Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

images

I have posited many times in these pages that most of the music I like springs from the blues. No matter how far away the music gets from the blues, I can still hear the seeds of where the music came from… and that’s the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. The blues was the first musical form to popularize the guitar solo, where the solo and the style of playing were as important as the singer. Knowing this, it was with great confidence that the Rock Chick strolled into my office in 2001 and said, “I have something you’re really going to like…” She played me the White Stripes White Blood Cells. It was love at first listen. It was punk, it was blues, it was blues punk or was it punk blues. I can only say for certain, it was rock and roll. I purchased their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl immediately.

It wasn’t until the 2003 tour for Elephant that I first got to see the White Stripes live in concert. I was lucky enough to see them in Kansas City’s tiny Memorial Hall, over in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) which seats a mere 3500 people. There isn’t a bad seat in that tiny, ancient building… well unless you’re behind a steel girder. Jack and Meg White came out and lit the place on fire. Meg was primal and fierce on the drums. Jack was relentless on guitar, hopping around the stage like a frog on a hot stove. He brought out this wide-body, grey guitar that looked like it’d lost a fight and tortured it through the blues cut “Death Letter” and I reached blues rock Nirvana. I was totally blissed out at that show. He covered blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” and finished the encore with Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil.” I never missed them on tour after that and I own every album the White Stripes put out.

Now, it’s important to state that I’ve also always felt that there are certain individuals who are critically important to rock and roll. Their impact is artistically important. You can say that about Elvis, Bob Dylan, pick a Beatle (except Ringo, I mean, I love Ringo, he’s a beautiful soul and a capable drummer, but…), Mick or Keith, Bowie, Neil Young, or more recently Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. I truly believe Jack White is one of those people. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass and sings. He also produces, writes songs and owns his own, very vinyl-centric record company, Third Man Records. He’s like a white Sam Cooke. Jack is such a contradiction to me… part old soul/blues guy, part futuristic space alien.

Feeling that Jack White is an important figure in rock and roll has led me to follow him through all the different things he’s done. I always try to keep an eye on him… I followed the White Stripes religiously. I also followed his side-project, the Raconteurs through both Broken Boy Soldiers and after the Stripes had broken up, Consolers of the Lonely. Although, I always felt the Raconteurs were more a “buy by the song vs buy by the album” group. I only like the Jack White songs, but especially “Carolina Drama.” I even followed Jack to the Dead Weather, where he was predominantly a drummer. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit it was the Rock Chick who led me there. I even bought the album he produced for Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. When Meg decided she’d had enough and the White Stripes disbanded, I followed Jack White’s solo career through not only Blunderbuss and Lazaretto but I sought out the various B-sides he released with the singles from those albums. They fell into two categories, the amazing songs that I still wonder why they didn’t make the album, like “Inaccessible Mystery” to the weirdly experimental, like say, “Blues On Two Trees.” While I love Jack’s solo work, I think I speak for the entire planet when I say, Meg, come home… all is forgiven. We miss you on drums…

I was delighted late last year when I read that Jack was in the studio recording a follow-up to Lazaretto. I had heard that after that record, White had taken a break to spend time with his daughter. Good on him for that. But it’s been four years and the world of rock just needs a new Jack White album. Last week he released two tracks from the upcoming album, “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.” While I felt Blunderbuss was an extension of what Jack was doing with the White Stripes, only with less primal drumming and additional instrumentation, Lazaretto found him stretching out sonically. I was intrigued to hear what was next.

The first new track, “Connected By Love,” at first listen was this crazy, psychedelic gospel benediction to love. The track starts off with an electronic pulse, and I thought perhaps Jack was headed off in a further direction from Lazaretto. But upon further listens, I realized this track wouldn’t have been out of place on either album. Jack’s lyrics are a plea to an ex or a future ex lover. The song stays sonically mellow until the middle where an organ solo that Steve Winwood would envy kicks in. It leads into a distorted, albeit melodic guitar solo. I like this track a lot but it’s a curious first single. It certainly opens up the sonic palette that Jack is working with. After three or four listens, the track just bloomed for me…

The second new track is an interesting little piece called “Respect Commander.” At first, I thought this was going to be another instrumental track like say, “High Ball Stepper.” Jack doesn’t sing until after the 2:10 mark in the song. And then it’s a distorted, multi tracked vocal. I didn’t like this track as much as “Connected By Love,” but I will admit it ends with a searing guitar solo. The guitar work at the end is certainly worth the price of admission, but with Jack, that’s usually the case. This song called to mind some of the more experimental B-sides I’ve heard from him, like the previously mentioned “Blues On Two Trees,” vs an actual track that makes an album. This might mean White is taking a wide-open, anything goes approach to this record…

What does this mean for the upcoming album? With these two diametrically different songs, it’s hard to say. I will state, emphatically, it’s nice to see Jack back in action. We need more rock and roll geniuses, especially now that Bowie gone. I look forward to hearing the entire new album. I would highly recommend “Connected By Love.” Give it a few listens before making a judgment. “Respect Commander” is one of those tracks for the true Jack White believers… like B&V…

Cheers!

 

Advertisements

David Bowie: HBO’s ‘The Last Five Years’

david-bowie-the-last-5-years-hbo-review

Like most red-blooded American males last night, I rushed home from work and staked out a spot in front of the television. I’d been looking forward to last night’s viewing for a couple of weeks… I was tuned in and psyched to see the Francis Whatley HBO documentary on David Bowie, ‘The Last Five Years.’ Oh, wait a minute, I think there was a football game on last night too. Yeah, I didn’t have a dog in that hunt and after my horrid Chiefs’ playoff debacle, it was just too soon for more football.

As any of you who have read B&V are likely aware, I’m a huge fan of David Bowie. I still can’t believe he’s been snatched away from us. Last night would have been his 71st birthday. Two years ago on his birthday he surprised us with his brilliant final statement, (ala Warren Zevon’s The Wind), the album Blackstar. I was in the process of pouring over that record and preparing my review, when two days later, on January 10th he passed away.  My review of Blackstar turned into part review, part obituary. (The Loss of a Titan: Bowie, #RIPBowie). Last year, on his birthday he once again surprised us with an EP, consisting of his last 3 tunes (along with “Lazarus” a Blackstar track) called No Plan (Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs). It was then that I started to think that January 8th to January 10th should be some sort of religiously observed holiday, like Lent. Except instead of giving something up, everybody should listen to David Bowie for three days and do something completely unexpected. Maybe next year I’ll show up in the office in full kabuki make-up and a skirt… It’s just a thought.

