Monday, February 24, 2020

The Unraveling • Drive-By Truckers

I think I'm like many people who finally heard about the Drive-By Truckers as the band that kicked out Jason Isbell in 2008 for his heavy drinking.

It's that kind of back-asswards approach to getting into a band as I started to follow Isbell and then played my way to the Drive-By Truckers and started streaming their albums into my favorites on Amazon. Time after time, I'd be on a trail run with shuffle mode on and I'd have to stop and look at my iPhone screen in the sun and say, "Who are those guys?"

Well those guys are Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley who co-founded the Drive-By Truckers in 1996 in Athens, Georgia. The Unraveling is their 12th studio album. After a couple of listens, I realized it's a sobering album best experienced in its entirety rather than picking a few songs for a 'best of' playlist (which I of course will do in a later blog). This album rails against a 'Trump America' as some of the song titles are literally taken from our current headlines. As one of the Youtube comments say under one of the songs, [if this album is not for you simply] "don't listen." But hey, at least dig the very cool album cover.

These southern rockers are writing their lyrics from their hearts and I'm hearing the message on this very current and downbeat album. I encourage you to give it a full listen.

Here's an insightful review of The Unraveling by Chris Randle for Pitchfolk.

The Unraveling for purchase on Amazon.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sweet Baby James and 50 Years Down the Road

Sweet Baby James, the second studio album by James Taylor was released on February 1, 1970. The photo above was taken by Henry Diltz as a black and white photo promo. Diltz instantly saw that the picture would look great in color and wisely got out his color camera quickly and snapped what would be the iconic album cover after James slightly adjusted his pose.

The first single, Fire and Rain reached #3 on the Pop 100 Billboard Chart and James has been a household name ever since.

My friends and I wore out the grooves on this album. The title song, Sweet Baby James is viewed by James himself as his best song. Personally, it is one of my top ten songs of all-time and I currently have it in the #1 spot on My 100 Songs YouTube Playlist in honor of the album's 50th anniversary.

Here's the Sweet Baby James Album Playlist along with a funny update to Fire and Rain by James and Stephen Colbert.

As for 2020, James has just released his audiobook titled, Break Shot: My First 21 Years: An Audio MemoirI just got a download copy by doing the free 30 day trial on Audible, click here for details. I recommend you take a hour and a half of your life and sit down in a quiet place and listen to this fascinating story mixed with song. I simply loved it!

James' new Album, American Standard will be released February 28th. I've already started the new playlist below with a couple of songs pre-released on Youtube plus a new Jane Pauley piece on James that recently aired on the CBS Sunday Morning TV show. 2/28/20 UPDATE - I've just completed the playlist below this morning!

If you live in the San Diego area, James Taylor and Jackson Browne will be playing the Pechanga Arena (old Sports Arena) on May 29th. James will be touring with Bonnie Raitt for his Canadian shows and then Jackson will join him for his tour dates in the States.

Source - California Beaches, Pismo State Beach - Grover Beach
James is simply timeless. My ol' buddy Paul Hobbs got me listening to Sweet Baby James 50 years ago and I've followed him ever since. Last Friday, Paul and I had a nice run at Grover Beach on the California Central Coast. It wasn't exactly walking on a country road, but we could feel it. Being outdoors with an old friend is the past and present all rolled together in a familiar bundle of emotion and rhythm. The conversation picks up from where you left off the last time together, a 50+ year journey down a road where muscle memory takes over, effortless. Having the time to be with one another again and again is the reward in itself. James would identify and has been a master of telling such stories in song for a long time. I can't wait for the new album.

Note - I will complete the American Standard Playlist shortly after the February 28 release date.

Here's some Liner Notes for American Standard by James.

And, if you got some kids or grandkids hanging around, buy this pop-up book of Sweet Baby James to explore and read together. I believe my personal copy will be a real collector's item among the kids I hang with long after I'm gone to think about such things.

So goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rockabye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go down in my dreams
And rockabye sweet baby James

2/28/20 Update -  American Standard Album Playlist

Source - Henry Diltz, Morrison Hotel Gallery

Monday, February 10, 2020

Van Morrison, Keep Me Singing

My first thought about writing a blog about Van Morrison was that I was not going to include, Brown Eyed Girl or Moondance in my playlist this week. The reason, most people only know these two songs because they fall into a category I wrote about in a 2015 blog called, Great Songs Ruined by RadioBut, I also realized after spending a week on this week's playlist that the average Van Morrison song is over four minutes long and that's the round peg in the square hole known as AM/FM radio programming. For example the average current 'Classic Rock' radio listener doesn't know the 1972 Van Morrison hit, Tupelo Honey" because its 6 minutes and 55 seconds long.

