Review: Eddie Vedder, ‘Earthling,’ An Eclectic Gem Of An Album From The Reluctant(?) Solo Artist

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“Invincible, when we love…” – Eddie Vedder, “Invincible”

I can still remember the first time I heard Eddie Vedder’s voice. It was on a song “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog – a band formed to honor the late Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone) that featured Chris Cornell (vocals) and Matt Cameron (drums) both from Soundgarden and Mike McCready (guitar), Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass) all from Pearl Jam. Wood had been roomies with Cornell and Ament & Gossard had been bandmates of his. Vedder came in to do a co-lead vocal on “Hunger Strike.” I remember thinking, this guy is gonna be big. I remember the first time I saw Vedder, in the video for “Hunger Strike” and thinking, that big, deep voice is coming out of that guy standing in the tall weeds on a beach somewhere. It was the early 90s and I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was then called “alternative rock,” but I remember thinking I certainly needed to focus on it more. I was so dim about alt rock that I didn’t even know that Temple of the Dog was a one-off.

A few months after that a woman I knew loaned me her copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten. I had heard half the songs on the album – by then I’d started listening to the alternative rock radio station in town – but I hadn’t realized that all those kick ass songs came from the same band. “Jeremy,” “Alive,” and “Even Flow” were all Pearl Jam? In my defense, in those days a lot of grunge bands sounded alike to my distracted mind. I couldn’t believe a debut album had all these great tracks on it. I’d kind of given up on new rock n roll before grunge hit. Ten was, in my opinion, one of the greatest LPs ever. It’s a perfect album. The song I always dug was, yes, the ballad “Black.” The early 90s were a tough period for me on that “interpersonal” level. While I immediately loved Pearl Jam I didn’t connect Eddie Vedder (or the other band members) with Temple of the Dog. Even then, I still thought TotD was a Soundgarden “off-shoot.” It was that year, late summer/early fall that Pearl Jam exploded like a super nova. I remember seeing videos of Pearl Jam in concert and Vedder, this handsome, charismatic lead singer swathed in flannel, was climbing up in the lighting rig and jumping into the crowds. I was dating a (different) woman at the time and she’d always say she loved his hands and as the Stones sang, “the way (he) held the microphone.” He was so visceral and intense. The sincerity gripped you like a vice and wouldn’t let you go. When he sang he looked like he was living the lyrics and was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. I was worried he’d stroke out on stage.

Needless to say, I was amongst the very large wave of people who crowded onto the Pearl Jam bandwagon. I heard Vedder tell a story on the radio once about an early PJ gig. He said the big room they were playing in was empty and he closed his eyes, started singing, and when he opened his eyes the room was full. It’s hard to overstate how “in to” Pearl Jam we all were. I remember being at the record store when it opened just to buy Vs the day it came out. Vedder drew a lot of the focus. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him. I was all in at the time but it wasn’t until the tour behind their third LP Vitalogy that I got to see them live – at Red Rocks, no less – and I was blown away. It was truly one of the best shows I’ve seen. They were at war with Ticketmaster and I was on team Pearl Jam. Vedder was as charismatic as I’d imagined and more so. I remember by the time they played the encore, “Yellow Ledbetter” I knew I’d always be a Pearl Jam fan. While I dug Vedder I’d be remiss in not saying, Mike McCready is a BEAST on guitar, but I digress.

Sadly, as the 90s wore on, grunge as a musical force ran it’s course. Worse than that, so many of the leading musicians of the movement passed away. They were kind of known for heroin and it claimed many of them. Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone (a great band everyone should check out) was an early casualty. Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was probably the biggest blow. Years later heroin and opioids hung around long enough to claim Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), and Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave). I’m glad Vedder never went that way. He had a tough childhood as documented in the song “Alive.” He was informed when he was in his early teens his real father had just died and the man he thought was his father was really his (abusive) stepdad. Eddie toughed it out, as did Pearl Jam. They have been a consistently good band all along. While known more for their live stuff these days, their studio output should get a lot more attention. Gigaton, while a very serious treatise on the environment, was a great record.

Pearl Jam has found a nice, albeit slow rhythm. They’ll put out an album, tour for a while, tour again, tour again, and then finally every six or seven years record another album. With that rather lax recording schedule one might think the members would do a lot more solo work, especially Vedder. While I fully expected a robust solo career from Eddie, it seems he’s been more reluctant about a solo career. He would do a stray soundtrack tune like “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” on the soundtrack for I Am Sam or show up to sing with the Who or Pete Townshend on a live LP or do co-lead vocal on “Drive All Night” with his buddy Glen Hansard but there wasn’t a Rod Stewart-in-the-Faces solo LP in between every band LP. It certainly would have been understandable.

His first “official” solo LP was actually the 2007 soundtrack to Into the Wild. The Rock Chick bought that album for me on Valentine’s Day one year. At the time I read that Vedder used Pete Townshend’s Who Came First, a homespun record indeed, as the blueprint for the soundtrack. It was an all right LP, but it was a soundtrack with a lot of instrumental tracks. I’m glad I have it just for the fabulous cover “Hard Sun” which is a staple on the B&V Summer/Sun playlist. He followed that up in 2011 with the fabulous Ukulele Songs, but even I’ll admit, it was an album of songs played on the ukulele. Not exactly something that’s going to compete with Metallica on rock radio. It really is a great album. At that point it’s hard to not see his solo career away from Pearl Jam as anything but casual and low key.

Finally, last week saw the release of Eddie’s first actual, proper solo album Earthling, with nary a ukulele in sight. It was produced by Andrew Watt who did Ozzy’s last solo LP Ordinary Man. Watt also plays bass on the album. They’re joined by drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) who also played on the Ozzy album and guitarist and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Josh Klinghoffer. Vedder obviously sings and plays guitar. Elton John, who also did a guest spot on the aforementioned Ozzy album shows up here on the song “Picture.” There are a few other guests who show up as well including Stevie Wonder (harmonica on “Try”), Benmont Tench (organ on “Long Way”), and yes, Ringo Starr (drums on “Mrs. Mills”). I have to say, I’m ecstatic about this album. It almost comes across as a side-project/band album as Watt, Chad Smith and Klinghoffer share some writing credits. All the lyrics are Vedder’s. If you’ve been held off on any of Vedder’s previous solo work, this is the LP you’ve been waiting for. Stylistically it’s an eclectic mix of styles and songs but they all hang together. I can certainly say, this album is never boring. The Rock Chick felt it came off the rails a little on the second half, but the more I listen the less I agree with her on that one.

The album starts with “Invincible” which sounds like a call to arms set to drums. It doesn’t sound like it but it reminds me of a mellower “Know Your Rights” by the Clash. It’s a perfect table setter, if you will. You veer from that into the most Pearl Jam-y sounding song on the album “Power of Right.” It’s a great rocking anthem full of fuzzy guitar verging on arena rock (and I mean that in a good way). Chad is the MVP on this song on the drums. This track could have been on Gigaton. Then comes the first single, the Petty-esque (even including Ben Tench on organ) “Long Way” which we’ve previously reviewed. At this point you’ve gone from an almost spoken word piece to a straight ahead rocker to a midtempo road song. Yet it all works. “Brother the Cloud” is another great rock song where Vedder laments a lost friend. It’s got a Talking Heads funky bridge that brings to mind the recent “Dance of the Clairvoyants” from Pearl Jam’s last LP.  “Fallout Today” is an acoustic driven track that I just love. Vedder’s vocal is wonderful. “The Dark” is another anthem style rock song, I love the riff on this one. “The Haves” is another beautiful acoustic ballad/love song. The gist of that track is the titular “Haves” may have all the money and stuff, but I’ve got you baby and that’s all I need. With all the style shifts over the first half, I have to admit, this sounds like the most fun Vedder has had in years. And it’s a lot of fun for we the listeners as well.

At this point we shift to kind of the harder rocking, punk section of the album, starting with “Good And Evil.” This is where the Rock Chick jumped off the bandwagon. At first listen I wasn’t crazy about “Good And Evil” with its Ramones style speed rock and barking vocals. It’s reminiscent of “Lukin” by PJ. It’s a meet me at the finish line track. The more I hear it though, I can’t lie, it’s growing on me. The next rocker is “Rose of Jericho” which I like significantly more. But it’s a muscular, more riff-y track. “Try” is another speed rocker with Stevie Wonder on harmonica. It’s another meet me at the finish line, speed rocking track. Stevie sounds like he’s running out of breath trying to keep up. The more I hear these tracks the more they grow on me, especially “Rose of Jericho.” Chad’s drumming in this section of the album is fabulous and Vedder/Klinghoffer meld their guitars very well.

Elton shows up on the duet “Picture.” It features an old school barrel-house piano from Elton. I really like this song, although the Rock Chick insists that Elton has lost a step vocally in his late career. Again it sounds like Elton and Eddie are having a great time and I like the song. From there, the album takes it’s broadest stylistic turn for the Beatlesque “Mrs. Mills.” Ringo even shows up to play drums on the string drenched song. Eddie doing a track that sounds like Paul McCartney wrote it? Yes, please. It’s a beautiful track.

This album is an absolute treat. It’s nice to hear Vedder and his cohorts – Watt, Chad Smith, Klinghoffer – playing so tightly and yes, having a good time doing so. I know the band is out on the road – with Pino Palladino from the Who stepping in on bass guitar – and I’d love to see this show. This is an absolute must have album and the first really great album of 2022. I urge all of you who like Eddie, who like Pearl Jam and who like rock n roll to check this one out. It may be an eclectic collection of songs but so is Exile On Main Street. As I’m prone to say, pull the bar down over your knees and enjoy the roller coaster ride!

Cheers!

Review: Liam Gallagher Teams With Dave Grohl For The Sensational New Song “Everything’s Electric”

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*Image of Liam Gallagher performing at the Brit Awards taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

I’m on record as stating that Liam Gallagher is an unpleasant man. So is his brother Noel for that matter. Of course my view of Liam will always be tainted by his mocking my front row “air guitar” from the stage at an Oasis show at Red Rocks a number of years ago. But damn if the mocking bastard isn’t back with a sensational new song, “Everything’s Electric.” As I’ve said before, it’s extremely pleasant music from an extremely unpleasant man…

The most surprising thing about “Everything’s Electric” is that it’s co written by one of the nicest people in all of rock n roll, the Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl. I’m not a huge fan of the Foo, but like David Letterman, I’m a huge fan of the song “Everlong.” I had the Foo’s first album but I either sold it at the used record/CD store or an ex might have absconded with it. The details get fuzzier the more time that passes… as Randy Newman sang, “God bless the potholes down on memory lane.” Dave not only co wrote this song, he plays the drums on the track much like he did with Mick Jagger last summer on their one-off, You-Tube only single “Easy Sleazy.” I don’t think he plays any of the great guitar on the song, but I can’t find credits on who plays what. I guess I’ll know when Liam’s new LP C’Mon You Know comes out on May 27th.

