Record Store Day 2019: Reflections On Going To The Record Store…

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Life comes at you fast and furious anymore… I knew it was Record Store Day today but I was on the road all week for, yes, the dreaded work. I went out to the websites of two of my favorite local record stores to check their store hours. On the surface, you’d think they’d have posted that they had special hours for Record Store Day, it’s their national holiday after all. But when you think about it, the folks that work and own record stores are probably a tad more… casual… about updates to their website. Had I been in town, I’d have driven by each of the places and learned that they both opened at 7am, not the usual 11am today. By the time I got to the record stores today, any hope of picking up any of the exclusive releases that were available had long since faded… I felt, frankly, embarrassed. I even drug the Rock Chick out today, for the first time in quite a while, to join me at the record store. She’s the one who’s saved the day by picking out two great posters, pictured above (which represent the sum total of my haul), about which she said, “These will look great framed.” The woman has a sophisticated eye.

Ah, going to the record store. It was such a joyful ritual for me, really my entire life. I’m glad they have Record Store Day every year, and that so many artists participate by releasing rare or previously unreleased albums, but it’s also kind of sad they have to do so. I will admit, the crowds at both Records With Merritt and Josey’s Records were higher than usual today. In the old days, those crowds would have been there anyway. I had left with high hopes of finding Dylan’s vinyl release of the recreation of his original acetate recording of Blood On The Tracks (which he quickly withdrew) or perhaps, the first ever vinyl release of Robert Plant’s Fate Of Nations, but alas, on Record Store Day, the early bird gets the worm. I hate it when work interferes with great rock n roll, and especially great vinyl.

The first few albums I received as a child were gifts. They were comedy albums by Steve Martin and Robin Williams. When I first began my music collection, I had to save my allowance and/or lawn mowing money and beg a ride to the mall with my mother in order to buy a record. As soon as she needed some make up, or a blender, or a flouncy blouse or something I’d bum a ride and she’d stroll off through the mall and I’d hit one or both of the two record stores – Musicland or Camelot Music – located in the mall. One was on the top floor, the other was on the bottom. Oak Park Mall, our local mall, was big, but I’m still a tad staggered that it could support two record stores. I’d spend as much time as I could perusing the new vinyl, looking for the records I wanted to add to my collection. It was there that I bought Some Girls by the Stones, my first purchase. I had gone into the store that day with what can only be described as a grim, focused determination to come away with that album. Other trips were more exploratory in nature. Pouring over the album covers, looking at the songs listed on the back, trying to determine if the album I was holding was worthy of parting with the 9 bucks it would take to buy it. I could usually only buy 1 or 2 albums at a time. I was never so stressed out as when I had to decide if I wanted to invest in a double album… and yes, The Wall and The River were both worth it. Eventually, my mother would appear at the store front, tapping her watch, indicating it was time to go.

When I got my drivers license I was stoked, as most of us are. I could finally drive and didn’t have to depend on others for rides. I could drive to a friend or a girls’ place without having to ask my mother. Most importantly, no one knew where I was. For me, though, there was the added blessing of being able to drive to the record store and not have to hurry because mom was waiting. By then, while I still went to the mall – I had a job as a bus boy at York Steak House, it was hard to avoid – I realized there were other, larger record stores in the suburbs where I grew up. All during high school, I’d make the long trek up Metcalf Avenue, to Peaches Records. It was a virtual cornucopia of vinyl. I was so blown away by the expansive selection. That was where I bought my first album crates, emblazoned with the Peaches logo. I wish I still had those damn things. The Rock Chick tossed them, along with everything else I owned onto the bonfire of my past, when we moved in together. I also discovered there was an independent record store, closer to home, at the intersection of 95th and Antioch – Tiger’s Records. Tiger was supposedly mobbed up and the albums were purportedly stolen, but I still shopped there. It was said you could buy bootlegs there… but those records are sealed. I do know you could buy concert tickets there. I waited out for Van Halen tickets outside Tigers… they opened at midnight and let us into the store to buy our tickets early…some of the best seats I ever had for a show. “Someone shouted “fair warning!”…”

These bigger, or more independent record stores were to me, the coolest places on the planet. There were rows and rows of albums, music blaring on their turntable, and racks full of posters. They had everything from porn stars, to black velvet Elvis to rock star posters. I think that’s where I picked up the iconic Farrah Fawcett in an orange bikini poster. There was the smell of incense and perhaps pot emanating from the folks that worked there. They were some of the most knowledgable music people you were ever going to meet. I felt like I’d joined a very exclusive club that I was not cool enough to be a part of. I’d spend hours in these places, looking for records by the bands I heard on the radio.

When I went away to college, I found a kindred spirit in my buddy/roommate Drew. He and I would drive down to the heart of Aggieville in Manhattan, Kansas where we’d spend hours perusing the selection there. It was tucked in amongst all the restaurants and bars in the entertainment area, which we also frequented, but the record store was the place we spent most of our time. For us, the record store was a communal place where we would bond over great rock and roll. I can remember all of us who lived together going down there the day that Springsteen’s Live 1975 to 1985 box set came out and we each bought a copy. Going to the album store when a big record came out was an event! It was around that time that I discovered “used” record stores. Just behind the Peaches on Metcalf, was a little place next to the Roxy Bar that sold used records. That was a revelation to me as well… you could sell albums you didn’t connect with and still buy great albums at a reduced price. It’s where I found the Faces Oo La La. Used record stores are even cooler and stonier than the retail chains were. I felt like I was getting deeper and deeper into a secret society… The place behind the Roxy, whose name I can’t find on the internet, was where my buddy Drew found the rare copy of Time Fades Away. The summer I spent in Boston, I found a place called In Your Ear, a used record store and it was there I found the rest of the Faces’ catalog. I was in heaven.

Eventually I graduated from college and went into exile, living in Arkansas. I lived in both Ft. Smith and Fayetteville. Or as I called them, Ft Hell and Fayette-nam. Each one had but 1 record store, located on their respective main drags and at times of deep depression and loneliness, of which there were many, that’s where I would go. I made a new friend, Joel, and he and I would go and hang out at the record store. He turned me onto the Allman Brothers, the Band and U2. It was during that time I finally made the transition from vinyl to CD… it was tough, but bands just stopped issuing vinyl.

Finally, I’d had enough of fucking Arkansas and I moved home. After a brief stint living with my parents – every parents’ dream for their kids – I moved to Kansas City’s midtown. They had a big record store in the heart of Westport, a bar area down there. It was all CDs, but it still had that stoney, record store vibe. The basement was full of jazz and blues discs. I remember arguing with one of the guys who worked there about Randy Rhoads and his legacy as a guitarist. It was friendly but where else are you going to get to have that debate. I signed up for their frequent flier or frequent buyer club and when I filled out the form, as my salutation, instead of “Mr.” I checked “Reverend,” which only confused some drunk neighbors of mine who thought I could marry them. It was during this time period I started taking women on dates to record stores… it was fabulous being able to share a passion for music, go home, drink wine and share some, well, passion.

