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🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records (AKA The Duplicates) – Steve Winwood

Phoenix Duplicates

As I mentioned in my last post, early this year my wife and I were snowbirds from Minnesota wintering in Phoenix January through May 2022. We started with an empty house – in fact our first night in Phoenix we slept on the floor. Over the five months we accumulated the basics (including a stereo).

For our second winter I grabbed my duplicate LPs from the Minneapolis mothership and took them south to help seed the Desert Sessions.

Minneapolis Mothership

I have more duplicates than a person should have. I had this idea that I would sell used records as a retirement hobby and over the last few years whenever I was at a record store or show I would pick up titles that appealed to me if they were cheap (like a dollar or two) and in decent shape. I ended up concluding that selling my collection was about as appealing as selling my body parts. Now I am glad I have all these duplicates as a nice little start to a record collection in Phoenix.

For this year’s season (Desert Sessions 2.0) I am going to review some of those duplicates.

First on deck is Steve Winwood. Between 1977 (Steve Winwood) and 1988 (Roll With It) Winwood released five LPs and they are all top notch. I have four of those five titles in the duplicates in Phoenix. I will do a brief review of each off them.

Winwood was a big enough star that there were a lot of used albums in circulation, but he doesn’t have the legacy cool factor – so his albums are easy to find cheap. The four covered here were each acquired for a buck or two.

Steve Winwood (1977)

I did not experience this album in real time. I came to it after the success of Back In The High Life (the tag on the cover this album suggests I picked it up in 1988). The album did not resonate with me back when I acquired it, but now it sounds fantastic. It sounds like a pop version of Traffic (Winwood’s previous band that had broken up three years earlier). Although it does not have any hits, it clearly foreshadows the mega success he would have a few years down the line.

The album is funky, has a singer songwriter vibe and at times is jazzy (improvisational in the way current day jam bands are). Winwood’s command of keyboards reminds me of Stevie Wonder – not that he sounds like Wonder – but that he coaxes a signature sound out of them that sounds natural, even on synths. It never sounds dated or gimmicky. There are synth sounds on this LP that Winwood was developing that he would later master to great pop effect.

Duplicate for the 🌵 Sessions
Arc Of A Diver (1980)

Arc Of A Diver is where Winwood strikes gold. He is able to perfect the experiments of the last album intro pop perfection. He has his first solo hit, “While You See a Chance” (number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100). The album got to number 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Arc Of A Diver established him as a commercially viable act. I bought this album after it became a hit, so I can’t claim to be an early adopter.

Duplicate for the 🌵 Sessions
Talking Back To The Night (1982)

After the commercial and critical success of Arc Of A Diver, Talking Back To The Night was a commercial flop. I am not sure why it flopped. To me it is nearly as good as Arc Of A Diver and has a legitimate single in “Valerie” which eventually became a top 10 hit on a greatest hits package after the success of Back In The High Life. Sometimes pop success is merely timing.

It should be noted that Arc Of A Diver and Talking Back To The Night are basically Winwood as a one man band. He plays all the instruments and manages the production. Most of the songs on both albums are co-written with Winwood by Will Jennings. This album is a bit harder to find and often over priced.

Duplicate for the 🌵 Sessions
Back In The High Life (1986)

It all came together in 1986 with Back In The High Life – Winwood had a mega hit album: triple platinum, three Grammys, five hit singles ( “Higher Love” a number one, “Freedom Overspill,” “Back in the High Life Again,” “The Finer Things,” and “Split Decision”). I bought this in real time (via the CD medium – the vinyl version is a recent purchase) and played it to death. It has never gotten old for me. It sounds as fresh to me now as it did nearly four decades ago. This is a solid album: five of eight tracks were hits and the other three are good too. If I had a top 100 album list it would be on it.

Everything that Winwood had been perfecting on the last three albums reached absolute pop perfection on Back In The High Life.

Duplicate for the 🌵 Sessions

I suspect I will be listening to these albums a lot this winter. Listening intensely to Winwood I have been thinking a lot about his voice. It has limited range, but it is expressive and soulful. It reminds me of a muted trumpet.

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Desert Sessions’ Rig

When my wife and I acquired a second home in Phoenix last winter, I cobbled together a Phoenix stereo from extra components I had, some borrowed gear and a few key purchases. What follows is a description of the Desert Sessions’ rig.

