Monday , May 27 2024
Carly SImon-Grand Central

Music & Film Reviews: Carly Simon’s ‘Live at Grand Central,’ plus Iggy & the Stooges, R&B from the 1940s, and Robert Forster

Carly’s Surprise

The most you can usually hope for when you walk into New York City’s Grand Central Terminal is that your train will be on time, but travelers on April 2, 1995, got something more: a surprise concert by Carly Simon. The show—the first live performance in 14 years for the performer, who suffers from stage fright—aired that year on the Lifetime TV channel and also showed up on VHS and laserdisc. Now, nearly three decades later and only months after Simon’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the recording has been digitized, re-edited, re-sequenced, and released on CD, vinyl, digital platforms, and Blu-ray. 

Simon devotes a third of the Live at Grand Central setlist to songs from her then-latest album, Letters Never Sent, including “Touched by the Sun,” which shares the title of her book about her friendship with Jackie Onassis, and “Like a River,” a highly personal number addressed to her mother, who like Onassis, died of cancer in 1994. This latter track was omitted from the 1995 video.

Simon also fits in some of her hits, among them “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Coming Around Again,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” “Jesse,” and “Anticipation.” Versions of her four biggest chart successes—“Nobody Does It Better,” “You Belong to Me,” “Mockingbird” (with then-husband James Taylor), and the chart-topping “You’re So Vain”—are all missing, however.

Especially considering that this is a 28-year-old recording made in a train station, the sound quality is impressive. Ditto the video quality on the Blu-ray. Simon’s backup—which features keyboards, guitar, drums, bass, violin, mandolin, and several singers—is fine, too. And the material offers a reminder of her songwriting abilities: she’s the sole composer of 10 of the 15 tracks and co-authored all but one of the remaining numbers (Kris Kristofferson’s “I’ve Got to Have You”).

As for Simon’s performance, she mostly mirrors the studio versions, making the CD a bit redundant and a lot less surprising than the fact that she gave the concert. Her voice is strong throughout, however, and fans may well want to grab the opportunity to see her perform on the Blu-ray. 

Iggy and the Stooges-Raw Power

Punk Progenitors

On Iggy & the Stooges’ aptly named third studio album, 1973’s Raw Power, Iggy Pop’s menacing growl and the searing instrumentation by newly enlisted guitarist James Williamson (who co-wrote the album with Iggy) add up to a potent combination. This is no place to go looking for lilting melodies, and Bob Dylan needn’t worry about competition from lyrics like “I need it all, baby, that’s no lie / I need a lover with an alibi.” But if you favor edgy hard rock, this influential album—which predated punk releases like the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks—remains an essential purchase.

Raw Power has just been reissued (albeit only digitally and with no liner notes) in a greatly expanded 50th-anniversary edition. It includes remastered versions of both the original David Bowie mix and Iggy Pop’s superior 1996 remix as well as an eight-song 1973 Georgia concert that embraces four numbers from the studio LP. Also featured is the nine-track Rare Power, which includes a rehearsal performance, a few alternate mixes, and outtakes from the album sessions. 

R&B No. 1s of the 40s

Rock’s Roots 

The term “rhythm and blues” has always been a big umbrella and never more so than in 1940s-era R&B record charts, which embraced everything from rock and roll forebears to blues and big band jazz. 

You’ll find a generous sampling of this music on a new four-CD, 97-song anthology called The R&B No. 1 of the ’40s, which includes almost every song that topped Billboard’s rhythm and blues charts in that decade and, the title notwithstanding, also incorporates No. 1s from 1950. It draws on the “Harlem Hit Parade,” which Billboard introduced in 1942; the “Most Played Juke Box Race Records,” which replaced the prior chart three years later, and the “Best Selling Retail Race Records,” which the magazine debuted in 1948. Those chart names, of course, were all euphemisms for Black music, and most of the artists here are indeed Black, but there’s at least one notable exception: Bing Crosby, whose “White Christmas” topped the Harlem chart for three weeks, starting near the end of 1942. Apparently, Black audiences were no more able to resist Crosby’s appeal than white ones.

Among the most prominently featured acts in this anthology are saxophonist and jump blues band leader Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (a whopping 18 numbers, including one with Ella Fitzgerald), jazz great Duke Ellington & His Orchestra (five), the influential Ink Spots vocal group (five, including three with Fitzgerald), jazz and pop singer Nat King Cole (five), and singer/songwriter Ivory Joe Hunter (three). Also turning in notable performances are such acts as Sonny Til’s great singing group, the Orioles; rock progenitor Roy Brown; “Queen of R&B” Ruth Brown; blues giant John Lee Hooker; jazz singer and pianist Dinah Washington; and R&B vocalist Little Esther Phillips.

Tracks like these add up to a fascinating and satisfying experience, and it’s enriched by an illustrated 32-page booklet that includes notes and chart data about every song.

Robert Forster-The Candle and the Flame

Australian Ardor

Australian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Robert Forster—who first made his mark in the alt-rock group the Go-Betweens in the late 1970s and 1980s—delivers some of his best music, lyrics, and performances on The Candle and the Flame, his powerful eighth solo album. Recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, the CD finds Forster looking back and ahead as he focuses on love and the passage of time.

Many if not all the songs are drawn from real life and several, including the poignant “Tender Years” and “She’s a Fighter,” reference his longtime wife and sometime musical partner, Karin Baumler. The latter number, which is the album’s first single, presents Forster’s response to the 2021 news that Baumler had ovarian cancer. Several of the other songs also seem to address her illness but it turns out that Forster wrote them prior to her diagnosis.

At times, the vocals and musical approach on this CD may remind you of a few of the tracks featuring John Cale on Songs for Drella, the Andy Warhol tribute album that Cale made with Lou Reed. All of them will remind you that life is precious and that music that comes from the heart can help us navigate its twists and turns.

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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