What I’ve Been Listening To: Rory Gallagher/Irish Tour ’74

Live album is testament to music artist who left it all on the stage

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The other day, Live At Montreux, a posthumous album from Rory Gallagher, popped up as a suggestion in my Apple Music. As I started listening, the live compilation record reminded me what a terrific performer this Irish blues rock guitarist was. While he is highly regarded among many guitarists, Gallagher never achieved the stardom of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, to name a few, in part since he rejected showmanship and a flashy lifestyle. He also didn’t believe in publishing singles, which could have helped him get more radio play.

Sadly, I know very little about Gallagher’s music myself. Since I had recalled reading that he much preferred playing live over recording in the studio, I decided to start my exploration of his music with Irish Tour ’74. Released in July 1974, this record is the sixth in Gallagher’s solo catalog, and it’s a true gem!

Rory Gallagher_Irish Tour 74 2

The album captures live recordings from an Irish tour in January 1974. Notably, this tour included performances in Dublin and Ulster, Northern Ireland, where few artists dared to perform at the time, fearing terror attacks from the IRA. In fact, the day before his scheduled gig in Belfast, there were multiple bomb explosions throughout the city. But Gallagher refused to cancel the show. ” I don’t see any reason for not playing Belfast,” he told a local reporter at the time. “Kids still live here. They can get tired of records.”

Initially appearing as a double LP, the album opens with Cradle Rock, a Gallagher composition. Like various other songs on the record, the tune is from his previous studio album Tattoo, released in November 1973.

Tattoo’d Lady is another great blues rocker from the Tattoo album. According to Wikipedia, it “reflects Gallagher’s love for the fairground life and its similarities to life on the road.”

As The Crow Flies showcases Gallagher’s skills on acoustic guitar. The blues tune was written by American singer-songwriter and guitarist Tony Joe White and originally appeared on his 1972 studio album The Train I’m On.

Yet another tune from the Tattoo album is A Million Miles Away, one of my favorite Gallagher tunes I know.

The last track I’d like to call out from this excellent record is Walk On Hot Coals. Written by Gallagher, the song first appeared on his fourth album Blueprint, which came out in February 1973.

On Irish Tour ’74, Gallagher was backed by Gerry McAvoy (bass), Lou Martin (keyboards) and Rod de’Ath (drums). The same musicians had worked with him on the Tattoo and Blueprint albums. They would also be on Gallagher’s next two studio records Against The Grain (1975) and Calling Card (1976).

Citing Marcus Connaughton’s biography Rory Gallagher: His Life and Times (Collins Press 2012), Wikipedia quotes Martin: “The studio was not the best environment for recording… With Rory, if he didn’t have somebody to look at then he couldn’t feed off the energy. That’s why Irish Tour is such a good bloody album because it was recorded live, he got the crowd there with him singing along and sort of like urging him along… without the presence of an audience the recording process for Rory was a bit of a strain.”

Sources: Wikipedia; rorygallagher.com; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Counting Crows/August And Everything After

The California rock band’s debut album is a timeless gem

I suppose like most folks, the first time I heard of Counting Crows was in late 1993/early 1994 when seemingly out of nowhere they burst on the music scene with Mr. Jones. I instantly loved that tune and still do. It’s yet another example illustrating the formula for many great rock songs: A few chords, a good groove and a catchy melody.

According to a Rolling Stone feature from June 1994, the band from Berkeley, Calif. was generally well received by music critics, though many couldn’t resist the temptation to compare their music to other artists. The long list included The Band, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. The “sha-la-la” passage in the beginning of Mr. Jones was also compared to Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl.

Counting Crows

It is simply amazing to me how meticulously new recording artists are oftentimes analyzed. In this context, I also recall initial criticism of Lenny Kravitz sounding too much like his ’60s influences. To that I say so what! The last time I checked, the ’60s was one of the greatest decades in rock if not the best! Plus, frankly, in how many different ways can you play songs that consist of three to four chords. So let’s stop this silly quest to over-analyze everything and remember what it’s ultimately about – enjoying great music, which brings me back to August And Everything After.

Released in September 1993 on Geffen Records and produced by none other than T-Bone Burnett, Counting Crows’ debut album marked an impressive start for the band. Like so many other music artists, they had struggled only a few years prior to the record’s appearance.

The album kicks off with Round Here, a terrific opener. Duritz wrote the song when he was still with his previous band The Himalayans, together with other members of that rock band Dan Jewett, Chris Roldan and Dave Janusko. The tune has great ups and downs in dynamic. It also became the album’s second single.

