Grrr Live! is at least the 10th archival audio/video concert package that the Rolling Stones have issued since 2017, so some fans may be running low on spending money or shelf space or may simply have had enough of recordings that feature overlapping setlists. That said, this latest album may be the best of the bunch, thanks largely to pristine sound quality, a relatively long and star-studded guest roster, and—unlike some of the earlier releases—excellent widescreen video.
The record features a Dec. 15, 2012, show that was originally broadcast as a pay-per-view event and was part of a tour intended to celebrate the Stones’ golden anniversary. It took place at Newark, New Jersey’s 27,000-seat Prudential Center—a venue that according to the liner notes, was “small enough by the band’s standards to rate practically as a club date.”
The concert finds Mick Jagger and his mates no worse for wear after half a century; on the contrary, they are in top form and radiate more than enough energy to belie their ages. Backup from a crew that includes keyboardist Chuck Leavell, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and sax and keyboard player Tim Rics is first-rate. As usual, Jagger’s vocals and antics are front and center throughout most of the show, though Keith Richards steps into the spotlight to sing “Happy” and “Before They Make Me Run.”
Grrr Live! benefits from a hits-heavy 23-song program, though a press release’s assertion that this is the “definitive” and “ultimate” live Rolling Stones hits album is hyperbole. The concert is missing “Time Is on My Side,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Angie,” “Beast of Burden,” “As Tears Go By,” and at least half a dozen of the group’s other Top 10 hits. Included, however, are such career high points as “Brown Sugar,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Miss You,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Also featured are “Doom & Gloom” and “One More Shot,” two then-new numbers that helped to freshen up Grrr!, a 2012 anthology.
Guests include Bruce Springsteen (“Tumbling Dice”), Lady Gaga (“Gimme Shelter”), ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor (“Midnight Rambler”), Gary Clark, Jr. and John Mayer (“Going Down”), and the Black Keys (Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”). The Blu-ray adds another version of “Gimme Shelter,” this one with backup singer Lisa Fischer rather than Lady Gaga sharing centerstage with Jagger, plus readings of “Respectable” with John Mayer and “Around and Around,” all from a December 13 show in Newark.
If you want just the audio, you can choose from three-LP, two-CD, or digital releases. There’s also a version that couples the CDs with a DVD. For the richest experience, though, buy the two-CD-plus-Blu-ray package, which offers high-def video as well as DTS-HD Master and Dolby Atmos sound options.
Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw (40th-anniversary edition). This new edition of Marshall Crenshaw’s eponymous debut LP, which includes fresh liner notes by the rock singer/songwriter, supplements remasters of the original album’s dozen tracks with seven bonus numbers—alternate takes, B-sides, a live recording, and home demos—five of which have not previously been released.
The original record, which Crenshaw co-produced with Richard Gottehrer, never rose higher than No. 50 on the Billboard charts in 1982 but earned well-deserved critical acclaim. It also helped to ignite the power-pop movement with such addictively hooked love songs as “There She Goes Again,” “Someday, Someway,” and “Cynical Girl,” all of which have aged well. Granted, Crenshaw’s style is derivative, but he meshes his influences into music that’s immediately identifiable as his own. At its best, such as on the tracks cited above, it’s ear candy.
Savoy Brown, Blues All Around. Savoy Brown’s large discography testifies to group prime mover Kim Simmonds’s devotion to blues rock. The British singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who succumbed to cancer last December at age 75, founded the band way back in 1965 and released more than 40 albums in the decades that followed. He completed this latest one—the follow-up to 2020’s Ain’t Done Yet—shortly before his death.
Though more than 50 musicians have been members of the group at one time or another, the lineup hasn’t changed since 2009, when Savoy Brown became a trio comprised of Simmonds on guitar, organ, harmonica, and vocals; Garnet Grimm on drums and percussion; and Pat DeSalvo on bass. Blues All Around, which Simmonds produced and which consists solely of material composed by him, finds the trio at the top of its game. It sounds as if it could have been recorded live in the studio, though, due to the guitarist’s medical condition, it wasn’t. Simmonds recorded his parts, which include lots of masterful slide guitar, first, and Grimm and DeSalvo added their bits later.
Frances Luke Accord, Safe in Sound. This is the second full-length album from the Chicago-based folk duo Frances Luke Accord, which consists of Nicholas Gunty and Brian Powers. The follow-up to 2016’s Fluke, it will make you hope we don’t have to wait so long for LP number three.
When you first hear the self-produced Safe in Sound, you’ll likely think of early Simon & Garfunkel numbers like “The Sounds of Silence” and “Cloudy.” (Coincidentally, this all-originals collection includes a new song with the latter title.) Like such similarly styled outfits as the Pines and the Brother Brothers, Frances Luke Accord delivers sublime harmony vocals and gentle, soothing melodies that will have you coming back for more.
Jaimee Harris, Boomerang Town. On her second full-length album, Jaimee Harris offers 10 songs that are often as melancholy as they are memorable. The set—which the prolific Mark Hallman winningly produced at his Austin, Texas studio—features richly textured backup from a band that employs violin, viola, cello, accordion, and piano. Hallman himself plays drums, Wurlitzer organ, harmonica, acoustic and electric guitar, and more.
Says singer/songwriter Harris, whose nuanced vocals sound redolent of early Joni Mitchell: “These songs tell the story of what it is like to live…in these times. This is what it’s like to be a part of the post–‘Born to Run’ generation. Springsteen’s generation had somewhere to run to. I’m not so sure mine does.”
The record is not as bleak as that comment may make it sound. Her characters struggle with drug addiction, small-town life, mortality, and mental illness, yet they also evidence resilience. They may have nowhere to run, but you sense that most of them are going to stand their ground and persevere.
The Gibson Brothers, Darkest Hour. This 15th album from the bluegrass/country outfit led by Leigh and Eric Gibson—their first since 2018’s Mockingbird—may be their best effort to date. Produced by the masterful dobro player Jerry Douglas, who adds guitar and lap steel work, the album also features a guest spot by Alison Krauss. Backed by a top-notch band, the brothers showcase consistently sublime vocal work on a dozen catchy songs. Leigh and Eric wrote them all individually or together (in one case, with contributions from the latter’s son).
You don’t have to get beyond the first two numbers—the sprightly “What a Difference a Day Makes” and the moody, mandolin- and fiddle-spiced ballad “Hearts Desire”—to sense this outfit’s versatility. Whether your tastes lean toward traditional country vocal groups like the Country Gentlemen or contemporary country rockers like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, you’ll find lots to like here.
Various artists, Sputnik! – The Launch of the Space Race. You don’t need to have lived through the dawn of the space race to be fascinated by this anthology, which collects 29 of the songs it inspired—everything from doo-wop and rockabilly to jazz, classical, and country. The deftly assembled and well-annotated set, which includes material released between 1954 and 1969, focuses on American artists (so don’t look to this CD for “Telstar” by England’s Tornados). You’ll spot a few well-known names—including Jesse Belvin, the silky-voiced R&B crooner, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, who is billed here as Young John Watson—but many of the artists are obscure.
Because the album embraces a lot of genres, it is not a good bet for anyone with narrow tastes. A few of the songs, moreover, are more historically interesting than musically memorable. Most of them, though, range only from good to great. Among the many highlights: “There Goes Sputnik,” by the Teen-Clefs, a “girl group” that sounds a bit like the Shirelles; Belvin’s up-tempo “My Satellite,” which finds him backed by an outfit called the Space Riders; “Static,” a rock guitar instrumental showcase for the Velvetones; and “Rocket Ship,” an R&B-flavored rocker by a group called Vernon Green & the Medallions.
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.