Archive for February, 2009

Leonard Cohen Live in London – CD and DVD

February 27, 2009
Raving about last July’s Leonard Cohen London show (Music For Grown-Ups review reprinted below) to whoever would listen, I suggested that the multi-camera big-screen live video mix was so good that the gig was destined to end up on DVD.

Well, I never!

Leonard Cohen Live In London on DVD and 2CD is now being advertised for (UK) release on 30 March.

Both could be strong contenders for Rock Album of the Decade.

Which to buy, though? Simple: both. DVD for the house, CD for the car.

Rave on, Lenny!

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen in London: Hallelujah!

Death-bed scene: “Well, Dad, that’s the money sorted out: you seem to have blown most of it on live music. As a matter of interest, what were your top five gigs?”

I think I’d have to include last night’s London leg of the Leonard Cohen tour at the O2 (aka Millennium Dome).

The septuagenarian charmer delivered almost three hours of intense beauty, deep joy and not a little glee.

For the assembled 20,000, it was a predictably reverential (if unexpectedly intimate), celebration of a major, rarely seen, talent.

The setlist (below) was remarkable, Zeitgeist-marking signature songs succeeding each other, relentlessly. Cohen’s performance was energetic, engaged, generous. His singing made you suspect that maybe he really does have the gift of a golden voice after all. His spoken renditions, particularly of A Thousand Kisses Deep, were deeply moving.

Hallelujah! What a writer! What a performer! What a charismatic, inspirational man.

Band – 6 plus 3 vocalists – were accomplished accomplices. Horn-man Dino Soldo was particularly impressive. Sound quality was the best I’ve heard at an amplified gig. Staging, lighting, vision/mixing on big screens were all benchmark quality.

I’d waited many years to see Leonard, the second best writer/performer of the rock era. It was well worth the wait.

SETLIST (approximate):

1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Ain’t No Cure for Love
4. Bird on a Wire
5. Everybody Knows
6. In My Secret Life
7. Who by Fire
8. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
9. Anthem
10. Tower of Song
11. Suzanne
12. The Gypsy’s Wife
13. Boogie Street
14. Hallelujah
15. Democracy
16. I’m Your Man
17. Take This Waltz
18. First We Take Manhattan
19. Sisters of Mercy
20. If It Be Your Will
21. A Thousand Kisses Deep
22. So Long, Marianne
23. Closing Time
24. I Tried to Leave You
25. Whither Thou Goest

A perfect 10, then?

Not quite. A churl could point to the slight unevenness of the setlist: it flagged a bit towards the end of the second half. The finales were underwhelming – the welcome Webb Sisters duet was wrongly positioned; Closing Time is dramatically and melodically too weak to close a show.

And there was an ever-present threat that the show might tip over into mainstream showbiz hoopla – Leonard’s frequent name-checking of the band palled early; he was far too nice to the assembled hordes; and you suspected that the “spontaneous” jokes had been the same at most gigs on the tour.

For most performers, all this would have been a turn-off. For Leonard, we can make an exception.

Gerry Smith

Jim Moray last night

February 26, 2009
Last night’s Jim Moray gig at The Stables in Milton Keynes was occasionally brilliant, but only intermittently engaging, and probably the weakest of the six Moray shows I’ve seen.

Moray and his regular collaborators performed beautifully, as usual. The 18-song two-hour setlist was beyond reproach, drawing from Moray’s three albums and beyond. Barbara Allen and the closer, Valentine, were standouts.

And yet…

The trio performed manfully all night but were clearly troubled by sound problems. Accordionist Nick even had a public discussion (on mic) with the soundboard op late in the second half.

The addition of a full set of rock drums was a problem. I’ve no ideological objection to drums or rock – I really enjoyed the full-on Jim as Rock God set at Madame JoJo’s in London, which launched the second album – but this line-up simply didn’t work.

