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Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe
Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe
by Lars-Henrik Olsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must for the nature enthusiast, 22 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the book to fill the gap in any country-walker's or bird-watcher's library. Most of us are more or less unaware of the tracks and signs of the wildlife we go in search of. We have our field-guides and may even refer to You tube for bird-calls, but we hardly notice the footprints, the chewed branch or the animal droppings. This book adds a completely new dimension to our nature watching; it is indeed surprising that no one thought of this approach sooner. Now we can see what birds or animals were there even if we didn't actually see them. And that is a great motivator for looking harder.

The book takes a very wide approach by concentrating on what we are most likely to see, or see evidence of, anywhere in Europe or Western Russia, both birds and animals, and even some insects. The bird information is very limited (this is not a complete field guide), but nevertheless extremely useful in that the bird guides do not usually include illustrations of footprints, droppings or identification through kill. The animal list may not be complete (I failed to find an East European Stone Marten) but it's not far off being complete and because of its real relevance to the places many of us visit, and the complete absence of other guides on the subject, it is a wonderful addition to the library.
Not only is this a book of great practical use, it also contains masses of extremely good photos which will surely educate and inspire people who have yet to discover the joys of nature. A friend who is Hungarian and who doesn't understand Estonian found an Estonian copy of this book and immediately bought it. I was set to follow until I realized I could get it in English - now we both have it in English and an Estonian friend has the original one! It's not often one would buy a book in a language one couldn't read. I would have. That is how highly I recommend this book.

I hope this review redresses the balance of the other rather negative reviews. It's true it is not comprehensively scientific; it does contain species not found in the UK; the photo reproduction quality is not that of an expensive photography book. But it is pocket sized, well indexed, with maps for most species' territories and full of fascinatingly useful information. It is an absolute must for
the non-expert nature enthusiast of any age.

In the Hills of California (Live)
In the Hills of California (Live)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £13.46

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greg Brown al fresco, 28 Jan. 2011
This is Greg Brown somewhere in a field in the hills of California performing at the Kate Wolf music festival. The 32 tracks on these two CDs are taken from appearances Brown made there over a six-year period, the majority of them in the early 2000's. Given the distinctly rural flavour coupled with the 'stretched-out on the porch' default position of many of his songs, this makes it an ideal setting. And once again he is magnificent. The 'Dream City' Essential Recordings established his pre-eminence in my mind (see my review) and the second CD in that package, the rough mixes and the live mix, suggested that Live Brown should be next. It is not a question of which but both. They are complementary even although there is an overlap of some five songs. However, the interpretations are so different and the accents so changed that having both is fine. All five are great songs; hearing them reinterpreted is illuminating.

The studio CD collection 'Dream City' is probably the best place to start because so many of the songs are so good and the musicianship superb. As you listen it becomes apparent just how loose and trans-genre Brown's singing style is. He begs to be heard al fresco, in a field with a small, no doubt fairly selective, good humoured audience; and here he is in Northern Mendocino County, surrounded by trees, a raptor perched on the pallet gate that leads up into the hills.

As it was on the studio compilation, the musicians' contribution is immense, albeit often sparse. They are all different musicians to those on the studio collection and all excellent. There is virtually no percussion, and no bassist. These are string based sessions - mostly electric guitar (Nina Gerber who is a revelation and or Garnet Rodgers), Brown playing acoustic, sometimes augmented by Pete Heitzman, mandolin and fiddle on some tracks, along with a fine harmonica player on occasions.

It's missing the point to go track-spotting on these two live discs. This is Greg Brown and accompanists stretched out, often improvising, responding to the feeling of the field. It's an occasion to get stretched out too, on the sofa in the wintry sun behind the double-glazing, or in better times out on the porch, a couple of chilled beers to hand n' let it roll and take you where it will.

Although this is a patchwork of edited performances, they fit together very comfortably because the venue was the same on each occasion. Disc one opens with a verse from 'beat' poet Gary Snyder which sets the tone appropriately: 'For All':
'....Ah to be alive on a mid-September morn...'
There follows a secular spiritual to ease in with:
'Wash my eyes, that I may see yellow return to the willow tree.'
Part of Brown's craft is his skill as a wordsmith. If 'poetry is the best words in the best order'
then let's call it poetry. All but five of the songs on this compilation are his own compositions. Interestingly those five consist of a Kate Wolf song (the folk-singer in whose memory this event is staged), a traditional sacred/protest song, a Robert Johnson, a Smokey Robinson and a Lennon/McCartney. All of them done with real substance. Great lines emerge from most of his songs; poets are in the frame (Rexroth's Daughter) and poetry (Poet Game):
'.... our friendship died while we played the poet game ...'
'.... why do I think it's any help from me to still be dreaming of playing the poet game.'
'.... If I had it all to do again, I am not sure I'd play the poet game.'
I don't think anyone listening to this exquisitely written lament to the passing of 'a gone world' would argue with this description of Greg Brown's art; and beautifully accompanied it is too by Nina Gerber on the lone electric guitar. Urbanization, pictures of a going, if not a gone world and the passing of relationships and people, are the mother lode of Brown's songs. His phrasings are always in the vernacular of a Mid-Western America. The arrangements follow traditional lines but, like his lyrics, they are frequently nuanced in surprisingly skewed ways. He always sounds like he is singing within a tradition but he always sounds his own man: 'New songs from the old tunes' - in his words.

It's impossible to listen to this extended session without thinking this is Greg Brown himself.
However he offers a disclaimer at the beginning of disc 2, his 'I'm Not There' statement. He claims to be an uninteresting guy. Songs about his life he says would be a
'Doodle-doodle -doo ... I filled up the bird-feeders .... doodle-doodle - doo'.
He says he writes about others mostly and goes straight on to have a hugely ambiguous dialogue 'with this dude' who just happens to be the Lord.
'Oh Lord I have made you a place in my heart. Take a good look and leave.'
Great lines tumble over each other; contrition vies with mortal dignity, and a fabulous mandolin passage. Whoever this guy is, he is some guy. The humour here, if that is what you could call it, is deadpan. But elsewhere Brown is often full of good humour which is sometimes couched in lullaby form, or he is even just humorous and in front of a benign audience is the place for this.

Disc one proceeds with one of the great love songs from 'Dream City' - a love song of person and place, even hinting at some kind of redemption nearby as a given; its snaking-over-the-horizon melody being taken up by both an acoustic and an electric guitar quite beautifully. Then the funny stuff begins: a parody of a rock'n'roll song, questionably - because Brown never over-plays his hand and anyhow it is another excuse to set Nina Gerber up with some lovely licks. After an interlude of quintessential Brown lyricism, he's doing a kind of Tom Lehrer type rap ridiculing the new bourgeois Silicon Valley American and advocating the glories of 'slow food' and getting laid horizontal. There follows a commentary that could be Burroughs or Waits. These ones get little stars for their adult language - I guess Brown will get round to writing a line around that absurdity sometime soon. Jazz arrangements are never far way and it is the musicians who bring out the lustre on this group of songs that would be otherwise less than remarkable.

