LP Review: ‘Colorado’ the Return of Neil Young & Crazy Horse With Nils Lofgren!

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When I heard that Neil Young was reuniting with Crazy Horse to record an album, I’ll admit, I got excited. It was the most interest I’ve had in something new from Neil since, well, his last album with Crazy Horse, the epic Psychedelic Pill in 2012. When I heard that Nils Lofgren was going to be stepping in as the other guitarist I was doubly excited. Nils first played with Neil on After the Gold Rush, although for reasons unclear Neil had the then 17-year old guitarist play piano instead of his chosen instrument. This was clearly a reunion and album to be excited about. While I’m sure those Promise of the Real kids who have been playing with Neil of late (they’re Willie Nelson’s sons) are great guys, they ain’t Crazy Horse.

I have to admit up front, it wasn’t until college that I got into Neil Young. My college roommate Drew was into Young and I ended up buying the three-album greatest hits package, Decade (a huge investment in those days). That purchase led me to a lifetime appreciation of Neil Young and the great music he’s put out. Neil is a bit like Clapton in that he’s played with a lot of different bands. He started with Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, went solo, recruited Crazy Horse as a backing band, joined Crosby Stills Nash, put together another back-up band called the Stray Gators and then went solo again. He even briefly joined Stills’ band for one album as the Stills-Young Band, Long May You Run. The grass doesn’t grow under Neil’s feet.

I was in a bar recently (shocking) and someone asked me if Crazy Horse was Neil’s version of Wings, McCartney’s backing band from the 70s. “Christ no,” I exclaimed with perhaps a bit too much passion. Who else is going to teach the children about rock and roll? Crazy Horse, or more accurately the musicians who make up Crazy Horse, began as an L.A. band known as the Rockets. After the mixed reaction to his first solo album, post-Buffalo Springfield, and after jamming with the Rockets, Neil recruited members Danny Whitten (guitar/vocals), Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbot (bass) to back him on his second album, the jammy Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. He renamed them, Crazy Horse. There were other members of the Rockets who I guess didn’t seem to realize that Neil had coopted the band, but with a song entitled “Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)” you can’t say he didn’t warn them.

They toured to support the album and the guitar solo’ing was epic. I advise everyone to check out Live At the Fillmore East from Neil’s archive series as documented proof. But then Neil jumped into CSNY. On his next solo album, After The Gold Rush, Young kind of combined Crazy Horse and the CSNY backing band. Greg Reeves played bass (from CSNY) with Ralph Molina on drums (from Crazy Horse). Throw in Lofgren on piano and you’ve got Neil’s first masterpiece. It couldn’t have been more different than the long, extended jams on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. That album had long, guitar workouts like “Cowgirl In the Sand” and “Down By the River.” Gold Rush had the epic “Southern Man” but it was mostly acoustic/piano ballads.

After that Young recorded Harvest and suddenly our idiosyncratic singer/songwriter was a Superstar. His subsequent record, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP), was seen as a repudiation of that superstardom. During the rehearsals for that tour, Young was trying to enlist Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse to play second guitar, but Whitten was struggling too much with heroin addiction. Neil eventually had to fire Whitten, who was found dead later that night of a valium/alcohol mix that has claimed so many.

Despite that, Neil carried on with Crazy Horse on Tonight’s the Night. Nils stepped in on guitar. Jack Nitzsche joined on piano. And really, Neil has been playing with Crazy Horse, off and on, ever since. There have been various members over the year, but the guys who played with Young the most were Molina, Talbot, and guitarist Frank Sampedro, who Young supposedly hired because he had good weed. Regardless of why he hired Sampedro, he’s been one of Neil’s greatest guitar foils over the years. The chemistry those guys have is amazing. These four guys have put out some amazing albums over the years: Ragged Glory (a must-have, classic from 1990), Sleeps With Angels (94), and their last outing, 2012’s Psychedelic Pill. 

I loved Psychedelic Pill. I remember seeing Neil interviewed around that time and he said something like, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” I give credit to Sampedro. The songs on Psychedelic Pill evolved out of long, extended jams. There are three songs that run, 27:36, 16:49 and 16:27 respectively. Damn. Listening to those long guitar workouts evokes listening to classical music as much as rock and roll… well classical music played by really loud instruments. When I heard that Sampedro had retired, I wondered if that was the end of Crazy Horse… Enter Nils Lofgren, guitar virtuoso. I thought, well this album is going to be another jamming, guitar-fest. As with everything with Neil, I was in for a surprise.

Colorado, the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album isn’t anything at all like Psychedelic Pill. This is, for the most part, a collection of tight songs, with only one long jam. The tracks run from 2:45 to around 6 minutes, save for “She Showed Me Love,” which runs over 13 minutes. The album was recorded up in the mountains, in Colorado, hence the name. Molina, Talbot and Neil Young are, as mentioned joined by Nils Lofgren on guitar, piano and vocals. I’ll admit again, this album was nothing of what I expected. It’s muted and somewhat somber. The theme is pretty obvious – Neil has turned his concerns to the environment (long a concern of his) and climate change. I don’t hear any current bands taking up the mantle of writing protest songs so it’s left up to the man who wrote the greatest protest song ever, “Ohio,” to step up and do it. Nobody else is writing lines like, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own…” And folks, we are definitely on our own when it comes to climate change.

I’ll be the first to tell you this album is no masterpiece. But I’ll say it’s a strong Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. It’s the strongest thing he’s done since their last outing. I’m not trying to knock Promise of the Real, and I hear they’re great live, but I just haven’t connected with any of Neil’s work with them. Like Joe Strummer once said, and I’m obviously fond of repeating, “Never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.”

The first track I heard on XM Radio in my car was “Rainbow of Colors.” Like most of the reactions I’ve seen, I did not react well. It comes off as an anthem, much like “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” from Ragged Glory. It comes off as more of a hymn than a song. I have to suspect that played live with people singing along, it’s much more effective. It’s really the only song on here that I would call a “clunker.” Neil’s voice has aged and it creaks a bit here and there, but if you’re complaining about Neil’s vocals at this stage in the game, you’re probably on the wrong train.

