Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’

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“It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen…” – “Stairway To Heaven,” Led Zeppelin

I am consistently amazed and impressed that artists can still surprise me. My corporate overlords had me traveling this week, as usual, and while suffering through the interminable wait for my flight home, I started checking out what the kids call, “the social media.” There were several indications that Robert Plant was up to something. His website had gone dark. It was literally just a black page. If you remained on the website long enough, letters started to rise to the surface, like a body floating to the top of a lake. Eventually the letters spelled out the phrase, “A Way With Words.” This was merely 48 hours ago…

The music press immediately began to buzz about a possible new album from Plant. I’ve been expecting a lot of new music over the coming few months – Beck, Van Morrison, maybe the Stones, Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age – all have albums coming. I had no idea Plant was even in the studio, he wasn’t on my radar, and my radar is usually pretty good. We haven’t heard from Robert since 2014’s excellent, but alas, largely overlooked ‘lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar.’ I couldn’t sleep last night, insomnia is my cross to bear, and so I got up and logged on. I was bouncing around the internet and realized, yes, Robert Plant is going to release a new album in October, entitled ‘Carry Fire.’

Best of all, a new single, “The May Queen” has been released as the first track. I downloaded it immediately. His backing band, like on his last album, are the superb Sensational Shape Shifters – Liam “Skin” Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Juldeh Camara on “West African” instrumentation, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, and John Baggot on keyboards. These guys blend folk, rock and “world” music seamlessly. I bought a live record these guys did in Buenos Aires from 2012 and I just love it. Plant has been intent in the latter stages of his career in blending all sorts of different roots music – Celtic, Americana, African and even Welsh. It would appear he thinks all of this music springs from the same source, so why not mix it all together and see where it takes him. He’s quoted as saying he wants to blend his old music with something new. He’s certainly done that here. I love his sense of exploration. A lot of folks may be pissed that he’s not getting back together with Zeppelin (give it up folks, no means no), but I love what he’s doing at this stage in his career.

The new track, “The May Queen,” is a great start. I can’t find any writing credits on the web, although I searched extensively. With a name like “The May Queen” I thought it might be a traditional folk tune or a cover, but I believe Plant wrote this. The lyrics certainly seem Plant-ish and of course, The May Queen shows up in “Stairway To Heaven” so we have to assume this is Plant’s writing. The song is driven by a repeating acoustic guitar riff. There is some great African or “world” percussive elements. As has been case with most of his latter music, the vocals are front and center. Plant’s voice ages like fine wine, only getting better as time passes. There is a nice violin that accents the song as well. It feels folky and world beat all at the same time. The first line “Lay down in sweet surrender, your love’s so warm and tender,” embraces you like an affectionate hug from an old friend… I just love where his voice is right now.

This is a superb opening track, reminiscent of the first track from ‘lullaby,’ “Rainbow,” which was a track that is still in high rotation here at the house 3 years after it’s release. I highly recommend you check out this new Plant track. All these years later, he’s still exploring, digging through the past to find something new. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to. And, best of all, he’s released it just in time for his birthday, this Sunday August 20th. I look forward to spinning the new record when it arrives in October…

Happy Birthday Robert! Cheers!

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LP Review: Randy Newman’s ‘Dark Matter’

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We here at BourbonAndVinyl tend to lean mostly toward harder, classic rock, but as many of you have seen, our musical spelunking can lead us in many different directions. I know full well that I may lose some folks on this post… I don’t know if there’s a more divisive artist than Randy Newman. My college roomie, Drew, is the only person other than me who I know owns any of Newman’s albums.

An old friend of mine from high school and I reconnected recently. We were trading emails when he asked the eternal rock n roll question… “what is rock, and how do you define it?” Many rock bands jump genres or do ballads. Are those still rock? It’s a thorny question, that I believe was first debated by Socrates and Plato… I don’t have any real answer, but to me, it’s about the integrity with which the artist approaches his music. In my view, Randy Newman is just as much rock as say, the Eagles or Neil Young.