And there are the small scale simple beautiful songs not much more than a chorus, almost an intoned mantra at times. 'China' is one of these where something exquisite is fashioned out of a handful of words. These are fragments really and as songs they wouldn't amount to much. But in the mouth of an expressivist like Brown they become mood poems. Not only has he a first-rate voice but his vocal style employs a wide range of other vocal resources in addition to delivering the melody. He can scat, intone, extend a note almost indefinitely, turn on a syllable like a Lionel Messi; he has a sure-footedness that always leads him back to the path in just the right place. Like the great modern jazzmen he can deconstruct and reassemble with an insouciant ease. And indeed if one were looking for comparisons in modern American music it would be to the jazz singers and rural bluesmen where this expressivity is in dominion. There is a subdued gospel quality too - but the voice is from the white Mid-West, at the outset at least! Such is the way that the parts are swallowed into the whole in American music; something to which Ralph Ellison often refers as the defining characteristic of American music and even society. Brown sounds like an old hand whose hand can be turned to any genre with a consummate ease. The Smokey Robinson interpretation is a stunning example. In his low notes Brown has the resonances of a black singer; higher in the register it's quite nasal like Dylan, but the looseness of it all allows the song to develop as a blues through Gerber's exemplary guitar picking. Propelled by Brown's vocal, shaded and highlighted by Karen Savoca's harmonising, it threatens to take off like an Elmore James number but returns to earth as the living, breathing soul classic we all know. A looser crossover there never was.

There is often a protest element in Greg Brown's songs - the recurring theme is how the suburban world has laid waste to a great country. When he sings 'I Want My Country Back' whatever anger there may have been is subsumed in a sense of stoicism, but at least it is being said. On 'Your Town Now' it is about handing the problem over to the younger generations coming up. All of it is under-written by a feisty refusal to be rolled over, and so the traditional 'I Shall Not Be Moved' is in Brown's reading far more a staying-put affair 'like a tree planted by the water' than a sit-down protest. The harmonica player propels and insinuates this statement of implacability through all the changes as sure-footedly as a Brown vocal.
The music morphs into a final, classic, Brown statement where the whole panoply of jazz, soul, and great lines coalesce, Brown scatting and sneaking about in, over and under the vocal until it becomes an incantation in 'the cloud coming down'; the band and the audience are thanked, the cloud is thanked and the beautiful spirit of Kate Wolf thanked too. Life-affirming it most surely is.

Discovering Greg Brown and his fellow musicians through these two extensive compilations has, over these last few weeks, been something of an epiphany for me. I hope these reviews lead others the same way.
When reading reviews one looks for easy comparisons, quick reference points, because there is after all so much stuff out there. But likening a singer-songwriter who is as individual, even iconoclastic, yet also so mainstream, to any other is far from easy. In terms of impact, Greg Brown impacted on me to a similar extent that 'The Handsome Family' did some time ago - both he and Brett Sparks have superb voices and write superb songs but they are in quite a different territory. Nearer to the Brown manor of song is the work of Townes Van Zandt and there are definite affinities. John Stewart comes to mind too, although his is a lighter voice but one thing they both share is a patriotism and an aching affection for their world, which was a beginning-to-go world in Stewart's time and a damn-nearly-gone world in Brown's. At least we can agree that he is a folk singer, in the most all-embracing sense of the word. But none of them have Brown's sense of ease, nor his facility for moving so fluently through such a range of musical genres. These concerts allowed him the space that his music requires and hence their enormous value as a showcase for his art.

Disc two includes five of the big ones referred to in my review of 'Dream City' including a stunning reading of 'Where is Maria' and closes with the Lennon / McCartney song, more a refrain really : 'Don't Let Me Down'. All hands are on deck at this point and even the dreamy audience out in the field singing along doesn't let it down. Just for once I can go along with a little singalong.
Be confident that nothing on the 'Kate Wolf' or the 'Dream City' will let you down.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2015 10:51 AM GMT

Dream City Essential Recordings Vol 2 -1997- 2006
Dream City Essential Recordings Vol 2 -1997- 2006
Price: £11.92

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Dream CDs, 1 Jan. 2011
When this finally landed on my CD player it constituted a major musical event. And it still does. Click on any of the reviews for the albums from which these tracks came and you read much the same thing. This, Greg Brown's second 'Essential Recordings', is compiled from six albums released over the second decade of his recorded career, which had ('Prairie Companion' excepted) begun in the early '80's. A CD so monumental as this asks for more than the one short, albeit enthusiastic, review which it has so far garnered in over a year on Amazon.

Quite why Greg brown had eluded us for so long is a mystery. Red House Records, a small independent label co-founded by Brown, which has a relatively obscure roster of artists, may be the reason. A visit to their site reveals a fascinating field of lesser known roots music to be explored - few of its artists receive wide media attention.

My first sighting of a Greg Brown track was on an unusual collection of Smithsonian Folkways recordings entitled 'The River of Song' (found on a Bristol hippie's barrow) - a quirky mixture of songs picked up by a field-recording team as they journeyed from the headwaters up north of Iowa down to the Mississippi delta. Greg and Bo Ramsey were caught in Brown's dining room in Iowa City in 1997 singing 'Flat Stuff' - 'a wryly affectionate description of Midwestern topography.' A friend later came up with three tracks from 'Further In' (1996) (not even reviewed on Amazon) one of which, the incomparably lovely 'Where is Maria?' must rank as one of my all time favourite songs in the genre - a once heard, never forgotten song. Finally, the trail led to this 'Essential Recordings Volume 2, 1997-2006'. Sixteen tracks from Redhouse and Trailer albums on one CD, and three unreleased rough mixes along with an unreleased live recording of Greg Brown's engaging take on the Christmas story on the other.


'Dream City' opens the first CD - a warm-up number really, more like a very good rock band than anything that is to follow. It could be Dave Alvin and band; the engaging voice, the intriguing lines and the fine guitar-playing hint at what is to follow. But if this is generic, what follows is completely individual. It readies you for a song that is, paradoxically, far too good to begin a compilation.

'Rexroth's Daughter' is statuesque - In the way that TVZ songs sometimes are.
Great songs announce themselves as this one does.
They fit like an old overcoat. Music and words coalesce:
'clouds roll in from Nebraska; dark chords on a big guitar'
Faces emerge:
'my restlessness is long gone; I'm standin' like an old Jack pine'
'I'm looking for Rexroth's daughter, a friend of a friend of mine'
Paradoxes occur: 'so sweet and such a mess'
Ambiguities: 'I'm looking for Rexroth's daughter, here on my own side street'
The big sweep: 'What is real but compassion as we move from birth to death?'

It's never all told; lines are sketched, spaces are left. Some of it is just my imagination, but isn't that the point? All the while you are being swept along in this great inescapable current of music that swirls as tight as the waters bowling down a flooded creek. There are no transcripts of the lyrics in the liner book; songs like these have no need of spoon-feeding - they emerge.

