2017 Holiday Returns & Exchanges...
Five Exchanges

Didn't get what you wanted this holiday season? No problem because you can always return and exchange it for something better. Here's five items we think are better and you should consider.

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A La Carte Est. 1976

A La Carte

During the mid to late 1970s, pockets of Los Angeles were buzzing with hard rocking bands looking to break through to a national level. Van Halen, Quiet Riot and the Runaways were three that got signed and sent on tour, while dozens of others carried on, playing backyard parties, colleges and clubs like the Starwood, the Troubadour and the Whisky. They all had a hand in sustaining an underground scene that ultimately opened the floodgates for 80s bands like Motley Crue, Great White, Ratt, Poison, Warrant and Guns N' Roses. One of the pioneers that opened for Van Halen and didn’t quite make it to the big-time was A La Carte. Now, 40 years later, they have released an album called A La Carte - Est. 1976.

Put this disc on and the first thing you notice is that A La Carte doesn’t sound like other LA bands. They’re more aligned to blues-based rock power trios like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grand Funk Railroad and ZZ Top. There’s a wily swagger, a swig of boogie, and plenty of swing in the 10 tunes that fill their CD. If anything, Van Halen might have copped a thing or two, in terms of attitude and approach, from A La Carte. Guitarist K.K. Martin, bassist Craig Miller and drummer Brian O'Brian launched A La Carte in late 1976 and went on to play to crowds of up to 2,000 all over Southern California. Every gig was a party, which most certainly embeds itself into the music.

Indeed, A La Carte - Est. 1976 captures the spirit of the band in the throes of youthful hedonism. If songs like “Old #7,” “No Tell Motel” and “Pink On The Inside” don’t curl your toes, quiver your lips, and drive you to drink, nothing else will. And those simple, infectious riffs that propel “Ride Of Your Life,” “Leave The Back Door Open,” “Where Angels Dwell” and “Ace” forward will have you reaching for the sky. As a tightly wound three-piece unit, it’s hard to believe A La Carte, who broke up in 1984 and reunited specifically to make this album, didn’t take it any further. It just goes to show that timeless rock and roll isn’t limited to what the record labels deem worthy. Hidden gems often live and breathe in crevices only a few are privy to experience. How sweet it is to go back and relive what a missed opportunity like A La Carte was and is all about.

~ Shawn Perry

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Sticky Fingers:
Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015

The Rolling Stones

Given their 55 year career, you can only imagine the Rolling Stones’ vaults are overflowing with magical goodness. Most of the concerts released on video that comprise the From The Vault are from the distant past, but Sticky Fingers: Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 is a more recent show. When you consider the small venue in the heart of Hollywood and the set the Stones played, its significance cannot be underestimated. As the opening show on the Zip Code tour, the intimate Fonda Theatre gave the Stones the opportunity to limber up and play a no-frills show for a small audience — something they’ve traditionally done in the past.

Instead of promoting a new album on this tour, the band celebrated the reissue of Sticky Fingers, so for the first and only time they played the entire album live at the Fonda, giving fans a chance to see rare performances of songs like “You Gotta Move,” “Sister Morphine” and “Moonlight Mile,” on which Mick Jagger competently plays the opening chords. Sure, it would have been even more special to have Mick Taylor up for “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” though no one can say the version at the Fonda failed to match expectations.

Random commentary from band members and associates are sprinkled in before key songs, including insights to the Sticky Fingers cover, memories of recording the album and other trivial matters that appeal to fact finders. The set is book-ended by “Start Me Up” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash — two songs not on Sticky Fingers yet guaranteed crowd pleasers each and every time. Though the real meat of the set is Sticky Fingers, the DVD and Blu-ray are enhanced by three bonus tracks — “All Down the Line,” “When The Whip Comes Down” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Stacked up against other From The Vault titles, perhaps what makes Sticky Fingers: Live At The Fonda Theatre 2015 stand out the most is that the Rolling Stones are still a pretty damn good rock and roll band.

~ Shawn Perry

 

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Topographic Drama —
Live Across America

Yes

Topographic Drama — Live Across America was recorded over 12 concerts from February 2017. For this record, this incarnation of Yes — guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood, singer Jon Davison, drummer Alan White and second drummer Jay Schellen) — performed their 1980 album Drama in its entirety, plus sides one and four from 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans. They also threw in a couple of concert staples to keep the fans happy. All the songs are recreated with precision care.

