Artist Lookback: Warren Zevon, His Essential Albums

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“I want live alone in the desert, I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe, I want to live on the Upper East Side and never go down in the street…” – “Splendid Isolation,” Warren Zevon

I find myself thinking a lot about Warren Zevon these days. I know most people only know him from his “novelty” single, “Werewolves of London,” which is a shame, because he put out so many more great songs. It’s like only knowing Randy Newman from “Short People.” There’s so much more if you just investigate… Zevon was simply one of the greatest lyricists and songwriters who ever lived.

Part of my problem these days, is that I hate winter, “always cold, no sunshine.” I’m sure that if I lived in some majestically beautiful Scandinavian country, like Sweden or Norway, I’d love winter. Beautiful blonde people, likely skiing to work and sharing rich chocolates with coffee, synchronized precision timepieces, everyone dressed in colorful snow gear, with complete healthcare coverage. That would be ok. But I live in America’s heartland, where it’s just gray and cold. I find myself thinking about Warren’s brilliantly overlooked song, “Splendid Isolation,” a paean to being alone. That’s how I feel in the winter. No good new music. Football is basically over since my Chiefs lost in the playoffs. Even the Rock Chick is mired in her annual, ritualized winter “funk.” I tip toe around this place. “I’m putting tinfoil on the windows, I’m lying down in the dark to dream.” Oh, Warren we need you.

As I posted last month, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced their annual inductees list (The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees: Getting It Wrong, Again). As usual the list is a combination of the deserving (Nina Simone, The Cars) and the confusingly undeserving (Moody Blues, Bon Jovi). The omissions are more glaring each year. I scan the list, the same way I scanned the ballot this year, because hey, voting is a right people, exercise it… and as usual Warren Zevon’s name was conspicuously absent. Even on the ballot. It’s baffling. While inducting Pearl Jam last year, as a stand-in for Neil Young, David Letterman mentioned he looks forward to coming back to the Hall and inducting his friend Warren Zevon. I look forward to the Hall committee gaining some sanity and having Letterman back to do just that, induct Warren Zevon. Please, induct Warren Zevon… So naturally, since last month, my thoughts occasionally drift back to Warren because of the mess the Hall has made of it.

We live in terribly troubling times. And while Zevon is known for his sense of humor, his biting satire ranks up there with Randy Newman’s, he also had a keen mind for expressing political ideas in his songs. “The Envoy,” “Veracruz,” and the brilliant “Disorder In the House” are great examples. I could use some of that political satire right now. I think we all could. I do often wonder what Zevon would make of the current political situation we find ourselves in.

While I enjoy Zevon’s funnier moments and his political moments, I am still awe of the way he was so open about his struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. Zevon struggled early in his career, but was championed by his friend Jackson Browne who produced his commercial breakthrough, Excitable BoyLinda Rondstadt was also a big, early fan and she covered a number of Warren’s tunes, from the big hit “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me,” (a song Zevon jokingly wrote about Jackson Browne, who bemoaned that all the girls loved him…) to her soulful cover of “Mohammed’s Radio.” After his first two albums, when the acclaim and success finally came, Warren fell into a bad cycle of alcoholism and substance abuse. After Excitable Boy in 1978 it took him 2 years, a lifetime back then, to come back with Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, which was an unflinching look at his addictions. Unfortunately, it would be a recurring cycle for Warren. Every bit of success was followed by a lapse. But unfailingly, through out the rest of his career he sang about his addictions. Considering the tragic deaths of Tom Petty (newly revealed to be an overdose) and Prince, perhaps we should have all been listening to Zevon’s warnings more closely. Zevon also wrote some of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. If “Keep Me In Your Heart For a While” doesn’t break your heart… you don’t have one. His ability to express vulnerability is unsurpassed.

There are certain albums from the Zevon canon that I feel are essential. If you’re not a completist, like I am (I admit it, I have a problem), Zevon has a couple of superb “greatest hits” packages that give you a good feel for his catalog: Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon or I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead are excellent starting places for Zevon’s music. But if you’re like me and you want to delve deeper into what we at B&V feel are his “essential” albums, here is our list. I envy those of you who are uninitiated in the catalog of Warren Zevon… this will be an enjoyable process.

