Category Archives: Album Review

Metal Monday – General Thoughts And Rockin’ Ramblings (Part One)

So a couple of general thoughts hit me as I was writing my Iron Maiden posts. I knew I wanted to do something about Metal in general…the history, the different styles, etc.

Then my buddy Jason posted something that I thought was worth exploring, specifically about Maiden. And then my friend, fraternity brother and other Metal Mentor, Barry gave some awesome insight into his love of the genre… and Boom!

Since neither are guest blogging, you’re stuck with me. But these are the two who Metaled me up… And hey, look, Boys! Thirty some odd years later it worked! I’m hooked!

METAL MUSIC
So where does one start when looking for info. on any given subject? Wikipedia, of course.

“Heavy metal… developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic/acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.”

“In 1968, the first heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple attracted large audiences, though they were often derided by critics. During the mid-1970s, Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörhead introduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Beginning in the late 1970s, bands in the new wave of British heavy metal such as Iron Maiden and Saxon followed in a similar vein. Before the end of the decade, heavy metal fans became known as “metalheads” or “headbangers”.

A couple of things stand out for me. First, it amazes me how things that are on the fringe become so mainstream at a certain point in time. Zeppelin and Deep Purple are Classic Rock bands to me! Granted I came to them later in their careers, but that was normal FM Radio/East Coast listening. And let us not forget that The Beatles started off as the enemy to many a parent. Then the Stones came out as the even more evil rockers! And of course, speaking of Metal, Iron Maiden was cast as devil worshippers.

Some folks consider AC/DC a Metal band, but to me they are just hard rock and one of the highlights to come out of Jason’s Boom Box. Same with KISS. And while Judas Priest was always blasting that summer, I never really listened to Metal on a regular basis. In fact, when people asked me what musical genres were the ones I knew the least about, I would always say Rap, New Country and Metal.

Now Rap and Hip Hop come pouring out from behind my daughter’s closed bedroom door (No, that is not really it!!!), along with a fair amount of Show Tunes! Though I am also happy to say that her playlist has a heck of a lot of Classic Rock on it!

I will admit that I got into NWA, Dr. Dre, Tupac and others all “after the fact.” Way before my daughter, but after the fact…and I will also admit that I do get “parental” from time to time, as I hear certain lyrics being sung by my kid. Ugh.

And I always had a soft side… and I guess I still do… as my favorites of the time were Steve Miller Band and The Eagles. My first concerts were more Classic Rock than anything else, too. Chicago and Orleans was my first. Then The Eagles, Heart and the Little River Band

Usually as people get older their musical tastes get smaller and more “refined”.  Not me! My tastes have been growing and expanding for a long time now. And as I said, I seem to come to certain things late… like Metal! Which also has friends accusing me of doing to try to stay young. That’s not the way I work. I listen to what moves me, what grabs me and I do not care where and who it comes from. More politicians need to do this with good ideas! It should not matter what side of the aisle it comes from! A good idea is a good idea, and the goal must be to problem solve, help and create joy.

But this post is about MUSICAL JOY! So what is it about Metal that has taken such a hold on me? Iron Maiden is in regular rotation. I love the new Metallica album, and the Judas Priest 30th Anniversary CDs are kicking me into gear. I wrote about how studies have shown that this music can actually relax people. I can actually see that, but for me, it just makes me happy and energized, and I love to CRANK IT! To 11!!!

Barry wrote:
“It’s all about the energy. Metal still motivates me and gets me pumped like no other genre. And the metal bands that I like best – the ones that exhibit extreme technical precision like Dream Theater, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, etc. – appeal to me from my early years as a classically trained pianist. (Which is probably why I enjoyed grunge, but never got into it as much as I did metal – the precision was always a little lacking for me.) I am also a huge fan of guitar virtuosos like Reb Beach, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, John Petrucci, George Lynch, et. al. – their craftsmanship and precision continue to astound and inspire me.

Right on, Barry!!!

Robert Walser (author of Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Musicsaid that Metal’s “most influential musicians have been guitar players who have also studied classical music. Their appropriation and adaptation of classical models sparked the development of a new kind of guitar virtuosity [and] changes in the harmonic and melodic language of heavy metal.”

