Once again, as the year comes to a close, it's time to assess some of the releases we've received that would make great gifts for your loved ones, related ones or your one and only. We picked through the pile and came up with a diversified selection we believe tinkles the eyes and ears of even the most discriminating music lover. Here's 10 titles to think about....
The Fox Box
Allman Brothers Band
With The Allman Brothers Band calling it day in 2014, and Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks put to rest in 2017, all that's left of the fabled kings of Southern rock are the memories. So, once you're done burning the grooves of At The Fillmore, where do you turn to next? For lovers of ABB's live shows, The Fox Box, an eight-CD set comprising a sold-out three-night run in 2004 at Atlanta's Fox Theatre, does a more than adequate job filling the void.
At the time of these three shows, the Allmans were on a creative roll, having released what turned out to be their final studio album, Hittin' The Note, the year before. Founding members Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe were joined by the guitar tag tram of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, along with percussionist Marc Quinones. To make these hometown shows extra special, a number of guests sat in with the band, including guitarist Jack Pearson, a former band member from 1997-99, Derek's bandmate and wife Susan Tedeschi, guitarist Vaylor Trucks (Butch's son) and keyboardist Rob Baracco (Phil Lesh, The Dead, and Dead & Company).
Of the 53 songs performed over September 24, 25 and 26, "Dreams" is the only song repeated, and each features a different guitar solo by Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Jack Pearson. Highlights include a monumental, blistering "Mountain Jam" from the first night, with a reprise toward the end of the show featuring Pearson; covers of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," with Susan Tedeschi on the second night; and a harrowing run at "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" with Rob Baracco during the third and final show. There really are no duds on The Fox Box, and anyone who is blessed enough to receive one as a gift should get down on their knees and thank the heavens above.
Over the course of her 40-year singing career, Linda Ronstadt's albums landed on the charts dozens of times, but 1977's Simple Dreams took the number one spot for five consecutive weeks and became her must successful record, surpassing her previous hit album, Heart Like A Wheel. The record included RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou," a country rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song; "It's So Easy," which was originally covered by Buddy Holly; and Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." And then it got nominated for all these Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou," and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover.
Simple Dreams has received a new coat of paint in celebration of its 40th Anniversary, featuring a newly remastered version, plus live songs taken from a 1980 concert performance. Who could forget Ronstadt's stab at the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice." She and Dolly Parton also covered "I Never Will Marry," a Top 10 hit on the Country charts. In addition to the remastering, the Expanded Edition has live recordings of "It's So Easy," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," and "Blue Bayou" from an HBO concert. It certainly ranks as a favorite of manager Peter Asher, who says in the liner notes that Ronstadt's voice "affects me like no one else's." For anyone curious about the singer and her rocking past, Simple Dreams is the record to own.
A New Career In A New Town
The box set series featuring David Bowie's albums began before the singer passed away in 2016 with Five Years (1969-1973), released in 2015. It was followed by Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), which dropped nine months after Bowie died. Released a year later, the third installment, A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982), collects albums from the Thin White Duke's most eclectic period, including The Berlin Trilogy. In addition to remastered versions of Low, "Heroes", Stage,Lodger, and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), The 11-CD box, 13-piece vinyl set features bonus tracks, a 128-page book and Re:Call 3, a compilation of singles, non-album singles and b-sides, and soundtracks songs.
At this point in his career, Bowie had already tackled folk, glam rock, and dance music, so with Low, he veered toward a more electronic and avant-garde approach, while his image softened and became more cosmopolitan. "Heroes", with its catchy title track featuring Robert Fripp's rigid guitar line, was another album inspired by German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!. The included "Heroes" EP boasts four variations of the song — the German album version, the German single version, the French album version and the French single version. Two editions of the live Stagealbum — the original and a 2017 take with additional songs — capture the singer at three different U.S. shows in 1978. There's also two editions of Lodger, the second of which is a new mix by Tony Visconti that received Bowie's blessing before he died. You'll never hear a better spin of "DJ."
