B&V’s Best of 2021: Our Favorite New LPs & Vault/Live Releases

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“Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast…” – Bob Dylan, “You’re A Big Girl Now”

This year, like many before it, seemed to both fly by and at the same time drag on. I looked up and suddenly realized it’s the end of the year… it snuck up on me again. Traditionally for me, this time of year, once we’ve cleared the big Christmas holiday, always seems to bring with it a time of reflection. With New Year’s Eve – a holiday I’ve always considered Amateur Night (and I’m a fan of St. Patrick’s Day, speaking of amateurs) – comes a sense that time is passing and in some cases, slipping away. At least the introspection has stopped me from all the Holiday gorging myself. I’ve been wandering around the house with two full cheeks of food like a chipmunk for about a week now, but I digress. What was it Jackson Browne sang, “I’ve been aware of the time going by, they say in the end it’s the wink of an eye.” Maybe it’s all like Siddhartha, the Herman Hesse book, and we’re all just sitting by the river, watching it flow…always changing but yet seemingly the same. It appears I may be a little too into the reflection this year.

There seems to be a pervasive attitude among a lot of people that 2021 was just “2020 Redux.” I would argue with that. This year I was able to return to seeing my beloved Chiefs play at Arrowhead. 2020 was the first year in quite a few that I attended zero home games. Unless we all pull together progress will remain slow… I was able to travel a little this year – some in the service of my corporate masters, which I was actually looking forward to as a traveling sales guy – and some of it personal, mostly to points west to see my daughter. Hopefully you guys all got to see loved ones this year as well and didn’t have to resort to “virtual” roadtrips. Most importantly I got to see a couple of concerts. The Rock Chick surprised me with tickets to see Joan Jett and Cheap Trick (what a double-bill!) and we went out to Colorado to see 311. I can’t tell you how healing it is to spend an evening with like-minded strangers, standing in the dark in front of a stage listening to rock n roll music.

I have to say, I thought 2021 was much, much better than 2020. Although it wasn’t without tragedy. We lost a legend this year in Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. I’m still not over that one. The man played with such an effortlessness. He made what he did look easy and believe me it wasn’t. He was the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones and one has to wonder if they’ll get over that loss. Although they did tour this year and you’d have to think those guys are in that “high risk” demographic. When I think about 2021 in general, but especially in terms of music, I thought it was a good year but I expected a great year. I thought with everybody off the road in 2020 we’d see a lot more new music than we got this year. We didn’t get that new Guns N Roses LP, although we got a few “new” singles, “Absurd” and “Hard Skool.” We didn’t get a new Stones album.

Despite those complaints, what we did get this year in terms of new music was really strong. We had new stuff from young bands like Dirty Honey and Greta Van Fleet. We had a number of new albums from veteran artists that epitomize why we founded B&V in the first place. The archives were opened up in 2021. It was a great year for live stuff and box sets. This year was a big anniversary year for many albums, especially those from 1971. As usual, I decided to end 2021 on a high note by listing out our favorite or “best of” list of new albums and in conjunction our favorite live/archival/vault releases. We did something similar last year, and the years prior. Per usual, these are listed in chronological order so please don’t consider this a ranking from 1 to 10.

