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!

Pink Floyd: First New Single Since 2014 – “Hey, Hey, Rise Up (Featuring Andriy Khylvnyuk)” For Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief

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I had to rub my eyes when I started seeing the stuff on line… A new song by legendary band Pink Floyd? That can’t be right. Perhaps it could be early on-set dementia catching up with me? Pink Floyd hasn’t done anything since 2014’s The Endless River, a mostly instrumental tribute to their then-recently passed keyboard player Rick Wright. And the songs on that album were crafted from jams they did when recording The Division Bell back in 1994. They just went in and did some creative editing and a little bit of addition to come up with the album. I dug The Endless River as it harkens back to that Floyd period after founding guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett departed and before the massive fame that came with Dark Side Of The Moon. And let’s face it, Pink Floyd was always at their best when lamenting a departed band member be it Syd Barrett, Roger Waters or Rick Wright. But after The Endless River, David Gilmour announced, that’s it, Pink Floyd are done.

Hence my shock when I saw that there was a new Floyd song on the way. It turns out Gilmour has gotten Pink Floyd back together for the most noble of reasons. The song is for charity, namely Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. All proceeds go to that. Gilmour could have released this as a solo track, but obviously he realizes that the creative/commercial reach of using the Pink Floyd name is far wider than just his solo stuff. Pink Floyd has always stood on the side of Peace and this is a perfect use of their clout. Joining Gilmour (guitar) is Nick Mason on drums – and if Gilmour and Mason are involved it’s Pink Floyd to me – with Guy Pratt whose played bass for Pink Floyd for a long time and Nitin Sawhney on keyboards. Gilmour’s daughter-in-law is Ukrainian so he obviously has a personal stake in all of this.

On vocals it’s Andriy Khlyvnyuk from the Ukrainian band Boombox. Gilmour sat in with Boombox a few years ago, although Andriy was absent that night, visa issues. More recently Boombox was touring, I believe in America, when the Russians launched their unprovoked invasion. He flew back to Kyiv to help defend his country. After being there a few days he posted a video on social media singing a Ukrainian song “The Red Viburnum In The Meadow.” It’s a “we will rise” kind of song. Very stirring. It was then that Gilmour got the idea of pulling Pink Floyd back together. Mason was immediately keen on the idea. Gilmour was quoted as saying, in a self-deprecating manner, “All I had to do was go in and play the “guitar god” part.” And he certainly does. There is also a very affecting video on YouTube, seen here:

I thought, “Charity single ok, I’m in,” but I didn’t expect to like this song as much as I do. Andriy’s vocal is as impassioned as you’d think it would be. I loved when U2 did that side project as The Passengers and did that song with Luciano Pavarotti, “Miss Sarajevo” so I found hearing someone sing in Ukrainian quite moving. And Gilmour’s guitar is, well quite inspired. He’s one of those guitar players who when I hear him, I know it’s him. His style of playing is so distinctive. He does not sing at all on the song, it’s all Andriy on vocals.

There are some who may argue whether this is “really” Pink Floyd. But it was the line up of Gilmour and Mason who were credited as Pink Floyd on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Rick Wright played on the album but wasn’t an “official” band member so he could avoid the hassles brought on by Roger Waters lawsuit against the band… which he eventually lost. So if you want to get caught up in the debate of whether this is Pink Floyd or not, go right ahead. But here at B&V this is Pink Floyd.

This is a great song put together for an even greater reason, Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief. Anything that can help is positive. I love that Gilmour cranked up Pink Floyd in the cause of humanitarian relief. The Russians atrocities get worse every day. I can’t believe we’re seeing a war in Europe in 2022. If this great song can shine more light on it, I’m in. Come for the noble cause, stay for the impassioned vocal and searing guitar solos. And as we used to say in high school, “It’s Pink Floyd, man.”

“All we are saying is give Peace a chance” – John Lennon!

Cheers!

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: Keith Richards’ Second Album, ‘Main Offender – 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition’

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I’ve always loved Keith Richards. Oh sure, when I was a young teenager just getting into rock n roll and I bought my first LP, the Stones’ Some Girls, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As a kid you always wanted to be the lead singer, they get the “chicks.” As I got older and saw more vintage footage of the Stones – and actually saw them live at Kemper Arena on the Tattoo You tour – my attention started to shift to Keef. Before I met the Rock Chick I had a great old pic of Keith that I tore out of a magazine and haphazardly taped to my bathroom mirror… I think there was drink involved with hanging that thing. Keith’s role in the band was so integral – he was out front leading the band with Mick but he mostly played rhythm guitar which tied him to Charlie Watts (RIP) in the back. His riffage was what propelled the band. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to diminish Jagger’s contribution to the band. They’re always stronger together.

Speaking of “stronger together,” and sitting here thinking about the Mick vs Keith feud of the late 80s really takes me back. It looked like we were going to be living in a world without the Stones and what a grim world that would have been! Keith never really wanted a solo career, he was content in the Stones and occasionally sitting in with friends like Tom Waits. When Jagger refused to tour for Dirty Work (a wrongly maligned album) and went to record his second solo LP, Primitive Cool, I think Keith was backed into a corner regarding a solo career. He was downright pissed. He knew he likely couldn’t replace Watts but he knew he needed a strong “engine” to fuel whatever solo music he was going to come up with. He got Steve Jordan to play drums and co write with (who is now replacing Charlie on drums for the Stones as they embark on their 60th anniversary tour) and Charlie Drayton who played bass. That was a damn strong rhythm section. Keith knew he wanted a band and he knew to build it from the bottom up. He then pulled in Ivan Neville to play keyboards and in a real coup he pulled in Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, the Every Brothers) to play lead guitar. He added Sarah Dash for harmony and backing vocals and the X-Pensive Winos were complete.

Keith’s first solo LP, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap is nothing short of a masterpiece. Fueled by his anger with Mick and excited by the power of the band he’d discovered in the X-Pensive Winos he let loose. Shortly after that he reunited with Mick – who’s Primitive Cool had been a commercial and critical flop, especially when compared to Talk Is Cheap – and they recorded the amazing Steel Wheels which I consider a late-period Stones masterpiece. It also happens to be the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones’ album. She’s into the Ronnie Wood period and has impeccable taste but I digress. After being comforted that the Stones could still function together and seemingly O.K. with the concept of he and Mick doing solo stuff and then returning to the band, Keith decided to do a second album with the X-Pensive Winos.

The second album Main Offender came out in 1992. Like I said, a lot had happened in between it and Talk Is Cheap. The Stones had reunited, recorded an album and toured – very successfully I might add. Keith was no longer supremely pissed at Mick. While I really dug Main Offender it did lose some of the intensity without Keith’s anger that made Talk Is Cheap crackle. Main Offender is more of a groove album in my mind, a little like the Stones’ Black And Blue where the band just finds a riff and rides it out. That method can yield some great results – the opening track “999” is one of my all time favorite Keith songs. There’s a moment in the song where he sings, “Don’t panic…” In the early 90s I was going up to Chicago to see my friends a lot and my buddy who I’ll call R.K. used to randomly tilt his head back while sitting at the bar and yell, “Don’t panic…” in much the same way as Keith. Ah, the good ol’ days. But there are degrees to how far the groove approach can take you. Songs like “Yap Yap” and “Body Talks” are merely riffs that they ride for almost too long.