Last January the rig was a pretty humble set up: an amp on top of a cardboard box, a turntable on a piece of tile I found in the garage, and all hooked up to the built in ceiling speakers that were pre-installed in the home. Functional, but not great.

🌵 Desert Rig 🌵 January 2022

This season things have all come together including a nice piece of furniture. We are fully functional and hopefully will not have to acquire any more gear for awhile.

🌵 Desert Rig 🌵 November 2022

Amp – A few years ago I picked up a bespoke British integrated amp from Croft Acoustics. For reasons that I won’t go into, I actually have two of these units. I used one on the first level and one on the second level of our Minneapolis home. I took the lower level Croft to Phoenix and replaced Minneapolis with a Jolida FX10 I had in storage.

The Croft Phono Integrated is a tube/solid state hybrid. The preamp is tube and its special sauce is the phono preamp (thus the name). Besides the great sound, my favorite feature is that it has separate volume controls for the left and right channels. This is the perfect tool for room correction and to correct for my weaker right ear.

Turntable – I did not have an extra turntable and so I borrowed my daughter’s Music Hall mmf-2.2 le (she left it in storage given her small Manhattan NYC apartment). The turntable is a great sounding no-nonsense unit. It has a great backstory – see this link.

Music Hall mmf-2.2 le

Streamer – High resolution streaming (I use Tidal) is the greatest audiophile innovation in my lifetime. I struggled with a laptop and DAC for a number years. That works fine, but I wanted the convenience of using my phone via Bluetooth, but with audiophile sound. Streamers are the solution. I picked up a Bluesound Node 2i a few years ago for the Minneapolis system and loved it enough to get the most recent model for Phoenix.

Bluesound Node

Headphone amp – One glaring missing feature of the Croft is a headphone amp and so I purchased a Schiit Vali 2 for Minneapolis a few years ago. I brought it down to Phoenix with the intention of replacing the one in Minneapolis (I did with the Schiit Valhalla 2). The Vali is a great value: warm tube sound for $150 (of course I spent half that again for a tube upgrade).

Schiit Vali 2

Headphones – I have a pair of Grado SR80s that sound fantastic, but are uncomfortable as hell. I brought down a pair of AKG K240s – these old warhorses are plenty good too. Last winter I did a lot of headphone listening as I didn’t have any speakers for most of the season. I don’t expect to use headphones much this season.

Grado SR80
AKG K240

Speakers – for most of our first season I did not have speakers. I tapped into the built in ceiling speakers that came with the house, but they sounded pretty crappy and so I mostly listened on headphones. Near the end of the season I picked up some inexpensive Klipsch bookshelf speakers. That was a revelation – it turns out the home office space in the Phoenix home is a superb listening space – as audiophiles know the room is half the battle. I decided when we came back this season I would trade the Klipsch for the Paradigm Premier 800F I had in Minneapolis. Given a very open floor plan condo situation in Minneapolis, I found I mostly listened via headphones. The big speakers are a better suited for Phoenix and the bookshelf speakers are a better match for Minneapolis.

Paradigm Premier 800F

The Klipsch sounded great, but the Paradigms are next level: great sound stage, broad range (full but not booming bass for example) and the sound great and both low and high volume.

In summary, the desert rig is fully operational. The last critical component is a comfortable chair 😊 (on order). It sounds great. I retire at the end of the year and look forward to lots of listening pleasure this season in Phoenix! Hopefully there will be lots of album reviews of the 🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Return of the Dream Canteen

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Return of the Dream Canteen (2002)

Earlier this year the Red Hot Chili Peppers released a 17 song album: Unlimited Love. It was a comeback of sorts: well received by fans and critics, but most importantly, John Frusciante is back. Unlimited Love is one of my favorite albums of 2022. As I got into Unlimited Love, I realized that all the RHCP albums I liked (e.g., Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication and Stadium Arcadium), all had one thing in common: John Frusciante. This was not unique to me, the Frusciante RHCP albums are the hit RHCP albums.

RHCPs are back in less than a year with Return of the Dream Canteen – another 17 songs. I recall during the press cycle for Unlimited Love that the band and producer Rick Rubin, teased that they had another album in the can from the Unlimited Love sessions. Return of the Dream Canteen is that extra album, it is more of the same and that is OK with me. These are not outtakes or songs that weren’t good enough to make the Unlimited Love cut. The RHCP were overflowing with creativity, the band has suggested 50 songs were completed out of the Unlimited Love/Return of the Dream Canteen session, and this is just one giant 4-LP album issued in two parts.

