Elvis Costello Revisits His Roots on Vibrant New Album

Writing an informed review of a new album by a music artist like Elvis Costello who has had an impressive 45-year recording career is a bit tricky when you’ve only listened to a fraction of their previous catalog. But having been a music fan for essentially the same amount of years, I feel confident to proclaim I know great music when I hear it, and The Boy Named If definitely qualifies!

If you’re a long-time Costello listener, which I cannot claim, you may ask which Elvis Costello is showing up on the new album. After all, the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been called a chameleon for nothing, having worked with the likes of Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and The Roots. Based on my limited exposure, I can clearly hear early influences going back to his first few albums, especially This Year’s Model, his sophomore release from March 1978, and the first record with the then-newly formed The Attractions.

The Boy Named If, released Friday, January 14, is Costello’s 32nd studio album. He is backed by The Imposters, the official name of his touring band since 2002, which has had different members. According to this review in Showbiz 411, the current line-up includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davy Faragher (bass and vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums, percussion). Ultimate Classic Rock called this group “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.

“The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories),” Costello noted in a statement on his website. ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Elvis Costello

Well, I’d say ’nuff upfront info, let’s check out some music. For some odd reason, I couldn’t embed YouTube clips for some of the songs. In these cases, I resorted to embeds of Spotify sound files. I’m also including a Spotify link to the entire album toward the end of the post.

I’d like to kick it off with an early favorite, the opener Farewell, OK, which also had appeared separately as one of three singles leading up to the album’s release. “Like a lot of good rock and roll songs this began with a drummer down in a basement and a singer howling outside the backdoor,” Costello stated on his website. “It’s a blurred gaze, a drink too much, an accidental punch and a kiss goodnight all in the tumult of a dancehall.” Like all other tunes on the album, it was penned by Costello. I love Farewell, OK’s cool retro feel, including Nieve’s Vox Continental and the harmony vocal fill-ins.

Here’s the title track Costello mentioned in his above comment, together with the opening verse to give you a flavor of the lyrics.

I’m a lucky so and so
A fortunate stiff
You said you’d never knew me but I’m the one you want to be with
If I tumble from a tightrope or leap from a cliff
I won’t be dashed to pieces
I’m the boy named If

Penelope Halfpenny is another early favorite. Like in the opener, Steve Nieve is back with that seductive Vox Continental keyboard. I just can’t get enough of this cool sound – okay, perhaps once again my nerdy side is rearing its head. But even if you don’t care about the Vox Continental or any other instrument for that matter, you’ve got to admit this is a bloody catchy tune. Check it out!

Costello and the band are slowing things down on Paint The Red Rose Blue. But don’t get fooled by the ballad’s beautiful melody. This ain’t exactly a silly love song. Paint The Red Rose Blue, which first appeared as another upfront single, is “the account of someone who has long-courted theatrical darkness, only for its violence and cruelty to become all too real,” as Costello put it. “In its wake, a bereft couple learn to love again, painting a melancholy blue over the red of romance.”

My Most Beautiful Mistake (reading that title, I keep thinking of Sheryl Crow’s My Favorite Mistake) is another track I’d like to call out. The song features American singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins on backing harmony vocals. I like how her voice bends with Costello’s.

Since I already featured Magnificent Hurt, another highlight on the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the final track I’d like to highlight: the beautiful closer Mr. Crescent.

“Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper,” Costello said in the above statement. “I started ‘The Boy Named If’ with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play.”

He added, “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing, Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

The Boy Named If was co-produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, who also had worked with Costello on his two previous studio albums Hey Clockface (October 2020), Look Now (October 2018). Appearing on EMI, with Capitol Records serving as U.S. release partner, the new album is available in vinyl, CD, cassette and downloadble/streaming formats. There is also a deluxe version that includes an 88-page hardback storybook.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Announce  The Boy Named If & Other Favourites 2022 UK Tour

In early December, Costello announced plans for a 2022 UK tour featuring The Imposters, along with American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton. Among others, he is known for having been a member of Bob Dylan’s backing band starting in 1999. The tour is set to kick off on June 5 in Brighton – keeping my fingers crossed for British fans! For additional details, you can check here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Showbiz 411; Ultimate Classic Rock; Elvis Costello website; YouTube; Spotify

The Brandy Alexanders Debut with Intoxicating Melodic Psych Rock

A Brandy Alexander is a brandy-based dessert cocktail, which according to Wikipedia was John Lennon’s favorite drink. It wasted him and Harry Nilsson at the Troubador in March 1974, and eventually, they were kicked out of the prominent Los Angeles nightclub after they had heckled the performing act and Lennon reportedly had hit a waitress. The potent drink also inspired the name of Canadian psychedelic rock band The Brandy Alexanders who released their eponymous debut album last Friday (December 10). The sound is quite melodic and, yes, intoxicating.

