Artist Lookback: The Allman Brothers’ First Two Albums, 1969-1970

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*Photo of the Allman Brothers’ First Two LPs On, Yes, Vinyl, By Your Intrepid Blogger

I was perusing the social media this weekend and saw that it had been two years to the day since the tragic loss of Gregg Allman. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I naturally reflected on Gregg’s passing, which we posted about when we heard the sad news, Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over. I also found myself reflecting on the Allman Brothers Band, a truly titanic force in rock and roll. Gregg’s passing didn’t signal the end of the Allman Brothers, they had hung it up as a band a few years earlier when guitarist Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks left the band, but Gregg’s passing certainly signaled there’d be no reunions in the future. You can’t be the Allman Brothers Band without any Allmans… Sad thoughts, indeed.

As I thought about the Allman Brothers, I began to reflect on those seminal, early albums – their first two albums – and what an impact they’d had on me as a listener and fan. As you know, here at B&V we like to look back at certain phases of a bands career, be it The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first two records (Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs) or Muddy’s last three, Johnny Winter’s produced records (Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records). At B&V there are just certain eras in a band’s history that we feel must be highlighted, and early Allman Brothers is no exception. And to be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t broached the subject of the Allman Brothers in these pages prior to this. While I’m focused on the early albums today because I’m feeling a tad sentimental, I do need to make a mental note to return to look at their latter day albums, both with Dickey Betts and the one they recorded without him, Hittin’ The Note. Those latter day albums are the type of music that B&V was created to talk about.

I was slow getting to the Allman Brothers. In high school, I was always aware of them, it was hard not to be, with “Ramblin’ Man” in high rotation on the rock stations. “Midnight Rider” was also ever present. However, some of the earlier, great tunes like “Dreams” and “Whipping Post” were tracks that we only rarely heard on our local rock radio. I had a vague notion that the Allman Brothers had sort of “invented” Southern Rock. I had kind of relegated them to the same space as (gads) Molly Hatchet (who actually covered “Dreams” as “Dreams I’ll Never See”), the Marshall Tucker Band or the Outlaws. At the time, I was big into Lynyrd Skynyrd who took the Allman’s twin lead guitar model and turned it up to “11” with three lead guitar players. I figured back then that Skynyrd was the only thing I needed to know about Southern Rock. Oh, youth, wasted on the young. Truly there is so much more to the Allmans than Southern Rock. Not that I mind Southern Rock, Salina’s Sunset Sinners are slowly bringing that genre back to life out there on the Great Plains.

By the time I got to college, my roommate Drew turned me onto the Allman Brothers’ live album, At Fillmore East. That was when I first began to realize the Allman Brothers were so much more than a southern rock band. Yes, they were from Florida, but that’s the only thing about them that I’d describe as southern. They played an intense version of the blues, but they did so with a virtuoso jazz ethos. They could also be considered a jam band, but there seemed to be more structure to their music. And the blues don’t spring to mind when you think of jam bands… The Allman Brothers, to me, had more in common with John Coltrane than the Grateful Dead. The Allman Brothers were really unique in whatever genre you tried and pigeonhole them in. The version of “Whipping Post” on that live album stretched out to 22 minutes and covers an entire side of an album. It was the heaviest blues jam I’d ever heard.

Despite that education, it wasn’t until I’d actually moved to the south, sadly to Arkansas, that I discovered the Allman Brothers’ studio albums. Now, I’ll be the first to admit Arkansas isn’t really the “deep south.” It wasn’t like I was living in Alabama. However, Arkansas is south enough and close enough to Memphis to count. It was my good friend Joel, who first said, “Man, if you live in Arkansas you need to listen to the Band (Levon Helm is from Arkansas, just outside Memphis) and you have to have some Allman Brothers Band.” True words, indeed. It was in that lonely outpost of Ft. Smith, Arkansas that I first purchased The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South. Despite that being a rough time for me, I still look at those albums very fondly. I remember reading that when Belushi and Aykroyd first got famous they drove across America listening to blues and to the Allman Brothers. I taped both albums (one on each side of the cassette) and wore it out driving up and down Highway 71, from Shreveport to Kansas City. This music still conjures the road for me.

