Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

 

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RIP Malcolm Young, Rhythm Guitarist Extraordinaire of AC/DC

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Oh man, not another one. I awoke this morning to the sad news that Malcolm Young, the extraordinarily talented rhythm guitarist for AC/DC, one of the world’s (and one of my) favorite hard rock bands, had passed away. He had been suffering from dementia and had to retire from the band prior to the tumultuous recording of their last record, Rock Or Bust. Dementia claimed my maternal grandmother and it’s a tough way to go. By every account that I’ve read, statements from other musicians, Malcolm was described as being a “sweet” guy. Being that talented and that nice are some pretty great things to be remembered for. He was preceded in death by his older brother George Young, who was in the Easy Beats, an early Aussie rock band and who was later a producer for AC/DC. Tough couple of months for the Youngs.

It had to be somewhat difficult for Malcolm. He’s always been a bit overshadowed by his brother Angus on lead guitar who, in his school uniform, was the visual symbol of the band. He was also probably overshadowed by the lead singers – who wouldn’t be overshadowed by larger than life Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson. The front man always gets the attention and the chicks. Yet, Malcolm cowrote every song they did with Angus and Bon Scott and later with just Angus. I would say Malcolm was more important than anybody on the microphone to AC/DC. His riffs were the foundation of every tune they put out. Even though he retired prior to the recording of their last album, Rock or Bust, Angus said most of the song ideas and basic riffs were written by and demo’d by Malcolm. He was as important to rhythm guitar as Keith Richards. That bedrock rhythm guitar allowed his brother Angus to soar on so many great solos.

One of the first albums I remember buying was AC/DC’s Back In Black. I was working as a bus boy at a steak joint named York Steak House in Oak Park Mall out in the suburbs of Kansas City. The crew I worked with there was one of the funnest, most degenerate group of people I’ve ever met. And believe me, I know a lot of degenerates, but these guys took the cake. One of the managers had a big keg party for the employees, most of whom were underage for drinking, but why split hairs over silly rules. We were out at some lake in western Johnson County. Somebody dropped the Back In Black cassette into the boom box and it was like an explosion in my head. My life had changed. Listening to that album, and marveling at the monster guitar riffs, I thought it was some band’s greatest hits album. I remember we were so fiercely air-guitaring I fell and hit my head on a park bench… maybe that’s why I remember that party so clearly… it was literally jarring. Talk about your head banging, I lived it, baby.

It was shortly after almost wearing out Back In Black, that I started researching AC/DC. It was then that I realized that they had just replaced their lead singer Bon Scott with Brian Johnson. I thought it was Brian singing on Highway To Hell, their vocals were so similar. Now, I can hear the difference clearly. One of the reasons their sound stayed so consistent was Malcolm and Angus’ monster riffage. I remember going to the mall and for some inexplicable reason I bought Highway To Hell on cassette instead of vinyl. The mistakes of youth… I think I wanted to play it in the car. That album underscored to me, it doesn’t matter whose up front singing, it’s the guitars that power that band.

I saw AC/DC on the Ballbreaker tour with my buddy, The Accountant, and they were just so spectacular. A lot of that was due to Malcolm’s perfectionist tendencies. He was so committed to the fans. He even quit AC/DC in the 80s to go to rehab to quit drinking. He’d realized his playing was suffering and he loved guitar more than booze. That’s commitment.

I had drifted away from AC/DC, even after seeing that great Ballbreaker show. It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick and she turned me onto some of their great later albums, The Razor’s Edge, Stiff Upper Lip, that I reconnected with this great band. The Stiff Upper Lip tour was the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, chronicled on this very blog, AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick. I’m very glad I saw that show, and glad that Rock Chick reintroduced me to this wonderful band. AC/DC remains and will remain in high rotation here at the B&V home.

Today the rock and roll world has lost another foundational player. We down here at the B&V lab will be flying the rock flag at half mast. Me, I’m going to pour a tumbler full of something strong, brown and murky and turn on the Rock Chick’s fabulous AC/DC play list. RIP Malcolm!

 

LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career

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Well they certainly don’t make ’em like this any more…

Part of the joy of listening to albums, for me, back in the old days was reading the liner notes. I’ve talked about this many times on B&V. While other kids were reading Sports Illustrated, the Royals box scores on the sports page of the KC Star and Playboy, I was reading Rolling Stone, liner notes and well, Playboy. Reading liner notes is where my journey of musical spelunking began. From the liner notes I’d figure out who was playing what on an album or who produced a certain album I liked. I soon discovered that many of the producers and musicians I’d dug before were making the new music I also liked. I tend to follow members of bands or players into their other careers or projects.

