Review: Live Albums

leonard-cohen-crop                 stevie-front

Live albums are always pretty interesting, beyond the music.  It’s like the artist wants to make some sort of statement – like, “Here’s a souvenir from my last tour.” (Rolling Stones).  Or, “You know, these songs may be 40 years old but I can still make ’em sound pretty damn good.” (Paul McCartney).  Or, “Hey, we’re still relevant … aren’t we?” (The Eagles).  Here’s a handful of live recordings that manage to make pretty much all of those statements:

Live In London by Leonard Cohen – This 72-year-old songwriter and (sometimes) singer has never sounded better in this two-disc souvenir of a show in London’s O2 arena from last summer.  His songs – especially the lyrics – are rivalled only by Dylan and like ol’ Bob, Leonard deftly turns his not-pretty voice into a powerfully expressive instrument.  Cohen’s songs are cast in a musical framework that recalls German cabaret and Hollywood movies, similar to what Tom Waits has been doing the past few years.  Cohen’s backing band is highly skilled and tasteful, they always hit their mark without taking the spotlight off the star.  I must admit I enjoyed this album way more than I intended to; after all, this is moody non-rock that nonetheless hits hard and cuts deep.  If you are a fan of mature, adult-oriented rock music, this is certainly a keeper.

MP3: “Sisters Of Mercy” by Leonard Cohen

The Soundstage Sessions by Stevie Nicks – The soundtrack for a DVD cut live in Chicago two years ago, this disc updates some of Nicks’ classics from both the Fleetwood Mac days and her solo days, and tosses in a new tune to boot. Nicks, currently on tour with the Mac, offers little reinterpretation (and quite a bit of post-production) on these curious remakes, wiped clean of any sign of the live audience.  That kind of makes the music a little more sterile, and considering that Stevie’s voice isn’t the supple instrument it was in the past, makes it also a little more irritating.  Still, the orchestral version of “Landslide” and a stripped-down “Sara” manage to shine, even if the rest of this is for hardcore fans only.

MP3: “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks

mickfleetwoodblueagainBlue Again by The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band – Also on tour with the Mac, is Fleetwood himself – with a band that stands in for the blues-based Fleetwood Mac of the late 1960s.  This is a great party album, especially for old timers: the band, led by guitarist/singer Rick Vito (a 1980s replacement for Lindsey Buckingham) ranges through some original material, some dynamite old Fleetwood Mac material and a few blues chestnuts.  Don’t expect to hear “Go Your Own Way,” though – this reaches way back into the Mac catalog, with some great stuff written by Peter Green (“Rattlesnake Shake, ” “Albatross”).  And they do the original “Black Magic Woman” (also penned by Green) – check out the similarity to Bob Dylan’s new single “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” 

MP3: “Black Magic Woman” by the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band 

Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, by Van MorrisonastralweekslivehwbFirst I need to state that the original Astral Weeks is one of my all-time favorite albums.  Morrison’s radio hits in the early 1970s turned me on to his music and like thousands of others I went back and found this gem.  But the new version of Astral Weeks doesn’t work for me – it isn’t the resequencing, or the extra songs, or the playing, it’s the whole idea of performing this song cycle live.  The original Astral Weeks is quiet, moody music that you can almost imagine hearing as it wafts out of an open window as dusk settles on a spring day.  Taken live and widescreen into the Hollywood Bowl, I feel the music loses its intimacy and its quiet power.  Not to say that Astral Weeks live isn’t pleasant; there are certainly some moments of grandeur.   But they are BIG moments, where on the classic original they were tiny gems.  I would say, get this album but make sure you get the original Astral Weeks.  Then you would have one for just about any mood.

MP3: “The Way Young Lovers Do” by Van Morrison

One Response to “Review: Live Albums”

  1. I’m glad to hear the Cohen live album is up to snuff. I’ve tickets to see him next month and had been on the fence about buying the cd – guess I’ll pick it up now. Thanks!

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