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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

Album Lookback: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ June 4, 1984

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There aren’t many exact dates in my life where I can tell you where I was. Hell, I’m not sure where I was last Tuesday, let alone a random day in the 80s. When I was a kid I can remember my mom telling me she could remember where she was the day John Kennedy was shot… for the record, she was pregnant with me, ironing in her living room and watching ‘Days Of Our Lives’ when the network broke in to announce the sad news. I don’t have any of those momentous geopolitical days in my life where I remember where I was… I do vaguely remember I got up late and came downstairs to find that the Challenger had exploded…but I don’t remember much other than that. All that said, I know exactly where I was on June 4th, 1984.

It was summer time and I was home on break from college. In the summer, us folks who grew up in “olden times” had to find a summer job. I did a lot of different jobs, from temp work to bus boy to light construction. The summer of ’84 was a happier summer for me than the summer of ’83. In ’83 I’d gone through an embarrassing breakup and spent the summer as a man of leisure or more appropriately a man about town…the ladies of Kansas City were helping me grieve, with my eternal gratitude. By ’84 I was well past all that heartbreak and was desperately in need of money to fuel my beer and vinyl habits. My oldest and dearest friend Doug had a line on work… his father owned a small company that installed scoreboards and more importantly, built tennis courts. I was hired to help on the tennis court construction. Utterly difficult, filthy work in the hot sun, but it was an honest day’s work, unlike what I do now, and at the end of the day you didn’t really worry about the job, again unlike what I do now… Like the Cure, I submitted my unanswered prayers for rain every day… Every night after work I had to soak in hot tub to get all the grainy, hardened tennis court surface to slowly melt from the hair on my legs… it was that or pull out all of the hair on my leg with the tennis court goop. I’m a guy so I found that too painful… hats off to you ladies who pluck, shave and otherwise eradicate hair… but I digress. I was, in all senses of the word, a working stiff.

But on Monday, June 4th in 1984, and I don’t recall why, we weren’t out on a job. For some reason our foreman, I’ll call him Norman, had us working in the warehouse yard. We were moving large 55 gallon barrels of sludge around so they looked to be in some semblance of order. For some reason Norman put me in the giant one-ton truck and had me go pick up sand at a local quarry. I was instructed to hurry back and then he’d let me go to lunch. I can remember being in the cab of the one-ton, driving down Pflumm, headed back to the warehouse when the DJ on our local radio station, KY102 came on and said, “We just got the new Springsteen album and we’re going to put it on now…” This was huge to me… I’d been anticipating this record for weeks, since the single “Dancing In The Dark” had come out… I knew somewhere in Wichita, my college roomie Drew was equally anticipating this moment. When the first song “Born In The USA” came over the tinny speakers in that truck I got goose bumps and tears welled up in my eyes. The anguished cries of a Vietnam vet, who never turned his back on his country, although it seemed his country had turned its back on him, was one of those, music-hits-my-lower-brain-stem moments that bring me back to the turntable. After work, as filthy as I was, I drove straight to the nearest record store and bought the album. It was a big day.

The album by the same name, Born In The U.S.A was Springsteen’s biggest selling album. It’s the record where everything changed. The album spun off at least 7 singles, and sold a kajillion copies. This was where those of us who were in the relatively small (especially in Kansas) clique of people who liked Springsteen had to share him with the rest of the world. This album was Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau’s greatest dream. Making Springsteen a name that was uttered along with Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. Me, I liked Springsteen already, this was just gravy. Springsteen managed to merge a modern sound, complete with synths, into his core sound seamlessly, a thing a lot of 70s acts had struggled with. Many believe that’s why the album was as popular as it was. Naturally I have a different theory. To understand why this album was so popular, you have to step back and look at Springsteen’s career up to that point.

When Springsteen released Born To Run he was christened the new Dylan, the savior or the “future of rock and roll.” He was on the cover of both ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ the same week. The hype was almost too much. But then he ended up in a legal battle with his manager Mike Appel that drug on and on. He toured incessantly through 1976 and 1977 on tours dubbed “The Chicken Scratch Tour” and “The Paying the Rent Tour.” One has to wonder why there wasn’t a “Paying the Legal Fees” tour but I wasn’t there to consult with. Finally Springsteen made what was considered a come back in 1978 with Darkness On The Edge of Town an album that had harnessed his anger and frustration about his legal battles with the energy and feel of punk rock to great success. It had very little to do sonically with Born To Run, but it succeeded.