One of the semi-unsung heroes of rock for me has always been Little Steven. These days  the fate of rock n roll is such that more people probably know Little Steven from his acting in The Sopranos or Lilyhammer than for his music. Sigh… I’m old enough to still remember when he was Miami Steve… The guy has more nicknames than Deion Sanders. Little Steven rose to prominence as Bruce Springsteen’s second guitarist in the E Street Band. Only Clarence Clemons played a bigger on-stage role for Bruce than Little Steven. To this day Little Steven and Bruce do the “meet me at the microphone” thing to co-sing lead on songs like “Out In The Street” or “Glory Days.” Little Steven actually didn’t join the E Street Band officially until the tour for ‘Born To Run.’ He actually produced the horns on “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” Bruce couldn’t get the horn sound he wanted, he has said it kept coming out sounding like Chicago. Little Steven came in and sang the horn parts to the players and they nailed it. “Time to put this guy on the payroll…” was Springsteen’s reaction. Little Steven was given a “production assistance” credit on ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ and a full producer’s credit on ‘The River.’ He really shaped a lot of the music from the era of Springsteen I love the most, the 70s.

What many people don’t know, or perhaps have forgotten. is that Little Steven was a producer long before he joined the Bruce and the E Streeters. His most famous production work was probably with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I’ve read that he helped form the group but it’s never been clear to me whether he was a full fledged member or not. Regardless, he wrote a lot of their early music and produced their first three albums. I always thought of Southside Johnny as the B-team from the Jersey Shore. Springsteen would farm a couple tunes out to him for each of his early records. He never made much impact in Kansas City. As I got older I discovered his music and it’s really great, especially the LP ‘Hearts of Stone.’ Little Steven not only produced those early records, he wrote a lot of the songs that Southside Johnny performed. Again we find it was Little Steven shaping that Jersey shore sound. He went on to produce other artists from Darlene Love and Gary U.S. Bonds to the Arc Angels.

When Springsteen retreated to his home studio to labor over the solo, acoustic, dour album ‘Nebraska,’ Little Steven and the rest of the E Street Band were at loose ends. Springsteen didn’t tour after ‘Nebraska’ so that really left the band with nothing to do. Clarence Clemons even did a solo album with the Red Bank Rockers. Little Steven, whose popularity had been established with Springsteen in his live shows was approached about doing a solo album. The result, ‘Men Without Women’ has been described as the greatest Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes LP that they never made. I just remember sitting in my room in college when my roomie Drew came in with that album. It was a revelation. It was a soul rock classic. Drew turned me on to a lot of great music… but I digress.

Growing up on the Jersey Shore, in the 60s, must have been a unique time in music. You could hear literally everything on the radio back then. Soul music, like Otis Redding, Motown, the Beatles, Stones and British invasion bands. Listening to Little Steven’s work over the years you can tell all of that music stuck in his head. He has this unique way of blending both soul music, with big horns and the garage rock sound of early Beatles and Stones with heavy guitar. ‘Men Without Women’ was the perfect synthesis of all those sounds.

After that album, I followed Little Steven pretty closely. After the solo debut, he returned to work on Bruce’s ‘Born In The USA’ and then bowed out prior to the tour. I was really surprised when he left the E Street Band. There have been rumors it was because of conflict between him and Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau who wanted to take Bruce to over-the-top stardom. Little Steven was said to be the dissenting voice in the room who wanted Bruce to stay truer to the music vs the fame. Who knows? I’ve also read Little Steven say that he joined the E Street Band to help Springsteen “make it” and when he did he felt he could move on to his own solo career. While Springsteen toured the world on ‘Born In the USA’ Little Steven put out his second solo album, the decidedly political ‘Voice of America.’ I love that record but the production is very much of the 80s – tinny and too much synthesizer. The songs “Undefeated” and “I Am A Patriot” are still in high rotation here at the B&V lab some 30 years later…

In the early 90s, Springsteen disbanded the E Street Band. He spent the decade mostly in the wilderness. Finally at the end of the 90s Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, mostly to tour. It wasn’t until his 2002 masterpiece, ‘The Rising’ that Bruce got the band back in the studio together. During Springsteen’s wilderness period Little Steven did a couple more solo albums, but by then I’d lost touch with his music. I was heavily into Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in those days… 1999, when Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, marked Little Steven’s final solo album, or so I thought. The almost constant touring and the acting kept him busy in the interim.

