Sound: These six albums represent the initial CD releases from the legendary Rockpalast [translated as rock palace] television series [all titles were released in 2009 on DVD] that originally began airing live rock performances back in January 1976. All the shows here were recorded at a number of different venues including the Grugahalle Essen, an 8,000-seat venue, as well as various clubs in Bonn and Dortmund, Germany. Guitar and blues music was the main focus of these shows and the six-string music is represented here by Dickey Betts, Randy California, John Cipollina, and Jorma Kaukonen while the blues is covered by Paul Butterfield's haunting harmonica and Commander Cody's boogies.
Because these are all live concerts originally recorded for television and not for eventual release on album and later CD, the quality is rough. Sounds shift mid-song as adjustments are being made to levels and mixes. During Mr. Skin, an early song in the set on the Spirit CD, an abrupt sound change takes place where all of the highs drop out. This happens in various places on the Dickey Betts and Paul Butterfield CDs. All three disks Spirit, Great Southern and the Butterfield Band were recorded in 1978 during what was considered the first Rockpalast era. So the fact that the sound had not yet been fine-tuned makes sense.
In fact, Rockpalast executive producer, Peter Ruechel, says, When we started we were enthusiasts; learning by doing. The entire Rockpalast team sound engineers, cameramen, and vision mixers - had to acquire the basics especially of sound recording. But the team learned fast by splitting the lines for different mixes venue, television, radio, and monitoring and augmenting with multi-track recording beginning in 1981.
Which explains why the Commander Cody, Vital Parts, and Cipollina/Gravenites Band CDs all recorded in mid- and late-November 1980 fare much better soundwise. The crew has now had nearly five years to eliminate some of the sound dropouts and mix fluctuations that marred the original releases of this set. // 8
Lyrics: What you hear on this collection are highly stylised vocalists singing some of their best-known songs in front of European audiences. Across the board, the vocals embody passion and soul and character. Paul Butterfield's gruff and growling singing on such classics as Goin' Down and Born Under a Bad Sign provides a perfect counterpart to his magic and crystalline harp playing. Dickey Betts southern twang slips and slides all around Blue Sky, Jessica, and Ramblin' Man. And Spirit guitarist Randy California brings new emotion to I Got a Line On You, 1984, and covers of Like a Rolling Stone and All Along the Watchtower. // 7
Overall Impression: Though the concerts recorded here capture these artists during the waning years of their careers, they are still wonderful insights into what these various players brought to music. California, Butterfield, and Cipollina are all gone now and any document particularly a live one has value. The Europeans have always been rabid fans of American blues and rock guitar players and their enthusiasm and support for these artists really brings you into the moment.
There are some splendid moments including Dickey Betts jamming with Randy California on an expanded Spirit jam titled If I Miss This Train and John Cipollina burning down the fretboard on his Gibson SG on Quicksilver Messenger Service's trademark tune, Pride of Man. For those precious interludes alone, this series is worth owning. But there is a lot more here worth hearing. And be looking for more Rockpalast releases in the future. // 7
- Steven Rosen (c) 2010