The best moments on this album are the acoustic ones. “Think of Me” is the opener, and it’s an upbeat acoustic track that competes for the best track on the album. The other track that I think is a standout is “Green Is Blue” a heartfelt ballad which serves as requiem for the environment. Those two tracks are worth the price of admission here. “Milky Way” is an acoustic-based love song and it’s another great track. Album closer “I Do” is another affecting, stripped-down, quiet ballad and is a perfect end. I like “Eternity” until the backing vocals start singing “clickety-clack” to sound like a train. We get it from the drums, it’s about a train. “Olden Days” is a great mid tempo thing led by Neil’s guitar while he sings about seeing an old friend (or perhaps a lover).

The rocking songs are bit of a mixed bag. “She Showed Me Love” is the 13-minute epic. The she of the title is, of course, Mother Nature. I can’t tell if lines like “I saw Mother Nature pushing Earth in a baby carriage” are Neil joking about how old he is, or just awkward. The guitar work stretches the tune and makes it interesting to me. “Help Me Lose My Mind” is a track that sounds like a grunge rocker from the 90s, something Nirvana might have done. I like the line from that one, “I have to get a new television…to make the sky look like the Earth is flat.”  “Shut It Down” is a glorious noise, it almost sounds like Punk rock. Neil sings that track with an urgency.

Again, this album is not a Neil Young & Crazy Horse masterpiece, but it’s a damn good album from these guys. Fifty years removed from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, its nice to see Neil turn back to Crazy Horse and record such a strong record. The chemistry between them and with Nils is still something to behold.

And lets face it, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to “shut the whole system” down every now and again…

 

 

LP Review: Starcrawler’s Sophomore Effort, ‘Devour You’

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I have to admit, right off the top, I’m impressed.

There’s an old saying in music – I’ll try and get it right – that goes: you have your whole life to write your first album and two weeks to write your second one. It was a giddy Bono during his Rock Hall of Fame speech, when speaking about the band’s sophomore album October, who described it as “the difficult second album.” So many bands have faced the “sophomore slump” that they are way too numerous to mention here. The Aussie band Jet springs to mind, I don’t know why.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. For some reason I was thinking about the Black Crowes second album this week. I loved their debut album, it came out about the same time as GnR’s first record and I thought rock and roll had been saved for generations to come. Then I heard The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion when it came out and I liked it even more. I can remember singing the lead single, “Remedy” outside a club in Dallas on a road trip and mixing up the lyrics to go, “baby, baby why you dry (sic) your hair.” Uh, the line is “dye your hair.” While the Cars debut should have just been called “Cars Greatest Hits” I’ve always liked Candy-O as much or (gasp) better. That may be because every track on The Cars was wildly overplayed on the radio.

All of that aside, Starcrawler – Arrow de Wilde (vocals), Austin Smith (drummer), Henri Cash (guitar) and Tim Franco (bass) – dropped their second album a couple of weeks ago, just before I was to see them live Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers. If you haven’t seen them, do so, post haste. I will say right off the bat, Starcrawler is not suffering from a slump, sophomore or otherwise. If anything this band is growing and developing at an alarmingly fast rate. They take the menacing punk energy of their first album and expand upon it. They replaced producer Ryan Adams from their debut (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) with Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) for Devour You and I like the different directions he’s pushing them.

The album starts off with “Lizzie” a song about a bully that would have fit right in with the dark energy of their debut…”I think I’m gonna fall DOWN!” From there the band takes us on an ever-expanding palette of sounds and subjects. The first single, “Bet My Brains” will just gallop into your subconscious, perhaps against your will. Tim Franco’s bass line is pure opium, it’s that addictive. Although when singing it in the shower I found myself messing up the lyrics to “Bless my brains I’ve gone insane,”… some things never change and my inability to sing proper lyrics is apparently one of them. It’s a great single, it may be their “Satisfaction” or “My Generation.” It’s that good. Although I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Ants.”

I don’t want to do what I did with Greta Van Fleet and suggest that these guys are derivative of anybody – they are fiercely original – but I get more of Celebrity Skin-era Hole vibe on this record than the Runaways-meets-metal vibe of the debut. It has more of a grunge vibe to me. “Home Alone” has a jaunty Velvet Underground feel to it… again, not suggesting any derivation here, just suggesting the vibe I’m feeling. They’re doing so much more on Devour You than on the first record, it’s impressive.

My favorite songs on the album are breakup laments. “No More Pennies” with it’s Exile-era Stones vibe is my absolute favorite track of theirs (they even name drop “Dead Flowers”). “Hollywood Ending” explores the same theme but with an entirely different sound and vibe. “Born Asleep” is another great mid tempo thing with a wobbly solo from Cash and perhaps Arrow’s best vocal yet. They’re all great songs. “You Dig Yours” is a fabulous kiss-off song, where Arrow summons a bitchy chorus, “you dig yours, and I’ll dig mine.” “I Don’t Need You” explores the same subject terrain with a more muscular attack (“you only show up when you want to fuck”).

“Toy Teenager” is a great punk-y put down song as well…”all you are is a clothing hanger.” “Toy Teenager” makes me wonder if it’s aimed at a certain model, but how would I know? I can’t tell if “She Gets Around” is a put down or a song about female empowerment. I’m going to bet on the latter. “Rich Taste” and “Tank Top” are both great tracks. The former is kind of funny which I hadn’t expected and the latter is an expression of fashion and freedom…”she never wears a dress, she looks her very best, she goes to bed and spreads her legs in a tank top…”

I can’t say enough about the drumming of Austin Smith, he powers each song forward. He and bassist Tim Franco are the engine of this car. I really like Henri Cash on guitar. His playing is expanding in all sorts of different directions. His solos are compact, economical and powerful. This band just keeps getting better and better. Arrow de Wilde’s vocals more nuanced on this album than they were on the debut as well. She’s bringing the natural charisma she exudes on stage into the studio. The songwriting is getting sharper and sharper.