I was delighted to see that Little Steven was returning to his solo career with this year’s ‘Soulfire.’ Gone are the political trappings that dominated much of his work from ‘VOA’ to his Sun City protest stuff. He’s back to doing what he does best – combining soul music, with the big horns and garage rock guitar. I really love this record. It’s so much fun to hear this sound. You just don’t hear records like this any more. This is a bit of a weird album for me as it’s mostly Little Steven covering his old material he wrote for other people, from Southside Johnny to Gary U.S. Bonds. So almost all the songs on this record may seem familiar to those of us who were fans of that Jersey Shore sound. Part of me thought that was cheating, but hey, they’re his songs. I wasn’t upset when Springsteen released his version of “The Fever,” why would I begrudge Little Steven reclaiming his old songs.

The horns on this record are huge. At first listen the album may seem a little monochromatic, but the more I listen the more nuanced stuff starts to jump out at me. Each new listen reveals something new to me. The album starts off with the title track, which starts with a funky little guitar that could have been cribbed from a Supreme’s record. Then the horns take off. Some may grouse about Little Steven’s vocals. Give me a guy who sings with heart and emotion over a perfect-pitch Steve Perry any day. Those same people are the ones I’ve heard complain about Neil Young’s vocal. It’s about feel, people, not hitting a perfect C.

The thing that jumped out at me almost immediately from this record is the Little Steven’s lead guitar playing. The solo on “I’m Coming Back” is Jeff Beck-ian. When Little Steven returned to the E Street Band it was really as 3rd guitarist behind Springsteen and the virtuoso Nils Lofgren so you don’t really get to hear him play those mean leads any more. I think he saved up all his great licks for this record. I love the way he plays the guitar on the blues stomper “The Blues Is My Business.” It’s bluesy but it cleaves to that horns/guitar template the whole album is built on.

There are changes of pace. The doo-wop song “The City Weeps Tonight” is just great. It’s a song the Shirelles could have done. The ballad, “Some Things Don’t Change” builds and builds to the climax at the end. I love the Byrds-y guitar that starts off the Springsteen co-written “Love On The Wrong Side of Town.” All of Little Steven’s influences can be heard on this record. The centerpiece of this record, for me, is “Down And Out in New York City.” It starts off with that funky was-wah guitar sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an Isaac Hayes or James Brown record. It’s an epic soul jam and perhaps my favorite song on this record. It even boasts a trumpet solo in the end, which I was frankly, not expecting. The beginning of “Standing In The Line of Fire” sounds like the soundtrack to a spaghetti western. There are subtle shadings like that all over this record.

I highly recommend this album to any fan of big, soulful, epic, fun, rock and roll. This is a great time from start to finish. Often in B&V I read myself typing “this is not an album you’d put on at a party.” Not so, this time around. ‘Soulfire’ is the kind of enormous music you’d want to play at a party. Turn this one up loud!

Cheers!

B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish

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Anymore I find myself staying home more often than not. My Howard Hughes-hermit-loner phase is getting stronger. I haven’t quite got the point where I’m urinating into milk bottles, but I’m sure that’s coming. I seem to forget to shave for days on end but at least I do bathe regularly. The problem for the Rock Chick and me is that our friends are all married with children. Usually we just end up alone, sitting on the deck, sipping something strong.

However, work does occasionally pull me out of the house. I had one such evening a couple of Wednesdays ago. A guy who works for me, who I’ll call Ned, came to Kansas City so we could do some “second half planning,” which means eat BBQ and drink. After a rigorous afternoon spent in the office where surprisingly to me we actually did some work, Ned and I headed out to one of Kansas City’s premier BBQ joints, Q39. It may possibly be the best BBQ I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot. The place is always packed. Although I must admit I was terribly disappointed they’ve removed the burnt ends from the appetizer menu, but this isn’t the place to air my grievances.

After feasting on perfectly smoked beast, Ned and I sat at the bar sipping whiskey. After a quick Google-Map search, I saw that he was staying at a downtown hotel, near a couple of bars I used to frequent prior to meeting the Rock Chick. While I don’t go out or drink on weeknights anymore, sometimes when I do, the wind just sort of pushes me along, I never know where I’ll find myself. I end up bouncing from bar to bar, talking to strangers, in the old days bumming cigarettes and making people laugh. I’m like Tyrion Lannister, “I drink and I know things.” I’m out spreading joy folks, one bar, one drink at a time. Although now it’s without the cigarettes.