In order to publicize his return in 78, Springsteen allowed several radio stations in LA, NY, San Fran, and elsewhere to broadcast his concerts over the radio. These concerts were widely bootlegged and helped build Springsteen’s legend as a live act. Springsteen returned relatively quickly in 1980 with a double album, The River, which while uneven, to me was always the rightful successor of Born To Run. With all the hype of the bootlegged 78 concerts, they say that more people slept out for tickets on The River tour than actually saw him in 78. My friend Brewster was apparently on the bandwagon and bought 2 tickets but never asked me to go… It’s my belief that Shakespearean betrayal  is what caused his family to move to Houston, in shame. It was the only honorable thing to do short of cutting off a finger. By the time The River tour concluded Springsteen was huge… he was on the cusp of superstardom. So what’s he do… he releases, in 1982, the spartan, demo-sounding, acoustic record Nebraska. There might be more dour, depressing music out there, but one would have to go to some hippy coffee shop to find it. It was a shock. I get it, it’s a masterpiece, but it’s not an album you put on at a party.

If you take Nebraska out of the equation, it was actually a full 4 years between studio albums for Springsteen, much like the lapse between Born To Run and Darkness. The reason Born In The U.S.A. was such a smash, was the simplest reason – pent up demand. Yes, it’s a kick ass album, but the guy had been away for four-fucking years. That was an eternity back then. Especially for guys my age, who were too young to see the Darkness tour, we just had to settle for the bootlegs. Some of us had sadly missed The River tour – thanks Brewster. We were dying for new music from the Boss… we were dying to actually see this myth, this legend in concert. Which, we all did on this tour, I might add.

The album itself is amazing. Although I will admit I’ve always had a problem with the sequencing. The title track, which starts the record, is one of the greatest things Bruce has ever recorded. Max Weinberg’s drumming is monumental. He keeps the whole thing together. That leads us into another single, the great “Cover Me.” The next two songs, however, “Darlington County” and “Working On The Highway” both tell the same story. Both are about a guy working construction who gets busted for messing with underage girls. Although “Working On the Highway” was a great rockabilly song vs “Darlington County”‘s anthemic approach. The first ballad, and the second best song on the album, “Down Bound Train” also ends with the protagonist in jail. The 80s were a dark time… But again, the next song, which concluded side one is another ballad, ‘I’m On Fire.” Spread it out Bruce….

Side two starts with two songs about Little Steven. The recording of Born In The U.S.A. was fraught with it’s own Shakespearean drama… Springsteen’s side kick, Little Steven who always advocated for the music was pitted against, Iago, er I mean Landau who was advocating for a big, commercial record. Eventually Little Steven split for a solo career. Springsteen obviously wrote “No Surrender” and the next track, “Bobby Jean” about his dearest friend, Little Steven, who had left the band. The rest of the side 2, is a little better sequenced, finally ending on the beautiful ballad “My Hometown.”

Born In The U.S.A ended up being the titanic album that Landau and, it would appear, Springsteen wanted. The enormous fame and attention dwarfed anything Springsteen had experienced before… one might argue the success changed the trajectory of his career… but for this working stiff, on a hot June Monday, it was a game changer, so much so, I know where I was that day. It really is one of the greatest albums of all time.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums

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Crosby, Stills & Nash coming together in 1968 were arguably one of the first “super groups” ever formed. David Crosby had recently been fired from the Byrds by Roger McGuinn for submitting the song “Triad” about a threesome…scandalous! The song was later recorded and released by the Jefferson Airplane…scandalous! These days every other song is about a threesome, and why not, it’s like “discovering plutonium.” Stephen Stills had just recently emerged from the second and this time final break up of the Buffalo Springfield. They were at a party at the house of Mama Cass (aka Cass Elliott) of the Mamas and the Papas, of all people, when they started singing together. Graham Nash, late of the English band, the Hollies, happened to be at the party and when he joined in, they realized they were onto something. Their debut eponymously titled album was a smash hit. The harmonies and topical lyrics made them one of the world’s top and most important bands. These guys’ second concert was Woodstock. Pretty amazing start.

