I saw some cool stuff up in there, but nothing that got to me quite like seeing Duane Allman’s Les Paul that he used during the recording of his band’s legendary At Fillmore East album. I just stood there staring at it in its glass case, then looking at a photo of Duane playing it, then I repeated that whole process about twenty times before moving on to the Kubrick exhibit upstairs. The Allman Brothers Band has meant a lot to me and to the area that I grew up in. None of their records were more impactful than the Fillmore recordings though. Mobile Fidelity put their spin on the whole thing recently, and that will likely complete my Brothers collection on vinyl. Anything else from this point on is gravy. Brilliant, heavy, artery clogging gravy. It’s great to be alive.
There’s nothing I can say about these recordings that haven’t been said already. By now, we know that wizard/producer Tom Dowd employed some splicing and trickery to get this thing to sound the way he wanted it to. In doing so, he helped to assemble what is generally considered to be one of the greatest live Rock ’n Roll records ever. I remember hearing “Statesboro Blues” for the first time, and I can’t say that about too many tunes as the damage has been done. But that one got through and it stayed with me. I was hooked. This version sounds more robust and creamier than my original all the way around. Duane’s slide solos shoot out of the mix without overpowering any of the other instruments while his brother’s (underrated) organ work slinks around just beneath the surface like some weird creature that grazes your foot in a swirling electric sea. You might not even know it’s there until it grabs you and starts pulling you under. Fortunately, there’s a host of other sounds and textures to supply all the oxygen and life you need. And that’s all in play before “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” close things out. Of course, they didn’t actually close anything out during the performances. According to what I read at the Museum, the venue’s side stage doors opened at the show’s 7am conclusion. When the sunlight streamed in, Duane is alleged to have looked at Bill Graham and said, “See, Bill? It’s just like going to church.” Or something like that. If he said anything, he said too much. Words fail after a performance like that. They’d almost have to.
MoFi has done, again, what MoFi does again and again. These records are dead silent, heavy, and flat. The gatefold packaging is weapon grade, and the cover photos (taken in Macon, Georgia – not NYC, I learned) seem clearer than ever. This release means that MoFi has put out all the essential Allman Brothers titles. They’ve never sounded better to my ears. If you’re a fan, this is your time. Get all the MoFi titles, find yourself a copy of the Dreams box set, and be thankful. Your ears certainly will be.
There’s a famous quote by Steve Earle about how he’d stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in his boots and tell Dylan that Townes Van Zandt was the best damn songwriter in history. Which is cool, but I don’t know if Earle had heard what Daniel Hutchens can do with a pen and a guitar. Hutchens has been at it for decades now, mostly as one half of Bloodkin’s nucleus, and he just released The Beautiful Vicious Cycle of Life. It is everything that the title implies. I contacted Hutchens to see if there was anything specific he’d like for Secrets readers to know about the production of this album. There was not. He says all the info is in the songs – beginnings, endings, and all. Told me to “write it the way I hear it.” What I hear is what I expected. Bob Dylan is going to need a bigger damn coffee table. I can tell you that much right now.
This record is amazing, man. Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools produced it and handles bass playing duties while his band mate holds down the drums. David Barbe (guitarist and a world class producer in his own right) and Thayer Sarrano (keys) are the other core players. But make no mistake about whose show this is. Hutchens is at the top of his game. The quality of his writing and the fierceness of his performances almost add up to something unfair. It would be like Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors. Seems impossible to have that much talent in one package, yet here we are. As far as I’m concerned, there’s Daniel Hutchens and there’s the rest of us. We can only aspire to keep up. “Jack Nicholson Grin” starts things out on a dangerous note with Hutchens’s percussive rhythm guitar in full bloom. “Pretty Girls in Summer Dresses” trumps the hell out of Springsteen’s “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” and I liked that one just fine. I’ve already had three favorite songs on this album in the three weeks that I’ve owned it, and I suspect that all eleven will have made their way into heavy rotation by year’s end. Hutchens writes with such raw honesty that it almost seems like you could write his biography based solely on his musical catalog. I miss getting to see him and his bands perform as much as I miss anything about being back home. By the time “All Golden Traces” closes this one out, you’re already anticipating what the guy will do next. I once tried to quiz Hutchens on his songwriting techniques. It seemed, at the time, like he was being evasive. He said “it’s just what I do.” I thought he was hiding his tricks. Now, I’m thinking that it was the most sincere answer he had for me. Songwriting has been his life’s work. It is, quite literally, just what he does. He might not be the guy I’d call to rebuild my engine, but I’d certainly give him a ring if I needed a song for a specific occasion. The Beautiful Vicious Cycle of Life has something for all seasons. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Thank me later.
