LP Review: Robert Plant, The Sensational ‘Carry Fire’

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It was early my freshman year of high school when Led Zeppelin’s final album, ‘In Through The Out Door’ came out. Say what you want about Zeppelin’s swan song, it’s still amazing that they could put out that kind of quality record when the drummer was a raging alcoholic and the lead guitarist was strung-out on heroin. Ah, the 70s. ‘In Through The Out Door’ ushered in a different kind of vocal from Robert Plant. He wasn’t the shrieking banshee of ‘Zeppelin II’ any more, he was actually singing. Purportedly, Bonham and Page felt ‘In Through the Out Door’ was too “mellow” and were making plans for a more rocking follow-up when Bonham sadly passed away. For my part, I think “In The Evening” is a great rock tune. When your guitarist is sitting in a dark room with only a candle for light, comatose on heroin, it’s hard to put together an album that sounds like ‘Presence.’

At my high school, there was a group of guys who put up a sign-up sheet in the lunch room when Zeppelin announced their US tour. The guys had arranged to rent a bus that would take anybody who had the money up to Chicago, the nearest concert venue that Zeppelin was to play on that tour. Zeppelin rarely played Kansas City… there was a story, probably apocryphal that they’d been booed off staged early in their career in KC and they eschewed returning. I heard that same story about Bad Company, so who knows. Anyway, I can remember the dejected look on the faces of the guys who rented the bus when the news of Bonham’s sad passing was announced by our high school, lunchtime DJ. They had been so close to seeing Zeppelin, yet so far. I’m still surprised they let us play music in the lunchroom, my school was run by fascists.

And so, with a foolish, massive intake of vodka, Led Zeppelin, a pillar of 70s rock ‘n’ roll and well, rock ‘n’ roll in general, had toppled. I felt like I’d missed a great party… well, not missed, but only managed to get in on the tail end of the party, after all the pretty girls had left. I was, however, consoled in 1982 when Plant emerged with his first solo album. Those of us of a certain age still love ‘Pictures At Eleven.’ Plant’s singing on that record was more akin to what he did on ‘In Through The Out Door.’ Anybody looking for “The Immigrant Song” style of singing from Plant should have known back then, it wasn’t happening. “Burning Down One Side” is one of Plant’s best rock tunes… “How could I fall, without a show…” is a lyric that I only understand on a visceral, non-intellectual level, yet still love.

Thus began, for me, a life long devotion to the solo music of this brilliant artist. There is very little in Plant’s career that I could say I don’t like. I wasn’t crazy about his side-project The Honeydrippers but only his album ‘Shaken N Stirred’ could be described as missing the mark (way too much synthesizer). I love that Plant has gone through different phases of his career. He’s always searching, always testing his limits. He’s collaborated with different musicians at different times, always tinkering with his sound and approach. If that’s not the hallmark of an amazing artist, what is?

After a brief reunion with Jimmy Page for the Page-Plant albums and tours, both of which I saw (and was amazed by), Plant returned to his solo career with a covers album, ‘Dreamland.’ Despite it being mostly covers, I loved ‘Dreamland.’ It marked another evolution in Plant’s vocals. They started putting his voice right up front and augmenting it with more nontraditional, world-music kind of sounds. That sound carried through the exceptional album of originals, ‘Mighty Rearranger’ and led to the ‘Raising Sand’ project with Alison Krauss. ‘Raising Sand’ was a lot more successful than I think Plant was prepared for. If his reluctance to get Zeppelin back together is any indication, I think Plant shies away from the expectations to out-do his past… I doubt we see him do anything else with Krauss on a major scale ever again, much like Zeppelin.

Since the Plant-Krauss thing Plant simply returned to releasing great solo albums. ‘Band of Joy’ was produced by the lead guitarist of the Krauss album, Buddy Miller and boasted a  great harmony vocal from Patty Griffin. Band of Joy was the name of Plant’s first band with Bonham and the album by that name was Plant looking back to rootsy covers. I really thought that was a great, overlooked album. He followed that up with 2014’s ‘lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar,’ an exceptional album. ‘lullaby’ is the type of album this blog was founded on: a great, latter day album from a more mature artist that’s criminally overlooked. The first single from that record, “Rainbow” is one of my all-time favorite Plant tunes… although even I’ll admit, that’s a long list. The man has a golden voice.

I mention the album ‘lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar,’ because the sounds on that album really inform Plant’s stunning new record, ‘Carry Fire.’ His backing band, the Sensational Shape Shifters is back – Skin Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, John Baggot on keyboards and (the secret weapon in the band) Juldeh Camara on West African instruments. Plant and his band are pulling together American roots music, folk, traditional Welsh, African, rock and roll and “world-music” into a swampy gumbo of sound. As has been the case since ‘Dreamland’ Plants vocals are right up front in the mix, where they belong.

It’s easy to describe Plant’s music as a little mellower or quieter nowadays, but again, when you compare most music to say, ‘Physical Graffiti’ it’s probably going to sound mellow. The first single, “The May Queen” (reviewed earlier, Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’) is wonderful up-beat acoustic number not dissimilar to “Gallows Pole.” It’s a perfect introduction to this music. The pace quickly picks up with the rocking guitar crunch of “New World…” You quickly realize on first listen, this album is special.

Plant then takes a huge left turn with the ballad “Season’s Song” which reminds me of the lush “Song To the Siren” from ‘Dreamland.’ Love remains the topic on the next track, “Dance With You Tonight.” All four of these tracks go in different sonic directions yet it’s all held together as a whole by Plant’s vocals… I just love where his voice is right now. He even manages a touch of politics in the topical “Carving Up the World… A Wall and Not a Fence.” I love Plant’s hippy, 60’s vibe. He’s like that cool  hippy uncle who let you drink beer before you were legally able to.

“Keep It Hid” is an atmospheric number that just seems to get better with each repeated listen. I love the guitar solo on that one…  “A Way With Words” is another piano driven ballad with a honey sweet vocal. The title track, “Carry Fire,” in another stylistic turn, has a middle eastern vibe that makes me feel like I’m sitting in a hashish den in Morocco with Plant while exotic women dance in veils around us… but that just might be me.

There are guitar driven songs here, like “New World…” and “Bones of Saints” that I think rock. Again, it’s not “Misty Mountain Hop” but they are rocking tunes. Plant’s vocals drop an octave and it’s hold on til the finish line time… The way Plant sings, “No, no, no, no, no, no no” in the latter track just grabs me…that and he name checks a Robert Johnson track, “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.”  With Plant, some of the non-verbal, singing, where he just holds an “o” or moans is as effective as when he’s singing words, if that makes any sense. He is probably the most charismatic singer I’ve ever heard. I don’t mean his physical presence when I speak of charisma, I’m talking about the sound of his voice. It’s an intoxicating, seductive instrument.

