Box Full of Letters from Issue #41
Not giving up on him
I was disappointed with the tone taken by Bill Friskics-Warren in his review of Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me CD [ND #40, July-August 2002]. It appears he likes the recording, but the praise is nearly lost in some pointless hand-wringing.
In particular, Warren has some issues with the production and contributed songs. I think the production work by Joe Henry is fine. It seems like he just stood back and let the assembled musicians make a record. The dialogue between Solomon and keyboardist Rudy Copeland is perfect, as Warren points out. The band supports but never overwhelms this great effort. What is wrong with that?
Warren also feels the CD rarely reaches the point where it can “catch fire or even smolder” and that the beat is often “too phlegmatic” to bear. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word phlegmatic used in a review for a roots record before in my life. Slow would have been fine. It is a slower paced recording that does smolder with fine vocal styling.
Regarding the songs, Warren seems to have problems with their definition. Soul or not, the songs are all interesting to me, even the Elvis Costello track, which Warren seems to think is silly or somehow ridiculous.
My review of the CD would have been a one-word description: Sublime. Phlegmatic indeed!
— Neil Hever
Bummed out in Berwyn:
O BR, where art thou?
I just got home from seeing BR549 at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois [ed. note: this letter was received June 1], and my God was I disappointed. What happened to them? I’d heard a few breakup rumors but nothing I’d ever heard verified, and I was excited about seeing them (for the first time) tonight.
My excitement was crushed as the band took the stage: both Gary Bennett and Smilin’ Jay MacDowell were absent (without explanation), and in their place were two nervous-looking young kids. The bass player, McDowell’s replacement, was harmless enough, but the Webb Pierce caricature that they found to replace Bennett was just silly. He looked and sounded like a country singer out of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, and on top of that, it was somewhat jarring and grotesque to see Chuck Mead flanked by these two (obviously much younger) green recruits.
Not only was I disappointed to see that an integral two-fifths of the band had been replaced, but the horrible charades they were trying to pass off as natural stage banter and fun were so forced and false that it made me sick to my stomach.
It wasn’t all bad; when Chuck sang “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, I almost thought Hank Sr. was in the room. The new guys did know their parts, and knew them well (but that doesn’t really make up for what is missing in the other members absences). And who can’t smile watching Don Herron play his wide array of instruments with that big grin on his face?
But the bad moments far outnumbered the good. I don’t know the story, and I haven’t heard where Gary and Jay have gone off to, but if the band is to continue like this, maybe they should consider a name change. Call it “The Shaw, Don and Chuck Show” or call it “BR549 Revisited” — but don’t call this decade-early nostalgia act by the same name as the phenomenal band it used to represent. Better yet, maybe they should just call it quits.
— Joe Chellino
Nice review of the Blasters’ show at Slim’s in San Francisco [ND #39, May-June 2002]. Wish I could have been there. One thing I’d like to dispute is the statement that their “last show” was in Montreal in late 1985. Well, maybe that was their last “official” concert, but Dave Alvin has performed in Blasters lineups after that date.
I recall seeing the Blasters in February 1986 in Overland Park, Kansas. As a student at the University of Kansas in nearby Lawrence, I was really pumped to see them — but was wondering who would take Dave’s place. But when I got to the show, to my surprise, there was ol’ Dave himself. The original four-piece lineup was still intact. And of course, they kicked ass.
— Jeff Suggs
The Last Waltz:
Words from a witness
I enjoyed David Greenberger’s review of The Last Waltz box set. It was more than just a concert, as he mentioned, and much of it was framed by Robertson’s ego. I had the luck of being at the show, and the new box set has brought back a lot of memories for me. I’m not really that tempted to see the DVD release because all the offstage posturing really distracts from the music.
Just a couple of observations on the new box set: This collection now gives us yet another set of the truly uninspiring “Last Waltz Suite”. For me, this was the big disappointment of the three-record set; there was so much great music from the show, and to have this suite replace songs from the show was a waste of LP space. But back then, I didn’t really understand the “show” as envisioned by Robertson, which to him was more than the concert. I just wanted to hear songs from the show.
Another disappointment was leaving the two jams off the three-record set. For me, they were a highlight of the show, but Greenberger’s brief comments about them were insightful. I never really thought about it before, but they were incongruous to the nature of The Band as they recorded (i.e., why play a 60-second solo when 30 seconds says it all?).
But as part of the show, these jams fit in — they were having (or providing) a musical party, and as the song playing ended, they just segued into this collection of guys onstage playing their hearts out. Were these things “staged”? I don’t know, but I recall Bill Graham put Eric Clapton in a bear hug and carried him out onstage.
But what is disappointing is that those cuts on the box set are edited. I haven’t done a timing comparison, but the cuts on the four-CD bootleg set of the complete show are much longer. As Greenberger wrote in his review of the DVD set, these work in the video, but not in the audio. They might have worked better in the audio box set had they been provided in their entirety!
Thanks for reviewing this collection.
— Bob Cowden
You’ve heard this before, but good work on a thoroughly musical publication. I’m always interested to see what you come up with that I cannot read or hear about anywhere else.
Something I would have liked to see was a feature story on Josh Rouse after his release of Under Cold Blue Stars. You introduced me to him with a story a couple years ago. He is sadly underexposed. I was anticipating his new album as much as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In a way, I think Josh is making music in a parallel world to Wilco. With his three albums, he has become increasingly thoughtful lyrically and expansive musically.
One other thought — I’ve wondered whatever became of a band from the ’80s, Scruffy The Cat. Any knowledge on them?
— Patrick C. Beno
Green Bay, Wisconsin
[Ed. note: Scruffy The Cat leader Charlie Chesterman is still active musically; he’s released five albums under his own name since 1994. Check our website, www.nodepression.net, for a feature story on Chesterman that ran in ND #12, Nov.-Dec. 1997. We’d sure like to see someone reissue Scruffy’s 1985 EP High Octane Revival, though. Now, back to the land of 1,000 girls…]