Monday, March 29, 2010

Elvis Presley - On Stage: Legacy Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

When Elvis Presley returned to live concerts in 1969, he did so with a fire not seen since the earlier part of his career. He was in peak form both physically and vocally and thankfully RCA was there to capture it live. His two live albums — 1969’s In Person at the International Hotel (originally part of the two-LP From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis) and 1970’s On Stage are collected on On Stage: Legacy Edition.

Presley’s return to the concert stage was a long time coming — nine years in fact. As the 1960s wore on, the King found himself recording an increasing number of bad songs for an increasing number of bad movies while the rest of the music industry passed him by. Toward the end of the decade, his commercial fortunes were at an all-time low. While he began his creative rebirth with the Grammy Award-winning How Great Thou Art album in 1967, it was the 1968 Comeback Special that solidified his return to the top.

Freed from the clutches of Hollywood, Presley returned to Memphis to record the career-defining From Elvis in Memphis and its accompanying singles, including “Suspicious Minds” — his last number one in America — and was eager to perform before a live audience again.

After original band mates Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana turned him down due to the revenue they’d lose as session men, Presley recruited what would later become known as the TCB band with James Burton on guitar, Ronnie Tutt on drums, and Jerry Scheff on bass. The 1969 recordings at the International Hotel in Las Vegas form the basis of disc two.

And what performances they are. From frantic versions of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Johnny B. Goode” to a countrified “Are You Lonesome Tonight” to the gospel/blues of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Presley sounds like a lion freed from the cage.

Contemporary material, including a heartfelt rendition of the Bee Gees’ “Words” and his own “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” also feature in the set. This was the strongest material Presley had sung in years and he knew it, delivering the songs with conviction as if his very career depended on it. In spite of this, his insecurities about performing live made him wonder if anyone would still care after all those years. That answer was a resounding yes.

1970’s On Stage was unusual as live albums go in that all the songs were covers and not ones Presley originally made famous. That’s not to say he didn’t make them his own however. The raucous “See See Rider” became a staple as a set opener while the swamp rocker “Polk Salad Annie” became a showcase for his karate-inspired stage moves. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” is a highlight of this set. One gets the sense that he saw a lot of himself in the lyrics. Presley also delivers a heartfelt version of “The Wonder of You,” which became a worldwide hit and his first-ever live single.

On Stage: Legacy Edition includes a number of bonus tracks from the respective time periods, including fine versions of “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain” on disc one and a bluesy “Reconsider Baby” and wistful “Funny How Times Slips Away” on disc two, the latter of which was recorded live before it later appeared on 1971’s Elvis Country.

While previous versions of this material have lacked in sound quality or had unnecessary reverb added, the Legacy Edition features superb mastering by audio guru Vic Anesini. This material has arguably never sounded better. The packaging is also top-notch, with liner notes by Elvis: Vegas ‘69 author Ken Sharp.

For fans of the King in his second great period from 1968-72, this is essential material. The CD sounds great, the band is tight and Elvis Presley is on top of his game.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Live at Knebworth - CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

While many festivals have boasted incredible lineups of music, the one held at Knebworth in June of 1990 has often been called the best British rock concert of all time. With a lineup featuring Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Elton John, Phil Collins, Genesis, Tears for Fears, Dire Straits, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and Status Quo, it would be difficult to argue against that claim.

The artists chosen were previous winners of the Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef Award, recognizing acts that make outstanding contributions to the British music industry. The concert itself was a benefit for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy and the Brit School of Performing Arts. The CD will raise money for those charities.

While the concert was an all-day affair, the CD features highlights of the bands, leading off with two songs from Tears for Fears, including a spirited version of their hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Up next are Status Quo, who deliver a fine cover of John Fogerty’s “Rockin’ All Over the World” and Cliff Richard and the Shadows with legendary guitarist Hank Marvin doing “Do you Wanna Dance” and “On the Beach.”

Robert Plant’s set included the then popular “Hurting Kind” and “Tall Cool One,” but the real highlight was an appearance by Jimmy Page on the seldom-played Led Zeppelin classic “Wearing and Tearing.” Up next is Genesis with “Mama” and “”Turn it on Again,” the latter of which evolved into a medley of classic 1960s songs including “Somebody to Love,” “Satisfaction,” and “Twist and Shout.”

Phil Collins opens disc two with his version of “Sussudio,” while Eric Clapton plays a funky version of the Cream classic “Sunshine of Your Love.” Dire Straits offer “I Think I Love You Too Much” while Elton John has two songs, including a fun “Saturday Night’s All Right (For Fighting)."

Two heavyweights close the show in Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd, though only two songs are included from each act (“Coming Up” and “Hey Jude” and “Comfortably Numb” and “Run Like Hell” respectively). If there’s a problem with this set, it is this: McCartney’s set alone was roughly 45 minutes, including a John Lennon tribute not included here. While putting out the entire concert may not be feasible for the average buyer, perhaps a deluxe edition could have solved this with all of the performances, or perhaps individual CDs for the bigger artists at the show, with the proceeds from those going to charity as well.

For fans that just want an overview though, Live at Knebworth is an excellent document of this historic event. It’s not often one can find this many big names doing their biggest hits in one place.