The album ends on another atmospheric, almost dark track, “Heaven Sent.” When Plant sings the lyric, “There’s an angel at the gate, singing a stolen kiss,” he could be singing about himself.

This album is great from start to finish. This is definitely a must-have record and for those of us down at B&V, it’s a candidate for album of the year. It’s a huge deal when an artist of the heft and talent of Robert Plant puts out a record. Everyone should hear this album. I can only hope I get a chance to catch him when he tours…No renting a bus this time around… Turn this one up and enjoy.

 

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LP Review: David Crosby, The Beautiful ‘Sky Trails’

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My path to the solo music of David Crosby was somewhat circuitous. By the time I graduated high school, I was already a big Neil Young fan. My college roommate Drew turned me onto Crosby, Still, Nash &/or Young and really expanded my knowledge of Neil Young’s solo catalog. I was always more into the yang of the Stills/Young part of the band than the yin of Crosby/Nash. Or are Stills/Young the yin and Crosby/Nash the yang? I can never keep that straight. Anyway, over time I began to realize that songs like “Deja Vu,” “Long Time Gone,” and “Guinevere” were amongst my favorite songs from CSN/CSNY. Crosby’s impassioned harmony vocal on “Ohio” is the thing of legend. There is something so distinctively sweet about David Crosby’s vocals…the guy was probably humming a counter-melody to his ultrasound whilst still in the womb… if they did ultrasounds back then?

In college, I was too busy burying myself deeper and deeper into Neil Young’s catalog to really explore any of the other members of CSN’s music. I finally got around to checking out Stephen Stills’ early solo work and his brilliant double-LP with Manassas. Eventually this meandering musical spelunking led me to the classic duo albums Crosby did with Graham Nash. Those guys are just meant to harmonize together. Two of their early records, are simply put, must-haves. ‘David Crosby/Graham Nash’ from 1972 and ‘Wind On The Water’ from 1975 are exceptional showcases for Crosby and Nash’s ability to bring out the best in each other. Crosby’s “Carry Me” and “Mama Lion,” both of which I believe were written about the passing of his mother, were the tracks that first jumped out at me from ‘Wind On The Water.’

Finally, years later, after Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young put out the box-set, triple-disc live album ‘1974’ I realized it was time to start checking out David Crosby’s solo stuff. The only thing I was really familiar with was the song “Drive My Car” from ’89’s ‘Yes I Can,’ his first LP after his stint in jail. It was while I was in college that Crosby famously melted down and ended up in a prison in, I believe, Texas. I always liked “Drive My Car,” it’s a great tune, but for whatever reason, maybe it was the legal stuff, I didn’t explore Crosby’s solo stuff any further. I did really like the songs Crosby contributed to CSNY’s reunion album, released around that same time, ‘American Dream,’ especially, “Compass,” a harrowing acoustic journey through his addictions. Yet, I never jumped in…

After the release of ‘1974,’ I finally went back to his first proper solo album, ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ What a stunner of an album that was. I’ve read in several places that it’s considered a “cult classic.” I just call it a classic. It was this bizarre amalgamation of folk, jazz with a good dose of psychedelia thrown in. I absolutely love the record. I know it went gold, but it’s surprisingly an album that you only rarely hear about. “Cowboy Movie” is an epic tune with both Jerry Garcia (who arranged and helped produce the album) and Neil Young on guitars. I’ve always been surprised that “Laughing” wasn’t a huge hit. It’s a beautiful song, amongst Crosby’s best.

The rest of Crosby’s solo career was sporadic. It wasn’t until 2014’s ‘Croz’ came out that the critics started to notice his solo recordings. He returned quickly in 2016 with the spare, acoustic LP ‘Lighthouse’ produced and cowritten with Snarky Puppy’s Micheal League. ‘Lighthouse’ was a return to and a publicly admitted homage to ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ It’s an unvarnished, almost under-produced gem of a record. While I didn’t hear anything as immediately impactful as “Cowboy Movie” I certainly appreciated the effort. After ‘Croz’ and ‘Lighthouse,’ it was official: David Crosby was on a late-career hot streak!

Now, merely a year after ‘Lighthouse,’ David has returned with his superb new album, ‘Sky Trails.’ Cheap Trick, Van Morrison and now David Crosby all putting albums out in successive years… it feels like the 70s again. The album is produced by his son, James Raymond who also plays a lot of the instruments on the album. There’s some great acoustic guitar work on this album and while I can’t find credits, I think its both Raymond and Crosby playing. Crosby has worked with Raymond before and I do think Crosby does better in collaborative situations, be it this one, Jerry Garcia on his first record, Micheal League on ‘Lighthouse’ or Graham Nash on those classic Crosby/Nash albums.

I kept reading that there were some songs on here that were Steely Dan-jazzy type songs. I was skeptical about that until I saw that former Steely Dan member Michael McDonald had cowritten a song here… I will say, the opening track, “She’s Got To Be Somewhere” is a funky Steely type keyboard with saxophone song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Aja.’ It’s a great track but it’s really the only Steely Dan-like track I hear here.

The epicenter of the album for me are the two overtly political songs, “Capitol,” and “Sell Me A Diamond.” Although in his 70’s it’s nice to see that his old hippy protest spirit is alive and well. “Capitol” is the best protest track Crosby has written since “Stand And Be Counted.” I dig the righteous rage. “Sell Me A Diamond” is a brilliant tune and reminds me of some of the stuff CSNY did on the wrongly maligned ‘Looking Forward’ album (It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t that terrible, folks). “Diamond” has a soaring chorus and a nice little pedal steel. I love the coda of the song, where Crosby repeats “Makes conflict free sound good to me…”

There are some great quieter moments here. Crosby duets again on this record, like on ‘Lighthouse’ with Becca Stevens on the title track and their voices harmonize like Crosby’s and Nash’s. It’s a spare, acoustic number punctuated with light saxophone. It’s an ethereal song about being lost out on the road and a true highpoint here. “Before Tomorrow Falls On Love,” cowritten with Michael McDonald, is a piano/vocal number with a great jazz vibe. I feel like I’ve just walked into a hip jazz club and there’s a guy singing at the piano. Crosby also beautifully covers Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia.” I know they go way back and she has had some health issues of late… it’s a nice gesture to hear Crosby sing one of her songs. “Somebody Home” is an atmospheric acoustic/vocals tune with just the right amount of organ and some more pedal steel and naturally, another great vocal.

