Shake the Planet
The quality of a college is reflected in the quality of its graduates. With that analogy in mind, Was (Not Was) surely must have been in the Ivy League of rock 'n' roll, considering the caliber of its alumni. Setting aside the presence of the Was brothers themselves, Was (Not Was) featured a stacked deck of talent that has continued to turn out unquestionably cool work.
After the demise of the parent group, two former Was-ers hooked up to form a new aggregation known as the Boneshakers. Signature soul shouter Sweet Pea Atkinson lent his gravelly vocals to the proceedings and lightning guitarist Randy Jacobs provided the six-string primer, with the remainder of the group fleshed out by session players. Their 1997 debut, Book of Spells, was a marvel of blues, rock, and funk, with Atkinson wrapping his moist Otis Redding-like voice around the melodies and Jacobs peeling off lead after unbelievable lead.
The Boneshakers' sophomore effort, Shake the Planet, is a similar work in tone and execution. Atkinson possesses one of the truly unique blues voices in the genre, with a register so viscous you'll be tempted to clear your own throat after each song. The Boneshakers' ace in the hole is razor-sharp guitarist Jacobs, who puts on a veritable clinic on Shake the Planet.
Jacobs is a chameleon with the guitar, shifting shapes and channeling chords and leads from Stevie Ray Vaughan ("Hand Over Fist, Heart Over Mind," "Ball and Chain"), Joe Walsh ("Yesterday's Gone"), Walter Becker ("Don't Change Horses [in the Middle of the Stream]"), and Eddie Hazel ("Rush"). With a rotating rhythm section that variously includes, among others, bassist Freddie Washington and veteran beat-basher Kenny Aronoff, the Boneshakers pump considerable voltage into the body politic of old-school funk, jazzy fusion, and pure unadulterated rock.
Tossing in potent and appropriate references to '70s giants like Tower of Power, Funkadelic, and Steely Dan, the Boneshakers nod approvingly to the past without being reverential. Jacobs cowrites here just as he did with Was (Not Was) (he coauthored the band's biggest hit, "Walk the Dinosaur"), working with disparate talents such as Stephen Bruton, Paul Kelly, and fellow guitar hero Jon Butcher. But the songs still sound like the product of one mind thanks to Jacobs' massively consistent guitar groove as well as Atkinson's bourbon-bite vocals.
The Boneshakers are ultimately as varied as Was (Not Was), with one important distinction. Was (Not Was) became more a project than a band, and its revolving door of special guests often determined the sound of each track, giving each album the sound of a compilation rather than a cohesive work. By contrast the Boneshakers juggle a number of similar styles but never sound disorganized or fragmented as they succeed in stitching together their favorite sounds to create a unique hybrid.
-- Brian Baker
Live at the Fillmore East
Live at the Fillmore East, the latest in a never-ending series of reissued Jimi Hendrix material, is essentially an elaborate repackaging of Band of Gypsys, the final album released prior to the inventive guitarist's death in September 1970.
To settle a lawsuit from an old contract still in force, Hendrix had to come up with a new album -- and fast -- so he enlisted army buddy bassist Billy Cox and former Wilson Pickett/ Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles. The trio, dubbed Band of Gypsys, played four Fillmore gigs plus another at Madison Square Garden before Miles departed and incumbent Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell returned.
The resulting album, issued in April 1970, consisted of six selections from those shows. In 1986 Capitol released Band of Gypsys 2, which offered another six tunes from the same sessions. But when it was discovered that only two tracks came from the Fillmore shows, the album was quickly pulled from the shelves.
Fast-forward a few years: After a series of legal battles, Hendrix's family assumed the rights to his recordings. Though a bunch of reissues were already under way, Janie Hendrix, Jimi's half sister, took command and reissued the records with some new material.
Unfortunately instead of expanding the original Band of Gypsys (like the Who did with Live at Leeds, for example), the producers reconfigured and resequenced enough of the original material to fill two discs. The result, Live at the Fillmore East, is fine, though it ain't exactly Band of Gypsys. But the music is still transcendent, and the sound -- remixed and remastered -- is more vibrant and warmer than in earlier incarnations.
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On the series of jams, oldies, and unfinished songs, Hendrix is at the height of his powers. Billy Cox is a far better bass player than the Experience's Noel Redding, a guitarist who learned bass only after he became Experienced. Buddy Miles was the odd man out. It's puzzling that Hendrix selected him as a percussionist in the first place; the man simply didn't swing and barely keeps up with the rock-solid and mellifluous Cox.
But the material maintains its power and transcends Miles' limitations. "Stone Free" is pretty hot, as are the two takes of "Machine Gun" and "new" live versions of "Stepping Stone," "Izabella," and "Earth Blues," all of which were posthumously issued in studio form. "Power to Love" is retitled "Power of Soul" here, "Message to Love" from the original collection is absent, and the take of "Who Knows" differs from the one on Band of Gypsys.
Live at the Fillmore East could ultimately have been pared down to one great disc, but for fans it's a good collection, with solid annotation and wonderful sound. And it's a potent reminder that there will never be another Jimi Hendrix.
-- Richard Pachter