Archive for April, 2010

Skinny Legs and All – Despite Their Age, They’re Not Kidding Around

Friday, April 30th, 2010

You can learn a lot about a band by attending their pre-show sound check. Plenty of veteran bands give short shrift to this pre-show ritual, and they pay the price in poor sound. But Asheville-based blues/funk/soul band Skinny Legs and All take sound check very seriously. There’s no clowning around, no time wasted noodling. In short, they’re professionals.

All photos © Paul Howey

That may come as a bit of a surprise to someone seeing the band for the first time: the average age of the band is less than seventeen. So although lead singer Jesse Barry (17) is careful to implore the crowd at the Grey Eagle to “be sure and tip your bartender,” not one member of the group could spend any time at that bar themselves.

The band’s recently completed album was recorded in home studios belonging to the families of Colin Hanson (16, drums) and Avi Goldstein (14, bass guitar). And while the music is a band effort, Skinny Legs and All called in some local heavyweights when needed: Final mixing took place at Chris Rosser’s Hollow Reed Studios, and renowned percussionist River Guerguerian guests on the album.The five musicians engage in group composition of their original songs. And that collaborative approach — that camaraderie — is evident during our interview. The four male members take turns good-naturedly razzing lead vocalist Jesse Barry about using her “cute voice” to answer questions. When the laughter subsides, Barry explains the group’s origin: “We started as a school elective, and we ended up growing from that.” Since that time they’ve done dozens of shows.

Despite the seasoned stage demeanor and instrumental prowess of the band, they’re not a bunch of highly trained players. They’ve learned their craft by playing together and developing the musical communication and shorthand that comes only from experience and practice.

That practice is paying off. Skinny Legs and All hit the road to support the new album when their combined schedules allow. Upcoming shows include dates in Charlotte, Black Mountain and Asheville, and the band recently traveled to Jacksonville Beach for dates including a prominent spot at that city’s renowned Springing the Blues festival.

All photos © Paul Howey

There are no pawnshop guitars in this act. The band funneled its performance revenues back into buying some of the best equipment available. The stage at Asheville’s Grey Eagle — scene of their album release party — was littered with shiny new amps, guitars and keyboards; David Cate‘s Fender amplifier still had a music store hang-tag on it.But in the hands of these young musicians (Cate is 17) the instruments are no mere toys. The group plays with a lively mix of technique, precision and off-the-cuff looseness. While they hit all the right notes, not once does their playing come off as studied, mannered. Despite their age, they truly seem to have the “feel” of the music, a balanced mix of original and well-chosen cover material. As keyboardist Paul Chelmis (19) puts it, “We’re not old enough to pay our dues, but we still know how to play the blues.”

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Coming Attractions

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

So last night I traveled to Charlotte NC to see Bigelf and Porcupine Tree in concert. I had met, interviewed, and seen both acts onstage before, so this show was not to be missed. I’ll have a review of the shows soon.

L-R: Damon Fox (Bigelf), Bill Kopp, Daniel Kopp, Ace Mark (Bigelf)

Hanging out after the show at the bar. Amos’ Southend, Charlotte NC April 28 2010. L-R: Damon Fox (vocals and keyboards – Bigelf), Bill Kopp, Daniel Kopp, Ace Mark (guitar – Bigelf)

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Happy Birthday: Tommy James

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Singer/guitarist Tommy James (most famous as leader of 60s pop group the Shondells) turns 63 today. During the 60s the Shondells racked up an impressive string of top 40 pop hits including “Hanky Panky,” “Mony Mony,” “Crimson and Clover,” “I Think We’re Alone Now” and several others that people of a certain age will remember.

Last week, Collectors’ Choice Music reissued four albums featuring James. In chronological order by original release date, they are:

  • I Think We’re Alone Now (1967)
  • Gettin’ Together (1967)
  • Travelin’ (1969)
  • My Head, My Bed, & My Red Guitar (Tommy James solo album from 1972)

James recently published his autobiography Me, The Music and The Mob, and that book is being made into a major motion picture. I will be doing an in-depth interview with Tommy James the week after next, so keep an eye out for a feature, coming soon.

