Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Year In Music 2017, The Best Live, Tribute, Remake, Reissue, and Best Of - Albums of the Year, Starring Steve Winwood, Paul Simon, Mavis Staples, Steve Forbert, Lucinda Williams, Aretha Franklin, The Who, Elton John, and More




Welcome to Part 2 of my year in music, 2017. In my best of the year lists, I usually only include new original studio albums, I usually disregard live albums, tributes, remakes, reissues, and best of collections. This year there were far too many and too many good ones to disregard. If I included them in my top ten and top fifty lists it would knock out too many other fine recordings. So, this year we have Part 1 and Part 2. Let's get busy.

Best Live, etc. Album of the Year:
Steve Winwood - Winwood: Greatest Hits Live
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Christmas came early this year for fans of Steve Winwood in the form of Winwood: Greatest Hits Live. Rather than collecting tracks from the original albums that his fans probably already have, this is a set of recently recorded live renditions of Winwood's finest material, curated by the man himself. Winwood's musical legacy runs deep and over the last 50+ years he has covered a lot of ground. He played rock in the 60s with the Spencer Davis Group. He incorporated many genres during his Traffic years including the groundbreaking combination of folk and jazz on the album John Barleycorn Must Die. He has been similarly adventurous in his solo career and his band, as you will hear in this package, is the best with which he's ever played. Winwood shines on two major instruments: the electric guitar ("Had To Cry Today," Blind Faith) and the Hammond B-3 organ (his cover of Timmy Thomas' "Why Can't We Live Together").
Steve released his first-ever live album as a solo artist on September 1st, 2017. ‘Winwood: Greatest Hits Live’ is a new 2CD/4LP collection sourced from Steve’s personal archives of live performances. With a 23-song tracklist handpicked by Steve, featuring his best-loved songs, ‘Greatest Hits Live’ offers fans a definitive musical portrait of his five-decade career.

The expanded 2CD/4LP gatefold package features rare, previously unreleased material touching on all aspects of Winwood’s extensive catalog, including contemporary arrangements of the music he created with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, and on his classic solo recordings. The collection channels R&B, Jazz, Funk, Folk, Classic Rock, Pop, and Afro-Caribbean & Brazilian rhythms, highlighting Winwood’s unique ability to fuse multiple genres into a singular, cohesive musical expression. [from the Winwood press release]
When I first heard this album, I could not believe how many great songs were included, and when I had that thought, I wasn't even finished the first CD. Plus, it's not just the hits and it's not even just the classic album tracks, it has some amazing deep tracks like "Rainmaker," "Walking In The Wind," and "Fly." It also has plenty of long songs clocking in at approximately eight minutes plus or minus.
Listen to: "Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys," "Walking In The Wind," and "Why Can't We Live Together"

The Top Ten, alphabetically by artist:

Kenny Chesney – Live in No Shoes Nation
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In an online five star review of Kenny Chesney's Live in No Shoes Nation, a customer wrote, "This has to be the best live album ever made!" Despite this fan's tendency for overstatement, this Chesney album offers plenty of justification for such words. Chesney's music is by nature good time music, and on this record he played to stadiums full of adoring fans.

The thirty tracks are spread over two CDs with a total running time of over 2.25 hours. Two thirds of the tracks were recorded all over the country, with each track from a different city. The remaining tracks are from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA where Chesney has played a remarkable seventeen times. The overall effect is that if you've been to a Chesney concert, this is the ultimate souvenir.

The full band features plenty of excellent guitar work. Throughout the record, the performances are impeccable as is the recording quality. The only thing I would do differently to make this any better would be to cross fade the audience and avoid the fade to silence after each track. That production detail suggests that they expect this album to be heard one track at a time.

In addition to everything else, Chesney has guests joining him on select tracks, like Taylor Swift who trades verses with him on "Big Star." At the end, Chesney gets a nice birthday greeting from Swift. Other guests include Eric Church, Mac McAnally, David Lee Murphy, Old Dominion, Dave Matthews, Grace Potter, and the Zac Brown Band.

