Thursday, October 8, 2009
To be sure, lots of great albums did make the list including:
Gram Parsons-"Live 1973"
Jeff Buckley-Live at Sin-e
U2-Under a Blood Red Sky
Lucinda Williams-Live at the Fillmore
Thin Lizzy-Live and Dangerous
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band-Live in New York City
B.B. King-Live at The Regal
Aretha Franklin-Live at the Fillmore
Deep Purple-Made in Japan
James Brown-Live at the Apollo
Bob Dylan-The Royal Albert Hall Concert 1966
Neil Young-Live Rust
Otis Redding-Live in Europe
Eva Cassidy-Live at Blues Alley
Bob Marley Live
Rolling Stones-Get Yer Ya Ya's Out!
Roy Orbison-A Black and White Night
The Who-Live at Leeds
Simon and Garfunkel-Live in Central Park
Jimi Hendrix-Live at Monterey Pop
Cheap Trick-Live at Budokan
Frampton Comes Alive!
Greateful Dead-Europe '72
Led Zeppelin-"How The West Was Won."
Stevie Ray Vaughan-"Live at Carnegie Hall"
Neil Diamond-"Hot August Night"
J. Geils Band-"Blow Your Face Out"
Janis Joplin-"In Concert"
Mark Knopfler is best known for his work as the frontman of Dire Straits. His folk infused voice, country and blues inspired guitar playing have always made Knopfler's work understated and utterly compelling. On 'Get Lucky,' Knopfler explores much of his musical roots. He seamlessly combines folk and blues with original songs and picturesque lyrical paintings that offer a uniquely British reference point. Knopfler has now been a solo artist for more years than he fronted Dire Straits. Each album since the band folded has seen Mark gradually reveal to us more of his diverse musical roots in his profoundly original songs and highly cinematic lyrical pictures. This disc may be his most compelling and complete work. That's saying alot...because past works such as "Golden Heart" and "The Ragpicker's Dream" made my top ten lists in the years they were released. If you are a fan of folk and blues music played and sung with passion and precision this may be your best bet this year.
Get Lucky-Four out of Five Stars
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
John Fogerty-Harborlights Pavilion Boston, MA 7/20/1997
John Fogerty had toured only twice in the twenty years leading up to these shows on the "Blue Moon Swamp" tour and had not played any CCR songs regularly live since the band disbanded. This show with the Fairfield Four was a romp through Fogerty's best stuff-CCR and solo that was everything a rock-n-roll show should be and more. Fogerty was positively energized. I got to re-live this music and have a new moment with my wife to be on Fogerty's Premonition tour at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA in 1998.
Fleetwood Mac Great Woods Mansfield, MA 9/20/1997
1997 was an amazing concert year thanks in no small part to the re-emergence of John Fogerty and the reunion of the heyday line-up of Fleetwood Mac. I took a coworker named Leanne Savino to the show and we had an amazing time. The band was phenomenal-sounding fresh and energized as this was an early stop on the tour. Stevie in particular was very energetic and Lindsey was on fire. We were the first audience to hear "Oh Daddy" live instead of "Eyes of The World" on this tour.
Stevie Nicks-Great Woods Mansfield, MA 6/12/1998
This was Stevie's tour to support her newly released "Enchanted" box set and lots of live rarities were played. This is the only time I have ever heard "After The Glitter Fades," "Rose Garden," "Sleeping Angel" and "Garbo" live at a Stevie show. I was accompanied by my beautiful soon-to-be wife and this was the time of our lives.
Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band Worcester Centrum 9/17/1996
Bob Seger waited nine years between albums and tours while he focused on his wife and beautful young son Cole Seger. His triumphant return to Boston area audiences was nothing short of a hard rocking all-out celebration. Seger rocked harder than I've ever heard him with a crack edition of the Silver Bullet band that included John Mellencamp's drummer Kenny Aronoff and Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne. I went with my kid brother and a female friend named Meg who had an in for tickets since she worked for Classic Rock WZLX-FM in Boston. This was an early tour stop and no prisoners were taken.
Aerosmith Great Woods Mansfield, MA 7/11/1997
This was a phenomenal show by one of Boston's finest hometown bands. My kid brother and I went because we are huge fans and this show was an absolute revelation. I got to see Aerosmith again with my wife at the first show they performed after the 9/11 transportation ban was lifted...but that's another post for another time.
The Moody Blues with The World Festival Orchestra 7/17/1996
The Moody Blues played Great Woods with the orchestra 3 times in a four year period and at two of three shows I was there in the audience with my girlfriend Nicole Kaiser. This show in particular was special because it was the "Time Traveler" box set tour and lots of rarities were dusted off for a longer than usual set. I am a huge fan of Justin Hayward's introspective songwriting and brilliant pithy guitar work. The Moodies did not disappoint including such live rarities as "Legend of a Mind which was especially fitting given the recent death of Timothy Leary.
The Black Crowes disappeared from the music scene for seven years prior to releasing last year's "Warpaint." Now they seemed poised to make up for lost time. The Robinson brothers have release a double album of new material recorded live at Levon Helm's Woodstock, NY facility. There's even a new marketing strategy-all customers who buy "Before The Frost" will receive a password to download the digital version of the companion album..."Until The Freeze." This is an unexpected modern turn of events from a band so firmly rooted in the past glory of British Blues.