Happy birthday to Tommy James.

Album Review: Sinatra/Jobim – The Complete Reprise Recordings

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

This one’s a bit problematic. Sure, The Voice is in fine form: few singers before or since have been possessed of such seemingly effortless control over their instrument. Sinatra handles the subtleties of the music ably (for the most part).

The music contained in these sides certainly sailed against the prevailing musical tides of 1967. Though remaining a major concert draw, by the late 1960s Frank Sinatra couldn’t easily shift units like he once had. So his collaboration (a fairly rare instance of co-billing) with Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Antonio Carlos Jobim can be viewed as a bid for success in the “adult music” (or “good music,” as it was often called) market.

But for people of a certain age — like this reviewer, who grew up on 60s AM radio — this sort of music falls into what we less-than-fondly remember as a genre perversely dubbed “easy listening.” As the too-hip-by-half liner notes admit, any rough edges this music might have had were dutifully sanded off in the recorded performances. One can’t travel much farther musically in Sinatra’s catalog than the distance between a swingin’ big-band fest like It Might As Well Be Swing (a 1964 co-bill with Count Basie) and Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim from a mere three years later.

(About those liner notes. Readers who have ever taken the effort to read Beat poets or any of Ken Kesey‘s novels understand that such an endeavor requires some work. It takes some time to adjust one’s mind to understanding the hip argot. But the effort yields rewards. Less so with Stan Cornyn’s liner notes. Though clearly the work of someone who knows — and can excel at — his craft, the liner notes of this compilation are just too screamingly self-conscious and faux hip for words. Plenty of relevant and interesting information is delivered, but the form weighs down the content. Proceed at your own risk.)

But back to the music. The strings are syrupy, the percussion muted, the arrangements quiet. Again, there’s the voice, and for that reason alone this compilation is worthwhile. But to say it’s less than exciting is to the commit an egregious act of understatement. A high point — though that label might be too strong a descriptor — is a cover of Cole Porter‘s “I Concentrate On You.” But Sinatra’s ad-libbed(?) “ding ding ding” vocalizing comes off as clichéd, and the arrangement owes more to Ray Conniff than, say, Billy May. The album’s overall tone is flat and one-dimensional: if you like “The Girl From Ipanema” and are okay with nine lesser variations on that theme, you’ll like this. Otherwise, perhaps not so much.

Of course excitement wasn’t the goal. The 1967 album was considered a success at the time, and so a few years later Sinatra and Jobim reunited for the inevitable follow-up. But Sinatra ended up reconsidering the quality of that finished product — released as Sinatra-Jobim — and ordered it pulled from store shelves. In 1969 such was Sinatra’s clout that what he said, went. So ultra-rare 8-track copies of the album — stickered with laughably bad and pointless cover art — are now impossibly rare.

The sessions for that follow-up album — seven of which eventually appeared as one side of a 1971 album Sinatra & Company — have a tiny bit more spark than the earlier sides, thanks mostly to the presence of arranger Eumir Deodato. Deodato was right on the cusp of fame for his discofied hits. Here he breathes some life and wide-screen ambience into the songs, but the songs themselves aren’t possessed of much distinct personality. All the tunes from the follow-up were composed solely or in part by Jobim, and — as the liner notes suggest — Sinatra wasn’t enamored of the lyrics, viewing them as having too much of a “translated” feel.

“One Note Samba” is the high point of the sessions for the second (recalled) album. It does indeed have more than one note, and in fact shows Frank Sinatra doing a bit of vocal acrobatics, but he still sounds like he’s sitting in a comfy lounge chair while he’s singing.