The Brandy Alexanders were formed by brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards) in 2016, notes the band’s biography. The brothers, who write the group’s lyrics and music, had started their musical journey in high school where they formed two now-defunct bands. Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums) complete the group’s line-up.

The Brandy Alexanders describe their music as follows: Somewhere in the expanse between the Dark Side of The Moon and Abbey Road – Psychedelic Rock band, The Brandy Alexanders, take you to a parallel universe. Introspective, and almost existential lyrics are expressed via dream like vocals that weave themselves into a wall of propulsive guitar riffs, textured synths and a bold rhythm section. Jeez, couldn’t have said it any better! 🙂

In 2019, Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of Gypsy Soul Records, saw The Brandy Alexanders at a local performance venue in Toronto. He subsequently signed them, and their debut appears on the independent label. During an interview with Canadian Beats, the band said the album’s album origin was a 2016 EP, which eventually developed into the nine tracks that are out now. Time for some music. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks are credited to Alexander Dick and Shawn Dawson.

Here’s the opener Ceiling Fan, Man. The tune first appeared as the album’s lead single on August 27. It’s got a cool riff and a big sound that drew me in. Here’s the official video – quite trippy!

Shiram is a nice rocker. In addition to the fuzzy guitar, I like the keyboard work on this track.

Hey, Why’d You Do It is another song with a great riff and a cool sound. It’s just catchy.

Next up: Live by the Light, a tune solely written by Alex Dick, and the band’s new single. “This song evolved over the course of two years, eventually adding the chorus and the unison guitar part after Alex and Dan did multiple demos,” the band told Canadian Beats. I dig the groove. And once again, the sound is great!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the closer Spaceopus, a co-write by the two brothers. And, yes, it’s spacey and has an epic feel to it!

I came across The Brandy Alexanders by coincidence. For some reason, I didn’t see their new album when I checked iTunes for new releases last Friday. While it does get a bit repetitive after some time, the sound of this band is pretty compelling. I look forward to more of their music in the future.

Sources: The Brandy Alexanders website; Canadian Beats; YouTube

The Horse Has Left the Barn

Recorded high in the Rocky Mountains, Neil Young’s new album with Crazy Horse sounds spontaneous and relaxed

Neil Young’s new album with Crazy Horse is out today (December 10). While Barn doesn’t break new ground, its classic Neil Young feel makes for a great listening experience fans of the Canadian-turned-American singer-songwriter will love. His 41st studio release appears 52 years after 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and follows Colorado from October 2019, the first and most recent albums, respectively, which Young recorded with his longtime backing band.

The title of the new album couldn’t be more fitting: It was recorded in June this year in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, using Le Mobile Recording Studio. “Made it just like in the old drawings and photographs,” Young told Apple Music about the barn. “It used to be a stage stop, so you’d see these pictures with the carriages and the horses and the ladies with their big dresses with the metal ring and everything.”

From left: Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Nils Lofgren and Neil Young

Young also explained the album’s unusual recording process to Apple. The sessions were scheduled at night, so he and his Crazy Horse members Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums) could work in the moonlight. Getting to the barn involved walking for a couple of miles “across the meadows, through the valley.” Further describing the scene Young added, “The Rockies are everywhere. And it’s just beautiful. I like that.” 

Three of the 10 tracks, Song of the Seasons, Heading West and Welcome Back, had been released upfront. I previously covered these tunes here, here and here. As such, I’m skipping them in this post. Let’s take a look at some of the other songs. All tunes were written by Young.

Change Ain’t Never Gonna has a bluesy vibe. Young, a strong supporter of biofuels, criticizes the opponents of alternative fuels: Ten men workin’ had to get a new job/Try to save the planet from a fuel-burnin’ mob/Who turned on everyone for bein’ so controllin’/Takin’ away all the freedom they’ve been knowin’…

On crunchy rocker Canerican, Young who became an American citizen in 2020 reflects on his new status: …I am American, American is what I am/I was born in Canada, came south to join a band/got caught up in the big time, traveling through the land/Up on the stage I see the changes coming to this country/I am Canerican/ Canerican is what I am…

They Might Be Lost is one of the acoustic tunes on the album. It’s not clear to me what the song is about. This review in Riff Magazine notes it may or may not be about a marijuana grower waiting for couriers to come pick up the latest shipment. While I guess it’s possible, I’m not sure how they came up with this explanation.

