Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019

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*Photo taken by the intrepid wife of your intrepid B&V blogger

September in Kansas City is my favorite time of year. Typically the mercury in the thermometer drops down into the 70s for highs and the sun takes on a golden glow. Many of my favorite things happen in the fall — the local Plaza Art Fair, Kansas City Chiefs’ football, and often the stray outdoor concert. I never quite expected all three of those events to occur over the course of one weekend, but whose complaining? I may need to exchange my blood with a group of Swiss school children to recover, but other than that ‘m not too worse for wear.

After a day spent hanging out at the Plaza Art Fair, the Rock Chick and I loaded up in the car, picked up some friends of ours, and headed out to the beautiful Starlight Theater. I love shows out there and have since I saw Elton John there in the 80s (Elton’s Retirement From Touring Takes Me Back to His KC Starlight Theater Show July 6, 1982). There was a serious threat of rain on Saturday so the schedule was moved up for everything. Sadly, I missed the opening act and had just got to my seats when Greta Van Fleet, pictured above, came on stage. I applaud their efforts to get the show in despite a threat of storms and luckily they were able to do a full show without a drop of rain falling.

Before I knew what was happening, the lights went down and under the cover of a heavy fog machine, four men who probably aren’t even 25 stepped out on stage and transported me back to 1975 – to an era when rock and roll still ruled the world. I loved everything about this show. These guys even dress like rock stars – lead singer Josh Kiszka was wearing a jump suit that Freddie Mercury would have envied. I’m as hetero as anybody you’re gonna find but that Sam Kiszka on bass guitar is just one beautiful human being… he reminded me of the hottest girl in my high school.

I had peaked at the setlist and originally was disappointed to see they only play about a dozen tracks. I thought, well this will be a pretty brief show. I was, as usual, wrong. These guys jam out quite a bit and there were choice keyboard, guitar and drum solos. The show lasted over an hour and 45 minutes…They opened up strong with “The Cold Wind” which led to a quick version of the old classic, “Kansas City.” Sure, many have done that, but I still appreciate the gesture.

After that, GVF was off and running with guns, er I mean guitars blazing. Jake Kiszka’s guitar was front and center all night long. I can’t say enough about Danny Wagner’s drumming as well. Although I must say, the unheralded star might be Sam Kiszka whose bass and keyboard playing was outstanding. Every time he hit a bass string, my cloths shook, so heavy and loud were these guys. Josh’s vocals were as soaring and amazing as they are on record. That was my question on these guys… can they cut through the hype and deliver on stage? The answer is a resounding YES!

After cranking it up for “Safari Song” and “Black Smoke Rising,” Sam handed off his bass and sat down at the keyboards. They got laid back and played “Flower Power,” “Age of Man” and “You’re the One” which saw Jake go from his lone electric guitar to an acoustic guitar. The sheer joy that guy plays with is awesome. He and Jake do the Plant/Page, Jagger/Richards, meet at the front of the stage and lean in toward the microphone to harmonize thing. The theater was packed and the response from the crowd was raucous.

They finally turned it back up towards the end of the main set, with a song called “Black Flag Exposition,” which featured the most epic guitar of the night. That led to the rocking “Watching Over” and the perfect set ender, “When the Curtain Falls.” The latter song was epic rock at its best. The encore continued the high energy guitar rock, with two of my all time favs by these guys “Lover, Leaver, (Taker, Believer)” and finally “Highway Tune.” Josh let the banshee wail out for those.

As I wandered out to my car I stopped into the men’s room. There was a guy in there with an L.A. Guns t-shirt… He saw my C.B.G.B t-shirt and said, “They’re bring it back, they’re bring back 80s metal, man.” Before I could respond, some other guy turned and said, “No way man, these guys are 70s rock, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, like that…” I just smiled and ducked out to the parking lot. It’s great to see that kind of rock and roll excitement, all courtesy of the amazing Greta Van Fleet. See these guys wherever and whenever you can.

I don’t know if these guys are the “saviors of rock and roll” but they are damn fun to see in concert. I was supposed to see them last summer but Danny Wagner hurt his wrist… I almost hesitated to go see these guys this time around but damn I’m glad I did!!

 

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LP Review: Peter Frampton, ‘All Blues’

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I’ve always dug Peter Frampton. Well, I should say I always dug his early music. And I’m not just talking about Frampton Comes Alive! I’m such a music nerd I went back over the years and purchased all those early studio albums. Frankly there’s some great stuff there. I’m not sure why it took the iconic 1976 live album to make him a superstar. It’s a similar story to Kiss (Alive), Seger (Live Bullet), or Cheap Trick (At Budokan), some acts needed the stage to catch their electric chemistry. I would highly recommend any of his first four studio albums: Winds of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Frampton or Something’s Happening. Many of the tracks on those sadly ignored albums finally got the attention they deserved on the live album but the studio versions are absolutely worth hearing too. All of his early solo stuff was kind of laid back and there’s a lot of acoustic stuff there, but man when he solo’s, there’s just something about his beautiful, melodic guitar tone. It’s instantly recognizable.