But there is a booklet with a couple of nice photos, an introduction to Brown and this collection and full details of the musicians and from whence the songs came.
The songs, words and music may all be Brown's but the musicians' contribution is also immense. As the liner notes say: 'most of the tracks reflect his two decade partnership with producer and guitarist Bo Ramsey - a collaboration that has come to define the Greg Brown sound.' Ramsey plays electric, Brown acoustic. There is a bassist, sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic; some percussion and harmonica, mandolin, piano, organ, banjo (Brown), accordion and acoustic lap guitar (Kelly Joe Phelps) appear at different times. The instrumentation is never cluttered; often it only adds accents - the music is full of space. But then there are several songs too that are primarily a tour de force for Bo Ramsey's delightful guitar-playing.

These are songs that in Brown's words are 'new songs from the old tunes'. There is something of the old-timer about him too and his voice seems to come out of the country and the flat stuff. The mise en scene is rural, or small town, 'the dogs is all rascals and the chickens are old', 'small farmers moving on' but as 'I walked by the river, where my good fields are' things are just about alright 'on a summer evening, before the dark of night.' On my map it is where I would expect to find William Elliot Whitmore, and Dylan would have been by. The voice has a gruffness about it but at the same time there is a huge range of often very tender vocal expression. The songs are those of an aging person, but full of warmth and often pervaded with that wistful melancholy that age brings, as in the delightful 'Never So Far' or the lullaby 'Lull It By'. When it comes to the last track, a waltz, 'Why Don't You Just Go Home?' it is getting very near to the big bedtime. 'The trip has been fine but now it's lamp-lighting time'. Brown is never maudlin nor do the love songs ever sound self-indulgent. It is somehow startling to hear lines like in 'Joy Tears':
'I woke up this morning with joy tears on my face.'

And there you have four more songs the equal of 'Rexroth's Daughter'.

A sadness sometimes bordering on anger at the state of things is a recurrent theme.
'Samson' for example: 'If I had my way I'd tear the building down'. Or 'Your Turn Now'

'All the towns are wrapped in chains. (leveraged loans?)
Where are the young bands going to play?
Where are the old beatniks going to stay?'
And then the rhetorical challenge: 'Is it gonna be YOUR town now?'

There are characters too straight out of cowboy films and mean stuff going down.
Brown's gruff, slurred, half-spoken lines fit them just right. These are modern times though: 'I'll dig my grave with a Bobcat'. (Kokomo) 'Mattie Price' gets an ultimatum:
'better get married or get out of town,' 'summer nights are hot and she sure don't wear a lot.' A mean streak runs through the heat of the sweltering prairie night.
But in the end Greg Brown, if these songs are really him, sounds a pretty contented guy and 'Blue Car' sums it all up: 'The sunrise is a miracle ...'

The only reason you might not want this compilation would be that you have already got all six of the original albums, but you still wouldn't have the extra half hour found on the second CD. With sixteen splendid songs already in the bag it hardly calls for icing on the cake but here it is anyway. 'Lull It By' again, but this time accompanied only by Peter Ostroushko's sparse fiddle, which he exchanges for mandolin on the two following, apparently rarely performed tracks.
'Verona Road' is quintessential Greg Brown; greater contentment could not be found in a song. You'd have to look as far back perhaps as a young John Stewart to find a monologue as fine and comfortable with itself as 'Gallery'. It comes back to where I started: 'monumental'...'a major musical event'. By this time you could listen to the man all night and he does go on, engagingly, tenderly, amusingly telling his take on the Christmas story for ten minutes more. 'Just getting born is such an amazing thing you'd think we'd always be nice!'

20 songs, perhaps half of them outstanding ones,that really shouldn't pass you by.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2015 6:43 PM GMT

Easy Come Easy Go
Easy Come Easy Go
Price: £6.03

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Song Collection, 15 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Easy Come Easy Go (Audio CD)
Ordinarily what I (we?) listen to is fairly predictable: a hunt through familiar genres for the track that blows one away. This collection is trans-genre; it embraces country, soul, jazz and something harder to define - let's call it European song. What is remarkable, extraordinary even, is that the singer inhabits every song as if it were her very own. And unlike so many song collections there isn't any filler at all. In fact these ten songs were selected from twenty that were put down over a period of only nine days. I'd love to hear the rest.

Anyone more familiar with Marianne Faithfull's work over the years might be less surprised than I was. She had worked with this producer - Hal Willner -before on 'Strange Weather' but that was a long time ago. (1987) Willner must surely deserve huge credit for his input into an album in which the song selection is so spot-on, the running order perfect and the choice of collaborators inspired. The modus operandi clearly worked: they decided on 'formal arrangements for each song, written loosely enough for changes.' Their four Jewish arrangers also share in the credit - their arrangements are highly imaginative and often surprising, the instrumental contribution is superb. Be not afraid - it is not over-composed or excessively orchestrated. Far from it, the spare almost chamber-style orchestration refers more to a 'new music' style. (There again, there are moments when Phil Spector could have been in there too.) As I said, this music is far from predictable.
I approached this album with reservations, but with only some great unforgettable hooks from 'Broken English' in my head. In fact every song here has more of those lines which will forever be stamped on my hard-drive. The feeling of total confidence that Marianne Faithfull shows throughout this recording only goes to underline how well this whole project was construed and to illustrate just how much this was a musically-collective outing.

The selection is book-ended by two country-ish songs, although in their rendering their intensely personal nature soon obliterates any thought of Dolly Parton or Merle Haggard, respectively. And both are songs about meeting death - the still-born child of a still-born love, the death-row prisoner taking a last walk. It takes courage to begin and end a song collection with songs like these. But they tie in with the sensibility behind some of the 'European song' selections as expressed for example in the weird dreamscape of 'Children of Stone' or the Weimar Republic tale of infanticide: 'In Germany Before The War'. Indeed the sum total of this album is universal rather than regional; it is about the human condition. And so there are songs of joy too.

'Hold On, Hold On' is quintessential Marianne Faithfull and it signals a significant mood change with its liquid up-tempo rock sound. Classic lines here:

'The most tender place in my heart is for strangers.
I know that it's unkind but my own blood is much too dangerous.
Hanging round the ceiling half the time ... (That's the line that gets me)
In the end I was a mean girl, or someone's in-between girl ...
It's the devil I love ..'

Images of an early Stones banqueting binge, Marianne wrapped up in the fur rug, surround this one as it goes into the big guitar solo (Sean Lennon! or Barry Reynolds). 'Broken English' is definitely back.

All change again! Now it's the Baroness doing the Duke! She unrolls Ellington's 'Solitude' quite beautifully with some fine but sparse horn and guitar accompaniment. By now it feels likes she knows she's playing a winning set and it is no surprise to return to the European zone with 'The Crane Wife 3'; sharing the vocal with Nick Cave. This is Marianne Faithfull playing at home, in my mind somewhere in middle Europe. The Crane - a bird that never visits Britain's shores -is at the very heart of European folklore and mythology, bringer of babies, witness to the traffic of humankind and its Panzar divisions rolling through their meadows - not threatened by anyone. These songs are only outlines; your own imagination fills in the detail as you will. Like with the best cinema. This song especially is very visual in a cinematic way.