 

And specifically on Maiden, Jason wrote:
“I think another thing that is important to mention — for the uninitiated — is to not pre-judge Iron Maiden because of Eddie (their mascot, who is on all their graphics). Maiden is not what you might hate about metal — in fact it’s quite the contrary. Musically, their material is high-energy and rocks hard (and they are great players), it’s mostly very melodic and their lyrics are unobjectionable (no cursing, no objectifying of women, and many have historical context, e.g., “The Trooper,” about the Crimean War, “Aces High,” about the WWII air wars and Battle of Britain, “Where Eagles Dare,” based on the great WWII film, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, etc). They are all smart individuals, family men, and their lead singer actually flies the band plane (a fully loaded 747 with the band gear, not a little prop plane.). With streaming services, it’s easy to sample their music or their bio-pic, “Flight 666.” Enjoy the journey and Up the Irons!”

So you can see how and why these two are my Metal Mentors… Jason on a Teen Tour, and Barry as my Frat House roommate in College! We listened to a hell of a lot of great stuff back then, Boys! And this does not even include all that Al Jarreau and Spyro Gyra, Barry! What? We needed to charm the ladies!

Come back next Monday for Metal Monday – General Thoughts And Rockin’ Ramblings (Part Two) when we talk about all the different sub-genres of Metal and more!

 

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The Blues Is All About Feeling – It’s A Blue Friday For James Cotton

“The blues is all about feeling… If I don’t feel it, I can’t play it.” (James Cotton)

My passion for harmonica started in college. I was doing the Mee-Ow Show (an Improv/Sketch Comedy group) at Northwestern University… Go Cats!… and our live band, Dr. Bob And The Fakoktah Blues Band, featured Todd Weeks on harmonica, among several other instruments. I was hooked, and asked him to teach me a bit, which he did.

That summer we took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) bought me my first two harmonicas.I will never forget the first moment I was able to bend a note… It floored me!

For the rest of the time I was in Chicago, I would haunt the Blues clubs even more, getting to see some harmonica/harp idols like Sugar Blue, Junior Wells and my favorite, James Cotton. I would listen to their records over and over, trying to copy their playing. To this day, I play alongside of James Cotton And His Big Band – Live From Chicago (Mr. Superharp Himself) and “When It Rains It Pours” is one of my all-tike favorite blues tracks!

What makes this record even more amazing… is that I was there when it was being recorded (February 1-3, 1986 at Biddy Mulligan’s, Chicago, Illinois)… Same thing with The Clash’s Live At Shea.  Not bad places to be, let me tell you!!!

I’ll never forget seeing Cotton play one of those Biddy Mulligan’s shows with my friends and frat brothers Barry Flanik and Jon Weiswasser… and Ray “Killer” Allison giving up his kit so that Jon could get on stage and actually sit in!!!

The band that night was:

JAMES COTTON, harmonica and vocals
JOHNNY COTTON, trombone
MICHAEL COLEMAN, guitar/band leader
RAY “Killer” ALLISON, drums
EDDIE HARSCH, piano
DOUGLAS FAGEN, tenor sax
DANNY “BONEY” FIELDS, trumpet
NOEL NEAL, bass

“Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, Cotton learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) as a small child.” Quite a career and journey he had… For the rest of  James’ bio I will refer you to the Alligator Records site, his label since 1984. But suffice it to say, with his passing yesterday, the world has lost a true and profound Blues Legend.

There are not many legends left… so grab on to the Blues… turn it up… play it loud and pay homage!

And yes… I make that very same face!!!

RIP James Cotton. Tomorrow, I play for you.

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Hineni… Here I Am… A Hallelujah For Leonard Cohen

I was all set to write a very rare political post on this page. Normally, I avoid that like the plague, as I want this blog to be about music, but the world changed two days ago and there are things that need to be addressed… spoken about… shared… or at least cleared out of my head. Brace yourselves… that post is coming. It has to… If nothing else, for me. And believe me, I know what politics does to people… to friends… to families… I get it. I see normally sweet people fight on my Facebook page in the most vicious ways when it comes to politics… and this election was the most disgusting, depressing and divisive I have ever seen.

But silence is death and speech is our inalienable right. So speak out we must. And speak out we will… Or at least I will.

11cohen_leonard_web1-master768For now, I am in a different kind of mourning. It was announced that Leonard Cohen passed away today at the age of 82. Not a lot of details are coming forth… yet… so I cannot help but think there may be a Bowie-type revelation… Meaning he was sick for a while… knew death was coming.

One need only listen to the first and title song off his amazing new album, You Want It Darker to sense this…

“Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

When I first heard this song a few days ago, I had a profound, but very different reaction. Like so many of Leonard’s songs… I seem to find them when I need them most, and this album has been hitting me hard.
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“Hineni” is a Hebrew word that means “Here I Am.” It is used in the Torah when G-d calls to Abraham, and he answers “Hineni.” It’s more than just saying I am here… acknowledging one’s presence and location… It is “Here I Am”… I am ready for whatever is needed of me… I am willing to do what is necessary…
“Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

This idea has been something I have even been studying for a while… but it came up in two amazing ways within the last few days… which made this song even more powerful for me… coincidental… remarkable…

Hineni is a Jewish and philosophical point of view… being ready to serve… ready to give of yourself… to make sacrifices and help a family member, friend or community… which is why so many Temples have Hineni groups… volunteers who help people when they are sick, or in mourning or for whatever. It is an unbelievably human and powerful idea.

And here’s the thing about Leonard Cohen… He was, essentially, a brilliant, a Jewish philosopher. There is so much about Judaism you can learn from his songs. And yet he was also ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996, after living in a Buddhist monastery for five years. Both religions, as well as Christianity, find their way into his songs… because he writes about human beings… all human beings… universal human beings…

And one thing that is abundantly clear to me, is that we are all, essentially… at our core… the same.

We need a roof over our heads… food and water in our belly… and love and kindness in our hearts.

Ironically, the other recent connection to the phrase Here I Am came up in Day 4 of the Deepak Chopra/Oprah 21-Day Meditation Challenge. Deepak talks about how we must be there for those we are in relationships with… our light must go out into the world… our love must cause freedom… we must be open to give… and we do so by saying, “Here I Am.” For our lovers… for our family… for our friends… and yes, if you believe, for our G-d… “Here I Am.”

Leonard was here… Leonard was present. And while I initially did not care for his voice (much the same as my initial reaction to Tom Waits) as I grew more wise and sophisticated and more learned in the ways of music, I came to love him deeply… to appreciate his sounds and words… his poetry and song… the stories he told and the worlds he revealed… the humanity he enlightened and shed light on.

I am so grateful I was able to see him at the Nokia Theatre on his last tour. He moved me and entertained me and made a soul searing impression.

And yes, I still want one of his hats!
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He had a deep yearning for understanding and knowledge… amazing insight into the human condition… He was a poet and story-teller… psychologist and philosopher… a singer/songwriter on another plane.

“Hallelujah” almost always brings me to tears… Jeff Buckley’s version… k.d. Lang’s… Rufus Wainwright… and of course Leonard’s… So many of his songs move me that way… And we will need them now, more than ever before.

Thoughts out to Elliot, his road manager… and to his family and friends and fellow musicians.

Let us honor him… Let us honor human beings… and Let us honor the world, by saying “Here I Am”… I am ready to help… to serve… to take care of… “Hineni. Hineni.”

Thank you, Leonard… Thank you…

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New Music Monday: The Explorers Club Brings Us “Together” With The Super Sounds Of Summer

While the rest of the country and even parts of Northern California still battle the weather, Sunny So Cal is staring to feel like Summer. Okay, that happens a lot here, but still…

The sun… the surf… the smell of the grill… and MUSIC. It’s not Summer without music, sweet music.

Okay, no Season is good without music… but especially Summer… when the outdoor concerts kick into high gear… when people are BBQ’ing and picnicking and partying and just getting together much more often it seems.

Summer… the season of my birth… Maybe that’s why I identify with it on a cellular level. (No, not my iPhone…) Though I will say that Fall/Autumn in NYC or any place back East in the Fall is probably my most favorite time of the year.

But Summer… Cue The Explorers Club and their stunningly beautiful new record Together. And yes, I called it a record! It has that retro sound that just fits in with the whole resurgence of vinyl… Though I’m not sure if they will be doing any vinyl pressings of this one…

Explorers Club Together CD cover HI RES copy

I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Brewer at the rehearsal for the Wild Honey Orchestra’s annual fundraising concert. This year was a tribute to the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, so having Jason there made perfect sense. You can read a great review of the show from Goldmine here.

I got to hear him sing… stellar… So when he told me about his band, I knew it would be something I wanted to hear.

Their music is gorgeous. Obviously their inspirations and heroes are clear, with Brian and the Beach Boys at the very top of the list… and while you could conceivably listen to this record and actually think it IS a Beach Boys album, there is a lot more going on here than imitation. Check out their killer new single “California’s Callin’.”