As time passes, I’ve noticed that much of the focus on the early Allman’s catalog tends to fall on their masterpiece, the aforementioned live LP At Fillmore East. Don’t get me wrong, that album deserves all the attention it gets but I’ve started to feel like it has come to overshadow the Allman’s first two studio albums. I hear more about Eat a Peach, which is a hybrid live/studio album and contains Duane Allman’s last studio contributions to the band, than I hear about the first two albums. Naturally Brothers And Sisters also gets a lot of attention because of “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.” I will always hold those first two albums in high esteem because before all the line up changes and all the great guitarists who came and went, there was never a more pure expression of the Allman Brothers’ vision than that original line up: Duane Allman & Dickey Betts both on lead guitar, Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboards, Barry Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks & Jai Johanny Johanson on drums/congas/maracas/timbales. Heavy on the bottom with two drummers and heavy on top with two twin lead guitarists. If this band could have just stayed away from motorcycles (we lost both Duane Allman and Barry Oakley to  crashes), God knows what they could have accomplished. When they lost Duane, they really lost their leader. He was the alpha-dog…but I digress. Let’s look at those seminal, first two albums now. They were both combined into one CD, entitled Beginnings, that features a Tom Dowd remix for you CD fans out there.

The Allman Brothers Band – 1969

 After the implosion of their earlier group, The Hour Glass, Duane split California and became a session player at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios. Gregg was left behind to fulfill their contractual obligations. Inevitably Duane had formed a band, The Allman Joys with Betts, Oakley, Jaimoe and Butch. It wasn’t long before he realized they needed Gregg on vocals. One of the first tracks they rehearsed was the Muddy Waters’ classic, “Trouble No More.” In the Allman’s hands it was a bluesy/soulful classic. Pretty soon they were all living in the same house and had changed their name to the Allman Brothers Band as they felt a kindred, brotherly spirit between the members. They had wanted legendary producer Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd) to produce the album but he was unavailable. Adrian Barber ended up producing this stunning first LP. The album jumps right out of the speakers with a jazzy version of Spencer Davis’ “Don’t Want You No More” that bled quickly into one of Gregg’s originals, “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” It was an amazing one-two punch announcing there was a new blues-rock band in town. Gregg ended up writing all the originals here. His “Black Hearted Woman” is another classic “my baby done me wrong” track on side one. Side two is where the genius is. It has only three songs but all of them are classics: “Every Hungry Woman,” “Dreams,” and the now standard “Whipping Post.” The live version of “Whipping Post” might be the definitive but I love the original. The bedrock drumming of Jaimoe/Trucks with Gregg’s soulful organ weaving around it, laid the foundation for Duane and Dickey’s guitars to soar. And soar they did. There’s nothing quite like this debut. Gregg sang with a despair usually reserved for a man three times his age. This is essential listening.

 

Idlewild South, 1970

Many bands suffer from the “sophomore slump,” but not so for the Allman Brothers. I have always felt that Idlewild South was a big leap forward. Before JFK Airport in New York was named for the slain President in 1963, it was known as Idlewild Airport. The band had a little cabin out on a lake where they would go to drink, play and burn local herbs for medicinal purposes, outside the earshot of the local constables. There was so much traffic out there, they decided to name it “Idlewild South” after their home away from home’s airport. You can hear the leap forward when you drop the needle on that first track, “Revival.” It’s an acoustic riff that builds to a gospel type song with a lovely message, “love is everywhere.” It was the first Dickey Betts’ writing contribution in the ABB. He went on to write their classic, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” a long moody instrumental for this album. The development of this band on this second album can probably be traced to a number of things: Tom Dowd’s more sympathetic production, the band’s growing confidence as a live act, Dickey’s songwriting contributions, the introduction of acoustic elements to the music. This was truly the sound of a band expanding their musical palette. Gregg’s songwriting is still razor sharp. “Midnight Rider” was such an awesome song, Gregg even cut it again solo and it sounds completely different. The last two tracks on the album, both invoking home, are amongst my favorite Allman Brother tracks. “Please Call Home,” is a wonderful blues song that completely conjures the Delta. The album’s final track, “Leave My Blues At Home” is more of an up beat, jump-blues kind of number. It’s all about leaving your blues behind you… two sides of the same coin. Barry Oakley does his sole lead vocal with the band on the well done “Hoochie Coochie Man” one of my all time favorite blues covers. With Idlewild South the Allman Brothers proved they were only scratching the surface in terms of studio work.

The Allman Brothers Band went on, even after the tragic losses of Duane Allman and Barry Oakley, to a long and storied career. They continued to deliver great albums and tours through out the 70s. After breaking up the band reunited in the 90s and put out four of their best studio albums and numerous live albums. But there will always remain something special for me with these first two records done by the original line up. These albums are an essential part of anybody’s record collection.