We quickly Uber’ed down to John’s Big Deck on Wyandotte. We went bounding up the stairs, which I had trouble finding (I really need to get out more) and went up to the big deck a few flights up. John’s Big Deck boasts, as you would expect, a giant deck on the roof that has a magnificent view of KC’s skyline. The sign by the stairs reads, “Can You Handle Our Big Deck.” It was just that kind of night. Ned is from a “Red” state and I’m not sure he was emotionally prepared for the mix of hipsters, bohemians, and gay off-duty waiters in the crowd up there. We sat at the end of the bar and I educated the youngsters around me on the politics of income inequality. It didn’t take long before it was just Ned and I sitting at the end of the bar… I suppose you should never talk a little treason on a Wednesday night in Kansas City…

I was restless, as I’m prone to be, and after a few rounds, it was time to walk up a block or so to the Phoenix, a piano bar on 8th street. I briefly dated, more like “hung out with,” a woman who lived in that neighborhood, many moons ago, and we drank at the Phoenix quite a bit. The Rock Chick and I actually took our dear friend Rhonda, who is newer to town, down there one Saturday afternoon this spring. I always loved the Phoenix. There was a bald piano player, whose name escapes me, who might have owned the place at one time and he used to play there almost every night. Any more, you never know what you’ll find there. Most of the time it’s a small jazz trio/combo. I’ve heard some great singers in the Phoenix and since we were close, I felt Ned deserved the full Kansas City experience – BBQ and jazz.

We quickly bellied up to the bar and I noticed the crowd was a little thin. I was a tad worried there’d be no music. Suddenly a young woman, who looked vaguely familiar to me, but whom I couldn’t place, sat down behind the piano with an acoustic guitar. She started strumming the guitar and singing. I thought, “Oh, great, some college chick has come in to warble tortured romantic folks songs.” I put my nose in my beer and Nate and I chatted about sports. Every now and then, the singer’s voice would pierce through the fog the boilermakers were creating around my head and I’d think, “Wow, what a strong voice this chick has.” I quietly imagined her as busker on some street corner who had wandered into a great gig at premier jazz bar.

After a few acoustic guitar songs, the singer turned and pulled up an electric guitar. “Well, this just got interesting,” I said to Ned… The gal sang a few blues tunes but she really caught my attention when she played “Angel,” a Jimi Hendrix song. It was also covered by Rod Stewart, which I mention because it actually comes into play later in this story. Ned leaned over and said, “The music this gal is playing just keeps getting better… I don’t think it’s the booze.” Indeed, I don’t think we were drinking this gal’s music pretty, as the saying goes… she was incredibly talented. Ned and my conversation soon halted as we listened to this woman sing. “Who is this talented woman,” I kept muttering. I knew I’d heard her voice before.

Almost as quickly as she’d discarded the acoustic guitar, she put aside the electric guitar and turned to the piano. I couldn’t help but think, this woman is like Prince, there’s no instrument she can’t play. She belted a perfect rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” I was all in now. I had turned away from the bar and was staring straight at her, trying to place her face. It was starting to get late and I knew Ned was ready to crash but I had to stay for one more song. She broke into the old Etta James’ tune, “I’d Rather Go Blind.” As she finished, Ned tabbed us out and we lurched toward the door. I had to speak to this woman… I pulled all the loose cash I’d accumulated over an evening of drinking and said to her, “Miss, this is a feeble tip considering the amazing music you’ve played here tonight,” and dropped the money in the tip jar.

She smiled and thanked me. I had to ask, “That version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” was that inspired by the Etta James version or the Rod Stewart version? It was spot on.” The singer asked me, “Rod Stewart did that song?” I said yes, with Ronnie Wood. And this is the moment I embarrassed myself… She asked, “With the Faces?” I’m old, and deaf and thought she said, “on the bass?” I’m sure I looked puzzled when I replied, “No, Ronnie played guitar.” In my defense, not many young people know about the Faces. She was laughing at me now, when she repeated loudly, “The Faces, I know Ronnie plays the guitar.” I smiled as the Faces reference finally registered, as everyone knows, I love the Faces. Rod’s version was recorded by the Faces but released on one of his solo albums.

And, since I hadn’t embarrassed myself enough, I said, “What is your name, you’re super talented…” Ned was holding something just outside of my peripheral vision, but I was locked in on the singer’s face. She looked a tad astonished that I’d asked. “I’m Amanda Fish…” I glanced to my left and Ned was holding her CD, with her name printed on it just out of my vision. Amanda Fish! I almost swatted my hand upon my forehead. The Blues Gods should have smote me dead on the spot. If you haven’t heard Amanda Fish yet, you soon will. She’s an amazing talent. If you dig raw blues, pick up her LP ‘Down In The Dirt’ immediately. I’d seen her several times, but I was always in the back of a room, and she was always on stage with a band. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize her close up. I blushed when I saw and heard her say her name. I wanted to crawl into a hole… at least the whiskey helped…

This, people, is why I don’t go out anymore. But then again, maybe this is a cautionary tale, a sign, telling me I should get out more… it’s hard to know how to read this sign.

If you get the chance to see live music, especially the blues or rock and roll, and especially if it’s Amanda Fish, do yourself a favor and buy the ticket. Take the ride!