B&V 2021 Best New Albums

  1. Cheap Trick, In Another WorldWhen this came out, much like 2021 itself, I was a little let down vs their prior LP, We’re All Alright! Expectations are a tricky thing. The more I listened to this album the more I dug it, much like Pearl Jam’s Gigaton last year. This is a solid, ass kicking rock album. I got to see these guys in concert and they played “The Summer Looks Good On You” and it inspired me to go back and start listening to this LP again. These guys have been delivering so consistently for so long it’s easy to overlook a great rocker like this one… “Stop Waking Me Up” should have been on my playlist ‘Songs About Sleeping.’
  2. Black Keys, Delta KreamI’ve been on these guys bandwagon since Rubber Factory. I was completely taken by surprise that they put out an album of blues covers highlighting the Mississippi Hill Country blues made famous by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. “Crawling Kingsnake” was the highlight but there are ton of great, bluesy tracks here.
  3. Billy F. Gibbons, HardwareThe longtime ZZTop front man released his third solo LP and it’s the most “ZZTop-y” album he’s delivered. He does what he does best whether its dirty riff rock like “My Lucky Card” or bluesy ballads like “Vagabond Man.” This may be his best solo LP yet. The final track, “Desert High” is one of the best things he’s done.
  4. Jackson Browne, Downhill From EverywhereJackson just keeps putting out great, late period albums. He’s still writing wonderful songs like “Still Searching For Something” or the great ballad, “A Little Too Soon To Tell,” with a dash of politics, “Until Justice Is Real.” He’s an important voice and this was a treat of an album.
  5. David Crosby, For Free – Crosby is in the midst of a great late career renaissance. I got on the bandwagon on Sky Trails, but For Free is another great record. He collaborates with Micheal McDonald on “River Rise” and Donald Fagan on “Rodriguez For The Night,” which is my favorite track… because we’d all “sell our soul to be Rodriguez for a night…”
  6. Lindsey Buckingham, Lindsey Buckingham – I was a little overwhelmed at work when this gem came out and didn’t write about it. This was the album that got Buckingham fired from Fleetwood Mac when he asked for more time to promote it vs go on tour with the band. There are some of Lindsey’s best solo tracks on this album, the best of which is “I Don’t Mind.” “On The Wrong Side,” “Blue Light,” and “Santa Rosa” are all great songs. My only complaint is Lindsey needs to invite some other musicians into the studio to make the sound a little fuller vs playing everything himself.
  7. Chrissie Hynde, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob DylanI’m shocked at how many great cover albums came out this year. Hynde, known for her pugnacious rock n roll with the Pretenders, strips it down to acoustic guitar and piano here for an inspired set of covers, mostly from Dylan’s later career. Mesmerizing album.
  8. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raise The RoofIt took over a decade but Plant/Krauss finally delivered this stunning sequel to Raising Sand, highlighting the beautiful alchemy created by their intertwined voices. Pure harmonic sorcery.
  9. Sting, The Bridge – It is so utterly satisfying to hear an artist who I had, sadly, left for dead come back to life. “If It’s Love” is the best pop song he’s done in ages. I keep listening to this LP, I can’t stop. A true late career gem from Sting.
  10. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Barn – Neil Young reunites with Crazy Horse for the second LP in a row and really delivers on Barn. From hushed acoustic tracks (“Song of the Seasons”) to full on garage-rock tracks (“Human Race”), this is the best thing he’s done in a while and I loved the last LP, Colorado.

B&V 2021 Best Vault/Archive or Live Albums

  1. Neil Young, Archive Vol 2 – An amazing chronicle of Young’s career from 1972 to 1976, ‘The Ditch Trilogy’ years. A must have for any Young fan.
  2. Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary – This might be my favorite box set of the year. The bonus tracks are great, but the full concert included is worth the price of admission.
  3. Fleetwood Mac, Live – Deluxe – The original Fleetwood Mac Live album but with twice the music. I’ve always felt the original double-LP, live record was underrated.
  4. Mick Fleetwood & Friends, A Celebration of Peter Green – Speaking of Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood put together a great tribute for Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green that plays like a great blues jam at a hot blues club. Steven Tyler, Billy Gibbons and Kirk Hammett all show up… The only sad part is Green was a no show… and passed shortly afterward.
  5. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja Vu 50th Anniversary – Revisiting the landmark 1971 album with a bunch of demo’s and the seeds of many of the tracks that ended up on their solo records. I was surprised how much I loved every bit of this.
  6. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells – Deluxe – The album that broke them far and wide… plus a concert from that tour which is icing on the cake.
  7. George Harrison, All Things Must Pass – 50th Anniversary – Another 50th anniversary… George’s magnum opus complete with great demo’s, both acoustic and fleshed out with the band. Truly a glimpse into the creative process that was ATMP. I really dig the acoustic demo’s where he lays out the mostly all fully realized tracks. He really was stifled in the Beatles.
  8. Bob Dylan, Springtime In New YorkA box set from Dylan’s oft-overlooked early 80s during the recording of the LPs Shot Of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque which proves that this period needs another listen.
  9. The Beatles, Let It Be – Super DeluxeA bunch of outtakes from one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The Super Deluxe really fleshes the album out. A must for any Beatles fan. I can’t keep humming and air-guitaring to “Get Back.”
  10. The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You – 40th Anniversary Tattoo You was assembled from outtakes from earlier recording sessions, so they returned to that formula to add 9 more bonus tracks. There’s a Super Deluxe edition that has a full concert from the tour. This was an iconic album for all of us who were too young and missed them in the 60s… This was a special box.
  11. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concert – I thought I’d throw in a bonus album, this concert document that I didn’t have time to write about. Most of the E Street Band’s legendary 1978 concerts in support of Darkness On The Edge of Town were three hours long… This abbreviated set for the No Nukes show was only an hour and a half and it’s like the band, who had been in the studio laboring over The River, sound like they’ve been shot out of a cannon. It’s chalk full of hits. It’s perfect for a casual fan who can’t groove for three hours.