Mr. Jones captures the experience of so many struggling music artists and their dreams of making it big someday. In this particular case, it’s about Adam Duritz, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and Marty Jones, bassist of the above noted The Himalayans. Co-written by Duritz and Counting Crows’ guitarist and vocalist David BrysonMr. Jones was also released separately as the album’s lead single in December 1993. It became a major international hit for Counting Crows, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 on April 16, 1994, and hitting no. 1 on the Canada Top Singles chart. The tune also charted in Australia, New Zealand and various European countries.

Perfect New Buildings is another strong tune on the album. Written by Duritz, the song is about the emptiness that being on the road and sleeping in impersonal hotel rooms can bring, according to Songfacts.

Rain King is another co-write by Duritz and Bryson. The song was inspired by Henderson the Rain King, a book Duritz read during his studies at the University of California. According to Songfacts, he explained its meaning on Counting Crows VH1 Storytellers special as follows: “The book became a totem for how I felt about creativity and writing: it was this thing where you took everything you felt inside you and just sprayed it all over everything. It’s a song about everything that goes into writing, all the feelings, everything that makes you want to write and pick up a guitar and express yourself. It’s full of all the doubts and the fears about how I felt about my life at the time.” Rain King also appeared separately as the record’s third single and charted in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the record’s closer, A Murder Of One, which includes the band’s namesake in the lyrics. It also became the album’s fourth and final single. The song was co-written by Duritz and Matt Malley, the band’s bassist and vocalist at the time. In explaining the meaning, Wikipedia quotes Duritz as saying, “I can remember being eight years old and having infinite possibilities. But life ends up being so much less than we thought it would be when we were kids, with relationships that are so empty and stupid and brutal. If you don’t find a way to break the chain and change in some way, then you wind up, as the rhyme goes: a murder of one, for sorrow.”

Songfacts further explains, “the rhyme is a reference to a Mother Goose rhyme which came from an old superstition. It was said that your fortune was dependent upon how many blackbirds you see on your path. This practice was eventually looked upon as silly, as there is another common saying that an action can be “As useless as counting crows.”

In addition to Duritz, Bryson and Malley, the band’s line-up at the time also included Steve Bowman (drums, vocals) and Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, vocals). Among the additional musicians on the record was multi-instrumentalist David Immerglück, of friend of Duritz, who did not become an official member of the band until 1999. He remains with Counting Crows to this day, along with Duritz, Bryson, Gillingham. The current formation also includes Jim Bogios (drums, percussion) and Dan Vickrey (lead guitar).

Since August And Everything After, Counting Crows have released six additional studio albums, six live records and two compilations. About three weeks ago, the band wrapped up an extensive summer tour with Matchbox Twenty. The double-headliner included close to 50 gigs in the U.S. and Canada between July 12 and October 1. I haven’t seen any reports about plans for a new album. In the past, the band has released a new record every three to four years. The last, Somewhere Under Wonderland, appeared in September 2014, so maybe we’ll see something new next year.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard chars, Songfacts, JamBase, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Devon Allman/Ride Or Die

Allman’s third studio album shows skilled blues rock guitarist comfortable carrying famous family name

Yesterday, I coincidentally saw a commemorative event for Gregg Allman pop up on Facebook Live and ended up watching for some time. Among others, it included Gregg’s former guitarist and music director Scott Sharrard and Devon Allman. Not only had I not realized that Gregg Allman had a son, but I also had not known Devon is a professional guitarist who has been playing since the early ’90s and has had a recording career of more than 10 years.

Let me say this right upfront. Devon is a pretty good guitarist who writes his own music and has a decent voice. While after experimenting with other music styles in his twenties he eventually embraced the genre of his famous dad, he is not trying to be a Gregg Allman copy. In fact, the two of them didn’t even meet until Devon was in his teens and already had taken up music. But he is also no longer denying what feels natural to him and coming from the heart: blues rock.

All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman - Backstage & Audience

Devon’s mother was Gregg’s first wife, Shelley Kay Jefts. When they divorced in 1972, Devon was still an infant. He grew up with his mom in Corpus Christi, Tex. and later also lived in Tennessee and St. Louis, MO. In a Dec. 2006 interview with Blogcritics Music, Devon noted, “I actually got to grow up in a very normal suburban American existence. I didn’t meet him [Gregg Allman] until I was in my teens, but we formed a bond instantly. Luckily, I didn’t have to grow up amidst the insanity that they went through. He is just one of many heroes of mine… those who sing and play from the heart. Those who overcome insane odds to still do what they love to do. He really lets me do my own thing with no meddling.”

On to Ride Or Die, which is Devon Allman’s most recent studio album that was released almost exactly a year ago. The 12-track set kicks off with Say Your Prayers, a nice blues rocker. Co-written by Allman and rhythm guitarist Tyler Stokes, the tune features a catchy guitar riff and some cool wah-wah sound that is also present on various other tunes on the record.

Galaxies is another blues rocker with a great groove. In addition to the guitar work, I like the Hammond-style keyboard played by Kevin McKendree. The song, another co-write by Allman and Stokes, includes the line, “when galaxies collide will you ride or die?” from which the album’s title was derived.

The record also has quieter tunes, such as Lost, featuring Allman mostly on acoustic guitar. He adds some nice accents with what sounds like a mix between electric wah-wah and the Talkbox effect – pretty cool.

Shattered Times is another standout on the album. The blues rock tune, which features great wah-wah rhythm guitar, was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge, who also played drums on all tracks, and Richard Fleming.

The last track I’d like to highlight is one of the quieter songs, Live From the Heart. It’s one of five tunes Allman penned by himself. Similar to Lost, the track is mostly acoustic and also features nice keyboard work.

Ride Or Die was recorded in Nashville and appeared on the independent German label Ruf Records, which also issued Allman’s two previous solo albums Ragged & Dirty (2014) and Turquoise (2013). Other musicians on the record include Steve Duerst (bass), Ron Holloway (saxophone) and Bobby Yang (violin). With Hambridge, Allman had an experienced and award-winning rock, country and blues producer, who has worked with other artists like Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy.

The album was well received. Blues Blast Magazine noted Allman “continues to produce blues-rock albums that have a wide appeal through the quality of the songwriting, Devon’s distinctive voice and guitar skills.” Blues Rock Review called it “the highlight of Allman’s career thus far,” while Relix concluded it’s “a purposeful effort by a second-generation artist well worthy of his pedigree.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Blogcritics Music, Blues Blast Magazine, Blues Rock Review, Relix, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Art of McCartney

Tribute album illustrates McCartney’s incredible song catalog and admiration from artists like Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Smokey Robinson

This is another album I somehow missed when it was released in November 2014, even though it features music from Paul McCartney, one of my all-time favorite artists. Ironically, I came across this cover compilation earlier today when I looked for Bob Dylan in Apple Music and saw his single of Things We Said Today. In my humble opinion, Dylan’s voice has changed quite a bit and not for the better, and his version of the 1964 Beatles tunes from the A Hard Day’s Night album sounds pretty awful. But there are many other covers on this record I like.

The 34-track set opens with Maybe I’m Amazed, performed by Billy Joel, who I think together with Elton John is the greatest contemporary pop rock pianist. McCartney first released the tune on his 1970 solo debut McCartney and dedicated it to Linda McCartney, his first wife and I believe the great love of his life.

Heart did a nice version of Band On the Run, one of my favorite McCartney songs. Ann Wilson’s vocals are great fit, and Nancy Wilson, one of most underrated guitarists, does a terrific job. Band On the Run is the title song of the 1973 studio album McCartney recorded with Wings.  It was also released as a single in 1974, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. and no. 3 in the U.K.

Let me preface this next tune by admitting that I’ve never gotten much into the music of Kiss. But I have to say their version of Venus/Rock Show is pretty cool. The medley first appeared on Venus And Mars, the fourth studio album by Wings from May 1975.

Another great cover is Let Me Roll It performed by Paul Rodgers, one of the greatest voices in rock. Rodgers stays pretty close to the original, which was also first included on the Band On the Run album.

Who better to sing Helter Skelter than Roger Daltrey? Holy shit, I just love the man! The furious rocker initially appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from 1968.

Chrissie Hynde, another artist I admire, recorded Let It Be, doing a great job with this timeless, beautiful ballad. The track, of course, is the title song of The Beatles’ final studio album released in 1970.

When Motown legend the great Smokey Robinson covers your music, it probably doesn’t get much better and speaks for itself. It doesn’t even matter that the tune Robinson chose, So Bad, perhaps is not among the best songs McCartney has written – when Smokey sings, magic happens. So Bad first appeared on McCartney’s fourth studio album Pipes of Peace, released in October 1983.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Eleanor Rigby performed by Alice Cooper. Yep, you read that correctly – Mr. Shock Rock singing the tune from Revolver, The Beatles seventh studio album that appeared in 1966. And he did a nice job with it!

