Tag Archives: rock music

Any Major Dude Will Tell You

Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Compendium, edited by Barney Hoskyns (Overlook, $27.95, 352 pages)

“We both liked recording studios. As much as anything else, it was just the coolest place to be on a hot afternoon.” Walter Becker

“We grew up with a certain natural ironic stance that later became the norm in society.” Donald Fagen

major dudes

The enigmatic band Steely Dan has been popular – and mysterious, since the 1970s. Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Compendium demythologizes the group while at the same time adding a new layer of mystery.  Editor Barney Hoskyns has compiled a collection of previously published articles, interviews, and record reviews about the work of Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker – both as Steely Dan and as solo recording artists.

It’s made clear in these pieces that Fagen and Becker viewed themselves as clever hipsters; ones who were far too cool for the college they attended, Bard – “One of your basic beatnik colleges.”  In a sense, Steely Dan’s lyrics and music moved the ball forward in the genre of being cool.  In the process, they were among the progenitors of progressive album rock and smooth jazz.

In Major Dudes, Fagen and Becker come off as quite likeable.  However, they were always in character in the same manner as Bob Dylan is.  One is never going to fully understand what made them tick.  Their goal, perhaps, was to simply produce popular but uniquely intelligent music.

This compendium could have been better edited by Hoskyns.  It’s quite repetitive. But for fans of The Dan, it’s close to essential reading.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  This book will be released on June 5, 2018.

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Mandolin Wind

Retro Music Review: Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story

every picture amazon

Rod Stewart recently turned 72 and he’ll embark on an 18-date summer tour with Cyndi Lauper beginning in July.  Here’s a look back at Every Picture Tells a Story, which was originally released in May of 1971 on Mercury Records.

The title cut opens the festivities.  Mickey Waller’s drum work is a highlight.  The first of only three original Stewart songs on the album, “Every Picture Tells a Story” is one of two major coming-of-age stories that would become rock and roll classics.  In this song the closing mantra, “Every picture tells a story…” pulls together each of the earlier individual vignettes.

Stewart slows it down with “Seems Like a Long Time.”  His signature gravelly vocals steal the show here.  He picks it right back up with a rocking honky-tonk version of “That’s All Right Mama,” an Arthur Crudup song popularized by Elvis Presley.

Stewart elects to include his take on Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” (originally released on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan).  “Amazing Grace” serves as a lead in, and a unique arrangement and Stewart’s vocal styling make this song worthy of inclusion.

The instant classic, “Maggie May,” opens side two.  Another original, “Maggie,” also a coming-of-age story, was originally released as the B-side of “(Find A) Reason to Believe.”  “Maggie” steals the show and went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic.  The guitar work is better than I recalled it.  The song is “Pure Rod” with vocals, emotion, and musicianship melding together perfectly to become an inarguable all-time classic.

The third Stewart original, “Mandolin Wind,” is another all-timer and one of the finest love songs ever written.  The pedal steel against the mandolin makes for a beautiful sound.  Many critics at the time considered this the best song on the long player.  The poignant lyrics are perfectly delivered.  “Mandolin Wind” is Stewart at  his finest.

The penultimate track is “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”  For those familiar with The Temptations’ 1967 version of this song from their album The Temptations with a Lot o’ Soul, hold on to your hat.  The Temptations classic version is funky and rocks in its own way, but Rod and the boys kick it into a higher gear, thanks in large part to the drumming of Kenney Jones.  For some reason this is the only track that long-time Faces drummer Jones plays on, and he morphs from master timekeeper to soloist during the interlude/bridge.  Jones’s work here is worthy of the great Who drummer Keith Moon, whom Jones would replace when Moon died in 1978.

The final song,  Tim Hardin’s “(Find A) Reason to Believe” – which is similar in style to “Seems Like a Long Time,” “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” and “Mandolin Wind,” reinforces the themes of love, loss, youth, angst and disappointment that permeate the album.

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Every Picture Tells a Story was Stewart’s third studio album.  The Faces play on virtually every track, with Ronnie Wood on bass and guitar.  A variety of musicians and backup singers, which are used extensively, contribute to the eight songs on the album.  Eclectic in style, Every Picture went on to become number one in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom and is ranked #173 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums.  While lists of this nature are arbitrary, Every Picture is that good.

