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

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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.

 

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The BourbonAndVinyl List of Rock’s Best “Side Projects”

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In the early days of rock and roll, listeners weren’t very sophisticated. As a musician it was easy to get pigeon-holed… you were either in a band or you were a solo artist. You were either Bob Dylan, all alone or The Beatles, four lads from Liverpool. If an artist in a band put out a solo album the general consensus was that the band was breaking up. You were either on the bus or the bus was coming after you…

The first artist I can remember who defied that paradigm was Rod Stewart. After he left the Jeff Beck Group to go solo, quickly followed by Ronnie Wood, he didn’t stay solo very long. He joined The Faces with Ronnie. But then he did something audacious that no one had never done before… he continued his solo career. He’d release a solo album and then a Faces album every year. Back and forth, back and forth. Fans, in the early 70s were clearly confused. Some concert venues went so far as to bill the Faces as “Rod Stewart and The Faces,” like the Faces were Stewart’s version of Wings… his back up band. That probably got a little awkward in the dressing room. There were always accusations from the band that Rod was keeping his best material for his solo albums. I think  we all know where that led. And likely, dividing his time between projects diluted the finished product on one end…

These days doing solo stuff outside the setting of your established band is pretty much expected. It’s not the death knell of a band when the lead singer or the guitar player branch out and do something solo. Well, unless we’re talking about Aerosmith and Steven Tyler who suddenly turns into the village idiot and decides to promote “his own brand” vs the band, but again that ain’t normal. All of this is well and good with me, artists should express themselves as they wish. But it occurred to me the other day, there is a third category outside of band projects and solo projects… the infamous “side project.” Many times, instead of going full-on solo, a band member will do a one-off project with other musicians. Maybe it’s the artist’s attempt to stick his toe into the solo realm. Or maybe it’s just a musical vacation away from the usual mates in the band to work with some other friends or just some new, different musicians to test the creative boundaries. Think of it as a vacation only with instruments. I’m not talking about a guest shot on someone else’s album, I’m talking about a full on diversion from one’s career to do something else. I don’t think anybody has really celebrated the best of these, so after some bourbon and a lot of thought.. here are the best Rock N Roll Side Projects…