Towards the end of the first half is another favorite of mine, “Here It’s Almost Sunset” that has some beautiful percussive elements with a sax that almost sounds like early Sting and Branford Marsalis. It’s a beautiful melody that drifts by like a cloud. There are just so many moods here. And through out are Crosby’s spectacular vocal performance. His voice brings all these different moods and tempos together, it’s the common thread. Toward the end of the album comes “Curved Air” with some great percussive elements and almost Spanish-guitar type riffing. It’s just great.

This is the most enjoyable, consistent thing I’ve heard Crosby do since ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ It’s great to hear a more mature artist exercise his beautiful vocal instrument against these various musical backdrops. It still has that folky/jazzy vibe of his first record and I mean that in a good way. This is the kind of record that often gets overlooked out there in today’s market but is definitely worth the investment. Pour your next nightcap and drop “Home Free” on the stereo and drink in the night.

Cheers!

Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks

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*Picture taken 6/2/2107, Kansas City’s Sprint Center

If you’re like me this has been an awful week. The loss of Tom Petty has left an enormous void in the Rock N Roll Firmament. The man was a National Treasure. More than that, his songs made him feel like a friend. I can’t count the number of people who have reached out to me over the course of the week who are as upset as I am about his passing. From people I knew in high school to college roommates to people I work with, people keep texting or calling. Arkansas Joel reached out, he knows what a huge Petty fan I am. One of my friends texted me and said, “Petty, what a badass!” Indeed, my friend, indeed. Needless to say, I remain distraught over this untimely loss. It’ll take a long time to shake this one off. I know a lot of you are feeling the same way I am, and if this blog can bring you any solace, that you’re not alone, my job is successful… The tributes by famous rock stars from Bruce Springsteen to (believe it or not) Coldplay with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck have been amazing. (Yes, I still hate Coldplay, just a little less right this moment).

In the old days, during times like these, I’d lock myself in my apartment with a fifth of rye and Petty’s entire catalog of music. Since I’m married now, I can’t lock myself away, but I can sequester myself in a room with a liter of rye (nice to see that booze has gone metric) and Petty’s entire catalog. It took me three days to get through all of the Tom Petty I own, only taking breaks to sleep, go to the restroom and get more ice for the rye… I can only marvel at the man’s songwriting prowess and the power of the Heartbreakers as a band. They could rock with the hardest bands around and bring it down to play the most intricate, beautiful ballads. I feel like they were always under-rated. Mike Campbell (guitar), Ben Tench (keyboards) and yes, Stan Lynch (erstwhile, estranged drummer) deserve special notice for their individual talents and contributions. I can’t imagine what those guys and Petty’s family are going through right now. As bad as I feel, I know those individuals are suffering infinitely more.

When I first heard the news about Petty, I was out at Arrowhead Stadium. People were playing his music and you could hear different groups playing different songs. I heard “Free Fallin'” a couple of times. “Here Comes My Girl” and “Don’t Do My Like That” came floating over the wind from different directions in the parking lot. “Running Down A Dream” was played by the heavy metal enthusiasts in the pick-up truck next to me… Petty’s music was truly universal. While I love all of those tunes, having spent three days listening to Petty’s whole catalog, I have to say, there was SO MUCH more music there.

Every single one of Petty’s albums has those signature singles (and from the old days signature videos). But to go along with those, there were always album cuts that never received any airplay on radio, which for any other band would have been hits. Side 2, song 9 for Petty would have been the lead off track for most bands. After three days of intense listening, I put together the following playlist of those album tracks or perhaps more appropriately “deep tracks.” I went through each album (and tried to grab at least a song from each), each box set and tried to cull through some of the lesser known, or less famous tracks. When I was done, I had a list of 64 songs. I did a lot of soul searching as I winnowed this list down to twenty-seven cuts. It truly was not easy but I think this is a good representation of some of the great music that Petty and the Heartbreakers did that didn’t get the exposure of his hits – from rockers to ballads. If you’re a “greatest hits” type fan, this collection might help you delve further into Petty’s catalog. If you’re a big fan, you’ll likely recognize most of these tunes and hopefully, in this dark time, you will smile like I did when I heard them (or occasionally tear up). If the Rock Chick will help me figure out how, I’ll be putting this play list out on Spotify under the creative title, “BourbonAndVinyl Petty Deep Tracks”

I’ve seen lists like this from “major publications” and oft times they list tracks that aren’t readily available like say, bootlegs. Rolling Stone magazine did a list of 100 Springsteen songs and one was a song he’d performed once and had never committed to tape. I consider that kind of a dick move and have tried to avoid that if I can… And while there are an almost infinite number of songs I could have put on this list…I chose these because they jumped out at me. Think of this as a primer instead of the definitive list.