Frank Sinatra’s instincts generally served him well, and his insistence at keeping three of the ten tracks slated for Sinatra-Jobim unreleased was, in retrospect, a reasonable call. “The Song of the Sabia” isn’t awful, but neither is it very good, and its quality is easily a notch below the tracks released in ’71. The problem with “Off Key (Desafinado)” has nothing to do with Frank’s inability to hit the right notes — he hits ‘em fine — but his delivery is at times mincing or strained. And those are two words one can almost never apply to Sinatra’s vocals. The tune is a must to avoid. And on “Bonita” the Chairman does seem to miss the marks a few times; he sounds listless and disinterested as well.

Still, the decision to pull the album is hard to understand: if you liked the first album, what wasn’t to like here? Well, besides the cover (reproduced in the CD booklet) that’s so awful it must be seen to be believed.

The 2010 compilation brings together the first album’s ten tracks, and adds all ten of the songs slated for Sinatra-Jobim, including those three previously-unreleased dogs. Kudos are due to Concord Records for bringing all this material together in one place.

One might make the argument that this music is “romantic” and should be appreciated in that spirit. But better examples of romantic music exist. Though this reviewer is — like Sinatra in recording these sides — sailing against the consensus, Sinatra/Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings can’t be recommended without reservations. It’s worth a listen, but shouldn’t be among your first few dozen Sinatra album purchases.

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Five Years On, a Re-memorial

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Five years ago today we held a memorial concert for my friend and band mate Dave Jones. It was pretty cool: even though the band we were in together had fallen apart in the wake of Dave’s untimely death, we reunited (and our rhythm guitarist learned all Dave’s parts to play the songs one last time). People came from far and wide. Though Dave was a pretty idiosyncratic guy, he was lovable too.  Here’s a piece I wrote shortly after his death (but before the memorial show).

James David Jones
February 28, 1956 – April 9, 2005
About three and a half years ago I ran an ad in the local free weekly, hoping to recruit musicians for a pet project of mine, a project I’d had in mind for years. I wanted to form a group that would play — exclusively– music from what I consider rock’s golden era. The mid-to-late sixties, when anything was possible, experimentation was the rule, and even the failures were interesting. That era just after the British Invasion (or Beat Era, depending on your geography) and before the heaviness set in. The music can be subcategorized as psych-pop, garage; whatever you call it, that’s my first musical love (side note: powerpop is my second musical love, and my plan was that if this venture didn’t get off the ground, I’d try to form a Badfinger/Raspberries sort of group).The city in which I live is fairly small, and a bit isolated, so I tried to be realistic. The odds of finding like-minded musicians in this town weren’t in my favor. My ad read, in part, “no jamwankery.” The idea was to discourage fans of Dave Matthews, Phish and –most of all — the Grateful Dead. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But my vision was a group that played concise, snappy renditions of the classics and obscurities of the psychedelic/garage era, as immortalized on the Nuggets compilation albums.So the ad ran. Well, plenty of drummers were interested. I was able to pick and choose. Over the phone, even, there was no doubt that Mike Baker was the guy. He grew up in L.A. and had seen the likes of The Palace Guard and the Turtles live back in the day. No question: he wanted in, he was in.

A day or so later, well before we had gathered for our first musical get-acquainted session, this other guy called. From work. Dave was his name. “I read your ad. I love that stuff. I play drums.”

“Well,” I told him, “I’m sorry, but I’ve found the perfect drummer already.” I figured that would pretty much be the end of our conversation.

Dave  Jones I was wrong. “How about lead guitar?” he asked, apparently undaunted.

Oh boy, I’ve got a live one here, I thought to myself. I tried my best to find a way to get off the phone. This was one of those nuts that just wants to be in a group, talent or no. I didn’t want to waste his time, nor mine.

He didn’t give up. “Tell me: are you planning to do ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind?’” I sat up straight. Not all that many people even remember the Amboy Dukes classic, featuring a young Ted Nugent. That this guy even knew it told me I should keep talking to him.

