Review: Paul McCartney’s LP ‘Flowers In The Dirt: Special Edition’

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Paul McCartney has been on such a great roll since 1997’s superb LP ‘Flaming Pie,’ all the way through 2013’s ‘New’ really, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a bad decade the 1980’s were for the former Beatle. I am a big Paul fan, but having purchased the abysmal 1986 LP, ‘Press To Play’ even I lost faith. I still shudder when I think about his ill conceived movie project ‘Give My Regards To Broadstreet.’

The decade had started for McCartney with such promise. His 1982 LP, ‘Tug of War’ which was partially a response to the senseless murder of John Lennon was such an amazing record. The title track remains one of my favorite McCartney tracks. “Here Today” was one of the most touching of the many, many tribute songs for John Lennon by any artist. I will admit the two Stevie Wonder collaborations on the album were utter cheeseball, especially the song “Ebony And Ivory,” which still makes me jump to the fast forward button when it comes on the stereo.

His follow up to ‘Tug of War,’ 1983’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ has aged better than we received it back in 1983. It was almost a carbon copy of the formula that had produced ‘Tug of War’ and I think it sold reasonably well. I wasn’t a big fan of that record, nor was anybody I knew. That LP seemed to signal the beginning of a downturn for Paul. After that, man, McCartney hit the skids. He released some awful records. Looking at it from a macro view, 1983 to really, 1997 was an awful patch for McCartney. I will admit there were some exceptions, I loved his ‘Unplugged’ album.

It’s hard to understand what went wrong with McCartney. One has to wonder if he was more deeply affected by the lost of his old comrade and later frenemy, John Lennon. In the second half of the 70s Lennon had withdrawn to self imposed exile to become a house husband/father. In that void, McCartney recorded some of his best, and best selling records. It’s always been my theory, as an armchair bourbon psychologist, if subconsciously McCartney was recording for the broader audience on one level in the late 70s, but down deep was really trying to impress Lennon. Maybe Lennon was a psychological governor in his head, preventing bad ideas and choking off some of Paul’s “cheesier” instincts. With Lennon gone, maybe McCartney became a tad unmoored from a creative standpoint.

One of the exceptions from this fallow period for McCartney was 1989’s decade ending, ‘Flowers In the Dirt.’ It was a good McCartney album, although I’d say not a great McCartney album. It was certainly seen as somewhat of a comeback at the time, although not the big comeback that was hoped for. “My Brave Face” was the first single, which was ok. If you delve into the album a little deeper there are some great deep tracks on this album. “Figure of Eight,” “Rough Ride,” “Put It There” and “This One” are all really strong tracks.

What the LP was also noted for, besides being a bit of a “return to form” for McCartney, was it marked a collaboration with Elvis Costello. The two wrote a number of songs together that ended up on both McCartney’s records and others on Costello’s albums. I have to admit, it was an inspired pairing. Elvis was another guy from Liverpool, who was kind of prickly, who seemed to click musically with McCartney and even wore glasses… remind you of anybody? I don’t know if Costello pushed McCartney or vice versa but it was a great musical collaboration. The song “Veronica” the two wrote together was even a hit for Costello. And, naturally, some of the better tracks the two wrote together ended up on ‘Flowers In The Dirt.’ One highlight was the great duet, “You Want Her Too.” “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” were also great collaborations by the duo.

Fast forward to now, and McCartney has given “Flowers In The Dirt” the deluxe/special edition treatment. I was sort of “meh” about the whole thing until I recently put the bonus tracks on. Typically bonus tracks can be a mixed bag. Sometimes their great songs that just didn’t fit on an album. At their worst they’re “remixes” which I loath. A lot of times bonus tracks are just the tossed off, rough demo’s and aren’t worth listening to.

