Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paul Kelly: “Life Is Fine” (2017) CD Review

A few months ago I saw Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen in concert, supporting their October 2016 release, Death’s Dateless Night. While they focused a good deal of their set on music from that album, they also played a new song, “Life Is Fine,” a Langston Hughes poem set to music. It was one of many highlights from the show, and now it is the title track of Paul Kelly’s impressive new album. And even with all the craziness in the world these days, I can’t help but believe that life is fine while listening to Paul Kelly’s music. Certainly life can be good for the length of this disc. Life Is Fine features all original material, written or co-written by Paul Kelly. As on some previous releases (such as Spring And Fall and The Merri Soul Sessions), Vika Bull and Linda Bull join Paul Kelly on backing vocals. Each takes a turn on lead vocals as well.

The album opens with “Rising Moon,” a powerful song that grabs you immediately with its opening notes on piano and doesn’t let go. Paul Kelly delivers a strong vocal performance here, backed by Vika Bull and Linda Bull. “I took your hand and you didn’t let go/And my poor heart jumped out of my chest.” And check out these lines: “That moon changed its colour/As it rose in the sky/And we changed each other/Under heaven’s bright eye/I might live to a hundred/I might die soon/But I’ll never forget that rising moon.” “Rising Moon” was written by Paul Kelly and Bill Miller. Paul Kelly then raises our spirits with “Finally Something Good,” a wonderful tune that seems designed to make us smile, and works beautifully. This one includes a play on a line from Macbeth at the end, as Paul sings “Something good this way comes” (the famous passage from Macbeth reads, “By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes”). This is certainly not the first time Paul Kelly has turned to Shakespeare. Last year, in addition to Death’s Dateless Night, he released Seven Sonnets & A Song, in which he set some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music.

“Firewood And Candles” has a bit of a Bob Dylan flavor. It’s a song about spending a night with a woman, and forgetting about the world. “We’re gonna shut out the world/Forget about the TV news/Firewood and candles/Tonight they’re gonna see us through.” Sounds like a perfect plan, particularly these days. I love Cameron Bruce’s work on keys on this track, with a 1960s flavor. “Firewood And Candles” was written by Paul Kelly and Bill Miller. That’s followed by “My Man’s Got A Cold,” which features Vika Bull on lead vocals. This is a delicious, playful and yet strangely sexy, song. “Could be the worst ever cold/In the history of the world/And I’ve got a front seat row/To the whole sorry show.” And I love these lines: “And he’s taken every drug/But they just won’t kill that bug/Now he’s worried it might get worse/He’s thinking about the hearse.” And Vika totally sells it. And, oh, what a rough solution she offers at the end! This is completely fucking wonderful.

“Leah: The Sequel” is another playful track, a sequel to Roy Orbison’s “Leah.” If you know that song, you’ll remember that the main character goes diving for pearls to make a necklace for Leah, and nearly drowns. But then it turns out to be a dream about his lost love. Well, in this song it is no dream. The song begins with the guy on the beach, someone performing CPR on him. And when he hands the pearl to Leah, she’s his forever, which may or may not turn out to be what he wanted. “Now I’m working in the cannery, hosing down the floor for her old man/And I’m hoping I get used to it, ‘cause Leah’s got a ten year plan/She’s hidden my snorkel, says I’m never going diving again.” I love Vika and Linda’s backing vocals sort of recreating Roy Orbison’s “Leah, Leah.” And then “Josephina” is a sweet and joyful and kind of catchy love song. “I’ll get a job really soon, Josephina/I know that’s what you want me to do, Josephina.”

Linda Bull sings lead on “Don’t Explain,” which has a good pop vibe and some humorous lyrics, such as “Don’t look so serious/It doesn’t suit your face” and “You sure know how to use your hands/But you don’t have a great attention span.” It’s not really a funny song, but its final lines make me laugh. Lucky Oceans then joins Paul Kelly on pedal steel for “Petrichor.” “I wish I knew the names of things/Trees and flowers, birds that sing/You’re much better at that kind of thing than I.” The CD concludes with its title track, “Life Is Fine,” the Langston Hughes poem set to music. This is a beautiful and uplifting song, leaving us with the lines, “Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!” Must do our best to remember that in these dark days.

