Film Review: B.B. King “The Life Of Riley”

May 21, 2014

By Devon Wendell

There have been countless films made about the blues and about B.B. King. A large percentage of these films merely focus on how King (Born Riley B. King on September 16th, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola Mississippi) inspired a plethora of overdriven, unoriginal rock guitarists from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Very few have focused on the validity of the man’s music in its own right and the bleak conditions that helped to create the blues.

B.B. King and Lucille

B.B. King and Lucille

Director John Brewer has successfully captured the heart and soul of B.B. King the man and the musician in his new documentary The Life Of Riley (released in select theaters throughout the US on May 21st, VOD on June 1st, and on DVD and blue ray on June 17th.) The film is warmly narrated by fellow Mississippi native and blues lover Morgan Freeman.

Although we hear from dozens of King’s famous admirers and colleagues such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, John Lennon, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Rodgers, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bill Cosby, John Mayall, and Robert “Jr.” Lockwood, it’s the true and often harrowing tales of surviving life as a young black share cropper in the deep South that resonate as strongly as the sound of King digging deep into the strings of his guitar Lucille.

Brewer lets King, as well as his siblings, cousins, and distant relatives, tell a story of a life of a young man surrounded by constant labor and the reality of the most inhumane violence, hatred, cruel conditions, terror, and hell behind the forces of that labor.

There is a look of pain on King’s face as he recalls having started picking cotton from “can to can’t” (“from when you can see to when you can’t”) at the early age of seven and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan brutally castrating and torturing a young black boy to death after being accused of talking to a white woman, An image that has haunted the king of the blues his entire life.

As King recently makes his way to his original home, a tape is played of King’s late father Albert, giving directions and reminiscing about the small rural plantation in Mississippi. This is one of the most touching moments in the film. The love and sorrow is in every expression on King’s face as he looks outside of his tour bus at the familiar sites as he hears his dad guiding him back home.

King visits his late mother’s grave site. She passed away of diabetes while King was barely a teen. After that, King was forced to move from one relative’s home to another.

King talks about feeling “abandoned” after his mother’s death. It was around this time that he discovered the guitar and it’s been the driving force of his life ever since.

As each tale unfolds, we hear the music of field hollers, and Mississippi “country” blues icons Charlie Patton, Bukka White (King’s cousin) and Blind Lemon Jefferson, not to mention fantastic footage of King performing throughout his illustrious career.

Brewer takes us on the long journey from Mississippi to Memphis, where King cut his very first sides at the legendary Sun Records studio for the Bullet and Modern labels.

There’s still nothing like that very first recording of “Three O’ Clock Blues” recorded in the early ‘50s for The Bihari Brothers. At this time, King became a disc jockey for Memphis’ radio station WDIA with Rufus Thomas.

From Memphis we’re taken on the “chitlin circuit” in the ‘60s where segregation is ever present. King recalls almost being killed in Memphis the night Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered when every room in the hotel King and his band were staying in was burned down.

In the midst of broken marriages, hit records, and long tours, King never stopped working on his music. Friends and band members praise the work ethic of this great man and how he loses himself in every single note of a performance. B.B. King becomes one with the music that comes from pain but is made out of love.

What makes The Life Of Riley better than most documentaries about the blues is that it serves as a poignant and powerful reminder of the true pain and dreadful conditions that gave birth to the real blues B.B. King plays that has almost been forgotten by younger generations of blues/rock musicians.   Today, hard times for a “blues” musician are when the balance on his/her Starbucks card gets too low for a refill.

Thank God these conditions have changed but it is clear that there are no more musicians alive today who play the honest, unfettered blues the way B.B. King still plays them.

All of the music industry stuff and talk by self- indulgent English blues plagiarists are mere fluff compared to the simple honesty of the story about love and survival portrayed in this film.

Music lovers do not miss this film.

This is the real deal.