Whether you're just looking for a good country record, or if you're a Kenny Chesney fan who doesn't have this yet, Live in No Shoes Nation is as indispensable as they get.
Listen to: "Flora Bama", "Big Star," (fea. Taylor Swift) and "One Step Up" (Bruce Springsteen cover)

The Cranberries - Something Else
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On the album Something Else, The Cranberries have rerecorded ten of their best songs plus three new ones played acoustically with an orchestra. Lest you think that these songs loose anything in the acoustic format, let me reassure you that these songs have never sounded better. The keyboards may not actually be acoustic, but the guitars are and they blend perfectly with the string section. Dolores O'Riordan sounds phenomenal. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that setting her voice against acoustic instrumentation sounds exceptionally good. I've been listening to The Cranberries since they started, and I can say that for an "acoustic record" this album both surprises and delights me.

The Cranberries had reunited to make this album and the word was that the band was so pleased with the result that they planned to continue. Prior to the tragic death of Dolores O'Riordan, a new album was recorded including O'Riordan's vocals. Watch for this in 2018, as well as an anniversary reissue of The Cranberries first album.
Listen to: "Dreams," "Zombie," and "Ode to My Family"

Dan Fogelberg - Live At Carnegie Hall (4/17/1979)
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This album is remarkable in several respects. It is a snapshot of Dan Fogelberg's early career, the period in which he crafted a number of successful albums and made a name for himself as a first rate singer-songwriter. Importantly, he had not yet turned into the singles artist he would soon become (not that there's anything wrong with that, his singles were the best). During the concert, Fogelberg plays a number of songs that he had recorded for his next album, the double LP The Innocent Age. Although that album contained many of the tracks that would become hit singles, the only one played during that show was a gorgeous reading of "Same Old Lang Syne."

This is an excellent performance and it is well recorded. By itself perhaps that wouldn't make it all that remarkable, but this recording finds Fogelberg alone on stage at Carnegie Hall NYC armed with nothing but a piano, acoustic guitar and a microphone. That would have to be one of the most daunting situations in music. You would never know it listening to this album. Fogelberg introduces the songs, cracks jokes (even taking some jabs at himself) as he shows all the confidence you might expect from someone playing a small and intimate venue. Fogelberg was equal parts gravitas and grandiose; he came by his reputation for pretentiousness honestly and it helped define who he was, and he was that good. With a unique facility for writing melody, and his high level musicianship, vocals, and songwriting, Fogelberg remains one of the finest songwriters that the 70s produced.

Finally, this album is remarkable in that it seems to present the concert in its entirety. If there was any kind of editing, you can not tell. As such, Live At Carnegie Hall (4/17/1979) is my favorite kind of live album, and the fact that it's Fogelberg at Carnegie makes it totally essential.
Listen to: "Nether Lands," "Old Tennessee," and "Same Old Lang Syne."

Elton John - Diamonds (Deluxe)
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Elton John, along with his lyricist Bernie Taupin, is arguably one of our greatest living songwriters. Nowhere is this more evident than on Diamonds, a new greatest hits collection selected by Elton himself. The standard release contains thirty-four tracks spread over two CDs. There is also a pair of limited edition box sets. One adds a bonus disc of seventeen more key singles and comes with a 72 page hardbound book which tells the story of each song. The other has a bonus CD of his greatest hits live, One Night Only - The Greatest Hits.

Even if you have all of John's albums, you won't have all the tracks on Diamonds. Included are non-LP singles such as "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", his duet with Kiki Dee. Also included are soundtrack classics like "Circle Of Life" from The Lion King. The bonus disc gives you even more; tracks like "Skyline Pigeon" (piano version), which was the B-side of "Daniel" and is one of my favorite John tracks. There is a non-LP cover of "Lucy in Sky With Diamonds" with a nice reggae twist. "Mama Can't Buy You Love" is a track from the Thom Bell sessions, cut at Philadelphia International Records with the iconic Philly soul producer. It also contains Dionne Warwick's all star collaboration, "That's what Friends Are For" (with John, Gladys Knight & Stevie Wonder).

