LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn

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It’s been a crazy fall… Iggy Pop’s latest album Free came out over two months ago, early September to be more exact and I’m just now getting around to saying something about it… I realize I’m late, but I feel this music merits some attention.

Now, let me start off by saying, people, don’t fear the Iggy. It’s no secret that I grew up in the American midwest. Iggy Pop wasn’t played on the radio out here. We really had no concept of what his music was like or who he was. People knew his name but he was some noise-making punk who only people in New York and underground rockers knew anything about. When I was in college, listening to vaunted “college radio” they didn’t even play Iggy Pop out here. I’m not sure you could even find his albums in the midwest… I wouldn’t know, I never looked for them. The first time I saw or heard any Iggy Pop might have been when Carnival Cruise used “Lust For Life” on their commercials. Well, actually that can’t be true, I’m sure when I was in college, up all night partying, I had to have seen Iggy Pop on MTV at some point. Most evenings ended with me staring mindlessly and drunkenly at music videos, eating a microwaved Chuckwagon sandwich… Yeah, I was a real chick magnet.

Iggy, aka James Osterberg, hails from Detroit Rock City. He was a pioneering hard rock/punk singer in the legendary band the Stooges. The Stooges never really caught on in the mainstream, but they did catch the ear of one, David Bowie. Bowie mixed their last album, the legendary Raw Power. All my life I heard about Iggy and I heard about the Stooges and yet it took me forever to summon the nerve to check him out. Every rocker looking for some credibility name drops Iggy and/or the Stooges – GnR have covered the Stooges and the Chili Peppers are big fans of the Stooges. Iggy and the Stooges have a built-in cool. I urge everyone to check out the Stooges first three albums, The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. That’s some menacing, fucking music there.

After the Stooges imploded, Iggy found himself at loose ends. He decamped to Europe with Bowie where they continued their creative partnership. Bowie produced Iggy’s landmark first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life while also working on his own “Berlin Trilogy.” Iggy has had more ups and downs in his career than most rock and rollers. If there’s anything that has been consistent with Iggy, it’s his inconsistency. After those first two superb albums from the 70s, it wasn’t until the early 90s that he put out two, back to back, solid records, Brick By Brick and American Caesar. I loved his last album, produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression. It’s the best thing he’s done since those first two albums with Bowie, Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”.

I was somewhat surprised when late this summer I heard that Iggy had a new album out. Post Pop Depression had sounded like a retirement notice to me. I mean, how long can you hop around on stage without a shirt on? On the new record, I was hoping he was collaborating with Josh Homme again, but no, Iggy has decided to take a stylistic left turn with this new LP, Free. He started collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Noveller (real name Sarah Lipstate) and perhaps more importantly in terms of the sound of this album, jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas. Iggy’s music has always been very guitar-riff centric. Iggy is loud and aggressive, in your face rock n’ roll, hence his influence on so many punk bands and heavy metal bands at the same time. That harder rocking sound is not the sound here. The music, for the most part is hushed. In many cases Iggy goes spoken-word vs singing. The solo’ing here is all on trumpet, not on guitar. This record has a jazz vibe to it. You get the feeling of wandering down into a basement in the Village and catching a beatnik reading poetry over musical accompaniment.

I realize at the outset here, that this album won’t be to the liking of a lot of you faithful B&V readers. This album is different on so many levels. When the Post Pop Depression tour was over, Iggy was physically and (it sounds like) spiritually exhausted. He was longing to be free from it all… Fittingly, the new album starts with its title track, “Free” which upon first hearing, I thought, maybe the cops need to drop in on Iggy to make sure he’s ok. It might be time for a welfare check on ol’ Iggy. It’s the sound of a muted trumpet with Iggy merely repeating the phrase, “I want to be free.” Ok, so it’s not “Lust for Life,” but on an emotional level, I was drawn in. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and every time the Rock Chick walks by and hears it she asks me if I’m ok?

