Review: Apple TV’s ‘The Velvet Underground – A Todd Haynes Documentary’ – An Enjoyable, Stylized Look At The Iconic Band

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It was just one of those exhausting weeks. After another arduous day I needed a distraction. Much to the Rock Chick’s consternation, I filled a tumbler with bourbon, flopped down on the couch and pulled up Apple TV. As I’d been threatening to do for a few weeks now, I pulled up the new documentary by Todd Haynes about the Velvet Underground. The Rock Chick was on her feet and across the floor to the stairs faster than an Olympic sprinter. I hadn’t seen her clear a room that quickly since the days I was really into watching Kojak reruns. Say what you want but there hasn’t been a decent cop show on TV since they cancelled Kojak. I had hoped the Rock Chick would hang around and watch the documentary with me but I can fully understand her reaction. I think a lot of people have the urge to flee when they hear the Velvet Underground is coming up.

I know in the early days of my rock n roll obsession I was afraid of the Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground was Lou Reed, vocals/guitar; John Cale bass/keyboards; Moe Tucker, drums; and Sterling Morrison, lead guitar. When I was in college I used to love to get those Rolling Stone magazines counting down the top 500 LPs. The Velvet Underground’s iconic first LP, produced by Andy Warhol no less and featuring German-born singer Nico, The Velvet Underground & Nico was not only always on the list but it was usually near the top. I had always been under the same mistaken impression I had about punk rock back then, that it was all just avant-garde noise. There were a few bands I was “afraid” of in those days. I figured if you put the Velvets on the stereo the needle would break, your ears would bleed, neighborhood dogs would howl, you might grow hair on your palms, all sorts of bad things would result. I’m still not sure how I garnered that impression from merely reading about the Velvet Underground. I’d never heard any of their music. It wasn’t played on the radio. No one I knew owned any of their LPs. It was Brian Eno who famously said, “The Velvet Underground’s first LP only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” That might actually be true. So many musicians cite the VU as an influence from David Bowie to Michael Stipe of R.E.M. to Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers (who was pals with the band and is featured in the film).

In the mid-80s I started getting into Lou Reed. You typically get into a band in a few different ways. Either a friend turns you on to an iconic older recording or you would hear something on the radio that was then current and it would catch your ear. I know it’s a risk to my credibility when I tell you my first Lou Reed LP was the then-current album, New Sensations. That album might be the most accessible album Reed ever put out. Even then I was just dabbling in Lou’s catalog. I picked up Transformer, the David Bowie produced LP that is probably Reed’s best known work. That’s the album with “Walk On The Wild Side” on it. Right out of college when I went into my exile in Arkansas I heard “Dirty Boulevard” on MTV… there was really no radio in Ft. Smith. I loved that dark track. “It’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs,” is a quote I still use today when referring to my job. I immediately went to the record store and purchased New York which had just come out and I loved that record. I was spending so much time in my car in those days I bought it on cassette which I now regret. I wore that thing out driving from Ft. Smith to Shreveport or Dallas or back to KC… anywhere but Arkansas. That led me to dive deeper into Reed’s catalog. Although admittedly, I still shied away from the Velvet Underground.

It wasn’t until the late 90s that I decided to stick my toe in the Velvet Underground pond. I had dug out that Rolling Stone magazine from the 80s with the top 500 albums ranked and had decided I was going to buy all of them. Crazy, yes I know. It was a great time of musical expansion for me. My friends had all settled down and were having children. I was just hanging out listening to music… which if I think about it is what I’m still doing. Thank God I married the Rock Chick. Anyway, as part of my push to buy all 500 of these records, I went out and bought the Velvet’s debut LP with Nico and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t all just noise. Yes, John Cale brought a kind of drone thing to the band but Lou Reed was a fabulous songwriter. Nico’s vocals were interesting on the few tracks she sang. The thing that grabbed me about them was the lyrics. Their debut came out in 1967, “the Summer of Love.” While everyone was in tie-dye and bright colors singing about love being all you need, the Velvets were wearing black and singing about heroin and S&M. They were nihilistic and dark. What’s not to love there. They were a real counterpoint to the hippy thing.

The day I bought The Velvet Underground & Nico I had listened to it once when a buddy of mine called to go out and get a beer. He and I went bar hopping. This guy was really into smoking pot, something I’ve never enjoyed. He had some hashish. He kept telling me I’d enjoy it as “it’s a different kind of high.” That is always the pitch with the pot guys. I don’t like it, it makes me anxious and I haven’t done it in years. But there’s always a pot guy telling me to try edibles or hash or something because it’s a different high. On the night in question, I must have been drunk, because I believed my friend’s claims about the magic hash. I vaguely remember taking a hit just as we pulled up in front of this bar, O’Dowds. It was a block from my apartment. I stepped out of the car and felt “the fear” wash over me with the hash, smiled at my friend and promptly walked home without him, leaving him standing on the curb. There is no such thing as a different high… it’s all one anxious, paranoid, miserable experience for me. But hey, I don’t judge, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

I got home and to calm myself, I decided to put on my new LP purchase, the Velvet Underground. I was thinking, yes, music, that’s the ticket… that’ll bring me back to reality. I’ll drink some water and lay down. I put the album on and was wandering around my apartment in the dark. Suddenly I hear Lou Reed in the darkness, he’s waiting for the man… his voice terrified me. Rather than take the album off I just sort of, hid under the bed until it was over. In retrospect, maybe I should have put on some Hendrix. While the VU terrified me that night, I can assure you, I haven’t been afraid of their music since. I quickly bought the rest of their catalog. Their second album, White Light/White Heat is actually the avant-garde noise I had feared but I understood them and it didn’t scare me anymore. Their third LP, The Velvet Underground which features the great songs “Pale Blue Eyes” and “Jesus” is probably the most pop-oriented thing they’ve ever done. If you’re a novice fan that might be the place to start. That’s the album where John Cale, who was the most aggressively experimental quit and Doug Yule joined. Yule could sing but he was also a more traditional bass player. Their final LP, Loaded is also a masterwork, despite Reed quitting during the process. Don’t be afraid!

I was hoping for some in-depth look at the Velvet Underground. There’s a lot of mythology around the band. Todd Haynes documentary is a very stylized look at the band. He does go in depth into the background of the band but it does get a little lost in the split-screen, chaotic manner it’s presented. He starts by profiling Lou Reed and then John Cale. He has a number of friends and family of the band (Sterling and Lou are gone) who talk about their experience with the band. It was great to see Moe Tucker interviewed. John Cale is prominently featured, as he should be. Jackson Browne pops up, and while he’s the last guy you’d associate with the VUs, he was friends with Nico and possibly her lover. That Jackson… he got around. It’s a thorough look at the VU but Haynes way of presenting it in this faux Warholian way gets in the way of the story for me. The film starts with, yes, a split screen and on one side is a close up of Lou Reed’s young face… that was all it took to send the Rock Chick running from the room.

I was also a little disappointed there wasn’t more, well, music in this thing. You’d get snippets of songs but nothing substantive. There seems to always be music playing but its not in the forefront as much as I’d have liked. I would have liked Haynes to let us see the Velvets on stage a bit more. Let us hear them playing live. Again, there are snippets of that in the film but it jumps around quite a bit. I do like the retelling of the story of when Reed fired Warhol as the band’s manager. Warhol had discovered them and put them in his multi-media Plastic Explosion Inevitable show. They’d play and he’d project a film onto the band. He produced their first album and pushed Nico into the band. The first LP was a commercial dud and Reed got pissy and fired Andy without consulting the band. Warhol was so angry, and he apparently rarely got angry, he called Lou “a rat.” It was the worst thing he could think of.

