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The Strat Pack
(Eagle Vision)

A veritable cream of the crop of 20th century guitar heroes united in London during the Autumn of 2004 for a celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster. Introduced in May 1954, the Strat remains the guitar of choice for millions of guitarists and music lovers and among the players joining the Strat Pack for this live concert celebration are The Crickets (J.I. Allison, Joe Mauldin & Sonny Curtis) with Albert Lee and Brian May, Hank Marvin with his son Ben Marvin, Gary Moore, Free blues belter Paul Rogers, Joe Walsh, Phil Manzanera, David Gilmour and Ronnie Wood. With each guitarist playing Strats and performing some their best known hits—supported by a fine house band featuring music director Phil Palmer, Pino Paladino (bass), Wix Wickens (keys) and Ian Thomas (drums)—the 2 + hour Strat Pack DVD serves both as a great concert and solid tribute to the spirited guitar music created on the Strat. In addition to the thirty one music tracks, the DVD features an array of eye-opening interviews praising this icon among guitars.



Choose Love

The mind-altering musical influence and sense of direction John Lennon had over his three fellow band mates in The Beatles was so massive and far-ranging that, following the implosion of the band as a single entity in 1969, it enabled them each to develop solo careers that in time would in time eclipse Lennon’s very own. That statement rings true on the 2005 album from Ringo Starr entitled Choose Love. His first post “when I’m 64” album, CL is filled with brilliant traces of the musical greatness that made Ringo such a major household name rock star in the ‘60s. One again Ringo has aligned himself with kindred spirits and musical cohorts including guitarist co-writer Mark Hudson. The result is a fascinating pastiche of ‘60s and ‘70s style pop fused with a definite Fab Four influence. Commenting on the sound of the new album Ringo comments, “I want it to sound like a band, a little more down and dirty and guitar-driven.” Track four, “Hard To Be True” would have been great song for Lennon to guest on while another highlight being a gospel inspired track called “Oh My Lord” with guest spots from roots guitarist Robert Randolph and Billy Preston. In 2004 Ringo also unveiled his latest book. A fantastic 112 page color and b&w hardcover edition on Chronicle Books, Postcards From The Boys features illuminating reproductions of some amazing postcards John, Paul and George sent to Ringo back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. With his keen memory Ringo humorously recalls each time period with some cool anecdotes. Concerning the book he adds, “Paul was always good at postcarding. And they all know that I love postcards. Even to this day, when people say, ‘Oh, I’m going to such and such,’ I always say, ‘Oh, send me a card.’ I like to get them but I’m not the best at sending them.”

Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
(Bri-Mel / WSM)

2004 was a great year for music and also a great year for one of the true pioneers of American pop music, Brian Wilson. During 2004, Wilson released two classic albums—Gettin’ In Over My Head followed by a studio album of his all-time masterpiece, SMiLE. Both albums revealed different, yet interlocking sides of Wilson’s complex musical personality. The 2004 release of SMiLE on CD was the culmination of a vision Wilson and his SMiLE co-writer Van Dyke Parks had only dreamed of since its expiration as a musical reality in mid ‘67. In early 2004, Wilson and his group finally took SMiLE on the road and documenting that heady musical juncture, the 2005 DVD release of SMiLE is indeed something to smile about. The 4+ hour double DVD set is the ultimate restoration of Wilson’s original vision of SMiLE, which was just simply never fully realized during Brian’s years with The Beach Boys. Wilson’s musical confidant, David Leaf has done a great job directing a dazzling 2+ hour rockumentary on SMiLE called Beautiful Dreamer, which fills up the first DVD here along with various interview clips with Brian and highlights from the London premier of SMiLE from February 2004. Disc two—a live video performance of the complete SMiLE album in L.A.—is where Wilson’s visionary genius springs to life. Hard to imagine that just a few short years ago, Wilson wouldn’t even think of doing something like this! Bolstered by a cast of hundreds, Wilson’s core band—including Jeff Foskett, Darian Sahanaja, Scott Bennett—are totally in-sync with the master. Two DVDs of pure California musical magic that transcends words, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE examines the history and the mystery behind the most elusive recording of the 20th century.