“You bet,” I said. “That’s a song I’ve always wanted to play. I have the 45.”

“Me too,” said Dave. “Hold on a second.” The next sound I heard was a hollow thud I knew to be an acoustic guitar being picked up.

The next sound after that nearly knocked me out of my seat. This Dave guy proceeded to play the entire lead guitar solo from “Journey to the Center of the Mind” on an acoustic guitar. The note bending, even the sustain — he nailed it all. It’s a fairly long solo by garage/psych standards. When he was done, he picked the phone back up. “Well?”

If he wanted in, he was in.

That was January 2002. Every Wednesday since then, with maybe a dozen exceptions, it was Dave on lead guitar, Mike on drums, and me on keys and vocals (plus a revolving cast of rhythm guitarists and — as chronicled elsewhere — bass players). Well over 150 nights, and about 15 or so gigs we played the music of our youth, never straying from the vision, always remaining true to the concept. It rarely paid in financial terms, but damn, was it fun. And that, more than anything else, is what kept us coming back, week after week.

Dave “Doctor Distorto” Jones died suddenly, in his sleep, in the early hours of Saturday, April 9, 2005. A myocardial infarction is what they called it: a sudden, unexpected, massive heart attack. Dave was 49.

The Echoes of Tyme (Mike on drums; the author on keyboards; Dave  Jones on guitar at far right)
The band was, of late, down to its core of Dave, Mike and me again. We were auditioning people and had plans to “play out” in the unspecified near future. As we would take on new members, we might change a bit, but we’d still remain true to our original musical concept, on our own collective journey to the center of the mind.With Dave gone, the band — The Echoes of Tyme — is no more. With luck and perseverance, Mike and I might do something musical together; I really hope we do. But it won’t be The Echoes of Tyme. That group can’t exist without Dave.That said, Mike and I have asked our most recent bassist and second guitarist (Dave Molnar and David Vandegrift, respectively) to join us one last time onstage as we honor the memory of our bandmate, our friend, Dave Jones. On Wednesday April 27 [2005], what remains of The Echoes of Tyme will play a farewell concert in tribute to Dave. The evening will also include three or four other groups with some connection to Dave. For us it will be a farewell to Dave, and a farewell to The Echoes of Tyme. The musical celebration of the life of Dave “Doctor Distorto” Jones will begin around 8pm on April 27 [2005] at The Watershed in Black Mountain NC. I’m pretty sure there’s no cover charge.

On behalf of the Echoes of Tyme, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s ever attended a show, bought the album, or offered us words of encouragement. If you’d like to join us as we celebrate our friend, come on out.

(An excerpt from this piece was quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times in April 2005.)

New Psych Music: Ape Machine

Monday, April 26th, 2010

I’m a pushover for groovy  modern takes on classic psych and heavy sounds of the late 60s/early 70s. That means I like Wolfmother, Nebula, Black Mountain and Bigelf. (I’m seeing Bigelf onstage later this week, matter of fact.) It also means that I dig this clip just sent to me by a promoter who tends to rep quality stuff. The band is called Ape Machine, and they’re out of Portland Oregon. Now you know as much about them as I do.

The song is called “All Times.” Dig it. (link no longer available)

Feature: The New Mastersounds – Ten Years On in the USA

Monday, April 26th, 2010

The New Mastersounds are a four-piece instrumental band out of Leeds in Northern England. The group plays an engaging brand of funk-soul-R&B in a style that makes knowing nods to great music of the past. The quartet includes guitarist Eddie Roberts on guitar and tambourine, drummer Simon Allen, Pete Shand on bass guitar, and Joe Tatton on Hammond organ and piano. The group was in Asheville NC for a headlining spot at a weekend Earth Day festival in April 2010, and Eddie Roberts and Simon Allen sat down for a backstage pre-show interview.

