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 Keef Shines a Light

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Like his voice, the Stones guitarist's new autobiography
is both entertaining and ever-wandering.

by Clark Collis in Entertainment Weekly

Life
Keith Richards and James Fox
MEMOIR

Keith Richardshile scandal-seeking Rolling Stones fans may be disappointed that this autobiography from guitarist Keith Richards features few previously unreported tales of rock & roll hedonism, they surely won't be surprised. After all, as someone once said, you can't always get what you want. And the Stones saga has already been detailed in a multitude of books -- often by people whose brain cells have likely been given less of a narcotic hammering than those that reside in the Richards noggin.

Keith Richards - LifeWhat Life offers instead is Keith's very, well, Keith-ian version of events. Co-writer James Fox presumably did the heavy lifting research-wise, but Richards' authorial voice is evident on almost every page and, like his singing one, it is both an entertaining and ever-wandering instrument. Richards revisits all the infamous chapters of the Stones story, from his embarking on a relationship with Brian Jones' girlfriend Anita Pallenberg during a continent-hopping road trip ("For a week or so, it's boinky boinky boinky, down in the Kasbah") to his decade long addiction to heroin ("Mick picked up the slack; I picked up the smack"). But he is just as much fun when discussing his love for bangers and mash -- a recipe is provided -- or the time he nearly lost his hand to a crocodile in Africa. Occasionally Richards' piratical roguishness acquires a nasty edge, as when he describes the best way to slash someone with a knife. yet he also writes movingly and desperately about the 1976 death of his son Tara while the band was on tour: "Leaving a newborn is something I can't forgive myself for. It's as if I deserted my post."

Is the devilish guitarist asking for our sympathy? Not really. Richards mostly wants to prove that he not only has the best tunes, he also knows how to tell the best tales. B+  




 '70s Gift Ideas

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These recently released CD's and books are sure to please any
Seventies music fan on your shopping list this holiday season.

CD's

Bruce Springsteen - The PromiseBRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (Columbia, $71.94) In his introductory essay to this extraordinary set, Bruce Springsteen estimates that he wrote, rehearsed and recorded four albums' worth of material to get to the straight talk and gritty ecstasies in the 10 songs that finally appeared on 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town. This collection -- two CDs' worth of 21 first-class refugees from those sessions, including rewrites and discarded gems -- is not a collection of outtakes, it is a fully realized work. The magnificent R&B pleading of "The Brokenhearted" and Springsteen's original readings of "Because the Night," "Fire" and "Rendezvous" (given away to Patti Smith, Robert Gordon and Greg Kihn, respectively) could have been the guts of a great power-soul and pop-romance album -- the kind of record Springsteen has, in fact, been making lately. It was also the kind of thrill that, in 1978, came too easy for him. The set's title track is the best example of how far he still had to go, to get to the hard truths and redemption in "Badlands" and "The Promised Land." A slow reckoning of bad luck and dead ends, "The Promise" is like a half-step forward: the looming shadows of Darkness, still set on the Jersey asphalt. It is also great Springsteen and finally out on the right album -- a record of promises about to come true. * * * * * - David Fricke, Rolling Stone

Jimi Hendrix - West Coast Seattle BoyJIMI HENDRIX - West Coast Seattle Boy - The Jimi Hendrix Anthology (Sony Legacy, $56.37) For Jimi Hendrix fanatics, the selling point of this four-disc set is a full CD of songs on which the guitarist doesn't sing lead and barely solos. Instead, he plays sideman to Little Richard, Don Covay and others on 15 R&B smokers. The tracks offer glimpses of a prodigy straining at the bit: The hot-shit solo on the Isley Brothers' 1964 "Testify," all of 10 seconds long, is like an early Marlon Brando screen test, coiled drama springing to life; the reverb-soaked, Curtis Mayfield-style licks on the Icemen's sublime 1966 "(My Girl) She's a Fox" offer a taste of the exploded-soul magic Hendrix cooked up later on "Castles Made of Sand." The remaining three CDs parse Hendrix's subsequent career chronologically but strictly through alternate takes, demos and live tracks, drawn from the seemingly bottomless vault of recordings that shadow the three studio LPs and one live set released during his lifetime. To be sure, this box is for the fans. But even when the tracks don't shed new light, they still burn as bright as the sun. * * * * 1/2 - Will Hermes, Rolling Stone

