Review: Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Patient Number 9’ – Glorious Metal LP Packed With An All-Star Band

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“It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “One of Those Days”

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a new Ozzy album out in the world. It’s like having your favorite, cool uncle who used to slip you beers at wedding receptions in town for a long visit. Ozzy went a decade between 2010’s Scream and his next album 2020’s surprise comeback LP Ordinary Man. We loved Ordinary Man here at B&V. But then we’ve been an Ozzy fan from the start. Well, almost from the start. I merely taped a friend’s copy of Blizzard of Ozz. At the time I was actually more into the Dio incarnation of Sabbath but there’s room for both in any record collection. My first Ozzy album purchase was actually Diary Of A Madman, his second LP. I had to wait until I was in college to finally see Ozzy live on the Ultimate Sin tour in Wichita. Jake E. Lee was his latest guitar wizard in 1986 and it was a great show.

Rather than waiting a decade for another album, apparently only four days after Ordinary Man came out, Ozzy grabbed producer/guitarist Andrew Watt and headed back into the studio to record the follow-up. I really like Andrew Watt as a producer. Besides Ozzy he also produced the fabulous Eddie Vedder solo LP, Earthling. The strategy on this LP was very similar to the last album – recruit top notch players and rock out. Much is being made about the all-star cast of guitarists who play on this album, but there are great musicians on every instrument here. While Chad Smith mans the drum kit for most of the songs on Patient Number 9, like he did on Ordinary Man, there are a few tracks where the late Taylor Hawkins drums. It makes me wonder if these songs were Hawkins’ last recorded tunes? Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who actually played in Ozzy’s band before joining Metallica, plays bass on most of the tracks. But, Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses mans the bass on several of the tracks. And former Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney plays on “Nothing Feels Right.”

When you have a bunch of guest stars playing on an album I always wonder about continuity. Will the songs hang together well as an album? Recently Edgar Winter did a fabulous tribute album for his brother Johnny, creatively titled Brother Johnny. There was a host of guitarists who showed up to pay tribute to the late, great bluesman. I felt the album, reviewed in these pages, held together well because all the tunes were in a blues framework. I think despite all the guest appearances Patient Number 9 holds together so well as an album because a) it’s all in a heavy metal framework which keeps everyone rocking in the same direction and b) the base band for this album: Andrew Watt/guitar, Robert Trujillo/bass, and Chad Smith drums – who all play on a majority of the tunes – hold the continuity together from Eric Clapton to Metal Viking Zakk Wylde. It doesn’t matter who plays lead guitar, they have to play with the band. Everybody, including Ozzy, plays with enthusiasm and gusto. Despite some heavy themes you can feel the joy coming off this album.

It’s clear Ozzy has mortality on his mind. With titles like “Dead And Gone,” “Immortal” and “Mr. Darkness” it’s not hard to figure out where Ozzy’s head is at. But in the years since Ordinary Man the Ozzman has “been through hell.” He was diagnosed with Parkinsons. He got Covid. It’s a wonder he got this album out. While I doubt he’ll ever tour extensively again I think having this wonderful metal LP is a blessing. I can understand after all he’s been through why Ozzy sings, as I quoted above, about it being “One of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus.” I think we’ve all had those moments when we feel abandoned by Fate. I will say, and it was the Rock Chick who noticed this first, Ozzy’s voice does sound a bit treated on this album. It’s auto-tuned in quite a few places. But hey, it’s Ozzy I can forgive that. And again, you can tell everyone including Ozzy had so much fun on this project the heaviness doesn’t get to you.

I just love this album. If push came to shove I’d probably admit I liked Ordinary Man just a smidge more but that’s mostly because it’d been 10 freakin’ years since we’d heard from Ozzy and it was such a pleasant surprise. There is a lot to like here. As promised it’s a smorgasbord of guitarists. Ozzy managed to get two of the three former Yardbird guitarists to play on this record. Jimmy Page was approached and declined but I don’t think Jimmy plays that much any more which is a shame. Mercurial Jeff Beck plays lead on two of my favorite tracks here. I love the title track which features Beck’s fabulous solo’ing but I reviewed “Patient Number 9” already. Beck also plays on the power ballad “A Thousand Shades” and his playing is so melodic it’s one of the absolute highlights of the LP. Jeff Beck needs to rock out more. I was stunned when I read Clapton agreed to play on this album. He shows up on “One Of Those Days,” quoted above. I don’t know how they did it but Clapton plays like he’s still in Cream. It’s a great solo and perhaps the best solo Clapton has played since he guested on the Steve Winwood tune “Dirty City.” (Seriously, check that tune out).

While much has been made of Ozzy getting the former Yardbirds to play on this record for me two of the best moments on this album are when Ozzy teams up with his erstwhile bandmate from Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi. Those two go together like peanut butter (a substance I was forced to give up) and jelly. “Degradation Rules,” reviewed previously, an ode to masturbation – although I can’t decide if it’s pro or con – is a wonderful, sludgy metal tune and sounds like an outtake from Masters of Reality. Iommi’s guitar is unmistakable. Ozzy even plays some harmonica on the track, which I love. The other Iommi track is the epic “No Escape From Now.” It starts off like the spooky “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid but then the band shifts through several time changes. They go fast, they slow down. Then the band falls away and Iommi drops some of the heaviest riffage I’ve heard since Vol 4. His solo’ing on this song is so epic and beautiful it belongs in an opera.

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready shows up on the heavy track “Immortal.” His solo verges on Eddie Van Halen territory. Many notes are shredded. It’s wonderful. He really acquits himself well here. Dave Navarro of Janes Addiction (and briefly the Red Hot Chili Peppers) shows up on the other power ballad here “God Only Knows” and it’s actually one of my favorite tracks. There’s a track on here that doesn’t credit any lead guitarist, “Dead And Gone” that is also an absolute highlight. It takes me back to “Shot In The Dark” just a bit. I’m guessing Andrew Watt saved that solo for himself. Although I’ve heard that Josh Homme from the Queens of the Stone Age played on here somewhere – I can’t find him in the credits – and maybe it’s him. All of these are great moments.

Ozzy’s longest tenured guitarist Zakk Wylde shows up on more tunes than any other guest guitarist. The guy is just a Heavy Metal Viking. He’s got to be a  head taller than Ozzy. I saw them together on the Black Rain tour and it sounded like an airplane landing in the arena. My favorite of the Zakk tunes is probably “Evil Shuffle.” That’s pretty much how the Rock Chick sees me walking through the house – with my evil shuffle. Its a typical, HEAVY Zakk tune. “Mr. Darkness” about an obsessed fan “stanning” over Ozzy is another Zakk highlight. “Nothing Feels Right” which was released as the third single could be seen as Ozzy giving us the state of his health over Zakk’s soaring guitar. It’s all great stuff.

If I had any complaint about this record – and I don’t really – it’s that it feels a little longer than the sixty minute running time. They likely could have edited a few things out. There’s a little bluesy throwaway at the end, “Darkside Blues,” where Ozzy again plays harmonica that they could have cut. It’s only a minute and a half long. Although I kind of wish they’d fleshed that out into an actual tune because well, I love the blues. They could have cut the “scary monster, b-movie, horror film” intro on the title track. And they likely could have cut one of the four Zakk tracks to streamline this thing a little bit. But again, complaining about too much Ozzy on an album is like complaining about too much money in your checking account.

This is a great album and a wonderful celebration of the man, the myth, Ozzy Osbourne. The Ozzy comeback or renaissance continues strong on Patient Number 9. I’ll probably spend most of my weekend up in the B&V lounge cranking this metal mayhem up to 11 and spilling Woodford Reserve on the carpet. This one is a must have for all you hard rockers out there. Enjoy this one at max volume!

Cheers!

Edgar Winter (And Many Special Guitar Guests), ‘Brother Johnny’ – A Fitting Tribute To His Brother Johnny Winter, Blues/Blues Rock Legend

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It’s no secret that we’re big blues fans here at B&V. We’ve even published a playlist of our favorite blues songs done by rock artists, a playlist still in high rotation here in the B&V labs. All of the great rock n roll I love is really built on a foundation of the blues: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Cream to name but a few. The blues always has a great beat, impassioned vocals and a great guitar solo. All of that translated very well to the rock idiom. “The blues had a baby and they called it rock n roll.” One of the great blues guitarists out there who I’ve always dug but oddly never owned a ton of his stuff was Johnny Winter who passed away in 2014 at the age of 70 years old. While I never owned a ton of Johnny’s stuff, I have been listen to and a fan of his for a long time. With his skinny frame, white-blonde hair and albino skin he was, in my mind, an iconic guitarist. While he may be predominantly known for the blues I’ve always thought of him as more blues/blues rock.