Van Morrison is so much more than a prolific songwriter and musician, who at 74 has released 41 studio albums! His loyal fans know him as, "Van the Man" the master of many genres. Van Morrison born in 1945 is in the sweet spot of time of being a worthy representative of the greatest generation of songwriters and performers in the history of modern music. So putting the playlist together this week was a daunting exercise, as I should have started it before last week. So, if you are a loyal fan, let's just call this, "a good start mix" of 50+ songs. I have also included this screenshot from the Van Morrison Wikipedia of  his very impressive discography.

This past Saturday night, I got to see Van Morrison live for the first time at his January 31 - February 8th residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The Colosseum is a fantastic venue and I picked it especially to see my first Van Morrison concert because of the theater's outstanding acoustics. The building and the man did not disappoint, not to mention Van's outstanding band which unfortunately (and a pet peeve of mine) did not get introduced.

Van is an interesting (okay, eccentric) guy. From the show's promotional picture above, you'd think he had just come from his best friend's funeral. As his legend of fans will attest, when you go to a Van Morrison concert don't expect him to be smiling and interacting with the audience. Van is all work, and man this guy loves his work.  His "Celtic Soul" is a thing of beauty to listen and watch live. Van literally takes two seconds between songs and motors through 16 songs in a hour and a half.  For most artists this would normally be a two hour show. During the show, Morrison reminded me of Bob Gibson, the master on the baseball mound and one of the fastest working pitchers, moving from one pitch to the next within seconds.

In doing the playlist this week, I was struck by the YouTube comments because usually that's something best avoided by those that actually take the time to push 'thumbs down' on a song. But, the comments for Van are almost 100% positive. Van Morrison simply touches people deeply.   His music has such a spiritual quality in lyric, melody and beat that people have written how a song literally saved their life during a very dark time.

Oh, and I decided to include Brown Eyed Girl and Moondance in the playlist because of course he had to include them in the show. The crowd went absolutely crazy on these two songs and on the encore, Gloria. Really what do I know, nothing... but you'll get the jazz versions here because Van's sax and voice did the soulful talking last Saturday night. Enjoy my friends!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Mavis Staples, just another soldier in the army of love

Rick Holmstrom & Mavis Staples • photo MK McIntosh
On January 16th, Mary Kit and I got to see Mavis Staples and her band perform at the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Edmonds, Washington. At 80 years of age, she commanded the stage like the gospel, R&B, soul and rock 'n' roll road warrior that is Mavis Staples.

Mavis started singing with her family at eight years old, and when you times that singing experience by ten, one gets to witness a rich full-bodied voice with the heart warmth effect of a finely aged glass of bourbon.

Combined with Mavis' powerhouse voice is her hybrid rockin' soul band lead by Rick Holmstrom's mastery on Fender Telecaster guitar along with bassist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges, and backup singers Vicki Randle and Danny Gerrard. Lordy, this band will take you there!

Mavis' career as a lead singer starts when her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples forms The Staple Singers as a gospel group in 1948, along with sister Cleotha and brother Pervis. In 1969, Pervis gets drafted into the army, and sister Yvonne joins the Staple Singers to give the group it's classic line up with Pops and Mavis trading lead vocals, and Cleotha and Yvonne as backup vocals. From there the group evolves and transcends gospel to crossover into contemporary R&B and Soul, not to mention their heavy activism in the civil rights movement in the 1960's.

The Staples Singers who previously had many hits on the gospel, soul and R&B charts broke through on the pop charts and hit #12 in 1971 on the Top 100 Billboard with Respect Yourself and in 1972, their smash #1 hit,  I'll Take You There. It is during this time that I began to love the Staples Singers and thought Pops Staples was possibly the coolest dad anyone could ever have. Pops born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi moved his family to Chicago in 1935 for a better life and worked in the stock yards, did construction work and the steel mills; all the while honing his unique Telecaster guitar skills and evolving The Staples Singers sound. Think of Pops as the creative force starting with his family performing at church services in the 1950's to arenas and stadiums across America in the 1970's. Along the way, Pops became good friends with Martin Luther King and Mavis herself became a lifelong champion for social justice.

What you have to love about Mavis performing today is her inherit faith and belief in people to do the right thing. Her music message of 'love and trust' still resonates in our current times as it did back in the day. Mavis is still on the Freedom Highway and as she says in song today, "We got work to do."

For my playlist this week, I mixed in some Staple Singer favorites along with Mavis's solo work mainly with Rick Holmstrom who I've now become a new big fan. You can see why Mavis and Rick just click together as Rick plays his own unique version of Pops style of Telecaster Rhythm and Blues with rocking country sensibilities. Together this pair and band create a very current Americana vibe that just must be seen live. Long live Pops, Mavis, and The Staple Singers!

Resources - 
Rick Holmstrom on Pops and Mavis Staples, Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal, 2011

Forgotten Heroes: Pop Staples, Michael Ross, Premier Guitar, June 23, 2015

Music Interview: Mavis’ Man — Guitarist Rick Holmstrom on Backing Mavis Staples With Taste and SpaceNoah Schaffer, the art fuse, January 29, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2020

Art Garfunkel, a voice for the ages

Art with son James on tour together
On January 9th I got to see Art Garfunkel at The Magnolia in El Cajon, California. Artie, now 78 was well received by an adoring crowd who mostly ranged in age from 60 - 80 years of age themselves. One quickly realizes that this is going to be a 'memory concert' in that the audience is going remember Art Garfunkel's younger angelic singing voice while experiencing the current man, walking in with a severe limp, but trademark wrinkled white shirt, black string tie and vest.

I've actually put off this blog a couple of weeks before I wrote it this morning, because I try not to write anything negative about an artist, especially my musical heroes who are mostly all in their mid-70's now. I found a review from July 25, 2019 by John Mosier that describes my feelings of the show as he tells it with grace and respect- REVIEW: Art Garfunkel’s talent at Easton’s State Theatre is diminished, but seeing him’s still a good thing.

In July 2010, Simon and Garfunkel had to quit their upcoming tour at the time because Artie developed vocal cord paresis. Later that year, Garfunkel explained that he had recently quit SMOKING, and his voice was getting better, what?

Well, I have a thing about SMOKING. It killed my father in 2014 and I'm still pissed about it. For my father's generation and the children born in the 1940's, everybody smoked. That includes almost all the great singers from World War II on. That kind of pisses me off too, because the effects of long-term smoking kills those wonderful singing voices before it actually kills the wonderfully talented people themselves. Okay enough said, just had to get that one off my chest.

One of my outstanding memories of the concert, was actually the woman in her 70's sitting by herself, next to me. At several points during the concert (like The Sounds of Silence) she leaned in, her hands clasped together and smiling face, seeing the man himself with that voice, sing that song. She gave me the perspective I needed and said to me after the show, "Artie doesn't have quite the voice he used to, but still has the passion to sing like he used to."

That was all I needed, and would concur, seeing Art Garfunkel sing is still a good thing.

Here's my Art Garfunkel playlist to start a mellow Monday.

Monday, January 6, 2020

When I'm Sixty-Four... some reflective thoughts

When I'm Sixty-Four

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me,
will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four

You'll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck and Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four
–Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney wrote When I'm Sixty-Four when he was sixteen years old in the 1950's. It's an idyllic projection that he actually lived with wife Linda if not for her early death from cancer. It is also an early expression of love experienced in his own family upbringing and tapped into as a budding genius storyteller.

Paul would sing the song in early Beatle gigs at clubs between sets, or when some equipment broke down and the band had to stop for a bit. The song was recorded in 1966 for the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album when Paul's father was sixty-four. Another fun fact, Paul's kids surprised him on his own sixty-fourth birthday with their recording of the song with altered lyrics. But the ironic fact that stands out for me was that when Paul was sixty-four, he had separated from second wife Heather Mills and later divorced, or as the English say, "a fine kettle of fish."

This past year I turned sixty-four, and as I write this (on January 2) it's my lovely wife, Mary Kit's sixty-fourth birthday! On this day, we'll be living Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

Life is such a mixed bag. When you reach sixty-four years of age, you've lived through some fantastic, good, bad and even ugly times.

Here's a 2020 random ying yang stream of thoughts to my wonderful wife and extended to anyone who's hit the sixty-four mark and beyond.

You're Sixty-Four (+)

Empathy supersedes sympathy.

You used to be the youngest person at a meeting. 

"Until death do us part" has probably been officially said to you at least a couple of times by a minister or justice of the peace. Also, there were less people there the second time.

Ya go ahead and put it off, no rush.

In the 1950's or early 60's your mom or dad had to hit the breaks and then put out their arm to stop you from flying from the back seat and into the front dashboard or glass.

Grandchildren on your knee

'Surreal' is such an overused word by people who are being interviewed on TV.
The experience was NO dream or fantasy, shit gets real!

Some of your heroes in youth turns out were not heroes at all,
some even went to prison, some need to be.

You shout, "Putin pinko commie asset" at the TV,
while some old fart suddenly loves the Russians.

You get together with friends and talk about 'aches and pains' like it's an art form.

Insurance commercials must be banned from television. 
You miss The Marlboro Man in sweeping vistas and the theme song- 
(Elmer Bernstein's score for The Magnificent Seven "dum, da-da dum")
–minus the cigarettes.

Every summer we can rent a cottage

You now have a personal trainer.
No no, not a real person but a free iPhone runner's app with the synthesized female dominatrix voice, yelling, "faster faster!"

No regrets.

Remember rushing to finish writing assignments in school. Finishing was the only reward.
At some point editing became a friend, and the process a life-long reward.

The circle of life possibly now has you looking after your parents.
Work to keep the bond with your siblings and family strong.
In twenty or so years from now, you'll be where your parents were.

