Jethro Tull at their over-the-top best on expanded ‘Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: To Young to Die’ CD/DVD release

Jethro Tull‘Too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young to Die’
Jethro Tull (Parlophone)
4 stars out of 5

I’ve long held a special place in my heart for British hard/prog/folk rockers Jethro Tull. Charismatic frontman Ian Anderson was as theatrical and over-the-top as any of his peers (in the best possible way, of course) and their best albums — “Benefit,” “Aqualung,” “Thick as a Brick,” “Minstrel in the Gallery,” “Songs From the Wood” — have held up remarkably well over the past 40-plus years.

Jethro Tull CDNext year marks the 40th anniversary of 1976 release “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: To Young to Die,” an incredibly ambitious — if ultimately so-so — undertaking initially envisioned as a stage musical about an aging rocker. In anticipation of the milestone, Parlophone has issued a mammoth 2-CD/2-DVD set that should be catnip for hardcore Jethro Tull fans.

The CDs the original album and a previously unreleased re-recorded version made especially for a 1976 British television special, as well as a handful of songs earmarked for the unfinished album, and associated recordings never before available on CD. The title track is the centerpiece of the album — and one of my favorite Tull songs of all time — and the lads also score with “Quiz Kid,” “Crazed Institution,” “From a Dead Beat to an Old Geezer” and “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive).” Among the new tunes, “Salamander’s Rag Time,” “Commerical Traveller” and “Strip Cartoon” are the ones you’ll remember.

The DVDs feature the British TV special in its wonderfully pretentious entirety. Anderson & Co. over-emote their way through the 43-minute set, with the rudimentary production values of the era adding to the unintentional comedy. There also are audio-only tracks on the DVDs that figure to appeal to serious audiophiles only. If you enjoy Jethro Tull, theis deluxe version “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” is worth the upgrade. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Songs From the Trees’ a terrific companion piece for new Carly Simon memoir

Carly Simon‘Songs From the Trees’
Carly Simon (Rhino)
4.5 stars out of 5

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Carly Simon was one of the true superstars of the 1970s and has a career that spans some 45 years. At age 70, Simon is still going strong and recently penned her memoir “Boys in the Trees.” To coincide with the release of the book, Simon offers up a two-CD musical companion piece in “Songs From the Trees.”

Carly Simon CD“This is a special album that serves as an additional way to look at my stories,” she explains. “Most of these songs are precursors to what eventually became the book. As the narrative only goes up to 1983, there are many songs to follow. If you feel like playing this puzzle, there are clues of how to cross-reference the songs with the chapters, pages and words.”

The 31-track set spans the years 1971 and includes her biggest solo hits, as well as early recordings of The Simon Sisters (with sibling Lucy), a tune with ex-husband James Taylor and a pair of previously unreleased bonus cuts. Highlights abound, most notably “It Happens Everyday,” “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Anticipation,” “You’re So Vain,” “Mockingbird” (with Taylor), “You Belong to Me” and “The Right Thing to Do.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

Neil Finn & Paul Kelly shine in live setting on ‘Goin’ Your Way’

Finn Kelly‘Goin’ Your Way’
Neil Finn + Paul Kelly (Omnivore)
4 stars out of 5

New Zealand native Neil Finn and Aussie Paul Kelly are two of the most successful and admired singer/songwriters of their generation. They’ve hit the road together frequently over the years, including an acclaimed Australian tour in 2013 highlighted by a performance at the Sydney Opera House. That magical night is captured on two-CD set “Goin’ Your Way.”

Finn Kelly CDA hit Down Under, the album was only available as a pricy import outside of New Zealand and Australia until now. Happily, the folks at Omnivore are bringing the 29-track set from a pair of consummate pros to the wider audience that the music deserves. The twosome tackle songs from their solo careers, as well as Finn’s early days in bands like Split Enz and Crowded House.

“I loved digging into Neil’s songs,” Kelly says. “A watch ticks and seems so easy but you peer into the mechanism and it’s a whole other world. It’s like that with his songs.”

