A Brief Word On The Passing of J. Geils, RIP

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As is my lot in life, I was traveling the first half of the week, in the service of my Corporate Overlords. A grueling planes, trains and automobiles odyssey through America’s homeland, well without the trains. Cheap motels, bad food and long car rides where it all starts to blur together. Luckily I was with some good people and they made it a lot more enjoyable. However, as seems to happen lately, whenever I take a trip for work, a rock star seems to die. I’m starting to feel some Catholic guilt about my travels. I may need to look for a job that keeps me home more…

Most people, when they think of the J. Geils Band, think of “Freeze Frame,” or “Centerfold,” the late period, more pop oriented music they broke through with. Some may remember their first big “hit” if you will, “Love Stinks.” Personally, I became aware of the J. Geils Band when I heard the song “Must Of Got Lost” for the first time. The J. Geils Band was so much more than their latter day pop hits.

The J. Geils Band was an old fashion, touring, bar band. They celebrated rock and roll every night, night after night, on stage, sweating in small halls and bars. They spent the entire decade of the 70s toiling on the road but never found great success until the dawn of the 80s and then they couldn’t hold themselves together when they got the success they so richly deserve. Peter Wolf ended up leaving the band after “Freeze Frame.” In a lot of ways, the J Geils Band was like the American version of The Faces, well, maybe without the booze. Loose on stage with an oddball sense of humor, they never could recreate that live sound in the studio. And like the Faces, J. Geils Band had their lead singer leave for a more lucrative solo career.

All of this is much more bittersweet as the J. Geils Band missed out on being inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame this year. I was sorry to see Yes inducted merely a year after original bass player Chris Squire passed away. Looks like the J. Geils Band will suffer the same fate… which could have been avoided. I read somewhere this week that J. Geils Band should be considered the Rock Hall of Fame’s official bar band. Anybody who doubts J. Geils Band should be in the Hall or that J. Geils isn’t a great guitar player needs to put on “Give It To Me” one of their earlier great, great tunes. It starts as almost a lilting reggae thing, but the band jams to the fade for the last 3 or 4 minutes… J. plays a mean guitar on that jam. Very impressive. His legacy as a guitar player could stand on that one tune, but there’s so much more to his guitar playing legacy…

I would urge any of you unfamiliar with the J. Geils Band’s early 70s work to seek out one of their two monster live LPs, “Live: Full House” from ’72 or “Blow Your Face Out” from ’76 (the same year as “Live Bullet” and “Frampton Comes Alive”) and you’ll get one of the greatest educations in rock and roll, soul, R&B, funky blues that you’ll find anywhere.

RIP J. Geils. Rock n’ Roll with the angels, baby.

It’s a long dark ride, enjoy it while you can.

Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era

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A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ozzy Osbourne’s albums with Randy Rhoads. It was one of Ozzy’s greatest eras. I think, in the interest of “equal time,” that it’s only fair to take a look at what his old band mates were up to while Ozzy was launching his solo career. Fed up with Ozzy’s erratic addict behavior and diminishing album sales, Tony Iommi and the gang decided it was time to make a change. Ozzy was sacked. The choice for replacement was none other than former Elf and Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It was an inspired choice.

Other than a brief flirtation with the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album when my mom’s friend brought her children’s records over for me to tape on cassette, I really didn’t know anything about pre-Dio Sabbath. That LP frankly, scared me at the time. I had to wonder what was going on at my mom’s friend’s house. Sure, I knew the song “Paranoid” but I’m not even sure I connected that with Ozzy. I was into bluesier rock like The Stones, ZZTop, Foghat, not heavy metal. Looking back, one has to wonder why Dio would quit Rainbow, who seemed to be on the upswing, and join Sabbath who were sinking under the weight of their own addictions and commercial failures. Coming off two absolute clunkers, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die,” Sabbath was in need of a shot in the arm. “Never Say Die” seems like a joke now, considering they blew up the band by firing Ozzy right after that LP.

I remember the first time I heard the first “single” if you an call it that, from ‘H&H,’ “Neon Nights” on KY102, the local radio station in Kansas City. With it’s galloping pace and heavy guitar, and that voice, who was that singing I wondered, it was the type of tune you’d put on before riding into battle. Perhaps I’d been wrong and there were non-blues-based music out there I needed to check out. This was my inauguration into heavy metal. Oh, and I was hooked!