The sound of applause on several tracks reminds you that this is a live recording in a way the excellent playing does not. The opener "Good Morning Captain"immediately puts you in familiar territory with the Crowes enthusiastically riding a ragged roadhouse blues groove punctuated by slide guitar. The fun factor is still present, but with a profound lyrical depth. "I Ain't Hiding" is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones circa "Some Girls" with a gritty disco vibe that channels 'Miss You." "Appaloosa" is a rustic romp that woulda made Levon Helm proud. This record shows off the complex interplay you'd expect from such a seasoned group of performers without the weariness that so often creeps into the performances of established groups. This band performs with a high energy and enthusiasm that is infectious. These old road dogs sound enthusiastically alive and comfortable in their own skin-and that is a darn good thing.
"Before The Frost...After The Freeze" 4 out of 5 stars
Friday, September 4, 2009
Fast Forward to 2009. Last Tuesday "The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again" was released on Verve records. This time John has enlisted top drawer studio players to play with in the studio but otherwise follows the formula of the original by simply picking favorite songs and reworking them with his inimitable sound. I had mixed feelings about John doing an album of covers at this point since he is one of America's greatest songwriters-and his last release 'Revival' proved he had lost none of his songwriting mojo. With all of this in my mind, I clicked 'buy' on Amazon.com and purchased.
First up is a reworking of John Prine's 1971 classic 'Paradise' done in a neo-bluegrass style. Fogerty's voice is so ebullient and his enthusiasm so palpable that it almost belies the sadness of this tale of appalachian environmental disaster. The tone for the rest of the album is set...it is obvious that John is having a ball revisiting some of his favorites. The classic 'Never Ending Song of Love,' 'I Don't Care (As Long as you Love Me) 'Heaven's Just A Sin Away' and 'Fallin, Fallin' Fallin' are pure country bliss with Fogerty's trademark vocals.
'Garden Party' sung with Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit is an apt choice with its tale of being true to yourself. It is also notable that Fogerty was a huge fan of the classic rockabilly music Ricky Nelson and James Burton made together. Like Rick Nelson, Fogerty also found himself haunted by the shadows of his past work at one point in his career. He has since made peace with the past and embraced it fully.
'Haunted House' is reworked as a rockabilly rave up with Fogerty's voice crackling over a twangy guitar. Pat Boone's 1961 murder ballad "Moody River" is a left field surprise that actually delighted me. I've never been a Pat Boone fan...but this particular song in its new arrangement is undeniably great.
I'm sure Fogerty's detractors will take great pride in questioning his dobro sweetened version of John Denver's 'Back Home Again' but I'm gonna stick my neck out and admit that I like John Denver's original...and this new version. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time traveling for a living understands the sentiment.
John did revisit one of his originals, "Change in the Weather" from the much maligned and poorly received 'Eye of the Zombie' album. Re-imagining this song in a different arrangement to underscore the prevailing feeling of the last eight years was a daring move on Fogerty's part...though I don't necessarily believe he has improved on the original.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of songs. I think the sheer joy and enthusiasm that this group of musicians displayed on this album is the reason. John's voice is in fine form and he sounds positively inspired. I'm eagerly anticipating an album of new material soon...but I will be listening to this regularly until then.
The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again-Four out of Five Stars
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I've made no secret over the years of my affinity for New Orleans. Since I moved away, I am what some might call a 'regular out of towner.' I have traveled to the Crescent City many times in my lifetime and each time I have taken something intangibly beautiful and meaningful back with me. One of the most fabulous aspects of New Orleans is its music. I have soaked up the music of New Orleans like a sponge...New Orleans Jazz, Dixieland, Zydeco, Blues, Rhythm and Blues and Funk all course through my veins and the influence on my own sound is palpable.
In the history of New Orleans music there are plenty of great exports. These include Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ernie K. Doe and Better Than Ezra. No mention of New Orleans music would or could be complete without mentioning Art Neville's group The Meters which is the music that became known as New Orleans funk. In 1976 the elder Neville Brother would get together with his younger brothers Aaron Neville, who already had a national hit with "Tell it Like it is," as well as sax man Charles Neville and drum virtuoso Cyril Neville to record "The Wild Tchoupitoulas" with their uncle, Big Chief Jolly. This was essentially an album of Mardi Gras Indian chants set to music. This went so well the brothers remained together as simply "The Neville Brothers" and begun officially performing together in 1977.
Their self titled major label debut hit the shelves in 1978 and they were on their way. Their second album and arguably their best "Fiyo on the Bayou" in 1981 saw them reaching deep into their funk and rhythm and blues roots...and also their Mardi Gras Indian family tradition. This is where we pick up the story of Brother John/Iko Iko. Here we have the brothers returning home to their roots on Valence Street in uptown New Orleans. Iko Iko is a song that is based on call and response chants that occur during a parade collision between tribes of Mardi Gras Indians. It was only natural for the Nevilles to incorporate the melodically similar "Brother John" which is also Mardi Gras based-and had already been recorded on "The Wild Tchoupitoulas." The result is a funky redux that is absolutely stunning and may be the best versions of these songs on record. It is impossible to keep still when this song is playing. If you want a song that will take you to New Orleans in your mind every time...this is the one.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
primary facilitator of the "Memphis Sound" which was a cross pollination
of rock, pop, blues, country, and rhythm and blues. His work with Aretha
Franklin, Big Star, The Rolling Stones, The Replacements, Ry Cooder, Bob
Dylan and Sam and Dave is some of the finest music of its kind on
record anywhere. It is also notable that Jim spawned Luther and Cody
Dickinson who are better known these days as "The North Mississippi
All-Stars." I tip my hat to his contributions to the world of music.
