New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”

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“If I want a party, it’s a party of one” – The Rolling Stones, “Living In A Ghost Town”

I’ve been under the weather this week. Thankfully it’s not anything COVID related (knock on wood). This is a malady I’ve encountered before. I realized it was happening and quickly got the right meds and am thankfully, on the mend. It is scary to be ill during a pandemic. I managed to talk my doctor into a script without any visits to his office or any hospital, ground zero for COVID. Basically I slept for 48 hours. I’m feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle today… I slept so long the Stones actually released a fabulous new song. If my being unconscious is the price we have to pay for a new Stones tune, I’m certainly willing to take one for the team.

I’ve been waiting and hoping for new Stones’ tunes (dare I pray for an album?) since before I started B&V. I’ve freely admitted in these pages that the Stones are my Alpha and Omega when it comes to rock and roll. I can’t believe it’s been since 2005 that their phenomenal late period album A Bigger Bang came out. That album should have got a lot more airplay than it did. They haven’t put out anything new since, except the two bonus tracks on their greatest hits package GRRR! in 2012, “Gloom and Doom,” and “One More Shot.” I think we can all agree, 15 years is too long to have only put out two tracks even though they are great songs. Sure, we lauded their blues album, Blue And Lonesome, but that brilliant LP was all covers (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). At last, the Stones have put out a new original song, “Living In a Ghost Town,” and it is amazing. Blues-rock in a time of cholera…

People can say what they want about artists, but as I’ve seen in recent pandemic memes, what would you be doing now without movies, television, books and music? Art is indeed important. To paraphrase the famous 80s Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street,” “Art, for lack of a better word, is good.” I think our current circumstances have highlighted to all of us how important Art is (and yes, I’m capitalizing the word) in dark times. Picasso’s most famous painting ‘Guernica’ was done in the midst of the Spanish Civil war and is perhaps the greatest indictment of war ever put to canvas.

During America’s horrible nightmare on 9/11, it was Bruce Springsteen who first emerged with his brilliant album The Rising in response to the tragedy. It was a great source of solace for a lot of us. I still can’t hear the title track without a tear in my eye. I saw Springsteen the other night on the ‘Jersey4Jersey’ charity broadcast to raise money for the pandemic… great acoustic versions of “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl” with his wife Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. During this current pandemic, it was Bob Dylan who first emerged with his 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul,” a brilliant allegory about America’s lost hope and loss of direction as a result of the JFK assassination (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”). It appears our older artists are the ones leading the way these days…

I awoke from an awful fever dream yesterday…sweating and confused, like you do when you’re ill. I peaked on social media to see what if anything had changed in my absence due to unconsciousness. Amongst the usual daily futility around the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a hallucination… “The Rolling Stones Release New Song.” I sprang to my feet and after some momentary dizziness, staggered to my computer and immediately downloaded “Living In A Ghost Town.”

On Instagram, Jagger, Richards and Wood all released videos talking about the new song. Charlie Watts is indeed, too cool for social media. Ronnie’s video was the usual, “Hey, check out our new song.” Keith seemed to indicate this track was recorded a year ago in Los Angeles. The basic track may have been, but the lyrics seem to indicate that Mick has tinkered with this more recently. With references to the “lockdown,” this is obviously fresh off the press. The Stones have been working on a new album for what seems like forever and this track was obviously in the mix there. Keith recently said the work they were doing on the new album was “basically like carpentry.” I love when Keith says, “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now.” Indeed, Keef, indeed.

I don’t typically read other reviews before I write my own, but I saw the Guardian describe this as a reggae tune… I don’t hear that. The bass line is insistent and perhaps a bit funky. It reminds me of the bass line on “Has Anybody Seen My Baby.” It’s a haunting, mid tempo number… Jagger starts off singing, “I’m a ghost, living in a ghost town.” He evokes a once vibrant world where music was everywhere and people were out enjoying themselves, “Once this place was humming, And the air was full of drumming, The sound of cymbals crashing, Glasses were all smashing, Trumpets were all screaming, Saxophones were blaring, Nobody was caring if it’s day or night.” But now all is quiet…”living in a ghost town.”

The sound of this track is vintage Stones. Jagger’s vocal is fantastic. He melds frustration and longing together seamlessly. Keith and Ronnie’s guitars circle each other, weaving together like smoke rising from a fire. There’s even a harmonica solo. I love it when Mick plays harmonica… he’s one of the best on the planet and it seems only Keith Richards realizes it. Charlie’s drums are the heartbeat of the track. I don’t know whose playing bass – whether its Darryl Jones, Keith or Ronnie but whoever is playing is killing it. There’s a great gang backing vocal that pulls the whole thing together. At one point the music falls to hush and only Jagger’s voice carries the tune forward… I got fucking goose bumps.

“Living In A Ghost Town” is what I hope to be the first track from a new stellar Stones album. I think we could all use a kick ass Stones album to get us through this dark time. While I wish this tune arrived under better circumstances, it gives me hope and it makes me grateful for whatever music we can get from these guys. It’s a big fucking deal when the Stones put out new music… and this song is a big fucking deal.

