New Song Review: Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow,” From His Second LP of 2022, ‘Entering Heaven Alive’

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“If I die tomorrow, could you find it in your heart to sing?” – Jack White, “If I Die Tomorrow”

As longtime readers of B&V know, I’m a huge fan of Jack White. I think the man is a genius. He’s one of the best guitarists of his generation. Like most people I got on his bandwagon during his time in the White Stripes. But I also followed him over to the Raconteurs, his first “proper” side project. I even kept an eye on the Dead Weather such was my “fandom” of Mr. White and he was just the drummer in that band. But, I have to admit, when I heard he had a new song out, “If I Die Tomorrow,” I hesitated a second. Over the last few albums Jack has made me feel a little like Charlie Brown from my dad’s favorite cartoon, Peanuts.

When Jack finally went solo in 2012 I absolutely loved that first album Blunderbuss. I was equally enthusiastic about the follow up Lazaretto. Naturally my anticipation around his third solo album was, shall we say, “fever-pitched.” I was crushingly disappointed with 2018’s Boarding House Reach and wrote about it here on B&V, LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’. I applauded his creativity and his striving for something new, but the album just left me cold. When he reunited with the Raconteurs for 2019’s Help Us Stranger I was delighted. I felt his being back in a real band gave some structure to his creative impulses and said so, LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’.

I read late last year, or perhaps early this year that Jack had not wasted his time in pandemic lockdown and would be issuing not one new LP, but two. After the positive experience with Help Us Stranger I couldn’t help it, I let my excitement and anticipation get a little out of control. The first single did nothing to staunch that excitement. I thought the song “Taking Me Back” was a great first salvo (and even liked the softer version, “Taking Me Back (Gently)”). But then I heard the entire LP Fear Of The Dawn and I didn’t even review it. There’s enough negativity in the world, if I don’t like something I don’t generally review it (the ol’ “if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”). It sounded like nails in a blender to me, nothing but odd sound experiments. I would have never guessed that both Jack White and the Black Keys would put out albums and it’d be Dropout Boogie that’d be the better album. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Black Keys and don’t mean to compare them to Jack or the White Stripes, I think they’re consistently fantastic, but Jack is my “O.G.” on that bluesy, punky, rock. But the Black Keys simply delivered on Dropout Boogie.

This week as I was getting back on my feet again after the Memorial Day holiday and my annual summer cold (the cold leaves, the cough stays until the 4th of July), I saw that Jack had another new song out, the lead single from his upcoming 2nd LP of the year, Entering Heaven Alive. And this, faithful readers, is where I hesitated. In the aforementioned cartoon Peanuts, Charlie Brown is kind of an “everyman” and some might say a loser. He has a neighbor, Lucy, who brings over her football every fall and says she’ll hold the ball and Charlie can kick it, like a field goal. Every year he hesitates because he knows at the last minute Lucy will pull the football away and Charlie will fly through the air and land on his ass. You’ll have to forgive me, but after Boarding House Reach and Fear Of The Dawn, I’m starting to think of Jack White as Lucy with the football. I just don’t want to work myself up like Charlie and end up flying through the air and landing on my ass again.

With all my mental health issues around rock n roll anticipation aside, I have to say, I’m quite taken with this new song, “If I Die Tomorrow.” While Fear Of The Dawn was a rock and roll album, Entering Heaven Alive was billed as being a more “folky” set of songs. I took that to mean more acoustic. Who doesn’t love Jack White acoustic? One of his earliest popular tunes was the beautiful “We’re Going To Be Friends.” With the new song, he’s released this video:

I don’t usually comment on videos, I’m here for the music, but that’s a pretty cool video. It’s surreal enough to fit the subject matter. I feel like this is the kind of video I’d have sat up late on a Friday night in college, into the wee small hours, drinking beer and waiting to see again.

In terms of the song, from the first cymbal, strummed acoustic guitar and violin a sense of drama envelops the song. The singer asks for us to look after his mother if she “weeps in sorrow.” He asks us to even mix her a double of her favorite drink, apparently lemon flavored. Who doesn’t love a lemonade and vodka, but I’m off topic. It’s an acoustic song but it’s not laid back at all. It actually has a slow burn intensity that I keep coming back to. The guitar solo sounds almost jumbled like something off of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” like they sliced the tape up and tossed it in the air and then re-assembled it, if that makes sense. It’s not a searing guitar solo, its more surreal which befits the song and the subject matter. Jack’s vocal is at once sad and hopeful.

While this may be the thoughts of a dying man, I can’t help but feel warm when I hear the sentiment of the last verse:

If I die tomorrow
Will you let me know I left in peace?
I begged and I borrowed
Everybody’s love, and they gave for free
And I wish that I could give it back to them
So, if I die tomorrow
Will you give them all the love they lent to me?

That last line sounds oddly hopeful to me and these days when so much grim shit is going down, I could use a little sharing of love to boost me up. Pay it forward, as they say.

I love this song. However, I am taking a much more cautious approach to what Entering Heaven Alive might bring us. All I know is this a great tune, especially to listen to during some late night, whiskey in a tumbler rumination.

Cheers!

The Black Keys Return With New LP – ‘Dropout Boogie’ – Consistently Awesome Music

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The Black Keys – singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – have come roaring back (literally) with a new LP, Dropout Boogie, their third album in four years. Now, admittedly I’ve felt since 2019’s Let’s Rock album the Keys have started exuding this wonderful 70s vibe, but putting out 3 albums in 36 months is truly a 70s style pace… it was a time when artists put out an album almost every year. I think it’s time for me to admit something to all of you, including the Black Keys. Over the course of the last several albums they’ve rocked their way into being one of my all time favorite bands. I am really digging Dropout Boogie. In the past few weeks I’ve gone from the Black Crowes (1972) to the Black Keys… I can only assume a Black Sabbath binge is up next… if you’re into that whole alphabetic thing.

As I’ve said before, I got on this bandwagon when they put out Rubber Factory. Actually, more importantly, that’s when the Rock Chick jumped on their bandwagon. I liked the album but had sort of filed it away. She was the one who put it in high rotation. She went out and immediately bought their debut, The Big Come Up, an album I really dig. I loved that they covered the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” on that album. Even though I was amongst the converted back then I was under the mistaken impression that the Black Keys were one of those bands where I’d jump back in every other album. I dug the debut, Thickfreakness not so much. Rubber Factory Hell yes, Magic Potion…meh. I don’t know why I was so slow to surrender to the punky, blues rock these guys were laying down.

All that changed when they put out Attack And Release in 2008. The Rock Chick snagged that album the day it came out. “Psychotic Girl” is a personal favorite from that LP. Since then we’ve picked up every album they’ve put out save for Turn Blue. That album seemed like a bummer to me but then my relationship with the Black Keys’ music back then was weird. Maybe I need to go back and listen again. I thought El Camino from 2011 was a masterpiece of a record. As mentioned we loved Let’s Rock here at B&V but were then surprised and delighted when after less than 2 years later they put out a wonderful album of Mississippi Hill Country blues covers, Delta Kream. That album celebrated the music of blues giants like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Of course, most of the classic rock n roll we like around here is based firmly on a foundation of blues. Now, less than year later the Black Keys have returned with another – and pardon the expression – kick ass record.

At this point, I have to pause to wonder why the Keys aren’t bigger and more popular than they are. Both Brothers and El Camino went double platinum. Despite all this great music their last LP to go gold was Turn Blue. If you were a fan and got away from these guys you need to check out these last three albums. I think of what Tom Petty said about why he and the Heartbreakers were “bigger” (although I would contend they were big). He said they were just so “consistently good” that people could forget about them. Like the Stones or say AC/DC the Keys found a sound and have mostly stuck to it. Although I realize that statement belies how much they’ve developed and how much more sophisticated and intricate their music has become since they first started. Auerbach and Carney have become extremely talented producers over the course of their careers. So my explanation for the Keys slight dip in terms of commerce, they’re simply so consistently kick ass they’ve been taken for granted.

Dropout Boogie is another self produced album. As I said, this is a great rock n roll album. This is the kind of album that should be blaring out of car windows and T-tops as teenagers cruise up and down Metcalf or whatever your main drag is. Alas, times have changed. This may be my go to summer LP this year. The album starts off with the lead single “Wild Child.” We really dig that track here at B&V but I’ve already posted about that. The second track is also the second single, “It Ain’t Over.” The passion Auerbach brings to the vocals is a whole thing in and of itself. Over handclaps and shakers he begs his baby not go go. I know I’ve been there. The guitar solo on this track is monstrous albeit economical.

“For The Love of Money” is a crunchy bluesy thing that would have been at home on Delta Kream. Auerbach employs a falsetto for parts of the song. It’s just the typical crunchy rocker these guys put out, and I mean that as a compliment. “Your Team Is Looking Good” is good fun arena rock. I could imagine this song being played at Chiefs’ games. Although these guys are from Arkon… I hope they’re not Bengals fans. Akron is too close to Cleveland for that but I’m getting off topic. I love the taunting nature of this track. The biggest surprise for me was “Good Love.” Even before I saw the “featuring Billy Gibbons” I thought this track sounded like ZZ Top. I was hearing an echo of “TV Dinners” or maybe “I Need You Tonight.” It’s got that Billy Gibbons’ bluesy guitar march as the underpinning of the song. Gibbons’ guitar just snarls at you. Then he flashes on the solo. It may be my favorite track on the album. With Gibbons and Auerbach in the studio, that’s a lot of guitar firepower in the studio.

“How Long” is a 70s-vibe ballad. This song makes me think of sitting in the back seat of my dad’s Ford with the windows down because my father didn’t want to turn on the air conditioner. Which is actually weird because if we were in the car with my father Sports Talk radio would have been on. “How Long” is just a 70s longing vibe to me. It’s the prettiest track on the album. “Burn The Damn Thing Down” is barn burner (I couldn’t resist) with raw guitar and a “Travelin’ Band” theme. The Black Keys are coming and they’re gonna burn it all down, baby. The track rocks. Again, this has that blues braggadocio thing that I dig. “Happiness” is a bluesy thing with an elastic, riffy guitar. It’s probably the track that hearkens back to their earlier records the most to my ear. “Baby I’m Coming Home” is a song I will heretofore blast every time I’m getting on an airplane to fly home after a business trip. Oh, yes, baby I’m comin’. It has my favorite guitar solo on the album. If you’re here for the guitar “Baby I’m Coming Home” will get you where you wanna go. The album ends with “Didn’t I Love You” another track that would have been at home on Delta Kream. I love that the blues cover LP they did has informed some of the vibe on this album, but then I love rockers who play the blues.

There isn’t a bad song on Dropout Boogie. These guys are making rock n roll that you just don’t hear that much any more – big guitar riffs and solid, heavy drums. This is an album everyone should hear and play very, very loud… perhaps with a tumbler full of something brown and murky… maybe a little taste of Four Roses…

Enjoy this one at maximum volume. Cheers!

Black Crowes’ New EP Of 6 Covers (From The Year) ‘1972’ – Glorious, Good Rockin’ Fun

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I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of days off last week and go to points out West to visit my beloved daughter. I’m lucky that I have vacation days when I realize a lot of folks don’t have time off. But after an action-packed weekend that included my getting to see one of my favorite bands The Cult in concert, I was dragging come Monday morning. But then who isn’t dragging on Monday mornings? I knew other than overdosing on coffee or being hit in the chest with a defibrillator I was going to need some help to get through the early part of the week. For me that help came in the form of rock n roll. Music really can always heal what ails me, even fatigue.

I had it in the back of my mind last weekend the Black Crowes had finally released their EP of cover songs that Friday. I was only half right about that. I looked in all the regular places I buy and listen to music – and it astounds me how many options I have now – and I couldn’t find the new Crowes’ EP, entitled 1972. Apparently you can only buy the LP or the CD through Amazon. I’m not a big streaming guy (admittedly my playlists are out on alas, Spotify) but the only place I could hear this was streaming through Amazon Prime. I want to buy the vinyl but I want to do that in a local record store from a pierced and tattoo’d hippy while breathing in lovely, musty old used records and incense. A man has to have some standards in this life and ordering vinyl from the dark empire of Amazon just seems wrong. I get my vitamins there, I’m not getting my vinyl there. I have a code I live by, folks. Having a code to live by, like those little paper cocktail napkins, is what separates us from the savages.

The new Crowes’ EP, 1972 is titled thus because it contains six tracks all originally released in 1972. As long time readers know, we here at B&V celebrated 1972 as well on a playlist dedicated to albums released during that awesome year in rock n roll. Well, this is the Crowes version of that celebration, or so it seems. I can’t tell you how much joy listening to the Black Crowes’ lusty renditions of 1972-era tracks has given me this week. Of course I’m on record as loving cover songs – a song originally recorded by someone else that a band re -records. I even dig when an artist has done an entire LP of covers (and have posted about “Cover Albums”), like Bowie’s Pin-Ups or Bob Seger’s Smokin’ O.P.s.

I have loved the Crowes since the first time I heard the opening riff on “Jealous Again” while tooling down the highway during my unemployed gypsy year in 1990. Their first two albums are amongst the greatest rock albums ever in my opinion. They recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker and it was a great box set. It included a full concert from ’90 and a slew of unreleased bonus tracks including the Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole,” and a lost original that I loved, “Charming Mess.” I read somewhere that Chris and Rich Robinson reached out to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the release of “Charming Mess” because it sounded so much like the Faces. I do hear echos of “Stay With Me” but hey everybody has influences. Even since those early days the Black Crowes were doing interesting things with cover songs. Shake Your Money Maker had their great Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle.” And also apparently the aforementioned unreleased Humble Pie cover “30 Days In The Hole.” Their second LP, the masterpiece, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion also had a cover – this time Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.” From Otis and Humble Pie to Bob Marley show the Crowes have a great eclectic range.

The Crowes, after that early huge success, continued to put out great albums. Three Snakes And A Charm and By Your Side are two of my favorite of their LPs. But alas, the relationship between the brothers Robinson was a rocky one. The band has broken up a few times. When they would get back together they would release additional great music, like the album Warpaint. It’s the best Black Crowes’ album you’ve probably  never heard. They’ve got a host of great live stuff out there as well. Eventually the relationship between Chris Robinson (vocals) and Rich Robinson (guitar) was so bad the band broke up and they even stopped speaking. I feel bad for their mother. They went years without talking. It’s often difficult when siblings form bands… Eventually the brothers reconciled. I read an article about them, right before Covid struck, and I was genuinely pleased for them as people, as brothers, as much as I was that they were trying to get the band back together. They decided to reform without any of the other original members who they believed were contributors to the toxicity of their relationship. I assume they’re speaking of longtime drummer Steve Gorman who wrote a “tell-all” that wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal.

Like the Stones who they were so often compared to in their early days, the Crowes were taking slow steps to repair the fractured relationships between the principal members and songwriters, the Robinsons. Their plan, pre-Covid, was to tour first and see how they got on. The new band was Chris (vocals), Rich (guitar) with Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and eventually former member Sven Pippen (bass) and journeyman drummer Brian Griffin. It’s just fun to say the name Sven Pippen. If I was in high school and I needed a fake name to give cops when they were confiscating my underage beer, I’d give the name Sven Pippen but I digress. They played a few shows but then Covid ruined everything. I see this EP of covers songs as a way for them to all see how they’re gelling as a band. To see if the repaired relationships can stand. It’s just another step in the Crowes journey to re-establish that all important chemistry. They probably wanted to see if they could go into the studio and get along… why put songwriting pressure on yourselves? They’ve supposedly written around 20 songs but they want to tour first before actually committing those to tape. I totally get that. Consider 1972 another step in that creative journey.

Well let me tell you, if 1972 is the yardstick we’re using for the Black Crowes, I think the chemistry is back! They play these six songs with such joy. You can literally tell how much fun they’re having. The EP kicks off with a Stones cover, “Rip This Joint.” The thing I love about covers is they’re like “two-fers.” You get the vibe of the original artist and the new artist at the same time, in one song. I feel like the Crowes were made to cover the Stones. What a great choice from Exile On Main Street. It gets the rock and roll cookin’. They also cover one of my all time favorite Rod Stewart solo tracks, “You Wear It Well.” That is coincidentally a track I chose for my aforementioned 1972 playlist. The Crowes doing the Stones and Rod (whose Faces were clearly an influence) just makes sense. The Rock Chick heard me jamming on the Black Crowes once and said, “I know why you like them, they sound like the Faces.” True, indeed. Both these songs put a smile on my face.

They also do two tracks associated with Glam Rock. They do T. Rex’s track “The Slider.” “The Slider” was Marc Bolan’s ode to cocaine. The Crowes really do the track justice. They’re version is faithful but heavier. They wring everything they can out of the riff. Chris in particular sounds like he’s really enjoying this track. The other Glam Rock track they do is Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” I’ve gotta say it takes balls to do a Bowie cover, especially from Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Like the T. Rex track the Black Crowes are faithful to “Moonage Daydream” but they do it slightly heavier. They actually stretch out and jam the guitar parts toward the end to really make it sound Black Crowes-y. What can I say, I was bowled over by this track.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the Crowes doing cover songs if they didn’t throw us a couple of curve balls. I was so thrilled to see that they did a version of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” I recently told a friend, if I hear a band doing a Little Feat cover, I’m instantly more interested in the album.” Rich takes the lead vocal – taking his Keith Richards’ like turn at the mic – and he nails it. It’s a mostly acoustic take with great organ and I dug it. Chris provides a joyous harmony vocal. Little Feat were a West Coast band but they always had a southern vibe to me… The biggest curve ball for most folks is going to be the final track, the Temptations’ great song, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” The Crowes have covered everything from country-rock (“Hot Burrito #1”) to soul (“Hard To Handle”) so it shouldn’t be surprised that they decided to do a funky Motown track. Oh my Gawd, I love this track! It may be my favorite on the EP. Of course its a track that I chose for my 1972 playlist so maybe I’m probably biased. When the drums hit with the fabulous organ and wah-wah guitar riff I defy you to sit down. There is also some great harmonica on this track. It’s a great version of the song.

1972 is the sound of a band having a really good time. It’s joyous music made joyously. I love that they did this in a thematic way, centered around so many of their influences from the 70s. I think this bodes well for the Black Crowes and whatever original music they end up making. The band sounds tight and together. If they head out on the road I am definitely going to try and see them again. Until then, sit back, turn this EP up and enjoy!!

Cheers!

Black Keys Release Rocking, Sleazy New Single “Wild Child” & It’s Put a Twisted Smile On My Face

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“I’m just a stranger with a twisted smile…”

When I was in college, which believe it or not were the “heavy drinking” years, my friends and I used to all say when we weren’t studying or in school that we were social workers out doing “social” work trying to improve things for people. Which basically meant we were out doing crazy shit to help entertain other people whose lives might not be as interesting as they could or should be. Such is the hubris of youth… or of drunken youth. “We are the youth gone wild…” as the song goes. Or at least we were the youth gone wild. Anyway, as part of that whole boozy buffoonery, I remember saying to friends, “When I’m old I just want these memories to be a twisted smile on my face that no one understands but me… and perhaps people will wonder where it came from?” I guess I was powerfully channeling my inner David Lee Roth all the time. Remember how cool he was back in the 80s?

I took a friend to the doctor today. And while I was sitting in the waiting room – where I waited almost as long as I did at the DMV a few weeks ago, someone owes me a beer – I saw that the Black Keys had dropped a new single “Wild Child.” I may be a little late on this one as apparently it’s number 1 on some music chart… I don’t really pay attention to the “charts,” as I’ve mentioned before (12 Favorite Old School, Vinyl, Single- Album Greatest Hits LPs; The Struggle Was Real). I was just thrilled the Keys had a new song out. I had heard they had a new album coming out but didn’t have any other details… I do now, the album is called Dropout Boogie and it’ll be out May 13th. I can’t believe they’ve already got a new album coming out? It was just last year they put out the great blues cover LP Delta Kream. And only two years prior they’d released the fabulous Let’s Rock. To turn around and drop a new album already is 1970s level rock n roll output. Usually they take a break for guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach’s latest solo album… or he produces someone else’s music. To be fair, Pat Carney (drums) also does some outside producing as well. Good for them. Always nice to work with other people, get the juices flowing for the next band project.

