THE BYRDS – On A Wing: Volume 2  (Sound Stage – SS6CDBOX49)

Byrds On A Wing: Volume 2In December last year, the Sound Stage label issued a massive Byrds boxed-set titled The Byrds On A Wing: Volume 1 and the good news is that a mere few months later, Volume 2 has arrived! While an obvious continuation of the series, this (slightly smaller 6 disc) collection doesn’t exactly pick up where the last instalment left off, but rather provides more depth to roughly the same period as before, circa 1969 – 1989.

However, as any eagle-eyed Byrds fan will tell you, the group was no longer around for the majority of these years, and as a result, there is, in fact only one disc on this set dedicated to the group themselves – a 1978 performance on disc 2, by Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark, with occasional cameos from Kim O’Kelly and David Crosby. Even at this, there are few complaints musically, with treasures like ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ and ‘The Ballad of Easy Rider’ alongside classics like ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘Eight Miles High’. Prior to this disc, it is those Flying Burrito Brothers (featured on two discs of Volume 1) who get things started, this time with a recording from the 1969 Seattle Pop Festival. This is another particularly enjoyable recording, with highlights including the Burrito staple ‘Sin City’, ‘Train Song’ (a familiar reprise from Volume 1) and the usual country heartbreakers like ‘You Win Again’ and ‘She Thinks I Still Care’.

Disc 3 and 4 bring us up to speed with the relatively short lived Flyte, founded by Gene Clark and Chris Hillman. These come from two performances at North Hollywood’s Palomino Club in December 1982. On the plus side, there are some little diamonds; a bluegrass version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’, ‘Running The Roadblocks’, ‘Easy Rider’ and a wonderful cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Only Read My Mind’. On the downside, both discs 3 and 4, present virtually the exact same set-list, which, musically is very good, but being so similar and so close together, its maybe just too much.

The final discs on Volume 2 are taken from concerts in early 1989; The Ritz in New York (January) and Tower Theatre, Philadelphia in April. Disc 5 focusses on the Desert Rose Band, fronted by Chris Hillman and disc 6 documents a David Crosby ‘solo’ set, recorded during a particularly tumultuous period of his life. The Desert Rose contribution, in its own right, is pretty decent, even if the 80s country rock thing doesn’t translate quite as well as some of the other material elsewhere on the set. The Crosby disc is partly solo and partly band-backed but has a lot to offer; in particular, keep an ear out for a stripped back version of ‘Guinnevere’ and raucous versions of ‘Déjà Vu’ and ‘Wooden Ships’.

In conclusion, while this instalment perhaps doesn’t have quite as much immediate impact as its predecessor, (part of the reason for this being the crossovers and similarities in material used on both volumes, Byrds On A Wing: Volume 2 still holds its own. For example, if one looks at this collection as more of a whistle stop tour of life after the Byrds, rather than a thin on the ground, ‘Byrds’ boxed-set, it does a bang-up job, with unusual, unpredictable and hard to come by tracks from an interesting two decades.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Label website: https://www.juno.co.uk/labels/Sound+Stage/

‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ – live at the Fillmore East in 1970:

Read Chris’ review of volume 1 here.

THE BAND – Live in Charleston 1994 (Live on Vinyl – LOVL2027)

Live In Charleston 1994Although The Band called it a day in the late 1970s (as famously documented in Martin Scorsese’s  The Last Waltz) they did re-emerge in the early ‘80s, albeit with an altered line up. This time, there was no Robbie Robertson and although Richard Manuel would initially reunite with the group, sadly, he took his own life in the middle of the decade. Nonetheless, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko kept on keepin’ on (to borrow a phrase), eventually cracking a new audience through their 1993 LP, Jericho. This recording, Live in Charleston 1994, is a live representation of their work in this era.