  1. “Breakdown (Live In Capitol Studios),” DJ Promo Only – So after decrying Rolling Stone for using bootlegs and unobtainable tracks on their lists as a dick move, I start off with an unobtainable track… I know, dick move. “Heal thyself physician…” This is the definitive version of this song and I pray some day it’ll be released. It’s the only version of “Breakdown” that my local radio station, KY/102 used to play. A friend slipped me a copy recently and it’s amazing… the band is loose and the drums start off almost sloppy, then Campbell’s guitar stabs it’s way into the mix. Petty’s vocal is impassioned but his rant at the end is funny.
  2. “Hometown Blues,” Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Petty’s early work was always compared to the Byrds, but the drums on this upbeat rocker sound almost Bo Diddley-like.
  3. “Restless,” You’re Gonna Get It! – Petty’s second album gets lumped into he “sophomore slump” category but that’s only because it’s sandwiched between his seminal first record and his first masterpiece, Damn The Torpedoes. This is a great track from an underrated album.
  4. “Casa Dega,” Damn The Torpedoes – Deluxe Edition – “Casa Dega” was actually originally released on the exceptional box set, Playback, but it sprang from the sessions for Damn the… One of many great “baby what’s up” songs.
  5. “Louisiana Rain,” Damn The Torpedoes – This was always one of my favorites from side 2 of Torpedoes. There’s a country version on Playback.
  6. “Nowhere,” Damn The Torpedoes – Deluxe Edition – It’s a testament to how strong the material on Torpedoes was that they left this rocking track off. I love the riff.
  7. “Nightwatchman,” Hard Promises – This song is such a great demonstration of Petty’s signature sense of humor. It’s a great track and actually got a little radio play. Funky and rocking.
  8. “Straight Into Darkness,” Long After Dark – This album was sort of the soundtrack of my first breakup… While “You Got Lucky” and “Change of Heart” got the radio play, this track captures the emotion of a breakup better than anything else on the record.
  9. “Dogs On The Run,” Southern Accents – Great, soaring rock from the Heartbreakers…”Honey, ain’t it funny how a crowd gathers around anyone living life with out a net.” I can actually testify to the truth of this… oh, my misspent youth…
  10. “Spike,” Southern Accents – My buddy Drew told me that for whatever reason, Wichita radio actually played this song a lot. I heard an interview with Petty on the radio once and he said, “In Wichita we play “Spike” and they go nuts…” This is Petty’s funniest, funkiest songs. There’s a great live version on the Live Anthology as well.
  11. “Runaway Trains,” Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough – Another song which may be considered a breakup song… I see a theme here… Actually I see it more as a song about moving on from a situation and the regrets that brings. Beautiful, atmospheric Petty.
  12. “Out In The Cold,” Into The Great White Open – A good, old-fashioned, Heartbreakers, ass-kicking rocker. It’s like they looked at each other at the beginning of this track and said, “Meet me at the finish line…” Full-tilt rock.
  13. “Time To Move On,” Wildflowers – There were many times in my younger days where I needed to tell my resilience and stubbornness, boys pack your bags, “it’s time to move on…” I wish I’d learned this lesson earlier. The music sounds almost like an old Johnny Cash train song.
  14. “Cabin Down Below,” Wildflowers – While “You Wreck Me” was one of the Heartbreakers greatest rock songs, it sort of overshadowed other great rock tracks like “Honey Bee” and this great barn-burner of a tune.
  15. “Girl On LSD,” bootleg, probable inclusion on the extended version of Wildflowers, due any time now…- I know, another dick move. I hope this song comes out soon with the rest of the material left over for Wildflowers. It’s actually a love song disguised as a drug song.
  16. “Waiting For Tonight,” Playback: Nobody’s Children – This great song was actually released as a single to herald the arrival of Playback, but disappeared pretty quickly. I thought it was an underrated gem of a tune that deserved another listen.
  17. “Travelin’,” Playback: Nobody’s Children – This rocker is a great traveling tune. If, and I know it’s inevitable, I do another road-song playlist, this song will be on it. I would have loved to hear this live…Alas.
  18. “Swingin’,” Echo – Most Petty fans will know this song. My friend Stormin actually saw him sing this one live on the final tour, in Denver. “Like Sonny Liston…”
  19. “Have Love Will Travel,” The Last DJ – Last DJ is always derided as Petty’s “angry” album. There are some great tracks on this record, and this is one of them. I love when he sings, “how about a cheer for all those bad girls.” I saw this song performed live and the every woman in the crowd screamed!
  20. “I’m Walkin’,” Goin’ Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino – Petty, bringing his Florida swampy sound to a Fats Domino swampy Louisiana song. What’s not to love here. This was a great tribute album and one of the first things I reviewed on B&V… I have a real soft spot for this tune.
  21. “Down South,” Highway Companion – I loved this album but it got almost no airplay. This is a great travelogue of a song… “Gonna head back down south, gonna see my daddy’s mistress.” Petty was such a brilliant lyricist.
  22. “Big Weekend,” Highway Companion – Great party song, great road song… “If you don’t run you rust…” This could be the B&V theme song.
  23. Mudcrutch, “Topanga Cowgirl,” Mudcrutch – Petty reunited with his original outfit, Mudcrutch with Campbell and Tench, who eventually morphed into the Heartbreakers and put out this great album. This is my favorite song on the album because I think it captures the loose, country-rock spirit of the entire album.
  24. “It’s Good To Be King (Live),” Live Anthology – “It’s Good to Be King” is a great song but anybody who ever saw Petty in concert knows that the song exploded when they played it live. Petty and Campbell would jam on their guitars on this song for over 12 minutes. It’s a great live cut and the definitive version of this song. Kudos to Campbell on this one.
  25. “High In The Morning,” Mojo – Great, funky little bluesy number from a great funky, little blues album. “He’ll be high in the morning and by evening, he’ll be gone.”
  26. “U Get Me High,” Hypnotic Eye – Petty’s last album was a great one. This song is a favorite of the Rock Chick and mine… It’s an unconventional love song.
  27. Mudcrutch, “Hungry No More,” 2 – I was lucky to see this tour, again with my thanks to my old pal Stormin. I really like this record, but I love this song. It’s a soaring, beautiful ballad. The resolve and strength in Petty’s voice on this one gives me hope.

I’m sure there’s tracks that I missed on this, that many of you like. If you have any suggestions for additions, please suggest them in the comments section. It’s a tough time in rock and roll when our heroes are passing unexpectedly. Take care of yourself out there and we’ll get through this together.

 

 

RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone

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*Brilliant photo taken from the inside album sleeve of ‘Damn The Torpedoes’

As far as Mondays go, yesterday was one of the worst. I’ve never liked Mondays… I awoke to the horrible news that some nut job had shot up a music festival in Las Vegas. Add to that, the usual Monday work “horrible-ness” brought on by my Corporate Masters and it was already shaping up to be a bad day. But then the unspeakable happened. My friend the Jean-Genie texted to tell me the devastating news that Tom Petty, music icon, songwriter, singer/guitar player, legend had suffered a massive heart attack and was in critical condition. I was out at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium when the news he had passed came…then, weirdly, it came out that maybe he wasn’t dead, that he was fighting. I could hear Petty’s music all over the parking lot. Perhaps there was hope… Alas, it was false hope. I just can’t believe Tom Petty is gone…. too soon, too soon. He was only 66. I just saw him on the 40th Anniversary Tour in June… (Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2107)

Tom Petty was one of only a handful of artists I can say have written the soundtrack to my life. I own every album, box set, live box set, literally everything that Petty ever put out. His music is a constant in my life, like the North Star. Petty always said that the reason the Heartbreakers weren’t “bigger” was because they were always so consistent. I would argue with Tom a little on that point… I think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were spectacular. My heart goes out to his family, his band and all of my fellow Petty fans out there. Its going to be a tough few days…this one is gonna leave a mark. In his honor, I will be shuffling his entire catalog…which might take a while…

It was awful to lose David Bowie a couple of Januarys ago, but Bowie was always so “otherworldly” that he seemed distant. Tom Petty felt like a friend… someone you could sit next to at a bar. He wrote about things that everybody understood: love, loss, driving real fast and of course the South. While he was a part of the 70s southern-California music scene that included the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, Petty and his Heartbreakers always remained firmly rooted in the Florida south they grew up in… and lets face it, they also rocked a lot harder.

