Greta Van Fleet: New Single, “When The Curtain Falls”

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Oh, Greta Van Fleet… I can’t stay mad at you.

As most of the B&V readers know, I was a little miffed at GVF when they backed out of Middle of the Map Festival here in Kansas City. Other than Social Distortion, who we all love down here at B&V, I was most excited about seeing Greta Van Fleet. Can they bring it live, I wondered? I was really anticipating answering that question… until a few days prior they had to cancel out of the festival when the drummer, Danny Wagner, hurt his wrist. I can only hope he hurt it trashing a hotel room… anything short of that is unacceptable in my mind, but I’m old school. Keith Moon and John Bonham are my go-to drummers, but I digress. My disappointment that they wouldn’t be here was…palpable. Although I must admit, I managed to discover Austin-based alt rockers Spoon, so it wasn’t a complete wash-out (Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE). And yes, Social Distortion is always kick ass in concert, see them if you can. I will admit, the Rock Chick has been mad at GVF ever since.

I keep hearing that GVF have been in the studio working on a proper album. They’ve already released two EPs, Black Smoke Rising (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP) followed by a “double EP” From The Fires which contained all four songs from the previous EP (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). I’ve loved all eight songs these guys have released so far, including their epic cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” It’s so refreshing to hear a new rock band! These guys are all guitar riffs and big vocals which you don’t hear a lot of these days. I have to admit, I was beginning to wonder if these guys were ever going to get around to releasing a whole album. I know they’re touring, but lets keep that momentum rolling in the studio!

Today, my patience has been rewarded. GVF have just released a new single, “When the Curtain Falls.” Any residual anger on my part about them missing Middle of The Map, dropped away as soon as I put this new tune on the stereo and heard that first guitar chord. Danny’s drums kick in and Jake Kiszka’s crunchy guitar riff starts. This song struts and storms. It’s both heavy and slinky – like Mike Tyson in his prime, moving so much it’s hard to hit with a lethally dangerous punch at the same time. When Josh Kiszka’s banshee wail kicks in, I found myself nodding my head. Yes, I can still feel the Zeppelin influence (I hear the echo of a Zep riff here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it), but these guys are making it there own. The guitar sound here is addictive. I can’t get over the reckless abandon with which Josh sings. Even the Rock Chick, passing through the B&V lab said, “I wonder how long he’ll be able to sing like that?” Good question.

When Josh turns it over to Jake for the guitar solo, I wanted to jump on my desk and hold a lighter in the air. It’s so much fun to rock out with this music. They sound confident and ready to conquer the world. Hopefully it won’t be too long a wait until this rumored album comes out. If this is a sample of what’s going on in the studio, I think we rock folks out here are going to be very happy. Check this tune out immediately!

 

 

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Tom Petty: New Single From The Upcoming Box-set, “Keep A Little Soul”

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I think I speak for the majority of rock and roll fans when I say, I’m just not over the loss of Tom Petty. I don’t know if I ever will get over it (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). His music and concerts were so ingrained as a part of my life it just feels weird that he’s gone. One thing I’ve been hoping for, nay, praying for, is that his estate and the Heartbreakers would release some of the material that Petty had compiled in his vaults. For a couple of years prior to his passing, Petty himself spoke about revisiting the Wildflowers album and doing a reissue. His original concept had been for that to be a double-album. The re-release would have restored Wildflowers to his original concept and he and the Heartbreakers were going to tour and play the whole thing. Oh, how I wish we all could have seen that.

As far as I know, the Wildflowers project is still in the works. I started seeing on Petty’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, much like McCartney did lately, pictures of boxes of tape reels and other hints that something was coming. I thought fleetingly that it would be the Wildflowers project finally seeing the light of day. Well, it’s not the Wildflowers project I’d been anticipating, instead my prayers have been answered and the Petty camp has announced they’re releasing a box-set (4-CDs or 6 vinyl LPs) entitled perfectly, An American Treasure. The project was curated by longtime band members Mike Campbell (guitar and recent addition to Fleetwood Mac), Ben Tench (keyboards extraordinaire) and members of Petty’s family. The Rock Chick would probably like me to wait until Christmas to snap this box up… I have bad news for her. The release date is set for September 27th.