While the album is mostly made up of live takes from the aforementioned Jericho record, it is the old jazz standard, ‘Caledonia’, which begins the show. The up-beat, funky and blues-esque ‘Remedy’ then follows – only being let down by the various inconsistencies in the sound which plague the first few numbers. Towards the end of side 1 however, this appears to have been addressed somewhat and classic Band numbers like ‘It Makes No Difference’ and ‘The Weight’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blind Willie McTell’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’ all come out wonderfully played and relatively unscathed.

The set concludes with the encore; ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’, also from Jericho. While the 12-bar blues number is a pretty solid listen in itself, the live recording fades to silence before the song reaches a ‘real life’ conclusion, providing very little closure to the set being presented as an album.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Label website: https://www.forcedexposure.com/Labels/LIVE.ON.VINYL.UK.html

‘Atlantic City’ – live in 1994:

BOB DYLAN WITH JERRY GARCIA – San Francisco 1980 (Rox Vox – RV2CD2143)

San Francisco 1980 San Francisco 1980 comes from the Fox Warfield Theatre on November 12th, 1980, at the start of a twelve date residency which Dylan had at the venue, and the very first night in which he performed officially onstage with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Released on a raft of bootlegged recordings over the years, this double-disc album brings together the concert in its entirety.

Set-wise, it is a combination of Dylan’s early Christian era works (‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, ‘I Believe in You’, ‘Man Gave Names to all the Animals’ et al.) alongside his more “typical” fan favourites. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The key selling points of this album include Garcia’s contribution to the set (although he only plays on six of the nineteen numbers), and particularly his part on an unpredictable (and partially re-written) rendition of ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’. Besides these, the album’s offering of obscurities are not to be overlooked; ‘Mary Of The Wild Moor’, first discovered by Bob in the early 1960s at the New York home of Eve and Mac McKenzie but only debuted live on this 1980 tour; ‘Abraham, Martin And John’ also first debuted mere nights before; ‘Let’s Keep It Between Us’, fittingly the title for the late 80s American East Coast pressing of this Dylan/ Garcia performance, and ‘The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Alter’, also featuring Garcia.

Unfortunately there are two distractions which taint these discoveries slightly; firstly, the quality of the sound board recording which frequently picks up the voices and screams of the concert goers, and secondly, and perhaps more frustratingly, the haphazard nature of the on-stage mix, which sees overly amped instrumentation, at times, almost completely drown out the vocals of Dylan.

Of course, these are the pitfalls of such ‘snapshot of time’ recordings and while this may not be the record to convert any non-believers to the word of Bob or the gospel of Garcia, there are certainly traces of the good stuff within these tracks.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Label website: http://www.odmcy.com

‘To Ramona’:

JOHN CONDRON AND THE OLD GANG ORCHESTRA – Dead Tree (own label)

Dead TreeDead Tree is a Long Player released by John Condron and the Old Gang Orchestra in 2018 and I must say, it is a fine piece of work. Condron is at the helm of this project as guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, accompanied by the bass, drum and saxophone sounds of the OGO; sounds which very much anchor and guide the record.

Indeed it is the stop-starty title track which begins the set, proving a welcome introduction to the album and to the music of the Philadelphia-born/Chicago-based Mr Condron. This ‘flowing’ sound is continued into track number two; ‘Seldom The Truth’, largely with the prominent presence of the brass. However, this is not to say that it is a one dimensional recording. On ‘Arrogant Roses’, for example, we see a funky side to the Old Gang, while numbers like ‘These Beginnings’ and ‘Dragons’ offer a more stripped back side to the album – to Condron’s delicate guitar work and sage lyricism; “…stay as young as you are for as long as you can…life will take it away soon enough…”.

Not only does Condron have the ability to impart wisdom through his lyrics, but he also has a real talent for creating terrific images; setting the scene with a sense of who/ what/where and when. The best example of this on the record might be on ‘Tides’:

Snow is falling on Lake Michigan/She is standing smoking a cigarette with her eyes to the ground…”  – in just one line, we know where we are. We’ve met our protagonist and we know what she is doing, now we just need to find out who she is and why she’s here and…and…and just like that… we are reeled right in.

