Friday, February 24, 2017

Songs in the Key of Life: Some Kinda Love / Sister Ray

Lou Reed's solo career was anything but predictable and while often brilliant, it could also be generously described as inconsistent. When he was inspired, he created some truly outstanding music during the decades after he quit the Velvet Underground. When that creativity faltered though, well, he made music like "My Red Joystick."

The early 1980s were a peak period for Reed. He was working with one of the all-time underappreciated guitarists, former law student and rabid Velvets fan Robert Quine. The Blue Mask (1982) is the essential studio document from this era, a revealingly personal album where Reed is brutally honest about his life, his past, his alcoholism, his fears and his anxieties. The album still hits hard all these years later. Like The Who's (and thus Pete Townshend's) nakedly honest The Who By Numbers, The Blue Mask is absolutely crucial for understanding where the artists were emotionally during those years.

Then in 1984 he released the live record Live in Italy, which featured recent songs but also plenty of reworkings of classic Velvets material. If you're looking for a deeper appreciation of Reed's work in those years, this is as essential listening as The Blue Mask. With Reed and Quine on guitar, Fernando Saunders on bass, and Fred Maher on drums, the band around him is top notch. Reed and company play with a power and velocity rarely equaled in his career. They really stretch out live, taking instrumental detours along the way.

After launching into the Velvets' "Some Kinda Love" they segue into another legendary track from the band, "Sister Ray," then meld them to create something truly epic in scope and sound. It's a blistering performance, full of vivid colors and intense heat. It begins with the rhythm section's addictive slow groove, then the guitars enter the fray. Reed's solid rhythm lines beautifully complement Quine's sublimely melodic solos, which he unleashes with impunity throughout. Reed's in his classic speak-shout mode here—"I'm searching for my mainline! I couldn't hit it sideways!" His phrasing is majestic.

It's clear Reed was energized by Quine's musical virtuosity to create some of his strongest solo work. Thankfully, these two late-greats left behind Live in Italy as proof of that—proof that Quine elevated Reed's music during that period, and that Reed could still bring the heat when his heart was in it. If you watch footage of the Italy shows (the album combines songs from a two-night set) you can see that Reed was heavily invested during those nights. Just like Jenny in "Rock & Roll"(which closes Live in Italy), he's dancing to that fine, fine music—as if his life was saved by rock and roll.

Here's the medley sourced from the live album:

Here's partial video of the performance:

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