Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Return With New Song “Can’t Let Go” From Upcoming LP ‘Raise The Roof’

Robert Plant has had a storied career. He began – or became famous anyway – as the lead singer of the legendary, hard-rock band Led Zeppelin. There were two bands that were worshiped like deities in the 70s when I was in junior high school: Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Of course I may think that because most my friends were stoners and stoners tend to gravitate to those bands. Maybe it was all that velvet, black-light art work… We weren’t listening to punk in the Midwest, we were listening to classic rock. After the tragic, preventable death of Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin decided to disband. Bonham would have been hard to replace. And in all honesty I think Zeppelin had watched the Who try to replace Keith Moon with former Faces’ drummer Kenny Jones and realized it might be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I still dug the Who and Face Dances is one of those LPs only I love… but the Who were fundamentally different without Moon on the kit.

Almost from the moment Zeppelin broke up – on December 4th 1980 – people have been clamoring for a Zeppelin reunion. Early on there were rumors that Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page were going to dump bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and form a “super group” with the former rhythm section of Yes, Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums). I’m still not sure where those rumors came from. I think the four had jammed one afternoon. I think the rumor took root because the proposed name of the new band was catchy. They were going to be called XYZ… for Ex-Yes and Zeppelin. Which I have to admit is a pretty cool name. But, confounding the adoring, broken-hearted fans Plant put out his first solo record a year and half later, in June of 1982, entitled Pictures At Eleven. I absolutely loved that album despite Phil Collins playing drums… well, he’s actually a great drummer, but I digress. “Burning Down One Side” is one of my all time favorite songs.

From there Plant’s solo career has really been a journey. He’s explored the vast regions of roots-centric rock ever since. Every few LPs he’d change his band or change his sound. He experimented with what was new and current but always kept a foot in the bluesy, folky stuff that he sang in his early days. I’m not suggesting much of what he’s done solo is “Zeppelin-esque” but it does have some of the same qualities. As he’s gotten older Plant went from the banshee wail of those early Zep albums to becoming a fuller singer with a richer voice. I have absolutely loved the sound of his voice on his last few solo records like his last LP, Carry Fire. His late period solo career from Dreamland onward has been the stuff that B&V was founded on. I have seen Plant solo (and with Jimmy Page in Plant-Page) several times and the last concert of his I attended might have been the best yet.

Despite all the success and wonderful music Plant has put out over the years there are still those who would love to see a Led Zeppelin reunion. I think the show they did in London at the O2 Arena (memorialized on the live LP and Blu-Ray, Celebration Day) will be the last we see of Zeppelin. I think Plant likes to be relaxed. He doesn’t like the pressure that a reunion LP and tour would put on him… the pressure to match the heights that Zeppelin soared to in the 70s would indeed be daunting. I saw Plant at the venerable Uptown Theater with the Rock Chick years ago and after the main set, when Plant came out for the encore, he strolled out on stage with a cold Red Stripe beer in his hand. He looked as chill as they come. I certainly envied him the cold Jamaican beer. I think that’s the vibe Plant wants in his life. Who needs the hassles of expectations?

I think the pressure of high expectations is also what has kept Plant from doing a second duets LP with Alison Krauss. I can’t believe it’s been fourteen years since the wonderful Raising Sand. That album was a runaway success. I can remember hearing about it coming out and going to the CD store to pick it up… I brought it home and rushed it down to my “man-cave,” the rock and roll basement. The Rock Chick and I sat smiling and marveling at the wonderful harmonizing Krauss and Plant were doing. It was a laid back, rootsy affair. The Rock Chick looked at me and said, “This is going to be huge.” And indeed it was. We saw them in concert on the ensuing tour and it was wonderful. They brought that harmonizing alive that night. There were rumors that they were going to record a follow up with producer T Bone Burnett back at the helm but it never came. The rumors seemed to indicate they were going to actually write new, original songs for the follow-up. But the bigger Raising Sand became the bigger those pesky expectations became. And I think Plant felt that pressure and decided to grab a Red Stripe and head the other direction…

We finally have a reunion involving Plant – perhaps not the reunion all the Zeppelin fans have clamored for – but a reunion I’m excited about. Plant and Krauss finally got together, with producer T Bone Burnett (also on guitar) for a new LP, Raise The Roof. I don’t know what is up with the use of the word “Raise” in both titles but hey, it worked last time. From what I’ve seen there are no original songs on this LP. It appears they’re sticking to the formula that worked so well with Raising Sand and the new LP will be another album of all cover songs. They’ve released the first single, a cover of Lucinda Williams’ great tune “Can’t Let Go.” Its a song from her masterpiece, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. I can’t think of a better song selection for their roots-driven vibe than this Lucinda Williams tune.

Once again we have those two fabulous voices, weaving together like a finely knitted sweater. They sing over what has to be T Bone Burnett’s spidery guitar and (I’m assuming) the subtle drumming of Jay Bellerose. Plant’s voice is a little more dominant but Krauss is right there with him. They compliment each other in much the same way the Everly Brothers used to. They really kill it on this track. The Rock Chick exclaimed, when I played the track for her, “They’re just so damn good together!” They capture the spirit of Lucinda’s original but make it their own. This is a great kick off to what promises to be a fantastic LP… Here’s the link to the song:

While it’s been a tough week here at B&V with the loss of Charlie Watts, this great little roots rocker is helping pull me through. It’s strong enough it got me to stop obsessively listening to the Stones…(“the drummer thinks that he is dynamite”). I hope it gets you down the road to where you’re going… maybe grab a Red Stripe while you listen to this one and kick back. Its what Robert Plant would do.

Cheers!

 

Devastating News, RIP Charlie Watts, One of The Greatest Drummers Of All Time

1b20f918421382063c6d9c62710bd4cc8f-vulture.rsquare.w330

“I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back seat, ‘Cause they’re bangin’ like Charlie Watts” – John Hiatt, “Slow Turning”

I just got the sad, devastating news that Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer of the Rolling Stones passed away at 80 years old, surrounded by family in London.

I was worried something was seriously wrong. For the first time in Stones’ history, it was announced that Watts was going to miss the upcoming North American tour, coming in the fall. He’d had to have surgery on “something they found” in a pre-tour physical. I had hoped he’d bounce back. The band and Charlie’s family have been very tight lipped on what his condition was, so it was easy to be optimistic that it was something minor… But it kept nagging at me… he was 80. I was hoping for the best but worrying about the worst case scenario, just like Grandma taught me.

In a band known for it’s excesses back in the 70s and 80s, Watts was the epitome of class and restraint. Even his drumming could be described as controlled. He was heavily influenced by jazz and indeed I think it was his first love. Besides the Stones he’d occasionally tour as the Charlie Watts Quintet playing the jazz msuic he loved.

As I’ve often said, the Stones were the first band I ever loved. They are my absolute favorite. And Charlie Watts’ amazing drumming is a big part of that. He was never flashy like Neil Peart. His drumming was never overbearing and dominant like Keith Moon or John Bonham. He played his drums in whatever way that best suited the song. Keith used to refer to Charlie as the “engine” of the Stones. I am just gutted by this news.

My favorite Charlie Watts’ story dates from the 80s. The Stones were somewhere in the Caribbean recording an album. Mick Jagger had been out drinking and decided he wanted to do some recording. He was drunkenly stumbling around the lobby of the hotel they were staying in, shouting “I need my drummer. Somebody get my drummer down here.” Eventually he got on the house phone and called Charlie’s room and said the same thing, “I need my drummer, I want to record something, get down here.” Charlie, ever the classy dude, rose from bed and put on his suit, enraged to have been awakened in the middle of the night. He put on his suit and shirt. He went to the elevator and calmly rode down to the lobby. I always imagine it like that scene in The Blues Brothers…chaos in the lobby, calm in the elevator car, maybe some Muzak playing. He sprang out of the elevator grabbed Mick by the collar and punched him with a round-house right. “I’m not your drummer, you’re my fucking singer.” He then returned to his room, leaving Jagger laid out on the floor. Only Charlie could get away with something like that. I’m guessing nobody woke Charlie up at 3 am again.

