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Not So Lucky

Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ (Blue Note Records)

Tench Debut Works But Only If Expectations Are Reasonable and Realistic.

Benmont_Tench-353x

“But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” Bob Dylan (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”)

Compared to the pop garbage my fitness club inundates me with every morning, longtime Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench’s debut album You Should Be So Lucky might as well be Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run or even Damn the Torpedoes. But, because I hold a classic rocker who supported one of my main men, Tom Petty, for so long – producing such terrific music – my standard for him is a bit higher. By this measure, his first solo effort falls – fairly or unfairly – a bit short.

For the most part, the album serves as enjoyable background music for a house party. There’s nothing striking, nor is there anything objectionable on the CD; in fact, some of the tunes that emanate from it are rather pleasant. They simply aren’t anything special.

Tench’s delivery is gravelly and reminiscent of a combination of influences, not the least of which is Petty himself (in fact, one of Petty’s biggest hits is “You Got Lucky”). Another influence is Dylan, with whom the Heartbreakers double-billed two major international tours in the late 80s. Tench’s enunciation is reminiscent of Dylan’s (specifically recalling “If You See Her, Say Hello”) on the first track, “Today I Took Your Picture Down.” This is my personal favorite on the album.

As for the second song, “Veronica Said,” I wasn’t sure whether Tench was channeling Lou Reed or Elvis Costello. I heard some of both, as well as a riff that is strangely similar to Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” The album includes two instrumental tracks (“Ecor Rouge” and “Wobbles”), which are not much more than placeholders, and many of the piano solos sound similar to those of Bruce Hornsby. It also includes two placeholder type covers of Dylan songs (“Corrina, Corrina” and “Duquesne Whistle”).

Many musicians have made a career of covering Dylan songs – most notably The Byrds, and it remains the case that Dylan’s originals are generally superior. Here, neither of Tench’s renditions have any distinguishing characteristics that make them worth listening to more than once. This is especially true of one of Dylan’s better recent works, “Duquesne Whistle.” Whereas Dylan’s guitar chords and swing style boogie-woogie the song forward so that it picks up momentum like a train’s steam engine, Tench’s take moves forward like a snail until it finally comes to an end. As for “Corrina, Corrina,” Dylan’s version features powerful vocals (yes, the man can actually sing) that strike an emotional chord in the listener against a pleasing backdrop. Tench merely mouths the words along to his piano accompaniment.

It appears as if Tench, a talented musician, is attempting to find his distinct voice, sound and style by experimenting with and/or playing tribute to his favorite influences. There is nothing wrong with this and, with some refinement, a second solo album could potentially be quite good. This one is just so-so.

Tench might not have quite “known his song,” but sometimes trial and error can lead to great discoveries.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator, sometime musician (he’s on-call to play drums for The Who, The E Street Band or The Rolling Stones), and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel

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The Waiting

Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’

Is Benmont Tench’s solo album just competent or is it more than that?

Benmont_Tench-353x

Benmont Tench has been in the music business for thirty-four years. As a member of the Heartbreakers, backing Tom Petty, there’s little doubt that this keyboardist’s first solo effort would display musical competence. But does it soar? Let’s take a look at the tracks on You Should Be So Lucky before arriving at a verdict.

The nearly 46-minute long album opens with “Today I Took Your Picture Down,” on which Tench provides a Bob Dylan-style vocal and lyrics: “Today I took your picture down…/The eyes that followed me around/Daring me to stare them down/Today I turned my back on you/The celebrated face that stole a piece of/Every soul that wandered through this place.”

There’s a piano sound that might have been inspired by the E Street Band. It’s a fine, confident opening that nevertheless fails to take off.

“Veronica Said” sounds as though it was recorded immediately after Tench had listened to Lou Reed singing “Sweet Jane.” Enough said.

“Eccor Rouge” is a film noir movie soundtrack-style jazzy piano instrumental. It manages to destroy whatever momentum had developed from the previous tracks. Boring. “Hannah” is a love ballad from the school of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits: “Hannah, if this is a dream/The kind that don’t come true/You’re worth every mile I ever drove for you….”

“Blonde Girl, Blue Dress” was released as a single. It sounds like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Mr. Petty on bass guitar and Ringo Starr on tambourine. It’s catchy but not quite exceptional.

“You Should Be So Lucky” is the title song and it is the highlight of the album. It’s like a lost track from a Traveling Wilburys album and contains some adult-rated language.

Tench covers the traditional “Corrina, Corrina” using Dylan’s arrangement. It comes off as flat; it does not whistle or sing. “Dogwood” is a song with religious connotations that, like its protagonist, is pretty much without direction.

“Like The Sun (Michoacan)” is a very good, very short, track that brings to mind a contented George Harrison. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “Wobbles,” another instrumental and another throwaway. On “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone” Tench sings: “Every radio station plays the same forsaken song….” They probably would not play this Randy Newman knock-off.

“Duquesne Whistle” concludes the album. Dylan’s original bouncy version displayed moxie and sly charm, qualities that are mostly absent here. The life has pretty much been removed from the song, which is a shame. It’s a less than satisfying ending.

This album might appeal to those who are attracted to laid-back, understated and low energy recordings. However, for most listeners I fear it’s the equivalent of going to Starbucks and being handed a cup of unleaded coffee.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the record company (Blue Note).

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-benmont-tench-you-should-be-so-lucky/

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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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Silence is Golden

The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise by Garret Keizer (Public Affairs, $27.95, 385 pages)

“Lou Reed’s (music) is not noise; Gregorian Chant piercing my bathroom wall is.”

This is a highly entertaining and sometimes annoying survey account of noise around the world and its impact on humans.   Garret Keizer occasionally cites relevant points, such as that one’s reaction to noise is often tied to personal factors.   If I’m married to a professional pilot, the noise from the nearby airport does not bother me the way it troubles my neighbors.   (Human transportation remains the number one noisemaker around the world.)   He also notes, importantly, that we do not become “used to” noise, and that its damage to our ears is all too permanent.

But Keizer also includes considerable material of little relevance that seems to be an attempt to justify his travels around the globe in the guise of doing research for this book.   Is he serious about discussing the noise made by foreign sex workers?   Keizer also makes one whopper of a questionable pronouncement, which is that noise is something imposed on us against our will.   If we enjoy something, such as rock music, it is not noise.   Nonsense.   I love Live at Leeds by The Who but played at any volume it remains noise, even if a joyful one.

This compilation of random thoughts and scientifically based findings on noise is interesting but meandering.   The editor was missing in action.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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