I feel like Johnny Winter should be better known. He hailed from Texas. By the time he was 10 he was playing guitar in bands with his younger brother Edgar (more on him later). He really hit the national scene in 1969 and was hailed as the “next Hendrix.” The hype was pretty big. While he never really lived up to that he fashioned a great blues/blues rock career. He had some great albums: his 1969 eponymous debut, Second Winter, Johnny Winter And, and with his multi instrumentalist brother Edgar Together – Live. His cover of Dylan’s “Highway 61” is almost as iconic as the original. I have always loved his Stones’ covers “Stray Cat Blues” and “Silver Train” to name only two. Johnny played at Woodstock, for god’s sake, why isn’t he a household name? Some of my favorite work by Johnny was when he resurrected Muddy Waters’ late career by producing and playing on a trio of great LPs.

Johnny’s younger brother Edgar followed a similar career path. He played keyboards, saxophone and I understand it, pretty much anything he picked up. After playing with Johnny early on he struck out on his own. He had a couple of really big hits in the 70s, “Free Ride” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” (what a riff). He joined brother Johnny on a live LP but afterwards really became more known as a session musician. I was surprised and thrilled to see that eight years after his death Edgar has put together a guitar extravaganza tribute LP to his late brother. Who better to memorialize the great Johnny Winter but Edgar? Between listening to the new Chili Peppers and cranking up Rush’s Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Edition, I’ve been jamming on this album almost constantly.

Tribute LPs can be a tricky endeavor. They can be really scattershot depending who is involved. Different artists and their styles can pull in wildly varied directions and fray the cohesiveness of the album. Brother Johnny avoids that trap for a couple of reasons. The level of talent Edgar managed to recruit to this thing. From Joe Bonamassa to Billy Gibbons to Warren Haynes, Edgar recruited topnotch guitar players who obviously respect and perhaps revere Johnny’s music/playing. The tunes are in good hands here. The second reason this thing holds together so well is the nature of the songs – it’s the blues. Whether it’s a full band rave up or an acoustic, front porch strummer these tracks all have that blues cohesion. The whole album holds together extremely well. The album literally makes me feel like I’ve driven down the highway to some hidden roadhouse for a blues jam where girls in cut off jeans and cowboy boots shuffle around the floor. Edgar does a lot of the singing and I thought perhaps he’d do all of it but that’s not the case. Many of these tracks are duets.

The aforementioned Joe Bonamassa shows up on the opening track and he gets things off to a roaring start on “Mean Town Blues.” When I heard the way he was torturing that guitar my head snapped up and I stared, open mouthed at the speaker. He shows up for a second track later on the LP, “Self Destructive Blues” and it’s another barn burner. Joe sings lead on that one. I heard Joe play live and he did a track each from Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and he killed it. He made each track his own and yet paid homage to those great former Yardbirds. That was truly ballsy.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd shows up on a catchy as hell rockin’ blues “Alive And Well.” Edgar sings and snarls his ass off on that one. Shepherd shows up later for a rollicking “Highway 61” later on the LP as well. Keb Mo’ does a great acoustic blues track “Lone Star Blues.” Keb’s vocal is as tasty as Texas brisket. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, another Texas great guitar player shows up with former Allman Brother Derek Trucks on the down and dirty “I’m Yours And I’m Hers.” Only in the 60s/70s are you gonna find a song like that one. “You know I’m yours and hers, somebody else’s too…” I don’t think the Rock Chick would allow that sorta thing. Billy sings but the track is guitar heaven with Derek playing too. There’s more guitar fire power on this song than anybody than, well, the Allman Brothers.

“Johnny B. Goode” is a treat with Edgar and none other than Eagle Joe Walsh trading lead vocals. Joe’s guitar playing is as exceptional as ever. The most shocking track on the album, at least to me, is when Micheal McDonald, yes the ex Doobie Brother, takes lead vocal on “Stranger.” Walsh is still on board to play lead and Ringo Starr is on drums. It’s less bluesy and doesn’t fit completely with the rest of the album stylistically but damn if it isn’t a great, great song. Joe’s guitar solo is mind blowing. Steve Luthaker plays on “Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo” a track Johnny did prior to it being a hit for it’s writer Rick Derringer. Doyle Bramhall II does the slow burn, acoustic “When You’ve Got a Good Friend.” I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since the Arc Angels. Another Allman Brothers’ alum, Warren Haynes shows up for the crunchy blues track “Memory Pain.”

There is so much to like on this record. I didn’t hear a single dud on this album. It’s a great tribute to Johnny Winter and a testament to the power of his music and the blues in general. If you like the blues or hell, if you just like great guitar, turn this one up… maybe get a pint of Southern Comfort and dance around… close your eyes and imagine you’re in a great, little roadhouse blues bar. It’s what Johnny would have wanted.

Cheers!

New Song! Jack White Returns Solo With The Guitar Bonanza “Taking Me Back” b/w “Taking Me Back (Gently)” – Our Thoughts

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There’s a commercial I’m fond of quoting where this guy says, in a folksy drawl no less, “I wish I could tell ya how I feel about a morning like this.” I usually like to repeat it when the Rock Chick has roused me earlier than I care to be awakened and so its usually dripping with sarcasm when it comes from me. However, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase that commercial for breakfast sausage and in this case mean it with all sincerity – I wish I could tell you how I feel about a guitar driven rock song like this one. Jack White is back solo, baby! And it’s grand.

I think everyone associated with B&V knows what a big fan of Jack White I am. I got on his bandwagon early while he was still with the White Stripes, his original band – although admittedly not on the “ground floor.” It wasn’t until I heard White Blood Cells their third LP in its entirety that I got on the White Stripes’ bandwagon. I immediately purchased every LP the Stripes had put out before that which at that time was their debut LP and De Stijl. After that, I purchased every LP they put out including their live album… but then I’m known for loving live albums. If a group can bring it live, they just elevate themselves in my mind. And believe me, having seen the White Stripes in concert twice – once at venerable Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas and the other at Starlight Theater on the Missouri side – they can bring it live. If you missed out on the White Stripes they put out a fabulous Greatest Hits LP at the end of last year that is a great place to start with their catalog.

I dug what Jack White could do with the guitar (and keyboards and vocals and production and pretty much all things music) so much that I followed him into his first side project, the Raconteurs. I thought that was a great creative outlet for him. Having only played with Meg White on drums, it was nice to see Jack stretch out with a full rhythm section (both bass and drums) and have a singing/guitar foil in Brendan Benson. Consolers Of The Lonely is probably my favorite of their records (“Carolina Drama” is epic), but I dug their last LP, Help Us Stranger as well. I was still so into Jack I even dabbled in his second side project, the Dead Weather where Jack mostly just plays drums (and sings a bit).

Eventually the White Stripes broke up and Jack went solo. And let me say, he did so gloriously with two great LPs, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto. Sure, I missed the White Stripes and especially the drumming of Meg White who is apparently retired, but Jack’s solo work was so outstanding it assuaged those feelings. I have even gone so far as to describe Jack White as one of the “great men of rock n roll,” based on a similar theory in history that posits that all of history can largely be explained by the actions of great men or heroes. Sadly, Jack lost me on his last solo LP, 2018’s Boarding House Reach. He hired a bunch of musicians who had never really played rock n roll and reached for something completely outside the box and sadly it just completely… lost me. However, I felt that he bounced back immediately in 2019 with his old buddies the Racnonteurs on the aforementioned Help Us Stranger. It seemed to give him that rock n roll structure and reign in some of his more excessive instincts. Everybody’s better with a band of comrades.

I did wonder what would happen with Jack’s solo career. Would he return? Would he just keep producing and working with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather? Perhaps he’s turned his attention to Third Man Records, the label he owns. During the pandemic I wondered if perhaps he’d return to doing re-upholstery work? Heaven knows the world needs skilled laborers… there’s a fortune to be made. My concerns were answered late last week when Jack released a rocking new song, “Taking Me Back.” I’m beginning to think that Wednesdays at B&V may become our “new song Wednesday” celebration after last week’s new single from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Song of the Seasons.”  Lets hope new music keeps pouring out! Although admittedly while Young has a new LP, Barn slated for December, there’s no word on whether this new Jack White song heralds a new LP or if its a one-off. He did use the same artwork from Boarding House Reach so you never know…

“Taking Me Back” opens with guitar distortion that sounds like the tornado siren in my neighborhood, in a good way… warning kids, get in your basement, rock n roll guitar storm coming. Then Jack moves to a big, fat, fuzzy riff. I had a slight flash back to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” These are the kind of unhinged Jack White vocals that I live for, almost barking over the cacophony of drums and layered guitars… the guitars seem to come at you from every speaker. I particularly like this lyric, about half way through, “When you drop the mail off to me and you make us both coffee, are you taking it black? Are you taking me back?” If this is Jack asking his audience if we’ll take him back after Boarding House Reach, all of us down at B&V say, “Hell, yes!” I played the track for the Rock Chick and she said, “That’s a really, really good song.” Indeed.