I took my daughter to see the Stones on the ‘Zipcode’ tour a few years back. It was really important to me that she see the Stones. She texted me this afternoon and said, “Did you see the news about Charlie Watts? So sad.” Indeed it is… I’m so glad we bought those tickets. The fact that my daughter knew who Charlie Watts was and got to see him is proof that no matter what… I’m a great parent.

This devastating news leaves only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the original members in the band. Of course Bill Wyman is still out there in retirement. Mick Taylor is still around and appeared at some of their 50th anniversary shows. They recruited Steve Jordan who has worked with Keith in the Xpensive Winos to play on this tour. Ronnie Wood has reported he just recovered from cancer which scares me.  What this means for the future of the Stones is hard to know. As long as Keith and Mick are around they’ll probably be another tour on the calendar. But in my mind they’ve really lost something with Charlie’s passing. He was the foundation. I’m concerned about what this means for the oft delayed new studio stuff they were working on.

Most of all I’m just bummed out that a legend on drums has left us. The world is a less rhythmic place today. I know I’ll be listening to a whole lot of Stones tonight.

Cheers. It’s a long dark ride. Take care of yourselves out there. Live every day like it’s your last.

Lookback: Metallica’s ‘The Black Album’ Turns 30 This Month – My Conflicted Thoughts

There have been a number of significant anniversaries this year. Well, rock and roll anniversaries anyway. Most of the milestones have been around albums that were released in that seminal year of 1971. I’ve been kind of wrapped up in all of that having posted a playlist for 1971, blissing out on CSNY’s Deja Vu and currently listening to George Harrison’s masterwork All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary. It’s hard not to get caught up in the whole “50th anniversary thing,” that’s a big number. While I’ve been focused on all of that, I didn’t realize that another album had reached a significant milestone as well. Metallica’s self-titled 1991 LP, aka The Black Album, turned thirty years old this August. In many circles it’s considered a stone cold classic. I have to admit, I dig this album, but I have a bit of a complicated relationship with both it and Metallica in general. To be more accurate I used to have a conflicted feeling about Metallica. I love them now. But I still have a conflicted relationship with the album Metallica.

Metallica’s first album the classic Kill ‘Em All came out in 1983. I had to rub my eyes and look at that again. In 1983 I was just barely in college, struggling to make the adjustment to living away from home and trying to become an adult. Needless to say, I was distracted and completely unaware that Kill Em All even existed at the time. In my defense, most heavy metal bands in those days dressed like chicks in spandex and bandanas with giant blow-dried hair. Every band looked the same and their videos looked identical. Well, the bands we thought of as heavy metal back then anyway. And while some of those bands rocked hard – Motley Crue springs to mind – a lot of them didn’t – Bon Jovi springs to mind. Metallica was authentic, balls to the wall heavy metal. Their influences were all those great British 70s heavy metal bands that arrived in Black Sabbath’s wake. Their sound was significantly heavier and more menacing than anything around. There was a touch of punk in the thrash metal they played and more than a touch of prog rock in the way they played on their early LPs. No wonder we never heard them on the radio.

Metallica took a quantum leap forward on their second album, Ride The Lightning. The first album was already a classic but no one expected the long, complicated tracks with multiple time changes and even heavier lyrics. Most bands sang about partying and chicks while Metallica sang about dying in the electric chair. There was an intelligence and power in what they were doing and yet… I still had no idea who they were. It wasn’t until March, 27th 1986 when some buddies of mine and I drove all the way down to Wichita, Kansas to see Ozzy Osbourne that I became aware that Metallica even existed. We were Ozzy fans. We dug Van Halen and AC/DC. The opening act comes out onto a foggy stage covered in big white crosses. There was a collective, “who the fuck are these guys?” Metallica were opening up for Ozzy and touring behind their third LP (who knew?) Master of Puppets and the stage evoked the album cover. When I tell Metallica fans that I saw them on this tour they tend to freak out. This was original bassist Cliff Burton’s final tour. He was killed in a bus crash on the European leg later that year. I didn’t even know which one he was on stage… That night at Ozzy, I’m embarrassed to admit – they didn’t make an impression on any of us. They opened with “Battery” and went right into “Master Of Puppets.” They played faster than anything we’d ever seen before. We kept yelling, “Louder, faster!” They had their heads bowed down and all we could see was bobbing heads with shaking hair. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize any of them in a line up… I don’t think I saw a face. We were all loaded on beer and No-Doz and couldn’t be bothered with this gloomy opening act. We walked in Ozzy fans, we left as Ozzy fans. I did pick up some Metaphysical Wisdom that night…

It was 10 years later when I crossed paths with Metallica again. By then I at least knew who they were. On a drunken night in Westport years earlier we’d run into an old college buddy who I’ll call Al (name changed to protect the guilty) and he kept singing at the top of his lungs “Aaaaand nothing else matters!!” Do you want another drink Al? “Yes… AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS…” So by June 27, 1996 when Lollapalooza came to Kansas City (specifically, Longview Lake), I was familiar with the 1991 LP, Metallica. By then they had a new LP out, Load. It was a bit controversial that Metallica was headlining Lollapalooza. They were metal, Lolla was an alternative rock thing. The tribal lines were drawn more firmly back then. I remember going over to my friend’s little brother’s place to “pre-game” and have a few beers. His roommate, who was in med school, had “Metallica” tattoo’d on his bicep. I can just imagine some poor old lady in surgery, coming out of the anesthesia induced fog and seeing that tattoo and dropping into a coma. I had been talked into going all the way out to Longview Lake to see this show because Soundgarden was playing right before Metallica.

I’m standing in the beer line on a ridge overlooking Longview Lake (naturally) and I hear the Doors’ song, “Waiting For the Sun.” But it’s not Jim Morrison, its Chris Cornell. I turned and ran back to the area where the stage was set up as fast as I could. What a show! As he was leaving, addressing the Lolla controversy of Metallica headlining Cornell said, “I bet you’re all glad now Metallica is still coming up next.” I have to admit, I really didn’t care. But then Metallica came out and they rocked. My friend’s little brother, who I’ll call Young Goodman Brown says that during “Ain’t My Bitch” I nudged him with my elbow and said, “These guys are kind of good. I like this tune.” What drew me in at first was Kirk Hammett’s fluid, soaring solo’s on guitar. That guy is amazing. But as I listened I started to realize what a great drummer Lars Ulrich is. Maybe there was more to this band than I’d realized. Sometimes you just have to see a band live. I do remember Lars made a mistake on one song and James Hetfield (lead singer/guitar) gave him a ration of shit, live in front of the crowd.

I went out the next day and bought Metallica and the then-current Load. Mind you, I had no knowledge of their first iconic four LPs. They rank up there with Sabbath’s first five or six LPs. Classic heavy metal and I hadn’t heard a note of any of it. Well, except the two live shows I’d seen. They’d even played “Whiplash” at Lolla, not that I could have identified it. While I really loved “Until It Sleeps” off of Load, I spent most my time after that listening to Metallica. There’s a theory in rock n roll that says when a band, later in their career, releases a self-titled album (ie, it’s not their debut) it signals a rebirth or a new direction for the band. Unbeknownst to me, that was utterly true for Metallica. They had taken the epic length song, thrash-metal style of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All as far as they could. They pared the songs down in terms of length and made them more concise and even heavier, if that’s possible. They were still rocking with the same intensity but that change in style also made them… oh no!… more popular. The hard core following they had up to that time felt betrayed. There were accusations of “selling out.” Of course that LP sold in the millions.

I struggled a bit with The Black Album. The Spinal Tap art work didn’t help. “How much blacker can we get it?” There were five big “hits” that I really liked. “Enter Sandman” (great f’ing song and video), “Nothing Else Matters” (cheers Al), “Unforgiven” (their first ballad), “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam” were instant classics. The rest, however, felt like filler. I remember taping the album for use in my car – yes, this was pre-iPods – and I only taped those five songs. I then did a bit of a pick and choose on Load as well. I could go so far as to say I liked Metallica, but I didn’t love them. I struggled to understand what the rabid fans saw in these guys. And, I’ll admit, I thought Hetfield was kind of an asshole. Of course back then those guys drank more than my friends and I did which didn’t really help. In my mind I’d kind of relegated them to a big band I could only connect with on a few tracks. I decided I just didn’t “get” Metallica. For me, I thought the issue was settled.

Then a strange thing happened. Another 12 years passed. It was 2008 and I was now a married guy, living in the suburbs. Metallica released a new album Death Magnetic which was seen as both a comeback and a return to the style of their earlier LPs. I kept hearing “The Day That Never Comes” on satellite radio…and to my surprise, I loved it. I heard “Cyanide” next. After hearing “All Nightmare Long” I’d heard enough… I bought the album and something just clicked for me with Metallica. I know that’s a weird on-ramp to this band but it’s how it happened. I quickly snatched up their first four albums and I was suddenly amongst the converted. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t own that miserable Re-Load album… gads that was a wrong turn. But I now consider Metallica to be amongst the most important heavy metal bands ever.

Hearing the first four LPs helped me put The Black Album in clearer context. I could see how the people who’d followed them up to that point were disappointed. That said, I thought it was a nice change of direction. Even the songs beyond “the big five” tracks that everyone knows started to grow on me. “Holier Than Thou” and “Don’t Tread On Me” started to find their way onto my heavier playlists. I’ve gone from thinking it was a weak album with a handful of great tracks to understanding that it is a very good Metallica album. Although, hearing their early stuff, I have to say, it’s not a great Metallica album. Beloved by millions of new fans at the time, it’s really not the essence of who they are…at least not to me. Their last LP, Hardwired…To Self Destruct was another triumph in the same vein as that early stuff. I now look forward to new Metallica with the same excited anticipation as I do anybody else in the B&V canon. Having listened to The Black Album repeatedly over the last few weeks it’s an album we should be celebrating on it’s 30th anniversary in a big way. Although I have to admit I’m a little stunned it’s been 30 years… as Dylan said, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.”

Cheers!

Review: New Song From Billy Idol, “Bitter Taste” From the Upcoming EP ‘The Roadside’

BFI_The Roadside-CD Wallet FNL

I’m not a big social media guy. I got on Instagram so I could follow the Stones. Now I follow a number of bands. I got on Twitter for much the same reason. Bands seem to announce new music, new albums or a new tour on social media. I didn’t want to move from vinyl to CDs in the 90s but record companies forced my hand. I didn’t want to get on social media, but again, rock n roll forced my hand. I am not on Facebook and I will remain that way forever. My friend drummer Blake tells me it would help my readership if I did get on Facebook but I’m simply not interested.

I got on one of the social media sites this week and was scrolling through in my usual absent minded way. I follow Billy Idol and saw he’d posted what looked like a video of him driving. I had the thing muted as I was listening to David Crosby’s new LP, For Free…rather obsessively I might add. I’ve been all over the place musically of late going from Jackson Browne to Metallica to Guns N’ Roses then to David Crosby. One foot on the gas, one foot on the brake as I’ve always been fond of saying. Anyway, I scrolled right past the Billy Idol post. Don’t get me wrong, I love Billy Idol. The Rock Chick and I saw him at the Uptown Theater a few years ago and he and his guitarist Steve Stevens, who I’m also a huge fan of, were on fire that night! But for some reason – despite getting on social media to be alerted to new music – I wasn’t paying attention and completely missed Billy’s new tune.

The Rock Chick came up to my home office, which is a cubby hole in the attic, and said “Have you heard this new awesome Billy Idol song?” Because I’m brain dead, I had to say no. There’s a Bad Company song entitled “She Brings Me Love,” but in my case with the Rock Chick, she brings me music. She immediately pulled Idol’s new song up on YouTube – I’ve shared the accompanying video below – and I was blown away. The new track is called “Bitter Taste.” Oh, my god, this is the best thing Billy Idol has done since Charmed Life. Apparently Idol is releasing a four song EP, The Roadside and “Bitter Taste” is the first single. This is not only a great song, it’s one of Idol’s best tracks ever. I was completely entranced by this track.

I’ll admit in the 80s I was a slow adopter on Idol. The haircut, the videos, the snarl, and the whole punk rock thing put me off. I was busy in the 80s listening to music from the 60s and 70s. But once I started listening to the songs on Rebel Yell I started to get interested. Videos didn’t help everybody back in the day. I still had to hear the music on a stereo to get into something. I dug the song “Rebel Yell” but it was “Eyes Without A Face” that made me an Idol fan. I taped my roommates’ copy of the Rebel Yell album and to this day I don’t know why “Blue Highway” wasn’t a bigger song. The first LP of his I bought was Whiplash Smile which was an uneven record but “Forgot To Be A Lover” remains a personal favorite. I actually re-bought that album on vinyl right before the pandemic. Although, even I’ll admit I didn’t connect with his last couple of records. That cold streak ends with “Bitter Taste.” The Rock Chick played the song several times last night while DJ’ing a rock mix while we, er, she prepped dinner… she’s a talented person. It’s definitely in high rotation here at the house.

“Bitter Taste” starts off with the strumming of an acoustic guitar. It takes me back to Idol’s song “Prodigal Blues.” The lyrics portray a man who has lived hard and is unapologetic about doing so. “You should have left me way back, by the roadside.” I think those of us who have lived life on the harder edge can relate. I’ve made a lot of wrong decisions in my life but at least they were my decisions. “Hello, goodbye, I was staring in the Devil’s Eye.” I’m not a huge video guy, but here’s the link. I’ll even admit I think it’s pretty cool too.

I love Steve Stevens’ spectral electric guitar that is ever present but never overwhelms the track. It floats in the background until the very end then bursts forward like tears held back too long. When Stevens intertwines the acoustic guitar with the electric, it’s money. Shading the light with the dark, it’s the perfect balance. I feel like Stevens is one of those guitar greats who never gets the credit he deserves. He and Idol are a fabulous combination.

I believe Idol is going out on tour… I’m vaccinated and I hope he comes somewhere near here. Hearing “Bitter Taste” will be worth the price of admission. As I read today on the dreaded social media, “Vaccines are the gateway drug to concerts.” Stay tuned for more on the upcoming EP The Roadside. We’ll definitely be keeping an ear out for that one.

Cheers!

Review: David Crosby, ‘For Free,’ The Sublime New Album – One Of His Best Solo LPs

image

“I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born” – David Crosby, “I Won’t Stay For Long”

I started this year deeply immersed in Neil Young’s Archives, Volume II covering his career from 1972 to 1976. Then I found myself wildly obsessed with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu: 50th Anniversary. The outtakes and stuff that didn’t make the album sowed the seeds to the beginning of all of their solo careers. Well, at least for David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills. I think it’s true Neil always guarded his best stuff for his solo albums but I’m getting off topic. Right now I’m similarly enraptured with David Crosby’s new LP, For Free. I guess for me 2021 is just a CSNY, Laurel Canyon, California, folk-rock haze. I guess I should have gone all in on the purchase of the buckskin fringe jacket, tie-dye t-shirt and bell bottom jeans my wife forbade me to wear. The album cover for For Free was painted by none other than Joan Baez which only accentuates my whole vibe these days…when I’m not complaining about the awful new Gun N’ Roses song

David Crosby is in the midst of what can only be described as a career renaissance or a creative peak that has lasted several years and counting. He’s released five albums in the last seven years, a Van Morrison-ish pace. If you’d told me that this far down the line it’d be Crosby’s records I’d be excitedly awaiting and not Neil Young’s, I’d have scoffed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always dug David Crosby but from 1971 to 2013 he only released 3 solo albums. Over those 42 years that’s average of an album every fourteen years (for all you math-challenged folks out there). And admittedly during those years there were some legal issues fueled by drug use… drugs start out as fun, turn into fun with trouble and end with just trouble… Of course during those years he also released a number of duo albums with his erstwhile friend Graham Nash and a few with CSN and occasionally Y. There are some who say Crosby is better in a band setting. He was a founding member of the Byrds although he was eventually contentiously fired. He did seem to thrive in the configurations of Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young and certainly flourished in his recordings with Graham Nash. I even dug his CPR stuff with Jeff Pevar and James Raymond, his son who he gave up for adoption but reunited with later in life. But in truth, I actually dig Crosby solo, front and center if you will. Check out “Drive My Car”…a truly great tune.

This whole creative burst started with 2014’s Croz produced in part by his son James Raymond. That was a surprisingly solid record, his first solo disc in 21 years. He then teamed up with Micheal League from Snarky Puppy and vocalists Becca Stevens and Michelle Williams for the more raw and acoustic Lighthouse in 2016. Crosby who was used to laboring over a record for years was approached by League who asked if he wanted to try and do something more immediate like Crosby’s masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name. I think they recorded Lighthouse in like five days. That gave Crosby sort of a dual career path. He’d do an album with Raymond at the helm – a more polished, focused studio effort – and then he’d jump back into the League/Stevens/Williams camp that he calls “the Lighthouse Band” and do something more raw-boned. The Lighthouse Band really connects with Crosby’s folky roots to my ears. I really love the harmonizing the vocalists do. After the Lighthouse album, Crosby returned to the James Raymond-helmed band and in 2017 released Sky Trails an LP that just knocked me out. What a gorgeous album. That’s the one that got me onto the Crosby bandwagon. I didn’t write about his League produced/Lighthouse Band follow up, Hear If You Listen because for some reason I was led to believe it was merely a live album. It’s amazing. The version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” on that LP rivals Joni’s original… and possibly CSNY’s version. Crosby produced Mitchell’s debut LP, and it seems he covers a track of hers on every LP he does now.

And so now, Crosby has returned to the James Raymond-produced Sky Trails side of his career and released For Free. His voice, while slightly weathered by time is still an incredible instrument. And Raymond’s production for this album is a perfect environment for Crosby to soar as a vocalist. James Raymond has a solo writing credit on three of the tracks and they’re all stand-outs. At this stage of his career Crosby sounds like a wise and wizened Buddha sitting on the side of a mountain, laying out melodic wisdom. On Here If You Listen he sang and ruminated on subjects from Zen to mortality. The lyrics verge on poetry. For Free, like Sky Trails before it, is a much more polished and (dare I say) pop-oriented record (at least to a degree). Crosby has always had a fascination with jazz and you hear that vibe sprinkled throughout the album. It’s not jazz but it’s jazzy. He certainly pulls that sound off better than Sting used to try and do. While I dig the Lighthouse band, I’m more into the Croz/SkyTrails side of the equation. While unlike previous records there’s nothing I’d call overtly political on this record – despite Crosby’s reputation as a political firebrand – the album does have a feeling of coming out of the darkness and heading toward the light. That’s a feeling we can all get into these days. The band on For Free includes, as usual, James Raymond on various instruments (what can’t he play?), sax player Steve Tavaglione, drummer Steve DiStanislao among others.

The opening track, which is also the first single, is “River Rise” a duet with Michael McDonald. Yes, I’ll admit this harkens back to the Doobie Brother’s “Yacht Rock” of the late 70s but it’s a great tune. It’s a catchy damn tune and amazingly buoyant. McDonald used to sing with Steely Dan and I think that’s really the vibe Crosby is going for. The first track on Sky Trails, “She’s Got To Be There” had a Steely Dan sound so that makes sense. “River Rise” quickly fades into the second track, which may be my favorite song, “I Think I.” I love the chorus, “I think I found my way…” If only I could too… Crosby’s vocal is impassioned. Speaking of a Steely Dan vibe, another stand out is “Rodriguez For A Night,” which is actually written by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. It’s the funniest track here, full of angels, drugstore cowboys and the titular outlaw. I think I speak for all of us when I say, “I’d sell my soul to be Rodriguez for a night.” That song sounds like an outtake from Katy Lied. It also recalls, for me, Crosby’s own “Cowboy Movie.”

Crosby, as he’s done on several albums in a row now, covers a Joni Mitchell song. It’s the title track, “For Free.” He’s accompanied beautifully by Sarah Jarosz. He’s done this track twice before – once with the Byrds and once on a live CSN album – so this makes his third try. I’m guessing he re-recorded the song because this is a great vehicle for Jarosz and he to sing together. It’s a great song about a street musician who plays basically, “for free.” He plays merely for the love of playing. “Secret Dancer” is a beautifully sung track about a robot who becomes sentient and then, horrified by human’s history of suffering, dances it away. Someone has been watching Ex Machina. “The Other Side of Midnight” is a beautiful James Raymond song that may be about dancing with Mother Nature late at night…

The last three tracks on the album make for quite a close. The intensity of the album really kicks up a notch. “Boxes” a meditation on time and it’s passing and it is simply wonderful. “There’s love in these boxes.” Following that is “Shot At Me” about a veteran returned from the war. Finally, the track that ends the album and might be the most emotionally effecting is “I Won’t Stay For Long.” It begins with Crosby’s voice, a piano and muted horn… which really sets the mood. This one is also written by James Raymond and it’s a stunner. It’s poetic, emotional and the perfect track to end on. “I’m facing a squall like of a thousand-year storm, I don’t know if I’m dying or about to be born, But I’d like to be with you today.” Heavy ruminations man.

This may be my favorite of Crosby’s late career albums and I really loved Sky Trails so that’s saying something. These latter day David Crosby LPs are the kind of records that B&V was built to highlight. This certainly isn’t an album you’re going to play at your Labor Day BBQ party. However, it’s a perfect, late night, sitting out on the deck with a tumbler of something dark and murky when you just want to get lost in some high quality melodies and music. This is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

Cheers!

Review: Guns N Roses First New Song In 13 Years, The Aptly Titled “Absurd”

M_gnrabsurd_8621

Leave it to Guns N’ Roses to sneak up on me…

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that I’ve taken a “vacation” from music. Mind you – it wasn’t by choice. My corporate masters called me to New York for a series of meetings that chewed up most my week. Typically my job allows me to have some music on in the background when I’m toiling away on a spreadsheet or a written report. It comes as no surprise to B&V readers that I like to listen to music while I’m writing stuff. In between Webex meetings I’ve usually got tunes on. I don’t think I’m unique in that habit. But when I’m traveling to meetings like the New York session I’m typically sitting in conference rooms surrounded by people. At night I’m usually out at dinner with colleagues making small talk (“So what do you do Hank?”) and by the time I get back to the hotel, it’s lights out. I didn’t even get to listen to any tunes on the flights I was on getting to and from New York. Flight time is thinking time… which really means nap time.

When I got back home on Thursday night, the Rock Chick had her usual plethora of things we “need” to get done. I typically have music on at all times in my personal life, but the Rock Chick kept me busy… well, her and the Olympics kept me occupied. It was the first week in a long time I hadn’t posted anything on B&V. But having spent the week in the relative silence of a rock n roll void, I didn’t even think about posting. I did see however, that G’n’R had performed a “brand new song” called “Absurd” at Fenway Park in Boston. I lived in Boston for a summer and Fenway would be an awesome venue to see Guns N’ Roses. Eventually I pulled the track up and listened to the live performance. I thought perhaps they were messing with us and this was some kind of joke. To quote the Rock Chick who I played the song for, “That’s fucking terrible.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m on record as a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. I think had Axl been able to avoid his LSD (Lead Singer Disease) and the original line-up held together these guys would rank up there with the Stones or Zeppelin. I have to admit, after Axl took over the band and was the last original member standing, then took fifteen years to record an album, they lost me a bit. And, I will admit I found Chinese Democracy to be a huge disappointment. In retrospect, if you set aside all my enormous expectations, it wasn’t a horrible LP. It just wasn’t that great dirty blues metal that I’d come to love and cherish from GnR. Axl clearly has a Nine Inch Nails fetish. They veered into an almost Industrial Rock thing.

I was very encouraged and delighted when original lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan returned to the fold for the “Not In This Life Time Tour.” I saw their Kansas City show at Arrowhead Stadium in 2016. Other than last year’s pandemic shutdown, they’ve been touring almost constantly ever since. For those us hard core fans out here, that was great but I think I speak for the “GnR Universe” when I say we all wanted to hear new music from these guys. Although I have to admit, I was a little leery of their creative process without founding member, rhythm guitarist and foremost Axl songwriting partner Izzy Stradlin. It’s a shame that he’s not included in this reunion, but that’s another post.

I just realized on Monday that they’d released the studio version of “Absurd” on Friday… I’m usually on top of these new music releases but hey, I was still jet lagged. New York is my kinda town. I have to say, upon hearing the studio version of “Absurd” I was stunned… by how absurdly bad it is. I try to stay positive here on B&V but when something momentous like a new GnR single happens, I have to say something. Apparently they reworked an outtake from the Chinese Democracy sessions called “Silkworms” and now it’s called “Absurd.” It was written by longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and former keyboardist Chris Pitman. Soooo, its been 5 years since Slash and Duff came back and you just reworked a single written by the keyboard section that wasn’t good enough to make it onto Chinese Democracy? I guess I was right about the absence of Izzy Stradlin. These guys have put out one album in like 30 years and this is what they chose to lead with?

The track starts with the line, “Listen motherfuckers to a song that should be heard.” This is one motherfucker who would disagree on that whole “should be heard” premise. Axl’s vocals are sung like he’s mad at us. It sounds like he’s shouting through a megaphone. I mean, Zach De La Rocha has an impassioned delivery but at least the music – while still very powerful – has some nimble swing to it. I’ve never heard the oft bootlegged original version of this song, “Silkworms” but I understand it was more electronica than classic GnR rock. I will say that “Absurd” does have some great Slash guitar work. It’s the only thing that makes this track palatable. And Duff has a lovely little bass line on the song, the guy is a nimble player. Those guys certainly elevate the track but not enough to make it interesting. And the lyrics are some of the most misogynist I’ve heard in a while, even for GnR.

You would hope a band this important would want their first single in over a decade to be something epic, something that will burnish their legend and re engage fans. This is so far off the mark that it baffles me. I’ve been hoping for a new GnR album for 5 years… now, not so much. Let’s hope this turns out to be a minor stub of the toe and they’ve been actually working on new material – not just rewarmed Chinese Democracy rejects. They had a year off to write, didn’t they?

Sigh. Cheers!

Review: Jackson Browne, ‘Downhill From Everywhere’ – A Voice We All Need

“I’m still out here under the streetlight, baby, I’m still lookin’ for something in the night…if all I find is freedom that’s alright…” – Jackson Browne, “Still Looking For Something”

The Rock Chick and I loaded up the car and headed for points West to see the daughter this last weekend. While I was out living my Jack Kerouac “On The Road” fantasy I saw that Jackson Browne released a new album Downhill From Everywhere. I also saw David Crosby had released a new album as well… Jackson Browne and David Crosby both releasing an album on the same day… what is this, 1973? I can’t believe it’s been seven years since Browne last released a studio LP, the late career gem Standing In the Breach. Had B&V existed back then we definitely would have written about that one. Since 2000, Browne has only released four studio LPs, an average of 5 and a quarter years between each one. Needless to say when a singer/songwriter/producer like Jackson Browne drops his first album in damn near a decade, it’s a big deal. For those of you who only know him from “Somebody’s Baby” on the soundtrack for Fast Times At Ridgemont High, there is so much more. He’s had quite a storied career.

I first heard or learned about Jackson Browne the way most people did in the 70s, from rock n roll radio. I can remember prior to my rock awakening, hearing “Dr My Eyes” or “The Pretender” on the stereo at the neighborhood swimming pool when my mother would careen into the parking lot, barely stop and shove us from the car. She always said she was going to be back by 3:00pm and we should be waiting… but it always kinda felt like she might just keep driving and we’d never see her again. Jackson Browne specialized in beautifully sung introspective songs about love, relationships, life and death. These were not topics a pubescent 13 year old was into. I wanted songs with loud guitar about girls and more girls. It was my brother – who as always was out in front of me – who brought a Jackson Browne LP into the house, 1980’s Hold Out. Critics derided it as “self-indulgent” but it’s his only number 1 LP… I loved sitting in my brother’s room listening to “Boulevard” or “Call It A Loan.” While “Hold On Hold Out” with it’s cheesy spoken word part was cringe-worthy I always liked “That Girl Could Sing” and the lyric “She was a friend to me when I needed one, wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d done.” Even as a teenage virgin I hoped to meet a woman like that.

It wasn’t until college when I was infinitely more secure in my musical tastes that I delved into Browne’s catalog. I picked up his live album Running On Empty which was actually a concept album about the road. I also picked up his debut LP, a seminal singer/songwriter album and of course, The Pretender. His first five LPs are essential listening. After what was considered a disappointing outing on Hold Out, he followed up with Lawyers In Love. The title track was a joke that didn’t land. He has a great sense of humor evinced on songs like “Rosie” or “Ready Or Not” but people didn’t get “Lawyers In Love.” Browne’s songs were always highly personal but after that LP he veered hard into politics. He’d been an activist for a while and had even formed MUSE, Musicians United for Safe Energy and hosted the “No Nukes Concert.” I bought 1986’s Lives In the Balance and 1989’s World In Motion but eventually sold both of them at the Used Record Store. World In Motion was a tough listen… Lives In the Balance despite being political had some great songs.

After a rather cold string – two LPs that weren’t up to his early work and two LPs that were borderline strident – I drifted away from Jackson Browne. His “comeback” LP the very personal, break-up album I’m Alive is a phenomenal record. It really set him onto a stretch of great LPs. Everything he’s done since has been really strong – the kind of LPs B&V were founded on. I really got back into Jackson Browne on The Naked Ride Home from 2002. I highly recommend that disc for everyone. After I’m Alive Browne seemed to come to the realization that he’s better off mixing the personal with the political to make a point. When he balances those two viewpoints in one song, its magic. Time The Conqueror and Standing In the Breach are late career gems… although the latter is the pick of the litter for me, Time The Conqueror veered slightly too far into the political.

In the early 90s I say I drifted away from Jackson Browne’s music but in reality I just drifted back to his early LPs. I finally went out and bought his 2nd and 3rd LPs on CD, For Everyman and Late For the Sky. I was living in a crappy 1-bedroom apartment on Brush Creek, working a dead end job and fresh off a break up when For Everyman and Late For the Sky went into high rotation on my stereo. I was living next door to an exotically beautiful Egyptian woman who, when her boyfriend visited, can be best described by Paul Simon, “Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize.” I was laying awake late at night lamenting my life choices but the neighbor lady was celebrating life at full volume. I was sitting in front of my stereo one day when there was a knock on the door… I turned down the music and opened the door. There stood the screaming Egyptian woman. “What is this beautiful music I always hear coming from your apartment?” Stunned, I sort of mumbled, “Jackson Browne, Late For The Sky.” I sensed she wanted to come in and listen but for some reason I didn’t invite her in… Oh, a life of missed opportunities. Perhaps she could have “been a friend to me when I needed one…” I guess I’ll never know.

I actually saw Browne live for the first time in the middle 90s on the Looking East. He played a show down at the Liberty Memorial. He was amazing that night. I remember he dedicated the song “Fountain of Sorrow” to his ex girlfriend Darryl Hannah. He said, “I’d like to dedicate this song to Darryl Hannah who seems to hate me now…” I went down the rabbit hole on that whole situation this last week… I still don’t know what happened. I saw him again opening up for Tom Petty and he delivered again. If you get a chance to see Browne and his band live, buy the ticket.

Having been seven years since his last LP, as I mentioned before, hearing Downhill From Everywhere is like getting an email from an old friend you haven’t chatted with in a while. Browne’s songwriting chops are still very much in place. His voice is ageless. He’s backed on this LP by Greg Leisz and Val McCallum on guitar, venerable Bob Glaub on bass, Jeff Young on keyboards, and Mauricio Lewak on drums. These guys play like an actual backing band vs a bunch of studio hired guns. Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills who have been Browne’s back up vocalists for a long time are back for Downhill From Everywhere. The thing I’ve always loved about Jackson’s music is that he’s always searching for something, for answers. It’s a world view I can understand. He’s also a consummate craftsman – which some critics use as a put-down – but his records always sound great. His early albums all had David Lindley’s slide guitar all over them and McCallum and Leisz capture that same vibe here.

