BourbonAndVinyl: The Best of 2019, New LPs and Box Sets/Vault & Live LPs

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It was Bob Dylan in “You’re a Big Girl Now” who sang “Time is a jet plane it moves so fast, oh but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last.” There’s more poetry on Blood On the Tracks than in most freshman lit classes but I’m getting off topic. That line, “time is a jet plane” has been stuck in my head lately. It always seems to pop up around this time of year. That line and Jackson Browne’s “I’ve been aware of the time passing by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Each passing year seems to go by faster than the last. It seems like just yesterday I was moving to a new living space… but that was last January.

I can’t believe the NFL regular season is over already. I’ve only got about four or five more weeks before I have to go into sports hibernation until fall 2020. I really need to figure out hockey so I have something to do during the football off-season. At least I have rock and roll… And speaking of 2020, I can’t believe we’re up to 2020… when I was a kid I used to calculate how old I’d be in 2000… I never imagined adding the big 20 to it. All my trusty old concert t-shirts are getting even closer to being considered “vintage.” A guy at the car lot Saturday was fawning all over my Pearl Jam Vitalogy concert shirt.

If I have any regrets about 2019 it’s that I didn’t go to many concerts. I had foot surgery in May and that curtailed my concert going quite a bit. We missed the Cult’s Sonic Temple tour and the Rock Chick may never forgive me. I guess if I wanted to say it more positively, it’s my “New Year’s Resolution” to see more concerts next year. I’m not a big resolution guy… hence the bourbon part of this thing. It was a good year for me in terms of looking backward and expanding my musical horizons. I got into the Byrds and Modern Lovers (finally) this year. I went deeper into the Buffalo Springfield than I’d been previously. I continued to expand my working set of Tom Waits albums. The man is phenomenal. You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to the original version of “Jersey Girl” at three a.m. in New York city, drunk on gin.

I don’t know what to expect out of 2020 but we’ve already got a little bit of good news that John Frusciante has rejoined the Chili Peppers, a reunion I predicted would never happen (Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen), which made it inevitable. There’s a Netflix documentary on Linda Rondstadt coming that I’m sure you’ll be reading about in these pages. And while 2020 will likely be a politically charged one – I saw political flags at the Chiefs game yesterday which was a first – I choose to hope for the best. Hell, the Stones may finally release that record they’ve been polishing for a couple of years. So much to look forward to.

But of course, the purpose of this post is not to look forward, this is our annual look backward to 2019. I think I’ve dropped the Don Henley quote, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll,” into every annual recap I’ve done, but I’m not saying that this year. 2019 actually saw some really great music from some of our favorite B&V artists. I’ve compiled a list of our favorite new albums and then below, our favorite box sets, live albums and miscellaneous vault type releases.

I hope over the last year this blog has brought some good music into your lives out there. I truly hope that each of you have a great and truly happy New Year. This New Year’s Eve I’ll probably be home and in bed by 10… and not in a good way. New Year’s Eve used to be bloodsport for me but now I see it as Amateur Hour… not like St Patrick’s Day where the pros show us how to drink all day. Ahem… Have a great New Year out there everyone! Make it special – reach out to an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, put on an old LP you haven’t heard since way back when, pour a nice strong drink and lets make 2020 even better than 2019. A poet once said, people are like flowers. It’s been a pleasure sharing this garden with you…

2019 B&V Top New LPs 

  1. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars – Springsteen channels Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and early Glenn Campbell on this fabulous solo record. “Hello Sunshine” ranks amongst his greatest songs.
  2. The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock” –  The Keys triumphant return full of fuzzy guitar and stomping drums. Great, great garage rock.
  3. The Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger – Jack White returns to his first side project, the Raconteurs and delivers a more structured set of tracks. Another great garage rock album.
  4. Van Morrison, Three Chords And the Truth – Van delivers his first set of all originals for his sixth album in four years. Laid back, Celtic soul.
  5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Colorado – Neil gets Crazy Horse back together, subs in Nils Lofgren for Frank Sampedro and delivers his best album in years.
  6. The Who, WHO – This might be my favorite album of the year. A truly spectacular return.
  7. Peter Frampton, All Blues – Frampton going back to his roots in Humble Pie to deliver a spectacular album of blues covers. My favorite track may be his Miles Davis cover, “All Blues.”
  8. Starcrawler, Devour You – Arrow de Wilde and the gang show up with a strong, strong sophomore LP. Go see these guys live wherever you are. They’re amazing.
  9. Liam Gallagher, Why Me? Why Not. – He’s a confounding man who once mocked my air-guitar skills, but damn if he doesn’t put out fabulous solo records.
  10. Norah Jones, Begin Again – At 7 tracks, more of an EP than an LP, but I just love this woman’s singing and songwriting. It’s on the mellow end, but we can’t all listen to “In-A-Gadda-Davida” every day.
  11. Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance – Beautifully produced by Cohen’s son based on notes the late singer left behind, this was a great posthumous release. His voice more haunting than ever… He’s not afraid to get political with “Puppets,” but its on the songs of heartbreak that he was most affecting.
  12. Iggy Pop, Free – I doubt my constant praise of Iggy is winning any converts but everyone should listen to “James Bond” and do the twist.