The single was released with another track. Just to prove what a genius he is, Jack re-recorded the song in an old timey manner that would have made Paul McCartney (who wrote “Martha My Dear”) green with envy. The second song is “Taking Me Back (Gently).” I actually love the “Gently” version of the song… well I love both versions. There’s a violin and brushed drums that move the song along. The vocal is completely different, much… calmer. There are acoustic guitars and piano – I particularly dig Jack’s acoustic guitar solo. Its funny to hear the same song, the same lyrics recorded in such radically different styles. I don’t know how else to describe the song other than, pure fun. Here are the tracks in all their glory:

I don’t know what this new song(s) portends but the world is always a better place when you’ve got some new Jack White to blast at maximum volume. I’m certainly hoping Jack and Santa put a new album in our stockings this December…

Cheers!

Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career

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I sometimes wonder if I’d have ever discovered any new music after the turn of the millennium if I hadn’t met the Rock Chick. I could see myself today, twenty years down the road, still thinking Pearl Jam was the last great band to emerge. While she reconnected me with bands I was already into like AC/DC, Green Day and Motley Crue, she also brought me out of my rock and roll exile and turned me onto new bands as well. For a very brief time we had the illegal download site Limewire at our disposal. Limewire was like the early Napster, basic file sharing. It was the Rock Chick who downloaded Limewire… at first my response was, “You kids and your fancy apps,” but once I started finding rare, hard to find b-sides it was like giving an addict the keys to the pharmacy. I stopped and deleted Limewire after I heard R.E.M.’s Mike Mills say that Napster/Limewire was tantamount to going down the local record shop and shoplifting their latest CD. Michael Stipe said he didn’t care, but I still didn’t feel good about it. In my defense, I only used Limewire in the same way I use Spotify today – to discover new music and then immediately purchase the stuff I liked. Still, it wasn’t cool. And I realize the difference between Spotify and Limewire… I pay for Spotify.

It was late 2001 or maybe even early 2002 when I saw this strange band, it was just a duo actually, the White Stripes on the MTV video awards show, if my memory serves me (and it rarely does these days). They were the final live performance on the show and I recall a bunch of balloons fell on them or a bunch of people rushed the stage. I noticed there was a woman on drums. I was intrigued. I checked out what I’d heard were the hits – “Dead Leaves On the Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl.” At the time the rock intelligentsia were hailing a new era of “garage rock” (that never really materialized). After doing some discovery over on Limewire, I realized that maybe these White Stripes were what they were talking about. They not only rocked but they could go acoustic like they do on “We’re Going To Be Friends” a track that immediately resonated with me. I quickly went out and purchased what I soon found out was their third LP, White Blood Cells. I was immediately taken with these guys. It’s quite an album.

Jack White was the singer/guitarist/keyboardist and songwriter. He is one of the most gifted guitar players not only of his generation but perhaps ever. I kept extolling his amazing guitar skills to my a friend of mine. It wasn’t until he saw Jack solo that he started comparing him to Hendrix. I was like, dude, I’ve been talking about this guy for 15 years. The drummer, Meg White, who Jack was introducing as his sister at the time was actually his ex-wife. Jack said he came up with the “sister” thing to avoid any Fleetwood Mac type drama. Much has been made of Meg White’s cavewoman style of drumming but I think she’s fabulous. She hits those skins like she’s mad at ’em. Her very basic drumming is, in my opinion, what allowed Jack White to soar on guitar. They call what Social Distortion does, combining country influences with punk rock, “cow punk.” With the White Stripes there was real strong blues influence/vibe to go with the punk or garage rock ethos they had. At the time I was describing them as blues punk or punk blues, whichever you’re comfortable with. As longtime readers know, I love the blues so it was natural I’d love the White Stripes.

In early 2003 the Stripes dropped their fourth album Elephant. While White Blood Cells broke them to a wider audience, it was Elephant‘s first single, “Seven Nation Army” that really made them stars. It’s an epic rock track and it was literally everywhere. I bought that album the day it came out. That tour was to be my first time to see the White Stripes. On June 28th of 2003 they played this smallish hall over in Kansas City, Kansas… Memorial Hall. Oh my god they were absolutely fantastic that night. They had a big body guard in a three-piece suit escort them onto the stage. They opened with “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and from there they were off. Jack White hopped around the stage like a bunny on meth. He’d come to the front of the stage and sing and them bounce back to the drum kit where he and Meg would jam. I swear Meg was hitting the drums so hard she was levitating off her seat. Three or four tracks in they played a Dolly Parton track, “Jolene.” I turned the Rock Chick and said, “pinch me, am I dreaming?” At one point Jack pulled out a battered, old, grey wide body guitar and played the fiercest blues licks I’d ever heard. The track was “Death Letter,” a song I discovered the next day when I went out and bought their second – and in my opinion their best – album De Stijl. After that amazing show it’s a wonder I didn’t hang a poster of them on my wall like I was  junior high kid. 

Every two years they’d put out a new album and I would snap it up the day it came out. Both Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump were triumphs that saw them stretching out their trademark blues punk sound. I got to see them a second time on the Get Behind Me Satan tour, this time at the slightly larger venue, Starlight Theater. Jack was dressed as a matador. I was in the fifth row and its one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They played over thirty songs that night. Seeing Meg White up close left me smitten… I’ve always been susceptible to rock and roll crushes. She didn’t sing at this show like she did the first time I saw them but she made her presence known. They had a very charismatic stage presence. 

Sadly, after Icky Thump the White Stripes didn’t tour extensively. They played a handful of shows at weird locations. I want to say they filmed it for a documentary I remember seeing late at night. It was said that Meg didn’t want to tour. She’d grown tired of the road. At the time she’d done a little modeling and had gotten married. I think the rock and roll life and being Jack’s sidekick had lost its allure. After releasing a great little gem of a live album Under Great Northern Lights the White Stripes called it quits. Meg has become reclusive. I have often said in these pages and it bears repeating – come back Meg, please. The world needs the White Stripes. I love what Jack does with the Raconteurs and solo but you’ll never find a band as purely bad ass as the White Stripes. 

I can’t believe it’s been 13 years since the White Stripes last studio album. I feel like the Stripes were big but as they never played the big arenas or stadiums I wonder how big they really were. I own every album they put out but how many people do? I fear that if you’re a little older you may have missed out on this supernova of a band. Jack White has put together what I can only describe as a lovingly curated collection of their “best of” on the newly released The White Stripes Greatest Hits. I don’t usually write about “greatest hits” packages but there are a lot of iconic ones out there. I think this album will be on that list of super greatest hits albums out there. If you aren’t a White Stripes fanatic like me, this Greatest Hits package is the perfect introduction to their catalog. I love that Jack spread the 26 tracks on this album evenly over their six studio records. Their debut The White Stripes which is a really raw and primal album – it’s so garage rocky that you can almost smell oil and gasoline when you play it – is represented with as many songs as Elephant or Icky Thump. This is truly a great retrospective look at their catalog. There are two tracks that weren’t on albums, “Jolene” and “Let’s Shake Hands.” 

I love that the set opens with “Let’s Shake Hands,” which in non pandemic times was what you did when you met someone. It’s like Jack saying, “nice to meet you.” The second track establishes these guys as Detroit rockers with “The Big Three Killed My Baby” from their debut. What a great start! The epic rocking big hits are all here like “Seven Nation Army” (that ends the album), “Icky Thump” and “Blue Orchid.” There are quieter acoustic moments like “We’re Going to Be Friends” and their trade mark bluesy romps like “Ball And A Biscuit,” “Death Letter” and “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s safe to say that everything the White Stripe do well is represented on this greatest hits package. Listening to it just brings it home. 

Again, if you missed these guys in the early 2000s or you never paused to pick up their albums this is the perfect way to start listening to the White Stripes. I literally own every single song on this package and you should to. This album would be a perfect primer for a college level Rock And Roll 101 class. Turn this one up loud. 

Cheers! 

LP Review: ‘Colorado’ the Return of Neil Young & Crazy Horse With Nils Lofgren!

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When I heard that Neil Young was reuniting with Crazy Horse to record an album, I’ll admit, I got excited. It was the most interest I’ve had in something new from Neil since, well, his last album with Crazy Horse, the epic Psychedelic Pill in 2012. When I heard that Nils Lofgren was going to be stepping in as the other guitarist I was doubly excited. Nils first played with Neil on After the Gold Rush, although for reasons unclear Neil had the then 17-year old guitarist play piano instead of his chosen instrument. This was clearly a reunion and album to be excited about. While I’m sure those Promise of the Real kids who have been playing with Neil of late (they’re Willie Nelson’s sons) are great guys, they ain’t Crazy Horse.