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is Bowie's first entry for the 1980s with a little more commercial sheen. Re:Call 3 may get the most air time with an extended version of "Beauty And The Beast," plus single versions of "Fashion," "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" and "Under Pressure" with Queen. "A stirring 1979 stab at "Space Oddity" makes up for the rambling "Alabama Song." The five numbers from Bowie's Bertolt Brecht’s Baal EP find the singer gripped by dramatic classics to challenge his anamorphic palette of styles. The disc closes with the famous holiday medley of "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" that Bowie performed with Bing Crosby in 1977. Crosby died five weeks after the song was recorded.
Songs From The Wood:
The Country Set
Jethro Tull's Songs From The Wood, their 10th studio album, was a rural, folksy affair that showed off the band's progressive interplay. With a theme revolving around folklore and countryside, it's regarded by many as Tull's last truly masterful record — although there are strong arguments on behalf of Heavy Horses, Stormwatch and Crest of A Knave. No matter which way you go, the 40th anniversary of Songs From The Wood warranted new Steven Wilson mixes, plus extra tracks, video and other goodies for a triple CD, double DVD box dubbed The Country Set.
Musically, Songs From The Wood is, "with kitchen prose, gutter rhymes and divers," doused in strings, keys and woodwinds — and it still rocks. The title track, with its infectious chorus, "Cup Of Wonder" and "Hunter Girl," all bloom rich and wild with Ian Anderson's flute work and Martin Barre's guitar angling for position. it's all flavoring for David Palmer and John Evan's bedrock of keyboard orchestration. Drummer Barriemore Barlow and bassist John Glascock, of course, keep the whole train running on time. When he isn't singing as well as he ever would or playing the flute, Anderson strums his acoustic or, as he does so well on "The Whistler," toots on a tin whistle.
Extras like the previously unreleased "Old Aces Die Hard," an epic in itself, and "Working John, Working Joe" could have turned the original Songs From The Woodinto a double album, but were left off and stored in the vault for safekeeping. Unedited masters of "Songs From The Wood" and "Fire At Midnight" fluff up the instrumentation, while "Magic Bells" makes for a jazzier "Ring Out Solstice Bells" — perfect for the season. Two more CDs comprise live material from 1977, mixed by Jakko Jakszyk. Live video from the same year, plus high-definition and surround mixes of the original album complete a package that follows in the footsteps of previous Tull classics getting the grand and enhanced Steven Wilson Mix treatment.
Songs From The Wood: The Country Set is topped off with an 80-page booklet that goes deep into the album's inspiration, making and legacy, including track-by-track annotations by Ian Anderson. The pages are adorned with rare and unseen photographs, and the odd vintage advertisement. Songs From The Wood is the culmination of a rock, prog and folk-rock mix that signifies a unique sound and identity associated with Jethro Tull. Always a fan-favorite, it remains one of their most popular albums. For any Tull fan on your list, this speaks volumes about the care and love you would have to have for one lucky recipient.
Leftoverture Live & Beyond
I had the privilege of seeing Kansas twice in 2017. Celebrating yet another rock and roll 40th anniversary, the band's break-out album Leftoverture was played from top to bottom following selections from other key albums, including their latest The Prelude Implicit. From what I can tell, Leftoverture Live & Beyond is a document of the 2017 tour that found the band with a new outlook and a ripe history to share. For their first live album since 2009, Leftoverture Live & Beyond features 19 songs selected from 12 shows recorded during the 2017 Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour.
The first disc offers up hits like "Point Of Know Return" and "Dust In The Wind," with deeper tracks like "Icarus II" and "Journey From Mariabronn" and three songs — "Rhythm In The Spirti," "The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen," and "Section 60" — from The Prelude Implicit. The second CD contains all of Leftoverture performed in its entirety. Singer Ronnie Pratt is more than capable of singing the classic Kansas songs with all the nuances and passion of Steve Walsh.. The singer and the other new recruits — keyboardist Dave Manion and guitarist Aak Rizvi — suitably fill the roles of Walsh and guitarist Kerry Livgren by revisiting the whole album with reverence and clarity.
