Then, the surviving members re-formed for a couple of shows just up the road from my neck of the woods, and those mental waters got choppier and choppier until I started to actually consider going. That happened after a friend posted something on the Facebook about how she’d bought tickets due to her “FOMO.” As is always the case with things along these lines, I had to look up the meaning. It is this: “fear of missing out.” Which is apparently contagious? I pulled myself together, and feel like I made the right choice by not going. But I did order a copy of Europe ’72 to hold myself over. I’ve made better and worse decisions, certainly.
This one’s on a ton of “Best Of All Time” lists and is certainly well regarded in Dead World. With good reason, mostly. I’ve always liked this lineup, and I didn’t have anything to represent the era in my collection so I jumped. Some folks found Donna Godchaux’s vocals polarizing. I found them good enough, usually. (Always disclaimers and caveats with this band. I can’t get away from them. Feels a little lazy, but I can’t fully commit.) To be sure, the performances on Europe are right up there with some of the most listenable that I’m aware of in the Dead’s history. And it’s no secret that these takes were tuned up in the studio post-tour, especially the vocal harmonies. I’m alright with that. Happens all the time. And it worked. A lot of this record sounds good. The songs that drew me in were “Jack Straw,” and “Brown-Eyed Woman,” mostly. But there was also “Ramble On Rose,” and “Morning Dew.” “Tennessee Jed” is good too. Then, there’s a few that I could do without. “One More Saturday Night,” chief among them. And finally, there’s some of that Dead Noise that is so unpalatable to me. Like the “Prelude” before “Morning Dew.” I understand that it was 1972. I dig experimentation, being in the moment, reaching for something with the understanding that you could whiff on the whole thing. But why put eight minutes of aimless meandering on a recording for posterity? I guess it gives the listener an accurate idea of what a Dead show was like in those days. Lots of opportunities to run to the restroom or the bar, basically. That’s what I’d have done during “Sugar Magnolia” which is on here too. Unfortunately.
Having said all that, this is a no brainer for the more tie-dyed in the wool fans of the band. This version was mastered from the original 1/4” stereo tapes by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman mastering. Pressed at RTI. Three 180-gram records with the original artwork. Not much to complain about there. The discs are close enough to flawless to push this release into audiophile territory, in my opinion. The Dead were legendarily fastidious about the sonic quality of their shows and recordings and I suspect they’d feel like this version of Europe is a worthy addition to their canon. It’s probably the Dead title that I’m least excited about in my collection though. But that’s just me.
I’ve never dug as deeply into the Kinks catalog as I should. I will. I just have to get around to it. Muswell Hillbillies is one of my favorite Rock and Roll records ever. And The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is not far behind. You’d have thought that I’d have plumbed the depths of their output just based on my affinity for those two thrillers, but I’ve been remiss. Part of the problem is that there really haven’t been any reputable reissues of the Kinks catalog that I’m aware of. My original copy of Muswell is pretty flawless so I’m set there. A near mint mono copy of Village Green will require you to do things that you may be uncomfortable with as a law abiding citizen, but I keep looking. Perhaps this new series by the folks at Sanctuary Records will help with that. I believe they’ve released the first four Kinks titles and I’m starting with the latest in that series, Face To Face. I’m doing the right thing.
History suggests that Face To Face is where the Kinks started to expand their sound beyond the bombastic early hits that we are all most familiar with. Songs like “You Really Got Me” are nowhere to be found on Face To Face. They’ve been replaced with some funnier, quirkier faire. To my ears, songs like “Rainy Day In June” and “House In The Country” are where it’s at. They contain all of the danger and menace that the heavier material does, but they don’t rely so much on distortion and big beats. (One of the outtakes from this era would have been my favorite song on the album, but it didn’t make the cut. “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” doesn’t fit the aesthetic, it’s true, but I really wish I had an analog version of this song. I saw Son Volt play it once at the Fillmore. I didn’t know what was going on. I do now.) Songs like “Sunny Afternoon” foreshadow the whimsical melodies and harmonies that would make Village Green pop a couple of years later, and the carnivalesque harpsichord (courtesy of Nicky Hopkins) gives you some of the mid-’60’s psychedelic that transformed music and culture, in general. Overall, Face To Face is a jaunty, quick listen that I suspect I’ll be happy to throw on the table any old time. Still, it’s a little rough knowing that there are works by the band that I find more compelling which are just sitting around waiting for someone else to do the right thing…
…Someone like Kevin Gray, perhaps. He’s turning the knobs on this series and I trust most any release that he attaches his name to. Folks that are more connected within this industry than I am did the arduous work that is often required to find out what sources were used for this series, and they turned out to be the original mono tapes! Seems like that’s something you could market to great effect, but for some weird reason this info was buried deep. This record was also pressed at United in Nashville which is info that should always be buried deep, but they pulled it off on this one. This disc is mostly silent where it’s supposed to be. Despite Gray’s work with the original tapes and a decent pressing, it doesn’t quite add up to an audiophile’s dream. The recordings themselves are just too thin. But I don’t think it’ll get much better. It’s only Rock and Roll, after all. And I like it.
