LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed!

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I have finally found the rock and roll album for the Summer of ’19. ‘Let’s Rock’ by the Black Keys! Hell yes! Baby, let’s rock!

I was beginning to wonder if we’d get any more rock and roll this year… it’s been thin for those of us who like to hear squalling guitar and big drums. I was also beginning to wonder if the Black Keys were even still a band. It’s been five years since their last album, Turn Blue. I went back recently and listened to that album in the hopes it would break my liking-every-other-album cycle with the Black Keys, but alas I found the album, well, kind of a bummer. And I like sad music, just see my Neil Young collection. The good news about my not liking Turn Blue is it boded well for the new album. I had absolutely loved El Camino, the predecessor to Turn Blue. I don’t know what it is about these guys, they zig and I zag… but we always meet on the next album.

In the interim, lead singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Dan Auerbach released a solo album, Waiting On A Song that was a really strong, “summery” record in its own right, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’. He also produced a host of other artists. I know drummer Patrick Carney also did some producing. And I just read in Rolling Stone magazine, Carney somehow made peace with Jack White who had been reported as hating the Black Keys “for ripping the White Stripes off.” Jack said that Carney came over to his house in Nashville while White was recording with the Raconteurs and loaned him a microphone. Nothing like reaching out with the olive branch microphone. Peace was made. We can’t have rock bands feuding… this isn’t hip hop and there are far too few rock bands left.

I also read on Wikipedia that Auerbach said he prefers creating the music (writing/producing/recording) and had grown weary of touring, which he described as “necessary” after you’ve released an album. He was jamming with Joe Walsh – and let me tell you, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that – and Auerbach started to get the itch to play with Carney again… And let me just say as an aside, if Auerbach is producing a Joe Walsh solo album, can I just be the first to say, YES PLEASE!! Carney and Auerbach hadn’t so much as spoken in quite some time… but apparently the chemistry they have ignited immediately. Joe Strummer said it best, “never underestimate the power of the chemistry of four guys in a room.” In this case it’s two guys, but you get my point. And I do mean two guys literally. For the first time in five or six albums, Danger Mouse didn’t produce this record. The Black Keys produced it themselves. The only other musicians on this album are two back up singers, Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson. I have to assume with that name, Ms. Wilcoxson was teased in high school, but I’ll leave that alone. I should also mention that for the first time in a few records, there are no keyboards on this album… I mean, that’s all you gotta know.

When I saw the album was titled, “Let’s Rock” I assumed there was some epic story where the two guys in the band reunited after the long separation – sort of like when Joliet Jake gets out of jail in the movie The Blues Brothers and is reunited with Elwood while “She Caught the Katy” plays in the background… and one of them looked at the other and said, “Let’s rock,” and they immediately lock into a groove that ended up being “Lo/Hi.” That would have made for a great story. Unfortunately it’s a different story. Apparently the state of Tennessee executed a guy in the electric chair (hence the cover art) for the first time in 14 years. When asked if he had anything to say, the guy just said, “Let’s rock.” Not the story I’d hoped for but in these dark times, perhaps it’s the story we deserve… but I digress.

I liked this album immediately upon first listen, something that doesn’t always happen these days. I will admit, it’s a tad more polished than their earlier work and it sort of glided by on that first listen, almost too quickly. But after hearing it, damn, if the melodies didn’t stick in my head. The rocking “Lo/Hi” and perhaps my favorite track, “Tell Me Lies” would be running through my head when I woke up in the morning. The Rock Chick liked the album as well, but in the interest of full disclosure, she’s always liked the earlier, more raw albums. She really digs the debut, The Big Come Up. I’m beginning to think the Rock Chick may be, unbeknownst to her, like the heroin of the Ramones’ tune, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” The Keys early records sound like they were recorded in a basement with the vocals distorted, almost like they’re running them through the harmonica microphone. Auerbach sang like he had a small dollop of Howlin Wolf in there. It sounds like they taped a microphone to a Marshall amp and turned it up to 11… Believe me I get it, I dig that early stuff too. This may be more polished, but the guitar sound still grabs me.

This album is a predominately a guitar forward upbeat record. It starts off with three great tracks, “Shine A Little Light” (which could have been on Auerbach’s last solo disc), “Eagle Birds” which has a crazy good guitar solo and the first single, “Lo/Hi” (The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”). They take a bit of a left turn with an almost psychedelic ballad on “Walk Across the Water,” followed by “Tell Me Lies” which starts with a slow groove and then builds, drops back to the groove… rinse repeat. I love that track. While the music is rocking and up beat, the lyrics belie a darker, heavier feel. It’s like the narrator of the song is rocking his blues away. “Get Yourself Together” and “Sit Around Missing You” certainly are examples of what I’m talking about. What was it Tom Waits said…”I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

This is far from a monochromatic record… don’t think it’s all upbeat rock songs. Most of them are but there are quieter moments. “Breaking Down” starts with a sitar-like sounding little guitar figure. It’s more mid tempo but it chugs along thanks to Carney’s propulsive drumming. “Sit Around And Miss You” is built on an acoustic, strumming guitar. The only track that threw me bit was “Fire Walk With Me.” It’s another great rock song, but the title… are these guys Twin Peaks fans?

I recommend this album as strongly as I can. It’s just a great rock and roll record and perfect for the summer. And… spoiler alert… this is a definite candidate for the B&V best albums of the year. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese – What Happened?

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Image taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

I should have known…

I was never a big Dustin Hoffman fan and I certainly had no desire to see his movie, Tootsie. Someone invariably drug me to the movie and in retrospect I’m glad I saw it for one and only one reason, comedy legend Bill Murray. Apparently Hoffman met Murray at a party and invited him to be in the movie. When Murray agreed, they had to change the script and create a new character for him to play in order to write him into the story. In the movie, he plays struggling actor Hoffman’s struggling playwright roommate. I assume the script looked something like this:

ANY OTHER CHARACTER: “Blah, blah blah”

BILL MURRAY: Ad-lib something hysterical.