Alas, eventually all these places disappeared. Peaches turned into, I think, a bowling alley. The place by the Roxy, the used record store, became a futon store. The Penny Lane spot in Westport became a bar, the Ale House, catering to snotty college kids. I began to despair that the experience of going to the album store was over. Thank god, vinyl began to make a come back. I discovered a couple of really cool used vinyl places that helped keep the fire alive. Now, all these years later, these places sell used records and new vinyl by current artists. It appears we’re coming full circle. I just hope the experience, the sheer enjoyment of going and hanging out at a record store, perusing through vinyl albums comes back on the level I enjoyed when I was growing up. I certainly encourage as many people who read this to get to your local record store to pick up some vinyl and to just hang out. Support your local record stores folks!

I doubt we ever see a day when there are two record stores at your local mall. Hell, the way things are now, with everything on-line, I doubt we see your local malls any more. We’re trying to save coal miners’ jobs, how about saving retail jobs. Anyway, with a little luck and perhaps some better planning, maybe next year and the years beyond, just maybe, I’ll get up early enough to buy a Stones album in a special, orange-colored vinyl edition…

Long live Record Stores!

 

 

 

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Balancing A Band And Going Solo: The B&V Favorite Solo Albums

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I’m not sure I ever truly “belonged” to any group in high school. I had friends in different places. I was a good student so I could hang with the nerds which is frankly where I probably belonged. I was a beer drinker so I tended to hang in drinking crowds. I wasn’t a hemp enthusiast but I could hang out with the stoners because they were generally a pretty docile group and they had great music recommendations. While I liked sports I tended to shun hanging out with the jocks, they just had too much testosterone for me. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I just sort of floated around, allowing the wind to push me in whatever direction it happened to be blowing… at least from a social perspective. Although admittedly, the same argument could be made for my career choices. I’m currently at the zenith of a very mediocre career.

I say all of this, as I sit here thinking about how hard it must be to be in a band. I always thought every band was like Rush, just a bunch of dudes who share a passion for music who met when they were young and were friends for life. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ original line up all met in the same high school. The guys in U2 all went to the same school and remain close friends to this day. When I first started listening to rock and roll in the late 80s, that’s how I thought bands worked. It was like joining a gang. You were part of something bigger than yourself with a bunch of friends, nay brothers, and it was you against “them.”

It didn’t take long to realize my utopian vision of rock bands, like my utopian vision of women, was built on a lot of false assumptions. One need look no farther than my favorite band, the Rolling Stones to see a group of guys who may have started as friends, but now are just work associates. The guys in Van Halen seem to have despised each other. At least the Van Halen Brothers hated Roth and Michael Anthony which is a shame. Eddie’s legacy will be that he was an enormous asshole and not a great guitarist. The Who never got along, although I think Pete and Roger do now. To be a successful band, you need that magic…which boils down to one basic thing – chemistry. Nobody may like like the bass player because he’s weird or he doesn’t bathe, but damn he plays perfectly with the rest of us. For three to five minutes the four or five guys in the room can lock into something that is mystical and magical and create a song.

Different bands operate in different ways. I guess every band is as unique as the individuals who make it up. While it’s probably true that in the Eagles, Henley was the creative genius, but it was Glenn Frey’s band. Glenn was the guy in charge. Glenn negotiated many of the contracts, set rehearsals, and ran the day to day stuff so Henley could focus on lyrics. Some friends of mine in Denver formed a blues band and one of them had to take that same role. Surprisingly I guess it’s hard to get musicians to get organized. But when you find that magic line up, you have to stick with it. Fame and fortune await just over the next hill.

As many bands have found, the chemistry between band members, while sometimes magical, is also a very fragile thing. It was Joe Strummer who said famously (and I tend to repeat endlessly), “Never estimate the chemistry between four guys in a room.” It’s dangerous to fuck with that. And let’s face it, nothing fucks with band chemistry more than the infamous “solo project.” In the 60s and even into the 70s “going solo” typically spelled the end of a band. If the lead singer or the principal songwriter decided to go off and do something on his or her own, it would typically piss off the rest of the band and speculation would begin on whether it was over for the band. Rolling Stone would run articles about the demise of whatever band was going through it. I guess everybody was supposed to keep the creativity in the gang.

I totally understand the desire to do something different. I feel that way every day at work. It’d be fun to work with a different set of musicians to see if they can spark something creatively within the artist. Maybe you’re in a metal outfit and you want to do an album of ballads, you know, just something completely different. Deep Purple’s ex guitarist Ritchie Blackmore is out there somewhere doing madrigals for god’s sake…probably at a Renaissance Fair somewhere. But for reasons unclear, perhaps loyalty, going solo was viewed dimly in rock band circles for a long time. Musicians are artists and I tend to think of bleeding hearts and artists as being fragile.

The guy who was a pioneer in being a solo artist and a member of a band was, of course, Rod Stewart. He had already put out his first solo album when he became a member of the Faces. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. That shit was unheard of back in the early 70s. Robert Plant didn’t do solo albums, he just worked on Zeppelin albums. Rod pulled it off until his solo stuff got so much more popular than the band stuff, it crumbled the Faces… something I’m still not over. In the 80s it was, dare I say, Phil Collins who mastered the solo/band thing best. He was huge solo and somehow was able to transfer that love to Genesis and they just got bigger. Of course, I feel like my friend Drew about Collins, that we were all conned in some way. I hide those records… Collins not only did his own thing and remained in Genesis, but he was also Plant’s drummer. He taught Plant how to produce his own music…he’d learned on a lot doing Face Value and Plant had a lot to learn.

Last week I wrote about Keith Richards’ first, reluctantly recorded, solo album, Talk Is Cheap and it got me thinking about solo albums. While the concept wasn’t popular in the respective bands, there have certainly been some great solo albums recorded over the years. I thought I would compile a list of our B&V favorites. Now, I’m not talking about solo careers here – like Lou Reed after the Velvet Underground or any Beatle after they broke up, those are solo, post-band careers – I’m talking about the guys who took a busman’s holiday and stepped away from the band, recorded a solo album and then returned refreshed and jazzed up to the band. I would urge everyone to check these albums out. I’ll list the artist and the band he was in when the solo album came out below.