2019 B&V Favorite Box Sets, Live & Vault LPs

  1. Prince, 1999 Super Deluxe Box Set – A deluxe treatment of a double-LP. There is so much great bonus material, it actually eclipses the deluxe treatment Purple Rain got.
  2. The Beatles, Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Box – Everything you’d ever want to hear out of the Abbey Road sessions. True collectors will find the original running order of the side 2 medley a must have.
  3. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Live At Woodstock – If this is CCR on bad night, where Fogerty is pissed, I can’t imagine what they were like on a good night. Essential for every CCR fan, and who isn’t a CCR fan?
  4. Paul McCartney, Amoeba Gig Live – A show McCartney did in a record store for a small crowd may just be favorite live album of his.
  5. Foreigner, Live Rainbow ’78 – Finishing up the tour for the first album with the second album in the can, these guys are on top of the world and you can hear it.
  6. Bob Dylan, Travelin’ Through ’67-’69 – Bootleg Series Vol 15 – Dylan with Johnny Cash. Need I say more?
  7. Neil Young & the Stray Gators, Tuscaloosa – Neil playing “Alabama” in Alabama in the 70s. He was a brave man.
  8. Keith Richards, Talk Is Cheap 30th Anniversary Box – A little light on bonus material, but what’s here is damn good. Plus it’s just a great, great rock and roll album.
  9. Gene Clark, No Other Box Set – The original masterpiece with two additional discs of alternate takes. I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered this album sooner.
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archives – Passaic 9/19/78 and Winterland 12/15/78 & 12/16/78 – I love most of these concerts he’s been pulling out of the vaults but these two sets are must haves. Winterland and Passaic were widely bootlegged… the latter may be the best concert of Springsteen’s storied live career.
  11. Motley Crue, The Dirt, Soundtrack – Most of us have all the tracks that made the sound track to ‘The Dirt’ but I had to include this as they put 4 really nice new tracks on here… new Motley is always a cause for celebration.

There you have it. Check it out and let me know what you think. Cheers and Happy New Year.

Be safe!

Box Set Review: Prince, ‘1999 (Super Deluxe)’ – A Tour De Force, Must Have

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You might not know it from looking at me, but I am a funky motherfucker. Oh yes, I dig the funk. I couldn’t say that to you if it weren’t for one man’s music I stumbled upon haphazardly during the early months of 1983… Prince and (of course) his landmark LP, 1999. I’m on the record as a Prince fan, Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince. All of us down here at B&V are still bereaved at his loss. I feel I have a very special relationship with the original LP, 1999. To think there was a time before Prince, before I knew his music…like many things, it was a lifetime ago.

Life has a strange rhythm of its own, speaking of funk. We’re all born and then when we’re around five they march us off to elementary school. You progress from grade to grade until finally you’re a senior. When you’re a senior, you’re on top the world, it is indeed your oyster as the saying goes. Then you graduate… you either get a job or you become a freshman in college or join the Army… but whatever you do you go back to the bottom rung on the ladder. From first to worst so to speak.

I hated high school. I was the classic rebel without a clue. I got good grades so my parents left me alone. I would speed home from school every day, do my homework, and then go to work, wherever that was. I gravitated toward the food service industry as you could drink on the job… whoever is serving you that Big Mac is probably fucked up, folks. All I wanted to do was to get away from high school. Most the people in my high school went to a college 45 minutes away… Shawnee Mission Lawrence we jokingly called it since that particular college seemed like a mere extension of our school district. I chose a college two hours away. My parents didn’t want to spring for out of state tuition and the whole “college application” apparatus hadn’t sprung up yet. My parents were like, fill out the forms, get into a state school and get out of our hair. Felicity Huffman, they weren’t. Naturally with my instincts to flee, and Karma being a bitch, I fell I love with someone in a class behind me. It was indeed the cliche’d, teenage affair… But suddenly I went from wanting to get away from home to thinking, hey, I could stick around for this for a while. I always seemed to be swimming against the tide.

It’s hard for some some of us to move on. It’s hard to acknowledge that a stage in our life is over and that it’s time to face forward. Fear of the unknown, I suppose. I guess I’m in that group. Maybe I was just never good at going from first to worst. Suddenly, I was a young adult facing college and all the responsibility that goes with it, like say, laundry. The pressure to succeed was immense…”Don’t flunk out” was the advice I seem to remember from my father… which ranks up there with, “get her pregnant and we’re throwing you out,” in the pantheon of advice I got. I saw people react in all kinds of crazy ways to that first taste of college life and freedom. I saw kids turn to booze and drugs to cope… not my style, I was already a hardened alcoholic by the time I got to college. I knew a guy who found Jesus…”men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” I felt completely out of place in this new phase of life. Admittedly I was wildly immature (as I remain today), and so subconsciously decided to go backwards. I put everything I had into the relationship I was still inexplicably in… never do long distance in college, people. It wasn’t about her, I was just looking for a lifeline. I shudder when I think what immense pressure that must have put on the young lady in question.

Eventually, at the semester break that freshman year, the man who wanted to get away from home, transferred to Shawnee Mission Lawrence, a school I despised, because I wanted to make the grand romantic gesture, save a failing relationship and also to be closer to, yes, home. “What fools these mortals be…” I moved into the dorms with a buddy of mine, apparently intent on ruining another relationship forever – never live with friends, people. Thankfully the young woman at the, ahem, “heart” of this story put me out of my misery and broke up with me on April Fool’s Day. I remember pathetically saying, “April Fool’s, right?” No.