In the movie, Hoffman and Murray (the roommates) have a big party. There’s a scene where Murray is drinking and talking to a table full of people. He says, “When someone sees one of my plays, I don’t want them to come up to me afterward and say, “I saw your play and I was moved, I saw your play and I loved it.” I want them to say, “I saw your play. What happened?”

With that as a backdrop, after finally completing all 2 hours and 16 minutes of this “documentary,” all I can say is… wait, what happened? Scorsese is of course a brilliant director of full length films. He also has his rock and roll film bona fides. He filmed the Band’s The Last Waltz which is one of the best concert movies ever. He’s even done a nice job before on Dylan on No Direction Home, which also had a soundtrack that ended up a volume in Dylan’s long running Bootleg series. Admittedly, he looks like a clown in the Stones’ concert film he did, Shine a Light, running around like an idiot begging for a set list…but I try to forget that part of the movie.

I tuned into this thing expecting a straight up documentary. The Rolling Thunder Revue has always had a bit of a mythical quality to it. Dylan was coming off the critical and commercial success of Blood On The Tracks. That album clearly documents the beginning of the end of his first marriage to Sara Dylan. His last tour had been the big extravaganza in 1974 with the Band. For reasons unclear, Dylan retreated to his old stomping grounds in New York, in the Village and gathered a bunch of friends at Gerde’s, a folk music bar. Loose jam sessions ensued. He invited Jacques Levy to write some songs that eventually became the acclaimed album Desire. 

Dylan decided to take his group of friends, who had been jamming in the Village, out on the road, in the style of an old folky hootenanny. They did one leg before Desire and one after. The idea was to play smaller venues for people who typically couldn’t afford “good seats” in arenas. Dylan wanted to get more intimate and close to his audience. He took a host of people with him – Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, poet Allen Ginsberg, Ronnie Hawkins (who Dylan stole the Band from), Ramblin’ Jack Elliot amongst others. Patti Smith declined to join but on the second leg it looks like Joni Mitchell joined. It sounds like a great party… if I hadn’t been in grade school, I’d have loved to ride along but I digress. The show really was a Revue, but Dylan was clearly the draw.

I think the reason this period of Dylan’s career has such a mystique is a) it was during a period when he created what many describe as his final masterpiece, Desire and b) it was never really appropriately documented except for the rather slip shod live album, Hard Rain. Although I would argue that Volume 5 of Dylan’s Bootleg Series, which cobbled together various performances from the Rolling Thunder Revue shed an all new light on the proceedings. He also recently released a 14 CD box set from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour featuring everything from rehearsals to complete concerts. It appears this Scorsese release was timed to accompany and call attention to the box set. I love Dylan, and I love his bootleg series, but 14 discs is too much even for this Dylan-phile.

I teed this opus up last weekend and again I expected something along the lines of No Direction Home. I should have known during the opening credits I was not going to get what I expected when I saw the subtitle, “A Bob Dylan Story.” All of the current interview segments in this thing are fictional. I thought I was seeing a revelation when actress Sharon Stone comes on and says she met Dylan on the tour as a 19 year old and he hit on her with the song “Just Like a Woman” only to find out she was never on the tour…she was also only 17 when the tour occurred. Dylan claims he doesn’t remember anything about Rolling Thunder. There’s an actor who plays a fictional director who filmed the tour… actually Dylan directed all of the footage in this thing back in the 70s for a movie Renaldo and Clara. Most of this film is outtakes from that footage. At the end there’s a fictional Congressman (played by a guy who played a fictional Congressman on TV) who claims Jimmy Carter was a Rolling Thunder Revue/Dylan fan and hooked him up with tickets for a Niagra Falls show. Sigh.

I had really only one burning question about the Rolling Thunder Revue. What the hell was Mick Ronson, who had just been let go as David Bowie’s guitarist in the Spiders From Mars, doing on this tour? No one has ever answered that question to my satisfaction. Alas, this documentary never touches on that subject. There is a lot of live, concert footage in this movie. Dylan appears in the iconic cowboy hat with flowers strewn all over it, with white face paint on. I have to admit he rocks a really good scarf game. I said to the Rock Chick, while watching one of the live shots, “Do you think I can pull off that scarf look?” I’m still waiting for an answer.

What I like most about the live concert footage, is it shows what command Dylan has on stage with his band. He can stop or start a musician with a glance. I hadn’t seen that much control on stage with a band since James Brown. He’s got around 15 people on stage, so that’s quite a feat. One of the unsung heroes of this period in Dylan’s career was the space alien-violinist Scarlett Rivera. She comes across in this documentary as someone who likely sleeps in a coffin, but her violin is front and center. She stands to Dylan’s right on stage, and she’s pretty amazing. I love every moment that Joan Baez is on screen. Whether she’s dancing a “boogaloo” on stage or being interviewed about “Dylan,” she’s great. She was indeed, at one time, his equal (and a former lover).

There are a few live scenes that I really enjoyed. In one they perform in what looks like a lady’s mahjong tournament. Ginsberg uses the word vagina on stage in front of a group of grandmothers. Old ladies dancing around to Dylan… surreal. There’s also a cool sequence where Dylan plays “Ira Hayes” (made famous by Johnny Cash) at an Indian Reservation. It’s interesting in a, what the hell was going on in the 70s, kind of a way.

There have always been two Bob Dylans. The real one, and the one he presents to the public. Since he was dubbed the “Voice Of His Generation” he’s done everything he can to deconstruct and manipulate that public persona. He takes every chance he can get to change people’s perception of every stage of his career and that’s what this “documentary” is all about. Maybe he was just having a laugh, and didn’t want to play it straight here. Who knows, it’s Dylan.

If you’re a Dylan fan, and you’ve never seen footage of the Rolling Thunder Revue this is a must see. Just ignore the fictional interview segments. Do not approach this film thinking it’s going to shed any new light on Dylan or the Rolling Thunder Revue.

Have a Happy Independence Day for our US readers and remember… sparklers are really hot and can burn you. Never hold a firecracker in your hand, you want to get through this weekend with all 10 fingers.

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?

