Album Lookback: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ June 4, 1984

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There aren’t many exact dates in my life where I can tell you where I was. Hell, I’m not sure where I was last Tuesday, let alone a random day in the 80s. When I was a kid I can remember my mom telling me she could remember where she was the day John Kennedy was shot… for the record, she was pregnant with me, ironing in her living room and watching ‘Days Of Our Lives’ when the network broke in to announce the sad news. I don’t have any of those momentous geopolitical days in my life where I remember where I was… I do vaguely remember I got up late and came downstairs to find that the Challenger had exploded…but I don’t remember much other than that. All that said, I know exactly where I was on June 4th, 1984.

It was summer time and I was home on break from college. In the summer, us folks who grew up in “olden times” had to find a summer job. I did a lot of different jobs, from temp work to bus boy to light construction. The summer of ’84 was a happier summer for me than the summer of ’83. In ’83 I’d gone through an embarrassing breakup and spent the summer as a man of leisure or more appropriately a man about town…the ladies of Kansas City were helping me grieve, with my eternal gratitude. By ’84 I was well past all that heartbreak and was desperately in need of money to fuel my beer and vinyl habits. My oldest and dearest friend Doug had a line on work… his father owned a small company that installed scoreboards and more importantly, built tennis courts. I was hired to help on the tennis court construction. Utterly difficult, filthy work in the hot sun, but it was an honest day’s work, unlike what I do now, and at the end of the day you didn’t really worry about the job, again unlike what I do now… Like the Cure, I submitted my unanswered prayers for rain every day… Every night after work I had to soak in hot tub to get all the grainy, hardened tennis court surface to slowly melt from the hair on my legs… it was that or pull out all of the hair on my leg with the tennis court goop. I’m a guy so I found that too painful… hats off to you ladies who pluck, shave and otherwise eradicate hair… but I digress. I was, in all senses of the word, a working stiff.

But on Monday, June 4th in 1984, and I don’t recall why, we weren’t out on a job. For some reason our foreman, I’ll call him Norman, had us working in the warehouse yard. We were moving large 55 gallon barrels of sludge around so they looked to be in some semblance of order. For some reason Norman put me in the giant one-ton truck and had me go pick up sand at a local quarry. I was instructed to hurry back and then he’d let me go to lunch. I can remember being in the cab of the one-ton, driving down Pflumm, headed back to the warehouse when the DJ on our local radio station, KY102 came on and said, “We just got the new Springsteen album and we’re going to put it on now…” This was huge to me… I’d been anticipating this record for weeks, since the single “Dancing In The Dark” had come out… I knew somewhere in Wichita, my college roomie Drew was equally anticipating this moment. When the first song “Born In The USA” came over the tinny speakers in that truck I got goose bumps and tears welled up in my eyes. The anguished cries of a Vietnam vet, who never turned his back on his country, although it seemed his country had turned its back on him, was one of those, music-hits-my-lower-brain-stem moments that bring me back to the turntable. After work, as filthy as I was, I drove straight to the nearest record store and bought the album. It was a big day.

The album by the same name, Born In The U.S.A was Springsteen’s biggest selling album. It’s the record where everything changed. The album spun off at least 7 singles, and sold a kajillion copies. This was where those of us who were in the relatively small (especially in Kansas) clique of people who liked Springsteen had to share him with the rest of the world. This album was Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau’s greatest dream. Making Springsteen a name that was uttered along with Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. Me, I liked Springsteen already, this was just gravy. Springsteen managed to merge a modern sound, complete with synths, into his core sound seamlessly, a thing a lot of 70s acts had struggled with. Many believe that’s why the album was as popular as it was. Naturally I have a different theory. To understand why this album was so popular, you have to step back and look at Springsteen’s career up to that point.

When Springsteen released Born To Run he was christened the new Dylan, the savior or the “future of rock and roll.” He was on the cover of both ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ the same week. The hype was almost too much. But then he ended up in a legal battle with his manager Mike Appel that drug on and on. He toured incessantly through 1976 and 1977 on tours dubbed “The Chicken Scratch Tour” and “The Paying the Rent Tour.” One has to wonder why there wasn’t a “Paying the Legal Fees” tour but I wasn’t there to consult with. Finally Springsteen made what was considered a come back in 1978 with Darkness On The Edge of Town an album that had harnessed his anger and frustration about his legal battles with the energy and feel of punk rock to great success. It had very little to do sonically with Born To Run, but it succeeded.

