Two-disc Bonnaroo 2003 a big disappointment
Here are reviews of more recent CDs from the jam world:Various artists, Live from Bonnaroo 2003produced by John Alagia (Sanctuary)I thought the official recordings from the first Bonnaroo festival were outstanding. There were highlights left and right, and tracks by bands as diverse as the Trey Anastasio Band, the Del McCoury Band, Jurassic 5, and Robert Randolph & the Family Band seemed to highlight the breadth of improvisation-heavy styles that fit in the jam-band scene. Others must have been impressed, too, by the first two-CD set; a third CD was subsequently released separately.So I was excited about the latest Bonnaroo set, a feeling that lasted all of two minutes into the first track, the Deads Sugar Magnolia. The performance is plain dull. And it sets a pattern: the latest recorded Bonnaroo pales next to the first. The high points arent as high; there are more, and lower, lowlights. First there is the problem of what isnt on the latest two-CD set. Such bedrock jam acts as moe., the North Mississippi Allstars, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Robert Randolph all performed but arent included on the CDs. Theres also nothing from such featured acts as Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Michael Franti & Spearhead and the Funky Meters none of them jam bands, but all of whom played Bonnaroo 2003 and would have made nice additions to the recordings. And missing from this years gathering completely were top jammers Trey Anastasio, String Cheese Incident and Karl Densons Tiny Universe, all included on last years CDs. Then there is the matter of what is on here: a surplus of second-rate material that strays from the jamming philosophy that underpins Bonnaroo. Disc 1 ends on a declining note with one tune apiece by the hardly memorable trio of Jason Mraz, Ben Kweller and the Polyphonic Spree. Disc 2 is better, opening with Widespread Panics powerful Papa Johnny Road, and including gems from Medeski, Martin & Wood; Bla Fleck & the Flecktones; and Keller Williams. But James Browns slick I Feel Good sounds out-of-place. In that, it is not alone.There are several fine tracks here. But Bonnaroo 2002 came across as a reflection of the state of the jam world. This doesnt.Also available is a two-DVD set, 270 Miles From Graceland. Directed by photographer Danny Clinch, it an exhaustive affair, with uncut performances, backstage interviews, and no shortage of colorful crowd scenes.Bonna-ruefulRobert Randolph & the Family Band, Unclassifiedproduced by Randolph & the Family Band with Jim Scott (Warner Bros./Dare)For several years Robert Randolph, a steel guitarist plucked from an urban New Jersey church, has been lighting the jam-band scene on fire. But while he is familiar from guest appearances with other artists, numerous bootlegs and one official live release, this is the studio debut for Randolph with his Family Band (which include cousins Danyel Morgan on bass and Marcus Randolph on drums). The all-original album Unclassified is gospel music beginning to end. But if the spirit is the one that Randolph found in the House of God Church in Orange, N.J., the music is a leap or five away. Randolphs music takes in soul stars like Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, Hendrix-style rock and current hippie jammers. But then Randolph, thanks to the unique sound of his pedal steel, gives everything its own twist. On Unclassified, Randolph does more than just jam. The instrumental Squeeze is memorable because of Randolphs distinctive hooks and melodies. Randolph and his mates dont sing as well as they jam which makes them a good fit in the jam-band world but they have no problem getting across their message.Jamming in the name of the Lord. Little Feat, Kickin It at the Barnproduced by Paul Barrre, Bill Payne and Fred TackettDown Upon the Suwannee Riverproduced by Paul Barrre & Bill Payne (Hot Tomato)Little Feat may not fit most peoples ideas of a jam band. They sing too well, write songs that are too smart and way too tight. When they started out in the late 1960s as Lowell Georges band, no one grouped the Los Angeles-based Little Feat in with the proto-jam bands of the day. But as the years have passed, Little Feat seems to have aligned with the jam-band world. The band thrives onstage; even on CD, their music has an organic, underproduced feel. Approaching their 35th birthday as a unit, Little Feat is still chasing new ideas. Kickin It at the Barn, their first studio CD since 2000s Chinese Work Songs, finds the band more eclectic than ever. The band earns its jam-band stripes with Stomp, a rollicking eight-minute instrumental. The wonderful Corazones y Sombras has the band really digging into the Latino sound, even bringing in guest vocalist Gabriel Gonzales, from the group Quetzal, to sing in Spanish. Theres an acoustic ballad (Bills River Blues), a catchy blues-rocker straight out of middle-era Feat (Night on the Town), and a jazzy tune (Id Be Lyin) that showcases female vocalist Shaun Murphy.A young band could learn a lot from these guys.Also available is Down Upon the Suwannee River, a live two-CD set from parts unknown, Florida, date recent but unspecified. Considering that nine of the 17 tunes are also on Feats landmark live album Waiting for Columbus, and the sound quality here is middling, its hard to recommend this. Unless you really need live versions of a few mid-era Feat hits (Cajun Girl, Let it Roll) and covers of Dylans It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and the Bands Rag Mama Rag.Kickin It: Big shoes.Suwannee River: Taking on waterVida Blue, The Illustrated Band(Sanctuary)It seemed as if Vida Blue was going to be better remembered for its name (translated from Spanish, its blue life; its also the name of a pitcher who had a few great years in the early 70s with the Oakland As) and its membership (Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, Allman Bros bassist Oteil Burbridge and Meters drummer Russell Batiste) than for its music. Last years eponymous debut CD had a few bright moments mixed in with mostly lackluster funk-rock. Good thing they ignored me and kept going. On The Illustrated Band, the trio hooks up with the Spam Allstars, a cutting-edge Afro-Cuban sextet from Miami, for a tasty jam session. A jam it is: four tracks comprising 50 minutes of experimental, Latin-spiced funk-jazz with just a few vocal sounds tossed into the mix.Draws you in.Mike Gordon, Inside Inproduced by Gordon (Ropeadope)Bassist Mike Gordon had a more promising start to his career outside of Phish. Last year, he teamed with guitarist Leo Kottke to make Clone, an unlikely but likable record.Here Gordon assembles a wide-ranging jam dream team: Col. Bruce Hampton, members of his Phish mate Trey Anastasios band, Phish drummer Jon Fishman, fiddler Vassar Clements, all of Bla Fleck & the Flecktones. And three pedal steel guitarists. Inside In is loosely related to Gordons first feature film, Outside Out, which starred Hampton as a guitar instructor trying to unteach his students. The album takes the films soundtrack and significantly reworks it. But as with all soundtracks, reworked or not, Inside In sounds like somethings missing.Off bass.Allman Brothers Band, Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival(Epic/Legacy)It boggles the mind to think what the Allman Brothers might have become without the deaths in the early 70s of guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley.This two-CD set recorded over Fourth of July weekend of 1970, and predating the landmark live albums Live at Fillmore East and Eat a Peach offers another hint. Duane Allman a lofty No. 2 on that Rolling Stone list blazes throughout these blues-soaked tracks. The sound and packaging show appropriate attention to quality. About the only down point: There are double doses of Statesboro Blues, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Whipping Post and Mountain Jam. But they do well not to differentiate versions, such as bringing in guitarist Johnny Winter for a 28-minute Mountain Jam on Disc 2.The current version of the Allmans, with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks manning the guitar posts, has a new DVD. Live at the Beacon Theatre, taken from their two-week run at the midtown New York concert hall, is two discs of old classics, songs from this years studio album Hittin the Note, and interviews and backstage footage.Oh, Brothers!
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