It does my heart (soul, spirit, and general health) good to hear an album like Gary Clark Jr.’s Live blasting through my car speakers on a warm spring day. He’s another Texas Guitar God like my personal favorite axeman Stevie Ray Vaughan. Stevie ignited my interest in electric blues almost 30 years ago and Gary Clark has renewed the thrill of jamming to a mean guitar solo. I saw Gary Clark Jr. play While My guitar Gently Weeps on the Grammy’s Beatles tribute and it was inspirational. I still dragged my feet on buying his live 2-disc set (mostly because I couldn’t find a used copy) until recently and I felt foolish for all the time wasted on other trivial things. Clark’s Live album has everything you would expect from an artist that combines blues and rock but he manages to sound original. That’s a difficult task when you’ve been compared to Jimi Hendrix and play a mix of classic blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Albert Collins. He’s the kind of guitarist I like immediately because I can hear his confidence then I end up loving his music more each time I hear it during the softer moments. It’s those times I hear the pauses and changes of pace that really thrill because it feels like a performer who has the audience right where he wants them. Disc 2 is where a lot of live albums flatten out until the inevitable finale, Gary Clark’s music goes a notch higher and leaves it there until the finale. When I listened to Numb at the end of disc 1, I beleived that song should have been the one to end on it’s amazing. I had that thought again during his cover of Hendrix’s Third Stone, during Blak and Blu and again with Bright Lights. The final song When The Sun Goes Down felt like a pleasant cool down to a bad ass workout. It’s probably not the best tune on the record but it doesn’t matter by then, GCJ has won. Live is the kind of record where When The Sun Goes Down might become my favorite tune after enough listens, there’s not a skip-able tune on it. I keep browsing social media to listen to other live GCJ performances and I like how he mixes up shows and versions of songs found on his Live release. I haven’t bought Blak and Blue his 2012 studio album (can’t find it used either) I want to see how his studio work compares to his live output. My guess is I won’t be drawn to the studio tracks like his live performances, near-perfection is hard to top. In the wake of the loss of B.B. King it’s nice to know that the blues lives on in capable hands.
If I Gazed At My Shoes I’d Fall Over!
Shoegaze bands had a slight foothold during the time between hair bands and grunge in the U.S. and the movement lost its tread quickly and it was replaced by Britpop overseas. The pretensions associated with the artists and the difficulty in digging out lyrics from the heavy waves of sound made it difficult for the average listener. Shoegaze was the scene that celebrated itself. I certainly had no idea what to make of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless when it came out, it sounded like a band that spent too much time fiddling around in the studio to my timid ears. I held on to the record though since a lot of albums I love started out as records I either didn’t understand or just didn’t spend enough time listening to. Shoegaze bands were known for stillness in their stage presence which belied the density of the records bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse and MBV were putting out. About as close as I got to the scene was by listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain who I thought were more pop oriented (i.e. I could understand some of the lyrics) and shoegaze just sounded like one long looping track. In the modern age of easy access I have listened to bands I’ve never heard or caught very little of such as Slowdive, Pale Saints and Swervdriver. I’m enjoying what I’ve heard so far and I’m even a little obsessed with Ride’s Leave Them All Behind. Loveless still sounds like an endless loop to me, but that’s part of its appeal. It feels like a musical journey that’s worth repeating and I am so glad to be filling my ears with music that sounds exciting and vibrant. There’s a mini revival going on , Swervedriver has a new record, Ride is touring and their best of comp OX4 is being re-released that will please listeners who were around the first time, newbies and dunces like me who ignored shoegaze the first time. So here’s to second chances as I dig into a treasure trove of new/old sounds. I guess that’s why I love music so much, it’s a journey of discovery that never ends.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Riviera Paradise