That’s our top of the pops for 2021. I hope you guys enjoyed this music as much as we did here in the B&V labs. I hope everybody has a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll be doing what I do every year. We’ll head out to dinner with friends and home and asleep by probably 10. Like I said, it’s Amateur Night. Even when I was young and faced the hope of some fabulous, un-forseen New Year’s Eve liaison… it never panned out, but I digress. I, for one, am looking forward to 2022. I hope we’ll see you here at B&V next year! Thanks to all of you who have joined and contributed to our little musical dialogue!

Cheers and again, Happy New Year!

Review: A Surprise Return To Concerts, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts With Cheap Trick! August 29, 2021, Starlight Theater

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*Photo above of (L to R) Rick Nielsen, Daxx Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick taken by your intrepid blogger at an actual live concert

I don’t care what your political persuasion is – I’m a lover not a fighter – but I think no matter what you believe we can all agree that one of the greatest losses during the depths of the pandemic and lockdown was the darkening of concert stages. Live music as an entertainment ceased to exist. It wasn’t safe to pack into a dark, sweaty room with other people and listen to rock n roll played live right in front of you…the way God intended it. I realize the actual loss of human lives was a toll incalculable but this is a rock n roll blog and I feel its necessary to at least acknowledge the cancellation of concerts as a thing. Believe me, I’m not of like mind with moron Eric Clapton… It does stun me, a huge music fan, to think that I hadn’t seen a live concert since Starcrawler on October 14th in 2019. That seems like it was lifetime ago… and it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in those almost two years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m fully vaccinated. I’ve actually started to travel for work again. My corporate masters want me out there on the road and frankly I had missed it. I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit to feeling quite a bit of anxiety that first time I masked up and walked into Kansas City’s somewhat crowded airport. I’d been hiding in my attic ala Boo Radley for two years. Suddenly I’m amongst a crowd of people. It wasn’t agoraphobia but more of a fear of large crowds, whatever that’s called. As they said in the movie Barfly, “People, I just sorta feel better when they’re not around.” I couldn’t imagine going to a concert and most the bands I know had been cancelling everything until 2022. I hadn’t been out to the Ticketmaster website in, well, two years. I did stick my toe into the live music water, so to speak, a few weekends ago when I drove to the Harley Davidson dealership up by the airport to see some friends of mine the Sunset Sinners do a gig. But it was an outside thing in the parking lot with plenty of space.

The Rock Chick celebrated her birthday recently. In truth we celebrated that for about a week which is our wont around here. There’s no such thing as a birth “day.” I like to refer to the week around my birthday as the Festival of Me. The Rock Chick informed me a couple of weeks ago she had something planned for Sunday night, the 29th. She was, as usual, her mysterious self. The only hint I got was that I should take Monday off. At first I thought perhaps we were going to a movie, another thing we haven’t done in two years. But she mentioned to me yesterday while we were at the Nelson Atkins Museum that it was likely we would be standing all night. Cryptic, indeed. That ruled out a movie.

