New Single: Chris Cornell’s Haunting Johnny Cash Penned “You Never Knew My Mind”

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*Image stolen from Wikipedia and is probably copyrighted

When I was a kid, I had to share a room with my brother until we were like, ten and seven respectively. It was not, as they say, an ideal situation. Somewhere over the years I inherited a small, black-and-white, rabbit ears-antenna television set. My brother on the other hand had Santa bring him a record player. He was always quietly smarter than me.  The reason my brother had asked for a record player was that he’d discovered my father had a bunch of old 50s era singles. These were small records, no bigger than 7 inches around, known as 45s because that was the RPM (revolutions per minute, I think) of the record. These 45s had a giant hole in the center and usually to play the records you had to have a round plastic adapter that you’d put in the middle of the turn table.

My father, in his youth, had amassed a collection of several dozen of these singles. They didn’t even have the paper sleeve that 45s had “in my day,” they were just naked pieces of 7 inch vinyl stuck in a wire rack, like you’d find dishes drying in the sink. These tiny discs were a virtual “History of Rock And Roll.” My brother treated that rack of records like it was the Holy Grail or the Rosetta Stone. There were songs by Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Dion, Buddy Holly (if memory serves me, and it usually doesn’t), there were even a few Beatles songs. My brother played the crap out of those old songs. When I wasn’t watching Kojak reruns in black-and-white, I would listen with him. One of my favorite artists in that stack was always the Man In Black… Johnny Cash. I can still remember hearing “Folsom Prison Blues” out of the tinny speaker on my brother’s dime store record player… that voice was haunting and almost scary for little 10 year old me.

As the years unfurled, Johnny’s career went up and down. By the mid-90s his career was pretty much in decline, he was playing supper clubs and Nashville had largely turned their backs on him. On my part, I’d completely lost track of Johnny save for fond memories of listening to him when I was a kid. Enter producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin. In 1994 Rubin hooked up with Johnny Cash and convinced him to do an album. It was mostly stark, acoustic tracks with just Johnny’s voice and his guitar. I was dating a woman at the time, in what was a classic “on-again, off-again” relationship. Looking back I’m not sure who was torturing who there…best not analyze that one. During one of our spats, as a peace offering this generous woman showed up with Johnny’s Rick Rubin produced album, American Recordings and it knocked me out! That haunting voice from my childhood was back and rather than scare me, it was exhilarating to hear.

As an encore, Cash and Rubin brought in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as their studio backing-band and recorded the superb follow-up, Unchained. It might not have had the same impact as the stunning American Recordings but it was still a great record. Emboldened by the success of the first record, Cash and Rubin broadened their musical palette and recorded songs I hadn’t thought would fit Cash. For me, as a Soundgarden fan, the best track on that record was the cover of “Rusty Cage.” It’s hard to describe what it was like to hear Johnny Cash tear into a Soundgarden song for the first time. The sheer audacity of it was jaw-dropping back then. Year’s later, I made them mistake of telling the Rock Chick that Johnny’s version of the song was definitive. As a die-hard Soundgarden fan, her reaction was…explosive… Regardless of which version you prefer, Cash does a phenomenal job on that song. Not to say Soundgarden’s original isn’t equally impactful… marriage is compromise…

I remember thinking at the time, I wonder what Chris Cornell thinks about Johnny Cash singing one of his tunes. The thought faded with the years until we were a decade into the new millennium. Soundgarden had broken up, Cornell had worked solo, with up and down results and had also been part of the great Audioslave. It was around that time, say 2011, I heard that Cornell was going on a solo acoustic tour. I heard him interviewed and he talked about Cash doing “Rusty Cage” and how much he’d liked it. He said that many fans had approached him and told him that the acoustic-based version Cash did was the first time they’d actually understood the lyrics. I don’t know if that’s what gave Cornell the idea to do an acoustic tour, but I don’t think it hurt the idea. You can find the results of that tour on the great live album, Songbook. 

It appears we have come full circle. Johnny Cash over the years would jot down poetry or unrecorded lyrical ideas (if you’d rather). His son has compiled a number of those unpublished, unrecorded lyrics in a book. To commemorate that, he also recruited a number of recording artists to set those words to music. The resulting album is called Johnny Cash: Forever Words, The Music. This sort of thing is not unprecedented. There was the mini-super group The New Basement Tapes who recorded a batch of songs with unused Bob Dylan lyrics from the actual Basement Tapes era. Billy Bragg and Wilco got together and did an album of Woody Gutherie songs, Mermaid Avenue, using some old unpublished lyrics of Woody’s.