Not so here! On “Flowers In The Dirt” there are nine demos of just McCartney and Costello working through songs with a piano, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. I have to tell you, I like these demos better than the actual album that was released. Costello wasn’t likely trying to imitate John Lennon but his vocals paired with McCartney have that same vibe if not the same magical harmonies. These demos, half of which were released in more produced/polished, finished versions on the album, half of which were not, are a revelation. It’s great to hear McCartney singing so passionately. It’s like hearing a couple of guys get up in a bar and bash out a quick acoustic set. I had the same feeling I had when I listened to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ discs when I listened to these demos.

I have to wonder what happens to a McCartney song between it’s rough hewn inception, like we hear on these demos, and the actual produced, released product. The guy is one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time, he might take a cue from these demos and stop polishing off these great rough edges.

Is ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ worth purchasing, or repurchasing just for these bonus tracks? Well, if you don’t have ‘Flowers’ in your collection I’d say definitely. If you already own the record, I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it’s worth a re-buy, but these demos are awfully sweet. Paul and Elvis might want to consider collaborating again… it’s that good.

Cheers!

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

Depeche Mode: “Where’s The Revolution,” The First Single From ‘Spirit’

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 “Who’s making your decisions, you or your religion, Your government, your country, you patriotic junkies” – “Where’s The Revolution” Depeche Mode

Finally a new album in 2017 I can get excited about, Depeche Mode’s upcoming March 17th release, ‘Spirit.’ I won’t lie, I was beginning to think no interesting music was going to be released this year. In my defense, it’s been pretty grim around here this year…

It was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode, like so many other bands. She really has phenomenal musical tastes. I was wandering the house one Saturday, early in the marriage, indentured like my step daughter, to clean the house. On Saturdays my wife is a lot like Strother Martin’s character in the movie Cool Hand Luke. She’d assemble us in the living room and force us to dust and vacuum things. I can still almost hear her instructing us, “What we have here, is a failure to clean up after yourselves…” 

The one caveat to all of this “cleaning” was that I was allowed to choose and play whatever music I wanted to. I wrote that into my wedding vows… The Rock Chick and her daughter went upstairs when I stumbled upon a double Depeche CD entitled, ‘The Singles, 1986-1998.’ Intrigued, I dropped the first disc into the stereo. Almost immediately, the Rock Chick came bounding down the stairs to veto my selection (which actually happened more times than I’d care to admit). “You have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” she exclaimed and then almost as suddenly disappeared.

After that I went back to ignoring them. A few years later, over some wine, my wife finally put the greatest hits package back on the stereo. I was surprised at how much I liked these guys. They’re definitely “alternative rock” and synth based, which is outside my blues-based template but they’re just great. The thing that jumped out at me initially was Dave Gahan’s voice. The guy is a top notch crooner. The lyrics are also great. Martin Gore, the principle song writer includes a lot of darkness, which appeals to me, especially late at night drinking bourbon.

For Christmas this year, Santa brought the Rock Chick the blu-ray, ‘Depeche Mode: Video Singles Collection’ and it spent the holiday season on high rotation. I was amazed that, like the Stones, Depeche has remained very close to a basic sound, but have been able to do so much, so differently with that sound. Watching their videos got me primed and ready for this new, upcoming album.

I’ll save my praise for their latter day LPs for my full album review, but needless to say, their last few albums, dating back to 2001’s ‘Exciter’ have been very strong LPs and if you’re a fan of their earlier work, I advise you to check those records out post haste. This is a band that unfolds for you like a flower… I will say, their latter day work is an example of why I started BourbonAndVinyl in the first place, to put a spotlight on veteran groups making outstanding music. You’re not likely to hear this great new music on any radio, so I need to spotlight it for you here…but I digress.

I had also been a huge fan of Gahan’s solo work with the Soulsavers (reviewed in an earlier post on B&V) but even so I was excited to read last year that Depeche were in the studio recording a new album. The results of that recording, as mentioned earlier, comes out next month. For now, we have the fantastic new single “Where’s the Revolution.”

