This week we have Three For The Road featuring new live albums from Dana Fuchs and Mike Zito, plus a look at the new 8 disc Rory Gallagher Irish Tour ’74 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. All these are a treat for live music fans. I hope you enjoy this week’s reviews and find something interesting for your ears!
Songs From The Road
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Dana Fuchs hit the streets of New York City at age nineteen. Almost twenty years later she is something of a local hero. Some know her for her portrayal of Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis. Some know her from her mesmerizing role as Sadie in the film Across The Universe. But after three acclaimed albums and thousands of performances, most people know Dana for her own body of work and dynamic shows. When it came time to capture one of those shows on tape and film, Dana Fuchs naturally chose to do so in front of a New York City crowd. The new live CD/DVD Songs From The Road was recorded at Highline Ballroom on March 14, 2014. It captures the dynamic performer and her road-tested band at the height of their power.
Dana’s voice is in fine form and it is indeed Dana’s voice. There are hints of Janis Joplin, sure, and a little Aretha and Otis Redding too, but she blends the familiar into her own natural phrasing and intonation. And you’ll notice on the DVD that Dana Fuchs leaves it all on the stage. She gives you every ounce of energy she has. The band is tight and delivers the goods in every song. Guitarist Jon Diamond is a former session player who met Dana shortly after her arrival in New York. They have a distinct chemistry which has led to a highly successful and satisfying songwriting partnership. From Stonesy rockers like “Set It On Fire” and “How Did Things Get This Way” to the heartbreaking ballad “So Hard To Move” and the hopeful Gospel groove of “Sad Salvation.” The band also features Matt Beck on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Pete Levin on keyboards and Joe Daley on drums. Back up vocalists known collectively as the Screaming Sirens, featuring Elaine Caswell, Nicki Richards and Bette Sussman, intertwine with Dana voice creating a beautiful quilt of sound that will warm you to your soul.
Together, these musicians cover a lot of ground. “Tell Me I’m Not Drinking” and “Sad Salvation” reach back to the debut album Lonely For A Lifetime. From 2011’s Love To Beg they bring out “Set It On Fire,” “Summersong” and an intense cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” 2013’s highly acclaimed Bliss Avenue is represented by “Livin’ On Sunday,” “Handful Too Many,” “So Hard To Move,” “Vagabond Wind,” and the incendiary show-opener “Bliss Avenue.” For fans of her work in Across The Universe, Dana closes with a gutsy, soul-stirring “Don’t Let Me Down.”
Inexplicably, the running order on the CD and DVD are different. The song “Love To Beg” appears only on the DVD, while “Keep On Walkin’” is only on the CD. The DVD avoids the ADHD frame transitions of the MTV era. You get a clear view of the energy Dana brings to each song and which she shares with her audience. On stage she is part temptress, part whirling dervish. She is a full body singer, drawing power from her entire being. She has presence, fortitude, and stirring voice. She is visual, visceral, and versatile. Songs From The Road is a tour de force for the Dana Fuchs Band and leaves you wanting more.
Mike Zito & The Wheel
Songs From The Road
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Mike Zito has been steadily building his audience, building a career in music, and playing honest songs to devoted fans around the world. A few years ago he co-founded a new band called Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman and Cyril Neville. RSB took off like a rocket and threatened to derail the hard won solo career Mike had developed. Staying true to his heart and his art, Mike announced his departure from RSB this year. His studio albums have gone from strength to strength with 2013’s Gone To Texas being one of the best yet. Zito and the Wheel put on powerful, passionate shows and it seemed like it was time to capture the road show on tape. The new live album, Songs From The Road, was recorded on January 10th, 2014 at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX. The Wheel features sax man Jimmy Carpenter, bassist Scot Sutherland, keyboard wiz Lewis Stephens and drummer Rob Lee. When speaking about the band recently, Mike Zito said “We’re all on the same page. We’re not interested in solos, we want to play together.” On the CD and DVD, you hear and see this is a true band. The songs and performances are the stars, with the whole group of musicians giving everything to serve them.
Mike Zito & The Wheel hit their stride in the live environment. The interplay gets intense on several occasions. Sax player Jimmy Carpenter sometimes manages to sound like a horn section unto himself. He and Zito go toe to toe and it reminds me I’m really going to miss Mike Zito’s guitar dueling with Devon Allman in RSB. Carpenter is perfect sparring partner though and together they make extraordinary music. Lewis Stephens is the keyboard filled center of this sweet jelly donut, adding flourishes, layering tones, and holding everything together. He is a master at work. It’s a shame we don’t get to see all their performances on the DVD or hear them on the CD. Between the CD and DVD, Songs From The Road features 17 songs. Appearing on the CD only are “C’Mon Baby,” a stark, earthy, melancholy version of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and the uplifting and rockin’ “Rainbow Bridge.” Appearing only on the DVD is the poignant “I Never Knew A Hurricane,” plus “One Step At A Time,” “Let Your Light Shine On Me,” “Natural Born Lover,” and “Texas Flyer.”
Don’t miss the bonus features on the DVD. Along with fan interviews, you get six Storyteller style performances from Mike Zito. He talks about the songs and sings them to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The stripped down versions of these songs draws out the quality of Zito’s writing and plaintive expression in his voice. The stories are honest and informative too. Mike goes into great detail, describing the events that led to the song “Greyhound” which in turn influenced “Gone To Texas.” He relates his love of history and the fact that “Gone To Texas” is an old slang expression indicating someone left to get their head together, which turns out to be exactly what happened to Mr. Zito. The bonus material is as compelling as the main show and makes this set comprehensive in its presentation of Mike Zito as a writer, instrumentalist, and singer.