I was fortunate enough to start listening to Elton in 1970, and for most of that decade I had the pleasure of playing his records on the radio. John, is also an avid record collector and musicologist, which adds another dimension to his success. The tracks on Diamonds are presented chronologically with the seventies hits filling disc one. As amazing as disc one is, there is no slack on discs two or three; there is just one great song after another. The bottom line of Diamonds is that it collects all his biggest hits in one place.
Listen to: "Your Song," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," and "Daniel"

Kyle Riabko - Richard Rodgers Reimagined
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Richard Rodgers Reimagined is an excellent tribute by Canadian singer-songwriter Kyle Riabko, whose debut album was stunning, and not only for its excellence in songwriting, performance, and production. What knocked out many listeners was the fact that Riabko, working in his native Saskatoon, Saskatchewan wrote and recorded the album while still in high school. He spent summer vacations on tour with the likes of Buddy Guy and John Mayer.

Riabko resurfaced a few years later with a batch of Burt Bacharach tunes reimagined for the musical stage. The resulting show received a strongly favorable reaction when it played in NYC and London. Bacharach attended the premieres in both cities, “Kyle has done something truly unique with my music. He's a beautiful singer and one hell of a guitar player.”

Riabko's latest project is an another "reimagining," this time the songs are of Richard Rodgers. Even though all these songs originated in theater productions, many of them have amassed a level of popularity that placed them squarely into the Great American Songbook. What sets these reimagined versions apart from any rendition of Rodgers that you have heard before is that Riabko arranges material to sound like a modern day singer songwriter, which he is.
Read what Riabko had to say about his treatment of "My Favorite Things:"
The only reason to record this fun but sort of silly song was to unearth something about it otherwise undiscovered. So I took it to a darker place—focusing less on the cute little list of objects and more on the minor chords of the verse and the ominous, final phrase: “Then I don’t feel so bad.” Plus, I love ripping an electric solo over a song that doesn’t usually get one.
To read Riabko's complete track by track description, click here.
Listen to: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "My Funny Valentine," and "Some Enchanted Evening"

Paul Simon - The Concert in Hyde Park London - July 15, 2012
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Paul Simon closed London's 2012 Hard Rock Calling Festival with a whale of a concert in the outdoor setting of Hyde Park. Performing with a full band, Simon played a career spanning set that included all of his solo hits and even two Simon & Garfunkel classics.

The centerpiece of the show was a reunion of the South African Graceland band including Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing the landmark Graceland album in its entirety. Hugh Masekela and Jimmy Cliff also made guest appearances.

This show was so good that we don't even need to worry about the occasional liberties Simon takes with the melodies, but that's just him. They're not saying why it took five years for this to come out, but the attractively priced set includes both CD and DVD/Blu-Ray versions. There is only one difference between the concert on CD vs video; t\he four songs on which Jimmy Cliff appears are split with two of them on the CD version and the other two are on the DVD/Blu-Ray discs.
Listen to: "Kodachrome," "Graceland," and "Mother and Child Reunion"

Various Artists - Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration
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This is both a tribute album and a live album, and a phenomenal album it is. Phenomenal because of the cavalcade of stars who appeared to perform in celebration of the 75th birthday of Mavis Staples. Phenomenal also because of the song selection on this set of two CDs plus DVD. But the single most overriding factor is the quality of the house band as directed by bassist Don Was, who also served as music director. This superb band plays on every track and they are so good that I would pay just to see them.

The supremely well crafted set had guests perform fifteen selections accompanied by the house band, including a duet by Aaron Neville and Mavis, before Mavis did a five song set of her own with selected guests on each. Mavis sang the last of her songs solo, an epic version of "I'll Take You There." After that, the show closed with an all star finale of "The Weight." I would list the show's highlights but it would look exactly like the tracklist. Even so, it was great to hear Gregg Allman (recorded November 19th 2014). Also good to hear was Philadelphian Phil Roy's composition "Hope In a Hopeless World," a song sung by Widespread Panic, who previously recorded this for one of their earlier albums. Grace Potter did a nice job with Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands." The overall guest list was amazing, including Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Patty Griffin, Taj Mahal, and Jeff Tweedy (producer of Mavis' last few albums) to name a few. Like the live Steve Winwood album, this would also have made my unqualified top ten, it's that good.
Listen to: Joan Osbourne - "You're Driving Me (To The Arms Of A Stranger)", Aaron Neville & Mavis - "Respect Yourself", and Bonnie Raitt & Mavis - "Turn Me Around"

