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Week 80 | VH1 Storytellers (2009)

This is a neat little live album recorded (and presumably shown on VH1) leading up to the release of, “…hours,” but released as a CD in 2009, during the long period in which Bowie was not releasing new studio albums.  

The album differs from other live albums in that it was recorded before a small studio audience.  As the name implies, Bowie tells stories between songs.  All together, it has an intimate feel, as opposed to most of the other live albums which convey the sense that Bowie is performing in front of a sizable crowd.  In part because of this, and in part because of Bowie’s choice of songs, the album is softer and slower than either most of his other live albums or what had been his recent, mid-1990s output.  In the best sense of the word, this is a pleasant album.

I did not see the show on television at the time it originally ran in 1999.  Had I, there would have been a number of features that would have seemed either unusual or totally new at the time.  Bowie performed two songs from his past that, as far as I know, he had not performed (and certainly had not recorded) since around the time they were new:  “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” which he recorded all the way back in 1965, and “I Can’t Read” from the Tin Machine days (this song actually didn’t make the cut for the TV show, but is one of the highlights on the album). “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” is not an especially good song, but what’s interesting about its inclusion here is that it wasn’t one of the songs Bowie re-recorded for the unreleased, “Toy,” album, though years later he would include it in the, “Nothing Has Changed” compilation.  What’s exciting about, “I Can’t Read” is that it is the only instance I am aware of where Bowie recorded a Tin Machine song outside of a Tin Machine album.  

Bowie’s last few albums as of 1999 were, “Earthling” (1997), “1. Outside,” (1995), “Black Tie White Noise” (1993) and “The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)— Bowie included no songs from any of those albums as part of the “Storytellers” set.  Instead, he introduced several songs that would have been totally new, because they were slated for release on , “…hours”— “Thursday’s Child” and “Seven” made the broadcast show, while, “Survive” and “I’m Dreaming My Life” also made the CD.  None of these songs were new by the time the CD was released, and, “…hours” didn’t age especially well, but the enduring result is that, “Storytellers” turns out to be the “…hours” live album.

While “Storytellers” contained some firsts, it also included a last— this was the 10th and final album on which Reeves Gabrels was Bowie’s guitarist.  

“Storytellers” is not a major album.  It was a nice piece of newish material released during a time during which Bowie fans were hoping for a comeback.  Today, it works well as background music or just a CD to add to the rotation.   It also foreshadowed the series of live albums that have been rolling out since Bowie’s death.  I have a feeling there are more to come…

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