Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Like the epic blues LP, Fathers & Sons, which combined young and old, here we find three generations of rock guitarists – Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge and Jack White – swapping tales, gigging and generally celebrating the electric guitar. Too many moments make this a must-see if you’re a fan of any or all of the performers: historical footage of Page in the early 1960s, The Edge recounting how he and his brother made an electric guitar from scratch, even winding the coils. And to see Page declining to harmonise in a rendition of ‘The Weight’ on the grounds that he ‘can’t sing’ (!) – this is one of the most captivating rock docs in years. Sound Quality: 90% .
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
Although you may have seen this ‘making of’ documentary on TV, as with all the DVDs from the Classic Albums series, this features substantial amounts of added material (a TV promo, detailed studies of the instruments’ sounds, and more). When the subject is one of rock’s most intelligent practitioners, a second viewing with extras is worth every second. This chronicles the band’s third release, from 1979, which cleared any lingering mislabelling from the punk era, ‘Refugee’ and ‘Here Comes My Girl’ being enough to establish Petty’s rep. This was their first release after Shelter Records folded, with Petty in recovery mode from the aggravation.
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
Of all the ‘lost’ rock films, this should never have landed in the vaults. A multi-artist concert from ’64, it may be the most important ‘rockumentary’ of the era, in the Top 5 of any rock-flick list. Viewed only in fragments for 46 years, it’s now available in clean 16:9 black & white, with a mono soundtrack. What you get are magical performances from (deep breath) the Barbarians, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown & the Famous Flames, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, Billy J.
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% .
Yes
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Although ‘progressive rock’ remains a smug oxymoron, Yes were the least aggravating of all the snots who smarmed their way across the music firmament from the late-1960s onward. This was their third, the 1971 set that proved to be a massive breakthrough, setting the stage for their masterpiece, Fragile. It’s all here: virtuoso playing, airy harmonies, the sub-Tolkien/post-2001 mystical mumbo-jumbo. To play a track called ‘Starship Trooper’ with a straight face… who am I to deem a few million fans devoid of taste? But if my remarks on prog-rock seem harsh, never forget that we have to thank it for this: the backlash to the genre was punk.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010  |  0 comments
Practitioners of Zydeco – the black, bluesy, more rocking cousin to swampy Cajun music – serve a select audience, for the genre rarely produces crossover hits. But if you get bitten by the bug, it’s irresistible. Major Handy is one of Zydeco’s younger, more active performers, born in the heart of the Louisiana region that gave birth to the sound, and a veteran who played with Rockin’ Dopsie. Chad Kassem’s crew has captured the swing and the feel of the genre, while showcasing an instrument that’s key to Zydeco but hardly an audiophile staple: the accordion.
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
Like a pair of favourite slippers, a Livingston Taylor CD is a blue-chip cert if you want to relax. OK, so the audiophile equivalent of comfort food might not seem challenging, but his easy-going balladry is delicious – not least because Taylor called on members of Alison Krauss’ band Union Station to enhance it with a thread of bluegrass. As it was recorded in Tennessee, you can subtitle this his ‘Country Album’. Other guests include Steve Gadd, one of the greatest drummers in rock, country giant Vince Gill and Leland Sklar, bassist par excellence.

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