So many memories…. so many. I will share but of a few of my own memories…I know all of us have similar memories of the man and his music.

I can still remember being in Junior High School and buying my first Petty LP, ‘Damn The Torpedoes,’ his first masterpiece. I would just stare at his picture, above, on the inner sleeve and wonder, where did this cool, long-blonde-hair guy, smoking a cigarette come from? I’ve always loved that picture. I figured he was the coolest person in the world… “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Refugee” were the big hits, but as a skinny kid with acne, “Even The Losers” was the tune that felt like it was my anthem. KY/102 used to have this bootleg of “Breakdown” that sounded like it was recorded in a bar, not even a club, a bar… that was for me the definitive version of that song. I’d do anything to get a copy of that, I’ve never been able to find it. After ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ and hearing that version of “Breakdown” I bought his first two, fantastic albeit overlooked LPs, ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,’ and ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ and I’ve been buying his albums on the day they came out ever since.

‘Hard Promises’ was his second masterpiece and was the album he was going to name ‘$8.98′ after his dumb ass record company threatened to charge $9.98 for “premium” artists’ albums. He always fought for his fans… I can remember breaking up with my high school girlfriend when I went to college to the strains of “You Got Lucky” and “Change of Heart,” songs which still evoke those memories (I was the one who was lucky, and it was her that had the change of heart). His music has literally been that much a part of my life. It was during those college years, that I finally got to see Petty and the Heartbreaks live, on the “Pack Up The Plantation Tour” in support of ‘Southern Accents,’ which is a flawed but still essential Petty record and one of my favorites… “Rebels” and “Dogs On The Run” are always in high rotation here at B&V. That was the beginning of a lifelong series of Tom Petty concerts for me… I even got to see Tom and the Heartbreakers backing up Bob Dylan at Sandstone Amphitheater… I thought the solo Petty/Heartbreaks portions of the show were the best parts.

I was living in exile, in Arkansas, when ‘Full Moon Fever’ came out, Petty’s first “solo” album. I hated living there and I hated my very challenging job… every morning I’d put on “I Won’t Back Down” and that song gave me the strength to get in my car and drive to work each day. By the time Petty was touring for that LP, I’d moved back to KC (I guess I did “back down” after all). My friend Stormin’ and I weren’t going to go to the show, we were both broke, but our friends who had tickets convinced us to go down to Kemper and scalp tickets. Some guy sold us 10th row tickets for below face value. Our seats were better than our pals… The show was amazing, but up in the top deck, in a hallway in the roped off section of the arena behind the stage, a couple in silhouette danced to the music…. they were better stage props than even the wooden Indian and those two seared the memory of that show into my mind.

“Wildflowers” was such a masterpiece, it remains in high rotation for the Rock Chick and I to this day. “You Wreck Me” is such a great rock song. I was thrilled that at the 40th Anniversary show in June, he played a small, acoustic set from that record. There’s not a bad moment on there… They should hand that LP out at every music appreciation class on every college campus out there.

After ‘Wildflowers’ one could say that Petty’s star started to fade a bit. There were still sold-out concert tours, but radio had changed and classic rock guys weren’t getting played on the radio any more. I always loved the dark, rocking album, ‘Echo,’ but it didn’t do as well as ‘Wildflowers’ and Petty reacted with the angry, ‘Last DJ,’ an album I still own… there are some good tracks on that record, like all of his records…”Dreamville” and “Like a Diamond” are great songs… That’s just it, even on his rare weaker moments, there were always great songs on those records.

Petty’s last three records, ‘Highway Companion,’ ‘Mojo,’ and ‘Hypnotic Eye’ rank up there amongst his best work. Alas, without the broad radio airplay that artists used to enjoy in the old days, I’m not sure those albums ever got the exposure they so richly deserve. When you take those records and add in the two albums he did with his superb “side-project” Mudcrutch, his latter body of work is incredible. I urge everyone to check those albums out, they’re essential Petty listening. That late career hot streak is one of many, many reasons Petty’s untimely, early demise is such a tragedy. The man had so much more music in him.

I know this post has meandered a bit and that I’ve indulged in my own personal memories and experience with the man and his music. I remain devastated. I will cherish the memory of the many of his concerts I saw over the years. I’m so glad my friend Stormin’ helped me get tickets to his final KC show this June… I fear I might have missed it if he hadn’t reached out. I wish I’d taken my daughter to see him when I had the chance… like my friend Stormin’ did for his daughter, I turned mine onto Petty early on… These rock stars who come through town, I’m telling ya, buy the ticket, they might not come back… especially these days. We all share his wonderful body of work which will live on for generations… But make no mistake, the world is a dimmer place today without Tom Petty than it was yesterday.

It’s a long, dark ride. Take care of yourselves and those you love…

“I’m gonna free fall, out into nothing, gonna leave this world for a while…” I miss the man already….

LP Review: Van Morrison, ‘Roll With The Punches,’ A Laid-Back Blues Party

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In the 60s and even into the 70’s, record companies pushed artists constantly for new material, or as the record companies called it, new “product.” Early on, I think the Beatles put out three albums in one year. Apparently the record companies weren’t familiar with the concept of burn out, but when has any faceless corporation cared about burn out. By the 70s the pace had slowed a little bit… artists were only expected to put out an album a year. I can remember the Faces even saying, “thank you and we’ll see you next year” or something to that effect in the liner notes to one album. But that was the formula, put out an album, tour and do it again next year. Wash, rinse, repeat. When Springsteen took three years  between ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ due to legal issues it was a big deal. That kind of gap between records, which is fairly standard now, was considered career suicide. The term saturation apparently hadn’t been discovered yet.

Nowadays artists can take up to five years between albums and nobody bats an eye. U2 usually  takes about five years between records… Although I’ve noticed Springsteen, a notorious perfectionist, is only taking about two to three years between records lately…making up for lost time, no doubt. Metallica took eight years between ‘Death Magnetic’ and ‘Hardwired.’ I was surprised earlier this year when Cheap Trick, of all people, bucked that trend and returned only a year after 2016’s ‘Bang, Crazy, Zoom…Hello’ with this year’s exceptional ‘We’re All Alright.’ If I was surprised that Cheap Trick put out albums in consecutive years in the 2010s, imagine my downright shock that Van Morrison, only one year after his fabulous 2016 album, ‘Keep Me Singing’ (reviewed on B&V: LP Review: Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” Rock’s Curmudgeon’s Understated, Rootsy Return) has returned with this year’s ‘Roll With the Punches.’ This is starting to feel like the 70s and I mean that in a good way, not the 70s disco-leisure suit bad way… At least this time around it’s the artists who are choosing to put the music out so quickly and not the dictates of some faceless record company.