Like all things Oasis/Gallagher brothers, I think Grohl’s involvement in this song may have come out of some conflict. There was some on-line thing where a bunch of Foo Fighter fans petitioned Noel Gallagher to rejoin his brother Liam and get Oasis back together. I was never a huge Oasis fan but the Rock Chick is and as far as I know she could have been behind the whole on-line thing. No one really knows whose behind the whole “reunite Oasis” drive. While I find Liam unpleasant I despise Noel for what he said about INXS to Micheal Hutchence at an MTV Awards show years ago. Anyway, apparently Noel was offended that the fans of the Foo were on him about getting Oasis back together and thought Dave Grohl, not the Rock Chick, was behind it. As usual, Noel handled his anger in a classy way and invited Mr. Grohl – the NICEST man in rock n roll – to “suck his d*ck.” Even I was like, dude, slow you’re roll. As if I wasn’t already on “Team Liam.” And don’t get me wrong, Liam is no saint. He once questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. They are the living embodiment of the cliche of brothers who start bands and end up hating each other. These guys make the Everly Brothers look like the Mannings. Whatever drove Grohl’s involvement in this song, it’s certainly welcome.

While I wasn’t a huge Oasis fan until I met the Rock Chick I have been on 100% in on Liam’s solo career. I even dug that first Beady Eye album. It would be easy to give Grohl all the credit for this great new track “Everything’s Electric” but that would ignore Liam’s great solo LPs thus far – 2017’s As You Were and 2019’s Why Me? Why Not. Both of those got great reviews from us down here at B&V. Hell, I even loved his live album MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall). But then I’ve always been fond of the Unplugged series and have even posted about my favorite ones (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs).

I read that Grohl said they were trying to bring the percussive elements of the Beastie Boys’ song “Sabotage” and blend it with a “Gimme Shelter” vibe. I can hear the “Sabotage” a little bit, but I’m not sure about the Stones elements. The song, like the upcoming album C’mon You Know, was produced by Greg Kurstin who produced As You Were and co-produced Why Me? Why Not. This may be my favorite Liam tune to date. Grohl really brings it on drums. The track starts with heavy bass and big guitar riffs. And then Grohl comes in on drums. Liam is just a great vocalist there’s no getting around that. If you dug Oasis, you’re gonna love this track. It’s great to hear rock n roll played loud. The guitars pile on – from big riffs to a little lead signature that almost sounds like it’s a slide guitar? I love the lyric “I don’t hate you, But I despise that feeling there’s nothing left for me here.” Here’s the lyric video of the song:

Turn this one up really loud. It’s going to be a great year for rock n roll with new albums from Liam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (whose new song, the “Slow Cheetah”-esque “Black Summer” we’re still cranking here in the B&V labs, and (today) Eddie Vedder. Winter is slowly releasing it’s horrible grasp upon us as days get longer and the music gets louder. Take care of yourself out there.

Cheers!

New Song Review! Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Black Summer” – Welcome Home John Frusciante!

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I’ve spent the last week deeply immersed in the Beatles’ Rooftop Concert and man has that helped cure my winter blues. Of course, the funk I’ve been in may be lifting merely because Dry January is finally over… I guess we’ll never know what cured me. As if I wasn’t blissed out enough, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (one of our favorites down here at B&V) have dropped the first single from their upcoming album Unlimited Love. The album drops April 1st, yes, April Fools Day. The new song is called “Black Summer” and comes complete with a new video. I was particularly pumped about this upcoming album because it heralds the return of guitarist John Frusciante who has rejoined singer Anthony Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea for the first time since he departed the band after the hugely successful Stadium Arcadium.

This actually marks the second time Frusciante has left the Chili Peppers and returned. He couldn’t handle the world wide attention that Blood Sugar Sex Magik generated and left only to return a couple of albums later for Californication. There was a similar arc of events after Stadium Arcadium came out. Everybody loved that album. Everyone I knew was calling me to tell me about it – from old dudes I worked with to my daughter (who was still in high school) and her friends. Literally everyone except perhaps my Sainted Mother dug that record but she’s still immersed in Roger Whitaker albums from the 70s…I can hear her now, “Bring me another sherry darling and turn this up…” I saw the Chili Peppers on that tour (although sadly I didn’t take the Rock Chick and am still hearing about it) and Frusciante played with an ecstasy usually reserved for the religious convert. I thought he was happy? Maybe after Stadium Arcadium, when they were at yet another career zenith, Frusciante – who is a true artist in every sense of that word – felt he’d done all he can do and he had enough money so he split for a curious solo career. Rumors are swirling that he lost 70% of his net worth in his recent divorce and that may be the impetus for his return. Regardless of why he came back, I’m just glad he’s returned. His Chili Peppers’ LP resume includes all of their best albums: Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication, By The Way and the aforementioned Stadium Arcadium. They have had a lot of guitarists from Hillel Slovak to Josh Klinghoffer but there’s only one man whose chemistry with the band spurs them to their utmost creative heights and that’s John Frusciante. We should cherish any music these four guys create together.

I’ll say off the bat, I dig “Black Summer.” But how does it compare with their recent first singles? Let’s watch the video and listen to the song:

If we harken back to John’s last album with the band, Stadium Arcadium, the first single was “Dani California.” That’s one of the Chili Pepper’s greatest songs of all time, in my not so humble opinion. Frusciante’s guitar is Hendrix-ian at it’s utmost. The solo’ing at the end is epic. That was a mighty first single. After John left, the first single the Chili Peppers released from their next album I’m With You was “Rain Dance Maggie.” A lot of people didn’t like the Josh Klinghoffer era of the band but I really dug I’m With You. Rick Rubin was still on as producer. They did a video for “Rain Dance Maggie” where they were playing live on a roof overlooking a beach in California. Hmm… playing on a roof… I wonder where I’ve heard of that before. I do dig “Rain Dance Maggie” and I thought it was a great first single continuing their trend of great first singles. Finally, their last LP (and Josh’s last with the band) The Getaway saw “Dark Necessities” released as the first single. I reviewed The Getaway and I stand by that review – the album disappointed me. I rarely reach for that disc. However, “Dark Necessities” is one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s got an infectious melody and groove – Flea just kills it. Kiedis lyrics are dark but yet enticing. “Dark necessities are part of my design” could be printed on my tombstone. Bad album and yet a fantastic first single!

With that history of great lead singles, I imagine there was a lot of pressure on the Chili Peppers to “bring the house” on this one. I don’t think Flea does “pressure.” I know John doesn’t do “pressure.” I like “Black Summer” but it is a curious choice of a first single. It starts with that spooky guitar riff the Peppers have been playing on their social media posts teasing the new track. There is not a guitarist on the planet besides Frusciante who can play this close to what Hendrix sounded like. You can hear the influence even on the quiet opening riffage. The song starts slow with just Frusciante’s guitar and Anthony’s vocal. The band doesn’t kick in for about a minute and a half. The guitar solo mid song is vintage Frusciante. You know it’s him on guitar and everything just seems right in the universe. You can also tell this was produed by Rick Rubin who is the fifth Pepper as far as I’m concerned. I’m extremely glad he’s back at the board for these guys. “I’ve been waiting, waiting on another black summer to end.” God haven’t we all been waiting for this “Black Summer” we find ourselves in to end? I know I have.

The song doesn’t have the hook of say, “Dark Necessities” that you’d expect in a first single. It doesn’t have a giant sing-along chorus of say, “Rain Dance Maggie” that you’d expect from a first track. It’s a little dark but isn’t everything these days? I’ve always liked the inherent darkness in the Chili Peppers music, when they touch on that vein is when they’re at their best. This is a great rock n roll tune and we don’t hear much great rock n roll played on actual instruments these days. And let me say, thank god there is no presence of keyboards on this record. I think this is going to be a great year with a new album and tour from the Chili Peppers. And let me say again, welcome home John, you’re back where you naturally belong.

Until I can hear the album and see these guys in concert – this time with the Rock Chick, I promise – I guess I’m resigned to sit and “with the birds I’ll share this lonely view…” If Frusciante can find his way back, maybe all of us can. Take care of each other. This black summer really is almost over. Cheers!

David Bowie: ‘Toy – Box Set’ – Bowie’s Lost Album Finally Sees Official Stand-Alone Release

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OK, let’s get the monkey-boy, er I mean the elephant in the room out of the way right off the bat. This cover art is amongst the worst I’ve ever seen. The Rock Chick wandered in yesterday and said, “God that picture is freaky,” in an almost frightened voice. Bowie was a beautiful man, why he chose this cover art will just have to remain one of life’s mysteries. Please don’t judge this book by it’s cover. Now, on the with the post…

Last Monday, January 10th marked the sixth anniversary of rock n roll icon David Bowie’s passing. I’m still sad about that. Bowie was indeed a titan, a true rock star. His image can still be found everywhere. Every time there’s an art fair in town, whether it’s on the Plaza, Westport or Brookside, there are always works featuring Bowie’s visage. The most popular seems to be the image from the cover of Aladdin Sane, with the iconic blue/red lightning bolt drawn across Bowie’s face, his spiky hair deep orange. Bowie was a hero to all the misfits and outcasts. He sang from a real outsider’s point of view on songs like “Is There Life On Mars?” and “Changes.” He came out as bisexual when to do so could have ended his career. He blasted MTV in it’s early days for not featuring enough (or really any) black artists. Even though he’s gone I still see his face on t-shirts of young girls wandering Westport or painted on murals several stories tall. I can’t help but think, when I see people with Bowie shirts on, have they actually heard the music or is he just a symbol of something bigger?

I’m a huge Bowie fan. Now that he’s gone I look forward to his birthday, January 8th, every year as his team releases something new on or around that date annually. A few years ago it was the EP No Plan and last year it was the previously unreleased double-single, “Trying To Get To Heaven” with “Mother.” I will admit to you, I wasn’t always keenly watching for new Bowie releases. I grew up in the American midwest and frankly I was aware of Bowie but really knew very little about him. Our rock radio station (remember them?), KY102 would play select tracks. I remember hearing “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel” and “Changes.” I think they’d occasionally play “Heroes.” His most played track in Kansas City was probably his duet with Queen, “Under Pressure.” If Bowie ever came up in conversation it was sort of like Elton John at the time – he was maybe gay so you had to keep your distance. Ah, the insecurity of the adolescent male. I’d like to say I was cool even in junior high and I was early on the Bowie bandwagon and bought Low or Hunky Dory at an young age, but alas, my journey to Bowie was slow and likely to most of his true fans, very uncool indeed.