I have to admit up front, it wasn’t until college that I got into Neil Young. My college roommate Drew was into Young and I ended up buying the three-album greatest hits package, Decade (a huge investment in those days). That purchase led me to a lifetime appreciation of Neil Young and the great music he’s put out. Neil is a bit like Clapton in that he’s played with a lot of different bands. He started with Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, went solo, recruited Crazy Horse as a backing band, joined Crosby Stills Nash, put together another back-up band called the Stray Gators and then went solo again. He even briefly joined Stills’ band for one album as the Stills-Young Band, Long May You Run. The grass doesn’t grow under Neil’s feet.

I was in a bar recently (shocking) and someone asked me if Crazy Horse was Neil’s version of Wings, McCartney’s backing band from the 70s. “Christ no,” I exclaimed with perhaps a bit too much passion. Who else is going to teach the children about rock and roll? Crazy Horse, or more accurately the musicians who make up Crazy Horse, began as an L.A. band known as the Rockets. After the mixed reaction to his first solo album, post-Buffalo Springfield, and after jamming with the Rockets, Neil recruited members Danny Whitten (guitar/vocals), Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbot (bass) to back him on his second album, the jammy Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. He renamed them, Crazy Horse. There were other members of the Rockets who I guess didn’t seem to realize that Neil had coopted the band, but with a song entitled “Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)” you can’t say he didn’t warn them.

They toured to support the album and the guitar solo’ing was epic. I advise everyone to check out Live At the Fillmore East from Neil’s archive series as documented proof. But then Neil jumped into CSNY. On his next solo album, After The Gold Rush, Young kind of combined Crazy Horse and the CSNY backing band. Greg Reeves played bass (from CSNY) with Ralph Molina on drums (from Crazy Horse). Throw in Lofgren on piano and you’ve got Neil’s first masterpiece. It couldn’t have been more different than the long, extended jams on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. That album had long, guitar workouts like “Cowgirl In the Sand” and “Down By the River.” Gold Rush had the epic “Southern Man” but it was mostly acoustic/piano ballads.

After that Young recorded Harvest and suddenly our idiosyncratic singer/songwriter was a Superstar. His subsequent record, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP), was seen as a repudiation of that superstardom. During the rehearsals for that tour, Young was trying to enlist Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse to play second guitar, but Whitten was struggling too much with heroin addiction. Neil eventually had to fire Whitten, who was found dead later that night of a valium/alcohol mix that has claimed so many.

Despite that, Neil carried on with Crazy Horse on Tonight’s the Night. Nils stepped in on guitar. Jack Nitzsche joined on piano. And really, Neil has been playing with Crazy Horse, off and on, ever since. There have been various members over the year, but the guys who played with Young the most were Molina, Talbot, and guitarist Frank Sampedro, who Young supposedly hired because he had good weed. Regardless of why he hired Sampedro, he’s been one of Neil’s greatest guitar foils over the years. The chemistry those guys have is amazing. These four guys have put out some amazing albums over the years: Ragged Glory (a must-have, classic from 1990), Sleeps With Angels (94), and their last outing, 2012’s Psychedelic Pill. 

I loved Psychedelic Pill. I remember seeing Neil interviewed around that time and he said something like, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” I give credit to Sampedro. The songs on Psychedelic Pill evolved out of long, extended jams. There are three songs that run, 27:36, 16:49 and 16:27 respectively. Damn. Listening to those long guitar workouts evokes listening to classical music as much as rock and roll… well classical music played by really loud instruments. When I heard that Sampedro had retired, I wondered if that was the end of Crazy Horse… Enter Nils Lofgren, guitar virtuoso. I thought, well this album is going to be another jamming, guitar-fest. As with everything with Neil, I was in for a surprise.

Colorado, the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album isn’t anything at all like Psychedelic Pill. This is, for the most part, a collection of tight songs, with only one long jam. The tracks run from 2:45 to around 6 minutes, save for “She Showed Me Love,” which runs over 13 minutes. The album was recorded up in the mountains, in Colorado, hence the name. Molina, Talbot and Neil Young are, as mentioned joined by Nils Lofgren on guitar, piano and vocals. I’ll admit again, this album was nothing of what I expected. It’s muted and somewhat somber. The theme is pretty obvious – Neil has turned his concerns to the environment (long a concern of his) and climate change. I don’t hear any current bands taking up the mantle of writing protest songs so it’s left up to the man who wrote the greatest protest song ever, “Ohio,” to step up and do it. Nobody else is writing lines like, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own…” And folks, we are definitely on our own when it comes to climate change.

I’ll be the first to tell you this album is no masterpiece. But I’ll say it’s a strong Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. It’s the strongest thing he’s done since their last outing. I’m not trying to knock Promise of the Real, and I hear they’re great live, but I just haven’t connected with any of Neil’s work with them. Like Joe Strummer once said, and I’m obviously fond of repeating, “Never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.”

The first track I heard on XM Radio in my car was “Rainbow of Colors.” Like most of the reactions I’ve seen, I did not react well. It comes off as an anthem, much like “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” from Ragged Glory. It comes off as more of a hymn than a song. I have to suspect that played live with people singing along, it’s much more effective. It’s really the only song on here that I would call a “clunker.” Neil’s voice has aged and it creaks a bit here and there, but if you’re complaining about Neil’s vocals at this stage in the game, you’re probably on the wrong train.

The best moments on this album are the acoustic ones. “Think of Me” is the opener, and it’s an upbeat acoustic track that competes for the best track on the album. The other track that I think is a standout is “Green Is Blue” a heartfelt ballad which serves as requiem for the environment. Those two tracks are worth the price of admission here. “Milky Way” is an acoustic-based love song and it’s another great track. Album closer “I Do” is another affecting, stripped-down, quiet ballad and is a perfect end. I like “Eternity” until the backing vocals start singing “clickety-clack” to sound like a train. We get it from the drums, it’s about a train. “Olden Days” is a great mid tempo thing led by Neil’s guitar while he sings about seeing an old friend (or perhaps a lover).

The rocking songs are bit of a mixed bag. “She Showed Me Love” is the 13-minute epic. The she of the title is, of course, Mother Nature. I can’t tell if lines like “I saw Mother Nature pushing Earth in a baby carriage” are Neil joking about how old he is, or just awkward. The guitar work stretches the tune and makes it interesting to me. “Help Me Lose My Mind” is a track that sounds like a grunge rocker from the 90s, something Nirvana might have done. I like the line from that one, “I have to get a new television…to make the sky look like the Earth is flat.”  “Shut It Down” is a glorious noise, it almost sounds like Punk rock. Neil sings that track with an urgency.

Again, this album is not a Neil Young & Crazy Horse masterpiece, but it’s a damn good album from these guys. Fifty years removed from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, its nice to see Neil turn back to Crazy Horse and record such a strong record. The chemistry between them and with Nils is still something to behold.

And lets face it, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to “shut the whole system” down every now and again…

 

 

Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks

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Truth be told, I don’t think Keith Richards ever wanted to do a solo album. His first and foremost love was always the Stones. That’s why we love Keith down here at B&V.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Mick and Keith were close friends… thick as thieves you might say. The seeds of discord were sown by many things: fame, fortune, who gets credit for being the genius in the band (something they should both share). I’ve always felt Mick pushes Keith to explore and Keith keeps Mick grounded in their roots… yin meet yang. I’m not sure which of them brought reggae into their repertoire but I’d like to think it was both of them. The mutual animosity is a little like the squabbling between Lennon and McCartney regarding the Beatles’ legacy. I think the thing that killed any true “friendship” between the two comes down to one woman… Anita Pallenberg.

Anita Pallenberg, model-actress and 60s “It”-girl entered the Stones’ orbit as the girlfriend of original lead guitarist Brian Jones. On an ill-fated trip to Morocco, Brian was eased aside and Keith and Anita were suddenly together. Eventually Brian spiraled out of the band. Jagger was cast as one of the lead roles in the movie ‘Performance’ in 1968 and coincidentally so was Pallenberg. Keith has always believed and went so far as to claim in his autobiography (the unreadable ‘Life’) that Mick and Anita “hooked up” on the set of the movie. Pallenberg denied that claim the rest of her life. Mick has denied it as well. If it happened, Mick probably saw her go from Brian to Keith and thought it was all fair game… it was the freewheeling 60s after all. What people don’t realize about Keith is that under the outlaw core, he’s really a softy. I think he writes a majority of the Stones’ ballads. Anita and Keith stayed together until 1980 and had three kids. Friends before chicks, Mick… you just never know whose going to stay together.

Anita and Keith were a toxic combination. They both got heavily into heroin. At first Mick and Keith were still able to work together and create magic. But as the 60s waned and the 70s dawned, Keith’s addiction kept getting worse. Once partners at the helm, suddenly Mick found himself without Keith. Mick had to take control of the Stones to keep them afloat. Unfortunately, I think Mick learned that he liked control.  Keith’s heroin addiction reached its low point in 1977 when Keith was arrested for possession and intent to traffic in Canada. The trafficking charge was leveled because of the sheer volume of heroin they found on Keith, so prodigious was his appetite for smack. Keith was facing some serious weight in terms of fines and prison time. It appeared the Stones’ very future was at stake.

Keith and Anita went in for electro-acupuncture rehab therapy to kick heroin. The Stones decamped to Paris and recorded as much music as they could in the fear that Keith would be put away in a Canadian grey-bar hotel. The music they recorded made up not only the album Some Girls but most of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You as well. Luckily, the rehab “took” and the Canadians let Keith off with a fine and an agreement to play two charity shows to benefit the blind. As Keith tells it, at that point, he was ready to return and join Mick to help in the steering of the Stones. It appears Mick had grown too accustomed to driving the ship and didn’t feel he needed the help… the old animosities were refreshed and deepened.

By the 80s everybody was used to the two of them sniping at each other. While Tattoo You and the ensuing tour were seen as career highlight for the Stones, 1983’s Undercover was only met with lukewarm reviews and response from fans. An invigorated Keith wanted to tour behind the album, the man does love to take the Stones out on the road, but Mick refused. Mick committed the ultimate treason in Keith’s eyes, he had signed a solo contract and was going off to do his first album on his own. I remember when it came out in 1985, I was totally a Mick guy at the time, and I was really looking forward to it. To say that She’s The Boss was a disappointment is an understatement. I liked the first single,  the reggae tinged “Just Another Night” but the rest left me cold. I found “Lucky In Love” to be the most embarrassing moment, but most of the rest of the album was forgettable. Mick got the control he wanted in the studio, but lost the magic. He was trying too hard to be current vs doing what he did well, which was rock and roll.

When Keith corralled the Stones back together in 1986 to record again, the band was a mess. Ian Stewart, long time keyboardist and tour manager passed away. Keith was particularly shaken by that loss. Charlie Watts who had survived the 60s and 70s without  any major problems had become a heroin addict. And worst of all, Mick wasn’t terribly interested in doing another Stones album, let alone touring. He was working on his second solo album. Perhaps he felt some pressure to erase the failure of She’s The Boss. The resulting album Dirty Work has become a bit of an orphan. I still think its got some great stuff on it, but it stiffed with the public. The video for “One Hit To The Body” (a kick ass tune, by the way, one of many on that LP), showed Mick and Keith practically coming to blows. Keith has said that the band would work on the tracks and Mick would show up, not even remove his coat, rush through his vocals and leave. When Mick refused to tour, like he did for Undercover, it appeared the Stones might finally be over.

1987 found Mick putting out an even worse solo album than his debut in Primitive Cool. The video for “Let’s Work” is better left never seen… Keith was at loose ends so he assembled a band for a documentary celebrating one of his heroes, Chuck Berry, entitled ‘Hail, Hail Rock And Roll.’ Charlie started a jazz combo. Bill Wyman opened a London restaurant and Ronnie Wood opened a Miami nightclub. When Jagger decided to tour Asia and Australia for Primitive Cool, Keith finally decided to do the thing he had never wanted to do… he decided to record a solo album. He’d done a few one off singles and sat in with both the Faces and Ronnie Woods’ New Barbarians, but he’d never wanted to go solo.

Rather than go the Jagger route and assemble a bunch of session guys to back him up, Richards, the more natural musician vs Jagger, chose to put together a band. Although in Mick’s defense his back up band did have Joe Satriani at one point… Anyway, having met drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charlie Drayton during the Chuck Berry film, Keith quickly recruited them to join him in the band. They recruited Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, to play keyboards. Keith had found a bedrock rhythm section to go with his riffing rhythm guitar. All he needed was a lead guitarist to play against… Brilliantly he recruited Waddy Watchel, who had played with Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne and at the time, Stevie Nicks. I remember seeing Keith interviewed and saying, “Yeah, Waddy had been playing with chicks for too long, he needed to come play with the boys.” Steve Jordan was not only a drummer, he was someone who could co-produce and more importantly write songs with Keith. Early in the recording process Keith caught the band hiding behind the drum riser, passing a bottle of Chateau Lafite. Richards immediately dubbed them, the Xpensive Winos, which I just love.

Most people, I think, kind of groaned when they heard that Keith was putting out a solo album. I’m a rare breed of guy. I’m one of the few folks that when a Stones album came out, I’d drop the needle on it and peruse the liner notes looking for the Keith song. I always seemed to love the tracks he sang. Whether it was “Before They Make Me Run,” “Coming Down Again,” or even his brief bit in “Memory Motel,” I just loved it when Keith was at the microphone. I was thrilled when I heard that Talk Is Cheap had finally come out. However, in 1988 I was in my self-imposed Arkansas exile. It wasn’t until the video for the first single, “Take It So Hard” came out that I got to hear any of it. As soon as I heard that riff, and then the band kicked in, I knew this album was something special. To the record store I went.

When I dropped my new copy of Talk Is Cheap on the turntable in my lonely, hovel of an apartment in Ft Smith, Arkansas those many years ago, I realized I was hearing something special and also suddenly realized I was dancing around. This was the raw sound and grit of the Stones that I’d been missing. When the first song, “Big Enough” blared through the speakers I realized this was going to be a groove album, heavy on riffs and sloppy on structure. That’s what Keith brings to the Stones. It’s hard not to hear many of the songs on this album, “Take It So Hard,” “Big Enough,” and especially “You Don’t Move Me” as being specifically addressed to his old bandmate and friend, Mick. I remember years later dancing around my friend Doug’s kitchen with his buddy Kurt – a man who can still drink more martinis than I ever could – and Kurt saying, “This is fucking rock and roll!”

There’s an old boogie woogie number, “I Could Have Stood You Up” that features Chuck Berry’s original pianist Johnnie Johnson. Sarah Dash comes on to do a lovely duet on “Make No Mistake,” a clear eyed ballad that manages not to be mushy or sentimental. There are a few other guests – Maceo Parker does some sax, Bootsy Collins plays bass on a track, even old Stone Mick Taylor shows up on a cut – but the bulk of this album was just Keith and the Xpensive Winos. Every track grooves or moves and the album is a triumph. This is an album every rock and roll fan should own… In some ways, I think Keith’s solo success forced Mick back toward the band.

Now we have the 30th Anniversary “Deluxe” edition out. And what a great celebration it is. It is, as you would expect, newly remastered. More importantly for us at B&V, it has a handful of bonus tracks. The thing the bonus tracks does for me, more than anything, is show the mood of the recording sessions. You can tell Keith and the band are having a great time. There are a couple of instrumental jams, “Blues Jam,” and the 10-minute “Slim” that showcase what a great band this really was. The best new tracks from those sessions are “My Babe” and “Big Town Playboy” a couple of old blues covers Keith puts his heart into. “Mark On Me” sounds more like a true outtake as does the other instrumental “Brute Force,” as opposed to the band jamming or playing around on some old covers. There’s not a ton of bonus material here but what there is is high quality. The instrumental stuff is probably more for fans only but I’d recommend the covers highly.

This is a great celebration for a 30th anniversary of an important solo work of one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time. Cheers!

 

LP Review: Billy F Gibbons, ‘The Big Bad Blues’ – Blooze Rock As Greasy As A Bacon Sandwich On Wonder Bread!

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The blues have always been my Alpha and Omega… the beginning and the end. Even in the early days of my record collecting, when I didn’t know what the blues were, they were always in the background, driving my vinyl purchases. I started off, as I’ve often said, with the Stones LP Some Girls. Soon I was working my way backwards into their catalog and I realized early on I liked some of the slower tunes, with big guitar solos. I was finding my way to the roots of rock and roll… the blues. There’s a guy online whose link my brother sent me, who thinks that rock has died because it got too far away from the blues… who knows? Anyway, everything that came after that first Stones album, unwittingly, had it’s basis in the blues. I branched out to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Pretty soon I picked up an album by that “Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” power-trio ZZ Top, Deguello. “Fool For Your Stockings” remains a favorite of mine. The guitar on that album is amazing. It’s Billy Gibbons, a man whose playing, none other than Jimi Hendrix said he admired.