Cheers!

LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’

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It’s always a curious thing when a member of a well-known band decides to step out of the band and do a solo album. There are several reasons to do so. Sometimes, like Pete Townshend, the performer feels the songs are too personal to record with the band and so decides to do it alone. Sometimes the members of the band just need a break from each other. That was the onus of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Mr. Bad Guy,’ an album I still feel was a bad idea, despite the adoration of critics. The cover art could be considered Freddie’s declaration that he was gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that…it’s just that we never suspected, but that’s another story. Getting out on his own helped recharge Freddie and the resulting music he made with Queen seemed reinvigorated. And let me be clear, I’m a huge Freddie Mercury and Queen fan.

There was a time when audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to understand a “solo” career coinciding with a band they loved. The thought of a Beatle stepping out on his own surely meant the end of the band. Well, OK, that one might have been true. Rod Stewart was the first artist who really seemed to pull off the parallel solo/band thing. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year. Although to be truthful, the solo stuff and the success he saw there overshadowed the Faces stuff and eventually tanked that band. And, in truth, Rod had already signed a solo contract before joining the Faces so he really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Other early notable solo careers outside of a band would include Phil Collins at the height of Genesis’ popularity. Some might say Collins’ solo career helped fuel the success of Genesis… but Phil Collins, really? Even I feel like that’s a reach for this blog.

Nowadays, solo careers are pretty much the standard. Yes, they still sometimes mean the end of a band you love (I’m talking to you Gwen Stefani of No Doubt). Most of the time it’s just a chance for an artist to step outside the strictures of working with the same people, and maybe expand their musical palette. Having spent the last week or so listening to ‘Waiting On A Song,’ I can definitely say that is what Dan Auerbach has done. Of course, I’ve had to select my moments when I can put this album on… The Rock Chick is not a fan… I can only listen when she’s not around… and I’m supposedly “the head of the household…” but I digress.

Both the Rock Chick and I are what I would describe as “casual” fans of the Black Keys. I liked their early blues-punk stuff. I’ve always thought of the Black Keys’ early stuff as somewhat monochromatic, which isn’t a bad thing. Consider Picasso during his “blue period.” I thought the high point during that part of their career was the LP ‘Rubber Factory,’ an album both the Rock Chick and I both enjoy. I will say, in subsequent albums the Black Keys did open up their sound quite a bit. ‘Attack And Release,’ a favorite of the Rock Chick, incorporated a number of new sounds and directions. That’s one of the things I’ve really liked about the Black Keys, they keep expanding sonically. I think all of that came to beautiful fruition on their best album, ‘El Camino.’ I will admit, ‘Turn Blue’ left me decidedly cold. I did not like anything on that record. I seem to like every other Black Keys album.

I was aware that Auerbach had already released a solo album previously, but I’d mostly ignored that. Even if I’d listened to ‘Keep It Hid,’ I don’t think that or anything would have prepared me for how different ‘Waiting On A Song’ was than Auerbach’s day job. This is a shimmery, summery, light, upbeat 70s style record that in places borders on soul music or R&B. I heard the first single “Shine On Me,” reviewed here on B&V, and really liked it. It’s what the kids call, “my summer jam.” It’s all acoustic strumming with electric guitar accents. I still just love that tune.

With the Black Keys, it now appears to me, that the caveman, Meg White-like drumming of Patrick Carney drives the sound. Which, I know the Black Keys used to be considered a poor man’s White Stripes, and likely I risk Jack White punching me in the face with the Carney/Meg comparison, but oh, well, there it is. Auerbach couldn’t sound further removed from the Black Keys sound than he does here. There is a diversity of sound, and a difference that astounds me. With Carney behind the kit, Auerbach has to play a more aggressive, loud guitar as counterpoint.

With ‘Waiting On A Song,’ where to begin…. “Malibu Man” sounds like something from a 70s Bobby Darin album. It’s a great tune, all shimmery pop. “Livin’ In Sin,” a phrase I haven’t heard since my father forbid my uncle from sharing our guest room with his live-in girlfriend, now my aunt, is a great song. But even that phrasing, “Livin’ In Sin” has a 70s feel to it. This whole album feels like an homage to shiny, happy 70s rock and roll. “Never In My Wildest Dreams” is a beautiful little song, which starts out sounding like Jack Johnson. I never thought the guy behind the Black Keys would sound like Jack fucking Johnson, but it works.

