Bon Jovi Turn Political on New Album 2020

Bon Jovi released their long anticipated 15th studio album 2020 on Friday, October 2. Predictably, the reviews I’ve seen thus far are mixed. After some 37 years into their recording career, I think it’s safe to say at this stage the band isn’t going to change many minds one way or the other. And opinions about the Jersey rockers have clearly been divided for a long time.

While Jon Bon Jovi is no Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always liked Bon Jovi for their catchy brand of pop rock. In that regard, 2020 doesn’t break new ground. What’s different are the outspoken political lyrics of some of the songs. Eight of the 10 tracks were solely written by Jon Bon Jovi. Together with the album cover, which is the first to feature Jon Bon Jovi only since the band’s eponymous debut from January 1984, this makes it feel more like a solo record.

Bon Jovi (from left): Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Hugh McDonald, Phil X and Tico Torres

2020 clearly is a reflection of the current unsettling times America is going through. Why did Jon Bon Jovi turn political now? Is it all a calculated move not come across as tone-deaf during what increasingly looks like an unprecedented period in the country? I would argue that Jon Bon Jovi has supported political and social causes for a long time, so it’s not like he suddenly decided to raise issues because it looked convenient. Plus, given how divided the U.S. is, if anything, I could see him lose some fans over his turn to political lyrics. With that, let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Limitless, a classic Bon Jovi rocker with a memorable guitar theme and a catchy melody. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the band’s touring rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist John Shanks, and Billy Falcon, a frequent Bon Jovi collaborator since 2009, the song was first released as a single in February. Unlike most other tracks on the album, while the tune addresses the uncertainties of daily life, it has an upbeat outlook in the chorus: On a night like this/One prayer one wish/step out of the edge/It’s worth the risk/Life is limitless limitless. Perhaps this makes it a more typical Bon Jovi lyric.

Things definitely get darker in American Reckoning, one of the two songs that initially weren’t part of the album. Jon Bon Jovi penned this compelling tune about police brutality against African Americans during the COVID-19 quarantine. Like the opener, it also appeared first as a single, in July. America’s on fire/There’s protests in the street/Her conscience has been looted/And her soul is under siege/Another mother’s crying as history repeats/I can’t breathe/God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets/stay alive, stay alive/Shine a light, stay alive/Use your voice and you remember me/American reckoning…

Lower the Flag is about senseless school shootings we all too often witness in this country. The 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio inspired Jon Bon Jovi to write this tune. Perhaps the song’s most powerful part is toward the end when he lowers his voice, switching from singing to speaking. If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out/ If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out//El Paso, Texas/Dayton, Ohio/Las Vegas, Nevada/ Sebring, Florida/Orlando, Florida/Penn State University/ Aurora, Illinois/Virginia Beach, Virginia/Gilroy, California/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/ Marjory Stoneman Douglas High/ Columbine/Columbine/Sandy Hook Elementary… One really wonders how many more shootings and deaths it will take until those in charge have the backbone to stand up against the NRA and institute sensible gun control laws.

Next up: Blood in the Water, which addresses another big issue the country is facing: the plight of immigrants…Once I came across your border/Now they come to take me back/I sleep with one eye open/I don’t make waves, I don’t leave tracks/For my daughter and my three sons/It’s the only life they’ve known/To me it’s my asylum/These stars and stripes my home

The last tune I’d like to call out is Unbroken, the album’s closer. Yet another track solely written by Jon Bon Jovi, the song is about military veterans and their struggle with PTSD and other challenges. The song first appeared last November and was written for To Be of Service, a documentary about war veterans and their service dogs…We were taught to shoot our rifles/Men and women side by side/Thought we’d be met as liberators/In a thousand-year-old fight/I got this painful ringing in my ear/From an IED last night/But no lead-lined Humvee war machine/Could save my sergeant’s life

2020 was co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and John Shanks. Other musicians on the album include the current core members of Bon Jovi: Phil X (lead guitar, backing vocals), Hugh McDonald (bass), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Everett Bradley, a touring member like Shanks, provided percussion and backing vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A lot of cool new music I came across this week made it tough what to include in this latest installment of my recurring feature. That’s actually a nice problem to have, at least in my book. While you may not be a Bon Jovi fan, have you ever heard the Jersey rocker do an outright protest song? I certainly had not. Or how about a cool Byrds-ey-sounding psychedelic garage band called The Reverberations? Or young and amazingly talented bluegrass and Americana artist Molly Tuttle? These are just three of the artists I’m featuring this week. Do I have your attention?

