Monday, April 8, 2024

David Wilcox Guitar Shopping from What You Whispered 2000

David Wilcox is a more folky artist than I am usually drawn to, but his guitar playing, his mellow voice, and especially his songwriting really shine. He has a way with words that is impressive: sometimes playful, sometimes romantic, frequently insightful, always well-constructed. In his younger days he wrote about vehicles quite a bit. This one's available for streaming, and there's a YouTube of it, so you can follow along if you'd like. 

Guitar Shopping

There's a guitar here in the window
I'd like to play before it's sold.
It's such a classic, mint condition,
Great shape for one this old.
Now all these axes have their stories,
Of the gigs that they have seen
But when this one sold the first time
I was seventeen.

'Course back then I didn't want it
It was way too new for me.
I needed something old and righteous
With its own authority.

So the first guitar I ever bought
Was twice as old as me
'Cause its life was full of music,
As I dreamed that mine might be.

And I played that thing a thousand nights
And traded it away
For something slightly newer
That was easier to play.

But now lately I buy new guitars
They're shiny as a hearse.
I still like the look of road wear,
But the roles have been reversed.
And now this thing is a classic
That I still don't need to buy.
Yeah, the old one's have their stories
But by now,
So do I.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Kelly Willis, Melissa Carper, Brennen Leigh Wonder Women of Country 2024

Three talented country singers, songwriters, and musicians team up to capitalize on their combined talents. And it came out really well. The EP has six songs, including two Kelly Willis lead vocals on songs she wrote, several co-writes by Carper and Leigh, and one John Prine song.

They can all sing, and they harmonize wonderfully. Brennen Leigh is a hot guitarist and Melissa Carper is solid on upright bass. Kelly Willis plays fine rhythm guitar. And they write good songs. I'm a big fan of Kelly Willis myself, but all three have successful solo careers and sound great. Leigh's Fly Ya To Hawaii is big fun, Willis' Another Broken Heart and A Thousand Ways stand with her best work, and Carper's Won't Be Worried Long is a lovely classic country weeper with a positive spin. John Prine's I Have Met My Love Today gets a spare production and beautiful harmonies.

They're touring the midwest, south and even Massachusetts this spring. I know you'll have a good time. CD, vinyl and downloads available.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Lance Cowen So Far, So Good 2024

Every once in a while, an artist arrives fully formed with a perfect debut. This is Lance Cowen.

Cowen has worked for years as a successful and respected Nashville publicist for a wide range of artists and songwriters. He's also written songs on his own and with writing partners, some of which have been recorded by others. And now, in his sixties, we get his first record.

And it is just beautiful. Cowen has a high tenor reminiscent of John Denver (without the treacle) and he is surrounded by a crew of great musicians: Sam Bush (mandolin), Pat Flynn and Mark Elliot (guitars), Andrea Zonn (violin), Pat McInerney (drums), Dave Pomeroy and Jay Turner (bass), Dan Dugmore (pedal steel, dobro, piano), Jim Hoke (accordion) and Julie Lee (vocals). No less than six seasoned producers would seem unlikely to produce a record with a unified sound, but that is exactly what we get.

The sound of the record recalls the late Guy Clark's records. Acoustic instruments, deceptively spare arrangements, clean recording, all with Cowen's expressive voice up front that makes these gems seem like the band is playing live in your living room.

And then there's the songs. Cowen combines the wit and insight of Guy Clark and John Prine, the ability to capture the emotional core like Jackson Browne, and the portraiture of a fine painter. The portraits are some of the highlights. Little Johnny Pierce captures a sixties peace lover that lawnmowers a peace sign into the front yard, Currently Red is a sweetly sentimental biography of a quirky journalist, and Mr. Ben McGhee follows a charming older man into his last chapter.

A trainman more at home on the tracks than anywhere else features in Sound Of My Home. A sweetly kind and humorous portrait of a hoarder is A Place For Everything. So Far, So Good sounds like an autobiography of the solo artist on the road.