Light relief to follow. 'Easy Come, Easy Go' - it speaks for itself. A meandering contrabass farts fitfully behind snatches of clarinet and alto. Maybe not quite New Orleans, maybe more a Berlin park concert for American forces on a summer afternoon or a burlesque cabaret slot. Then we are pitched into an almost intoned junkie dreamscape - alchemical devotions of the night - this reminds me of Scott Walker country in its weirdness. At eight minutes it is long. 'How Many Worlds', a Brian Eno composition with a repeated lyric line of nursery rhyme simplicity sits comfortably, and unforgettably, next to this one.
More than half the credit here goes to the quite sizeable musical accompaniment: 5 wind and 6 stringed instruments. This small cycle of the European comes to a climax with 'In Germany Before The War' - the child as victim. This, more a narration than a song, could be an episode from a Kieslowski film - a study in dispassionate infanticide.

After that sombre section you are ready for the relief offered by Smokey Robinson's 'Ooh Baby Baby' - but it takes four minutes to really become a soul song. The passage of the song is fascinating: Antony (no other name) but clearly a fabulous soul singer works the first verse through some very demanding changes. Against shimmering ripples of guitar Marianne comes in, the other half of the couple, by comparison a human rather than an unearthly voice. The Smokey Robinson is almost emerging but held in abeyance by Antony again. And then the woman, another (in)famous MF line - 'Mistakes, I have made a few.' Finally at about four minutes the tempo is upped and it's the song you would expect, although the biting blues guitar lines owe more to a Hendrix or perhaps Bill Frisell. After eight minutes all these ingredients are resolved in what must surely be one of the most creative arrangements of a soul classic ever made.

Barely a pause separates this and the final number: the unforgettable, haunting, Merle Haggard song on which Marianne is reunited with Keith Richards and the two other guitarists who have been on a number of these songs. But it is all brilliantly understated stuff excepting the lyric line which is possibly the greatest statement ever made on the subject of music.

'Let him sing me back home with a song I used to hear,
Make my old memories come alive.
Oh please take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die.'

This is such an extraordinary song but, tellingly, few people have ever dared to cover it to my knowledge. What MF certainly lacks in vocal terms, (she has been places divas can't go) as other reviewers have commented, she more than makes up for by the sheer magnitude of expression she puts into all these songs. And, except perhaps with a classical audience, expressiveness as a prime quality underwrites almost all modern western roots music from country to soul. That quality is at the heart of what makes this small but immense, collectively-driven song cycle so successful.

As the Baroness is quoted as saying in her Wikipedia biography, which is by the way fascinating reading, she hasn't done much about her pension and she's hoping to put something together pretty quickly. Well, I'd recommend anyone to buy into this not only for her pension plan, but their own too.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2010 7:21 AM GMT

In Search of a Song
In Search of a Song

5.0 out of 5 stars And he found eleven very good ones!, 3 Aug. 2010
This review is from: In Search of a Song (Audio CD)
If you want a few simple, well-crafted, down-home songs about the world out there, easy-on-the-ear lines that take you aback with their little insights,entertaining and intelligent lyrics with nuance, music that goes exactly where you expect it to: It's time for Tom T. Hall who has written hundreds of songs like that.

Signed up to Mercury in 1968 and asked to write something like 'Ode to Billy Joe' he came up with 'Harper Valley PTA' - that was the template. Three years later he went out on the road east of Nashville to look at America- at least that is what the map shows- along with his buddy and a camera. The map and photos, and Bill's odd little liner note would all have been very visible on the LP cover; on this Limited Edition CD they are very small. But it's a great slim-line CD package (if your CD shelves are high enough) - Tom T. stood on the riverbank in his claret pants, looking out at a guy's fishing-line in the limpid river, can of worms 'n' a tranny radio at his feet. There's a story there somewhere.

In fact there's eleven of them on this his fifth album, recorded in 1971, and they are all good in the telling.

Fittingly, the set starts with the now well-known 'Clayton Delaney' song; a homage to a local Kentucky musician - 'the best guitar-picker in our town' whose dying 'made a big impression on me, although I was just a bare-foot kid'. Not heeding Clayton's advice to put 'that ole guitar away' it was Tom T. not his mentor 'who took his guitar and made it down to Tennessee.' The picking is neat, sometimes even gets a little complicated, the song ambles along easily, Hall's voice is leisurely but seldom shifts outside the inside lane. One could be lulled into thinking this is going to be just folksy but then the splendour of the songs start to unfold - unexpected allusions, small personal sentiments, humour, landscapes, old folks' wisdom, even youthful resignation. It's all in there, secure in the vernacular language of rural America. And where a line needs accentuating or an attitude to be struck, there is a menu of string instruments to choose from, even a banjo or a trumpet, or Charlie McCoy's harmonica. The accompaniment is sparse but beautifully played and the album is produced by veteran country producer Jerry Kennedy.

The second track features a hog farmer in a hospital who's more worried about who's going to feed his 400 hogs than his own terminal condition - 'They can't get out and roam around like my ole huntin' dogs'. Calculations on the catastrophe of losing 800 hams and 16 hundred feet lead to a miraculous ending. '...and a ham sandwich please.'

Then it's the road up the valley to Hyden, more hound dogs on the trail, once the scene of a mining disaster and a chill still hangs over the town, 'big coal trucks shook us up ....a sign proclaims that Christ is coming soon. I thought he'd be disappointed if he did'.

In Tulsa, T is looking for a girl named Shirley 'with no last name' which is hard going in a phone book. In Des Moines he awakes 'from a traveller's sleep with notions of something to eat.' Outside it was 14 below. The girl in the booth is 'crying in the smoky half dark, the silent type crying that tears out your heart....' 'Life is just like that sometimes.' At times like this a sad song on the jukebox would be the only consolation but T's still writing that song.

One of the great characterizations comes next - the Little Lady Preacher '19 years of age and developed to a fault' but 'down on booze and cigarettes and high on days to come ... and she'd punctuate the prophecy with movements of her hips'. Tom T got in there playing 'dog-house bass' but to no avail - the guitar-picker Luther Short got the goods but who converted whom?

Guys like this don't have too much time for California (LA Blues) specially when they've got a bunch of songs to sing. Come February the 27th Tom's up in the Kentucky hills looking for another story to sing. Why do kids from this place just grow up and move away? The old-timer explains: "You know.son people used to tell their kids 'I don't want you to have to work the way I did'
They don't. And some will tell you it's a shame but you have to think before you place the blame". The old-timer eventually shakes hands and apologises for there being no story there. Of course there was - one of the best.

Country reminiscences, (A town is a town but a city is somethin' else) and a way of life forever gone. Flowers for a girl he used to know turn out to be flowers for a dying girl but no matter they were second-handed flowers she said as he kissed her fevered brow.

Ramona, the dumb girl, is the character of them all. And bad-eyed Thompson had his handicap too. 'He could squint that eye and spit tobacco thirty feet.' Ramona was impressed - a bit too much, it turns out. Another small-town scandal in the making. The judge and the whole village are on Ramona's Ma's porch.But 'Ramona just closed one eye and spat upon the ground.'