The documentary goes on to chronicle Cale’s departure and Yule’s entry into the band. Eventually the lack of commercial success killed the VU. Reed left, everybody else quit but Yule. The moment Reed left, for me, is the end of the Velvet Underground. I get why Cale quit. He wanted to push the band further into it’s experimental sound and Reed wanted the band to be more accessible and well, sell a few more albums. Those conflicting views on the direction of the band caused that split. Those two did reunite for a tribute LP to their mentor Andy Warhol upon his passing, Songs For Drella which I also highly recommend.

I enjoyed this documentary but it’s really only for fans. Clearly I’m ambivalent about this doc. I liked it but I don’t feel strongly enough to recommend it to everybody. This is a great place to perhaps start your journey into the VUs. It’s a very stylistic, pretty movie to watch. I’m not sure this will turn anybody onto their music though. If you’re interested and you want to watch this doc, I will warn you… beware of family members sprinting from the room. It’s too bad… this is a band that deserves a wider audience. I know their fame has grown over the years but this is a truly under appreciated band.

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: The Rolling Stones ‘Tattoo You – Super Deluxe’ – Revisiting The Landmark Album

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Oh how I love it when we get into the good stuff!

For those of us who were too young and missed the Stones’ late 60s heyday the album Tattoo You in 1981 is about as iconic a Stones disc as you can find. Hell, I was young enough I even missed the Stones in their druggy, decadent 70s and believe me, I’d have settled for that. As I have often confessed, the Rolling Stones aka “The Worlds Greatest Rock N Roll Band” are my alpha and omega when it comes to rock music. It’s where it all starts and ends for me. Actually in my case, they actually are where it started for me. They were the band that caused my entire rock n roll obsession. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was relegated to the back seat of my mother’s Oldsmobile 88…plush velvet seats in the Olds… Ever the “even-Steven” of parents, my sainted mother made my brother and I, ever the quarreling siblings, take turns sitting in the front seat. My brother was upfront, “riding shotgun” as the saying goes, and as was his habit he immediately turned on the radio and flipped to the local rock n roll station, KY102. At this stage in the game, I was not into music whatsoever. The only thing I’d ever turned on the radio for was to listen to a Royals game. Oddly these days I don’t even follow baseball… I was the only person in Kansas City who didn’t watch the Royals win the World Series a few years back, but I’m getting off topic here.

My brother flips on KY/102 and I hear this funky music come blaring out of the speakers. The guy is singing something about “we’re gonna to come around twelve, with some Puerto Rican Girls who are just dyin’ to meet you, we’re gonna bring a case of wine… lets go mess around like we used too.” Well that sounds like fun! I don’t know any Puerto Rican girls… a whole case of wine? I thought this was all fascinating and hysterical at the same time. But it was the music that hit me in the solar plexus and then moved it’s way into my groin. I was new to being a teenager, but as I recall most things that hit me had a way of moving down to my groin… I remember leaning forward into the front seat and asking my brother, “What is THIS?” He replied in his laconic way, “It’s the Stones… I think it’s called “Miss You”” I begged my parents for a stereo for Christmas. My brother had one… it was time to up the rock n roll arms race in our adjoining rooms. Admittedly however, looking back, I realize “Miss You” was pretty much a disco tune. Strangely I seem to remember kind of enjoying Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” his disco “sell out” single… Gads, am I secretly a disco fan?

Later I heard “Beast of Burden” and that was it… I knew I had to buy my first album. I trudged down to the record store and with my Christmas money I bought 1978’s Some Girls, which at the time was the Stones’ latest album. I also picked up Steve Martin’s comedy LP, A Wild And Crazy Guy launching my second obsession, comedians. I wore Some Girls out. I eventually took a blank cassette into what I considered the real inner sanctum of rock n roll in our house, my brother’s room, and taped his copy of Hot Rocks. Those two albums got me through junior high school. I’d play one or the other every morning before going to catch the death wagon er I mean the bus to school. I hated school and the Stones always… I don’t know… cheered me up. I eventually started buying other LPs, Van Halen’s debut, and ZZ Top’s Deguello but I always came back to the Stones…

I was visiting my grandparents one summer a few years later. I hounded her to let me take her transistor radio that she and grandpa used to listen to, well, the Royals games on, to bed with me. The night time DJ, when the clock hit midnight announced he was playing the new Stones album Emotional Rescue in its entirety. The Stones? Have a new album? It hadn’t dawned on me bands could keep putting out new music, I was still trying to catch up on all their old music. On Emotional Rescue I didn’t really have the experience of hearing a first single, I heard it all at once. As soon as I got home and had enough money from mowing lawns I raced to the mall in my dad’s AMC Hornet (no power steering, 3-on the tree gear shift) and picked it up. To this day I’m not sure what the first single was… for me Emotional Rescue was an immersive LP experience.

It was the summer, August I think, before my senior year in high school a few years later when the KY102 DJ announced he was going to play “the new Stones’ song.” Once again I was taken by surprise… I didn’t know the Stones had recorded a new album. I was so unaware as a teenager. Anyway, they played “Start Me Up.” I have to admit, all these 40 years later, it kind of left me cold when I first heard it. For the first time I didn’t rush down and buy a Stones’ LP upon its release. True, my musical tastes had spread out – I was into Zeppelin and Sabbath but also the Who and was dabbling in the Beatles and Springsteen. I’m not sure why I felt that way, I love the song now, despite the Rock Chick insisting it’s overplayed. It wasn’t until I heard “Hang Fire” that I thought, well, I need to buy this thing. And I think “Hang Fire” was the third single… I really took my time on this one. I’d also heard everybody in my class raving about “this new Stones album” and couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I’m the Stones guy…I have been for years… I’ll be the judge of this.” 

Well, I loved the album. It didn’t have any country stuff like “Far Away Eyes” or reggae like “Send Her To Me” on the previous two albums, it was pretty much straight-up rock n roll. What we didn’t know back then was that the Stones, specifically Mick Jagger, had cobbled this thing together from “leftovers” from sessions dating back as far as 1973’s Goats Head Soup. There were a couple of tracks co-written by Mick Taylor their erstwhile lead guitarist… he had to sue for royalties. The Stones had planned to tour in 1981-82 and they wanted to do so behind a new album. Keith had kicked heroin and was starting to reassert himself in the Stones. Mick was used to sitting in the driver’s seat, he’d been driving the thing for almost a decade and resented the affront to his authority. Since they weren’t getting along, they couldn’t pull together a new album. It’s a shame my sainted mother wasn’t on the payroll to make sure things were kept even-Steven between the Glimmer Twins. Mick went back into the studio and worked with producer Chris Kimsey to overdub new vocals on old demos and outtakes. “Tops” and “Waiting On A Friend” dated from the aforementioned Goats Head Soup sessions. “Slave” and “Worried About You” dated from the Black And Blue sessions. “Black Limousine,” “Hang Fire” and “Start Me Up” were from Some Girls. “Start Me Up” actually started as a reggae track entitled “Never Stop” that’s been widely bootlegged and that I’ve never heard. All of the rest of the tracks were from the Emotional Rescue sessions.