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I had been hearing for a while that Springsteen had cut a solo album, heavily influenced by Jimmy Webb, whose songs were made famous predominantly by the legend Glen Campbell. The most famous of those tracks was “Wichita County Lineman.” Interestingly enough, I saw the Stones in Wichita one time with my old college buddy Drew. The Stones did “Wichita County Lineman” and Mick said, “Everybody who plays Wichita probably plays this track, but here’s our version…” Drew said, “Actually, nobody ever does that song here.”

Hearing Springsteen was doing a Jimmy Webb/Southern California-70’s style album had a lot of people concerned this was going to be a country album. A lot of artists like say, Bon Jovi have done a country album late in their career as a crass commercial move. I will give country fans credit where credit is due… they still buy albums and CDs. And if they could they’d probably still be buying 8-tracks. Well, that’s only a theory…tip of the Stetson to you country folk out there. Hearing Western Stars and spending the last few weeks with it, I can tell you, it’s not country. It has more in common with Burt Bacharach’s sound to me.

I’ve had a real mixed relationship with Springsteen’s “solo” work, ie, his work without the E Street Band. I grew up in the midwest, which was Springsteen flyover country. He was big in the Northeast and the Ohio Valley… even down the eastern seaboard. He was big on the edges of the country. Chicago and California embraced him. In Kansas City he wasn’t really that big of a deal until later. Maybe radio programmers thought he was too “east coast,” whatever that means.

In 1979 I absolutely fell in love with The River. It was the first album with songs that got significant airplay in KC and so I made that huge double-LP investment and bought it. It was all over stylistically and I love every track on that album. I just loved the whole concept of this gang – The E Street Band. It all sounded so cool…and yes, I liked the way they dressed, homeless chic. Where was this E Street, and how do I get there? I slowly worked my way backwards through his wonderful early catalog. I was just back home from a very difficult first semester in college during my freshman year for Christmas break and was in the mall with my then-girlfriend and we passed by one of the record stores. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rack full of Nebraska albums. I hadn’t heard any of the music, or anything about the album, but it was Springsteen, hells yes! I dropped my girl’s hand and went lunging into the record store. I was not emotionally prepared for the bleak music that poured out of my speakers when I got home that day. I realize Nebraska is a classic, but it took me a long, long time to appreciate it. You won’t hear that album at a party.

The next solo album by Springsteen was Tunnel of Love. There were cameos by the band, most notably Nils Lofgren’s amazing guitar solo on the title track, but it was a Springsteen solo project. I love that album, it’s a masterpiece. After that tour Springsteen went solo and fired the E Street Band. The resulting two albums, released on the same day, Human Touch/Lucky Town were a bit of a mess. Human Touch was overly produced and sounded labored. Lucky Town was lyrically rich but plodding musically. I still think there is one good album hidden in there… (iPod Playlist – Springsteen’s ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ LPs at 25: The B&V Single LP Edit). There are some great songs scattered across those two discs.

His next solo project was The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Other than the title track, I don’t think I’ve heard a track from that bleak album since…although “Youngstown” was a live staple. Devils and Dust recorded after he’d reunited with the E Street Band was topical but a truly great album. Like I say, it’s been an up and down road for me on Bruce’s solo stuff. All of his records have gems on them, but on his solo stuff you have to dig a little. Wrecking Ball certainly had a few great songs but overall, not my favorite Springsteen.

Western Stars,  while not country, is certainly country tinged… you’ll hear a pedal steel on a number of the tracks. This album, and I’d call it a genre exercise, is more of a sepia-toned, Southern California, 70s singer-songwriter album. There are strings on each track here that would make a young Elton John jealous. Springsteen’s voice, along with the strings, are front and center on this record. The other instrumentation is almost superfluous. You certainly aren’t going to get any screaming guitar solos here. He sings his ass off on this album. The vocal on There Goes My Miracle may be the most ambitious he’s ever done. These songs are, as the kids say, as melodic a.f. Sonically, this is as about as far away as you could get from Nebraska. It’s the lush kind of album you just don’t hear anymore.

This album conjures wide-open spaces, specifically in desert parts of the country like southern California, Nevada or Arizona. There is no social commentary in these songs as has been his more recent m.o. The songs are filled with drifters or men who are on the downward slope of life and somewhat down and out but the album is far from a bummer. Many of the protagonists are preoccupied with lost love or lost opportunity. The sun seems to always be going down. Most of the characters on this album could be described as a troubled Wichita lineman… There’s a sense of movement, or rather desperate men racing away from something… or finding escape through hard work under a big sky… with the past always near behind. I’ll be the first to admit, this album is somewhat monochromatic. It’s like Picasso’s blue period. Say man, try a little red.

The album opens with a pair of drifter tracks. “Hitchhikin'” opens the album and the first thing you hear is Springsteen’s voice, a perfect place to start. That leads into “Wayfarer,” which is the story of the hitchhiker if he had a car. While the first track has a nice acoustic guitar driving it, the second is all strings. The down on your luck theme continues later with the title track which tells the tale of a has-been actor, trading on his past glory for chicks and free drinks. “Drive Fast (Stuntman)” is the story of, obviously, a stuntman, near the end, hobbling around on “pins in my ankle.” “North of Nashville” finds a singer who never quite made it in the Country Capitol. All the protagonists mourn a lost love. While the songs all explore similar themes they’re all unique.

Lost love as a theme continues on “Sundown” “Stones” and “Moonlight Motel.” As a man who is no stranger to heartbreak I found these tracks all very moving. Although even I’ll admit “Stones” gets a tad repetitive. “Chasing Wild Horses” is the story of a guy with a temper issue who wears himself out at work each day to avoid fighting anybody at night. Like I said, its a bunch of troubled Wichita County Linemen…

The best tracks here, to me, include the first single, “Hello Sunshine.” That’ll be the track on the greatest hits packages going forward. It’s a classic tune, Review: Springsteen’s New Solo Song, “Hello Sunshine” From The Upcoming LP ‘Western Stars’. “There Goes My Miracle” is my favorite in a long list of strong vocal performances. Lately, and I don’t know why, I wake up with the refrain in my head, “there goes my miracle, walkin’ away.” On “Tucson Train” a man “down and out in Frisco” waits expectantly on his lover to arrive on the train to make everything better… why she isn’t taking the bus which is cheaper and faster, we’ll never know. I love a good train song and this one is the happiest track here.

