New Single: Neil Young’s “Try” From the Long Awaited Vault LP, ‘Homegrown’

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I must admit, I was delighted to hear that Neil  Young was dipping into the vaults again to release another one of his “lost albums,” the legendary Homegrown. This release follows 2017’s vault release of Hitchhiker (recorded in 1976) which we just loved down here at B&V, LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’. I highly recommend any Neil Young fans out there to check out his excellent Archive website https://neilyoungarchives.com where you can stream literally anything from his vast catalog. It’s free during the Pandemic Lockdown although in normal times there’s a subscription fee. Homegrown comes out next month in June but in the meantime Neil has released the first track from the upcoming album, “Try.” I had actually expected to have Homegrown in my hands already and was holding off writing about “Try” because I’d expected this record in April… and then in May. I’m pretty sure the June date is a good one.

Neil Young is, if anything, a confounding artist. Where so many artists struggle to come up with material and wait years and years between albums, Neil has numerous albums that he recorded and then decided to shelve. The list of these “lost albums” that have either circulated as bootlegs or merely been whispered about is long: Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, and Homefires just to name a few. Neil was even so unhappy with his original taping for MTV’s Unplugged, that he went in and recorded a second one which was eventually released. No one knows what happened to the original recording… sitting in the vaults with all the other ones I suppose.

Homegrown was recorded in a very fertile patch for Neil, 1974-1975. He released the superb On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night, although admittedly the latter was recorded in 1973. He also toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the summer of 1974, put out Zuma with Crazy Horse in ’75 and recorded Long May You Run with Stephen Stills as kind of an answer to Crosby-Nash putting out a series of LPs (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums). That’s a hell of a lot going on.

Unfortunately for Neil, at the time he recorded Homegrown in 1974-75, his relationship with his then girlfriend Carrie Snodgress was coming to an end. He pulled Homegrown from release and put out Tonight’s the Night instead as he felt Homegrown was “too personal.” While many of the tunes on Homegrown have come out in other forms – rerecorded with Crazy Horse or with slightly different arrangements – it’ll be fascinating to hear these tracks as he originally intended them. Like Hitchhiker I suspect that most of these songs will be acoustic based.

Considering this was an album recorded during a break up and Young described it as “too personal,” I figured everything on it would be, well, dark. But as I said, Neil can be confounding. The superb “Try” sounds almost hopeful. It’s a bit of a jaunty tune. It starts with a lazy drum and bass. The opening lyrics grabbed me, “Darlin’ the door to my heart is open, and I’ve been hopin’ that you won’t be the one to struggle with the key…” A man open heartedly asking for a reconciliation, I can relate to that. The song is light and airy. Over strumming acoustic Neil doesn’t sound forlorn at all. He quotes little sayings from Snodgress throughout the track. I love the lyric, apparently something Carrie said, “I’d like to take a chance, but shit Mary I can’t dance.” This is a great song, the melody just bores into me. Considering he released versions of many of the songs on Homegrown over the years, it’s hard to understand how this one stayed in the can.

If anything, this little taste, “Try” has whetted my appetite for even more from Homegrown. Neil seems to really be opening up the archives and that is a very good thing indeed… After last year’s great reunion LP with Crazy Horse, Colorado (LP Review: ‘Colorado’ the Return of Neil Young & Crazy Horse With Nils Lofgren!) this looks to be a great year for all of us Neil Young fans.

 

 

Quarantine Diary: Seven Days of Albums… I Take An Alphabetic Tour Through My Music

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*Picture of a few of the albums in the B&V music library

I was always pretty reluctant to join my wife and daughter on the whole “social media” thing. I am not on Facebook nor will I ever be for much the same reasons that I never read those “Christmas Newsletters” (aka brag rags) that came with the Xmas cards. I don’t particularly care if little Timmy went to band camp. If you’re still sending those things out in your Christmas cards, you’re not “blessed,” you’re a blowhard. The reason I was drawn onto a few of the social media platforms was simple and probably easy to guess, rock and roll.

My wife and/or daughter were constantly showing me things that the Stones or the Cult were posting on Instagram or Twitter. It was mostly really cool band pics, but not exclusively. Many times it was an announcement of an impending tour or album. Having access to that kind of “inside information” was too intoxicating a draw for me. In the old days I read about these things in Rolling Stone, a magazine I let my subscription to lapse recently (I’d subscribed since my college days but there’s nothing of interest in there any more), or hear on my local radio. Max Floyd would come on the air and say, “We’ll have that new Springsteen record next Tuesday… we’ll play the whole thing at lunch time.” In the days of highly automated, overly controlled programming you’ll be lucky if they play a Springsteen song other than “Born To Run” on the radio.

As tends to happen on social media, you start getting followers and in turn start following people. Most of the folks I follow are like-minded rock and roll fans much like you, my esteemed readers. I’ve noticed many of these rockers like to post stacks of albums with the inevitable caption, “this weekend’s listening.” They must have very forgiving wives… I’ve never really done that here on B&V but it did give me pause. I listen to music on a lot of different platforms – vinyl (preferred), CDs (I still dig them), MP3s (because its mobile), and even now the dreaded Spotify. When I like something I hear on Spotify, I do go out and buy it, I wanna keep the artist whole. And currently I’m living in a rental house so a lot of my “stuff” is in boxes in storage which makes the ostentatious “stack of albums” display harder.

I have to admit, I do miss the old days when you’d start pulling records out of your record crate(s) and when it was all over you had a stack of records on the coffee table or on the speakers, a living monument to your listening activity. I guess how you listened to or how you made your album selections depended on how you stored your music. In the early days, I had so few records, I could sit and listen to my whole collection in one sitting. They were haphazardly arranged and stacked between my dresser and one of the speakers. It wasn’t hard to listen to Some Girls, Van Halen’s debut, ZZ’s Deguello, and the few other records I had all in order. Pretty soon that stack got bigger and bigger. I finally went to Peach’s records on 75th and Metcalf when I was in high school and bought my first record crate. I think for my generation, that’s when you knew you were a “serious” collector… “Yes, I’ve got a record crate, I’m serious.”

At first, like many people I know, the albums were randomly placed in the crate. But then my OCD kicked in… there had to be a better way to organize all of this rock and roll. I know people who arrange their albums chronologically (which I think is impossible, I mean, where do greatest hits go?), alphabetically and in some cases by genre. I’m a simple alphabetic arrangement guy… AC/DC, Ryan Adams, Aerosmith, Airbourne, Alice In Chains… all the way to Neil Young and ZZ Top. You get the picture. Not only do they have to be in alphabetic order, but each artist’s LPs have to be in chronological order. Highway To Hell in front of Back In Black followed by For Those About To Rock and so on. Pretty soon I’ll be washing my hands repeatedly and pissing into milk jars that I keep in my attic home office but until then, let’s rock… in a strangely organized way.

When I’d pull a stack of records there were no rules. As I flipped through the crate I’d randomly pull records that caught my fancy – new stuff, stuff I hadn’t listened to enough, or just something I felt I wanted to hear like, well, Van Halen’s debut. Somethings never change. Although, I have to admit, the alphabetic lay out of my album collection often led me to an alphabetic tour through my music, a habit that has stuck with me to this day. I’m not anal-retentive, one album from the A’s, one for the B’s, on to Z. I just grab from one letter and then move on until I find the next one.

