Ken Kessler

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Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
For those in need of some distaff R&B amidst the incredible male performers captured live by Chad Kassem & Co, Texan songstress Greenleaf and her band Blue Mercy exhibit precisely the kind of fire and grit that exemplifies the great blues and (southern) soul belters of the 1960s and 1970s. Greenleaf acknowledges gospel inspiration and cites Koko Taylor and Aretha Franklin amongst her muses, so you can expect and do receive earthy, powerful interpretations of five tracks that suffer no sonic restraint. If the modernity of the recording’s crystal clarity jars with what is a genre of elderly vintage, think of this as you would a b/w movie filmed in high-def. This is shake your booty stuff.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010  |  0 comments
Mayfield was one of the very first soul artists to imbue his songs with serious political content. And this self-produced, solo debut from 1970 melded contemporary soul and R&B with production values rarely glimpsed before, resulting in Mayfield’s immediate elevation to the front rank. Overshadowed by masterpieces from Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye from the same period, Curtis expanded on the ground-breaking work he’d created with the Impressions in the previous decade. Sounding dated only in that it lacks the abrasiveness of the post-rap era, Curtis succeeds instead because of its intensity, beauty, intelligence and grandeur.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 07, 2010  |  0 comments
A trend I have no complaints about is that of live CDs which come with a DVD of the same concert, viz. McCartney in NYC, Steve Stills, etc. As I first saw King and Taylor together nearly 40 years ago, this set brought a lump to my throat: for baby boomers, there’s no more comfortable pair of slippers. They’re simply the gentlest, warmest pair of singer-songwriters imaginable, they clearly adore each other, and they deliver a combined self-penned 15 classics.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 07, 2010  |  0 comments
Americans are now able to buy this enthralling Blu-ray, just hitting UK cinemas. Enthralling? The saga of an all-girl rock band from the 1970s who were sold initially and primarily for their post-pubescent sex appeal? As it turned out, they rocked as hard as the boys, giving us the magnificent Joan (‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’) Jett in the process. Apparently, this slickly-made film has gone down well with Cherie Currie, on whose reminiscences it is based, while Jett and the rest of the Runaways shouldn’t be too unhappy with it: as biopics go, it’s easily on a par with the young John Lennon movie, Nowhere Boy. Beyond the Hollywood teen angst, they really, truly could rock.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 07, 2010  |  0 comments
Because their first two albums were so spectacular, nothing the Band released after them seemed to possess quite the same level of musical magic. But this, their seventh release, following a lengthy gap after the so-so Moondog Matinee, was a genuine return to form. Two tracks in particular, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘Acadian Driftwood’, were so purely Band-ish that they could have nestled comfortably with the masterpieces that made up their eponymous sophomore release. Sonically, it’s slicker-sounding than its predecessors, the Band recording for the first time with 24 tracks.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 07, 2010  |  0 comments
Alas, this lacks ‘Time Has Come Today’, the majestic 1968 hit and their greatest claim to fame, but the seven tracks here remind us that the Chambers Brothers were an R&B act first, and hippie anthem creators/psychedelic soul brothers second. The recording quality is magnificent – not that live recordings from the Fillmores were ever bad – but the sense of space and air, and the precise locations of instruments and players really benefit from the higher-res offering. Percussion and bass make this flow, and the showstopping take of ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ recalls a Stax Revue. Possibly the best $6 I’ve spent on-line this year.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010  |  0 comments
As eerie a song as has ever topped the charts, the surprise success of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ ensured that Gentry’s 1967 debut LPwould also reach No 1. In retrospect, this is a seminal release helping to create the break between traditional, Opry-style country warblers, the gutsy, bluesy component turning this into, sort of, a distaff effort at the outlaw approach, with Gentry eschewing the beehive, pointy-bra’d, down-trodden angst of most of her contemporaries. As Gentry faded from the public a mere five or so years afterwards, working only sporadically, this reissue is a reminder of how much she helped to empower today’s country songbirds. Sound Quality: 88% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010  |  0 comments
In case anyone thought that a stint in the US Army might have dulled Elvis’s talents, this astonishing LP from 1960 delivered exactly what the title promised, including the exclamation mark. His voice was in superb form, he was backed by the most sympathetic line-up in his career – including Scotty Moore, the Jordanaires, Hank Garland, and DJ Fontana – and the repertoire included ‘Fever’, ‘The Girl Of My Best Friend’, ‘Reconsider Baby’, ‘Such A Night’… Do you really need any more of an inducement to rush out and buy this state-of-the-art two-disc, 45rpm edition? Audiophile-grade Frank and Elvis LPs in the same month: oh, we are spoiled rotten. Sound Quality: 95% . .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010  |  0 comments
Originally released in 1968, this is a cornerstone of the Canterbury prog-rock scene. It benefits, however, from the presence of Kevin Ayers, who instilled upon the project a sense of whimsy absent in the band’s later, more serious and jazzy works. Yet even his sense of the absurd, and the inclusion of shorter numbers rather than epic slices of self-indulgence can’t disguise the fact that this is a definitively British underground/hippie/acid affair, despite being recorded in New York. What makes it of interest 40 years on is that it’s so easily digested – without the need to ingest psychedelics.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010  |  0 comments
If 1962’s Live In Paris was breathtaking, Sinatra At The Sands from ’66 defies categorisation. I mean, accompaniment by Count Basie and his Orchestra, conducted and arranged by Quincy Jones? And it was recorded at the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas? If ever there was a Rat Pack-less souvenir of Sinatra at the top of his game, a primer in cool stagecraft, this LP takes the honours. All of his standard showstop tunes were delivered, up to and including ‘It Was A Very Good Year’. Add to that slick patter, ‘All Of Me’, plenty of the Basie band, ‘One For My Baby’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ … there’s a reason why Ol’ Blues Eyes still remains the Boss.

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