Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Union - Elton John & Leon Russell

The Union is another milestone album in Elton John's career. But more than that, it's him finally collaborating with his hero, Leon Russell, an underrated artist who was left buried in the footnotes of music history. Like David Fricke mentioned in his 5-star review in Rolling Stone, "The Union is a rare gesture in a dying business: an act of gratitude." Right from the start, Russell has been Elton's most direct influence, in terms of piano playing and singing style. This album was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who already has four albums under his belt this year alone. Most of the songs were written by Elton and longtime partner Bernie Taupin. But it's also a very collaborative effort, and on some songs writing credits go to Bernie and Leon, Elton and Leon and both of them with T-Bone.

All the sixteen songs here are truly remarkable on every level. The backing band contains some renowned musicians, including Booker T. on organ and Jim Keltner on drums. Elton and Leon play each other off beautifully, and you can just picture both of them in the studio facing and directly singing to each other. The album starts off with Leon on vocals (who sounds strikingly similar to Willie Nelson) with the catchy If It Wasn't For Bad, that has some great piano fill-ins between verses. And then Elton John takes lead in the ballad Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes, which is obviously about his idol. He goes back to his roots with songs like Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit, in which you're immediately reminded of his early 70's work. Gone To Shiloh is a haunting Civil War tune (featuring Neil Young on vocals) reminiscent of his classic My Father's Gun. And if you listening carefully on When Love Is Dying, you can hear Brian Wilson in the background. The album ends appropriately with Leon again taking lead, with the autobiographical gospel In The Hands Of Angels, giving thanks to the man upstairs, for still being able to do what he does best.

Now is the time to find old Leon Russell songs. Choosing the album of the year just got harder!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Return Of Buffalo Springfield... the Bridge School Benefit.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oct 22, 1990

Exactly 20 years ago, Pearl Jam was formed. But they weren't known as Pearl Jam then. They were initially called Mookie Blaylock, named after the NBA player. On this date, they would play their very first show in Seattle, with the new guy, Eddie Vedder, who just arrived from San Diego. Fast forward 18 years to June 2008 -- this was when I became obsessed with the music. I still have a vivid memory of buying my first PJ bootleg (Tampa '08), which blew my mind, and changed my perception of what a live band could sound like. It's like an addiction -- you get hooked on one show, and before you know it, you're buying ten more. Soon I would own every show from the 2000/03/05/06 tour. And then fast forward to Nov 14, 2009: my first PJ show.

Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike, Matt, thanks for memories.

P.S. For essential reading, check out Kim Neely's Five Against One.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

U2 360 Australian Tour Preview

Now that the European tour is over, it's time for our turn down under. I've been following the setlists in Europe quite closely. It's safe to say that U2 will not tweak their setlist much during the tour. But they did lose a songs from last year's outing, like Unknown Caller and The Unforgettable Fire, though I do hope they bring the latter back. Opener Breathe is now out, replaced by a brand new song called Return Of The Stingray Guitar. But as much as I love to see Breathe open the show, I think Stingray is a pretty kick-ass song, with a very sexy vibe -- it doesn't sound completed, but it provides a nice sorta transition to Beautiful Day. Speaking of new songs, there were quite a few debuts this summer -- North Star, Glastonbury, Every Breaking Wave, Boy Falls From The Sky (from the upcoming Spiderman musical). The big one that got fans all excited is an 2004 outtake called Mercy. It's essentially a U2 epic, possibly the best song the band hasn't released officially.

Then there is Miss Sarajevo, which was a staple throughout the entire European leg. Spanish Eyes was played in San Sebastian for the first time since 2001, and another gem Mothers Of The Disappeared made a few rare appearances. In those cities with two nights, the band usually switches between New Year's Day & I Will Follow at the start, and Ultraviolet (Light My Way) & Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me during the encore. Finally, my favorite U2 song Bad made a triumphant return. Somehow I have a good feeling it'll show up pretty often in AU/NZ. Last shows of each leg are always special, so I expect Dec 19 to be no different. I'll be posting setlists from all the ten shows from November onwards.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary DVD

For any true music fan, just looking at the contents of this DVD box set is enough to make your skin crawl. It's close to a year since those historical two nights at Madison Square Garden, when some of the greatest artists in Rock & Roll came together to celebrate the power of something we hold so dear to our hearts. My only gripes is that I wished the producers could put all the performances in. Even then, 5 1/2 hours of music isn't too shabby. The edited show is taken from the original HBO broadcast, with Jerry Lee Lewis opening and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band closing. Every single artist who took the stage were on the top of their game.

There are so many wonderful moments, like Stevie Wonder suddenly breaking into tears while singing MJ's The Way You Make Me Feel, and Simon & Garfunkel singing Bridge Over Troubled Water. Metallica surprised all by backing Ray Davies and Lou Reed, while Mick Jagger coolly walked onstage to U2's version of Gimme Shelter. Then you had Sting, Buddy Guy and Billy Gibbons jamming with Jeff Beck and paying homage to Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.

Springsteen's set was of course the longest. Sam Moore and Darlene Love did their own soul classics with the E Street Band (and some additional horns and backup singers), and Tom Morello floored everyone doing an 'out of this world' solo during The Ghost Of Tom Joad, not to mention London Calling. Seeing John Fogerty trading vocals with Bruce on Pretty Woman was pretty special too. And the big highlight was Bruce singing with Billy Joel on New York State Of Mind (the Boss brought a new fiery passion to it), and the king of Long Island returning the favor on Born To Run.

Over the course of watching these performances, you'll realise that Rock & Roll, as a genre, is just so broad, as we normally don't associate Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys, or even Miles Davis with Rock & Roll. So this DVD is a perfect music history lesson of a timeless art form.