There is some wonderful reggae on Main Offender. “Wicked As It Seems” is a great, muscular reggae song. So is “Words of Wonder” which is all groovy reggae. “Eileen” was a great single and great song. It verges on pop rock. The album’s last track is one of the prettiest ballads Keith has ever written, “Demon.” That one was my theme song for quite a while… “Demon in me… I can’t live without it.” Yeah, those were some dark times. “Hate It When You Leave” is a great song that verges on soul. There is a lot to love on this album and if you’ve never heard it or owned it, this new 30th-Anniversary version is a must have.

For those of us who already own Main Offender, the question is as it always seems to be, is the bonus material worth it? Much like the Talk Is Cheap – Deluxe Edition, this deluxe set includes a concert from London in 1992. The X-Pensive Winos are such a great band. The first sound you hear on the show’s opener, “Take It So Hard” is Keith’s rhythm guitar which reached out and grabbed me. They do tracks from both of Keith’s solo records and dip ever so slightly into the Stones’ catalog with a gloriously sloppy “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy,” and “Before They Make Me Run” from the beloved Some Girls album. For me, I think any opportunity to hear the X-Pensive Winos play is worth the price of admission. I will admit though, this live stuff is likely for true Keef/Stones fans only. It’s a great concert document with great, crunching guitars and wonderful drums, but I don’t know how often I’ll return to it… well, who am I kidding, I’ll return to it, it’s live Keith, but normal people might not return to it that often.

If you’ve never experienced Main Offender or you’re a huge live Keith fan, this Deluxe set is for you. I heard Keith got the Winos together for a @LoveRocksNYC charity concert. Well he had Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Jordan all there… I think Will Lee from Letterman’s old band played bass. It’s always great to see those cats back together and jamming. I highly urge everyone to give this Main Offender 30th Annviersary a spin at maximum volume. Just hearing this live stuff makes me want to tie a head scarf on and unbutton my shirt a few buttons… maybe put on some dark eye make up…

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: Eddie Vedder, ‘Earthling,’ An Eclectic Gem Of An Album From The Reluctant(?) Solo Artist

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“Invincible, when we love…” – Eddie Vedder, “Invincible”

I can still remember the first time I heard Eddie Vedder’s voice. It was on a song “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog – a band formed to honor the late Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone) that featured Chris Cornell (vocals) and Matt Cameron (drums) both from Soundgarden and Mike McCready (guitar), Stone Gossard (guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass) all from Pearl Jam. Wood had been roomies with Cornell and Ament & Gossard had been bandmates of his. Vedder came in to do a co-lead vocal on “Hunger Strike.” I remember thinking, this guy is gonna be big. I remember the first time I saw Vedder, in the video for “Hunger Strike” and thinking, that big, deep voice is coming out of that guy standing in the tall weeds on a beach somewhere. It was the early 90s and I wasn’t paying too much attention to what was then called “alternative rock,” but I remember thinking I certainly needed to focus on it more. I was so dim about alt rock that I didn’t even know that Temple of the Dog was a one-off.

A few months after that a woman I knew loaned me her copy of Pearl Jam’s Ten. I had heard half the songs on the album – by then I’d started listening to the alternative rock radio station in town – but I hadn’t realized that all those kick ass songs came from the same band. “Jeremy,” “Alive,” and “Even Flow” were all Pearl Jam? In my defense, in those days a lot of grunge bands sounded alike to my distracted mind. I couldn’t believe a debut album had all these great tracks on it. I’d kind of given up on new rock n roll before grunge hit. Ten was, in my opinion, one of the greatest LPs ever. It’s a perfect album. The song I always dug was, yes, the ballad “Black.” The early 90s were a tough period for me on that “interpersonal” level. While I immediately loved Pearl Jam I didn’t connect Eddie Vedder (or the other band members) with Temple of the Dog. Even then, I still thought TotD was a Soundgarden “off-shoot.” It was that year, late summer/early fall that Pearl Jam exploded like a super nova. I remember seeing videos of Pearl Jam in concert and Vedder, this handsome, charismatic lead singer swathed in flannel, was climbing up in the lighting rig and jumping into the crowds. I was dating a (different) woman at the time and she’d always say she loved his hands and as the Stones sang, “the way (he) held the microphone.” He was so visceral and intense. The sincerity gripped you like a vice and wouldn’t let you go. When he sang he looked like he was living the lyrics and was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. I was worried he’d stroke out on stage.

Needless to say, I was amongst the very large wave of people who crowded onto the Pearl Jam bandwagon. I heard Vedder tell a story on the radio once about an early PJ gig. He said the big room they were playing in was empty and he closed his eyes, started singing, and when he opened his eyes the room was full. It’s hard to overstate how “in to” Pearl Jam we all were. I remember being at the record store when it opened just to buy Vs the day it came out. Vedder drew a lot of the focus. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him. I was all in at the time but it wasn’t until the tour behind their third LP Vitalogy that I got to see them live – at Red Rocks, no less – and I was blown away. It was truly one of the best shows I’ve seen. They were at war with Ticketmaster and I was on team Pearl Jam. Vedder was as charismatic as I’d imagined and more so. I remember by the time they played the encore, “Yellow Ledbetter” I knew I’d always be a Pearl Jam fan. While I dug Vedder I’d be remiss in not saying, Mike McCready is a BEAST on guitar, but I digress.

Sadly, as the 90s wore on, grunge as a musical force ran it’s course. Worse than that, so many of the leading musicians of the movement passed away. They were kind of known for heroin and it claimed many of them. Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone (a great band everyone should check out) was an early casualty. Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was probably the biggest blow. Years later heroin and opioids hung around long enough to claim Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), and Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave). I’m glad Vedder never went that way. He had a tough childhood as documented in the song “Alive.” He was informed when he was in his early teens his real father had just died and the man he thought was his father was really his (abusive) stepdad. Eddie toughed it out, as did Pearl Jam. They have been a consistently good band all along. While known more for their live stuff these days, their studio output should get a lot more attention. Gigaton, while a very serious treatise on the environment, was a great record.

Pearl Jam has found a nice, albeit slow rhythm. They’ll put out an album, tour for a while, tour again, tour again, and then finally every six or seven years record another album. With that rather lax recording schedule one might think the members would do a lot more solo work, especially Vedder. While I fully expected a robust solo career from Eddie, it seems he’s been more reluctant about a solo career. He would do a stray soundtrack tune like “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” on the soundtrack for I Am Sam or show up to sing with the Who or Pete Townshend on a live LP or do co-lead vocal on “Drive All Night” with his buddy Glen Hansard but there wasn’t a Rod Stewart-in-the-Faces solo LP in between every band LP. It certainly would have been understandable.

