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Jeff Tweedy – Warm & Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc

I have been in a Jeff Tweedy state of mind lately:

  • I saw his solo show back in September
  • I have been listening to a lot of Wilco over the last year after seeing them live a year ago
  • I read his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.
  • I am now enjoying his new solo release Warm.

Unlike last year’s Together at Last, which was a sparse live acoustic reimagining of his catalog, this is a full arranged set of new songs. Tweedy plays all the instruments with the exception of drums (although he even plays those on one cut). Tweedy is in full studio rat mode here with lots of cool sounds that ultimately serve the songs and are not gimmicks. This album fits in the top tier of Tweedy’s catalog (solo, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and various side projects).

One of the things I learned about Jeff Tweedy in his book is that he loves The Monkeys as much a The Clash, space rock like Hawkwind and train engine sound effect records. That explains a lot. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was born of that aesthetic and Warm adds to that legacy.

I wondered why a guy like Tweedy, who is the clear leader of HIS band Wilco, feels compelled to have a solo album. Especially a solo album that does not stray far from the Wilco formula. His memoir gave some insight when he talked about “the band” Tweedy’s Sukierae:

I loved making music with the rest of Wilco, but I wanted to see if I could do it alone. I’m on a need to know basis with any instrument besides the bass and guitar. But it makes me think about songwriting in a different way when I can’t just say, “Hey, Pat, do you have a piano part to put here?” Or, “Okay, Nels, this is the part of the song where your tear a hole in the space-time continuum.” My limitations as a musician make my songs feel different than when I’m relying on other people to go ahead and be great all over them.

That makes sense to me. Tweedy proves that he can be great on his own. It also makes sense why he has attracted some amazing musicians to serve his cause in Wilco.

I heard most of the songs on Warm when I saw Tweedy’s solo show in September and they engaged me right then and there. Now that the LP is released and I have been able to marinate in them I like them even more. If you like Wilco you are going to like this album.

A great example of Tweedy’s genius is “Let’s Go Rain” which I take to mean that society is due for a biblical cleansing. Tweedy juxtapositions a children’s song with a Beatlesque bridge and the end result is sublime. He did a great live version on Colbert:

https://youtu.be/C7y6DVzv3uQ

The memoir is revealing, honest and entertaining. I especially appreciate that Tweedy spends plenty of time telling us who he is (warts and all) and he explains how he creates his art. I am came away from reading this with the belief that I could sit and have an enjoyable conversation with Tweedy over a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning. He seems like a regular guy who just happens to be one of the greatest singer/songwriters of his generation.

If you are a Wilco fan, find a easy chair, drop the needle on Warm and absorb yourself in the memoir. You will be satisfied.

https://open.spotify.com/album/2XTPulCL6EUx1thyJPnlmj?si=E-gscx1gQK6FXofjOq0sjg

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Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks – Strictly Limited Deluxe Edition

If someone were to ask me what my favorite Dylan album is, it would depend on the day. Some days it would be Highway 61 Revisited, another day it might be Time Out Of Mind, yet another day Slow Train Coming, but on most days it would be Blood On The Tracks.

I figured the bootleg series would eventually get to the Blood On The Tracks sessions. The back story was that Dylan had the album ready to go and he got cold feet. He felt some of the songs performances were not right. The album had been recorded in NYC. The rumor was that Dylan felt some of NYC versions were too honest and that Dylan felt exposed.

His younger brother arranged a session at the premiere Minneapolis studio (Sound 80). A group of local musicians were recruited and they recut about half of the album. Satisfied with the Minneapolis versions, he scrapped about half the NYC originals and released a masterpiece that was a combination of the Minneapolis and NYC sessions.

It has been said that if Dylan had stuck to the original version of the album, it would have been even better. That has always been hard to believe, but I have always wondered. Now we have all the evidence spread across six CDs.