There’s really only one song on this album I don’t like. It’s the change of pace, upbeat, Tex-Mex (almost zydeco) track, “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe.” It’s a bit like “Mary’s Place” on The Rising. It’s meant to be a bit of sunshine amongst a group of troubled characters but it just ends up being annoying. He could have easily cut that track and I’d have been happy.

This album makes me feel like I’m cruising down Highway 1 in California, top down with my shirt unbuttoned, with the wind blowing through my long hair and sideburns like it’s 1973, Aqua-Velva oozing from my pours, cowboy hat on the seat next to me. That’s just my 70s vibe, others might feel differently. I really like this album and urge everybody to check it out, despite it’s monochromatic bent. This is the most engaging, interesting thing Springsteen has done in quite a while.

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: Peter Frampton, ‘All Blues’

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I’ve always dug Peter Frampton. Well, I should say I always dug his early music. And I’m not just talking about Frampton Comes Alive! I’m such a music nerd I went back over the years and purchased all those early studio albums. Frankly there’s some great stuff there. I’m not sure why it took the iconic 1976 live album to make him a superstar. It’s a similar story to Kiss (Alive), Seger (Live Bullet), or Cheap Trick (At Budokan), some acts needed the stage to catch their electric chemistry. I would highly recommend any of his first four studio albums: Winds of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Frampton or Something’s Happening. Many of the tracks on those sadly ignored albums finally got the attention they deserved on the live album but the studio versions are absolutely worth hearing too. All of his early solo stuff was kind of laid back and there’s a lot of acoustic stuff there, but man when he solo’s, there’s just something about his beautiful, melodic guitar tone. It’s instantly recognizable.

With all that said, I’m like the rest of you. I was introduced to Frampton’s music via Frampton Comes Alive! Mike Meyer’s in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’ said that Frampton’s live album was shipped to every suburban household like samples of Tide detergent. It truly was everywhere. Everyone I knew had that album. I remember being with a bunch of beer drinking friends and we went over to this guy, Billy Edwards’ house (name changed to protect the douche bag). Billy’s parents were older and he lived upstairs in what can only be described as a “suite.” There was a ladder leaned up against the back of the house and instead of going through the front door and meeting the pesky parental units, we just climbed the ladder up to this guys’ high school bachelor pad and climbed in the window.

We were beer drinkers but Billy wanted to sell us some oregano that he was passing off as pot. I remember standing in a circle laughing with these guys and thinking, I’m not buying this shit, it’s not pot. I was never an herbal enthusiast anyway. Billy had a great stereo that his brother had left behind and a ton of records. He was a spoiled kid, the baby of the family…but I digress. Anyway, he had put on Frampton Comes Alive! and it was the first time I’d heard that record. During the climactic sequence in “Do You Feel Like We Do?” when Frampton was using his “talk box,” a device that distorts the voice, my buddy kept going, “Man, he’s making the guitar talk there…” I couldn’t help but think, “you might wanna lay off the oregano there, pal, that’s a fucking talk box.”

Despite that less than ideal introduction, I immediately knew I had to pick up Frampton Comes Alive! It was a live, double-album which meant a bigger investment of the ol’ lawn mowing money so I hesitated for a little while. I’d put it on my birthday list, but alas nothing flat was wrapped in the gift pile. All I wanted for any holiday back then was records and all I got were things like socks and underwear. My brother went and visited my grandparents a few months later and returned with… a gift for me. I shit you not, my Sainted Grandmother, Grandma ‘Sini bought me Frampton Comes Alive! If that’s not a weird way to receive an album, I don’t know what is. Luckily she didn’t roll up an oregano joint and send it with the record…

As a long time fan, I was sad when I read last month that Frampton had announced his “farewell tour.” I thought, sure, farewell indeed. But looking deeper I realized that he’s got some serious health issues. He’s suffering from something called inclusion-body myositis. It’s an auto-immune disease (no, not AIDS related for the scandal-mongers amongst you) that attacks and weakens the muscles, especially in the fingers and knees. It’s not fatal but it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either. It’s a dark ride folks. Enjoy life before it sneaks up on you with something shitty like this.

As I processed all of this information I suddenly realized that Frampton had a new album out, entitled All Blues. Actually, the album is credited to the Peter Frampton Band: Frampton on vocals/guitar, Rob Arthur on keyboards/guitar/vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, Dan Wojciechowski (I’d like to buy a vowel) on drums and Adam Lester on guitar. Considering the middle of the road rock and roll that has been the hallmark of Frampton’s career, it may have been a bit of a surprise to many people that he’s chosen to do a blues record. Many people may have forgotten that Frampton was a founding member, along with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, of the blooze rock band Humble Pie. He only left Humble Pie after their seminal live album, Rockin’ The Fillmore. A blues record is really a return to Frampton’s roots.

I have to admit, everything I love about rock and roll springs from the blues so I was excited about Frampton, a superb guitar player, doing a blues album. But with the backdrop of his illness I was afraid this might be a bit of a downer affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This album is a blast to listen to if you dig Frampton, the blues, and or guitar playing. I haven’t been interested in a Frampton album since I’m In You and that was in like, 1979, so this was a very pleasant surprise.

He has some friends drop by to join the party. First and foremost, to kick off the record Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame swings by to sing the opening track, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” It’s a nice start. Blues dude Sonny Landreth and Frampton trade guitar licks on a surprisingly good version of “The Thrill Is Gone.” You better be good if you’re gonna take on a B.B. King song. Deep Purple’s Steve Morse shows up to lend his guitar chops to a very bluesy “Going Down Slow.” Frampton almost growls over Morse’s fabulous guitar fills.

