Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)

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There is perhaps no part of Bob Dylan’s career that is more controversial than his “Christian period.” Nothing compares to it… Not going from acoustic folky (although I always heard as much Robert Johnson or Son House as Woody Guthrie in that music) to electric rocker; not his retreat after a motorcycle accident and return with the quiet statement of John Wesley Harding when the rest of the world was dressed in psychedelic day-glo colors; not his turn to country music on Nashville Skyline – none of those stylistic turns and changes evoke more controversy and full throated criticism as Dylan’s Christian music. Even the universally loathed Self Portrait may be more valued than his trinity of gospel albums.

People tend to forget that after the collapse of the 60’s Hippy Dream came the decadence and selfish 70s with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War in defeat. America was kind of reeling. There were a lot of people who were groovy hippies in the 60s only to turn to God or EST or some other higher power in the 70s. Why would Dylan be any different? I’m not a religious man. On a good day I’d be considered a Pagan, but who wouldn’t want to dance naked around a tree? On a bad day I’d be considered a non-believer. I’ve always respected the tenets of Buddhism, especially karma and I dig Jesus, just not many of his followers. I’m like the Lloyd Bridges’ character in the movie Cousins, when he said, “God makes me nervous when you get him inside.”

I like to think of religious faith the same way I do sexual preference: Practice whatever brings you joy/happiness, just don’t talk to me about it. Despite all that, I can still appreciate art inspired by God. I can listen to Dylan’s religious albums the same way I can walk through a Cathedral and admire the passion of the workers and architects in building a beautiful monument to God with gorgeous stained-glass windows or a beautiful painting of Jesus in the arms of Mary. La Pieta is one of my favorite sculptures. But I can walk through that Cathedral, look at that statue and admire it without being drawn in by the message. I can admire the art for purely artistic purposes and despite my lack of faith, I can be moved by that art. I respect God as a perfectly acceptable muse. My muses have always been a bit more… temporal in nature.

It’s with that backdrop that I admit one of the first Dylan albums I ever bought, after his single LP Greatest Hits, (he’s pictured on the cover in a jean jacket, which became part of my wardrobe immediately) was 1979’s Slow Train Coming, the first salvo in what would be a trio of religious-themed albums. There had been hints Dylan had become born again. On the tour for the terribly received Street Legal, he’d been making sermon-like speeches from the stage. He’d also been seen wearing a silver cross. While critics weren’t crazy about Slow Train Coming, I loved it. I remember spending the night over at friend of mine’s house, who I’ll call Eddie, with a couple of other guys. We had the radio on that night and were drinking warm beer. I think some of the crowd were also on acid. Our local radio station kept playing “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Dylan’s single from Slow Train every thirty minutes or so. Every time he’d sing, “you might be sleeping on the floor, might be sleeping in a king sized bed,” we’d all break out laughing because we were sleeping on the floor. Of course that hysterical laughter might have been caused by the acid crazies who were there that night. Anyway, I went out and bought that record the next day. “Serve Somebody” is just a great song and it went on to win the Grammy that year. There were other great songs on that album, including the blues rave-up “Change My Way of Thinking” and the title track. To this day when I feel bad things are coming, I’ll invariable look at somebody and say, “There’s a slow train coming.” To me Slow Train was still a rock and roll album only with religious themes. Mark Knopfler’s lead guitar is amazing on this record.

After that Dylan returned in 1980 with Saved which was an all-out gospel album. It sounds like a tent revival with guitars. That’s where I got off the bandwagon, although in retrospect I did like a couple of the ballads from that record, “Covenant Woman,” and “What Can I Do For You?” Dylan’s final “Christian album” from the trilogy was 1981’s Shot of Love. Shot of Love, to me was a bit of a retreat from the strident Christianity of Saved. The album felt more like a rock and roll album with secular themes and lyrics full of religious references as opposed to full-on gospel. Dylan, it seemed, took the arc that many religious converts go through. I’ve always seen faith like a pendulum. The new convert swings hard to the right and is a strident solider for the Lord, trying to convert everyone through fear and fire and brimstone. Then the pendulum swings back to the left and they move to that “thankful phase,” where they’re just giddy to be saved… and then it starts to wear off. The pendulum falls back to the bottom, and they are still religious, but it doesn’t dominate every conversation any more. They see the world differently, but they see the world a little more clearly again. At least, those are the phases a guy I went to college with went through and it’s eerily similar to what I saw Dylan go through. Prior to 81, he’d refused to play any of his old songs and was only doing gospel stuff. By 81 he’d started to sprinkle older tunes back into the setlist. By 1983’s Infidels, Dylan was back to conventional rock and roll. Although I think his lyrics have been influenced by his Christian period ever since… the bible is an incredible source of lyrical content.

Earlier this year, Dylan released the 13th volume of his Bootleg Series, revisiting his Christian period, entitled Trouble No More. Santa brought me the deluxe, 9-disc (8 CDs, 1 DVD) edition. I posted a guide to Dylan’s brilliant Bootleg Series as one of my early posts, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. Dylan’s Bootleg Series falls into several categories. There are purely live/concert releases, (Vol 4, The Royal Albert Hall Concert, or Vol 5, The Rolling Thunder Review Live, Vol 6 Live 1964) that capture a certain important moment in his career. There are vault clearing releases, similar to Springsteen’s Tracks, (Vol 1 – 3, Rare and Unreleased or Vol 12, The Cutting Edge, 1965-1966). Finally, there are the releases that are meant to shed new light on a particularly maligned period of time in Dylan’s career (Vol 10, Another Self Portrait or Vol 8 Tell Tale Signs) that are typically chock full of live cuts, unreleased/different versions of tunes that were released and unreleased material from the aforementioned maligned period. Trouble No More is clearly in the latter category. This release is obviously intended to shed new light on this controversial part of his career. However, it also has the flavor of the first category, the purely live releases, in that most of this release is live stuff.