  1. Gregg Allman, (Allman Brothers), Laid Back – Laid Back is one of those great, seemingly forgotten albums that everyone should treat reverently. When he was on his own Gregg put a little more soul in the music. He redoes “Midnight Rider” in a completely different way than the band did it and it’s amazing. His version of his friend Jackson Browne’s oft covered “These Days” is the definitive version. This is a stone-cold classic album by a guy who also recorded Brothers And Sisters with his band the same year. Ah, the 70s.
  2. Stephen Stills, (CSN and/or CSNY), Stephen Stills – There were a lot of great solo albums to come out of the CSNY collective Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums… (I tend to treat Neil Young as a solo artist who dabbled in being in CSNY, so you won’t see him here.) The pick of the litter is Stills’ eponymously titled first solo album. Both Hendrix and Clapton show up to play lead guitar on different songs here. It was Hendrix’s last recorded stuff. Stills, dubbed “Captain Many Hands” by Graham Nash because he could play every instrument, save perhaps the tuba, does so here. He plays everything. “Love The One You’re With” is the hit, but there’s so much to love here. From gospel inflected tracks to gut bucket blues, this is Stills’ masterpiece.
  3. Joe Walsh, (The Eagles), But Seriously, Folks… – How do you follow up a smash like Hotel California? For the rest of the Eagles it was to hole up in a Miami studio, do a bunch of coke and do endless takes of “Those Shoes.” For the most likable Eagle, Joe Walsh, he merely snuck off and recorded his best solo album. Known mostly for “Life’s Been Good” there is so much more here. “Over and Over” and “At the Station” are two of my favorite tracks by Walsh. Sure, Joe was already a solo artist when he joined the Eagles which gave him some autonomy, but I thought he was done solo when this album surprised me.
  4. Rod Stewart, (the Faces), Every Picture Tells a Story – This was actually Rod’s third of five albums he’d record solo while in the Faces. This is his masterpiece. “Maggie May” is his signature tune, of course. “Mandolin Wind” is my absolute favorite Rod song. The cover tunes are all top shelf – Elvis’ “That’s All Right” and Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time” are both exceptional.
  5. Stevie Nicks, (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – Fleetwood Mac’s follow up to their life-changing smash, Rumours, was the momentous, double-LP, Tusk. Lindsey had taken over and pushed them into some really experimental directions. While I love that album, its sales of 4 million copies, yes 4 million!, was seen as a let down. It wasn’t all the break-ups in the band that caused the three principal songwriters to go solo after Tusk, it was the then perceived failure of the record that made them all go solo. Stevie has an all-star band behind her – Waddy Watchel, Roy Bittan, Ben Tench, and Jimmy Iovine as producer. This is an amazing album. She returned to Fleetwood Mac with so much confidence she made them do a country tune, “That’s Alright” on their next, play-it-safe album, Mirage. 
  6. Daryl Hall, (Hall & Oates), Sacred Songs – This may be the weirdest selection ever written about on B&V. I don’t like Hall & Oates. But let’s face it, everybody loves “Sara Smile.” I turned my daughter onto this song and she sent me a video of her and her friends singing along and dancing to this song. I deleted the video before the authorities could seize my phone… but I digress. To his credit, Hall stepped away from his Philly soul, balladeer role and teamed up with King Crimson’s lead guitarist Robert Fripp, fresh off his stint with Bowie on Heroes to record an amazing, guitar-forward, rock album. None of you have heard this record but you should. “Babs and Babs” is the stand out track. The title track and “Something In 4/4 Time” are rollicking rockers. This is an unexpected, unheard treasure.
  7. Mike Ness, (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – I love the tongue-in-cheek title of this record as Ness does have a lot of help on this solo record. The first time I heard “Misery Loves Company,” a duet with Springsteen from this record, I texted the Rock Chick and said “worlds collide.” I was a Bruce fan, she turned me onto Social D. Everyone should hear that song. It’s awesome. The rest of the album is a great selection of “cowpunk,” Ness’ combination of country inflected, punk rock. I can’t resist “Dope Fiend Blues.” He covers Dylan and Johnny Cash. This is another hidden gem of a record.
  8. Keith Richards, (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo album he never wanted to do… Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks.
  9. Mick Jagger, (The Rolling Stones), Wandering Spirit – Jagger’s solo stuff is so maligned, he’d already struck out twice so by the time 1993’s, Rick Rubin produced Wandering Spirit came out, people didn’t care. They should. Rubin got Mick focused on his strengths here. He does all the great things he does in the Stones, save perhaps the blues. The title track should be played at my funeral… “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul, I’m a wandering spirit, there’s no place that I can call my own.” “Wired All Night” is a balls to the wall rocker. “Sweet Thing” is a disco-y track that was the first single, which may have been a mistake, but I love it. “Don’t Tear Me Up” has shades of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” There’s not a bad tune on this record. Mick is the man! (Get well soon!).
  10. Bruce Springsteen, (The E Street Band), Nebraska – Sure Petty did albums that were “solo” but Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Ben Tench played a heavy role on those albums. Here Springsteen really goes solo in every sense of that word. Nebraska is a dark, spartan record that Springsteen recorded alone. It sounds like a demo. It’s him with an acoustic guitar, by himself, in a room. It’s a masterpiece and a very hard listen. It’s been rumored for years, and recently confirmed, that there’s a full-on E Street Band version of this record that I’m hoping is coming to a box set very soon.
  11. Pete Townshend, (The Who), Empty Glass – I made the horrific mistake of buying this album on cassette. I’m a vinyl guy… but I wanted to hear “Rough Boys” in my car. It’s a great, rocking tune. “Gonna Get Ya” is an epic, 6 minute jam. “Let My Love Open The Door” is here. This is a drunk and drug-addled Townshend making sense of punk rock and his and the Who’s place in rock and roll. It’s a breath-taking listen.

There are so many more solo records that deserve praise and listening. I’m going to stop at these 11. I would urge everyone to check out any of Little Steven’s early work, where he stepped away from the E Street Band while Bruce was brooding over Nebraska. While he’s no Steve Perry, Ronnie Woods’ first couple of solo records away from the Faces and the Stones are great as well. Start with these records and explore as deeply as you can. Rock and roll is the fucking tree of life!

Dedicated to Mick Jagger and his speedy recovery!

Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks

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Truth be told, I don’t think Keith Richards ever wanted to do a solo album. His first and foremost love was always the Stones. That’s why we love Keith down here at B&V.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Mick and Keith were close friends… thick as thieves you might say. The seeds of discord were sown by many things: fame, fortune, who gets credit for being the genius in the band (something they should both share). I’ve always felt Mick pushes Keith to explore and Keith keeps Mick grounded in their roots… yin meet yang. I’m not sure which of them brought reggae into their repertoire but I’d like to think it was both of them. The mutual animosity is a little like the squabbling between Lennon and McCartney regarding the Beatles’ legacy. I think the thing that killed any true “friendship” between the two comes down to one woman… Anita Pallenberg.

Anita Pallenberg, model-actress and 60s “It”-girl entered the Stones’ orbit as the girlfriend of original lead guitarist Brian Jones. On an ill-fated trip to Morocco, Brian was eased aside and Keith and Anita were suddenly together. Eventually Brian spiraled out of the band. Jagger was cast as one of the lead roles in the movie ‘Performance’ in 1968 and coincidentally so was Pallenberg. Keith has always believed and went so far as to claim in his autobiography (the unreadable ‘Life’) that Mick and Anita “hooked up” on the set of the movie. Pallenberg denied that claim the rest of her life. Mick has denied it as well. If it happened, Mick probably saw her go from Brian to Keith and thought it was all fair game… it was the freewheeling 60s after all. What people don’t realize about Keith is that under the outlaw core, he’s really a softy. I think he writes a majority of the Stones’ ballads. Anita and Keith stayed together until 1980 and had three kids. Friends before chicks, Mick… you just never know whose going to stay together.

Anita and Keith were a toxic combination. They both got heavily into heroin. At first Mick and Keith were still able to work together and create magic. But as the 60s waned and the 70s dawned, Keith’s addiction kept getting worse. Once partners at the helm, suddenly Mick found himself without Keith. Mick had to take control of the Stones to keep them afloat. Unfortunately, I think Mick learned that he liked control.  Keith’s heroin addiction reached its low point in 1977 when Keith was arrested for possession and intent to traffic in Canada. The trafficking charge was leveled because of the sheer volume of heroin they found on Keith, so prodigious was his appetite for smack. Keith was facing some serious weight in terms of fines and prison time. It appeared the Stones’ very future was at stake.

