Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
For some purists, especially those blessed enough to have seen The Band in concert, this live album, recorded on New Year’s Eve 1971-2, exposes more of the group’s heart and soul than any of their studio albums. Although consisting of material culled from their four studio efforts, the live experience (and a horn section with arrangements courtesy of New Orleans R&B hero Allen Toussaint) reveals an outfit so perfectly hewn by the road, and with such a deep love for rock ’n’ roll and R&B, that it seems to contradict their almost po-faced, scholarly image. January ’72 must’ve been a helluva month in NYC, with James Taylor’s gig recorded there three weeks later! Sound Quality: 90% . .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Since I saw JT on this particular tour, maybe I’m prejudiced, but, damn! this performance is a textbook example of how to charm an audience. Despite the size of the venue, and the clearly stoned crowd, it could have been an intimate coffee shop gig. The sound is clear as a bell, and every one of the 14 tracks is so familiar (to elder baby boomers) that they’re bound to bring tear to eye. Taylor remains the pinnacle of singer-songwriter bliss, particularly for those who favour the unplugged, not-entirely-maudlin sort, as far removed from Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake as the range of human emotions allows.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
If not quite as monumental a milestone in her career as Heart Like A Wheel, this album from 1977 stands almost as proud for its portrayal of Ronstadt as a far more versatile singer than her previous country-rock leanings suggested – a genre she helped to fashion. Here she ranges from straight rock ’n’ roll to ballads to pure C&W, if not quite intimating that a few years later she would become one the first of the rock generation to cover the standards of the 1940s/50s. True to form, this set also emphasises her immaculate, prescient taste: among the tracks she commandeers as her own are Roy Orbison’s ‘Blue Bayou’, the Rolling Stones’ ‘Tumbling Dice’, and a hardly-known Warren Zevon’s ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’. Sound Quality: 92% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
As has been de rigueur of late, Swiss-born Beat Kaestli has joined Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé and others releasing ‘American Songbook’ sessions. Kaestli, though, has resisted the more obvious A-list songs and opted for ‘slightly-less-covered’ masterworks, including ‘My Romance’, ‘Day In Day Out’ and other tunes that are familiar rather than done to death. Backed by a superb quintet and recorded at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, NY, with David Chesky at the controls, it’s a perfect showcase for SACD surround, which seems to be enjoying a renaissance. Kaestli’s emphasis is jazzier than the norm, a refreshing break from Sinatra wannabees.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
A heartbreaker, as it’s the sole LP from one of the finest of the wave of mid-1960s US bands who wished they were the Beatles. Like the equally fragile Left Banke (yes, that’s how they spelled it) with their leader Michael Brown, this group boasted a song-writing genius in Emitt Rhodes, and gave off a whiff of ‘Sunny Afternoon’, Kinksian Englishness that permeated the whole LP. While ‘You’re A Very Lovely Woman’ is equally well remembered, their biggest hit – ‘Live’ – had the kind of catchiness that made songs like the La’s ‘There She Goes’ so memorable. Yes, it was that good.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Like the title says, this is part of APO’s astonishing direct-to-disc series, but for me, it’s also the culmination of a decade-long plea for this label to record the R&B legend. It’s here I must declare personal involvement: I wrote the liner notes, explaining how it came about. Chad Kassem’s efforts have resulted in a delicious live session which justifies my nagging. Tate reaches down to the soles of his shoes to deliver exquisite takes of two trademark songs from his classic Verve LP, ‘Look At Granny Run Run’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody Home’, plus four others.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Less than year since Michael Jackson’s passing, armed as we are with 40 years’ worth of 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to be objective about this, their second LP. For those – like me – who couldn’t stand their teeth-jarring precocity, beaten only in the saccharine stakes by their contemporaries, the too-clean-to-be-real Osmonds, it was simply Motown For Kids. But on reflection, this is so polished, irresistible and, it must be admitted, funky, that one must subjugate any preference for the Temps and admit that it’s as catchy as a dose of the clap in Magaluf. Most eerily, the tracks beyond the title hit sound – sophistication-wise – like they’re sung by a 35-year-old.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
This LP’s rarity value alone commands attention: Topham was the Yardbirds’ founder guitarist, who had to leave the band because he was only 15. By 1969, at the age of 22, he delivered this solo LP, a long-forgotten take on the blues, far removed from the Yardbirds. Despite its Blue Horizon pedigree, it’s not of the Brit Blues school per se and is a stylistic mish-mash, more akin to Andrew Loog Oldham’s covers of the Stones’ canon, but its worth to Yardbirds hard-core is unparalleled. If you could find a mint original, you’d have to part with £100+.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Christmas in July! Here, in glorious mono – but of course – is what many regard as the greatest rock ’n’ roll Christmas LP of all time: Phil Spector’s deliriously joyful showcase for his Philles Records stable of pop maestri, from 1963. You get the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans, backed by one of the finest assemblies of session players ever to enter a studio: the amazing Wrecking Crew, with Leon Russell, Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono in its ranks. The package offers 13 Christmas pop standards, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a more uplifting take of ‘White Christmas’. The Wall of Sound rules, beyond prison walls.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Interesting re-packaging of the US version of Hendrix’s debut, but not absolutely necessary if you bought this 17-track expanded release in 1997. This adds only cooler packaging and a 17-minute DVD of engineer Eddie Kramer and three now-departed figures – Hendrix’s one-time manager, Chas Chandler, and the members of the Experience, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding – talking about the recording sessions. But if you don’t own any Hendrix, this is the best place to start: it’s an utterly incendiary album bursting with invention, the blueprint for psychedelia, jazz-rock and so much more. An ear-opener then, a touchstone now for every guitarist since.

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