Discs 1 & 2, (which is the standard edition release of this set), contain live highlights from 1979 to 1981. These 2 discs, really do cast new light on Dylan’s religious period. There are some passionate, dare I say, joyful performances of the gospel material. His band was exceptional. Fred Tackett on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, and Tim Drummond on bass are all playing their asses off. Dylan augmented the band with four female back-up singers, Regina McCrary, Carolyn Dennis, Regina Peebles and Mona Lisa Young and these soulful ladies take you to church. There’s gospel, rock and roll and ballads. Dylan and the band are really committed to these performances. I particularly enjoyed the performance of “Caribbean Wind,” “In The Garden,” and the rocking “Slow Train.” For the casual fan, the standard edition, which only contains these performances, would be a good addition to your Dylan collection. These two discs capture that spirit of reevaluation that I think Dylan is looking for.

Discs 3 & 4 are the rare and unreleased stuff. Most of the stuff on 3/4 are rehearsals and early versions of previously released music. Although I’ll admit there are only a handful of truly unreleased material that I hadn’t heard before. The highlights from these discs are “Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One,” “Trouble In Mind” and “Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Nobody.” There is also a great version of “Caribbean Wind” done with a pedal steel guitar. It might be the definitive version of that song. Most of the unreleased stuff was performed live. There aren’t many studio outtakes. Since Dylan was refusing to play any of his older, “classic” material, he was augmenting the setlist with his new, unreleased stuff which must have been slightly baffling to his audience. There’s a lot of good stuff on these two discs. These discs are what made the deluxe edition essential for me… but I am a bit of an OCD completist.

Discs 5 & 6 contain highlights (which recreate the set list) from a series of concerts in Toronto in 1980. These are great, impassioned performances. I’m not sure they add much to the first two discs, though. Any reimagining of this material, without the studio gloss of the late 70s/early 80s will probably be realized by listening to those first discs which render these two discs somewhat superfluous. The performances of the songs have changed, Dylan always changes things up on stage (tempo/lyrics etc) so that part is fascinating.

Discs 7 & 8 contain a full concert, start to finish, from London in 1981. By 1981 Dylan, who had on previous gospel tours refused to play any of his older material, finally started to sprinkle old hits into the setlist… he called that tour “The Retrospective Tour.” I think this is an interesting performance in that it shows Dylan playing his older classic material alongside the gospel material. His aforementioned band members play with passion and the old stuff sounds great. This really was one of Dylan’s best backing bands.

Finally, Disc 9, the DVD is a curious film. In between live concert footage, they put in actor Michael Shannon playing a preacher, preaching sermons. I couldn’t hit the fast forward button quick enough. If you’re buying this set for the DVD, save your money.

I think Dylan’s Christian period is a fascinating chapter in his story. While I’m not sure all 8 discs of material are essential listening, I’d say the first two discs in the standard configuration of this set is essential to any Dylan fan. For the completist you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Discs 3/4 and the final concert on discs 7/8. Don’t even put the DVD in, it’s not worth it.

Those are my thoughts folks. Happy New Year! Be safe out there!

 

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The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees: Getting It Wrong, Again

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I like to be positive here at BourbonAndVinyl, there are enough haters out there, but this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Class (for 2018) has once again got my gander up. Of course this could just be a by-product of my annual Holiday Funk, but I’ve got to get this off my chest… I’ve been to the Rock Hall in Cleveland, and it was a great birthday-gift-trip from the Rock Chick. I dug seeing it. But as the years unfurl, the industry folks who make up the judges (who cast secret ballots) continue to fuck up the nomination process. I’m beginning to agree with the Sex Pistols’ famous letter rejecting the invitation to attend the ceremony, that the HOF is “urine in wine.” One might say they royally fucked up in the first place by putting the thing in Cleveland (which I actually thought was a descent city, great Lebanese food, but I’m from KC, what do I know). The Rock Hall should be in Memphis. That’s where the King was from… but that point is mute at this juncture.

I looked at the induction class for 2018 and frankly, I’m stunned. I guess I should not have been surprised, these are the same judges who put Journey in the Hall last year. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Journey? I thought they were ok when I was in high school, because I didn’t know any better and the chicks always seemed to dig Steve Perry’s voice. Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did see them twice in concert back then, which is barely defensible, but I seem to recall a chick being involved in both those nights as well. It’s likely I was trying out my “smooth moves” on some poor woman (and failing), but I do recall also thinking Neal Schon was a descent guitar player… I mean, he’d played with Santana. Ah, my misguided youth. I’m not proud of any of that.

I’ll start off by saying, in terms of the 2018 class, I was glad to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe being inducted in the “early influence” category, whatever that is. I hear a lot of grousing about the inclusion of Nina Simone, since she was more of a jazz singer than a rock and roller, but she’s such a huge influence, I’m happy to see her on the list. She was a giant. And, I think I speak for all of us when I say, everybody loves the Cars. I’m glad the Cars are finally getting their due. It’s after those names that the whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket.

Dire Straits was an OK band. Knopfler can play the guitar. He wrote a few catchy tunes. But Hall of Fame worthy? I just don’t see it, or perhaps more appropriately, hear it. I saw Dire Straits in concert and I was impressed with Knopfler, but I never dreamed they’d be in the Hall of Fame. Even knowing what I know now, that Dire Straits are a band the Rock Chick secretly listens to as a “guilty pleasure,” can’t change my mind on this. They were a middle-of-the-road band who never conjured the sort of excitement or danger I would think you would need to reach the Rock Hall of Fame. They literally broke no new ground.

But then it gets worse.. The Moody Blues are being inducted? I mean, I don’t mind Art Rock or Prog Rock (I dig Rush and Yes) or whatever the hell the Moodys are supposed to be, but the key to those genres is the “rock” part of the description. There is nothing rock and roll about the Moody Blues. When I met my wife, while I was trying to expand her musical universe, I posited my music theory: Every band has 1 great song, even if you don’t like the rest of the catalog, there’s always one tune you can attach to. The one exception to that rule is the Moody Blues. Everything they did sucks. “Knights In White Satin” is a song so bad I almost wreck my car, lunging toward the car radio to change the station, whenever I’m unlucky enough to hear them. The horror, the horror.