The last track, “Stand By My Girl,” may even outpace “Shine On Me” for my favorite. He sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl, because if I don’t she may kill me…” Which could be my theme song here at the house. “King of A One Horse Town” starts off like a funky, porn-movie riff, and then turns into a longing, sweetly sung chorus. It reminds me of my time living in Ft Smith, Arkansas… talk about your one horse towns…

I know Auerbach has worked with a wide selection of different artists. He’s clearly brought all that back with him into the studio for ‘Waiting On A Song.’ The title track is all about creating new music, which this guy does in spades here. I really like this record but be forewarned, this is nothing like the Black Keys. This is light and more pop-oriented. Frankly it’s a perfect album for summer and laying out by the pool with a cold beer in your hand, watching tanned bodies stroll by. Which frankly, doesn’t sound like a bad idea….Turn it up loud and be sure to use your sunscreen.

Cheers!

Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2107

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*image from the Kansas City Star

It was a bit of a rough May… First we lost Chris Cornell and then we lost Gregg Allman. I was beginning to feel that numb sense of despair I’d felt for much of 2016. But then I remembered on Friday, June 2nd, I had tickets to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary tour. And as a bonus, former James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was slated to open. While I love Tom Petty, and concerts in general, I was having a bit of trouble getting up for this show. It’s just that I’ve seen Petty so many times, I was fearful it would the same old set, the same old show. As usual, I was wrong…

As Petty is reflecting on his 40th anniversary, I couldn’t help but think back to my history with Tom. I can still remember my first Petty show. I had been a huge fan of his since their debut album came out when I was in junior high school, but I didn’t get to see him live until I was in college on the Pack Up The Plantation tour in support of the flawed but still enjoyable album, ‘Southern Accents.’ That show was ok, but the Heartbreakers were augmented with a horn section and back up singers. Sadly they also chose to hang a giant Confederate flag behind them, a choice Petty now regrets.

It wasn’t until I saw them on the ‘Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough’ tour that I got the real, genuine rockin’ Tom Petty experience. That album was very Stonesy, for lack of a better word, and the show was more full on rocking. Sure, I’d seen them behind Bob Dylan, but they were better on their own. It was at the ‘Let Me Up…’ show in Boston that I realized what great musicians these guys are. Stan Lynch was still manning the drum kit and he was a monster. It was Mike Campbell’s guitar that really caught my attention. The man should be on the list of every “Greatest Guitarists” everywhere. I can’t say enough about Benmont Tench’s abilities on keyboards. He sits on a stool surrounded by every type of keyboard imaginable and seemingly plays all of them at the same time… it’s like the guy has 4 arms.

After that experience, I made a point to see Petty on every tour. I remember my buddy Stormin and I drinking with a group of friends of ours who were going down to old Kemper Arena in Kansas City to see Petty on the ‘Full Moon Fever’ tour. Stormin and I were broke and I was unemployed. Neither of us had bought tickets. Our friends talked us into going down to scalp, something I rarely do. Some guy walked up to us and asked us what we thought his tickets were worth. They were 5th row on the floor. “Uh, face value?” He just smiled and said, “Give me $20 each and we’ll call it even.” We ended up with better seats than our friends. That was such a great show for me, when you’re that close it changes the experience. I can remember, looking up to a darkened entry way, behind the stage, and a couple I could only see in silhouette were dancing to the music… it was like they were the perfect stage decoration. I envied them their joy.

It was my old friend Stormin who called to alert me that Petty was on tour for his 40th Anniversary. I hesitated a bit, only because at our last Petty show my wife, the Rock Chick said, “He plays the same 10 songs every time we see him… I may be done with Petty.” But knowing this was his 40th anniversary show, and likely the Heartbreakers last big tour, I did some research. Petty claimed they were going to mix up the setlist. I was in. I can only say, thank God for my over 30 year friendship with Stormin, because I would have hated to miss this beautiful Anniversary celebration.

Petty strolled out on the stage last night in a purple jacket. He’s so charismatic and lets face it, purple is just a regal color. I knew this was going to be a different night when they opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around With You.” It’s got a Bo Diddley beat and was just a nice burst of rock to start the show. He followed up with a blistering version of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” which ended in a guitar dual between Petty and Mike Campbell… You just know Campbell is going to win all of those. He put on a guitar clinic all night. Everyone really needs to see this show just to hear Campbell play.

While Petty did mix up the setlist last night, what does it say about his catalog that when he plays a song like “You Got Lucky” which was a big hit, that it’s his change of pace material he rarely plays. That would be a must-play for any other artist. Last night was the first time I’d ever heard it live, and it was fantastic. I was thrilled he played some of his newer material… he really accessed all of his catalog and the newer song “Forgotten Man” is more relevant today than it was a few years ago. Playing these unfamiliar tracks put new life into “Won’t Back Down” and even “Free Fallin'” that Petty always plays.