 


DVD Review: “Sensation: The Story of The Who’s Tommy”

March 13, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

As a coming-of-age 14 year old, I finally procured a small stereo system (with separate speakers!) in the Spring. This was a major development for me. I was ready to receive all the records I could handle! What could be better? One of the very first purchases I made was of a friend’s copy of Tommy. Though the album had been out a couple of years, and I knew of it through songs like “Pinball Wizard,” I also knew that there were two platters’ worth of music to discover just waiting for me. And it was the Who, so of course it was going to rock and be a blast to get into! That summer, it was all I really wanted to listen to, my go to album. I took a trip to South America and several points in between, and I heard pieces of Tommy in my head constantly. To this day when I hear music from the original album I’m simply transported, mesmerized.

The package of Tommy was so enveloping and artful, set in a different time but drawing me in elegantly. The music really did take me on an amazing journey with every listening. The artwork was cool, conceptual, and devoid of the usual posed band promos and sweaty live action shots. Though the Who were already legendary for their fantastic performances, this album didn’t even touch on that! What a chance to take! There were only a couple of small, shadowy, almost minor images of the actual guys in the band reaching to break through the black facets of a broken sky. Powerful stuff, this was. The rest was this impressionistic art that evoked profound sensual isolation and the urgency of breaking out of it with haunting beauty. Something different was definitely going on here and the music would explain it with further and deeper listening.

Now, nearly 45 years since the album’s release, Eagle Rock Entertainment has just released Sensation-The Story of Tommy, an entertaining examination of what went into the development of the Who’s defining studio album and how it kicked open the doors for so many bands to follow them in pursuing their music on their own terms. The entire process of conceiving, recording, presenting, and playing Tommy is covered in detail, as are the film and theatrical versions of it.

Going into 1968, the Who were a successful but challenged pop band. In those days bands were really only riding as high as the last single’s success left them. Albums were not yet looked upon as entire entities. The Who did have a parade of hit singles to their credit. And these songs were often interesting, somewhat oddball little ditties about everything from cross dressing, to masturbation, and hoping to “die before I get old.”

Their image was not of a trip clean, well-scrubbed, safe bunch of English pop stars. They were an odd looking bunch of dudes, who looked like they could and would kick your ass if that’s the way it had to be. And this toughness powered their development into a legendary live act in which it never actually seemed much of a stretch to watch them destroy their instruments onstage nightly. There is footage included of those days, filmed at very intimate camera angles, which catches the insane trance-like state Townsend could reach. We see it in his eyes, driven by the power in the music and the spectacle of it all. Just brilliant. Now, PT glibly recalls that the band were “rather profligate” in those days. Yes, a lot of classic equipment was sacrificed regularly. But the band would soon take a new turn.

In 1968, they had released “I can See For Miles,” a record that many consider one of the best singles ever by them or anyone else. It failed to get above #10. This left them frustrated and dumbfounded. What happened?

At the time the great wild card in young artists’ creativity was often LSD. While many used acid as a way to get an angle to an insight on life, its downside was that it could lead one straight out of their mind. As it happened, that year Pete Townshend had a life changing acid trip on a flight back to England from the US. He nearly did lose his mind. After an out of body acid experience he realized he was not necessarily connected to his body. He became strongly anti-psychedelic drugs and a man on a mission to find depth and meaning in his own life and that of his band. This led him, through his close friend/confidente and Tommy’s cover artist, Michael McInnery, to Meher Baba and onto a deep self-exploratory path.

As he learned more about himself, his creativity flourished. Townshend looked back at his life and wrote songs about all the sordid, dysfunctional facets of it. Brilliant, inspired, sophisticated music and incisive words flowed out of him. As the saying goes, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Of course, it is a treacherous path to take.  But Townsend was strong and determined, as well as hugely sensitive and creative. The fact that he actually pulled Tommy out of the process without losing his mind still looms as remarkable so many years later. Tommy put the Who into a different stratum of bands, into the realm of making real pop art.