I was crushed. Probably more because I was being forced to face up to the fact that it was time to move forward into… life… the great beyond. The only way I could see forward at that point was lots and lots of sweet Bacardi rum. My friend Doug and I drank enough 151 proof rum to float a fucking battle ship. These two groovy black guys lived across the hall – Brian and Rob. I had gotten to know those guys and would drop by their room every now and then to avoid my roommate. Things had gone south with my buddy too. I awoke one afternoon, hungover as usual and I heard blaring from across the hall…”Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” Now, again, I only mention that the guys across the hall were black because I want to underscore how segregated music was back in those days. Despite the fact that those guys did borrow a weird Pat Benetar album someone had given me and kept it all semester, you really didn’t hear black artists like Prince on predominantly white, rock n’ roll radio. I remember standing in those guys room, in a rum haze, and doing what passed for dancing for me – my feet rooted to the ground, white man’s overbite, arms pulled up to my chest while I gyrated my torso in what looked like a grand maul seizure. I was really mesmerized by Prince and his breakthrough track “1999.”

Sadly though, I didn’t stick around even for the entirety of side one… It wasn’t until I was in a bar with MTV when I saw the video for “Little Red Corvette” – iconic now, but stunning when I first saw it – and realized I had to check out the rest of this album. The next time those guys were around, and Doug and I were loaded on rum, I asked if they’d put it on. Wow, what an album. 1999 was the sound of an artist, nay a genius, bursting into a supernova. The “hits” were on side one, “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” (which I found particularly alluring as a spurned man), and of course “Delirious” (which my neighbors told me was a song about a blow job). But the rest of that album was amazing. It’s a double vinyl album… with only 11 songs. Prince finds a groove and just keeps it going. “Delirious” is the shortest song on the album at 4 minutes and it seems to go on forever unlike well, most blowjobs. I can still remember dancing around Brian and Rob’s room to the funky romp, “DMSR.” “Dance, music, sex, romance,” hell yes! That album pulled me out of a dark, dark place I was in… that album and a lot of rum. When the semester ended and I finally “moved on,” I went out and bought that album. I was a little scandalized by the inner sleeve album art… In one provocative pic, Prince is laying on his stomach with his ass in the air… That Prince, he’s a character, is what I was thinking at the time.

Now, all these years later, the vaunted Prince vaults have opened up again with a Super Deluxe version of the album. I’m a huge fan of vault releases – as long time readers know – but I have to admit I was underwhelmed with the Purple Rain deluxe box, Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It? . There were moments of brilliance but only moments. There have been a couple other releases featuring demos that Prince recorded… actually one whole album of tracks he gave to other artists. Neither of those really grabbed me. This box set for 1999 has grabbed me completely.

The box starts with the original album remastered. Disc 2 is probably the most disappointing as it has a bunch of those “7-inch stereo edit” kind of tracks. There are three great B-sides on disc 2: The ballad, “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “Irresistible Bitch,” and my favorite “Horny Toad,” a funky track that sounds like a cousin of “Delirious.” After you get past that second disc, there are two more additional discs of unreleased music. There are twenty-four tracks here. Usually on a box like this you get a bunch of different takes on songs from the original album. There is an extended version of “Delirious” here and a few stray instrumentals which I usually consider fillers, but most of these tracks are fully realized.

Prince was quoted at the time 1999 was released that he had enough material to release the follow up and it’d be more popular. Who releases a double-LP and has another double LP in the can? Prince, that’s who. These tracks sound like that 1982-83 period – synths, drums, drum machines and long grooves. The opening track could have easily fit onto the original album both in sound and spirit – “Feel You Up.” Prince is at his most libidinous on this material. “Money Don’t Grow On Trees” would have been a huge hit, it’s catchy as hell. The rather unfortunately titled “Vagina,” a song about a hermaphrodite, sports a punky guitar. Likewise, for those who like Prince’s more “Hendrix-y” guitar driven stuff, “Rearrange” is a great track. I can’t stop listening to the happy funk of “Bold Generation.” “If It’ll Make You Happy” could have almost qualified for the B&V playlist, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Possessed” is an almost 9 minute funk work out. “Yah, You Know” is another synth/guitar marriage that works. The first five minutes of “Do Yourself A Favor” maybe qualify as amongst Prince’s best… although the last few minutes are weird…editing would have helped. “Don’t Let Him Fool You” is funky wonderful with a great Prince falsetto. “Teacher, Teacher,” is another example of Prince singing about someone he wants to sleep with.

There’s a stray instrumental “Colleen” that did nothing for me. “Purple Music” is a 10 minute track that felt like filler. “Moonbeam Levels” was previously released on a greatest hits package. Other than those tracks there is sooo much here to like. I’ve been listening to these tracks almost non stop.

Disc 5 is a concert from 1982 in Detroit and it’s great… Prince should have considered releasing that as a live album. The final disc is a Blu-ray of another show and I’m embarrassed to admit, I haven’t seen it yet. Even the live stuff works. Prince plays all the instruments in the studio but he plays the live stuff with an early version of the Revolution: Dez Dickerson (guitar), Lisa Coleman (keyboards), Bobby Z (drums), Mark Brown (bass), Dr. Fink (keyboards). They bring it live.

This is the rare, perfect box set. Any Prince fan or any fan of the album 1999 should seek this music out immediately. Maybe if you been nice Santa will put it in your stocking? Although… Prince would have probably preferred it if you were naughty!

Happy Holidays!

 

 

LP Review: The Who, ‘WHO’ – A Triumphant Return & Perhaps Farewell?