I have seen, in several publications, the album’s song list. There is a lot to get excited about. First and foremost, he’s releasing the three song set he recorded at Capitol Studios that contains, for those of us who grew up listening to KY102, the definitive version of “Breakdown.” It’s the only version we knew…(Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks). There are B-sides and additional live tracks, not only from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but from Mudcrutch too. Oddly, they do throw in a few “deep cuts” or as they call them, “album cuts” from some of the lesser known albums of Petty’s career like the soundtrack for She’s the One and The Last DJ. Overall, I’d have to say this is a fitting box-set to celebrate Tom Petty’s long career. Each CD is organized around a certain decade of Petty’s career. My only complaint is that I don’t see “Sweet William,” a rollicking, bluesy B-side from the Echo sessions. But, I’m sure we’ll see that in due time. Also absent is much of the Wildflowers stuff, like “Girl On LSD” which I’m sure means the expanded edition will come out sometime in the future.

To commemorate the announcement of the new box, a single has been released, “Keep A Little Soul,” a track recorded in 1982 for the Long After Dark sessions. I have to say, and this may be a little sentimental on my part, I love this song. Long After Dark is a bit of an overlooked album in the Petty canon. It came after the two triumphs, Damn The Torpedoes and Hard Promises. Petty and the Heartbreakers had been on the road almost non stop and released an album almost every year and a half. Long After Dark had a bit of darker undertone, despite some of the more modern touches like the synth on “You Got Lucky.” They sound, well, a little tired on this record. I think they were burning out a little bit. I still love the album but it just didn’t do as well as the two previous records.

To put it in perspective, Long After Dark came out a mere three years after Torpedoes, a pace of an album a year, plus a tour. It had been six years since the first album came out. Five albums and constant touring can take it’s toll on a band. It was no surprise that it took three years for the follow up, 1985’s Southern Accents to come out. Of course, in the interim, Petty had smashed his hand when punching a wall in a fit of anger… They couldn’t get a guitar part to sound right. I think we’ve all been there. Looking back at Long After Dark, the most notable thing about it might that it was Howie Epstein’s first album with the band on bass and exquisite harmony/backing vocals.

When I first heard “Keep A Little Soul,” I couldn’t help but think, how did this not make the album? How in the world did Petty keep this in the can for all these years. “Keeping Me Alive” was another outtake from the Long After Dark sessions but it finally came out on the box-set Playback in 1995. But upon further listens you start to realize, this song really didn’t fit the darker tone of the album… This track isn’t a song that would have fit in with “Change of Heart,” or “Straight Into Darkness.”

This song is a great midtempo, upbeat message track. It’s one of those, everything is going to be alright lyrics. “It doesn’t matter, when you keep a little soul, nothing really matters any more.” The sound is classic Petty and the Heartbreakers. If anybody shines here it’s Benmont Tench’s keyboards. Howie Epstein can be heard singing the background vocal. Petty is engaged and sounds happy. This song doesn’t have that world-weary feel that many of the other tracks on the album have. The track starts with only Petty’s voice counting it in and ends, in a bittersweet moment, with Petty saying, “That was fun…”

I think “Keep A Little Soul” is an essential track in what will turn out to be an essential addition to the Petty catalog. I have to mention, if you haven’t already, go out to YouTube and check out the video for it. It has never before seen footage of the band on the road and on stage. Although I was an early Petty fan, I didn’t get to see them live until the Southern Accents tour. It was fun to see Petty, with the different hair cuts – with that Long After Dark era mullet (full confession, I, your intrepid blogger rocked a mullet in the 80s) – on stage and going crazy, dancing, running around. God, I could kick myself for not going to see him earlier… I’ll be the first to admit, I smiled through the entire video and when it was over there was a tear in my eye… It was a bit like looking at an old photo of a friend or a fallen comrade and being taken back to the moment of the photo… and just for a second, feeling that same youthful joy…

Keep a little soul out there folks! We all need it. Cheers!