On Human Race, the speed picks up and the sound gets crunchy again. There’s also less ambiguity about the lyrics…Who’s gonna save the human race/Where are all the children gonna run and hide (children of the fires and floods/From the fires and floods today’s people have left behind

The last track I’d like to highlight is Tumblin’ Thru the Years. The piano-driven ballad appears to be a thank you to Young’s wife Daryl Hannah for sticking with him. They started a relationship in 2014 and got married three years ago. Well, I was walking down the road/one step at a time heading home/I was thinkin’ about the love we share, you and me/It’s a complicated thing, this life/If I wasn’t here with you/Tumblin’ thru the years without our love

Barn was co-produced by Young and Niko Bolas, who also worked in this capacity on Young’s previous albums Living with War (2006), Freedom (1989) and This Note’s for You (1988). On Barn, nothing seems to be overthought, a common characteristic of other Crazy Horse albums. In fact, the recordings sound pretty spontaneous, occasionally somewhat imperfect and relaxed. Perhaps those moonlight recording sessions and walks to the barn contributed to this feel!

Barn’s release is accompanied by a documentary about the making of the album, BARN/A Band – A Brotherhood – A Barn, directed by Hannah. The film was screened on December 9 for one night only at select theaters in Chicago; Santa Monica, Calif. and New York City. Another screening is scheduled in Toronto for tomorrow evening. The documentary will also stream on Young’s website NeilYoungArchives.com and streaming services in January.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Riff Magazine; YouTube

Blue Rodeo’s New Album Is Medolic Country Rock Gem

Since I featured the great lead single When You Were Wild in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’ve listened a few times to Blue Rodeo’s new album Many a Mile. I just love the warm sound of this Canadian country rock-oriented group! The band has been around since 1984 when it was co-founded by Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), two high school friends who had played together in various bands before.

Released on December 3, Many a Mile is Blue Rodeo’s 16th studio album and their first new record since 1000 Arms from October 2016. In addition to Cuddy and Keelor who write the band’s original songs, the other members include Colin Cripps (guitar, backing vocals), Jimmy Bowskill (pedal steel, mandolin, guitar), Mike Boguski (piano, organ), Bazil Donovan (bass) and Glenn Milchem (drums).

According to this review in the Toronto Star, the prospects for another album following 1000 Arms were uncertain since Keelor had been dealing with various aural conditions, including tinnitus. Apparently, the forced break from touring due to the pandemic had a positive impact on Keelor’s health. “It was a surprise to me to get Greg’s songs pretty much completed,” Cuddy told the Star. “And I was overjoyed. They’re great songs and there’s a lot of them.”

In fact, when he received Keelor’s songs, Cuddy was working on a solo project, which he subsequently put aside. “I do try to not overlap, so I had to start songwriting again,” he noted. “But I was on a good songwriting roll as well … So I could do an about-face, start writing for the Blue Rodeo record and that was a lot of fun.”

Blue Rodeo Debuts 'Many A Mile': First New Album In Five Years |  ETCanada.com

The Toronto Star also explained Keelor and Cuddy were never in the same studio when making the new album: When they needed to sing on each other’s songs — Cuddy wrote five and Keelor penned seven for “Many a Mile” — they sent each other digital stems and recorded their harmonies in their respective studios. Of course, music artists each working in separate locations is a reality that has become all too common during the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some of the outcomes!

Since I just covered it, I’m skipping the excellent opener and lead single When You Were Wild and go right to I Owe It to Myself. Featuring beautiful harmony singing, a catchy melody and a great warm sound, the tune pretty much represents the rest of the album.

Symmetry of Starlight, a slower tune with a dreamy sound, is one of the tracks written by Keeler. I’m less fond of what sounds like synth claps (starting at around 2:23 minutes into the track), but it’s a minor aspect of an otherwise beautiful tune.

Here’s The Opening Act, which sounds a bit more like traditional country. As recently as five or six years ago, I would probably have dismissed it as hillbilly music. My music taste has definitely evolved since.

Never Like This Before is a nice pop rock tune. Admittedly, Blue Rodeo aren’t exactly reinventing chord progressions here. It doesn’t matter, I still dig this song. With great singing, nice guitar and keyboard work, and yet another tune with a catchy melody, what’s not to love about it!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Ride Your Bike. It’s another great illustration of the band’s warm sound. I also like the changes in dynamic.

According to their website, In the 35 years since forming, Blue Rodeo have sold over 4 million albums, received dozens of JUNO Award nominations and wins, played over 2,000 shows, been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, been named to the Order of Canada and have been honoured with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. This surely is an impressive record!