When I started to dig into my research on ‘Roll With The Punches’ I quickly discovered this was predominantly a cover album of old blues and soul tunes by Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke and Doc Pomus to name a few. That might explain why he was able to release this album so quickly after ‘Keep Me Singing,’ not a lot of that pesky songwriting to do. Ten of the records 15 tracks are cover songs. Of the ten covers songs, Van has sung “Bring It On Home” before, released on his epic live LP, ‘It’s Too Late To Stop Now’ and he covered “Lonely Avenue” on ‘Too Long In Exile.’ Of the five original tracks, two are songs he’s done in some form before: “Ordinary People” was included on the superb archival release ‘Philospher’s Stone’ and a slightly different version of “Fame” came out on the great record, ‘What’s Wrong With This Picture.’ Van doing songs where he complains about being famous are wearing a little thin, like Ozzy always doing the obligatory “I’m Still Crazy” tune on every album. We get it, you hate being famous. I will say, all of the five originals fit seamlessly with the old blues tunes. The title track could have been a Muddy Waters tune, it sounds timeless. The only original I would say is an exception to the sound is the beautiful transcendent song, “Transformation.” It’s a classic, soaring Van song, it just seems a tad out of place amongst all this other blues and soul music.

When most people think of Van, they think of his 70’s “golden” era when he released masterpiece after masterpiece. ‘Astral Weeks’ is singularly brilliant. There’s never been anything before or since that comes close to that record. He followed that up with ‘Moondance’ and ‘His Band And The Street Choir.’ Van could do no wrong in those days. He was a wild-eyed Celtic soul man. He seemed like an Irish mystic who had wandered out of the mist with transcendent truth and “Moonshine Whiskey” on his lips. He’s gone through many phases and released a ton of music since those heady days… but much like Dylan, many people want to compare his current work to that wonderful purple patch in the 70s. I loved that part of Van’s career, but I was also a fan of his earlier, pre-solo work, with Them. While Them was basically just Van surrounded by an ever changing cast of other musicians, they were a gritty blues and soul band. It was then that Van penned his garage band classic, “Gloria,” covered by so many other artists: Patti Smith and perhaps definitively by Jimi Hendrix, just to name two. Them’s version of “Baby Please Don’t Go” was the first version of that tune I ever heard and it remains my favorite version. So when I heard that Van was doing a blues album, I couldn’t help but think maybe we’d hear some of that fire and brimstone blues of his earliest Them days, much like what the Stones did on ‘Blue And Lonesome.’ And while this isn’t quite the Van of his 20’s when he was in Them, (and who of us are like we were in our 20s) this is pretty kick ass blues.

One thing I can say about ‘Roll With the Punches’ is that Van sounds like he’s having a lot of fun. He’s clearly completely engaged. Part of that might be that he invited a bunch of friends into the studio with him. It’s like Van decided to throw a laid-back blues party. He brought in Georgie Fame (keyboards/vocals) who has been his band’s musical director for a while.  He also brought in Paul Jones, the original lead singer in Manfred Mann and harmonica player extraordinaire. He also brings in Chris Farlowe to duet on the “Stormy Monday/Lonely Avenue” medley, which is an inspired choice – Farlowe’s first hit in the sixties was “Stormy Monday.” Pianist Jason Rebello also contributes to a few of the tunes. Most importantly, Van Morrison brought in Jeff Beck to play guitar. A few years ago, Rod Stewart tried to lure Beck back into the studio to do a blues album but Jeff quit early on in the process… he said he didn’t want to play the kind of music Rod wanted to play. And here he is playing his ass off on this blues album. I guess when Van The Man calls, you gotta answer. Beck’s guitar fuels a lot of these tunes. His guitar solo in “Bring It On Home To Me” may be the high point of the record. I love that before the solo, Van says, “alright Jeff…” “Bring It On Home” is probably the greatest moment on this album. Sam Cooke inspired so many singers from Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin to Rod Stewart and Van himself.

I really like this album, but in the interest of full-disclosure, I love the blues. And I love Van’s vocals. He sings with a passion on these songs that really resonates. The title track, “Roll With the Punches” and “Too Much Trouble” are my favorite of the original, Van-penned tracks. Those are just good ol’ blues tunes. If I have a complaint about the early part of the record, it’s that Van lets his buddies sing a verse or two (too many) on several of the early tracks. I like Chris Farlowe duetting with Van on “Stormy Monday/Lonely Avenue” but I’m not as crazy about Georgie Fame singing entire parts of “Goin’ To Chicago.” I mean, I wanna hear Van sing. when he comes in on “Goin’ To Chicago” it’s just apparent he’s such a better singer than Fame is. Oh well, this music all has a loose, laid-back vibe, why not toss the lead vocals around the room.

“How Far From God” by Sister Rosetta Thorpe (with great boogie-woogie piano and rumbling vocal from Van) and “Benediction” by Mose Allison remind us that blues ain’t that far from gospel. I really like those tunes. Van’s own “Ordinary People” is bluesier and grittier in this incarnation with Jeff Beck’s slippery guitar, although I’ll admit I wish they’d turned off Georgie’s microphone on the harmony vocal. Towards the end of the album, the blues start to really take off. “Automobile Blues” is a great car/road blues tune and might have been the blueprint for Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat.” It rumbles along. “Mean Old World” is an old T Bone Walker song that I think Clapton might have done in Derek And The Dominos. Van does it right on this album with a piano, bass, brushed drums and Paul Jones’ wonderful harmonica solo. It’s another highlight here. The last track, “Ride On Josephine” might just be the best track on here, other than “Bring It On Home To Me,” its another rolling blues tune. Beck’s guitar is again, exceptional as is Van’s vocal on “Josephine.”

This is a very strong return after last year’s exceptional ‘Keep Me Singing.’ It appears Van is on another late career roll, similar to when he released ‘Down The Road,’ ‘What’s Wrong With This Picture,’ and ‘Magic Time.’ This album gets a strong recommendation to purchase immediately. Pour some good Irish Jameson in a tumbler and ride the blues train, baby.