  1. The Traveling Wilbury’s – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty all between albums convene at Lynne’s house and end up striking pay dirt with Vol. 1. After Orbison’s death they actually did a second album, but the second side project record is usually not as good as the first one.
  2. The Notting Hillbillies – Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits gets together with some old mates and does the underrated, mellow strummer, “Missing…and Presumed Having a Good Time.” “Your Own Sweet Way” was the stand out, but don’t under-estimate the charm of the other guys in the band’s turns on lead vocal.
  3. Mad Season, ‘Above’ – Mike McCready, the guitarist from Pearl Jam, says he got together with Layne Staley (among others) to show Layne that you could create music while sober. This record is murky but “River of Deceit” is one of Staley’s greatest vocals.
  4. Chickenfoot – Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, & Chad Smith got together for not just one LP, but 2, much like the Traveling Wilbury’s. I actually thought both of these records were great, but the second record, named Vol 3, just never caught on…
  5. Power Station – Robert Palmer took a break from his solo career to get together with a couple members of Duran Duran and the incredible Tony Thompson on drums as a lark to record the old T Rex song, “Bang A Gong.” Things got rolling in the studio and they knocked out an entire LP. I love, love “Some Like It Hot,” with the immortal line, “She wants to multiply, are you gonna do it?” Unfortunately this led the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon, to do the misguided Arcadia project… Oh, well. Palmer refused to tour behind the smash hit and went back to his solo career. That’s why it’s called a side-project, people.
  6. The Hindu Love Gods – Warren Zevon backed by REM. REM had been tapped as Warren’s backing band on the superb ‘Sentimental Hygiene.’ I’m not sure why but the band (sans Michael Stipe) went back into the studio with Zevon and punched out this LP of covers as diverse as Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and of all things, “Raspberry Beret” by Prince. They sure sound like they’re having a great time. It’s relaxed and awesome. Highly recommend this LP.
  7. Tin Machine – David Bowie decides to chuck the solo career for the anonymity of a band project. They actually did two albums, but the first one is the gem. “Under the God” is a great song, but check out their electrified cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Pretty amazing stuff.
  8. Stills/Young Band, ‘Long May You Run’ – Originally an attempted CSNY reunion, early in the sessions Crosby and Nash exited. Since the CN part of the equation had done well with their collaboration LPs, it only seemed natural that the SY part would follow suit. Critics decried this album for a lack of songwriting, but my college roomie Drew turned me onto this superb LP and I love it. The title track is great but so is Stills’ ode to scuba diving “Black Coral.” Recorded in Miami, this is like a much, much cooler Buffet album. Young split early in the tour for this album to get back to solo records… too bad. I love these two collaborating.
  9. The Little Willies – Norah Jones doing country covers and originals with a bunch of New York buddies of hers. They’ve done two full LPs, and contrary to the rule, they both kick ass. But as usual, I have to say, Norah could sing the phone book and I’d listen in… But be aware, the other guy sing selected tracks too. I have to admit I love the humorous song “Lou Reed.”
  10. The Foxboro Hottubs – Green Day in disguise. On this superb LP, they’re doing punky, surf-rock tunes while taking a break from doing rock operas. This is a great gem of a record.
  11. Temple of the Dog – Chris Cornell of Soundgarden uniting with most of Pearl Jam for a tribute LP for the former lead singer of Mother Lovebone, Andrew Wood. I love this record. These guys actually just reunited for a short series of concerts on the coasts. I’m hoping for a live LP document of those shows.
  12. Mudcrutch – Tom Petty and several Heartbreakers reunite with other original members of Mudcrutch as Petty explores his first pre-Heartbreakers band. They’ve done two full LPs, and again, unlike the normal rule, both kick ass. Petty is more laid back and jammy with Mudcrutch. These are must have LPs for any fans of Petty’s.
  13. The Raconteurs – Jack White’s first side project outside of The White Stripes, followed shortly by the Dead Weather project. I prefer the Raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what Jack White does, it’s typically brilliant. I actually like the second LP they did better than the first. Check out the epic “Carolina Drama.”
  14. The Firemen – Paul McCartney’s fabulous side project with electronica producer Youth. They’d done a full-electronica album prior to “Electric Arguments” but “Arguments” is the record to buy. Youth told McCartney, “I want chords and vocals this time” and McCartney delivered. Paul always seems to come alive when alleviated from the pressure of the McCartney name… This album brings out the best of McCartney’s experimental side. Weird, quirky – yes. Excellent, yes.
  15. The New Barbarians – Ronnie Wood needed a backing band after his wonderful solo LP, “I’ve Got My Own Album To Do,” and Keith Richards volunteered to go out on the road with him. I think they actually did two tours, but I’m not positive. There’s a limit to even my knowledge… They never actually released anything, but how much fun would this have been to see? Lots of white powder consumed on this tour… I think they finally did a live LP years later…

This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but these are some of the greatest “side-projects” done by some of the greatest musicians of all time. You’ve got a couple of Beatles and a couple of Stones on the list, so it can’t be half bad! Do a little spelunking and chances are if you like a band their members have done something creative on the side! Look outside the box and you may just be rewarded!

Cheers!

 

 

 

Playlist: The B&V 20 Best Bowie Deep Tracks – You Won’t Hear These on the Radio

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Ah, January. With the turn of the calendar and a shiny new year and the prospects there of, everything seems so hopeful. However, for me January has been permanently altered by the loss of David Bowie. Now for me, early January isn’t for making lists of New Year’s Resolutions, although I am on a Bourbon fast this month (and yes, it’s awful). Early January has morphed into celebrating Bowie’s birthday and sadly, the anniversary of his passing a year ago. This has caused me to veer off my usual attitude of looking forward as the year begins to looking backward at the career of one of the greatest rock and roll legends of all time. Of course there have been a number of loving remembrances and tributes to Bowie this season which have also fueled my Bowie bender.

