Get Out The Vote: The BourbonAndVinyl Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

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It’s that nasty time again, Election season… time to vote for your Rock And Roll Hall of Fame nominees. At least their are no threats to jail the nominees who fail to get elected… When the RnR Hall of Fame first opened I thought, like Ray Davies, “what a drag” to see the music of rebellion institutionalized. But the ceremonies have led to some great performances and jam sessions. I can’t help but think of Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Prince performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for George Harrison’s induction. Prince owns that guitar solo for me now.

This year’s nominees are a diverse set of acts, from punk to grunge to soul to disco to hip hop. There are a lot of deserving acts but in the end, you can only vote for 5 on the HoF’s website. The fans are allowed to vote on the website once a day with a Facebook address or an email address and the fan’s ballot is then treated as 1 of the about six-hundred that get sent out to Rock journalists, historians and performers. To date, BourbonAndVinyl has not been formally asked to participate in the process which frankly, chaps my ass.

You may cast your vote daily here:

https://vote.rockhall.com

Here are the five acts your humble blogger at BourbonAndVinyl feel are the most deserving and who we’ll be voting for daily. It doesn’t make a huge difference but at least we have a small voice in this thing:

  1. Pearl Jam – the Kings of grunge. These guys have been kick ass their whole career. If you’ve seen them live, you know what I’m talking about. “Lightning Bolt,” their last album was proof that they’re still going strong. Eddie Vedder is one of the greatest voices of all time.
  2. Depeche Mode – Dave Gahan and the gang are so influential I’m not sure why they haven’t been voted in already. Their new LP drops in 2017, entitled “Spirit.” I could listen to Dave Gahan sing all day long.
  3. The Cars – They could be voted in on the strength of their debut album alone. Consider “Candy-O” and “Heartbeat City” and these guys deserve to be in the Hall.
  4. Jane’s Addiction – Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro… Another very influential 90’s band. Perry also created Lollapalooza which should give Jane’s extra consideration. Who doesn’t love “Jane Says”?
  5. J. Geils Band – this fifth choice was tough for me. I almost voted in Tupac but I love Peter Wolf. The band’s earlier, bluesy stuff is what I feel qualifies them. “Musta Got Lost” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

In the spirit of democracy, I shall list the remaining nominees this year, and the reasons I didn’t vote for them:

  1. Tupac – the man is a legend. He’ll likely get in first ballot. I always loved the tune “California Love.”
  2. Chic – I love Nile Rodgers as much as the next guy, and he should get into the Hall as a producer, but Chic wasn’t my cup of tea.
  3. Journey – these guys are actually leading the fan vote now which disturbs me deeply. I mean, I saw Journey twice in high school – that’s high school folks, who didn’t make mistakes in their youth. I grew out of it. I always liked the Gregg Rollie era better than the later stuff. Steve Perry turned into such a dick. I fear people are voting for Journey in the hopes Perry will show up and sing with the rest of the band, but knowing Steve, I doubt it. And really, who wants to see Jonathan Cain get into the Hall….
  4. Bad Brains – I know zero about them. There are limits to even B&V’s music knowledge.
  5. Janet Jackson – it’s the Rock And Roll Hall, not the Pop Hall of Fame.
  6. Chaka Khan – One hit wonder.
  7. ELO – Oh, spare me. These guys were so derivative of the Beatles Jeff Lynne ended up producing George Harrison. They had a few good songs but were a bit twee in my mind.
  8. Joan Baez – I’ve never been able to stand this woman’s screechy, warbling. I blame Bob Dylan for her influence.
  9. Joe Tex – I know nothing about this guy either. With a name like Joe Tex, he might be a blues guy so I might have to do some home work here.
  10. Kraftwerk – this is a scary German synth band that people who want to sound cool cite as an influence. Don’t believe them, no one listens to Kraftwerk.
  11. MC5- Solid, if short lived punk band in the same vein as the Stooges… I considered these guys in J Geils place as well…
  12. Steppenwolf – Overrated…
  13. The Zombies – Not a bad band, solidly blues based, but Hall of Fame worthy?
  14. Yes – The prog rock giants. There were so many configurations of this band I wonder if the stage is large enough to hold them all. Guitarist Steve Howe looks like the Crypt Keeper these days. I liked Yes, but outside of “The Yes Album,” “Fragile,” and maybe “90125” I’d be hard pressed to name another Yes album.