I was terrified to learn that Hutchens was using United Record Pressing for this release. Despondent, in fact. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t screw around and press a fine sounding disc. I could live a thousand years and never know what goes on in that place, but I’m glad they nailed this record. It comes with a download card so you can spread the message far and wide. It is what the world needs now. That and a time machine. One is as miraculous as the other. Seriously.
A buddy of mine tried to turn me on to My Morning Jacket by burning me copies of their first two albums on CD about twelve years ago. Didn’t work. He tried again about ten years ago by taking me to one of their shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco and that worked just fine. I’ve seen them every time I had a chance to since then, and I’ve never regretted going. Not once. Those first two records just weren’t representative of what that band is capable of. Now, I can hear those early songs with different ears because I’ve heard them performed in ways that would peel the paint of your walls. If it were left up to me to judge the band exclusively on the strength of those first couple of recordings, I’d likely have skipped the whole shooting match. I wasn’t present for the unveiling, but the band’s third full-length release must have seemed like some sort of monumental announcement to their fans. Not unlike Kevin Durant’s announcement on Independence Day were for Warriors supporters. In retrospect, it seems that huge. The performances on It Still Moves were always majestic, but you couldn’t always bear their full brunt due to some questionable mixing. They’ve fixed that now. It Still Moves moves now more than ever. The revised version will hold me over until their next release, I hope.
The original version of this album was weird. There were entire guitar solos that were buried in the mix. I’d assumed these were bizarre artistic choices (like the fact that Jim James would run around the stage head banging in his bare feet), but the press around the revised version suggests that the band was simply in too much of a hurry to do it right the first time. Kudos to them for going back and fixing things (and for donning some boots). This does not strike me as cash grab so much as an honest attempt to present this stellar work in the best possible light. “Magheetah” is way closer to the live experience now. It’s a deceptively heavy hitter that needed some archaeological care to release its full potential. Mission accomplished. And that’s true of the whole shooting match, really. In addition to all that goodness, there are two records worth of bonus materials, mostly in the form of Jim James’s demos for the album. As is true of most bonus materials, some of it is more compelling than the rest, and some of it could have been left out entirely. But I consider James to be one of the prime movers in this admittedly weakened era of popular music, and getting a glimpse into his creative process is well worth the effort of slogging through some less than compelling material.
It Still Moves was a damn moon shot in comparison to what had preceded it. This version is spread out over four well pressed discs (!) that are presented in a book-like cover with lyrics, photos, and a download card with every track represented on it. New cover art too. There’s no version that I am aware of with just the remixed record. So, go all in. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Even if it doesn’t. This one is essential.
Speaking of getting a glimpse into a badass songwriter’s artistic process: has there ever been a better manner of achieving that goal than to explore Dylan’s Bootleg Series? The first one came out while I was still in high school, and it changed a lot of things around for me. For one, it had the first song that I would ever sing live on stage in front of an army of my peers. For another, it was three CDs worth of outtakes, rarities, and demos that basically traced the development of my favorite brand of Rock ’n Roll music over the course of multiple decades. Now, we have what might be the granddaddy of them all. The Best of the Cutting Edge collects all manner of goodness from the era that saw Dylan produce Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Those records are enough to make your head spin by themselves. You won’t find anything in The Cutting Edge that makes Dylan easier to understand, but you’ll find all manner of amazing tunes and fascinating insights that will keep you listening on repeat for hours. And that’s why we’re here, right?