So instead of joining a gym, as many do in January, I sit around listening to the Berlin Trilogy trying to make sense of ‘Lodger.’ Why critics describe that LP as “more accessible” than the other two LPs, ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ is a mystery I can’t seem to solve. Another thing that has contributed to my January Bowie obsession (which, to be honest is really a year round thing) is that Bowie released some (relatively) new music this year again on his birthday. The EP ‘No Plan’ was reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V and it contains the last three songs he recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions. The music is superb and certainly worth a purchase and listen.

If you flip on your radio, ether terrestrial or satellite, you’re likely to hear the usual tracks from the Bowie canon, “Fame,” “Young Americans,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel.” For the more progressive minded you might hear some of the edgier works, “Heroes,” “Sound And Vision,” “DJ” or maybe “Ashes to Ashes.” Let’s not get into “Modern Love,” and “Let’s Dance.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I dig all of those songs as much as the next Bowie fanatic. But the man’s body of work is so much broader than the tunes that complete a 2-disc greatest hits compilation. It’s like with Springsteen,  they only play “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” on the radio. Stretch out radio guys, stretch out.

So as I’ve been listening to various Bowie albums this week, I couldn’t help but look up at the stereo periodically, as some deeper album track came on and mutter, “God damn that’s a great song… why don’t they play that on the radio?” As that continued to happen over the span of the last week or so, I began to scribble song names down on scraps of paper and deposit them on my desk. How I find anything on the surface of my desk is an organizational issue that plagues the Rock Chick and only makes sense to me. Trust me, I think I know where everything is on this desk… I think it was Einstein who said, “if a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, what does a clear desktop represent?”…but I digress.

I put 20 of these songs together on an iPod Playlist and I must admit, they cohere pretty nicely. Despite his diversity of sounds, styles and personas, at the heart of it is always Bowie’s fabulous voice and sense of melody. The man was a giant from beginning to end. And let’s not forget, the guy could rock. These tracks are album tracks, not singles (for the most part). These are songs you’re not likely to hear on the radio and perhaps may not even be familiar with. There will be, as with any list I put together, egregious omissions. It was difficult to narrow this just down to 20… I invite anyone with an opinion to add songs to the list in the Comments Section.

Without further adieu, here’s one man’s Bourbon deprived view of Bowie’s Best Deep Tracks.

  1. “Black Country Rock” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – The debut of guitarist Mick Ronson. I love this rocker. This LP may be Bowie’s hardest.
  2. “She Shook Me Cold” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – One of the hardest songs in Bowie’s catalog. Ronson’s guitar is Jeff Beck-esque.
  3. “Oh! You Pretty Things” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – Song starts off with just voice and piano but kicks in around the 1:21 point. Great vocal.
  4. “Kooks” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – There’s just something so catchy about this song. This is an old school, weird cabaret song. I just love the lyrics. Bowie revels in the joys of finding another eccentric.
  5. “Watch That Man” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – ‘Aladdin Sane’ is one of Bowie’s strangely overlooked, rocking classic LPs. The album art gets all the attention but the music within is great. This is the first track on the album and it grabs you by the throat…
  6. “Prettiest Star” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Great guitar work from Ronson, as usual. Piano, horns, great vocal from Bowie.
  7. “Lady Grinning Soul” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Hauntingly beautiful track.
  8. “Word On A Wing” from ‘Station To Station’ – I almost went with the epic, 10 minute title track from this album, but settled on this soulful ballad. I could have heard Sinatra do this tune and not be surprised.
  9. “Always Crashing In the Same Car” from ‘Low’ – Bowie lamenting how his career had, in his opinion, fizzled over spooky guitars and synths. Love the riff.
  10. “Joe The Lion” from “Heroes” – Bowie brings in Robert Fripp, his best guitar collaborator since Ronson. You could really pick any song from side one of “Heroes” (other than the title track) for inclusion here. Rocking guitar with an impassioned vocal.
  11. “Loving the Alien” from ‘Tonight’ – ‘Tonight’ was critically a much maligned record and after the smash hit of ‘Let’s Dance’ an utter commercial disappointment as well. But I think there are some great tracks on this record, especially this spacey album opener. Beautifully sung.
  12. “Neighborhood Threat” from ‘Tonight’ – Bowie goes back and recuts a tune he cowrote for Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” LP. I love both versions. albeit I’ll admit Bowie’s is a tad more compressed that Iggy’s. “Look at his eyes, did you see his crazy eyes?”
  13. “Thursday’s Child” from ‘Hours’ – ‘Hours’ is the LP where I reconnected with Bowie. This beautiful LP opener is a lush, gorgeous song.
  14. “Slow Burn” from ‘Heathen’ – While ‘Hours’ helped me reconnect with Bowie, ‘Heathen’ was where he completely returned to form. It’s a fantastic album. This rocker was actually the first single and should have been a huge hit.
  15. “Afraid” from ‘Heathen’ – Another rocker…”And I’m not afraid, any more.” Indeed!
  16. “Conversation Piece” released as a B-side and then later as bonus track on the rereleased ‘Heathen’ – This song was originally written in 1969 and Bowie re-recorded it in 2002 for the abandoned ‘Toy’ album, which I’m still hoping gets a release. I love the lyrics in this song and I was pretty much obsessed with it when it came out.
  17. “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” from ‘Reality’ – The follow up LP to ‘Heathen,’ ‘Reality’ was another great, overlooked record. This deep LP track has a great riff and a great weird Bowie lyric.
  18. “I’d Rather Be High” from ‘The Next Day’ – Well, wouldn’t anyone?
  19. “Dancing Out In Space” from ‘The Next Day’ – Another great song from Bowie’s surprise comeback, ‘The Next Day.’ Bowie always had his eyes turned upward to the stars… I like to think he’s out there dancing in space even as I type this…
  20. “No Plan” from the EP ‘No Plan’ – I love this soaring, epic ballad. Originally cut in the ‘Blackstar’ sessions.