“Think I’ll drink up a little more wine, to ease my worried mind. And walk down on the street, and leave my blues at home. All behind.” – “Leave My Blues At Home”

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B&V Playlist: Rainy Day Songs (Or, All The Rain Songs)

 

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“Here comes the rain again…falling on my head like a memory.” – The Eurythmics

I think the weather has always had an effect on my mood. Perhaps too strong of an effect if I’m being completely honest. Years ago I had a job as a traveling salesman for this criminal outfit out of Chicago. I truly believe this company did most of their recruiting at local prisons. Theft on your record was considered an asset when selling their products. It was a tough gig. I drove around northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas traveling to every small town hospital in the vicinity. The company I worked for didn’t pay much and it’s a time in my life I consider a “low period.” I did learn a valuable lesson though – there’s no such thing as hot, naughty nurses. Quite the opposite in fact. I used to call on an older woman who ran the laundry at one of the local hospitals, she had a tall, teased bouffant that was circa 1950s and a thicker mustache than me. I never saw her out of her hospital uniform. I still wonder if she ever wore street clothes. She was as tough as nails and extremely perceptive. She once said to me, “I always know what the weather is like outside when you come in, I can read it in your mood.” I never sold her much and it was always discounted heavily. You couldn’t fool her.

It was certainly a pain in the ass doing that job when it was raining. I had a giant case in which I used to carry product samples and catalogs. I usually had stuff under each arm. Carrying an umbrella was difficult in that situation, fully laden if you will. I can still conjure the smell of the wet wool of my suits as I slogged through the pouring rain. It was worse when it snowed. I was living with my parents at the time, which is always a career highlight on anybody’s resume… and to think I was single, ladies. I came out of the house, fully laden with medical supplies, headed to my car when I noticed it had snowed. I saw all the little kiddos across the street, bundled up and waiting on the bus. What I hadn’t realized is that it had rained before it snowed, leaving a sheet of treacherous ice lurking underneath the fluffy powder. That fact dawned on me as I saw my wingtip shoes go flying past my face. I hit the driveway with a resounding thud…the catalogs I was carrying, along with my big sample case, slowly slid down my parents sloped, icy driveway. I laid there for a second hoping death would come. Alas, I only ended up with a pair of ripped suit pants. When I finally stood up to retrieve everything I’d dropped…I could hear the cackling laughs of the kids at the bus stop. Children can be so cruel, you know.

Rain is such an evocative thing. While it occasionally conjures memories of those awful medical supply days, it also brings other, more pleasant memories. I remember a girl I knew, not biblically, who used to love to jog in the rain. It was fun to watch… Rain brings to mind all kind of things. It can be considered a cleansing force, perhaps even redemptive in some ways, washing away the sins of the past. It doesn’t always have to be something wrathful. It’s restorative and brings forth life, especially in the spring. There’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and love is on your mind… Hell, there’s nothing like leaving the window open when it’s raining and sleep is on your mind… it’s utterly relaxing to lie and listen to the falling rain on the roof.

I began to think about all the different rock and roll bands/artists who had devoted a song to rain or storms. I will admit in the spirit of full disclosure, my thoughts have strayed in this direction for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been housebound the last two weeks since my foot surgery. I’ve only been outside to go to the doctor. I’ve been nursed slowly back to health by the Rock Chick… and while I’ve felt a little like James Caan in the movie Misery, I can report that the Rock Chick has been much nicer to me than Kathy Bates was, thank God. The other reason for my thoughts about rainy day songs is simple. This spring in the midwest has been one of unrelenting, heavy rains. I’m talking about all day precipitation events. I spent all day Saturday, when the shank of the afternoon was as dark as dusk listening to the steady, persistent rain falling. I’ve glanced at the forecast and it appears that the entire upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be a wet one.

What I like about all of these different songs and different artists are the different moods, tempos, styles that rain has evoked for each of them. I was also amazed at the sheer magnitude of the number of rain songs out there. When I first started this list I had over 80 songs and it ran for almost eight hours. I had to make some edits… Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” was a bit to epic and Springsteen’s “Lost In the Flood” a little too grim, so this is not an exhaustive list of rain songs, just a long one. As usual, I tried to mix the well-known with the obscure. As those of you who follow our playlists know, I try to keep my playlists limited to around 2 hours. However, like the constant rains of spring, I felt this list should be longer. It’s too dark to read, there’s nothing on TV now that Game of Thrones has stumbled to its inevitable conclusion. Why not spend the entire afternoon listening to music. The moods and tempos here are all over the place. It’s not a bad playlist to have in the background on those wet, dank days. With nothing else to do but drink, perhaps this will keep you in a better mood. Enjoy!

