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.

 

 

 

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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!

Review: Middle of the Map Fest: Spoon 6/29/18; Social Distortion, 6/30/2018, LIVE

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*Photo of Mike Ness of Social Distortion taken by your intrepid blogger

Sometimes you just gotta see a band live to understand what they’re about…

When the Rock Chick approached me about going to a new music festival in town entitled Middle Of The Map Festival, I was skeptical. I mean, it’s late June… fucking hot weather in the Midwest. And besides, I didn’t recognize most of the bands involved. But then I examined the line-up more closely. Two names immediately jumped out at me. Greta Van Fleet and Social Distortion. GVF is my new, classic rock crush and Social D, well, the Rock Chick got me on their bandwagon when we met in 2000 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also noticed that one of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands, Spoon, was on the list… I could easily discern that this was the reason she wanted to go. Although, in truth she’s a bigger Social D fan than I am, so it was probably a win/win for her…

I have posted a couple of times about Great Van Fleet, (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP or per chance, Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). I was so stoked to see these guys live… are they for real? Only seeing them live would tell me. Even my buddy, Drummer Blake texted me and asked if I was going to the MOTM Festival. Was I!?! And then on Thursday I saw the tweet… Danny, the drummer in GVF, hurt his wrist and they were cancelling their appearances in KC and Chicago, prime blues rock country. Goddammit son! I don’t know how he hurt his wrist, my guess would be skateboarding… I’m certain his wrist wasn’t hurt throwing a TV out of the window of the 30th floor of a Hilton like Bonham would have done. Without B&V who will teach the children about rock and roll? The fucking show must go on, son. Suck it up Danny, rub some dirt on that wrist and hit the stage, goddammit.

I was disappointed. The Rock Chick was still pretty excited about Spoon and to tell the truth without the GVF hype, I sort of felt free. I could just drink a bunch of vodka and groove on the tunes. Our friends, Edie and Brad (names changed to protect the innocent) came over and everybody seemed jacked up for the show. My corporate overlords kept me on the phone right up until the time I had to jump in the Uber. Someone handed me a strong vodka drink and I was like, OK, no GVF, I’ll just party. We got down to the festival and the first band I saw, on the second stage, in a parking lot no less, was a band called Y God Y and they were just taking the stage. I was hammering down another vodka when these guys hit the stage. Two keyboards, never a good sign, a drummer and a groovy, hipster lumberjack in shorts on lead vocals and guitar…That guy was extraordinarily hairy… I couldn’t help but think, well fuck… But here’s the weird thing and the great thing about music festivals, they give you exposure to bands  you’d never hear. The really hairy lead singer actually had a nice falsetto voice… these guys sounded great. I realized perhaps I’d taken this thing too lightly… Forget about GVF. I grooved to Y God Y for a few great songs and then lurched into the main venue, the intrepid Grinders, which is basically a mulch covered field and hunkered down for Spoon. Y God Y had me grooving.

I will be the first to admit I am the last person who should review Spoon. Short of knowing my wife likes them, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I’ve heard a number of their tracks, because, as mentioned, the Rock Chick loves these guys. Frankly, I thought they were European. But my dear friend, hummus and chardonnay enthusiast RJ will tell you, “Did you know they’re from Austin, Tx, Ken?” For the 8th time RJ, yeah I got that… Spoon, lead singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist (and unsung hero of this band) Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel with touring member Gerardo Larios (keys/guitar) took the stage a little earlier than expected. These guys had me immediately… the first track, which I’d never heard was “Knock Knock Knock.” They have a slinky groove, I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but they are catchy AF, as the kids say.

The lead singer, Britt Daniel, would occasionally pull out his guitar and play a funky rhythm guitar… there was no intense solo’ing. It was more of a groove or a mood. Alex Fischel plays spooky, epic keyboards that Rick Wakeman would envy. The only thing Alex is missing is a big high collared cape. The bass player, Rob Pope held everything together with a tight, insistent bass line. These guys tore it up on their set. I was very very impressed with them. “Don’t You Evah,” “I Turn My Camera On,” and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?” were all great. Towards the end of the show, they even did this long, psychedelic jam… I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t know what track it was. I’m not qualified to talk about Spoon, and well, vodka. These guys were great. As I staggered out of the venue a great power trio were starting on the Tito’s parking lot stage… I still don’t know who they were, but I stood there mesmerized for two songs… I wish I’d taken it more seriously. Some great music went down Friday night… Sometimes, you just gotta see the band live to understand. I’ve spent the last two days listening to Spoon.

