Clips & Pix: U2/I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

As I’m gearing up to see U2 live for the first time next week, naturally, The Joshua Tree is very much on my mind. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which was also released as the album’s second single in May 1987, is one of the record’s many amazing tunes. Here is a cool clip of a recent live performance in Houston.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Marley/Iron Lion Zion

I’ve loved this Bob Marley song from the first time I heard it, which must have been around September 1992, when it was first released posthumously. According to Wikipedia, Marley originally recorded the track in April 1973 or 1974.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Casey James Finds His Own Voice With New Album

The Texas singer-songwriter leaves his country past in the dust with smoking electric blues

Until a few hours ago, I had never heard of Casey James. Then I coincidentally came across his new album Strip It Down in Apple Music. Now I think I’m a new fan. All it took to get my full attention was to listen to the opening notes of the first track, and I immediately liked what I heard!

Released independently on June 9, Strip It Down is the kind of electric blues that puts a big smile on my face. According James’ web site, blues is the music the 35-year-old from Fort Worth loves, citing Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II and ZZ Top as key influences. And it shows!

Casey James_American Idol

James initially became known as the third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010. In August that year he signed with Sony Music Nashville. In March 2012, his eponymous album appeared on the BNA Records label. The country-oriented pop rock album was co-produced by Casey and country heavyweight artist and producer Chris Lindsey, who has worked with Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride, among others.

But while his debut brought James some success, apparently, it did not bring him happiness as an artist. Explaining the new album’s title, his web bio notes, “It’s titled Strip It Down because it’s exactly what Casey James did – shed off the layers of stylized artistic clothing that he’d been given in those other public ventures to find the real artist underneath, a guy with a convincing, smoky vocal quality and a burning, lyrical skill with a guitar.”

Strip It Down opens with All I Need, a nice blues shredder that does remind me a bit of Vaughan. I could not find a clip of the studio version, but here’s a nice one of a live performance.

Things continue briskly with Bulletproof, a co-write with Tom Hambridge, a country and blues artist and producer, who reportedly has been called the “White Willie Dixon” by Buddy Guy. The tune features Delbert McClinton.

Next up is Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars, where Casey is slowing things down for the first time. The horn accents give this track a nice dose of Memphis soul. I also love the Hammond-style keyboard.

Another great tune is the album’s title track, which apparently is a co-write. Here is a nice clip about the song’s making.

The second soulful tune on the album I’d like to call out is Supernatural. Written by James, it again features great horns, similar to Hard Times, Heartaches & Scars. The track also has great background vocals.

Strip It Down was produced by Hambridge mostly live in a Nashville studio in just four days. Hambridge brought in a top-notch musicians, including guitarists Pat Buchanan and Rob McNelley, bass player Tommy McDonald and keyboarder Kevin McKendree. Most of the songs were recorded in three takes or less. James funded the album through fan contributions with a one-month Kickstarter campaign.

Says James on his web site: “If you were to give me two options – one to have a shot at being famous, but it might mean I never play music again, or the other, to play every single night at bars, I would immediately choose option B. Because I want to play music.” Most importantly, James appears to have finally reached his ultimate goal: being himself.

Sources: Wikipedia, Casey James web site, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listing to: Stevie Ray Vaughan/Couldn’t Stand the Weather

Vaughan’s second studio album remains an electric blues gem more than 30 years after its release

I’ve always admired Stevie Ray Vaughan for his incredible guitar skills and cool sound. He is right up there with Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. In fact, he oftentimes reminds me of Hendrix.

The first time I was introduced to Vaughan’s music was in my early twenties after I had joined a blues band as a bassist. Among the songs I had to learn was Tin Pan Alley, one of the tunes on Couldn’t Stand the Weather. Vaughan’s second studio album with Double Trouble was released in May 1984. I bought the CD shortly thereafter. It remains one of my favorite blues albums to this day.

The record kicks off with Scuttle Buttin’, an instrumental Vaughan shreds at breakneck speed. It is one of two instrumentals on the album and one of four tracks written by him. Here’s a nice clip of a live performance of this incredible tune.

