Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio

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“I like to listen to music, I like the way that it sounds on the radio…” – Joe Walsh, “The Radio Song”

When I was a young kid, before the hormonal-overdose party that is puberty began, I had a clock radio on my nightstand. I rarely, if ever, turned the “radio” part on. Well, that’s not really true. I was a huge KC Royals fan when I was a kid and in the summer I’d fall asleep listening to baseball games. I can remember using the Royals’ exploits as an excuse to get out of bed and walk to the landing on the stairs to tell my dad, “Amos Otis hit a home run!” “Shut up and go back to bed…” ah, dad. So my clock radio was merely the miserable howling siren that pulled me from sweet unconsciousness to a startled wakefulness that signaled, yes… it was time to load the “yellow death wagons” and head off to the dreaded “pit of misery”, er, I mean school. With that as a backdrop maybe it’s not so hard to understand why I never turned the radio on… classical conditioning, baby.

It wasn’t until a fateful day riding in my mother’s Oldsmobile when all that changed. Somehow, I ended up in the backseat and my brother was riding up front with mom. My brother had latched onto the Beatles (and later, tellingly about his personality, the quiet Beatle George Harrison), and was a huge rock and roll music fan. I was probably 13 around this time which means he was just ten. How the younger of us ended up in the front seat with me in the back is one of those unsolvable mysteries of my childhood. Anyway, my brother immediately commandeered control of the radio and was bouncing back and forth between the bubble gum pop of Q104 (with Johnny “Rockin'” Rollins, who is still around as a traffic-helicopter guy) which left me cold and the rock station, KY/102. I was only half paying attention when they played the Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” I remember lunging forward and saying, “Turn that up, man…” which surprised me almost as much as it did my brother. It’s kind of how I discovered sex, accidentally…it just sort of snuck up on me.

My clock radio, whose speaker beforehand had never been tested, was suddenly constantly tuned into KY/102 and cranked up loud. I realized I’d been missing out on a lot of really cool shit. Instead of a shrill alarm, my clock radio now awoke me to the sounds of rock and roll and morning DJs. That was one thing I really loved about radio, the DJs. KY had a great stable of talent who made me feel like I was part of a larger dysfunctional family. They had a comedy duo, Dick and Jay in the mornings. The afternoon guy was General Max Floyd of the Rock N Roll army. He’d use faux explosion noises while “blowing up” disco records. At night it was Katie McGuckin (sp?) who falsely announced that Rod Stewart had collapsed on stage and had to have his stomach pumped because… well, best leave that story aside, it was a slanderous lie. The overnight guy was named Vaughn Mack and he always sounded like the most stoned man on the planet. Vaughn was always famous for saying in his dull monotone, “Yeah man, uh, stay tuned, I’ve got some Boston, Van Halen and then some Stones coming right up…” and then he’d play everything but Boston, Van Halen and some Stones. Stay high Vaughn, stay high.

Suddenly instead of a shrill alarm, a portal to the world had opened up on my nightstand. Listening to the radio is where I got my PHD in classic rock. I learned about all the bands that had come before and all the bands that were current. I would leave the radio on even when I left my room and padded down the hall to shower and try to tame my crazy mane of feathered-hair… I didn’t want to miss a thing. Instead of dreading that morning wake up, at least now it had become a lot more tolerable. I can still hear a song today, all these years later, and close my eyes and see my old room from the vantage point of sitting on my bed, pulling my socks on. The wallpaper is more atrocious in my mind than it probably really was… It was from listening intently to the radio that I started to become interested in where this music came from… it inspired me to start buying vinyl and reading liner notes. It’s where I first heard there were these things called concerts, where the bands I was hearing on the radio actually performed, live in person. I could be in the same room as Mick Jagger for two hours (albeit very far away from him)? Fuck yes, sign me up.

Not only were my mornings transformed. The ride home from high school had completely changed. My buddy Brewster would generously drive me to/from school and the radio was always on. I can still remember hearing “Another Brick In The Wall” the day it came out, in the back back of Brewster’s car heading home from school. He was a hard working guy and always had a pocket full of coin and his car stereo was fucking amazing. If I’d ever had a heart attack you’d need only throw me on his speakers and crank the drum solo on “In The Air Tonight” and I’d recover. When I was looking for my first car, I went looking for wheels with my dad who would ask questions about mileage, price, condition of the car – all I wanted to know was if it had a stereo and could play cassette tapes. I also quietly wondered if two people could fit in the backseat, but I kept that to myself.

I listened to KY every night in my room while I did my homework. My dad yelled, “Turn that down” so often that I thought my parents had changed my name. When I went away to college, two hours down I-70 to Kansas State, my friends and I from KC were distraught we couldn’t get the KC rock radio stations. The radio in Manhattan, Kansas was all Top 40 – Madonna, Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul. God, how did we survive the 80s? When Rock Line with Bob Coburn came on, an interview show where rock bands would come on and talk about upcoming albums and tours, I can remember my roommate Matthew and I going up to a room on the top floor of our building where a guy we knew had strung a coat hanger as an antenna out onto the roof so we could get KY102 and hear Diamond David Lee Roth dispense his rare brand of wisdom… he lit a joint while the interview was going on and called it a “behavior modification device.” Huddled around the static-filled sound of our friend’s radio, we howled with laughter.

