Sunday, November 20, 2016

CD Review: Otis Redding's Live At The Whiskey A Go Go (2016)

Otis Redding's Live At The Whiskey A Go Go
In April 1966, soul great Otis Redding was riding high on the charts with his high-energy cover of the Rolling Stones’ hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Booked into Hollywood’s Whisky A Go Go for a four-night stand, with Taj Mahal’s Rising Sons opening, three of these night’s performances were taped for potential future release. Backed by a ten-piece outfit led by saxophonist Bob Holloway, Redding ripped energetically through the material like a man possessed while his crackerjack band rocks ‘n’ rolls behind him like a tire swing in a tornado.

Portions of Redding’s historic 1966 Whisky performances have been parceled out through the years on a number of albums, first with 1968’s In Person at the Whisky A Go Go and later, in 1982, as the Recorded Live album. These performances first made their way onto CD in 1993 as Good To Me: Recorded Live at the Whiskey, and were subsequently expanded and released most recently on 2010’s two-disc Live On The Sunset Strip, but they’ve never been collected in their entirety until now. The release of the massive, six-disc Live at the Whiskey A Go Go: The Complete Recordings box set offers every single note from seven sets performed over three nights, including Redding’s between-song banter, presented in chronological order and remixed and re-mastered from the original four-track analog tapes.

Otis Redding’s Live At The Whiskey A Go Go: The Complete Recordings

Live at the Whiskey A Go Go offers up all the chart hits you’d expect from such a retrospective collection – Top 30 soul smashes like the bluesy torch-song “These Arms of Mine;” the curious country-soul hybrid “Chain and Bound,” which combines pure R&B heartbreak vocals with guitarist James Young’s delightfully twangy fretwork; and the tearjerking “Mr. Pitiful,” one of Redding’s most emotional vocal performances, delivered above a deceptively jaunty soundtrack. The collection offers a deeper look at Redding’s multi-faceted talents, however. The singer’s original “Respect” – a big hit for Aretha Franklin, perhaps his female counterpart – is a staggering bit of original rock ‘n’ soul music with brassy horns and confident, forceful vocals.

With seven sets stretched across three nights, there is more than a little duplication in the material performed, but Redding brings an astounding amount of nuance and subtlety to these performances, his often humorous between-song commentary creating a fast bond with the audience. There are plenty of surprises to be found on Live at the Whiskey A Go Go: Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” benefits from incredibly moving performances across all three nights, while the underrated, emotionally-charged “Security” is ‘60s-era soul music at its very best. Who could have prepared for an Otis Redding cover of “A Hard Day’s Night?” Shorn of its pop-rock roots, the song is re-imagined here as an old-fashioned big-band R&B romp with driving rhythms, blazing hornplay, and Redding’s rowdy vocals.

Even Redding’s throwaways are better than almost any other singer’s best work. Witness his dynamic take on “Ole Man Trouble,” the B-side to his Top 40 pop hit “Respect.” With the horn section swinging like a hurricane behind him, Redding pulls out the stops with a staggeringly emotional performance that rivals any of his hits. Providing James Brown’s classic “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” with a funky, raucous performance complete with the singer’s teasing, good-natured stage banter, the song is stretched into a groove-heavy ten-minute jam that is a showcase for Redding’s vocal gymnastics and the band’s immense talents and chemistry as well as offering a respectful nod to the inescapable influence of the ‘Godfather of Soul.’ Proving to be as talented an interpreter of songs as he was a songwriter, Redding’s over-the-top reading of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” brings that band’s R&B influences to the fore with a blisteringly fast-paced and soaring, soul-drenched performance that effortlessly reaches joyous heights that Mick Jagger could only aspire to...

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

In the wake of the Whiskey performances, Otis Redding’s star would continue to rise, the singer scoring several more hits and delivering a stunning performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. As shown by Live at the Whiskey A Go Go, however, Redding already had it going on as an artist, a performer, and songwriter. Truthfully, though, if you’re only a casual Otis Redding fan, then there’s probably no compelling reason to put down $45+ for a copy of Live at the Whiskey A Go Go: The Complete Recordings. The two discs of the budget-priced, but no less excellent Live On The Sunset Strip set would probably serve you well instead.

But if you’re a true-blue Otis Redding fanatic, or a big-time fan of classic soul music, Live at the Whiskey A Go Go delivers much, much more of a very, very good thing – pure Otis soul, all three night’s performances at the legendary venue in April 1966 featuring the greatest soul singer of all time holding the audience in the palm of his hand. Otis Redding’s Live at the Whiskey A Go Go is a priceless collection of incredible performances by one of the very best… Grade: A+ (Volt Records/Concord Music, released October 28, 2016)

Buy the CD from Otis Redding’s Live at the Whiskey A Go Go

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