Rock and Roll Heaven has gained a heck of a producer.
responsible for half of their revenue. That is definitely a
milestone...that digital music is now half of a major label's revenue.
Did anyone see that one coming? ;-) The story within the story is that
the overall revenue in the established music business is down
drastically and the trend shows no signs of abatement. This means that
many commercial studios, producers and engineers are struggling or going
under as the paradigm continues to shift. The old order has continued
its catastrophic collapse. This is by no means the death knell of the
music industry...independent artists have more opportunity than ever to
showcase themselves and make a real livable income with music as a full
time career. The money changing hands for independent music downloads
goes through fewer middlemen with a much more sizable cut ending up
where it belongs-in the pocket of the recording artist. There is also
much more choice for the consumer...you can obtain a wide range of music
that fits your listening preferences easily and cheaply via download. I
came up with the music business of old...but in truth I like the new
paradigm for a solo artist. I can do some shows, sell a few downloads,
make a little money and market myself via the internet with minimal fuss
and investment. What's not to like? Do you really want to go back to the
nation's programmer of 70's Top 40 AM radio telling you what to listen
to? Remember those days...when "You Light Up My Life" was number one for
so many weeks in '78 that you wanted to shoot Pat Boone for being a
daddy? Interesting how much of the music I heard Arnie 'Woo-Woo'
Ginsberg play on WMEX AM back when has vanished into the sunset...but
the stuff we heard the Woofa Goofa and Charles Laquidera play on WBCN in
the early 70's is now called 'Classic Rock.' Don't tell me those
anti-establishment types didn't know their music!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
There aren't many in the world of music of any color that have the soul credentials of Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere. These two often found themselves competing in the top forty back in the late 60's. Cropper is notable for his work at Stax records as sideman on the releases of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave and his own group Stax house band "Booker T and the MG's." Felix is lead vocalist and organist on such great Rascals hits as "Good Lovin'" "Groovin,'" and "People Got to Be Free. Here we are forty years on and these two old farts have not only still got it, they're proving it with their original song collaboration-"Nudge it up a Notch."
This album delivers exactly what you'd expect-Cavaliere's rich soulful vocals coupled with Cropper's pithy and perfect guitar work. It is as if the last forty years have melted away and these guys are in their heyday again-writing songs, just playing in the studio sandbox together and having a big time. "One of These Days," "To Make it Right," and "Without You" are full of strong Stax inspired grooves that show Cropper and Cavaliere playing inspired parts that weave in and out of each other perfectly. The level of perceived nonchalance and ease heard here can only be attained by professionals at the top of their game. Throw in a couple of great instrumental tracks such as "Cuttin' it Loose" which give Cropper and Cavaliere ample room to show off their guitar and organ chops and you have the combination that will no doubt make several "top 10 lists" of music critics this year.
"Nudge it up a Notch" Five out of Five.
"Revival" is John Fogerty's first album of all-new material since finally burying the legal hatchet regarding his past once and for all. Interestingly enough it sounds like history has repeated itself. The obvious history you'd expect from Fogerty is here...sparse driving rock songs elegant in their simplicity with lots of open string chiming riffs and swampy linear runs. It is unfortunate that there is deeper history here as well. Some of Fogerty's best stuff from CCR's halcyon days was written about an America deeply divided by war, income disparity and moral arrogance. These situations are arguably worse here and now than ever.
"Long Dark Night" and "I Can't Take It No More" are angry anti-Bush rants that rock as hard as anything Fogerty has ever done. The frustration in these songs is palpable...the urgency in Fogerty's voice is chilling. "Don't You Wish It Was True" is reminiscent of "Proud Mary" with that loping New Orleans groove...and a much more positive message. I suspect Fogerty will get some one star reviews based on dissatisfaction with his politics...they conveniently forget that Fogerty has always made rebel music...and never been a Republican! "Who'll Stop The Rain," "Run Through The Jungle," and "Fortunate Son" are so well written and memorable that it is easy to forget that all three are at their core Vietnam War era protest songs. Fogerty has always unfailingly looked out for the average working man with his music.
"Revival" is retro, but not a rerun. The musical elements are familiar because Fogerty consciously sounds like himself. He is getting back to work doing what he does best-playing "swamp rock." This is one of the absolute best albums of 2007...four and one half stars out of five...buy today!
I'm still processing the breadth of Les Paul's legacy. No one other individual did more to advance the state of the art of electric guitar and recording techniques. His recordings with Mary Ford frustrate me to this day...how to get that sound...and how to get that technique under your fingers...not an easy task. Rock and Roll heaven is rejoicing as the electric guitar's first and best innovator finally joins the band.
Without Les Paul's recording innovations...there would have been no George Martin...and without George Martin...none of those incredible sonic portraits on latter day Beatles records. So much that is taken for granted today by sound engineers and guitar players was invented or aggressively perfected by Les Paul in his lifetime.
