The Year That Was 2019

Highlights of my rock & roll journey during the past 12 months

It feels unreal to me Christmas and New Year’s are upon us again – not to mention a new decade! I still recall a conversation with a school friend when we were 12 years old. He and I imagined where we might be when the year 2000 comes. At the time, the turn of the century was still more than two decades out. It seemed so far away. Now, not only has 2000 come and go, but we’re 20 years down the road, baby – crazy how time flies!

Well, this post doesn’t span decades. The idea is much more moderate: Looking back at my personal music journey over the past 12 months, as documented by this blog. While to some extent it reflects what happened in music this year, it’s not a broad review piece. Since I mostly listen to ’60s and ’70s artists or new music they release, I couldn’t do a legitimate comprehensive look-back on 2019 in music.

In the past, I’ve said more than once most new music nowadays lacks true craftsmanship and sounds generic and soulless to me. And while I still largely ignore what dominates today’s charts, I’ve finally come to accept contemporary music isn’t inherently bad. It’s just different and I generally don’t like it. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to. There’s so much “old” music out there I’ve yet to discover, and while artists may retire or pass away, their music will stay. Forever. That’s the beauty of music. It means for those of us who dig it, rock & roll will never die! Okay, enough with the wise-cracking and on to some highlights of my music journey this year.

Concerts

As a retired band-turned-closet musician, live music remains the ultimate thrill to me. Yes, ticket prices continue to be outrageous for most top acts, and that’s not going to change. But this hasn’t deterred me yet from seeing artists I dig. However, it did require being more selective (for example, I skipped Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, since I had seen both in 2018) and oftentimes settling for cheaper seats.

My two concert highlights this year were The Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in early August and The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May. I had seen both before, but since they are among my longtime favorite bands and in the twilight of their careers, I simply did not want to miss the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to catch both, especially The Who. At the time I bought my ticket, I had not realized this wasn’t a “regular” gig but The Who backed by a symphonic orchestra. Had I understood this, it may have deterred me. But the concept worked pretty well, so I’m happy I didn’t read the fine print! Here’s a clip from each show: Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Love Reign O’er Me, two tunes that will never go out of style in my book!

I also saw various other great shows: Walter Trout (The Iridium, New York, April 9), Joe Jackson (State Theatre, New Jersey, New Brunswick, May 18), Govt’ Mule (The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, N.J., June 28), Southern Avenue (The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J., July 11) and Hall & Oates (Fairgrounds, Allentown, Pa.). I wouldn’t have gone to that last concert, had it not been for my wife. While I wouldn’t call myself a Hall & Oates fan, it was a great show.

As King/Emperor of Tribute Bands (blame Music Enthusiast for the title! 🙂 ), this concert section wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the many tribute shows that continued to attract me. I know some folks roll their eyes when they hear the word tribute band. I find nothing wrong listening to music I dig, especially when it’s faithfully captured. Among the many tribute concerts I saw, two stood out: Pink Floyd tribute Brit Floyd (Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, Pa., March 30) and the annual Rock The Farm Tribute Festival (Seaside Heights, N.J., September 28). Here’s a clip from the Brit Floyd gig: Comfortably Numb – epic!

And then there’s of course Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. I finally got to see the director’s cut of the documentary on the big screen. While I can’t deny 224 minutes is pretty massive, I enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s the main post I did to commemorate the festival. And here’s a clip of one of the most iconic rock performances of all time: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends.

New Music

As stated above, for the most part, new music means new albums released by “old” artists I dig. As I looked back through my previous posts, I was surprised to find that I reviewed 22 new albums. Granted this number includes three live albums (The Doobie Brothers/Live From The Beacon Theatre, The Rolling Stones/Bridges To Bremen and Paul McCartney/Amoeba Gig) and an excellent posthumous compilation by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (The Best Of Everything), which do not feature new music. Even if you exclude these, it still leaves you with 18 albums. This makes me wonder what I would do if I also paid more attention to contemporary artists. It pretty much would be impossible to review their new music as well, given I have a family and a full-time job – another good reason to focus on what I truly dig! 🙂

Albums by “old hands” I’d like to call out are The Who (WHO), Booker T. (Note By Note), Neil Young (Colorado), Ringo Starr (What’s My Name), Santana (Africa Speaks),  Little Steven And The Disciples of Soul (Summer of Sorcery), Joe Jackson Fool and Sheryl Crow (Threads). One artist who seems to be missing here is Bruce Springsteen and Western Stars. While I dig Springsteen and don’t think it’s a bad record, it just doesn’t speak to me the way other music by The Boss does, so I ended up skipping a review. Crow said Threads is her final full-fledged release, explaining in the age of streaming music, most people make playlists and no longer listen to entire albums. Boy, this statement really reflects how much listening habits and the music business have changed! Here’s Live Wire, a nice bluesy tune co-written by Crow and Jeff Trott and featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples.

There were also some new blues releases I enjoyed by both older and younger artists, including Walter Trout (Blues Survivor), Jimmie Vaughan (Baby, Please Come Home), Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (The Traveler) and “wunderkind” Jontavious Willis (Spectacular Class), as Taj Mahal has called him. How about some music from Willis’ sophomore album? By the way, it was executive-produced by Mahal. Here’s opener Low Down Ways.

I also would like to call out albums from three other contemporary artists: Rick Barth (Fade), SUSTO (Ever Since I Lost My Mind) and Southern Avenue (Keep On). If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall Southern Avenue is one of the very few young bands I truly dig. I just love how these guys blend blues, soul and R&B, and the vocals are just killer! Here’s the title track from the above album, which is their second one. The tune was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly, lead vocalist Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black. There’s just something about Southern Avenue’s sound I find really seductive.

Coolest Clip

I think I came across a number of great clips I posted throughout the year. One of the best has to be this footage of The Who performing Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s the raw power of rock & roll! It was filmed on May 25, 1978 at England’s Shepperton Studios, about 20 miles southwest of London, for the closing sequence of the band’s rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. And then, there’s this very different but equally mesmerizing clip: a live demonstration of the Hammond B3 by the amazing Booker T. Jones. To really get excited about it, I realize maybe you need to be a musician.

And Finally…

2019 marks the third full year I’m doing this blog. While I really wanted to start writing about my passion, I wasn’t sure whether I could keep it going when I set out in June 2016. Due to personal reasons, I had to slow down a bit during the past couple of months. But music and writing about artists I dig is therapy to me, so I have every intention to continue and hopefully pick up the pace again. When starting the blog, I also felt I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, not to become some “Internet sensation.” While that is still the case, I can’t deny it’s great to see visitors and that traffic has trended up nicely. Of course, growing from tiny numbers is relatively easy, and there is realistically no way I can keep up the current momentum.

Blog Stats

I’m leaving you with a clip from my most popular post this year (measured by total views): The above mentioned Rock The Farm Tribute Festival. The positive reception made me really happy, since it’s great music for a great cause. Here’s It’s Late by Canadian Queen tribute Simply Queen.

I’d like to thank all visitors for reading and especially those who go through the trouble of leaving comments. I always love getting feedback, even if I may not agree with everything folks say. But that’s cool.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Emoji

Sources: Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: SUSTO/Ever Since I Lost My Mind

Until earlier today when I coincidentally came across a CBS This Morning clip on FacebookI had never heard of SUSTO. And, no, while Mr. Zuckerberg apparently is trying hard to stop spreading misinformation, I’m happy to report this ain’t fake news! If you’re like me and basically have given up on most contemporary music because you feel it sucks, I suspect this may be your first time to hear about SUSTO and the latest studio album Ever Since I Lost My Mind, which came out on February 22nd on Rounder Records.

Okay, who or what exactly is SUSTO? While technically being a five-piece alternative rock-oriented band, SUSTO really is a music project by singer-songwriter Justin Osborne. The above mentioned clip captured a performance of the album’s opener Homeboy. There was something about this tune that grabbed me immediately – the catchy melody, Osborne’s voice, the fact that it involved real musicians, meaning folks who actually know how to play an instrument instead of programming a computer. I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly confident it wasn’t because I lost my mind! 🙂

Justin Osborne.jpg
Justin Osborne

Osborne, who if I correctly interpret his Facebook page is 32 years old, hails from Charleston, S.C. According to the bio on SUSTO’s website, he wrote his first songs at age 14 on his grandpa’s parlor guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch. “So I’d go steal it out of my dad’s closet whenever they were out of the house,” Osborne recalls. “It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked.” Apparently, his family’s concern was about ensuring he and his young brothers wouldn’t break the inherited instrument from their grandfather, not Justin’s early attraction to music.

Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school and college. SUSTO was established in January 2013 – just in time. After years of booking and playing gigs and a feeling of going nowhere, Osborne was about to call it quits. Prior to leaving for a foreign semester in Havana, Cuba as part of this anthropology studies, he set up a website for SUSTO, “a holding tank for demos he couldn’t quite bear to toss.” While Osborne was in Havana, he became friends with Cuban musicians and artists, who apparently convinced him to stick with music.

SUSTO

Six months later, Osborne returned to the States and recorded SUSTO’s eponymous debut album that appeared in April 2014. According to Apple Music, following the release of sophomore & I’m Fine Today in January 2017, SUSTO had their TV debut, which was also on CBS This Morning. This was followed by a tour with The Lumineers. Ever Since I Lost My Mind is SUSTO’s third studio release. Osborne catalog to date also includes a live record, two EPs and a couple of singles.

BTW, in case you’re wondering about the meaning of the name, according to SUSTO’s website, the word describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul––an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne’s full name. “SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning––it felt like me, like a name for myself,” he [Osborne] says. “I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word––that deep fright––was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction.” With that explanation being out of the way, it’s time to get to some music!

Let’s start with the album’s above noted opener Homeboy. The ups and downs in the song create a nice dynamic. I think it’s a cool tune, even though it gets bit grungy at times, and grunge is generally not so much my cup of tea. Then again, I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, who obviously has written many songs that couldn’t be more grungy. Oh, well, I suppose there are always exceptions to rules! 🙂

Here’s the record’s second track If I Was, a quieter tune setting a nice contrast to the opener. It’s got a soothing feel to it, which I like. This somewhat contrasts the lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: …But I am just a singer/With electric guitar in my hands,/ Trying to work through my own set of problems,/Trying to do the best that I can,/The best I can./ And I’m your man…

Livin’ In America is another rocker.

Next up: The album’s title track, another mellow sounding tune. The music and lyrics are credited to Osborne and Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, Osborne’s longtime creative sounding board, who also co-produced the song with the album’s lead producer Ian Fitchuk.

Let’s do one more: Cocaine.

Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal,” Osborne notes. “This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments. It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways.”

According to SUSTO’s website, while it began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it’s really always been: Osborne’s vision. “I come from a background of being in bands, so it’s hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control,” he says. “Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It’s taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be––what it really is.”

In addition to Osborne, SUSTO’s current lineup features Dries Vandenberg (guitar),  Steven Walker (keyboards), Jordan Hicks (bass) and Marshall Hudson (drums). The band has a pretty active tour schedule. After a gig this evening in Washington, D.C., they are off to a series of shows in Europe before returning to the States in mid-May.

Sources: Wikipedia, Justin Osborne Facebook page, SUSTO website, Apple Music, YouTube