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“All of this music will fade like the edge of a blade” – “All This Music Must Fade,” The Who

I am so thrilled that I’m able to write about a new Who album… There was great anticipation for this album down here at B&V and man, did these guys pay off…

Of all the early British Invasion bands, I think the Who rocked the hardest. They described their music as “Maximum R&B,” and indeed it was. This band, in their prime hit like a sledge hammer. Big anthemic songs like “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain” and later “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” defined rock and roll. A large part of their sound was the titanic rhythm section of Keith Moon (drums) and John Entwistle (bass). In the press run up for the new album, WHO, naturally Townshend had to say something controversial. In Rolling Stone magazine he said he was glad Moon and Entwistle were dead. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading that correctly. I’m sure the families of those guys were thrilled to read that…

The only way I could get my head around it, was to try to put myself in Pete’s shoes. I think what he meant – and I’m not trying to be an apologist for Townshend – is he’s glad that he doesn’t have to play with them any more…and the only way to leave the Who, it appears, is to die. Moon was the most energetic drummer ever… he makes Neal Peart from Rush look like a timekeeper. Keith Richards always said about Moon, “You couldn’t jam with him, he wasn’t capable.” Pete says that his rhythm guitar was what kept time in the band and it was a relief to work with more sedate drummers after Moon passed. And let’s face it, Moon was quite a handful in the end… the demon alcohol had control over him. Entwistle was equally aggressive on bass. I would think as a singer and guitar player, that’d be hard to play against. So while I’m sure Pete is relieved to play with a less aggressive rhythm section, I would hope he regrets saying he’s glad they’re both dead. There had to be some shred of friendship there? Right? It was a stupid and insensitive thing to say. Rock stars, what are you gonna do?

When I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. The Who were still a working band. My first Who album, and this will surprise a lot of people, was Face Dances. By then Moon was long gone and ex-Faces drummer Kenny Jones had replaced him. I hadn’t even heard of the Faces at that point. For many people the Who should have hung it up after Moon died, but I love Face Dances. The single was “You Better You Bet” and it’s one of my favorite Who tracks. Townshend was heavily into heroin by that point and his big guitar is mostly missing, but there’s just something about your first Who… Another of my favorites on that LP is the ending track, “Another Tricky Day.” The lyric, “this is no social crisis, this you having fun” could pretty much sum up my social life, pre-Rock Chick. “Daily Records” is a quiet classic. For a long time Face Dances and the greatest hits package, Meaty Big And Bouncy were the only Who albums I owned.

I was supposed to see the Who on that tour in ’79 with my buddy Brewster and a couple other clowns. We’d spent every dime we had on concert tickets. As teenagers, the big thing was to come home at curfew, wait an hour, and then sneak out through the back door. I was very good at tip-toeing through the house and out the door like a pimply ninja. Brewster and I and another pal decided to sneak back out the weekend before the concert to do some alternative gasoline procurement. Naturally we got caught. My father took my Who ticket away. I gave it to the two smart guys who didn’t join us on our midnight foraging expedition to sell to see if I could recoup the money. They sold my ticket and bought beer with it and later told me they hadn’t sold it. I was literally in a gang of thieves.

My knowledge and love of the Who didn’t really expand much until I got to college and met one of my roommates, Drew. He was a Billy Joel/Who fan and I was a Springsteen/Stones fan. Naturally we cross-pollinated our rock tastes. Suddenly I was out buying Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Drew led me to some of the lesser known albums, Who By Numbers and Who Sell Out. I finally backtracked and picked up their last album with Moon, Townshend’s reaction to punk rock, Who Are You. I even picked up, It’s Hard…but that was mostly for two songs, “Athena” and “Eminence Front.” I’m nothing if not a completist. Yes, you could call me a huge Who fan. I do miss my college days hanging out in the vinyl store with Drew, but who doesn’t?

I didn’t get to see the Who until 1989 when they toured with a huge backing band. It was almost like seeing a Who Revue starring Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. I think there were 30 people on stage. I ended up making out with the kind woman in front of me… luckily her boyfriend was too into the show to notice. Gads…I blame strong drink. It wasn’t until 2000 that I got to see what I thought was a genuine Who show… It was just Townshend/Entwistle/Daltrey and Ringo’s kid Zak Starkey on the drums. I flew out to Denver to see them and it was worth every penny. They rocked HARD that night. It wasn’t Live At Leeds, but it felt like it. Townshend was especially impressive that night.

I wondered if the Who would ever record again. Townshend, in the same Rolling Stone interview said, “The Who aren’t a band any more.” I hate to admit it, but he’s kind of right. They hadn’t put out an album since 2006’s Endless Wire. That album has always left me a little cold. My old friend Drew says it’s a great album and I trust his musical instincts implicitly. I did go back and give it a spin… I like it better than I remembered but I digress. Last year, Daltrey put out a solo album As Long As I Have You. He’d been working on it quite a while and health issues had prevented him from finishing it… he was going to give up but Townshend heard the demos and volunteered to play guitar on a number of the tracks. That got the “juices flowing” and Townshend decided it was time for a new album. When Daltrey heard Pete’s demos he felt it was a fine Townshend solo album and there was nothing he could add. Pete said, “just sing Roger, you’ll be happy you did in 10 years.” I’m certainly glad he did. Apparently they recorded the album without ever being in the studio at the same time. It’s been a long road, can’t we all get along guys?

I don’t know if this is the Who’s farewell album but it certainly feels like it. I doubt anybody’s around if they wait 13 years again. For two guys who apparently stay in separate hotels on tour, they still make fantastic music. If this is farewell, it’s a much more fitting end to one of the greatest rock bands ever than Endless Wire. The opening lyric on the first track could almost be Pete talking to Roger, “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song.” I had hoped that it was the touring band in the studio – Pino Palladino (bass), Zak Starkey on drums with Townshend’s brother Simon on second guitar. They do show up on select tracks (well, not Simon) but they’re replaced with studio players on most tracks. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame plays keyboards on three tracks.