Of course, a sense of humor is never something that’s valued by rock fans. We all loved David Lee Roth’s humor but it was always leveled out by Eddie Van Halen’s glowering seriousness. Once Roth split from Van Halen the class clown act lost it’s charm pretty quickly. It turns out people were more into the “Mean Streets” side of the equation vs “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now.” Frank Zappa and Warren Zevon often inserted a dark sense of humor into their songs but neither had the commercial reach of artists similar but less talented. Randy Newman has always had the darkest, most biting sense of humor of anybody in music. I would almost venture to say he’s the greatest American satirist since Mark Twain. His biggest song, “Short People,” was one of the funniest songs and most misinterpreted songs of all time. It was supposed to be an anti-bigotry song but the joke was lost on a lot of the under six-foot tall crowd. To judge Newman on that one song is like judging Zevon solely on “Werewolves Of London,” which is way too narrow a sample size. Personally, I always preferred Zevon’s “Carmelita,” but I’m getting off track here…

I always loved Newman’s classic 70’s albums. ’12 Songs,’ ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Rednecks’ are simply put, masterpieces. I love his Fats Domino-style piano and his slurred lyrical delivery. It’s obvious he spent a lot of his childhood in New Orleans and that comes out in his piano sound. My favorite of his early albums, or the pick of the litter for me, was always ‘Sail Away.’ Newman had a knack for biting social criticism but at the same time, he wrote gently moving, personal songs. Most of his records seem divided by the two sides, sarcasm and sentiment. It’s always the funny guys who have the biggest hearts, we’re all just hiding behind our wit.

I liked ’99’s ‘Bad Love,’ but I would probably describe it as a good Randy Newman album, not a great one. When he finally took a break from his day job scoring movies for Pixar and returned in 2008 with ‘Harps and Angels’ I was delighted. That album is a great Randy Newman album. The title track is hysterical. “A Few Words In Defense of Our Country” is the perfect epitaph for the W years. While, on the same album, “Losing You” is just a beautiful Randy Newman ballad.

Now, Newman has returned nine years later with ‘Dark Matter.’ At this rate, the next Randy Newman album will be out in 2026. I hope he’s doing push-ups and taking his vitamins. Since he only puts out albums once a decade, I felt like it was important to shine a light on this release. I fully realize that any listener’s interest in Newman, much like the recent work by Roger Waters, will largely depend on your world view. Newman is an admitted atheist, and that has always informed his work including ‘Dark Matter.’

The first third of this record are grand, epic, political songs. They’re almost like musical theater. You can tell Randy scores movies as each of these songs are heavily orchestrated. The opening track, “The Great Debate” is basically the Scopes Trial set to music. Randy plays the narrator on what sounds like a game show, where a group of scientists have gathered to debate a group of religious enthusiasts. Whenever the scientists give an answer, the music turns sour and the answers come across as right but uninspiring. When, as the narrator, Randy turns to the religious group, they merely sing, in ecstatic voices, “I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus every time.” Based on music alone, the religious side wins, going away. While science is portrayed as empirically correct, it’s passionless and while religion is, sometimes, shall we say, misguided, at least they’ve got the passion. No wonder these two sides can’t get along.

“Brothers,” the second song on the album is Randy imaging JFK and RFK standing in the Oval Office, discussing of all things, the Redskins… The brothers conversation turns to the Bay of Pigs invasion. At first resistant to the idea of invading Cuba, JFK realizes he wants to back the plan because he’s in love with a lounge singer in Havana… It ends with JFK and RFK singing a Latin-flavored ode to the aforementioned lounge singer. Odd premise, but frankly, not all that unbelievable. The triptych that begins the album ends with a funny rave up of a song for the leader of Russia, “Putin.” It came out a few months ago as a single and it’s trademark Randy Newman smart ass.

On the sentimental side, there are several songs sprinkled on this album that I really like. “She Chose Me” is a song that I wish I’d written for my wife, “the most beautiful girl in the world, and she chose me…” And yes, “every night I thank the lucky stars above me that someone as beautiful as she could love me…” I want that song played at my fucking funeral. “Lost Without You” is another heart rending song, told from the perspective of a man whose wife is dying. He gathers their children, “just the blood this time.” It’s apparent the children aren’t crazy about dad. The dying mother enjoins the children to take care of their father after she’s gone. Set to mournful piano and strings, it’s a moving piece of music. “Wandering Boy” is another song about a son estranged from a father. I begin to wonder how things are at home for Randy…

There’s some other fun stuff along the way here too. He sings about one of the blues’ biggest mysteries for me in the great song, “Sonny Boy.” There was an original Sonny Boy Williamson who sang “Good Morning Little School Girl.” I’ve always been confused because I’ve seen songs listed as being by Sonny Boy Williamson 2. I always thought it was a junior. Apparently there was another harmonica playing blues singer named Rice Miller who just decided to start telling people he was Sonny Boy. To make it worse, the real Sonny Boy was accidentally shot and killed at a young age, outside the scene of a robbery while on his way home from a gig. Randy’s song is basically Sonny Boy looking down from Heaven wondering how the hell this other guy got to be called Sonny Boy Williamson.