I’m sure there are an infinite number of songs I’ve left out here. “Station To Station,” “Cat People,” just to name a couple. But I was going for deep LP cuts… Again, you really can’t go wrong with just about any Bowie LP you choose to put on. I still miss Bowie. The world is less interesting with him gone.

Pour something murky, since I can’t, and get lost in these tunes! Cheers!

 

Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs

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 For the second time in as many years, David Bowie has surprised us with the release of new music on his birthday. Last year on January 8th, he released the outstanding “Blackstar,” reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V. Sadly, only one day later, the universe grew a bit smaller and darker when the Thin White Duke passed away which was perhaps an even bigger surprise than the new music. I truly can’t believe it’s been a year since we lost David Bowie. 2016 was such an awful year in so many ways.

This year, Bowie has released an EP with four tracks recorded in the same sessions that produced “Blackstar.” I call this new music, however I must admit these songs have been available on iTunes and on CD if you were willing to shell out the money for the original cast recording of Bowie’s play, “Lazarus.” I liked the show “Dexter” as much as anybody, but I’m not paying to hear Michael C. Hall sing Bowie tracks. And to be honest, the first track on this EP, “No Plan” is the same “Lazarus” that appeared on “Blackstar.” “Lazarus,” along with the title track was one of the highlights of “Blackstar” but clearly it too was available.

The song “No Plan,” from which the EP takes it’s name, is a simply gorgeous, lush ballad. Bowie’s singing is elegant, epic and ethereal all at the same time. If you liked the sonic palette that Bowie used on “Blackstar,” you will like these songs. “No Plan” (the song) is highlighted by a beautiful saxophone solo at the end by Donny McCaslin. This is the highlight track for me.

“Killing a Little Time” is driven by aggressive drums and a more snarling vocal from Bowie. I love the way he sings “fuck you over…” Sonically it reminds me of “Sue (In a Season Of Crime)” or “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.” It has similar percussive elements. I also like the tortured guitar on this song. This, to me, is the sound of Bowie raging against the dying of the light. “This rage in me, get away from me…” With the exception of Leonard Cohen, never has an artist written so intense of a good bye note. The song ends with the guitar crashing into a piano run… wow, what a great song.

Finally, the EP ends with “When I Met You.” It’s hard not to read this as a song directed to Bowie’s lovely wife, Iman. It’s a mid tempo affair with a lightly chugging guitar riff. “You opened my eyes, for I could not see, when I met you.” I wish I could write something as beautiful for the Rock Chick when that day comes… This is a beautiful love note.