I was wondering if the Bowie estate might surprise us with some new music from the vaults this year, but alas, no. They’ve been doing some great reissue work with Bowie’s back catalog, including the interesting Gouster. Instead, HBO aired this new documentary, ‘The Last Five Years’ which is a sequel of sorts to Whatley’s first Bowie documentary, ‘Five Years,’ named after one of Bowie’s Ziggy-era, iconic songs. ‘Five Years’ was focused on Bowie’s early years, and the 5 years in question weren’t sequential. The documentary merely highlighted key years during Bowie’s “heyday” in the 70s. What I liked about ‘The Last Five Years,’ and believe me, I liked it, was that this documentary actually was the sequential account of the last five years of Bowie’s life, which considering the lyrics of “Five Years” seems more appropriate, “we’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.” I think this documentary was produced a few years ago, but I believe last night was the first wide-spread showing in the U.S.

B&V has always been focused on artists who have been around for a while and the latter work in their catalog. That may be why I found ‘The Last Five Years’ so fascinating. I would say it’s a “must-see” for Bowie fans, and music fans in general. There is a lot of older, unseen footage from the 70s to help augment the story. So for those of you who are only into early Bowie, there’s something of interest here for you too. There is a lot of Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long time producer, friend and erstwhile bandmate sitting at the production console, pulling up vocal tracks. Bowie’s backing band is in the studio and jams along live to his recorded vocal tracks, and discuss how they came up with certain parts of certain songs, which is fascinating.

The documentary starts with what it calls a “prologue” that jumps back to 2003/2004’s A Reality Tour, in support of the album by the same name. The Rock Chick and I were lucky enough to catch that tour on May 10th, 2004 here in Kansas City at the beautiful Starlight Theater. I was really getting deeply back into Bowie. After the 1984 album Tonight (which wasn’t as bad as people say it was, it was just hard to follow up Let’s Dance with anything that wasn’t going to be a letdown), I lost touch with Bowie. Every now and then I’d hear a song that would penetrate my consciousness, like “I’m Afraid of Americans,” or “Absolute Beginners,” but as far as buying Bowie albums, I’d basically stopped. Then I heard 1999’s Hours and I was back in the bus. That album is criticized for Bowie being more craftsman than visionary, but it’s still a great record. I don’t care if most of the music was used in a video game. Bowie followed that up with one of his finest albums ever, Heathen. That is a must-hear for every Bowie fan. When Reality came out in 2002, I eagerly snatched it up and paid top dollar to see that show. It was amazing… He opened with “Rebel Rebel,” played a lot of music from Heathen and Reality (which older artists never seem to do, play the new stuff), and he played “Station To Station” in it’s entirety. He was confident, charismatic, and seemed to be really enjoying himself. The Rock Chick had to drive home that night, I was too staggered by what I had just heard.

Unfortunately, Bowie had a heart attack later on during that tour, and that was it. He never toured again. In fact, he went into seclusion. After the prologue around the A Reality Tour, ‘The Last Five Years’ follows Bowie’s seclusion from 2004  to 2011 when no one heard from him. He was the happy family man/hermit. It was in 2011 he finally began to reach out to his old band and Visconti… the next thing they knew they were all signing “non-disclosure” agreements and jamming with Bowie in the studio. The result was the fantastic The Next Day which, while nostalgic, is never maudlin, and looks back to Bowie’s Berlin days. I was fascinated to see details of how Bowie wasn’t just concerned with the music, he was concerned with the visuals – the album cover and the videos for the three singles, (“The Stars Are Out Tonight,” “Valentine,” and “Where Are We Now?”. He was the complete artist. Every detail came under his scrutiny. Bowie neither did interviews or toured for the album.

Shortly after that, Bowie took an acute interest in jazz. He reached out to jazz composer Maria Schneider and hooked up with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band to record some really different, dissonant, crazy jazz tunes “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)” and “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore.” The documentary does a good job in positing the theory that Bowie was probably always into jazz under the surface and compares it to his experiments with new sonic textures from his Berlin days… It’s an intriguing argument.

Bowie then enlisted Donny McCaslin’s jazz band to record Blackstar. It’s cool to see the jazz band jamming in a dive bar, playing tunes they played with Bowie, over his vocal tracks. Both McCaslin and Maria Schneider talk about Bowie’s willingness to explore and stretch out the norm. I defy you to find an artist in his 60’s whose willing to take so many risks.

Finally, it was on Bowie’s bucket list to do a musical. The documentary also suggests this is something Bowie had in mind for a long time. His original concept for Diamond Dogs was to set Orwell’s ‘1984’ to music. Most of the concerts for Diamond Dogs were highly choreographed, something you didn’t see a lot of in the 70s… That footage, of those shows, is wild. The crazy stuff on stage, considering all the drugs being done, is pretty impressive. From there it leads into interviews with Bowie’s collaborators and cast of his musical play, ‘Lazarus.’ It was based on Bowie’s movie from the 70s, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’ I thought the creative process and the work Bowie did on the play was another fascinating part of this documentary. The guy was a renaissance man.

It’s not new music, but another Bowie Birthday gift, the excellent documentary ‘The Last Five Years.’ If you dig music, and lets face it, it’s too cold to go outside, pull this up on HBO. When your’e done, you’ll probably be like me, listening to the albums mentioned and wearing kabuki make up… Just til tomorrow… It’s Bowie-Lent.

 

Playlist: It’s COLD! (My Furnace Breaks Down, & A Sudden Epiphany)

IMG_1192

My dad, who I like to call the Hard Guy, has always liked cliches. Lets face it, they always have a basis in reality and once he gets rolling, it’s hard to stop him. One of his favorites has always been, something like (I’ve never listened too closely, I am Cain to his Adam) “I felt sorry for myself that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I’m not sure if that’s a real quote or something he made up, but I’ve been hearing it from my dad for so long, it seems like it must be genuine.

Like most of the northern or eastern part of America, I find myself freezing my ass off to below normal temperatures. Here in the midwest, where I live, the normal high is 38 degrees (fahrenheit) and lately it’s been anywhere between -5 and 20 degrees for a high temp. I hadn’t left the house since New Year’s Day. Thankfully, I don’t live on the east coast where I’d be victim of the “bomb cyclone,” whatever the Hell that horrible thing must be. There’s no snow here, just unrelenting cold. It appears a blast of “arctic” air has descended upon us and like an unwelcome relative has stayed too long.

