Tag Archives: Unplugged

T.G.I.F. – Ten Solo Saviors

I love to have my ass kicked by a great rock band as well as the next guy. But I can also appreciate that a true songwriter and performer can be just as incredible with just a piano or guitar in a solo show. Maybe it’s the economic necessity, maybe it’s the desire to retain total control, maybe both. But more and more artists are hitting the road acoustically, and usually in an intimate enough setting where the artist-audience connection is truly electric.

Some started out this way, of course, and the bands came later. But many of them discovered their innate ability to command the stage with stories and humor as well as the gift of their songwriting. I’ve been fortunate enough to see magic over the years.

And yes, it was seeing Todd Snider on Thursday night that prompted this week’s TGIF, so here are Ten Solo Saviors – artists playing in your small club – or maybe even your living room – who you should be making a pilgrimage to see. Have a safe and happy weekend…

(01) – Todd Snider

(02) – Graham Parker

(03) – Nick Lowe

(04) – Pat DiNizio

(05) – Peter Case

(06) – Elvis Costello

(07) – Ray Davies

(08) – Ian Hunter

(09) – Todd Rundgren

(10) – Ian McLagan

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T.G.I.F. – Ten From Daryl’s House

Last weekend my friend Bill shot me a link to Daryl Hall and Todd Rundgren performing “Can We Still Be Friends“, and it knocked me out. I’ve seen Rundgren live a few times in the past decade, and he’s been solid, even returning to some serious guitar wanking on the most recent tour. As for Hall, he’s always owned one of the most amazing voices in rock, and like fellow Philadelphian Rundgren, he’s definitely among the names you rattle off when someone wants to list the great white soul singers of our era. Maybe they’re not the energetic spring chickens they used to be, but if I’m this cool when I’m in my sixties, I’ll be thrilled.

I don’t know why I don’t zero in on Live From Daryl’s House more often than I do. You know the drill – famous guy invites famous friends over, they hang out and play each other’s songs. That was the original concept for Unplugged when Jules Shear hosted the show, long before MTV caved in to the major labels and changed it to a launching pad to sell live albums.

So this week I give you Ten From Daryl’s House – maybe after you give a listen you won’t be as much of a stranger anymore, either. I think you’ll flip at how good Guster was, and that last clip with longtime partner John Oates shows why so many of us mourn the loss of T-Bone Wolk, a musician’s musician and a great guy.

(01) – Todd Rundgren: “Expressway To Your Heart

(02) – Guster: “Do You Love Me

(03) – Plain White T’s: “1,2,3,4”

(04) – Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek: “Break On Through

(05) – Smokey Robinson: Tears of a Clown

(06) – Nick Lowe: Cruel To Be Kind

(07) – Company of Thieves: Piece of My Heart

(08) – Parachute: “She Is Love

(09) – KT Tunstall: Something To Talk About

(10) – John Oates:Backstabbers

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Blast From The Past: The Faces

Although I much prefer to promote the original albums and the full box set, as well as just about all of the non-Rod solo efforts (McLagan’s work, in particular, is stellar and underpublicized), when this best-of came out it was a step in the right direction. (Not a First Step, mind you.). Later, the box set I pined for finally came out under the title Five Guys Walk Into a Bar…

So as I’m ramping up to full warp party speed for Thursday, I need to blast some music. And if you think rock, party and alcohol, you think of one band – The Faces. Now allow me to send you back in time – twelve years for the review in Consumable Online, and four decades for the music itself.

Long before Rod The Mod became a balladeer (and I mean that in a bad way) and Ronnie Wood traded anorexic guitar poses with his evil twin Keith Richards, they were two-fifths of The Faces, a group that was either the best band in the world or the drunkest band…or maybe both (it depends upon whether The Kinks were playing that night). First formed as a group of jilted musical lovers, three Steve Marriott-less Small Faces absorbed two Jeff Beck Group castoffs and caroused their way to rock and roll history.

I tell you this because I was there. If you had to rely on the printed word, or the record racks, or (gulp!) the airwaves, you’d never know. Rhino Records bellied-up to the bar on your behalf with a single disc “best of” collection, and they’ve even thrown in a previously unreleased song to sweeten the pot. Dave Marsh, God bless him, scribed the reverential liner notes and throws his hat in the ring on their behalf. But for me, it’s bittersweet — a dynamic, earth-shattering, genuine slice of rock and roll’s foundation gets another breath of life…but it’s a nineteen track CD, not a three or four disc box set.