I can’t say enough about Daltrey’s voice on this album. I hear him talking about his voice and concern about losing it in the press all the time. He’s always either recording something or touring to keep it up. If you don’t use it you’ll loose it, the voice is a muscle. Before As Long As I Have You he did an album with Wilko Johnson Going Back Home that everyone should own. He’s in absolutely fine form on this album. While Townshend sings quite a bit here it’s Daltrey who vocally steals the show here… of course the best Who songs are the ones where they sing back and forth… at least I’ve always thought so.

This album is the first Who album that’s just a collection of songs since It’s Hard. Unlike Endless Wire there is no concept here or mini-opera. I’ve seen a lot of people playing the “it’s the best Who album since xyz” game. In my opinion it’s the best record they’ve done since Who By Numbers but I’ve always been extremely fond of that record. Needless to say, if you’re not like me and weren’t utterly into Face Dances, this is the best Who album in a very long time. It may not be Who’s Next or Quadrophenia, but it’s a great album and even better – it’s a great Who album. By that I just mean, it sounds and feels like a Who album. The songs are anthemic and there’s a bluster here that they haven’t had in a while. It’s a better album than many of us thought it would be.

The album opens with three outstanding tracks – perhaps ranking amongst their best ever – “All This Music Must Fade” (an ode to the death of rock?), “Ball And Chain” (political and perhaps my favorite, Daltrey almost growls the lyrics) and finally their statement of purpose, “I Don’t Want to Get Wise.” But the good music keeps rolling – “Detour” is a punchy little rocker. “Beads On One String” is a beautiful ballad, sung by Townshend. I don’t know why, but on many of Townshend’s backing vocals he’s using Autotune. It’s annoying. He should have just multi-layered his vocals and it would have been much more effective. He also raps (mercifully) briefly on “I’ll Be Back” an otherwise nice ballad. “Hero At Ground Zero” is another soaring track that just sticks in my brain. I’ve literally woken up two days in a row with that song in my head. I played the record for the Rock Chick and she felt the back end had too many ballads, but she’s never been one to be sentimental which is why she’s the Rock Chick.

“Break the News” is a lilting little rocker that makes me think of the Lumineers. They resurrect a track they recorded in 1966 “Got Nothing to Prove” that producer Kit Lambert had rejected at the time. They don’t rerecord it, it’s literally as it was in 1966. The sentiment of having nothing to prove may be actually more accurate now. It was a weird moment and the Rock Chick hated it, but I find it interesting. “Danny And My Ponies” is perhaps my favorite ballad on the album. It was a strong finish to a great album.

Everyone needs to purchase this album – it’s that good. It makes me sad that it took them 13 years to come to terms and record a studio album. I find myself in the “what could have been…” frame of mind when I listen to this album. This will certainly be on the B&V “best of” list this year. It’s so great to see a band I’ve loved, literally my whole life, put this much passion and grit into a late period album. This is like Bowie or Dylan’s late career triumphs. I hope the Stones are paying attention…

Cheers! and Happy Holidays to all of you out there!

 

LP Review: Ex-Byrd Gene Clark, ‘No Other (Deluxe Edition)’, Forgotten 1974 Masterpiece

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I’m alway surprised – and amused, I might add – when, all these years into my journey through rock and roll I find an artist or album that I know absolutely nothing about. Not that I’ve ever claimed to know everything, despite what my wife would tell you. There are artists I don’t like (the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues) that I’ve sort of ignored. There are some bands that I’m just not cool enough to listen to like say, King Crimson, the Smithereens or Elvis Costello that I’ve sort of turned a blind eye toward. I’ve always thought eventually I’d listen to them later down the road. I always seem to be listening to something else at the time. But it’s exceedingly rare (and getting more rare) that there’s someone I haven’t heard of at all. Since somewhere along the line I appointed myself rock n’ roll “Town Crier” I like to think I’ve got a broad view of things.

I watched the Jakob Dylan documentary about the music that came out of Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s a few weeks back, Echo In the Canyon (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67). I really enjoyed that documentary. It led me to start listening to some of the featured music in the film. I’ve always hated the Beach Boys but I found myself adding “In My Room” to my iPod. Somehow I ended up with their “Greatest Hits” (and I use that term loosely) so it was an easy song to add. I was already a fan of the Mamas and the Papas and I found myself listening to “Go Where You Wanna Go” which played a significant role in the movie along side “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday.” Michelle Phillips, we love you down here at B&V.

More importantly I went back and rediscovered the Buffalo Springfield – Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay – what’s not to love? I say rediscover, but I really only previously owned Buffalo Springfield Again which I hadn’t listened to in a while. I had their greatest hits too, but it really doesn’t do them justice. I quickly bought their eponymous debut and their third and final album, Last Time Around and am absolutely in love with those albums. Everything those guys did was great. It’s a shame they didn’t get along better. Of course Stills and Young ended up working together in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young so alls well that ends well.

I thought perhaps that would be the end of the road, the musical vein I was mining based on the movie had run out… But something was bothering me… The Byrds played a prominent part in the movie and I’d never really checked them out. The folk-rock, country-rock they helped popularize played a big part of that Cali sound. David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were both in the movie. My brother had been into the Byrds when we were young. I mistakenly thought of them as only a Dylan cover band. I had to investigate these guys… I quickly bought Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn, their first two albums and was really blown away. Yes, they did a lot of Dylan covers while inventing folk rock, but they had a lot of great originals. The guy who wrote most of those originals wasn’t Roger McGuinn, but a guy named Gene Clark.