CD Track List
  1. Rising Moon
  2. Finally Something Good
  3. Firewood And Candles
  4. My Man’s Got A Cold
  5. Rock Out On The Sea
  6. Leah: The Sequel
  7. Letter In The Rain
  8. Josephina
  9. Don’t Explain
  10. I Smell Trouble
  11. Petrichor
  12. Life Is Fine
Life Is Fine was released on August 11, 2017. By the way, Paul Kelly will be touring the U.S. in September and October. I highly recommend attending at least one of those concerts if you’re able.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The B-52s: Hello!

The world has gotten even uglier, thanks to Donald Trump’s violent fan club. But, as always, there is music to help remind us of what’s important: love and dancing and wigs. There were plenty of these at The B-52s show last night in downtown Los Angeles. The show was part of the Downtown Stage Saturday Concert Series, put on in Pershing Square, and a large amount of people turned out for it. Folks were in the mood to come together, forget the horror for a while, and enjoy a night of fun tunes. Quirky beauty to combat the ugliness of the country, and what better band for that than The B-52s? And yeah, it worked, at least for a while. Of course, first we had to get into the show.

I am early everywhere I go, but yesterday lots of people got there even earlier than I did, and there was a long line outside the park. After a while, the line came to a stop, and didn’t move again for several minutes. People got a bit nervous. And when the line started moving it, it moved quickly. And that got people even more concerned. Word came that the venue was at capacity, and no one else was being allowed in. I stayed in line anyway, but the rumor proved true. Lots of folks stood outside the gates and walls, and I made my way as close to the entrance as possible. There was a little playground area to the left, and the fence leading to it was not very tall. But if I got in there, then I’d still have to get through a small opening into the concert area, which was guarded. A guy across the way jumped over the wall, and two guards went over to him and escorted him out (after a woman behind me got their attention, ratting out the guy, which weirded me out). But the guard at the opening remained at his post. A few people in front of me left, so I got even closer. Soon another guy across the playground jumped over the wall, but this guy ran, which caused all the guards to chase him, leaving the opening in the wall clear for me. So I stepped over the fence and walked in through that opening. I walked quickly, but did not run, and soon I was in the concert area. The Sh-Booms, who opened the show, were already on at that point. I was digging them, but I needed to pee, and so got into another long line. Someone outside the venue had told me the capacity of the place was 6,000. There were ten toilets. Dark boxes of despair. I fumbled with my cell phone, trying to use its light to guide my movements, and of course making sure it didn’t slip from my grasp. If it had fallen, that would have been the end of that phone. No way would I have retrieved anything from the floor of that hellish chamber.

The Sh-Booms were good, and I enjoyed their cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” though I think they maybe stayed on one or two songs beyond what was needed. And then there was a wait for The B-52s. A helicopter circled overhead, and then there was an announcement aimed at those outside the gate, asking them to leave. Weirdly, those inside were asked to help with this announcement, asked to yell at those outside to leave. No one complied with this insane directive, at least no one near me. Instead, people booed the idea. And I learned later that everyone stayed, and that several other people jumped over the walls and fences at various points along the perimeter. It did get a little crowded inside, and my claustrophobia kicked into gear. There was a moment when I thought it might get to be too much to bear, but once the band started, everything was fine. My superb dancing skills usually cause others to move away in alarm and fear. And I danced my ass off, gaining more space as the show went on.

I didn’t write notes during the show, or take any photos (sorry). Instead, I just danced and smiled and enjoyed the concert. So I can’t include the complete set list here, but I do recall the band played “Mesopotamia” early on. What a fun song! The set also included “Lava,” “Private Idaho,” “Summer Of Love,” “Roam” (which is one of my personal favorites – it just makes me so bloody happy), “Channel Z” (another highlight) and “Wig.” Early in the show, Fred gently chided the audience, “Put down your goddamn phones and dance.” Seriously, it was weird: the moment the band started, like two hundred cell phones suddenly were held up in the air. Most of them were put away soon, but I don’t think there was ever a moment during the show when there weren’t at least a few dozen phones in the air. So Fred kept on people, sometimes telling individuals directly to put their phones away and enjoy the show. He also teased the people near the front who were seated. “Why are you sitting down? Are you old or something?” Apparently, someone responded that he or she was only sitting between songs. So Fred asked if he was boring or something. Yeah, I totally fell in love with Fred during this show. He did repeat his suggestion to dance, and often added, “Hello?” After a while, folks around me echoed his “Hello” playfully. How could you not love the guy? Hello!

