Here’s one that’s impossible not to like: Valerie June. I didn’t get introduced until a PBS Newshour mini-feature on her just a few weeks ago. It piqued my interest and sent me on my way to her latest album, The Order of Time, which I’ve had on steady rotation since. A rootsy, bluesy, gospel, old-timey infused ride – and the main attraction: her unique voice.
Take a listen to my favorite: “Two Hearts” (joining the lexicon of other revered “Two Hearts” tunes along with Bruce Springsteen, Chris Isaak and the Jayhawks)..
If there’s one lesson I keep on learning when it comes to music, it’s to keep listening to the recommendation services that our music services offer. If you spend any decent amount of time listening to streaming music on Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, et al, well – they know what you like, and they’ll slip in some gems now and then; and it doesn’t take long until you a hear a new favorite tune or band.
Case in point today: Google Play Music’s I’m Feeling Lucky feature. Up come my old pals Todd Snider, Uncle Tupelo, and Ryan Bingham – and then… “Santa Ana Winds” by Sons of Bill. They’re a band of brothers from Charlottesville, Virginia – James, Sam and Abe Wilson. The tune comes from their 2012 album Sirens, which was produced by Cracker’s David Lowery.
Obviously I heard the album cut first – a hard charging Americana rocker right up my alley. Guitars, organ, great hooks.. Then I hit up YouTube for some live action, and stumbled on a ‘Music Fog’ acoustic version which strips the song down to a heart-wrenching, gut-punching ballad. OOF! Hit me like a freight train. I think that may be James on lead vocal. Whichever Wilson brother it is, kudos to you my brother. Music to my ears. What a voice.
Another band where I’m late to the party. Hey, it just took a while to get from Charlottesville to Gilbert, Arizona. I’m on board now. All’s well.
Just a few weeks ago I decided to jump back into Apple Music’s Beats One radio shows and see what was new and interesting. There’s a lot of quality content – Elton John’s Rocket Hour is cool, but the the best in my opinion is The Echo Chamber hosted by the Beastie Boys’ own Mike D.His tastes vary wildly (which we figured out in 1989 when Paul’s Boutique came out), but the part I’m enjoying most is getting a taste of the latest hip-hop through the filter of Mike D. I’m enjoying the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest and Run the Jewels, but overall, I lost touch with the hip-hop scene a long time ago. So it’s cool to be able to listen in to Mike’s picks and get turned on again to some good stuff.
Artists like Danny Brown, Vince Staples, and Childish Gambino…
I’ll share three of the tunes that really jumped out at me recently. The first being this track by Danny Brown. Brown is originally from Detroit, he’s 35, and his latest album, Atrocity Exhibition, is his fourth since his 2010 debut The Hybrid. “Really Doe” features Danny, Kendrick Lamar (who is everywhere I look, and deservedly so), Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. The tune just flows. Nothing I can listen to around my kids, but a great tune just the same…
Second up is 23 year old Vince Staples from Long Beach, CA. “War Ready” is only 2 + minutes, but man, just the way he delivers it, especially in the first 30 seconds, riding along with that beat.“Put my Glock away I got a stronger weapon that never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war okay…”
And last, actor/writer/producer/musician etc. etc. etc. Donald Glover,whose music alter ego is Childish Gambino. We’ve all seen him in something. For me, it’s HBO’s Girls. He has a brand new album called Awake, My Love!, and I’m still only one listen in, with many more to come. It’s less hip-hop and more a funk/soul tour de force that channels Parliament, Prince, and Sly Stone. It’s really something creative and unique, and this tune, “California,”is a good sampling…
In the late summer of 1984, I saw Purple Rain for the first time. I was 14. Adolescence had arrived, and was about to be taken for quite a spin with Prince Rogers Nelson at the wheel.
Every long time admirer of Prince has their memories. These are some of mine…
Summer of 1984 (14 years old), driving home from baseball practice with my mom. Passenger side of her Buick Park Avenue. “When Doves Cry” on the radio. Ears perk. “Hmmm,” I think, “here’s something different.”