That said, this collection is a credible addition even if you have some or all of the Faces titles, and if you have not dipped your toe in these beer-soaked waters yet, it’s a good place to start. With any collection, you’re going to get the obvious must-have’s and agonize over the why-couldn’t-they-fit-that-in-too’s, but it’s hard to argue with the selection Good Boys offers. Rightfully grabbing the lion’s share from A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse, the midsection of this chronologically organized platter gives us the band at their rollicking best. The 1-2-3 punch of “Miss Judy’s Farm,” “You’re So Rude” and “Too Bad” is as balls to the wall powerful now as then, as is the classic “Stay With Me”, the definitive Wood/Stewart romp.

The three cuts from the embryonic First Step are solid (and one is an alternate version), and only “Memphis” from Long Player or “My Fault” from Ooh La La are missed in these circumstances. Including the final two singles “Pool Hall Richard” and “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything,” is a no-brainer, and the sweet and pretty “Open To Ideas” is a perfect coda to this too-short journey.

Who knows if the rumors of Rod hoarding his “better material” were really true, but it’s interesting to think how much longer The Faces would have stuck it out if they got more credit and had more hits. (One thing for certain — if Rod tried to stick “D’ya Think I’m Sexy” on a Faces album he’d have gotten his ass…er, arse…kicked!) Even though they were staples of the Faces repertoire, many recognizable songs like “I Know I’m Losing You” and “True Blue” could not be included here because they were from Rod’s “solo” career. But what about the outtakes, the live cuts, the BBC sessions?

Ahh….there I go again talking about box sets instead of thanking Rhino for letting all the Replacements and Black Crowes fans see where the roots of their trees lie. And I’ll admit it: when I think of all the old bands getting together for the bucks after years away from the limelight (do we really need more Journey and Styx songs?), a small but hopeful flame burns in my heart that one day these lads will rise again as well.

Unfortunately, Ronnie Lane’s recent tragic death from MS rules out reuniting the original lineup; the closest thing we’ve gotten to that was Stewart’s Unplugged performance. But if the other four were ever up for it, hell – I’ll scour every corner bar looking for Tetsu Yamauchi. And if I can’t find him, I’ll get a rooster haircut, some velvet pants and a glass of bourbon and play the damn bass myself.

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Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

Happy Birthday, Ronnie Wood!

One of my favorite rock’n’roll characters of all time, Ron Wood has enjoyed a solid solo career as well as being a fixture in two of the best bands of all time, The Faces and The Rolling Stones. In the mid-60s he was the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Birds (not to be confused with these guys) and briefly joined The Creation in their waning days before joining The Jeff Beck Group as bassist. While with Beck (along with Rod Stewart and drummer Micky Waller) they recorded two classic albums, Truth and Beck-Ola, before he and Stewart joined the remaining members of The Small Faces after Steve Marriott’s departure.

With Stewart, he rejuvenated the band in a more arena rock direction, and their four studio albums released in the early 70s remain stone cold classics. Although they only had one hit in the United States (“Stay With Me”), their shows were booze-drenched wonders, sloppy yet inspired, brilliant yet imperfect. In other words, everything a great rock band should be. Too many great songs to pick favorites, but with four strong and prolific songwriters in the band, it looked like they would be around forever.

The Faces also acted as Rod’s supporting musicians for the albums he released as a solo act during the same time. When Stewart started hoarding much of his material for himself and his solo success eclipsed the band’s, Ronnie Lane left and one album later it was over…and there was Woody standing at the altar.

Then he had his own album to do.

Perhaps (along with Ian McLagan’s album Bump In The Night) the best Faces album never made, Wood’s solo debut is as fresh and vital today as it was upon first release. Featuring mates from both the Stones and Faces helping out and a first-rate rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark, I Have My Own Album To Do is easily as good or better than anything the Stones or Rod Stewart has put out since.

Live Video: I Can Feel The Fire

His follow-up album Now Look was more r&b oriented thanks to a collaboration with Bobby Womack, one of Woody’s favorite artists. The pace slowed after that, but Wood has released six studio albums (plus Mahoney’s Last Stand recorded with Ronnie Lane); there are also several live and compilation albums available.

