Prince: Before The Rain

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Prince: Before The Rain is a new book of photographs by Allen Beaulieu with a forward by Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson. Beaulieu captured some of the most iconic images of Prince’s career, shot mostly between 1979 and 1983, including the photos that would become the album covers for Dirty Mind and Controversy, along with the photos that would be used as the inner sleeves of the 1999 album and various singles and EPs issued to promote the 1999 album.

The title Before The Rain perfectly describes this collection of photos, as we’re seeing the visual progression of Prince’s image leading up to the period just before he exploded with his biggest commercial success, Purple Rain.

This stunning collection of photos includes some amazing images that I’ve never seen before including outtakes from the Dirty Mind album cover photo session (including one photo in color), outtakes from the Controversy album cover session, outtakes from the neon bedroom shot that was used as an inner sleeve for the 1999 album, and live concert  shots from 1979-83. There are also plenty of backstage and behind-the-scenes photos along with images that Beaulieu took of The Time, Vanity 6 and Jesse Johnson. There’s even a selection of photos from the October 9, 1981 concert performance in which Prince opened for the Rolling Stones and was booed off the stage. Obviously not a high point, but still part of Prince history, and a motivating fuel for the fire that would push Prince to work even harder to become one of the greatest performers of all time.

Jim Walsh’s written narrative describing Beaulieu’s collaboration with Prince provides fascinating insight into the working relationship between the photographer and the musician. Written contributions from Eloy Lasanta provide context surrounding the albums for which Beaulieu captured the now iconic album cover images.

When an artist like Prince passes away, there will always be critics that say these types of books are just cashing in, but in my opinion, when lovingly curated like this collection, these types of books are treasures. The images help illustrate visual chapters of Prince’s career and capture every dimension of his personality and persona, giving us additional insight into not just the artist, but the human being that he was. Similar pictorials from photographers Steve Parke (Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait) and Afshin Shahidi (Prince: A Private View) provide equally fascinating insight. I hope that we’ll see more collections like these, and when all of these pieces of the puzzle are assembled, we will see the most complete picture possible of the fascinating artist and human being that Prince was.

You can order Prince: Before The Rain from Amazon.com here:

https://www.amazon.com/Prince-Before-Rain-Allen-Beaulieu/dp/1681341212/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1540005994&sr=8-1&keywords=allen+beaulieu+prince

 

 

 

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The Revolution at Sony Hall, New York City 10/11/18

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The Revolution returned to New York last night for the first of two shows at the recently renovated venue now called Sony Hall, which is owned and operated by Blue Note Entertainment Group and sponsored by Sony Corporation in the heart of New York’s Theatre District at the Paramount Hotel. It was raining outside and there might have been some thunder too, but the main thunder was inside the venue, coming from BrownMark’s bass. The band was on fire and their playing is even tighter than when I last saw them in March in Philadelphia. If you have a chance to catch the second show today, do yourself a favor and go. Here’s a taste of the energy from last night’s show:

Katie Barbato’s new EP The Art of Falling

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Philadelphia musician Katie Barbato released her brand new EP The Art of Falling September 21. I’ve been following Katie’s work for the last few years, but because I’m an extremely finicky music fan and am very narrowly limited in the different genres that I enjoy, I didn’t pay enough attention to Katie’s previous music because I had often seen it classified as folk, a genre that I quite honestly rarely enjoy. The folk genre is usually too dark for my personal listening tastes. I’m a pop/rock child of the seventies and eighties who loves a good hook and even a bubblegum hit now and then. Even if she might personally consider her style as folk, in my personal opinion it is a tremendous injustice to try to categorize Katie’s beautiful music into one singular genre. There are certainly hints of folk on a few tracks on this EP, but most of these tracks have a lighter sound and plenty of hooks that will leave you humming melodies in your head long after the music has stopped, an occurrence that rarely happens to me after hearing folk records. I don’t mean to criticize the genre. Folk is simply not a genre that I typically enjoy.