The Who

The Who

Indirectly or directly, Tommy also changed Roger Daltrey’s life for the larger. He basically became the Tommy character in a totally non-contrived manner. He simply sang the parts with empathy for the Tommy character. There is a very telling clip where we hear an isolated vocal track of Daltrey singing “See Me, Feel Me.” It’s classic, angelic, and I’ve always thought it was right next door to perfect. Townsend explains that he was originally set to sing the track himself, but when he heard Daltrey’s take it was decided right there. It was a perfect fit and it changed RD’s life and career, putting it onto the next level. He also reveals that it was around this time that he stopped straightening his hair, letting it grow in naturally curly golden locks. And thus was a rock God born.

As beautiful a musical experience as Tommy is, the songs are about some of the sickest, most scrutinized, and now politically incorrect human dysfunctions around. The real story behind Tommy is the same dysfunction that Townsend experienced as a boy. Ugly truths of English youth are held up like dissected frogs. Nothing was off limits and everyone in and surrounding the band believed in getting it all out and recorded. They were on a fantastic creative roll. We get songs of bullying, murder, wickedness, cruelty, sexual abuse, and trauma. The plot is chock full of sick and twisted characters.

Townsend reveals the nasty truth that many English boys he knew endured a great deal of abuse during the evacuations of London during WW2. This was a much more common thing than most were willing to speak about until recently. Townsend was not even able to write about the wicked Uncle Ernie in “Fiddle About,” and gave it to John Entwistle who assured Pete it wouldn’t be a problem for him to write the song. This is why we hear Pete wonder confidently if Entwistle, too, hadn’t endured some of this abuse. And there are tales of the “weird shit” Townsend went through with his grandmother and mother. While it approaches too much at times, it’s also fascinating and revealing to hear PT talk about these issues so candidly. And, for any fan, it sets things straight.

Pinball is the ongoing visual theme of Sensation. We see old school pinball machines throughout in black and white…beautiful old bumper machines with stylized detailing. Not so surprisingly, Townsend had Tommy Walker set to be some sort of rock ‘n roller, but in this documentary the road to Tommy’s prowess at pinball is revealed. Many thanks go to Rick Cohn for that and it makes a very interesting story. Ah, what is the price of a top-notch review…a revision or two? Somebody who’s deaf, dumb, and blind could actually do something miraculous.

One of the things I always enjoyed about Tommy is how clear the vocals were and how trippy the music was. One was not sacrificed for the other. Sure enough, it’s revealed that the plan was indeed to mix the vocals prominently out in front of the mix so that the words wouldn’t be lost. But oh, how, those harmonically weezing guitars continue to haunt.

Tommy was recorded in 1969 on an eight-track machine. This was at a time in which eight tracks was a quantum leap up from four. Amazingly, it’s revealed that the band didn’t really have much use for all the tracks, and they ignored a few. Their focus was to be able to play Tommy live and so they meant to keep things simple and reproducible on stage. It’s agreed upon that the Who’s live shows in 1969 after the release of Tommy are/were on a level that no one in rock music has ever surpassed.

Sensation gives us a trove of information about the persona of the band going into their Tommy stage as well as the perspectives of many of the key players in the project. Many viewers will be keen to hear all of it as Tommy was a watershed album for the rock genre as much as it was for the Who. The story behind Tommy is involved and Sensation goes the distance to explain the whole thing. For anyone even remotely interested in the story this disc makes for very welcome viewing.  In fact it’s a must see.

* * * * * * * *

To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Film Review: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix- “Hear My Train A Comin’”

October 4, 2013

By Devon Wendell

The Experience Hendrix estate and the good people of PBS present a brand new Jimi Hendrix documentary, Hear My Train A Comin’ as a part of their American Masters series. There was an advanced screening of the film at The Sony Entertainment Room in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 2nd. It will air nationwide on PBS on November 5, when the DVD will be released.