The next three tracks are amongst the best Iggy tracks ever. They’re the reason I’m writing this post. I know many of you will breeze past this post and probably this music, but this trio of songs are tracks everyone should hear. “Loves Missing” sounds like it could have been an outtake from Post Pop, sinewy guitar over a slinky rhythm section. It’s a straight up, mid tempo rock song. The next track, “Sonali” has some of the most poetic lyrics of Iggy’s career. It’s a softer track where Iggy is practically crooning. He sings in a lower register. The song is ethereal…it just takes me places, “we must find parking, or stay on the freeway, stay in your lane, that’s what you want…” This shimmery song will be studied in college music classes. It evokes a certain sadness in me that I’ve become fond of over the years… The third track in this knock-out trio is “James Bond.” “James Bond” just makes me smile. It’s catchy as hell. It’s upbeat and Iggy keeps singing, “She wants to be your James Bond, its not for a price and it’s not very nice, she wants to be your James Bond.” I love the melody, I love everything about that song, especially the bass line. I even love the trumpet solo instead of the traditional guitar solo.

Unfortunately, the next track, “Dirty Sanchez” is a rather jarring misstep. It starts with mariachi horns. Iggy sings in an almost strained manner. I don’t mind vulgarity, but the line, “just because I like big tits, doesn’t mean I like big dicks” is a little juvenile, even for me. The sing-along with the backup singers becomes pretty annoying. “Glow In the Dark” is better, but he never gets back to the level of those three landmark tracks that kick things off. “Glow In the Dark” has an insistent bass line and some nice trumpet. It’s lyrically strong. The whole album, save for “Dirty Sanchez” is lyrically strong. The themes of isolation and loneliness pour out of this album but it’s not grim…despite the line, “your sense of community is going to kill you.” “Page” is another strong track lyrically. Iggy digs deep and once again goes to a deeper vocal register here. “Dreary causes, yield all the applauses, you’ve done it before, you’ll dread the encore.” It’s nice to hear an artist express his world-weariness in musical form.

The last three tracks is where I think I’ll lose most of you. They’re all spoken-word tracks. Iggy puts a poem by Lou Reed to music in “We Are the People,” While it was written before Reed died, it certainly maintains political relevance today. Iggy said he’s giving voice to other artists on this album, this is what he’s talking about. He then put some musical accompaniment to a reading he did of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which if you’re going to have someone wave their fist at death and “rage against the dying of the light,” it ought to be Iggy Pop. “The Dawn” is also a spoken word thing… I know, it’s not to everybody’s taste.

Iggy Pop is an important artist. The sooner you set aside any fear of this music the faster he’ll expand your mind. This is an interesting, challenging album. I love it but I’ll understand if most of you don’t agree with me on this one!

Cheers!

 

Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays

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Ah, the weekend. That wonderful two day respite from the slings and arrows of work and responsibility. I read somewhere that Europe is going to or has gone to a three-day weekend. Sign me up for that. I’ve always considered Thursday to be weekend-eve anyway. If a three day weekend is creeping socialism, then call me Che Guevara. It doesn’t matter if you travel like me or work in a factory or an office building, there’s nothing as sweet as Friday night.

Friday night, to me, was always the carrier of all the hopes and aspirations for the two days of utter freedom. Anything was possible on a Friday night. Sunday night, on the back end of the weekend, always brought the crushing anxiety and weight of what was going to happen Monday morning. “Monday, Monday can’t trust that day.” They couldn’t be different emotions, Friday vs Sunday nights. Saturday tended to be date night so the population of carousing, drunken people got cut in half. Friday was the night that was going to set the tone for the weekend. I met the Rock Chick on a Friday night, such is the import I give to this particular night of the week.

It’s odd how my take on Friday night has changed since that momentous night, meeting the Rock Chick so many years ago. I used to suffer from “FOMO,” fear of missing out, most acutely on Friday. I needed to be somewhere doing something wrong. I was always trying to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I found it much more interesting than being in the right place at the right time… but perhaps it’s all just semantics. I couldn’t get out soon enough on Friday nights. My old pal, who I’ll call Tim (name changed to protect the guilty) and I cut a rather, ahem, wide swath through town. I was always in search of something… what? I’m not sure. And then, the way life does, I found it in the Rock Chick. That restless, gypsy gene was suddenly silent after a lifetime of wandering. I had come in from the cold, if you will.