They ended the set with “Love Shack.” I joked with the girl next to me, “I wonder what the encore could be.” She thought about it for a moment, then responded, “Rock Lobster.” “I was being sarcastic,” I told her. I mean, was there any question of their playing that song? A guy behind me, however, wanted to hear “Strobe Light,” and I realized there were actually a whole lot of tunes the band could play for its encore. Fortunately, they did a three-song encore, starting with “Planet Claire,” the lead-off track from the first album, and a song that I love. They followed that with “6060-842.” And then Fred said, “That leads us to ‘Rock Lobster.’”  It was said with a certain amount of fatalism, I felt. Perhaps they’re sick of this song, for they didn’t do a very long version. Only one “Down, down” section, and while I did crouch down, I didn’t get completely on the ground. Fucked up my knee at work, and who knows what shit is down there? Anyway, the show was excellent. Their energy was wonderful, and their voices are still really strong. And I’m glad Fred was okay after falling off the stage. He said that moment would probably be on You Tube today, and it is.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Jerry Garcia And Merl Saunders: “Garcia Live Volume Nine” (2017) CD Review

August 1st would have been Jerry Garcia’s seventy-fifth birthday, and just before that date, a new volume in the Garcia Live concert recordings series was released. Garcia Live Volume Nine contains the complete show that Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders performed on August 11, 1974 at the Keystone. The band this night included Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, as well as John Kahn on bass, and Martin Fiero on flute and saxophone. This two-disc set includes liner notes by Merl Saunders, Jr.

The band opens the show with “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” There is a slight hesitation at the beginning, but once that great groove is established by Bill Kreutzmann and John Kahn, things start moving, start flowing well, and Martin Fiero adds great touches on saxophone, supporting Jerry’s wonderful vocals. I’m particularly fond of John Kahn’s bass work on this rendition. Merl delivers some fun stuff on keys during the jam, really leading the band during that section. Martin then takes a turn at lead on sax. I always loved the addition of saxophone to the Jerry Garcia Band, and was fortunate enough to see Clarence Clemons play with Jerry a couple of times. Here, Martin really propels the song to another level, and you can hear the crowd respond appreciatively. Martin Fiero then switches to flute for his own composition, “La La,” a light and pretty instrumental number that Fiero leads from the beginning. But check out Bill Kreutzmann’s wonderful jazzy drumming here. This song has kind of a pleasant vibe, but also has surprises and some phenomenal playing. This is one to pay attention to. There are some moments that feel akin to those delicious 1973 and 1974 versions of “Eyes Of The World,” especially in the way Jerry’s guitar has a free-flowing and joyous sound. The song starts to soar toward the end, and then right at the end becomes spacey. This track is wonderful. They then dip into bluesy waters with “It Ain’t No Use,” with Martin Fiero back on saxophone. This one builds nicely to become an energetic blues number. The first set then concludes with a seriously fun and groovy version of “Mystery Train.” This one just gets better and better.