Seeing all these guys on the social media, showing their stack of albums recently played and being in a quarantine lockdown, I decided to keep track of what albums I listened to over the last week… on a journey through my record collection. In truth I started this last Thursday, so it’s a touch more than a week, but whose counting? Many times I’m listening to my MP3 player on shuffle, as background when I’m working but for the most part I’m listening to a whole album. In the last week I embarked on one of my OCD alphabetic trips through my record/CD/MP3 collection of music to sample some stuff. And like I said before there were different reasons I picked these records – revisiting some new stuff, some old stuff and some just random stuff for the hell of it.

Since we at B&V are not ready to come out of our quarantine cocoon (I want to see how it goes before I head to a bar), I realized that listening to a stack of records might be all I have to do this rainy, long Memorial Day weekend. If not a stack of records, I can always fall back on my Memorial Day, start of summer playlist, Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply) to put me in the summer mood.

Here’s my stack of records from the last week (8 days). I’ve put links to any accompanying posts for the selections, in case you’re bored this weekend and feel like reading:

A

B

  • The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man – I’ve been really into the Byrds since I saw the documentary, ‘Echo In the Canyon’ (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67). This is their debut and it’s amazing folk-rock.
  • Black Sabbath, Vol 4 – Because sometimes you just need some fucking metal.
  • David Bowie, Diamond Dogs – I felt I needed to hear this one for some reason. The deep tracks “Candidate” and “Rock and Roll With Me” really jumped out at me which is sometimes why I do this exercise, spelunking for deep tracks.
  • Buffalo Springfield, Again – Another band I’ve gotten into since ‘Echo In the Canyon.’ Or better said, got back into.

C

  • Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas – I’ve been working my way through Cohen’s catalog in reverse chronological order. I really like his late work and this album is no exception. I urge everyone to check out Cohen’s last three or four albums (LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy).
  • Eric Clapton, Just One Night – I really needed to hear a live album and this was the one I grabbed. It’s Clapton’s best live album in my humble or not so humble opinion.
  • Crosby, Still, Nash, Daylight Again – This one was probably another that grew out of ‘Echo In the Canyon.’ Crosby, Nash and Stills all feature in the documentary. Crosby was in such a state during the making of Daylight Again it was originally slated as a Stills/Nash album. They even brought in Art Garfunkel and Timothy B. Schmit of Eagles fame to sing Crosby’s high harmonies. The record company insisted Crosby be brought in and he comes up with one of my favorite songs of his, “Delta.”
  • Gene Clark, Gene Clark (aka White Light) – After hearing Gene’s phenomenal No Other (LP Review: Ex-Byrd Gene Clark, ‘No Other (Deluxe Edition)’, Forgotten 1974 Masterpiece), I had to start digging through his catalog. This one is remarkable.

D and E

I skipped D and E. Nothing by Dylan, Depeche Mode or the Eagles caught my eye… there’s more to choose from of course, but I kept moving. See, I’m not totally OCD.

F

  • Free, Fire And Water – The oft-overlooked  band (in America at least) that was a precursor to Bad Company. Paul Rodgers on lead vocals, Simon Kirke on drums with Andy Fraser on bass and the doomed but brilliant Paul Kossoff on guitar. This is their most well known record because of “All Right Now.” “Mr. Big” and the title track are pretty epic as well.
  • Peter Frampton, Frampton’s Camel – I really got into Frampton’s back catalog after hearing his All Blues (LP Review: Peter Frampton, ‘All Blues’). I don’t know why Camel wasn’t a bigger hit. It has all the ingredients that made Frampton Comes Alive the monster it became. I love the tone of his guitar.

G

H

  • Buddy Holly, Gold – Great package of 50 tracks from Buddy Holly. I just borrowed this from my father, of all people. Holly belongs with Elvis, Chuck Berry and the late, great Little Richard on the Rock and Roll Mount Rushmore. I’m blown away by how good Holly was and how long it took me to get around to listening to him.
  • George Harrison, Cloud Nine – My brother was always a huge fan of Harrison’s work. I’ve only gotten into him in the last few years. I should have gone for one of his older works, but I hadn’t heard this great LP for a really long time. The title track is a great bluesy thing w/ Clapton and Harrison trading licks.
  • Jimi Hendrix, People, Hell, Angels – They’re doing some really great work with Hendrix’s vault stuff.

I

Skipped it.

J

  • J. Geils Band, Nightmares…and Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle – This album is like the soundtrack of a great 70s house party. Upbeat, fun and rocking, this is one of my favorite J. Geils LPs. “Must Of Got Lost” is my favorite track of theirs. And I can’t say enough about Magic Dick on harmonica.
  • Jane’s Addiction, Nothings Shocking – I forget how heavy this album is. “Ted, Just Admit It…” about Ted Bundy has always been a favorite.

K

Skipped it. Considered some Lenny Kravitz but didn’t go there for some reason…

L

  • Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes – Phenomenal album… funky, slide guitar, Lowell George. One of the all time greats.
  • The Long Shot, Love Is For Losers – Billie Joe Armstrong’s busmen’s holiday. Boy, is he having fun here (LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project). Great blast of energetic punk-ish rock with an Ozzy Osbourne cover thrown in for good measure.
  • Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Men Without Women – This album is a primer in rock and roll, soul and R&B. Essential listening.

M

  • Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers – Jonathon Richman’s debut album. Jerry Harrison later of Talking Heads as well as David Robinson later of the Cars are both in the band. This is a great overlooked band… critic’s darlings, though.
  • Van Morrison, Three Chords and the Truth – I never know, after it’s been a while, when I return to an album if it’s going to be as good as I remembered it when I reviewed it. This one is… LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove.

N

  • Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson – A masterpiece from an underrated singer.

O

P

Q

I skipped Q, although I did have a hankering for some Queen. As you’ve noticed the number of albums that I’ve pulled form the later letters were less than when I began. There was no plan, that is just how it happened.

R

S

T

  • Television, Marquee Moon – A shimmering guitar masterpiece.

U

  • U2, Songs of Experience – The second of two themed albums, I hadn’t returned to this since I wrote about it, LP Review: U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience,’ Battling Ambition and Expectations, which is usually a bad sign. I had to go back and hear it again… the critics excoriated this album but I think there’s some stuff to like. If Bono would get over his grasping for current relevance and just get back to rocking it’d cure a lot of ills. The Edge’s guitar is M.I.A. Plug the guitar into the amp, riff and sing, it’s easy. Bono’s soaring voice helps elevate a lot of this Coldplay-esque material. Bono’s current playlist, “Songs That Saved My Life” has that same malady – trying to be current and hip. There’s no way that anything that Kanye West has recorded saved Bono’s life. C’mon man.

V

Skipped it… although you’d have thought I’d be putting Van Halen’s debut album on, but I like to confound people.

W

  • Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones – I’ve been working my way through Waits’ catalog (actually chronologically) as I was late to this party. This was the first of his really experimental albums and I was afraid it’d leave me cold. I loved it… especially on the headphones after a couple of drinks.

X

I like the L.A. punk band, X, but didn’t feel like listening on this pass through…

Y

  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado – I can’t stop going back to this album. Neil is just always better with Crazy Horse. This is his best since Psychedelic Pill, which was naturally with Crazy Horse. I miss Frank Sampedro pushing Neil into epic guitar duels, but this album reminds me that Young is like pizza – when Neil is perfect his LPs will change your life. When he’s good, like he is here, he’s really fucking good.

Z

  • Warren Zevon, Transverse City – I will admit, this is one I added this morning as I was writing this. It’s a concept album but a great and oft overlooked LP in his catalog. Worth checking out.

That’s it folks. What are you listening to this weekend? Let me know! Stay safe and healthy out there. And, of course, Happy Memorial Day.

Cheers!

I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990

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Since none of us will be seeing any concerts soon, I thought I’d reflect on the biggest show I ever attended…

After college, as I’ve often complained about in these pages, I took a job for a mammoth corporation who sent me, yes, to Arkansas. I’ll be the first to admit that Kansas City isn’t Paris, but Arkansas felt like exile, especially in the beginning when I was placed in a small town named Ft. Smith, Arkansas. More like Ft. Hell, Arkansas. Back then no one under forty should have been stationed in Ft. Hell. It felt like the most remote corner of the universe, although admittedly it was only 5 hours from everywhere (Dallas, KC, Shreveport, Memphis). There was a guy in the office who loved Ft. Smith. He had been born there, married there, raised kids there and for all I know he died there. I get it, he was a native son and he loved it. He also used to pull his suit pants up to his nipples…no accounting for taste as the saying goes. He used to stand at my desk and espouse the virtues of his hometown… I always just kinda mumbled, quoting Muddy Waters, “Yeah man, but, uh, “I Can’t Get No Grindin’.”” I guess I was too much of a “yankee.”

By 1989 they’d moved me to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a move I believe that was made out of pity rather than cold profit and loss. That place was infinitely better. There was a college and a groovy little entertainment area on Dixon Street. My friend Ross and I used to pub crawl that street but those memories are more than a little blurry. The only good thing about Arkansas was befriending Ross, who remains a dear friend to this day.  I remember sitting on the used hide-a-bed couch in my apartment (with its lovely cigarette burn) watching the Berlin Wall come down that November. That was a cool part of history to watch happen. However, from Arkansas I thought I was watching it all unfold from another planet. Despite Fayetteville being a better place for a young man, I knew I had to get out of there. History was taking place and I was missing it.

I decided that November, watching the Wall fall that I was done with Arkansas and the mammoth corporation. No more working for the man! I would finish the year, cash any check they gave me and hightail it out of there. In February of 1990 I came careening into my parent’s driveway in my U-Haul with my meager possessions and moved back in with them. They were thrilled. My father didn’t talk to me for six months. It was a pretty hostile atmosphere so I didn’t really hang around at my folks’ house much. Instead I hit the road. I drove to see friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was “On the Road.” I went from Kansas City to Dallas to Louisville where I attended the Kentucky Derby, something every bourbon lover should do. Mint Juleps for everyone. All that Jack Kerouac’ing around was fun, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to Europe. Many of my friends had gone, either with siblings or alone and I wanted to tour the continent as well.

A guy I knew, with the unfortunate nickname Flytrap, loaned me his giant backpack which was really nice. When I went over to pick it up, he said, “You know Roger Waters is going to perform The Wall at the Berlin Wall… surely you’re gonna go?” Actually I’d heard but no, I wasn’t planning on it. “You’ve got to!!” exclaimed Flytrap. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. Roger Waters in an interview had said flippantly to a reporter, “I’ll perform The Wall when the Berlin Wall comes down.” Originally, Pink Floyd had only performed The Wall in the States at 10-gig stints in New York and another in Los Angeles. In the lawsuit against his former mates in Pink Floyd, Waters had won the rights to The Wall and the band got to carry on… The Wall was expensive to stage and not practical in an arena. He was doing it to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, so it was for a good cause.

The Wall is one of those seminal albums for me. It was the first Floyd album to come out after I’d turned on to rock and roll. I can remember riding in my buddy Brewster’s Mazda, he had a great stereo, and cranking “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 1)/The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2).” After hearing “Comfortably Numb” in that same car, I went out and plunked down the then hefty investment of $16 to buy the double-album. Sonically I had heard nothing like it. I had Dark Side of the Moon, but this rock opera/concept album blew my mind… But actually attending the performance with 350,000 strangers…in Berlin? I was too small minded to think it was even possible. But somehow, I had to make it happen. There was no internet back in those caveman days so I would have to figure out how to get tickets once I got over to Europe. At least now I had a mission.

I left the United States on July 3rd and arrived in Rome, Italy on July 4th. I guess I’m not a Yankee Doodle Dandy, leaving my country on its birthday. When I arrived in Rome they were experiencing a 100 year heat wave. I didn’t sleep on the plane and after securing my hotel room I got lost looking for it… the street signs were up on the buildings in that ancient city, not on the stop lights and I couldn’t navigate. I was, to say the least, addled. I was accosted by a group of gypsies, but before anything weird could go down, in frustration I let out a giant Ginsberg-ian “Howl.” That scared them and calmed me down… I found the street signs and breezed to my hotel. It was a wobbly start.

Rome was a hot, hazy blur but by the time I moved on to Florence, I’d gotten my travel legs. Eventually I went on to Venice and then to Munich. I remember pulling into the train station in Munich and someone was blaring AC/DC. I love Germany. I found a phone number to buy tickets to the impending Waters concert (billed as Roger Waters and Special Guests) on a poster and called and bought a ticket. They said it would be at “will-call,” which I never found. Luckily the concert wasn’t sold out and I was able to buy another ticket, pictured above, the day of the show. By the time the concert rolled around I was an old-pro, hardened veteran at the whole traveling by train thing.

I was hanging in Amsterdam prior the concert. There were no hotel rooms in Berlin. I’d actually been in Berlin prior to that and had gotten the lay of the land before coming to Amsterdam. My plan was to take an overnight train into Berlin, find a locker for my backpack and go to the show. There was no train out of Berlin until the next morning and I figured I’d do what I’d seen so many travelers do, sleep at the train station on a bench. When I got to Berlin on the 21st, all the lockers were taken in the train station. I didn’t want to lug the enormous backpack to the concert… I was starting to panic when at the last second I spotted an open locker. Another American was standing there and when I exultantly threw my backpack into the locker he looked at me and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are to have gotten that locker? It’s probably the last one in Berlin.” Indeed I am my friend, indeed I am.

The stage was set up on a patch of ground between Potsdamer Platz and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The area was known as “No Man’s Land” as it was a patch between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. Many people had been shot trying to escape tyranny on that very spot… This was hallowed ground indeed. The gates opened at 2pm in the afternoon and after rebuying another ticket, I was in line when they opened. I had never been that early for a show… or that sober. I didn’t even sniff a beer before the show. I had never seen a crowd this big in my life. I was able to get relatively close to the stage, but it was far enough that I thank God they had video screens.

