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Sound Bites: New LPs from old faves – ABBA, Doobies, Clapton, Rod

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Nostalgia is a powerful draw this time of year and that applies to music as much as it does to the shows and movies we choose to watch or the books piled up on our nightstand. Several iconic music makers have chosen this time to let loose their latest projects in an environment where a cluster of acts from the days of yore are still impacting the chart.

A quick glance at the latest issue of Billboard might make you wonder if you’ve entered a time warp. Vintage titles from Michael Jackson, Queen, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles are vying for chart space with a newly released 1990 Grateful Dead live set that gave the band its highest debut in nearly 35 years.

Several big names from the past will likely reappear on the chart next week with their first musical statements in years.

ABBA –Voyage (Capitol; Polar Music)

The Swedish pop giants have returned with their first full album of new material since 1981 and it may not be their last. Is there an “S.O.S” or a “Knowing Me, Knowing You” among the 10 new tracks? No, but some of this album will definitely warm the hearts of longtime fans, and that’s enough. Like vintage ABBA, “Voyage” blends grandiose balladry (“I Still Have Faith in You,” “I Can Be That Woman”) with mid-tempo pop (“Don’t Shut Me Down,” “Keep an Eye on Dan”) and dance tunes (“No Doubt About It,” “Just a Notion” – the track that arguably sounds most like their 1970s glory days). Countering suggestions that “Voyage” represents ABBA’s final recorded statement, member Anni-Frid Lyngstad said to BBC radio last week: “Don’t be too sure.”

(Note: “Voyage” debuts at number two on this week’s chart, making it the group’s highest charting LP in the U.S.)

The Doobie Brothers – Liberté (Island Records)

On the band’s first album of new material in more than a decade, The Doobies prove they can still conjure some of that original magic. Veteran members Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and Michael McDonald are present along with longtime guitarist John McFee and Little Feat cofounder Bill Payne on keyboards. The group’s secret weapon on this album is guitarist, producer and songwriter John Shanks, formerly of Melissa Etheridge’s band, who co-wrote Liberté’s 12 tracks, produced the record and plays a dozen or so instruments throughout. The strongest songs here (“Oh Mexico,” “The American Dream,” “Don’t Ya Mess With Me,” “Easy”) tend to be the earthy rockers that recall the Doobies of yesteryear.

Rod Stewart – The Tears of Hercules (Warner; Rhino)

I’m the sort of Rod Stewart fan that prefers his early phases with the Jeff Beck Group and The Faces but that’s what a career in radio does to you. Still, I found quite a bit to recommend in Stewart’s 32nd LP, starting with the fact that he co-wrote nine of the dozen tracks here, and most are quite good. The catchy, slightly Celtic-sounding debut single “One More Time” deserves to be a bit hit, as does the dance track “Gabriella,” the Appalachia meets Tex-Mex “All My Days” and “Born to Boogie” a tribute to T-Rex’s Marc Bolan that finds Rod rocking out like he did in the ‘70s. Stewart himself reckons this is his best work in quite a while and I think he’s right.

Eric Clapton – The Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions (Mercury)

When the pandemic cancelled Eric Clapton’s May residency at London’s Royal Albert Hall, he transitioned to a Victorian homestead in the British countryside with three members of his band to capture this largely acoustic session performed for an audience of one, his wife, Melia. Accompanied by drummer Steve Gadd, pianist Chris Stainton and bassist Nathan East, Clapton delivered an elevated performance of understated elegance.

The set-list contained a fascinating blend of obscure back catalog gems (“Golden Ring,” “River of Tears,” “Believe in Life,”) covers (two songs by late Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green – “Black Magic Woman” and “Man of the World”) new material (“Kerry,” written in tribute to Kerry Lewis, his longtime touring audio engineer who recently passed) hits, and of course the blues. “Layla” and “Tears in Heaven” seem superfluous in light of their cultural omnipresence (and the arrangements are pretty close to the versions from 1992’s “Unplugged”) but things get cooking when the electric instruments come out on “Long Distance Call,” “Bad Boy” and “Got My Mojo Working.” The quality of the recording and visuals is stunning. The CD is paired with the beautifully shot set on Blu-ray or DVD.

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 November 2021 08:16

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