Happy Keithmas Everyone – Keith Richards’ Birthday

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I spent a very cold December winter day watching my Chiefs once again fumble away a winnable game against the Tennessee Titans… Needless to say I found myself sulking around the house, as adult men do when their sports teams lose. I was thinking that this dark funk of a mood was something that even a tumbler of Buffalo Trace wasn’t going to help… Although I will admit, with the Rock Chick making her dangerous egg nog, the bourbon was quite available…

Suddenly I realized that today is one of the 12 days of Christmas… It’s Keithmas…. Keith Richards’ birthday. While that may not help my hapless Chiefs playoff chances, it’s a great thing that Keith is even alive at 73. How long was this guy number one on the famous people’s “Death Pool” during the 70s and 80s. The fact that this man, with all the drugs, booze, arrests and alas, his head injury has survived into his 70’s is a cause for hope for all of us out here. If this guy can persevere, can’t we all. I often find myself thinking, “What would Keith do?” And when I do that, things turn out all right.

If his last album, “Crosseyed Heart” is any indication there’s still a lot of life in rock and roll’s original pirate, outlaw, renegade. I’ve always loved Keith Richards. When I was a teenager, and I was first turned onto the Stones, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As I got older and the realities of life began to settle in on me, I realized I wanted to be Keith. He was the outlaw, living outside of society. Never one to give into the conventions of “straight” society, the man has lived, as Sinatra sang, “my way.”

So many rock stars have tried to imitate the style and the sneer of Keith Richards… but he was truly an original and remains so to this day. I love this picture of Keith I used for this post – it’s not the young 70s superstar, it’s the rocker in repose, aged like a fine wine. Hat cocked to the side, taking a drag of a cigarette, skull ring on the right hand, staring right at you – perhaps right through you. Keith, 73, and still the man!

So, Happy Birthday Keith Richards and here’s to wishing you many more. In Keith’s honor today, I poured my bourbon over a skull-shaped ice cube that the Rock Chick produced from the freezer. It seemed only appropriate. And while I’m still stinging from the horrific offense the Chiefs put on the field today… Buffalo Trace, a skull-shaped cube and “Crosseyed Heart” on the stereo…. Yeah, it’s going to be ok… As Keith would sing, “You shouldn’t take it so haaaaard…”

Cheers!

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LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle

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In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.

In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.

Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.

However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.

The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.

“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.

The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”

This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”

Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!

Cheers!

Review: Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart – The Triumphant Return of Rock’s Gypsy Pirate Outlaw

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Is there anybody in the world who personifies BourbonAndVinyl more than Keith Richards? I don’t think so. Oh yes, Crosseyed Heart is going to be in “high-rotation” here at the house for quite some time.

I remember being at my friend Jack’s place back in the late 80s/early 90’s drinking giant martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives. I’m still not sure where the blue cheese came from. Anyway, he had his Chicago pal Kurt over and we were grooving before heading out for the night. Kurt pulled out Keith’s masterpiece 1988 album Talk Is Cheap, and started dancing around the smallish kitchen to the great song “Take It So Hard”. I think he was trying to do a Mick Jagger-type move but it looked more like a white man with an overbite running in place. As he was twitching and jumping around, impressively not spilling a drop of his vodka, he looked up and shaking his head from side to side as if in a grand mal seizure, said, “This is what rock and roll is fucking all about man, good times.” Sage words, Kurt, sage words.

I know what many are thinking, Keith Richards, ugh, that voice. I’m the opposite. Like my friend Drew, I always searched the liner notes on Stones albums wondering which tune would feature Keith up front. His songs were amongst my favorite Stones tune. I always liked when I read the words “Vocals: Keith Richards” deep in the credits of a song.

Keith Richards was always a reluctant solo artist. I think he would have been content to out-live us all, simply playing Stones concerts until the end of time. Enter the 80’s and Mick decided he wanted to make music with other people. Naturally Keith didn’t take it well. Since Mick hooked up with Anita Pallenberg, after Keith had stolen her from Brian Jones, there isn’t much Mick has done that has pleased Keith. His pissed off response was to finally do a solo album. Talk Is Cheap was a true rock masterpiece. That album is the best Stones solo album, although Have My Own Album to Do by Ronnie Wood is an overlooked gem as well.

Keith returned in 1992 with Main Offender, largely with the same group he’d used on his first album, The X-Pensive Winos, but it just didn’t make as much of an impact. Maybe since the Stones had resumed he wasn’t as pissed any more. Steve Jordan was the drummer in the X-Pensive Winos and he returns here on Crosseyed Heart to drum. co-produce and co-write. They wisely brought in their old friend, session guitarist extraordinaire, and X-Pensive Wino alum Waddy  Watchel (Warren Zevon, Buckingham-Nicks, Jackson Browne, etc) to play lead guitar. Waddy and Keith meld guitars like Keith and Ronnie do. “The ancient art of weaving,” as Keith is fond of saying.

This album is a triumphant return for Keith. I heard they tinkered with it casually for a number of years. The music doesn’t feel over-produced or fussed over, it’s simply straight up Keith. It feels like a labor of love. He covers the usual waterfront the Stones cover – not just blues and rock but reggae, country, folk and heart rending ballads. If there is one criticism of Crosseyed Heart, it might be there are a few too many ballads, but Keith has always been a softy. If you look at his tracks with the Stones, there are a preponderance of ballads. The one song that loses me a bit is the rocker “Substantial Damage” but even that tune has a funky rhythm guitar that is infectious.

The rockers on this album are among Keith’s best. The first single, “Trouble”, which I commented on in a “Stray Cats” entry on BourbonAndVinyl previously sounds like an outtake from Some Girls. “Something For Nothing” and “Heartstopper” are great songs. The singular greatest track here is “Nothing On Me”, as in “the cops got nothin’ on me”. No, Keith, none of us have anything on you.