In order to publicize his return in 78, Springsteen allowed several radio stations in LA, NY, San Fran, and elsewhere to broadcast his concerts over the radio. These concerts were widely bootlegged and helped build Springsteen’s legend as a live act. Springsteen returned relatively quickly in 1980 with a double album, The River, which while uneven, to me was always the rightful successor of Born To Run. With all the hype of the bootlegged 78 concerts, they say that more people slept out for tickets on The River tour than actually saw him in 78. My friend Brewster was apparently on the bandwagon and bought 2 tickets but never asked me to go… It’s my belief that Shakespearean betrayal  is what caused his family to move to Houston, in shame. It was the only honorable thing to do short of cutting off a finger. By the time The River tour concluded Springsteen was huge… he was on the cusp of superstardom. So what’s he do… he releases, in 1982, the spartan, demo-sounding, acoustic record Nebraska. There might be more dour, depressing music out there, but one would have to go to some hippy coffee shop to find it. It was a shock. I get it, it’s a masterpiece, but it’s not an album you put on at a party.

If you take Nebraska out of the equation, it was actually a full 4 years between studio albums for Springsteen, much like the lapse between Born To Run and Darkness. The reason Born In The U.S.A. was such a smash, was the simplest reason – pent up demand. Yes, it’s a kick ass album, but the guy had been away for four-fucking years. That was an eternity back then. Especially for guys my age, who were too young to see the Darkness tour, we just had to settle for the bootlegs. Some of us had sadly missed The River tour – thanks Brewster. We were dying for new music from the Boss… we were dying to actually see this myth, this legend in concert. Which, we all did on this tour, I might add.

The album itself is amazing. Although I will admit I’ve always had a problem with the sequencing. The title track, which starts the record, is one of the greatest things Bruce has ever recorded. Max Weinberg’s drumming is monumental. He keeps the whole thing together. That leads us into another single, the great “Cover Me.” The next two songs, however, “Darlington County” and “Working On The Highway” both tell the same story. Both are about a guy working construction who gets busted for messing with underage girls. Although “Working On the Highway” was a great rockabilly song vs “Darlington County”‘s anthemic approach. The first ballad, and the second best song on the album, “Down Bound Train” also ends with the protagonist in jail. The 80s were a dark time… But again, the next song, which concluded side one is another ballad, ‘I’m On Fire.” Spread it out Bruce….

Side two starts with two songs about Little Steven. The recording of Born In The U.S.A. was fraught with it’s own Shakespearean drama… Springsteen’s side kick, Little Steven who always advocated for the music was pitted against, Iago, er I mean Landau who was advocating for a big, commercial record. Eventually Little Steven split for a solo career. Springsteen obviously wrote “No Surrender” and the next track, “Bobby Jean” about his dearest friend, Little Steven, who had left the band. The rest of the side 2, is a little better sequenced, finally ending on the beautiful ballad “My Hometown.”

Born In The U.S.A ended up being the titanic album that Landau and, it would appear, Springsteen wanted. The enormous fame and attention dwarfed anything Springsteen had experienced before… one might argue the success changed the trajectory of his career… but for this working stiff, on a hot June Monday, it was a game changer, so much so, I know where I was that day. It really is one of the greatest albums of all time.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Concert Review: Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, Kansas City, 5/12/18

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*Blurry photo taken by your intrepid blogger on an admittedly inferior phone

Well, Kansas City, you missed an amazing concert last night…

I had the rare pleasure of seeing a couple of old friends last night. The first, was my old college roommate, Drew who came up to Kansas City from Wichita to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. I’ve been a fan of Little Steven since my early days of listening to Bruce Springsteen, so it felt like I was seeing another old friend by seeing him. This was, amazingly, my first time seeing Little Steven as a solo artist. Unfortunately for the rest of my home town, only about three or four hundred other folks were in the 1700 seat theater. It’s a shame, because last night’s show as a full-on rock and roll, soul revue.