Delightful songs - all eleven of them. OK. So you could have more on the two-fer but aren't 11 very good songs enough to be going on with, set as they are in their original frame? Sometimes less is more.

Last Man Standing
Last Man Standing
Offered by Hot Cakes
Price: £13.11

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jerry-mandering! Read on for a few selected downloads!, 1 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Last Man Standing (Audio CD)
Taking this home from the library on the back seat of the trolley-bus I was drooling. More than half the roster of artistes on this CD have at times produced truly great music, not least the Killer himself. There are great songs, great pictures and long liner notes by none other than my favourite music writer Peter Guralnick. There are a lot of people involved in this project whose integrity you'd trust - they wouldn't need the money, though Jerry Lee might. The song titles look interesting - there's a fine mixture of rock 'n' roll, blues, country and a few unknowns. Just a suspicion persists; we have seen the relentless market forces behind money-making or profile-maintenance driving the 'great' onto the rocks of bogus projects before.

On most of these tracks Jerry Lee duets with a different celebrity artiste. The trouble is that his voice is shot, (or his denture is loose) and in some cases so is theirs. The elbowing of egos recalls Holland in the World Cup final. Sometimes they try to harmonize - that's even worse. I'm not saying that everyone has to sing with the purity of youth; we can hear an aging Dylan coming over as strongly as ever and with real integrity; we can even hugely appreciate let's say William Elliot Whitmore or Tom House, (sometimes), and what about the late Johnny Cash recordings? But there is still a fine line between the raw and the plain bad. Anyhow, Jerry Lee Lewis always was a 'duo' - voice and hands. If there was ever anyone who didn't need to duet it was him. (As far as I know he only ever did duet with a woman and that was his sister) Closer inspection however, actually reveals that on this CD 'duet' often means 'backing vocal' or 'instrumental accompaniment' which is encouraging news. Would you like to swing on Jerry Lee's coat-tails?

Quite how 'James Patrick' (Jimmy to most of us) Page qualified to kick off this set is a mystery. Maybe it's because this was once a Led Zeppelin thrash. It's just a very average sprightly bit of generic rock, but Jerry Lee is no longer a sprite. To give him credit where it is due, he does add the roll with his still fabulous boogie piano playing, as he does almost throughout this CD. But the vocal is so muddy that at first I even thought that Page was taking the vocal. Song rating **

As the most 'senior' of bluesmen you'd expect B.B. King to be here. There is a certain appealing warmth in Jerry Lee's blues-boogie vocal and BB is polite enough to be fairly mannered in his guitar work but it's hardly a duet, more a passing encounter of a strange kind. Who would ever have chosen a blues elder for the Killer in his dotage or a boogie-maestro for BB in his? Unless it was a commercial decision of course. Rating ***

Now here's a song that's a cracker - at least if you gave it to John Hiatt or Dave Alvin's band, even the E-Street band, but by Springsteen's high standards it's a journeyman performance. To be fair to Bruce, who I imagine to be a very fair guy, duetting with Jerry Lee was probably a lose-lose thing. Just listen to the Nashville Teens trying to keep up on the Star-club set and they had sensibly left their singers at home! A song like this has to be razor sharp and it ain't. Rating ***

So when the Jagger and Ronnie Wood track rolls up I have extreme misgivings. Not so!
This is a perfect song for both Jerry Lee and Jagger (when you remember 'Faraway Eyes').
It does even sound like a duet for a bit, and it sounds like they are enjoying it - Jagger in a laddish way of course.
How I'd love to have heard the C&W Lewis doing both these songs in the early 70's. ****

This encourages hope for one of the most likeable men in the epoch of 'progressive music':
Neil Young. The best fate I can think of for this dull bit of rock would be the New Year celebrations on Red Square; a warmer in the Muscovite winter before Tina Turner goes on. It is utterly pointless for both parties. *

It's the more minor figures (Jagger and Willie Nelson apart) who fare best and the ballads or country numbers because, let's face it, rock'n'roll is a young man's music. The Robbie Robertson self-written song is tailor-made for the twilight years. He offers a fine and poignant lyric and Jerry Lee takes it up in the way he always responded when things felt right.
The song fits like an old glove; he holds the tempo really steady while Robbie supports him with some lovely guitar playing that has you right back there in the tall grass in the wildwood on a hot summer night. You feel this is felt and you feel it too. *****

'Kick it off y'all!' At first John Fogerty sounds like a good Jerry Lee pitch. But no one, rarely even Fogerty, outdoes Credence and 'Travelin' Band' ends up on its face without much credence at all, despite the fine, loose piano playing and a lovely initial sax break. **

Bring on Keef! 'That Kind of Fool' is a dead ringer for the Killer or Keith Richards. It's a meeting of minds as they empathize, two hell-raisers looking down on a lowly man who missed his chances at grabbing the pleasures they are both famous for (being untrue).
Nice guitar playing, although it sounds disconcertingly like they might have been doing different songs and vocally Keith is out to lunch. It ends on yet another bantering note as so many of the numbers do. Were they really having such fun or was it a protocol? Hard to say as most of the Jerry-mandering at the end of each track is barely audible. This is one that Jerry Lee and Rick Rubin could work wonders with.****

Here's the brickbat! Ringo and ol' Jerry doing Chuck Berry? Leave it out! (Star left out)

Generally the country songs fare better; you can be a superannuated country singer.
But the Merle Haggard duet sounds more like Roger Miller and Burl Ives doing a turn in a retirement home. Mrs Mills on the piano. *

We're having a bad patch: Lewis, shadowed by Kid Rock do such a weird intro. to 'Honky-Tonk Woman' you sit up and listen in amazement, but no sooner is it up and running than it descends into something like a girl-guide troupe getting tanked up on hooch around the campfire - the kind of karaoke that girls were warned about with the Killer on the prowl. Still, it blew ole Jerry's mind. *

Hey ho! Here's Rod Stewart, after all those years! And here are two guys who made 'Milwaukee' into one of the most perfect ever songs. You couldn't do bad by this one. They did - terrible in fact. If Dr Kershaw ever does another 'Great (awful) Moments on Vinyl' he'll stick this in next to some talented iconoclast from a Leeds karaoke bar. This one will bring tears of either grief or laughter to your eyes and it gets no star at all. It wouldn't even get in the Shanghai karaoke Hot Hundred.

And so it goes on - George Jones could be very iffy and he is here.** -Two old gimmers doing a knockabout that'd get a younger man arrested for public disturbance. If everyone else is on their arse then it says less about the man still standing, or staggering. Somebody give him a chair.