Monday, July 20, 2009
After many years of working on the road I found myself affected by the economic downturn and knew I couldn't continue and survive. Of course life on the road leads you to many truck stops, diners and local eateries since you tend to quickly tire of the chain places because the food is the same everywhere. 2008 saw me back home in North Georgia and in the restaurant business at a 50's themed diner concept quick serve restaurant. This particular restaurant had brutally awful coffee which was so strong and bitter it would turn your stomach from the first sip. This immediately put me in mind of this song...I am no longer at that particular restaurant...in fact my current employer makes excellent smooth Colombian blend coffee. Still I cherish the memories of all the great greasy spoon eateries this song brings back-even if they have great coffee! Take the Trolley Stop Cafe on St. Charles in New Orleans for example. Great greasy diner food!
Sadly there is no video available of Hiatt himself performing this song...so here is a bar band called "Bad Dog" doing their version.
Lyrics | John Hiatt lyrics - How Bad's The Coffee lyrics
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Chris Daughtry has been one of American Idol's most successful contestants post-show. Interestingly enough, he has had a more meaningful (and lasting) level of success than many of American Idol's winners. Does anyone know what Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks are up to these days? I don't!
Daughtry is an unlikely rock star personality. He is unapologetic about his strong Christian religious beliefs and his love for his wife and children in a world where hedonism and a lack of any sort of stability and maturity seem de rigeur. This examination of the drama and work involved in a long term relationship inform many of the songs on Daughtry's latest "Leave This Town." Daughtry isn't the first to write about marriage...but he may be the first successful rocker to write about it in such unvarnished terms. Daughtry writes intimately about the downsides-the inevitable misunderstandings, the arguments, the regrets, the momentary temptations to stray and the subsequent passionate re-discovery of each other.
For example-in "Ghost of Me," Daughtry tries to soothe a lover who in her dreams has grave doubts about the relationship. "What I Meant to Say" is actually anti-apology...coming from the perspective of a guy who can't quite seem to get the upper hand in the dialogue. These songs concentrate on real problems in relationships and not on Hollywood informed romance. When Daughtry does talk about new love in "Supernatural" it is almost done in a blushing schoolboy sort of way that would be more at home on a Jonas Brothers release than a record by a serious mature rocker. Writing about committed monogamy would work better if Chris was a more on point at the line level in his songs. He is prone to using shop-worn cliches and then will indulge in flowery phrases that show off his considerable vocabulary and work against his carefully cultivated "married Joe Average" persona.
This conceptual lyrical maturity is juxtaposed with typically anthemic arena rock played by a young band with verve and muscle. Drummer Joey Barnes is the most notable player here-his use of staying ahead of the pocket a bit pushes the band forward and drives songs that might otherwise plod and dawdle. Guitarist Josh Steely has lots of great little riffs that dart in and out of these tunes. The best thing about this record by far is Chris Daughtry's voice...it is muscular and gritty and yet he hits these high notes that are laid open-clear and strong...clearly he is a considerable vocal talent.
Daughtry has discovered a vast previously untapped market for his brand hard rock. He is popular with soccer moms, PTO parents and "nice kids" that would not go for the hedonistic vision of rockers past. The music itself is instantly familiar because it is arena rock played by-the numbers. In short, there is nothing musically groundbreaking here. Chris Daughtry's mature lyrics and vocal moral life choices are the key to his enormous appeal. He has created a sound that is going to continue to be enormously popular with middle America. Ignore Chris Daughtry at your own peril. I suspect this album will be played by radio stations for the next two years. I also expect by then I will fully tire of it.
I made it home from my week long management and motivational seminar in Nashville in one piece. I actually scored 100% on my final exam which was completely unexpected in spite of all of the time I put in studying the concepts. I couldn't resist buying a crave case of White Castle Slyders on the way home to share with my family. They didn't last long...
Upon arriving home I learned that Walter Cronkite had passed away. I have lots of memories of Walter and the CBS evening newscast he anchored from 1962-1981. To those of us above a certain age, Walter Cronkite simply was the voice of the news. Interesting historical fact-the word "anchor" or "anchorman" to describe a television newscaster was coined specifically in Cronkite's honor during his excellent coverage of the 1952 coverage of the Democrat and Republican conventions. So Walter really was the first "news anchor!" Cronkite was so popular worldwide that purportedly in Sweden television news anchors were once called simply "Cronkiters." This is reportedly due to the fact that the term "News Anchor" simply didn't translate well into Swedish and Cronkite's personal brand was so strong and identifiable worldwide.
Cronkite will be remembered for his excellent coverage of some pivotal events. These include his steady handed coverage of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, his controversial observation during the Vietnam War Tet Offensive that the war was unwinnable and his crucial analysis of the impact of the devastation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast during hurricane Camille-which was considerably worse than Katrina for Mississippi but has been largely forgotten or ignored by the modern news media. He also covered the incident at Three Mile Island, the Iran Hostage situation and so much more. He was the man America trusted to bring the news into their homes in a timely and accurate fashion...his death reminds us what a great man he truly was...and he will be missed.
...and that's the way it is...
