As we all know, the focus of Stereophile's music section, and rightly so, is recorded music. But in my unsubtle opinion, music writers or just music fans who only listen to recorded music and never see anything performed live, are missing half the ballgame. If the only way you know a certain artist is through their records, then sorry to say, and yes, I know that not everyone lives in a city where they can see live music, you’re only getting half the story. I know critics who've been let go because they basically refused to go out to see live music. They were happy to stay homehey, no traffic, no lines, no fighting the elements, sounds good to meand listen to CDs or LPs. Unfortunately though, while they may have stayed comfy cozy at home, their opinions on music ended up having only a certain amount of value. The X factor about seeing music live versus hearing it on record is that often you have to see the music performed live to make any sense of the record. Though rare, it can also work in reverse as well: you have to listen to the record to make sense of a live show.
One night last week, a bout of channel surfing brought me to the Grammy nomination concert. Not the Grammys mind you, that’s in February, but a televised special to announce the nominations. And only the nominations of the celebritydriven stuff like Best New Artist which is when LL Cool J, who was hosting, walked across the front of the auditorium and ask the Jonas Brothers how it felt to be nominated. As the bile rose in my throat I changed the channel. I found it to be very strange that this was proceeded by a showing of the venerable 1964 stop motion animation special, Rudolph, The RedNosed Reindeer which is narrated by Burl Ives and contains a couple of indelible toon icons in the prospector Yukon Cornelius and a Yeti called a “bumble.”
No artist in the history of sound recordings has a more confused recorded legacy than Elvis Presley. Thanks to several generations' worth of ruthless avarice by his label, the constant machinations and eventual fire sale by his manager, Col. Tom Parker, and his own pathetic sloth, due in part by a 20-year addiction to prescription drugs, Elvis's recorded catalog is an absolute disaster: cut and pasted, issued and reissued as both budget and full-priced collections, exploited beyond all recognition. Keeping track of Elvis's catalog is one of, if not the most, labyrinthine discography in rock 'n' roll history. When all the foreign issues and reissues of his work are taken into account, it is, (speaking from recent experience) an endeavor which severely tasks the human capacity for tedium.
Here in the age when rock stars like Jagger and Richards are not only still breathing, but are now turning 70“I’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” when I’m 45," Mick once said with a straight face
First, it’s time for all good thoughts and good energies to be directed south, to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville where Charlie Louvin, the great Charlie Louvin, is about to undergo the long and complicated operation needed to try and remove the stage 2 pancreatic cancer that he was unexpectedly diagnosed with last week. For those who don’t know, Charlie, 83, was once half of the Louvin Brothers, who were and basically still are the greatest duo act in the history of country music. Charlie has experienced something of a late career comeback in recent years thanks to Josh Rosenthal and his Tompkins Square record label. His brother Ira, (who Charlie calls EYE-ree), the man responsible for the tire fire on the cover of the duo’s most famous record, 1959’s Satan is Real was a hellion of the first order and was killed by a drunken driver in 1965. Charlie, not surprisingly, has been nearly the opposite and is one of the sweetest guys it’s been my pleasure to meet. I particularly remember one night at the Rodeo Bar in NYC where the man had an endless store of really silly sex jokes. He’s says he expects to be back onstage a month after his surgery so we’ll see. Despite his health, he’s gonna be a trooper and play a previously scheduled Opry gig this Saturday which because of the recent floods is back in the Ryman Auditorium, which seems very fitting for this Charlie appearance. He goes on at 8:45 PM CDT. Listen at www.opry.com
Art Dudley browses the LP racks at the Quality Record Pressings booth. Photo: Ariel Bitran.
One of the fun sidelights of any audio show is visiting the rooms or booths of the high-end vinyl dealers who attend and, in that regard, the New York Audio Show 2013 was no exception. I spent much of the first day either listening to records via the Classic Album Sundays room with Colleen Murphy, talking about new releases with David Chesky (who I will get to in a moment), or thumbing through juicy looking new and reissue vinyl and DVDs at the booths of Acoustic Sounds, AIX Records, and SoundStageDirect.com.
Of the many advantages of living in NYC, Doctors has got to be one of the biggest. Many, many good, no nonsense ones to choose from, if you or your insurance can pay. Cosmic Justice. I survived HE 2007 only to fall prey to my own impatience. Instead of sliding the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator out slowly like a normal person, my tired, irritable and schmoozed out self jerked it and it jumped its track and smashed my foot. Damned apples and carrots weigh too friggin' much. After three days of denial and whistling in the graveyard about how it was gonna be fine, I finally broke down and dipped a damaged toe in the health care system. One scalpel slice later and things are looking up on the sore paw front.
By convenient circumstance, I recently caught Tony Jo White on a Sunday night at the Thunderbird Caf in Lawrenceville, a rapidly changing for the better part of Pittsburgh, Pa. In a small but sweet back room, White put on a low key show that shows both his voice and his ability to get in a groove and jam are still potent. His methods are easily understood, he comes out, looking vaguely like a long and lean version of Charlie Rich, when the Sliver Fox wore a similar kind of hat, and plays either spooky ballads or a bluesy, rumbling groove that runs for many verses and becomes a long jam. His hits (or “best known songs” if you prefer) , “Polk Salad Annie” which is probably most famous because of Elvis’ version (Tom Jones actually slays it as well) came off with the needed amount of snap to the choruses. And then there’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” a tune I always forget TJ wrote until he starts singing it or someone puts a Tony Jo record on. It’s a sweeping slow number whose chorus changes are really gorgeously bittersweet. The man has soul, there’s no doubt. And rock gigs like the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival gave him serious rock chops for awhile as well.