LP Review: Foreigner, ‘Live At the Rainbow ’78’

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“ARENA…….ROCK…….GODS!!!” – Text response from a friend re: Live At the Rainbow ’78

We’re going to be digging deep on this post. Admittedly, we may lose some of you on this one… However, there are those of us of a certain age, who can still look back fondly on the early work of Foreigner. It probably isn’t very fashionable to admit that now. Hell, it probably wasn’t very fashionable to admit liking Foreigner in ’77, but we were all in junior high school. We didn’t know what fashionable was. Punk rock may have been ruling supreme in the late 70s, but it didn’t quite reach us out here in the American mid-west. Well, not in Kansas City anyway. For us out here in “Fly-over Country” it was all about classic, arena rock.

Through the gimlet eye of history, it’s easy now to dismiss Foreigner. And sadly, after their late 70s/early 80s heyday they represent a lot of what went wrong with rock and roll. They fired a bunch of original members. The lead singer Lou Gramm left and came back. They went mellow with awful ballads like “I Want To Know What Love Is.” God, I hate that song. They got hit with the worst of tags, “Corporate Rock.” I’m not sure what that is… but I imagine a bunch of suits saying, “turn off the guitar and lets get a choir in here, this could be a hit.” Then they reformed with only lead guitarist Mick Jones and no other original members. They barely let Lou Gramm participate in their 40th anniversary tour. With each succeeding year they tarnish their legacy more.

When I think about that description, “Corporate Rock” I can’t help but think of a lot of the bands who came up as genuine rockers in that late 70s/early 80s era. Bands like Journey – who all met and started as an offshoot of Santana which I would think would make them credible, at least at the start – or Styx or REO Speedwagon, who at least started as middle American rockers. But all of those bands lost the fire. They kicked original members out of the band. Or they let one person or a small sub group take over the band. Styx fell prey to Dennis DeYoung, oh he of the bad toupee and the horror of Mr. Roboto. REO should have thrown out Kevin Cronin instead of let him take over. Steve Perry drove original keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rollie out of the band and they went limp. Suddenly all of those bands went from genuine rockers to pop musicians striving for “hits.” Foreigner went from a six piece to a four piece right before releasing their fourth album, the creatively titled 4. Thomas Dolby of “She Blinded Me With Science” fame came in and played keyboards on that album. Chemistry in a band is just something you shouldn’t fuck with.

It wasn’t always like that for Foreigner. Guitarist Mick Jones from the UK, formed the band in New York with two other Brits, Ian McDonald (keyboards/guitar/sax) and drummer Dennis Elliott. Jones pulled in former King Crimson keyboardist Al Greenwood. They rounded out the group with two other Americans, Lou Gramm on vocals and Ed Gagliardi on bass. They changed their name to Foreigner, as wherever they toured at least half the band would be on foreign soil. With members with backgrounds from Spooky Tooth and King Crimson, one has to think they had some rock credibility. They were pretty far from that Corporate Rock title…

When, in 1977, they released their eponymous debut album it hit all of us like a ton of bricks. “Cold As Ice” and “Feels Like the First Time” were blasting out of the t-tops of Camaro’s and Firebirds from Chicago to Dallas. Those were the “hits” or the tracks rock radio was playing on high rotation but there were great deep tracks on that record. “Long Long Way From Home” is a track that still gets me up and moving. “Headknocker” was another big arena rocker. Even when they did ballads, there was sufficient rock and roll menace there – “The Damage Is Done” was a huge kiss off track. “Fool For You Any Way” is an example of a great ballad and believe me, there’s no fucking choir on that song and it hits with more emotional force than “I Want To Know What Love Is.” “Starrider” was a trippy, almost psychedelic thing that Mick Jones took lead vocals on. Even the deepest of the deep tracks rock, like “I’m At War With the World” (which contains my favorite lyric, “I’ve never had the need for any military aid”), or “I Need You.” In the midwest that album hit the spot. Hell, it sold 4 million copies.

Naturally, they toured the world. Finally, in the spring of 1978 they convened in London to record the follow up album, Double Vision, which sold even better than the debut. Even while recording that second album, they continued to play live. Luckily they recorded a concert in London at the famous Rainbow Theater. And apparently, high on their success they just put the tape of that show in the vaults. Here we are 41 years later and at last this concert document has been revealed. And, as a fan of releases from the vaults, let me say, this is some revelation.

