Monday, December 02, 2019

Rock Music Gift Guide: Chuck Berry, Toto, Humble Pie, Ronnie Wood

Rock music-lovers are in luck. A slew of highly-recommended releases serve as perfect gift ideas sure to please your favorite audiophile or to add to your own collection!

Artist: Chuck Berry
Title: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll: Collector's Edition (Shout! Factory)
Tell me more: One of the most important and historic music documentaries of all time, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll is a look at the life and legacy of singer-songwriter/guitar great Chuck Berry that was directed by Taylor Hackford and originally released in 1987. Newly-issued on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory, the film has never looked  or sounded  better. Keith Richards organized two concerts in October 1986 to celebrate Berry's 60th birthday and the performances featured a fantastic well-rehearsed band (something that was sadly not a fixture across Berry's lengthy career) including sax great Bobby Keys, NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato, drummer Steve Jordan, and musical director Richards. Powerful versions of "Roll Over Beethoven," "Almost Grown," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Nadine" and "School Days" shine. There are some fantastic once-in-a-lifetime duets on the film too. Linda Ronstadt joins the party for a powerful "Back in the U.S.A." (where Richards and Berry briefly duel on lead guitar). Julian Lennon and Berry have a blast on the fiery "Johnny B. Goode"; Robert Cray shares the spotlight on the buoyant "Brown Eyed Handsome Man"; Eric Clapton joins the affair for a blues-drenched take of Berry's 1955 nugget "Wee Wee Hours" bolstered by Johnnie Johnson's piano work. Etta James joins Berry and company for a faithful take on "Rock and Roll Music." A slew of revealing interviews with his wife, brothers and sisters, as well as those he influenced and his contemporaries (Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers) are interspersed and make this an essential, entertaining and ultimately deeply moving film. There are a number of must-see bonus features on the newly-issued Blu-ray as well. Information:

Artist: Toto
Title: 40 Tours Around the Sun (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Tell me more: Captured in Amsterdam on March 17, 2018, Toto's outstanding 40 Tours Around the Sun has been released on a variety of formats including 2-CD, 3-LP vinyl, DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray reviewed here looks and sounds fantastic, and director Nigel Dick is to be credited for avoiding modern-day concert film cliches and frequently letting the viewer get a glimpse of master musicians in action. There is one sequence during "I Will Remember" where guitarist Steve Lukather plays an extended solo and a variety of camera angles capture the heat of his fretwork without the viewer being jarred by cuts that are too quick or detract from the arc of the solo. The opener "Alone" showcases the band's virtuoso chops, knack for melodic song craft and great vocals. Toto's diverse influences are showcased via straight-forward rockers ("Lovers in the Night," "Stranger in Town," the Top 5 hits "Hold the Line" and "Rosanna"), new tracks (the lovely "Spanish Sea"), prog rock ("English Eyes," the instrumental centerpiece "Jake to the Bone"), world music-mining material (the luxurious "I Will Remember" featuring Lukather and Joseph Williams sharing lead vocals) and jazz ("Lea," "Miss Sun," "George Porgy") and even authentic country ("No Love"). A reworked version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and an extended cut on the band's own classic "Africa" are among the other highlights on the concert film. The expansive track listing allows Toto (the ensemble also includes singer-pianist David Paich and keyboardist-singer Steve Porcaro) the room to showcase many of the band's rarely-performed deep cuts – notably "Lion," the aforementioned "Lea" and "Dune (Desert Theme) from the  classic 1984 sci-fi film's soundtrack  all performed with power and precision in front of more than 18,000 enthusiastic European fans. Information:

Artist: Humble Pie
Title: The Life and Times of Steve Marriott + 1973 Complete Winterland Show (Cleopatra Records)
Tell me more: Groundbreaking British rocker Steve Marriott's influential and sadly often-overlooked role on the rock 'n' roll landscape is showcased via the wonderful The Life and Times of Steve Marriott, a multi-format three-disc title that includes a Blu-ray, DVD and audio CD. Both as a member of Small Faces and Humble Pie, Marriott blazed a trail via his signature rock vocals, impressive guitar playing and energetic stage presence that is celebrated on an insightful documentary. Notable artists interviewed include Spencer Davis, Ricky Byrd, John Waite, Kevin DuBrow and his famed Humble Pie band mates Peter Frampton and Clem Clempson; rare and early footage of Humble Pie and Small Faces is also included on the documentary. There is also a complete 1973 featuring Humble Pie featured on the audio CD that is a thrilling listen; that concert recording features a stirring take on the band's enduring blues rock classic "Thirty Days in the Hole," a hard-charging version of "Up Your Sleeves," an amped-up rendition of The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" and a number of other high octane British blues-flavored rockers. Sadly, Marriott died in a home fire in April 1991; he was only 44. The Life and Times of Steve Marriott provides an excellent chance to catch up on this overlooked rock hero. Information:

Artist: Ronnie Wood & His Wild Five
Title: Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry (BMG)
Tell me more: Few artists have had as profound an influence on rock as the late Chuck Berry. The Beatles, ELO, Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Presley, The Kinks and AC/DC are among the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have recorded notable covers of Berry classics. Now Rolling Stones guitar great Ronnie Wood & His Wild Five have issued a full-length tribute to Berry (who died at the age of 90 in March 2017). What's so special about this 11-track album is the rollicking and genuinely loose quality of the group's versions of some of rock music's earliest masterworks. There is no attempt to add unnecessary polish and overdubs to the tracks. The sound across the Wood-produced disc is that of a band of singers and musicians truly conjuring up Berry's late spirit to celebrate  both musically and via Berry's literate storytelling  the youthful exuberance of early rock 'n' roll anew. Wood and company dig deep into Berry's hefty songbook; "Talking About You" is an early success here and benefits from some of Wood's most colorful lead guitar play on the LP. Acclaimed Irish singer Imelda May delves into the blues on "Wee Wee Hours," her dynamic soprano keeping pace with the burgeoning approach taken by the band on their arrangement of Berry's 1955 hit. A freewheeling "Little Queenie" and Chicago blues-flavored "Blue Feeling" (the latter which benefits from keyboardist Ben Waters and Wood dueling on their instruments), and zestful "Johnny B. Goode" are among this writer's other favorite cuts on the must-hear tribute. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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