With all that said, I’m like the rest of you. I was introduced to Frampton’s music via Frampton Comes Alive! Mike Meyer’s in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’ said that Frampton’s live album was shipped to every suburban household like samples of Tide detergent. It truly was everywhere. Everyone I knew had that album. I remember being with a bunch of beer drinking friends and we went over to this guy, Billy Edwards’ house (name changed to protect the douche bag). Billy’s parents were older and he lived upstairs in what can only be described as a “suite.” There was a ladder leaned up against the back of the house and instead of going through the front door and meeting the pesky parental units, we just climbed the ladder up to this guys’ high school bachelor pad and climbed in the window.

We were beer drinkers but Billy wanted to sell us some oregano that he was passing off as pot. I remember standing in a circle laughing with these guys and thinking, I’m not buying this shit, it’s not pot. I was never an herbal enthusiast anyway. Billy had a great stereo that his brother had left behind and a ton of records. He was a spoiled kid, the baby of the family…but I digress. Anyway, he had put on Frampton Comes Alive! and it was the first time I’d heard that record. During the climactic sequence in “Do You Feel Like We Do?” when Frampton was using his “talk box,” a device that distorts the voice, my buddy kept going, “Man, he’s making the guitar talk there…” I couldn’t help but think, “you might wanna lay off the oregano there, pal, that’s a fucking talk box.”

Despite that less than ideal introduction, I immediately knew I had to pick up Frampton Comes Alive! It was a live, double-album which meant a bigger investment of the ol’ lawn mowing money so I hesitated for a little while. I’d put it on my birthday list, but alas nothing flat was wrapped in the gift pile. All I wanted for any holiday back then was records and all I got were things like socks and underwear. My brother went and visited my grandparents a few months later and returned with… a gift for me. I shit you not, my Sainted Grandmother, Grandma ‘Sini bought me Frampton Comes Alive! If that’s not a weird way to receive an album, I don’t know what is. Luckily she didn’t roll up an oregano joint and send it with the record…

As a long time fan, I was sad when I read last month that Frampton had announced his “farewell tour.” I thought, sure, farewell indeed. But looking deeper I realized that he’s got some serious health issues. He’s suffering from something called inclusion-body myositis. It’s an auto-immune disease (no, not AIDS related for the scandal-mongers amongst you) that attacks and weakens the muscles, especially in the fingers and knees. It’s not fatal but it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either. It’s a dark ride folks. Enjoy life before it sneaks up on you with something shitty like this.

As I processed all of this information I suddenly realized that Frampton had a new album out, entitled All Blues. Actually, the album is credited to the Peter Frampton Band: Frampton on vocals/guitar, Rob Arthur on keyboards/guitar/vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, Dan Wojciechowski (I’d like to buy a vowel) on drums and Adam Lester on guitar. Considering the middle of the road rock and roll that has been the hallmark of Frampton’s career, it may have been a bit of a surprise to many people that he’s chosen to do a blues record. Many people may have forgotten that Frampton was a founding member, along with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, of the blooze rock band Humble Pie. He only left Humble Pie after their seminal live album, Rockin’ The Fillmore. A blues record is really a return to Frampton’s roots.

I have to admit, everything I love about rock and roll springs from the blues so I was excited about Frampton, a superb guitar player, doing a blues album. But with the backdrop of his illness I was afraid this might be a bit of a downer affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This album is a blast to listen to if you dig Frampton, the blues, and or guitar playing. I haven’t been interested in a Frampton album since I’m In You and that was in like, 1979, so this was a very pleasant surprise.

He has some friends drop by to join the party. First and foremost, to kick off the record Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame swings by to sing the opening track, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” It’s a nice start. Blues dude Sonny Landreth and Frampton trade guitar licks on a surprisingly good version of “The Thrill Is Gone.” You better be good if you’re gonna take on a B.B. King song. Deep Purple’s Steve Morse shows up to lend his guitar chops to a very bluesy “Going Down Slow.” Frampton almost growls over Morse’s fabulous guitar fills.

While this is a blues album, Frampton doesn’t play it completely by the numbers. He has the jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton, who played on a lot of early Steely Dan records, drop in for a wonderful, jazzy “All Blues.” It’s a track written by Miles Davis and these guys just nail it. It ranks amongst my favorite tracks. Frampton also does an instrumental version of the Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia On My Mind” that is another highlight.

I love the selection of tunes here. “She Caught the Katy” which I originally heard the Blues Brothers do is just great here. “Same Old Blues,” a track Eric Clapton did a long time ago is also really great. “Me And My Guitar” made me feel like I was in a south side of Chicago blues bar. Frampton’s guitar playing is as tough as it ever was and that beautiful tone he gets is fully in tact. I can’t believe he didn’t do a blues album years ago!

My favorite track on this album, hands down is “King Bee.” I’m much too old and dignified to admit how geeked out I was when I heard Frampton use his talk box on this track. I was as excited as I’d be if I just climbed a ladder into a high school bachelor pad and people around me are smoking oregano. It’s a great tune with great guitar… but when he accentuates the “I’m a king bee” line with that talk box, it’s like you’ve been stung, baby! Ah, the 70s came back in full force for me.

This could have been a terribly sad affair but there is so much great guitar and so much joy in this album, I recommend it to anybody and everybody. Here’s wishing Peter a smooth road on this awful illness path! If this is the last we hear from him, he’s going out the right way.

Cheers!