For me, and for everyone really, “Start Me Up” is one of the Stones’ most iconic songs. But there were so many other great tracks on this album – cobbled together or not. They divided the album between a fast side (side 1) and a slow side (side 2). While critics weren’t crazy about most of the ballads on side 2, believe it or not, there are a cult of people who love Tattoo You Side 2. From the fast side, I love “Black Limousines” a bluesy rocker that ranks among the Stones best deep tracks. I love “Hang Fire” and “Slave.” “Neighbours” was a great rock song. Keith’s vocal outing, “Little T&A” is a wonderfully vulgar rocker. On the slow side, the standout track is obviously “Waiting On A Friend,” with its iconic video. The original version has a Mick Taylor guitar solo in place of the Sonny Rollins sax solo. I remember critics hailing it as a return to “classic” Stones form… of course it was, it was recorded during their classic period. “Worried About You” is another great song and I loved seeing it played live a few years back.

The Stones have revisited Tattoo You on this, it’s 40th anniversary. Let me just say, wow, it’s been 40 years? Time is a jet plane. True to the “leftovers” theme of the original LP, Mick and Ronnie Wood went into Wood’s home studio and overdubbed some new vocals and guitar on some leftovers from the leftovers? They’re from all the same sessions where the original tracks came from and I’ll denote those in parentheses after the titles. Sadly, there’s no full on reggae “Never Stop” or the original guitar driven “Waiting On A Friend” on the new Deluxe version of the LP. Supposedly there’s a 10-minute version of “Slave” out there and it’s not here either. “Living In The Heart Of Love” (It’s Only Rock N Roll) is a spirited, classic Stones rocker. “Fiji Jim” (Some Girls) is another rocker with kind of a rockabilly vibe to me. I was surprised there are three covers here. “Troubles A’ Comin'” (Emotional Rescue) was made famous by the Chi-Lites. It’s actually one of my favorite songs here. I love the guitar on that one. Their take on blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” (Some Girls) is superb. The Stones and the blues just go together. I love Mick’s harmonica on that one… I wonder if that’s newly overdubbed or on the original… either way Mick is one of the greatest blues harmonica players to ever walk the earth.

The most iconic track here – and the only one I’d ever heard on a bootleg – is the Stones covering a song written by Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (It’s Only Rock N Roll). I love the Stones version of this song… I can’t fathom why it’s just now being released. I know Rod released a version around the same time, maybe they didn’t want to compete. There is myth around the Stones’ version of “Drift Away.” Supposedly, Keith used to like to shoot up and “drift away” while listening to this song. Or I’ve also heard that the Stones would play this song while he was doing so. Either way, it’s a great song.

“It’s A Lie” is from the Some Girls sessions and this rocker would have fit nicely on that album. It really sounds like it comes from that era of the Stones. “Come To The Ball” (Goats Head Soup) is a manic rocker. “Fast Talking Slow Walking” (Goats Head Soup) is the lone ballad here and its a classic. There is an early “reggae-ish” version of “Start Me Up” and I like it. I’ve always wanted to hear the reggae version of that song and this version gives me a taste of that. I really dig all of these “Lost & Found” tracks. Anything we can get from the Stones’ vault I tend to be thankful for. I know there is a ton of material they could have also included, much like the recent Beatles release Let It Be Super Deluxe. I can’t quibble about what’s not included, I just enjoy what is. I would have liked a Keith song here but again, its a small complaint. I’d advise everybody to get the Deluxe version of Tattoo You especially if you don’t own the original LP, which is something everyone should.

Now, if you’re a super fan, the Super Deluxe set has a previously unreleased concert from Wembley (London) in 1982. The Stones on that tour played virtually the same set every night. So if you own, say, the show from the Hampton Colesium, like I do, it’s basically the same show. The Wembley show is far superior to the weak live album they released after the tour, Still Life. Critics of that tour will tell you it wasn’t the Stones at their “best,” whatever that means. For those of us of a certain age who saw the Stones for the first time on that tour, it’s iconic. Personally I saw them three times on the tour, twice in Houston and one of the KC dates where they had Mick Taylor join them as a guest guitarist. I get chills when I hear Keith’s wobbling guitar intro to “Under My Thumb.” That giant, brightly colored stage, Mick running around in a football uniform sans shoulder pads with only Keith and Ronnie singing back up, that stuff is iconic. I love that setlist as they played a ton off of their three previous LPs – Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and the then current Tattoo You. The Stones would never play that much contemporary stuff again.

My recommendation for this one is certainly buy the Deluxe package… and if you’re of a certain age and don’t have a decent live version of the 81-82 tour, splurge for the Super Deluxe. As for me, I’ll still just be out here on the front stoop, cuz, “I’m not waiting on lady, I’m just waiting on a friend…” Maybe Mick will come along and we’ll head to bar…

Cheers to all of you waiting on friends out there! Be safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Review: The Beatles ‘Let It Be – Super Deluxe’ Edition – Is It Worth It?

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While I’ve been immersed in the Beatles’ box set Let It Be (Super Deluxe) for about a week now, having spent much of 2021 listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition and other music from 1971 LP anniversaries, I feel like I’ve been immersed the entire year in a groovy, hippy, Beatles’ haze. I really should have invested in that leather, fringe jacket the Rock Chick talked me out of. I don’t think there’s an LP more divisive in the entire Beatles’ canon than Let It Be. It truly had a difficult birth. When I was in college back in the 80s the board game Trivial Pursuit took the world by storm. There were a bunch of knock off versions of the game as well. A guy I knew had a Rock N Roll Trivial Pursuit game that we used to use as a drinking game before went out to the bars to… well, drink more. There were various categories in Rock N Roll Trivia, but the Beatles were special enough they had a category unto themselves. There was a vaguely worded question, “What was the last Beatles’ LP?” The correct answer of course is Abbey Road which was recorded after Let It Be. Unfortunately for my sobriety, the answer on the Trivia card was Let It Be. I finally scratched out the wrong answer and wrote in Abbey Road since despite being released before Let It Be, it was again, recorded afterwards. Stupid game…

The dye was perhaps cast for the Beatles the day they decided to retire from the road. They’d already started to become “studio wizards” on Revolver but after the August 1966 tour they stopped playing together as a unit live. In the studio they would lay down a basic track and then record different parts of the songs piece by piece. I think its safe to say that the thing that creates “chemistry” within in a band is standing on a stage or in a room together, playing your instruments while you look the other guys in the eyes. After manager Brian Epstein died McCartney tried to take over as “the leader.” The rest of the band responded like my stepdaughter when I first met her with a collective, “you’re not the boss of me.” Lennon met Yoko which is fine but then he started bringing her into the inner sanctum, the studio, where no wife or girlfriend was allowed prior. That strained things. I don’t blame Yoko, I blame John on that. Doesn’t matter how whipped you are, certain things are sacrosanct. When they all came home from their ill-fated trip to India – Ringo had come home early because he hated the food which makes me love him even more – there was quite a bit of camaraderie. They gathered at George’s house in Esher and recorded demos which were included in The White Album Super Deluxe Edition. It sounds like they were in a really good place at that point. Sadly, that goodwill quickly dissipated in the studio. John was foisting Yoko on the rest of the band, as mentioned bringing her into the studio… and she had “suggestions.” John and Yoko had been dabbing in heroin which is never positive. Paul drove everybody into the ground doing dozens and dozens of takes on filler like “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” that Lennon derisively described as “granny music.” People say Let It Be was the sound of a band breaking up… I disagree. The White Album is the sound of four guys headed in different directions, growing apart and, to quote Neil Young, “headed for a heartbreak.”