The Who - Maximum A's & B's
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Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who's recording career includes numerous singles that were not on their albums. The same applies to most of their B-sides. This set is just dynamite, it gives you a picture of the band that you could not get any other way. Here are all the details from the press release:
...We present the singles - A-sides, B-sides and EP tracks from the legendary Who on CD. 86 tracks from the Brunswick, Reaction, Track and Polydor labels including classic hits, and rarely heard B-sides. The Box also features the band's first single, as the High Numbers 'Zoot Suit' b/w 'I'm The Face.' Five CDs, in separate wallets, housed in a rigid, lift-off box with a 48 page booklet featuring track by track annotation and period photos.
The singles tell a fascinating tale. You have the Southern California Who doing the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" and "Bucket T." There are more 60s covers including several Rolling Stones tunes and even "Batman. This set, for the first time, collects every single and EP, and you get all tracks in the order in which they were released. "Long Live Rock" indeed.
Listen to: "I Can See For Miles," "The Seeker," and "Join Together"

Lucinda Williams - This Sweet Old World
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Two the best records I've ever heard are Sweet Old World by Lucinda Williams. The 25th anniversary version initially threw me a curve ball, as it was not just remastered but totally newly recorded for this release, complete with four new bonus tracks.

I consider the original album to be one of Williams' best and one of my all-time favorites. It had been a while since I listened to the original, but I must say that the new version knocked my socks off. Every time I played it, I liked it more. At first glance, the new version is immediately different because it has two lead guitars, both played by supremely talented guitarists, Greg Leisz and Stuart Mathis. I should add here that Lucinda has always featured the best electric guitar work on her records, she has a keen sense of guitar talent. The 2017 version, with its slight title change to This Sweet Old World, sounded so good to me that I was thinking that it couldn't get any better than this. So then I went back to listen to the original, Sweet Old World, and as I listened I began to feel strongly that this was the ultimate version and that it could not get any better. So, my next move was to listen to the songs old and new next to each other for direct comparison.

I think that the original production by Williams, Gurf Morlix, and Dusty Wakeman is in fact for me the definitive version. The amazing guitar work by Morlix combined with some gorgeous violin and some just right keyboards is untoppable.

On the new version, there may be no violins or keyboards but the twin guitars are jaw-dropping in their excellence, and every fan of either Lucinda or the guitar needs to hear this. The best way I can put this into perspective is to compare the new version to one of those live concerts where the artist performs a classic album in its entirety. Of course, This Sweet Old World is much more than that. My comparison rings true though, because Williams took her touring band into the studio and completely remade the album. Some songs have been reimagined including one that was rewritten and retitled ("He Never Got Enough Love" became "Drivin' Down a Dead End Street"). The album was resequenced and sports a new cover.

My bottom line is that I love this album in both of its incarnations. So, for me, it will just have to stand as an embarrassment of riches.
From Sweet Old World, listen to: "Six Blocks Away," "Something About What Happens When We Talk," and "Pineola"
From This Sweet Old World, listen to: "Six Blocks Away," "Something About What Happens When We Talk," and "Pineola"

Here are more releases that excelled in this category (live, etc.):

ELO, Jeff Lynne's - Wembley Or Bust [Live]
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Jeff Lynne may lead one of the most charmed lives in music. In the early 70s, he took a side project of the U.K. group The Move to great heights as the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). ELO released a string of excellent albums and singles whose depth I had somewhat forgotten until I listened to Wembley Or Bust, the new live recording by Jeff Lynne's ELO as he is calling it these days. This album, which is both a live one and a greatest hits collection, features 2 CDs that will knock you out with their quality.

Foghat - Live At The Belly Up [August 11, 2016]
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Sounding better than they ever did when their albums were getting airplay in the 70s, this hot live recording documents Foghat's recent appearance at The Belly Up, a most music oriented watering hole in San Diego.

Steve Forbert - Tin Angel Farewell 2-03-2017
Buy at Bandcamp

When Philadelphia's Tin Angel closed its doors in February 2017, Steve Forbert was asked to take part in the farewell festivities by performing on the next to last night. Not that many performers can command every bit of your attention with only an acoustic guitar and a microphone, but Forbert is one of the best. This 22 track download offers the set in its entirety for the more than fair price of $8.

