It was a pleasant surprise when I scanned through the new album releases last week to find a brand new one from John Grant. 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts became a favorite of mine soon after seeing John perform “GMF” and “Black Belt” on Jools Holland. Melodic, electronic, and orchestral pop/rock with an edge. I was taken in..
So in listening to his new release, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, John delivers another album full of his unique twists and turns, electro-sounds, and, shall we say, wholly unique lyrics. Have you ever heard anything near the line:
“And let’s be clear, Joan Baez makes GG Allin look like Charlene Tilton.” ?
Many of you may be familiar with all three personalities listed off in that lyric. But I couldn’t place GG Allin. 40’s movie star? Uhh. No. Not even close. And let me just warn you. If you also don’t know who GG Allin is, think twice before Googling him. And for God’s sake – don’t enter a GG Allin Youtube rabbit hole. You will be sick to your stomach (I was). I’ll say no more.
The line comes from “Snug Slacks”, which veers into Zappa-esque territory with a cool electrofunk twist. Another favorite is “Black Blizzard,” which confirms John’s appreciation for Gary Numan with those synth riffs.
I’m only a few listens in to this record, but suffice it to say it’s a fun, fresh trip worthy of many spins.. Do check it out.
“JM” by Strand of Oaks was written for the late Jason Molina, whom Timothy Showalter – the lifeblood behind Oaks – cites as his biggest influence. I know next to nothing of Molina, and granted, that’s probably a musical fault of mine. But man, does “JM” hit just the right chords with me. The obvious parallel for me, and probably many others, is Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” and Neil’s other tunes featuring those signature Crazy Horse extended and power drenched guitar solos.
If anyone has recommendations on where to start with Molina, let me know.
“JM” comes from Heal, the latest album by Strand of Oaks. It’s one of those albums you can spin multiple times, listen after listen , and find something new every time. Be sure to check it out.
I’m always game for a 10-minute folk tale about wanderlust.. mentions of banjos, chickens, trains, hatchets, black hearts, hotel wives, coffins on the rails.. Yeah, there’s definitely a dark undertone to “The Trip,” from the brand new Dave Rawlings Machine record, Nashville Obsolete. I have deep respect for artists like Dave Rawlings and his partner in tunes, Gillian Welch, in that they’ll include a song like “The Trip” – shirking any expectations, and laying down a ten minute track, with verse upon verse of evocative lyrics interspersed with fiddle and acoustic guitar solos. So many good lines: “so what’s a bullet or two between friends”; “hotel lives and hotel wives, they come and go with the sheets”; “there’s no one waiting for them, there’s no judgment down the line”…
And the recurring refrain with Dave & Gillian’s beautiful and comforting harmonies: “So take a trip wherever your conscience has to roam / It’s much too hard to try to leave the lyin’ at home”
Songs in my head, songs in my head. Always a song in my head. Sometimes it’s an evil infestation – take the song “Cheerleader” for example – where I’m just screwed, especially if it’s the middle of the night and I’m lying in bed. But other times, and most often in my case, it’s a quality tune that I’ve had in regular rotation.
Latest case in point: Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which I just can’t get out of my head lately. Such a great singalong chorus:
I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me, weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’
The simplicity of “Alice….Dallas Alice…”; The imagery it conjures up with its tale of driving the open roads, being “kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet,” and smuggling “smokes and folks from Mexico.”
“Willin'” was written by Lowell George while he was a member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention in the late 60’s. When Lowell went off with Bill Payne and Richie Hayward to form Little Feat, Zappa was instrumental in matching the new band up with Warner Brothers.
“Willin'” has the distinction of showing up not only on Little’s Feat’s 1971 debut album, but also their second one, 1972’s Sailin’ Shoes. They’re vastly different versions. The Sailin’ Shoes version is the one most people are familiar with, and has Lowell’s spoken word verses:
The debut version has Lowell singing the verses (vs. the spoken style), and features Ry Cooder on slide guitar:
Any way you cut it, “Willin'” is one of Lowell George’s masterpieces, and ushered in a flood of funky, soulful, and quintessentially American rock n’ roll music with Little Feat’s 70’s output. The Lowell George Little Feat era sadly ended with Lowell’s untimely death in 1979 at the age of only 34 (a heart attack likely brought on by obesity, drugs and the wear of an unhealthy touring lifestyle).
The music, however, lives on. Treat yourself why don’t you and jump into a Little Feat rabbit hole? Immerse yourself for a while in the LF groove. Start with this great live version from 1977’s Rockpalast..