I’ve written before about the fact that most people end up making their first purchase of an artist whose been around a while by buying whatever is then current. For example, my first Stones LP was the (at the time) recently released Some Girls. My first Who album was Face Dances, which I think only I like, because the first single “You Better You Bet” was played constantly on KY102 at the time. I can’t even claim being so cool that I did that with David Bowie. When I was in junior high he came out with Scary Monsters. I’d like to tell you I jumped on his bandwagon at that point and bought that album. I liked the song “Ashes to Ashes,” who didn’t, but it was my brother who bought that record. And he’s 3 years younger than I am. Even Scary Monsters would be a cool LP to begin your Bowie journey on… nope, not me. I was holding out.

I waited to make my first tenuous step into Bowie’s music until I was in college. Yes, it was the song “Let’s Dance” that brought me into the fold. Let’s Dance came out in 1983 and I think it’s Bowie’s most commercially successful album. Even worse than admitting “Let’s Dance” was my real entry point for Bowie, I was really enticed by the amazing video that was in high rotation on MTV. I loved the line from that song, “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” After hearing “Modern Love” I broke down and bought the album which I’ll admit was a bit uneven but with Nile Rogers producing and on rhythm guitar and the then unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar, you couldn’t go wrong. I know Let’s Dance was shamelessly pop-friendly and not hipster, avant garde like say, Lodger, but I don’t care. I remember a friend from high school, Brewster, who had ended up in Lubbock sending me a Bowie bumper sticker he bought at the Bowie concert from the ensuing tour entitled The Serious Moonlight Tour so it appears I wasn’t the only one on the bandwagon after Let’s Dance. I still have that sticker in a box somewhere. Everything I own is in a box somewhere these days.

At that point I went out and bought his greatest hits package, Changesonebowie figuring that was all I needed of Bowie. I was playing “Space Oddity” one rare sober Friday night and I remember the guy across the hall asking me “Why I was playing Sunday morning music on a Friday night?” It was one of my roommates Drew who plunged into Bowie at that point, leaving me behind. He brought home Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Bowie’s masterwork, and I was at least moved to tape it onto cassette. That was the entire extent of my Bowie collection for the next fifteen years. I bought Tonight when it came out because I liked “Blue Jean.” But to me, it was a huge disappointment and I sold it quickly at the used record store. I was aware of the release in spring of ’87 of Never Let Me Down and the ensuing Glass Spider tour but I largely ignored it. After that Bowie retreated into his “side project” Tin Machine and floated out of my consciousness. In the 90s he went into this heavy electronic/industrial thing and even worked with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. I had begun to think of Bowie as basically an artifact struggling for relevance. Although I loved the song, “I’m Afraid Of Americans” which was the only track that reached my ears during those days.

But then in 1999 something happened. I was listening to the radio and I heard a song “Thursday’s Child.” It was from a new album from Bowie, Hours… and I loved it. I know, another odd entry point back into Bowie, but I’m not a music snob. If a song hits my lower brain stem I’m in. Critics were lukewarm on the album, it was composed as a soundtrack for a video game and had a song with lyrics composed by a fan in a contest, but I really thought it was a return to his classic sound. It’s described in Wikipedia as the beginning of his “neoclassicist period,” whatever that means. It was only then, at the end of one millennium and the dawn of another that I plunged into Bowie. I went back and started buying all of his LPs, from The Man Who Sold The World up to Scary Monsters. I joyfully followed Bowie’s every twist and turn on that back catalog and that’s when I became a huge fan. I also realized how much I’d been missing out on… That newfound fandom was only solidified when Heathen came out in 2002. It’s an album everyone should own and it’s exactly the type of late-career type of LP B&V was founded on. He followed up with the brilliant Reality in 2003 and it was on that tour, that I finally joined my friend Brewster in actually seeing Bowie in concert. “Station To Station” was the highlight of the evening. The Rock Chick, sadly, was a bit baffled by the evening as she wasn’t as familiar with his stuff as I was… but marriage is a compromise.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I discovered there was an unknown chapter to that fruitful 1999 to 2003 period. Apparently jazzed with how his backing band had sounded on the tour for Hours, Bowie decided to head into the studio. He was excited to have a band honed on the road, doing live shows and he wanted to capture that. On that tour he had decided to start revisiting songs from his early pre-fame period when he was just a struggling Mod in London. They were playing various tracks on the tour like, “You’ve Got A Habit of Leaving.” Bowie’s plan was to hole up with his touring band, Mark Plati (multi-instrumentalist/producer), Earl Slick (guitar), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Mike Garson (keyboards), and Sterling Campbell (drummer) and record an introspective version of Pin Ups his 70s LPs of cover songs that I featured on my list, B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs. While he covered other artists on Pin Ups, on this new album Toy he was going to go back over 30 years and cover himself. The plan was to do a surprise release of the album which is common now but way ahead of its time in 2000 but that’s Bowie for you… a visionary. Apparently there wasn’t the technology available yet to go from studio to release in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately the record company wasn’t as excited about Bowie revisiting his early catalog as he was, they wanted an album of new songs, and they rejected Toy. Let me just say, I doubt the cover artwork helped any. The sessions did lead to Heathen…so there’s that.

As I mentioned, a decade later in 2011 Toy was leaked to the internet and became a widely bootlegged album. I don’t condone bootlegging but I won’t lie I’ve been an owner of a number of bootlegs since I was in college. I had a copy of Toy on a CD that I got from sources that shall remain hidden. While most Bowie aficionados look down on this record, I think it’s damn good music and a hell of a lot fun. A couple of tracks from Toy had been released as b-sides for Heathen so some of it had seen the light of day. I loved that it was Bowie singing passionately with a band that does sound road tested and rocking these old songs. It was modern and yet it had that mid-sixties mod energy. Listening I felt like everyone involved was wearing a suit with a parka and riding a scooter while taking pills. With titles like “I Dig Everything” you definitely get a sixties vibe which is nothing but a good thing.

Toy was finally released in last year’s box set Brilliant Adventures (1992 – 2001). The running order and track list was slightly altered from the 2011 bootleg but the sound is better and I think it’s an even better version of Toy. The day before his birthday, last Friday, Bowie released Toy as a box set of its own with the original LP, a disc of alternative versions and a third disc entitled Unplugged And Somewhat Slightly Electric. The original Toy is all rock and roll. He was right his band was really tight. The track I’ve been obsessed with since it came out as b-side is “Conversation Piece.” It’s a melancholy rumination from the eyes of a young person wondering if they’ll ever amount to anything or connect with anybody. I think it ranks amongst his best deep tracks. “I Dig Everything” is a ferocious rocker and the perfect opening track. “You’ve Got a Habit Of Leaving” is an elastic rock song. “Karma Man” is my current obsession as it wasn’t on the bootleg. “Shadow Man” is a beautiful ballad. Most these tracks just rock, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” are prime examples. This isn’t Bowie setting new directions, this his him rocking out and gads, having a great time doing so.

The second disc, full of alternative versions, might be the bootleg versions I had in 2011 although I can’t be positive. It kicks off with “Liza Jane” a great bluesy, harmonica tune that I just love because well, everything I dig can be traced to the blues. I think this may just be a remastered version of the 60s original although the vocals sound 2000 to me. I’m like most people, I’m not familiar with Bowie’s pre-“Space Oddity” work so this is all a new treat to me. There’s also a track “In The Heat Of The Morning” that’s a solid rock tune that’s not on disc one. Disc two is interesting but it’s probably for obsessives like me who ruminate over different tempos and guitar parts.

Disc three, the Unplugged & Somewhat Slightly Electric disc, is as advertised, Bowie’s band playing the Toy tracks in a more stripped down fashion. I don’t know if this disc was recorded in 2000 or Plati, who produced all of this just went in and re-recorded the backing tracks behind Bowie’s vocals like they did for the “updated” version of Never Let Me Down a few years ago. I like the stripped down versions of the Toy material, it’s like a lost Unplugged concert that we never got to see or hear (not that these performances are live). If you like Toy you’ll dig the Unplugged versions on disc 3.

Once again Bowie has a birthday and he gives us the gift of his music. I really think Toy is worth checking out for any Bowie fan. Especially if you dig his latter day work like Heathen, Reality or even the great LP The Next Day. It stems from a great period for Bowie and he had a great inspiration trying to capture the magic that a great band delivered live in a studio. I highly recommend pouring a nice glass of wine and kicking back with Toy, you will be rewarded.

Cheers!

B&V’s Best of 2021: Our Favorite New LPs & Vault/Live Releases

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“Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast…” – Bob Dylan, “You’re A Big Girl Now”

This year, like many before it, seemed to both fly by and at the same time drag on. I looked up and suddenly realized it’s the end of the year… it snuck up on me again. Traditionally for me, this time of year, once we’ve cleared the big Christmas holiday, always seems to bring with it a time of reflection. With New Year’s Eve – a holiday I’ve always considered Amateur Night (and I’m a fan of St. Patrick’s Day, speaking of amateurs) – comes a sense that time is passing and in some cases, slipping away. At least the introspection has stopped me from all the Holiday gorging myself. I’ve been wandering around the house with two full cheeks of food like a chipmunk for about a week now, but I digress. What was it Jackson Browne sang, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Maybe it’s all like Siddhartha, the Herman Hesse book, and we’re all just sitting by the river, watching it flow…always changing but yet seemingly the same. It appears I may be a little too into the reflection this year.

There seems to be a pervasive attitude among a lot of people that 2021 was just “2020 Redux.” I would argue with that. This year I was able to return to seeing my beloved Chiefs play at Arrowhead. 2020 was the first year in quite a few that I attended zero home games. Unless we all pull together progress will remain slow… I was able to travel a little this year – some in the service of my corporate masters, which I was actually looking forward to as a traveling sales guy – and some of it personal, mostly to points west to see my daughter. Hopefully you guys all got to see loved ones this year as well and didn’t have to resort to “virtual” roadtrips. Most importantly I got to see a couple of concerts. The Rock Chick surprised me with tickets to see Joan Jett and Cheap Trick (what a double-bill!) and we went out to Colorado to see 311. I can’t tell you how healing it is to spend an evening with like-minded strangers, standing in the dark in front of a stage listening to rock n roll music.

I have to say, I thought 2021 was much, much better than 2020. Although it wasn’t without tragedy. We lost a legend this year in Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. I’m still not over that one. The man played with such an effortlessness. He made what he did look easy and believe me it wasn’t. He was the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones and one has to wonder if they’ll get over that loss. Although they did tour this year and you’d have to think those guys are in that “high risk” demographic. When I think about 2021 in general, but especially in terms of music, I thought it was a good year but I expected a great year. I thought with everybody off the road in 2020 we’d see a lot more new music than we got this year. We didn’t get that new Guns N Roses LP, although we got a few “new” singles, “Absurd” and “Hard Skool.” We didn’t get a new Stones album.

Despite those complaints, what we did get this year in terms of new music was really strong. We had new stuff from young bands like Dirty Honey and Greta Van Fleet. We had a number of new albums from veteran artists that epitomize why we founded B&V in the first place. The archives were opened up in 2021. It was a great year for live stuff and box sets. This year was a big anniversary year for many albums, especially those from 1971. As usual, I decided to end 2021 on a high note by listing out our favorite or “best of” list of new albums and in conjunction our favorite live/archival/vault releases. We did something similar last year, and the years prior. Per usual, these are listed in chronological order so please don’t consider this a ranking from 1 to 10.