Don’t get me wrong, I still look forward to Friday night with great anticipation. There just isn’t that burning need to be somewhere. I’m happy to meet my friends RJ, Doug or as I did this Friday, the Jean Genie for a drink or two at Happy Hour and then drift back to the house. More often than not these days I’ll just pull up the drawbridge, stock the moat with alligators, pour a strong and murky glass and turn up the stereo. As the rock and roll fills the room the stress and horrors of the week slide away… of course that could just be the bourbon. Most of my friends are out there still, somewhere, raising kids. The Rock Chick and I are all done with all that and the freedom is intoxicating.

Last Friday, we had nothing going on. I had been on the road and was pretty fried. The Rock Chick and I had actually gone out on Thursday night for the aforementioned “weekend-eve” (we’ve found our Thursday “hang!”) so we stayed home on Friday night. It was then the Rock Chick announced she’d done some musical spelunking and wanted to play some of her newly found music for me. There are few things in this world that make me happier than hearing those words… and since this is a PG-blog, I best not describe the things that do make me happier… ahem.

The first band she turned me onto, and I am very excited about this band, was the Blue Stones. These guys are a two-piece band in the tradition of the White Stripes or the Black Keys. They’re from Canada so we have to presume they’re nicer than those other bands. Lets hope Jack White doesn’t kick their ass. Tarek Jafar sings and plays the guitar with Justin Tessier manning the drum kit. When I listen to early records from the Stripes or the Keys, the sound was very primal or unvarnished. The Blue Stones’ first full length album Black Holes is a lot more polished than I expected. These guys sound like Cage the Elephant and the Black Keys had a baby. It’s a true meld of the sound of those two bands.

There is not a bad moment on this album. After an intro thing, without any singing, called “Airlock” the tunes come rocking out of the speakers. “The Drop,” “Black Holes (Solid Ground)” and “The Hard Part” are all great, catchy rock tunes. It’s refreshing to find a new rock and roll band to listen to! “Be My Fire,” which I believe was the single, is my favorite track. They mix it up a little bit with the last track, the more ethereal “Magic.” The track has an Edge/U2 kind of spidery guitar. It’s the longest track on the album and I found it almost haunting.

I don’t know where these guys are headed. I think they’ve got a new album coming out this year. They’ve released a track “Shakin’ Off the Rust.” I’m not as crazy about that as I was Black Holes but I look forward to hearing  more from this band. We need all the rock bands we can find. The Rock Chick really made a great discovery with these guys…

But she wasn’t done… the second band she turned me onto was the Blue Stingrays who released only one album, Surf-N-Burn. Now this album, was a huge surprise.

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This was an album of full-on surf music in the Dick Dale, Gidget-movie style. Heavy on guitar and riffing. When I saw the album art I assumed this was some lost artifact from the early 60s. “Yeah, Moondoggy, hang 10!” As usual, not content to know nothing about them, I used “the Google” to find out about this album. It wasn’t the 60s when this album was released, it was 1997. There was a whole fictional story behind this band shared on Wikipedia here:

My head snapped back when I found out who was actually in this band… It was quite a surprise. It turns out that this was a one-off album done by Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame. I had never heard of this side project. Campbell is obviously having a blast on guitar here. As Drummer Blake says, “many notes were played.” In the fake bio at the link above, it says Tench was at the session but he purportedly only called the pizza delivery guy. For this solo project Campbell recruited original Heartbreaker Ron Blair to play bass. This was five whole years prior to Blair’s rejoining the Heartbreakers and one has to wonder if this is what led Petty back to him. Also surprising for me is Mudcrutch drummer Randall Marsh plays in the Stingrays too. Again, this was years before Petty got Mudcrutch back together and I have to wonder if Campbell’s recruiting planted that seed with Petty as well.

The fictional biography in the liner notes, and quoted online, says that they recorded this legendary surf album in 1959 but the band, so intent on anonymity, wouldn’t tour or do any publicity for the album. They finally decamped to an island in Tahiti to perfect the surf sound. Obviously, that’s ridiculous. It’s like the Traveling Wilburys or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band… famous people pretending to be someone else and being liberated by doing so.

This is probably not your every day listen but I love this album. Its completely instrumental and Campbell’s guitar tone is something to behold. They play straight-up Dick Dale surf music. They also do a fabulous cover of “Goldfinger” from the James Bond film of the same name. It’s my favorite track on here. I always wondered why Petty & the Heartbreakers did that song on their Live Anthology box set, now I know. It was a nod to legendary surf band, the Blue Stingrays. This music is played with such sincerity and skill it’s hard not to get addicted to this album.

