The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands

oasis-gallagher-brothers-end-feud_banner

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

From fistfights on stage to international multi-platinum success to ugly break ups and what I can only imagine to be awkward Christmas dinners, is there anything more entertaining than brothers who form bands? The chemistry of every band is different. For every band like Rush or U2 who appear to exist in perfect harmony you have your Van Halen or the Who where the internal conflict is part of the creative process. You take a sibling rivalry and drop that into the crucible of being in a band and it can make for some fabulous music and explosive interpersonal conflict.

Brothers are a tricky lot. Dating all the way back to when Cain slayed Abel, if you believe in that sort of thing, brothers have had a rocky relationship. I’ve got friends who are extremely close to their brothers and claim their brothers are their best friends. I have some friends who haven’t spoken to their brothers in decades. My relationship with my lone sibling is more complicated than that. Yes, I love my brother and would do anything for him, but I don’t think he and I would ever work well together in a band. I’m talentless with a musical instrument so, that makes it a difficult proposition to begin with. Being the opposite of me, he plays exquisite acoustic guitar so I’m the drag on the whole band idea.

My mother is fond of telling the story of when they first moved my brother out of the nursery to share my bedroom. She says we were both so happy we laughed and laughed. So, at least we started in a good place. Over the years however, our personalities diverged so much that we never developed that closeness that some brothers do. My brother and I are just polar opposites. He’s quiet, I can’t stop talking. He liked the Beatles, I was a Stones guy. He is basically a tea-totaller now and well, I like bourbon. Our differences were so pronounced growing up, I’d open the fridge and ask my mother whether my brother liked a certain dish of leftovers or not, knowing that if he did, I likely wouldn’t enjoy it. I was rarely wrong.

I can remember going to have dinner at a sub shop with him when he was still in college. “Civil War” by Guns N Roses came on, and it was only the second time I’d heard it. I was gyrating in my chair and I’m embarrassed to admit I started air-guitaring. My brother was sitting across from me, just sort of staring at me, blank faced. “Don’t you just love this, I mean, man you looked bored?” He pushed his glasses back up  his nose and said, in his most sanctimonious voice, “Yes, I like this song, but I can listen to it without acting like an  idiot.” I didn’t talk to him for 20 years after that. Luckily time has been kind to us. I’ve mellowed out on the whole “big brother as an asshole” act. Social media, texting and emails have opened up avenues of conversation. My relationship with my brother is now cordial if not close. And I think he’d do anything for me if I needed help.

I say all that, because I can’t imagine being in a band where all of that history and antipathy lurks under the surface… usually only to break through to the surface in very public ways. Flea and Anthony, Mick and Keith, they can all say they’re like brothers, but there’s nothing like a brother. I started thinking about all the bands I like who have brothers in their ranks. It’s a pretty awful history. I began to wonder if maybe bands with brothers are cursed, like Cain. Sure, they may have some success, world wide fame and make a ton of money, but there’s a lot of bad things that have happened. Here are my favorite bands of brohters:

  1. The Kinks – these guys may be the original hateful brothers in a band together. The Kinks are one of the greatest if not under appreciated bands in history. Dave Davies, the guitarist and younger brother has always claimed that Ray, the lead singer, stole the band from him. Ray basically took it over apparently. They fight about everything including who wrote what song. They make Mick and Keith look cordial. So while they did well I think they chronically underachieved in terms of success because of the conflict at the inner core of the band. Dave had a stroke a few years ago but they still grumble about having a reunion tour… I think it best to let sleeping dogs lie…
  2. Oasis – Are there a stupider couple of siblings than the Brothers Gallagher? These guys had it all, world wide fame, they were the biggest band in the world and they blew it. They couldn’t resist getting into fights on stage. Their rants about each other are the thing of British press legend. Liam recently said, after they split up, he’d rather vomit than work with Noel again. I think that says it all. The Rock Chick loves these guys and we went and saw them in the front row at Red Rocks. I lapsed into that old habit of air-guitaring… legs together, bending only at the knee, the white-man’s overbite, the whole ugly act… and while I’m not proud of that, Liam saw me and actually mocked me from the stage. Yeah, not a high point for me. I’m definitely on team Noel here.
  3. The Black Crowes – Chris and Rich Robinson’s band, the Black Crowes burst onto the rock scene about the time Guns N Roses came out. I saw these guys several times. You could feel the conflict between the lead singer, Chris and guitarist, Rich. They’re like a mini-Oasis. They squabble in the press and have had the usual fist fights on stage. They keep getting back together but they eventually morphed from a rock band to a jam band… Is there any worse thing in rock than a jam band? I blame Chris… I should have put him on my “Greatest LSD” list.
  4. The Stooges – When Iggy formed the Stooges in Detroit with the Asheton brothers they basically created the punk rock blue print. While they never had the success they deserved, the pressures inside the band were equally as great. After firing the original bass player, they demoted Ron Asheton from guitar to bass. His brother Scott just let it happen. They say the tension in the studio when they were recording “Raw Power” with a new guitarist was palpable. They split soon after that and I don’t think anybody talked to each other for 30 years. I wonder what the ol’ Asheton Thanksgiving dinners were like.
  5. Van Halen – While Edward and Alex Van Halen seem to get along pretty well together, I don’t think their parents taught them how to play well with others. Oh sure, Van Halen is awesome, and I love their music, but these guys are just assholes. They ran off David Lee Roth at the peak of their popularity (now I’m the first to admit Dave was probably more at fault here) but also succeeded in recently running him off a second time. These guys even managed to piss off Sammy Hagar, one of rock’s most happy-go-lucky tequila soaked guys out there. Sammy’s even recently suggested he misses their friendship. I don’t know why, Van Halen “mountain” seems like a pretty arrogant place.
  6. Credence Clearwater Revival – formed with John and Tom Fogerty both guitar and John on lead vocals. John was so controlling and dictatorial, Tom finally got fed up and left the band at the height of their popularity. I don’t think they ever spoke again until right before Tom passed in 1990. Sad ending to a great band. John and the remaining members in the band have been locked in a decades long feud that has included law suits and a Hall of Fame ceremony performance snub when John refused to share the stage with the original rhythm section. Cursed? I think so.
  7. The Allman Brothers – Finally a band named after the theme of this article. While the Allman Brothers, Gregg (keyboards) and Duane (lead guitar) got along, my curse theory jumps into high gear with them. As they began to get really big, Duane died in a tragic motorcycle crash. A year later Barry Oakley the bass player dies the same way. Gregg eventually alienated the rest of the band by testifying against their road manager in a drug case. When they finally got it back together in the 90s they ended up having to fire Dickey Betts for all sorts of misdeeds. I think I sense the mark of Cain here…
  8. AC/DC – AC/DC’s Young brothers are some of my favorite people in rock and roll. But you have to wonder about their being cursed a little bit. Just as “Highway To Hell” poises them for world domination, the lead singer Bon Scott chokes on his own vomit, which is the way true rock stars should go, in my opinion. Brian Johnson joins and history is made. Their popularity waned but about the time of “Razor’s Edge” they pulled it back together and started making great hard rock again. Then Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitarist fell victim to dementia. Brian Johnson has gone deaf and has been replaced by Axl Rose of all people. Worse yet, Phil Rudd their intrepid drummer has become a meth dealing thug. I just heard he may have had a heart attack. Heavy weighs the crown of the hard rock world.
  9. The Wailers – as in, Bob Marley and the Wailers. The Wailers were originally formed as a vocal trio, like a doo-wop group. Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer got together to sing and harmonize together. Eventually they morphed into an actual band and around 1970, they recruited Lee Perry’s rhythm section, brothers drummer Carlton Barrett and bass player Ashton “Family Man” Barrett. After making reggae a world wide phenomenon, Tosh and Bunny both quit. Bob carried on until he succumbed to brain cancer. Peter Tosh was shot and killed. Sadly, drummer Carlton Barrett suffered the same fate, when he was shot by an unknown gunman in his front yard. That’s a pretty awful story. Babylon system indeed.
  10. INXS – I loved INXS, Michael Hutchence and the Farriss brothers, from Australia almost from the first. With Hutchence good looks they were the darling of early MTV. The three Farriss brothers were pretty goofy looking side kicks but they could play. Sadly, the curse of brother bands struck them when Hutchence either committed suicide or died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, a phrase that I never would have imagined would exist. Sure, INXS was on the downward slide at the time, but you never know when the come back is right around the corner. Many of us had to cringe as the Farriss brothers used a reality TV show to recruit a new singer. You don’t replace a messianic lead singer like Michael Hutchence with a TV show. They should have changed their name…

As the sun sets tonight… my advice as always, is to pour something strong and murky, perhaps a nice Blanton’s and call your brother. He probably hasn’t heard from you in a while and it’d be nice if he did.

Cheers!

LP Review: The Dead Daises, “Make Some Noise”

MI0004089401

Maybe it was the release of Metallica’s hard, heavy metal single, “Hardwired” that put me in a hard rock/heavy metal mood, but all weekend long I found myself searching out something loud to listen to. I needed some “rawk!” Maybe something a little less punishingly hard than the excellent “Hardwired…” I needed some 80’s style metal. Luckily, my friend Drummer Blake reached out and mentioned a band to me that I’ve been hearing about lately, the Dead Daisies. I had some vague ideas that they were a hard rock band but wasn’t sure what to expect. Drummer Blake assured me, “all members (of the Dead Daisies) are monster players.” Man, he wasn’t kidding.

The Dead Daisies are almost more of a musical collective than a band, sort of like the Queens of the Stone Age. They have some members who seem more or less permanent but they’ve had quite a few folks revolve in and out during their brief history. Members past and present have played with Motley Crue, Whitesnake, GnR, Thin Lizzy, INXS, the Cult and even some of the backing members of the Rolling Stones and Xpensive Winos. That’s quite a pedigree, if I do say so myself.

Is it possible for a band to be a “Supergroup” if its members all come from bigger bands, but no one has ever heard of these particular musicians? The most well known guy currently in the band is John Corabi who is most known for his one LP stint as lead singer of Motley Crue… and here I thought Corabi was a rock and roll footnote… boy, was I wrong. Doug Aldrich is the lead guitarist (who actually came in to replace Richard Fortus who left with Dizzy Reed to rejoin GnR on their spectacular reunion tour). Aldrich apparently played guitar with Whitesnake and Dio and the guy can shred. The line up is filled out by Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy) on bass, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake) drums and David Lowy on rhythm guitar.

“Make Some Noise,” their current album, which came out on August 5th is a hard rock party. I really had a lot of fun listening to this album this weekend. The music reminds me of Slash’s last solo album with Myles Kennedy, “World On Fire.” That’s not to say Aldrich is as good as Slash, nobody is as good on lead as Slash but Aldrich can play. The tunes on this album have a similar sound. “Long Way To Go” kicks the album off like a cannon shot. It may be my favorite song on here. But there are many stand outs here – “Last Time I Saw the Sun,” “Mainline,” and “Freedom” are all kick ass, upbeat hard rock tunes. These guys rock like it’s 1987 again and I mean that as a compliment. In one tune I even heard somebody mention cocaine… ah, the 80’s.