Pop quiz - Beemans, Blackjack, Clove - What are they?

Get off the concrete and asphalt and walk or run in nature.

You've been involved in a major accident, and lived to tell about it.

You don't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks about you. Anyone.

You watched the first SNL live.
44 years later, Eddie Murphy on SNL made you laugh through every sketch.

The Rolling Stone's recent No Filter Tour is the best name ever for a rock 'n' roll tour.

"Those kids are just standing on our lawn?"

Team Tortoise - slow and steady for the long run.

Tears now come like rain.

"Everyday is Saturday, and if not Saturday, Sunday."
(thanks Jimmer for that one)

At some point, you thought Don Henley was writing about you.

You can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand, hold that hand.

Up at 4:20am for no reason on God's green earth.
If you're up because you have to go to your day job, hang in there,
there's a light at the end of the tunnel; or as Mary Kit would say-
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel as long as it's not a gorilla with a flashlight."

You're a close friend to your children.

John Lennon sang, "love is real." He should have added, "but sometimes illusive."

You've had a major medical condition, and you're still here.

Ok, when does the wisdom thing kick in?

A smiling child yells, "Grandma" or "Grandpa" and they are looking at you.
The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well 
is that they have a common enemy. –Sam Levenson (thanks Bill for that one)

Life's a three act play.
The third act just started right after you got up to go to the bathroom.

Someone has taken credit for your work.

Elderly people who lived through World War II now have to watch some news report of some dumb ass kids at some picture ceremony giving white supremacist signs and the Hitler salute.

You watch young children play and think what a wonderful world!

You can't prove or disprove that there is a God,
but at some point in adulthood you realized that rock 'n' roll saved your life.

Vaping is... hilarious to watch.

You've lived to see Science in the USA treated like it's astrology.

Every hit song that you've ever loved on the radio has been turned into a TV commercial.

Friends have died.

In the 20th century, you thought recycling was the answer.
Today only 9% of the world's plastic is actually recycled.

The 'blended family' is now just, family.

You grew up wanting to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. You've done that.

As Billy Joel said, "We didn't start the fire." Our children think we did.
Greta Thunberg knows we did.

You've made When I'm Sixty-Four your new ringtone or ringback tone. This will last for only a few weeks before you go back to a standard iPhone tone.

Fuck cancer.

Giving exceeds receiving.

Back in the day, you've woken up on a friends dirty carpet with all your clothes on, and now wouldn't dare sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag. Camping!

Somewhere long ago you actually paid 25 cents for a gallon of gas.

You go to Las Vegas to see The Beatles' Love at the Mirage,
 like it's a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Be a light for someone.

Roger Daltrey now hates people smoking dope at Who concerts.
Times change, but The Who still sounds fantastic live.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you were told at school by your teacher.
You cried- if not at school, some place where no one could see you.

Keto smeto - I'm not giving up pizza!

You've held her hair back, or you've rubbed his back...
while bending over the toilet and hurling Boone's Farm and Cheetos.

Opportunity and choice are the greatest gifts you can give a young person.

I miss it when someone doesn't initiate and say, "good morning" when you pass and you're the only person around. Or you initiate, "good morning" and they ignore you and just walk on by.

We shall scrimp and save

You don't put your head under water at the pool or ocean, c'mon man!

The weight is always there, it hangs like a dark cloud, but dammit you're really happy.

The maturation of hair loss on the top of head to then sprout like spring weeds in your nose and ears is just a cruel joke.

Create, express you passions.

A New Year's resolution is just a cheap setup for a fail. Actions not words win the day.

Houdini said that the hardest thing for him was to get out of bed. You love your bed.

Email title in my Inbox- Domino's Stuffed Cheesy Bread is calling your name.
"hey, Fat Ass."

You're on your third impeachment, however experience tells you this one is completely different. You realize we are living in an epic historical period in our government while many seem oblivious to the challenge to our democracy. You're watching and talking to people of reason, stay vilangent.

Got to have a current project going. After that... onto the next project.

Listen to music like you did in your 20's.

Pay-per-view turned out pretty well. You never realized there would be so many good stories coming out of your flat panel television.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

You're in a position where you don't have to work with assholes.
 If you are, at least you have an exit strategy.

You've had injuries and walked down that lonesome road all by yourself.
You've eaten orange slices with 7,000 people after the finish line.

A long time ago, a friend put a condom under the faucet
and filled it like a water balloon to show you it wouldn't explode.
BTW, have you seen those water balloon kits for kids at Costco, pure genius!

You know religion, you know spirituality.

Think of retirement as a set of retread tires, 
you've got new tread on old tires for the road ahead.

Walking is one of the essential keys of life- walk, walk, walk.