From Deguello I plunged into the ZZ Top back catalog. There are so many great albums, but my favorites were Fandango! and of course, Tres Hombres. Those are essential listening for any fan of blues or rock or blues rock. I even liked Rio Grand Mud. As the 70s transitioned into the 80s, a lot of bands struggled to make the turn. I was surprised that ZZ Top was able to do so. El Loco was a solid transition album that brought that old blooze rock into the 80s with big anthems like “Party On the Patio,” and “Pearl Necklace.” But it was their smash-hit, aided by a series of videos on MTV, 1983’s Eliminator that broke ZZ Top into a world wide phenomenon. Every frat house and dive bar was blaring “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” I remember being on a dance floor at a wedding and there was a guy on crutches using one to air guitar to the latter song. Ah, youth.

I had that album on cassette, I’m embarrassed to say… In my college town, Manhattan, Kansas, the radio was so bad you had to have cassettes in the car to avoid Michael Jackson and Madonna. They were tough years. After Eliminator, I sort of got off the ZZ bandwagon. The synthesizers and gimmicky effects that Gibbons had used to make Eliminator sound cool in ’83 went a little overboard on ’85’s Afterburner. So much accursed drum machine I couldn’t even listen to it. I completely lost track of them after 1994’s Antenna, which actually had two of my favorite ZZ Top tracks, “Breakaway” and “Pincushion.” It wasn’t until the Rick Rubin produced comeback album, La Futura that I found my way back to ZZ Top. It got them back to that basic, bloozey sound they’d gotten away from. It’s great listening and I would say essential to any ZZ Top fan. It’s the type of album this blog was founded on…

Since then it seems Billy Gibbons has decided to leave behind the confines of the power-trio format and has gone solo. His first album Perfectamundo was steeped in Cuban and Latin rhythms and frankly, left me a little cold. It seemed like the patented Billy Gibbons’ sense of humor had gotten the best of him. I had heard he had another album coming out but I really hadn’t paid attention. I thought, based on the title it was a blues covers album, but I quickly realized that was wrong. I was not prepared for the smile that broke across my face the first time I heard The Big Bad Blues. I haven’t had this much fun listening to Billy Gibbons play guitar since side two of Fandango!

Billy is joined on The Big Bad Blues by Matt Sorum, of GnR and the Cult fame, on drums; Joe Hardy on bass; Austin Hanks on rhythm guitar; and most importantly James Harman on harmonica. I have to say this is as loose as I’ve heard Gibbons in years. This is the sound of a group of men in a small room, having a blast with their instruments. On first listen, I had flashbacks of walking into the old Grand Emporium, past the Amazing Grace BBQ stand, under the big picture of Belushi as Joliet Jake, to find the dance floor full and the joint hoppin’. This record has the feel of a great roadhouse on a Saturday night. This is bloozey music, as greasy as a bacon sandwich with too much mayo on wonder bread. I need a napkin to listen.

While this is not a blues cover album, there are 7 originals, Gibbons does do some old blues standards. Two of the tracks are associated with Muddy Waters. Gibbons crushes “Standing Around Crying.” It’s my favorite blues tune here. He also does “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” which, when compared to the version Rod Stewart just released on Blood Red Roses, it can illustrate to you what real blues is vs overproduced schlock. Gibbons also does two Bo Diddley tracks here – which is perfect. I’ve always thought that Bo Diddley was one of those great artists who bridged blues and early rock and roll, which is kind of what this album is about. “Bring It to Jermone” is the first Bo track and it’s got that Bo Diddley-beat and is probably the best of the two. “Crackin’ Up” is one of those odd tunes, it almost sounds reggae, and while not my favorite, it’s been covered by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney so it has street cred. It ends the album here.

The originals here are all classic Gibbons. The opening track, “Missin’ Your Kissin'” sets the tone. It was written by Gilly Stillwater, Gibbons’ main squeeze. Actually she’s his wife, but I just feel like Billy  is the type of guy who would describe his wife as his main squeeze… it’s kind of a Telly Savalas thing. Anyway, from the first chord and Billy’s raspy “Hey” you know you’re in for a good bluesy rock time. Gibbons rapsy, growling vocals coupled with his hay-in-a-windstorm beard gives one the impression that Howlin Wolf and a hay bail had a child… Gibbons’ playing is loose and fierce on this record. What I like is that he has a foil in James Harman on harmonica. Often the first solo break in a track they throw it to Harman on harmonica and Gibbons follows on guitar. I love the way they play off each other. That dynamic fuels many of the tunes. I was really blown away by the harmonica on “Bring It To Jermone,” Harman is an amazing blues harp player.

“Second Line” is a great rock tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Deguello. “That’s What She Said,” also with a great harmonica solo, also evokes the sound of old ZZ Top for me. “My Baby She Rocks” is a great, rockin’ Gibbons original. All of this music makes me want to order a Bulleit Rye and take my shoes off. “Mo’ Slower Blues” lives up to it’s title, but has an almost funky beat. “Hollywood 151” features some wonderful, intricate guitar work. Gibbons has rediscovered his blues roots, but in doing so, he’s also rediscovered that old ZZ Top sound as well. It’s all tied together.

This is simply, one of the best albums of the year. B&V highly recommends this good time of an album. This is rock n roll and blues that’ll put hair on your chest! Turn this one up loud and strap in for some chooglin’ music!

 

Concert Review: Billy Idol, Kansas City’s Uptown Theater, Sept 21, 2018

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*Photo taken by your intrepid blogger from the balcony of the Uptown Theater

Happy Fall, Rock and Roll Fans everywhere! It’s officially fall now and I can’t help but quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall.” It’s my favorite time of year. The leaves turn, out comes the bourbon and football has begun. This weekend in Kansas City was already an action-packed one. Kansas City’s premier entertainment district, the Plaza, is having it’s annual Art Fair. People will be drinking wine on the streets, eating with their hands and admiring paintings and sculptures. It’s a big deal in KC. Add to that my NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs, have their home opener on Sunday. That’s already a lot to have going on…Tailgating is about to get serious.

I was musing on all of this weekend fun while I was in Chicago this week on Wednesday. I was having a nightcap in some Irish dive on Dearborn, lecturing people on the music of Van Morrison… Can you believe there are people who have never heard his music? “Tupelo Honey” people, listen to that song, post haste. Anyway, I was in this Irish pub when I got the text from the Rock Chick…”Did you know Billy Idol was coming this Friday?” I hadn’t even heard about it. It was frenzied trip out to Stub Hub that night. The Rock Chick had never seen him, which is criminal. If only I’d known her in the eighties.

A work friend messaged me yesterday and said, “Are you going to Billy?” Proudly I said, “Yes!” It was only then that I realized she meant Billy Joel, who played last night at Kaufman Stadium, where the Royals play. I love Billy Joel, and have seen him three or four times. My favorite story about him, back in the old days, was when he came in concert, typically the night before, he’d pop into the Crown Center piano bar and take requests and play for a couple of hours. That’s pretty fuckin’ cool. While I love Billy Joel, last night, for me, was all about Billy Idol. While most concert goers were at Kaufman Stadium, the rock and roll faithful were crowded into the intimate setting of the Uptown Theater down on Broadway, ready to be transported back to 1983.

In the eighties, after the break up of his punk rock band, Generation X, Billy Idol went solo. He really broke through to the mainstream on MTV. We were all a little put off by the spiky punky hair. Who is this skinny kid with the snarl? Punk rock, that’s an English thing? That was the problem with the videos on MTV, sometimes we let the visuals get in the way of the music. Once I was able to set aside the images and just listen to the music, I realized, this guy Billy Idol really rocks. It’s no surprise in his later years he shifted from punk to heavy metal. He was always turning the guitar up to 11…

It’s frankly been a while since I’ve seen an in-your-face, rock and roll show. I loved the concerts I’ve seen this year: Depeche Mode, Robert Plant, Little Steven, but there’s just something about the squeal of guitar and the hedonistic lyrics of heavy metal/hard rock that I really needed to hear. Thankfully Billy has reunited with his guitarist from the 80s, Steve Stevens. I can’t say enough about how mind blowing Stevens is on guitar. It was so refreshing to see a guy so masterful, play the guitar. I love Billy, but I came away from last night with a new respect for Steve. The only time I’d seen Idol, Stevens wasn’t with him. Those two belong together.

The lights came down and Idol and his band, Stevens on lead guitar, Thor-like Stephen McGrath on bass, Erik Eldenius on drums (who is just a beast), Paul Trudeau on keyboards and Billy Morrison on guitar, stormed the stage and lit into “Shock To the System” a track I’d frankly, forgotten about. What a perfect opener. It was hard, muscular rock and roll that you just don’t hear anymore. God I miss the 80s, if only for that sound. After the opening track, they went straight to the hits, Generation X’s “Dancing With Myself” got the crowd going. That led to a funky, spot-on “Flesh For Fantasy.” I could almost feel my mullet growing back.

