Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Billy Joel Live At Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, July 9, 2016

I've never been a fan of the large, rock events at baseball stadiums because the band is so far removed from the fans that the best view is on the large video screen that surrounds the stage. It often feels like you're not really watching a live concert. That's even true for those of us with seats on the field.

I remember seeing Paul McCartney at old Veterans Stadium in Philadlephia, sitting in the lower deck seats behind the third base line. The stage was in deep right field so the great Beatle was barely visible. The giant TV screen made me feel as if I was watching a DVD at home.

This year I bit the bullet again and bought expensive tickets to see Billy Joel at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, on Saturday night. My wife and I were seated in the last row of the sold out stadium's field so I was expecting a better experience, but more on that later.

As a musician and showman Joel did not dissappoint. His excellent band nailed the songs and this hall-of-famer's usually pleasing but  irreverant onstage personality shined through all night long. It was evident, despite not releasing any new music since 1993, that he still enjoys playing his distinctively impressive catalog. He trotted out many of his hits and for true aficionados enough deep tracks to make them happy. Among them were "The Entertainer" (Streetlife Serenade), "Sometimes A Fantasy" from Glass Houses, and "Big Man On Mulberry Street" from The Bridge. He also pulled out of mothballs another unexpected pleasure, the ballad "And So It Goes," from Stormfront, a minor hit single that is mostly forgotten today.

Also included was an album track that pre-dates Piano Man that Joel only plays in Philadelphia because of how the song helped his career. A live, radio broadcast from 1971 on the city's formerly influential, alternative, FM station, WMMR, 93.3 on the dial, introduced "Captain Jack" to a wider audience and was the highlight of the radio gig. It helped earn the young singer-songwriter a big time recording contract.

Joel has too many hits to play them all, especially when room is needed for three of his best and most famous album tracks: the classic "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" (The Stranger), "New York State Of Mind," and his other famous ode to New York City, the hard rocking "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)," both from Turnstiles.

Joel interrupted "River Of Dreams" to break into "A Hard Day's Night," a hit by his idols, a famous quartet from England you may have heard of, before returning to his last great song from the album of the same name.

The rest of the evening was loaded with many hits including "Uptown Girl," "Anthony's Song," "Just The Way You Are," "Allentown," "Don't Ask Me Why, "Piano Man," and more, plus all of the big, arena-rock songs that made up his encore: "We Didn't Start The Fire," "It's Still Rock and Roll," "You May Be Right," and "Only The Good Die Young."

Missing were some standards like "She's Got A Way," "Summer, Highland Falls," "The Longest Time," and "Tell Her About It" but in the end, every studio album except Cold Spring Harbor was represented.

It's too bad the volume level muddied the sound to the point of distortion. With the amps turned up to twenty it was often hard to imagine that you weren't at a Black Sabbath concert. This is not what Billy Joel shows should be about and it got me rethinking the whole idea of stadium concerts again, especially when you consider the hefty price tag attached to the tickets.

Despite the one huge drawback the sold out evening was a major event in the city that started America and everyone in attendance, including me, was very much into the whole affair.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Introducing Joe Crookston

Even though folk music is alive and well it's so far out of the mainstream these days that it's nearly invisible to those not actively searching for it. That's sad, because a lyrical talent such as Joe Crookston needs to be heard.

The singer-songwriter has recorded four CDs (one is out of print) and he tours extensively. However, despite his hard work he is quite typical of most coffeehouse performers in that he has only acquired a small fan base.

My introduction to Crookston was a free, eleven song, CD sampler I picked up at a John Gorka concert that contained tracks from those three CDs plus four other songs.

Crookston has a very pleasing vocal style that easily allows the listener to dig deeply into a song and his sparsely but cleanly produced records are a perfect setting for his vocals.

You do not need to strain to hear the lyrics from the Ithaca, NY native but you must concentrate to comprehend them. He writes about his family and the world around him. His work is much closer to traditional folk music than most of the fare offered up by today's more modern singer-songwriters.

Listen to the thoughtful imagery below on "Fall Down As The Rain". It was written in Washington State's Okanogan Forest. Crookston explained the piece in an email. "Hiking in the wilderness deeply connected me to the cycles of life and death and rebirth." He added, "Then on a more metaphorical level I know we are all one and all connected and this song explores the interconnectedness of all nature." Could it be about reincarnation?

"Good Luck John" discusses how we all have both good and bad luck and how each one can be interpreted as the opposite.

"The Nazarene" is about the writer's family, their ordinary and ultimately troubled lives.

"Georgia I'm Here" references Georgia O'Keefe.

The artist generously covers the work of others. All of us need a little assistance and sympathy from time to time Crookston tells us on his version of Mary Gauthier's "Mercy Now." The sampler also includes Peter Himmelman's "Impermanent Things" and a live take of "Texas Blues" by fellow folkie Bill Morrissey.

In addition to being a solo singer and songwriter Crookston describes himself as a "guitarist, painter, fiddler, banjo player, eco-village member and believer in all things possible."

The second video below (not from the sampler) is the result of a project the composer completed recently as Artist in Residence at the Folk Alliance International Conference in February, 2016. He worked with the National World War I Museum to create an original song and painting.

