The Robert Cray Band: Cookin’ in Mobile


RIYL: Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Freddie King

In the 1980s, when rock music took a slick turn and anyone playing the blues was kind of poo pooed, several artists carried the torch until the rest of the music world woke up from their hairspray-induced coma and rediscovered the blues. The two most prominent were Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray. Cray’s status is often overshadowed by the flashier Vaughan, but his place in the annals of blues rock is just as important as the deceased guitar god from Texas. The Robert Cray Band has continued to put out solid, plucky albums (18 so far) since their debut in 1980, while still dazzling audiences with their phenomenal live concerts. That expertise of the Robert Cray Band is on full display throughout Cookin’ in Mobile, this new CD (a DVD of the same concert is also available).

Recorded earlier this year at the historic Saenger Theater in Mobile, Alabama, Cray and his solid backing band of Jim Pugh on keyboards, Richard Cousins on bass and Tony Braunagel on drums, deliver a tight set of songs that rock the house right from the get go with the opening scorcher “Our Last Time.” Classic hits like “Right Next Door” and Cray’s signature song, “Smoking Gun,” are opened up for extended jamming between the musicians. The latter clocks in at over seven minutes as Cray decides to school his audience on what blues rock guitar sounds like. Elsewhere throughout the album, Pugh takes the spotlight, in particularly on “One in the Middle,” which has a killer organ solo by Cray’s longtime sideman.

While the album may appear to look short with just 12 songs on it, in actuality, only two of them clock in at under five minutes. What you get on Cookin’ in Mobile is a real concert experience, with the band giving the songs new life from their studio counterparts. You may not be able to see each pained expression Cray gives when making his Fender sing, but you can feel the passion from his playing on every track. If you’ve never had the opportunity to catch the Robert Cray Band in concert, Cookin’ in Mobile is a fine place to start. (Vanguard Records 2010)

Robert Cray MySpace Page
Purchase Cookin’ in Mobile from Amazon



  

Indigo Girls: Staring Down the Brilliant Dream


RIYL: Brandi Carlisle, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin

Throughout their 20-plus-year career, the Indigo Girls have maintained not only their integrity as songwriters, but they have managed to consistently produce music that pierces the hearts of their listeners. While the music industry may have forgotten about Emily Sailers and Amy Ray, their loyal fans have stuck with them as they’ve branched out from an indie folk act to incorporate blues, Americana and straight-up rock and roll into their sound. While the sound may have changed, one thing that has remained intact after all of these years is the Girls’ immaculate harmonies. They still sound pitch perfect and as beautiful as they did the first time we all heard “Closer to Fine” back in 1989.

On Staring Down the Brilliant Dream, the group’s new double-CD live album, those famous harmonies are front and center. Recorded during their 2006-2009 tours, there are 31 songs on this album, each hand-selected by the Grammy-winning duo. Those of you thinking that you could never sit through two CDs of the Indigo Girls, their acoustic guitars, and a concert hall full of their adoring fans, fear not; the Indigo Girls are accompanied by their killer band, with the band members filtering in as needed. Full band arrangements of “Shame on you” and “Fill It Up Again” are lovely examples of Ray and Sailers acting as expert bandleaders, while “Fly Away” and “Watershed” show that the Indigo Girls can still captivate a crowd with just two instruments.

Highlights on Disc One include the haunting “Ozilline,” a rousing cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, “ featuring guest vocals by Brandi Carlisle, and a superb rendition of “Kid Fears,” with Three5Human lead singer, Trina Meade, taking the Michael Stipe solo. This version of the song from their debut album rivals the original recording in it power. Disc Two highlights are the rollicking “Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate,” the breathtaking “Fugitive,” and the great ‘fuck off’ song, “Become You.” Sound quality on Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is outstanding. The clarity of the vocals and the separation between the instruments gives you the full effect of being at the venue and hearing the Indigo Girls live.

