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Ryan Adams – Prisoner 

I have twenty years invested in Ryan Adams.  He is one of my top-ten music acts.  There was a time in Adams’ career when the material came out too frequently. Now it comes out at a digestible pace (but still plenty fast), which is great – now I actually anticipate an Adams’ release.   I had high expectations for this “divorce album.” It is a cliché, but songwriters are inspired by life’s valleys.

This post has been sitting in draft status for a few months – it is time to get it out the door. I was reminded that it was an unfinished when I recently discovered that a companion album, Prisoner B-Sides, has been out since late April.  In the interest of finishing this post I will pass on Prisoner B-Sides. I guess Adams is still capable of drowning his fans with content.

Each song on Prisoner reflects on love lost.  The guitars speak as much as the lyrics.  As always, Adams crafts beautiful sonic soundscapes and is a fascinating pop artist.  He is a music-head fanboy (Google any of his interviews). He can play in nearly any style, yet he is wise enough to have his own voice.  He is fearless about borrowing, yet stays original.

Side One

The album opens with a single: “Do You Still Love Me.”   It is a classic 80s rock with a Tom Petty feel – an arena anthem.  It is a post break up song where the raw emotions of the performance speak as much as the lyrics.

The titular track comes next.  It is subtler musically and lyrically than the opener.  On first listen, prison seems like a symbol for love or heartache.  But on further listens, I think it is about “being in lust” (the crime) vs. “in love.”

“Doomsday” opens with a country harmonica intro.  This is Ryan Adams at his country rock best.  The narrator is committed to the relationship, but it does not sound like his partner is on the same page.

“Haunted House” is Adams’ Tunnel of Love era Springsteen song.  The narrator, once part of a couple, must now live alone in the former love nest. It is too much for the one left behind.

“Shiver And Shake” has a nice Paul Westerberg feel.  The boy has been left behind with only his memories.  A wonderfully sad song:

“Maybe I’m a fool, doesn’t matter anyway

My chest is all tight, my heart still aches

These are the days, you need double what it takes

I’ve missed you so much I shiver and I shake”

“To Be Without You” ends side one.  It has a 70s acoustic pop vibe.  Our narrator is at the end of his rope, he is hopelessly heartbroken.

Side Two 

“Anything I Say To You Now” is guitar paradise.  A half-dozen rich guitar tones are going on in this song.  The guitar tones remind me of the guitar great Eric Johnson. The narrator is trying to write an apology, but the words end up in a game of wastepaper basketball.

“Anything I say to you now is just a lie
Anything I say to you now is just a lie
Anything I say to you now, anything I say to you now
Anything I say to you now but goodbye
Is just a lie”

“Breakdown” is a very direct song. The narrator is losing it.  What I like about the sound of this song is that is not chaotic or explosive, rather it is simmering away.

“Outbound Train” could easily be a Springsteen song, both lyrically and sonically.  Kind of scary lyrics:

“But I was so bored, I was so bored

I was so sure, I was so bored

I was so bored, I was so bored

I don’t know anything anymore”

“Broken Anyway” is another song with a Paul Westerberg sound.  Sometimes in life, things just turn out how they turn out. No one was wrong, things are just “broken anyway.”

“Tightrope” is a simple guitar and voice, until the bridge –  then a sax solo comes in and the listener is transported to a higher plane. Again a Springsteen vibe.

“We Disappear” has a wonderful swagger to it.  It is riff heavy and has some of the coolest guitar on the album. It is brilliantly lo-fi in a Replacements sort of way.

As bleak as this album is, Adams performance (especially the guitars) elevates the misery to something beautiful and redemptive.  Our hero is broken, but not destroyed.

Ryan Adams is in a good place in his career. His craftsmanship is perfect – he just relaxes and plays. He has no pretensions and he has nothing to prove. Ryan Adams just is.

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Magpie Salute – Magpie Salute

I am a big fan of the Brother’s Robinson – originally via the Black Crowes, but even more now due to their solo work and new bands.  Their post Crowes material is top notch.  

Per the Magpie Salute’s website:

THE MAGPIE SALUTE is an exciting new band that features musicians who have played together for decades throughout various projects and share a musical bond. The band brings Rich Robinson, the guitarist and co-founding member of The Black Crowes, together with two key members of Crowes fame – guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien – alongside drummer Joe Magistro and guitarist Nico Bereciartua. The Magpie Salute also boasts a fine cast of vocalists, including lead singer John Hogg (Hookah Brown, Moke), former Crowes singer Charity White and background singers, Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen.

