Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roy Buchanan - Live in Japan (1978)

I've read that Live in Japan was Roy Buchanan's own favorite of his records. It's always interesting to find out what part of an artist's own repertoire he likes best. I wonder if American Axe: Live in 1974 was released before Roy's tragic and untimely death - I think not. That one's still my pick for best live Roy Buchanan album, largely on the merit of its unrivaled version of Roy's Bluz, and probably the best version of Roy's signature The Messiah Will Come Again that I've heard. But Live in Japan is also fantastic, and it's everything you would expect from a live Roy Buchanan record.

If you don't know who Roy Buchanan is at this point, then look him up. He was an unsung guitar hero that rivaled (some would say surpassed) the best (and more celebrated) axe-swingers of his day. And he was a pioneer of many totally unique guitar techniques - some that still haven't been used by anyone nearly as proficiently as Roy. And he was a master of blues guitar - not just because he could play, but because he could make you feel, the way he played, better than anyone else.

Live in Japan opens and closes with two different instrumentals, both of interest. The closer, Sweet Dreams, is a bit sweeter and more introspective, and is one of the few tracks Roy is semi-known for (it was recently used at the end of The Departed - talk about a pleasant surprise!). But the opener, Soul Dressing, is a bit more upbeat, with some nice organ work to counter Roy's guitar. We also get another live rendition of Hey Joe - perhaps the best one yet. Roy was a big fan of Jimi, as so many guitarists are, but unlike most others, he does justice to Jimi's talent here not by matching the guitar god's exploits, but by taking the song and truly making it his own (just as Jimi did himself). In fact, what Jimi did to the song was slow it down and make it soulful, and Roy does the same - he makes it even slower and even more soulful, while giving it his unique stylistic touch. Blues Otani is also quite nice, a good medium-paced blues that stretches out to a comfortable length, with yet more organ work that recalls for me Mike Bloomfield's collaborations with Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg. And there are some more up-tempo tracks to round out the show, as well.

This is a good collection of live tracks, and if you like Roy Buchanan, you're gonna want this album. Roy's in-the-studio experiments are said to be a bit spotty at times, not always capturing the extent of his genius (although what I've heard so far has been well worth hearing), but in a live context, you know you're getting a good show of Roy's talent. And that's just what you can expect from Live in Japan.

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