Gene Clark actually grew up in my hometown, Kansas City but migrated, like so many of his generation to California where he found himself forming the Byrds with McGuinn (guitar/vocal), Crosby (guitar/vocal), Chris Hillman (bass) and Micheal Clarke (drums). While in the Byrds, he wrote some of the best tracks, especially on their first two albums. The most popular of which was “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” eventually covered by Tom Petty. But there are other great tracks – “I Knew I’d Want You,” “Set You Free This Time,” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” just to name a few. Like Neil Young, Clark wrote a lot of the songs for this band but unlike him, they let Clark actually sing on most of them. Eventually, because he was making more money on the publishing the other guys came to resent him. When his fear of flying got too bad, they booted him from the band, likely because of that built up enmity. As Roger said to him, “If you can’t fly you can’t be a Byrd.” Which for some reason makes me think of the TV show ‘WKRP in Cincinnati quote, “my hand to god I thought turkeys could fly.”

Once booted from the Byrds, Gene Clark started a solo career that can only be described as “star-crossed.” Coincidentally while I was mining all this music from Laurel Canyon – the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds – the record company 4AD released a deluxe, three-CD version of Clark’s album No Other. The serendipity of my listening to the Byrds for the first time in a long, long time and Clark’s album being rereleased was irresistible to me. I listen to the deluxe version of No Other and was completely, utterly blown away. How in the world was this not a smash hit? The phrase, “overlooked masterpiece” or “forgotten masterpiece” is used a lot nowadays but it completely applies here. This is a stone cold classic record that until a month ago I’d never even heard of it let alone heard it. I had barely heard of Gene Clark… I knew there were two guys in the Byrds named Clark (or Clarke) but I thought they were just like Duran Duran where everybody had the last name Taylor.

I came to discover that Clark released a series of fabulous albums that nobody listened to or purchased. I’ve sampled Roadmaster and White Light (aka Gene Clark) and I can’t believe this guy’s name isn’t whispered in the same reverent tones as Neil Young or Gram Parsons (who later joined the Byrds after Clark’s departure before forming the Flying Burrito Brothers). Gram Parsons wanted to fuse country and rock and roll into a “new American music,” but Gene Clark was actually able to do so. I guess since Gram hung out with Keith Richards  he got more publicity. The Eagles, who Parsons hated, owe more of a debt to Clark, based on what I’ve heard. They even covered his song, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and Bernie Leadon played with Clark a little. I think I can say, unequivocally, that Gene Clark may be the most under appreciated man in rock and roll.

In 1974, after a brief Byrds reunion album, Clark signed to Asylum records, led by the notorious dick, David Geffen. Clark chose producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye who was notorious for cost overruns. They spent the then unheard of sum of $100k (over $500k in today’s dollars) to record No Other. When Geffen heard it, furious about the cost, he refused to promote it. The album was basically stillborn. Geffen also said, he couldn’t hear a single…kind of like the guy who rejected Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The people who played on this album are pretty impressive. The guys who later backed up Jackson Browne and Don Henley are here – Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Craig Doerge (piano), Russ Kunkel drums and Leland Sklar (bass). Jesse Ed Davis who sat in with Rod and the Faces plays some guitar. Pre-Eagles Timothy B. Schmidt shows up to sing back up vocals. Butch Trucks from the Allman’s plays drums on a track. Hell, ex-bandmate Chris Hillman plays on a track. Rumors were that Sly Stone was hanging out at some of the sessions… and there is a funk vibe on some of these tracks. It’s pretty damn impressive.

Clark, raised a Christian, had veered toward Zen and Buddhism and the lyrics here reflect that. I think the songs are deeply rich in meaning. There’s a soulfulness here that really drew me in. His singing throughout is plaintive. He’s got an amazing voice. The music veers from country to folk to borderline prog rock. The album starts out with the country weeper “Life’s Greatest Fool.” It’s a track with hard learned truths… “Children laugh and run away while others stare into the darkness of the day.” I’m surprised the Eagles didn’t take a crack at this one. The second track, “Silver Raven” is a beautiful acoustic track that literally, fucking soars. The title track is the one that borders on prog-rock and funk. It’s got a great keyboard/guitar riff that fuels the track. Clark’s voice is slightly distorted. The lyrics are the trippiest and most spiritual, “If the falling tide can turn and then recover, all alone we must be part of one another.” To my ears, “No Other” was the single. It comes with a great guitar solo. “Strength of Strings” is another soaring track. When Clark sings, “Fiery rain and rubies cooling in the sun,” it’s epic. There’s an almost Native American vibe, it’s incantatory.

What would have been side two starts with “From A Silver Phial.” It’s another beautiful, country-rock/folk-rock track. It’s just a wonderful ballad. It also could have been a single. “Some Misunderstanding” is a great mid tempo track that makes me think of Young’s “Out on the Weekend.” It’s plaintive and haunting. “True One” is an upbeat country rock tune. The album ends on another epic, “Lady of the North” written for Clark’s wife who’d stayed up in North California while he recorded and partied in L.A.

That’s the original album… the deluxe material is all interesting. It’s different versions of the tracks that ended up on the album. All of the tracks are complete. Some you hear Clark directing the band or calling out to band members. It’s a fascinating look into the man’s creative process. There are two versions “Train Leaves Here Tomorrow” on the deluxe version of the album. I can’t help but wonder, if he’d completed that one, maybe that could have been the single. This is all just fantastic music. There were rumors this was meant to be a double-album, but there’s nothing here that isn’t on the original record.