The band does two really great covers, CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in what may be the most muscular, rocking version of that song ever done, and The Who’s “Join Together” to end the album. Full disclosure: I love both of those songs, so I’m prejudiced, but those covers are perfect for this band. I especially like to turn up the volume on “Fortunate Son.” The title track, “Make Some Noise” is a shout along stomper that could have been lifted from a Quiet Riot album… Ah, the flashbacks…Needless today, there are no ballads here…If you rock this well, who needs to slow it down for the chicks.

I’m not seeing a lot about these guys in the music press or hearing any of this great rock and roll on the radio, terrestrial or satellite, but if you dig hard rock, do yourself a favor and check out “Make Some Noise.” I found myself smiling all weekend while I listened to this album. Pour yourself something strong and that smile might even cross your face too!

Double Devil Horns to all of you!

Cheers!

Metallica’s New Single: “Hardwired,” a Breakneck Badass Return

20160818_193928_7549_939483

 Ah, Metallica. Is there a band who inspired so much loyalty in their early days and so much ire in their later career? I wasn’t in the first wave of Metallica fans who flocked to the band’s anger and alienation over the course of their brilliant first four albums: “Kill ‘Em All,” “Ride the Lightning,” “Master of Puppets,” and “…And Justice For All.” It was quite a creative run over those first four albums. It could be argued they set the template for all hard rock/heavy metal going forward. What they were doing ran counter to everything that was going on in metal during the 80s: big hair, make up, songs about sex, and lycra. Metallica was just raw, angry emotion set to hard, loud guitar played as fast as possible. “Louder, faster” was their mantra. Those first wave of fans were fucking rabid. I remember my friend’s little brother’s roommate. who tattoo’d “Metallica” on his inner arm. He was in med school. Could you imagine some little old lady in an ER being treated by this guy in scrubs who happens to see the Dr’s bicep with “Metallica” tattoo’d on it… heart attack cart, stat!

I got in on Metallica around the time of the “Metallica” album, aka “The Black Album.” For some reason their turn toward shorter, more “riff-driven” songs was seen as a sellout. You can only take the 10-minute epic metal tunes so far, folks. I saw them on the Lollapalooza tour and I was impressed by “Ain’t My Bitch.” I was going through some things, anyway, I liked that tune a lot. I bought the “Black Album” and then worked my way backwards through the four early masterpieces. My fandom was shaken a bit during that whole “Load”/”Reload” period. It was hit and miss for me – I still despise the song “Fuel.” I did like the covers album “Garage Inc.” I had basically drifted away from Metallica as each successive album took longer and longer to appear. When suddenly, four years ago, “Death Magnetic” came out.

I really liked that album. It wasn’t a rehash of their old stuff, but it seemed to be a modern update of that long, epic song pattern they’d created on those early albums. It was a true return to form, as they say. Suddenly I found myself back at the turntable putting on “Ride the Lightning” and air-guitaring to “The Call of the Ktulu” while head banging with such intensity my cat would run and hide and believe me, that cat loved me. RIP, Merlin.

It took four more long years, but Metallica have finally returned with a new single “Hardwired,” basically the title track of their new album due in November, “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.” And I must say, if they were thinking they were going to get any airplay on terrestrial radio with the chorus, “we’re so fucked, shit out of luck…” I’d say they were pretty accurate on that whole “self-destruct” thing. I’m trying to imagine that meeting with the record company, “Ok, it’s been four years guys, but the new single is going to be unplayable on the radio, yeah fuck radio, we’re Metallica!” Ah, Hetfield, always thinking ahead.

This new tune, “Hardwired” is hard rock played at breakneck speed. It’s fast and dirty. And I mean it’s sleazy dirty, and that’s a good thing. It’s also fast, like they all said, “Ok, meet me at the finish line guys…go!” From a sonic palette, it sounds very much akin to the sound of “Death Magnetic” but this tune clocks in at barely over 3 minutes, something unthinkable on that last album. The gaps between the tunes were longer than the length of “Hardwired” on the last LP, “Death Magnetic.” The song hits so hard and goes by so fast there’s almost a punk ethos here. Lar’s drums are manic, like a heart beating so fast it’s about to explode. Kirk Hammett’s guitar solo, while brief, is as melodic and intense (and quickly played) as anything he’s done. Kirk is truly one of the great lead guitarists and I don’t think he gets enough credit. Hetfield is the usual Hetfield, he just barks out the lyrics with unbridled enthusiasm.

This song absolutely “RAWKS” and should be checked out by anybody into metal, Metallica or just plain good fucking heavy metal.

Double “Devil Horns” to all of you, Cheers!

“City Lights” – Single From The White Stripes/Jack White “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016”

TMR387-JackWhite-Acoustic-1200

As anybody whose read B&V before knows, I’m a huge fan of archival releases. If an artist has anything in the vault, I’m typically interested. Be it Bob Dylan’s official “Bootleg” releases, Springsteen’s “Tracks” or Van Morrison’s “Philosopher’s Stone,” count me in. Sometimes there’s a hidden gem in there, something the artist for whatever odd reason decided not to release. Maybe it didn’t fit the album it was recorded for. Musicians, what are you gonna do? If there’s a rare B-side tucked away in there, count me in…”what? there’s an acoustic demo with a saxophone… shit I’ve gotta have that.” I think the thing that draws me in the most when an artist opens up the vaults and releases stuff from their archives is that it many times provides an insight into their creative process. Of course, the Rock Chick says I’m just a obsessive compulsive “completist.” Which, sadly, may also be true.

