Cale & Clapton return to bluesy roots rock
January 25, 2007
Hey, you young punks, with your Everclear and the 920 tail grabs and the power drinks and the wanton use of the letter “X” everywhere. We alte kockers knew how to rock – “back in the day,” as you kids say – and con-sarnit! we still do. (So long as it’s not too loud, and the dad-blasted hi-fi is shut off by 9, and you put that disc-thing neatly back in its sleeve, and my hiatal hernia isn’t acting up too bad, ’cause then it’s better just to have some Glenn Miller with my weak tea and lemon. But not too hot!)Pay attention, and I’ll learn ya kids something about the people what started this whole rock ‘n’ roll thing came from. And some of them are still playing!JJ Cale & Eric Clapton, “The Road to Escondido”produced by Clapton and Cale (Reprise)Eric Clapton, the guitarist formerly known as “God,” has been a far lesser deity these past few years, putting out tepid albums at best, and ill-conceived ones at worst. Reconnecting with something old and familiar – like fellow blues-rocker JJ Cale, who wrote the Clapton hits “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” – makes a lot of sense on paper.And it works beautifully in practice. Clapton and Cale are marvelously kindred spirits; sometimes on “Escondido,” you need to strain to hear whose guitar licks that is, and who’s singing that part. They don’t exactly push each other stylistically; it’s an old-guy take on the relaxed country-blues for which Cale, who wrote the majority of the material here, is noted. But they don’t need to; it’s nice just to have Clapton getting back to what he does well.
On “Dead End Blues,” though, the two show they can push the beat without throwing any body parts out of whack, and the guitar lead is splendid. Cale has points to make about the current state of affairs in “When This War Is Over.” And while it probably would have been enough for the two to bring in a rhythm section and call it good, they show more ambition here, adorning the songs with fiddles, horns, keyboards and even extra guitarists (young ‘uns Derek Trucks and John Mayer among them).David Gilmour, “On An Island”produced by Gilmour, Phil Manzanera and Chris Thomas (Columbia)For all the grandness of Pink Floyd – the technology, the concepts, “The Wall” – the music often had a calm center. Consider “On An Island,” the first solo album by Floyd singer-guitarist David Gilmour in 22 years, to be that soft side, played up big. There are Floyd-like moments when the quiet explodes, as in the title track (which features backing vocals from David Crosby and Graham Nash). But the best parts of the album are when Gilmour holds back, leaving an atmospheric sound that just suggests big things. On “Smile,” Gilmour is practically a folkie, and it suits him surprisingly well.Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Live at the Fillmore East”produced by Paul Rothchild (Reprise)Drag the cranky old coot out of the closet. He’s got some griping to do – and this time it’s legit!
Neil Young finally drags some vintage, electric rock he made with Crazy Horse out of the closet, and he badly shortchanges those who have been waiting. Something tells me that between March 6-7, at New York’s Fillmore East, Young and his long-running garage band Crazy Horse played more than the six songs – 43 freaking minutes, not even enough to fit an LP, and two of those minutes are crowd applause – presented here. (In fact, as a review from Cashbox magazine included in the package informs, the shows began with a solo set by Young.)What is here is old Neil – and the original Crazy Horse, with late guitarist Danny Whitten – in their sloppy, sprawling glory: a 16-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand” whose length is justified by the insane guitar work; “Wonderin’,” a countryish tune that wouldn’t get an official release until years later. It’s fine, but Young follows that old entertainment saw – always leave them wanting more – too strictly.Art Garfunkel, “Some Enchanted Evening”produced by Richard Perry (ATCO)Art Garfunkel, the vocal-only half of Simon & Garfunkel (I hope it’s not strictly necessary to point that out), goes the aged-rocker route of going further back in time than even his own early days. (See, e.g., Rod Stewart.) Garfunkel does the Great American Songbook thing on “Some Enchanted Evening,” with takes on the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer and Rodgers & Hammerstein. His voice is light as a feather here, and takes some getting used to. The production, too, is something different: sometimes a high-tech take, with drum programs and synthesizers, on old-fashioned music; sometimes a nod to early, finger-snapping rock ‘n’ roll. It’s far from a great album, but there are spots – Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” a nostalgic take on Harold Arlen’s “Let’s Fall in Love” – that approach magical.Grateful Dead, “Live at the Cow Palace, New Year’s Eve, 1976″produced by David Lemieux & James Austin (Rhino)The Grateful Dead sold their vault of live recordings last year to the compilation/reissue giant Rhino. “Live at the Cow Palace” is the first product of the union, and it gets the partnership off to a flying start. Sort of.The packing is outstanding, a nice indication for things to come. But the first portion of this three-disc set, recorded in the Dead’s San Francisco hometown the last night of their comeback year of 1976, finds the band tentative, just settling in for a long night. That problem is solved emphatically with the last song on disc one, a “Playing in the Band” that stretches to 23 minutes, most of them very interesting.The door thus opens to new songs (the jazzy, jamming combo of “Help on the Way” and “Slipknot!”), resurrected ones (“Good Lovin,'” which the band had previously played in the earlier days with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on vocals) and familiar ones (“Uncle John’s Band,” “Sugar Magnolias”), all finding the band in the exploratory zone. The climax is back-to-back monster versions of “Not Fade Away” and “Morning Dew” that shows that the time off – all of 1975 and the first half of ’76 – allowed the Dead to rethink their approach.
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, “Real Live Roadrunning”produced by Guy Fletcher (Nonesuch)Two musicians who launched their careers in the ’70s – Mark Knopfler with British rockers Dire Straits, and Emmylou Harris, as a backing singer for country-rock icon Gram Parsons – teamed for “All The Roadrunning” earlier this year. This live set adds quite a bit to that project, a studio album of all new songs. “Real Live Roadrunning” features songs from both of their pasts: Dire Strait’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Knopfler’s own “Our Shangri-La”; Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham” and “Red Dirt Girl.” There is also a concert DVD included, which adds a few more songs to the package.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org