 

So the band has perfect name (a magpie is of the crow family – see final quote at the end of this post), how do they sound? They sound great.  There have great vocals (both lead and backup) and a great twin guitar attack. They recorded the album live, in the studio and in front of an audience at Applehead Recording in Woodstock (where Rich has been recording his last solo albums). The recording quality is high and with taught arrangements. The recording is so clean; it is a bit of a shock when the crowd erupts at the end of a song.

“Omission” is the sole Magpie Salute original.   Back when I was a kid, we would have called this hard rock. The song would not sound out of place on a Soundgarden album.  It features lead vocals by John Hogg.  Hogg is a new voice to me and I look forward to doing some more research on him.

“Comin’ Home” is a Delaney & Bonnie song from On Tour With Eric Clapton.  It is a great jam for the twin axes of Robinson and Ford to spar and for the multiple vocalists to harmonize.

“What Is Home” is a Rich Robinson original that first appeared on the Black Crowes’ album Before The FrostUntil The Freeze (2009).

“Wiser Time” is another Black Crowes’ song from Amorica (1994).  The song feels like you are flying.

“Goin’ Down South” is a soul jazz song composed by Joe Sample (Crusaders) and was originally from the Bobby Hutchison/Harold Land album San Francisco. This is a perfect groove for an instrumental jam. It has some great keyboards and it is a sad reminder that keyboardist Eddie Harsch passed away shortly after this album was recorded.

“War Drums” is a cover of a song from the band War. Magpie Salute finds more inspiration from this song than I would have ever imagined.

“Ain’t No More Cane” is a traditional prison work song. The arrangement sounds like an outtake from The Band. In fact, it appeared on The Basement Tapes.

“Fearless” is from Meddle by Pink Floyd. The original was acoustic, and the Magpie Salute electrify it.

“Glad And Sorry,” composed by Ronnie Lane, is a Faces’ song. The Black Crowes always seemed like a Faces inspired band – so this is a very appropriate cover.

“Time Will Tell” is by Bob Marley from his album Kaya. Reggae covers can be cornball, but the band avoids pretending to be Jamaican and makes it their own.

I am impressed with this band. The best part is the twin guitar attack for Rich Robinson and Marc Ford – these guys have many miles with each other – so it is an easy conversation. The album has good diversity without being a grab bag. If you like a good jam band in the spirit of the Allman Brothers, you will like this.

Another quote from the band’s website:

Rich explains how the band members’ past experiences connect to the band’s moniker, The Magpie Salute. The term references a British superstition about the imperative to salute a Magpie anytime you see one in order to ward off negativity, or to have a good day; it is like saying, I am unarmed or I come in peace. Rich says, “The magpie falls within the crow umbrella of species, figuratively and literally. Magpies can be black and white, which for me represents the dark and the light. “The way to salute a magpie, is to say Good Morning Captain. I felt this had too many coincidences to ignore. He adds, “This touches on many aspects of my life and experiences.”

Here is a playlist of the originals:

 

Bob Dylan – Nobel Lecture

Bob Dylan has been rocking my world for a long time now. I have read dozens of books about Dylan.  In less than a half hour I learned more about Dylan and his muse than in all those books combined.  He explains how three great works of literature informed and inspired his art.  This is not a normal lecture – this is a long poem.  If you have the slightest curiosity about where Dylan’s lyrics come from, this is the great reveal.  

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy 

With the witty lyricism of Randy Newman and the pop sensibility of Elton John, Father John Misty (FJM) skewers our culture artfully.

2012’s Fear Fun is one of my favorite albums of this decade.  I Love You, Honeybear was a worthy follow up.  Pure Comedy makes it a hat trick.

FJM is Richard Dawkins cynical about religion (from the song “Pure Comedy”):

Oh, their religions are the best

They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed

With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits

And they get terribly upset

When you question their sacred texts

Written by woman-hating epileptics

This album is one of the finest pop criticisms of contemporary culture I have heard in a long time – especially pertinent given it is not coming from a jaded baby boomer millionaire bard (depending on your definition FJM is at the tail end of Gen X or an early Millennial).

FJM has even gotten more cynical since his last album – an impressive feat.  However, these are cynical times.  Musically it is mellower album, but not dour.  FJM continues to conjure elaborate pop arrangements.

This album has not been in constant rotation for me like his first two.  I have let rest for several weeks and it sounds better having had a chance to breathe.  It now sounds more Beatlesque and the lyrics more relevant.  For example, on first listen “Leaving LA” was too slow, too long and too stark, now it seems just right.  Now I appreciate the Spartan framing – it allows you to focus on the vocals and lyrics.  Here is a lyrical highlight from “Leaving LA:”

These L.A. phonies and their bullshit bands

That sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant

So reads the pull quote from my last cover piece

Entitled “The Oldest Man in Folk Rock Speaks”

I kind of like that Father John Misty is making us work for it.