With that as a backdrop, it probably comes as no surprise that when I heard Jack White was releasing something called “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016” that I’d be forced to investigate. I’m a huge Jack White fan. I think of the White Stripes as one of the really great bands of all time. Their fusion of punk and blues was something I didn’t think was possible. I was lucky enough to see them on the “Elephant” tour (and several others) and Jack White simply amazed me with his energy and his lead guitar/keyboards/vocals. I had a buddy who saw him on his last solo tour and he compared it to seeing Hendrix (not that my buddy ever saw Hendrix, but he was that impressed with Jack’s guitar playing)… high praise indeed. I even followed Jack to the Raconteurs but I was only really interested in the tracks where he was the lead singer. “Steady As She Goes,” and “Blue Veins” from the first album and “Carolina Drama” from their second record stand out amongst his best. The Rock Chick dug the Dead Weather where Jack supposedly only played drums, and did some limited vocals, and I liked those tunes too. Jack is so charismatic that he’s going to pull the focus in any band he’s in.

With all that guitar hero talk it’s often easy to forget that the White Stripes and Jack’s solo stuff also has a strong acoustic element. “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” immediately spring to minds as Stripes’ classics. “Love Interruption” has some nice acoustic work over some groovy keyboards. After thinking about those tunes, the whole “Acoustic Recordings” concept started to make sense to me.

The album isn’t released until September 9th but I’ve perused the song list. Unless these are all “alternative” versions, the songs on disc one mostly look like previously released songs. Meaning this is just a way of packaging up the acoustic stuff, no revelations to be found. The second disc looks like it has more acoustic demo/alternative mix stuff on it. We’ll just have to wait and see when the disc comes out.

However, until that time, we do have one song, billed to The White Stripes and Jack White that has been released, “City Lights.” I didn’t recognize the song but Jack was kind enough to add “Previously Unreleased” to the title to help tip me off it was something from the vaults. It’s all acoustic guitar and Jack singing in a minor falsetto. There is some light percussion, but I don’t know (based on the dual billing White Stripes/Jack White) if that is the mysterious Meg White playing the shaker? Call it my Sunday night mood, but there is something about Jack’s acoustic strumming on this song that recalls Led Zeppelin III but that may be the wine talking… It’s a quiet number that finds Jack in a somber mood. It is heavy on their folksy side, perhaps that’s what made me think of the acoustic side of Zeppelin… I almost wonder if this is a plea to Meg to return to the band when he sings, “every move suspends an action, any attempt to engage will push away, what you want becomes a magnet, opposing poles, never meeting.”  I love the imagery of the singer being on a plane headed toward someone… powerful stuff.

“City Lights” is a very good song from Jack White. It makes me hope there are some more alternative mixes/versions on “Acoustic Recordings” to explore. I certainly have something to look forward to on September 9th now…

Cheers!

Charity Single/Bowie Tribute: “Cat People” feat: Dave Gahan, Mark Lanegan

gahan-lanegan-cat-people

 “And I’ve been putting out fire…with gasoline”

It would be virtually impossible for me to pick a “favorite” Bowie tune. But perhaps influenced by the film starring a comely Natasha Kinski of the same name, “Cat People” was always a particular favorite of mine. There was something about that tune that always hit me hard… perhaps it spoke to the urgency of being in my late teens when I first heard it? I can still remember the first time hearing it playing over the credits as the movie ended and thinking, “what is that?”

Bowie recorded a different version of the song for the album “Let’s Dance” but when I first heard that version, I knew something was different. The guitar had been punched up and the percussion was different. It was still a great version of a fabulous tune, but something was missing. I didn’t hear the original version until the second semester of my freshman year, the one I commonly refer to as “the dark semester” when I changed colleges, for a chick no less, and moved in with a man that I still consider, to this day, to be a sociopath. I mean, I’m no doctor, I’m just a bourbon drinker but in my opinion this guy’s lack of empathy or conscience at least puts him on the sociopath scale.

We were talking one day about Bowie and I mentioned I loved the tune “Cat People,” which most people considered obscure. Out of nowhere he produced the soundtrack album, with that fabulous picture of Kinski’s head and shoulders, soaking wet in the rain with eyes glowing green…Oh yes, Natasha, I still see you in my mind… er, uh, I digress. When he put the album on, my mind immediately returned to hearing the song in the theater. The slow build at the start, Bowie’s painful, plaintive howl as the guitars kick in when he screams “with gasoline,” followed by those fabulous, tribal drums in the background. Chills still go up my spine. I actually stole that album from him… maybe he wasn’t the only sociopath in the room… Don’t judge me… I fully admit to having a problem when it comes to collecting music.

Now, on the heels of the tragic loss in January of the icon himself, David Bowie, comes a version of the song from Martyn LeNoble and Christian Eiger. I couldn’t help but think, when I read about the cover song, “the balls on these guys.” It’s a pretty risky chance to take to cover one of Bowie’s most idiosyncratic tunes. The recording was made both as a tribute to Bowie but also for a charity benefitting liver cancer research. I had never heard of LeNoble or Eiger but apparently they have connections to the Soulsavers and Depeche Mode respectively. For the most part the vocals are handled by Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan. I was not familiar with Mr. Lanegan or any of his previous work, but I might suggest he haul Tom Waits in for a DNA check because I think he might be Waits’ illegitimate son. And yes, Dave Gahan’s majestic voice is on the tune, but it merely sweeps in at the end for the counterpoint chorus of “been so long, so long, so long…”

I approached this song with caution due to my reverence for that original version that I hold so dear. I must admit, I love what these guys have done with the tune. I read it described as “bluesy” but I think the more proper term is “swampy.” This version is less dramatic than Bowie’s but they capture the longing and the need almost as well in this slow boil version. Lanegan’s vocal turn is especially on point. He captures the burning desire perfectly with his gravelly voice. The song has an almost menacing undercurrent that really grabbed me. At first I was disappointed Gahan didn’t sing more on the song, but his use at the end to sing the chorus back and forth with Lanegan is the perfect crescendo, as if Gahan was an angel answering Lanegan’s demon… or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

This is a great tribute to David Bowie and a great song to boot. And, the cherry on top, it was done for charity. So spend a buck, pour someone you love (or someone you want to love) something strong and whisper, “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through…”

You can find the tune at this link:

http://martynlenobleandchristianeigner.bandcamp.com/

Cheers!