Last Thursday, Blue Rodeo announced a 25-plus-date tour across Canada to support their new album. The tour is supposed to kick off this Friday, December 10 in Kitchener, Ontario. The last currently scheduled gig is on March 26 in Halifax, Nova Scotia – keeping fingers crossed everything will go as planned! The current tour schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Toronto Star; Blue Rodeo website; YouTube

The Wanderer Stays On Blues Path

Dion continues to have fun on new blues collaboration album Stomping Ground

The first time I heard of Dion DiMucci dates back at least 40 years when listening to The Wanderer on a Sunday evening oldies show that aired on my favorite FM radio station back in Germany. While I immediately loved that tune then and every time I heard it thereafter, I pretty much had forgotten about Dion – until last year’s Blues With Friends, a great album of collaborations with prominent other artists. Now he’s back with an encore, and though I’m not as surprised as I wrote in June 2020, Stomping Ground still is a fun album most blues fans will likely enjoy.

As reported by Rock & Blues Muse, Stomping Ground appeared on November 19 and was produced by Wayne Wood and Dion, and recorded during the pandemic. Wood had also worked with Dion on Blues With Friends. And just like on that album, Dion wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on Stomping Ground with Mike Aquilina. Blues With Friends ended up topping Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart. And guess who the current no. 1 is, so who can blame Dion for sticking with the formula – what a remarkable late-stage career triumph!

Let’s get to some music. Unless noted otherwise, all featured tracks were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. Here’s the opener Take It Back featuring blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa who also is a co-founder of Keeping the Blues Alive Records (KTBA), the label on which the album appears. At 82 years, Dion sounds and looks great! Bonamassa’s guitar work is pretty neat as well.

If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll, written solely by Dion, features Eric Clapton. Love how that tune shuffles along!

Here’s a nice slower blues, There Was a Time. Dion’s guest artist on that tune is Peter Frampton. Sadly, more recent news on Frampton hasn’t been great. In 2019, he announced a farewell tour and revealed he had been diagnosed with a progressive muscle inflammation and wasting disorder called inclusion body myositis. As such, it’s particularly great to hear the disease evidently hasn’t started to noticeably impact his ability to play guitar.

Here’s the title track, a fun rocker featuring Billy Gibbons. ZZ Top’s long-bearded guitarist sounds in fine shape. Sadly, the Texas blues rock trio lost co-founding member and bassist Dusty Hill in late July. As anticipated, they will continue with Hill’s guitar tech Elwood Francis who filled for Hill after he had been side-lined during ZZ Top’s last tour.

The last track I’d like to call out is Angel in the Alleyways. For this tune, Dion teamed up with Patti Scialfa and her husband Bruce Springsteen, an intriguing pairing. Check out the song’s great sound. I love Scialfa’s harmony singing that at times resembles gospel, and how about Springsteen’s cool harmonica fill-ins? Here’s the official video.

I could not think of a better way to end this post than with Dion’s following comments about Stomping Ground, taken from the album’s notes, courtesy of YouTube: When I was young, I was always striving for accolades and admiration. Those were my goals. But when I reached them, they didn’t satisfy. I discovered joy when I learned to stop caring about all that – when I learned to relax and make music with friends… music that would make more friends for us through its joy. To make music with friends, and to make friends through music: I can’t imagine a better life than this. I am grateful to my friends who made Stomping Ground with me – and my new friends who are listening.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube

Deep Purple Demonstrate Cover Albums Can Be Fun

Machine Head by Deep Purple remains my most favorite hard rock album of all time, and I also like some of the English rockers’ other music, especially from their early period. But when I read a couple of weeks ago Deep Purple were coming out with an all-covers album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, Turning to Crime has since appeared (November 26). Did we need renditions of great tunes like Cream’s White Room or Shapes of Things by The Yardbirds? Not really. Is it fun when Deep Purple plays them? Hell yes! In fact, I included their great cover of White Room in my last Best of What’s New installment.

Of course, I can see cynics say when a group of mostly septuagenarians releases a collection of covers or a Christmas album for that matter, they either ran out of ideas or are trying to make a quick buck or both. Well, to start with, good luck with making money these days by selling albums unless you’re perhaps Adele! Plus, in Deep Purple’s case, there are two other explanations: COVID-19 (sigh!), which didn’t allow the band to go on the road and left them idle, and the fact they always write original music together in the studio – again something they couldn’t do because of this dreadful pandemic.

“The whole idea came about during the lockdown,” long-time band member and bassist Roger Glover told music journalist and Forbes contributor Jim Ryan. “We didn’t want to twiddle our thumbs or anything…And we couldn’t write songs. Because we don’t write songs for Purple. We just jam together. That’s where the songs are born really – coming out of the jams. But we’ve got to be together to jam. So we couldn’t write. Well, we’ll let other people do the writing. We’ll cover songs. Then all we’ve got to do is perform it.”