While this is a blues album, Frampton doesn’t play it completely by the numbers. He has the jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton, who played on a lot of early Steely Dan records, drop in for a wonderful, jazzy “All Blues.” It’s a track written by Miles Davis and these guys just nail it. It ranks amongst my favorite tracks. Frampton also does an instrumental version of the Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia On My Mind” that is another highlight.

I love the selection of tunes here. “She Caught the Katy” which I originally heard the Blues Brothers do is just great here. “Same Old Blues,” a track Eric Clapton did a long time ago is also really great. “Me And My Guitar” made me feel like I was in a south side of Chicago blues bar. Frampton’s guitar playing is as tough as it ever was and that beautiful tone he gets is fully in tact. I can’t believe he didn’t do a blues album years ago!

My favorite track on this album, hands down is “King Bee.” I’m much too old and dignified to admit how geeked out I was when I heard Frampton use his talk box on this track. I was as excited as I’d be if I just climbed a ladder into a high school bachelor pad and people around me are smoking oregano. It’s a great tune with great guitar… but when he accentuates the “I’m a king bee” line with that talk box, it’s like you’ve been stung, baby! Ah, the 70s came back in full force for me.

This could have been a terribly sad affair but there is so much great guitar and so much joy in this album, I recommend it to anybody and everybody. Here’s wishing Peter a smooth road on this awful illness path! If this is the last we hear from him, he’s going out the right way.

Cheers!

 

 

B&V Goes Used Record Shopping: My Saturday Odyssey Through Used Vinyl Stores

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*Photo of last Saturday’s used vinyl haul taken by your intrepid blogger

Many of my fondest memories of my younger days are of the hours spent meandering through used record stores from Manhattan, Kansas to Boston, Massachusetts, without a care in the world. There was no place I felt more comfortable than in the familiar confines of a used record store. Hell, truth be told, if I was forced to go to the mall for any reason there was a good chance I’d make a stop at Penny Lane Records or any new record store that happened to be there. I just liked being in record stores. Often, if I was out album shopping, I’d hit both a new place and a used place. At 75th and Metcalf, there was a Peaches’ Records, which I remember as being huge (it’s a workout place now, so my memory must serve me well here) and I could spend forever in that place. But regardless of how long I was in Peaches and regardless of how many albums I’d have bought there, invariably I was going to cut across the parking lot, cross a side street to Exile Records, the smaller, hipper used vinyl place located in a strip center behind Peaches.

While you could always find the brand new stuff at the big record chains, I always dug the vibe of the used vinyl places. Many stores doubled as “head shops” and sold pipes or bongs. I was never an herbal enthusiast but I always liked those people… they were just more docile and happy. There was usually something obscure but great on the turntable. The walls were always covered with cooler posters than in the record chains. Incense was usually burning. The staff were usually pierced and tattooed. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you would ever find. I remember one guy in Exile with a crazy spiky hair cut arguing with no one in particular for over 45 minutes that Randy Rhoads was derivative of Eddie Van Halen. It was fascinating even if I didn’t particularly agree with all of it. It was like being at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. The first thing I did when I moved to Boston for a brief summer was locate to the nearest used record store – In Your Ear Records – just down the street from the Commonwealth Avenue apartment I shared with my two friends. I found the Faces’ first three records in that place. I spent every dime I had at the time, and I didn’t have many, to procure those records. It was a great place to go to hide when I was tired of being around my roomies.

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I used to in record stores. On one of my first dates with the Rock Chick we went to Best Buy to browse and buy CDs, back when you could still buy CDs at Best Buy. She bought a stack of CDs almost as tall as she is. Lately if I’m hankering to do some vinyl spelunking I find myself in the same place every time, Josey’s Records down in the Crossroads District. The Crossroads area in KC is an urban hipster paradise with art galleries, craft beer joints and a lot of man buns and curious facial hair. I like to go down to this bar, the Brewery Imperial but before beer, I always poke my head into Josey’s. I was in there on Record Store Day a few months ago, Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t feel as comfortable in that place as I used to feel in used vinyl places. Maybe I’m just not as familiar with the vibe any more or maybe the vibe has changed?

Recently I was chatting on line with a friend of mine, who I’ll call Dr. Rock and we were musing about vinyl. He mentioned a number of used vinyl spots he had either already visited or was hoping to go check out. I suddenly had that itch to spend a Saturday, not working or doing anything productive, but fucking around in record stores. It was a beautiful spring day here in the American midwest and I haven’t really been outside of the house much since the foot surgery. A day of hitting these “off the beaten path” record stores and maybe a tavern or two was just too enticing. I was hoping to find some place I’d feel comfortable in… that the weird anxiety I feel if I’m at Josey’s or Records With Merritt (another groovy spot) would dissipate. I want that old care free vibe.

This past Saturday, somehow I was able to convince the Rock Chick to forgo the confines of “chores” and ride around the city to a few of these used record spots. As usual, because my wife is ultra cool, she was in with little to no cajoling. I had mentioned Exile Records to Dr. Rock, who naturally remembered the place and actually reminded me what the name of the place used to be…the memory fades, folks. He mentioned there was a new place near there, in a house no less, named Vinyl Heaven. It was just a few blocks south of where Peaches and Exile Records had been, back in the day. In a matter of no time, we were on a lonely side street, off the beaten path when the Rock Chick spotted a row of three, small houses. I had actually driven past the place before she’d spotted a sign stuck in the dirt on the corner, “Vinyl Heaven, Now Open.”

As I approached this tiny shack, wondering if I was in the right place I spotted a giant, cardboard cut-out of Elvis in a bathing suit… I think it was a shot from ‘Blue Hawaii.” That was all I needed to see to know we’d found Vinyl Heaven. We walked into this very small room with mint condition vinyl hanging on the walls everywhere. I felt like I was in my old friend Steve’s basement rec-room… he always displayed his latest purchases on the walls. I was wearing a Stones t-shirt so the proprietor immediately warmed up to me. He was an old dude with bushy, curly hair. He quickly let me know he had a cooler of PBR, Pabst Blue Ribbon in back and was ready to share… now that’s a true B&V moment. It was noon somewhere so I jumped on the offer. I spent the next hour, pouring through the records he had in the place. I was surprised at some of the prices. He had a white-vinyl copy of The Beatles (the White Album) for $175. He had the first Buffalo Springfield album that looked brand new on sale for $200.

