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Modern Blue

Music Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’

river and the thread front

Rosanne Cash’s latest release illustrates how the label of country singer is far too limiting for a person of her talents. Perhaps she can be called a modern musician.

Here’s a look at the songs on The River & The Thread, which was produced and arranged by her husband, John Leventhal.

River_And_The_Thread-back basic

“A Feather’s Not a Bird” is a fine opening, as a Bonnie Raitt style attitude meets Creedence Clearwater Revival type instrumentation. It’s clear that there’s nothing tentative about Cash. She’s confident and in charge as she sings, “…a river runs through me.” “Sunken Lands” is unique as a blend of classic and modern country built upon a Johnny Cash pulse.

“Etta’s Tune” is an introspective love song that might have been written by Jackson Browne: “We’re just a mile or two from Memphis/And the rhythm of our lives.” One can easily visualize Tom Petty singing Cash’s rocker, “Modern Blue”: “I went to Barcelona on the midnight train/I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain/I flew across an island in the northern sea/I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee….” There’s also a touch of the Eagles in the lyrics: “Everybody around here moves too fast/It feels so good but it’s never going to last/Everything I had is twice what I knew….”

“Tell Heaven” is an unplugged song about faith. The Judds would have loved to have sung this. “The Long Way Home” is an angst-filled song about lost love that calls to mind Don Henley, Mark Knopfler and Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”). It’s beautifully realized: “You thought you left it all behind/You thought you’d up and gone/But all you did was figure out how to take the long way home….”

“World of Strange Design” is a song about differences and discrimination, with a musical presentation that channels Dire Straits. “Night School” is a Tori Amos style balled: “I’d give anything to be lying next to you/In night school.” The uplifting “50,000 Watts” is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”: “To be who we are/And not just who we were/A sister to him, a brother to her/We live like kings/without any sin/Redemption will come, just tune it on in….”

“When the Master Calls” is a touching song about the Civil War which would have fit well on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album. “Money Road” is the relaxing closing song about a dream, but the standard eleven-track edition of this album is only 38 minutes long. Consider purchasing the Limited Edition Deluxe version, which adds three additional songs and 10-plus more minutes of music.

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“Two Girls” is the first bonus track on the Limited Edition, and it sounds like a song from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. “Biloxi” is one of the great songs written by the late Jesse Winchester: “Beautiful girls are swimming in the sea/Oh, they look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will find his path with salted water/And the storms will blow off toward New Orleans.”

“Southern Heart” is a short, 2 minute long, song with plucked violin strings that would have been a great single in the 1960s; it’s a song very much in the style of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”

river and the thread rosanne

Cash has laid out her musical skills for the world to see on this release. It’s a highly recommended masterpiece or very close to it. But forget the ratings, just think of this as a near priceless gift delivered by Cash to her fans, current and prospective.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Blue Note Records.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-rosanne-cash-the-river-the-thread/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Rosanne-Cash-The-River-The-5411097.php

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Positively Spot On

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95, 272 pages)

“I wish that for just one time/ You could stand inside my shoes/ And just for that one moment/ I could be you…” Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street

In the eternal quest to try to interpret the “real” meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs, some have speculated that “Positively 4th Street” is his retort to the many critics who emerged following Dylan’s controversial decision to “go electric.” Most people who have even some passing knowledge of music history have seen multiple examples of Dylan being cantankerous with the media, dating all the way back to the 1963 Newsweek article questioning his identity and past, and famously filmed in D.A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back.

Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Lately, Dylan has mellowed in that regard, or so it seems. Perhaps because he is now a revered survivor and not a young rebel.

What does Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music have to do with Dylan? Quite a bit as it turns out. This book is a compilation of writings on music by the late writer that appeared in a variety of publications, including her regular column for The New Yorker, “Rock, Etc.”, over a span of 34 years. The book is edited by her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz, and virtually every column and essay that doesn’t actually address Dylan, references him. Judging by Willis’ intuitive take on the music as it interweaves with the various time periods, her insightful commentary, and fine writing, this would be one critic who Dylan might actually like.

Willis drops a few names, but rarely seems caught up with celebrity. For her, it is all about the music. Her favorites, in addition to Dylan, are Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, and the Rolling Stones. Many others receive prominent mention, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, an often under-rated band, and others ranging from obscure to superstar, such as Bruce Springsteen. Willis was a feminist who could objectively analyze the art for its strengths and flaws without either coming across as a man-hater or relinquishing her status as a fan — two of the three would be pretty good, but to pull off all three makes for a damn interesting and good writer.

Fifty-nine short pieces are divided into six themes: World-Class Critic, The Adoring Fan, The Sixties Child, The Feminist, The Navigator, and The Sociologist. The first entry is on Dylan, and the last is a commentary on her philosophy of the role of music in society that mentions him in the third to last paragraph of the book. The final paragraph invokes Little Richard and The Ramones in the same sentence. How great is that?