Paul McCartney - Band on the Run Deluxe EditionPAUL McCARTNEY and WINGS - Band on the Run (Deluxe Edition) (Hear Music/Concord, $57.50) The title track to Band on the Run is Paul McCartney's most gangsta moment. Who else could hit Number One with a prison-break epic starring the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam? This remastered three-CD/one-DVD version of McCartney's best-loved post-Beatles album adds extras like a 120-page book and footage of McCartney recording in Nigeria. But the real action still lies in the original LP's revved-up pleasures: After the sketchy experimentation of his early solo career, which produced highs ("Hi Hi Hi") and low-low-lows "My Love", McCartney returned to rocking like he'd never left. "Let Me Roll It" and "Helen Wheels" are his shaggiest guitar grooves. "Jet" is a gloriously daft Bowie takeoff -- and Bowie seems to have returned the compliment by turning the spacey New Orleans pastiche "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" into "TVC15." After Band on the Run, nobody ever again claimed Macca couldn't rock. * * * * * - Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Elton John and Leon Russell - The UnionELTON JOHN and LEON RUSSELL - The Union (Decca, $12.99) There's an appealing logic in pairing piano men Elton John and Leon Russell for a duets album after decades of mutual admiration. Russell perfected the rowdy merger of soul, country and gospel rapture as a writer, pianist and arranger on 1969 and '70 albums by Joe Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie, and now he's in front of a classy big band on his first major-label album in a decade. Singing in a strong, elastic growl and matching John's piano work with low-end rolls and top-note sparkle, Russell jars Elton from his routine sheen, back to the natural fiber and grandeur of 1970's Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection. On The Union, produced by T Bone Burnett, John and Russell share the resurrection. Each goes back to what he first did best. Then they do it together, settling cozily into Burnett's arrangements. Both artists have done more durable work in the past, but who can begrudge two old pals having so much fun? * * * * * - Simon Vozik-Levinson, Entertainment Weekly

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9BOB DYLAN - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (Columbia, $13.99) "Let's just put this one down for kicks," Bob Dylan says as he strums "All Over You," and that sums up the spirit of the fabled Witmark Demos. It's the latest in his astounding Bootleg Series -- the 1962-1964 publishing demos, just Dylan and his guitar trying out songs. Over two discs, you can hear him outgrow folky purity and leap into the wild, madcap menace of rock & roll - -which means you can hear him turn into Bob Dylan. Fifteen of the tracks have never been released, including cult faves like the hobo ramble "Walkin' Down the Line" and the sex romp "All Over You." No matter how well you know the definitive versions, the demos offer surprises. "Boots of Spanish Leather" has never sounded so defeated -- as if Dylan actually talked that girl into staying and now wishes he'd let her sail off to Barcelona. Like all of Dylan's greatest work, The Witmark Demos impose and suppose at the same time -- that's why they remain so fresh. * * * * 1/2 - Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Eric Clapton - ClaptonERIC CLAPTON - Clapton (Reprise, $11.88) The guitarist formerly known as "God" seemingly can't make an album without revisiting a few blues standbys and checking in with his muse J.J. Cale. But his latest trip into mellowness is sleepier than usual, as he dabbles in gospel, Dixieland, and even a little Irving Berlin. Clapton is a serenely masterful engagement with roots -- the guitarist cowrote just one original -- that is all over the place in repertoire yet devoutly grounding in its roaming. Little Walter's "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" has the crusty flair of Clapton's 1965 and '66 recordings with John Mayall. A pair of Fats Waller romps are decked out in New Orleans brass and pianos, one of them played by Allen Toussaint. Derek Trucks contributes the wiry bottleneck flourishes in Hoagy Carmichael's "Rocking Chair." Clapton's one new song, "Run Back to Your Side," doesn't sound old enough, too close to Clapton's hit cover of Cale's "After Midnight." But tasteful guitar solos put the focus on his relaxed vocals, and he dons his Rod Stewart dinner jacket for "Autumn Leaves." Guess even God needs a nap once in a while. * * * * - Greg Kot, Entertainment Weekly

John Lennon and Yoko Ono - Double FantasyJOHN LENNON and YOKO ONO - Double Fantasy Stripped Down (Capitol/EMI, $13.88) Double Fantasy was supposed to be a love album -- instead, it became a death album. John Lennon was murdered within days of its release, and these songs became part of the world's mourning process. The achievement of this remastered version is that it lets you hear the music as it was meant to be: a celebration rather than a farewell. Lennon's voice sounds incredibly robust -- check out the doo-wop exuberance of "(Just Like) Starting Over." He and Yoko Ono take turns singing lead; after he snarls "I'm Losing You," Ono responds with "I'm Moving On." But the overall effect is two musicians sharing an emotional journey, culminating in the gorgeous "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy." This edition adds a second disc with an Ono-supervised Stripped Down remix, which puts even more focus on the vocals. The set is part of a reissue series for Lennon's 70th birthday; the place to go next is 1984's Milk and Honey, a superb outtake collection featuring "I'm Stepping Out," where Daddy turns off Sesame Street and decides he needs a night on the town. Lennon had fallen back in love with rock & roll. And because he loved music as fiercely as he loved Yoko and Sean, the songs he wrote for them remain soulful classics. * * * * * - Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Rod Stewart - Fly Me to the MoonROD STEWART - Fly Me to the Moon...The Great American Songbook Volume V (J-Records, $7.99) For the past eight years, Rod Stewart has devoted his inimitable rasp to classic-pop covers albums that are occasionally brilliant (see his subtly gorgeous take on Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," from 2002) and too often schlocky. "I suppose you could use the word 'addiction,'" says Stewart, explaining his relationship to the classic pop standards of this series. "I'm totally addicted to these songs. They're just so great to sing -- if you fancy yourself even a bit of a singer, these songs are like chocolate." The fifth installment is even less risky than its predecessors, tackling well-worn songs like "Moon River" and "Fly Me to the Moon." Stewart sounds great for 65, but his performances and the string-laden arrangements are way too faithful to the originals. It's unlikely he'll ever make another rock classic like Gasoline Alley or Every Picture Tells a Story. But hopefully he'll at least give it a shot. The album was produced by longtime collaborators Clive Davis and Richard Perry. * * 1/2 - Andy Greene, Rolling Stone