There is so much to like here. The opening track, “Still Looking For Something” is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s a soulful mediation on the search for truth. It’s a feeling I can relate to…I feel like I too am “still out here under the streelight…” “My Cleveland Heart” is a rock n roll song. Why Cleveland and not Detroit? I don’t know. Maybe its a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame reference? It’s a classic Browne rocker. “Minutes To Downtown” is a beautiful song about finding love later in life which more than a few of us can relate to. “The Dreamer” is the perfect example of Browne finding the right mix between the political and the personal. It’s a song in support of the DACA dreamers but told through the lens of a young girl. It’s simply put, a brilliant song. “We don’t see half the people around us, but we see enemies who surround us.” That line pretty much sums up the Fox News crowd… The ballad “A Little Too Soon To Tell” is a classic Jackson Browne song that sounds like lazy, late summer on the porch. “Song For Barcelona” is a track that transports me back to that wonderful city that I hope to return to some day… perhaps to live out my twilight years… “Love Is Love” comes across like a beautiful mantra.

There are only a few moments that miss the mark for me. He does a duet with Leslie Mendelson, “A Human Touch.” I think it was recorded for a movie. Too much Leslie not enough Jackson. “Until Justice Is Done” isn’t a bad political track but it doesn’t really take me anywhere. I dig the sentiment I just can’t get into the song. It sounds like it was something written for a protest rally and I’ve been to plenty but can I dance to it? Other than these slightly “off” moments, this is an amazingly strong late career record.

This is one of the strongest albums of 2021 so far. If you’ve haven’t heard Downhill From Everywhere or any of Jackson’s late period LPs, especially Standing In The Breach or The Naked Ride Home I urge you to seek those out as well. This is a prime example of a classic artists who continues to put out incredibly strong, late career music that deserves a listen. I just hope Jackson comes around a little more often, he’s a voice we need. Pick this one up, pour something strong, get out on the porch and groove. You never know…the pretty neighbor girl might just knock on your door.

Cheers!

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Streaming Now On Hulu – Paul Talks Music With Producer Rick Rubin

McCartney 3,2,1

“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played the bass.” – John Lennon

I mentioned on a recent post on the great documentary Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Questlove, how disappointed the Rock Chick and I are about the dearth of new rock n roll coming out these days.  Well, at least a dearth in the rock n roll we’re interested in here at B&V. People kept saying that musicians, unable to tour in 2020 due to Covid, were holing up in studios and taking the time to write new stuff… I haven’t really seen that come to fruition yet in 2021. I will say, I do believe we’re on the cusp of a bunch of new music coming out – both new stuff and archival. Typically when we find ourselves in a bit of a lull on the new release front as we’ve been lately, I find myself turning to the television. After we wrapped up watching the aforementioned Summer Of Soul last weekend we turned to the new, limited series McCartney 3,2,1. Over the course of six, thirty-minute episodes Paul sits down for a candid, lengthy conversation with uber-producer Rick Rubin. As binge watches go, we burned through this one pretty quickly.

First, I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. He’s produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cult, the Black Crowes, the Beastie Boys, Metallica and AC/DC. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. He literally resurrected Johnny Cash who had been left for dead by the Country Music “establishment.” When producing Black Sabbath’s 13, he told them, “Pretend you’ve just recorded your first album. What comes next?” He’s clearly a vibe guy, not a technician. I saw a documentary about the Avett Brothers and Rick Rubin was producing them. I think he owns and maybe lives in the Malibu studio (named Shangri La) where the Avett Brothers doc was filmed. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded Planet Waves there. The man is a rock n roll Guru…and frankly looks the part.

I am also a huge McCartney fan. When you came of age in the mid to late 70s, McCartney was at a zenith and was most people’s favorite ex-Beatle. Lennon went into semi-seclusion in 1975 when he went into his “house-husband” phase after the birth of his son Sean. The late 70s saw the once promising careers of George Harrison and Ringo Starr sort of… fade. McCartney kind of became the de-facto “favorite” as he was the only one in the public eye in a big way at the time. I will say, even then my brother’s favorite Beatle was George… the Quiet Beatle. Which makes sense as I got the loud/obnoxious gene that he was able to avoid. Were I quizzed now, with the benefit of time and reflection I’d probably say John was my “favorite” Beatle. Although I absolutely love much of George Harrison’s solo output. And, I still love Paul McCartney. His late career stuff from Flaming Pie onward is the type of stuff that B&V was founded on – older artists making phenomenal, oft-overlooked new music. I loved his latest, last year’s McCartney III. Having just written all of that, I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t have a “favorite”… maybe I just like the Beatles.

A few years back I saw Black Sabbath on the tour for the aforementioned 13. I met a dude who plays the drums in a local band, the Sunset Sinners. The guy has been around music and musicians his whole life. We’ve had kind of an on-going dialogue about music and the creative process ever since. He has a term for certain bands, albums or songs. He says some stuff is too “musician-y.” Meaning, that the song or the band is so geared toward other musicians that it may not be popular on a broad scale. He once told me he thought the Queens of the Stone Age were too much of a “musician-y” band that they’d never reach a mass audience. (That was me using the term in a sentence for all you Spelling Bee fans.) It’s like when political commentators talk about conversations that are too “Inside the Beltway,” which I assume means its too “wonky” for most of us folks on the street. Or perhaps when a comedian tells an “inside joke.” Same concept, loosely speaking.

McCartney 3,2,1 finds Paul – and isn’t it cool after all these years we still know him by his first name – and Rick Rubin sitting in a studio (maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s Shangri La, I’m not sure). The show is filmed in black and white which classes everything up. McCartney has on what appears to be jeans, a white t-shirt and a cool jacket. After all this time McCartney, especially without hair-dye, is still the person with the coolest hair in the room. Rick Rubin looks like a beach bum who has wandered in off the strand. Rubin looks indistinct and rumpled. He’s got baggy shorts on with a t-shirt that I’d be willing to bet has food stains on it. He’s barefoot during most of the shoot. At times he sits down with his legs crossed and he really looks like a Rock N Roll Buddha. Buddha is always laughing but Rick Rubin is almost always smiling through his thick and unruly beard. He looks like a rock version of Yosemite Sam. I will say Rick is tan – that comes across even in black and white – and looks trimmer than he used to. The clothes, wild hair (whats left of it) and beard make Rubin look like some crazy, rock n roll aesthete or monk.

The Rock Star and the Producer spend the entire time talking music. It’s clear that Rubin is the fan here, smiling and geeking out at some of the things McCartney is describing. They sit, like in an interview show, but not for long. They’re often standing up as though so excited about the conversation and music that they can’t sit down which is understandable. They stand for the most part at a mixing console where Rubin summons up different songs from McCartney’s past. It’s mostly Beatles stuff but there are a few solo or Wings’ tracks that get played. They keep the conversation very lively although at one point I thanked the Rock Chick for hanging in there for six episodes because it’s basically watching two experts stand around and talk about their craft. It’s like being in a bar and overhearing people talk about their favorite sports team. When Rubin starts a track he usually turns elements of the song up loud and other elements down. He’ll break down the bass part or the drums. He likes to focus on guitar solo’s because, well, who doesn’t? He’s very interested in how the Beatles were able to do things in the studio that nobody had done before. Rubin is like a pupil with a master. I enjoyed that but I thoroughly understand that doing all of that, breaking down/analyzing songs is really well, musician-y. This is inside stuff. Most of us listen to the song on the radio and let the whole thing wash over us. Some of us put the headphones on and try to concentrate on the bass or the drums. These guys take that and blow it up to infinity. You won’t hear a complete song, with all parts played. It’s fascinating to hear how they put together a song but again… you gotta really love music which luckily I do. It really sheds light on a song when you strip it down to the studs.

By deconstructing all of these songs it does make you realize what an amazing bassist McCartney is. He talks about how the bass line in some of the tracks helped change the shape and sound of certain tracks. Nowhere is that more evident than on John’s “Come Together” which started as more of a Chuck Berry riff. McCartney talks a lot about the recording process and how the Beatles came up with certain sounds. He has nothing but praise for producer George Martin. They played a guitar solo and Rubin, who is obviously having the time of his life asks who played the solo. McCartney says, “I want to say I did because it was so bad.” That got a chuckle.

During the course of the six programs, while discussing certain songs and the piece parts of tracks McCartney does share some great Beatles stories. Although be prepared, the conversation is non-linear and they bounce all over the place. One could call it a rambling conversation. On one episode they’re talking Beatles and out of nowhere jump to “Band On the Run” which caused the Rock Chick to say, “Wait, I thought this was a McCartney solo song.” Some of the changes of subject matter may cause a little whiplash. Paul tells about the genesis of the song “Michelle” coming from his going to parties at Lennon’s place when John was in art school and pretending sing in French to get “the girls.” He mentions that Lennon was never complimentary of much but that he once told him he really liked one of Paul’s songs when they heard it during an album playback. You can just tell how much that meant to Paul. Rubin at one point reads a quote where the speaker talks about what a great bass player Paul is. Rubin asks him, “Do you know who said that?” Paul didn’t know but it was John who said all of it (excerpted above). It was a nice moment as you could tell that meant a ton to McCartney. He seemed a little flustered.

He also tells the story of the first time they played with Ringo on drums, “He elevated the whole band.” He also said that George was incredibly generous to “let” Eric Clapton play the guitar solos on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m guessing not a lot of people realized how in the Beatles they all played parts interchangeably on songs – McCartney exclusively played bass but Lennon, he and Harrison all played guitars including lead. Whoever had the hot hand in the band got to play the part. George Martin often jumped in on piano. They were so open to the creative process and that freedom and their confidence let them really do extraordinary things that other bands couldn’t do.

I thought all of this stuff was incredibly fascinating. If you’re a Beatles fan this is a “must see.” Although I will admit and warn everyone again, there are parts of this that are very, very “musician-y.” I watched it all in two sittings and maybe breaking it up a bit would be better if you’re not into the craft and details. Its certainly fun to watch Rick Rubin geek out in such a big way. Paul is still an amazingly charismatic and charming man. You might need to turn it up a little because, a) its the Beatles’ music which needs to be played loud and b) McCartney is prone to mumbling… especially in the scenes where he’s chewing gum. I really enjoyed this rare, up-close-and-personal candid conversation with one of Rock n Roll’s legends. I think you will too.

Cheers!

Review: ‘Summer of Soul…(Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – Brilliant!

unnamed-2021-06-24T152122.522-1624562617-1000x1482

It was last Friday, after a long work week when I wandered out of the cubby hole in the attic I call my office and staggered downstairs to the living room. I flopped down in my chair with an exhausted sigh. The Rock Chick asked me if I’d checked to see if there was any good new music released that day? I don’t know why she even asked, she knows I obsessively check for new music every Friday as that’s the day new music comes out. Sadly I could only say, “Nah, nothing new.” As often happens in my marriage she voiced the very thoughts in my head out loud. “What happened to all this new music that was supposed to come out in 2021, that all the bands we dig were supposed to be working on in lockdown?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly. Usually when new stuff comes out, we’ll pour a drink or two and listen to tunes on Friday night. There have been literally only 4 new LPs that have piqued my interest this year: Cheap Trick, Black Keys, Billy Gibbons and Dirty Honey. I did dig the surprise Bowie birthday single this year, two great covers. I hope those Bowie vaults have more gems…

This Friday, after an even longer work week, I repeated the same ritual of staggering down the stairs. It had been a tough week so I poured myself a tumbler of dark, murky fluid… Four Roses bourbon to be exact. I sat in my easy chair with a hard drink and muttered, “Another week, no new music we’d be interested in.” Not even a single. I guess all the bands I heard were recording: The Cult, The Rolling Stones and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (with John Frusciante back in the fold, no less!) are either still laboring over their respective new music or they’re waiting to see if this Delta Variant causes touring to be impossible again this year. I hope we don’t see another year of darkened concert halls and empty stages. I think the world really needs music, especially now. I am looking forward to new David Crosby and Jackson Browne LPs next Friday.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my usual spot, sipping bourbon, wondering what Friday night held for the Rock Chick and I. After we dined, she grabbed the remotes and started pulling up Hulu. I don’t know how it works with the remote control in your house. I used to treat the remote to the TV like it was a scepter. He who controls the “power stick” controls the universe. But as the number of remotes needed has multiplied with streaming and such, I’ve ceded control to the Rock Chick. She plans what we binge watch anyway and let’s face it, you have to pick your battles in relationships. As soon as Hulu flickered onto the screen I realized what she was pulling up. I had mentioned the new documentary directed by Questlove – one of the coolest dudes on the planet whose encyclopedic knowledge of music humbles even me – Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised). I had been wanting to see this documentary but had forgotten about it during the turbulent week…I mention something to the Rock Chick once and it’s like a steel trap, it’s gonna happen. I need to start mentioning things like Blanton’s bourbon…but I’m off topic.

The summer of 1968 was a turbulent one in America, especially for Blacks in the inner cities. Martin Luther King, Jr had been assassinated in April and there was broad rioting across America and New York’s Harlem was no exception. Bobby Kennedy was killed in June of ’68 making matters worse. Then reactionary thug Richard Nixon was elected in November. That ain’t no summer of love… what a difference a year makes. In 1969, perhaps in an effort to distract people they put on a series of concerts over six weeks in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park (now I believe it’s called Marcus Garvey Park). The concerts were billed as the Harlem Cultural Festival. Apparently they had cameras and filmed this event. When you consider Woodstock was just up the road around 100 miles and they filmed it and released a movie, one has to wonder, where has this film been? Apparently all the film of what was known as “Black Woodstock” sat in someone’s basement for 50 years, untouched. It’s been years since I saw Woodstock at the midnight movies at Oak Park Mall, but that was an influential movie for me, quite formative. I can’t help but wonder what impact this footage of Black Woodstock would have had on everybody had it been released similarly.

Questlove did an amazing job as director of this film. I literally had tears in my eyes during certain moments of the film. He took the original concert footage – which is so vibrant and beautifully shot – and mixed in news reel footage to give it all some historical perspective. He interviews a number of the performers who played the Festival. He also – and I loved this – interviewed some of the people who were kids in the crowd that historic summer. The overflowing vibes of Black Power and Black Pride put the aforementioned tears in my eyes. I just loved this film. It was a really difficult time in America and especially for Black Americans… Sadly, it was eerily similar to what we see today… certainly like the summer of 2020. I’d have hoped we’d have made more progress in 50 some years.

The performers and performances also just knocked me out. It started with a young Stevie Wonder singing and playing a righteous drum solo. There was a big Gospel section in the middle of the movie – one might consider it the heartbeat of the film, as it is for so many performers – that featured the Staples (I love Pop on guitar and Mavis!) and Mahalia Jackson. The Fifth Dimension does a couple of songs and they interview Marilyn Mccoo and Billy Davis, Jr. I must say, Florence LaRue is my new rock n roll crush right now. Sly and the Family Stone – one of the first bands to feature men and women, black and white – put on their usual incendiary performance. B.B. King is such a beloved performer, I love his song in the film. Seeing Gladys Knight I realize I will never be, nor have I ever been cool enough to be a Pip…the way those cats move! David Ruffin from the Temptations does a solo set (he’d just left the group) that proves he may be the greatest rock/soul singer ever. Of the performances, I have to admit Nina Simone steals the show. It was a thing of brilliance to end the movie on her performance. It really puts an exclamation point on the film. “Blacklash Blues” is a song for the ages. She was fierce. 

I urge everyone out there to see this film. This is a hugely important historical document. It shows the Black community coming together peacefully to vibe on great music and culture. This was an event that didn’t deserve to be a whispered rumor or fading memory but should be celebrated as the cultural touchstone that it was. Its a great thing for music fans to see this footage but it’s also a great look back to 1969 and what was happening in Harlem. Its a wonderful addition to the Woodstock movie in terms of viewing 1969 musically. I was profoundly moved watching this film. I laughed, I cried… it really got to me. I think it will do that for everyone who watches it. Whoever controls the remote in your house needs to dial this movie up immediately…

Cheers!

 

Review: Tom Petty, ‘Angel Dream’ – Revisiting The ‘She’s The One’ Soundtrack

image

“I dreamed you, I saw your face, caught my lifeline when drifting through space, I saw an angel, I saw my fate, I can only thank God it was not too late…” – Tom Petty, “Angel Dream (No. 2)”

I don’t think I ever explicitly tied Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s soundtrack of songs for the movie She’s The One to his prior record, the solo credited (i.e., Tom Petty vs Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) Wildflowers. 1994’s Wildflowers was such a momentously big record and tour by 1996 when it was announced Petty and the Heartbreakers (Mike Campbell, guitar; Ben Tench, keyboards; Howie Epstein, bass; they didn’t have an “official” replacement for departed drummer Stan Lynch) were releasing a soundtrack for a movie, I felt it was probably a stop-gap until the next “actual” album. However, recently the Petty estate decided to revisit the She’s The One soundtrack and remake it as more of an actual Petty LP vs the soundtrack we are all familiar with. They’ve been pitching this album named Angel Dream as the “last chapter” in the Wildflowers story. I questioned that at first but considering that a handful of tracks from the Wildflowers sessions ended up on the soundtrack, it sort of makes sense to me. I feared this might be something akin to the Finding Wildflowers fiasco but it appears not.

It’s always difficult for an artist to follow up a game changing album, especially one as huge as Wildflowers. Fleetwood Mac struggled after Rumours and switched creative directions and recorded the experimental Tusk. The Eagles struggled to follow up Hotel California so they labored and labored over The Long Run. Petty was probably facing a similar daunting task following up Wildflowers so doing a soundtrack ala Queen’s Highlander-centric A Kind of Magic was probably an escape route. Why they didn’t kick out a live album at that time is anyone’s guess? The story I remember about the She’s The One soundtrack was that director/star of the film Ed Burns approached Petty about writing a song for the soundtrack and Petty & his Heartbreakers (with Curt Bisquera playing drums on most the tracks, future Heartbreaker drummer Steve Ferrone only appears on 3 of them) got together with producer Rick Rubin and started jamming. The story went they were having so much fun they ended up with an album’s worth of material. I had no idea at the time that the soundtrack had tunes that originated in the Wildflowers sessions: “Climb That Hill,” “California,” “Hope You Never,” and “Hung Up And Overdue.” If Petty had this much strong material coming into the project, it hardly sounds like the jam I’d been led to believe it was. Petty had always wanted to make Wildflowers a double LP, but the record company talked him out of it. I guess he wanted some of those leftovers to see the light of day so they ended up on She’s The One.

I bought She’s The One almost as soon as it came out. The career momentum of Wildflowers was such that I would have purchased an album of Petty singing Appalachian folk songs accompanied by a banjo at the time… oh and I hate the banjo. I will admit the first single “Walls (Circus)” didn’t exactly grab me. I remember asking a friend of mine if he’d heard it and he said, “That song wouldn’t have even been considered for Wildflowers it’s so awful.” Harsh, indeed. The song is not my favorite, but I still ran to the record store. The song actually didn’t do very well on the charts either despite the fabulous Beach Boys-style backup vocal by Lindsey Buckingham (seriously, listen to that song on headphones and focus on Buckingham’s voice). That was probably a disappointment to the Petty camp at the time, but I figured the soundtrack was just a method to take some of the pressure off Petty having to come up with “Wildflowers 2.0.” I considered it then and still do, more of a minor addition to the Petty catalog.

She’s The One seemed slightly slap-dash, like most soundtracks. There were a couple of instrumentals, “Hope On Board” and “Airport,” likely used as background in the flick. I saw the movie but only remember a little of it. There were two versions each of “Walls” and “Angel Dream” which was unusual. What was also different about this album was it had not one but two covers songs, a rarity for a Petty album. The band did Lucinda Williams’ “Change The Locks,” and I must ask, is there a more perfect paring than Southern boy Tom Petty doing Southern woman Lucinda’s track? Petty also did a cover of Beck’s acoustic track “Asshole.” I loved that Petty was covering an artist who at the time was a relative new comer. And lets face it, “Asshole” is a great song. Petty treats it lovingly.

There are a lot of things to like on the She’s The One soundtrack. I do like both versions of “Angel Dream,” but especially “Angel Dream (No. 2),” quoted above… which could have been written by me about the Rock Chick a few years later. I love the song “California,” which is so catchy it should be on that state’s tourism commercials. I almost picked it for my “Virtual Vacation, 50 Songs/50 States” playlist last summer and I regret not doing so… “Supernatural Radio” is one of those lost, epic gems of a song that everyone should hear. “Zero From Outer Space” is the sound of the Heartbreakers having a really good time playing a surf-style rocker. Interestingly enough, Campbell and Tench would later record an entire LP of surf songs in disguise as the Blue Stingrays, (Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays).  “Hope You Never” is another “baby you done me wrong” track which always reminds me of the awful woman I was dating in ’96. While it wasn’t the momentous follow up people were looking for, it was to me an interesting record. Not great but good and Petty’s good stuff is better than most other artist’s great stuff.

The Petty estate decided as part of the Wildflowers story to repackage and re-release this music. Renamed Angel Dream after the strongest track on the original album, they also put some new artwork on the cover. I don’t usually talk about cover art but the choice on this one was… poor. It looks like a greeting card. What has changed on Angel Dream vs She’s The One? They omitted the two original instrumentals, “Hope On Board,” and “Airport.” They paired the two songs that had two versions each down to one version. “Walls (No. 3)” and “Angel Dream (No. 2)” were included and the other versions left off. I will say, in each case, they chose the right version of the song to include and which one to omit. They left off three of the Wildflowers outtakes, “Hope You Never,” “California” and “Hung Up And Overdue” which were included in the Wildflowers All The Rest box. They completely changed the running order of the original tracks. They lead off with “Angel Dream (No 2)” which as a ballad is different. They have included four unreleased songs that supposedly came out of those She’s The One sessions but weren’t included, which I assume is the hook to get us to buy this version: “One of Life’s Little Mysteries,” “105 Degrees,” the J.J. Cale cover “Thirteen Days,” and an instrumental “French Connection.” “French Connection” is just an instrumental version of “Angel Dream (No. 2),” which plays back into the multiple versions theme of the original.

If you don’t own the She’s The One soundtrack, the new running order probably won’t bother you. If I’m being honest, it’s probably a more satisfying listening experience in this new incarnation. It certainly didn’t change my opinion of this album as a minor entry in Petty’s catalog. The new tracks, as a whole, are weaker than the Wildflowers outtakes that were taken off the original for Angel Dream. “One of Life’s Little Mysteries” is an almost old-timey sounding track. It reminded me a little of “The Man Who Loved Women” from The Last DJ. It has that McCartney “Martha My Dear” feel to it. I’m a huge fan of stuff in the vaults but I’d just call “Life’s Little Mysteries” an OK track. It’s a curiosity. The J.J. Cale cover, “Thirteen Days” is the pick of the litter of the new songs. It tells the story of a band barely maintaining their sanity on the road. It’s got a fabulous slide guitar from Mike Campbell. “We’re smoking cigarettes and reefer, drinking coffee and booze.” Sounds kinda fun. “105 Degrees” is a barrel house rocker in the vein of the Animals with a big organ and sawing guitars. “What do you want, perfection?”

If you already have the She’s The One soundtrack, I’d merely suggest checking out the new, unreleased stuff, especially “105 Degrees” and “Thirteen Days.” If you don’t, this is a wholly satisfying listen in it’s own right. In my estimation it’s still a minor episode in the continuing story of Tom Petty but it’s definitely worth a listen… until the next box set of suddenly found material pops up from the Petty camp.

Cheers!