There is a lot of hype around the aforementioned Greta Van Fleet, and having seen them live this summer, there should be. I would tell you for my money, Starcrawler is just as important for the continuation of rock and roll as GVF. These guys are raw, rocking and utterly irreverent. I have to say I love it all. We need more in-your-face, fuck you, nasty rock and roll and Starcrawler provides it. Give this band a chance, they’ll crawl under your skin and into your brain… pretty soon you too will be botching the lyrics to “Bet My Brains” in the shower, with your shampoo mohawk on full display… that may be TMI…Jump on this bandwagon, it’s like getting in on the ground floor of Apple back in the day. It’ll pay off in a big way.

Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Songs About The Moon

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“So if you want to write a song about the heart, and it’s ever-longing for a counterpart, write a song about the moon.” – Paul Simon, “Song About The Moon”

I’ve been away for a while. It’s been a heavy travel time here at B&V but luckily not all of it was dictated by my corporate overlords. As I travel I tend to peruse social media quite a bit. I noticed a while back there were a bunch of posts about the 50th anniversary of the United States putting a man on the moon. My father always said his jaw dropped in disbelief the first time he heard JFK say that it was his goal to put a man on the moon. Space exploration was inconceivable at the time. Way to go science! Of course, I recently discovered that someone in my wife’s family believes they faked the moon landing. There’s one in every crowd, right? This person also thinks the world is flat… and Paul McCartney is talentless. Needless to say, recent holidays have been weird. Rest assured that in those instances, the whiskey helped.

I have extraordinarily vague memories of the first moon-landing. I was a very small child. I remember my parents friends had a party at their house and their kids had a shit ton of toys. I remember being in their walk-out basement, sun streaming in the backdoor window and seeing the astronauts were on the moon. That’s gotta be a false memory. I was way too young to remember something like that but it sure seems real. Of course, there were a number of moon landings, so maybe it wasn’t that first one in 1969. It couldn’t have been. Back then my parents still partied quite a bit, as did their friends, so maybe it was one of those “extra” moon trips that I remember. As Lynyrd Skynyrd once sang, “Too many lives they’ve spent across the ocean. Too much money been spent upon the moon.” “Things Goin’ On,” indeed.

All of this moon-landing talk and the seasons changing to autumn with it’s early arrival of Halloween decorations got me thinking about the moon. All those spooky moon’s with witches’ silhouettes passing by on their broom sticks… reminds me of a girl I knew once who was the scariest thing I’d come across… but I digress. I was thinking about the moon and naturally my thoughts turned to rock and roll and all the great “moon-centric” tunes out there, but in all honesty, these things I were thinking about were merely a trigger for deeper thoughts about the moon…

I’ve always been a night owl. It was always a struggle to get me to even go to bed. I can remember those rare occasions when I was allowed to leave the house at night, to run something next door to the neighbor’s house or going to a school program… It was so different to be outside in the dark. I used to think the moon was following me. There was a thrill to walking around in the cool, night air. The Allman Brothers used to practice in a graveyard and I swear if there’d been one in my neighborhood, I’d have taken up the guitar. Shadows grow darker and larger… as does the curiosity of what’s lurking around out there? The weird thing was as a youngster I wasn’t repelled away from that darkness, I had to hold myself back from plunging into it…which sort of explains those troubled teen years, I guess. All of that exultation about running around in the night was crowned with the King of the Night… the big moon casting its gaze over everything. I remember being at sleepovers and thinking, I’m staying up all night long…only to fall asleep immediately. I’ve talked about the thrill of riding in a girlfriend’s car in college, on a night I should have been home with family, staring out of the moon-roof, er I mean, the sun-roof at the nighttime sky and feeling fucking alive! When the moon came up, my weariness from the day faded…as the Stones sang, “the sunshine bores the daylight out of me…” The word lunatic stems from the Greek word for moon…”Full Moon Fever,” indeed.

Eventually it was time to “do away with childish things.” We all grow up some time… although my wife and daughter would tell you I’m still working on it. When love and romance entered my life, the moon took on all new resonance. I was in a few long-distance relationships when I was young and I can remember staring at the moon and thinking my girlfriend was staring up at the same moon and thinking it made me feel closer to her. Like the Little River Band sang, “staring at the full moon, like a lover.” Jesus, I can’t believe I went through that, but I guess we all do. Eventually the inevitable breakups would come and suddenly the moon takes on a different meaning to us and the longing begins. The heart stares up at the moon, its lonely counterpart as Mr. Simon sang. Ironic that the moon can lead to feelings of connection and disconnection… all depends on where you’re standing, I suppose.

With all those thoughts and ramblings aside, it’s pretty obvious that the moon evokes a ton of emotions in me and I’m guessing most people are the same as I am. Because of that wide range of emotions, I’ve selected one of my most eclectic collections of tracks for a playlist ever. From happy elation to brokenhearted isolation, we’ve got it all here. The goal is for people to find a song they’ve never heard before so I went pretty deep into the album tracks for this one, folks. I hope you enjoy it. As always, if there’s a great one I forgot, go ahead and drop it in the “comments” section and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist, BourbonAndVinyl.net Songs About the Moon.