BOOKS

Bob Dylan - Writings 1968-2010BOB DYLAN: WRITINGS 1968-2010 - Greil Marcus (PublicAffairs, $19.77) As a critic, Greil Marcus is a tough crowd -- his bullshit detector should get some kind of Nobel Prize. No writer has followed Bob Dylan as closely or as passionately as Marcus, who makes the man's whole career seem like one wild American adventure. And nobody has ever written about Dylan with so much savage wit. (Comparing Street Legal to Barry White? In 1978? That's just genius.) In this essential anthology, Marcus chronicles Dylan's ups and downs -- through great albums, bad albums, bizarre live shows and forgotten TV appearances. He's brutally funny on Dylan's flops, from his famous 1970 Rolling Stone review of Dylan's Self Portrait (opening line: "What is this shit?") to his equally incisive 1985 breakdown of Empire Burlesque. He also reviews the Band's 1976 Last Waltz concert in San Francisco, well before the movie version, and notes, "Damned if someone didn't yell for 'Free Bird.'" The collection reads like the journal of a 40-year love story. Even when Dylan stumbles, marcus keeps listening for glimmers of greatness like the 1984 live version of "Tangled Up in Blue": "He played with the song, laughed with it, brought it to life, no doubt inventing as he sang." Through it all, Marcus' words are restless and probing -- a true match for Dylan's voice. * * * * 1/2 - Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Fab - An Intimate Life of Paul McCartneyFAB: AN INTIMATE LIFE OF PAUL McCARTNEY - Howard Sounes (Da Capo Press, $19.77) Few Beatle biographies are as exhaustive as this 634-page epic: Sounes (who wrote a similarly extensive Bob Dylan bio, Down the Highway) paints an unsparing portrait of McCartney as a sometimes overconfident artist with a nasty competitive streak. ("When did you write your last Number One?" McCartney snipes at a producer who challenges him.) Despite the book's heft, new revelations are few -- unless you count the fact that Paul's uncle Will spent three years in jail for stealing from the ship he worked on, a troubling episode for the staid McCartney clan. (Another gripe: The chapters on Paul's marriage to Heather Mills read like an English tabloid.) For fans willing to ponder their hero's flaws, Fab delivers all you need to know -- and a lot more. * * * - Barry Walters, Rolling Stone

Becoming ElektraBECOMING ELEKTRA: THE TRUE STORY OF JAC HOLZMAN'S VISIONARY RECORD LABEL - Mick Houghton (Jawbone Press, $19.77) Hundreds of albums have made fans want to start bands; this is a book that might inspire a new record label. Extensively detailed and lavishly illustrated, Becoming Elektra tells the story of the label New Yorker Jac Holzman founded in 1950 as a home to mostly independent folk and world music. Holzman walked away in 1973, shortly after signing Queen, but by then he had turned Elektra into a fiercely adventurous musical empire, signing bands based on what moved him rather than on what he thought would sell: the Doors, Judy Collins, the MC5, Tim Buckley, Bread and dozens of other wildly dissimilar acts. Random fascinating fact: Woody Allen based the character Annie Hall partly on Judy Henske, a big-voiced L.A. beatnik and 1963 Elektra signee. * * * * - Barry Walters, Rolling Stone

40 - A Doonesbury Retrospective40: A DOONSEBURY RETROSPECTIVE - Garry Trudeau (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $59.01) Of the many figures to emerge from America's post-counterculture, Garry Trudeau has been one of the country's long-distance runners. His comic strip Doonesbury came from his Yale University days, began national syndication in 1970, and became an immediate success and a flash point for controversy. This immense collection gathers, Trudeau estimates in his introduction, a mere "13 percent of the over 14,000 published strips," but it gives you a rich understanding of Trudeau's importance as a humorist, a satirist, a cartoonist. Notice I list "cartoonist" last. Trudeau is a great comic-strip artist, but it's his storytelling and gift for dialogue, capturing the thoughts of a certain segments of America, that have overshadowed his draftsmanship. During a time when the size of comic strips shrank in newspapers, Trudeau both fought that trend and became a canny minimalist, often using the same figure -- say, a drawing of the White House -- in every panel, with only the world-balloon dialogue changing each time. Over the years, it's become impossible for his critics to dismiss him as a liberal propagandist, a label common enough during the post-Nixon era that Doonesbury was often relocated to the op-ed pages. Instead, during the past decade, Trudeau has shown a rare ability among baby-boomer creators to empathize with a younger generation, recording their downsized hopes and dreams in new characters and new locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Doonesbury is certainly one of the greatest comic strips ever; as this collection proves, it's also one of the greatest pieces of serialized, topical fiction ever produced by an American. * * * * * - Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly  


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