Since the Rock Chick was with me, I gravitated toward some 80s rock. I found a mint condition copy of the Power Station’s album. The Power Station had Robert Palmer on lead vocals and some of the guys from Duran Duran on bass and guitar. Our host quickly informed me that they’d played at Live Aid… I had to inform him yes, but without Robert Palmer… Michael Des Barres handled lead vocals that historic day… I knew this guy was a kindred musical nerd. I also picked up Billy Idol’s third record, Whiplash Smile, which I’d owned when it came out, but sold later as it was somewhat disappointing. But, the cover is cool and the Rock Chick wants to hang it in the music room. I ended up chatting with the owner about Ringo Starr until I could tell the Rock Chick was ready to get going… I was getting that old, used record store comfort zone vibe…

With our day off to such a successful start, we headed east over to Troost Avenue and a groovy place named 7th Heaven. It’s like a maze in that place. The first floor is chock full of CDs, mostly hip hop and t-shirts featuring marijuana leaves. If you go up half a floor, you’ll find the “head shop” room where the bongs, vapes and pipes are. They also have a small room featuring adult videos and paraphernalia. This place is a one stop shop for sin and I love it. I hobbled down to the basement to the used album room… and it’s huge down there. The clerk saw my Stones t-shirt and immediately wanted to talk about his first Stones show, back in the 60s in New York. The first guy in the house was a music nerd, this guy was a music hipster. Maybe that’s why I’m always nervous in these places, I don’t want to get bogged down in conversations about Brian Jones being an underrated guitarist. I quickly freed myself from the guy, but saw that most of the vinyl in this room was in pretty distressed condition. We did buy a poster, again for the music room, and the Rock Chick was pleased.

From there, we headed north on Troost, down to 31st street. This is kind of a no man’s land. The retail and businesses in that area of town have largely died. We stopped in the Sol Cantina for a couple of quick Modelos to steel ourselves for the search. We finally located the place we were looking for, Sister Anne’s Records and Coffee. I was surprised to find they serve a mean latte in this place. The guy working the place was nice enough… but he was quiet and was tattooed up to his chin. Even in my Stones t-shirt I looked like an off duty narcotics agent. I asked him a couple of questions but he seemed wary. I was starting to get uncomfortable when it hit me… this guy was a music snob. He was standing behind the counter, expecting me to come up to the counter with a Madonna record. He had taken one look at me and decided I was, what the kids used to call, a Square. I knew had to bring my A game to this purchase…

It was then that I found a mint condition Faces’ Long Player. It was the perfect start for the music snob. Then I found Big Star’s Radio City. Radio City is probably my least favorite of their three early records but this copy was in sealed package – never been opened. These two finds were indeed choice. When the Rock Chick signaled she was ready to go, I laid the two records down in front of the music snob and at last… he smiled. It was like that scene in ‘Indiana Jones And the Last Crusade’ where the old knight looks at Indy and says, “You have chosen well…” And oddly, the approval of the music snob made me feel comfortable once again. Don’t judge a book by his cover, music snob.

I may never find that carefree vibe I had when I was in high school or college, but you know, an afternoon cruising around the city looking for records got me pretty close. If you’re one of those folks out there who sometimes find yourself looking for something to do on a Saturday… google “used record stores” or “vinyl” and spend the day exploring your city and exploring some music. There’s treasure out there to be found…

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives

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Neil Young has once again opened his vaunted Archives and released a live album, Tuscaloosa, from a show in Alabama on February 5, 1973. Say what you want about Neil Young, but to go down to Alabama and sing the song “Alabama” with lyrics like, “Make friends down in Alabama/I’m from a new land/I come to you/And see all this ruin/What are you doing Alabama,” you have to admit he’s got some church-bell sized balls. I’m surprised he didn’t double down and play “Southern Man,” his other scathing indictment of the south. “Alabama” and “Southern Man” were the tracks that inspired southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd to write the response, “Sweet Home Alabama.” You have to remember in Alabama in 1973, other than the use of automobiles, it was still 1866. It’s a wonder Young made it out of the state alive.

Neil Young’s “archive game” is amongst the best. Only perhaps Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen have released more archival music than Neil Young has. I can only hope Prince and Tom Petty follow the path blazed by those guys. Of course Petty’s extended, double-album version of Wildflowers has been held up indefinitely by a lawsuit between his daughters and his second wife. Even Prince’s screwed up legal situation pales in comparison to that stuff going on, but I digress. If you haven’t, you should really check out neilyoungarchives.com. There is a subscription fee, if you’re really into Neil, but there is also some free content. You can pretty much find everything he’s done out there.

The 1973 tour was in support of Neil’s biggest album yet, his commercial breakthrough, Harvest. The hit from that album “Heart of Gold,” made Neil Young the most improbable of superstars. It’s pretty clear how uncomfortable he was in that kind of bright spotlight. When he introduces “Heart of Gold” on this album, he mentions that he turned down the offer to let it be used in a commercial. He says he and the band were going to re name the song, “Burger of Gold.” It draws a laugh from the crowd, but you can tell Neil is bothered.

The Harvest tour was fraught with problems. During rehearsals for the tour Neil had to fire his old friend, guitarist Danny Whitten (the leader of Crazy Horse) because he was so messed up on drugs and booze. The night after he was fired, Whitten was found dead of mixing booze and valium (aka diazapem). Neil felt a crushing amount of guilt. To make matters worse, his backing band, the Stray Gators – Kenny Buttrey on drums, Tim Drummond on bass, Ben Keith on pedal steel and slide guitar, and Jack Nitzsche on piano – were all session players instead of musicians Neil knew (well, he knew Nitzsche). Buttrey demanded the then-unheard of sum of $100,000 to play on the tour, to make up for lost studio session money and the rest of the band soon stuck their hand out. Neil said yes to the demand but it pissed him off royally. Anger on top of guilt made for an explosive combination. All of that added to his discomfort with being a superstar made for a less than ideal atmosphere. Then someone turned  him onto tequila, which he drank copiously on the tour. They knew which drug to legalize when they ok’d tequila. When I drink tequila, and I never drink tequila, I’m either going to fight you or try to fuck you and many times, both at the same time. Stick with bourbon, it’s safer.