One of the few advances during the recording of The White Album was that they actually did start playing the tracks as a band again vs building a song piece by piece. For their next LP, it was McCartney’s idea that they should “Get Back” to playing live. He saw a documentary on Picasso where they filmed the painter starting with a blank canvas and followed his progress until the painting was done. How cool is it that Picasso and the Beatles existed on this earth at the same time and could influence each other…but I’m getting off topic. He wanted to film the rehearsals for a TV special and then record the new songs they’d developed live in front of an audience of select fans. Different venues were tossed around including a cruise ship or an ancient Greek theater. The recording at Twickenham, the TV sound studio, were disastrous. Harrison quit for three days. His conditions to return to the band were a) no live concert, the idea terrified him and b) they would return to the Apple Studios and ditch the cavernous sound studio. They wrapped up the sessions with the famous Rooftop concert. They set up the gear on the roof of the Apple Studios and surprised the West End of London by jamming over lunch one Thursday in January. It was their last public show.

Since the intention was to record all of this stuff live, George Martin’s role was greatly reduced in these sessions. There was to be no overdubs. Engineer and producer Glyn Johns had a lot more production responsibilities than he’s given credit for. Things had gone so badly during what were called the “Get Back” sessions, they sorta shelved the tapes. Eventually as they were splitting up after Abbey Road came out, they gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together another album that Capitol was demanding. I like what George Martin said about Spector’s role in the project. Martin felt the credits should read, “Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector.” McCartney wasn’t even consulted with the final mixes and was livid that Spector added a bunch of strings and a harp to “The Long And Winding Road.” You have a project that you want to call “Get Back” to symbolize playing live, unvarnished music and you then turn it over to Phil Spector? Critics roasted them for that. When the LP was released, now named Let It Be it received the worst reviews of the Beatles’ history.

I remember when I was in junior high and high school the local mall had Midnight Movies. A bunch of drunk and stoned people hanging out at the mall while a movie played was basically how it worked. I’m astounded I could talk my parents into letting me actually attend the Midnight Movies. I saw Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same,’ the animated film ‘Heavy Metal’ and yes, I saw the original movie ‘Let It Be.’ I remember thinking, “why aren’t they playing their hits.” I thought it was supposed to be a live concert thing. I remember it seemed like they bickered a lot… but I really don’t recall a lot about seeing the flick. I seem to remember we’d somehow smuggled a 12-pack of beer into the theater… so there’s that. The Beatles took all of the footage of the Let It Be leftover footage and gave it to famed director Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings’), and he’s putting out a six hour mini-series from the footage… restored to glorious condition apparently. It comes out in November. To coincide with that, the Beatles have now released a Super Deluxe edition of Let It Be, much like they did for Abbey Road a few years ago. I personally didn’t think the Abbey Road Super Deluxe was worth owning… I’ve never liked that record, the second side medley drives me crazy as it did Lennon. The question is, is the Let It Be Super Deluxe worth it? I’d have to give you a qualified yes.

I was not a Beatles fanatic. There are Beatles fans who can discern different takes of songs and tell you the day and time the take was recorded. I’m not like that. I’m not that obsessive… well about the Beatles anyway. I bought Let It Be at the used record store on Metcalf when I was in college. I came at it without all the baggage that Beatles fans brought to it. I always thought the Beatles were too polished and safe as a band. I loved Let It Be precisely for the reasons that the critics didn’t – it was raw and kind of sloppy. Maybe its because I’m a Stones guy and they were always a little more raw and that helped me with this LP. Let It Be has the classics “Across The Universe,” the title track and “The Long And Winding Road,” which are all essential Beatles’ songs. “Get Back” is one of their greatest rock songs. But it was the less famous stuff that I absolutely loved. “The Two of Us” which shows a heavy Everly Brothers influence is one of my all time favs. I always thought the song was McCartney writing about Lennon but he was writing about Linda. “I’ve Got A Feeling” is a great, underrated song. Harrison’s two contributions are just great: “For You Blue” is a rare blues tune from them (that I included on my “Rockers Playing Blues” playlist) and “I Me Mine” is played with a rocking vigor. They dusted off one of their oldest Lennon/McCartney tracks, that they’d never recorded, “One After 909” and its a rollicking good time. Disc 1 of the new Let It Be box is the original LP remastered in all its glory. If you’ve never heard Let It Be, this is the way to experience it.

During the tumultuous recording sessions, producer Glyn Johns took the raw tapes and put together an acetate of what he thought the Get Back (as it was still being called) album could be. It was just meant to be a starting place, an idea. He burned four copies and gave them to each of the band members. They weren’t impressed. It was too loose for their tastes. Well, naturally Get Back has been widely bootlegged over the years. I had never heard the bootleg version. Disc 4 in this box is that original, Glyn Johns’ take on Get Back. Again, this is another reason I think this box set is worth it. Get Back is a lot less polished than the version of Let It Be that got released (if that’s possible?). More importantly he kept “Don’t Let Me Down” perhaps my all time favorite Beatles’ song on the LP instead of just releasing it as a B-side. He doesn’t screw with “The Long And Winding Road” by adding strings and harp and yes Paul, its’ better. He also includes a version of “Teddy Boy” which ended up not being released by the Beatles. It became a solo McCartney tune. I really like this version of the album.

Disc 2 and 3 are outtakes and jams from the Let It Be sessions. I have to be honest, while there’s some cool stuff here I was slightly underwhelmed. I’ve been reading forever about all the stuff they recorded. Supposedly there are a ton of older cover songs they jammed on. None of that is really here. Its the knowledge that there is so much more out there – and yes, widely bootlegged – that didn’t make it onto this box that left me a little disappointed. There is some cool stuff – early versions of songs that ended up being solo tracks on the post-break up LPs: Harrison coaxing the band to play “All Things Must Pass,” and Lennon’s “Give Me Some Truth.” There’s a lot more studio chatter on Disc 2 and 3 and its cool to hear these guys interact. There are a lot of the songs that would eventually end up on Abbey Road. Early versions of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” and a sketch of “Something” are all here. Hearing Ringo play “Octopus’s Garden” on piano with George encouraging him is interesting. I like the version of “Oh Darling!” here, it’s more of a jam. There are outtakes that ended up on Anthology 3 that were more fully realized that I would have liked to see included here but alas they are not. Even I have to admit, Disc 2 and 3 are probably for completists only. All of that said though – it is great to listen to these guys rediscover each other as a band to lock into that priceless chemistry they had.

This is a great sounding, fantastic tribute to one of rock n roll’s greatest bands most overlooked and underrated LPs. Is it worth it? At the end of the day I have to say yes based on a) the strength of the remaster of the original LP, especially if you don’t have it, and b) the inclusion of the Get Back album. While I dig the outtakes and studio jams, they might not be for everyone except fanatics like me. It does feel like you’re a fly on the wall. Personally I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson does with the film… I’m sure I’ll share my reaction with you here…

“You and I have memories that stretches out ahead…” Cheers!