I was delighted when I heard that first single and the opening lyric, “I’m just a stranger with a twisted smile…” It certainly took me back to sunny spring days a life time ago… Perhaps there’ll be a twisted smile on my headstone. “Wild Child” is another in a long line of great Black Keys songs. These guys are some of the most consistently wonderful rockers out there. The entire song is a “come on.” Boy meets girl and proceeds to attempt to woo said girl. The first 7 seconds are a funky, almost disco, little riff that wouldn’t be out of place in and old school porn movie… not that I know anything about that sort of thing. Then the song kicks in with one of those monster Auerbach riffs. “Your heart is in danger…” Oh, indeed it is. The guitars are fuzzy and sleazy which perfectly fits the track. Carney’s drums throb like a heartbeat. Between riffs you can hear Auerbach doing a wah-wah thing that gives this such a funky, fun underpinning. As usual there’s a great guitar solo – we’d expect nothing less from these guys. “Baby won’t you show me your wild child ways.” Yes, please. You can feel the lust and need dripping off this song… It’s the perfect Spring song – even if you live in Kansas City where Spring has basically been Winter 2.0.

Here is the link:

These guys have come such a long way since their early bluesy, punky rock n roll. I would really like to see these guys live. I actually saw them do 1 song with the Stones at their 50th Anniversary show in Newark… They certainly acquitted themselves well. This album is an automatic buy for me. It’s not that kind of Jack White, genius gone weird level stuff that I have to hear first (and hear a few times) before I’ll buy. There’s nothing wrong with being consistently kick ass. Tom Petty was consistently kick ass so that’s pretty fine company the Black Keys find themselves in. Petty was an American Treasure after all.

Cheers! And always…during these dark times, keep smiling even if it’s a little bit of a twisted smile!

Review: Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Unlimited Love’ – Frusciante Returns For A Midtempo, Groove-fest

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If you’re like me, you spent the weekend holed up in a room with big speakers listening to the highly anticipated new LP from the Red Hot Chili Peppers (complete with John Frusciante back on guitar) Unlimited Love.

A few weeks ago my daughter was in town and we went over to see my parents. My father, a half a glass of wine in, decided to drop some family trivia. Each member of our nuclear family was born in a different state. While true, it’s not something I think about a lot. My father was actually born in Los Angeles. His parents, my grandparents, migrated from Kansas to California during the Great Depression like so many people did. It wasn’t quite as Grapes Of Wrath as it sounds. My grandfather had a job in a factory waiting for him. My grandparents were comfortable enough they not only had my dad but my uncle both in L.A. Eventually they returned to the Midwest but I always wonder what would have happened if they’d stayed out West. Who knows, I might have gone to high school with Anthony Kiedis, Flea and Hillel Slovak. I’m about the same age as those cats. Maybe, despite no evidence of musical ability, I’d be in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although my low pain threshold has kept me away from tattoos… and I’m not brave enough to appear on stage in only one sock. Dare to dream.

New music from the Chili Peppers is always a treat. Maybe it’s because (as mentioned) I’m roughly the same age, it always feels like getting an email from an old friend when they drop new music. Admittedly I was late getting on their bandwagon. I am probably the only Chili Peppers fan who discovered the band through the one album they did with Dave Navarro, One Hot Minute. Critics felt the songs on that album were under developed but I love that record. “Warped” is just an amazing song. “My tendency for dependency is up ending me…” From there I went back to their seminal line-up and most famous LPs featuring John Frusciante – Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Mother’s Milk. Those albums were a tour de force of guitar funk. Flea is the greatest bassist of his generation. It was fun following Kiedis’ development as a vocalist. He started as a rapper now he’s a fabulous vocalist. I was hesitant to buy Californication when it came out. I remember listening to samples of it at the Barnes & Noble on the Plaza. I walked out of there with that album and it solidified my place on their bandwagon.

I was terribly bummed after Frusciante left a second time after Stadium Arcadium. I’d seen them on that tour and he played with an almost religious ecstasy on his face. Everyone except my parents loved Stadium Arcadium. I had people significantly older than me at work tell me they were listening to that album. You could argue they were the biggest band on the planet at that point. A friend of mine at the time said to me, “I can’t believe I’m more into the Chili Peppers LP than the new Pearl Jam. If you’d told me 10 years ago that would happen I’d have told you you were crazy.” While I was bummed they’d lost Frusciante after that album and tour I stayed on the bandwagon. I thought Josh Klinghoffer who replaced Frusciante was a significantly less talented lead guitarist but I was in no way anti Josh. I loved I’m Beside You. However, I was really unimpressed with The Getaway, despite the sensational first single, “Dark Necessities.” The wheels came off on the second half of that album… Having listened to it for the first time in a long while this weekend, I stand by my opinion.

As I said, with Frusciante returning to the fold after an amicable split with Klinghoffer (Chad Smith played with Josh on Eddie Vedder’s new LP and tour) anticipation has been running high for this album. Anticipation is a tricky thing. If it gets to excessive it can interfere with how you perceive an album. I expected the same kind of guitar masterwork we got on Stadium Arcadium. There are moments of Frusciante’s transcendent guitar work but I would describe this album as more “Flea forward” than their last LP together. This album has a lot of funky bass and that is not a bad thing. These guys remind me of my old college roommates. There were five us in a tiny apartment. Rent was like $60 a month. We were wild men in those old days. When we get together for reunions these days they’re always fun but nothing as crazy as the college years. Maybe that’s what happened on this record. Old pals got together not to recapture old glories but reaffirm their bond and vibe. This album is a very midtempo affair. That doesn’t necessarily bother me, but the Rock Chick was not pleased.

The album starts with the first single, the somber “Black Summer.” It may not be as glorious as “Dark Necessities” but it’s a great track. It’s very “Slow Cheetah.” The first third of this record is just sensational. It’s as varied and melodious as anything they’ve ever done. “Here Ever After” is an upbeat, funky ear worm of a song. It gets in your head and it stays there. “Aquatic Mouth Dance” has some great horns that distinguish it. I do love Flea on trumpet. It’s another funky rocker. “Not The One” is just a gorgeous ballad. I love the line “I don’t look like myself in photographs.” Beautiful song, beautifully sung. “Poster Child” is a funky “We Didn’t Start The Fire” trippy trip through history. The chorus is another “stick in your brain” kind of moment. “I will be your poster child…”

“The Great Apes” is really the first track that Frusciante’s guitar dominates. The sounds he gets out of a guitar are so distinct. There are certain guitarists who I hear and just know who it is. It’s as unique as a vocal. David Gilmour and even Clapton are like that for me. I’m realizing Frusciante is as distinct as those guys. “It’s Only Natural” continues the hot streak. While it’s mellower it’s got some cool guitar sound effects. “She’s A Lover” is another bass heavy, funky up beat track. It’s another song I like a whole lot. “These Are the Ways” is probably the biggest rock song on the album. Frusciante lets loose with some heavy riffs on that track.

It’s after that, starting with “Whatchu Thinkin'” and “Bastards of Light” that the album falls into that midtempo vibe and they never really get out of it. I like Rick Rubin and I think he’s the perfect producer for these guys but he lets them get a little monochromatic at times, like Picasso in his “Blue Period.” The Chili Peppers’ creative process is jam based – most of their songs come out of sessions where they get together and jam. That jam based process doesn’t really lend itself to editing. They probably could have cut a few songs and it would have helped the album. It’s an hour and thirteen minutes long. “Bastards of Light” is the only track I didn’t connect with, it turns into Kiedis singing through a megaphone. “White Braids & Pillow Chair” is a pretty ballad but it meanders as did my mind at that point in the album. Taken by themselves each of these songs are great but as a whole the album does seem very midtempo. There’s nothing wrong with mellow it’s just not what I’d expected.

Things get back on track toward the end of the album with the upbeat “One Way Traffic.” “Will you be my traffic jam?” It’s got a great sing along chorus. That’ll be a big one live. I really love the song “Let ‘Em Cry.” It may be my favorite on the album. “Veronica” has great lyrics. “The Heavy Wing” is probably, yes, the heaviest track on the album. Frusciante takes over the vocals on the back end of that song which is an unfortunate choice. “Tangelo” wraps things up much like “Roadtrippin'” did Californication, with a beautiful acoustic guitar driven track.

This is certainly one of the biggest albums of the year and I urge everybody to check it out. I can’t wait to see these guys live again. I want the Rock Chick to behold the majesty of John Frusciante live. They purportedly put together 50 songs when recording this album and there are rumors they might release a follow up in short order. I’m for all the Chili Peppers with Frusciante I can get!

Enjoy this laid back groove of an album. I know it made my weekend! Cheers!

Review: Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs Return With Their Second LP ‘External Combustion’

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I think we were all devastated by the loss of Tom Petty but probably nobody more than Mike Campbell. Campbell had been Petty’s “co-pilot” and musical consort for over forty years. I’ve been a huge fan of Mike Campbell since the first time I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live at Kemper Arena in 1985. I remember thinking, “Wow, this guitarist is one of the best I’ve ever seen.” I think Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at something like number 79 on their list of “best-guitarists-ever” and I think that was underrating him. I think when he co wrote Don Henley’s big hit “Boys Of Summer” it was the moment people started to more widely recognize what a talented guy Campbell was. I wondered what Campbell would do in a post-Petty world. He joined Fleetwood Mac for a tour but alas no studio record was forthcoming from that line up of the famously member-shifting band.

Fortunately for fans of rock n roll music played by talented musicians, Campbell and his long time side project the Dirty Knobs released their debut album Wreckless Abandon two years ago. The Dirty Knobs are Campbell (guitar/vocal), Jason Sinay (guitar), Matt Laug (drummer) and Lance Morrison (drums). The Knobs had been playing together for years but hadn’t released anything until that 2020 debut LP that we frankly loved down here at B&V. The Dirty Knobs are a guitar forward rock band who dabble in country rock. The sound of the Dirty Knobs conjures the feel of a roadhouse on the outskirts of town, perhaps at a crossroads, with dust and peanut shells on the floor and empty beer bottles strewn about… perhaps a tattoo’d waitress dressed inappropriately for her age and a bathroom you’re nervous about using. It’s gritty rock n roll played loud. You don’t hear good ol’ rock n roll like this much any more… there’s not even the rumor of a synthesizer.

I will admit, when I saw the album cover (pictured above) I wondered if this second LP from the Dirty Knobs, External Combusion, would see them head in a different direction. First and foremost, they’ve put Mike Campbell’s name on the cover. The original cover art of the debut was credited to just “The Dirty Knobs.” Now the band is Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs. He’s also pictured on the cover vs the Klaus Voorman artwork of the debut. I guess someone down in marketing at the label realized there was some brand recognition they could exploit from Campbell. Also, in the background of the cover, there’s a Rickenbacker guitar (a favorite of Petty’s) but it’s on fire. Is Campbell subtly saying good by to his former friend? Is he burning down his past? Or am I just reading too much into it? I’ve read this sounds less like a band-centric LP and more of a Campbell-centric LP but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a more varied sounding record than the first one but the sound is very similar to the debut. When a lead guitarist steps up to the microphone to do his own music it can often be guitar indulgent, like say Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell’s solo music, but I don’t get that here.

The album opens with what may be my favorite Dirty Knobs song, the rocking “Wicked Mind,” which we’ve reviewed previously. I can’t listen to this track enough. It’s a free wheeling rocker with lyrics I can totally relate to. “I don’t think you understand what kinda man I really am, I’m sinner with a rebel soul, got a wicked mind with a heart of gold…” Yeah, that sums it up for me. The next track “Brigitte Bardot” is a galloping country rocker. This may sound crazy but other than the lyrics it sounds like a classic train song to me. It has that locomotion thing happening. I love that groove. The next track “Cheap Talk” starts with drums that Cheap Trick would envy. It’s a riff rocker of a “baby done me wrong track.” For me, it’s not as good as the first two tracks but it’s a solid tune. “External Combustion,” the title track, is another great rock song much like “Wicked Mind.” “Tell me the truth, that’s all I want, external combustion…” It’s another track that just sticks in your mind. “Dirty Job” is another favorite. It’s another big rock song full of guitar riffs and funny lyrics and features Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople fame on co-lead vocals. Hunter’s gravely vocal turn on the duet adds some texture to a great track. “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.” Oh, yes, “it might as well be me…” I think we’ve all been there.

The second half of the LP starts off on a mellow note with the beautiful ballad “State of Mind.” Oh man, this wonderful track slightly conjures Tom Petty “Southern Accents” to me… and probably only me. It’s a beautiful duet with country singer Margo Price. I don’t know much about her – we’re decidedly only old school country here at B&V – but we may need to look into her. It’s all beautiful vocals and pedal steel. I can see people drunkenly slow dancing to this track at closing time in the aforementioned imaginary roadhouse. Things get back to rollicking with the next track “Lightning Boogie” which is more of a vamp than a song, kinda like “Don’t Knock The Boogie” from the first album.

“Rat City” is another rocker like “Cheap Talk.” Big riffs and complaints about the music business. I like this hard rocker more than “Cheap Talk” and it features someone else in the band singing with Campbell – is it Sinay? I literally can’t find any documentation. “In This Lifetime” takes us back into ballad territory and I have to say, wow, another gorgeous mellow track. It conjures a George Harrison-like ballad landscape. It’s a mesmerizing track with an emotional depth that grabbed me. “It Is Written” is a jaunty travelogue sounding track that veers subtly into politics. “People are hurting, people of all ages, Mother Nature is angry and Cold War wages…” It’s another great track and really the first midtempo thing I’ve heard on this album. They wrap it up with another country tinged rocker “Electric Gypsy” that may serve as Campbell’s autobiography. It features some of the fiercest guitar solo’ing on the album.

Listening to External Combustion and the Dirty Knob’s debut album this week really brings home what a brilliant guitarist, songwriter and performer Mike Campbell is… and he’s found the perfect band as a vehicle. I hope these guys tour to a venue near me soon. I think they’ll be awesome live. If you’re a fan of rock n roll or a fan of Tom Petty this is a must hear of an album. This guy has too much talent to be ignored.

Cheers!

Review: John Mellencamp, ‘Strictly A One-Eyed Jack’ – Curmudgeon Rock?

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I’m going to admit right off the bat, that much like 2017’s Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, this new Mellencamp album Strictly One-Eyed Jack is going to be an acquired taste. It’s going to need time to grow on you, in much the same way wine needs to breath a bit when first opened. It’s like olives… who liked olives the first time you ate one?

It wasn’t always that way. I think when you mention Mellencamp’s name to most folks it conjures his late 80s, early 90s heyday. Most people think of “Jack And Diane” or “Little Pink Houses” or some other big anthem. Squint your eyes and in your memory you can see John in a video in a wheat field strumming a guitar while we all sang along. He was one of the biggest artists on the planet. I can even admit to remembering when his name was John (or to some people, Johnny) Cougar. His manager at the time gave him a stage name based on the type of car the manager drove. I’m not sure I’d trust anybody who drove a Mercury Cougar to guide my career but then I was in middle school back then so what would I have known? And Cougars were sporty… While we were all vaguely aware of John Cougar he wasn’t a household name by any means. If you’d asked me in 1979 who sang “I Need A Lover” I’d have told you it was a Pat Benetar song. She covered the song, albeit without the great, extended guitar intro and that was the version that became a “hit.” They didn’t play the Cougar er, Mellencamp version until later… at least in Kansas City anyway.

It wasn’t until 1982’s American Fool that John Cougar broke it big. “Hurts So Good” was a good song but it was “Jack And Diane” (a track I don’t like) that was the big hit. I would urge everyone to seek out the song “Thundering Hearts” from that record. I wasn’t on the bandwagon until the 1983 release, Uh-Huh. Yeah, the video for “Crumblin’ Down” was cheesey – John dancing around parking meters like he was a young Cool Hand Luke – but damn if it wasn’t a great song. “Play Guitar” and “Little Pink Houses” drove me to the record store. It was the first album to bear the “Mellencamp” name. It was credited to John Cougar Mellencamp in what we didn’t realize at the time was a rebranding campaign. The great meat and potatoes rock that he was serving up continued on the more politically charged Scarecrow, which is probably my favorite LP of his. And, naturally, my sainted mother even liked “Small Town” on that record because well, she’s from a small town.

Mellencamp then took a stylistic left turn and got more “rootsy” on his true masterpiece, The Lonesome Jubilee. It was instrumentally speaking a much more varied sounding record. There was violin and more acoustic guitar which was like stumbling across plutonium in the 80s. There were still great rock songs like “Paper And Fire” but it felt like a real left turn for the heartland rocker. I think we all thought it was a diversion, a one off but it turned out that more rootsy style came to define almost everything Mellencamp has done since then. “Cherry Bomb” is more his signature style than say, “Small Paradise.” The last really hard rocking album Mellencamp did was Whenever We Wanted. I still love that album. Tracks like “Get A Leg Up” and “Love And Happiness” are all slashing guitar and crashing drums. After that album my interest in Mellencamp waned slightly. I loved his ’98 album John Mellencamp, as did the Rock Chick as I found out later we both owned it.

From there Mellencamp settled into this T Bone Burnett, murky almost old-timey style. Well at least after Freedom’s Road he seemed to. That and his blues cover album Trouble No More were my final Mellencamp LP purchases. As he became deeper attached to that more roots oriented sound his vision became considerably darker. The titles gave away where he was coming from: Life, Death, Love And Freedom (which sounds like a Johnny Cash title) or Plain Spoken. To go with his darker vision, the cigarettes he smokes finally ravaged his voice to the point where he’s in that Howlin Wolf, Tom Waits area. I’m a huge fan of emotive vocals versus polished vocals so the disintegration of his voice has never bothered me. All of that said, Mellencamp remains an amazing songwriter. The vision is dark but the words stick with you… more so for me than a song like “Jack And Diane.”

On Strictly A One-Eyed Jack we find John has kept his signature band together. Long time guitarist Mike Wanchic is still in the band. As is, Andy York/guitar, Dane Clark/drums, John Gunell/bass, Troy Kinnet/accordion & keyboards and perhaps most importantly Miriam Sturm on violin. Sturm’s violin is perhaps the most prominent instrument here. Thematically we find John talking a lot about lies – two songs have the word in the title, slander (“Did You Say Such A Thing”) and rain. The tracks about rain might just end up on our Playlist: Rainy Day Songs. One thing that does come across clearly from Mellencamp’s lyrics… he, as the kids say, gives zero fucks about what anybody thinks. He’s said publicly he’s not into writing hit records, he just wants to make great albums. I would say that Strictly A One-Eyed Jack is a very good, nearing great album indeed.

One thing different this time out is the sporadic appearance of that other 80s icon, Bruce Springsteen. Yes, Springsteen is credited with vocals on a few songs but more importantly he brought his guitar. The song “Wasted Days” is my favorite of the Bruce songs, and perhaps on the album. I still don’t know why I’m not hearing more about that track – if it was 1986 it’d be the biggest hit of the year. Bruce does a harmony vocal and guitar solo on “Did You Say Such A Thing” where Mellencamp accuses someone of “talking shit” on him. Springsteen’s guitar is more important than his harmony vocal on that track and it’s a livelier moment. Springsteen only adds guitar to the ballad and album end-er “A Life Full of Rain.” All three of these tracks deserve a listen.

The album opener “I Always Lie To Strangers” is a dark, gravelly affair. It can be a little off-putting on first listen like that cover art painting. Did someone poke John in the eye? What are we to take from that opening song? Is John telling us lies over the next 12 tracks? Things do pick up on the second track, “Driving In The Rain,” the first of two rain tracks. It’s a lilting waltz of a song with a great melody and comes complete with Andrews Sisters type female backing vocalists singing, “Ooo.” We get more into Mellencamp’s state of mind on “I Am A Man Who Worries,” which just might be my theme song. The song is all snarling vocal and violin with my favorite line, “I come across as dangerous and unforgiving.” Sounds like Mellencamp and I have a few things in common these days.

As usual it’s the quieter moments that I like the most. “Streets of Galilee” is a beautiful piano and acoustic guitar ballad. It’s one of my favorites. “Gone So Soon” is the saddest ballad Mellencamp has ever done and from a sonic perspective it could be something Sinatra did. “A Life Full of Rain” is another Tom Waits-ian ballad. It’s all piano and craggy vocals but a beautiful rumination on life’s mistakes while Bruce plays guitar. When Mellencamp gets quiet and sad, count me in.

The title track comes across like an old Dylan track where a bunch of fictional characters play a game of cards. I love the way the drums drive the song along… “The Gypsy King is dealing from the bottom of the deck…”Sweet Honey Brown” has a bass-line that reminds me of “Under the Boardwalk.” When the violin kicks in we know this is not anything that happy. “The show is over… the monkey’s dead.” It seems to be Mellencamp’s farewell to show business. “Lie To Me” continues the theme of lying. It’s another stand out track with the great line, “Lie to me, Lord knows I’m used to it.” The only track that really left me cold – other than the opener – was “Chasing Rainbows.” It’s like a bizarre (almost drunken) sing-along that wouldn’t be out of place at the end of a Monty Python movie. It’s sung with more of a grimace than a smile.

Mellencamp, in my mind, remains an important if overlooked artist these days. I love that he’s brave enough to share his dark vision of life with us on Strictly A One-Eyed Jack. You aren’t going to hear these tracks on the radio – and it’s criminal “Wasted Days” isn’t being played more – but they are important, well written songs nonetheless. I recommend everybody pours something strong, throw another log on the fire and turn this one up.

Cheers!

New Song! Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs Return With “Wicked Mind” – A Great Tuesday Rocking Surprise!

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What a pleasant surprise on a Tuesday! I got up this morning prepared to face the usual January drudgery brought on by winter, in conjunction with my corporate masters (who have really upped their game this year) when a friend texted me that former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers lead guitarist and “co-captain” (Petty’s words) Mike Campbell and his new band The Dirty Knobs had put out a new song, “Wicked Mind.” As most of you know, I was all in on the Dirty Knobs (Campbell, Jason Sinay on guitar, Lance Morrison on bass and Matt Laug on drums) after the release of their sensational debut album Wreckless Abandon. In fact, it made it onto my list of “best of albums” for 2020 a couple years back.

I guess the Dirty Knobs have been around since long before the untimely and sad demise of Tom Petty, who was a true American Treasure. Campbell met Sinay during a recording session and liked the way their guitars sounded together. Well, let me be the first to say – well, probably not the first to say – I love the way their guitars sound together. I was wondering what would happen to Mike Campbell after the Heartbreakers dissolved in the wake of the tragedy. He’s just too good a guitarist and songwriter to go idle. He co-wrote so many great songs with Petty. He also, and some don’t know this, co-wrote the Don Henley track “Boys Of Summer.” I think that was Henley’s biggest hit. I was glad to see him take the Dirty Knobs “mainstream,” (if you will) by actually recording Wreckless Abandon in 2020 versus keeping them in the shadows. Of course Campbell was part of the duo of musicians who joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham (along with Neil Finn of Crowded House fame). I thought that would be interesting for Fleetwood Mac as Campbell would bring back that Peter Green era vibe for those guys – and he did end up playing some of that original Mac material. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to materialize into any new music from them.

I had no idea the Dirty Knobs were even recording. I really dug Wreckless Abandon. It was truly uncanny how much Campbell’s vocals sounded like Petty. His phrasing and vocal style are very similar… obviously Petty was a better singer but still his ghost was hanging all over that album… but maybe that was just me. Losing Petty blew a big hole in my rock n roll universe. Wreckless Abandon rocked a little harder than the Heartbreakers had in a while. Campbell himself described it as a more “loose limbed” affair, whatever that means. It was kind of Stonesy to me. Other than the rocking songs I also loved the ballad “Irish Girl.” They also showed their sense of humor with songs like “Fuck That Guy.”

“Wicked Mind,” from the upcoming March LP External Combusion picks up right where Wreckless Abandon left off. It’s a barrel house rocker. Campbell and Sinay twine their guitars together for a big riff with an acoustic guitar being strummed aggressively along just for fun…over the bedrock rhythm section of Morrison/Laug. This band is growing tighter and tighter. I love the lyrics, “High as a kite, hiding from a searchlight, I didn’t get home until way past midnight.” That sets the tone for the naughty good times on this record! “I’ve got a wicked mind with a heart of gold…” which is how I always thought of myself in the old days…well, maybe not just the old days. The guitar solo’ing on this song is out of the world. Campbell and Sinay torture those guitars. The song ends with them riffing until the end when a second fabulous guitar solo breaks out. Here is the track, everyone who digs guitar driven rock should check out:

All of us down here at B&V are looking forward to the new Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs LP, External Combustion. Between the new Mellencamp album that we’ve been listening to all week and this surprise single, it looks like 2022 is going to be a cookin’ year for rock n roll.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Review: John Mellencamp, “Wasted Days” Featuring Bruce Springsteen – How Am I Not Hearing More About This Great New Song?

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How is this song not blasting out of every radio, everywhere? Mellencamp? Springsteen? Together? Singing on the same song?! This is like the Clash of the Titans. Well… maybe not a Clash… maybe it’s more like the Harmonizing Of The Titans.

There was a time, sadly long passed, when I think this song would be getting a Hell of a lot more attention. If it were say, 1986, this track would be the Number 1 song in the universe. While both these artists have had long and remarkable careers, even I will admit in the 80s they were part of the dominant rock scene that just doesn’t exist anymore. Springsteen was in that whole Born In The U.S.A. hoopla that bled into Live 1975 to 1985. Mellencamp went on a incredible run of LPs starting with Uh-Huh (at least for me) to Scarecrow to The Lonesome Jubilee. It’s a bit of odd pairing… I always thought of Springsteen as a more natural fit for a duet with Bob Seger… those guys were pals back then. Mellencamp was all Farm Aid and Springsteen was out with Amnesty International… But listening to these cagey old veterans, they’re a great fit. To quote one of my favorite comedies, “Cats living with dogs, MASS HYSTERIA!”

