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)

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Retro country outfit BR5-49 enjoy ‘One Long Saturday Night’

BR5-49 CD‘One Long Saturday Night’
BR5-49 (Bear Family)
4.5 stars out of 5

Taking their name from an old sketch on “Hee-Haw,” retro country collective BR5-49 emerged on the Nashville scene in the mid-1990s and went on to become one the most critically revered (if commercially underappreciated) alternative country acts of the era. BR5-49 played a mix of classic honky tonk, Western swing, boogie, Bakersfiled country and rockabilly that was at its best in a live setting.

BR5-49 DVDSuch is the case on new CD/DVD set “One Long Saturday Night.” In October 1996, BR5-49 appeared on German television program “Ohne Filter” and stomped their way through a spirited 19-track set that included original tunes and covers of classics by Ray Price, Hank Williams, Carl Perkins and Bob Wills.

Both the DVD and CD feature all the songs performed on “Ohne Filter,” with the CD featuring four bonus soundboard recordings taken from a concert BR5-49 performed in Japan a week after appearing on German television. Among the many highlights here are twangy performances of “Even If It’s Wrong,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” “Hearthaches By the Numbers,” “Honky Tonk Song,” “I Ain’t Never,” “Big Mouth Blues,” “Cherokee Boogie,” the title track and “Take Me Back to Tulsa.” Enjoy, y’all. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Gone With the Wind’ DVD traces rise and fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd in Concert at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta - July 5, 1975‘Gone With the Wind: The Remarkable Rise and Tragic Fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd’
Lynyrd Skynyrd (MVD Video/Sexy Intellectual)
4.5 stars out of 5

I’ve long been a sucker for a good rock & roll documentary. I’ve watched dozens — if not hundreds — over the years and almost always find something to love about each and every one. The sublime “Gone With the Wind: The Remarkable Rise and Tragic Fall of Lynyrd Skynyrd” certainly ranks among my favorite rock docs. As the title suggests, it traces the career of the famed Southern rockers from their early days in Jacksonville, Fla., clear through to the 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of frontman Ronnie Van Zant and two other band members.

Lynyrd Skynyrd DVDUtilizing rare archival footage and revealing interviews with former Skynyrd band members, producer Al Kooper, contemporaries and music journalists, the sprawling 163-minute film may well be the definitive documentary about the Hall of Fame band. I found myself completely engrossed in the stories of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s early days and how they became an “overnight success” after plugging away on the fringes for the better part of a decade.

The band’s five studio albums — 1973’s “(pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd),” 1974’s “Second Helping,” 1975’s “Nuthin’ Fancy,” 1976’s “Gimme Back My Bullets” and 1977’s “Street Survivors” — are discussed and dissected to great effect, as is 1976 double-live set “One More From the Road.” The film also addresses the various lineup changes, battles with drugs and alcohol abuse, leading up to that fateful plane crash. The first-hand accounts of the crash by those who survived it, is chill-inducing.

The best indication that “Gone With the Wind” is a winner? I feel like I know more about a band whose contributions are far greater than “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Another Glorious Decade’ doc shines new light on Van Morrison

Van‘Van Morrison: Another Glorious Decade’
(Sexy Intellectual/MVD Video)
4.5 stars out of 5

I’ve long been a sucker for the “Under Review” series of unsanctioned musical biographies. The latest in the impeccable series focuses on acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison and ranks among the best entries to date. “Van Morrison: Another Glorious Decade” looks at the 10-year period after Morrison’s commercial and creative peak and how he transitioned into middle age.

Van DVDThrough tons of archival footage — both live and in the studio — and a host of interviews with colleagues, contemporaries, music professionals and journalists, the 91-minute film paints a fascinating portrait of Morrison from 1977 to 1987.

Examined here are less heralded albums “A Period of Transition” (1977), “Wavelength” (1978), “Into the Music” (1979), “Common One” (1980), “Beautiful Vision” (1982), “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart” (1983), “A Sense of Wonder” (1985), “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher” (1986) and “Poetic Champions Compose” (1987). None save for “Into the Music” rivaled the commercial success of his early offerings but after watching “Another Glorious Decade,” I’m eager to visit these records again.

Anyone who has a fondness for Van Morrison should check out this film. It sheds new light on the life and career of one of the all-time greats. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Simon & Garfunkel’s legendary ‘The Concert in Central Park’ gets deluxe CD/DVD reissue

New York Simon Garfunkel Concert‘The Concert in Central Park: Deluxe Edition’
Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Legacy)
5 stars out of 5

On Sept. 19, 1981, more than half a million people crammed onto the Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park for a one-off Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert. “The Concert in Central Park,” which was released as a double album and broadcast on HBO in 1982, holds up remarkably well almost 34 years after the fact.