The band also lists Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Jimmy Webb and the Zombies as heavy influencers. Burt and Jimmy are, in my humble opinion, amongst the best songwriters EVER! And yes, of course Brian is on that list!

If you are a regular reader of this blog… or spend any time with me and my music collection (house, car, iPhone, etc.) you know I have a deep love for that lush Power Pop sound. To me there are hallmarks of what great Power Pop is… catchy riffs… jangly, fuzzy guitars… great harmonies… but also something that the Beach Boys were absolute masters of… and that is the seeming simplicity of the music and song.

I am not sure how to say this without sounding dismissive… but this is the kind of record you can play in the background of a party… and people will just take it for what it is… Simple… enjoyable… humable… singable…

Though I can guarantee most of them will shortly be saying “This is great” and then asking “Who is this?”

Music operates and works on so many levels… and what I love about this record and their others, as well as the genre in general, is that if you want to take it on face value you can. If you want something great to listen to, without having to think or analyze much, then this is something you are really gonna dig.

But… and this is a big BUT… It is gonna sneak up on you!

This music is sophisticated… the four-part harmonies are gorgeous… the arrangements are complex… and if you start breaking it down, you are going to be blown away by the intricacies and nuances.

So suddenly this record is on at home… in the car with the windows down… sadly no convertible for this guy… yet! It is on my iPhone so I can tell my friends, “Hey, you gotta hear this band”… and it is on my party playlist. I truly love this one, track for track.

My first foray into this genre came from buddies Rob and Alan, which hooked me into one of my all-time faves, The Pearlfishers. That lead me on a backwards, sideways, full circle journey into Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Trashcan Sinatras, and local LA bands The Wondermints and Baby Lemonade (Yes in tribute to the late, great and very psychedelic Syd Barret). This list could go on and on… but that list always comes back to one major source… The Beach Boys.

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The band formed in Charleston, SC in 2005, and is currently based in Nashville…. the home to so many great artists and so much killer music. They have released two critically acclaimed albums: 2008’s Freedom Wind and 2012’s Grand Hotel… and Together will be out on June 24.

The Onion AV Club called Freedom Wind “…a pretty dizzying technical achievement. Frankly, the album is beautiful-wholly, deeply and truly.”

According to Brewer: “I usually have a strong idea of the musical/instrumentation and looser ideas about how the final vocal harmonies will hit the tracks. Mike Williamson really took my preliminary ideas and turned them into golden masterpieces on this album. The guys sang a lot of the parts around one mic set up together, in the same room.”

Just as the music itself can make one ponder, trying to figure out who is doing what and where, so do the lyrics in terms of that yearning and grasping to understand life and all that it means…

“We are overwhelmed by spiritual questions every day, it’s inescapable… One line Mike brought in was ‘there is a cold wind calling me from a storm out on the sea (sung by John Davis) – it references the balancing act between spirituality and being pulled back to the realities of daily life,” says Brewer.

This record does exactly that… a beautiful balance between the simple and complex… between realities and the dreams we have of how the world or how our lives should be…

And isn’t that what music is all about?

So yeah, let’s all get Together!

 

ALBUM CREDITS:
Jason Brewer – Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizers, Fuzz Guitar, Rock-Si-Chord, Maestro Rhythm King

Paul Runyon – Vocals, Piano, Hammond Organ, Rock-Si-Chord, Synthesizer, Guitar, Wurlitzer

Michael Willamson – Vocals, Lead Guitar, Fender Bass, Organ, Upright Bass, Acoustic Guitars

Wyatt Funderburk – Vocals, Fender Bass, Rock-Si-Chord

Kyle Polk – Drums and Percussion

ADDITIONAL MUSICIANS:
John Davis – Vocals on “My Friend” and “Before I’m Gone”

Darian Sahanaja – Moog Synthesizers and Rock-Si-Chord on “Don’t Waste Her Time”

Probyn Gregory – All Trumpet and Trombone parts, Tannerin on “Together”

Nelson Bragg & Scott Bennett – Percussion

David Ellis – Percussion

Emeen Zarookian – Synth Bass on “Gold Winds”, additional arrangment on “Gold Winds” Krista Brewer – Flute on “Be Around” Steve Stanley – Bass Harmonica on “Be Around”

Jesse Hansen – Strings on “Be Around”

Brian King – Vibraphone

Mark Galup – Pedal Steel

Rushikesh Badbade – Additional Synth programming

Kevin Crothers – additional Percussion recording

 

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