“Machine Messiah” is a spectacular start with Howe’s heavy riffing. His power chords are equally enticing, swinging and slicing through “Does It Really Happen.” Sherwood shines on this one as well, getting a sly lead bass moment at the tail end. He and Howe also shred on “I Am A Camera.” Surely one misses the nuances of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire’s vocal harmonies, but both Davison and Sherwood fill in more than adequately. Of course, for the Drama material, Davison is actually singing the lead vocal parts of Trevor Horn, not Anderson. Horn and his fellow Buggle band mate Geoff Downes came in for the Drama record and tour replacing Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Davison’s soft inflection also serves “And You And I.”

When they get to Tales From Topographic Oceans, “The Revealing Science Of God” and “Ritual” give way to Howe’s subtle atmospheric guitar touches and Downes' opportunity to prove him worthy of steeping into Wakeman's shoes. Needless to say, Tales From Topographic Oceans is one of the most complex pieces of the whole Yes catalog and its not to be played or listened to lightly. Altogether, Topographic Drama — Live Across America is one of those instances one needs take things for what they are and not for what fans wish for. Ideally, we'd all like to see the classic Yes lineup of Anderson, Wakeman, Howe, White and the late Chris Squire together. But there is no denying how great these 13 songs are performed, no matter who might or might not be part of Yes.

~ Ralph Greco

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Beside Bowie:
The Mick Ronson Story

Nearly two years after his death, David Bowie’s story continues to be told and twisted. Like most successful artists, Bowie surrounded himself with a lot of good, talented individuals, and one of them was guitarist Mick Ronson. It was Ronson who helped mold Bowie into the rock icon he became — adding his unique guitar riffs to the mix, arranging and orchestrating many of the songs, and taking the stage with his shiny blond locks and chiseled, masculine image to complement Bowie’s androgynous countenance. Jon Brewer’s documentary Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story opens the book on Ronson’s consummate contributions to the Thin White Duke’s ascent to superstardom.

Much of the film centers on Bowie’s origins as a folk singer and songwriter. To add credibility, much of the story is told through interviews with Bowie’s ex-wife Angela, Ronson’s wife Suzi, former manager Tony Defries, photographer Mick Rock, and any number of musicians from Ian Hunter and Rick Wakeman, who both worked for Bowie and Ronson, to Def Leppard singer Joe Elliot and Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Though the tale tends to fixate on Bowie, it always veers back to Ronson, whose stoic background makes him instantly likeable to even the most conservative admirer.

Emerging from the northern seaside town of Hull, England, Ronson’s talents as a guitarist and arranger prefigured Bowie’s role in bringing glamour and sophistication to rock and roll. This would lead to collaborations with Bob Dylan, Ian Hunter, Lulu, Lou Reed, Morrissey and John Mellencamp — none of which garner much attention in the documentary. Instead, it is Ronson’s hand in Bowie’s pivotal albums The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane and Hunky Dory that comprise much of the film’s focus. Coming nearly 25 years after Ronson’s untimely passing in 1993, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, despite a few gaps here and there, is an endearing and captivating examination of one of rock’s great unsung heroes.

~Shawn Perry

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Versatile

Van Morrison

Versatile, Van Morrison’s 38th album, sees the Celtic soul singer interpreting some of the 20th century’s greatest standards. This record is rich and wild jazz band stuff, mainly horn-led, with Van Morrison’s still-expressive voice playing round, in-between and jumpin’ over the masterful players.

The 72-year-old legend bops on “Broken Record,” riffing on the title against the swinging horns. “Makin’ Whoopee” is a hoot, while “Unchained Melody” warbles with just piano and a mournful horn. “Start All Over Again,” and “Only A Dream,” both originals, get us up and moving into sly middle of the road jazz territory, proving that Van Morrison can write for this genre as well as sing it.

Versatile winds down with the upright bass and organ interplay on “The Party’s Over,” Morrison moaning through “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and the toe-tapping piano and horn sway of George and Ira Gershwin's “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Not that any of us had any doubt Van Morrison can sing and write through a variety of styles of music, but Versatile certainly proves how versatile he is.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

 

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