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Return With New Song, “Song Of The Seasons,” From the Upcoming ‘Barn’ LP

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*Image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted…

I can’t really say that I benefited from the whole “lockdown” thing. I thought perhaps it would be a chance for me to get into some kind of physical shape. I could take the time off the road, a small break in my itinerant professional life and I don’t know, start jogging. Maybe I’d lift weights for that super toned and “cut” body. There were plenty of projects I could have taken on. Perhaps I could have gone all arts and crafts-y with a nice scrap-booking project. I could have, for once and for all, conquered my insomnia. I might have taken up juggling, archery or fencing. Maybe I could have finally put in that sewing room for the Rock Chick… although she doesn’t sew and has no interest in the textile arts. Sadly, none of that really happened for me. I ended up just sitting around the house drinking whiskey and listening to rock n roll. I’ll certainly never describe that time the way Mellencamp (with Springsteen) sang recently as “Wasted Days.” There’s nothing wrong with listening to rock n roll.

One guy who seems to have put his lockdown time to good use is Neil Young. Man, that guy has been busy. I recommend everybody check out his Archive site, https://neilyoungarchives.com/, the guy is putting out all kinds of music over there. It’s a wonderfully curated look at Neil’s entire career. He’s put out a number of great live albums recently both solo acoustic and with his once and future backing band, Crazy Horse. He was finally able to sit down and concentrate on finishing the epic, 10-disc Archives Vol. 2. I was delighted to finally get my hands on that. Truly a highlight of the year. While it took him eleven years between Archives Vol 1 and Archives Vol 2 he’s saying on his website that he was able to focus during the lockdown and will actually be releasing Archives Vol 3 in 2022. Neil has promised releases in the past, so we’ll all have to wait and see…

More exciting perhaps (for me) is that Neil announced a while back that he was releasing an LP of new material this year. Due in December this year, the new album Barn once again sees Neil teaming with Crazy Horse. As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, like Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Derek & the Dominos), Young has played in a lot of different bands. I had forgotten that one of his earliest bands was the Mynah Birds with Rick James on lead vocals. They played Motown style stuff. I had known about that but had forgotten it completely until I saw the recent Rick James documentary. Strange bedfellows indeed… Neil of course went on to play with Stephen Stills in both the Buffalo Springfield and CSN (Y). He then began his solo career with a number of different backing bands: Crazy Horse, The Stray Gators, and the Bluenotes to name but a few.

Crazy Horse has always been my favorite of Neil Young’s bands. As Neil himself has said, “I just play better guitar with Crazy Horse.” Crazy Horse actually began as a band named The Rockets until Young stole most of the band away and dubbed them with the new Crazy Horse moniker. They were: Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot on bass and Danny Whitten on guitar. Sadly Whitten passed away from mixing valium and booze… Whitten was eventually replaced by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar. Jack Nitzsche played piano with them for a while and guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren has been in and out of Crazy Horse over the years. I’m not sure Young has ever had a guitar foil quite like Sampedro. Poncho would lock down the rhythm and Neil would play some of the most soaring solos. Sadly, a few years back Sampedro announced his retirement.

Over the last 8 or 9 years Neil had released a number of middling albums. I just couldn’t connect with them. Really, Psychedelic Pill with Crazy Horse in 2012 was the last LP that actually caught my attention. As has been pointed out by a few of my readers, that album could have probably benefited from some editing by Neil’s late producer David Briggs… Although I dug the 27 minute opening track… In 2019 Young surprised me by pulling Crazy Horse back together to record Colorado. In even better news, Nils Lofgren who had been playing with the E Street Band for many years was going to join Crazy Horse again to replace the retired Sampedro. I thought that was going to be even more of a guitar freak out… but it turns out Nils actually provided more musical structure than guitar foil. Colorado, to me, seemed to be a great little meditation on the environment. It wasn’t a great Crazy Horse album like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere but it was certainly a really good one.

I was delighted to see that Neil’s upcoming record Barn turned out to be another Crazy Horse LP. Neil is such a musical nomad he rarely uses the same band twice. Once again he’s backed by his old pals Molina, Talbot and Lofgren. The new song is called “Song of the Seasons.” Much like on Colorado, Nils isn’t playing guitar on this track, he’s playing… of all things… an accordion. I told the Rock Chick – who it must be noted is neither a Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Springsteen or accordion fan – that Nils was playing accordion and not guitar and she said, “Nobody uses Nils the correct way Nils should be used,” nodding her head. I can’t lie, the accordion actually makes the track.

The track starts with some of Neil’s iconic harmonica work… it almost reminds me of the Young classic “Old Man.” Then the acoustic guitars start strumming and Nils’ accordion comes in. Neil’s voice sounds a little fragile. Like much of what Neil focuses on these days in terms of subject matter on “Song of the Seasons” his concern is the environment and Mother Nature. I dig the sentiment of the opening stanza, “Looking through a wavy glass window, In this old place by the lake, And the colors of the falling leaves I see nature makes no mistake.” It feels like autumn in this song, I almost feel I need a sweater. And yet, as with most things Neil it’s more complicated than all that. There’s a love story woven through the song… “Song of the seasons coming through me now, like the wind in your hair, we’re so together in the way that we feel we could end up anywhere.” I feel that way about the Rock Chick… He even has a nice word for the Queen and her late husband. It’s just this beautiful acoustic, down home mediation where Neil can see the whole world from his rustic front porch. The track lasts over six minutes but the melody is so addictive that you’ll think it was too short. I hear this and feel like there’s a fire in the fireplace and sawdust on the floor… maybe a few cold beers open on the table…

I really dig this tune, it pulled me out of my Beatles’ Let It Be Super Deluxe trance I’ve been in and I knew I needed to share. I’d love to hear one of those good ol’ guitar blasting epic tracks that Neil was known for with Crazy Horse. God knows, Nils is a great guitarist for him to play against. But I also love acoustic Neil. My favorite song from Colorado was the opening track, the acoustic strummer “Think of Me.” This track reminds me a little of that but that folksy accordion, with the acoustic guitar and harmonica just move this little lilting track along. It’s a great song and fills me with a lot of excitement for the upcoming Barn. It’s Neil Young. It’s Crazy Horse… with Nils. What could go wrong?

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

Cheers!

Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol 16/1980 – 1985 (Deluxe Edition)’

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“What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this…” – Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You”

I’ve long been a Bob Dylan fan. To me he’s one of the greatest artists and poets of the last 100 years. While I don’t own all of his albums, I do own most of them. I remember Courtney Love describing Hole as being “a catalog artist like Bob Dylan.” Besides being a sign that she was likely on drugs, I would agree that Bob Dylan is a guy who’s catalog is one that you can become extremely immersed in. I’m so deep a fan that I’m not only into the main LP releases I’m also a huge fan of his “official” Bootleg Series. I will admit, like his main album releases, I don’t own all of the Bootleg Series, but I own most of them. I do so love my box sets…as evidenced by my recent love for George Harrison’s new All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary box.

