Film & Television Series Music

“Stones In Exile” The Rolling Stones Documentary DVD

Stones In Exile
Director: Stephen Kajik
Eagle Vision DVD

Eagle Vision’s DVD documentary “Stones in Exile” follows the events surrounding the creation of The Rolling Stones’ now classic “Exile on Main Street” album. 40 years down the line it reveals how this seeming paean to the then disappearing “old weird” American came to be via previously sloughed tracks, the group’s financially forced retreat from their British homeland and a months long basement recording session/ endless house party in the south of France. Using contemporaneous film footage culled from Robert Frank’s “Cock Sucker Blues”, Dominique Tarle’s beautiful “fly on the wall” photographs, and a group of new interviews running from the informative to the ridiculous director Stephen Kijak (“Scott Walker, 30th Century Man”) does a credible job of separating some of the apocrypha from fact. Even though we find in the case of the Stones, “printing the legend” is often the same as printing the fact.

As a 2 LP opus released in June of 1972 “Exile On Main Street” exhibited the culmination of what The Stones had been stewing up from “Beggar’s Banquet” through “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers”. It represented the graduation of the band from students of the American music forms they revered – blues, country and gospel – to modern purveyors of those forms. Additionally it saw them turn a fun house mirror onto the topography of a post-sixties paranoid America. In one interview Martin Scorscese posits that the sixties actually ended in 1974, possibly thinking of his own documentary “The Last Waltz”, but he should know better. The sixties ended squarely at Altamont raceway in December of 1969. “Exile” laid out a musical landscape where the Devil’s Carny was set up right next to the traveling preacher’s tent show and the moral lines between them were becoming increasingly blurred. The Kent State shootings were past us and Watergate loomed ahead.

As Stones fans already know that the group records tons of material and stockpiles it for possible later use. During the course of the interviews both Mick and Keith try to convey that for them a Stones album is less a theme than a particular batch of finished tracks that happen to show up under one title and released on a particular date. Even so “Exile” hangs together as a dense gumbo of sin and salvation wrapped in the creepy Super 8mm frame blow-ups of Robert Frank’s film. Bringing that record home in 1972 was definitely a WTF moment for Stones fans, myself included. It was a beast with many heads that while daunting at first rewarded perseverance with unfolding mysteries even this far from it’s inception.

Dominique Tarle's images evoke the Stone's summer of exile

That “Exile” is the most Keith-centric of all Stones albums is revealed to be a quirk of geography rather than a musical statement since the recording studio was run out of the dank basement of Villa Nellcote, Keith and Anita’s rented residence. Other Stones were scattered hours away, which accounts for the shifting personnel on many tracks such as Mick Taylor on Bass guitar on “Tumblin’ Dice” and producer Jimmy Miller drums on “Happy”.

In what has become a de rigueur part of all “classic album” overviews, Mick and Charlie visit Jagger’s former home “Stargroves” and Olympic studios where many of “Exile’s” tracks were begun, to reminisce. It’s fun to watch Mick grudgingly delineate his memories as Charlie laconically disagrees. There is also some vintage footage of the “Rolling Stones truck thing” being hauled into the driveway of Villa Nellcote. Snippets of jams and studio dialog sprinkled here and there are a tantalizing peek at what we might have heard if the “Exile On Main Street” deluxe remaster had taken more of a “Jamming with Edward” approach.

Interviews with celebrities (“fans”) while totally superfluous in the body of the documentary are offered as lengthier edits in the bonus section and many prove to be quite enjoyable. Liz Phair’s devotion to the Exile album is palpable and I share her desire to never know what the actual lyrics to any of these songs are. Sheryl Crow, whose best work is informed by slinky Stones-ish rhythms, makes sense here too; Benicio DelToro and Will I. Am less so. It would have been nice to get some words from background vocalists Clydie King and Venetta Fields as part of the LA sessions section of the film. Their singing is often so far up in the mix as to over shadow Jagger.

I’ve read a couple of books and many articles detailing the summer at Nellcote over the years so I wasn’t sure I would glean much from this new DVD. I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to lots of footage and photos I hadn’t seen before. The documentary pulls all the info together in one place with nicely presented graphics and – mostly – informative interviews. I would have loved the ability to peruse Tarle’s images in a separate gallery one by one. “Stones in Exile” may also be the closest we’ll get to a quality look at Frank’s “CS Blues” footage; I think the naughty bits will keep it unreleased for a long long time.