And then he writes some beautiful songs of love, heartbreak, and loss. This Heart Of Mine is a perfect song of heartache, and For You is a sweet ballad that is just breathtaking and includes a reference to "the shade of the family tree" that only a great lyricist could write. The Letter (sung by Julie Lee in a fabulous cameo) is a sad lament for a fading long distance relationship.

Finally, Fields Of Freedom is one of the most poignant songs of war I have ever heard. The chorus goes like this: She said “Freedom I feel, It’s the flowers in the field, That no one marches over. Here in the sunlight of a German afternoon, I found a field of flowers in full bloom”.

Sam Bush and Dan Dugmore add color and beauty to everything they touch. They are clearly inspired by Cowen's melodies, which sometimes sound familiar (but not stolen), like a old worn coat. 

Every once in a while, an artist arrives fully formed with a perfect debut.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Raspberries Pop Art Raspberries Live 2017

The Raspberries. Four solid records from 1972-1974, one great "Best Of" in 1976, not long after they called it quits. Over the years they gained respect and admiration as one of the original purveyors of the Power Pop genre, along with Big Star, Badfinger, and a few others. 

Eric Carmen went on to a successful, albeit schmaltzy, solo career, and had hits with All By Myself and several big movie soundtrack songs.

And then, thirty years after the break-up, they reformed in 2004 and continued for a brief tour in 2005. Live On Sunset Strip from 2007 documents that tour's Los Angeles shows, and was released as a single CD with 13 tracks as well as a 21 track 2 CD plus DVD version. It's a solid show, and if you have it, you might not need Pop Art. It's the same tour.

The first night of the reunion was in November 2004 at the opening of the House of Blues Cleveland, and it is that show in front of a rabid hometown crowd that Pop Art documents. Available as a 2 CD, 28 track version and a 3 LP, 30 track (Record Store Day) version that includes two encores, it holds some material not captured at the Sunset Strip shows. There's two songs from the pre-Raspberries band The Choir, including regional hit It's Cold Outside. There's also three well-chosen Beatles covers: Baby's In Black, Ticket To Ride, and No Reply. Of course all the hits are here, but the show also reminds you how many good album tracks filled out their records.

The band is super tight, and augmented by three guitarists/keyboardists/singers, they can do it all to perfection. Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson are in good voice, and the harmonies are spot on. Special mention to Jim Bonfanti, a killer drummer that lights up the set. The recording is good, and there's not too much crowd noise. I'm not a huge fan of band reunions, and many times they can be downright embarrassing, but not this one. They were always an excellent live band, and three decades after their heyday, they were still on top of their game.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Peter Gabriel i/o

After just 31 years, Peter Gabriel issues his follow-up to Up. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the next Peter Gabriel record. If you're a fan, you'll want to hear it.

The songs are generally good, if a little longer than necessary sometimes. Gabriel's voice sounds great. The same excellent musicians he's used in the past are back. There is lyrical depth.The arrangements are interesting. The record is over an hour long and it drags a bit near the end, but that won't matter to most listeners.

I'm not a big fan, but I've liked a lot of his songs in the past. He does this weird thing of delivering the record in two different mixes, a Bright mix and a Dark mix, which don't really sound different enough to merit releasing them both. Given the 31 years it took to make the record, maybe Gabriel just couldn't pick one mix. I recently listened to Paul McCartney's "under-dubbed" release of Band on the Run. Now there's a different mix that is really worth a listen.

The most surprising thing about i/o is that it sounds like the next Peter Gabriel record that would have come out around 2006 if he's stayed on track. And that should come as good news to his fans.

Monday, February 12, 2024

David Bowie The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars 1972

It is a classic. 