The second set gets off to an excellent start with “The Harder They Come.” The first reggae album I ever bought, when I was like fourteen or fifteen, was a Jimmy Cliff cassette, and I’ve had a love for his music ever since. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders deliver a nice, long rendition here, really digging into that groove. And this is a song that still resonates strongly. Plus, there’s some great work on saxophone, as well as some joyous work on guitar by Jerry Garcia. This track should put a smile on your face. “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” is not a song I would associate with Jerry Garcia. It’s not a bad song, but seems an odd, surprising choice. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders deliver an instrumental rendition. For this one, Martin Ferio switches again to flute, playing what would be the vocal line on it at the beginning. But a little later the track develops a funky groove, with Jerry Garcia and John Kahn working so well together, and Merl free to go for it on keys. The jam gets a little weird, at one point sounding like a computerized phone dialing or something. They follow that with “It’s Too Late,” which has a delicious, classic vibe, especially with the presence of saxophone. Things get even more fun with “(I’m A) Road Runner,” a song about a restless soul hitting the road, certainly an appropriate subject for Jerry Garcia, and for fans of the Grateful Dead. They then conclude the show with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” It’s not a bad rendition, but the version on Garcia Live Volume Eight is much better.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. That’s What Love Will Make You Do
  2. La La
  3. It Ain’t No Use
  4. Mystery Train
Disc Two
  1. The Harder They Come
  2. Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)
  3. It’s Too Late
  4. (I’m A) Road Runner
  5. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Garcia Live Volume Nine was released on July 28, 2017.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume Eight” (2017) CD Review

The Jerry Garcia Band hit the road in the fall of 1991 for a tour of the east coast, with a few Midwest stops at the end. (I saw only the Worcester show of that tour, and I remember it being a good one.) One of the last shows of that November tour was at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, and that show was released as Garcia Live Volume Eight, a two-disc set. The Jerry Garcia Band at the time of this recording was Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Melvin Seals on keyboards, John Kahn on bass, David Kemper on drums, Gloria Jones on vocals, and Jacklyn LaBranch on vocals.

The band kicks off the show with crowd favorite “Cats Under The Stars.” I always want to call this one “Cats Down Under The Stars,” since that’s what Jerry’s singing. Anyway, it’s a great way to start the show, with joy and energy. Listen to the delight in Jerry’s voice as he sings, “Feels like it’s all right.” Indeed! The band is loose and ready right out of the gate. And they follow “Cats Under The Stars” with a wonderful “They Love Each Other.” Melvin Seals delivers right from the beginning of this one. This is a song that Jerry did with the Grateful Dead too, but I’m really fond of the way Garcia Band does it here, with the backing vocalists. This is such a happy-sounding song. Check out Jerry’s guitar toward the end of the jam. Then there’s the good groove of “Lay Down Sally” to keep you smiling. That’s followed by a sweet rendition of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” with Jerry’s vocals full of passion, so clear, so good. And Melvin really gets into it, delivering some wonderful work on keys. This track is one of the set’s highlights. Then, after a pretty good “Reuben And Cherise,” the band gets things grooving with “Money Honey,” and again those backing vocalists – Gloria and Jacklyn – are responsible for a lot of the love I have for this version. And Melvin is cooking, particularly during the jam. The band is clearly having a good time. The first set concludes with a good version of “My Brothers And Sisters” and a rockin’ “Deal,” with an energetic jam.

The second set opens with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side Of The Road,” a song I don’t think I ever saw Jerry perform. This is a really nice version too, and Jerry is clearly into it. After a decent “Waiting For A Miracle,” Jerry gets a bit bluesy with “Think,” written by Jimmy McCracklin and Deadric Malone. I love the way his guitar and Melvin’s keyboard work together on this track, especially during Jerry’s extended lead section in the jam. And then they trade off, with Melvin taking the lead and Jerry supporting him. Wonderful stuff. That’s followed by a cool version of “Shining Star,” a mix of pop and gospel sounds. Before you know it, the band has turned it into a relaxed, sweet jam, surprisingly another of the set’s highlights. “I want to be right here where you are until my dying day/Oh, baby.” Things then get ridiculously fun with “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox.” This one should put a smile on the face of even the most troubled among us. That’s followed by a glorious “That Lucky Old Sun.” The backing vocalists really shine here, helping to make this track another highlight. The show then ends on another strong note, with a delicious cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Cats Under The Stars
  2. They Love Each Other
  3. Lay Down Sally
  4. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  5. Reuben And Cherise
  6. Money Honey
  7. My Sisters And Brothers
  8. Deal
Disc Two
  1. Bright Side Of The Road
  2. Waiting For A Miracle
  3. Think
  4. Shining Star
  5. Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox
  6. That Lucky Old Sun
  7. Tangled Up In Blue 
Garcia Live Volume Eight was released on March 10, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume Seven” (2016) CD Review