Aretha Franklin – A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin (with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)
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A Brand New Me is an Aretha Franklin greatest hits record, with a twist (purists may want to skip to the next item). The twist is that the original stereo masters of Aretha's best loved songs have been "enhanced" with judicious amounts of strings, horns, etc. from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Not withstanding the fact that I would call myself a purist, I must admit that my skepticism dissolved into appreciation as I listened. These new versions just sound great. In addition to the instruments, new backing vocals by Patti Austin were also added.

Even though Aretha herself was not involved with this project, the producers say that she likes it. Since she is living and does not seem to object, I'm going to give this record a pass and just say how much fun it is to listen, period. On the other hand, I cannot abide similar projects these guys have done with Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison because these artists are long deceased and their recorded legacy should not be tampered with.

David Gilmour - Live At Pompeii
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Revisiting a site that is imbued both with history and past Pink Floydian glory, David Gilmour gives both solo and Floyd material the full treatment in multiple formats. Even though Richard Wright is no longer with us, and even though Roger Waters had a permanent falling out with Gilmour, this still sounds for all the world like Pink Floyd. Live At Pompeii is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, digital download, 2 CDs, 4 LPs, and a deluxe box set containing 2 CDs and 2 Blu-Ray discs the second of which consists of live material (5 tracks each) from two additional concerts plus five documentaries.

Grateful Dead - Cornell 5/8/77
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The good folks at Dead.net can describe what's unique or special about any given Grateful Dead concert and make the vault release seem utterly indispensable. Even so, the run of shows they did in May 1977 seems to bring consensus among the Dead's audience that this tour was, for a number of reasons, one of the high water marks for show quality. That, combined with the discovery of tapes recorded from the soundboard by sound engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson, affectionately known as "Betty Boards" for their superb quality, the mail order 5 show box set was a quick sell-out. One show from that box set was released commercially on 3 CDs known as Cornell 5/8/77. As Dead listeners know, no two Grateful Dead setlists were ever the same and Cornell 5/8/77 offers up a very Jerry Garcia-centric setlist. And the show is all that.

Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood
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Jethro Tull's tenth album Songs From The Wood (1977) got the full 40th anniversary remix, remaster, and reissue treatment in a super deluxe box set that includes a 96 page book. Let's start with the set's DVDs.

On the first DVD you get Steven Wilson's new stereo remix, you get Wilson's new 5.1 surround mix, you get the original 1977 stereo mix, and you get 4 tracks from the original 1977 quadraphonic (4-channel). On the other DVD you get a complete concert recorded November 21, 1977 at The Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland. The three CDs contain the following: CD 1 has the new stereo mix and six bonus tracks worth of rare and unreleased alternate mixes and alternate versions. CDs 2 & 3 contain the same 1977 live concert that's on DVD too, except "Beethoven's Ninth" which is on the DVD only. Songs From The Wood is a well crafted Tull album. The 5.1 mix on DVD 1 may knock your socks off and show you why they give these things to Steven Wilson.

Carole King - Tapestry: Live In Hyde Park
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Carole King's Tapestry: Live In Hyde Park follows a format similar to the Paul Simon concert above. Recorded on July 3, 2016 the concert included a performance of the iconic Tapestry album in its entirety, along with a complete setlist and a full band. Among her many hits I especially enjoyed "Jazzman" and a medley of the sixties hits that she co-wrote for others with her husband Gerry Goffin. The package includes the concert on two CDs and one DVD.

Sonny Landreth - Recorded Live in Lafayette
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On Sonny Landreth's second live album, Recorded Live in Lafayette, Landreth serves up a double heaping helping of the guitar work he does so well. On the first CD, he plays acoustic and it has all the fire and intensity of his best electric work. Landreth still finds a way to take it up a few notches on the second CD, which finds him demonstrating his mastery of the electric guitar. Spread the word to all lovers of guitar, as well as fans of music from southern Louisiana and New Orleans. It doesn't get any better than this.

Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna (Deluxe Edition)
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This is a 35th anniversary remaster of Stevie Nicks' first solo album, Bella Donna. The package contains three CDs. The first bonus disc has a number of rarities including a real cool previously unreleased early version of "Edge of Seventeen." The second bonus disc is worth the price of the package, with a great sounding live set recorded at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in 1982 that includes songs from Bella Donna and Fleetwood Mac, as well as a Tom Petty cover.

Billy Porter & Various Artists - Billy Porter Presents: The Soul Of Richard Rodgers
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Richard Rodgers seems to be the beneficiary of a resurgence in 2017. It's nice that Billy Porter explores the soulful side of Rodgers compositions, but that in itself is not the most remarkable thing about Billy Porter Presents: The Soul Of Richard Rodgers. With different guest artists on every track Porter made what sounds more like a current day soul record, essentially updating Rodgers for the new millennium. If you give this baby a spin, don't miss "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" featuring Pentatonix, "My Funny Valentine" featuring Cynthia Erivo, and "Bewitched" featuring Ledisi & Zaire Park. Talk about Richard Rodgers "reimagined"...

Queen - On Air: BBC Sessions
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What I wouldn't give to be a tape archivist for the BBC. The material they must have in their vault boggles the imagination. This year the BBC offered some previously unreleased live Queen. The basic release was 2 CD set of performances. At the same time, they also released a 6 disc all-in box set which adds a third CD of additional Queen performances only available with the box. The other three discs contain Queen interviews which are presented in chronological order. You may wish to note that all of the interviews and performances were conducted in the BBC studios, hence the name On Air: BBC Sessions. For anyone who may buy this set specifically to get the third live CD, let me assure you that the interview discs are no throwaways. They form a first person narrative of the band that is more compelling than most articles or books on the subject.

The Rolling Stones - Havana Moon [Live]
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The Rolling Stones played a free concert in Havana, Cuba on March 25, 2016. As part of the Stones moderately priced archival series, this show is offered as Havana Moon, with the complete concert on 2 CDs and 1 DVD or Blu-Ray. This is as good a live Stones record as they have ever done. Yes, I know that's a rash statement, but if you listen to any track in this tight two hour set you will hear a band playing like they mean it. Perhaps most incredibly, you will hear Jagger doing a vocal in which he doesn't sound any older than when the songs was first recorded; it doesn't matter whether it's a rocker like the set opener "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or a sensitive ballad like "Angie". Read the full review.

Frank Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim - Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim
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There are only a handful of albums that I would consider the personification of perfection. This is a fiftieth anniversary remaster of one of them, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim. The playing and the singing on this recording is so soft, so delicate and so precise that even now, fifty years later, one can only marvel at the achievement. Jobim, one of the creators of the Brazilian form of music known as bossa nova, cowrote seven of the original album's ten tracks and sings duet with Sinatra on one, "The Girl From Ipanema." For this remaster they added two amazing bonus tracks. One is a live medley recorded for television. If you ever wished that you could be a fly on the wall at an historic recording session, the second bonus track is the uncut session tape from the recording of "The Girl From Ipanema," including three complete takes.

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Live From The Fox Oakland
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The Tedeschi Trucks Band was formed when Susan Tedeschi and husband Derek Trucks decided to combine their bands. Even though neither of them are what you would call a household name, they continually sell out shows wherever they go. They are on the road more than they are not.

See my live review of their concert at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia. That show was one of a three night stand, and those three nights were only the second of three times that Tedeschi Trucks played in Philadelphia in 2017. Thus the release of a live album, Live From The Fox Oakland. And a generous ‎live album it is, with two CDs running over two hours in length. In addition to the Derek Trucks Band, Trucks also was one of the two guitarists in the second generation of the Allman Brothers Band, and as such he knows his way around a large repertoire. Like the Allmans, the TTB plays a long show and changes the set from night to night often adding inspired covers. All of this is well expressed on Live From The Fox Oakland. The concert is also included on DVD or Blu-ray in a three disc package.