Finally around six last night, we jumped in the car and headed east. It was pretty soon I realized we were headed to the venerable Starlight Theater in Swope Park. She had surprised me on my birthday one year with Jim Gaffigan tickets (a brilliant comic). It was her birthday but I thought maybe she was going to surprise me with another comedy show. It was then she revealed that we were seeing a fabulous rock n roll double-bill, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts! I almost screamed! Starlight is such a great old theater and a wonderful place to see a concert. They used to only have musical theater stuff out there, but when I was in high school they opened it up to rock n roll concerts. My first show out there was to see Elton John with my family. I’ve seen some really great shows out there: David Bowie, Rush, Greta Van Fleet and Soundgarden to merely name a few. I knew we were in for a great evening. I will admit I felt that same anxiety that I’d felt at the airport when I found myself crowded into the throng of the crowd but that soon passed. Although admittedly no one was wearing masks in the men’s room which irked me. It’s public safety people.

Cheap Trick, to my surprise, opened the show. I thought for certain they’d be the headliners, but then I’m more into Cheap Trick and am still listening to their latest LP, In Another World. It was great to see these guys stroll out on the stage: Rick Nielson on guitar, his son Daxx on the drums, and Robin Zander in shiny black pants with blue stars on them on lead vocals/rhythm guitar. Cheap Trick are old school rock stars and Zander stands out amongst them. I knew immediately it wasn’t longtime member Tom Petersson on bass. Sadly, he had a recent heart procedure and had to sit this one out. Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander pinch hit on bass and backing vocals. Robin Taylor also took lead vocalist duties on, I believe, “Downed.” The kid sounds just like his father. Daxx doesn’t play the drums with the aggression of Bun E. Carlos but he gets the job done. As Keith Richards would ask, “He rocks but does he roll?” Not like Bun E, sadly.

Cheap Trick rocked with an attitude. Nielsen was giving people shit in the audience. They opened with the track that opens At Budokan, “Hello There.” They then proceeded to do 19 rocking tracks over the course of an hour and half. They hit all the highlights – “Surrender,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” and “I Want You To Want Me.” Nielsen is a beast on lead guitar. I will admit some of his gimmicky guitars get a little old. He had trouble holding the 5-neck custom guitar on the encore… but hey he shredded on lead guitar. Robin Zander’s voice is as strong as it ever was. He sounded fantastic. His voice was strong, loud and on key. His son Robin Taylor was there on backing vocals to help with the high notes – although Zander didn’t need much help. I loved, especially, the raucous versions of “California Man” and my all time favorite Cheap Trick tune, “She’s Tight.” I was screaming on the chorus, “So I got off the phone” like I was in high school. The only ballad was “The Flame” toward the end of the main set. My only complaint – and it’s a nit – is I’d have liked more from the new LP. They only did two new tracks, the great “Summer Looks Good On You,” and “Another World (Reprise).” I’d have loved to have heard “Light Up the Fire,” an incendiary new track. These guys are consistently excellent. They played with the gusto they did when I saw them when I was in college. I’ll always come out for Cheap Trick.

After that, I was pretty blissed out and yet we still had Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to go! I’ve searched and scoured the internet to find out the names of the guys that were on stage with her last night. She did intro’s but I missed it. They looked younger than the Blackhearts on Wikipedia… The lead guitar player really rocked. He was on fire. I thought she called him Johnny. I’m embarrassed I can’t find his name. My inability to get their names doesn’t take away from the great job the drummer and the lead guitarist did. They had a hard edged, punk rock vibe that I really liked. It was like they turned Starlight into CBGB’s… Joan opened the set with “Victim of Circumstance” and then went into the great Runaways track (one of several), “Cherry Bomb.” That was a real highlight for me, as I’ve always dug the Runaways. “Bad Reputation” was absolutely priceless. The Springsteen penned “Light of Day” was another rocking highlight. They played a song I had never heard, but immediately purchased when I got home last night, “Soulmates to Strangers” that was an absolutely gorgeous track. Everyone should check that out because, well, we’ve all been there. There are subtle vocal things that Jett does on her records and she replicated all of them last night. Whether its an “oo” or an “ah” or a moan Jett made sure it was part of the performance. The last three songs of the main set were all killers: “I Love Rock N Roll,” “Crimson And Clover” and one both the Rock Chick and I’d forgotten, “I Hate Myself For Loving You.” The encore wrapped up with “Everyday People,” another highlight. It was 21 songs of a hard edged rock over the course of almost an hour and forty minutes. Joan Jett really impressed me. I find myself listening to her quite a bit this morning. She’s a rock n roll survivor and icon.