Unfortunately, for me, during this cold snap, the furnace here at B&V has had a motor go bad. The furnace itself is ok, but there is apparently more than 1 motor, and combined with a number of safety devices it’s colluding to prevent my furnace from working properly. The company that I’ve been paying over the years to “maintain” my furnace, seemingly missed this issue with the motor during this year’s inspection and are telling me it’ll be Monday before they can repair it… I bought a few space heaters to keep my pipes from bursting and I related my displeasure to the company, but that’s a matter for Yelp. Apparently revenge is no longer a dish served cold, although that would be appropriate in this case since I’m freezing, but a dish served on the internet.

All of this started last night when I realized that my furnace, located in the basement, began to sound like there was an airplane in extreme distress landing down there. It was really loud. It was like Zeppelin loud down there… I immediately called the furnace company… The furnace guy came out, diagnosed the problem and told me the part/motor would be in this morning and they’d be out to fix it some time today… when that didn’t happen, I was pretty pissed. So I did what I always do. I put together a playlist to commemorate being cold. Being very, very cold. The Rock Chick and I are wearing coats, while under heavy blankets…

I was feeling pretty bad about myself as I drove to the local mall to buy space heaters when I saw something that jerked me out of my self-pity. I was at a stop-light, going over the horrible things I was going to say on Yelp about my furnace company (which, lets face it, I still intend to post) when I saw a young woman, bundled up from head to toe, with only her eyes visible, sitting on the corner. She was holding up a cardboard sign with a simple request for help on it. It’s below 20 degrees here and the wind chill is God knows how awful. The stock market is over 25,000 and there are still people out in the cold… It was then that I was struck with an epiphany, or at least a healthy case of guilt. I realized… my father was right. Here I was pissed because my house is 40 degrees and here was a woman sitting on a street corner in the 20 degree frigid weather…she’s OUTSIDE. At least I’m shivering indoors. I had no shoes… she metaphorically had no feet. Damn, I hate admitting my father is right, it’s a father/son thing…hard to explain, but easy to understand.

I’ve already got this Cold Playlist put together, but it’s no longer to bitch about my furnace not working… although admittedly I am very cold. Tonight, this playlist is for that poor woman sitting on a corner in the cold, and all her homeless brethren who don’t have a place to get warm, who don’t have a furnace to complain about and who need help. We all have those old coats we don’t wear anymore. We all have those old blankets tucked away somewhere in a closet. Now, in the heart of winter, is the time to dig those out and, as Bill Murray says in ‘Scrooged,’ “say, here.” It’s a tough time in the world. There are people who are having trouble even staying warm… donate some clothes, coats, blankets or money to a homeless shelter near you and help these people out.

In that spirit, here is my playlist to complain about the cold. While I’ve huddled in my coats and blankets, this goes out to those less fortunate….As usual, I’m stylistically all over the place but that’s why I usually leave the playlists up to the Rock Chick. Keep an open mind… Most of these songs reference the coldness that creeps into relationships, but I’m speaking metaphorically here, so go with it…

  1. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” – My kingdom for some warmth.
  2. AC/DC, “Black Ice” – I saw a lot of this on the road today. Be careful out there.
  3. Cinderella, “Long Cold Winter” – God, I hope it isn’t one.
  4. David Bowie, “She Shook Me Cold” – Ok, this is actually about sex, but there’s something about the way Bowie sings about this sexual encounter that I can relate to.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound” – If I ever get ahold of my furnace company, I may be in cold irons…
  6. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – “and I’m so alone, I’m on my own…”
  7. Deep Purple, “Stone Cold” – “And I thought I knew you so well,” furnace company…
  8. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Cold Shot” – Which is what I felt like taking to warm me up.
  9. Van Morrison, “Out In the Cold Again” – If Van’s warm vocal on this ballad won’t warm you up, nothing will.
  10. Bob Marley, “Coming In From The Cold” – I wish I was coming in from the cold. But since my furnace isn’t working I’m coming out of the cold into slightly less cold. Lets’ help some of the less fortunate come in from the cold this winter… the Salvation Army works all year round, folks.
  11. Social Distortion, “Cold Feelings” – “Cold feelings in the night, you know, this feeling just ain’t right.”
  12. Black Crowes, “Stare It Cold” – “Don’t you wanna be there, don’t you wanna stare it cold?” If this cold snap holds up, the Rock Chick and I may just stare each other cold.
  13. Little Feat, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Freezing, it was freezing in that hotel…” How must it feel on the streets?
  14. Roger Daltrey/Wilko Johnson, “Ice On the Motorway” – True confession, I’m not sure what Daltrey is singing about here, but it sounds like he’s getting nowhere fast because of the iced-over freeway and his frustration is palpable. I can relate.
  15. Cage The Elephant, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Cold, cold, cold inside, Doctor can you help me cause something don’t feel right.”
  16. Metallica, “Trapped Under Ice” – “Freezing, can’t move at all, screaming, can’t hear my call.” I’m talking to you furnace folk.
  17. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Out In the Cold” – My heart goes out to anybody whose literally, out in the cold. In the US, if you see someone call 311, identify the location and someone will get these folks to a shelter.
  18. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” – Well, thankfully it ain’t raining, but this weather can make anybody feel bluesy.
  19. Buckingham Nicks, “Frozen Love” – A rare chestnut from the ‘Buckingham Nicks’ album… a real treasure if you can find it.
  20. Foreigner, “Cold As Ice” – Which is how I feel.
  21. Peter Wolf, “The Cold Heart of the Stone” – Wisdom from Woofa.
  22. Billy Joel, “Running On Ice” – Where Billy can’t make any progress because he’s slipping on the ice. I can relate.

Try to stay warm out there folks… and if you can help someone whose less fortunate than you are, please do. And if you have any recommendations on furnace companies…

 

 

Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)

0004796915

There is perhaps no part of Bob Dylan’s career that is more controversial than his “Christian period.” Nothing compares to it… Not going from acoustic folky (although I always heard as much Robert Johnson or Son House as Woody Guthrie in that music) to electric rocker; not his retreat after a motorcycle accident and return with the quiet statement of John Wesley Harding when the rest of the world was dressed in psychedelic day-glo colors; not his turn to country music on Nashville Skyline – none of those stylistic turns and changes evoke more controversy and full throated criticism as Dylan’s Christian music. Even the universally loathed Self Portrait may be more valued than his trinity of gospel albums.