While the album, Forever Words hasn’t been released yet, there are a few tracks that have been released. It’s a real mix of artists… From Elvis Costello and John Mellencamp to Carlene Carter and Alison Krauss. There are also some newer country artists which I will avoid like the plague… Compilations are always dicey. But the artist whose name jumped out at me, and caused my earlier “full circle” remark, was the late Chris Cornell. I think this was one of the last things he recorded and I believe it marks his first posthumously released song since his untimely death (I Awoke To The Devastating News: Chris Cornell Has Passed Away, RIP). I’m still not quite over his loss… amongst others.

The song is entitled “You Never Knew My Mind,” and it is just a beautiful song. The Cash lyric is wonderful. Like Johnny doing an acoustic based “Rusty Cage,” this is an acoustic based song. It’s Cornell’s wonderful voice, acoustic guitar and some strings. Toward the end there’s some atmospheric electric guitar, quiet drums and some nice, understated backing vocals. The song builds and builds until it ends where it began with just Cornell’s voice and an acoustic guitar. The song takes me back to a word I’ve used a lot in this post… haunting. I had a person I knew, who passed away suddenly, who left me a voicemail a few days before passing. I’ve never deleted the message. It’s like holding on to a small part of that person… For some odd reason, this song reminds me of that voicemail… It’s like a hearing Chris Cornell’s voice fools me for that brief second into thinking maybe he is still here.

I don’t know how the rest of this record will be… I mean, Brad Paisley does a song… no thank you. But this song is certainly a gem worth checking out.

Enjoy!

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New Single: Pearl Jam’s Feisty, Great New Song “Can’t Deny Me,” Their First New Music In 5 Years

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“You want me to breathe and be so thankful” – Pearl Jam, “Can’t Deny Me”

Well it’s about time we got some new Pearl Jam. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since they released the incredibly strong LP Lightning Bolt. I think I listened to the ballad, “Sirens” on that record about a thousand times… in a row. I can get obsessive. I’ve always been a huge Pearl Jam fan. I was dating a woman who brought over their first album, Ten, and when we broke up I did everything I could to hang onto that CD. I probably should have worked that hard on the relationship, oh well. Eventually, like her affection, she returned to take her Pearl Jam CD with her…

I will admit, it hasn’t always been easy to be a Pearl Jam fan. They started doing everything they could to dismantle the fame and success that came after Ten (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame). Even their second album, Vs was titled to let you know it was Pearl Jam against the world. While they were still a vital and important live act, their albums became more and more obtuse. They almost lost me at Riot Act. However, if you spend some time with that record it will slowly reveal itself to you… there are some great songs there. It’s a grower.

Prior to Riot Act Pearl Jam would put out an album about every two years. Since then, they’ve stretched out the periods between albums. Any more they take anywhere from three to four years between albums. Vedder does solo stuff or hangs out at Wrigley field watching Cubs games. Drummer Matt Cameron got back together with Soundgarden. The stuff they do solo or more appropriately, away from the band, probably helps re-energize them for the next Pearl Jam project. But even I have to admit that 5 years is a really long time between albums. Only the Stones seem to take longer… but that’s another post.

It was with great excitement that I heard that Pearl Jam had released a new single, at first only to their fan club known as The Ten Club. It’s actually a great fan organization. I don’t know why I haven’t joined… but if I did that for every band I liked I’d be broke. The Ten Club typically gets a free single every Christmas and gets an advanced shot on concert tickets. After a few days of listening to the new single, “Can’t Deny Me” on YouTube Pearl Jam have finally released the song this week to the general public and I snapped it up.

I like my Pearl Jam angry and “Can’t Deny Me” is a great, rocking single. Eddie Vedder spent a lot of time hanging out with guitarist Johnny Ramone before his demise in 2004 and that punk influence has stuck with him ever since. This is a punchy, feisty song. I love the fact that when they played it the other night, they dedicated it to the Parkland, Florida kids who are out on the streets protesting for some common sense gun control laws. I dig what Roger Waters and Randy Newman are doing in terms of socially cognizant music these days, but I needed a good rock and roll protest song and Pearl Jam have delivered. Pearl Jam, of course, are no strangers to making political statements in their music. “Bushleaguer,” and “W.M.A” just to name a few songs that addressed politics. Vedder famously wrote “Pro Choice” on his arm in black magic marker during Pearl Jam’s “Unplugged” performance, which to this day I still wish they’d release as an album. So it was great to hear these guys let loose on our current situation.

The song starts with a wicked Matt Cameron drum beat. Eddie Vedder sings like he’s a wounded animal. With lines like “The higher, the farther, the faster you fly, you may be rich but you can’t deny me,” there is little doubt who this is addressed to. Over Cameron’s insistent drum beat the guitars crunch and squall. “Your ignorance is sinful…” I love it. Pearl Jam’s music has always had a grandiosity to it, similar to U2’s music, which these days comes across stronger in their ballads. And while this song isn’t as epic as “Alive” or “Even Flow” it hits every bit as hard as “Go” or “Animal.” It’s brief, clocking in at only 2:44  in keeping with that punk ethos they’ve adopted.