Next up is the record’s fantastic title song, another Vaughan composition. A cool mix of blues and funk, the tune features Vaughan’s brother Jimmie Vaughan on rhythm guitar. Here is a clip of the official music video, which according to Wikipedia received regular play on MTV – a pretty remarkable feat, given the song sounded very differently from the music that dominated the charts at the time. I imagine the funky grove had something to do with it.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather also includes an amazing version of the Hendrix classic Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It nicely showcases Vaughan’s virtuosity and his impeccable command of the wah-wah pedal – just like the maestro himself! Here’s a great illustration.

Another tune from the record I’d like to highlight is Cold Shot, which was co-written by the “Godfather of Austin Blues” Wesley Curley Clark and Michael Kindred. Here’s a pretty hilarious clip of what apparently is the song’s official video.

And then there is of course Tin Pan Alley, written by James Reed. Vaughan’s version is perhaps the best electric slow blues I know. It literally makes the hair in my neck stand up. Here’s an epic clip.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather was recorded in just 19 days at the Power Station in New York City (now called Avatar Studios). Other major artists, such as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, David Bowie, Neil Young and Sting, have worked at that studio. The record was produced Vaughan and Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon, bass; and Chris Layton, drums), Richard Mullen and Jim Capfer. John Hammond was the executive producer.

Following on the heels of his 1983 debut Texas Floods, the album was another success for Vaughan, climbing to no. 31 on the Billboard 200, and selling one million copies in just five weeks – a remarkable showing for a blues album. Couldn’t Stand the Weather is part of Vaughan’s impressive recording legacy.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan no. 12 in its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, saying he “was recognized as a peer by the likes of B.B. King (no. 6 on the list) and Eric Clapton (no. 2 on the list) and despite his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, he’s still inspiring multiple generations of guitarists, from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to John Mayer and rising young star Gary Clark Jr.”

Another inspired young blues guitarist is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He told Rolling Stone in 1999, “Stevie Ray Vaughan was the whole inspiration for me picking up the guitar. I got to hear him play for the first time when I was seven years old, in Shreveport, Louisiana…It’s weird to think that a seven-year-old child can have such a spiritual experience, but it affected the rest of my life. Six months later, I got my own guitar.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

The “jangling” sound of the legendary 12-string guitar had a huge impact on 60s rock

Perhaps no other ’60s band is more closely associated with the chiming sound of the Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar than The Byrds. The first time I distinctly noticed its beautiful sound must have been on Mr. Tambourine Man, though the musician who put the 360/12 initially on the map was not Roger McGuinn but George Harrison in early 1964.

Founded in 1931 as Ro-Pat-In Corporation by Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp, later named Electro String and eventually Rickenbacker, the company became a pioneer in electric music instruments. It was the world’s first manufacturer of electric guitars. Initially, the company made electric Hawaiian guitars before starting to produce a large range of electric and bass guitars.

In 1963, Rickenbacker created the first 12-string electric guitar. In early 1964, Frances C. Hall, who had bought the company in the 1940s, met with The Beatles in New York during their first U.S. tour to show them different models. John Lennon checked out a 360/12 but thought it would be better for Harrison, who was sick and didn’t attend the meeting. When Harrison eventually saw the guitar, he liked it right away. His use of the instrument in the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night would give Rickenbacker electric guitars an enormous boost in popularity.

The Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man

And then, there was of course McGuinn who introduced The Byrds’ chiming signature guitar sound to the music world on the band’s 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Coming from a folk tradition and using a 12-string Rickenbacker, McGuinn essentially created folk rock, a new genre at the time.

Asked during an interview with Guitar.com how he came with the jingle-jangle sound, McGuinn explained, “It was a natural process. It wasn’t like we popped it out of the oven fully grown. I was playing folk music and we played a lot of fingerpicking stuff…And when I heard the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the movie A Hard Days Night, that’s where I first got the idea to use that [in my music]. And it made a difference in the sound. It was a much cleaner and bigger and fuller sound.” How about a little demo from the maestro on his Roger McGuinn limited edition Rickenbacker 12-string!