“It’s a rare pleasure to learn the songs of another songwriter who you admire and to discover the way they work,” Finn adds. “Deceptively simple on the outside but intricate, intimate and considered all the way through. Paul Kelly is a great songwriter in every sense of the term.”

That mutual admiration and respect comes through in the music and makes for a terrific way to spend a couple hours. Among the many highlights here are performances of “Before Too Long,” “She Will Have Her Way,” “One Step Ahead,” “Message to My Girl,” “Better Be Home Soon,” “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Fall at Your Feet” and “Moon River.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Ben Millburn makes strong first impression with ‘Strange Love & Consequence’ EP

Ben Millburn‘Strange Love & Consequence’
Ben Millburn (self-released)
3.5 stars out of 5

Raised in a conservative, religious environment in South Louisiana, the lure of rock & roll ultimately prompted singer/songwriter to head to the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas. Thirteen years of Catholic school had him headed down a traditional path, but a recurring dream eventually started Millburn down the road to “Strange Love & Consequence,” his debut EP.

Ben Millburn CDAfter years of thinking about the aforementioned dream — in which he would see someone looking for him but his feet would remain frozen and he was unable to reach her — he decided to write a song about it. That song, “Don’t You Wait,” launches the four-track, 17-minute EP.

It’s a terrific song that sets the stage for the rest of “Strange Love & Consequence,” an intriguing platter filled with big guitars, pounding drums and high-octane melodies. Additional keepers include “Take Me” and “Waste,” with so-so entry “Dizzy” rounding out the EP. Millburn seems to be on the verge of something special and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Moa Holmsten tackles ‘The Boss’ on sublime new album ‘Bruised Arms & Broken Rhythm’

Moa‘Bruised Arms & Broken Rhythm’
Moa Holmsten (Fill in the Blanks)
4 stars out of 5

Growing up in Sweden, Moa Holmsten was not a big Bruce Springsteen fan. So it might seem strange that the former frontwoman for metal outfit Meldrum would cobble together an entire album of Springsteen covers. Yet “Bruised Arms & Broken Rhythm” is an absolute delight from beginning to end, with Holmsten breathing new life into 15 songs penned by “The Boss.”

Moa CD“(Producer Tony Naima and I) have always respected Springsteen … but I believe the fact that we are not intense and longtime followers of his work has been essential from the beginning,” Holmsten explains. “We could discover new songs and re-discover older ones, and work on them with a unique perspective. We could be brave and courageous, while not letting old emotions or presumed expectations stand in our way.”

The project started with a nearly unrecognizable — but flat-out terrific — rendition of “Badlands” and Holmsten and Naima enjoyed the process so much, they just kept going. Among the other highlights of the 63-minute set are readings of “Dancing in the Dark,” “Born to Run,” “State Trooper,” “Incident on 57th Street,” “Streets of Fire” and “Tougher Than the Rest.” This one merits some attention, folks. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Mr. Smalls to welcome 10,000 Maniacs on Friday, Dec. 11

(Photo by David Saxton)

(Photo by David Saxton)

Acclaimed band 10,000 Maniacs return to Pittsburgh on Friday, Dec. 11, for a headlining performance at Mr. Smalls. Tickets for the all-ages show are $30 and the music gets under way at 8 p.m. Mr. Smalls is located at 400 Lincon Ave. in the city’s Millvale neighborhood. Call 412-821-4447 or visit for additional information.

Lauren Hoffman makes sonic shift as The Secret Storm

The Secret Storm‘The Dragon’
The Secret Storm (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Lauren Hoffman had carved out a respectable career for herself over the past two decades, with a handful of well-received indie pop releases. Not content to rest on her laurels, Hoffman adopted the musical nom de plum The Secret Storm and took things in new direction with terrific EP “The Dragon.”

The Secret Storm CD“I’ve never felt good about recording under my own name,” Hoffman explains. “The ‘Lauren Hoffman’ that shows up on the credit card receipt at the grocery store and the ‘Lauren Hoffman’ who shows up on Spotify just felt like two very different things. Working under the name The Secret Storm creates this psychological distinction between me as a person and the work itself. It’s liberating.”