Rod Stewart has never met a cover he didn’t like and has on occasion compromised his reputation with overt pop sentimentality, succumbing and/or pandering to the latest trends to make a buck.  But, at his finest, he is clearly among the best ever.  This album is every bit worthy of its place in rock history.

Highly recommended.  92 points out of a possible 100.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about Bob Dylan, baseball, love and life.

 

 

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Trouble in the Heartland

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, $32.50, 528 pages)

“It’s a town full of losers/I’m pulling out of here to win…”  Thunder Road

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run (what else?) is not for the faint of heart.   But, then, neither is his music.

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Springsteen fans have heard many of these tales before, but not directly from The Boss, and not in this format.   The stories of his complex relationship with his father and his battle with depression are quite gripping.   The coming of age tales of his early days trying to break in to the music business are more engaging than his tales of the E Street Band, though many of those are interesting.   (Note for the current generation – there was a day before The Voice).

Springsteen essentially lived as a vagabond for a decade, including after he signed his recording contract with Columbia.   It is hard to believe that after Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town he was not in the clear financially until after The River tour.   This was due to many things – not making much money at first, signing a very one-sided contract, legal fees, and studio time.   It is still rather hard to imagine.

One can hear the song in his prose, and it compels the reader to go back and listen to his records.   Springsteen had a vision.   He put himself on the line until this vision was all he had left; he relentlessly pursued it until it became a reality.   This book reminds us that Springsteen and the E Street Band were singularly unique.   The concert I saw in April of 1984 was the greatest performance I have ever witnessed.

Springsteen impresses with his candor.   Although careful at times, he comes across as genuine and forthright.   Springsteen did not set out to write a fluff book of nostalgia; rather, in his words: “I fought my whole life, studied, played, worked, because I wanted to hear and know the whole story…  I wanted to understand in order to free myself of its most damaging influences, its malevolent forces… and its power.”   This is some undertaking.

Though his personal relationships were often tumultuous, he views the E Street Band as his family.   He professes his love for wife Patti Scialfa.   And he admits that he did not always treat everyone as he could or should have.

Springsteen speaks with reverence of those that have passed.   He writes of the death of organ player Danny Federici – who asked to play “Sandy” on the accordion at his final concert.   He also writes of Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, who had to sit on his last tour and be helped on and off the stage.   Springsteen may be driven, but one comes to like this book because of his honesty.   If he’s not honest here, he may be the biggest con man of all time.

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One thing that does not quite jibe with me is Springsteen’s commentary on drummer Max Weinberg, whom he categorizes as both a great timekeeper and soloist.   I’ve never viewed Weinberg as being in the class of innovative drummers like Keith Moon. But, then, who am I to question The Boss?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was delivered to the reviewer by Santa Claus.

Dave Moyer is an educator, the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, and a drummer who has yet to be asked to join The Who.

 

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Shattered

altamont-joel-selvin

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hell’s Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin (Dey Street, $27.99, 358 pages)

There are books that you read and when you finish you say to yourself, “That was a good book!” And then there’s the book that causes you to think, “That was interesting, but…” Altamont falls into the second category.

One is unlikely to find factual errors in this account of the notorious concert. This is a plus. Another plus is that this nonfiction work appears to have been edited to within an inch of its life. I found not a single grammatical or punctuation error, something that is sadly unique in this day and age. Kudos to the staff at Dey Street!

So where does the “but…” come from? This account is written in tense and turgid language. It’s as if Selvin is writing about THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. It reads as if one is listening to Walter Cronkite reciting the facts that led to a third world war. Come on, Joel, it was only rock ‘n roll!

How overblown and overly dramatic is the language? Here’s an excerpt:

The whole event had turned into some oblique rite of passage, an ordeal to be endured by band and audience alike. The promise of love was vanquished, and in its place, the specter of evil loomed. In a single day, Altamont had turned the myth of Woodstock inside out.

Whew. So this music concert was about a battle between good and evil, and it represented a momentous change in our lives and our time. Well, OK, if you buy that. I don’t.