I bought a bottle of water in a crush of people at the concession stand and took up my spot in the middle a fair ways back but still able to see everybody on stage… they weren’t so tiny I couldn’t make out who was who. I remember an Irish band playing, it might have been the Chieftans. Then the Hooters came on… I was not impressed with the Hooters. But then, the Band came out and did a set. Obviously Robbie Robertson wasn’t there (and Richard Manuel was sadly already gone) but Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm were all there. They even drug Ronnie Hawkins out to recreate his “Who Do You Love” from The Last Waltz. That was truly great. I’d have rather seen Dylan pop out than Ronnie Hawkins but dirty travelers can’t be choosers.

I don’t know why but there was a moment that has always stuck with me from that dusty afternoon surrounded by people. In between acts, they were playing music over the PA system. They put on Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” and the crowd went nuts. It was the first time I’d ever heard the song… I’d kind of lost track of Prince after Around The World In A Day. Maybe it was the huge cheer of the crowd, or the great sound system, but I’ve loved that song ever since…

Finally, the main event began. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the “Special Guests” and I was wondering who might show up. When the show started and Waters’ back up band, the Bleeding Heart Band launched into the opening track, “In the Flesh,” I realized that Germany’s own, the Scorpions were on stage. I love Klaus Meine and he was really into it. This was going to be something very different. I will say all the guest stars Waters brought on stage made this feel like the Who’s Tommy movie. I enjoyed the spectacle but it made me wish Gilmour, Wright and Mason were there instead… It was like a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. It was still a great, great show… but I’m a purist.

As the performers sang, the crew slowly built the wall around them. There’s the sound of a helicopter early on the album and for this performance Waters flew over in a real helicopter… knowing the history of that patch of land it sort of gave me goosebumps. My memory of specific guest stars is spotty… I remember Cyndi Lauper coming out for “Another Brick In the Wall (Pt 2)” and she was awful. Apparently Joni Mitchell was there and I have no recollection of that. Sinead O’Connor was great during “Mother.” They brought Bryan Adams out for the rocking “Young Lust” and I guess that was an appropriate choice at the time. I read later that Rod Stewart was the original choice so I look back at that performance as a bit of a missed opportunity. Jerry Hall did the “Are all these your guitars?” monologue and it was the low moment in the performance… her reading was as flat as a pancake, truly cringe-worthy.

The highlight for me was naturally “Comfortably Numb.” The Bleeding Heart Band did a great job with the material and by the time they were playing from behind the actual wall, I was only slightly still missing Gilmour. When they played “Comfortably Numb” taking the Gilmour vocal was none other than Van Morrison. I love Van the man. That was truly a great moment to witness. “The Trial” was over the top… The ultimate moment for me came at the end of “The Trial,” when the crowd was chanting (along with the band), “tear down the wall, tear down the wall.” The crowd of lusty Germans were screaming so loud you could feel it in your chest. Right before the wall fell, they projected an image of the actual Berlin Wall’s graffiti onto the giant white space that was “The Wall.” A crowd that was loud before got even louder, their ecstatic cries practically lifting me off my feet. I felt like I was floating, it was an ecstatic moment…and then the wall fell and it was fucking pandemonium. People were suddenly hugging me. I had tears in my eyes.

Waters and the entire company came out and did his solo track, “The Tide Is Turning” from Radio K.A.O.S., and it was the perfect choice. For the first time since sitting on the couch watching the Berlin Wall fall while exiled in Arkansas, I felt like I was alive again. I was back in the middle of something great.

Was it the greatest concert ever? I can’t say it was, but it was a very special show at a very special location at a very special point in time and history. I’m glad I got that gentle nudge from Flytrap that helped spur me to go. By the end of the show, I’d floated backwards and when it was over I fled to the train station where I discovered they’d scheduled a midnight train to Amsterdam to get rid of some of the concert goers. I jumped on that packed train and by the next day was sitting in a bar named the Bull Dog where I debated the Waters vs Pink Floyd issue with some guy from Cleveland.

Needless to say, it was quite a trip. As I like to say, buy the ticket, see the show. Always!

Cheers!

Lookback: Alice In Chains, The EPs – ‘Sap’ and ‘Jar of Flies’

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I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the bleak times we find ourselves in, but I have been really drawn to Alice In Chains’ music lately. Since these aren’t the sunniest of times, I’m perhaps making a mental-health tactical error listening to so much Alice In Chains but I’m doing it anyway. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always liked Alice In Chains, this isn’t a sudden epiphany or anything. I think it was when I assembled my smack-inspired playlist B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin that I reconnected with AIC. I picked a number of songs from their landmark album Dirt for that playlist and those songs sounded so great to me (it had been a while), I couldn’t help plunging back into the Layne Staley-era catalog. And by catalog I mean the three proper albums and the two EPs they released before he sadly passed. (I’m skipping We Die Young as I consider it an extended single…)

Of course Alice In Chains road into our consciousness on that early 90s Grunge wave. At the time, I thought Grunge would be like punk rock in the late 70s. Punk emerged to challenge the rock establishment who’d gotten fat and happy and yes, overblown. Punk stripped rock and roll back down to its primal roots. For the most part, the established bands merely absorbed the energy of punk and got back to a more lean and rocking sound (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s). I figured Grunge would just be the next generational kick in the ass. Unfortunately, Grunge killed everything that came before it. On our first date, the Rock Chick commented on Cobain killing all the 80s bands she dug, hence her name the Rock Chick. It’s how I knew we’d be together. When Grunge petered out, there was no one left standing which is why we’re subjected to a bunch of synth-based pop stars who masquerade as rock and roll now. I never Panic and I’m never At The Disco.

I remember watching VH1 (not to date myself as old), and they did a retrospective on Grunge’s impact on the 80s stars. They had Mike Reno, the lead singer of Loverboy (gads) and he was lamenting that Kurt Cobain killed his career. I think Loverboy was already headed down the tubes, Mike. Reno is swollen and fat on the show. He looks like someone who swallowed Mike Reno vs the actual Mike Reno. My favorite 80s star interviewed on that show was Lita Ford. She was sitting on the patio of her home on the beach – clearly she got out of the 80s having done pretty well for herself – wrapped in a blanket and she said something like, “Yeah Kurt Cobain killed all the 80s bands… what a drag.” What a drag indeed. On this VH1 show, they had someone from a hair band, I don’t recall which one, who said he’d asked the record company about ditching the big hair and spandex, maybe wearing jeans on stage and the record company told him it was “off brand.” He said the next time he was in his record company’s office, there was a giant poster of Alice In Chains behind the receptionist and they didn’t have big hair and were wearing jeans. I guess we should always act on our instincts…

I always considered AIC to be one of the four “big” or “most important” Grunge bands… Perhaps through the lens of Lita Ford or Mike Reno we might describe them as the Four Horsemen of the 90s Rock Apocalypse: Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I always thought of Alice In Chains as being distinctly Grunge. The other three bands have, to my ears, influences that they wear on their sleeves – PJ (classic rock), Nirvana (punk), and Soundgarden (soaring heavy metal). However, having gone back and listened to all three of the Layne LPs, you can hear kind of a death metal, atonal thing happening in the music. I love Jerry Cantrell’s heavy slabs of guitar and Sean Kinney’s drumming. That gloomy, moody sound certainly helps underpin the lyrics – depression, despair, isolation and addiction are common themes for AIC.