Hoffman lays bare her soul on this dynamic (but sadly too short) four-track, 14-minute release. The one-two opening punch “Fast Lane” and personal favorite “Sick With Love” lift the lid on “The Dragon,” and The Secret Storm also shine on “Feel It All” and the set-closing title track. Highly recommended. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘The Complete Them’ shines light on Van Morrison’s early career

Them‘The Complete Them 1964-1967’
Them (Legacy)
5 stars out of 5

Before becoming a bona fide international sensation as a solo performer, Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison teamed up with pals Alan Henderson, Ronnie Millings, Billy Harrison and Eric Wrixon to form garage rock outfit Them. Though just 18 when the band first performed in front of an audience, it was clear that Morrison was a budding superstar. Three-CD set “The Complete Them 1964-1967” is the most thorough collection of the band’s early studio and live performances ever assembled, with 69 total tracks — including 20 that have never been available before — clocking in at well over three hours.

Them CD“Them was intended as a vehicle, a way for me to sing and play the blues,” Morrison says in the album’s liner notes. “We started playing at a club in Belfast called the Maritime Hotel. Nobody else was, as they say, brave enough to do it. However, our recordings were not really recognized until after I had some success in my own right, under my own name.”

This terrific set gives Them the attention their music so richly deserves. There are plenty of familiar tunes — “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night,” “I Put a Spell on You,” “Mystic Eyes” — plus an assortment of lesser-known gems, alternate takes and live performances. This one’s a must for Morrison fans. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Minnesota native Dan Israel delivers another winner in ‘Dan’

Dan Israel‘Dan’
Dan Israel (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Though he’s never become a household name, Minnesota native Dan Israel has carved out a successful — and prolific — career for himself. As frontman for Americana outfit The Cultivators and a solo performer, Israel has churned out quality album after quality album. Latest effort “Dan” is his 13th studio effort and finds him on top of his game.

Dan Israel CDThe 10-track, 35-minute release figures to resonate even more with anyone who has gone through the pain of divorce. It’s clear the songs here were cathartic for Israel as he learned how to accept his fate, let go, pick up the pieces and eventually move on to better things. Happily, he doesn’t wallow in his misery, making “Dan” an enjoyable listen throughout.

The one-two opening punch of “Winter Is Coming’ and “Be With Me” sets the tone for what’s to come, and Israel also scores with “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” “Moving Day,” “Try and Let You Know” and “Now You’re on Your Own.” If you have yet to discover this talented artist, here’s a chance to get to know the music of Dan Israel. You won’t regret it. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Husky Rescue’s ‘The Long Lost Friend: Special Edition’ overstays its welcome

Husky‘The Long Lost Friend: Special Edition’
Husky Rescue (Catskills Records Ltd.)
3 stars out of 5

Finnish indie pop outfit Husky Rescue has undergone a series of lineup changes over the years, with founder/composer/multi-instrumentalist Marko Nyberg being the lone constant. “The Long Lost Friend: Special Edition” two-CD set continues the evolution of Husky Rescue — even though a major player has since departed the band.

Husky CD“Long Lost Friend” got an initial small-scale release in 2013. It features Nyberg, Antony Bentley and Swedish vocalist Johanna Kalen. Disc 1 is comprised of that original album, plus five bonus tracks. The 13-track, 53-minute set is a winner, highlighted by standout cuts “Under Friendly Fire,” “River,” “Mountains Only Know,” “Deep Forest Green” and “Skin of Snow.”

Since the original recording, Kalen left the band for health reasons and Disc 2 features instrumentals by Nyberg and Bentley. There are some nice moments to be found here, but with 11 tunes clocking in at 47 minutes, the second disc overstays its welcome by half. That said, “Sunrise in the Mist,” “Robot Requiem,” “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Far From the Storm” merit some attention. (Jeffrey Sisk)