The drums, especially the somewhat lumpen bass, detracted from the finely sculpted, richly melodic instrumentals – these are three gifted young musos. It drowned out Moray’s fine vocals, too. The mix was clearly wrong.

And Moray must despair at ever reaching the audience he so richly deserves. Last night attracted about 100 people, even after all the PR from the recent awards for his magnificent new album, Low Culture.

Regardless. Jim Moray is a major young talent. His updating of English folk is bringing its delights to a wider audience (fr’instance me, babe). Music For Grown-Ups will be following him faithfully.

If you’re yet to taste the delights of the Jim Moray catalogue, here’s the detail:

Gerry Smith

Van Morrison’s new release – Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl

February 25, 2009
Thanks to Anne Ritchie:

Because I’m often too quick at making judgments, I thought I’d better give Astral Weeks Live another chance before posting my original negative review (First draft, below) and consigning the CD to the never-to-be-listened-to-again shelf.

OK, come to the album with an open mind. Judge it on its merits, without making too many comparisons with the sublime original. Look for positives.

Many of the tracks swing. Van actually seems to be enjoying making music with this band. I like his idiosyncratic playing of the guitar (as I always did) and his mimicry of instruments. The opening track sounds better than it did on first hearing. The middle of Slim Slow Slider and the beginning of Cyprus Avenue still excite.

Still don’t like the straining vocals of Beside You or The Way Young Lovers Do, though. Van is no crooner. Sweet Thing is still disappointing.

So, it’s musically richer than I’d first credited it. And of course the songs themselves are a great improvement on those of the last decade or so. But I probably won’t play Astral Weeks Live again.

Why would I, when I could listen instead to masterpieces like the original studio recording? Or It’s Too Late To Stop Now?

And I’m still unsure about the forthcoming concert.

First draft – ditched

I wished I’d listened to Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl before booking tickets for Van Morrison in Cardiff in June.

When I first heard of the project there was a frisson of excitement. Before the doubts set in. Who was it who said:“Don’t look back!”

That was a persistent niggle. But some very positive reactions to the LA concerts convinced me that perhaps it was time to reopen up to the music that had meant so much to me before Van the artist morphed into Van the entertainer.

But listening to the new album only strengthened the doubts. I didn’t like the throwaway delivery of the opening track, the unconvincing emoting (especially in Slim Slow Slider), some mannered scatting, the neat endings of many of the songs. I didn’t feel the mature voice was appropriate to expressions of youthful love. There was little of Morrison’s delightful trademark wonderment on display.

I did like the musicianship, though – apart from the dated pipes and soppy vocal backing in Listen To The Lion. I thrilled to hear Richie Buckley again and I found Ballerina perhaps better than the original.

But I doubt I’ll ever be playing the new album again.

It did send me back, though – way, way back, to the original, to that freshness, spontaneity, and originality that great young musicians still exhibit (check out Conor Oberst or Jim Moray, two favourites of this web site).

John McLaughlin’s brilliant Corea

February 24, 2009

Thanks to Andrew Robertson:

John McLaughlin’s and Chick Corea’s Five Peace Band graced Adelaide last week with a concert of effortless brilliance.

This was not a band as much as it was an ensemble, all five musicians being equal – albeit that McLaughlin and Corea were both (if that is possible) first among equals.

It seemed to me that Corea rather than McLaughlin was the bandleader, even though it was McLaughlin standing centre-stage and whose name was first on the bill – but it was Corea’s keyboards that the music seemed to be built around.

How often does one get to hear two Miles Davis alumni play? And yet, it wasn’t two Miles Davis alumni playing, it was one Five Peace Band. This was a concert at which the music was the star, not the players. So perfectly did the band meld that the music they created became bigger than any of them. They were one whole – and that cliché about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts was never more true.

Reflecting after the concert, I was struck by the fact that I didn’t really remember any great solos – of course they had played them, but they were not the experience of the night, because that would have individualized it, whereas this night was about the totality of the music.