People tend to forget that after the collapse of the 60’s Hippy Dream came the decadence and selfish 70s with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War in defeat. America was kind of reeling. There were a lot of people who were groovy hippies in the 60s only to turn to God or EST or some other higher power in the 70s. Why would Dylan be any different? I’m not a religious man. On a good day I’d be considered a Pagan, but who wouldn’t want to dance naked around a tree? On a bad day I’d be considered a non-believer. I’ve always respected the tenets of Buddhism, especially karma and I dig Jesus, just not many of his followers. I’m like the Lloyd Bridges’ character in the movie Cousins, when he said, “God makes me nervous when you get him inside.”

I like to think of religious faith the same way I do sexual preference: Practice whatever brings you joy/happiness, just don’t talk to me about it. Despite all that, I can still appreciate art inspired by God. I can listen to Dylan’s religious albums the same way I can walk through a Cathedral and admire the passion of the workers and architects in building a beautiful monument to God with gorgeous stained-glass windows or a beautiful painting of Jesus in the arms of Mary. La Pieta is one of my favorite sculptures. But I can walk through that Cathedral, look at that statue and admire it without being drawn in by the message. I can admire the art for purely artistic purposes and despite my lack of faith, I can be moved by that art. I respect God as a perfectly acceptable muse. My muses have always been a bit more… temporal in nature.

It’s with that backdrop that I admit one of the first Dylan albums I ever bought, after his single LP Greatest Hits, (he’s pictured on the cover in a jean jacket, which became part of my wardrobe immediately) was 1979’s Slow Train Coming, the first salvo in what would be a trio of religious-themed albums. There had been hints Dylan had become born again. On the tour for the terribly received Street Legal, he’d been making sermon-like speeches from the stage. He’d also been seen wearing a silver cross. While critics weren’t crazy about Slow Train Coming, I loved it. I remember spending the night over at friend of mine’s house, who I’ll call Eddie, with a couple of other guys. We had the radio on that night and were drinking warm beer. I think some of the crowd were also on acid. Our local radio station kept playing “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Dylan’s single from Slow Train every thirty minutes or so. Every time he’d sing, “you might be sleeping on the floor, might be sleeping in a king sized bed,” we’d all break out laughing because we were sleeping on the floor. Of course that hysterical laughter might have been caused by the acid crazies who were there that night. Anyway, I went out and bought that record the next day. “Serve Somebody” is just a great song and it went on to win the Grammy that year. There were other great songs on that album, including the blues rave-up “Change My Way of Thinking” and the title track. To this day when I feel bad things are coming, I’ll invariable look at somebody and say, “There’s a slow train coming.” To me Slow Train was still a rock and roll album only with religious themes. Mark Knopfler’s lead guitar is amazing on this record.

After that Dylan returned in 1980 with Saved which was an all-out gospel album. It sounds like a tent revival with guitars. That’s where I got off the bandwagon, although in retrospect I did like a couple of the ballads from that record, “Covenant Woman,” and “What Can I Do For You?” Dylan’s final “Christian album” from the trilogy was 1981’s Shot of Love. Shot of Love, to me was a bit of a retreat from the strident Christianity of Saved. The album felt more like a rock and roll album with secular themes and lyrics full of religious references as opposed to full-on gospel. Dylan, it seemed, took the arc that many religious converts go through. I’ve always seen faith like a pendulum. The new convert swings hard to the right and is a strident solider for the Lord, trying to convert everyone through fear and fire and brimstone. Then the pendulum swings back to the left and they move to that “thankful phase,” where they’re just giddy to be saved… and then it starts to wear off. The pendulum falls back to the bottom, and they are still religious, but it doesn’t dominate every conversation any more. They see the world differently, but they see the world a little more clearly again. At least, those are the phases a guy I went to college with went through and it’s eerily similar to what I saw Dylan go through. Prior to 81, he’d refused to play any of his old songs and was only doing gospel stuff. By 81 he’d started to sprinkle older tunes back into the setlist. By 1983’s Infidels, Dylan was back to conventional rock and roll. Although I think his lyrics have been influenced by his Christian period ever since… the bible is an incredible source of lyrical content.

Earlier this year, Dylan released the 13th volume of his Bootleg Series, revisiting his Christian period, entitled Trouble No More. Santa brought me the deluxe, 9-disc (8 CDs, 1 DVD) edition. I posted a guide to Dylan’s brilliant Bootleg Series as one of my early posts, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. Dylan’s Bootleg Series falls into several categories. There are purely live/concert releases, (Vol 4, The Royal Albert Hall Concert, or Vol 5, The Rolling Thunder Review Live, Vol 6 Live 1964) that capture a certain important moment in his career. There are vault clearing releases, similar to Springsteen’s Tracks, (Vol 1 – 3, Rare and Unreleased or Vol 12, The Cutting Edge, 1965-1966). Finally, there are the releases that are meant to shed new light on a particularly maligned period of time in Dylan’s career (Vol 10, Another Self Portrait or Vol 8 Tell Tale Signs) that are typically chock full of live cuts, unreleased/different versions of tunes that were released and unreleased material from the aforementioned maligned period. Trouble No More is clearly in the latter category. This release is obviously intended to shed new light on this controversial part of his career. However, it also has the flavor of the first category, the purely live releases, in that most of this release is live stuff.

Discs 1 & 2, (which is the standard edition release of this set), contain live highlights from 1979 to 1981. These 2 discs, really do cast new light on Dylan’s religious period. There are some passionate, dare I say, joyful performances of the gospel material. His band was exceptional. Fred Tackett on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, and Tim Drummond on bass are all playing their asses off. Dylan augmented the band with four female back-up singers, Regina McCrary, Carolyn Dennis, Regina Peebles and Mona Lisa Young and these soulful ladies take you to church. There’s gospel, rock and roll and ballads. Dylan and the band are really committed to these performances. I particularly enjoyed the performance of “Caribbean Wind,” “In The Garden,” and the rocking “Slow Train.” For the casual fan, the standard edition, which only contains these performances, would be a good addition to your Dylan collection. These two discs capture that spirit of reevaluation that I think Dylan is looking for.