Album Lookback: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, ‘Streetcore’

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I’ve enjoyed a few days off from the world over the 4th of July holiday. It’s a time for bbq and refreshing vodka cocktails by a pool and listening to rock and roll. I could get used to being a man of leisure. Time that I should have spent reading I’ve spent in front of the television watching Wimbledon. I should be watching the World Cup like the rest of the world. Soccer or football as it’s known everywhere else is a beautiful, elegant game to watch but for some reason my attention has been on tennis. I found myself drawn to a tennis player named Vitalia Diatchenko, I can’t put my finger on why…ahem. When not watching Wimbledon, sadly my eyes have turned to what the kids call, “the social media.” It was NPR who tweeted recently that there is a box set in the works chronicling the solo work of Joe Strummer. That caught my attention.

As most people know, Joe Strummer was the leader of one of the greatest bands of all time, The Clash. The Clash – Strummer on vocals/rhythm guitar, Mick Jones lead guitar/vocals, Paul Simonon bass/vocals, and Topper Headon on drums were often referred to as “The Only Band That Matters,” due to their huge influence and political lyrics. They were spawned from the same punk scene as the Sex Pistols but their sound ranged from punk to reggae and ska to rockabilly. They could really do it all. Elvis Costello, when commenting about the Clash once said something to the effect that, “The Clash were only punk on the first album or two, after that it was them playing Joe Strummer’s record collection.” That must have been some record collection, indeed.

Sadly, out here in the wilderness of the American Midwest, you didn’t hear a lot of Clash on the local radio. It wasn’t until MTV started playing the videos for “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” that I became aware of the Clash. That was pretty late in the game. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” famously, for me, was playing on the jukebox in a bar I was sitting in while my first girlfriend broke up with me… I still wince when that song comes on. Despite that, I went out and bought Combat Rock (on cassette, no less) and I still love that music. That sent me crashing through their catalog, all of which I consider essential listening to any rock fan: The Clash (get the UK version), Give Em Enough Rope, London Calling and Sandanista are all iconic rock for me.

As often happens with bands, internal dissension tore them apart. They fired Headon when he succumbed to drugs. He and Terry Chimes would rotate in and out of the band. Mick Jones was fired in the famous “Clash Communique.” The wheels were coming off. Finally, the Clash ended things in 1985 with the substandard album, Cut The Crap. Mick Jones spun up the oft overlooked, but worth checking out Big Audio Dynamite. Strummer, however, took a more low key approach to his solo career. He started off doing soundtracks and a little bit of acting. It wasn’t until 1999 that he formed The Mescaleros with Scott Shields and Martin Slattery and a rotating group of other musicians. Still, there was nothing they did that hit big or with the force of the Clash. Frankly Strummer’s solo career could be categorized as disappointing.

I was up late one night, ruminating and sipping bourbon when the documentary of Strummer’s life came on, The Future Is Unwritten. I highly recommend any fan of the Clash or of Strummer to rent that movie post haste. It was a fascinating thing to see. Everybody from Anthony Kiedis to Bono are interviewed. It was watching that movie that I discovered that the Mescaleros had released an album after Strummer had passed, Streetcore. I bought it the next morning. How was this brilliant album overlooked? It’s the strongest thing Strummer ever did solo. He truly saved the best for last…

The album opens with a great rocking song, “Coma Girl.” It rocks on the verses and goes into a slight reggae back beat during the choruses. This tune should have been a big, big hit. That leads into the monster reggae song, “Get Down Moses.” It’s one of my absolute favorite tracks. The bass is enormous. Those two tracks would be worth the price of admission but this whole album is amazing, start to finish.

There are two songs, I’ll say, influenced by Johnny Cash. Joe was vacationing in California and dropped by Rick Rubin’s studios. Johnny was there doing some recording for the American Recordings sessions. In the liner notes to the fabulous Cash box set, Unearthed, Rubin describes the scene. Strummer would drop by everyday and lay down by the glass wall to the recording booth and just watch Johnny play. After about a week of that, Rubin asked if Joe wanted to do something with Johnny and he was too frightened. Rubin mentioned to Cash that the Clash played a lot of reggae, which surprisingly Johnny loved. The next thing you know, they’re all huddled around the stereo listening to Bob Marley records. Johnny and Joe cut a duet doing “Redemption Songs,” which is just perfect. You can’t make stories like this up… Joe’s version, without Johnny, is here on the album and it’s a beautiful reading. If ever there was a case of the material suiting the artist, it’s this. I would advise anybody to also search out the duet… While watching Johnny, Strummer also wrote, “The Long Shadow,” which is here as an acoustic number. Johnny never recorded it but it would have been perfect for him. “The Long Shadow” is the kind of epic song you’d think only the Man In Black could pull off, but Strummer does too. It evokes traveling across the vast continent and surveying the moral and emotional landscape. It’s quite striking.