I wondered if the current political climate was going to effect art and music in a similar way the turbulent late 60s and early 70s music was effected. For example, I had heard U2, who have mostly completed their new album, were heading back into the studio with some new songs inspired by the current political climate. I have to ask that question, whether today’s politics are going to effect music, no longer… “Where’s The Revolution” is a political broad side. I love the lyrics.

It starts off as mid tempo in the verse, Gahan’s voice over syncopated synth and percussion. The song has a galloping feel, almost like a march, as an underpinning.  When the chorus kicks in, with tortured guitar, the song gets louder. You can feel the call to arms when Gahan howls, “where’s the revolution, come on people, you’re letting me down…” His vocal is urgent, slinky and sexy all at a the same time. All the elements of this song come together to make this a classic Depeche Mode tune. The Rock Chick has it on high rotation on the Sonos… This is the most political song I’ve heard Depeche ever do. When the song starts to wind down, they slow it down a bit and Gahan issues his invitation, “the train is coming, the train is coming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, yes this is a train I wanna be on.

Let the “Revolution” begin today people… “the engine is humming, the engine is humming, get on board, get on board…” Oh, I’m on board alright… All the way to the finish line.

I urge everyone to check this new single out. It gets a high B&V recommendation. I hope the rest of the album is this strong… If recent Depeche history is any indicator, I think listening to this new record when it comes out on St Patrick’s Day is going to be very special…

It’s dark out there people. Pour something strong, dark and murky, and “get on board.”

Cheers!

LP Review: Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” His Farewell Note, RIP

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There are some acts that I don’t seem to get into until late in the game. I get distracted pretty easily. In the case of Leonard Cohen, it would appear I waited too long. I knew very little about Leonard Cohen before his brilliant new release “You Want It Darker,” and his recent demise. I was always aware of Leonard Cohen but like so many other acts, I kept thinking I’d get into him later, when I get time. I had heard great cover versions of his songs by a diverse group of acts from Don Henley, the Civil Wars all the way to Jeff Buckley. I had never really heard much of Leonard Cohen actually singing. I was more familiar with Johnny Cash doing “Bird On a Wire” than Leonard.

I did a post a few months ago on Iggy Pop. He was another act I had waited to get into. His last record, “Post Pop Depression” just pulled me in. I did a lot of extensive research on Iggy, I went back and listened to the Stooges, and his early albums with Bowie. It helped me frame his career in my mind. With Leonard Cohen, I took a bit more spare approach. I only went back to his first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen.” I had heard a lot of bad feedback about Cohen’s voice. I will say, for the most part, I can understand the complaints. He’s certainly no Steve Perry from Journey, but I’d tell you Cohen’s voice is infinitely more interesting. (And, to be fair, like everybody, I liked Journey.) Like Bob Dylan, people always told me that he was a great poetic lyricist but his songs were better performed by others. Even my friend Doug commented to me a couple of weeks ago that he couldn’t get into Cohen because of his voice and Doug’s tolerance for different music is pretty high. He’s more adventurous than I am, and I envy that.

“Songs of Leonard Cohen,” his debut, is a great album. The lyrics are as poetic as anybody not named Bob Dylan have ever written. The instrumentation was spare and frankly his voice, while not great, delivers the songs very well. To me it was a more poetic version of a singer/songwriter album. I can imagine my brilliant aunt, back in 1968, listening to Cohen’s debut album in her dorm room, smoking those Marlboro Red 100’s she was so fond of. She was a smart lady and probably dug how literate and intelligent the lyrics are. She was the type of person who would have enjoyed that debut album, turned off the stereo and then headed down to burn the Student Union or some other administration building. I do miss that woman. “Songs of Leonard Cohen” gave me a reference point for Cohen’s work but nothing had me prepared for “You Want It Darker.”