B&V 2021 Best New Albums

  1. Cheap Trick, In Another WorldWhen this came out, much like 2021 itself, I was a little let down vs their prior LP, We’re All Alright! Expectations are a tricky thing. The more I listened to this album the more I dug it, much like Pearl Jam’s Gigaton last year. This is a solid, ass kicking rock album. I got to see these guys in concert and they played “The Summer Looks Good On You” and it inspired me to go back and start listening to this LP again. These guys have been delivering so consistently for so long it’s easy to overlook a great rocker like this one… “Stop Waking Me Up” should have been on my playlist ‘Songs About Sleeping.’
  2. Black Keys, Delta KreamI’ve been on these guys bandwagon since Rubber Factory. I was completely taken by surprise that they put out an album of blues covers highlighting the Mississippi Hill Country blues made famous by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. “Crawling Kingsnake” was the highlight but there are ton of great, bluesy tracks here.
  3. Billy F. Gibbons, HardwareThe longtime ZZTop front man released his third solo LP and it’s the most “ZZTop-y” album he’s delivered. He does what he does best whether its dirty riff rock like “My Lucky Card” or bluesy ballads like “Vagabond Man.” This may be his best solo LP yet. The final track, “Desert High” is one of the best things he’s done.
  4. Jackson Browne, Downhill From EverywhereJackson just keeps putting out great, late period albums. He’s still writing wonderful songs like “Still Searching For Something” or the great ballad, “A Little Too Soon To Tell,” with a dash of politics, “Until Justice Is Real.” He’s an important voice and this was a treat of an album.
  5. David Crosby, For Free – Crosby is in the midst of a great late career renaissance. I got on the bandwagon on Sky Trails, but For Free is another great record. He collaborates with Micheal McDonald on “River Rise” and Donald Fagan on “Rodriguez For The Night,” which is my favorite track… because we’d all “sell our soul to be Rodriguez for a night…”
  6. Lindsey Buckingham, Lindsey Buckingham – I was a little overwhelmed at work when this gem came out and didn’t write about it. This was the album that got Buckingham fired from Fleetwood Mac when he asked for more time to promote it vs go on tour with the band. There are some of Lindsey’s best solo tracks on this album, the best of which is “I Don’t Mind.” “On The Wrong Side,” “Blue Light,” and “Santa Rosa” are all great songs. My only complaint is Lindsey needs to invite some other musicians into the studio to make the sound a little fuller vs playing everything himself.
  7. Chrissie Hynde, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob DylanI’m shocked at how many great cover albums came out this year. Hynde, known for her pugnacious rock n roll with the Pretenders, strips it down to acoustic guitar and piano here for an inspired set of covers, mostly from Dylan’s later career. Mesmerizing album.
  8. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raise The RoofIt took over a decade but Plant/Krauss finally delivered this stunning sequel to Raising Sand, highlighting the beautiful alchemy created by their intertwined voices. Pure harmonic sorcery.
  9. Sting, The Bridge – It is so utterly satisfying to hear an artist who I had, sadly, left for dead come back to life. “If It’s Love” is the best pop song he’s done in ages. I keep listening to this LP, I can’t stop. A true late career gem from Sting.
  10. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Barn – Neil Young reunites with Crazy Horse for the second LP in a row and really delivers on Barn. From hushed acoustic tracks (“Song of the Seasons”) to full on garage-rock tracks (“Human Race”), this is the best thing he’s done in a while and I loved the last LP, Colorado.

B&V 2021 Best Vault/Archive or Live Albums

  1. Neil Young, Archive Vol 2 – An amazing chronicle of Young’s career from 1972 to 1976, ‘The Ditch Trilogy’ years. A must have for any Young fan.
  2. Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary – This might be my favorite box set of the year. The bonus tracks are great, but the full concert included is worth the price of admission.
  3. Fleetwood Mac, Live – Deluxe – The original Fleetwood Mac Live album but with twice the music. I’ve always felt the original double-LP, live record was underrated.
  4. Mick Fleetwood & Friends, A Celebration of Peter Green – Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood put together a great tribute for Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green that plays like a great blues jam at a hot blues club. Steven Tyler, Billy Gibbons and Kirk Hammett all show up… The only sad part is Green was a no show… and passed shortly afterward.
  5. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja Vu 50th Anniversary – Revisiting the landmark 1971 album with a bunch of demo’s and the seeds of many of the tracks that ended up on their solo records. I was surprised how much I loved every bit of this.
  6. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells – Deluxe – The album that broke them far and wide… plus a concert from that tour which is icing on the cake.
  7. George Harrison, All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary – Another 50th anniversary… George’s magnum opus complete with great demo’s, both acoustic and fleshed out with the band. Truly a glimpse into the creative process that was ATMP. I really dig the acoustic demo’s where he lays out the mostly all fully realized tracks. He really was stifled in the Beatles.
  8. Bob Dylan, Springtime In New YorkA box set from Dylan’s oft-overlooked early 80s during the recording of the LPs Shot Of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque which proves that this period needs another listen.
  9. The Beatles, Let It Be – Super DeluxeA bunch of outtakes from one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The Super Deluxe really fleshes the album out. A must for any Beatles fan. I can’t keep humming and air-guitaring to “Get Back.”
  10. The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You – 40th Anniversary Tattoo You was assembled from outtakes from earlier recording sessions, so they returned to that formula to add 9 more bonus tracks. There’s a Super Deluxe edition that has a full concert from the tour. This was an iconic album for all of us who were too young and missed them in the 60s… This was a special box.
  11. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concert – I thought I’d throw in a bonus album, this concert document that I didn’t have time to write about. Most of the E Street Band’s legendary 1978 concerts in support of Darkness On The Edge of Town were three hours long… This abbreviated set for the No Nukes show was only an hour and a half and it’s like the band, who had been in the studio laboring over The River, sound like they’ve been shot out of a cannon. It’s chalk full of hits. It’s perfect for a casual fan who can’t groove for three hours.

That’s our top of the pops for 2021. I hope you guys enjoyed this music as much as we did here in the B&V labs. I hope everybody has a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll be doing what I do every year. We’ll head out to dinner with friends and home and asleep by probably 10. Like I said, it’s Amateur Night. Even when I was young and faced the hope of some fabulous, un-forseen New Year’s Eve liaison… it never panned out, but I digress. I, for one, am looking forward to 2022. I hope we’ll see you here at B&V next year! Thanks to all of you who have joined and contributed to our little musical dialogue!

Cheers and again, Happy New Year!

Review: Sting, ‘The Bridge’ – A Great Album From An Artist I’d Given Up On

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With Thanksgiving and visiting relatives, the food and drink and all of the box sets I’ve been working through lately (the Beatles, Stones, Dylan) I’m only just now getting around to focusing on Sting’s new LP which has been out a couple of weeks. This is a review I never thought I’d write. This is certainly an artist I’d sort of… written off, I’m sad to say. Defying odds and my jaded expectations, Sting has returned with a pop/rock delight on his new album, The Bridge.

I’m like most people I think. I got into Sting when he was still the singer/songwriter/bass player in the Police. I remember in junior high there were two sides to our Study Hall. One side was for quiet studying which was oddly where you could usually find me. The other half was for a more social experience. You could buy soft drinks and snacks. I never had any cash for that sort of thing. They’d play music over there on the social side. I can remember making a rare appearance on that louder side of Study Hall and hearing “Roxanne” for the first time. I can remember after it played, this dude I didn’t know very well named Chris began singing along in a high pitched falsetto to approximate Sting much like Eddie Murphy did in 48 Hours a few years later. We laughed but we dug the song.

I thought at the time that the Police were a punk band, like the Clash. In retrospect I think they were more faux punks. I didn’t buy their first album Outlandos d’Amour until I was in college. I do remember hearing “Walking On The Moon” and “Message In A Bottle” from Reggatta De Blanc and mistakenly assuming those were also on the first album. It wasn’t until “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” (which looks ridiculous typed out) and their breakthrough third album Zenyatta Mondatta that we all took notice of the Police in earnest. They had been out on a world tour and the broad scope of that trip informed a lot of that great album. I always dug the deep track, “Man In A Suitcase,” which was probably a precursor to my life as a traveling salesman. My brother owned that album and I promptly taped it… which was the way I acquired a lot of music in those days.

My buddy Doug saw them on the following tour for Ghost In The Machine, their fourth album. I would have really liked to have seen those guys on that tour but Doug took a chick he’d met at his job in the mall. It was all very Fast Times At Ridgemont High for us in those days, so I can’t fault him. By that time I thought of the Police as more pop/rock than pure rock n roll. That’s not a knock, it just meant that they rocked but with a more pop sensibility. Cheap Trick and Big Star always get lumped into that category and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. But because of that slightly “pop” approach I sort of shied away from purchasing Police albums. Masculinity was important in puberty and apparently you had to listen to harder rock and metal to prove that you were “a man.”

It wasn’t until I was in college that I became a life long Police fan and purchased all of their LPs. It was the summer after my very, very difficult freshman year (my fault, mostly) that I heard “Every Breath You Take” on the radio. It was the perfect song. I knew from that first listen, based on some personal experience, that it was most definitely not a love song. A tale of heartbreak and obsession, it’s one of those songs that comes along and hits you so hard you know it’ll stick with you forever. It was a message I was in touch with at the time. I never get tired of that song. My first Police album purchase was Synchronicity which I bought the day after hearing “Every Breath You Take.’ It wasn’t until I got back up to college that fall for sophomore year that I started buying all of their albums while hanging out in record stores with my pal Drew. Synchronicity turned into one of the biggest albums of all time. The Police went from being a well-known, big act to being the biggest act in the world.

Sadly though, that massive success would spell the end of the Police. Sting decided they’d gone as far as they could. A lot of people say he was tired of carrying those other two guys. I’d say drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers were incredibly talented guys but Sting was “the man” in that band. It would have been hard for the Police to follow up the success of Synchronicity and perhaps Sting deciding to go solo was his way of ducking the pressure of having to top it. Many artists change their music to avoid the intense pressure fame and success bring. At the time we thought Sting’s solo thing was going to be a one-off and he’d come back the Police. Nope.

