New Dylan, unreleased Michael Jackson
Owls Head — Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia CD, 68:32). Fifty years ago brought us the first James Bond film, to be followed by 22 more, and the first Bob Dylan album, to be followed by 34 more studio albums. And each time Dylan has released an album, it has been an event. The drumbeats, that is reviews, for this album started two weeks before release, and nearly every one declared it a masterpiece. Well I would not go that far; after all, Dylan’s voice appears to be seriously spent here. However, as always, his lyrics are most intriguing, even if the music is simpler than we’ve come to expect.
There are 10 new songs on this album, which Dylan produced under his Jack Frost nom de plume. The instrumentation is simple for the most part. The disc opens with the travel song, “Duquesne Whistle,” and it is shocking how almost-gone Dylan’s voice is. Things slow down for “Soon After Midnight,” which is about a woman who stole his money. There is lots of harmonica on the bluesy up-tempo “Narrow Way.” (By the way, the album is being sold in two sets, each with a harmonica in a different key.) Then the album really finds its way -- and keeps to it the rest of the way -- on “Long and Wasted Years,” a lament about former lovers. If Dylan is sometimes prickly, he is downright nasty on “Pay in Blood,” singing, “I pay in blood but not my own.” “Scarlet Town,” which features banjo, is very slow-paced, but has nice lyrics. “Early Roman Kings,” another warning song, is a jaunty blues number, and my favorite of the album. “Tin Angel” is again slow, but the vocal is more forceful. In this Romeo and Juliet scenario, a trio of lovers die, one by their own hand. The title track is some 45 verses without chorus about the sinking of the Titanic, with a nice slightly Irish folk backing. The lyrics are amazing, as Dylan mixes in the real, fable and the James Cameron film (“Leo took his sketch book”). There also seems to be a rebellion aboard the sinking ship as well. The album closes with “Roll on John,” a wonderful homage to the late John Lennon that borrows some of Lennon’s phrases from his Beatles and post-Beatles career. Grade: B+
Jackson 5: Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls (Hip-O Select/Motown, 2 CDs, 102 min.) This is a very exciting new release featuring one of the best brother acts of all time: Michael, Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Tito Jackson. The youngsters signed with Berry Gordy in 1968, and proceeded to release 10 albums while becoming the sensation of the nation. The year 2009 brought us 12 unreleased tracks in “I Want You Back,” and now there are about three more albums worth of songs in this sparkling collection. Much of this material was produced by Deke Richards, both solo and as part of The Corporation with Freddie Perron, Fonce Mizell and Gordy. The Corporation is credited on nine of the 32 tracks and Richards on four. Another 12 are produced by Hal Davis.
The set opens with the bright, should-have-been-a-hit “(We’re the) Music Makers” and “If the Shoe Don’t Fit.” Many are covers, including the nice version of William Bell/Booker T. Jones’ “I Got a Sure Thing” and a funky cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” a hit for Three Dog Night (although it is a bit strange hearing the boys sing about smoking and womanizing; the speeded-up Mamma‘s voice is fun, though). This new funk direction also is reflected in “Iddinit” (another winner) and “Keep Off the Grass.” Many of the songs were covered by other Motown artists: The Temptations did “Since I Lost My Baby”; The Supremes did “Keep an Eye” (a fine Ashford & Simpson song), “I’m Your Sunny One (He’s My Sunny Boy)” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”; and Jackie DeShannon did “Movin’.” Another unreleased cover is Dave Mason of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” which the Jackson 5 actually performed often in concert. There is an interesting arrangement of the Goffin-King staple “Up on the Roof,” the Willie Hutch-produced “Going My Way” with strings, and Jermaine singing lead on “Our Love.” Another example of the funk direction is Perren’s “Would Ya Would Ya Baby.” The ballad”Love Trip” presages the direction Michael’s solo career would take, while horns spice up “Jumbo Sam.” There are three bonus tracks and a 7-inch vinyl single of “If the Shoe Don’t Fit/Feelin’ Alright,” as well as a sticker. It all comes in a 7-inch hardcover box. Grade: B+
Michael Jackson: Bad 25 (Epic/Legacy, 3 CDs and 1 DVD, about 210 min. on CD plus 119 min. DVD). Jackson took complete control of his career with this album, which was the first album in history to produce five consecutive number one singles. His third solo album -- now wonderfully remastered -- it includes the wonderful slinky beat of “Bad,” the forcefully swaying “The Way You Make Me Feel,” his classic version of “Man in the Mirror” by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard, the ballad duet of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Garrett, the very hard “Dirty Diana” and the exceptional “Smooth Criminal.” Lesser known perhaps are the “Just Good Friends” duet with Stevie Wonder, the rocker “Speed Demon” and the lush ballad “Liberian Girl” (which I really like).