 

 

The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”

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Just when I thought rock and roll was going to be in trouble in 2019, the Black Keys pop up with a brand new, mind blowing single, “Lo/Hi.” Thank God.

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the Black Keys. Not the Jack White, “they ripped me off” kind of relationship. I get it Jack, White Stripes/Black Keys. I could see where that would make Mr. White a little uncomfortable. It’s all a little too close. Anyway, like the Stripes, the Keys are just two folks, Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals/bass/keyboards and Patrick Carney on drums. They are the same ilk of bluesy, garage rock that the White Stripes play and that I absolutely love. For some reason, however, I seem to bounce in and out of their orbit.

I pulled up their discography on Allmusic.com the other day and it hit me. I literally like every other album they put out. I loved the debut, The Big Come Up. Who else would have the balls to cover the Beatles, “She Said, She Said?” Thickfreakness, the follow up, left me cold. The album that really pulled me and the Rock Chick in was the third record, Rubber Factory from 2004. For us here at B&V, it’s the gold standard by which we judge all other Black Keys’ records… and by “us” here at B&V, I mean the Rock Chick and me. To illustrate this point, I have to share, when she walked into the music lab yesterday and I played “Lo/Hi” for her, the first words out of the Rock Chick’s mouth were, and I quote, “Awesome, they’re getting back to that Rubber Factory sound.” You can take the girl out of the Rubber Factory, but you can’t take the Rubber Factory out of the girl, I suppose.

Since that album, the Rock Chick and I have purchased every other album they’ve put out. We skipped Magic Potion, only to get back on the bandwagon for Attack & Release. While there were some great tracks on Brothers, specifically “Howlin’ For You,” “Everlasting Light,” and the oft overlooked “Sinister Kid,” the rest of the album didn’t grab me. El Camino for me, was another career highlight. It almost edges out Rubber Factory, but please, for my own safety, don’t tell the Rock Chick I said that. Rock and Roll blasphemy carries a heavy penalty around this place, especially during winter. I was so used to this pattern of one album on, one album off that I didn’t even check out their 2014 effort Turn Blue until recently. It’s like when I was a kid. My brother and I were polar opposites. If he liked a dish my mom made, I’d skip it… Sadly, I used that same logic for Turn Blue. It’s a solid album, and they’re certainly opening up their sound pallet. It might be the album this breaks the cycle for me… I also dug Dan Auerbach’s second album, Waiting On A Song, reviewed on these very pages, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’.

I do have to admit though, I’m like the Rock Chick when it comes to the Black Keys, I like them with a little less polish, a little more raw, if you will. I will admit, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that I hit “play” on the new track, “Lo/Hi.” Was I going to hear a polished attempt at pop or was I going to hear some garage-rock Black Keys? You just never know. My fears were eliminated immediately! “Lo/Hi” comes chugging out of the speakers from the jump. The guitar riff is a giant, greasy slab of rock. It bores into your brain. Carney’s drumming drives the track forward like a galloping thoroughbred whose escaped his trainers. “Run Forrest, run!” I love the first couplet, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane/Down at the bar like a star in the howling rain.” Fuck yes, it’s like “Gimme Shelter.” There’s some nice female back up vocals on the chorus which contributes to the “River Deep – Mountain High” vibe of the song. The guitar solo at the end should come with a warning, “Could Melt Your Face Off.”

The Keys haven’t indicated if they’re putting out an album or if this is a one-off single. It seems all we do these days down at B&V is spread the word on new singles, whilst we wait for new albums to drop. All I can say, a new Black Keys album would be a great addition to a rocking spring… if spring ever comes. This is a must hear, must have single. I love that the Black Keys are keeping the rock and roll flame alive!

Artist Lookback: The (Original) Jeff Beck Group – Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart & Ronnie Wood

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Image of the Jeff Beck Group (Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood, Mickey Waller & Rod Stewart) taken from the internet and likely copyrighted. Credited to Past Daily

I saw the other day that Rod Stewart’s new album, Blood Red Roses hit number one in the UK. Congrats Rod… While I found his new album mostly un-listenable, I’m still a huge Rod fan. I’ve been on Stewart’s bandwagon since his early Mercury Records days and Truth be told, even before that. I’m still holding out for a Faces reunion and two of them are gone. For years I hoped Rod would start writing original music again and no one was happier than I was when he finally did so on his 2013 album, Time. He followed that up with 2015’s Another Country (Review: Rod Stewart “Another Country” – We Should All Be This Happy) before releasing this new disc last month. Alas, each album has been a case of diminishing returns. I will say it’s all still better than those awful American Songbook albums. Those records should have been entitled, Songs for Soccer Moms. His new record follows a disturbing trend for Rod… he seems to just turn over his stuff to whoever the producer is and lets them do what they want with the music in an attempt to sound modern. Strip away the gloss and there might be something decent there.

Rod’s other big problem is his choice of collaborators. He’s writing songs again, but he’s chosen to write them with a keyboardist, Kevin Savigar. I have nothing against Mr. Savigar, but Rod always writes better stuff when he’s collaborating with someone on guitar. Whether he’s going folky with an acoustic or bluesy with an electric, the guitar just seems to bring out the best in Rod, like a shot of adrenaline. He wrote most of his best stuff with Ronnie Wood during those aforementioned Faces and Mercury days. Even in the 80s he had guitarists like Jim Cregan or Gary Grainger to write songs with. Of course, Rod’s other great guitar partner was the man who broke Stewart’s career wide open, none other than Mr. Jeff Beck. Before The Jeff Beck Group Stewart was a traveling troubadour, bouncing from band to band in groups like Steampacket.