I, for one, was looking forward to Sting’s first solo album, The Dream Of the Blue Turtles. I always thought if you dug a band, if the main creative force of that band left, it was going to be automatically awesome. When we heard “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free,” the jazz-lite first single, we were beyond horrified, we felt “betrayed.” The communal feeling was “What is this crap?” Sting was apparently unhappy that people misinterpreted “Every Breath You Take” as a love song and “Set Them Free” was the “anecdote for the poison?” I’m quoting something I read back then, sigh. Needless to say, I didn’t invest in Sting’s first solo LP. Songs like “Love Is The Seventh Wave” didn’t help much. Gads, I dislike that song. I will admit the first Sting track that I thought had some potential from that LP was “Fortress Around Your Heart.” Lyrically brilliant, it was a track that resonated with me. I later heard his solo version of the Police song, “Shadows In The Rain” and I love that version. “Woke up in my clothes again this morning, don’t know exactly where I am, I should heed my doctor’s warning… he does the best with me he can” were lyrics that hit perhaps a little too close to home at the time.

After college, my corporate masters thought it was a good idea to exile me to Arkansas. Ft. Smith had terrible radio, all Madonna and Micheal Jackson who to my hard rock sensibility was like battery acid in my ears. I rarely listened to the radio in that town, but one lunch I had to leave the office and go to the dry cleaners. I didn’t have a cassette to pop in so I just let the radio play. The DJ was doing a lunch hour playing whatever music he wanted vs the usual heavily programmed, oft-repeated rotation. I had just pulled into the parking lot outside the One-Hour “Martinizing” place (whatever that is) when I heard the DJ announce he was playing a deep track from Sting’s new LP (Nothing Like The Sun, his second solo album), a cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” While utterly re-imagined with a jazz combo, it hit me hard. I love that song and especially Sting’s vocal. I went out after work that day and purchased the album. Who says I had impulse control back then? It began a long period of me being a big fan of Sting.

I actually really dug the entirety of the album Nothing Like The Sun, which I’d bought on vinyl. It was designed for that new format, CDs, so they had to make it a double-LP with only three songs on each side. I went with the unconventional vinyl as I was certain “CDs” were a fad. I followed Sting to the next LP, The Soul Cages. The title track rocked and I really liked “Why Should I Cry For You.” While I didn’t connect with The Soul Cages the same way I did the previous record, I was still on the Sting bandwagon. His next album was probably his biggest solo record, Ten Summoner’s Tales. Beyond the Chaucer-inspired pretentious title, was eleven great songs. There wasn’t a bad moment on that album. I still play “She’s Too Good For Me” and dedicate it to the Rock Chick.

I even liked his next album Mercury Falling. I saw Sting on that tour and if I had a bone to pick with him, it’s that he doesn’t play the Police material with any conviction. It’s like he’s embarrassed by the most popular part of his career. Sigh. Another track I play for the Rock Chick is from that record, “All Four Seasons,” although I realize I take my life in my own hands when I do that… “That’s my baby, she can be all four seasons in one day.” Brand New Day was another great Sting record but after that the wheels came off of my fandom. Sacred Love was, in a word, awful. I purchased that album, based purely on the momentum of my experience with Sting’s music but quickly had it in the stack headed to the used record store for sale.

After Sacred Love, to a large degree, Sting disappeared as a solo artist for me. He did an album featuring him playing the lute. Yes, the lute. The main character in A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius O’Reilly played the lute. He did a chilly Christmas album. He did a Broadway play. He set some of his songs to an orchestral backing. He redid a bunch of Police and solo tracks with perceptible but slight alterations which left me thinking, “Huh?” The only thing he did during an almost 13-year stretch away from contemporary pop music that caught my interest was re-uniting with the Police for a hugely successful tour… which, naturally, he now says he regrets doing. Some people are just never satisfied. He finally returned to pop music in 2016 with 57th & 9th. I hoped it signaled a return to form and was ready to give Sting the benefit of the doubt but oddly, it left me cold. It was a very workman like effort. Well crafted and played but nothing I dug. The second half was very introspective and quiet. I thought, well, that’s it, I’m now permanently done with Sting.

Admittedly, my daughter and her beau recently turned me onto Sting’s collaboration album with reggae star Shaggy and to my surprise I liked it. It’s something I’d never heard before, Sting having… fun? It was a return to Sting’s early reggae-based music and he seems very engaged. I wondered if it was another strange detour or maybe, just maybe it’d spark something interesting from Sting in his solo career. “Waiting For The Break of Day” could have been on this new album and fit seamlessly… Everyone should check out at least that track if not all of 44/876.

I heard Sting had a new album coming out this fall. At this point listening to a Sting album felt like sitting up late at night with a tumbler of bourbon while thumbing through an old high school year book looking at pictures of that pretty girl from Geometry class in my sophomore year. I put on the first single from the new LP, The Bridge, a song called “If It’s Love” and… yes, it’s love! I should hate this song, it features whistling which I despise. I’ll be the first to admit, I consider any whistling in a song to be McCartney-level cheesy and yet this song is so catchy I can look past it. It tells the story of a man who awakes happy and smiling (“a muscle I rarely use,” which I can relate to) who calls his Dr to find out what’s wrong with him and it turns out, he’s in love. It’s such an earworm! It’s the best purely pop song Sting has done in years… I say that and yet there’s whistling! It’s an “Everything She Does Is Magic” meets “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”

What would the rest of The Bridge hold? Would I be as disappointed as I was with 57th & 9th? The short answer is that this is the best, catchiest LP Sting has done in 20 years. It’s my favorite thing he’s done since Ten Summoner’s Tales. The album starts off with the upbeat, “Rushing Water.” It starts with an insistent drum beat like water on a rock. Sting sings over a plucked electric guitar until the chorus explodes like, well, rushing water from a broken pipe. “The Book Of Numbers” is another solid midtempo rock song complete with Biblical imagery set in a bar. The second half does get mellow, much like 57th & 9th, but in the case of The Bridge, I like the mellow tracks. The LP is laid out like those old Rod Stewart LPs with a “Fast Side” and a “Slow Side.” The highlight on the mellow, back end is “The Bells Of St. Thomas.” A heartbroken man is awakened by church bells to find himself hungover in the bed of a rich woman… in Antwerp no less. To me, it’s one of the most evocative tracks Sting has ever written. 

Other highlights include “Harmony Road” which features a sax solo by none other than Brandford Marsalis who was in an early incarnation of Sting’s solo band and played on Dream Of The Blue Turtles. I thought I was having flashbacks. “For Her Love” is a beautiful love song that has echos of “Shape of My Heart.” There are a lot of moments on this LP like that, that remind you of Sting’s past glories while not reveling in them or feeling like cheap nostalgia. He seems to just be doing what he does well. I like the title track which is only Sting’s voice and a plucked acoustic guitar. “Loving You” is another standout track that could’ve been done just as effectively as a blues song, “if that’s not lovin’ you, then tell me what it is.” “Hills On The Border” is almost like a sea shanty but I dig it. Of the bonus tracks I liked his cover version of Otis Redding’s song “Dock Of The Bay,” but as long term readers know, I love cover songs.

If you’re like me and you’ve given up on Sting, or any artist for that matter, The Bridge is proof that there is always one more great album or song left. If someone’s art has moved you in the past, there’s a good chance that if you keep connected with the artist he will eventually pay off again. This is a real treat of a record and I urge everyone to check it out!

Cheers! And Happy Holidays to all of you!

Review: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Triumphant Return – ‘Raise The Roof’ – Beautiful Alchemy

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I think I mentioned when I posted about Dave Gahan & the Soulsavers new LP Imposters, that there was a lot of great new music that came out last weekend. Springsteen released an explosive live LP recorded at the No Nukes concert in 1979. And, believe it or not, Sting released a new LP that caught my ear. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write again. Despite my maniacal focus on Gahan’s new LP, there was another album that caught my ear immediately. The long awaited new collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raise The Roof. I can’t believe it’s been 14 years since their first album, the monumental Raising Sand.

I can still remember Raising Sand’s release like it was yesterday. Bob Dylan was right, time really is a jet plane. I was really into Robert Plant at the time. Truth be told I always have been and likely always will be into Robert’s music. He had emerged from his collaboration with Jimmy Page (Page Plant) which had yielded a couple of LPs (one of them live) and two tours both of which I was lucky enough to see. The second tour by Page Plant was like being transported back to 1974, but I digress. The first LP he did post Page Plant was 2002’s Dreamland. It was an atmospheric album of blues and classic rock covers. I loved that album. When I saw Plant on that tour I was so enamored that I bought a concert t-shirt with the album cover on it… and it was mustard yellow. I told myself it was gold… it wasn’t gold. I wore that thing for years until the Rock Chick finally nodded, “no.” I remember reading about Dreamland and Plant saying something about breaking in his new backing band by culling through his record collection for great songs for them to play. He must have a pretty cool collection. I can only hope it’s all on vinyl.

While I dug Dreamland, as I usually like albums consisting of all cover songs, I did hope that Plant would return to his solo career full-fledged so to speak, with an album of originals. My patience and hope was rewarded when Plant returned in 2005 with The Mighty Rearranger. What a knock-out that album was. I think Rearranger ranks amongst his best solo stuff. Around late 2006 or early 2007 I remember a brief interview of Plant in Rolling Stone. They asked what was next for him and he said he’d written down a bunch of song titles and given them to the band to come up with music for each one. He’d fill in the lyrics later. He did mention something about being on the way to do a benefit concert for a long passed blues guy (whose name escapes me) put together by T. Bone Burnett. Somewhere along the line, Burnett suggested for the benefit that Plant do a duet with Alison Krauss of an old Lead Belly song. So entranced by their combined vocals, they decided to record an album of duets with T Bone producing.

Having read the press stuff leading up to Raising Sand I was keeping an eye out for the release date. At the time I remember thinking, I’ll probably dig the Plant led songs. I didn’t know much about Krauss but I thought I could “suffer” through songs that featured her. The day it came out, I stopped on my way to work and picked up the CD. I wasn’t buying a ton of vinyl in the early 2000s, alas. When I got home I went immediately to our basement…which is where the stereo was and started playing Raising Sand. Within moments the Rock Chick was in the basement asking me what the great music was. When the album was over, we were both blown away. The Rock Chick looked at me and said, “Wow that was kick ass.” Little did we know it was going to be a world wide sensation. While on the surface it seemed like an odd pairing. Krauss, to my great surprise, is an amazing singer with her roots in bluegrass. Plant is an amazing singer with his roots in well, rootsy music like bluegrass, the blues and folk. Their harmonizing is something akin to sorcery. It’s magic alchemy. T. Bone is the only producer who can help these two produce such an atmospheric, swampy mix of music which is the perfect backdrop for the harmonies. I was lucky enough to see Plant/Krauss in concert on the tour in support of Raising Sand and it was superb. The harmonizing was just as spot on live.

I assumed there would be a follow up and in 2009 it was rumored they were working on one but nothing materialized. I think they did record some stuff but Plant “didn’t hear the magic.” Plant, in my opinion, is one man who doesn’t like expectations and pressure. I think that’s why he’s never reunited with Led Zeppelin for anything more than one-offs. Although Bonham was a close childhood friend of his and that loss can’t be overcome. Plant formed Band of Joy and put out an album by the same name that was similar in spirit. He had Patti Griffin on harmony vocals… but it just wasn’t the same. As Joe Strummer said, and I’m fond of repeating, never underestimate the chemistry of the same people in a room.