Directed by Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology and Festival Express), Hear My Train A Comin’ takes us on a chronological journey through Hendrix’s entire life. The film starts with Jimi’s troubled childhood in Seattle, then his days as a U.S. paratrooper, to his stint on the chitlin’ circuit, (backing up some of R&B’s greatest legends of the 60s such as Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett to name a few) and of course his taking London by storm during the height of the swinging `60s and becoming the most influential guitar player of all time.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

The film features loving accounts of Jimi’s musical genius and his gentle personality by legends who knew or played with him such as; Steve Winwood, Ernie Isley, Billy Cox, Noel Redding, Chas Chandler, Mitch Mitchell, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles, and Sir Paul MCcartney. We also hear from Jimi’s father, the late Al Hendrix, his half-sister Janie, and his cousin Bob Hendrix, plus an array of journalists and a few of Jimi’s many girlfriends.

Although it’s great to hear tons of loving accolades and admiration for Jimi by so many different people, the message gets redundant quickly and the film could have used more music footage and less talk. It’s made clear over and over again how dedicated Jimi was to his music as he recorded, gigged, jammed, and practiced around the clock. But we don’t really learn anything more than that and most of us already know this about Jimi.

The film also only presents us with baby-boom era rockers and fails to examine how Jimi impacted other musical genres of the `60s and `70s such as jazz, blues, and funk.

Aside from footage that fans have already seen countless times like excerpts from The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, The Band Of Gypsies, and The Berkeley Concerts, there isn’t much of anything we haven’t seen before. The only “new” stuff are very brief portions of “Foxy Lady” and “Tax Free” from the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, and a quick shot of “Spanish Castle Magic” from The Isle Of Fehmarn, Jimi’s last official concert before his death in September of 1970.

Sir Paul MCcartney’s accounts of how Jimi Blew the English rock scene away (including himself and the other three Beatle members) upon his arrival in London in 1966 is the most interesting and heart felt celebrity appearance in the entire film. But no matter what is said about Jimi by his band members, friends, and girlfriends, we don’t get a true insight to who Jimi really was. There’s a huge void. Even with the presentation of Jimi’s personal letters home to his dad from the Army and later from England after the formation of The Experience, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding Jimi’s life.

There is also a blatant glossing over of Jimi’s self destructive behavior in a possible attempt to white wash his image.

overHear My Train A Comin’ does have some fine moments like film footage shot by Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell of moments on the road on planes and long car rides between gigs from The Experience’s first tour of America of 1968. There is also footage of Jimi jamming backstage at Madison Square Garden with The Rolling Stones in `69 with audio but just as the music gets cooking, it’s cut off by more talk, usually right as Jimi begins to solo. There isn’t that balance between interview segments and music that the Warner Brothers 1973 film Jimi Hendrix, (directed by Joe Boyd, John Head, and Gary Weis) successfully achieved.

Bob Smeaton could have cut this film down by 30 minutes. Two hours is very long for a documentary that often loses focus and feels repetitive.

With that being said, Hear My Train A Comin’ is a suitable introduction for young people who don’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix. However, for those of us who do, this is yet another Jimi Hendrix documentary with too much of the same stock footage, opinions, and speculation which makes me think we’re only supposed to know so much about such a genius.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


DVD Review: “Ike & Tina On The Road 1971-72″

November 30, 2012

Ike & Tina Turner

Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual)

 By Brian Arsenault

The story of what was bad with Ike and Tina Turner has been much told and neither this DVD nor I have anything to add to it here. What this DVD is about is what was good, even astonishing, about Ike and Tina that took place on stage.

Like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner could graft his rhythm and blues roots onto the tree of rock.  He would arrange and onstage virtually conduct his hot band while Tina and the Ikettes created a singing, dancing storm of performance that was part ‘60s girl group, part girly show, part James Brown level energy. The show would ultimately create the superstar Tina became.

