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September 28, 1994

Daltrey Sings Townsend

CelebrationRoger Daltrey, A Celebration of the Music of Pete Townsend (Continuum 1994) -- Roger Daltrey, former lead singer for The Who, played two sold-out Carnegie Hall concerts on February 22 and 23, 1994. A Celebration, which documents these shows, is a pleasant surprise; instead of being ponderous and heavy, it fairly captures the spirit of The Who circa Tommy. This bodes well for Daltrey's appearance at the Big Fresno Fair on October 12th, which should be one of the highlights of the fair.

Daltrey, who recently turned 50, has been at a loss for work since The Who disbanded several years ago, and apparently seeks to avoid the Las Vegas circuit. On A Celebration, he gathered a large supporting cast, including Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, The Chieftains, David Sanborn, and The Juilliard Orchestra for this full-blown revival effort.

The obvious comparison to A Celebration is Symphonic Music of The Rolling Stones, a disastrous collection released earlier this year. The Stones set never jelled, perhaps because the Glimmer Twins never recorded with a 60-piece string section. On the other hand, A Celebration quickly reaches full stride, in part because The Who sometimes worked with a full orchestra.

After the bad taste left by Symphonic Music of The Rolling Stones, I was prepared to immediately dislike this album. While the unfortunate title connotes images of lounge singers (what's next -- Paul McCartney Sings the Cole Porter Songbook?), Daltrey's remakes of a dozen Who chestnuts prove that these songs have continuing vitality. When Daltrey sings Who classics such as "Baba O'Rily," "5:15," and "Who Are You," he sounds like he still cares.

Daltrey's touring band includes Zack Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) on drums, Simon Townsend (Pete's brother) on guitar, John Entwistle on bass, and Guy Fletcher (from the Dire Straits) on synthesizer. According to the advance press, the first half of the show features Who classics (including parts of Tommy), and the second half contains a section from the rarely-performed Quadraphenia. If Daltrey's local performance matches A Celebration, it could be a great gig.

BlazersThe Blazers, Short Fuse (Rounder Records 1994) -- The Blazers, a four-piece band from East L.A., finally recorded their debut disc (on an East Coast label!) after years of club gigs. Like those other East L.A. favorites, Los Lobos, the Blazers have a timeless sound -- Short Fuse's mix of R&B, country, vintage rock 'n roll, Hispanic music, and norteno proves that this sweaty brand of dance/bar music will always live.

The core members of the Blazers, Ruben Guaderrama and Manuel Gonzales, who share vocal and guitar duties, started playing together in their senior year at East L.A.'s Roosevelt High School (1971). After jamming with numerous bands over the years, they added Lee Stewart on bass and Ruben C. Gonzales on percussion; soon, the Blazers found themselves in demand.

The Blazers eventually became the house band at the Palomino Club and, like many other bands, sent demo tapes to record companies all over the country. When they learned of interest at Rounder Records (in Cambridge, Massachusetts), the band adopted a novel strategy; to convince the label of loyal fan support, they distributed postcards addressed to Rounder at their concerts. Soon the label was being bombarded with postcards demanding the release of the Blazer's album; the rest, as they say, is history.

With production and musical assistance from Cesar Rosas (the singer/guitarist for Los Lobos), the 12 tracks on Short Fuse have a comfortable, loose-fitting feel. Like a trusty old pair of shoes, Short Fuse's familiar undercurrent feels just right. From the Hispanic-influenced "Anno Viejo" to the more rockabilly "I'll Be Gone, Gone" to the straight-ahead rocker, "Sink or Swim," the Blazers deliver the goods.

Though not groundbreaking, Short Fuse is a welcome reminder that Southern California is not just surf music, metal bands, and San Diego punk (be warned -- there's a lot of punk/thrash coming out of San Diego). The Blazers carry the Mexican rocks-rock torch with pride; hat's off to them.

ShiversThe Shivers, The Shivers (Restless Records 1994) -- The nomadic Shivers have released their self-titled debut album on up-and-coming Restless Records. The band's signature is a downbeat country & blues sound; however, when they shift into a pop gear, they really get moving.

The Shivers consist of the husband and wife duo of Carey Kemper and Kelly Bell, who handle guitars and bass (respectively) while also sharing vocal duties: the band is completed by Christopher Wolff on drums. The songs are distinct; some are sung solely by Kemper, and some by Bell. Kemper and Bell (and their three children) have relocated several times; though originally from Texas, they moved to Minneapolis and then to Portland, Oregon. As befits a working band, the trio now spends a considerable part of its time on the road.

ShiversThe best cut on The Shivers is "Rivers," a terrific pop/blues number sung with conviction by Kelly. Other highlights include "Silver City Train" and "Almost Gone" (both sung by Carey), which have more of a country-rock feel. Unfortunately, when the band slows (on cuts like "Gentle" and "Red Cats"), its folksier influences bog down the production.

While The Shivers have occasional dark streaks, they're solid when they get cooking. "Rivers" is a dynamite single -- let's hope it gets some local airplay.

Hope I Die Before I Get Old -- "Obviously, if you get to a point where you're doddering around the stage and you can't fuckin' move without falling down and breaking your hip, then it's time to call it a day." Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

"I want to make my best work then die. I'm not going to stick around ling enough to churn out a load of mediocre crap like all those guys from the 60s. I'd rather kill myself. I have no intention of watching my artistic decline." Elvis Costello (who has not yet honored this admonition).

-- Randy Krbechek

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