First, let me say a word about live recordings. In the 70s, many bands broke through to the mainstream after years of toiling on studio albums by releasing live albums. Bob Seger’s Live Bullet, Kiss’ Alive and Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan all spring to mind. One could cite Frampton on this list as well, but I’m going on and on. Almost all of those albums have some “touch up” work on them. The band went into the studio and re did some vocals, or maybe cleared up a guitar solo. When a band is on stage, sometimes a microphone doesn’t catch something or there’s some distortion. Even the Stones are thought to have done something similar way back on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. It’s a pretty common practice. What makes Live At the Rainbow ’78 so remarkable to me, is this pretty much sounds like a raw tape of the recording. There are a few moments of feedback, Lou Gramm yells out at odd times. Nothing was cleaned up here and I love it all the more for that. Some people dig live recordings, and others like the Rock Chick, do not. This album is like listening to a radio broadcast, warts and all… not that there are many warts.

On this live recording Foreigner sound like a band at the top of the world. They play with a swagger that I just love. This album just rocks. They open with one of my favs, the track that opened side 2 of the debut album, “Long Long Way From Home.” It’s a bit sloppy but it kicks. It sets the tone for the whole performance. They blow deep track “I Need You” up to a 6 minute hard rock gem. “Starrider” gets a 12-plus minute treatment. The guitar solo is awesome. “Headknocker” which ends the show is almost 12 minutes and is complete with drum solo and guitar solo. They were indeed having fun.

They basically come out and do the entire first album. But what also makes this live album special is they play, probably for the first time live, two tracks from their upcoming second album. “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision” both get muscular rocking versions here. The album was six weeks from coming out and they’re playing the two biggest tracks off of it already. This was a confident band. Even the ballads here, “Fool For You Anyway” and “The Damage Is Done” hit with a force I wouldn’t have expected.

For those of us who love that first album, or any early Foreigner, this wonderful live album is a must hear. I’ve been cranking Live At the Rainbow ’78 for a couple of weeks now and it always puts a smile on my face. Foreigner is probably a band you wouldn’t expect to hear about here on B&V, but as this album clearly documents, before they were Corporate Rockers, they were just a genuinely great rock band. How can anybody dislike a band who sings, “there have been rumors that my sense of humor, is lacking in some ways…” God, I love that song. Turn this one up, hold a lighter over your head and shotgun a beer… just for old times (and I mean junior high school times, my friends).

Cheers!

 

 

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Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks

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Well this post may be my magnum opus because to call me a Stones fan doesn’t really do my love for them justice. I’m more of a Stones Fanatic. If I ever had the crazy idea to get a tattoo, it’d probably be the lips/tongue Stones logo, but hey, if Jagger doesn’t have tattoo I don’t need one. I’ve got the whole aging hipster thing down without a tat. Anyway, I’ve seen the Stones on every tour of the United States they’ve done since Tattoo You. Frankly, most tours I’ve seen them twice or three times. I’ve travelled as far and wide as New York (for their 50th Anniversary show, a personal highlight in a lifetime of concerts), Little Rock, Arkansas and Dallas, Texas to see them. I stood in the rain in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin for the Steel Wheels tour, so, yeah, I’m in the fan club.

On B&V, I try to focus on older bands, the ones I grew up listening to, who continue put out new music. Alas in the short time I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve only had the opportunity to write about the Stones twice. They put out the superb blues album, Blue And Lonesome LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle which I absolutely loved. And they went back into the archives for On Air, a compilation of their early performances on the BBC, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances. It’s a shame they’ve only put out one album of all new original material in the last 25 years, the superb A Bigger Bang. I saw recently Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac said, in essence, why record a new album? No one buys them, anyway. Which is a damn shame. Maybe that’s why the Stones stopped recording regularly. As Elton said once, “would anybody have the balls to have walked up to an older Muddy Waters and told him to stop recording?” I think not.

What they seem to be content with these days is just repackaging up the old greatest hits. There was Forty Licks, which at least had four new songs on it. That was followed by GRRR! which had two new tracks. Recently, in advance of the latest leg of the never ending ‘No Filter’ tour (which, yes I saw), they put out Honk. There were no new studio tracks on that one, but they included some interesting live duets they’d done whilst on tour. Beyond that, the Stones release a live album after every tour or significant show (like the one in Havana or the one at Hyde Park). I hear they’re working on a new album, but it wasn’t up to their usual high standards so they’ve gone back into the studio to tidy it up… Keith Richards described it as “being more like carpentry now, than anything.”

A few weeks ago, in honor of Elton John’s Retirement Tour, I did a playlist of some of my favorite deep tracks of his, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks. I was pleased at how well received the playlist was by people. It garnered a number of comments which are always welcome down here at B&V. One of my favorite rock and roll people, Dr. Rock commented, “I was hoping you’d do one of these deep track lists for the Stones.” Eureka, I thought… why haven’t I done one for the Stones? They’re my Alpha and Omega… and with all these Greatest Hits packages they’ve flooded the market with, people may have lost touch with their brilliant back catalog and the very deep tracks that I love. This task, I knew, was going to take some time…time and bourbon.

