Playlist: It’s COLD! (My Furnace Breaks Down, & A Sudden Epiphany)

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My dad, who I like to call the Hard Guy, has always liked cliches. Lets face it, they always have a basis in reality and once he gets rolling, it’s hard to stop him. One of his favorites has always been, something like (I’ve never listened too closely, I am Cain to his Adam) “I felt sorry for myself that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I’m not sure if that’s a real quote or something he made up, but I’ve been hearing it from my dad for so long, it seems like it must be genuine.

Like most of the northern or eastern part of America, I find myself freezing my ass off to below normal temperatures. Here in the midwest, where I live, the normal high is 38 degrees (fahrenheit) and lately it’s been anywhere between -5 and 20 degrees for a high temp. I hadn’t left the house since New Year’s Day. Thankfully, I don’t live on the east coast where I’d be victim of the “bomb cyclone,” whatever the Hell that horrible thing must be. There’s no snow here, just unrelenting cold. It appears a blast of “arctic” air has descended upon us and like an unwelcome relative has stayed too long.

Unfortunately, for me, during this cold snap, the furnace here at B&V has had a motor go bad. The furnace itself is ok, but there is apparently more than 1 motor, and combined with a number of safety devices it’s colluding to prevent my furnace from working properly. The company that I’ve been paying over the years to “maintain” my furnace, seemingly missed this issue with the motor during this year’s inspection and are telling me it’ll be Monday before they can repair it… I bought a few space heaters to keep my pipes from bursting and I related my displeasure to the company, but that’s a matter for Yelp. Apparently revenge is no longer a dish served cold, although that would be appropriate in this case since I’m freezing, but a dish served on the internet.

All of this started last night when I realized that my furnace, located in the basement, began to sound like there was an airplane in extreme distress landing down there. It was really loud. It was like Zeppelin loud down there… I immediately called the furnace company… The furnace guy came out, diagnosed the problem and told me the part/motor would be in this morning and they’d be out to fix it some time today… when that didn’t happen, I was pretty pissed. So I did what I always do. I put together a playlist to commemorate being cold. Being very, very cold. The Rock Chick and I are wearing coats, while under heavy blankets…

I was feeling pretty bad about myself as I drove to the local mall to buy space heaters when I saw something that jerked me out of my self-pity. I was at a stop-light, going over the horrible things I was going to say on Yelp about my furnace company (which, lets face it, I still intend to post) when I saw a young woman, bundled up from head to toe, with only her eyes visible, sitting on the corner. She was holding up a cardboard sign with a simple request for help on it. It’s below 20 degrees here and the wind chill is God knows how awful. The stock market is over 25,000 and there are still people out in the cold… It was then that I was struck with an epiphany, or at least a healthy case of guilt. I realized… my father was right. Here I was pissed because my house is 40 degrees and here was a woman sitting on a street corner in the 20 degree frigid weather…she’s OUTSIDE. At least I’m shivering indoors. I had no shoes… she metaphorically had no feet. Damn, I hate admitting my father is right, it’s a father/son thing…hard to explain, but easy to understand.

I’ve already got this Cold Playlist put together, but it’s no longer to bitch about my furnace not working… although admittedly I am very cold. Tonight, this playlist is for that poor woman sitting on a corner in the cold, and all her homeless brethren who don’t have a place to get warm, who don’t have a furnace to complain about and who need help. We all have those old coats we don’t wear anymore. We all have those old blankets tucked away somewhere in a closet. Now, in the heart of winter, is the time to dig those out and, as Bill Murray says in ‘Scrooged,’ “say, here.” It’s a tough time in the world. There are people who are having trouble even staying warm… donate some clothes, coats, blankets or money to a homeless shelter near you and help these people out.

In that spirit, here is my playlist to complain about the cold. While I’ve huddled in my coats and blankets, this goes out to those less fortunate….As usual, I’m stylistically all over the place but that’s why I usually leave the playlists up to the Rock Chick. Keep an open mind… Most of these songs reference the coldness that creeps into relationships, but I’m speaking metaphorically here, so go with it…

  1. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” – My kingdom for some warmth.
  2. AC/DC, “Black Ice” – I saw a lot of this on the road today. Be careful out there.
  3. Cinderella, “Long Cold Winter” – God, I hope it isn’t one.
  4. David Bowie, “She Shook Me Cold” – Ok, this is actually about sex, but there’s something about the way Bowie sings about this sexual encounter that I can relate to.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound” – If I ever get ahold of my furnace company, I may be in cold irons…
  6. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – “and I’m so alone, I’m on my own…”
  7. Deep Purple, “Stone Cold” – “And I thought I knew you so well,” furnace company…
  8. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Cold Shot” – Which is what I felt like taking to warm me up.
  9. Van Morrison, “Out In the Cold Again” – If Van’s warm vocal on this ballad won’t warm you up, nothing will.
  10. Bob Marley, “Coming In From The Cold” – I wish I was coming in from the cold. But since my furnace isn’t working I’m coming out of the cold into slightly less cold. Lets’ help some of the less fortunate come in from the cold this winter… the Salvation Army works all year round, folks.
  11. Social Distortion, “Cold Feelings” – “Cold feelings in the night, you know, this feeling just ain’t right.”
  12. Black Crowes, “Stare It Cold” – “Don’t you wanna be there, don’t you wanna stare it cold?” If this cold snap holds up, the Rock Chick and I may just stare each other cold.
  13. Little Feat, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Freezing, it was freezing in that hotel…” How must it feel on the streets?
  14. Roger Daltrey/Wilko Johnson, “Ice On the Motorway” – True confession, I’m not sure what Daltrey is singing about here, but it sounds like he’s getting nowhere fast because of the iced-over freeway and his frustration is palpable. I can relate.
  15. Cage The Elephant, “Cold, Cold, Cold” – “Cold, cold, cold inside, Doctor can you help me cause something don’t feel right.”
  16. Metallica, “Trapped Under Ice” – “Freezing, can’t move at all, screaming, can’t hear my call.” I’m talking to you furnace folk.
  17. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Out In the Cold” – My heart goes out to anybody whose literally, out in the cold. In the US, if you see someone call 311, identify the location and someone will get these folks to a shelter.
  18. ZZ Top, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” – Well, thankfully it ain’t raining, but this weather can make anybody feel bluesy.
  19. Buckingham Nicks, “Frozen Love” – A rare chestnut from the ‘Buckingham Nicks’ album… a real treasure if you can find it.
  20. Foreigner, “Cold As Ice” – Which is how I feel.
  21. Peter Wolf, “The Cold Heart of the Stone” – Wisdom from Woofa.
  22. Billy Joel, “Running On Ice” – Where Billy can’t make any progress because he’s slipping on the ice. I can relate.

Try to stay warm out there folks… and if you can help someone whose less fortunate than you are, please do. And if you have any recommendations on furnace companies…

 

 

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The BourbonAndVinyl Top Albums of 2017: From Allman to Plant to Neil Young

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I staggered through the living room last night, weary from the struggle that is my job, on the way to the sink for more water, when I saw the Rock Chick had the TV on. I get my water from the kitchen like a child avoiding bedtime because it’s just better than bathroom water, but I digress. Sadly, the news was on the TV. I have been conspicuously avoiding the news this year…none of it is good. I was stunned to see that it was Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S. I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be the “official” start of the holiday season – and besides St Patrick’s Day, it’s one of my favorites (I show up, eat, drink and then fall asleep watching football) – but for some reason it didn’t register to me that the holidays were upon me. Or should I say, the dreaded holidays, but that’s another post. Pearl Harbor Day, which was also my Sainted Grandmother’s birthday, always drives home the point that it’s fucking December, baby. I can’t believe the year of 2017 has sped by with such amazing rapidity. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating David Bowie’s birthday in January. And now I find myself almost terminally behind on Christmas shopping. It’s going to take some real Houdini level stunt for me to pull off Christmas this year… but that’s my problem.

It was again a tough year for rock and roll. Among this year’s losses were guitarist J. Geils, rock and roll pioneer and Founding Father Chuck Berry, and founding Allman Brother’s Band keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman. Amongst the toughest of this year’s losses was the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell, the extraordinary lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. That one is going to leave a mark. Such a gifted singer and wonderful human being. The one that really stunned me and left me in a funk that hangs over me even today was the loss of Rock Legend Tom Petty. Every time I see or hear someone do a Petty cover in tribute, the Rock Chick catches me tearing up. I was lucky enough to see Cornell and Soundgarden mere days before his loss and Petty on his farewell tour a month or so prior to his loss. Not a farewell I wanted but at least I got to see these old “friends” of mine once more… The lesson was not lost on me this year, buy the ticket – see the show. Live in the moment people, and cherish each one. More recently we even lost AC/DC rhythm guitarist/songwriter Malcolm Young… and while he’d been suffering from dementia for some time, the loss was not any less painful. I know there were many more we lost, alas, too many to list here. I wonder which acts will rise to fill the Rock void…

But amongst all that tragedy there was hope and there was light and most importantly there was some great music. Tis the Season for every publication from Rolling Stone to my mother’s neighborhood news letter to come out with their “best of” lists, ranking all the past year’s music. We’re no different down here at B&V, we just do it with a glass of strong drink in our hands. As you know, we focus on rock and roll here, so if you’re looking for Taylor Swift’s name here, you best move on. As I compiled the “best of” list, a couple of things jumped out at me. First and foremost, several of these acts had just put out albums last year. I like this trend, like it was in the 70s, of acts putting out records every year. Hell, Van Morrison put out 2 albums this year, within 2 months of each other. Very 70’s if not 60s of him, indeed. And while this is on the surface, a list of “best of” LPs, I’m including a couple of EPs and even a single. This is music you’re not going to find on the radio, but like last year, I’ll tell ya, however you get your music now – Spotify, CD, Satellite Radio, hopefully vinyl – you should seek this music out. I am not doing a stack ranking here. This is just good music… I’m just not into that competition thing this year… I’ve ranked these albums in a haphazard, alphabetical manner. Find this music, pour something strong if you’re so inclined and enjoy!

The BourbonAndVinyl Best Albums of 2017

  1. Gregg Allman, Southern Blood – A farewell note in the same vein of Bowie’s Blackstar or Warren Zevon’s The Wind. I especially liked the single, “My Only True Friend.” This was a gripping listen.
  2. David Bowie, No Plan (EP) – This isn’t an album, but this EP packaged the last three songs from Bowie’s Blackstar sessions (along with the previously released song “Lazarus”) that had only been previously available on the cast recording from “Lazarus,” the play he’d been working on. It was a nice Bowie Birthday surprise and I’m hoping there’s another waiting for us this coming January.
  3. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Tired of waiting for Stevie Nicks to record some tunes to complete an intended Fleetwood Mac project (Mick Fleetwood plays drums, McVie bass here), Buckingham and McVie put out the music they’d recorded under the duo’s title. They don’t have the baggage Lindsey and Stevie have and it turns out they’re a great pair.
  4. Cheap Trick, We’re All Alright – A gleeful rocker from Cheap Trick was a wonderful surprise, considering they’d just put out a strong album in 2016. This band is on a roll and I’ve really enjoyed this late career resurgence.
  5. David Crosby, Sky Trails – Following 2016’s homage to If I Could Only Remember My Name (the roughhewn Lighthouse), Crosby returned with this beautifully sung album. There’s a Joni Mitchell cover and a Steely Dan influenced tune. An overlooked gem of a record.
  6. Depeche Mode, Spirit – This one might be my pick for “album of the year.” From the political, “Where’s the Revolution,” and “Going Backward,” to the personal, “You Move,” Depeche deliver a slinky, sexy, dark state of the union address.
  7. Liam Gallagher, As You Were – I find Liam as unpleasant as the next guy, but he’s delivered the best post-Oasis album of anybody from that band with As You Were. This was the Rock Chick’s favorite of the year, although she’s a bigger Oasis fan than I ever was.
  8. Greta Van Fleet, From The Fires – Billed as a “double-EP,” this album might be criticized for being somewhat derivative but I love where these kids are coming from. Anybody influenced by Zeppelin in these days of hip hop and electronic pop is ok with me. They even cover Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
  9. Mick Jagger, Get A Grip/England Lost (Single) – Yes, this was merely a two-sided single but it’s a great political broadside to his home country. Oh, and the songs kick ass.
  10. Little Steven, Soulfire – A big, bombastic, 70s, arena-rock, absolute blast of a listen. I was so happy to see Little Steven restart his solo career. It’s nice to see him step out of the shadow of his famous best friend… “Down and Out In New York City” is my favorite track here… although it’s hard to pick just one.
  11. Van Morrison, Roll With The Punches – The first of two LPs Van put out this year, merely twelve months after the very strong Keep Me Singing. While mostly blues and R&B covers, this is a laid blues party with Van singing his ass off like he wrote these tunes. He’s got a lot of friends here, but his most inspired choice was inviting Jeff Beck to play guitar.
  12. Randy Newman, Dark Matter – Newman’s first new album in almost a decade proves he’s still got the wit and sense of humor to take on any topic from politics to the personal. “She Chose Me” is one of his most beautiful ballads. He’s like Mark Twain with a piano.
  13. Robert Plant, Carry Fire – Like it’s primal title suggest, Carry Fire finds Plant in rootsy, exploratory mode, where he combines rock, folk, Welsh folk, and African music into a sound gumbo that is a delight to experience. His singing is right out front and I love where his voice is at this point in his career. A truly stunning album and like Depeche Mode’s LP, possibly my candidate for album of the year.
  14. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains – Josh Homme and company’s hard rock, swinging dance party. “The Way You Used To Do” is my favorite song of the year. A great, hard rock record from start to finish.
  15. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording (Deluxe) – The Stones from way back, from 1963 to 1965. Hailed for returning to their roots on Blue And Lonesome, this compilation of BBC live recordings are the Stones’ roots unfolding before your very ears… back when Brian Jones was as important as Mick or Keith. These recordings crackle with a youthful energy that is a wonder to behold.
  16. Bob Seger, I Knew You When (Deluxe) – This was a near miss of a classic record from Seger, but there are enough great moments here to recommend it. It’s a blast to hear Seger cover, of all people, Lou Reed on “Busload of Faith.” This is Seger’s best album since The Distance. 
  17. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archival Recordings – Springsteen has been quietly releasing a new live, archival recording every first Friday, each month. It’s the only reason that I’ve found to celebrate the turn of a calendar month. From early releases of the rarely heard 1977 tour, to another great show in Houston on the 1978 tour these live recordings are something special. The 1996 release from The Ghost of Tom Joad solo tour was another recent release. If you’re not checking these live albums out, you’re missing out.
  18. U2, Songs of Experience – The long awaited sequel to Songs of Innocence. Bono’s recent brush with death inform these lyrics, and they’re some of his best. I can’t stop listening to this album, their best since How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. 
  19. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want – It took 25 years between solo albums, but Waters has delivered his best album since The Wall. This magnum opus is truly his solo masterpiece. I only regret I didn’t get to see it live, which a friend of mine told me was like going “to church.”
  20. Neil Young, Hitchhiker – Neil went back to the archives to release this stunning acoustic album, recorded in one night back in August of 1976… the full moon really worked some magic. While many of these songs came out on later albums and in different versions, hearing them all in this original setting is the way God and Neil intended them to be heard. Neil’s just launched his own streaming, archival website which will likely provide me with hours of rock n roll spelunking joy…

 

There you have it folks, 2017 in a classic rock nutshell. Happy Holidays.

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances

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They say it’s your first love that leaves the deepest impression. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m not so sure that’s true (I met the Rock Chick when I was 36…my personal records prior to that are sealed up tighter than the JFK files), but in the realm of rock and roll, for me, The Stones were my first love and definitely left the deepest impression on me. My musical tastes and record collection have grown and branched out in every conceivable direction over the years, but the roots have always been with the Stones. Everything that I really love has a solid basis in the blues. I wouldn’t even know what the blues are if it weren’t for the Stones.

I wasn’t really a fan of music as a kid, music was my brother’s thing. My brother and I tend to be polar opposites. I was but a child for most of the 70s and the only time I turned on the radio was to listen to a Royals baseball game, back when I still cared about baseball. My brother had a stereo and had started a record collection long before I ever did. I’d always wander by his room and hear the sound of guitar and drums pouring out from behind his locked door and just shake my head and keep walking. My brother was a big Beatles fan. Later he followed that up by getting deeply into George Harrison’s solo work. It took me years to get into George Harrison’s solo music, which is amazingly rewarding… but my brother, who also plays guitar, was so far ahead of me, he was cranking up Living In the Material World when he was 10.

All of this changed, of course, when I first heard the Rolling Stones 1978 LP, Some Girls. I asked my parents for a stereo for Christmas – back then you could get a turntable/cassette player/receiver and a couple of speakers for pretty cheap – and dipped into my lawn-mowing money to buy my first ever album, Some Girls. I practically wore that album out… I do remember the first time I listened to the whole album on the headphones, in my sainted Grandmother’s living room, and Mick sang that notorious lyric about women who wanted to “fuck all night…” I was staring at my Grandmother and I just about did a back flip when Mick sang those words, I was so stunned. Luckily the headphones protected Grandma from that… But besides that rather startling moment, hearing Some Girls for the first time was like having someone attach jumper cables to the base of my brain and pump the gas for 45 minutes. I was hooked. I’d sing along to “Shattered” at full (and off-key) throat.

One of the things I loved about Some Girls was the interplay of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars – “the ancient art of weaving” as Keith calls it – the guitars played off and around each other like they were sawing down a tree. As my lawn mowing income grew, I continued to buy more Stones’ albums. I started with the Ronnie Wood-era… Black and Blue and Love You Live were early additions to my record collection. When Emotional Rescue came out in ’80 I bought it the day it came out. Say what you want about some of the disco-leaning songs on that record, I still loved it… and there was a great, great blues tune on that record, “Down In The Hole.” And who wouldn’t love the lyric, “riding on a fine Arab chaaaaarger…”

I eventually discovered the Mick Taylor-era of the Stones music which is largely regarded as their “golden-era.” Mick Taylor had been a guitar virtuoso with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and when he joined the Stones, he largely took over the blistering leads and allowed Keith to become, as he calls himself, “the riff-miester.” Those albums, including Exile On Main Street and Sticky Fingers were some of the greatest albums ever recorded. After experiencing those albums, my Stones spelunking slowed down… For whatever reason, when it came to the early, Brian Jones-era Stones, I stopped after Beggars Banquet and Aftermath. I had some of that early music on a greatest hits album, but I never delved any further into the Stones early years. While I dug the blues, I viewed the Stones early stuff as “formative”…. there were too many blues covers and not enough original material for my immature tastes.

Naturally, I was wrong. Years later, I corrected this egregious mistake and bought all those early Stones records, which I consider as utterly essential for any rock fan… I went from England’s Newest Hitmakers all the way through Between the Buttons. While Mick Taylor gets the accolades for his guitar work with the Stones, I don’t hear a lot of people talk about Brian Jones much anymore. The guy could play slide guitar like a Chicago-born bluesman. His work on “Little Red Rooster” is all the resume Brian Jones ever needed… Many people, like I did when I was a teenager, dismissed the Stones as a blues-cover band during their early years. That may be true, but doing that blues-cover apprenticeship was the crucible for everything that came after it.

I was thrilled last year when the Stones returned to their roots and recorded a full on blues-cover album, the sensational Blue And Lonesome (reviewed: LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). While that album was heralded as a “return” to their roots, this week the Stones actually released the actual roots… On Air (Deluxe) compiles 30 songs (on the 2 CD version) from the Stones early appearances on the BBC. These appearances have been largely bootlegged over the years, but this is the first official release. The sound quality is better here than on the bootlegs I’ve heard, but some of the tunes are rough enough to give the project a bootleg vibe.

The ‘Live At the BBC’ series has seen some great albums compiling the live performances of many great groups on that venerable radio station. I was always a huge fan of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, it was truly revelatory. The other albums from the series that are must-haves are from The Who and, of course, The Beatles. The Beatles Live At the BBC for me, was an important and under represented part of the Beatles story – The Beatles as a live, performing band… For whatever reason the Stones decided not to title this album BBC Sessions, much like when they did their own ‘Unplugged’ and called it Stripped. When you’re the Stones, I guess you do your own thing. The album is subtitled “A BBC Recording.”

Like those early, Brian Jones-era albums, On Air is an essential purchase for Stones fans, and fans of rock/blues rock in general. It’s so much fun to listen to these scruffy, dirty kids play the blues. The song selections on here, other than “Satisfaction” are largely covers. You hear blues, a healthy amount of Chuck Berry covers, Bo Diddley-covers and some R&B. These recordings crackle with an electricity and energy of youth. Charlie Watts’ drums in particular grabbed me. He is truly the engine of this band. Mick’s (and probably occasionally Brian’s) harmonica is sensational. I hadn’t really noticed but Brian and Keith Richards guitars intertwine in much the same way that Keith and Ronnie’s did a decade or so later. Brian Jones’ guitar on “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a raw, ragged slide guitar masterpiece.

Of the 30 performances captured here, eight of the songs are tracks that the Stones never committed to tape in a studio. It’s great to hear “Memphis, Tennessee” and their take on “Roll Over Beethoven.” All of the performances here hail from 1963 to 1965, before I was born… I don’t know if there will be a second release for the years 1965 to 1967, but I sure hope so. Anybody who wants to understand where that great late-60s, early 70s Stones music came from, look no further than here… (With the exception of some of the country stuff Gram Parsons introduced the band to, but I digress… ) Blues, big riffs, harmonica. It’s all here. Jagger sings a razor line on each of these tunes. The whole band just sounds great.