Little Steven is out on the road supporting his last album, Soulfire (LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career). While many people either know Little Steven from his gig as Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend/sidekick and 2nd guitarist, or from his acting stint on shows like “The Sopranos” or “Lilyhammer,” Little Steven has a much richer history. He wrote songs, played guitar and produced the early Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes albums. He wrote and produced music for Gary U.S. Bonds back in the late 70’s, early 80s which was nothing short of a resurrection for Bonds. Soulfire was a great album where Little Steven went back and revisited some of that material he’d written for other people but never recorded himself. In the early 80s Little Steven also launched a solo career of his own, while Springsteen put together Nebraska. I consider his first two albums to be essential listening, Men Without Women and Voice of America. 

The man must be doing this tour for the love of music. It certainly came across that way. He had, including himself on guitar, 15 people on stage. There 5 horn players and three back up singers. Marc Ribler was on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Rich Mercurio on drums, Anthony Altamonte on percussion. He had not one, but two keyboard players, Andy Burton on the Hammond B-3 and Lowell “Banana” Levinger on synths/piano and mandolin. Everybody played their asses off. Each of the horn players came to the front of the stage at one point to play a solo. The sound was perfect.

Little Steven started off with the Arthur Conley cover, “Sweet Soul Music” and it was the perfect song to set the tone. Last night was all about soul. Little Steven who talked often about teachers and our need to support them (his big philanthropy is TeachRock which provides teachers with resources to teach music), said at one point, “tonight’s show is about the history of rock and roll…which just happens to be my life story.” I like to think I know a lot about music… not like Little Steven.

After “Sweet Soul Music” the band broke into “Soulfire” the title track from Little Steven’s latest. I had forgotten what a great lead guitarist Little Steven was. Often he and Marc Ribler would meet center stage for a guitar dual. And I don’t recall a show where I saw that many beautiful, vintage guitars. After “Soulfire” they hit us with the great Southside Johnny song (written by Little Steven and on Soulfire) “I’m Coming Back.” It was rock and roll Nirvana. “The Blues Was My Business (And Business Is Good)” was epic. I think everybody solo’d during that one. I was worried, since the crowd was so sparse that he’d cut the set list down, but he played almost the whole set he’s been playing elsewhere… he omitted an Electric Flag cover they’ve been doing, “Groovin’ Is Easy” but played a full 2+ hours. Little Steven veered away from his more political music and stuck pretty closely to the music from Soulfire and his first record, Men Without Women than say, “Voice of America.” It fit his message of coming together in the sanctification of rock and roll, soul.

It wasn’t all horns and soul. A track I wasn’t familiar with, “Salvation” rocked hard, all fuzzy guitars. It was like watching a local garage band made good. “Down And Out In New York City” was funky goodness. “Princess of Little Italy” was one of the rare quieter moments with Little Steven flanked by Burton on accordion, and Ribler on guitar. It was a beautiful reading of that song from his debut solo album. Little Steven even took the opportunity to thank Southside Johnny for keeping his music alive at one point, before the great “Some Things Just Don’t Change.” He did a beautiful doo-wop track, “The City Weeps Tonight” that blew me away.

Little Steven was charismatic on stage. At times funny, at times heartfelt especially during speeches about how we needed to leave all the craziness outside (the theater) and come together in celebration of music. Music is the only religion I understand.

Afterwards, Drew and I ended up in a little bar named Julep that has more whiskey than I can count. We toasted Little Steven, drank a few tumblers of dark, murky fluids and told stories of the old days. It was just a perfect evening. If you’re out there and you get a chance to see the Disciples of Soul… do yourself a favor, buy the ticket.

Thank you Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for a wonderful rock and roll, soul education last night!

