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!!

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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!

New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles

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“Out of the mouths of babes…” – From, surprising to me, Psalms 8:2. Who knew?

As most of our intrepid, regular readers know, here at B&V we tend to focus on older, more established artists who are still putting out new, vibrant rock and roll. Admittedly, we’re also fond of “vault” releases from those same older artists. But every now and then we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore some of the new and sadly, increasingly rare rock and roll out there. I might be pushing some of you to an uncomfortable edge here, but this is a band you need to hear, much like Greta Van Fleet (for very different reasons and very different music).

In my life of musical spelunking, it’s become apparent that I discover music in the weirdest ways… Earlier in the year, the Rock Chick bought us tickets with our daughter to see Beck, Cage the Elephant and Spoon at Fiddler’s Green in Denver in late July. Because I’m a neanderthal, I wrote that down on my calendar instead of posting it on my work calendar. At the time I had months and months to worry about July, it was a lifetime away. Sigh. I ended up scheduling a very important meeting on the day of the concert. There was no way around it, I had to skip the show.  I haven’t been to a concert all year, so there was deep anguish associated with this decision. Not to mention my family was not pleased.

When the Rock Chick got back from Denver and I returned from my business travails, she told me the highlights of the show. Spoon rocked, Cage the Elephant was great and Beck was well, Beck. She even put a Spotify playlist together featuring the combined setlist for each band together. In the arc of the story about the show she mentioned the opening act, Starcrawler. She mentioned they rocked and were fronted by a woman, two things that were bound to pique my interest. She said the performance was “something else.” At one point, the lead singer, Arrow de Wilde spit out fake blood. She crawled around on the stage. At the end she collapsed and had to hold onto the railing to crawl backstage again. She said, “You know, I’m not sure if their set was any good, it was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle.”

She immediately went to YouTube and started pulling up their videos. As I sat there, mesmerized by the physical appearance and performances of the show, I started focusing on the music. And damned if I didn’t hear the Runaways. As I’ve admitted previously on this blog, I was late to getting into punk or punk-influenced rock. I live in the American midwest, where we didn’t discover punk until 10 years later, like we were encased in amber. The Clash and the Ramones were my gateway punk bands. After that I was in – the Stooges (and Iggy solo), X, and The Sex Pistols, I love all of them. The more of the Starcrawler videos I watched the more I knew I had to check this band out.

Formed in L.A in 2015 by literally children, Starcrawler is a foursome consisting of Tim Franco (bass), Austin Smith (drums), Herni Cash (on nasty guitar) and Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals. Arrow’s mother is a photographer and is friends with Beck… that’s his daughter on their debut album cover (pictured above). They have, according to Wikipedia, the funniest origin story since Hendrix founded the Experience and hired Noel Redding because he liked his hair. From Wikipedia:

“In the summer of 2015, Arrow de Wilde and Austin Smith came together to collaborate in making music. When the school year began in 2015/2016, the two decided to recruit new members, a guitarist and bassist. One day during school Wilde saw Henri Cash and asked: “You look cool, do you play guitar?” Cash was actually carrying a tuba. Wilde later recruited bassist Tim Franco.[7]” 

“You look cool, do you play guitar?” may just go down in the annals of rock and roll. The fact that he was holding a tuba is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

I immediately started crashing through their entire catalog of recorded music. I love this band. They’re punky and edgy. They can be vulgar and in your face. They conjure up the Runaways, or at least that was my first impression, but I also hear some Ramones and a lot of Hole in this music. I am not suggesting in any way they’re derivative like Greta Van Fleet, these are just the bands they remind me of. This is elemental, primitive rock and roll played extremely well. It’s visceral music. There’s not a lot of solo’ing or really any solo’ing on guitar it’s all just big riffs, played fast and aggressively.

Their first single from 2017 was “Ants” backed by “Used to Know.” Both tracks are that nasty, fast guitar rock that I just fall for. “Ants” kind of reminded me of the Ramones. From 2018, the had the single, “Hollywood Ending” and “Tank Top” both of which reminded me of Celebrity Skin-era Hole.

