A number of CD and DVD releases have found their way into my inbox in recent weeks. Here are quick takes on some that got my attention, and that I recommend to yours.
During the five years (1963-68) that the first edition of The Yardbirds existed, they earned a spot in classic rock immortality by having employed three musicians who would ultimately be recognized as three of the greatest rock guitarists of all time: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The band also broke new ground in the nascent psychedelic rock genre, and introduced a number of electric guitar tricks and techniques that were unique then, commonplace now. In 1995 two of the band's founding members, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja brought the band to life once again, almost 25 years after the original group disbanded. The new version of the band released a studio album of new music in 2003, and they have toured extensively -- enough to have also produced five live albums. The latest, Making Tracks is a two-disc collection culled from various live gigs, and a film documenting the tour. Make no mistake, The Yardbirds are not a "greatest hits" band. Although their set lists contain songs that the original band are best known for, like "Heart Full of Soul," "For Your Love," "I'm a Man" and "Train Kept Rollin'", their performances also sample their modern-era material. In either case, this incarnation of The Yardbirds hasn't strayed from the unique mix of hard rock, psych rock and good old 12-bar blues that the original band perfected. Making Tracks is available on DVD.
Sometimes it seems The Doobie Brothers have been around since the beginning of the classic rock era, and for good reason. The band was formed in 1970 and have sold more than 40-million albums (and burned almost that many miles on the road touring.) Success came and has stayed in spite of the fact that in 1976, the band shifted musical direction about 180 degrees when Michael McDonald replaced Tom Johnston as primary vocalist, and the fact that the band went out of existence for the five years between 1982 and 1987. Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers is just that, a chronicle of the band from the beginning to the present via archive footage and interviews. There is also more than half an album's worth of live performances -- nine in all -- of DB classics like "Black Water," "China Grove" and song that started it all, "Listen to the Music." Altogether, more than two hours that goes by quickly and, in the time honored show business tradition, leaves you wanting more. Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
It isn't unusual for a band or artist to release two, three, even four albums before finally breaking into the major leagues of commercial and critical success. It is unusual for an artist's breakthrough to come with a live album. By 1976, Peter Frampton had released four studio albums. The most successful of them, 1975's Frampton got as high as #32. None of the three before it had come close to breaking into the Top 100. Then along came the double live album, Frampton Comes Alive! and, as so often happens in the music business, conventional wisdom was turned upside down, and Frampton was suddenly hot. FCA! reached #1 and stayed there for ten weeks. It stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for nearly two years (97 weeks) and for quite a while thereafter held the distinction of being the best-selling live album ever. Frampton celebrated the 35th anniversary of his career-making album by taking it on the road in 2011 and 2012, performing it in its entirety to audiences who reacted as energetically as they had three decades ago. This two-disc set was shot at shows in New York's Beacon Theatre, and Milwaukee's Pabst Theater. FCA!35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton is available on DVD, Blu-ray, CD and MP3.
In 2002 and 2003, compilations of 33 Queen music videos were released on two DVDs. In 2012, the two were combined into a single two-disc package, restored and reformatted for 16:9 widescreen with audio remixed in 5.1 Surround Sound. Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor supply audio commentary. The first disc covers the '70s plus 1980. Disc 2 delivers the rest of the '80s. I've never considered music videos to be the best showcase for a band or artist since, by design, they are produced as a way to sell a product. Regardless, as a key piece of the history and evolution of Queen, this is worth a look. Greatest Video Hits is available on DVD.
If Blackmore's Night had existed back in the late '60s and early '70s you likely would have heard them on the progressive/alternative radio stations who thrived on the kind of music that was difficult to neatly stuff into in existing genre. Of course, Ritchie Blackmore was making music back then, as a founding member of Deep Purple. And his professional (and marital) partner, Candice Night was, well, just being born in 1971. Those who insist on all music having a neat little box to fit in have tried to define Blackmore's Night's music variously as folk rock, progressive rock, Celtic, new age, and my personal favorite (not) neo-medieval. In a 2008 About.com Classic Rock interview, Night suggested she would prefer that it just be categorized as music. "I feel like music is such a great freedom, especially if it's in this band. We have such an amazing creative freedom to do anything, whether it’s a Joan Baez cover, a rock song, a traditional Russian drinking song. I feel like that’s really the true spirit of music." A Night in York is BN's third live album (they also have seven studio releases in their catalog) and, like the other two, it demonstrates how audience-friendly their music is. Blackmore's name is a draw, as is his fairly frequent interjection of electric guitar jamming reminiscent of his Deep Purple and Rainbow alma maters. This album, recorded in York, England in 2011, also shines a bright light on Night's exquisitely clear, expressive voice, her skill as a songwriter, and her mastery of a variety of instruments. A Night in York is available on CD, vinyl LP, and MP3.