Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’

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“I had a dream.”

I was surprised to find out only last week that for the first time since I started working for my corporate masters, the entire company was given MLK Day off as a day of vacation and remembrance to honor a truly great man. It was a long time coming but I consider it progress. I was doubly surprised when I saw that Roger Waters had released a version of he and his band playing a socially distanced version of an old Pink Floyd song, “The Gunner’s Dream.” He released the black and white video of the song in honor of Dr. King and the holiday but also in honor of a Russian Colonel, Stanislav Petrov. Petrov was in the Russian nuclear defense early detection program. In 1982 the early nuclear detection system in Russia indicated, falsely, that the U.S. had launched anywhere from one to several nuclear missiles toward Russia. Colonel Petrov realized it was a false alarm and prevented a Russian retaliatory strike which would have likely started WW III…by mistake. One might say the Colonel saved the world that day.  I don’t normally comment on YouTube videos here at B&V, but in this particular instance, “The Gunner’s Dream” happens to be one of my all time favorite Pink Floyd songs and I believe it merits comment. Hearing it again, freshly done, does take me back…

If you were listening to rock and roll in the 70s there was a virtual smorgasbord of styles and rock bands to choose from. Fads came and went but there were only two bands whose names were whispered with an almost Holy, quiet reverence: Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. These bands were seemingly immune from the churn of fads and fashion. They were simply put, the coolest bands out there. Those two bands had to have made a fortune on selling black-light posters, let alone for their music. By the end of the 70s Led Zeppelin had tragically lost their drummer and sadly, disbanded. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, released their magnum opus, The Wall in November of 1979. That album was huge. Everyone I know loved that record. It was only the second double-LP I ever purchased. You couldn’t claim to be a rock n roll fan and not own The Wall. We listened to that rock opera the way earlier generations listened to The Beatles (aka The White Album) looking for clues…”You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.” The album told the story of a rock star, the fictional Pink (based loosely on the lives of Syd Barrett and bassist/lyricist Roger Waters). Pink loses his father in the war, has a smothering mother, awful teachers but becomes a rock star only to lose his mind and build a metaphoric wall around himself. I know that’s a lot to take on, but it was the 70s, man, it just made sense. 

I was in my freshman year of college by the time Pink Floyd managed to release their next LP, The Final Cut in April of 1983. It came out during the one semester I spent away from my beloved Kansas State University. I was attending the University of Kansas – which I did for only one semester, which I refer to as “the dark semester” – when The Final Cut was released. While I wasn’t crazy about the first single, “Your Possible Past” I bought the album the day it came out. If David Gilmour was playing guitar I figured, sign me up, it’s Pink Floyd. There was bound to be a bit of a letdown after The Wall, and I was initially disappointed with The Final Cut. Bad things were happening in my life at KU and this was just another blow. I remember this guy from Chicago who lived in my friend Doug’s dorm saying, “this is the album where Roger Waters finally got to say everything he’s always wanted to say.” I’m not sure about that but the album did grow on me. 

The Final Cut had a difficult birth. Originally they had a bunch of songs left over from the sessions for The Wall that they were going to use for the film adaption of the album. They were also going to cut a few new songs for it as well. Then conservative Maggie Thatcher became Prime Minister and promptly went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Waters began to write protest music about the Falkland Islands war and the conservative government causing a lot of conflict within the band, especially Gilmour. It wasn’t about the politics, Gilmour just didn’t think the material was very good. Waters had already forced out original member/keyboardist Rick Wright after The Wall. It was clear his controlling ways were getting the best of him. The album was subtitled, “The Requiem For The Post War Dream by Roger Waters.” It felt to me like a Waters’ solo album – he sang almost every song – with Pink Floyd’s name on it to sell the thing. The story was, indeed, disjointed. The album is dedicated to Roger’s father who was lost in WW II and I think that story feeds some of the narrative. 

All of that said, there were moments on this album where that old Pink Floyd magic came through. There were a number of songs I really connected with almost immediately. The title track, which sounds like the sequel to The Wall, was an early favorite. I liked the final song, “Two Suns In the Sunset,” which Waters ended with at his performance of The Wall at the Berlin Wall (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990). There were two songs on side one that I felt were the heart of the album. It starts with “The Hero’s Return” that tells the story of a war veteran whose returned from the war and became a teacher. The former soldier clearly has PTSD and holds a memory that he can’t even talk with his wife about, “Sweetheart, sweetheart, are you fast asleep? Good, that’s the only time I can really speak to you.” He goes on to describe the memory that “is too painful to withstand the light of day.” His plane had been hit and the gunner fell to his death…he sings at the end of the song, “the memory smolders on of the gunner’s dying words on the intercom.” In my head I had this thought of the gunner falling through space, but still on the intercom and the narrator from the “The Hero’s Return” listens to what he has to say all the way down… all of that is prelude to what I think is one of Pink Floyd’s greatest songs, “The Gunner’s Dream.”  

“The Gunner’s Dream” is simply what the gunner says as he’s falling to his death. The opening stanza gives me goosebumps…”Falling down, through the clouds… memories come rushing up to meet me now.” As the Gunner falls to his death, in that “space between the heavens and the corner of some foreign field,” he has a dream that he shares over the intercom. He imagines his mother and maybe a brother at his funeral service. Then he simply lays out a beautiful dream for everyone: “A place to stay, enough to eat, somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street.” It’s a world where no one is hungry, everyone has a home and war is a memory. In the Gunner’s dream no one is afraid to speak or scared to be free any more. “No one ever disappears, you never hear the standard issue (boot) kicking in your door.” A world where there isn’t authoritarianism or militarism. It’s a beautiful thought for this old hippy wannabe. It’s a perfect song for these times…”and no one kills the children any more.” 

If you haven’t checked out this performance yet, I urge you to do so. It’s an obscure, fantastic Pink Floyd song and this is a great performance of the song. “We cannot just write off his final scene, Take heed of the dream, Take heed.” Waters starts at the piano and the rest of the band kicks in…here’s the link:

Cheers! 

 

 

Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs

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*Image from the internet and likely subject to copyright

I was musing in last week’s post regarding a local/regional band (Sunset Sinners: Poised For Big 2021, New Music On The Way) about how much I miss live music. I don’t just miss going to arenas and stadiums for big time shows, I also miss going to the local pub and hearing someone busking in the corner for tips. I haven’t checked out a lot of the stuff that artists are doing online via Zoom during lockdown, alas. I hear Sammy Hagar and the Circle did some cool covers (Who, Zeppelin) last year and are going to release a compilation album of those tracks this year. While all that online stuff sounds cool, nothing replaces the experience of being in a hot, sweaty room with a crowd of people in front of the altar of rock n’ roll, the stage. I don’t care if its Arrowhead Stadium or a dive bar, there’s just something about looking the artist in the eyes (even if it is on a big screen) and seeing them perform the music I love that hits my lower brain stem. Like Pavlov’s dogs you hit a guitar chord and I drool.

I know that live music is a luxury for many of us. I realize there are a lot of people who are suffering – they miss having a job, paying rent or having enough money to feed their families. My heart goes out to those people and I do not mean to make light of anything in these pages, we’re merely here as a distraction from the grim reality of this point in history. That said, there are many other things that I have missed in this interminable lockdown other than concerts. I miss seeing friends of mine especially the ones who have dispersed far and wide. I miss being able to travel to see people. Hell, you could say I just miss travel for travel’s sake. Road trips in the car seem like a remote memory. I used to love to look out the passenger window as the Rock Chick drove at her preferred excessive speed and watch the landscape fly by… it felt like I was leaving the ground, although that may be the bourbon flask talking… Hell, I’ve only driven out to see my sainted mother two or three times since last March. I will say, I don’t miss shaking hands – I’m not a germaphobe, its just archaic. I certainly miss having things to do on weekends. Even I have a limit to how long I can sit on the couch and watch TV… well, at least that’s what I’m telling the Rock Chick. During my annual Dry January, boredom seems to affect me more than it has in the past few months.

One of the things that I seem to miss most these days is the time honored tradition of driving down to the local  mall, wandering through the crowd to the cineplex and buying tickets to a movie. Before they started doing the whole “reserved” seats thing we would have to leave really early to be there to dash through the darkened aisles to get to that perfect seat – right in the middle, 2/3 of the way back from the screen – the Rock Chick has very…exact… coordinates for these things. I will admit that ever since the local theaters stopped selling my favorite go-to candy Hot Tamales, movies have lost a little bit of their luster. I typically had consumed the entire box before the “coming attractions” started. I don’t know why they stopped selling those, but if you work at a theater and are reading this, please do something about that. I don’t like Milk Duds, they stick to my teeth but I digress.

I’ve been a fan of movies since I was a little kid. When you went to the theater and they dimmed the lights you would be transported (if the movie was any good) anywhere from a “long time ago in a galaxy far away” to the gritty streets of New York or Paris or London. The movies could take you into the future or backward into some mysterious past. Only books have had more of an effect on my imagination and enjoyment of the world than the movies. You could see cowboys, astronauts, Jedi, spies, heroes, villains, wizards… anything you can think of, or as a kid, anything you wished you could be. I love those epic stories – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, anything that has multiple chapters. No matter how good, bad or indifferent life was, two hours in a dark theater was just the break your brain needed from the humdrum of day to day existence. I could be moved from laughter to tears to being anxiously perched on the edge of my seat all in the course of 2 hours. Ah, to be entertained.

