Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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One of the great things about being married to the Rock Chick is the enormous amount of music she’s turned me onto over the years. Among other bands, early on she turned me onto an all female band, The Donnas. I had never even heard of the Donnas until the Rock Chick put on the LP “Spend The Night” one night and man, these chicks “rawked!” Their song “5 O’Clock In the Morning” was on high rotation at the house for quite some time and boasts one of the most hot-shit guitar solo’s you’re ever going to hear. All female bands were somewhat of a novelty for me when I was growing up. In fact, there wasn’t really any female band I paid much attention to when I was growing up. There was Heart (who had 2 women and 3 men), but after 1980 they went all slick pop and lost my interest. “Barracuda” by them was a descent track. Of course Heart had to suffer through spurious rumors of lesbian incest. Chicks never got their due back in the day. Most of us owned a bunch of heavy metal and hard rock albums and then one or two Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks albums and that was the extent of what we knew about “chicks who rock.”

The Rock Chick has been extolling me to write a post on “Chicks Who Rock” for quite a while now. I had to tell her, beside reminding her of her lifetime reading ban of B&V due to undue criticism of my sentence structure, that I don’t take requests at B&V even if you are sleeping with the writer. That said, the Donnas’ “5 O’Clock In the Morning” popped up on the iPod shuffle the other day and I started doing some reading about them on the inter-web. They cited a band called The Runaways as one of their major influences. I knew I’d heard of The Runaways but couldn’t quite place them. Suddenly it occurred to me that when Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, she mentioned that she’d got her start in The Runaways. I had always thought The Runaways were like Menudo, with interchangeable parts… perhaps I was wrong. Intrigued, I knew I had to do more musical spelunking.

Another great thing about being married to the Rock Chick is that she’s willing to dedicate an entire evening to listening to music. The same evening I put on Big Star’s “#1 Record” we listened to an assortment of new music including The Record Company, The Shelters and yes, The Runaways. I figured The Runaways’ music, since they were put together by skeezy producer Kim Fowley as a novelty act, would be awful. I was very pleasantly surprised. These chicks rocked hard with a punk sensibility that I had not expected. Even the Rock Chick dug The Runaways’ first album and she has very discerning taste. Clearly more research was necessary.

I was too young for The Runaways. They put out their first album in 1976 when I was still collecting baseball cards and only lasted through roughly 1979. They were formed around the core members of Joan Jett on rhythm guitar and some lead vocals, Sandy West on drums and of all people, Lita Ford on lead guitar. When I found out Heavy Metal Maven Lita Ford was in this band with Joan Jett I knew I was onto something. They went through a number of bass players including a chick who ended up in the all female pop band The Bangles. I never had much use for the Bangles… so I consider that the one blight on the Runaways’ otherwise spotless pedigree. For their first two studio albums The Runaways also had Cherrie Currie on lead vocals. Apparently there have been documentaries and biographical movies made about these gals, but I’ve never seen any of them. I understand there was a lot of conflict and drama around the band – but what band doesn’t have conflict and drama. It sounds like this Kim Fowley guy who was their producer and manger was pretty rapey around these young teenage girls. The back story all sounds pretty awful. However, I’m not here to talk about all of that. I just like the music. They never really caught on in America but were, as the cliche goes, “big in Japan.”

The Runaways music is, as I mentioned, a blend of hard rock and punk. These are sleazy songs about misbehavior. These are the dirty girls my mother warned me about and I soooo loved from adolescence to my thirties. Oh, who am I kidding, I still love the bad girls. The debut album is probably the pick of the litter, simply titled “The Runaways.” “Cherry Bomb” was “the hit” that they are most remembered for. Its all dirty riffs and Lita Ford’s screaming leads. I’ll admit some of the lyrics are juvenile but that’s what I’ve always loved about rock and roll. “You Drive Me Wild” has a dirty riff with possibly Lita’s best guitar solo. “Is It Day Or Night” a question I’ve often asked myself when I wake up, is a big loping rocker. They even cover Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergrounds’ “Rock And Roll” with a lot of cowbell. Oh my God is that song so 70s. “American Nights” is an anthem that should have been played all summer in every small town in the U.S. The album ends with a baffling mini-opera kind of song, “Dead End Justice” which utterly lost me. Other than that misfire, “The Runaways” is dirty, rock and roll fun.

The second record, and Cherrie Currie’s last record with the band before going solo was “Queens Of Noise.” They start off right where they left off on the debut record, all hard rock and dirty girl lyrics. The title track comes from a lyric on “American Nights.” They sing in the chorus, “do whatever you want to me.” God, I love these girls. “Take It Or Leave It” is one of my favorite tracks on this record, sung by Joan Jett, and is cowritten by none other than Jagger/Richards. I have to assume Mick was sniffing around the girl band which makes me love the guy that much more. “Neon Angels On The Road to Ruin,” and “Born To Be Bad” continue the basic Runaways themes. I will say the song “Midnight Music” is a more sophisticated tune. “California Paradise” which boasts some interesting drumming and “Hollywood” are better “California sunshine” songs than anything those pussies the Beach Boys put out. “Johnny Guitar” the closing track has some of Lita Ford’s most epic guitar soloing of her career.

The third record, “Waiting For the Night,” I really enjoyed despite the exit of Cherrie Currie. I like “Waiting For the Night” almost better because Joan Jett does all the singing. I just dig her voice more. You could tell the band was pulling in two different directions, punk vs hard rock. Song like “Little Sister” and “Wasted” feel more punky to me than hard rockers. And, “Fantasies” and “Trash Can Murders” are more metalish music than punk. “Gotta Get Out Tonight” has a poignant urgency as does “Wait For Me.” This is all very solid rock and roll. “School Days” has a break neck riff that Aerosmith would be jealous of.

Although they did put out another studio album, by “Waiting For the Night” The Runaways were a spent musical force. Inter-band struggles finally tore these guys apart. Apparently Joan wanted to go more punk with Sandy West and Lita Ford lining up against her, pushing for a more heavy metal direction. They split ways for the oldest reason in the rock and roll books – “creative differences.” Lita went on to be an 80s Heavy Metal Chick. Sandy West had her own band but alas succumbed to cancer in 2006. Cherrie Currie, whoever everyone thought would soar as a solo artist, never really found success. And Joan Jett, well, everybody knows that story. Had I known about The Runaways when I wrote my post about bands who had members who went on to bigger fame, I’d have included these guys. The Runaways are more than a novelty band, they’re a guilty rock and roll pleasure. At the very least everyone should hear their debut album.

Chicks who Rock are very, very powerful… take my word for it. I married one.

Cheers!

Playlist: The B&V 20 Best Bowie Deep Tracks – You Won’t Hear These on the Radio

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Ah, January. With the turn of the calendar and a shiny new year and the prospects there of, everything seems so hopeful. However, for me January has been permanently altered by the loss of David Bowie. Now for me, early January isn’t for making lists of New Year’s Resolutions, although I am on a Bourbon fast this month (and yes, it’s awful). Early January has morphed into celebrating Bowie’s birthday and sadly, the anniversary of his passing a year ago. This has caused me to veer off my usual attitude of looking forward as the year begins to looking backward at the career of one of the greatest rock and roll legends of all time. Of course there have been a number of loving remembrances and tributes to Bowie this season which have also fueled my Bowie bender.

So instead of joining a gym, as many do in January, I sit around listening to the Berlin Trilogy trying to make sense of ‘Lodger.’ Why critics describe that LP as “more accessible” than the other two LPs, ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ is a mystery I can’t seem to solve. Another thing that has contributed to my January Bowie obsession (which, to be honest is really a year round thing) is that Bowie released some (relatively) new music this year again on his birthday. The EP ‘No Plan’ was reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V and it contains the last three songs he recorded during the ‘Blackstar’ sessions. The music is superb and certainly worth a purchase and listen.

If you flip on your radio, ether terrestrial or satellite, you’re likely to hear the usual tracks from the Bowie canon, “Fame,” “Young Americans,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel.” For the more progressive minded you might hear some of the edgier works, “Heroes,” “Sound And Vision,” “DJ” or maybe “Ashes to Ashes.” Let’s not get into “Modern Love,” and “Let’s Dance.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I dig all of those songs as much as the next Bowie fanatic. But the man’s body of work is so much broader than the tunes that complete a 2-disc greatest hits compilation. It’s like with Springsteen,  they only play “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” on the radio. Stretch out radio guys, stretch out.

So as I’ve been listening to various Bowie albums this week, I couldn’t help but look up at the stereo periodically, as some deeper album track came on and mutter, “God damn that’s a great song… why don’t they play that on the radio?” As that continued to happen over the span of the last week or so, I began to scribble song names down on scraps of paper and deposit them on my desk. How I find anything on the surface of my desk is an organizational issue that plagues the Rock Chick and only makes sense to me. Trust me, I think I know where everything is on this desk… I think it was Einstein who said, “if a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind, what does a clear desktop represent?”…but I digress.

I put 20 of these songs together on an iPod Playlist and I must admit, they cohere pretty nicely. Despite his diversity of sounds, styles and personas, at the heart of it is always Bowie’s fabulous voice and sense of melody. The man was a giant from beginning to end. And let’s not forget, the guy could rock. These tracks are album tracks, not singles (for the most part). These are songs you’re not likely to hear on the radio and perhaps may not even be familiar with. There will be, as with any list I put together, egregious omissions. It was difficult to narrow this just down to 20… I invite anyone with an opinion to add songs to the list in the Comments Section.

Without further adieu, here’s one man’s Bourbon deprived view of Bowie’s Best Deep Tracks.

  1. “Black Country Rock” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – The debut of guitarist Mick Ronson. I love this rocker. This LP may be Bowie’s hardest.
  2. “She Shook Me Cold” from ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ – One of the hardest songs in Bowie’s catalog. Ronson’s guitar is Jeff Beck-esque.
  3. “Oh! You Pretty Things” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – Song starts off with just voice and piano but kicks in around the 1:21 point. Great vocal.
  4. “Kooks” from ‘Hunky Dory’ – There’s just something so catchy about this song. This is an old school, weird cabaret song. I just love the lyrics. Bowie revels in the joys of finding another eccentric.
  5. “Watch That Man” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – ‘Aladdin Sane’ is one of Bowie’s strangely overlooked, rocking classic LPs. The album art gets all the attention but the music within is great. This is the first track on the album and it grabs you by the throat…
  6. “Prettiest Star” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Great guitar work from Ronson, as usual. Piano, horns, great vocal from Bowie.
  7. “Lady Grinning Soul” from ‘Aladdin Sane’ – Hauntingly beautiful track.
  8. “Word On A Wing” from ‘Station To Station’ – I almost went with the epic, 10 minute title track from this album, but settled on this soulful ballad. I could have heard Sinatra do this tune and not be surprised.
  9. “Always Crashing In the Same Car” from ‘Low’ – Bowie lamenting how his career had, in his opinion, fizzled over spooky guitars and synths. Love the riff.
  10. “Joe The Lion” from “Heroes” – Bowie brings in Robert Fripp, his best guitar collaborator since Ronson. You could really pick any song from side one of “Heroes” (other than the title track) for inclusion here. Rocking guitar with an impassioned vocal.
  11. “Loving the Alien” from ‘Tonight’ – ‘Tonight’ was critically a much maligned record and after the smash hit of ‘Let’s Dance’ an utter commercial disappointment as well. But I think there are some great tracks on this record, especially this spacey album opener. Beautifully sung.
  12. “Neighborhood Threat” from ‘Tonight’ – Bowie goes back and recuts a tune he cowrote for Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” LP. I love both versions. albeit I’ll admit Bowie’s is a tad more compressed that Iggy’s. “Look at his eyes, did you see his crazy eyes?”
  13. “Thursday’s Child” from ‘Hours’ – ‘Hours’ is the LP where I reconnected with Bowie. This beautiful LP opener is a lush, gorgeous song.
  14. “Slow Burn” from ‘Heathen’ – While ‘Hours’ helped me reconnect with Bowie, ‘Heathen’ was where he completely returned to form. It’s a fantastic album. This rocker was actually the first single and should have been a huge hit.
  15. “Afraid” from ‘Heathen’ – Another rocker…”And I’m not afraid, any more.” Indeed!
  16. “Conversation Piece” released as a B-side and then later as bonus track on the rereleased ‘Heathen’ – This song was originally written in 1969 and Bowie re-recorded it in 2002 for the abandoned ‘Toy’ album, which I’m still hoping gets a release. I love the lyrics in this song and I was pretty much obsessed with it when it came out.
  17. “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon” from ‘Reality’ – The follow up LP to ‘Heathen,’ ‘Reality’ was another great, overlooked record. This deep LP track has a great riff and a great weird Bowie lyric.
  18. “I’d Rather Be High” from ‘The Next Day’ – Well, wouldn’t anyone?
  19. “Dancing Out In Space” from ‘The Next Day’ – Another great song from Bowie’s surprise comeback, ‘The Next Day.’ Bowie always had his eyes turned upward to the stars… I like to think he’s out there dancing in space even as I type this…
  20. “No Plan” from the EP ‘No Plan’ – I love this soaring, epic ballad. Originally cut in the ‘Blackstar’ sessions.

I’m sure there are an infinite number of songs I’ve left out here. “Station To Station,” “Cat People,” just to name a couple. But I was going for deep LP cuts… Again, you really can’t go wrong with just about any Bowie LP you choose to put on. I still miss Bowie. The world is less interesting with him gone.

Pour something murky, since I can’t, and get lost in these tunes! Cheers!

 

Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs

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 For the second time in as many years, David Bowie has surprised us with the release of new music on his birthday. Last year on January 8th, he released the outstanding “Blackstar,” reviewed on an earlier post here at B&V. Sadly, only one day later, the universe grew a bit smaller and darker when the Thin White Duke passed away which was perhaps an even bigger surprise than the new music. I truly can’t believe it’s been a year since we lost David Bowie. 2016 was such an awful year in so many ways.

This year, Bowie has released an EP with four tracks recorded in the same sessions that produced “Blackstar.” I call this new music, however I must admit these songs have been available on iTunes and on CD if you were willing to shell out the money for the original cast recording of Bowie’s play, “Lazarus.” I liked the show “Dexter” as much as anybody, but I’m not paying to hear Michael C. Hall sing Bowie tracks. And to be honest, the first track on this EP, “No Plan” is the same “Lazarus” that appeared on “Blackstar.” “Lazarus,” along with the title track was one of the highlights of “Blackstar” but clearly it too was available.

The song “No Plan,” from which the EP takes it’s name, is a simply gorgeous, lush ballad. Bowie’s singing is elegant, epic and ethereal all at the same time. If you liked the sonic palette that Bowie used on “Blackstar,” you will like these songs. “No Plan” (the song) is highlighted by a beautiful saxophone solo at the end by Donny McCaslin. This is the highlight track for me.

“Killing a Little Time” is driven by aggressive drums and a more snarling vocal from Bowie. I love the way he sings “fuck you over…” Sonically it reminds me of “Sue (In a Season Of Crime)” or “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.” It has similar percussive elements. I also like the tortured guitar on this song. This, to me, is the sound of Bowie raging against the dying of the light. “This rage in me, get away from me…” With the exception of Leonard Cohen, never has an artist written so intense of a good bye note. The song ends with the guitar crashing into a piano run… wow, what a great song.

Finally, the EP ends with “When I Met You.” It’s hard not to read this as a song directed to Bowie’s lovely wife, Iman. It’s a mid tempo affair with a lightly chugging guitar riff. “You opened my eyes, for I could not see, when I met you.” I wish I could write something as beautiful for the Rock Chick when that day comes… This is a beautiful love note.

This is Bowie at his most creative. These songs have the same experimental sound as “Blackstar” but these tunes are more conventionally structured. There’s no nine-minute plus, jazz influenced opus on this EP. These are just solid, heart-felt, well sung and performed tunes. If you’re a Bowie fan, this is a must have. Hell if you’re a music fan, these are must haves.

We’ll have to wait till next January 8th to see if Mr. Bowie held back any more gifts for us. How great is it that it’s his birthday and he’s the one giving us gifts. Bowie would have been 70 this year which is entirely too young for us to be writing about him the past tense.

I was so delighted to see that this had come out… I’ve been hoping to hear these songs without buying the entire cast recording and I knew if I waited long enough Bowie would put them out in some form. I’m hoping this is the first of a lot of great, classic rock, BourbonAndVinyl releases in the coming year.

Happy New Year and Cheers!

Artist Lookback: The Often Overlooked Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Two Brilliant LPs

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 It was kind of a weird Christmas for me. For the first time in years, there were no square, flat packages under the tree… no LPs? Sad way for a sad year to end. There weren’t even any box sets out this year that I could slip past the Rock Chick and onto my list. I kept hoping Neil Young would put out Archives II, but I guess we have to wait till next year. I couldn’t help but think of last year when I found Bob Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966” under the tree. It was the fabulous box set, reviewed on an earlier post here at BourbonAndVinyl, highlighting outtakes from “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” and “Blonde On Blonde.” One of the greatest things about that box set was the incendiary guitar work of overlooked, under appreciated guitar wizard Michael Bloomfield.

So this year, with no new shiny black vinyl under the tree, I found myself drifting back to Bloomfield’s first band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I don’t know why that band wasn’t huge but they never found the commercial success they deserved. The British Invasion bands like the Stones were always given credit for reintroducing black blues to the white American audiences, but the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was also critical in that process.

Lead singer, harmonica player Paul Butterfield was a blues enthusiast and student at the University of Chicago when he started hanging out at South Side Chicago blues joints. Eventually folks like Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf were inviting Paul up on stage to play with them. Coincidentally, Michael Bloomfield, son of a wealthy department store family in Chicago, had a similar experience, hanging out and jamming with the blues greats in Chicago. It’s a testament to those old blues giant’s enormous generosity that they’d mentor and encourage these white kids from the suburbs to further the blues. They say that the blues giants recognized Bloomfield’s virtuosity immediately…. Michael himself said, “black people suffer externally in America and Jewish people suffer internally, so we have a lot in common.” All that suffering translated into some amazing guitar solos. As a lapsed Catholic, I often wonder what kind of suffering I could have brought to the instrument, but it’s too late to start now.

Eventually, Butterfield met guitarist Elvin Bishop and they recruited Howlin Wolf’s rhythm section of Sam Lay on drums and Jerome Arnold on bass with Mark Naftalin on keyboards and the line up was set. At the recommendation of a manager/producer they added Bloomfield and the chemistry was incendiary. The dueling guitars of Bloomfield and Bishop is the thing of legend and what I believe every dual guitar band since has emulated – from the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica. That back and forth, solo vs solo thing was founded in the Butterfield Blues Band. It broke the mold of lead guitarist, rhythm guy.

They struggled to get their first album on tape. As they attempted to recreate their sound on an album, they continued to grow a cult following by playing live. They famously backed up Bob Dylan at his first public electric performance at Newport. On the version of “Maggie’s Farm” on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volume 7, Bloomfield melts the faces off the folky crowd with his lead guitar licks. It’s simply the greatest expression of the electric guitar outside of Hendrix that has been committed to tape.

Finally after three false starts, in 1965 the Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their eponymous debut album. Not just because I was born there, but because it’s an amazing opening, “Born In Chicago” is one of my all time favorite songs. The album is a mix of new songs, written by band members, and covers of those blues greats who had mentored them. Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” and Muddy’s “I Got My Mojo Working” are stand outs. “Screamin'” and “Thank You Mr. Poobah” make Michael Bloomfield’s guitar felt in your bones. It was blues with a jazz sensibility. It was like “jump blues” was invented by these guys. It was the blues but it sounded all new and it sounded more rock and roll than anything that had come before. The Animals, The Yardbirds and The Zombies wanted to sound this good. These guys just had the chops. Their first album is about as perfect as you’re going to find in blues rock. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and pick it up immediately.

While it’s easy to think the first album was the peak, just to blow our minds, they followed up with their second album, a true masterpiece, “East-West.” The title track, which ends the album, is a 13 minute work of genius that Bach would envy. Influenced by Eastern, Indian raga and blended with Western blues, its simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever. The Stones even responded with their own epic blues jam “Going Home” which lasted 11 minutes. The Butterfield Blues Band had expanded the limits of what was possible. Jam bands like the Grateful Dead spun their heads around and thought, “hey, we can noodle on and on and get away with it.” The Butterfield Blues Band created the entire jam movement with one song. Bloomfield, Bishop and Butterfield all solo on the song, guitar, harmonica and guitar. It’s like a religious awakening hearing “East-West.” It’s the entire buddhist sixties ethos in a 13 minute song. There would be no Cream without “East-West.”

Other than the epic title track, the second album covers the waterfront of American roots music – from blues covers, Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” to R&B, Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” they prove they can do anything. The traditional blues song “I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living” is as mournful as the blues can get. Shit, they even cover Mike Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” This band was clicking on all cylinders at this point.

Alas, the incendiary talents in this band couldn’t hold the group together. After “East-West” Bloomfield split to form Electric Flag. Bishop soon followed to start his solo career. Bloomfield also did the seminal “Super Sessions” LP with Al Kooper, his old pal from the Dylan days. Bloomfield, like myself a life long insomniac, ran away from the early guitar hero fame and dissipated to the point of OD’ing on heroin. Butterfield made it to his 40’s but also succumbed to a heroin overdose. I like to think of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band like the stereotypical shooting star, bright and brilliant, but only burning for a short period.

Nobody talks about the Butterfield Blues Band and their two legendary albums, but it’s essential listening to anybody who loves blues, rock and blues rock. I can trace everything I like straight through The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Do yourself a favor and check these LPs out immediately.

Cheers and Happy New Year folks!

Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP

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“Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” – Neil Young, “Time Fades Away”

There are certain albums that for various reasons have taken on a certain “mystique” over the years. In most cases it’s albums that don’t get released. Prince had “The Black Album,” an album that was supposedly so perverse it couldn’t be released… we have to save the children from such sex talk in music (cue the PMRC). Years after the rumor of the album, Prince finally released it and it was, to be generous, meh. Ryan Adams’ record company rejected “Love Is Hell” because they thought it was a downer so he released “Rock N Roll” instead. The fact that his record company rejected “Love Is Hell” brought so much interest in this supposedly “dark” album, that the record company finally released it. It’s an ok Ryan Adams LP… I mean, dark is kind of his thing. You’ll never find Ryan Adams being played at a party here at the B&V house, that’s for sure. One could describe Ryan’s music as, “Music to Overdose to.”

Usually albums only carry this kind of heavy mystique if someone dies during or shortly after the albums release. “Blackstar” by David Bowie and “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen will always carry a little more weight because they can be read as an artistic farewell to the world and to their fans. Jimi Hendrix’ last recordings are always heralded as people wonder, what might have been. People point to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s final song on his final album, “Riviera Paradise” as a signal that he was headed into an all new creative direction that would have changed music and guitar as we know it… had he not passed away in that tragic helicopter crash. It’s like a painter whose paintings become more valuable after they’ve died. I’m surprised more rock stars don’t fake their death more often but that makes me sound like an agent hustling for coins.

Of all the artists around, other than maybe Bob Dylan, Neil Young has more than his share of “mysterious,” unreleased albums. “Chrome Dreams” is an oft bootlegged, amazing record that Neil chose not to release in 1977. It would have been as big as “Harvest” in my opinion, which may be why Neil chose not to put it out. That “fame thing” never worked out too well for Neil. He said in the liner notes of “Decade” that “Harvest” found him in the middle of the road and very popular so he chose to steer into the ditch, “It was a rougher ride, but you meet more interesting people there” (I believe is the direct quote). He’s put out most of the songs on other albums, but taken as a whole “Chrome Dreams” would have stood with some of his best work.

Of all of Neil Young’s unreleased and released albums, the one that always had the most intrigue for me, for some reason, was “Time Fades Away.” Part of the problem was you simply couldn’t find the record. I could never get my hands on it. After the initial release, Neil refused to release it on vinyl or any other format so copies of the album were really hard to find. Neil basically disavowed the record. My college roommate Drew was the only guy I know who could have been capable of even finding a copy such were his “completist” tendencies, but I don’t think even he had a copy. It was like you had to “know a guy” to even hear the thing, which I never did.

The backstory alone is enough to draw a rock and roll obsessive like me in… Neil Young, fresh from his twin triumphs of “After the Gold Rush,” and the even bigger success of “Harvest” was set to go on tour. It’s hard to overstate how popular Neil Young became after “Harvest.” I heard a story once, that Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” on the radio and thought it was one of his songs. When he realized it was Neil Young, he felt ripped off and wrote “Forever Young” as some sort of angry, “you ripped me off, you dick” kind of a song. Who knows if that’s true. Anyway, Neil gathered members of his “Harvest” band, the Stray Gators, and invited Danny Whitten from one of his other backing bands, Crazy Horse to New York to rehearse. Unfortunately Danny Whitten, a very talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right, was addicted to heroin. He’d already been kicked out of Crazy Horse, who were working on their own without Neil, because of his drug addictions. Whitten just couldn’t “hack it” at the rehearsals. He was taking a lot of Valium to help him kick the heroin habit and it was just destroying his timing. Finally Neil had to tell Danny he was fired and gave him $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very night, the night Neil Young fired Danny Whitten, Danny was found dead from mixing alcohol and $50 worth of Valium. Enter…. guilt and despair.

So after releasing his biggest album, with thousands of adoring fans waiting to hear the soft rock troubadour of “Harvest” come out and sing “Heart of Gold,” Neil plugs in his electric guitar and attempted to conquer his demons. Oh, and he brought along the 8-track mobile recording machine to document the whole thing. At the time, one of his band members turned him onto tequila. Ah, tequila. As I used to say in my younger days, the authorities knew which drug to legalize. When I drink tequila, which I rarely do, if I drink too much of it, I’m either going to fight you or fuck you, and quite possibly, both at the same time. Add tequila to a depressed, fragile mental state like Neil Young was in and God knows what can happen. Apparently the fans were not impressed. Part of the problem with concert audiences is that it’s hard to play new, unheard music for a crowd. They want to hear the hits, songs they’re familiar with. This was especially true in 1973 when the crowds were not that sophisticated.

At long last, I discovered this “lost” live album on iTunes. I had always heard that the music on this album was all loud, screaming guitar. It was going to be all noise like “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black).” That is not exactly the case. The band did not get along well and Neil’s vocals were so fried he brought in Crosby and Nash to help sing harmonies, although, this wasn’t an album big on harmony. I will say, this is a very, very good Neil Young album, although I prefer the even darker music found on “Tonight’s the Night.” One might see this as a companion piece to “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach” which are some of Neil’s darker works.

The album starts off with the raucous title track, which is one of the best here but I’ve always liked my Neil Young a little ragged. “Yonder Stands the Sinner” is another ragged rocker that jumps out at me and it’s followed by the great song “L.A.” (“city in the smog…”). But interspersed with those rockers are a couple of delicate, beautiful piano ballads, “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind.” I never expected this kind of balladry from a guy on tequila. The crowd claps politely at the end of “Love In Mind” but you kind of feel they’re not thrilled.

The centerpiece of the album for me, is the beginning of what would be side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts, “Don’t Be Denied.” It’s a a better autobiography than Neil’s book “Shakey.”It’s a long, mid tempo song about Neil’s love of and dedication to music. It tells his life story from being a bullied kid at school, to forming a band. It’s one of his best songs and coincidentally was recently covered beautifully by Norah Jones. It’s really the only hopeful bit of light in an otherwise dark album.

After the ballad, “The Bridge,” another lovely piano and harmonica song, Neil and the band launch into the epic, eight-minute “Last Dance.” I really like the ragged guitar riff in this song. Although, it’s so bleak that it wouldn’t have been out of place on “Tonight’s the Night.” At the end of the song, Neil just howls, “no, no, no…” When Neil sings, “Wake up, it’s time to go to work,” it’s with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

“Time Fades Away” is a portrait of an artist who is really suffering. And by sharing that pain with us through his art, he let’s we who are also suffering know we are not alone. That’s the power of an album like this. And powerful is the word I would use to describe this record. For anybody out there who likes to explore the musical backwaters of an artist’s catalog, like I do, this is must have music. Although, I wouldn’t recommend putting this on at Christmas… not a lot of Yule time joy here….

It’s a dark ride, folks. Stick together and take care of each other. Cheers!

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!

LP Review: Metallica “Hard Wired…To Self Destruct,” Holy Shit! Epic, Awesome, Heavy Metal

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My relationship with Metallica’s music got off to a rocky start. In the 80s, heavy metal and hard rock was all about hedonism and partying. Guys with more product in their hair than the Rock Chick jumping around in spandex. Metallica were the antithesis of all of that. Their lyrics were dark and serious. Their music was heavier than anything else around. I just always thought they were dudes who were missing out on a great party. At the time I was more into Van Halen and David Lee Roth’s ethos of “I’ve always been a sucker for a real good time.” Needless to say, I wasn’t one of the early converts to Metallica’s music. It turns out, I was the one who was missing out.

I actually saw Metallica in concert on March 27th, 1986. A bunch of friends and I drove down to the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita, Kansas to see the Lord of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. There was a lot of beer, black beauties and pot in the crowd. Needless to say all that speed and heavy metal was an edgy combination. We were partying pretty hard getting ready for Ozzy when the opening band came out. The stage was covered in white crosses like Arlington Cemetery, which I found out later matched the cover of the Metallica masterpiece (masterpiece or master puppet?) “Master of Puppets,” when these guys in blue jeans and sleeveless, ratty t-shirts strolled out and just started shredding. They all stood in place, leaned over so their long, long hair covered their faces and bobbed their heads in unison. We all thought this was a little ridiculous and didn’t really pay any attention. We’d never heard of this Metallica(?) before. We were pretty hopped up on speed and beer, we’d scared the people in the seats in front of us so that they’d actually left to go sit elsewhere. I can’t believe how thoroughly we ignored Metallica, which was hard because these guys played louder and faster than anybody but Ozzy.

My lack of attention to Metallica continued unabated pretty much the same over the next decade. In 1996 I went out to Smithville Lake to attend Lollapalooza which was a touring show back then, not just in Chicago. I was really there to see Soundgarden who were the next to last band to play that day. I remember they opened with a Doors’ cover, “Waiting For the Sun” that really caught my attention. I could have split after that, but lead singer Chris Cornell said, as he was leaving the stage, “I bet your glad now Metallica is going to play next.” There had been quite a bit of consternation amongst the grunge hipsters (was there ever such a thing as “grunge hipsters?” I digress) that Metallica was playing this “indie rock” festival. How dare they bring these heavy metal neanderthals to our perfect little fair. I must admit that anti-Metallica sentiment drew me toward Metallica, not away from them. They were great that night, despite Hetfield coming across as a bit of a dick. I think it’s good he’s off the sauce now. Lars hit the wrong drum at the end of a song and Hetfield gave him shit for the next two songs. I remember being particularly fond of the tune “Ain’t My Bitch.” “Until It Sleeps” also jumped out at me. I suddenly thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about these guys. I went out the next day and bought the “Black Album” and “Load.” And suddenly, I was a Metallica fan – not a big one, but I was on the band wagon.

Little did I know, I’d only scratched the surface. Metallica was stuff I would listen to when I was working out but they really weren’t in the BourbonAndVinyl Pantheon of Rock Greats until much later. From “ReLoad” to “St. Anger” I remained aloof from them but then something weird happened. In 2008 they returned with “Death Magnetic.” It was hailed as a return to their early, epic sound. I heard “That Was Just Your Life” and “Cyanide” and something in my head clicked. The long, epic songs with their signature time changes, very Sabbath-like – and I don’t mean that comparison to suggest they were derivative in anyway. Metallica are singularly unique in metal and in music. “Death Magnetic” made me realize how great a band Metallica is. I immediately went out and bought the big 4 – “Kill Em All,” “Ride The Lightning,” “Master of Puppets,” (how did we ignore that set in Wichita, the shame, the shame) and finally “And Justice For All.” I realized, very late in the game the awesome power and fury of Metallica. Do yourself a favor and buy all of those albums immediately.

What drew me in first with Metallica was the drums. Lars Ulrich’s drums are some of the best in rock and roll. He is the engine and the heartbeat of the band. After that it was the melodic, fluid guitar solos of Kirk Hammett. Beyond his solos were the great riffs that Hammett and James Hetfield play. Big slabs of hard guitar riffs served up fast and loud. The lyrics are dark, usually about feelings of anger, isolation and fear. Hetfield delivers the vocals in an anguished howl that conveys all the pain in the universe. What’s not to love. No wonder teenage boys are into this testosterone fueled music. This is the sound of a Panzer division rolling into town.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a follow up to “Death Magnetic.” As is typical now, they took forever to get the record out. I had heard early rumors that this new record would be to the “Black Album” what “Death Magnetic” was to say, “Ride The Lightning,” or to put it succinctly a return to that style. Now, many purists say Metallica sold out around the time of the “Black Album” but I like both their early stuff and the latter stuff although I will acknowledge it’s much different. I’m not here to get into any purist battles over the Metallica catalog. I must admit I’m more drawn to the early stuff so I was worried that they would try and recapture that “Black Album” ethos of shorter, weirder tunes. Those reports turned out to be false.

“Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” isn’t so much of a return to that early style but an extension of it. I will say, right up front, that Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos are almost completely missing from this record. I read that he felt left out of the creative process. That’s a shame, it’s like Van Halen doing keyboard songs…why would you leave your strongest player on the bench? Other than that knit-picky complaint, this is an amazing album. It’s sprawling, ambitious, epic, heavy metal. Metallica is the only band who can pull this off. Lars Ulrich once again proves that his name belongs alongside Bonham and Moon in the drummer Hall of Fame.

“Hardwired,” the title track and first track starts things off in that galloping, breakneck-speed metal these guys are known for. It’s almost got a punk-rock feel, it’s so fast and hits so hard. “Moth Into Flame” is another fast paced instant classic that boasts one of the few Hammett solos. “Halo On Fire” which starts slowly and builds to an amazing crescendo may be one of Metallica’s greatest songs ever. Who would think, this far into the game, that these guys could deliver something that mind blowing. “Dream No More” is another great metal track. These guys don’t slow down the entire album. The tunes all clock in way past five minutes (for the most part). The closest they get to a “ballad” or a mid-tempo track is “Am I Savage,” which has an almost funky feel to it, but it ain’t slow. “Murder One” may be Hammett’s finest moment in terms of solo’s. It’s a face melting burst from him. Lars’ drums on “Spit Out the Bone” are as fast and manic as any drumming I’ve ever heard – if I have a heart attack, put that tune on and throw my body on the speaker, turn it up loud and I’m almost certain it’ll revive me. This entire album is intricate, well played, classic metal.

I did spring for the “Deluxe” edition of the record which stretches out to 26 songs. They originally planned on releasing early versions of the “riffs” that they built the songs on, but at the last minute changed their mind to release a few covers and a bunch of live stuff. I don’t have a lot of live Metallica, so I’d describe the live stuff as a nice to have but not as anything essential. I do like the covers, especially the “Ronnie Rising Medley” for Ronnie James Dio, RIP. “Lords of Summer” is a great tune that was purportedly released a while ago, but I’d never heard it and is probably the best of the bonus material. Put together with the actual, proper “Hardwired” album this thing is as sprawling as “Garage Inc.” I would advise getting the “Deluxe” version vs the base LP, but hey, I’m a completist.

“Hardwired” is an absolute must have for Metallica and metal fans. We should all pause and celebrate that a band who have been around this long, could put out something this epic, intricate and powerful. It’s LPs like “Hardwired” that B&V was founded on. A band this far into their career who can make music this passionate and immediate is something to thank the Metal Gods for. I feel that this stands amongst Metallica’s best work. I can only hope they don’t wait eight years for a follow up. Oh, and let Kirk play a few more solo’s next time guys…

Buy now, get some Southern Comfort, bob your head along with the loud music and as always, enjoy!!

Cheers! (Devil-horns to all of you!)

PBS New Series Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge of Recorded Music – A Must For Music Fans

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I was flipping around the channels tonight when I stumbled upon a great PBS documentary series, SoundBreaking: Stories From the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music. I always dig the PBS end of the television dial and I certainly love the work they do with documentaries. Frontline is one of my favorite shows. Throw in all that Ken Burns stuff and it’s pretty compelling television. I always feel like I’m doing my civic duty, like returning a library book on time, when I watch PBS. And let’s face it, I’ve always been fascinated by that mysterious magic that goes on in the recording studio.

Soundbreaking is a apparently an eight part series about the actual process of making, recording and producing recorded music for album and single release. At first I feared this was going to be too “musically wonky” for my tastes. I’m not, nor have I ever been a technical person. I have a number of friends who are musicians, and at least the guitar players are always getting into these deep, mysterious conversations about “pick-ups” and “open guitar tunings.” Listening to those guys and trying to follow the conversation is like trying to decipher and translate some ancient druidic runes. I will admit I enjoy the edifying conversations about amps. I mean, the amp is the key piece of equipment for a great sound on stage. (I feel like even this statement about amps will draw the wrath of my guitarist friends as I’ve likely stated something incorrectly.)

Luckily I was wrong about Soundbreaking being too technical or musician-y to follow. This is fascinating stuff. The series was put together, at least at first, by the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin. You can tell this is a labor of love. Alas, he passed away before he could finish the series, but many of his friends and admirers came together and helped finish the series. The spotlight is on the studio and more critically some of the more famous producers throughout the history of rock n’roll. I must admit that the Rock Chick did ridicule and laugh at me as I geeked out over seeing the interviews with some of the producers. As a music nerd obsessive, I used to always read the liner notes of every album I ever purchased. I got to know who a lot of these producers were/are and began to realize what an impact certain producers can have on an album. George Martin was probably the first guy I came to recognize. Tony Visconti who worked with Bowie and later Rick Rubin, whose worked with everybody, were a couple of others whose work I always seem to enjoy.

The series starts with the “cradle of rock and roll,” Sun Studios and Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins’ (amongst others) legendary producer Sam Phillips. There is some archival interview stuff with Sam and some great, rare film of Elvis. From there they move to George Martin, Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound, and keep going all the way to hip hop producers like Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre. It was almost too much to cover in merely an hour. Like the Elvis segment they talk about the different innovations of each of the producers. You see archival and sometimes very rare films of the bands in and out of the studio. There was a shot of the Beatles performing in the Cavern Club. I love some of the photos of these bands in the studio. The show really did a nice job of giving you a chronological history of producing. All my producer heroes were mentioned or interviewed.

There is a great group of musicians who are also interviewed or whose performances are shown during the course of the documentary. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, The Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Ronnie Spector, and Sly and the Family Stone just to name a few. Sly Stone would eventually self-produce and play every instrument on his latter albums… he’s truly Lenny Kravitz’s spiritual father. It’s worth it just to hear the musicians talk about what can happen in the studio. Petty tells a great story about how producer/musician Jeff Lynne helped him “find” the song “Free Falling.” It was probably George Martin and Phil Spector who really turned the studio into an actual musical instrument in and of itself. So many of the things these guys did no one had done before them – multi tracking, introducing strings, so many innovations that if I list them all I’ll start to come across as wonky and God knows that’s the last thing I want.

The key thing a producer does in the studio, is draw the magic out of the artist he’s working with. Many artists are shy, or they play something as just a throw away riff and it’s up to the producer to say, “Wait a second, you’re onto something,” or “Play that again but do it slower.” This show gets right at the heart of the creative give and take between artist and producer. As a music geek I really found that interesting.

I have no idea what the remainder of the segments will delve into or how technical it’ll get. But I really liked the first one and will definitely be tuning into the next one. If you love music, and if you’re on a sight named BourbonAndVinyl, I’m gonna go out on a limb and presume you are, tune in! Enjoy.

Cheers!

LP Review: The Record Company, “Give It Back To You” Strong Blues Rock

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I was talking to a friend of mine one time. The topic turned, as it inevitably does when you’re talking to me, to music. This was guy was a bigger music fanatic than I could ever hope to be. This guy was into the some of the hardest, heaviest metal I’ve ever heard. He was espousing the virtue of a band that I hadn’t come across, Opeth. I think there was a band named Lamb of God. It was all what I call, scary monster rock. He even tried to play me one of those “cookie-monster,” growly vocal type of things. I shook my head. Frustrated, he finally asked, “So what music do you like?” My answer was simple and straightforward. The roots of everything musical that I like can be traced to the blues.

The Stones started as a blues cover band. Zeppelin exploded the blues to the limits of the form. The White Stripes, for all the trappings of being a punk rock band, are a blues two-piece masquerading as a punk band. They cover Blind Willie McTell for heaven’s sake. Give me a hummable melody, good vocals, preferably a great guitar solo, and I’m up and on the floor, headed for the volume knob.

Sadly, you don’t hear a lot of blues rock these days. Gone are the days when bands steeped in the blues like The Animals, The Yardbirds, or even the early Stones ruled the airwaves. If I want to hear bluesy music I have to head down and get the genuine article, at Kansas City’s premier blues club, Knuckleheads. I do miss the days before I met the Rock Chick when the Grand Emporium was KC’s blues hub, downtown, but those records are sealed. Bad men doing bad things to the blues. I saw Koko Taylor there… amazing, but I digress. With these unsettling times, who couldn’t use a little blues music.

About six months ago I came across a great song by a new band, The Record Company. The Record Company is a little three man outfit from of Los Angeles. According to “the Wikipedia,” they were three like minded musicians who would gather together to share their latest blues LP finds. Eventually they put the LPs away and picked up their instruments and began jamming in one guy’s living room. The next thing you know they had an album put together. The tune that originally alerted me to these guys was a song called “Off The Ground,” a greasy blues rock number with a great slide guitar solo. I bought the song but neglected to check out the rest of the album. “Off The Ground” was the first single and I never heard anything else on my satellite radio and subsequently spaced them off.

Flash forward a few months to this week and the Rock Chick comes downstairs and says, “I think you need to hear this…” Never argue with a beautiful woman bearing music (throw in some bourbon and you have all three of my greatest distractions in one package…). I always trust the Rock Chick’s musical instincts. The LP she had was the Record Company’s debut album “Give It Back To You,” the one I had neglected to check out when I bought “Off The Ground.” It was so refreshing to hear some brand new blues rock. This whole album has gone into high rotation here at B&V.

“Off The Ground” and the second single “Rita Mae Young” are great bluesy singles. “Rita…” the second single, is a laid black bluesy tune with a great vocal. These guys do some great acoustic driven stuff. “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” is built around a great shuffling, acoustic riff. It sounds like something Muddy would have done in his early acoustic days. The title track, “Give It Back To You” is a great acoustic stomper, if you believe a song with that description actually exists.

It’s clear who these guy’s influences are. Naturally critics are likely to decry this as “derivative” but find me any music that doesn’t build on what came before it. “Feels So Good,” “Turn Me Loose” and “In the Mood For You” (a nice rolling blues tune) all feel like they were influenced by John Lee Hooker. About midway through “In the Mood For You” the band breaks into a gallop to the finish line and it’s a wonder to behold. The harmonica is all over that song. Speaking of harmonica, there’s a great harmonica breakdown that starts “On The Move” which also boasts some great, primal drumming. If John Lee Hooker is your reference starting point, sign me up boys. The song “Hard Day Coming Down,” another acoustic blues number has a chorus that makes you feel like you’re going to church, baby! And I mean that in a good way.

It’s probably too much to hope that the Record Company would spark a blues rock revival, it’s a good album, but it’s not going to convince the unconverted. “The Crooked City” is the only real quiet, ballad on this collection. Everything else is firmly rooted in the blues. Like Dan Aykroyd once said, “Pretty soon the music known as the blues will only be found in the classical music section of your local library…” and that is a damn shame.

“Give It Back To You” is a very solid rock album. Usually to hear music like this you have to find an older artist so I’m very encouraged to hear a new band who can play this kind of music. I give this album a definite purchase recommendation. And then, maybe, if you’re brave, it’ll lead you to some actual John Lee Hooker…. or if you’re really, really brave maybe some John Lee Hooker with Canned Heat, like say, “Hooker ‘N Heat,” but now I’m getting way too obscure.

Cheers!

RIP Leonard Cohen.

LP Lookback: Temple of the Dog – On Tour Now

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I staggered from my bed late this morning, as is my habit on weekends, after the Rock Chick yelled my name with the cursory “time to get up…” The Rock Chick runs a very military style weekend with plans and agendas… I have a more leisurely approach to my Saturdays. I can’t help it if I have a sleep disorder. At least waking to the Rock Chick’s shrill cry is better than waking to my father’s miserable singing voice, as he belted out “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the moooooorning…” How very Ethyl Merman of him…Who says I don’t come from a musical family?

My Saturday morning ritual is a simple one: breakfast with strong black coffee and some hard rock. This weekend’s selection, as it’s been all week is Rage Against the Machine. I just felt like a little angry metal today… I’m feeling subversive. Blame it on the election. And as has quickly become part of my Saturday morning ritual, I checked “the Twitter” to see what was going on. I saw that the Temple of the Dog reunion tour had begun last night in Philadelphia. They played quite an impressive set list. Not only their own tunes, but some solo Chris Cornell, Mother Love Bone tunes (obviously) and an impressive array of cover songs including Zeppelin (“Achilles Last Stand,” are you fucking kidding me, how awesome!), Bowie and Free (who I’ve just recently gotten into). They even did a Syd Barret cover. To end the show they did “War Pigs” by Sabbath. Jesus, I hope they put out a live record after this tour.

For those of you not familiar with Temple of the Dog, it was a one-off “supergroup” of sorts. Although it would have been hard to call them a “supergroup” in 1991 when they formed as not many people outside of the Pacific Northwest had heard of Soundgarden or Pearl Jam whose members formed Temple. From Soundgarden, Chris Cornell did vocals and Matt Cameron (who later joined Pearl Jam after Soundgarden called it quits) mans the drums. From Pearl Jam you had both guitarists, Mike McCready on lead and Stone Gossard on rhythm. Also from Pearl Jam on bass guitar was Jeff Ament. An impressive line up in it’s own right, but they were also joined on a couple of songs by the then unknown Eddie Vedder, most notably on “Hunger Strike” where his vocal propels the song into the stratosphere. It’s one of his most impassioned vocals.

Temple of the Dog was formed as a one-off tribute to singer Andrew Wood. In the late 80s/early 90’s Andrew was the lead singer and frontman for Mother Love Bone. MLB was a great band with some great songs, “Stardog Champion,” “Crown of Thorns” and “Stargazer” just to name a few… I strongly urge anybody who hasn’t heard Mother Love Bone to seek out their music. As I am forced to write too often in the world of rock and roll, Andrew Young was found in a coma from a heroin overdose and died shortly after that. It was truly a huge loss, the man was meant to be a rock star.

Two of the members of Mother Love Bone, namely the aforementioned Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard decided to form a new band after Wood’s untimely death. They recruited a hotshot lead guitarist Gossard had seen play, Mike McCready and various drummers. It wasn’t until Jack Irons, erstwhile drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers passed them a demo tape of a singer from San Diego named Eddie Vedder, that the band coalesced under the name Mookie Blaylock… they were later to change their name to Pearl Jam, and the rest is history. The thing to remember here is that, without Mother Love Bone, there would have been no Pearl Jam.

Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had his own unique connection to Andrew Wood. The two had shared an apartment. In the Pearl Jam documentary, ‘Twenty’ Cornell talks about how he and Wood would challenge each other to each write a song every day to compare who had the better song that day. It sounds like the two were very close friends.

And so, to honor their friend and former bandmate, the members came together under the banner Temple of the Dog and did an album. This was about a year before PJ’s seismic “Ten” came out so these guys were relatively unknown at the time. I don’t think anybody was prepared for how kick ass this album was. Prior to this Cornell’s work in Soundgarden was more screaming metal than classic rock. The “Temple of the Dog” album sounded more like Mother Love Bone than anything Soundgarden had done which, when you think about it, is really the tribute to Andrew Wood here. The fact these guys could write and perform like he would really stands out.

The album “Temple of the Dog” had two great singles, that most people have probably heard: “Say Hello 2 Heaven” (a beautiful elegy to Wood) and “Hunger Strike” featuring the incredible Eddie Vedder vocal. It’s a shame Vedder isn’t joining these guys on this tour, but he’s busy drinking with Bill Murray in Chicago celebrating the Cubs historic win… and who doesn’t wish they were with him but I digress. The album is much more than those two singles, it’s an amazingly strong album – these guys had a great chemistry and it shows how close-knit the community was in the Seattle music scene. “Reach Down” is an epic 11 minute jam, turn that one up loud. “Pushin’ Forward Back” is a great rocker. On the quiet side is “Call Me A Dog” and “All Night Thing” both great songs. “Four Walled World” is another great tune with a fabulous vocal from Cornell. You can tell these guys poured their heart into this record, but no one more so than Cornell.

They’ve recently rereleased a deluxe edition of the LP with a few unreleased demo’s and outtakes. I didn’t see or hear anything that made me want to re-buy the record, but if you have never heard or purchased “Temple of the Dog” I highly recommend you pick it up post haste and turn it up loud. While you’re at the record store, pick up Mother Love Bone’s album as well. Most of their material has been repacked and rereleased so it’s not hard to find. These are both great 90s bands and should be heard by any true music fan. With the setlists I’m seeing, I am really hopeful to hear something live come out of this tour… let’s hope they’re dragging a tape machine around with them.

It appears that TOTD is only playing a few shows and mostly on the coasts but if you’re near a place where they’re playing, do what you have to, scalp if necessary but get to one of these shows. It’s time like these when great bands are only touring the coasts that I feel like I live in “concert flyover territory” and I regret living in theMidwest… oh well, someday maybe I’ll get up the gumption to move but then I’d miss going to Chiefs games. Life is such a give and take…

Cheers!