I was in junior high school when the Stones’ classic Some Girls came out and changed my life. It kicked off my life-long addiction to rock and roll. I loved the way Keith and Ronnie’s guitar played off each other. Keith calls it “the ancient art of weaving,” which is an accurate description, they would literally weave their guitar parts around each other. They really are the most symbiotic guitar duo out there… with only Angus and Malcolm Young even close. I’ve always been a huge fan of all the music that the Ronnie Wood-era Stones did. I love the dirty 70s and the 80s.

I had taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks, that I eventually wore out so I didn’t really buy the Mick Taylor (Ronnie’s predecessor on guitar) era Stones stuff, known as their “golden period” until I got to college. There was so much to love there. Mick was a virtuoso soloist and it allowed Keith to become the riff-meister we all know and love. And while this period of the Stones produced their most well known songs, if you dig a little deeper on albums like Exile On Main Street or It’s Only Rock And Roll and you’ll find rock and roll gold.

As I dug deeper, and moved backward in time, through the Stones catalog, inexplicably I stopped at Their Satanic Majesties Request. I didn’t go back to the early stuff, with Brian Jones on the lead guitar. He was a tortured soul, but goddammit he could play the slide guitar. I had always thought of the Stones in the early days as a blues covers band, the anti-Beatles. I was, as usual, wrong. All of those early Stones albums, which did begin as being heavy on blues and Chuck Berry covers, are essential listening. Buying all those albums, from England’s Newest Hitmakers, 12×5 to Between The Buttons and immersing myself in that music was one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life. I urge you all to do the same, it’s worth it.

I started compiling this list over a tumbler of dark and murky fluid. It was truly a labor of love. When I was done I had close to 150 songs. I knew that wasn’t going to fly. I have edited the list down quite a bit. I’m sad to say, that 5 of the songs on the list are not on Spotify. I will highlight them in my comments below. You can find the playlist on Spotify under ‘BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks.’ You can also search under ‘recorsini.’ This list isn’t, as always, meant to be definitive. These are just songs that I love. They may be familiar to you. You may think when you hear these, “Oh, yeah I forgot about that track.” I hope you discover something you’ve either not heard or had forgotten about. If you have a favorite that you’d like to highlight, please do so in the comments section. Here’s the list with my thoughts on each track below.