I posted once about John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the trio of great guitarists that came out of that band, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967. To find a band, outside of the Allman Brothers Band, with that much guitar star power, one has only to look to the Yardbirds. The Yardbirds started with Eric Clapton on guitar, only he was such a “blues purist,” he split the band when they moved to what he deemed a more “pop” sound. Clapton went on to soar to greater heights, first with John Mayall, then Cream, and as a solo artist. The Yardbirds ended their run with none other than Jimmy Page on lead guitar. Obviously, Page went on to “King of the World” status in Led Zeppelin. When the Yardbirds broke up, Page even ended up with the legal rights to the name. Zeppelin was almost called the New Yardbirds. In between Clapton and Page, the bridge between if you will, was a guy who never reached the commercial heights of the other Yardbirds’ guitar gods, Jeff Beck. The guy can flat out play. Sadly, as he said at the Yardbirds’ Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction, “They fired me, I don’t even know why I’m here?”

I’ve never understood why Beck wasn’t more commercially successful. His guitar prowess was such that Jimi Hendrix was a fan. High praise, indeed. In the 70s, having finally given up on vocalists, he recorded two instrumental, jazz fusion-y albums, Blow By Blow and Wired that both eventually went platinum. Both albums had George Martin in the producer’s chair. Stevie Wonder wrote “Superstition” for inclusion on Blow By Blow. I know that Beck can be… let’s call it “mercurial.” His temper and foul moods may be what kept him out of the limelight. He and Rod were trying to collaborate on an album four or five years ago but they couldn’t come to terms, which is a shame. Jeff Beck not only sort of discovered Rod, he resurrected his flagging career in the 80s when the two cut “People Get Ready.” The popularity of that track shook Stewart out of his pop slumber. When they were trying to collaborate Beck complained that Rod only wanted to sing the blues, and I’m thinking, “fuck yes!” Jeff didn’t want to play the blues, but oh, what an album that might have been. So last year, of course, Beck guested on Van Morrison’s Roll With The Punches album which was basically a blues record (LP Review: Van Morrison, ‘Roll With The Punches,’ A Laid-Back Blues Party). I guess Jeff can still play the blues but only when wants to.

Having been terminated by the Yardbirds, in early 1967 Jeff Beck formed the original Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, future Faces and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and a revolving door of bassists and drummers. Eventually Ronnie Wood would move to bass and Rod would recruit his buddy from Steampacket Mickey Waller to play drums. That was as close as they’d come to a stable line up. Waller was eventually replaced by Tony Newman. I think even drummer Aynsley Dunbar was in this band at one point because lets face it, Aynsley was in every 60s band and several 70s bands. Beck had signed on with manager Mickie Most who was only focused on Jeff Beck as a solo artist. As the guitarist once remarked, “I understand why Rod left, he was being treated like the hired help.” Alas, that’s how Most and Beck himself treated the rest of the band. Wood was fired and rehired several times. In the end keyboardist Nicky Hopkins passed on the chance to join Zeppelin and joined The Jeff Beck Group as a full time member.

With all that turmoil and mismanagement the group did suffer. Jeff famously decided not to play Woodstock, something he has always said he regretted. I can’t imagine what an appearance at the iconic festival would have done for these guys. They toured constantly which led to their other great problem – they didn’t take any time off from the road to actually write original material. In the liner notes of their second and final album, Beck-ola Beck even cops to it, when he says “It’s hard to come up with anything truly original.” While the band wasn’t meant to last, they were hugely influential. Jimmy Page was watching what Beck did, pairing a strong guitarist who would bring the lads into the concerts with a charismatic lead singer who would bring the ladies in. He quietly recruited Robert Plant to recreate the model, to much greater success. The original Jeff Beck Group was the real blueprint for many of the 4-piece heavy blues/blues rock bands to follow. They left behind, in their brief time together, two great albums that every rock fan should own…

Truth (1968)

This is one of the truly seminal albums of the blues rock movement. It’s influence can be felt to this day in bands like Greta Van Fleet. The album opens with an old Yardbirds’ track, “Shapes of Things” and Beck’s guitar playing makes this version the definitive one. There are two towering blues covers on this record, “Ain’t Superstitious,” the old Howlin Wolf track, (and its as epic as the format ever got) and Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me.” Jimmy Page, in a bit of cheek, had Zeppelin on their first album cover “You Shook Me,” which reportedly made Beck weep when he first heard it. Competition is good for the soul. Of the originals on this album, “Blues Deluxe” is probably my favorite. It lives up to the title and is the best blues song Rod ever sang. “Rock My Plimsoul” was a reworking of a B.B. King song but is another great bluesy rave up. It sounds like Beck is torturing his guitar here and I mean that in a good way. Mixed with Rod’s vocals, and Woody/Waller’s solid bottom, this album is perfect. So racked for material were these guys, they covered “Old Man River” with Keith Moon (unnamed) on timpani. This was basically the band’s live set, recorded in the studio. I wish somebody had recorded these guys live in concert…but I digress. When I re-purchased this album on CD, I found the great bonus track, the bluesy, “I’ve Been Drinking Again,” which obviously, we love here at B&V loved.