P.S. Thanks for the ambitious packaging as always FJM!.

Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: Joe Jackson – Night And Day

I listened to the latest Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin podcast. The episode featured Joe Jackson.  The interview reminded me of how much I love Jackson’s Night And Day.   I was inspired to give the LP a spin and to add it to my Hall Of Fame.  

Jackson burst on to the scene with an amazing hit single in 1979: “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” from his debut Look Sharp.  Jackson was one of the founders of what became known as New Wave (my definition of New Wave is punk rock played by musicians).  I was a modest fan of his debut, missed his second, but went positively nuts over his third album Beat Crazy, which was a commercial failure.  That album was pop punk, New Wave and ska.  What do you do for a commercial failure’s encore?  Why an album of 1940s swing and jump blues songs – stuff associated with Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway.  It was another flop, but foreshadowed the retro swing revival by about ten years. Therefore, it was quite a shock that Joe’s next album, 1982’s Night And Day was Steely Dan slick with legitimate hit singles.  

The Englishman’s move to New York, his attempt to be the new Cole Porter and the hunch he should record a guitar-less/keyboard focused pop album inspired Night And Day. The album has a jazzy and Latin feel, but with a punk/New Wave edge.  This was a New Wave Steely Dan album – complete with the clever lyrics and a pristine studio sound (sorry for the second Steely Dan reference in as many paragraphs, but it is the most appropriate reference I can think of). 

I played this album until the grooves where gray.  It was perfectly of the time, yet timeless.  I have never tired of it.  The secret ingredient is the outstanding use of percussion. I had the good fortune of seeing the tour that supported this album; it was every bit as perfect live as this album is a studio gem. 

Given this was a big hit and Joe Jackson is a bit underrated compared to his contemporaries like Elvis Costello, you should be able to pick up a high quality copy of this LP for cheap (I recently picked up a pristine backup copy for a buck).  

Gregg Allman R.I.P

Gregg Allman is one of rock’s great singers, songwriters and song interpreters. Allman is the definition of a soulful blues singer.  Gregg was the voice of most of The Allman Brother’s hits.  He also had a solid solo career.  His Laid Back is one of my favorite albums. 

I am a fan of Gregg and of The Allman Brothers, so I read Gregg’s autobiography.  One of my favorite stories from that book, was how the songs on the first Allman Brothers album were written.  The rest of the band locked Gregg in a house, bought him a B3 organ and told him he couldn’t leave until he had an album’s worth of material.  He came out of that writing session with some classics including: “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,”  “Dreams” and “Whipping Post.”

Gregg Allman was no angel, which fittingly was part of the title of one of his solo hits. Reading his biography I found him a pretty unattractive person, but the voice was so good it was easy to look past that.  Also, reading the book I learned Gregg never really healed from the death of big brother Duane.

I had the privilege of hearing Gregg helming The Allman Brothers twice (the Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks version in the mid 00s).  His beautiful gravelly voice and percussive organ were magical live. I have band-issued boots of both shows. I wish I had seen him live solo.  His last studio album, Low Country Blues, showed he was still a force late in his career. R.I.P. “baybrah.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Betty’s Self Rising Southern Blends Vol. 3

Per Wikipedia “Jam bands are musical groups whose live albums and concerts relate to a unique fan culture that began in the 1960s with the Grateful Dead, and continued with The Allman Brothers Band, which had lengthy jams at concerts. The performances of these bands typically feature extended musical improvisation (“jams”) over rhythmic grooves and chord patterns, and long sets of music that can often cross genre boundaries.” I don’t like to pigeonhole bands, but The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is a jam band and a damn good one.  I have been looking forward to this release since I first heard about it.

Release Day 5/4/17

I am grooving to this new Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB) release via Spotify as I pregame for Laura Marling at First Avenue tonight.  I ordered the LP via Amazon so I won’t get it for another week (sorry real record stores, but I had a gift certificate to burn).  CRB are hit-and-miss as far as what they make available on streaming services.  Fortunately, this one is on Spotify.

The Betty Blends series features recordings mixed live from the soundboard by renowned Grateful Dead engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson.  The most valuable LP I have in my collection is Vol. 1. That one was a Record Store Day release.  The moment I bought it, a guy tried to buy it off me (at double the price I just paid) and when I said no he cursed me out as a flipper.