I urge all of you to seek the Blue Stingrays out. If you’re a fan of guitar, or just good time music, this is the ticket. It’s great background music for a summer party…because let’s face it, no one except me really pays attention to the music you play at a party. And, I’ll admit, I not only pay attention, I judge you on your musical tastes… (heh heh). Just kidding.

Check out these two great bands, you’ll thank me later!

 

 

 

 

New Single: Ozzy’s Triumphant Return, “Under the Graveyard”

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“Today I woke up and I hate myself, Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “Under the Graveyard”

You can always count on Ozzy Osbourne to deliver the goods…

I have to admit, my introduction to “heavy metal” did not go well. I didn’t get a stereo until Christmas of ’78 – well sort of a stereo, it was one of those “all-in-one” units (turntable/cassette/radio with hardwired speakers). I wasn’t even in high school yet. My first album, as I’ve documented, purchased with a little bit of my own cash I’d received for Christmas was the Stones’ Some Girls. After that I started to tentatively expand my record collection. Most of the stuff I had early on in my collection was “of that time,” or released in the late 70s. The idea of going back in time to buy an artist’s back catalog, like my brother had done with the Beatles or the Byrds, was inconceivable to me. Rather than realizing I could buy all the Stones’ albums, I just taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks and listened to it on the cassette player.

Beyond the Stones, I picked up ZZ Top’s Deguello, Queen’s News of the World and Supertramp’s Breakfast In America which I traded to my brother for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I had heard the Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues playing from the room of my friend’s older, beautiful, buxom sister so I bought it in the hopes that a musical connection would lead to a more…temporal connection. It didn’t, she was in high school and I was in junior high. Dare to dream big, young man. It did solidify my love of the blues. I also purchased the Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute not because I’m a Michael McDonald fan, but because I’d heard it at a party and saw that it had a joint on the inner sleeve art work, which gave it an instant stamp of “cool” or at least tacit approval, if you will. My record buying habit grew as quickly as my thirst for beer until my father once made a rare appearance in my room and scratching his head said, “You’ve got all of these records, why do you need any more?” Apparently he didn’t realize there was different music on each record.

My Sainted mother, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. At the time, her best friend was this lady I’ll call Betsy (name changed to protect the guilty). Betsy had a daughter my age and a son my brother’s age. They were a bit more rough and tumble than we were. Betsy’s daughter was one of those hang around behind the school smoking cigarette types. Nice girl, just a bit too dangerous for my taste and speed. Betsy was a boozy woman who liked to smoke red Marlboro 100s. I would come home from school and more often than not, Betsy was sitting at our kitchen table, a few empty brews scattered in front of her, with an ashtray nearby. When she found out that I was suddenly “into music” she decided she was going to bring some of her children’s records over so I could listen to them and record them on cassette if I found them to my liking. I seem to remember nodding and thinking this was probably nothing but also being intrigued at getting to expand my music collection.

I was all of like, maybe 13 years old and the next thing I know I’m staring at a stack of vinyl from Betsy whose cover art images were like nothing I’d ever come across up to that point. I’m not sure what was going on over at Betsy’s house, but these were scary images. I wondered if Social Services had been called. I don’t remember all of the albums but the first one I saw was Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. This is the image I beheld:

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While it was nice to see some of these rumored nipples, it depicts some poor bastard being ravaged and killed by demons, on a bed with a skull and a 666 on the headboard. I was still Catholic at the time and that put a little jolt of fear in me. I’ll admit, I read the Book of Revelation and these Sabbath characters scared me. I couldn’t help but think, what the fuck is this? I dropped the needle on the album and the sound emanating out of the headphones was not at all comforting. I couldn’t help but think…Betsy’s kids are listening to this noise? Where’s the melody, where’s the hook?

The stack went on. Judas Priest’s British Steel, I have a vague memory of some Iron Maiden and I think, Sabbath’s Volume 4. I know there was more, but after that mind numbing collection, I was done with Betsy’s kids’ records. I made a mental note… avoid Betsy’s kids, they’re Satanic. Oddly, all these years later, I own and love all of these albums.