On August 1st, what would have been Jerry Garcia’s seventy-fifth birthday, Amoeba Music had a sale on all Garcia and Grateful Dead albums. So after work I went down there and bought a bunch of discs. I wanted to stay up all night listening, but I had to be up at five the next morning for work. So I popped in the first disc of Garcia Live Volume Seven, as I was in the mood for some more 1976 recordings after enjoying the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5. Garcia Live Volume Seven contains the complete show the Jerry Garcia Band performed at Sophie’s in Palo Alto on November 8, 1976.

The first set kicks off with a sweet and fun version of “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” Sure, this song might come across as a bit cheesy at times, but Jerry sings it with heart, with joy, and it makes me feel good, thinking about the girl who stole my heart. And yes, that’s Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. The band on this night included Grateful Dead members Keith and Donna Godchaux, as well as John Kahn on bass and Ron Tutt on drums. The jam features a good groove by Keith on keys. Then “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” begins quietly. At times this song finds its own reggae-like groove, and at other times it feels delicate and pretty. Everything seems to be working to create a pleasant, relaxed, but still passionate, rendition. That’s followed by a groovy, slightly slow version of “After Midnight.” Donna sounds great here, and the band gets a good jam going, with Keith really shining. And then check out the wonderful vocals on “Who Was John?” This track is, for me, one of the highlights of the first set, in large part because of the vocals. But it also features a cool jam.

I already mentioned Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5, a recording of the Grateful Dead from 1976. Well, that set includes a version of “Mission In The Rain,” a song the Dead didn’t do all that much. This Garcia Live volume also contains a rendition of “Mission In The Rain” done approximately five months later, and it’s excellent. This is one of my favorite Jerry Garcia Band songs, and this version is particularly good. The first disc then ends with “Stir It Up,” with Donna taking lead vocal duties.

The second disc opens with “Midnight Moonlight,” which is actually the last song of the first set. And then the second set gets off to a good start with “Tore Up Over You,” with a wonderful groove to get you moving, and some great stuff on keys. Keith really gets to show his stuff here, more so than on a lot of the Dead tapes from the seventies. That’s followed by “Friend Of The Devil,” and it’s the slower version the Dead did in concert, a really pretty rendition, with some passionate work on guitar that makes this track a highlight of the second disc. And the band follows it with “Don’t Let Go,” one that never fails to delight. This version is particularly wonderful. The band is in no hurry here, just enjoying the groove and seeing where they can take it. And at twenty-two minutes or so, they have the time to take this song wherever they desire. It’s so loose, so relaxed, and there is even a bass solo. Yes, this jam is another of the show’s highlights. Donna then sings lead on “Strange Man,” and this song, written by Dorothy Love Coates, seems perfectly suited for her.

I was especially excited to hear “Stop That Train,” because for whatever reason, it’s been in my head off and on for several weeks now. I find myself singing it at some point nearly every day. So hearing this version satisfied some need of mine. There are some surprisingly sweet and delicate moments in this rendition. The show then ends with the fun disco, rhythm and blues tune “Ride Mighty High.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. The Way You Do The Things You Do
  2. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  3. After Midnight
  4. Who Was John?
  5. Mission In The Rain
  6. Stir It Up
Disc Two
  1. Midnight Moonlight
  2. Tore Up Over You
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Don’t Let Go
  5. Strange Man
  6. Stop That Train
  7. Ride Mighty High
Garcia Live Volume Seven was released on August 19, 2016.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chris Fullerton: “Epilepsy Blues” (2017) CD Review

Chris Fullerton’s album Epilepsy Blues was released early in the year, and is already seeing a re-issue, which is due out in a couple of weeks. This will give most of us a chance to enjoy this remarkable disc. Yeah, I too missed it the first time around. This album features excellent songwriting and wonderful delivery. All the songs were written by Chris Fullerton, who also plays most of the instruments here, though getting some help from Luke Willis on violin and Ian Sutton on pedal steel. I loved this album the first time I listened to it, and am somehow enjoying it even more after repeated spins. It is one of the best of the year so far.