Green Day’s New Single, “Bang Bang” – Rock Chick Approved!

Green_Day_-_Bang_Bang_Single_Cover

I was once again forced by my corporate overlords to travel to California this week. I actually ended up in San Francisco for most of the week, which is coincidentally only a bridge away from the home base of Hall of Fame Punk Rockers, Green Day. Ironically, it was only last weekend I lamented that Green Day were overdue for some new music,  and whilst I was in their neighborhood, Green Day drops a new single on the world. As I read on line recently, I’m not sure if that’s truly irony or just coincidence, because Alanis Morissette really confused me on the whole “ironic” thing but I digress.

I was beginning to worry about Green Day. It’s been four years since they’d released three albums at once, “Uno,” “Dos” and “Tre.” Billie Joe Armstrong had a very public meltdown and ended up in rehab for addiction to prescription drugs. It goes back to what I always say, kids, stick to dark brown, murky, fermented fluids. Pills and powders only lead to trouble. A few years ago Billie Joe did release a beautiful, quiet duets album of Everly Brothers’ covers with Norah Jones, “Foreverly.” And while I loved that record, it’s not exactly punk or even rock. It’s not a record I’d put on at a party. It’s more of a, sitting on the roof with a tumbler of Blanton’s and a cigar kind of a record.

I am probably the only person who really dug the trio of albums they released in 2012. Like everybody I got on the Green Day bandwagon when “Dookie” ruled the world. That album was inescapable. I eventually sold it, it was so overplayed. “Insomniac” and “Nimrod” never really interested me and it wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick and she reintroduced Green Day to me that I got back on the bandwagon. On one of our early dates, I took the Rock Chick to the record store and she bought a giant stack of CDs which included Green Day’s “Warning.” Wow, that album knocked me out. Overlooked masterpiece? I think so.

Then Green Day went into this “punk rock opera” phase that was hit and miss. I liked “American Idiot” but “21st Century Breakdown” was a bit “meh” for me. When they announced the trio of records in 2012 I was excited as it appeared they’d come out of the rock opera phase and were going back to their punk rock roots again. And, while I loved those records, they were pretty polished for a punk rock band. It was a return to shorter songs, freed from any “story cycle” but the rough, punkier edges had been sanded off. The Rock Chick immediately dismissed the music as overproduced schlock and despaired of bands growing older and losing their edge. I eventually got her to slip “Stay The Night,” “Makeout Party,” “Kill the DJ” and few others onto her “Green Day Playlist.” Even Billie Joe Armstrong admitted that they were striving for a more punk sound but ended up getting the opposite on those records. I don’t care, “Kill the DJ” is still a great Green Day song, no matter what anybody tells you.

So it was with great trepidation that I told the Rock Chick that Green Day had released a new single. I returned from California and quietly mentioned they had a new single out, hoping for some modicum of interest from the Rock Chick. We immediately purchased “Bang Bang” and after the first listen through, to my considerable delight, the Rock Chick nodded, smiled slightly and said, “Well call me pleasantly surprised…” Trust me folks, this is high praise from the Rock Chick.

I have to tell you, “Bang Bang” was everything I thought “Uno,” “Dos,” and “Tre” were going to be. It’s a raw guitar sound that I just love from these guys. Tre Cool’s drumming on this tune is amazing, he’s simply one of the best drummers out there. Mike Dirnt’s bass line is in the pocket, baby! (I’m not even sure what that means… but the bass line is awesome) This tune rocks with an urgency I haven’t heard from Green Day in a long time. The lyrics feel torn from the headlines. The song tells the story of a mass shooting from the viewpoint of the deranged shooter. Controversial, perhaps – but it certainly makes the point that maybe, just maybe, we ought to rethink gun laws around here. “I want to be a celebrity martyr” howls Billie Joe Armstrong and you almost worry he’s armed. It’s chilling, thought provoking and it rocks. What more can you ask for from rock and roll. I was reminded of some of the stronger political stuff the Clash did back in the day. If the rest of the new album, “Revolution Radio” (a title I just love) is as strong as this first single, this is going to be not only a great album, but an important album.

Turn it up loud on this hot summer day and enjoy!

Cheers!

Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame

86111906

*Photo shamelessly borrowed from the Internet, gettyimages, Paul Bergen

I just love this photograph of Pearl Jam from their early days. The only guy who looks happy is the drummer, in the middle, and they fired him. Likely on the HR form it read something like: Reason for Dismissal: Cheerfulness or Enjoying the Fame.

My corporate overlords are asking me to travel quite a bit more and I haven’t been able to write as often as I’d like, my apologies. It has given me a lot more time to think about music… and lately I’ve been thinking about fame. Ah, Fame, it’s such a cruel, fickle beast. Bands often form, write music, tour and work hard to achieve financial stability and yes, fame. But once it happens many bands/artists don’t know how to deal with it. There are certain levels of fame that nobody is ready for. Not everybody can be the Beatles, who not only embraced their fame, seemed energized by it. Well, McCartney anyway, Lennon seemed somewhat unnerved by it all.