If you’re looking for something special for the stereo this year to drowned out the odious Christmas music, this is your solution. The Rolling Stones original line-up, before the arenas, before the massive tours, before the squabbles – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones (when he was just as important as Mick), Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were indeed a force of nature and something to behold… Rock and roll school is open, and class is in session. Turn this one up loud.

 

LP Review: Bob Seger, ‘I Knew You When (Deluxe)’ – A Near Miss

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I grew up in the American midwest, so Bob Seger was an early and immediate member of my rock and roll firmament. Seger is to the midwest as Springsteen is to the northeast. I think it was Bob Dylan, on his Theme Time Radio Hour, who said it best when he said, “A lot of people consider Bob Seger a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen, but I always considered Bruce Springsteen a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I never thought Seger would do anything I would review on B&V but last Friday saw the release of his new album, I Knew You When. I sprung for the deluxe version and the three extra bonus tracks. My wife, the Rock Chick, despises Seger, so I literally had to listen to and review this album in secret…

Seger’s early career was marred by shoddy production and non-existent support from his record companies. Despite his mammoth talent, the guy couldn’t catch a break. He put out a string of really strong albums, from Mongrel (1970) to Back In ’72 (1972, duh), Seven (1974) and Beautiful Loser (1975). None of which ever really broke him outside of his home base of Detroit. He appears to want to forget about all those great albums as they remain unavailable for purchase anywhere. I’ve mused as to why he won’t release those early records in these very pages, Conspiracy Theory: Who Is Holding Bob Seger’s Early LPs Hostage?. It wasn’t until Seger’s monumental live LP with his backing band The Silver Bullet Band, Live Bullet (1976), that Seger finally broke nationally. After that he released a string of albums that cemented his legacy as one of the great ones: Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980) and The Distance (1982). He even had time to squeeze out another fantastic live album with The Silver Bullet Band, Nine Tonight (1981).

Stranger In Town was the album where I got on the bandwagon. My sainted grandmother on my mom’s side bought me the album for Christmas. I’d had it on my wishlist. She had a number of records to choose from and she chose Stranger In Town because she said Bob Seger had nice eyes. I don’t know about that, but the music on that record was simply phenomenal. I saw Seger for the first time on the Against The Wind tour (Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee). It was an amazing show and I’ll never forget the virtuoso playing of the Silver Bullet Band’s lead guitarist Drew Abbott. It’s rare I’m lucky enough to catch an artist at his zenith but I did that night.

Unfortunately, the 80s seemed to confuse Seger, as it did a lot of artists. Synthesizers crept into his music for the first time on Like A Rock (1986). That was the first album that showed some cracks in Seger’s impeccable songwriting. There were still some great tracks but the album as a whole was pretty uneven. The best song on that whole album was a B-side cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” (Seger’s straight ahead rock has much in common with CCR, so it was a fit). The Silver Bullet Band was also pretty fractured by that time. Only keyboardist Craig Frost, bassist Chris Campbell and intrepid sax player Alto Reed remained in the band. Everybody else had quit or had been fired. After Like A Rock, the wheels really came off. If the 80s had been bad to Seger, the 90s were worse. The Fire Inside (1991) was just plain bad, and worse it was judge-y and preachy in places. It’s a Mystery (1995) was stunningly awful and was for the most part, unlistenable. I’m not sure what went wrong.

Seger went into semi-retirement. He stopped recording or touring for over a decade. It wasn’t until 2006 that he re-emerged with what was described as a “comeback” album, Face The Promise. I picked that album up and it’s where I gave up on Seger once and for all. Despite all the celebratory “comeback” talk, there was nothing on that album that I could connect with. The odious presence of Kid Rock and Patty Loveless didn’t help either. Seger’s voice just didn’t seem the same. It wasn’t the ragged instrument that say, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen’s voices became in their later careers, but something was off. It only got worse when Ride Out came out three years ago. I listened once, and moved on.

In large part for me, Seger’s music was resigned to the patina of the past. But then, a few months back, he put out a tribute single for his old friend from Detroit, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey Bob Seger’s Tribute Single For Eagles’ Glenn Frey: “Glenn Song”. And while it wasn’t a great, great song, Seger admitted it was never meant to be commercial, I thought it was a lovely gesture. Those guys had been friends for a long time. Frey plays the awesome guitar solo on “Til It Shines” from Stranger. It sparked my interest in Seger again, and that hadn’t happened in a long time. I knew an album was coming but I really didn’t pay that much attention. I mean, it’s been thirty years since I cared.

But then I was riding in my car and I heard the first single from I Knew You When, and I was stunned to hear Seger covering Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith,” from Reed’s masterpiece New York. If anybody had told me thirty years ago that Seger would be covering Lou Reed, I’d have laughed at you. And I will admit, despite the fact I thought I was done with Seger, that single pulled me back in. In the interest of full disclosure, Seger changed the lyrics. He deleted an entire verse about murder, rape and abortion, which, who can blame him. There’s a line in Reed’s original version that goes, “You can’t depend on any churches, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which was a confusing swipe at the rapaciousness of most churches (I guess, I mean it’s Lou Reed, who knows). Seger changed it to “You can’t depend on the President, unless there’s real estate you want to buy,” which is an obvious swipe at our current POTUS. Seger gets a bad rap from the rock press because his fan base is from the “red states.” Just because his fans hail from out here in fly over country doesn’t mean ol’ Bob Seger is anything but an old hippy. He’s never been as outspoken as Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Browne, but by covering this song, I think he’s letting us know where he stands. I like the song. Seger does a strong version. Nobody will ever match the venom of Lou Reed’s original, but it’s a great track.

After hearing “Busload of Faith,” I really wanted to love this album. Unfortunately I’d compare it to John Mellencamp’s last album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. There’s some good music here, but as a whole the album doesn’t quite click for me. Seger recorded the album with a bunch of Nashville studio guys. Gone are the days when he recorded half an album with the Silver Bullet Band and half with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. And I don’t know, maybe it’s because he’s using studio pros, some of these performances just seem bloodless. Many of the rockers, like “The Sea Inside” or “Runaway Train” are plodding. In the latter track, he makes the ill-advised decision to break into a spoken word section… never a good idea, unless you’re Elvis Presley. Seger’s production oddly doesn’t put enough air into the rockers, they don’t have space to breath.

I will say, the opening cut, the rocker “Gracile” which is a word I had to look up on Webster’s Dictionary site, is a great start. There is even a nice guitar solo. For some reason it conjured memories of cuts off of Mongrel, which in my opinion was Seger’s hardest rocking album. “Gracile” leads into “Busload of Faith” and then into a song “Highway” which is another of the better rock tunes. Seger is in finer voice than I’ve heard him in a long time. Maybe he finally quit smoking. The title track, like “Glenn’s Song” is clearly another tribute to his lost friend, Glenn Frey a man with “dangerous charisma.” It’s an “Against The Wind” type acoustic, mid tempo song and it’s the best thing here. His sense of loss over his friend is palpable. It’s a beautiful song, sung beautifully.

Alas, after those first four tracks, the album starts to lose steam. The ballad, “I’ll Remember You” is overly-labored and somewhat dull. Ballads used to be Seger’s stock in trade, so I was a little surprised that this one left me cold. He covers Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” and it’s complete with fiddle, fife and drum. It’s a confusing choice to me. It’s not bad, it’s just not something I could connect with. If you’re going to cover Leonard, you need to bring something special to the tune. “Marie” is another ballad, this time with a Spanish flair, and it’s better than “I’ll Remember You,” but I’ve heard so many better Seger ballads.

The first half of this record is the best stuff Seger has put out in years. Unfortunately the album loses momentum in the back half. Of the bonus tracks, you’ll find “Glenn’s Song” and another good upbeat track, “Forward Into The Past,” which might have been a better title for the album… “Blue Ridge” has some interesting instrumentation. Overall I’d say the bonus tracks are worth the purchase. While I can’t recommend this album as a whole, I will say, there is more to be interested in here than anything Seger has done in years. This might be his swan song, or it might be the sign of a rebirth. Don’t get me wrong, I realize most of these songs were written years ago but if the guy has some strong material in the vaults and wants to record it, I’m all ears. Besides, when I think about it, maybe Grandma was right… Seger still has nice eyes…

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LP Review: Beck, ‘Colors,’ An Uneven, Disappointing Foray Into Sugar Sweet, Pure Pop

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I so wanted to love this album. It’s been such a long time since Beck has put out an “upbeat” record, it felt like ‘Colors’ was long overdue…

Beck’s career started with the great 90’s “slacker” anthem “Loser.” That song was everywhere and we all loved it… “I’m a loser baby, why don’t you kill me.” It seemed to capture the mid 90’s, grunge zeitgeist in one, funny, word-packed song. His wordplay on that song almost had me convinced he was Bob Dylan’s illegitimate son. I thought, this song is funny, but this is obviously a one-hit wonder. We’ll never hear from this Beck kid again… Like most people, I didn’t take the time to check out the fabulous album that “Loser” came from, ‘Mellow Gold.’

In my mind Beck’s career seemed a lot like the Beastie Boys. The Beastie’s had captured the spirit of the mid-80s with their party anthem “Fight For Your Right (to Party)” in much the same way as Beck in the 90s. We all thought the Beasties were one-hit wonders as well. No one ever expected them to disappear for three years and return with their masterpiece, 1989’s ‘Paul’s Boutique.’ It appears there was a lot more to these Beastie Boys than we realized. And in much the same way, no one expected Beck to return in 1996 with his masterpiece, ‘Odelay.’ It was only then that many of us turned back to ‘Mellow Gold’ and thought maybe we should have seen it coming. It seems there was more to this Beck character than we realized…Isn’t it funny how life is really a bunch of a repeatable patterns… not to go all Zen on you.

While ‘Odelay’ set the template for much of what followed from Beck, dark, alternative rock dressed up with some pop flourishes and samples, Beck did take a left turn on his follow-up record, ‘Mutations.’ It would have been easy for Beck to follow-up ‘Odelay’ with ‘Odelay 2 – Son of Odelay’ or ‘Odelay, the Sequel.’ If you know what I mean… anyway, ‘Mutations’ was an acoustic-based album full of dark meditations. I especially liked “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Cold Brains.” In many ways, ‘Mutations’ set up Beck’s parallel career. He’d come out with a noisy album or two but then retreat to his acoustic side much in the same way that Neil Young used to do.

‘Mutations’ was followed by Beck’s funky, porn-soundtrack-like ‘Midnight Vultures.’ I wasn’t as big a fan of that one, but it veered more toward’s Beck’s ‘Odelay’ sound. He followed ‘Midnight Vultures’ with the sensational acoustic album, ‘Sea Change.’ Inspired by the break-up of a long relationship, ‘Sea Change’ was Beck at his most emotionally naked. As a man who is no stranger to that feeling, I really responded to ‘Sea Change.’ True to form, after ‘Sea Change’ Beck veered back to his noisier side. He released a series of records that were all uniformly strong. My pick of the litter is ‘Guero.’