It opens with a song titled “Bad Winds,” and I’m on board immediately. The first part of this song is delivered nearly a cappella, with just a bit of strumming on guitar to accompany his voice. And what a voice. His is one of those voices with strength and character, worn just enough that you believe his tales, emotional enough that you want to hear them. And he starts by directly addressing alcohol: “Whiskey/You come wash over me/’Cause I’ve been underneath/In the pastures of sin.” It’s more than a minute before it kicks in, so that when it does, it comes as a wonderful surprise. And at that moment, I’m hooked, but the song only gets better from there. “Sometimes I feel like only the lord and I know/Where the bad winds blow.” Well, these days I think we all know where the bad winds blow. That’s followed by “Come To Texas,” a delightful country tune in which he tries to convince a girl to come to Texas. Chris Fullerton is based in Austin, by the way. “The whole town’s a can of beer/I’ve been thinking of some things that I could do to you, my dear/And some of them things are just downright weird.” Amen! This track features Ian Sutton on pedal steel. Then Luke Willis joins Chris Fullerton on violin on “I Feel Nothing,” a pretty and mellow tune with some damn good lyrics. Check out these lines, which open the song: “You should see the way the stars look/All shiny and bright/The city lights can’t break them tonight/And my head feels no pain/With a mouthful of medicine.” Luke Willis also plays on “Ma Cherie Amie,” a slow dance. “Is it too early to say I love you/Because I do.”

Okay, the line “Well, I just can’t shake these epilepsy blues” might seem an obvious joke, but it made me smile. That’s clearly from the album’s title track, “Epilepsy Blues.” It begins with an old-time sound, like it’s being played on an old record player, which then dies – perhaps the power was cut, who knows. But then the song takes on a more immediate feel. “Well, if you’re smart you’ll see a neurologist/And if you ain’t smart you’ll find you a girl that is/That’s what I did, and that’s why I’m singing this.” And yes, Chris Fullerton has epilepsy. “Epilepsy Blues” is followed by “Float On Up And See,” which might be my favorite track. From the first lines, I love this song, and the “foaming at the mouth” line made me laugh aloud the first time I listened to it. Yet, this is a sweet, gorgeous song. And the violin adds a somber aspect to its beauty. By the way, these are the first lines: “Well, she unstraps her halo/Lets it fall to the floor/It doesn’t matter much anymore, man/’Cause she’s a goddamn angel.”

“Motel Blues” has a more playful, lighter vibe. Chris sings “And I complain, but why listen,” then pauses before continuing, “To the words a drunkard cries/And who would buy flowers for the clown.” In this song he also mentions the promise of having flying cars by now, asking, “Where have all my boyhood dreams gone?” And off into space we go at the end. Then, in the fun “El Paso Spacedance,” Chris wishes a happy birthday to Buzz Aldren. The album then concludes with an intriguing tune titled “Seven Roman Candles,” which features Lindsay Preston reciting an excerpt from the poem “Brooding Likeness,” written by Louise Gluck (she first reads the last few lines, then at the end of the song reads basically the second half of the poem). And check out these lines: “I went out walking in the snow/And the people just watched me stumble/Saying who’s that dead guy/While seven roman candles lit the night sky.”

CD Track List
  1. Bad Winds
  2. Come To Texas
  3. I Feel Nothing
  4. Ma Chere Amie
  5. Epilepsy Blues
  6. Float On Up And See
  7. Motel Blues
  8. Come On In
  9. El Paso Spacedance
  10. Seven Roman Candles 
Epilepsy Blues is scheduled to be released on August 11, 2017 on Eight 30 Records (though originally it was made available on February 27, 2017).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leonard Cohen: “Live On Air” (2017) CD Review