“On The Beach” tells the story of a guy who dropped out of high school and became a beach bum. Well, not a bum, but it “twas in reach.” It’s got a great rollicking piano. Not enough can be said for the great piano work through out this album. Finally, the only song that didn’t feel like it fit on this album was “It’s a Jungle Out There.” I think it was something Randy did for a TV show or a movie. It feels a bit grafted on here, but it’s not a bad tune.

I really like this album, and I would recommend it to anybody who likes Randy Newman. If I was to compare it to his recent works, it’s probably closer to ‘Bad Love,’ which is a good Randy Newman album, but not a classic like ‘Harps And Angels.’ As always with Randy, you’ll want to bring a sense of humor with you. At the very least I’d highly recommend checking out “She Chose Me.” I slipped that one on for the wife, and let’s just say, I avoided having to sweep out the garage this weekend…

 

 

 

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker,” The Title Track From A Lost Album From His Archive

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“When I was a hitchhiker on the road, I had to count on you…” – Neil Young, “Hitchiker”

No one loves releases from an artist’s archives more than we here at BourbonAndVinyl. There are certain artists that have a treasure trove of unreleased material, recorded over the course of their career. Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young are probably the foremost artists that spring to mind in this category. It almost sounds like the Rock N’ Roll Archive Law Firm of Dylan, Young and Springsteen… Dylan started the whole archive craze with his Bootleg Series. Actually to be completely correct, he probably started it all prior to that with his brilliant box set, ‘Biograph,’ which combined hits, album cuts, live cuts and unreleased material to tell the story of his career. ‘Biograph’ seemingly launched the box set business and showed record companies there is a strong market for these “vault” releases. I published a guide to Dylan’s Bootleg Series previously, ( Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide ).

Springsteen has released the box set, ‘Tracks,’ to clear out a small fraction of his unreleased studio stuff. Bruce also continues to release quality-sound live concert recordings ranging from ’74 to ’16 and just released the first ever soundboard from his 1977 tour… Don’t tell my wife, but that review will be coming soon. You could go bankrupt buying those old Springsteen concerts and she doesn’t need to know how much I’m spending… Speaking of concert recordings, The Grateful Dead, who have a long, storied bootleg history, have been releasing live concerts “from the vaults” even longer than Springsteen has, and deserve at least a mention here. However, I just can’t get into the Dead… that endless noodling drives me nuts, but if you’re into them, we don’t judge here at B&V. In my opinion, if you want jam band stuff, try Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers.

Neil Young got into the “vault” releases in a big, big way with his box set, ‘Archives Vol. 1,(1963-1972)’ released in 2009 which grew out of what was to be ‘Decade 2’ the follow up to the spectacular 1977 greatest hits package ‘Decade.’ As with anything Neil Young, he went way overboard and ‘Archives 1’ ended up being eight discs long, with interactive Blu-Ray versions and fabulous sound quality. No wonder it took almost 30 years to complete. While there were unreleased versions of songs, ‘Archives 1’ relied heavily on previously released material from his albums of the period. I didn’t purchase it, because I already had most of those albums excerpted from that time period. There were a number of live, concert albums contained in the box, that were released separately as stand-alone LPs. I bought ‘Live At The Fillmore East’ which was with the original Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten!), although it was only the electric half of that concert. I also purchased, from ‘Archives Vol 1,’ the ‘Massey Hall’ show and ‘Sugar Mountain: Live At The Canterbury House 1968,’ which were all acoustic performances. Neil is that rare artist that has two sides – roaring, rocking, electric distortion (usually with Crazy Horse) and quiet, sometimes spacey, acoustic songs. Often he performs both at shows, in different sets.