There you have it folks, the B&V take on this year’s all important Election. Who will you be voting for? Let me know in the comments section who you like if you disagree with my take.

As always, take care of yourself out there, the actual Election for US President gets darker every day, which is something I thought would be impossible. Even my cat woke up hissing from a nightmare today, which seems biblical in it’s portent. It’s a dark time… put on some groovy music and pour some of the dark stuff. For me today it’s Bob Dylan and Buffalo Trace… Hunker down, that’s my advice.

Cheers!

 

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Dylan’s Silence on Nobel Prize: Is Anybody Really Surprised?

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I heard like everybody else a few weeks ago that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was surprised, but very pleased. I was in a bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas back in the 80s talking to a neanderthal drunkard who said to me in his pronounced southern drawl, “Bob Dylan is a poet man, but I can’t stand his voice. He can’t (pronounced cain’t) sing.” Apparently the Nobel committee agrees with that guy. Well, at least the poet part.

As it turns out, I was in Vegas all this week, at one of those terrible sales conferences I’m forced to attend once or twice a year. When I go to Vegas I sort of “lose time.” I enter the conference hotel which is akin to Biosphere and I don’t come out again until it’s time to go home. I’m surprised the sky doesn’t freak me out after not seeing it for 5 days… Other than sports (Go Cubs!) I don’t manage to keep up with current events. Massive earthquakes could swallow New York and LA, the zombie apocalypse could begin, the Faces could reunite and I’d likely be oblivious to all of it. I got up in the early hours yesterday to flee Vegas like a card-counter when I finally had time to check out what’s been happening this week. It appears Mr. Dylan has been utterly silent about his Nobel Award and the Swedes are pissed off about it. There was a brief mention of the Award on Dylan’s website but almost as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. No one knows if he’s even going to show up to accept the Award. He simply hasn’t acknowledged it. Even the New York Times published an Op-Ed entitled “What Does Dylan’s Silence on the Nobel Prize Mean?” Good luck figuring that out, pal.

I have to ask the question at this point… Is anybody surprised by this response from Dylan. I certainly am not. He’s been surprising us his whole career. To review…

After releasing two of the greatest folk albums of all time, chock full of protest tunes, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “The Times They Are A-Changing,” Dylan released “Another Side of Bob Dylan” which, while still “folky” wasn’t really a protest, folk album. I read a review that called it a rock and roll album without any of the instrumentation. I know that had to throw his loyal, beatnik following for a loop back then.

On the heels of that he turns electric at Newport, backed by members of the intrepid Paul Butterfield Blues Band (I’ve got to write something about Michael Bloomfield sometime…) and once again his fans are freaked out. He then records a series of world changing masterpieces (“Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde On Blonde”) of which the first two had acoustic halves but “Blonde…” was full on blues rock. At one point during all this, backed by the musicians who became The Band, Dylan was booed and called Judas by his “adoring fans.”

After a period in the wilderness where he created country-rock (“Nashville Skyline,” another surprise) and the tremendous comeback of “Blood On The Tracks” and “Desire” Dylan turns everything upside down by going through his “Christian period.” The voice of the counterculture in the 60’s becomes a bible thumping, religious zealot, going so far as to preach about Jesus from the stage of his concerts. You have to admit, the guy has balls.

After everyone in the world thought that Dylan’s career and creativity were long dead he launches a late career renaissance with “Time Out of Mind.” He had a string of records after that that were great, great records. I urge all of you to check out “Modern Times” and “Love and Theft” at the very least.

A few years ago the man did a Victoria Secrets commercial. From “Christian period” to hawking bras. Who saw that coming? The man has put on some of the most confounding concerts of anybody since Elvis. I saw him a few years ago with Merle Haggard and Hags blew him off the stage. Dylan stood at the keyboards, staring vacantly into the crowd. Even I, who am a fanatic about Dylan, had to struggle to name the songs he was playing. More recently he’s put out two Frank Sinatra cover albums. The greatest song writer in the history of music, who has won a fucking Nobel Prize, is doing the great American songbook in a sleepy, bar band, saloon style.