The legend goes that the crowds who showed up to see Neil on the Harvest tour, expecting an evening of acoustic strumming and hits were surprised and horrified by the raucous and loud playing of the Stray Gators. Neil didn’t make it any easier for them by choosing to play a bunch of new, unheard-of-at-that-time songs as he had decided to record this whole train wreck. It was his goal to cut his next album live on this tour and to take a stylistic left turn, to get out of the middle road where he’d found himself and head into “the ditch.” As I listened to Tuscaloosa, the first two-thirds is just what the crowd expected – acoustic tracks, played faithfully. It’s only that last bit where the Stray Gators turn it up to 11 and play a bunch of unheard, new tracks. I have to imagine the crowds were at least initially happy with their evening but then it took an odd turn.

The shows on that tour usually started off with Neil doing an acoustic set, which he’s often done since. He comes out with an acoustic guitar and plays “Here We Are In the Years” from his first album. Then he sits down at the piano and plays “After The Gold Rush.” I have to think, at roughly 45 minutes long, this album is a truncated version of the concert. I’ve read he left a couple of songs from this concert off the record, just because he’s Neil Young, and the rest of the show wasn’t even taped. Neil is nothing if not mercurial.

Overall I’d tell you I really like this record. If you compare it to his last archival live release, Tonights The Night Live, (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’) they are vastly different. There is a dark mood that hangs over this concert album. The tensions with the band are palpable, if just under the surface. It’s clear on Tonights The Night Live, where he’s backed by his pals in Crazy Horse, he’s happier and having a lot more fun. The staggering thing is that album was recorded only 7 months after this album in TuscaloosaOne might describe this album as a tad brooding.

The middle of this record, after Neil plays his brief 2-song solo set, is really brilliant. The Stray Gators come out and play one of my all time favorite Neil Young deep tracks, “Out On The Weekend” and it’s just stellar. I’d never heard it played live before and they nail it. Ben Keith on pedal steel really shines on this part of the set. During the lead into the song “Harvest,” Neil introduces the band with all the warmth of a “Dear John” letter. “Harvest,” “Old Man,” and the big hit “Heart of Gold” are all played well and the crowd seems to really enjoy that part of the set.

And then, like someone flipping a light switch the band blasts into “Time Fades Away.” That songs first lyrics are amongst my favorite Neil Young lyrics, “Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” The guitar solo from Neil during “Time Fades Away” is monumental. I have to wonder why he didn’t use this version on the album of the same name. The Gators continue jamming on a host of newly written stuff that probably did baffle the crowd, but still sound great here. It was an awesome night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Look Out Joe” which Neil dedicates to returning Vietnam vets, “New Mama,” and the final track, “Don’t Be Denied” would all end up coming out later on either Time Fades Away or Tonights The Night. The versions here are great if not a tad shambolic. I like my rock and roll messy and Neil and the Stray Gators certainly deliver. The only track that the crowd would have known during this electric part of the set is “Alabama,” which again, what balls Neil had to play that song deep, deep into that southern state.

I do love that Neil introduces “Don’t Be Denied,” one of his most autobiographical, vulnerable songs as being about “an aspiring folk singer…” By this point in his career, Neil was a little past aspiring. This concert album is an interesting look at a pivotal and fascinating part of Neil Young’s career. Eventually tensions between Neil and the Stray Gators would lead him to fire Buttrey and bring in Johnny Barbata to play drums. He also brought in Graham Nash and David Crosby to do backing vocals… he must have needed some friendly faces. That line up is the one that ended up on the follow-up album, (the first of the legendary “Ditch Trilogy”), Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP).

Check this album out and be sure to check out the Neil Young Archives. Fair warning: you can get lost in there…

Cheers!

Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that Elton John’s new biopic Rocketman came out on Friday. In the interest of “full disclosure,” I have not seen the movie. I’m not even sure I want to see the movie. I really liked the Queen/Freddie Mercury flick, Bohemian Rhapsody but it has some historical flaws… stuff that admittedly only a rock and roll obsessive would notice  (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen). I pushed through that and enjoyed the movie. Then Motley Crue’s The Dirt came out and other than the four new tracks on the soundtrack there was nothing to like about that movie, which was a real missed opportunity (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). That movie was painful. So much so that it may have turned me off of rock and roll biopics for good, the same way that Keith Richards’ biography Life turned me away from rock biographies for good.

I’m sure it’s a great story. From 1970 to 1975 Elton John owned rock and roll. He was the biggest thing on the planet. He was what Elvis was to the late 50’s, the Beatles were to the mid to late 60s. Yes, Led Zeppelin was huge in the early 70s, but Elton John had a more pop sensibility to his music. Zeppelin was this behemoth of blues, rock and folk. Elton rocked, not quite as hard, but he wrote hits. He was played on both AM and FM radio. Pink Floyd had all the stoners, Elton had everybody. He’s got as many greatest hits albums as the Stones do, albeit the Stones never really had “hits” as much as songs that got played on the radio. Elton released three greatest hits albums before 1985, each of which had different songs on them and this was before the giant two and three disc CD sets became fashionable.

Elton could and still can, really do it all. He could do rockers, ballads and even country. He had one of the most talented bands in rock history and nobody ever talks about those guys. I would be remiss if I didn’t start off by mentioning Bernie Taupin, his superb lyricist and songwriting partner, although not technically “in” the band. Davey Johnstone on guitar is one of the most underrated anywhere. Nigel Olsson on drums and the late, great Dee Murray on bass were a rock solid rhythm section. He often augmented that core band with Ray Cooper on percussion and various second keyboardists. Those guys could play anything. I had the honor of seeing that line up in 1982 at Starlight Theater and it remains a highlight of my concert career, Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982.