After ‘Archives Vol 1’ came out, we vault enthusiasts had to keep waiting as ‘Vol 2’ kept getting delayed. Now I’m hearing Neil is going to stream all of his material online… We’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve been waiting for ‘Vol 2’ to come out, I was happy to see a few years ago, Neil release ‘Live At the Bluenote Cafe’ from his ‘This Notes For You’ tour. That live album was reviewed on B&V and I still love listening to it, but I love the blues. ( Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live) ). One of the things that had me most looking forward to ‘Vol 2’ was the rumor that it would include a number of Neil’s “lost” albums. Neil is one of those rare artists who would go into the studio, cut a whole album worth of material and then pull it back and put it on the shelf. Prince was notorious for this as well.

There are several of these “lost” albums that I’ve heard of, and probably lots more in existence. ‘Chrome Dreams’ is one of the few studio bootlegs I have of Neil. There is purportedly an album from the late 90s/early 00s that Neil cut with Crazy Horse in San Francisco, in a studio famously used by John Coltrane, named ‘Toast.’ Another one I’ve heard of, but not a whole lot, was the all acoustic LP Neil shelved in 1976, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I was shocked the other day, when I saw it pop up on iTunes. Rather than wait until September 8th, the release date, I immediately ordered the single song available, the title track.

The ‘Hitchhiker’ LP was recorded in one long night, August 11, 1976, with just Neil Young on acoustic guitar and David Briggs, his friend/producer in a Malibu studio. Neil only took breaks as he labored all night for “beer, weed or cocaine.” Sounds like hazardous working conditions. Many of the songs on the track list are songs that have popped up on other albums (‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ ‘Comes A Time’) over the years. Some of these tunes were even on ‘Chrome Dreams’ which makes me wonder if that was merely a compilation of earlier tracks like say, ‘Freedom’ vs a newly cut album that didn’t get released.

I’ve listened to the title track “Hitchhiker” from this album almost non stop since yesterday. When I heard this was just Neil playing acoustic guitar, I thought the song would come off sounding like a demo. I was wrong, this is a fully realized song. It would be at home on side one of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or either side of ‘Comes A Time.’ It’s a hypnotic, tone poem of a song. There are so many levels to the autobiographical lyrics. On the surface it’s the story of Neil hitchhiking from Toronto to Los Angeles. However, I think it could be also read as his journey from obscurity to superstardom. He also, very honestly, chronicles his journey from hash to amphetamines to weed. He even gets valium, but he “still couldn’t close my eyes.” Sound-wise this song reminds me of “The Needle And the Damage Done.” I know he later released this song on the Daniel Lanois produced ‘Le Noise’ but this is the definitive version of this song.

If you’re a fan of Neil’s acoustic side, this is a must have. I can only hope this will bring more vault releases of Neil’s “lost studio albums” in the future. I’ll definitely have more about this when the album comes out, but for now, turn this on and ride the highway with Neil…

Cheers!

Concert Review: Lucinda Williams, Kansas City, August, 2, 2017

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*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger

I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.

Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.

Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.

I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.

By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.

One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.

I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.

Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.

She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.

Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.

 

 

Mick Jagger: “Get A Grip/England Lost,” The New Politically Charged Singles

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I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do this weekend… the Rock Chick decamped last night for points West to visit our daughter. Our daughter recently changed apartments and it appears this cross-town move has precipitated the need for my wife to fly out to help “decorate the new, bigger place.” I have an image of the two of them racing down a desert highway, lifting off the ground, Thelma And Louise style. Oh well, anything for my daughter. In the words of Severus Snape, “…Always.”

Anyway, I was wondering what I would do with myself this weekend. In the old days, the moment my wife announced she was leaving me to my own devices, I would have been icing down beer and loading up on bottles of whiskey. My friends, or as I refer to them, the Troops, would be assembled. E-mails and texts would have been exchanged. Liquor, taxi cabs, grapefruits and lots of ice would be procured. In the really old days, perhaps a pack of Marlboro Lights too, but those days are long, long gone. I was never a real smoker. My wife normally would have returned to find me slathered in bourbon and take-out food… She returned home one time to find me holed up in the basement watching an old video of the E Street Band weeping over the fact that Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man” had passed. I kept saying, through my tears, “The Big Man, honey, The Big Man is gone…” In my defense, I was never really allowed to mourn properly and it had been a helluva weekend.

