Guitar Gods Invade New York

Two of the three guitar gods that made up the shifting lineup of axmen that defined the Yardbirds as a proving ground (along with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) for British guitarists will pass through the New York area only weeks apart as part of historic, multi-night shows for both artists. Jeff Beck, making his Paramount debut and playing his first Long Island shows in years, appears April 15th, 16th and 17th at the Huntington venue. Eric Clapton will commemorate his 70th birthday on May 1st and May 2nd at Madison Square Garden. The Beck shows are the beginning of a solo tour and then a co-bill with Z.Z. Top. Clapton will only play seven additional concerts at the annual Royal Albert Hall shows he does in London after he plays in New York.

Both artists have released very few albums of new music in the past few years but have issued excellent visual works. Both have recent video releases from Eagle on Blu-ray that are as good as anything they have done in years.
Planes, Trains and Eric uses concerts Clapton performed in Japan in the spring of 2014 as a backdrop to interviews with him and his band and various other managers and tour personnel to present that point in Clapton’s career as perhaps an end to large-scale, multi-city tours. The band that is featured in the performances is the group Clapton will bring to New York in May. This Blu-ray includes a wide and generous cross-section of music from many of the musical stops along the way of a rich and varied career.

The Jeff Beck Blu-ray, Beck Live in Tokyo, is a more straightforward concert film, although there is nothing conventional about Jeff Beck’s music. The ageless, acknowledged best guitarist on the planet continues to explore rock, jazz and soul in his instrumental guitar music, but elements of techno and other newer styles and sounds have freshened his sound in recent years. While Beck really doesn’t have hits per se, the commercial zenith of his solo career was the George Martin-produced 1975 album Blow by Blow, and the only track from that album here is “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” Instead, Beck explores songs through his unique guitar style, putting his stamp on jazz standards and rock classics in ways that actually avoid many of the tired guitar clichés. His playing is more akin to that of some of the jazz fusion artists he has worked with, yet with a more succinct and melodic subtle touch. This guitar clinic only proves further that as much as Beck is celebrated for his part in such classic groups as the Yardbirds and his own Jeff Beck Group, each successive new tour and album pushes the musical boundaries further and makes his success as an artist the result of the newest musical experiments.

Decemberists in April
As we look back on the first quarter of the year, I have to say my favorite album is What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World (Capitol) by The Decemberists. Never really part of the indie pack or roots crowd, The Decemberists have always made bookish pop with a sound more like a band from the north of England than from the northwest of the United States. Colin Meloy’s plaintive, yet rich voice continues to be the group’s trademark, and such songs as “Make You Better” and “Cavalry Captain” are the group’s most accessible songs to date. The production is also the group’s best ever and this outing is clearly the group’s career defining work.

Like Buttah!
Barbra Streisand’s birthday is on April 24th. While it’s significant she has legs like butter, Streisand’s most recent album Partners (Columbia) proves that even though duet albums of new interpretations of the classic songs of superstar artists are nothing new, her still powerful voice and mostly well-matched collaborators make this a worthy outing.

Heavy Rotation
Two other releases from last year receiving heavy airplay at my house are Hozier’s Grammy-winning, self-titled blockbuster debut on Rubyworks/Columbia and the second Eno/Hyde collaborative outing High Life (Opal/Warp) from Brian Eno and Karl Hyde. Three albums that round out my choice for best albums of the first quarter of the year include Bob Dylan’s standards album Shadows In The Night (Columbia); I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop), the breakout second album under the moniker of Father John Misty from Joshua Tillman; and Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador), the first album in five years from Belle and Sebastian.