Fans of the Indigo Girls are going to buy this album regardless of this review, but for those of you who’ve never experienced one of the Girls’ concerts, or for those of you who stopped listening to the group after their early ’90s heyday, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is a fine way to become (re)acquainted with the band. (IG Recordings/Vanguard Records, 2010)

Official Indigo Girls website
Click to buy Staring Down the Brilliant Dream at Amazon


  

The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights


RIYL: Going to White Stripes concerts

Recorded throughout their 2007 Canadian tour, Under The Great White Northern Lights doubles as the White Stripes’ first live album and as the soundtrack to the tour documentary of the same name. A Canadian tour may be an unlikely source from which to cull live material, but it’s clear that Jack and Meg have enthusiasm for their neighbors to the north, since they absolutely shredded it for them.

Under Great White Northern Lights accurately conveys the manic, almost primal, energy of a White Stripes concert. The way the two tear through “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Blue Orchid” is brutal, Meg pounds every beat like it’s her last and Jack practically tears the guitar to pieces with every riff and yells every line with such sincerity and intensity that they all sounds like personal insults directed the person whom he hates the most. The spiteful “Citizen Kane”-inspired jibes of “The Union Forever” sound just as scornful and hate-filled as they did when they first recorded that song nearly 10 years ago. If Jack and Meg are sick of this material, they sure as hell aren’t showing it.

But when they are sick of a song it sure shows. Rightfully tired of “Fell in Love with a Girl,” they try to turn it into a slow jam to mix things up, but without the manic riff that’s present on the album version, that song just falls apart. They also try to turn it into a sing-along during the chorus but throughout most of the album the Canadians suck at audience participation. Their delays in prompted singing cause more than one stumble in Jack’s pacing and when it comes time for quiet songs like “We Are Going to Be Friends” they just don’t know when the hell to shut up. A gaggle of screamers ruin that recording, drowning out Jack’s heartfelt lyrics with constant high-pitched squealing. It’s unbearably annoying.

But when the audience shuts up and when Jack and Meg don’t radically deviate from the source material in distracting ways, there’s little to complain about on this album. Sure, it’s easy to whine about some notable omissions (no “Hotel Yorba,” “The Hardest Button to Button” or “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground,” for instance) but instead focus on the rarities that are included. The Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” has been a live staple for the White Stripes since their inception, and this marks the first time it’s been included on an album proper. Same goes for “Let’s Shake Hands,” which was the band’s first release as a single back in 1998. Hardcore fans will more likely care about that than the bigger well-known tracks that are excluded. In fact, what’s probably most maddening about Under Great White Northern Lights is that it’ll have you jonesing even more for new White Stripes. The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs just aren’t cutting it anymore. (Third Man 2010)

The White Stripes’ MySpace Page

  

Medeski, Martin and Wood: Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set


RIYL: Fusion jazz, jambands, Bernie Worrell, Galactic

If you are sick of the state of the music business, if you need some new music that sounds truly new, if FM radio bores you to tears and even the blog-rock CDs showing up on every music site’s “best of” list lets you down because it all sounds like half-practiced, overproduced slacker junk played by snotty people you wouldn’t invite to parties at your place…please go and buy this box set. The culmination of the two-year Radiolarians project, The Evolutionary Set is the career pinnacle of MMW, jazz-rocking experimentalists who are neither jazz nor rock, but “avant-groove.” Kind of an thinking-fan’s instrumental Phish, this trio started with an idea in 2007: Write some proto-jams, briefly rehearse them, take them on tour, develop them live, and then record the finished project. It spawned three ridiculously tight, sometimes funky, sometimes rockin’, sometimes ambient-noodling numbers that sound like nothing you’ve heard. It doesn’t hurt that these guys not only have played together almost two decades, but that they’re exceptional players. The box set includes the three Radiolarians albums, a double-vinyl set, a DVD documentary, a remixes disc, and a live album. It’s intelligent jazz, it’s primitive rock. It’s funky stuff. It’s an updated 2009 version of the strangely beautiful Miles Davis period that included the records On The Corner and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. It’s everything indie music’s all about, and while the major labels and commercial radio won’t touch this stuff, you should. (Indirecto Records, 2009)