A couple of songs later, Idol strapped on a guitar, as did Trudeau and the band launched into the epic Doors cover, “L.A. Woman.” I had been hoping to hear “Cradle of Love” from Charmed Life, but “L.A. Woman” was so rocking, I didn’t miss that omission from the set list. Idol announced that the band had “finally figured out how to play this next song,” and Stevens put on this beautiful, all-white, acoustic guitar and they played “Catch My Fall” another great track from Rebel Yell. That led to the Rock Chick’s favorite part of the evening, “Eyes Without A Face.” Idol was in great voice last night and that song, especially the line, “steal a car and go to Las Vegas” were delivered with edgy intensity. We were all on our feet, even up in the balcony where I was.

After that, Stevens stayed on stage by himself and played an extended acoustic guitar solo that was mesmerizing. He even dropped snippets of Zeppelin’s “Over The Hills And Far Away” and yes, “Stairway To Heaven” into his solo. I could have sat there all night and just watched Stevens play but the band returned for a couple of tunes I didn’t recognize, but still enjoyed, “Rat Race” and “Whiskey and Pills.” Stevens then did a brief electric guitar solo and they launched into my favorite Idol deep track, “Blue Highway,” from Rebel Yell. What a kick ass road-rocker that is! The main set ended right after that with an epic “Rebel Yell.” The crowd sang along, “more, more, more.” Idol, as he’d been all night, was marching around the stage like a prize fighter, but he was especially animated during that song. He had his shirt open and I gotta say, Billy’s in great shape.

The encore was really the money shot… “White Wedding,” was perfect. Erik Edenius, or as the Rock Chick was referring to him last night, “the beast on drums,” then played a short but powerful drum solo. I couldn’t figure out what else Idol might play when the band launched into “Mony Mony.” What a great jam that I had again, almost forgotten about. Although the Rock Chick claims she called the song before they started it…

We filed out onto the street where we met the Rock Chick’s friend who had kindly bought my wife a Steve Stevens t-shirt. So the Rock Chick came home with two concert t-shirts, one with Idol on it, and one with Stevens, which is perfect. We were too wired to go home so we stopped in a local pub, near the Plaza, for a night cap where we met some cool 49er fans. I went to bed at 2 am, fully satisfied by a 1980s trip to rock and roll heaven. What a great start to what promises to be a great weekend.

If you’re out there and Idol is coming to your town, do yourself a favor. Get yourself some hard rock, good times therapy. Buy the ticket, see the show.

Cheers and… Go Chiefs!

LP Review: Jimi Hendrix, ‘Both Sides of the Sky,’ The Vaults Runneth Over…

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The Hendrix vaults, like my cup, runneth over… I can’t believe this long after Jimi Hendrix’s tragic, early demise that there are still recordings of this high quality that haven’t already been released yet. Of course, my friend Matthew will tell you there’s probably a second guitarist on the grassy knoll – there isn’t one Matt… These are, for the most part, fully realized, in-studio tracks that I’ve never heard before. Full disclosure, unlike Dylan, I’ve never been a Hendrix completist. I own a lot of his music, but no bootlegs whatsoever. Kudos to Eddie Kramer, Hendrix’s engineer back in the day, for pulling this together and making it sound so exceptional. I’m sure there are pasty guys in New York with goatees and grizzled visages who have book cases full of reel-to-reel tapes that they only handle when wearing white gloves, who have heard these songs bootlegged before… but for me most of the tracks on the newly released Both Sides of the Sky are new revelations. This album completes what I consider a loose trilogy of albums full of unreleased Hendrix tracks: Valleys of Neptune and People, Hell and Angels being the other two albums… All of which are essential for any Hendrix fan or fans of electric guitar in general.

After spending the weekend with this album and the other two I mention, I have to say, with all apologies to Eddie Van Halen (who I recently wrote about) and Jimmy Page (whose playing I adore), Jimi Hendrix is simply the greatest guitarist who ever lived. It’s not even close. I’m sure there are people out there who will want to fight me on this… I can remember when I was in junior high, sitting at the back of the school bus heading home one day. I alway sat in the back of the bus with the stoners. They were high but they were generally smarter people than the jocks up front. These two guys sitting in the rows in front of me got into an actual fist fight because they were arguing about what musical direction Hendrix would have taken if he’d lived. One of them made the mistake of saying Hendrix would have gone into jazz. The next thing I knew, punches are being thrown. I gotta say, those stoners were dedicated music fans.

Since Hendrix built and owned Electric Lady Studios, I like to think he’d have made a fortune from other artists recording there… I’d like to think, had he lived, Hendrix would be living in a condo above the studio, the reclusive ex-guitar God, who nobody sees or hears from unless he comes down on the street to score some weed. Maybe every once in a while he’d grant an interview where he’d say a few pro-Peace things, a few anti-Trump barbs and maybe drop the words “groovy” and “dig it” into his conversation. He’d refer to everyone as “Dude.” Eventually he’d have made the inevitable Rick Rubin produced comeback album – in Hendrix’s case it would have probably been an all acoustic, Blind Lemon Jefferson covers album. It’d probably win a Grammy. After a rambling speech accepting his Grammy, he’d return to his reclusive ways, where he’d only be seen occasionally wandering through the studio in a kaftan, headed out on the street to buy more weed. But then again, my imagination may be getting away from me on this…

The recordings that make up Both Sides of the Sky, from what I can ascertain, come from roughly 1968 to 1970. Since Hendrix owned a studio he spent almost all of his time when he wasn’t touring, recording what was to be the follow-up to Electric Ladyland. I think besides Electric Lady, he also spent a lot of time at New York’s Record Plant where some of these tracks were recorded. The line up of musicians on these tracks changes by track. Some of these songs feature the Experience, Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. Others feature the guys who were in the Band of Gypsies, Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass.

There are different versions of songs here that have appeared elsewhere. Each of the the three albums I mentioned above has a version of the blues tune, “Hear My Train a Comin’.” That may make you shy away from a compilation like this, but I can literally listen to each version and find something different in each one. Hendrix is like a painter, like say, Cezanne, who would paint the same water lilies repeatedly, but using different colors, different perspective, different arrangement of the subject. Like that, Hendrix approaches the song and the solos differently on each track. Hendrix was, at heart a blues guy. Like Dylan with folk music, Hendrix, no matter how far he strayed into psychedelia, would return to the blues. I get the feeling that “Hear My Train a Comin'” was his in-studio warm up jam. He gets the band together, the microphones get set up and to heat up the room, the band naturally goes to it’s comfort zone and they play the blues. The solo on this version is ferocious.

There are other titles you’ll recognize, but these are different versions of the songs. I’ve heard “Lover Man” on live albums, but this is the first studio version I’ve heard. I’d also heard “Power of Soul” on the live album, Band of Gypsies, but this is the first studio version for me. There’s what sounds like an earlier version of “Stepping Stone,” which appeared on the album First Rays of the New Rising Sun. All of these, if you’ve heard the other versions, gives you a glimpse into Hendrix’s creative process. They show how he’d often recut and rerecord his guitar parts endlessly until he got something that was revelatory to him. It’s great stuff.

He has a number of collaborations here. Stephen Stills shows up on two tracks. There’s what must have been an earlier version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” on this record, before CSNY did it, where Stills plays organ and Hendrix plays bass. While I like that, Stills does a song “$20 Fine” where he sings and plays organ and Hendrix plays guitar that is fantastic. I can’t believe Stills never returned to that song. I knew these guys were friends, almost every other solo Stills plays now he adds in the liner notes, “Guitar solo inspired by James Marshall Hendrix.” I don’t know why he can’t just say Jimi. Sometimes, though talented, I get the feeling Stills is a bit of an asshole. The other collaborations, and they’re both “knock you out” awesome, are Hendrix with Johnny Winter doing “Things That I Used to Do” a track I first heard in the capable hands of Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s as bluesy as hell. It’s fun to hear Hendrix and Winter, master blues guys, trading riffs. The second collaboration is Hendrix with his old friend, saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood and they do this fabulous tune “Georgia Blues.” I can’t believe this track wasn’t released. Lonnie sings on the song and it amazes me that Hendrix can step back, out of the spotlight and yet still stand out. All those years as a side-man on the “Chitlin Circuit” taught him well.

On unreleased compilations like this, there are usually instrumental tracks, stuff the band laid down but didn’t get back to in order to record lyrics/vocals. There are a few of those here. There’s an atmospheric thing called “Jungle” that just builds and builds. There’s an early version of the song “Angel,” here without the vocals called “Sweet Angel.” The best of the instrumental stuff here is “Cherokee Mist.” Hendrix is playing a sitar as well as guitar on that one. It starts off with a tribal sort of drum thing and then the band kicks in. It’s one of the best tracks here.