Keith and Anita went in for electro-acupuncture rehab therapy to kick heroin. The Stones decamped to Paris and recorded as much music as they could in the fear that Keith would be put away in a Canadian grey-bar hotel. The music they recorded made up not only the album Some Girls but most of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You as well. Luckily, the rehab “took” and the Canadians let Keith off with a fine and an agreement to play two charity shows to benefit the blind. As Keith tells it, at that point, he was ready to return and join Mick to help in the steering of the Stones. It appears Mick had grown too accustomed to driving the ship and didn’t feel he needed the help… the old animosities were refreshed and deepened.

By the 80s everybody was used to the two of them sniping at each other. While Tattoo You and the ensuing tour were seen as career highlight for the Stones, 1983’s Undercover was only met with lukewarm reviews and response from fans. An invigorated Keith wanted to tour behind the album, the man does love to take the Stones out on the road, but Mick refused. Mick committed the ultimate treason in Keith’s eyes, he had signed a solo contract and was going off to do his first album on his own. I remember when it came out in 1985, I was totally a Mick guy at the time, and I was really looking forward to it. To say that She’s The Boss was a disappointment is an understatement. I liked the first single,  the reggae tinged “Just Another Night” but the rest left me cold. I found “Lucky In Love” to be the most embarrassing moment, but most of the rest of the album was forgettable. Mick got the control he wanted in the studio, but lost the magic. He was trying too hard to be current vs doing what he did well, which was rock and roll.

When Keith corralled the Stones back together in 1986 to record again, the band was a mess. Ian Stewart, long time keyboardist and tour manager passed away. Keith was particularly shaken by that loss. Charlie Watts who had survived the 60s and 70s without  any major problems had become a heroin addict. And worst of all, Mick wasn’t terribly interested in doing another Stones album, let alone touring. He was working on his second solo album. Perhaps he felt some pressure to erase the failure of She’s The Boss. The resulting album Dirty Work has become a bit of an orphan. I still think its got some great stuff on it, but it stiffed with the public. The video for “One Hit To The Body” (a kick ass tune, by the way, one of many on that LP), showed Mick and Keith practically coming to blows. Keith has said that the band would work on the tracks and Mick would show up, not even remove his coat, rush through his vocals and leave. When Mick refused to tour, like he did for Undercover, it appeared the Stones might finally be over.

1987 found Mick putting out an even worse solo album than his debut in Primitive Cool. The video for “Let’s Work” is better left never seen… Keith was at loose ends so he assembled a band for a documentary celebrating one of his heroes, Chuck Berry, entitled ‘Hail, Hail Rock And Roll.’ Charlie started a jazz combo. Bill Wyman opened a London restaurant and Ronnie Wood opened a Miami nightclub. When Jagger decided to tour Asia and Australia for Primitive Cool, Keith finally decided to do the thing he had never wanted to do… he decided to record a solo album. He’d done a few one off singles and sat in with both the Faces and Ronnie Woods’ New Barbarians, but he’d never wanted to go solo.

Rather than go the Jagger route and assemble a bunch of session guys to back him up, Richards, the more natural musician vs Jagger, chose to put together a band. Although in Mick’s defense his back up band did have Joe Satriani at one point… Anyway, having met drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charlie Drayton during the Chuck Berry film, Keith quickly recruited them to join him in the band. They recruited Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, to play keyboards. Keith had found a bedrock rhythm section to go with his riffing rhythm guitar. All he needed was a lead guitarist to play against… Brilliantly he recruited Waddy Watchel, who had played with Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and at the time, Stevie Nicks. I remember seeing Keith interviewed and saying, “Yeah, Waddy had been playing with chicks for too long, he needed to come play with the boys.” Steve Jordan was not only a drummer, he was someone who could co-produce and more importantly write songs with Keith. Early in the recording process Keith caught the band hiding behind the drum riser, passing a bottle of Chateau Lafite. Richards immediately dubbed them, the Xpensive Winos, which I just love.

Most people, I think, kind of groaned when they heard that Keith was putting out a solo album. I’m a rare breed of guy. I’m one of the few folks that when a Stones album came out, I’d drop the needle on it and peruse the liner notes looking for the Keith song. I always seemed to love the tracks he sang. Whether it was “Before They Make Me Run,” “Coming Down Again,” or even his brief bit in “Memory Motel,” I just loved it when Keith was at the microphone. I was thrilled when I heard that Talk Is Cheap had finally come out. However, in 1988 I was in my self-imposed Arkansas exile. It wasn’t until the video for the first single, “Take It So Hard” came out that I got to hear any of it. As soon as I heard that riff, and then the band kicked in, I knew this album was something special. To the record store I went.

When I dropped my new copy of Talk Is Cheap on the turntable in my lonely, hovel of an apartment in Ft Smith, Arkansas those many years ago, I realized I was hearing something special and also suddenly realized I was dancing around. This was the raw sound and grit of the Stones that I’d been missing. When the first song, “Big Enough” blared through the speakers I realized this was going to be a groove album, heavy on riffs and sloppy on structure. That’s what Keith brings to the Stones. It’s hard not to hear many of the songs on this album, “Take It So Hard,” “Big Enough,” and especially “You Don’t Move Me” as being specifically addressed to his old bandmate and friend, Mick. I remember years later dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy Kurt – a man who can still drink more martinis than I ever could – and Kurt saying, “This is fucking rock and roll!”

There’s an old boogie woogie number, “I Could Have Stood You Up” that features Chuck Berry’s original pianist Johnnie Johnson. Sarah Dash comes on to do a lovely duet on “Make No Mistake,” a clear eyed ballad that manages not to be mushy or sentimental. There are a few other guests – Maceo Parker does some sax, Bootsy Collins plays bass on a track, even old Stone Mick Taylor shows up on a cut – but the bulk of this album was just Keith and the Xpensive Winos. Every track grooves or moves and the album is a triumph. This is an album every rock and roll fan should own… In some ways, I think Keith’s solo success forced Mick back toward the band.

Now we have the 30th Anniversary “Deluxe” edition out. And what a great celebration it is. It is, as you would expect, newly remastered. More importantly for us at B&V, it has a handful of bonus tracks. The thing the bonus tracks does for me, more than anything, is show the mood of the recording sessions. You can tell Keith and the band are having a great time. There are a couple of instrumental jams, “Blues Jam,” and the 10-minute “Slim” that showcase what a great band this really was. The best new tracks from those sessions are “My Babe” and “Big Town Playboy” a couple of old blues covers Keith puts his heart into. “Mark On Me” sounds more like a true outtake as does the other instrumental “Brute Force,” as opposed to the band jamming or playing around on some old covers. There’s not a ton of bonus material here but what there is is high quality. The instrumental stuff is probably more for fans only but I’d recommend the covers highly.

This is a great celebration for a 30th anniversary of an important solo work of one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time. Cheers!