It’s odd to think that Wood has been a Rolling Stone for thirty-five years; a tenure as lead guitarist that dwarfs the combined span of Brian Jones (1962-69) and Mick Taylor (1969-1974). In Wood, Keith Richards finally found the perfect mate for his preferred style of guitar weaving; onstage they play like a two-headed, four-armed man. He also found a drinking and carousing buddy, and Wood moved right from the Faces’ pub lifestyle to a new global level of decadence. Despite their years of friendship and Wood’s proven status, he remained a salaried employee for over twenty years before finally becoming an official partner in financial affairs.

For those who loved Wood’s tone and solos with The Faces, however, the Stones years have been a disappointing experience where his songwriting is not welcomed by Mick and all musical direction comes from Keith. Why buy a hot sports car and leave it up on blocks in your garage? Likewise, despite his financial and popular success,  Rod Stewart never again hit the creative heights he did when Wood was his writing partner.

Imagine if the material from Stewart’s solo career from 1971-1974 had been combined with the work The Faces produced – how huge they could have been! But rather than household names and multi-millionaires, their legacy lives on through the hundreds of bands that used them as a step-stool and a model. It is one of the biggest injustices in rock history.

Personally, I look back upon the Stewart-Wood years as pure bliss. Like Jagger-Richard, it’s a partnership that draws the best out of the two halves and a system of checks and balances that helps push the creative work to its peak. I can’t imagine Wood signing off on any of the schlock Stewart released during his latter career, and Stewart’s commercial sense probably would have sharpened Wood’s songwriting.

Watching them reunite for Stewart’s Unplugged special in 1993 briefly recaptured the magic, but in recent years not even their personal bond can overcome the demands that Rod (or his management) continue to throw up as roadblocks to a Faces reunion and tour (a tactic the band may finally have tired of).

I’m not certain what the man himself thinks of the past three decades, but I can assure you that if you want to hear Woody having fun, listen to the New Barbarians albums, where he and Keef are free of Rod and Mick.

Years of booze and smoke wore down a voice that was always rough and ragged to begin with. Perhaps this was never more clear than when Wood covered Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days” and the realization set in that Dylan sounded almost sweet by comparison. But like Dylan, you could look past the imperfection of the technique to reap the emotion and the soul of the performance. Woody always had heart and soul.

Wood is also an accomplished artist and painter whose portraits and sketches are collector’s items; many of his albums include samples of his work.

Sadly, in recent years Wood has been in and out of rehab and has suffered through some serious some family issues as a result. Here’s hoping that body and mind recover fully and we have many, many more songs and paintings and quips from one of the last true rock stars of his generation.

New to Woody? The Essential Crossexxion isn’t a bad place to start.

Ron Wood website – art and music!

Ron Wood discography and wiki page

***

June 1st also marks the 30th anniversary of CNN’s first broadcast as well as the birthday of Pat Boone, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Jonathan Pryce, Brian Cox and Cleavon Little; it’s also the anniversary of the deaths of David Ruffin and Sonny Boy Williamson.

And a belated R.I.P. to counterculture icon Dennis Hopper. I was traveling when I heard the news of his death (and the completion of the trifecta of Gary Coleman and Art Linkletter). I’ll pay tribute by spotlighting ten classic Hopper performances in this Friday’s TGIF.

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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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Blast From The Past: Rod Stewart

Not Forever Young

Not Forever Young

 

When I realized that The Faces finally really broke up, I was devastated. The Kinks and The Faces were (are) my favorite bands, and during Ray Davies’ Preservation rock opera era in the early 1970s, the boozy raucous songs from Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Ronnie Lane clearly took the lead. Even more amazing was that every year, The Faces would release and album and so would Rod Stewart, and in those days the material on both was largely interchangeable. But soon enough, the lure of solo fame and the huge dollars waiting in the American market led Rod in a different direction. Where before he might have been saving his better songs for the solo projects, it was all a moot point now. First Lane quit in disgust after watching the band he started being referred to as Rod’s backup group once too often, then Wood succumbed to the umpteenth invitation to join the Rolling Stones, and it all ended with a whimper, not a bang. It just…dissolved. Ironically, although Stewart had the most critical success, Wood, Lane and Ian McLagan all released solo albums that were probably better records overall; had they been able to continue to pool that talent one can only imagine the heights they might have reached.

