Music / Book Reviews: The Doors: ‘Soft Parade’ (50th Anniv. Ed.) Plus Jerry Leger, Swans, Specialty Records

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Asked to name a favorite Doors album, many fans would choose the group’s self-titled debut album in 1967, 1970s Morrison Hotel, or the years 1971 Wife. Some might vote for the years 1967 Strange days or the years 1968 Waiting for the sun. Few, we suspect, would indicate the years 1969 The sweet parade, the band’s fourth album, which is widely regarded as a faux pas as it frequently eschews the signature Doors hard rock for pop-flavored tracks that feature a lot of brass and strings. That said, the album wasn’t exactly unpopular at the time. It rose to No. 6 on the charts, achieved Platinum sale status, and produced a No. 3 hit single (“Touch Me”).

Now, The sweet parade is the latest Doors album to receive the 50th anniversary box treatment, giving listeners the opportunity to take another look and re-evaluate.

The first of three CDs in this limited and numbered edition features the original album and the B-side of a single (“Who Scared You”), both remastered by Bruce Botnick, the engineer of the original release. (This material also appears on an included vinyl LP.)

The second CD features unreleased mixes (no brass or strings) of most of the album’s tracks and “Who Scared You,” some with new guitar overdubs by the band’s Robby Krieger. Also here and unreleased: versions of “Roadhouse Blues” by Morrison Hotel and two other blues songs with the voice of Ray Manzarek, the late Doors organist.

An often bootlegged 64-minute studio jam known as “Rock Is Dead”, which has yet to be officially released in its entirety, dominates the final disc.

The excellent remastering doesn’t change the fact that the original album was a lesser effort, but it serves as a reminder that The sweet parade had its strengths. There’s padding here, including “Do It,” much of the 10-minute track, and the bluegrass-inflected “Runnin ‘Blue,” all of which sound like tracks that should have been labeled as takes.

But “Shaman’s Blues” and “Wild Child” are strong; and although “Touch Me” is not “Break On Through”, it packs a punch and contains an excellent saxophone solo from session musician Curtis Amy. It’s also remarkable that what has to be the only rock song to end – strangely enough – with a quote from an Ajax TV commercial (“Louder Than Dirt!”), Although the Grateful Dead did refer to the advertisement in the title and riff of the song.

In addition, the mixes reserved for Doors, which differ considerably from previous versions, are interesting. In some cases, like the melancholy “Wishful Sinful”, they suffer from the lack of embellishments. In others, like “Touch Me” and “Runnin ‘Blue,” they make the material better, and much less like a departure from previous work.

As for “Rock Is Dead” from the third disc, which was recorded just a few weeks after the Sweet parade sessions, it’s winding and uneven but often rewarding and dotted with fascinating experiences. Here is your chance, for example, to hear Jim Morrison deliver a passionate version of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (later recorded by Elvis Presley) and turn Presley’s “Love Me Tender” into something you might hear during of a eulogy. If nothing else, the jam belies its title and suggests that, The sweet paradeDespite the pop trends, The Doors were still a rock and roll band at the time of its release.

BRIEFLY NOTED

Jerry Leger, Time out for tomorrow. Longtime Toronto-based folk / rocker Jerry Leger shines on his latest album Americana. Like his two most recent previous CDs, it was produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. The tunes feature excellent guitar-based instrumentation and compelling vocal work by Léger, reminiscent of Willie Nile.

The entirely original program, which mixes ballads and rhythmic acts, includes well-articulated social commentary, as in “Canvas of Gold”, which is said to have been inspired by gentrification in Toronto’s neighborhoods. “Read Between the Lines”, a spicy organ ballad reminiscent of early rock and finds Léger singing with all his heart is another star.

Swans, make sense. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this 15 Swans album to produce a Top 40 single. The experimental rock band, which has been around since 1993, is led by singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira, who seems far more interested in his own muse than commercial success. (In fact, Gira now appears to be the only permanent member of the group; he says he selects “a rotating group of musicians… presented.”)

At make sense, a set of two 94-minute CDs, Gira’s muse translates into demanding, hypnotic and intense music. He uses everything from folk guitar and nightmarish yelping to celestial choirs to construct his enveloping and otherworldly soundscapes. It’s not for everyone, so listen before you buy, but to my ears it’s top notch.

ON THE BOOKSHELF

Rip It Up: The History of Specialty Discs, by Billy Vera. The latest volume in a series of influential record labels focuses on the label best known for classic Little Richard hits, but also for material from Lloyd Price, Soul Stirrers by Sam Cooke, Percy Mayfield and ‘others.

Singer / songwriter / producer Billy Vera, who worked in the company, researched and wrote the book, which does a good job of chronicling the rise and success of Specialty. Art Rupe, who founded the label in 1946 when he was 29, contributes a preface and many other quotes. (Yes, he’s still here at 102.)

Perhaps the most revealing of these quotes can be found in the first chapter, when Rupe describes the methodical yet passionate approach to music which undoubtedly contributed to his success. “I did an analysis of what went into a record, technically and musically, and I dissected them,” Rupe recalls. “I used a stopwatch, I counted the number of bars, the balance, the tempo. I used a metronome. I established a set of rules or principles that I think would allow me to make commercial records. Some of this music moved me so much, I had tears in my eyes.

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