I don’t detect a significant difference between the two albums. I feel like the songs and production are interchangeable. That being said, with this much material you need to make it manageable for fans to digest. They have done a good job of creating two well sequenced double albums (in the LP era both Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen, given their 75 minute length, would have been double albums). There is a shit-ton of material and despite the volume, it is all top quality and I don’t feel there is any is filler. I appreciate the bloat.

Red Hot Chili Peppers:
Return of the Dream Canteen
Indie Exclusive Limited Edition Alternate Cover Gold 2LP

Some highlights of Return of the Dream Canteen

  • “Tippa My Tongue” is classic RHCP’s funk rock
  • “Eddie” is a tribute to Eddie Van Halen – it does not particularly define Van Halen’s brilliance, but it is a fun little song
  • “My Cigarette” is a different sound than typical RHCP – almost trip hop

The question with this much material, should have Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen been edited down to a 45 minute masterpiece? My answer is no. At this point in the RHCP’s career a taut masterpiece is not needed, but an excessive quadruple LP is.

It may be recency bias, but I think I like Return of the Dream Canteen more than Unlimited Love. It feels more diverse and adventurous.

Per the RHCP’s website:

Return of the Dream Canteen feels like a nod to the creative prosperity of a psychedelic desert. Something about the four of us wandering into a time and place that had less definition than normal lead to more music. We just kept sipping away. The canteen was generous. Just when a blubberously funky baseline seemed like it might lie dormant without a dance partner, its song fellows would show up to party. John’s tenacious focus on treating every song as though it was equal to the next helped us to realize more songs than some might know what to do with. In a world where a single track release is typical, we decided to release back to back double records. We feel good about it. Pass the canteen.”

Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen are the first RHCP albums that I have truly been obsessed with. Although, I have been a long time fan, I would have been a casual fan. With these two albums I have become a serious fan. The fact that they are nearly four decades into their career and still at their creative peak is amazing.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon

I Am The Moon box set

My favorite album of 2021 was the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s (TTB) take on Layla. TTB has now doubled down by creating over two hours of original songs inspired by the Layla’s source material: the “eastern Romeo and Juliet” Layla and Majnun by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjav. For more details on the album background see David Fricke’s essay on the TTB website.

If you are not a fan of TTB, think of them as the successor to the sophisticated blues rock of the classic rock era: Clapton, Allman Brothers (where TTB guitarist Derek Trucks served for many years), Bonnie Raitt, etc. They are a “big band” – 12 pieces including two drummers and a horn section. The main features are Derek Trucks’ tasty slide guitar and Susan Tedeschi’s vocals (and she is no slouch on slide either). There are multiple songwriters, vocalist and soloists. Although, songs get stretched, TTB doesn’t sound like a jam band – the sound of this band is more deliberate.

I Am The Moon is a 4 LP set (24 songs). It was released digitally in four chapters over the summer and is now available in physical formats (CD, vinyl and a sold out vinyl deluxe box set). Each chapter has an accompanying film/video. The videos did nothing for me and I feel bad for the band wasting the money on them.

The music is great. No significant departure from their other material, but a more ambitious and cohesive work. It highlights everything that I love about the band:

  • Multiple songwriters and vocalists
  • Great vocal harmonies
  • Elaborate horn arrangements
  • Complex rhythms
  • An ambitious narrative
  • Jammy toe tapping blues rock
  • A unique vocal stylist in Susan Tedeschi
  • A once in a generation slide guitarist in Derek Trucks

At first I was annoyed the band trickled out the album in four installments. I have come to appreciate it as I was forced to fully chew and digest each bite vs rushing through such a large and rich meal. Now that I have digested the whole thing, I am in shape for the marathon. I suggest you approach the album in the four courses and don’t rush through it. Savor!

Goose – Dripfield

Goose Dripfield (No Coincidence) 6/24/2022

My introduction to Goose was their cover of Vampire Weekend’s “2021.” Vampire Weekend commissioned a couple of artists to cover the shortest song on Father Of The Bride. They commissioned jazz saxophonist Sam Gendel and the jam band Goose to both create their own reinterpretations of “2021”on an EP titled 40:42. Vampire Weekend gave Gendel and Goose the directive to turn their 1:39 song into two 20:21 versions (hence the title of the EP is 40:42). The Gendle version didn’t do much for me but the Goose version blew me away.

