The Rippingtons

Live! Across America

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While most artists merely appreciate the applause of their fans, Russ Freeman and his Rippingtons literally take requests; though they had put out Live in L.A. in 1993, their rabid fans flooded the band's official website with requests for another live date, and this set (recorded in numerous locations throughout the U.S. on 1999's Topaz tour) is the fun-filled result. Several factors make this essential even for fans who have the first live disc: first, there are three new key players who help turn the energy level higher than before, saxman Paul Taylor, drummer Dave Hooper and percussionist Ramon Yslas. There's also a looser, more jamming and improvisational feeling, with many of the familiar tracks given significant arrangement facelifts apart from their studio counterparts. Cases in point are the eight and a half minute clapalong "Jewel Thieves" (which showcases Kim Stone's intense bass soloing) and "Summer Lovers," which breaks at one point for Taylor to blow off some soulful, spontaneous steam. Freeman's rock guitar chops have gotten more confident over the years, which makes the blistering Hendrix tribute "Purple Haze/Fire" (featuring loopy vocals by Stone and Taylor), an unforgettable reminder that the leader is a monster player as well as a great composer/producer. Bookending the set are the hard-edged guitar- and sax-driven "Road Warriors" (which sums up the frenetic tour experience) and the laid-back "Kabuki," which Freeman and Stone wrote and recorded one day at sound check.

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