Cheers! Stay safe and healthy out there! I look forward to a time when I want a party and it’s a party of all my friends and loved ones.

 

 

Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts

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I have to admit, up front, that I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. I subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll and I think Eddie Vedder is one of those great men, so to speak. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the old days, I was always slow to get into new things. I didn’t buy in on Guns N Roses until I heard their third single, “Paradise City.” In my defense, Appetite For Destruction came out during my Exile Years, when I was living in Arkansas. My exposure to GnR was strictly via MTV and every band sort of looked the same. It was hard to get my attention and besides I was deeply into the Allman Brothers and the Band at the time. It wasn’t until I heard “Paradise City” from the other room – without the visuals – that I thought… wait a minute, these guys are something special.

It was the same with the Grunge era bands. I was always suspicious of these new “movements”… call me paranoid. I always thought the bands that were lumped into this new “Grunge” thing were wrongly characterized. Nirvana was a punk band in my mind… certainly that’s where their influences were. The first time I heard Soundgarden I remarked to a friend, “this is the new version of Black Sabbath…” They were a metal band in flannel. I really didn’t have a description for Alice In Chains, they were perhaps uniquely Grunge.

In the early ’90s I had just returned from my exile in Arkansas. I was living in an apartment by the highway where I’d lay in bed at night listening to the sound of trains in the distance behind the constant buzz of semi’s barreling north and south. It certainly contributed to my feeling of restlessness. My musical tastes were somewhat rootless as well. At the dawn of the ’90s there was a new radio station in town that specialized in “alternative rock” which was, at the time, Grunge bands. I’d tune in to that station looking for something “new” and I kept hearing these songs I liked…”Black” was  especially a favorite. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and this song “Jeremy” were amongst my favorites as well. I hadn’t realized all of those songs were by the same band until I started dating this woman – whose boyfriend lived out of town – who loaned me Ten. I was listening to it for the first time while I worked out and with every song that played I thought, “Wait, that’s Pearl Jam too?” How could all these kick ass songs be on the same album. I became one of the converted… When we ended the affair I kept that CD for a long time… until the young lady came by and forcibly retrieved it. It was all very friendly but she was having none of my absconding with her Pearl Jam disc. Apparently I’m the only one who loses CDs during a breakup. Remarkably, I danced with her at her wedding, sadly not to Pearl Jam.

I was amongst those who were at the record store the day Vs and later when Vitalogy came out. Pearl Jam was the Grunge band who were so firmly rooted in classic rock, how could I not become a huge fan? They had so many soaring anthems – “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Go,” “Animal,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Better Man,” and “Not For You.” I could go on. They could also go acoustic and just slay it – “Daughter,” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Vedder’s vocals were amongst the best I’d ever heard. He conveys so much emotion when he sings, from despair to simmering rage. I thought rock and roll would last forever with these guys. I happened to be lucky enough to see them at Red Rocks on the Vitalogy tour, a personal concert highlight for me. From the machine gun blast of the opening number (fittingly), “Go” until the last strains of “Yellow Ledbetter,” it was an amazing night. They even started the encore with “Leaving Here,” a cover song made famous by the Who.

As inevitably happens, Pearl Jam decided to stretch out in new musical directions by the time No Code came out. I liked that album but for many fans it was a creative stumble. So much so the follow up Yield was seen as a comeback (an album I loved but the critics didn’t). After Yield it seemed that Pearl Jam was content to just record straight-up rock and roll to please themselves rather than connect with their audience. Binaural and Riot Act were grim, mirthless albums. Although I must admit, both albums grew on me over time, especially Binaural. Listening to their archival release Lost Dogs, its clear those albums could have been less… intense. It wasn’t until 2006’s eponymously titled album that they seemed to even want to connect with an audience. For me that album was somewhat overshadowed by the Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium. A friend remarked to me at the time, “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be more into a Peppers album than a Pearl Jam album, I’d have told you were crazy.” By then Pearl Jam was considered a premier live act, but there was never a ton of enthusiasm for their studio stuff anymore. Which is a shame because both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt were, in my opinion, exceptional. The ballad “Sirens” on the latter album is one of my all time favorite Pearl Jam tunes. There seem to be two kind of Pearl Jam fans anymore: the fans of their epic early records who have stuck around for the live shows and then fans who stuck around for the latter day studio stuff. I’m kind of both.

It stuns me that Pearl Jam waited seven years to put out another album. Lightning Bolt came out in 2013 which seems like another lifetime. I had heard they were struggling to come up with new material and had a couple of stillborn attempted starts at recording new music. That all might explain why the new album Gigaton sounds well, so different. The title refers to the gigaton of ice lost by the polar ice caps. The theme here is clearly around climate change. You hear a lot about water, oceans, rising oceans, and rivers on this album. If anybody needs something to channel some good ol’ fashion Pearl Jam anger, climate change is as good as any. I think it helps Gigaton hang together. The politics of this record are more subtle than most bands, like say vintage John Lennon. And I will say, there are plenty of songs that sound, dare I say, hopeful.