 

Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack

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There was a lot of anticipation here at B&V for the new Netflix biopic/movie about 80s hard rock heroes Motley Crue, entitled ‘The Dirt.’ I watched the movie last night and all I can say about the experience is that it was two hours of my life that I will never get back. While I loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ despite its flaws (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen), ‘The Dirt’ makes the Freddy Mercury movie look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Thank God there’s some new Crue music on the soundtrack, which I’ll get to later.

I know every generation thinks they invented sex, drugs and rock and roll but the 80s was an era where everything got blown up to a level that we’ll hopefully never see again. Everything was bigger – enormous teased hair, copious drugs and booze, bad behavior bordering on nihilism and luckily, loud heavy metal. The 80s had to be the best-selling decade for hairspray, bar none. And I’m not just talking about the chicks here, I’m talking about the heavy metal musician’s hair. The 70s was known as “the Me Generation.” The 80s should have been the “More Generation,” as in give me more, more, more. Greed was, apparently, good. At least that’s what people seemed to think in those days.

No one epitomizes that excess to me more than Motley Crue. These guys drank everything, snorted everything, fucked everyone they could get their hands on and was seemingly one endless rolling wreck of a party. They did it all. There were car wrecks involving vehicular manslaughter, overdoses and even Pamela Anderson (the Sex Goddess of the 80s). Tragically Vince Neil lost his daughter Skylar to cancer. That’s a pretty interesting resume. In 2001, the boys in Motley Crue, Tommy Lee (drums), Vince Neil (singer), Mick Mars (guitar) and Nikki Sixx (bass, songwriter and mastermind) sat down with writer Neil Strauss and put their “confessions” down on paper which resulted in the book, ‘The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.’ It was basically a transcription of Strauss’ interviews with the band members. The book revived interest in Motley Crue and their music. Notoriety sells, baby.

Personally I always felt the best thing about that book was that it got the band back together for a series of concert tours and eventually a great comeback album Saints Of Los Angeles. Every Crue fan should own that record. Not content with all of that success, Motley mastermind Nikki Sixx decided to follow in Queen’s footsteps and bring ‘The Dirt’ to the big screen. After watching the movie last night with the Rock Chick, who really expanded my love of the Crue, I couldn’t help but say (paraphrasing Bill Murray in ‘Tootsie’), “I saw the Motley Crue movie just now, what happened?” Even the Rock Chick, who saw the Crue on the Theater of Pain tour and whose love of Motley predates mine said, “What the fuck? That was just terrible.”

I guess they wanted to capture the vibe of the book, so many of the scenes get “narration” from the different characters in the band. In one particularly garish scene, the guy playing Mick Mars breaks the fourth wall (he speaks directly into the camera at the audience, for all you non-theater people out there) and says, “Yeah, basically none of this shit actually happened.” That was probably the greatest “WTF” moment for me. The Crue had a great story to begin with but for reasons unclear they decided to change a lot of known facts about their history. None of the changes added any dramatic effect for me. Frankly the real story is far more compelling than what they came up with for the movie. How do you do a movie about the 80s and Motley Crue and not even mention Pamela Anderson? The section covering John Corabi, Vince’s replacement after he quit, doesn’t feature any of that music. The guy playing Corabi doesn’t even speak. Clearly Vince must not be over that… They would have been better served by replacing the “actors” chosen to play the band members (who were chosen apparently for merely resembling the band) with mannequins. I’m no thespian but to describe these actors as “stiff” is an insult to concrete.

Fortunately, the movie comes with a soundtrack. My recommendation is to skip the damn movie and move straight to the music.

As I’ve often mentioned, I missed out on a lot of the better 80s music during that decade because I was still building my back catalog of vinyl. I was more interested in the music of the late 60s and early 70s than I was in the music actually playing on the radio. There was a lot of metal on MTV and all the bands and videos sort of looked alike. Eventually though, Motley Crue quickly jumped to the top of the heap and actually punctured the backward looking musical fog I was in. I never owned any Crue until I bought their first greatest hits package, Decade of Decadence. It was novel merely for containing “Primal Scream” and a Sex Pistols’ cover “Anarchy In the U.K.” which was the first appearance of those tracks. When I met the Rock Chick she only had 1998’s Greate$t Hit$. On one of our first dates, we went to the record store and she picked up a couple of Crue albums, Dr. Feelgood and Girls, Girls, Girls. After that I was hooked. We quickly snapped up and devoured all of their first five albums. It’s one of the most impressive blocks of work in any catalog.

When I heard they were making a movie, I assumed the soundtrack would be another “greatest hits” package, something akin to Red, White and Crue, which for me, is the definitive greatest hits package for the band. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Sixx had written some new stuff and the band had gotten back together and recorded some new music for the first time in a long time. Now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack I must say I’m extremely impressed. Instead of the standard idea of using just the big hits, the soundtrack is chalk full of deeper album tracks. Sure, “Dr Feelgood,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” are all here, but there are deeper tracks too. Alongside the hits you get early tracks, “Red Hot,” “Merry-Go-Round” and “On With the Show.” These are all great tracks and highlight their story as much as the hits do. Hell, “On With the Show” and “Take Me To the Top” are on this soundtrack. I’m surprised they didn’t put “Bastard” on here. So rather than the standard hits soundtrack, if you’re a casual Crue fan, this would be a nice primer in some of their more raw, earlier tracks.

For those of us who own all the older tracks already, we have the pleasure of four new Crue songs, one of which is a cover. I have to say, the guy that never gets enough credit on “best of” lists is Mick Mars. Nikki Sixx may be the principal songwriter and mastermind behind the Crue, but Mick Mars’ guitar playing is as nasty and forceful as ever. He’s a true riff meister with big nasty rhythm guitar and screaming, tortuous leads that just melt my face off. His guitar playing is what first drew me to the band. The next important ingredient to these guys’ success was the amazing drumming of Tommy Lee. He and Mars drive the music and always have. I must say even Vince Neil is in strong voice here, which is something I never thought I’d say again.

The first new track, which kicks off the soundtrack is “The Dirt, (Est. 1981)” which I wrote about a few weeks ago, Motley Crue: “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” The New Single From the Upcoming Movie). While the song is slightly marred by a couple of raps from Machine Gun Kelly, the track is really growing on me. Mick Mars’ guitar solo just shreds. “Ride With The Devil” is a slightly slower paced heavy track. I like it, but the better track, and perhaps my favorite is “Crash And Burn.” Its got Mars’ nasty riffs but Vince’s vocals are more of that 80s soaring, arena sing along style. Hey, it worked in the 80s, why fuck up a good thing. The words “the dirt” are repeated in all three of the new tracks, so they were certainly careful to stay on brand. The final new track, which was perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole project was a cover of another 80s icon, Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. When I heard Motley Crue was covering her song “Like A Virgin” I just groaned. I hated it before hearing it. I hated the very idea of it. Then I heard it and I have to admit, I was wrong. For some reason, it just works. They perform it with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek, smirking, winking irony. Another tip of the hat to Vince on that one. For the record, the Rock Chick does not share my amusement.