Glover further noted each of the group’s five members came up with ideas for covers, with producer Bob Ezrin acting as “our kind of conductor.” Ezrin also worked with Deep Purple on their previous three albums. Eventually, they had a list of about 50 tunes, from which 12 were selected via vote. “But we weren’t just covering them straight,” Glover said. “We wanted to add something to them, Purpleize them if you like.”

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu. How about that title! Co-written by Johnny Vincent and Huey Smith, the tune was first recorded in 1957 by Smith who was known as Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. It may not be Smoke On the Water, but damn, that boogie-woogie piano by the group’s keyboarder Don Airey surely smokes, as do the horns. Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan is in fine shape as well and is joined by Ezra on backing vocals.

How about some Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac? Oh Well. That’s actually the title of the song written by Green and first released as a non-album single in September 1969. Steve Morse, a solid guitarist and at age 67 the youngest current member of Deep Purple, does a great job. In fact, I just have to say this, the entire band kicks ass. Check it out!

Next up: Bob Dylan’s Watching the River Flow, a blues-rock tune the maestro penned and recorded in March 1971, and released as a single in June that year. Produced by Leon Russell, it was also included on the compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November 1971.

Let the Good Times Roll sounds like a good description of Deep Purple when they were recording this album, even though they weren’t physically together. It’s also the title of a jump blues co-written by Sam Theard and Fleecie Moore, and recorded by American saxophonist Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in 1946. Hearing a hard rock band swing like this is certainly something unusual!

Let’s do one more. How about a dose of New Orleans-flavored R&B? Here’s a great rendition of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Co-written by Lowell George and Fred Martin, the tune is the title track of the band’s third studio album from January 1973 and one of their most beloved songs. Did you ever expect to hear that track from Deep Purple? An intriguing pick and another remarkable cover.

While Turning to Crime is Deep Purple first all-covers album, the concept of recording songs written by other artists actually goes back to the group’s beginnings, so to some extent, they’ve come full circle. “We’ve covered songs before of course,” Glover told Ryan. ““Hush” [written by Joe South, Purple’s first single – CMM] was a cover [so were their next three singles, Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High and The Beatles Help! – CMM]. But doing an album of covers with the intent of messing with them and having a bit of fun with them is very new to us.”

Turning to Crime, Deep Purple’s 22nd studio effort, was released just 15 months after predecessor Whoosh! from August 2020. This Ultimate Classic Rock review noted it’s the band’s fastest turnaround since the mid-’70s. That’s when they released their 10th studio album Come Taste the Band. What’s much more intriguing to me is the remarkable versatility and great musicianship Deep Purple demonstrate on the album – certainly no crime committed here! You also get a sense they had a great time putting together these covers, even though for the most part each member recorded their parts remotely.

Sources: Wikipedia; Forbes; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Heading West

On October 28, Neil Young announced Heading West on his Neil Young Archives website, the second upfront tune from his upcoming new album with Crazy Horse, Barn. The below official video appeared on November 4.

The crunchy electric rocker follows the acoustic folk tune Song of the Seasons from October 15, which I previously featured here. Both of these tracks sound like classic Neil, and I’m looking forward to the album that’s scheduled to drop on December 10.

My mom and I travelled across the country together, heading west, Young wrote on his website. She was on her way back home to start over. I was on my way there with her. Here’s a song about me and my mom and those ‘growing up’ times. It’s so great to remember her this way!

Heading West features Young (guitar, lead vocals) and his Crazy Horse band mates Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). The tune was recorded in the Rocky Mountains on June 21 this year at Le Mobile Remote Recording Studio. Housed in a remote recording truck, Le Mobile is a rolling recording studio that over its nearly 50-year history has been used by countless music artists from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

I think this comment by Young perfectly sums the ragged melodic tune: What a great ride with the Horse on this one! Larry Cragg [Young’s longtime guitar tech – CMM] had my guitar sounding so alive.

Neil Young with his mother Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) – undated photo from Neil Young Archives

In a separate statement on his website, Young also had this to say about the forthcoming album: All of BARN is real. It came from the heart. We may have cried after some takes…in happiness…in elation…A band of brothers, we have all known one another since our beginnings. We made ‘Only love can break your Heart’ and ‘Southern Man’ on the same album. We made ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Down by the River’ on the same album. We made ‘Don’t forget about Love’ and ‘Human Race’ on the same album. Welcome back. It’s not the same. Barn may be our best album ever.

That conclusion certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of confidence. One of the things I find intriguing about Neil Young is his spontaneity. He doesn’t seem to overthink his recording projects. Overall, I feel this approach has served him well, though it’s also fair to say the outcomes have varied.

Young is also known for having made impulsive decisions and having scrapped entire albums at the last minute. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case for Barn. If anything, for the past few years, Young seems to have been on a mission to release more of his music, as evidenced by his Archives Performance Series, not withhold it. Keeping fingers crossed!