Then one night in February 1993, Stewart performed a set recorded for MTV Unplugged and brought along his partner in crime, Ronnie Wood. The show and the subsequent album were a hit (hitting #2 on Billboard and spawning four singles) and seemed to re-energize the perception of Stewart as a serious singer, songwriter and interpreter. Unplugged and Seated drew heavily on his early years (a logical choice when Woody was sharing the stage) and although lesser solo hits like “Hot Legs” and “Tonight’s The Night” were included, the arrangements were stripped down and improved. Stewart had always chosen cover material well, and the performances of Van Morrison‘s “Have I Told You Lately” and Tom Waits‘ “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)” are especially strong here. In the coming years Stewart would write less and less and record sets of rock covers (When We Were The New Boys and Still The Same) as well as a career-changing move with the Great American Songbook series.

I guess technically I could have also listed this under the New Album header, since it is a newly released CD/DVD combination, and the audio version of the show does include two songs (“Gasoline Alley” and “Forever Young”) not included in the original album release. The audio sounds great, of course – a warm but full core band of multiple guitars, mandolins, banjos and keyboards propelled by solid rhythm from drummer David Palmer and bass player Carmine Rojas. Several songs benefit from the addition of three soulful background singers and/or a small orchestra, the presence of whom keep Stewart comically pinned to a three foot radius on stage. There are times when he looks like he’s about to launch out of his chair, while the more pensive songs allowed him to simply sit and get caught up in the moment. The space limitation brought the focus squarely upon his personality and his voice instead of the flamboyance that he had gotten used to as an arena rock act, and it must have felt like the old days in more ways than one.

I’m thrilled to finally have a DVD version of this brilliant performance to enjoy again and again, the warmth and camaraderie between Wood and Stewart is palpable, a genuine bond we haven’t reaped the rewards of for so many years. Besides being excellent songwriting, collaborators, they simply bring the best out in each other; Wood is fine as a Rolling Stone, but he was majestic in The Faces. When he’s onstage, the camera wisely focuses in on the two-shot, and it’s obvious we are watching two friends who have probably run the gamut of emotions with each other but are truly savoring the moment. Wood doesn’t always flash – Jeff Golub frequently plays the lead lines while Woody plays rhythm – but it’s a real treat to watch him energize the room during “Maggie May”, “Mandolin Wind” and especially “Stay With Me”. When they leave the set, arm in arm, headed for the pub (and no, they weren’t kidding) how I would have loved to tag along for when the real fun probably started…

The show itself appears to be the original broadcast performance, complete with fade-outs at what would have been the commercial breaks. This also means that it’s still an edit from the actual show, so in addition to missing “The First Cut Is The Deepest” and “Highgate Shuffle” (included on the CD) we don’t see “It’s All Over Now”, “The Killing of Georgie”, “I Was Only Joking” and “Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller”, which never aired. Rhino‘s package, as usual, is attractive and contains solid liner notes from one of my favorite writers, Bud Scoppa, a man who was there the first time around. Video is decent quality and probably as good as can be expected from a sixteen year old taping, but there are no extras – no commentary, no retrospective interviews, no rehearsal footage. Perhaps none exists, or perhaps this Collector’s Edition will someday be eclipsed by the Expanded Collector’s Director’s Cut. (I kid.)

 

Had Them a Real Good Time

Had Them a Real Good Time

I don’t know how I feel about the long-rumored Faces reunion. Not having Ronnie Lane there to celebrate would be hard to swallow, and if the guys got together and play “Debris” and “Glad and Sorry” and “Ooh La La” without him it would be bittersweet. Ian McLagan has been keeping Ronnie alive from the stage at his every gig by featuring several of his songs, and Kenney Jones has quietly continued to make certain that the legacy of both The Small Faces and The Faces is rescued from legal and managerial madness. No matter what kind of arrangements would have to be made between the four surviving members (read: what Stewart’s manager would insist upon), I can’t see Wood or Jones or Mac participating unless Ronnie’s legacy got its due. But one can’t help wonder how things might have been different had The Faces been able to pull it off in 1993, when Ronnie would have been able to benefit spiritually and financially, let alone a few years earlier, when he might have been able to participate even in limited fashion. Rod Stewart might have surrounded himself with more technically proficient musicians over the years, but the results never exuded that pure soulful joy since he made his Atlantic Crossing. But more on The Faces another time, and at greater length, which they deserve.

Although I would have liked a complete, full-featured release of the show, Unplugged and Seated is a set to be treasured as is, a wonderful reminder of just how good Rod Stewart can be when he puts his heart and soul into it. On that night in February 1993, he definitely did.

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