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Bentley’s Bandstand: Steve Forbert, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bill Noonan

Posted By Karen Young On September 14, 2009 @ 11:39 pm In Arts & Culture,Featured,Music | No Comments

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Steve Forbert, The Place And The Time, 429 Records

Forbert150When it comes to modern folk troubadours, there aren’t many who can top Steve Forbert. He started out in the late ‘70s and came perilously close to becoming a pop star, except he probably didn’t have the killer instincts to climb that ladder and stay at the top. You could see it in his eyes: once he got up there with the hit “Romeo’s Tune,” Forbert didn’t really like the view. Each follow-up album was a little truer to his Mississippi roots and carried the ultra-personal delivery of a man with a big heart and deep soul. Naturally, the music business didn’t know what to do with someone who pursued their own path, so Steve Forbert bounced around big and small labels and found redemption following the sound in his head. Good for him, too, because he’s been able to create a body of work way beyond what would have likely been “Romeo’s Tune Part 10.” The Place And The Time picks up where his last release left off, which means the songs carry the voice of a true believer, and the ideas of someone who has remained distinctively engaged in real life. There is plenty of heartbreak mixed in with the happiness of a life well-spent. Even when the singer gets a little obvious (“Stolen Identity,” “The Beast of Ballyhoo”), it’s always in the service of a strong idea. And other times, when his soul is floating free and the timelessness Forbert is so facile at capturing shines through (“Sing It Again, My Friend,” “Hang on Again till the Sun Shines”), there is such an ache in his voice it actually hurts to that kind of honesty. There aren’t many singers who can do that, so when comes along who does we need to keep listening. Any place, any time.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Covers The Classics, Fantasy Records

31188_01_CCR_Book.qxd:-Let the strip mining begin! Now that the catalogue reissue floodgates have been reopened for this seminal band, get ready for a series of albums coming from the Creedence universe. Which isn’t a bad thing, because this is an outfit that didn’t exist that long, and never really recorded a bad song. Granted, some were better than others, but with John Fogerty sitting in the driver’s seat of quality control, the group was long on greatness and short on jive. Collecting a dozen tracks written by others, this set is like a history lesson of what influenced one of rock’s greatest endeavors. Starting with Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” sets the pace beautifully, because there is a case to be made for Richard Penniman being the prime architect of early rock & roll. Recording in New Orleans, he turned the sophisticated frenzy of early rhythm & blues and distilled it down to a sound everyone could understand. In their own way, that’s just what Creedence did a decade later: took the complexities of the later Beatles and made it everyman’s music again. Good for them too. From that opening song, the album playbook veers into Marvin Gaye, Ricky Nelson, Leadbelly, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley and a handful of others, including knocked-out surprises like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Luckily, CCR wore no blinders when it came time to picking cover songs, and why would they. In John Fogerty they had one of the greatest songwriters of all-time, and didn’t really need to look beyond their own Berkeley backyard for inspiration. But it’s to their eternal credit they expanded their repertoire to include the work of others, and boy did they have the instrumental goods to back it up. Their rhythm section, Doug Clifford on drums and Stu Cook on bass, might have been elemental, but had a muscular intuition that made everything sound easy. Rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty laid in the perfect backing chords while his brother sang and played like a man possessed. Even if compilations like this might be a bit of a stretch considering everything is already on their studio albums, it’s still an eye-opener to hear on a single disc one of rock’s most inspired bands ripping and running through the history books, making such a joyful noise in the process. Whee.

Bill Noonan,The Man That I Can’t Be, Catawba City Records

noonan150It would be hard to imagine a roots-rocker with more kick than Bill Noonan. As leader of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Rank Outsiders, he tore up the SBentley’s BandstandBouth for over ten years, until the only thing left was to strike out on a solo quest. The Man That I Can’t Be allows Noonan all the room he needs to explore the whole spectrum of rootsy styles, and then some. Whether it’s the rockabilly-laced “Road 99,” with echoes of the Cramps creeping into the sound, or the yearning heart at the center of “Wasn’t Meant to Be,” the singer holds nothing back, making the album feel like a last letter home, one that Noonan knows has to go all the way. He also is smart enough to bring in a ringer or two, like Gene Clark’s devastating “Tried So Hard” and producer Mark Lynch’s title song, a country lament that is enough to make a grown man cry. It’s not every day we see someone look in the mirror with this kind of honesty, and then know exactly how to express it. No wonder Noonan named the album after the song. The real surprise of the album is “Dirty Ragged Blanket,” a soul ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Percy Sledge album in the ‘60s. The real power of someone like Bill Noonan is the way he knows all he needs to know about the past, but never allows himself to be pulled under by it. Retro music was a stretch from the very start, but for someone like this man it’s never a matter of what came before, but how he can use that music to help him get to the future–and the man that he can be.

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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