Monday, March 15, 2010

Austin's Arc Angels Take Flight Once Again On Superb Live CD/DVD Set 'Living In A Dream'

The Arc Angels
Living In A Dream
Mark I Productions

Review by Nightwatcher

Formed in the aftermath of the tragic passing of Stevie Ray Vaughan when famed Double Trouble rhythm section Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris "Whipper" Layton (drums) joined forces with young guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton, Austin'sThe Arc Angels never lived up to expectations the first time around.

After a promising start with the release of their 1992 self -titled Geffen Records debut, which drew widespread critical acclaim, and a subsequent tour which wowed audiences wherever the band played, the whole thing imploded. Due in no small part to ever growing chemical dependecy on the part of Bramhall combined with lack of communication with Sexton - which Shannon and Layton wanted no part of having recently gone through the same scenario before SRV had sobered up in the late 80's- the two factions went their separate ways following the tour in 1993, leaving one fantastic record and many incredible live musical memories in their wake.

And, for a long time, that seemed to be that. Shannon and Layton went on to join with Texas guitar star David Grissom in Storyville, releasing three albums before calling it a day in 1998. As Double Trouble, the two went on to be an in demand session team, being called upon to back artists such as Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Albert Cummings and more. Meanwhile, Bramhall II got back on track with several critically acclaimed releases under both his own name and with his band Smokestack, which attracted the attention of rock legends Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, both of whom called on him to join their respective bands for tours and/or recording - the Clapton collaboration continuing off and on up to the present. Sexton continued on, working with Lucinda Williams and a high exposure gig with Bob Dylan before the four tested the waters once again, playing occasional Arc Angel reunion shows around Austin and Dallas in 2002.

In 2009 it was announced that the band would be touring extensively, and recording a second studio album, their first in over a decade in a half, albeit without Shannon. Replaced by bassist Mark Newmark for the reunion tour, who has subsequently been supplanted by Dave Monsey for (finally!) new studio recordings.

The first fruit of the renewed activity however is the release of the live CD/DVD 'Living In A Dream'. Recorded and filmed during the 2005 reunion, at performances at Stubbs in Austin, Texas, this package documents the original version of the band, including Tommy Shannon as they run through the majority of the 1992 studio offering. Also adding a cover of Muddy Waters' "She's Alright" and a brand new original by Sexton "Crave And Wonder", it demonstrates as reformations go, it's as if they never went away. Featuring the same pungent blues rock which made them popular in the first place, the performances are first rate all around, and clearly show that this is a band which still has plenty to offer.

Stellar production makes the songs come alive in more ways than one, and with the band in high gear, both the CD and DVD shine. Highlights abound throughout, with the Hendrix like vibe on the cover of Waters' "She's Alright" showcasing the considerable talents of Bramhall to excellent effect, as his solo is fierce and tough, and the vocal work, often in trade off between him and Sexton, is impeccable, flowing freely. Shannon and Layton display the same tight, hard driving rhythms which helped propel Stevie Ray Vaughan to legend, and after all these years they're still one of the top bass/drum duos in music today.

Presented in anamorphic wide screen, although it's not as glitzy as some higher budget productions, the DVD actually benefits from this, as the cuts and pans never distract from the music. There are a few random abstract shots due to the fact that some of the original footage of the shows weren't able to be filmed due to weather conditions, but it's certainly not a detriment as a whole. Extras include a 30 minute documentary which includes interviews and footage of the band and a 15 minute tribute to the legendary Austin blues club Antone's.

To round of the package, if that weren't enough, the package also contains a CD EP with three brand new studio recordings with new bassist Monsey that serve as a tantalizing teaser for what hopefully will turn into a full length album in the not too distant future. Two new originals, the Bramhall written "What I'm Looking For", a studio version of "Crave And Wonder" and a hard rocking cover version of Paul McCartney's "Too Many People" point towards a possible resurgence for the band, should they decide to pursue it, and are a welcome addition to this set, bringing it all up to the present.

Lavishly packaged, with an informative 16 page booklet telling the tale thus far, this release works as both a welcome return for long time fans and a wonderful introduction for new ones who may have come across the band in the years since their demise. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their rock on the bluesy side, you can buy this one without reservations.

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