Cheers!

 

 

Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP

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“Good artists borrow, great artists steal…” – Picasso

I was lounging upstairs in the BourbonAndVinyl lounge a couple of weeks ago, doing “something next to nothing, but different than the time before” as Prince would say. As often happens, the Rock Chick came charging into the sanctity of the B&V lab and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Robert Plant…” Intrigued by anybody who could sound like The Golden God, Robert Plant, I immediately had the Rock Chick summon up this Greta Van Fleet chick on her Spotify app… these kids and their apps, what are you gonna do? Suddenly I heard some dude scream “Ooooooooooooh, Mama” over a crunchy guitar that sounded like it was lifted from the “Immigrant Song.” Stop the press…

This was no chick. This was a band… Don’t be fooled by the weird name…like Lynyrd Skynyrd, these four young lads chose a person’s name as the band name. It turns out this band is three Kiszka brothers, Josh (vocals), Jake (lead guitar), Sam (bass guitar) and a drummer, Danny Wagner. It appears they’ve released a 4-song EP, entitled ‘Black Smoke Rising.’ I quickly pulled up the album art and it looks like a poster from the Goonies movie… Hmmm, this is trending badly. But then I listened to the EP again, and damn if they didn’t sound great. They sound, well, like Zeppelin.

I pulled them up on YouTube and these kids look like baristas from your neighborhood cool coffee joint, run amuck with instruments. And while the name, album art and well, their appearance put me off a bit, when I closed my eyes and listen to these guys play, especially Jake on lead guitar, I have to admit, I like what I’m hearing. Of all the artists they could emulate, or nay, rip off, these guys went straight to the top. In this day and age when I thought playing real rock and roll was dead, these kids may have proved me wrong. If they’d stayed true to their generation they’d be doing hip hop or some mopey Morrisey thing. Thankfully, they’re playing rock and roll with loud, Zeppelin abandon. These guys are good.

It’s easy to listen to these tracks and play the “which Zeppelin song is this” game. The first track is a blast of blues rock named, “Highway Tune” that reminds me of, well, “The Immigrant Song.” This kid, Jake Kiszka on lead guitar has got some chops. I love the riff on the song. And if, like Picasso suggested, great artists steal, you might as well steal from the greatest. “Highway Tune” is the Rock Chick’s favorite track of the four. I might agree with her, but there’s a lot to like here.

“Safari Song” starts off with a Plant scream that makes me and the Rock Chick laugh every time it comes on. God bless this kid, he’s got the swaggering vocals down. He drops down an octave here and gives it the Plant bluesy growl… think “Bring It On Home.” He goes from the lower octave up to a scream without breaking a sweat. I also get a slight “Black Dog” feel from the tune but that just might be me. I do love the guitar solo in the middle…it’s a weird meandering thing, but I dug it.

I know I’m doing the name a Zeppelin song thing here, but it’s hard not to. “Flower Power” is a mash up between “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Thank You” complete with the little organ figure at the end of the song. It think even John Paul Jones would envy the Hammond B-3 at the end of this tune.

The title track wraps up the EP and it also contends for my favorite track. “Black Smoke Rising” has a thick riff that Josh just rides over with his vocal. It’s even got a spacey breakdown in the middle ala “Whole Lotta Love.” It is not hard to imagine Jake, the guitarist, wearing black pants with a big dragon on the side and pulling out a bow and dragging it across his guitar strings.

Again, I would have expected hip hop from kids this age. I would have expected electronic dance music. But these kids defied my expectations and are playing blues rock! And while their songwriting may be a tad, shall we say, derivative, I’m ok with that. They’re young and have plenty of time to develop the songwriting. I just hope they keep rocking out like this. They’ve found a great sound, now they just need to make it their own. I think anybody playing blues rock and rock n’roll should be celebrated!

As your intrepid blogger, I try to keep my eye on true rock and roll when I hear it… Keep your eye on this band and especially their lead guitarist. I so worry that the flame of rock and roll that has nourished my soul my whole life is dying down to it’s basic embers. When I hear a young band tear it up like this, I see a spark from that fire…and a glimmer of my hope returns.

Rock on kids! Cheers!

LP Review: Gregg Allman, ‘Southern Blood’: A “Brother’s” Beautiful Farewell

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“I’ve got so much left to give, but I’m running out of time, my friend” – Gregg Allman, “My Only True Friend”

I saw on-line the other day that it was the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s tragic death in September of 1970. Maybe it’s me, but it seems like in the old days rock stars more often than not met early, tragic deaths. Sometimes it was too much booze or drugs. Sometimes it was something darker and more tragic like Kurt Cobain taking his own life. All these young artists, taken too soon… It’s that whole morbid “27-Club” thing. Gregg and the Allman Brothers weren’t immune to tragic loss, early on, as both guitarist extraordinaire Duane Allman and bassist Barry Oakley were taken in their prime, both victims of motor cycle crashes, Duane after the Allman’s third album, ‘Live At the Fillmore East,’ and Oakley after ‘Eat A Peach.’

These days I’m seeing a recurring phenomenon that rock stars are thankfully living to ripe, old ages while continuing to be vibrant creative artists. However, as we all know, the road comes to and end. There’s only so much sand in the hour glass. Since I started this blog, we’ve seen the loss of David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and now Gregg Allman all marked by the release of an album they were working on at the end. The first time I remember hearing anything like these releases was Warren Zevon’s extraordinary album, ‘The Wind,’ recorded while he was battling lung cancer. Bowie’s final album, ‘Black Star’ was the boldly experimental exclamation point on a boldy experimental career. Leonard Cohen’s ‘You Want It Darker’ was a continuation of many of the themes he’d been exploring throughout his career, only…well, darker. These guys saw the end coming and used it for their art. (Both these LPs have been reviewed here on B&V.) And now, we have Gregg Allman’s last LP, the soulful ‘Southern Blood,’ which is nothing short of a beautiful farewell.

Don’t think for an instant this is a downer album about death. Yes, there are recurring themes: the road, time running out, and yes, mortality. But this is a vibrant, strong album with different moods. There is a presence on this record that hovers over Gregg, that of his long-departed brother Duane. The album was recorded with the talented producer Don Was at the helm, at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL where Duane was a session guitarist and where Gregg & Duane’s band Hour Glass recorded their first album. The chills-up-the-spine inducing first single, “My Only Friend, (reviewed on B&V Gregg Allman: “My Only True Friend,” The First Song From The Upcoming ‘Southern Blood’) was written by Gregg with Scott Sharrad as a conversation between Gregg and Duane. Gregg chose the song “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats,” a Johnny Jenkins cover, because Duane once played with him (who didn’t Duane play with?). Equally important, Gregg turned to his old, old friend Jackson Browne’s catalog to cover “Song For Adam,” a track Jackson wrote about his friend Adam Saylor who had died young, like Duane did… Gregg gets so emotional you can hear him break down toward the end of the song. It seems that as he neared the end, Gregg looked backward toward the beginning, toward Duane.