Late September 1984, my first viewing of Purple Rain. The experience was so vivid, yet I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who was with me. Likely my friends Matt W. and/or Chris G. The reason I can’t recall is that I returned to the theater several times in the ensuing weeks to see it again. And again. And again. Watching the movie Purple Rain didn’t just spark my interest in Prince. It ignited several very potent megatons of TNT. It upturned my teenaged midwestern suburban existence. In the coming weeks, my Rod Carew posters would be untacked from the walls, methodically replaced by posters, magazine covers, pins, and photos of Prince (my poor folks – “what is happening to my kid??”). Yep, adolescence had come barreling down the road, ran a red light, and smashed right into this strange purple man from Minneapolis. It was on. I would learn about love, sex, funk, soul, the sacred & profane, but most importantly: tolerance and acceptance for all (“black, white, Puerto Rican everybody just a freakin’ good times…”). Prince opened my mind, and it hasn’t closed since.
Late ’84: Friday Night Videos premieres a live video of Prince and the Revolution live in Landover, MD. They perform “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” Prince commanding that stage in a white lace getup. “Woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, you say it.. woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, any dogs in the house?” That Sheila E. timbales solo…
The American Music Awards, January ’85. Prince and the Revolution are all over the Lionel Richie-hosted show (“Outrageous!”). Prince’s bodyguard Big Chick escorts him to the stage. “Life is death without adventure.” A kiss for Vanity. Bar none, the very best live performance of “Purple Rain” I’ve seen to this day. Microphone kicked over during guitar solo. Cyndi Lauper going crazy in her front row seat.
A month later, the Grammys. “I Would Die 4 U” / “Baby I’m a Star.” Fantastic, but anticlimactic after the AMA performance of “Purple Rain” a few weeks earlier.
Several trips to Mainstream Records in downtown Racine, Wisconsin to grab the newly released 12″ maxi-singles the day they were released. New music! Most of the maxi-singles had an extended version of the A side (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss”); but even better, brand new tunes on the B-side. “17 Days,” “Hello,” “She’s Always in my Hair,” “Love or $”… and I would snatch up the earlier 1999 releases too of course – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” and “Irresistible Bitch,” possibly my two favorite B-sides.
Voraciously seeking out all of Prince’s projects and extended Minneapolis family. The Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, Sheila E., Andre Cymone, Jesse Johnson. Top tune of this bunch? Must be “777-9311.”
Calling into WLUM Milwaukee to request “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from my DJ crush Alli Ellison.
In my room 1: Listening to every Prince album straight through, from the first to the latest. From For You through Purple Rain (six albums worth). Then For You through Around the World in a Day. Then For You through Parade. You get the idea.
In my room 2: “Performing:” A tennis racket with a strap tied to it for my guitar. A putter for my microphone (handy for the James Brown mic tricks). A lot of “Purple Rain” and a lot of “Irresistible Bitch” / “Possessed” / “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from the Live 85 concert video. My brothers were away at college, so when my folks went out, it was mirror time. Damn if I didn’t nail those splits a time or two.
In my room 3: Posters of Vanity and Apollonia. 14, 15, 16 years old… Moving on.
My first live Prince experiences: September 18-19, 1988 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Prince was in the round for the Lovesexy tour. My high school sweetheart and I drove the 90 minutes from Racine. On night two we ran out to the loading ramp to watch Prince jump in his limo and speed away before the final notes sounded.
During college (Colorado College in Colorado Springs) between 1988-1992, there were many trips to Independent Records to pay exorbitant prices for bootleg albums and CD’s. ‘Chocolate Box,’ ‘The Black Album,’ live bootlegs of varying quality. I still have most of them, save for a couple I stupidly sold on eBay for a quick and fruitless cash grab.
