John Waite – Live: All Access – CD Review

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I had no idea that I missed John Waite.

Think about it.

If you remember life before personal computers, you remember John Waite’s music whether from his solo career or his work with The Babys and Bad English. And I bet you liked it all. Why? Because it was good. His latest release, Live: All Access, is a brief collection of recent work that continues that signature energy of powerful sentiment, simple yet striking musical arrangement, and of course, that voice. Not every rock and roll performer’s voice gets better with age, but John Waite’s voice has. Just listen:

If you are thinking that Waite has been away from the music industry, you are wrong, but you probably aren’t alone. For all the blessings of our digital age of music, we have a saturated music industry and a segmented radio and publicity climate. This makes it easy to lose out on artists who know what they are doing – artists who have honed their natural ability over decades in the business. Decades? Yes. But let’s not do the exact math since I remember Waite’s early work on hits like “Every Time I think of You.” Do you remember listening to The Baby’s on a tinny AM car radio? Trying to make it as loud as possible? Yeah, you do, it isn’t just me.

Yes, I’ve missed John Waite.

Live: All Access features live recordings from the successful and acclaimed Rough and Tumble, released in 2011, The Babys, as well as earlier solo work. More isn’t always better, and that is clearly the case here. There are only eight songs in this collection, but they are eight straight up, live rock and roll, kick you in the ass offerings. This is rock and roll that takes you back, makes you want to shake your ass, and reminds you of all the fun you used to have on a night out on the town.

Track by Track:

#1 – Change ~ This collection is clearly listenable, accessible, and well-written rock and roll. As expected, Waite’s vocals lead here, as they should, and arrangements are not over-processed and heavy. There is space left to listen around the rock guitar riffs, to savor, to isolate, and enjoy. Remember when you used to sit down and listen to music? You can do that with Live: All Access.

#2 – Better off Gone ~ battles love lost. Waite’s music has always hinged on our emotions, the ups and downs of love and all its frustration, and done so with a solemn acuity. This time he sings “…one of these days you’re gonna be with somebody and I, I don’t want to hurt no one. I’m gonna let these horses run straight into the morning sun. I’m better off gone.” The imagery here is marvelous and the composition does sound like a night on the highway.

#3 – If You Ever Get Lonely ~ Now a country release from Love and Theft, this continues the anguished, love-gone-bad story, but the lyrics, the vocals, the yearning makes you just want to wallow and let your heart break for a bit. “Were you ever really listening? Were you ever really there?”

#4 – Head First ~ Time for some Babys. I love The Babys. I know you remember this, I know you do. “…me and Sugar, we’ve got it all sewn up.” The 1970s rock sound knew how a guitar and a vocal could meet and dance toe-to-toe in a song. This feels raw and wild and so much like a hot night on the town. Guitar work here is fantastic.

#5 – In Dreams ~ Slowing down, a little, “In Dreams” speaks of hanging onto someone else for the sanity and solace that another person, a relationship, can give. A safe place. Maybe my favorite in the collection, the guitar is bluesy and the lyrics are raw, ragged. Ripe with bits of imagery, yearning and explosive at the same time, this is moving and more importantly, deceptively simple.

#6 – Mr. Wonderful ~ Waite may understand love and relationships, but he’s no sucker. “Mr. Wonderful,” from Rough and Tumble, opens with blues guitar work and slow, building emotion. Maybe this is my favorite. Sharp blues-driven guitar work and reaching, searching vocals blend to create a stomping, energetic, line-in-the-sand attitude.

#7 – Evil ~ Open and airy, this animates the late 70s sound, and takes the listener through tainted, bad news love. Everyone should have a wild ride with a “voodoo kind of thing.” All right. I’m going to say it. I believe that Waite’s vocal range has actually expanded both in texture and emotional capacity that can only be cultivated with maturity. His voice was always a wonderful as he was blessed with an identifiable style and vocal quality, but now there is an added richness. Marvelous.

#8 – Saturday Night ~ THIS is what shutting down a club sounds like – what it sounds like when I used to shut down clubs. “Saturday Night” is hard rocking straight to last call with thumping drums, wild guitar, bass, and an artist giving all he has to give. I can smell the cigarettes in the alley way.

It is just stupid to say that John Waite still has it. He always had it. Live: All Access is available on iTunes, at shows, and from Listen, sink in, enjoy, remember, and rock and roll.

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