Beck-Ola (1969)

The wheels were already starting to come off. The constant touring, illness and band infighting was taking it’s toll. If they’d just slowed down a bit from the road and taken more time to write original stuff. This album gets overlooked and criticized for that very reason, not enough new stuff, but it’s still a great blues rock album. There are two (and probably 1 too many) Elvis covers here, the opener “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” While that shows the lack of newly written stuff, they’re still kick ass songs. Beck correctly described Rod as being on “vocals extraordinaire.” Keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, now a full time member, brought the beautiful, piano driven “Girl From Mill Valley.” “Spanish Boots” another original, is a rocker. Rod sings over Hopkins insistent piano line, while Beck’s guitar dive bombs through. The solo is mind blowing. “Plynth (Water Down the Drain) which Ronnie and Rod would steal later for their first record with the Faces, is as heavy as anything these guys recorded. It’s almost heavy metal. Stewart’s vocal verges on unhinged. The time changes Beck goes through thrill me even now. “Hangman’s Blues” is heavy blues goodness. The album times in at just over thirty minutes and I was puzzled when I bought this album (again) on CD, to find some great bonus stuff that could have been easily added to side two. The two bonus tracks, “Sweet Little Angel,” a great B.B. King cover and “Throw Down A Line” by Hank Marvin were both purportedly recorded during a jam. If this is the sound of a band jamming, they should have jammed more. While not as towering as Truth, this is still a must have.

Sadly, after ditching Woodstock, Beck, who was as fond as Rod was of fast cars, was injured when he wrecked his sports car. While Jeff was recovering, Rod recorded his folk-rock debut, The Rod Stewart Album (or in the UK, An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down) with Ronnie Wood on guitar and Mickey Waller on drums. It wasn’t long before Rod had joined Ronnie in the Faces. Beck formed a second version of the Jeff Beck Group but for me at least, he never recaptured the magic of this original line-up. Pour something strong and give these two records a listen.

 

 

 

LP Review: Slash (Feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators), ‘Living The Dream’ – Hard Rock Delight!

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Despite being one of the coolest people on the planet, it’s hard to not feel a little sorry for Slash sometimes. The man has dealt with some pretty intense LSD in his career… Lead Singer Disease (The BourbonAndVinyl Worst Cases of LSD – Lead Singer Disease). The man had to put up with the paranoid, megalomania of Axl Rose who single handed-ly squeezed Slash, Duff, Izzy and everybody else out of Guns N Roses. Then in Velvet Revolver Slash had the unreliable, drug addled Scott Weiland to contend with, may he rest in peace. That’s a lot to take on in a career. Slash is one in a long line of great guitarists who can’t sing a lick and therefore have to rely on someone else to bring the vocals. Jeff Beck had his Rod Stewart. Jimmy Page had his Robert Plant. Angus Young had Bon Scott, who he lost and then Brian Johnson who he may also have lost. Poor Angus may end up working with Axl, inheriting Slash’s problem. Guys like Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan are lucky enough to be able to sing as well as play guitar… That must be freeing.

I was very happy to see Slash get back together with Axl and Duff (although I wish they’d cut Izzy in on the reunion, money kills all cool things) and take GnR back out on the road in 2016 (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). While that was really cool, I think we all were kind of hoping for some new Guns N Roses music. Slash has hinted that they may be working on some new stuff, but so far all they’ve put out was an expanded version of Appetite For Destruction. Of course if they do record, they’ll miss Izzy’s songwriting chops, but I’m getting off topic here… In the interim we have some good news for hard rock fans, Slash has reunited with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, Todd Kerns on bass guitar, Brent Fitz on drums and now officially in the band (previously just a touring member), Frank Sidoris on rhythm guitar, for a new album, Living the Dream.

When GnR broke up, I sort of lost track of Slash. I totally missed out on the whole Slash’s Snakepit thing. They put out two LPs that I must admit I have never heard. No one has ever reached out and told me to find them, so I’m guessing I didn’t miss much, but with Slash in the band there had to be something good to hear there. I did jump on the Velvet Revolver bandwagon – Slash, Duff, Todd Sorum on drums, Scott Weiland – and I dug those guys. I think Contraband was my favorite of those two records, you can’t argue with tunes like “Sucker Train Blues” or “Slither.” I even heard a few covers those guys did, Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Aerosmith’s “No More No More,” that I liked. But alas, the wheels came off that band too. Weiland quickly decamped to reform Stone Temple Pilots before his untimely demise.

At that point, Slash decided to go solo. He released his first truly solo album in 2010, creatively titled, Slash. I’m sure the eponymous title was a declaration of independence and solo-hood. He went the Santana route and had a host of different singers he collaborated with. As you could probably guess, with that many different singers, it was a bit of a hodge-podge. I still loved that record. Ian Astbury seemed to bring out the best in Slash on the killer track, “Ghost.” There were also great tracks with Chris Cornell and Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale. Hell I even dug the song with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. Old timers like Ozzy, Lemmy and Iggy all showed up and rocked. I was amazed at the diversity of sound Slash could make with his different collaborators. Of course there were misfires – the songs with Kid Rock and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) – I could have done without. The only singer who stuck around for more than one track was former Alter Bridge front man, Myles Kennedy who did two tracks. It was Myles who actually went on tour with Slash in support of that album. It seemed, at last, Slash had found a lead singer who sang without the drama.