My second set of live shows at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, April 1993 ( I had recently moved to Tempe, AZ). This was Prince’s Act II tour – gun microphone, wavy hair, and police hat with chains covering his face. Before the first show, a nice couple kept buying me tequila shots in a nearby bar – which I kept on not refusing. Not a wise decision. I recall night two much more vividly. Funny how that works.
A road trip to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve 1993, triggered by a rumor that Prince would be performing at his Glam Slam nightclub. The result? I can’t even remember if it was just a DJ playing or a random band, but there was no Prince in the house. But hey, I did see Ice-T and Yo-Yo. Wasted trip? Yes.
1997: My banner year for live Prince. Five shows + two aftershows! He stopped in Phoenix twice that year – April and October. April’s visit included an aftershow at Tempe’s Electric Ballroom. It was short but sweet, since the club had a curfew they couldn’t break. Prince and the band took over a local band’s gear onstage and played a Santana jam and “The Ride.” I found a live recording of it and posted it here. Later in October, my old pal Chris flew in from Florida, and we road tripped to SoCal for two Jam of the Year shows – at the Hollywood Bowl and Irvine Meadows Ampitheater. Yes, seeing Prince at the Hollywood Bowl was as awesome as it sounds. But the highlight of the month (and Life, perhaps?) came later that month after his Vegas gig at the MGM Arena. Rumors swirled that Prince and the band would be playing an aftershow at a club on the strip called Utopia. I promptly hauled ass to Utopia, where about 150 of us were rewarded in the early hours of October 25th. A Sly Stone cover (popular that year with his relatively new pal Larry Graham along for the tour), “Face Down”, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, and a personal highlight, “I’ll Take You There.” I was twenty feet away, taking it all in. Pure magic.
The internet cometh. Prince chat rooms. Newsgroups! I was “ick1999” on alt.music.prince. Mostly a lurker. For the first time, an introduction to a community of like minded Prince lunatics.
April 2002. Prince’s One Nite Alone tour, and I’m engaged. Our first date was New Year’s Eve just a few months prior. 24 days later, we were engaged to be married. My fiancee Myra was quickly introduced to my Prince obsession up close and personal at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix.
And then… an 11 year Prince drought! The next, and sadly, my last time seeing Prince live came on May 1st, 2013. Prince was energized, fronting his all-female power trio 3rd Eye Girl at a midsize, intimate venue: the Marquee Theater in Tempe. There I was again, probably 50 feet from the man I’d been listening to and following avidly for almost 30 years. Watching him tear the stage up, ripping through “She’s Always in My Hair” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” Taking me to that familiar place… “in my room”… all of these memories flooding back – the same memories I’ve shared here.
Like most of you, I thought Prince would endure as that strange and wonderful musical genius, always a little bit under the radar, keeping that mysterious low profile. And like you, I was sure we’d be watching him perform well into the future as a sixty-something, a seventy-something, and even beyond. He seemed otherworldly and immune to “time,” didn’t he? Well, that all obviously shattered on that awful morning of April 21st.
Prince is gone. And I think the biggest reason I haven’t typed a word about him all year – my very favorite artist – is that it still doesn’t seem real. Prince dead? Impossible, man. Does not compute. It still just doesn’t quite make sense to me. But gone he is.
The beauty of it all is that his music endures.
I’m 46 now, and still under that purple spell. Always will be. Just as I thought to myself in my room all those years ago.
Prince – “”Just My Imagination” (from the 8-19-1988 aftershow in The Hague, Netherlands)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Bob Weir over the last 10-15 years, it’s that he is most definitely not going to shave that giant mustache and beard. Bob, such a handsome dude underneath that hair! Ah well, the beards are here to stay all around me, I may as well just get used to it.
Crazy to think that more than 21 years have gone by since the passing of Jerry Garcia, bringing with it the end of what was the Grateful Dead. Bob has never let up though. He’s carried on with Ratdog over years with a rotating cast of characters in the band (sorry to see that the great bass player Rob Wasserman passed away earlier this year); and he has re-congregated in different incarnations with his former Dead band mates, most recently as Dead & Company, with John Mayer joining in on guitar and vocal duties (A+ decision on everyone’s part). I’ll finally be checking them out next May when they visit Phoenix on the second show of their tour (May 28).