His first “official” solo LP was actually the 2007 soundtrack to Into the Wild. The Rock Chick bought that album for me on Valentine’s Day one year. At the time I read that Vedder used Pete Townshend’s Who Came First, a homespun record indeed, as the blueprint for the soundtrack. It was an all right LP, but it was a soundtrack with a lot of instrumental tracks. I’m glad I have it just for the fabulous cover “Hard Sun” which is a staple on the B&V Summer/Sun playlist. He followed that up in 2011 with the fabulous Ukulele Songs, but even I’ll admit, it was an album of songs played on the ukulele. Not exactly something that’s going to compete with Metallica on rock radio. It really is a great album. At that point it’s hard to not see his solo career away from Pearl Jam as anything but casual and low key.

Finally, last week saw the release of Eddie’s first actual, proper solo album Earthling, with nary a ukulele in sight. It was produced by Andrew Watt who did Ozzy’s last solo LP Ordinary Man. Watt also plays bass on the album. They’re joined by drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) who also played on the Ozzy album and guitarist and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Josh Klinghoffer. Vedder obviously sings and plays guitar. Elton John, who also did a guest spot on the aforementioned Ozzy album shows up here on the song “Picture.” There are a few other guests who show up as well including Stevie Wonder (harmonica on “Try”), Benmont Tench (organ on “Long Way”), and yes, Ringo Starr (drums on “Mrs. Mills”). I have to say, I’m ecstatic about this album. It almost comes across as a side-project/band album as Watt, Chad Smith and Klinghoffer share some writing credits. All the lyrics are Vedder’s. If you’ve been held off on any of Vedder’s previous solo work, this is the LP you’ve been waiting for. Stylistically it’s an eclectic mix of styles and songs but they all hang together. I can certainly say, this album is never boring. The Rock Chick felt it came off the rails a little on the second half, but the more I listen the less I agree with her on that one.

The album starts with “Invincible” which sounds like a call to arms set to drums. It doesn’t sound like it but it reminds me of a mellower “Know Your Rights” by the Clash. It’s a perfect table setter, if you will. You veer from that into the most Pearl Jam-y sounding song on the album “Power of Right.” It’s a great rocking anthem full of fuzzy guitar verging on arena rock (and I mean that in a good way). Chad is the MVP on this song on the drums. This track could have been on Gigaton. Then comes the first single, the Petty-esque (even including Ben Tench on organ) “Long Way” which we’ve previously reviewed. At this point you’ve gone from an almost spoken word piece to a straight ahead rocker to a midtempo road song. Yet it all works. “Brother the Cloud” is another great rock song where Vedder laments a lost friend. It’s got a Talking Heads funky bridge that brings to mind the recent “Dance of the Clairvoyants” from Pearl Jam’s last LP.  “Fallout Today” is an acoustic driven track that I just love. Vedder’s vocal is wonderful. “The Dark” is another anthem style rock song, I love the riff on this one. “The Haves” is another beautiful acoustic ballad/love song. The gist of that track is the titular “Haves” may have all the money and stuff, but I’ve got you baby and that’s all I need. With all the style shifts over the first half, I have to admit, this sounds like the most fun Vedder has had in years. And it’s a lot of fun for we the listeners as well.

At this point we shift to kind of the harder rocking, punk section of the album, starting with “Good And Evil.” This is where the Rock Chick jumped off the bandwagon. At first listen I wasn’t crazy about “Good And Evil” with its Ramones style speed rock and barking vocals. It’s reminiscent of “Lukin” by PJ. It’s a meet me at the finish line track. The more I hear it though, I can’t lie, it’s growing on me. The next rocker is “Rose of Jericho” which I like significantly more. But it’s a muscular, more riff-y track. “Try” is another speed rocker with Stevie Wonder on harmonica. It’s another meet me at the finish line, speed rocking track. Stevie sounds like he’s running out of breath trying to keep up. The more I hear these tracks the more they grow on me, especially “Rose of Jericho.” Chad’s drumming in this section of the album is fabulous and Vedder/Klinghoffer meld their guitars very well.

Elton shows up on the duet “Picture.” It features an old school barrel-house piano from Elton. I really like this song, although the Rock Chick insists that Elton has lost a step vocally in his late career. Again it sounds like Elton and Eddie are having a great time and I like the song. From there, the album takes it’s broadest stylistic turn for the Beatlesque “Mrs. Mills.” Ringo even shows up to play drums on the string drenched song. Eddie doing a track that sounds like Paul McCartney wrote it? Yes, please. It’s a beautiful track.

This album is an absolute treat. It’s nice to hear Vedder and his cohorts – Watt, Chad Smith, Klinghoffer – playing so tightly and yes, having a good time doing so. I know the band is out on the road – with Pino Palladino from the Who stepping in on bass guitar – and I’d love to see this show. This is an absolute must have album and the first really great album of 2022. I urge all of you who like Eddie, who like Pearl Jam and who like rock n roll to check this one out. It may be an eclectic collection of songs but so is Exile On Main Street. As I’m prone to say, pull the bar down over your knees and enjoy the roller coaster ride!

Cheers!

Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Second Great LP In A Row, ‘Barn’

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“So, welcome back, welcome back
It’s not the same
The shade is just you blinking”

– Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Welcome Back”

I’ve never been one who is known for his Christmas spirit. At one point, some might have even called me a “Grinch.” I like to think I’ve gotten better about it since the Rock Chick, er “Mrs. Claus,” came along. I’ll tell you one thing, there’s nothing that makes me feel better and perhaps more festive than a great rock and roll band like Neil Young and Crazy Horse putting out an amazing new album, Barn. It’s all I’ve been listening to this week and let me say, Neil is on a roll.

It’s amazing to think that Neil first recorded an album with Crazy Horse – Danny Whitten, guitar; Ralph Molina, drums; and Billy Talbot, bass – in 1969. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was a complete change of direction from Neil Young’s solo debut the Buffalo Springfield-ish Neil Young. It had his first real hit, the great riff-rock tune “Cinnamon Girl.” The  album featured a couple of Neil’s most famous, long guitar work outs. “Down By The River” was over 9 minutes long. “Cowgirl In The Sand” was over 10. I think that album was the one that has always made me feel in my gut when I see Crazy Horse, there’s gonna be some loud guitar. When I was exiled to Arkansas after college, I used to play the title track, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” at top volume. Man, I hated it there… met some great people though. 

