Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Neil Young Trunk Show (2009)

In recent years, filmmaker Jonathan Demme directed a trilogy of Neil Young concert documentaries. The first film in this trilogy, titled Neil Young: Heart Of Gold (2006), and the third film, Neil Young Journeys (2011), are both currently available on DVD. However, the second film in the trilogy, Neil Young Trunk Show (2009), is curiously absent from the home video market.

The film played in theatres for one-week runs in select cities in March 2010, and was set for a DVD and Blu-ray release later that year. However, for reasons that are unclear, Trunk Show has still not been released in any home video format to this day.

Trunk Show was filmed at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA in 2007, during the Chrome Dreams II tour. In the film, Young performs three songs from that album (“Spirit Road”, “No Hidden Path”, “The Believer”), and other songs spanning his entire career, some well-known (“Cinnamon Girl”, “Like A Hurricane”) and others obscure. Three of the songs have never been released on any album (“Sad Movies”, “Kansas”, and “Mexico”), and the final instrumental played during the closing credits – titled “The Sultan” – was originally recorded by Young’s high school surf-rock band The Squires in 1963!

Unlike the other two films in Demme’s trilogy, the 83-minute Trunk Show usually avoids sidelights about Young’s life or about the venue. Aside from a few bits of brief backstage footage, this movie concentrates almost fully on the documented concert. Trunk Show looks less like a feature film than the other two – not that it is grainy or unprofessional, but it feels less like a theatrical movie and more like a show that was intended to be released straight-to-video (except that it has not been released to video). This results in a closer, more intimate feel than Demme’s apparently bigger-budget Young documentaries had.

Although we see a good deal of the gentle acoustic Neil Young here (on “Harvest” and “Oh Lonesome Me”, for example), the high points come during Young’s wild electric jams with his backing band, comprised of multi-instrumentalist Ben Keith, Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas, and drummer Ralph Molina. On the 20-minute-plus “No Hidden Path” and the almost free-form “Like A Hurricane”, Neil and the band dig down deep to generate fierce electric noise. The simple camera technique gives the viewer a virtual front-row-seat view of this glorious chaos.

One particular surprise comes when Young performs a pair of little-known selections from his somber mid-‘70’s period: "Ambulance Blues" and "Mellow My Mind", the latter of which he unexpectedly plays on a six-string banjo.

In many ways, Trunk Show captured a moment that can never be recreated. Two members of the band featured in the film have since passed away: Ben Keith died in July 2010, and Rick Rosas died in November 2014. Also, Young recently split from his wife Pegi, who sings background vocals in the film.

Whatever issues are holding back the release of Neil Young Trunk Show on DVD and Blu-ray, let’s hope they are resolved soon. The film would be an essential addition to any Young fan’s collection, especially those who wish to own the entire Demme-directed trilogy.

Neil Young Trunk Show (2009)

Song list:

1. Sad Movies (previously unreleased)
2. Harvest
3. Cinnamon Girl
4. Oh Lonesome Me
5. Kansas (previously unreleased)
6. Mexico (previously unreleased)
7. Spirit Road
8. No Hidden Path
9. Ambulance Blues
10. Mellow My Mind
11. The Believer
12. Like A Hurricane
13. Cowgirl In The Sand
14. The Sultan

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sharks "First Water" (1973)

Andy Fraser, the former bass player for Free, passed away in California earlier this week at the age of 62. As of this writing, the cause of death has not been officially determined, although Fraser was known to have struggled with AIDS and HIV-related cancer.

Fraser was a mere lad of 15 when he became a founding member of Free in 1968. He was still in his teens when he co-authored the British blues-rock band's international chart-topper "All Right Now" in 1970, reportedly conceiving the classic rock anthem in no more than ten minutes.

After Fraser departed from Free in 1972, he formed a band called Sharks, and played piano and bass on their 1973 debut album First Water. Fraser’s bandmates in Sharks were British journeyman guitarist Chris Spedding, Canadian session drummer Marty Simon (formerly of Life and later of April Wine), and a singer named Snips (aka Steve Parsons, who later joined the Baker Gurvitz Army).

First Water was not a commercial success, but it did receive some critical acclaim, and it still has its admirers today. The album has long been out of print in the U.S., but has been reissued on CD a number of times in the U.K., most recently in 2011.