Peddlin' Dreams
(Eleven Thirty)

One of the things singer-songwriter Maria McKee is known for is being the sister of Love co-founder Brian McLean and in the spirit of her late, great brother, Ms. McKee has the power to absolutely blow you away with catchy pop hooks and searing vocals. Recorded with partner / guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jim Akin, her 2002 CD High Dive was a powerful rock record full of artistic twists and turns in the finest spirit of Love. While her 2005 CD Peddlin’ Dreams has it’s share of brilliant flashpoints, it’s not quite as amazing as High Dive. According to McKee, “The truth is, High Dive was a labor of love. It was also incredibly demanding...a lot of hard work for both Jim and me. We wanted to make Peddlin’ Dreams more direct and spontaneous. The process was much more natural. With this album, I wanted a more open, almost stark recording.” That said, the majestic, lead-off track “Season Of The Fair” stands as one of her best songs yet. More roots-rock and country-tinged acoustic folk based than High Dive, Peddlin’ Dreams is a welcome addition to McKee’s ever increasing catalog of album classics.


Sex And Flags
(Angel Air)

Back in the ‘70s, one group that carried on the best spirit of The Beatles, were classic U.K. rockers Stackridge. In fact at the start of the early Stackridge years, no less than John Lennon offered the groups guitarist, Andy Davis, a chance to perform on his now classic 1971 Imagine album, which also featured George Harrison and Mike Pinder. Although not trumpeted at the time, Davis in fact did go on to do truly great things with Stackridge for much of the '70s, leading the band through several incarnations all of which were great. Hard to believe it’s been nearly thirty years since the original band recorded their ‘76 classic Mr. Mick, yet hear to make it real is a new 2005 Stackridge CD featuring four of the original members - Davis, his cohort in The Korgis, James Warren, Mr. Mick himself, Mutter Slater and bass player Crun Walter. Released on the U.K. based Angel Air label, Sex and Flags takes the finest elements of their ‘70s sound, giving each member a chance to bring their latest songs to the table. As far as guitarists go, Davis is really one of the greats of the Beatles style pop sound and backing up all that expert work, his songwriting on Sex and Flags also sounds quite Lennon inspired, especially on “Big Baby”. Actually, his songwriting partner James Warren, who also works together with Davis in their other group, The Korgis, is a top guitarist and singer in his own right and they truly sound best when meshing vocals on “Wonderful Day.” Contrary to what Andy told me, there is in fact a fine instrumental on Sex and Flags called “Charles Louis Dance”, a song harkening back to those great Stackridge instrumentals which also reminds of Andy's earlier solo work. Stellar British pop with a progressive vaudeville twist, Stackridge lives up to their legacy on Sex and Flags.

One Step Closer

Not quite as rocked out or cosmic as the 2003 String Cheese Incident album, Untying The Not, the 2005 release of One Step Closer is nevertheless a great CD from a band that seems to thrive on bending all the musical rules. Featuring thirteen tracks that range from country rock and bluegrass to a more gratifying, symphonic psych-pop surprise, One Step Closer also benefits from the top production of Malcolm Burn, who just about became the sixth member of the band for the recording sessions. Commenting on the group’s ever increasing diversity and changing of sounds, guitarist Billy Nershi adds, “With every album we realign ourselves, not because we didn’t like what we did before, but because there are so many faces of the band and we want to show them all.” An established producer who worked with Dylan, Emmylou Harris and more, Burn helps the band set sail for the further uncharted musical waters explored on One Step Closer. Recorded in the glorious Colorado mountain region, the CD also features an accompanying DVD that serves as a rockumentary on the album recording sessions.

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