As for his preference of the Rickenbacker, McGuinn said, “it sounds different from any other 12-string on the market. I have a Fender 12-string and it sounds completely different even though I put Rickenbacker pickups on it. Maybe it’s the wood or the dimensions of the wood or the semi-hollow-body construction. It could be a lot of different things. But it’s got a distinctive sound. Also they do something different with the stringing. Normal 12-string guitars have an octave string and then the low string. Rickenbacker does it backwards. They have the low string first and then the octave. So the last thing you hear kind of rings out. It’s like you’re picking backwards.”

Rickenbacker 360-12 Headstock

One of the 360/12’s defining features is the headstock and the way the 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs. Like on a standard guitar, there are three tuners mounted on each side, with the tuner posts projecting out from the face of the headstock. In addition, three tuners are attached to the side of the headstock, with the tuner knobs pointing toward the rear of the headstock. This design allows the headstock to have the same size as a headstock of a standard six-string, which in turn avoids the head-heavy feel other 12-string guitars tend to have.

SONY DSC

Another distinct feature of the 360/12 is the string set-up. In a conventional 12-string the high (octave) string is the first in each pair of strings. On the 360/12, the octave string is the second in each pair. Together with the semi-hollow body design, this string set-up creates the guitar’s signature sound.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, according to a recent story in Guitar World, adding with other 12-string guitars, “you spend hours trying to tune it.” I’ve never owned a 12-string, but the idea to tune the string pairs in exact octaves and relative to each other sounds pretty challenging to me!

Not surprisingly, the Rickenbacker 360/12 became a very popular guitar. Following are some clips that prominently feature the instrument:

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/The Waiting

The Byrds/Turn! Turn! Turn!

Okay, this is the second update to this post, so I hope the third version will make a charm! A dear friend brought to my attention this awesome version of If I Needed Someone, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, from McGuinn – sounds a bit like So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star meeting Harrison! I have to admit, I almost like it better than the original!

Sources: Wikipedia, Guitar World, Guitar.com, YouTube

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Sir Paul turned 75 today and he is not slowing down

To those who read this blog or know me otherwise, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Paul McCartney is one of my all-time favorite music artists. Today, Sir Paul is celebrating his 75th birthday, and I sure hope he’s gonna have a good time.

James Paul McCartney was born in the middle of World War II on June 18, 1942 at Walton Hospital in Liverpool, England. His mother was Mary Patricia, who was a nurse at that hospital. And, by the way, that’s the mother Mary (not the Virgin Mary), who inspired the lyrics of one of McCartney’s most beautiful ballads:

“When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me/Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” 

His father James “Jim” McCartney couldn’t witness his son’s birth, since he was working as a volunteer firefighter during the war. While I know that Penny Lane, one of my other favorite McCartney tunes, reflects childhood memories, I haven’t found any references that suggest the fireman referenced in the song was inspired by Sir Paul’s father.

Fast-forward to July 6, 1957. That was the day McCartney met John Lennon for the first time. It was at a performance of John’s high school band The Quarrymen. The encounter would start a working relationship between the two that would change music history forever.

I could continue to recount McCartney’s history, but it has been told many times and, it’s also safe assume, by people who know much more about it than I do. So instead of an additional attempt to create yet another write-up, I’d like to celebrate Sir Paul’s birthday with a selection of his music over the past 50-plus years. Let me repeat this: 50-plus years – wow!

All My Loving (1963)

Things I Said Today (1964)

Yesterday (1965)

Here, There And Everywhere (1966)

Back in the U.S.S.R. (1968)

Let It Be (1970)

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

Band On the Run (1973)

Silly Love Songs (1976)

Take It Away (1982)

My Brave Face (1989)

Hope of Deliverance (1993)

Run Devil Run (1999)

Fine Line (2005)

New (2013)

Birthday (1968)

While like many other Beatles songs Birthday was officially credited to Lennon-McCartney and, according to the Beatles Bible, there are different accounts whether McCartney wrote it or whether it was indeed a co-write with Lennon, it simply feels right to end the post with it.

I also decided to take a clip that was captured during McCartney’s ongoing One on One World Tour. Last July, I was fortunate enough to catch one of the tour’s shows. More on that amazing concert is here. Once again, happy birthday, Sir Paul, and rock on!