The two 80’s albums Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio are absolutely essential to not only heavy metal fans, but fans of rock and roll of any stripe. While it was only a brief period lasting a little over 2 years and only two albums, it was one of Sabbath’s most fruitful periods. Let’s look at both LPs.

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980)

When I saw the album cover of ‘Heaven and Hell’, with the group of angels smoking cigarettes and gambling, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m in the right place.” This was going to be a special listening event. I went downstairs to use my parents considerably better and more powerful stereo. I put the headphones in the jack and dropped the needle. Unfortunately, my parents stereo had a knob that had to be turned to “auxiliary output” before it would divert the music to the headphones, so while I thought I was privately enjoying “Neon Nights” it was actually blasting out of the speakers overhead sending my mother into a gasping, screaming fit of rage as she ran from the kitchen all the way to the living room to throw her body on the stereo. In her defense, I had it turned up to “11.” Sorry, mom.

Side one of the original vinyl LP of ‘Heaven And Hell’ is as good as any in the Sabbath pantheon. Not only does it kick off with “Neon Nights,” but side one had “Lady Evil,” just a great, spooky tune with a furious bass line and the title track, “Heaven And Hell.” “Heaven And Hell” ranks amongst the greatest tracks of all time. “Children of the Sea” rounds out side one and is another stand-out tune. For me the key track on side two is “Die Young” a hard rocking basher that could be argued was the template for Dio’s whole career. There’s a quiet bridge in the middle of “Die Young” with an acoustic guitar and Dio singing that’ll stop your heart. “Wishing Well” is another great, heavy track on side 2. They end with two very strong tracks, “Walk Away” swings and “Lonely Is The Word” is an epic Sabbath tune. This album is a must have. There isn’t a bad note from start to finish. This album equals anything Ozzy was doing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ at the time. This was a lot heavier than anything Ozzy was doing, certainly. Bringing in Dio completely rejuvenated the creative process in Sabbath. In short, this tour de force is a triumph.

‘Mob Rules’ (1981)

The follow up to ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules’ came out so quickly afterward I didn’t even realize it had come out. Actually the follow up to ‘Heaven’ was a quick and dirty live LP where Dio sang a number of Ozzy-Sabbath tunes. They probably did that to piss Ozzy off, which I’m sure it did. My future college roommate Matthew and I were driving up to Kansas State to check out the campus one weekend when he slid a cassette tape of ‘Mob Rules’ into his super-powered, Subaru stereo. Sabbath was back with another great album. I went to the vinyl store Sunday afternoon right after we got back home to buy the album, post haste. Once again, the album art was terrific. When my mom saw this album, for the first time ever, she started to question what I was doing up in my room with the headphones on. I could see it in her eyes, “was my son in a Satanic cult?” No mom, I’m just a metal fan.

‘Mob Rules’ kicks off with “Turn Up The Night” which almost feels funky. Is there such a thing as disco metal? Geezer Butler’s bass almost makes you want to dance. The epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is the centerpiece of side one of this album. It leads into an atmospheric instrumental “E5150” that bleeds into the fast and hard title track, “Mob Rules.” “When you listen to fools, the mob rules…” was something I would quote to my parents when they’d take me to church, which may have been the proof my mother needed that I was indeed in a Satanic cult. Side two starts with “Country Girl” which is an OK tune, but not my favorite. I’ll admit I like they were branching out on subject matter. Side 2 immediately picks up with “Slipping Away,” the fantastic “Falling Off The Edge Of the World,” (which has my all time favorite Sabbath quote, “I’ve seen some visions of Hell that are horribly strange”) and finally the dramatic “Over And Over” to end things. This is top shelf heavy metal and while perhaps not as mind altering as ‘Heaven And Hell’ it’s certainly still a stunning album. I would label ‘Mob Rules’ as another must-have, essential LP for any rock and roll fan.

Sadly, as quickly as it had begun, and as fruitful as it proved to be, the Dio Era in Sabbath ended. There was a sudden announcement that Dio had left for a solo career (which was great on its own) and that former Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan had joined Black Sabbath. In my mind Sabbath didn’t really do anything I liked again until ’13’ the Rick Rubin-produced reunion album with Ozzy. They even reunited with Dio briefly in 1992 for the lackluster LP ‘Dehumanizer.’ Alas, the magic was gone. When you find lightning in a bottle folks, hold on tight.