This weekend, I merely drew the blinds and pulled up the drawbridge. Last night I read Jo Nesbo’s excellent The Leopard in it’s entirety…while listening to Hendrix’s entire catalog… It appears I’m in a Greta Garbo stage. The Rock Chick has been gone for almost 24 hours and I haven’t spoken to anyone outside of work. Well, I did speak to the barista at my local coffee shop. Despite leaving strict instructions about watering plants and feeding her cat, the Rock Chick left literally nothing for me to eat here. So, in truth, I did speak to the folks at the coffee shop to order a scone. Dinner tonight will be a Rubik’s Cube for me to figure out… but who cares.

As I sat pondering my starvation, I saw on social media that Mick Jagger had released not one but two surprise singles. “Gotta Get A Grip” backed with, or as they used to say in the old days “b/w,” “England Lost.” As everyone knows, for us here at B&V, the Stones are our Alpha and Omega, so I was intrigued that Jagger had surprisingly “dropped” these two new songs. Suddenly, my weekend had purpose. Naturally, I purchased the tunes immediately.

Now, I realize that many people have been critical of Mick’s solo work. No one more than say, Keith Richards. Frankly, I love Keith, but he needs to shut his pie-hole on Mick’s solo work. ‘Wandering Spirit,’ produced by Rick Rubin and ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ were both superlative albums. Mick played to his strengths on those records and they’re must-haves, in the opinion of B&V. I’m probably in the minority here, but I also dug his side-project, Superheavy with Dave Stewart of Eurythmic’s fame and Joss Stone and a few others including a son of Bob Marley. I like when Mick explores his experimental side outside of the Stones. Nothing will match the push-pull of Mick and Keith and the Stones, but hey, Mick makes great music.

Artists are an interesting bunch. I’ve always aspired to that title, “artist,” but I have no musical talent (or frankly talent, period). I certainly can’t paint. The one novel I wrote was in a word, horrible. But I have always respected and admired true artists. They’re almost like human antennae in that they seem to sense and feel the zeitgeist of any particular moment and are able to translate that into music, like Dylan doing “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall,” seemingly prescient that the Cuban Missile Crisis was near at hand, or in paintings, like Picasso during WWII with Guernica. Reportedly, when asked by the Gestapo, about the painting, “Did you paint this?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.” As they say, “no one called Pablo Picasso an asshole, not in New York…” but I digress.

I’ve never thought of the Stones as overtly political. The Beatles had Lennon, who in their later years was increasingly outspoken politically and anti-Vietnam War. The Stones’ greatest political stance was an antipathy toward authority… which I’ve always shared. Question authority, at all times, people. However, on their last album of original songs, I noticed they slipped a political broadside, “Sweet Neo Con” onto the album. “How could you be so wrong, sweet Neo Con?” was the chorus. Keith, interviewed at the time, was nervous about Mick’s political statement… Perhaps Mick was going to be more vocal about his beliefs, musically….

Mick has dropped two songs this week that almost perfectly capture the mood of everyone I know. I realize that anything political from an artist will automatically divide the crowd. Half will love it, half will be offended. Well, when I think about rock music fans, that percentage may be a bit lower on the offended end… In a statement about the tunes, Mick said he didn’t want to wait for a year or so when the songs might not be as relevant. He felt the immediacy of these songs and having heard them, I completely agree.

These songs are a reaction to the bat-shit crazy way the world has turned upside down. I hear these songs as Mick’s reactions to Brexit. However, they could easily be the reactions of people I know here in the States to the current “Administration.” Mick has said he wanted to capture the anxiety of not knowing where things are going. If that was his goal, he has certainly hit the nail on the head.

I played both tunes for the Rock Chick and she immediately liked “Gotta Get A Grip.” “The world is upside down, run by lunatics and clowns…” what a great lyric to start with… Mick keeps singing, “Beat it with a stick…” There’s a great drum beat and a muted groovy guitar riff that turns ferocious as the song moves toward the chorus. It’s the funkier of the two songs. Mick’s vocals are slightly distorted as though they’re someone shouting through a bullhorn to a crowd of protestors. “Intellectuals shut your mouth, beat ’em with a stick, gotta get a grip…” This is priceless stuff, man. If you’re on this side of the equation, this is extremely stirring.