When Geffen pulled support and this album tanked, it hurt Clark, badly. He never recovered really. The booze and drugs took off. He lived until 1991, but things were never quite the same for him. Commerce was not his friend. I can’t help but again compare this guy to Neil Young. The writing and the music was all there but for Clark, no one listened. Thankfully we all have a chance to revisit his masterpiece, No Other. If you’ve heard Gene Clark, you know. If you haven’t, you need to check this guy out. Having just written about Leonard Cohen (LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy) and Iggy Pop (LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn) at least now I’m writing about someone who is a beautiful singer!

It’s a dark ride folks, be good to each other!

 

Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen

HagarVH

*Images taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

The dreaded Holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving on the books, we can now officially shift our focus to Christmas. Actually once Halloween hit, the stores shifted their focus to Christmas so I guess we’re behind schedule? Ah, unchecked materialism’s high holy season. The Holidays seem interminable. I have long ago confessed my feelings about the Holiday season, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. I will say, meeting the Rock Chick aka Mrs. Claus has helped turn my Xmas attitude to a more positive place. I will also admit, I’m a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I show up, drink a bunch of wine, eat a bunch of turkey and sit drowsily in front of football games on television. I give thanks knowing not everybody can celebrate like that these days. Other than St. Patrick’s Day, where I go out and drink in the streets with the rabble, you can’t beat Thanksgiving.

The Holidays can be seen, through a gimlet eye, as a mini-family reunion of sorts. On Thanksgiving, we always head over to my parents’ house. I see my brother, an in-law or two, and my aunt and uncle. They’re all great people. It’s a nice, small, controlled group. We all had enough practice veering the conversation away from politics in the Bush era that there aren’t any screaming fits accompanied by thrown plates anymore. And in our defense, that only happened once and it wasn’t in the presence of my Sainted Mother, thank God. Invariably, this small gathering of relatives and occasional stragglers turns the conversation to reunions.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s family has been having family reunions every August. I’ve never understood the need to get everybody together on an annual basis, but hey, it’s what they do. And then they talk about the reunion for the rest of the fucking year. It’s inescapable. When I was a kid, like 12, every year I was drug out to a little farm house on the outskirts of a small town in Southeastern Kansas that was filled with people. I was a shy kid and going to this reunion was like watching someone give a cat a bath…unpleasant doesn’t cover it. My parents procreated right out of the chute – I was born 9 months after the honeymoon. Nobody else had kids with that kind of alacrity. The family reunions consisted of adults – from their 30’s to their 90s – and children who were infants to kids maybe 5 or 6. And then there was me… I was right in the middle. Not adult enough to get drunk with these semi-strangers, not young enough to play with the kiddos. My brother, the old soul that he is, would sit with the 90 year olds and talk about the heat. For me, it was 12 hours of wandering around a large farmyard, or across the street to a strip-pit (created by coal mining) that was basically a small lake that we weren’t allowed to swim in. The strip-pit’s water glimmered in front of us like the window of a closed ice cream shop. Cool and wonderful in the August heat but you couldn’t get in. I had nothing to do out there.

This has naturally colored my opinion of reunions of any kind in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I discovered that many rock bands have reunions that I realized there could be positive reunions. I’ve never even attended a High School reunion. And believe me, there have been plenty of opportunities, I graduated a long time ago. I grew up in Kansas City, but on the Kansas side, then moved to the Missouri side as an “adult”… It’s like I moved to Paris. I never see any of those people, but I know they’re out there just over the state line. I went by my 10 year reunion only to meet a friend. I thought we’d slip away from the maddening crowd and get a beer only to find out my friend had gone sober on me which was bracing because the guy could really party back in the day. I ended up sitting in a hotel room surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by sleeping children. It’s not that I was upset about it, but when I was that young, children frightened me. I still demure when someone wants me to hold a baby… I fear I’ll break it. I figure I’ve stayed in touch with anybody I wanted to from high school and I don’t need to hit the reunion circuit to compare myself and how I’ve done with everybody else still standing.

The only reunions I’m down for involve rock and roll bands. I was so immersed in music as a teenager and young adult, it felt that these guys (and gals) I was reading about in liner notes and Rolling Stone were like friends of mine. I was emotionally invested in these bands and many of their members. I certainly feel that way about the Stones. I recently saw that the feuding Robinson brothers have reunited the Black Crowes for a tour next summer. I greet that as good news. Motley Crue caused a ruckus when they announced they’re taking back the “no more tours” contract they all signed to much fanfare and are going on tour next year. I say bravo! We need kick ass hard rock in our lives. Many people long for bands to reunite, get back together, record and tour… Wasn’t it Billy Joel who once sang, “Oh baby you got nothing to play on your stereo, “Why don’t the Beatles get back together.””