Sources: Wikipedia, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

British Invasion Rocks Atlantic City

Amazing tribute bands took audience back to greatest period in rock music

One of the main reasons I am on Facebook is to get news about the artists and music I love. Last weekend, an announcement popped up in my newsfeed about a British Invasion tribute festival in Atlantic City. With cool-looking bands and free admission, it didn’t take long to convince me to go there. After all, what could possibly go better together than the sin of gambling and rock & roll? And so I hopped in my car and went there yesterday.

To say it right upfront, I had a great time, and so did the other folks who had come out to the deck at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Three tribute bands brought back the 60s and 70s: Glimmer Twins, Who’s Next and Britain’s Finest. Each did a great job looking and sounding like the rock & roll heroes they represented.

Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philly, Pa. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. Call has Jagger’s facial expressions, moves and swagger down to the details, while Bollendorf beautifully captures Richards’ onstage persona, from the way he’s holding his guitars to the cigarettes in his mouth while playing. Even both of their voices sound similar to Jagger and Richards – amazing!

Glimmer Twins 2

Call and Bollendorf are backed up by a kick ass band, which according to their Facebook page consists of Michael Rubino (guitars), Chris Bollendorf (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (backup vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Bill Cancel (saxophone, flute, organ). In fact, it’s safe to assume they sound better than the their stoned rock & roll heroes during many of their ’70s shows!

Some of The Rolling Stones classics the band played included Start Me Up, Wild Horses, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), (I Can’t Get No) SatisfactionHappy, It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) and what I thought was a highlight: Gimme Shelter, where the band’s African-American backing vocalist demonstrated her amazing pipes. Here’s a little demo.

Who’s Next

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much public information on this tribute band to The Who. They have a Facebook group, which I’ve asked to join. What I can say for the time being is these four guys would make Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend really proud. Who knows, perhaps they’re even aware of them!

Who's Next 2

Apparently named after The Who’s fifth legendary studio album from 1971, the band strives to look and sound like the real thing during the ’70s. The singer looks like he could be a younger brother of Daltrey – similar height, similar body build, similar stage persona; oh, and he has a pretty good voice, too! The guitarist, bassist and drummer also do an excellent job personifying Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, respectively.

Who’s Next’s set included classics, such as Can’t ExplainSubstitute, Pinball Wizard and appropriately various tunes from the 1971 album, such as Baba O’Riley, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes and the epic Won’t Get Fooled Again. Here’s a nice promo clip I found from the band.

Britain’s Finest

I’ve seen various tribute bands to The Beatles over the decades, including some that were very good and others that were – well – not as great. The music of the Fab Four, especially the songs they played during their live period, may be relatively simple. But The Beatles were a fantastic live act, and it’s sure as heck not easy to replicate that experience. Britain’s Finest comes pretty darn close to it, both in terms of their looks and the way they’re playing the songs.

Britain's Finest 2

The members of the band are Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). According to their Facebook page, these guys are based in Los Angeles and founded the band in 2011. Based on their website, the band recreates both the live years and the later studio period of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Yesterday’s set was focused on The Fab Four’s live period. It included classics, such as A Hard Day’s Night, Help, I Saw Her Standing There, Roll Over Beethoven and Twist and Shout. The guys also did something you could well imagine The Beatles might do, if they would still be around: Announcing a song from The White Album, they played Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not only was it a hilarious joke, but they were really killing it! Here’s a clip that in addition to the music also nicely illustrates how these guys do a great job portraying The Beatles’ humor.

To anyone who enjoys listening to the British Invasion and the Stones, The Who and The Beatles in particular, I can highly recommend the above bands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It may only be rock & roll, but I sure as heck liked it!

Sources: Glimmer Twins Facebook page, Britain’s Finest Facebook page and website, Wikipedia, YouTube

Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than the Scorpions, one of my favorite bands, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and perhaps heavy metal formation Accept, there aren’t any other German rock music artists I can think of, who have a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of these artists are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Wolfgang Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s home town. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best known songs. Here’s a clip

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best known tunes. His latest, 19th studio album Alphatier appeared in 2014. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a music perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released four additional studio records, the most recent of which (Tocotronic, aka Rotes Album) appeared in 2015. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform and are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga  before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy Engel, L.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and frankly multi-talent  Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Buckingham/McVie Is Fleetwood Mac Sans Stevie Nicks