Alice In Chains were a big band – Dirt was 3x platinum and Alice In Chains was 2x platinum – but I always felt like they sort of underachieved a bit. The problem they had was, well, Layne Staley’s heroin addiction. They had to cancel out of much of the tour for Dirt. His addiction was so bad they didn’t even try to tour after Alice In Chains. I always wondered if the cover art on that latter album, a three-legged dog, was a swipe at Staley by his three other band members… kind of a “where are you?” message. They started off with a strong debut, Facelift. “Man In A Box” from that LP is one of the best songs ever. “Sea of Sorrow” and “Bleed the Freak” are amongst my favorites from AIC. Dirt was (with one exception) their critical and their commercial peak. The final Staley LP, the eponymously titled one aka “Tripod,” felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. Staley had deteriorated too far by that point. I still like that album but songs like “Frogs” and “Sludge Factory” just sort of miss the mark for me.

Eventually, the addiction claimed Layne Staley’s life. His story is perhaps the saddest I can think of. He’d locked himself in his Seattle condo and become utterly reclusive. His weight dropped down to a reported 86 lbs. He was emaciated and pale. His friends, bandmates and family continued to reach out to him and he wouldn’t respond. In April of 2002 he overdosed on a “speedball” a combination of heroin and cocaine. His body wasn’t discovered for two weeks. It was an awful end…

Beyond all of that, and beyond the three Layne Staley-era LPs, Alice In Chains did something interesting in those early days. Between each proper LP, they released an EP. For those not familiar with that vernacular, LP means “long player” aka, a full album length record. EP stands for “extended player” which means it’s longer than a single, with perhaps 3,4 or a few more songs, but not quite an album length disc. AIC’s two EPs from that era were different from the their main body in work as they were more acoustic based. There’s still some electric guitar to be found there but it’s more of an accent. There is an increased focus on Layne Staley and guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies. To me, the EPs they put out are their most brilliant work. Everyone should seek both of these out if you haven’t already. If you are familiar with these records, and  most people are, they are absolutely worth rediscovering.

Sap (1992)

Of the two EPs, I think Sap was the most surprising one. No one expected, after Facelift, to hear AIC go acoustic. There are 5 songs on the EP, but the last one is an untitled joke of a song so I really don’t consider that in the mix here. “Got Me Wrong” is probably the best known track and it’s great, but all three other tracks are phenomenal. The opener, “Brother” which they played on their exceptional Unplugged album (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs) sends the message that this EP is going to be something completely different from them. This music is so much more nuanced and layered than anything on the debut. Although, admittedly “Got You Wrong” could have been on Facelift or Dirt and I wouldn’t have been surprised. “I Am Inside” is haunting brilliance. I had completely forgotten that “Right Turn” has a Chris Cornell & Mark Arm cameo… it’s a great song that no one ever talks about. Everybody talks about the next EP… but this one is sublime.

Jar of Flies (1994)

This was the EP that brought me into the Alice In Chains fold. Back in the early/mid 90s I had this friend, Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) who when we were partying, invariably around four in the morning would say, “Hey, put on Jar of Flies.” His father was a principal where I went to high school and once threatened to pull out my rib cage if I didn’t stop terrorizing my Geometry teacher… the guy was an awful instructor and wasn’t engaging me mentally, but I digress. I stopped acting up, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, Jar of Flies is simply brilliant. The moody, atmospheric “Rotten Apple” opens the EP and the Cantrell/Staley harmonizing is hypnotizing. There’s not a bad moment on this thing. I think they released every song as a single – “Nutshell,” “I Stay Away,” “No Excuses” and “Don’t Follow” are all great tracks that follow the same template. I even like the instrumental, “Whale & Wasp.” Staley was fully engaged here and wrote the lyrics for four of the 6 tracks (I’m not counting the instrumental track here, obviously). To me this disc represents the height of Layne Staley’s abilities. While this EP is hugely popular and well-known, in these dark times it just felt right to highlight it as a “must-hear.” Its certainly earned a rediscovery.

Layne Staley was a great singer and a true talent. Alas, heroin snatched another artist. Alice In Chains with him in front were like a comet… they burned bright and broad only to snuff itself out way too soon. Alice In Chains has gone on since then with a new singer, William Duvall, who I saw open for the Stones. They’re still a solid band and a few tracks have caught my attention, “Your Decision” springs to mind, but they haven’t fully captured my ear the way the classic line up did. If you’ve got the emotional stability in these dark times, I urge you all to put these two brilliant, acoustic EPs on and turn them up loud.

With things “reopening” please be smart and keep yourself protected. Me, I’m going to continue my “Boo Radley” from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ impersonation and stay hidden in the attic until things clear up.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

B&V Playlist: Happy Mother’s Day Playlist… Probably Safest To Not Play For Mom

 

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“I hear “Mama” sounds the same in any tongue” – David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue”

I see that the calendar has rolled around to yet another “Hallmark Holiday,” namely Mother’s Day. I don’t know how this thing sneaks up on me every year. I’ll have to make the annual rush trip to the card shop, decked out in a mask and gloves… This year I’ll have to mail mom her card even though she lives in the same city as I do. Such is life in a pandemic.

I know there are all kinds of moms out there. Good ones, bad ones, tall ones, short ones, all kinds. When I refer to my mother, I tend to refer to her as “my sainted mother.” A lot of people say that about their mothers, but in this case, I really mean it. My mother is one of the nicest human beings you’re ever going to meet. If by chance I meet someone who knows my parents, inevitably the person says something along the lines of, “You’re mother is the sweetest person.” Which is probably confusing for most people  who meet me when they are forced to ponder how such a wonderful person (and she is wonderful) produced such a miscreant.

My first memory of my mother, and I’m willing to admit this may be apocryphal in nature, is riding in the back seat of a police car. No, I wasn’t arrested. I was probably two, which makes me think the memory was implanted in my head by hearing the story so many times. I was learning to tie my shoes. My mother was pregnant with my brother. For some reason my parents took me to the hardware store. They were looking for something and I wandered off. My shoe was untied and I swear in my mind I can see my tiny foot as I placed it on a stack of paint cans to tie my shoe. My father says he heard a crash, glanced down the aisle and all he could see were my legs sticking out from a pile of paint cans. I had a huge gash in my forehead, blood everywhere. My mom grabbed me and the cops grabbed my mom and rushed me to the hospital. I remember looking up at my mom’s face, bathed in the siren’s red glare as she tried to soothe me on the ride to the hospital. Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought of my mother as an angel. Paging Dr. Freud.

I feel bad for my mom. She had to play shuttle diplomat most of her life. She still does. She was the lone female in a small family surrounded by my father, me and my brother… none of whom got along particularly well in the old days. She would have to wander our house between whatever neutral corners that we’d all retreated to in order to avoid each other. I remember one Mother’s Day asking my dad what he was getting her for Mother’s Day… His reply always stuck with me, “Nothing…she’s not my mother.” There was none of that gross calling your wife “mother” at my house… Which, let’s face it, is super creepy.

I realize that the whole dynamic of mothers and daughters are completely different. Early in my tenure as the Evil Stepdad, I would drive my daughter to school every day. To torture her, I would tune the radio to NPR and make her listen to talk radio the bane of a junior high kid’s existence. I was the Evil Stepdad after all, so why not educate the child in the car. She would retaliate by wearing an entire bottle of perfume which was tough to stomach in a small car. One day on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ they had an author of a book about “mothers and daughters.” She was going on and on about mothers saying the most horrible things to their daughters because they thought they were “helping.” Stuff like, “I really liked your hair better when it was long,” or “Why in the world did you get bangs?” Usually when I pulled up to the school my daughter would spring from the car like she was being shot out of a cannon. On that day, as this lady author spun tales of mothers doing and saying horrible things, my daughter stayed in the car and turned up the volume. She and the Rock Chick were extremely tight even in those difficult adolescent days. I guess mother/daughter relationships are weird in their own right, maybe weirder.

In honor of all of you out there with complicated relationships with your mom (and whose isn’t?) we’ve compiled some of our favorite songs about moms. This isn’t going to be like a country song where it’s all sentimental misty-eyed love for mom. This playlist explores a lot of the more complicated emotions that are associated with moms. Some of my choices may leave you scratching your head, so I included an explanation of why I included it below. In some songs the mother might only be a part of a story with a broader meaning. I was surprised at how many songs about moms consist of conversations between sons/daughters and the mothers… maybe its the fact that so many of them are giving advice all the time, wanted or not. Maybe we just all have things we want to say to our mothers. There were a lot songs with “mama” in the title but they were mostly from the 70s where dudes called their girlfriends (or more appropriately their “main squeezes”) mama. I left those off the list, it was too close to that calling your wife “mother” thing. Creepy. In some of these songs the mother is only a peripheral figure in the story but if the vibe fit, I went for it. Again, these are just some of our favorites and it’s not meant to be definitive we’re just trying to put a smile on your face.

As always you can find our playlist on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Mother’s Day Playlist…Probably Safest To Not Play for Mom.” As usual I’m all over the place here from country to heavy metal. Here’s the link, with our explanations below.

**Technical Difficulties Prevent Posting the Spotify Link**

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper” – What mother doesn’t need a little “help” now and again?
  2. The Beatles, “Julia” – A song John Lennon wrote for his mother, Julia, who died when he was 17 when she was hit by a drunk driver… it was an off duty cop, no less.
  3. Norah Jones, “Tell Yer Mama” – A track in which Norah suggests to an ex that he should tell his mother he was raised wrong. Tough break-up tune. Mom is only a suggestion here, but it felt right.
  4. The Vaughn Brothers, “Baboom/Mama Said” – Where Jimmy and Stevie Ray trade guitar licks over the voice of their mother…
  5. Tracy Bonham, “Mother Mother” – I think Ms. Bonham captures the sometimes volatile nature of mother-daughter relationships here… but what do I know?
  6. The Rolling Stones, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby” – I’ve never understood completely why this mother was hiding in the shadows. It’s perhaps a mystery only Mick Jagger can solve.
  7. Cowboy Junkies, “Musical Key” – Beautiful song about both parents really. “My mother sang the sweetest melody, although she never sang in a musical key.” An ex of mine, back in the day, wrote these lyrics down in a homemade Mother’s Day card and that stuck with me…
  8. Bruce Springsteen, “The Wish” – Bruce wrote so many (angry) songs about his dad, I guess it was finally his mom’s turn. He did this in his On Broadway show so it must be important to him (Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way).
  9. Cream, “Mother’s Lament” – Cream “taking the piss” in a little humorous sing-a-long that I like to imagine was sung in taverns in England back in the day.
  10. Tom Petty, “Southern Accents” – Weird choice here, I know. Mom only makes a cameo but what a powerful image: “There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me…” One of Petty’s most evocative tunes.
  11. Joe Walsh & Barnstorm, “Mother Says” – I love Joe Walsh’s guitar playing. His solo stuff deserves more attention.
  12. Queen, “Tie Your Mother Down” – I’m not sure why mom needs to be tied down, but what Freddie Mercury wants, Freddie Mercury gets.
  13. Danzig, “Mother” – I think this song is hysterical. Glenn Danzig singing to someone’s mother, “and if you wanna find hell with me…” just kills me. It was either going to be this song or that crazy song of the same name by the Police, but I hate that one.
  14. Paul McCartney, “Only Mama Knows” – Great, late period rocker from McCartney.
  15. Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried” – My favorite song by Hags.
  16. John Lennon, “Mother” – A truly harrowing song where Lennon employs techniques he learned in scream therapy.
  17. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Mama Lion” – It was written about Joni Mitchell, but I like it on this list anyway. Whose mother out there wasn’t a lion when it came to protecting you?
  18. Social Distortion, “Mommy’s Little Monster” – A song best used to describe me or my wife’s cat.
  19. Warren Zevon, “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” – The mother here was his maternal grandmother who was not crazy about Warren’s father.
  20. Randy Newman, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” – Mothers are always giving advice. Too bad we rarely listen. Three Dog Night had a hit with this but I prefer Randy’s original version.
  21. U2, “Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono writing about his late mother. It all reminds me of how lucky I was to have my mom.
  22. Ozzy Osbourne, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – A phone call from a lonely pay phone that I made in college to my own mother springs to mind when I hear this song.
  23. Pink Floyd, “Mother” – “Mother should I build a wall?” A song about a, shall we say, overprotective mother?
  24. Dave Matthews Band, “Mother Father” – A nice little political rocker from DMB where the protagonist asks his mother & father, how did the world get into such a state? More relevant today than when it came out.
  25. Paul Simon, “Mother and Child Reunion” – Named after a dish in a restaurant that had both chicken and egg. Catchy, prime, rhymin’ Simon.
  26. Ozzy Osbourne, “Flying High Again” – This song sums up my entire adolescence…”Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad bad boy, no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” Perfect.
  27. James Brown, “Mother Popcorn” – I won’t even venture a guess as to what Soul Brother No. 1 is talking about here.
  28. David Gilmour, “In Any Tongue” – The best, most important track on this list. See the quote above.
  29. Metallica, “Mama Said” – Great deep track off of Load. 
  30. Elvis Presley, “That’s Alright” – Written for his mother. His first hit, I believe.
  31. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Child” – I think this is the first of two distinctly different versions of this song Clapton did. Or maybe both songs are from the same traditional song. I feel badly for those without a mother.
  32. Bob Seger, “Momma” – Great Seger from before Live Bullet made him famous.
  33. Bruce Springsteen, “The Hitter” – Another conversation with mom song. A burned-out boxer returns home and is trying to talk his mom into letting him in.
  34. Eric Clapton, “Motherless Children” – This one is from his comeback 461 Ocean Boulevard. 
  35. Neil Young, “New Mama” – “New mama’s got a sun in her eyes, no clouds are in my changing skies…”
  36. Aerosmith, “Mama Kin” – Steven Tyler’s favorite of their songs.
  37. Talking Heads, “Mommy, Daddy, You and I” – A disturbing tale of what sounds like a family of refugees heading north to escape… what?
  38. David Crosby & Graham Nash, “Carry Me” – This time it’s David Crosby writing about his newly deceased mother.
  39. Elvis Presley, “Mama Liked The Roses” – Hearing Elvis sing about his mama is almost as moving as hearing the man sing gospel.
  40. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Mommy Where’s Daddy?” – Goofballs singing a goofball song. I always laugh when I hear this song.
  41. The Beatles, “Your Mother Should Know” – She should… and she often does know, just ask her.
  42. The Who, “Squeeze Box” – Why does the mother have a squeeze box? Why does she play it all night? What is happening in this household? So many questions.
  43. Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – Epic song. So much more than a song about his mother, but I couldn’t resist. It’s another track where there’s a conversation between an artist and his mother.
  44. U2, “Mothers of the Disappeared” – A political track about the mothers under Pinochet’s cruel rule, dancing in the village square to symbolically shame the regime into freeing their sons who were “disappeared.”
  45. Van Morrison, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” – Van Morrison closing us out on a soulful rendition of what may be the same song Clapton did… A perfect reminder of how happy we should be with having any mother at all.

I’m sure you all have a favorite song that makes you think about your mother. Or a song that reminds you of her… Let me know what it is in the comments and I’ll add it to the playlist on Spotify. I hope you all have a safe, healthy, socially distanced Mother’s Day out there… Hint though, you’ll probably have a better day if you avoid playing this playlist for mom…

Cheers!

Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed

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Since it had been eight years since the last Fiona Apple album, 2012’s The Idler Wheel, I’d never have dreamed she’d drop the ultimate lockdown album a few weeks ago. While most of these songs were written prior to our current world situation, with its themes of breaking free, it’s perfect for right now. I think we’re all feeling a little confined these days… It’s like U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, an album the band wrote (in part) about the loss of Michael Hutchence. The themes of loss and sadness became universal after 9/11. I think Apple’s new album will come to define this time period in much the same way. The new album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters, even features several tracks where you hear dogs barking in the background. Now that I work from home, I can’t tell you how many conference calls and Zoom meetings I’ve been on where someone’s barking dogs in the background are the star of the call. My wife’s cat even meowed on a call I was hosting yesterday… such is our new reality.

It may surprise some of our faithful readers to find out that I’m a fan of Fiona Apple. More accurately, I’m a big fan of hers. I got on her bandwagon almost from the beginning. In 1996 I was dating the last in a series of psychopathic women and we finally ended the dismal affair that fall. Believe me, I wasn’t the most stable person at the time and I was attracting a certain type. I own my piece of the whole thing, but I digress. I remember going to the CD store with my friend’s younger brother. At that stage of the game, on the end of each row of CDs, the store had a “listening station” where you could actually hear an album before purchasing it. It was what we thought was cutting edge at the time. It certainly helped keep me from buying some duds back then.

I was standing at one of the listening stations, listening to tunes in an attempt to stave off my latest broken heart. Music and booze were my salves even then (bourbon and vinyl to the rescue). While the latest breakup was a very good thing, I had enjoyed the summer of going to my cruel and deranged ex’s lake house… always look for the upside. My friend’s younger brother walked up and handed me Fiona Apple’s debut CD, Tidal. “You’ve got to listen to this…” Her album was loaded on the listening station so I switched over to it. While I gazed into those beautiful, haunted blue-grey eyes, “Sleep To Dream” exploded into my ears and hit my lower brain stem. Oh, yes! I walked out of the store that day with that album in my stack of CDs. That album probably has her biggest hit, “Criminal,” but for me her signature song has always been another track on the disc, “Shadowboxer.” The image of someone punching the air in anticipation of an opponents next move was indelible…”Once my lover, now my friend, what a cruel thing to pretend.” This (then) 19-year old was a genius. This is what I’d imagined an album by Sylvia Plath would sound like had she been a singer and not a novelist/poet. ‘The Bell Jar’ set to piano? I felt like I was reading her diary. And… in the situation I found myself in back then, it was like she’d read my diary too.

By 1999, when her second album, whose title set a Guinness Book World Record for length which I’ll abbreviate here to When the Pawn… came out, Apple was a well known artist. Some of her public behavior had caused quite a stir. By that time I had taken control of my own life and had exorcised a lot of my own demons which included not dating unstable women. I enjoyed When the Pawn… which again explored the themes of relationships, failed and otherwise, in songs like “Get Him Back,” “Limp,” or “Get Gone.” That album disappeared somewhere… and perhaps because I was in a happy place, I never replaced it which is a shame. I went back and listened to it again and it was remarkable. I don’t think Apple has ever put out a bad album.

It was six years later when Apple came out with Extraordinary Machine. I fell in love with the title track. By the time the album came out I was happily married to the Rock Chick and in a great, great place. A friend burned me a copy of that album but looking back I think it was the original version… Fiona had gone into the studio with Jon Brion, who produced her first two records, and didn’t like the sound. She went back into the studio with a different producer to recut the tracks. However, someone leaked the original Brion production and I think that’s what I had. Having listened to both recently, the official release was indeed definitive. I remember Dave Matthews having a similar issue around the material that became Busted Stuff. The Napster era was indeed a weird time.

After that, I became oblivious to Apple’s work. I wasn’t even aware, or at best was only vaguely aware of 2012’s The Idler Wheel (another long poem title, abbreviated here). As prep for this post, I went back and listened to it for the first time and was blown away. It’s a quiet album, mostly featuring her voice and piano with Charley Drayton providing some interesting percussive elements. I had never heard any of this – proof that radio has failed us all. I will admit, hearing the whole album I couldn’t help but think of what Petty sang years ago, “The A&R man said, “I don’t hear a single”…” I get it, you gotta have a hook to get played on the radio. It’s a brilliant record nonetheless and certainly worth everyone’s time.

And now, Apple has released what is perhaps is her masterpiece. The title comes from the television cop show, ‘The Fall’ featuring a rather fetching Gillian Anderson… love the accent. She recorded the album in her home. I can’t tell if she produced it or she produced it with her talented backing band: Sebastian Steinberg (bass), Amy Aileen Wood (drums), and David Garza (vibes). Every member of the band plays multiple instruments, but I only listed their primary one. And as I mentioned, this is an album of a troubled soul looking for freedom. It’s certainly breathtaking. There is a lot of “homemade” percussion here. I think they were rapping on any surface they could strike here. There are times when even the piano sounds like it’s being used as a percussive instrument. I realize that a lot of you will struggle with the sound of some of this album. The more I listen to this album, the more it makes sense to me. Nothing will really prepare you for the aggressive sound of this record – it’s certainly not The Idler Wheel – especially the vocal gymnastic Apple goes through.

The opening track, “I Want You To Love Me” starts off as a lovely piano based ballad but Apple descends into an almost Yoko Ono like screeches and chirps. It’s your first hint that this is going to be a different album. “Shameika” is a great song about bullying. I love the chorus, “I’m pissed off, funny and wrong.” The song is a whirl which feels like the fear of being bullied set to sound. I also particularly like the line, “Sebastian says I’m a good man in a storm,” inspired by a band drug bust. What’s cooler than a band drug bust? On the title track, the lyrics just spill out of Apple, like she’s just freed herself after a long captivity… she’s in a hurry to impart the message… “fetch the bolt cutters I’ve been in here too long.”

There are so many tracks I love here. “Under the Table” recounts a dinner party Fiona made a bit uncomfortable for some inappropriate asshole, “Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up.” Thank God she won’t!! “Relay” features lyrics she wrote when she was 15, “Evil is a relay sport, when the one whose burned turns to pass the torch.” It reminds of a Springsteen lyric, “poison snake bites you, you’re poison too.”

There are a number of stand out tracks on the back end of this record. My favorite, and perhaps my favorite on the album is “Ladies.” I love the way she sings the title over and over…”Ladies, ladies, ladies…” “Heavy Balloon” is one of the greatest songs about depression that I’ve ever heard. “Cosmonauts” is an intense emotional track, which ends with Apple screaming. It’ll grab your attention. “For Her” gets the prize for the most arresting lyric, “You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.” Wow, that’s raw. The emotion is palpable.

I highly recommend everyone hear this album. This woman is an absolute genius which sadly means some won’t get it. I’m not saying you have to be a genius in order to get it – God knows, I’m no fucking genius. This album is at turns challenging, inspiring and believe it or not, funny. I know Apple has a lot of demons, nothing I want to go into, but I hope this album signals she’s in a better place. She’s more than a pop artist, she’s an important artist. People will be listening to this album, deciphering it, analyzing it in a 100 years.

Stay safe out there folks. Me, I’m filling a tumbler of vodka and fetching the bolt cutters…

 

New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”

Living In A Ghost Town - Single

“If I want a party, it’s a party of one” – The Rolling Stones, “Living In A Ghost Town”

I’ve been under the weather this week. Thankfully it’s not anything COVID related (knock on wood). This is a malady I’ve encountered before. I realized it was happening and quickly got the right meds and am thankfully, on the mend. It is scary to be ill during a pandemic. I managed to talk my doctor into a script without any visits to his office or any hospital, ground zero for COVID. Basically I slept for 48 hours. I’m feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle today… I slept so long the Stones actually released a fabulous new song. If my being unconscious is the price we have to pay for a new Stones tune, I’m certainly willing to take one for the team.

I’ve been waiting and hoping for new Stones’ tunes (dare I pray for an album?) since before I started B&V. I’ve freely admitted in these pages that the Stones are my Alpha and Omega when it comes to rock and roll. I can’t believe it’s been since 2005 that their phenomenal late period album A Bigger Bang came out. That album should have got a lot more airplay than it did. They haven’t put out anything new since, except the two bonus tracks on their greatest hits package GRRR! in 2012, “Gloom and Doom,” and “One More Shot.” I think we can all agree, 15 years is too long to have only put out two tracks even though they are great songs. Sure, we lauded their blues album, Blue And Lonesome, but that brilliant LP was all covers (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). At last, the Stones have put out a new original song, “Living In a Ghost Town,” and it is amazing. Blues-rock in a time of cholera…

People can say what they want about artists, but as I’ve seen in recent pandemic memes, what would you be doing now without movies, television, books and music? Art is indeed important. To paraphrase the famous 80s Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street,” “Art, for lack of a better word, is good.” I think our current circumstances have highlighted to all of us how important Art is (and yes, I’m capitalizing the word) in dark times. Picasso’s most famous painting ‘Guernica’ was done in the midst of the Spanish Civil war and is perhaps the greatest indictment of war ever put to canvas.

During America’s horrible nightmare on 9/11, it was Bruce Springsteen who first emerged with his brilliant album The Rising in response to the tragedy. It was a great source of solace for a lot of us. I still can’t hear the title track without a tear in my eye. I saw Springsteen the other night on the ‘Jersey4Jersey’ charity broadcast to raise money for the pandemic… great acoustic versions of “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl” with his wife Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. During this current pandemic, it was Bob Dylan who first emerged with his 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul,” a brilliant allegory about America’s lost hope and loss of direction as a result of the JFK assassination (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”). It appears our older artists are the ones leading the way these days…

I awoke from an awful fever dream yesterday…sweating and confused, like you do when you’re ill. I peaked on social media to see what if anything had changed in my absence due to unconsciousness. Amongst the usual daily futility around the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a hallucination… “The Rolling Stones Release New Song.” I sprang to my feet and after some momentary dizziness, staggered to my computer and immediately downloaded “Living In A Ghost Town.”

On Instagram, Jagger, Richards and Wood all released videos talking about the new song. Charlie Watts is indeed, too cool for social media. Ronnie’s video was the usual, “Hey, check out our new song.” Keith seemed to indicate this track was recorded a year ago in Los Angeles. The basic track may have been, but the lyrics seem to indicate that Mick has tinkered with this more recently. With references to the “lockdown,” this is obviously fresh off the press. The Stones have been working on a new album for what seems like forever and this track was obviously in the mix there. Keith recently said the work they were doing on the new album was “basically like carpentry.” I love when Keith says, “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now.” Indeed, Keef, indeed.

I don’t typically read other reviews before I write my own, but I saw the Guardian describe this as a reggae tune… I don’t hear that. The bass line is insistent and perhaps a bit funky. It reminds me of the bass line on “Has Anybody Seen My Baby.” It’s a haunting, mid tempo number… Jagger starts off singing, “I’m a ghost, living in a ghost town.” He evokes a once vibrant world where music was everywhere and people were out enjoying themselves, “Once this place was humming, And the air was full of drumming, The sound of cymbals crashing, Glasses were all smashing, Trumpets were all screaming, Saxophones were blaring, Nobody was caring if it’s day or night.” But now all is quiet…”living in a ghost town.”

The sound of this track is vintage Stones. Jagger’s vocal is fantastic. He melds frustration and longing together seamlessly. Keith and Ronnie’s guitars circle each other, weaving together like smoke rising from a fire. There’s even a harmonica solo. I love it when Mick plays harmonica… he’s one of the best on the planet and it seems only Keith Richards realizes it. Charlie’s drums are the heartbeat of the track. I don’t know whose playing bass – whether its Darryl Jones, Keith or Ronnie but whoever is playing is killing it. There’s a great gang backing vocal that pulls the whole thing together. At one point the music falls to hush and only Jagger’s voice carries the tune forward… I got fucking goose bumps.

“Living In A Ghost Town” is what I hope to be the first track from a new stellar Stones album. I think we could all use a kick ass Stones album to get us through this dark time. While I wish this tune arrived under better circumstances, it gives me hope and it makes me grateful for whatever music we can get from these guys. It’s a big fucking deal when the Stones put out new music… and this song is a big fucking deal.

Cheers! Stay safe and healthy out there! I look forward to a time when I want a party and it’s a party of all my friends and loved ones.