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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Black Jacket Symphony Checks In at the Hotel California

Black Jacket Symphony

Alabama has one of the most godawful "justice systems" on the planet, and we have strived to expose it on this blog. Our state also has a sad history of electing quite a few buffoons to public office.

If you can get past those "hiccups," Alabama actually has a lot to recommend it. In fact, we covered many of our state's stellar qualities in a post titled "Alabama: Love It or Leave It?"

As we noted then, Alabama features abundant natural beauty, from one end of the state to the other. And we have a rich cultural heritage, marked by talented musicians from virtually all genres--Hank Williams, the Commodores, Emmylou Harris, the Temptations, and many more. It's not an accident that Alabamians Reuben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Diana DeGarmo, and Bo Bice have made a splash on American Idol.

Alabama's musical talent, however, is not limited to the AI age range. We have some splendid veteran musicians who have been entertaining audiences for years. A prime example is a relatively new group called Black Jacket Symphony. It's led by J. Willoughby, and Damon Johnson. They have been on the regional and national music scene for a long time, with Johnson now a member of Alice Cooper's touring band.

Willoughby and Johnson have come up with an interesting concept for Black Jacket Symphony (BJS). They recruit a virtual all-star team of local musicians and recreate, note for note, classic albums--in their entirety. Once they perform the album, they come back for a second set of the featured band's biggest hits.

They will perform The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 3 at the Alabama Theatre.

Previous shows have featured Who's Next by The Who, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and Abbey Road by The Beatles.

As a child of the '70s, I was most struck by BJS' recent performance, at WorkPlay in Birmingham, of The Eagles' Hotel California. That's the seminal album of my Midwestern youth, and I was stunned at what a superb job BJS did on it. I had heard these guys (and gals) were good, but their performance was even more than I expected.

How good is BJS? Check out this performance of the title track from Hotel California, with Buck Johnson sounding an awful lot like Don Henley on lead vocals:



Here is Willoughby singing lead on the Don Henley/Glenn Frey classic "New Kid in Town":



BJS even had a string section for the haunting "Wasted Time (Reprise)":



From the greatest hits section of the show, here is "I Can't Tell You Why." Obviously the crowd knew all the words:



Finally, we have perhaps my all-time favorite Eagles tune--"The Last Resort," an epic tale about man's tendency to exploit the earth and degrade what we touch. It closes Hotel California and is one of the prime reasons the album probably will always stand among the finest works in rock/pop music:



How good is BJS on "The Last Resort"? You can check out the original here. I'm proud to say that Black Jacket Symphony calls Birmingham home.

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