Tina started life as Anna Mae Bullock. Ike added her to his Kings of Rhythm and called her Tina to rhyme with Sheena (of the Jungle) with the idea that if she ever left the band he could replace her with another “Tina.”

Cue irony.

Ike & Tina Turner

You need to know here that much of this film is crappy quality black and white, shot by now famous rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife, Nadya.  It was a different era of video technology, but the result is no less precious for that. Just harder to watch in an era when the phone in your pocket shoots serviceable video.

You can’t follow many of the conversations and the audio quality of most performances is poor.  What’s remarkable is that even with the video and audio quality problems, the show sequences are often mesmerizing.

On “I Smell Trouble” Tina and Ike play off each other with her great raspy vocal and his electric guitar work that is truly electric.  You almost believe they are truly in love (more irony) and lust (more believable). Over the course of the video, and I believe edited correctly for this effect, Tina emerges from a persona as featured Ikette to full blown star.

As Tina sings the early part of their cover of “Proud Mary,” you just can’t look away. She’s building the tension that explodes into the raging finish. (Now you really can’t look away.)

The sensuality and sexuality of the performances here are way beyond the contrived “shocks” of Madonna and even her younger “little monster” Gaga cousin. I try to pick words carefully: unbridled, primitive, passionate, even savage, but one has to be culturally and racially sensitive. Still, let’s face it, the question becomes are you horny yet.  I think they were proud of that.

This video also shows how ordinary life is, even for those we see on stage.  Tina cooks for her kids in the opening sequence.  The band goofs on airplanes and in airports.  The dressing rooms are often dreary locker rooms or cramped windowless affairs where wigs are combed out and songs and dance moves are rehearsed.

You realize why a crown prince of rock like Ronnie Wood can say that all the rest is just filler between the couple hours on stage.  You understand why drink and drugs often become part of the filler.  In Ike’s case, it was cocaine that ultimately blew a hole in his septum and his career.

Ike saw what Tina was and pushed her increasingly to the front.  Was that perhaps a source of the ultimate tension between them?  It may have been officially the Ike and Tina Turner Review but more and more it was Tina Turner with her back up singers and band.

Tina soared beyond those days to the pantheon of rock goddess status that continues into her seventies. One of the great moments of the video is when she says to an interviewer that when she gets into her 50s, she still won’t be an old woman.  Is she yet? Nah.

Ike and Tina were one of those rare black acts that appeared both before adoring black audiences — listen to the crowd on the Otis Redding written “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (more irony?) — and white university students. The University of North Dakota.  Really.  (There’s some great footage of the band interacting with a North Dakota hotel staff.)

And there’s a lot of appreciation here of Ike as a composer/arranger/musician.  He was truly an innovator in rock music’s age of innovation. Not every great artist was a great human being in all respects. Nor is every great football player, corporate head or high government official.  But accomplishment at a high level is a rarer thing than nice guys.

To read more reviews, posts and columns by Brian Arsenault click  HERE.


DVD Review: “Patti Smith Live at Montreaux 2005″

November 28, 2012

Patti Smith

Live at Montreaux 2005 (Eagle Rock)

By Brian Arsenault

“She is a benediction.”

I was gonna do a combo review, you know, with one or two other DVDs. But Patti Smith deserves rather more than that, don’t you think? I mean, the first half dozen plus songs from this live concert DVD, ‘cept for maybe one, are just pure rock classics. More intelligent than many but connected to all.

One of Patti’s guitarists floats some liner note shit that she and the band “are jazz” but I think that’s just cuz they were impressed with themselves for playing Montreaux, where Miles and Ornette and all the others graced the stage.

Pati Smith

But “25th Floor” is a hard rocker where Patti takes her jacket off and just blasts it.