  1. The Waterboys, “The Whole of the Moon” – Great little Irish band I only discovered when U2 played this track to begin their KC Show on the Joshua Tree tour a few years ago. Great starting track.
  2. Free, “Moonshine” – A real blues rock gem from their debut album. They’re talking about the actual light from the moon, not the booze with the same name.
  3. Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon” – Haunting, jealous longing… this track sums up a lot about this list.
  4. Talking Heads, “Moon Rocks” – Danceable weirdness from the Heads.
  5. Foreigner, “Girl On the Moon” – Great ballad… I’ve really gotten back into these guys this year.
  6. Neville Brothers, “Yellow Moon” – Another song about jealousy and worryin’ about your woman.
  7. Robbie Robertson, “Sonny Got Caught In the Moonlight” – From Robertson’s debut… I think we’ve all been caught in the moonlight at one time or another.
  8. The Cult, “Brother Wolf Sister Moon” – An epic from the great Love album.
  9. R.E.M. “Man On the Moon” – Sure it’s a tribute to Andy Kauffman, but it works.
  10. T. Rex, “By the Light of a Magical Moon” – I’m not a huge T Rex fan, but this weird, mostly acoustic track always catches my ear.
  11. John Mellencamp, “Circling Around the Moon” – Great, emotionally effective deep track about struggling lovers.
  12. White Stripes, “White Moon” – Menacing piano ballad from Jack & Meg, which is a sentence you don’t type very often.
  13. Pearl Jam, “Yellow Moon” – One of the Rock Chick and my favorite ballads from PJ. God, I wish they’d record again.
  14. Sting, “Moon Over Bourbon Street” – Is there any place better for staring up at the moon, over a Hurricane cocktail, than New Orleans. Sting doing spooky jazz.
  15. The Doors, “Moonlight Drive” – Takes me back to high school, driving around at night when it’s way past curfew, but it’s just too much fun to hang!
  16. The Black Crowes, “Black Moon Creeping” – A funky rocker from their second album, which is my favorite.
  17. Tom Waits, “Drunk On the Moon” – I love early Tom Waits, especially this track. Sinatra would have nailed this track.
  18. Duran Duran, “New Moon On Monday” – I hated these guys in college, but now I think they’ve got some great tunes, this one amongst them.
  19. Norah Jones, “Shoot the Moon” – With that voice, oh yes.
  20. Robert Plant, “Moonlight In Samosa” – Great deep track from Plant’s solo debut. I feel like I’m in a John Le Carre novel.
  21. Paul McCartney & Wings, “C Moon” – An almost reggae track where McCartney turns goofing around into an actual hit single.
  22. Kinks, “Full Moon” – A great track I’d almost completely forgotten about until I put this together.
  23. Van Morrison, “Moondance” – One of his all time greatest tunes. And uh, I don’t think he’s discussing dancing.
  24. Neil Young, “Harvest Moon” – Beautiful, acoustic Neil from his “sequel” to Harvest, naturally recorded decades apart.
  25. The Rolling Stones, “Moon Is Up” – Knowing Mick, he’s talking about someone’s bum, but this is a great deep track from Voodoo Lounge. 
  26. Chris Cornell, “Worried Moon” – The older I get the more worried the moon becomes.
  27. The Police, “Walking On the Moon” – Well, you knew this one would be here. After “Roxanne” probably the first Police track I remember hearing.
  28. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising” – Did Creedence have a bad song?
  29. George Harrison, “Here Comes the Moon” – Was he ripping off “Here Comes the Sun”? Maybe, but this is a great track. George doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
  30. Paul McCartney, “Monkberry Moon Delight” – Speaking of the Beatles…
  31. Bob Dylan, “Moonlight” – A great, late career attempt at crooning from Mr. Dylan.
  32. Prince, “Moonbeam Levels” – An out take from the 1999 sessions, released on a Greatest Hits thing a year or so ago.
  33. The Beatles, “Mr. Moonlight” – Great Beatles deep track. John Lennon’s impassioned vocal makes this one special.
  34. The Rolling Stones, “Moonlight Mile” – The best track on this list and one of the Stones’ greatest all time tracks.
  35. Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark At the Moon” – We all need to do this once in a while, it’s good for the soul.
  36. David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” – I had to have some Bowie on here, he seems like he belonged on the moon, looking down on us.
  37. Little Feat, “Spanish Moon” – I told Dr Rock I was listening to Little Feat and he laughed at me… I love this band and Lowell George especially.
  38. Annie Lennox, “Fingernail Moon” – Such a beautiful voice singing the saddest track on here. I wanted to capture as many emotions as I could. I’d say Annie nails the “despair” column.
  39. Iggy Pop, “Midnight Lady” – Don’t be afraid of Iggy.
  40. Pearl Jam, “In the Moonlight” – A deep track from the compilation, Lost Dogs. 
  41. Thin Lizzy, “Dancing In the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In the Spotlight)” – I love Thin Lizzy, even if they got a little disco-esque on this one.
  42. David Bowie, “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” – I have always loved this late career track of Bowie’s from Reality. 
  43. Lyle Lovett, “Moon On My Shoulder” – A voice as smooth as whiskey. If you’re going to sit and stare at the moon with a glass of something strong, might as well have great singers to keep you company.
  44. Sting, “Sister Moon” – More spooky jazz from Sting.
  45. Bob Seger, “Shame On The Moon” – An acoustic track from Bob that has only grown on me over the years. Hated it the first time I heard it.
  46. Van Morrison, “Once In A Blue Moon” – Van has had so many great, late period albums. He’s really going through a renaissance. This is a great track from What’s Wrong With This Picture. 
  47. John Fogerty, “Blue Moon Nights” – A lovely little strummer.
  48. The Rolling Stones, “Child of the Moon” – Something from the psychedelic era.
  49. Beck, “Blue Moon” – From his acoustic masterpiece Morning Phase. Just a great tune.
  50. Tom Waits, “Grapefruit Moon” – Every song on Tom’s debut is a classic.
  51. Paul Simon, “Song About the Moon” – Sums up what all these tracks are about and serves as an instructive bit of advice on how to write a song… well, about the moon at least.
  52. Elton John, “Bad Side of the Moon” – I think this one made my list of Elton’s deep tracks. I love this song and think it should have been a huge hit.
  53. Arc Angels, “Spanish Moon” – Great little band out of Austin. Charlie Sexton, the rhythm section from Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Double Trouble and Doyle Bramhall, Jr.
  54. AC/DC, “What’s Next To the Moon” – Just a little AC/DC to liven up the proceedings and keep everybody on their toes.
  55. Traveling Wilburys, “New Blue Moon” – A song that I only wish Roy Orbison had lived to sing on.
  56. Peter Wolf, “Waiting On the Moon” – Great singer who is also releasing a lot of great late career albums.
  57. Chuck Berry, “Havana Moon” – The master… Elvis was always uncomfortable with the “King of Rock n Roll” title… he used to say, “Uh, you’re talkin’ about Chuck Berry.”
  58. Fleetwood Mac, “Sisters of the Moon” – Stevie in full Wiccan mode. One of the stand out tracks from Tusk. 
  59. Warren Zevon, “They Moved the Moon” – Warren Zevon should be in the Rock Hall of Fame. Can someone make that happen already, please.
  60. Bruce Springsteen, “Moonlight Motel” – Bruce singing about a little Motel No-tell out on the deserted highway.
  61. Pink Floyd, “Eclipse” – Because “everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”

“There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

Cheers to all you lunatics out there!