Simon & Garfunkel CDThe folks at Columbia Legacy have put together a “deluxe edition” of the event, featuring a remastered CD and a DVD of the groundbreaking performance. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel put together a 20-song set (19 on the CD) that included their greatest hits as well as selection’s from both their solo catalogs. Accompanied by an 11-piece band, many of the tunes benefit from expanded arrangements.

All the essential Simon & Garfunkel tunes are here — “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound,” “America,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The Boxer,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” “The Sound of Silence” — as are killer performances of Simon hits “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Late in the Evening,” “Slip Slidin’ Away” and “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Garfunkel shines brightest on his own hit “A Heart in New York.”

Many outside of New York forget that Central Park was in desperate need of renovations in the early 1980s. City officials decided to host the free Simon & Garfunkel concert to raise awareness of and money for the Central Park Conservancy. The success of the show spurred donations and helped restore the Big Apple landmark to its current state. Concerts continue to be held on the Great Lawn, but for my money none will ever top the first one. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Live at Rockpalast’ captures Stray Cats at their creative peak

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2000:  (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of STRAY CATS and Slim Jim PHANTOM and Brian SETZER and Lee ROCKER; L-R: Slim Jim Phantom, Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker - posed, studio, group shot  (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

‘Live at Rockpalast’
Stray Cats (MIG/MVD Audio)
4 stars out of 5

I was in middle school when Brian Setzer and his Stray Cats exploded onto the scene in the early 1980s with a rockabilly revival sound that spat in the face of the new wave craze that ruled the airwaves at the time. Their first three albums — 1981’s self-titled debut and “Gonna Ball,” along with breakout 1982 platter “Built for Speed” — are pretty close to perfect and still sound great all these years later.

Stray Cats CDThe trio (Setzer, Lee Rocker, Slim Jim Phantom) were at the top of their game when they performed a pair of legendary Rockpalast concerts in 1981 and 1983. Those German shows are available together for the first time on two-CD, one-DVD set “Live at Rockpalast.”

The DVD showcases the 1983 show at Loreley Open Air and the 1981 gig in Cologne in their entirety and the Stray Cats’ energy is infectious. CD 1 is a 17-track, 71-track tour de force at Loreley, while CD 2 is the every-bit-as-good 14-song, 65-minute show in Cologne.

Among the highlights of “Live at Rockapalast” are spirited renditions of “Baby Blue Eyes,” “Rumble in Brighton,” “Drink That Bottle Down,” “Runaway Summer Boys,” “Tear It Up” and signature Stray Cats tunes “Built for Speed,” “Stray Cat Strut,” “She’s Sexy and 17” and “Rock This Town.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)

R.E.M.’s stellar career the focus of ‘R.E.M. By MTV’ documentary

Group portrait of American band REM. Left to right are guitarist Peter Buck , singer Michael Stipe, drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills in Los Angeles, California in August1994. (Photo by Kevin Cummins/Getty Images)

‘R.E.M. By MTV’
(Rhino)
4.5 stars out of 5

R.E.M. have always — and will always — hold a special place in my heart. I came of age with the band in the early- to mid-1980s and because they hailed from Athens, Ga. (I grew up in Atlanta and eventually went to college in Athens), I’ve always felt a kinship with Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry.

R.E.M. DVDThe band’s career arc — from their 1981 debut (the same year MTV went on the air) through their 2011 breakup — is the subject of fascinating new documentary “R.E.M. By MTV.” The film was part of last year’s “REMTV” six-DVD boxed set last fall and is available as a stand-alone DVD for the first time.

“Alexander Young’s documentary is a fine way to tell the story of R.E.M. through its various twists and turns, as captured in real time by MTV’s cameras,” notes longtime R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs. “It has some great funny bits too!”

This is a must for any R.E.M. fan (though I imagine the hardcore followers probably ponied up for the boxed set a few months back) as it features more than three decades worth of performances, interviews and never-before-seen footage. In addition, there are a host of deleted scenes and trailers for the stand-alone film and boxed set.

The real finds here are five bonus live performances that capture R.E.M. in all their on-stage glory. Those performances include “Find the River” (Live in Cologne, May 12, 2001), “Imitation of Life” (Rock AM Ring, June 3, 2005), “Bad Day” (Live at Rolling Stone, Milan, March 18, 2008), “Man-Sized Wreath” (Live at Oxygen Festival, July 12, 2008) and “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” (R.E.M. Live in Athens, Greece, Oct. 5, 2008).