Your spouse says at the restaurant,"Don't tell them it's my birthday."
Mine for evermore

Your grandchildren play the song below on Alexia to you over FaceTime
while singing and dancing.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid - Music and 50th Anniversary

For my last blog of 2019, I'm going back to the 1969 well to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite movies of all-time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, released October 24, 1969.

The film won four Academy Awards: Best Cinematography; Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical); Best Music, Song (Burt Bacharach and Hal David for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head"); and Best Original Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Sound. Wikipedia

As kids in high school, my friends and I would reenact favorite scenes over and over as it instantly became our favorite western. The John Wayne torch of the Western had moved over to a new generation of movie fans that would champion new Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman in 1970. 

I think what completes this perfect movie of script, cast and direction is Burt Bacharach's music. The score is a masterpiece that breathes so much life into the action and cinematography. For me the highlight of the soundtrack is the South American Getaway montage with Newman, Redford and Ross robbing banks and avoiding the Bolivian soldiers. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a quality video of the sequence but the audio track is classic Bacharach pop that should just take you back to the 1960's and start your Monday Monday with a little pep in your step. 

Here is the soundtrack on Amazon Music.
Here is the soundtrack on Spotify.

Here is the soundtrack on YouTube along with some selected clips from the movie that made us all want to play and be this trio on the big screen.

Note - The video for Come Touch The Sun is not part of the movie, but thought it added a nice visual touch to the audio soundtrack.

Monday, December 23, 2019

My Favorite Songs of 2019

I'm just an album guy at heart. If I like an artist or band I tend to like more than one song on the album. So it's really about my favorite albums of the year, and the 100 songs I have chosen here are mostly grouped with at least two or more of what I think are premium cuts of songs from the same album.

My favorite song of 2019 is There Goes My Miracle by Bruce Springsteen from his Western Stars album. Bruce once said that with his plain voice and looks he better be a damn good songwriter if he was going to make it in the music business. I think his vocals have actually improved over the years as Bruce works so hard in everything he does. His vocal on There Goes My Miracle got the hairs on the back of my neck to attention the first time I heard the song. I think the song's a masterpiece of writing, arrangement and a simply fantastic vocal that drives the emotion of the song.

Another song that got me literally tinkling with pure joy was Street Song by The Who from their just released album, WHO. Street Song is an instant classic in my mind because Pete Townshend throws in a little bit of everything that you would associate with the sound of the band in the 1970's. Roger Daltrey's vocal is outstanding, but the thing that brought tears to my eyes when I first heard it (very loudly in my earphones), was Zak Starkey's (son of Ringo) drumming. Zak doesn't imitate his godfather Keith Moon, but the spirit of Keith just came back like a wave through Zak's drumming! Keith Moon is in fact my favorite drummer of all-time because of his unique double tom-toms sound that just rolls like no other in rock. In the 1970's, you could be in any car with crappy speakers and a song from Who's Next would come on the radio and you could hear Keith's drumming just like it was making the car hum down the road.

2019 goes down as the year the 'California Sound' made a comeback. Composers such as Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb come to mind that hark back to a time and sound of great songwriting combined in pop with sweeping orchestrations and in rock 'n' roll with great harmony and electric guitars blending with acoustic guitars.

In Western Stars, Bruce embodies Bacharach and Webb and channels Wichita Lineman. In the folk rock documentary, Echo in the Canyon, Jakob Dylan does a similar exploration of groups like The Byrds as the California Sound evolved from beach music to folk rock. Both albums are peppered through my favorites playlist this year.

I have to mention, Dan Auerbach. First for his producing Yola Carter's Walk Through Fire a vocal tour de force by the young British singer-songwriter. Her song, Lonely the Night takes me back to mid-60's English pop like Dusty Springfield and is a must listen. Second, Dan reunites with Patrick Carney and The Black Keys to make a great rock album also featured here and aptly titled, Let's Rock.

Album making is hard work combined with the talent to pull it off. It's a special magic to write, sing, play, and produce 10 or so songs woven together as an album and out into the world. A good album is a great find, a great album is a treasure for life.

So here's 100 songs I really liked this year and mixed together to represent some good and great albums by some fine rock 'n' rollers and Americana musicians in 2019. Enjoy my friends and here's to more great music in 2020!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Hey, the 70's called and want you to listen to some lads in their 70's

The Who's twelfth studio album, WHO was just released last week but you would swear it was straight out of the 1970's. Roger Daltrey at 75 still has his vocal chops and is a model for how to take care of one's self. Pete Townshend at 74 still has his songwriting, singing and guitar chops, and together these lads just made a fan pleasing classic album to go with their current tour.

I finally saw the band for the first time on their tour stop in San Diego this year, and this album will just keep The Who selling out arenas until they say, "WHEN." This just might be the best rock 'n' roll album of the year as I'm picking songs right and left here to include on my year ending blog, My Favorite Songs of 2019. I've got both a Spotify and YouTube Playlist of the new album.