New album sticks to Fleetwood Mac’s tried and true pop rock formula

Initially, it was supposed to become the first new studio album of the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup since 1987’s Tango In the Night, after Stevie Nicks had announced plans to work with the band on new music in 2015. Then in Sep 2016, Nicks unexpectedly revealed she was going on the road with the Pretenders in support of her last solo album 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault. So Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, who had started to work together on new material in 2014, decided to forge ahead as a duo, sort of – they did have a little help from their band mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

“I just woke up one morning and said I have two years off before Fleetwood Mac comes knocking on my door [for another tour],” Nicks told The New York Times in Sep 2016, as she was gearing up for her tour with the Pretenders. “Why would I want to sit around and do nothing?” More recently, she voiced doubts there would be another (full) Fleetwood Mac record during an interview with Rolling Stone. “I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.” Apparently, her Mac compatriots begged to differ. And the result?

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie in studio

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, which was released on June 9, pretty much sounds like a Fleetwood Mac album without Stevie Nicks. Given what a terrific songwriter she is, not to speak of her distinct voice, I was a bit skeptical what to expect. When listening to the album for the first time, I thought it sounded okay, but none of the ten tracks really stood out to me. After having listened to the record a few more times, I feel it’s solid pop rock. It doesn’t get close to Rumours, my favorite Mac album and one of the best records I know. But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison.

Buckingham/McVie saw the two artists work together on new material for the first time since 1987 – the year Fleetwood Mac released Tango In the Night. Buckingham left in Aug that year and Nicks followed him three years later. In 1997, McVie essentially retired from music after the band’s successful reunion tour with Buckingham and Nicks, which is captured on the fantastic live album The Dance. McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014. At that time, Buckingham and Nicks had returned as well, so the band’s classic lineup was finally back together.

Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie in studio 2

In a just-published Rolling Stone story, Buckingham said he noticed “within the first hour” that “it was like, ‘Holy shit, whatever we used to have” was still working. “We’ve always connected musically in Fleetwood Mac,” added McVie, referring to their respective roles as the band’s guitarist and keyboard player. “We’re the only people who play more than one note. I’m not the best pianist, but I know how to interlace around what Lindsey’s playing.”

Explaining their approach to record the new album as a duo as opposed to making an official Fleetwood Mac record, Buckingham noted, “In the context of the band, there might have been more politics.” As the Rolling Stone story pointed out, Buckingham and McVie didn’t have a previous romantic relationship, unlike Buckingham and Nicks, Fleetwood and Nicks and of course McVie’s marriage to John McVie. “We are free of baggage,” McVie added. With the band’s complicated relationship entanglements out of the way, let’s finally turn to the music!

The album kicks off with Sleeping Around the Corner, a tune Buckingham initially had included as a bonus track on his 2011 solo album Seeds We Sow. The tune starts off in a somewhat grim manner: She called to me, “Meet me at the border”/Oh, wake me up, oh, when my papers are in order. It then launches into a cheerful sounding chorus: “Lord, I don’t wanna bring you down/No, I never meant to give you a frown/I’m just sleepin’ around the corner.” The apparent disconnect between the music and the lyrics isn’t new for Fleetwood Mac. A Rolling Stone review of the album cleverly called it “California sunshine on the surface, but with a heart of darkness.” Okay, I’m not going to over-analyze it!

Next up is Feel About You, one of album’s three Buckingham/McVie co-writes. Here’s a clip from a recent performance on CBS This Morning Saturday.

In My World, the third track, is the album’s lead single. Written by Buckingham, the catchy tune sounds like hit material. Buckingham’s and McVie’ alternating “oh”, “aah”, “oh” are reminiscent of Big Love, one of the many hits from Tango In the Night. Here’s a nice clip from a recent performance on Jimmy Fallon.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Carnival Begin, one of the two songs solely credited to McVie.

Buckingham/McView was recorded at Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, the same studio Fleetwood Mac used for the 1979 album Tusk. “There was some worry about whether it was a good idea to come back here,” Fleetwood told the Los Angeles Times in early May. “Maybe it would be better to go someplace new, someplace we hadn’t worked before. But since we started working here, it couldn’t be more fantastic.” As noted at the outset, Fleetwood and John McVie were actively involved in the recording of the album, “the greatest rhythm section there is,” as Buckingham put it.