I already reviewed his take on Muddy’s “Mannish Boy” (Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’). It’s Muddy’s lyrics set to a rolling riff that explodes with guitar fury at the end. Another great headphones listen. The only track that jumped out to me as a “in studio creation” is “Send My Love to Linda.” It starts off as solo Hendrix voice/guitar and midway through they splice it with a band version of the song. The splice is pretty jarring. It couldn’t have been worse if they’d recorded Kramer pulling the scotch tape off the roll and slapping it on the magnetic tape. Still, the guitar work at the end is pretty amazing. I’d call that song a nice to have, not a have to have.

It’s been a wonderful weekend spending time with the master of all things guitar, Jimi Hendrix. I love this album, it may be my favorite of the trilogy of unreleased stuff. I advise anybody who loves Hendrix to pick this up. This certainly wouldn’t be where I’d start my Hendrix collection – pick up the albums he released in his life time – and then work your way through some of the live stuff. But when you end up here, at the unreleased stuff, his playing will change the way you think about guitar.

Cheers!

 

Album Lookback: B. B. King’s ‘One Kind Favor,’ His Final Studio Album

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“There’s two white horses in a line…” – “See That My Grave Kept Clean,” B.B. King

As frequent readers know, I recently wrote about blues legend Muddy Waters’ late career  albums produced by Johnny Winter (Muddy Waters: 1977 – 1981, The Late Career, Johnny Winters’ Produced Records). I received an interesting question from Moulty58, a follower of B&V and a superb blogger in his own right (see his blog on 70s British rock, The Future is Past, at https://thefutureispast.co.uk). Moulty58, after lauding Muddy’s landmark “comeback” album Hard Again asked me if I had any other “nominations” for a great blues album that aren’t just a “collection of songs.” Many blues guys, like the rock acts of the 50s (Chuck Berry, Elvis), were focused on singles not albums. It wasn’t until the 60s that artists began to think of the album as more than just a loose collection of songs. It was probably the Beatles who really elevated the album to an actual statement. So it’s hard to find an album like Hard Again, that’s a complete work of art from start to finish from the classic blues guys.

Off the top of my head, when I read the question in the comments section, I answered with John Mayall’s album with Eric Clapton or either of the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band records. Since Moulty58 had mentioned the Stones recent LP, Blue And Lonesome (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle), I also suggested one of their early albums, from when they were basically a blues cover band, 12×5. I could have thrown out Eric Clapton’s superb late career blues album, From The Cradle, but for some reason, it didn’t spring to mind. None of those acts were from the classic blues guys though and that bothered me. To be completely honest with you, I take all questions and comments very seriously and I have to a admit this question stuck with me. I didn’t feel like I’d given a definitive answer. I found my mind drifting back to the question when I was walking in the park or driving in my car. If I weren’t on a bourbon fast, I’d have likely pondered this question over a tumbler of dark and murky fluids during the wee small hours. When the answer finally presented itself to me, it was so obvious, I was stunned it hadn’t come to me quicker. The answer, in a name, was B.B. King.

I have always put B.B. King up there with Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf as the Mount Rushmore of Blues Gods. All the music I love, springs from the blues… While Muddy and the Wolf always conjure Chicago blues for me, B.B. always evoked the Delta and specifically Memphis to me. The man had a long and storied career and life, all 89 years of it. I have a number of B.B.’s old blues albums and consider Live At the Regal not only to be one of the best live albums, or one of the best blues albums, but simply one of the best albums of all time. B.B. didn’t really have anything to parallel Muddy’s late career triumvirate of albums working with Winter but I did buy a few of them.

B.B.’s late career was a bit of a grab bag. He had some live albums and the dreaded Christmas album. He did a great album of old standards, Reflections in 2003 but since they were standards, I hardly mark that as a blues album. He also did an album in tribute of the music of Louis Jordan in ’99 that was intriguing. B.B., like Frank Sinatra before him (who B.B. loved, Frank got him into the big rooms in Vegas, the Chairman was colorblind before everyone else), did a few duets albums. The first was all the way back in 1997 entitled Deuces Are Wild. He did a second one on his 80th birthday in 2005 entitled, creatively 80. Like Sinatra’s duets albums, B.B.’s attempted to cast a wide net commercially instead of creatively which only hurt the projects in my mind. There were R&B, blues, rock and roll and even country and hip hop stars who were paraded in to sing with B.B. I recommended Deuces to my friend Ron and he sent me a bill… he wanted his money back.

I understood Ron’s feelings. Mixing Heavy D with B.B. was one of those mistakes none of us will ever recover from, but if you edit the album, you can actually find some gems there and make it listenable. Van Morrison does an amazing job on his tune. It’s a true stand out track on Deuces. Naturally Bonnie Raitt’s duet is fabulous complete with her slide guitar. She always shows up when a bluesman calls. The guy who surprised me on the album was Joe Cocker, whose duet on “Dangerous Mood” conjures some real menace from B.B. on guitar. The act that made that first duets album worth the price of admission for me was the Stones doing “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss.” That one smokes, people, buy that song alone.

80 was much in the same vein. It had that one egregious mistake, in this case Gloria Estefan. Oh my god is that song horrible. But again, with some judicious cuts, the album does have some great moments. It’s fun to hear Glenn Frey, Elton John and Roger Daltrey tear into the blues. Sheryl Crow even acquits herself well, and that’s not something I’d have ever expected. The duets albums were fun, but it was more like going to a family reunion and seeing some folks you hadn’t seen for a while. The albums were kind of disjointed, loud, brassy affairs. B.B. sounded relaxed, almost too relaxed in some cases. They were an enjoyable listen, but nothing earth shattering.

Better was the entire album of duets he cut with Eric Clapton and Eric’s band, Ridin With the King in 2000. That’s an album I can recommend. Clapton and B.B. just have a natural rapport. Clapton was deferential to his elder and B.B. responded. They did old blues tunes and a couple of standards. The title track, written by John Hiatt, is just fun. Clapton had members of his band write a couple of tunes. It’s a real solid blues album from a man paying respect to one of his inspirations.

None of all of that – the duets albums, the album with Clapton, the Louis Jordan thing, the standards record – prepared me for what I what I would behold on what would turn out to be B.B.’s final studio album, One Kind Favor. And yes, Moulty58, the answer to your question, which should have been so obvious to me, is this album. I had heard that big-time producer, T. Bone Burnett had lured B.B. King into the studio to record an album. I had been intrigued. T. Bone had just come off the huge success of the Robert Plant, Alison Krauss project, Raising Sand. I loved that album, and the way it was produced. T. Bone, like Daniel Lanois has a murky, backroom sound to his productions that I love. He went on to do a marvelous album for Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues. 

This is B.B. doing classic blues for what ended up being the last time. You look at the cover art, and it almost looks like it’s B.B. standing on the shore of the river Styx, waiting for Charon, the Ferryman, to come and take him across. B.B. has Lucille with him, so it appears he’s going to play his fare across the river to the promised land. The title, “One Kind Favor” is taken from the old blues tune, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” which opens the album in a hushed shuffle. It’s not until midway through the song that B.B.’s guitar notes puncture the gloom. While this isn’t wrapped in mortality like Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, it’s certainly in that neighborhood.

The backing band is sensational. On drums you have both famous session guy Jim Keltner and Jay Bellerose (who works with T Bone quite a bit). Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, is here on piano. Nathan East, who played with Clapton and I think Phil Collins, is here on bass. Neil Larsen is on the organ. There are horns on this album, like most B.B. albums, but they’re more muted in most cases. The focus is on B.B.’s voice and guitar and the rhythm section. On his late work B.B. had a propensity to sing big and sound almost joyful… if not joyful, at least one might describe his late singing as redemptive. He’s singing the blues like it’s 1945 on this album, there’s little joy to be found. He brings the blues in a classic way. Kudos to T. Bone for pulling this performance out of B.B. when he was well into his 80s.

The song selection is inspired. There are several songs by B.B.’s hero, Lonnie Johnson, “My Love is Down,” and “Tomorrow Night.” It’s interesting to me, as a side note, that Bob Dylan did “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” on his debut album and “Sitting On Top of the World,” “World Gone Wrong” (both songs performed by B.B. here) on his late 90s folk albums. It’s absolute proof of how connected folk and blues or if you will, folk-blues are. It’s all connected, people. King’s guitar on “I Get Weary” is something ferocious. He rips into that song. “Get These Blues Out of Me” conjures up the opening riffs of “The Thrill Is Gone,” King’s best known song. Most of these songs are tunes that B.B. had done before but here he imbues the songs with a weathered, knowing wisdom. “Blues Before Sunrise” is magic in B.B. King’s hands here…

I am just so delighted that B.B. King, blues master, once again stripped away the commerciality, the duets and all the glitz and made a down and dirty, gritty blues album. It’s the perfect send off for the man, the myth, the legend. Pick this one up if you love the blues or if you love blues guitar. It’s essential listening for all fans.

Cheers!