LP Review: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks,” The Piano Strikes Back!

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Ah, Norah Jones… I remember the first time I heard that voice. It sounded timeless. The singer could be 20 or 70, I couldn’t be sure. I was in my car with the sun roof open on an unusually warm, late-fall evening in 2002 when the song “Come Away With Me” came on the radio. I had recently moved in with and proposed to the Rock Chick. My life prior to that was “unsettled” to be kind, rootless if I were to be honest. All that had changed. I had just landed at the airport and was driving home on that warm, fall evening and I flipped over to the Public Radio station and that’s when I first heard Norah Jones sing. Instead of landing and heading to a bar to meet a friend or home to an empty apartment, for the first time ever, I was heading to a house that was more than that – I was heading to a home. Norah’s vocal seemed to beckon me towards that home, toward that better, happier life with the Rock Chick. Her voice embraced me like a warm hug. It was one of the singularly most happy times of my life.

I bought her first album the next day. I was frankly surprised to find a work of that depth, and a voice that rich came from a twenty-something year old. There was a lot of buzz around that album, that this was a new “jazz chanteuse” who’d come out of nowhere to stun the world. I never quite followed that “jazz” label they hung on her. I always thought it was because she was on the Bluenote record label that they spun her music that way. That and she played the piano, which has a rich jazz heritage. Yes, there were jazz accents on the LP, “Come Away With Me” but there was also a bluesy feel and I detected some elements of country (which would later come to flower with her excellent, fun side project The Little Willies). If forced to label her music, to me, I’d have said she was more 70’s-style singer-songwriter than anything. I heard more Janis Ian than Nina Simone.

Her second album, “Feels Like Home” followed the formula of her first album, although the Dolly Parton duet showed that country flavor a little more strongly, and the LP was very successful. Then, like a lot of artists who have had that kind of success, Norah started to experiment and branch out in terms of her sound. She stopped writing on the piano and started writing songs on guitar. I think it’s essential for any artist in any medium to stretch themselves and that’s what Norah did. I enjoyed each of her next three albums which each employed a slightly different tilt on her sound. The one consistent element is that amazing voice. I say it all the time, she could sing the phone book and I’d buy the album. I probably liked “The Fall” the best of that trio of LPs, do yourself a favor and check that one out. “Little Broken Hearts” which was done with Danger Mouse was probably the farthest from her early sound that she got, but I enjoyed it too. “Little Broken Hearts” was where I began to notice that Norah has developed a penchant for marrying dark lyrics with light, almost happy melodies. There’s nothing like delivering bad news with a smile.

I was delighted when I saw that after a 4 year absence (not including the Billie Joe Armstrong duets record, “Foreverly”) Norah was returning with her new album “Day Breaks.” Once again, there was a lot of buzz around this record as being a “return to her early sound” or “a return to her ‘Come Away With Me’ sound.” I bought into all that when I heard the first single, “Carry On.” After hearing “Day Breaks” in it’s entirety and reading  Norah say “I couldn’t have recorded this album when I was twenty,” I tend to disagree with categorizing this as “Come Away With Me 2.” This album is more sophisticated and the music is much more complex than that of her early albums. This really has more of a jazz flavor to it. You can hear fingers popping bass strings on the stand up bass, and Norah’s piano playing is more aggressive, fingers hitting keys hard. There is some beautiful horn work courtesy of Wayne Shorter. It is similar to her earlier work in that it signals Norah’s return to writing on piano. The piano “strikes back” if you will…

No song captures the sounds I just described more than the first track, “Burn.” It sets the jazz mood. “Flipside” is a jazzy, chugging song that almost reminds me of an old train song, it has that kind of rhythm. “Peace” is a beautiful piano driven jazzy-ballad. “Sleeping Wild” sounds like a song you’d hear in a French cafe after the war. When she digs into the jazz sound her music is, like her voice, just timeless. It’s hard to tell the cover songs, like Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” from the originals. The music on these songs is complex but I don’t mean in any way that they are difficult to listen to. They are as smooth and enjoyable to listen to as anything she’s recorded.

Beyond the piano-bass-horn-based jazz, she also has that patented Norah Jones sound. “Carry On” was the beautiful first single, already reviewed on BourbonAndVinyl. The standout track for me, the one that sticks in my head, is “Tragedy.” Over a beautiful, hummable melody she sings about the tragedy of alcoholism. I don’t know why but for some reason, perhaps because the word “Hallelujah” appears toward the end, I had a feeling this song was about Jeff Buckley and his drunken, tragic drowning. “Day Breaks” is another classic Norah Jones song, but with a spacey sound I really liked. Her taste in cover songs remains impeccable, and here she does Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” with some lyrical tweaks and makes it her own.

I’ve read some reviews claiming this album is a culmination of all the sounds/styles that have come before it. I don’t hear that here, but there are some songs that sound like they could be on any Norah Jones LP – “Once I Had A Laugh,” “Then There Was You,” and “Wonderful Time For Love” are all great Norah ballads. “Once I Had A Laugh” in particular stands out for me. Her melodies just stick in my head.

This album isn’t a return to an earlier sound, this is the sound of an artist who continues to challenge herself and break new ground. I agree with Norah, I don’t think she could have made this album when she was twenty, but who could have? This is a really great album and gets a high recommendation from BourbonAndVinyl. This one is another of those, late night, tumbler full of bourbon kind of albums… only in this case, you might not want to be ruminating alone, this might one where you pull him/her onto the couch with you… if you follow me. It’s a dark ride people, love somebody.

Cheers!

Get Out The Vote: The BourbonAndVinyl Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

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It’s that nasty time again, Election season… time to vote for your Rock And Roll Hall of Fame nominees. At least their are no threats to jail the nominees who fail to get elected… When the RnR Hall of Fame first opened I thought, like Ray Davies, “what a drag” to see the music of rebellion institutionalized. But the ceremonies have led to some great performances and jam sessions. I can’t help but think of Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Prince performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for George Harrison’s induction. Prince owns that guitar solo for me now.

This year’s nominees are a diverse set of acts, from punk to grunge to soul to disco to hip hop. There are a lot of deserving acts but in the end, you can only vote for 5 on the HoF’s website. The fans are allowed to vote on the website once a day with a Facebook address or an email address and the fan’s ballot is then treated as 1 of the about six-hundred that get sent out to Rock journalists, historians and performers. To date, BourbonAndVinyl has not been formally asked to participate in the process which frankly, chaps my ass.

You may cast your vote daily here:

https://vote.rockhall.com

Here are the five acts your humble blogger at BourbonAndVinyl feel are the most deserving and who we’ll be voting for daily. It doesn’t make a huge difference but at least we have a small voice in this thing:

  1. Pearl Jam – the Kings of grunge. These guys have been kick ass their whole career. If you’ve seen them live, you know what I’m talking about. “Lightning Bolt,” their last album was proof that they’re still going strong. Eddie Vedder is one of the greatest voices of all time.
  2. Depeche Mode – Dave Gahan and the gang are so influential I’m not sure why they haven’t been voted in already. Their new LP drops in 2017, entitled “Spirit.” I could listen to Dave Gahan sing all day long.
  3. The Cars – They could be voted in on the strength of their debut album alone. Consider “Candy-O” and “Heartbeat City” and these guys deserve to be in the Hall.
  4. Jane’s Addiction – Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro… Another very influential 90’s band. Perry also created Lollapalooza which should give Jane’s extra consideration. Who doesn’t love “Jane Says”?
  5. J. Geils Band – this fifth choice was tough for me. I almost voted in Tupac but I love Peter Wolf. The band’s earlier, bluesy stuff is what I feel qualifies them. “Musta Got Lost” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

In the spirit of democracy, I shall list the remaining nominees this year, and the reasons I didn’t vote for them:

  1. Tupac – the man is a legend. He’ll likely get in first ballot. I always loved the tune “California Love.”
  2. Chic – I love Nile Rodgers as much as the next guy, and he should get into the Hall as a producer, but Chic wasn’t my cup of tea.
  3. Journey – these guys are actually leading the fan vote now which disturbs me deeply. I mean, I saw Journey twice in high school – that’s high school folks, who didn’t make mistakes in their youth. I grew out of it. I always liked the Gregg Rollie era better than the later stuff. Steve Perry turned into such a dick. I fear people are voting for Journey in the hopes Perry will show up and sing with the rest of the band, but knowing Steve, I doubt it. And really, who wants to see Jonathan Cain get into the Hall….
  4. Bad Brains – I know zero about them. There are limits to even B&V’s music knowledge.
  5. Janet Jackson – it’s the Rock And Roll Hall, not the Pop Hall of Fame.
  6. Chaka Khan – One hit wonder.
  7. ELO – Oh, spare me. These guys were so derivative of the Beatles Jeff Lynne ended up producing George Harrison. They had a few good songs but were a bit twee in my mind.
  8. Joan Baez – I’ve never been able to stand this woman’s screechy, warbling. I blame Bob Dylan for her influence.
  9. Joe Tex – I know nothing about this guy either. With a name like Joe Tex, he might be a blues guy so I might have to do some home work here.
  10. Kraftwerk – this is a scary German synth band that people who want to sound cool cite as an influence. Don’t believe them, no one listens to Kraftwerk.
  11. MC5- Solid, if short lived punk band in the same vein as the Stooges… I considered these guys in J Geils place as well…
  12. Steppenwolf – Overrated…
  13. The Zombies – Not a bad band, solidly blues based, but Hall of Fame worthy?
  14. Yes – The prog rock giants. There were so many configurations of this band I wonder if the stage is large enough to hold them all. Guitarist Steve Howe looks like the Crypt Keeper these days. I liked Yes, but outside of “The Yes Album,” “Fragile,” and maybe “90125” I’d be hard pressed to name another Yes album.

There you have it folks, the B&V take on this year’s all important Election. Who will you be voting for? Let me know in the comments section who you like if you disagree with my take.

As always, take care of yourself out there, the actual Election for US President gets darker every day, which is something I thought would be impossible. Even my cat woke up hissing from a nightmare today, which seems biblical in it’s portent. It’s a dark time… put on some groovy music and pour some of the dark stuff. For me today it’s Bob Dylan and Buffalo Trace… Hunker down, that’s my advice.

Cheers!

 

Dylan’s Silence on Nobel Prize: Is Anybody Really Surprised?

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I heard like everybody else a few weeks ago that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was surprised, but very pleased. I was in a bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas back in the 80s talking to a neanderthal drunkard who said to me in his pronounced southern drawl, “Bob Dylan is a poet man, but I can’t stand his voice. He can’t (pronounced cain’t) sing.” Apparently the Nobel committee agrees with that guy. Well, at least the poet part.

As it turns out, I was in Vegas all this week, at one of those terrible sales conferences I’m forced to attend once or twice a year. When I go to Vegas I sort of “lose time.” I enter the conference hotel which is akin to Biosphere and I don’t come out again until it’s time to go home. I’m surprised the sky doesn’t freak me out after not seeing it for 5 days… Other than sports (Go Cubs!) I don’t manage to keep up with current events. Massive earthquakes could swallow New York and LA, the zombie apocalypse could begin, the Faces could reunite and I’d likely be oblivious to all of it. I got up in the early hours yesterday to flee Vegas like a card-counter when I finally had time to check out what’s been happening this week. It appears Mr. Dylan has been utterly silent about his Nobel Award and the Swedes are pissed off about it. There was a brief mention of the Award on Dylan’s website but almost as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. No one knows if he’s even going to show up to accept the Award. He simply hasn’t acknowledged it. Even the New York Times published an Op-Ed entitled “What Does Dylan’s Silence on the Nobel Prize Mean?” Good luck figuring that out, pal.

I have to ask the question at this point… Is anybody surprised by this response from Dylan. I certainly am not. He’s been surprising us his whole career. To review…

After releasing two of the greatest folk albums of all time, chock full of protest tunes, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “The Times They Are A-Changing,” Dylan released “Another Side of Bob Dylan” which, while still “folky” wasn’t really a protest, folk album. I read a review that called it a rock and roll album without any of the instrumentation. I know that had to throw his loyal, beatnik following for a loop back then.

On the heels of that he turns electric at Newport, backed by members of the intrepid Paul Butterfield Blues Band (I’ve got to write something about Michael Bloomfield sometime…) and once again his fans are freaked out. He then records a series of world changing masterpieces (“Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde On Blonde”) of which the first two had acoustic halves but “Blonde…” was full on blues rock. At one point during all this, backed by the musicians who became The Band, Dylan was booed and called Judas by his “adoring fans.”

After a period in the wilderness where he created country-rock (“Nashville Skyline,” another surprise) and the tremendous comeback of “Blood On The Tracks” and “Desire” Dylan turns everything upside down by going through his “Christian period.” The voice of the counterculture in the 60’s becomes a bible thumping, religious zealot, going so far as to preach about Jesus from the stage of his concerts. You have to admit, the guy has balls.

After everyone in the world thought that Dylan’s career and creativity were long dead he launches a late career renaissance with “Time Out of Mind.” He had a string of records after that that were great, great records. I urge all of you to check out “Modern Times” and “Love and Theft” at the very least.

A few years ago the man did a Victoria Secrets commercial. From “Christian period” to hawking bras. Who saw that coming? The man has put on some of the most confounding concerts of anybody since Elvis. I saw him a few years ago with Merle Haggard and Hags blew him off the stage. Dylan stood at the keyboards, staring vacantly into the crowd. Even I, who am a fanatic about Dylan, had to struggle to name the songs he was playing. More recently he’s put out two Frank Sinatra cover albums. The greatest song writer in the history of music, who has won a fucking Nobel Prize, is doing the great American songbook in a sleepy, bar band, saloon style.

The man has been confounding and confusing us for his entire career. And now the Swedes are pissed off? Come on guys, what did you expect? A conventional response? A humbled Dylan showing up in a tuxedo to give a speech. As a true artist, the man has never allowed himself to be confined to the expectations of his fans, the Nobel committee,  or anybody else. And frankly, when you think about it, that’s a pretty Rock And Roll thing to do.

Rage on in your silence Mr. Dylan. At this point, I’d be disappointed if he showed up.

Cheers!

The Rolling Stones: “Just Your Fool” The First Single From ‘Blue And Lonesome’

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I haven’t been able to post much lately as my corporate overlords have had me on the road, traveling almost constantly. Then as inevitably happens in the fall, I fell ill. Too much time breathing the shared air of the airplane probably didn’t help either. Although I will say bronchitis does give me an excuse to cut back on the bourbon I am so fond of…but I digress. There is a lot of exciting new music coming out and newly released music to blog about. It’s truly an exciting time for rock fans – I just wish I felt better to enjoy it. Most exciting for your humble BourbonAndVinyl enthusiast is the new blues album coming out in early December from the Rolling Stones.

In the beginning for me, as a rock fan, it was the Stones. They were the first band to pierce my seeming obliviousness to music and all things rock and roll. ‘Some Girls’ was the first proper album I purchased with my own money. And for the Stones, in the beginning, it was The Blues. Their early records, “England’s Newest Hit Makers” and “12×5” were basically blues covers albums. It was the blues that brought Mick and Keith together at that train station over 50 years ago. It was the blues they played all around London at clubs like the Marquee Club.

I have always loved the Stones but have been frustrated with the lack of new music from them. The last non-greatest hits, non-live LP they put out was the superb “A Bigger Bang” and that was in 2005. It’s hard to believe these guys have waited 10 years to put out new music. Keith’s autobiography “Life,” where he disparaged Mick probably didn’t help their ability to sit down across a table and write music together. Sure it’s easy to tour and play on a stage but creative chemistry is a tougher thing to gauge.

I had heard that the Stones had gone into the studio late last year and was elated. Keith has said recently they were struggling to find a groove when he suggested they jam on some old blues covers to knock the cobwebs off. Apparently those sessions caught fire. Even Eric Clapton, who was recording next door, was pulled into the room for a couple of tracks. Over the course of three days the Stones recorded enough old, Chicago blues to fill an album.

The first salvo from that record is a great blues scorcher “Just Your Fool.” As the Rock Chick commented when I played it for her, “I love it when Mick Jagger plays the harmonica.” His harmonica is the first thing you hear on this old blues chestnut. This is rough and raw blues, the way it was meant to be played. Charlie Watts beat is in the pocket, his playing is just superb. These guys have been playing the blues for so long it’s their second language. Mick and Keith may diverge on a lot of points these days, but not the blues. It’s the thing that ties them together. They sound like they’re having a lot of fun. This is a great first single from what I hope to be a great album.

Of course this blast of blues leaves me with more questions than answers. Will they continue to work on a new LP of all new stuff? Will this spark the creative juices and heal the wounds between Mick and Keith? I certainly don’t know but I’m glad we have the Stones doing what they do best, the blues.

Cheers!

LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch

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I’m like everybody else when it comes to Green Day. They swept into my life like a juggernaut through a town square when their major label debut “Dookie” came out. In my mind, I tend to lump them in with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all the other “grunge” bands that took over the world of music in the 90s, but when I think about it, Green Day was really always a bit apart. First and foremost I think of most the grunge bands as being informed by punk rock, but Green day actually was a punk rock band. Most of the grunge scene erupted out of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and Green Day germinated in Oakland.

“Dookie” was so over played and beat to death by rock radio and I actually sold my copy at the used record store. “Dookie” was so massive it sort of dwarfed their two, fine, follow-up albums, “Insomniac” and “Nimrod.” I completely lost track of them, such was my saturation with “Dookie.” Oh sure, an occasional track would slip through my rather intense filter: “Geek Stink Breath” (my wife, the Rock Chick’s all time favorite), “Hitchin’ A Ride,” and “Brain Stew” were all great tracks, but I never investigated either of those records. It didn’t help that the ubiquitous single “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” became such a huge success. Once again radio beat Green Day to death before I could really get into them. And, I’ll be the first to admit, I just hate that song.

On one of my first dates with the Rock Chick we went to a record store, something I’d never done on a date before… stupid me. She bought a stack of CDs almost as tall as she was and one of them was Green Day’s “Warning,” an album I just loved immediately. We played it all evening long over pasta and a whole lot of wine, but I digress. Billie Joe Armstrong could write hooks all day long. There wasn’t a dud on that record. I began to investigate the Rock Chick’s other Green Day records and bam I was in. I even rediscovered “Dookie” for the classic it is. What jumped out at me on those records was how fantastic the rhythm section was – Mike Dirnt is a great bassist and Tre Cool may be the best drummer out there today.

Even though “Warning” was a great record, it appears Green Day’s creative process had broken down as the pressure to repeat “Dookie’s” success loomed, even 4 records in. The band ended up going to “band counciling” something akin to marriage counciling where Billie Joe admitted the pressure he felt was causing him to be hesitant to share new material with the band and to their, at the time, withering criticism. He apparently went on to admit that he’d always wanted to write the punk rock “Bohemian Rhapsody.” With the air cleared and the creative process open to roam free, Green Day came out with two Rock Operas in a row. “American Idiot” was probably the best of the two, but I think there was some great music on “21st Century Breakdown.”

After “21st Century Breakdown” came out I think everybody could agree the rock opera thing was probably played out. Instead of going back to basics and putting out a simple, straight forward punk rock album, over achiever Billie Joe Armstrong wrote 3 albums worth of material. I really liked “Uno,” “Dos” and “Tre” but the Rock Chick, who had loved Green Day much longer than I did, dismissed the albums as too polished and overproduced. I have to agree with her there, they were very polished records. She missed the raw menace of their earlier records. I think like all multiple albums, there was probably one great album somewhere there within the three. No one will ever convince me that “Kill the DJ” isn’t a stone cold classic. I think I may be the only person who really loved that trio of records, alas… Sadly Billie Joe succumbed to substance abuse and the subsequent tour was cancelled.

Which all leads me to their new, Billboard chart-topping LP, “Revolution Radio.” At last we have that return to a more raw, “punkier” sound, trimmed to just twelves songs. While this is not a rock opera per se, there are some definite themes and repeated lyrics that show up in different songs that tie the songs together. The entire album feels very much a unified whole. After the head-fake opening track, “Somewhere Now,” now which starts off acoustic for a minute or two then explodes into an electric anthem, Green Day snarl back with a triptych of some of their hardest music in quite a while: “Bang Bang,” “Revolution Radio,” and “Say Goodbye.” “Bang Bang” is a harrowing look inside a mass shooter’s thoughts. “Revolution Radio” is the call to arms here and for reasons I can’t explain reminds me of the Clash, or at least something they’d have written. Current events are very much a part of the lyrical make up of this album. “Troubled Times” is another topical kick ass tune. “Youngbloods,” a tune that may be written for Billie’s wife, is another great, upbeat tune and may be my favorite of the litter. “Forever Now” is punchy fun.

All that said, there are a handful of songs that are little more polished. I love the idea of the song “Outlaws,” but that chorus sounds like it was made for arena-ready crowds to sing along with. No matter how punk Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong are, they know how to write and exploit a hook. They simply can’t help it, they’re just melodic song writers. “Still Breathing” is a song I like but I wouldn’t describe it as a punk song. “Ordinary World” is an acoustic strummer that ends the album, and is much akin to “Good Riddance.” While I hated the latter song, I must say the new one doesn’t evoke that feeling in me yet… If they start playing “Ordinary World” at every wedding I go to like “Good Riddance” was, I reserve the right to change my mind on that…

Other than those handful of songs, the guitar is loud and punky throughout. Tre Cool’s drums are, as always, amazing. He’s probably the punkest thing about this record. His drum fills on “Bang Bang” are heart pounding. Mike Dirnt, the master of the strolling bass line is in fine form here as well. The band sounds rejuvenated and reinvigorated. The world needs an important band like Green Day who can rock this hard and still carry a social message. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little Revolution around here and what better place than on the Radio?

This one is a definite recommended buy from B&V. Turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!

The Cult: Hidden City Live, Kansas City

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Editor’s Note: While blogging about drinking and rock and roll is OK, blogging while drinking and listening to rock and roll isn’t always great… We’ll try to restrain Mr. B&V from his drunken, ecstatic post-concert ramblings, like those below, but we can’t guarantee anything…

Man, what a shitty week I was having… and then live rock n roll happens and everything is ok…

I took the Rock Chick out tonight to see the Cult on what was our second show on the “Alive In The Hidden City Tour” tonight… our first show was in Chicago back in, I believe April or maybe March. What a difference 5 months can prove to be. Many of the same songs were played, but in a much different order and with a lot looser approach. Noticeably missing was “Dark Energy” which is the first song on “Hidden City” and was the opening song in Chicago…

We stood next to a couple of guys, Sean and Terence who hadn’t seen the Cult since the “Sonic Temple” tour, many years ago. It was great to meet two guys who were inspired by Billy Duffy to pick up the guitar and start a band. I may have had way too much vodka tonight but as I write this I’m pretty sure I’m still going to be impressed by all of this in the morning. Wow, what a healing experience a concert is. All the tension I was feeling is gone now.

The Cult were loose and clearly having fun. This was the first show I’d seen them from up in a balcony, instead of down on the floor amongst the masses. The difference in viewpoint was startling. Billy Duffy was just man-handling the guitar tonight and I mean that in a good way. From my elevated view point I could see Ian Astbury and the joyous dancing he was doing. He was more animated than I’d seen him since the “Beyond Good and Evil” tour when I first saw these guys live. Tonight’s show may have even topped that first Cult show on “BGE” but that may be the vodka talking.

Highlights for me tonight were “Deeply Ordered Chaos” and “GOAT” (the first encore tune) from the new album. These are tunes that they should play in every show from now on. I also liked the loose, jammy version of “Sweet Soul Sister” they played, but I should mention the Rock Chick doesn’t like that sort of thing, and was vocal about Ian’s loose approach tonight. I thought it was great, but hey, I’m full of Ketel One…. “Fire Woman” was the crowd pleaser it always is. “Rain” is another personal favorite of mine, as is “Phoenix” both from the “Love” album.

Ian, at one point, asked if we had a “rock station” in KC…and further pondered why they wouldn’t play the new Cult album. I have to ask the same question… He said he was as depraved and debauched as anybody else, why not play the Cult’s “Hidden City?” Again, I have to ask the same question. It’s great to hear hard rock played live, why not play some of that music on the damn radio…

If you haven’t already done so, pick up “Hidden City” on vinyl, CD or iTunes, and turn it up loud…

Cheers!

 

BourbonAndVinyl List of Bands Who Sadly, Should Call It Quits

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In a post a few weeks ago I mused about a proposed SuperGroup comprised of members of famous bands who were left out of some of these big reunion tours. I cited GnR and Black Sabbath just to name a few. In one of the comments back to me, Moutly58 commented that I should do a post on bands that should call it quits. I chuckled but the comment did inspire quite a bit of thought. Nothing like a provocative comment and a tumbler of bourbon to send me into brooding mode…

This blog was founded on the idea that, other than telling funny drinking stories, I would talk about older, more mature bands and artists who were putting out new music. There are so many great artists putting out music that have been largely ignored by radio and the public, I felt the market was underserved. Tom Petty, both with the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch, has put out some great music over the last decade that you’re not likely to hear on your local rock stations. You’re lucky if you catch them on satellite radio. I’m more likely to hear “Born To Run” by Springsteen on the radio again (for the billionth time) than anything from his last LP, “High Hopes.”

But Moulty58’s comment made me put my love of those classic bands aside for a moment. I couldn’t help but think, are there bands that ought to call it quits? Are there bands who have stayed at the party too long (which coincidentally is something the Rock Chick accuses me of all the time)? The answer is, inevitably, yes. There are just certain bands that need to hang it up. In many cases it’s due to the tragic loss of a key band member. In some cases these bands are carrying on without key members. Never underestimate the magic chemistry of the right four or five guys in a room. In many of these cases these artists have just lost something, call it a creative spark…. Without further adieu, here are the B&V bands who need to hang it up:

Aerosmith: These guys haven’t done anything listenable since “Permanent Vacation.” Steven Tyler has some of the worst LSD in the history of rock music. I’m so sick of Tyler and Joe Perry bickering, they make the Stones look like a happy family. Tyler betrayed his blues rock roots and went on a TV show and then recorded a weird country-esque solo album that was crap. These guys can’t even get in the studio to record new music any more. They’ve announced a farewell tour, but we’ve all seen that before. Go away Steven, go away.

 AC/DC: These poor bastards. Founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young sadly succumbs to dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd becomes a meth dealing moronic thug. Bass player Cliff Williams has announced his retirement. Lead singer Brian Johnson has hearing damage so severe they had to bring in Axl Rose…. I mean,  you’re running on fumes if you have to turn to rock and roll’s most mercurial undependable front man to help you finish your tour. I feel for Angus Young, lead guitarist and lone founding member left. I hear Axl is inspiring Angus to write new music. If so, and he works with Axl again, call it something else, not AC/DC. Parts are falling off of this band faster than my high school car running down the highway.

Eric Clapton: When was the last time Eric Clapton recorded a song that didn’t sound like your grandfather sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. When you’re known for playing guitar and refuse to do big solo’s… perhaps you’ve lost your way.

Bob Seger: I applaud Bob for putting out a couple of albums of new music over the last few years. He’s always said, when his voice goes, it’s time for him to go… I’ve got bad news for you Bob, your voice has gone. Seger’s voice sounds like a fork caught in a garbage disposal. It’s time to give up the rasping and turn to his vast, unreleased archives. I’d settle for releases of “Seven” and “Back In ’72.”

The Moody Blues: I don’t even think these guys are still around, I just can’t stand the fucking Moody Blues so I included them just in case.

Any Band Missing Key Founding Members; This is sort of a catch all for those late 70’s to early 80’s (think ’75 to ’85) bands who keep hanging around with only 1 or 2 original members. I’m talking to you Styx, REO Speedwagon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner (currently touring without Lou Gramm) and most of all, Journey (no Steve Perry?) Give it up guys, you’re not Menudo with interchangeable members. I mean, sure Styx still has James “J.Y.” Young and Tommy Shaw in the band but I can never forgive those guys for letting Dennis DeYoung do that whole “Mr. Roboto” thing. They should be banished forever for that…

Sting: Every time Sting actually moves toward rock and roll the critics herald it as a return to his “Police sound.” I’ve heard his new song, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” Having heard it, I can certainly stop thinking about Sting. After a jazz-lite solo career, he careened into Christmas music and then did a Broadway play. Now I’m supposed to believe he’s going to rock? I doubt it. Time for rock’s most Pretentious Man to slowly fade away.

Billy Joel: It’s hard for me to believe that the last album of new material Joel put out was “River of Dreams” in 1995. The guy has loads of talent but has shut down on writing or creating new music. I think that contributes to the alcoholism but I’m no doctor. He’s an amazing concert draw, but when you stop creating as an artist don’t you die? Record something new Billy so I can take you off this list.

The Who: I saw the Who this last April and they were great. Zak Starkey does a great Keith Moon imitation. Pino Palladino, who Townshend said was “too cool for jazz” did a nice job filling in for John Entwistle. Pete seemed to be having fun despite himself. Roger was Roger. They did have a cadre of musicians on stage to augment their sound, never a good sign. The Who haven’t recorded anything since “Endless Wire.” I don’t know why these guys can’t get themselves into a studio, they killed it live. Townshend continues to say how “done” with the Who he is and yet he continues to tour, likely to placate Daltrey. I love these guys, but again, without moving forward creatively I have to question, why?

Did I miss any bands you think should hang it up? If I did, please add your thoughts in the comments.

Fall is finally here, my favorite season, indeed it’s the high, Holy season for Bourbon drinkers. Pour something dark and murky, put on some great rock and roll and enjoy the crisp weather and changing leaves.

Cheers!

Bruce Springsteen: Sixty-Seven But On A Roll!

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I have to say a big, belated Happy Birthday to Mr. Bruce Springsteen. The man turned 67 yesterday and shows no signs of slowing down. Having seen Bruce with the “legendary” E Street Band in April, I’m stunned he’s 67. Only Mick Jagger seems to defy age more than Bruce Springsteen. And you have to think in Mick’s case, he’s tethered to Keith Richards who hasn’t aged as… gracefully, but I digress. Springsteen is on a huge roll right now. He’s got a lot going on so I thought I’d catch everybody up.

First and foremost was his 2016 “The River” Tour, one of the year’s highest grossing tours. It was done in support of the excellent box set celebrating “The River” entitled “The Ties That Bind.” The box set had the double LP as released in 1979, the original single LP version of the album that Bruce submitted to Columbia but withdrew, entitled like the box set “The Ties That Bind,” and a disc of outttakes. “The Ties That Bind” was very similar to the great box set celebrating “Darkness On The Edge of Town,” named “The Promise,” after one of the great outtakes from those sessions. “Meet Me In The City” from the outtakes is a great, great Springsteen song. I will say , half of the outtakes had already been released on the previous treasure trove box set, “Tracks.” but I’m splitting hairs here. You need to hear all the tracks together to really frame the artistic period surrounding “The River.”

On the first American leg of “The River” tour, which is when I saw Bruce last, the band played the “River” album in it’s entirety, start to finish. It’s a dicey enterprise playing an entire album in concert. It either goes very well, like when I saw the Cult do “Love” or “Electric” or poorly like when I saw Motley Crue do “Dr. Feelgood.” It’s all about the album’s pacing. “Love” and “Electric” were non stop hard rock albums that held up very well in concert. I’m still baffled as to why “Dr Feelgood” didn’t translate as well live. There are some of my favorite Crue songs on that record, but the pacing seemed to lag on what would be side 2. The Rock Chick gave up on seeing Motley live after that, much to my chagrin… The Rock Chick’s likes and dislikes can be very mercurial… I wonder how long she’s going to let me stick around, but that’s another post… and I intend to stick for the long haul but I digress again. Must be all this traveling I’m doing… can’t stay focused.

“The River,” played straight through actually held up very well live. The album is paced well and highlights everything the E Street Band does well. There are barrel-house rockers and light-touch ballads. Springsteen’s intent when recording “The River” was to recreate the energy the band put off during live shows, so it makes sense that “The River” live would be fantastic. After the album was over, they played what Bruce was calling the “concert after the concert” which varied almost every night. I was pleased to finally see “Rosalita” performed live after all these years of attending Springsteen shows. That set after the album seemed to really spark the excitement in the band. I downloaded the free “Chicago” show and it’s a very strong live album. I began to realize the band was doing some of their finest live work in their career.

When the E Street Band got over to the European leg of the tour, the strictures of playing the entire “River” LP every night had gotten old and so they cast that aside. The sets he started playing in Europe were as varied and career spanning as I’ve ever seen. By the time they got back to the US, Springsteen was setting records for his longest shows and then breaking them on the next night of the tour. The set lists on these shows are staggering in their breadth and depth. What’s better still is that you can buy any or all of these great shows on brucespringsteen.net any time you want.

I picked up the August 30, Metlife Stadium show in New Jersey and it ranks amongst the best bootlegs I’ve ever heard of Springsteen. He opens with the obscure chestnut, “New York City Serenade.” Springsteen fans will all realize how special that song is, I don’t think it’s been performed since the 70s, but I’m no historian. He then went through a quasi chronological tour through his entire career. He only played two songs from “The River” and neither was the actual song, “The River” which is odd considering the name of the tour but hey, he’s the Boss. He even dug into his “solo” period and played “Living Proof” which was a surprising highlight. I highly recommend checking out any of the shows on the tour after he’s returned to the US. I will warn you, the 8/30 date is over 4 hours, so strap in for a long listening experience but it’s worth every minute. He does most of “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle,” my favorite album by Bruce. You can even purchase all three New Jersey shows as one special package, but even I shy away from 12 hours of music from anybody… Do yourself a favor and check out these live recordings, it will reward you.

On top of all that activity, Bruce’s autobiography, aptly named “Born To Run” came out on Friday. I read a great interview with Bruce in Vanity Fair and it sounds like Bruce plumbs the depth of some of his battles with depression. It’s been described as being like one of his concerts: sprawling, ecstatic and epic. Here’s my problem. The rock and roll autobiography kind of got ruined for me by Keith Richards. I love Keith to death but his arcane writing about the different guitar tunings he used on certain songs was too much for even me. And he went on to comment on Mick’s penis… C’mon man, nobody wants you to go there. Someone gave me Pete Townshend’s autobiography but after Keith’s “Life,” I couldn’t bring myself to even open it. I’m on the fence about Springsteen’s book, because I think he’d be a better writer, but man, it’s a huge commitment.

The treat for me around this whole autobiography thing was that Bruce released a “companion” disc of tunes to go with the book. Two-thirds of these songs have been released on various albums and greatest hits so why bother? Well, he’s released five tunes from his pre-fame career. Two songs are by his first band, The Castiles. One song is from his outfit named Steel Mill. I’m not going to lie to you. The sound quality of these tunes is not great. These songs are for you completists out there – you know who you are – but I can’t recommend them. They’re solid, meat-and-potatos 50’s style rock. Nothing terribly revelatory there.

The two songs I would recommend are a solo song “Henry Boy” and a song credited to The Bruce Springsteen Band (his pre E Street configuration) named “The Ballad of Jesse James.” I really liked “Henry Boy.” It sounds like a left over from “Greetings From Asbury Park.” It’s all rapidly strummed acoustic guitar with words spilling out of Springsteen almost as fast as he can sing them. It’s a really nice addition to the catalog. The gem here, the song I absolutely love and consider a must-have for any Springsteen fan is “The Ballad of Jesse James.” That song is all pure 70’s rock. It opens with a giant slab of a riff and then Bruce hits you with a squealing almost slide guitar sound that kills. There are back up singers. The sound of this song is very much “of it’s time,” the 70s. It sounds like a song Gregg Allman could have recorded on one of his solo albums. The guitar solo is worth the $1.29 for the song alone. I have to wonder, where the hell did this sound go? He didn’t play guitar like this again until “Darkness On the Edge of Town.” The chorus, which I love, asks the question “Don’t you wanna be an outlaw?” The answer, as any B&V enthusiast must know by now, is yes, yes I do. Again, the sound quality is a little rough, we’re all used to highly polished, digitized music these days, but the sound of this one harkens back to hearing a vinyl record on a loud PA system at a bar having a drink-and-drowned night, all the beer you can drink for $5 and who doesn’t miss those days?

Put “The Ballad of Jesse James” on the stereo, slip on your old bell bottoms and dance around like you ain’t got no brains and celebrate Bruce’s Birthday. Happy Birthday Bruce, and many more to come. Here’s mud in your eye! Cheers !

On The Mellow End: Norah Jones & Van Morrison Release New Singles, LPs On The Way

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I’m as much of a “Hard Rock” person as anybody, but every now and then you need to turn it down a bit. Actually I’m just a fan of music in general, I just mostly talk about the rockers. There are a couple of new songs, preceding albums, that have come out lately that I feel necessary to comment on… These aren’t party songs, or hard rock songs, these are late night songs. These are tumbler full of Blanton’s bourbon, sitting on the porch songs. These are get your belt off and hold me close songs… Putting on either of these songs could lead you anywhere…

First and foremost is Norah Jones’ new tune “Carry On” from her upcoming album, “Day Breaks.” This is a return to her early, earthy, jazzy style of “Come Away With Me.” It’s as sexy as Hell. This woman could sing the phone book and make it sound great. If you can’t get laid with Norah Jones on the stereo, you can’t get laid… More to come on this as the LP comes out….This song is all piano and brilliant vocal. It’s the closest thing she’s done to her first album in a long time. I think this is a great return to her early sound. I will admit, I’ve loved everything she’s done, experimentally and other wise…. Check out the Little Willies, her great, country side project.

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What to think about Van Morrison…We’d all love to think he’s got another “Moondance” or even a “Tupelo Honey” left in him, but who knows. He hit a hot streak starting with the “Down The Road” album and kept it going through “Magic Time.” Then he phoned it in with “Keep It Simple.” He followed up with the fabulous “Astral Weeks: Live At the Hollywood Bowl” which was simply transcendent. Yes, he was revisiting an old album, but the passion of that performance was almost as great as the original LP. His last two albums, oddly named, left me cold… although the duet, “Streets of Arklow” with Mick Hucknell might be one of the greatest duets ever, and it slowly restored my faith…

I have no idea what his new LP “Keep Me Singing” will bring, but for some odd reason, I remain hopeful. The lead single, “Too Late” has me very optimistic. It’s an oddly hopeful, “it’s not too late” mid tempo, train-tempo-chugging tune that I really like. It’s the first Van tune that I thought might signal he’s trying since “Magic Time.” I get it, he did two or three great albums and no one noticed, why try… but it appears he’s coming back with a very strong album. These are the type of albums that B&V were founded on, strong albums in the later careers of great artists…I’m not sure if this will be a great album, but it’s a great first single…

Again, these aren’t great party songs… but if you’re having a night cap and someone is in their underwear, this might just tweak the mood in your favor… and if you’re like me, you can always use that help…

Cheers!

Metallica’s “Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” Bonus Tracks: They piss me off again

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I was a huge fan of Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” but in a strange move the band compressed the music so much, in order to increase the volume, it sometimes make my speakers crack. I wasn’t as pissed as the general public, but it was annoying. When you “compress” the music, in layman’s terms, you digitally compact the music so you can push it up in the sound spectrum so it’s physically louder. It was completely unnecessary and provided less than optimal sound. I still love the album, but Jesus guys. Use your heads.

When I saw that “Hardwired…To Self Destruct” was coming out, I quickly learned that there were two versions, a standard one and a “Deluxe” version. Now, I’m a scrupulous buyer of LPs… If there are bonus tracks to be had, I investigate and there is a high likelihood that I’ll buy the deluxe version of any album – if the bonus tracks are worth it. If they’re early demos, or the dreaded “remixes” then I’m likely not interested. Sometimes the bonus tracks are better than some of the deeper album cuts. The Rolling Stones, on the LP “A Bigger Bang,” issued a deluxe version that had video version of two songs, one of which, “Under the Radar” is the greatest Stones tune you’ve never heard.

When “Hardwired…” first came out, I looked at both versions. It appeared the bonus disc was collection of demos. There was one completed tune, “Lords Of Summer.” Metallica’s creative process is not unlike that of many bands… they jam at soundchecks and rehearsal spaces and record it all. Later they go through all the stuff and if they hear certain riffs or passages they like, they build those into songs. So with titles on the bonus disc like: “Plow (Riff origins)” and “Tin Shot (Riff Origins)” my reaction was, no thanks. I get that completists will want all the tracks, nobody understands that more than your dedicated, obsessive-compulsive B&V writer. I also understand how the “Riff” early versions of these songs would be of interest to those curious about Metallica’s creative process.

In my case, I wasn’t interested. I purchased the first single off the standard version, figuring I would buy that version when it came out and go back and purchase “Lords Of Summer” from the deluxe version and I’d be whole. But then, at this late hour, the chuckleheads in Metallica change their fucking mind. They’ve decided to completely change the bonus tracks. Gone are the “Riff Origins” versions of these tunes and now they’re releasing a bunch of live stuff and cover tunes they’ve recorded since “Death Magnetic.”

It’s like they realized, “Hey, nobody wants to hear us noodling, we have all these extra tracks, let’s do that instead.” Normally I’d be thrilled to see this track listing but I already committed to the standard version. I know, I know, it’s only $1.29, I shouldn’t be bitching and this will teach me to be patient and wait for the vinyl version anyway, but I like to hear new tunes as soon as they’re available and that’s typically an MP3. It’s just the principle of the thing that pisses me off. These guys do some of the stupidest shit I’ve ever seen. I thought since Hetfield sobered up maybe somebody was actually steering this battleship who might be a tad more… thoughtful.

OK, enough of my rant. Now, the good news. These bonus tunes do look awesome. The bonus disc now looks like a mini- “Garage Inc.” a heavy metal cover album that I just loved. There are covers by Dio, Iron Maiden and a Deep Purple obscurity. They’ve also packed what looks like some great live versions of older tunes. Stuff they recorded on their Record Store Day show at a small LP shop and some tracks from their recent Minneapolis concert. All this looks like great bonus material… if only they’d released it like this to begin with.

We all have that one friend who leaves us scratching our heads, wondering, WTF did he do that for. It appears in my rock and roll universe that friend is Metallica. Stupid moves aside, like that WTF friend, I still love his band. I guess in the end, Metallica, I just can’t stay mad at you. I’m very excited to hear what I believe is going to be a pummeling heavy metal attack.

Cheers!