Shout-Out From Beyond
Gregg Allman [1947-2017] was always one of those rock stars who, according to producer Don Was, didn’t know “what to do with himself in between shows.” As a direct result, the legend suffered, desperately trying to achieve the bliss he could only feel on a stage. He talked about it in his lurid 2012 memoir, My Cross To Bear. He alludes to it in his music, especially “My Only True Friend,” a track he co-wrote on his posthumous masterpiece, Southern Blood (Rounder). You can add Allman to the list of greats who knew they were dying — like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell — who purposely recorded their final album as a goodbye.
Allman eschews sentimentality for a full-on rush of adrenaline on such carefully chosen material as Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was,” Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River,” Lowell George’s “Willin’” and Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam” with Browne sharing vocals. And since it wouldn’t be an Allman album without some blues, he manhandles Willie Dixon’s “I Love The Life I Live,” singing the line Muddy Waters immortalized in the 1950s (“Don’t talk about me ‘cause I could be high”) like a true bon vivant on his last bender. In point of fact, Allman’s vocals throughout are amazingly strong like a mom who gets the strength to pick up a car when her baby is trapped underneath. This doesn’t sound like a man who knew he had little time left. He sounds robust, healthy, full of piss and vinegar. I’m sure that’s exactly the way he wanted to go out.
Another Dead Rock Star
George Michael [1963-2016] was written off as a boy-band exemplar during his days in Wham!, but after Faith was surprisingly one of 1987’s best albums, he took his newly exalted position seriously enough to name the 1990 follow-up, Listen Without Prejudice. It wasn’t nearly as good but, still a solid effort, outsold Faith, and has now been re-released by Sony Music as a double disc with his 1996 MTV Unplugged appearance and “new” single “Fantasy” with Chic’s Nile Rodgers (originally the flip side of his “Freedom! ’90” hit).
Listen Without Prejudice actually sounds more profound in 2017 as the music of dead guys usually does. The live CD, though, is the grabber: he positively nails Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” with such a sterling vocal you can practically hear the crowd ooh and ahh. The man had the voice of an angel. Still, it’s a Faith song (“Father Figure”) that’s worth the price of admission alone.
Earthshine (ears&eyes records) by Dan Bruce’s :beta collective has amalgamated a crew/sound/vision to ram through Bruce’s ambitious theme of “order and chaos at the forefront,” according to the Chicago guitarist/composer/arranger. The seven sextet jams run the gamut from groove to free association. Being “free” within jazz means no restrictions: the players aren’t bound by tempo, rhythm, melody or any semblance of harmonic niceties. Thus, the shortest track, “Reprieve: Reprise” weighs in at 7:20 while the longest, “Earthshine,” opens the party at 13:29. By the time of the closing 13:26 “Greatest Hit #1,” all the musicians have had time to show off. The consistently amazing chops on display will dazzle any adventurous ear. With a trumpet/tenor front line, the keys/bass/drums act as not only a chugalug rhythm section but as three more drivers on a bumpy road of syncopated surprise.
The Spirit Of Memphis
Isaac Hayes [1942-2008] was called “Black Moses.” When he started out at Stax Records in Tennessee, it was as a producer and songwriter. The Spirit Of Memphis: 1962-1976 (Craft Recordings) is a four-CD boxed set chronicling his rise from behind-the-scenes to cultural icon.
Disc No. 1 has those songs he crafted for Booker T & The MGs, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Charlie Rich, Billy Eckstine and others. It was all him all along.
Disc No. 2 shows his rise via an amazing series of singles (all hits) where he stretched out beloved material like the Glen Campbell hit. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” into elongated slow jam psycho dramas with his honey-glistened spoken-word introductions and deep basso-profundo big-daddy voice of experience. You’ve never heard The Jackson 5 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” until you’ve heard Isaac Hayes sing it. Who you gonna trust when it comes to matters of the heart? A 12-year-old Michael Jackson or a 29-year-old romantic warrior like Hayes? And his “Theme From Shaft” is still the coolest movie theme ever.
Disc No. 3 has his dramatic interpretations of a host of slow songs that he makes even slower, dripping with sex, molasses and drama, a flourish of strings, and that legendary Stax house band: from Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love” and Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” to Dusty Springfield’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” The final six tracks are live from Chicago in ’72 — this is where you can feel how strong his hold on his crowds were. His blues are deeply felt, and when he covers Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right),” you feel every throb of the passion play involved in an illicit affair.
Disc No. 4 is a total groove. Deliriously jam-happy, his “Groove-A-Thon” doesn’t stop until 18:50. Closer “Do Your Thing” rumbles and rambles on for over half an hour.
Handsomely packaged with a rare 45”, great prose and rare photography, this is an A-1 box that one could spend many an hour with. Digest it whole and you really do get a sense of the man’s grandiosity on so many levels. If he didn’t have a stroke at the young age of 65, he’d be 74 today and I bet he’d be just as vital and kick-ass as he always was.