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41 years later, “L.A. Woman” still bewitches

Sure to be buried by all the empty hoopla of the Oscar nominations on Tuesday, Jan. 24 will be the re-issue of the Doors’ 1971 album “L.A. Woman,” as strong a swan song as has ever been recorded in rock history. Part of that has to do with Jim Morrison having been in his prime as a singer, no matter how dissolute and undisciplined at the time, with the recording sessions having occurred just months before his death in Paris.

Witness the startlingly poignant baritone on “Hyacinth House,” with its hint of disillusionment by the wild-card frontman and his impending departure from L.A.’s rat race. “I need a brand new friend who doesn’t trouble me.”

But the beauty of “L.A. Woman” upon re-examination is the loose, relaxed quality of the Doors’ most bluesy album. “Fuck the errors,” recalled drummer John Densmore about the making of the album to the L.A. Weekly recently. “Let’s be passionate and quick. Back to the garage and blues and our roots.”

And that enthusiasm and inspiration is evident throughout both the album and the bonus material on the Rhino release. “I hate to spook anybody but this is my favorite number; play your ass off,” Morrison says in the studio before the band launches into “The Changeling” on the bonus disc. The rough-and-tumble track was the band’s choice as its first single off the album, but Elektra Records chief Jac Holzman begged to differ.

The record would end up being as deep in singles as any band would desire in this day and age of single-oriented pop: “Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm” and “L.A. Woman,” the rollicking, locomotive, epic poem to the city of which the group is inextricably linked.

The alternate track of that latter signature tune — the definitive anthem for the City of Lost Angels — reveals the dynamic interplay between Ray Manzarek’s propulsive organ and Robby Krieger’s sinewy guitar lines. The composition cannot be improved upon, which points to another marvel of the record, which was largely recorded live with very little sweetening in the studio.

The addition of Elvis Presley’s bass player Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno helped the proceedings considerably. As good, and unmistakably unique stylists, Manzarek, Kreiger and Densmore are, they’ve been freed up to do what they do best: play with the awareness and imagination of seasoned jazz musicians, but with the energy and snarl of kick-out-the-jams rockers.

The variations from the originally released tracks, as iconic as they’ve become, is a welcome departure from every note and lick that Doors fans have come to memorize. “Do you love her madly?” exists on the alternate track here versus the established “Don’t you love her madly?” — a subtle yet significant distinction, pointing to the power and sound of a single word. Morrison revered language and poetry, and the reveries of “L.A. Woman” have as much to do with language as anything else. “Motel money murder madness” indeed.

The much-discussed recently discovered track, “She Smells So Nice,” sounds like something tossed off in the studio as a warm-up. You can sense Morrison’s loose, limber — even if more than a tad lazy and hazy — mind at work.

This 40th Anniversary edition of “L.A. Woman” might not contain the riches of the re-issued Stones classic “Exile on Main Street,” coming as it did with a slew of previously undiscovered tunes, but for Doors completists, it’s a must addition to their collection.


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