Jazz is sometimes considered to be serious, but this jazz was joyful. I think after every song they all acknowledged each other. If it was a Corea composition, he would acknowledge each band member and McLaughlin. Similarly McLaughlin with his compositions. This respect for each other was uplifting, and it uplifted the music. The respect for the music was reverent – but not in a stuffy, religious, can’t-touch-it kind of way. It was earthy and honest, reflected in their big beaming smiles and warm embraces. There was no distance between band and audience.

Christian McBride on bass is as good as they come – he had also played in Adelaide a couple of years ago with Pat Metheny, another great concert. Kenny Garrett on sax was outstanding, and Brian Blade did amazing things on his drums. These guys were all of the calibre of Miles Davis alumni, even though, of course, only Garrett is. Could anyone have played better? Billy Cobham? Wayne Shorter? I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter – but I think there comes a time when the music just can’t be played any better, and this ensemble achieved that, at least to my ears!

Songs included McLaughlin’s New Blues, Old Bruise (great song title!) and Senor CS from Industrial Zen, and an expansive Raju; Corea’s Hymn to Andromeda; Dr Jackle, an old Miles Davis track (although I am not sure whether he wrote it); and a couple more.

So that’s the story of John’s brilliant Corea and Chick’s brilliant career.

Andrew in Adelaide

Is Bob Dylan losing credibility? A resounding no!

February 23, 2009
Over on Dylan Daily, regular contributor Martin Cowan mused whether Dylan’s credibility is in decline.

Not so, insist several readers:

* Thanks to Chris Floyd:

My response to Martin Cowan’s — what to call it? bill of potential indictment, maybe? — is this:

He is neither on the ball nor off his rocker. He is simply exercising his right to be somewhat trivial and presumptuous — a right that all humans have, and should freely exercise whenever they wish.

It also seems a bit silly to me. He says that how Dylan is to be “judged” following his next shows and next album is “crucial.” Crucial to whom? Perhaps to someone who invests a bit too much of their own self-image in the image of a singer or some other celebrity; I can’t see how it would be “crucial” to anyone else.

If Dylan’s next shows are found to be, by some measure or other, lesser than “Cohen’s glorious performances,” then — what, exactly? Does that lower Dylan’s “credibility”? And again — credibility to whom, and for what?

Has Dylan got something to prove? Even after all these years, even after all he’s done? Even if he does give a sub-par show, puts out an album someone doesn’t like, or, god forbid, associates his music with commercials, like Hank Williams used to do — what does this matter?

It can only matter to someone who requires perfect heroes to fulfil their own emotional needs. I understand that need; we all have it to some degree, I’m sure. But it is, in the end, a rather juvenile impulse. And its seems somewhat odd to apply it to Dylan, of all people — an artist who has been very much concerned with the fullness of our human reality, which of course includes failure, decline, disappointment, etc. etc., and not the production of fantasy figures we can mindlessly adore — or attack and reject when they, inevitably, “let us down.”

Dylan is a 67-year-old man who likes to make music, and makes it as best he can. Should he stop doing all that, just because it might make someone feel all wiggly for one reason or another? Should he stop playing great records on the radio because someone doesn’t like it?

Finally, one last question: is someone holding a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to go to Bob Dylan shows and buy Bob Dylan records and listen to Bob Dylan’s radio show?

If you don’t like them, fine. Don’t go, don’t buy, don’t listen. Go find someone else whose “credibility” serves whatever needs you have.

As I say, it all seems a bit childish and pointless to me.

* Thanks to Liam Mogan:

Martin Cowan’s ‘shock-jock’ musings on Bob’s credibility seem like a calculated attempt to jolt Dylan nuts out of their collective smugness.

I find it quite funny really and not totally serious. (Credibility? I think he’s been reading too many copies of his son/daughter’s NME. Either that or he has recently bought The Guardian for the first time in his life.)

Rather than rant on about how great our hero is I’d rather point to Mr Cowan’s strangely formal way of addressing that other elder statesman, ‘Brooooce’.