This is a fantastic career overview of one of the most influential — and flat-out awesome — bands of the past 35 years. Kudos to everyone involved. (Jeffrey Sisk)

Melissa Etheridge shines bright on ‘A Little Bit of Me’ live DVD

Melissa‘A Little Bit of Me: Live in L.A.’
Melissa Etheridge (Shot! Factory)
4 stars out of 5

I’ve been a big fan of Kansas-born rocker Melissa Etheridge from the first time I heard her 1988 self-titled debut album. That near-perfect platter featured a string of now-classic cuts — “Similar Features,” “Chrome Plated Heart,” “Like the Way I Do,” “Bring Me Some Water” — and launched a career that has earned Etheridge a pair of Grammys and an Oscar.

Melissa DVDNow 54 and a breast cancer survivor, Etheridge is still going strong. Last year’s “This Is M.E.” was her 13th studio effort and her tour in support of the album brings her to Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead (www.librarymusichall.com) on Monday, June 22.

You can get a sneak peek at the show with new concert film “A Little Bit of Me: Live in L.A.,” available on CD, DVD, Blu-Ray and digital. Recorded at the historic Orpheum Theater last December, Etheridge delivers a first-rate performance of songs from her entire catalog. New cuts “I Won’t Be Alone Tonight,” “Take My Number” and “Monster” are rock-solid, but performances of her signature tunes are what really stand out.

“Come to My Window,” “I Want to Come Over,” “If I Wanted To,” “Like the Way I Do” and “Bring Me Some Water” are highlights here. In addition to the music, the Blu-Ray edition includes interviews, a behind-the-scenes look at the concert and a photo gallery. This one’s a must for her fans. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Minstrel in the Gallery’ reissue a must for longtime Jethro Tull fans

Jethro Tull‘Minstrel in the Gallery: 40th Anniversary La Grande Edition’
Jethro Tull (Chrysalis)
4.5 stars out of 5

When it comes to listing the best albums in the career of legendary rockers Jethro Tull, “Minstrel in the Gallery” usually places third behind “Aqualung” and “Thick As a Brick.” While that’s probably about right in the grand scheme of things, “Minstrel” is a remarkable record that more than stands the test of time. Need proof? Check out this insanely thorough 2-CD/2-DVD “40th Anniversary La Grande Edition” of the classic platter.

Jethro Tull CDThe sprawling title track opens the proceedings and sums up everything that’s great about Jethro Tull in eight glorious minutes. It’s arguably the “hardest” tune in the Tull catalog and holds up remarkably well some four decades later. Disc 1 features the 12 original tunes, highlighted by the title track, “Cold Wind to Valhalla,” “Requiem” and the five-part, 16-minute “Baker St. Muse” suite. Bonus cuts include”BBC versions” of the title track, “Cold Wind to Valhalla” and “Aqualung.”

Disc 2 is a concert recorded at the Palais Des Sports in Paris on July 5, 1975. The band is at its creative peak throughout the 13-song set, delivering remarkable versions of “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Minstrel in the Gallery,” “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day),” “Bungle in the Jungle,” “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath.”

The DVDs include alternate audio mixes of the original album and the Paris concert, an eight-minute film of Jethro Tull performing “Minstrel in the Gallery” at the 1975 show. This one’s worth the upgrade, folks. (Jeffrey Sisk)

‘Roads Rapidly Changing’ traces early days of Bob Dylan’s career

Dylan‘Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing’
(Chrome Dreams/MVD)
4 stars out of 5

I’ll be the first to concede that new documentary “Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing” doesn’t reveal too much “new” information about the legendary troubadour’s musical career — especially for those, like me, who hungrily devour any and everything about Dylan. But for those with just a passing knowledge of the Hibbing, Minn., native’s story, this two-hour film does a nice job tracing his path from acoustic folkie/voice of a generation to what became his creative zenith in the mid-1960s.

Dylan DVDThe primary focus of “Roads Rapidly Changing” is how Dylan entered — and soon dominated — the folk revival in the United States only to depart it almost as abruptly as he emerged. Filmmaker Tom O’Dell makes a correlation between the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Dylan’s desire to remove himself as the voice of the modern protest song. While I’m not sure that’s the case, who could blame Dylan for being a little afraid during those turbulent times?

With a first-rate panel of musicians, rock critics and contemporaries, along with plenty of archived concert footage, “Roads Rapidly Changing” makes for compelling viewing. Dylan doesn’t offer his own perspective in the “unauthorized” film and that’s the one real drawback. Still, this DVD is a winner. (Jeffrey Sisk)