by Jeff Fiedler
Blow Your Face Out, J. Geils Band (1976, Atlantic)
J. Geils Band was widely acknowledged among rock critics and music buffs in the ‘70s as being one of the greatest concert acts of that decade, but you’d never know that from listening to classic rock radio: their ‘70s albums, live or otherwise, go virtually ignored by most radio outlets today. Their first live album, Live / Full House, remains a huge favorite of music critics everywhere and is arguably their best live disc, but this second live outing – which boasts twice as much music – is nearly every bit as unforgettable and as essential of a purchase, but it doesn’t command quite as much attention from critics for some reason, never mind record buyers. There are an awful lot of highlights here, though, from the live versions of “Chimes,” “Must of Got Lost,” “Sno Cone,” “Southside Shuffle,” and “Where Did Our Love Go” to wonderful, unavailable-elsewhere covers of Jr. Walker & the All-Stars’ “Shoot Your Shot” and Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand.”
Deliverin’, Poco (1971, Epic)
They never came anywhere close to reaching the same commercial success as Eagles, nor did they ever reap as much critical acclaim as the Flying Burrito Brothers did under Gram Parsons’ direction, but Poco, in their earliest years, were truly one of the quintessential country-rock bands of the ‘70s. While you do still hear some of their later, more adult-contemporary-oriented hits (“Crazy Love,” “Heart of the Night”) on rare occasions, the band’s earliest and most country-oriented material still remains little-known to the general public, but country-rock rarely got any better, and the band never sounded better than they did on this live album, recorded just prior to Jim Messina’s departure from the band. The live versions of “You Better Think Twice,” “C’mon,” and “Kind Woman” all rank among the group’s finest recorded moments, studio or otherwise.
Slice ‘o Life, Bruce Cockburn (2009, True North)
A very cool and creative double-compact-disc set, this up-close-and-personal live album features both performances from intimate club gigs and, creatively enough, the sound checks that took place prior to the shows. The sheer sonic quality of the album is astounding, and Cockburn’s playing is inspired throughout. Best of all is the hypnotic instrumental “The End of All Rivers,” which will surely give you chills; it’s one of Cockburn’s most moving performances on any record, studio or otherwise. Cockburn also takes time out between several of the songs to tell funny stories or engage with the audience, and the onstage-banter track “Bearded Folksinger” is actually one of the disc’s most memorable moments. Considering how deeply serious – and oftentimes even political – that Cockburn’s material can be, it’s really insightful and charming to hear him in such a playful setting and even cracking jokes, so it’s not only a great set of performances but a fun glimpse into Cockburn’s personality that you don’t always get from listening to the studio albums.
Live in Dublin, The Corrs (2002, Atlantic)
For whatever reason, the Irish pop quartet The Corrs – sisters Andrea, Sharon, and Caroline, along with brother Jim – never were able to really make nearly as much of an impression in America as they did in Europe, making the American Top 40 only once (with the excellent “Mutt” Lange co-write/production “Breathless”). It’s somewhat shocking, considering that the band truly made some of the finest and most sophisticated adult-contemporary pop of the ‘00s. Their studio albums are all well-crafted, but none of them truly capture the band’s versatility and personality quite as well as this incredibly charming and intimate live album. “Would You Be Happier?,” “Runaway,” and “So Young” all have a real vibrancy here that’s missing from their polished studio versions from The Best of the Corrs, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, and Talk on Corners, respectively. The band also turns in a set of truly first-rate covers with their stunningly beautiful renditions of Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue” (re-arranged here as a duet with U2’s Bono to delightful effect), Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” and, best of all, Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” The most lively and jubilant performance of all here is actually an instrumental medley of the Irish tunes “Joy of Life” and “Trout in the Bath”; anyone who only knows the band for its adult-contemporary pop and has never heard them play traditional Irish music is sure to be in for a delightful surprise at just how much magic these siblings conjure when doing so, and the medley is genuinely and surprisingly every bit as good as the best Chieftains records.
All This Time, Sting (2001, A&M)
Sting's first live album, Bring on the Night - which didn’t even reach the charts at all in America - was fairly strange, if only for the reason that there were no hits included (either Police songs or solo songs) except for “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” That isn't to say it was a bad album - on the contrary, a lot of the songs were chill-inducing in ways the original studio versions were not, most noticeably on “Tea in the Sahara” (from Synchronicity) and “We Work the Black Seam” (from The Dream of the Blue Turtles) - but it wasn't really representative of a normal concert, either an arena show or an intimate gig. All This Time, in contrast, is much more hit-packed (“Every Breath You Take,” “Roxanne,” “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” are just a few of the classics here), but it’s no generic live album, either. It’s a very intimate, acoustic-styled disc, recorded in front of a small audience of fan club members, the disc made all the more emotionally stirring and compelling by the fact that it was recorded on the evening of 9/11. Fittingly enough, Sting opted to begin the evening with his atmospheric and chilling ballad “Fragile” (arguably the most underrated song on Nothing Like the Sun …), and the emotional undercurrent of the day reveals itself in the passion of the performances. It’s a somewhat sad live album, particularly if you know its back story, but it’s one of the most emotionally powerful live albums in recent memory and there’s a real element of catharsis in the album’s more jubilant numbers that you don’t quite get from your typical live album. Sting has rarely ever sounded quite as passionate on disc as he does here.