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

Greta Van Fleet Continues To Rock Like Early Zeppelin On Sophomore Album

Michigan rockers deliver more hard-edged ’70s style rock

When I told a colleague yesterday I was going to see Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out last night (see previous post), he asked me whether I had ever heard of Greta Van Fleet. The name somehow sounded familiar, and just a little while ago, I finally remembered – I had first read about these Michigan rockers in a previous post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast.  On November 10, the band released their second studio album From The Fires – close enough to put it into the “new music” category.

The record actually is a double EP, combining the four tracks from Greta Van Fleet’s debut EP Black Smoke Rising with four newly recorded tunes. I have to say I really dig their music, which almost sounds like a reincarnation of early Zep. Exactly because of that, I could see some people might dismiss them.

Greta Van Fleet

I also recall previously reading that Lenny Kravitz in his early years was accused of sounding too retro, too ’60s, too much like Jimi Hendrix; or that blues rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd essentially was a Stevie Ray Vaughan knockoff. The reality is great musicians listen to other great musicians, and in certain genres this inevitably leads to some repetition. Plus, last time I checked, Hendrix, Vaughan and Zeppelin recorded some of the best rock in music history, so I don’t mind if others embrace their sound. With that being out of the way, let’s take a look at From The Fires.

The record’s opener Safari Song is one of the four tracks from the first EP. Credited to all four members of the band – brothers Joshua Kiszka (lead vocals), Samuel Kiszka (bass guitar, keyboards) and Jacob Kiszka (guitar) and drummer Daniel Wagner – this rocker sounds like a tune that could have been included on Led Zeppelin IV. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance, which was captured in June at a music venue in Chicago. While at first sight these guys may look like a high school band, they certainly don’t sound like one!

Next up: Edge Of Darkness, one of the newly recorded tunes.

The album includes two covers: Meet On The Ledge, the second single from Fairport Convention, released in December 1968 and written by Richard Thompson; and the great Sam Cooke tune A Change Is Gonna Come, from his 1964 studio album Ain’t That Good News. I find this rock version intriguing, so here’s a clip.

The last track I’d like to call out is Talk On The Street, another new song.

According to their Facebook page, Greta Van Fleet was formed in 2012 in Frakenmuth, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where 20 year-old twin brothers Josh and Jake Kiszka began playing shows with their 17 year-old younger brother, Sam, and 17 year-old family friend Danny Wagner. Their name is derived from a local resident called Gretna Van Fleet and used with her permission. Apparently, one of band’s members had heard it mentioned by a relative.

Wikipedia notes various remarkable accomplishments of the young band, especially in the past couple of years. In January 2016, their song Highway Tune was featured on an episode of Showtime comedy series Shameless. This April 21, Greta Van Fleet was named Apple’s new music artist of the week, and in October they won Best New Artist at the Loudwire Music Awards. The new album currently tops the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart. Based on all the band’s success, it doesn’t appear their retro Zeppelinesque sound is hurting them, which is great to see. I certainly look forward to hearing more from these guys.

Sources: Wikipedia, Greta Van Fleet Facebook page, Billboard, YouTube