It’s not as if dozens of people died at Altamont. There was one death that occurred while the Rolling Stones played and another person died while leaving the event. These deaths were not insignificant; but the Altamont concert pales in comparison to multiple tragedies in our history, which is why Selvin appears to have lost a proper perspective in 2016.

Fans of the Stones may find themselves surprised and/or dismayed by Selvin’s view that this was the beginning of the end for the band in terms of musical excellence, honesty, and creativity:

Whatever they lost at Altamont, they would not get back. The Stones would play out their days like tigers in the shade, challenging neither themselves nor their audience. Instead of a cultural force, the Stones settled for being caricatures of themselves, a raucous and colorful, but ultimately meaningless sideshow, prancing onstage with props, costumes, and elaborate stage sets in cavernous football stadiums, no more five simple men and the music.

Common, Joel, tell us what you really think.

altamont RS

Stones fans are bound to enjoy the 22 pages of color and black-and-white photos, which are likely to have been previously unseen.

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A few rock historians might find Selvin’s account useful but I doubt that most rock music fans will want to spend their time ingesting over 350 pages of rather depressing facts. And, as in many accounts of the period, there’s far too much made of drug use and abuse; something that one quickly finds boring rather than interesting. For a perhaps more entertaining read that covers the events back in the day, including the Altamont concert, one might elect to read David Talbot’s highly engaging The Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love.

Fade to black. Paint it, black.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Altamont was released on August 16, 2016.

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Music Review: Ten Years After – ‘British Live Performance Series’

BLPS

After Alvin Lee’s death in March of 2013, Rainman Records released The Last Show, a fine recording of Lee’s final on stage performance in May of 2012. Due to the excellence of that recording, I looked forward to hearing the recent Rainman release, British Live Performance Series. It captures Ten Years After (TYA) recorded live in 1990 at “Studio 8” television in Nottingham, England. (This is a reissue of an earlier release.)

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Does this release meet the standard set by The Last Show or the 1990 TYA album Recorded Live? Well, let’s take a look at the 11 tracks in order to answer the question.

“Let’s Shake It Up” – This song demonstrates that the band was, at least initially, in fine form that day.

“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s blues standard from 1937 is transformed into a Cream-style workout. I prefer the original arrangement on the Ssssh album. This version comes off as tight, yet frantic.

“Slow Blues in C” – An OK track but nothing special. At least it feels shorter than its length of 5:39.

“Hobbit” – Most drum solos in rock should have been eliminated – IMHO, including this one (or at least shortened).

“Love Like A Man” – One of the best tracks from Cricklewood Green, it sounds positively husky here.

“Johnny B. Goode” – It’s not as good a choice as “Sweet Little Sixteen” – both Chuck Berry tunes – on Watt.

“Bad Blood” – Lee, Leo Lyons (bass), Ric Lee (drums) and Chick Churchill (keyboard) in a fine groove, just shy of six minutes. They probably should have kept it going for at least 12 to 15 minutes.

“Victim of Circumstance” – A song from the 1989 release About Time (the album TYA was promoting at the time). It’s not one of their best numbers.

“I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometime” – From the 1967 debut album Ten Years After. The song effectively segues from blues-rock into psychedelia, before speeding up to become just another TYA jam. It borrows a riff from The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over” and drags on until boredom sets in.

“I’m Going Home” – On a 10-point scale, this one’s about a 4. Twenty-one years after Woodstock, the thrill was gone. Here, TYA sounds like a cover band. Clearly, they became bored with the song, which should have been reserved for nights when the band was fully cooking.

“Sweet Little Sixteen” – The live version on Watt is better.

The sound quality on this recording is poor, especially considering that it was recorded in a major TV studio. As a friend said, “It’s a harsh mix with too much high end and snare” – the snare drum being annoyingly front and center, and Lyon’s generally exemplary bass work is mostly missing in action aurally. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to hear a single note from the keyboard played by Churchill.