The Moody Blues inclusion in the HOF was bad enough but the cherry on top of this shit sandwich is Bon Jovi. Bon-fucking-Jovi. I read somewhere, someone quoted as saying “Bon Jovi is music for people who don’t like music very much.” I’d have killed to come up with that line… it’s sooooo true. The geniuses behind Slippery When Wet are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Does the HOF just want to start handing out participation trophies? These guys were such poseurs. They were supposed to be part of the whole 80s Heavy Metal/Hair Metal crowd, but this music isn’t metal… Maybe Metal Light. Bon Jovi are the Bud Light of Rock and Roll. “Urine in wine.”

It’s not like the Hall didn’t have some great choices on the ballot this year. Depeche Mode is one of the longest lasting, strong, influential, relevant bands in the world today. The Spirit album and tour this year were triumphant. What a great victory lap to have them inducted into the Hall this year, but no. Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead (who I don’t even like despite years of Arkansas Joel’s trying to get me to, but respect more than Bon Jovi) are seminal 90s bands. Rage has the strength and credibility of their political convictions and Tom Morello shreds on guitar. That rhythm section is something else… Radiohead are artier than anything the Moody Blues could come up with… they truly stretch the boundaries of rock and roll, but no. Judas Priest should be in the Hall of Fame, I’m with Eddie Trunk on this one. They’re one of the biggest bands to come out of the British Heavy Metal movement, and were a huge influence on almost every metal band that came after them but no… no, Bon Jovi gets in before them. The Hall told Judas Priest it took Black Sabbath 8 votes to make it. That’s fucking bullshit. I personally think the J Geils Band should be in the Hall. Forget about “Freeze Frame,” they were one of the 70s greatest blues, boogie bands around. But, no. Sigh.

It’s not even a problem with just this year’s ballot. There are so many acts that aren’t even on the ballot. They aren’t even being considered for inclusion/induction. These are bands/acts that are far better than Journey and Bon Jovi and have never, to my knowledge, been on the ballot:

  1. Soundgarden – UFB, that Bon Jovi is in before these guys. How poignant to have seen these guys put in after the devastating loss of Chris Cornell.
  2. Dio – Ronnie James Dio was the lead singer in Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band, yet no love from the Hall.
  3. Warren Zevon – Simply one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m with David Letterman, I can’t wait to see him come back and induct Warren. “Carmelita” is a song that should automatically qualify Zevon for the Hall.
  4. Ozzy/Robert Plant/Joe Walsh – These lead singers and guitarist are inducted as members of their respective bands, but have amassed an amazing body of solo work which has yet to be recognized by the Hall. I mean, each Beatle save Ringo is in the hall…. where are these great artists?
  5. Motley Crue – These guys would have been such a better choice than Bon Jovi to represent that 80s hard rock/heavy metal sound. Their first 5 albums are a great resume to run on.
  6. Bad Company/Free – Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke climbed from the ruins of Free’s demise and formed one of the biggest rock bands of the 70s, Bad Company. I think these guys deserve a hyphen nomination like the Small Faces/Faces got a few years ago.
  7. The Doobie Brothers – These guys were as big as the Eagles at one time… And while not all their music has aged as well as some, they still deserve consideration.
  8. Lucinda Williams – Brilliant voice, brilliant songwriter and a spectacular performer.
  9. The Smashing Pumpkins – Another seminal 90s band that has been tragically ignored.
  10. The Scorpions – Germany’s greatest export since the Volkswagen.

I could go on and on and on and on… But these are the bands that spring to mind. I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked many artists here. How do we fix this? They have a fan poll they run every year but I don’t think it factors into the actual judge’s voting so that won’t help. The problem with the Hall’s nomination system is that the voting is done in secret by a small group (one might call them an Evil Cabal) led by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine and Jon Landau (Springsteen’s erstwhile manager… I tend to agree with Little Steven’s dim view of this guy), and a few other industry types. There have been charges over the years that these guys nominate artists who have ties to their record companies. I think the committee to nominate should be expanded and should include artists – maybe the inductees, the living ones – and these judges should be forced to defend the logic they used in a public ballot… I’d love to hear Jann Wenner tell me why the fuck he voted for Bon Jovi. “Well, I saw Jon at the club and he asked me to help him out….” This whole things smells corrupt to me.

I’d like to thank everybody for allowing me this angry screed/rant. With all the relatives around, I had to barricade myself in my room, turn up the 1977 Springsteen bootleg from Rochester and pretend no one was here… Happy Holidays to all of you and please, Keep Rocking in the New Year… and remember the sage words of the Sex Pistols… “were not your monkey,” and don’t be anybody’s monkey.

 

Something Different: Confessions of the Evil Stepdad, Football Edition

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“And now for something completely different…” – Monty Python

As those of you have read BourbonAndVinyl before likely know, we’re very focused on music here. One might easily say we’re “overly” or “maniacally” focused on music here… The Rock Chick thinks I have a problem, but hey, that’s just marriage talking. On occasion, like Monty Python, I do like to focus on something completely different… (Humor: The Key To A Strong Marriage – Burt Reynold’s “Sharky’s Machine”). And since the dreaded holidays are bearing down on me, my thoughts have turned to family.

