Friday, November 26, 2010

Jerry Lee Lewis: Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

"If I look like a mean old man, that's what I am," proclaims Jerry Lee Lewis on the title track of his new duets album, fully embracing his elder statesman status in both the rock 'n' roll and country worlds. The track, written by Kris Kristofferson and featuring some killer guitar work from the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood (one of three Stones to appear on the CD), is a gritty country romp that sets the tone for much of The Killer's star-studded new album.

"Rockin' My Life Away" finds Lewis' piano skills recalling his 1950s heyday with some fine rockabilly playing by Slash. Lewis sounds vibrant, even if Kid Rock's guest vocals are a bit over the top. Mick Jagger guests on a laid-back "Dead Flowers," singing the high harmonies once sung by Keith Richards. Greg Leisz's pedal steel adds an authentic feel, making this song arguably more country than anything on country radio today. The Stones trifecta is completed by Richards' guest spot on vocals and guitar on "Sweet Virginia," with Lewis' piano adding a honky tonk feel to the track.

Ringo Starr and John Mayer guest on a rollicking "Roll Over Beethoven," with Mayer and Lewis turning in blistering solos respectively while Eric Clapton and James Burton's playing on "You Can Have Her" recall the rockabilly days of Lewis' Sun years.

Country legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard guest on "Whiskey River" and "Swinging Doors" respectively, with Nelson adding vocals and lead guitar to the former and Haggard adding vocals to the latter, a track that also features Burton. It's not all old school here however, as Tim McGraw joins Wood on a wistful "Middle Age Crazy," a song that fits McGraw better lyrically these days than Lewis.

Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition is mostly killer, little filler, with only "Bad Moon Rising," featuring John Fogerty and "You Are My Sunshine" featuring Sheryl Crow serving as missteps. Lewis' voice isn't quite what it used to be, but what it lacks in prowess, it more than makes up in life experience and his piano playing, as always, remains top notch. The album ends with Lewis on solo piano on a striking "Miss the Mississippi and You," a track that shows The Killer is still vital at 75.

Article first published as Music Review: Jerry Lee Lewis - Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run: Special Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After the breakup of the Beatles and the subsequent release of two quirky, yet charming albums — McCartney and Ram — Paul McCartney decided he'd missed being in a band and Wings was born. The band's first two albums didn't exactly wow the critics and, making matters worse, guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell left the band, reducing Wings to a trio of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. Undeterred, the group traveled to Lagos where they recorded Band on the Run, an album that remains a high-water mark of McCartney's post-Beatles career, newly remastered in a two-CD/one-DVD special edition.

Much has been said about Band on the Run over the years and, for fans of McCartney, it is certainly a must-own. The title track, as well as "Jet" and "Let Me Roll it" are McCartney in-concert staples and considered classic tracks. The remaining tracks boast the same quality, from the syrupy "Bluebird" to the driving piano of "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five," this is McCartney at his best.

Remastered by the same team that did the recent Beatles remasters, the sound is clear and detailed and avoids the modern, overly loud production found on too many CDs. This is likely the final word on this album and its sound quality is now up to par with its song quality.

Band on the Run's British track list has been made canon and, as a result, American fans looking for "Helen Wheels" on the main disc will not find it, but it does reside (along with its B-side, the excellent "Country Dreamer") on the bonus CD. The disc also includes a number of live tracks from the One Hand Clapping documentary, including a spirited take on "Jet" with excellent drumming from short-lived Wings member Geoff Britton.

The third disc is a DVD that includes promotional videos for "Band on the Run," "Mamunia," "Helen Wheels," as well as the entire album itself, and a "making of the album cover" documentary. The highlights of the DVD though are Wings in Lagos, a short series of never-seen home movies from the group's trip to Africa and the documentary One Hand Clapping, which is available legitimately for the first time here. While the video quality in One Hand Clapping often borders on bootleg and the track "Suicide" is oddly omitted, it is still likely as good a version of this fine document of Wings in the studio as fans will see.

Band on the Run proved to skeptics that McCartney still had it after the Beatles. The remastered CD as well as the two bonus discs make Band on the Run: Special Edition an essential CD for McCartney fans.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run: Special Edition on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The world of heavy metal lost one of its most towering figures in May of 2010 when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to stomach cancer. The previous summer, the recently reformed Dio version of Black Sabbath (now calling itself Heaven & Hell) toured to support their new album, The Devil You Know. The band played a blistering set at that summer's Wacken Festival in Germany and while no one knew it at the time, it was to be Dio's last filmed performance. That show is captured in Neon Nights.

