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
The song is sweet, catchy, and mesmerizing. It got me right from the moment I saw this video on Palladia. I’d never heard of the Apache Relay. They’re from Nashville, and they took their name from a scene in the 1995 movie Heavyweights (co-written and co-produced by Judd Apatow – he’s everywhere).
The video is a good match for the song – random, unexpected, and pretty damn delightful…
Another hat tip to Later…with Jools Holland for introducing me to yet another great act – this time, Baltimore’s Future Islands. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a great track, lush with synth melody. But it’s the antics of front man Samuel T. Herring that make Future Islands very much a visual experience. It’s his lunges, his crouching side steps, his guttural death metal growls… his emotive expressions with each word of the lyric, making the song seem that much more heartfelt… it’s his command of the stage, and his comfort and ease with being, well, weird.
Much respect to Sam, leading the charge. I could watch him all day.
After hearing 1996’s “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)” two or three times at random times over the last week or so – on my iTunes/Spotify shuffle, on SiriusXM – I realized that, to me, it’s the last great Mellencamp tune. Yeah, I know he’s had some quality stuff since – darker, bluesier, rootsier… some of it produced by T-Bone Burnett. But I’ve always favored the melodic, folk/pop-oriented sounds of Mr. Mellencamp – from “Ain’t Even Done With The Night” to “Tumblin’ Down” to “Jackie Brown” and a host of others (can’t forget the quirky Casio sounds of “Jackie O“, which he co-wrote with John Prine).
“Key West” is found on the album ‘Mr Happy Go Lucky‘, John’s first album after his heart attack scare in August of 1994 (at the age of 42). He pulled out all the stops and brought in DJ/dance producer Junior Vasquez to produce the album. There’s still the folk/pop, but with the loops and funkier feel – especially on “Key West.” That’s soul-man extraordinaire Raphael Saadiq plucking the bass on the track too.
As for the video? Yep, that’s Matthew McConaughey (three years post-‘Dazed and Confused’). Outstanding tune. Wistful, pleading, horny, and funky. An ode to that pretty girl who’s just out of reach. The song hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 – John’s last Top 40 song (to date).
I’ll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by Christopher Owens’ debut solo album, Lysandre, released a year and a half ago after his disbanding of the amazing band Girls. Yeah, it had its standout moments (“New York City” being my favorite), but it lacked that immediate spark that made me want to go back and listen again and again.
The tunes I’ve heard from the newly announced album, A New Testament, have me intrigued and eager for the release. And today’s released single, “Nothing More Than Everything To Me” (with its accompanying video below) definitely brought the spark back. It’s a fun, infectious two minutes of pop – bringing a smile to my face the same way “Honey Bunny” and “Laura” did from his Girls days. Sounds like a return to form to me…
I experienced my first Fred Eaglesmith show Wednesday night as Fred’s ‘Traveling Steam Show” rolled through Arizona.
How to even begin? The great music, the between-song monologues that are a show unto itself, the kickass backing band (including the talented and quite lovely Tif Ginn). My face hurt from laughing so hard, and I am still riding a high from that great night of music.