The thing that really electrified last night’s performance was the enthusiasm of the crowd. They sang along on almost every song. I hadn’t seen a crowd that jacked up since the Stones a couple of years ago. The place was full and everybody was in full voice. I even caught the Rock Chick singing along loudly. It was just that kind of night. Petty announced the obscure soundtrack tune “Walls” as a song that had been requested… by him it turns out and the crowd even sang along for that one.

The middle of the set turns acoustic as he turns his focus on a subset of songs from his brilliant ‘Wildflowers’ LP. “It’s Good To Be King” was the usual extended jam. Then he went into “Crawling Back To You,” which has the great quote, “most things I worry about don’t happen anyway,” which could be my theme song. The acoustic strummer, “Wildflowers,” was simply transcendent. He kept things rolling with the rarely played “Yer So Bad” from ‘Full Moon Fever.” Wow!

Petty and the Heartbreakers brought it back up for “Should Have Known Better” which verged on punk rock last night. It was killer. After that, he even played “Refugee” which is a tune I’ve only heard him do once, maybe. The encore was one of my all time favorite songs “You Wreck Me” followed by “American Girl” which would have felt obligatory had the Heartbreakers not brought so much energy to it. When the lights came up, I was ecstatic. Even the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “That was a great, great show.”

I must also mention, the opening act, Joe Walsh. Joe is such a consummate showman. The things he did to his guitar could be classified as abuse. It was fantastic. “The Bomber” was a guitar workout like I haven’t seen in a while. The middle section of “The Bomber” where Joe sounds like he’s playing classical music on electric guitar was even better live. As my friend drummer Blake would say, he’s a very tasty guitarist. People take these amazing guitarists for granted… nobody can play like Joe (and later Mike Campbell) did. Cherish these guitarists people, they’re a dying breed. When Joe said, “I know there are a lot of millennials here, and most of these songs were done before you were born. Let me just say, welcome! This next song, however, is going to make your parents really happy…” and then launched into “Funk 49,” I almost wept with joy. In the words of my friend Stormin who saw the show two nights earlier at Red Rocks, “Joe Walsh is crushing it right now.” And, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the beautiful gesture of Joe dedicating his cover of “Take It To the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate,” Glenn Frey. Class move, Joe, class move!

Last night was a celebration of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40 years as a rock band. But it was more than that, it was a celebration of rock and roll and live music. It was a celebration of the communal aspects of concerts. Different people from all over coming together in unison to drink a little, sing a little and enjoy a whole lot of great music. The temptation to skip seeing that favorite band can sometimes be strong. Many times you think “I’ll catch them next time…” I’m telling you people, get out and see live music… there will come a time when these bands will disappear and you’ll wish you had…

Simply put, a magnificent show last night. Kudos to the crowd! And of course, Happy Anniversary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

P.S. Joe Walsh for President!

Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Man, has it been a tough couple of weeks. It started it off well enough. I saw Soundgarden two weeks ago today and they were spectacular. I left hopeful to hear a new album from those guys sometime this year. Then things took a dark turn. Chris Cornell passed away after a show in Detroit. Then a few days later some idiot in Manchester attacks a teeny-bopper concert full of young girls, the height of cowardice. And now, in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, I got the news blues/rock legend Gregg Allman has passed away. I have to admit, my “Spidey-Senses were tingling” about Gregg for a while. He’d been hospitalized and had cancelled some tour dates. He was only 69.

The Allman Brothers Band, which bore Gregg and his brother Duane’s name, is to guitar playing what the SEC is to college football. They have all the championships. My nickname for the Allman Brothers was always “Guitar University.” Whether it was Duane Allman/Dickey Betts, or in the later years Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks, manning the guitars, you were certain to hear virtuoso guitar performances. Even surrounded by all those guitars the bedrock of the Allman’s sound was Gregg’s Hammond B-3 organ which was the melodic platform from which those guitars launched and soared. The heartbeat, and for me the key component to the Allman Brothers’ sound, was Gregg’s vocal. Even in his younger days he sang with a depth and knowing despair usually reserved for men three times his age. Who else could write, in their 20’s, “Just one more mornin’ I had to wake up with the blues…” “Dreams” indeed…

When he was a very young child his father, an Army sergeant, was shot and killed by a drinking buddy. You have to wonder if that early tragedy informed Gregg’s soulful, sad voice. Gregg Allman didn’t just sing the blues – with all the tragedy (his father, his brother’s untimely death), the women, Cher, the divorces (6), the drugs, the booze, and all the legal problems divorces, booze and drugs bring – Gregg Allman lived the blues.