My father is a big James Bond fan. I can still remember him loading my mother, my brother and me into the car and heading out to the Twin Drive-In, out off I-35 near Olathe. My brother and I were in our pj’s, since we’d likely fall asleep during the second movie of the double feature. We’d find our spot and pull the speaker into the car and watch James Bond foil the designs of bad guys like Goldfinger or Dr. No. These movies had probably been out for years at the time, but my dad would always attend a James Bond double-feature, no matter when or where. Of course, later in life the Drive-In became a den of iniquity for me and whoever I could miraculously talk into being my date. We’d swing by the liquor store to get some beer, maybe take a pizza out there… those records are sealed. I will say one summer I went to the movie Tron at the drive-in four times and to this day I have no idea what happens in that movie? I’ve never seen it. 

As I got older, besides the whole misbehavior at the drive-in thing, I discovered an entire subculture at the midnight movies! None of that PG stuff at midnight… we all wanted that rated R stuff, the “good” stuff. The first time I talked my parents into letting me attend a midnight movie I saw Blazing Saddles. I laughed so hard I almost had to leave the theater. There were other great, subversive flicks like Kentucky Fried Movie. Who can forget “Catholic High School Girls In Trouble?” It was at the midnight movies that I faced the seminal experience of my generation in the Rite of Passage that all rock n roll stoners, er I mean high school kids go through when I saw the epic Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Critics may have hated that movie but for high school kids it was high art…those fantasy sequences, simply mind blowing back then! There may have been drink or herbal remedies involved in that whole Zeppelin situation. There was all manner of cool shit at the midnight movies from (believe it or not) porn to rock n roll to comedy. My love of Monty Python movies stems from those midnight flicks. I loved the midnight movies and all the skeevy folks who were there… like me and my friends.

One of my fondest midnight movie experiences was the animated flick, Heavy Metal. It was a bizarre, fantasy rock and roll cartoon. I think it might have been based on a graphic novel-magazine (comic book) of the same name. There was so much music in that cartoon. They had not one but two acts do different theme songs – Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” and Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride).” Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick and believe it or not Grand Funk Railroad all have songs in this movie… for reasons unclear, even Stevie Nicks shows up with a solo track. I guess that movie would qualify as a musical – a movie format that I loathe. Perhaps because it was rock n roll I didn’t realize what was happening. Either way, I’m not sure if it was that movie that gave me an appreciation of great music in movies or if that appreciation was always there. Regardless, over the years I’ve always kept my ears keenly attuned to hear any rock and roll that might be included in a movie. I don’t buy soundtracks as a general rule, but every now and then you hear a song by an artist that isn’t on an LP that you know you’ve gotta have. It’s easier now with streaming and MP3s… but as a youngster, the struggle was real. Who wants to buy a whole soundtrack album for one song? I remember hearing Jackson Browne singing “Somebody’s Baby” in Fast Times At Ridgemont High and thinking, that’s a great song, what album is that on? Alas, it wasn’t on any Jackson Browne album at the time…

As I pondered the snowy, grey and cold expanse of January, my least favorite month, I started to put together a list of tracks in my head that I’ve always liked that debuted on soundtrack. If I can’t go to a movie I’ll listen to music from movies… I’m not talking about a great song used well in a movie. Yes, Say Anything had a great use of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” but that song had already been out for a while on Gabriel’s So. Who can forget the fabulous use of Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” in Better Off Dead, when a cheeseburger plays guitar? But that song had already been out on Women And Children First prior to that. What I’m talking about are songs that were either written specifically for the movie (ie, the two Heavy Metal tracks above) or were originally used and heard in a movie. If a track an artist contributes to a movie becomes a hit, yes the track usually ends up on a Greatest Hits or compilation package, but for purposes of this playlist I’m talking songs that debuted, if you will, in a movie. What I like about artists doing movie tracks is they often take chances. They’ll do an odd cover song. It’s a one-off track and they seem to add a little extra to those songs. Sometimes the band is just inspired or moved by the story in the movie and they dig deeper. There have been a ton of good rock tracks in the James Bond series – and I’m not talking that Shirley Bassey, jazzy/horns stuff like “Goldfinger” or “Diamonds Are Forever.” Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that – I can often be heard belting out either of those tunes from the shower… For years I thought she sang “The Man With The Golden Gun” too, but I guess that was Lulu. I do have several Bond tracks on my list because hey man, BourbonAndVinyl is licensed to kill… with rock and roll. 

As I compiled this list I also included songs from movies that the bands filmed, which seems like cheating. The Beatles did two movies. Elvis did an infinite number of flicks, curse you Colonel Tom. I included some tracks that would have been hits by Prince anyway but they were in his movies. Queen did a couple of soundtracks. I think I even have a track from Motley Crue’s The Dirt on here. If there are other great tracks that made their debut in a film, please mention them in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist, BourbonAndVinyl.net Missing The Movies: Favorite Soundtrack Songs, linked below. Like all of our playlists this isn’t meant to be exhaustive… it’s just our favorites. It’s always best to hit “shuffle” or “random” when playing these playlists, in my humble opinion. I will admit, fully, I’m disappointed that many of my choices for this – about half a dozen – were not available on Spotify and so I omitted them here. 

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – Such a great opening song from the movie. I love this blues song. 
  2. Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – The King… I could have chosen dozens of songs or just done a list of his movie songs, but I limited myself to only two…this one had to be one of them. 
  3. U2, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet – From the obscure flick, The Million Dollar Hotel. One of their all time great deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary ). 
  4. The Beatles, “Help!” – They did two films, one in color, one in black and white. This was the color film. 
  5. Queen, “Princes of the Universe” – From the great Highlander film that I watched 1000 times in college. 
  6. Joe Walsh, “In the City” – Before he recorded it with the Eagles Joe did a solo version of this track and it played over the opening sequence of Warriors during a shot of a ferris wheel lighting up on Coney Island. 
  7. Sammy Hagar, “Heavy Metal” – This was on Standing Hampton but I will always insist I heard it in the Heavy Metal midnight movie. 
  8. Motley Crue, “The Dirt (Est 1981)” – Title track from the biopic (Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack). 
  9. David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – You have to get the original version from the soundtrack, not the reworked version on Let’s Dance.  
  10. Prince, “Kiss” – From Under the Cherry Moon, the less successful follow up to Purple Rain
  11. Stevie Nicks, “Free Fallin'” – Never heard of this movie but fitting that Nicks, an honorary member of the Heartbreakers, would cover it. 
  12. Metallica, “I Disappear” – Great track from one of the twenty or thirty Mission Impossible movies. 
  13. The Donnas, “Dancing With Myself” – The all girl group tackles the Billy Idol classic. 
  14. Bruce Springsteen, “Missing” – This version is from a movie Sean Penn directed, The Crossing Guard and it shares a title with a similar song from The Rising. This is a different and fabulous track. 
  15. Bruce Springsteen, “Streets of Philadelphia” – The Boss won an Oscar for this track. 
  16. Pearl Jam, “Love Reign O’er Me” – Like I said, a lot of great covers on this list. 
  17. Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed” – One of his great late career tracks. It has one of my favorite Dylan lines, “don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passing through…”
  18. Elvis Presley, “Viva Las Vegas” – Covered by ZZ Top and Springsteen among many others, still owned by the King.
  19. Paul Simon, “One Trick Pony” – Title track from the movie. I could have chosen “Late In the Evening” but this song has always appealed to me. 
  20. Lenny Kravitz, “American Woman” – Another Austin Powers highlight that ended up on later, expanded versions of Lenny’s LP, 5.
  21. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – Paging Batman… 
  22. Prince, “When Doves Cry” – The first hit from Purple Rain
  23. Duran Duran, “A Time To A Kill” – Finally some Bond action here! 
  24. Paul McCartney, “No More Lonely Nights” – Awful movie, awful soundtrack but I like David Gilmour’s lead guitar on this song. 
  25. Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – From Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Covered by GnR, Warren Zevon and Clapton to name but a few. 
  26. Blondie, “Call Me” – From American Gigolo, a movie I’m proud to admit I snuck into whilst underage. 
  27. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe” – Apple’s understated yet supple version… can’t beat a Beatles’ cover. 
  28. Soundgarden, “Live To Rise” – I know nothing about the movie this came from but what a great Soundgarden song. 
  29. Jackson Browne, “Somebody’s Baby” – Shamelessly pop, but I’ve always loved this track about the underdog asking the pretty girl on a date… maybe to the drive-in to see Tron? 
  30. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul To Squeeze” – Technically this was released as a B-side before its inclusion on The Coneheads soundtrack but that inclusion is what got it noticed. 
  31. AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From an Ahnold Schwarzenegger film. 
  32. Guns N Roses, “Sympathy For The Devil” – From Interview With A Vampire… I never thought Tom Cruise made a convincing Lestat, for the record. 
  33. Jon Bon Jovi, “Blaze Of Glory” – I’m not a huge Bon Jovi fan but I always liked this solo track from a western. 
  34. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all….” 
  35. Eddie Vedder, “Hard Sun” – From a soundtrack LP the Rock Chick gave me for my birthday one year. 
  36. Bob Seger, “Understanding” – Another great Seger track. 
  37. The Donnas, “Roll On Down The Highway” – Appropriate cover for the remake of Herbie (the love bug). 
  38. Greta Van Fleet, “Always There” – A track I wrote about, Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”
  39. The Beatles, “Hard Day’s Night” – From the black and white movie… 
  40. David Bowie, “As The World Falls Down” – A weird little track from Labyrinth that I always liked. 
  41. Don Felder, “Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride)” – Ah, take me back to those midnight movies… 
  42. Starcrawler, “Pet Semetary” – Ramones cover from my favorite new band! 
  43. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Live And Let Die” – The greatest of all Bond film theme songs. 
  44. Mick Jagger, “Old Habits Die Hard” – From the Alfie remake. 
  45. Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” – Cornell could literally everything. From acoustic to metal to this… Can’t believe he’s gone. 