The music of Sharks resembled a more bluesy variation of the hard rock sound that Fraser’s former Free-mates would soon purvey in Bad Company. Instrumentally, First Water is an impressive record. Fraser gave the album plenty of class with his tasteful piano and bass playing, and Spedding’s sophisticated lead and slide guitar sounds added a unique flavor to the songs. But Snips’ gravelly vocals were not a good match for this material. The singer mercilessly growls and howls like Joe Cocker on most of this album, and it often has a jarring effect. While such a strong presence undoubtedly helped Snips pass his audition for Sharks, his obtrusive manner unfortunately clashes with the economical sophistication of the musicians on their finished album. At best, Snips comes on like a domineering Rod Stewart on “Snakes And Swallowtails”, “Doctor Love” and “Steal Away”, but the album’s better moments come when the instrumentalists are allowed to shine through.

Fraser left Sharks after the recording of First Water. Spedding and Snips recorded two more Sharks albums without Fraser: Jab It In Yore Eye (1974) and Like A Black Van Parked On A Dark Curve… (1995). Fraser formed another group called the Andy Fraser Band, who recorded two albums in 1975. After that band's demise, Fraser mainly concentrated on songwriting for the remainder of his lifetime, and recorded two far-between solo albums: Fine Fine Line (1984) and Naked…And Finally Free (2005).

Sharks - First Water

Sharks "First Water" (MCA MCA-351) 1973

Track Listing:

1. World Park Junkies
2. Follow Me
3. Ol' Jelly Roll
4. Brown-Eyed Boy
5. Snakes And Swallowtails
6. Driving Sideways
7. Steal Away
8. Doctor Love
9. Broke A Feeling

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quincy (aka Lulu Temple)

Years before forming the power pop band Smash Palace, brothers Stephen and Brian Butler were members of a new wave band called Quincy. Stephen played guitar, while Brian shared lead vocal duties with bassist Gerald Emerick. Their other two bandmates were drummer Bob Holden and a keyboardist called Metro (aka Wally Smith). This band was originally formed in Haddon Heights, NJ in 1976, and recorded only one long-lost album for Columbia Records in 1980.

The self-titled Quincy album is steeped in the new wave stylings of its day, inviting comparisons to Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and the Cars. But its twelve tracks are rooted in power pop, with delectable melodies and hooks that make them timeless. Although a Lennon and McCartney influence is most noticeable on “Grow Up” and “Dime Store Lies”, the Beatles influence can actually be detected beneath the sleek surfaces of nearly all of the tracks. There isn’t a dull song in the dozen. Despite the production (by Tim Friese-Greene, later a member of Talk Talk) and packaging, Quincy didn’t seem to be trying too hard to be hip. At its core, Quincy was just a good, likable rock and roll album that was in tune with the times. It’s one of the unsung albums of its genre and year.

Sadly, Quincy’s career sank when they faced legal action by Quincy Jones over the use of his name(!). They were forced to change the name of the band, and they took on the unappealing moniker Lulu Temple. They recorded just one ill-fated EP under that name in 1983. The four tracks on Don’t Say No found the same quintet attempting to emulate the British synth-pop bands that were then dominating MTV. The title track is reasonably catchy, with a saxophone sound that causes it to resemble some of the era’s mainstream pop hits. But the static “Posing For Pictures” and the dance-club-oriented “Can’t Stand Still” wear out their welcome quickly. It’s easy to understand why the Butler brothers were unhappy with the band’s musical direction, and left Lulu Temple to form Smash Palace. The best track on the EP is the last one: “Hey Girl” is the most Quincy-like song here, possessing a type of new wave bounce similar to the one that made the 1980 album so likable.

The EP should not be confused with the 12-inch single for “Don’t Say No”, which contains a nearly seven-minute extended version of the EP’s title track on its A-side. On the B-side, there is a single edit of the song (which sounds a lot like the EP version) and a six-minute instrumental dub version (which does contain a snippet of the song’s chorus at the end).

Quincy - Quincy

Quincy “Quincy” (Columbia NJC 36471) 1980

Track Listing:

1. Turn the Other Way Around
2. Critics' Choice
3. Don't Knock on My Door
4. Always in the News
5. Dime Store Lies
6. Can't Live in a Dream
7. Just a Tragedy
8. Stop Now
9. Grow Up
10. Roamin' Catholic
11. Stuck on You
12. Ordinary Town

Lulu Temple - Don't Say No

Lulu Temple “Don’t Say No” EP (Columbia 5C 38552) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Don’t Say No (3:54)
2. Posing For Pictures (5:02)
3. Can’t Stand Still (7:48)
4. Hey Girl (4:17)

Lulu Temple - Don't Say No

Lulu Temple “Don’t Say No” (12-inch single) (Columbia AS 1687) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Don't Say No (6:50)
2. Don't Say No (Single Edit) (3:40)
3. Don't Say No (Instrumental Dub) (6:00)

See also Smash Palace