There was just so much joy we all associated with listening to the radio. Whether it was blasting tunes while driving down the highway or tuning in over lunch as the DJ put on the new album from Springsteen, there was so much we learned from radio. When I was driving back home, either from college or during my exile years in Arkansas, as soon as I heard KY, I knew I was home… But then, during the late 90s, early 00s, something happened. The FCC changed the rules and allowed big media companies to start consolidating radio station ownership. Everything went corporate. Budgets and playlists shrank. Radio stations had to adhere to strict formats. KY disappeared, they went off the air. The classic rock station in KC doesn’t even play new stuff by the older artists any more. You have to seek that out in other places. Any new rock in the 90s got classified as “alternative rock” for one station or “heavy metal/hard rock” for a different station. These days, if it weren’t for Satellite Radio, I wouldn’t even turn my car radio on. At the risk of sounding cranky like my grandfather near the end of his life, without the casual generational, casual racism, rock and roll radio just isn’t the same anymore. Radio isn’t the same anymore.

I heard a song the other day, that gave me one of those flashback moments. I was a high school kid and I was sitting on the edge of my bed. I could close my eyes and see my old bedroom…jeez, I forgot I had a bean bag chair… It made me miss those good ol’ days, listening to rock and roll. I’m like Joe Walsh, I like the way the music sounded on the radio. I put together the following playlist, as a way to honor those memories. My thoughts on the tracks below.

  1. 1. Autograph, “Turn Up The Radio” – A one-hit wonder that sums up that moment I discovered rock n roll radio.
  2. Rush, “The Spirit of Radio” – One of my all time favorite Rush tracks.
  3. The Clash, “Radio Clash” – A groovy missive from one of the greatest bands of all time.
  4. Ramones, “Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio” – God, do I!
  5. Jet, “Rollover DJ” – I always wonder what happened to all those great disc jockeys.
  6. Cheap Trick, “Radio Lover” – A great tune from their last album. These guys are still putting out great music.
  7. Warren Zevon, “Mohammed’s Radio” – There’s also a great cover of this track by Linda Rondstadt.
  8. Smashing Pumpkins, “I Of The Mourning” – “Radio, radio, play my favorite song.”
  9. Green Day, “Kill the DJ” – A tad violent, but such a great tune.
  10. Talking Heads, “Radio Head” – The song Radiohead got their name from.
  11. The Firm, “Radioactive” – Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page’s ill fated super group with their tongue firmly in their cheek.
  12. George Harrison, “Devil’s Radio” – George being preachy… still a great tune.
  13. Van Morrison, “Hey Mr. DJ” – Van grooving.
  14. ZZ Top, “Heard It On the X” – They pay homage to a great Houston radio station.
  15. Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio” – It’s the point of the playlist.
  16. Hole, “Boys On the Radio” – Push through the crazy and Courtney Love put out some great stuff with Hole.
  17. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Last DJ” – From Tom’s “angry” album.
  18. Roger Waters, “Radio Waves” – No one likes this album but me…
  19. Journey, “Raised On Radio” – Who better to celebrate the anachronism of radio than this band.
  20. R.E.M., “Radio Free Europe” – The first track from their first album.
  21. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Supernatural Radio” – Petty on a slow jam from a soundtrack album.
  22. Cheap Trick, “On The Radio” – Another great, early track from Cheap Trick.
  23. Queen, “Radio Ga Ga” – Not my favorite Queen track, but I dug the performance at Live Aid in the movie…
  24. Jet, “Radio Song” – I loved that first album by Jet but then they disappeared… I probably shouldn’t have bought the t-shirt.
  25. R.E.M., “Radio Song” – “I can’t find nothing on the radio…” It’s how I feel these days.
  26. David Bowie, “D.J.” – “I’ve got believers, believe in me…”
  27. Green Day, “Revolution Radio” – The title track from their great, most recent record.
  28. Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere” – Great late period Springsteen where he laments the death of radio.
  29. Steely Dan, “FM” – “No static at all…” unless you’re on the top floor of a building in Manhattan, KS.
  30. R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ” – It seems R.E.M. are as obsessed with radio as I was.
  31. Joe Walsh, “The Radio Song” – Joe was kind of losing it by the time this track came out, but I was still drawn to it…

I probably forgot a few great radio-centric tracks so please feel free to add in the comments section. Cheers… signing off now…

 

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LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’

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I had heard rumblings about a true Smashing Pumpkins reunion forever. As early as 2007’s Zeitgeist when Corgan ran a full page ad in the Chicago newspaper saying he wanted everybody back onboard there’s been talk of a Pumpkins reunion. Then a couple of years ago on, yes, social media we started seeing pictures of guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in the studio with writer/producer/guitarist/singer Billy Corgan. Sadly, most of the buzz and talk around the reunion was around bassist D’Arcy’s absence. Apparently Corgan didn’t feel she could carry the weight of playing on a record and a tour. It’s much the same thing with Axl and Steve Adler, who actually admitted he couldn’t have played a whole show. If you don’t play, you forget how, apparently.

When I think about the Smashing Pumpkins, I think back to those glory years. My dear friend Doug gave me Siamese Dream. Obviously, that record is a masterpiece. It was the Chicago answer to the Seattle wave that engulfed the 90s. If you subscribe to the “great man” theory of history, I don’t think Corgan gets the credit he deserves. (Just ask him, he’d agree). While Cobain was the voice of a generation, an honor he never wanted, Corgan desperately coveted that tag. People spoke of Vedder, Cornell and Staley in hushed and reverent tones but Billy never got that kind of love. I guess Chicago isn’t as cool as Seattle… although I’d argue that point. Of all the big 90s bands, I think Corgan was the most “classic rock” influenced. I bought the double CD Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and remain blown away by it to this day. That tour was my first time seeing them in concert and they rawked.

But just when it seemed world-dominance was within Corgan’s grasp things went haywire. Chamberlin who had been struggling with alcoholism and heroin addiction for quite some time, OD’d along with touring keyboardist Jonathon Melvoin who tragically died. The band had had enough and Chamberlin was fired. The line-up of the Pumpkins has really been in flux ever since. They went with an electronica thing, produced by Rick Rubin on Adore and I think they lost a lot of people. I personally loved that record. The title track, “Ava Adore” and “To Sheila” remain among my favorites. I remember my friend’s wife turning to me during that concert and saying, “What’s this shit?” How Greil Marcus of her.

Chamberlin cleaned up and returned for 2000’s Machina/The Machines of Gods but by then D’Arcy had been dismissed for undisclosed reasons. The rumor was crack cocaine. I remember hearing she and her boy friend tried to rob a convenience store… I want to party with you, D’Arcy. After that the wheels came off and Corgan ended the Pumpkins. Chamberlin, who had at one time been Corgan’s roomie on the road, joined the short lived Zwan, an album apparently only I bought. Corgan did an un-listenable solo record and opened a tea shop. Finally he ran the ad calling his old comrades back to the band. Again, only Chamberlin showed up for Zeitgiest. After that, it was really a revolving door of musicians. Only guitarist Jeff Schroeder has seemed to stick. Tommy Lee of Motley Crue actually sat in the drummer’s chair for 2014’s Monuments to an Elegy.

I will admit, I’d been ignoring pretty much everything Corgan did since the Zwan thing. But I ended up picking up Oceania and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a great record. I also bought Monuments to an Elegy but admittedly I was merely intrigued by the idea of Tommy Lee drumming for Billy Corgan. Those were both great, sort of midtempo records. Nothing as epic or earth shattering as “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” but enjoyable rock albums. Then the announcement that Iha and Chamberlin were both back hit social media… I couldn’t help but wonder what their presence would do to the Pumpkins sound.

It was a Joe Strummer documentary I watched late at night, by myself where I saw Joe say, “never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.” I’ve always believed in that. No matter how badly those folks might get along, there’s something about band chemistry. You get the right guys in a room and magic happens. Chrissie Hynde just plays better when Martin Chambers is on the drum kit. He knows instinctually what she’s going to do before she does it. With Iha back, I thought some of that magic might return.

I have to admit, on first listen I was a little surprised by Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol 1. The title actually goes on for a bit longer, but I’m too lazy to type the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like this record. I like most rock and roll. But I guess I expected a little more strum und drang. I was hoping for a bunch of bombastic guitar. Chamberlin’s drumming is, as usual, thunderous. For the most part, this is an all too brief, midtempo record in the same spirit of Oceania or Monuments. Iha’s presence hasn’t really fired Corgan up. I hear Iha’s distinctive guitar sound through out the record, but there’s nothing terribly heavy on this record. Rick Rubin has returned to produce this album, and he gives it the usual organic, clean production. I like the sound of this music and that’s probably due to Rubin.

The album starts off with a trio of pretty mellow tunes. I really like “Knights of Malta,” it reminds me of “Tonight, Tonight.” There are keyboards and strings. Then they slip into “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)” which has that same chugging rhythm as “1979.” That song slips seamlessly into “Travels.” And I mean seamlessly, I had to look at the stereo to see that it had gone to the next track. Finally the band catches fire on the rocking lead single, “Solara” (New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return). Other than “Solara” the only tracks that really rock are “Seek And You Shall Destroy” and “Marchin’ On.” “Solara” is still the pick of the litter but “Seek And You Shall Destroy” is a very close second. The only real miscue on this record is “Alienation” which finds Corgan at his cliched worst.

Overall this is a pretty good record. It just feels like a real tentative reunion, like they’re still feeling each other out. I think a little touring and time spent together will loosen these guys up. Then maybe they can get back to their usual window shattering, earth shaking rock and roll. Give this one a listen, it’ll grow on you.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’

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A good friend of mine from high school and I have reconnected after all these years. We’ve begun a great email correspondence which in the old days would have made us “pen pals.” Naturally since this is BourbonAndVinyl, the topic generally centers around rock and roll music. My friend, I’ll call him, “Rob,” (name changed to protect the guilty), asked me one time, “what makes a band/song/album rock and roll?” It’s truly the eternal question when it comes to music. At the heart of that question, and what drives it in my opinion, is the issue of authenticity. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when it come to rock, I know it when I hear it. I can’t really explain it but it’s how I can tell Queen is rock and roll but the Struts, well, they’re just not. When I was in high school confessing to liking any pop band who was masquerading as a rock band was a high crime and misdemeanor, punishable by receiving the “nerd” label.

Which leads us to the case of Greta Van Fleet. I’ve been on the bandwagon since their first EP, Black Smoke Rising (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). Even though their second EP, or what they called a “double-EP,” (whatever that is), From the Fires contained all the songs from Black Smoke Rising, I was still on the bandwagon (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). Greta Van Fleet have finally released what they’re referring to as their debut album, with the very hippy title, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army. I must say, reactions and reviews have been quite mixed. There has been tremendous backlash for these kids, mostly because they sound like Zeppelin. I don’t remember the Rival Sons taking the same kind of heat. Allmusic.com went so far as to describe them as “nothing more than cosplay of the highest order.” Ouch… that’s gonna leave a mark. Can’t we just be happy that some young kids are playing rock and roll, you know, with guitars and real instruments? I prefer bands influenced by Led Zeppelin than bands influenced by say, Drake.

Accusations of being derivative are nothing new in music. Just for shits and grins I pulled up Rolling Stone magazine’s original review of Led Zeppelin’s first album, Led Zeppelin. I’m sure if you asked Jann Wenner now he’d say Led Zeppelin was a masterpiece, a true definition of the form of blues rock. But back in 1969, Mr. John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stones’ reviewer hated it. He starts off by basically saying everything that came after Cream and John Mayall follow the same formula of building a band around an “excellent guitarist.” We forget how influential Cream were… In essence, he opens by implying Led Zeppelin is derivative of Cream or Mayall. He says, “Jimmy Page…is also a limited producer and writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” He describes Led Zeppelin as a “twin” of the Jeff Beck Group (Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood). He calls Plant’s singing, “strained and unconvincing shouting.” Most of the review reads as Mendelsohn claiming these are just a weaker version of the Jeff Beck Group who did all of this already, merely “three months earlier.” I wonder if, looking back, he’d wanna take any of this back?

I guess it’s inevitable that Greta Van Fleet’s (the brothers Kiszka, Josh on vocals, Jacob on guitar, Sam on bass and Daniel Wagner on drums) first album would suffer the same fate. And look, I get it. This is heavily Zeppelin influenced music. In what I’m assuming is a bit of cheekiness, they even quote “The Immigrant Song” in the opener “Age of Man,” when Josh sings “the land of ice and snow.” My hope is that these very young kids, take this sound they’ve got and develop it the same way Zeppelin did. Zeppelin, who were supposedly derivative of the Jeff Beck Group and any other British blues rock band at the time, slowly developed into something much more. They made the sound their own and then turned it on it’s ear. If this is the starting point for Greta Van Fleet, hopefully they can do the same. One can hope their success will some kids together in a garage with a guitars and some drums.

All of that said, I confess I wanted to love this album but I can merely say I like it. I am still recommending people buy it but I can’t totally embrace it. Like the EPs that followed it, I can hear the echo of a Zeppelin song in each thing they play. Unfortunately, a majority of these songs all sound like “Over The Hills And Far Away.” Mix it up guys. The album starts off with a pair of tracks that are in that midtempo area, “Age of Man” and “The Cold Wind.” They’re built around an acoustic/electric guitar mix. I must say I was delighted to hear Jacob mix in some acoustic on this record. The record doesn’t really catch fire for me until the third track and first single, “When the Curtain Falls” (Greta Van Fleet: New Single, “When The Curtain Falls”. “You’re the One” drifts into “Hey Hey My My” territory with strummed acoustic and an insistent drum beat from Wagner. These are all fine songs, but with the energy of their first EPs, I guess I expected heavier music. “The New Day” continues the “Over The Hills” thing…

“Lover, Leaver” is one track that jumps out at me. It’s a crunchy rocker. “Watching Over” has a nice sitar sounding guitar thing happening and Josh’s vocals are an unhinged banshee wail. I do feel at certain times Josh could bring it down a notch on vocals. You’re not gonna be able to sing like that for 40 years dude. The reprise of “Lover, Leaver,” “Lover, Leaver, Taker, Believer” has some tasty slide guitar. Those song titles had me thinking these guys had headed into Judas Priest territory (“Dreamer Deceiver” anyone?).