I knew I’d circle back for this one eventually. It’s kinda weird that I didn’t snatch it up upon release, let alone that I waited seven plus years to remedy that mistake. But it’s not like I haven’t had plenty of Jack White action to stay busy with over all this time. The guy’s got a battery that doesn’t appear to need recharging. If I remember correctly, the Raconteurs kinda sprung this one on us. Not unlike Wilco’s most recent release. Their first long player, Broken Boy Soldiers, tuned me into the fact that White could play it slick on top of all the White Stripes’ ragged glory. There’s nothing too slick about Consolers of the Lonely. It’s a different bird than Soldiers, entirely. And it’s lovely in its own way. Lots of layers. Plenty to get hung up about. I love it.
I no longer subscribe to White’s record club. The content of the last couple of packages hasn’t been exclusive enough to warrant the steep price tag. One bonus track and some niftier packaging does not a $60 package make in my world. But a while back, Third Man put out a killer live set by the Raconteurs that was recorded at the Ryman in Nashville. That one’s a scorcher. And that’s how I became familiar with the bulk of the material on Consolers. When you add the first two studio records to that live Vault recording, you’ve got yourself a pretty compelling Raconteurs collection, I think. They’ve not done much more than that, after all. And the textures on the studio versions of the Consolers songs are a welcome surprise. The fiddle on “Old Enough,” for instance. I didn’t think that song could get much catchier, but it’s a brand new experience on Consolers. The presence of the acoustic guitar that begins the dangerous “Top Yourself” is a blast in the studio too. I’ve seen Big Jack peel off a couple of live versions of that one in person and it’s always a highlight. The banjo and found percussion sounds make it a high water mark on the record as well. And Consolers opens back to back with the titular track right up against “Salute Your Solution.” No one should rightly expect to come away from that attack intact. Should have come with a warning label, really. This follow up to the Soldiers debut is all around more crunchy and aggressive than its predecessor. The sound is not as inviting and that may have weeded some of the fans of the first one out for round two. But not me. It’s a rougher ride, but it traverses a more varied and desperate sonic landscape. I’ll ride shotgun any time if it’s going to be this kind of party.
The vinyl presentation of this set is superb. Warner Brothers still has their branding on the cover right next to Third Man’s insignia. The only noticeable effect is that this set wasn’t pressed at United in Nashville which is welcome news to me. I’ve been given some hope recently (see this month’s write-up on the Kinks’ Face To Face) around the quality of United’s work, but why risk it if you don’t have to? The triple gatefold cover fold out into a funky, crazy scene and each band member gets his own glossy photo card too. The two heavy discs are well pressed and they’re carrying some crazy information. Go back for this one while it’s still around. Or risk a repressing at a lesser facility and all that entails. There’s no consolation for that.
Speaking of circling back, how about we take a look at Love by the Beatles. Ever heard of them? I can’t believe that this title is almost nine years old already. I know exactly why I waited as long as I did to snag it. It’s pricey. It’s also the soundtrack for a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. If you have to go to Las Vegas, you should check it out. It was an emotional ride, man, and no one ever said a word. It’s crazy to me to think that every song that’s used on this record was recorded within a six year span. Absolutely astonishing. As is the end result. It seems like super human strength is required to get all of the Beatles gears and levers moving in a cohesive direction these days, but George Martin and his son were able to pull it off on Love with Yoko’s blessing as well as Olivia Harrison’s. Ringo and Paul were reportedly smitten with the results. Good enough for Yoko, good enough for me, I always say. And it’s plenty good enough, gang. I swear.