WHO (Deluxe) on Spotify

Next up is almost 72 year old (Dec. 30th) Jeff Lynne and his band now updated from ELO to Jeff Lynne's ELO. Jeff wrote every song and plays every instrument (minus the orchestration) on the new album just released in November, From Out of Nowhere. Much like the new album title, ELO is back with new material to keep the fan base rocking on tour that I caught for the first time this past June at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Jeff Lynne just blew me away at this show with his voice preserved like a 1970's time capsule that continues to blast off on this new album. I saw a lot of bands and solo acts in 2019 (including Paul McCartney) but I have to say, Jeff's performance at the Honda Center had the highest sound quality production of any live act I heard in 2019. This new album will take you back and forward at the same time.

Here also, I've got both a Spotify and YouTube playlist of the new album.

With these two new 2019 releases, these rockers all born in the 1940's continue to prove why they are part of the greatest generation of Rock 'n' Roll.

From Out of Nowhere on Spotify

Monday, December 9, 2019

Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed - 50th Anniversary (2019 Remaster)

I first heard Let It Bleed on friend and childhood next door neighbor Ron Zieman's bedroom record player. I recently recall him saying, "I wore the damn thing out."

Fifty years later and on this spin of the digital turntable, two things stand out. One, Keith Richards playing almost all the guitar parts because Brian Jones was so far gone that the Stones had to kick him out of the band in June, 1969. Brian was found dead in his swimming pool less than one month later.

Jones and fellow guitarist Keith Richards developed a unique style of guitar play that Richards refers to as the "ancient art of weaving" where both players would play rhythm and lead parts together; Richards would carry the style on with later Stones guitarists and the sound would become a Rolling Stones trademark. Wikipedia

The second, is my respect for the craftsmanship on ALL the songs beyond the hits. The Rolling Stones idolized the Blues and the men and women who created the genre. I was listening to a live song by B.B. King on tour with the Stones the other day on Amazon. King says in the intro before the song that he wanted to thank the Stones for having him open for them, because "without the Rolling Stones you wouldn't be listening to B.B. King." Sometimes this world is just ass-backwards...

The new Let It Bleed 2019 remaster on YouTube is outstanding! Take a little holiday time on this one, but don't forget to go back to my Christmas Mix 2019 - Going Home. Baby gimme some shelter!

Our ol' pal Ron is currently visiting his father Ray in Rochester, New York. Happy Birthday Ron and Merry Christmas to you and your family and stay warm by the fire.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Christmas Mix 2019 - Going Home

This is the 5th anniversary of my Christmas Mix Playlist! I've linked all the previous mixes right here, so you'll be covered for the holidays. As always, my Christmas Mix is a blend of traditional and non-traditional music because after 60+ years of listening to Bing and Nat, ya gotta mix it up.

I remember Paul Simon talking about the song Kodachrome many years ago and his inspiration for writing the song was not photography but rather the sound of the phrase 'going home,' now say, "Kodachrome," and there's another hit from Rhymin' Simon. If there ever was a color film for the holidays, it was Kodachrome. It was my film of choice until this digital stuff took over...

One of the central themes of Christmas is in fact, going home. Children have Santa with all the presents under the Christmas tree, but adults get a holiday theme too- the loneliness, and/or longingness to be back home with family, friends, and possibly that one person you love more than anything.

Since vinyl records became popular in the 1940's, songwriters have created countless hits using the 'going home' theme. In 1943 and in the middle of World War II, Bing Crosby's hit, I'll Be Home For Christmas was written for the soldiers longing to be home at Christmas. It remains today a Christmas standard sung by countless singers that still can elicit tears... I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

McKee Anderson DeVoe
Here's a current shout out to McKee Anderson DeVoe who just graduated from Marine Boot Camp down here in San Diego at MCRD and is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton. Mary Kit and I attended the ceremony with his proud dad Bill and his family, and we all wish him the best in the days, months and years ahead as a proud Marine!

This past week I headed up the coast to my OG hometown, Santa Maria, CA. I spent Thanksgiving with my mom, brother and sisters in the house we all lived in growing up. It was nice for all of us to be back together again under the same roof on Tunnell Street. I'll be home for Christmas this year in San Diego with my girls and grandkids. I cherish everyday with all my family spread out across California and Washington.

Happy Holidays to all , and may your days be filled with good spirits and cheer wherever you are!

Also, a very special Merry Christmas wish to Ray Zieman who is in his 95th year and truly one of the finest human beings on the planet. Ray spent his career at Kodak and did some incredible top secret work with the military for Kodak at Vandenberg Air Force Base to keep our country safe. Merry Christmas Ray, Ron and Retta too!