Robert Plant: “The May Queen,” The New Song From The Upcoming ‘Carry Fire’

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“It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen…” – “Stairway To Heaven,” Led Zeppelin

I am consistently amazed and impressed that artists can still surprise me. My corporate overlords had me traveling this week, as usual, and while suffering through the interminable wait for my flight home, I started checking out what the kids call, “the social media.” There were several indications that Robert Plant was up to something. His website had gone dark. It was literally just a black page. If you remained on the website long enough, letters started to rise to the surface, like a body floating to the top of a lake. Eventually the letters spelled out the phrase, “A Way With Words.” This was merely 48 hours ago…

The music press immediately began to buzz about a possible new album from Plant. I’ve been expecting a lot of new music over the coming few months – Beck, Van Morrison, maybe the Stones, Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age – all have albums coming. I had no idea Plant was even in the studio, he wasn’t on my radar, and my radar is usually pretty good. We haven’t heard from Robert since 2014’s excellent, but alas, largely overlooked ‘lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar.’ I couldn’t sleep last night, insomnia is my cross to bear, and so I got up and logged on. I was bouncing around the internet and realized, yes, Robert Plant is going to release a new album in October, entitled ‘Carry Fire.’

Best of all, a new single, “The May Queen” has been released as the first track. I downloaded it immediately. His backing band, like on his last album, are the superb Sensational Shape Shifters – Liam “Skin” Tyson, Justin Adams on guitar, Juldeh Camara on “West African” instrumentation, Dave Smith on drums, Billy Fuller on bass, and John Baggot on keyboards. These guys blend folk, rock and “world” music seamlessly. I bought a live record these guys did in Buenos Aires from 2012 and I just love it. Plant has been intent in the latter stages of his career in blending all sorts of different roots music – Celtic, Americana, African and even Welsh. It would appear he thinks all of this music springs from the same source, so why not mix it all together and see where it takes him. He’s quoted as saying he wants to blend his old music with something new. He’s certainly done that here. I love his sense of exploration. A lot of folks may be pissed that he’s not getting back together with Zeppelin (give it up folks, no means no), but I love what he’s doing at this stage in his career.

The new track, “The May Queen,” is a great start. I can’t find any writing credits on the web, although I searched extensively. With a name like “The May Queen” I thought it might be a traditional folk tune or a cover, but I believe Plant wrote this. The lyrics certainly seem Plant-ish and of course, The May Queen shows up in “Stairway To Heaven” so we have to assume this is Plant’s writing. The song is driven by a repeating acoustic guitar riff. There is some great African or “world” percussive elements. As has been case with most of his latter music, the vocals are front and center. Plant’s voice ages like fine wine, only getting better as time passes. There is a nice violin that accents the song as well. It feels folky and world beat all at the same time. The first line “Lay down in sweet surrender, your love’s so warm and tender,” embraces you like an affectionate hug from an old friend… I just love where his voice is right now.

This is a superb opening track, reminiscent of the first track from ‘lullaby,’ “Rainbow,” which was a track that is still in high rotation here at the house 3 years after it’s release. I highly recommend you check out this new Plant track. All these years later, he’s still exploring, digging through the past to find something new. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to. And, best of all, he’s released it just in time for his birthday, this Sunday August 20th. I look forward to spinning the new record when it arrives in October…

Happy Birthday Robert! Cheers!

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker,” The Title Track From A Lost Album From His Archive

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“When I was a hitchhiker on the road, I had to count on you…” – Neil Young, “Hitchiker”

No one loves releases from an artist’s archives more than we here at BourbonAndVinyl. There are certain artists that have a treasure trove of unreleased material, recorded over the course of their career. Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young are probably the foremost artists that spring to mind in this category. It almost sounds like the Rock N’ Roll Archive Law Firm of Dylan, Young and Springsteen… Dylan started the whole archive craze with his Bootleg Series. Actually to be completely correct, he probably started it all prior to that with his brilliant box set, ‘Biograph,’ which combined hits, album cuts, live cuts and unreleased material to tell the story of his career. ‘Biograph’ seemingly launched the box set business and showed record companies there is a strong market for these “vault” releases. I published a guide to Dylan’s Bootleg Series previously, ( Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide ).