According to a Rolling Stone story, the initial idea for The Art of McCartney came from producer Ralph Sall. At the time, Sall, who has also produced for other artists like The Ramones, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith, was working with McCartney on polishing up A Love For You for the soundtrack of In-Laws, an American sitcom that aired from September 2002 until January 2003. A Love For You originally appeared on Ram, McCartney’s second post-Beatles album from May 1971.

There are many other remarkable artists on this tribute record, such as Steve Miller, Brian Wilson and B.B. King, who I didn’t include in the above selection, in part because other than snippets, I couldn’t find clips on YouTube. I’d like to finish this post with a trailer about the making of the album.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Spirit/The Family That Plays Together

Sophomore album showcases band’s remarkable versatility

One of my favorite George Harrison songs, The Inner Light, includes the wise words, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows.” This how I frequently feel when writing this blog. During research I oftentimes come across things I wasn’t aware of. The most recent example is my post about Walter Becker, who I learned took guitar lessons with Randy Craig Wolfe. Wolfe was also known as Randy California, and an original member of Spirit, an American rock band that wasn’t on my radar screen.

When I looked up Spirit, I realized it’s the band that wrote the instrumental Taurus, which features an opening guitar progression that sounds very similar to the main theme of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In April 2016, original Spirit bassist Mark Andes ended up filing an infringement lawsuit against Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, but a jury ruled the similarities between Taurus and Stairway didn’t add up to copyright violation. In March this year, an attorney and trustee for Wolfe filed an appeal.

While I believe the outcome of the appeal is still pending, there is much more to Spirit than this legal dispute. In fact, once I started listening to their music, I noticed they were a pretty remarkable band. This brings me to The Family That Plays Together, their second study album, which appeared in December 1968.

At the time, Spirit still had its original lineup. In addition to California (lead guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, bass) and Andes (bass, backing vocals), the band included Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), John Locke (keyboards) and Ed Cassidy (drums, percussion).

The record starts off with I Got a Line On You. Written by California, this upbeat rocker has a great groove and a catchy chorus. The tune was also released as a single ahead of the album in October 1968. The song ended up at no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Spirit’s biggest chart success.

I Got a Line On You nicely transitions into It Shall Be, a mid-tempo relaxed tune that incorporates some jazz elements and nice horn arrangements. The tune was co-written by Locke and California.

All The Same, a co-write by California and Cassidy, is another track that caught my attention. It features some cool double lead guitar parts by California and a drum solo by Cassidy. The singing reminds me a bit of Cream.

Jewish stands out, since it’s performed in Hebrew. According to Wikipedia, the lyrics came from a traditional song called Hine Ma Tov and were based on King David’s Psalm 133. The tune is solely credited to California. I don’t think I had ever heard a Hebrew song performed by a rock band.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Aren’t You Glad. It’s one of the six tracks written by Ferguson and includes some great guitar work.

The Family That Plays Together was produced by Lou Adler, who is known for his work with The Mamas And The Papas and especially for producing Carole King’s  iconic Tapestry. Adler was also an executive producer of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A 1996 reissue of the album includes five additional tracks, including Mellow Fellow, a previously unreleased song.

The original lineup of Spirit recorded two additional studio albums, Clear (1969) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970). Starting with 1972’s Feedback, the band issued 10 more studio records with different members, the last being California Bus from December 1996. One month later, California died under tragic circumstances at age 46 while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. In 2005, another record from Spirit appeared, which was a collection of material from 1968 that was used for the soundtrack to the 1969 motion picture Model Shop directed by Jacques Demy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come

1986 album from “King of Rock ‘N’ Soul” is a soul gem

Solomon Burke came to my mind earlier today when looking at fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast’s great list of his top 25 favorite singers and commenting that I might have included Burke in that list. If I recall it correctly, a good friend of mine recommended A Change Is Gonna Come to me in the late ’80s, a few years after the album had been released in 1986.

From the get-go, I liked Burke’s voice and the way he delivered the album’s nine tunes, though sadly I never continued exploring his music beyond this record – something I’m planning to correct! A Change Is Gonna Come mixed covers of a few older classics with then-new material written by Burke and songwriters Paul Kelly, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham and Jimmy Lewis.

The album kicks of with the Kelly composition Love Buys Love, a beautiful mid-tempo ballad.

Next up is Got To Get Myself Some Money, one of two tracks written by Burke. The upbeat tune has a great groove driven by a pumping bass and a great Memphis style horn section.