I seem to remember that those oh-so-worthy behemoths of late ‘70s rock-journalism, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone etc employed a number of writers who suffered from similar, almost ceremonial, courteousness. Maybe that’s why he’s so obsessed with ‘cred’, man.

Seriously, good on you Martin for daring to shake the tree. To answer your 3 key questions

1. No, Modern Times wasn’t that good (at a push you could say 2 songs were worthy additions to the canon)

2. Adverts – Er, for the Money?

3. Theme Time – I got bored midway through Series 2. Don’t listen religiously anymore, but still beats on most other Radio Shows with a big stick whenever I catch it.

I do remain excited by the new album though – you gotta have some hope and faith in your life. The o2 shows? Nah, you just know they’re going to be spoiled by the usual fairweather fans, moaning loudly about the fact that the songs ‘don’t sound the same as on the record’, whilst chewing on a big fat hot-dog.

Just a quick question though Martin. As a regular contributor to the Dylan Daily, how’s your ‘street-cred’ these days?

* Thanks to Joe King:

I would not presume to have the measure of “Dylan Daily” readers’ views but, once ISIS had posted news of the new album on its website, the story was quickly picked up by other websites, including UNCUT and ROLLING STONE. This may not amount to “excitement” but it does show that Dylan news provokes great interest.

I will not be attending the O2 Arena show either but simply because that venue is so very large. Should the extra show in London be in a smaller venue, then I will most likely try to attend.

Was MT really that good? No. It was good in parts but not nearly as good as the critics wrote.

Why is he doing these ads? We don’t know what’s in Dylan’s mind but I would suggest these possibilities: (1) for the money, (2) to reach a different audience now that Martin Cowan is, as it were, falling by the wayside, (3) there is nothing wrong about doing ads. I don’t recall a single adverse comment about the use of Woody Guthrie’s “Car, Car” in those Audi adverts. Do I sense a double standard here?

Have we all had enough of Theme Time Radio? No, no, no, no, no. May it continue for a lot longer.

Comparisons with Cohen and Springsteen? If either had achieved as much as Dylan, I might take the question seriously. That is not to put them down, merely to state the self-evident. Whether they receive more acclaim than Dylan in 2009 is neither here nor there in the scheme of things.

And thanks to Fred Bals, writer of the very fine Dreamtime blog:

”In a word, “No.”

“In more than one word:
* If the activity on the various Dylan forums and at Dreamtime are any indication, fans are eagerly looking forward to a new album… and it hasn’t even been officially announced yet.

* I can’t speak to the second question, since I’m in the U.S., but I do know if he releases a new album, I’ll be first in line for tickets when the N.E.T. comes back to the U.S.

* was MT really that good? Personal opinion of course, but I think there’s lots to like about MT, especially When the Deal Goes Down and Beyond the Horizon. Of course, I’m a big Bing Crosby fan. 🙂

* why is he doing these ads? Why shouldn’t he? Mr. D’s commercial affiliations doesn’t impact my appreciation for his talent one whit. Should he be going, “Oh, no, my music is too pure to sell biscuits.”?

* have we all had enough of Theme Time Radio? Jesus, the man is mad. Along with Chronicles, TTRH is one of the best non-music achievements Bob Dylan has ever produced. I hope he does it for a dozen more years.


Dylan’s declining credibility?

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

Is there any excitement among Dylan Daily readers for either:

* a new Dylan album or

* “in show and in person” at the O2 or any of the other venues on the UK tour?

Personally, I remain to be convinced that a new album will reveal anything startlingly original and I won’t be going to any of the shows.

In fact, it occurs to me that Dylan’s credibility is on the wane at the moment:

* was MT really that good?

* why is he doing these ads?

* have we all had enough of Theme Time Radio?

How he is judged following these shows and any new release will be crucial. The shows are likely to be compared to Cohen’s glorious performances, and Mr Springsteen’s new platter seems to be going down a storm.