This is Bowie at his most creative. These songs have the same experimental sound as “Blackstar” but these tunes are more conventionally structured. There’s no nine-minute plus, jazz influenced opus on this EP. These are just solid, heart-felt, well sung and performed tunes. If you’re a Bowie fan, this is a must have. Hell if you’re a music fan, these are must haves.

We’ll have to wait till next January 8th to see if Mr. Bowie held back any more gifts for us. How great is it that it’s his birthday and he’s the one giving us gifts. Bowie would have been 70 this year which is entirely too young for us to be writing about him the past tense.

I was so delighted to see that this had come out… I’ve been hoping to hear these songs without buying the entire cast recording and I knew if I waited long enough Bowie would put them out in some form. I’m hoping this is the first of a lot of great, classic rock, BourbonAndVinyl releases in the coming year.

Happy New Year and Cheers!

The BourbonAndVinyl 10 Best LPs of the Year (Stones, Bowie, and More)

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The end of the year and the dreaded “holiday season” seem to always bring reflection. Maybe it’s having to see all those relatives that makes our minds wander…The turning of the calendar to a new year seems to crystalize the passage of time in our minds. We’re all another year older… As Bob Dylan sang, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast…” Along with that personal reflection it seems every magazine, website and blog comes out with their “Best of” lists for the year that is ending. I’ve seen “best LPs” and “best songs” lists. We are a society that likes to organize and rank things. Whether it’s food, TV, movies or music, we need our “top 10” lists at the end of the year to codify the year that was. Since B&V only came into being in July of 2015, I chose not to do a “Best of” list a year ago. But now, with a full calendar year under our belt for 2016 I figured I’d get in on the fun.

I must say, 2016 was a horrible year for rock and roll. As Don Henley sang, “It was a pretty good year for fashion (and I say that fresh off the Victoria Secret’s “Fashion” Show, a ridiculous piece of soft-core porn for the whole family) but a lousy year for rock and roll.” I’m not suggesting that the music suffered this year but I don’t recall a year where we lost so many great ones. David Bowie, Lemmy, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey and producer George Martin were among the big names. But other important rock and roll pioneers passed this year including Leon Russell and Sharon Jones. With the passage of time I fear this will become the new normal. Luckily a few of these artists, notably Leonard Cohen and especially David Bowie, were able to leave us with a farewell musical statement.

There was some great music put out in 2016 if you’re willing to look for it. Sadly, you’re not going to hear this on your local FM radio dial. However you get your music, and I’m hoping it’s mostly on vinyl, you need to seek this music out. Whether it’s on Spotify, CD, LP or Satellite Radio, there is great music to be found. Hopefully here at B&V between sips of brown murky fluid, we’ve guided you to some of that music this year. Without further rambling, here you have it, the first ever B&V Best Albums of the Year.

The BourbonAndVinyl Best LPs of 2016

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Blue And Lonesome” – The Stones return to the Chicago Blues of their youth with a power and excitement that surprised even them. This is hands down, the album of the year. Mick’s harmonica playing is the star.
  2. David Bowie, “Blackstar” – In what can only be seen now as a goodbye note, Bowie’s final album is as bold and experimental and fantastic as his strongest work. I really miss David Bowie.
  3. The Cult, “Hidden City” – The third in a trilogy of excellent albums that began with “Born Into This,” “Hidden City” was the Cult’s best album since “Beyond Good And Evil” and perhaps since “Sonic Temple.” And yet, hard rock stations seem to ignore this hard hitting gem.
  4. Metallica, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct” – The Heavy Metal Gods have returned in rare form. If this is “self-destruction” deal me in! “Halo On Fire” remains in high rotation here at B&V.
  5. Mudcrutch, “2” – Tom Petty’s “side project” returns with their second, more focused LP with a strong set of songs. If you were lucky enough to see them live, you know what a great band they are and what great songs these are. “Welcome To Hell” may have become my favorite song on this record…
  6. Paul Simon, “Stranger To Stranger” – Other than David Bowie, I defy you to find an artist who experiments and takes as many risks as Paul Simon. “The Werewolf” and “Wristband” were the songs that jumped out at me, but “Cool Papa Bell” might be the pick of the litter.
  7. Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” – Another huge loss in the world of music. The voice of the infinite singing seemingly from beyond the grave. Some of the most poetic lyrics I’ve ever heard. Yes, the voice is all gravel and rust, but listen to the words and the emotion and you’ll be hooked.
  8. Green Day, “Revolution Radio” – Green Day’s return from operas and grand ideas (Uno, Dos, Tre anyone?) to a more punk, raw sound. This album seems to be flying under the radar but it’s their best work since “Warning.”
  9. Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression” – It’s fitting that Iggy, along with Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age, put out his finest album in years at the time when his mentor David Bowie passed. These albums harken back to Iggy’s halcyon days in Berlin with Bowie. The QOTSA and Josh Homme push Iggy in ways no one has in years.
  10. The Record Company, “Give It Back To You” – A newer band making the B&V list of top albums gives me hope. I love this bluesy little gem of a record. I look for bigger and better things from the Record Company.