The title song A Change Is Gonna Come is the standout on the album. It truly takes Sam Cooke’s beautiful original to the next level. Burke’s singing simply gives me the goose bumps. Burke, who also was a preacher, extends the tune into a sermon. According to the liner notes of my CD, the tune has always meant a lot to Burke. He is quoted as saying, “Even though it’s a song that’s over twenty years old, it still hits home. The world’s still got problems – drugs, crime, apartheid. We’ve progressed a long way since Sam wrote that song, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Here We Go Again, the album’s second track written by Burke, has a great funk grove. It also features a cool part where Burke calls out the bassist, the guitarist and the keyboarder, with each responding by playing their respective instrument.

The last song I’d like to call out is a great cover of one of my favorite soul ballads, When A Man Loves A Woman. Written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, the song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. Burke’s version slightly kicks up the speed and turns the song more into a mid-tempo classic soul tune with a great horn section.

Produced by Scott Billington, A Change Is Gonna Come continued a revival of sorts in Burke’s career that began with 1984’s Soul Alive! Still, these albums, which both appeared on Rounder Records, did not bring mainstream chart success for Burke, though they increased his popularity as a live performer.

While Burke never achieved the commercial success of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown, he is considered to be one of the artists who helped shape soul music in the ’60s. He was revered by other musicians like The Rolling Stones who covered Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and Cry to Me on their second and third U.K. albums, respectively.

Late in his career, Burke finally received some well-deserved recognition. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a performer. He also won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Contemporary Blues Album for his 2002 studio release Don’t Give Up On Me. Last but not least, Rolling Stone ranked Burke at no. 89 in its 2010 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, A Change Is Gonna Come Liner Notes (Jeff Hannusch), Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jane Lee Hooker/No B!

Debut album from all-female New York band serves hard-charging blues rock

Jane Lee Hooker is another discovery I made when looking for free outdoor concerts in my area this weekend. The five-piece all-female blues rock band from New York City is scheduled to perform Sunday evening in Long Branch, N.J. as part of that seaside city’s summer concert series. The moment I started listening to No B!, I literally thought, ‘holy shit’ – these ladies are playing a furious type of blues rock, sometimes mixed with a dose of punk.

Just like my previous discovery this weekend, The John Byrne Band whose most recent album I reviewed here, Jane Lee Hooker or JLH doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry- too bad! But their website does provide some background. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston (drums) and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin. In 2015, JHL signed with blues label Ruf Records and released No B! in April 2016.

Jane Lee Hooker Live

As the website points out, while JLH was only founded four years ago, the band’s members have “between them decades of experience in the studio and on the road.” Each of these ladies were in other bands before they joined JHL. The two guitarists previously played together in the ’90s in a band called Helldorado where they “honed their love of blazing dual leads.”

JHL has shared bills with WilcoSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and The Blasters, among others. Earlier this year, they conducted a European tour, including Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of their gigs was a performance at the end of May on Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German rock TV show.

No B! starts off furiously with Wade In The Water, setting the tone for the album. According to Wikipedia, originally, the tune is a negro spiritual written by John Wesley Work III and his brother Frederick J. Work and was first published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Next up is Mean Town Blues, which kicks things up a few notches. The song was written by Johnny Winter who first released it on his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment. JLH’s version of the tune sounds like Winter spinning on 78 instead of 45 rpm!

While I Believe It To My Soul slows down the speed, the track sounds just as intense as the two previous tunes. Originally, Ray Charles wrote and first recorded the song in 1961 on his studio album The Genius Sings the Blues.

In The Valley is only JLH original tune on the album. It was written by Athens, the singer, whose voice at times reminds me a bit of Melissa Etheridge.

Free Me is another nice cover showing a soulful side of Athens. Written by Otis Redding and Gene Lawson in 1967, the song appeared on Redding’s fourth posthumous album Love Man, which was released in 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the great Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy. Waters recorded it first in 1955. While it’s perhaps a bit peculiar hearing a woman sing, “I’m a man, I’m a full-grown man,” JLH does a great job with it.

JHL, whose current tour apparently started in mid-July, will be on the road all the way to mid-November. After Long Branch they are scheduled for seven additional U.S. gigs until early September before taking their tour back to Europe in late October, returning to Germany and Switzerland. They are also adding Denmark and the Czech Republic where the tour will conclude in Šumperk on November 18 at the Blues Alive Festival.

Here is a clip of JLH’s above mentioned live performance on Rockpalast – not sure how long it will be available.

Sources: Jane Lee Hooker website, YouTube, Wikipedia