Yesterday was a looooong Labor Day on the road driving back from good old Telluride, Colorado. We spent a good chunk of the day listening exclusively to SiriusXM’s The Loft channel – the most eclectic and “up my alley” station they offer. Lots of great tunes powered my drive – a lot of them new to me: songs by the likes of James McMurtry, Ula Dara, One Eskimo, and Banditos.
But this new Rickie Lee Jones cut hit me the hardest. Her new album, The Other Side of Desire, came out just a couple months ago. It was produced by John Porter, and Mark Howard, who, combined, have a résume a mile long, including Roxy Music, the Smiths, Ryan Adams, BB King, John Mayall, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, U2, Lucinda Williams – you get the idea.
“Haunted” is buried deep in the album, track 8 of 11. Listen to how it kicks in: first drums & guitar, then vocal, then bass, then keyboards.. As always, it’s Rickie Lee’s voice that helps make the tune – meandering, sweet and unique. The second half of the tune turns downright dark and, well, haunting – with Rickie Lee moaning admonitions about L-O-V-E among the ominous atmosphere of the track.
You better be careful
Or all the bluebirds will stop flying
You better be careful
Or all the stars will stop flying
You better be careful
Or all your dreams just stop dying
You better be careful
Or all your heart will stop stinging
September 25th will bring us Gates Of Gold, the first new Los Lobos studio album since 2010’s Tin Can Trust. On Monday, the boys debuted the opening track “Made To Break Your Heart” on Billboard.com. It’s a gritty, crunchy rock number with Cezar Rojas and David Hidalgo harmonizing on vocals. And wait until the Hidalgo guitar solo explosion at 3:57. Wowee..
Listening to The Epic for the first time – even as a casual appreciator of jazz – was like stepping into another dimension of colors and sounds. Seventeen songs span almost three hours. It feels like you’re traveling through everything that is good about the past, present and future of Music.
Kamasi’s sax, two drummers, two keyboard players, two bass players, a trumpet, a trombone and the occasional vocalists stretch out into mind-bending moments of improvisation, soul, bop, afro-latin jazz, and beyond. What a trip!
Excuse me while I become spontaneously obsessed with the music of Robert Palmer. I’d never forayed much into his back catalog. I knew all the songs everyone knows: “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On,” “Simply Irresistible,” and of course “Addicted To Love.” I’m well familiar with his Power Station days with Roger and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran and Tony Thompson of Chic. I knew about his covers of Allen Toussaint’s “Sneaking Sally Though the Alley” and Little Feat’s “Sailing Shoes” from his ’74 debut album. But I’d never spent any time sitting down and listening to his albums.
Well, that all changed last week when I was surfing through the archives of Rolling Stone magazine (if you’re a subscriber, definitely check it out). I was leafing through September 25th, 1975 article about his then-upcoming second album, Pressure Drop. It mentioned how half was recorded in Baltimore with Little Feat as the backing band, and the other half in Los Angeles with a couple of Little Feat members and a Motown session legend on bass, “Funk Brother” James Jamerson.
Then I started clicking around his discography during those early years, and I noticed the names of some of his collaborators: names like Lowell George, Allen Toussaint, the Meters (his backing band on his debut album), Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Gary Numan, Andy Fraser (of Free), and Chris Frantz (Talking Heads).
So as I’ve sat and listened to these first several Palmer albums, I’ve been floored by the soulful, laid back, funky R&B vibe that permeates them. Of course, with Lowell George as produce of the first record, and Little Feat backing him on Pressure Drop, some tunes are right out of the classic Little Feat playbook (“Here With You Tonight,” for one). But there’s elements of reggae, rock, soul – a nice healthy mixture of different styles.
Palmer broke out commercially in 1979 with “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor), ” from his 5th album Secrets. But it’s those first four albums I’ve been spending time with over the last week. Here are some of my favorites from his first funky four:
The first three tunes from Palmer’s debut album work together as a trilogy – the groove seamlessly flowing from one song to the next. As brilliant of an opening trio as it is for Palmer, it really speaks to the genius of the Meters, who were at the top of their game at this point. With Art Neville on keys, George Porter, Jr. on bass, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, and Joseph Modeliste on drums, the funk smokes through this first nine plus minutes of Robert Palmer’s solo career.
Palmer didn’t shy away from covering tunes (his breakout hit “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” was a cover, after all), and his third record brought about a great cover of “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)”, which has been performed by the likes of Harry Belafonte and the Grateful Dead (a live staple of theirs from 1981 onward, and how I first heard the tune). Once again, there’s a Little Feat connection, with the melodic flourishes of piano man Bill Payne on full display.
