same period as the title film, some of which is longer clips of the same material drawn from the 20 hours of film boiled down into Feast of Friends.

There’s also revealing footage of The Doors in the recording studio, notably showing the process of how “Wild Child” evolved. Encore also includes a newly unearthed bit of a Krieger solo where he sings and strums a little ditty; we hear a second Morrison poetry reading, and we witness a never-before-seen altercation with photographer Richard Avedon telling the crew they weren’t welcome to film him at work.

The next feature is the 56-The Doors - Feast of Friendsminute The Doors Are Open, a British TV documentary originally aired on December 17, 1968. The bulk of the show is footage of a performance at London’s Roundhouse which is somewhat hampered by poor miking of Morrison’s vocals. While previously released on DVD in 2002, Botnick remastered the sound that, once again, showcases just how solid the players in The Doors were, notably Krieger’s flamenco introduction to “Spanish Caravan.” Famously, at one point Morrison, dismissive of the song “Hello, I Love You,” lets Ray Manzarek take over lead vocal duties.

Finally, the package boasts The End, a presentation of that song filmed in Toronto, Canada in August 1967, it is believed, and was the band’s international TV debut. At that point, Manzarek tells us, “Light My Fire” wasn’t yet a hit and few people knew who the band was. However, “Light My Fire” had been rising up the charts all summer, although August was a month before the famous Ed Sullivan Show broadcast. Whenever the show was taped, “The End” was filmed for The O’Keefe Centre Presents: The Rock Scene – Like It Is and was later aired in the U.S. in 1970 on a program called The Now Explosion. First released on DVD in 2002, it became credited with being one of the best Doors shows ever recorded.

So the Feast of Friends 147-minute package succeeds at being something more than an artifact of its time. I do think that in the title film and the British documentary, the film makers really strained to make The Doors a political group closely associated with the unrest in America’s streets. While interviews with each of the performers stress they all felt the music was what they were all about, the film makers wanted to add context, and they had a one-note context in mind. In The Doors Are Open, in particular, Morrison was labeled a “politician,” but that word choice was clearly loosely applied. Writing songs like “Five to One” and “The Unknown Soldier” obviously demonstrate a political point of view, but there’s no sign Morrison wanted to run for any sort of office.

Instead, songs like “Moonlight Drive,” “When the Music’s Over,” and “The End” reveal a poetic sensibility, but Morrison as poet is never highlighted. Rather, we hear soundbites from the likes of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon decrying the lack of law and order in America’s streets along with scattered, and often annoying, footage of riots. As a result, those who weren’t there and are now experiencing the Feast of Friends material without a deep understanding of the late 1960s can be forgiven for not seeing how musicians commenting on their times were allegedly inciting social unrest. To only focus on politics is to dismiss so many other dimensions of the enigmatic music.

All of this means that while Feast of Friends and the other features provide interesting behind-the-scenes footage of The Doors offstage between gigs and spliced in bits of historical context, the heart of it all remains the music. The non-performance material is interesting but not especially revelatory. But the aural enhancements to the performances, especially those already widely available but not this clean and bright, are what is worth the price of admission.

So, for those who already know The Doors well, Feast of Friends will be a welcome and perhaps long wanted addition to your library. If you’re less familiar with The Doors canon, consider this disc a supplementary and not introductory education into what they were all about. Odds are, this will likely be the last Doors release that includes visual footage, as the collection, word has it, includes everything that’s left in the vaults. This could be the end, beautiful friend.

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