Nursing what the medical profession would call a “hangover” I rode the Uber down to Grinders for Night 2 of Middle of The Map Fest. I got in the venue early enough that I saw a number of songs by an artist I want to check out more in-depth, Nikki Lane. She was awesome. She lives in Austin and sounds like old country. She even covered a Jesse Coulter song. Thankfully I wasn’t using vodka as liberally on night 2… I didn’t see, but I could hear the Sluts play on the parking lot stage. Great punk rock. The only down part of the build up to Social D was Built To Spill whose senseless jams sounded like serial killer testimony set to music… Oh well.

Finally, shortly after 10 pm, Mike Ness and the latest incarnation of Social Distortion hit the stage while a tape recording of Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” played to honor the fallen… A wonderful gesture. Besides Ness, currently Social D consists of Johnny Wickersham (guitar/backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass) and David Hidalgo, Jr (drums). It was like seeing old friends. These guys do punk/cowpunk/hard rock like it’s meant to be done. They started with a brilliant trio of songs, “Reach For the Sky,” “Highway 101″ (one of my favs…”I believe in love again…”), and “Don’t Take Me For Granted.” Sadly KC took Social D for granted… the crowd was spartan. “She’s a Knockout” turned into an extended guitar jam. They also did extended guitar jams on “Story of My Life,” and “California (Hustle and Flow).” It was so great to see hard rock guitar on a beautiful night in KC.

“99 To Life” brought the country/cowpunk influence in for the night, it was just great. My wife has a cat, named Rhett, and his theme song is “Mommy’s Little Monster” and I was thrilled to hear Social D play that song last night, a first. As was early punk track “Another State of Mind,” which they crushed.  “Machine Gun Blues” and “California (Hustle And Flow)” from the last album were both high lights. I just wish Ness would stop being the 10 year cicada, issuing a new album every decade… Mike, get in the studio, we need more guitar rock! Ness introduced “Don’t Drag Me Down” as a song he’d written about racism back in 1994… He said it was sad in 2017 the White House started tacitly making racism ok again… Indeed, Mike, indeed.

After a 12 song, hour long set, Social D left the stage. They came back for a three song encore, the highlight of which was “Ring of Fire,” the Johnny Cash cover… I was tired, I was hungover, but I was very very happy! Social D always brings it people, get out and see them!

That’s my report from the front lines of MOTM… I hope they do this again next year, it was a blast. See you next year folks!

 

 

New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return

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“I’m not everyone…” – “Solara,” The Smashing Pumpkins

Thanks to my buddy Doug, I was an early adopter of the Smashing Pumpkins. He was the one who gave me their breakthrough album, Siamese Dream as a birthday gift in early ’94. Ok, the album was almost a year old, but I live in Kansas City, not Chicago. I quickly picked up Gish at the used-record store. I was also one of the throng of people who showed up at the record store the day Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness came out – it was truly the band’s magnum opus at three vinyl LP’s or 2 CD’s length.

In the ’90s, “grunge” was such an overpowering force that many bands, including the Smashing Pumpkins, got lumped into that category. That era when the Pumpkins came out was when I first began to hear the term “alternative rock.” Kansas City even got a new alternative rock radio station. You wouldn’t hear Foghat on that station, but you would hear the Seattle bands – Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and of course, Nirvana. That is also where I started to hear the Smashing Pumpkins. They were so much more influenced by classic rock – layered guitars, epic songwriting, and big drums – than many of their alt rock compatriots who were more influenced by punk, especially the grunge bands. I agree with the label alternative rock, but certainly not grunge for the Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins were like the midwest, more specifically, Chicago’s answer to the Seattle music scene.

By the time ’95’s Mellon Collie came out the Smashing Pumpkins – principal songwriter Billy Corgan on vocals/guitar (and almost all other instruments), James Iha on guitar, D’Arcy Wretzky on bass and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums – were one of the biggest bands on the planet. That was the first tour I got to see them on and they were amazing. But alas, at their zenith is where the worm began to turn. It was on that tour Jimmy Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (brother of Prince’s old side kick Wendy Melvoin) both O.D’d on heroin, fatally for Melvoin. Chamberlin survived, but the rest of the band, who’d been dealing with his heroin and alcohol addiction for almost a decade made the decision to move on without him.

They followed up with the heavily electronica influenced album, Adore in ’98 as a trio with Kenny Aronoff on drums for the tour. I loved that record. The title track is the Rock Chick’s absolute favorite Pumpkins tune. For the Pumpkins next outing, MACHINA/The Machines of Gods, a now clean and sober Chamberlin was invited to return to the band. Chamberlin and Corgan were roomies when they were out on the road in the early days, and I think that bond brought them back together. However, just as suddenly as the foursome were reunited, bassist D’Arcy left the band. Rumors of crack cocaine use were circulating about her. Melissa Auf der Maur formally of Hole came in to replace her. It was after that tour the Smashing Pumpkins disbanded.

Chamberlin and Corgan worked together in the “supergroup” Zwan, but that ended up being short lived. Corgan released a solo album and I believe a book of poetry. Eventually, however, Billy put out a full page ad in the Chicago newspapers, stating he wanted to reunite the band. Unfortunately, only Chamberlin showed up for 2007’s Zeitgeist, an album best glossed over…

After releasing two very strong albums under the Smashing Pumpkins moniker (Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy) with Corgan as the only original member left, the rumors of a full on reunion began. The Smashing Pumpkins had really become Corgan and a loose collection of other musicians. The only guy who seemed to “stick” in the band was guitarist Jeff Schroeder. I think it was 2 years ago that both Chamberlin and Iha had signed-on to return and join Corgan & Schoreder. I was delighted to hear that, but I am still hugely disappointed that D’Arcy and Corgan couldn’t bury the hatchet. I loved their chemistry on stage. My friends Matthew and Stormin saw them in Denver and D’Arcy threw her bass on the floor and stormed off during the encore – you can’t buy that kinda passion. I’ll have to put her on my list of musicians left out of high profile reunions, My Proposed Supergroup: Those Band Members Left Out of Big Time Reunions.

There were rumors the 3/4 reunited Pumpkins would put out an album. Then I heard it was going to be a series of EPs… Who knows? Corgan, who I consider a genius, is a hard guy to figure out… he certainly means it when he says, “I’m not everyone…” While I was busy doing all my Dave Matthews Band research, LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’, the Smashing Pumpkins – now Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and Schroeder – released a new song, “Solara.” It’s our first tangible evidence of the reunion. I guess both or either Iha and Corgan played bass.

As a fan of the harder rock end of the spectrum, I like this song. It’s quite a layered, 3-guitar attack with Corgan/Schroeder/Iha all pounding out a giant riff. Chamberlin’s drumming, as always is fierce. The song actually starts with the beat of his drum. I will say, with all those guitars in the room, I didn’t hear a discernible solo. On his last few albums, the aforementioned superb Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy, Corgan’s singing has been sweeter and almost wistful. His nasally snarl is back for this track. And while “I’m not everyone,” may not be as menacing as “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” it’s nice to hear Corgan’s vocals have that old bite again. As guitar driven rock continues to seemingly disappear, I gotta say, I’m glad to hear a track like this. We need more rock n roll. It’s not on the level of that classic Pumpkins stuff, like, say, “Cherub Rock,” or “Today” but it’s a damn good Pumpkins’ song.

I urge everyone to check this out. Rumor has it there’ll be a tour soon. I’m just hoping whatever they’ve been doing in the studio will see the light of day… Corgan can be… mercurial.

 

LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’

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I can’t believe it’s been almost 25 years since the Dave Matthews Band’s major label debut, Under The Table And Dreaming came out. Dylan was right folks, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” That album was so mid-90s it features a harmonica solo from that awful Blues Traveler guy, John Popper. Back in ’94 I was an early fan of the DMB. I loved “Ants Marching” and “Satellite.” That album was actually gifted to me by a sociopath, er, I mean a woman I was dating at the time. The sound was different from anything I’d heard before. A jam band who actually wrote hooks. Even the lineup was odd: Dave Matthews was on acoustic guitar/vocals, Carter Beauford on drums, Stefan Lessard on the biggest bass I’d ever seen, Boyd Tinsley on violin (violin?), and taciturn LeRoi Moore on horns. Not your typical 2 guitars, bass and drums lineup. The rhythm section jumped out at me, their sound had a rich, full bottom.

By 1996 when their second album, Crash came out, we all ran to the record store to buy it the day it came out. I actually gifted that album to a different sociopath I was dating at the time. The DMB was the soundtrack to every romantic disaster I encountered in the 90s…this one was a rebound from the first sociopath…it’s a wonder I still can listen to that album. I actually got to see the DMB live on that tour with my friend Judy’s husband and her two step kids, one of whom told me I had a big, pointy nose. Lovely kid. I prefer to think of it as a Roman nose…. Anyway, seeing these guys live was mind blowing. They did their cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and I spent months looking for that on CD. By 98’s Before These Crowded Streets DMB was on my exclusive list of favorites. And yes, by 98, I was dating someone different, a nice woman, who actually bought the album for me. “Don’t drink the water, there’s blood in the water…” That early DMB stuff was quite a 3 album run.

But then suddenly the hot streak ended. The DMB went through a mid-career crisis. They released the awful, Glen Ballard produced Everyday. It was glossy and slick and he’d removed all their rough edges. I took the Rock Chick to see that tour and she broke up with me a week later… the DMB and my romantic flame-outs continued working in tandem. (It was the last time I saw the DMB live, it’s too hard to get tickets since everybody loves these guys.) They rebounded with one of their best records, one everyone should own, Busted Stuff, most of which had been written and shelved in favor of the material that became Everyday. Matthews put out a solo album, Some Devil which was also better than Everyday, but didn’t grab me like the early albums or Busted Stuff did. When the DMB regrouped and released another clunker, Stand Up, I got off the bandwagon. I loved the first single, “American Baby” but there was little else to recommend the album. I walked away from the DMB.

It was my friend Judy, with the cruel stepson, who after seeing the DMB at the New Orleans Jazzfest, gave me their 2009 album, Big Whiskey And the GrooGrux King. It seems I rarely actually buy one of their albums. The band, never a stranger to tragedy, had been struck by the dark forces again when their horn player, the great LeRoi Moore died after an ATV accident. They replaced him with a horn section, two guys, Jeff Coffin on sax and Rashaun Ross on trumpet… Moore’s were big shoes to fill. Tim Reynolds, who had played acoustic and electric guitar on some of the early albums, and who toured as a duo with Matthews, finally formally joined the band. It was this new configuration that recorded Big Whiskey, which was a tribute to Moore. It was a fantastic album. I remember thinking at the time, they must have been inspired by their loss.

Oddly, I totally missed their next album, Away From the World. In my research on their new album, Come Tomorrow, I backtracked and spent some time with Away From the World, and I must say, it was another impressive outing. Both those albums, Big Whiskey and Away were the kind of records that caused me to start this blog. Great, later period albums in a band’s career. I would have never expected this Dave Matthews renaissance. Bands that have been around this long, who have such a huge live following, can settle in and just tour to make money. I was happy these guys still had the creative chops.

All of this leads me to the new album, Come Tomorrow. This is a dark, atmospheric little record. It reminds me, attitudinally, not sound-wise or style-wise, of Lenny Kravitz’s album Circus. There’s an undercurrent of sadness under a lot this music. That mood may be influenced by the band’s firing of longtime violinist, Boyd Tinsley under the cloud of a sexual harassment suit, bad juju indeed. All of that aside, this is a strong DMB album. It starts with a song I can only describe as hymn-like, “Samurai Cop (Oh, Joy Begin).” It’s quite an affecting tune, a cry to the heavens. That track drew me into the album almost immediately.

The emotional heart of this album for me were the two songs “Virginia In The Rain” and “Again and Again.” Those two tracks are stone-cold, classic, DMB songs. Atmospheric, brooding and catchy as hell. With a band of this skill and a songwriter as strong as Dave Matthews, there are always going to be gems like these on any album they do. There’s a lot to like here. “Can’t Stop” is a funky little number that proves Carter Beauford is an epic drummer. He never gets his due. He should be on everyone’s “best of” drummer lists.

There are two “Crash”-like ballads, “Here On Out” and my favorite, “Black & Blue Bird.” Beautiful, little, quiet ballads. The album also ends on a ballad, an almost sad, “When I’m Weary,” a piano driven track that oddly calls to my mind Simon and Garfunkel for no rational reason I can explain. The DMB can go from those quiet ballads to an almost metal-ish track like “She,” where Tim Reynolds gets to show off his chops. That song almost sounds like Green Day. These guys can do so much. “Idea of You” has a horn section that the E Street Band of the 70s would envy. “Come On Come On” is a beautiful wash of acoustic guitar, that calls to mind a flowing river, that allows the vocals to just flow over you. There are the typical Matthews’ excesses, like the track “That Girl Is You” where Dave’s high pitched vocals sound almost unhinged.

I would recommend this album, along with Big Whiskey and Away From the World. Come Tomorrow is a strong continuation of a great creative period for the DMB, outdone only by their first three albums. And luckily, when the DMB releases an album these days, as a married guy, there’s no relationship drama anymore, thank God… I am surprised that I’m not hearing more about this album in the mainstream rock press. When an important band puts out an album, it’s a big fucking deal…. It’s taking them longer to get these gems out, it’d been 6 years since the last release, so cherish this one folks. I’d like to say I’m going to see these guys live, but the Rock Chick doesn’t dig the “jam band” ethos… which is a little like saying you don’t want to see Springsteen because you don’t like car songs…marriage is compromise…

Cheers!