The holidays usually bring my thoughts around to family, something I’d always neglected in my youth, but a lot of this was brought on by the Rock Chick’s annual Christmas Party that we hosted last night. I call it the Rock Chick’s Christmas Party because despite it being held at my home, I don’t do a whole lot to help in preparation… (cue the Grinch music, “He’s a mean one….”). My oldest, dearest friend Douglas was unable to attend due to an illness in his family, which only seemed to reinforce my thoughts about my own family. And yes, Rich was at our Christmas party last night and I preempted his inevitable request for Oasis by playing them, even before he got here. I think we burned through their whole catalog and Liam Gallagher’s new album… Anything for the guests. The holidays are for giving! The Rock Chick is still sleeping it off on the couch…

My relationship with my family has always been complicated, even before I became a long-feathered-hair, Van Halen-blasting, teen miscreant. Perhaps the most complicated relationship for me was the one I had/have with my father. My epic battles with my father were the stuff of a Springsteen song… Adam did indeed raise a Cain. But long before all of that, back when I was but a whelp, my father and I did have something in common… For better or worse, I was raised in the midwest, in Kansas City. It just so happens there’s an NFL franchise located here, the Kansas City Chiefs. My father has been a season ticket holder for the Chiefs since their stadium, Arrowhead, opened in 1972. We strictly avoided the living room when my father was watching the Chiefs on television as there were shouts, screams, swearing, invectives to the football Gods, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes and general bad vibes coming from the TV room in those days… By 1974 the Chiefs had gotten slow and old and frankly, terrible. It was a different game back then…. Lenny “the Cool” Dawson, our quarterback (the most critical position) was 39 and looked 59, probably too many cigarettes and Fanta sodas…

Despite all that anger coming from the living room, for some reason, as a frail young child (I probably weighed 80 lbs and 10 of that was hair, even then), I made the crazy choice to cross the threshold of the living room, into the “crazy fan zone” and sit down on the couch across from “my father’s chair” (that no one was allowed to sit in, save him) and watch football in the presence of the crazy demon. I even had the temerity to ask him about the rules of the game (what’s this crazy “point after kick” thing). It was like Ulysses crossing into Hades to talk to the ghosts of his fallen comrades from the Trojan War, it took some real curiosity and stones to do so. My brother thought I was “nuts” and stayed upstairs in his room, listening to Beatles and Doors albums, but then again, he’s always been smarter than I am. The adrenalin of celebrating when the Chiefs (rarely) did something good, or lamenting when they did something bad was too intoxicating for me, even at my tender age. Pull the bar down firmly over your knees and enjoy the ride…

It was in that ancient year 1974 that the bottom fell out of the Chiefs’ franchise. They fell to 5-9 on the year (they only played 14 games back then) which cost the only head coach they’d known, Hank Stram to be fired. By December, it was fucking cold and even my father, a life long salesman, couldn’t sell people on going out to Arrowhead and attending   a Chiefs’ game. It was on a cold and dreary day that December the door of my bedroom opened, without the doorknob even turning and there was the (then) giant figure of my father standing in the doorway of my room. He always burst into my room unexpectedly, he just smashed the door open, I don’t think he even gave a thought to knocking, like he thought he’d catch me smoking a Camel or something. He looked around my room, with his usual air of suspicion, and said, “Put on something warm, you’re coming to the game with me today….” Apparently he’d noticed me sitting on the couch across from him in the living room during games, which surprised me, he usually never acknowledged my presence… This was going to be great! My first actual Chiefs game!

It was freezing. We lost to the Oakland Raiders, our arch-nemesis, 7-6, which is like watching a zero-zero soccer game. I didn’t have any cold weather gear, my father had neglected to think about that so I spent halftime and most of the third quarter in the heated men’s room, which nowadays is unthinkable. A week later, it was even colder and he took me to the Chiefs-Vikings game and we got our ass handed to us 35-15… When I wasn’t warming up in the bathroom, I sat to my father’s right, teeth chattering, wondering why I’d gotten on this train. But that was it, despite the cold, I was hooked. From then on, I was always at my father’s right… well, to be truthful, only during the shitty, cold games to begin with, but pretty soon, it was just an afternoon with him and I. Even during those awful, feuding, teenage years, there was this unofficial cease-fire that would happen on Sunday afternoons when we watched the Chiefs… where we would just go out and share our mutual love of football. And, while the Chiefs did suck, at least we got to see some great players from other teams… I saw Walter Payton, Earl Campbell and so many other great players just put up highlight reel games against the hapless Chiefs… For me, it was more than the game, it was a peaceful afternoon with my old man. Being a Chiefs fan was our shared family curse.

In my 20’s, I took a job for a large corporation and in their infinite wisdom, they sent me to Arkansas, my years in exile. I hated it there and one day, up and quit. My father went into mourning. The usual rage and despair he vented on the Chiefs was suddenly directed toward me. I got home in February, with a U-Haul, no money and no prospects. He didn’t speak to me until that following September. He burst into the room I’d moved back into, still without a knock, and said, “We leave at 10 am tomorrow….be ready…” and I realized, we were going to the Chiefs game. I resumed my seat at my father’s right hand. It took years, but sitting at those games with him finally healed a lot of bad shit between us…not all of it, but enough.

It was after the turn of the new millennium that I met the Rock Chick. It was a wild, dizzy, intoxicating, complicated love… With her came her daughter, a package deal. Rock Chick Mini-Me was a young whelp herself when I met her… And like me before her she had a complicated relationship with her stepfather. For years her mother and she had lived together in this “girl’s club house,” no boys allowed… And suddenly there was this interloper, me. This crazy dude with all these things called “albums” that she wasn’t allowed touch. In my defense, if she didn’t know what they were, she shouldn’t be mucking about with my records… but I digress. My stepdaughter loved her father and any sign of affection or allegiance to me was a betrayal of that love… it’s complicated when you’re a child of a broken marriage. Our relationship was, to say the least, strained… There were times when I’d pick her up from school and she’d turn her body completely away from me. She utterly despised me or did a great impersonation of someone who did… I wasn’t the most, ahem, mature person myself… I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together. I kept trying to develop a relationship with this child and nothing was working. The Rock Chick kept encouraging me to “get in there and be nice!” It was worse than dealing with my father during a Chiefs’ game.