Willie Nelson doesn't let you down (unless he's doing reggae) and your tears will turn to tears of gratitude for two wonderful old guys who have given so much. There is no crack here in which any cynicism can hide; indeed it redeems the whole project. Willie has the delicate touch to almost cope with Lewis (he must after all be the most-duetted singer of all time) and he adds some delightful Tex-mex picking. There is a great poignancy about this song as there was about so many of Jerry Lee's country songs. Rating: *****

The Toby Keith song, co-written with Lewis, is pretty spot-on in its way:
'I trust in God because I know he cares for me ..... but that Star-spangled banner plays for glory and God's gonna let it wave through all eternity.' I hope not myself. ***

Having driven my bulldozer of bile and cynicism this far I know what you're thinking when Clapton shows up. But a truism is beginning to emerge: with Jerry Lee Lewis, expect the unexpected. And this really gets a faint feeling of the Hamburg Star-club back again. Thankfully Clapton doesn't seem to sing and his agreeable guitar playing gives Lewis the space and the support. My mate will never buy me another drink but I've gotta give it ****

Another patch of dermatitis appears: Little Richard giving the naff-off of his life manages a couple of feeble howls to Jerry Lee's yips in one of the most vapid songs John and Paul ever wrote.* By the way, the small print in the booklet goes in for a bit of name bollocks: John Winston Lennon, John Cameron Fogerty etc. Would it have been Gerald Lee Lewis?

Delaney Bramlett doing a Hank Williams (and Jerry Lee called Hank one of the four greatest singers,himself included) is trivial with Jimmy Rip doing 'guitars, boots and claps.' Really!
Great song if you've never heard it before of course - check out Hank's one**

Buddy Guy sounds more like one of those annoying punters who artlessly sent up guys like Buddy Guy in London blues gigs all those years ago with their 'right-ons', their yodels and blues parodies. Jerry Lee's piano rocks magnificently, Buddy's guitar splutters like water in a chip pan. **

We end on a weird note and a high one too. I was just wondering where Van had got to - he'd probably seen what was coming (Dylan too?) (no women duettistes on this album by the way. They got Solomon Burke instead) - but a token here at least is a Van Morrison song. I'd love to hear Shane MacGowan get hold of this (maybe he did?) and he'd surely keep the lovely Paddy Maloney pipe intro. Jerry Lee and Don Henley do it proud and it's just right for Lewis of course. OK it's not Louisiana - in fact '... like a hobo riding on a train, like a gangster living in Spain...' has an Anglo-American note about it. But an Irish heartbeat to be sure. It is once again a perfect song for this occasion. It does sound like a pub performance but not in the sort of pub that does karaoke ****

If any song could be more apposite, it would be by the final Kris Kristofferson song *****: 'He's a walking contradiction, partly true and partly fiction.' Surely this was written with Jerry Lee, in mind or was it a Kris on Kris? All the pomposity is lanced, the cynicism dispelled and the lines (who knows? - maybe the Killer's last) with which Jerry Lee signs off sound like he's got the good sense to sit down at last:

'From the rocking of the cradle, to the rolling of the hearse
The going up was worth the going down.'

At the end there is always a deafening silence.

Awarding one rating to an album so mixed is impossible, which is why I have rated each song. I'll give it two stars just so you'll read it but that is unfair on the good ones. If ever there was a case for selecting downloads this is it. I suppose if you like celebrity gatherings, karaoke, partying or genuflecting in front of old deities you'd give this your full approval. Certainly it has its fine moments and as some reviewers say it is a 'fans' album.
There certainly seems to have been a good vibe on a few of the sessions. My only beef is that the 'fans' here are all famous singers who have to bear a certain artistic responsibility where their names are used. The fans in the Star-club were what I'd call rock and roll fans and that's where I'd go for the last man standing (on the piano). You can't party forever, you wouldn't want to - what I'd like to hear is what Rick Rubin and Jerry Lee Lewis could do with some of these great songs, without any of the names around, like Rubin did for Cash.

There is one outstanding matter. I return with misgivings to Guralnick's liner notes, beautifully written as you'd expect. Now I'm looking at the detail: Paragraph 2 begins with a sort of qualification: he describes Lewis' response on first hearing Sister Rosetta Tharpe - 'Whoo-oo'-as being comparable to what 'any first-time listener might have to this album.' Maybe he means people who have never heard anything before? Maybe he means on second listening it wouldn't quite be that. He goes on to say 'that what makes (this) album so extraordinary is the same thing that immediately made Sam Phillips sit up and take notice (in the 1950's)'. What's he on? - Guralnick, I mean- Hyperbole tablets? He does however go on to point out that 'this was never meant to be a duets album' - until Jagger got involved. Yes! There follows an unusually garbled passage for Guralnick about who would be riding on whose coat-tails. It certainly doesn't sound like what most of us (or Emmylou Harris, queen duettiste) would understand by duets. Anyhow the author fudges out of that corner by declaring that 'the proof in any case is in the music.' Is that a critic in denial? Or just a copy-editor at work?
There are hints though: ' ...certainly every duet will not be to every listener's taste.'
They used to write that on LP's long ago to be broad-minded and before the marketing department ran the show. The writing is good; anecdote and purple passages merge seamlessly. We find in the final paragraph Jerry Lee's testimony to truth - as Guralnick opines: 'It's the genuine article, the point seems to remain, that it is never easy to find.' It could be Blair on WMD in Iraq.

Oh well we mustn't fall into the trap of thinking that because once someone wrote (Guralnick), or recorded (Lewis), or said in Blair's case, something brilliant, it's always going to be that good. If you haven't read Peter Guralnick's books on country, soul or blues, get on the case. It'll make up for the CD notes you won't get with your downloads. And go find Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star-club via Joe Bonomo's book (see my reviews). And check out the downloads for this one.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2013 4:04 PM GMT

Live At Star Club 1964
Live At Star Club 1964
Price: £10.35

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most honest and shockingly rocking albums ever made, 23 July 2010
This review is from: Live At Star Club 1964 (Audio CD)
- Joe Bonomo in 'Jerry Lee Lewis. Lost and Found.' (See my review)

' of the most electrifying rock & roll shows ever recorded.' Siggy Loch. Producer.

'The way I think about it is you've got a wolf that's caught in a trap, and Jerry Lee at the Star-Club is the sound of a wolf biting its own leg off.' Dave Alvin

And six other Amazon reviewers are spot on, excepting that this couldn't possibly have been done in the studio. Lewis' record sales by 1964 were deep in recession even if he was raising a storm in clubs and theatres across the Western world. The only time that the spirit and the demons were unlocked was in front of audiences. Siggy Loch - a jazz man at Philips - figured this out and set up this live recording at the Star-Club in Hamburg.

It was the perfect moment - Jerry Lee had been rampaging around the UK (19 shows in 20 days) raising a storm. He had made up with his backing band, the Nashville Teens, after a spat in Berlin. It was the perfect place. The Star-Club down in the Hamburg Reeperbahn was packing in three shows a night. The Beatles had long since gone but the German kids were still raving for rock'n'roll. Just look at the photo in the booklet: bee-hived fraulein packed up to the stage behind a line of beer bottles, Jerry Lee's eyes lasering the space above them.
And another thing - the club had basic recording facilities and had already learnt how to use them. When it came to re-mastering 30 years later it only took the engineer three hours to master it, the originals were that good. The Nashville Teens (on this occasion minus singers and piano-player) were veterans on the Reeperbahn and Lewis songs were standard fare.
All they had to do was keep up with the Killer.