Sometimes, it just takes a little time before we’re ready for certain music. It only took me a year until my tastes had turned to harder rock. I say harder rock because it’s increasingly difficult for me to identify what exactly Heavy Metal is supposed to be. I started listening to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith who I’ve heard called Heavy Metal, but I consider more “hard rock.” I bought AC/DC’s Back In Black which may have crossed the line into Heavy Metal, but in my mind they’re too bluesy to be Metal. It wasn’t until the Dio fronted Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell that I bought my first metal album. I didn’t even know it was the same band as that frightening day with Betsy’s kids’ records. I had heard Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” and loved it, but for some reason never bought the album. I also never connected this Ozzy guy with Black Sabbath until much later. We all have to grow up in ignorance. And while I consider myself a fan of heavy metal… it’s not like I’m sitting around listening to Opeth or Samson. I need some melody. I hear that “cookie-monster” vocal stuff and I can’t turn it off fast enough…

I remember working at York Steak House in Oak Park Mall, near the house, when I heard on the back kitchen radio, “Flying High Again” by Ozzy. I bought the album the next day. “Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy… no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” I was hooked. I realized this guy is the Prince of Darkness and I wanna bathe in that darkness. The music rocked, it was melodic, there was a sense of humor and yeah, I’ll say it again, the music rocked. I’ve been on the Ozzy bandwagon ever since. And while Ozzy has had some down moments in his career, for the most part his albums are of the highest quality. He always seems to find a great guitarist to play with him – from Randy Rhodes to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde and so forth.

I was thrilled to discover the other day that Ozzy is back for the first time since 2010’s Scream, which was a solid record. I have to admit, I liked 2007’s Black Rain more than Scream and it is one of my all time favorite Ozzy records. I saw him on that tour and I can only tell you my hearing will never be the same. I can’t believe it’s been almost a decade without any new solo Ozzy. Although, he did reunite with Sabbath for a fantastic record, 13 and tour (Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse).

Ozzy’s upcoming 2020 album is called Ordinary Man and he’s released the new single, “Under the Graveyard” and I love this track. Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays drums and, among others, helped write the track. Duff McKagan of GnR fame is on bass and producer Andrew Watt plays guitar. I guess he and Ozzy met while Ozzy was laying down some vocals for a Post Malone (?) song. I heard the track and Ozzy is the best part of it. It’s his best cameo since that Lita Ford duet back in the 80s.

“Under the Graveyard” starts off as an epic ballad. Ozzy’s vocals are introspective and vulnerable. It’s pretty amazing lyrically… and yes, I’m sure Ozzy had help writing the lyrics. I thought, well this is a pretty mellow comeback until about half way through the song when Watt unleashes this monster riff… I looked at the Rock Chick, a fellow Ozzy fan, and said, “Shit, that sounds like Sabbath!” I can’t believe I’ve come full circle from young tween afraid of Sabbath to elated that Ozzy sounds like them for a brief moment on the track. Watt’s guitar is fabulous and helps build this to a fabulous crescendo. This is probably the best thing I’ve heard from Ozzy in quite a while.

All of us here at B&V are thrilled Ozzy is coming back with a new album. I think this track is going to be a great harbinger of RAWK to come!! Turn this one up loud and remember… don’t be afraid kids. It’s only rock and roll… and you can’t kill rock n’ roll, you can only sing along.

 

 

LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove

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Back in the sixties, bands ran on a short cycle. It was record an album, brief tour and back to the studio to record the next album, rinse, repeat. There were no three and four year gaps between studio albums… or six years when you’re Pearl Jam. In the 70s it was a huge deal and considered potentially career-ending when Springsteen took four years to follow-up Born To Run. In the sixties, only releasing one album a year was considered being artistically indulgent. Creedence Clearwater Revival alone released three landmark albums in 1969. They also played an incendiary set at Woodstock (LP Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Live At Woodstock’ – Released 50 Years Later). One has to wonder when they slept.

