My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 1: The Concerts

This two-part series isn’t a traditional year-end music review. If that’s what you’re looking for, you could check out this New York Times article about the 28 best albums of 2018 or this Rolling Stone piece titled 50 Best Songs of 2018. Frankly, I don’t even know the names of the majority of artists and songs mentioned in these two articles. And without meaning to sound arrogant or judgmental, I simply don’t care! The reality is the vast majority of music that’s popular nowadays and in the charts doesn’t speak to me.

I’ve also finally accepted that classic rock won’t return to the mainstream – like the blues, it was never meant to be there in the first place, as a recent article reminded me. But, as the same article also correctly stated, just because rock no longer is in the limelight doesn’t mean it’s dead. Consider this: My most viewed blog post this year was a review of a concert by excellent Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out. My most popular Facebook post was a video clip I took of Guns ‘N Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses performing Paradise City, which got 125 shares and some 24,000 views. Trust me, I’m not particularly popular on Facebook, but rock music apparently is!

GTLO Collage Asbury Park 11 24 18

I think the above examples are anecdotal evidence of rock’s ongoing appeal outside the charts. More importantly, rock isn’t going away in my music world. To start with, I never get bored listening repeatedly to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Neil Young and The Allman Brothers Band, to name a few of my favorite artists. I also feel there’s a massive amount of 60s and 70s music I’ve yet to explore. Altogether, this adds up to more stuff I will ever be able to handle, even if I would retire from work immediately and live until age 100! And then there’s icing on the cake when occasionally I come across young bands I dig like Detroit classic rockers Greta Van Fleet, all-female New York blues rock band Jane Lee Hooker or Memphis blues, soul and R&B outfit Southern Avenue.

Music, apart from being something I deeply enjoy, has always been a welcome distraction from challenges life can throw at you. This year, I certainly had my share, so it’s probably not a coincidence that between the blog, listening to music and going to concerts, 2018 felt like my most active year in music to date. It’s also worth remembering that shit happens to everybody. I’m alive and have a job, and my family has a roof over our heads, so ultimately I should be grateful. With that being said, let’s get to part 1 of this review, which focuses on concerts I’ve visited this year, and there have been many.

John Fogerty & Billy Gibbons

Between original artists and tribute acts, I must have set a new record for myself! I’ve seen more than a dozen original artists, who in reverse order include Toto (Nov); Steely Dan twice (Oct & Jul); Southern Avenue (Aug); Ann Wilson, Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers (Aug); The Doobie Brothers (Jul, together with Steely Dan); Gov’t Mule (Jul, Dark Side of the Mule Pink Floyd show); Neil Young (Jul); Lynyrd Skynyrd (Jun); ZZ Top & John Fogerty (May); Jackson Browne (May); Buddy Guy (Apr 20) and Steve Winwood (Mar 9). I also had a ticket for Aretha Franklin for March 25, one of her very last shows that got canceled due to her illness. The concert would have coincided with her 76h birthday.

While all of the above gigs delivered, the three highlights were Steely Dan at The Beacon Theatre, New York City, Oct (review); Neil Young at Wang Theatre, Boston, Jul (review); and John Fogerty at PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmel, N.J., May (review). Following is one clip from each show.

Here’s the mighty Dan with Deacon Blues. This song is a great example of a tune I can listen to over and over again, and it just doesn’t get boring. Truly masterful music never does!

Next up: Neil Young and After The Gold Rush – the combination of Neil with his shaky, almost vulnerable voice and the pipe organ’s church-like sound still give me goosebumps when I think about it!

And here’s John Fogerty with Billy Gibbons performing Holy Grail, a tune they wrote together prior to their Blues & Bayous Tour. Yes, essentially, it’s a remake of La Grange, and it certainly wasn’t the best song of the show. But it’s the only clip I took myself that night, plus watching these two rock legends together on one stage was a treat in and of itself.

Things in 2018 were also pretty intense on the tribute concert front but, hey, I suppose my good blogger pal Music Enthusiast doesn’t call me the “King of Tribute Bands” for nothing! By now I can probably claim that I’ve seen tribute acts of bands ranging from A to Z. The highlight in this context once again was Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September (review). Among others, the annual festival featured great tributes to Neil Young (Decade), Guns ‘N Roses (Guns 4 Roses), Fleetwood Mac (TUSK), Tom Petty (Free Fallin’) and AC/DC (LIVE/WIRE). Another great tribute event was the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. in June (review). Like the previous year, the line-up included tributes to The Beatles (Britain’s Finest), The Rolling Stones (The Glimmer Twins) and The Who (Who’s Next).

Outside these two festivals, I’ve seen numerous other tribute bands throughout the year. In this context, I’d like to call out the above noted Led Zeppelin tribute Get The Led Out  (review), as well as Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd” (review), and Jimi Hendrix tribute Kiss The Sky, which I saw together with Cream tribute Heavy Cream (review). Following are a few clips. First up: Get The Led Out playing the big enchilada Stairway To Heaven.

Next is a flavor of Echoes performing Time and The Great Gig In The Sky from The Dark Side Of The Moon album. I still frequently listen to that record to this day, oftentimes at night and with earbuds. I really should get a decent set of headphones, especially for Pink Floyd music.

Last but not least is Kiss The Sky setting the stage on fire with Voodoo Child (Slight Return). If you’re into Hendrix, it’s really a fun show to watch.

Part 2 is going to focus on new 2018 albums that excited me. As stated at the outset, don’t expect seeing any chart toppers here! Part 2 will also take a brief look at music activities that are on my radar for 2019.

Sources: New York Times, Rolling Stone, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

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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

Jane Lee Hooker Release Powerful Sophomore Album

New York all-female band delivers more raw blues power

Jane Lee Hooker is a relatively recent discovery I made back in August when I saw this all-female blues rock band from New York at a free outdoor concert. I previously posted about them here. On Friday, they released their second studio album Spiritus on iTunes. According to the band’s website, the record is also out on CD in Europe and will become available in this format in the U.S. on January 26, 2018.

From the first to the last tune, the band exactly delivers what it does during their amazing live shows – raw oftentimes furious blues rock power that grabs you and invites you to move. Unlike their 2016 debut No B!, Spiritus mostly features original tracks. These five ladies definitely prove that in addition to covering tunes of blues greats like Muddy Waters and Johnny Winters, they also know how to write.

Except for one tune, I couldn’t find any of the studio recordings from the new album on YouTube, but luckily there are many clips of live performances, which are more fun to watch in the first place. Plus, according to a review in Music Republic Magazine, all tracks on the album were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. This translates to the album’s sound, which comes across as unfiltered and spontaneous.

How Ya Doin’ kicks off the record. The uptempo blues rocker sounds like a perfect concert opener. Here’s a clip of the tune, which was captured in Orleans, France on November 1.

Gimme That, another original tune, has a nice Stonesey sound. But Jane Lee Hooker play it with more of an edge. The following clip is from a show back in July at Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Here’s another nice tune, which was written by the band, Be My Baby. The clip is from another gig in France earlier this month.

Black Rat is one of the two covers on the album. It was first recorded in the 1940s by Memphis blues guitarist and songwriter Lizzie Douglas known as Memphis Minnie. BTW, that’s the same artist who together with her husband Kansas Joe McCoy wrote and recorded When The Levee Breaks in 1929, which was later reworked by Led Zeppelin and became the last song on their 1971 studio album Led Zeppelin IV. Jane Lee Hooker’s version of Black Rat sounds like triple the speed of the original.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer, a cool slower track called The Breeze. It’s the only tune for which I could find a clip of the studio recording on YouTube.

Spiritus was recorded in New York this summer and produced by Matt Chiaravalle. According his website, Chiaravalle is a New York City-based music producer and engineer, who has worked with such artists as Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, Warren Zevon, and Joe Bonamassa. Like the band’s debut album, Spiritus appears on German contemporary blues label Ruf Records. Apparently, Jane Lee Hooker just wrapped up a European tour in support of the album yesterday (November 18) in Šumperk, Czech Republic. The only upcoming date that’s currently listed on their website is the Cincy Blues Winter Blues Fest on February 3, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jane Lee Hooker website, Music Republic Magazine, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jane Lee Hooker/No B!

Debut album from all-female New York band serves hard-charging blues rock

Jane Lee Hooker is another discovery I made when looking for free outdoor concerts in my area this weekend. The five-piece all-female blues rock band from New York City is scheduled to perform Sunday evening in Long Branch, N.J. as part of that seaside city’s summer concert series. The moment I started listening to No B!, I literally thought, ‘holy shit’ – these ladies are playing a furious type of blues rock, sometimes mixed with a dose of punk.

Just like my previous discovery this weekend, The John Byrne Band whose most recent album I reviewed here, Jane Lee Hooker or JLH doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry- too bad! But their website does provide some background. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Hail Mary Z (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston (drums) and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin. In 2015, JHL signed with blues label Ruf Records and released No B! in April 2016.

Jane Lee Hooker Live

As the website points out, while JLH was only founded four years ago, the band’s members have “between them decades of experience in the studio and on the road.” Each of these ladies were in other bands before they joined JHL. The two guitarists previously played together in the ’90s in a band called Helldorado where they “honed their love of blazing dual leads.”

JHL has shared bills with WilcoSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and The Blasters, among others. Earlier this year, they conducted a European tour, including Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of their gigs was a performance at the end of May on Rockpalast, a well-known long-running German rock TV show.

No B! starts off furiously with Wade In The Water, setting the tone for the album. According to Wikipedia, originally, the tune is a negro spiritual written by John Wesley Work III and his brother Frederick J. Work and was first published in 1901 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Next up is Mean Town Blues, which kicks things up a few notches. The song was written by Johnny Winter who first released it on his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment. JLH’s version of the tune sounds like Winter spinning on 78 instead of 45 rpm!

While I Believe It To My Soul slows down the speed, the track sounds just as intense as the two previous tunes. Originally, Ray Charles wrote and first recorded the song in 1961 on his studio album The Genius Sings the Blues.

In The Valley is only JLH original tune on the album. It was written by Athens, the singer, whose voice at times reminds me a bit of Melissa Etheridge.

Free Me is another nice cover showing a soulful side of Athens. Written by Otis Redding and Gene Lawson in 1967, the song appeared on Redding’s fourth posthumous album Love Man, which was released in 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the great Muddy Waters tune Mannish Boy. Waters recorded it first in 1955. While it’s perhaps a bit peculiar hearing a woman sing, “I’m a man, I’m a full-grown man,” JLH does a great job with it.

JHL, whose current tour apparently started in mid-July, will be on the road all the way to mid-November. After Long Branch they are scheduled for seven additional U.S. gigs until early September before taking their tour back to Europe in late October, returning to Germany and Switzerland. They are also adding Denmark and the Czech Republic where the tour will conclude in Šumperk on November 18 at the Blues Alive Festival.

Here is a clip of JLH’s above mentioned live performance on Rockpalast – not sure how long it will be available.

Sources: Jane Lee Hooker website, YouTube, Wikipedia