As always you can find this list on Spotify, just search on “BourbonAndVinyl.net Rainy Day Songs.” My thoughts on each track, below.

 

  1. The Alarm, “Rain In The Summertime” – I saw the Alarm in a small club back in the late 80s/early 90s. Great, great band with a great great song.
  2. Peter Wolf, “It’s Raining” – A song written with the great Don Covay.
  3. Lowell George, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” – From Lowell’s only solo record.
  4. Warren Zevon, “Fistful of Rain” – Zevon’s characteristic fabulous lyrics.
  5. Blind Melon, “No Rain” – Perhaps the antithesis of our theme but a great track.
  6. Neil Young, “See The Sky About To Rain” – From On The Beach the third of the Ditch Trilogy.
  7. The Faces, “I Wish It Would Rain” – Great cover of the old Temptations track.
  8. R.E.M., “So Central Rain” – I love the album Reckoning. 
  9. Johnny Lang, “Still Raining” – I love this bluesy, rocker.
  10. John Mellencamp, “Rain On The Scarecrow” – Rocking, farm protest music, fuck yes!
  11. Jimi Hendrix, “In From the Storm” – Jimi conjures the storm with a guitar. The guy was really that good.
  12. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Great, political metaphor.
  13. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Naked In the Rain” – A state I’ve never been in, but I’ve had a few nightmares where I’m downtown, naked and need to get home.
  14. The Rolling Stones, “Little Rain” – Sublime blues tune.
  15. Stevie Nicks, “Outside The Rain” – From her perfect first solo album, Bella Donna. 
  16. Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – I always liked their country rock stuff better than that plunky, jammy stuff.
  17. The Runaways, “Thunder” – Ok, this track is about sex, but I like the Runaways and wanted to hear them.
  18. The Beatles, “Rain” – One of my favorite Lennon tunes.
  19. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – A tale of madness. Sting actually redid this song, and it’s one of the only redo’s that I actually like. It got a little jazzy in the end so I stuck with the original.
  20. AC/DC, “Stormy May Day” – Angus on a rare slide guitar. I hope they explore this sound more.
  21. Counting Crows, “Rain King” – I debated on this one. I run hot/cold on the Crows. But this is such a great song I added it.
  22. Billy Joel, “Storm Front” – Title track from his last, really great album.
  23. Silvertide, “Califronia Rain” – An obscure band the Rock Chick is into… Great rocking track.
  24. Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – A wonderful, hysterical cowboy song with the Eagles singing back up vocals. Perhaps my favorite song on here.
  25. Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break” – Inspired by Katrina. Great, latter day Dylan.
  26. Eric Clapton, “Come On In My Kitchen” – The old Robert Johnson track, “come on in my kitchen, it’s gonna be rainin’ outside.”
  27. Sting, “Heavy Cloud, No Rain” – Another use of rain as a metaphor for sex, or lack there of.
  28. Lenny Kravitz, “I Love The Rain” – Great, overlooked Kravitz track.
  29. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” – ZZ laying down some great blues.
  30. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” – “…coming down, sunny days.”
  31. Jackson Browne, “You Love The Thunder” – “…and you love the rain.” So do I, if I’m being honest.
  32. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Louisiana Rain” – Deep track from Damn The Torpedoes. 
  33. Led Zeppelin, “Fool In the Rain” – Where our hero is waiting for his love on the wrong block.
  34. Prince, “Purple Rain” – One of the few, epic, long tracks that I left on here… you need a few of those for a long day of listening.
  35. The Rolling Stones, “Rain Fall Down” – From what appears to be the last LP of original stuff they’ll ever do, A Bigger Bang. 
  36. Led Zeppelin, “The Rain Song” – They wrote this song in response to George Harrison saying the only problem with Zeppelin was they didn’t have any ballads.
  37. U2, “Summer Rain” – Great B-side.
  38. Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Tom Petty’s side project singing about Katrina.
  39. Jimi Hendrix, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” – Jazzy little groove from the guitar master.
  40. Bad Company, “Burnin’ Sky” – Not sure this track fits, but it has cool storm sounds at the beginning and at the end so I threw it on here.
  41. Peter Gabriel, “Red Rain” – I almost went with “Here Comes the Flood” but it was too downer.
  42. Guns N Roses, “November Rain” – The last real epic track I included. I always think of the video.
  43. Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” – Fabulous, Chicago-style blues.
  44. Bruce Hornsby & the Range, “Mandolin Rain” – How about the Range!
  45. Fleetwood Mac, “Storms” – Trippy groovy track by Stevie.
  46. Van Morrison, “And It Stoned Me” – The opening track from Moondance. 
  47. Eurythmics, “Here Comes The Rain Again” – Written in a hotel room in New York city during a rainstorm.
  48. Triumph, “Tears In The Rain” – A little something from Canada’s second best power trio.
  49. Ozzy Osbourne, “Black Rain” – Title track from a late period B&V fav from Ozzy.
  50. John Hiatt, “Feels Like Rain” – The oft covered gem. I first heard this as I was climbing into a cab leaving the “A Taste of Chicago” festival. I could hear him singing from the cab and thought, why’d we leave?
  51. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Texas Flood” – Title track from his epic debut album.
  52. Eric Clapton, “Let It Rain” – One of Slowhand’s best tracks.
  53. Elvis Presley, “Kentucky Rain” – The King back in Memphis reclaiming the Throne.
  54. The Doors, “Riders On the Storm” – Some trippy acid-jazz. There really is “a killer on the road.”
  55. The Cult, “Rain” – From their fabulous 2nd album, Love. 
  56. Bob Dylan, “Buckets of Rain” – The saddest track here.
  57. The James Gang, “Ashes the Rain and I” – When I think of the James Gang, I think of Joe Walsh’s guitar freak outs. This is a quiet acoustic piece I’ve always loved.
  58. Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” – A little something for those of you who hate the rain.
  59. The Who, “Love Reign O’er Me” – The epic conclusion of Quadrophenia.

