November 18, 2004

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Perhaps motivated by recording industry execs eager to cash-in on yet another holiday season, Yoko Ono recently decided to produce a CD consisting of acoustic demo tapes and live material of John Lennon, her late-husband and former Beatles front man. Titled appropriately enough, Acoustic includes seven previously unreleased tracks — a sure selling point to all of the Lennon / Beatles aficionados out there.

The fact of the matter is that, scratched up demo tapes or not, one cannot go wrong with acoustic John Lennon songs, and it is always wonderful to hear Lennon in such a relaxed and unadulterated setting. From the acidity of “Working Class Hero” and “Cold Turkey” to the delicateness of “Dear Yoko” and “Love,” the album spans the entirety of Lennon’s solo career and provides just enough variation from previous releases to warrant its sale. In particular, a new version of “God,” despite its relatively inferior music quality, provides slightly different lyrics and a more determined, resolute tone to the listener.

Nonetheless, the jewels of Acoustic are in the three previously unreleased live versions of “The Luck Of The Irish”, “Imagine” and “John Sinclair,” all of which were recorded in 1971 and possess the energy of the recent Beatles break-up and tumultuous political climate of the early 1970s.

Yoko has graciously dedicated the album “to all future guitarists” and has included both lyrics and chords to all the songs played on the album in the liner notes. For an aspiring guitarist looking to learn the mannerism of a master, this CD would certainly not be a bad place to start.

Released on the same day as Acoustic, a newly re-mastered version of Lennon’s 1975 Rock N Roll, complete with four (count them!) never-heard-before-bonus tracks is also available as the perfect gift for the Lennon / Beatles devotee this holiday season.

A particularly emotive rendition of the classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula” demonstrates Lennon’s voice at its percussive best, and sets the tone and direction for the rest of the album — raw and uninhibited rock and roll.

As always, Lennon’s voice is perfect in its transcendence of the music; it wails when it needs to wail and restrains itself when it needs to be restrained. For instance, on the cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Lennon finds more room for emotion and energy than previously thought possible.

Of the bonus tracks, the undisputed winner is the live cover of Arthur Crudup’s “Since My Baby Left Me,” which features Lennon gallantly crooning over dirty guitar licks while an enthused chorus provides the blues-style repetition to the song.

There is no doubt that Lennon’s personal artistic flair runs throughout the tracks in Rock N Roll, and he has the remarkable ability to take these already well-established songs to even greater heights. Lennon is not merely giving lip service to those songs that have inspired his own artistic development. Instead, the album is a testament to his musical genius; he is able to demonstrate how invaluable his own contributions to rock and roll have been through these perfect and effortless-sounding renditions of his own musical precursors.

But by this point in the review, the Beatles / Lennon aficionados in the audience will have already listened to both of these albums with a dedication only matched by Yoko’s devotion to John. Meanwhile, the rest of us have learned that while both of these releases offer solid and good material, they will surely not make that much of a marginal impact on our collection. So, if you must, buy them as a stocking stuffer for your nine-year-old kid sister who has just discovered John Lennon and the Beatles. But listen to them a couple of times before you wrap them.

Archived article by Matthew Nagowski
Sun Staff Writer