Priced to sell, this piece warrants repeat viewings and should have a place in your collection.

Eagle has announced release of “Ladies and Gentleman, The Rolling Stones” the little seen film covering the 1972 tour, when the Exile material hit the road.. I’m especially looking forward to that one.


Sunset, Sunset

May 3, 2010
A spectacular spring sunset over Sunset Park Brooklyn, NYC. Click image to enlarge.


Daniel Lanois and Black Dub @ Bowery Ballroom (2/17/2010)

It has always been a treat to see producer Daniel Lanois do his thing on stage during the years since the release of his first album “Arcadie”. I’ve been lucky enough to hear him perform at The Bottom Line back around the time of that first album and more recently at an excellent WFUV songwriter series at Carnegie Hall’s intimate Zenkel Theater. In this case Dan’s NYC appearance was to introduce a new project called Black Dub. Black Dub is Lanois in collaboration with longtime foil Brian Blade on drums, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Trixie Whitley, and on this show Bassist Chris Thomas filling in for usual cohort Daryl Johnson.

For those not familiar with Lanois himself, it is likely you are more than familiar with the music he has helped to create as a record producer. His work with Brian Eno and U2, beginning with the transitional “The Unforgettable Fire” album, led – arguably – to their career highs, “Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby”. He manned the board for Peter Gabriel co-producing “So”, has worked with Bob Dylan twice and produced “Wrecking Ball” a savvy, career defining CD for Emmylou Harris. Some of my favorite work, including “Somewhere Down The Lazy River”, appears on the first solo album of his fellow Canadian transplant Robbie Robertson.

Though no opening act was listed, that space was essentially occupied by a video loop of images associated with Lanois’ “Omni Series” CD’s which unfortunately went on just a wee bit too long. Though many of the images were compelling, particularly an eery visual of Dan at the pedal steel with sound waves emanating around him, it didn’t stand up to its half hour long airing. From my vantage point in the balcony it was clear the fidgeting and muttering audience was getting quite restless after the repetitive presentation kicked in for the third time. Most of the attendees were polite but there were a few who were vocal about their displeasure. I‘m always interested in the experimental edge of the artists I follow – Dan especially, it’s part of his ethos and allure – but we got the point of the video the first time through. I don’t think I’m stretching the imagination to say that the crowd would have preferred an additional 10 minutes of Dan on the pedal steel improvising to the video. It was an unfortunate miscalculation that put a weird spin on the start of the show and it took the band a few tunes to warm up an audience that had already been worn out.

In the setting of Black Dub Lanois is less the front man and more like an amiable godfather or even “mid-wife” in the proceedings. Its very much an egalitarian effort, a nice tasty musical soup that relies on each player’s intuitive response to the other. Brian is a great technician but never serves technique over feel. He always seems to find completely unexpected fills that fit the mood perfectly. Trixie’s ability to switch instruments – alternating guitar, drums and keyboard – aids greatly in their ability to morph the mood throughout the set.

Though Trixie didn’t perform her single, the Etta James classic “I Would Rather Go Blind”, any disappointment was quelled by the inclusion of a new bluesy Black Dub original called “Surely You Were Meant To Be Mine”, which conjures up Stax style gospel soul. It is a little gem waiting to be polished up in the studio and could easily be imagined with an “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” inspired horn section added. This is a grand slam, a killer tune. Another high point, “Silverado”, found Brian sitting on the floor behind his drum kit engrossed in Dan and Trixie’s beautiful harmonies. Dan carried the song along with rolling guitar crescendoes and it was a very intimate performance to a hushed crowd.

Brian and Chris Thomas have a history of work together in the Brian Blade Fellowship and they were locked together in groove-land throughout the night. Chris was smiling broadly, having a great time syncing with Brian, pounding his bass and adding background vocals. I only wish Brian was not sequestered away in the corner of the stage because such a large part of the audience was there to see him. He got an uproarious ovation when introduced.