Rather than follow up the successful Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with another album with Crazy Horse, Neil joined Crosby Stills and Nash (creatively renamed Crosby Stills Nash and Young) for Deja Vu. Neil has followed his muse where ever it has taken him in terms of collaborations. The CSNY thing didn’t last, in terms of recording albums together anyway, and Neil was soon doing solo albums. For his next solo record, After The Gold Rush Neil still used members of Crazy Horse (although it was not a Crazy Horse LP) and he brought in a hot shot young guitarist Nils Lofgren who he promptly had play…piano. Neil would continue on with his solo career without doing anything formal with Crazy Horse for several years. On their own, Crazy Horse did put out a great debut LP, Crazy Horse. I think part of the reason Neil didn’t reunite with Crazy Horse during that period was Danny Whitten’s decline into addiction. In 1972 Whitten became a drug casualty and it fueled some of Neil’s darkest work.

It wasn’t until 1975’s Zuma that we saw an official “Neil Young & Crazy Horse” LP from these guys. By then they’d replaced Whitten with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar. I don’t think they could have found a more perfect replacement for Whitten, in terms of his chemistry on guitar with Neil. Neil said he hired Poncho because he had really killer weed which seems to be a good reason to hire a guy in a band. They continued that guitar “workout” tradition with songs like “Cortez the Killer.” Young always said he just played better guitar with Crazy Horse. “Like A Hurricane” certainly springs to mind as an example…

Neil would continue to work with Crazy Horse off and on through the early 80s. He’d do an album with them, then off to the Stills-Young Band, then back to Crazy Horse, then a completely solo thing. He stopped working with them for a while in the mid-80s, his creative nadir. It’s perhaps no coincidence that he’d hit his low point because he’d gotten away from that Crazy Horse base. Finally in 1987 he did reunite with Crazy Horse for Life, which should have made my list, B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?. It wasn’t until 1990’s masterwork Ragged Glory that Neil rediscovered the power and the glory of Crazy Horse. Everyone should own that album. From then on he’d work with Crazy Horse about like he did in the 70s, he’d bring them in every other album.

But then after 2003’s Greendale (a tour I mistakenly took the Rock Chick to) Neil and Crazy Horse drifted apart again. The theatrical nature of that Greendale show was not the concert to try and turn a person on to Neil Young but I digress. It wasn’t until 2012 that we’d see another Young LP featuring Crazy Horse. To make up for lost time they put out two LPs that year, Americana and then Psychedelic Pill. There are many who complain that Psychedelic Pill suffered from Young’s inability to edit and many lament the loss of his long time producer David Briggs who could have curbed Neil’s proclivity for long songs, but I loved it. “Driftin’ Back” was almost a half an hour. The Grateful Dead would envy that guitar jam. “Ramada Inn” and “Walk Like A Giant” were both over 16 minutes long. If you like squalling, loud guitar jams, I’ve got your LP for you.

After Psychedelic Pill, it seemed it might be over for Crazy Horse. Neil started doing albums and tours with the Promise of the Real guys. Sampedro actually up and retired. I sort of drifted away from Neil’s new music and started focusing on his archives. But just when I thought it was over, Nils Lofgren to the rescue. In 2019 Neil pulled Crazy Horse back together. Joining Neil, Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) would be erstwhile sidekick Nils Lofgren on guitar and yes, piano. Nils had some time off from his gig as Springsteen’s E-Street Band’s “most over qualified second guitarist.” The resulting LP, Colorado was the first new Young music that I connected with since, well, Psychedelic Pill. I called that album a good Neil Young album but maybe not a great one. Having gone back and listened to the whole thing this week, I think I was too reserved. It’s a great record.

For the first time, maybe ever, Neil has returned to working with Crazy Horse for a second album in a row, the new Barn. This is a really great album. I expected some real guitar fireworks between Neil and Nils when they did Colorado, and there was some of that, but I think Nils helps bring more structure to Crazy Horse than Sampedro did. He plays piano and even accordion and provides Neil with the perfect backdrop instead of that old jam until we get tired ethos. As was the case with Colorado, the topic foremost on Neil’s mind is the environment and the climate crisis we all face. Some might say he’s becoming more strident, but I think of it as Young being more urgent in his songwriting as the situation merits it. He also sprinkles in love songs to show there is hope. Neil’s nickname, for his vocal delivery has always been Shakey. I think at this stage you could change that to Craggy but as I said on the last LP, if you’re complaining about Neil’s voice at this stage you’re probably not a fan anyway.

While guitar jams are what you think of with Crazy Horse, the LP opens with the first single, the beautiful acoustic hymn for the environment “Song of the Seasons.” I love that Nils plays accordion on this song. Although it’s been said that the definition of a gentleman is a person who knows how to play accordion but chooses not to… I reviewed that song when it came out, see the link above, so I won’t go into it. “They Must Be Lost” is another great acoustic track with that signature Neil harmonica. There are a couple of great country-rock vibe tracks that I dug. “Shape of You” is the first of those and it has a rolling, lilt to it. It’s a groovy love song. “Tumblin’ Through The Years” mines that same field and may be one of my favorite tracks. I may have to include some of this on my “Rockers Going Country” playlist.

I love that acoustic, country rock style stuff, but fear not there is plenty of rock n roll guitar here. “Heading West” is a great riff rock travelogue song. I can feel the movement west in the song. It feels like you’re riding in a car or a train. “Change Ain’t Never Gonna” is a great State of the Union protest song. Nils plays a barrel house piano on that one. “Canerican” is Neil’s personal statement and is a very garage rock style song. “Human Race” is my favorite of the harder rocking songs. It’s all squalling guitars and ominous warnings about the climate. “The human race is run…” The centerpiece of this album, for me, is the song quoted above, “Welcome Back.” It’s a 8 and half minutes long. It’s Neil squealing out guitar notes over sparse backing. It has that haunted feeling that tracks on Tonight’s The Night had. Neil sings in a lower register, like a man who is delivering bad news. It’s a gripping, epic tune and that guitar raises goosebumps on my arms. It’s like Cassandra on the beach, issuing a warning that is ignored.

The album ends with “Don’t Forget Love,” a hopeful note. It’s like a message to remember as you’re around family for Xmas and your older relative mutters something fascist, or your hippy college cousin utters something socialist, rather than get mad, remember that we’re all family and we all love each other…or we used to anyway. It may sound a little 60s in attitude, but maybe we could all use a little of that these days.

Barn is simply put, one of the best records of 2021. I highly recommend everyone checks this one out. It’s the kind of LP that B&V was founded to extol. I hope everybody has a great holiday season – whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, or bemoan in my case. It’ll be another quiet one here at B&V but I get to see my daughter for a few days and that makes everything better.

Happy Holidays and as always, Cheers! (If you’re celebrating, remember, don’t drink and drive folks. Even I follow that rule).

B&V Playlist: Songs About Sleeping, A “Celebration” Of Insomnia… For My Fellow Insomniacs – If We Can’t Sleep, Let’s Rock

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“To sleep, perchance to dream…” – Hamlet

I was on the road for work this week. That used to be a weekly experience in my chosen profession as a traveling salesman, but now it just feels weird. Everywhere you go there are different rules and protocols around masks and safety which leaves me feeling out of step with the locals. There are certainly more lax attitudes toward masks the farther below the Mason-Dixon line you travel. With all the work travel I’ve done in my career – and it’s a lot… I feel like I’ve spent half my adult life waiting around in airports trying to catch an earlier flight – you’d think I’d be used to staying in hotels. But as I was painfully reminded this week in Louisville (bourbon capitol of the world), I can’t sleep in hotel rooms. I don’t know if it’s the strange bed and surroundings that throw me off or if maybe flying does something to my inner ear that makes sleeping impossible on the road. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t sleep when I travel, Lord knows I don’t sleep much better when I’m home.

I’ve always had a precarious relationship with sleep. I’ve had trouble turning my mind off and getting to sleep since I was a kid. Any more I can get myself to sleep but if I awake in the night, and I often do, I really struggle to get back to blissful sleep. They say you should get up and go read a book or something if you’re awake more than thirty minutes but in this tiny rental that I call the van down by the river where we live, I can’t make a move without waking the Rock Chick. That only compounds the problem: I’m up which is a drag but if I wake her, now I’m dealing with an angry, awakened spouse. As much as I hated it when she used to wake me up at 5:30am when she’d get up for work – she was raised on a farm… country people just get up early – her anger is doubled when I get out of bed at 3am and “walk the perimeter” as she describes my midnight wanderings. It doesn’t help that the cat sees me get up and thinks it’s time to eat and goes off like a tornado siren. It’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, we’re all up lets eat!” I had to negotiate with her early in our marriage to let me sleep until 9 on Saturdays and Sundays… they were my “sleep catch up days.”

My parents are partially to blame for my idiosyncrasies around sleeping. We moved when I was in fifth grade. I hated the elementary school I was attending but transferring to a new school seemed like an infinitely worse option. Let’s just say I was adverse to change. We changed my stepdaughter’s school a number of times when she was growing up and she adapted wonderfully with nary a complaint. What we didn’t realize was that we were just expanding her “criminal” network. She knew all the party kids in every school in town. It’s amazing what an upstanding citizen she’s become now… but I’m off track. When my parents moved us I reacted with the angry melodrama of a teenage girl… and I was an eleven year old boy. All of my bitching must have gotten to my parents because my bedroom was the last one to get any furniture. I had a bed and all my clothes were in boxes. In a fit of over-the-top complaining, I accidentally tore the rolling blinds off the window. I bent the metal clasp that held the damn thing and we couldn’t fix it. The window faced east. When the sun came up in the morning it felt like it was rising in my bedroom. After two days of being awakened at sunrise, I went to the linen closet and got a spare feather pillow that night and wrappedit tightly around my head. That provided darkness and silence. It was my “head fort.” Sadly, I got used to it and have had to sleep with a pillow on my head ever since. Try to explain that when you’re an adult and… entertaining… a young lady friend. “Yeah, I’m a freak, I sleep with a pillow on my head.” I also folded my hands on my chest Lilly Munster style which only sparked rumors that I might be a vampire.

When I reached college the people I lived with enjoyed messing with the kid with the pillow on his head. I didn’t sleep at night so I’d often sneak off and nap. My roommates would vie with each other on who got to wake me up. If I was in a really deep sleep and you shook me awake or called my name it would typically result in my screaming and throwing the pillow. It’s like I was terrified about waking up. I once famously exclaimed, while being awakened, “Sleep is hell.” With all of these people hazing me when I was asleep, it’s a wonder that I was able to nod off at all. Drinking didn’t even help. It would help you get to sleep but once your body burns off the alcohol the sugar wakes you up and I mean WAKES you up. There’s nothing like being slightly hungover and wired at 3am sitting on the edge of the bed and re-litigating every bad decision you’ve ever made. I guess I would amend my statement from college to “Waking up is hell.”

Today it’s not much easier to sleep. Uncertainties in the political landscape, the pandemic still hanging on, the Chiefs playing like shit and work being more stressful than ever all combine to keep me awake for days. I literally can’t let my mind wander too far in any direction or I’m up pacing the floor until the cat emits his visceral “meow” and then the Rock Chick is yelling, “What the fuck are you doing,” and I’ve got a full scale insomniac disaster on my hands. People, the struggles are real. I can’t help but remember when I was a kid and it was bed time how I’d stall and stall. My parents would have to battle with me to go to bed. I’d beg to watch the news so I could see the sports… then it was Carson’s monologue… Finally my parents just put an old black-and-white portable TV in my room and hoped I’d eventually fall asleep. Anything to get me out of the living room and upstairs. Now, I can’t wait to lay down. From there I just have to hope my mind cooperates and I can drift off. I often do the B&V version of counting sheep – I name my albums, alphabetically by artist… I start with AC/DC’s Back In Black and if I make it all the way to Cream I know I’m probably not gonna go to sleep.

I was laying awake in a Louisville Hilton this week worrying about something or other and so I got up and fished out my iTouch from the computer bag. I was shuffling through some music. I started with some recent stuff, Mellencamp’s new song “Wasted Days,” and Bowie’s covers songs (“Trying To Get To Heaven”) but then started randomly selecting stuff. I heard the Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping,” and then “I’m So Tired.” I realized I might be onto something. If I can’t sleep I might as well rock and roll. I started stringing tracks together on the theme of sleep and waking up and pretty soon I had 50 songs. I realize that sleep can often be a metaphor for death so I ended up excluding the great blues rock track “Sleeping In the Ground” from Blind Faith. If there are any other great tunes on this subject, put them in the “comments” section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. Here are my picks:

  1. The Beatles, “I’m Only Sleeping” – The track that gave me the idea… I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately
  2. Billy Joel, “Sleeping With The Television On” – I personally can’t sleep with any light or noise in the room so no TV for me. It’s hard to watch TV with a pillow on your head. From his great punk-influenced record Glass Houses.
  3. Audioslave, “Wide Awake” – Great rock song, “I found you guilty of the crime of sleeping when you should have been wide awake.” Rest assured Audioslave… I’m always wide awake.
  4. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “Sleeping Around the Corner” – From their great self-titled LP, there’s also a Lindsey solo version out there.
  5. Smashing Pumpkins, “In The Arms of Sleep” – Deep cut from their magnum opus Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
  6. R.E.M., “Daysleeper” – Oh how I miss napping. The Rock Chick frowns on the practice… marriage is a compromise. Y’know, Elvis was a “daysleeper.”
  7. The Beatles, “I’m So Tired” – Indeed I am…
  8. The Cure, “Lullaby” – A song about a man being eaten by a spider. Don’t even get me started on my dreams…
  9. The Rolling Stones, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” – I don’t think the person this is addressed to is doing much sleeping but I do think they’re having more fun than I am.
  10. Starcrawler, “Born Asleep” – Great song from a great new-ish band.
  11. U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – People were mad about Songs of Innocence but there’s some good stuff on it.
  12. Jack White, “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” – I love Jack White. Check out his new tune “Taking Me Back.”
  13. Smithereens, “Behind The Wall of Sleep” – I’ve only recently discovered the Smithereens. What a great rock band.
  14. Graham Nash, “Sleep Song” – From his first solo album.
  15. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – A very relevant call to arms in today’s troubled, divided times.
  16. Eddie Money, “We Should Be Sleeping” – A barrel-house rocker. I love the Money Man.
  17. The Pretenders, “I Go To Sleep” – From their great 2nd LP.
  18. Cream, “Sleepy, Sleepy Time” – So many rock bands have explored this topic.
  19. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “I’m Tired Joey Boy” – A live cover of a Van Morrison song. I just like this version better.
  20. Pearl Jam, “Sleeping By Myself” – Also done solo by Vedder on a ukulele.
  21. Metallica, “Until It Sleeps” – My all time favorite Metallica song. I can’t explain it… this track gets me pumped up which perhaps means I shouldn’t be listening to it while trying to sleep.
  22. Norah Jones, “Wake Me Up” – That voice… I’d pay to have her come sit by my bed and sing me to sleep. Only B&V would put Norah Jones and Metallica on the same playlist. Open your minds, folks.
  23. Robert Plant, “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night” – I love this bizarre deep track.
  24. Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – Iconic rap rock.
  25. John Mellencamp, “Warmer Place To Sleep” – I’ve always loved this funky rocker.
  26. The Modern Lovers, “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” – I love these weird bastards.
  27. Fiona Apple, “Sleep To Dream” – I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. This track is from her debut.
  28. Jack White, “Weep Themselves To Sleep” – I can’t wait for his next solo album.
  29. Warren Zevon, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” – There’s so much essential Zevon out there.
  30. The Kinks, “Sleepwalker” – I feel like the Kinks don’t get enough attention on B&V. I need to work on that.
  31. Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, “Woke Up This Morning” – Page & the Crowes doing a live cover of an old blues track.
  32. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – I think Cobain was secretly a blues fan.
  33. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Wake Up and Live” – Wise advice from Bob.
  34. Leonard Cohen, “Lullaby” – I love late period Cohen. The voice is gravelly but his last few records are the type that B&V was founded to extol.
  35. Peter Wolf, “Sleepless” – Title track from his best solo LP.
  36. John Lennon, “How Do You Sleep?” – His angry song aimed at McCartney. This is just such a hateful track. But if I were to answer John, it’d be, “not very well.”
  37. Paul Simon, “Insomniac’s Lullaby” – This could have been the title of this playlist.
  38. Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark And Silent Gate” – This one is clearly a metaphor for death… in this case I believe written for his late wife after she committed suicide. It’s too pretty a song to exclude.
  39. Tom Petty, “Wake Up Time” – From his masterpiece Wildflowers.
  40. Billy Idol, “Endless Sleep” – Another great deep track.
  41. R.E.M., “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” – I don’t do either, really.
  42. The Romantics, “Talking In Your Sleep” – I sometimes wake up screaming… No talking, literally screaming. Sleep is hell.
  43. Billy Joel, “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” – A lovely track written for his daughter.
  44. The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker” – I always thought Jakob Dylan’s group was a solid rock band.
  45. David Bowie, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” – From the aborted Toy album which will finally see release this year.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “So Tired” – Produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame. Truly strange bedfellows.
  47. Eddie Vedder, “Sleepless Nights” – From the aforementioned ukulele based solo album.
  48. Tom Waits, “Midnight Lullaby” – From his brilliant debut album.
  49. Queen, “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” – This reminds me of a funny story about my brother in college, but those records are sealed.
  50. The Rolling Stones, “Sleep Tonight” – A perfect place to end this list… A Keith song and a ballad no less.

There ya go folks! Again, if I missed any, put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. I like to think of these playlists as “ours” vs “mine.” If you’re an insomniac like me, here’s hoping that you’ll fall asleep soon. If not, hopefully these tracks will entertain you while the rest of the world is sleeping.

Cheers!

Review: Jackson Browne, ‘Downhill From Everywhere’ – A Voice We All Need

“I’m still out here under the streetlight, baby, I’m still lookin’ for something in the night…if all I find is freedom that’s alright…” – Jackson Browne, “Still Looking For Something”

The Rock Chick and I loaded up the car and headed for points West to see the daughter this last weekend. While I was out living my Jack Kerouac “On The Road” fantasy I saw that Jackson Browne released a new album Downhill From Everywhere. I also saw David Crosby had released a new album as well… Jackson Browne and David Crosby both releasing an album on the same day… what is this, 1973? I can’t believe it’s been seven years since Browne last released a studio LP, the late career gem Standing In the Breach. Had B&V existed back then we definitely would have written about that one. Since 2000, Browne has only released four studio LPs, an average of 5 and a quarter years between each one. Needless to say when a singer/songwriter/producer like Jackson Browne drops his first album in damn near a decade, it’s a big deal. For those of you who only know him from “Somebody’s Baby” on the soundtrack for Fast Times At Ridgemont High, there is so much more. He’s had quite a storied career.

I first heard or learned about Jackson Browne the way most people did in the 70s, from rock n roll radio. I can remember prior to my rock awakening, hearing “Dr My Eyes” or “The Pretender” on the stereo at the neighborhood swimming pool when my mother would careen into the parking lot, barely stop and shove us from the car. She always said she was going to be back by 3:00pm and we should be waiting… but it always kinda felt like she might just keep driving and we’d never see her again. Jackson Browne specialized in beautifully sung introspective songs about love, relationships, life and death. These were not topics a pubescent 13 year old was into. I wanted songs with loud guitar about girls and more girls. It was my brother – who as always was out in front of me – who brought a Jackson Browne LP into the house, 1980’s Hold Out. Critics derided it as “self-indulgent” but it’s his only number 1 LP… I loved sitting in my brother’s room listening to “Boulevard” or “Call It A Loan.” While “Hold On Hold Out” with it’s cheesy spoken word part was cringe-worthy I always liked “That Girl Could Sing” and the lyric “She was a friend to me when I needed one, wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d done.” Even as a teenage virgin I hoped to meet a woman like that.

It wasn’t until college when I was infinitely more secure in my musical tastes that I delved into Browne’s catalog. I picked up his live album Running On Empty which was actually a concept album about the road. I also picked up his debut LP, a seminal singer/songwriter album and of course, The Pretender. His first five LPs are essential listening. After what was considered a disappointing outing on Hold Out, he followed up with Lawyers In Love. The title track was a joke that didn’t land. He has a great sense of humor evinced on songs like “Rosie” or “Ready Or Not” but people didn’t get “Lawyers In Love.” Browne’s songs were always highly personal but after that LP he veered hard into politics. He’d been an activist for a while and had even formed MUSE, Musicians United for Safe Energy and hosted the “No Nukes Concert.” I bought 1986’s Lives In the Balance and 1989’s World In Motion but eventually sold both of them at the Used Record Store. World In Motion was a tough listen… Lives In the Balance despite being political had some great songs.