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Wilco's tongue in cheek titled new release 'Wilco (The Album)' sounds exactly like a Wilco album. This is a very good thing. Those of us that were there for the transition from the sparse and simple days of 'AM' and 'Being There' through "Summerteeth" to 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' remember what a quantum leap that was for this band. Jeff Tweedy thrives on abrupt pitching strategy changes-'Foxtrot' was a change up. Then it was one curve ball after another...'A Ghost is Born' was artsy and heavy...then 'Sky Blue Sky' was so restrained it almost sounded like a tribute to Steely Dan. After a decade of determined running away from himself, Jeff Tweedy is back...the way we remember him. Its almost as though 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' was never released and Wilco is picking up on the heels of 'Being There' and finally releasing that continuation we were waiting on.
The album starts with a slice of silliness entitled 'Wilco (The Song)' where Tweedy actually self assuredly boasts that this group is good for what ails you and Wilco will love you. It is a perfectly tongue in cheek moment that aptly illustrates the shift away from the seriousness of the last album. The retro moments are everywhere: the light and sunny "You Never Know" is reminiscent of George Harrison. The country rock of "Sonny Feeling" could have been an outtake track from 'AM.' The garage rock staccato of "Bull Black Nova" reminds us that Tweedy was originally a punk fan. This is in sharp contrast with "You and I," the duet with Feist with its sensual shimmer and "I'll Fight," which is a minimalist straight up rocker.
This is the album Wilco fans have waited for- a solid piece of rock that draws from Tweedy's original influences without being clouded by some loftier artistic ideal. The emotions here are close to the surface, raw and most of all real.
Wilco (The Album) 4 stars out of 5. Buy this one today!
Ed McMahon 3/6/23-6/23/09-McMahon was perhaps the greatest sidekick in the history of television. His work alongside Johnny Carson is what I will remember most. 'Tonight' was a nightly ritual for me-it helped me shake off the day with a good laugh and get in bed in a good mood to wake up and face another day. Ed's "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny" will be reverberating in the heavenlies as he is reunited with Carson for their first show in eternity.
Farrah Fawcett 2/2/47-6/25/09-Its a cliche...but since I am a male of a certain age I could not escape Farrah Fawcett. Her role on 'Charlie's Angels' is enough by itself to give her television immortality. Her television roles coupled with that poster...ya know the one from '76! The men of heaven will all be at attention when their new sex symbol Farrah arrives.
Michael Jackson 8/29/58-6/25/09-Michael Jackson was the very first African-American megastar. Thriller remains the worldwide best seller of all time. Nothing that has transpired since Michael hit the pinnacle of success has erased the musical legacy of the KING of POP. His music is an inescapable part of my life.
Billy Mays-7/20/58-6/28/09-You couldn't turn on American TV for any length of time without being bombarded by the voice of Billy Mays. He was perhaps the last great 'pitch man' of the old school. He was buried in a shirt with the Oxi-Clean logo...this is fitting. Now he can pitch in heaven shilling Orange Glo products door to door on the streets of gold.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I was deeply and profoundly saddened to hear that Bob Bogle has passed away Tuesday. His lengthy illness meant his death was not unexpected, but I still found myself choking back tears when I heard the news.
Everyone above a certain age knows a Ventures song. They really are that ubiquitous a presence in pop culture. I ran my fingers off as a young guitarist trying to master "Walk Don't Run" and "Hawaii Five-O." Bogle and Wilson should have statues erected of them in Cleveland just for those two pieces alone...but there is so much more...the recorded output of the Ventures is voluminous and covers a great deal of stylistic ground.
Bob Bogle touched and inspired a tremendous number of musicians-including some of the world's finest players. They range from obvious instrumental player devotees like Gary Hoey to some of Nashville's finest studio cats and many more in between. I count myself fortunate to have been aquainted with the music of the Ventures. I know the house band in Rock and Roll Heaven has gained one hell of an axe-slinger.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Hank Williams Jr.
"127 Rose Avenue"
The legendary country music icon , who is the son of Hank Williams Sr. and the father of Hank Williams III, has finally released his first studio album since 2003's "I'm One of You."
The already released single is the song "Red, White and Pink-Slip Blues," which is already a hit single at radio. The song, written by Mark Stephen Jones and Arthur Tower, addresses the reality of the current economic crisis for working folk. Williams will tour from July into September.Other new releases
Amorphis, "Skyforger" (Nuclear Blast)
Rodney Carrington, "El Nino Loco" (Capitol)
Will Downing, "Classique" (Concord)
Don Henley, "The Very Best of Don Henley" (Geffen)
Jill Hennessy, "Ghost in My Head" (Warner Bros.)
Incubus, "Monuments & Melodies" (Sony)
Laura Izibor, "Let the Truth Be Told" (Atlantic)
Davy Knowles, "Coming Up for Air" (Blix Street)
Spinal Tap, "Back from the Dead" (Label Industry)
Devin Townsend, "Ki" (Inside Out)
Various artists, "Chess in Concert" (Reprise)
Various artists, "Highlights from Chess in Concert" (Reprise)
Rhonda Vincent, "Destination Life" (Rounder)
Saturday, June 13, 2009
It seemed incongruous at first...Outlaw music sung in gospel harmony...but I knew from the moment "Y'all Come Back Saloon" was released and heard "Old Time Lovin'" featured on "The Dukes of Hazzard" that these fellas had taken a shot in the dark and hit a commercial bullseye. More success followed...with the Oaks having attained bona fide legend status by the release of "Monogahela" in 1988. Along the way they have dodged plenty of critical barbs and yet continued to be true to their vision at that moment. Through all of the attention, the Oaks have made their reputation as being some of the most genuine people in the business-a class act in every sense.