“Beneath the Southern Cross” has Townshend-like lyrics of “callow mist” and “to cry not any cry.” Patti picks up her acoustic guitar and strums frantically with Lenny Kaye while Tom Verlaine picks out the lead in a guitar storm while she twirls onstage.  This is performance rock for sure with an extended guitar break worthy of Pete.

On “Dancing Barefoot” you may lose your sense of place while Patti loses her “sense of refugee.” On “Redondo Beach” she shows she can spit as well as she can sing. That’s certainly rock, eh?

One (or two) of the satisfying things about this DVD is that it is simply shot on a simply lit stage. No distracting lighting or pyrotechnics or weird camera angles — must be that classy jazz influence, you say — and that’s terrific because to watch Patti work is one of those looks into true artistry. Like on her one universally known song, “Because the Night,” where her hands are as expressive as her voice.

She snarls out the opening lines of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” before sharing the vocals with a band mate.  She might send a chill up your spine on this one.

Of course we also have to endure “activist” Patti.

A wonderful start to a Grateful Dead like rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” gets muddied while fading into “Momenti Mori.”  There’s something cloying about rich musicians, actors, etc. attacking the rich who got there by actually doing something like building a business.  Remember that video of the Dead climbing into their Corvettes and Porsches after the tour where barefoot kids sold tie-dyed t-shirts to get enough to share a bowl of rice, blow a joint and see the show.

And a peace ballad, really Patti?  Is this 1967? Hasn’t our generation finally learned that war and conflict are the natural condition of human kind. How’s that Arab Spring going?  In Egypt, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Plus, you know what they say about the Irish, they only want two things: peace and revenge.

As for the claim that “People Have the Power,” would that be the people who want to impose sharia law or the guys serving in the army or the shop owners or the Occupiers or the NRA? Which people? Please tell me, Patti. Or is it just “all that jazz”?

But still, Patti, when you’re being something better than an activist — that is, an artist — well then,

“Oh God, I fell for you.  Oh God, I feel the fever.”

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


DVD Review: The Rolling Stones “Charlie is my Darling – Ireland 1965”

October 19, 2012

By Mike Finkelstein

As the Rolling Stones cruise into their 50th Anniversary annum, one can’t help but marvel at their longevity.   Rock ‘n roll has always been a business that chewed its members up just to spit them out.  From the very beginning, people have routinely died young in this line of work.   The Rolling Stones personified and glorified the rock star lifestyle on their path to becoming The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.  Who knew they’d last this long?   Now, just in time for their golden anniversary, ABKCO has presented us with a masterfully reedited/remixed version of the vaunted behind the scenes film about the very young Stones, Charlie Is My Darling.   A better document of what it was like to be a pop star in the more nascent times of pop-stardom one may never find.

In 1965, spurred by Beatle-mania, the pop scene in England was swelling by the week and the Rolling Stones were rising stars in their own right (“Satisfaction” was #1 in the UK).  At the time, short jaunts through the Continent to places like Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and even Ireland were part of the circuit for British bands.   Charlie is My Darling is a beautifully conceived attempt by Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham to relay what it looks, feels, and sounds like to be a touring pop star circa 1965.   It is a light glimpse, from the inside out, at the lads’ daily affairs during a short tour of Ireland for two gigs.   Filmed intimately with hand held cameras in timeless black and white, C.I.M.D. puts the audience right there in the room, on the stage, and running across the train tracks with the group.

The Rolling Stones

Charlie Is My Darling was originally directed by Peter Whitehead and has been released in several different forms over the years, having gained a legendary reputation as the real life/no fluff depiction of what “A Hard Day’s Night” was actually about.  Throughout this new ABKCO version of the film (directed by Mick Gochanour) we can feel the pace the group is on and it certainly does ebb and flow.    The filming and editing dovetail beautifully as the cameras pan the interiors of shaking train cars, grainy hotel rooms, cramped taxicabs, airport terminals, crushed concert audiences, and plain lunchrooms to juxtapose the group with the people whose lives they are passing through.  With nearly fifty years of rock and roll between then and now, one can’t help but notice what a comparatively streamlined, innocent, and stripped down world it was then. Wooden movers’ dollies were a necessary tool and concert sound and security were dicey at best.   The brick walls leading to the stage of the theatres were dark and dank.  But the music was classic, and the magical sound and feel of these gigs is what every band worth it’s salt has always tried to catch in a bottle.