After a rather cold string – two LPs that weren’t up to his early work and two LPs that were borderline strident – I drifted away from Jackson Browne. His “comeback” LP the very personal, break-up album I’m Alive is a phenomenal record. It really set him onto a stretch of great LPs. Everything he’s done since has been really strong – the kind of LPs B&V were founded on. I really got back into Jackson Browne on The Naked Ride Home from 2002. I highly recommend that disc for everyone. After I’m Alive Browne seemed to come to the realization that he’s better off mixing the personal with the political to make a point. When he balances those two viewpoints in one song, its magic. Time The Conqueror and Standing In the Breach are late career gems… although the latter is the pick of the litter for me, Time The Conqueror veered slightly too far into the political.

In the early 90s I say I drifted away from Jackson Browne’s music but in reality I just drifted back to his early LPs. I finally went out and bought his 2nd and 3rd LPs on CD, For Everyman and Late For the Sky. I was living in a crappy 1-bedroom apartment on Brush Creek, working a dead end job and fresh off a break up when For Everyman and Late For the Sky went into high rotation on my stereo. I was living next door to an exotically beautiful Egyptian woman who, when her boyfriend visited, can be best described by Paul Simon, “Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize.” I was laying awake late at night lamenting my life choices but the neighbor lady was celebrating life at full volume. I was sitting in front of my stereo one day when there was a knock on the door… I turned down the music and opened the door. There stood the screaming Egyptian woman. “What is this beautiful music I always hear coming from your apartment?” Stunned, I sort of mumbled, “Jackson Browne, Late For The Sky.” I sensed she wanted to come in and listen but for some reason I didn’t invite her in… Oh, a life of missed opportunities. Perhaps she could have “been a friend to me when I needed one…” I guess I’ll never know.

I actually saw Browne live for the first time in the middle 90s on the Looking East. He played a show down at the Liberty Memorial. He was amazing that night. I remember he dedicated the song “Fountain of Sorrow” to his ex girlfriend Darryl Hannah. He said, “I’d like to dedicate this song to Darryl Hannah who seems to hate me now…” I went down the rabbit hole on that whole situation this last week… I still don’t know what happened. I saw him again opening up for Tom Petty and he delivered again. If you get a chance to see Browne and his band live, buy the ticket.

Having been seven years since his last LP, as I mentioned before, hearing Downhill From Everywhere is like getting an email from an old friend you haven’t chatted with in a while. Browne’s songwriting chops are still very much in place. His voice is ageless. He’s backed on this LP by Greg Leisz and Val McCallum on guitar, venerable Bob Glaub on bass, Jeff Young on keyboards, and Mauricio Lewak on drums. These guys play like an actual backing band vs a bunch of studio hired guns. Chavonne Stewart and Alethea Mills who have been Browne’s back up vocalists for a long time are back for Downhill From Everywhere. The thing I’ve always loved about Jackson’s music is that he’s always searching for something, for answers. It’s a world view I can understand. He’s also a consummate craftsman – which some critics use as a put-down – but his records always sound great. His early albums all had David Lindley’s slide guitar all over them and McCallum and Leisz capture that same vibe here.

There is so much to like here. The opening track, “Still Looking For Something” is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s a soulful mediation on the search for truth. It’s a feeling I can relate to…I feel like I too am “still out here under the streelight…” “My Cleveland Heart” is a rock n roll song. Why Cleveland and not Detroit? I don’t know. Maybe its a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame reference? It’s a classic Browne rocker. “Minutes To Downtown” is a beautiful song about finding love later in life which more than a few of us can relate to. “The Dreamer” is the perfect example of Browne finding the right mix between the political and the personal. It’s a song in support of the DACA dreamers but told through the lens of a young girl. It’s simply put, a brilliant song. “We don’t see half the people around us, but we see enemies who surround us.” That line pretty much sums up the Fox News crowd… The ballad “A Little Too Soon To Tell” is a classic Jackson Browne song that sounds like lazy, late summer on the porch. “Song For Barcelona” is a track that transports me back to that wonderful city that I hope to return to some day… perhaps to live out my twilight years… “Love Is Love” comes across like a beautiful mantra.

There are only a few moments that miss the mark for me. He does a duet with Leslie Mendelson, “A Human Touch.” I think it was recorded for a movie. Too much Leslie not enough Jackson. “Until Justice Is Done” isn’t a bad political track but it doesn’t really take me anywhere. I dig the sentiment I just can’t get into the song. It sounds like it was something written for a protest rally and I’ve been to plenty but can I dance to it? Other than these slightly “off” moments, this is an amazingly strong late career record.

This is one of the strongest albums of 2021 so far. If you’ve haven’t heard Downhill From Everywhere or any of Jackson’s late period LPs, especially Standing In The Breach or The Naked Ride Home I urge you to seek those out as well. This is a prime example of a classic artists who continues to put out incredibly strong, late career music that deserves a listen. I just hope Jackson comes around a little more often, he’s a voice we need. Pick this one up, pour something strong, get out on the porch and groove. You never know…the pretty neighbor girl might just knock on your door.

Cheers!

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Streaming Now On Hulu – Paul Talks Music With Producer Rick Rubin

McCartney 3,2,1

“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players that ever played the bass.” – John Lennon

I mentioned on a recent post on the great documentary Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) directed by Questlove, how disappointed the Rock Chick and I are about the dearth of new rock n roll coming out these days.  Well, at least a dearth in the rock n roll we’re interested in here at B&V. People kept saying that musicians, unable to tour in 2020 due to Covid, were holing up in studios and taking the time to write new stuff… I haven’t really seen that come to fruition yet in 2021. I will say, I do believe we’re on the cusp of a bunch of new music coming out – both new stuff and archival. Typically when we find ourselves in a bit of a lull on the new release front as we’ve been lately, I find myself turning to the television. After we wrapped up watching the aforementioned Summer Of Soul last weekend we turned to the new, limited series McCartney 3,2,1. Over the course of six, thirty-minute episodes Paul sits down for a candid, lengthy conversation with uber-producer Rick Rubin. As binge watches go, we burned through this one pretty quickly.

First, I’ve always been a big Rick Rubin fan. He’s produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cult, the Black Crowes, the Beastie Boys, Metallica and AC/DC. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. He literally resurrected Johnny Cash who had been left for dead by the Country Music “establishment.” When producing Black Sabbath’s 13, he told them, “Pretend you’ve just recorded your first album. What comes next?” He’s clearly a vibe guy, not a technician. I saw a documentary about the Avett Brothers and Rick Rubin was producing them. I think he owns and maybe lives in the Malibu studio (named Shangri La) where the Avett Brothers doc was filmed. Bob Dylan and the Band recorded Planet Waves there. The man is a rock n roll Guru…and frankly looks the part.