“You Want It Darker” is a deep, dark LP that will likely be rarely heard by anybody outside of the already Cohen converted. Other than me, I doubt anybody will suddenly start listening to Leonard Cohen as a result of this LP. And that is really too bad because this is heady stuff. Like Dylan’s voice, after all these years Cohen’s voice is all gravel and rust. If the tomb could sing, it would sound like Leonard Cohen on this album. Cohen’s voice conjure the infinite, the unknowable. There was a lot of commentary about Dylan when he released “Time Out of Mind” that Dylan, who had been ill, was writing about his imminent demise. I think that commentary was mostly hype, but in the case of “You Want It Darker” I think that’s true. This album is the sound of a man wrestling with mortality, with memories of lost loves and the battles that love brings. Some of these songs, “You Want It Darker” and “Leaving The Table” sound like a man telling God he’s ready to die. “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” Holy shit man, that’s heavy. It’s a fascinating listen.

“Treaty” is the best song I’ve ever heard penned for a former lover. Lines like “I heard the snake was baffled by his sin” and “I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine,” brought chills to my spine. I think we’ve all had a relationship that ended badly. “On the Level” is another great song addressed to an ex. “When I turned my back on the devil, I turned my back on the angel too.” There is good and bad in every person and every relationship and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it so poignantly described. It’s like Cohen is settling all of his old scores on this record. Either with former lovers or as I said, with God himself. He doesn’t sound bitter here although I get traces of anger as he wrestles with his Maker.

There was a line in Dylan’s song, “Things Have Changed” that I always liked. He sings the line, “Don’t get up gentlemen, I’m just passing through…” I don’t know why that line appealed to me so much. It was like winking at the graveyard. Cohen’s song “Traveling Light” on this record reminds me of that sentiment. The lyrics “I’m traveling light,
It’s au revoir, My once so bright, my fallen star, I’m running late, they’ll close the bar” sum it all up for me.

The instrumentation is sparse like on his debut record. The production was done this time around by Cohen’s son and recorded in the home he shared with his daughter. The production perfectly frames that haggard instrument, Cohen’s voice. I just find this album hypnotic. I can’t stop listening to it and hearing something new in the lyrics. I’ve always been a sucker for a well written line. This is tumbler of bourbon, the sun is coming up and you’re ruminating on past decisions with your eyes on the horizon as you wonder what’s next.

So now I guess I have to start buying Leonard Cohen albums. It’s going to take me a while to get through this guy’s vast catalog but after listening to “You Want It Darker” I get the feeling it’s going to be very worth it.

I don’t know if anybody will be moved to listen to “You Want It Darker” based on this post but I strongly urge you to do so. Even though the Rock Chick said “I think I should be worried about you for listening to this music,” I still love this album.

Pour something strong and brace yourself.

Cheers!

The BourbonAndVinyl List of Groups Overdue for an LP Release

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 Album releases have become quite “the thing” these days. It appears that now, releasing an album that no one expects is the hipster thing to do. The surprise album “drop” like Beyonce or better yet, David Bowie (“The Next Day”) is in vogue. U2 even gave their last album away, much to many people’s consternation. People just woke up and “Songs of Innocence” was on their iPhone… very Big Brother if you ask me. In the old days, bands wanted all the hype they could get before their record came out. Usually a single or two would be released to stoke excitement. Shit, to hype a new album the Stones once set up their equipment on the back of a flatbed truck and drove around New York City playing their new music from “Some Girls” (or was it “Black and Blue,” I forget) to the bewildered pedestrians and traffic around them. Ronnie Wood almost fell off the truck. I suspect illegal substances were being used… but that’s just Ronnie.

Album releases are tricky to predict. It’s not like the movies, where there’s a “summer blockbuster” season or a Christmas movie season. I can remember driving a giant one-ton construction truck home from my summer job, my car was broke down, to have lunch and hearing Springsteen’s “Born In the USA” for the first time. I almost had to pull the rig over. I knew the album was coming out, but hadn’t known it was coming out on that day. As soon as I clocked off, I headed straight to the mall to buy the album. For a long time, to game the album charts, record companies would release albums on Tuesday to give a record all 7 days of sales to push the record as high on the charts as they could. Now records come out on Friday.