The song “Robbed Blind” is a brilliant country weeper. I can almost imagine Gram Parson, Keith’s old pal, singing this with Keith if he’d lived this long. Keith chooses to cover an older reggae song, “Love Overdue” and it’s great fun. It’s a shame Peter Tosh, Keith’s old pal didn’t live long enough to hear that one… Hey, wait a minute, I see a trend here.

There is a fabulous duet here, with Norah Jones, “Illusions”. Full disclosure – I love Norah Jones’ voice. She could sing the phone book and I’d listen. Plus, were I still a single man, I wouldn’t mind buying her an Old Fashion and seeing where that went… but I digress. I do believe after hearing “Illusions” and watching her and Keith duet on “Love Hurts” on YouTube at a Gram Parson’s tribute, Norah was born to sing duets with Keith.

On the ballads, and there are several, you must check out “Suspicious”, “Lover’s Plea” and “Just a Gift”. The songs remind of “Theif in the Night” or “Losing My Touch” a couple of recent ballads he did with the Stones. These tunes have that Sinatra-esque, closing time, baby-let-me-crash-with-you feel that I have always loved.

The album starts off with an acoustic blues number, more a sketch than a song, the title track “Crosseyed Heart”. It sounds like a lost Robert Johnson track. At the end of the track, Keith can be heard saying, “That’s all I’ve got…” I beg to differ Mr. Richards. As the rest of Crosseyed Heart proves, you have a hell of a lot more. Let’s hope Keith has saved a little for the next Stones record, which they’re rumored to be heading into the studio to record next year…

Listen Loudly and Enjoy!

Stray Cats (Random Music Notes) – Keef, The Faces, Rod and JT

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As I mentioned in the ‘Mission Statement’ for Bourbon And Vinyl, I am very focused on older artists making new music. These older “classic rock” artist’s new music tends to get overlooked or ignored completely these days. I have already tried to shine a light on the amazing Fats Domino tribute album, Goin’ Home and will from time to time try to throw some light on other newer music from the artists who have meant the most to me. Occasionally this will take the form of what I call “Stray Cats”, named for the great Rolling Stones tune, which is my way of organizing a few random thoughts.

Keith Richards has a new album coming out in September, Crosseyed Heart. Keith’s first solo album, Talk Is Cheap was a tour de force. It’s been described as the best Stones album not made by the Stones. His follow-up Main Offender didn’t quite have the same energy as Talk, but still had some great tracks like, 999 and Demon. I don’t know what the new album will hold but I can not stop listening to the first track, Trouble. It’s a classic Keith riff. He’s working with his old buddy and X-Pensive Wino partner Steve Jordan on the production. Jordan also provides some great drumming on this track. Intrepid studio guitarist Waddy Watchel (Steve Nicks, Don Henley, Warren Zevon) provides some Mick Taylor-esque guitar solo’ing. This tune is just fun to turn up loud. It doesn’t hurt that it could be the theme song for my wife’s cat, but that’s another story and I don’t want to get off topic.

One of rocks greatest and most overlooked bands, The Faces, has finally answered my prayers and will reunite. Well, I should say partially reunite as Ian MacLagan sadly passed away last year and Ronnie Lane passed away quite a long time ago. The Faces boasted Rod Stewart as their front man, Ronnie Wood (later of Stones fame) on guitar, Kenny Jones (later of the Who) on drums, with MacLagan on keyboards and Lane on bass. The period of 1970 to 1975 when the Faces were together were not coincidentally the time period of Rod’s greatest solo work. These guys have been rumored to be getting back together for years but it always gets scuttled at the last minute. Rod didn’t even show up when they were inducted to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. I tend to agree with Ronnie Wood that Rod’s money guys and handlers don’t want him doing anything where he has to split the check. So we have to settle for a one night, one-off reunion for Prostate Cancer in the UK on Sept 5th. Lets hope a) someone has the sense to tape these guys and b) that this might spur on some further Faces activity in 2016.

Speaking of Rod Stewart, he also has a new album coming out in October, Another Country. Have no fear Rod isn’t going country music on us. Many of us had given up on Rod Stewart when he quit writing his own songs and then started doing those awful American Songbook schmaltzy, crap records. While writing his autobiography Rod apparently became inspired to write again and released the album Time a few years ago. Well, I’d given up on Rod but since I’d been publicly bitching about him not writing his own stuff any more, when he finally did, I felt obligated to buy the album. And I’ll tell you what, I was damn surprised. It was a solid record. Now, apparently inspired by current events, Rod wrote a collection of songs from the view point of soldiers who are away from home, in “another country”, hence the title. Rod has always been a fan of the “letter to home” style songs, just put on You Wear It Well as a refresher. His first single from the song is another tune that’s in high rotation at the house. Its a Mumford-y thing called Love Is. You can find the video on YouTube. I shouldn’t like this song as much as I do, but damn is it catchy. It’s a very folky tune, back to his roots. I have no idea what the album will be like, but this catchy Love Is has me hopeful.

Finally, James Taylor has also returned to writing his own music. He hadn’t released an album in like 10 years but returned recently with Before This World. Now, James isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, but the guy sings like an angel. I used to put on his Greatest Hits album, and it was money with the ladies… of course, those records are sealed. The new album is brief at only 10 songs, and it sort of quickly glides by but its a solid effort. It’s nothing earth shaking but its a pleasant album for a hungover Sunday. And I will admit, my daughter came in the room while I was playing this album and said, “I feel this is a guy we only listen to at Christmas…” Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.

Thus concludes the Stray Cats for today. My advice is check out a few of these tunes. You may find something you like. Enjoy!