Soon it became common knowledge in my house that avoiding the living room during Chiefs’ games was wise… I was in there watching the game and often there would be shouts, screams, swearing, invectives to the football Gods, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes, thrown hats and empty beer cans and general bad vibes coming from the evil stepdad when he was watching the Chiefs… My stepdaughter once asked me, “what’s the big deal about football?” I told her, “there are two things you should always know something about or boys will think you’re dumb… music (always know who sings what) and football (you never want to be the girl who says, look they kicked a home run).” Which, admittedly is stupid advice, but it’s all I had to go on at that time. By that stage of the game, I’d largely given up on forming any kind of relationship with this child. I thought to myself, I’ll grit my teeth until this person turns 18 and goes off to college… I love her mother that much, I can do that standing on my head…

And then something magic happened… One Sunday, while I was watching the Chiefs, probably fucking up another game, this young girl, no more than 70 pounds and 10 of that was actually hair,  had the guts to cross the threshold into the “crazy fan zone…” I looked over and out of nowhere (I hadn’t noticed, I was so caught up in the game) my stepdaughter was sitting next to me on the couch. She even had the temerity to ask me a few questions about the game…. “what’s this crazy ‘point after kick’ thing…” Suddenly, I wasn’t watching games alone on Sundays any more. I was watching with my stepdaughter seated next to me, instructing her about the finer points of the game. She’d ask all manner of questions. I don’t think that watching football was what turned my relationship with her around but I did notice she wasn’t turning her body completely away from me in the car any more…

It was during one of these games, sitting on the couch, when she asked me, very timidly, “Do you think I’d ever be able to go with you to a Chiefs’ game?” She had noticed that my father would always come by and we’d go to the game together, all clad in red… “Uh, well, honey, you realize that would mean spending like, six hours, your whole Sunday with just me?” This was a girl who once shouted at me from the deep end of a pool, “I hate you.” I wasn’t prepared for this… She smiled and said, “Yeah, I know, I think it’d be great…” I called my father, who I like to call, The Hard Guy, and said, my stepdaughter would like to go to the game this week. Now, my father is not an emotional man, but he knew the struggles I’d had with this child. “My God, man, does she realize that entails spending six hours alone with you? Even I struggle with that….” Ah, dad. I replied in the affirmative, yes, she seems to realize that. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I remember my dad very emotionally going into this Gettysburg Address type speech about the passing of the Chiefs’ torch through the generations that came out of nowhere, like his appearances in my room as a child. He was thrilled. Although, to this day I think it’s just because he wanted to get out of going to the game and spending six hours with me…in his defense it was going to be cold that weekend.

And so, the following Sunday, the majesty and splendor of a big-time sporting event unfolded before my daughter’s very eyes. It was cold. She spent half time in the heated ladies room. But that was it… she was hooked… and whenever possible, like this upcoming Christmas Eve, she’ll be sitting where she belongs, at my right hand, watching the Chiefs game… The family Chiefs’ curse and the torch has been passed. Win, lose or draw for my Chiefs, it’s already a win for me.

Happy Holiday Folks!

 

The BourbonAndVinyl Top Albums of 2017: From Allman to Plant to Neil Young

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I staggered through the living room last night, weary from the struggle that is my job, on the way to the sink for more water, when I saw the Rock Chick had the TV on. I get my water from the kitchen like a child avoiding bedtime because it’s just better than bathroom water, but I digress. Sadly, the news was on the TV. I have been conspicuously avoiding the news this year…none of it is good. I was stunned to see that it was Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S. I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be the “official” start of the holiday season – and besides St Patrick’s Day, it’s one of my favorites (I show up, eat, drink and then fall asleep watching football) – but for some reason it didn’t register to me that the holidays were upon me. Or should I say, the dreaded holidays, but that’s another post. Pearl Harbor Day, which was also my Sainted Grandmother’s birthday, always drives home the point that it’s fucking December, baby. I can’t believe the year of 2017 has sped by with such amazing rapidity. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating David Bowie’s birthday in January. And now I find myself almost terminally behind on Christmas shopping. It’s going to take some real Houdini level stunt for me to pull off Christmas this year… but that’s my problem.

It was again a tough year for rock and roll. Among this year’s losses were guitarist J. Geils, rock and roll pioneer and Founding Father Chuck Berry, and founding Allman Brother’s Band keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman. Amongst the toughest of this year’s losses was the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell, the extraordinary lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. That one is going to leave a mark. Such a gifted singer and wonderful human being. The one that really stunned me and left me in a funk that hangs over me even today was the loss of Rock Legend Tom Petty. Every time I see or hear someone do a Petty cover in tribute, the Rock Chick catches me tearing up. I was lucky enough to see Cornell and Soundgarden mere days before his loss and Petty on his farewell tour a month or so prior to his loss. Not a farewell I wanted but at least I got to see these old “friends” of mine once more… The lesson was not lost on me this year, buy the ticket – see the show. Live in the moment people, and cherish each one. More recently we even lost AC/DC rhythm guitarist/songwriter Malcolm Young… and while he’d been suffering from dementia for some time, the loss was not any less painful. I know there were many more we lost, alas, too many to list here. I wonder which acts will rise to fill the Rock void…

But amongst all that tragedy there was hope and there was light and most importantly there was some great music. Tis the Season for every publication from Rolling Stone to my mother’s neighborhood news letter to come out with their “best of” lists, ranking all the past year’s music. We’re no different down here at B&V, we just do it with a glass of strong drink in our hands. As you know, we focus on rock and roll here, so if you’re looking for Taylor Swift’s name here, you best move on. As I compiled the “best of” list, a couple of things jumped out at me. First and foremost, several of these acts had just put out albums last year. I like this trend, like it was in the 70s, of acts putting out records every year. Hell, Van Morrison put out 2 albums this year, within 2 months of each other. Very 70’s if not 60s of him, indeed. And while this is on the surface, a list of “best of” LPs, I’m including a couple of EPs and even a single. This is music you’re not going to find on the radio, but like last year, I’ll tell ya, however you get your music now – Spotify, CD, Satellite Radio, hopefully vinyl – you should seek this music out. I am not doing a stack ranking here. This is just good music… I’m just not into that competition thing this year… I’ve ranked these albums in a haphazard, alphabetical manner. Find this music, pour something strong if you’re so inclined and enjoy!