Lately I’ve noticed there seems to be a  dearth of new music coming out. Bands I know and love who are still out there touring just don’t seem to be releasing new music. Or if they are releasing new music they’re taking years and years to get it released. I get it, there doesn’t seem to be a market for older act’s music any more. They certainly aren’t getting played on terrestrial radio and barely on satellite radio. Sammy Hagar has refused to go back in the studio with Chickenfoot because as he said recently, “I don’t want to work for six months on music no one is going to hear.” I hear ya, Sammy.

The Beatles between 1963 and 1970, a span of 7 years, released 13 albums and one was a  double album. That’s a new album almost every six months. That doesn’t include the myriad number of singles they put out, enough to fill a double LP in and of themselves. That’s a pretty intense schedule. Now we sit and wait and wait for new stuff to come out. There are a number of bands that I’ve noticed are way overdue for a new record. If I’ve missed somebody, please add them in the comments. These bands need to get off their ass and get some new music out. Nobody likes a nostalgia trip… tours take on more meaning when there’s new music to be heard.

In order to help make my case, I will list the band name, their last record and it’s release year…

  1. The Rolling Stones – A Bigger Bang, 2005 – I have never mentioned this in B&V but the Stones are the pinnacle of rock and roll for me. “Some Girls” was the first album I ever bought with my own money. I love the Stones and will travel about anywhere to see them. My buddy Steve helped me see them in New Jersey on their 50th Anniversary Tour, an event I will never be able to repay him for. I can’t believe it’s been over a decade since the Stones put out the awesome late career gem, “A Bigger Bang.” That record was so strong I hoped it would spark a new creative period for the Stones but alas, no. I hear they’re in the studio, but then I heard over the course of a week in December or January they banged out an entire album of blues classics and they might release that. I say, keep working on the new stuff, release the blues thing and we get the best of both worlds.
  2. Steely Dan – Everything Must Go, 2003 – I know these guys have  more music in them. Donald Fagan released a very strong solo album a few years ago, “Sunken Condos” but it’s time Walter Becker joins him in the studio.
  3. The Who – The Endless Wire, 2006 – I just saw the Who live and they still have the fire… It’s been a decade Pete, c’mon. “The Endless Wire” even had a mini-rock opera, “Steel and Glass.” Daltrey did a great album, “Going Back Home” with Wilko Johnson a few years back proving he’s still got the passion in his voice. I’d love a little more Who, I mean, who wouldn’t?
  4. Metallica – Death Magnetic, 2008 – These guys have been promising a new album for a couple of years now. I’ll believe it when I’m  holding it in my hands. “Death Magnetic” was a fantastic return to form for this band. I hear the new stuff will be more like the “Black Album” but they are taking forever.
  5. Guns N Roses – Chinese Democracy, 2008 – Am I nuts to think Slash, Duff and Axl will end up in the studio after their triumphant reunion tour. I can still dream can’t I? It’s been 8 years since Axl’s magnum opus “Chinese Democracy,” surely he’s got something new?
  6. Green Day – Uno, Dos, Tre, 2012 – I can’t believe it’s been four years since Green Day went nuts and released three albums at time, and then Billie Joe Armstrong had his meltdown. There was probably one classic record hidden amongst these three albums. I was glad to see them drop the rock opera thing and just cut songs. Billie Joe did a duet album of Everly Brothers songs with Norah Jones, which was solid, quiet little album in 2013 but nothing since…
  7. Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts, 2012 – Speaking of Norah Jones it’s been 4 years since her last solo record (“Foreverly” w/ Billie Joe Armstrong, aside). I know, I know, she’s not rock and roll per se, but she sings like an angel. Whenever I hear her voice I stop what I’m doing and just stare at the stereo. If I die and hear her voice, I’ll know I’m in Heaven. If I hear country music, I’ll know I’ve been a very, very bad man.