The album does hold together, not only musically but lyrically. This feels like a loosely thematic record. The whole thing has more of a Plant vibe vs a Page vibe. On the big message song, “Anthem,” (which brings to mind “You’re Time Is Gonna Come,” I know, I know, I can’t help but cite the Zep song that these guys conjure on their music), a chorus of back up singers sing the rather curious lyric, “the world is what the world is made of.” I’m not sure where they’re going with that, it brings to mind some of Sammy Hagar’s weaker moments, but hey, they’re still developing their craft.

This is a very, very solid debut album. I think we rock fans have a lot to be delighted with in this record. And, correspondingly, I think we have a lot to be hopeful for in Greta Van Fleet. Are they the real deal? Are they rock and roll? Are they, as I mentioned before, authentic? I’ll let you be the judge. I can’t really explain it, but I know it when I hear it…

LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, ‘Raise Vibration’ – A Hot Mess, But At Least It’s Hot

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“If  we’re right, and we can stop this thing…Lenny…you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.” – Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters

I know what you’re thinking. Why post a quote from the movie Ghostbusters when we’re talking about rock and roll here? Well, if you remember correctly that line from Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, comes during a scene when the Ghosbusters are in the Mayor’s office (the Mayor’s name is Lenny). Things are going badly. The Ghostbusters had been in jail prior to being summoned to see the Mayor. The evil spirits and ghosts had all been released and the sky had turned dark, blocking out the sun. There’s a cop in the room who says that a police precinct has walls that are “bleeding.” The Cardinal drops by, and says he thinks it’s all “a sign from God.” Things are looking bleak, “wrath of God, old Testament, cats living with dogs” kind of bad. If Lenny the Mayor will allow the Ghostbusters to go fight these supernatural foes, he may just save the lives of “millions of registered voters.”

Flash forward to the world today. Things are getting pretty bleak out there. I don’t even watch the news anymore and I consider myself pretty “wonky.” The U.S. seems more divided than at any time in history. Democracy itself is on the brink. Half the people are mad at the President, the other half are mad at the half that’s mad at the President. Scary, right-wing, Nationalist parties are winning elections, or doing well, all over Europe. There’s so much anger and hatred toward our fellow men out there, especially immigrants. Enter Lenny…in this case, not the Mayor, but Lenny Kravitz. With this backdrop of oppression, graft and rage, Lenny Kravitz has crafted an album highlighting the things he’s been singing about since his debut, 1989’s Let Love Rule. Namely peace, love, and unity. Lenny lays down a very positive message on his new LP, Raise Vibration. And let’s face it, if his message resonates… he may just save the lives of millions of registered voters… at least I hope there are millions of registered voters who dig Lenny’s message. And I hope they vote.

I’m on record admitting I’m a huge Lenny fan. I’m the second biggest Lenny fan in my house after the Rock Chick. I can’t tell about the cat… he may or may not dig Lenny but that’s how he is about everything, sort of “meh.: As I mentioned in my review of the fabulous first single from this album, “Its Enough,” (Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove) similar to my wife’s love of Lenny, it was a girlfriend who turned me onto his first album, the previously mentioned, Let Love Rule. If it weren’t how badly things ended, I’d probably call that ex and thank her for turning me onto Lenny’s music. I don’t want to replay the “girl throws phone” episode of my youth…but I digress. The height of everybody’s Lenny fandom, when you ask them, is typically Are You Gonna Go My Way, probably his masterwork. I stuck around for the dark, groovy little record that followed, Circus. When he released 5, it was such an uneven record, even after he added the single, “American Woman” to deluxe copies of the CD, I got off the bandwagon.

A while ago, the Rock Chick turned me onto his 2014 album, Strut (LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?). I love that sexy, rocking album. That record sent me digging through Lenny’s back catalog and I realized he’d started a bit of a late (or perhaps for Lenny, a middle-) career renaissance. It’s Time For A Love Revolution, while a bit mellow was a strong album. Black and White America is a fabulous record, I almost like it as much as Strut. Needless to say, excitement was running high here at B&V for this year’s Raise Vibration. I’m sad to say though, despite the great energy and the positive message, this album left me a little lost. It’s a bit of a mess…although it’s still sexy enough to call a hot mess. Let’s face it, Kravitz probably makes folding his laundry look sexy. Am I right, ladies?

Lenny Kravitz plays most if not all of the instruments on his records. His long time lead guitar player, cool Afro-sporting dude, Craig Ross typically plays the solos, but other than that it’s all Lenny, except backing vocals or horns. Kravitz was actually the drummer in Slash’s first band when they were in high school. Naturally when you can do so many things well, you’re more willing to try a lot more things. And believe me, there’s a lot that Lenny tries on this record. Many people dismiss Lenny as derivative, and yes, I can spot the influences, but he has a way of making music that reminds you of someone else while still staying completely Lenny.

For me, the emotional center and best track on here remains “It’s Enough.” It reminds me of What’s Goin’ On era Marvin Gaye. It even has a trumpet solo. Gaye did some great protest, social-commentary music on that album, and that palette is the perfect setting for Lenny’s message. Beyond that, there are a lot of highlights here. After staring with a middling, midtempo rocker that left me a little cold, “We Can Get It Together,” (which could be considered the theme here), Lenny takes a left turn into a soulful, sexy groove on “Low.” “Low” may be an act of seduction or a pro-LGBTQ statement, I still can’t tell. Either way it’s a great song. The title track starts with an abrasive guitar riff that brings to mind John Lennon’s “I Found Out,” but Lenny loses me at the end when he tacks on an Indigenous people drum/chants thing. It’s a bit baffling to end a nice rock tune that way. I thought only the Cult did that.

Another highlight is the acoustic “Johnny Cash.” The track is about when Lenny lost his beloved mother, Roxie, and Johnny Cash reached out and consoled him. Which, lets face it, makes me love Johnny Cash even more. So while the song is about Roxie, it’s told through the prism of Johnny Cash’s generosity of spirit. I like “5 More Days Til Summer,” I even put it on my Eclectic Summer Playlist, BourbonAndVinyl Eclectic Summer/Sun/Beach Playlist) on Spotify, but there’s this annoying chorus where a group of high school girls sings “one, two, three, four, five.” Lenny… really? It’s a cheesy moment in a great song. He’s throwing a lot into some of these songs, too much at times. “The Majesty Of Soul” is the great kind of soulful, funky tune Lenny was born to sing.

But along the lines of throwing everything he’s got at this record… Lenny does what amounts to a Prince tribute on the awful, almost electronic “Who Really Are the Monsters?” The song even has a Prince-like guitar solo. I preferred Janelle Monae’s recent record, “Make Me Feel” as a tribute to Prince vs this. Yes, I listen to Janelle Monae, she’s awesome and she’s from Kansas City. “Here To Love” is an overwrought, depressing piano ballad, ending in Lenny holding a note until it sounds like his voice broke. “Gold Dust” is the kind of slinky, funky track that Lenny should leave alone… “Ride” and “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul” are alright tracks to end it, but nothing that really grabs me. The album left me feeling very similar to how I felt when I heard 5 for the first time. It’s a bit of an uneven record, with some great tracks on it.

I’m disappointed to say I can’t recommend this album, as a whole. There are certainly songs that you should check out like “Low” or “It’s Enough.” But on the whole this is a slinky, sexy, hot mess. There’s a lot to like on this album, but too much goes wrong. I love that Lenny is out there preaching the gospel of Peace and Love… Ringo can’t do it all by himself.

Cheers and stay positive out there folks… storm clouds have already gathered. Take care of each other and steer toward the light.

 

 

 

B&V News – BourbonAndVinyl Playlists: Now Posted on Spotify

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As many of you know, over the three-plus year life of B&V, I occasionally like to put together “themed” playlists of songs that address similar subject matter. Most recently I did a playlist around the theme of Telephones, Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone. I tend to think waaaay too much about music, especially when I’m traveling. While sitting in bars out on the road, mulling over a tumbler of something strong, my mind will often light upon a theme, and suddenly songs start to attach themselves to that theme… it’s a sickness, I know. Recently my friend Doug pointed out that I wasn’t putting those playlists out anywhere that people can go out and listen to them…

Well, that was only half true. I actually put about a third of my playlists out on Spotify. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been lazy about getting those posted. Over the last several weekends, I’ve culled through the archives of my B&V posts and wherever I put together a playlist, whether it be about Las Vegas/Gambling, Tax Day or my Eclectic Summer/Sun Playlist, I went ahead and posted those out on Spotify. If you subscribe to Spotify you can go out and search Spotify using the keywords “BourbonAndVinyl” or “BourbonAndVinyl.net” under Playlists, the B&V playlists should pop up. My naming convention is probably a little wacky, I start off each playlist name with “BourbonAndVinyl.net” Playlist of xyz (for example, one playlist is called “BourbonAndVinyl.net David Bowie 20 Best Deep Tracks” and another is named, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Drinking Songs (For Nancy).”

In addition, I realized that I can create a link from Spotify, that I went back and posted into the original blog post. My wife found out I wasn’t even doing that and the accusations of laziness, general sloth and drunkenness got out of hand. She’s right, I should have been doing that all along. So if there is an old playlist you were curious about, there is now a link in the post to the songs on Spotify. Being a bit of a caveman when it comes to all this technology, I think it all works, but I could be wrong. If I screwed that up, please tell me in the comments and I’ll try and get my technical support to help me… and by technical support I mean my daughter. These kids and their gadgets. It should look something like this:

And remember everyone – I am on record on this – The Rock Chick has always been better at putting together playlists than I have. Her songs always fit together seamlessly. I tend to get caught up in the theme of the playlist and I can go through wild tempo/style changes in one playlist and it doesn’t bother me. I can go from early acoustic Dylan to Metallica in one set. Yeah, I’m weird that way. My hope on these are that a) you enjoy the playlist, and b) even if the songs don’t always fit stylistically you’ll hear a song that might be so obscure you hadn’t heard it before. It’s all about expanding the palette.

And to that point, I consider these BourbonAndVinyl Playlists to be a communal thing. I’ve had recommendations on some of those playlists for songs I should add from various readers – I’ve tried to incorporate those into the playlists out on Spotify. As these are communal playlists, I consider them living documents. So even if someone suggests an update from something I did a couple of years ago, I’ll go out and add it. Just yesterday, after a long car ride, I went out and added Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” to my Vegas/Gambling Playlist and Dire Straits’ “Twisting By the Pool” to my Eclectic Summer/Sun Playlist… both of those were egregious oversights on my part in the first place.

I hope I have overcome my hopeless laziness when it comes to tying all this technology together… I blame the bourbon. Enjoy the playlists and again, thanks to everybody for reading and making suggestions on additional songs to add. Cheers and Happy Labor Day!

Greta Van Fleet: New Single, “When The Curtain Falls”

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Oh, Greta Van Fleet… I can’t stay mad at you.

As most of the B&V readers know, I was a little miffed at GVF when they backed out of Middle of the Map Festival here in Kansas City. Other than Social Distortion, who we all love down here at B&V, I was most excited about seeing Greta Van Fleet. Can they bring it live, I wondered? I was really anticipating answering that question… until a few days prior they had to cancel out of the festival when the drummer, Danny Wagner, hurt his wrist. I can only hope he hurt it trashing a hotel room… anything short of that is unacceptable in my mind, but I’m old school. Keith Moon and John Bonham are my go-to drummers, but I digress. My disappointment that they wouldn’t be here was…palpable. Although I must admit, I managed to discover Austin-based alt rockers Spoon, so it wasn’t a complete wash-out (Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE). And yes, Social Distortion is always kick ass in concert, see them if you can. I will admit, the Rock Chick has been mad at GVF ever since.

I keep hearing that GVF have been in the studio working on a proper album. They’ve already released two EPs, Black Smoke Rising (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP) followed by a “double EP” From The Fires which contained all four songs from the previous EP (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). I’ve loved all eight songs these guys have released so far, including their epic cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” It’s so refreshing to hear a new rock band! These guys are all guitar riffs and big vocals which you don’t hear a lot of these days. I have to admit, I was beginning to wonder if these guys were ever going to get around to releasing a whole album. I know they’re touring, but lets keep that momentum rolling in the studio!

Today, my patience has been rewarded. GVF have just released a new single, “When the Curtain Falls.” Any residual anger on my part about them missing Middle of The Map, dropped away as soon as I put this new tune on the stereo and heard that first guitar chord. Danny’s drums kick in and Jake Kiszka’s crunchy guitar riff starts. This song struts and storms. It’s both heavy and slinky – like Mike Tyson in his prime, moving so much it’s hard to hit with a lethally dangerous punch at the same time. When Josh Kiszka’s banshee wail kicks in, I found myself nodding my head. Yes, I can still feel the Zeppelin influence (I hear the echo of a Zep riff here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it), but these guys are making it there own. The guitar sound here is addictive. I can’t get over the reckless abandon with which Josh sings. Even the Rock Chick, passing through the B&V lab said, “I wonder how long he’ll be able to sing like that?” Good question.

When Josh turns it over to Jake for the guitar solo, I wanted to jump on my desk and hold a lighter in the air. It’s so much fun to rock out with this music. They sound confident and ready to conquer the world. Hopefully it won’t be too long a wait until this rumored album comes out. If this is a sample of what’s going on in the studio, I think we rock folks out here are going to be very happy. Check this tune out immediately!

 

 

Album Lookback: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, ‘Streetcore’

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I’ve enjoyed a few days off from the world over the 4th of July holiday. It’s a time for bbq and refreshing vodka cocktails by a pool and listening to rock and roll. I could get used to being a man of leisure. Time that I should have spent reading I’ve spent in front of the television watching Wimbledon. I should be watching the World Cup like the rest of the world. Soccer or football as it’s known everywhere else is a beautiful, elegant game to watch but for some reason my attention has been on tennis. I found myself drawn to a tennis player named Vitalia Diatchenko, I can’t put my finger on why…ahem. When not watching Wimbledon, sadly my eyes have turned to what the kids call, “the social media.” It was NPR who tweeted recently that there is a box set in the works chronicling the solo work of Joe Strummer. That caught my attention.

As most people know, Joe Strummer was the leader of one of the greatest bands of all time, The Clash. The Clash – Strummer on vocals/rhythm guitar, Mick Jones lead guitar/vocals, Paul Simonon bass/vocals, and Topper Headon on drums were often referred to as “The Only Band That Matters,” due to their huge influence and political lyrics. They were spawned from the same punk scene as the Sex Pistols but their sound ranged from punk to reggae and ska to rockabilly. They could really do it all. Elvis Costello, when commenting about the Clash once said something to the effect that, “The Clash were only punk on the first album or two, after that it was them playing Joe Strummer’s record collection.” That must have been some record collection, indeed.

Sadly, out here in the wilderness of the American Midwest, you didn’t hear a lot of Clash on the local radio. It wasn’t until MTV started playing the videos for “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” that I became aware of the Clash. That was pretty late in the game. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” famously, for me, was playing on the jukebox in a bar I was sitting in while my first girlfriend broke up with me… I still wince when that song comes on. Despite that, I went out and bought Combat Rock (on cassette, no less) and I still love that music. That sent me crashing through their catalog, all of which I consider essential listening to any rock fan: The Clash (get the UK version), Give Em Enough Rope, London Calling and Sandanista are all iconic rock for me.

As often happens with bands, internal dissension tore them apart. They fired Headon when he succumbed to drugs. He and Terry Chimes would rotate in and out of the band. Mick Jones was fired in the famous “Clash Communique.” The wheels were coming off. Finally, the Clash ended things in 1985 with the substandard album, Cut The Crap. Mick Jones spun up the oft overlooked, but worth checking out Big Audio Dynamite. Strummer, however, took a more low key approach to his solo career. He started off doing soundtracks and a little bit of acting. It wasn’t until 1999 that he formed The Mescaleros with Scott Shields and Martin Slattery and a rotating group of other musicians. Still, there was nothing they did that hit big or with the force of the Clash. Frankly Strummer’s solo career could be categorized as disappointing.

I was up late one night, ruminating and sipping bourbon when the documentary of Strummer’s life came on, The Future Is Unwritten. I highly recommend any fan of the Clash or of Strummer to rent that movie post haste. It was a fascinating thing to see. Everybody from Anthony Kiedis to Bono are interviewed. It was watching that movie that I discovered that the Mescaleros had released an album after Strummer had passed, Streetcore. I bought it the next morning. How was this brilliant album overlooked? It’s the strongest thing Strummer ever did solo. He truly saved the best for last…

The album opens with a great rocking song, “Coma Girl.” It rocks on the verses and goes into a slight reggae back beat during the choruses. This tune should have been a big, big hit. That leads into the monster reggae song, “Get Down Moses.” It’s one of my absolute favorite tracks. The bass is enormous. Those two tracks would be worth the price of admission but this whole album is amazing, start to finish.

There are two songs, I’ll say, influenced by Johnny Cash. Joe was vacationing in California and dropped by Rick Rubin’s studios. Johnny was there doing some recording for the American Recordings sessions. In the liner notes to the fabulous Cash box set, Unearthed, Rubin describes the scene. Strummer would drop by everyday and lay down by the glass wall to the recording booth and just watch Johnny play. After about a week of that, Rubin asked if Joe wanted to do something with Johnny and he was too frightened. Rubin mentioned to Cash that the Clash played a lot of reggae, which surprisingly Johnny loved. The next thing you know, they’re all huddled around the stereo listening to Bob Marley records. Johnny and Joe cut a duet doing “Redemption Songs,” which is just perfect. You can’t make stories like this up… Joe’s version, without Johnny, is here on the album and it’s a beautiful reading. If ever there was a case of the material suiting the artist, it’s this. I would advise anybody to also search out the duet… While watching Johnny, Strummer also wrote, “The Long Shadow,” which is here as an acoustic number. Johnny never recorded it but it would have been perfect for him. “The Long Shadow” is the kind of epic song you’d think only the Man In Black could pull off, but Strummer does too. It evokes traveling across the vast continent and surveying the moral and emotional landscape. It’s quite striking.

This is a posthumous release and according to Wikipedia many of Strummer’s vocals are first takes. I think his vocals have a ferocity and edge to them, maybe it’s that first take thing, but this is a well sung, punchy record. “Arms Aloft” and “All In A Day” are great rocking songs. This album reminds me of a Clash album stylistically because there’s a little of everything. “Burning Streets” is a virtual sequel to “London Is Burning.” “Ramshackle Day Parade” is an epic ballad. It’ll grab you by the collar. There is one song, “Midnight Jam,” which is the Mescaleros playing behind snippets of Strummer’s radio show – he DJ’d a program where he played all sorts of world music. It’s a fitting tribute to Strummer’s fine taste in music.

The album ends on it’s second cover song, the Bobby Charles’ track “Before I Grow Too Old” re-titled and repurposed as “Silver and Gold.” A touching little acoustic number that ends with Strummer saying, “that’s a take.” I know this record might seem a little obscure to most folks, but that’s our job here at B&V, to point out and shine a light on music that you might have overlooked. This is a great album by an incredibly important artist. Worth checking out!

Cheers!