Irish Tour ’74 – 40th Anniversary Expanded Deluxe Edition Box Set
Sony Music/Capo/Eagle Records
Release Date: October 21, 2014
By 1974, Rory Gallagher had been performing around the world for the better part of a decade. He had been in the big Irish show bands in the mid 60’s, played Isle Of Wight with his trio Taste, was courted by The Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left, and had been the subject of a rumored Jimi Hendrix quote about the best guitar player in the world. Still, he and his band were slugging it out night after night, playing anywhere that would have them. They found fame on the European continent and amassed a rabid following. In winter 1973 and 1974, they headed back to their home country of Ireland for a string of highly anticipated sold-out shows with Tony Palmer in tow to document the trek.
While Rory had accomplished a great deal and was at a career high point, Ireland, and specifically Belfast had been taking a beating. The political climate of Northern Ireland left Belfast ripped apart from what many consider the most destructive violence in the country’s history. This era of unrest came to be known as The Troubles and didn’t really end until 1998’s Good Friday Agreement. The Troubles divided the Irish people along religious, ethnic, and political lines and by winter 1973, when Rory embarked on his now famous tour, Belfast was decimated. Roy Hollingworth, noted writer with Melody Maker described the city as “a shattered, deserted and frightened place.” Live music was pretty much absent in Belfast but Rory Gallagher was willing to bring his show to his beloved city, an endeavor which forever won him the hearts of people across the country no matter their political views. About the decision, Rory was very matter-of-fact and plain spoken, as he usually was, “I see no reason for not playing Belfast. Kids still live here.” And so, Rory and his band, bassist Gerry McAvoy, drummer Rod De’ Ath and keyboardist Lou Martin set out on a tour in Ireland when almost no one else would, and gave the people momentary respite from The Troubles.
The now famous album Irish Tour ’74 says it was recorded on tour in Ireland but we now know most of the tracks came from the Cork City Hall shows on January 3rd and 5th 1974. The new box gives us eight unreleased tracks from these Cork shows, plus 35 more unreleased tracks over the course of the next five discs. Discs three and four were recorded at Dublin Carlton Cinema on January 2nd 1974, five and six were recorded at Belfast Ulster Hall on December 28th and 29th 1973, and disc seven is a wonderful revelation comprised of music recorded on the afternoon of January 4th 1974 in Cork City Hall during an extended jam session held to get the sound levels right for recording. On disc seven the band is relaxed and having fun. There’s no pressure and they are playing for the pure joy of it. They absolutely tear it up on “Just A Little Bit” and they stomp their way through a previously unreleased version of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Rory’s deft touch on slide is stunning.
Rory was a product of the show bands of the sixties and as such he played similar sets every night with his own band. Most bands of the era did the same. They rehearsed an hour and a half of songs and that was it. What this means to we people of the future in 2014 is there’s a lot of repeated tracks on the Deluxe Edition. This should not scare you away. The band may have played the same songs, but each performance has something special to recommend it. Rory and his band were tremendous improvisers and the nature of their repertoire meant every night would be different. As lead guitarist, Rory especially had the opportunities to stretch his solos, change his tones, modify his attack, and keep everything fresh.
The Belfast shows are especially exhilarating and it’s a wonder they were captured at all. Rory’s brother and manager Donal Gallagher tells the story in the extensive booklet that comes with the set. “For the opening shows at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, the booked Ronnie Lane mobile unit had failed to turn up, citing insurance difficulties.” Apparently it would have been parked on a street nicknamed Bomb Alley and the insurance company was having none of it. Donal continues, “in order that the audio could still be recorded, we utilized the two fold-back monitor channels on our newly designed German ‘Stramp’ audio desk.” The audio quality did suffer a little and gets a little noisy but the performance more than makes up for any hi-fidelity issues. Rory and the band feed the music-starved Belfast crowd and create a continuous loop of energy between the stage and hall. “Cradle Rock” is furious, “Tattoo’d Lady” is poignant especially since Belfast could be considered the land of the musical circus Rory ran to as a teenager, “Million Miles Away” is soaring, and Rory’s slide work and finger picking during “In Your Town” are propelled by the monstrous power of Gerry McAvoy and Rod De‘ Ath. Just when you think they couldn’t have any more to give the raving Belfast crowd, the band finishes with the eleven and a half minutes of frenzy known as “Bullfrog Blues.” The Catholics and Protestants could all agree that Rory gave them everything he had.
The band is ferocious throughout this set. Keyboardist Lou Martin gets a lot of soloing time and keeps up with Rory all the way. Gerry McAvoy was with Rory from 1971 to 1991 and is a sadly under-rated bassist. His parts on these tracks alone are enough to earn him legendary status and on the DVD you can see how his energy and spirit powered the band and drove Rory to keep playing better and better. Rod De‘ Ath was a drum titan and known well to musicians everywhere. He had power when needed and subtlety often required for blues. The Rory Gallagher Band was a force to be reckoned with on any night, but during this Irish tour they were as dangerous as the streets of Belfast. All their energy is captured in these tapes and the Tony Palmer film included as disc eight.
One last thing I have to mention is the packaging. The booklet is well done, very informative, and has lots of pictures. However, the construction of the box is entirely too flimsy. The spine of the set is a thin piece of cardboard that gets no support from the flaps that fold in to create the square. Since many brick and mortar retail outlets, especially in the US, won’t have this set in-store you will most likely have to get it shipped to you. The cheap cardboard spine and outer sleeve will not hold up well in shipping if they just put it in a padded envelope as Amazon did with mine. Buyer beware. The music, on the other hand, stands up strong and proud 40 years on. This set is a must have for Rory fans, guitar fans, blues fans… oh Hell, this is just great music by great musicians and everyone should have a copy.