Their first LP, eponymously titled, is harder and has less obvious influences. There is a lot to like here. “Loves Gone Again” has a desperate, edgy riff. “I Love L.A.” (no, not the Randy Newman song), reminds me of Missing Persons with guitar. I’ve heard this first album compared to Sabbath, and I don’t particularly hear that except maybe for the big, monster riffs that drive “Chicken Woman,” another highlight here. I love the song “Pussy Tower,” but with a chorus that begins, “She gives me head,” how could I not love it. “Full of Pride” is another vulgar putdown, “‘Cause you’re a pretty little bitch, no matter how I word it, You’re always full of shit and everyone has heard it.” I like where these kids are coming from. Total punk attitude. The album ends on “What I Want” a declaration, “I don’t wanna be anyone but me.” At almost 4 minutes long, this amounts to an epic for this band. There are 2 songs on here that clock in under 2 minutes. Keep it up!

They followed up in 2019 with three new singles, “She Gets Around,” “Pet Sematary” (which has to be from the movie I’d guess), and the pick of the litter, their latest, “Bet My Brains.” “Brains” has a loping gait and I dare you not to become addicted to Arrow singing “Bet my brains, I’ve gone insane.” I have to say, “Pet Sematary” is catchy as hell and probably the most polish thing they’ve done… it almost sounds like arena rock.

I’m not sure where this band is going, they’re still awfully young, but I like where they’ve started this journey. Hopefully all of the singles released this year are pointing to another LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Check this music out and keep an eye on this band.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It came to my attention that Starcrawler indeed have a new album coming out, ‘Devour You,’ on October 11th. We’re all looking forward to that here at B&V! 

 

 

LP Review: The Black Keys Return With “Let’s Rock” – Yes, Indeed!

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I have finally found the rock and roll album for the Summer of ’19. ‘Let’s Rock’ by the Black Keys! Hell yes! Baby, let’s rock!

I was beginning to wonder if we’d get any more rock and roll this year… it’s been thin for those of us who like to hear squalling guitar and big drums. I was also beginning to wonder if the Black Keys were even still a band. It’s been five years since their last album, Turn Blue. I went back recently and listened to that album in the hopes it would break my liking-every-other-album cycle with the Black Keys, but alas I found the album, well, kind of a bummer. And I like sad music, just see my Neil Young collection. The good news about my not liking Turn Blue is it boded well for the new album. I had absolutely loved El Camino, the predecessor to Turn Blue. I don’t know what it is about these guys, they zig and I zag… but we always meet on the next album.

In the interim, lead singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Dan Auerbach released a solo album, Waiting On A Song that was a really strong, “summery” record in its own right, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’. He also produced a host of other artists. I know drummer Patrick Carney also did some producing. And I just read in Rolling Stone magazine, Carney somehow made peace with Jack White who had been reported as hating the Black Keys “for ripping the White Stripes off.” Jack said that Carney came over to his house in Nashville while White was recording with the Raconteurs and loaned him a microphone. Nothing like reaching out with the olive branch microphone. Peace was made. We can’t have rock bands feuding… this isn’t hip hop and there are far too few rock bands left.

I also read on Wikipedia that Auerbach said he prefers creating the music (writing/producing/recording) and had grown weary of touring, which he described as “necessary” after you’ve released an album. He was jamming with Joe Walsh – and let me tell you, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that – and Auerbach started to get the itch to play with Carney again… And let me just say as an aside, if Auerbach is producing a Joe Walsh solo album, can I just be the first to say, YES PLEASE!! Carney and Auerbach hadn’t so much as spoken in quite some time… but apparently the chemistry they have ignited immediately. Joe Strummer said it best, “never underestimate the power of the chemistry of four guys in a room.” In this case it’s two guys, but you get my point. And I do mean two guys literally. For the first time in five or six albums, Danger Mouse didn’t produce this record. The Black Keys produced it themselves. The only other musicians on this album are two back up singers, Leisa Hans and Ashley Wilcoxson. I have to assume with that name, Ms. Wilcoxson was teased in high school, but I’ll leave that alone. I should also mention that for the first time in a few records, there are no keyboards on this album… I mean, that’s all you gotta know.