There it is folks. 59 tracks and 4 and half hours. If I missed anything egregiously obvious, put the song name/artist in the comments section and I’ll add it! That should keep you entertained during the next deluge. Stay dry out there, pour something strong and enjoy!

Review: Beck’s New Track “Saw Lightning” From the Upcoming ‘Hyperspace’

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Many people are often surprised that I like Beck. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck. On the surface, he doesn’t really fit the blues/blues rock template that typically informs most of the rock and roll I listen to. But if you listen to a lot of his music, you’ll often hear some beautiful, bluesy slide guitar. A guitar player I knew once told me that “Loser” has the same guitar riff as the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” but you can’t always trust guitar players and the guy who told me that was famously unstable…it was probably all those jazz cigarettes, but I digress. Beck’s new track, co-produced by Pharrell of all people, “Saw Lightning” is no exception with respect to a bluesy, acoustic guitar riff. Apparently he’s got a new album coming, Hyperspace, that has yet to get a release date.

Beck (aka Beck Hansen), appeared in 1994, in the heart of the grunge era with his debut album Mellow Gold. While that album has always been hailed as a masterpiece, it never caught my ear. The first single “Loser” certainly did, but it caught everybody’s ear. I remember thinking that Beck was going to be one of those 1-hit wonders and we’d be listening to “Loser” in 20 years and Beck would be working in a record store somewhere in SoCal, cashing in on his distant celebrity with surfer chicks, like you do. Beck certainly surprised all of us. If you look at his early career it’s not unlike the Beastie Boys – not sonically, of course. The Beastie’s appeared in the middle 80s and we all thought “Fight For Your Right To Party” was a great party song. Nobody expected the drunken slobs on the video to do anything else of substance. They went away for 3 years, which was lifetime back then for a recording artist, and came back with the genius of Paul’s Boutique. Nobody expected that from the Beasties. Beck pulled a similar move after Mellow Gold. He went away for 2 years and then returned with arguably, his masterpiece Odelay which again, nobody expected.

Actually Beck released the all acoustic album, One Foot In The Grave, rather quickly after Mellow Gold (it had been recorded prior) so Beck didn’t disappear completely after his smash debut. One Foot In the Grave established what I like to call the dichotomy of Beck’s career. One side is the folky, acoustic strummer… although there’s plenty of blues in his folk… and then the other side of Beck, his electronic, upbeat side. For the latter, Beck typically spills seemingly nonsensical lyrics, dropping rhymes faster than an adolescent Dylan or not unlike Springsteen circa Greetings From Asbury Park. He kept bouncing back and forth between those styles even after Odelay, when he released the acoustic Mutations. Its been mostly like that ever since. Mutations begat the upbeat Midnight Vultures which begat the melancholy, acoustic Sea Change. 

