On The Record: Graham Parker’s ‘Live at Rockpalast,’ Queen’s ‘Rock Montreal,’ Little Richard, & More New Releases

Graham Parker Concert DVDs Reissued with a Bonus

English rocker Graham Parker’s Last Chance to Learn the Twist, which came out last year, was just the latest chapter in a distinguished career that has spanned about half a century. The high-octane concerts on Live At Rockpalast 1978 & 1980, which come from the early part of that career, first appeared as a two-DVD set in 2012. In a new release, a pair of CDs that feature the same music augment the video discs.

Supported at the 1978 show by his muscular group the Rumour and a horn section, Parker conveys intensity as he performs 15 of his best songs, among them “Back to Schooldays,” “White Honey,” “Heat Treatment,” and the addictively hooked “Fool’s Gold.” At the equally compelling 1980 gig, where the backup includes the late Nicky Hopkins on piano, a 19-song set features several numbers from Parker’s then recently released Squeezing Out Sparks LP, which proved to be a standout: “Discovering Japan,” “Nobody Hurts You,” “Passion Is No Ordinary Word,” and “Don’t Get Excited.” Only three selections are duplicated in the two concerts, which took place at Germany’s Rockpalast venue.

Not surprisingly, given the age of these recordings, the DVDs offer neither a widescreen format nor surround sound.  The audio and video are more than acceptable, however, and Parker’s potent fusion of new wave and soul comes across loud and clear throughout.

An Upgraded Edition of Queen’s ‘Rock Montreal + Live Aid’

Rock Montreal + Live Aid, a previously released pair of films from Queen, returns in a two-disc edition that features upgraded audio and video.

The first disc delivers a 25-song 1981 concert from Montreal, in which the quartet – and especially its late lead singer, Freddie Mercury – is at the top of its game as it serves up versions of many of its hits. Among them are “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” “We Are the Champions,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Another highlight is “Under Pressure,” which the quartet handles just fine sans David Bowie, who co-authored it and sings along with Mercury on the single. Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor share observations on an audio commentary track. 

The second disc, which presents an excellent eight-number Live Aid set from 1985, duplicates several songs from the Montreal show and adds a few others, including the then-recent hit, “Radio Ga Ga.” Bonuses include 11 minutes of rehearsal footage and a band interview.

Available on Blu-ray as well as 4K Ultra HD, the set offers the Montreal show in a widescreen version as well as a full-screen format that, according to a publicist, is more faithful to the way the film was shot. The Live Aid performance is in high definition for the first time, and both shows boast new Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD surround-sound mixes.

Impassioned Music from Rock Pioneer Little Richard

The Omnivore label has in recent years been rereleasing a steady stream of long-unavailable Little Richardalbums, including 1970’s The Rill Thing, 1971’s King of Rock and Roll,1972’s The Second Coming and Southern Child, and 1986’s Lifetime Friend. All of them have strengths, but none come close to matching the often-astonishing 1950s performances on the rock pioneer’s indispensable Specialty Sessions box set.

The new Right Now!, which Richard recorded in 1973, comes close, however. His piano work on this eight-song set is right up there with Jerry Lee Lewis’s; and his impassioned wails, whoops, and hollers sound like the cries of a man possessed.

The material is excellent, too. It includes five self-penned tracks, among them the frenetic, nearly seven-minute “Gerald Jones” (actually “Geraldine Jones”; the song was mislabeled on the original release). There are also three well-executed covers: “Chain, Chain, Chain (Chain of Fools),” the Aretha Franklin hit; “Chains of Love,” the old Big Joe Turner song written by Ahmet Ertegun (aka Nugetre); and a funky remake of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” the Otis Redding chart-topper.

Also Noteworthy

Chris Smither, All About the Bones. Folksinger Chris Smither is in fine form on his 20th studio album, which finds his bluesy baritone and finger-picking guitar work accompanied by instrumental contributions from his longtime producer, David Goodrich, as well as drummer Zak Trojano, vocalist and accordionist Betty Soo, and jazz saxophonist Chris Cheek. 

In addition to covers of Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On” and Eliza Gilkyson’s “Calm Before the Storm” that will have you tapping your foot, the album features eight emotive Smither originals. Subjects range from mortality (the title cut) and love (“Still Believe in You”) to politics (“Close the Deal,” which ends with “Two hundred years in the making, we could throw it all away / What the hell”). 

Abigail LapellAnniversary. Had a tough day? The soothing latest album from Toronto-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell could be just what you need to chill out. 

Lapell, whose vocals and elegant arrangements often sound redolent of British acts like Pentangle and Fairport Convention, is joined on three of this album’s 11 self-penned tracks by the Canadian folk-rock group Great Lake Swimmers, whose frontman, Tony Dekker, co-produced with the singer. Other accompanists on the CD – which addresses love, longing, and loss – add such instruments as trumpet, harpsichord, marimba, organ, and viola. 

The music, all recorded in a 200-year-old Ontario church, is sweet, emotional, and dreamy. It adds to the already abundant evidence that Lapell merits attention – and with 40 million Spotify streams, she appears to be getting it.

RubyJoyfulThe Pie Chart of Love. The cover of this CD looks like the result of a five-minute clip-art project, but RubyJoyful clearly put much more time and effort into crafting the music on this impressive debut.  The Americana sextet, which includes two members of Leftover Salmon, is joined by a variety of guests on the 12-song acoustic program, whose instrumentation and wry humor sometimes recall Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. 

As the title suggests, the main theme here is love, a tough subject to address without lapsing into clichés. Guitarist and singer Dan Rubinoff, who wrote all the material, manages to offer fresh angles, though, as evidenced by numbers like “How My Lil’ Punk Girl Fell in Love with John Prine.” Another standout is “All My Friends Got More Money Than Me,” which according to the liner notes is “a true story…It was easy to write because we lived it for so many years.” 

Tylor & the Train RobbersHum of the Road. Frontman Tylor Ketchum’s baritone radiates personality on his group’s latest release, which serves up 10 mostly mid-tempo and upbeat country rockers, all by Ketchum. The Idaho-based group’s folk-influenced music is consistently hook-laden and accessible, and Ketchum’s lyrics are inventive and memorable. 

If you like such acts as the Marshall Tucker Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, and New Riders of the Purple Sage, give this set a listen.

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.