Somehow I missed 2012’s Apocalyptic Love, Slash and Myles’ first full album collaboration. It was my friend Stormin’ in Denver who called in 2014 and said, in his usual brief way, “Slash, World On Fire, get it now.” Of course I complied. When Stormin’ calls with rock and roll, B&V takes notice. World On Fire was an epic hard rock album. Coming in at 17 songs and over an hour and fifteen minutes, it was a lot to take in. Slash played both the rhythm and the lead guitars. Myles hammered every song home at the top of his voice. I liked that record a lot, if you dig hard rock how could you not, but I found it a bit monochromatic. It was just full out rock, all the time. “30 Years To Life” had a touch of bluesy slide guitar, but other than that these guys just stuck to the hard rock script. There wasn’t much variance. Turn it up to 11, rinse, repeat.

Flash forward to 2018 and Slash, Myles and the Conspirators are back on Living the Dream with one key, critical difference. Frank Sidoris, who played rhythm guitar on tour, has officially joined the band and was involved in the recording of this album. While I was impressed with Slash’s ability to play lead and be a Keith Richards-like Riff Meister at the same time, I think Sidoris’ presence on this album has freed Slash up a bit in terms of his playing lead. The more of the rhythm stuff Slash turned over to Sidoris, the more solo’ing he was able to focus on. And the solo’ing on this album is epic. I have to wonder if not only having a rhythm guitarist on board helped, but having been on tour with GnR reconnected Slash with that melodic solo’ing from days of yore. Slash’s lead playing on this album is as out front as anything I’ve heard him play since Velvet Revolver. The solo from “Lost Inside the Girl,” a mid-tempo, ballad thing is as searing as anything on World On Fire.

This is a really strong hard rock album. I like that it’s only 12 songs, I think trimming World On Fire in a similar way would have helped that album. I also like that there’s a variance of sounds on this record. There are a few mid-tempo songs and ballads, so it’s not pedal-to-the-metal from start to finish. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I like to catch my breath every 4 or 5 songs. Mix it up a bit, why not? I’ve never been the biggest Myles Kennedy fan, although my friend Drummer Blake says I’m wrong on that, but I have to say Myles impresses me on this album. His vocals, like the music on this record, is more varied and nuanced. The entire band seems more relaxed, less frenetic than on World On Fire. The band just sounds looser, while still rocking out.

I liked the crunchy rocking first single, “Driving Rain,” which I reviewed previously, Slash: New Single, “Driving Rain” With Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. It’s a strong track. My favorite is probably “My Antidote.” Fitz’s drumming is great on that tune. It’s atmospheric and dare I say, textured. “The Call of the Wild,” the track that opens the album is a great kickoff track. “Serve You Right” has a great, dirty riff… it jumps out at me. While Myles will never have that dirty, banshee wail of Axl, he does the song justice. “Mind Your Manners” is one of those great, play fast and meet me at the finish line tunes. There is a lot of tasty hard rock to enjoy here. “Sugar Cane” keeps things rocking as well…

“Lost Inside the Girl,” and “The One You Loved Is Gone” are the quieter moments on the album, ie, ballads. Slash’s guitar work on these tracks calls to mind that melodic work he did on Velvet Revolver’s “Fall to Pieces.” “The Great Pretender” starts off with a great little lead riff from Slash. These tracks give the album more texture than their previous work and I think it makes for a more interesting listen.

While I’m still hopeful we’ll still get some new Guns N Roses in my lifetime, Slash’s new set certainly satisfies that hard rock itch I’ve been feeling. It’s got me rocking this week… I’ve been bouncing from Living The Dream to Sabbath’s Vol 4 to Motley Crue’s Shout At the Devil and back again, all week. Hard rock is just good for the soul… it occurs to me, listening to all this hard rock, I may just be living the dream…

It’s been a dark and ugly week… rock and out and have some fun. Inject as much heavy metal into your life as you can. Cheers!

 

 

In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist

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*Image of happier times taken from the internet and likely copyrighted (*not pictured, the hideous Alex Van Halen, for reasons that are obvious)

Early in our marriage, my wife and I got into the habit of going down to the basement, cranking up tunes and having what we called a drunken, rock and roll, dance party. Well she danced, I more lurched. She would usually DJ, but I always got some input. It was during one of those festive evenings, after I’d just dropped the needle on a Van Halen tune, sung by Sammy Hagar,  that the Rock Chick put her hand up in the universal “stop” gesture. It was then that she unburdened herself of a deep, dark secret she’d been keeping since we’d met… something I had never suspected. “I hate Van Hagar,” was all she said as she shook her head “no” to the tune I’d selected. We’d been randomly listening to Van Halen, both the Roth version and the Hagar version for years. I’d never suspected she didn’t like the Sammy incarnation of the band. I mean, no one likes the Gary Cherone version, but Sammy? It seems she liked Van Halen, she liked Sammy Hagar, just not together.