Sources: Wikipedia; NeilYoungArchives.com; Le Mobile website; YouTube

Adele’s New Album 30 Is a Powerful Pop Revelation

Not in a million years did I ever think I was going to write a post to review an album by Adele – not to mention characterizing it as a “powerful pop revelation!” I bet many frequent visitors of my blog didn’t see this coming either. Well, I suppose music sometimes can work in mysterious ways!

On closer scrutiny, perhaps my take is only partially surprising. After all, I’ve said many times how much I dig great vocals, and there’s no doubt in mind Adele is one of the most compelling contemporary vocalists. But one could also point to other examples like Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, and I’m not exactly jumping up and down about their music. So what’s going on here? Actually, it’s faily simple: Prompted by all the buzz this album has generated, I listened to 30 over the weekend, and it just drew me in!

While I resumed paying attention to new music about 1.5 years ago and launched my weekly Best of What’s New series, I still pretty much ignore the mainstream charts and the artists grabbing the top spots there. In the case of Adele, I didn’t track the weeks leading up to the release of 30, but only a person living under a rock could have completed missed it.

This recent USA Today story lays out the elaborate PR campaign to create buzz leading up to November 19, the day the album dropped. Some of the elements included the October 15th release of lead single Easy On Me, the November 1 revelation of the album’s official tracklist, and the November 14 CBS special Adele One Night Only. The latter featured three then-still-unheard tunes from 30, along with other songs from previous Adele albums, as well as an interview with Oprah Winfrey. As reported by entertainment outlet Deadline, the TV special attracted 11.7 million viewers, surpassing the 2021 Oscars!

Adele One Night Only

30 is Adele’s fourth studio album and her first new release in six years after 25. From the very first line of the opener Strangers By Nature, it becomes evident 30 is very personal. Adele tackles heavy subjects like divorce, motherhood and the pitfalls of fame, and she doesn’t hold back. No question this was part of the reason why I started paying close attention as I was listening to these tracks for the first time. I simply had not expected this!

Adele co-wrote all of the songs, working with various songwriters and producers, especially Greg Kurstin and Dean Wynton Josiah Cover, professionally known as Inflo. Her extensive involvement in songwriting is actually nothing new and was also the case on her previous albums. But it’s something I had not realized since I never cared to check! I have a lot of respect for music artists who write their songs; even more so, if they also are true musicians. Adele plays acoustic guitar and, according to Wikipedia, performed acoustic sets early in her career. She also played guitar and bass on some of the songs on her 2008 debut album 19 – again something that was new to me!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the aforementioned opener Strangers By Nature, co-written by Adele (credited by her full name Adele Adkins) and Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and producer. Like most other tracks on 30, the song is on the quiet side. It starts with I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart, the above line that got my attention. The fact it sounds like music from an old movie isn’t a coincidence. “I’d watched the Judy Garland biopic,” Adele told Zane Lowe during an extended interview for Apple Music. “And I remember thinking, ‘Why did everyone stop writing such incredible melodies and cadences and harmonies?'”

Next up is the album’s above-mentioned lead single Easy On Me. Co-written by Adele and Kurstin, the powerful tune is about Adele’s fraught childhood, her lost marriage and the lessons learnt and unlearnt about family, love and abandonment along the way, noted British Vogue. “My son [Angelo James – CMM] has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for,” Adele told Vogue. “I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness. It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.” This is tough and authentic-sounding stuff, and it evidently resonated. The Washington Post reported Easy On Me set new streaming records on Spotify and Amazon Music.

Perhaps the most personal tune and the one that touched me the most is My Little Love, another song Adele wrote for her son Angelo. It features excerpts from conversations between Adele and the young boy who was born in October 2012, as well as voice memos she recorded to capture her struggles with the situation. Frankly, it’s a tear-jerker some people might find a bit too intense, but I think it’s pretty powerful. Call me crazy, the soft music almost reminds me of something Marvin Gaye could have recorded. I just find this incredible!

30 isn’t all about sorrow and regret. One example is Can I Get It, which picks up the tempo and with some whistling in the chorus sounds more upbeat. Adele created this song together with Swedish songwriters and producers Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster, known as Shellback. The lyrics are a clear indication Adele is ready to move on from her recent divorce. Pave me a path to follow/And I’ll tread any dangerous road/I will beg and I’ll steal, I will borrow/If I can make, if I can make your heart my home…In fact, Adele recently started dating American sports agent Rich Paul. Musically speaking, the tune isn’t so much my cup of tea, but it nicely breaks up an otherwise largely somber album.