Fast forward to 2009. The Oaks have been making gospel albums since 1992. They've all navigated into the shallow waters of their senior years... and then the unthinkable..."The Boys are Back." By electing to make a secular country album after 17 years the Oaks have defied expectations...and reached #16 on the country charts.
The album itself is a mixed bag. The anthemic title track written by Shooter Jennings makes its point as intended...The Boys are Back. Unfortunately the song is a bit repetitive... it does clearly announce the new direction the Oaks are taking on this record. Shooter's lyrics bring some religion and politics to the table and this will no doubt cause some controversy. "Boom Boom" is a bit silly, but it actually works thanks to some well placed enthusiasm.
The production throughout is rough edged...the album was recorded in two weeks...clearly the intent was to capture the excitement the Oaks felt while working on their new sound with Dave Cobb at Waylon Jenning's old studio.
"Seven Nation Army" is a revelation. The guys sound like they were meant to sing this song...and it being chosen as the first single is absolutely right. This choice of a modern song by an aging country act invites inevitable comparison to Johnny Cash who selected a Nine Inch Nails song for his studio album "The Man Comes Around." In both cases, tackling a contemporary song provides wind for the artists sails...and the results are fantastic. I've no doubt that other critics will accuse the Oaks of "missing the point of the song" or some other such nonsense...the fact is the group identified with the song and made it their own.
Several tracks on the album evoke more traditional themes for the Oak Ridge Boys. Down home vibe abounds in "Mama's Table," "Live With Jesus," "God's Gonna Ease My Troublin' Mind," and "Hold Me Closely." Not surprisingly, these are among the album's best.
It is a bit uneven...but it is as compelling a comeback effort by a country act as I have ever heard. Go on out and buy this 'un y'hear!
"The Boys are Back" 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I watched the final "Tonight Show...with Jay Leno" last night and the enormity of what is happening finally
hit me. I have watched "Tonight" religiously all my life...with Carson and then with Leno...It has been my nightly decompression ritual to have a good laugh and hear some new music before I turned in for 30 years. I am deeply saddened that Leno is going...and like many others I feel the brass at NBC has made a big mistake. That said, I accept that the show needs to appeal to a younger audience to keep advertising revenue coming in...and Conan is a proven talent with the younger crowds. I wish Conan the best...and I will continue to watch...
Seems Conan and I have something in common. We are both stepping away from jobs we never expected to have at a point in our lives and yet we excelled at them. We both start new jobs Monday with exceptionally large expectations on a much bigger stage. I have something in common with Leno as well...I finished out my old job on Friday. How strange is it that it worked out exactly this way?
I want to thank the wonderful people I worked with at Steak-n-Shake for their part in my success there as a restaurant manager. As I move on to bigger things as a General Manager at Krystal I reflect on my time at SNS and find I am humbly grateful to have been part of such a fine organization. We accomplished 7% positive comps in a down economy when our sister franchise restaurants averaged -5%. Do the math! That's 12% better than everybody! Thanks again!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Clapton and Winwood continue to feed off of each other on Clapton's "Forever Man," and the Blind Faith song "Presence Of The Lord." Both are well known now as Clapton concert favorites but Winwood sounds as if he was born to sing them.
The musical synchronicity cannot be denied. Eric's played many of his own songs so many times he could easily phone it in...but he attacks his material with renewed gusto...as Winwood's guitar and keys push this legend hard.
As the concert concludes, Clapton and Winwood play Hendrix's "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Chile." Here the fur really begins to fly. Winwood sings "Voodoo Chile" like a street corner bluesman and punctuates his bluesy phrasing with organ stabs that Clapton responds to with phenomenal guitar interplay.
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood-"Live at Madison Square Garden" no stars needed...if you don't buy this you clearly don't like good music.
Kevin Griffin's unique voice still draws you in and his saccharine sweet melodies and simple, readily accesible lyrical themes make this album immediately identifiable as Better Than Ezra. Since I owned and enjoyed "How Does Your Garden Grow" back in the nineties I can't help but get a little nostalgic when I hear these guys. This album occasionally re-creates the magic of "How Does Your Garden Grow," but mostly continues the pop accessibility of "Before the Robots," BTE's last album (gasp!) four years ago.
There is plenty of dynamic range here, seemingly capturing the best of everything Better than Ezra has done before. We have the anthemic opener "Absolutely Still," the New-Wave-esque "Nightclubbing," the pepped up singalong of "All In," the sugary pop of "Black Light" and the subdued ballad "I Just Knew." It mostly works. This is a solid mainstream rock album of mid tempo rockers and ballads without much flashiness...this is hard to find in a major label release in 2009..and makes this album all the more appealing. It isn't ground breaking...but it is good music.
Better Than Ezra-Paper Empire 3-1/2 out of 5
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Maybe its the social networking sites to blame or possibly the reduction of artists vision to individual track downloads on i-tunes but our attention spans are not what they once were. Whatever the cause, around 2/3 of the way through the new Tori Amos’ album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, your interest will have waned.
Don't misinterpret me. I'm a fan. This is very close to being an excellent album. Unfortunately, like the Eagles' "Long Road Out of Eden" and other Tori Amos albums I could name it is simply too long. I think Tori's motivation here is a genuine attempt to add value to this collection...and to the listener. The problem is that the substandard material runs the risk of alienating fans before they hear all the good stuff.
The album kicks off on a high note. 'Give' is dark with a salacious offhand lyric that could be interpreted as anything from S&M to vampirism. The new single 'Welcome to England' is a return to form and could become a classic. This track signals Tori seems to be abandoning the concept album trappings that have framed most of her recent work. This album purports to be a study in sin...but the songs that work the best come from somewhere more personal. For eight tracks we get Tori at the top of her form, telling stories and deriving universal truths in well crafted songs.
Unfortunately this leads us to the 'bonus' disc. This is where things get uneven. I can forgive Tori some self indulgence simply because she has been one of the most profoundly original artists in music for the better part of 20 years. Still 'Police Me,' 'Abnormally Attracted to Sin,' and 'That Guy' should have been re-worked or canned. Things begin to pick up a bit with 'Fast Horse' and 'Mary Jane' which are fairly good quality lead ins for the closing moments of the album-and some of Tori's finest work...'Lady in Blue' is melodic with a lounge jazz-esque feel that echos recent Joni Mitchell albums-but doesn't suck. "Oscar's Theme" carries the album to a close with such understated sadness that is a perfect album closer. Had these two songs shown up a half an hour back, this would be the perfect Tori Amos album.
This is an album that would have been better with some self editing on the part of its writer. Incredibly, "Abnormally..." still has moments that hit the spot. Tori's songs here are often vague or lack cohesion and are certainly self indulgent...but this album still is a good example of the breadth and depth of Tori Amos' talent. Listen without prejudice and download the ones you like. I know I will.
"Abnormally Attracted to Sin" 3-1/2 out of 5
Friday, May 22, 2009
Steve Earle knew Townes. Perhaps no other artist knew him better. Townes' career influenced Earle's own rocky, drug addled career road with Earle ultimately emerging triumphant as a rebellious but legitimate American Troubadour. Townes as we all know was not so fortunate. Fortunately for us the music of Townes Van Zandt has shown itself to have tremendous staying power in spite of Townes' well publicized demons.
It is fitting at this point that Steve would go back to the songs that first influenced him and so many of us out there-"To Live is to Fly," "No Place to Fall," and the now iconic "Pancho and Lefty." All of these are represented here in versions so spare and understated it is easy to miss just how much passion went into this project. Every element here is in place to underscore the perfectly melancholy power of Townes' original lyrics. Earle utilized his son Justin Townes Earle and his wife Allison Moorer for support on subdued background vocals, other instrumental highlights include Shad Cobb's melancholy fiddle, Tim O'Brien's perfectly placed mandolin flourishes and Tom Morello's surprisingly perfect electric guitar accents.
The high point is "Lungs" which sends Earle's already raspy voice through an effects processor for an eerie effect that captures the sad place this song was written from. Add a spare acoustic guitar, hollow drums and a whining electric and you have the a perfect interpretation of this song's hollow desolation.
Perhaps Steve Earle has exorcised an inner demon or two with this collection of 15 of his mentor's best songs. Maybe he has made some peace with Townes' troubled legacy. He has certainly helped to elevate the work of Townes Van Zandt to an even more enduring status.
Steve Earle-"Townes" Four out of Five stars.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The first sound on the album is Harper's slide guitar bringing in "Number With no Name" an unapologetic rocker with an uplifting chorus that sets the tone for what is to come. There is quite a bit of diversity...a nod to U2 on"Up to You Now," with its delicate vocals and heavy rhythm and also a clear sixties British invasion influence on "Lay There and Hate Me." "Shimmer and Shine" is my absolute favorite...it takes no prisoners from the first note to the last.
In spite of the amps being set on eleven, the lyrical content of this album is absolutely identifiable as Harper's. The slide guitar and vocals here are the elements that work the best...not surprisingly these have sustained Harper's career all along. The first half of this effort ranks with Harper's finest work. Unfortunately the second half isn't as well thought out and doesn't fare so well. I recommend downloading the first half and shelving the rest.
Ben Harper/Relentless 7-White Lies for Dark Times 3-1/2 out of 5
Oberst is always inclined to stick with his initial ideas and his instincts are usually correct. The loose vibe with everyone contributing actually enhances Conor's songs. For Example on "Slowly" we have Conor singing about taking life in the slow lane...lounging in the pool literally letting life pass him by. This laid back and happy vibe is so out of character for Oberst it may be a bit of a shock for Bright Eyes fans...but it does actually work. There is some angst to be found here..."White Shoes" is a desperate lover's plea and "Roosevelt Room" is a left wing political rant that borders on apocalyptic.