I had originally planned to meet the band a full year earlier, on the eve of an April 2009 show scheduled in Asheville, but last-minute entrance visa complications for the group caused the scuttling of that and several other shows. This was their first appearance in Asheville since that time.

What’s in a Name?
Prior to the forming of New Mastersounds in 1999, guitarist Eddie Roberts led a band simply called the Mastersounds. “It was never called the Mastersounds until I was in it,” asserts drummer Simon Allen. Before that, he recalls, it was called “‘The Yard Movement’ or some daft thing.” In any event, as Allen explains, the original name had to go when “Eddie realized it was the name of a Wes Montgomery-led band.” Roberts picks up the story: “I thought it was just the name of an album when I stole the name,” he chuckles. “I thought, ‘Ah, that’s a good name for a band. Why didn’t they think of that?’ Turns out they did!”

“But then,” Roberts continues, explaining why they kept the name, “we thought, ‘Well, it’s not like we’re ever going to play in America. So it’s not going to make any difference!’” Ultimately they added the “New” in light of lineup changes. In those early days the group mostly played restaurants in Leeds and Manchester. “We’d be trying to play as quietly as possible,” explains Allen, “but Eddie’s guitar is so loud anyway.” (Roberts quickly responds, “I never turn it past two!”) “Sometimes people would be there,” says Allen, “and they’d have just come out for a quiet meal. And then we’d start playing. And they’re trying to pretend that they’re not hating the intrusion that’s right next to their table.”

The New Mastersounds onstage in Asheville NC, April 2010 Photo (c)  Bill Kopp
The New Mastersounds. Photo © Bill Kopp
After the laughter subsides, Roberts continues the story. “The Mastersounds was put together to play a club that we were part of. We ran a night there. There were DJs playing funk and soul, with some deep house music on a different floor of the place, and there was a live room at the top. So we put a band together and played every Friday night there, on a tiny little stage.” That experience working in a small space clearly informed the group’s overall sensibility: even now when gigs allow plenty of stage room, the four-piece huddles closely together. It’s clear that the lively musical dialogue and interplay of the band is built on this foundation. (more…)

Album Review: Anne McCue – Broken Promise Land

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Play Loud, she says. It’s printed right there on the disc itself, in stressed type. Anne McCue‘s Broken Promise Land is a straight-ahead rock album from an artist more associated with other styles, but here it is nonetheless. So this reviewer is prepared to follow instructions and play the disc loud.

The title is a subtle bit of wordplay, the music isn’t all that subtle. Though a title like “Don’t Go to Texas (Without Me)” might conjure visions of c&w ballad, instead it’s a Stones-y rocker with an emphasis on melody. McCue’s tube-amp toned guitar solo shows she’s no mere acoustic troubadour who decided the profit was in rocking out. McCue’s Australian, but — surprisingly — her voice doesn’t betray too much of a down-under vibe until the listener is well into the disc.

“Ol’ Black Sky” on sounds more like its title suggests. A dusty, tumbleweeds aesthetic washes over the song. A repetitive (in the best way) guitar figure and loose, brushed drumming underpin McCue’s faraway, echoey vocal. When the guitar solo kicks in, it strikes a snaky counterpoint to that repeated guitar figure — certainly not a “rhythm” guitar in any conventional sense of the word — under it. The tune is bluesy without actually being a blues.

Perhaps too much is made of the aesthetic similarity between the old West and the wide open spaces of the Australian outback. (Certainly too much is made by writers like this one who have never actually been to Australia.) That notwithstanding, it’s safe to assume that at the very least the idea of the Australian wilderness and its similarity to parts of the American west informed the vibe that McCue conjures up on cuts like “God’s Home Number” and “Motorcycle Dream.”

“God’s Home Number” sports a spaghetti western meets spy theme aesthetic; Vibes — played by McCue herself — add extra dimension to the memorable track. It’s a strong contender for the best track on the disc.

