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Music Review: Ten Years After – ‘British Live Performance Series’

BLPS

After Alvin Lee’s death in March of 2013, Rainman Records released The Last Show, a fine recording of Lee’s final on stage performance in May of 2012. Due to the excellence of that recording, I looked forward to hearing the recent Rainman release, British Live Performance Series. It captures Ten Years After (TYA) recorded live in 1990 at “Studio 8” television in Nottingham, England. (This is a reissue of an earlier release.)

ten years after live 1990-thumb

Does this release meet the standard set by The Last Show or the 1990 TYA album Recorded Live? Well, let’s take a look at the 11 tracks in order to answer the question.

“Let’s Shake It Up” – This song demonstrates that the band was, at least initially, in fine form that day.

“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s blues standard from 1937 is transformed into a Cream-style workout. I prefer the original arrangement on the Ssssh album. This version comes off as tight, yet frantic.

“Slow Blues in C” – An OK track but nothing special. At least it feels shorter than its length of 5:39.

“Hobbit” – Most drum solos in rock should have been eliminated – IMHO, including this one (or at least shortened).

“Love Like A Man” – One of the best tracks from Cricklewood Green, it sounds positively husky here.

“Johnny B. Goode” – It’s not as good a choice as “Sweet Little Sixteen” – both Chuck Berry tunes – on Watt.

“Bad Blood” – Lee, Leo Lyons (bass), Ric Lee (drums) and Chick Churchill (keyboard) in a fine groove, just shy of six minutes. They probably should have kept it going for at least 12 to 15 minutes.

“Victim of Circumstance” – A song from the 1989 release About Time (the album TYA was promoting at the time). It’s not one of their best numbers.

“I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometime” – From the 1967 debut album Ten Years After. The song effectively segues from blues-rock into psychedelia, before speeding up to become just another TYA jam. It borrows a riff from The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over” and drags on until boredom sets in.

“I’m Going Home” – On a 10-point scale, this one’s about a 4. Twenty-one years after Woodstock, the thrill was gone. Here, TYA sounds like a cover band. Clearly, they became bored with the song, which should have been reserved for nights when the band was fully cooking.

“Sweet Little Sixteen” – The live version on Watt is better.

The sound quality on this recording is poor, especially considering that it was recorded in a major TV studio. As a friend said, “It’s a harsh mix with too much high end and snare” – the snare drum being annoyingly front and center, and Lyon’s generally exemplary bass work is mostly missing in action aurally. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to hear a single note from the keyboard played by Churchill.

To quote my friend again, “Despite the harsh mix, this concert demonstrated how TYA was able to fill venues for years. When the lights were on, they were right at home giving it their all.” Yes, like The Kinks, TYA gave it 110% each and every night.

alvin lee last show

recorded live tya

It’s a shame about the sound on this release. The Last Show or Recorded Live are definitely better choices.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ten-years-after-british-live-performance-series/

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Mr. Tambourine Man

Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010 (Public Affairs; $29.95; 481 pages)

“You have to pay to get out of going through these things twice.”   Bob Dylan

In 1985, rock critic Greil Marcus was asked to review the book A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan by Wilfred Meller, and his review began with these words:  “This is a confused and confusing book about a confused and confusing figure: Bob Dylan, born 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, as Robert Alan Zimmerman.”   Well, back at you, Greil, as those would be the perfect words to describe this $30 collection of essays, previously published and unpublished.   They all deal in some way – and some barely – with the subject of Bob Dylan.   It might be said that Marcus’ essays on the man are dazed and confused.

It’s a bit shocking that Marcus does not come even close to enlightening the reader about Dylan the musician or the man.   That’s shocking because just last year, he released a brilliant tome about Van Morrison (reviewed on this site on August 26, 2010), When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.   There, Marcus seemed to capture both Van’s heart and his soul, and it made the reader want to run to play his or her Morrison CDs.   He was spot on there; here, no way.

Marcus seems confused because there are four Bob Dylans:  the genius songwriter (“Like A Rolling Stone,” “Visions of Johanna”); the oh-so-casual writer of throw-away songs (“Watching the River Flow,” “Rainy Day Women No.s 12 & 35 [Everybody Must Get Stoned]”);  the overly serious, angry and controlling musician (where there are similarities to Morrison); and the Joker, whose every action and comment is a complete put-on.   Because Marcus cannot reconcile these four personalities in one person, he appears continually lost as to what’s going on with Mr. Hughes in his Dylan shoes.   Sometimes he loves Dylan, sometimes he’s disappointed by him, sometimes he blasts him, but mostly he’s watching the parade go by and  wondering about the meaning of it all.

As an example, he prints a section of the interview that Dylan gave to Playboy magazine back in 1966.   The entire interview is a big joke – although it was lost to the magazine’s editors – and none of it is real.   But Marcus has no comment on it.

One problem is that to properly understand and analyze Dylan, one must have a breadth of background as big and wide as Dylan’s.   Such is not the case in this compilation…  At one point Marcus does note that Dylan has relied on religious writings as the inspiration for many of his songs (the same is true of philosophers, not just prophets), but he does not supply any actual references.   It’s a shame and one has to wonder if Marcus cribbed that point from another writer.

The writing is dull and flat and lacks the excitement of, say, a Lester Bangs or a John Mendelsohn.   And yet when Van Morrison appears on the scene, as when Marcus writes of The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, the writing is suddenly sparkling – until Morrison leaves the stage, and it returns to being flat.   So it seems that Marcus simply gets Morrison in a way that will never apply to Dylan.

“Along with a lot of other things, becoming a Bob Dylan fan made me a writer.   I was never interested in figuring out what the songs meant.”

As you can see from this quotation, you’re not going to get much from Greil Marcus that’s going to help you understand Bob Dylan’s songs…  Except…  Except that he includes an almost-perfect review of Dylan’s singular 10-song masterpiece Blood on the Tracks.   Which, as the Chuck Berry song says, goes to show you never can tell.

Marcus was quite tough in that ’85 review of Wilfred Meller’s book:  “Meller’s language collapses along with his conceptual apparatus.”   That sounds very harsh and professorial, does it not?   Getting back to Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, I’ll just say that there’s far less here than one would expect from a writer who wrote the liner notes to one of Bob Dylan’s major albums.   Making your way through all of this is like going on an Easter egg hunt where no one finds any of the eggs.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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