Almost from the start Dylan was a heavily bootlegged artist. He decided to beat the bootleggers at their own game and started releasing all of these treasures from the vault. Admittedly I haven’t posted anything on the Bootleg Series since I wrote about the set that chronicled his Christian period. My first Dylan album – because it was popular at the time I started listening to music and you tend to buy what you’re hearing on the radio – was Slow Train Coming. Stupidly I didn’t realize it was a Christian album until I got it home. I was horrified that I’d look uncool so I gave the album to my brother. But I really dug Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13. It was mostly live stuff covering Dylan’s aforementioned  Christian period from Slow Train Coming to Saved to Shot of Love. I didn’t post on Vol 14 which chronicled Dylan’s masterpiece Blood On The Tracks because I got it for Christmas and packed it when I moved to this rental property, which is akin to a van down by the river. I thought we’d be here six months. That was three years ago. I can’t find Volume 14, it’s still in a box somewhere, I’ve never had the chance to hear it. I didn’t publish on Travelin’ Through: Volume 15 as it was only the second time in the Bootleg Series that I wasn’t interested and didn’t buy that one.

Bob recently released Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Volume 16 covering the early 80s, specifically 1980 to 1985. Ah, the early 80s. So much happened to me in those years. I started and finished high school. I fell in love for the first time and coincidentally had my heart broken for the first time… “Oh, to be young and feel love’s keen sting…” I started college in those years. I made the friends I would hold onto for a lifetime. It was a personally tumultuous time period for me as everyone’s young adult life is. Things were pretty tumultuous for Dylan by 1980 as well which may be why I’ve really gotten into Springtime In New York…It’s all I’ve been listening to for two weeks except for Chrissie Hynde’s new LP which is coincidentally all Dylan covers… and Bowie’s recently unearthed “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.” By 1980, people were starting to question Dylan’s relevance probably because nobody was into his Christian  music.

I’ve known people who were Born Again, like Dylan in the late 70s. Typically they hit some form of rock bottom with substance abuse or depression. It’s like a pendulum, they swing hard into their faith. They go through the “convert everybody everywhere” phase. Pretty soon the pendulum falls back to the center. Some come out of it and revert back to their non believer status, some hold onto their faith but realize that not all of the secular world is “evil.” You just have to ride out that whole intense, newly converted phase. It’s like Sting sang, “Men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” Dylan followed that pattern. He was extremely preachy by the time Saved came out. I can’t even listen to that record although “In The Garden” is one of my favorite songs and I’m pretty much a Druid.

By Shot Of Love, which I think is unfairly labeled the third album of the Christian trilogy, Dylan was showing signs of coming out of his preachy phase. There were more secular themed songs like “Lenny Bruce” or “In The Summertime.” While Volume 13 extended through Shot of Love, which is where this set starts, Vol 13 focused more on live stuff from that era and this is studio stuff. The heart and soul of this box set is the late period gem Infidels from 1983. Dylan could have done whole box on that LP alone. I remember my friend Drew brought that album home and I thought, “Uh-oh, I wonder if he knows Dylan is making Christian music now…” Fortunately for Drew, by ’83 Dylan was back to making fantastic secular music. I remember taping Infidels on cassette and wearing that thing out. Produced by Mark Knopfler it’s a great Dylan LP… but it’s more famous for the songs that Dylan left off than what’s on the record like “Blind Willie McTell.” The final record in this set is 1985’s fantastic Empire Burlesque. I’ll be the first to admit Empire Burlesque has a very 80s production style and sound but I love it. I bought that record the day it came out. I loved “Tight Connection To My Heart.” Springsteen, when inducting Dylan to the Rock Hall, said “If a new singer/songwriter came out with an LP like Empire Burlesque today, they’d be hailing him as the new Bob Dylan.” And Springsteen knows something about that “new Dylan” tag.

Dylan was clearly searching after coming out of his Born Again phase. The dawn of the 80s finds an artist grasping for relevance, for his direction and for inspiration. It’s fascinating stuff. Everybody loves a good comeback! Springtime In New York has a plethora of studio outtakes and different versions of previously released songs from that era. Some of these songs have different versions released on Bootleg Vol 1 to 3. If I have any complaints about this set each disc is relatively short. If you’re going to stretch this out to 5 discs, fill up each disc. And as I’ve been reading on line lately, there were a lot of songs omitted from this set from that period. Certainly “Caribbean Wind” should be here somewhere? People who buy these Bootleg box sets are generally, to put it politely, completeists. We want all the stuff so we can line it up and listen to it and debate which versions are the best. Yes, I realize I may be admitting in that last sentence that I have a problem… but it’s a great, melodic problem to have.

Disc 1 of this set contains recorded rehearsals for the 1980 fall tour in support of Shot of Love. What struck me listening to these rehearsal tracks was how much fun it sounded like Dylan was having. No one really associates “joy” with his Christian period, he seemed angry. But disc one chronicles Dylan with his band doing some of his older stuff and some wacky covers. The first two cuts here “Senor, (Tales of Yankee Power)” and “To Ramona” are just great. I’d have loved to have seen the tour just for those songs, if he even played them live. I love the bluesy romp of “Mystery Train,” a track associated with Elvis. He does another Elvis adjacent tune in “Fever.” There’s some great stuff on disc 1, although even I’ll admit I will never listen to Dylan singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” ever again.

Disc 2 is centered on outtakes and alternate versions of tracks from the Shot of Love sessions. Again, the first track on the disc grabbed me. “Angelina” is a great Bob Dylan song. The passion of his vocal performance here is breathtaking. “Price of Love” is a funky rocker. Dylan’s take on the Temptation’s “I Wish It Would Rain” is a nice surprise… although the Faces will always own that song… to me anyway. “Is It Worth It?” is a track I really think should have made the final cut for Shot of Love. If Bob were to ask me that question about Springtime In New York, “is it worth it?” I could only reply, yes!

Disc 3 and 4 are all centered on Infidels. As I said before, this whole box probably could have been centered on that album. What a band Dylan assembled for this album! Mark Knopfler who produced the album is on guitar. Mick Taylor erstwhile Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist is in the band and brings a bluesy fiery lead guitar with him. Sly and Robbie – reggae legends – are the rhythm section. And Knopfler brought Alan Clark with him from Dire Straits to play keyboards. Of course if you look hard enough you’ll find Ronnie Wood, Ringo, various members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers playing on certain tracks but I digress. Knopfler had to split for a European tour before they mixed the record and there have been debates ever since about what his original mix would have sounded like. They could have probably released a box with his mix, the original mix etc but I’ll take what we have here. If Infidels suffers from anything its Dylan’s choices on what to include and what to exclude that’s in question here. The material itself is superb but Dylan’s “curation” of the project is what may have hampered it’s success. Dylan’s confidence was a little shaky.

One of the highlights from disc 3 & 4 is the full band version of “Blind Willie McTell.” I’ll take any version I can get of that song. It’s one of Dylan’s greatest songs. There’s a great version of “Someone’s Got A Hold of My Heart,” an early version of “Tight Connection To My Heart” here. I know both of those songs have versions released on Bootleg Series Volume 1 to 3, but it’s interesting to hear these different takes.  There are two versions of a song called “Too Late” which later morphed into “Foot of Pride” which is also here… “Too Late” is performed both in an acoustic version and a full band version and it may be my favorite song in the whole box. If forced to choose I’d pick the band version. It’s a stunner. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is a bluesy romp. “Julius And Ethel” about the Rosenbergs is a Chuck Berry style rocker. All of this is great stuff.