Adding to his always active life in music, Bob also released Blue Mountain earlier this year, only the third album of his career billed only as Bob Weir (along with 1972’s Ace and 1977’s Heaven Help the Fool). It’s a collection of “cowboy” songs, as he’s referred to them, with help from quality musicians like Josh Ritter and a couple members of the National (who curated that huge and excellent Dead tribute project earlier this year, Day of the Dead).
The album struck a chord with me. I love the downtempo side of the music, and the great melodies and laid back acoustic stylings in Blue Mountain really grabbed me.
A notch above the rest for me are “Gallop on the Run,” “Whatever Happened to Rose,” and especially “Ky-Yi Bossie,” painting a vivid picture of addiction and relationship problems that have to be at least semi-autobiographical. It’s imaginative and honest, framed in a very catchy cowboy tune with a very cowboy title. Check it out…
A quick blast of quality tuneage from Kevin Morby. “Beautiful Strangers” was written to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting. Morby is a 28-year old singer songwriter born in Lubbock, Texas and now living in L.A.
This tune was released along with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place To Fall” to benefit Everytown For Gun Safety, an organization fighting the good fight for common sense gun legislation.
Some songs just catch my ear – this is one. Great little guitar groove and a beautiful tune with some heavy subject matter. Tragically beautiful..
New Pixies music! Head Carrier was released to the world on September 30th. The lead single, “Um Chagga Lagga” has been out since early July, and with my head in the sand as usual, I didn’t hear this great track until last week whilst perusing NME. The video below, however is hot off the presses.
It’s a hard charging number that you’ll be adding to your workout/running/road playlist as soon this video wraps up. Great stuff, and a really solid album featuring three of the four original members: Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering. Kim Deal left the band in 2013, so bass duties on Head Carrier are handled by Paz Lenchantin, who’s been touring with the band as well.
Where do I even start? Months ago, when it was announced that Neil Young would be playing two dates in Telluride, Colorado for the very first time, I knew I’d make the trip up from Phoenix. Not a doubt. On my live music bucket list, Neil ranked at the top, numero uno.
It took me 46 years, but there I was Saturday night, leaning against the barrier left of the stage, my 12-yr old daughter by my side, watching Neil Young – just a few weeks shy of his 71st birthday – rock our faces off with his amazing backing band, Promise of the Real.
The setting? Telluride Town Park. Not your run of mill venue. Rather, one of the most picturesque settings on God’d green earth. See for yourself:
Friday night, we rolled into town just before Neil took the stage around 6:30. My folks have a place just across the beaver pond from Town Park, so although I didn’t go to Friday’s show, I grabbed a beer and parked myself on the balcony. Neil’s voice filled the box canyon as he started off the night with “After the Gold Rush,” “Heart of Gold”, and “Long May You Run”… The sound was so crisp and clear that I took in the whole show, all the way to the final notes of “Cinnamon Girl.”
Saturday, it was time to get in and get close. My daughter and I walked into Town Park about an hour and a quarter before show time, and, as you can see above, we did just fine.
Neil walked out from stage left and quickly took a seat at the piano for the opener, “After the Gold Rush.” The next few songs featured Neil with his acoustic guitar and harmonica: “Heart of Gold,” “Sugar Mountain” (the first time he’d played it outside of his Bridge School Benefit since 1993), and “Old Man.” Then, a seat at the organ for “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)”, which sounded sacred in the beautiful setting.
Then out came Promise of the Real. It’s worth mentioning each of these guys, because they each add so much to the experience.
Lukas Nelson – guitar; Willie’s 27 year old son and de facto front man of POTR. Great voice and guitar chops.
Micah Nelson – guitar, keys, etc.; Willie’s youngest son, early/mid 20’s I’m guessing. More vocal chops and handy with the bow and guitar.