 

 

Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers

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*Photo of Arrow de Wilde taken by your intrepid blogger shortly after she spit water on me

Well there’s not much that gets me out on a school night any more… especially on a Monday. Rock and roll is about the only thing that will cause me to muster out of the house when I know I’ve got a busy day the next day. It wasn’t always like that… just last night I was musing over a beer about how cool it was when I was younger, in high school, to go out on a week night. I can remember looking out of the sun roof in a friend’s car staring at the moon and stars and thinking I was really fucking alive.

And speaking of being fucking alive, the Rock Chick, our friend RJ and I went out last night to Kansas City’s Riot Room in Westport to see some live punk rock courtesy of Starcrawler. I loved their first album (New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles) and had eagerly bought their new one, just out last Friday, Devour You. We drove down to Westport around 7 last night and ducked into a restaurant for a couple of vodkas and some food. I saw this couple walk by the window. The guy had green hair and make up. The gal had white grease paint on her face and jet black lipstick like a goth Harley Quinn… I thought, oh yes, this will be a great crowd.

We slipped over to the Riot Room right before show time just as the opening act was leaving the stage. I had no idea what to expect from the crowd. I hadn’t been in the Riot Room since it was the Hurricane, back in the day, as the kids say. There were about 50 people milling about in the bar. It was a diverse crowd in terms of age and appearance. The aforementioned goth couple were in there. There were some older guys in concert t-shirts and one guy who looked like my dad… the authorities might want to check up on that guy.

Right at 8pm the lights went down and drummer Austin Smith came on stage, quickly followed by bassist Tim Franco. From the other side of the stage, out of the darkness came guitarist Henri Cash. I was watching him put on his guitar when, literally out of nowhere lead singer Arrow de Wilde materialized on stage. If David Bowie and Patti Smith had a child, it would be Arrow de Wilde. She’s as thin as a quietly muttered whisper. Wearing what looks like an old ballet uniform, stained in fake blood… I liked the fact that in front the blood was painted to look almost exactly like a knife wound… and white boots, she prowls the stage like an escaped animal, and I mean that as a compliment. Her facial expressions could easily lead one to assume she’s utterly insane… forget Joaquin Phoenix in The Joker, this chick is the real deal. RJ asked me after the concert, and I think she was serious, “who hurt her?”

The show was part rock show, with Henri Cash’s guitar loud and ferocious – believe me, my ears are still ringing today – and part performance art. I haven’t had that much fun on a Monday in a long, long time. The rhythm section was tight and strong. I’m not sure how to describe Arrow’s on-stage presence. As I said, its part performance art – she tied the microphone cord around her neck at one point and into her mouth like a gag at another point – and part full on rock and roll. She jerks with the music as if she had hinges instead of joints. She spits, she blows her nose on the crowd, she spit water on me, she mauls the front row of the crowd. She picked her nose and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She’s a seriously riveting performer.

They played for an hour. My only complaint is they needed to turn up the vocals. Arrow’s voice got lost under the guitar and bass during a few of the verses. She’d banshee wail the choruses so you could hear her then but if they’d just turned her vocals up a notch or two, it would have been perfect sound. Cash’s guitar pedals malfunctioned at one point and that took a while to fix… as they get bigger they’ll have guitar techs to handle that stuff. In between songs, Arrow tended to just flop down on the stage and drink water. She’s like a punk rock rag doll.

They played tunes from both albums and went back to their first single, “Ants.” There were so many highlights – “I Love L.A.” and my favorite from them, “No More Pennies” were stand out tunes. “Bet My Brains” was particularly unhinged. “Pussy Tower,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Pet Semetary,” and “You Dig Yours” were all great. It was played loud and fast and I loved every minute of it. The Rock Chick and RJ stood toward the back of the crowd, but I was right up in front of the stage, one person back, in front of the microphone stand punching the air. There’s just something about being that close to the band that hits me in the lower brain stem.

To end the concert, Arrow came crashing off the stage, after biting a fake blood capsule and rubbing the blood all over her face. She crashed into me and the creepy old guy, and then staggered to the back of the crowd where she fell to the ground. She then jumped up and hopped up on the bar in front of the Rock Chick and RJ…she jumped off and disappeared into the basement. The crowd was elated and ready for more, but they were clearly done… I’d have liked to stuck around to see if the band came out and signed autographs, but we ducked into a restaurant next door, the Westport Cafe, for a night cap. What a great Monday. Keep your eye on this band… like Greta Van Fleet, it’s great to see these younger kids playing straight up, fuck you, rock and roll.

Cheers!

 

The Beatles: ‘Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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“Last chance to be loud…” – John Lennon, studio chatter, Abbey Road -50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

My younger brother was the first one to be bitten by the addictive attraction of rock and roll. He had a stereo and actual albums long before I did. I’d walk up the stairs in my parent’s home and have to pass by his door before turning left into my room. We shared an adjoining wall and I heard an almost constant stream of music coming through. Back in the really early days, it was mostly the Beatles that he was playing. Later I’d hear some solo George Harrison, but it seems his first love was the Fab Four. Although he also went through a Doors phase… but I’m getting off point.