This is a posthumous release and according to Wikipedia many of Strummer’s vocals are first takes. I think his vocals have a ferocity and edge to them, maybe it’s that first take thing, but this is a well sung, punchy record. “Arms Aloft” and “All In A Day” are great rocking songs. This album reminds me of a Clash album stylistically because there’s a little of everything. “Burning Streets” is a virtual sequel to “London Is Burning.” “Ramshackle Day Parade” is an epic ballad. It’ll grab you by the collar. There is one song, “Midnight Jam,” which is the Mescaleros playing behind snippets of Strummer’s radio show – he DJ’d a program where he played all sorts of world music. It’s a fitting tribute to Strummer’s fine taste in music.

The album ends on it’s second cover song, the Bobby Charles’ track “Before I Grow Too Old” re-titled and repurposed as “Silver and Gold.” A touching little acoustic number that ends with Strummer saying, “that’s a take.” I know this record might seem a little obscure to most folks, but that’s our job here at B&V, to point out and shine a light on music that you might have overlooked. This is a great album by an incredibly important artist. Worth checking out!

Cheers!

Review: Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE

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*Photo of Mike Ness of Social Distortion taken by your intrepid blogger

Sometimes you just gotta see a band live to understand what they’re about…

When the Rock Chick approached me about going to a new music festival in town entitled Middle Of The Map Festival, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s late June… fucking hot weather in the Midwest. And besides, I didn’t recognize most of the bands involved. But then I examined the line-up more closely. Two names immediately jumped out at me. Greta Van Fleet and Social Distortion. GVF is my new, classic rock crush and Social D, well, the Rock Chick got me on their bandwagon when we met in 2000 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also noticed that one of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands, Spoon, was on the list… I could easily discern that this was the reason she wanted to go. Although, in truth she’s a bigger Social D fan than I am, so it was probably a win/win for her…

I have posted a couple of times about Great Van Fleet, (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP or per chance, Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). I was so stoked to see these guys live… are they for real? Only seeing them live would tell me. Even my buddy, Drummer Blake texted me and asked if I was going to the MOTM Festival. Was I!?! And then on Thursday I saw the tweet… Danny, the drummer in GVF, hurt his wrist and they were cancelling their appearances in KC and Chicago, prime blues rock country. Goddammit son! I don’t know how he hurt his wrist, my guess would be skateboarding… I’m certain his wrist wasn’t hurt throwing a TV out of the window of the 30th floor of a Hilton like Bonham would have done. Without B&V who will teach the children about rock and roll? The fucking show must go on, son. Suck it up Danny, rub some dirt on that wrist and hit the stage, goddammit.

I was disappointed. The Rock Chick was still pretty excited about Spoon and to tell the truth without the GVF hype, I sort of felt free. I could just drink a bunch of vodka and groove on the tunes. Our friends, Edie and Brad (names changed to protect the innocent) came over and everybody seemed jacked up for the show. My corporate overlords kept me on the phone right up until the time I had to jump in the Uber. Someone handed me a strong vodka drink and I was like, OK, no GVF, I’ll just party. We got down to the festival and the first band I saw, on the second stage, in a parking lot no less, was a band called Y God Y and they were just taking the stage. I was hammering down another vodka when these guys hit the stage. Two keyboards, never a good sign, a drummer and a groovy, hipster lumberjack in shorts on lead vocals and guitar…That guy was extraordinarily hairy… I couldn’t help but think, well fuck… But here’s the weird thing and the great thing about music festivals, they give you exposure to bands  you’d never hear. The really hairy lead singer actually had a nice falsetto voice… these guys sounded great. I realized perhaps I’d taken this thing too lightly… Forget about GVF. I grooved to Y God Y for a few great songs and then lurched into the main venue, the intrepid Grinders, which is basically a mulch covered field and hunkered down for Spoon. Y God Y had me grooving.