I recommend immediate purchase of both these records. If you can find them on vinyl, all the better. Turn that stereo up to 11 and Rawk! Oh, and make sure you have that “auxiliary output” thing taken care of… we wouldn’t want to scare mom again.

Review: Paul McCartney’s LP ‘Flowers In The Dirt: Special Edition’

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Paul McCartney has been on such a great roll since 1997’s superb LP ‘Flaming Pie,’ all the way through 2013’s ‘New’ really, it’s sometimes easy to forget what a bad decade the 1980’s were for the former Beatle. I am a big Paul fan, but having purchased the abysmal 1986 LP, ‘Press To Play’ even I lost faith. I still shudder when I think about his ill conceived movie project ‘Give My Regards To Broadstreet.’

The decade had started for McCartney with such promise. His 1982 LP, ‘Tug of War’ which was partially a response to the senseless murder of John Lennon was such an amazing record. The title track remains one of my favorite McCartney tracks. “Here Today” was one of the most touching of the many, many tribute songs for John Lennon by any artist. I will admit the two Stevie Wonder collaborations on the album were utter cheeseball, especially the song “Ebony And Ivory,” which still makes me jump to the fast forward button when it comes on the stereo.

His follow up to ‘Tug of War,’ 1983’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ has aged better than we received it back in 1983. It was almost a carbon copy of the formula that had produced ‘Tug of War’ and I think it sold reasonably well. I wasn’t a big fan of that record, nor was anybody I knew. That LP seemed to signal the beginning of a downturn for Paul. After that, man, McCartney hit the skids. He released some awful records. Looking at it from a macro view, 1983 to really, 1997 was an awful patch for McCartney. I will admit there were some exceptions, I loved his ‘Unplugged’ album.

It’s hard to understand what went wrong with McCartney. One has to wonder if he was more deeply affected by the lost of his old comrade and later frenemy, John Lennon. In the second half of the 70s Lennon had withdrawn to self imposed exile to become a house husband/father. In that void, McCartney recorded some of his best, and best selling records. It’s always been my theory, as an armchair bourbon psychologist, if subconsciously McCartney was recording for the broader audience on one level in the late 70s, but down deep was really trying to impress Lennon. Maybe Lennon was a psychological governor in his head, preventing bad ideas and choking off some of Paul’s “cheesier” instincts. With Lennon gone, maybe McCartney became a tad unmoored from a creative standpoint.

One of the exceptions from this fallow period for McCartney was 1989’s decade ending, ‘Flowers In the Dirt.’ It was a good McCartney album, although I’d say not a great McCartney album. It was certainly seen as somewhat of a comeback at the time, although not the big comeback that was hoped for. “My Brave Face” was the first single, which was ok. If you delve into the album a little deeper there are some great deep tracks on this album. “Figure of Eight,” “Rough Ride,” “Put It There” and “This One” are all really strong tracks.

What the LP was also noted for, besides being a bit of a “return to form” for McCartney, was it marked a collaboration with Elvis Costello. The two wrote a number of songs together that ended up on both McCartney’s records and others on Costello’s albums. I have to admit, it was an inspired pairing. Elvis was another guy from Liverpool, who was kind of prickly, who seemed to click musically with McCartney and even wore glasses… remind you of anybody? I don’t know if Costello pushed McCartney or vice versa but it was a great musical collaboration. The song “Veronica” the two wrote together was even a hit for Costello. And, naturally, some of the better tracks the two wrote together ended up on ‘Flowers In The Dirt.’ One highlight was the great duet, “You Want Her Too.” “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” were also great collaborations by the duo.

Fast forward to now, and McCartney has given “Flowers In The Dirt” the deluxe/special edition treatment. I was sort of “meh” about the whole thing until I recently put the bonus tracks on. Typically bonus tracks can be a mixed bag. Sometimes their great songs that just didn’t fit on an album. At their worst they’re “remixes” which I loath. A lot of times bonus tracks are just the tossed off, rough demo’s and aren’t worth listening to.

Not so here! On “Flowers In The Dirt” there are nine demos of just McCartney and Costello working through songs with a piano, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. I have to tell you, I like these demos better than the actual album that was released. Costello wasn’t likely trying to imitate John Lennon but his vocals paired with McCartney have that same vibe if not the same magical harmonies. These demos, half of which were released in more produced/polished, finished versions on the album, half of which were not, are a revelation. It’s great to hear McCartney singing so passionately. It’s like hearing a couple of guys get up in a bar and bash out a quick acoustic set. I had the same feeling I had when I listened to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ discs when I listened to these demos.