On a video shoot for the overlooked gem of an album, Modern Guilt, Beck sustained a horrible back injury. No one was sure he’d ever record again. It took him six years between that album and his follow up, the brilliant acoustic Morning/Phase in 2014. Still people wondered if we’d ever hear from Beck’s upbeat, wise-cracking, rhyme dropping side ever again. Finally, he returned to that more upbeat sound on the 2017 album Colors. We weren’t too crazy about that album here at B&V so naturally it won a Grammy. I did really like all the singles he released in the run up to the album, “Wow,” “Dear Life,” and “Dreams.” Those were three of his all time best tracks. The album was just too glossy and poppy for me LP Review: Beck, ‘Colors,’ An Uneven, Disappointing Foray Into Sugar Sweet, Pure Pop. I got to see Beck open for U2 in support of Colors and liked it… I would have preferred he played longer… but that’s me.

Once again, Beck has dropped a great single as a precursor for an album. I don’t know what Hyperspace is going to be like… I’m a tad wary after Colors, but this first single, “Saw Lightning” is vintage Beck. I mentioned on an earlier post, I was in Florida with a couple who are the biggest blues fans I know. We drove from Key West to Miami, and “Saw Lightning” played several times… and even Kerry, the wife said, “God, I like this song, that guitar!” Indeed!

One of the first things you hear is a razor wire, slide acoustic guitar riff that continues through the entire track. The percussion is a cacophonous cascade of beats. The song picks up steam as it goes along. I love the bass-line here. The title conjures the old Howlin Wolf song “Smokestack Lightning,” not that they’re similar, that’s just how my brain is wired. The track has a great bridge, “Lord, won’t you take me and lead me into the light.” I just love Beck’s vocals. The lyrics are mostly Beck delivering what sounds like ominous news in an upbeat fashion. I really recommend this track to anybody who digs Beck, it’s going to be listed amongst his greatest tracks.

In related Beck news, he shows up on the great new track by Cage The Elephant, “Night Running.” I’ll take all the Beck I can get. I wouldn’t call it a duet, but Beck is more than harmony or back up vocalist here. He sings “we running” as a counter vocal to the lead vocalist of Cage. It’s a bit more pop than I usually get into, but it’s catchy as Hell. Not coincidentally Beck, Cage The Elephant and Spoon are touring together this summer, what a triple bill, and I’ll be sitting in the audience reporting on the rock and roll from Denver.

I urge everybody to check out both of these tracks. I’m going to have to cross my fingers for Beck’s new album, whenever it comes out. For now enjoy “Saw Lightning” and check out “Night Running,” you’ll thank me later!

Cheers!

LP Review: Sammy Hagar & The Circle, ‘Space Between’

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After a lovely week in Florida last week, I returned home to realize I’d scheduled foot surgery this last Thursday. While it’s been an excruciating experience, at least I’ve been able to lay back, prop my foot up and listen to this new Sammy Hagar & the Circle album, Space Between. This is The Circle’s first studio album, and follows up their debut album, a live record, At Your Service which featured songs from every stage of Hagar’s career and even a Zeppelin cover or two. The only problem with this scenario is I’m not allowed any bourbon during my convalescence. The sacrifices we make…

Sammy Hagar has been around so long we tend to forget what a varied career he’s had. There are certain guys in rock and roll who seem to move from band to band. I always think about Eric Clapton’s career and all the changes he made early on. He was a member of the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and even Derek and the Dominos before going solo. That’s a pretty amazing list of bands. Hell, he was even an unofficial member of the Beatles if you think about it, playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” While not as long, Clapton’s buddy Steve Winwood had a similar storied career with the Spencer Davis Group (“I’m A Man,” and “Gimme Some Lovin'”), Traffic, Blind Faith (with Clapton) and then a long, successful solo career.

Sammy’s list of bands isn’t perhaps as momentous but there are some great bands on this guy’s resume. I’ve touched on this subject before, Sammy Hagar’s Other Bands: Montrose And Chickenfoot. He started in 1973 with one of my favorite overlooked bands, Montrose. I always loved the songs “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter.” That’s one of the reasons I liked The Circle’s At Your Service as it saw Sammy revisiting his first band’s songs. From Montrose, Sammy went solo for about 10 years before joining Van Halen. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that the Roth version of VH was the definitive one, but I liked Van Hagar, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. After leaving Van Halen, or being fired depending on who you believe, Hagar formed the Waboritas, named after his famous Cabo club and tequila. Sammy is a B&V guy, always drinking. He ended up forming Chickenfoot with Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frustrations with the reception Chickenfoot got with the buying public got to Sammy and so he put that band on hold. It wasn’t long before he’d joined forces with his buddy Michael Anthony on bass from Van Halen, Vic Johnson on guitar (from the Waboritas) and Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, on drums to form the Circle.