When I started getting into music, I was a Stones guy. Back then most people were either Stones fans or Beatles fans… it was like the rival gangs from West Side Story (indeed, “what are we going to do about a problem called Maria?”). But despite my loyalty to the Stones, I famously went into my brother’s room with a single cassette because I was going to make a tape of all the Beatles’ “good songs.” Like those would fit on one ninety-minute cassette… the ignorance of youth. I sat in front of my brother’s stereo – it was one of those “all-in-one” units with a tape deck/turntable/radio built into one unit – trying to figure out when to hit pause on the tape deck to skip a song I didn’t like. I pretty quickly realized that uh, all their songs are great. Well, except “Revolution 9.” I remember thinking, this is going to take a few more cassettes…

Even so, it wasn’t until I was in college, heading down to Aggieville to the lone record store in Manhattan, Kansas to buy music that I started buying Beatles LPs. I bought almost every album they had out. Sadly those were mostly the U.S. versions which I feel pale in comparison to the UK versions. When I heard they were releasing an Abbey Road – 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition I went to my vinyl to look at my Beatles collection. As I suspected, I had never purchased Abbey Road. I have it on CD from a Beatles’ box set I own, but I never purchased it on vinyl. It came down to one thing for me – the side two medley. It seems that like John Lennon, I was not fond of the side two mess, er medley. Ten songs, mashed into one. Well, and if I’m being totally honest, I never liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and I thought “Octupus’s Garden” was a novelty song for children.

I do remember listening to the record in my brother’s room. I’d stare at the iconic album cover photo of the four Beatles in the crosswalk outside the Abbey Road studios. My brother explained how the album cover featured in the “Paul is dead” rumors. Around the time of Sgt Pepper, some strange cult of people started interpreting things in their songs and album covers that were a secret code indicating that Paul had died and had been replaced by a look-alike. There must have been a lot of bad acid going around in those days. The Abbey Road cover played into those rumors: John, dressed in white, was Jesus; Ringo, dressed in a long black coat was the undertaker (or maybe a Reverend of some kind); Paul was the deceased because he has no shoes on; George, dressed in all denim was the grave digger. That’s a pretty long way to stretch for a theory.

I put Abbey Road on and listened with my headphones recently. I must admit, it holds up better than I remembered. The two George Harrison tracks are flawless. He really came into his own on this album. “Here Comes the Sun” and the exceptional “Something” are his best songs, even though Sinatra, who covered “Something” said it was the most beautiful song ever written by Lennon/McCartney. Poor Frank. I love Lennon’s “Come Together,” which has also been beautifully covered by Aerosmith for a bad movie soundtrack. McCartney’s “Oh, Darling” is a really great track as well. I recently read that Lennon thought he should have sung that song and damn, I think he’s right. It would have fit John better. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” at leasts builds up some heat. I can even accept “Octupus’s Garden” because, well, it’s Ringo. Everybody loves Ringo (“Peace and Love,” baby). I’ll even admit the medley does sound cool with headphones on. George Martin’s production really shines on this album. I think actually playing the songs live, as a group in the studio and then overdubbing helped the process. They’d been recording one instrument at time on multi track prior to that.

All that aside, the medley still bothers me. McCartney has continued to do some version of this medley, thematic tunes stitched together, ever since… from Red Rose Speedway to Egypt Station. And then there’s the boat anchor on this album for me, namely, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The other members in the band described it as “granny music.” Tension was running high in the band and had been since the recording of The Beatles album. Lennon, who wins the “pussy-whipped” hall of fame MVP, was constantly bringing Yoko into the studio, which was like a clubhouse prior to that (“No Girls Allowed”). It threw the chemistry off. Lennon was using heroin and his moods were, to be generous, mercurial. Harrison felt stifled and under-appreciated. I think everyone but McCartney had quit the band at one time. Lennon was in a car wreck and when he got back the first track McCartney asked him to play on was “Maxwell.” Lennon turned around and went home for two weeks. He was quoted as saying that McCartney ground Harrison and Ringo down recording that song, insisting on take after take after take. There had been some modicum of a return to camaraderie during the recording of the single, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and McCartney blew it away to record an old-timey song about a serial killer. Bad acid indeed.

Now, in keeping with 50th anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles we have an expanded Super Deluxe version of Abbey Road with two discs of outtakes and additional material. I had largely ignored the Sgt. Pepper 50th until I went to a Classic Album Sundays session and heard the new stereo mix by Giles Martin, George’s son, and fell in love with it. Prior to that the mono version was the definitive. I bought that on vinyl. I bought the 50th edition of The Beatles for much the same reason – a definitive stereo version. However, The Beatles also had a treasure trove of additional material including the mostly acoustic, famous Esher demos (‘The Beatles (The White Album) – Super Deluxe’ – “So I Guess I’ll Have to Buy ‘The White Album’ Again”).

I have to admit, I don’t hear a lot in Giles’ stereo mix that outdoes his father’s original stereo mix of the album. Some of Ringo’s drums sound better but that’s about the only thing I can distinguish. If you’re into Abbey Road there are some choice tracks in the bonus material. McCartney’s demos for songs he gave away, “Goodbye” and “Come And Get It” are nice finds (although “Come And Get It” was on the Anthology albums). I love Billy Preston’s monster organ playing on the “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Trident Recording Session” version. Early takes on “Old Brown Shoe” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” are interesting for completists. “Here Come the Sun (Take 9)” makes Ringo really shine. I think the gold for most collectors is the original running order of the medley, here known as “The Long One” where they reinsert “Her Majesty” back in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” I don’t know why they cut it out and left it as a coda. It makes more sense in the middle. Purest are really geeking out about this version.

Other than that, early versions of the tracks that ended up in the medley do very little for me. Ditto for “Octupus’s Garden (Take 9).” They include two orchestral backing tracks to showcase George Martin’s brilliant composing abilities. And I get it, I love George Martin as a producer, but two tracks? Seemed like overkill.