There are lots of these unofficial Leonard Cohen CDs being released these days, and I can’t help but want to own them all. Some are actually quite good, others not so good. Live On Air fits more in the latter category, at least as far as the overall package. It contains absolutely no information in the liner notes, just the track list. There is no information on the recording date or location, not even which station these tracks aired on. In fact, the only information on the front cover is misleading. It says, “Classic FM Broadcast/The Early Years.” The early years? Taking a glance at the track list will tell you this recording was not from the early years of Leonard Cohen’s career. More than half of the songs here are from the 1980s. Well, it turns out the lack of information may have been deliberate, for these songs are from the show Leonard Cohen did on November 9, 1988 in Toronto, a show that has already been released on CD at least a few times. I own it as Back In The Motherland and as Toronto ’88 (the latter I have on vinyl as well as CD). (It was also released as Warm Reception.) So here it is again. However, this time it includes two interviews. More on that in a bit.

First off, the sound isn’t great. There is a hiss. And the beginning of the first track, “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” is missing. The first line we hear is “I can’t believe that time is gonna heal this wound I’m speaking of.” So why does this particular recording get so many releases? I have no idea. And this isn’t the complete show. Each release that I own has the same songs. What happened to the other songs? Didn’t the radio broadcast feature the entire concert? And why are they not presented in the correct order? I haven’t found any answers. But of course the music is excellent, and perhaps after a while you can ignore the hiss. The first disc contains a seriously good rendition of “Bird On The Wire,” with some nice work on guitar and on organ. And it’s followed by a delicious version of “I’m Your Man,” and a wonderful country take on “Heart With No Companion.” “Take This Waltz” is beautiful, almost magical. It’s really one of the best versions I’ve heard (and I’ve heard it several times now). Oh, if only we could eliminate that constant hiss. The first disc ends with “Tower Of Song.” “They don’t let a woman kill you, not in the tower of song.”

The second disc opens with a good version of “Joan Of Arc,” and is followed by “Jazz Police,” the only Leonard Cohen song that I don’t like. There is something goofy about this song that just doesn’t work. That one section with the backing vocalists always reminds me of the theme to the original Star Trek television program. But I really do like that instrumental section partway through, with cool work on keys. “Jazz Police” was originally included on the 1988 album I’m Your Man. On this disc it’s followed by a much better song from that album, “First We Take Manhattan.” This disc also contains an excellent version of “Coming Back To You,” one of my favorite songs from Various Positions (which is my favorite Leonard Cohen album). “Even in your arms, I know I’ll never get it right/Even when you bend, when you bend to give me your sweet comfort in the night.” That’s followed by one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs, “Suzanne,” and as always he delivers a captivating performance of this one. The concert ended with “I Tried To Leave You” and “Whither Thou Goest,” and both of those songs are included here to conclude the second disc. “I Tried To Leave You” features each of the band members (including vocalists Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen) getting a chance to shine. “Whither Thou Goest” is gorgeous.

Each disc contains an interview, and these interviews make it worth owning this particular release. They were recorded backstage before the concert. In the first interview, Leonard Cohen talks about being on the tour bus, having just arrived from Chicago. When asked if he wants people to take him seriously, even though he has a sense of humor, Leonard answers: “I don’t have any strategy in this matter. My friends know I’m good for a laugh or two.” He talks about his success in Europe, and about the differences between country and pop music, and about his interest in the work of Federico Garcia Lorca. The first interview is approximately eight and a half minutes, and is positioned between “Take This Waltz” and “Tower Of Song.” The second interview comes after “First We Take Manhattan,” and is approximately six and a half minutes. It begins with a question about the meaning of “First We Take Manhattan.” “I think it means exactly what it says. It is a terrorist song. I think it’s a response to terrorism.” He also talks about going to a monastery, and about ceremony, and about sex. He says that after the tour, he’ll get back to work writing.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Ain’t No Cure For Love
  2. Bird On The Wire
  3. I’m Your Man
  4. Heart With No Companion
  5. Take This Waltz
  6. Interview #1
  7. Tower Of Song 
Disc 2
  1. Joan Of Arc
  2. Jazz Police
  3. First We Take Manhattan
  4. Interview #2
  5. Coming Back To You
  6. Suzanne
  7. I Tried To Leave You
  8. Wither Thou Goest
Live On Air was released on June 9, 2017.