“Motorcycle Dream” has an underwater-Stratocaster feel, and again makes subtle use of vibraphone; it’s very much of a piece with “God’s Home Number,” but those two songs present merely one of many sides of this multidimensional artist.

“Rock’n'Roll Outlaw” may have a clichéd title and a by-the-book chord progression, but McCue’s singing — leaping around the scales — and the song’s finely distorted axework make the song a fitting album closer. It’s probably a great number live as well.

The songs on Broken Promise Land were recorded with a rhythm section — Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman and drummer Ken Coomer (formerly of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco); that consistent rhythm section underpinning helps give the album a consistent vibe that one doesn’t get when using different studio cats on each track.

Looking at pics of McCue on her website, one might come away with the idea that McCue is a mild-mannered singer-songwriter. And while that persona is one of the tricks in McCue’s musical bag, it’s only one. The stuff on Broken Promise Land rocks, and does so in a way that would appeal to fans of pretty much any straight-ahead rootsy rock music. Her photos give a pretty good idea of who some of her heroes are: Richard Thompson, the Wilson sisters (Heart), Les Paul, Lucinda Williams, Wayne Kramer (MC5), Koko Taylor. The music on Broken Promise Land suggests that McCue understands what makes each of those artists special.

In its own way, Broken Promise Land has some sonic connections to Nick Curran‘s excellent Reform School Girls. While Curran’s métier is firmly rooted in a 50s and 60s aesthetic as opposed to McCue’s bluesier take, both artists share a predilection and facility for (if you’ll forgive the expression) balls-out rocking guitar solos and thick distortion. McCue’s approach is more four-on-the floor than manic, but that true rock feel comes through. Recommended.

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DVD Review: Riverside – Reality Dream

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Sometimes a band’s name tells you something about the group. If you call your combo the Sex Pistols, you’ve successfully managed to telegraph the idea that you’re a provocative act. If the name of your band is A Place to Bury Strangers, Bullet for my Valentine, Funeral for a Friend, or some other polysyllabic non sequitur, we know you’re one of a seemingly endless assembly line of boring, faceless 21st century bands suffering a fatal deficit of imagination.

But if you call yourselves Riverside, then we really don’t have any idea what to make of you. Okay, since you’re a four-piece from behind the former Iron Curtain, you earn something of a pass: maybe it’s lost in translation.

Riverside, in fact, is a progressive-metal band from Poland, and they’re pretty good. Employing a musical style closer to Porcupine Tree (a band oft-mentioned on these pages, and you can expect more in the future, so there) than to Metallica or Tool, Riverside does do the whole tricky time-signature, fast-slow, loud-soft thing. Lead vocalist (well, nearly only vocalist) and bassist Mariusz Duda sings the band’s lyrics in English, and while the band’s recent DVD concert set Reality Dream doesn’t reprint the lyrics, Duda sings them clearly enough, with a slight accent that’s not at all off-putting or distracting.

Thankfully there’s not a lot of metallic screaming on Reality Dream (though there is some, so you’ve been warned). Duda’s voice is strong and clear. Like many prog bands, Riverside favors longish numbers: the opener goes on for a full six minutes before the vocals kick in.

Riverside gives good value for money on Reality Dream: between the two DVDs in the set, the equivalent of an entire show is included. Songs from the main concert that didn’t make the cut are included as bonus tracks taken from other shows in 2006-2008.

The band’s musical approach is quite tuneful; while they execute deft musical hairpin turns, they do so in a way that’s melodic and memorable. Though guitarist Piotr Grudziński — a bald, tattooed gent who would look right at home in a headbanging metal band — plays but one electric guitar throughout the show, his effective and subtle use of effects allows a lot of tone color. One minute he’s hammering out Satriani-style runs; the next he’s picking an acoustic-styled melody. And Duda manages to sing while playing reasonably intricate, thick bass melodies.