Fame has all kinds of effects on an artist and not always good ones. Many artists, feeling the pressure to repeat earlier heights of record sales crumble under the pressure. Many artists turn to drugs, alcohol or just plain break up the band. Or sometimes the effects of fame are even worse…bad juju indeed. There are as many reactions to fame as there are artists, I suppose.

Lately, I find myself thinking about those artists/bands who decided to take control, take the bull by the horns as they say, and purposely change the trajectory of their artistic arc. The artists who, commercially speaking, tried to take a dive. The goal seemed to be to thin the herd of rabid fans, hanging on every word. These acts literally altered their art (in my opinion) to reduce their fame…

Bob Dylan: After a two year period that saw Dylan “go electric” and record three classic masterpieces: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisted,” and “Blonde On Blonde” Dylan retreated to upstate New York to Woodstock (pre-festival fame Woodstock). This creative burst is beautifully documented on the box set, “The Cutting Edge” reviewed earlier in B&V. Dylan just wanted to get away, rest and spend some time with his wife and new family. Then, he had a motorcycle accident. Or did he? I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” guy, but I wonder if Dylan faked the whole thing to get a break in his crazy schedule. The guy was being touted as the “voice” of his generation. He was the appointed leader of the Hippy movement… heavy responsibility for a guy who is really just a singer… or a poet, depending on your outlook. After secluding himself in upstate NY and hanging out in a basement for a year with the Band, recording some pretty amazing music, but not really sharing it, Dylan emerged with a quiet, acoustic based “John Wesley Harding.” While considered a classic by critics, it was quite a dramatic departure from his three prior albums. It’s like Dylan rewrote the book on a career in music. He went on to record a country album, “Nashville Skyline.” He really didn’t recover commercially until “Blood On the Tracks” by which time his rabid audience had diminished and mellowed out.

Neil Young: Neil Young’s trajectory was similar to Dylan’s, perhaps without the messianic overtones… the 70’s were a more cynical decade after all. Young released “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then “After the Gold Rush” and joined CSNY. He was poised to explode. I don’t think he realized how big he was going to get when he delivered the mellow, extremely popular “Harvest.” You couldn’t get away from “Heart of Gold.” Neil said, on the liner notes of the excellent greatest hits package “Decade,” that he found himself in the middle of the road after “Harvest” and decided to steer his career into the ditch…he said he’d meet more interesting people there. He dismantled his following by delivering the live LP, “Time Fades Away,” which oddly seemed to declare war on his fans. Young was exorcising demons, but his fans were left to exorcise Neil.

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen’s career has been a study in the art of controlling your fame. He released “Born To Run” and ended up on the cover of Time and Newsweek… after a 4 year absence due to legal issues with his management, he delivered the grim classic “Darkness On the Edge of Town.” Punk was prevalent and so he probably rode that wave, plus he was pissed about the court stuff and the four year absence. Finally, in 1979 he released “The River” which gave him his biggest seller to date… rather than capitalize on that success he retrenched with “Nebraska” an album I still struggle to listen to without being put on suicide watch. He finally reached his peak potential when he released “Born In the USA” but quickly retrenched to “Tunnel of Love.” Release something that makes you huge, follow up with a quiet personal album to make the crowds go away…it’s the best of both worlds.

Fleetwood Mac: Nobody saw the huge success of “Rumors” coming. Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by the punk movement took control of their next album and drove the band in experimental, weird directions. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie apparently didn’t get the memo and continued to record solid mid tempo rock songs causing a very disjointed approach.”Tusk” is a masterpiece in my mind but it was heralded as a huge disappointment upon it’s release. I see it for what it was – Buckingham responding to the pressure of repeating “Rumors” by taking the band in a less commercial, artsy direction. When the LP doesn’t sell as much as the last one, you just say the audience didn’t “understand your creative vision.” It’s a great strategy really. Although Mick Fleetwood did drive out to Lindsey’s house after the reviews were in to say, “you blew it, mate.”

Prince: “1999” was such a breakthrough record for Prince. He, along with Michael Jackson, were one of the first black artists to breakthrough to a broad white audience. He followed up with the movie/LP “Purple Rain.” Prince, a control freak, whose goal had always been world domination, and who actually accomplished it, responded with the quirky, artsy “Around the World In a Day,” an album I bought the day it was released and sold a week later. Yeah, I was one of the fans Prince exiled from his fan base with that record. Prince never really regained his commercial/artistic mojo. That’s the risk when you purposely try to kill off your fame… sometimes you’re successful.

Nirvana: Kurt Cobain, almost 30 years after Dylan, was also tagged with that “voice of his generation” tag. Based on Dylan’s response to that in the 60s and what happened to Kurt, you might want to avoid that tag. After “Nevermind” seemingly destroyed everything that came before it and revolutionized music in a way that punk only dreamed of, Cobain felt painted into a corner. He had wanted to only be as big as say, Sonic Youth, not bigger than the Beatles. In response to the world-wide worship, Cobain and Nirvana delivered the abrasive album “In Utero” an album that was such an obvious attempt to drive fans away and yet it was still wildly popular. “Heart Shaped Box” is still my favorite Nirvana tune. Sadly Kurt never reconciled his fame and for a myriad of reasons ended up sadly ending his own life… the most tragic tale I’m gonna tell.