In fact there were two sets that night and Loch edited the track sequence presumably in the interests of giving the listener some respite and simply getting the best bits in. Bonomo doesn't give much credence to the King Size Taylor claim that it was a 'studio' performance and a listening immediately bears that out - no one was faking.

The first three tracks are 'so gargantuan, so impossibly rocking and intense, that it's a wonder that the listener survives' and are 'among the greatest rock and roll ever taped'. (Bonomo)

'As always, the lyrics take a back seat to their filthy delivery, which takes a back seat to Jerry's piano playing, which takes a back seat to nothing and no one.' (Bonomo)

The third song, 'Matchbox' calms it down - but this is just a prelude to 'the most combustible and frenzied performance on the album' (Bonomo) : the Ray Charles 'What'd I Say'. It becomes Jerry Lee's song this night; he squeezes it inside out, reprimands the band, and
breaks it down so insanely that 'it could have brought the four of them up on assault charges, even in an area where men freely walked about with handguns.' (Bonomo)

At this point you have probably got the idea: this is an extraordinary moment of music and Joe Bonomo's account is superb reading. I am only cherry-picking trifles here. Get them both!

If there is a high point in this dizzying aerobatic it is for me 'the unofficial anthem' of country music - 'Your Cheatin' Heart'. It's the first time a softer note enters the evening; it is nuanced,
personal, not showy like everything else, ambiguous, mocking even, but still swinging. Serious stuff.

Give Colin Escott the last word about this track, from Bonomo: 'a stunning fusion of everything that was Jerry Lee Lewis. The bluesy piano licks thrown into the middle of a stone hillbilly classic and a vocal of scorching intensity.'

The CD comes with some great photos but no information. But that doesn't matter because you're going to buy the book ain't cha?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2010 3:27 PM BST

Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found
Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found
by Joe Bonomo
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of THE great music essays., 22 July 2010
THIS IS ONE OF THE GREAT MUSIC READS. I read it twice consecutively and by the second sitting had ordered the CD of the Hamburg gig in 1964, which is the centrepiece of this book.
If, like me, you have only heard about Jerry Lee Lewis through a few of the late-50's Sun Rock and Roll classics, or quite possibly only heard the dumbed-down re-recordings done in the 60's and heard 'What Made Milwaukee Famous' on a thousand jukeboxes in the 70's, then this book opens the door to the whole story of Lewis' long career of mixed fortunes.
It is a very honest appraisal. Joe Bonomo wasn't around when it all began. He comes to the story from second rate compilations of greatest hits in the 70's - grunge bands,Iggy, MC5 and the Ramones are his teenage musical manor. He was never granted an interview for this book by the Killer himself (retrospectively this seems just as well) nor by two of 'The Nashville Teens' who were behind Jerry Lee that night in Hamburg. (Tobacco Road) Yes, really! Bonomo acknowledges the written sources he draws on with the same enthusiasm that he finds in much of the music.
This is not a large book (nearly 200 smallish pages) and it never attempts to be a full personal or musical biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. What it really is, is an essay that enthuses on what the author considers to be the high points musically in Lewis' career and why they were so.

Of course it starts with the Sam Phillips period at Sun and points to the recordings that were really special (and a lot more yet to see the light of day). But at least commercially by 1963 Lewis' career was in meltdown, even if on the road all over America and Europe he was raising hell. Bonomo is interesting on the other music parallel to Jerry Lee's - the Beatles are never far from the frame - and he seeks to understand enough about the man to explain why some of it worked so wonderfully and some of it didn't. More than anyone it seems, Lewis couldn't be tamed to the vagaries of the music industry as even Shelby Singleton, his 60's producer, had to admit.

At the heart of this extraordinary story is what is for Bonomo, THE great moment.
The strands come together at the Starclub Hamburg in April 1964: Jerry Lee Lewis backed by the Nashville Teens in what Bonomo describes as 'one of the most honest and shockingly rocking albums ever made.' Interviews with people who were there combined with an account of the gig, a song by song review that must rank as one of the greatest in enthusiast-journalism, and a fascinating potted history of the Hamburg Reeperbahn (Red light district) make this, the Jerry Lee Lewis 'Found' chapter one of THE best chapters in rock writing. For sure you'll hit your keyboard and fire off an order to Amazon for the CD.

But that's not all the story. There's a telling moment on the German tour when in an interval between shows Jerry Lee backstage does a long impromptu session of country songs to whoever happened to be there. Barrel-house piano was in his blood, but so was country and at the end of the 60's Lewis found himself in the hands of country producer/player Jerry Kennedy. The result 'Another Place, Another Time' in Bonomo's words was 'one of Jerry Lee Lewis' great albums, and one of the era's great country albums.' Yes, I missed it back then - we were all too stoned for Nashville - but another thing revealed in this book: Jerry Lee Lewis was a great classic country singer.

Bonomo's style is always entertaining and intelligent. The book is very tightly put together, weaving the strands of the story into a discernible statement of his initial point - that sincerity is what eventually marks out the great Jerry Lee Lewis music.
The book is indexed and has a source reading list that could no doubt lead to more discoveries, not to mention the recommended music pointed to.

Inevitably the personal biography, the tabloid material, the tragedies are in the background but only insofar as they have some bearing on the story of the music.
There is no prurience but it is vastly entertaining as for example:

December 1970 and Walter Cronkite had announced that the Killer had abandoned rock & roll for country and gospel music. Bonomo comments:
"The war was on between his Pentecostal conscience and (a bodily part), between his liver and his ever-steadying hand, between his scruples and Mercury's bottom line."

One of THE great music essays. Published 2009

Concert Classics, Volume 3
Concert Classics, Volume 3
Offered by M & L UK
Price: £8.42

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and Awful, 13 Feb. 2010
This is a story of bins - I found mine in a sale bin, the other reviewer threw his copy in the rubbish bin. And he was half right and half wrong; seven of the tracks on this Concert Classics should be in the bin. But there are eight good to excellent tracks too and a few also-rans. Maybe it's a good case for editing.

Practically all of these songs are off the Amazing Rhythm Aces' first four albums issued between 1975 and 1978 which were a treasure trove of southern boogie, beautifully constructed songs and lyrics of real substance. They had in Russell Smith a singer,with one of the finest voices of the time, who could move with ease between country-rock and soul, and a band with exemplary musicians. Most of the flavours of jazz and blues were in the mix,but the main lines were kick-ass boogie, and thoughtful Memphis pop /country flavoured songs like John Stewart used to write them. The one thing that the Aces never did was visit the UK and a lot of people never got to hear them. And for a long time they never did any live recordings which is what got me excited the day I saw this CD in a sale bin thirty years later. It was one of those special days anyhow with Queen of the South F.C. in the final of the Scottish Cup for the first time ever and finding this half an hour before the kick-off was just too much, man.

Replaying those excellent first four albums my memory is served right - good as they are, they are a bit restrained in the mix. Like a lot of albums of the day they are slightly dumbed down. The magic is all there but the idea of hearing them live was always enticing; they might just take off. But the band packed up until 1994 when they started gigging again, and this 1999 collection is from that time with only one personnel change. Would this be the long awaited live revelation?