I’m not naive, I realize there is a divide between the Roth camp and the Hagar camp. It’s just that there was never any question for me when it came to Van Halen, the Roth albums are the best, period. I think when Roth left and Hagar came into the fold, the band fundamentally changed. It’s not fair to compare the early VH albums to the latter, Van Hagar (if you will) albums – they were, in my mind, different bands like Rage Against the Machine versus Audioslave. Same musicians, different singer, completely different bands. I was always disappointed that Eddie didn’t change the name of the band once Roth took off (or was fired, depending on who you listen to) but Ed’s name is on the side of the truck, I get it. It was Eddie’s world we all just lived in it.

People tend to view music in chronological decades. The sixties brought us the Beatles and the Stones, the seventies brought us Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen etc. I’ve never looked it at it that way. The music of the early 70s was a lot different than the music of the latter half of that decade. I came of age, musically anyway, in the late-70s. Van Halen was one of the foremost rock bands that came out of that era. It’s hard to understate how huge they were as an influence. Before VH most of us in the late 70s were listening to what our older siblings listened to. VH was ours! When they appeared with their seminal first album, (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40) it was like nothing we’d ever heard. Eddie’s guitar sound, the way he played up the neck, hammering strings with his finger tips was all revolutionary stuff. But as important as all that was, David Lee Roth was equally as critical to the success. Roth had a swagger and menace combined with a crazy sense of humor, a mix I haven’t seen since. Roth was, to put it simply, just fucking cool. He was in his 20s but his lyrics were like that of a high school kid, “have you seen junior’s grades?” Roth was the guy we all wanted to be.

I suppose such a lightning-hot band couldn’t hold together for long. The personalities were bound to implode the group. After the success of Fair Warning they were supposed to take a much needed break, but somehow ended up recording Diver Down and immediately touring. I’m sure nerves were frayed and everybody was tired. After that there was a lot of conflict about Eddie wanting to play keyboards. Roth kept saying, “you’re a guitar god, nobody wants to hear you play keyboards.” I blame Michael Jackson for a lot of that. Once Eddie showed up on a purely pop song, “Beat It” and his guitar solo fueled it to number 1, globally, I think Eddie thought that it didn’t matter who was singing or what type of song it was, as long as that magic guitar solo played. I think that is what ultimately made Eddie decide he could live without Roth. And of course Roth had to go out and do an EP, Crazy From the Heat. I’m sure that didn’t help.

In retrospect, it was going to be impossible for anybody to fill the shoes of David Lee Roth. Hell, even in 2012, Roth couldn’t fill his own shoes when he got back together with the rest of Van Halen for the reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth. As my buddy, the accountant said years ago, “Roth did jujitsu on stage, Hagar does calisthenics.” They certainly lost that great sense of humor when Roth left as well. Roth was the party, Sammy was the guy who brings the tequila to the party. While Roth was no Steve Perry, Sammy was a shouter. And Roth’s lyrics, while not Elvis Costello or Tom Waits-like, are preferred to Hagar’s lyrics which are, and I’ll be the first to admit it, borderline stupid. For example, a line I’ve never gotten over, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.” Think about that line for a while. It’s like saying “only Fred will tell us if we stand the test of Fred.” Well, it’s Fred’s fucking test, of course he’s going to be the one who tells us if we “stand the test.” But I digress… I mention all this just to say, again, Hagar fundamentally changed the DNA of the band. No one was going to live up to the original VH so to compare them is unfair.

I will say Hagar brought a camaraderie to the band they hadn’t seen since the early days. At least through 5150 and OU812 it seemed like everybody in the band was enjoying making music again. I remember a friend of mine telling me that OU812 was the new Fair Warning… well, it was certainly a grim record (without the menace), but you can’t compare the two. However, if you put the original band aside, these guys made some solid, if not really good harder rock. I think the whole Monster’s of Rock tour thing was Sammy’s idea. Sammy always pushed Eddie to think outside the box like Zeppelin did (Sammy loved Zeppelin and wanted to push in that bluesy direction). The results really never materialized other than “Finish What You Started,” which started as an acoustic/Zeppelin III thing Sammy wanted to do.

I went back and listened to the four albums Sammy and the brothers Van Halen did – with Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals, let’s not forget him, he’s a key ingredient – and those records aren’t bad. In fact, those records are pretty damn good. There may not be a Fair Warning or Women And Children First but there’s some fine rock and roll. They even put out a few decent tracks on greatest hits records. I went ahead and put together a play list of Van Halen tracks, but only from the Van Hagar albums. I feel these are the “best of Van Hagar” if you will… I’ll let the music do the talking. The Rock Chick has a blistering VH playlist but the Sammy tunes are missing… she also has an AC/DC tunes with virtually no Bon Scott. What can I say, she likes what she likes. Purists… what are you gonna do? I think this playlist will show you, this was not a bad band, it was just different from the original. Listen with fresh ears!

