Friday, April 28, 2017

THE ESSENTIAL "LIVE" ALBUMS

Live albums.  Albums that record a band performing live in concert.  Let's face it, most artists are much better in the studio rather than performing on stage.  In the studio, you can correct mistakes, rerecord until it sounds the way you want it to.  You can put multiple tracks over each other called over dubbing and make the sound fuller and more rounded.  It takes a special artist to be able to give a live performance that sounds as good as the sound from the studio, if not better, in front of a live audience.  These are a few live albums that define an artist as being able to do on stage what they accomplish in the studio.

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND - Live At The Fillmore East

The Allman Brothers were more a less a regional group with a huge following in the southern states, particularly in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.  Their studio albums had not been well received outside the south and even in the south fans preferred to see them live than listen to the studio takes.  When they went north and decided to cash in on their fans love of their live shows they decided to record it.  The result was an album that was an immediate hit and climbed the charts extremely quickly.  Suddenly the Allman Brothers Band were nationally known and going on tours would find all of their shows sold out.  Eventually they became part of the first wave of artist that were selling out stadiums.  When playing this album sided with their studio albums, it is clear that this was a band made to play live.  The southern blues that would produce songs on the stage that had a lot of improvisation put into the songs that would last well over the usual four to five minutes.  Shortly after the release of this album the groups leader, Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle accident but as the years have gone by, this band is still known as a concert group and they have released more live albums than most any other group in the modern era of rock.
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PETER FRAMPTOM - Frampton Comes Alive

Peter Framptom is a guitar player who is considered one of the better guitarists out there. In his early days in the late sixties he was a member of a band called Humble Pie.  Humble Pie had several great musicians but were only able to garner a small, albeit faithful fan base.  Frampton came to a point where he wanted to do his own sound, his own songs and so Humble Pie disbanded and Peter Frampton set out on a solo career that did not fair much better than Humble Pie had.  The same fans that had followed Humble Pie followed Frampton and so his four solo albums were never really high on the charts, that is until the summer of 1976.  As Framptom was setting out on an US tour, A&M executives noticed how responsive his fans were to his live show.  They decided to try to capture this magic and set up a recording of his shows in San Fransisco that spring.  The result was a live album that broke all sales records for not only a live album but also shattered records for a muti-disc album sales.   The album threw Frampton into the elite of rock and several singles were released from the album, marking an extremely rare practice of live singles, something that had not really been seen before.  The singles showed the same success as the album had shown.  Frampton went back to studio recording after the live album and sales sunk back down clearly defining Peter Frampton as a live act, not a studio act.

LOGGINS AND MESSINA - On Stage

Unlike the previous two artists listed here, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina had a rather large and enthusiastic following.  Kenny Loggins was know for his exemplary songwriting and a large number of his songs had been covered throughout the industry.  When the two teamed up writing songs, hit after hit came from their studio albums.  On the road in concert, they sold out venue after venue although they never entered the stadium rock roster of acts.  When this album was released, it showed how strong they were not only on stage, but as individual musicians.  The album opens up with Kenny Loggins on stage with an acoustic guitar alone, singing some of his wider known songs that he had written and had been covered.  Then in the middle of the last song of Loggins solo part, the band suddenly shows up and joins in to finish off the song.  The real Loggins and Messina act then begins and Jim Messina joins Loggins on the stage to rip through their catalogue of hits that they had accrued over the years.  The result is a clean sounding, very tight band singing songs that were legitimate hits,  The harmonies are fantastic as the two run through the set.  It is an example of how a great studio group can also be a great group on stage.  When it was released it was a surprise to the industry doing much better than expected and still one of my go to live albums.

PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS - Wings Over America

Paul McCartney needs no introduction to my readers.  Nor do the two other members of Wings, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine.  This was recorded in several cities, including Kansas City, during McCartney's first United States tour since the Beatles had split up.  McCartney, of course, had an astonishing number of hits going into this tour and they perform them all.  A couple of Beatles tunes are thrown into the mix, but for the most part this is McCartney and his work.  There was no cutting out some of the songs from the set list making it a huge three album set that once the listener started listening to the opening number "Venus and Mars" made it very difficult to stop listening to until you had reached the end of side six and even then McCartney left the listener wanting more.  McCartney is awesome in a live atmosphere, this is no surprise, and so it is no surprise that this album is as good as a live album can get.  Picking and choosing the best performances of each song from the recordings of individual concerts makes sure that everything hits on target in this album.  The album itself, becomes McCartney's best concert ever.



ERIC CLAPTON - Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert

This is not the best live album ever recorded but it is one of the most important ones.  Eric Clapton had spent years addicted to hard drugs and alcohol.  After a short career that would be the envy of any guitar player in the sixties (John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, The Yardbirds, Blind Faith, Cream, Derek and the Dominos) Clapton had found himself alone and in too bad of shape to even grant himself a job as a studio musician.  With the help of a lot of his friends from the industry, Clapton went in to rehab and cleaned himself up and began to play the guitar again.  After a year or so of being clean, these friends formed a back up band for Clapton and set up a concert at The Rainbow Room in London.  It was to be Clapton's coming back performance taking his place back where he belonged, at the top.  The band was an impressive list of names that the reader may or may not know.  Ronnie Wood, Pete Townsend, Jim Capaldi, Rick Grech, and Stevie Winwood among others.  The concert proved to be a success in getting Clapton back on the road to his music making and made for a pretty good concert album.  The sound quality is not the best, the band is not as tight as one would expect, but still, to hear those three guitars of Clapton, Townsend and Wood all playing together along with the keys of Stevie Winwood, the album brings itself together.  It is the documentation of the comeback of a musical icon, and if this concert had not happened, the music world may have lost out on many many great blues songs that Clapton brought to us.