Today it’s virtually unheard of to produce that kind of recorded output…artists have more autonomy and hold back to resist “burn out.” Enter Van the Man, Van Morrison. Over the last four years Van has released six albums. Perhaps he thinks we’re still living in the sixties. He must get paid by the song. All of this started with one of his greatest late period albums, Keep Me Singing which we loved here at B&V (LP Review: Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” Rock’s Curmudgeon’s Understated, Rootsy Return). Well, I say “we” loved it at B&V, I loved it… The Rock Chick’s stance on Van has not changed in all the years we’ve been together and her feelings are, well, negative. Van is to the Rock Chick what the Eagles were to the Dude. Which is ironic because the Rock Chick also hates the Eagles. When she asked me what I was writing today, I said, “That Man,” her nickname for Van… she said, “Oh” and in that one syllable expressed as much displeasure as if she’d shouted at me. To each, indeed, their own.

I get it, many people have lost touch with Van. It was the late 60s to mid 70s when his work found its greatest fame. From the spiritual Astral Weeks to the pastoral groove of Veedon Fleece, Van could do no wrong. His albums after that were hit and miss for most people. Van’s style of music has been described as “Celtic Soul” which is perfect. Van has always been a searcher on the spiritual plane. At his best, his music has a transcendent quality. Many of his songs have a way of reaching into your chest cavity and seizing you by the heart. I can’t hear “So Quiet In Here” without going to a Zen bliss place that is hard to describe. Even on his more criticized albums there’s always a song or two that will grab me.

I own a ton of Van on vinyl… but I’m like most people since ’74 I’ve sort of used a “picked and choose” strategy on my Van albums. I will say, starting in 2002 with Down the Road Van hit a hot streak that rivaled Dylan’s late career resurgence. What’s Wrong With This Picture, Magic Time and Keep It Simple were all great albums. Since then, I’ve gone back to a pick and choose strategy. Even the six albums over the last four years have fit that pattern. I shied away from the more jazz-influenced LPs, Versatile and You’re Driving Me Crazy but eagerly snapped up Keep Me Singing, Roll With the Punches (LP Review: Van Morrison, ‘Roll With The Punches,’ A Laid-Back Blues Party) and The Prophet Speaks which was released a mere 11 months ago (LP Review: Van Morrison Returns (Already) With the Bluesy Jazz of ‘The Prophet Speaks’). Admittedly, most of these albums (except Keep Me Singing) were heavy on covers and guest spots.

Recently Van has returned with a new album of all original, Van-written tunes named Three Chords And the Truth. It’s his first album without cover songs since Keep Me Singing. I must admit to being both surprised he was putting out a new album (I don’t know why I was surprised, he’s downright prolific), and worried. The phrase “three chords and the truth” was coined by some old country music singer to describe country music. Bono also plagiarized the line on Rattle and Hum…must be an Irish thing. I was afraid this would be a genre exercise in country music, which could have gone either way. I am pleased to say, this isn’t a country album.

While this album doesn’t rise to the heights of Keep Me Singing (few albums by anybody could), this is another great Van Morrison album. Gone is the blues-rock firebrand of Them. Van’s music is more of a smooth groove. As I often say, Van is a sitting-on-the-deck, after closing time, sipping a glass of something dark and murky kind of music. These are the kind of songs I’ll put on while staring up at the nighttime sky, after everyone else with any sense has slipped off to bed. Some of us night owls just like to stare into the void and contemplate the infinite while riding a nice whiskey buzz.

Van is backed predominantly by his touring band – which try as I may, the internet would not reveal the names of his band members. Van really should put these guys names/instruments on his website… In another stroke of genius, he brings acoustic, jazz guitar whiz Jay Berliner who also played on Astral Weeks to play on this record.He doesn’t play on all of the tracks but when Berliner plays he makes his presence felt. His playing fits the laid back groove of this album perfectly. He and Van’s chemistry is undeniable. I will say right up front, at over an hour and seven minutes, this album is a lot to absorb. And it may be too mellow for a lot our B&V readers. Van’s vocals remain incredibly strong for a man his age and it’s worth the price of admission for me here. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar and Hammond B-3 to move the tracks along.

The album starts off on the right track with the soulful “March Winds In February” where Berliner announces his presence with a great acoustic guitar solo. That song sticks to your brain. Then the album veers into its only misstep – the awful “Fame Will Eat the Soul.” The subject is a dead horse that Van seems to like to beat on almost every album. We get it Van, fame sucks. Well, except for the money and all the chicks. For reasons unclear he has Bill Medley from Righteous Brothers fame duetting with him here. Medley sounds like he’s been gargling fiberglass. It’s as if a drunk uncle at a wedding charged the stage and grabbed the microphone. At the end they’re both singing, “stop, stop, stop” and I couldn’t help but think, yes, please stop.

I almost gave up on the album after that track but I’m glad I didn’t because the next track was one of those great, Van, transcendent turns on “Dark Night of the Soul.” This is maximum Celtic soul. It’s almost an incantation, more prayer than hymn. There are many moments like that to follow. Van’s rewrite of “Auld Lang Syne” entitled “Days Gone By” is wonderful track in the same vein. “I want to drink a cup of kindness with you…” is a great lyric. “Up On Broadway” is perhaps Van’s strongest vocal on the album, amongst a collection of great vocal performances. “Doesn’t Love Conquer All,” a rare positive track lyrically and “If We Wait For Mountains” keep the smooth, laid back groove going.

There are a few tracks that break the Celtic soul mold and they stick out because they’re so different. I love the title track. It has a more R&B feel to it. “Bags Under My Eyes” an on-the-road complaint has a slightly country vibe with its pedal steel. “Early Days” sees Van revisiting the, yes, early days of rock and roll with rollicking piano that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Jerry Lee Lewis record. “Nobody In Charge” is a jazzy-jaunty little track with political lyrics so vague it barely rises to the level of protest. These are nice change of pace tunes to shake up the tempo of the album.

I would have liked this album more if they’d cut a track or two and got it down to under an hour, but like almost everything, I’ll always take more if I can get it. This is an album I would recommend to any Van Morrison fan out there. Van is certainly back on a roll these days. Join me on the patio with a glass of whiskey and some Van Morrison folks, this ride isn’t going to last forever!

Cheers!

 

Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67

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As avid, repeat readers of B&V already know, my corporate masters often force me to travel to far flung places in order to do my job. I’m hitting all the garden spots these days from Des Moines to Phoenix to Minneapolis. That’s Minneapolis in November people. This is not glamorous travel. Yes, there’s a lot of eating and drinking on the road but I’m to the point where I’m kind of over that. I never know when I’ll be asked to drop everything and head to the airport.

When I’m actually home, I like to Netflix and chill, which I have always thought meant watch shows on Netflix and well, chill out. Apparently there may be another meaning to that phrase… I may need to ask someone younger… Anyway, my travel schedule doesn’t really allow me to watch “network television.” Not that I’ve been a fan of watching anything the networks put out… I haven’t really been a big TV fan since they cancelled Kojak. I like to watch football and tennis on TV and that’s about it. I’m not like those, “I only watch sports and public television” type of snobs (ahem, Doug). After a long day at work, when I am at home, I do like to veg out on the couch and binge-watch something.

After recently returning from one of my extended trips away, the Rock Chick said, “I’ve found a bunch of things we need to watch.” This is always a happy announcement. However, sadly, Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite was one of them… don’t waste your time (full disclosure, it was one of my picks). One of the first things she pulled up was a documentary on Netflix called Echo In the Canyon. It’s a documentary focusing on L.A.’s famous Laurel Canyon, a haven for artists and rock stars back in the heyday of rock and roll. Rock and roll doc, a rockumentary, Hell Yes! It was put together by director Tom Slater and Jakob Dylan (son of Bob, formerly of the Wallflowers) who also serves as the narrator/chief interviewer. There’s a funny piece of dialogue between Jakob and David Crosby when Crosby says, “And then Dylan showed up…” and Jakob, very deadpan responds, “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

The doc traces the influence of the Beatles to the Beach Boys and then through a series of iconic bands from the mid-to-late sixties. The show is divided between archival footage of the bands, to interviews with members of the bands (Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills) to shots of current artists sitting around discussing the  music and the time that generated it (Beck, Cat Power, Jakob, Norah Jones). It appears after filming the documentary, Jakob Dylan got a bunch of people together, both in the studio and at a one-off concert to recreate the songs. They released a soundtrack and the covers are mostly reverential. The only track that really caught my ear was Jakob and Fiona Apple duetting on the Beach Boys “In My Room,” a song I’d never heard before but instantly loved. It’s an interesting listen. Beck and Norah Jones, two of our B&V favorites have tracks on the soundtrack too.