The man has been confounding and confusing us for his entire career. And now the Swedes are pissed off? Come on guys, what did you expect? A conventional response? A humbled Dylan showing up in a tuxedo to give a speech. As a true artist, the man has never allowed himself to be confined to the expectations of his fans, the Nobel committee,  or anybody else. And frankly, when you think about it, that’s a pretty Rock And Roll thing to do.

Rage on in your silence Mr. Dylan. At this point, I’d be disappointed if he showed up.

Cheers!

My Fever Dream: Dark Days, A Hopeful Wedding And A Glimpse To The Future

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I love the fall. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall, I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl.” Autumn is usually sweet for me. It’s a time for football and breaking out the dark and murky fluids… it’s my bourbon season. Even the holidays are great. Halloween is always fun (hello to all those Naughty Nurses out there and sincerely, thank you all) and who doesn’t love Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is show up eat, drink too much and watch football. Besides Saint Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving is the PERFECT holiday.

And yet this year I’m feeling more of the grim determination of the second part of that Chili Pepper’s quote, “I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl,” than my usual autumn joy. It’s been a bit a tough year this year. Things are pretty grim at the office… lay offs and more threatened. I’ve been traveling almost all of October for work and as usual have had my annual bronchial infection that knocked me on my ass. Perhaps it’s my illness that has me down. With the exception of going out west to see my wonderful daughter fall has been a drag.

I must admit that a lot of this dark juju I’m feeling stems from this year’s Presidential Election. I think I speak for everybody who isn’t a cable TV news commentator that I’m suffering from “Election Fatigue.” My wife, the Rock Chick won’t even watch the news any more. Dark pronouncements, anger and contention is really getting to be a drag. Even the local commercials are full of bile, lies and accusations. It’s like being in the middle of a divorce trial. Why is daddy yelling “wrong” at mommy, if you get what I mean. I’m not a political person per se. I never talk about religion or politics, but it’s just been impossible to avoid this year. It’s really set a dark vision of the future.

Against that back drop, my oldest and dearest friend Jack’s eldest daughter got married last weekend. I was honored to have been invited. I know that it makes me sound like a sentimental sap, dressed in a fluffy robe, clutching a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark, singing “Send in the clowns, there oughta be clowns…” when I say this, but I do love weddings. I was always that guy people called when they had an extra slot in the wedding party. “We need an extra usher… let’s call Ken, he’s fun… but keep him away from the Vicar…”

This particular wedding last weekend was a beautiful, hippy-esque ceremony, and I mean that in a good way. The ceremony was held outside under a copse of trees on a beautiful Indian Summer day. It was cloudy and a beautiful breeze pushed the leaves around. A gauzy tapestry of green and lime hung behind the make-shift alter. The groom danced down the aisle with a smile that lit up the park. They were playing a rap song I vaguely recognized (Hey, I’m a Stones guy…give me some slack) and there was a palpable sense of joy. It felt like the trees were dancing along with him in the breeze. Jack’s daughter looked glowing in her beautiful gown. The vows were beautiful and emotional. What can I say, I was moved. I felt something for the first time all fall, and frankly for the first time in a long time. I felt a glimmer of hope.

Weddings have always been hopeful affairs in my mind. The joining of two people into one couple, the merger of two disparate families. The wonderful ceremony where friends and family join to witness and consecrate the union. The joy emanating from the couple and their families is always contagious. I’m not a religious person, but weddings and funerals do bring about a spirit of community that’s possibly akin to religion. Despite all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world, these two kids, bravely and beautifully standing up in front of everyone they know, holding hands and vowing to share their lives together felt almost defiant in their hope. And that in turn, gives me strength.

I began to think of the Rock Chick and my future. Our daughter isn’t too much younger than Jack’s eldest. They knew each other slightly when they were growing up. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for my daughter. She’s smart, educated and a hard worker. I don’t worry about her at all. But as I watched this new couple wed last weekend I wondered what that’ll be like when my own daughter gets married. As a step dad, my role in the wedding will likely be largely ceremonial, like paying for stuff, but it’ll be a life changing event. Then, inevitably there will come grandkids some day. I’m hopeful that’s a long way off. I was extremely immature when I married my wife (not that I’ve changed much since), and I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together… but grandkids? I’m not old enough for that yet…