The last track I’d like to call out is Hold On, one of the co-writes with Inflo. It’s another reflective tune but with a silver lining. “I definitely lost hope a number of times that I’d ever find my joy again,” Adele told Apple Music about the song. “But I didn’t realize I was making progress until I wrote ‘Hold On’ and listened to it back. Later, I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve come a long way.”

Before wrapping up this post, it feels right to give Adele the final word about this remarkable album: “I was certainly nowhere near where I’d hoped to be when I first started it nearly 3 years ago,” she wrote on her website. “Quite the opposite actually…I’ve learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way…It was my ride or die throughout the most turbulent period of my life. When I was writing it, it was my friend who came over with a bottle of wine and a takeaway to cheer me up…I’ve painstakingly rebuilt my house and my heart since then and this album narrates it.”

I think we’ve just witnessed the release of an album that is going to dominate the charts, will be included in many year-end lists, and win a bunch of Grammys next year. This would add to the 33-year-old’s impressive accomplishments to date. According to Wikipedia, Adele has sold more than 120 million records, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Her sophomore release 21 was certified 17 X Platinum in the UK, and became the world’s best-selling album of the 21st century in 2011 with over 31 million sold copies. Adele’s accolades include 15 Grammy Awards and nine Brit Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia; USA Today; Deadline; Apple Music; British Vogue; The Washington Post; Adele website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Rod Stewart/Born to Boogie

Rod Stewart can still rock if he wants to. Usually, I don’t wanna talk about it when a music artist I once considered truly great goes off the ranch, singing stuff like Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? I wish he was only joking. Well, he wasn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact the British artist who has been around in music for some 60 years has one of the most distinct voices. And if he puts it to good use, the outcomes can be compelling to this day.

Born to Boogie (A Tribute to Marc Bolan), co-written by Stewart and his band’s guitarist Emerson Swinford, is a nice homage to the British glam rocker. It’s a track from Stewart’s new album The Tears of Hercules that came out on November 12. Based on what I’ve heard, his 32nd studio release is a mixed bag, but there are at least a couple of fairly decent tunes on there. And let’s be honest here: Stewart’s raspy smoky pipes remain pretty darn cool!

…He stood five-foot-four
But was a giant of his generation

Just an eastern kid who became a rock ‘n’ roll sensation
A dandy of a superstar
Who led a sexual revolution

Now when he played guitar he was a rock god, babyface assassin
He wore a black bowler hat and a jacket made of cherry red satin
He was a hero of mine
That’s why I wrote a song about him…

An announcement on Stewart’s website notes The Tears of Hercules is his fourth new album of original songs since 2013. He co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks. The album also includes covers of Some Kind of Wonderful, a 1967 tune by American R&B outfit Soul Brothers Six, and Johnny Cash’s These Are My People, a tune the man in black recorded for his 1972 concept album America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song.

“I’ve never said this before about any previous efforts, but I believe this is by far my best album in many a year,” Stewart confidently notes. Well, I seem to recall he has made similar statements about some of his previous albums in the past.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rod Stewart website; YouTube

The Mule Rule on Their New “First-Ever Blues Album”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, guitarist, songwriter and producer Warren Haynes doesn’t strike me as an artist who does things half-ass. Still, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I saw Gov’t Mule came out with what the Southern jam rockers billed as their “first-ever blues album.” In fact, I don’t follow the group closely, so had missed when they had first announced the record back in September. Well, I suppose, based on this post’s headline, you already figured out that I’m pretty excited about Heavy Load Blues, which was released last Friday, November 12.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the album was recorded live in-studio at Power Station New England. The MuleWarren Haynes (guitar, lead vocals), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Matt Abts (drums) – recorded the tracks to analog tape, using vintage equipment. Clearly, this was all done to create an authentic sound, and the result is sweet! The album, which was co-produced by Haynes and John Paterno, covers tunes by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Junior Wells, and includes some original songs written by Haynes.

Govt Mule Press September 2021
Gov’t Mule (from left): Matt Abs, Danny Louis, Jorgen Carlsson and Warren Haynes – Photo by Jay Sansone

“For me, personally, it’s kind of been on my list of things to do for years,” Haynes said in a statement on Gov’t Mule’s website. “I didn’t know if it was gonna be a solo album or a Gov’t Mule record,” he further noted. “We play some traditional blues on stage from time to time and although it’s usually never more than a few songs per show, our approach to the blues is unique and based on our collective chemistry as a band. This album gave us a mission.”

Well, let’s get to some of the goodies. Kicking off the album is a great rendition of Blues Before Sunrise, which I believe was first recorded in 1934 by blues guitar and piano duo Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. Interestingly, Gov’t Mule’s clip lists Elmore James and Joe Josea as the tune’s composers. I found a recording by James from 1955, credited to him and Josea, which implies they couldn’t have written the original song. Perhaps they changed it up a bit and subsequently claimed it as their own – not unheard of, especially when it comes to the blues. In any case, I love The Mule’s shuffling rendition. Haynes’ slide guitar sounds great, as does his voice, which reminds me a bit of Gregg Allman.

