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Review: Let it ROCK!

By James Tappenden

From the Usenet newsgroup, December 1995.

A few weeks back we had a post about a video Let It Rock of Ronnie Hawkins' 60th birthday concert. This post is meant to second that positive review, with reference to the album Let It Rock of the same concert. The album is available in Canada (where the copy I have was purchased), but it's hard to find in the States, and I don't know about other places. But anyway, it is well worth going out of your way to find it, even if it means special ordering. (If you have to special order, beware that it might not be listed under "Ronnie Hawkins" but rather under "various artists" or something like that.

The Band contributes three live songs, plus instrumental backing at various points in the concert and the added "bonus track" Hawkins studio single. The live numbers are "The Weight"/"Remedy" and "Rock and Roll Shoes". Each rendition is first-rate. "Remedy" is run at a noticeably faster tempo, and that works pretty well. There is a nice touch at the end of Jim Weider's solo as Garth throws in a charming organ flourish that sets of the solo nicely. "Rock and Roll Shoes" was joyous and lively, with Rick Bell's piano holding things together in an interesting way. "The Weight" was the most revealing of the Band numbers for me. For my taste, it was the best live version of "The Weight" I have heard (and there are a lot of them - Rock of Ages, Before the Flood, Woodstock I and II, the Band Reunion video version with the Cates, ...) Besides the studio version and the soundstage version with the Staples (I blush to confess) I didn't know any version that I liked. Until now - the version on this record is really fine. Not only did the group fire on all cylinders for Ronnie Hawkins' birthday, they have completely remade the song to suit the strengths of the new lineup. Not only does Randy Ciarlante sing the "Go Down Moses..." verse well, (with a few discreet harmony touches from Levon n'Rick)but also there are two instrumental stretches interwoven: in one Garth gives a long organ run that fits so well into the song that it is hard to imagine the song without it after you have heard it once (Bell astutely jumps in and out of the organ solo with quick piano bursts) and in the other Jim Weider and Rick Bell trade solos with real flair. The rest of the album is equally superb: Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis contribute two songs apiece (Perkins does a wonderful turn on "Matchbox") and they accompany Hawkins on several other songs. (Listening to Lewis and Jeff Healey play piano vs. guitar duels in several different songs - well, you just have to hear 'em to believe 'em. But just check out the Jerry Lee vs. Jeff Healey bout on "Down in the Alley".)

Not only is the music on this record excellent, the overall tone is infectiously celebratory. It is hard not to feel happy listening to it.

One thing that the CD does is bring out a sense of what a remarkable entertainer Ronnie Hawkins is. I say "entertainer" because he is not much of a singer, and he hasn't written much, nor is he a musical innovator. But he always puts on a fantastic show - during four years at the university of Toronto I went out with the gang to see him at one club or another every few months, and he never disappointed us. One reason for this is that he always had a great band - he is without peer as a judge of young talent, and he works his players hard in practice, and then on stage he gives them lots to do - lots of solos and spotlights and chances to show their stuff. (It is not just by happenstance that the Band, Stan Szelest, Fred Carter, most of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, David Foster, Roy Buchanen, David Clayton Thomas, etc. started out in Hawkins' band. He spots 'em and he grabs 'em.) You get some sense of this from the performance of one of the featured performers, Lawrence Gowan, who has had several hits in Canada but has not made much of a name for himself outside those borders. Gowan contributes three songs to the album. One is a live version of one of his Canadian hits (not a bad song, but it is a bit out of place on this album). For the other two, he takes the piano and belts out "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Long Tall Sally", playing as if he was still the piano player for the Hawks, as he was fifteen years ago. And Boy, can he play - he doesn't have to be at all hesitant to set his playing beside any of Ronnie's other piano standouts. Hawkins' current band is great too - the pianist Brent Bailey in particular is excellent.

So anyway - give this a listen. It has some great Band stuff, and lots more. Plus it will give you a sense of the group's roots.

-- James Tappenden

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