That’s my list folks. Again, if you have any adds, hit me in the comments and I’ll add it to the Spotify playlist.

It’s been a crazy start to 2021, but I’m hoping things mellow out and I see you all at concerts and record stores in the near future. Cheers! 

Sunset Sinners: Poised For Big 2021, New Music On The Way

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As longtime B&V readers know, we like to support local music (B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish). Doing that – supporting local music, or music of any kind – was difficult in 2020. Gone were concerts. Gone was going out to the local tavern, plopping down ten bucks for a cover charge, grabbing a brew and squeezing into an open space to listen to some live music. I miss standing awash in the roar of a crowd, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder in front of a stage on a jam-packed floor while some guitarist attempts to melt my face off. I think the last show I saw live was Starcrawler and Arrow de Wilde spit water on me at the end of the show (Concert Review: Starcrawler, 10/14/2019, At Kansas City’s Riot Room – Punk Rock Rag Doll Delivers). Try to imagine that happening now in the age of COVID? No more spitting, young lady.

A few years ago I met a guy at a Black Sabbath concert through a mutual friend who has been referred to since then in these pages as “Drummer Blake” (Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse). Immediately upon getting to know him, I realized that “Drummer” Blake Blackim was a man who took his rock and roll seriously. He hailed from Salina, Kansas and was in a band named Rockgarden. Rockgarden was in the process of winding things down, the lead singer was moving away, the band was splitting up. In subsequent conversations Blake admitted to me that he had been ruminating on some songwriting ideas and was itching to get a new band together. Over beers and shots of whiskey at the Quaff, a local watering hole, he showed me some nascent lyrics. I was impressed. After a false start on a new band, Blake texted to say he had a new lineup and they were called the Sunset Sinners. Little did I realize what a force they would become.

The Sunset Sinners arose from the Kansas prairie seemingly out of nowhere, like the tornadoes so often seen wreaking havoc on small, rural communities. The four men who came together to form the Sunset Sinners – Blake Blackim on drums, Chris Brungardt on guitar, Tony Bowell on vocals/guitar, and Brad Johnson on bass – came together around a sound. They call that sound Whiskey Barrel Rock. You won’t find these cats playing synth – or any keyboards for that matter – this is a good ol’ fashion guitar band. The sound, to me, conjures up the Black Crowes or the Georgia Satellites. It’s got a dash of country as well. But again, make no mistake, it’s guitars out front. Lead guitarist Chris Brungardt, who is the only member outside of drummer Blake I’ve personally met, absolutely shreds on lead. His solo’s will grab you but if you pay close attention there is a lot of great slide guitar all over the Sinners’ tracks, like “Always Time For One More Beer” (New Single: The Sunset Sinners “Always Time For One More Beer”). His crazy mad guitar skills are locked down by the thunderous rhythm section of Blackim and bassist Brad Johnson. All of this is the perfect platform for Tony Bowell’s vocals. The chemistry in this band is palpable – they’re serious about the music but they’re having a really fucking good time making it – and that comes across in their videos:

For me, a music fanatic, it has been fun to get an inside glimpse at a band’s creative process… well from up here in the cheap seats, anyway. To see them start with some lyrical ideas and progress to demos then to finished tracks has been a fascinating journey for me. To follow their songs from ideation to full release shows how much work it is to put together a record that sounds great. They sings songs about partying but those good times are always tinged with just a touch of regret. I read somewhere once that the reason the character of Tony Soprano was so interesting on ‘The Sopranos’ was not because he was a gangster but because he felt bad about it. The Sinners ethos is all fun, all the time but they too, maybe don’t feel bad about it, but carry that great, “Oh shit, what am I doing?” vibe that everyone can universally relate to. They’re kind of like Vegas… what happens with the Sinners, stays with the Sinners. I love the whole vibe of this band.

I caught up with Drummer Blake recently and he said the concert-less 2020 gave the band a lot of time to work on new material. I suppose a lot of bands were put in that position, unable to tour so they wrote songs… at least I hope so. I’m hoping 2021 leaves us flooded with new music. We could actually see a debut album from the Sinners later this year. Following up their two singles, “Always Time For One More Beer” and “Friday Night” the band is planning to release a new single “Act Your Age,” a James Gang style funky country rocker this month on January 15th. The Sinners have a big first responder, military following and they’ve got a great new song on the way, coming around March 1st entitled “Old Glory” to honor those folks and from what I’ve heard that one should be a crowd favorite. I have to admit to you, my favorite Sinners track is “Way To Go.” The track reminds me of the Georgia Satellites. I especially like Tony’s vocal on this track.

While we love local music down here at B&V, I don’t think the Sunset Sinners are going to be a “local,” regional band for much longer. They are apparently getting a lot of traction in France and their track “Friday Night” has entered the UK Indie Country Chart at number 1. I happen to know they’re getting some airplay in Australia as well. From doing B&V for a while now, I can testify to how many rock and roll fans there are out there from Salina to Paris to Canberra.

While I was hoping things would get significantly better in 2021, we hit a bit of snag out of the gates on Wednesday. There’s nowhere else to go but up from here, folks. And speaking of upwards, so too with the Sunset Sinners, I really think this band has a great future. If the Sinners’ music doesn’t get you up and wanting to party, you’ve been self-isolating too long. Anybody who wants to get in on the ground floor of this great sounding band – jump on and check out their stuff on Spotify. I’m hoping all this new music they have planned is merely the tip of the iceberg for us here at B&V and other bands are busy putting the finishing touches on new music… Let’s blow the dust off that shitty 2020 with some loud rock and roll because, you know, there really is “always time for one more beer…”

Cheers! Here’s to a better year in 2021.

B&V’s Best of 2020: New LPs And Live/Vault/Archival Releases, Bad Year/Good Music

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I can’t believe 2020 is almost over. Most years I blink and the year is gone. I can’t really say that about this year. In a matter of two days I’ll be scribbling a “1” over the “0” in the date column on my checks… “Oh it’s 2021 not 2020, sorry.” Yes, I still use checks… you kids and your “apps.” At least this year, in Christmas cards, I didn’t have to read everybody’s not-so-humble bragging about what they did in 2020. This year we’re all just glad we survived. While 2020 was a long slow slog in most areas, it was actually quite a nice year for music. I find myself, in my prior year end retrospectives quoting Don Henley, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock n roll.” I certainly can’t say that this year. I will say there is one glaring exception to my 2020 rosy music view: concerts. I miss live music so much I can’t stand it. I’m hopeful, like I never was at the beginning of 2020 about anything, that in 2021 I will be standing in a darkened room in front of a band with my hands in the air, screaming wildly. If Springsteen and the E Street Band’s SNL performance is any indication… I think these musicians are ready to go and are going to come out firing once “the coast is clear” as they say.

It was, if I may say so, a great year at BourbonAndVinyl. I want to say a big Thank You to all the readers, commenters, and followers out there – both those joined us this year and to all of you have been around a while as well. I started this thing with a dialogue with fellow music (and bourbon) lovers in mind and this year that concept came to fruition. With musicians off the road this year, so many acts chose to put out new music or cull through their archives. I found myself writing a lot more than in previous years… sorry if that was a little overwhelming… I get excited about music and I have to share. If you’ve enjoyed B&V this year – tell a friend. All music lovers are welcome. Hopefully I’ve turned you on to something you might have missed which is our goal here at B&V.

There were huge losses this year in rock n roll, too many to enumerate. I was saddened to see Bill Withers pass away this year. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is still one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been hearing “Lovely Day” a lot on commercials lately. Glad to see Bill get some recognition. I was rocked this year by the loss of two titans of rock n roll in the B&V universe. Losing drummer/lyricist Neil Peart of Rush really rocked me. I can still remember the first time I air-drummed to 2112 in junior high school. Rush was so huge here in the heartland, Peart’s loss reverberated through everybody. Making things worse, this year we lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever strap on the instrument, Eddie Van Halen. That one left a mark. Van Halen’s music is such an integral part of my listening as young man it’s almost a part of who I am. Hard, edgy and yet funny at the same time. I loved that band from Van Halen to Fair Warning to 1984 to For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Eddie’s guitar playing was always the price of admission for me. He redefined the instrument and that doesn’t happen much, perhaps once every generation or so. His presence, warmth and smile will be missed.

So plentiful was music in 2020 it’s hard to think of an artist who didn’t put out something new or something from the archives. I barely scratched the surface this year. Elton John put out a box set entitled Jewel Box that was a 10 hour journey through demo’s, deep album tracks and rarities. It was great, albeit mellow, but I felt it was for fans only so I didn’t write about it. The King, Elvis Presley put out a 4-disc box Elvis In Nashville (clearly a play on the title his big LP Elvis In Memphis) that collected all of the country/country rock tracks that Elvis recorded over the course of 3 days in Nashville in 1970. Those songs made up the bulk of three albums including the wonderful Elvis Country. The first two discs had all the actual songs, without any studio sweetening but with the second two discs being demo’s – I love the studio chatter of Elvis hanging with musicians – it felt like a fans only kinda thing. It’s a rare year where I can pick/choose the stuff I write about… skipping Elton and Elvis, wow what a year.