  1. Warren Zevon, 1976. Thought of as his first album, it’s actually his second. This album is Zevon’s masterpiece. The tunes Ronstadt covered are here, “Mohammed’s Radio,” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” One of my all time favorites, a song about heroin addiction, “Carmelita” is also on this record. A tune Zevon wrote for the Everly Brothers (he was in their back up band) opens the album, and it’s brilliant, “Frank And Jesse James.” Two of his best, heartbreaking ballads are here to, “Desperados Under the Eaves,” and “Hasten Down the Wind.” Conversely, I’ve never heard anyone slam an ex like he does on “The French Inhaler,” (“she called me Norman…” I may have dated the same woman). This album ranks up there with anything else coming out of L.A at the time, be it from Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac or The Eagles.
  2. Excitable Boy, 1978. Critics ding this album because it’s a little more lightweight than his “debut.” Jackson Browne was at the helm on this record, and I suspect he steered Warren to a more commercial sound. “Werewolves of London” is here. I always liked the title track, about a deranged serial killer, and “Tenderness On the Block.” The real stand out track is a song I always play when I’m in trouble, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” I love the line, “Now I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man, send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.” It’s a bit slighter than Warren Zevon but this is still a great listen.
  3. Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, 1980. After a bad bout of alcoholism, Zevon finally got sober and released this album which was seen as a come back. The title track is, as mentioned, an unflinching look at his problems. “Bad luck streak in dancing school, on my knees again.” Another friend and supporter, Bruce Springsteen co-wrote the great “Jeannie Needs a Shooter.” I love Warren’s cover of “A Certain Girl.” Even I’ll admit “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado” is a throwaway, but the snippets of Zevon’s classical composing are intriguing. This is a strong, if slightly flawed album.
  4. Sentimental Hygiene, 1987. This album could have been called, “The Rehab Album.” The 80’s had been mostly cruel to Zevon and he’d fallen off the wagon. He addressed the issues honestly with his sense of humor in tact on tunes like “Detox Mansion,” “Trouble Waiting to Happen,” and “Bad Karma.” The title track, “Sentimental Hygiene” is one his greatest tunes and boasts a guitar solo from Neil Young (you’ll recognize his sound immediately… he supposedly did the solo in 1 or 2 takes, turning to the booth and smiling, “did you get what you need?” I love Neil). Elsewhere Bob Dylan shows up to provide a harmonica solo… not bad company. His backing band here were none other than R.E.M. (sans Michael Stipe). I’ve always loved the song about boxing, “Boom Boom Mancini.” He even has time for a dig at the music industry with “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands.” Like his 1976 eponymous album, there’s not a bad song on this record.
  5. Transverse City, 1989. OK, I know how the words “concept album” sound. And yes, the concept is a tad lost on me. I’ve always felt the concept album format should be left to Roger Waters and Pete Townshend, and maybe, just maybe Billie Joe Armstrong. This is a bit of a dark, glossy, synth-washed affair as well, but it captured the zeitgeist of its time. Put that aside and you’ll find some of Zevon’s finest songs and finest lyrics. “Run Straight Down” and “The Long Arm of the Law” are both sensational tunes. “Splendid Isolation” is a masterpiece and you’ll find it here too.
  6. Life’ll Kill You, 2000. Critics were so-so on this album, but I love it. Rock and roll is typically about girls, sex, cars and more girls. This is an wide-eyed look at mortality. Songs like the title track and “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” hit the issue straight on. Zevon also addresses his mistakes, “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” “I Was In the House When the House Burned Down” and “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer” which are all funny takes on his reputation. His version of Steve Winwood’s “Back In The Highlife” may just be definitive. He even points back to what may be the first victim of opioid abuse, Elvis Presley, on “Porcelain Monkey.” Another great, overlooked album.
  7. The Wind, 2003. For his ultimate trick, after writing an album about illness and mortality, Zevon ends up with a terminal illness, a rare form of lung cancer. Instead of heading straight into treatment, he gathers all of his friends – Jackson Browne, Springsteen, several Eagles, Jim Keltner, Billy Bob Thornton – and records not only an album, but a final statement. This is the blueprint for similar albums like Bowie’s Blackstar or Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood. It’s a spectacular send off. Never maudlin, always honest, it’s truly great. “Disorder In the House,” Zevon’s last “state of the union” address, features scorching guitar and vocals from Bruce Springsteen. “Rub You Raw” is a great blues tune with amazing guitar work from Joe Walsh. Don’t let all the guests fool you, Zevon is at the heart of this record. I wish I could write a song as beautiful as “She’s Too Good For Me” or the elegy, “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While.” I just wish Warren could have been miraculously cured…  

These are the records every Zevon fan should own. I think if you take the time and delve in here, you will be rewarded. Wit, wisdom and beautiful melodies… what else do you need…who but Warren could have written, “Michael Jackson in Disneyland, don’t have to share it with nobody else, Lock the gates, Goofy, take my hand and lead me through the World of Self.”

“‘So long, Norman,” She said, “So long Norman'”

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Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’

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As I said on one my earliest posts, when reviewing Jimi Hendrix’s superb live album, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)), just when I thought I was done buying Jimi Hendrix albums, he pulls me back in. When Hendrix passed, he had a ton of unreleased studio material. After he released Electric Ladyland, between concerts and endless touring he would hole up at his Electric Lady studios and record. He was deep into writing and recording the follow up to Electric Ladyland, (which was to be a double album as well) when he sadly passed away.

