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!

 

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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…