There were some fun singles too. The Black Crowes re-released their Christmas classic “Dirty Santa.” I can only hope the brothers Robinson will record a new album in 2021. B&V favs Starcrawler released their cover of Petty’s “I Need To Know” with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell joining in. Greta Van Fleet released their first single “My Way, Now” from their upcoming album… All this is points toward a good 2021!

Here are my favorites from 2020. The first list is new music, stuff that musicians newly recorded. Below, I’ll furnish my list of vault/archive/live albums – where artists either went back and dug out previously recorded material or compilations and also any live albums that caught my attention. I wrote about a lot more than I’m listing here, these are just my favorites. They aren’t in any particular ranked order, it’s pretty random. Enjoy!

B&V’s Favorite New Albums of 2020

  1. Ozzy Osbourne, Ordinary Man – Ozzy returned after a decade’s absence with a great new record. With producer/guitar whizz Andrew Watt helming the project and RHCP’s Chad Smith on drums, GnR bassist Duff McKagan on bass as the backing band, you knew this would be great. Cameos by Slash and Elton John were icing on the cake, Review: Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ordinary Man’ – A Simply Extraordinary Album!.
  2. Pearl Jam, Gigaton – Like Ozzy, it had been a long time since these guys had released anything (7 years). I was a touch lukewarm on this record when it came out. It is definitely a “grower.” The more I listen to it the more I like it. The second half of the record gets a little mellow but those are some of my favorite songs. I’d love to see these guys live again, it’s been years, Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts.
  3. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters – It had been 8 years since genius Fiona Apple had released an album – I’m seeing a trend here in 2020 – but Fetch The Bolt Cutters was worth the wait. I think it may be the perfect “lockdown” album, thematically at least, Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed.
  4. Bob Dylan, Rough And Rowdy Ways – Another artist with a huge gap since his last studio record – 8 years. Dylan had been releasing Sinatra cover LPs for much of that time so it was nice to hear self-penned stuff again. It was preceded by the mesmerizing 18 minute long “Murder Most Foul.” Great, late-period Dylan, Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career.
  5. Pretenders, Hate For Sale – Original drummer Martin Chambers returns and he and Chrissie Hynde deliver the goods on this punchy, rocking album, LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!.
  6. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Letter To You – Bruce contemplates his own mortality, inspired by the death of the last surviving member of his first band, the Castiles. I loved Western Stars, his 70s southern California noir but it’s great to hear him back with the E Street Band, Review: Springsteen’s ‘Letter To You’ – Contemplating Mortality On E Street.
  7. AC/DC, Power Up – I would have never thought Angus would be able to pull Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams back into the fold and record another spectacular album. Power Up may be my pick for album of the year – if I still picked albums of the year… Review: AC/DC’s Spectacular Return, ‘Power Up’.
  8. The Dirty Knobs, Wreckless Abandon – Former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ guitarist and “co-captain” and current member of Fleetwood Mac, Mike Campbell’s side project finally releases their debut album. There are a lot of echos of Petty here but make no mistake, this is a guitar album. It’s a lot of fun, Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”.
  9. Chris Cornell, Nobody Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 – I was tempted to put this in the “vault” list but this is all unreleased stuff that was recorded and sequenced by Cornell. He obviously planned to release it but alas didn’t live to do so. All well chosen covers, this LP underscores what a tragedy it was when his voice was silenced, Review: Chris Cornell Posthumous Release, ‘No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1’ – A Nice Surprise From An Old Friend.
  10. Paul McCartney, McCartney III – A homespun gem more in the manner of McCartney than McCartney II. This felt like a really welcome Christmas gift, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem.

B&V’s Favorite Vault/Archive/Live Albums of 2020 

  1. Neil Young, Homegrown – Another brilliant 70s era “forgotten” album from Neil. This guy has more unreleased classic albums than most artists have actual albums. This is included in the upcoming (for general release, it’s already been released to collectors) box set Archives II. If you can’t spring for the whole box set, this is worth picking up on its own, Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years.
  2. Liam Gallagher, Unplugged – The former lead singer of one of the Rock Chick’s all time favorite bands Oasis, Liam Gallagher finally redeems himself in the Unplugged genre with a great little live album, Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)’ – Unplugged Redemption?.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup Deluxe – The Stones revisit one of their sleazy-rock 70s classics. Light on bonus studio stuff it contains the great live concert recording Brussels Affair, a must for Stones fans, especially you Mick Taylor-era nuts out there, Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set.
  4. Tom Petty, Wildflowers…and All The Rest – Petty’s vision of Wildflowers as a double LP finally realized. Some lovely stuff was left in the can, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited.
  5. Prince, Sign O The Times Deluxe – Prince’s creative peak? Maybe… There are so many great tunes that never saw the light of day in this box, it’s perhaps his last masterpiece, Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches.
  6. Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary – In my review I quibbled about the lack of unreleased studio tracks (really just one new track) and disjointed live stuff, but this is such a landmark album, everyone should check this out. Leave it to Ozzy to appear on both these lists in 2020, Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?.
  7. Lou Reed, New York – One of Lou Reed’s true masterworks. If you don’t have the album, you need this. If you do, you need this for the live tracks – the entire album played live, Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’.
  8. U2, All You Can’t Leave Behind 20th Anniversary Box – An album with special meaning for the Rock Chick and I… I already had the bonus tracks but if you don’t they’re definitely worth a listen. The concert included from the tour, in Boston is incendiary, Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’.
  9. Pearl Jam, MTV Unplugged – Only 7 songs long but soooo worth it. I’ve waited and hoped for years that Pearl Jam would finally release this spectacular performance, recorded shortly after their debut album. This is such a legendary performance…Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!).
  10. Keith Richards, Live At the Hollywood Palladium – Keef takes his wonderful backing band, The X-Pensive Winos out on the road. This expanded edition gives us three additional tracks recorded that night. It’s just a great, live album, Review: Keith Richards + The X-Pensive Winos, ‘Live At the Hollywood Palladium’ Box Set.

If there is an album I missed on these list in your opinion, please share in the comments. I’m always open to new music and I do hate to think I missed something…

I hope everybody held it together during this rough and tumble 2020. Hopefully our little B&V corner of the rock n roll universe helped keep you moving down the road this year. I wish everyone a happy, safe New Year. I don’t think we’re out of the dark yet, but I think there is light at the end of the tunnel… and with any luck, it’s not an oncoming train.

It’s a dark ride, take care of each other out there. I’m certainly looking forward to a better 2021.

Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem

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I have a recurring nightmare where I’m a student again. In this frightening dream, I walk into a classroom and am presented with a blank sheet of paper and asked to write an essay about the topics covered in the class over the course of the year. The only problem I have is that I haven’t been in this dreamworld class, ever. I haven’t been a student in many, many years. I’m doomed to fail which apparently means I have to repeat that grade, a deep-seated fear instilled in me by my father. He used to say if I flunked a grade I’d have to live in the backyard. It’d be pretty embarrassing for a man of my age to have to repeat fifth grade. I wouldn’t be able to fit in the desks. I usually awake screaming, terrifying the Rock Chick and pulling her from what’s usually a peaceful sleep. It’s not even my worst nightmare, I have many others. What can I say, for me, Sleep Is Hell. I think the root of this particular nightmare is that lingering memory of returning to grade school after each summer break and on Day 1 the teachers (who apparently were colluding) would all ask us to write an essay entitled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

I’m not sure what fascinating things those teachers thought we children were up to. It’s pretty hard to stretch “played baseball” and “went to the swimming pool” to two whole pages. And, as long time readers know, I can ramble with the best of them. Thinking about all of this, in my imagination, I wondered what it would be like if we all had to write an essay, “What I Did In Lockdown.” This whole lockdown thing has kind of been like a summer break – much of our lives have been put on hold. Sure, I’ve done a lot of writing on B&V, I’ve read some books, binge watched a lot of Netflix. I’ve certainly eaten more than I should and just destroyed a lot of bourbon. I have friends who have landscaped or gardened. I have one friend who is restoring an old MG convertible. His midlife crisis is apparently going to be dangerous. Obviously, the people I’m talking about here are the ones lucky enough to still have a job and who are still able to feed their families. My heart goes out to the folks who are struggling out there… I don’t care what any of you out there have done, I don’t think anybody has “won” this Lockdown, or as he calls it Rockdown, in more a convincing fashion than Paul McCartney. He set his “essay” to music. Last Friday he delivered the homespun gem McCartney III to a world in need of his sunny melodies.

McCartney III is seen as a sequel to two other, similarly named albums that McCartney had previously released. In 1970 during the breakup of the Beatles, McCartney was in a deep depression. He retreated to his farm in Scotland and at the urging of his wife Linda began to record an album, which he finished at his home in London. McCartney wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on the resulting album, his solo debut, 1970’s McCartney. It’s release was fraught with Beatles’ politics and the backlash on announcing their breakup caused critics at the time to savage it. McCartney was also a homespun gem and in retrospect Paul is given credit for inventing lo-fi, indie rock. No one had ever locked themselves in a room alone at home, not in a studio, and recorded an entire album. McCartney has two of my favorite Paul songs on it, “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Every Night.” It also had some instrumentals and goofy stuff. It was clear Paul was finding joy in his sadness over the Beatles in simply creating music. It’s a true classic.