The BourbonAndVinyl Best Albums of 2017

  1. Gregg Allman, Southern Blood – A farewell note in the same vein of Bowie’s Blackstar or Warren Zevon’s The Wind. I especially liked the single, “My Only True Friend.” This was a gripping listen.
  2. David Bowie, No Plan (EP) – This isn’t an album, but this EP packaged the last three songs from Bowie’s Blackstar sessions (along with the previously released song “Lazarus”) that had only been previously available on the cast recording from “Lazarus,” the play he’d been working on. It was a nice Bowie Birthday surprise and I’m hoping there’s another waiting for us this coming January.
  3. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Tired of waiting for Stevie Nicks to record some tunes to complete an intended Fleetwood Mac project (Mick Fleetwood plays drums, McVie bass here), Buckingham and McVie put out the music they’d recorded under the duo’s title. They don’t have the baggage Lindsey and Stevie have and it turns out they’re a great pair.
  4. Cheap Trick, We’re All Alright – A gleeful rocker from Cheap Trick was a wonderful surprise, considering they’d just put out a strong album in 2016. This band is on a roll and I’ve really enjoyed this late career resurgence.
  5. David Crosby, Sky Trails – Following 2016’s homage to If I Could Only Remember My Name (the roughhewn Lighthouse), Crosby returned with this beautifully sung album. There’s a Joni Mitchell cover and a Steely Dan influenced tune. An overlooked gem of a record.
  6. Depeche Mode, Spirit – This one might be my pick for “album of the year.” From the political, “Where’s the Revolution,” and “Going Backward,” to the personal, “You Move,” Depeche deliver a slinky, sexy, dark state of the union address.
  7. Liam Gallagher, As You Were – I find Liam as unpleasant as the next guy, but he’s delivered the best post-Oasis album of anybody from that band with As You Were. This was the Rock Chick’s favorite of the year, although she’s a bigger Oasis fan than I ever was.
  8. Greta Van Fleet, From The Fires – Billed as a “double-EP,” this album might be criticized for being somewhat derivative but I love where these kids are coming from. Anybody influenced by Zeppelin in these days of hip hop and electronic pop is ok with me. They even cover Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
  9. Mick Jagger, Get A Grip/England Lost (Single) – Yes, this was merely a two-sided single but it’s a great political broadside to his home country. Oh, and the songs kick ass.
  10. Little Steven, Soulfire – A big, bombastic, 70s, arena-rock, absolute blast of a listen. I was so happy to see Little Steven restart his solo career. It’s nice to see him step out of the shadow of his famous best friend… “Down and Out In New York City” is my favorite track here… although it’s hard to pick just one.
  11. Van Morrison, Roll With The Punches – The first of two LPs Van put out this year, merely twelve months after the very strong Keep Me Singing. While mostly blues and R&B covers, this is a laid blues party with Van singing his ass off like he wrote these tunes. He’s got a lot of friends here, but his most inspired choice was inviting Jeff Beck to play guitar.
  12. Randy Newman, Dark Matter – Newman’s first new album in almost a decade proves he’s still got the wit and sense of humor to take on any topic from politics to the personal. “She Chose Me” is one of his most beautiful ballads. He’s like Mark Twain with a piano.
  13. Robert Plant, Carry Fire – Like it’s primal title suggest, Carry Fire finds Plant in rootsy, exploratory mode, where he combines rock, folk, Welsh folk, and African music into a sound gumbo that is a delight to experience. His singing is right out front and I love where his voice is at this point in his career. A truly stunning album and like Depeche Mode’s LP, possibly my candidate for album of the year.
  14. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains – Josh Homme and company’s hard rock, swinging dance party. “The Way You Used To Do” is my favorite song of the year. A great, hard rock record from start to finish.
  15. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording (Deluxe) – The Stones from way back, from 1963 to 1965. Hailed for returning to their roots on Blue And Lonesome, this compilation of BBC live recordings are the Stones’ roots unfolding before your very ears… back when Brian Jones was as important as Mick or Keith. These recordings crackle with a youthful energy that is a wonder to behold.
  16. Bob Seger, I Knew You When (Deluxe) – This was a near miss of a classic record from Seger, but there are enough great moments here to recommend it. It’s a blast to hear Seger cover, of all people, Lou Reed on “Busload of Faith.” This is Seger’s best album since The Distance. 
  17. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archival Recordings – Springsteen has been quietly releasing a new live, archival recording every first Friday, each month. It’s the only reason that I’ve found to celebrate the turn of a calendar month. From early releases of the rarely heard 1977 tour, to another great show in Houston on the 1978 tour these live recordings are something special. The 1996 release from The Ghost of Tom Joad solo tour was another recent release. If you’re not checking these live albums out, you’re missing out.
  18. U2, Songs of Experience – The long awaited sequel to Songs of Innocence. Bono’s recent brush with death inform these lyrics, and they’re some of his best. I can’t stop listening to this album, their best since How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. 
  19. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want – It took 25 years between solo albums, but Waters has delivered his best album since The Wall. This magnum opus is truly his solo masterpiece. I only regret I didn’t get to see it live, which a friend of mine told me was like going “to church.”
  20. Neil Young, Hitchhiker – Neil went back to the archives to release this stunning acoustic album, recorded in one night back in August of 1976… the full moon really worked some magic. While many of these songs came out on later albums and in different versions, hearing them all in this original setting is the way God and Neil intended them to be heard. Neil’s just launched his own streaming, archival website which will likely provide me with hours of rock n roll spelunking joy…

 

There you have it folks, 2017 in a classic rock nutshell. Happy Holidays.

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances

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They say it’s your first love that leaves the deepest impression. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m not so sure that’s true (I met the Rock Chick when I was 36…my personal records prior to that are sealed up tighter than the JFK files), but in the realm of rock and roll, for me, The Stones were my first love and definitely left the deepest impression on me. My musical tastes and record collection have grown and branched out in every conceivable direction over the years, but the roots have always been with the Stones. Everything that I really love has a solid basis in the blues. I wouldn’t even know what the blues are if it weren’t for the Stones.