Blood On The Tracks has always been my favorite because Dylan’s voice is the most polished and soulful of his career (he would find this soulfulness again in his Jesus period). Lyrically, Dylan is deceivingly accessible (yet a more careful listen suggests he is in full allegorical mode). The arrangements are acoustic folk with Dylan’s guitar front and center. The album is beautifully recorded and engineered.

So what have we learned from seven hours of outtakes?

  • There are not a lot of extra songs – most of the material is various takes of the songs that ended up on the album. Steven Hyden, one of my favorite music critics, has a great obsession on one of the Blood On The Tracks outtakes that didn’t make the album: “Up To Me.”
  • This could have been a solo acoustic album. Dylan is a pretty solid guitar player.
  • Dylan’s various takes are not radically different from what ended up on the album. But he clearly was experimenting: some of the takes are naked emotion and others are more guarded.
  • The lyrics were not locked down – he was editing in the studio.
  • Hearing Dylan’ several runs at the Blood On The Tracks songs is an exhibit of what a great vocalist Dylan can be. Anyone who thinks Dylan is a great songwriter, but a terrible singer needs to hear the original album and these outtakes (there is a sampler available on Spotify – see below).
  • These songs are so great you enjoy hearing ten variations of them.
  • In the end, Dylan made the right choices of the songs and versions to include on the released album. That is not to say he left off inferior songs or performances – he just picked the right ones for the album version of Blood On The Tracks. The legend of the lost NYC album is greatly exaggerated.

In the end, this collection is for obsessives. Several of the other bootleg releases are more essential and meaningful for the casual fan. But for me, like most Dylan freaks, Blood On The Tracks is so significant it warrants a detailed study like this.

The packaging is excellent with a book of liner notes and a second book of artifacts including Dylan’s notebooks of handwritten song lyrics.

Final point: I don’t agree with Columbia/Legacy’s decision to not release the whole six CDs of material on streaming services. The true obsessive fans are going to buy the physical collection. Make the collection available for the casual fan and for fans who can’t afford to layout $120. Plus it annoys me I have to rip and sync to listen to this album on a mobile device. If the Beatles can release their super deluxe version of The White Album on streaming services, why can’t Dylan do the same with More Blood, More Tracks? It is misguided greed and ignorance.

Sample of More Blood, More Tracks:

https://open.spotify.com/album/5faKzawYFUfk3IRRe6ERXl?si=eAGoLRhfSqOs_jrRtUBRGQ

Original album:

https://open.spotify.com/album/4WD4pslu83FF6oMa1e19mF?si=3iizNTlDSsyinOc9nU1YlQ

Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army

In general I am a music snob, but I can’t help but like Greta Van Feet (GVF). A win is a win and GVF is a win for rock. Yes, this is derivative Led Zeppelin music, but who cares now that the gods are dead? How is this worse than the derivative work of the early Dylan, Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin themselves? Of course, a young rock band is influenced by Zeppelin. GVF is writing and performing legit new Led Zeppelin music: imitate until you can innovate.

I have been listening to this album regularly since it came out via streaming services. I had it on my list, to get on wax. I bought my first vinyl LP from a Target store since the mid-80s. Seems appropriate it is GVF.

Pitchfork gave this a predictable low rating (1.6 on a 10 point scale), that is absurd. No, this is not the future of rock and roll, it is not some new thing; it is just fun as hell. I am ready for the GVF for AC/DC too while we are at it.

The wax version sounds great (appreciate that the Target edition is on red vinyl). It feels even more like finding a lost artifact. If you like Zeppelin, listen to this album. Don’t judge, just enjoy the guilty pleasure and play it loud.

https://open.spotify.com/album/7zeCZY6rQRufc8IHGKyXGX?si=UKHwo01PRgeJcxMAQt1xcA

Thomas Abban – A Sheik’s Legacy

Sometimes, it is easy to miss what is going on in your own backyard. My Chicago-based son turned me on to this wunderkind living under my nose. If I read the local press here in Minneapolis I would have been aware of this guy. Voted most likely to succeed by the local entertainment weekly and cover boy of a local monthly glossy.