I’ve read quite a bit on line about Gregg Allman the last twenty-four hours. Almost unanimously they refer to Allman as a “southern rock” pioneer. I do know that Gregg considered the term southern rock redundant. If it’s southern music, it rocks, baby! When I think about the Allman’s music, I don’t think of it as southern rock. Yes, they built the template of the multi-lead guitar, bluesy, touch of country, rock and roll. To me they were just a great blues band with a jazz ethos. The solo’ing and the playing off each other was so much more akin to Miles Davis than well, Marshall Tucker. I don’t really like jam bands, like say, The Grateful Dead, but you could easily call the Allman Brothers Band a jam band. In my opinion they played more forcefully than all that Grateful Dead noodling. These guys were taking the blues places it hadn’t been.

My introduction to the Allman Brothers Band was an odd one. When I was in college my musical taste and my album collection was exploding in all different directions. I had musical ADD. I’d buy a Stones album, then maybe a Beatles album, then back over to the Faces. I had the good fortune to have a roommate, Drew, who had a singular focus when it came to music. When he got into an artist he went straight through the catalog until he had it all. We were both musical completists. Drew came home one day with “I’m No Angel,” Gregg’s great ’86 solo album. Yes, the production is a little dated, but it was the strongest thing he’d done since “Laid Back.” This was my introduction to Gregg Allman and my gateway into the Allman Brothers Band. You have to remember, when I came of record-buying age, Allman was married to Cher and had just put out “Allman And Woman.” Not my bailiwick. Up to the point Drew brought home “I’m No Angel” I was aware of the Allmans but hadn’t paid any attention to them.

Drew also played me “Live At the Fillmore East” for the first time. That’s when I was hooked, my musical life changed that day. It wasn’t until I moved to Arkansas that I crashed through the entire early Allman’s catalog. I mean, if you live in the south you better own some Allman Brother’s albums… I consider “The Allman Brothers Band,” “Idlewild South,” “Fillmore East,” “Eat A Peach” and “Brothers And Sisters” all ESSENTIAL rock music listening. It’s an amazing catalog of work. They defined jam rock, southern rock, blues rock, just plain rock! Through losing Duane Allman, founder/leader/legendary guitarist and founding bassist Barry Oakley they continued to put out fantastic music. While it’s easy to focus on those early records, when the Allman Brothers regrouped in 1990 for the great reunion/comeback album ‘Seven Turns’ it led to a string of really great albums. I would highly recommend ‘Where It All Begins,’ but I also loved the last Allman album, without Dickey Betts, ‘Hittin’ The Note.” There’s some great playing on that record especially on the long track, “Desdemona.” They also cover the Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” which I’m rather partial to.

While the Allman Brothers’ legend is cemented, I don’t hear nearly enough about Gregg’s great solo work. One of the unique things about Gregg’s solo work is on almost every solo album he’d go back and rework one of the Allman’s early songs. His first solo album, “Laid Back” is his masterpiece and his reimagining of “Midnight Rider” is so differently orchestrated than the original you almost forget there are 2 versions of that track. “Laid Back” is a must have. His cover of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days” is definitive. His follow-up, the live “The Gregg Allman Tour” is, like “Fillmore East,” one of the great double live albums of the 70s. Gregg always brought more of an R&B feel to his solo records vs the bluesy muscle of Allman Brothers. The other 70s solo Gregg album that everyone should own is ‘Playing Up A Storm.’ You won’t recognize any of the tunes, I don’t think there are any “hits” per se, but it’s almost the same high quality as “Laid Back.” Choice listening!

Gregg’s last solo album, ‘Low Country Blues’ was produced by T Bone Burnett and featured Gregg doing almost exclusively old blues covers. The opening track, “Floating Bridge” will stop you in your tracks. He tackles Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and matches the Stones version for sheer blues awesomeness. My only complaint about ‘Low Country’ was there wasn’t enough of Gregg’s seminal organ playing, but it’s a nit of a complaint.

Another album that didn’t get a lot of attention, but everyone should check out is Gregg’s 1997 solo album, “Searching For Simplicity.” He does a great, acoustic re-work of “Whippin’ Post.” There is a great, great version of John Hiatt’s “Memphis In The Meantime.” For me, “Rendezvous With The Blues” is the highpoint. Gregg’s bluesy growl is let loose on that one. It’s a solid, bluesy record and well worth checking out.

Today I am sad, because we have lost another legend. I’m starting to get that bad 2016 feeling again… We’re starting to lose people in bunches again. Thankfully we have an amazing back catalog to console us through our grief. And, I was pleased to hear that Gregg had completed his long-awaited follow up to ‘Low Country Blues,’ and that album should be out in September.

Make no mistake people, a giant of the blues, of rock and roll, of music has passed this weekend. The world is better off for knowing Gregg Allman’s artistry.

Cheers!