Keyboardist Michal Lapaj leans toward sounds and textures that integrate into the band’s aesthetic without demanding the spotlight. Though a nimble player, Lapaj cedes the attention to the guitar more often than not. Drummer Piotr Kozieradski ably executes the demanding time signatures the music requires.

In recent years, the standard for concert videos has been set quite high: smooth camerawork and use of multiple angles is de rigueur. Reality Dream does not disappoint. The show was filmed in the relatively controlled environment of a smallish club-like studio setting, in front of an appreciative Polish audience. Duda’s brief between-song banter is completely in Polish.

The post-production is another matter. While it’s professional, it’s also disconcertingly familiar. Anyone who’s witnessed any of Lasse Hoile‘s work for Porcupine Tree (yeah, them again) will recognize many of the effects used on Reality Dream. The whole filmstrip-superimposition thing was pretty cool when Porcupine Tree used it several years ago on their own concert DVD, Arriving Somewhere… But on Reality Dream, it’s not only reused, it’s over-reused.

That said, for enthusiasts looking for concert videos from progressive bands who avoid falling completely into the metal side of things, you could do far worse than check out Reality Dream. While there are no songs on the par with the best work of that band I’ve mentioned several times, there’s plenty of good music within these discs.

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Album Review: Otis Redding – Live on the Sunset Strip

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Are you ready for Star Time? You’d better be. Three live sets of Otis Redding are — or should be — coming your way. Live on the Sunset Strip presents the incendiary onstage performance of Redding — clearly at the top of his game — live at the Whisky A Go Go.

A fair amount of this material has seen release before, but only in chopped-and-edited fashion on earlier collections like 1968′s In Person at the Whisky A Go Go, 1982′s Recorded Live and 1993′s Good to Me: Recorded Live at the Whisky. This, friends, is the real deal. Picking up with the third set from the second show or Redding’s four-night residency at the Whisky, the band storms right into “Security,” and Otis delivers the goods.

Normally a raucous live act wouldn’t dial things down after the first number, and since this collection picks up mid-show, that’s not exactly what happened. Nonetheless, listeners are served up the slow jam of “Just One More Day,” and in Redding’s capable hands, it works. His singing is expressive almost beyond description, and the band absolutely kills.

And on it goes. Redding and his backing band crank out the songs one after another, with barely enough space between them for the singer (or the audience) to catch a breath. The sets on these discs are long on covers, though the term “cover” somehow fails to properly convey what Redding does to songs like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and (three renditions of) the Rolling Stones‘ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” On the latter tune the band punches the horns and strips the song down to its basic element, resulting in a two-chord barnburner replete with honking sax solos.

The sound quality on Live on the Sunset Strip is stunning for a concert recording made in 1966, or any other time. Offering all the clarity and balance of a studio recording, the 2cd set is rife with the immediacy that comes only from a performance onstage in front of an audience. Wally Heider‘s mobile unit deserves the credit for capturing the sonic essence of Redding and his band.

Modern-day listeners may be familiar with some of these songs in versions by other artists — “I Can’t Turn You Loose” was done to good effect by Edgar Winter’s White Trash, and later by the Blues Brothers. But hearing Otis Redding sing these songs — backed by his traveling orchestra — is the definitive listening experience.

Redding’s star burns brightly on this set, and in the months after these show, his profile would rise even higher. He’d earn several more hit singles and turn in a great performance at Monterey Pop, but some twenty months after the April ’66 Whisky dates, he tragically lost his life in an airplane crash.

Otis Redding’s catalog isn’t really all that deep. His recording career was pretty much confined to the years 1964-1967, and the available Redding collections all but trip over each other. And while Live on the Sunset Strip doesn’t include his later hits like “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”, “Try a Little Tenderness” and the posthumous hit “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”, it’s nonetheless the definitive Otis statement. If you can only spring for one Redding set, this one even edges out last year’s best-of set The Best — See & Hear. Of course, many listeners — like this one — will want it all.

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