When Hendrix passed, like so many other rockers, like say Prince, he didn’t have his estate set up. When you’re a rock star, who can be bothered with legal documents like a last will and testament. When you’re young, you feel like you’re going to live forever…add rock stardom to that, and who can blame Jimi. After his father died, there were the usual legal battles over his legacy and his estate. Eventually, his sister Janie Hendrix found herself in control of Jimi’s estate. She formed Experience Hendrix and started collaborating with Hendrix’s engineer Eddie Kramer to remaster and release some of Jimi’s material in the vaults.

Personally, although I consider myself a completist, I never delved into the Hendrix’s posthumous releases. I’d heard bad things about Cry Of Love and all the egregious overdubbing of other guitarists on that album. Blasphemy of the highest order. To this day my friend in Denver, Matthew is always suspicious it’s someone else playing on newly discovered Hendrix material… Matthew, there is no second guitarist on the grassy knoll… My reluctance to delve into Hendrix’s posthumous releases ended when Janie Hendrix and Eddie Kramer put out First Rays of the New Rising Sun in 1997. I hate to use this word, but I consider it the definitive version of what might have been Jimi’s follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Kramer used the most completed, polished versions of the songs slated for the album and the notes that Hendrix himself had left behind to put together the album. Would Hendrix have changed his mind about the running order, what was included, or rerecorded guitar parts (as he was famously known to do, sometimes endlessly changing his solos up to the time of an album’s release)? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Experience Hendrix followed up First Rays with an album of “previously unreleased” songs, Valleys of Neptune in 2010, which I snatched up immediately. The title track was one of the most coveted unreleased tracks in Hendrix’s catalog and it does not disappoint. It remains one of my favorite Hendrix tracks. It’s a trippy, mid tempo, Hendrix rock tune. The songs on this album were largely recorded in 1969 with the original Experience, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding. Yes, the album had some loose, in studio, instrumentals which sound like jam sessions, rather than fully realized tunes, but there is a lot to like on this album. There are alternative versions of songs he released prior as well. I think it’s all still essential listening, especially in light of the fantastic sound of the record. Kramer is to be commended. It’s a must-have for fans of Hendrix.

Experience Hendrix then followed Valleys with an album of “12 previously unreleased” songs, People, Hell and Angels in 2013. Somehow that one got by me. I just picked it up last month and it’s very much in the same vein of Valleys. Although the songs on this album were recorded by the Band of Gypsies (Billy Cox on bass, Buddy Miles on drums) over the course of 1968 and 1969. Stephen Stills even shows up to play bass on the stand-out track, “Somewhere.” There are different versions of “Earth Blues” and “Izabella.” I have to admit, I really love Hendrix’s solo’ing on this album. He was truly in the zone when he was in the studio. And once again, the over-all sound of this record is fantastic. If you listen to it on headphones, there is a real danger your head might explode. This stuff might have already been out there in the vast world of bootlegs, but I have never come across any Hendrix boots (and I have a long bootleg history) and I’m pretty certain anything bootlegged wouldn’t sound this tremendous.

At that point, I assumed the vaults were empty. I mean, Experience Hendrix had released a box-set of material, West Coast Seattle Boy that had to clear out the vaults, right? If Hendrix coughed near a microphone, it was recorded and released on that box… They even included Jimi sitting in a hotel room singing a cover by the Band (“Tears of Rage”), with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder. I’m not sure how they did it, but it sounds a lot better than I thought it would. So at this point, could there really be any more in the vaults? The answer, it appears, is yes.

My friend, Drummer Blake, texted me a few weeks ago and said, “New Hendrix is coming out in March, that could be interesting.” Indeed, Drummer Blake, indeed. I have to admit, the upcoming release, entitled Both Sides of the Sky is one of B&V’s most anticipated new records for 2018. I’ve always considered Jimi Hendrix to be an artist in the same vein as Pablo Picasso. These were inventive artists who saw the world differently. Their art literally changed the form: Picasso for painting, Hendrix for guitar. But Hendrix, at his very roots, at his very core, was a bluesman. In the same way, over the course of his long career, Bob Dylan always seems to return to folk music, (on late period albums like World Gone Wrong or Good As I Been To You), Hendrix, no matter how experimental or psychedelic his music got, always returned to the blues. I think I have around a dozen versions of “Red House” and “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

So it was no surprise to me that the first track Hendrix released from Both Sides of the Sky is a blues tune, Muddy Waters’ classic “Mannish Boy.” Muddy Waters, along with B.B. King and Howlin Wolf are for me, the Titans of the Blues. Muddy’s version of “Mannish Boy” recorded with and produced by Johnny Winters on Hard Again, is not only the definitive version, it’s probably the greatest blues tune ever done. Although, I’m also very fond of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” but I digress. With the Rock Chick gone for the weekend, I’ve been obsessively listening to this new Hendrix version.