It’s a good album and it feels like an album. It is musically diverse enough, but there are also similar flavours which ‘bind’ it together as a Long-Player. There are stand-out tracks, but there are no weak tracks and there are more than a few moments which teeter on the edge of brilliance.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Artists’ website: https://www.johncondron.com/the-old-gang-orchestra/

‘Walking In Place’ – live:

ANDREW HIBBARD – Under the Knife (own label)

Under The KnifeSince releasing his debut record at just 17, the self-taught, harp-blowing, guitar-picking Cincinnati troubadour, Andrew Hibbard, has been all over the United States, opening for acts like Ralph Stanley and Gill Landry and sharing festival billings alongside the likes of Willie Nelson, Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturgill Simpson. Now at 23, Under the Knife, is his second studio album and, while, it is made up of original works, there are noteworthy homages to the musical soundscapes of yesteryear.

Numbers like ‘Go All Night’ and ‘Tennessee Sugar’ have strong honkytonk and bluesy tendencies; ‘It’s All Over Now’ is deeply immersed in the folk process; ‘Murder Me’ dips into ragtime music and ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Sally’ feels like something that could have walked straight out of Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios 60 something years ago. ‘Don’t Tell Me’ is straight forward, but cuttingly honest; echoing the heart-breaking lyricism of Hank Williams and reminiscent of Jimmie Rodgers in its delivery: “If you’ve fallen for someone new” bemoans Hibbard “Don’t tell me darling, I don’t want to know…”

It is ‘Picture in a Frame’, which steals the show. It is a piece which reflects and mourns a past relationship through the relics of that time and place: “Since you went away, I took our picture down/ and I know its nothing to do with me, but now we’re just a picture in a frame”. Like a lot of things on this album, it is sweet and bittersweet and heart-warming and heart wrenching all at the same time.

I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not a huge fan of what this guy does, but I think you’ll like him too, so my advice is this: do what you have to do to hear this guy. Go to a gig, buy his records, Spotify him, Google him, deliver his mail…just find a way to make it happen. You won’t regret it.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Artist’s website: www.andrewhibbard.com

‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Sally’ – live:

THE CROOKED JADES – Empathy Moves The Water (Jade Note Music CJ010)

Empathy Moves The WaterEmpathy Moves the Water is the ninth (and most recent) album from old-timey stalwarts, The Crooked Jades. Following a similar blueprint to previous releases, this nice little chunk of Americana combines traditional obscurities with original material.

The old-timey style is immediately apparent on this record, with fiddle-driven opener ‘Ryland And Spencer (Rise And Bloom Again)’ making a definite impact. The same flavour is retained into track two, with an enjoyable rendition of traditional instrumental, ‘Featherbed’; arranged by the Crooked Jades, with Emily Mann’s fiddle leading the song. ‘Down To The River’, inspired by Mississippi Fred McDowell’s piece of the same name, follows, changing the pace of this disc. It starts darkly, almost ‘dangerously’ before building into a solid, steady, all out blues number – a tactic applied to an arrangement of gospel standard ‘Wade In The Water’ a little later in the record.

One of the strongest tracks on the album is ‘Going Across the Sea’. Again, this builds slowly, with a terrific vocal take which sits alongside the comparatively sparse instrumentation, before the picks and strums of the banjo transform the direction of the song, in some ways, bringing the record back to where it started.

There is a good deal of instrumental numbers on this record, including ‘Mike In The Wilderness’, ‘Yellow Mercury 4’ and the beautiful ‘Am I Born To Die?/Long Time Travelling’, the latter being reprised from an earlier acapella rendition.

The whistle stop tour of all things Americana concludes with another original titled ‘Yellow Mercury 3’; perhaps the most lonesome track of the whole album. Led by the wails of the steel guitar and Jeff Kazor’s vocals, it is a piece which is both melancholy and hypnotic, bidding farewell on the mysterious parting shot “one day, one beautiful morning, I’ll be returned to you”.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Artists’ website: http://crookedjades.com/

‘Wade In The Water’ – live: