My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

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Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Bob Seger Still Like A Rock On New Album

‘I Knew You When’ features old time rock & roll and reflective tunes

I believe Old Time Rock And Roll was the first Bob Seger song I heard in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. Together with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, Seger belongs to my all-time favorite American rock artists. On Friday (November 17), he released I Knew You When, his 18th studio album. While it may not include immediately obvious gems like Katmandu, Turn The Page, Rock And Roll Never Forgets and Old Time Rock And Roll, to name a few, it’s a pretty solid record that gets better after listening to it for a few times.

In addition to arena first-pumping style rockers, Seger included various more reflective tunes. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In May, the heartland rocker turned 72, and rock & roll is a tough business that certainly doesn’t get any easier with advancing age. Last month, Seger was forced to cut short his 2017 Runaway Train Tour with The Silver Bullet Band due to a back issue that required surgery. According to a recent announcement on Seger’s website, his recovery is going well and “rescheduled dates are being mapped out for a coast to coast reboot of the tour this Spring.”

Bob Seger

Seger’s new album is dedicated to his long-time friend Glenn Frey, who like Seger was born in Detroit, MI. The two met in 1967 when Fry played in a band called the Mushrooms. Seger helped him get a recording contract and also wrote and produced the band’s first single Such A Lovely Child. Together with Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther, Seger also co-wrote the Eagles classic Heartache Tonight, a 1979 Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit. I Knew You When also pays tribute to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen with covers of Busload Of Faith and Democracy, respectively. While Seger isn’t known for being particularly vocal about politics, it’s safe to assume the inclusion of these two tunes is not a coincidence.

Currently, there are only clips of two songs from the new album on YouTube, and I wonder whether that’s by design. Only in June this year did Seger’s music become more widely available on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and iHeart Radio. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Seger pointed to his manager and record company: “It’s an ongoing issue with my manager and Capitol Records. You have to talk to him about that. They agreed to something many years ago about new media and they don’t want to live up to it. The record business is 50 percent of what it was ten years ago, so they’re trying to cut costs. Until that’s resolved, we let very little out.”

The first clip is Glenn Song, Seeger’s moving tribute to Frey, which initially appeared as a free download on his website this January on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The song is included as one of three bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the new album. “It’s obviously not meant to be a hit,” Seger told Rolling Stone. “There’s no chorus per se or title section or anything. The idea was just to honor his memory and talk, very specifically, about my impression of him in 1966 when we first met.”

The second clip I found is Seger’s cover of the Reed tune Busload Of Faith. Reed included the track on his 1989 studio record New York and also released it separately as a single that same year. Seger’s version adds muscle to the original with a great electric slide guitar, soul-sounding horns and gospel-like backing vocals. It’s a highlight of the record. According to BillboardSeger adjusted some of the lyrics. He replaced the Reed lines “You can’t depend on the churches/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” with “You can’t depend on the president/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” – remarkable how lyrics that were written in a different context more than 25 years ago eerily fit the situation in present day America!

Other tunes I’d like to mention are Gracile and The Highway, two rockers written by Seger. A third rocker, Runaway Train, was co-written by Seger, Tim Mitchell and Silver Bullet Band keyboarder Craig Frost. According to Wikipedia, it is one of several tunes on the album that were recorded many years ago but had remained unreleased until now. This particular song was initially recorded in 1993 and intended for Seger’s 1995 studio album It’s A Mystery. Another example is the title track I Knew You When, which Seger wrote in 1997 and considered for his 2006 album Face The Promise.

I Knew You When was recorded in Nashville and Detroit and produced by Seger himself. According to an announcement on Seger’s website, the album marks his 49th year with Capitol Records, extending his record as the longest tenured solo artist in the company’s history. The standard version of the album has 10 tracks and comes on vinyl and CD.  The deluxe version of the album includes three additional tracks and is available on CD, digital download and via select streaming services.

Seger has earned 13 platinum and 7 multi-platinum RIAA-certified sales awards, including his studio albums Beautiful Loser (1975), Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980), The Distance (1982), Like A Rock (1986), The Fire Inside (1991), Face The Promise (2006) and his double live albums Live Bullet (1976) and Nine Tonight (1981). Except for Beautiful Loser and Face The Promise, Seger recorded all of these records with The Silver Bullet Band. Earlier this year, his Greatest Hits album was certified diamond by the RIAA for achieving 10 million units sold in the U.S.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bob Seger website, Rolling Stone, Billboard, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: October 22

1966: The Supremes A’ Go-Go, the ninth studio album by The Supremes hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, marking the first time an all-female band reached the top of the records charts. It remained for 60 weeks on the chart and eventually sold approximately one million copies in the U.S. and 3.5 million worldwide. The record included the no. 1 hit single You Can’t Hurry Love.

1966: Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys entered the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Written by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, the complex tune was recorded in Los Angeles at various studios over a two-month period, relying on top session musicians, according to Songfacts. At an approximate cost of $50,000, it became the most expensive pop song ever recorded at the time. Good Vibrations peaked at no. 1 in December that year, becoming one of four no. 1 singles The Beach Boys scored in the U.S. The song is widely recognized as one of the most important compositions and recordings of its time. It was ranked no. 6 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2011 and included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

1969: Led Zeppelin released their second studio album Led Zeppelin II on Atlantic Records in the U.K. Produced by Jimmy Page, the album was recorded between January and August that year at various locations in the U.K. and North America between four European and three American tours. The record includes various of the band’s early classics, such as Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and the epic Whole Lotta Love, which also appeared separately as a single in the U.S. and became the band’s first hit there. The album was a huge international success, reaching no. 1 in the U.K., U.S., Canada and various other countries.

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band release Night Moves, Seger’s ninth studio album. On four of the nine songs Seger was backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, including Mainstreet. The record also includes the classics Night Moves and Rock And Roll Never Forgets. All three tunes were also released separately as singles. Night Moves peaked at no. 4 on Billboard Hot 100, giving Seger his first big hit since Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man from 1969. The album became Seger’s second Gold record in the U.S. and his first to receive Platinum certification. It ultimately achieved sextuple Platinum.

Sources: This Day In Music, Songfacts Music History Calendar, Songfacts, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Eagles Rise Again At Classic West

Band delivers powerful tribute to Glenn Frey

Following Glenn Frey’s untimely death in January 2016 at the age of 67, the future of The Eagles looked uncertain. After all, Frey led the Southern California band together with Don Henley and co-wrote most of their songs with him. So it was a fair question to ask whether anyone could step into his shoes. Last night, fans got some answers during The Eagles’ first regular live concert after Frey’s death, conducted at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles at part of The Classic West music festival.

Of course, to close observers it wasn’t much of a surprise. At the end of May, the Los Angeles Times had reported Deacon Frey, Glenn’s 24-year-old son, and country artist Vince Gill, one of Frey’s close friends, would join The Eagles to share responsibilities for replacing Frey.

Deacon Frey

“Bringing Deacon in was my idea,” Henley told the Times. “I think of the guild system, which in both Eastern and Western cultures is a centuries-old tradition of the father passing down the trade to his son, and to me, that makes perfect moral and ethical sense. The primary thing is I think Glenn would be good with it — with both of these guys. I think he’d go, ‘That’s the perfect way to do this.’ ”

Deacon added he grew up singing his father’s songs. “The first songs I learned on guitar were ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ He was always very supportive and very encouraging of my music and my love for music.”

Vince Gill

During the same interview, a beaming Gill commented, “In my mind, I always thought I’d have made a good Eagle…but in a million years, I never would have seen this coming. It’s pretty surreal. I turned 60 recently, and to get to be a part of this amazing legacy of songs, that’s the greatest part of all this for me.”

While Deacon’s and Gill’s participation in last night’s show had been announced, the appearance of another music artist was a surprise. Bob Seger, a long-time friend of Frey and a collaborator, joined the band to sing Heartache Tonight. The song choice was not a coincidence – Seger had co-written the tune with Henley, Frey and J.D. Souther and provided (non-credited) background vocals on the recording.

Following are a few clips showing Deacon Frey and Gill with the band. For the most part they are from other shows.

Tequila Sunrise featuring Vince Gill

Peaceful Easy Feeling featuring Deacon Frey

Heartache Tonight featuring Bob Seger

And then there is of course the ultimate signature Eagles tune, Hotel California, which was the first encore. This one actually is from Classic West.

While media coverage of last night’s show has been favorable, I’ve no doubt critical voices will emerge, questioning the motives behind the revival of The Eagles. After all, in the wake of Frey’s death, Henley himself had said during various interviews he thought this was the end of the band. Sure, one could take a cynical view and argue this would also mean the end of lucrative concert tours and merchandise, so it’s ultimately a money grab. I do see it a bit differently.

While I’m not naive and realize financial incentives are likely part of the equation here, especially in today’s music business where records no longer sell the way they used to, I also think it’s important to acknowledge The Eagles did not only consist of Henley and Frey. Let’s not forgot about Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. If one member of a four-piece band is no longer around, this should not automatically seal the fate of the band.

Just like I thought it was perfectly fine for Pink Floyd to continue after they had parted ways with Roger Waters, I feel it’s okay for The Eagles to go on without Glenn Frey. Sure, he’ll be dearly missed and it’s big shoes to fill, especially for Deacon. But while the 24-year-old essentially still is an unproven music artist, he deserves a lot of credit for what must have been a high-pressure performance last night. Gill is the complete opposite. He’s had a 30-year-plus career with 19 studio albums and multiple Country Music Association and Grammy Awards – more than any other country male artist.

It remains to be seen whether Deacon Fry and Vince Gill will become permanent replacements for Glenn. For now, The Eagles are soaring again, which most fans will appreciate.

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Setlist.fm, YouTube