Often the camera angles get us on ear and eye-level with the people in the room, to great effect.  Sometimes it is quaint.  As when Jagger exchanges kisses with some older ladies through a glass plate in the hotel luncheonette.   At other times it is frenzied.   The onstage footage of a concert-stopping near riot is classic.   We see the expressions on the faces of the Stones and of the knuckle-heads who get up onstage, dance awkwardly, nearly rip Brian Jones’ guitar away from him, and ultimately end the show early.   Microphones crash, guitars are fumbled with and we hear and see it all. The cameras even zoom in on audience members who will be interviewed later.

Though Charlie Is My Darling is a film that impresses with nonmusical details, the music is the real story.   The concert sound has been painstakingly improved by Robin Klein from the actual soundboard tapes and synched with live footage.   In the concert scenes the band cooks through original tunes like “Time is on My Side,” “Sastisfaction,” and “The Last Time.” As well as the covers that got them noticed in the first place such as “Round and Round,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” The soundtrack is extensive and features interesting outtakes of songs like “Play With Fire,” among others.

Watching them move onstage, we get the sense of seeing the Rolling Stones develop into a larger entity.  Jagger’s moves are more understated and less exaggerated than we’ve come to know.  Keith Richards bops happily along powering the band on rhythm guitar.   Charlie Watts is his usual debonair self, keeping time and dressed impeccably.   Brian Jones stands out with his blonde hair and Gibson Firebird guitar but seems to be a peripheral presence for much of the time.

The Stones are so young here that they almost look disguised in their mod togs.  And the older this film becomes, the more arresting it will be to watch the lads so early on in their career. There are interviews with the band members and we are struck by how matter of fact they all are, with little to actually say.   Brian Jones seems conspicuously self-impressed as he listens to himself tell the camera, prophetically, that the life of a Rolling Stone is an uncertain one.   Mick is a bit numb but endearing when he opens his mouth.  Keith really doesn’t speak much in the film and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are happy to be holding down the job of rising pop stars (but Bill doesn’t really think of himself as a musician yet.)

The real jewels of this C.I.M.D. production were captured in an anonymous Irish hotel room.   In this footage of the creative process we get to see Mick and Keith goofing on the Beatles (“I’ve Just Seen A Face,” and “Please {Please Me}”).  But much more importantly we get to see them fleshing out the changes to “Sitting on a Fence,” played with a capo on Keith’s guitar and sounding similar but sublimely different from the eventual recorded version.  The session continues as they work on the chorus of “Tell Me.” Curiously, and perhaps revealingly, Charlie and Brian are present as spectators for all of this.  Many Stones fans have surely wondered what the germs of songs like these two gems may have sounded like and here is the payoff.

Similarly endearing are scenes of Mick, Keith, and Andrew Oldham passing some late night hours getting drunk around a hotel piano and aping Elvis songs.   Life on the road, even for a short while, makes musicians restless from the down time and so drinks are spilled, laughs are shared, and tensions are released.

Charlie Is My Darling is a magnificent time capsule to explore for anyone with even the mildest curiosity about the early days of the Rolling Stones.  It’s also a delightful bit of time travel through 1965.   Even the soda cans draw a double take.  The trip will be well worth it.

ABKCO Films presents The Rolling Stones – Charlie is my Darling – Ireland 1965 at a special midnight screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at midnight, Wednesday, October 24th.  Tickets are available to the general public for $10 and can ordered in advance through http://bit.ly/URpHmy

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

To read a recent iRoM review of two Rolling Stones LP reissues, click HERE.