Leftoverture Live & Beyond is produced by Jeff Glixman, whose vision has guided the bulk of the Kansas catalog. By the sound and look of it, the band — rounded out by original drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, with longtime bassist Billy Greer and in-then-out-but-now-back-for the long-run violinist David Ragsdale — is just getting down to business. Another album, backed by plenty of touring, looks likely as they continue to remind everyone to "carry on." Grab one of these for the Wheathead in your family, and your fate is sealed.
The John Coltrane Documentary
Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was not a vintage rocker by any means, yet his impact on the rock and roll community cannot be underestimated. Just ask the Doors or Carlos Santana — both of whom have repeatedly praised Coltrane as a major influence. For those who don’t understand and want to expand their horizons, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary may be the answer. Written and directed by John Scheinfeld, the film details the musician’s rise through the circuit, playing with Miles Davis, losing the gig because of drug use, and making a comeback after regaining his sobriety, imprinting his style, and embarking on a spiritual quest.
While the movie includes rare photos and rare film footage (family home movies, studio sessions), much of Coltrane's story is told by musicians he knew and worked with (Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Reggie Workman), as well as musicians he influenced (Common, The Doors' John Densmore, Wynton Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Kamasi Washington), his children (Antonia, Ravi, Oran and Michelle), and admirers (President Bill Clinton and Dr. Cornel West). Even though the film has no interviews or words spoken by Coltrane himself, his reflections and writings are brought to life by actor Denzel Washington.
The film’s DVD and Blu-ray include a booklet with an essay by Scheinfeld, along with photos from the movie. The soundtrack's booklet also includes photos from the movie, plus an essay by esteemed jazz journalist Ashley Kahn, another talking head in the film. While there have been other attempts to capture the essence of John Coltrane and his music in various film treatments, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary provides a credible account of how the man transcended his circumstances and left an indelible mark that still resonates in the hearts and minds of young and old fans around the world.
The Concert In Hyde Park
After Simon & Garfunkel split in the early 70s, Paul Simon went on to a successful solo career that carries on to this day. So, it was no surprise when he drew thousands of fans to his concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15, 2012. There, Simon played an all-encompassing, three-hour set that included his biggest solo hits (“Kodachrome,” “Mother And Child Reunion,” “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”), as well as two Simon & Garfunkel classics. Several special guests also joined Simon, including reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, guitarist Jerry Douglas, and the musicians and singers featured on the multi-platinum, award-winning Graceland album. Best of all, it was all captured on video and audio for the eventual release of The Concert In Hyde Park.
For the final show of the three-day 2012 Hard Rock Calling Festival (Soundgarden headlined the first show and Bruce Springsteen topped the lineup at the second one), Simon went all out with an outstanding band of A-list players and two dozen songs spanning his entire career. Opening with “Kodachrome,” Simon glows with confidence as he leads the ensemble through a songbook rich in harmony and musicality. As a sing of Simon’s band unparalleled musicianship, we occasionally see drummer Jim Oblon on guitar and guitarist Mark Stewart on harmonica and saxophone. Jimmy Cliff comes out to perform his songs “The Harder They Come” and “Many Rivers To Cross,” before Simon joins in for powerful renditions of Cliff’s “Vietnam” and his own “Mother And Child Reunion.”
All it takes is that famous drum shuffle to get the audience excited about “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” And there’s discounting the flowing acoustics on “hearts And Bones.” Yet the major highlight of the whole show comes when Simon welcomes Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and other musicians who appeared on the Graceland album for a run through of nine songs from the album. Judging by the response, it’s obvious the crowd was eating up each and every note. Simon tackles “The Sound of Silence” on his own, and is then joined by Jerry Douglas, providing some tasty slide, and the rest of his band for “The Boxer.” It only makes sense the show ends with “Still Crazy After All These Years” because it doesn’t appear Paul Simon isn’t about to rest on his laurels as he continues to write, record and perform. By extension, The Concert In Hyde Park certainly puts the man’s career into proper perspective.
Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago,
June 28th, 2017
King Crimson pump out live records almost as expeditiously as the Grateful Dead, and with the band back on the circuit and touring relentlessly, it’s no surprise, they’ve released four live albums since 2015. For 2017, Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago, June 28th, 2017, captures a show featuring an eight-piece configuration of Crimson covering a good portion of material from the 1970s, along with key tracks from the 60s, 80s, 00s, plus David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which originally included Crimson’s leader Robert Fripp originally on lead guitar.
The three-disc Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind with its seven-man lineup has many of those 70s pearls like “Picture Of A City” and “The Letters.” Live In Chicago digs deeper by adding “Cirkus” and “Lizard” (referred to as “The Lizard Suite”) from 1970’s Lizard, “Islands” from 1971’s Islands, and “Fallen Angel” from 1974’s Red. You’d think without Adrian Belew on board and Jakko Jaksyk’s voice more suited for the older songs, the set would veer away from anything Belew sang, but guess again. The troupe actually take on “Indiscipline” with Jaksyk completely changing the melody line and cadence. The song is virtually unrecognizable until you pick up on the chord progression, a splattering of incandescent drumming, and key lines like “I repeat myself when under stress.”
With so much at stake, and each show a monumental task, the set’s booklet goes to great lengths to explain the process of selecting a show for live release. After Fripp goes through the various incarnations of the band “in the form of a roughly scribed love letter,” the group’s manager David Singleton writes specifically how the Chicago show made the cut. Apparently, a performance from Vienna was being mixed for release until Fripp mentioned that “Chicago was exceptional.” For now, the Vienna show, which was from 2016, is on the back-burner, while Live In Chicago goes for broke with the “current eight-headed beast.” One spin through, and you’ll see why.
Here's Little Richard
At 85, Richard Penniman aka Little Richard is one of the last founding fathers of rock and roll still alive. While rumors abound that Little Richard is too old and frail to perform, he insists he still sings and stays active. Regardless, with his legacy secured and his influence undeniable, what better way to recognize the man’s genius than to revisit his debut album 60 years after its release. Here’s Little Richard was his most successful record, and the songs it spawned — “Long Tall Sally,” “Jenny, Jenny,” “Tutti Frutti,” "Ready Teddy," “Slippin' and Slidin'” and many others — are the foundation of rock and roll. A deluxe version from Craft Recordings features a remaster of the original album and a second disc of demos, alternate takes and previously unreleased material from the original sessions.
With seven hits in the R&B Top 10, and two in the Pop Top 10, Here's Little Richardis a definitive document of early rock in its most primal and rawest form. Along with the album’s 12 tracks, 22 more reveal the inner workings of each song in their formative stages or alternate states, including an early take of "Tutti Frutti," demos of "Slippin' and Slidin'" and "Miss Ann," and alternate takes of "Rip It Up" and "Reddy Teddy." Music journalist Chris Morris writes in the reissue’s liner notes that the alternate versions “reveal the blossoming of an unprecedented and wholly original talent whose first recordings broke down the categorical doors between R&B and pop.”
For Little Richard, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1993 Grammy Awards, and added to the NAACP Image Awards' Hall of Fame in 2002, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2015, a quirky, effeminate image and issues with drugs and alcohol never seemed to overshadow his impact as one of the rock’s first icons. Here's Little Richard is a sober reminder of the singer’s rightful place in history.
Christmas With Elvis And
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The holidays wouldn’t be the same without the King, so this season RCA Records and Legacy Recordings decided to spice things up with Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, uniting some of Elvis Presley’s holiday classics with orchestral accompaniment recorded at Abbey Road studios in London. These new arrangements have been added to songs from Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957) and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas (1971).
Following in the footsteps 2015’s If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and 2016’s The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Christmas With Elvis And The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra comes in two configurations: a 13-track version and a deluxe version with four bonus tracks. Coming 60 years after Elvis' Christmas Album, the disc finds holiday classics like “White Christmas,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night” delivered with style and grandeur.
To hear “Blue Christmas” with the harmonies and an orchestral underlining simply redefines the ownership Presley took of the song when he first recorded it in 1957. “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me),” written for Elvis’ Christmas Album, are equally engaging. And if you’re not moved by “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” then you might as well move to another universe. At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that everyone’s holiday needs a shot of Elvis to make it go down that much smoother.