It kicks off beautifully with 'The Cowboy Tune' from 'Too Stuffed to Jump'. Smith with all his vocal magic, great guitar playing, the organ pumping in the best tradition of Augie Meyer.There are new flourishes and musical accents; the pace changes are more pronounced. Yes, this is IT! Ace Rhythm Aces. Track two, the rivets are straining, the soul is showing in the joints and it is just beginning to go the karaoke way. The grossly over-stretched vocal descends at times into histrionics over the next five tracks, the band have apparently lost their way and the recording engineer has lost it too. These five are all medium paced disasters.

But come track seven - surely a different gig - and it's a slow number and everything is back in focus. The magic returns - the pace is better than on the original, delightfully nuanced by the piano with fine florid guitar-playing at the back of the mix; it has all the pathos that this great song -'Dancing the Night Away'- should have. It sounds as if this was a better night - the one we wanted to hear. And so it goes on for five more songs; all of them slow and introspective, the singer getting near but never going over the edge. 'Out of the Snow' always one of their most understated songs shimmers during the guitar solo, resonates in the piano section. 'If I Just Knew What to Say' is quintessential Rhythm Aces. They can take it so slow you think it's going to fall out of the air but it never does: 'I rode into Nashville .......on a bus ...... from Knoxville'. Pure country heaven.
A couple of ugly up-tempo numbers dissolve the mood but then it's the classic 'Third Rate Romance', a truly great song about smalltown 'love' so delightfully enhanced by Billy Earheart's organ playing. You almost wish Smith had taken this one apart a bit more but it's still top-notch especially as it swings easily into the Ella B boogie - loose, growled, the sound of the South, blood coursing through the song. But that touch of hysteria returns; that's where soul singers could still deliver. It's downhill for the last three numbers but who's complaining after half an hour of that? Yes I would love to have been there on a good night and even although the Doonhammers went down heroically in the Scottish Cup Final I wish I had been there too.

Everything recorded by the A R Aces between 1975 and 1980 is obligatory, especially on a two-for-one. There is another live collection released in 2006 with a different cover but exactly the same songs as this, so presumably a reissue of this.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2010 7:00 AM BST

Rockin With Spoon
Rockin With Spoon
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £15.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spoonful of Perfection, 4 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Rockin With Spoon (Audio CD)
Jimmy Witherspoon made over 200 albums. This has to be one of, if not THE best. If you like your jazz bluesy, and your blues underwritten by jazz instruments, then it couldn't be better. There are none of the strident banks of sound that so often came from horn sections - the short solo sections here always interlocute with the vocal. And what a stellar collection of jazz players there are on both of these live sessions, both of which were recorded in the autumn of 1959.

The first session was at the Monterey Jazz Festival. By all accounts it turned around Witherspoon's flagging career; unlike Joe Turner he had never really made the transition to rock'n'roll and his kind of r'n'b was on the wane. Monterey was a set so highly praised that he was more or less set up for another twenty years. There are five tracks here from that gig, three of them accredited to Witherspoon including his 'Ain't Nobody's Business' (written by Bessie Smith's accompanist it seems) which reached the top of the US r'n'b chart. The line-up is Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Urbie Green (trombone), Woody Herman (clarinet), the tenor players are Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines (piano), Vernon Alley (bass) and Mel Lewis on drums. It could have been festival artist advertising but this wasn't a name-call. Everyone has the space they need and everyone uses it in a vigorous but relaxed way; it sounds like good friends having fun together and that includes the audience too. It is also a tour-de-force of collective playing, leaderless really, excepting that everyone having taken their solo stands aside for 'Spoon. It's jumping-chamber-jazz/blues.

A jump blues gets the party going. Given the venue, this has to be a partying set but often it is stilled into slow, reflective blues. The pace is very varied. Earl Hines sets out delightfully on track two, the saxophonists take it on proactively, and all this is interspersed with Spoon's laconically nuanced verses on drinking in a voice which even sounds like a vintage Bourbon. It goes to party-time again. Track three, another up-tempo blues. Woody Herman serves up the entrée in ecstatic fashion, a glittering solo, going for it, not moving over for anyone until the big bear nudges him aside. Webster takes the next solo into a flurry of top notes; the rhythm section is as perfectly balanced as the singer. It looks like being 'bargie, bargie, all night long.'
What a blistering blues!

There follows another blues, slowed right down and rolled out on the piano before Spoon declaims, and the audience comes in on cue like a well-drilled chorus section. There's so much atmosphere, in what sounds more like a small club that it's dripping off the walls. Then come some of Witherspoon's wonderfully constructed lines; he even adds a verse from his encyclopaedia about the love-making habits of fish, rats and worms. The sound is vivid and so close up it could be in your living-room; whatever distortions occasionally threaten the left-hand channel are drowned out by the partying.

A moment of calm as Spoon introduces his Mum, her first time ever at one of his shows. And then he has the floor, with Hines suggesting places to go.

'One day we got ham and beacon, next day ain't nothin shaking'.

It's so laid back with the horns barely humming that it seems like the Bourbon is winning the night, but Spoon ratchets it up a notch or two before Ben Webster hushes the floor with a solo of such romantic loveliness that people are approving all round the room. They are peerless in this extraordinary half hour of music.

The second session was recorded two months later, without a trumpet player but with Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax and only one tenor player (Ben Webster). Jimmy Rowles replaced Earl Hines and Leroy Vinnegar was on bass. It was recorded in a club in L.A. with a spirited audience. Finding an old LP of this second set on an Italian label, recently, in a Tallinn vinyl bin, made my day. Entitled Gerry Mulligan (in big letters) & Jimmy Witherspoon (in smaller letters), it is in fact the Mulligan Quartet plus Ben Webster and 'Spoon. Both of these sets appeared on 'The 'Spoon Concerts' issued on Fantasy and are re-released here on the Charley CD.

The L.A. Renaissance Club concert is more laid back but all the balance and inventiveness is still there. It opens authoritatively, 'Spoon singing out, the sax players swaddling him for a while and then, given the word, jumping up a gear. More nice lines too:

'Well politicians tellin' folks to cut out on their meat,
Why don't they cut the price
And let the people eat.
Times are getting tougher than tough ...'

The slow ones are more sinuous than ever. 'How Long' uncoils and leads on to a Mulligan solo of ease and percolating beauty. 'See See Rider' never sounded better and 'Outskirts of Town' has 'Spoon in supreme control, alternating between the gentle and hard, and more sardonic lines.
'Trouble in Mind' is quintessential Witherspoon blues with more languorous Mulligan leading up to the final moment of imagined impact as the singer goes under a train. The set signs out jumping again, Webster taking the solo on 'St. Louis Blues'.

This is a truly wonderful pairing of sessions; there is total focus throughout from everyone. No wonder it made such a huge impression.
'The Penguin Guide to Blues' gives this a coronet but Amazon don't do those.
So it comes with 5 stars, unconditionally guaranteed. It is a towering summit on the frontier where jazz meets blues; a Masterwork indeed. A 'Spoonful of perfection.

15 tracks, negligible liner notes, full track and personnel listings.

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