By the time that Woodstock concert came around, mercurial genius Neil Young had joined the band at the suggestion of Atlantic Records’ head Ahmet Ertegun. He liked the chemistry that Stills and Young had together. As an aside, one of my wife’s friends moved in with us, a lovely young lady who used to babysit our daughter. She was like another daughter to my wife and I and she’d had a bad roommate experience. I was having a bad roommate experience myself at the time… my stepdaughter despised me. I was considered the Evil Stepdad (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I remember saying to Penny, the young lady in question, “This is going to be good, it’ll change the chemistry of the household like when Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills, Nash… they were just a different band.” She stared at me questioningly and I could tell she was wondering…who are you talking about… it’s hard to be confined to rock and roll metaphors in real life… but I digress. Anyway, Ertegun thought Neil Young’s joining, after CSN had had their smash hit debut album, would supercharge the results of the band. He thought the guitar pyrotechnics of Young and Stills would bring a harder rocking result… Neil Young showed up with the mellowest song of all time, “Helpless.” Oh well, Ahmet, you tried.

After that the CSNY combination of the band tended to overshadow the CSN era of the band. The chemistry was indeed changed. Unfortunately the magic that had made the combination one of the biggest acts of the late 60s and early 70s began to fray pretty quickly. By ’71 each member had a solo record out. Neil was already a solo act when he joined and he made no secret he was going to continue that career. It was really after CSNY’s album Deja Vu that Young’s career really took off. He recorded two smash solo albums, After The Gold Rush and of course, Harvest both of which featured cameos from Crosby and Nash to sing harmonies. Suddenly Neil was a superstar, which is great, but it sort of overshadowed the other guys.

I thought it important to look back at Crosby, Stills and Nash as solo artists and the work they did without Neil Young. I’ve written enough about Neil, it occurred to me to look at his erstwhile band mates. Crosby, Stills and Nash carried that same mix of topical songs and personal songs into their solo work and they made some pretty great music that may  be overlooked. Not only did they record as solo artists, there were “subsets” of the quartet that got together as duo acts and the results in those cases were also pretty amazing. Together or separately these guys sort of dominated the years 1971 to 1975. And while this post isn’t about Neil Young, he’ll certainly make a few cameos. Here are my thoughts on the essential solo and duo albums.

Stephen Stills

Stills is an interesting case. I think he’s a super talented singer and guitarist but he’s never seemed to have the respect of his once and future friend Neil Young. Critics have always seemed to despise him. I once read Keith Richards kicked him out of his hotel suite in Denver because Stills wouldn’t share his coke. Lesson learned, don’t bogart your drugs when Keef is around. I can’t help but think that Stills, despite being very talented, might be an asshole. I don’t know why I have that impression but I do. He was pals with Jimi Hendrix and for whatever reason he feels compelled to put in his liner notes every now and then, “Guitar solo inspired by James Marshall Hendrix.” Yeah, we know, you were friends with Jimi, just call him Jimi. All that said, Stills has done some amazing work…

  1. Super Sessions, (Al Kooper, Michael Bloomfield, Stephen Stills) – It’s easy to forget about Stills’ contribution to this classic record. Contrary to the title, Bloomfield and Stills never played together. Each one appears on a different side with Kooper being the consistent player on both sides. Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper had played together on some of Dylan’s early electric works (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited) and in 1968, Kooper booked some studio time for he and Bloomfield to jam. They spend the first day jamming on what would become side one of the album. Bloomfield’s blues played with a jazz approach was so monumental it was years before I turned the record over. I had always read that on the second day, Kooper found a note from Bloomfield that read, “I could’t sleep, I’m going home,” and with that Mike was gone. With a day of studio time remaining, Kooper called Stills, fresh from the Buffalo Springfield’s split who came in and helped record side 2 of the record. Stills’ guitar on side 2 is so different from Bloomfield’s side as to be somewhat jarring. But that doesn’t mean it was bad – Stills guitar on “Season of the Witch” and Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry” are pretty epic as well. This is just one of the great blues/rock albums of all time.
  2. Stephen Stills – Stills’ first proper solo album is probably his greatest solo achievement. Stills played so many instruments on the Crosby, Stills, Nash debut album Nash nicknamed him “Captain Many Hands.” He certainly lives up to that here. He plays almost every instrument. Well, except lead electric guitar – he farmed that out to no less than Eric Clapton on the bluesy jam “Go Back Home” and James Marshall, er I mean Jimi Hendrix on “Old Times Good Times.” It was the last music Jimi recorded before his death. Those two tracks are worth the price of admission but you’ll also find Stills’ biggest solo track, “Love The One Your With” here. The album is jammy and in some cases I almost get a gospel vibe, like “Church (Part of Someone)” or “Do Unto Others.” On the acoustic blues song “Black Queen” about a car, Stills plucks the strings so hard the notes feel like they could cut you.
  3. Manassas (Manassas) – Manassas was actually Stills’ second “supergroup.” Formed with former Byrd Chris Hillman (vocals/guitar), Al Perkins (pedal steel), Paul Harris (keyboards), Dallas Taylor (drums), Fuzzy Samuels (bass), and Joe Lala (percussion) it was a short lived but productive affair. The debut eponymous LP is a sprawling masterpiece. It’s really Stills’ White Album. Stills wrote a majority of the songs. These guys do everything – folk, country, rock and roll, latin, blues. The four sides of the original vinyl double album were said to be organized stylistically. “Song of Love” is just a great rock song that starts the set off. By the time you’ve gotten to “Blues Man” you’ve just traversed a travelogue of American music with a dash of Latin music to boot. The hit song “Johnny’s Garden” is here as well. This is a must have.

