Happy And Groovy New Year!

And to all fellow music bloggers, rock on!

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Unlike Christmas pop and rock songs, it seems to be harder to find tunes with a new year’s theme – at least when it comes to tracks I would post. One I came across is Funky New Year by the Eagles.

Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the song has a cool groove that not surprisingly is well, funky. You could almost picture James Brown perform it!

The track was the B-side to Please Come Home For Christmas, a cover of a Charles Brown tune, which the Eagles released as a single in November 1978.

I’d like to wish everybody a healthy and happy New Year!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

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

Eagles Release Hotel California 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Collection includes original remastered studio album and 10 live tracks from 1976 show

The first Eagles tune I ever heard must have been Hotel California sometime in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. In my opinion, the song and the album count among the absolute highlights of ’70s rock. Today, the band released a 40th anniversary deluxe edition of their landmark album – almost one year after the actual anniversary.

The original album appeared on December 8, 1976. Recently asked about the timing by the Los Angeles Times, Don Henley noted, “Actually, it came out in December of 1976, but nothing really hit the charts until ’77, so we’re not really that late. We’re fudging it a little bit.”

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. The same LA Times story notes the album’s first single New Kid In Town entered the Billboard Hot 100 on December 18, 1976. But it took until Feb 28, 1977 before the song peaked at no. 1. The record’s two other singles, Hotel California and Life In The Fast Lane, were released in February and May that year, respectively. Hotel California became another no. 1 hit on the chart.

Eagles 1976
The Eagles in 1976. From left to right: Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner

Since the studio versions of the original album are well-known and not new, I’m highlighting some of the live tracks, which are released for the first time. According to an official Eagles announcement, they were recorded prior to the album’s release during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. Among others, the tracks feature one of the first live performances of Hotel California and New Kid In Town.

The live collection kicks off with Take It Easy. Written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, the song was included on the band eponymous debut album, which appeared in June 1972. It was also released separately as the record’s first single in May that year.

Good Day In Hell is a great rocker written by Frey and Henley, and my kind of tune. It is from On The Border, the Eagles’ third studio album released in March 1974. Compared to their earlier more country rock-oriented music, the song has an edgier rock sound. Asked about that during a Rolling Stone interview last year, Henley explained, “Although Glenn was fascinated by the new “country rock” movement, and though he never forgot his Motown roots, his first love was rock & roll. Possibly through the influence of his friend and mentor, Bob Seger.”

Another excellent rock tune from the live set is Funk #49. Co-written by Joe Walsh, Jim Fox and Dale Peters, the track was first recorded in 1970 by James Gang, one of the bands in which Walsh played before joining the Eagles in December 1975.

As one of my favorite ’70s rock songs, of course, I must highlight the live version of Hotel California. The song was written by Don Felder, Henley and Frey. The epic guitar part at the end is played by Felder and Walsh.

The last song I’d like to call out from the live set is the excellent closer Already Gone. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, it’s another tune from the On The Border album, which also appeared as the record’s lead single in April 1974.

According to Wikipedia, Hotel California became the Eagles second best-selling album after Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), with sales of over 32 million copies worldwide, of which the U.S. accounts for half. The album was ranked at no. 37 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. The title track was ranked at no. 49 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and best of the Top 100 Guitar Solos of All Time in a January 1998 Guitar Magazine readers poll.

Listening to the live set reminds me of a great Eagles show in Atlantic City in July 2015 – the only time I saw the band. The gig was part of the History of the Eagles Tour and one of the last concerts with Frey prior to his untimely death in January 2016 at the age of 67. On Tuesday, the Eagles announced initial dates for a 2018 North American Tour. As during their most recent performances, Vince Gill and Deacon Frey will share responsibilities for singing Glenn’s parts.

The tour is set to kick off in Chicago on March 14. The last current date is Philadelphia on July 28. On some of the dates, the Eagles will play together with Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band, James Taylor & His All-Star Band and Chris Stapelton. Philly, one of the dates where the band plays with Taylor who is another artist I admire, is only a 1.5-hour drive from my house. I went there to see John Mellencamp. I’m very tempted…

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Billboard Eagles chart history, Eagles website, Rolling Stone, Guitar Magazine, You Tube

 

Recreating Iconic Rock Festival That Never Was

Fourth Annual Rock the Farm brings 10 hours of rock & roll and tributes from Beatles to Young to Jersey Shore

In addition to seeing my rock & roll heroes live in action, I enjoy concerts featuring tribute bands to the music I love. While I wish I could go to shows of all the original acts, there are way too many music artists, not enough time and, let’s face it, not enough money – in particular nowadays with ticket prices oftentimes being out of control! To me tribute bands can be a great and very affordable way to address this conundrum. Yesterday, I got ten hours of exactly that, at the fourth annual Rock the Farm festival in Seaside Heights, N.J.

Also called Faux-Chella, an apparent clever allusion to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, the event brought together an impressive lineup of tribute bands: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Mike Martin & The Beautiful Mess (Johnny Cash), Decade (Neil Young), Rainbow Full of Sound (Grateful Dead), The Weeklings (The Beatles), Light My Fire (The Doors), Hotel California  (Eagles), Glimmer Twins (The Rolling Stones), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Echoes (Pink Floyd). Apart from these tribute acts, who performed on two main stages set up right next to each other, there were a few other bands playing on a side stage.

Faux-Chella 2017 Poster

The festival, which also featured food trucks and some merchandise stands, was organized by the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, a New Jersey nonprofit community organization that provides support to individuals and families struggling from addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. All festival proceeds went to the group; in fact, over the course of the afternoon and evening, they raised more than $10,000 to support their programs! So it really was all about combining great music and a great cause – what’s not to love about it?

Following I’d like to highlight four of the above bands. In June, I already posted about the Glimmer Twins, an excellent Rolling Stones tribute, which is why I’m not including them here.

Decade

This New Jersey band primarily pays tribute to Neil Young. According to their Facebook page, the group includes John Hathaway (lead vocals, 6 and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, harmonica), Joey Herr (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Hathaway, whose voice sounds remarkably similar to Young and who also has some visual resemblance, has studied his idol for the last 30 years.

Decade

“The guitar work and vocals have to be dead on or we will be dismissed as just another bunch of hacks,” Hathaway notes on the band’s Facebook page. “I want people to leave thinking they just saw the best thing next to Neil Young in person.” To this he could have added the reenactment of typical Young postures during live performances.

In addition to recreating Young’s music, Decade also plays select songs from other ’70s bands, such as America, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Eagles and The Allman Brothers. Yesterday was all focused on Young, more specifically his rock side – I assume in part because of time constraints. Some of the tunes they played included Like A Hurricane, The Loner, Ohio, Southern Men and Cinnamon Girl. To paraphrase the maestro, I was getting blown away! Here’s a clip of Decade I could find on YouTube.

Hotel California

Hotel California is an outstanding Eagles tribute band from Toronto, Canada. According to their website, they have done this for almost three decades and it definitely shows – the harmonies, the music, it’s all spot on! The current lineup includes Andy Lapointe (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Dean Young (drums, vocals) and Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals).

Hotel California

The 60-minute set was packed with Eagles gems, such as One Of These Nights, Take It Easy, In The Long Run and, of course, Hotel California including the epic double lead guitar solo. They also threw in a couple of solo tunes from Joe Walsh (Rocky Mountain Way) and Don Henley (Dirty Laundry). The following statement from the band’s website nicely sums it up: “If you love the Eagles, then welcome to the Hotel California – you’ve just found the next best thing.” Think it’s an exaggeration? Take a look at this highlights reel. This is how they sounded yesterday as well.

TUSK

Hailing from Hunterdon County, N.J., TUSK is another true tribute labor of love. Similar to Hotel California and Decade, these guys have been faithfully capturing the music of Fleetwood Mac for a long time. According to the band’s website, their five members “have been making music together in various combinations and styles, from complete originals to covers, for over 30 years themselves.” TUSK is comprised of Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie Nicks, Kim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVie, Scott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood.

Tusk

In just over an hour, the band managed to play 10 Fleetwood Mac classics like The Chain, Rhiannon, Go Your Own Way and Don’t Stop, as well as Steve Nicks’ Seventeen. I have to say, their execution was pretty impressive, especially the harmonies, making TUSK one of the festival’s standouts. Again, a picture, or I should better say a clip, is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Echoes

Echoes, “the American Pink Floyd,” is a tribute band that according to their Facebook page is from Delaware and was founded in 1991. While recreating Pink Floyd’s music must be an ambitious undertaking, to say the least, I have to say it upfront: These guys did an amazing job! The band’s current lineup includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals).

Echoes.jpg

The close to 90-minute set featured Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Welcome To The Machine, Pigs (Three Different Ones) and what I thought was an interesting, less obvious choice I had to look up, since I didn’t recall the song’s title: Keep Talking, from The Division Bell album. But the highlight of the set was a performance of the entire Dark Side of the Moon, from the first note to the last.

While everybody on that stage was shining, the true standout moment came when backing vocalist Hover launched into the wordless vocal part of The Great Gig In the Sky, sung on the original by Clare Torry. Hover’s rendition of the part literally sent shivers down my spine, and I clearly wasn’t the only audience member who was wowed. Here’s a nice highlights reel from the band’s website.

Sources: Decade Facebook page, Hotel California website, TUSK website, Echoes Facebook page and website, YouTube