The best news of all about a new Pearl Jam song is that it means there’s a new Pearl Jam album on the way. I haven’t heard anything about a release date but they have announced a number of concert dates… so it appears to be only a matter of time. All of us here at the B&V labs are eagerly awaiting a whole new Pearl Jam album. Hell, I was thrilled to hear Vedder sing “Room At The Top,” the gem by Tom Petty at the Oscars… imagine how I’ll react to an entire new album. I’m even hoping Eddie releases “Room At The Top,” his performance was that fabulous… he could do it as a charity thing perhaps?

Last, and certainly not least, Happy St Patrick’s Day to all of you out there. The Rock Chick and I will be out on the streets of Kansas City, dressed in green, drinking with the revelers. I’m told Kansas City has the third largest parade in the States. It really is the only religious holiday I still observe. I mean, Christmas sort of happens around me, I can’t avoid it, but I’m a full participant in St Patrick’s Day. Be safe out there and Erin Go Bragh to all of you!

Jimi Hendrix: “Mannish Boy,” From The Upcoming, ‘Both Sides of the Sky’

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As I said on one my earliest posts, when reviewing Jimi Hendrix’s superb live album, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)), just when I thought I was done buying Jimi Hendrix albums, he pulls me back in. When Hendrix passed, he had a ton of unreleased studio material. After he released Electric Ladyland, between concerts and endless touring he would hole up at his Electric Lady studios and record. He was deep into writing and recording the follow up to Electric Ladyland, (which was to be a double album as well) when he sadly passed away.

When Hendrix passed, like so many other rockers, like say Prince, he didn’t have his estate set up. When you’re a rock star, who can be bothered with legal documents like a last will and testament. When you’re young, you feel like you’re going to live forever…add rock stardom to that, and who can blame Jimi. After his father died, there were the usual legal battles over his legacy and his estate. Eventually, his sister Janie Hendrix found herself in control of Jimi’s estate. She formed Experience Hendrix and started collaborating with Hendrix’s engineer Eddie Kramer to remaster and release some of Jimi’s material in the vaults.

Personally, although I consider myself a completist, I never delved into the Hendrix’s posthumous releases. I’d heard bad things about Cry Of Love and all the egregious overdubbing of other guitarists on that album. Blasphemy of the highest order. To this day my friend in Denver, Matthew is always suspicious it’s someone else playing on newly discovered Hendrix material… Matthew, there is no second guitarist on the grassy knoll… My reluctance to delve into Hendrix’s posthumous releases ended when Janie Hendrix and Eddie Kramer put out First Rays of the New Rising Sun in 1997. I hate to use this word, but I consider it the definitive version of what might have been Jimi’s follow-up to Electric Ladyland. Kramer used the most completed, polished versions of the songs slated for the album and the notes that Hendrix himself had left behind to put together the album. Would Hendrix have changed his mind about the running order, what was included, or rerecorded guitar parts (as he was famously known to do, sometimes endlessly changing his solos up to the time of an album’s release)? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Experience Hendrix followed up First Rays with an album of “previously unreleased” songs, Valleys of Neptune in 2010, which I snatched up immediately. The title track was one of the most coveted unreleased tracks in Hendrix’s catalog and it does not disappoint. It remains one of my favorite Hendrix tracks. It’s a trippy, mid tempo, Hendrix rock tune. The songs on this album were largely recorded in 1969 with the original Experience, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding. Yes, the album had some loose, in studio, instrumentals which sound like jam sessions, rather than fully realized tunes, but there is a lot to like on this album. There are alternative versions of songs he released prior as well. I think it’s all still essential listening, especially in light of the fantastic sound of the record. Kramer is to be commended. It’s a must-have for fans of Hendrix.

Experience Hendrix then followed Valleys with an album of “12 previously unreleased” songs, People, Hell and Angels in 2013. Somehow that one got by me. I just picked it up last month and it’s very much in the same vein of Valleys. Although the songs on this album were recorded by the Band of Gypsies (Billy Cox on bass, Buddy Miles on drums) over the course of 1968 and 1969. Stephen Stills even shows up to play bass on the stand-out track, “Somewhere.” There are different versions of “Earth Blues” and “Izabella.” I have to admit, I really love Hendrix’s solo’ing on this album. He was truly in the zone when he was in the studio. And once again, the over-all sound of this record is fantastic. If you listen to it on headphones, there is a real danger your head might explode. This stuff might have already been out there in the vast world of bootlegs, but I have never come across any Hendrix boots (and I have a long bootleg history) and I’m pretty certain anything bootlegged wouldn’t sound this tremendous.

At that point, I assumed the vaults were empty. I mean, Experience Hendrix had released a box-set of material, West Coast Seattle Boy that had to clear out the vaults, right? If Hendrix coughed near a microphone, it was recorded and released on that box… They even included Jimi sitting in a hotel room singing a cover by the Band (“Tears of Rage”), with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder. I’m not sure how they did it, but it sounds a lot better than I thought it would. So at this point, could there really be any more in the vaults? The answer, it appears, is yes.

My friend, Drummer Blake, texted me a few weeks ago and said, “New Hendrix is coming out in March, that could be interesting.” Indeed, Drummer Blake, indeed. I have to admit, the upcoming release, entitled Both Sides of the Sky is one of B&V’s most anticipated new records for 2018. I’ve always considered Jimi Hendrix to be an artist in the same vein as Pablo Picasso. These were inventive artists who saw the world differently. Their art literally changed the form: Picasso for painting, Hendrix for guitar. But Hendrix, at his very roots, at his very core, was a bluesman. In the same way, over the course of his long career, Bob Dylan always seems to return to folk music, (on late period albums like World Gone Wrong or Good As I Been To You), Hendrix, no matter how experimental or psychedelic his music got, always returned to the blues. I think I have around a dozen versions of “Red House” and “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

So it was no surprise to me that the first track Hendrix released from Both Sides of the Sky is a blues tune, Muddy Waters’ classic “Mannish Boy.” Muddy Waters, along with B.B. King and Howlin Wolf are for me, the Titans of the Blues. Muddy’s version of “Mannish Boy” recorded with and produced by Johnny Winters on Hard Again, is not only the definitive version, it’s probably the greatest blues tune ever done. Although, I’m also very fond of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” but I digress. With the Rock Chick gone for the weekend, I’ve been obsessively listening to this new Hendrix version.

First and foremost, I love that Jimi went back to the blues and I especially love that he chose to record this Muddy Waters’ tune. That said, there is very little that Hendrix’s version of “Mannish Boy” has in common with Muddy’s version. Yes, its the same song, but as I said about Hendrix seeing the world differently, this version is very much done in a Hendrix-y fashion. There is no call and response vocals, like the way Muddy and Jimmy Rivers do it. Hendrix plays it faster, with an almost funky, psychedelic effect to the guitar. The vocal is quite impassioned. He sings the notes of his early solos through the song. You can tell how “at home” Hendrix felt in the blues. There are a few, very brief bass solos as well. I don’t have liner notes so I’m not sure whose on bass here… There is also a brief, melt your face off, blast of guitar towards the end that I can’t stop focusing on. Hearing that last blast of guitar reminded me what an influence Hendrix was on John Frusciante, former Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist. Hendrix was just simply put, a Guitar God and his playing can take the mundane to the sublime. This is a fun track and I think it bodes very well for the album. I highly recommend any Hendrix, guitar or blues fan, checks this track out.

Cheers!

The Shelters: Tom Petty’s Protege’s Return With Two Great, Rocking, New Songs

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With the Rock Chick traveling yet again to points West to visit her offspring, I’ve opened up the music lab today. It’s been all music all day so far. I haven’t even made the futile search for the television remote control. With only three NFL games left this year, why bother… I’ve listened to Big Star’s entire catalog this morning. I must say, I’d always heard the album “Third/Sister Lovers” was harrowing, but it may be my new favorite of their’s. Anyway, the holiday season for me was, as usual, harrowing, and I didn’t realize that a newer rock band I like had put out a couple of new tracks. On December 1st the Shelters, Tom Petty’s protege’s, put out the songs “Really Wanted You,” and “So Get Out.”

It was my dear friend Stormin who called me a year and half ago, “I have V.I.P. tickets for Mudcrutch at the Ogden Theater. Get here.” I immediately informed my wife to prep the B&V-mobile for a road trip. We were off to Denver. And yes, I let her drive… she’s a maniac behind the wheel…I actually reviewed that Mudcrutch show for B&V, Review: Mudcrutch, Denver, Co; Ogden Theater 25May16. My friend and I stood in front the stage, arms-length from Tom Petty… He looked right in my eyes and it was like he was staring into my soul. It was a real Tom Petty highlight, in a lifetime of highlights from that great artist. If you haven’t already done so, purchase both Mudcrutch albums immediately. The warm-up band that night in Denver, and I vary on how much attention I spend on opening bands, was none other than the Shelters. While BourbonAndVinyl is focused on more mature artists we’re always on the lookout for new rock bands like Rival Sons or Greta Van Fleet. It turns out the Shelters are another gift Tom Petty gave to me! I am still in shock over his passing.

The Shelters are Chase Simpson on guitar/vocals, drummer Jacob Pilot, Josh Jove on guitar/vocals, and bassist Sebastian Harris. The outfit springs from Los Angeles, and apparently when impressed after seeing them live, Tom Petty gave them the keys to his home studio. Eventually he snuck downstairs, or across the courtyard, I don’t Tom’s setup, and ended up co producing their first album, the eponymous The Shelters. Not a bad career move, impressing Tom Petty enough to have him coproduce your record. Two of the Shelters actually ended up playing on Petty’s great, final album, Hypnotic Eye. 