Springsteen has released the box set, ‘Tracks,’ to clear out a small fraction of his unreleased studio stuff. Bruce also continues to release quality-sound live concert recordings ranging from ’74 to ’16 and just released the first ever soundboard from his 1977 tour… Don’t tell my wife, but that review will be coming soon. You could go bankrupt buying those old Springsteen concerts and she doesn’t need to know how much I’m spending… Speaking of concert recordings, The Grateful Dead, who have a long, storied bootleg history, have been releasing live concerts “from the vaults” even longer than Springsteen has, and deserve at least a mention here. However, I just can’t get into the Dead… that endless noodling drives me nuts, but if you’re into them, we don’t judge here at B&V. In my opinion, if you want jam band stuff, try Gov’t Mule or The Allman Brothers.

Neil Young got into the “vault” releases in a big, big way with his box set, ‘Archives Vol. 1,(1963-1972)’ released in 2009 which grew out of what was to be ‘Decade 2’ the follow up to the spectacular 1977 greatest hits package ‘Decade.’ As with anything Neil Young, he went way overboard and ‘Archives 1’ ended up being eight discs long, with interactive Blu-Ray versions and fabulous sound quality. No wonder it took almost 30 years to complete. While there were unreleased versions of songs, ‘Archives 1’ relied heavily on previously released material from his albums of the period. I didn’t purchase it, because I already had most of those albums excerpted from that time period. There were a number of live, concert albums contained in the box, that were released separately as stand-alone LPs. I bought ‘Live At The Fillmore East’ which was with the original Crazy Horse (Danny Whitten!), although it was only the electric half of that concert. I also purchased, from ‘Archives Vol 1,’ the ‘Massey Hall’ show and ‘Sugar Mountain: Live At The Canterbury House 1968,’ which were all acoustic performances. Neil is that rare artist that has two sides – roaring, rocking, electric distortion (usually with Crazy Horse) and quiet, sometimes spacey, acoustic songs. Often he performs both at shows, in different sets.

After ‘Archives Vol 1’ came out, we vault enthusiasts had to keep waiting as ‘Vol 2’ kept getting delayed. Now I’m hearing Neil is going to stream all of his material online… We’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve been waiting for ‘Vol 2’ to come out, I was happy to see a few years ago, Neil release ‘Live At the Bluenote Cafe’ from his ‘This Notes For You’ tour. That live album was reviewed on B&V and I still love listening to it, but I love the blues. ( Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live) ). One of the things that had me most looking forward to ‘Vol 2’ was the rumor that it would include a number of Neil’s “lost” albums. Neil is one of those rare artists who would go into the studio, cut a whole album worth of material and then pull it back and put it on the shelf. Prince was notorious for this as well.

There are several of these “lost” albums that I’ve heard of, and probably lots more in existence. ‘Chrome Dreams’ is one of the few studio bootlegs I have of Neil. There is purportedly an album from the late 90s/early 00s that Neil cut with Crazy Horse in San Francisco, in a studio famously used by John Coltrane, named ‘Toast.’ Another one I’ve heard of, but not a whole lot, was the all acoustic LP Neil shelved in 1976, ‘Hitchhiker.’ I was shocked the other day, when I saw it pop up on iTunes. Rather than wait until September 8th, the release date, I immediately ordered the single song available, the title track.

The ‘Hitchhiker’ LP was recorded in one long night, August 11, 1976, with just Neil Young on acoustic guitar and David Briggs, his friend/producer in a Malibu studio. Neil only took breaks as he labored all night for “beer, weed or cocaine.” Sounds like hazardous working conditions. Many of the songs on the track list are songs that have popped up on other albums (‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ ‘Comes A Time’) over the years. Some of these tunes were even on ‘Chrome Dreams’ which makes me wonder if that was merely a compilation of earlier tracks like say, ‘Freedom’ vs a newly cut album that didn’t get released.