Honorable Mention

Well, you had to know I couldn’t limit my recommendations to just 10 albums. There were a couple of mellower, understated, rootsy albums, that while not in my top 10, are still highly recommended by B&V. These are those late night, brown and murky fluids in a tumbler albums.

  1. Norah Jones, “Day Break” – Norah’s most sophisticated, jazzy album to date. Some really great piano on this record.
  2. Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” – Van seems recommitted on this record. It’s on the mellow end but that voice of Van’s keeps everything on a slow boil. It’s reflective tone is the perfect album for this time of year (if you’re like me and you dislike the holidays).
  3. Peter Wolf, “A Cure For Loneliness” – There were a few missteps here, nobody needs to hear “Love Stinks” done bluegrass style, but overall this was a great, rootsy album.

Best Re-Release

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best re-release of the year. The Beatles, “Live At the Hollywood Bowl,” is a great live document of the band in the midst of Beatlemania and all those screaming girls. Remastered by the late George Martin’s son, this live document puts a little meat on the bones of the legend. Ringo’s drumming may be the biggest surprise here, he’s manic and wonderful.

I could go on, because as we all know, I’m prone to digression and rambling. However, I’ll wrap it up with these albums. If there are any you feel I missed, or an album that you felt was really special in 2016, please feel free to list in the comments.

Happy….Holidays and Cheers!

Charity Single/Bowie Tribute: “Cat People” feat: Dave Gahan, Mark Lanegan

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 “And I’ve been putting out fire…with gasoline”

It would be virtually impossible for me to pick a “favorite” Bowie tune. But perhaps influenced by the film starring a comely Natasha Kinski of the same name, “Cat People” was always a particular favorite of mine. There was something about that tune that always hit me hard… perhaps it spoke to the urgency of being in my late teens when I first heard it? I can still remember the first time hearing it playing over the credits as the movie ended and thinking, “what is that?”

Bowie recorded a different version of the song for the album “Let’s Dance” but when I first heard that version, I knew something was different. The guitar had been punched up and the percussion was different. It was still a great version of a fabulous tune, but something was missing. I didn’t hear the original version until the second semester of my freshman year, the one I commonly refer to as “the dark semester” when I changed colleges, for a chick no less, and moved in with a man that I still consider, to this day, to be a sociopath. I mean, I’m no doctor, I’m just a bourbon drinker but in my opinion this guy’s lack of empathy or conscience at least puts him on the sociopath scale.

We were talking one day about Bowie and I mentioned I loved the tune “Cat People,” which most people considered obscure. Out of nowhere he produced the soundtrack album, with that fabulous picture of Kinski’s head and shoulders, soaking wet in the rain with eyes glowing green…Oh yes, Natasha, I still see you in my mind… er, uh, I digress. When he put the album on, my mind immediately returned to hearing the song in the theater. The slow build at the start, Bowie’s painful, plaintive howl as the guitars kick in when he screams “with gasoline,” followed by those fabulous, tribal drums in the background. Chills still go up my spine. I actually stole that album from him… maybe he wasn’t the only sociopath in the room… Don’t judge me… I fully admit to having a problem when it comes to collecting music.