I know a lot of people who are into this whole “grandparent” thing. They call themselves P-Paw or Nana or G-Maw… I want none of that shit. My daughter has always called me by my first name, Ken. I’m cool with that, as I never intended to supplant her dad. My vision of being grandparent, and this may seem odd, is based on the movie Cool Hand Luke. I don’t want my future grandkids to call me Grandpa, I want them to call me by the name I deserve – Boss Ken. I envision myself sitting in a big rocking chair out by the pool, straw hat on my head and mirror shades on, a large tumbler of bourbon that I’ll call “Boss Ken’s iced tea” in my hand. The children will call out to me things like “movin’ on into the pool now Boss Ken,” or “getting some water now Boss Ken.” They’ll whisper to each other things like “Don’t cross the man with no eyes…” like George Kennedy did. They’ll wonder why Boss Ken’s iced tea smells like gasoline. For their rapt obedience I shall reward them by teaching them about rock and roll. They’ll learn all of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog. I’ll sit in my rocking chair and say things like, “Wha, wha, what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s the way this chirren wants it, well he gets it… he’s in timeout.” I’ll have to work on developing a southern accent.

In turn, my wife, who is the most elegant woman I know, should be called “The Duchess.” I think that’s better than Nana. I can see my future grand kids asking their mother, “Do we get to go and see the Duchess this weekend? She always has presents and baked goods for us…but is Boss Ken gonna be there? He said we were going to have to listen to something called “Goats Head Soup” this weekend… that doesn’t sound good.”

Oh yes, Boss Ken and the Duchess… this does give me great hope for the future and it has a nice ring to it. I can see it all so clearly now….Maybe it’s the excess of cough syrup I’ve been drinking.

It’s a long dark ride people. Keep your friends and family close and as always, Cheers!

The Rolling Stones: “Just Your Fool” The First Single From ‘Blue And Lonesome’

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I haven’t been able to post much lately as my corporate overlords have had me on the road, traveling almost constantly. Then as inevitably happens in the fall, I fell ill. Too much time breathing the shared air of the airplane probably didn’t help either. Although I will say bronchitis does give me an excuse to cut back on the bourbon I am so fond of…but I digress. There is a lot of exciting new music coming out and newly released music to blog about. It’s truly an exciting time for rock fans – I just wish I felt better to enjoy it. Most exciting for your humble BourbonAndVinyl enthusiast is the new blues album coming out in early December from the Rolling Stones.

In the beginning for me, as a rock fan, it was the Stones. They were the first band to pierce my seeming obliviousness to music and all things rock and roll. ‘Some Girls’ was the first proper album I purchased with my own money. And for the Stones, in the beginning, it was The Blues. Their early records, “England’s Newest Hit Makers” and “12×5” were basically blues covers albums. It was the blues that brought Mick and Keith together at that train station over 50 years ago. It was the blues they played all around London at clubs like the Marquee Club.

I have always loved the Stones but have been frustrated with the lack of new music from them. The last non-greatest hits, non-live LP they put out was the superb “A Bigger Bang” and that was in 2005. It’s hard to believe these guys have waited 10 years to put out new music. Keith’s autobiography “Life,” where he disparaged Mick probably didn’t help their ability to sit down across a table and write music together. Sure it’s easy to tour and play on a stage but creative chemistry is a tougher thing to gauge.

I had heard that the Stones had gone into the studio late last year and was elated. Keith has said recently they were struggling to find a groove when he suggested they jam on some old blues covers to knock the cobwebs off. Apparently those sessions caught fire. Even Eric Clapton, who was recording next door, was pulled into the room for a couple of tracks. Over the course of three days the Stones recorded enough old, Chicago blues to fill an album.

The first salvo from that record is a great blues scorcher “Just Your Fool.” As the Rock Chick commented when I played it for her, “I love it when Mick Jagger plays the harmonica.” His harmonica is the first thing you hear on this old blues chestnut. This is rough and raw blues, the way it was meant to be played. Charlie Watts beat is in the pocket, his playing is just superb. These guys have been playing the blues for so long it’s their second language. Mick and Keith may diverge on a lot of points these days, but not the blues. It’s the thing that ties them together. They sound like they’re having a lot of fun. This is a great first single from what I hope to be a great album.

Of course this blast of blues leaves me with more questions than answers. Will they continue to work on a new LP of all new stuff? Will this spark the creative juices and heal the wounds between Mick and Keith? I certainly don’t know but I’m glad we have the Stones doing what they do best, the blues.