I am also a huge McCartney fan. When you came of age in the mid to late 70s, McCartney was at a zenith and was most people’s favorite ex-Beatle. Lennon went into semi-seclusion in 1975 when he went into his “house-husband” phase after the birth of his son Sean. The late 70s saw the once promising careers of George Harrison and Ringo Starr sort of… fade. McCartney kind of became the de-facto “favorite” as he was the only one in the public eye in a big way at the time. I will say, even then my brother’s favorite Beatle was George… the Quiet Beatle. Which makes sense as I got the loud/obnoxious gene that he was able to avoid. Were I quizzed now, with the benefit of time and reflection I’d probably say John was my “favorite” Beatle. Although I absolutely love much of George Harrison’s solo output. And, I still love Paul McCartney. His late career stuff from Flaming Pie onward is the type of stuff that B&V was founded on – older artists making phenomenal, oft-overlooked new music. I loved his latest, last year’s McCartney III. Having just written all of that, I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t have a “favorite”… maybe I just like the Beatles.

A few years back I saw Black Sabbath on the tour for the aforementioned 13. I met a dude who plays the drums in a local band, the Sunset Sinners. The guy has been around music and musicians his whole life. We’ve had kind of an on-going dialogue about music and the creative process ever since. He has a term for certain bands, albums or songs. He says some stuff is too “musician-y.” Meaning, that the song or the band is so geared toward other musicians that it may not be popular on a broad scale. He once told me he thought the Queens of the Stone Age were too much of a “musician-y” band that they’d never reach a mass audience. (That was me using the term in a sentence for all you Spelling Bee fans.) It’s like when political commentators talk about conversations that are too “Inside the Beltway,” which I assume means its too “wonky” for most of us folks on the street. Or perhaps when a comedian tells an “inside joke.” Same concept, loosely speaking.

McCartney 3,2,1 finds Paul – and isn’t it cool after all these years we still know him by his first name – and Rick Rubin sitting in a studio (maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s Shangri La, I’m not sure). The show is filmed in black and white which classes everything up. McCartney has on what appears to be jeans, a white t-shirt and a cool jacket. After all this time McCartney, especially without hair-dye, is still the person with the coolest hair in the room. Rick Rubin looks like a beach bum who has wandered in off the strand. Rubin looks indistinct and rumpled. He’s got baggy shorts on with a t-shirt that I’d be willing to bet has food stains on it. He’s barefoot during most of the shoot. At times he sits down with his legs crossed and he really looks like a Rock N Roll Buddha. Buddha is always laughing but Rick Rubin is almost always smiling through his thick and unruly beard. He looks like a rock version of Yosemite Sam. I will say Rick is tan – that comes across even in black and white – and looks trimmer than he used to. The clothes, wild hair (whats left of it) and beard make Rubin look like some crazy, rock n roll aesthete or monk.

The Rock Star and the Producer spend the entire time talking music. It’s clear that Rubin is the fan here, smiling and geeking out at some of the things McCartney is describing. They sit, like in an interview show, but not for long. They’re often standing up as though so excited about the conversation and music that they can’t sit down which is understandable. They stand for the most part at a mixing console where Rubin summons up different songs from McCartney’s past. It’s mostly Beatles stuff but there are a few solo or Wings’ tracks that get played. They keep the conversation very lively although at one point I thanked the Rock Chick for hanging in there for six episodes because it’s basically watching two experts stand around and talk about their craft. It’s like being in a bar and overhearing people talk about their favorite sports team. When Rubin starts a track he usually turns elements of the song up loud and other elements down. He’ll break down the bass part or the drums. He likes to focus on guitar solo’s because, well, who doesn’t? He’s very interested in how the Beatles were able to do things in the studio that nobody had done before. Rubin is like a pupil with a master. I enjoyed that but I thoroughly understand that doing all of that, breaking down/analyzing songs is really well, musician-y. This is inside stuff. Most of us listen to the song on the radio and let the whole thing wash over us. Some of us put the headphones on and try to concentrate on the bass or the drums. These guys take that and blow it up to infinity. You won’t hear a complete song, with all parts played. It’s fascinating to hear how they put together a song but again… you gotta really love music which luckily I do. It really sheds light on a song when you strip it down to the studs.

By deconstructing all of these songs it does make you realize what an amazing bassist McCartney is. He talks about how the bass line in some of the tracks helped change the shape and sound of certain tracks. Nowhere is that more evident than on John’s “Come Together” which started as more of a Chuck Berry riff. McCartney talks a lot about the recording process and how the Beatles came up with certain sounds. He has nothing but praise for producer George Martin. They played a guitar solo and Rubin, who is obviously having the time of his life asks who played the solo. McCartney says, “I want to say I did because it was so bad.” That got a chuckle.

During the course of the six programs, while discussing certain songs and the piece parts of tracks McCartney does share some great Beatles stories. Although be prepared, the conversation is non-linear and they bounce all over the place. One could call it a rambling conversation. On one episode they’re talking Beatles and out of nowhere jump to “Band On the Run” which caused the Rock Chick to say, “Wait, I thought this was a McCartney solo song.” Some of the changes of subject matter may cause a little whiplash. Paul tells about the genesis of the song “Michelle” coming from his going to parties at Lennon’s place when John was in art school and pretending sing in French to get “the girls.” He mentions that Lennon was never complimentary of much but that he once told him he really liked one of Paul’s songs when they heard it during an album playback. You can just tell how much that meant to Paul. Rubin at one point reads a quote where the speaker talks about what a great bass player Paul is. Rubin asks him, “Do you know who said that?” Paul didn’t know but it was John who said all of it (excerpted above). It was a nice moment as you could tell that meant a ton to McCartney. He seemed a little flustered.

He also tells the story of the first time they played with Ringo on drums, “He elevated the whole band.” He also said that George was incredibly generous to “let” Eric Clapton play the guitar solos on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I’m guessing not a lot of people realized how in the Beatles they all played parts interchangeably on songs – McCartney exclusively played bass but Lennon, he and Harrison all played guitars including lead. Whoever had the hot hand in the band got to play the part. George Martin often jumped in on piano. They were so open to the creative process and that freedom and their confidence let them really do extraordinary things that other bands couldn’t do.

I thought all of this stuff was incredibly fascinating. If you’re a Beatles fan this is a “must see.” Although I will admit and warn everyone again, there are parts of this that are very, very “musician-y.” I watched it all in two sittings and maybe breaking it up a bit would be better if you’re not into the craft and details. Its certainly fun to watch Rick Rubin geek out in such a big way. Paul is still an amazingly charismatic and charming man. You might need to turn it up a little because, a) its the Beatles’ music which needs to be played loud and b) McCartney is prone to mumbling… especially in the scenes where he’s chewing gum. I really enjoyed this rare, up-close-and-personal candid conversation with one of Rock n Roll’s legends. I think you will too.

Cheers!