Yesterday's sunrise on the mystical 'Ventura Highway' just out of Santa Barbara, going home to San Diego.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance

Thanks for the Dance is Leonard Cohen's fifteenth and final studio album and one that will probably grow on you the more you hear it. It was just released on November 22nd, a holy day for millions since my childhood, and maybe a fitting date for Cohen's finale. It has been a labour of love from son Adam Cohen who has been working on this project before and since his father's death in November, 2016.

Leonard Cohen is a perfect example of why music never stops teaching one about life. Like food and drink, your tastes change, blend, and mature. I don't remember the first time I heard a Leonard Cohen song, but as a young teenager probably would have said, "a droning poet."

I believe I have a memory of seeing Cohen's first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen thumbing through Paul Hobbs' album collection but don't ever think we listened to that one on his record player. Paul was and still is light years ahead of me musically and probably would have had that teenage listen with fellow friend Jeff McCarthy as together they would have appreciated Cohen's songwriting prowess as young lads.

Like fine wine through the years, I find Leonard Cohen's words and music to be wonderful, his voice a treasure of expression and experience. Give Thanks for the Dance a good deep listen in this week of reflection, and Happy Thanksgiving my friends.

Moving On

I loved your face I loved your hair
Your t-shirts and your evening-wear
As for the world the job the war
I ditched them all to love you more

And now you're gone, now you're gone
As if there ever was a you
Who broke the heart and made it new?
Who's moving on, who's kiddin' who?

I loved your moods I love the way
They threaten every single day
Your beauty ruled me though I knew
Twas more hormonal that the view

Now you're gone, now you're gone
As if there ever was a you
Queen of lilac, queen of blue
Who's moving on, who's kiddin' who?

I loved your face I loved your hair
Your t-shirts and your evening-wear
As for the world the job the war
I ditched them all to love you more

And now you're gone, now you're gone
As if there ever was a you
Who held me dyin' pulled me through
Who's moving on, who's kiddin' who?
–Leonard Cohen, Moving On

Monday, November 4, 2019

Echo in the Canyon

Rickenbacker 360-12 Electric Guitar
 So I finally got a chance to see the Andrew Slater documentary echo in the canyon (2018) starring Jacob Dylan and just released this past week on Netflix and linked here.

This documentary has gotten a few harsh reviews, as notably Joni Mitchell is not even mentioned, even in the context of the California Sound evolving from surfing and car songs to more socially conscious and interpersonal songs. For god's sake, as a Laurel Canyon resident who released Ladies of the Canyon in 1970 she (and The Doors) deserved a little shout out here. Also the overuse  of clips from the 1969 art film Model Shop as Slater's and Dylan's inspiration for the documentary is annoying but is easily put aside.

With that said, this 1 hour and 22 minute doc has plenty of great clips of its own as you get a snapshot of the the mid to late 60's in Laurel Canyon with some of the famous musicians who lived there and some famous musicians who didn't. My favorite was getting to watch Tom Petty talk about music one more time as this was his last recorded interview. The beginning of the film with Tom is a fantastic hook that for me is my ultimate sweet spot of Monday Monday jingle jangle 60's rock 'n' roll and my original inspiration for writing this blog. For me, learning anything new about three of my all-time favorite bands- The Mamas & The Papas, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield are gem pieces to the rock 'n' roll puzzle for those of us who just can't get enough of this stuff. Man, to have a time machine and be a young adult in Laurel Canyon and on the Sunset Strip in the mid-sixties, would be...

Here's several key elements that make this film 'a must see' that covers the folk to folk rock transformation.

This starts with the transition of folk musicians and studio recording in New York mostly moving to Los Angeles shortly after The Beatles stepped off the plane in 1964. John Sebastian tells how Roger McGuinn started singing Beatles' songs in folk clubs in New York and Los Angeles with no success but with the guts of a pioneer and a Beatles inspired 12 string Rickenbacker 360-12 electric guitar. 

In the film, Roger McGuinn gets a much deserved feature as a major architect from musicians singing folk songs with acoustic guitars to composing folk rock songs with electric guitars. Here's a quick clip (not in the film) of Roger and his Rickenbacker.

In the film, Roger and The Byrds take traditional folk songs like Pete Seeger's The Bells of Rhymney and transform it in their 1965 version. Here's a set of clips, first with Seeger's original version, and then The Byrds.

I also enjoyed the conversations with famous musicians who discuss how art is a continual process of iteration and the 'cross pollination' of songs that influence song writing. I bought a book a couple of years ago by Austin Kleon with the perfect title to describe this process of creativity, Steal like an Artist. In the 1960's, Laurel Canyon becomes such a place where collaboration + competition = creativity. One example from the doc, is how George Harrison adapts Roger's riffs on The Byrds version of The Bells of Rhymney that influence him in his 1965 song, If I Needed Someone.