Cheers!

LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch

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I’m like everybody else when it comes to Green Day. They swept into my life like a juggernaut through a town square when their major label debut “Dookie” came out. In my mind, I tend to lump them in with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all the other “grunge” bands that took over the world of music in the 90s, but when I think about it, Green Day was really always a bit apart. First and foremost I think of most the grunge bands as being informed by punk rock, but Green day actually was a punk rock band. Most of the grunge scene erupted out of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and Green Day germinated in Oakland.

“Dookie” was so over played and beat to death by rock radio and I actually sold my copy at the used record store. “Dookie” was so massive it sort of dwarfed their two, fine, follow-up albums, “Insomniac” and “Nimrod.” I completely lost track of them, such was my saturation with “Dookie.” Oh sure, an occasional track would slip through my rather intense filter: “Geek Stink Breath” (my wife, the Rock Chick’s all time favorite), “Hitchin’ A Ride,” and “Brain Stew” were all great tracks, but I never investigated either of those records. It didn’t help that the ubiquitous single “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” became such a huge success. Once again radio beat Green Day to death before I could really get into them. And, I’ll be the first to admit, I just hate that song.

On one of my first dates with the Rock Chick we went to a record store, something I’d never done on a date before… stupid me. She bought a stack of CDs almost as tall as she was and one of them was Green Day’s “Warning,” an album I just loved immediately. We played it all evening long over pasta and a whole lot of wine, but I digress. Billie Joe Armstrong could write hooks all day long. There wasn’t a dud on that record. I began to investigate the Rock Chick’s other Green Day records and bam I was in. I even rediscovered “Dookie” for the classic it is. What jumped out at me on those records was how fantastic the rhythm section was – Mike Dirnt is a great bassist and Tre Cool may be the best drummer out there today.

Even though “Warning” was a great record, it appears Green Day’s creative process had broken down as the pressure to repeat “Dookie’s” success loomed, even 4 records in. The band ended up going to “band counciling” something akin to marriage counciling where Billie Joe admitted the pressure he felt was causing him to be hesitant to share new material with the band and to their, at the time, withering criticism. He apparently went on to admit that he’d always wanted to write the punk rock “Bohemian Rhapsody.” With the air cleared and the creative process open to roam free, Green Day came out with two Rock Operas in a row. “American Idiot” was probably the best of the two, but I think there was some great music on “21st Century Breakdown.”

After “21st Century Breakdown” came out I think everybody could agree the rock opera thing was probably played out. Instead of going back to basics and putting out a simple, straight forward punk rock album, over achiever Billie Joe Armstrong wrote 3 albums worth of material. I really liked “Uno,” “Dos” and “Tre” but the Rock Chick, who had loved Green Day much longer than I did, dismissed the albums as too polished and overproduced. I have to agree with her there, they were very polished records. She missed the raw menace of their earlier records. I think like all multiple albums, there was probably one great album somewhere there within the three. No one will ever convince me that “Kill the DJ” isn’t a stone cold classic. I think I may be the only person who really loved that trio of records, alas… Sadly Billie Joe succumbed to substance abuse and the subsequent tour was cancelled.

Which all leads me to their new, Billboard chart-topping LP, “Revolution Radio.” At last we have that return to a more raw, “punkier” sound, trimmed to just twelves songs. While this is not a rock opera per se, there are some definite themes and repeated lyrics that show up in different songs that tie the songs together. The entire album feels very much a unified whole. After the head-fake opening track, “Somewhere Now,” now which starts off acoustic for a minute or two then explodes into an electric anthem, Green Day snarl back with a triptych of some of their hardest music in quite a while: “Bang Bang,” “Revolution Radio,” and “Say Goodbye.” “Bang Bang” is a harrowing look inside a mass shooter’s thoughts. “Revolution Radio” is the call to arms here and for reasons I can’t explain reminds me of the Clash, or at least something they’d have written. Current events are very much a part of the lyrical make up of this album. “Troubled Times” is another topical kick ass tune. “Youngbloods,” a tune that may be written for Billie’s wife, is another great, upbeat tune and may be my favorite of the litter. “Forever Now” is punchy fun.