  1. “Best of Both Worlds” – My favorite track from 5150.
  2. “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” – Yes, Hagar shouts random stuff about shooting, heroin, and shooting heroin but this song RAWKS. They were clearly in a bad place on Balance.
  3. “Top of the World” – From F.U.C.K.
  4. “Poundcake” – Love the riff on this one.
  5. “Up For Breakfast” – Great riff with Sammy’s kinda ridiculous lyrics about having sex when you wake up.
  6. “Judgement Day” – A great deep track from F.U.C.K.
  7. “Dreams” – I mostly avoided the keyboard stuff, but I loved the video with the Blue Angels flying around.
  8. “Feels So Good” – The most positive song VH ever did.
  9. “Right Now” – You couldn’t escape this song.
  10. “Black and Blue” – The first single and my favorite track from OU812.
  11. “Can’t Stop Loving You” – A bit poppy for my taste, but catchy as hell.
  12. “5150” – The title track… It’s police code for “insane or unstable persons who might be a danger to themselves or others.” Great riff and Sammy’s lyrics rise to the occasion.
  13. “Humans Being” – A track from the movie, ‘Twister.’ It’s mostly Sammy shouting about something I can’t understand but man, this rocks.
  14. “Mine All Mine” – One of Hagar’s finest lyrics… For once he’s not singing about chicks and getting loaded.
  15. “Summer Nights” – The first track Sammy wrote with VH.
  16. “Why Can’t This Be Love” – “Only time will tell if we…” oh, fuck it.
  17. “Man On A Mission” – Another hard rocker.
  18. “Finish What Ya Started” – Began as an acoustic number…
  19. “Runaround” – Another hit from F.U.C.K.
  20. “A Apolitical Blues” – A Little Feat blues cover? On a VH album? This was a bonus track but I love it and it’s a perfect way to end the list… they’d never have done this without Hagar.

Happy Labor Day Weekend Folks… I’ll be making the annual transition from vodka to bourbon over the weekend. Stay safe and don’t drink and drive. I don’t want any of you to end up “face down in Cabo…”

 

 

Slash: New Single, “Driving Rain” With Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

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Is there a cooler rock star than Slash?

The top hat, long hair over his eyes, and shades are, simply put, iconic. I think the top hat/smiley face thing is an emoticon on my iPhone these days. Unfortunately for Slash, like your intrepid blogger, the man can’t sing a lick. At least it’s the Rock Chick’s opinion that I can’t sing, although I do so with great gusto every time I shower, but I’m getting off topic here. Slash falls into that group of super talented guitarists who can’t sing and have struggled with LSD – Lead Singer Disease (The BourbonAndVinyl Worst Cases of LSD – Lead Singer Disease). Slash has had Axl and Scott Weiland (RIP) to contend with, much like Eddie Van Halen with David Lee Roth, Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart or poor Jimmy Page whose been following Robert Plant around for years begging for a reunion. Record something solo Jimmy, it’s starting to get embarrassing. I always thought Slash should get together with his fellow Beverly Hills High School alumnus, Lenny Kravitz and do something because that would be ultra-cool. Lenny… Slash… together? Forget about it. It’s off the cool scale.

Slash’s lead guitar and melodic solos were a corner stone of the Guns N Roses sound. I was hoping since GnR have been on what seems to be a never ending tour, maybe they’d find some time to duck into a studio and try to recapture a little of that old magic. Apparently that ain’t gonna happen. All we get is the Appetite For Destruction box set.  There are still rumors that Axl is sneaking off to record with Angus Young in a new version of AC/DC, but I don’t know if I buy it. I think it was interesting that Axl filled in after Brian Johnson’s abrupt retirement but a full fledged album? I don’t think they should call it AC/DC if it’s just Angus and Axl. Maybe call it AC/AC.

Slash has once again reunited with vocalist Myles Kennedy, of Alter Bridge fame and recorded a new album that’s coming, like every other album this year, in September, entitled Living The Dream. Aptly titled, if you’re Slash I’d guess. It was my buddy in Denver, Stormin who turned me onto Slash’s last album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, (Todd Kerns on bass/backing vocals and Brent Fitz on drums) 2014’s World On Fire. That album was a tour de force of hard rock. It was 17 songs long. Nothing on it was an anthem like say, “November Rain,” but it was solid, hard rock and certainly an album everybody ought to check out.

Kennedy’s vocals are more, for lack of a better word, soaring than some of the other vocalists Slash has worked with. Axl always brought a grimy, nastiness to his lead vocals. He always sounded like he was on the verge of either an emotional breakdown or some fit of unspecified violence. Weiland’s vocals were more slippery and he had an almost psychedelic vibe. I’m not sure Slash and Weiland were were a perfect match but I really enjoyed the Velvet Revolver albums, especially the first one, Contraband. I certainly liked Velvet Revolver better than Slash’s Snakepit, which barely made a dent in my musical psyche. But with Myles it appears Slash has finally found a sane, powerful enough vocalist to play with.

This first track from the upcoming Living The Dream, “Driving Rain” is much a piece with the music on World On Fire, Myles and Slash’s last album. This is solid, straight ahead hard rock. Slash plays a dirty Aerosmith-y riff. Myles vocals are custom built for an arena. I will say, I played this song in my car and it’s a perfect car song, which probably goes without saying since the word “driving” is in the title… Slash’s solo is, as usual, the highlight of the track. It’s melodic and it really jumped out at me. This isn’t a song that’s going to change your life like say, “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Paradise City,” but those are probably unfair comparisons. It’s just nice to hear some guitar-driven, hard rock for a change! With Slash on guitar, you just can’t go wrong – even Michael Jackson knew that, which is why he had Slash play on “Black Or White.” “Driving Rain” certainly has me looking forward to the full album… it’s going to be a September to remember.

Cheers!