I do not remember the first time I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final track on what would turn out to be his final studio album with Double Trouble, In Step. I loved the record immediately but Riviera Paradise felt like a flat finish to his strongest work. Then I really listened (paid close attention) to it. The slow shimmery build up and beautiful interplay between Stevie and Double Trouble is a revelation, it feels like a real breakthrough between blues and jazz. That’s even more surprising considering the general public wasn’t paying a lot of attention to either forms of music at the time. Stevie’s guitar prowess is present but he so easily shares the spotlight with keyboardist Reese Wynans that it showed Stevie had surpassed being just another guitar hero. This was a performance by a man who had an epiphany and discovered inner strength and put into his music. The songs on In Step are very personal and from my perspective they’ve taken on different meanings over time and I can’t help but associate Riviera Paradise with Stevie’s tragic death in 1990. I think about how he had overcome drug addiction and personal struggles and how he was headed in such a positive direction playing the best music of his impressive career and then he was gone. I wasn’t around for Buddy Holly’s death but this loss hit me the way I’m sure a lot of early rock fans felt when another Texan rock star was lost. I was around when Elvis died and when John Lennon was murdered but music wasn’t part of my life then so it had no effect on me. When I heard Stevie died I felt like one of those moments where the devil was getting his due like when Robert Johnson had his day of reckoning. It felt like someone had to account for this senseless death but there was no way to do it. I skipped playing Riviera Paradise for awhile it was too depressing, I forgot what joy and inspiration was in it. Little by little the song worked its way back into my consciousness and its even a track I’ve used to try to impress girls with by making it the last track of a mix CD. Now in fatherhood, Riviera Paradise takes on far deeper meaning for me. It’s the song I think about or listen to when I’ve been away for awhile and I just want to get home. I hear longing, love and commitment in this piece of music and I also find inner calm. Stevie introduced the song on Austin City Limits by saying it was dedicated to all of those who were hurting and I think it’s music that could actually heal. There aren’t many pieces of modern music that sound like art to my ears but Riviera Paradise feels like it should be part of a museum and not just on the headphones while strolling along looking at other pieces of interest. It’s a subtle work especially compared to Stevie Ray’s other better known songs but it is one that should never be forgotten.
Van Is In The Air
My unofficial boycott of Van Morrison’s considerable discography is over. Movies and television shows have dipped into Van’s large reservoir too often to convey certain moods and feelings to the point I couldn’t put on any of his music. This saturation is understandable since Van the Man makes appealing music that blends everything from Blues to Gospel with some Jazz/Soul/Celtic and other stuff just for fun. His ubiquity in films and television was acknowledged by the release of Van Morrison at the Movies in 2007 which featured 19 tracks and could have gone well beyond. I didn’t need to play his music anymore, it’s the same problem I have with More Than A feeling, Carry On Wayward Son or Wonderful Tonight; all songs ruined by overplay on classic rock radio. I don’t need to hear those songs ever again. Now granted in movies, the whole track usually doesn’t get played and it’s supposed to help move the story along so I get it’s purpose. I just think it became too easy to drop in a Van Morrison tune when maybe a producer or director could have taken a little more time and found another worthy piece of music. Call Quentin Tarantino or Jim Jarmusch they’re both good at it. I’ve started playing Van Morrison albums and I’ve been enjoying them, especially Moondance and Hymns to the Silence. Bang Masters is a lot of fun but Astral Weeks still bothers me. I love it for about half an album’s worth , the In The Beginning portion, than it meanders in the Afterwards. Quadrophenia used to cause a similar problem for my ears between disc one and disc two. I think the jazz influence might be what’s throwing me off like the moments Van scats and moans, I appreciate jazz I just don’t have a very good ear for it. I think I like Van Morrison’s soulfulness more than his mysticism but I can appreciate the blending of the two. You could spend a lifetime just exploring his output and I’d expect there’s a college course somewhere you could probably spend at least a semester on him. Allmusic.com lists 42 albums in his discography and I didn’t bother to count compilations or other records (soundtracks) he’s appeared on. Van’s been prolific but the movies have propelled him since he’s been able to use that presence instead of having to tour the states all of the time, unless you live in New York or California you’re not as likely to see him. I have friends that don’t listen to rock but they enjoy Van Morrison. He’s universal and I suppose we have to deal with the good and bad of Mr. Morrison’s appeal, fortunately there’s plenty of the former. What started this whole post was the beginning of the movie The Hunt which came highly recommended and starts off with, you guessed it, Moondance. The song was used over a bunch of grown men (mostly old and one naked) jumping into a cold lake. This almost ruins my one fond memory of the shower scene from An American Werewolf in London with the lovely Jenny Agutter that uses the same song to set the mood. Well now I’m meandering, maybe I should go put on Astral Weeks again. See you down the road Van, probably the next time I rent a movie or get the itch to listen to Tupelo Honey. Sometimes that the same thing.