All that said, there are a handful of songs that are little more polished. I love the idea of the song “Outlaws,” but that chorus sounds like it was made for arena-ready crowds to sing along with. No matter how punk Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong are, they know how to write and exploit a hook. They simply can’t help it, they’re just melodic song writers. “Still Breathing” is a song I like but I wouldn’t describe it as a punk song. “Ordinary World” is an acoustic strummer that ends the album, and is much akin to “Good Riddance.” While I hated the latter song, I must say the new one doesn’t evoke that feeling in me yet… If they start playing “Ordinary World” at every wedding I go to like “Good Riddance” was, I reserve the right to change my mind on that…

Other than those handful of songs, the guitar is loud and punky throughout. Tre Cool’s drums are, as always, amazing. He’s probably the punkest thing about this record. His drum fills on “Bang Bang” are heart pounding. Mike Dirnt, the master of the strolling bass line is in fine form here as well. The band sounds rejuvenated and reinvigorated. The world needs an important band like Green Day who can rock this hard and still carry a social message. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little Revolution around here and what better place than on the Radio?

This one is a definite recommended buy from B&V. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

LP Review: Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” Rock’s Curmudgeon’s Understated, Rootsy Return

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I have to admit upfront that the Rock Chick hates Van Morrison with the same passionate distaste she usually reserves for the Eagles. Oh well, no two people’s musical tastes are ever going to match up perfectly… with the Rock Chick and I, we’re a Venn Diagram… with significant overlap, thank God. I couldn’t be with anybody with crappy musical taste. I once stopped seeing a beautiful, rich girl after two dates because she liked Barry Manilow. Gads man, Barry Manilow. Somehow, I’ve digressed way off point here. Anyway, I love hard rock and heavy metal as much as the next rock and roller, but there are those moments that I need to turn the volume down. Those 3 am, everybody’s asleep and I’m out on the deck, waiting for the sun to come up and join me, with a tumbler of bourbon in my hand, ruminating about “the big questions.” Oddly, I never find any solutions out there, just more bourbon. For those moments I can’t hear screaming guitar. I need more contemplative music… like Peter Wolf’s “A Cure For Loneliness.” In a word, or in this case a name, I need some Van Morrison.

My college roomie, Drew was the one who turned me on to Van Morrison. He played me “Astral Weeks” for the first time and after that I was hooked. In his early days I’d say Van was second only to Bob Dylan as rock’s premier poet. There was something about that crazy, Irish mystic that I found irresistible. That voice… Those early records were simply transcendent. 1968’s “Astral Weeks” is as close as this pagan ever got to a religious experience. I felt like I was listening to a groovy jazz monk chanting. Van was an Irish Soul Man extraordinaire. Emphasis on the Soul… Van was a searcher, always reaching out for some truth that just exceeded his grasp. He expressed his longing for enlightenment in almost every thing he did.

“Moondance” from 1970 was his best known LP and his other masterpiece but he did a lot of other great work. “His Band And the Street Choir” is a great, great album, that was a heavy influence on both Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger. Seger even covered “I’ve Been Workin'” from that LP on “Live Bullet.” It’s hard to exaggerate Van’s influence on popular music in the ’70s. “Tupelo Honey” is one of the most romantic songs I’ve ever heard. If it weren’t for the Rock Chick’s antipathy for Van, we would have danced to that song at our wedding. As it turns out, I snuck a Van song in for that first dance with “Have I Told You Lately,” but I used the Rod Stewart version.

That purple creative patch that Van had during the late 60’s, early 70’s drew to a close around the time he recorded “St Dominic’s Preview” in ’72. That was another set of mostly long tracks full of mystic poetry. “Listen To the Lion” still blows me away. Shortly after that he recorded one of the greatest live albums ever, “Too Late To Stop Now.” Do yourself a favor and pick that one up. Turn it up loud and just…groove, baby. He called his band in those days the Caledonia Soul Orchestra and they sounded like nobody else.

