Then & Now Featuring Four Hands & a Heart Volume One 3 CDs
BluesWax Rating: 8 out of 10
US-Unreleased Live Gem
Then & Now is an interesting three-CD box set taken from Larry Carlton‘s breathtaking years of the late seventies, early eighties, and the 2010s. Disc One licenses original tracks from Carlton’s 1978 Larry Carlton, Sleepwalk, and Strikes Twice albums. Disc Three (we’ll get to Disc Two momentarily) are recently recorded new versions of the same songs from Disc One that shows the evolution of Carlton and a sweet tenderness and style that age brings to these great tunes. It’s an interesting concept. Alas, on Disc Two 335 Records smartly unearths the previously US-unavailable Mr. 335 Live In Japan that I’ve proudly owned on vinyl, now available for the first time on CD in the US. Thank goodness, as this set roars. Most of us are aware of Carlton’s early work on Disc One and it’s unique to hear these tunes recently reworked, but for the main purpose of this review I’ll focus on the Live In Japan set.
For his trek to Japan Larry rounded up Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, Greg Mathieson on keyboards, Neil Stubenhaus on bass, the wonderful John Ferraro on drums, and of course Larry Carlton on guitar, one vocal, and who wrote six of seven tunes, the only exception being “I’m Home” authored by Mathieson. “I’m a Fool” is a blues tune that finds Carlton (rarely) singing and delivering those classic guitar sounds with which he always spoiled our ears. The band shifts from blues to a deliciously funky zone and bassist Stubenhaus and drummer Ferraro create a pocket that’s perfect for Carlton’s guitar to sumptuously glide over. “Mellow Out” (also authored by Carlton) is reminiscent of a hit tune Carlton recorded with the Crusaders, the very bluesy “Put It Where You Want It” that Larry mentions in the liners is his tribute to the Crusaders version only this version has a harder edge. Mathieson’s keyboards are more prominent here, but it’s Carlton who enters the sector, rips it up, and I’m asking this is mellowing out?
We’re just getting started when “Tight Squeeze” storms out of your speakers with the thumping bass lines from Stubenhaus and Ferraro’s driving drums as Carlton explodes into the abyss with superb imagination, control, and blaring speed. Mathieson adds wild jazz-rock fusion keyboards that set up Carlton to blast us out of this world at non-terrestrial velocities. The only non-Carlton-authored tune, “I’m Home” by Mathieson, brings us back to mother earth and it’s delightful and tender. Carlton adds some excitement but doesn’t try to steal the show and shifts the events back to its owner Mathieson then back to Carlton who closes the song in a tender and heartfelt way.
“Rio Samba” has (as the title suggests) a Latin tinge. Stubenhaus, Mathieson, and Ferraro lay down a solid foundation for Larry to show off his talents, first softly, but it doesn’t last long as Carlton lifts off again mightily, then tosses it back to an energetic Mathieson for a short and solid bass solo and a brief drum workout with the entire band. “(It Was) Only Yesterday” is short, sweet, and a soft ballad. Okay, buckle up as Carlton and his fine band take us home with the appropriately titled “Point It Up,” where astral traveling is allowed and preferred! It’s here that we find Carlton flying above and below the radar screen; there’s no speed limits, yet he never plays overtly excessive nor does he fall into the typically guitar-god repetitive clichés. Mathieson also gets a nice workout before tossing these lunar-like exploratory proceedings back to Carlton.
So there you have it, some older and original Carlton on Disc One, Disc Three’s snapshot of Carlton revisiting his classics today, and the fabulous live set from Japan from 1979 on Disc Two!
By the way: This box set has also been nominated for a Grammy this coming year. Best wishes to 335 Records and to Mr. 335 Larry Carlton!
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of SoundsofBlue.
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