The original Doors’ penultimate studio album, 1970’s Morrison Hotel, arrived at a time of uncertainty for the group. Their previous LP, The Soft Parade, had proved a commercial success but had garnered lukewarm reviews because of relatively weak material and a plethora of string and horn arrangements. Adding to the sense that the band might be winding down were singer Jim Morrison’s legal troubles: his arrest shortly before The Soft Parade’s release, for allegedly exposing himself at a Miami concert, had led to cancellations of subsequent shows; and he had been arrested again during the recording of Morrison Hotel, this time for drunken behavior on an airplane.
Though he was indeed on a downward spiral—and would die in July 1971, at age 27—he and the band still had a lot of life in them in late 1969 and January, when they recorded the bluesy, Paul Rothchild–produced Morrison Hotel. The album finds them getting back to basics and delivering a strong batch of new performances that avoid The Soft Parade’s missteps while recalling their earlier strengths.
To this listener, Morrison Hotel isn’t quite as innovative—or as compelling—as the group’s earliest albums, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. “Roadhouse Blues,” where Morrison convincingly sings “woke up this morning and I got myself a beer,” is classic Doors, with fantastic guitar work by Robby Krieger (“Do it, Robbie, do it!” Morrison yells as Krieger works his magic), lively piano by Ray Manzarek, solid drumming by John Densmore, and harmonica by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian (credited as G. Puglese). Other highlights include the funky “Peace Frog,” which bemoans “blood in the streets in the town of Chicago,” an apparent reference to what happened at the 1968 Democratic Convention there; “Waiting for the Sun,” which sounds as if it could fit on Strange Days and has Morrison proclaiming that “this is the strangest life I’ve ever known”; “Queen of the Highway,” which showcases Manzarek’s innovative Rhodes piano work; and “Ship of Fools” and “Indian Summer,” both of which occasionally sound redolent of tracks on the group’s debut. The only scratch on the record is its closing number, the plodding “Maggie McGill.”
A new 50th anniversary numbered limited edition of Morrison Hotel offers a remaster of the original LP on both CD and 180-gram virgin vinyl. There’s also a 77-minute bonus disc that devotes 16 of its 19 tracks to work-in-progress versions of “Queen of the Highway,” “Roadhouse Blues,” and “Peace Frog.” Also featured are “I’ll Never Be Untrue,” a song that previously surfaced on Box Set and Essential Rarities; and covers of Muddy Waters’s “Rock Me Baby” and Motown’s “Money That’s What I Want.”
These extras are all rough performances, permeated with false starts, sudden stops, failed experiments, and random chatter, but that’s what should make them interesting, at least to serious fans. Listening to these unedited snippets, you get a good sense of what the atmosphere was like in the studio with the Doors: fun, creative, and—thanks largely to Morrison, who at times sounds inebriated—more than a little bit wild.
Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche, I Can Still Hear You. The Roche/Wainwright clan has been responsible for a whole lot of excellent music (see Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, the Roches), but none better than on this third folk collaboration by Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy. The lilting program—which features guest spots by Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray and Emily Saliers—includes five numbers by Suzzy; the traditional “Factory Girl,” a song that previously appeared on a 1980 Roches LP; Suzzy and Lucy’s “Get the Better”; a fine cover of the late Connie Converse’s “Talkin’ Like You (Two Tall Mountains)”; and three other tracks.
Don’t expect the album to have you up and dancing: two of the songs were written during the pandemic, and Suzzy has indicated that her contributions were influenced by the aftermath of the 2016 election as well as the 2017 deaths of her mother and sister, so the mood is understandably often melancholy. That said, this is a beautiful record, loaded with gorgeous harmony vocals, strong melodies, and memorably poetic lyrics.
Beth Lee, Waiting on You Tonight. The long-term relationship that reportedly inspired many of the songs on this fourth Beth Lee CD was apparently tough, but at least it resulted in some first-rate songs. Lee, who is based in Austin, Texas, sounds rather like Lucinda Williams, but her music also evokes new wave acts like Blondie as well as the so-called “girl groups” of the 1960s. The band includes Chuck Prophet drummer Vicente Rodriguez (who produced the album) and guitarist James DePrato, plus multi-instrumentalist Julie Wolf, who has worked with such artists as Ani DiFranco and Eliza Gilkyson. There’s lots of attitude here—lots of ear candy, too.
Sweet Lizzy Project, …And So This Is Christmas. Having signed to the Mavericks’ label and moved to Nashville, the Cuban band Sweet Lizzy Project released their excellent U.S. debut album, Technicolor, around the beginning of 2020. Now they’re back with a digital-only holiday EP that includes two new originals (one cowritten with the Mavericks’ Raul Malo) plus covers of two of the most indelible Christmas songs of the rock era: the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over).” The emotive performances underscore the excellence of the band and particularly of lead singer Lisset Diaz.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.