Hole In My Soul is one of the original tunes written by Haynes, and it’s a true beauty. The horn section of Pam Fleming (trumpet), Jenny Jill (tenor saxophone) and Buford O’Sullivan (trombone) sounds beautiful, adding a nice soul vibe to the track. Danny Louis’ Hammond in the background gives me goosebumps – admittedly, a Hammond does that to me pretty frequently! Again, Haynes is doing a great job on guitar and vocals.

One of the album’s highlights is a medley blending Snatch It Back and Hold It, a 1965 tune by Junior Wells, and Hold It Back, a jam credited to The Mule. Check out the official video. Seeing these guys in action in the studio is really cool! Yes, at close to 8 minutes, it’s on the longer side, but what do you expect from jam rockers? BTW, long tracks are one of the reasons why I’m not an all-out fan of jam rock. However, in this case, it doesn’t bother me since I dig the blues, plus the band doesn’t overdo it by playing millions of notes during their solos!

Some people said it was cocaine/Some people said it was gin/But I know the name of the motherfucker that did my brother in//They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill/They put the last clean shirt/On my poor brother Bill…You know a song that starts out that way just has to be good. Co-written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Clyde Otis, Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt) was recorded by The Animals for their 1977 reunion album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. On Discogs, I also found a 1964 version by The Honeyman, an alias of Charles Otis, a drummer who performed with the likes of Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke.

Here is the album’s de facto title track Heavy Load, another Haynes composition, and one of two acoustic blues songs on the record. During an extended webcam interview with Musicoff – Where Music Matters, Haynes explained he used a 1929 Gibson L-1, the same type of guitar delta blues legend Robert Johnson played, while Danny Louis performed on a ’60s Gibson Hummingbird. For folks who are into music gear and recording, the 21-minute interview includes a wealth of additional information. Meanwhile, check out this tune, which sounds really neat!

The last track I’d like to highlight is I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline), a song written by Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf. The tune appeared on his 1959 debut album Moanin’ in the Moonlight. The Mule’s rendition is quite heavy and funky. In the above Musicoff interview Haynes explained he wanted to maintain and capture the “nastiness and darkness” of the original while giving it a distinct musical feel. This sounds really raw!

I think this statement from Haynes nicely sums up Heavy Load Blues: “Although in some way it was ‘anything goes,’ we wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blues in a traditional sense. It’s not a blues/rock record – it’s a blues record. We wanted it sonically to sound different from a normal Gov’t Mule record.”

Speaking of a Gov’t Mule record, in the above Musicoff interview, Haynes noted that during the pandemic he had written a lot of new material for the group. When they decided to make a blues album, Haynes suggested recording it along with a new Gov’t Mule album. Apparently, that’s what they did after they had been able to find a studio that allowed them to set up in two different rooms: a small room with a low ceiling where they were close to each other, like performing on a stage in a small music club, and a big room where they could set up for a “normal” Gov’t Mule recording. Again, check out the interview for additional insights.

My takeaway from the Musicoff interview is that in addition to Heavy Load Blues fans of The Mule can also look forward to an original album in the not-so-distant future. I’m actually surprised the interviewer didn’t ask Haynes about it, even though Haynes brought it up. Perhaps it had been agreed that discussing the details was off-limits at this time not to distract from the blues album. I guess for now fans will have to wait and see.

Double LP Back Cover

Heavy Load Blues comes in a standard 13-track version and an expanded deluxe edition. The latter features eight additional studio and live bonus tracks, including one more Haynes original and renditions of tunes by Savoy Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. Following are the track listings of each edition.

Standard Edition Track Listing:
1. Blues Before Sunrise
2. Hole In My Soul
3. Wake Up Dead
4. Love Is A Mean Old World
5. Snatch It Back and Hold It – Hold It Back – Snatch It Back and Hold It
6. Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City
7. (Brother Bill) Last Clean Shirt
8. Make It Rain
9. Heavy Load
10. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
11. If Heartaches Were Nickels
12. I Asked Her For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
13. Black Horizon

Bonus Tracks on Deluxe Version:
1. Hiding Place
2. You Know My Love
3. Street Corner Talking
4. Have Mercy On The Criminal
5. Long Distance Call
6. Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Extended Version)
7. Need Your Love So Bad (Live)
8. Good Morning Little School Girl with Hook Herrera (Live)

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Gov’t Mule website; Discogs; Musicoff – Where Music Matters; YouTube