I have to wonder what happens to a McCartney song between it’s rough hewn inception, like we hear on these demos, and the actual produced, released product. The guy is one of the greatest rock and rollers of all time, he might take a cue from these demos and stop polishing off these great rough edges.

Is ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ worth purchasing, or repurchasing just for these bonus tracks? Well, if you don’t have ‘Flowers’ in your collection I’d say definitely. If you already own the record, I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it’s worth a re-buy, but these demos are awfully sweet. Paul and Elvis might want to consider collaborating again… it’s that good.

Cheers!

LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic

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It’s early, but the album of the year may have come out on St Patrick’s Day this year… namely, Depeche Mode’s new amazing album, ‘Spirit.’ I’ve waited to post this review because I was so blown away I wanted to spend a good long time with this record to make sure I wasn’t overstating that… I am not.

During the 80’s and 90’s I was still focused on more traditional classic rock. I was into blues rock, heavy metal and hard rock (well, and Fleetwood Mac, blame Stevie Nicks). Sure, in the 90’s I stretched out to grunge, punk and “alternative rock,” but it was from the same school of music. Dark, synth-rock with songs containing themes that seemed to indicate behaving very badly with drugs or a lover could be deeply seductive and alluring hadn’t punctured my consciousness quite yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m a late bloomer….Heaven knows, I was familiar with that ethos, but those records are sealed. With that backdrop, I will admit I wasn’t that into Depche Mode. I knew who they were, a few tracks had penetrated my more “traditionalist” rock bubble, “I Feel You,” or “Personal Jesus.” Most likely the stuff that had distinctive videos were the songs I was familiar with.

All that changed when the Rock Chick entered my life. Depeche was always a favorite of hers. She was slow to turn me onto them, telling me one time, “you have to be in the right mood for Depeche…” Maybe she just thought I wasn’t ready yet… I was immediately pulled into Depeche by the seductive voice of Dave Gahan, the group’s front man and lead singer. However, just as seductive and alluring were the musical soundscapes guitarist/songwriter Martin Gore created. The 1990 LP ‘Violator’ is largely seen as their “magnum opus,” their creative high point. I will say, the latter half of these guys career has been more fruitful than most bands with half their lifespan. Their latter work is one of the reasons I started B&V.

In this millennium, 2001’s ‘Exciter’ was a fantastic record, almost on par with ‘Violator.’ While their ’05 LP ‘Playing the Angel’ wasn’t as good, it contained one of my all time favorites songs (that’s songs, not just Depeche Mode songs) “Precious.” That song never gets old. I enjoyed ‘Songs of the Universe’ but was really into ‘Delta Machine’ which introduced a more bluesy element to their music, especially Martin Gore’s guitar sound. Martin doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a guitarist. His playing is very atmospheric, almost like U2’s the Edge. Needless to say, excitement was running high when I heard they would be returning in 2017 with this new LP ‘Spirit.’ It will become cliche, I think, in most reviews to say that ‘Spirit’ is “the best DM album since ‘Violator.'” In my opinion ‘Spirit’ may be just as good as ‘Violator’ which is pretty amazing for a group this far in.

We live in very troubled political times, from Trump in the US to Brexit to Nationalist movements across Europe. I wondered if, like the Sixties which were tremendously turbulent, music and art would incorporate that unrest. I don’t have to wonder about that any more. ‘Spirit’ is nothing if not a political broadside. The turbulence in the world seems to have really inspired Depeche. Although, this is not a totally political record. Don’t be fooled, there are still some great, rocky, sexy tunes.

The first 1/3 of the album is a fantastic, political statement. “We’re Going Backwards,” followed by “Where’s the Revolution” set the tone right off the bat. Both songs have an almost martial feeling, like you could turn it up and march in the streets to the music. Yes, indeed there will be dancing at this Revolution. “The Worst Crime” could be interpreted as an indictment of those of us out there who didn’t get involved in the political process and allowed some of this unprecedented shit to happen. “Scum” is a great guitar/distorted challenge, “Pull the trigger” growls Gahan in a distorted voice. It’s a great song. “Eternal” reads to me like a father promising a son to protect and love him forever, no matter what comes next… or maybe he’s talking to a lover. The point’s the same, we need to stick together. “Cover Me” is another great song that builds and builds. When, in “Cover Me,” Gahan sings, “We better take cover, will you cover me…” it sends chills up my spine.

“You Move” is just a great Depeche song that’ll get you moving… It drops the political themes and gets you up on your feet. “Poison Heart” is a great upbeat break-up song, if there is such a thing. “So Much Love” can be seen as defiance from the downtrodden, “you can’t shake me, you can despise me,” or just a statement of hope, “there is so much love in me…” The track near the end, “Poorman” picks up the political and the personal again, with the lyrics “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make,” but makes it personal, when pointing out the Poorman of the title, “he’s on the street, laying in the snow and sleet.”

This is heady, politics mixed with personal, music. There are so many layers lyrically and musically. It’s truly a work of brilliance. The political themes of the record come off with an almost joyful defiance. The only songs where I truly hear despair, or perhaps a flagging of hope, are “Eternal” and the final track, “Fail.” I look at those songs as almost a warning to not give up the fight.

When most people think of music like this they think of Dylan with an acoustic guitar and searing harmonica. This couldn’t be farther than that. It still has the smart, thought provoking lyrics but with that great Depeche template of moody guitars and swelling synths. I can’t say enough about the interplay of Gahan’s beautiful voice and Martin Gore’s atmospheric guitar playing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention keyboardist extraordinaire Andrew Fletcher.

I was somewhat surprised to hear some of these dark political themes on a Depeche album… but when I think about their history of dark music with heavy themes, maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprised. Maybe the darkness in the world just finally caught up with Depeche Mode.

This is a very strong recommendation to buy this record immediately. Play it loud, groove to the music but be sure to listen closely to the lyrics…

It’s a dark ride out there folks. Stick together and take care of each other… “The train is coming, so get on board…”

The B&V Inauguration Day Playlist… (Sorry, No Toby Keith)

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First and foremost, I must apologize to those few readers out there who might have seen my last attempt to put an iPod playlist together for Friday’s impending Inauguration. While I’ve been on my annual Bourbon fast, it hasn’t precluded me from drinking wine. And as occasionally happens when I’ve pulled the cork, I sat down at the keyboard. The resulting post was, shall we say to be generous, not “light.” Wine… what are you going to do, all that sugar?  I’m not an overtly political person. As I’ve said many times before, I see myself as a centrist, hedonistic moderate with a taste for fine bourbon and loud rock music. To the right I look like a “dirt-munching, tree hugging, druid.” To the left I look like the landed gentry although that could be because of my penchant for powdered wigs. The struggle is real, folks.

Anyway, BourbonAndVinyl, as I stated in my first post, my “Mission Statement,” is about the glorious pleasures of sipping fine, dark murky fluids and listening to loud rock and roll music. B&V is not the forum for a political manifesto and alas, my first attempt at an Inauguration Day playlist looked like it was torn from the pages of the Unabomber. Well, at least it did to some folks. While I stand behind every word, B&V is not the forum for such thoughts…

These are tense and dark times. The peaceful transition of power is set to take place on Friday, yet the tension is thicker than anything I’ve seen in my short life. It sure doesn’t feel like a “peaceful transition” to me. Half the nation appears ready to burst out into protest marches, boycotts and upheaval, while the other half of the nation appear ready to celebrate by firing guns in the air, yell something politically incorrect and, well I don’t know, burn some books (how does the Right celebrate?) Political discourse has become well, coarse. We apparently have elected a “Tweeter-In-Chief,” which isn’t helping reduce the tension. I’m hearing the name Putin a lot more than I ever wanted to. Golden Showers have even been drug through the muck (don’t knock anybody’s fetishes). Even my good friends in the GOP appear tense. I had more than one Republican friend tell me he didn’t vote for Trump. I had one friend tell me he wrote in Mookie Blaylock… clearly a Pearl Jam fan… It appears nobody really got what they wanted this time around.

All that aside, the more I read about the Inauguration itself, the more I find myself thinking, “God, what shitty music they’re going to have.” 3 Doors Down? Lee Greenwood? I didn’t even know Lee Greenwood was still alive. Something called Jackie Evancho is performing? Is that a group like Jethro Tull or a person? I have no idea. I thought at least Kid Rock or Nugent would show up to lively up things. Maybe they are performing, but I haven’t heard about it. Toby Keith is set to play. Toby Keith? I have to keep reminding myself this is 2017 and not 1997. I would have assumed Toby Keith would have been trampled by mutinous cattle by now. Shit, even the despicable Beach Boys are on the fence, unable to decide to show up or not. I think they hit an all new low when a Springsteen cover band even dropped out, the B Street Band. Wow.

Well, as usual in these situations, I find myself needing rock and roll music more than ever. And the list of “artists” above isn’t doing much for me. I think we can all agree on that. Music has a way of lifting me up, getting me through the tough times or accentuating the good times. Whoever you are, you could probably use some rock music on Friday. So if you’re on the Right or Left, happy or mad about the election, do what I do. Head down to the tavern, talk a little treason and drop some money in the Juke Box. Remember folks, we’re all Americans here. And, as Bill Murray famously said in “Stripes,” being American means that our ancestors were all kicked out of every other decent country.

Here’s a little playlist to play over the muted television during the Inauguration ceremony for those of us who are concerned, no matter what your political persuasion. Pour something strong.

  1. Barry McGuire, “The Eve Of Destruction” – It seems to fit the mood of the country.
  2. The Rollins Band, “Liar” – Give me one honest politician…
  3. The Beatles, “Back In the USSR” – Oh, come on, this one is funny, unless it’s true…
  4. Green Day, “American Idiot” – Well, can you argue?
  5. David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – It appears half of you are afraid of the other half and vice versa…
  6. Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” – “Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan.”
  7. The Clash, “Know Your Rights” – “A public service announcement with guitars!”
  8. Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Burnin’ And Lootin'” – Let’s have none of this on Friday…
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Long Walk Home” – This track also seems to fit everybody’s mood these days.
  10. The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – for all the folks who say they’re headed to Canada. My choice would have been the south of Spain.
  11. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime” – A song about insurgents in a post apocalyptic dictatorship that you can dance to…”this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco.”
  12. Elvis Costello, “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)” – Great question…
  13. Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” – Just because you’re feeling paranoid these days, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t after you.
  14. Beck, “Nausea” – Aren’t we all a little nauseous these days?
  15. Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street” – “…then you’ll know what a drag it is to see you…” Seems to be a lot of “Facebook friendships” ending lately.
  16. Bob Marley, “So Much Trouble In the World” – Reggae speaks the truth, baby.
  17. Green Day, “Know Your Enemy” – Let’s keep it straight who is on who’s team.
  18. The Eagles, “Frail Grasp Of The Big Picture” – I can see each side saying this about the other… ah, the divide.
  19. Bruce Springsteen (featuring Tom Morello), “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – “The highway is alive tonight, everybody knows where it’s headed.”
  20. U2, “Bullet The Blue Sky (Live)” – “Into the arms…. of America”
  21. Credence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Take care of each other out there…
  22. David Bowie, “This Is Not America” – Nothing I’ve seen in the last year represents the country I grew up in.
  23. Jackson Browne, “Looking East” – Jackson stands on the West coast, looking East and isn’t thrilled with what he sees. Seems to fit the mood.
  24. Judas Priest, “Tyrant” – Ominous metal.
  25. The White Stripes, “Icky Thump” – The funkiest song ever written about immigration.
  26. Iron Maiden, “Run To The Hills” – Everyone seems poised for something bad to go down… best be ready to move.
  27. Bob Marley, “Small Axe” – More wisdom from the prophet Marley, “Oh evil men, playing smart and not being clever.”
  28. Bad Company, “Evil Wind” – An evil wind of division has blown across my country and I feel it’s cruel chill in my bones.
  29. The Faces, “Wicked Messenger” – The Faces putting an ominous spin on a Dylan song. Again, just fits the mood.
  30. Grace Potter, “Ah, Mary” – She’ll be the end of me and maybe everyone, oh, Mary, Mary, Mary, America.”

Well, I never said it was going to be a cheerful playlist. If you have any suggestions for additional songs, please feel free to add in the comments. Since I’m on my annual Bourbon fast, I hope someone pours a glass of Buffalo Trace on my behalf.

Cheers!

 

Artist Lookback: The Runaways, A Guilty Rocking Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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

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*photo shamelessly stolen from the internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year and Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and Happy New Year folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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