I am happy to report that on The Art of Falling, Katie has found what I truly believe to be her sweet spot. She has written a beautiful collection of songs with inspiring lyrics full of imagery and introspection woven together with gorgeous instrumentation, clever and unexpected chord changes in exactly the right places, and first-class engineering and production. It’s a lovely musical landscape painted prominently with acoustic guitar and Katies’s powerful, yet refined voice, accompanied by electric guitars and keyboards strategically placed to take each song to new heights right around the time that you thought you knew where the music was going. Every slight detour in musical direction within the songs is a delight, and every song is better because of this.

Katie’s voice seems to get better with every release. She has a powerful voice but uses that power to accentuate just the right moments of a song and exercises a perfect amount of restraint when a song calls for a tender or reflective mood. I have heard her use her voice live to carry driving rock songs, and I’ve also heard her use it to get mellow for the quietest of folk songs. The versatility of her voice is rare, as she can sound like any given genre is the genre that she specializes in. Her voice feels right at home within any style. This is part of what makes The Art of Falling such a great collection of songs. Katie’s voice can take her anywhere she wants to go, and anywhere that she wants to take the listener. That versatility gives her an unlimited musical canvas to paint upon.

Every song on this EP is superb. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, it’s a rare collection of fantastic songs that live nicely with each other in one place. That’s a feat that not even some of the most legendary artists achieve in today’s musical climate.

For you audiophiles and vinyl aficionados, I’m thrilled to inform you that The Art of Falling is available on vinyl in an extremely limited run of only 300 copies. You can order via the link below:

http://thegivinggroove.limitedrun.com/products/621170-katie-barbato-the-art-of-falling-vinyl-digital-download-preorder

If this is the first time you’re hearing about Katie’s music, I highly recommend that you listen to The Art of Falling and visit her website at http://www.katiebarbato.com.

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Steve Perry’s First Album in 24 Years: Traces

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Have you ever waited a long time for one of your favorite recording artists to release new music? What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait between album releases? Two years? Five years? For me and my fellow Steve Perry fans, the wait has been 24 years. That is not a typo! Steve Perry’s last album was released in 1994. Traces, which will officially be released Friday, is indeed his first new album in 24 years.

The day that the new album was announced and made available for preorder, I immediately placed my order for an autographed copy via his official online store. Today, two days earlier than the official release date, I received it in the mail and felt like a kid on Christmas when I opened the mailbox. I am thrilled to inform you that the album does not disappoint.

I could barely contain my excitement when Steve Perry showed up at last year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I cried just to see him standing on the same stage as the rest of his former Journey bandmates. Then he delivered an impassioned speech, but alas did not sing with the band. Was it because he couldn’t sing anymore? That was the fear of some fans, but I am thrilled to tell you that Steve’s voice is just fine. In fact, it’s way better than fine. It is still quite amazing.

When one of my favorite  artists releases a new album, I always listen to the album uninterrupted from front to back, in its entirety. That’s exactly what I did this afternoon when Traces arrived.  Steve’s voice is still powerful and soulful, capable of delivering highs and lows that even younger singers would struggle to hit. More importantly, you can still feel the emotion in his voice on every single track.

This album is primarily about love and loss, and the eternal struggle to move on and attempt to heal after losing someone you love. In the many interviews promoting Traces, Steve talked about the inspiration for this album, the love of his life, Dr. Kellie Nash. He lost her to breast cancer in 2012. He also explained why we had to wait 24 years for new music. The simple reason was that he was burned out and his heart was no longer in it. After Kellie’s passing, he felt the calling to make music again. The result is a beautiful, emotional collection of songs.

Rather than present a song-by-song examination or do an injustice to his work by trying to paraphrase Steve’s beautiful, heartfelt lyrics, I’d like to simply tell you that this album is great from start to finish and let you experience the magic on your own. It’s a beautiful, soulful journey that explores love and loss in a majestic way that only Steve Perry and his unique voice can. I’m sad that it took such heartbreak to bring Steve Perry back to music, but I’m also happy that he truly found the love of his life and that she was able to — in Steve’s own words — enable him to “have a complete heart.” Speaking further about the album he said, “Kellie taught me many things in our time together, but one of them was that it really is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” That, more than anything else, is the prominent theme of Traces.

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Above: The tracklist for the deluxe version of the Traces CD, which contains five bonus tracks not included on the standard version.