Well, that night in Ogden, the Shelters came out rocking. They really grabbed my attention which is hard for an opening act to do. I loved the guitar work by Jove and Simpson, they had some great interplay. Jacob Pilot was strong on drums as well. They certainly looked like they were having a good time. Both Jove and Simpson took turns on vocals, which I liked. I remember thinking, prior to Mudcrutch coming out and mesmerizing me, that I would need to check these guys out further. I had no idea at the time they were connected to Petty other than the opening slot he gave them. Sadly though, after Mudcrutch came out and put on a 2-plus hour spectacle, I sort of forgot about the Shelters. I did see them in the lobby of the Ogden when I was walking out, signing autographs for admiring female fans… well played, lads, well played.

It was a few months later when the Rock Chick announced she’d made an album purchase. She’s one of my stronger sources of new music, so I was immediately interested. She likes to play a record for me before she tells me who it is… After the first few chords on the sensational opening track, “Rebel Heart,” my shaky memory jolted… “wait a minute, I know this song…” Apparently the Rock Chick had independently discovered the Shelters through the magic of satellite radio. It’s a strong first album. I definitely hear Tom Petty’s influence on some of the crunchier guitar tracks like, “Rebel Heart,” or “Birdwatching.” I also hear a bit of a Beatlesque influence on songs like “Fortune Teller,” or “Dandelion Ridge.” “Ghost is Gone” is a long, trippy track which almost brings to mind another LA band, The Doors. There’s a lot of fuzzy guitar on this album that I really like. They kind of sound like a 60s beach-rock band crossed with The Animals. I sort of want to do that old dance, ‘The Swim’ when they’re playing. You can definitely hear the influences, but they make the sounds their own. The track “Down” is a laid back, crunchy rocker that is another stand out for me. I think it’s a strong rock record and would advise everybody to check it out.

I wondered what their new music would sound like, when I discovered the two new tracks. Especially since Tom Petty wouldn’t be involved in this project, obviously.  Well, I needn’t worry. “Really Wanted You” starts off with a great guitar riff. The song rides along that riff and a jaunty drum line from Pilot. I love the harmony vocal on the chorus. It’s a punchy, little rock song. Definitely worth your time. “So Get Out,” the second track, wouldn’t have been out of place on the first album. It’s a slinky organ driven track with a hazy vocal and a tasty guitar solo towards the end. This has that Animals/Zombies vibe that a few of the tracks on the first album had. It has that fresh but nostalgic vibe.

If you like straight up, “nuthin’ fancy,” rock and roll, the Shelters are your band. I recommend these two new tracks and their first album as well. I look forward to hearing more from these guys. If you can, definitely check them out live.

Cheers!

 

 

Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP

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Once again my corporate overlords had me traveling most of this week. I returned home from California just in time to watch the Rock Chick pack her car and abscond to points out west to meet our daughter for some sort of “Thelma and Louis” adventure. Actually, our daughter is moving and the Rock Chick felt compelled to help her find a new apartment in her new city. In the old days, when I was left to my own devices, to a “bachelor’s weekend,” I’d end up face down, slathered in bourbon and pizza sauce. The Rock Chick came home one weekend to find me weeping over the death of Clarence Clemons. It had been a tough weekend…and perhaps I’d overdone it. Luckily, this weekend I discovered that those Led Zeppelin-obsessed youngsters, Greta Van Fleet, have released a new album, er, I mean a double EP, whatever that is, entitled, From The Fires. At least I’ll have something upbeat to listen to all weekend… and yes, I did stop by the store for a fresh bottle of Bulleit rye and ordered a pizza, so I’m ready to rock.

I reviewed their first EP, Black Smoke Rising,  a few months ago (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP). And as those of you who read that know, I love these kids. Yes, I described watching their YouTube videos as like watching really hip baristas running amuck, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It was actually the Rock Chick who first came into the B&V Lab and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Zeppelin.” Hearing these four new songs – inexplicably From The Fires contains all 4 songs from Black Smoke Rising – I believe the Rock Chick is going to be very happy. My friend West Coast BG says the versions of the first four tracks are more polished versions here, but I did what I think most people did – I bought the four new songs and added them to the old ones.

After reading my review of Black Smoke Rising, my dear friend Doug wrote, in the comments section, “I’m surprised Led Zeppelin isn’t getting royalties from these guys…” (or something like that), and yes, they do sound like Led Zeppelin. My friend in Salina, Drummer Blake, when I went to see his new band said, “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and ask if I’ve heard these kids that sound like Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet.” Drummer Blake is more fond of Rival Sons, but we’re splitting hairs here. Even my friend West Coast BG sent me an enthusiastic note about GVF. He compares them to the young energy (not the sound) of Def Leppard when they first came out. We both saw Def Leppard open for Nugent back in the day and Greta Van Fleet does bring back memories of that youthful exuberance both of Def Leppard and us. I mention all of this because there are many people out here who have been yearning to hear some new, kick ass rock and roll and the word on GVF is getting out!

I don’t want to rehash the review I put out for the four songs that were contained on Black Smoke Rising, but I will say these kids really are channeling Zeppelin. You can listen to those four songs and literally play the which-Zeppelin-song-is-this game. My favs are probably the galloping “Highway Tune” and the title track. “Safari Song” starts off with a banshee wail that Plant would envy. I will say, someone is going to have to get lead vocalist (and one of three brothers in the band) John Kiszka a glass of hot tea with honey and a shot of Gentlemen Jack in it to help him sooth his vocal chords. As my friend West Coast BG said, “someone needs to tell him to reign it in, he’s going to shatter his vocal chords.” But damn if I don’t love this kid’s shrieking vocals. I can’t say enough about his brother Jake on lead guitar. I can understand how a vocalist can sound like Robert Plant, but this Jake kid makes guitar sounds that I’ve only heard on Zeppelin records, and I mean that as a huge compliment.

If I was going to say one thing about GVF, to me they’re in the larval stage (I was corrected by BG when I said “larva stage”). They’ve got the chops and the skill, but they can only survive as an act if they can develop their own sound and write their own distinctive songs. I remember so many bands in the 80s, including Kings X and Jason Bonham’s band (creatively named, Bonham) who were hailed as the second coming of Zeppelin but flamed out pretty quickly. I think these guys have the tools to be a long term force in rock and roll but someone, maybe Jason Flom, needs to do what Andrew Loog Oldham did for Mick and Keith – sit them down in a room and force them write and write and write. I think given time these guys will develop into something special, I just hope they hew closely to this swaggering, hard rock sound.

Of the new batch of material, my favorite might be the cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Again, kudos to John Kiszka for the lead vocal. The band brought in some gospel-y background singers, which is a perfect accent. The first time I heard GVF’s version of the tune, I thought, these guys sound too joyful for this track, but I think I misread it. It’s anguished and triumphant all at the same time. And hats off to any band with the balls to tackle one of the greatest songs of all time. It shows they have really good taste in music.

“Edge of Darkness” is a crunchy rocker. I love John Kiszka’s riffage on this song. And, just to play the, which-Zeppelin-tune game, I get a real “What Is And What Could Never Be” vibe from this tune. The guitar time changes and different riffs, just evoke that song for me. “Meet Me On the Ledge” brings to mind “Our Time Is Gonna Come.” It starts with a heavy riff, then vocals/acoustic guitar that builds to the chorus. It’s rocky and spacey. I mention the influences just to underscore what these tracks sound like, not as a jab at GVF. The guitar solo at the end of “Edge of Darkness” is a unique, crazy flurry of guitar that points the way to great things for Greta Van Fleet. The last of the four new tracks is “Talk On The Street,” a baby I’m hearing bad things tune. It reminds me of a less bluesy “When the Levee Breaks.” I know I shouldn’t do the Zeppelin comparison, but I can’t help it.

When I listen to all eight songs on From The Fires I will admit to being baffled by the whole “double EP” thing. Why not just call these eight tracks your debut album. Houses of the Holy only had four tracks per side, eight in total. Take the homage all the way, baby. Anyway, this is a great slab of rock and roll. Turn it up loud, grab a slice of pizza and some bourbon and try not be weeping when your spouse gets home….

Cheers!

 

Review: U2’s Two New Songs from ‘Songs Of Experience’

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As happens this time of year, my corporate overlords have kept me out on the road all week. Traveling has taught me one thing: Civility and good manners are dead, folks. Anyway, I wearily returned home to find the great news that U2 have made a number of announcements in regard to their upcoming album, Songs of Experience, the “sequel” to 2014’s Songs of Innocence. It’s all so very William Blake of them… “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night.” We have a release date of December 1 for the full album, just in time for Christmas. And, in other great news, U2 have announced a short spring tour through the United States beginning in May and running through June. Sadly it looks like I’ll have to fly somewhere to see them. Hopefully the early dates are just a framework from which they can hang additional dates in additional cities on to.

The build up for Songs of Experience has been impressive. I think this album is going to be an important one for U2… After two rather lackluster records, No Line On The Horizon (2009) and Songs of Innocence (2014) one gets the sense that U2 is bearing down to re-take over the world. These guys are like Muhammad Ali, they always seem to be fighting to regain the World Title. One could view their recent tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album, The Joshua Tree, as a concerted effort to reconnect with their fans and reignite the passion they so often inspire. (That tour was reviewed in B&V, Concert Review: U2 with Beck, Kansas City, Sept 12, 2017: A “Night of Epic Rock And Roll” – Bono, #U2TheJoshuaTree2017).

They released the first single a month or so ago. That song, “You’re The Best Thing About Me” is simply put, sensational and the best first single they’ve put out since “Vertigo.” I reviewed that single (U2: “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” The Strong New Single From ‘Songs Of Experience’) and it gives me a lot of hope for this new album. Never count U2 out, especially if they feel they have their backs against the wall. The announcements they made this week were accompanied by the album art, the track list and the release of two new songs. Looking at the track list, I don’t see much on the “Deluxe” version to recommend it, the bonus material appears to be all remixes. I say new songs, but one, “Get Out of Your Own Way,” they apparently debuted on The Joshua Tree Tour and the other, “Blackout” was out on YouTube and other social media platforms.

“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a mid tempo, ballad type track. It’s got big choruses. I usually love U2’s ballads, but this one is going to have to grow on me. The track fades in a little bit like “Where The Streets Have No Name.” I think my biggest obstacle on this song are the drums. They sound tinny or metallic. I think Larry Mullen, Jr is U2’s secret weapon so I’d like to see them let that guy go a little more. He does pick it up in the middle of the track. There is some good, signature Edge guitar in the middle and a nice but brief solo. The track is more polished than “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” There’s some audio tape of someone, a rapper, a preacher or somebody at the end that I could have done without. Like I said, not a great track,  but not bad.

“Blackout” is just a great song. The Rock Chick was in the B&V Lab when I played the two tracks and she took to this one immediately. It’s catchy and has some good guitar. I especially like Bono’s impassioned vocal on this track. I love the lyrics, “In the darkness is where you learn to see…” It’s a slinky, funky affair. I think you could dance to it or rock out to it and I mean that in a good way. If “Blackout” and “You’re the Best Thing…” are any indication, this album is headed in the right direction. Although, I will caveat that by saying, it’s hard to take a handful of songs and hear them out of the context of the full album and make any kind of guess about the overall package. I only have my hope for this album to go on and I haven’t had that on a U2 album since How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Keep your fingers crossed for a great U2 album! Cheers!

 

LP Review: Robert Plant, The Sensational ‘Carry Fire’

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It was early my freshman year of high school when Led Zeppelin’s final album, ‘In Through The Out Door’ came out. Say what you want about Zeppelin’s swan song, it’s still amazing that they could put out that kind of quality record when the drummer was a raging alcoholic and the lead guitarist was strung-out on heroin. Ah, the 70s. ‘In Through The Out Door’ ushered in a different kind of vocal from Robert Plant. He wasn’t the shrieking banshee of ‘Zeppelin II’ any more, he was actually singing. Purportedly, Bonham and Page felt ‘In Through the Out Door’ was too “mellow” and were making plans for a more rocking follow-up when Bonham sadly passed away. For my part, I think “In The Evening” is a great rock tune. When your guitarist is sitting in a dark room with only a candle for light, comatose on heroin, it’s hard to put together an album that sounds like ‘Presence.’

At my high school, there was a group of guys who put up a sign-up sheet in the lunch room when Zeppelin announced their US tour. The guys had arranged to rent a bus that would take anybody who had the money up to Chicago, the nearest concert venue that Zeppelin was to play on that tour. Zeppelin rarely played Kansas City… there was a story, probably apocryphal that they’d been booed off staged early in their career in KC and they eschewed returning. I heard that same story about Bad Company, so who knows. Anyway, I can remember the dejected look on the faces of the guys who rented the bus when the news of Bonham’s sad passing was announced by our high school, lunchtime DJ. They had been so close to seeing Zeppelin, yet so far. I’m still surprised they let us play music in the lunchroom, my school was run by fascists.

And so, with a foolish, massive intake of vodka, Led Zeppelin, a pillar of 70s rock ‘n’ roll and well, rock ‘n’ roll in general, had toppled. I felt like I’d missed a great party… well, not missed, but only managed to get in on the tail end of the party, after all the pretty girls had left. I was, however, consoled in 1982 when Plant emerged with his first solo album. Those of us of a certain age still love ‘Pictures At Eleven.’ Plant’s singing on that record was more akin to what he did on ‘In Through The Out Door.’ Anybody looking for “The Immigrant Song” style of singing from Plant should have known back then, it wasn’t happening. “Burning Down One Side” is one of Plant’s best rock tunes… “How could I fall, without a show…” is a lyric that I only understand on a visceral, non-intellectual level, yet still love.

Thus began, for me, a life long devotion to the solo music of this brilliant artist. There is very little in Plant’s career that I could say I don’t like. I wasn’t crazy about his side-project The Honeydrippers but only his album ‘Shaken N Stirred’ could be described as missing the mark (way too much synthesizer). I love that Plant has gone through different phases of his career. He’s always searching, always testing his limits. He’s collaborated with different musicians at different times, always tinkering with his sound and approach. If that’s not the hallmark of an amazing artist, what is?

After a brief reunion with Jimmy Page for the Page-Plant albums and tours, both of which I saw (and was amazed by), Plant returned to his solo career with a covers album, ‘Dreamland.’ Despite it being mostly covers, I loved ‘Dreamland.’ It marked another evolution in Plant’s vocals. They started putting his voice right up front and augmenting it with more nontraditional, world-music kind of sounds. That sound carried through the exceptional album of originals, ‘Mighty Rearranger’ and led to the ‘Raising Sand’ project with Alison Krauss. ‘Raising Sand’ was a lot more successful than I think Plant was prepared for. If his reluctance to get Zeppelin back together is any indication, I think Plant shies away from the expectations to out-do his past… I doubt we see him do anything else with Krauss on a major scale ever again, much like Zeppelin.

Since the Plant-Krauss thing Plant simply returned to releasing great solo albums. ‘Band of Joy’ was produced by the lead guitarist of the Krauss album, Buddy Miller and boasted a  great harmony vocal from Patty Griffin. Band of Joy was the name of Plant’s first band with Bonham and the album by that name was Plant looking back to rootsy covers. I really thought that was a great, overlooked album. He followed that up with 2014’s ‘lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar,’ an exceptional album. ‘lullaby’ is the type of album this blog was founded on: a great, latter day album from a more mature artist that’s criminally overlooked. The first single from that record, “Rainbow” is one of my all-time favorite Plant tunes… although even I’ll admit, that’s a long list. The man has a golden voice.

I mention the album ‘lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar,’ because the sounds on that album really inform Plant’s stunning new record, ‘Carry Fire.’ His backing band, the Sensational Shape Shifters is back – Skin Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, John Baggot on keyboards and (the secret weapon in the band) Juldeh Camara on West African instruments. Plant and his band are pulling together American roots music, folk, traditional Welsh, African, rock and roll and “world-music” into a swampy gumbo of sound. As has been the case since ‘Dreamland’ Plants vocals are right up front in the mix, where they belong.

It’s easy to describe Plant’s music as a little mellower or quieter nowadays, but again, when you compare most music to say, ‘Physical Graffiti’ it’s probably going to sound mellow. The first single, “The May Queen” (reviewed earlier, Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’) is wonderful up-beat acoustic number not dissimilar to “Gallows Pole.” It’s a perfect introduction to this music. The pace quickly picks up with the rocking guitar crunch of “New World…” You quickly realize on first listen, this album is special.

Plant then takes a huge left turn with the ballad “Season’s Song” which reminds me of the lush “Song To the Siren” from ‘Dreamland.’ Love remains the topic on the next track, “Dance With You Tonight.” All four of these tracks go in different sonic directions yet it’s all held together as a whole by Plant’s vocals… I just love where his voice is right now. He even manages a touch of politics in the topical “Carving Up the World… A Wall and Not a Fence.” I love Plant’s hippy, 60’s vibe. He’s like that cool  hippy uncle who let you drink beer before you were legally able to.

“Keep It Hid” is an atmospheric number that just seems to get better with each repeated listen. I love the guitar solo on that one…  “A Way With Words” is another piano driven ballad with a honey sweet vocal. The title track, “Carry Fire,” in another stylistic turn, has a middle eastern vibe that makes me feel like I’m sitting in a hashish den in Morocco with Plant while exotic women dance in veils around us… but that just might be me.

There are guitar driven songs here, like “New World…” and “Bones of Saints” that I think rock. Again, it’s not “Misty Mountain Hop” but they are rocking tunes. Plant’s vocals drop an octave and it’s hold on til the finish line time… The way Plant sings, “No, no, no, no, no, no no” in the latter track just grabs me…that and he name checks a Robert Johnson track, “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.”  With Plant, some of the non-verbal, singing, where he just holds an “o” or moans is as effective as when he’s singing words, if that makes any sense. He is probably the most charismatic singer I’ve ever heard. I don’t mean his physical presence when I speak of charisma, I’m talking about the sound of his voice. It’s an intoxicating, seductive instrument.

The album ends on another atmospheric, almost dark track, “Heaven Sent.” When Plant sings the lyric, “There’s an angel at the gate, singing a stolen kiss,” he could be singing about himself.

This album is great from start to finish. This is definitely a must-have record and for those of us down at B&V, it’s a candidate for album of the year. It’s a huge deal when an artist of the heft and talent of Robert Plant puts out a record. Everyone should hear this album. I can only hope I get a chance to catch him when he tours…No renting a bus this time around… Turn this one up and enjoy.