LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

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I know what you’re thinking… Cheap Trick? Really? Many of you are probably amazed they’re still around, although just last year they were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. And many others of you are thinking, Cheap Trick, why bother? But if you’re like me, you remember the latter half of the 70s when Cheap Trick were huge. They were the soundtrack of my junior high school years.

Their early records, ‘Cheap Trick,’ ‘In Color,’ and ‘Heaven Tonight’ are all exceptional, must-have records. Although it wasn’t until their fourth record, the epic ‘Live At Budokan’ that they hit it big. I can remember late junior high school/early high school, when every day my buddy Brewster would come to pick me up in his tan Chevy Monza. He had, of all things, an 8-track player and each morning without fail we listened to Cheap Trick’s ‘Live At Budokan.’ It took years for me to know the exact playing order of the record because the 8-track bounced around in a seemingly random way. I never understood that technology… Anyway, everywhere you went in those days you’d hear “Surrender” or “I Want You To Want Me.”

Cheap Trick always had a bit of a split personality to me… Maybe it was the divide in the band of two good looking guys and two goofy looking guys that gave me that impression. At least they were smart enough to keep guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos on the back of most of their early album covers. Put the pretty members in front of the tent to draw the chicks in… On one hand, Cheap Trick had a garage rock feel to me. Now that I’ve discovered Big Star and their exceptional LP, “#1 Record” (reviewed earlier on B&V The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record” ) I now realize the huge debt Cheap Trick owes them. Big Star was always described as power pop, but Cheap Trick were always a little heavier. That said, their early career couldn’t be possible without the song “Don’t You Lie To Me” from Big Star.

The other side of Cheap Trick for me was their intense Beatles fetish. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Beatles fetish… If you’re going to emulate a band, it might as well be one of the greatest. The zenith of their Beatlesque tendencies was the follow up to ‘Budokan,’ the George Martin produced ‘Dream Police.’ You can’t get more Beatles than George Martin. Two members of Cheap Trick actually played on the John Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions. For me, I always appreciated the rockier side of Cheap Trick vs the overblown Beatles-esque stuff. At their best however, they were able to blend the best of both sides. They did a nice rocking re-work of George Harrison’s “Taxman” as early as their first record.

After ‘Dream Police,’ as suddenly as they had ascended, Cheap Trick’s commercial fortunes started to fade. Maybe they should have stuck with the rockier, Big Star side of their personality. It got so bad the movie “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” made fun of them as “kiddy music.” If I’m using a cultural sub-reference as deep as “Fast Times…” you know these guys have been around a long time, but I digress. To Cheap Trick’s credit, they shouldered on. The 80s and 90s were particularly tough on them. Bass player, Tom Petersson even left during that tumultuous time, only to return later. Even though they were no longer the creative/commercial juggernaut they’d been in the 70s, it seemed every so often, they’d put out a great song. “She’s Tight” caught my ear in the early 80s as did “The Flame” later that decade. So in a way, I was always aware they were around.

I figured they were making the concert circuit, a good “greatest hits band” and that was all there was to it. But then came the surprisingly great 2006 album, ‘Rockford.’ There was life left in these guys after all. It’s the kind of late career gem that B&V was created for. ‘The Latest’ in 2009 was another solid album, if not quite up to ‘Rockford.’ They were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year and released another solid record in ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.’ Somehow I missed reviewing that one… too much going on. I was sorry to see that original drummer Bun E. Carlos had been booted out by that time… to paraphrase the “Big Lebowski,” “I didn’t like to see Bun E go out that way…”  And here we are a year later and they’ve already put out their next album, ‘We’re All Alright,’ a title that harkens back to their heyday and their biggest song, “Surrender.” Putting out an album a year? This really does feel like the 70s.

‘We’re All Alright’ is another late career triumph for Cheap Trick. This is a great album. I would definitely suggest the deluxe edition, as it has three strong, additional tunes. The triptych opening of the swaggering “You Got It Going On,” my favorite tune “Long Time Coming,” and the punky “Nowhere” rock with a joyful abandon. Singer Robin Zander sounds almost unhinged on “Long Time Coming” in a very, very good way when he sings “Shake, shake, shake it…”  “Radio Lover” and “Lolita” are also great Cheap Trick songs. The track, “She’s Alright” is driven along by a great Tom Petersson bass line, which is a nice change of pace tune. Rick Nielsen is just shredding on lead guitar. He’s the star of this record in my mind, although Robin Zander’s vocals are pretty amazing too. While the album rocks from start to finish, they do mix it up the sounds a bit to give this album a lot of flavor. The aforementioned “She’s Alright” and “Floating Down,” a soaring, mid-tempo ballad help break up the full on rock assault. They do find time to indulge their inner Beatles fetish on “Blackberry Way” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sessions. “Rest of My Life” is another standout mid-tempo track. “Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo” is a fun, almost Motley Crue-ish tune.

If like good, ol’ fashion, guitar rock and roll, this is a must have record. Something has really kicked these guys into gear. Maybe it’s Nielsen’s son on the drums now, but these guys are on fire on this record. Even the Rock Chick strolled into the lab here at B&V and said, “Is this that new Cheap Trick, it’s great.” I suggest putting this record on, turned up to 11, with a nice glass of rye whiskey.

Happy 4th of July! Keep all your fingers safe out there folks!

 

 

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BourbonAndVinyl iPod Playlist: 4th of July, American Independence Day

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Ah, the 4th of July… When I was a kid, we’d travel down to southeast Kansas to visit my grandparents. Outside of town, there was a rock quarry or the remnants of a coal strip-mining site with a huge piles of rocks. It was like a desolate alien landscape from a bad sci-fi movie. We’d climb the rock hills and throw firecrackers off the top. Well, my grandfather wouldn’t throw the fireworks, he’d light them with his Camel filterless, and drop it at his feet. When the firecracker went off, he’d shrug his shoulders as if to say, “that’s all you’ve got?” He really was part of the greatest generation… but I digress. We were like any other American family – on 4th of July – we blew shit up. It’s what you do. It’s like drinking tequila on Cinco De Mayo.

When I finally, at a later age than most, found myself in a family with the Rock Chick and my stepdaughter, I carried the tradition of 4th of July pyrotechnics with me. We’d pile in the car, drive south of the city, stop at a fireworks stand (that Missouri is so famous for) and load up with explosive goodies. The Rock Chick, I was soon to find out, loves fireworks. If I truly consider her penchant for books and TV shows about murder and mayhem along with her hysterical laughter while lighting fire works, I might start to become anxious about the length of my existence, but that’s for me to worry about. We’d drive out into the country, to my sister-in-law’s farmhouse and by the time we were done, her back porch looked like a scorched battle site. The husks of burned out rockets and smoke bombs littered the yard. We’d cap the day, as the sun faded, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which was on small hill. From the roof we could see each fireworks display from every small town between us and Kansas City. The sky was a a panorama of bright, multi-colored sparks. The rocket’s red glare, as the saying goes…

Being an American is a complicated thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. We’re the freest nation on earth yet we were founded by Puritans. For every good time, there’s someone to guilt us about it. It’s quite a party… To me, I just love my country. I’m not some sort of neo-nationalist. I’m the classic American mutt. In the words of Bill Murray in ‘Stripes,’ “my ancestors were kicked out of every other descent country on the planet.”

In all seriousness, my great-grandfather left his home in Modena, Italy and traveled all the way across the world to southeast Kansas. I groused about having to move to Arkansas when I graduated from college… I kind of feel guilty about that when I think about what he must have gone through. He came to America at a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were flocking to the U.S. for work. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the current inhabitants of America at the time because the Irish and the Italians were Catholic. Southern Europeans weren’t exactly welcome. And yet my great-grandfather managed to travel here, get a job in a coal mining outfit and thrive. When it was time for him to get married, he went back to Italy, found  a bride and brought her back over here.

My grandfather, who was a mechanical genius, never went to college but could overhaul a car by the age of thirteen. He spent most of his life working as a clerk in an auto-parts store. Eventually the owner offered to sell him the store. He bought it and then opened another. I often wonder, where else in the world could the son of an immigrant with an Italian surname, rise from relative obscurity to a solid member of the middle class. He even joined the Rotary. He made enough money to send my father and his two siblings to college.

My father paid that forward for me… That’s why I love this country. That’s why I load up the car every year, head out to the country and light off fireworks. I do it to honor my immigrant past. There’s a lot of debate about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to move to the U.S. these days. Since we’re a nation of immigrants, and I include myself in that number, I figure it’s best to make room for the next bunch of folks who are traveling here, looking for a better life. I know that scares some people, but fear is not what the Founding Fathers built this nation on. I choose to believe in the best parts of ol’ U.S.A.

As I was thinking about all of this, I began to consider all the great, conflicted rock music that’s been written about America. As I’m blowing things up this year, in the midst of the mayhem, I realized I needed some rock and roll. So here is my take on a 4th of July, Independence Day playlist. There’s nothing like a little guitar to go along with the sound of exploding stuff. This is a classic rock blog, so you’re not going to find any of that jingoistic Toby Keith crap here… I know I will have left some songs off, so please recommend additions in the comments. Also, some of these songs may rankle you, but spirited debate is always a critical thing in a democracy. So, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says on the great live album, “Live Bootleg,” at a show on Independence Day, “Happy Birthday Everybody!” I tend to shuffle this playlist, but I always start with the first track… it’s essential to do that, it’s only right…the rest is all just random.

  1. Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” – You’ve gotta kick off the party with some Hendrix from Woodstock.
  2. John Mellencamp, “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” – Cheesy, perhaps, but this song just explodes out of the speakers like, well, a firecracker.
  3. Steve Miller Band, “Livin’ In The USA” – Groovy late 60s/early 70s blues.
  4. Chuck Berry, “Back In The USA” – Believe it or not, Linda Rondstadt does a nice little version of this too, if you prefer. I prefer Chuck, always.
  5. The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” – I don’t think anybody is bored with us these days…
  6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Ah, Mary” – Wait to the end… it’ll make sense. With my thanks to my pal Doug for this one…
  7. U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” – Perfect soundtrack for exploding fireworks.
  8. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – Well, technically I’m only afraid of half of them… well, really only 35% of them.
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Born In the U.S.A.” – Well, this one is just obvious. The story of a Vietnam vet, left behind economically by his country, still crying out his allegiance… It still brings goosebumps, all these years later.
  10. The Runaways, “American Nights” – Bad girls Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s early band celebrating American bad girls.
  11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Plan B” – We all need a plan B right now…
  12. Bruce Springsteen, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – An epic song for an epic holiday.
  13. John Mellencamp, “Justice and Independence ’85” – I generally hate allegory but this song rocks and swings all at the same time. I still don’t know what Mellencamp’s trying to say here.
  14. Jackson Browne, “For America” – One of my favorite from Jackson.
  15. Paul McCartney, “Freedom” – Written in the aftermath of 9/11, I hated this song when I first heard it, but it’s actually really catchy. There’s a great little guitar solo at the end.
  16. John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” – “Ain’t that America…” And, yes, I’ll admit there’s a lot of Mellencamp here, but the guy has a ton of songs about our country. There are several I left off. The guy’s obsessed with America, what can I say.
  17. Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Great title track from one of my favorite overlooked LPs from Lenny.
  18. The Guess Who, “American Woman” – Dedicate one to the ladies…
  19. Randy Newman, “Political Science” – “No one likes us, I don’t know why, we may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…” The man is a genius and this song is funny.
  20. David Bowie, “Young Americans” – “She wants the young American…”
  21. Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope And Dreams” – America certainly was this for my family…
  22. Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom” – Cheesy, yeah, it is, but I couldn’t resist.
  23. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” – Another one for the ladies…
  24. Eurythmics, “King and Queen of America” – I just love this song.
  25. Dave Matthews Band, “American Baby” – A quiet, understated ballad from Dave and the guys…
  26. The Cult, “American Horse” – Some hard rock, yes please!
  27. The Kinks, “Help Me Now I’m Falling” – Ray Davies images America as Captain America on a bad day… More relevant now than ever.
  28. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – It certainly is a wake up time…
  29. Green Day, “American Idiot” – A Bush (W) era chestnut that resonates more now.
  30. Sammy Hagar, “Eagles Fly” – Sammy goes solo and hoists the flag.
  31. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – I think I put this on every playlist I do…
  32. U2, “The Hands That Built America” – Great soundtrack cut from U2.
  33. Jimi Hendrix, “Freedom” – That’s what its’ all about.
  34. Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World” – One of Neil’s greatest rock tunes.
  35. Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – Who doesn’t enjoy hearing Brother Ray put some true soul and love into this patriotic standard…it’s the perfect end.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Be careful out there… Don’t blow off any fingers or get burned. We don’t want another Jean Pierre-Paul on our hands… Drink something strong, only after you’re done blowing shit up, pause and reflect on the principles this country was founded on. We need true patriots right now… Enjoy!

p.s. This playlist can now be found on Spotify under BourbonAndViny.net 4th of July

Enjoy!

Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It?

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Like most white, suburban kids coming of age in the early 80s I was blissfully unaware of who Prince was. All of that changed my freshman year in college. Mid-year I transferred colleges for the oldest and stupidest of reasons, a girlfriend. I spent the back half of my freshman year at the University of Kansas in what I now refer to as “The Dark Semester.” No mystery, the girlfriend and I broke up, we were kids, it was stupid of me to transfer colleges. I was fucking miserable at KU surrounded by “frat bros” and douche bags. My dearest friend Doug and a whole lot of rum got me through those horrid months. The notable exception to my misery were the two black guys who lived across the hall from my dorm room. As my relationship with my girlfriend and my roommate slowly dissipated (my roomy was dating my ex’s best friend), I found myself spending more and more time across the hall with Brian and Robert.

Those guys were always listening to this brightly colored purple record. It was a giant double album full of some of the most inventive music I’d ever heard. The artist was marrying funk/soul and a Hendrix-like guitar style. I can still remember the first time I picked up the purple album cover and read the name – Prince. The album of course, was ‘1999’ and I was hooked. Perhaps it was the misery I was going through at the time, but the music was dirty and fun and it was just a great way to escape. Many a time people would glance in the room to see Brian, Robert and I dancing around the room to “DMSR” my new favorite song. I’m sure I looked slightly out of place, as I should never dance in public (and the Rock Chick would add, I should never dance in private either). The only reason that I mention I was a white suburban kid and the guys across the hall from me were black, which doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, is to illustrate how segregated music was in the 80s. Until Michael Jackson came along with ‘Thriller’ and all those iconic videos black artists didn’t even get played on MTV, the then new music channel, let alone rock radio. David Bowie even called MTV out for it in an interview, which is just another reason to love David Bowie.

My sophomore year, back at Kansas State, the fact that I’d play ‘1999’ raised a few eye brows. I had bought the album while still at KU. Then, in 1984 along came ‘Purple Rain.’ I bought the album before I’d even seen the movie, because I’d heard and immediately dug “When Doves Cry” and hey, I’d been listening to Prince for years folks, catch up… or at least that was my attitude. I actually bought ‘Purple Rain’ the day it came out, and listened to side one on my way out to a “drink and drowned” at a local bar. Since I only had the chance to listen to side one, I actually heard “Purple Rain,” the title track, for the first time ever that night in the bar, since it was the closing track on side two. That song hadn’t even been played on the radio and here it was on the day of it’s release being played in a bar full of beer soaked white kids. A barrier had come down. I remember thinking, “I’ve gotta get home and turn that fucking record over…”

Prince was a giant artistic talent and simply a pure genius. The overwhelming popularity of ‘Purple Rain’ stunned even him, I’d guess. It’s hard to follow up that kind of success… just ask Fleetwood Mac about ‘Rumors.’ So like most people, I was an intense fan of Prince’s music, but only from 1982 to 1986. He’d put out the occasional single I’d like. I bought his ‘Hits and B-Sides’ but ‘Purple Rain’ ended up being my last Prince LP purchase. Well, that’s not entirely true, I bought ‘Around the World In A Day’ on the day it came out and sold it about a month later. It was too out there for me…

All these years later Prince has released a deluxe repackaging of ‘Purple Rain.’ When my pal Erica told me it was coming out June 23rd it dawned on me that I’d never purchased ‘Purple Rain’ on CD… I quickly ordered my copy of this Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The question is, is it worth it? The original is remastered in this package. There are also additional discs of B-sides and the dreaded 7″ dance mixes. The real gold in the mine for me is the CD of unreleased tracks from Prince’s mysterious vaults. And, also there is a DVD (not a blu-ray) of a 1985 concert in Syracuse.

Let me pause for a moment to say, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. I love anything that an artist recorded and for whatever reason chose not to release. They put the tapes in the vault and finally, years later decide to release it. Dylan has released a lot of material that is so good one has to wonder why he didn’t release the songs on some of his lesser 80s albums. Springsteen is notorious for writing way more songs than he needs for each of his album projects and he finally cleared a lot of that backlog out in the excellent ‘Tracks’ box set. Van Morrison released two great discs of unreleased stuff on ‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’ All of those archival releases should be checked out by any fan of those artists. It tells a unique, different story than the officially released stuff. Sometimes it augments what you’ve already heard. Sometimes it shows an entirely different creative direction the artist could have gone in. Vault releases always bring out the musical spelunker in me…

Which leads me to ‘Purple Rain.’ Yes, it was long overdue for me to purchase the original album on CD. The remastering on this version is spectacular. I read somewhere that Prince himself, before his untimely, tragic death oversaw the remastering. And, yes, ‘Purple Rain’ is his masterpiece. It’s one of the most brilliant albums ever. Everyone should own this album. However, in this case, it’s the bonus stuff that interested me in this deluxe set.

The B-sides and 7″-singles disc is mostly filler. Does anyone really need “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)?” The answer for me, is no. However there are a couple of choice B-sides here. “Erotic City” is naturally here but that’s been available on greatest hits packages for a while. “17 Days” and “Another Lonely Christmas” are both superb songs. I’m surprised he waited this long to put those out. Less successful was the B-side “God.” An entire disc and only three songs of listenable music… hmmm this is trending bad.

The disc I was most excited about was the unreleased stuff. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. There is a lot I just can’t connect with here. “The Dance Electric” is an eleven and half minute exercise in repetition. There’s another superfluous version of “Computer Blue” here which could have stayed in the vaults. “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden” is baffling. About half this stuff left me decidedly cold. However about half this material is superb. “Love and Sex” is a great Prince rocker. “Electric Intercourse,” “Wonderful Ass” (which I dedicated to the Rock Chick in what can only be described as a “smooth move”), and “Velvet Pussy Cat” are all great songs. “We Can Fuck” is Prince at his delightfully vulgar best… Overall I’d say the Vault/Unreleased stuff here is, well, meh. Frankly I’d recommend purchasing selectively off iTunes or where ever you buy music. Listen and decide for yourself which tunes are worth having.

Finally, the other piece that led me to this deluxe edition was the DVD. It’s an amazing, inspired performance. The Revolution were a great band. I know Prince played most every instrument in the studio, but on stage he lets the Revolution jam. His guitarist, Wendy, is who really shines for me during the concert footage. Prince is amazing as a performer. It’s like Little Richard and James Brown had a baby. He’s all over the stage, grinding, sliding down a stripper pole and dancing. There are more costume changes than my wife getting ready for a fancy dinner. When Prince comes out at the end, to play the most epic version of “Purple Rain” ever, he’s dressed in a hooded robe, like some sexy, mystic monk from the Church of Purple. It’ll give you goose bumps. If you ever doubt Prince’s ability with a guitar, check out this footage or the YouTube of him playing “My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the RnR Hall of Fame… He was an amazing shredder. That all said, however, there are flaws here. The footage is grainy. For reasons possibly only understood by Prince himself, he refuses to use a main spotlight. For most of the show he’s shrouded in shadow or purple backlighting. It’s hard to see him play some of the magical solos he lays down. There are long musical interludes that stretch on too long to give him a chance to change clothes, which got annoying pretty quick. “When Doves Cry” is filmed like the video, with the left side of the screen mirroring the right side of the screen which only made me dizzy. I enjoyed the show, but with the horrid lighting, I’m not sure it’s a video I’m going to go back to and watch again.

Overall, while I love Prince and ‘Purple Rain’ particularly, I have to say this ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition’ is for completists and true fans only. There’s some interesting stuff here, but you have to dig to find it.

Happy Summer, folks! Stay cool and stay hydrated… there’s bourbon to drink later…

Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll

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“But it doesn’t matter now
Just come and love me how
Like the way you used to do
Yeah”

Well, just as I went on record as saying Dan Auerbach’s light, strummy tune, “Shine On Me” was my “jam,” as my daughter would say, for the summer, The Queens Of the Stone Age come storming back with their new single “Like You Used To Do.” I have bad news for Mr. Auerbach… I have a new summer song, er I mean, “jam.”

We last heard from the Queens Of The Stone age in 2013 when they released the amazing album, ‘…Like Clockwork.’ I was actually driving in my car when a local DJ, Afentra on 96.5 the Buzz played the whole album the day it was released. That was so old school, my respect for Afentra jumped off the scale. Nobody plays an entire new album on the radio any more. I was impressed. And this from a man who believes terrestrial radio is dead. I immediately bought ‘…Like Clockwork’ and it remains one of my favorite records. It’s a dark record, written after leader Josh Homme had suffered a near death experience in the hospital. It’s powerful stuff. I can point to a number of strong songs on it, but I like to listen to it the way I discovered it, as a piece. It’s like a Pink Floyd record in that the themes and tone of the music hold together so well, you can listen to the entire album all at once.

In the long, four year interim since ‘…Like Clockwork’ Josh Homme has not been idle. He co-wrote and produced the astounding late-career gem ‘Post Pop Depression’ for Iggy Pop, reviewed earlier on B&V. QOTSA also provided the backing band for Iggy on that record and I highly recommend it. Josh was also part of the Eagles of Death Metal’s return to Paris to play the Bataclan. In the HBO documentary, ‘Mon Amis’ Josh and Jesse Hughes’ friendship is front and center to the story. My respect for Josh doubled, if that was even possible.

After all of that activity, Josh finally pulled the QOTSA back together for their new album, out in August, ‘Villains.’ The first single, “Like The Way You Used To Do” came out this last Friday and I love this song. It’s built around a nasty, greasy, fuzzy riff, bass drum and hand claps (if you can believe it). This would be a great song to play as a football team comes out on the field. Or when a futbol team hits the field… pick your sporting event. There’s always that moment right before the game starts or before the team hits the field when your individual excitement joins that of the collective crowd excitement and your heart soars… that’s the moment for this song. When I hear that riff and those hand claps, I find myself suddenly on my feet, moving around the room.

I love the lyrics as well. The song is about a relationship… it sounds like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who met in high school… I love the line, “Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?” I’ve often asked myself that same question. Well, until I met the Rock Chick, that is.

There’s been some great new music that’s come out lately but I needed some hard rock music for the summer and nothing really scratched that itch. I heard this song and the first words out of my inarticulate mouth were, “Fuck, yes!” I can always count on the QOTSA to save rock and roll! My drummer friend Blake says they’re way too much of a  musician’s musicians band, but I defy you put on “Like The Way You Used To Do” and not feel the power of rock n roll!

Put this one on, turn it up to 11, and enjoy this by the pool! I can’t wait for ‘Villains’ out late August.

Cheers! (and please use sunscreen folks, tan skin is not healthy skin).

LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac

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Well, at least this time I spelled Lindsey Buckingham’s first name correctly, with an “e” and not an “a,” with my apologies to Mr. Buckingham for screwing that spelling up in my review of the first single…

Ah, Fleetwood Mac… In the last half of the 70s, they were huge. It’s impossible to overstate this… Their music was everywhere. I can remember in the summer, as a kid, before I could drive, my mother who was eager to get us out of the house so she could dip into the cooking sherry and lay on the couch, would take us to the local swimming pool and drop us off. We’d spend all day splashing around in the pool, playing games, going off the diving board and throwing our Nerf football around. I can remember the whistles going off for the hourly “Adult Swim.” We’d jump out of the cold, clear water and flop down on the warm cement, lips practically blue from the cold water. As I lay there, warming in the sun like a sea lion I can remember hearing Fleetwood Mac. “Dreams” was almost always piping over the speakers and the rhythmic drums seem to match my heartbeat. Or you’d hear the bizarre guitar signature of “Go Your Own Way.” “Over My Head” was another tune I can remember hearing at the pool quite a bit. It’s weird how my memories are all tied to songs and music.

We all loved Fleetwood Mac. One of my early college roommates, Matthew, showed up to college with his crate of records. His collection was all metal and hard rock: Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, some Pink Floyd (which wasn’t metal, but Matthew was an herbal enthusiast). And of course, he had a couple of Fleetwood Mac albums. Hell, I even had Steve Nicks’ fine first two solo albums. Ah, Stevie, I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Other than Yes, I can’t think of a band who’ve had more lineup changes than Fleetwood Mac. Even before the Buckingham-Nicks era, they went through a string of guitarist, from founding member and former John Mayall guitarist Peter Green, to Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Christine McVie, who’s maiden name was Christine Perfect, whose been a stalwart in the band, wasn’t even an original member. She had to marry the bass player just to join. It wasn’t until everybody except Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and Christine McVie (vocals/keyboards) were left that the Mac had to recruit the dynamic duo of Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals/Wiccan imagery). Buckingham and Nicks brought an interesting chemistry to the band and they just clicked.

What was really intriguing about Fleetwood Mac during their golden era, was they had three talented singers and songwriters. Christine McVie wrote sometimes saccharine love songs, but Buckingham tended to push her into edgier material. Buckingham was ever the experimentalist. Some might say the Mac was a mellower band but I heard Lindsey say one time, “we weren’t mellow so much as melodic.” Under all his experimentalism Lindsey was a closet Beach Boys circa ‘Pet Sounds’ fan and a similar vocal harmonizing came into play in Fleetwood Mac. Then you had Stevie Nicks who brought a spacey, witchcrafty, hippy vibe to the whole affair. The push and pull of all these writers/singers was anchored by the solid rhythm section Fleetwood and McVie provided.

The success of ‘Rumors’ followed by Lindsey’s left turn on ‘Tusk,’ an album I still love to this day, put more strain on the band than even the break up of the main romantic relationships within the band and Lindsey decided to split in 1987 after ‘Tango In the Night.’ The three writers had all started solo careers by then, Steve Nicks being the most successful. The Nicks/Christine McVie version of the band brought in 2 guitarists just to replace Lindsey and recorded the awful ‘Behind The Mask.’ Eventually everybody left. It wasn’t until 1997’s live record, ‘The Dance’ that the golden-era line up reunited. The reunion was short lived when, due to massive fear of flying, Christine McVie retired to the English country side to garden. The band carried on with Buckingham and Nicks at the helm and recorded the oft overlooked LP, ‘Say You Will,’ which, while flawed, was still a great record. It was a tad overly long. And I would say, they missed Christine McVie  as a counterpoint to Buckingham and Nicks.

A few years ago, cured of her fear of flying, Christine McVie rejoined the band. They did a number of concert gigs and things looked like they might be rolling. Buckingham, McVie and the rest of the band except Stevie went into the studio. It seems Christine was sitting on a huge stockpile of songs. Gardening wasn’t the only thing she was doing out there in rural England. Buckingham always seems to have a surplus of songs. The band recorded an album’s worth of material but try as they may, they couldn’t get Stevie back in the studio. She wants to focus on her solo career. Nicks is under the deluded impression she’s going to recapture her early 80s massive popularity. She’s stated she didn’t think she’d ever record any new music with Fleetwood Mac again, which is career limiting. She says being in the studio isn’t any fun anymore. Sigh…

Buckingham and McVie decided, what the hell, we’ll release what we’ve got. Careful not to alienate Nicks, instead of calling this a Fleetwood Mac album, they are calling it Buckingham-McVie, but make no mistake this is a Fleetwood Mac album, just without Stevie. I hope Stevie comes to her senses and comes back. Her longstanding love/hate relationship with Buckingham may be a factor here. Tom Petty has said he’s tried to produce Stevie Nicks records but he never knows where she’s coming from. He went on to say, the only person who really gets what Stevie wants to do in the studio is Lindsey Buckingham. It’s like me and the Rock Chick, we finish each other’s sentences. And likely, if she left me for say, Joe Walsh, I could probably still finish her sentences. Although I doubt I’d produce her records… if she made records, but I digress.

I like this new Buckingham-McVie record. I’ve always liked the chemistry between those two. It isn’t fraught with the emotionally damaging baggage that Buckingham and Nicks have. The vocal harmonies, the beautiful guitar work is all still here. I would describe this as a great beginning of this incarnation of the band, but there are flaws here. “Love Is Here To Stay” is one of those Buckingham acoustic guitar workouts, where he speed plays his acoustic guitar and harmonizes over it. I don’t think anybody else in the band is even on the track… it should have remained a solo Buckingham song. On McVie’s end, “Game of Pretend” is so saccharine as to be diabetes inducing. It’s really cringe-worthy. It starts off well enough with just Christine and a piano, which I dig, but then they crank up the schmaltz.

Those two songs aside, there is a lot to like here. The more I’ve heard of “In My World,” the first single, the more I like it. The guitar solo that ends the album on the atmospheric “Carnival Begin” is spectacular as is the song itself. “Feel About You” is one of those quintessential poppy, catchy Christine McVie songs. It stays in your head. The opening track, “Sleeping Around the Corner” is a tune that was a bonus track on Buckingham’s last solo record, which feels like cheating, but this version is far superior and it’s obvious he reworked the track quite a bit for this incarnation. Lindsey has a tradition of reworking older tracks – “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was a Buckingham-Nicks LP track that he repurposed for the Mac 1980 live LP. “Bleed To Love Her” is another track he pulled from the live ‘The Dance’ for ‘Say You Will.’ Sometimes a tune just isn’t done right the first time.

“Lay Down For Free” is a great Lindsey track. It’s another from the catchy-as-hell category. Christine McVie, who loves to write love songs, has a great one with “Red Sun.” She sings about being in a sunny place, watching the sun go down over the water while missing someone special. I think we’ve all been there. Fleetwood Mac at their best always sang about emotions that we can all relate to. I would have liked to have heard a little more aggressive drumming from Mick Fleetwood, but then again, I’ve always dug the drums, and his drumming in particular. I was hoping for a real rocking tune, like “World Turning,” the first track Christine and Buckingham ever wrote, but the closest they come is “Too Far Gone” which rides along on a great, almost Stones-y Buckingham riff. It is the one song they uncage Fleetwood’s drumming. There are several percussive breaks in the tune. It’s the most upbeat thing here. It’ll be a fun song to hear live.

While I like this LP, at 10 songs, it certainly leaves room for two or three great Nicks tracks. I think this might have been a true classic record if Nicks had showed up. As it stands it’s not a great Fleetwood Mac album but it’s certainly a really good one. It reminds me of the oft maligned 1982 album, ‘Mirage.’ I hear echoes of “Hold Me” in some of McVie’s tracks. And for the most part Buckingham doesn’t get too far out there on the experimental side, much like ‘Mirage.’ Yes, ‘Mirage’ was an LP where these guys mostly played it safe, but damn if it doesn’t have some great songs.

If you dig Fleetwood Mac, or if you’re weird like me and you dig solo Buckingham albums, you will like this album. If your record collection is all metal, and you have one or two Mac albums, you’ll likely dig this album too. If you don’t dig the Mac, I’d probably warn you off this one. These are master songwriters practicing their craft, and that is always enjoyable. In fact, that’s how I’d describe this album – not life changing but damn enjoyable. This could be the start of a whole new Buckingham/C. McVie era in the band, and I think that would be very interesting indeed. I would say, come back Stevie, you can make it through a studio session with Lindsey. He probably still completes your sentences…

Cheers!

 

 

Concert Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Kansas City, 6/2/2017

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*image from the Kansas City Star

It was a bit of a rough May… First we lost Chris Cornell and then we lost Gregg Allman. I was beginning to feel that numb sense of despair I’d felt for much of 2016. But then I remembered on Friday, June 2nd, I had tickets to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary tour. And as a bonus, former James Gang/Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was slated to open. While I love Tom Petty, and concerts in general, I was having a bit of trouble getting up for this show. It’s just that I’ve seen Petty so many times, I was fearful it would the same old set, the same old show. As usual, I was wrong…

As Petty is reflecting on his 40th anniversary, I couldn’t help but think back to my history with Tom. I can still remember my first Petty show. I had been a huge fan of his since their debut album came out when I was in junior high school, but I didn’t get to see him live until I was in college on the Pack Up The Plantation tour in support of the flawed but still enjoyable album, ‘Southern Accents.’ That show was ok, but the Heartbreakers were augmented with a horn section and back up singers. Sadly they also chose to hang a giant Confederate flag behind them, a choice Petty now regrets.

It wasn’t until I saw them on the ‘Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough’ tour that I got the real, genuine rockin’ Tom Petty experience. That album was very Stonesy, for lack of a better word, and the show was more full on rocking. Sure, I’d seen them behind Bob Dylan, but they were better on their own. It was at the ‘Let Me Up…’ show in Boston that I realized what great musicians these guys are. Stan Lynch was still manning the drum kit and he was a monster. It was Mike Campbell’s guitar that really caught my attention. The man should be on the list of every “Greatest Guitarists” everywhere. I can’t say enough about Benmont Tench’s abilities on keyboards. He sits on a stool surrounded by every type of keyboard imaginable and seemingly plays all of them at the same time… it’s like the guy has 4 arms.

After that experience, I made a point to see Petty on every tour. I remember my buddy Stormin and I drinking with a group of friends of ours who were going down to old Kemper Arena in Kansas City to see Petty on the ‘Full Moon Fever’ tour. Stormin and I were broke and I was unemployed. Neither of us had bought tickets. Our friends talked us into going down to scalp, something I rarely do. Some guy walked up to us and asked us what we thought his tickets were worth. They were 5th row on the floor. “Uh, face value?” He just smiled and said, “Give me $20 each and we’ll call it even.” We ended up with better seats than our friends. That was such a great show for me, when you’re that close it changes the experience. I can remember, looking up to a darkened entry way, behind the stage, and a couple I could only see in silhouette were dancing to the music… it was like they were the perfect stage decoration. I envied them their joy.

It was my old friend Stormin who called to alert me that Petty was on tour for his 40th Anniversary. I hesitated a bit, only because at our last Petty show my wife, the Rock Chick said, “He plays the same 10 songs every time we see him… I may be done with Petty.” But knowing this was his 40th anniversary show, and likely the Heartbreakers last big tour, I did some research. Petty claimed they were going to mix up the setlist. I was in. I can only say, thank God for my over 30 year friendship with Stormin, because I would have hated to miss this beautiful Anniversary celebration.

Petty strolled out on the stage last night in a purple jacket. He’s so charismatic and lets face it, purple is just a regal color. I knew this was going to be a different night when they opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around With You.” It’s got a Bo Diddley beat and was just a nice burst of rock to start the show. He followed up with a blistering version of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” which ended in a guitar dual between Petty and Mike Campbell… You just know Campbell is going to win all of those. He put on a guitar clinic all night. Everyone really needs to see this show just to hear Campbell play.

While Petty did mix up the setlist last night, what does it say about his catalog that when he plays a song like “You Got Lucky” which was a big hit, that it’s his change of pace material he rarely plays. That would be a must-play for any other artist. Last night was the first time I’d ever heard it live, and it was fantastic. I was thrilled he played some of his newer material… he really accessed all of his catalog and the newer song “Forgotten Man” is more relevant today than it was a few years ago. Playing these unfamiliar tracks put new life into “Won’t Back Down” and even “Free Fallin'” that Petty always plays.

The thing that really electrified last night’s performance was the enthusiasm of the crowd. They sang along on almost every song. I hadn’t seen a crowd that jacked up since the Stones a couple of years ago. The place was full and everybody was in full voice. I even caught the Rock Chick singing along loudly. It was just that kind of night. Petty announced the obscure soundtrack tune “Walls” as a song that had been requested… by him it turns out and the crowd even sang along for that one.

The middle of the set turns acoustic as he turns his focus on a subset of songs from his brilliant ‘Wildflowers’ LP. “It’s Good To Be King” was the usual extended jam. Then he went into “Crawling Back To You,” which has the great quote, “most things I worry about don’t happen anyway,” which could be my theme song. The acoustic strummer, “Wildflowers,” was simply transcendent. He kept things rolling with the rarely played “Yer So Bad” from ‘Full Moon Fever.” Wow!

Petty and the Heartbreakers brought it back up for “Should Have Known Better” which verged on punk rock last night. It was killer. After that, he even played “Refugee” which is a tune I’ve only heard him do once, maybe. The encore was one of my all time favorite songs “You Wreck Me” followed by “American Girl” which would have felt obligatory had the Heartbreakers not brought so much energy to it. When the lights came up, I was ecstatic. Even the Rock Chick turned to me and said, “That was a great, great show.”

I must also mention, the opening act, Joe Walsh. Joe is such a consummate showman. The things he did to his guitar could be classified as abuse. It was fantastic. “The Bomber” was a guitar workout like I haven’t seen in a while. The middle section of “The Bomber” where Joe sounds like he’s playing classical music on electric guitar was even better live. As my friend drummer Blake would say, he’s a very tasty guitarist. People take these amazing guitarists for granted… nobody can play like Joe (and later Mike Campbell) did. Cherish these guitarists people, they’re a dying breed. When Joe said, “I know there are a lot of millennials here, and most of these songs were done before you were born. Let me just say, welcome! This next song, however, is going to make your parents really happy…” and then launched into “Funk 49,” I almost wept with joy. In the words of my friend Stormin who saw the show two nights earlier at Red Rocks, “Joe Walsh is crushing it right now.” And, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the beautiful gesture of Joe dedicating his cover of “Take It To the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate,” Glenn Frey. Class move, Joe, class move!

Last night was a celebration of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40 years as a rock band. But it was more than that, it was a celebration of rock and roll and live music. It was a celebration of the communal aspects of concerts. Different people from all over coming together in unison to drink a little, sing a little and enjoy a whole lot of great music. The temptation to skip seeing that favorite band can sometimes be strong. Many times you think “I’ll catch them next time…” I’m telling you people, get out and see live music… there will come a time when these bands will disappear and you’ll wish you had…

Simply put, a magnificent show last night. Kudos to the crowd! And of course, Happy Anniversary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

P.S. Joe Walsh for President!

Gregg Allman,The Blues/Rock Legend, RIP: The Midnight Ride Is Sadly Over

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

Man, has it been a tough couple of weeks. It started it off well enough. I saw Soundgarden two weeks ago today and they were spectacular. I left hopeful to hear a new album from those guys sometime this year. Then things took a dark turn. Chris Cornell passed away after a show in Detroit. Then a few days later some idiot in Manchester attacks a teeny-bopper concert full of young girls, the height of cowardice. And now, in the midst of Memorial Day weekend, I got the news blues/rock legend Gregg Allman has passed away. I have to admit, my “Spidey-Senses were tingling” about Gregg for a while. He’d been hospitalized and had cancelled some tour dates. He was only 69.

The Allman Brothers Band, which bore Gregg and his brother Duane’s name, is to guitar playing what the SEC is to college football. They have all the championships. My nickname for the Allman Brothers was always “Guitar University.” Whether it was Duane Allman/Dickey Betts, or in the later years Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks, manning the guitars, you were certain to hear virtuoso guitar performances. Even surrounded by all those guitars the bedrock of the Allman’s sound was Gregg’s Hammond B-3 organ which was the melodic platform from which those guitars launched and soared. The heartbeat, and for me the key component to the Allman Brothers’ sound, was Gregg’s vocal. Even in his younger days he sang with a depth and knowing despair usually reserved for men three times his age. Who else could write, in their 20’s, “Just one more mornin’ I had to wake up with the blues…” “Dreams” indeed…

When he was a very young child his father, an Army sergeant, was shot and killed by a drinking buddy. You have to wonder if that early tragedy informed Gregg’s soulful, sad voice. Gregg Allman didn’t just sing the blues – with all the tragedy (his father, his brother’s untimely death), the women, Cher, the divorces (6), the drugs, the booze, and all the legal problems divorces, booze and drugs bring – Gregg Allman lived the blues.

I’ve read quite a bit on line about Gregg Allman the last twenty-four hours. Almost unanimously they refer to Allman as a “southern rock” pioneer. I do know that Gregg considered the term southern rock redundant. If it’s southern music, it rocks, baby! When I think about the Allman’s music, I don’t think of it as southern rock. Yes, they built the template of the multi-lead guitar, bluesy, touch of country, rock and roll. To me they were just a great blues band with a jazz ethos. The solo’ing and the playing off each other was so much more akin to Miles Davis than well, Marshall Tucker. I don’t really like jam bands, like say, The Grateful Dead, but you could easily call the Allman Brothers Band a jam band. In my opinion they played more forcefully than all that Grateful Dead noodling. These guys were taking the blues places it hadn’t been.

My introduction to the Allman Brothers Band was an odd one. When I was in college my musical taste and my album collection was exploding in all different directions. I had musical ADD. I’d buy a Stones album, then maybe a Beatles album, then back over to the Faces. I had the good fortune to have a roommate, Drew, who had a singular focus when it came to music. When he got into an artist he went straight through the catalog until he had it all. We were both musical completists. Drew came home one day with “I’m No Angel,” Gregg’s great ’86 solo album. Yes, the production is a little dated, but it was the strongest thing he’d done since “Laid Back.” This was my introduction to Gregg Allman and my gateway into the Allman Brothers Band. You have to remember, when I came of record-buying age, Allman was married to Cher and had just put out “Allman And Woman.” Not my bailiwick. Up to the point Drew brought home “I’m No Angel” I was aware of the Allmans but hadn’t paid any attention to them.

Drew also played me “Live At the Fillmore East” for the first time. That’s when I was hooked, my musical life changed that day. It wasn’t until I moved to Arkansas that I crashed through the entire early Allman’s catalog. I mean, if you live in the south you better own some Allman Brother’s albums… I consider “The Allman Brothers Band,” “Idlewild South,” “Fillmore East,” “Eat A Peach” and “Brothers And Sisters” all ESSENTIAL rock music listening. It’s an amazing catalog of work. They defined jam rock, southern rock, blues rock, just plain rock! Through losing Duane Allman, founder/leader/legendary guitarist and founding bassist Barry Oakley they continued to put out fantastic music. While it’s easy to focus on those early records, when the Allman Brothers regrouped in 1990 for the great reunion/comeback album ‘Seven Turns’ it led to a string of really great albums. I would highly recommend ‘Where It All Begins,’ but I also loved the last Allman album, without Dickey Betts, ‘Hittin’ The Note.” There’s some great playing on that record especially on the long track, “Desdemona.” They also cover the Stones’ “Heart of Stone,” which I’m rather partial to.

While the Allman Brothers’ legend is cemented, I don’t hear nearly enough about Gregg’s great solo work. One of the unique things about Gregg’s solo work is on almost every solo album he’d go back and rework one of the Allman’s early songs. His first solo album, “Laid Back” is his masterpiece and his reimagining of “Midnight Rider” is so differently orchestrated than the original you almost forget there are 2 versions of that track. “Laid Back” is a must have. His cover of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days” is definitive. His follow-up, the live “The Gregg Allman Tour” is, like “Fillmore East,” one of the great double live albums of the 70s. Gregg always brought more of an R&B feel to his solo records vs the bluesy muscle of Allman Brothers. The other 70s solo Gregg album that everyone should own is ‘Playing Up A Storm.’ You won’t recognize any of the tunes, I don’t think there are any “hits” per se, but it’s almost the same high quality as “Laid Back.” Choice listening!

Gregg’s last solo album, ‘Low Country Blues’ was produced by T Bone Burnett and featured Gregg doing almost exclusively old blues covers. The opening track, “Floating Bridge” will stop you in your tracks. He tackles Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and matches the Stones version for sheer blues awesomeness. My only complaint about ‘Low Country’ was there wasn’t enough of Gregg’s seminal organ playing, but it’s a nit of a complaint.

Another album that didn’t get a lot of attention, but everyone should check out is Gregg’s 1997 solo album, “Searching For Simplicity.” He does a great, acoustic re-work of “Whippin’ Post.” There is a great, great version of John Hiatt’s “Memphis In The Meantime.” For me, “Rendezvous With The Blues” is the highpoint. Gregg’s bluesy growl is let loose on that one. It’s a solid, bluesy record and well worth checking out.

Today I am sad, because we have lost another legend. I’m starting to get that bad 2016 feeling again… We’re starting to lose people in bunches again. Thankfully we have an amazing back catalog to console us through our grief. And, I was pleased to hear that Gregg had completed his long-awaited follow up to ‘Low Country Blues,’ and that album should be out in September.

Make no mistake people, a giant of the blues, of rock and roll, of music has passed this weekend. The world is better off for knowing Gregg Allman’s artistry.

Cheers!