Speaking of great musicianship, I think Buckingham is an outstanding musician and one of the most underrated guitarists, both electric and acoustic. Like on many Fleetwood Mac albums, sadly, his talent on this record oftentimes gets a bit lost in the production. Perhaps the best way to experience Buckingham’s craftsmanship is to witness it live. In 2014, I saw a Fleetwood Mac show, just a few months prior to McVie rejoining the band. His performance was truly amazing. One of the highlights I still recall was his solo performance of Big Love on acoustic guitar. It was much better than the studio version on Tango In the Night and needed nothing else – no additional instruments, no additional vocals. Check out this clip!

Buckingham/McVie was produced by Buckingham, Mitchell Froom and Mark Needham. Froom has produced more than 60 albums and worked with numerous other top-notch artists, such as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. He also contributed keyboards on the album. Needham’s impressive credits include Fleetwood Mac (mixing of Say You Will [2003] and Live in Boston [2004]), John Hiatt, Elton John and Stevie Nicks, among others.

Buckingham and McVie will go on the road to promote the new album. The tour, which includes 14 dates, will kick off in Atlanta on June 21 and wrap up in Denver on July 27. On July 15 & 16 and July 29 & 30, they will join their Fleetwood Mac mates for performances at the Classic West and Classic East festivals. For additional thoughts on these events, read here.  Fleetwood Mac is also planning a big tour in 2018. “We’re going to start rehearsing in March, next year,” Christine McVie told NME. “The tour is around June. It will be global.” Separately, she characterized it as a “farewell tour” during an interview with Uncut, but then appeared to caveat it: “But you take farewell tours one at a time. Somehow we always come together, this unit. We can feel it ourselves.”

Finally, here’s a nice clip about the making of Buckingham/McVie.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, YouTube, Los Angeles Times, Lindsey Buckingham web site, NME, Uncut

The Power of Music Beyond Great Riffs and Grooves

One of the most beautiful things music can do is to lift us up when we feel down

This post is a bit different from what I usually write about, since it’s inspired by personal circumstances that just happened. Yesterday, my 15-year-old son was diagnosed with a chronic health condition. While no parent wants to hear their child is sick, my wife and I felt immense relief – we finally got an answer that helps explain his health symptoms, which for more than two years have prevented him from being a “normal” teenager.

The doctor also said something else – it’s fixable, though it may take time, and the journey to a complete cure may not be without challenges. One important aspect of what’s now ahead of us is to stay positive.

I’m convinced a positive attitude and hope can be very powerful forces to address a tough situation, whether it’s a chronic disease or another difficult challenge, even if the prospects are bleaker than in my son’s case. After all, it looks like that ultimately he’s going to be fine!

So what does all of the above have to do with a blog about music? Well, in addition to entertainment, I believe music can touch us in many different ways. Perhaps one of the most powerful things it can do is to build us up when we feel down. This made me think about songs I’ve heard over the decades I find very uplifting. Many of these tunes fall outside the realm of music I typically cover. Following are some that came to mind:

Christina Aguilera/Beautiful (written by Linda Perry; from Stripped, 2002)

Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come (written by Sam Cooke; from A Change Is Gonna Come, 1986)

Miley Cyrus/The Climb (written by Jessi Alexander & John Mabe; from Hannah Montana: The Movie, 2009)

Carole King/Beautiful (written by Carole King; from Tapestry, 1971)

Alicia Keys/Send Me An Angel (written by Alicia Keys; from Hope for Haiti Now, 2010)

Whitney Houston/One Moment in Time (written Albert Hammond & John Bettis; from 1988 Summer Olympics Album: One Moment in Time, 1988)

John Lennon/Imagine (written by John Lennon; from Imagine, 1971)

Ben E. King/Stand By Me (written by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller; from Don’t Play That Song, 1962)

People Get Ready/The Impressions (written by Curtis Mayfield; from People Get Ready, 1965)

Lee Ann Womack/I Hope You Dance (written by Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sillers; from I Hope You Dance, 2000)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube