Posts Tagged ‘From the Shelf


From the Shelf: Naked City – The Complete Studio Recordings


I have a copy of this box, but rather than break it down as one large piece, I instead wrote about all the records separately since I consider them individual pieces of music. I followed the order of release, too, not the sequenced order of the box.

Naked City (1990)


The first Naked City record, originally released in 1990, is an interesting showcase for the group. There’s a few covers, a few originals and a lot of blasting noise, bursts of energy and shrieking and wailing. In 26 tracks, it sets the template for who they are and how they sound.


You could even argue that the first two tracks do this. “Batman” opens the record with a Bill Frisell’s chugging, twanging guitar and as the rhythm section kicks in, John Zorn’s sax starts blasting and twisting around. On the other hand, a cover of Ennio Morricone’s “The Sicilian Clan” is a slow, moody piece of ambience: both Zorn and Frisell’s playing are restrained and Wayne Horvitz’s keyboards give colour at atmosphere. Between the two tracks, you get a picture of a band that can play both traditionally and in an experimental style, blasts of noise and colour, energy and restraint, and light and dark.


Really, the whole album is full of these contrasts. Songs explode out nowhere, turn and crash and dissolve into mayhem; others take influence from surf rock (“Demon Sanctuary”), hardcore (“Fuck the Facts”) and straight-ahead jazz (“Latin Quarter”, “Snagglepuss”). Motifs and ideas pop up for a second and dissolve; other sounds wreck themselves apart before they form into something. At their best on the debut, the band is pushing jazz improv into new concepts of energy and form; at it’s worst, they sound like a bunch of talented musicians taking the piss.


Which is where the covers come in: how are people supposed to take covers of everything from Ornette Coleman to the theme songs from Chinatown or James Bond. Is it ironic for A-list New York musicians to cover something so kitsch? I don’t really know. I suppose I could look up interviews or something, but I’m not that interested in the answer. I do know I like their version of “Lonely Woman,” which sounds like it’s being done as the theme song for a police procedural, while the Bond theme leads to some chaotic improv, where the band seems like they’re falling apart but swipes back into form at the drop of a hat. 4/5


Torture Garden (1990)


A short compilation of miniatures from their firs two records, Torture Garden is fast, furious and to be honest, I can’t always tell these tunes apart unless I’m watching the screen, since they’re all just rapid bursts of fury.


Still, there are moments where the band mixes things up. For example, “Numbskull” opens with Frisell’s guitar feeding back, a cool, Fripp-like accent, while “Jazz Snob Eat Shit” is a rapid, almost sarcastic burst of jazzy playing. Personally, I like “The Prestidigitator,” which mixes in crashing glass and barrelhouse piano. It sounds like a barroom brawl. There’s a sense of humour here, although sometimes I wonder if the joke Zorn’s telling is on the listener.


Really though, between the samey bursts of noise and a general feeling of confusion, I think this it doesn’t work as well as their other records. It’s experimental and certainly pushes the boundaries, but it lacks the cohesion of their debut and the focus of later recordings – to my ears, this is all tension and no release. Or maybe I just tire easily of thrashing and screaming? 2.5/5


Grand Guignol (1991)


The proper follow-up to their debut record, Grand Guignol is like an amped-up version of Naked City, right down to the eye-catching, if disturbing, cover of a head that’s particularly sliced open (Big Black did something similar with Headache). It opens with one of their longest performances, the 18-minute title track, which mixes Zorn’s ambient side with scraping bursts of static and playing. It sounds like a collection of their miniatures – and probably it is, if I understand Zorn’s composing style correctly – but as a long suite, I think the alternating waves of dissonance and energy, the way ambient soundscapes give way to furious bursts, makes it work in a way the above compilation doesn’t: it changes the pace every so often; it’s not just ~20 minutes of unrelenting fury and noise.


Miniatures largely take up the rest of the album – there are 41 songs here and most of the rest are about a minute long – which I’m hot-and-cold on; see above for my takes on them. However, there’s also several covers of classical tunes by composers like Debussy, Charles Ives and Alexander Scriabin. Here, Zorn and the band glide through them, giving them a slow, film noir vibe. They make Scriabin sound like the opening theme to a Raymond Chandler flick; the tone of Frisell’s guitar gives the Ives cover an ambient and open ECM-style sound. If I’m being honest, this is probably my favourite of their records. 4.5/5


Heretic (1992)


At the same time, Heretic is both Naked City at it’s best and worst. It’s supposed to be the soundtrack to a S&M film – which seems to me like more of a stunt by Zorn than anything else, but who knows – and the album is basically the group improvising in various forms and styles throughout. They play in different groupings – sometimes it’s Firth, Frisell and Baron, other times it’s Zorn and Firth, etc, etc – and everything was done on the fly.


Which means in one sense, it’s a showcase for the band’s chops: at it’s best, the music is driving and fierce, re-inventing itself on the fly. At it’s worst it’s self-indulgent. A British critic once called Naked City a “bunch of musicians having fun” and depending on your mood, you might dig a bunch of guys making it up as they go along but you may also tire of it quickly. You may think what they’re doing is cool and genre pushing, but you may also find it pretentious. The truth is somewhere between those poles.


Generally, I think this record holds it’s own. There’s a few interesting tricks – is Horovitz drumming the inside a piano on “The Brood?” – and their playing is generally in top form. At the same time, other experiments are interesting but not as compelling. On “Sweat, Sperm and Blood,” Eye duets with Zorn in a series of scats and shouts, wailing and shrieking. It’s interesting in how well they compliment each other, but it’s not the sort of thing I’d put on when friends are over.


Out of all their records, this is them at their most uncompromising and arty. I think it’s generally pretty cool, but also I find it kind of self-important, too: the idea this was meant to accompany a skin flick doesn’t sound so much sex-positive as it does too clever by half, Zorn’s idea of being edgy and provocative, in the same way his covers are. 2.5/5


Leng Tch’E (1992)


Here’s where things all kinda come to a head. On this record, the ensemble plays a long, drawn out composition, “Leng Tch’e.” Recorded on a single day – Janurary 11, 1992, says Wikipedia – this droning, sludgy epic is both sort of powerful and kind of repetitive. All the energy from their short, frantic pieces is here but it’s been slowed to a crawl; Bill Frisell’s guitar roars and dominates the record while Fred Frith’s bass and Joey Baron’s drumming push and propel things forward. And although it’s more of a sit-down-and-listen kinda record than, say, Naked City was, it’s compelling in it’s own right. Especially once Eye starts screaming and moaning and Frisell’s guitar goes nuts.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the cover art: a picture of someone undergoing Death By A Thousand Cuts. The victim is being flayed apart alive, like a medieval saint getting tortured, but was dosed with opium and has a sickening grin, even as his body is getting ritually destroyed. It’s of a piece with the music, slow but pummeling, with Eye shouting, moaning and screaming as the tempo builds and Frisell’s guitar roars, Zorn’s sax wails in a high register and the band keep pummeling, pushing and driving. It’s perhaps not them at their most accessible, but it’s one hell of an artistic statement. 4/5



Radio (1993)


Call it a counterpoint to Leng Tch’e. On “Radio,” Zorn had the idea of a record of shortish pieces that slowly build up and grow in intensity. Not that it opens with like, “Solar” or anything: “Asylum” is driving, frantic jazz with Zorn twisting and turning at high velocity, while “Sunset Surfer” is packed with surf-rock style riffing, but Horvitz’s keyboards lend a nice ambient texture to things. And on “Triggerfingers,” Frisell goes nuts, running all over his fretboard.


But yeah, throughout the course of things, this one builds up in intensity. By songs like “Razorwire,” there’s a growing dissonance and droning, with Zorn making stabs with his horn, while “Krazy Kat” alternates between open spaces and bursts of fury. By record’s end, on songs like “I Die Screaming,” “Pistol Whipping” and “Skatekey” the band is playing hard and fast, blasting waves of noise. And by the end, Eye is screaming, the band is pounding and they slowly fade into the night, starting and stopping and making all kindsa noises.

While it’s an easier listen than some of their earlier stuff, at the same time it feels a little flatter than stuff like Heretic or Naked City. The playing is intense, but doesn’t have the same spark of energy or ambition. Things move and shake, but it’s hard not to think they were running out of ideas; the most interesting parts of this record are when they fall back onto clichés, like the country rhythm they dip into on “American Psycho,” the kind of trick they could pull in their sleep. And compared to earlier stuff, when they fall back on things, it’s not in a way that’s funny or provocative (see: “Eat Shit Jazz Snob”), but feels more like a change of pace. It’s not a bad record, but for all the pounding and fury, I think it shows them running out of gas. 3/5


Absinthe (1993)


And here’s where it all comes to a halt. On their previous record, the music faded to a finish of ambient sounds and playing. Here, the music starts slow and full of reverb and never kicks into the high-intensity music of their earlier records.


This isn’t to knock the record, which is interesting in it’s own way. It’s just a different kind of thing than what they’d done previously: the music drones and vibrates, echoes and shakes. It’s experimental in a way nothing they’d done before was, bringing to mind stuff like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy For Lilith.


The title’s a fitting one: the music sounds just a shade off, almost hallucinatory. Frisell’s guitar is atonal, while the keyboards create thunderstorms of swirling doom and gloom. Perhaps fittingly, the album ends with static; allegedly, it’s Frisell rubbing his guitar cord around the amp’s input jack.


It’s hard to place this one in the context of their other records since it’s so deliberately different, occasionally deliberately unlistenable. As an experimental concept, it’s hard to judge: how do I assign a rating to noise? And at the same time, it evokes earlier artists as influences, but never betters them. I like Naked City more than I like Nurse With Wound, but even if Absinthe reminds me of them, it’s not replacing my copy of Soliloquy any time soon. As a goodbye statement, maybe it just reflects Zorn, who was bored or exhausted with the concept of Naked City and wanted to move on, so they intentionally made a record ended with noise and fuzz, like a radio station going out of range. All things considered, it’s not bad, but it’s not something I find myself listening to really at all. 2/5


From the Shelf: Various Artists – Louisiana Swamp Blues

From the Shelf: Various Artists – Louisiana Swamp Blues (Capitol, 1996)


In the mid-90s, Capitol released a series of archival blues records. Most of them featured the heavy-hitters of the 60s blues revival (Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, etc) but a few took deep looks into specific scenes. There’s one about Kansas City artists, another about Texas guitar players. But probably the weirdest and coolest one is the look at Louisiana artists: Louisiana Swamp Blues.


Right from the cover you know you’re in for a treat: there’s no artist or even a generic picture of people playing. It’s an accordion, surrounded by a kind of bright aura, and an alligator with a big grin. It’s fitting: accordions dominate the music, which is swampy, damp and raucous. Oh man, is this stuff wild.


There are five artists focused on for this record: Guitar Slim, Clarence “Bon Ton” Garlow, Boo Breeding, Clifton Chenier and Boo Zoo Chavis. The only name that’s especially familiar is probably Guitar Slim, who played hard, lived harder and died at 32. He’s best remembered now for experimenting with distorting his electric guitar and being an influence on guitarists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. But that came a little later: the stuff here is from early in his career and is relatively straight-ahead and bluesy. I like it, but the focus here is more on him as a performer (singing and playing), not just his guitar skills. Still, there are some cool stories in the liner notes, like how he’d use a huge guitar cord and play while walking around the club, even walking into the bathroom while playing.

The other name that’s maybe familiar is Clifton Chenier, whose long career playing zydeco lasted into the late 1980s. He’s represented here with several early singles, including “Louisiana Stomp” and “Country Bred,” both of which sound like they were recorded at a house party and certainly fueled some of them: Robert Pete’s drums crash, Morrie Chenier’s guitar chugs away in the background and Chenier’s accordion and hoarse shouting goes all over the place: it moans, groans and sounds downright gritty at times. On songs like “Rockin’ Hop,” he trades leads with the guitar; it’s an amazing mix of R&B, blues and Cajun and to my mind it’s way less sterile than later zydeco stuff you see now on Rounder. It’s brimming with energy in the same way early, lo-fi singles by Gary US Bonds still sound.

The other artists here aren’t as well known, I think (I’m hardly a zydeco expert, in case you haven’t noticed). Garlow, for example, was a guy who played a little guitar and used to get drunk and sit in with bands: in the liner notes, he explains getting his break after “the booze told me I could play as good as the guy up there, so I asked to sit in.” It’s worked pretty well.

The booze may not have worked as well for Boo Zoo Chavis. Both sides of a 1955 single of his close out the record. It’s, um, pretty wild. The band is kind of a mess, stumbling all over time changes and generally sounding like they’re not playing in the same room, and according to the liners, the sessions were also: during recording, the producer heard a crash; when he went in to check after the take finished, Chavis had fallen off a chair but kept playing while lying on the floor. Both sides of his single are the kind of thing I can’t imagine anyone releasing today, but they’re also charming in their own, raucous and dissonant way: it’s party music, played by some guys who were probably partying before they started recording. I kinda like it.


Lastly, there’s Boo Breeding, who is kind of a mystery in the liner notes: it’s alleged to be an alias of Chavis’, but they also discount the rumour; Allmusic, Wikipedia and other sites have no information on the guy. So his music has to speak for him: it’s 50s blues, alternately slow and brooding or quick and energetic. There’s some nice piano playing and singing, but it won’t convince the unconverted.


As a set, this record does a pretty decent job. I can’t say I’m an expert on this scene, so I don’t know if it does a good job distilling the highlights into a package or it’s it just a collection of loosely related sides who were all owned by Capitol records. In a way, it doesn’t matter: the music here is pretty good, even at it’s weakest, and at it’s best, it’s a compelling mix of energy, playing and fun. I’d definitely recommend it, particularly the sides by Chenier. The CD is out of print and can get a little expensive. 4.5/5



From the Shelf: Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 – 3


Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 1 – 3 (1991, Columbia/Legacy)

There’s a stock line about Bob Dylan’s bootleg series, his collection of leftovers, outtakes, alternate takes and other detritus. It’s that even his unused tracks, the stuff he didn’t think was good enough to be on his albums, is so good it’d be the best track on almost any other artist’s albums.


I really hate it when a cliché has this much truth.


For years, Dylan was one of the most-bootlegged artists out there. Indeed, he was the first rock artist to be bootlegged – for a longer history of this, check out my review of Clinton Heylin’s Great White Wonders – when a few of his scraps were compiled into Great White Wonder, the first bootleg LP.


And unlike most other artists, Dylan was hit hard with bootlegging because there was so much he wasn’t releasing. After a much-publicized motorcycle crash in 1966, Dylan took a break. He had just come off a world tour where he was constantly being hounded by the media, swarmed by fans and heckled, badgered and generally annoyed by everyone.


He needed a rest. So he encamped to Big Pink, a house up in upstate New York, where he recorded with his backing group (soon to be known as The Band) and spent time playing a little bit of everything and recording it all to tape. These recordings weren’t meant for the general public, though: they were industry recordings, demos for other artists to listen to and cover. This is what The Byrds did with You Ain’t Going Nowhere and The Band did with This Wheel’s on Fire. And when Dylan did finally release a new album in 1968, his new country sound was not only a departure from what he’d been building towards before, but also didn’t contain those tracks. It didn’t take a scholar to realize something was amiss.


Which is where those enterprising bootleg people came in: oftentimes they had connections to insiders and were privy to these demo recordings. Other times, they were completists who tracked down rare singles, mis-pressings and alternate versions. And sometimes they were devoted fans who tracked down other recordings, be it from rehearsals, informal jams or live shows where they could sneak tape machines past security guards.


And with Dylan, there was a lot out there for the devoted: besides The Basement Tapes, there were other recordings: him playing in a Minnesota hotel in 1961, live gigs from The Gaslight Café in New York and the never-issued Carnegie Hall live album. Even before tape trading was a thing, there was a lot of Dylan stuff floating around.


So it makes sense that he was so heavily bootlegged. And over the years, as he issued some material while leaving other stuff untouched, this only grew. Occasionally the demand for something was so great, he’d release a track or two from his archives, but even then it wasn’t the same thing people were usually looking for. He re-recorded some basement tape songs for the second greatest hits collection and Columbia released The Basement Tapes as a double LP in the mid 70s, albeit with overdubs and additional material by The Band. Later, he’d release a couple more rare songs on the compilation Biograph: the 45-only track Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, the Basement Tapes recording of Quinn the Eskimo.


But it wasn’t until 1991 that Dylan really raided the vaults. That year he released the first album in his Bootleg Series (the first three actually: each CD in the set is considered it’s own volume). Clocking in at 58 songs and nearly four hours, this CD set is a clearinghouse of his outtakes. And like the stock line, there’s some really good material here.


Most of this set is dedicated to his early years: 34 of these songs come from the pre-motorcycle accident period, with the majority of these coming from before he went electric. They show him evolving as an artist, going from someone who played protest songs and classic folk music to someone interpreting the blues and finding inspiration in his own life. On “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” Dylan is at his funniest and on “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” he recites one of his poems. Even before it gets to his electric material, this is an exhaustive look at his first creative burst.


Things kick up on second disc with an acoustic take of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which is strange listening: the album version is iconic, the song that kicked off his electric period, and hearing it so stripped down is like seeing the frame behind a movie set. It’s easier to make out his lyrics, but it lacks the oomph of the electric version. You can hear him stumble on a chord change and his rapid delivery almost seems stumbling. It’s an interesting look at the construction of one of his most famous tunes.


And as it roars into outtakes from Highway 61 Revisited, there’s another behind-the-scenes look: the original piano-driven demo for “Like A Rolling Stone.” A few years ago, Rolling Stone called the Highway 61 version the best rock song of all time. And this version is night as day from the official version: as a demo it lacks the iconic organ riff, but it’s in 3/4-waltz time, a rearrangement that fundamentally shifts the song into something more cramped. Again, a fascinating look at how his songs grew and evolved during recording.


After a brief sojourn into the basement tapes and some album outtakes, the series focuses on the so-called New York sessions from Blood on the Tracks. The story goes like this: Dylan recorded the album in a stripped down fashion in New York and on the eve of the album’s release, changed his mind about the material, finding it too personal. A few songs were re-recorded in Minnesota and swapped into the delayed album. Normally, this would be something of interest to only the hardcore, but it happens that Blood on the Tracks is one of Dylan’s best albums.

The first track from these sessions is also the best on this set: an earlier version of “Tangled Up In Blue.” This version, barer than the official take, is longer, includes a few extra lines and indeed sounds more personal. Dylan once remarked that it took him “10 years to live and two to write,” this song and it’s not hard to what he meant here, singing about a broken relationship from an ever-changing perspective. The other tracks from the New York sessions included here – “Idiot Wind” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” ­– are also top notch, showing him at his best.


The third disc covers a lot of ground over a few tracks. It goes from Blood on the Tracks to 1989’s Oh Mercy a period of trouble for Dylan: he became a born-again Christian for a spell in the early 1980s, recording three Gospel-influenced albums. But 1983’s Infidels was a return to form for Dylan. As the liners to this set say, he hadn’t been this prolific with material for years and much of it was of high quality: the album included classics like “Jokerman” and “Sweetheart Like You,” but the sessions were rich with material. There’s five outtakes included on this set, including the bluesy Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart.


But the best one, and a track good enough to have been the best cut on Infidels is “Blind Willie McTell,” a haunting blues number which has some of Dylan’s best singing ever, even as he says nobody could sing the blues like Blind Willie could. It’s a shame this track only came out on this set: it’s easily one of his best songs.


That’s the irony of a set like this: these tracks are all essentially scrap material and most of it was never really considered for official release at the time. While some of these tracks are gems, some of the best stuff Dylan ever recorded (and he’s recorded a lot over the years) even these castoffs are still good listening: the demos and rough takes show his creative process, the outtakes how strong a songwriter he is and live material how good he is on-stage.


If you want an introduction to Dylan, there’s a few really good compilations out there (and the original albums don’t hurt either). But if you want an introduction to what makes people go out to swap meets, record fairs and listen to dubbed cassettes, The Bootleg Series: Volumes 1-3 is a great introduction.

Originally published July 7, 2012


From the Shelf: Broken Social Scene – Feel Good Lost

Broken Social Scene – Feel Good Lost (2001, Noise Factory / Arts & Crafts)

Back in the day, before there was an indie rock boom in Toronto – indeed, before there even was a thing called indie rock, really – there was Broken Social Scene. They’ve taken some flak over the years for everything they’ve become, spawned and influenced, but you gotta give it to Kevin Drew and Brandon Canning: the guys have stuck around and chased the muse for the better part of two decades now.


Anyway, back in the early part of the 2000s, there wasn’t really a Toronto scene for indie rock. I think. I was a lot younger then and truthfully didn’t start paying attention until a couple years later. But when Broken Social Scene released their first record, now-iconic Canadian acts like Stars, Fiest and Metric were still playing clubs and had yet to release full-length records.


It’s a world that, to be candid, I don’t remember this record coming out into or changing. At this point, Broken Social Scene was still a little ways away from becoming a generation-defining band, still kind of coming together and figuring out their approach. There wasn’t an Indie 88 or CBC Radio 3 back then to play this kind of music and I don’t remember any blogs or magazines championing this record; I didn’t hear of them until a couple of years later, when Much’s alt-rock show The Wedge started playing “Cause = Time” late at night.

At the same time, it makes this record interesting and compelling in ways later Broken Social Scene records aren’t. Here, mostly everything is instrumental. The music’s generally kind of slow-moving, meandering and exploratory. The duo of Drew and Canning occasionally work up some interesting riffs and passages, but it never sticks around long: the music is shifting, constantly moving around. This isn’t as formal as their next record – or any of their other records, really – would ever sound. Which is actually really cool, in retrospect: you can almost hear the band coming into it’s own, figuring out grooves and passages they’d build a reputation and scene on. But it isn’t quite there yet.


My favourite track here is “Love and Mathematics,” where the two play around a circular groove, anchored by some primo live drums. Guitars weave in and out, a bass guitar pushes the music forward and things swirl into a kaleidoscope of colour and sound, fuzz and distortion. I remember listening to this on repeat one time, using it to calm down from a panic attack.

There are other moments that have stuck with me since I first got this record well over a decade ago: the breathy vocal and slow drones of “Passport Radio”, the tricky guitar lines of “Alive in 85”, and the creaky, ancient-sounding guitar wobble of “Feel Good Lost,” which comes in sounding like an old 78 RPM record from another lifetime.


From here, it was a hop, skip and a jump to the explosive and still-exciting You Forgot It In People, a record that still gives me feelings and one I’ve made sure is always close at hand. There, the experimenting and jamming of Feel Good Lost has paid off: the songs are built around solid frames, additional players add tonal colours to the music and the lyrics added a sense of purpose to the band’s music. But you can still hear echoes of Feel Good Lost be it on instrumentals like “Pacific Theme” or “Shampoo Suicide,” the fractured alt-rock of “Cause = Time” or the hazy rock of ‘Stars and Sons.”


In one sense, Broken Social Scene never made another record quite Feel Good Lost, but in another, everything else can be traced back to it’s mix of fuzzy guitars, hazy post-rock and genuine sense of experimention. It’s not my favourite of theirs, but it’s one I pull out every now and then and I’m always glad I do.


Rating: 4/5




From the Shelf: Elvis Presley – Young Man With the Big Beat: Complete ’56 Masters

A while back, after reading Mystery Train for the first time, I went on a bit of an Elvis kick: I ended up with the Complete 50s Masters box, which is great and something I’ll get to another day, and have two discs of this box set on my hard drive.


As the title suggests, this box is everything Elvis recorded in 1956 and then some. There are two discs of studio stuff, basically a whole bunch of singles and stuff from his first record, then a live disc, a disc of raw outtakes and a disc of interviews for good measure. The first two CDs are nice, as far as I remember, but redundant since that’s all on the Complete 50s Masters (assuming you own that set, too, which I would recommend if you only want one Elvis box). The interviews are nice, I guess, although I truthfully don’t listen to them pretty much ever.


That said, the stuff on the other two discs is cool, fun listening. The live disc spreads across three different performances and shows him as an early peak: he’s not just creating rock as him and his band plays a raucous kind of country blues, but he’s having fun, teasing his audience with yelps and moans, and cracking jokes between songs: “we’ve been doing this song for about 25, 30 years,” he says before they launch into “Blue Suede Shoes.” I can almost see him smiling as they goof around during songs and when they crack inside jokes between them. It’s a side of him it’s easy to forget: before the excess, the movies and the pills, he was an electrical jolt on stage.

The sound on the live stuff is okay, I suppose. The Vegas stuff sounds pretty good and the material recorded at the Robinson Memorial has a rough, distorted edge to it, but it’s more than listenable – I think the guitar tone peaking and distorting as the band crashes and thrashes on stage, kind of adds a nice ambience to things. The stuff from the Hirsch Youth Center is more distant, muddy and drenched in crowd noise, but it’s comparable to a C, C+ audience tape. Which is a way of saying I’ve listened to worse sounding Grateful Dead tapes.


The disc of outtakes and studio sessions is also interesting. God knows how these things survived so long; so many other tapes of alternate takes and so forth were wiped and reused, even over a decade later. The most interesting part comes right in the middle, a session showing the evolution of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” The performance doesn’t really change all that much between takes, although Scotty Moore’s guitar solo goes through a series of changes; he kills a take when he stumbles on take 8, for example.

Personally, I always find stuff like this interesting – the disc from the last Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, showing all the alternates of “Like A Rolling Stone” was also great – because it’s kind of like being there in the studio, or at least seeing the daily rushes at a movie shoot.


All in all, an interesting set. This was a big year in Elvis’ history (he signed to RCA, released his first record, appeared on TV and, you know, helped shape modern popular culture) and the set does an admirable job showing in detail: you hear Elvis as people heard him then: a voice coming out of a 45-RPM single, a man cutting a compelling figure on stage and, finally, as a consummate pro, slogging his way through the same song over a dozen times, each time bringing it.


Rating: 4.5/5