Graham Nash

Graham Nash, to me has always been better as part of an ensemble. His beautiful voice was made for harmony and backing vocals. I always considered his songs in CSN or CSNY to be a bit saccharine. “Our House” and “Teach Your Children” are probably his best known song within the group. That said, I love his 1971 debut album…

  1. Songs For Beginners – Nash had just ended his longterm relationship with Joni Mitchell, who had inspired “Our House.” I don’t know if it’s the break up but Nash just sounds tougher on this album. While this is his break up record, it’s not sad, the tone is defiant and hopeful. He’s also topical, on songs like “Military Madness,” (still sadly relevant today) and “Chicago/We Can Change The World” (his reflections on the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago). While Nash could be characterized as my least favorite of the CSN family, this may be my favorite album on this list.

David Crosby

Crosby is, for me, the original hippy. This guy’s music is spacey and philosophical all at the same time. He’s always concerned with big questions. He also seems like that friend we all have – always the most fucked up guy at the party. Actually he might by the guy who was so fucked up he missed the party. Although you have to admit his subsequent recovery and career come back are nothing short of inspiring. And you simply can’t argue with that voice, he’s a beautiful singer. He also plays a nice guitar and he’s fabulous on Twitter.

  1. If I Could Only Remember My Name – Uh, it’s David or Dave or Mr. Crosby if you’re into that formal thing… Don’t let the weird title scare you away here. This is a great, albeit ramshackle record. There are a number of songs with wordless singing, merely Crosby’s voice as an additional instrument. Even songs that seem like sketches like, “Music Is Love” work here. The emotional center of this record is the epic “Cowboy Movie” that features Jerry Garcia and Neil Young on guitar.
  2. Sky Trails – This is the only record you’ll find here from this millennium. Actually it was recorded last year and it’s the type of record B&V was founded for. I reviewed this record, LP Review: David Crosby, The Beautiful ‘Sky Trails’ so I won’t go into too much detail here. Crosby has been on a late career renaissance and this record and the prior Lighthouse are both worth checking out. His old hippy, protest spirit is alive and well.

Crosby, Nash

In the early 70s, unable to convene the entire foursome of CSNY, Crosby and Nash who were arguably the closest friends in the band decided to unite and record a duo album. These guy’s chemistry is amazing. Crosby makes Nash tougher and Nash makes Crosby more focused. They work together as well as Lennon and McCartney. They went on to record a couple of albums that everyone should own.

  1. David Crosby Graham Nash – This album probably competes with Nash’s Songs For Beginners as my favorite on the list. “Southbound Train” is a rocking song that opens the set and I can’t figure out why it wasn’t a hit. I actually lean toward the Nash songs here but Crosby’s “Whole Cloth” is a stand out track.
  2. Wind On The Water – Recorded after the financially disastrous CSNY 1974 tour, these guys proved the winning formula was still in place. There is so much to like here. “Carry Me” the opening track penned by Crosby was the first single and it’s a great track, one of Crosby’s best. “Mama Lion” was Nash writing about Joni Mitchell who it appears remains his muse. “Take the Money And Run” is a swipe at all the promoters, drug dealers and manager types who profited greatly from the ’74 tour while the band took home a minor share.

