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This review is from: John B. Sebastian & Four Of Us & Tarzana Kid & Welcome Back & In Concert Dvd (Audio CD)
I`ve waited so long for this.
In 1970 I bought John Sebastian`s self-titled debut solo LP, having been a big fan of The Lovin` Spoonful. I wasn`t disappointed, and played the living hell out of it. Hearing it again after so many years (stupidly sold all my LPs twenty years ago) I was almost in tears.
There are a handful of what I think of as `special people` in rock music, and I can`t quite explain my choices: for example, Ray Davies, John Fogerty, Rick Danko, Lowell George - and John Sebastian. Something to do with being a catalyst for others, but it`s more than that. Be that as it may...
This lovingly packaged deluxe box-set consists of two discs, bursting with musical joie de vivre, of JS`s first four 1970s solo albums, plus a live `70s DVD. To me it is the answer to a thousand prayers, a compilation that is much more than I`d ever dared hope for.
If I went through every track, we`d be here all night, so I`ll try and give a flavour of what`s here.
The `John B. Sebastian` debut album is utterly wonderful, with the gloriously upbeat opener Red-Eye Express an uplifting song about being on the move that will surely bring a daft grin to the glummest face:
Hurry up Laurie, hurry up Sue...
It`s followed by the tenderly lovely She`s A Lady, which could only have been written in the late sixties (the LP took two years to get a release, much to the impatience of JS et al). In this song, as in so many, he shows what a fine lyricist he is:
She`s a lady
and I chanced to meet her in my scufflin` days
She`s a lady
hypnotised me there that day
I came to play in my usual way, hey -
Floatin` along with a whimsical twinkln` in her strange green eyes
`Linger with me`, she said `Yes`
and oh! the time did fly...
Rainbows All Over Your Blues (which opened Side Two of the LP - ah, those were the days) is a stunning track, all steel guitars and JS at his most winningly sunny. He could bring the sun out like few others - remember Daydream, Do You Believe In Magic, Jugband Music...?
The pensive I Had A Dream and the haunting, gutsily sung How Have You Been are other highlights.
It`s enough now to say that the quality barely dips over the following three albums: The Four Of Us, Tarzana Kid, and Welcome Back, the title track of the latter giving him a rare and most welcome #1 hit in the US, though he was virtually ignored in the good ol` UK!
He does some terrific covers, such as a respectfully thoughtful version of Jimmy Cliff`s Sitting In Limbo, a nicely langorous Dixie Chicken with pal Lowell George helping out on guitar, and the much-covered classic Singing The Blues. There`s also his own reading of his road ballad Stories We Could Tell, with - how sad we must now call him the late - Phil Everly on (what else!) harmony vocal. The Everly Brothers then made it the title track of a seventies LP of theirs. No wonder, it`s a great song.
The DVD is a delightful bonus and shows what a great live performer he was - and still is.
If you count all the songs he wrote/co-wrote for the Lovin` Spoonful, and all of these too, John Sebastian by rights ought to be hailed as one of the finest songwriters of the sixties and seventies. On top of that he`s a distinctive, warm-voiced singer, superb guitarist, and plays a mean harmonica - he was much in demand as a session musician back in the sixties, for example on Tim Hardin`s classic first LP, and many others.
Rhino are forever in my debt and have earned my eternal gratitude for the labour of love that is this box of wonders and delights. So much heaven, so much glorious music.
Welcome back, indeed!
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Feb 2014 23:08:34 GMT
Couldn't have put it better. I've had the Rhino box set with the 4 albums and the wonderfull Cheapo Cheapo Live set for a number of years but I've bought this for the DVD. He's a legend ! If you haven't got Tar Beach give it a try!
In reply to an earlier post on 12 Feb 2014 09:08:36 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Feb 2014 09:38:38 GMT
Thanks, I will. Always loved this man!
Posted on 16 Feb 2014 07:51:47 GMT
Sebastian Palmer says:
Hi Glyn, I decided to look at a few of your reviews after following a comment you left on a review of mine (of Tom Waits' One From The Heart OST). Boy am I glad I did: I love John B! In addition to the Spoonful stuff I have the Faithful Virtue box, which is great, but leaves one wanting to hear the original albums in full. Having found my way to this via your review, I'm ordering my copy now.
After over a decade of writing a classic album column for Drummer magazine, I've embarked upon a book about music of the early seventies, and John Sebastian is not only one of the people I'm writing about, but has kindly consented to be interviewed. So I'm very much looking forward to talking to the man, naturally.
You and any other fans of this great man and his work should check out the music of the Woodstock Mountains / Mud Acres collective. They released a bunch of albums on Rounder Records, some of which have been very nicely re-issued by Korean label Beatball (also available as downloads via Rounder).
The musicians involved were a very hippy-ish bunch, including brothers Happy and Artie Traum, whose farm hosted the 'party in front of a microphone' that the recordings capture, amongst which motley crew was one John B.
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Feb 2014 10:20:30 GMT
Thanks, Sebastian (an auspicious name, considering your project). The seventies were easily as exciting a time for music as the previous much-hyped decade - Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Free, John Martyn, the advent of so many great singer-songwriters, from Waits to Wainwright to Springsteen.
Will look out for the Rounder recordings.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2014 19:37:40 GMT
J. Upton says:
I hope that you enjoy your interview with John. He's a lovely, sharing person. In the 1960s, after a Spoonful concert, he took the time to teach me my first guitar chords on Zal's purple guitar (I was 11 or 12 years old at the time). I don't know if you'll be able to track it down, but I remember a delightful little documentary shown on PBS (also in the '60s) with John and his father playing a duet on harmonicas. His father was a virtuoso on the instrument.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2014 22:32:07 GMT
Thanks v much. You lucky devil!
Posted on 15 Apr 2014 11:02:58 BDT
Thanks for the superbly written review GlynLuke. It sums up all I feel about John. In my opinion, a vastly underrated artist. A consummate performer and fantastic songwriter (no 3 chord honcho, he). After the excitement of Elvis and the rockin' era, there came The Beatles etc. But from the US, came the magnificent pairing of The M & Papas and Lovin' Spoonful. The recorded legacy of those two acts has thrilled me every single year since those special sixties times. Never get tired of their music and Mr. Sebastian, these later solo offerings are right on the money too, thank you again
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Apr 2014 11:17:05 BDT
Thanks Colin. Couldn`t agree more, love the Mamas & Papas too. Pure joy...
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Apr 2014 18:08:42 BDT
re M & P, just Kindled John's daughter Mackenzie Phillips's book 'High on Arrival'. My, it is eye-watering in its disclosures. Tarnishes one of my music heroes but hey ..... Kind of a no-win situation. She felt she had to wait til he was dead to 'tell all' - but as he is dead, he has no right of reply/defence. But whenever Monday comes ....
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Apr 2014 20:36:02 BDT
I guess the sheer amount of drugs etc around then made for a lot of selfishness & disfunctional families - esp on the hedonistic West Coast!
I expect it wasn`t always a bundle of laughs in the CSN&Y camp either. I know little about JBS`s personal life, which is no doubt how he wishes it to be. I get the impression he attracted the ladies...