Interesting times.

Is Martin on the ball? Or is he off his rocker? Please let The Dylan Daily know what YOU think. Gerry Smith, Editor

Free MUSIC for GROWN-UPs Newsletter re-launched

February 19, 2009
After a lengthy delay, the free MUSIC for GROWN-UPs Newsletter has just been re-launched.

If you’re a subscriber, you should have already received your copy by email. If you haven’t, it’s probably because:

* your spam filter has rejected it – please ensure that my sending email address – – is in your spam filter’s Friends list

* you’ve changed your email address since registering to receive the free newsletter; if so, please re-register your new email address via the Music For Grown-Ups Home Page – it only takes seconds.

And if you’re not already a subscriber – why not register now, from the Music For Grown-Ups Home Page – it only takes seconds.

Receiving the free Newsletter is a foolproof way of catching up with new content on the web site that you may have missed.

The Newsletter is now mailed to subscribers on alternate Thursdays.

Thanks for your interest.

Gerry Smith, Editor


MUSIC for GROWN-UPs: celebrating great musicians:
from Sinatra to the Stones, Miles to Mozart, and Dylan to David Bowie.

Exclusive news and views, emailed free to subscribers on alternate Thursdays.
Editor: Gerry Smith (


Hello again. Apologies for the break in sending you your copy of the MUSIC for GROWN-UPs newsletter. I curtailed it for a while to focus on finishing my new book, also called MUSIC for GROWN-UPs – check it out at

This newsletter is now published on alternate Thursdays, and you’ll receive your copy at the email address you’ve already registered. I hope you like it and will tell fellow grown-up music fans about it.

If you haven’t visited for a while, please take another look – you’ll find more articles and a sharper, easier-to-use design. And please continue to send me your news and views – of gigs you’ve enjoyed, new releases, and back catalogue discoveries – and I’ll be pleased to post them on the web site for the benefit of your fellow grown-up music lovers.

Gerry Smith, Editor (email:

to read the articles listed, please log on to

* New albums from Springsten, Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Young
* Bartok, Baaba Maal, Bob Dylan
* Your last chance to win a copy of new Music For Grown-Ups book
* A fine Buddy Holly documentary
* Jose Carreras and Roberta Flack play Adelaide

* Morrissey, Dylan, Beethoven
* Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Beck
* John Martyn RIP
* Bob Dylan, American folk, Handel
* Astral Weeks – live


* Top Grown-Up Gigs of 2008
* Win a free copy of new book, Music For Grown-Ups
* Handel: Composer Of The Year, star of Music For Grown-Ups, the new book
* Prog Rock: music for grown-ups? Well, yes, sort of
* Beck, Roberto Alagna, Pentangle: least loved gigs of 2008

* Astral Weeks – Live in LA
* Purcell, Prog Rock, Michael Brecker
* Leonard Cohen, Conor Oberst and John McLaughlin – top gigs for grown-ups
* Handel, Keith Richards, Prog Rock
* Roy Orbison profile – good music, weak analysis


Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Beck: one week in Australia

Thanks to Andrew Robertson in Adelaide:

I have just enjoyed the most incredible week of music so I’ll see if I can manage to share it with you…

Last weekend was the Australia Day long weekend and on Saturday night we saw Neil Young at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Ordinarily we would have stayed the whole long weekend in Sydney, as it is such a great city, but before I had booked flights and accommodation, it was announced that Leonard Cohen would be playing in Adelaide on the holiday Monday – so naturally I booked that. That meant coming home from Sydney on the Sunday, which turned out to be fortuitous because it was then announced that Jeff Beck would be playing in Adelaide on the Sunday night. Don’t things have a way of working out in the end?

And then it was announced that Neil Young would be playing the Big Day Out circuit, including Adelaide, so I saw him again on Friday night – so that was 4 amazing concerts in one amazing week. Probably only surpassed by Van Morrison’s Astral Weekend at Hollywood Bowl. Although the week I saw Dylan in Adelaide then Van twice in 2 nights in England, all in the same week back in 2007, was pretty good too!