Discs 3 & 4 are the rare and unreleased stuff. Most of the stuff on 3/4 are rehearsals and early versions of previously released music. Although I’ll admit there are only a handful of truly unreleased material that I hadn’t heard before. The highlights from these discs are “Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One,” “Trouble In Mind” and “Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Nobody.” There is also a great version of “Caribbean Wind” done with a pedal steel guitar. It might be the definitive version of that song. Most of the unreleased stuff was performed live. There aren’t many studio outtakes. Since Dylan was refusing to play any of his older, “classic” material, he was augmenting the setlist with his new, unreleased stuff which must have been slightly baffling to his audience. There’s a lot of good stuff on these two discs. These discs are what made the deluxe edition essential for me… but I am a bit of an OCD completist.

Discs 5 & 6 contain highlights (which recreate the set list) from a series of concerts in Toronto in 1980. These are great, impassioned performances. I’m not sure they add much to the first two discs, though. Any reimagining of this material, without the studio gloss of the late 70s/early 80s will probably be realized by listening to those first discs which render these two discs somewhat superfluous. The performances of the songs have changed, Dylan always changes things up on stage (tempo/lyrics etc) so that part is fascinating.

Discs 7 & 8 contain a full concert, start to finish, from London in 1981. By 1981 Dylan, who had on previous gospel tours refused to play any of his older material, finally started to sprinkle old hits into the setlist… he called that tour “The Retrospective Tour.” I think this is an interesting performance in that it shows Dylan playing his older classic material alongside the gospel material. His aforementioned band members play with passion and the old stuff sounds great. This really was one of Dylan’s best backing bands.

Finally, Disc 9, the DVD is a curious film. In between live concert footage, they put in actor Michael Shannon playing a preacher, preaching sermons. I couldn’t hit the fast forward button quick enough. If you’re buying this set for the DVD, save your money.

I think Dylan’s Christian period is a fascinating chapter in his story. While I’m not sure all 8 discs of material are essential listening, I’d say the first two discs in the standard configuration of this set is essential to any Dylan fan. For the completist you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Discs 3/4 and the final concert on discs 7/8. Don’t even put the DVD in, it’s not worth it.

Those are my thoughts folks. Happy New Year! Be safe out there!

 

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees: Getting It Wrong, Again

congrat1a

I like to be positive here at BourbonAndVinyl, there are enough haters out there, but this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Class (for 2018) has once again got my gander up. Of course this could just be a by-product of my annual Holiday Funk, but I’ve got to get this off my chest… I’ve been to the Rock Hall in Cleveland, and it was a great birthday-gift-trip from the Rock Chick. I dug seeing it. But as the years unfurl, the industry folks who make up the judges (who cast secret ballots) continue to fuck up the nomination process. I’m beginning to agree with the Sex Pistols’ famous letter rejecting the invitation to attend the ceremony, that the HOF is “urine in wine.” One might say they royally fucked up in the first place by putting the thing in Cleveland (which I actually thought was a descent city, great Lebanese food, but I’m from KC, what do I know). The Rock Hall should be in Memphis. That’s where the King was from… but that point is mute at this juncture.

I looked at the induction class for 2018 and frankly, I’m stunned. I guess I should not have been surprised, these are the same judges who put Journey in the Hall last year. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Journey? I thought they were ok when I was in high school, because I didn’t know any better and the chicks always seemed to dig Steve Perry’s voice. Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did see them twice in concert back then, which is barely defensible, but I seem to recall a chick being involved in both those nights as well. It’s likely I was trying out my “smooth moves” on some poor woman (and failing), but I do recall also thinking Neal Schon was a descent guitar player… I mean, he’d played with Santana. Ah, my misguided youth. I’m not proud of any of that.

I’ll start off by saying, in terms of the 2018 class, I was glad to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe being inducted in the “early influence” category, whatever that is. I hear a lot of grousing about the inclusion of Nina Simone, since she was more of a jazz singer than a rock and roller, but she’s such a huge influence, I’m happy to see her on the list. She was a giant. And, I think I speak for all of us when I say, everybody loves the Cars. I’m glad the Cars are finally getting their due. It’s after those names that the whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket.

Dire Straits was an OK band. Knopfler can play the guitar. He wrote a few catchy tunes. But Hall of Fame worthy? I just don’t see it, or perhaps more appropriately, hear it. I saw Dire Straits in concert and I was impressed with Knopfler, but I never dreamed they’d be in the Hall of Fame. Even knowing what I know now, that Dire Straits are a band the Rock Chick secretly listens to as a “guilty pleasure,” can’t change my mind on this. They were a middle-of-the-road band who never conjured the sort of excitement or danger I would think you would need to reach the Rock Hall of Fame. They literally broke no new ground.

But then it gets worse.. The Moody Blues are being inducted? I mean, I don’t mind Art Rock or Prog Rock (I dig Rush and Yes) or whatever the hell the Moodys are supposed to be, but the key to those genres is the “rock” part of the description. There is nothing rock and roll about the Moody Blues. When I met my wife, while I was trying to expand her musical universe, I posited my music theory: Every band has 1 great song, even if you don’t like the rest of the catalog, there’s always one tune you can attach to. The one exception to that rule is the Moody Blues. Everything they did sucks. “Knights In White Satin” is a song so bad I almost wreck my car, lunging toward the car radio to change the station, whenever I’m unlucky enough to hear them. The horror, the horror.

The Moody Blues inclusion in the HOF was bad enough but the cherry on top of this shit sandwich is Bon Jovi. Bon-fucking-Jovi. I read somewhere, someone quoted as saying “Bon Jovi is music for people who don’t like music very much.” I’d have killed to come up with that line… it’s sooooo true. The geniuses behind Slippery When Wet are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Does the HOF just want to start handing out participation trophies? These guys were such poseurs. They were supposed to be part of the whole 80s Heavy Metal/Hair Metal crowd, but this music isn’t metal… Maybe Metal Light. Bon Jovi are the Bud Light of Rock and Roll. “Urine in wine.”