Palmer self-produced his fourth record, which kicks off with “Every Kinda People,” written by Free’s Andy Fraser. It’s got a “What’s Going On?”-era Marvin Gaye vibe to it – smooth and easygoing, a steel drum accentuating the chorus.
Unity, harmony, love for one another… It seems like such a simple concept to most of us, doesn’t it?
So I’m off to listen to more of these new/old treats. That’s the wonder of music – there’s always new avenues to explore, new and old, wherever you turn. We lost Robert Palmer all the way back in 2003, but his music lives on.
Titus Andronicus has a brand new album, a 90 minute rock opera called The Most Lamentable Tragedy. While I haven’t had time yet to wrap my head around the entire album – its five acts and twenty-nine songs serving as a metaphor for manic depression – there are moments that jump out, make the ears perk up and the hairs on my arms stand at attention. The first such moment for me came in the form of “Lonely Boy.”
I love seventies classic rock, glam rock, and punk – and in “Lonely Boy”, all three elements seem to meld together. The intro comes right out of the 70’s classic rock playbook (I can’t help but hear Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time”); but then the drums and guitars pick up, and the snarl of singer Patrick Stickles is front and center. The T.Rex bump-and-churn of the song, with Stickles’ irreverent punk delivery just seals it for me.
T.A. is kicking off a tour in a few weeks, including a stop here in Phoenix. In September. God bless ’em. I can attest from their tour following the release of The Monitor(excellent album) that T.A. is one hell of a fiery live act, so go see them.
I can’t quite figure out why it took me this long to see John Mellencamp live for the first time. Like so many other Americans around my age (that’s 45 in a few days), I came to know John Cougar (at the time) from the earliest days of MTV. I vividly recall a road trip to my old hometown in Minnesota over the holidays of 1982, and seeing the “Jack & Diane” video on constant rotation at my friend’s house, along with the other very limited number of music videos at the time. I fell in love with the song, and came to realize over the next few years – as John released hit after hit: “Pink Houses”, “Small Town”, “Crumbling’ Down”, “Authority Song” – that John’s music would remain with me for life.
So for some reason, it took me 33 years (!) from the time I knew I loved his music to buy a ticket and go see him in concert. It was worth the wait.
With his sharply dressed, crack band in tow, John sauntered on stage last night at Comerica Theater in downtown Phoenix and launched right into two blues-based numbers from his latest album, Plain Spoken: “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man”. It was really something to see, with John and the band all dressed in black suits and a black dress for his long time violinist – and the floor lights lighting each of them individually… when John would finish the verse and chorus, he’d take a few steps back while at the same time the rest of the band would take a few steps forward to the front of the stage. It was simple but powerful choreography that shifted the focus to the players – a really cool idea that elicited fist pumps and goosebumps.
But naturally, the crowd really came alive during John’s classic songs from the 80’s: “Minutes to Memories”, “Small Town”, “Check It Out”, “Rain On The Scarecrow”, and of course his biggest hit, “Jack & Diane”, which John performed solo on stage with his acoustic guitar. It was a playful, fun singalong version, with John teasing the crowd for skipping the “Suckin’ on a chili dog” second verse and going right to the chorus. It was one of those intimate moments between performer and audience that you rarely experience – a shared experience with an old tune so tied into everyone’s younger years; most everyone in the crowd thinking back to what they were doing 33 years ago as the song spent 4 straight weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts.
After a nice couple of songs from John’s play, The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County (which opening act Carlene Carter came out to sing), and a short violin/ accordion interlude of John’s tunes, the energy level went through the roof with old favorites ‘Rain on the Scarecrow”, “Paper In Fire”, and especially the final four tunes of the evening: “”Crumbling’ Down”, “Authority Song”, “Pink Houses” and “Cherry Bomb.”
We weren’t ready for it end, and my buddy and I were somewhat shocked when John walked offstage after “Cherry Bomb” and the house lights immediately came on. The crowd was so amped up and ready for more, and let’s face it, how many headlining rock legend shows have you seen without an encore? It was an abrupt ending and somewhat of a buzz kill, as everyone wanted, needed, and expected more. That’s my one “huh?” critique of an otherwise excellent evening.
When all was said and done, John Mellencamp delivered the goods. His voice still in fine form, with all those same moves you’ve seen in videos and performances over the years. It was a treat, and a major music bucket list item checked off my list.
July 29th, 2015
Comerica Theater, Phoenix, AZ
Minutes to Memories
Stones In My Passway
The Isolation of Mister
Check it Out
Jack & Diane (acoustic, solo)
The Full Catastrophe
Away From This World (Carlene Carter on vocals)
Tear This Cabin Down (CC and JM on vocals)
~ Accordion / Violin Interlude ~
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
If I Die Sudden