I got into Springsteen when The River came out. My entry point to any artist back then was what was playing on the radio after I’d become rock n roll conscious and for Springsteen that was The River. I’d heard some of the tracks from Darkness On The Edge Of Town on the radio, but I was still too newly converted to the church rock n roll and I’m not sure I realized all of the Darkness songs were Springsteen. The River ended up being my first Springsteen LP purchase. And believe me, when you’re in high school on an allowance a double-album was a big investment. I still have a great fondness for that album even though my friend Brewster didn’t take me with him to the concert in KC on that tour… bygones. That album led me to a lifetime of listening to Springsteen with and without the E Street Band. I’m embarrassed to admit, the first time I heard Born To Run in it’s entirety was at a Senior Skip Day party when I was a mere junior in high school… but that was all the way in 1981. I was sitting in this guy’s backyard, not far from the kegs talking to these two girls who while only one year older were still just out of reach. I left that party with nothing more than a nice beer buzz and the determination to purchase Born To Run immediately… once the beer wore off, which I did.

My journey to Mellencamp was a tad more circuitous. Right after we’d got to high school my buddy Brewster – of the infamous River tour snub – went to see John Cougar (as Mellencamp was known back then) with a guy I’ll call Carter (name changed to protect the very, very guilty). Once again, I was not invited… I’m beginning to see a trend. Brewster and Carter were at this Cougar (Mellencamp) show,  which was in support of his second major label LP Nothing Matters And What If It Did – and somehow Carter and Brewster ended up partying with Cougar’s manager. I don’t know if its the same guy who renamed him “Cougar” after his automobile or not. They’re drinking with this guy at his hotel and Carter talks the manager into giving him Britt Ekland’s phone number in L.A. Apparently the manager guy had formerly had Rod Stewart as a client and had his ex girlfriend’s number. Carter called her but he only talked to her maid who answered the phone. Carter was an outlaw… but I digress. While they’re drinking with this manager, Cougar walks into the room. He actually autographed a copy of Nothing Matters… and signs it with the tag line, “Don’t Forget Me.” Sadly, I was with Brewster when he trashed the album and its autographed cover a few days later. He didn’t like the music. The ignorance of youth.

A few years later – and it seemed like light years – I would rediscover Cougar when I heard American Fool. A girl I had started dating, who I guess you’d call my “first girlfriend” had that album. Her parents both worked which was rare in the ‘burbs where I lived. Her parents didn’t get home until 5 pm every day… we all got out of school at 3… you do the math. This gal and her friends and I would go over and hangout at the house during the late afternoon. That’s where I heard American Fool. While I still despise “Jack And Diane” I really liked a lot of that album and thought it was a huge leap forward from Nothing Matters. I really liked the deep track “Thundering Hearts.” Sadly though, I didn’t truly get on the Mellencamp (no longer Cougar) bandwagon until Uh-Huh when I was in college. Maybe it was the name change? That album rocked. “Crumbin’ Down” and “Play Guitar” remain favorites to this day. I really have followed Mellencamp ever since. Although I will admit in the 2000s my Mellencamp album purchases have been sporadic. I was all in on Freedom’s Road, a late career gem. And I dug the raw and rootsy No Better Than This although its more of a late night LP, not a party record. But I’ll admit, I sort of lost touch with Mellencamp. His voice, ravaged by cigarette smoke was slightly off-putting. But then, in 2017 I heard Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which I loved, despite the title. While Mellencamp’s voice was at its most gravelly – one might compare it to a gravel truck that’s thrown a rod – he offset it with female harmony vocalists and it just worked. I was reminded once again that super strong songwriting and an emotional vocal delivery will produce something special every time. And Mellencamp delivered!

I’d been immersed in early 80s Bob Dylan for the last few weeks as I absorbed his new entry in the Bootleg Series, Springtime In New York. I only stopped listening to that box set long enough to take in Chrissie Hynde’s super new solo LP, which happens to be a set of Dylan covers. I finally emerged from this Dylan fugue state to discover this new track by Mellencamp that featured Springsteen. I’d heard some press buzz about it a few months ago. It was slated to be on an upcoming Mellencamp LP, which I now hear is going to be released in 2022 instead of this year. Frankly it was one of those post-lockdown LPs I was really looking forward to for this year but hey, now I’ll just look forward to it next year. When I found out this song was out – and I was surprised – I was further shocked that it wasn’t generating more buzz. I liked it immediately upon hearing. It’s been in high rotation here in the B&V labs this week. I love the pairing of these two earnest rock stars.

I mentioned earlier that if this had been released in 1986 it’d be a monster hit. Well, in 1986 when these two guys were still “the young lions” they couldn’t have sung this song. This is a song written by a more seasoned artist, facing down the end. The first line lets you know what “Wasted Days” we’re talking about here – “How many summers still remain?” Oddly a guy said to me recently, “I’ve only got like 20 summers left, I’m going to enjoy them all…” There’s nothing like getting to the end and thinking, man how much time did I waste and how much do I have left? When you reach a certain age, you can’t avoid those questions and this song hits it straight on with a sense of resolve tinged with regret. While it’s a heavy topic, the tune isn’t a downer. It’s a mid-tempo thing that drilled into my brain through my ear. It’s definitely more of the Mellencamp universe/soundscape with Springsteen as the guest. I did chuckle when I saw the cover art for the single. It looks like these two elder statesmen of rock n roll just tied up their horses outside at the hitch of this farmhouse and came in to sit down to play some acoustic guitar. I feel like there might be a pie cooling on the window sill.

The track starts with the strumming of acoustic guitars with a spidery electric dancing in and out. Mellencamp must have been hitting the hot tea with honey because his voice sounds significantly less gravelly than on Sad Clowns and Hillbillies (which was sadly the last time I’d heard him). Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some gravel in Mellencamp’s voice… Mellencamp takes that first verse and when they hit the chorus you hear Springsteen come in. I love that harmonizing on the chorus. “We watch our lives just fade away to more wasted days…” Springsteen sings the second verse. He’s impassioned and a great counterpoint to Mellencamp. The track has that signature Mellencamp, rootsy accordion to carry it along. I don’t know if that’s Springsteen on the guitar solo but it sure sounds like him… I did search to find out who plays lead on this but couldn’t find the details, I’ll have to wait until the LP comes out. To hear these guys, at this stage of their career, nay their lives, come together and knock it out of the park like this is just a joy to behold. They didn’t waste a day or a minute or a second recording this track.

Here it is:

If you’re like me and you’ve been in a Dylan haze – and who possibly has really? – or if you’re not like me (and you’re normal) and your local radio has let you down and isn’t playing this song. I urge you to put this into high rotation. It’s got me pumped for what might be a great John Mellencamp LP in 2022, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever say again. Put this one on late at night with a little more volume than usual and perhaps a little more whiskey than usual… Life is a precious commodity… don’t waste it.

Cheers!