Riffs: New discs spotlight Creedence

Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:00am
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Now that the litigation and general feud has ended between Creedence Clearwater Revival and their longtime label Fantasy (now owned by Concord), the reissues of the band’s marvelous music keep coming. The latest in the on-going series are two discs that both reveal the band’s versatility, though they are devoted to different situations.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Covers the Classics presents 12 rock ‘n’ roll anthems featured on various band releases. They open with a roaring version of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” then segue through everything from pop (“Hello Mary Lou”) to rockabilly (“Susie Q,” “Ooby Dooby”), R&B (“The Night Time is the Right Time,” “I Put a Spell on You”) and even folk (“The Midnight Special”).

Each version was delivered in rippling, emphatic fashion with John Fogerty ripping and roaring through the melodies, and the backing group (rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford) ably meshing and providing stunning arrangements and accompaniment. The only complaint about Covers the Classics concerns the decision to include single edits rather than the extended versions of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Susie Q.” Both are outstanding.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: The Concert covers a 1970 performance at the Oakland Coliseum that saw them essentially do a greatest hits set. It began with “Born on the Bayou” and ended with a nearly one-minute version of “Keep on Chooglin.”

Sandwiched in between were definitive performances on “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Down on the Corner,” “Green River,” “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son,” plus more pithy covers of “The Midnight Special” and “The Night Time is the Right Time.” Eventually things got ugly and the band splintered, but on these discs you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival and especially John Fogerty in peak form.

Country classics

Kenny Chesney: Greatest Hits II (BNA) covers the recent array of Caribbean-tinged material that’s helped keep Chesney on top among the contemporary country types. “When the Sun Goes Down” was a potent duet with Uncle Kracker, but for me “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” and “Beer in Mexico” better captured the Chesney sensibility.

“I’m Alive,” his duet with Dave Matthews wraps the 15-song disc, which has among other high points the singles “Down the Road” with Mac McAnally and the previously unreleased opening cut “Out Last Night.”

When you go back through the 32 tunes on the excellent two-disc anthology I Miss You So: The Ultimate Hits of Randy Travis (Warner Bros). there’s really not a single number here remotely close to disposable. Sure, “Diggin Up Bones,” “Forever and Ever Amen,” “I Told You So,” and “A Few Ole Country Boys” may rank a bit higher on the list than others, but there’s really nothing here that wouldn’t stand alone as a memorable offering.

The two unreleased cuts “Love’s Alive and Well” and “You Ain’t Right” are just a bit below the set’s best efforts, while his covers of Brook Benton’s “It’s Just a Matter of Time” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” are A-plus material. As a baritone stylist and pure vocalist, Randy Travis stands very close to the top in recent country history, and these are the cream of the crop from his long tenure in Nashville.

Vintage Stewart

Tom Dowd was such a wonderful engineer that sometimes his brilliance as a producer gets overlooked or undervalued. But Dowd was great with everyone that he supervised from Ornette Coleman to the Allman Brothers, and he certainly clicked with Rod Stewart.

Both A Night on the Town and Atlantic Crossing (Atlantic/Rhino) feature the Stewart/Dowd tandem, and the sets (each with bonus cuts and a second CD of previously unissued material) capture Stewart at his raspy-voiced, pre-standards obsession best.

“Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” was the centerpiece single for A Night on the Town. The nine original tracks had among its high points Stewart’s earnest vocals on “Fool for You” and “Big Bayou,” and “The First Cut is the Deepest.” Side one’s lone bonus cut “Rosie” is good, but not quite as triumphant as the other selections.

The second disc has early and in most cases inferior versions of the tracks from the first disc, although the melody changes on “Fool for You” and “The First Cut is the Deepest” did pose some interesting alternatives that Dowd wisely passed on extending. There’s also an alternate version of “Get Back” and a studio outtake of “Share.”

Atlantic Crossing leans more in the soul/R&B Stewart mode, with a crackling version of the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine,” and Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” and a searing lead vocal on “Three Time Loser.” The ache in his voice was still there by the time he got to “Still Love You,” which made it a bit difficult to retool and try something else on “Sailing” and the bonus track “Skye Boat Song” that also included the backing of the “Atlantic Crossing Drum & Fife Band.”

The bonus disc’s best cuts are previously unissued versions of “To Love Somebody” and “Return to Sender” with the MGS, and an early rendition of what would eventually become “Stone Cold Sober,” but was then titled “Too Much Noise.”

This is the soulful, energetic Rod Stewart rocker rather than the elder statesmen covering saloon songs and show tunes. Frankly, that persona was and still is more interested than what’s been in evidence the last few years.