I guess it’s worth mentioning that this album is what I believe the kids refer to as a “mashup” today. At times, it’s even reminiscent of the most notorious “mashup” that I’m aware of which involved the Beatles’ “White Album” combined with Jay-Z’s “Black Album.” Danger Mouse did it and called it the “Grey Album.” Get it? Anyway, Jay-Z is noticeably absent on Love. And I don’t even miss him. I first gave Love a passive listen with a friend of mine while we were just lounging around the apartment. By the time side one ended, I felt like I’d been on a sonic tour of some of the most impactful music in history without really noticing. And I mean that as a compliment. There’s enough gimmicky remix crap going on out there to last until we burn this planet up, but Love is far different in my mind. Far superior too. The quality of the material is without precedent, and we’ve heard every song a million times, so where do you go with all that if you want something new? Love seems like the only game in town. There are often subtle differences from the songs that you remember even without the remixing. Lesser known or even obscure sources were used for some of the tunes. The World Wildlife Fund version of “Across The Universe,” for instance. But most of us wouldn’t notice that. You’ll notice hearing the guitar solo from “Taxman” and the horn section from “Savoy Truffle” during “Drive My Car” though. If you’re paying attention. Even if you aren’t, it’ll find you eventually. And that’s where I think the most fun in this record will be found over repeated listens. I imagine it will reveal itself gradually over time. Like an aural version of The Usual Suspects or something. But even better. Releases this fun don’t roll out every Tuesday, gang. Don’t let it get away.
The vinyl presentation of this set lives up to its content which is pretty miraculous. The colorful artwork is supplemented with an equally flashy full-sized booklet containing photos from the Vegas show and essays by the Martins. No download code. The Beatles don’t go in for that kind of thing, it doesn’t appear. Don’t let the price tag scare you away. I don’t think it’s going to ever come down and a Beatles fan will rue the day that she didn’t snap this one up. Tomorrow never knows. So get it.
In keeping with this month’s theme of looking backwards for material left by the roadside, we’ll also take in Love, Power, Peace by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Except I’m not the one doing the circling back this time. Well, a little. This one came out late last year. But the original recording had languished in some can in some studio somewhere since some test pressings were scrapped by Brown in or around 1971. The entire three record set was recorded at a night show in Paris on March 8 of that year. There was a condensed version of the show released on CD way back in 1992. The year I graduated from high school. I wore it out. But it was a different mix (the recent vinyl release was the one approved by the Godfather) and contained way less content. Now, we have the whole show. It’s legendarily legendary. It’s a new day. Let’s let this dog off the chain and celebrate a little, shall we?
I’ll start this party off by saying that I’m nuts about this set. I probably would have been no matter what so I might not be the most objective person available for this review. But I’ll try. Because it is certainly not without its limitations. As I mentioned, this is a presentation of the show as it played out that Parisian evening so long ago. Same songs, same order. On vinyl. This, in this case, means that “Georgia On My Mind” spans two sides. Fades out at the end of side one, and back in on side two. Also, side one and side two are not on the same disc. Back then, sides one and four shared a disc as did sides two and three. As I understand it, that was so that record changers could play the sides in order without interruption. Doesn’t apply today, and I’d have been happier with a more conventional pressing for 2015, but I was not consulted. Then, there is the recording itself which is a little distant and clear as mud. Lots of crowd noise. Sounds like the mics were set up in about the twentieth row. Perhaps under the balcony. But I’m not thinking about any of that when I drop the needle. Brown warms things up with a few quick numbers before ceding to his Second in Command, Bobby Byrd, whose blazing version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” will peel the paint off your walls. Byrd is the second voice on “Sex Machine” (“Get on up!”) which is also included here with a reprise to boot. If you catch me on the right day, I’d just as soon listen to Byrd as I would Brown. Same band. Same energy. Different voice. And, by the way, this band includes a nineteen year old Bootsy Collins on bass. This show is referenced and partially recreated for the Mick Jagger produced Get On Up movie from a couple of years back. The band did not last and had broken up by the time this record would have been released. Once these players cruised, Brown refocused on his new players and ways to showcase their work. So Love, Power, Peace got lost. (This is all eerily similar to what went on with These Are The JBs which was released last year.) But this show is like the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Its contents were too volatile to stay contained for good. By the time Brown retakes the stage, the band is on fire along with the crowd. All six sides are well pressed and ready for action. There’s a too brief Alan Leeds essay included in the gatefold. This is far from audiophile material. And it’s far too hot to languish in an anonymous can any longer. Get it while you can. But don’t burn yourself and don’t say I didn’t warn you.