It’s not like the Hall didn’t have some great choices on the ballot this year. Depeche Mode is one of the longest lasting, strong, influential, relevant bands in the world today. The Spirit album and tour this year were triumphant. What a great victory lap to have them inducted into the Hall this year, but no. Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead (who I don’t even like despite years of Arkansas Joel’s trying to get me to, but respect more than Bon Jovi) are seminal 90s bands. Rage has the strength and credibility of their political convictions and Tom Morello shreds on guitar. That rhythm section is something else… Radiohead are artier than anything the Moody Blues could come up with… they truly stretch the boundaries of rock and roll, but no. Judas Priest should be in the Hall of Fame, I’m with Eddie Trunk on this one. They’re one of the biggest bands to come out of the British Heavy Metal movement, and were a huge influence on almost every metal band that came after them but no… no, Bon Jovi gets in before them. The Hall told Judas Priest it took Black Sabbath 8 votes to make it. That’s fucking bullshit. I personally think the J Geils Band should be in the Hall. Forget about “Freeze Frame,” they were one of the 70s greatest blues, boogie bands around. But, no. Sigh.

It’s not even a problem with just this year’s ballot. There are so many acts that aren’t even on the ballot. They aren’t even being considered for inclusion/induction. These are bands/acts that are far better than Journey and Bon Jovi and have never, to my knowledge, been on the ballot:

  1. Soundgarden – UFB, that Bon Jovi is in before these guys. How poignant to have seen these guys put in after the devastating loss of Chris Cornell.
  2. Dio – Ronnie James Dio was the lead singer in Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and his own band, yet no love from the Hall.
  3. Warren Zevon – Simply one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m with David Letterman, I can’t wait to see him come back and induct Warren. “Carmelita” is a song that should automatically qualify Zevon for the Hall.
  4. Ozzy/Robert Plant/Joe Walsh – These lead singers and guitarist are inducted as members of their respective bands, but have amassed an amazing body of solo work which has yet to be recognized by the Hall. I mean, each Beatle save Ringo is in the hall…. where are these great artists?
  5. Motley Crue – These guys would have been such a better choice than Bon Jovi to represent that 80s hard rock/heavy metal sound. Their first 5 albums are a great resume to run on.
  6. Bad Company/Free – Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke climbed from the ruins of Free’s demise and formed one of the biggest rock bands of the 70s, Bad Company. I think these guys deserve a hyphen nomination like the Small Faces/Faces got a few years ago.
  7. The Doobie Brothers – These guys were as big as the Eagles at one time… And while not all their music has aged as well as some, they still deserve consideration.
  8. Lucinda Williams – Brilliant voice, brilliant songwriter and a spectacular performer.
  9. The Smashing Pumpkins – Another seminal 90s band that has been tragically ignored.
  10. The Scorpions – Germany’s greatest export since the Volkswagen.

I could go on and on and on and on… But these are the bands that spring to mind. I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked many artists here. How do we fix this? They have a fan poll they run every year but I don’t think it factors into the actual judge’s voting so that won’t help. The problem with the Hall’s nomination system is that the voting is done in secret by a small group (one might call them an Evil Cabal) led by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine and Jon Landau (Springsteen’s erstwhile manager… I tend to agree with Little Steven’s dim view of this guy), and a few other industry types. There have been charges over the years that these guys nominate artists who have ties to their record companies. I think the committee to nominate should be expanded and should include artists – maybe the inductees, the living ones – and these judges should be forced to defend the logic they used in a public ballot… I’d love to hear Jann Wenner tell me why the fuck he voted for Bon Jovi. “Well, I saw Jon at the club and he asked me to help him out….” This whole things smells corrupt to me.

I’d like to thank everybody for allowing me this angry screed/rant. With all the relatives around, I had to barricade myself in my room, turn up the 1977 Springsteen bootleg from Rochester and pretend no one was here… Happy Holidays to all of you and please, Keep Rocking in the New Year… and remember the sage words of the Sex Pistols… “were not your monkey,” and don’t be anybody’s monkey.

 

The BourbonAndVinyl Top Albums of 2017: From Allman to Plant to Neil Young

IMG_1192

I staggered through the living room last night, weary from the struggle that is my job, on the way to the sink for more water, when I saw the Rock Chick had the TV on. I get my water from the kitchen like a child avoiding bedtime because it’s just better than bathroom water, but I digress. Sadly, the news was on the TV. I have been conspicuously avoiding the news this year…none of it is good. I was stunned to see that it was Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S. I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be the “official” start of the holiday season – and besides St Patrick’s Day, it’s one of my favorites (I show up, eat, drink and then fall asleep watching football) – but for some reason it didn’t register to me that the holidays were upon me. Or should I say, the dreaded holidays, but that’s another post. Pearl Harbor Day, which was also my Sainted Grandmother’s birthday, always drives home the point that it’s fucking December, baby. I can’t believe the year of 2017 has sped by with such amazing rapidity. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating David Bowie’s birthday in January. And now I find myself almost terminally behind on Christmas shopping. It’s going to take some real Houdini level stunt for me to pull off Christmas this year… but that’s my problem.

It was again a tough year for rock and roll. Among this year’s losses were guitarist J. Geils, rock and roll pioneer and Founding Father Chuck Berry, and founding Allman Brother’s Band keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman. Amongst the toughest of this year’s losses was the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell, the extraordinary lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. That one is going to leave a mark. Such a gifted singer and wonderful human being. The one that really stunned me and left me in a funk that hangs over me even today was the loss of Rock Legend Tom Petty. Every time I see or hear someone do a Petty cover in tribute, the Rock Chick catches me tearing up. I was lucky enough to see Cornell and Soundgarden mere days before his loss and Petty on his farewell tour a month or so prior to his loss. Not a farewell I wanted but at least I got to see these old “friends” of mine once more… The lesson was not lost on me this year, buy the ticket – see the show. Live in the moment people, and cherish each one. More recently we even lost AC/DC rhythm guitarist/songwriter Malcolm Young… and while he’d been suffering from dementia for some time, the loss was not any less painful. I know there were many more we lost, alas, too many to list here. I wonder which acts will rise to fill the Rock void…

But amongst all that tragedy there was hope and there was light and most importantly there was some great music. Tis the Season for every publication from Rolling Stone to my mother’s neighborhood news letter to come out with their “best of” lists, ranking all the past year’s music. We’re no different down here at B&V, we just do it with a glass of strong drink in our hands. As you know, we focus on rock and roll here, so if you’re looking for Taylor Swift’s name here, you best move on. As I compiled the “best of” list, a couple of things jumped out at me. First and foremost, several of these acts had just put out albums last year. I like this trend, like it was in the 70s, of acts putting out records every year. Hell, Van Morrison put out 2 albums this year, within 2 months of each other. Very 70’s if not 60s of him, indeed. And while this is on the surface, a list of “best of” LPs, I’m including a couple of EPs and even a single. This is music you’re not going to find on the radio, but like last year, I’ll tell ya, however you get your music now – Spotify, CD, Satellite Radio, hopefully vinyl – you should seek this music out. I am not doing a stack ranking here. This is just good music… I’m just not into that competition thing this year… I’ve ranked these albums in a haphazard, alphabetical manner. Find this music, pour something strong if you’re so inclined and enjoy!