  1.  “Little By Little” – An early track from their debut album. A perfect way to start this party.
  2. “Around And Around” – The Stones do Chuck Berry almost better than Chuck does…almost. This is one of my favorites of their many covers by him.
  3. “What A Shame” – One of the earlier Jagger/Richards penned tunes that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
  4. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – The Stones doing Muddy Waters. This track is sublime.
  5. “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” – The Stones taking the piss out of a record company dork.
  6. “The Spider And the Fly” – “My, my said the spider to the fly…”
  7. “I’m Free” – A track that found new life after the Stripped acoustic live record. I think it’s sadly on a credit card commercial… sigh. Everything is for sale.
  8. “Gotta Get Away” – Jagger/Richards continue to develop as songwriters.
  9. “Out of Time” – Great deep track from Aftermath, the first album they did with no cover tunes.
  10. “Back Street Girl” – Love this song, and the cover Social Distortion did too.
  11. “2000 Light Years From Home” – A track I was unaware of until I saw them do it live on the Steel Wheels tour. I wish they’d do more deep tracks like this one on tour.
  12. “No Expectations” – Brian Jones’ slide guitar on this album is absolutely sublime. It’s perfect. Alas, it was to be his last significant contribution to a Stones tune.
  13. “Stray Cat Blues” – An utterly inappropriate blues track about the charms of young girls.
  14. “You Got the Silver” – One of my favorite tracks with Keith on lead vocal. Although I’ve always been partial to Keith’s songs. It’s great live.
  15. “Monkey Man” – This track is a bit more well known, but it’s one of the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones tracks. Saw them play this live in Chicago with her and she fell in love with it.
  16. “Jiving Sister Fanny” – From the odds and sods album Metamorphosis. I’m not even sure if all the Stones are on this album.
  17. “I’m Going Down” – Not the Freddie King classic, but a dirty little seventies Stones track.
  18. “Moonlight Mile” – The most beautiful ballad on Sticky Fingers.
  19. “All Down The Line” – One of my all time favorites.
  20. “Ventilator Blues” – Epic blues track.
  21. “Plundered My Soul” – A bonus track from the superb “deluxe” edition of Exile. 
  22. “Coming Down Again” – A beautiful junkie lament from Keith.
  23. “Winter” – An epic ballad. I love this song, always have.
  24. “If You Can’t Rock Me” – “Somebody will…” Love me or leave baby, kind of track.
  25. “Crazy Mama” – An overlooked gem of a rocker from Black And Blue, Ronnie’s debut with the band.
  26. “Memory Motel” – My favorite ballad in their entire catalog. Keith has a nice, small vocal part. “She drove a pickup truck, painted green and blue…” Lost love in the Memory Motel… we’ve all stayed there.
  27. “So Young” – From the deluxe edition of Some Girls. Keith had been busted in Canada for heroin possession and intent to distribute. Serious jail time loomed. They holed up in a Paris studio and recorded the bulk of what would become their next three albums. I love this randy little tune.
  28. “Keep Up Blues” – They rock, they do reggae, they disco, but they always come home to the blues.
  29. “Summer Romance” – Another great rock song that the Stones make look so easy. One of all time favorites.
  30. “Down In The Hole” – Another great blues tune. Blues is in these guys’ pores.
  31. “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your father?” A country song about Castro, Che Guevara and their African military adventures.
  32. “If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2)” – Sequel to a disco song on Emotional Rescue. Yeah, yeah, I know, “Death Before Disco,” but I dig the Stones when Mick gets his groove on. I couldn’t find this one on Spotify. It’s on Sucking In the 70s if you’re interested.
  33. “Neighbors” – A rocker with some truth.
  34. “Black Limousine” – Bluesy rocker, “we used to ride, ride, ride around in black limousines.”
  35. “It Must Be Hell” – This overlooked rock song has a monster riff from Keith.
  36. “One Hit To The Body” – Great opening track to the overlooked Dirty Work, which happens to be a great album.
  37. “Had It With You” – I love Ronnie’s guitar on this track.
  38. “Winning Ugly” – Another great Dirty Work track.
  39. “Continental Drift” – Brian Jones got the Stones interested in the music of Morocco. On their return album, after a short break-up, Steel Wheels, they returned to Morocco to record this track… the circle of life.
  40. “Hearts On Fire” – Great bluesy rocker.
  41. “Terrifying” – I have never understood why this wasn’t a hit.
  42. “Highwire” – The Stones get a little political on this studio rock track, tacked onto the end of the live, Flashpoint. 
  43. “Sparks Will Fly” – “When I get myself back on you baby.” Another randy, little track.
  44. “Brand New Car” – Voodoo Lounge was such a great fucking album.
  45. “Out of Control” – Another great track that is even better live. They still dust this one off every now and again in concert.
  46. “Don’t Stop” – A classic Stones track that will never get its due. It’s a perfect Stones song.
  47. “Fancy Man Blues” – From an album I bought in a Starbucks, sigh, Rarities. I couldn’t find this song on Spotify, nor could I find the next two, from the same album, but they’re all tracks worth checking out if you can find them.
  48. “Let It Rock” – A live take on Chuck Berry’s classic.
  49. “Wish I’d Never Met You” – More blues from Rarities. 
  50. “Rain Fall Down” – A great track from A Bigger Bang, an album that proved the Stones still had it. They could still deliver. I wish they’d kept recording.
  51. “Under The Radar” – Another track I couldn’t find on Spotify. Its only available on the deluxe version of Bigger Bang. It’s actually on the bonus material on the Blu-ray. I can not fathom why this hasn’t been released to the general public.
  52. “Infamy” – Keith’s great track from Bigger Bang. A play on words, “You’ve got it in for me” (in for me – slurred to infamy).
  53. “Doom And Gloom” – A great “state of the union” track from GRRR! 
  54. “One More Shot” – The last studio track these guys released. Let’s hope they correct that soon.

Pour something strong and enjoy an afternoon of blues-rock by the men who invented and perfected the form.

Cheers!

 

 

LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’

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“I’m here right now, I’m not dead yet…” – “Some Days I Don’t Feel Like Trying,” The Raconteurs

The new millennium saw a lot of changes occur in the world, well after we all shook off those Y2K fears. For me personally, I met the Rock Chick in 2000 which changed everything. The 90s had seen the rise and fall of Grunge, which I really liked. Grunge was really classic rock (Pearl Jam), punk (Nirvana) or hard rock (or metal in the case of Soundgarden) dressed in flannel, so naturally I gravitated toward it. It was better than all the synth, spandex and drum machine stuff that came out in the 80s, although my friend Doug would argue with me on that. But by the end of the last century Grunge had punched itself out, metaphorically speaking. Cobain sadly took his own life. By 1999-2000 Layne Staley had largely disappeared into heroin addiction. Soundgarden broke up after Down On the Upside. Only Pearl Jam was left standing, unscathed…revolving drummers aside. The music that had taken the world by storm had settled into an uneasy middle age.