First and foremost, I love that Jimi went back to the blues and I especially love that he chose to record this Muddy Waters’ tune. That said, there is very little that Hendrix’s version of “Mannish Boy” has in common with Muddy’s version. Yes, its the same song, but as I said about Hendrix seeing the world differently, this version is very much done in a Hendrix-y fashion. There is no call and response vocals, like the way Muddy and Jimmy Rivers do it. Hendrix plays it faster, with an almost funky, psychedelic effect to the guitar. The vocal is quite impassioned. He sings the notes of his early solos through the song. You can tell how “at home” Hendrix felt in the blues. There are a few, very brief bass solos as well. I don’t have liner notes so I’m not sure whose on bass here… There is also a brief, melt your face off, blast of guitar towards the end that I can’t stop focusing on. Hearing that last blast of guitar reminded me what an influence Hendrix was on John Frusciante, former Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist. Hendrix was just simply put, a Guitar God and his playing can take the mundane to the sublime. This is a fun track and I think it bodes very well for the album. I highly recommend any Hendrix, guitar or blues fan, checks this track out.

Cheers!

The Shelters: Tom Petty’s Protege’s Return With Two Great, Rocking, New Songs

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With the Rock Chick traveling yet again to points West to visit her offspring, I’ve opened up the music lab today. It’s been all music all day so far. I haven’t even made the futile search for the television remote control. With only three NFL games left this year, why bother… I’ve listened to Big Star’s entire catalog this morning. I must say, I’d always heard the album “Third/Sister Lovers” was harrowing, but it may be my new favorite of their’s. Anyway, the holiday season for me was, as usual, harrowing, and I didn’t realize that a newer rock band I like had put out a couple of new tracks. On December 1st the Shelters, Tom Petty’s protege’s, put out the songs “Really Wanted You,” and “So Get Out.”

It was my dear friend Stormin who called me a year and half ago, “I have V.I.P. tickets for Mudcrutch at the Ogden Theater. Get here.” I immediately informed my wife to prep the B&V-mobile for a road trip. We were off to Denver. And yes, I let her drive… she’s a maniac behind the wheel…I actually reviewed that Mudcrutch show for B&V, Review: Mudcrutch, Denver, Co; Ogden Theater 25May16. My friend and I stood in front the stage, arms-length from Tom Petty… He looked right in my eyes and it was like he was staring into my soul. It was a real Tom Petty highlight, in a lifetime of highlights from that great artist. If you haven’t already done so, purchase both Mudcrutch albums immediately. The warm-up band that night in Denver, and I vary on how much attention I spend on opening bands, was none other than the Shelters. While BourbonAndVinyl is focused on more mature artists we’re always on the lookout for new rock bands like Rival Sons or Greta Van Fleet. It turns out the Shelters are another gift Tom Petty gave to me! I am still in shock over his passing.

The Shelters are Chase Simpson on guitar/vocals, drummer Jacob Pilot, Josh Jove on guitar/vocals, and bassist Sebastian Harris. The outfit springs from Los Angeles, and apparently when impressed after seeing them live, Tom Petty gave them the keys to his home studio. Eventually he snuck downstairs, or across the courtyard, I don’t Tom’s setup, and ended up co producing their first album, the eponymous The Shelters. Not a bad career move, impressing Tom Petty enough to have him coproduce your record. Two of the Shelters actually ended up playing on Petty’s great, final album, Hypnotic Eye. 

Well, that night in Ogden, the Shelters came out rocking. They really grabbed my attention which is hard for an opening act to do. I loved the guitar work by Jove and Simpson, they had some great interplay. Jacob Pilot was strong on drums as well. They certainly looked like they were having a good time. Both Jove and Simpson took turns on vocals, which I liked. I remember thinking, prior to Mudcrutch coming out and mesmerizing me, that I would need to check these guys out further. I had no idea at the time they were connected to Petty other than the opening slot he gave them. Sadly though, after Mudcrutch came out and put on a 2-plus hour spectacle, I sort of forgot about the Shelters. I did see them in the lobby of the Ogden when I was walking out, signing autographs for admiring female fans… well played, lads, well played.

It was a few months later when the Rock Chick announced she’d made an album purchase. She’s one of my stronger sources of new music, so I was immediately interested. She likes to play a record for me before she tells me who it is… After the first few chords on the sensational opening track, “Rebel Heart,” my shaky memory jolted… “wait a minute, I know this song…” Apparently the Rock Chick had independently discovered the Shelters through the magic of satellite radio. It’s a strong first album. I definitely hear Tom Petty’s influence on some of the crunchier guitar tracks like, “Rebel Heart,” or “Birdwatching.” I also hear a bit of a Beatlesque influence on songs like “Fortune Teller,” or “Dandelion Ridge.” “Ghost is Gone” is a long, trippy track which almost brings to mind another LA band, The Doors. There’s a lot of fuzzy guitar on this album that I really like. They kind of sound like a 60s beach-rock band crossed with The Animals. I sort of want to do that old dance, ‘The Swim’ when they’re playing. You can definitely hear the influences, but they make the sounds their own. The track “Down” is a laid back, crunchy rocker that is another stand out for me. I think it’s a strong rock record and would advise everybody to check it out.

I wondered what their new music would sound like, when I discovered the two new tracks. Especially since Tom Petty wouldn’t be involved in this project, obviously.  Well, I needn’t worry. “Really Wanted You” starts off with a great guitar riff. The song rides along that riff and a jaunty drum line from Pilot. I love the harmony vocal on the chorus. It’s a punchy, little rock song. Definitely worth your time. “So Get Out,” the second track, wouldn’t have been out of place on the first album. It’s a slinky organ driven track with a hazy vocal and a tasty guitar solo towards the end. This has that Animals/Zombies vibe that a few of the tracks on the first album had. It has that fresh but nostalgic vibe.

If you like straight up, “nuthin’ fancy,” rock and roll, the Shelters are your band. I recommend these two new tracks and their first album as well. I look forward to hearing more from these guys. If you can, definitely check them out live.

Cheers!

 

 

Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

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I have posited many times in these pages that most of the music I like springs from the blues. No matter how far away the music gets from the blues, I can still hear the seeds of where the music came from… and that’s the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. The blues was the first musical form to popularize the guitar solo, where the solo and the style of playing were as important as the singer. Knowing this, it was with great confidence that the Rock Chick strolled into my office in 2001 and said, “I have something you’re really going to like…” She played me the White Stripes White Blood Cells. It was love at first listen. It was punk, it was blues, it was blues punk or was it punk blues. I can only say for certain, it was rock and roll. I purchased their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl immediately.

It wasn’t until the 2003 tour for Elephant that I first got to see the White Stripes live in concert. I was lucky enough to see them in Kansas City’s tiny Memorial Hall, over in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) which seats a mere 3500 people. There isn’t a bad seat in that tiny, ancient building… well unless you’re behind a steel girder. Jack and Meg White came out and lit the place on fire. Meg was primal and fierce on the drums. Jack was relentless on guitar, hopping around the stage like a frog on a hot stove. He brought out this wide-body, grey guitar that looked like it’d lost a fight and tortured it through the blues cut “Death Letter” and I reached blues rock Nirvana. I was totally blissed out at that show. He covered blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” and finished the encore with Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil.” I never missed them on tour after that and I own every album the White Stripes put out.

Now, it’s important to state that I’ve also always felt that there are certain individuals who are critically important to rock and roll. Their impact is artistically important. You can say that about Elvis, Bob Dylan, pick a Beatle (except Ringo, I mean, I love Ringo, he’s a beautiful soul and a capable drummer, but…), Mick or Keith, Bowie, Neil Young, or more recently Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. I truly believe Jack White is one of those people. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass and sings. He also produces, writes songs and owns his own, very vinyl-centric record company, Third Man Records. He’s like a white Sam Cooke. Jack is such a contradiction to me… part old soul/blues guy, part futuristic space alien.

Feeling that Jack White is an important figure in rock and roll has led me to follow him through all the different things he’s done. I always try to keep an eye on him… I followed the White Stripes religiously. I also followed his side-project, the Raconteurs through both Broken Boy Soldiers and after the Stripes had broken up, Consolers of the Lonely. Although, I always felt the Raconteurs were more a “buy by the song vs buy by the album” group. I only like the Jack White songs, but especially “Carolina Drama.” I even followed Jack to the Dead Weather, where he was predominantly a drummer. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit it was the Rock Chick who led me there. I even bought the album he produced for Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. When Meg decided she’d had enough and the White Stripes disbanded, I followed Jack White’s solo career through not only Blunderbuss and Lazaretto but I sought out the various B-sides he released with the singles from those albums. They fell into two categories, the amazing songs that I still wonder why they didn’t make the album, like “Inaccessible Mystery” to the weirdly experimental, like say, “Blues On Two Trees.” While I love Jack’s solo work, I think I speak for the entire planet when I say, Meg, come home… all is forgiven. We miss you on drums…

I was delighted late last year when I read that Jack was in the studio recording a follow-up to Lazaretto. I had heard that after that record, White had taken a break to spend time with his daughter. Good on him for that. But it’s been four years and the world of rock just needs a new Jack White album. Last week he released two tracks from the upcoming album, “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.” While I felt Blunderbuss was an extension of what Jack was doing with the White Stripes, only with less primal drumming and additional instrumentation, Lazaretto found him stretching out sonically. I was intrigued to hear what was next.