After that period Van’s music was kind of hit and miss for me. It’s hard to sustain that kind of creative genius. I know he went through a divorce somewhere in there. Like Dylan, he even went through a Christian period, although not quite as overt and strident as Dylan. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise, the spiritual had always mixed with the sensual in Van’s music. But as I said, it was always a little inconsistent for me. For every great album like “Poetics Champions Compose,” or “Enlightenment” there was a “How Long Has This Been Going On,” or worse, “Days Like This.” I sort of consigned Van to the past. I continued to cherish those early albums but gave up on hearing anything new and exciting from him. His personality turned sour and he became the quintessential curmudgeon. I was waiting for him to record a song entitled “You Kids Get Off of My Lawn.” His latest interview with Rolling Stone can only be described as “prickly.” He’s always got that porkpie hat on… It’s like he’s channeling Boris from the old Bullwinkle cartoons. Bitter party of Van…your table is ready.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere Van released “Down The Road” in 2002. It was jazzy, bluesy and Van sounded really committed. It’s like suddenly he was focused and trying again. He even evinced a sense of humor on that record on songs like “Whatever Happened To PJ Proby.” Van wasn’t breaking any new, transcendent ground here, he was just playing great music. He continued that streak with 2003’s “What’s Wrong With This Picture,” another jazzy, rootsy album. It was official in my mind, Van was on a hot streak. This was the kind of late career stuff that inspired B&V. He capped all of that off with “Magic Time” which was a return to those mystic, searching grand songs of his early period. “Magic Time” really blew me away. “Gypsy In My Soul” from that record is a song they should play at my funeral.

His follow up album, “Keep It Simple” was still strong but it paled in comparison to the three preceding LPs. Other than a great live performance of the entire “Astral Weeks” album recorded at the Hollywood Bowl I slipped away from Van again. He put out a critically lauded album, “Born To Sing: No Plan B” but I thought, if he couldn’t bother to come up with a better album title than that, why bother. If Van wasn’t going to make the effort, why should I? He followed that up with “Duets: Reworking the Catalog,” which screamed “cashing in,” although the critics were very kind to that record as well. It wasn’t like he was recording with Lady Gaga or any current pop singer. He mostly recorded with old friends and did obscure deep album tracks so perhaps my judgment on that LP was a bit harsh. I did pick up the song “Streets of Arklow” from that disc, the duet with Mick Hucknall from Simply Red – and believe me, I know how that sentence looks (Simply Red?) – and it’s an amazing song. I almost want to put on a kilt when I hear that one… almost.

I was in my car a few weeks ago, with the satellite radio on when I heard, “Too Late” a rollicking bluesy thing from Van’s new album “Keep Me Singing.” I really liked that song. It was catchy, well sung and gave me hope for another great LP from Van. I must admit, he’s delivered just that. This is not a party record, or a screaming guitar album. It’s Van’s usual mix of jazz, blues and Sinatra-era pop standards, a truly rootsy brew that is great late night music. Listening to “Keep Me Singing” makes me feel like I just walked into the basement music joint in Westport, Blaney’s, and the band is grooving. Van’s music is so anachronistic these songs could have been recorded 40 years ago or 40 days ago. Just hearing this album, makes me want to go up on the roof and pour a bourbon and it’s not even 3am.

There is a palpable sense of longing on this album. It’s not melancholic, but Van is clearly missing someone or some period of time, now distant and past. “Every Time I See A River” and “Out In the Cold” are both great “I still miss someone” songs. “Out In the Cold” is a true stand out here. “Memory Lane” again looks to the past as the title would obviously suggest. “In Tiburon” harkens back to Van’s halcyon San Francisco period as he name checks people and spots where he used to hang and “Going Down to Bangor” also is tied to Belfast memories. Van actually quotes the old spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…” in the great song “Holy Guardian Angel.” While this all sounds like sad stuff, it doesn’t come across that way. The title track is another of Van’s songs about reaching out for something just out of his grasp. His voice is spectacular as always. His “instrument” has aged quite well. I love his bluesy growl on “Going Down to Bangor” and “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword.” I just wish John Lee Hooker was still alive to have done one of those with Van as a duet…

While the theme here seems to be looking back, perhaps longingly, it’s with a certain joy. I don’t sense regret here. It’s more of an acknowledgement of the impact the past can have on you, on all of us really. It’s all heady stuff and really enjoyable music, if you dig music grounded in the traditions of jazz and blues. This is a triumph for Van to put out something this strong at this stage in the game. I always worry about craft over creativity with Van, but in this case, creativity wins out. There’s passion on this record.

Pick up “Keep Me Singing,” pour something strong after everyone has gone to bed and head out to the deck… those “big questions” need contemplation and this is just the soundtrack you need.

Cheers!