In the middle sixties the Beatles were king. Their influence can not be overstated. The documentary which features Ringo (we all love Ringo, Peace and Love, baby), starts with them and their influence. They’d spent time in Laurel Canyon on one of the early tours. Laurel Canyon was a hot bed of artists (I’m talking painters/poets not just guitarists) and musicians. All these different bands had people who lived in the Canyon. They’d jam all the time. They’d show up at each other’s houses and write songs and try out new material. If I were to die and reawaken in Laurel Canyon in the sixties I’ll know I’m in heaven. It had to be rock and roll Nirvana.

The film starts with Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty hanging out in a music store, surrounded by guitars. I’ll admit, it sort of hit me hard to see Tom Petty sitting there surrounded by guitars talking about folk-rock and the Byrds. He strums a tune on a Rickenbacker (which he says is pronounced “back” not “bach”) from the She’s the One Soundtrack, and after a few chords, he smiles a devilish smile and says to the camera, “that’s all you get… you can’t afford any more.” God, do we miss Tom Petty. He sets up the entire story…

The main band at the beginning of this story is the Beach Boys. Now, in full disclosure, I’ve always hated the Beach Boys. Besides Brian Wilson they didn’t really play instruments. They were the sixties N’Sync if you ask me. But I’ll begrudgingly admit the huge influence they also had. They were influenced by the Beatles and “genius” Brian Wilson in turn influenced the Beatles… and back and forth it went. Pet Sounds is compared to Bach in the documentary. That influence was even greater on some of their American compatriots.

From the Beach Boys we go to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds. McGuinn was also influenced by the Beach Boys and especially the Beatles. He started playing Beatles tunes, stripped down and acoustic for folk fans in the Village in New York city. They didn’t dig it, so he packed up and headed out to the Canyon to form the Byrds with David Crosby, amongst others. Crosby is interviewed at length and even admits that, well, he was kind of an asshole. He was kicked out of the band for writing a song about a threesome… “Triad.” Hell, that’s what a lot of songs are about these days… I don’t see the issue there. Ironically the Jefferson Airplane recorded the track a few years later.

From the Byrds the line runs to the Mamas and Papas. They too were trying to make it in New York and then migrated to the Canyon. Michelle Phillips is on hand to recount her glory days, sleeping with everyone. Go Michelle, go! She explains the genesis of such legendary songs as “Do What You Want to Do” and “California Dreaming.” The vocal harmonies in that band were incredible. Mama Cass never gets the credit she so richly deserves. I found myself loading tracks from their greatest hits onto my iPod.

After that the story heads over to a band I’ve always under-appreciated, the Buffalo Springfield. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay all in the same band. They showed some great clips of the guys back in the sixties. Stephen Stills apparently was very fond of cowboy hats in those days. What a great band. I only had their Retrospective hits LP, and after this documentary I quickly rushed out and bought their debut, eponymously titled LP. What a classic. That’s the key to this whole documentary – I was filled with the need to go and seek out these bands and explore their music. I urge all of you to do the same.

Now, I have to admit the choices they made here were pretty limited. The Monkees, who always get a bad rap, also lived in the Canyon and they’re ignored. Hell, they used a lot of the same session musicians the Beach Boys used. The Monkees hung out with the Beatles too, you know? They learned to play their instruments and in 1967 they had the second biggest selling LP of the year behind Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Which means they sold more LPs than Hendrix, who once opened for them. They totally ignore the Queen of Laurel Canyon (if you will), Joni Mitchell. Where is she in this? They talk to producer Lou Adler, you’d think they’d talk to or about Joni. Jim Morrison of the Doors lived out there but I guess his music is outside the narrow focus of folk-rock, country-rock. Yes, this rockumentary is slightly flawed if you ask me.

All of that said, if you accept the narrow focus of the documentary, then this is a very enjoyable watch. And again, everyone should seek out this music, whether it’s the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, the Buffalo Springfield, and try to find it on vinyl. If you were to pass below my  home office window this week, you’d think it was 1966 up here… I’ve been dancin’ around all week with a fringe jacket and bell bottoms on. It’s groovy stuff people and we all need more groovy these days.

Cheers!