The other tune, “England Lost” is the one I liked best. Using the metaphor of fans at an English football (soccer for us Americans) game, it’s the perfect anthem for Brexit. “I went to see England but England lost, everyone said we were all ripped off…” Mick even breaks out the slightly Cockney accent at one point (like I’m an expert on English accents…yes, I’m guessing). The song is more mid tempo. It’s no sad ballad about England losing. It’s someone who is angry but not “burn a car” angry. “I’m tired of talking about immigration.” If you listen to these lyrics, punctuated by (as usual from Mick) fantastic harmonica, they are as charged as an electrical storm. The metaphor of sports fans, frustrated by the results/outcome of a contest is brilliant. It’s one of Jagger’s finest moments as a lyricist.

I love these songs. However, like Roger Waters’ new LP, ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’ your political persuasions may color your opinion. I think this is a great couple of tunes by a man, nay, an artist, expressing his opinion. And no matter what your  political stripe, expressing your opinion is an important, vital and wonderful thing. There are the dreaded remastered versions of these songs out there, but I prefer Mick’s rockier, original versions… Turn it up loud and head to the barricades, people! And oh yes, there will be dancing at the revolution if these songs have anything to do with it…

Take care of each other out there…

 

 

Liam Gallagher: The First Two Songs From “As You Were”

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In the interest of full disclosure, I never liked Oasis.

The Brothers Gallagher were always such buffoons. I remember seeing them on MTV back when MTV still featured music and they’d have to put subtitles under their dialogue. I never thought it was an issue with their accents, these guys were just thick. Who other than brothers would get into a fight on stage. You have one job as a musician, play music… and you get into a fight on stage. Christ, man, pull your heads out of your asses.

I remember when I first heard Oasis I thought, these guys are ripping off the Beatles. George Harrison was interviewed and mentioned he thought they were derivative and Liam Gallagher, the stupid one of the two brothers (and that’s saying a lot), responded by calling George “a nipple.” Maybe that’s British slang I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve always thought of nipples as good things, but I was raised clandestinely reading my dad’s Playboys… And as Robin Williams used to say, “Isn’t it great that men have nipples too?” but I digress.

In the latter part of their career I thought Oasis switched from ripping off the Beatles to ripping off the Stones. The riffs got harder. As a Stones fan, I at least appreciated the effort. Though, I’ll admit, I remained somewhat unmoved. The Beatles influence was still pretty strong.

As fate would have it, the dawn of a new millennium brought the Rock Chick into my life.  And, as I’ve documented many times before, the Rock Chick turned me on to a lot of really great music (and still does to this day). I wouldn’t have followed Green Day as intensely without her influence. I’d basically stopped listening to AC/DC’s music after ‘For Those About To Rock’ and the Rock Chick totally reintroduced me to their fine late catalog. Everything from ‘Razor’s Edge’ on is must have AC/DC. Sure, I’m still a Bon Scott guy, but Brian Johnson made great music with AC/DC too. As Karma often proves painful for me, I also found out The Rock Chick was an ardent Oasis fan. She had the whole catalog. I didn’t realize they’d put out that much music. I remember one of our first parties together as a married couple. Her friend Rich kept asking if we had any Oasis. I was dumbfounded. Maybe I’d missed out on something.

I put aside my bias and listened to the music. And damn if I didn’t realize these guys were actually pretty good. The first two albums, ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’ were Brit-rock gems. If you can put aside their personalities, they’re a talented group. I really dug the last couple of records they did, 2005’s ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ with it’s great first single, “Lyla” and 2008’s epic ‘Dig Out Your Soul.’ While they’d lost their superstardom in America, they were still cranking out great records. The momentum was palpable.

It was during this period The Rock Chick declared we were going to Denver to see Oasis at Red Rocks. Somehow, we ended up with front row tickets. I’m not a dancer. I’ve never been a dancer. When I dance, it looks like I’m running in place. I have the classic “white man’s overbite.” It’s embarrassing. I always half expect paramedics to show up and try to force wood between my teeth to prevent me from swallowing my tongue during the obvious seizure that’s occurring. So as I stood there, mere feet away from Oasis and being moved by the music, I air-guitared. I’m not proud of it, but it happens occasionally when I’m really into a song. And lo and behold, that rat bastard Liam Gallagher mocked me. He shimmied his hips and did a rather unflattering imitation of my air guitaring. To make it worse, he pointed at me, like I didn’t know he was mocking me. Sigh… I try to like these guys, and that’s the thanks I get.