When I saw the album was titled, “Let’s Rock” I assumed there was some epic story where the two guys in the band reunited after the long separation – sort of like when Joliet Jake gets out of jail in the movie The Blues Brothers and is reunited with Elwood while “She Caught the Katy” plays in the background… and one of them looked at the other and said, “Let’s rock,” and they immediately lock into a groove that ended up being “Lo/Hi.” That would have made for a great story. Unfortunately it’s a different story. Apparently the state of Tennessee executed a guy in the electric chair (hence the cover art) for the first time in 14 years. When asked if he had anything to say, the guy just said, “Let’s rock.” Not the story I’d hoped for but in these dark times, perhaps it’s the story we deserve… but I digress.

I liked this album immediately upon first listen, something that doesn’t always happen these days. I will admit, it’s a tad more polished than their earlier work and it sort of glided by on that first listen, almost too quickly. But after hearing it, damn, if the melodies didn’t stick in my head. The rocking “Lo/Hi” and perhaps my favorite track, “Tell Me Lies” would be running through my head when I woke up in the morning. The Rock Chick liked the album as well, but in the interest of full disclosure, she’s always liked the earlier, more raw albums. She really digs the debut, The Big Come Up. I’m beginning to think the Rock Chick may be, unbeknownst to her, like the heroin of the Ramones’ tune, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” The Keys early records sound like they were recorded in a basement with the vocals distorted, almost like they’re running them through the harmonica microphone. Auerbach sang like he had a small dollop of Howlin Wolf in there. It sounds like they taped a microphone to a Marshall amp and turned it up to 11… Believe me I get it, I dig that early stuff too. This may be more polished, but the guitar sound still grabs me.

This album is a predominately a guitar forward upbeat record. It starts off with three great tracks, “Shine A Little Light” (which could have been on Auerbach’s last solo disc), “Eagle Birds” which has a crazy good guitar solo and the first single, “Lo/Hi” (The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”). They take a bit of a left turn with an almost psychedelic ballad on “Walk Across the Water,” followed by “Tell Me Lies” which starts with a slow groove and then builds, drops back to the groove… rinse repeat. I love that track. While the music is rocking and up beat, the lyrics belie a darker, heavier feel. It’s like the narrator of the song is rocking his blues away. “Get Yourself Together” and “Sit Around Missing You” certainly are examples of what I’m talking about. What was it Tom Waits said…”I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

This is far from a monochromatic record… don’t think it’s all upbeat rock songs. Most of them are but there are quieter moments. “Breaking Down” starts with a sitar-like sounding little guitar figure. It’s more mid tempo but it chugs along thanks to Carney’s propulsive drumming. “Sit Around And Miss You” is built on an acoustic, strumming guitar. The only track that threw me bit was “Fire Walk With Me.” It’s another great rock song, but the title… are these guys Twin Peaks fans?

I recommend this album as strongly as I can. It’s just a great rock and roll record and perfect for the summer. And… spoiler alert… this is a definite candidate for the B&V best albums of the year. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?

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I had been hearing for a while that Springsteen had cut a solo album, heavily influenced by Jimmy Webb, whose songs were made famous predominantly by the legend Glen Campbell. The most famous of those tracks was “Wichita County Lineman.” Interestingly enough, I saw the Stones in Wichita one time with my old college buddy Drew. The Stones did “Wichita County Lineman” and Mick said, “Everybody who plays Wichita probably plays this track, but here’s our version…” Drew said, “Actually, nobody ever does that song here.”

Hearing Springsteen was doing a Jimmy Webb/Southern California-70’s style album had a lot of people concerned this was going to be a country album. A lot of artists like say, Bon Jovi have done a country album late in their career as a crass commercial move. I will give country fans credit where credit is due… they still buy albums and CDs. And if they could they’d probably still be buying 8-tracks. Well, that’s only a theory…tip of the Stetson to you country folk out there. Hearing Western Stars and spending the last few weeks with it, I can tell you, it’s not country. It has more in common with Burt Bacharach’s sound to me.

I’ve had a real mixed relationship with Springsteen’s “solo” work, ie, his work without the E Street Band. I grew up in the midwest, which was Springsteen flyover country. He was big in the Northeast and the Ohio Valley… even down the eastern seaboard. He was big on the edges of the country. Chicago and California embraced him. In Kansas City he wasn’t really that big of a deal until later. Maybe radio programmers thought he was too “east coast,” whatever that means.

In 1979 I absolutely fell in love with The River. It was the first album with songs that got significant airplay in KC and so I made that huge double-LP investment and bought it. It was all over stylistically and I love every track on that album. I just loved the whole concept of this gang – The E Street Band. It all sounded so cool…and yes, I liked the way they dressed, homeless chic. Where was this E Street, and how do I get there? I slowly worked my way backwards through his wonderful early catalog. I was just back home from a very difficult first semester in college during my freshman year for Christmas break and was in the mall with my then-girlfriend and we passed by one of the record stores. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rack full of Nebraska albums. I hadn’t heard any of the music, or anything about the album, but it was Springsteen, hells yes! I dropped my girl’s hand and went lunging into the record store. I was not emotionally prepared for the bleak music that poured out of my speakers when I got home that day. I realize Nebraska is a classic, but it took me a long, long time to appreciate it. You won’t hear that album at a party.

The next solo album by Springsteen was Tunnel of Love. There were cameos by the band, most notably Nils Lofgren’s amazing guitar solo on the title track, but it was a Springsteen solo project. I love that album, it’s a masterpiece. After that tour Springsteen went solo and fired the E Street Band. The resulting two albums, released on the same day, Human Touch/Lucky Town were a bit of a mess. Human Touch was overly produced and sounded labored. Lucky Town was lyrically rich but plodding musically. I still think there is one good album hidden in there… (iPod Playlist – Springsteen’s ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ LPs at 25: The B&V Single LP Edit). There are some great songs scattered across those two discs.

His next solo project was The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Other than the title track, I don’t think I’ve heard a track from that bleak album since…although “Youngstown” was a live staple. Devils and Dust recorded after he’d reunited with the E Street Band was topical but a truly great album. Like I say, it’s been an up and down road for me on Bruce’s solo stuff. All of his records have gems on them, but on his solo stuff you have to dig a little. Wrecking Ball certainly had a few great songs but overall, not my favorite Springsteen.

Western Stars,  while not country, is certainly country tinged… you’ll hear a pedal steel on a number of the tracks. This album, and I’d call it a genre exercise, is more of a sepia-toned, Southern California, 70s singer-songwriter album. There are strings on each track here that would make a young Elton John jealous. Springsteen’s voice, along with the strings, are front and center on this record. The other instrumentation is almost superfluous. You certainly aren’t going to get any screaming guitar solos here. He sings his ass off on this album. The vocal on There Goes My Miracle may be the most ambitious he’s ever done. These songs are, as the kids say, as melodic a.f. Sonically, this is as about as far away as you could get from Nebraska. It’s the lush kind of album you just don’t hear anymore.

This album conjures wide-open spaces, specifically in desert parts of the country like southern California, Nevada or Arizona. There is no social commentary in these songs as has been his more recent m.o. The songs are filled with drifters or men who are on the downward slope of life and somewhat down and out but the album is far from a bummer. Many of the protagonists are preoccupied with lost love or lost opportunity. The sun seems to always be going down. Most of the characters on this album could be described as a troubled Wichita lineman… There’s a sense of movement, or rather desperate men racing away from something… or finding escape through hard work under a big sky… with the past always near behind. I’ll be the first to admit, this album is somewhat monochromatic. It’s like Picasso’s blue period. Say man, try a little red.

The album opens with a pair of drifter tracks. “Hitchhikin'” opens the album and the first thing you hear is Springsteen’s voice, a perfect place to start. That leads into “Wayfarer,” which is the story of the hitchhiker if he had a car. While the first track has a nice acoustic guitar driving it, the second is all strings. The down on your luck theme continues later with the title track which tells the tale of a has-been actor, trading on his past glory for chicks and free drinks. “Drive Fast (Stuntman)” is the story of, obviously, a stuntman, near the end, hobbling around on “pins in my ankle.” “North of Nashville” finds a singer who never quite made it in the Country Capitol. All the protagonists mourn a lost love. While the songs all explore similar themes they’re all unique.

Lost love as a theme continues on “Sundown” “Stones” and “Moonlight Motel.” As a man who is no stranger to heartbreak I found these tracks all very moving. Although even I’ll admit “Stones” gets a tad repetitive. “Chasing Wild Horses” is the story of a guy with a temper issue who wears himself out at work each day to avoid fighting anybody at night. Like I said, its a bunch of troubled Wichita County Linemen…

The best tracks here, to me, include the first single, “Hello Sunshine.” That’ll be the track on the greatest hits packages going forward. It’s a classic tune, Review: Springsteen’s New Solo Song, “Hello Sunshine” From The Upcoming LP ‘Western Stars’. “There Goes My Miracle” is my favorite in a long list of strong vocal performances. Lately, and I don’t know why, I wake up with the refrain in my head, “there goes my miracle, walkin’ away.” On “Tucson Train” a man “down and out in Frisco” waits expectantly on his lover to arrive on the train to make everything better… why she isn’t taking the bus which is cheaper and faster, we’ll never know. I love a good train song and this one is the happiest track here.

There’s really only one song on this album I don’t like. It’s the change of pace, upbeat, Tex-Mex (almost zydeco) track, “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe.” It’s a bit like “Mary’s Place” on The Rising. It’s meant to be a bit of sunshine amongst a group of troubled characters but it just ends up being annoying. He could have easily cut that track and I’d have been happy.

This album makes me feel like I’m cruising down Highway 1 in California, top down with my shirt unbuttoned, with the wind blowing through my long hair and sideburns like it’s 1973, Aqua-Velva oozing from my pours, cowboy hat on the seat next to me. That’s just my 70s vibe, others might feel differently. I really like this album and urge everybody to check it out, despite it’s monochromatic bent. This is the most engaging, interesting thing Springsteen has done in quite a while.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Review: Springsteen’s New Solo Song, “Hello Sunshine” From The Upcoming LP ‘Western Stars’

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I took a little vacation down to the Florida Keys last week. It was good to get away. I was able to sit and roast in the sun (always use sunscreen folks, and don’t forget to slather your feet with it), put my headphones on and crank up the tunes… “Hello Sunshine,” indeed. The people the Rock Chick and I were traveling with, who live down there, are enormous music fans. Their principal interest remains classic rock and especially the blues. Every night ended with us sitting out on the lanai (a very fancy word for a screened-in deck/porch) cranking tunes on my little portable speaker and enjoying a nightcap, or two. I don’t think I’ve listened to that much Lynyrd Skynyrd since high school. Florida really is just Arkansas with coastline. Our traveling companions were laser-focused on finding live music every night which is always fun.

As part of an unplanned change-up during the trip, we left the Keys early and headed up to South Beach in Miami for that last night in the “Sunshine State.” At one point that evening, we ended up in a Salsa bar, which is a lot like ending up in marching band camp, all horns and noise…the horror, the horror. I was just trying to watch the Kentucky Derby and enjoy my bourbon. One might describe the week as a “musically immersive experience.” The best part of decamping early to Miami was the three hour drive up the Keys where my hosts played SiriusXM’s Spectrum station. The Spectrum plays classic and current rock. Over the course of the trip I heard the new Bruce Springsteen track, “Hello Sunshine” probably three times. It’s always better to first experience a new track in the car. There’s just something about driving and jamming.

Springsteen has been a busy man whilst on hiatus from the E Street Band. He had his very successful, one-man show on Broadway based on his autobiography, and won a Tony. He followed that up with a Netflix special of the show and the inevitable soundtrack there of, Review: Netflix’s ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ – The Artist’s Dialogue With Fans Comes to the Great White Way. I’d been hearing about a solo project he’d recorded either prior to his Broadway show or during that time frame. The new music was described as “beautifully orchestrated.” Springsteen hinted that he was looking for a certain late-60s/early 70s sound on this new mystery solo project. I also just read yesterday, in a sudden burst of creativity he wrote an album’s worth of material for an E Street Band album. Which is really good news for those of you fearing we’d never see those guys together again. For now at least, we have the new solo album to look forward to in June, Western Stars. 

When describing the specific 60s/70s sound he was looking for, Springsteen mentioned singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb. I’ll be the first to admit that Webb is not a household name. I have been fortunate in my life that I’ve always surrounded myself with music nuts. After college, many of us eventually ended up in Kansas City. The guy I spent most of my time with in those days was an old roomie of mine, who I’ll call Stormin (name obscured to protect the guilty). Storm is like me, a huge music fan. When we weren’t drinking beer and eating stolen t-bones, we liked to go to the record store, spelunking for new stuff. He actually purchased a Jimmy Webb album back in those days and played it for me. It had all these great old tunes, mostly made famous by Glenn Campbell, like “Wichita County Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” I said, “Why is this guy doing all these covers?” Lo and behold, I found out that much to my embarrassment, Jimmy Webb wrote all those great songs and I’d had no idea.

Springsteen, of course, isn’t covering Jimmy Webb, he just wanted to capture that sound. The songs Webb wrote always had beautiful melodies and amazing orchestration. It’s easy to think that his stuff was made famous only by Glenn Campbell, meaning they are all country songs, but that would be wrong. His stuff was recorded by artists as diverse as Isaac Hayes, Waylon Jennings and the 5th Dimension. Disco queen Donna Summer even did “MacArthur Park.” Alas, Webb never found the success (commercially) as a recording artist that he did as a songwriter… the critics always seemed to like his records but not the fans in general.

On “Hello Sunshine,” Springsteen has indeed captured that beautiful orchestration that Webb was famous for. The influence is very strong. Frankly, I’m thrilled Springsteen is paying this much attention to the sound of his music. Sometimes he can get a little too focused on the lyrics and the message. His music has become ever more topical of late, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just nice to hear Bruce do more of a “pop” song (for lack of a better description). Over hushed drums and a wonderful bass line, Bruce sings in a slightly deeper register and manages to capture both the sadness and joy in the lyrics. It’s one of the most nuanced vocal performances I’ve heard from the Boss. The strings and piano kick in and the song takes off. There’s a beautiful pedal steel signature that plays throughout. The track does have an old-school country vibe, and I really, really love this song. Even the Rock Chick, who likes a fraction of Springsteen’s music said, “This could be a really great Springsteen album.” This song is almost an anachronism… it feels like it belongs in another time and place.

The lyrics are just great. The track is about a guy coming out of a dark time, perhaps a depression. The first lyric says it all, “Had enough of heartbreak and pain,
I had a little sweet spot for the rain.” Some of us get used to the darkness and come to be almost comfortable in it. It seems the “Sunshine” of the title may be a new love… “I’ve always liked my walking shoes, but you can get a little too fond of the blues.” I just think the lyrics perfectly fit the mood of the track. I love the sound and I love Bruce’s singing here. “Hello Sunshine, won’t you stay…” Don’t we all feel that way sometimes?

I don’t think this is Bruce’s “country” album. If “Hello Sunshine” is any indication, I think Western Stars has a chance of being a great, old-school, singer-songwriter type of album. You know, like Springsteen on his first album. This gives all of us at B&V something to look forward to this summer. I highly urge everybody check this track out!

Cheers!