George Harrison: Brainwashed (Capitol)
What a wonderful keepsake this album is for the millions of people (like me) who loved and respected George Harrison. It represents his first studio album since the 1987 Cloud Nine, and it is certainly as good as that album; maybe better. It opens with one of his catchiest songs — “Any Road,” which dates back to the Cloud Nine days — and includes a number of excellent showcases for his singing and slide guitar work. There's plenty of his sardonic humor, as well as the expected philosophical journeys, all the more poignant given his untimely passing. “Pisces Fish,” “Looking for My Life” and “Stuck Inside a Cloud” are all strong, personal pop meditations, and “Marwa Blues” is a lovely, moving instrumental with a slight Hawaiian lilt. In fact, Harrison's love for Hawaii, where he had a house for many years, shows through in the rhythmic ukulele strums that form many of the songs' foundations. The album was completed posthumously by Harrison's musician/son Dhani and the ubiquitous Jeff Lynne; the good news is that their work is extremely tasteful throughout. A classy effort from beginning to end.
Producers: George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison. Engineers: John Etchells, Ryan Ulyate, Marc Mann. Studios: Not listed, but mostly done in Harrison's studio. Mastering: Brian Gardner/Bernie Grundman Mastering (Hollywood).
— Blair Jackson
Various Artists: KCRW's Sounds Eclectic Too (Palm)
The second in the Sounds Eclectic Series of live-in-the-studio recordings from Los Angeles' KCRW again offers something different. Here, the critical darlings of alt get a chance to prove that one, they've really got something to say; and two, they can say it live. Sometimes inspired and always interesting, most of the performances were recorded in stereo, direct to DAT, in the NPR station's funky basement studio (three cuts were recorded live-to-2-track and broadcast on location) on a 24-channel Amek Big console. High concept, not high tech is the result; vocals are mostly way out front, and it's all about the song and the emotions. Sounds Eclectic Too starts off with the moody, surprisingly insinuating, piano and vocal “Yellow” by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and ranges through Zero 7's smoky “Distractions,” the poignant “I've Been High” by R.E.M., Nick Cave's “Into My Arms,” Dido's “Here With Me,” and much more. More intimate and raw than MTV's Unplugged or VH1's Storytellers, listening to Sounds Eclectic Too is like hearing a bunch of songs played — just for you — in their early demo stages. All that and no pitch shifting, beat correcting or digital re-arranging. Joetta Bob says, “Check it out.”
Producer: Nic Harcourt. Engineers: Jamie Candiloro, Bob Carlson, Mario Diaz, Teri Enomoto, Ray Guarna, Mark Luecke, JC Swiatek, Greg Thompson. Studios: KCRW, Studio de la Seine (Paris), Museum of Television and Radio (Los Angeles) and Kampo Cultural Center (New York).
— Maureen Droney
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5: Live 1975, Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia)
Having seen Dylan in concert a few months ago and being disappointed — again — by his decision to deliver nearly every song in a speedy, indistinguishable blur of words that did a complete disservice to the power of his lyrics, the arrival of this magnificent two-CD set was like a healing balm. Recorded the year after his historic reunion tour with The Band (captured in all of its ragged glory on Before the Flood), it features his rag-tag Rolling Thunder Revue, which mostly played small venues in the Northeast. Blood on the Tracks was still new, Desire was still a few months away and many of the best moments here come in songs from those two masterworks: acoustic versions of “Simple Twist of Fate” (with a few different lyrics), “Tangled Up In Blue,” and electric outings on “Hurricane,” “Romance In Durango,” “Isis” and others. There are radical rearrangements of several older Dylan classics, too, such as “It Ain't Me, Babe” and “A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall,” but the reworkings are uniformly brilliant and exciting. Dylan's singing is rich and full of life, and the tunes where Joan Baez helps out are all beautifully rendered. A bonus DVD includes two live songs from Dylan's underrated film, Renaldo and Clara. Highly recommend for the adventurous Dylan fan!
Producers: Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz. Original recordings: Don Devito. Mixer: Michael Brauer. Mastering: Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound (New York City).
— Blair Jackson