12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief
Often with star-studded benefit concerts, the worthiness of the cause outweighs the intensity of the music. Only a cynic could fault the mega-rich stars who donate their time and talent to the cause, whatever it may be. These events do raise real money, as well as a general awareness level and consciousness of the tragedy or cause. They tend to offer healing at a time when healing is needed, too.
But the music is often forgettable – normally, a greatest hits-style run-through from a mishmash of stars who have a social conscience and some semblance of civic duty. The “12-12-12” benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy relief was the bombastic exception to this rule. With very few exceptions – ahem, Kanye West, this does indeed mean you – the performances were stunning, impassioned and invigorating. The televised event felt like a major festival concert. It also, as it turned out, was a celebration of the greatest living classic rockers, many of them British musicians donating their time and talent to aid their adopted (literally and/or figuratively) homeland.
The 24-track audio souvenir from this memorable concert boils much of the action down to its essence. The set opens as the concert did – with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band tearing through an inspired reading of the modern-day spiritual “Land of Hope and Dreams,” before breaking into a torrid take on the Celtic-themed “Wrecking Ball.” Springsteen and Co. kicking it hard at a benefit concert is neither new or surprising, but what followed over the next several hours certainly was. When Roger Waters was joined by Eddie Vedder for “Comfortably Numb,” the emotion runs at a fever pitch – Vedder sang his butt off here, investing himself fully in the vocal made famous by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
Eric Clapton made sure the energy level stayed high. Fronting a trio, “Slowhand” played the blues like only a virtuoso who’s been doing so for nearly 50 years can. Clapton killed “Got To Get Better In A Little While” and “Crossroads,” ably setting up the Rolling Stones, who teased the crowd with a brief but fiery run-through of “You Got Me Rocking” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Alicia Keys, a gloriously roughshod Who, Billy Joel, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney offered strong mini-sets as well.
A stronger lineup for a benefit concert hasn’t been seen since Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Sting shared the top of the 1989 Amnesty International Human Rights Now! bill.
– Jeff Miers
A Better Place
I don’t know about you, but it’s been years since I’ve been able to think about Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” without hearing Bill Murray’s version in “Scrooged,” which has become a Christmas staple on cable.
Detour does a good job of grassing up the 1968 pop hit, but I’m still hearing the “Scrooged” cast in the background. The Michigan-based band features mostly originals in “A Better Place” with eight of the 14 tracks written by mandolin player Jeff Rose and one – “Lovin’ Liza Jane” – written by lead singer Melissa “Missy” Armstrong.
The first single, “Quarterline Road,” is a nostalgic song about home. “Homeless of the Brave” is a ballad about veterans who can’t find jobs in the country they fought for – “the richest land on earth.”
“A Better Place” is ballad about searching for a place where pain is gone and the sun always shines. Loretta Lynn’s “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” is a bluesy gospel number.
On “Everything Is Nothing As It Seems,” Armstrong sings about always falling for someone who is falling for someone else. “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages” is an uptempo gospel number about a dying woman. Good album. Can’t find it in stores? Try www.cdbaby.com.
– Keith Lawrence,
Not everyone believes this year’s “¡Uno!,” “¡Dos!” and “¡Tre!” trilogy marks a comeback, but the Green Day now associated with Broadway musicals took a major hit in the pithy-lyric and clever chord-change departments. The right-wing apocalypse “21st Century Breakdown” was unthinkably banal.
Now the band has spent almost three hours just trying to show it can put likable, normal songs together again. But over three discs, Green Day proved only that it can sound like a convincing imitation of itself. So it’s the surprises on “¡Tre!” where the stale trio tries hardest: the gorgeous canned-soul “Brutal Love” and the six-minute Celtic-country pastiche “Dirty Rotten Bastards.” On the more Green Day-esque peaks, “Missing You” and “Kid,” the trio proves it can still make power pop – if the band strains itself.
– Nick Cristiano,
Brubeck Brothers Quartet
[Blue Forest Records]
Dave Brubeck is no longer on this earthly bandstand, but his sons play on, mining in many ways the artistic and entertainment values the old man championed.
Bassist and trombonist Chris and drummer Dan Brubeck create a warm, mainstream quartet that covers a bunch of tunes linked to dad, ranging from Paul Desmond’s iconic “Take Five,” done here as more electric and stiff, to “Kathy’s Waltz,” a winsome tribute to daughter Cathy (someone at Columbia Records misspelled her name on the great “Time Out” album).
The quartet, with guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb, presents a well-honed sound that is perfectly respectable, if kind of safe.
– Karl Stark,
...First Came Memphis Minnie
Although billed equally with the other contributors on the album cover, Maria Muldaur is really the driving force behind this “loving tribute” to Memphis Minnie. She produced the set and sings on eight of the 13 tracks.
Muldaur has had a long fascination with the pioneering blueswoman who became a primary influence on her. A photo on the inner sleeve shows Muldaur singing a Memphis Minnie tune with her then-husband, Geoff Muldaur, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Her feel for the music comes through in performances of such numbers as “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “She Put Me Outdoors” (one of two duets with bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart).
Also impressive on the album’s bracingly stripped-down acoustic arrangements are Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block and Ruthie Foster. Two of the album’s contributions, meanwhile, are recordings by now-deceased artists: Phoebe Snow, not known for the blues, offers a striking rendition of “In My Girlish Days” from 1976, backed by David Bromberg and others, and Koko Taylor closes the set with a ferocious, full-band take on “Black Rat Swing” from 2007 that is electric in more ways than one.
– Nick Cristiano,