I’ve listened to the title track “Hitchhiker” from this album almost non stop since yesterday. When I heard this was just Neil playing acoustic guitar, I thought the song would come off sounding like a demo. I was wrong, this is a fully realized song. It would be at home on side one of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ or either side of ‘Comes A Time.’ It’s a hypnotic, tone poem of a song. There are so many levels to the autobiographical lyrics. On the surface it’s the story of Neil hitchhiking from Toronto to Los Angeles. However, I think it could be also read as his journey from obscurity to superstardom. He also, very honestly, chronicles his journey from hash to amphetamines to weed. He even gets valium, but he “still couldn’t close my eyes.” Sound-wise this song reminds me of “The Needle And the Damage Done.” I know he later released this song on the Daniel Lanois produced ‘Le Noise’ but this is the definitive version of this song.

If you’re a fan of Neil’s acoustic side, this is a must have. I can only hope this will bring more vault releases of Neil’s “lost studio albums” in the future. I’ll definitely have more about this when the album comes out, but for now, turn this on and ride the highway with Neil…

Cheers!

Concert Review: Lucinda Williams, Kansas City, August, 2, 2017

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*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger

I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.

Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.

Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.

I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.

By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.

One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.

I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.

Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.

She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.

Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.

 

 

Mick Jagger: “Get A Grip/England Lost,” The New Politically Charged Singles

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I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do this weekend… the Rock Chick decamped last night for points West to visit our daughter. Our daughter recently changed apartments and it appears this cross-town move has precipitated the need for my wife to fly out to help “decorate the new, bigger place.” I have an image of the two of them racing down a desert highway, lifting off the ground, Thelma And Louise style. Oh well, anything for my daughter. In the words of Severus Snape, “…Always.”

Anyway, I was wondering what I would do with myself this weekend. In the old days, the moment my wife announced she was leaving me to my own devices, I would have been icing down beer and loading up on bottles of whiskey. My friends, or as I refer to them, the Troops, would be assembled. E-mails and texts would have been exchanged. Liquor, taxi cabs, grapefruits and lots of ice would be procured. In the really old days, perhaps a pack of Marlboro Lights too, but those days are long, long gone. I was never a real smoker. My wife normally would have returned to find me slathered in bourbon and take-out food… She returned home one time to find me holed up in the basement watching an old video of the E Street Band weeping over the fact that Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man” had passed. I kept saying, through my tears, “The Big Man, honey, The Big Man is gone…” In my defense, I was never really allowed to mourn properly and it had been a helluva weekend.

This weekend, I merely drew the blinds and pulled up the drawbridge. Last night I read Jo Nesbo’s excellent The Leopard in it’s entirety…while listening to Hendrix’s entire catalog… It appears I’m in a Greta Garbo stage. The Rock Chick has been gone for almost 24 hours and I haven’t spoken to anyone outside of work. Well, I did speak to the barista at my local coffee shop. Despite leaving strict instructions about watering plants and feeding her cat, the Rock Chick left literally nothing for me to eat here. So, in truth, I did speak to the folks at the coffee shop to order a scone. Dinner tonight will be a Rubik’s Cube for me to figure out… but who cares.

As I sat pondering my starvation, I saw on social media that Mick Jagger had released not one but two surprise singles. “Gotta Get A Grip” backed with, or as they used to say in the old days “b/w,” “England Lost.” As everyone knows, for us here at B&V, the Stones are our Alpha and Omega, so I was intrigued that Jagger had surprisingly “dropped” these two new songs. Suddenly, my weekend had purpose. Naturally, I purchased the tunes immediately.

Now, I realize that many people have been critical of Mick’s solo work. No one more than say, Keith Richards. Frankly, I love Keith, but he needs to shut his pie-hole on Mick’s solo work. ‘Wandering Spirit,’ produced by Rick Rubin and ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ were both superlative albums. Mick played to his strengths on those records and they’re must-haves, in the opinion of B&V. I’m probably in the minority here, but I also dug his side-project, Superheavy with Dave Stewart of Eurythmic’s fame and Joss Stone and a few others including a son of Bob Marley. I like when Mick explores his experimental side outside of the Stones. Nothing will match the push-pull of Mick and Keith and the Stones, but hey, Mick makes great music.