This book is perfect for any 60s/70s rock-and-roll head. No doubt they would be overcome with nostalgia. But for those who are just as fanatical, but younger — who love the music just the same — and who perhaps even fancy themselves a bit knowledgeable about rock’s history and the great music of this era, they, too, will love Deeps because Willis is one writer who can make you feel like you were there.

Highly recommended for music lovers of all ages.

Dave Moyer

Out of the Vinyl Deeps is available as a Kindle Edition download. This book was purchased for review.

Dave Moyer is an educator who thinks a lot about rock music. A drummer, he has not yet played for the Rolling Stones. His book about baseball and Bob Dylan is entitled, Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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I’m Down

You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup by Peter Doggett (Harper, 400 pages, $24.99)

“We were four guys in a band, that’s all.”   John Lennon

Rock ‘n roll writer Doggett provides the reader with a Magical Misery Tour in this inexplicable rehashing of the Beatles story, especially its sad ending (Hey Jude).   Now really, what’s the point of retelling a story that’s already been told in at least 75 other versions, and by the Beatles themselves in Anthology?   Well intended or not, Doggett appears to want to make the point that these were four not really very nice young men; except for the fact that the author is clearly partial to The Legend of John Lennon.

And yet even Mr. Lennon comes off as a crass ruffian in this account.   For example, here is Lennon talking about the band members’ treatment of George Harrison:  “It’s only this year that (George) has realized who he is.   And all the f—— s–t we’ve done to him.”   Positively charming.

John Lennon, however, is treated with virtual kid gloves compared to Doggett’s agenda-driven need to attack Sir Paul McCartney (probably the most commercially successful musician of our lifetime), George Harrison (who wrote what Frank Sinatra called the most beautiful love song of the last century), and Ringo Starr (whose upbeat personality and drumming literally bound the band together).   It is all very, very tiresome.

The point of this exercise is further called into question when one realizes that there’s nothing in this account that one has not read about before.   Even if you’ve read no more than two or three or a handful of books about the Beatles’ storied if marred career, you’ll be bored by the same old stories here.   The author seems to admit as such as he often quotes multiple earlier accounts of the same material.   For example, when he writes about the evil manager Allen Klein he quotes six other sources before providing his own perspective.   Yawn.

There are far better alternatives out there.   If you want to read a true story of a highly talented band’s sad demise consider reading the excellent account, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Peter Matovia about Badfinger, the Beatles’ alter-egos band (sometimes referred to as The Junior Beatles).   Each of the four members of Badfinger worked with each of the Beatles at some point – and each of them looked like one of the Beatles – and two of their members died by their own hand.

If you wish to read an account of a band that will succeed in making you hate all of the band members, there’s Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival by Hank Berdowitz.   After reading this unofficial history, I lost my aural appetite for listening to the music of John Fogerty and/or CCR.

One final advisory, and it’s an appropriate one.   I recently discussed this book with a music-loving friend and he asked me what the complete title of the book was.   When I told him that it was supposedly about the Beatles “after the breakup,” he wisely responded:  “Well, after they broke up they weren’t the Beatles anymore, were they?”   No, and it’s a point well taken.   We stand adjourned.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Rain Falls on Bad Moon Rising (a book review…)

Let me provide a warning right up front…   If you’re a huge John C. Fogerty (JCF) fan and wish to remain as such, you may not want to read this book.   If you’re on the fence about Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and not sure whether they were a great band or simply both a lucky and extraordinarily unlucky one, this book may convince you that the latter is more likely the case.   This band biography is simply not a pretty picture which is why Bad Moon Rising is subtitled, “The Unauthorized History of CCR.”

How bad does JCF come off here?   On page 293 of this 316-page treatise, he’s quoted as saying:  “We call these Beatles songs and I guess we call them Monkees songs, and in my case we call them Creedence songs.   But actually, John Fogerty wrote all the songs.   So I think now that I’m out in this limelight, I’m going to try and straighten out that misconception.”

Ouch!   Not only does JFC compare CCR to both Those Guys and The Monkees, but he refers to himself (Himself?) in the third person.   The book does, on the plus side, clear up the misconception that JCF refused to appear at the deathbed of his brother Tom.   But little else here puts either JCF or the two other surviving CCR members – now in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – in a positive light.

Slogging through this book is like revisiting the worst parts of your own family’s history while watching an unpleasant soap opera on the tube.   And remember all those stories about Saul Zaentz, founder and head of Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, as the supposed bad guy (which culminated with JCF’s solo song Zanz Can’t Dance/Vanz Can’t Dance)?   There’s little here dealing with this, which may even be fortunate.

Bottom line, there’s more unsaid than said in this not so definitive book which was advertised as covering “30-odd years of legal wrangling, thwarted ambitions and lost potential.”   Lost potential for the reader, definitely.

For me, it has been more difficult to listen to either JCF or CCR since reading this book.   No more unauthorized band biographies for me, as long as I can see the light.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on April 27, 2009.

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