Despite all that, the Rock Chick stuck with these guys after their rather ugly break up. I’ve heard a few of Noel’s High Flying Birds’ tunes and it’s pretty good. I even enjoyed that first Beady Eye record, tho not as much as the Rock Chick did. And yes, Rich still asks at every party if we have any Oasis, so I still hear quite a bit of them too. I guess the Beady Eye thing didn’t work out for Liam, so now we have his first ever solo record set for release in October.

I immediately announced this news to the Rock Chick and she downloaded the first two tracks from the record. I have to say, despite his starting the famous air guitar feud with me, Liam has a great album coming. The first track I heard was “Chinatown” and it’s one of those great, spacey, ethereal ballads that Oasis was famous for. It’s wistful and hopeful all in one song. I really dug it. It’s got a great melody that stick with you. I find myself humming the song after I’ve heard it.

The second track, “Wall of Glass,” is actually the opening track on the record, is a great rocker. It announces itself with a squalling harmonica which carries the tune. I really like the drumming on this song. It’s not a melt your face off tune, but it’s melodically rocking. While I’m probably on team Noel, Liam is just plainly the better singer. If the rest of the album is as consistent as these first two songs, this is going to eclipse Beady Eye by a mile and probably anything Noel’s put out. While I’d like to see the brothers work it out, for the Rock Chick and her friend Rich’s sake, ‘As You Were’ is going to be a great substitute.

Cheers! And yes, I still air guitar, Liam…

U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary

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Excitement is brewing here at the B&V Labs in anticipation of U2’s tour to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their landmark album, ‘The Joshua Tree,’ swinging through town. I can’t believe it’s been thirty years since that album came out. When it was released in March of 1987, I was near the end of my time at university. I had purchased ‘War’ on vinyl and had ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ on, of all things, cassette. Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. I thought cassettes would be around longer than vinyl and I could play them in my car. I was, naturally, mistaken. I can remember laying on the floor of my room at my parent’s house, on spring break, listening to my brother’s cassette copy of ‘The Joshua Tree’ on a Sony Walkman and mistakenly thinking, after only 1 low-fi listen, that there was nothing as big and catchy as “Pride (In The Name of Love).” Obviously, subsequent listens cleared up that misconception. Of course the night I first listened to my brother’s cassette, I believe there had been some beer consumed which likely clouded my judgment.

By the fall of 1987 I had gone to work for my corporate overlords, and in their wisdom they sent me to live in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I consider those years, my time in exile. I was banished from civilization the way Dante was kicked out of Florence. Instead of turning to writing epic poetry, I turned to rock n roll. It was in exile that I met my dear friend Arkansas Joel. He was an even bigger U2 fanatic than I was. By that fall I had ‘The Joshua Tree’ on vinyl and it was in high, high rotation. And yes, I taped it so I could listen to it in my car. We all did that in those days. The sound of cassettes was always inferior to vinyl…

As fate would have it, Joel and I found ourselves in Atlanta, where all the corporate training was done, at the same time. It just so happened that the ‘Joshua Tree’ tour was in Atlanta while both Joel and I were there. When he found out, Joel sought me out on the campus and said, “We’ve gotta see this show… we can scalp some tickets.” At the time, I was enamored with one of my classmates, a young woman whose parents had migrated from Thailand to Louisiana. She was full blooded Thai but spoke with a sugar-sweet, southern accent. What can I say, I was smitten. The class I was in was having a party that night, at this young lady and her roommates’ place. And, sadly, like Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, I just shook my head at Joel and said, “I’ve got to go see about a girl…” Mistakes were made, people, mistakes were made. Joel frowned, he can be hostile at times, and said, “This will be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life…” But, he knew I’d made up my mind. Chicks before guitar licks? The shame, the shame.

Naturally, Joel was right. The U2 show that night was spectacular. U2, wearing disguises, actually opened up for their opening act, and played country music. It wasn’t until they broke into one of the country songs from the early set that Joel realized it had been them all along. That’s a story you can tell your grandkids. And naturally, the Louisiana-Thai woman has long since left me behind. In my defense we did date for a year, but those records are sealed until twenty-five years after everyone who was involved is dead…

So while I missed it the first time around, I am going to see the U2 30th Anniversary ‘Joshua Tree’ tour come hell or high-water. Besides, the Rock Chick would never forgive me if we didn’t attend. Like Arkansas Joel, she’s kind of a U2 fanatic. It was their LP, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ that we bonded over when we first started dating. As my buddy Steve likes to say, “U2 is the soundtrack of my life, man.” Me too, Steve, me too.

