Note: this is an independently produced and issued CD (notes on how to get this CD are at the end of this review)
Commercial live recordings are a mixed bag in terms of success - I think the problem is everyone's preoccupation in "perfection" - the artist feels they have to have a "perfect performance" and recording engineer wants to capture "perfect" sound etc. Fine ambitions - but almost impossible to attain, and not exactly conducive to a good recording - perhaps that's why tapers will tell you they have recording that surpasses any commercial live recordings and why people like George Clinton of P-Funk have officially issued non-commercially produced live recordings - "bootlegs".
We have an exceptional recording here - I really think you will get the essence of a Clarence Spady live gig.
How was this achieved? Well it's a long story.........
It's a mixture of good production and obviously great performance and simple recording equipment/set up.
The gig was billed as a live recording but it was held at Clarence's regular local gig Grico's River Street Jazz Cafi, in Wilkes Barre, PA on January 22, 1999. I was there.
Clarence decided to use two drummers - Tony Wilson his regular road drummer, and Shorty Parham - his long time drummer friend, Shorty is also on Clarence's previous CD of over 3 years ago.
The very talented Mark Hamza - on the Hammond A-100 organ - and foot bass pedals (that's right, Mark plays both the keyboards and the "bass"). Mark really helped to define the unique sound of the band. His contribution cannot be underestimated.
Tommy Hamilton on tenor sax (also on the last album) provides another lead voice as a foil for Clarence that brings out great solos from both.
The place was full of regular fans, friends and family. This is a two-edged sword - it can build unwanted stress, but it could also bring out the best in the artist.
It was not surprising that the everyone was uptight and stressed, and it showed in the first two sets - yes of course there were spots of brilliance here and there but they were just too wound up.
Third set - it was like Clarence had either decided that the gig was a wash or just decide to be himself and play - either way it was like a different person and that affected the whole band - the third set fulfilled even the highest expectations
The starting number of that third set - set the scene. It was a pure improvisation invented right there on the spot. I've followed Clarence for 3 years and had never heard him do this number before. Starts with a slow and subdued groove and builds tension until they are really burning/grooving. This became track #5 titled "Let's Get it On" - but the producer cut the track to come in about half way - that's why you'll hear the track as a jump into immediate up tempo groove, what you have missing is the 3 minute build up to that point. But nevertheless you'll hear how good this is.
This is followed by "Addition Game" a very personal song for Clarence and you can feel the tension and his outpouring - this is for real - I was there listening, and it comes across really well on this recording. Both these numbers had Shorty on drums.
(and JFYI - that's VT's cheapo white Strat he's playing on both the preceding numbers......)
Scott Goldman - Clarence's manager/friend and producer of the CD very wisely put some of Clarence's conversations on to this recording - so you can hear the warm of his greeting and the audience's response to him.
The first track after the warm greeting on this CD is a new original. Most live recording are either of covers, or performances of already issued originals. Very few artists debut new originals on live recordings - yet there are no less than 6 new originals on this CD and they are each and everyone string numbers and not some throwaways. That makes a huge difference and shows the self-confidence.
"Won't Sell You Out" is a real winner - with fabulous lyrics. The tune starts off to my ears dragging a bit - I think Tony's kick drums are falling behind the beat - but when Clarence does his guitar solo - you really hear him burn. This song was from one of the earlier sets where everyone was tight. I think Clarence was making up for the slightly shaky start - be that as it may - this is hell of a great solo matched by some really great lyrics.
"Cut Them Loose" - Clarence does this song several ways - I have heard him do this featuring second-line drumming. Tonight it's a modern funky rhythm and Tony's smack rim-shot is great, hear the pop as he hits it, and feel the overall groove of this one.
"Jones Falls Expressway" an original instrumental and it really rocks out, propelled by the whole band you can hear how they all interact and respond to each other. If the highway patrol stops you - play this track - to explain how your old Hyundai managed to do 130 mph.
Of the cover tunes:
"Before You Accuse Me" the Elias McDaniel song (Mr. Bo Diddley to you) done more to the arrangement of Eric Clapton. But this is Clarence's take on a well known song - and he involves the audience in a call and response - always a popular number - and now you can hear why.
"C'est La Vie" - has a really attractive hook and is done somewhat in the artist-formerly-known-as-Prince style. It really grooves
"Hey Joe" - Clarence's tribute to Jimi and he is not a slavish imitation - listen to the fire on this extended version.
"Picture of Love" one of his best numbers from the previous CD - this is a really great performance - calling up all the experience and constant playing of this song for over 3 years - you can hear how he has added maturity and confidence to this.
"Pick Me Up" - closes the album with Shorty back on drums and augmenting on vocals a beautiful and gentle closer to this very good live CD.
Yes, of course I have heard better overall performances than this gig. But individually, all the tracks used from over 3 hours of recording are very worthwhile and it has been put together well, with thoughtful inclusion of some talking - so that this feel like a really good and warm gig. Which in the end - all things considering - this CD shows well.
From Scott Goldman on how to get this CD:
As of now the CD is available by mail order at following sources and must be payable by money order only;
payable to: Scott Goldman 239 Wyoming Ave Scranton, Pa. 18503 $16.50 includes shipping and handling payable to: Rob Friedman 1321 Wyoming Ave Exeter, Pa. 18643 $16.50 includes shipping and handling Also available at: River Street Jazz Cafe 667 N. River Street Plains, Pa. 18705 and: All Clarence Spady Band performances (Note: the official Clarence Spady Website is scheduled for November '99 debut).---------------------