Medeski Martin and Wood MySpace page

  

The scoop on Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s SuperHighway Tour

Perhaps the greatest reward an older artist can have is the satisfaction of knowing a massive representation of their work is available for all to experience. Some musicians quit their bands or go on hiatus, only to reunite for all the wrong reasons. Others simply slap together one or several predictable compilations. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will never succumb to this level of triviality. The band has been together since 1976, constantly touring and recording. In watching them perform at last year’s Super Bowl, it’s obvious how important they are to American music.

Over the years, the band has created an impressive catalogue of studio albums, but their live act also continues to earn heaps of praise. On November 24, Reprise Records will unveil The Live Anthology, a 4-disc box set (also available for download) containing 48 tracks compiled by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and Ryan Ulyate from three decades worth of live material. The package also looks spectacular, featuring artwork from Shepard Fairey, who recently designed the “HOPE” poster for Obama’s presidential campaign.

Come November 22, Best Buy will have the honor of exclusively selling the deluxe version in the U.S. In addition to the standard package, buyers will receive an extra disc of live material, two previously unavailable DVDs, a Blu-ray disc featuring all 62 songs in pristine 96K 24-bit audio, and a seven LP vinyl box set of 51 tracks. Damn.

Still, retrospectives the size of Smart cars are nothing new. Tom Petty knows this, so instead of simply treating his fans to a delectable live package, his team created a one-of-a-kind sensation to up to the ante. It’s called the SuperHighway Tour, an online experience that augments The Live Anthology. By purchasing a “ticket” to the SuperHighway Tour, fans can access commentary, vintage photos, and a virtual merchandise booth, all the while surfing through its visually stunning website.

Here’s how the label describes it:

Fans will also be able to share their photos and stories from their favorite Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers shows. Then on the album’s November 24 release, ticketholders will receive the remaining 24 tracks on The Live Anthology, thereby completing the digital album.

Access to the Superhighway Tour will be available to fans that purchase “tickets” from Ticketmaster.com or through the Superhighway Tour box office.

Tickets for the entire 8-week Superhighway Tour are on sale now through Ticketmaster.com and TomPettySuperHighwayTour.com. The price of a Superhighway Tour ticket includes all 48 The Live Anthology digital tracks plus the 8-week online experience for $24.98 without any additional service fees. Downloads will be available in 256kbps MP3 or FLAC formats – fan’s choice.

A FREE PREVIEW of the SuperHighway Tour is now available at http://www.tompettysuperhighwaytour.com and includes a FREE DOWNLOAD of a track from the 1981 run of shows at Los Angeles’ Forum.

The release of The Live Anthology comes on the heels of two sold out tours, the Grammy winning documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream (directed by Peter Bogdanovich), and a headline performance at the Super Bowl XLII halftime show. Now, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – one of rock and roll’s greatest touring bands – will mark their unparalleled string of success with the release of this landmark collection of live recordings that is unlike anything previously available – the band’s story told through the music alone.

The producers made no fixes or overdubs, letting the newly mixed original recordings showcase the invention, spontaneity, craft, and the musicianship that has made Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers among the most celebrated live performers of their time. Along with powerful interpretations of their own classic hits and originals, The Live Anthology features the band tackling some of their best-loved cover material, from classics to obscure beauties to unexpected adaptations. The theme from Goldfinger, the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again,” the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” early Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” Booker T. and the MGs’ “Green Onions,” James Brown’s “Good, Good Lovin'” and many more. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers travel wide, paying their musical debts through song and showing just how confidently the band moves across genres and over time.

It’s like going to a concert and avoiding the long lines, body odor, and drunken idiots. Seriously though, this is an innovative idea — one that guarantees weeks of staring at your computer and rocking out like you’re actually in attendance.

  

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