Artists are an interesting bunch. I’ve always aspired to that title, “artist,” but I have no musical talent (or frankly talent, period). I certainly can’t paint. The one novel I wrote was in a word, horrible. But I have always respected and admired true artists. They’re almost like human antennae in that they seem to sense and feel the zeitgeist of any particular moment and are able to translate that into music, like Dylan doing “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall,” seemingly prescient that the Cuban Missile Crisis was near at hand, or in paintings, like Picasso during WWII with Guernica. Reportedly, when asked by the Gestapo, about the painting, “Did you paint this?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.” As they say, “no one called Pablo Picasso an asshole, not in New York…” but I digress.

I’ve never thought of the Stones as overtly political. The Beatles had Lennon, who in their later years was increasingly outspoken politically and anti-Vietnam War. The Stones’ greatest political stance was an antipathy toward authority… which I’ve always shared. Question authority, at all times, people. However, on their last album of original songs, I noticed they slipped a political broadside, “Sweet Neo Con” onto the album. “How could you be so wrong, sweet Neo Con?” was the chorus. Keith, interviewed at the time, was nervous about Mick’s political statement… Perhaps Mick was going to be more vocal about his beliefs, musically….

Mick has dropped two songs this week that almost perfectly capture the mood of everyone I know. I realize that anything political from an artist will automatically divide the crowd. Half will love it, half will be offended. Well, when I think about rock music fans, that percentage may be a bit lower on the offended end… In a statement about the tunes, Mick said he didn’t want to wait for a year or so when the songs might not be as relevant. He felt the immediacy of these songs and having heard them, I completely agree.

These songs are a reaction to the bat-shit crazy way the world has turned upside down. I hear these songs as Mick’s reactions to Brexit. However, they could easily be the reactions of people I know here in the States to the current “Administration.” Mick has said he wanted to capture the anxiety of not knowing where things are going. If that was his goal, he has certainly hit the nail on the head.

I played both tunes for the Rock Chick and she immediately liked “Gotta Get A Grip.” “The world is upside down, run by lunatics and clowns…” what a great lyric to start with… Mick keeps singing, “Beat it with a stick…” There’s a great drum beat and a muted groovy guitar riff that turns ferocious as the song moves toward the chorus. It’s the funkier of the two songs. Mick’s vocals are slightly distorted as though they’re someone shouting through a bullhorn to a crowd of protestors. “Intellectuals shut your mouth, beat ’em with a stick, gotta get a grip…” This is priceless stuff, man. If you’re on this side of the equation, this is extremely stirring.

The other tune, “England Lost” is the one I liked best. Using the metaphor of fans at an English football (soccer for us Americans) game, it’s the perfect anthem for Brexit. “I went to see England but England lost, everyone said we were all ripped off…” Mick even breaks out the slightly Cockney accent at one point (like I’m an expert on English accents…yes, I’m guessing). The song is more mid tempo. It’s no sad ballad about England losing. It’s someone who is angry but not “burn a car” angry. “I’m tired of talking about immigration.” If you listen to these lyrics, punctuated by (as usual from Mick) fantastic harmonica, they are as charged as an electrical storm. The metaphor of sports fans, frustrated by the results/outcome of a contest is brilliant. It’s one of Jagger’s finest moments as a lyricist.

I love these songs. However, like Roger Waters’ new LP, ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’ your political persuasions may color your opinion. I think this is a great couple of tunes by a man, nay, an artist, expressing his opinion. And no matter what your  political stripe, expressing your opinion is an important, vital and wonderful thing. There are the dreaded remastered versions of these songs out there, but I prefer Mick’s rockier, original versions… Turn it up loud and head to the barricades, people! And oh yes, there will be dancing at the revolution if these songs have anything to do with it…

Take care of each other out there…

 

 

Liam Gallagher: The First Two Songs From “As You Were”

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In the interest of full disclosure, I never liked Oasis.

The Brothers Gallagher were always such buffoons. I remember seeing them on MTV back when MTV still featured music and they’d have to put subtitles under their dialogue. I never thought it was an issue with their accents, these guys were just thick. Who other than brothers would get into a fight on stage. You have one job as a musician, play music… and you get into a fight on stage. Christ, man, pull your heads out of your asses.