While Elton had a lot of big hits, he was also an album artist as well. If you look at his albums from 1970 to 1975 there are a lot of classic LPs that you can listen to from end to end. For those of you questioning if Elton was rock and roll, he released what I consider to be the essential thing for rock act – the double-studio-LP – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and what an album that was… it’s truly his magnum opus. He had so many great albums: Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, 17-11-70 (a brilliant, overlooked live album), Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and of course, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. Captain Fantastic is kind of like a Pink Floyd record, you have to listen to the whole thing at once. It works a piece…

While we tend to focus on Elton’s early work, unfortunately many of us have missed out on his late career renaissance. Starting with 2001’s Songs From the West Coast Elton has put out a string of really strong albums. While he doesn’t have the radio exposure that he had in the ’70s, he should have, there’s some great music on these albums. He did a fabulous album with the late Leon Russell, The Union. If you’re fond of piano playing, I would urge you to check out The Diving Board from 2013. His late catalog is very worthy of exploration. And yes, I’ll admit it’s skewed toward the mellow end of the spectrum, unlike so much of his early work, but it’s still beautiful music.

While Elton is known for all of his hits, with that many great albums, you know there has to be a ton of deeper, album tracks that are just as outstanding. Many of which you’ve heard on your radio over the years  – “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” the brilliant first track from Yellow Brick Road, or “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters,” the brilliant Honky Chateau track. While I was sitting around reading all of this press around the new movie and a few “best of” song lists in different magazines, I realized all we were talking about were the hits. If you dig a little deeper into Elton’s catalog you will be rewarded. I assembled this brief list of 20 songs and built a playlist on Spotify to celebrate the B&V favorite deep tracks by Elton. I truly tried to span his entire career, including those great late career records I mentioned before. I was hoping to stay away from songs everyone has heard… although there were a few I couldn’t resist. This is not meant to be definitive, but it’s a damn good listen. If you have favorites that aren’t on this list, by all means please mention them in the comments. Everyone has that hidden, Elton deep track… “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” has some sentimental meaning for me from an episode long ago in a galaxy far away, but I didn’t include it as it’s too well known.

And yes, Elton John is a rockstar. Hell, you can even call him a superstar. But as you dig deeper into his records, you realize, he’s also one hell of a musician.

  1. “Empty Sky” – The title track from Elton’s forgotten first album is an epic, low key rocker. It’s a template he would return to. I’ve always liked this song.
  2. “Bad Side of the Moon” – A classic from the Elton John album (with a great live version on 17-11-70). I can’t believe this song didn’t get more radio play.
  3. “Take Me To the Pilot” – Also from Elton John. This is probably more familiar to most people, but it’s one of my all time favorites, despite lyrics that are at best… confusing.
  4. “Country Comfort” – A track Elton gave to Rod Stewart to record first (and Rod does a nice job with it). This is just a great example of Elton doing a country rock song. The Eagles could have done this song. It’s one of my favorites.
  5. “Friends” – A beautiful ballad from a forgotten movie soundtrack extolling the virtues of having friends.
  6. “Madman Across The Water” – The title track from the 1971 album. A brooding, dark opus that runs almost six minutes. This was a true FM, non-hit favorite of mine.
  7. “Elderberry Wine” – Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player was dinged because it was such a sprawling mix of styles and songs. Elton is really testing his voice on this album. This has always been a favorite of mine and as it’s a drinking song, it belongs on B&V.
  8. “Midnight Creeper” – Also from Don’t Shoot, I may take crap for including this Stones-inspired rocker, but I just dig it.
  9. “All The Girls Love Alice” – A rocking, tragic tale detailing the short life of a young lesbian.
  10. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” – The greatest kiss-off, go fuck yourself song ever. It even gets quoted by Axl Rose (no stranger to angry break ups) in a Guns N Roses’ “You Could Be Mine.”
  11. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” – From Captain Fantastic. While I’ve always approached this album as a suite, this track and the next one on this list alway jumped out at me. I love the guitar tone by Johnstone. Drenched in strings, it’s almost soulful.
  12. “Captain Fantastic And the Brown Dirt Cowboy” – This is another of my favorite country-rock songs from Elton. It’s a mostly acoustic driven number that builds steam as it goes on.
  13. “I Saw Her Standing There” – A duet with John Lennon, sadly from Lennon’s last live performance. From the live album, Here And There. Elton had duetted with Lennon on the track “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” He said, when he was leaving the session, “when this hits #1, you have to sing it with me at Madison Square Garden.” When it topped the charts, Lennon complied.
  14. “Tonight” – The longest, saddest song on this list. An epic ballad about battling lovers, in a relationship that isn’t going well… One lover asking his partner to “approach with less defiance.” It’s so striking, I had to include this Blue Moves track.
  15. “Song For Guy” – I love Elton John’s piano playing. This is a rare instrumental that I always loved for that very reason.
  16. “Kiss The Bride” – A punchy, later period rocker. And who hasn’t been there?
  17. “Orignal Sin” – The first of two tracks I included from Songs From the West Coast. This is the best song from a great album.
  18. “Love Her Like Me” – Again from West Coast. This one is a little more upbeat, albeit still on the mellow end.
  19. “Gone to Shiloh” – A very affecting duet with Leon Russell. If that’s not enough, Neil Young shows up in the middle to provide some additional vocals.
  20. “Home Again” – I ended up on a  slightly melancholy note, but this track from The Diving Board has some beautiful piano and deeper vocal approach from Elton. The song jumped off the album for me the first time I heard it so I included it.

I know I’m all over the place stylistically here, but so is Elton if you think about it. There are so many more songs I could have included but I drew the line at 20 to force myself to try and net it out. Admittedly I chose nothing from Honky Chateau, but I wanted to spread this out over Elton’s entire career. I still wonder if I should have included “Blues For Baby And Me” instead of “Midnight Creeper.” That’s the joy in Elton’s catalog… so many choices and options. For those of you who go to the movie, enjoy. For those who don’t, I advise you to listen to as much Elton John as you can.

Cheers!