The BourbonAndVinyl Best Albums of 2017

  1. Gregg Allman, Southern Blood – A farewell note in the same vein of Bowie’s Blackstar or Warren Zevon’s The Wind. I especially liked the single, “My Only True Friend.” This was a gripping listen.
  2. David Bowie, No Plan (EP) – This isn’t an album, but this EP packaged the last three songs from Bowie’s Blackstar sessions (along with the previously released song “Lazarus”) that had only been previously available on the cast recording from “Lazarus,” the play he’d been working on. It was a nice Bowie Birthday surprise and I’m hoping there’s another waiting for us this coming January.
  3. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Tired of waiting for Stevie Nicks to record some tunes to complete an intended Fleetwood Mac project (Mick Fleetwood plays drums, McVie bass here), Buckingham and McVie put out the music they’d recorded under the duo’s title. They don’t have the baggage Lindsey and Stevie have and it turns out they’re a great pair.
  4. Cheap Trick, We’re All Alright – A gleeful rocker from Cheap Trick was a wonderful surprise, considering they’d just put out a strong album in 2016. This band is on a roll and I’ve really enjoyed this late career resurgence.
  5. David Crosby, Sky Trails – Following 2016’s homage to If I Could Only Remember My Name (the roughhewn Lighthouse), Crosby returned with this beautifully sung album. There’s a Joni Mitchell cover and a Steely Dan influenced tune. An overlooked gem of a record.
  6. Depeche Mode, Spirit – This one might be my pick for “album of the year.” From the political, “Where’s the Revolution,” and “Going Backward,” to the personal, “You Move,” Depeche deliver a slinky, sexy, dark state of the union address.
  7. Liam Gallagher, As You Were – I find Liam as unpleasant as the next guy, but he’s delivered the best post-Oasis album of anybody from that band with As You Were. This was the Rock Chick’s favorite of the year, although she’s a bigger Oasis fan than I ever was.
  8. Greta Van Fleet, From The Fires – Billed as a “double-EP,” this album might be criticized for being somewhat derivative but I love where these kids are coming from. Anybody influenced by Zeppelin in these days of hip hop and electronic pop is ok with me. They even cover Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
  9. Mick Jagger, Get A Grip/England Lost (Single) – Yes, this was merely a two-sided single but it’s a great political broadside to his home country. Oh, and the songs kick ass.
  10. Little Steven, Soulfire – A big, bombastic, 70s, arena-rock, absolute blast of a listen. I was so happy to see Little Steven restart his solo career. It’s nice to see him step out of the shadow of his famous best friend… “Down and Out In New York City” is my favorite track here… although it’s hard to pick just one.
  11. Van Morrison, Roll With The Punches – The first of two LPs Van put out this year, merely twelve months after the very strong Keep Me Singing. While mostly blues and R&B covers, this is a laid blues party with Van singing his ass off like he wrote these tunes. He’s got a lot of friends here, but his most inspired choice was inviting Jeff Beck to play guitar.
  12. Randy Newman, Dark Matter – Newman’s first new album in almost a decade proves he’s still got the wit and sense of humor to take on any topic from politics to the personal. “She Chose Me” is one of his most beautiful ballads. He’s like Mark Twain with a piano.
  13. Robert Plant, Carry Fire – Like it’s primal title suggest, Carry Fire finds Plant in rootsy, exploratory mode, where he combines rock, folk, Welsh folk, and African music into a sound gumbo that is a delight to experience. His singing is right out front and I love where his voice is at this point in his career. A truly stunning album and like Depeche Mode’s LP, possibly my candidate for album of the year.
  14. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains – Josh Homme and company’s hard rock, swinging dance party. “The Way You Used To Do” is my favorite song of the year. A great, hard rock record from start to finish.
  15. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording (Deluxe) – The Stones from way back, from 1963 to 1965. Hailed for returning to their roots on Blue And Lonesome, this compilation of BBC live recordings are the Stones’ roots unfolding before your very ears… back when Brian Jones was as important as Mick or Keith. These recordings crackle with a youthful energy that is a wonder to behold.
  16. Bob Seger, I Knew You When (Deluxe) – This was a near miss of a classic record from Seger, but there are enough great moments here to recommend it. It’s a blast to hear Seger cover, of all people, Lou Reed on “Busload of Faith.” This is Seger’s best album since The Distance. 
  17. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archival Recordings – Springsteen has been quietly releasing a new live, archival recording every first Friday, each month. It’s the only reason that I’ve found to celebrate the turn of a calendar month. From early releases of the rarely heard 1977 tour, to another great show in Houston on the 1978 tour these live recordings are something special. The 1996 release from The Ghost of Tom Joad solo tour was another recent release. If you’re not checking these live albums out, you’re missing out.
  18. U2, Songs of Experience – The long awaited sequel to Songs of Innocence. Bono’s recent brush with death inform these lyrics, and they’re some of his best. I can’t stop listening to this album, their best since How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. 
  19. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want – It took 25 years between solo albums, but Waters has delivered his best album since The Wall. This magnum opus is truly his solo masterpiece. I only regret I didn’t get to see it live, which a friend of mine told me was like going “to church.”
  20. Neil Young, Hitchhiker – Neil went back to the archives to release this stunning acoustic album, recorded in one night back in August of 1976… the full moon really worked some magic. While many of these songs came out on later albums and in different versions, hearing them all in this original setting is the way God and Neil intended them to be heard. Neil’s just launched his own streaming, archival website which will likely provide me with hours of rock n roll spelunking joy…

 

There you have it folks, 2017 in a classic rock nutshell. Happy Holidays.

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances

MI0004342817

They say it’s your first love that leaves the deepest impression. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m not so sure that’s true (I met the Rock Chick when I was 36…my personal records prior to that are sealed up tighter than the JFK files), but in the realm of rock and roll, for me, The Stones were my first love and definitely left the deepest impression on me. My musical tastes and record collection have grown and branched out in every conceivable direction over the years, but the roots have always been with the Stones. Everything that I really love has a solid basis in the blues. I wouldn’t even know what the blues are if it weren’t for the Stones.