I wasn’t really a fan of music as a kid, music was my brother’s thing. My brother and I tend to be polar opposites. I was but a child for most of the 70s and the only time I turned on the radio was to listen to a Royals baseball game, back when I still cared about baseball. My brother had a stereo and had started a record collection long before I ever did. I’d always wander by his room and hear the sound of guitar and drums pouring out from behind his locked door and just shake my head and keep walking. My brother was a big Beatles fan. Later he followed that up by getting deeply into George Harrison’s solo work. It took me years to get into George Harrison’s solo music, which is amazingly rewarding… but my brother, who also plays guitar, was so far ahead of me, he was cranking up Living In the Material World when he was 10.

All of this changed, of course, when I first heard the Rolling Stones 1978 LP, Some Girls. I asked my parents for a stereo for Christmas – back then you could get a turntable/cassette player/receiver and a couple of speakers for pretty cheap – and dipped into my lawn-mowing money to buy my first ever album, Some Girls. I practically wore that album out… I do remember the first time I listened to the whole album on the headphones, in my sainted Grandmother’s living room, and Mick sang that notorious lyric about women who wanted to “fuck all night…” I was staring at my Grandmother and I just about did a back flip when Mick sang those words, I was so stunned. Luckily the headphones protected Grandma from that… But besides that rather startling moment, hearing Some Girls for the first time was like having someone attach jumper cables to the base of my brain and pump the gas for 45 minutes. I was hooked. I’d sing along to “Shattered” at full (and off-key) throat.

One of the things I loved about Some Girls was the interplay of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars – “the ancient art of weaving” as Keith calls it – the guitars played off and around each other like they were sawing down a tree. As my lawn mowing income grew, I continued to buy more Stones’ albums. I started with the Ronnie Wood-era… Black and Blue and Love You Live were early additions to my record collection. When Emotional Rescue came out in ’80 I bought it the day it came out. Say what you want about some of the disco-leaning songs on that record, I still loved it… and there was a great, great blues tune on that record, “Down In The Hole.” And who wouldn’t love the lyric, “riding on a fine Arab chaaaaarger…”

I eventually discovered the Mick Taylor-era of the Stones music which is largely regarded as their “golden-era.” Mick Taylor had been a guitar virtuoso with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and when he joined the Stones, he largely took over the blistering leads and allowed Keith to become, as he calls himself, “the riff-miester.” Those albums, including Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers were some of the greatest albums ever recorded. After experiencing those albums, my Stones spelunking slowed down… For whatever reason, when it came to the early, Brian Jones-era Stones, I stopped after Beggars Banquet and Aftermath. I had some of that early music on a greatest hits album, but I never delved any further into the Stones early years. While I dug the blues, I viewed the Stones early stuff as “formative”…. there were too many blues covers and not enough original material for my immature tastes.

Naturally, I was wrong. Years later, I corrected this egregious mistake and bought all those early Stones records, which I consider as utterly essential for any rock fan… I went from England’s Newest Hitmakers all the way through Between the Buttons. While Mick Taylor gets the accolades for his guitar work with the Stones, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Brian Jones much anymore. The guy could play slide guitar like a Chicago-born bluesman. His work on “Little Red Rooster” is all the resume Brian Jones ever needed… Many people, like I did when I was a teenager, dismissed the Stones as a blues-cover band during their early years. That may be true, but doing that blues-cover apprenticeship was the crucible for everything that came after it.

I was thrilled last year when the Stones returned to their roots and recorded a full on blues-cover album, the sensational Blue And Lonesome (reviewed: LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). While that album was heralded as a “return” to their roots, this week the Stones actually released the actual roots… On Air (Deluxe) compiles 30 songs (on the 2 CD version) from the Stones early appearances on the BBC. These appearances have been largely bootlegged over the years, but this is the first official release. The sound quality is better here than on the bootlegs I’ve heard, but some of the tunes are rough enough to give the project a bootleg vibe.

The ‘Live At the BBC’ series has seen some great albums compiling the live performances of many great groups on that venerable radio station. I was always a huge fan of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, it was truly revelatory. The other albums from the series that are must-haves are from The Who and, of course, The Beatles. The Beatles Live At the BBC for me, was an important and under represented part of the Beatles story – The Beatles as a live, performing band… For whatever reason the Stones decided not to title this album BBC Sessions, much like when they did their own ‘Unplugged’ and called it Stripped. When you’re the Stones, I guess you do your own thing. The album is subtitled “A BBC Recording.”

Like those early, Brian Jones-era albums, On Air is an essential purchase for Stones fans, and fans of rock/blues rock in general. It’s so much fun to listen to these scruffy, dirty kids play the blues. The song selections on here, other than “Satisfaction” are largely covers. You hear blues, a healthy amount of Chuck Berry covers, Bo Diddley-covers and some R&B. These recordings crackle with an electricity and energy of youth. Charlie Watts’ drums in particular grabbed me. He is truly the engine of this band. Mick’s (and probably occasionally Brian’s) harmonica is sensational. I hadn’t really noticed but Brian and Keith Richards guitars intertwine in much the same way that Keith and Ronnie’s did a decade or so later. Brian Jones’ guitar on “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a raw, ragged slide guitar masterpiece.

Of the 30 performances captured here, eight of the songs are tracks that the Stones never committed to tape in a studio. It’s great to hear “Memphis, Tennessee” and their take on “Roll Over Beethoven.” All of the performances here hail from 1963 to 1965, before I was born… I don’t know if there will be a second release for the years 1965 to 1967, but I sure hope so. Anybody who wants to understand where that great late-60s, early 70s Stones music came from, look no further than here… (With the exception of some of the country stuff Gram Parsons introduced the band to, but I digress… ) Blues, big riffs, harmonica. It’s all here. Jagger sings a razor line on each of these tunes. The whole band just sounds great.

If you’re looking for something special for the stereo this year to drowned out the odious Christmas music, this is your solution. The Rolling Stones original line-up, before the arenas, before the massive tours, before the squabbles – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (when he was just as important as Mick), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were indeed a force of nature and something to behold… Rock and roll school is open, and class is in session. Turn this one up loud.