Opening with "The Mob Rules" from the album of the same name, Heaven & Hell were in fine form, with Dio's voice showing remarkably little wear given the difficulty of the material to sing. A powerful "Children of the Sea" follows, with Dio informing the crowd that it was the first song they had ever written together and dedicating it to them.

The band's new material fit well in the set as they followed Dehumanizer's brutally heavy "I" and the riff-laden "Time Machine" with the equally heavy "Bible Black" and "Fear," which may feature the best riff on The Devil You Know. "Die Young" began with some excellent soloing from guitarist Tony Iommi while the band's namesake song, "Heaven and Hell," became a 17-minute jam that never bordered on boring.

The first verse of "Country Girl" was played as an intro to set-closer "Neon Knights," but a complete version would have been welcome. As the band's name change would indicate, the set list was all Dio-era material and while they played a nice cross-section of their four albums, a few more than the twelve songs played in their 90-minute set would have made a good concert even better.

The DVD includes 30th anniversary interviews with all four band members conducted by DJ Eddie Trunk as well as tributes to Dio from the surviving members of Heaven & Hell. Audio options include Dolby digital stereo, Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound.

Neon Nights showed a band that was still capable of delivering high-energy shows while The Devil You Know offered a glimpse of what Heaven & Hell could sound like in the new millennium. Sadly, the band will never get to chance to build on the momentum they had achieved in their brief reformation.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Albert King With Stevie Ray Vaughan - In Session DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

On December 6, 1983, blues history was made when Albert King symbolically passed the torch to one of his most famous disciples, Stevie Ray Vaughan. The pair appeared on the Canadian TV show In Session. While the CD of this performance has been released before, it makes its DVD debut here.

The wait was well worth it as the joy these two legends had playing together is apparent throughout. Interestingly enough, the session almost never happened. King wasn't aware of who Vaughan — who had just released his debut album, Texas Flood — was until he was reminded that he was the same "Little Stevie" who once sat in with King in the 1970s. The relationship between the pair is very much like father and son, with King directing Vaughan — who had been holding back out of respect for his hero — when to cut loose or when to play more restrained.

The DVD opens with King's signature "Born Under a Bad Sign," with the pair trading sizzling leads throughout. King and Vaughan both prove equally adept at not only lead, but also rhythm playing as they lie back and watch the other solo. It's as much a treat for the players to watch each other solo as it is for the viewer.

Up next is an extended "Texas Flood," featuring Vaughan on vocals. King recalls how Vaughan always wanted to sit in with his band and that he'd "play a few good licks and then back off." There's no backing off here however as Vaughan owns the song with a series of blistering licks. King contrasts Vaughan's soloing with a more laid-back feel, further adding to the song's texture. King stands up mid solo (the pair had been seated on stools) as if to announce his presence as Vaughan looks on in awe. It's worth nothing that while King was a left-handed guitarist, he strung his guitar upside down as he had learned on right-handed instruments. So in essence, he was playing these great leads upside down.

Before launching into a funky "Don't Lie to Me," King offers some advice, making Vaughan promise he won't ever think that he has it made or that he has enough. Vaughan agrees with King, hanging on his every word. Vaughan takes his second lead vocal of the session on his signature "Pride and Joy." The two-guitar attack gives the song a different feel from the recorded version with both Vaughan and King soloing throughout, making it a standout track on the DVD.

The accompanying CD features many, but not all, of the songs on the DVD. It does however feature songs not included on the DVD, including "Blues at Sunrise," "Ask Me No Questions," and "Overall Junction." It also has a different running order than the DVD. At over 15 minutes in length, "Blues at Sunrise" is the standout piece here. King recalls recording this song at the Fillmore West with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and encourages Vaughan to fill Hendrix's giant shoes for his leads, which he ably does.

When In Session first aired, many of the segments were cut for broadcast. So not only is this performance being seen for the first time in 27 years, some of it is being seen for the first time ever. This is the only known recording of two giants of the genre playing together and is a must-own for anyone with even a casual interest in the blues.

Article first published as Music Review: Albert King With Stevie Ray Vaughan - In Session... (CD/DVD Deluxe Edition) on Blogcritics.