In 1980, after Wings broke up – the band he’d formed in the 70s – McCartney locked himself in a home studio in London and once again wrote and performed alone as a one man band for McCartney II. McCartney II was Paul at his most experimental. He was enjoying playing with the latest synthesizer technology. I liked the first single, the live version of “Coming Up.” Unfortunately that track wasn’t on the album, the LP featured the studio version which didn’t have the same energy. I remember my brother bought that album and they’d hurriedly placed a single in its own sleeve on the outside of the album inside the shrink-wrap so when you bought it you’d get the live version of “Coming Up” too. Listening to the studio version of “Coming Up” all these years later, it wasn’t a bad tune it was just overshadowed. Likewise, the murder of John Lennon 5 months after McCartney II likely overshadowed this album. I have never been a huge fan of II. Critics rave about “Temporary Secretary” but I just can’t connect with that song, I find it annoying. But listening to that album in my brother’s room, I can remember really liking “Waterfalls.” It’s a trippy ballad. “On The Way” and “One of These Days” are also good tracks. It was overall much more polished and “out there” than McCartney.

A few of the things I’ve read about this new album, McCartney III, hype it as a sequel to records “made 50 and 40 years ago.” Yes, its McCartney once again alone, writing all the songs and playing all the instruments but to me it’s a piece with the music he’s been making late in his career. After a mid-career slump that started in the early 80s – and I’ve always insisted that was because he was deeply, spiritually upset about the loss of John Lennon – McCartney hit his stride again starting with 1997’s Flaming Pie. Since then, he’s put out some killer records like Chaos And Creation In the Backyard, Memory Almost Full (which also featured only Paul playing instruments) and New. I thought his 2018 album Egypt Station was the album of that year, LP Review: Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – All Aboard For The Album Of the YearTypically we’ve waited four or five years between new McCartney albums but this time we only had to wait 2 years. There was no band breakup to spur this truly solo LP like the last two “McCarney” albums.

The first thing that jumped out at me on McCartney III is that McCartney is playing all “natural” instruments. Like McCartney this album is all acoustic & electric guitar, piano, bass and drums. There’s none of that synth stuff like McCartney II. The record starts off with great acoustic guitar riff on “Long Tailed Winter Bird.” It’s mostly an instrumental track with McCartney singing “Do you miss me” over and over at the end. My  mind keeps coming back to that riff. I said early this year that Fiona Apple had recorded the ultimate lockdown album (Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed) but I think McCartney may have surpassed her on the track “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” which lists all the things around the house we all do to keep ourselves busy these days with nowhere to go. It’s a pretty track. “Pretty Boys” is another acoustic driven mid tempo/ballad that is just super. Nobody records tracks like this anymore – unpolished, unvarnished. Even McCartney’s voice has some rough edges to it that frankly I just love. Like McCartney, this is no “grand statement” album, it’s just a genius practicing his craft. “Woman And Wives” is a piano ballad where McCartney’s voice drops lower and rougher than I’ve ever heard. It’s a stately, somber ballad.

McCartney III isn’t all mellow ballads though. There are some nice feisty rockers on here. “Find My Way” is a pop-fuel rock tune that sounds like a hit to me. “Lavatroy Lil” – yes, ridiculous title – is a great rocker with a great, dirty guitar riff and an insistent drum beat. “Slidin'” is another big rocker. I don’t know how one guy gets this kind of sound. “Slidin'” is just a nasty rocker. Much can be said about the lyrics being simplistic but if you listen carefully, like on “Slidin'” you hear a plea to be free of our current situation. While you won’t find the experimentation of McCartney II,  “Deep Deep Feeling” starts with just drums and voice and builds to over 8-minutes. It’s probably the closest to II you’ll find here. “Deep Down” almost has a funky feel and is another favorite here. “Seize The Day” starts with electric piano turns into a nice mid tempo rocker and seems to be a plea for us all to do good.

McCartney has dropped a wonderful Christmas gift to all of us. McCartney III is an absolute gem of a record and a fine addition to Paul’s catalog. It’s the perfect ending to an otherwise miserable year. I highly recommend this one for all fans of rock and roll, Paul or the Beatles. It’s a real return to the roots of McCartney and should rank amongst his most beloved works.

Have a safe Christmas everybody out there. Social distance. And if you can’t do that, hit the egg nog, maybe that’ll help. The year is gonna end in a pretty dark and weird fashion, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy Holidays and as always, Cheers!

Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career

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I sometimes wonder if I’d have ever discovered any new music after the turn of the millennium if I hadn’t met the Rock Chick. I could see myself today, twenty years down the road, still thinking Pearl Jam was the last great band to emerge. While she reconnected me with bands I was already into like AC/DC, Green Day and Motley Crue, she also brought me out of my rock and roll exile and turned me onto new bands as well. For a very brief time we had the illegal download site Limewire at our disposal. Limewire was like the early Napster, basic file sharing. It was the Rock Chick who downloaded Limewire… at first my response was, “You kids and your fancy apps,” but once I started finding rare, hard to find b-sides it was like giving an addict the keys to the pharmacy. I stopped and deleted Limewire after I heard R.E.M.’s Mike Mills say that Napster/Limewire was tantamount to going down the local record shop and shoplifting their latest CD. Michael Stipe said he didn’t care, but I still didn’t feel good about it. In my defense, I only used Limewire in the same way I use Spotify today – to discover new music and then immediately purchase the stuff I liked. Still, it wasn’t cool. And I realize the difference between Spotify and Limewire… I pay for Spotify.

It was late 2001 or maybe even early 2002 when I saw this strange band, it was just a duo actually, the White Stripes on the MTV video awards show, if my memory serves me (and it rarely does these days). They were the final live performance on the show and I recall a bunch of balloons fell on them or a bunch of people rushed the stage. I noticed there was a woman on drums. I was intrigued. I checked out what I’d heard were the hits – “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl.” At the time the rock intelligentsia were hailing a new era of “garage rock” (that never really materialized). After doing some discovery over on Limewire, I realized that maybe these White Stripes were what they were talking about. They not only rocked but they could go acoustic like they do on “We’re Going To Be Friends” a track that immediately resonated with me. I quickly went out and purchased what I soon found out was their third LP, White Blood Cells. I was immediately taken with these guys. It’s quite an album.

Jack White was the singer/guitarist/keyboardist and songwriter. He is one of the most gifted guitar players not only of his generation but perhaps ever. I kept extolling his amazing guitar skills to my a friend of mine. It wasn’t until he saw Jack solo that he started comparing him to Hendrix. I was like, dude, I’ve been talking about this guy for 15 years. The drummer, Meg White, who Jack was introducing as his sister at the time was actually his ex-wife. Jack said he came up with the “sister” thing to avoid any Fleetwood Mac type drama. Much has been made of Meg White’s cavewoman style of drumming but I think she’s fabulous. She hits those skins like she’s mad at ’em. Her very basic drumming is, in my opinion, what allowed Jack White to soar on guitar. They call what Social Distortion does, combining country influences with punk rock, “cow punk.” With the White Stripes there was real strong blues influence/vibe to go with the punk or garage rock ethos they had. At the time I was describing them as blues punk or punk blues, whichever you’re comfortable with. As longtime readers know, I love the blues so it was natural I’d love the White Stripes.

In early 2003 the Stripes dropped their fourth album Elephant. While White Blood Cells broke them to a wider audience, it was Elephant‘s first single, “Seven Nation Army” that really made them stars. It’s an epic rock track and it was literally everywhere. I bought that album the day it came out. That tour was to be my first time to see the White Stripes. On June 28th of 2003 they played this smallish hall over in Kansas City, Kansas… Memorial Hall. Oh my god they were absolutely fantastic that night. They had a big body guard in a three-piece suit escort them onto the stage. They opened with “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and from there they were off. Jack White hopped around the stage like a bunny on meth. He’d come to the front of the stage and sing and them bounce back to the drum kit where he and Meg would jam. I swear Meg was hitting the drums so hard she was levitating off her seat. Three or four tracks in they played a Dolly Parton track, “Jolene.” I turned the Rock Chick and said, “pinch me, am I dreaming?” At one point Jack pulled out a battered, old, grey wide body guitar and played the fiercest blues licks I’d ever heard. The track was “Death Letter,” a song I discovered the next day when I went out and bought their second – and in my opinion their best – album De Stijl. After that amazing show it’s a wonder I didn’t hang a poster of them on my wall like I was  junior high kid. 

Every two years they’d put out a new album and I would snap it up the day it came out. Both Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump were triumphs that saw them stretching out their trademark blues punk sound. I got to see them a second time on the Get Behind Me Satan tour, this time at the slightly larger venue, Starlight Theater. Jack was dressed as a matador. I was in the fifth row and its one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They played over thirty songs that night. Seeing Meg White up close left me smitten… I’ve always been susceptible to rock and roll crushes. She didn’t sing at this show like she did the first time I saw them but she made her presence known. They had a very charismatic stage presence. 

Sadly, after Icky Thump the White Stripes didn’t tour extensively. They played a handful of shows at weird locations. I want to say they filmed it for a documentary I remember seeing late at night. It was said that Meg didn’t want to tour. She’d grown tired of the road. At the time she’d done a little modeling and had gotten married. I think the rock and roll life and being Jack’s sidekick had lost its allure. After releasing a great little gem of a live album Under Great Northern Lights the White Stripes called it quits. Meg has become reclusive. I have often said in these pages and it bears repeating – come back Meg, please. The world needs the White Stripes. I love what Jack does with the Raconteurs and solo but you’ll never find a band as purely bad ass as the White Stripes. 

I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the White Stripes last studio album. I feel like the Stripes were big but as they never played the big arenas or stadiums I wonder how big they really were. I own every album they put out but how many people do? I fear that if you’re a little older you may have missed out on this supernova of a band. Jack White has put together what I can only describe as a lovingly curated collection of their “best of” on the newly released The White Stripes Greatest Hits. I don’t usually write about “greatest hits” packages but there are a lot of iconic ones out there. I think this album will be on that list of super greatest hits albums out there. If you aren’t a White Stripes fanatic like me, this Greatest Hits package is the perfect introduction to their catalog. I love that Jack spread the 26 tracks on this album evenly over their six studio records. Their debut The White Stripes which is a really raw and primal album – it’s so garage rocky that you can almost smell oil and gasoline when you play it – is represented with as many songs as Elephant or Icky Thump. This is truly a great retrospective look at their catalog. There are two tracks that weren’t on albums, “Jolene” and “Let’s Shake Hands.” 

I love that the set opens with “Let’s Shake Hands,” which in non pandemic times was what you did when you met someone. It’s like Jack saying, “nice to meet you.” The second track establishes these guys as Detroit rockers with “The Big Three Killed My Baby” from their debut. What a great start! The epic rocking big hits are all here like “Seven Nation Army” (that ends the album), “Icky Thump” and “Blue Orchid.” There are quieter acoustic moments like “We’re Going to Be Friends” and their trade mark bluesy romps like “Ball And A Biscuit,” “Death Letter” and “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s safe to say that everything the White Stripe do well is represented on this greatest hits package. Listening to it just brings it home. 

Again, if you missed these guys in the early 2000s or you never paused to pick up their albums this is the perfect way to start listening to the White Stripes. I literally own every single song on this package and you should to. This album would be a perfect primer for a college level Rock And Roll 101 class. Turn this one up loud. 

Cheers! 

Single: Black Crowes, ‘Back Door Santa’ – Finally, A Xmas Song I Can Get Behind

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I’m probably like most people out there, 2020 has been a slow, painful slog. Despite the grim year, I looked up and suddenly it was the dreaded (for me) Holiday Season. How is it almost Christmas? It seems like just yesterday I was barricading myself in my house for the 4th of July. I guess we all thankfully got a collective Xmas gift this year in the form of a couple of viable vaccines. I was watching the local news last night and they did a story on a group of a dozen rescue dogs. They’d all been found in the house of a hoarder down in Tulsa and transferred to Kansas City because the Tulsa animal shelters are full. Not to get off track here, but if you’ve got charitable dollars to give, don’t forget your local animal shelters or the Humane Society. Anyway, these poor dogs who had been owned by this hoarder had never been outside. They’d never seen the sky or the sun. One can only imagine what the hoarder’s house smelled like. They showed the dogs being led by leash off the back of a truck and into the KC shelter. The dogs were looking up in fear at the sky they’d never seen. They were agitated and disoriented and perhaps a little agoraphobic. I couldn’t help but think I’ll look pretty similar to those dogs when I’m led out of this attic I’ve been hiding in for most of 2020. I can almost see myself being led by the arm by the Rock Chick – to keep me steady – while I stagger down the front porch steps, staring nervously at the sky…”What is that large burning orb hovering above the tree line?” “Well sir, it’s called the sun.” 

I’ve documented on these pages my, uh, “lack of enthusiasm” for the Christmas season (Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany). Anymore, and especially this year, it feels like a season I’ll have to endure rather than enjoy. I don’t know what turned me into such a ghoul about Christmas. I really like to give gifts. I like to make people happy, which may be a surprise to, well, people. My parents and my grandparents (God rest their souls) always put on a great Xmas. When we were little kids we’d wake up and come bursting down to the living room and it was nothing short of gleeful. And yet, here I am. As I got older it became more and more awkward for me to actually accept a gift. I never feel like I can express gratitude properly. It’s an odd thing to be hung up on. The Rock Chick says she knows when I don’t really appreciate a gift, but can she? I’m not sure I can even tell. Naturally, me marrying the Rock Chick was like the Grinch marrying Mrs. Claus. Every Christmas is a production Cecil B. DeMille would envy, which I’ve grown to enjoy. Admittedly, the strong egg nog helps… I guess I was just out there on my own, playing like a “Desperado” like the Eagles song for too long…”you’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now.” 

One of the most irritating things about the Holiday season for me is the damn music. This year in Kansas City there was a radio station that started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween. When I heard that on my radio I kinda wished I was Elvis and I could shoot the radio with a pearl handle revolver and get away with it. Mariah Carey must count the days until the Christmas season so she can cash in. The song I hate the most – and it doesn’t matter who is singing it – is “The Little Drummer Boy.” If I have to hear that damn song again I’m going to “pa rum pum pum” lose my fucking mind. It’s like that song was designed to make me go insane. Bob Seger, who I love, does a particularly noxious version of that song. 

It was with great surprise, as I was perusing Spotify and Apple for new music, that I discovered under the “new releases” category a song by the Black Crowes, “Back Door Santa.” While it was a Christmas song, it was still a Black Crowes song so I was intrigued. I’ve always loved the Crowes. I read an extended cover article in ‘Classic Rock’ magazine recently about their last break up and how the Robinson brothers (Chris/vocals, Rich/guitar) were slowly trying to reunite, as brothers first and band members second. They were going to tour this year for the 30th anniversary of their classic debut, Shake Your Money Maker but then, well 2020 and Covid happened. I know they were able to squeeze a couple of acoustic shows in at the end of last year. I hope those guys, on a human level, can sort out that relationship. Sibling relationships can be complicated (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands) especially when you work together. 

Its hard to believe it’s been thirty years since their debut came out. In 1990, I had literally just escaped my exile in Arkansas when Shake Your Money Maker came out. “Jealous Again” got radio play and it was just the kind of Stonesy, Faces-like rock and roll I had loved my whole life. When I heard their Otis Redding cover, “Hard to Handle” I was hooked, I bought the album and have stayed on the bandwagon ever since. “Twice As Hard” remains a staple here at the house. It didn’t hurt that their sophomore album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion defied the expectations of a “sophomore slump” and was actually even better than their debut. I can remember being drunk in downtown Dallas where I kept mistaking the lyrics of the first single, “Remedy,” and singing loudly, “Baby baby why you dry your hair?” instead of “dye your hair.” No one was amused. Well, no one but me. Southern Harmony was the first tour I was able to see them live and yes, they can bring it. 

Knowing its been 11 years since their last album, the oft overlooked gem Before The Frost…Until The Freeze (new tracks recorded live at Levon Helm’s barn), I was really excited when I thought the Crowes had recorded a new song, even if it is a Christmas song. Well, it turns out “Back Door Santa” was recorded back in 2005 and released as a free download. Apparently it was included on a couple of movie soundtracks. The song was written by soul artist Clarence Carter back in 1968. It has been recorded by various artists over the years including Bon Jovi and of all people, Brad Delp from Boston. I’m going to have to look for that Delp version, that sounds intriguing. 

“Back Door Santa” is pure, old time, Stax records, soul – complete with a horn section. What struck me about the Crowes version is how gleefully they perform this song. Chris Robinson on vocals sounds particularly joyful in his singing. With lyrics like “(Lookie here) I ain’t like old Saint Nick
He don’t come but once a year (oh, ho, ho, ho)” I have to agree with what it says on Wikipedia, that the song has “little to do with Christmas as a holiday.” Perhaps that’s why the song appeals to me. It’s a salacious, shameless come on. I love that he sings “OH, ho ho” instead of “ho ho ho.” I just think it’s hysterical. And while I can’t say with any certainty that “Back Door Santa” makes good on its promise of “I make all the little girls happy while the boys are out to play,” I can say they made this little Grinch very, very happy. 

If you like soul, if you like the Black Crowes, hell if you’re weird and like Christmas music, I think you’re going to like this track from the Black Crowes. While I was hopeful that this was a sign they were recording new stuff, at least they’re reviving the brand and that may just be the first step. I’m hopeful in 2021 Santa brings me a new Black Crowes album… or at least a show I can potentially attend if things get better. It’ll be hard to leave the attic… 

Happy Holidays to all of you out there but especially you folks who aren’t as into Christmas, like me. I hear the Holidays can be a time where depression increases. I can only imagine that this year it’ll be even worse with people isolated… Reach out to your loved ones, friends and family, make sure everybody is ok and let em know you care. It’s a dark ride… take of each other out there. 

Cheers! And remember… “I come runnin’ with my presents, every time you call me dear.” 

 

 

 

Review: Chris Cornell Posthumous Release, ‘No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1’ – A Nice Surprise From An Old Friend

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‘Tis the season, as the saying goes… not for the holidays but for hearing from old friends. I staggered out to the mail box recently to find a Christmas card from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. It came as quite a surprise. It’s not that there had been a rift between my old friend and I or anything melodramatic had happened…like I’m typically prone to. It’s just day to day life has a way of getting in the way of relationships. You mean to call or email or reach out but then another work crisis arises and you put it off. In the old days I knew a few people who would send out those “family newsletters” in their Xmas cards. Let’s call those what they are, brag rags. “This year our family traveled to Mexico and Colorado… little Johnny won a spelling bee.” Please, you went to Cabo and went skiing and the trophy was probably a participation prize. I guess that sort of braggadocio is reserved for Facebook these days… I wouldn’t know I’ve never been on Facebook. 