Bon Jovi/American Reckoning

While a band that has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide has probably done more than one thing right, I realize opinions about Bon Jovi are divided. On most of their 14 studio albums that have come out so far over some 37 years, I can at find at least one or two songs I enjoy. American Reckoning, released July 10, will be on the band’s next album Bon Jovi 2020, which has been pushed back until December 31, 2020 due to you know what. Both the single and the album have something in common that’s new for Bon Jovi: Political lyrics. Written by Jon Bon Jovi, American Reckoning is a protest song reflecting on the death of George Floyd caused by reckless police action. “I was moved to write American Reckoning as a witness to history,” Bon Jovi said in a statement on the band’s website, “I believe the greatest gift of an artist is the ability to use their voice to speak to issues that move us.” All net proceeds from downloads of the song will support the Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative through December 31, 2020. Kudos!

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings/Hello in There

For some 28 years, country, folk, bluegrass and Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch has been writing and performing with her musical partner David Rawlings. The two first met during a music audition at Berklee College of Music in Boston where Welch majored in songwriting. Following her graduation in 1992, she moved to Nashville. Rawlings soon followed and they started to perform as a duo. After getting a record deal with Almo Sounds, they met T-Bone Burnett who had seen them perform. Burnett produced their debut album Revival, which like most of their records appeared under Welch’s name in April 1996. Welch and Rawlings have since released five additional studio albums. Hello in There is from their most recent release All the Good Times Are Past & Gone, a covers album that came out on July 10. The tune was written by John Prine and included on his 1971 eponymous debut album.

Will Hoge/Midway Hotel

Will Hoge is a singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to Wikipedia, which characterizes his music as Americana and southern rock, Hoge grew up in a musical family that influenced him. After enrolling in Western Kentucky University with plans to become a high school history teacher and basketball coach, Hoge realized music was his calling. In 1997, he released an EP with his band at the time Spoonful, but it wasn’t successful and the group disbanded. After self-releasing a live CD and his first studio album Carousel, Hoge managed to get a deal with Atlantic Records in early 2002. While it was short-lived, it resulted in his major label debut Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in March 2003. Hoge has since released seven additional studio records, as well as various EPs and live albums. Midway Motel, co-written by Hoge and Ricky Young, is the opener to Hoge’s most recent studio album Tiny Little Movies that appeared on June 26. I can hear some John Mellencamp in here.

Grace Potter/Eachother (feat. Jackson Browne, Marcus King & Lucius)

Grace Potter is a 37-year-old bluesy, roots rock-oriented singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actress, hailing from Waitsfield, Vt., who has released various albums solo and with her former band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the early 2000s. While studying theater at St. Laurence University, she met drummer Matt Burr. Together with bassist Courtright Beard, they formed the initial lineup of indie rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. In 2004, they self-released their debut album Original Soul. Four additional albums followed. In 2015, Potter’s solo album Midnight appeared. Potter left the band in 2017, shortly after announcing her divorce from Burr with whom she had been married since 2013. Another solo album, Daylight, appeared in October 2019. Eachother is Potter’s latest single released on May 22. Written by her during the early days of the pandemic, the ballad features Jackson Browne, blues artist Marcus King and indie pop band Lucius. Check it out!

Molly Tuttle/Helpless (feat. Old Crow Medicine Show)

Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems Molly Tuttle is what you could call a wunderkind. It’s virtually impossible to do full justice here to the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, banjo player and guitarist, who is focused on bluegrass and Americana. Tuttle is noted for her outstanding guitar skills, and she can definitely sing as well. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively. Molly started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her dad. At age 13, she recorded her first album with Jack. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017, followed by her first full-fledged album When You’re Ready in April 2019, which climbed to no. 5 and no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts. Her multiple accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards and Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association in 2017 and 2018. Molly who has lived in Nashville, Tenn. since 2015, has a new covers album scheduled for August 28, …but I’d rather be with you. It doesn’t include her beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless, which she released on May 22 and features Nashville-based Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show. The tune first appeared on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu album from March 1970.

The Reverberations/Under Your Spell

Let’s wrap things up with some really cool rock. The Reverberations are a five-piece from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” Based on what I’m hearing on their latest single Under Your Spell, that description hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the band has hardly published any information about themselves. Neither their Bandcamp nor their Facebook page provide any background – I don’t get it! Discogs lists two albums, Mess Up Your Mind (2016) and Changes (2019, along with various EPs and singles, dating back as far as 2015. Based on their photos on Facebook and Bandcamp, these guys don’t exactly look like high school kids, and with their Byrds-ey guitars, they certainly don’t sound like it. Whoever is familiar with my music taste knows that’s a sound I never get tired of. On Under Your Spell, which is the B-side of the band’s most recent single Palm Reader, I also love the keyboard work. And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art. Damn, now I feel I’m literally under their spell!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bon Jovi website; Apple Music; Grace Potter website; Molly Tuttle website; The Reverberations Facebook and Bandcamp pages; YouTube