A few weeks later the band released Ted Tapes 2021 – 16 instrumental tracks from band soundchecks and rehearsals held between April 2019 and December 2020. My favorite part of the Grateful Dead is Jerry Garcia’s brilliant guitar noodling. Ted Tapes nearly 90 minutes of brilliant Garcia style noodling. Most jam bands favor the groove, but Goose favors the melody – they play songs! Ted Tapes 2021 was one of my favorite releases of 2021.

I didn’t explore the rest of their catalog – frankly I didn’t know were to start as it was mostly live material. But this summer they released their first proper studio album: Dripfield (actually it is their third, but the other two were self-produced). Goose have had enough success that they were able to book a proper studio (The ISOKON in Woodstock, NY) and hire a producer (D James Goodwin) for Dripfield. Expectations were high for Dripfield – they have been the darlings of the jam band circuit and this was their moment. They have delivered on the expectations with an outstanding album.

I recently saw Goose perform live at Sacred Rose music festival in Chicago (a recording of the show is on Bandcamp). The band was great and the Dripfield songs were the stars of their set. The songs which are succinct on the LP, perfectly adapt to the live extended jams. Again, the key is Goose plays songs and not just grooves (but they do have commanding grooves too).

Available on Bandcamp

Goose is Rick Mitarotonda [vocals, guitar], Peter Anspach [vocals, keys, guitar], Trevor Weekz [bass], Ben Atkind [drums], and Jeff Arevalo [vocals, percussion, drums]. Per the band’s website, they: “fluidly traverse genres with head-spinning hooks, technical fireworks, and the kind of chemistry only possible among small town and longtime friends.”

Mitarotonda does a lot of heavy lifting in the band – his guitar is the key to the band sound, he is the principal songwriter, and primary vocalist. His guitar tone is rich and his vocals are mellow – although he doesn’t sound like Garcia, they share the same aesthetic. My hot take on Mitarotonda is he is a combination of David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead). Anspach’s keys are a nice complement to the Goose sound and he contributes 3 songs. The rest of the band creates a great foundation for Mitarotonda and Anspach songs and solos.

The songs are perfectly sequenced and the opening two tracks, “Borne” and “Hungersite” are seamlessly connected. This is an album and not a collection of songs. The album is beautifully recorded and mixed. The album is a combination of new songs and songs that have been in the set for awhile. I have backtracked on the older songs and these studio versions are better – D James Goodwin has had a positive impact on the band.

Between this album and the recent live show I witnessed, I am all in on this band, love their jammy pop-rock melodies – extremely listenable!

My new standard for fandom in the streaming era is to purchase the vinyl edition – I like this album enough to make LP commitment.

Joni Mitchell – Taming The Tiger

Joni Mitchell – Taming The Tiger (1998)

I am a Joni Mitchell fan and have been since the fall of 1977 when my new friend Uncle Paul rolled, burned and shared one. He then dropped the needle on an LP and commanded: “Listen to this!” I proceeded to have my mind blown by Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece Court and Spark. I was fortunate over the next couple of years to experience two great Joni albums in real time: Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977) and Mingus (1979). But then came the 80s and frankly Joni’s quality declined. I faithfully bought every album and dutifully listened, but none resonated with me like her pre-80s catalog. That 60s and 70s catalog is nearly flawless – one masterpiece after another. Some are accessible, some are challenging, some are hits and some are misses, but they are undeniably brilliant.

Uncle Paul recently texted me a link to a Joni 1998 concert film on YouTube: Joni Mitchell: Painting with Words and Music. I wasn’t in the mood at that moment to watch it and instead I streamed Taming The Tiger, her album from around the same period, and gave it a listen. I like it better now then I did when it was for released. It would be the last recording of new material for nearly a decade – and at the time I assumed this was it – her final statement.

Now Taming The Tiger sounds as brilliant as her pre-80s work. I am committed to reevaluating the rest of her post-70s work with my old, and hopefully wiser, ears. Sonically Taming The Tiger recalls Hijra, but simpler, in a good way.

The ensemble for the album is Joni on vocal and synth guitar (Roland VG-8 and I assume the Parker Fly she was playing live at the time – and recently at Newport) saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist and ex-husband Larry Klein, drummer Brian Blade, pedal and lap steel guitarist Greg Leisz (similar ensemble as the video concert above except trumpeter Mark Isham is playing Wayne Shorter’s role on trumpet vs sax).