I will be the first to admit I am the last person who should review Spoon. Short of knowing my wife likes them, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I’ve heard a number of their tracks, because, as mentioned, the Rock Chick loves these guys. Frankly, I thought they were European. But my dear friend, hummus and chardonnay enthusiast RJ will tell you, “Did you know they’re from Austin, Tx, Ken?” For the 8th time RJ, yeah I got that… Spoon, lead singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist (and unsung hero of this band) Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel with touring member Gerardo Larios (keys/guitar) took the stage a little earlier than expected. These guys had me immediately… the first track, which I’d never heard was “Knock Knock Knock.” They have a slinky groove, I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but they are catchy AF, as the kids say.

The lead singer, Britt Daniel, would occasionally pull out his guitar and play a funky rhythm guitar… there was no intense solo’ing. It was more of a groove or a mood. Alex Fischel plays spooky, epic keyboards that Rick Wakeman would envy. The only thing Alex is missing is a big high collared cape. The bass player, Rob Pope held everything together with a tight, insistent bass line. These guys tore it up on their set. I was very very impressed with them. “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” were all great. Towards the end of the show, they even did this long, psychedelic jam… I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t know what track it was. I’m not qualified to talk about Spoon, and well, vodka. These guys were great. As I staggered out of the venue a great power trio were starting on the Tito’s parking lot stage… I still don’t know who they were, but I stood there mesmerized for two songs… I wish I’d taken it more seriously. Some great music went down Friday night… Sometimes, you just gotta see the band live to understand. I’ve spent the last two days listening to Spoon.

Nursing what the medical profession would call a “hangover” I rode the Uber down to Grinders for Night 2 of Middle of The Map Fest. I got in the venue early enough that I saw a number of songs by an artist I want to check out more in-depth, Nikki Lane. She was awesome. She lives in Austin and sounds like old country. She even covered a Jesse Coulter song. Thankfully I wasn’t using vodka as liberally on night 2… I didn’t see, but I could hear the Sluts play on the parking lot stage. Great punk rock. The only down part of the build up to Social D was Built To Spill whose senseless jams sounded like serial killer testimony set to music… Oh well.

Finally, shortly after 10 pm, Mike Ness and the latest incarnation of Social Distortion hit the stage while a tape recording of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” played to honor the fallen… A wonderful gesture. Besides Ness, currently Social D consists of Johnny Wickersham (guitar/backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass) and David Hidalgo, Jr (drums). It was like seeing old friends. These guys do punk/cowpunk/hard rock like it’s meant to be done. They started with a brilliant trio of songs, “Reach For the Sky,” “Highway 101″ (one of my favs…”I believe in love again…”), and “Don’t Take Me For Granted.” Sadly KC took Social D for granted… the crowd was spartan. “She’s a Knockout” turned into an extended guitar jam. They also did extended guitar jams on “Story of My Life,” and “California (Hustle and Flow).” It was so great to see hard rock guitar on a beautiful night in KC.

“99 To Life” brought the country/cowpunk influence in for the night, it was just great. My wife has a cat, named Rhett, and his theme song is “Mommy’s Little Monster” and I was thrilled to hear Social D play that song last night, a first. As was early punk track “Another State of Mind,” which they crushed.  “Machine Gun Blues” and “California (Hustle And Flow)” from the last album were both high lights. I just wish Ness would stop being the 10 year cicada, issuing a new album every decade… Mike, get in the studio, we need more guitar rock! Ness introduced “Don’t Drag Me Down” as a song he’d written about racism back in 1994… He said it was sad in 2017 the White House started tacitly making racism ok again… Indeed, Mike, indeed.

After a 12 song, hour long set, Social D left the stage. They came back for a three song encore, the highlight of which was “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash cover… I was tired, I was hungover, but I was very very happy! Social D always brings it people, get out and see them!

That’s my report from the front lines of MOTM… I hope they do this again next year, it was a blast. See you next year folks!