Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Masters - The Blues - Best Live Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.

For March The Masters focuses on The Blues.

Live music is the best thing out there. Being caught in the moment is religion. Palpable vibes of healing and energy are transmitted and shit...gets...real. For this month's focus, the feeling is really all there is behind a few notes. For a "simple" art form the blues is endless complex and in the live setting this is immediately obvious in the hands of these Masters.

Even more than the studio recordings which we highlighted, these albums seem to evoke the spirit of the heartache, pain, and simmering soul under the guitar strings, horn blasts and drum fills. Recording in seedy clubs, at concert halls, prisons and esteemed festivals, our choices run the gamut of locations and playing styles, but one thing they all have in common is the passion of the live performance.

Your list will probably look different, feel free to share thoughts in the comments below, but now on to the records:

5. Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughn - In Session (Recorded 1983 Released 1999)

Maybe you are a fan of Albert King's Live Wire-Blues Power or Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble's Live Alive, but this is the live album from either of these two Texas blues electric guitar legends which speaks to me the most. It was captured at an intimate television taping in 1983 for the show In Session and finds both men in glorious form as Vaughn plays with one of his clear idols and King seems amused, impressed and happy with the adulation; both verbal and musical. Apparently King refused to do it til he was reminded who "Little Stevie" was. The CD and DVD have different setlists and songs, one complete release would be nice but as it stands the record is a winner. The laid back setting makes it unique for a live album, but that is a plus to these ears.

RtBE actually featured this taping during one of our past Full Show Friday's a few months back and since then the youtube cops have removed it. What was also evident at the time was King's backing band, especially Gus Thornton on bass, was instrumental in keeping the groove alive with the piano of Tony Llorens spicing up "Don't Ask Me No Questions" and "Overall Junction" the guitar gods spoke with six strings and King's soulful singing. It is over an hour of tunes, King's, Vaughn's and some choice covers from the likes of T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson and a really cool showcase for these Texas blues legends.

4. Son Seals - Live and Burning (1978) 

Perhaps one of the lesser known artists we are talking about this month, but that doesn't change the fact that his raw electric Chicago blues were expertly captured on 1978's Live and Burning. Recorded at the Wise Fools Pub in his adopted hometown, the feeling is vibrant from the first notes of the Fred James cover "I Can't Hold Out". The band is admirable and contains, saxophonist A.C. Reed, guitarist Lacy Gibson, pianist Alberto Gianquinto, bassist Snapper Mitchum, and drummer Tony Gooden. Reed's horn in particular shines on Lloyd Glenn's "Blue Shadow's Falling" but this is Son's show as he owns the stage, the mic and his guitar.

He juxtaposes styles slamming from the uptempo grooving of "Funky Bitch" to the burning frantic lead riffs of "The Women I Love" as he sings his soul out. The recording captures Seals singing with passion and confidence and while not all of our favorite songs of his are here (a live version of "Your Love Is Like a Cancer" couldn't make the cut?!?) the ones that do arrive are fantastic.

That upbeat playing on "Help Me, Somebody" and "Call Me" lets the low end get loose and fits the vibe, but everyone are in their element for the slowed down killers like "Last Night". Album closer "Hot Sauce" is a flash fire tearing the sound off of speakers with it's ferocity as the band wraps up a smoking hot joint and makes RtBE's personal list.

3. The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East (1971)
What will easily be our most debated pick on this list, At Fillmore East is blues filtered through The Allman Brothers southern fried Macon style. It is considered one of the best live albums ever and the definitive work of the original incarnation of the band at it's peak, but is not always considered a blues record which doesn't make much sense. Formalists can argue but as Tom Dowd has stated the group "was a rock 'n' roll band playing blues in the jazz vernacular. And they tore the place up."

Covering legends T-Bone Walker, Blind Willie McTell, and Elmore James, the Allman's blues influences are right there on the record sleeve and while the exploratory extended "Whipping Post" certainly moves them into different territory of harder rock and roll, just listen to their version of "Stormy Monday" and try not to weep; one of the best versions of this song recorded. 

If At Fillmore East falls into your "Rock" category and you are looking for more "pure live blues" (which is silly) here are the albums which just missed out on our top five, (in order) Hound Dog Taylor's Beware of Dog!, Lightnin' Hopkins The Swarthmore Concert and Townes Van Zandt's Live at the Quarter House but if people don't like Allman's in this slot they probably wouldn't like Townes either. 

2. Muddy Waters - Live at Newport '60 (1960)

The most egregious album left off our top five blues studio albums was The Best of Muddy Waters. It is his first "album" but really just a collection of all of his singles from 1948-54. It is mega, and a collection everyone should own. The truth is though RtBE reaches for this album more often then that one, Live at Newport is more alive, rocking and simply put, fun.

The players on this album were Muddy's touring band and they were cooking, Otis Spann (piano, vocals), Pat Hare (guitar), James Cotton (harmonica), Andrew Stevens (bass) and Francis Clay (drums) were hot on this July 3rd in 1960 at the Newport Folk Festival. The tempo gets pushed and pulled showcasing all of their styles with Cotton's harmonica acting as a call and response with Morganfield and Spann's piano barroom piano brightening thins

This is Muddy at his finest, showman, blues man, band leader, crowd exciter, this set has it all. The burning and direct opener "I Got My Brand On You" from the best blues songwriter ever Willie Dixon to the set closing "Goodbye Newport Blues" spontaneously penned by Langston Hughes sung by Spann because Muddy was beat as he should be this is a hell of a set of the blues. Live at Newport shows Muddy's range and is our favorite offering from the legend, but one blues record beats it out for our personal top spot. 

1. B.B. King  - Live at the Regal (1965)     

When I hear the phrase, "the blues", BB King's Live at the Regal instantly comes to mind. To these ears this IS the blues personified and the crowning achievement to the stellar Riley B King's legendary career.

It influenced so many artists, too many to list, and has the crowd eating directly out of the masters hands from the first introductory notes of the crisp "Every Day I Have The Blues" to the final shuffling closing "Help The Poor". While each month we are trying to showcase amazing live records, this one just may take the cake as the best of them all and beats all of those studio records ranked earlier this month as well.

The melody of combining the trio of "Sweet Little Angel", "It's My Own Fault" and "How Blue Can You Get?" is simply genius and King nails the vocals as the crowd comes alive in your ears wherever/whenever you hear these tunes. Each song in this run builds and builds until finally he and the crowd are vibrating during the huge hits in "How Blue Can You Get?". His maestro performance is dynamic and truly kicks off this record, instantly elevating it to all-time status by interacting with the audience while he sings and plays majestically.

It is his singing which tends to dominate, but his guitar playing is fiery and if anything a bit undervalued in the grand scheme. "Worry, Worry" may jut be the pinnacle as his notes ring out, but truly all of his notes sound so pure and true when he takes over the lead axe; Lucille's tone is perfect. Kings backing band Leo Lauchie – bass Duke Jethro – piano Sonny Freeman – drums Bobby Forte, Johnny Board – tenor saxophone is top notch allowing him to command the spotlight, but there when things need an extra push like "Woke Up This Mornin'" or the slow climax rising "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now".

The show is captured perfectly by recording engineer Ron Steele, Sr. and while some people complain there is too much crowd noise, I wholeheartedly disagree; one of the reasons this album tops the list is that live feeling as if you are in the room with everyone. Very few live records (if any) top this one in any genre. Live at the Regal is must hear for any fans of music, period.

Agree? Disagree? Did RtBE leave out one of your favorites? Feel free to comment below and as always thanks for reading.        

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