This album has largely been seen as a “farewell” from the Beatles. Everyone seemed to think they knew this was the end. However, there is a recording of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in the studio, sitting around shooting the shit. Lennon suggests they do another album with the songwriting equally divided, four tracks each by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. They’d let Ringo have 2 tracks too. Very egalitarian…Lennon had really come around on Harrison’s songwriting and thought “Something” was the best song on Abbey Road. McCartney seems offended that Harrison would get an equal number of songs and implies he didn’t think any of Harrison’s previous songs were any good… big balls indeed. Lennon goes on and suggests that maybe McCartney should start farming out his old-time sounding tunes like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to other acts and should focus on rock and roll. McCartney replies with, “I recorded it because I liked it.” Sounds like it was over before it started…

I’ll be honest, I really think this edition of Abbey Road is strictly for Beatles nuts and completists only. I think, in terms of purchase, I’m going to sit this one out. It’s a lot to lay out for what you get. For me it boils down to not loving Abbey Road in the first place. It was the Beatles biggest selling album, so I’m probably in the minority. It’s certainly an interesting listen. If you’re not in love with Abbey Road, you’re probably not reading this anyway, and should probably steer clear of the new package.

Cheers!

Green Day: New Single, “Father of All…” – Trying Something New?

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I’ve always considered myself to be a “catalog fan” of most the bands/artists I like. By that, I mean when I find an album by a group I like I tend to go backwards from that point in time and buy all of their albums, i.e. the entire catalog. As an aside, I heard Courtney Love of Hole once describe her band as a “catalog type of band, like Bob Dylan.” Uh, not quite babe. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hole. With most bands, after I’ve secured the back catalog I tend to buy each new album from that point onward. I tend to look forward to these new albums, like emails from old friends.

Green Day falls into that “catalog” type of band Ms. Love was speaking of. I bought Dookie, like we all did. I did not replace it when it was removed from my apartment by a young lady I was dating. You couldn’t escape that record and I’d grown tired of it…I figured let her have the album as I hadn’t provided much else to her. When I met the Rock Chick, one of our first dates was to a record store and she picked up Insomniac and Nimrod. She already had Dookie and the underrated gem, Warning. Suddenly, I was back into Green Day.

I was surprised to learn that after the recording of Warning and the subsequent tour, the band almost broke up. Billie Joe Armstrong, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter had hit a writer’s block. There was so much pressure on him to repeat the success of Dookie he had become afraid to even present ideas to the band, Mike Dirnt (bassist) and Tre Cool (drummer). They had to go into couples er, band therapy to work it out. Billie Joe finally admitted he wanted to write something like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wanted to move the band in another direction but was afraid to mention it to his bandmates. They emerged with a stronger bond and the hit album American Idiot. 

Now, I also subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll, something I stole from a history class. It posits that there are certain important people, these “great men (or women),” who can have a major effect on rock and roll in their time.  I think about Billie Joe Armstrong this way, the same way I think about Jack White or Beck. I’ve been impressed with Armstrong’s constant search to expand or change Green Day’s sound and approach. He’s always striving for something new. It’s not like he’s releasing a string of albums of oldies (ahem, Rod), he’s pushing the band in different, brave new directions.

They went from the new punks on the block to writing Rock Operas, ala the Who. After a couple of those albums (American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown) they veered back into non connected, “collection of songs” type records. For reasons unclear, he decided that Green Day should record and release three albums at once, Uno!Dos!, and finally Tre! (a play on the drummer’s name). Billie famously had a breakdown during the tour for the triptych of albums. He’d bitten off more than he could chew.

Clean and sober, Billie Joe and Green Day returned in 2016 with Revolution Radio, which ironically the Rock Chick didn’t like but I loved, LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch. Well, I loved that trio of records prior to that, but I think I’m alone in that, but I thought Revolution Radio was a punchy return to form. The Rock Chick feels that they’ve become too polished and are more “arena rock” now. She longs for a track as nasty as “Geek Stink Breath.” She’s not wrong. All rock and roll could do with a little less polish.

Ever the workaholic, while Green Day took some time off, Billie Joe kept working. Like his 2013 duets album with Norah Jones, Foreverly, Armstrong decided to work with a side project. By the way, everyone should check out Foreverly, choosing Norah Jones to sing with him was an inspired choice. I hope they work together again. Anyway, last year Billie put out a side project with a new band, The Longshot, that was more in keeping with his day job in Green Day or his first side project, The Foxboro Hot Tubs. I loved the album and all the EPs they subsequently put out, LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project, and The Longshot Return (Already?) With A Single and 3 EP’s – Billie Joe Armstrong Can’t Stop!. The Longshot was a rocking good time… certainly it seems that Armstrong was having a lot more fun than he had in a while. I mean, they covered Ozzy’s “Goodbye To Romance” for fucks sake!

Green Day recently released a new single, the title track from an album that won’t come out until February, Father of All… The first time I played the song for the Rock Chick, she stood up and walked out of the room. I have to admit it was quite a surprise. Upon further listens, it does sound like Green Day but that first listen was a stunner. Let me say, first and foremost, Tre Cool’s propulsive drumming is the best thing in this song. I realize Billie Joe wants to drive Green Day in different directions, but he’s deploying a falsetto that sounds utterly foreign to me. I will say the track, after that initial surprise, has grown on me. It’s punchy and has a great punk-like energy. I like Billie Joe’s guitar work on the track. Mike Dirnt lays down an aggressive bass line. It’s certainly not arena rock.

It took me quite a few listens but I finally got to a point where I can say, I don’t hate it. I can’t say I love it, I can’t say it gets me excited for what’s next on this new album like most first singles do. I typically only review stuff I like on B&V, to get the word out there. This post is truly the exception, I’m more baffled than anything. I’ve liked almost everything Green Day has done, so I’m hopeful the album surprises me, whatever direction Armstrong and the lads decide to go in. I’d still recommend checking this song out, but approach with caution, it doesn’t sound like Green Day… which was probably the point in the first place.

 

 

 

LP Review: Liam Gallagher’s ‘Why Me? Why Not.’

