Bentley’s Bandstand: George Harrison, Bill Champlin, Bon Ivers

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

George Harrison, Let It Roll, Capitol Records

band815They called him the “quiet Beatle,” but boy were they wrong about George Harrison. In so many ways, he had more to say than any of the Fab Four, but just couldn’t get the room to do it on the band’s albums. He might get one or two songs included, but that was no doubt after a lot of huffing and puffing. Once the group went their separate ways, it was Harrison who was the first to make a big splash with his All Things Must Pass solo opus. Surely that accolade must have been no small source of pleasure for him, and it wasn’t long before he was making his worldwide presence felt with the Concert for Bangladesh and a long string of hit songs. Let It Roll collects a lot of them, and what a roll call it is. It begins with his last hit, the 1987 cover of James Ray’s “Got My Mind Set on You,” and runs a marathon mile through all the obvious choices, three live renditions of Beatles songs (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”), and includes Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Want to Do It.” This is the first multi-label collection of George Harrison’s accomplishments, and it’s done right. Warren Zane’s liner notes go a long way in explaining the lasting importance of the man’s music and life, and even the photo selection has some surprises. As the Beatles get further and further in the past, their history looms even larger, and Harrison, now known more as the spiritual Beatle than the quiet one, grows heavier in stature. Listening to these nineteen songs now, it’s obvious so much this music came at time when the counterculture was looking for a way to go forward and find a righteous new road to travel. Leave it to a Beatle to show the way.

Bill Champlin, No Place Left To Fall, DreamMakers Music

bill champlinBlue-eyed soul singers once walked the Earth with pride. Starting in the early 1960s, there were enough to create their own category, and it was one of the strongest descriptions you could give someone. From Felix Cavaliere in the Young Rascals to Mitch Ryder with the Detroit Wheels, these vocalists were able to distill some of the power from rhythm & blues and cross it with their own Anglo-sized sound to create a deeply-felt hybrid of American music. And one of the most stirring testifiers from the crowd was Bill Champlin. He didn’t get much credit back then, for some reason, and believe it or not, doesn’t get much now. But that’s not what matters. During the San Francisco ‘60s explosion, his band Sons of Champlin were often the live favorite of discerning groovers, and their debut album Loosen Up Naturally blew more than few minds. The next 20 years were an interesting series of musical excursions, until Champlin finally ended up being one of the lead singers in Chicago. Figure that one out, but he’s done his best there to raise the reality quotient higher than anyone expected. No Place Left To Fall gets funky from the first song, and it sounds like Champlin has been waiting a long, long time to record this album. He takes his rightful place alongside singers like Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and others, and in some ways he bears down in the backstretch to earn a place in the win-place-show column. Sure, it would be easy to say the rough edges have been sanded off these songs, or that they can quickly drift into slickness, but that would be missing the point. “Tuggin’ on Your Sleeve,” “Lover Like That” and “Never Let Go” are flat-out examples of what happens when someone who can really sing pours his heart into what he loves best. And if that’s not soul music, then grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.

Bon Ivers, Blood Bank, Jagjaguwar Records

band815bon150No other current artist’s music seems more like a Rorschach test than Bon Ivers’. Depending on who is listening, any number of wild reactions can ensue. Some fans fall into a deep trance, and think they’ve discovered a modern miracle. Others may scratch their head and try to figure out when the song will begin—and then end. For most though, the prevailing opinion is somewhere in between, as the songs start on a distant galaxy and then build in intensity until they feel like a meteor zeroing in on Earth. The way instruments and vocals get layered sometimes seems frivolous, until the big picture emerges and Bon Ivers’ sound takes on near-religious intensity. There is something about a man who holes up in a cabin in the woods with a few tape machines, several instruments, a friend or two and a head full of trouble–determined to create an audio landscape that evokes exactly what he’s going through–that tends to bring out the reverential in fans. And while this recent release is only four songs, what songs they are. They take up where the previous album, For Emma, Forever Ago, left off and burrows even deeper into the unconscious mind. By the last song “Woods,” Justin Vernon and his fellow players sound like they have lifted off this mortal coil and are floating somewhere out in the cosmos, drunk on Brian Wilson’s vocal inspiration and the absolute music of the spheres. It’s one of the year’s most exciting achievements how only a quartet of songs can include every emotion under the sun. Bon Ivers may sometimes come across as a figment of one person’s inspired imagination, but Blood Bank is as real as the title implies. Give early and give often.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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