George Harrison died of cancer November 29, 2001, at the age of 58. Exactly a year later Eric Clapton organized a tribute concert at Royal Albert Hall which featured a line-up of friends and former band mates. The resultant album was released almost a year later on November 17, 2003.
When Eric Clapton calls, people usually respond. Jeff Lynne, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney would all play and share lead vocal duties on various tracks. In addition his son Dhani Harrison, guitarist Albert Lee, plus old Harrison sidemen, bassist Klaus Voorman and drummer Jim Keltner were also present to fill out the sound.
The first disc is a presentation of three pieces of Indian music composed by Ravi Shankar, which were performed and conducted by his daughter Anoushka. She was in her early twenties at the time, yet was already a virtuoso of the Sitar. The 23 minute “Arpan” is a production, and whether this track is enjoyed or passed over will be determined by the listener’s affinity for Indian music. Nevertheless the music was an appropriate addition to the tribute for George Harrison as it was an important part of his life. The fourth song was an interesting cover of “The Inner Light” performed by Anoushka and Jeff Lynne.
The second disc begins with Jeff Lynne’s vocal on “I Want To Tell You” from Revolver and rocks through twenty tracks.
Some of the songs work better than others. Ringo Starr’s two-song set is one of the highlights of the concert. He co-authored his number one hit “Photograph” with George Harrison and here gives a performance that provides an emotional center for the album. This is followed by a rendition of “Honey Don’t” with some fine guitar work by Albert Lee.
Another highlight is the vocal performances by Joe Brown. He was a famous early rock era British performer and personality but was little known outside of his home country. His vocal on “Here Comes The Sun” is just perfect. His choice of performing the obscure “That’s The Way It Goes” from Gone Troppo was brilliant.
Billy Preston’s exuberant performance of “My Sweet Lord” was the result of the song being a part of his live act for decades. Paul McCartney’s take of “Something” proves that many times simple is best. He also shines on “All Things Must Pass,” which is amusing given the fact it was a song The Beatles passed on at one time.
On the other hand the Tom Petty tracks are just average and Jeff Lynne’s voice is not in the best form. Eric Clapton provides the lead vocal on three tracks, but it is his support work throughout the album that ties everything together. The evening and album draws to a close with Joe Brown providing the lead vocal for the old (1924) popular tune “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”
Concert For George was the best and most fitting gift his friends could offer. It is rare tribute album that works.