I have people all the time who say, usually in a bar, “I wish XYZ band would get back together. I never got to see them.” I personally prefer these old bands record a little something new… if the chemistry is there, fuck radio, record an LP. Motley Crue had three or four good, new tracks on ‘The Dirt’ soundtrack. Hell, yes! However, even though I enjoy a band reunion as much as the next rock n roll fan, and certainly much more than a family or high school reunion, I’m pragmatic about it. There are just some bands who are never gonna get back together. While I’d love to see anybody on this list reunite even just to tour, I fear it’s just not gonna happen. I’m here with a wake-up call for you rock n roll dreamers. If any of these bands are on your Rock Reunion Wish List, alas, I’m afraid you’re not gonna see them. I limited this list to bands who have all or at least a majority of their key members still alive… I don’t have the Beatles on here as its only Paul and Ringo now. As much as I love Ringo (Peace and Love), without John Lennon or George Harrison, it ain’t much of a reunion. If a band has all original members on this side of the dirt, one has to wonder why won’t they try and make it work again? Whether it’s egos, money or chemistry gone sour, these bands just aren’t going to stage that reunion.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Even Pete Townshend said recently, “Robert (Plant) would make a lot of people happy if he’d just agree to a reunion tour.” While true, I think Plant has refused to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Zeppelin tour because he fears the massive expectations that come with it. I loved the 2012 Celebration Day concert/album…they’ve still got the fire. Jason Bonham, John’s son filled in admirably. Plant won’t even record with Alison Krauss because they had such wild success he can’t face those expectations. He’s never coming around on this.
  2. Pink Floyd – After years of slagging David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright, Roger Waters has pursued a reunion with these guys like a teenage boy pursing a cheerleader on prom night. Gilmour has wisely refused save for a 1 off concert years ago. With Wright gone it’s likely too late. But lets face it – there’s no way Gilmour is going to forgive the hateful shit Waters has said over the years.
  3. Van Halen – Roth can’t sing anymore. Not that he ever really could. The last time I saw these guys Roth looked like he’d had a lobotomy. Dr Rock once described their live album as sounding like a “pet store burning down.” Eddie and Alex Van Halen have become the Howard Hugheses of rock n roll… who knows wtf those guys are doing. Eddie has even bagged on Michael Anthony, the only nice guy in the band. Hell, I don’t think the the VH brothers would even entertain working with Sammy again. Sad, indeed, sad.
  4. The Faces – Rod’s management has him focused on money, money, money. It’s a shame he Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and while still alive Ian McLagan couldn’t have worked it out. Even with Ian gone, I’d have rather heard a Faces record than this symphonic crap Rod just put out. It’s just too late. Ronnie Lane has been gone a long time too… maybe that’s why Rod refused… but my gut feel is his management was demanding the lion’s share of the money. Sigh.
  5. No Doubt – I saw these guys in concert with the Rock Chick and fell in love with this band. Great bass, drums and guitar… alas Gwen Stefani is more focused on building her own brand and cosmetic surgery to actually commit to her original band.
  6. R.E.M. – After recording two great, late period albums these guys called it quits with more of an exhausted sigh than a bang. They seem content to just release archival stuff,  and revisiting old albums and the accompanying bonus material. They all still get along and Bill Berry is still knocking around out there. It’s baffling but these guys seem done.
  7. Rush – The same story for R.E.M. could be told for Rush. The Prog-Rock giants did their last tour and that was it. I read that Neil Peart doesn’t even have a drum kit in his house anymore. Geddy has written a book and is doing a book tour… Alex Lifeson is likely loaded somewhere in Canada. They were great the last time I saw them but as the kids say, “they done.”
  8. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m not a huge fan of these guys, I actually prefer Simon on his own. But these guys were old friends… I hate too see this kind of animosity near the end.
  9. The White Stripes – Sure, I love Jack White on his own and with the Raconteurs (LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’) but I miss that primal White Stripes’ sound, driven by Meg White’s drum… Come home Meg, all is forgiven. She’s the Greta Garbo of rock, she wants to be alone.
  10. CSNY – I don’t think anybody will talk to Crosby, let alone work with him. He’s even admitted what an asshole he is. When Young left his wife for Darryl Hannah, Crosby was vocally critical. Hint: Don’t bag on your friends squeeze if you ever wanna see them again… trust me on this one, I learned the hard way.
  11. Oasis – Despite Liam’s begging Noel will never work with him again. Liam actually questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. I have loved Liam’s two solo records but he’s a terribly unpleasant man… don’t ever air guitar in the front row at his show, he’s brutal.
  12. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – For odd reasons Rod turned his back on the Faces but has always been receptive to working with Beck. Jeff even showed up and played a 5 or 6 set encore at Rod’s last Hollywood Bowl show. I’d love to hear these guys tear into some blues, with or without Ronnie Wood on bass. Jeff Beck is just too much of a stubborn asshole to make something substantial happen.
  13. Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham – Stevie Nicks is now the spiritual leader of this band. It would appear that her distaste for Buckingham has spelled his doom with this band. He also recently had surgery that may have damaged his vocal chords… I hope not. He’ll never work with Fleetwood Mac as long as Stevie is alive.
  14. Guns N Roses – I was delighted Axl finally reconciled with Slash and Duff. I get that Steven addled Adler doesn’t have the chops anymore but I’d sure like to see Izzy Stradlin back in this band. He was one of the key cogs in the songwriting and if they ever want to do a new album, they need him. From what I hear, the evil money is the reason they won’t let Izzy come back. They offered him a salary vs a full cut not the ‘Not In Our Lifetime’ tour.
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers & John Frusciante – Come back John, we need you. They wouldn’t even have to fire Josh, they could morph into a 5 piece. I think Josh is a better rhythm player anyway and then Frusciante wouldn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Never going to happen though. Frusciante, rock and roll’s Vincent Van Gogh is clearly never coming back and it appears the Peppers have moved on albeit in a less rocking direction.

Those are my top 15 bands I’d love to see reunite who, alas, will never get back together? Who are yours? Let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!