The Last Rung
There’s a common thread in the entries I have posted on NROR, they are all about trying to solve a personal riddle. My connection to music is solid and I use that connection to bond with other people with similar interests. I’ve never been one who makes friends easily and sports was always a nice topic to discuss with other guys but my interests in pro sports has dimmed over the years. Seasons run into next seasons and I can’t remember the point to them anymore. I appreciate watching athletes perform amazing feats but I don’t really care who wins or loses. I’ve adapted a similar philosophy toward the music I love, especially rock. It doesn’t matter if the genre wins or loses I just appreciate great performances even if it’s from a musician long past his or her prime. But unlike my casual interests in sports schedules, I do want the next tour/album release season to come around. I’ve been reading a lot of old rock criticism from the big names who made the form legit such as Christgau, Marsh and of course Bangs. Lester makes me laugh as much as he makes me think and I’m fascinated by his reviews that question Rock and Roll’s relevancy in 1970. I would love to know what he would think about where rock stands over 40 years later, he might be okay with it’s position. The old days of grandiose rock Gods that lifted their egos to the heavens and cast a rift between performer and audience still exists but immortality ain’t what it used to be. A big record from an established rock star doesn’t make waves anymore (a tour does though) unless it’s tied to technology or social media. For example, U2’s Songs of Innocence sold only 28 thousand copies in its first week in the U.S. and the band had its worst showing on the UK Albums Chart in 33 years (Wikipedia). Taylor Swift broke the Four million mark with 1989 and she was the last artist to do that since she did it with Red. Social media has shrunk the distance between rock star and fan but it also removes some of the magic that seemed to be the motor that made the rock and roll machine move. It’s difficult for a type of music tied to youth, freedom and sex to age gracefully and a lot of dead legends have cluttered up space for new artists to grow. The music has survived but sinks lower and lower in most people’s minds since after they’ve learned all the essential songs the rest becomes cute novelty. Nostalgia get repackaged with more incentives than a CEO’s golden parachute but it’s still the same music no matter how different it’s presented. Despite all the drawbacks and public lack of interest I still find I crave more of the music that sparked my interest over 3 decades ago and I can’t explain it any better now than I could then. When I find a record or a new artist that has a killer riff or lyrics or even a cool song title I get just as excited as I did the first time I heard Whole Lotta Love. I plan on going to several concerts this year which is a surprise since most years it’s the same old rehash tours in the same old places but this season I crave it like it might be a swan song, a last surge of the old fire burning from within. I doubt there will be another season as active as this one and I plan to enjoy every second of it. I don’t think this last push will help solve my riddle anymore than any album or show ever has in the past but maybe some things are best left undiscovered. Understanding why something rocks your soul isn’t always as exciting as just letting it take over and going with wherever it might lead.
I’m In, Deep!
This quote from Deep Purple’s lead singer Ian Gillan sums up why a lot of favorite classic rock bands don’t play in your town.
Touring the States now is a different kind of thing. It’s somehow kind of out of sync with the rest of the world at the moment. The live venues and the audience’s perception — it’s all that classic rock thing, you know? It’s very difficult to get people interested in new material in America. Whereas the average age of our audience around the world is 18 years old. The energy that we get from them is unbelievable. I think that’s probably one of the reasons that the band is so hot right now. Whereas we come to the States and the average age of the audience is the same age as us!
Read More: Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan: ‘It’s Very Difficult To Get People Interested In New Material In America’ | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/deep-purple-ian-gillan-interview-2013/?trackback=tsmclip
I’m not as old as the fans Mr. Gillan is talking about, I wasn’t even born yet when Deep purple had their first success. I became interested in their music by traveling backwards from Rainbow and Whitesnake and by discovering Hush off of Shades of Deep Purple. My interest in the band has only increased over the years since I feel like they’ve been snubbed compared to other top notch bands such as Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Dee Purple belong in the upper echelon but they haven’t been placed there at least not in the U.S. So I was shocked to learn they would appear at the Ohio State Fair in 2015. The ad I saw that promoted the event also plugged a livestock auction and a Frankie Valli tribute band. (Shades of Spinal Tap) I had to do some research just to make sure this wasn’t a DP tribute band before making plans and buying tickets. The reaction I got from older co-workers who were around for Deep Purple’s Mark I days was mixed. Some of them weren’t interested since Ritchie Blackmore wasn’t involved and others were interested but not familiar with any of their more recent material. Now What? is a great rock record and the success it has had outside of the U.S. proves the band can still be rewarded for a great effort. I don’t know if they believe playing shows in these kind of venues will get rock and rollers to buy something of theirs other than the latest remasters of records they already have owned but I’m elated that they are going to try. I looked up the last time Deep Purple has played in my area and the only entry I could find was when they toured with (A Paul Rodgers-less) Bad Company in 1987, so I am looking at this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Mr. Gillan also mentioned in the article that one of the reasons they’ve avoided the U.S. for the most part is that they don’t want to play the same set list they played back in the 70’s and I can respect that. As far as I’m concern Deep Purple can play whatever it wants, I just want to see them rock!