I’m sitting here on a Monday both exhausted and happy. I’m usually exhausted on Mondays, but never happy. My ears have a slight ring and I feel a little ragged. It’s so wonderful to have seen a rocking concert again. To spend an evening grooving on Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick was such a great way to end the birthday Festival of the Rock Chick. If these guys come near you, if you need some rock n roll, try and see them!

Cheers!

Cheap Trick: Incendiary New Single, “Light Up The Fire” From the Upcoming LP ‘In Another World’

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In the late 70s when Cheap Trick was at their true zenith, I was in junior high school. As the 80s dawned, I began my mostly mediocre high school years. When I was in junior high school everybody rode the bus to school. I suppose there were some kids who were close enough to walk, but my junior high was way over by the Kansas-Missouri border and so every day I begrudgingly boarded the bus. Finally as summer of 1979 waned, I became a high schooler. The main difference between junior high and high school, other than the sheer size of the place, at least for me at the time was that you didn’t have to ride the bus. You could drive a car, catch a ride with someone else in their car, or I suppose you could ride a bike if you were that sort of person…and I didn’t know that sort of person when I was in high school. 

I desperately wanted to drive to school. There was only one small problem. My parents wouldn’t let me get near a car. I knew how to drive, I’d been driving their car for years. It wasn’t like they’d have me drive up to the convenience store for beer and cigarettes or anything weird like that but we’d go out to the country when visiting relatives and they’d let me drive. In those years, especially oddly in junior high I was a bit of a…well… hellion. I’d actually mellowed out a little bit by high school, but I’d never get any credit for that from my parents… not now and especially not then. Since my misadventures typically involved beer drinking of some sort my parents were extremely apprehensive about allowing me to drive a car, any car. Looking back I secretly suspect my father just didn’t want to help me buy a car. I still wonder if they thought I was going to down a six-pack on the way to school… I mean, who drinks beer in the morning in high school? That’s clearly a college level gig. 

This situation left me sadly standing at the bus stop when high school rolled around. I’m not ever going to say only “losers” rode the bus because well, I was riding the bus, but it was a tough crowd. I watched two guys get into a fist fight on the bus one day… they were arguing about whether or not Hendrix, were he still alive, would have gone “jazz” and abandoned rock n roll. While the fight was crazy, I have to admit it was a subject worth fighting for. There was a guy at my bus stop who later went down for murder. Seriously, he killed a guy. That was the bus stop. I’m a lover not a fighter, I was lost in that crowd. A few weeks into high school this guy I knew, who I’ll call “Jimbo” stopped in his green VW bug and said, “What are you doing, get in.” And like that, I was rescued from the yellow hell. He came by my house every day and drove me to school. Alas, Jimbo moved to Oklahoma early in that sophomore year. That wasn’t before we’d wrecked the green VW bug… because of well, beer.  Don’t drink and drive folks. Learn from Springsteen’s mistake. 