The Stills-Young Band

As I mentioned when I started this post, I want to focus on the Crosby-Stills-Nash part of CSNY but Young was going to make a few cameos. Since Crosby and Nash had been so successful, the other half of the band, with the two former Buffalo Springfield members decided to give it a go…

  1. Long May You Run – Like Ahmet Ertegun once thought, I always assumed with Young and Stills in a band together it’d really rock. There’d be guitar duals and endless solos. That is not the case here. Critics didn’t really love this record, but I do. However, I’ll be the first to admit, these guys mellow each other out. Although in their defense, this laid back, Buffet-esque album was recorded in Miami. How could drinking rum, smoking pot and sitting in the sun not mellow you out. I’d be willing to bet they recorded the slightly more upbeat side 2 songs first, and then slid into a Miami mellow vibe that is side 1. I should have included this on my Summer Albums list (Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)). The title track is the only classic here but there’s a lot like, Young’s “Midnight On The Bay” and “Let It Shine” are nice mellow songs. Stills’ “12/8 Blues (All The Same)” and “Guardian Angel” about scuba diving are good if not great tracks. Put this on by the pool and tell me it’s not a strong record… you might pour some rum too, that always helps.

Sample as many of these as you can. I think you’ll find a lot of treasure buried in these hills, as the saying goes. Enjoy and as always, Cheers!

Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Tulsa, OK May 29th, 2018. Even Better the 2nd Time!

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*Picture of Dave Gahan’s silhouette taken by your intrepid blogger

What a difference good seats make at a concert. Nine months ago the Rock Chick and I jumped in the car and drove to see the amazing Depeche Mode, live in concert (Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!). Unfortunately for us, we stood behind two men whose nicknames should be The Redwood Forest People. Those bastards were tall. The Rock Chick is only 5’5″ and even though I too am tall, these monsters made it difficult for even me to see the show. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that concert, but sitting on the floor can be dicey. Last night’s Depeche show in Tulsa, where our seats were lower level (first row, no one in front us!) stage left, where the walkway out into the crowd was, was such a better experience. Lesson learned… I’m past the need to be on the floor.

I saw that Depeche Mode was coming back for a second U.S. leg of their acclaimed tour in support of their latest album, Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic) and I sprung into action. We had a choice to make. We could fly up to Chicago for this upcoming Friday’s show or… less traditionally, drive to Tulsa for last night’s show. Going into Oklahoma to see Depeche felt like I was parachuting behind enemy lines to go to a rave at a gay club. Even the speed limit signs glare at you with their clear message: “No Tolerance.” My entire drive was spotted with churches on one side of the road and casinos on the other… one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake, Oklahoma! I’d never actually been to Tulsa, and navigating it’s downtown 1-way streets almost drove me to a nervous breakdown. I will say, the BOK Center, where the concert was is an amazing facility.

Seeing these guys a second time on this tour, from the aforementioned better vantage point, allowed me to step back a bit and take in some of the finer details of the show. I was literally so blown away by the aural and visual spectacle in Denver, and yes the fan boy thrill of seeing these guys for the first time, I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to absorb it all. Last night confirmed to me how great this band is. The opening sequence, pictured above, where Gahan enters the stage above the rest of the band (Martin Gore on guitars/keyboards, the unflappable Andrew Fletcher on keyboards with Christian Eigner on drums and Peter Gordino on keyboards and bass) backlit by a multicolored Pollack-esque painting was visually stunning. The opening track, like last time, was “Going Backwards” from Spirit. It’s a politically charged song, but the thing I didn’t notice in Denver, as the song goes on, the colors from behind Gahan slowly disappeared until the screen was black with 1 white dot in the center… It was a strong visual accompaniment to the song.

By the time Gahan reached the front of the stage he was in full force. Part preying mantis, part Karate kid, part whirling Dervish, part cheerleader (the man shot off a t-shirt cannon at one point), part ass-shaker, he is the consummate front man. And what a voice. He and Martin Gore harmonize so well together. And speaking of Martin Gore, the man takes a minimalist (for the most part) approach to the guitar but coaxes exotic notes out of that thing. Fletcher is all over his multi-keyboard set up. And while we’re at it, Christian Eigner is a great drummer. That guy worked his ass off. And Peter Gordino, on the few songs he came out from behind the keyboards to play bass, treated that instrument like a lead instrument. The band was, as you would expect, 9 months and several legs into a tour, so much tighter this time around. They’re really hitting their stride. And the chemistry on that stage was fabulous –  it’s so nice to see a band who actually, and this may be cheesy, like each other. They’d smile at one another in passing, Gahan stuck his tongue out at Fletcher who laughed and returned the gesture. Almost a year in and these guys are having a blast. Gahan would always come out and ask the crowd to show their appreciation after Gore had taken his turn on lead vocals. Truly a gracious band.