Pearl Jam: I read an interview with Eddie Vedder once, and he said they were playing a bar that had a free hamburgers in the parking lot while they were set to play. He got on stage in front of an empty room (everyone was eating outside), closed his eyes and when he opened them, the entire bar was full of enthusiastic fans. He went on to say that was how Pearl Jam’s world wide fame happened, seemingly in the blink of an eye. “Ten” was such a huge album and it’s follow up “Vs” despite the “us vs you” implied by the title, was just as popular. Finally PJ put out “Vitalogy” which I consider a classic but like “In Utero” it was a clear attempt to “thin the herd.” You only have to take one look at the picture above and you can tell these guys were uncomfortable with the fame that had resulted from their music. Eddie took these guys down a path that saw them stay a solid live draw, but their music has never sold like it did early in their career and I think that’s how Eddie wants it… Vedder’s only proper solo album was a ukele album…clearly not a guy looking for wide commercial success or additional attention…

That’s it for now folks. Did I miss anybody on this list? Please add your thoughts in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Have a great weekend! Cheers!

The BourbonAndVinyl List of Groups Overdue for an LP Release

IMG_1192

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!!

#SupportLocalArtists – Go See A Band This Weekend; Salina’s Rockgarden

IMG_1192

I can remember in college there were several kind of bars. There were pubs or taverns where you’d go to drink, talk loud and maybe shoot pool. These bars generally had juke boxes of varying quality. There were also “clubs” which typically had a dance floor, expensive drinks and music I considered awful. The third type of bar when I was younger, was a place with a stage or at least a cleared out part of the floor where a band could set up a drum kit and a few amps. The bands were like the juke boxes in the taverns, varying in quality, but I always loved going out to see a live band in a bar. My favorite type of bar in those days was probably a tie between the taverns with the juke boxes and the bars with live bands. Naturally most of the chicks were in the “clubs” dancing with sweaty dudes in polo shirts and a lot of Drakar Noir. At least I heard better music during this strange period of self-imposed celibacy.

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself drifting more toward dive bars with crusty bartenders, dark murky fluids and classic rock on the juke box or the house stereo. I’m not sure when it happened but I stopped going out for the express purpose of seeing a band. I’m not sure how this happened. I can still remember being on a road trip in college and walking into a bar just as the trio in the corner launched into “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin. I can tell you that’s not a tune you’re going to hear very often by a bar band. These guys nailed it. My friends and I just plopped down at the bar, drank all the beer they had (or at least tried to), and didn’t leave til the band did.

I spent my summer after college in Boston working in a liquor store, where the employees taught me that summah was for drinking with your friends. There was a rough and tumble, heavy metal bar close to where we lived, named (if memory serves me) Bunratty’s (or maybe Bonratty’s, the accent always threw me off). We’d put on our shittiest clothes, and head down to hear whoever that night’s headbangers happened to be. You had to be careful at Bunratty’s… we’d heard a guy had been stabbed there, which I still think is a story the Boston-ites told us Midwest guys to freak us out. I remember seeing a few bands there and thinking, I’m going to see these guys in arenas some day. I’m still not sure any of them made it, but it was summer and I was drinking beer with friends… my judgement can’t be trusted.

After I returned from my Arkansas exile, back to Kansas City, the blues became central to my evenings out. There was a legendary blues bar downtown, the Grand Emporium. They had a poster on the wall of a July 4th concert that Stevie Ray Vaughn had played there and the ticket price was like, $4. Had I only known. I saw Koko Taylor there one night, Blues Royalty. I think it was Wednesday nights when the Grand Emporium held “Reggae Night” and you could go down and see the best reggae north of Jamaica. I seem to remember being especially impressed by a group named The Bone Daddys. Nice name, guys. I even saw the famous Chicago blues harmonica player Sugar Blue there…but I might be confusing that with Kingston Mines in Chicago.

Before I met the Rock Chick I used to spend my Saturday afternoons in a bar named Harlings, that smelled like they had a plumbing problem, but they had a blues jam hosted by Big Mama Ray, a woman who could be 40 or could be 90… too hard to tell behind those Marlboro 100s. After the blues jam was over we’d wander down to the Hurricane and catch the locally famous Bon Ton Soul Accordion Band. I won’t even begin to attempt to describe the cajun gumbo of sounds those guys made. I was lucky if I made it to 10 pm on those nights…

Those days have quietly faded away. I don’t remember the last time I’d gone out in KC to expressly see a live band, which is weird because we have a great live music scene here, mostly blues based. Usually when I’m traveling with the Rock Chick we’ll end up in some bar listening to a band. We recently traveled to Austin with my friend Stormin and his lovely wife. We ended up in a blues bar for most the evening listening to a band that was fair. Finally the ladies had had enough and went back to the hotel and Stormin and I ducked into an Irish pub that had a 70s Glam Rock cover band and holy crap were they good. I wish I remembered the name of that band. They played Bowie and if memory serves a great Kiss cover. These guys all had make up on, they were truly committed to their genre. It was awesome. My only regret is we hadn’t checked that earlier, the Rock Chick would have loved that band.

I had the good fortune of meeting the drummer of a great regional band, Rockgarden, at a Black Sabbath concert last winter. As fate would have it, Rockgarden came to KC and played a show this weekend. I was pretty fried by the end of a long week of work and being over served bourbon the night before, but in deference to my newly minted friend, the Rock Chick and I hooked up with my pal The General, and headed out to the bar. Man, am I glad I did. Rockgarden plays a mix of great 90’s rock: the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Aeroplane, a personal fav), Lenny Kravitz, Foo Fighters and to my delight some Rage Against the Machine. If you get a chance and live around here, go see Rockgarden, they kick  ass. But this isn’t a review of Rockgarden, I have to recuse myself as I know the drummer. This is about the forgotten joys of seeing a band live in a bar.

