Nelson, Yesterday's Wine (Justice Records 1971/1997) - Yesterday's
Wine is Willie Nelson's first concept album, originally released
in 1971. Considered too bold for its time, the album quickly slipped
from view. However, but this remastered edition reveals a blueprint
to Willie's later classic albums, including Red Headed Stranger.
Featuring the country acoustic sound that Willie has perfected through
the years, Yesterday's Wine is a mellow, introspective
piece. While it doesn't really tell a story in the sense of the great
concept albums, the songs all relate to Willie's twin themes of morality
and mortality. Thus, "In God's Eyes," "Summer of Roses," and "Family
Bible" fit together thematically, though none delivers a heavy-handed
In discussing the ten songs on Yesterday's Wine,
Willie remembers that, "I was reading Edgar Cayce,
the healer and prophet. The poems of Kahlil Gibran
made sense to me. Gibran said life on earth is a quest for returning
Willie continues. "So I started working on the Yesterday's
Wine album, although I wasn't ready to record it then. Yesterday's
Wine was my first concept album, an album that tells a story.
It's about a guy - imperfect man - watching his own funeral after viewing
I'm coming to like Willie better and better - his understated introspection,
and willingness to confront his own shortcomings, is refreshingly honest.
And last year's Spirit was an unappreciated gem. A
real man's man, Willie Nelson has earned his place as an American legend.
Yesterday's Wine deserves to be discovered by a new
Alpert, Passion Dance (Almo Sounds 1997) - With his 35th release,
Herb Alpert continues to display the pop elan that earned him international
superstardom. With a return to the Latin flavor that marked his phenomenally-popular
1960's work with the Tijuana Brass, Passion Dance will
bring knowing smiles to fans.
Herb Alpert's chart success and musical skills cannot be underestimated.
His first single, "The Lonely Bull," was recorded in 1962 for only $200.
Released with partner, Jerry Moss, on the foundling
A & M Records, the Tijuana Brass' debut album went gold. The TJB
went on to record 13 platinum albums, and was one of the most popular
bands in American during the 60s: In 1966, four of the band's albums
were listed simultaneously in Billboard's top ten.
For Passion Dance, Alpert assembled a 15-piece ensemble
comprised largely of Latin musicians. Of course, the heart of the album
is Alpert's signature trumpet style. The seven cuts range from ballads
("Until We Meet Again") to the punchy, percussive "TKO," (co-written
with keyboardist Jeff Lorber), and a seductive version
of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin," which features Alpert's
wife, singer Lani Hall, on vocal sample.
Contemporary fans may think that jazz trumpeters like Rich
Braun are the cat's meow. But for a session with the real master,
enjoy Passion Dance.
The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997 (Warner Bros. 1997) -- When
I was a kid, I dismissed Chicago without compunction. Too slick, too
polished, too homogenized.
But after listening to The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997,
I realized that the group deserved its success (including 18 gold releases,
13 platinum disks, and five Number One singles). Because they really
released some great songs.
Formed in Walt Parazaider's (woodwinds) apartment
in Chicago's North Side in the 60's, Chicago soon rocketed to success.
Buoyed by the vocals of Peter Cetera, singles like
"If You Leave Me Now" and "Wishin' You Were Here" found big chart success.
Recalls long-time member Lee Loughnane (trumpet),
"By 1972, we could do no wrong. Everything we did was golden." Indeed.
Chicago V (released in July, 1972) topped the charts
for nine weeks and spawned the gold single, "Saturday in the Park."
The following Chicago VI (June 1973) was Number One
for five weeks, and contained the hits, "Feelin' Stronger Every Day"
and "Just You 'n Me."
Not content to rest on its laurels, Chicago continued to churn out
radio favorites, including "Hard Habit to Break" (1984) and "Will You
Still Love Me?" (1986), both featured on the new album.
In addition to 13 previously-released favorites, The Heart
of Chicago: 1967-1997 includes two new songs - "Here in My
Heart" (co-written by Glen Ballard, best known for
his work with Alanis Morissette) and "The Only One,"
produced by pop and soul star Lenny Kravitz.
So it's fair to say that The Heart of Chicago: 1967-1997
gave me pause to re-evaluate this influential group (which now counts
among its members Jason Scheff, the son of legendary
bassist Jerry Scheff, who played with Elvis
and countless others). And I like what I hear.
Maybe that means I'm getting older. Maybe these songs are just familiar.
But I'll give Chicago their due. The band released some great material,
and "Saturday in the Park" still sounds fresh, after more than 20 years.
And that's the sign of a great recording.
-- Randy Krbechek