The record kicks off with Five Years, the news that the world only has that much time left, and the ensuing melee that the news brings. Bowie speaks/sings the lyrics at first, and the vocal dynamic increases as the song builds. Great opener. Soul Love follows, and is another solid winner with a Bowie sax solo and a hot lead guitar from Mick Ronson. "Love is careless in it's choosing" indeed. After two mid-tempo entries, Moonage Daydream comes rushing out of the speakers, with big guitars and more sax. Alien sex never sounded hotter. Starman presents a hopeful image of the future and a visit from an alien that "knows it's all worthwhile". And lest we forget, "let the children boogie". The solid rock of It Ain't Easy continues the lyrical quest for redemption, and is more big, solid rock. 

The big balled Lady Stardust kicks off side two, and is said to be about Marc Bolan (or maybe Bowie/Ziggy), and Bowie's vocal and the lyrics are striking. Star follows, making a case for becoming a rock'n'roll star, and maintains the overall theme of the record.The uber-glam of Hang On To Yourself is a fast, sexy groupie come-on that "moves like tigers on Vaseline". Then Ziggy Stardust plays as the hero's biography built on a great guitar riff, and compares Ziggy to any number of messiahs, only this one plays guitar left hand and "took it all too far". Suffragette City brings more great guitar riffs from Ronson, sexual lyrics that are both direct and vague, and rocks like crazy. It sounds like a precursor to Rebel Rebel, and contains similarly indefinite sexuality references. The record ends with the big arena ballad Rock'n'Roll Suicide, a fitting coda which places Ziggy in the company of dead rock stars of the day while using a Baudelaire metaphor of life as a cigarette.

It still holds up today. It is arguably one of Bowie's most consistently strong outings both writing and performance. It is the pinnacle of much great work from Mick Ronson. The record is of it's time, but it is also timeless. There probably wouldn't be a glam rock category without this record.

Five stars all the way. Along with Hunky Dory, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, and Blackstar, it is among his best, and maybe even tops the list.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds 2023

I know, it's been out for three months. But I couldn't bring myself to buy it until I heard it, and it took me a while to get my hands on one. I have been disappointed by the Stones any number of times in the past even when the "new" record received favorable press. In fact, most of the time since 1973 I've felt they just weren't making great, or even particularly good, records. I did a career overview not long ago, and as I said then, only Some Girls, Steel Wheels, and Stripped have lived up to their 60s legacy. Don't get me wrong, I think the Stones are a great band, and the records they made between 1964 and 1972 (except Satanic Magesties Request) can stand up to anyone's recorded output, but for almost 50 years they have mostly made less than stellar studio records. 

I can confirm what you have doubtlessly already read about the record. It's good. It's really very surprisingly good. It is hard to compare this one to the classics because it is clearly a modern product, recorded with a slick, clean 21st century sound. 

Several times I have discussed what it takes for a band to get it done. In my opinion, the must-have ingredients are a good singer, a solid drummer, and good songs. And by that standard, this new Stones record easily makes the grade. Mick Jagger is a better singer on this record than I have considered him to be in many moons. He's remarkably invested in being Mick Jagger again. Steve Jordan is a killer drummer, and Charlie comes back to life on two songs, so the drum thing is covered. It's that third ingredient that makes all the difference. These are better songs than Kieth and Mick have managed in a very long time. And they might not be as good as the songs on one of those 68-72 classics, but they get frighteningly close. And they still have two killer guitar players.

There's a bunch of celebrity cameos. It's pretty cool that McCartney plays fuzz bass on Bite My Head Off, but both Stevie Wonder and Elton John add nothing, and Lady Gaga's wailing on Sweet Sounds Of Heaven will have you yearning for Clare Torry. 

None of that matters. The songs are good. Almost all of them. The guitars sound like the Stones, and Mick does a shockingly good angry snotty punk better than any eighty year old should. Did I mention that the songs are good? Angry is a great opener, and Get Close, Bite My Head Off, Whole Wide World and Driving Me Too Hard all rock hard. The ballads Dreamy Skies and Keith's outstanding Tell Me Straight keep the quality up, and Sweet Sounds of Heaven sounds good today. It might not age that well. That's OK.

The Rolling Stones at 80. They up and made a solid record. Go figure.