CD/DVD Review: The Blues Broads; Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, and Annie Sampson

September 26, 2012

The Blues Broads (Delta Groove)

 By Devon Wendell

In a world where the blues is dominated by male, six stringing show offs, four reigning queens of blues (Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Stehli, and Annie Sampson) have joined forces to celebrate the soulful joy and rich harmonies of not only the blues but also gospel, rock n’ roll, and R&B.

The Blues Broads

Backed by a no-frills, no-nonsense blues band (Steve Ehrmann: bass, Paul Revelli: drums, Gary Vogensen: guitar, and Mike Emerson on keyboards. with special guest Deanna Bogart on vocals and keyboards.), these four legendary ladies perform a live set of originals and covers recorded live at The Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley California, on November 4th, 2011. The CD also comes with a DVD of the show which includes a few extra highlights.

Tracy Nelson

Former Mother Earth front-woman Tracy Nelson leads the band through the Texas shuffle of “Livin’ The Blues.”  Although Nelson is a more than competent vocalist, her voice is often flat throughout this number; but the backing vocals of Strehli, Morrison, and Sampson make up for this distraction.  Nelson’s vibrato is rich, even, and totally original.

Annie Sampson

Forming member of Stoneground and longtime session giant Annie Sampson performs her original composition “Bring Me Your Love.”  Sampson’s confidence and vocal control make her one of the standout members of the “Broads” from her very first phrase. Sampson brings her unique blend of rock and gospel to this fiery number.

Angeli Strehli

Angela Strehli’s name has been synonymous with Texas blues for decades. She sings about discovering the blues of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Eddie Taylor on the radio and how it transformed her life in her autobiographical song, “Two Bit Texas Town.” The band’s groove here is similar to Koko Taylor’s arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” and Strehli’s vocals share some similarities to that of Taylor’s, especially when she growls.

Most of the set consists of covers which are easily the highlights of the album.  Nelson’s greatest vocal performance is on the Anne Peebles’ classic slow blues “Walk Away” which is stunning in its intensity, with a tasty Chicago blues lead guitar solo by Gary Vogensen. What’s more powerful even than the lead vocals are the collective gospel background harmonies created by the ladies.  It’s true of this song and most of the material such as “Blue Highway” (lead by Dorothy Morrison) and J. Leslie McFarland’s gospel anthem “It Won’t Be Long.” The latter features special guest Deanna Bogart playing some jaw-dropping syncopated boogie-woogie piano and swapping vocals with Nelson.

The finest cover is a slow Memphis, churchified ballad rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now /Baby Blue” by Annie Sampson alone with the rhythm section. Sampson’s phrasing is perfect and she creates and even darker mood than on the original. This performance is only on the DVD but is easily one of the standout moments of the show.

Dorothy Morrison

The wonderful Dorothy Morrison (the legendary lead vocalist for The Edwin Hawkins Singers) sounds younger and stronger than ever on the Spinners’ “Mighty Love.”  Though the rhythm arrangement is the same as the original recording, Morrison owns this soul classic with her tough tenor voice and sassy, boundless confidence.

It just wouldn’t be right to feature Dorothy Morrison and not have her perform the song that she made a hit all over the world with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Oh Happy Day.”

On this night, it feels as if her electrifying power is challenging the other band members and each of them rise to that challenge, belting out their best gospel chops. This joyful performance is the perfect way to end the set.

The ladies also did an acapella performance of the gospel standard “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget.” Each member gives every drawn out-phrase everything they’ve got as they all share the spotlight.

“The Blues Broads” act isn’t overproduced and doesn’t feature celebrity guests to win over a pop-oriented audience. These are four ladies who don’t need any of that. Throughout this recording, it sounds like these women have been singing together all of their lives, especially in the backing harmonies. Hopefully this is only one of many projects by the “Broads.”

To read an iRoM review of the Blues Broads’ performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE


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