To quote my friend again, “Despite the harsh mix, this concert demonstrated how TYA was able to fill venues for years. When the lights were on, they were right at home giving it their all.” Yes, like The Kinks, TYA gave it 110% each and every night.

alvin lee last show

recorded live tya

It’s a shame about the sound on this release. The Last Show or Recorded Live are definitely better choices.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ten-years-after-british-live-performance-series/

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You Better Move On

cohen stones

The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen (Spiegel & Grau, $30.00, 381 pages)

When I mentioned to a couple of Rolling Stones fan that I was reading the new book by Rich Cohen, they asked, “What’s new in the book?” I told them I didn’t know, as I had not finished reading it. Now that I’ve finished, I can answer the question. There’s nothing new here; it’s the same band bio as you’ll find in any book about the Stones or Mick Jagger. And it’s told in chronological order, so you can guess what’s coming up next even if you have just a smattering of knowledge about the old boys.

In theory, Rolling Stone reporter Cohen was going to tell a new and unique story because he spent some time with the group on tour. But that information is minimal and far from being substantively interesting. In fact, the only new factoid I came across is Cohen’s claim that Eric Clapton unsuccessfully auditioned for the group after Mick Taylor’s departure. According to Cohen, Ron Wood was selected because it was felt he would fit in better with the band’s quirky personalities. Well, maybe this is factual and maybe not.

rolling stones and eric

There are factual concerns. For example, Cohen writes that Jagger destroyed all of the outtakes of “Brown Sugar.” But anyone who owns the Russian-made Melodiya CD of Sticky Fingers possesses two outtakes.

Cohen makes a bold attempt at arguing that the Stones were “even greater than the Beatles” – clearly appealing to fanatics who might purchase his account. But he rather quickly dispenses with this, first admitting that Their Satanic Majesties Request was “terrible, a disastrous by-product of an overripe era.” And he proceeds to quote multiple sources regarding how sloppy and undisciplined the band is in rehearsals. So, he set up a straw man only to knock it down. Yawn.

children december's

All in all, there’s not much to see here, folks. You better move on.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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We’re All Alone

delta lady amazon

Delta Lady: A Memoir by Rita Coolidge with Michael Walker (Harper, $25.99, 225 pages)

In the Acknowledgments, Rita Coolidge states that from the age of four she “dreamed of writing a book.” Sadly, this memoir does not read as if it was written. It reads as if it was dictated onto audio cassettes and transcribed by the writer whose name is found beneath hers in small letters. There’s simply no voice, no style present that gives it personality; thus, one never feels like time has been spent with the singer-musician.

Coolidge concedes that people usually think of her as the woman who was once married to Kris Kristofferson. Those wishing to find out something about that marriage may be satisfied with what they read in these 219 pages. But those wishing to learn more about her life in or out of the music trade may be left wanting.

One frustrating thing is that Coolidge makes bold statements before walking them back. For example, she’ll state that musician Joe Blow used too much cocaine, and then retract that by saying it’s not for her to say what too much is. Tentativeness in a “tell all” is so unsatisfying.

It seems like Coolidge waited decades to tell her story and then hedged in the telling.

Delta Lady back cover

Note:

Delta Lady could have used assistance from a strong editor. There are awkward statements and content throughout. For example, at one point we read this about Janis Joplin: “She drank too much than was good for her…” And Coolidge tells us that after her mother died, “I had a gig on the eighteenth and knew she wouldn’t want me to not do that gig.” Ouch!

There’s also noticeable repetition in the account. For example, one particular background singer did some work with the Rolling Stones. So every time her name is mentioned, we’re told – with but one exception – that this woman once sang with the Rolling Stones. These may seem like small points, but they’re not so small when you’ve shelled out $26.00 for a finished work.

Finally, there may be some issues with factual accuracy. Coolidge states that the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour left Joe Cocker physically and financially impoverished. Other accounts note that Cocker’s poor physical state was due to alcoholism. And the Mad Dogs and Englishmen double-album made Cocker rich. It was the second-best selling album in the U.S. when it was released, and was very likely the best selling recording on college campuses. A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss stated, “‘The Letter’ (from the Mad Dogs album) was the first hit for Joe… The record went (Top 10) platinum and sold well… That whole group was incredible, and it was an amazing experience – what they did live and on record was magnificent. After that success, we were able to get Joe back in the studio to make more great records.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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