The album was originally released a little over a year ago on a local (Minnesota) label Deck Night and more recently re-released on RCA.

Abban has an original approach to classic rock.  Some reference points: Nick Drake, Jack White/White Stripes, Nirvana, Bowie and “Going To California” Led Zeppelin.  He reminds me a lot of Harry Styles, but he is more impressive, in that he does not have the industry behind him. This album was created independent of the star making machine.

The album is all over the map stylistically, yet cohesive. It has hard rock moments and jangling folk moments – sometimes in the same song. If you find Greta Van Fleet a guilty pleasure, Abban has the same Zeppelin vibe but with more originality.

Here is an awesome quote from Abban that pretty much defines my own musical taste:

“I’m not so into movements or genres; it’s more the people,” he says. “It’s hard to say I’m a fan of a genre when it includes people I do and don’t react to.”

I am always blown away by debut albums where the artist comes out of the gates fully realized, Thomas Abban has a vision. Abban wrote the lyrics, the music and played most of the instruments.  It is arranged and produced by Abban and Dark Pony/Deck Night. Deck Night is a fully functioning production company and record label in the Twin Cities. It was founded by producer and songwriter, Jon Herchert (AKA Dark Pony). Per the Deck Night website: Herchert “helps artist tell their stories and share those stories with the world.” Well, mission accomplished.

This is an outstanding and impressive debut album. The most striking aspect of the album is Abban’s ethereal voice. Mostly, he sings in an angelic falsetto, but he also has a gritty rock voice when he needs it. I really like the elaborate arrangements, they almost have a prog rock feel to them.

I looking forward to seeing what he is going to do next and to see what he will do live.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia

I saw St. Paul & The Broken Bones live when they were blossoming a few years ago. I was smitten. But I was worried about their longevity:

  • Were they just a retro-soul novelty act?
  • Would vocalist Paul Janeway blowout his pipes?
  • As a wise man once said to my son when he was managing a band: “that’s a lot of mouths to feed boy”

But the band has endured. They have passed the five-year mark.

I was into the first album, but it was the live show I saw that hooked me. That live show was better than the LP. You could see the spark in that first LP. I never really listened to their second album. Bought it, just did not give it an attentive listen. We have tickets to see them live next March, so I figured I needed to get hip to LP number three.

Young Sick Camellia is a doozy. Full on 70s soul, before disco broke soul’s soul. Thank god for hip hop restarting the soul progression, but I digress. This has got it all: Al Green/Memphis, Boz Scaggs, Philly Soul, Curtis Mayfield, a little EWF (damn I love soul horns), even a little bit of Robert Plant, but it still has a modernist twist, I dig it.

  • Paul Janeway has learned nuance, no he has mastered it. I appreciate that Janeway has toned down the vocal histrionics. He has an absolutely amazing voice. He has a once in a generation kind of voices. I love how his voice has improved and has become more varied since the debut. This guy should be bigger.
  • The band’s ambition has grown. This is a well planned and executed album. It is an album and not just a bunch of songs. The album explores what it means to be an artsy kid in a redneck world. This is an album that rewards with each successive listen. It is completely approachable on the first spin, but there is enough depth that each listen reveals new surprises. You can focus on Janeway’s voice, the band, the arrangements or the recording – all are rich and rewarding. This is like a complex barrel aged beer – each sip reveals a slightly different flavor.
  • Per their website:

Assigning himself the image of a camellia, the Alabama state flower, Janeway uses his lyrics as a conduit for interpersonal conversation and excision, in addition to pieces of an actual conversation with his grandfather he recorded months before his unexpected death. “I wanted to explore the dynamics and their views on life,” Janeway says. “It’s an extremely personal record—not that I haven’t written personal records before, but this is more in-depth and with a vulnerability that I was maybe scared to try. But you have to have that exposure. I think we’re in a much better place than we’ve ever been as a band. We weren’t totally confident with the ‘retro soul’ label that was thrust on us and we knew we had to explore more ground. Young Sick Camellia is the first record we’ve done that just felt right all the way through, like we’re doing us. Nothing was rushed and everything has intent.”