I remember when I first heard Oasis I thought, these guys are ripping off the Beatles. George Harrison was interviewed and mentioned he thought they were derivative and Liam Gallagher, the stupid one of the two brothers (and that’s saying a lot), responded by calling George “a nipple.” Maybe that’s British slang I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve always thought of nipples as good things, but I was raised clandestinely reading my dad’s Playboys… And as Robin Williams used to say, “Isn’t it great that men have nipples too?” but I digress.

In the latter part of their career I thought Oasis switched from ripping off the Beatles to ripping off the Stones. The riffs got harder. As a Stones fan, I at least appreciated the effort. Though, I’ll admit, I remained somewhat unmoved. The Beatles influence was still pretty strong.

As fate would have it, the dawn of a new millennium brought the Rock Chick into my life.  And, as I’ve documented many times before, the Rock Chick turned me on to a lot of really great music (and still does to this day). I wouldn’t have followed Green Day as intensely without her influence. I’d basically stopped listening to AC/DC’s music after ‘For Those About To Rock’ and the Rock Chick totally reintroduced me to their fine late catalog. Everything from ‘Razor’s Edge’ on is must have AC/DC. Sure, I’m still a Bon Scott guy, but Brian Johnson made great music with AC/DC too. As Karma often proves painful for me, I also found out The Rock Chick was an ardent Oasis fan. She had the whole catalog. I didn’t realize they’d put out that much music. I remember one of our first parties together as a married couple. Her friend Rich kept asking if we had any Oasis. I was dumbfounded. Maybe I’d missed out on something.

I put aside my bias and listened to the music. And damn if I didn’t realize these guys were actually pretty good. The first two albums, ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’ were Brit-rock gems. If you can put aside their personalities, they’re a talented group. I really dug the last couple of records they did, 2005’s ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ with it’s great first single, “Lyla” and 2008’s epic ‘Dig Out Your Soul.’ While they’d lost their superstardom in America, they were still cranking out great records. The momentum was palpable.

It was during this period The Rock Chick declared we were going to Denver to see Oasis at Red Rocks. Somehow, we ended up with front row tickets. I’m not a dancer. I’ve never been a dancer. When I dance, it looks like I’m running in place. I have the classic “white man’s overbite.” It’s embarrassing. I always half expect paramedics to show up and try to force wood between my teeth to prevent me from swallowing my tongue during the obvious seizure that’s occurring. So as I stood there, mere feet away from Oasis and being moved by the music, I air-guitared. I’m not proud of it, but it happens occasionally when I’m really into a song. And lo and behold, that rat bastard Liam Gallagher mocked me. He shimmied his hips and did a rather unflattering imitation of my air guitaring. To make it worse, he pointed at me, like I didn’t know he was mocking me. Sigh… I try to like these guys, and that’s the thanks I get.

Despite all that, the Rock Chick stuck with these guys after their rather ugly break up. I’ve heard a few of Noel’s High Flying Birds’ tunes and it’s pretty good. I even enjoyed that first Beady Eye record, tho not as much as the Rock Chick did. And yes, Rich still asks at every party if we have any Oasis, so I still hear quite a bit of them too. I guess the Beady Eye thing didn’t work out for Liam, so now we have his first ever solo record set for release in October.

I immediately announced this news to the Rock Chick and she downloaded the first two tracks from the record. I have to say, despite his starting the famous air guitar feud with me, Liam has a great album coming. The first track I heard was “Chinatown” and it’s one of those great, spacey, ethereal ballads that Oasis was famous for. It’s wistful and hopeful all in one song. I really dug it. It’s got a great melody that stick with you. I find myself humming the song after I’ve heard it.

The second track, “Wall of Glass,” is actually the opening track on the record, is a great rocker. It announces itself with a squalling harmonica which carries the tune. I really like the drumming on this song. It’s not a melt your face off tune, but it’s melodically rocking. While I’m probably on team Noel, Liam is just plainly the better singer. If the rest of the album is as consistent as these first two songs, this is going to eclipse Beady Eye by a mile and probably anything Noel’s put out. While I’d like to see the brothers work it out, for the Rock Chick and her friend Rich’s sake, ‘As You Were’ is going to be a great substitute.

Cheers! And yes, I still air guitar, Liam…