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.