The first new track, “Connected By Love,” at first listen was this crazy, psychedelic gospel benediction to love. The track starts off with an electronic pulse, and I thought perhaps Jack was headed off in a further direction from Lazaretto. But upon further listens, I realized this track wouldn’t have been out of place on either album. Jack’s lyrics are a plea to an ex or a future ex lover. The song stays sonically mellow until the middle where an organ solo that Steve Winwood would envy kicks in. It leads into a distorted, albeit melodic guitar solo. I like this track a lot but it’s a curious first single. It certainly opens up the sonic palette that Jack is working with. After three or four listens, the track just bloomed for me…

The second new track is an interesting little piece called “Respect Commander.” At first, I thought this was going to be another instrumental track like say, “High Ball Stepper.” Jack doesn’t sing until after the 2:10 mark in the song. And then it’s a distorted, multi tracked vocal. I didn’t like this track as much as “Connected By Love,” but I will admit it ends with a searing guitar solo. The guitar work at the end is certainly worth the price of admission, but with Jack, that’s usually the case. This song called to mind some of the more experimental B-sides I’ve heard from him, like the previously mentioned “Blues On Two Trees,” vs an actual track that makes an album. This might mean White is taking a wide-open, anything goes approach to this record…

What does this mean for the upcoming album? With these two diametrically different songs, it’s hard to say. I will state, emphatically, it’s nice to see Jack back in action. We need more rock and roll geniuses, especially now that Bowie gone. I look forward to hearing the entire new album. I would highly recommend “Connected By Love.” Give it a few listens before making a judgment. “Respect Commander” is one of those tracks for the true Jack White believers… like B&V…

Cheers!

 

David Bowie: HBO’s ‘The Last Five Years’

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Like most red-blooded American males last night, I rushed home from work and staked out a spot in front of the television. I’d been looking forward to last night’s viewing for a couple of weeks… I was tuned in and psyched to see the Francis Whatley HBO documentary on David Bowie, ‘The Last Five Years.’ Oh, wait a minute, I think there was a football game on last night too. Yeah, I didn’t have a dog in that hunt and after my horrid Chiefs’ playoff debacle, it was just too soon for more football.

As any of you who have read B&V are likely aware, I’m a huge fan of David Bowie. I still can’t believe he’s been snatched away from us. Last night would have been his 71st birthday. Two years ago on his birthday he surprised us with his brilliant final statement, (ala Warren Zevon’s The Wind), the album Blackstar. I was in the process of pouring over that record and preparing my review, when two days later, on January 10th he passed away.  My review of Blackstar turned into part review, part obituary. (The Loss of a Titan: Bowie, #RIPBowie). Last year, on his birthday he once again surprised us with an EP, consisting of his last 3 tunes (along with “Lazarus” a Blackstar track) called No Plan (Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs). It was then that I started to think that January 8th to January 10th should be some sort of religiously observed holiday, like Lent. Except instead of giving something up, everybody should listen to David Bowie for three days and do something completely unexpected. Maybe next year I’ll show up in the office in full kabuki make-up and a skirt… It’s just a thought.

I was wondering if the Bowie estate might surprise us with some new music from the vaults this year, but alas, no. They’ve been doing some great reissue work with Bowie’s back catalog, including the interesting Gouster. Instead, HBO aired this new documentary, ‘The Last Five Years’ which is a sequel of sorts to Whatley’s first Bowie documentary, ‘Five Years,’ named after one of Bowie’s Ziggy-era, iconic songs. ‘Five Years’ was focused on Bowie’s early years, and the 5 years in question weren’t sequential. The documentary merely highlighted key years during Bowie’s “heyday” in the 70s. What I liked about ‘The Last Five Years,’ and believe me, I liked it, was that this documentary actually was the sequential account of the last five years of Bowie’s life, which considering the lyrics of “Five Years” seems more appropriate, “we’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.” I think this documentary was produced a few years ago, but I believe last night was the first wide-spread showing in the U.S.

B&V has always been focused on artists who have been around for a while and the latter work in their catalog. That may be why I found ‘The Last Five Years’ so fascinating. I would say it’s a “must-see” for Bowie fans, and music fans in general. There is a lot of older, unseen footage from the 70s to help augment the story. So for those of you who are only into early Bowie, there’s something of interest here for you too. There is a lot of Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long time producer, friend and erstwhile bandmate sitting at the production console, pulling up vocal tracks. Bowie’s backing band is in the studio and jams along live to his recorded vocal tracks, and discuss how they came up with certain parts of certain songs, which is fascinating.

The documentary starts with what it calls a “prologue” that jumps back to 2003/2004’s A Reality Tour, in support of the album by the same name. The Rock Chick and I were lucky enough to catch that tour on May 10th, 2004 here in Kansas City at the beautiful Starlight Theater. I was really getting deeply back into Bowie. After the 1984 album Tonight (which wasn’t as bad as people say it was, it was just hard to follow up Let’s Dance with anything that wasn’t going to be a letdown), I lost touch with Bowie. Every now and then I’d hear a song that would penetrate my consciousness, like “I’m Afraid of Americans,” or “Absolute Beginners,” but as far as buying Bowie albums, I’d basically stopped. Then I heard 1999’s Hours and I was back in the bus. That album is criticized for Bowie being more craftsman than visionary, but it’s still a great record. I don’t care if most of the music was used in a video game. Bowie followed that up with one of his finest albums ever, Heathen. That is a must-hear for every Bowie fan. When Reality came out in 2002, I eagerly snatched it up and paid top dollar to see that show. It was amazing… He opened with “Rebel Rebel,” played a lot of music from Heathen and Reality (which older artists never seem to do, play the new stuff), and he played “Station To Station” in it’s entirety. He was confident, charismatic, and seemed to be really enjoying himself. The Rock Chick had to drive home that night, I was too staggered by what I had just heard.

Unfortunately, Bowie had a heart attack later on during that tour, and that was it. He never toured again. In fact, he went into seclusion. After the prologue around the A Reality Tour, ‘The Last Five Years’ follows Bowie’s seclusion from 2004  to 2011 when no one heard from him. He was the happy family man/hermit. It was in 2011 he finally began to reach out to his old band and Visconti… the next thing they knew they were all signing “non-disclosure” agreements and jamming with Bowie in the studio. The result was the fantastic The Next Day which, while nostalgic, is never maudlin, and looks back to Bowie’s Berlin days. I was fascinated to see details of how Bowie wasn’t just concerned with the music, he was concerned with the visuals – the album cover and the videos for the three singles, (“The Stars Are Out Tonight,” “Valentine,” and “Where Are We Now?”. He was the complete artist. Every detail came under his scrutiny. Bowie neither did interviews or toured for the album.

Shortly after that, Bowie took an acute interest in jazz. He reached out to jazz composer Maria Schneider and hooked up with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band to record some really different, dissonant, crazy jazz tunes “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)” and “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore.” The documentary does a good job in positing the theory that Bowie was probably always into jazz under the surface and compares it to his experiments with new sonic textures from his Berlin days… It’s an intriguing argument.

Bowie then enlisted Donny McCaslin’s jazz band to record Blackstar. It’s cool to see the jazz band jamming in a dive bar, playing tunes they played with Bowie, over his vocal tracks. Both McCaslin and Maria Schneider talk about Bowie’s willingness to explore and stretch out the norm. I defy you to find an artist in his 60’s whose willing to take so many risks.

Finally, it was on Bowie’s bucket list to do a musical. The documentary also suggests this is something Bowie had in mind for a long time. His original concept for Diamond Dogs was to set Orwell’s ‘1984’ to music. Most of the concerts for Diamond Dogs were highly choreographed, something you didn’t see a lot of in the 70s… That footage, of those shows, is wild. The crazy stuff on stage, considering all the drugs being done, is pretty impressive. From there it leads into interviews with Bowie’s collaborators and cast of his musical play, ‘Lazarus.’ It was based on Bowie’s movie from the 70s, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’ I thought the creative process and the work Bowie did on the play was another fascinating part of this documentary. The guy was a renaissance man.

It’s not new music, but another Bowie Birthday gift, the excellent documentary ‘The Last Five Years.’ If you dig music, and lets face it, it’s too cold to go outside, pull this up on HBO. When your’e done, you’ll probably be like me, listening to the albums mentioned and wearing kabuki make up… Just til tomorrow… It’s Bowie-Lent.

 

Playlist: It’s COLD! (My Furnace Breaks Down, & A Sudden Epiphany)

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My dad, who I like to call the Hard Guy, has always liked cliches. Lets face it, they always have a basis in reality and once he gets rolling, it’s hard to stop him. One of his favorites has always been, something like (I’ve never listened too closely, I am Cain to his Adam) “I felt sorry for myself that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I’m not sure if that’s a real quote or something he made up, but I’ve been hearing it from my dad for so long, it seems like it must be genuine.

Like most of the northern or eastern part of America, I find myself freezing my ass off to below normal temperatures. Here in the midwest, where I live, the normal high is 38 degrees (fahrenheit) and lately it’s been anywhere between -5 and 20 degrees for a high temp. I hadn’t left the house since New Year’s Day. Thankfully, I don’t live on the east coast where I’d be victim of the “bomb cyclone,” whatever the Hell that horrible thing must be. There’s no snow here, just unrelenting cold. It appears a blast of “arctic” air has descended upon us and like an unwelcome relative has stayed too long.

Unfortunately, for me, during this cold snap, the furnace here at B&V has had a motor go bad. The furnace itself is ok, but there is apparently more than 1 motor, and combined with a number of safety devices it’s colluding to prevent my furnace from working properly. The company that I’ve been paying over the years to “maintain” my furnace, seemingly missed this issue with the motor during this year’s inspection and are telling me it’ll be Monday before they can repair it… I bought a few space heaters to keep my pipes from bursting and I related my displeasure to the company, but that’s a matter for Yelp. Apparently revenge is no longer a dish served cold, although that would be appropriate in this case since I’m freezing, but a dish served on the internet.

All of this started last night when I realized that my furnace, located in the basement, began to sound like there was an airplane in extreme distress landing down there. It was really loud. It was like Zeppelin loud down there… I immediately called the furnace company… The furnace guy came out, diagnosed the problem and told me the part/motor would be in this morning and they’d be out to fix it some time today… when that didn’t happen, I was pretty pissed. So I did what I always do. I put together a playlist to commemorate being cold. Being very, very cold. The Rock Chick and I are wearing coats, while under heavy blankets…

I was feeling pretty bad about myself as I drove to the local mall to buy space heaters when I saw something that jerked me out of my self-pity. I was at a stop-light, going over the horrible things I was going to say on Yelp about my furnace company (which, lets face it, I still intend to post) when I saw a young woman, bundled up from head to toe, with only her eyes visible, sitting on the corner. She was holding up a cardboard sign with a simple request for help on it. It’s below 20 degrees here and the wind chill is God knows how awful. The stock market is over 25,000 and there are still people out in the cold… It was then that I was struck with an epiphany, or at least a healthy case of guilt. I realized… my father was right. Here I was pissed because my house is 40 degrees and here was a woman sitting on a street corner in the 20 degree frigid weather…she’s OUTSIDE. At least I’m shivering indoors. I had no shoes… she metaphorically had no feet. Damn, I hate admitting my father is right, it’s a father/son thing…hard to explain, but easy to understand.

I’ve already got this Cold Playlist put together, but it’s no longer to bitch about my furnace not working… although admittedly I am very cold. Tonight, this playlist is for that poor woman sitting on a corner in the cold, and all her homeless brethren who don’t have a place to get warm, who don’t have a furnace to complain about and who need help. We all have those old coats we don’t wear anymore. We all have those old blankets tucked away somewhere in a closet. Now, in the heart of winter, is the time to dig those out and, as Bill Murray says in ‘Scrooged,’ “say, here.” It’s a tough time in the world. There are people who are having trouble even staying warm… donate some clothes, coats, blankets or money to a homeless shelter near you and help these people out.

In that spirit, here is my playlist to complain about the cold. While I’ve huddled in my coats and blankets, this goes out to those less fortunate….As usual, I’m stylistically all over the place but that’s why I usually leave the playlists up to the Rock Chick. Keep an open mind… Most of these songs reference the coldness that creeps into relationships, but I’m speaking metaphorically here, so go with it…

  1. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” – My kingdom for some warmth.
  2. AC/DC, “Black Ice” – I saw a lot of this on the road today. Be careful out there.
  3. Cinderella, “Long Cold Winter” – God, I hope it isn’t one.
  4. David Bowie, “She Shook Me Cold” – Ok, this is actually about sex, but there’s something about the way Bowie sings about this sexual encounter that I can relate to.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound” – If I ever get ahold of my furnace company, I may be in cold irons…
  6. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – “and I’m so alone, I’m on my own…”
  7. Deep Purple, “Stone Cold” – “And I thought I knew you so well,” furnace company…
  8. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Cold Shot” – Which is what I felt like taking to warm me up.
  9. Van Morrison, “Out In the Cold Again” – If Van’s warm vocal on this ballad won’t warm you up, nothing will.
  10. Bob Marley, “Coming In From The Cold” – I wish I was coming in from the cold. But since my furnace isn’t working I’m coming out of the cold into slightly less cold. Lets’ help some of the less fortunate come in from the cold this winter… the Salvation Army works all year round, folks.
  11. Social Distortion, “Cold Feelings” – “Cold feelings in the night, you know, this feeling just ain’t right.”
  12. Black Crowes, “Stare It Cold” – “Don’t you wanna be there, don’t you wanna stare it cold?” If this cold snap holds up, the Rock Chick and I may just stare each other cold.
  13. Little Feat, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Freezing, it was freezing in that hotel…” How must it feel on the streets?
  14. Roger Daltrey/Wilko Johnson, “Ice On the Motorway” – True confession, I’m not sure what Daltrey is singing about here, but it sounds like he’s getting nowhere fast because of the iced-over freeway and his frustration is palpable. I can relate.
  15. Cage The Elephant, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Cold, cold, cold inside, Doctor can you help me cause something don’t feel right.”
  16. Metallica, “Trapped Under Ice” – “Freezing, can’t move at all, screaming, can’t hear my call.” I’m talking to you furnace folk.
  17. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Out In the Cold” – My heart goes out to anybody whose literally, out in the cold. In the US, if you see someone call 311, identify the location and someone will get these folks to a shelter.
  18. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” – Well, thankfully it ain’t raining, but this weather can make anybody feel bluesy.
  19. Buckingham Nicks, “Frozen Love” – A rare chestnut from the ‘Buckingham Nicks’ album… a real treasure if you can find it.
  20. Foreigner, “Cold As Ice” – Which is how I feel.
  21. Peter Wolf, “The Cold Heart of the Stone” – Wisdom from Woofa.
  22. Billy Joel, “Running On Ice” – Where Billy can’t make any progress because he’s slipping on the ice. I can relate.

Try to stay warm out there folks… and if you can help someone whose less fortunate than you are, please do. And if you have any recommendations on furnace companies…