I will say, at the outset of my comments about the album, this one is a grower. My first taste was the first single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which I reviewed (Pearl Jam: New Song, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’ Old Dog With New Tricks?). That track was like nothing I’d ever heard from Pearl Jam. I won’t go back into it as I’ve written about it before, but it sounds so much like the Talking Heads that David Byrne must be drawing royalty checks. That made me think, “Mmm, this might be a tad more experimental than I’m emotionally prepared for.” The next track I heard on satellite radio was “Superblood Wolfmoon.” That track, at first, sounded like the Vedder barking vocal style that he adopted after befriending the late Johnny Ramone in an attempt to sound “punk” (“Mind Your Manners” or “Can’t Deny Me” for example). After my first listen to the entire album, I will tell you, I hated it. After seven years I wanted a big, epic, arena-rock album. The Rock Chick rejected the album immediately. I wasn’t even going to post about it. But there were a couple of tracks that had stuck with me… I couldn’t leave it alone. I’ve spent the last week with this album, giving it repeated spins and I’ll tell you, I like this record. It’s not going to change the top of a “Pearl Jam Albums Ranked Best To Worst” list but it’s a damn fine rock and roll record. We all want that endorphin hit we got when we first dropped the needle into the groove and “Once” burst out of the speakers and went right to our lower brain stem…it just doesn’t happen that often any more.

The album kicks off with one of my favorites, the rocking “Who Ever Said.” It’s an old fashion, Pearl Jam, turn it up rocker. That leads to the aforementioned “Superblood Wolfmoon” that has grown on me. I will say that Mike McCready is an all-star lead guitarist. He should be mentioned more often in the great guitarist conversations. His solo’ing is exceptional on this album, like always. “Never Destination” is another great rocker about climate change denial. It hits hard and again McCready shines. “Quick Escape” is another great rock tune but it’s guitars and vocals are distorted. The song is about an immigrant’s journey away from his home. Rather than singing a song about immigration, Vedder narrates the song from the personal perspective of the immigrant and it hits so much harder. It’s always best to make a political point by making it personal. The distortion of the vocals and guitar almost generate the feeling of fear and being upended that the lyrics depict. “Take The Long Way” was written by drummer Matt Cameron and it sounds like Soundgarden (in a good way). I can’t help it, that’s what I hear.

For me, Pearl Jam has always done exceptional ballads. If I have a complaint about Gigaton, it’s that the last four tracks are ballads. The back end just mellows out. My favorite of the mellow tracks is “Seven O’Clock” the most political track here. He gives the current occupant of the White House his Native American name, “Sitting Bullshit.” The song penned by bassist Jeff Ament, “Alright” is also a highlight. Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire, Stone Gossard’s penned “Buckle Up” almost sounds like a lilting children’s tune until Vedder, over loping drums and acoustic guitar, sings the first line, “I got blood, blood on my hands…” Happy music delivering disturbing words… Tom Waits would be proud. “Comes Then Goes” is a simple vocals over acoustic guitar track. Who does that any more? Vedder plays an old time pump organ on the closing track, “River Cross.” “Retrograde” is a lament about how the world is falling apart.

If you’re a fan of the early, early Pearl Jam, you might want to skip this one and just buy the concert ticket, if concerts ever happen again. But for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, this is an exciting, mature effort by one of the world’s greatest bands. I’ve never faulted any artist who wants to expand the aperture on what and how they create – I’ve always loved David Bowie and latter day Paul Simon, just to name a few examples. Simon’s last album (Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”) was as far away as you can get from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I hope this new found experimental mood sparks some creative burst from these guys and we don’t have to wait until 2027 for the next Pearl Jam album. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it’s great to have a rock and roll album to be excited about in 2020, arguably the suckiest year in my lifetime.

Cheers!

 

 

Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”

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“It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63…” – Bob Dylan, “Murder Most Foul”

I always look forward to Fridays for all the usual reasons, mostly bourbon. But beyond the end of the workweek and the free time the weekend brings, I look forward to Friday because that’s when all the new music gets released. In the old days albums came out on Tuesdays in an attempt to game the charts. Charts came out on Mondays so labels wanted the max amount of time for an album to rack up sales before that next chart ranking came out. Last night I went to bed like I do on every other Thursday night, looking forward to whatever new music was going to be released today. Actually last night, I was specifically thinking about Pearl Jam and their new album Gigaton. Leave it to Bob Dylan to completely derail my listening…

Much to my surprise, Bob Dylan has released a new single today, “Murder Most Foul.” I had heard rumors that Dylan might be putting out a new album this year and if this song is a hint, I hope that’s true. On his website and several social media platforms Dylan released the following message: “Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan”

Might find interesting? Hell, yes!

I’ve been a Dylan fan since I began listening to rock and roll. My rock and roll awakening took place in the late 70s, so I was a little late to the game, but the first Dylan album I bought was the first of his Christian trilogy Slow Train Coming, and I’m not religious. From there I went to his iconic, first Greatest Hits with the photo of him shot closeup from the side, playing the harmonica. Slow Train was full of apocalyptic, wrath of God like songs (the title track, “Change My Way of Thinking”) and I’ve always considered its a good introduction to Bob’s darker visions of the world. In college I found myself purchasing all of his great, great, classic records: Blonde On Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Desire. Hell I even have Knocked Out Loaded on vinyl…I’ve stayed with Dylan up through his last studio album of original material, 2012’s Tempest. Since then, he’s been doing albums of Sinatra tunes as done by a border town bar band. I am thrilled to see a new Dylan original.