Now, on the heels of the tragic loss in January of the icon himself, David Bowie, comes a version of the song from Martyn LeNoble and Christian Eiger. I couldn’t help but think, when I read about the cover song, “the balls on these guys.” It’s a pretty risky chance to take to cover one of Bowie’s most idiosyncratic tunes. The recording was made both as a tribute to Bowie but also for a charity benefitting liver cancer research. I had never heard of LeNoble or Eiger but apparently they have connections to the Soulsavers and Depeche Mode respectively. For the most part the vocals are handled by Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. I was not familiar with Mr. Lanegan or any of his previous work, but I might suggest he haul Tom Waits in for a DNA check because I think he might be Waits’ illegitimate son. And yes, Dave Gahan’s majestic voice is on the tune, but it merely sweeps in at the end for the counterpoint chorus of “been so long, so long, so long…”

I approached this song with caution due to my reverence for that original version that I hold so dear. I must admit, I love what these guys have done with the tune. I read it described as “bluesy” but I think the more proper term is “swampy.” This version is less dramatic than Bowie’s but they capture the longing and the need almost as well in this slow boil version. Lanegan’s vocal turn is especially on point. He captures the burning desire perfectly with his gravelly voice. The song has an almost menacing undercurrent that really grabbed me. At first I was disappointed Gahan didn’t sing more on the song, but his use at the end to sing the chorus back and forth with Lanegan is the perfect crescendo, as if Gahan was an angel answering Lanegan’s demon… or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

This is a great tribute to David Bowie and a great song to boot. And, the cherry on top, it was done for charity. So spend a buck, pour someone you love (or someone you want to love) something strong and whisper, “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through…”

You can find the tune at this link:

http://martynlenobleandchristianeigner.bandcamp.com/

Cheers!

Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”

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 I won’t lie, this one took some home work. There are some artists I just think you have to be “ready” for as a listener. Either it’s a maturation of your tastes, or a change in your thinking that causes the re-evaluation of the artist, or maybe something just “clicks.” For me, it’s often just one song by the artist that I happen to hear (usually on satellite radio) and it causes me to completely reassess the artist’s entire catalog. Something about the artist crystalizes for me.

I have not traditionally been an Iggy Pop fan. You won’t find me, like Anthony Bourdain recently, strolling down Miami Beach, shirtless with Iggy, whilst in whispered, almost religious terms discussing the meaning and influence “Raw Power” had on my adolescent years. This either makes me unqualified to review this album or uniquely qualified to judge it on it’s own merits. Again, it’s about that timing thing. Someone gave me a greatest hits package of Iggy’s a few years ago and I was largely unmoved. I guess I just wasn’t “ready” for Iggy. I was always more a fan of punk rock’s effect on music in the 70’s, pushing the existing artists out of their mid-seventies malaise, than the actual punk music itself. Over the years I’ve gotten into the Ramones, but only mildly. I love the Clash but they were more of a great rock band with a punk ethos to me. I always feared punk music would sound like a cat in blender… I was terribly wrong about that. I love the stripped down, primal energy of punk rock. It’s lack of polish is often the best part of the music. Rock music, like all art, needs to be dangerous.

In parallel, I was never really into the Queens of the Stone Age. I do respect their “musician’s band” ethos. I was in my car a few years ago, and a local DJ had just received a copy of QOTSA’s “…Like Clockwork” album and she was playing the entire thing, start to finish. Afentra, the local DJ (truly the last great DJ on air), couldn’t contain her excitement. She’d stop the album after each song and talk about what she’d just heard. It was real old school DJ style. I loved that record and went out immediately and bought it. There are some stand out songs on that album, but like a Pink Floyd record, it feels better when you listen to it as a whole vs just a song at a time. An event like that would usually send me on a buying spree through the entire QOTSA catalog, but I don’t why, I just never investigated them further. I now know I must rectify that omission. Maybe I wasn’t ready for them either…

I must admit, my new interest in Iggy Pop and “Post Pop Depression” was piqued because of his connection with David Bowie. Bowie was one of the Stooges and Iggy’s early fans and benefactors much like he was with Lou Reed. He produced Iggy’s two first solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” and many of the reviews and articles about this record have referenced Bowie and Iggy’s relationship and collaborations. I have a huge soft spot for Bowie right now, I’m still not over that loss, much like Prince. Since many have suggested similarities in those early Bowie-produced albums and “Post Pop Depression” I felt compelled to go back and listen to them, in order to have a frame of reference for the current work.