  8. Randy Newman – Harps and Angels, 2008 – Many people hate Randy Newman. I am not one of them. “Short People” was a joke, folks. He was being satirical and trying to make a statement about bigotry. “Harps and Angels” had some wonderful political satire and God knows, America could use some of that right now. And, the song “Potholes” is one of the funniest fucking songs he’s ever done.
  9. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine, 2013 – I loved this oddly bluesy album. Depeche has been on a hot streak of late. I also loved Dave Gahan’s record with the Soulsavers, “Angels and Ghosts.” I’m ready for some more Mode!
  10. Fleetwood Mac – Say You Will, 2003 – Christine McVie is back in the fold. Lindsey is releasing more music these days than he’s ever done. Likely the problem is Stevie Nicks who keeps thinking she’s going to regain her “Bella Donna” era fame… Stevie has released a couple of great solo albums of late, but it’s time for a Mac Attack.
  11. Paul McCartney – New, 2013 – Sure, it’s only been 3 years, but this was a guy who was in the Beatles who released music every six months… He seems to spend all his time in the studio or on the road. “New” was the last in a succession of great LP’s that McCartney has been releasing that began with “Flaming Pie.” His late period albums have been really great, quite like Bob Dylan. Do yourself a favor and explore his later catalog. “New” was so good, I”m ready for more.
  12. No Doubt – Push And Shove, 2012 – I never liked No Doubt until I saw them live. They were loud and they rawked! Gwen Stefani, when she’s not fucking about on her solo crap, is a charismatic and energetic front woman. I know she’s off doing her solo stuff now, which I despise, while her former band mates are carrying on with another singer. Let’s settle this little rift and get back together kids. Come home, Gwen, all is forgiven.
  13. Gregg Allman – Low Country Blues, 2011 – The Allman Brothers are now defunct, sadly. Gregg’s last solo album, “Low Country Blues” was a great T Bone Burnett produced album of blues classics. I’d like to see Gregg write some stuff, let T Bone produce, but can we bring the organ sound back up in the mix a little this time? “Laid Back,” Gregg’s first solo album is one of my all time favorites. He’s sober, he’s been touring so his voice is likely strong… now is the time!
  14. Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes, 2014 (really it’s Wrecking Ball, 2012) – Sure, Springsteen released the strong “High Hopes” in 2014 but it was a group of songs that were left over from his previous two or three records. So, his last actual album of new stuff was 2012’s “Wrecking Ball.” I wasn’t crazy about “Wrecking Ball,” it was ok, but I liked “High Hopes.” I just read Springsteen is putting out a companion disc with his biography of “greatest hits”and a few unreleased early tracks but I’m ready for a full album of new stuff. I hear he’s got a solo record in the can, but I’d rather hear him with the E Street Band… we’ve already lost Clarence and Danny, how much time can Bruce afford to waste here? The band sounds great on the River Tour, lets take that energy into the studio.
  15. The Faces – Ooh La La, 1974 – OK, as everybody whose read B&V knows, I’m obsessed with Rod Stewart reuniting with the Faces. I know Kenny Jones and Ronnie Wood are the only remaining members (besides Rod) left but Goddammit I love the Faces. How kick ass would it be to see those guys put out an album. The songwriting team of Stewart-Wood put out some of my favorite tunes. This is more of an inside joke than anything, but like GnR, I can dare to dream….

Cheers!!

Spotlight: Rival Sons,Great Western Valkyries

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Just when I thought new rock and roll might be dead… enter, Rival Sons…they pull me back in…

I was sitting in the home office last night, lamenting the fact that I didn’t have anything to write about. I’ve been spending too much time in 2016 writing RIP pieces for my rock heroes. There wasn’t a lot of music I had teed up to write about. I keep a running list of ideas but none were jumping out at me. The Rock Chick wandered through the office and quickly surmised my predicament, “You know, you don’t always have to write about “retro” music, some people like new music… gotta keep up with the times.” Oh, thank you my muse… her support is sometimes…underwhelming. I must admit the Rock Chick has a life-time ban here at BourbonAndVinyl for criticizing my grammatical correctness and my sentence structure.

I quickly consulted my list of things to write about when I found a crinkled-up cocktail napkin with the words, “Rival Sons kick ass” scrawled on it. My list isn’t on one piece of paper… it’s fluid. Sometimes “you just have to let art… flow over you.” About a month ago, I went to see Black Sabbath live at the Sprint Center… I documented the experience in these very pages. I partied that night with the Four Horsemen of the Salina Apocalypse and apparently after the show, while being force-fed bourbon, I wrote myself this cocktail napkin note. This could be the creative spark I was looking for. Before we headed into the show, at the bar one of the Four Horsemen had said, “you’re going to love this opening act, Rival Sons, very Zeppelin-esque.” I awoke the next morning with a terrible hangover and the aforementioned cocktail napkin. There was a while there, the day after the show, when I feared I was going to have to have my blood exchanged with the blood of some young virgin, Swiss school children the way Keith Richards did… beautiful people, the Swiss…but I digress.

The night of the concert, I recall being very impressed with Rival Sons. Typically during an arena show during the opening act, the fans stay outside the concert, near the beer lines and restrooms. Not so for Rival Sons. The crowd mostly stayed in their seats and watched the set. I must say, these guys were very charismatic on stage. Not a lot of banter, just straight up, bluesy, rock and roll. I was a tad put off that the lead singer was barefoot, that unwashed hippy stuff was never my thing, but other than that these guys shredded. Guitarist Scott Holiday especially caught my attention. I must admit, barefoot vocalist Jay Buchanan was pretty talented as well.

As a result of all of this, I picked up their 2014 album ‘Great Western Valkyries’. These guys have been compared to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the press, but listening to the album, only the title has a Sabbath feel. Well, that and the first track, “Electric Man”, which has a very Sabbath, riffy sound to it. “Electric Man” jumps out at you like the slap of angry girlfriend. It’s all grimy guitar and fuzzy vocals. It’s rock and roll like I didn’t think was being recorded any more. I will admit that this band is everything I thought Wolfmother would be. Frankly, I think these guys are better.

While Rival Sons’ music is informed by Zeppelin, and you can hear the references, they make it their own and make it all sound fresh. “Play the Fool” has a crunchy riff that is reminiscent of “Misty Mountain Hop” but it’s repurposed and wonderful here. “Secrets” in an odd way reminds me of “How Many More Times” but again, that may be me making the connection vs the band doing so. There is an element of Zeppelin here, but I also hear a mixture of all their influences – “Good Luck” and “Good Things” have a feel of early 60’s white blues bands like Them, perhaps a touch of Butterfield and especially the Animals. It’s probably the organ in the rhythm section that makes you feel that way. The influences are there, but not as obvious as say, Lenny Kravitz.

I will admit, the song “Rich and the Poor” is the only mis-step here. The lyrics are cringe-worthy… It’s a rare mistake on an otherwise solid record. Admittedly, the music is still strong, but the lyrics are ludicrous.

The album ends with two epic tunes. “Where I’ve Been” is one of my favorite blues rock songs in a long, long time…”how could you love me when you know where I’ve been?”… who hasn’t asked that question. The finale and centerpiece to this record is the “Dazed and Confused”-like album closer, “Destination On Course”. “Destination…” is an epic blues tune. They even bring in backing vocals from the Exorcist, which probably brings the Sabbath comparisons… The guitar solo on this song is worth the price of admission. What Holiday is doing to that guitar should be reported as a crime, and that’s a good thing.

“Great Western Valkyries” is in high rotation here in the BourbonAndVinyl room… and I advise you to buy it quickly, pour something strong and turn it up… It may not be life changing like listening to Zeppelin the first time, but it is refreshing to hear a band play hard-core, blues rock again. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on. I expect big, big things. As my friend Blake texted to me recently, “Are you ready to rock?” Thank Heaven I am…

Cheers!