I had a similar feeling of surprise when I found out yesterday Chris Cornell’s widow Vicky had posthumously released an entire album of cover songs that Chris had put together and sequenced prior to his death. What a holiday gift! As longtime readers know I was a huge fan of Chris Cornell and was quite shaken by his passing (I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP). In my defense, I had seen Soundgarden in concert merely a few nights prior to Cornell’s death (Concert Review: Soundgarden, Kansas City May 14, 2017). The surprise new album is called No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. That voice…

As I sat up late last night listening to this album repeatedly into the wee hours with a tumbler of good bourbon, I tried to reach back through the misty memories in my mind to the first time I heard Cornell’s voice. I remember seeing a video of Soundgarden circa Louder Than Love. I think it was on that MTV Sunday night (?) show ‘120 Minutes.’ I have a vague memory of muttering to myself, these guys are the grunge Black Sabbath. They had that heavy, sludgy sound and the operatic vocals of a man I knew simply as, the handsome guy with really long black hair. Having fled Arkansas and moved back to Kansas City in 1990 I may or may not have been aware of a couple of Soundgarden tracks from Badmotorfinger that got some airplay in KC, “Rusty Cage” and the glorious track “Outshined.” 

If I’m being honest, I probably first became aware of Cornell when I heard the Temple of the Dog album. I was particularly enamored with “Hunger Strike” but I think that track drew me more to Eddie Vedder who duetted with Cornell on the song. When I heard “Say Hello To Heaven” was probably the moment I jumped on the Chris Cornell bandwagon. That is a great song, perfectly sung. A few months later, Soundgarden released their landmark album Superunknown. “Spoonman” and the psychedelic tinged “Black Hole Sun” were favorites but it wasn’t until I heard “Fell On Black Days” that I bought the album. My god, I love that song. It’s one of my all time favorites. “Whatsoever I feared has come to life, whatsoever I fought off became my life.” That line pretty summed up my existence in 1991. 

From there I followed Cornell through the end of Soundgarden (and through their reunions) to Audioslave and even into his solo career. I’ll admit to being disappointed by his debut solo record, Euphoria Mourning. There were a couple of tracks on that album that I still listen to today but overall it left me cold. I loved all three Audioslave LPs and am proud to say I saw them live. Cornell paced the stage like a panther. It was at Lollapalooza and I left after Audioslave played, they were why I was there. In retrospect I should have stuck around for the headliners… Jane’s Addiction. I get tunnel vision sometimes. Never leave a gig early. 

Cornell’s solo career was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved his final proper solo record, Higher Truth and reviewed it on B&V, Review: Chris Cornell’s “Higher Truth” – Finally He Comes Through. To me, it was his solo breakthrough. But lets admit, his solo stuff was highly eclectic. He did a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that was excoriated by the critics (and probably fans too) but I really liked it. I included it on my Cornell playlist I put together in the wake of his tragic loss, B&V iPod Playlist: Chris Cornell. I will say, that same eclectic approach can be heard in the songs that Cornell selected for this wonderful new album, No One Sings Like You Anymore. And in fact, that eclecticism is what makes this so great. 

I’ll admit again, this album was a complete surprise to me. Even though, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, they’d released a single a number of weeks ago, “Patience,” a GnR cover with no explanation and I bought it. I thought it was a one-off and didn’t dig into why it had been released. I actually forgot I purchased it. In my defense, there has been a shit ton of music that has come out this year. When I found No One Sings had been released yesterday, it was like that day I staggered to the mailbox and found that Christmas card from my long absent friend. I put this album on with that same delighted surprise I’d felt standing at the mailbox. It is indeed nice to hear from our old friend Chris. 

Cover songs are an interesting thing in popular music. It’s like two-for-one night down at the bar. A song you already know, that possibly was a hit for someone else, sung by an artist you like… what’s not to love? If you pair the right cover song with the right artist you might just have a sure-thing hit. Aretha Franklin owns Otis Redding’s “Respect.” Jimi Hendrix owns “Hey Joe.” I can’t even tell you who did the original on that one. Doing an entire album of covers is an even more rare animal. We shared our favorite “cover albums” on B&V a while ago, B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs. I reread that post and I stand behind every record on that list. Covers can be done very reverently, no messing with the formula or the artist can completely reinterpret the song in a new way. I think Cornell does a little of both on this new album. 

I love that he chose such a diverse group of artists to cover. The album opens with a cover of a track that Janis Joplin made famous, “Get It While You Can.” Cornell totally reinterprets the track. I had to go back and listen to the Joplin track to make sure it was the same song. The track sets the tone for the musical journey ahead. Wisely, Cornell’s vocals are the star here. Later on the album he does a couple different obscure soul tracks, “Stay With Me Baby” originally done by Lorraine Ellison and “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” by Carl Hall. I love both those tracks. They were such a pleasant surprise. I was amazed at how soulful a delivery Cornell has on “Stay With Me Baby.” He feels that soulful heartache baby. There’s even an organ on that song.

“Patience,” one of my favorite GnR ballads is very well served here in Cornell’s hands. I saw that his cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince track that I had purchased from a “best of” package earlier is on here as well. I love his version of the song – he really lays out the vocal – but I’m starting to wonder how many times I’m going to have to buy that song, heh heh. I was surprised and utterly delighted to see Cornell cover Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire.” The space-age version Cornell does is a great update. He also, and again this was a surprise choice, covers Nilsson’s drinking buddy John Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels” from Lennon’s final record Double Fantasy. Its a nice laid back acoustic strummer here and just wonderful. My favorite track on the album is a song called “Sad Sad City” originally done by a band I’d never heard of, Ghostland Observatory. “Sad Sad City” could have easily been nestled onto Higher Truth and I’d have thought it was a Cornell original. I love the insistent, driving drum, the acoustic riff and the great backing vocals. Cornell sings that one like he owns it. I also love his total reinterpretation of ELO’s “Showdown.” Nothing will touch the original on that one (even though I find ELO terribly derivative of the Beatles, they had their moments) but Cornell’s version keeps my interest. It doesn’t create quite the tension of ELO’s original but its a cool cover. 

The album is entitled Vol 1 which to me implies there is more in the vault that he did. I know that Cornell and Soundgarden were working on a new album. I hear that, much like Petty, there is a dispute between the band and Vicky Cornell about the future of those tracks. So I guess we wait for the lawyers to sort that one out. Regardless this is a nice addition to the Cornell canon and highly recommend this for his fans. I do really hope there is more out there. This man’s vocals were so special, I have to hope we hear more in the coming years. 

It’s the holidays folks and for some of us that’s a darker time… With people staying at home this year and keeping distance it may be a dark time for a whole lot more of us this year. Reach out, stay in touch with your loved ones. Take care of each other out there folks. Be safe. 

Cheers! 

 

Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”

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While I could – on a very personal level – argue that 1994-1995 were my worst years, I believe I’m safe in saying that on a more universal level 2020 has been the worst year of all our lives. With all the general suck-iness and downright awful shit that has happened in 2020 I have to admit… and I don’t say this about many years… it’s been a great year for rock and roll. I looked back at some of my old “best of” lists for past years and more than once I fell into quoting Don Henley, “it was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll.” I certainly can’t say that about 2020. Unable to tour, many bands from AC/DC to Springsteen & the E Street Band put together new albums. If there wasn’t new music, many artists from Neil Young to the Stones put out great stuff from the archives. I’ve been so awash in new music (or vault stuff) that I’ve found myself writing twice a week this fall… which is probably better for me than the folks who actually read B&V… 😉

Lately, one vault release I find myself returning to most often is Tom Petty’s box set for his landmark album Wildflowers, entitled All The Rest, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited. It’s an easy box to get caught up in. While Wildflowers was a Petty “solo” album, just like all his other “solo” stuff, Petty’s “co-pilot” and main collaborator was guitarist Mike Campbell. Campbell can play pretty much any stringed instrument he chooses to pick up. I remember the first time I got to see Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert. It was June 26th of 1985 on the Southern Accents tour and man was I blown away. In retrospect the Confederate flag as a back drop was an awful mistake… I’m not sure we all understood the bad symbolic importance of that particularly odious flag. Also, Petty had those awful lamb chop sideburns. I heard his wife at the time offered to donate money at Live-Aid if he’d shave those off. I’m with her on that, I promised my sainted grandmother I’d never grow facial hair, but I digress. That hot June night in 1985 I was mesmerized by not only Petty but the tall, skinny guy with the curly hair standing to his right, Mike Campbell. When Campbell played the guitar solo on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” I almost swooned and I’m a pretty rugged guy or at least I like to think so.

That concert was the first time Campbell’s greatness really crystalized for me. I recognized him from, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, watching videos on MTV. I had most of Petty’s back catalog at the time and saw that Campbell co-wrote a lot of the best songs but I’m not sure I realized what a force of nature he was until actually seeing him “light the sky on fire” as my friend Stormin’ says. I quickly realized that night, all those great riffs (like on “You Got Lucky” a synth laden track where the guitar is the star) were courtesy of Mike Campbell. People talk about the great collaborators in rock and roll: Paul McCartney and John Lennon or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but people ought to speak more about Petty and Campbell. I don’t think you could find two people with more synergy than those two guys. I’m not sure Petty realized what a truly valuable collaborator Campbell was until Mike co wrote “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. It was a bigger hit than anything off of Southern Accents and at that point I think Petty decided to expand Campbell’s creative input. I’m just guessing on that. Rolling Stone magazine has Campbell at number 79 on their list of 100 best guitarists and frankly I think that’s low. Way low.