Luckily, I had another friend, an industrious guy who always had a job, who I’ll call Brewster. Brewster owned a Monza. I think he bought it with his own cash. Shortly after Jimbo moved I was leaving my house one morning, bummed out, headed back to the bus stop and back to the yellow exile. I was quietly  hoping that there’d be no Hendrix “discussions” that morning as I was tired. When to my surprise, up pulls Brewster in his Monza. He’s got a couple other dudes in the car. Our friend RW was there and I think there were like seven guys named Steve who road along too. That’s how I remember it but that would have had to have been a huge Monza. In my defense, 90% of the people I knew in high school were named Steve so I get confused. After that, Brewster picked me up every school day morning. Oddly there was never a discussion about it. There was never a, “Hey, you can ride with me,” or “Get in” moment like with Jimbo. Every now and again my mom would slip me cash and I’d give it to Brewster for gas money. These were the “Cash, grass or ass” days so I wanted to get that money on the table early. Since there was never a discussion, occasionally if Brewster was sick, I’d be left standing at my front door. My mom was always super pissed, “Can you guys not communicate this stuff?” Alas, Brewster was never a wordy type of guy back then. 

Most days found me riding along happily in the Monza. I was tall so they’d let me ride up front most days. RW and the Steves would all ride in back. The best part of riding to school in the Monza was Brewster had sprung for a good stereo that played 8-track tapes. For those you unfamiliar with 8-tracks, Google them. They were the most confounding musical delivery system ever. Brewster had a recently new live album that we’d listen to almost every day on our way to school by a band called Cheap Trick. The album was called Cheap Trick at Budokan. We all knew it simply by the title “Live At Budokan.” I had only been vaguely familiar with Cheap Trick up to that point but man did we love that live LP. Although since we were listening on 8-track tape, it was years before I actually knew the running order of the songs on the record. It was like it was on random. I never figured that thing out. “I Want You To Want Me,” and “Surrender” were the big tracks but there wasn’t a bad moment on that LP… it easily made my list of “Essential Live Albums,” BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums

Needless to say I was a big Cheap Trick fan early on and remained so even after that late 70s – early 80s heyday. By the early 90s their albums had become a tad inconsistent. They always seemed to have a stray hit or two, even in the low points. Since then there have been a number of albums that were hailed as their “comeback album.” Starting with 2006’s Rockford, which was superb, I found myself interested again. After all these years Cheap Trick still has almost all of their original members: Robin Zander on lead vocals, Rick Nielsen on guitars and Tom Petersson on bass. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos has left the band rather acrimoniously and was replaced with Nielsen’s son Daxx. At least they kept it in the family. Their last album (not including a xmas album) We’re All Alright! was another triumph (LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

Cheap Trick have returned in 2021 with a new single, “Light Up The Fire” from an upcoming album In Another World. I’ve gotta tell you, I love the new track. “Light Up The Fire” just simply rocks. I was playing it one day and the Rock Chick wandered into the B&V Lab and said, “Wow, these guys are rocking.” Cheap Trick do so many things well. There’s obviously a Beatles’ influence in a lot of their music. I would say, now that I’ve discovered Big Star, there is also a huge influence there as well. Call it power pop or rock that feels pop-y, call it whatever you want Cheap Trick can do it. But one thing I don’t think they get enough credit for is how much they just flat out rock. I hated to see Bun E. Carlos go, but ever since Daxx Nielsen has taken over the kit, these guys have leaned a little harder into the rocking stuff.

I would be remiss not to call out Zander’s almost unhinged lead vocal. That was what first caught the Rock Chick’s ear. The track starts off with a fuzzy bass and then the drums and guitar kick in. Its’ galloping along when Zander’s yelp comes in. “So light up the fire, but don’t burn my love to the ground.” Oh, hell yes. Nielsen does his usual manic guitar work here. The solo feels buttery slippery but powerful and its all anchored by such a solid rhythm section. Daxx and Tom aren’t flashy but they’re in the pocket. This is a full-out, fun, race me to the finish line rocker. If you like Cheap Trick’s harder rocking stuff, this will fill the bill. 

I am extremely  hopeful this is a great kick off to a great album and what could be a great 2021 musically. I’d heard rumors they had this album done a year ago but held off release because of Covid. If so, I’m glad its finally seeing the light of day. It’s great to hear the Rock Hall of Fame stalwarts come out guns blazing to start off our year. It’s certainly a hopeful sign for the Rock New Year. I’ll be keeping my eye out for this album, for sure! 

Be safe out there! Cheers!