The unreleased highlight here is the 119-minute DVD concert, recorded live July 16, 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London, before an audience of 72,000, including Princess Diana and Prince Charles (I wonder what the Princess thought about “Dirty Diana”?). The video is only VHS quality, but an outstanding performance makes up for that. Jackson has four backup singers/dancers alongside him as he opens with “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” which is one of several numbers with lots of dancing. (The set, by the way, is pretty much basic, with a few flash explosions.) The female guitarist gets a solo of “This Place Hotel,” then Jackson slows things down for “Another Part of Me,” with just himself out front. The pretty duet, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” follows. Other highlights are “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” which has a sudden stop before he launches into “She’s Out of My Life.” There’s only a three-song medley of Jackson 5 hits, but the old school choreography is fun. Some foot tapping by Jackson opens “Rock With You,” then a more intimate “Human Nature” follows (I was struck during this number by how much Jackson resembled his sister, Janet). “Thriller” is a disappointment in that it is abridged and lacks all the excitement of the video. Jackson does come out wearing a wolf’s head and a school letter jacket, though. The band gets its own number, “Bad Groove,” which is entertaining. The high octane show ends with “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Bad” and “Man in the Mirror.” Bonuses are performances of “The Way You Make Me Feel” from the previous night’s show and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You/Bad,” performed nearly a year earlier in Japan. The third CD is an audio version of the show, minus the bonuses and band instrumental.
The second CD includes unreleased tracks, demos and three new remixes. “Don’t Be Messin’ Around” sounds pretty much complete and has a syncopated, clock-like percussion. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is performed in both Spanish and French (it sounds particularly romantic in French). The mid-tempo “I’m So Blue” is about having his woman leave for another man and it features a lonely harmonic break. “Song Groove” was a never-finished song on a controversial subject -- it is about the daughter of a priest who decides to have an abortion. “Free,” while unfinished, has a full chorus and harmonies (to my ear, it sounds a bit like “Rock With You” at times). Appealing and catchy is “Price of Fame,” about young girls’ obsession with him, while “Al Capone” eventually became “Smooth Criminal.” The remixes are literally a mixed bag: the “Bad” remix by Dutch DJ Afrojack, featuring Pitbull, is too busy; the Afrojack club mix of “Bad” is better; and Nero’s remix of “Speed Demon” actually is OK. All three are unnecessary, however. I would have preferred some of the 12-inch remixes of the original singles. The set, whose cardboard box closes with a magnet, also includes two photo-filled booklets, a sticker and a mini-poster. Grade: A
Ian Gillan & Tony Iommi: WhoCares (Armoury/Eagle Rock, 2 CDs, 1:31:11). This release by the two longtime friends and collaborators -- Deep Purple and Black Sabbath in their resumes -- came out of the CD single “Out of My Mind/Holy Water,” created with the royalties going toward building a school in Gyumri, Armenia. Both are excellent songs, with “Holy Water” featuring some Middle Eastern sounds that make for a very meditative opening. The rest of the two discs are a kind of career overview with some unreleased material and some obscure tracks. “Zero the Hero” is from when the pair were in Black Sabbath together. Another Sabbath track is the fine “Anno Mundi.” Iommi put out the very well-received “Fused” album and two outtakes surface here: “Slip Away” and “Let It Down Easy,” both featuring Glenn Hughes. The latter is a straight-ahead rocker that was only released in Japan. Two are from Gillan solo albums (the softer “Don’t Hold Me Back” is the better) and another two from his singles. Very nice is “Get Away,” with Gillan supporting Mihalis Rakintzis. It features some nice Greek percussion and then harmonica on top of it. From 1994 comes “Easy Come, Easy Go,” recorded with Gillan’s band Repo Depo. Wonderful is a cover of Little Richard’s “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave Me” by Gillan and Roger Glover, with Dr. John on piano. When Gillan was with The Javelins, he covered the Marvin Gaye hit, “Can I Get a Witness.” Deep Purple is represented by a live “Smoke on the Water” and the previously unreleased “Dick Pimple” studio jam. The Deep Purple lineup also recorded a live version of “When a Blind Man Cries,” with Steve Morris on acoustic guitar. Grade: B+