So let’s begin with Neil Young in Sydney…

(You can see the full text online at:


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(c) Gerry Smith 2009

New albums from Springsten, Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Young: Encore #1

February 18, 2009
Thank to Pat Kenny:

“Like you, I prefer to celebrate rather than knock the output of great musicians – as all those listed above undoubtedly are.

“But, having bought the three albums already released, I have to admit I’m underwhelmed.

“Springsteen’s CD sees him treading water… Van the Man should have resisted the temptation to update his untouchable masterpiece… and does Morrissey have anything left to say?

“I’m not optimistic that the new Dylan or Young albums will be Earth-shattering, either.

“Time for me to take a rest from rock, and catch up on some recent jazz releases. I feel a Miles/Coltrane/Herbie/Wayne period coming on.”


The big beasts in the rockpop jungle are stirring, with new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young.

Springsten kicked off the season with Workin’ On A Dream. I’ve yet to hear it. Please let me know what you think.

Van Morrison was the second to stir with Astral Weeks Live last week. The original is one of my top three albums in any genre. After half a dozen plays of the new version, I’m suspending judgment.

Morrissey followed yesterday with Years Of Refusal. What do you think of it?

New Dylan album rumours are flying fast. Some have a new 10-track studio album already in the can and due for release at the end of April.

And it seems that Neil Young’s eternally delayed Archives box has been put back yet again to accommodate an original new CD, Fork In The Road, on 30 March.

Great days for grown-up rockpop fans!

All of these musicians are profiled in my new book, Music For Grown-Ups. For full details, please click on the book cover at the top left of this page/

the Home Page of the master website:

Gerry Smith

New albums from Bruce Springsten, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young

February 17, 2009
The big beasts in the rockpop jungle are stirring, with new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Morrissey, and maybe Dylan and Neil Young.

Springsten kicked off the season with Workin’ On A Dream. I’ve yet to hear it. Please let me know what you think.

Van Morrison was the second to stir with Astral Weeks Live last week. The original is one of my top three albums in any genre. After half a dozen plays of the new version, I’m suspending judgment.

Morrissey followed yesterday with Years Of Refusal. What do you think of it?

New Dylan album rumours are flying fast. Some have a new 10-track studio album already in the can and due for release at the end of April.

And it seems that Neil Young’s eternally delayed Archives box has been put back yet again to accommodate an original new CD, Fork In The Road, on 30 March.

Great days for grown-up rockpop fans!

All of these musicians are profiled in my new book, Music For Grown-Ups. For full details, please click on the book cover at the top left of the Home Page of the master website:

Gerry Smith

Bartok, Baaba Maal, Bob Dylan

February 16, 2009
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC this week

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups every week of the year. And it’s all free – well, sort of….

All of these musicians are profiled in my new book, Music For Grown-Ups. For full details, please click on the book cover at the top left of the Home Page of the master website:

Mon 16 Feb
1200 & 2200 Bartok, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3 (1/5, continues Tues-Fri)

Wed 18 Feb
2315 Baaba Maal live, Late Junction – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 19 Feb
1400 Handel’s opera Silla – BBC Radio 3
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

Gerry Smith

Late entries to win a copy of new Music For Grown-Ups book

February 13, 2009
Thanks for the flurry of late entries, including Top 5s like:

* Dylan, Mozart, Len Cohen, Cecilia Bartoli and Marcelo Alvarez

* Bach, Miles, Dylan, Mozart, Ella

* Warren Zevon, Stan Rogers, Paul Simon, Ray Davies, Stephen Sondheim

The competition closes in one hour and I’m looking forward to drawing the winner and compiling a ranking list next week.

Thanks again to all who entered – the response was excellent, the ranking list looks like it will be a revelation.

Gerry Smith