After I got over my first shock at seeing the Dylan release, I was equally surprised when I saw the song was just shy of seventeen minutes at 16:55. There are very few tracks in my collection that last that long. Well, studio tracks. Sure the Allman Brothers clocked in at over thirty minutes on “Mountain Jam.” Neil Young has “Driftin’ Back” at over twenty-seven minutes or “Ordinary People” over eighteen minutes. Those longer songs tend to be jam-oriented tracks. This is not that. Although Dylan is no stranger to longer epics. Time Out of Mind had a track “Highlands” that lasted over 16 minutes. And that last album of originals, Tempest had the title track that clocked in at almost fourteen minutes.  All I know is the Rock Chick is not going to like this one…

The track itself is mesmerizing. I can’t stop listening to this and have been doing so since I got up. The music is hushed. It’s a piano being quietly played over (very) muted percussion. Doug Herron’s violin plays along as a beautiful accent. There’s no jam or big guitar solo that tears up 10 minutes like CCR playing “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The focus is all on Dylan’s voice – which sounds much less gravelly here than he’s sounded on his latter day albums. He’s singing in a less fierce, more melancholy way so maybe that’s why it isn’t so scratchy. He’s not whispering but it’s like a secret being murmured. The music is almost ethereal. It reminds me, like it will many, of something from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, or “Listen To the Lion.” There’s an almost spiritual or holy vibe.

The focus on Dylan’s vocals are key because the lyrics of this song are mind blowing. The theme, on the surface at least, is the assassination of JFK in November of ’63. Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a song about one of the darkest chapters of America’s history during the current dark period of America’s history. This will fill up at least a few days of quarantine for me, analyzing these lyrics. They’re like an onion… so many layers. Its poetry set to music… it feels like I’m hearing ‘The Iliad’ recited in the original Greek by a campfire on Crete while my flock lays down for the night. The title, “Murder Most Foul” is from Shakespeare, no stranger to telling epic historical tragedies. One thread is a surreal, fever-dream imagining of JFK’s thoughts/conversation after he’s shot. There are mentions of the “grassy knoll,” the “three tramps” and to Governor Connally’s wife saying “Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President” right before he was shot. I got goose bumps, man.

But the lyrics seem to point to a bigger story than just JFK’s assassination. When he sings “The day they killed him someone said to me, “The Age of the Antichrist has just only begun,” we get the feeling there’s more to this song. The song plays more like a travelogue through the last fifty years of culture… It’s more a commentary of how things were never quite right in America after JFK was killed… “For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that, Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me, I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free” Heavy!!

As Dylan sings, in what seems to be a stream-of-consciousness way, he makes so many cultural references. From movies “Nightmare on Elm St” (believe it or not!) to “Play Misty For Me.” Every line has a reference to some other cultural touchpoint. “Gower Street” seems to point to Warren Zevon. He mentions many songs by their titles or artists’ by name including Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Billy Joel and Lindsey and Stevie Nicks. Is this a darker, better written “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” Not hardly. I’m guessing there are already playlists on Spotify generated simply from the list of tracks in this song. You could almost suggest that Dylan is painting a picture here that JFK wasn’t the only one who died on that grim November day in Dallas.

This one is a stone-cold classic. I know a lot of people use Dylan’s vocal decline as an excuse to dismiss his music, but this is a reason to continue to listen to the man. It’s wonderful when rock and roll transcends the format and becomes art. Dylan’s music has always had the power to move me. This song is no exception.

Cheers!

New Single: Ozzy’s Triumphant Return, “Under the Graveyard”

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“Today I woke up and I hate myself, Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “Under the Graveyard”

You can always count on Ozzy Osbourne to deliver the goods…

I have to admit, my introduction to “heavy metal” did not go well. I didn’t get a stereo until Christmas of ’78 – well sort of a stereo, it was one of those “all-in-one” units (turntable/cassette/radio with hardwired speakers). I wasn’t even in high school yet. My first album, as I’ve documented, purchased with a little bit of my own cash I’d received for Christmas was the Stones’ Some Girls. After that I started to tentatively expand my record collection. Most of the stuff I had early on in my collection was “of that time,” or released in the late 70s. The idea of going back in time to buy an artist’s back catalog, like my brother had done with the Beatles or the Byrds, was inconceivable to me. Rather than realizing I could buy all the Stones’ albums, I just taped my brother’s copy of Hot Rocks and listened to it on the cassette player.

Beyond the Stones, I picked up ZZ Top’s Deguello, Queen’s News of the World and Supertramp’s Breakfast In America which I traded to my brother for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I had heard the Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues playing from the room of my friend’s older, beautiful, buxom sister so I bought it in the hopes that a musical connection would lead to a more…temporal connection. It didn’t, she was in high school and I was in junior high. Dare to dream big, young man. It did solidify my love of the blues. I also purchased the Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute not because I’m a Michael McDonald fan, but because I’d heard it at a party and saw that it had a joint on the inner sleeve art work, which gave it an instant stamp of “cool” or at least tacit approval, if you will. My record buying habit grew as quickly as my thirst for beer until my father once made a rare appearance in my room and scratching his head said, “You’ve got all of these records, why do you need any more?” Apparently he didn’t realize there was different music on each record.

My Sainted mother, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. At the time, her best friend was this lady I’ll call Betsy (name changed to protect the guilty). Betsy had a daughter my age and a son my brother’s age. They were a bit more rough and tumble than we were. Betsy’s daughter was one of those hang around behind the school smoking cigarette types. Nice girl, just a bit too dangerous for my taste and speed. Betsy was a boozy woman who liked to smoke red Marlboro 100s. I would come home from school and more often than not, Betsy was sitting at our kitchen table, a few empty brews scattered in front of her, with an ashtray nearby. When she found out that I was suddenly “into music” she decided she was going to bring some of her children’s records over so I could listen to them and record them on cassette if I found them to my liking. I seem to remember nodding and thinking this was probably nothing but also being intrigued at getting to expand my music collection.

I was all of like, maybe 13 years old and the next thing I know I’m staring at a stack of vinyl from Betsy whose cover art images were like nothing I’d ever come across up to that point. I’m not sure what was going on over at Betsy’s house, but these were scary images. I wondered if Social Services had been called. I don’t remember all of the albums but the first one I saw was Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. This is the image I beheld:

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While it was nice to see some of these rumored nipples, it depicts some poor bastard being ravaged and killed by demons, on a bed with a skull and a 666 on the headboard. I was still Catholic at the time and that put a little jolt of fear in me. I’ll admit, I read the Book of Revelation and these Sabbath characters scared me. I couldn’t help but think, what the fuck is this? I dropped the needle on the album and the sound emanating out of the headphones was not at all comforting. I couldn’t help but think…Betsy’s kids are listening to this noise? Where’s the melody, where’s the hook?

The stack went on. Judas Priest’s British Steel, I have a vague memory of some Iron Maiden and I think, Sabbath’s Volume 4. I know there was more, but after that mind numbing collection, I was done with Betsy’s kids’ records. I made a mental note… avoid Betsy’s kids, they’re Satanic. Oddly, all these years later, I own and love all of these albums.

Sometimes, it just takes a little time before we’re ready for certain music. It only took me a year until my tastes had turned to harder rock. I say harder rock because it’s increasingly difficult for me to identify what exactly Heavy Metal is supposed to be. I started listening to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith who I’ve heard called Heavy Metal, but I consider more “hard rock.” I bought AC/DC’s Back In Black which may have crossed the line into Heavy Metal, but in my mind they’re too bluesy to be Metal. It wasn’t until the Dio fronted Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell that I bought my first metal album. I didn’t even know it was the same band as that frightening day with Betsy’s kids’ records. I had heard Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” and loved it, but for some reason never bought the album. I also never connected this Ozzy guy with Black Sabbath until much later. We all have to grow up in ignorance. And while I consider myself a fan of heavy metal… it’s not like I’m sitting around listening to Opeth or Samson. I need some melody. I hear that “cookie-monster” vocal stuff and I can’t turn it off fast enough…

I remember working at York Steak House in Oak Park Mall, near the house, when I heard on the back kitchen radio, “Flying High Again” by Ozzy. I bought the album the next day. “Mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy… no use sayin’ sorry, it’s something that I enjoy.” I was hooked. I realized this guy is the Prince of Darkness and I wanna bathe in that darkness. The music rocked, it was melodic, there was a sense of humor and yeah, I’ll say it again, the music rocked. I’ve been on the Ozzy bandwagon ever since. And while Ozzy has had some down moments in his career, for the most part his albums are of the highest quality. He always seems to find a great guitarist to play with him – from Randy Rhodes to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde and so forth.

I was thrilled to discover the other day that Ozzy is back for the first time since 2010’s Scream, which was a solid record. I have to admit, I liked 2007’s Black Rain more than Scream and it is one of my all time favorite Ozzy records. I saw him on that tour and I can only tell you my hearing will never be the same. I can’t believe it’s been almost a decade without any new solo Ozzy. Although, he did reunite with Sabbath for a fantastic record, 13 and tour (Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse).

Ozzy’s upcoming 2020 album is called Ordinary Man and he’s released the new single, “Under the Graveyard” and I love this track. Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers plays drums and, among others, helped write the track. Duff McKagan of GnR fame is on bass and producer Andrew Watt plays guitar. I guess he and Ozzy met while Ozzy was laying down some vocals for a Post Malone (?) song. I heard the track and Ozzy is the best part of it. It’s his best cameo since that Lita Ford duet back in the 80s.

“Under the Graveyard” starts off as an epic ballad. Ozzy’s vocals are introspective and vulnerable. It’s pretty amazing lyrically… and yes, I’m sure Ozzy had help writing the lyrics. I thought, well this is a pretty mellow comeback until about half way through the song when Watt unleashes this monster riff… I looked at the Rock Chick, a fellow Ozzy fan, and said, “Shit, that sounds like Sabbath!” I can’t believe I’ve come full circle from young tween afraid of Sabbath to elated that Ozzy sounds like them for a brief moment on the track. Watt’s guitar is fabulous and helps build this to a fabulous crescendo. This is probably the best thing I’ve heard from Ozzy in quite a while.

All of us here at B&V are thrilled Ozzy is coming back with a new album. I think this track is going to be a great harbinger of RAWK to come!! Turn this one up loud and remember… don’t be afraid kids. It’s only rock and roll… and you can’t kill rock n’ roll, you can only sing along.

 

 

New Single: The Sunset Sinners “Always Time For One More Beer”

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Is there a rock song that could be a more perfect fit for the BourbonAndVinyl ethos than one entitled, “Always Time For One More Beer”? I think not… Check this tune out:

It seems in these dark and divisive times that rock is receding as a cultural force. Radio and the charts have seemingly turned their back on guitar-oriented rock and roll. Gone are those 70s heyday of squealing guitar and rocking tunes. As if it were an answer to a call to battle, four men have emerged from America’s heartland, prepared to make a stand for rock ‘n’ roll. These four men, Tony Bowell (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Chris Brungardt (lead guitar), Brad Johnson (bass) and Blake Blackim (drums), call themselves the Sunset Sinners. And as faithful readers of B&V know, we like to support local music around here, B&V Goes Out Drinking, Supports Live Music: Kansas City’s Amanda Fish. I can tell you, I really dig this band.

As it turns out, this past weekend was Kansas City’s vaunted Plaza Art Fair. Friday night is usually the big party night, and this year was no exception. The Rock Chick and I went down into the mayhem, if only for a few hours, to check out art and “party arty.” On Saturday, after brunch, she dropped me off back on the Plaza for one of my drinking walkabouts… a small vestige of the old days. You can drink beer on the streets, and who doesn’t love that? It’s harmless as during the day it’s more of a strollers and dogs vibe…I seem to remember trying to explain “My Old School” by Steely Dan to some kid who just graduated from William and Mary, but I digress. As it so happens, a friend of mine Drummer Blake was in town from Salina for the Greta Van Fleet concert (Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019). I met up with him at the Fair and we dropped into a local tavern to talk rock and roll. It just so happens, Drummer Blake is the one and only Blake Blackim from the Sunset Sinners. I met Blake, originally, in the Drum Room (a bar downtown) before a Black Sabbath concert, which is pretty auspicious when you think about it (Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse).

The Sunset Sinners are formed around some pretty straightforward and important principles. First and foremost, these cats are focused on the music. They came together out of a sheer love of rock and roll. I can’t stress enough, it’s all about the music for these guys. With America divided the Sunset Sinners founding principle that partying and rock ‘n’ roll is something that can bring us all together seems to have crystalized in their first single, “Always Time For One More Beer.’ These guys are all about fun and you can hear that when they play. I advise everyone who can – see these guys live, you will thank me.

The Sinners describe their music as a new genre, one they call “Whiskey Barrel Rock.” It contains elements of a Southern Rock Revival and Red Dirt Country. It can almost be described as a crossover between rock and country, a perfect mix on a Saturday night. It’s as if Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chris Stapleton and Blackstone Cherry had a baby and they named it, Sunset Sinners. There’s a heavy dose of 70s rock and roll here. Nasty guitar with a bite, big drums, it’s all good. You can tell these guys grew up listening to the Outlaws, Molly Hatchet and the aforementioned Skynyrd. Although I must admit, their sound on the new single is much more muscular than pure Southern Rock… courtesy of that great lead guitar from Chris Brungardt.

The new track starts off with a sweet little slide guitar part but then the drums kick in and it’s off to the races. I can hear the Southern Rock and the Black Crowes influence almost immediately. Tony Bowell’s impassioned vocals are right up front and spot on. The guitars soar over the bedrock rhythm section. This song is the perfect, Saturday night, honky-tonk, and (obviously) beer drinking song. They’ve even got a great video out on YouTube…

https://youtu.be/k0VjeSh3co8

Actually there are a bunch of great video clips of Sinners’ concerts out on YouTube as well, with my particular favorite being a cover of ZZTop’s “Just Got Paid.” Search YouTube on the Sunset Sinners and behold the rock ‘n’ roll.

One of the cooler things abut the Sunset Sinners, is that they have a strong following and close relationship with Veterans, first responders, cops, current troops, and oddly, bikers. You likely noticed the biker part of that in the video… I think it’s great that local and national heroes have been drawn to the music these guys play. And frankly, I dig the whole biker vibe too. Not every biker is an outlaw folks, and not every outlaw is a biker.

Asked what’s next for the Sunset Sinners, Blake tells me there’s more new music on the horizon. He and the rest of the band are writing and putting together new tunes as I type this. I think we can be hopeful that we’ll see at least an EP, Greta Van Fleet style, sometime soon. The band doesn’t seem to be caught up in a bunch of aspirational bullshit, they’re playing merely for the love of rock ‘n’ roll, which is music of the purest form. I think everyone should crack a cold one and put on “Always Time For One More Beer.”!!!