To commemorate this auspicious date, ‘The Joshua Tree’ turning 30, I put together a short list of their best deep tracks. Most of these songs aren’t on their proper albums. Some have come out on greatest hits/b-side collections. Some of these tracks came out on extended anniversary editions of older albums. These are 10 choice deep cuts that every U2 fan should own… After that I put a brief list together of their best cover songs. Seek these tunes out… Learn them, love them. And never, never choose a girl or boy over a concert… concert memories  last, relationships, well….

  1. “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”; ‘The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)’ – This great outtake from ‘The Joshua Tree’ is an homage of sorts to Patti Smith. It’s of similar quality to all the stuff they put out on the original ‘Joshua Tree’ album.
  2. “Miss Sarajevo”; ‘The Best of 1990-2000’ – This was originally from a side project that U2 called The Passengers, where they invited other musicians to collaborate. Pavarotti’s vocal here is epic. Believe it or not, George Michael does a great cover of this record, a sentence I never thought I’d type.
  3. “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”‘ ‘The Complete U2’ – A great, forgotten track from a forgotten soundtrack…
  4. “Lady With the Spinning Head (UV1)”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides and Bonus Tracks’ – I have to wonder how this song missed the cut for ‘Achtung Baby.’ There are several versions of this song out there, make sure you get the one off this album.
  5. “Blow Your House Down”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I think they started work on this during the sessions for ‘Rattle and Hum.’ This is a great rocking tune. I turned the Rock Chick onto this one over the weekend and it’s in high rotation here at the house.
  6. “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad”; ‘The Complete U2’ – When ‘The Joshua Tree’ hit number 1 on the album charts, Edge and Bono went to see Sinatra in Vegas. He announced that they were in the audience, along with the fact they’d just topped the album charts. He then said, in his characteristic way, “Well, I don’t what they’re spending their money on, but you can tell it’s not their clothes.” I love Old Blue Eyes. Purportedly, they wrote this song specifically for Frank. Sadly, he never got around to recording it.
  7. “Fast Cars”; ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ – This was a bonus track on the rocking 2002 album. If you didn’t get the bonus edition of the album, go back and pick up this track.
  8. “Ordinary Love”; ‘Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom (Soundtrack)’ – Rolling Stone magazine just did a “top 50” list of U2 songs. Inexplicably this soaring ballad was left off the list.
  9. “Invisible (RED) Edit Version”; single – They only released this song as a hidden track on the disappointing ‘Songs of Innocence.’ If you can still find this version, snap it up.
  10. “Lucifer’s Hands”; ‘Songs of Innocence+’ – After the debacle of the Apple release of this album, they released the ‘+’ which featured some extra tracks and some acoustic versions of songs from the album. This song was better than most of the stuff from the actual album.

And just for fun, kids, I thought I’d provide the Top 5 U2 Cover songs. I love U2, but I really love it when they do cover tunes. They seem to relax more when they’re covering other people’s music. They’ve got a bunch of good ones, but these are the B&V favorites…

  1. “All Along the Watchtower”; ‘Rattle And Hum’ – They tear into this Dylan cover. Sure, Hendrix’s version is definitive, but this is a great version…”three chords and the truth” baby!
  2. “Dancing Barefoot”; ‘B-Sides 1990-2000’ – Great Patti Smith cover. Great guitar work from Edge.
  3. “Night and Day”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – U2 turning Cole Porter upside down.
  4. “Paint It Black”; “Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – Well, I love the Stones and “Paint It Black” is a great song. These guys do it proud.
  5. “Satellite Of Love”; ‘Achtung Baby: B-Sides And Bonus Tracks’ – I finally did see U2, with Arkansas Joel, but it wasn’t until the Zoo TV tour. And, to my amazement they did this Lou Reed song live that night. This is the studio version but it’s great too!

Enjoy! I hope all of you get to see U2 on this upcoming tour. It’ll certainly be fun for those of us who missed it 30 years ago because we were, well, stupid.