Sadly with rock bands receding, the end of the 90s saw the rise of pop music to fill the void. Diva behemoths Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera and their ilk ruled the world. Everywhere you turned you’d hear the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync or some other boy band… or was it N’Street and BackSyncBoys? I don’t know, I could never keep that shit straight. On my first date with the Rock Chick, I veered the conversation (as I usually do) toward music… you can’t be with someone with shitty musical taste, it’s against the laws of nature. I once broke up with a lovely woman because she liked Barry Manilow. On our first date the Rock Chick said, “I don’t know what’s up with music these days, all these crappy Boy Bands… whatever happened to Motley Crue or Van Halen or the Cult…” I think it was at that moment I may have fallen in love, but enough about me.

In the midst of all that awful pop music, starting around ’99 and running through ’02 there was a wave of these garage-rock type bands. Everywhere I turned I’d hear about this rock and roll revival. I was checking out bands like the Strokes or the Hives. I remember hearing about the White Stripes before I actually heard them. Finally the Rock Chick played “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With a Girl” for me. I couldn’t help but think, hmmm, that’s interesting. I remember the first time I saw them – not in concert, but on television – on the 2002 MTV Awards. All decked out in red and white. Jack White, manic on guitar/vocals with Meg White on drums (she was such a cavewoman on drums… love her). It was that moment the White Stripes clicked for me. I purchased White Blood Cells immediately.

I was so enamored with the White Stripes after that first purchase I did what I always do, I bought the entire back catalog… which at the time was only The White Stripes and my all time favorite Stripes record, De Stijl (a name which I’d venture to guess I’ve never pronounced correctly). They were garage rock and punk but there was blues in there too. They could go acoustic, which bands weren’t really doing any more, and be almost folky. I knew I’d found a band to connect to in this new wave of garage rockers. I thought then and continue to think, that Jack White is a genius. And of course knowing that he’s skilled in upholstering tends to help play into that.

I saw the White Stripes on the tour for their brilliant album Elephant in tiny Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas and it remains an all-time concert highlight for me. I was able to catch them again after the tour for Get Behind Me Satan at the Starlight Theater from the 6th row… and was thrilled they played “Jolene.” At this point, I was ready to build a shrine to the White Stripes in my backyard… Meg holding a fawn, Jack playing the guitar, both in togas, the whole Greek God treatment. But alas, things were not all smiles and roses in the White Stripes camp. Meg had started to distant herself from the big top.

With a bunch of pent up energy and no White Stripes project to work on, in 2006 Jack formed the Raconteurs with Brendan Benson (guitars/vocals), Jack Lawrence (bass), and Patrick Keeler (drums). I was excited to hear Jack White in a bigger band than the power duo he’d been playing with. There were more options for him. At the time vinyl was in short supply so I bought their debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers on CD. Alas, I ended up selling it. I loved “Steady As She Goes,” and the blues tune “Blue Veins,” but other than the song “Level” I didn’t really connect with the rest of the tracks on the album, it was too pop for me. It seemed somewhat slight in terms of the material. In prep for this post I went back and listened to it again… and it was a lot better than I remembered. It’s a solid record with three outstanding tracks in the mix.

In 2008, stuck waiting for Meg to do something in the studio after Icky Thump, White reconvened the Raconteurs for the sprawling Consolers Of The Lonely. I thought that record was flawed – I really liked about half the tracks on it – but it was a big leap forward from the debut record. They throw everything but the kitchen sink into this thing. It’s the exact album I thought Jack White would make outside the confines of the duo. I began to believe that the reason I liked only half the tracks was because I only like the Jack songs vs the Brendan songs but I think it’s more complicated than that. Jack is all id, he sounds unhinged at times. Then Brendan is like the superego, smoothly coming in and calming Jack into a nice harmonizing duo. When it worked it was spectacular. When it doesn’t, well it doesn’t.

Flash forward ten years from Consolers and I thought the Raconteurs were a footnote. Once the White Stripes officially “called it a day,” Jack launched a strong solo career. His first two albums are brilliant, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto are highly recommended. Unfortunately his last album, Boarding House Reach lost me (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’). I think we all know someone or work with someone who is so creative, whose approach to things is so out there, you just want to say to them once in a while, “think inside the box for a change.” That’s kind of where I think Jack White got to. It was time to return to the structure of a band instead of the free reign being a solo artist can bring. Enter his old pals, the Raconteurs.

I was really pleased when I put Help Us Stranger on the stereo and turned up the speakers. The first track is all garage rock guitars, building to a big opening track, “Bored and Razed.” This album feels tighter than Consolers, its as compact as Broken Boy but it packs more punch. And, as a vinyl enthusiast I must say I love that they put a fake needle skip at the front of the title track, just to fuck with us. The title track has an acoustic guitar riff punctuated with White’s lead guitar. I love the Benson/White harmonizing. “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” is another epic track with a long coda, quoted above. These guys are definitely not dead yet. “Only Child” is a great acoustic ballad also featuring the great harmonizing.

My favorite tracks remain the first two released, “Sunday Driver” is a track that runs through my brain multiple times a day and the epic blues of “Now That You’re Gone.” The Raconteurs are always good for one fabulous blues track. (Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers!). “Shine the Light on Me” starts with an almost gospel piano and has a Beatlesque chorus. It’s really grown on me.

The album is not without some tracks that I didn’t connect with. “Don’t Bother Me” never quite comes together. “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)” is a Donovan cover complete with harmonica crunchy guitar and distorted vocals. I’ll admit the Raconteurs version is probably better than anything Donovan ever did… I know, I just don’t dig him but it’s a bit unhinged. Neither of these songs are bad, the band needs to let White to go off occasionally.

Overall I’d say this is the Raconteurs’ strongest complete album. It’s a great bookend with the Black Keys latest effort LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed! to help book end your summer rock and roll. It’s all guitars and harmonies, many of which will bore into your brain. Just when I was worried rock was dead, another super rock record comes out. If nothing else, it’s great to hear Jack White get back to his usual top shelf form. “Not dead yet,” indeed!

Cheers!

 

LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed!

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I have finally found the rock and roll album for the Summer of ’19. ‘Let’s Rock’ by the Black Keys! Hell yes! Baby, let’s rock!

I was beginning to wonder if we’d get any more rock and roll this year… it’s been thin for those of us who like to hear squalling guitar and big drums. I was also beginning to wonder if the Black Keys were even still a band. It’s been five years since their last album, Turn Blue. I went back recently and listened to that album in the hopes it would break my liking-every-other-album cycle with the Black Keys, but alas I found the album, well, kind of a bummer. And I like sad music, just see my Neil Young collection. The good news about my not liking Turn Blue is it boded well for the new album. I had absolutely loved El Camino, the predecessor to Turn Blue. I don’t know what it is about these guys, they zig and I zag… but we always meet on the next album.

In the interim, lead singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Dan Auerbach released a solo album, Waiting On A Song that was a really strong, “summery” record in its own right, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’. He also produced a host of other artists. I know drummer Patrick Carney also did some producing. And I just read in Rolling Stone magazine, Carney somehow made peace with Jack White who had been reported as hating the Black Keys “for ripping the White Stripes off.” Jack said that Carney came over to his house in Nashville while White was recording with the Raconteurs and loaned him a microphone. Nothing like reaching out with the olive branch microphone. Peace was made. We can’t have rock bands feuding… this isn’t hip hop and there are far too few rock bands left.

I also read on Wikipedia that Auerbach said he prefers creating the music (writing/producing/recording) and had grown weary of touring, which he described as “necessary” after you’ve released an album. He was jamming with Joe Walsh – and let me tell you, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that – and Auerbach started to get the itch to play with Carney again… And let me just say as an aside, if Auerbach is producing a Joe Walsh solo album, can I just be the first to say, YES PLEASE!! Carney and Auerbach hadn’t so much as spoken in quite some time… but apparently the chemistry they have ignited immediately. Joe Strummer said it best, “never underestimate the power of the chemistry of four guys in a room.” In this case it’s two guys, but you get my point. And I do mean two guys literally. For the first time in five or six albums, Danger Mouse didn’t produce this record. The Black Keys produced it themselves. The only other musicians on this album are two back up singers, Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson. I have to assume with that name, Ms. Wilcoxson was teased in high school, but I’ll leave that alone. I should also mention that for the first time in a few records, there are no keyboards on this album… I mean, that’s all you gotta know.

When I saw the album was titled, “Let’s Rock” I assumed there was some epic story where the two guys in the band reunited after the long separation – sort of like when Joliet Jake gets out of jail in the movie The Blues Brothers and is reunited with Elwood while “She Caught the Katy” plays in the background… and one of them looked at the other and said, “Let’s rock,” and they immediately lock into a groove that ended up being “Lo/Hi.” That would have made for a great story. Unfortunately it’s a different story. Apparently the state of Tennessee executed a guy in the electric chair (hence the cover art) for the first time in 14 years. When asked if he had anything to say, the guy just said, “Let’s rock.” Not the story I’d hoped for but in these dark times, perhaps it’s the story we deserve… but I digress.

I liked this album immediately upon first listen, something that doesn’t always happen these days. I will admit, it’s a tad more polished than their earlier work and it sort of glided by on that first listen, almost too quickly. But after hearing it, damn, if the melodies didn’t stick in my head. The rocking “Lo/Hi” and perhaps my favorite track, “Tell Me Lies” would be running through my head when I woke up in the morning. The Rock Chick liked the album as well, but in the interest of full disclosure, she’s always liked the earlier, more raw albums. She really digs the debut, The Big Come Up. I’m beginning to think the Rock Chick may be, unbeknownst to her, like the heroin of the Ramones’ tune, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” The Keys early records sound like they were recorded in a basement with the vocals distorted, almost like they’re running them through the harmonica microphone. Auerbach sang like he had a small dollop of Howlin Wolf in there. It sounds like they taped a microphone to a Marshall amp and turned it up to 11… Believe me I get it, I dig that early stuff too. This may be more polished, but the guitar sound still grabs me.

This album is a predominately a guitar forward upbeat record. It starts off with three great tracks, “Shine A Little Light” (which could have been on Auerbach’s last solo disc), “Eagle Birds” which has a crazy good guitar solo and the first single, “Lo/Hi” (The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”). They take a bit of a left turn with an almost psychedelic ballad on “Walk Across the Water,” followed by “Tell Me Lies” which starts with a slow groove and then builds, drops back to the groove… rinse repeat. I love that track. While the music is rocking and up beat, the lyrics belie a darker, heavier feel. It’s like the narrator of the song is rocking his blues away. “Get Yourself Together” and “Sit Around Missing You” certainly are examples of what I’m talking about. What was it Tom Waits said…”I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

This is far from a monochromatic record… don’t think it’s all upbeat rock songs. Most of them are but there are quieter moments. “Breaking Down” starts with a sitar-like sounding little guitar figure. It’s more mid tempo but it chugs along thanks to Carney’s propulsive drumming. “Sit Around And Miss You” is built on an acoustic, strumming guitar. The only track that threw me bit was “Fire Walk With Me.” It’s another great rock song, but the title… are these guys Twin Peaks fans?

I recommend this album as strongly as I can. It’s just a great rock and roll record and perfect for the summer. And… spoiler alert… this is a definite candidate for the B&V best albums of the year. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese – What Happened?

Rolling-Thunder-Martin-Scorsese-Bob-Dylan-header

Image taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

I should have known…

I was never a big Dustin Hoffman fan and I certainly had no desire to see his movie, Tootsie. Someone invariably drug me to the movie and in retrospect I’m glad I saw it for one and only one reason, comedy legend Bill Murray. Apparently Hoffman met Murray at a party and invited him to be in the movie. When Murray agreed, they had to change the script and create a new character for him to play in order to write him into the story. In the movie, he plays struggling actor Hoffman’s struggling playwright roommate. I assume the script looked something like this:

ANY OTHER CHARACTER: “Blah, blah blah”

BILL MURRAY: Ad-lib something hysterical.

In the movie, Hoffman and Murray (the roommates) have a big party. There’s a scene where Murray is drinking and talking to a table full of people. He says, “When someone sees one of my plays, I don’t want them to come up to me afterward and say, “I saw your play and I was moved, I saw your play and I loved it.” I want them to say, “I saw your play. What happened?”

With that as a backdrop, after finally completing all 2 hours and 16 minutes of this “documentary,” all I can say is… wait, what happened? Scorsese is of course a brilliant director of full length films. He also has his rock and roll film bona fides. He filmed the Band’s The Last Waltz which is one of the best concert movies ever. He’s even done a nice job before on Dylan on No Direction Home, which also had a soundtrack that ended up a volume in Dylan’s long running Bootleg series. Admittedly, he looks like a clown in the Stones’ concert film he did, Shine a Light, running around like an idiot begging for a set list…but I try to forget that part of the movie.

I tuned into this thing expecting a straight up documentary. The Rolling Thunder Revue has always had a bit of a mythical quality to it. Dylan was coming off the critical and commercial success of Blood On The Tracks. That album clearly documents the beginning of the end of his first marriage to Sara Dylan. His last tour had been the big extravaganza in 1974 with the Band. For reasons unclear, Dylan retreated to his old stomping grounds in New York, in the Village and gathered a bunch of friends at Gerde’s, a folk music bar. Loose jam sessions ensued. He invited Jacques Levy to write some songs that eventually became the acclaimed album Desire. 

Dylan decided to take his group of friends, who had been jamming in the Village, out on the road, in the style of an old folky hootenanny. They did one leg before Desire and one after. The idea was to play smaller venues for people who typically couldn’t afford “good seats” in arenas. Dylan wanted to get more intimate and close to his audience. He took a host of people with him – Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, poet Allen Ginsberg, Ronnie Hawkins (who Dylan stole the Band from), Ramblin’ Jack Elliot amongst others. Patti Smith declined to join but on the second leg it looks like Joni Mitchell joined. It sounds like a great party… if I hadn’t been in grade school, I’d have loved to ride along but I digress. The show really was a Revue, but Dylan was clearly the draw.

I think the reason this period of Dylan’s career has such a mystique is a) it was during a period when he created what many describe as his final masterpiece, Desire and b) it was never really appropriately documented except for the rather slip shod live album, Hard Rain. Although I would argue that Volume 5 of Dylan’s Bootleg Series, which cobbled together various performances from the Rolling Thunder Revue shed an all new light on the proceedings. He also recently released a 14 CD box set from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour featuring everything from rehearsals to complete concerts. It appears this Scorsese release was timed to accompany and call attention to the box set. I love Dylan, and I love his bootleg series, but 14 discs is too much even for this Dylan-phile.

I teed this opus up last weekend and again I expected something along the lines of No Direction Home. I should have known during the opening credits I was not going to get what I expected when I saw the subtitle, “A Bob Dylan Story.” All of the current interview segments in this thing are fictional. I thought I was seeing a revelation when actress Sharon Stone comes on and says she met Dylan on the tour as a 19 year old and he hit on her with the song “Just Like a Woman” only to find out she was never on the tour…she was also only 17 when the tour occurred. Dylan claims he doesn’t remember anything about Rolling Thunder. There’s an actor who plays a fictional director who filmed the tour… actually Dylan directed all of the footage in this thing back in the 70s for a movie Renaldo and Clara. Most of this film is outtakes from that footage. At the end there’s a fictional Congressman (played by a guy who played a fictional Congressman on TV) who claims Jimmy Carter was a Rolling Thunder Revue/Dylan fan and hooked him up with tickets for a Niagra Falls show. Sigh.

I had really only one burning question about the Rolling Thunder Revue. What the hell was Mick Ronson, who had just been let go as David Bowie’s guitarist in the Spiders From Mars, doing on this tour? No one has ever answered that question to my satisfaction. Alas, this documentary never touches on that subject. There is a lot of live, concert footage in this movie. Dylan appears in the iconic cowboy hat with flowers strewn all over it, with white face paint on. I have to admit he rocks a really good scarf game. I said to the Rock Chick, while watching one of the live shots, “Do you think I can pull off that scarf look?” I’m still waiting for an answer.

What I like most about the live concert footage, is it shows what command Dylan has on stage with his band. He can stop or start a musician with a glance. I hadn’t seen that much control on stage with a band since James Brown. He’s got around 15 people on stage, so that’s quite a feat. One of the unsung heroes of this period in Dylan’s career was the space alien-violinist Scarlett Rivera. She comes across in this documentary as someone who likely sleeps in a coffin, but her violin is front and center. She stands to Dylan’s right on stage, and she’s pretty amazing. I love every moment that Joan Baez is on screen. Whether she’s dancing a “boogaloo” on stage or being interviewed about “Dylan,” she’s great. She was indeed, at one time, his equal (and a former lover).

There are a few live scenes that I really enjoyed. In one they perform in what looks like a lady’s mahjong tournament. Ginsberg uses the word vagina on stage in front of a group of grandmothers. Old ladies dancing around to Dylan… surreal. There’s also a cool sequence where Dylan plays “Ira Hayes” (made famous by Johnny Cash) at an Indian Reservation. It’s interesting in a, what the hell was going on in the 70s, kind of a way.

There have always been two Bob Dylans. The real one, and the one he presents to the public. Since he was dubbed the “Voice Of His Generation” he’s done everything he can to deconstruct and manipulate that public persona. He takes every chance he can get to change people’s perception of every stage of his career and that’s what this “documentary” is all about. Maybe he was just having a laugh, and didn’t want to play it straight here. Who knows, it’s Dylan.

If you’re a Dylan fan, and you’ve never seen footage of the Rolling Thunder Revue this is a must see. Just ignore the fictional interview segments. Do not approach this film thinking it’s going to shed any new light on Dylan or the Rolling Thunder Revue.

Have a Happy Independence Day for our US readers and remember… sparklers are really hot and can burn you. Never hold a firecracker in your hand, you want to get through this weekend with all 10 fingers.

Cheers!