Steven Wilson – Home Invasion: In Concert At The Royal Albert Hall

Steven Wilson is an amazing artist. I have had the pleasure of seeing him perform live three times. Twice in Detroit with his former band Porcupine Tree and once in Chicago as a solo artist. Listening to “Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall” and looking through the 32 page book that accompanies the five albums in this box set makes me wish I would have made the trip to Chicago this past May to see him a fourth time. I won’t make that mistake the next time. Although hopefully, Detroit will be on his next US tour itinerary.

“Home Invasion” clocks in at almost three hours and captures Steven Wilson’s final of three performances at the Royal Albert Hall in England in 2018. The set spans the three most impressive phases of Steven Wilson’s illustrious musical career: Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, and of course his solo material. Steven Wilson’s music is in most often described as progressive or post-prog rock. In the middle of this set, Wilson unashamedly points out that some of some of his recent stuff is pop, and that if you can’t admit that you like pop music, your’re just trying to be a music snob. I have to agree. In reality though, Steven Wilson’s music so often spans across and incorporates so many genres that it stands alone in definition.

I have the day off of work today and decided that instead of sleeping in, I would get up at my regular time, do my normal routine, and after walking the dogs, head down to the man-cave with a cup of coffee and listen to “Home Invasion” in its entirety as the storms on the horizon roll in. I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy Friday morning.

Genesis – Live

I alway thought it strange that Genesis didn’t gain their largest fan base until two of their most prominent members had left the band. First Peter Gabriel and later Steve Hackett, both going on to lead successful solo careers in their own right.

Originally recorded for a 1973 King Biscuit Flower Hour radio broadcast that never happened, this is Genesis at their most creative, with one of the most legendary rhythm sections ever in progressive rock – Phil Collins on drums and Mike Rutherford on bass. And then there’s the Mellotron. If ever there was an instrument that defines classic rock from the ’70s, it was the Mellotron, and Tony Banks was a master of it; not to mention any other keyboard.

Yeah, come the ’80s, they might have had their greatest commercial success, but this was Genesis at their most creative, most experimental, most innovative; with their most talented line-up.

38 Special – Flashback

When I listen to their biggest hits, I don’t know if I’d really call 38 Special’s music purely southern rock, though it often gets thrown into that category because of the band’s relation to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Donnie Van Zant is the younger brother of Skynyrd’s former lead singer, Ronnie (who tragically died in a 1977 plane crash). 38 Special had a more pop leaning hard rock sound than the strong southern roots heard in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music. That’s even more evident in 38 Special’s later hits like “Hold On Loosely”, “Caught Up In You”, and “Fantasy Girl”.

Flashback is a greatest hits album that comprises 38 Special’s biggest hits and a new songs “Same Old Feeling”. It also has two songs that were not released on any other 38 Special album. Previously “Teacher, Teacher” was originally recorded for the soundtrack of the 1984 film “Teachers”; “Back to Paradise” appeared on the soundtrack for “Revenge of the Nerds II”.

As a bonus, included with the album, is a 7 inch, 4 song EP. All 4 songs were performed at a Houston, Texas concert on Halloween, 1986.

Ray Charles – Genius Live In Concert

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ray Charles perform live in 1986. Even though this album was recorded 22 years prior, it perfectly captures the magic I will always remember experiencing that night.

I remember watching Ray dancing in his seat, swaying and stomping his feet as the music he was playing and singing took him over, and as he took over the entire audience. I remember Ray being so taken over at one point, he jumped out of his seat, dancing on the stage to his band’s music. Nobody worried that he was blind; this was too sublime a moment for God to allow anything to go wrong. I remember Ray’s quick wit shutting down a close to the front row heckler with just a few words. No more was to be said; that evening belonged to Ray Charles.

I remember that night, experiencing a “Genius Live in Concert”. There is no other way to describe Ray Charles perform. A “Genius Live in Concert” is exactly what this album captures.

Paul McCartney – Снова в СССР

Glasnost. A Russian term meaning transparency and openness often associated with the end of the cold war era between the USA and Russia. It happened in the late 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev headed the two most powerful countries in the world. Tensions were relaxing between the two superpowers.

In 1988, as a gesture of peace and cooperation between the nations of the Western world, Paul McCartney made arrangements to have a studio jam session that was done while prepping for his next album pressed and released only in Russia. It was didn’t take it long to become a huge success in Russia. It also didn’t take long for copies to be smuggled out of Russia and sell upwards of $100 in the US and the UK.

“Снова в СССР” is Russian for “Back in the USSR”. The album is a collection of covers performed by McCartney and his band. They are in top form, playing all the songs live in the studio which give the album a very unique feel. It’s easy to pick up on the joyous vibe between McCartney and his band just having fun playing familiar songs.

“Снова в СССР” is one of my favorite albums by Paul McCartney and not because of its scarcity. Actually, it’s not that scarce any more. In order to prevent the smuggling across the border, “The Russian Album”, as it became known, was released to the rest of the world in 1991. This copy however is not one of the reissues; it’s one of the original russian copies.

AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It

In the late 1970s, when a lot of established hard rock bands were exploring the integration of disco and pop sounds into their music, AC/DC was building a following keeping it basic, playing hard and heavy.