Fear and Loving from Father John Misty
Joshua Tillman has created two memorable records in an age where it’s difficult for anything to stand out. He has a soulful voice that blends well with his alternative-folk/rock arrangements. He’s been compared to Harry Nilsson which is understandable, I also hear elements of Dennis Wilson and John Lennon in his brutally honest and dark lyrics. His lyrical style welds pleasant sounding words to horrible ones in the same sentence and the effect is chilling but also exciting for the listener. Here’s one example from Fear Fun in the song Misty’s Nightmares 1&2 “On the last night of the Chinese Year I need a warm hand over the water, Ever since I lost mine in the fireworks disaster….” I Love You, Honeybear has more of the same with these lyrics from the title track: “The future can’t be real, I barely know how long a moment is unless were naked getting high on the mattress while the global market crashes.” His idea of love songs are interesting because they give me the same feeling I have when I watch the end of The Graduate. The ominous Sounds of Silence plays under Ben and Elaine’s escape from matrimony and onto a bus going to an unknown but unpromising future. The effect can be a little much for the length of an album but the musical arrangements give each song its own breathing space to keep everything from being too bleak. Tillman is an amazing singer which also makes the songs compelling and I hang onto to every note just waiting for the floor to drop out from underneath. That feeling makes the title of his first FJM record Fear Fun very appropriate but the tone of Honeybear is similar if not more focused on the relationship he has discovered. Father John Misty also mixes the right amount of humor into this dense world which adds a much needed layer of levity, which again reminds me of John Lennon’s work. Tillman is the kind of artist that makes me question how long he can sustain his angst since he has delivered two heavy records, at what point does all of the weight collapse? I also wonder if he finds sustainable love and happiness in his personal life will his future records reflect that or does his pessimistic view of the world keep the outrage churning? Even the packaging of the records has encouraged my interest with FJM since both CD releases are crammed with vivid graphics, fold outs and even a pop up surprise in Honeybear. It feels like a throwback to a time when artists and record companies wanted to say something with the way a record was presented. I haven’t been this intrigued with a new artist in a very long time so I will patiently wait for the answers to these questions and in the meantime enjoy two strong recordings from an experienced artist who has found his voice. As pop music fans, we are all the better for it.
This Could Be The Last Time (I Don’t Know)
I kept reading about how certain bands (The Who and Rush in particular) might be finished playing live for awhile after their anniversary tours are over. My concert going funds are limited so this news added stress to a structure that wasn’t build up to code to begin with, so I have to come up with a plan. The Who do not play in my area (Cincinnati) for obvious reasons so I have to factor in travel expenses and Rush will likely play closer to home. I’ve seen The Who more recently on their Quadrophenia whole album experience and missed Rush on the Clockwork Angels tour. Rush has been rumored to be finished playing live since the first time I saw them over 20 years ago so it’s the boy who cried wolf situation. Neil Peart does have a young family however so as a man in a similar situation I could understand why he would want to stay off the road for awhile. The Who likely won’t tour again soon since they’ve gone out on two major tours in the past few years so I’m leaning toward them. I get nostalgic for the days when I could pick up and go to any show I wanted (within reason, I’ll never be able to afford The Stones!) and have to pick one or two a year. Brian Wilson is also on tour but that would mean a road trip to Nashville which is even more of a logistical problem and he can’t keep going forever either. My wife asked if I wanted to go to the Beach Boys/Temptations show that is playing nearby and I had to explain why without Brian Wilson there’s no reason to go (in my opinion). I explained it would be like going to see Destiny’s Child without Beyonce (most recent pop reference I could come up with on the fly). I also have to factor shows I’d never expected to see, The Replacements are touring this year for crying out loud. The whole last tour moniker seems to be just another marketing tool since retired acts keep coming back (Kiss, Garth, Kiss, Shania, Kiss)but age and health are always factors just ask AC/DC when they had to give retirement from live performance serious thought. But since there’s no feasible way for me to come up with extra cash/time/babysitting and I have to go with one, I’m thinking it’s gotta be The Who, right?