Etta James: Live at Montreux 1993 (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray DVD, NR, 161 min.). Fact is, the great Etta James hated being filmed, but Montreux Jazz Festival producer Claude Nobs was able to talk her into being filmed, not once, but several times … and we benefit from it with this exciting DVD. The 64:18 1993 show is the main course, with the band playing the first two, funky numbers without her. She comes on for “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” which has some very nice horns. James slows things down for her classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” then launches into the then-new “How Strong is a Woman?” with its funky beat and horns. “A Lover is Forever,” performed with just two guitars, also was from her new 1993 album. If you think “I’d Rather Go Blind” is a vocal workout here, well check out “Just One More Day,” which features high and low vocal runs and vocalizing over the guitar solo for real drama. There’s another strong, entertaining vocal on “Come To Mama” and the show closes with the classic “Why I Sing the Blues.”
The bonus material is 12 performances (96 min.) from her Montreux appearances in other years. There are four from 1975, during her first trip to Europe, including a sassy, near 10-minute “Respect Yourself” and 11 minutes of blues in “Drown in My Own Tears. She was thinner then and looked oh so young. She also talked to the audience a lot and was backed by a five-piece horn section. From 1977 is a medley of “At Last/Trust in Me/A Sunday Kind of Love,” while her version of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” is from 1978. The year 1989 is represented by five bluesier songs, including “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” and 1990 gives us “Your Good Thing Is About To End.” Grade: A+ for the 1993 show (excellent sound and video); B+ for the bonus performances
Stone Temple Pilots: Alive in the Windy City (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray DVD, NR, 92 min.). The San Diego band gives a mostly hits show in March 2010 -- lead singer Scott Weiland likes to stick to the well-known songs because he prefers an audience that reacts. Robert DeLeo is on bass and vocals, Dean DeLeo on guitar and Eric Kretz on drums. The band issued five successful albums in the 1990s, then broke up in 2003 (Weiland’s well-known addictions did not help). However, they got back together in 2008 and had recently issued a new album when this concert took place. The new songs performed include “Between the Lines,” “Hickory Dichotomy” (I love the change of sound here; sort of glam rock), “Bagman” and “Huckleberry Crumble.” The show opens with “Vasoline,” then Weiland uses a bullhorn on “Crackerman.” “Wicked Garden” is the first of four songs from their debut album here. The others are “Sex Type Thing,” “Creep” and the Grammy-winning “Plush.” They also perform their chart-topping hit “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty,” which appeared on “The Crow” soundtrack. A bonus feature is nearly 15 minutes on interviews with the band, much of which plugs the 2010 eponymous album. Grade: B+
London Music Works: Music from the Batman Trilogy (Silva Screen CD, 74 min.). This single disc contains music from all three of the Christopher Nolan-directed Dark Knight films. They are “Batman Begins” (5 tracks), “The Dark Knight” (5 tracks) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (5 tracks). The first two films were scored by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, while Zimmer took over the third by himself. Two tracks here are performed by the always topnotch City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Grade: A-