Disc 5 starts off with a couple of live tracks, “Enough Is Enough” which I don’t think ever got recorded in a studio. It’s a rocker like “Highway 61.” How did that not make it onto a record? There’s also a live version of “License To Kill” from his legendary performance on David Letterman backed by punk rockers The Plugz. I do wish they’d included the recording of “Neighborhood Bully” from that show – it’s legendary but alas it’s not here, check it out on YouTube. From there we get a host of Empire Burlesque outtakes. That album has such an 80s glossy sheen to it and they clearly attempted to strip that away here. The songs, absent that 80s sound come across as more direct and powerful to my ears. “Straight A’s In Love” (not to be confused with the Johnny Cash track of the same name) sounds like Dylan doing an Elvis Costello track. There are two versions of the great song “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” recorded with Little Steven Van Zandt and Roy Bittan from the E Street Band. There’s a slow version and a fast version… I still think the version on Bootleg Series Vol 1 to 3 is definitive but both these versions are still highlights from this set. Bittan’s piano on the fast version steals the show. The epic “New Danville Girl,” which is the original version of “Brownsville Girl,” is even better than I thought it’d be. The set ends with the acoustic “Dark Eyes,” a track that always haunts me, in all its versions…

All in all I was thrilled with Springtime In New York. This is one of my favorite of the Bootleg Series. Most people probably don’t own the three albums this box covers and I think that would actually add to your enjoyment as you discover this lost chapter of Dylan’s story. This is the sound of an artist trying to regain his footing and find his place in the secular world again. There is fascinating, beautiful music here. I love when Dylan looks back on an overlooked part of his career and reveals that there was so much more going on… much like Neil Young does in his Archives series. If you’re a Dylan fan and especially a fan of his Bootleg Series this is essential listening.

Cheers!

Review: 311 Live at Red Rocks 10/2/2021 – A Great Stoney Evening Amongst the Rocks

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*Photo of 311 on stage at Red Rocks taken by the Rock Chick

While I like to think I’m an expert about certain parts of the rock n roll universe I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert on rock-reggae-rap band 311. Frankly, I always thought of them as simply “stoner” rock but I think that oversimplifies this immensely talented band. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see them Saturday night at Red Rocks with opener Iya Terra and special guest Iration.

It hits me every now and then that Life is such a great trip. It really is a journey, or if you will, an evolution. I’ve been a “flat-lander” living in the Midwest most of my life. As luck would have it in the old days I had a number of friends that ended up in Denver, “the Mile High City.” As a young man I’d go out to the mountains and we’d party like escaped criminals. The only reason I’d go out there would be to see friends and do some serious mind erasure. But then I met the Rock Chick. Our daughter ended up in Denver and now when I travel out there its all about family. Those trips out there could not be more radically different. I will admit, occasionally I step off the plane in that high altitude and my body has an instinctual desire to run to a cab, start drinking whiskey direct from the bottle and head to LoDo to find the first open bar stool. But that feeling quickly passes… well, it passes eventually. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes see friends, but for me it’s all about hanging with family. I have evolved and my trips out West have similarly evolved. Different times, different kind of trip.

It’s sort of the same story about 311 for me. One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is that she has turned me onto a world of great music. When I was in high school and college I had my gang of miscreants that I hung out with who would turn me onto music. You tend to listen to what your gang is listening to… After college, when “wedding bells broke up that ol’ gang of mine,” I found myself pretty much on my own to discover new music. I was lucky enough to meet a woman who I refer to in these pages as the Rock Chick who came home one day and cranked up an album called From Chaos. It was a wild goulash of different sounds – rock n’ roll bordering on metal with big guitar, a reggae undercurrent and some elements of rap. “Who, pray tell, is this?” I hadn’t heard anything like what was coming from the speakers. It was 311: Nick Hexum, lead vocals/guitar; SA Martinez, vocals/turntables; P Nut (aka Aaron Willis), bass; Chad Sexton, drums; and finally, Tim Mahoney lead/rhythm guitar. She had borrowed their CD from a friend at work, Emma (name changed to protect the innocent). I liked it but figured it was some one-off thing for the Rock Chick and didn’t focus too intensely. I tended to get stuck in my lane in those early days. Before I knew it, we’d seen them at the River Market here in KC on the “Summer Unity Tour” with Ziggy Marley! We saw them again a few years ago, in 2017, at a place in the Crossroads, Grinders. Both were phenomenal nights of music.

Neither of those shows prepared me for 311 at Red Rocks. I feel like this band was made for that amphitheater. I think Red Rocks seats like 10,000 people and it was full… so it was a much bigger crowd than I thought it’d be. Apparently this was the 15th time 311 had played the venerable theater. Red Rocks is a special place for a lot of people and I’m no exception. My first show there was Pearl Jam on their Vitalogy tour, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I also have a vague memory of seeing ZZ Top there at some point. And, of course, the Rock Chick and I went out there to see Oasis (with Jet opening) when lead singer Liam Gallagher famously mocked my air guitar playing… I have, with considerable difficulty, stopped doing that… especially when I’m in the front row where the band can see me. Saturday night was a beautiful night in the Denver and the Rock Chick, my daughter and her main squeeze and I loaded up and headed into the foothills. What a great fan base 311 has. The line to the merch table was longer than it was to get in there. I saw so many professional sports jerseys – NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball – that people had on with the number “311.” Each jersey had a different name, typically the title of a song. The guy to my left had on a Vikings’ jersey, number 311 and the name “Come Original,” one of their great, early tracks. Now that’s some real fandom. The crowd was one big, groovy, laid back party. I had the feeling I was the only person not high out there…

The evening started with Iya Terra who played reggae with some heavy metal-ish guitar solos. They were good but they were white guys from California who were pretending to be Rastas from Jamaica which made me kinda chuckle. Still, I really enjoyed their music. The second band was similar in style… reggae with some great guitar solo’ing, almost a reggae hard rock blend, Iration. I was impressed with those guys. They all looked like guys you’d find at your local brew pub drinking craft beers. I have to admit, I could see Iration making it big. Maybe they already are… I’m not sure.

311 burst onto the stage and I mean burst – this is an energetic band. Nick Hexum was dressed in light blue pants and a white jacket… he looked like he was coming off the back nine after shooting several under par. I have to admit, the guy is so fit and good looking I began to wonder if that was why the Rock Chick became a fan. The light show was out of this world. They opened with two rockers, “Transistor” and the aforementioned “Come Original,” a personal favorite. A song I wasn’t familiar with, “My Stoney Baby” was a nice laid back reggae thing early in the set. I really liked that song. SA was all over the stage… the man is constantly moving and dancing and rapping. There were so many great tunes – “All Mixed Up,” “Creatures (For A While)” and my favorite of their mellower tunes, “Amber” – that all got great readings. “Amber” really is “the color of your energy.” The lead guitarist, Tim Mahoney was conjuring bizarre, beautiful notes from his guitar all night but I really dug his work on “What The?!” Midway through the first set P Nut played an epic bass solo. That’s typically when I’m headed to the beer line but the guy kept me captivated… well, that and the great light show.

When these guys rock, they rock hard. It’s loud, in your face, Red Hot Chili Peppers kinda funky hard rock. I’m probably showing my age but I dig it when they get a little mellower. The beginning of “Get Down” was a great ballad-y thing but then it kicked in and rocked…great tune. I love the guitar on “Beautiful Disaster,” yet another highlight. They rocked out on a few more tunes, maniacally racing around the stage until they finally played a more laid back, reggae thing, “Beyond the Gray Sky” that was my absolute favorite track of the night. “Creatures (For A While)” and “Livin’ And Rockin'” jammed out to end the main set. The encore was a short and sweet, just two tracks, “There’s Always an Excuse” another pretty midtempo thing that built into a soaring guitar solo. “Down” was the perfect hard rock way to end the night…SA was still bouncing all around the stage.