HERBIE HANCOCK AND CHICK COREA - An Evening With ....

Okay, do I really need to describe this album?  The title alone says all there is to say.  Two of the jazz world's greatest pianists EVER playing in duet together on the same stage at the same time.  They team up together to play some of each others best known works for an hour and a half.  The sound is crystal clear.  The pianos play off of each other in a way that even during the improvisations that jazz demands, the pianos stay tight and together.  This is jazz at it's finest moment in my mind.  Sure there are a lot of live jazz albums out there, most of them are very good but this album..... THIS album is staggering.  I honestly don't know what else to say about it.  It is an album that I stumbled across many many years ago and I have never let it go.  I have shared it with cousins and Uncles and friends.  Any lover of jazz, especially jazz piano, will find this work relaxing and encompassing.  If you ever get a chance to hear this thing .... do it.
JACKSON BROWNE - Running On Empty

This is a different kind of live album.  It opens with a live performance on stage and closes with a live performance on stage, but a lot of the album are live cuts that were recorded on the tour bus and in hotel rooms.  This album gives us Jackson Browne in his purest form.  While the recordings taken from concerts are great, it is the acoustic improvisational Browne riding on a bus or sitting in a hotel room with his band and friends.  It is a relaxed Jackson Browne.  It shows us how much this singer/songwriter loves his music and how much he enjoys it.  It is a simple album.  It is easy to listen to and fun to listen.  Add in the fact that every song on this album is a gem and you got a live album like none other.  I like thinking outside of the box and in putting this album together, Jackson Browne certainly shows us that he is capable of that.  These recordings make up an album that rival Browne's better known studio albums in the must have Jackson Browne category.  A real find and a real pleasure to listen to and enjoy.

FRANK SINATRA - Sinatra At The Sands

This is more than a Frank Sinatra album.  Sinatra is accompanied by Count Basie and his orchestra and the songs are arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones.  It was recorded in 1966 so if you are looking for live versions of "My Way" or "New York, New York" you won't find them here. Instead what you get is Sinatra doing some of his classics like "Fly Me To The Moon" and "My Kind Of Town".  The newest song in this set is probably "It Was a Very Good Year".  The album gives the Count his dues when it includes the Basie classic "One O'clock Jump".  The concert has that feel of being in a small intimate venue where Sinatra feels comfortable talking to the people who had come to see him on this special night.  It sounds as though Sinatra is singing to individual members of the audience at times.  This was also at a time when Sinatra's voice was at its peak.  Strong baritone voice, holding notes out and using his usual ending each word sung completely, as your hear the "t's" at the end of words for example.  Tough to beat Sinatra in studio, but this comes very close to doing so.


JOHNNY CASH - At Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash was never sentenced to prison, but between this album and his San Quentin album, a lot of people thought he did.  In one interview that I heard he said "People are always coming up to me and saying, 'My daddy was in prison with you'" and he laughed.  There is a lot of debate over which of the two albums is better, Folsom or San Quentin.  As far as I am concerned, At Folsom Prison is near, if not at, the top of country live albums.  The album opens up with Cash saying those famous words of his.... "Hello ... I'm Johnny Cash" and as the inmates start to go wild the band starts to playing and never stops.  He does a set that does not fail to prove that he was one great performer.  His wife, June, gets up on stage with him and does a fantastic version of "Jackson".   This doesn't need to be said because i am sure that every Johnny Cash fan has this album in their collection, but if you DON'T have it in your collection..... get it.

AL KOOPER/MIKE BLOOMFIELD - Lost Concert Tapes '68

Ever since I first heard this album I couldn't believe that these tapes were actually lost, but apparently they were recorded and stuck in the vaults at Columbia Records.  Someone should have been fired for that although they were probably retired by the time the tapes were released.  This is not only great live blues with guitar genius Mike Bloomfield with his pal Blood Sweat and Tears founder Al Kooper on the organ, it has a little extra special part to it.  During this concert at the Fillmore East, Bloomfield and Kooper introduce Johnny Winter to the world.  I can not imagine how the people who were lucky enough to be there felt listening to Winter for the first time, but as I listened to Johnny Winter on this album, I was blown away... and at that time I knew most of Johnny Winter's work that would follow this introduction of him to the world of blues.  This record is astounding.  We find both Bloomfield and Kooper at the top of their game.  The songs are great, the band is tight and as I listen to this set I can almost see this concert taking place.  Nothing is better live than a good blues performance and these two definitely deliver.  The couple of songs by Johnny Winter, however, puts it over the top and into the place of one of the best blues albums to come out of the sixties.  The set ends with a great rendition of Donovan's "Season Of The Witch" which would become a staple for Al Kooper as his career progressed.

Well, I listed more than I intended to do, but there are some good live albums out there.  I'll make a secondary list at some point I suppose.  For the most part, live albums have been seen as a lower form of recording than studio albums.  Only real fanatics of a group buy a live album of theirs.  But all of these albums, as well as numerous others, stand on their own merits.  If anything, a live recording when done well, is a lot more impressive than a studio recording.

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