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New Album! Rory Gallagher

After Elvis Presley died, there was such a flood of posthumous album releases and collections that even loyal devotees who cried at Graceland that weekend began to wonder if he wasn’t cranking them out from a studio behind that Dunkin Donuts in Minneapolis. The Who aren’t literally dead (although their career might be), but their catalog over the past couple of decades has consisted mostly of repackaging similar groups of hits, a trick The Rolling Stones only exceeded by actually recording them live.

Maybe it takes the artist’s family to intervene and bring sanity. Although the Jimi Hendrix releases aren’t culling a bottomless well of new material, at least love and care are shaping some definitive packages for posterity. And while Gail Zappa might have a wee bit too much stranglehold control on her husband’s name and likeness, every year there’s an intriguing new Frank Zappa release that meets the highest standards; an album that Frank himself would be proud to stand behind.

Donal Gallagher has taken a similar approach when it comes to the legacy of his brother. Rory Gallagher was one of the best guitarists ever to walk this planet (I’ll save you the fawning here as I’ve done it enough over the years). Those who knew him were mesmerized by his performances, but despite a history of heavy touring he still slid under the radar of too many listeners. Recent DVD releases have made great strides to right that wrong, especially Live At Cork and the unbelievably rich Rockpalast Collection (a three DVD set featuring hours of amazing footage). Sure, there have been a couple of “best of” titles over the last twenty years, but gems like the acoustic Wheels Upon Wheels album have been the focus.

The latest releases feature Rory’s live work for Radio Bremen that were broadcast on the German music show Beat Club. Featuring what I feel was his strongest band – the trio with Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilger Campbell on drums – The Beat Club Sessions is another sizzling testimony to his genius. The CD features many of his best tracks (“Laundromat”, “In Your Town”, “Messin’ With The Kid”) and demonstrates why people are still buzzing about his talent fifteen years after his death. Gallagher was able to play ferociously or delicately with equal skill; a premiere blues soloist and slide guitar player, he also made the mandolin a weapon of choice.

Video: “Goin’ To My Hometown

The twelve cuts (culled from sixteen on the Ghost Blues DVD) feature stomping rockers (“Sinnerboy”), blues workouts (“I Could Have Had Religion“) and acoustic treats (“Just The Smile“). As a  contemporary of Cream and asked to replace Clapton in that lineup after his departure – one wonders why his songs  “Used To Be” never found the acclaim that “I’m So Glad” did, let alone his great interpretations. (His is the definitive version of “Messin’ With The Kid“, and “Toredown” is simply amazing)

I’m expecting my copy of the Ghost Blues documentary any day now and will be certain to have more on that in the near future. And Donal and family are working to secure the full BBC archives as well as work from Rory’s prior band Taste. Eagle Vision is now the official distributor of Rory Gallagher’s work, and if this is any indication of what’s to come, I am thrilled. This is magic stuff.

The Official Rory Gallagher Website

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New Album! Procol Harum

Barricades intact

Barricades intact

Many bands extend their bandwidth by trying (or revisiting) different arrangements of songs; Unpluggedhas become a rite of passage for rock acts trying to become (or  stay) relevant. Likewise, several bands will go the orchestral route, swelling their sound with a twenty, thirty, eighty piece orchestra to channel their bombast and maybe even gussy up some of those relatively ordinary chestnuts from their catalogue. But making the effort is one thing – making it worthwhile is something else entirely.

Let’s face it – for some bands, playing with an orchestra is just silly. The Rolling Stones would be neutered, although it would be fun watching Keith Richards trying to conduct the orchestra with head twitches and fey wrist movements. KISS actually recorded an album with the Melbourne Symphony, but all that did was expose the weakness of the material (no great shocker there) and reduce the accompaniment to an eighty piece echo.

But some bands were made to collaborate with such an organism, and Procol Harum is one of them. When your music is that majestic and complex, the backing of large and versatile instrumentation turns it into a 3-D experience. Arrangements color subtleties and enhance delicate movements, pin-drop beats explode into a thundering chorus. Add in the lyrics of a storyteller and an emotional vocalist and it can occasionally be breathtaking.

Procol Harum just released a CD and DVD of their 2006 performance with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir (Eagle Vision) and if I could pick one moment to illustrate the powerful emotions I described, it would be “A Salty Dog”. I’ll wager there were people in the audience moved to tears.

Procol Harum is no stranger to this motif; back in 1972 they released an album recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Great to see that forty-plus years later, it’s still a perfect fit for them.

Here’s my review of the new album at Blurt Online.

Procol Harum fan page.

Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision

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New Album! Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher Cork DVD 1

Well, not new, because this Rory Gallagher show was available in Europe for quite some time, and on VHS as Messin’ With The Kid prior to that. I never had the tape, but I do have a region-free DVD player and have been enjoying this title for a while. So for those who were unable to play a Region 2 DVD, Eagle Vision’s recent Region 1 release is a godsend.

Prescription readers know I revere Rory Gallagher and his music. His versatility and passion enabled him to shuttle effortlessly between blues and rock – equally genius on acoustic or electric with a juxtaposition of subtle phrasing and sheer power. Seeing Gallagher play guitar was like watching someone with an extra limb; thoughts emanating from mind and heart, seamlessly translated through fingers and guitar with peerless tone. It’s the textbook definition of pure soul.