St. Paul & The Broken Bones have transcended the novelty act of their first album and they are the real deal – a band with a vision and the chops to pull it off. I look forward to witnessing these songs live.

https://open.spotify.com/album/4EN9bVE0g7gUvQlNdPrUhL?si=MkpyJ-hmQK2me3tH749asA

Magpie Salute – High Water I

I recently read Steven Hyden’s latest book, Twilight Of The God’s: A Journey To The End Of Classic Rock. This book is a meditation on classic rock in light of the fact that the original practitioners are dying off. One of my insights after reading Hyden’s book is that classic rock will live on in the hands of younger disciples. Bands that start out as tribute bands or highly derivative bands can evolve into their own thing (so there is hope Greta Van Fleet can find their own voice).

A case in point is the local Twin Cities band, The Belfast Cowboys.  They are predominately a Van Morrison tribute band. They mix in originals and inspired covers (the show I saw included The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”). Even their Van covers had their own unique flavor.  Ultimately, they are more than a tribute band – they are a neo-classic rock band.

When the “gods” are gone these inspired disciples will carry on. No different from what the Stones did with the blues in their youth. As Dylan says:

“Steal a little and they throw you in jail

Steal a lot and they make you king”

Which brings me to one of the Black Crowes’ founders, Rich Robinson and his latest band Magpie Salute.

The Crowes were a mix of the Stones, Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, The Band, etc. The Brothers Robinson have split and I doubt we will ever hear from the Crowes again, but the upside is that we now have two rivers were there once was only one.

Rich Robinson, whether with the Crowes, solo or now with Magpie Salute, is creating fresh classic rock. He is standing on the shoulders of giants and not mimicking his hero’s, but honoring them by make new music “in the tradition.”

Rich Robinson has combined former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien with guys from his solo career: vocalist John Hogg, keyboardist Matt Slocum and drummer Joe Magistro.

This music explodes with rock and roll swagger. If you are tired of the same old classic rock songs, but want that same spirit in something fresh, give this band a spin. Don’t look back, I have seen the future of classic rock and I like it.

Podcast: Political Beats

If I told you that a politically conservative magazine and website (founded by the icon of American political conservative thought: William F. Buckley Jr.), has one of the best music podcasts I have heard, would you believe me?

Another music podcast I enjoy (Steven Hyden’s Celebration Rock), had an episode titled “Can Liberals and Conservatives Still Bond Over Music?” That episode introduced me to Jeff Blehar, one of the hosts of the Political Beats podcast. He was such an engaging guest and obvious music nerd I was compelled to check out Political Beats. By the way, yes liberals and conservatives still can bond over music.

I have listened to a half-dozen or so episodes of Political Beats and I am hooked. Hosts Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar invite political journalists and pundits from the right and left to talk about their favorite bands/artists. The basic concept is to talk through a band/artist’s discography. The two hosts and guest, nerd-out album by album. The guest is a super fan of the featured band/artist. So far Scot and Jeff seem to be super fans of everything. I assume I will get to an episode where they show some ignorance, but so far these guys are pretty damn amazing music fanboys.

I listened to a recent episode where they shook up the formula – the guest was the subject itself: David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker discussing the band’s discography along with some tantalizing anecdotes from the two band’s history.

The episodes are roughly two hours, but it is the kind of show you can break up, for example, after each album discussion.  I have yet to hear them get political – they stick to the music despite the sponsorship of a political magazine.

My recommendation is that you look through their archive and pick a band/artist that is dear to you and give it a listen. If you are a music head this will be right in your sweet spot.