The lights came on and I couldn’t help but think… man that was an amazing night of music courtesy of 311. If you get a chance to catch these guys on this tour, I highly recommend it. I’m not a deep 311 expert but I knew enough of the music they played to elevate the experience. Most people have probably heard more of them than I have and I loved it! Any time you have an opportunity to listen to live music – and keep yourself safe doing it – I always suggest buying the ticket. There’s nothing more uplifting and communal to the verge of spiritual than sharing an evening of music with friends and especially family.

Cheers!

Review – Standing In the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan, A Surprise Gem

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I think Chrissie Hynde has just always been cool. Born in Akron, she moved to London to work in the Malcolm Mclaren/Vivienne Westwood boutique SEX and was smack dab in the middle of the burgeoning punk rock scene. I think she was even involved in an early incarnation of the Clash. Finally she formed her own group, seminal rock band The Pretenders with James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), James Farndon (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums). We all loved the Pretenders. I can still remember sitting in study hall in junior high school and hearing “Brass In Pocket” for the first time. There was this gorgeous blonde girl who was a year older than me – and what teenage boy isn’t fascinated by an older woman? – and she was walking across the room with a Coke in her hand… dirty blonde hair slightly out of control (and this was before the Big Hair 80s) as Chrissie sang, “I’m gonna make you, make you, make you notice…” Oh, I noticed. I always think of that blonde gal when I hear that song…never knew her name, but I digress.

Sadly after their great second LP, the creatively titled Pretenders II, they sacked bassist Pete Farndon who later OD’d. Right after they sacked Farndon, lead guitarist Honeyman-Smith also died from a narcotic misadventure. Heroin and coke are treacherous my friends. But Hynde (rhythm guitar/vocals) soldiered on with Chambers still on drums. Three years after that second LP, the last with the original line-up, they released Learning To Crawl (1984). I remember my old college roommate Drew bringing that one back from the record store. It was virtually the soundtrack to that semester in college. Drew played the crap out of that record. That’s what inspired me to go back and finally purchase their first two albums. I’m still very glad to have that precious vinyl.

I’ve only seen the Pretenders once in concert. And, I’m embarrassed to say it’s only because they were opening for the Stones. Not that I’m embarrassed about seeing the Stones, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never made more of an effort to see the Pretenders as headliners. Chrissie was awesome that night. She introduced a reggae song they were going to play by saying, “Mick and Keith and the Stones have introduced us to so much great music, but I don’t think they get the credit they deserve for helping to introduce the world to reggae music.” Like I said, Hynde is just cool. They were a great opener that night and Hynde’s voice is still amazing. Her vocals are tough yet sexy.

I reconnected in a big way with the Pretenders when they released their last LP, Hate For Sale. I thought that was a great, late career record from them. It went into high rotation here in the B&V labs in much the same way Learning To Crawl did back in Drew’s college room. Alas, due to Covid the Pretenders were unable to tour behind Hate For Sale. When they do, I’ll be standing at the ticket counter with my money in my hand… Hynde was like a lot of us, I suppose, and was stuck at home last year. The story goes she heard Dylan’s epic single, released last year, “Murder Most Foul” and was inspired to explore his catalog. She started recording acoustic versions of Dylan’s tunes at home and sending them to Pretenders’ current lead guitarist James Walbourne. He’d add something and send it back. Collaborating has served them well.

I think Hynde put a lot of these performances out on the Pretenders’ website over the course of last year… or maybe it was their YouTube channel. There are so many avenues artists have to get their work out, I have trouble keeping track. I did hear at some point early this year that Hynde was going to release a Dylan covers LP. But, speaking of being unable to keep track, while I was anxiously awaiting Hynde to release this Dylan covers LP, it had actually been released already… in May. Either I had my head stuck up my proverbial rear-end or Hynde’s publicist is for shit. I was reading something about Dylan recently and in the comments someone said, “Chrissie Hynde does a great version of “Blind Willie McTell” on her Dylan’s cover LP.” Argh, I couldn’t help but think… how’d that one get by me?

Coincidentally I’ve been listening to Dylan quite a bit lately. He’s just released Springtime In New York, Volume 16 of the Bootleg Series and like Neil Young’s Archives Volume 2, I’ve been immersed in that for the last few weeks. It’s no secret around B&V that I’m a huge Dylan fan, of all his music not just the Bootleg Series. I am such a fan that I also love cover versions of Dylan’s songs. With Chrissie Hynde’s (relatively) new LP, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan, I’ve had a confluence of a lot of things I love: Dylan, covers songs and Chrissie Hynde’s vocals. I do so love a cover song. It’s like a two-for-one. You get to enjoy the performance by the artist covering the song but it also evokes the memory of the original. To find out that Hynde did that rare thing – recorded an entire album of covers and in this case, rarer still, to record an entire LP of songs by another artist – I had to jump in with both ears.

This starts and ends for me with Hynde’s voice. She uncovers the vulnerability and in some cases melancholy in these songs in a whole new way. The entire album is awash in velvety acoustic guitars that feel like they’re gently massaging my temples. There are no drums or messy adornments here. It’s the raw emotion of the track focused on Hynde’s vocals. This is a great record to accompany a late night bourbon. I absolutely love her song selection on this LP. She didn’t gravitate toward big “hits” from Dylan’s catalog. This isn’t her doing “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Mr. Tambourine Man.” For the most part, she dug deeper into his catalog and, much to my delight, mined a lot of gold from his later catalog. She chose some of Dylan’s most intimate and intensely personal tunes. It all makes for an absolute gem of a record.

Of the nine tracks, only three would be considered to be from Dylan’s “Classic” period. “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” is beautifully rendered here. It’s all Byrds-y chiming guitars. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” a song made famous by Rod Stewart, is a beautiful finger-picked track. The last track is from the seminal LP, Blood On The Tracks, “You’re A Big Girl Now.” I think Hynde just knocks “Big Girl Now” out of the park. I felt the sadness or pathos of a breakup in this song to my core. Hynde’s voice milks the regret out of this song for all it’s worth. It’s a real highlight. Her voice is like the warm hug of an ex lover saying a final farewell.

Perhaps because I’m spending so much time with Dylan’s work in the 80s lately, I was delighted to see that the bulk of this material dates from that time. “In The Summertime” is a great opener and in Chrissie’s hands comes across as a warm greeting. It’s downright joyful. “Sweetheart Like You” has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs. Rod, who is no stranger to covering Dylan, also did this track. I wake up every morning with Chrissie singing in my head, “She used to call me sweet daddy when I was only a child…” Again, the emotions she wrings out of the song has me cheering for more. “Blind Willie McTell” is a wonderful addition here. Hynde acquits herself well on one of Dylan’s greatest tracks. I also really liked “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight.” One of Dylan’s most personal tracks, “Every Grain of Sand” is also deeply moving in this version as well. It feels like Hynde – who has seen a lot – is in the confessional…

This is one of those little, fabulous records that will never get much attention. But to hear how committed and into these performances Hynde is makes it quite a gem. I keep listening to this record and find myself looking up at the speaker having discovered some new nuance Chrissie pulled out of the lyrics. I urge everyone to check this one out. It’s good for the soul. And lets all thank God Chrissie Hynde is still out there making a wonderful noise.