 

LP Review: U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience,’ Battling Ambition and Expectations

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Expectations can tough for anybody. I was a league bowler as a kid and I can still remember the pressure I felt when the team needed a strike to win the tournament. It felt like the whole bowling alley was watching me… The expectations and pressure were such that I rolled a gutter ball. I can’t imagine what the pressure on a band like U2 or Bruce Springsteen must be like. U2 is a group whose music is so transcendent, whose music has lifted the world up and whose music is so important to so many people it’s gotta be hard to live up to that. They are, as my friend The Accountant and I say, the soundtrack to our lives. With every new U2 album the expectations for a masterpiece rise to a dangerous level. It’s like the entire bowling alley is watching them… I know, in particular, Arkansas Joel and the Rock Chick always have such high expectations that U2 can’t possibly fulfill them. Their love for U2 is so intense that they are naturally set up for a disappointment with every new release that isn’t The Joshua Tree. 

Ambition is also a tricky thing. I love that line from one of U2’s songs, “Ambition bites the nails of success.” Make no mistake, U2 is a very ambitious band. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard different members of the band say, “we don’t want to be a crap band,” whatever that means. Their entire career can be looked at as the conflict between their ambition for popularity and their artful tendencies. Every album is almost a reaction to the last album’s reception. After the criticism that accompanied Rattle And Hum (which was overblown, that was a great album and “Heartland” remains one of my favorite songs), they retreated to Berlin and took an artistic left turn for Achtung Baby. They were still the serious rock band they’d always been, but they painted over it with a veneer of irony. Unfortunately the irony got carried away on Pop, which was one of their few weak albums. So, they reacted – they recorded the very serious All That You Can’t Leave Behind – an album that is always associated with 911, but was actually recorded before that. It was their reaction to the death of their friend Michael Hutchence of INXS and they’d purposely stripped away the irony because of the reaction to Pop. “Beautiful Day” is one of their best tunes and they almost left it off the album because it sounded “too much like a U2 song.” Thank God for Larry Mullen, Jr who intervened and insisted it be put on the album. Every band needs a Larry Mullen, Jr.

Part of the problem with U2’s ambition is that in order to gain the popularity they seek, they try too hard to be current vs doing what they do well, which is rock. How else can anybody explain the presence of Kendrick Lamar on two tracks here. His rap at the end of “Get Out of Your Own Way” and the beginning of “American Soul” are not only unnecessary but distracting. I’m not adverse to hip hop, I’m not that old, but it just didn’t make sense here. The list of producers on this album is longer than the stationary of most law firms. One can’t help but think U2 are trying too hard. I’ve heard the sound of this album compared to Imagine Dragons (and unfavorably at that). I can also hear a little Cage The Elephant here, but that’s probably just me. That’s the problem with multiple producers – they influence the sound of the band instead of the reverse of that. I’d like U2 to lock themselves in a room with Steve Lillywhite who produced their early stuff and just rock. If I was producing U2, I’d unplug most of the Edge’s effects pedals and turn his guitar up. When he flat out plays guitar he lifts the music beyond the ordinary much as he did on U2’s last masterpiece, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Bono’s lyrics on Songs Of Experience are nothing short of remarkable. The album has that same All That You Can’t Leave Behind sense of despair, hidden under big, sing-along choruses. Bono had a brush with death and it’s informed his lyrics. I even found the liner notes he wrote to be moving. Like Leave Behind, I think Songs of Experience happens to capture the current zeitgeist of most the world. Things are turning dark out there and these ruminations fit that mood. Bono has said these lyrics/songs were written as letters to those he cared about, or perhaps more accurately described, love letters.

With all of that said, I will say this is a good U2 album. It is not a masterpiece, but it’s good, probably very good. I think time will be very kind to this album. It’s flawed, as I said. The attempts at currency are a misstep, but when he occasionally plays his guitar, the Edge drives the music to fantastic places. “You’re The Best Thing About Me” remains my favorite song here. But I also really like “American Soul,” Bono’s love letter to America. “The Blackout” is a rocky, slinky affair that conjures thoughts of Achtung Baby. These guys are so good when they just rock out. I even like “The Showman (Little More Better)” a groovy little acoustic driven number. Its a joyful moment.

There are two great songs that address the refugee issue in Europe, “Red Flag Day” and “Summer of Love.” They are in the middle of the album and provide it with a real emotional center. There is a lot of love on this album… Of the ballads, I really like “The Little Things That Give You Away.” I think every musician whose ever made it from Motley Crue and GnR to U2, had a woman who let them sleep at her place… Bono chronicles his experience in a great song to his wife, “Landlady,” where he sings, “you always paid the rent…” I also found “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way” to be particularly moving but I’ve always liked U2’s serious ballads.

So what are my complaints here? The album is on the mellow end. The Rock Chick, like most people, likes her U2 loud and rocking. And when they do – “Best Thing About Me,” and “American Soul” she was all in. But for the most part these songs are rumination on love and death and they are on the downbeat side. Other than “The Blackout” I’m not sure I could play much of this album at a party, which isn’t necessarily the measure of a good album, but I think most people get what I mean. The production is a little too glossy for me. And, as I’ve mentioned, I would have liked to have heard the Edge’s guitar featured more prominently on this record. U2 shouldn’t be aiming to get played in clubs, they should be looking to get blasted out of the t-top of a Camaro. U2 need to ignore what is current, and stop grasping to compete with Taylor Swift on the charts. If they’d return to their core skills as a rock band, they’d find what they seek. I remember when Mick Jagger’s first solo album came out. Keith Richards savaged it, rightly so. Keith said Mick was throwing away his critical reputation by shaking his ass and wanting to compete against Madonna or Prince. Sage words, Keith, sage words.

U2 has all it needs to conquer the world again. And while this album probably won’t do that for them, it will fill stadiums and get people singing along. If I was U2, I’d just listen to anything Larry Mullen, Jr suggested as a musical direction. Follow the drummer, people. What I’d tell U2 is, “Free yourself to be yourself, if only you could see yourself.” If only…