Collaborations are a funny thing. I don’t think you ever find any collaboration to be a 50/50 proposition. Maybe some of the early Beatles compositions were really John and Paul trading lines but that quickly faded. Dylan dominated his collaborations with the Band. So too are these Bowie/Iggy collaborations. First and foremost, I have to say both of those early albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” are, and I don’t say this often, fucking brilliant. I don’t know how I missed these records. You didn’t hear a lot of Iggy on the radio in Kansas. However, I would say “The Idiot” sounds more like Bowie was the lead collaborator. I’m not suggesting Iggy didn’t contribute, but he’d just come out of a mental institution and was regarded by many as a foot note and was probably not in the most confident place. “The Idiot” feels like Bowie leading Iggy out of the wilderness. “Sister Midnight” immediately sets the tone for this superb album. I like Iggy’s version of “China Girl” as much as Bowie’s later version. Iggy’s second record with Bowie at the production helm, “Lust For Life” feels more like Iggy was driving the car. It’s louder and more rocking. Iggy sounds more confident on this record. It has more of a Stooge-y feel to it. Their both great, but you can tell whose influence was stronger on each album. “Tonight,” from “Lust For Life” has a great Iggy rant before the song starts that Bowie later described as “idiosyncratic” but it’s a stronger version than Bowie’s version done years later.

Which all leads me to “Post Pop Depression.” This is a great, great album. I must say, the choice of Josh Homme and QOTSA as collaborators was an inspired one. While I said earlier that most collaborations are generally lopsided, this one feels equal parts Iggy and equal parts Queens. The music is muscular and rocking, although nothing really as hard as the Stooges. The lyrics are dark but provide a giddy pleasure to listen to. Iggy brings a brilliant subversive element in his lyrics. You can hear the “fuck you” sneer in his vocals. After an up-and-down career, Iggy brought his A-game to this collaboration. When he says, in “American Valhalla,” a stand out track, “I’m nothing but my name,” you believe him. The album kicks off with “Break Into Your Heart” and this album really does that. “Sunday” captures some of that atmospheric, cold funk that the Bowie-produced albums captured. “Chocolate Drops” is my favorite song here. I can’t stop humming that song. I love it when a mature, established artist comes up with an album this fantastic.

In the last song, “Paraguay,” Iggy sings about dropping everything and moving off to be alone and it is awesome. “Tamales and a bank account are all I need, so count me out.” I think we’ve all been there. The end of the song turns into a rant from Iggy. He says, “There’s nothing awesome here, not a damn thing.” If this is, as has been rumored, Iggy’s last album, it’s a hell of a goodbye. I can totally relate to that song, on levels I’m afraid to admit to myself. Although I don’t think Iggy will ever be just a “basic clod.”

The thing that was so rewarding for me in this experience was going back to those early recordings, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” to frame “Post Pop Depression” and I can say this record holds up very well in comparison. You don’t need to do that to enjoy this record, but it was sure fun to do so. I grew up in Kansas, “The Passenger” was not in high rotation so this allowed me to make up for that. Sometimes when an artist puts out a late career gem like this one and you realize you’re finally “ready” for them, it can be a wonderful thing. Now I have the glorious duty of going back through not only Iggy’s catalog but the Queens Of The Stone Age catalog as well… It’s going to be a fun summer.

I can only hope Iggy has at least one more collaboration with the Queens Of The Stone Age left in him… I’d sure like to see these guys work together again. It’s a Hell of an album. This one is a strong, strong recommended buy.

So, buy this album, turn it up loud, pour something strong, stage dive from the couch, break something glass and Enjoy!

Cheers!