I wondered what would happen to Mike Campbell after the tragic death of Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Mike is truly one of the most talented, important guys in rock and roll and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s an “unsung” hero, he should be getting more attention than he does. It was with some surprise that I heard that Campbell joined Fleetwood Mac after they’d cut ties with Lindsey Buckingham (Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way). Campbell’s long association with Stevie Nicks probably made that a no brainer. I was excited to hear Campbell talk about playing some of that old Peter Green stuff from the Mac. Alas, it doesn’t look like this latest configuration of Fleetwood Mac will be doing any recording. Instead, Campbell has released a new album with a band he’s had as a side project for quite a while, the Dirty Knobs. I love the name. This isn’t Campbell’s first band on the side… The Rock Chick discovered and played me the great LP by the Blue Stingrays. It’s a surf rock gem, Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays, although Campbell and the rest of the Heartbreakers chose to remain anonymous on that album.

In the run up to the release of the Dirty Knobs’ new album, Wreckless Abandon, Campbell had said that this was a heavier, more raw-boned album than the Heartbreakers stuff. While that is mostly true, so alike were Campbell and Petty in their style and approach that it’s hard not to listen to this and hear an echo of the Heartbreakers. Well, the Heartbreakers without the keyboards, this is a guitar record. It would be easy to think of this as a recording of stuff that Campbell would turn over to Petty as a demo tape, not that there is any sort of an unfinished aspect to any of this great music. Even the Rock Chick said, upon playing this album, “Wow, he really sounds like Petty.” The Dirty Knobs, besides Campbell on vocals/guitar are guitarist Jason Sinay, drummer Matt Laug, and bassist Lance Morrison. One of them sings with Campbell on “Loaded Gun,” but I’m not sure who.

The album begins with the first single and title track, “Wreckless Abandon.” The track starts with a sitar and then the band kicks in with a great rocking groove. I will admit up-front that Campbell’s voice is a little thin and perhaps even reedy in a few places. I still like the vocals on this record. I know a lot of people get nervous when the guitar player steps up to the microphone. A lot of people head for the beer line when Keith Richards gets to the mic, but his tracks are always my favorites on Stones’ albums. I know that only I feel that way… well, me and my old roommate Drew. “Wreckless Abandon” is the kind of great rock and roll you just don’t hear anymore, sadly.

The band quickly goes country-rock for the duet with Chris Stapleton on “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” It’s a down home bunch of fun. It’s right back to the rock and roll for “Sugar.” “Sugar” is probably the heaviest song on this album. It reminds me a touch of “Honey Bee” by Petty. I love the lascivious chorus, “She’s got the sugar, oh yes she does…” As I tell the Rock Chick, I didn’t marry you because you could cook… ahem. “Southern Boy” is another great rocker. I’m considering adding it to our playlist about trains (Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”). “I Still Love You” is another heavy rocking track with some big riffs. I’ll say it again for emphasis, this is a guitar album!

Perhaps my favorite song on the record is, perhaps not surprisingly, the ballad “Irish Girl.” I love the acoustic guitar and harmonica. I had a girlfriend in college who told me one time that I was always drawn to ballads because I was a basically sad person but you can’t always trust your girlfriends. Certainly not that woman… Another personal favorite is a song that runs through my head every day at work – “Fuck That Guy.” Sure it’s funny and Campbell mostly speaks the lyrics vs singing them, but it’s just such an appropriate song for these days when civility has died. The world weary manner that Campbell says the title…”yeah fuck that guy” is priceless. “Don’t Knock The Boogie” is another spoken word track and is a bluesy tribute to John Lee Hooker. It’s really just an excuse to let Campbell riff and I’m ok with that. “Ana Lee” is another sweet, acoustic ballad. “Loaded” is another heavy rocker. This album is just loaded with guitar, as you would expect from Campbell.

If you’re like me and you’re missing Tom Petty, Wreckless Abandon may just scratch that itch. But more broadly than that, if you like guitar, riff-rock this is your album. There’s a lot of rock and roll but there’s also some blues, ballads and a little bit of country rock. It’s basically all the things Mike Campbell does well which turns out to be everything. Enjoy this one with the volume turned up to 11.

Cheers, and as always be safe out there folks. It’s a dark ride, take care of each other this holiday season, which for me is a season to be endured.

Review: Smashing Pumpkins’ – ‘CYR’ – An Exhausting Slog With The Dark Lord of the Synth

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When I started BourbonAndVinyl I vowed to myself I’d try to be positive. There is so much negativity out there, especially online. Twitter is a cesspool of anger and grievances. At least Instagram is out there for pictures of people’s cats and what they’re eating. I joined Instagram to follow rock bands and I ended up following a bunch of cats and restaurants, but I digress. B&V was founded in order to throw light on older bands, artists who have been around for a while that are putting out new music that probably isn’t making it to your car radio (Bourbon and Vinyl: Mission Statement). I try to write about albums that I like, that excite me about rock and roll. At times, I fear that ethos has made me sound overly positive, which if you knew me is pretty ironic. 

I have indeed been critical in the past. I subscribe to the “important man (person)” theory of rock n roll. Important artists do big things. So when one of those “important” artists puts out a record that misses the mark, I have in the past felt compelled not only to comment but to be less than positive (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’). I’m hopeful that this post will not come across overly negative. However, as always, I’m going to give you my honest opinions here. 

I consider Billy Corgan, leader of the Smashing Pumpkins, to be one of those “great men” of rock and roll. Anyway you slice it, the guy has done some amazing work. However, even I must admit that Corgan, well, doesn’t lack self-confidence. No artist, if they’re being truthful, has enough ego to actually want to be the “voice of their generation.” Dylan struggled with that tag in the 60s. In the 90s that tag literally helped drive Kurt Cobain to suicide. Heavy weighs the crown. I saw Corgan interviewed years ago about Cobain and how he brought Grunge to the mainstream, changing music forever. Corgan said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there were a lot of artists pushing rock and roll’s new sound, grunge or alt rock, and Cobain ended up getting credit for it. I got the sense watching him, that Corgan was actually kind of disappointed he wasn’t tagged with that “voice of his generation” thing because I truly think he believes he was the voice of that generation and not Cobain. It’s like he feels gipped. Who knows… he did date Courtney Love so he shares that in common with Kurt, maybe he was the voice all along. I can’t adjudicate that but the guy has had a chip on his shoulder for a long time. 

I’m on record stating that I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan. I was a big fan of Siamese Dream after my friend Doug gave me that disc for my birthday many moons ago. It began a lifetime of fandom for me. I love the grandiosity of the epic Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I followed the band through the radical shift to electronica on Adore. That album remains amongst my favorite of their work. After the band fell apart following Machina/The Machine of Gods I followed Corgan (and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) on their next band, Zwan. I actually dug that album but I think I’m in the minority there. When Billy rebooted the Smashing Pumpkins I didn’t get back on the bandwagon until Oceania. I liked Monuments To An Elegy that featured Tommy Lee on drums. By that point Corgan was the only original member left. When it was announced that original members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) were rejoining, I was excited at the guitar rock possibilities. Admittedly, I’d liked to see original bassist D’Arcy back but I’ll take what I can get. 2018’s Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol 1 was not the hard rock reunion I was expecting, but I still liked it (LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’. I figured they were just taking their time to re ignite the chemistry. 

The Pumpkins have finally returned with the follow-up(?), not with “Shiny And Oh So Bright Volume Two” but with what’s being billed as a double-album CYR. And in classic Billy Corgan fashion, with the chip securely on his shoulder, he’s delivered an album no one would have expected. Instead of the classic guitar-epic music we’d expect, he’s delivered a keyboard heavy album. It’s as if Billy has decided to join the dark side… The Dark Lord of the Synth, he’s Darth Keyboards. The first time I heard this record I thought I’d accidentally played a Flock of Seagulls’ disc from 85. I will say, his vocals still have that immediacy, that urgency you would expect, it’s just the music is such a surprise. What makes this all the more confounding is that drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha are purportedly playing on this record, just like the last one. Chamberlin is one of the more aggressive drummers ever and on this record he’s mostly confined to being a metronome, he’s totally neutered here. If James Iha is playing guitar on this record it’s like a “Where’s Waldo’s Guitar.” Even Jeff Schroeder who plays bass and guitar is seemingly awol. This is the sound of one man who spent way too much time playing with the latest technology. The only proof that anybody but Corgan contributed on this record are the female backup singers. 

Practically half of these tracks were released as singles… I only posted about the first two, Review: Smashing Pumpkins Release 2 New Songs, “Cyr,” “The Colour of Love”. I have to admit those two tracks have grown on me. I especially like the title track, “Cyr.” Corgan sings “I’m on the verge” so many times I have no choice but to believe him. There are other good moments here. “Confessions Of A Dopamine Addict” is actually interesting… I think it actually has some real drums. “Dulcet In E” is a nice Corgan ballad. The two tracks that generate the most heat, for me, were the curiously titled “Anno Santana” and the overly affected title of “Wyttch” (ie, Witch). Both have a bit of actual guitar. Neither is “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” 

I’m not faulting the guy for wanting to go in another direction. I loved Adore. But by the second half of this album, washed in all the cold keyboards and synths it all sort of turns into white noise. The songs are just not that memorable, especially on the second half of the record. Corgan has always written great hooks and there just aren’t any here. While this is described as a double-LP it just feels like a boring, long single disc. If Corgan is this ambivalent about songwriting and the songs he’s putting out, why wouldn’t we be too? To call this album monochromatic doesn’t do it justice… at least Picasso’s “Blue Period” was interesting. 

This album is, in a few words, a huge disappointment. I think we were all waiting for a great Smashing Pumpkins’ album. Sadly, this isn’t it. I can’t imagine Iha and Chamberlin will stay on with the Pumpkins if all they’re going to do is pose for publicity photos. This one is a hard pass for me. 

Cheers!