But smiles and fun were not the only part of what was happening. Depeche Mode played a fierce 2 hour selection of songs, and while they don’t seem political in nature, ended up sounding like a decree. “Barrel of A Gun” near the beginning of the show was strong and strident. They followed that with “A Pain That I’m Used To” and the tone was set. I was thrilled that one of my absolute favorites, “Precious” from Playing The Angel made the set list, a definite personal highlight. That was followed by a great reading of “World In My Eyes.” It was during the Spirit cut, “Cover Me” that the Rock Chick turned to me and said out loud what I was already thinking, “This crowd seems a little dead.”

And while the two men beside me were having the time of their lives – those cats made the show for me – they danced to every song, sweating like they were on a summer jog, they knew every word and sang loudly – that energy seemed sadly confined to my row. The soccer moms behind me sat the whole time. Despite a somewhat less than involved crowd, or perhaps because of it, it felt like Depeche Mode took it up a notch. I think the true pros are like that… if an audience doesn’t respond, they work harder to make them do so. Gahan in particular seemed possessed. Denver was a sell-out and a very appreciative audience. It seems like last night Depeche played a little harder. I’m probably reading into it, it’s more likely that since they’ve been out playing for so many months, they’re rocking it up more.

By the end of the main set, Depeche was killing it. “Where’s the Revolution,” which not surprisingly didn’t get the response that I’d thought it would, despite Gahan’s crouching down with his fist in the air… I guess no revolution is forthcoming in Oklahoma. That great song was followed by the one pop moment of “Everything Counts,” which did ignite the crowd. Then they hit the crowd with an almost metal sounding rendition of “Stripped.” The band put their all into that one. “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” were both fantastic jams, with Gahan racing down the catwalk in front of me, exhorting the crowd to get up and clap those hands.

As like last time, the encore started with a beautiful Gore ballad, this time “I Want You Now.” At this point, Gahan returned to the stage and they launched into “Walking In My Shoes.” I hate to say this, but I think they lost the Tulsa crowd at this point. Many of the songs had visual accompaniment behind the band… in some cases, videos of the band played. On the video screen for “Walking In My Shoes,” we followed a young boy with long hair, who gets out of bed as he gets ready for his day. It becomes clear that this is not a boy but a transgender woman. She puts on make up and high heels. It was a poignant video accompaniment to the song. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at the shocked faces in BOK Arena. Maybe it opened some minds… hard to tell. After that the band rocked “A Question of Time” and ended with a flourishing jam of “Personal Jesus.” The last portion of the show saw some of the most aggressive guitar playing I’ve seen Gore do… he was rocking out.

I staggered from the arena even more impressed than the first time I’d seen them in Denver. The Rock Chick leaned over to the gentlemen beside us and said, “First time seeing Depeche?” The guy said, “I can’t believe I’m 40 and am just now seeing them…” Indeed, my friend, indeed. Everybody should see this band. They’re doing some of their absolute best, most important work.

Back at the hotel, the bar was schizophrenic. There was one corner where a dark cloud seems to have floated in… I heard angry remarks and arguing. One guy at the bar was bitching about U2’s recent show there… and their politics. There were a few folks with shaved heads, leather and black concert t’s on and they were clearly elated. I wanted to tell some of the people in that bar they needed to lighten up. Rock and Roll is a big tent, baby, and everybody is welcome.

 

 

Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)

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*Image taken from the internet and is likely copyrighted

As the Cars once famously sang, “Summer, summer, summer, it turns me upside down…” I think we all love summer. Although sadly the days of three months off for summer break are long gone. Even so, summer still evokes in me those lazy, school-less days, lounging by the city pool, watching the beautiful blonde lifeguard slowly get skin cancer… I wonder whatever happened to her… sigh. I must admit this year seemed to go straight from winter to summer without that beautiful pause we used to call “spring.” And now, almost suddenly it seems, Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer is upon us. Pools all over the city are opening. Women are trying on bathing suits and tentatively asking husbands and boyfriends “does this look ok?” The answer is yes, ladies, always yes. My wife continues to attempt to get me to wear sandals… not happening… a man’s feet should never be seen in public.

Summer seems to find me outside a lot more than any other time of year. Lounging on the patio with a cool, refreshing cocktail, perhaps a citron vodka with lemonade and a nice book relaxing in the shade is where you can usually find me. The only thing missing from that lovely picture is of course, rock and roll. I must have a little music on whilst roasting in the sun. As long time readers of B&V know, I compiled a Summer/Sun playlist that I love listening to at the pool (BourbonAndVinyl Eclectic Summer/Sun/Beach Playlist). That playlist is typically the soundtrack of my summer.

However, I have noticed a bit of a trend lately… There are certain albums, that I seem to continuously return to during the warm moths. There is something about these albums that evokes the season for me. None of these albums are summer themed really, but there’s something in the music that draws me to it in the hotter months. I’m not, and I know this is blasphemy, a Jimmy Buffet fan. I’ve never been a parrot-head. Dig as deep as you want into my music collection but you won’t find any of that music here. I simply fucking despise the Beach Boys. I’m stunned those talentless hacks get mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles. The Monkees were more talented than the fucking Beach Boys… Sorry, I didn’t mean to get off on a negative rant…

Anyway, when in need of summer music and my playlist is feeling tired, these are the albums I consider my go-to for summer sunning. Enjoy!

  1. The Dirty Heads, Cabin By The Sea – This is an album the Rock Chick turned me on to. The title track is a perennial favorite here at the B&V labs… Of course I realize this is real stoner music too. I’m more of a gin and tonic man myself…
  2. Bob Marley, Legend – Perhaps the best “greatest hits” package ever released? This was a favorite of mine even before I discovered it soothed the savage beast that was my stepdaughter in the early days… (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I think Bob Marley and reggae are appropriate at all times, but especially any season where rum is a mainstay.
  3. 311, Uplifter – “Daisy Cutter,” “Never Ending Summer,” and “Golden Sunlight” all set the stage for a perfect summer record. “India Ink” is also a big favorite.
  4. Robert Plant, Fate of Nations – I know this is a stylistic left turn but hear me out… There is something about this album that evokes the desert in my mind. Plant’s vocals evoke a restlessness that comes over me every summer. Call it a desire for adventure. This is that siren song for adventure that calls to me every summer. “Calling to You” and “Down to The Sea” set the summer stage for me…
  5. Van Halen, Diver Down – Is there a more “summer” band than Van Halen. David Lee Roth out front with the band doing covers of “Dancing In The Streets,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and of course “Pretty Woman.” Eddie’s timeless guitar soloing on “Secrets” or “Intruder.” This is a pool party that I wish would keep going.
  6. Allah-Las, Allah-Las – It was on Cinco De Mayo which happened to coincide with Kentucky Derby Day this year when the Rock Chick and I, sitting at a patio table outside of a Mexican restaurant, discovered this gem of an album. You’ve probably never heard of these guys, but this is the best album you’ve never heard. “Catamaran” just starts the party. This album could appropriate be described as groovy… and I mean that in the best of ways. Check this one out!
  7. Boston, Don’t Look Back – Again, you’re probably thinking, summer? Boston? I spent one summer in Boston and this album takes me back there. Besides, “Party” and the title track (which is great advice by the way, don’t look back, people) are great summer pool party anthems.

As usual, I’ve probably missed a favorite or two. If you have any favorite summer albums, let me know in the comments section. Have a great summer everybody and please remember, always use sunscreen. Let’s not end up like that poor blonde lifeguard from my childhood…

Cheers!

LP Review: Pete Townshend’s ‘Who Came First (Deluxe Edition)

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“They call me the seeker, I’ve been searchin’ low and high, I won’t get to get what I’m after, til the day I die…” – “The Seeker” by the Who, written by Pete Townshend

A momentous event happened in the United Kingdom last Saturday, May 19th. The event wasn’t really contained to the UK, it was something the entire world celebrated. Lead guitarist, 2nd vocalist, and main composer of the Who, Pete Townshend had his 73rd birthday this last Saturday. Oh, yeah, and some other young “Royal” couple got married over in the UK too… I forget their names. I thought I would celebrate by focusing a little attention on his first solo album, Who Came First which was recently released in a “Deluxe Edition,” with some additional music. It seems Pete’s first solo album is a lot like the Who’s album Odds and Sods, which seems to get longer and longer with each release. When I first bought Odds and Sods it was because I loved the songs “Long Live Rock” and “Naked Eye,” (and I bought it on vinyl), and it was only 11 songs long. I recently repurchased it in a digital format and it has 23 songs now.

When a member of an established act, especially an act the magnitude of the Who, releases a solo album it can be fraught with all sorts of expectations and drama. It really shouldn’t be surrounded with all that bullshit, typically an artist just wants to change it up a bit. Working with the same musicians can probably get boring. The usual fear when someone releases a solo album is, will the group he’s in break up? Often it can definitely be a sign a band is breaking up. When Sting released his first solo album it spelled the end for all of us hoping the Police would get back together. Typically you don’t even see a solo album from somebody until well after their main group has broken up. The Beatles all found different sorts of drama facing each of their early solo releases. They all reacted in different ways – Paul went literally solo and recorded a quiet little record at home all by himself while George Harrison put out an epic three album long mini-box set. Even more evidence those guys were all headed in different directions.