In 2008 Beck released the oft-overlooked ‘Modern Guilt.’ It was produced by the infamous Danger Mouse and while it was as strong as anything he’d put out since ‘Sea Change’ it didn’t really have a hit single that took off. It remains, for me, one of his stronger albums. It’s very alternative rock, but with anything Danger Mouse, there are pop-flourishes. The lyrics tend toward the darker side of Beck’s experience. “Orphans,” and the title track really stuck out for me… It was while filming a video for one of the singles that Beck hurt is back. Apparently it was pretty serious. It was thought that he would never be able to perform again.

Hence, we didn’t hear from Beck again until 2014 when he returned, thankfully healed, with another masterful, acoustic album, ‘Morning Phase.’ While the Rock Chick is always more drawn to his noisier stuff, she put ‘Morning Phase’ into high rotation without any prodding from me. I was glad to see him back but I had to wonder… would Beck ever really rock out again. It was two years ago in 2015 that Beck put out “Dreams,” which I thought was a one-off single, but it’s actually on ‘Colors.’ Over a year and a half ago, Beck put out what I thought would be a first single to an upcoming album, which I guess it eventually became, “Wow.” (Reviewed on B&V previously, Beck’s New Single, “Wow”…”Giddy Up, Giddy Up”), making this the slowest album roll out since The Pretenders released the first single from ‘Learning to Crawl’ in 1982 and didn’t release the album until January of 1984, unheard of back then. “Wow” was a vintage Beck song. It’s catchy, it has pop-flourishes but at it’s heart lies an alternative rock song. But after it came out… we just had to wait. And wait. And wait. Until finally this last week Beck released the new album, ‘Colors.’ He did tease the record with the release of a couple more songs also reviewed here, Beck: Two New Songs, “Dear Life,” “Up All Night,” And Finally, New LP ‘Colors’ Slated For Oct.

‘Colors’ was produced by the now ubiquitous Greg Kurstin who’s work on Liam Gallagher’s first solo album was recently reviewed on B&V. Kurstin is probably more well known for working with Adele….which probably should have been a sign of things to come. I heard Beck interviewed on SiriusXM radio and he said while playing live he realized that much of his music is rather mellow. He went into the studio with the conscious plan to make an “upbeat” record that would get people moving when he played live. I’m guessing that the songs on ‘Colors’ will have that desired reaction.

All of that said, however, Beck and Kurstin have altered Beck’s formula here. Rather than alt-rock songs with pop flourishes, this is pop music with alt-rock flourishes. I was stunned at how shallow this record is. “No Distractions” sounds like it could have come from Katy Perry. He sings the words, “Boogie to the left, boogie to the right.” My God man, where is the guy who wrote “Baby, you’re a lost cause?” The song “I’m So Free” is probably the worst thing I’ve heard Beck put out. I typically try to stay as positive as I can, there’s enough negativity in the world, but “I’m So Free” is just unlistenable. He pronounces the word “free” like my daughter’s friends, “fruh.” The horror, the horror.

“Up All Night” was a song that I liked on first listen. But after a few spins I find myself skipping it. It sounds like something Weeknd recorded. So much of this record passes by, sounding the same, with little to no lyrical content to attach to. “Colors,” “Seventh Heaven,” and “Square One” are all nice, tight, danceable pop tunes. I’m just not a fan of nice, tight, danceable pop tunes, or pop tunes of any kind.

There are some positives. I still love the track, “Wow.” All the stuff that he released early, “Dreams,” and the great, Beatlesque “Dear Life” are great tunes. There is one ballad on the album, “Fix Me,” that is more in tradition with what I’d expect from Beck. It’s not that I would begrudge any artist the freedom to try different things, wear different hats, but this album left me cold. The Rock Chick gave it one listen and was done with it and she’s as big a Beck fan as I am. I hate to say it, but Beck just missed the mark here. Although, I’m sure he’ll see some dancing at his next show… I just won’t be there.

Sadly, I can’t recommend this album. However, I would recommend checking out the select tracks mentioned above and in previous reviews… If life is a set of patterns, I look for a stunning acoustic record up next from Beck… and I’d be OK with that…

Cheers!

 

 

 

LP Review: David Crosby, The Beautiful ‘Sky Trails’

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My path to the solo music of David Crosby was somewhat circuitous. By the time I graduated high school, I was already a big Neil Young fan. My college roommate Drew turned me onto Crosby, Still, Nash &/or Young and really expanded my knowledge of Neil Young’s solo catalog. I was always more into the yang of the Stills/Young part of the band than the yin of Crosby/Nash. Or are Stills/Young the yin and Crosby/Nash the yang? I can never keep that straight. Anyway, over time I began to realize that songs like “Deja Vu,” “Long Time Gone,” and “Guinevere” were amongst my favorite songs from CSN/CSNY. Crosby’s impassioned harmony vocal on “Ohio” is the thing of legend. There is something so distinctively sweet about David Crosby’s vocals…the guy was probably humming a counter-melody to his ultrasound whilst still in the womb… if they did ultrasounds back then?

In college, I was too busy burying myself deeper and deeper into Neil Young’s catalog to really explore any of the other members of CSN’s music. I finally got around to checking out Stephen Stills’ early solo work and his brilliant double-LP with Manassas. Eventually this meandering musical spelunking led me to the classic duo albums Crosby did with Graham Nash. Those guys are just meant to harmonize together. Two of their early records, are simply put, must-haves. ‘David Crosby/Graham Nash’ from 1972 and ‘Wind On The Water’ from 1975 are exceptional showcases for Crosby and Nash’s ability to bring out the best in each other. Crosby’s “Carry Me” and “Mama Lion,” both of which I believe were written about the passing of his mother, were the tracks that first jumped out at me from ‘Wind On The Water.’

