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 03, 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