Somehow, it seems, in 1972 Pete Townshend didn’t face any of that drama. The Who were coming off their greatest commercial success, 1971’s Who’s Next, and nobody seems to have freaked out about Pete doing a solo album. In fact, if I’d been asked as late as college, what Pete Townshend’s first solo album was, I’d have answered with the complete conviction of a religious convert that it was 1980’s superb Empty Glass. I bought that album on cassette so I could listen to it in my car. It remains to this day one of my favorite albums. “Rough Boys,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” (which was a song about God), and “Gonna Get Ya” were all given heavy rotation on local radio. Each of those songs are amongst Townshend’s best. It wasn’t until college that I discovered, probably at the used record store, that there’d been this earlier record.

As evidenced by one of the Who’s earliest songs, quoted above, “The Seeker,” Pete Townshend was a spiritual searcher of sorts. He eventually discovered Meher Baba, a guru from India. The 60s were an interesting time. Everybody was looking for a spiritual leader. LSD and other hallucinative drugs were opening everybody’s mind. Even the Beatles famously traveled to India to spend time with the Maharishi… although it seems that stuff only stuck with George. Meher Baba, ironically was the first spiritual teacher in the 60s who thought psychedelic drugs were bad. Townshend was a big convert… You might recognize Baba’s last name as it’s part of the title of one of the Who’s biggest songs, “Baba O’Riley” named for Meher and Tim Riley, a minimalist conductor Townshend admired… and to think for years we all thought that song was named “Teenage Wasteland.” Another early convert was Ronnie Lane, bass player for my beloved Faces and he and Townshend became very good friends.

In honor of Meher, Townshend had recorded a few small, barely released albums as gifts to Baba. Neither was circulated widely, but they were being bootlegged. The record company finally came to Townshend and asked if he would put them together for official release. These recordings, which were never meant to be for widespread consumption are homespun affairs. They’re mostly acoustic, although most are fully realized songs, these aren’t demos. Years later, Townshend acolyte Eddie Vedder would site Who Came First as his template for his first solo album, the soundtrack for Into the Wild. I had never really heard much of this album except songs that were later released on greatest hits packages. One of my favorites was “Sheraton Gibson” a song about being a musician on the road… in Cleveland no less. I’d also heard Townshend’s early version of “Lets See Action,” but I do like the Who’s fully realized version more. I’d also heard the superb “Parvardigar” which was just a beautiful song.

When I saw that there was this new deluxe version of Who Came First I finally, belatedly, sat down with this record. As I said, it’s a quiet little acoustic album, but what I really liked is that it’s a spiritual statement. Well, it’s certainly Pete’s spiritual statement. If we’re going to celebrate Dylan’s “Christian Period” (Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)) why not celebrate Townshend’s Baba period. The original album is full of songs about contentment (which is a lovely statement of purpose here), “Content” and spiritual joy, “Parvardigar.” “Time Is Passing” is probably my favorite song here. It’s a brilliant track. “Pure And Easy” which the Who finally got around to doing, is here in an early form, but the Who tracks aren’t the best ones. The only weird tune is a country cover, “There’s a Heartache Following Me” recorded because it was a favorite of Baba’s. Ronnie Lane even shows up and redoes “Stone” from the Faces’ first album as “Evolution.”

The deluxe edition brings some early and alternative versions of songs from the original, but it also has other, what I would deem critical tracks. “His Hands” and “Meher In Italy” are both beautiful acoustic instrumentals. There’s an acoustic version of the Who’s “The Seeker” that rivals the original. “Day of Silence” is driven by a cool harmonica. “I Always Say” is a nice bluesy change of pace. “Begin the Beguine” has a loungey vibe.  I really liked “The Love Man” and “There’s a Fortune In Those Hills.” There’s an early version of “Baba O’Riley” as an instrumental that clocks in at almost 10 minutes. I think it’s getting the most attention, but it’s a nice to have song, if you’re a completist, but it’s certainly not essential. Townshend even does his old friend Lane a solid and adds a live version of him doing Lane’s “Evolution” at a tribute show for Ronnie Lane.

While this album is probably only for completist and Who or Pete Townshend nuts like me, I was really taken with this album. The deluxe material is definitely worth investigating even if you’re one of the few who have the original. I just wish Townshend felt this moved today and put out something new.

Cheers!