On stage, weaving himself between the instruments and amps, videographer Adam Vorlick wielded a single camera. Its black & white output was broadcast on the screen behind the band and was also being webcast live across the planet. He did an excellent job of highlighting the group member’s interplay and expanding the show’s visual scope for the Bowery audience. His performance on the camera became an integral part of the show, much in contrast with the canned feel of video broadcast to jumbo-trons at stadium events; a nice touch that elevated the musical experience.

No Lanois show can be without a performance of fan favorite and signature tune “The Maker”. It’s been covered by Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson on albums that Dan produced for them but it is his recording on “Arcadie” that is the benchmark. The double bass guitar track is a key feature of its appeal and hard to reproduce onstage. Black Dub slid into it tentatively but found the pocket during the first verse with Trixie joining the rhythm section on a second set of drums. They ended tight with the song’s powerful coda/refrain “Oh, river rise to the sea”. I’d love to see the dual drum aspect of Black Dub exploited more as it coalesces. A flat out percussion jam would be so right for this band.

My favorite performance of the evening was set closer “Ring the Alarm”, the only nod to Jamaican “dub” that Black Dub ventured.It was a nice opportunity for the band to stretch out, jam, and harmonize on its chanted lyric “ring the alarm, another sound is dying – hey -oh”. The encore included Dan and Brian laying down a quiet atmospheric guitar piece evoking his “Joshua Tree” era desert-scapes.

All together a good showing by a band that is still incubating but has the cojones to do it live in front of an audience. I’m truly looking forward to the upcoming album (set for spring release) and the next live show. In the meantime you can catch a lot of video of Black Dub on the official Daniel Lanois website.


Roger Daltrey @ Nokia Theatre Times Square (11/2009)

Check out my review and Ken Pierce’s photos of The Who’s Roger Daltrey during his “Use It or Lose It” tour in November 2009 at Nokia Theater, NYC by clicking this link.


William Bell @ B.B. King Blues Club (1/2010)

What a treat. An awesome double shot surprise for the second of three “Season of (Johnny) Winter” Mondays at BB King’s in NYC. This time the opening act was the great singer songwriter William Bell. On this gig his back-up band was headed by former Saturday Night Live band leader, guitarist G.E. Smith, with the addition of the Uptown Horns. It was a perfect soul revue staging that allowed Mr. Bell to explore the full range of his smooth but powerful voice, even in their too short stint on stage.

Though Bell did not enjoy the high profile of soul cross-over artists like Wilson Picket and Otis Redding, as one of the earliest recording artists on the Stax Records label he became a seminal figure in the creation of the southern soul sound. His key song “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (which he wrote and recorded as a teenager in 1961) continues to be a blueprint for gospel tinged, organ driven & muted horn R&B. While my favorite interpretation of the song was recorded by Brian Eno and John Cale on their “Wrong Way Up” album it was most notably covered by the Byrds during Graham Parson’s time in the group. It is no surprise that the G. E. Smith led backing band was so perfectly attuned with Bell since the elegiac ending music SNL used throughout Smith’s tenure was solidly based on “You Don’t Miss your Water’s” feel.

Guitarist G. E. Smith

Mr. Bell is also co-author of a cornerstone of electric blues “Born Under a Bad Sign”. Originally written with Booker T. Jones for inclusion on the Albert King album of the same name, the song found its way into late 1960’s pop culture when it was covered by Cream. Much to the amusement of the audience, Bell noted that the most recent cover version of the song was done by a newer pop icon, Homer Simpson. The tune was used as an opportunity to stretch out with individual members of the horn section getting a chance to shine and Mr. Smith accurately aiming a short but sweet solo featuring the stinging Telecaster sound he is noted for. Along with his own compositions, Mr. Bell peppered the set with snippets of well known soul sounds, including a bit of Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”.

Volumes have been written exploring how “Memphis Soul” evolved from the confluence of high lonesome country music, sanctified gospel and gut-bucket blues but if you truly want to understand its force you have to hear it done live. There are few better ways to experience the power of soul then spending an evening enraptured by the voice of Mr. Bell. Here’s hoping he will return to BB’s or maybe Highline Ballroom for a headlining show or two in the near future.

To view more of Kenny Pierce’s photos and read his review of the night, including headliner Johnny Winter, please click this link.