Then, Brian Wilson is blown away by Rubber Soul and that inspires him to write Pet Sounds in 1966. In turn, The Beatles are inspired by Pet Sounds, and in 1967 create Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (As a side note to the playlist below- I also include Buffalo Springfield's (Stephen Stills) Questions, which morphs into Carry On with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and then Eric Clapton adapts the Questions riff for his song, Let It Rain (1970) .

July 25, 1965 - Newport Folk Festival
The film's MC role is played with perfect Bob Dylan DNA detachment by son Jakob Dylan, born in 1969. I think son Dylan does a great job tapping into dad's influence without mentioning his name. As the greatest songwriter of his generation, Bob Dylan himself also makes the historic transition from acoustic folk to electric rock 'n' roll and turns the music world on its head at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

As the documentary unfolds, I realize Jakob is the perfect medium to tell this story. His quiet casual manner and approach to the material works perfectly for the famous musicians who take his questions and run with it (e.g. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Tom Petty,  Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Lou Adler and Michelle Phillips).

Jakob brings in his own generation of musicians to update 13 songs from the California Sound era that in their interpretation remain both current and true to the originals. In the playlist below, I start with the original 60's version and then follow it with the Jakob and friends take. I love his selections as Jakob goes for some of the deeper cuts, not just the hits and hey that's my kind of playlist! I highly recommend you make the time to watch echo in the canyon this week on Netflix, it's a trip!

Monday, October 21, 2019

September & October 1969, 50 Years of Music

In the past several weeks I have highlighted The Beatles' Abbey Road and Laura Nyro's New York Tendaberry, both released in September of 1969. This week, I focus on other albums released in September and October of that year with an ear to AM Radio. Being fourteen and a white kid from a small farming town, my main exposure to music of the day came from AM stations.

Even though I never purchased a 45 single or album from Motown (until Stevie Wonder in the 70's), I constantly was exposed to pop, soul and R&B by black artists on AM Radio. I didn't realize it at the time, but those tunes sunk in deep in my soul, and as I got older, I began to appreciate them more and more, and don't you know they stand the test of time.

Three of my all-time Motown favorites are featured here with releases by the singing duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Tammy died in 1970 at the age of  twenty-four from brain cancer. For me, this was Motown's best singing duo that was cut way too short and as the saying goes, "the good die young." Also got to give a shout out to The Temptations and The Supremes who made an album together in 1969. The Supremes are a very special group in the history of american music as their world wide fame reached across the races and opened up the door for many black artists to perform center stage in any city.

So here's my own TOP 40 (actually now 44) from that period that include some BIG hits and some songs you may have never heard before. Enjoy my friends.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Save The Country, 50 Years Later and the #WrongSideOfHistory

Graphic by Doug McIntosh
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the 50 year anniversary release of Abbey Road by The Beatles. On September 24th 1969, two days before Abbey Road hit the airwaves, Laura Nyro released New York Tendaberry.

Laura is a singer-songwriter best know as a composer much like her New York Brill Building contemporaries in that other people made monster hits from her songs.

Between 1968 and 1970, a number of artists had hits with her songs: The 5th Dimension with "Blowing Away", "Wedding Bell Blues", "Stoned Soul Picnic", "Sweet Blindness", and "Save the Country"; Blood, Sweat & Tears and Peter, Paul and Mary, with "And When I Die"; Three Dog Night with "Eli's Comin'"; and Barbra Streisand with "Stoney End", "Time and Love", and "Hands off the Man." Wikipedia.

During this past year, I've been exploring Laura Nyro and find her completely fascinating. As I got into New York Tendaberry, I discovered the song, Save The Country inspired by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the times of the late sixties. 

After listening to Save The Country 50 years later, I couldn't help but link the lyrics with our current political times under one Donald Trump as history's loop-tape back to the civil rights movement and the policies and behavior of the Nixon administration. These lyrics are as relevant today as when Laura Nyro wrote them in 1968 expressing her fortitude with the continual efforts to preserve our democratic principles and the dreams they are built on.

Come on, people, come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people, come on, children
There's a king at the glory river
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinking sun sang "We Shall Overcome"

I got fury in my soul, fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can't study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country now

Come on, people, come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people, sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gotta take that dream and ride that dove
We can build the dream with love, I know
We can build the dream with love
We could build the dream with love, I know
We could build the dream with love

I got fury in my soul, fury's gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can't study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country, save the country, save the country
Save the country

Here's four different versions of this patriotic call to save We the People from the #WrongSideOfHistory. Gotta take that dream and ride that dove, we can build the dream with love...

Laura Nyro, from New York Tendaberry, 1969
Complete album on Spotify | YouTube

The 5th Dimension, From Portrait, 1970

Rosanne Cash, From Time and Love - The Music of Laura Nyro, 1997
Complete album on Spotify | YouTube

Shawn Colvin, Chris Botti, and Billy Childs, Map to the Treasure:
Reimagining Laura Nyro, 2014
Complete album on Spotify | YouTube