All This Time
Although Sting never gives any clue about the recording date during this live performance, the answer lies in his voice. There’s an emotional depth to ” All This Time” beyond any of his studio albums, a bareness inherently sad and incredibly longing. “Fragile” begins the show, and it’s clear that’s exactly how Sting felt on that day September 11.
After days of rehearsal for his first live album of 15 years and a live Webcast, Sting and his band decided to go on with the show in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Sting limited the Webcast of the show to that one song, but the remainder of the fan club performance in Tuscany, Italy, appears here and on a DVD version.
The result? A show before a crowd of 200 that feels as intimate as it was, almost as if Sting were an unknown playing at a piano bar. It’s an unusual move for a major star most live albums feature a roaring crowd of thousands in the background but it works in a beautiful way. The setting allows him to strip down many of his big hits from through the years, to reinvent them the way he would sing them in 2001.
“Roxanne” becomes a slow jazz tune, losing most of its reggae roots. “All This Time,” one of the few songs here that increases in tempo, becomes a Dave Matthews-like jam. “Every Breath You Take” loses much of its wonderful creepiness but adds a little bounce to close the show.
The highlight here, however, remains “Fragile,” which has become somewhat of an anthem since September 11, partly because of this performance. (Sting also did the song for “America: A Tribute to Heroes.”) It’s amazing how a 14-year-old song can capture the moment best, even as depressing as it was . Scott Silverstein
Pickin’ on U2: a Bluegrass Tribute
Let’s establish something right up front: This is a very weird album.
This 12-track tribute album produced by an eight-member band that has no name is one of those occasional high-concept albums that deserves credit for trying something unusual, not unlike Pat Boone’s foray into heavy metal or William Shatner’s collection of spoken-word covers of 1960s rock classics.
Unlike those albums, this one makes some kind of sense. After all, U2 draws on the Celtic music tradition that gave birth as well to bluegrass and other Appalachian genres. The tribute artists wisely focus on late-era U2, when the Irish popsters were embracing some American folk elements already (“Sunday Bloody Sunday” would have sounded frankly loony on this album).
Unfortunately, the concept’s reach exceeds the musicians’ grasp. The band, led by producer Brent Truitt, is simply not good enough to pull it off the album is too much Wyndham Hill and too little Bill Monroe. Their decision to make the album wholly instrumental robs the music of the lyrical power that has made U2 a pop favorite for a generation. One longs to hear what a great bluegrass vocalist such as Ralph Stanley or Alison Krauss could do with this material.
Saddest of all is the remake of “One,” which is particularly tepid following so closely on the brilliant and world-weary version by Johnny Cash, a remake that may even have exceeded the powerful U2 original. This bluegrass album is a meager tribute, indeed, to a band that ruled the charts for all of the 1980s and much of the 1990s. Sean Scully
Fans have been waiting nearly three years for Audio Adrenaline to release another studio album. It would have been less painful to wait another three years. Although Audio Adrenaline’s last studio release, “Underdog,” demonstrated a group with growing talent, originality and large potential, the new release seems to have been created only to placate the demands of the music industry.
The 13-track “Lift” is filled with platitudes put to tunes that lack invention. The alternative and rock titles from the first track, “You Still Amaze Me,” to the ninth, title track are on the whole uninteresting. Audio Adrenaline seems to have reverted to the inexperienced and unpolished tunes of its early days.
There are a few winners, or at least nonlosers, on the album. The second track, “I’m Alive” demonstrates the ability that seems to peek around corners. In “This is Everything,” “Speak to Me” and especially “Tremble,” Audio Adrenaline seems to move more into the praise and worship category.
While most of the Christian alternative and rock tracks on this album fall flat, these praise and worship songs are brimming with promise. They are rather touching and inspiring and also demonstrate the creativity and careful crafting of which Audio Adrenaline seems sporadically capable. The final song, “Tremble,” is an incredibly beautiful and haunting melody. David McKennett
House of Guitars
People sometimes say a slide guitar “shimmers” or “glimmers.” In the hands of Ed Gerhard, a guitar’s sound glistens, like edges of ice on a stream bank beautiful, fragile and natural.
His “House of Guitars” is a gem, a handful of finely crafted, almost ambiant original instrumentals coupled with five traditional songs and heartbreaking instrumental versions of “Let It Be Me,” and Paul McCartney’s “Junk” and “I Will.” His haunting composition “Promised Land” opens and closes the album.
What makes this recording so spectacular is that it takes David Grisman’s “Tone Poems” concept using rare, vintage mandolins and guitars to create a soundscape and applies it in reverse. Mr. Gerhard takes old starter guitars, the ones we politely call cheesy and on which most guitarists begin learning, and delivers some powerfully emotional music. This, from guitars that easily could have been bolted on the wall of your favorite chain theme saloon. One of the guitars is made of plastic, for crying out loud, and the sound is amazing. Mr. Gerhard says in his liner notes that he didn’t even change the strings.
It’s not that Mr. Gerhard was unable to afford a new instrument. Breedlove Guitars has issued a Gerhard signature model for the New Hampshire-based performer, who has a half-dozen earlier records. But from his collection of pawn shop dross, Mr. Gerhard has layered open-tuning fingerstyle and slide arrangements into a tonal work of art. It’s conceivable that these songs could not sound better on the best of guitars.
“House of Guitars” unashamedly deflates any intermediate-level guitarist’s delusions. If someone can get this quality of music from an instrument made of plywood or plastic, wannabe guitar players can save their money and spend more effort practicing. Jay Votel