Elton Is Still Standing (Better Than He Ever Did)
I went to see Elton John on his recent “greatest hits” tour and watched a 68 year-old man play with a lot more energy and vigor than most teenagers display. His voice sounded just like it always had and he leaped up from his piano bench after every number to fire up the capacity crowd to receive much deserved applause. The crowd varied in age but still mostly older people attended who would remember Elton in the 70’s when his music was ubiquitous. I have never been much of a fan, I own Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tumbleweed Connection and Greatest Hits Volume I, a thin collection which barely scratches the surface of Elton John’s output. When I became seriously interested in music, Elton was charting with songs like Nikita and I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That which failed to make much of an impression. In concert he skipped about a decade the period between and Sad Songs (Say So Much) in 1984 and picked things up again with Believe in 1995. He wisely stuck to his prime 70’s singles but opened with Funeral For A Friendd which was a dramatic and effective album cut that set the tone for a musical trip down memory lane. The highlight for my wife was during the encore when Elton John performed music from The Lion King which she felt the strongest connection to and I noticed a lot of younger fans perk up during that song too. The most recent song he performed in the set list came from his collaboration with Leon Russell Hey Ahab and nothing from Elton’s most recent work, The Diving Board (2013) made it into the show. It’s absence is another indicator of how the industry has changed. Elton John has more than enough back catalog to tour several times without repeating too much but as a music fan it still feels odd to me that an artist ignores his newest album. To be fair, no one in the audience knew or cared about the lack of new songs and Hey Ahab caused lines at the bathroom so Sir Elton knows the reality of the industry he once dominated. But as the video montage played behind him and showed his past mixed with his present it’s clear that Elton John has other concerns than who is buying his records. He is a father of two children at quite an advanced age I can tell you its hard enough at my age and I’m quite a bit younger than Elton. I felt like I was watching a man who is content with his life and place in the world and when he told the crowd he fed off of our energy I tended to believe him. I wish I could maintain that much energy and enthusiasm for two and half hours. Is it too late to take up the piano?
The Finished Line
Past their prime, washed up, not as good as they used to be. Their early stuff was influential but now they just keep turning out mediocre humdrum just so they can make money or have an excuse to do another tour. They should have broken up after (fill in the blank). I’m talking about virtually every band and the perception that only their past greatness matters, the new stuff just doesn’t compare. One of the reasons I enjoy what bloggers write is their passion for particular artists never wanes. These writers see the value of the whole body of work from the initial groundbreaking albums to the most recent reinvention or comeback work. I personally can see both sides of the equation, especially when 2014 marked the first time that back catalog material out sold new albums. I also believe that no matter how good a classic rock artist’s newest release is, it just doesn’t sound right. Technology has cleaned up the dirty parts of rock which is a big problem but I don’t take it out on the artists. The example I always think of is when people ask me why I go out of my way to see Brian Wilson in concert and bypass The Beach Boys when they play in my own backyard. It’s simple Brian keeps putting out new material and keeps making enjoyable music, Mike Love and friends are an oldies band. Brian is in his 70’s and clearly he has more to say, so does Paul McCartney, Neil Young and many others who are still out their touring with their hits but mixing in newer material. It has to be frustrating since even these artists who have more influence in the world of rock and roll than anyone watch fans run for the bathroom during new songs so they can be back for another Beatles/Beach Boys. etc. classic. Despite the frustration with albums sales and touring these artists still yearn to say something, It can’t be the money or legacy building at this point, those things are secure as can be in this day and age. The only motivation has to be the desire to put out good music since the market for the material gets smaller with each passing year. Age also is a factor since a man in his 70’s is not the same has he was in his 20’s-30’s so songs about sexual conquests are going to be more creepy than cool. Using Brian as an example again he could talk about catching a wave or California Girls as a young man but as an older man he could talk about the loss of his brothers. If anything his more recent music would be more authentic because he lost two brothers, he never was a surfer. When the sun does set on these legends I hope people will remember their “lesser” moments as much as the material that is ubiquitous in our society because even if the whole record doesn’t feel as solid there are always special gems that make the albums worthwhile. Even if the general public continues to ignore the past few decades at least I can rely on bloggers who are keeping the fire going by expressing their passion for an art that might be on its last legs. To quote Sir Paul from That Was Me (2007) “That was me sewatin’ cobwebs in a cellar on TV yeah that was me. The same me that stand here now. When I think that all this stuff can make a life that’s pretty, hard to take it in, that was me. That was me yeah, that was me.