Sammy has said that the name The Circle came to him because this band “takes him full circle back to his beginning.” Zeppelin was a big influence on Montrose, so it makes sense. I read about this album and Sammy was quoted as saying (from Wikipedia), “I’ve got a vibe on what I think this band will be, and it ain’t classic rock, believe it or not. I want to play like American folk rock, with a heavy edge. Remember the Band? Yeah, write lyrics about America and the world.” Lofty goals indeed. I couldn’t help but think, how’s he going to pull that off?

Interestingly enough, they actually do. The album has a heavy rock feel but there’s plenty of acoustic guitar to give it, well, a vibe like the (heavy metal) Band. The star for me on this album is Jason Bonham. His drumming is the root of everything here. The kid definitely inherited some chops from his dad. Vic Johnson’s guitar playing is also really great. He may be one of Sammy’s better guitar foils…although I’ll be the first to admit, I’d have liked to hear more solo’ing from Vic. Michael Anthony is his usual solid self.

The album starts off with two tracks that come across as almost sketches – “The Devil Came to Philly” which almost sounds like an incomplete song, but it sets the acoustic/electric template for the album. It’s followed up by “Full Circle Jam (Chump Change)” which does sound like a jam. The first track that caught my ear was “Can’t Hang.” It’s got that acoustic vibe that Zeppelin could conjure. Michael Anthony’s soaring harmony vocal is a key reason I like this track so much. There is a definite political message in this song, but as usual with Sammy, I don’t know what that message is. “Wide Open Space” almost has a country rock feel to it… it kinda reminds me of what Free did on their album Highway. It also has a soaring chorus courtesy of Anthony. The first half of the album is all lighter, acoustic-ish material, not mellow by any means, but not heavy either.

I really expected something heavier with this line up and eventually The Circle does eventually deliver. Besides the first single, “Trust Fund Baby,” they rock it up on “Free Man.” It’s got a chugging riff and a growling vocal from Hagar. It’s an OK track, but never really grabbed me like “Trust Fund Baby,” its a tad plodding. “Bottom Line” jumps out on, believe it or not, a gliding keyboard, accentuated by Johnson’s guitar riff. It may be the best track here and certainly cheers the proceedings up a bit. “There’s no equity in your bottom line…” True words Sammy, true words. Its interesting to hear Sammy sing about subjects other than chicks. “No Worries” is a, lost my job, living at the beach, not a care in the world kinda song that Sammy does better than anybody. It’s another strong track.

The album ends on two strong, message tracks. “Affirmation” begins “got it all and I’m still not satisfied.” It’s a strong rock song. Sammy clearly has something on his mind. But then the song just fades out. It seems shorter than it’s 3:20. The album ends with a strumming acoustic sing along, “Hey, Hey, (No Greed).” Bonham’s drum drive the track along as Johnson strums and everybody sings along.

It’s rumored that this will be Sammy’s final studio album. I think it’s a flawed record but it’s certainly an interesting one. This was nothing like I’d have expected from Sammy – this is not a classic rock, hard rock album. He’s clearly reaching for something he hadn’t done before and his lyrics are more serious than I’ve ever heard from the Red Rocker. It’s not a bad way to go out… if indeed that’s what Sammy has planned. Solid but not stupendous and definitely worth a listen although sadly I can’t recommend a purchase here.

Review: Springsteen’s New Solo Song, “Hello Sunshine” From The Upcoming LP ‘Western Stars’

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I took a little vacation down to the Florida Keys last week. It was good to get away. I was able to sit and roast in the sun (always use sunscreen folks, and don’t forget to slather your feet with it), put my headphones on and crank up the tunes… “Hello Sunshine,” indeed. The people the Rock Chick and I were traveling with, who live down there, are enormous music fans. Their principal interest remains classic rock and especially the blues. Every night ended with us sitting out on the lanai (a very fancy word for a screened-in deck/porch) cranking tunes on my little portable speaker and enjoying a nightcap, or two. I don’t think I’ve listened to that much Lynyrd Skynyrd since high school. Florida really is just Arkansas with coastline. Our traveling companions were laser-focused on finding live music every night which is always fun.

As part of an unplanned change-up during the trip, we left the Keys early and headed up to South Beach in Miami for that last night in the “Sunshine State.” At one point that evening, we ended up in a Salsa bar, which is a lot like ending up in marching band camp, all horns and noise…the horror, the horror. I was just trying to watch the Kentucky Derby and enjoy my bourbon. One might describe the week as a “musically immersive experience.” The best part of decamping early to Miami was the three hour drive up the Keys where my hosts played SiriusXM’s Spectrum station. The Spectrum plays classic and current rock. Over the course of the trip I heard the new Bruce Springsteen track, “Hello Sunshine” probably three times. It’s always better to first experience a new track in the car. There’s just something about driving and jamming.

Springsteen has been a busy man whilst on hiatus from the E Street Band. He had his very successful, one-man show on Broadway based on his autobiography, and won a Tony. He followed that up with a Netflix special of the show and the inevitable soundtrack there of, Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way. I’d been hearing about a solo project he’d recorded either prior to his Broadway show or during that time frame. The new music was described as “beautifully orchestrated.” Springsteen hinted that he was looking for a certain late-60s/early 70s sound on this new mystery solo project. I also just read yesterday, in a sudden burst of creativity he wrote an album’s worth of material for an E Street Band album. Which is really good news for those of you fearing we’d never see those guys together again. For now at least, we have the new solo album to look forward to in June, Western Stars. 

When describing the specific 60s/70s sound he was looking for, Springsteen mentioned singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb. I’ll be the first to admit that Webb is not a household name. I have been fortunate in my life that I’ve always surrounded myself with music nuts. After college, many of us eventually ended up in Kansas City. The guy I spent most of my time with in those days was an old roomie of mine, who I’ll call Stormin (name obscured to protect the guilty). Storm is like me, a huge music fan. When we weren’t drinking beer and eating stolen t-bones, we liked to go to the record store, spelunking for new stuff. He actually purchased a Jimmy Webb album back in those days and played it for me. It had all these great old tunes, mostly made famous by Glenn Campbell, like “Wichita County Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” I said, “Why is this guy doing all these covers?” Lo and behold, I found out that much to my embarrassment, Jimmy Webb wrote all those great songs and I’d had no idea.

Springsteen, of course, isn’t covering Jimmy Webb, he just wanted to capture that sound. The songs Webb wrote always had beautiful melodies and amazing orchestration. It’s easy to think that his stuff was made famous only by Glenn Campbell, meaning they are all country songs, but that would be wrong. His stuff was recorded by artists as diverse as Isaac Hayes, Waylon Jennings and the 5th Dimension. Disco queen Donna Summer even did “MacArthur Park.” Alas, Webb never found the success (commercially) as a recording artist that he did as a songwriter… the critics always seemed to like his records but not the fans in general.

On “Hello Sunshine,” Springsteen has indeed captured that beautiful orchestration that Webb was famous for. The influence is very strong. Frankly, I’m thrilled Springsteen is paying this much attention to the sound of his music. Sometimes he can get a little too focused on the lyrics and the message. His music has become ever more topical of late, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just nice to hear Bruce do more of a “pop” song (for lack of a better description). Over hushed drums and a wonderful bass line, Bruce sings in a slightly deeper register and manages to capture both the sadness and joy in the lyrics. It’s one of the most nuanced vocal performances I’ve heard from the Boss. The strings and piano kick in and the song takes off. There’s a beautiful pedal steel signature that plays throughout. The track does have an old-school country vibe, and I really, really love this song. Even the Rock Chick, who likes a fraction of Springsteen’s music said, “This could be a really great Springsteen album.” This song is almost an anachronism… it feels like it belongs in another time and place.

The lyrics are just great. The track is about a guy coming out of a dark time, perhaps a depression. The first lyric says it all, “Had enough of heartbreak and pain,
I had a little sweet spot for the rain.” Some of us get used to the darkness and come to be almost comfortable in it. It seems the “Sunshine” of the title may be a new love… “I’ve always liked my walking shoes, but you can get a little too fond of the blues.” I just think the lyrics perfectly fit the mood of the track. I love the sound and I love Bruce’s singing here. “Hello Sunshine, won’t you stay…” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

I don’t think this is Bruce’s “country” album. If “Hello Sunshine” is any indication, I think Western Stars has a chance of being a great, old-school, singer-songwriter type of album. You know, like Springsteen on his first album. This gives all of us at B&V something to look forward to this summer. I highly urge everybody check this track out!

Cheers!