I wasn’t really a fan of music as a kid, music was my brother’s thing. My brother and I tend to be polar opposites. I was but a child for most of the 70s and the only time I turned on the radio was to listen to a Royals baseball game, back when I still cared about baseball. My brother had a stereo and had started a record collection long before I ever did. I’d always wander by his room and hear the sound of guitar and drums pouring out from behind his locked door and just shake my head and keep walking. My brother was a big Beatles fan. Later he followed that up by getting deeply into George Harrison’s solo work. It took me years to get into George Harrison’s solo music, which is amazingly rewarding… but my brother, who also plays guitar, was so far ahead of me, he was cranking up Living In the Material World when he was 10.

All of this changed, of course, when I first heard the Rolling Stones 1978 LP, Some Girls. I asked my parents for a stereo for Christmas – back then you could get a turntable/cassette player/receiver and a couple of speakers for pretty cheap – and dipped into my lawn-mowing money to buy my first ever album, Some Girls. I practically wore that album out… I do remember the first time I listened to the whole album on the headphones, in my sainted Grandmother’s living room, and Mick sang that notorious lyric about women who wanted to “fuck all night…” I was staring at my Grandmother and I just about did a back flip when Mick sang those words, I was so stunned. Luckily the headphones protected Grandma from that… But besides that rather startling moment, hearing Some Girls for the first time was like having someone attach jumper cables to the base of my brain and pump the gas for 45 minutes. I was hooked. I’d sing along to “Shattered” at full (and off-key) throat.

One of the things I loved about Some Girls was the interplay of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars – “the ancient art of weaving” as Keith calls it – the guitars played off and around each other like they were sawing down a tree. As my lawn mowing income grew, I continued to buy more Stones’ albums. I started with the Ronnie Wood-era… Black and Blue and Love You Live were early additions to my record collection. When Emotional Rescue came out in ’80 I bought it the day it came out. Say what you want about some of the disco-leaning songs on that record, I still loved it… and there was a great, great blues tune on that record, “Down In The Hole.” And who wouldn’t love the lyric, “riding on a fine Arab chaaaaarger…”

I eventually discovered the Mick Taylor-era of the Stones music which is largely regarded as their “golden-era.” Mick Taylor had been a guitar virtuoso with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and when he joined the Stones, he largely took over the blistering leads and allowed Keith to become, as he calls himself, “the riff-miester.” Those albums, including Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers were some of the greatest albums ever recorded. After experiencing those albums, my Stones spelunking slowed down… For whatever reason, when it came to the early, Brian Jones-era Stones, I stopped after Beggars Banquet and Aftermath. I had some of that early music on a greatest hits album, but I never delved any further into the Stones early years. While I dug the blues, I viewed the Stones early stuff as “formative”…. there were too many blues covers and not enough original material for my immature tastes.

Naturally, I was wrong. Years later, I corrected this egregious mistake and bought all those early Stones records, which I consider as utterly essential for any rock fan… I went from England’s Newest Hitmakers all the way through Between the Buttons. While Mick Taylor gets the accolades for his guitar work with the Stones, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Brian Jones much anymore. The guy could play slide guitar like a Chicago-born bluesman. His work on “Little Red Rooster” is all the resume Brian Jones ever needed… Many people, like I did when I was a teenager, dismissed the Stones as a blues-cover band during their early years. That may be true, but doing that blues-cover apprenticeship was the crucible for everything that came after it.

I was thrilled last year when the Stones returned to their roots and recorded a full on blues-cover album, the sensational Blue And Lonesome (reviewed: LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). While that album was heralded as a “return” to their roots, this week the Stones actually released the actual roots… On Air (Deluxe) compiles 30 songs (on the 2 CD version) from the Stones early appearances on the BBC. These appearances have been largely bootlegged over the years, but this is the first official release. The sound quality is better here than on the bootlegs I’ve heard, but some of the tunes are rough enough to give the project a bootleg vibe.

The ‘Live At the BBC’ series has seen some great albums compiling the live performances of many great groups on that venerable radio station. I was always a huge fan of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, it was truly revelatory. The other albums from the series that are must-haves are from The Who and, of course, The Beatles. The Beatles Live At the BBC for me, was an important and under represented part of the Beatles story – The Beatles as a live, performing band… For whatever reason the Stones decided not to title this album BBC Sessions, much like when they did their own ‘Unplugged’ and called it Stripped. When you’re the Stones, I guess you do your own thing. The album is subtitled “A BBC Recording.”

Like those early, Brian Jones-era albums, On Air is an essential purchase for Stones fans, and fans of rock/blues rock in general. It’s so much fun to listen to these scruffy, dirty kids play the blues. The song selections on here, other than “Satisfaction” are largely covers. You hear blues, a healthy amount of Chuck Berry covers, Bo Diddley-covers and some R&B. These recordings crackle with an electricity and energy of youth. Charlie Watts’ drums in particular grabbed me. He is truly the engine of this band. Mick’s (and probably occasionally Brian’s) harmonica is sensational. I hadn’t really noticed but Brian and Keith Richards guitars intertwine in much the same way that Keith and Ronnie’s did a decade or so later. Brian Jones’ guitar on “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a raw, ragged slide guitar masterpiece.

Of the 30 performances captured here, eight of the songs are tracks that the Stones never committed to tape in a studio. It’s great to hear “Memphis, Tennessee” and their take on “Roll Over Beethoven.” All of the performances here hail from 1963 to 1965, before I was born… I don’t know if there will be a second release for the years 1965 to 1967, but I sure hope so. Anybody who wants to understand where that great late-60s, early 70s Stones music came from, look no further than here… (With the exception of some of the country stuff Gram Parsons introduced the band to, but I digress… ) Blues, big riffs, harmonica. It’s all here. Jagger sings a razor line on each of these tunes. The whole band just sounds great.

If you’re looking for something special for the stereo this year to drowned out the odious Christmas music, this is your solution. The Rolling Stones original line-up, before the arenas, before the massive tours, before the squabbles – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (when he was just as important as Mick), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were indeed a force of nature and something to behold… Rock and roll school is open, and class is in session. Turn this one up loud.