Keep your eyes on this band, they just might single-handedly revive rock and roll!!

The Who Return With Spirited New Single, “Ball And Chain”

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I, for one, was really bummed when the Who called it quits in 1984 after the tepid live album, Who’s Last. They’d released two albums in the early 80s that I really enjoyed. Although, in retrospect, perhaps those LPs weren’t up to their “classic” standards. To be honest, the first Who album I ever bought was Face Dances, an album I remain fond of to this day. I loved “You Better You Bet” and “Another Tricky Day.” I still quote the latter song when friends are having a tough time… “this is no social crisis, this is you having fun…”

Even I will admit 1982’s It’s Hard was not a great Who album. I did love the title track. And the single, “Athena” still holds some charm for me. And of course, I can still remember being on kitchen duty, sweating to death over an industrial dishwasher and having the crew chief put “Eminence Front” on the boom box and turning it up real loud. Everybody in the kitchen swaying and nodding to the music. Townshend isn’t fond of that song but everybody else on the planet loves it. Sorry, Pete… I even liked the video for that song, which is almost embarrassing to admit these days.

One of the reasons people frowned on those last two Who studio albums was because the Who, unlike Zeppelin, decided to carry on without their drummer. Keith Moon passed away after the album Who Are You and many folks thought the Who lost a lot of their power. Kenny Jones of the Faces joined but he was a much more economical drummer, much different than the sound Moon generated. It didn’t help that Townshend had also launched a solo career (his first three albums are essential listening) and was also mired in a bad heroin habit.

It was probably inevitable that the Who would reunite, they were far from spent creatively. I finally saw them in concert for the first time in 1988 when they reunited and pulled together a giant ensemble of a band and did a stadium tour. Townshend was struggling with his hearing loss and only played an acoustic guitar. There were like 30 people on stage with them on that tour but they still conjured some of the sturm and drang of their glory days. That was only the first of many reunion tours of course. They’ve toured on Tommy and Quadrophenia alone. I saw them in 2000 in Denver with my friend Stormin’, and it was just Townshend, Entwistle, and Daltrey with Ringo’s son Zak Starkey on drums and it was phenomenal. It was like it was 1975 again. Zak drums more like a Moon than a Starr, if you get what I mean.

At the time, I just kept thinking, when are these guys going to get into the studio and record a new album? Townshend is a songwriting genius and the band sounded great with Zak on drums, why not? Then, sadly John Entwistle passed away in Vegas on coke, which is the way rock stars should go, if you ask me, and that seemed to forestall any new music from the Who. Luckily the Who soldiered on with Pino Palladino on bass.

We finally saw the first new music in over 24 years from the Who in 2006 (save for two singles on a greatest hits compilation, “Real Good Looking Boy” about Elvis and “Old Red Wine” for Entwistle), when they released the concept album, Endless Wire. Well, I call it a concept album but the first half was a collection of songs and the second half was a mini-opera (Townshend is so fond of his operas), called “Wire And Glass.” My college roommate Drew, who expanded my love and knowledge of the Who, loved Endless Wire. I trust Drew’s musical instincts implicitly, especially about the Who, but the album left me somewhat cold. It just didn’t feel like the right way for the Who to hang it up on.

Over the last several years I keep reading comments from Daltrey that his voice is eventually going to fail him. He’s been trying to keep working, within or outside the Who to keep his “instrument working.” I get that. He released the great collaboration album with Wilko Johnson, Going Back Home, which everyone should own. He’s toured with the Who and on his own to keep his voice up. He also released a solo album last year, As Long As I Have You, which was heavy on soul covers. Daltrey almost scrapped the project but Townshend heard some demo’s and volunteered to play rhythm guitar on the album.

I don’t know if that was the spark that led them back into the studio as The Who, but whatever led them there, I’m just glad they’ve got an album coming out. I’ve heard the rumbles about their age or that there are only 2 original members left etc etc. As long as Townshend can write songs and Daltrey can shout them, I say carry on lads! As Elton John once said about the Stones, would any one have had the balls to tell Muddy Waters he was too old to go on? Muddy would have pulled a razor and cut a fool for saying that to him… well, Howlin Wolf certainly would have had a razor, maybe not Muddy.

The Who have released the first single from their upcoming album WHO entitled “Ball And Chain.” There is some subterfuge here as the song was originally put out on a Pete Townshend greatest hits package a few years ago, with Townshend on lead vocals under the title of “Guantanamo.” Why they changed the name is anyone’s guess but this is a pretty politically charged track… maybe the name change helps with managing political backlash but still allowing Pete to get the point across. Townshend’s original track is almost all acoustic and his vocal is almost a growl. It was a track I liked enough to purchase when it first came out… Here is the original version:

“Ball And Chain” is a nice update of this track. Usually you see artists like Sting or Phil Collins remake solo versions of songs previously done with their band but in this case Townshend did the reverse and took a solo tune back to the band. While Townshend’s is almost all acoustic, this version has more traditional sounds we expect from the Who. It starts with a beautiful cascading piano. The first time I heard this I thought maybe Daltrey’s voice had finally gone Dylan on him and it was gone but on repeated listens I realized he’s just trying to approximate Pete’s growl on the original version. His singing is as strong as ever. There really is no better interpreter of Townshend’s vision than Daltrey. The chemistry remains impeccable. Unlike the laid back acoustic nature of “Guantanamo” Pete adds some fierce power chords to this track. I love his electric guitar on this song. It’s a tough, strident track. These guys still rock. It may not be “Won’t Get Fooled Again” but it’s still got that great Who bite. Where are the kids today writing protest music? I don’t hear any… Sigh. Here is the Who version:

Needless to say, we love this track down at B&V. I can only hope this portends a strong album… Any new music by legendary bands like The Who, Paul McCartney, or the Stones should be celebrated with a national holiday involving bourbon and dancing around. Which, ironically is how I’ll be spending my weekend…

Cheers!

Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”

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This past Friday was a lot like other Friday’s here at the B&V labs. I had returned from a long week of travel in the service of my corporate masters that found me in Phoenix and St. Louis. I’m usually pretty burned out after all of that “work” and I’m typically anxious to seek the comfort of my own home, my own bar and more importantly my own stereo. The American Royal BBQ was taking place this weekend, and the Rock Chick and I could have headed down there, but it’s only fun if you know someone whose actually competing so you can get free samples of freshly smoked beast. Otherwise you’re just hanging around in a smokey parking lot. I get that experience at Arrowhead Stadium 8 times a year…oh yes, I get my fill on smokey parking lots.

One of the great things about a Friday at home with the Rock Chick is our propensity to start doing some musical exploration. Many a Friday, I’ll turn the DJ duties over to my intrepid wife, the Rock Chick, and she’ll serve up a host of classic rock and alternative tracks that lasts well into the wee hours. Gone are the days where we had our drunken dance parties… now we just drink and rock, and let’s face it, I never danced so much as convulsed. I’m rhythmically challenged on the dance floor.

Lately the DJ parties have gotten even better since we now have Spotify here at the house. We can now actually explore outside the confines of our own music collection. After a long and respectful homage to the late Eddie Money who passed FridayRIP Eddie Money, B&V Mourns The Loss of the “Money Man”, I actually took the DJ helm and found a Spotify playlist, “New Rock.” Pretty straightforward on the title there… Not a hugely creative bunch down there at Spotify… I started paging through all the new music that’s come out and damned if I wasn’t a tad surprised at all the stuff that’s already out or coming out.

After wading through some music I should have avoided (the Goo Goo Dolls are still around? Puddle of Mudd?), I discovered there’s a whole lot of music coming out that I’m excited about. I had heard that Liam Gallagher, erstwhile singer of Oasis had a new album coming but I had no idea he’d put five songs out already. The Who have released their first song from their impending album, which I was thrilled about. It’s been 12 years since their last LP and all I can say is, it’s about time. After that I found a playlist entitled “New Alt” and quickly turned the DJ duties over to my wife… that music is more in her wheel house. I did hear some great new stuff…and yes, eventually we’re going to have talk about this new Iggy Pop album.

All of that said, there was a method to my madness in pulling up the New Rock playlist. I was looking for (and found) the new track from millennial Zeppelin fans Greta Van Fleet. I had heard it and wanted to play it for the Rock Chick. Much has been said and much has been complained about in regards to Greta Van Fleet. Me, I’m a fan. I tend to agree with PNW Bob who says, “they don’t deserve the hype or the backlash.” I still can’t believe it’s been two years since the Rock Chick burst into my office and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is but she sounds like Zeppelin…”

The new track, which I’ve read was a surprise, is entitled “Always There.” It was cut for a soundtrack to some movie, “A Million Little Pieces” which I will profess to knowing nothing about. I don’t know whose in the movie, nor do I care. All I care about is new GVF. I actually knew they were in the studio making new music and had heard there might be another album, the follow up to last year’s Anthem of a Peaceful Army, but maybe they just cut this single. I certainly hope we’re treated to more new Greta… I’m seeing them in concert next Saturday with my friend, Drummer Blake and I must say, excitement is brewing here at the B&V labs. Naturally, I will dutifully report in with my thoughts after the concert.

As will be no surprise to recurring readers of B&V, I really like “Always There.” The track starts off as a bit of a strummer… with Jake Kiszka melding acoustic and electric guitars. Josh’s vocal starts nuanced before later turning on the Plant-banshee wail. The real star on this track is Sam Kiszka on bass. His lilting, rolling bass carries the song along and takes it to “Over the Hills And Far Away”-classic territory. Danny Wagner’s drum fills are a perfect compliment to the rolling bass line. At about the half way point Josh turns up the vocal volume and a choir like backing vocal comes in to elevate the whole thing to 11.   Nobody makes music like this any more, especially at their age. I think they’re slowly finding their own voice (despite my “Over the Hills…” comparison, I just can’t stop doing that). I look forward to whatever these guys do next, and I can’t say that about a lot of bands these days.

Do a little musical spelunking next weekend… see if you find something you didn’t know about, it’s good for the soul. And check out this new GVF track, its something that you will definitely enjoy.

Cheers!