Cork was Rory’s hometown, and this was his first performance at the Opera House; fortunately Irish Television (RTE) was on hand that night to capture the event. Recorded in 1987 while touring behind the Defender album, Rory was visibly showing the signs of wear and tear that the road and alcohol will bring. But Rory Gallagher nevercheated a crowd; his performance that night was stellar. (Check out McAvoy taking a deep breath just before plunging into “Shadow Play” – he knows what’s coming!). Multiple standing ovations and vocal participation demonstrate the love Cork had for its native son.

Backed by longtime bassist Gerry McAvoy along with Brendan O’Neill on drums (and some tasty harmonica thanks to Mark Feltham), Gallagher runs through several landmark recordings like “Tattoo’d Lady”, “Continental Op” and “Messin’ With The Kid”. Those familiar with his barn-burning Stratocaster licks might be stunned to see his finger-picking expertise on acoustic (“Out On The Western Plain”) and National Steel guitar (“Wanted Blues”), where he conducts a master class on slide guitar. The camera captures many close-ups with great clarity, and it’s a real treat to see the dazzling fretwork. (I’m hoping some over-noodling players might get their hands on a copy and learn a valuable lesson in restraint and technique.)

Audio and video are excellent, although I did not detect a great advantage to the 5.1 sound. Since it was a television production, cuts are clean and not overdone, and the DVD now boasts the supplement “Rough Guide to Rory’s Cork“, an animated compilation of photos, trivia and anecdoteal information compiled by Rory’s brother (and Gallagher Estate archivist) Donal Gallagher.

Track Listing:
01. Continental Op
02. Tattoo’d Lady
03. Don’t Start Me Talkin’
04. I Ain’t No Saint
05. Follow Me
06. When My Baby She Left Me
07. Off The Handle
08. Out On The Western Plain
09. Wanted Blues
10. The Loop
11. Shadow Play
12. Messin’ With The Kid
13. Loanshark Blues

Real (L) and Tribute (R)

Real (L) and Copy(R)

And be sure to check out the other Rory Gallagher DVD titles. They’re all great values, but more importantly I don’t know if we’ll see a player with Rory’s skill and soul in one package again anytime soon. I still get goosebumps every time I watch the version of “Going To My Hometown” on my personal favorite, the concert/documentary DVD Irish Tour. The two-disc Live at Montreaux set is also excellent, and the Live at Rockpalast set is stunning in its breadth – nine hours of material over three discs.

The original Region 2 cover art

The original Region 2 cover art

 

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New Album! Moody Blues

Preaching love to a sea of heads

Preaching love to a sea of heads

When Woodstock is discussed, one of the anecdotes that most often surfaces is how Crosby, Stills and Nash took the stage in front of a mammoth crowd in only their second live gig, and as per the famous quote, were “scared shitless“. Odd to think that a year later and an ocean away, a studio-oriented band like The Moody Blues must have had the opposite feeling their second time around at the Isle of Wight. Crammed in front of The Who’s stage gear to perform for a few hundred thousand people, heads as far as the eye could see, they were at once out of their element and in the moment.

For here were five musicians who despite their massive success, remained very isolated in their process. “All we did was music”, recalls Justin Hayward in one of the DVD’s interview segments, “we were just living the music we were playing every day. It was an expression of what was in our hearts and minds.” Certainly that was a vast change from their start as an r’n’b band playing “Bo Diddley” (an early clip with Ray Thomas playing harmonica is included as an example, although oddly no mention is made of their massive hit “Go Now”). Instead their complex musical arrangements spoke to the open, exploratory nature of the times. “None of us had ever seen a bale of cotton, let alone picked one” mused Grahame Edge. “Didn’t even know what smokestack lightning was“! Obviously reaching within for material worked out well in the long run.

Their performance in 1970 was extraordinary in that they were an album band whose set was largely unfamiliar to the crowd, and as a studio band stripped of overdubs and sweetening they relied on Mike Pinder’s mellotron to carry the load. Indeed the mellotron changed everything for the Moodies and gave them incredible freedom in or out of the studio; Pinder states that he was “the orchestra behind the drums, bass and guitar…the landscape of it all.” (There’s a short clip where Pinder demonstrates how the mellotron functions; I learned more in that thirty seconds than I had ever known before).

The quality of the performance is obviously dated – Hayward was surprised that any footage even existed – but director/producer Murray Lerner (who has been bringing several great films to market) does an excellent job stitching it all together. The first sections of the program mix recent interviews with some related footage before settling down into the performance itself. Sound and visuals don’t always sync – there are several sections where relevant footage is spliced in to cover gaps – but for the most part it’s a solid presentation considering the technical limitations of the time. The seventy-five minute DVD is shot in widescreen and boasts 5.1 sound that more than compensates. And what a visual time trip! Looking young and angelic, Hayward’s ballads are earnest and powerful; Ray Thomas is appropriately animated during “Legend Of A Mind (Timothy Leary’s Dead)” and the rock-oriented numbers like “Question” and “Ride My See Saw” thunder away thanks to John Lodge’s fluid lines and Graeme Edge’s thunder. The sweeping crowd shots remind one of how different the festivals were perceived and experienced in the days before corporate domination.

Thirty nine years later, the remaining members of the band still bring the music to the masses as a whole new generation turns on to their majestic sound. But with Threshold of a Dream, Eagle Vision has captured an excellent snapshot of the band approaching its artistic peak, unafraid to tinker with some arrangements. As the final track plays, a montage of clips from Montreaux, Color Me Pop and a recent US concert drive home the point that great music is timeless, after all.

And Then There Were Three

And Then There Were Three

Eagle Vision link for this title.

The Moody Blues official site

Moody Blues wiki.

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