The year was 1987. Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s Kremlin, in an effort to promote his transparent Glasnost policy of friendship to the West, invited Billy Joel to perform the first fully-staged high-energy American rock ‘n’ roll show behind the Iron Curtain. Joel jumped at the chance. How could Gorbachev—who, compared to current Russian President Putin, is Pete Seeger—have possibly known that the New York singer/songwriter had always wanted to play for the Russian people? Reportedly, he put up two mil of his own money to make it happen, and when it did, it was a resounding success.
A Matter Of Trust: The Bridge To Russia (Columbia/Legacy) revisits this moment in rock history with a two CD/two DVD package chronicling shows in Leningrad and Moscow. One DVD is a concert, the other DVD a documentary.
The two CDs are impeccable: the sound, the setlist, and the between-song comments gushed by Joel and translated into Russian by an onstage interpreter. With 11 of 27 songs previously unreleased, it’s a soul-satisfying romp for any Billy Joel fan, which includes this reporter.
Sure, you get your “Allentown,” “Baby Grand” (minus Ray Charles, of course), “Uptown Girl,” ”Big Shot” and the obligatory Beatle cover of “Back In The U.S.S.R,” but, amongst the unreleased, are “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid” (preceded by the kind of cool western soundtrack instrumental music he loved growing up), “Pressure,” Beatle cover “She Loves You” (recorded at rehearsal, that is so note-for-note perfect, including the harmonies, you’d swear it was the Fab Four themselves) and an incredible a capella harmony cover of one-hit wonders Don & Juan on their 1962 doo wop classic “What’s Your Name” which Joel explains was the type of music he used to sing on street corners with his buddies when they were cutting school.
Add “Stiletto,” “Honesty,” “The Longest Time,” Piano Man,” “New York State Of Mind” and more and you’ve got quite the package.
Now if only he would write some new tunes.
Emergence (LMB Music) by multi-instrumentalist Lawrence Blatt is a beautiful acoustic piece of work mixing counter-melodies, rhythmic interplay and exceptional technique couched in various genres. Blatt plays guitar, bass, mandolin and accordion. He wrote and arranged all 12 tracks and utilizes others on violin, viola, cello, English horn, French horn and pennywhistle. It all makes for a quite exceptional listening experience as it delves into classical, folk, worldbeat, Celtic, Latin, Middle-Eastern and jazz. The good thing about it is it ain’t no damn new age ambient wallpaper: there’s always something kinetic going on to massage the brain and sooth the ear. Bravo!
Man, I’ll tell ya, I can’t ever seem to stay away from the blues! When it’s all said and done, it’s the blues that rocks my soul. This week’s installment is from Bad Brad & The Fat Cats whose Take A Walk With Me (Fat Cats Entertainment) got under my skin after the first listen to its 13 tracks. Bad Brad Stivers comes out of the University Of Northern Colorado and has been knockin’ ‘em dead on the festival circuit. Ask him who his influences are and he’ll be quick to rattle off Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rory Gallagher, Robin Trower, Jonny Lang and B.B. King. He plays a lot at the Boulder Outlook Hotel and its owner says his effect on the patrons is not unlike the young Elvis Presley. He’s got a guitar/harmonica/drums band but this album is augmented with five more musicians for a fuller sound. Let’s hope he hits the Northeast sometime soon. Love this guy!