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.
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…
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”
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..
The first time I saw Los Lobos live was August 4th, 1996 as part of the Furthur Festival, launched by Bob Weir and Mickey Hart (two surviving members of the Grateful Dead) the year after Jerry Garcia’s passing.
Along for the short summer tour was Ratdog (Weir’s band), Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, Los Lobos, Hot Tuna, and Bruce Hornsby.
Phoenix was the last stop on the tour. It was August. It was hot. And I was there.
The Los Lobos set sparked a lifetime love of the band for me. The set was only 45 minutes long, but the rich and eclectic nature of the music reeled me in. Rock n’ roll, blues, traditional Mexican, a Hendrix cover, and of course what I came to know as their signature Dead cover of “Bertha” (done better than any band outside of the Grateful Dead).
So I was stoked to come across this short but power-packed set (not to mention it’s a soundboard recording) from that very hot summer day in 1996, and I’m excited to share it with you all.
Los Lobos: an American treasure. And they’re still out on the road. I’ll be catching them again in a couple of short weeks – June 15th at Wild Horse Pass Casino here in the Phoenix area. Life’s too short not to.
August 4th, 1996
Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix
Furthur Festival (last show of the tour)
March 1st is not only day one of my favorite month (I’m in Arizona, so that means Spring Training games, a beer festival, and ideal weather), but it’s also release day for Blessed, the great new album from Lucinda Williams.
Lucinda’s 10th studio album has many folks likening it to a return to form of her stellar ’98 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. I’ve had a few runs through it, and – as always, it seems – I’ve gravitated to the more slow burning, wistful tracks. “I Don’t Know How You’re Living”, “Born to be Loved”, “Convince Me”…
But the true stunner of a tune that stops me in my tracks is the album finale: “Kiss Like Your Kiss”. This love’s done and gone, Jack, and nothing will ever be the same…
There’ll never be a spring so perfect again
We’ll never see a yellow so rich
The grass will never be quite as green
And there’ll never be a kiss like your kiss
That’s only the first verse. It’s a thing of beauty, and may be one of the best songs I’ve ever heard Lucinda sing (right there with “Blue” for me). This song alone is worth the price of admission.
The Blessed version doesn’t include Costello’s co-vocals, and as much as I admire and respect Elvis, the song rises even higher without him. This is Lucinda’s moment, and Costello only dilutes the exquisiteness of it, in my opinion. Just wait till you hear the Blessed version, that’s all I gotta say.
Blessed is another strong collection from a tried and true original still at the top of her game. Top to bottom, it can’t top Car Wheels, but moments like “Kiss Like Your Kiss” elevate it to a level that’s damn close.
Another killer live in-store video from Ameoba Records. Dave Rawlings Machine stopped by for a few songs. In this case, DRM consists of Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and a few friends from the great Old Crow Medicine Show.
You wanna go back to basics for some stripped down vintage American music? Look no further.