A few months ago, now with all of us 14 years down the road, I heard Plant Krauss (along with T. Bone) were finally set to put out a follow up LP, Raise The Roof. With its similar title to the first record, I thought maybe this would merely be Raising Sand 2.0. There are certainly similarities obviously but this is not the 2.0 I thought it might be. They’ve picked some really obscure tracks – at least to me – for the new album. They must have dug back into Plant’s record collection again. They go from 60s era folk stuff to country and blues stuff that was recorded 90 years ago. Some of the artists they cover here I’ve never heard of. There is one original on the album, penned by Plant and T. Bone, “High And Lonesome.” One thing that draws me to a cover song is enjoying the new version but being reminded of the original. So many of these tracks are unknown to me, it almost feels like these are originals.

The sound of this record, to me, differs from Raising Sand as well. There was a swampy murk to their first record that I don’t hear as much of here. They lean on more traditional country rock/folk structures here. Its not a bad change, but feels different, like an expansion from the first record. On the Raising Sand there were a lot of tracks where they both sang and harmonized for the whole tune, co-lead vocalists if you will, but on Raise the Roof on many of the tracks Plant or Krauss takes a more lead vocal and the harmonizing is on the choruses. Subtle differences between albums and I don’t think the slightly altered approach hurts this new record at all. In fact, this is a great album and a great sounding one as well. It is certainly one of our albums of the year, if not the album of the year. It’s amazing how many “all covers” LPs came out this year (Gahan, Chrissie Hynde, and the Black Keys to name a few).

I’ll admit as (World I’ve already hinted at, I love Raise The Roof. It’s about all I’ve listened to since Friday. There isn’t a bad song here. The opening track, “Quattro (World Drifts In)” by an obscure Tex-Mex indie band from Arizona, Calexico, is a great opening track. It’s almost spectral with wonderful harmonies. It builds a real sense of drama and mystery. I may have to check out Calexico. On “The Price of Love” Krauss takes more of the lead vocal and it may be my favorite of her vocals on the LP. There’s a great little guitar solo on the song as well. It’s an Everly Brothers cover and could I say, is there a more perfect duo to cover on a duets LP than the Everly Brothers? Plant comes in vocally right under Krauss, it’s perfect, like Phil and Don. On “Go Your Own Way,” an Anne Briggs (the 60s English folk singer) cover, Plant takes more of lead vocal and it’s wonderful. Silky acoustic guitars and a mandolin as pillows for Plant’s seductive vocal. It may be Plant’s best vocal on an album of standout vocals.

Another stand out is “Searching For My Love” originally done by the Rhythm Aces, a great 50’s rock n rolls style tune, especially the chorus. They do a Lucinda Williams’ track “Can’t Let Go” which I reviewed earlier and it remains one of my absolute favorites here. “You Led Me Wrong” is an old country song by Ola Belle Reed that Plant turns into an almost bluesy thing and features a great violin. I think Krauss should play more violin whenever she can. I love what Krauss does with Alan Toussaint’s “Trouble With My Lover” with Plant on the mischievous harmony vocal. And she was made to sing Merle Haggard’s “Going Where the Lonely Go.” Great high and lonesome pedal steel guitar floating around her vocals…

I love a pair of tracks toward the end of the album where they stretch out their sound a little bit. The lone original, “High And Lonesome” has a rumbling rock n roll vibe. This track would have been right at home on Plant’s last solo LP Carry Fire. It sounds current and at the same time ancient. Plant uses some vocal effects on the chorus while guitars clang around behind him in what sounds like an attempt to expand their sound palate. The last track, “Somebody Was Watching Over Me,” which sounds like an original is a Maria Muldaur track written by Brenda Burns. Muldaur who I’m unfamiliar with was another 60s folky. They turn that song upside down. It sounds like an outtake from Principle of Moments. I love the line, “My bad times are better than my good times used to be…” I can relate… The song sounds like nothing Plant Krauss has done before. Again effects are used for background vocals. “Somebody was watching” gets repeated over and over like a mantra until it’s almost menacing over a fuzzy guitar riff. It certainly points to a direction they could have taken if they wanted to completely break with their original sound… An intriguing detour indeed.

If you were like me and you fell in love with Raising Sand, be ready to have that same feeling all over again. With the success of that album I never thought Plant would agree to do another album with Alison Krauss due to increased expectations around any kind of follow up. I think I can say after hearing this album, he had nothing to worry about. Their beautiful alchemy remains solidly in tact. This is simply put, a great album.

Cheers and Happy (and safe) Thanksgiving this week to all of you in the U.S. especially if you’re traveling. This post came quickly on the heels of my last one but I’ll be celebrating with family, turkey and bourbon this week. I’m reminded that George Carlin once wondered why no one ever had sex on Thanksgiving… he thought maybe it was because all the coats are on the bed. Well, no B&V post gets written during Thanksgiving because… all of the coats are on the bed and the house is full of relatives…gads.

Review: Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, ‘Imposters’ – An Intimate Albeit Mellow Album of All Cover Songs

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There was a virtual smorgasbord of music released yesterday, November 19th, 2021. Enough music to keep your intrepid blogger and bourbon enthusiast busy through Christmas. I may need to buy my own barrel of whiskey to get through the holidays… but that has more to do with relatives than music… While there is plenty to be happy about from yesterday I was set on a course to explore Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan and his partners the Soulsavers’ new album Imposter. I haven’t seen this record get a ton of attention, so enter B&V. There will be plenty of time for me to “catch up” and write about those other new LPs.

As long time readers know, it was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode. I have to admit, before meeting her I only knew the song “Personal Jesus” and I’m embarrassed to admit that I only knew that from the black and white video. When that song came out in 1989 I was in exile in Arkansas and only got new music from gads, MTV. That’s probably the only reason I’d heard the song. Depeche Mode’s dark synth rock wasn’t getting a ton of airplay in Northwest Arkansas. You were more likely to hear Micheal Jackson or Madonna on one hand and Foghat or Bad Company on the other. Not that there was anything wrong with Foghat or Bad Co. It was pop or classic rock in Fayetteville, Arkansas with nothing new and current on the rock n roll radio station. Had I stayed there I’d have certainly missed the whole Grunge thing.

When I met the Rock Chick she’d just gotten out of a relationship with a guy who was musically barren. He didn’t go to concerts or own any CDs. When I met someone in the old days I didn’t judge them by what they did or what they stood for, I judged them on their music collection. The first thing I did when a woman invited me to her place was look at her CD rack. When I came along it was like the Rock Chick had this musical awakening. Don’t get me wrong, she was already the Rock Chick, I just sort of helped her re-engage. It was on one of our first dates that I realized I could take her to the record store and we could browse and buy in the same way my old friend Drew and I used to do in college. A record store, with a chick? Oh, yes, sign me up. That first trip to the music store the Rock Chick bought a stack of CDs. She was collecting them in her arms like she’d just escaped from a gulag. They should have charged her by the pound vs the disc. We rocked out on that music purchased over the course of a few hours for years and years.

While she bought a bunch of CDs that ended up helping me reconnect with bands I’d drifted away from – Motley Crue, AC/DC, and Green Day just to name a few – one of the main purchases she made that day was Depeche Mode’s double-disc retrospective greatest hits The Singles 86-98. I had no history with that band. I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s the “Personal Jesus” guy.” I was, as usual, curious about their music but she rarely played that CD. She used to insist you had to be in the “right mood” for Depeche. I assumed that like olives, they were an acquired taste. I tried to put them on during her ritualistic “Saturday House Cleaning” – the Rock Chick is nothing if not organized – and she came sprinting down the stairs to make me change the music.

Eventually, and I might have been alone at the time, I started listening to those two discs and I was blown away. What a great band and I had been utterly unaware of them. Eventually I picked up their best known record Violator. At that point I was hooked. One of the main things that drew me in, besides the songwriting by (mostly) Martin Gore was the towering voice of Dave Gahan. Hypnotic and seductive it was that voice that made me a Depeche fan. Over the years I’d notice their albums started to appear at the house. Over the years the Rock Chick brought home Playing The Angel, Sounds Of the Universe and finally Delta Machine which I really connected with. Delta Machine was the first overt connection I heard in their music to the blues. And, as is well documented in these pages, everything I like leads me to the blues eventually.

It was in 2015 that I first heard a Dave Gahan solo song. I had no idea Gahan had a solo career. My ignorance was not blissful. Anyway, I heard this song “Shine” and I really dug it. There was a gospel vibe on the thing. I found out it was from an album named Angels And Ghosts, that Dave recorded with collaborators the Soulsavers, multi-instrumentalists Ian Glover and Rich Machin. At the time they’d already done an LP together but it was more Gahan grafting his vocals over their already written tracks. Angels And Ghosts was a real triumph and a true collaboration between Gahan and the Soulsavers. I went back and listened to the whole thing this week and thought, I need to listen to this album a lot more than I do. “My Sun” is a classic track.

While it stands out on its own right, I will fully admit that Gahan solo LP made me even more excited for that next Depeche album. In 2017 they put out what can only be described as a late-career masterpiece, Spirit. That album is an absolute classic. Musically and lyrically it was a tour de force. I was lucky enough to see them twice on that tour in both Denver and then in Tulsa. Although admittedly, the Tulsa show was like going to a Goth rave at an LGBTQ bar in the basement of a church. It almost felt subversive to be there… It was over the course of those two concerts that I realized that Dave Gahan was simply one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock n’ roll. The guy doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He was like a hipster preying mantis grooving all over the stage.

It was a few weeks ago that I heard that Dave had teamed up with the Soulsavers again for an album of all covers, Imposter. I’m on record as a fan of “cover albums.” Many bands do covers songs but it’s rare that bands will do an entire LP of covers. Although admittedly, there has been a ton of cover LPs this year: The Black Keys, Chrissie Hynde, and Plant/Krauss to name a few. I read on line that Gahan was describing this as an intimate record where he tells his story using other people’s songs. Cover albums are like getting a two-fer… you get the artist whose singing them but there is a connection in the music to the original artist. I will admit, a covers LP is only as strong as the material chosen.

As has happened several times this year, I will admit up front that I like the last album from Gahan & the Soulsavers more than I do this one. At first listen this album is a bit monochromatic and could be considered slightly somnambulant. It doesn’t have the variety of sounds nor the upbeat moments that drove Angels and Ghosts. At first listen this is a really mellow record. Although the more I listened to it and the more time I spent with this week it did reveal its charms. Its a good record for that late night, sitting up with a tumbler of bourbon while doing some heavy contemplation. And let’s admit it right up front – Dave Gahan could sing the phone book and pull it off.