Corey McCormick – bass; Corey is the most animated of the bunch, jumping around, dancing, deep in the groove. His spirit is infectious and he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Anthony LoGerfo – drums; partnering up with Corey for a killer rhythm section that held down Neil’s tunes, old and new.
Tato Melgar – percussion; solid percussionist, although I couldn’t see him from my far front/left-side vantage point.
I heard Neil in a recent interview talking about Promise of the Real, their talent, and how intimate & familiar they were with his back catalog – deep cuts included. And how apparent that was. Their playing was the perfect accompaniment to Neil: raunchy and raw, or dialed down to a mellow folk-rock feel – whatever the song called for, they were there delivering it just as well as any band that’s ever backed Neil.
And the background vocals and harmonizing! Lukas, Micah and Corey were on point the whole night, enriching classics like “Powderfinger,” “Down by the River” and “Harvest Moon” with beautiful harmonies (three of my all time Neil favorites).
The “moment” for me came during the raucous and powerful choruses of “Down by the River.” Live music lovers all know it. That moment when the goosebumps are in full effect from the sheer force of the Music, a smile plastered across your face…and a glance around the crowd shows you hundreds of others feeling exactly the same way. It’s transcendent and inspiring and gives you hope for humanity – much needed these days.
“Winterlong” was a cut I wasn’t all too familiar with (released on Neil’s 1977 compilation album Decade, and limited pressings of Tonight’s The Night). I loved the feel of that tune – the wistful tinges of sadness and the really pretty melody.
“Out on the Weekend” !! Also one of my favorites, and the first tune of the night with Promise of the Real.
We were treated to “Cortez the Killer” with its sinister vibe, made all the more interesting by a nearby woman succumbing to a combination of altitude and substance – passing out a few feet behind us, then being lifted by security over the front barrier. “Cortez, Cortez, what a killer.”
Family highlight: My daughter was fully aware she was seeing a legend that Saturday night – she was reminded often by yours truly in the weeks and days leading up to the trip. By the end of the night, she was bouncing and singing along to “Rockin’ in the Free World” with all the rest of us. Smiles all around as the song was about to end three or four times, with Neil counting off “1-2-3-4!” and lunging back to the microphone for another round: “Keep on rockin’ in the free world!” It’s something special to make memories with your kids – especially live music memories.
With temps dropping well into the 40’s, Neil and POTR wrapped the night with the encore, “Roll Another Number (for the Road),” then met at center stage where they all huddled, jumping up and down in a shared primal grunt.
After two hours and forty-five minutes of breathtaking folk and wild, reckless rock & roll, we walked off into the cold Telluride night, savoring the evening..
I don’t know how my heroes do it – the ability to sit down and pen another gorgeous, heartbreaking tune. Tom Petty has always had a way of pulling on the heartstrings at command, from “Free Fallin'” to “Insider” to “Only a Broken Heart” to “No Reason To Cry.”
On the new Mudcrutch record, he does it again. It’s “I Forgive It All” – simplistic in its melodic beauty, and – oof! – heavy on the subject matter. The lyrics are left open to interpretation. The verses suggest a man at the end of the line, in what respect I’m not so sure. Why is he giving his things to his niece Dora? Prison? Disease? Self destruction?
But the chorus, man… simple, powerful: “I forgive it all / I forgive it all / With her / I forgive it all.”
Sean Penn and Samuel Bayer directed a very interesting video for the tune, which stars Anthony Hopkins taking (what seems like) a final drive from Rodeo Drive to L.A.’s skid row. Before watching this video, maybe listen to the tune on its own (the 1st video below) and let it conjure up whatever images your mind decides..
This is my favorite tune right now off the new Band of Horses record, Why Are You OK?
It’s soothing and bittersweet, and just captures everything I love about BoH. Ben Bridwell’s vocals, his phrasing (e.g. “I had you on the Amtrak / I thought you might like / I thought you might like that”), and the rich deepdown mellow vibe.
The album is co-produced by Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, and is worth every penny/stream/spin.