Richard Thompson, Yes, Bob Dylan + Others: Preston Frazier’s Best Live / Reissues of 2017
Preston Frazier counts down his list of Best Live / Reissues of 2017, touching on favorites from Bob Dylan, Yes and Richard Thompson, as well as honorable-mention entries like Vangelis …
No. 5: BOB DYLAN – TROUBLE NO MORE: THE BOOTLEG SERIES, VOL. 13 1979-1981(ROCK/FOLK ROCK): A pre-release review of this box set questioned how good this would be. Don’t believe my esteemed peer. The abbreviated box set, covering just 30 songs from the ’79-80 tour, is fantastic. If you are a true Bob Dylan fan though, you’ll ask Santa for the 102-song version – or better yet get it on compact disc and pick up the included DVDs and picture book. Dylan and his stellar band (which included Fred Tackett on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums and Spooner Oldham on keyboards) play the songs with precise abandon. The versions of “Slow Train” coming and “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Alter” grew in scope as the tour went on. Dylan wasn’t playing it safe either, as he stuck mostly to his so called born-again material during this period. None of the bootleg series releases are bad; this one, however, is truly inspired.
No. 4: CHINA CRISIS – FLAUNT THE IMPERFECTION (POP/JAZZ): The Walter Becker-produced original recording from 1985 is already a masterpiece and a gem among China Crisis’ stellar albums. How can you make a great thing greater? This Best Live / Reissues of 2017 finalist adds 16 tracks on a second disc, giving you a glimpse into the band’s demos before they were fleshed out by Becker. There are also a slew of wonderful live recordings by China Crisis, and remixes. Newly uncovered versions of songs like “Strength of Character (Janice Long Session)” and “Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling” are worth the price of admission alone. Even so, the original album points to the genius of Walter Becker and the pop acumen of China Crisis.
No. 3: GREG PHILLINGANES – PULSE (POP): I wore out my vinyl copy of this long ago, and never thought Greg Phillinganes’ Pulse would be released on compact disc and digital. Well, here we are, and with bonus tracks. What’s the big deal? Phillinganes is a master musician/band leader and arranger. (Ever heard of Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder?) He’s also a fantastic live performer and singer. (Ever heard of Toto or Eric Clapton?). Pulse is a fine pop album with touches of dance music, synth pop and R&B. Greg Phillinganes’ take on Donald Fagen’s “Lazy Nina” is my favorite – and that’s saying something, considering Monkey House and Arnold McCuller have recorded stellar versions of the song. The lead-off track “Behind The Mask” has a Michael Jackson feel which is unmistakable partly due to the fact that Jackson co-wrote it. This version totally eclipses the one later issued by Clapton. If you only know Greg Phillinganes from his piano solo on Fagen’s “Ruby Baby” from The Nightfly, then you owe it to yourself the pick up this Best Live / Reissues of 2017 honoree.
No. 2: YES – TOPOGRAPHIC DRAMA (PROG ROCK): Yes produced their greatest live album ever this year. It’s a remarkable feat, considering this is the first not to featurefounding member Chris Squire. Topographic Drama documents, in amazing clarity and without overdubs, Yes’ tour for two very different albums. What’s even more surprising is that both albums sound better live than they ever did on record. The two sides of Tales From Topographic Oceans (with the inclusion of “Leaves of Green” from Side Three’s “The Ancient“) are stunning. This stripped-down Tales rocks with a mystical fury not thought possible. Drama, by contrast, isn’t as dark yet is no less challenging. The bass playing and harmonies of Squire’s chosen replacement Billy Sherwood are easily up to the task, as he stands toe to toe with an invigorated Steve Howe and a rhythm section of Jay Schellen (mostly) and Alan White (who was recovering from back surgery). Geoff Downes gets to play some of the most memorable Yes keyboard parts with the enthusiasm of a 20-year old and the accuracy of the professional he is. Add to that Jon Davison tackling the mind-bending words of Jon Anderson from Tales and the unique timbre of Trevor Horn on Drama, and it’s easy to see why this album succeeds on a level unlike another live album by the world’s greatest progressive rock band. “Does It Really Happen” and “Starship Trooper” are easily worth the price of admission alone.
No. 1: RICHARD THOMPSON BAND – LIVE AT ROCKPALAST (ROCK): There must be at least two other Richard Thompson box sets, not to mention a greatest hits compilation. This raises the question of whether the world needs yet another box set. After listening to this three-CD, 2-DVD chronicle of the Richard Thompson Band’s 1983/1984 performances at Rockpalast, the answer is a resounding “hell, yes!” They walk the wire, never falling, as this always-amazing chart-topping Best Live / Reissues of 2017 entry unfolds. The recording, done soon after the release of Thompson’s Hand of Kindness album, features some of that’s albums chestnuts such as “Two Left Feet” and “The Wrong Heartbeat,” some Thompson classics (“Wall of Death” and “Shoot Out the Lights”), and consistently interesting covers that amaze, as well. The band, which included the late Pete Zorn on sax and Dave Mattacks (on the 1983 dates), even manages to whip up jazz and folk classics with seeming ease. If this is just a taste of what’s in Richard Thompson’s vaults, please keep the box sets coming.
BEST LIVE / REISSUES OF 2017 HONORABLE MENTIONS
STEVE HOWE – ANTHOLOGY 2 (PROG ROCK): Steve Howe released at least three releases in 2017, and all of them are great. His second Anthology could have easily been divided in two. At 56 songs, he covers his early solo work, songs intended for the second album by his ill-fated supergroup GTR, songs done by his jazz trio, Asia demos, songs done by his earlier band Syndicate and even Yes and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe demos. Howe is an amazing guitar virtuoso, and the collection points out his varied writing accomplishments, as well. This is a must have for fans of Steve Howe and Yes, as well as guitarists of every stripe.
VANGELIS – DELECTUS (PROG ROCK): The second and final Best Live / Reissues of 2017 honorable mention goes to Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Better known as Vangelis, he has already made his mark on the music and film industries with the critically acclaimed and Academy Award-winning soundtrack to the movie Chariots of Fire. Yet, as this expansive new 13-disc box set demonstrates, Vangelis’ catalog runs much deeper than one would suspect. The Greek-born keyboardist can shift effortlessly from atonal ambient music, represented by the lead-off song “Invisible Connections” or “La Mer Reco,” to rock/pop music (yes, the Jon and Vangelis collaboration is included) with ease. All of the composer’s work from his Vertigo and Polydor years is included. Each recording sounds pristine and authentic, as they were remastered from the original tapes. If all of these original works are not enough, Delectus also includes several rarities to whet the appetite of any Vangelis fan.