The Allman Brothers Band were so huge, especially in the 70s, they sort of overshadowed Gregg’s solo career. When you release one of the greatest live albums ever, ‘Live At Fillmore East’ and get credited with “creating southern rock” like the Allman Brothers did, you’re kind of a big deal. The Allmans were always considered a jam band, but I always considered them more of a blues band with a jazz sensibility. The virtuoso guitar playing over Gregg’s bedrock hammond B-3 was more powerful than most jam bands. However, starting with 1973’s ‘Laid Back’ Gregg began an up-and-down but quite often strong solo career. I have always loved his soulful 1977 record, ‘Playing Up A Storm’ as well. ‘Southern Blood’ certainly reminds me of ‘Laid Back’ in terms of the sound of the record. Gregg’s solo albums, especially the early ones, had a little more of the R of R&B than the Allman Brothers albums did.

Gregg’s voice, in spite of the illness, is very strong and expressive on this record. He was simply one of the most distinct, bluesy singers ever. I will say, the one thing about this record that surprised me a bit was there are few tracks that have a bit of a country feeling. For the most part, any time the Allman Brothers sounded a bit country, like “Ramblin’ Man,” it was typically the result of something Dickey Betts had written. Maybe that slight country vibe was Gregg reaching out to his old, estranged band mate. I heard they reconciled before Gregg’s death…I hope that’s true.

Originally this album was going to be a record of all original compositions, since Gregg’s previous album, the T Bone Burnett produced ‘Low Country Blues’ was mostly all blues covers. ‘Low Country’ is an exceptional record and a real return to form… Gregg’s plans to write new material for ‘Southern Blood’ were dashed by his health issues, but he and his manager and guitarist/musical director Scott Sharrard made some exceptional choices in cover material.

The album opens with one of Gregg’s best tracks ever, the haunting, previously reviewed “My Only Friend.” Written by Sharrard and Gregg, Sharrard conceived the song as a conversation between Duane Allman and Gregg. He said it was almost eerie how Gregg responded to the verses he supplied him… It’s the high point here. Hell, it’s a high point of Gregg’s career. All of the songs from this album, again mostly covers specifically chosen, tell the holistic story of Gregg’s life. The man didn’t just sing the blues, folks, he lived them – whiskey, women, drugs, lawyers, legal issues, and in the darkest chapter of his life, Cher… These songs tell that story. Well, not the Cher part.

From the cover songs, there’s so much to love here. Allman dusts off the old Dylan chestnut, “Going, Going, Gone” which Dylan did on ‘Planet Waves’ with the Band. Gregg’s version here may just be definitive. Apparently when his manager suggested it, Gregg said, “wow, that’s kind of dark, man.” Indeed it is. Of the more surprising selections, they do the Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River,” one of the tracks I mention as having a real country flavor. I’m not a huge country music fan, although I always liked the Dead’s foray’s into country-rock on say, ‘Working Man’s Blues.’ Gregg’s vocal is impassioned on the track and it just works. The song, “Out of Left Field” is a beautiful thank you to a lover. I’m hoping Gregg had someone at the end… everybody needs someone at the end… for me, it’ll be the Rock Chick.

I love that they also chose to do some blues songs here. Muddy Waters’ “Love The Life I Live” is a great, joyful blues number. Hearing Gregg Allman sing Muddy Waters, well, he was just born to sing Muddy songs… Or Willie Dixon songs, either way you look at it. The Jenkins’ cover, “Blind Bats and Swamp Rats,” the nod to Duane, is another great blues tune here. “Blind Rats…” has a real New Orleans, swampy vibe to it. It’s a nice slow crawler of a record with some laid back horns. I also love the fact that he covers Lowell George of Little Feat’s “Willin'” on this record, another great road song… “And if you give me weed, whites, and wine, Show me a sign, I’ll be willin’ to be movin’.” Great stuff! And a really funny song. There are moments in “Willin'” where the band tails off and it’s just Gregg’s voice…outstanding! “Love Like Kerosene” is anther track written by Scott Sharrard and it’s a nice bluesy, scorcher. “Kerosene” may be the most upbeat song on this record. Great guitar/horns interplay with a nice boogie-woogie piano solo.

When Duane and Gregg’s band Hour Glass broke up and Duane went back to Muscle Shoals to do session work, the record company threatened to sue them. To avoid that, Gregg agreed to remain in Los Angeles, and to cut a solo record. It was a low point for Gregg as he was far from home and his brother was back east. A young songwriter, a kid named, uh, Jackson Browne, who’d written tracks for the first Hour Glass album, was looking for a roommate. Believe it or not, Gregg Allman and Jackson Browne were roommates. While it may have been a low point for Gregg, it produced one of the longest lasting rock and roll friendships ever. On his first solo album, Gregg did Jackson’s oft-covered track, “These Days,” and I believe Gregg’s version is definitive.

For ‘Southern Blood,’ Gregg not only turned back to those early days by recording Jackson’s haunting “Song For Adam,” he has Jackson singing harmony vocal on the track. It’s, again, an inspired choice. Clearly as he breaks down while singing toward the end of the song, you know Gregg was thinking of Duane, who had died too soon. The fact that Jackson Browne showed up this way, with a beautiful harmony vocal for his old friend, is one of those special moments in life that must be celebrated. Good on ya, Jackson. ‘Southern Blood’ started with “My Only Friends,” which gave me chills… and it ended with “Song For Adam” with Jackson on harmonies… more chills. Those two voices, from those two old friends, intertwining… not a bad way to go out.

There are two bonus live tracks on the record… they’re nice to have but not essential. I’d say the two bonus tracks are more for the completist… FYI.

I can’t say enough good things about ‘Southern Blood.’ It’s essential listening for Allman Brothers fans, Gregg Allman fans, and well, fans of rock and roll music everywhere. This ranks amongst Allman’s best work (solo or with the Allman Bros Band) and it’s a damn shame we didn’t get a few more years and few more records from the man. Turn this one up loud…

There’s only so much time, only so much road left for any of us, folks… use it well.