The rest of the band is not harboring any hitherto untapped songwriter genius. The songs contributed by the rest of the band are simply decent throwaways. As you might expect the albums strongest moments come when the band is sympathetically backing Oberst on his own songs. In fact that combination of that jangly sixties folk-rock and mini organ sound coupled with Oberst's new found preference for a more relaxed pace provide the album's best moments. Oberst is to be commended for putting his ego aside and letting the band have the spotlight...it proves he can be a nice guy...
"Outer South" 3 out of 5 stars An interesting experiment
Unfortunately in spite of recording more adult-level material, Jewel has resisted the urge to sing like a grown up and her faux emotional over-singing gets more ridiculous as time goes on...starting with the incredibly tedious "Spirit" and continuing progressively downhill from there. Lullaby unfortunately does not reverse the trend. The album is laden with typical Jewel arrangements with nothing standing out in any way. It all sort of blends together into a study in tedium.
Jewel-Lullaby 1 star out of five. Don't go near this one with a ten foot pole.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Yusuf's last album "An Other Cup" had lots of Eastern musical influences that blended beautifully with the western folk idiom to produce a well woven tapestry. On "Roadsinger" Yusuf is performing straight up Western folk music with no chaser. This may be in part due to Yusuf's rediscovering Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Neil Young, Elton John and others while listening to a playlist on a transatlantic flight. These classic songs and artists reminded Yusuf how great the L.A. singer-songwriter sound had been and pushed him in this direction.
The production of "Roadsinger" is sparse with few overdubs resulting in an organic and slightly gritty feel. This serves the songs perfectly with immediacy and warmth coming through every performance.
The arrangements are what you'd expect from Yusuf...anchored with his tasteful understated guitar work and breezy vocals. A few songs are beautifully layered with cellos and violins or accented with horns.
The songs themselves show deep personal emotion. A beautiful love song such as 'Thinking about You" fits perfectly with "Roadsinger" a track that illustrates the power of music to bring people together. "To Be What You Must" is deep and philosophical and illustrates pointedly "To be what you must you must give up what you are." "World of Darkness" is the album's bleak moment...dwelling on just how much has gone wrong in recent years. The juxtaposition of this song with the other love songs and "All Kinds of Roses" a song about the beauty of nature all around is stark contrast...and absolutely right. "In This Glass World" illustrates the fragile nature of our world and gently nudges the listener toward the best solution-peace. This could be summed up as the albums overriding theme-peace-most importantly inner peace. This is clearly a classic album in waiting from the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens and will no doubt in time be as highly regarded as his iconic 70's catalog.
"Roadsinger"-Four and one half stars out of 5. Buy this one today!
On this day...May 5th 1969 CCR's Bad Moon Rising was released. The song would shoot to number two on the billboard charts and remain for 3 weeks. John Fogerty got the apocalyptic vibe of the song from a movie he watched called "The Devil and Daniel Webster." This is simply a classic song...it jumps out of my radio speakers even now. You can really hear the influence of the Sun label artists on Fogerty here.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
It seems everyone has a Katrina story...most are absolutely incredibly awful and yet there remains that undercurrent of grit and toughness. I've read several of these post-Katrina memoirs and so I reached for "The House on First Street-My New Orleans Story" by Julia Reed with this in mind.
The book opens by presenting the author's lifelong love of the city-recounting a trip made as a teenager with friends and the wild times had by all. Next up is a quick Fast forwarding to 1991 when the author moves into a French Quarter apartment on Bourbon Street when she is working as a reporter covering the governors race that year. So far so good. Not surprisingly, like so many others she falls in love with New Orleans and decides to remain in the city. After a number of years in the city, she remarries at 42 and the newlyweds buy their dream Greek Revival home at First and Chestnut streets in the Garden District.
At this point it becomes apparent that Julia Reed is very well-to-do. It would be fair not to hold this against her but it becomes extraordinarily difficult to endure when she goes on at great length about the ineptitude of her contractor handling the restoration of her mansion. She embarks on an endless parade of local celebrity name dropping and referencing meals eaten and alcohol consumed in fabulous restaurants such as Galatoire's. Family members saunter in and out of the story with little or no introduction only to be gone again before we ever get any context for their presence. The breezy storytelling and anecdotes are entertaining but in no way represent life for the vast majority of New Orleanians.
Enter Hurricane Katrina. I think surely this will get interesting. Evacuation and watching the ensuing flood on cable news is covered in great detail. After a few days, Julia bluffs her way back into the city with a press pass to find her house is 100% intact with no flooding. She suffered from one downed tree, a broken window and debris strewn about. This is a fairy tale ending for a homeowner in a storm that triggered the biggest man made disaster in the history of the United States.
Julia justifiably goes after the requisite local, state and federal officials for their ineptitude very briefly in the book. She is tediously self congratulatory about her many trips from Baton Rouge to bring food into the city for the National Guardsmen stationed in the post Katrina war zone. She deserves credit for her part in organizing the ReBirth New Orleans benefit but it still seems like arrogant self importance that drives her rather than true altruism.
The ever present descriptions of good food and wine did make me hungry for New Orleans cuisine... and a cohesive story. I felt like I was in the midst of a cocktail party in a room full of people I didn't know hearing bits and pieces of conversation and constantly found myself trying to make sense of it all. The conversational nature of the story telling and the short 200 page length made it an easy read but ultimately it felt unfulfilling. If you want a Katrina story to cheer about, read "The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous" by Ken Wells.