There is nothing like hearing the crack of the cymbal, the squealing feedback of a guitar while you watch the guys on stage play. When a band, like Rockgarden, lock into a groove, it’s simply magical. There was a chick celebrating something, I think a birthday, she had a tiara on and her and her friends were clearly having a blast. That spirit was infectious in the bar. Having once again been over served vodka, even I got swept up during the Rage cover, “Bulls On Parade” and attempted to create a pogo’ing mosh pit. Alas, due to the vodka I fear I looked more like I was doing off balance jumping jacks and nobody joined me on the dance floor. The Rock Chick was amused, so I get points there. That’s the magic of live music folks, even a guy like me who is usually rooted to the bar stool finds himself in the middle of the dance floor jumping up and down.

Wherever you live there is probably, within walking distance or a short cab/Uber ride, a bar that has on the marquee or website the words “Featuring Live Music,” or something like that. Maybe you live in a rural community and there’s a street fair going on. In Kansas City the KC Blues Society has a calendar of where and when certain blues acts are playing. I have to think that something like that exists anywhere in any town or hamlet. And if you’re like me, and you’ve let the joy of seeing a band in an intimate setting like a bar slip by, or if you only go see big name acts in arenas (and believe me, there’s nothing wrong with that!) do yourself a favor and find a band to see this weekend. It’s critically important that you support local bands and local artists. Your help could foster a whole “scene” and who knows, before you know it your town is the Seattle of the 90s. There is something quasi-mystical about convening in a dark room, surrounded by friends holding strong drink and listening to the sounds of a band play live. No matter what you’re into – blues, jazz, madrigals (yes, Richie Blackmore), country, metal, reggae, folk music – do yourself a favor and gather some friends and go out and support a local artist. I’m not saying you have to buy a CD after the show, just have a drink or two and if you feel inspired, get up and move your body around. It will do you good!! Trust me, it did me good after a long and awful week.

Cheers!

LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?

Strut,_cover_by_Lenny_Kravitz

One of the funnest parts of being married to The Rock Chick is all the great music she has brought to me over the years. I must admit that I never know what new project she’ll be undertaking when I walk in the door. My life is full of surprises. Sometimes I find her spontaneously painting the spare bedroom. Sometimes I find her in the midst of a colossal baking project, which is the best kind of project to walk in on if you ask me. The other day I walked in to find her drinking a glass of prosecco and watching the excellent Lenny Kravitz documentary, “Just Let Go.” Over the sexy beats and rocking guitar I couldn’t help but think, hmmm where is this going to go…

“Just Let Go” which features concert performances from Paris and interviews with Lenny and his superb backing band is a great rockumentary. Lenny tells a great story about touring with Robert Plant as his opening act. I’m not sure how in this universe that could happen but apparently Plant actually opened for Lenny. Plant barged into Lenny’s dressing room at the end of a show and read him the riot act for being a control freak. Lenny decided he needed to “just let go” and enjoy the ride. Lenny’s band is truly diverse: men/women, black/white, it’s a fantastic blend of talented musicians. His drummer, Cindy Blackman, is the coolest drummer in the world. They remind me of a latter day Sly and the Family Stone, only with better music or at the very least music I like better.

Ah, Lenny Kravitz. I can’t remember how many futons I woke up on in the 90s with my temporary hostess playing Lenny Kravitz… “Let Love Rule” was always the morning jam of choice with it’s groovy hippy themes. Maybe I was just drawn to groovy hippy chicks. But, inevitably I got on the Kravitz bandwagon, claims of his music being derivative be damned.  “Are You Gonna Go My Way” was his artistic high point and I played the crap out of that album. I even liked the dark, rocking follow up LP “Circus” which was much maligned by the critics. But around the time of “5” Lenny lost me. I figured he’d fade into obscurity. He started acting and I just lost track of him. When I get into an artist I’m typically a catalog type of fan – meaning I buy the artist’s entire catalog. I usually don’t lose track of artists I like. But I totally lost track of Lenny. So it’s always a delightful treat when I stumble across a new album, later in the career of an artist I liked. It’s like getting an email from an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. And that is exactly the case with 2014’s “Strut” from Lenny Kravitz.

I’m not sure how I missed it (I blame shitty terrestrial radio), but “Strut” is a really strong album despite the Rock Chick saying “it has a few too many ballads for my taste…” But that’s typically her response on any album with more than one ballad… I mean, she is the Rock Chick. “Strut” is all riffing guitars, over sexy drums and on many of the songs, horns. This is a party album, an album to, as we used to say, “get down” to. “The Chamber” rides a slinky beat and great riff and happens to be the Rock Chick’s new “jam” whatever that means. “New York City” is another high point and a great ode to a great city. “Sex,” “Dirty Boots,” and “Strut” are all upbeat funky rock songs that set the tone for the record. “I’m A Believer” with its dirty guitar, hand claps and sing along backing vocals is almost a funky punk song. From now on I’m playing Lenny’s “Happy Birthday” instead of the Beatles’ “Birthday” on my birthday. It’s just a great song on a great album.

Of the ballads, my favorite is “She’s a Beast” with strummed acoustic guitars. You can almost imagine musicians sitting around in a circle in an apartment writing that one. “The Pleasure and the Pain” is another stand out ballad. I even like the tune entitled “Frankenstein.” The only tune that loses me is a Smokey Robinson cover, “Oo Baby Baby.” You have to be careful if you’re going to cover Smokey… I mean, Smokey’s voice is like an angel singing…

Needless to say, this LP gets a “must have” vote from BourbonAndVinyl. It’s a fun listen and a great return to form from a an artist I thought was done. His career may have been a little up and down, but whose hasn’t. Lenny and his band have really come together on an album only he could put together – it’s as diverse as the members of his band.

Pour something strong, put this LP on, take your shirt off and dance around… and don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Cheers!