As with any album of covers songs I’m drawn to the material I’m familiar with. I had no knowledge of the first single, “Metal Heart” but its the most rocking moment you’ll find here and I really liked it. It’s a track by Cat Power who I’ve merely heard of, not heard. But as I explored the track list I did see some familiar tracks. My favorite, as would be expected is the Dylan cover, “Not Dark Yet.” There’s been a lot of great Dylan covers this album, from the aforementioned Chrissie Hynde album to David Bowie. I was familiar with the song “The Dark End of the Street” written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn from the version Gregg Allman did on Searching For Simplicity. I have to admit Gahan does it just as well as Gregg and that is high praise indeed. “A Man Needs A Maid” the Neil Young orchestral epic was a nice surprise. I really like this version. For reasons unclear Gahan chose to do the old Nat King Cole chestnut “Smile.” I despise that song no matter whose at the mic. The album ends on the Elvis track “Always On My Mind” and I admit, I liked it.

I really liked the track “Strange Religion” and somehow guessed it was a Mark Lanegan track. The Soulsavers have worked with him in the past and I just knew immediately that lyrically it had to be him. “Lilac Wine” was a miss for me… as any Eartha Kitt song would be. “I Held My Baby Last Night” an Elmore James blues tune is another great moment here. I like the opening salvo of guitar on that one and Gahan goes into a deep bluesy growl. “Shut Me Down” is another gauzy track that makes my mind drift a bit. It was nice to see a Gene Clark track here, “Where My Love Lies Asleep,” but again following “Shut Me Down” it makes for a pretty mellow back to back listen. PJ Harvey’s “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” sparks a bit of excitement toward the end of the album.

The listening experience for me, was bit of a start/stop experience. There’d be a track I’d really like and then a track that sort of sent my mind a’wandering. The thing that really holds it together is, as you’d expect, Gahan’s voice. This album really makes me want a Depeche album. I want to hear Dave singing Martin Gore tracks, not Nat King Cole. That said, I can’t completely dismiss this record. While I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody but true fans (like myself) there are enough high points that I think everyone should give it a spin or two, especially after the sun goes down.

Cheers! And Happy Thanksgiving folks.

Review: Apple TV’s ‘The Velvet Underground – A Todd Haynes Documentary’ – An Enjoyable, Stylized Look At The Iconic Band

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It was just one of those exhausting weeks. After another arduous day I needed a distraction. Much to the Rock Chick’s consternation, I filled a tumbler with bourbon, flopped down on the couch and pulled up Apple TV. As I’d been threatening to do for a few weeks now, I pulled up the new documentary by Todd Haynes about the Velvet Underground. The Rock Chick was on her feet and across the floor to the stairs faster than an Olympic sprinter. I hadn’t seen her clear a room that quickly since the days I was really into watching Kojak reruns. Say what you want but there hasn’t been a decent cop show on TV since they cancelled Kojak. I had hoped the Rock Chick would hang around and watch the documentary with me but I can fully understand her reaction. I think a lot of people have the urge to flee when they hear the Velvet Underground is coming up.

I know in the early days of my rock n roll obsession I was afraid of the Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground was Lou Reed, vocals/guitar; John Cale bass/keyboards; Moe Tucker, drums; and Sterling Morrison, lead guitar. When I was in college I used to love to get those Rolling Stone magazines counting down the top 500 LPs. The Velvet Underground’s iconic first LP, produced by Andy Warhol no less and featuring German-born singer Nico, The Velvet Underground & Nico was not only always on the list but it was usually near the top. I had always been under the same mistaken impression I had about punk rock back then, that it was all just avant-garde noise. There were a few bands I was “afraid” of in those days. I figured if you put the Velvets on the stereo the needle would break, your ears would bleed, neighborhood dogs would howl, you might grow hair on your palms, all sorts of bad things would result. I’m still not sure how I garnered that impression from merely reading about the Velvet Underground. I’d never heard any of their music. It wasn’t played on the radio. No one I knew owned any of their LPs. It was Brian Eno who famously said, “The Velvet Underground’s first LP only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” That might actually be true. So many musicians cite the VU as an influence from David Bowie to Michael Stipe of R.E.M. to Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers (who was pals with the band and is featured in the film).

In the mid-80s I started getting into Lou Reed. You typically get into a band in a few different ways. Either a friend turns you on to an iconic older recording or you would hear something on the radio that was then current and it would catch your ear. I know it’s a risk to my credibility when I tell you my first Lou Reed LP was the then-current album, New Sensations. That album might be the most accessible album Reed ever put out. Even then I was just dabbling in Lou’s catalog. I picked up Transformer, the David Bowie produced LP that is probably Reed’s best known work. That’s the album with “Walk On The Wild Side” on it. Right out of college when I went into my exile in Arkansas I heard “Dirty Boulevard” on MTV… there was really no radio in Ft. Smith. I loved that dark track. “It’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs,” is a quote I still use today when referring to my job. I immediately went to the record store and purchased New York which had just come out and I loved that record. I was spending so much time in my car in those days I bought it on cassette which I now regret. I wore that thing out driving from Ft. Smith to Shreveport or Dallas or back to KC… anywhere but Arkansas. That led me to dive deeper into Reed’s catalog. Although admittedly, I still shied away from the Velvet Underground.

It wasn’t until the late 90s that I decided to stick my toe in the Velvet Underground pond. I had dug out that Rolling Stone magazine from the 80s with the top 500 albums ranked and had decided I was going to buy all of them. Crazy, yes I know. It was a great time of musical expansion for me. My friends had all settled down and were having children. I was just hanging out listening to music… which if I think about it is what I’m still doing. Thank God I married the Rock Chick. Anyway, as part of my push to buy all 500 of these records, I went out and bought the Velvet’s debut LP with Nico and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t all just noise. Yes, John Cale brought a kind of drone thing to the band but Lou Reed was a fabulous songwriter. Nico’s vocals were interesting on the few tracks she sang. The thing that grabbed me about them was the lyrics. Their debut came out in 1967, “the Summer of Love.” While everyone was in tie-dye and bright colors singing about love being all you need, the Velvets were wearing black and singing about heroin and S&M. They were nihilistic and dark. What’s not to love there. They were a real counterpoint to the hippy thing.

The day I bought The Velvet Underground & Nico I had listened to it once when a buddy of mine called to go out and get a beer. He and I went bar hopping. This guy was really into smoking pot, something I’ve never enjoyed. He had some hashish. He kept telling me I’d enjoy it as “it’s a different kind of high.” That is always the pitch with the pot guys. I don’t like it, it makes me anxious and I haven’t done it in years. But there’s always a pot guy telling me to try edibles or hash or something because it’s a different high. On the night in question, I must have been drunk, because I believed my friend’s claims about the magic hash. I vaguely remember taking a hit just as we pulled up in front of this bar, O’Dowds. It was a block from my apartment. I stepped out of the car and felt “the fear” wash over me with the hash, smiled at my friend and promptly walked home without him, leaving him standing on the curb. There is no such thing as a different high… it’s all one anxious, paranoid, miserable experience for me. But hey, I don’t judge, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

I got home and to calm myself, I decided to put on my new LP purchase, the Velvet Underground. I was thinking, yes, music, that’s the ticket… that’ll bring me back to reality. I’ll drink some water and lay down. I put the album on and was wandering around my apartment in the dark. Suddenly I hear Lou Reed in the darkness, he’s waiting for the man… his voice terrified me. Rather than take the album off I just sort of, hid under the bed until it was over. In retrospect, maybe I should have put on some Hendrix. While the VU terrified me that night, I can assure you, I haven’t been afraid of their music since. I quickly bought the rest of their catalog. Their second album, White Light/White Heat is actually the avant-garde noise I had feared but I understood them and it didn’t scare me anymore. Their third LP, The Velvet Underground which features the great songs “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Jesus” is probably the most pop-oriented thing they’ve ever done. If you’re a novice fan that might be the place to start. That’s the album where John Cale, who was the most aggressively experimental quit and Doug Yule joined. Yule could sing but he was also a more traditional bass player. Their final LP, Loaded is also a masterwork, despite Reed quitting during the process. Don’t be afraid!

I was hoping for some in-depth look at the Velvet Underground. There’s a lot of mythology around the band. Todd Haynes documentary is a very stylized look at the band. He does go in depth into the background of the band but it does get a little lost in the split-screen, chaotic manner it’s presented. He starts by profiling Lou Reed and then John Cale. He has a number of friends and family of the band (Sterling and Lou are gone) who talk about their experience with the band. It was great to see Moe Tucker interviewed. John Cale is prominently featured, as he should be. Jackson Browne pops up, and while he’s the last guy you’d associate with the VUs, he was friends with Nico and possibly her lover. That Jackson… he got around. It’s a thorough look at the VU but Haynes way of presenting it in this faux Warholian way gets in the way of the story for me. The film starts with, yes, a split screen and on one side is a close up of Lou Reed’s young face… that was all it took to send the Rock Chick running from the room.

I was also a little disappointed there wasn’t more, well, music in this thing. You’d get snippets of songs but nothing substantive. There seems to always be music playing but its not in the forefront as much as I’d have liked. I would have liked Haynes to let us see the Velvets on stage a bit more. Let us hear them playing live. Again, there are snippets of that in the film but it jumps around quite a bit. I do like the retelling of the story of when Reed fired Warhol as the band’s manager. Warhol had discovered them and put them in his multi-media Plastic Explosion Inevitable show. They’d play and he’d project a film onto the band. He produced their first album and pushed Nico into the band. The first LP was a commercial dud and Reed got pissy and fired Andy without consulting the band. Warhol was so angry, and he apparently rarely got angry, he called Lou “a rat.” It was the worst thing he could think of.

The documentary goes on to chronicle Cale’s departure and Yule’s entry into the band. Eventually the lack of commercial success killed the VU. Reed left, everybody else quit but Yule. The moment Reed left, for me, is the end of the Velvet Underground. I get why Cale quit. He wanted to push the band further into it’s experimental sound and Reed wanted the band to be more accessible and well, sell a few more albums. Those conflicting views on the direction of the band caused that split. Those two did reunite for a tribute LP to their mentor Andy Warhol upon his passing, Songs For Drella which I also highly recommend.

I enjoyed this documentary but it’s really only for fans. Clearly I’m ambivalent about this doc. I liked it but I don’t feel strongly enough to recommend it to everybody. This is a great place to perhaps start your journey into the VUs. It’s a very stylistic, pretty movie to watch. I’m not sure this will turn anybody onto their music though. If you’re interested and you want to watch this doc, I will warn you… beware of family members sprinting from the room. It’s too bad… this is a band that deserves a wider audience. I know their fame has grown over the years but this is a truly under appreciated band.

B&V Playlist: Songs About Sleeping, A “Celebration” Of Insomnia… For My Fellow Insomniacs – If We Can’t Sleep, Let’s Rock

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“To sleep, perchance to dream…” – Hamlet

I was on the road for work this week. That used to be a weekly experience in my chosen profession as a traveling salesman, but now it just feels weird. Everywhere you go there are different rules and protocols around masks and safety which leaves me feeling out of step with the locals. There are certainly more lax attitudes toward masks the farther below the Mason-Dixon line you travel. With all the work travel I’ve done in my career – and it’s a lot… I feel like I’ve spent half my adult life waiting around in airports trying to catch an earlier flight – you’d think I’d be used to staying in hotels. But as I was painfully reminded this week in Louisville (bourbon capitol of the world), I can’t sleep in hotel rooms. I don’t know if it’s the strange bed and surroundings that throw me off or if maybe flying does something to my inner ear that makes sleeping impossible on the road. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t sleep when I travel, Lord knows I don’t sleep much better when I’m home.

I’ve always had a precarious relationship with sleep. I’ve had trouble turning my mind off and getting to sleep since I was a kid. Any more I can get myself to sleep but if I awake in the night, and I often do, I really struggle to get back to blissful sleep. They say you should get up and go read a book or something if you’re awake more than thirty minutes but in this tiny rental that I call the van down by the river where we live, I can’t make a move without waking the Rock Chick. That only compounds the problem: I’m up which is a drag but if I wake her, now I’m dealing with an angry, awakened spouse. As much as I hated it when she used to wake me up at 5:30am when she’d get up for work – she was raised on a farm… country people just get up early – her anger is doubled when I get out of bed at 3am and “walk the perimeter” as she describes my midnight wanderings. It doesn’t help that the cat sees me get up and thinks it’s time to eat and goes off like a tornado siren. It’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, we’re all up lets eat!” I had to negotiate with her early in our marriage to let me sleep until 9 on Saturdays and Sundays… they were my “sleep catch up days.”

My parents are partially to blame for my idiosyncrasies around sleeping. We moved when I was in fifth grade. I hated the elementary school I was attending but transferring to a new school seemed like an infinitely worse option. Let’s just say I was adverse to change. We changed my stepdaughter’s school a number of times when she was growing up and she adapted wonderfully with nary a complaint. What we didn’t realize was that we were just expanding her “criminal” network. She knew all the party kids in every school in town. It’s amazing what an upstanding citizen she’s become now… but I’m off track. When my parents moved us I reacted with the angry melodrama of a teenage girl… and I was an eleven year old boy. All of my bitching must have gotten to my parents because my bedroom was the last one to get any furniture. I had a bed and all my clothes were in boxes. In a fit of over-the-top complaining, I accidentally tore the rolling blinds off the window. I bent the metal clasp that held the damn thing and we couldn’t fix it. The window faced east. When the sun came up in the morning it felt like it was rising in my bedroom. After two days of being awakened at sunrise, I went to the linen closet and got a spare feather pillow that night and wrappedit tightly around my head. That provided darkness and silence. It was my “head fort.” Sadly, I got used to it and have had to sleep with a pillow on my head ever since. Try to explain that when you’re an adult and… entertaining… a young lady friend. “Yeah, I’m a freak, I sleep with a pillow on my head.” I also folded my hands on my chest Lilly Munster style which only sparked rumors that I might be a vampire.

When I reached college the people I lived with enjoyed messing with the kid with the pillow on his head. I didn’t sleep at night so I’d often sneak off and nap. My roommates would vie with each other on who got to wake me up. If I was in a really deep sleep and you shook me awake or called my name it would typically result in my screaming and throwing the pillow. It’s like I was terrified about waking up. I once famously exclaimed, while being awakened, “Sleep is hell.” With all of these people hazing me when I was asleep, it’s a wonder that I was able to nod off at all. Drinking didn’t even help. It would help you get to sleep but once your body burns off the alcohol the sugar wakes you up and I mean WAKES you up. There’s nothing like being slightly hungover and wired at 3am sitting on the edge of the bed and re-litigating every bad decision you’ve ever made. I guess I would amend my statement from college to “Waking up is hell.”

Today it’s not much easier to sleep. Uncertainties in the political landscape, the pandemic still hanging on, the Chiefs playing like shit and work being more stressful than ever all combine to keep me awake for days. I literally can’t let my mind wander too far in any direction or I’m up pacing the floor until the cat emits his visceral “meow” and then the Rock Chick is yelling, “What the fuck are you doing,” and I’ve got a full scale insomniac disaster on my hands. People, the struggles are real. I can’t help but remember when I was a kid and it was bed time how I’d stall and stall. My parents would have to battle with me to go to bed. I’d beg to watch the news so I could see the sports… then it was Carson’s monologue… Finally my parents just put an old black-and-white portable TV in my room and hoped I’d eventually fall asleep. Anything to get me out of the living room and upstairs. Now, I can’t wait to lay down. From there I just have to hope my mind cooperates and I can drift off. I often do the B&V version of counting sheep – I name my albums, alphabetically by artist… I start with AC/DC’s Back In Black and if I make it all the way to Cream I know I’m probably not gonna go to sleep.

I was laying awake in a Louisville Hilton this week worrying about something or other and so I got up and fished out my iTouch from the computer bag. I was shuffling through some music. I started with some recent stuff, Mellencamp’s new song “Wasted Days,” and Bowie’s covers songs (“Trying To Get To Heaven”) but then started randomly selecting stuff. I heard the Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping,” and then “I’m So Tired.” I realized I might be onto something. If I can’t sleep I might as well rock and roll. I started stringing tracks together on the theme of sleep and waking up and pretty soon I had 50 songs. I realize that sleep can often be a metaphor for death so I ended up excluding the great blues rock track “Sleeping In the Ground” from Blind Faith. If there are any other great tunes on this subject, put them in the “comments” section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. Here are my picks:

  1. The Beatles, “I’m Only Sleeping” – The track that gave me the idea… I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately
  2. Billy Joel, “Sleeping With The Television On” – I personally can’t sleep with any light or noise in the room so no TV for me. It’s hard to watch TV with a pillow on your head. From his great punk-influenced record Glass Houses.
  3. Audioslave, “Wide Awake” – Great rock song, “I found you guilty of the crime of sleeping when you should have been wide awake.” Rest assured Audioslave… I’m always wide awake.
  4. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “Sleeping Around the Corner” – From their great self-titled LP, there’s also a Lindsey solo version out there.
  5. Smashing Pumpkins, “In The Arms of Sleep” – Deep cut from their magnum opus Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
  6. R.E.M., “Daysleeper” – Oh how I miss napping. The Rock Chick frowns on the practice… marriage is a compromise. Y’know, Elvis was a “daysleeper.”
  7. The Beatles, “I’m So Tired” – Indeed I am…
  8. The Cure, “Lullaby” – A song about a man being eaten by a spider. Don’t even get me started on my dreams…
  9. The Rolling Stones, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” – I don’t think the person this is addressed to is doing much sleeping but I do think they’re having more fun than I am.
  10. Starcrawler, “Born Asleep” – Great song from a great new-ish band.
  11. U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – People were mad about Songs of Innocence but there’s some good stuff on it.
  12. Jack White, “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” – I love Jack White. Check out his new tune “Taking Me Back.”
  13. Smithereens, “Behind The Wall of Sleep” – I’ve only recently discovered the Smithereens. What a great rock band.
  14. Graham Nash, “Sleep Song” – From his first solo album.
  15. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – A very relevant call to arms in today’s troubled, divided times.
  16. Eddie Money, “We Should Be Sleeping” – A barrel-house rocker. I love the Money Man.
  17. The Pretenders, “I Go To Sleep” – From their great 2nd LP.
  18. Cream, “Sleepy, Sleepy Time” – So many rock bands have explored this topic.
  19. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “I’m Tired Joey Boy” – A live cover of a Van Morrison song. I just like this version better.
  20. Pearl Jam, “Sleeping By Myself” – Also done solo by Vedder on a ukulele.
  21. Metallica, “Until It Sleeps” – My all time favorite Metallica song. I can’t explain it… this track gets me pumped up which perhaps means I shouldn’t be listening to it while trying to sleep.
  22. Norah Jones, “Wake Me Up” – That voice… I’d pay to have her come sit by my bed and sing me to sleep. Only B&V would put Norah Jones and Metallica on the same playlist. Open your minds, folks.
  23. Robert Plant, “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night” – I love this bizarre deep track.
  24. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – Iconic rap rock.
  25. John Mellencamp, “Warmer Place To Sleep” – I’ve always loved this funky rocker.
  26. The Modern Lovers, “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” – I love these weird bastards.
  27. Fiona Apple, “Sleep To Dream” – I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. This track is from her debut.
  28. Jack White, “Weep Themselves To Sleep” – I can’t wait for his next solo album.
  29. Warren Zevon, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” – There’s so much essential Zevon out there.
  30. The Kinks, “Sleepwalker” – I feel like the Kinks don’t get enough attention on B&V. I need to work on that.
  31. Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, “Woke Up This Morning” – Page & the Crowes doing a live cover of an old blues track.
  32. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – I think Cobain was secretly a blues fan.
  33. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Wake Up and Live” – Wise advice from Bob.
  34. Leonard Cohen, “Lullaby” – I love late period Cohen. The voice is gravelly but his last few records are the type that B&V was founded to extol.
  35. Peter Wolf, “Sleepless” – Title track from his best solo LP.
  36. John Lennon, “How Do You Sleep?” – His angry song aimed at McCartney. This is just such a hateful track. But if I were to answer John, it’d be, “not very well.”
  37. Paul Simon, “Insomniac’s Lullaby” – This could have been the title of this playlist.
  38. Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark And Silent Gate” – This one is clearly a metaphor for death… in this case I believe written for his late wife after she committed suicide. It’s too pretty a song to exclude.
  39. Tom Petty, “Wake Up Time” – From his masterpiece Wildflowers.
  40. Billy Idol, “Endless Sleep” – Another great deep track.
  41. R.E.M., “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” – I don’t do either, really.
  42. The Romantics, “Talking In Your Sleep” – I sometimes wake up screaming… No talking, literally screaming. Sleep is hell.
  43. Billy Joel, “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” – A lovely track written for his daughter.
  44. The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker” – I always thought Jakob Dylan’s group was a solid rock band.
  45. David Bowie, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” – From the aborted Toy album which will finally see release this year.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “So Tired” – Produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame. Truly strange bedfellows.
  47. Eddie Vedder, “Sleepless Nights” – From the aforementioned ukulele based solo album.
  48. Tom Waits, “Midnight Lullaby” – From his brilliant debut album.
  49. Queen, “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” – This reminds me of a funny story about my brother in college, but those records are sealed.
  50. The Rolling Stones, “Sleep Tonight” – A perfect place to end this list… A Keith song and a ballad no less.

There ya go folks! Again, if I missed any, put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. I like to think of these playlists as “ours” vs “mine.” If you’re an insomniac like me, here’s hoping that you’ll fall asleep soon. If not, hopefully these tracks will entertain you while the rest of the world is sleeping.

Cheers!