Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Review: Chet Baker - Love for Sale

With over 150 albums to his credit, Chet Baker was one of the most prolific jazz trumpeters of his time. And understandably, many of his recordings are in the form of live performances. One of the latest of which is the Just A Memory Records release Love for Sale, which was recorded in 1978 at Montreal’s Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club.

The CD contains five tracks and runs a little over an hour thanks to three songs clocking in at over 15 minutes each. The sound quality is good. In fact, at times it’s almost too good. Upon listening to the album with headphones, I noticed all kinds of ambient and unintentional instrument noises. But hey, it gives the recording character! Turn it up loud enough and it’s like you’re right there in the club.

Baker’s band for this set included the talented and quick-fingered pianist Phil Markowitz, sax man Roger Rosenberg (who played brilliantly on the last two Steely Dan albums), Jon Burr on bass, and Jeff Brillinger on drums.

The performances are solid overall. Of course, there are a few missteps, but nothing unforgivable. Chet’s vocals on “Oh, You Crazy Moon” are somewhat difficult to endure in parts as he struggles to find the pitch. But he makes up for it with his scat on “There Will Never Be Another You.” Chet’s playing really stands out on “Snowbound” and “Love for Sale.”

Speaking of “Love for Sale,” this track is by far the most interesting song on the CD. “Love for Sale” is a complete departure from the traditional version we’ve all heard. I didn’t realize this was the Cole Porter classic until I read the liner notes. It’s a really neat arrangement that basically ignores the melody nearly altogether.

Baker was smart to surround himself with a group of musicians who could flat-out “go,” even if Chet’s better days were long behind him. But a tired and weathered Chet Baker was still better than many at full strength.

For those looking for a performance representative of Chet Baker’s later live recordings, I recommend The Last Great Concert: My Favorite Songs, Vol. 1 & 2. But if you’re just looking for a little adventure by five guys just going at it, Love for Sale should do the trick.

Track List
1. “Milestones” (Davis)
2. “Oh, You Crazy Moon” (Van Heusen/Burke)
3. “There Will Never Be Another You” (Gordon/Warren)
4. “Snowbound” (Kehner/Faith)
5. “Love for Sale” (Porter)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review - The Dukes of Hazzard: Original TV Soundtrack

The fondest memories of my more formative years included the Friday night ritual of New York-style pizza and The Dukes of Hazzard. There was nothing better than topping off another awkward week of the sixth grade with an evening of pure southern-fried bliss. Of course, I was 11. What else was I going to do?

But even as devoted a fan of the show, The Dukes of Hazzard: Original TV Soundtrack somehow slipped past me. In fact, I’d never heard of it until earlier this year. Originally released in late 1981, this “soundtrack” of a television classic is being re-released by RCA/Legacy, this time with two bonus tracks. And who can blame them for re-releasing it? The original show has become a wildly popular cable television staple and a hot selling DVD series. And the new movie of the same name hasn’t hurt interest either.

But to be clear, this is no soundtrack. It’s a concept album, really. You’ve no doubt heard Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or even The Who’s Tommy. Well, this is exactly the same thing…or not. It’s actually a collection of songs performed by the show’s cast members, three country music legends and Doug Kershaw. And it’s all tied together by short vignettes narrated by both Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane to create a flimsy, yet somewhat plausible storyline.

The highlight of this album for me is “Flash,” Roscoe’s ode to his slow moving Bassett Hound. James Best does an admirable job singing in character and dishing out all his signature catch-phrases. And it’s easily as good as most Ray Stevens songs. (Yes, I realize dads all over the world are dog cussing me right now for saying that.)

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Duke boys album without a song or two by Bo Duke himself, John Schneider. And Bo doesn’t disappoint. He really has a great singing voice and it’s showcased here on two tracks: “In the Driver’s Seat” and “Them Good Old Boys are Bad.” And not to be outdone by Bo, Tom Wopat makes an appearance with one of the most recognizable, and worst, performances I’ve ever heard of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” I know that Tom is an accomplished singer and veteran of the Broadway stage, but everybody makes bad decisions sometimes. Maybe “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” would have been a better choice?

The most bizarre song on this collection is Catherine Bach’s “Down Home American Girl.” While there’s nothing particularly unusual about the song itself, the delivery is shocking. Quite simply, Bach looks nothing like she sounds. Just take a listen and you’ll understand. She reminds me of Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash, who I greatly admire as a singer.

Three-fourths of the country music supergroup “The Highwaymen” receive performance credits for this set. First off, Waylon Jennings, as you may remember, provides the show’s theme song “Good ol’ Boys.” And thankfully, this new release contains the original recording used in the show, in addition to the embarrassingly over-produced and Jennings-less version included in the original release. Johnny Cash chips in with “The General Lee,” a catchy tribute to the orange ’69 Dodge Charger. Finally, Willie Nelson joins Waylon with “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys” from the 1978 co-op Waylon and Willie, which proves once again that cross-marketing is alive and well. (Willie plays Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard film, which is coincidentally being released at about the same time as this CD.)

So you see, this CD has something for everybody…who loves The Dukes of Hazzard. And what’s not to love? I can’t get that dang “Flash” song out of my head! I know this CD is nowhere near perfect, but the nostalgic value of the songs performed in character and the inclusion of the original “Good Ol’ Boys” recording make it a winner to me.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Quick Thoughts on NASCAR and its Fans

NASCAR fans are the most loyal fans in American sports.

No matter how many "right turn" jokes I can come up with, it doesn't dampen these fans' spirits or their love for guys named Dale, Bobby, or Jimmie. Nobody even flinches when I insert my own "in-race" commentary about the state of DJ's alternator in full Hank Hill voice.

Being a peripheral NASCAR fan, I have the unique ability to be objective when comparing drivers, teams, and even manufacturers. I don't have a Ford, Chevy, or Dodge bias. I think the rules the NASCAR governing body puts on the makers pretty much squashes any advantage one could have over another.

I don't love or hate any drivers. I think some drivers are beneficiaries of great teams and some teams are helped greatly by their drivers. I look out for wrecks, but not injuries.

I think Jeff Gordon may be the most skilled driver to grace the Cup series in the last 20 years. His record on road tracks and his consistency every year in the points race (except this year, of course) support that assertion, though I wouldn't want to debate it with anyone. In my experience, it just isn't worth arguing with a hardcore NASCAR fan. So much of a fan's love or hate for a driver is pushed by pure emotion (not unlike most sports). I think that the only way to truly separate drivers from each other would be to compare statistics. But then again, NASCAR rules change so much (sometimes week-to-week) that you can't even rely on the numbers. So we're back to emotion and not arguing.

True story: A buddy knows a guy who answers his phone not with a simple "hello," but with an exhuberant "Earnhardt!" I myself have a Dick Trickle hat (but sadly, for less honorable reasons than a typical fan would).