Finally, years later, after Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young put out the box-set, triple-disc live album ‘1974’ I realized it was time to start checking out David Crosby’s solo stuff. The only thing I was really familiar with was the song “Drive My Car” from ’89’s ‘Yes I Can,’ his first LP after his stint in jail. It was while I was in college that Crosby famously melted down and ended up in a prison in, I believe, Texas. I always liked “Drive My Car,” it’s a great tune, but for whatever reason, maybe it was the legal stuff, I didn’t explore Crosby’s solo stuff any further. I did really like the songs Crosby contributed to CSNY’s reunion album, released around that same time, ‘American Dream,’ especially, “Compass,” a harrowing acoustic journey through his addictions. Yet, I never jumped in…

After the release of ‘1974,’ I finally went back to his first proper solo album, ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ What a stunner of an album that was. I’ve read in several places that it’s considered a “cult classic.” I just call it a classic. It was this bizarre amalgamation of folk, jazz with a good dose of psychedelia thrown in. I absolutely love the record. I know it went gold, but it’s surprisingly an album that you only rarely hear about. “Cowboy Movie” is an epic tune with both Jerry Garcia (who arranged and helped produce the album) and Neil Young on guitars. I’ve always been surprised that “Laughing” wasn’t a huge hit. It’s a beautiful song, amongst Crosby’s best.

The rest of Crosby’s solo career was sporadic. It wasn’t until 2014’s ‘Croz’ came out that the critics started to notice his solo recordings. He returned quickly in 2016 with the spare, acoustic LP ‘Lighthouse’ produced and cowritten with Snarky Puppy’s Micheal League. ‘Lighthouse’ was a return to and a publicly admitted homage to ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ It’s an unvarnished, almost under-produced gem of a record. While I didn’t hear anything as immediately impactful as “Cowboy Movie” I certainly appreciated the effort. After ‘Croz’ and ‘Lighthouse,’ it was official: David Crosby was on a late-career hot streak!

Now, merely a year after ‘Lighthouse,’ David has returned with his superb new album, ‘Sky Trails.’ Cheap Trick, Van Morrison and now David Crosby all putting albums out in successive years… it feels like the 70s again. The album is produced by his son, James Raymond who also plays a lot of the instruments on the album. There’s some great acoustic guitar work on this album and while I can’t find credits, I think its both Raymond and Crosby playing. Crosby has worked with Raymond before and I do think Crosby does better in collaborative situations, be it this one, Jerry Garcia on his first record, Micheal League on ‘Lighthouse’ or Graham Nash on those classic Crosby/Nash albums.

I kept reading that there were some songs on here that were Steely Dan-jazzy type songs. I was skeptical about that until I saw that former Steely Dan member Michael McDonald had cowritten a song here… I will say, the opening track, “She’s Got To Be Somewhere” is a funky Steely type keyboard with saxophone song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Aja.’ It’s a great track but it’s really the only Steely Dan-like track I hear here.

The epicenter of the album for me are the two overtly political songs, “Capitol,” and “Sell Me A Diamond.” Although in his 70’s it’s nice to see that his old hippy protest spirit is alive and well. “Capitol” is the best protest track Crosby has written since “Stand And Be Counted.” I dig the righteous rage. “Sell Me A Diamond” is a brilliant tune and reminds me of some of the stuff CSNY did on the wrongly maligned ‘Looking Forward’ album (It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t that terrible, folks). “Diamond” has a soaring chorus and a nice little pedal steel. I love the coda of the song, where Crosby repeats “Makes conflict free sound good to me…”

There are some great quieter moments here. Crosby duets again on this record, like on ‘Lighthouse’ with Becca Stevens on the title track and their voices harmonize like Crosby’s and Nash’s. It’s a spare, acoustic number punctuated with light saxophone. It’s an ethereal song about being lost out on the road and a true highpoint here. “Before Tomorrow Falls On Love,” cowritten with Michael McDonald, is a piano/vocal number with a great jazz vibe. I feel like I’ve just walked into a hip jazz club and there’s a guy singing at the piano. Crosby also beautifully covers Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia.” I know they go way back and she has had some health issues of late… it’s a nice gesture to hear Crosby sing one of her songs. “Somebody Home” is an atmospheric acoustic/vocals tune with just the right amount of organ and some more pedal steel and naturally, another great vocal.

Towards the end of the first half is another favorite of mine, “Here It’s Almost Sunset” that has some beautiful percussive elements with a sax that almost sounds like early Sting and Branford Marsalis. It’s a beautiful melody that drifts by like a cloud. There are just so many moods here. And through out are Crosby’s spectacular vocal performance. His voice brings all these different moods and tempos together, it’s the common thread. Toward the end of the album comes “Curved Air” with some great percussive elements and almost Spanish-guitar type riffing. It’s just great.

This is the most enjoyable, consistent thing I’ve heard Crosby do since ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name.’ It’s great to hear a more mature artist exercise his beautiful vocal instrument against these various musical backdrops. It still has that folky/jazzy vibe of his first record and I mean that in a good way. This is the kind of record that often gets overlooked out there in today’s market but is definitely worth the investment. Pour your next nightcap and drop “Home Free” on the stereo and drink in the night.

Cheers!