At Home (His Master’s Choice HMC 008)
Disc 1 (Guitar Demos) (67:47): Watching The Wheels, Knocking On Dylan’s Door, It Sounds Like a Ballad To Me, More Satire, Lebenstraum, French Song, Serve Yourself, She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain, Dear Yoko, I’m Stepping Out, I Don’t Wanna Face It, Borrowed Time, Beautiful Boy, Grow Old With Me, Starting Over, Woman, Say It Again, Nobody Told Me, Nobody Told Me, Nobody Told Me, I’m Losing You, I Ain’t Got Time
Disc 2 (piano demos) (77:15): Grow Old With Me, Help Me To Help Myself, I Don’t Wanna Sleep Alone, Now And Then, Cleanup Time, Watching The Wheels, Serve Yourself, Memories / Cathy’s Clown, Real Love, She’s a Friend of Dorothy, Starting Over, I’m Losing You, I’m Stepping Out, Don’t Be Afraid, Why Must We Be Alone, Solitude
“At first glance this new collection of piano and guitar demos read like the same old songs that have been around the collector’s circuit. But here they are in dramatically better sonic quality. The guitar plucks are crystal clear. Lennon’s voice has living room presence. If you take heed of the label’s name, maybe these really are from Lennon’s original master cassettes. Some fans think these were the tapes stolen by one-time employee, Fred Seaman. Who really knows.All the songs were demos Lennon was preparing for his comeback album, “Double Fantasy”. In Yoko Ono’s authorized “The John Lennon Anthology”, are the rest of the demos on disc 4, labeled “Dakota” after the brownstone the Lennon’s stayed at in New York City.
Divided onto two discs, one of guitar demos, the other of piano demos, Lennon plays by himself. The performances are achingly intimate and sometimes tragically so. “Grow Old With Me” comes to mind. They come across as a private session that the listener is secretly invited to listen to. It’s also clear Lennon didn’t intend for any of these to be heard and that includes the tracks Yoko released on “The John Lennon Anthology”. Take a listen to “Solitude”, the final track on this collection. The starkness reminds you of the anguish on “Mother”.
What you’ll hear is Lennon all grown up except when he’s sniping at Dylan on “”Knocking On Dylan’s Door” + “Serve Yourself”. Dylan’s Christian songs were too self-righteous for Lennon to swallow and it must have irked him enough to show his sarcastic side again. Otherwise, the songs are all introspective about his new family life. “Watching The Wheels” becomes the strongest song from these sessions as Lennon charts his newfound contentment and turns away from the pop circus. There’s also a great clean version of “Real Love”, the track the Threetles recorded as post-Lennon Beatles. It’s good to know Lennon was thinking about love in his final years.
We should be grateful Lennon and Yoko managed to complete “Double Fantasy.”
HMC-008 features home demos in alarming sound quality. The first track, “Watching The Wheels” is a tremendously sourced version with Lennon’s guitar lending an edge. “Knocking On Dylan’s Door” + “It Sounds Like A Ballad To Me” are rather amusing and satisfy as Dylan satire. Lennon’s voice is in great form on “French Song”. I would have loved to hear the high-powered driven “Serve Yourself” delivered in a full band effect by the Plastic Ono Band. “She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain” sounds crystal clear. The fidelity on track 10, “I’m Stepping Out”, is phenomenal. Track 14, “Grow Old With Me”, in its anthem like style would have benefitted from a Beatles interpretive treatment. Track 15, “Starting Over”, is a great touching version. “Woman” offers a fuller sounding production with the drum programming in a waltz-like delivery. We get stark like clarity on “Say It Again” + on track 18, “Nobody Told Me”. “I Ain’t Got Time” represents one fine recording.
The hum formerly heard on “Grow Old With Me” has been eliminated. The 9:04 minute “Cleanup Time” would have also been compelling to hear in full band status. The 12:52 minute “Watching The Wheels” for me is the highlight of this 2 disc set as we catch Lennon in stellar solo form. I found that the piano refrain harkens of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. A very interesting effect and it is so welcome to hear Lennon play out this track in extended fashion. Track 9, “Real Love” is a slower moving version that just grows on you. “She’s A Friend” is a catchy track. Track 13 is titled “I’m Stepping out” but, more accurately, is predominately “Real Love” once again with Lennon’s signature whistling really hitting home.
Capitol released John Lennon “Acoustic” in 2004. They would have been smart to at least fill one disc with 67 – 77 minutes of Lennon material from the above HMC-008 release which would have generated raving reviews. The latter comes in a glossy fold-out mini-LP style elegant and extremely appealing jacket. I recommend storing both discs in separate oil skin or non-abrasive paper sleeves once they are removed from the tight plastic side inserts. Beatles and Lennon fans can take pride in putting this extraordinary set in their respective collections for all eternity.