“If You Want Blood” is a live album recorded during the Bon Scott era of the notorious Aussie-Scott band. AC/DC hadn’t really made a name for themselves yet in the US, so the album only charted in Australia and the UK. Today, “If You Want Blood” is ranked by most rock critics as one of the best live albums of all time.

Hey, I’m no rock critic; I’m just a humble record collector. Who am I to argue?

The Allman Brothers Band – At The Fillmore East

Recorded at the Fillmore East, March 12 & 13, 1971 by special arrangement with Bill Graham.

The Allman Brothers are infamous for their live performances. The Fillmore and Fillmore East were notorious venues that staged performances by the who’s who of rock and roll’s golden age. Bill Graham was a legendary concert promoter in the late 1960s through the ’70s. This 1971 epic double live album was a culmination of all three. There is no way it couldn’t have been anything but one of the best live recordings ever pressed to vinyl.

Sadly, The Fillmore venues would close their doors a few months after this album was recorded, ending an era of rock and roll naiveté and purity that, would never be experienced again. After the 1969 Woodstock Festival, rock and roll started to become a lucrative business, and it would never be the same.

“At The Fillmore East” isn’t an album that tried to become infamous, notorious, or legendary. It just was, by its nature. There was no pretense. There was no financial mindset. All it was,
was a desire to capture an infamous band playing in a notorious venue during a legendary performance, and it captured it perfectly – with all the beautiful imperfections and pure naiveté that rock and roll could hope for.

How can anyone not love this album?

So sorry, but I am going to cue up side four now: “Tied to the Whipping Post”, in all of its 22 minute glory. I can’t write during that.

I have to listen. I’m done here.

Willie Nelson – Willie and Family Live

There never has been, nor will there ever be, a better live country album than “Willie and Family Live”. Granted that is just my opinion, but I will tell you this: you will never sway me from that opinion, so don’t even try. I would even go so far as to rank “Willie and Family Live” in the top 5 of any live album of any genre. Then again, like much of Willie’s recording career, it really does it injustice to pigeonhole this record as strictly country music. Sure, that is what is at its core, but it’s so much more.

Willie Nelson is a true artist. Musically, he never tried to be something he wasn’t. Like the truest of outlaws, he rebelled against Memphis and Nashville pressures to sound this way or that. Once he had a following, Willie stuck to his guns and played what Willie wanted to play; what his fans wanted him to play. Willie Nelson was always there, first and foremost, for his fans.

“Willie and Family Live” is exactly what its name implies. Willie’s family was his band, his friends, and his fans. This is their album. This is their story told through the art of Willie Nelson. Some artists use a brush, some use chisel; Willie Nelson uses a Martin N-20 classical guitar that he named Trigger. From 1969 to 1978, when this album was recorded, Willie had used Trigger to create his art so often and so passionately that he had worn a hole right through the top of the guitar. Somehow, that made Trigger sound even sweeter. It’s funny how that can happen. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was the personal connection Willie made between himself and his fans that got stronger with time that made Trigger sound even better. Yeah, listening to “Willie and Family Live” now, I know that’s what it is.

Grand Funk Railroad – Mark, Don & Mel

I don’t think there was a band loved more by their fans and hated more by the music press than Grand Funk Railroad. They sold millions of albums and sold out huge arenas in record time, yet their albums were almost universally dissed by music critics. Bad press was something that Grand Funk learned to get used to. Eventually, they laughed at it. After five solid albums in just three years, they began to revel in it.

“Mark, Don & Mel” is a best of compilation comprised of songs from those first five albums…and the brutal reviews of them. I think I get almost as much enjoyment reading the press reviews Grand Funk gathered up and put on the record sleeves of this double album as I do listening to the music. Puttin the scathing press reviws on the record sleeves was the Flint Michigan’s bands way of flipping the bird to the critics. It was their way of saying “What the F*** do you know? Did you sell millions of records? Did you top the music charts numerous times? Did you sell out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles?”

Yeah, the critics loved to hate Grand Funk Railroad and Grand Funk loved it and wanted their fans to know it. Because Grand Funk knew their fans didn’t care about the critics; they cared about the music. And Grand Funk Railroad’s music kicked some serious ass.

Meh, what do critics know anyway?

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition

Emerson Lake and Palmer’s masterpiece, “Pictures at an Exhibition” was proof that almost anything could go with rock and roll in the early seventies.  Performed live in 1971, the concert album combined arrangements from Russian composer Modest Muskorky’s 1874 classical score with other related songs written by the band. Keith Emerson had seen a traditional performance of Muskorky’s piece many years earlier and became stoked to have Emerson Lake and Palmer record an adaptation of it.  The album hit number 10 on the US charts and went up to number 3 in the UK.

Like many in the US, the first song I ever heard off of “Pictures at an Exhibition” was the encore ELP played that night: “Nutrocker”, a song combining an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with progressive rock virtuosity. It was released as a single in the United States only. I remember my elementary school music teacher playing “Nutrocker” for us in class one day. I was familiar with The Nutcracker Suite and was absolutely enthralled by this variation of its music.