PRINCE: PIANO & A MICROPHONE 1983 Limited Edition Deluxe Set (Includes CD, 180G Audiophile Vinyl LP, Exclusive Print, and 12-page booklet)

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Today’s the day! I have been eagerly anticipating this release since it was announced back in June. You might ask, “So is this that new unreleased Prince album I keep hearing about?” Well, yes and no. This is indeed  a physical release presented on a CD and an LP, but it’s not really an “album,” in that this is not a series of professionally recorded studio songs sequenced together with the idea of them being released to the public for sale. This 35-minute recording from 1983 is quite simply Prince messing around playing his piano and singing in what was his home at the time, his house on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The source of the recording was a TDK C60 audio cassette that was found in Prince’s vault after his passing. The tape features Prince playing and singing for no other reason than for the love of playing and theoretically to capture some musical ideas onto tape for future reference. The Revolution member Lisa Coleman says in the liner notes, “This is definitely a work piece. It’s Prince exploring ideas, having some fun, and opening himself up to whatever might happen.”

The TDK C60 cassette is a consumer-grade blank tape that anyone could have bought in a retail store at the time, as opposed to a studio-grade reel-to-reel tape that musicians would record on when planning to professionally release a studio album. The fact that Prince recorded this private home performance on a simple consumer-grade cassette is evidence enough that he never had plans to release it to the public. However, it is very fortunate for his fans that this recording is still intact. It gives us a fascinating insight into what it might have been like to be sitting in the same room as Prince (as vocalist Jill Jones did according to her comments in the liner notes) and listen to him in his most relaxed, unguarded moments, when the sheer brilliance of his musicianship truly shined. We’re all aware of what a fantastic musician Prince was whether he was playing guitar, piano, bass, or countless other instruments, but it is in these rare intimate moments, when Prince is just messing around, that we truly realize what a masterful musician he was. For aspiring musicians, it’s scary to think that someone could be this good  — never hitting a wrong note — when just messing around. That was part of Prince’s genius.

It was inevitable that I would use the phrase “intimate moments” above, because it brings up another interesting story about this recording. Some fans like myself have had copies of this cassette for many years, obtained from either a network of Prince fans who trade tapes (and later CDs, then digital files) or from various record conventions through the years. It was most famously bootlegged on a CD called “Intimate Moments,” so that phrase was on my mind constantly while listening to the new Piano & A Microphone 1983 release. The great news is that unlike that bootleg recording which suffered from barely listenable sound quality, this new release features much-improved sound quality, direct from the source tape. There is still a prominent tape hiss heard throughout the recording, but it does not hinder the enjoyment of the listening experience. I am grateful that Warner Brothers did not try to use noise reduction or any other editing effects on this release. The bootleggers seemed to use noise reduction techniques on their CD, and it damaged the sound quality terribly. This new release, although not up to typical recording studio standards, preserves the performance intact without altering it. The tape hiss and infrequent incidents of tape flutter are probably in the master recording itself.

Piano & A Microphone 1983 is simply a medley of songs and musical fragments, and could almost be viewed as one track, as opposed to the nine tracks listed on the CD and LP. With the first seven songs, each song runs into the next, as one continuous performance (but are indexed on the CD as separate tracks), without any breaks in between the songs, which is exactly what Prince performed. At the end of “Wednesday,” you can hear Prince ask someone, “Wanna flip it over?” This clearly indicates that they were flipping the tape, so it appears that “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why The Butterflies?” were on side two of the source tape, although we don’t know if those two songs are presented in the order in which they were performed.

Here is the track listing as shown in the booklet that comes with the deluxe LP/CD set:

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This is the kind of recording that you’ll want to listen to privately in a silent room with no background noise, at a loud enough volume to hear all of the nuances of Prince’s performance. Listening with headphones (but again, in a silent room with no background noise) would be another ideal way to listen. You can hear Prince stomping his feet. You can even hear him sniffling a few times during “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Strange Relationship,” something you would never hear on one of his officially released studio songs. It’s a rare opportunity to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what it would be like to be in the same room as Prince with only his piano and a microphone. It’s every fan’s fantasy, and thanks to this tape, a fantasy we can relive over and over again.

Here’s a short video that shows you what the packaging looks like: