Ryan Adams: The First Two Songs From the Upcoming LP, “Prisoner”

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Prior to his big hit “New York, New York” I had never heard of Ryan Adams. I had never heard of his first band Whiskeytown either. In the aftermath of 911, “New York, New York” and it’s accompanying video were in high rotation around the U.S. I quickly purchased his album “Gold” and absolutely loved it. I suggested the song “Firecracker” from that record be played at our wedding, but the Rock Chick quickly shouted me down. I immediately went Sharky’s Machine on her so it turned out alright.

I’m not a big country or alt-country guy, but I dug Ryan Adams. I quickly went out and bought his best LP, 2000’s “Heartbreaker,” and loved it. There was something I could relate to on those early albums… I stuck with him through “Demolition,” which I actually thought was a strong, if disjointed album and the odd, simultaneously released “Love Is Hell” and “Rock N Roll” period. After that I purchased every LP he put out – including the awful, awful “29” (seriously, avoid that album) and the puzzling “III/IV”double LP.

There seems to be two styles Ryan veers between. There’s the acoustic, alt-country, heart broken balladeer, which as a man who dated as long as I did, I loved. “Oh My Sweet Caroline” with Emmy Lou Harris on the harmony is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. On the LP “Demolition,” the song “Dear Chicago” grabs me by the heart strings. The other direction, which I like less, is this new wavy, Smith’s sounding mope rock. It’s most represented by the LP’s “Rock N Roll” and to a lesser degree his eponymously titled LP from 2014. I tend to like Ryan best when he’s mixing the acoustic and the electric, the light and dark, like on the LP’s “Cold Roses,” the excellent “Easy Tiger” or “Cardinology.”

Clearly, I was a big Ryan Adams fan. But I don’t know what happened, my ardor for his music cooled. I saw Ryan in concert, the only concert I’ve ever attended by myself as the Rock Chick is not into Ryan Adams and she refused to attend. She drags an imaginary knife over her wrist whenever she catches me listening to Ryan. There are some bands who haven’t clicked for me until I see them live. The music just springs out at me and suddenly I get it. With Ryan it was the opposite. It was a short show. I’d been reading playlists on-line in anticipation and he cut the setlist short. It was clear Kansas City was not a priority stop for him, despite the theater being at capacity. His on stage presence was the opposite of charismatic, he was annoying. Then, in 2011 his “Ashes & Fire” LP, which was more in the acoustic mold left me cold as well. It was an OK album but I just couldn’t connect with anything past the first single.

When his 2014 self-titled LP came out, I didn’t even bother to buy it, which was a first. The first single was a rocker, “Gimme Something Good,” but it too left me unmoved. But then, Ryan committed what I considered an unforgivable sin… He did a start to finish cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album and actually released it. I had read Ryan did the same thing back in the day, when he’d recorded a cover of the Stroke’s debut LP. The Strokes I can understand but Taylor Swift? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s a name I never thought I’d be typing in the hallowed pages of BourbonAndVinyl. At that point, the man was dead to me. I did read recently he regrets it. He said it was supposed to be something fun, or maybe funny, and that the backlash has been harsh. I’d hope so.

Now, fresh on the heels of his break up/divorce with the attractive Mandy Moore, Ryan is set to release his next LP, “Prisoner.” The Rock Chick merely said, when I told her he had a new album coming, “Oh, great more suicide rock.” I thought to myself, well, Ryan is always best when he’s bummed out. Maybe, just maybe it’s time to check him out again. I’m not sure if I’ll even review his new LP or not… but I feel forced to comment on the first two songs that he’s released so far…

The first track, “Do You Still Love Me” is sonically very similar to “Gimme Something Good.” His vocal is extremely anguished Ryan Adams. It’s hard not to hear this as a plea to his ex-wife. It’s in the electric guitar rock vein of “Rock N Roll.” It rocks but let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t music you’re going to play at a party. On the surface I like the song, but I have to admit, I felt myself cringe a little bit. The Rock Chick, predictably, hated the tune. It’s like accidentally reading someone’s diary. I think it’s a solid tune, but for some reason I felt it hard to listen to. Obviously, I can’t say I recommend this tune. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

The second track released so far, “To Be Without You,” is an acoustic strummer. Light drums drive the song forward. The vocal is less tortured. I have to admit, despite my turning away from Ryan Adams, this is an excellent Ryan Adams song. It reminds of “Lucky Now” the excellent single from “Ashes & Fire.” For the first time in a long time a Ryan Adams song has grabbed me. I love the acoustic guitar figure he plays on this (I don’t think you can call anything acoustic a “riff” can you?) The lyric is more muted than “Do You Still Love Me,” and even though seems more personal is made less so by the lack of histrionics in the vocals. I’d actually say this one is worth checking out. But as with all things Ryan Adams any more, I’ll caveat it with, a) buyer beware and b) you really have to like Ryan Adams and his style of music to get into.

I don’t know if “Prisoner” will the be the LP that gets me back into Ryan Adams. As usual, I find myself confounded by the first two songs I’ve heard. I’m digging one of them, and luke warm on the other. Only time will tell….

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!

Happy Keithmas Everyone – Keith Richards’ Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”

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We’ve reached that dreaded time of year when the holidays have descended up on us, and bands have stopped releasing new albums. Oh sure, I’ve spent most of the past few weeks listening to the superb new Stones album, “Blue and Lonesome,” but as I found myself shut in because of the snow and ice outside, cabin fever has set in. Which is odd, because I’ve only been shut in since I got out of bed this morning. I began to flip through my album collection but I didn’t get any farther than the A’s… more specifically, AC/DC.

Is there a joy more pure and wonderful than listening to AC/DC? They’re just a fun band. When I first met my wife, the Rock Chick, one of the first things I liked about her was she was one of the first chicks I’d ever met who knew the difference between the Bon Scott-era AC/DC and the Brian Johnson-era. Most women I’d known didn’t know the difference. It was the Rock Chick who got me back into AC/DC, who I thought were spent creatively after “For Those About To Rock,” when she turned me onto “The Razor’s Edge” and more importantly “Stiff Upper Lip” which are great, great late period albums. The first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to was AC/DC on the “Stiff Upper Lip” Tour… ah, fond memories. That was a  wonderful evening with Angus’ guitar solos and women taking their tops off… and that was just on the ride down to the show…

I will admit, if the Rock Chick has a flaw musically it’s her complete dismissal of the Bon Scott-era of AC/DC. Although I will give her credit for loving “If You Want Blood, You Got It.” As most people know, Bon was the original, charismatic lead singer of AC/DC. He tragically died sleeping in the back seat of a car after a night of drinking when he choked on his own vomit. Which frankly, is how I think every great rock star should go out. The man has been described as a “street poet” and for once I think they got that one right. His lyrics about the grimier, darker side of life are nothing short of brilliant – the Nobel Committee ought to put on the “Highway To Hell” LP and start considering following up the Dylan nomination with Bon… but as usual, I digress.

Most people focus on the Brian Johnson-era of AC/DC’s career probably because a) it’s lasted longer and b) they were much more popular during Brian’s tenure. After “Back In Black,” one of the best selling albums of all time, AC/DC became international superstars. I can see where that kind of LP sales could eclipse the earlier, lesser-known work. If you look at the macro picture though, under Bon Scott, the band was headed that way. With each successive album, from “High Voltage” to “Dirty Deeds” to “Let There Be Rock” AC/DC’s following and stature continued to grow. While they didn’t even tour in the US until 1977, hitting small venues no less, like CBGB and the Whiskey (underscoring once again, if I could time travel, I’d spend all my time at concerts), they were building toward that eventual breakthrough which came in the form of “Highway To Hell.” While everybody loves “Back In Black” it was “Highway” that broke them. If you listen to Bon’s lyrics you can discern several things… he truly believed he was battling for rock and roll as an art form and that he was going to go to Hell for doing that. Although it certainly seems like  he was having an extraordinarily good time doing so. One could imagine him crossing the River Styx, with his shirt off and a bottle of Old Crow whiskey in his hand, howling…”Don’t stop meeee!”

Eventually, after “Back In Black” people began to go back and discover AC/DC’s earlier albums and many, many of their songs began to get airplay that before weren’t getting much play at all. The early albums added depth and context for “Back In Black.” And while all that is great, there is one album that for reasons that are inexplicable to me, remains overlooked. That album is “Powerage.” Maybe it’s the odd cover art. I absolutely love this dark, dark record. I realize that there wasn’t really a discernible single on the record. I realize that “Highway To Hell” eclipsed everything that came before it but to overlook “Powerage” is criminal. Keith Richards, of all people, has been quoted as saying “Powerage” is his favorite AC/DC album, and frankly does anybody need more of an endorsement than that?

As the 70’s went on, as I mentioned, AC/DC’s fame and fortune continued to increase on the international rock scene. They opened for Black Sabbath… wouldn’t you have loved to drink with Ozzy and Bon back then? I know I would… They were gaining attention, especially in Europe. They were poised to break through in a big way… and then it’s like Bon Scott knew the end was near, and right before the breakthrough, they paused and went into the studio and recorded a dark and foreboding LP, “Powerage”….and it’s fucking brilliant.

This album finds Bon’s lyrical gifts beginning to blossom. The LP opens with what was ostensibly the first single, “Rock N Roll Damnation.” It starts the LP off with a MONSTER riff… and then Bon comes in with, “They say that you play too loud, well baby that’s tough.” The chip on Bon’s shoulder is as big as a car. This song sets the table and signals, this is going to be a dark ride and Bon has some scores to settle. I really don’t think of AC/DC as a “singles” band and frankly I think “Powerage” is an album that you need to listen to in it’s entirety, like Pink Floyd. It sets a mood. I listen to this album and I just want to take a shot of whiskey and do some brawling… and I haven’t been in a fight since grade school and I lost that one.

“Down Payment Blues” and “Gimme a Bullet To Bite On” are just great tunes. In “Down Payment Blues” Bon sings, “I got myself a Cadillac but I can’t afford the gasoline.” This is dirty, dirty bloozy rock. “Gimme a Bullet…” is a classic Bon break up song… He’s got a “pain in his heart” and he’s calling for a bullet to bite on… and he’s going to make believe it’s his ex… I think we’ve all been there…

The centerpiece of this record, for me, is the tune “Gone Shootin’.” The riff is infectious. The dark story about a man lamenting that his girl friend has gone out in their bad neighborhood to score herion is harrowing, but the way Bon growls, “My baby’s gone shootin’… she’s gone, gone, gone,” it brings chills to my spine. Likely the subject matter kept that one off the radio… it’s the heart and soul of this record. It is my all time favorite AC/DC tune.

I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the amazing lead guitar playing of Angus Young. With Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar, these guys lay down gargantuan riffs throughout the album. The song “Up To My Neck In You” may be Angus’ finest hour as a guitarist. “Riff Raff” is a colossus of a guitar party. The Young brothers set the scene with their one of their best riffs as Bon takes us into “Sin City” another gem of a song on this album. The guitar riff on that song makes me feel like I’m in the car with the band at the city limits of Las Vegas… and some shit is going down. There isn’t a bad song on this record. The frantic LP ender, “Kicked In The Teeth Again” is a break neck hard rocker… You can barely keep up with Angus’ solos on that one. These guys don’t really slow down at all on this record.

I’ve turned a few of my esteemed rock friends onto this album, Matthew and Stormin’ out in Denver and both of them at some point have turned to me and said some version of, “how did I miss this album?” You true rock guys out there, and you know who you are, should do yourselves a favor and get this record on the turntable as soon as you can. You will not regret it…

As always my friends, on this cold, cold winter day, stay warm, pour something brown and murky, put on “Powerage” and enjoy… Although don’t give into that mood to start brawling… I’m a pacifist… a lover, not a fighter.

Cheers!

The BourbonAndVinyl 10 Best LPs of the Year (Stones, Bowie, and More)

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The end of the year and the dreaded “holiday season” seem to always bring reflection. Maybe it’s having to see all those relatives that makes our minds wander…The turning of the calendar to a new year seems to crystalize the passage of time in our minds. We’re all another year older… As Bob Dylan sang, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast…” Along with that personal reflection it seems every magazine, website and blog comes out with their “Best of” lists for the year that is ending. I’ve seen “best LPs” and “best songs” lists. We are a society that likes to organize and rank things. Whether it’s food, TV, movies or music, we need our “top 10” lists at the end of the year to codify the year that was. Since B&V only came into being in July of 2015, I chose not to do a “Best of” list a year ago. But now, with a full calendar year under our belt for 2016 I figured I’d get in on the fun.

I must say, 2016 was a horrible year for rock and roll. As Don Henley sang, “It was a pretty good year for fashion (and I say that fresh off the Victoria Secret’s “Fashion” Show, a ridiculous piece of soft-core porn for the whole family) but a lousy year for rock and roll.” I’m not suggesting that the music suffered this year but I don’t recall a year where we lost so many great ones. David Bowie, Lemmy, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey and producer George Martin were among the big names. But other important rock and roll pioneers passed this year including Leon Russell and Sharon Jones. With the passage of time I fear this will become the new normal. Luckily a few of these artists, notably Leonard Cohen and especially David Bowie, were able to leave us with a farewell musical statement.

There was some great music put out in 2016 if you’re willing to look for it. Sadly, you’re not going to hear this on your local FM radio dial. However you get your music, and I’m hoping it’s mostly on vinyl, you need to seek this music out. Whether it’s on Spotify, CD, LP or Satellite Radio, there is great music to be found. Hopefully here at B&V between sips of brown murky fluid, we’ve guided you to some of that music this year. Without further rambling, here you have it, the first ever B&V Best Albums of the Year.

The BourbonAndVinyl Best LPs of 2016

  1. The Rolling Stones, “Blue And Lonesome” – The Stones return to the Chicago Blues of their youth with a power and excitement that surprised even them. This is hands down, the album of the year. Mick’s harmonica playing is the star.
  2. David Bowie, “Blackstar” – In what can only be seen now as a goodbye note, Bowie’s final album is as bold and experimental and fantastic as his strongest work. I really miss David Bowie.
  3. The Cult, “Hidden City” – The third in a trilogy of excellent albums that began with “Born Into This,” “Hidden City” was the Cult’s best album since “Beyond Good And Evil” and perhaps since “Sonic Temple.” And yet, hard rock stations seem to ignore this hard hitting gem.
  4. Metallica, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct” – The Heavy Metal Gods have returned in rare form. If this is “self-destruction” deal me in! “Halo On Fire” remains in high rotation here at B&V.
  5. Mudcrutch, “2” – Tom Petty’s “side project” returns with their second, more focused LP with a strong set of songs. If you were lucky enough to see them live, you know what a great band they are and what great songs these are. “Welcome To Hell” may have become my favorite song on this record…
  6. Paul Simon, “Stranger To Stranger” – Other than David Bowie, I defy you to find an artist who experiments and takes as many risks as Paul Simon. “The Werewolf” and “Wristband” were the songs that jumped out at me, but “Cool Papa Bell” might be the pick of the litter.
  7. Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” – Another huge loss in the world of music. The voice of the infinite singing seemingly from beyond the grave. Some of the most poetic lyrics I’ve ever heard. Yes, the voice is all gravel and rust, but listen to the words and the emotion and you’ll be hooked.
  8. Green Day, “Revolution Radio” – Green Day’s return from operas and grand ideas (Uno, Dos, Tre anyone?) to a more punk, raw sound. This album seems to be flying under the radar but it’s their best work since “Warning.”
  9. Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression” – It’s fitting that Iggy, along with Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age, put out his finest album in years at the time when his mentor David Bowie passed. These albums harken back to Iggy’s halcyon days in Berlin with Bowie. The QOTSA and Josh Homme push Iggy in ways no one has in years.
  10. The Record Company, “Give It Back To You” – A newer band making the B&V list of top albums gives me hope. I love this bluesy little gem of a record. I look for bigger and better things from the Record Company.

Honorable Mention

Well, you had to know I couldn’t limit my recommendations to just 10 albums. There were a couple of mellower, understated, rootsy albums, that while not in my top 10, are still highly recommended by B&V. These are those late night, brown and murky fluids in a tumbler albums.

  1. Norah Jones, “Day Break” – Norah’s most sophisticated, jazzy album to date. Some really great piano on this record.
  2. Van Morrison, “Keep Me Singing” – Van seems recommitted on this record. It’s on the mellow end but that voice of Van’s keeps everything on a slow boil. It’s reflective tone is the perfect album for this time of year (if you’re like me and you dislike the holidays).
  3. Peter Wolf, “A Cure For Loneliness” – There were a few missteps here, nobody needs to hear “Love Stinks” done bluegrass style, but overall this was a great, rootsy album.

Best Re-Release

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best re-release of the year. The Beatles, “Live At the Hollywood Bowl,” is a great live document of the band in the midst of Beatlemania and all those screaming girls. Remastered by the late George Martin’s son, this live document puts a little meat on the bones of the legend. Ringo’s drumming may be the biggest surprise here, he’s manic and wonderful.

I could go on, because as we all know, I’m prone to digression and rambling. However, I’ll wrap it up with these albums. If there are any you feel I missed, or an album that you felt was really special in 2016, please feel free to list in the comments.

Happy….Holidays and 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: Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” His Farewell Note, RIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pour something strong and brace yourself.

Cheers!

Prince “Moonbeam Levels, ” The First Song From the Famous Prince Archives

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It’s been a tough year for classic rock and roll fans. From Lemmy and Bowie to more recent losses of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, we’ve lost some really great talents. No more surprisingly than perhaps Prince, who at such a young age succumbed to prescription drug addiction.

I became a Prince fan during the Dark Semester I spent at the University of Kansas. The guys across the hall turned me onto the record “1999” and I was hooked. I could tell the guy was a genius. When “Purple Rain” came out, I don’t think even Prince was prepared for the universal reaction. That album stayed at number one for months. I liked Prince’s music but I have to admit, I always liked his more “Hendrix-y” stuff, when he played his guitar. His guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” during George Harrison’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony stands out in my mind as one of his singularly greatest guitar moments. After “Purple Rain” it was rare I heard that blistering guitar and I lost interest. The Rock Chick was into that New Power Generation era stuff but even she lost interest after that.

All during his career Prince was a workaholic. His work ethic was the thing of legend. I can remember hearing him interviewed in the early 90s and he was talking about how much stuff he had in the “vaults.” He had jammed with Miles Davis, “those tapes were in the vaults.” He said the best of the Revolution, his “Purple Rain” era band “was still in the vaults.” Unfortunately he passed away before he could curate this vast amount of material he left in his archives. Now I sporadically read about all the people who were related or pretending to be related to Prince suing each other over his massive estate. To me the biggest part of that estate is all those tapes down in the archives.

Today sees the arrival of his first posthumously released greatest hits package, “Prince4ever”. It collects all the usual hits, although this is the first package I can recall that contains one of his track from the Batman movie, “Batdance.” This is the first release that finally cracks into the vaunted Prince archives. “Moonbeam Levels” is the first song that was unreleased by Prince that his estate has finally released. It was recorded in 1982 during the “1999” sessions and it does sound akin to that time period. There’s also a non-album single, “Gotta Stop Messin’ About” that I’d never heard. That one didn’t impress me.

“Moonbeam Levels” is a decent Prince song, if you like Prince. It does take me back to those “1999” days. It’s a strong vocal over a key board. It’s poppy and catchy. The lyrics are the typically spacey, odd lyrics that he wrote back then. There is no guitar here, which is usually what drew me to Prince’s songs in the first place. There is a touch of guitar at the end but not enough to really draw me in.

This is an interesting peak into the archives but in the end all it does is whet my appetite for more. There’s got to be amazing outtakes down there with that awesome lead guitar. I think it’s going to be an interesting series of archival releases, perhaps greater even than the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series.

I can’t say I recommend “Moonbeam Levels” to anybody but the true Prince fans out there, but it was a big moment that they actually opened the archives and I felt compelled to comment. Fingers crossed for more to come!

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!)