Betty’s Self Rising Southern Blends Vol. 3 is a 13-track set of performances captured during CRB’s November 2015 Southeastern run through Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina.

First impressions are good.  It is bluesier than their studio albums.  It is sloppier in a good way – their studio albums can be a bit too buttoned down.  It includes originals and covers.  There is more diversity to the set – the recent studio albums have been a bit too cohesive.

Several Days In 

I am really digging this album.  It could be my favorite since CRB’s debut Big Moon Ritual.

The album opens with “I Ain’t Hiding” from The Black Crowes’ final studio album, 2009’s Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.  The original cut had Some Girls Stones’ swagger.  This version is mellower and more playful.  It has a more Grateful Dead Shakedown Street feel.

“I Got Love If You Want It” is a Slim Harpo cover.  I am not a blues scholar, but I am familiar with the Slim Harpo name.  Beyond “I’m A King Bee,” I am not familiar with his work.  Listening to CRB’s cover has me now listening to The Excello Singles Anthology. CRB give it a Led Zeppelin read. There is a reason Jimmy Page chose to tour with The Black Crowes to play Led Zeppelin covers.

“Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor” is from CRB’s Phosphorescent Harvest album.  It has a happy easygoing groove.  One of the things I like about the CRB is that they have an old time folk rock feel, gut the same time they have a psychedelic Pink Floyd feel.  This song perfectly captures how CRB expertly walks the tightrope.

“The Music’s Hot” is another Slim Harpo cover.  The original has an almost a blues rap vibe. The CRB give it a nice funky twist.  It bluesy and a bit swampy.

“Roan County Banjo” is from CRB’s If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now album.  This is a classic CRB original that shows off who they are.

“I’m A Hog For You” is a Leiber/Stoller song that was a hit for The Coasters in 1959. Many, including by CRB influencer, The Grateful Dead, have covered it.  CRB take a novelty song and turn it into nine-minute jam.  The slow it down and blues it up.

“Oak Apple Day” is a CRB original from Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel. This song has a nice calm “siting on the porch” vibe.

“Get Out Of My Life Woman” is an Allen Toussaint song that he wrote for Lee Dorsey. The Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) often performed it.  The album that turned me on to Garcia was the 1991 live album simply called Jerry Garcia Band and this song was on that album. Like all Toussaint songs, it has the NOLA groove. This the perfect song for bands like the JGB and the CRB to just plain jam.

“Honeysuckle Interlude” as best I know, has not appeared on any other album. It is a short interlude/intro to the next song “Ride,” from Chris Robinson’s first solo album New Earth Mud. “Ride” has a jazz rock sound in its extended intro.  This is probably Robinson’s most gymnastic vocal on the album.  It is a wonderfully funky song. It is a nice long (about 15 minutes) jam.

“Tales of Thunder Teeth” is a CRB original that does not appear on any other CRB album (again as best I know). It is an instrumental with a prog-rock feel.

“Girl, I Love You” was written by Al Bell and Eddie Floyd and released on Stax under Floyd’s name.  CRB gives it a soul/country read. Robinson is doing some serious testifying here.

“She Belongs To Me” is a Bob Dylan tune. What first attracted me to Jerry Garcia was his outstanding Dylan covers.  CRB keep that tradition alive – turning Dylan tunes into jam band classics.

Personnel on the album is:

  • Chris Robinson: vocals, guitar, harp
  •  Neal Casal: guitar, vocals
  • Adam MacDougall: keyboards, vocals
  • Mark Dutton: bass, vocals
  • Tony Leone: drums

The LP

Ten days after release the LP finally arrives.  I pull out the first LP and out drops a surprise and unadvertised CD – actually two CDs.  This is not a CD version of the LP, but another sixteen live Betty Cantor-Jackson curated/engineered cuts.  It is from the June 26, 2015 San Francisco performance at The Warfield (per All About Jazz).

CD 1:Boppin’ the Blues; Roan County Banjo; Badlands Here We Come; I’m a Hog for You; Jump the Turnstiles; Star or Stone; Meanwhile in the Gods…; Honeysuckle Interlude; Tales of Thunder Teeth.

CD 2: Tulsa Yesterday; One Hundred Days of Rain; Beggar’s Moon; Shore Power; Got Love If You Want It ; Big River; Catfish John.

I will never publish this post if I review this bonus material, so I will have to pass.

Final Thoughts

The LP sounds fantastic.  It is simple black vinyl (as cool as colored vinyl is, it rarely sounds good).  The LP has well done packaging: a combination of art from CRB’s regular artist Alan Forbes and photos. The best photo is the band with Betty Cantor-Jackson.  I am committed; this is my favorite CRB album since their debut.