His vibrant paintings can be seen on his website.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forgotten Music: Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne (2000)


Shelby Lynne's fifth album was her first to break away from the Nashville establishment. Anyone who listens to I Am Shelby Lynne, would quickly realize this is the album on which she became the woman who was determined to control her art, her career, and her destiny. This is the set that initially earned Lynne the respect she enjoys today and the reason for this is simple. The disc is as much a blue-eyed soul album spiced with a dash of real blues as it is a country record. It's Dusty Springfield sprinkled with a heaping dose of Bonnie Raitt.

Lynne's vocals make all of these self-penned tunes special. Her voice suits this material perfectly. She can coo like a kitten on "Black Light Blue" or wail like a blues queen on "Life Is Bad." The latter comes complete with slide guitar and a vocal style that indicates she may have considered Raitt a mentor. "Your Lies," which opens the album, sounds just like a 1960s hit by the late Springfield.

"Gotta Get Back," "Thought It Would Be Easier," and "Leavin," are all enjoyable low key R&B songs and the Springfield influence is obvious on all of them. The closest Lynne gets to her country roots is on "Where I'm From," a tribute to her home state of Alabama.

You can definitely hear the seeds of Lynne's Springfield tribute album, Just A Little Lovin' all over this marvelous set.

If you like your female vocalists to offer true emotion without sounding like one of the many melodramatic divas who oversing for a living I Am Shelby Lynne is for you.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Frey (1948 - 2016)

I don't care what "The Dude" said. This one really hurts.

Glenn Frey is gone at age 67, another great musician done too soon. He wasn't old, not by today's standards anyway, but he had a host of medical problems. He suffered from acute ulcerative colitis, pneumonia, and rheumatoid arthritis and the ensuing complications from all of them unfortunately took his life.

I was a big fan of the Eagles and by default, Frey. Not only did I love the early country-rock version of the quartet more than the Joe Walsh era quintet I thought the Eagles' founder was an absolutely wonderful singer. He was the smoothest of the smooth, almost a crooner. In the hall-of-famers' early days he was the man. He took the lead vocals on "Take It Easy," "Tequila Sunrise," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "James Dean," "Lyin' Eyes," "New Kid In Town," and many more.

After the Eagles Frey forged a solo musical career that wasn't nearly as successful or critically acclaimed as Don Henley's, but I don't care because I continue to believe he was the perfect balladeer who could also compose.

In addition to the the originals listed above Frey also wrote a very funny verse for the Eagles' first hit by finishing an early Jackson Browne tune:
"Well, I'm a standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl my Lord in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me."
After his very famous group broke up Frey turned to acting. He guest starred on Miami Vice and took a supporting role in Jerry Maguire.

I laugh at the people who hate the Eagles. I sometimes thought the disdain just became a trendy stand to take among snobs who wanted to show how cool they were by jumping on the hatred bandwagon. You know how some people are. They won't allow themselves to listen to anything that is popular. I'm sure Frey and Henley didn't care because their greatest hits album moved enough units to go platinum twenty-nine times over. Somebody must have loved them.

One of Frey's finest solo works was included in one of my all time favorite films. "Part of Me, Part of You," from Thelma and Louise ranks with his very best Eagles' stuff. You can play it below. It is followed by the Eagles' performance at their Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame induction that included everyone who was ever in the band.

All I can say is thank you for the music Glenn.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Goodbye David Bowie

A lot has been written about David Bowie this past week in newspapers, websites and blogs (He is even on the cover of the latest issue of Time) but you haven't seen anything posted here until now and that’s because I was never really a big fan.

I didn't hate Bowie, I learned to appreciate him more as time went by, but for a long time I just didn't "get" him. Initially, I was put off by his Ziggy Stardust persona and the glitter rock movement in general although I thought T Rex and Mott the Hoople were good bands.

Bowie became a star when I was coming of age and my freshman college roommate instantly became a huge fan of both the Thin White Duke and Alice Cooper at pretty much the same time. We were both big music fans but our tastes didn’t cross paths all that often. I was listening to Yes, most of the Southern California folk-rockers, The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Chicago. Despite our differences we took turns raiding each other's record collection when the mood hit us.

The reason I'm mentioning the androgynous Englishman now is simple. He was always there during a time in my life when all I thought about was music. His passing made me feel old and, as the end of life comes to an ever increasing number of musicians who rose to prominence during the classic rock era, it also makes me feel sad. In the last few months alone we've lost Chris Squire, Natalie Cole, Cory Wells, Allen Toussaint, and now Bowie. (I'm sure I've missed a few big ones worthy of mention.)

The deaths of these famous musicians make me realize how much each generation is culturally alienated from the one that came before it. Most young people don't know many of these artists so I'm not sure how long their legacies will live on. It's a shame most art dies with the generation who created it and the people who grew up with it. Such is the legacy of pop-art, especially music.

WRFY, a radio station in Reading, PA who for years labeled themselves as "Rock Hits Y-102" has dropped the 60s and 70s from their playlist and today advertises themselves as "Y-102, the 80s and beyond."

So, "let's dance" to some Bowie now and, remember, if you are a fan of his music be sure to pass it along to the next generation.