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As I have often shared here on B&V, I got married later than most of my friends…after a life of misadventure. I got married in my late 30s and by then I’d pretty much settled on the group of people I considered “friends.” My attitude was simple… I had enough friends, I didn’t need any more. I admit, it was a short sighted attitude to take at the time. Most my friends are parents now and have disappeared into what I call the “parent tunnel.” Thank God my friend Doug is still around for the stray beer every now and again (and yes, we’re overdue for one of those).

I met my wife during this period of thinking I had enough friends. And, like me, she brought her own group of friends with her into the relationship. I’m sure it’s the same for people who get married in their 20s or in their 60s for that matter. Your partner always brings their own set of friends with them. I wasn’t really emotionally prepared for that. I was a bit of a loner. I went from hanging out with people who were as comfortable to me as an old Stones’ concert T-shirt to meeting all of these new people. Don’t get me wrong, I liked a lot of those people… the late, great Nancy springs to mind (The Rock and Roll Drinking Songs iPod Playlist (for Nancy, my friend)), as does the dynamic duo of J&P. I generally think of most of my wife’s friends as my own friends now… although in truth they only put up with me because of her.

The hardest part of getting to know my wife’s friends was the “hanging out as couples” thing. Suddenly I was expected to join her and her gal pal and the gal pal’s husband for dinners where I was expected to show up sober and converse like an adult. I was given strict instructions to talk about things other than rock and roll… grrr. I never realized how hard it was to find another couple that you both enjoy hanging out with. One of the early exceptions to this rule was this wonderful couple my wife had known for years, who I’ll call Tracy and Rich, because well, those are their names. When we moved into our house together, the Rock Chick and I started throwing parties. I would labor for hours to put together a playlist for these parties. Stuff that was rocking but not any melt-your-face metal… nothing too obscure, no B-sides, no Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” (which goes on for thirty minutes). It was hard work, but I felt good about it. Invariably, we’d be at the party, me glorying in the majesty of my playlist when Rich, from the aforementioned couple, would approach me and say, “Hey man, can you put on that new Oasis album?” The next thing I’d know, my playlist was on the scrapheap of history and we were jamming on Don’t Believe The Truth. Sigh.

Oasis was a band that I had largely ignored during their heyday. They were in that post-Nirvana wave of rock bands that didn’t catch my attention the way Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or Alice In Chains did. I vaguely remember hearing them described as Brit-pop but that might be wrong. I do remember seeing them on MTV and despite speaking English, the channel had to use subtitles. I remember the lead singer Liam Gallagher, when he’d heard some criticism leveled at Oasis by George Harrison, saying that Harrison was “a nipple.” Dude, its George fucking Harrison? What is a nipple? I mean, I know what a nipple is, but why would you call someone that?

But, as I was to learn quickly, like the group of friends that your significant other brings into a relationship, there’s a host of music coming with them too. And, at my age, I’d already pretty much determined which bands I was going to listen to. For the most part my wife and my musical taste are that perfect Venn Diagram, with a tremendous overlap in the middle. She’s turned me onto some great bands over the years. Green Day was one she brought me back to. And, like Rich, she loved Oasis. I will admit, their last few albums were fantastic – Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul are the type of albums this blog was founded to talk about. We actually saw Oasis at Red Rocks in Denver on the tour for Don’t Believe the Truth and somehow we scored first row tickets. I made the mistake of playing air-guitar and Liam not only saw me, the nipple mocked me. They certainly make it hard to slip onto the bandwagon.

I followed, or actually the Rock Chick followed Liam into Beady Eye after Oasis broke up. After their first album, I lost interest. Then Liam went solo and in 2017 released As You Were and I’ll admit to being extremely, pleasantly surprised (LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man). That was truly a great album. The song “Chinatown” is still in high rotation around here. I was doing some musical spelunking a few Friday’s ago and discovered Liam was back with a new album, Why Me? Why Not. 

I’ll start off by saying, I really like this new album. He brought back the same producers from As You Were, Greg Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt and they have again crafted a great Oasis-like album. Liam may miss his brother Noel’s songwriting a bit but he’s found some perfect collaborators and he’s making some of the best music of his career. I will say, overall, this album is not as fabulous as his first record, but it’s a very strong sophomore effort. Maybe my expectations were just higher after that first record? As the Rock Chick said, while generally being positive about the record, “There’s just no “Chinatown” here, babe.” Harsh? Liam, along with his producers have found a way to make music that sounds fresh/new at the same time as sounding “retro.”

The album kicks off with the first single, a rocking tune, “Shockwave” that starts with guitar riffs and harmonica, hell yes! It fades into my favorite track here, the shimmery, acoustic “One of Us” where Liam’s voice just soars. The first true ballad on the album is up next with the beautiful “Once.” I’m very impressed with the wealth of emotions Liam expresses in this group of songs. He’s upbeat (almost too much so) on tracks like “Now That I’ve Found You” and darker on “The River” and even sad on “Meadow.” His voice is the key to tying all of this together.

I will say, there are a couple of moments where he veers too far into “pop” territory. The aforementioned “Now That I Found You” which the Rock Chick didn’t like but I did is an example. I feel there’s a little vulnerability underneath the happy bluster of that track and it pulled me in but it is very pop. The only track I didn’t like was “Halo” as its almost, dare I say, “jaunty.” I don’t do jaunty. It has someone hammering on the piano like it’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and not in a good way. The final track “Glimmer” is another poppy track that sort of lost me…

That said, there are a lot of songs I like here… “Gone” almost sounds like it’s from the soundtrack of a “spaghetti western” and I mean that as a compliment. “Alright Now” is a beautiful, wistful track. “Be Still” has a great riff which almost reminds me of “Downbound Train” (only at the very beginning, and the Rock Chick says I’m nuts). Even on first listen each song seemed to open up and reveal something special to me. I credit Kurstin and Wyatt for that effect…

I highly recommend this record and I’ll say it now, you can expect this record to be on my “best of” albums of the year. I highly recommend checking out Why Me? Why Not. even if Liam can be a bit of a nipple now and then…and yes, I still play air guitar Liam… deal with it.

Cheers and Happy Autumn, folks!