U2 - The Joshua Tree (Deluxe)
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U2's landmark album The Joshua Tree won the Grammy Award for album of the year and went on to sell twenty million copies. To honor its 30th anniversary, a super deluxe edition was released that included two CDs worth of bonus tracks, a live concert, and an 84 page hard bound book in addition to the remastered Joshua Tree. For U2 fans who passed on this due to its hefty price tag, they also released a simplified two CD deluxe edition containing the remastered album on one disc and the live concert on the other. The Joshua Tree contains a full share of U2s most iconic tracks, but the live concert recorded at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1987 is worth the price of the package, which I found to be about the same price as a single CD. The concert contains all eleven Joshua Tree songs as well as other U2 concert staples. This is a truly amazing show and it feels much longer than the eighty minute maximum run time of a CD. During the show Bono talks about walking around NYC where he encountered, in Harlem, the sound of the New Voices of Freedom gospel choir singing his song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It was a classic moment when, during the encore, the New Voices of Freedom took the stage to sing with U2 on their final two songs.

Various Artists - An American Troubadour: The Songs Of Steve Forbert
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There are two significant takeaways from An American Troubadour: The Songs Of Steve Forbert. The first is just how good a songwriter Forbert is. The second is the interesting line-up of artists; eclectic might be a good word to describe it. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that for every artist that you know in this project, there are going to be at least two more that you don't. There are many avenues to discover new artists and this is certainly a good one.

All of Forbert's best loved songs are here along with a bunch of lesser known ones that are equally worthy. I love that James Maddock is included; the texture of his voice almost makes him sound like a British Steve Forbert.
Listen to: Kelly Fitzgerald - "Thinkin'," Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - "Romeo's Tune," and James Maddock - "Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977"

Various Artists - Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry
Preview at Ace Records

Chuck Berry is widely considered to be one of the fathers of Rock and Roll. This album collects a widely varied assortment of Chuck Berry covers, without regard to genre or decade. In all my years of listening to music, I don't think I have heard more than a few of these tracks before. There are some very interesting artists included, such as Marty Robbins, Ian Gomm, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Jay & The Americans, Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana (featuring Booker T. Jones), The Beach Boys, and Dave Edmunds to give you a sampling of the album's twenty four tracks.

No doubt Chuck Berry was a singer and songwriter of great consequence, and although I want to hear him do his own classic songs, covers like these are important too. Without a compilation such as Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry, most of these tracks are ones that would go unheard.

Meredith And Rini Willson - ... and then I wrote The Music Man/The Music from Meredith Willson's The Music Man (Conducted by Meredith Willson)
Preview at Stage Door Records

I should say off the top that show tunes are not necessarily my forte. The Music Man is one show in particular that I've grown up with and I find I have a special place in my heart for the music. I just happened upon this album in the new release list. It's on Stage Door, a specialty reissue label from England whose main focus is the musical theater. They have a knack for finding rare and interesting content to reissue. In this case, this release contains two rare LPs that had never before been issued on CD. The first album, ... and then I wrote The Music Man, presents Meredith Willson sitting at a piano telling the story of The Music Man and playing the music and singing the songs, with some help from his wife. Listening to this is intended to sound like what Willson might have done to introduce what he had written and composed, performing in his home to potential investors for a possible Broadway musical. The performance is spot on, however, due to the time limitation of an LP, the first act gets a more thorough treatment than the second. This should have been a double LP and we can only speculate that the limited appeal of such a project might have precluded the additional expense. Still, this is a true gem and it will be cherished by anyone who loves The Music Man.

The other LP on this CD, The Music from Meredith Willson's The Music Man, is an orchestral rendering conducted by the composer Meredith Willson. These orchestral performances are not part of either the show or the movie, they are something altogether different but a welcome and totally unexpected treat. Bravo Stage Door.

The Young Rascals - The Complete Singles A's & B's
Preview at Best Buy

Some artists have a career that is more oriented to singles than albums. The concept of The Complete Singles A's & B's is a collection of every single in chronological order presented with the A side followed by the B side. Real Gone Records has done their usual thorough job of preparing such a collection for The Rascals, originally called The Young Rascals. The story these singles tell is fascinating, not just the hits, the smaller hits, the almost hits, and even the stiffs, and especially the B sides. My indelible recollection from my childhood when "Good Lovin'" was a hit is from one day when my mom was watching Merv Griffin and he read the lyrics to "Good Lovin'" as if to ridicule rock music. For me, it did the opposite. "Good Lovin'"put the Young Rascals on the map, but it was a number of singles later that "Groovin'" sent them into the stratosphere.



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