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 just as much of 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 thing to do among snobs who wanted to show how cool they were by jumping on the hatred bandwagon. You know how some people are. They can't stand 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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Raul Malo Live At New Hope Winery, New Hope, PA, December 20, 2015

In an almost two hour show at New Hope Winery Raul Malo proved he is a superb singer and that statement should not come as a surprise. As always, The Mavericks' leader and frontman sounded like a graduate of the Roy Orbison school of vocals and all he needed as accompaniment was the solo acoustic guitar he played quite well all evening long.

Malo showed off his stuff with a nice mix of his band's songs and well known cover versions.

Malo played four songs from his band's most recent album, Mono, including its dynamite opener, "All Night Long." In this setting the song is not the barn burner it is on the Mav's album because there is only so much you can do with one acoustic guitar. The same can be said of "Summertime (When I'm With You)" another upbeat tune with a ska arrangement that is superior when played by the full band on the original album.

Non-originals included a salute to a man Malo was born to cover, Frank Sinatra. He sang a really nice rendition of "Strangers In The Night" that proved he could have been a superb interpreter of the Great American Songbook if he had chosen to go in that direction.

Other highlights included two songs from the star's solo Christmas album, "It's a Marshmallow World" and "Feliz Navidad."

Malo is also a good storyteller who relates to the audience very well. He told us about the time Willie Nelson, who was the evening's honoree at the annual Gershwin Award ceremonies held at The Library of Congress, offered him a joint. Malo said, "When Willie Nelson offers you a joint, you smoke it" despite the fact the library was crawling with people who walked the halls of our nation's Capitol everyday.

Overall, a Mavericks concert would have been a more pleasurable experience. However, Malo is always a joy to hear and his voice couldn't have found a better showcase. The absence of a band meant his singing was the focal point of the concert so his full-bodied, multi-octave range is even more apparent than it is on The Mavericks' busy records. If you had any doubts about the power of his vocals this concert should have erased them immediately.

Monday, December 21, 2015

More Thoughts On The 2016 Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame Election

I paid a lot more attention to the Rock 'n Roll Hall Of Fame election this year far more than I usually do for two reasons. First and foremost is the fact that Chicago, one of my all time favorite bands, was nominated. Secondly, I discovered Tom Nawrocki's blog. He is an official voting member of the hall and a former editor for Rolling Stone so I quickly became interested in his thoughts behind his ballot choices.

Nawrocki voted for The Smiths, Janet Jackson, Chic, Cheap Trick, and N. W. A. He was correct on just two of them. He discussed the reasons behind his choices at Debris Slide.

Here are my thoughts on the five winners.

I find their music repulsive and their behavior often hard to tolerate. Despite the fact they have an extremely small recorded catalog of one full length, smash hit, album, an EP, and a second album that didn't create nearly as much buzz, they deserve to be in the hall because they are extremely huge cultural icons. They not only helped shape the world's musical tastes, they changed society too. It pains me to say that they have become almost as iconic and influential as The Beatles, but it's a fact. So, unfortunately, I would have to vote them in.

I liked, but didn't love, these guys. It's unusual for me to be attracted to a band that often seemed to be a gimmick. I'm referring to Bun E. Carlos's rumpled business man outfit and Rick Nielson's stupid little kid outfit with a beanie. I have to admit that it prejudiced me against them for a long time. Power pop has always been one of my favorite rock sub-genres and as anyone who has read this site for a long time knows my love of The Beatles knows no boundaries. In the end Cheap Trick were well loved and sold enough records to become legends. I may not have voted for them myself but I have no problem with their induction.

Miller's early work, the stuff he released before he took the road to stardom, is better than his hits. Just listen to "Space Cowboy" and "Your Saving Grace" for proof. The man knew how to write a catchy tune and a great riff and he doesn't need to make any apologies for his career. Besides, I can listen to "The Joker" forever. However, to coin a phrase used by someone else (I wish I remembered who it was) it's the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, not the hall of the very good. Steve Miller falls into the latter category.

Some people say Deep Purple invented heavy metal but I never considered them to be a true metal outfit. Even so, they were one of the better hard rock bands to ever put notes on vinyl and rock musicians the world over highly respected them. They only had three top 40 hits. One of them included what may be the most memorable guitar riff in history so they get extra points for "Smoke on the Water." As with Steve Miller, an all-star act but not hall of famers.

From their 1969 debut until Chicago VII in 1974 they were one of my all time favorite groups. The original Terry Kath version of the band still rules. More hits came later but they turned into a very different band that even made Michael Bolton seem like an alternative rock act. The quality of their records waned greatly and in some cases, late in their hit making years, they issued a lot of outright dreck. Nawrocki believed they played their way out of the hall with much of their later work. I can understand his thought process but in the end the original septet gave me too much pleasure to keep them out. Early on, Chicago recorded some of the greatest rock music on Earth so my ballot would contain a great big YES vote for the Windy City's famous horn band.

If I had a vote here are the artists I would have said "YES" to. I already mentioned N.W.A. and Chicago would get my votes. Janet Jackson would get my thumbs up too, not because I'm a fan, I own none of her records, but because she accomplished a lot over the course of a long career. Nawrocki wrote a great explanation for her induction. My other two votes would have gone to another personal favorite, prog-rock's best band and one with outstanding musicianship, Yes. My final vote would have gone to critical favorites (and one of mine too), Los Lobos.