While the movie is nothing short of a disaster, it’s nice to hear the lads in the Crue this energized and playing great music together again. I know they were inspired by making the movie, but hopefully they can bury the old animosities and see their way forward to recording some more new stuff. I know they’ve retired from the road but that doesn’t mean they can’t go into the studio. Motley Crue is an important chapter in rock and roll. Sadly, they failed to tell the story in a compelling fashion cinematically but perhaps we were all better served by putting Shout At The Devil on the turntable anyway.

Devil Horns to all of you!

Digging In Deeper: B&V Artists/Albums To Expand Your Music Collection – Don’t Be Afraid!

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I have always held the opinion that we’re all a product of where we grew up. My dad was born in Los Angeles, California. However, shortly after his brother was born, his parents moved him back to Kansas. While I was born in Chicago, (like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band song) my parents chose to move back to… well, Kansas. I’ve never said my family had good taste in geography. Not that there’s anything wrong with Kansas, per se. I always wonder what I would have been like if my grandparents had stayed in Los Angeles? Obviously, I wouldn’t be the same person as my dad would have never met my mom, but holy shit! Growing up as an LA native? I probably would have been in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With my addictive personality, I can only hope I wouldn’t have gone down like Hillel Slovak, RIP. I might have at least gone to high school with them. “Hello, Anthony, hello, Flea…Go Lions!” What if my parents had stayed in Chicago? My whole adolescence would have been jumping on trains to the city to see Springsteen or Lou Reed. Or maybe I’d have hung around blues bars and now I’d be a world renown harmonica player, if there is such a thing anymore. Michael Bloomfield and I would have totally hung out, I can tell.

But as it happens, I grew up in the suburbs in the small midwestern hamlet of Kansas City. It’s big enough that you can stir up some trouble, but not so big as to be actually cool. It lacks a certain menace that most big cities toss off casually. As much as I deny it, I am a product of a midwest, small city upbringing. If I’d grown up in LA, Chicago or Boston, I’d be a totally different person with totally different influences. If I wanted a Coke, and I grew up in Boston, I’d ask for a tonic, which is something I never understood.

Growing up in Kansas City, my exposure to rock and roll was pretty meat and potatoes. We had our local rock station, KY/102. We got a steady diet of mainstream rock and roll. When I finally had my rock and roll awakening, I listened to KY every day. It was all Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Who, and of course, Bob Seger. It was the midwest after all, you grew up thinking Seger was President. Springsteen was considered exotic and only occasionally played on the radio.  I remember Boston, Styx and REO Speedwagon being in high rotation. You never heard anything from the outer fringes. Local radio never dug that deep.

With that as a musical backdrop, you can imagine the terror brought on from seeing the Sex Pistols on ’60 Minutes.’ Naturally they had live shots of the band at a concert hall, with the music highly distorted – it sounded like someone had tossed a gerbil in the blender – with the fans in the audience slam dancing and pogo’ing. Bug eyed Johnny Rotten looked like an escaped lunatic. They presented punk as the Barbarians at the Gates. It was the end of civilization. I was in my early teens and even I was scared. Usually, that sort of subversive rebelliousness was as intoxicating to me as catnip. I’m surprised dad didn’t turn the channel, such was his fear I’d suddenly shave my hair into a Mohawk and pierce something on my face. Dad was easily unsettled in those days and I was, well, eccentric. Alas, as a midwesterner, I never heard the Sex Pistols or the Clash on the radio, so I stayed the same, feathered hair-Nike Cortez-faded jeans and flannel shirt guy I always was. I was Pearl Jam grunge, before there was such a thing, at least from a fashion standpoint.

Things got a little better when I got to college. I had the pleasure of meeting people who helped expand my musical footprint. But even then it wasn’t that far from the middle of the road. I started listening to the guys that always got criticized about their vocals, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I really dug into the 60s. I became a Beatles fan, something I had resisted up to then. Credence (like the Dude), Cream, CSNY all made it into my record collection. I heard New Wave and Elvis Costello. I discovered the majesty of Van Morrison. I slowly moved away from my head banger roots. But, while my journey of musical spelunking had begun, I wasn’t digging very deep.

It was around that time that I started reading Rolling Stone magazine. That was a real help in the beginning of my musical journey of discovery. I would read about new albums or they’d have a feature article about an artist I hadn’t heard about. I’d usually go down the record store to check those artists out. Suddenly I’m listening to David and David. Rolling Stone was always very fond of lists and rankings. Late in my college career, they published an issue with a ranking of the top 500 albums of all time. Holy shit, I thought, this is the Rosetta Stone, the guide to rock n roll enlightenment. I still have that magazine somewhere in a box that I tried to find recently. They updated the list in 2003 online. But that list from Rolling Stone, from way back in the 80s always had these exotic sounding bands that I’d never heard of, ever. As the years passed I’d see other, similar lists and those same strange bands would be on there. I once famously told a friend, “If I see one more fucking list of greatest albums with Television’s Marquee Moon on it, I’m going to vomit.” I just couldn’t get out of my comfort zone. Punk and alternative were just a bridge too far.

Eventually, and I can’t explain why, I overcame my fear. Hearing the Clash’s London Calling was a real eye-opener. This wasn’t the angry noise I’d expected, this was just fantastic music. Of course after “Rock the Casbah” the Clash were popular in middle America. Suddenly I was buying albums by the Velvet Underground and the Ramones, stuff that I would have never entertained before. I was expanding my musical palette and it was a great thing. Although I still had my blind spots… I was in a bar with my pal Doug who was schmoozing his now wife and she was with a friend of hers, a chubby little guy who thought it wise to kick off his shoes and socks and dance around the filthy, dive bar barefoot. He slowed down long enough for us to get into a discussion of rock bands, and who was the greatest. When he said Roxy Music, I exploded in an expletive laden diatribe about what rock really was… not my finest moment. We all have room to grow folks.

So for the adventurous and the curious, I thought I’d put a list together of bands or albums that are always on these “best ever” lists that you might be a little afraid of. These bands or these albums might be stuff you’ve heard of or heard about but never listened to. Many of these albums sold terribly but then became hugely influential anyway. But as was said of the first Velvet Underground album, “not many people bought that record, but everyone who did, started a band.” I finally bit the bullet and started listening to these and I like a lot of it. I still stayed relatively conservative on this list – I’m not suggesting anybody jump into the MC5 or Pavement, although you should – and this list is not meant to be definitive, it’s just a starting place. Most of these acts/albums are critically lauded and cited by the very musicians you might be listening to as huge influences. Hearing it led me to understand that yes, there is rock and roll a little more exotic than say, “Night Moves.” Enjoy.

  1. Big Star, #1 Record – I don’t know why I feared this record. Somehow I was under the impression it was a disco band and I’ve always been in the “death before disco” crowd. It’s simply one of the greatest pop/rock albums ever. It’s been claimed as an influence by bands from Cheap Trick to R.E.M. I was going to simply recommend all of their music as Third/Sister Lovers is a tragic masterpiece, but Radio City has always left me cold. The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record”
  2. David Bowie, The Berlin Triology (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger) – This entry probably surprises most folks as we at B&V love our Bowie. When I heard that the second side of both Low and “Heroes” were instrumental, synth driven, ambient music I hung back on buying them. Apparently androgyny and bisexuality were ok with me but Brian Eno synth, no way, man. Terrible mistake. Low is still my favorite. The ambient track “Warszawa” is simply mesmerizing. Lodger was supposedly the most accessible since it has traditional song structures, but the other two are where the genius lies. All three are essential listening for Bowie fans.
  3. Leonard Cohen – There are too many great albums in his discography to name just one or a few. I’d probably start with Songs Of Love And Hate or his debut album. Personally, I loved his last three albums LP Review: Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” His Farewell Note, RIP. Sadly Cohen gets lumped into that Dylan, Neil Young bad vocals category. How to describe Leonard? Poet, mystic, ladies man… His songs could go from touching on the divine to more earthly delight. His razor sharp wit always makes me laugh. He’s simply put, a genius.
  4. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin And Burrito Deluxe – Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman fled the Byrds to form the Burrito Brothers and helped solidify and create what we call “country rock.” The Eagles wish they’d been this cool. On Burrito Deluxe you’ll find their cover of the Stones’ “Wild Horses” that was released a full year prior to Mick and Keith’s version.
  5. Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers – Any band with future Cars drummer David Robinson and future keyboardist for the Talking Heads Jerry Harrison can’t go wrong can it? This is a lo-fi rock and roll at its best. Guitarist/lead vocalists/songwriter Jonathon Richman was obsessed with girls, sex and love.
  6. Randy Newman – I’ve always felt bad that so many people are put off by Randy Newman’s novelty single, “Short People.” It was a song that was meant to champion anti-bigotry by complaining about something completely absurd. Naturally it became a huge hit. While I love his early albums like Sail Away, I’d also recommend some of his latter works like Harps And Angels, or Dark Matter. LP Review: Randy Newman’s ‘Dark Matter’
  7. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson and Nilsson Sings Newman – Speaking of Randy Newman, brilliant singer Harry Nilsson did a whole album of his songs, so enamored was he of Newman’s songwriting. Nilsson was a singer who never got his due… maybe because it seems he never gave a fuck. But what a voice. He was drinking buddies with John Lennon for extra cool factor. Schmilsson is his masterwork.
  8. Iggy Pop, The Idiot, and Lust For Life – Don’t fear Iggy, he rocks like your teenage id on a sugar rush. These two albums were produced by David Bowie. Start here and then pick carefully through his uneven catalog, there are plenty of gems.
  9. The Ramones, The Ramones – The sensational punk rock milestone that is their debut. “Gabba gabba hey.” They play fast and hard. From “Blitzkrieg Bop” to “Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue” this album is perfect.
  10. The Runaways – Cherie Currie only stuck around for the first album, but hearing her sing “Cherry Bomb” is a revelation. Joan Jett sang and played rhythm guitar, Lita Ford, yes the 80s heavy metal star, was the lead guitarist. Talented and under respected, all three of their studio albums are great, but the first two are my favs. And, to add to their legend, they were huge in Japan.
  11. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols – I have no idea why these guys scared me. This is kick ass, stripped down, in your face rock n roll. I guess the old adage is true, be careful what you make fun of, you’ll become it.
  12. Patti Smith, Horses – Patti Smith is a poet, force of nature with an unbridled spirit and the dirty heart of a punk rocker. Her take on Van Morrison’s “Gloria” which she turns on its head like a tornado tearing through a trailer park is must listening. The poetic, nine-minute epic “Birdland” is a song I’ll never get over. She’s a rock Goddess and this album should be taught in high school music classes.
  13. The Stooges/Iggy & The Stooges – The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power – Not to double dip here, but Iggy and his fellow Stooges, the Asheton Brothers (and various bass players) are visceral, primal rock n’ roll. Get your hands on any of their albums and turn it up to 11. I will say, of the three, side two of Fun House does meander a bit, like a jazz musician on too much speed. But the Stooges three original albums are essential listening.
  14. Television, Marquee Moon – They rehearsed this album for years before finally committing it to type. I don’t know why I was so down on even trying this album. The lyrics are ethereal and the music hypnotic. I don’t vomit when I hear this album, I rock.
  15. The Velvet Underground – Their first album, recorded with singer Nico, who left thereafter is the album you hear about, but I would recommend everything they did, including their live album. Lou Reed on vocals/guitar, Moe Tucker on drums, John Cale on bass and Sterling Morrison on guitar – the original line up – were criminally overlooked in their short career. The only scary album is the second one, White Light/White Heat and yet I still love listening to that album. Considering the rest of the world was dressed in dayglo and tossing flowers around, the dark subjects the Velvets covered – drug addiction, S&M, sex – are all the more striking.
  16. Tom Waits – I love his first three albums, but there is so much to love from this drunken, singing Bukowski. As he aged his voice got more gravelly, but you can’t beat his lyrics. “I want beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” I think that sums it up. His debut album, Closing Time is the place to start and work your way forward through his brilliant catalog.
  17. X, Los Angeles and Wild Gift – We don’t always associated Los Angeles as a hub for punk rock but X was one of the seminal LA punk bands on the scene. These two albums are a great start to that early West Coast punk scene.
  18. Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out! – I always thought Zappa was about satire and making noise. Complicated, classical music influenced stuff. Not on this album. “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” kicks off a double album worth of crazy good rock and roll. Warning, if you start here, you’ll end up collecting more Frank Zappa.

There was so much more I could have listed. But for now, I’ll stop with those 18 acts/LPs. There is so much great music that’s been recorded over the years that just never made it to the radio, at least not in Kansas. If you find something you like here, my job is done. If you’re already a fan, and perhaps like a different album by one of these artists, surface it in the comments.

Thanks for reading and Happy St Patrick’s Day this weekend!

 

 

 

 

The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”

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Just when I thought rock and roll was going to be in trouble in 2019, the Black Keys pop up with a brand new, mind blowing single, “Lo/Hi.” Thank God.

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the Black Keys. Not the Jack White, “they ripped me off” kind of relationship. I get it Jack, White Stripes/Black Keys. I could see where that would make Mr. White a little uncomfortable. It’s all a little too close. Anyway, like the Stripes, the Keys are just two folks, Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals/bass/keyboards and Patrick Carney on drums. They are the same ilk of bluesy, garage rock that the White Stripes play and that I absolutely love. For some reason, however, I seem to bounce in and out of their orbit.

I pulled up their discography on Allmusic.com the other day and it hit me. I literally like every other album they put out. I loved the debut, The Big Come Up. Who else would have the balls to cover the Beatles, “She Said, She Said?” Thickfreakness, the follow up, left me cold. The album that really pulled me and the Rock Chick in was the third record, Rubber Factory from 2004. For us here at B&V, it’s the gold standard by which we judge all other Black Keys’ records… and by “us” here at B&V, I mean the Rock Chick and me. To illustrate this point, I have to share, when she walked into the music lab yesterday and I played “Lo/Hi” for her, the first words out of the Rock Chick’s mouth were, and I quote, “Awesome, they’re getting back to that Rubber Factory sound.” You can take the girl out of the Rubber Factory, but you can’t take the Rubber Factory out of the girl, I suppose.

Since that album, the Rock Chick and I have purchased every other album they’ve put out. We skipped Magic Potion, only to get back on the bandwagon for Attack & Release. While there were some great tracks on Brothers, specifically “Howlin’ For You,” “Everlasting Light,” and the oft overlooked “Sinister Kid,” the rest of the album didn’t grab me. El Camino for me, was another career highlight. It almost edges out Rubber Factory, but please, for my own safety, don’t tell the Rock Chick I said that. Rock and Roll blasphemy carries a heavy penalty around this place, especially during winter. I was so used to this pattern of one album on, one album off that I didn’t even check out their 2014 effort Turn Blue until recently. It’s like when I was a kid. My brother and I were polar opposites. If he liked a dish my mom made, I’d skip it… Sadly, I used that same logic for Turn Blue. It’s a solid album, and they’re certainly opening up their sound pallet. It might be the album this breaks the cycle for me… I also dug Dan Auerbach’s second album, Waiting On A Song, reviewed on these very pages, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’.

I do have to admit though, I’m like the Rock Chick when it comes to the Black Keys, I like them with a little less polish, a little more raw, if you will. I will admit, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that I hit “play” on the new track, “Lo/Hi.” Was I going to hear a polished attempt at pop or was I going to hear some garage-rock Black Keys? You just never know. My fears were eliminated immediately! “Lo/Hi” comes chugging out of the speakers from the jump. The guitar riff is a giant, greasy slab of rock. It bores into your brain. Carney’s drumming drives the track forward like a galloping thoroughbred whose escaped his trainers. “Run Forrest, run!” I love the first couplet, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane/Down at the bar like a star in the howling rain.” Fuck yes, it’s like “Gimme Shelter.” There’s some nice female back up vocals on the chorus which contributes to the “River Deep – Mountain High” vibe of the song. The guitar solo at the end should come with a warning, “Could Melt Your Face Off.”

The Keys haven’t indicated if they’re putting out an album or if this is a one-off single. It seems all we do these days down at B&V is spread the word on new singles, whilst we wait for new albums to drop. All I can say, a new Black Keys album would be a great addition to a rocking spring… if spring ever comes. This is a must hear, must have single. I love that the Black Keys are keeping the rock and roll flame alive!

On The Mellow End: Norah Jones’ Three New Songs From Upcoming EP, ‘Begin Again’

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*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

It’s no secret that all of us down here at B&V are into our screaming, loud rock and roll. Hell, the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, before I made an honest woman out of her, was AC/DC on the Stiff Upper Lip tour. I can still remember the topless woman who popped out of the roof of the limo in front of us after the show. The exuberance of rock and roll had sort of… overcome that woman, but I digress. Even last night, after a wicked cocktail the Rock Chick cooked up with tequila and prosecco, I quickly put on some Tom Petty, Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks from our Spotify playlists.

But as with all things, screaming loud rock and roll has it’s time and place. On occasion, the mood or the situation calls for something a tad more mellow. When I’m putting my smooth moves on the Rock Chick, for example, sometimes it requires more subtle music than Motley Crue. Typing that sentence makes me immediately realize two things: a) I am not smooth and b) I have no moves. Another good example of a time that require music that’s a little mellower is my physical feeling today, after a night of drinking tequila, prosecco cocktails… I believe the medical profession would describe my condition as a “hangover.” No risk in life, no reward as the saying goes.

When I’m in need of some music that’s a tad more cerebral, if I don’t put on Van’s Saint Dominic’s Preview, I find myself turning to Norah Jones. As I am prone to repeating myself sometimes in these pages, the woman has the voice of an angel. She could literally record herself singing passages from a newspaper and I’d probably listen to it, despite how depressing the news is these days. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing her in concert, she tends to shun Kansas City but I remain hopeful she’ll come my way.

I don’t know if it’s that voice, but something about Norah’s music is evocative for me. I spent most of my 20s and 30s a wandering, emotional gypsy. I had a series of emotionally damaging relationships. I tended to pick my girlfriends from the FBI’s Most Wanted List… However, by 2002, when Jones’ debut Come Away With Me came out, I had found love and with it a family. I was living in house (that was mine) for the first time in my life, instead of a suitcase or the back of a car. I tended to keep moving in the old days… I was living with the Rock Chick in 2002 and we were engaged. Her daughter, who I now describe as “our” daughter was living with us. I had been traveling for work and my plane landed right around sunset on warm, late-summer day. The sky was turning to purple, but the sun still shone it’s golden hue on the taller trees. As I was driving home from the airport that night surrounded by magnificent colors with my sunroof open, on the public radio station I heard “Come Away With Me” for the first time. We were looking for a song for our first dance at our wedding and I was instantly convinced in that magical moment I’d found the track (I got overridden on that, alas). As I drove that night, for the first time headed to a home and not just the place where I kept my stuff, I felt a level of contentment I never thought I’d know… Norah Jones’ song had completely captured and immortalized that moment for me.

Over the years I have remained a Norah Jones fan. I loved her last album, Day Break LP Review: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks,” The Piano Strikes Back!. I recently heard she was releasing random singles. I made a mental note to go out and find them and gather them together on a playlist. Luckily it seems that Ms. Jones is handling that for me. She’s gathered together seven tracks that she’ll be releasing in April as an EP, Begin Again. For those of you keeping score, an album is called a “long player” or an LP. An EP is an “extended player.” An EP is longer and has more music than just a single (which used to get released with 1 song on each side), but isn’t quite as long as an album or LP.

From the new EP, Norah has pre-released three new songs. I’ve heard her new music described as “experimental” which may be why she’s releasing just an EP. If there’s nothing thematic or musically similar holding a group of songs together an EP release makes more sense. I like the immediacy of what I’m hearing in these three new tracks. And yes, it’s not hard to predict, I liked all three of the new songs. I like that Norah is willing to take chances. An artist who had so much success early on in her career could be tempted to rest on her laurels. Not Norah, she really pushes herself.

For me, the stand out track of the three is “Just A Little Bit.” It’s a jazzy, syncopated little number. If I close my eyes while I listen, it feels like I’ve just wandered into a basement jazz club, the sound bouncing off the brick walls. I feel the murmur of hushed conversations and smell cocktails and perfume as patrons huddle in the dark and groove on the tune. I can feel the horns as much as hear them. It’s jazzy in all the right ways. When she emphasizes the words, “I’m on fire…” I can feel the heat.

“It Was You” is a more straight up Norah Jones. A sultry, chanteuse style track driven by her beautiful piano and a sax. Norah’s voice drops down in the register and is at it’s very sexiest. “And I knew, and I knew and I knew it was you…” It’s more an invocation to love than chorus. Put this song on late at night and you won’t need my patented smooth moves…

The final track of the three prereleases is a collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, “Wintertime.” I love it when Norah collaborates. She’s got a great track with disgraced singer Ryan Adams, “Dear John” which is one of her career highlights. I loved the album of Everly Brothers covers she did with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Foreverly. Tweedy doesn’t sing on “Wintertime.” It’s a laid back piano tune and Tweedy plays a rather subdued guitar… at least I think that’s him. The track has a slightly country feel, but that may just be my take on the guitar work. It’s a very solid track.

All of us at B&V are looking forward to hearing the rest of this EP. I love that Norah is continuing to experiment and push herself. This will be very interesting, evocative music from an important artist. Enjoy this one to keep warm in this punishing wintertime!

Cheers!