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The Beatles – Let It Be … Naked

Let It Be … Naked is not necessarily the reworked edition of what is effectively, their swift farewell. It is rather the re-polishing of the album’s most essential quality: The Beatles live.

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Originally released back in 1970 (the official release), Let It Be was widely panned as being less than stellar work by a stellar group of musicians; the album conceived long after the actual pieces had broken. Between George Harrison growing increasingly unhappy at select members of the group and John and Yoko shooting smack, Twickenham Studios was a less than amicable place to record. Add to that the lavish plans to film the band recording (creating the accompaniment to that very film), tensions were unbearably high. And as the instances caught on camera would often show, the memory of that session was mostly a sour one. Amidst their break-up fiasco the record was left in the hands of producer Phil Spector (after original arranger George Martin had, according to Spector, “left Let It Be in a deplorable condition”) and off he went into the production twilight zone. Adding choral overdubs and orchestral layering, Spector’s supplementary sounds resulted in a distinctly puffed-up, overdressed version of the album; his production frosting best exampled by his version of “The Long and Winding Road”. It left the apparent pained session sonically hidden amongst the post-production haste. While he had very little time to finish the work, the results were so porous McCartney held the record as one of the reasons for the band’s dissolution.

Thirty some odd years on, the album finally gets the treatment the Beatles wanted it to get; or at least, the true capturing of that period. Stripped of all its Spector nuances, Let It Be … Naked is not necessarily the reworked edition of what is effectively, their swift farewell. It is rather the re-polishing of the album’s most essential quality: The Beatles live. Given the wash down at Abbey Road studios by the trio of Allan Rouse, Paul Hicks and Guy Massey; the selected tracks were given their Pro-Tools (where would the producers of today be without this little box of magic?) cleaning after they had been selected from the recording’s original tracks. Chosen to exhibit the sort of bare resonance McCartney wanted to capture from the original recording sessions, this new collection boasts that live personality while being current to today’s quality of sound.

Removing everything that had to do with Spector and Martin (the added extras plus the tracks “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” and all that in-studio banter and dialogue), they kept almost everything that was the Beatles; all while giving the songs the technologically advanced update of a crisper, cleaner sound. So while it is a de-clothed version of the Let It Be soundtrack, it isn’t exactly ‘raw.’ There is also one notable addition – the swabbing groove of “Don’t Let Me Down”, which was recorded on label Apple’s roof and was the B-side to the single “Get Back.” Interestingly enough this cleaned-up third go-around works considerably well. Without the sponge that robbed the first two releases of its essence, tracks like “Long and Winding Road” escape from the shackles that seemed to bind its grace. The naked rendering, however still weepy in its unending sentimentality, does escape from being overly schlocky without the original’s bloated mush (as one adept journalist coined it, “Spector’s wall of schmaltz” – oh yes).

The Beatles, as they are, will never fade from public mention and will remain a defining entity in music’s history. The record labels (not to mention the members who remain breathing) will constantly remind us so. With Beatles anthologies aplenty and their albums of timeless compositions still readily available, reworked editions such as Let It Be … Naked, while certainly classy, will be hard pressed to satiate those fab four perfectionists. But really, they’re just asking for too much. So where does that leave the Beatles fan (or the general public)? Well, along with the aforementioned “Don’t Let Me Down” and the quality update the sound has received, this thrice released group of songs finally gets the polish they deserve. And it sounds glorious – without the torrential pour of the unnecessary, this is the most accurate documentation of the music from that session; the one joyous thing they actually got on tape.

(Apple Records)

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Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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