Can you imagine that the three previously mentioned titles were all recorded between January of 1965 and February of 1966? By definition, so was all the material included in this three-record box set. The liner notes told me that right before my head exploded. The packaging on this one would have been worth a pretty penny without benefit of the records themselves. But the records contain another version of the first song I ever sang live (“If You Gotta Go, Go Now”) along with multiple takes on “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Desolation Row,” and about thirty others. One of those thirty is a raucous romp through “Can You Please Crawl out Your Window?” So, I’m stoked. It’s a testament to the quality of Dylan’s Bootleg releases that I can absolutely not choose which is my favorite amongst them. The one that covered Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times was phenomenal as was the one around the Scorsese documentary. The Royal Albert Hall thing is historically amazing despite what the weirdo’s in the audience thought, and the Basement Tapes Raw was bonkers. The Self Portrait thing was shockingly compelling, and the only drawback to the initial offering way back in the early ‘90s was that it was only available in the US on CDs. Other than that one, Columbia has managed to get all of these multi-disc works pressed exquisitely with the most thorough liners around, and they’ve provided digital versions for most releases too. Overall, I’d say these are amongst the finest non-audiophile geared vinyl releases available.
The Cutting Edge explores an unbelievably brief era in Dylan’s career that included those three watershed records, a solo UK tour, the electrification of the Newport Folk Festival, a couple of tours with the Hawks/Band that would change Rock ’n Roll for good, and enough outtakes for a fourth album. There’s never been another one like him, and that’s probably for the best. I probably wouldn’t have survived it. The Cutting Edge is a blast. If you’re a fan, the choice is obvious.
Alright. It’s been a banner month for The Rock, but so far I’ve only explored blue chip records that I was sure to get along with. A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine recommended …Like Clockwork to me which served as my introduction to the Queens of the Stone Age. That was much less of a sure thing, but it worked out so that I have since travelled to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to see the band perform live. That’s in addition to the show that I walked to see in SF, and their set that I caught at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit. I like them just fine. So it makes sense that I’d want to check out Josh Homme’s band before the Queens. They were called Kyuss. I don’t know much, but I at least know what their record Welcome to Sky Valley sounds like. It was recorded in 1993. It sounds like that.
The music of Kyuss is commonly referred to as “stoner rock.” I don’t know what that means any more than I know how to pronounce “Kyuss.” I know that the label doesn’t fit the sound as far as my ears are concerned. When I think of stoners rocking, I think of… something else. This is heavy business. Like, Black Sabbath heavy. Seems like I read somewhere that Homme denies ever having been influenced by that band, but I’m either mistaken, or he was lying, or he wasn’t influenced by Sabbath while everyone else in the band was. Because much of this music sounds for the entire world like a barely updated version of Black damn Sabbath’s music. To me, Welcome To Sky Valley purveys good, new-fashioned Metal. Homme plays his guitars through what sounds like a bass amp which provides a sludgy sound that must have cut through Palm Desert’s thick air with great vehemence back in the day. The band and their buddies’ bands all performed outside at “generator parties” as there were apparently no live venues to tackle in that area at that time. I bet those were a hoot. Kyuss never achieved mainstream stardom, but I can scarcely figure out why. I know that we’re discussing the Era of Nirvana, for crying out loud, but it seems like there would have been room at the table for Kyuss if there was a space held for Alice in Chains. Sky Valley’s ten songs are contained within three suites that are meant to be enjoyed as a whole. The album comes with instructions. They are this: “listen without distraction.” Okay, but the second suite spans both sides of the record, the flipping and cleaning of which may be considered a distraction to some. Of course, there may have been no record at all when Sky Valley was finally released in 1994. Those were dark times for music although they seem like a frigging fireworks display compared to 2016.
Here’s my report: if you like Hard Rock and you’re into what Josh Homme has done with the QOTSA and Them Crooked Vultures, you’ll probably want to explore the work of Kyuss if you’ve not already. Their work has been reissued on vinyl relatively recently and is pretty accessible. We are not in the audiophile’s arena, gang, so temper your expectations. And consider a hair net. That entire head banging can lead to a mouthful of hair if precautions aren’t taken.