The most distinctive aspect of Tame The Tiger is the atmospheric sound of Joni’s synth-guitar. It is folk, jazz, new age – it is Joni. It is a deceptively simple sound and the perfect accompaniment to the very personal songs. Her sidemen are the perfect side to Joni’s main dish. Wayne Shorter is magnificent.

Joni was in an interesting place when she recorded this album. She had reunited with her daughter that she had given up for adoption, she was having a comeback (her previous album, Turbulent Indigo won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Album) and she had mastered the synth- guitar – which clearly inspired her. She was giving the impression that she was soon to be done with songwriting and the music business (she wasn’t, but it sure felt like it at the time).

“Harlem in Havana” opens like it is going to be industrial metal, but quickly blossoms into a gorgeous Joni Mitchell song. It reminisces about a carnival visiting a small farming community.

“Man from Mars” sounds like lament to a lost lover, but it is about her misbehaving cat (see the album cover art to see this cad of a cat).

“Love Puts on a New Face” is a classic Joni relationship song with this brilliant Joni final verse:

He said "I wish you were with me here
The leaves are electric
They burn on the river bank
Countless heatless flames"
I said "Send me some pictures then
And I'll paint pyrotechnic
Explosions of your autumn till we meet again
I miss your touch and your lips so much
I long for our next embrace"
But in France they say
Everyday
Love puts on a new face
Love puts on a new facev Love has many faces
Many many faces

“Lead Balloon” is a rock song that would not sound out of place on Robert Plant’s Now And Zen (1987). I love the opening phrase:

"Kiss my ass, " I said
and I threw my drink
Tequila trickling
Down his business suit
Must be the Irish blood
Fight before you think
Turn it now

“No Apologies” is a song taken from the news. Joni is outraged how the US military dealt with an incident of rape involving American servicemen in Okinawa.

“Taming the Tiger” is a kiss off to the music industry:

The moon shed light
On my hopeless plight
As the radio blared so bland
Every disc, a poker chip
Every song just a one night stand
Formula music, girly guile
Genuine junkfood for juveniles
Up and down the dial
Mercenary style

“The Crazy Cries of Love” is about some loud lovers who require a train passing by to cover their crazy cries of love.

“Stay in Touch” is a list of reasons to stay in touch. Good song, I just have nothing interesting to say about it.

“Face Lift” is a response to a judgmental mom:

I mean, after all, she introduced us
Oh, but she regrets that now
Shacked up downtown
Making love without a license
Same old sacred cow
She said, "Did you come home to disgrace us?"
I said, "Why is this joy not allowed?"
For God's sake, I'm middle-aged, Mama
And time moves swift
And you know happiness is the best face lift

“My Best to You” (Gene Willadsen, Isham Jones) is a cover of a 40s western swing tune that Joni reinvents and modernizes with her atmospheric synth. Joni does great covers. A great cover honors the song by the performer making it their own. As usual Joni owns this one.

“Tiger Bones” is an instrumental reprise of the titular track that shows off Joni’s prowess on the synth guitar. It is the perfect coda for the album.

I don’t know if it is my mood, my age or my experience, but this album sounds significantly better than I recall. As I said at the beginning of this post, this album has me second guessing my opinion of Joni’s post 70s output – at least her 90s work. This is good stuff! As part of my writing of this post I listened to 1994’s Turbulent Indigo and it is excellent too – although I like Taming The Tiger better. What I really like about this album is the synth guitar or what Joni called her orchestra guitar. It allowed her to directly express her musical opinions without the filter of side musicians.

Joni is not on Spotify out of protest of disinformation podcasts on the service. Here is a link to Tidal (in better than CD quality). I listened to both my original CD and the Tidal MQA Master stream and the Tidal stream rules!

I eventually did watch the concert video Uncle Paul sent and it is really well done. It is a must see for Joni fans. Coincidently we saw her live at the acoustical disaster that was the pre-renovation Target Center in 1998. The video is a better memory than that live show (Joni was likely great, but the venue was a wet blanket on her performance).

A Catchgroove Blind Spot: Drive-By Truckers – Getting Ready

I consider myself a musichead and I have a large and diverse music collection. However, I also recognize I have blind spots of artists/bands that I should be a fan of: critically acclaimed, popular/successful or similar to other artists/bands I love. I am not talking about someone I have never heard of, but rather someone I have heard of but for some reason have never listened to or have listened to, but they never clicked.

Catchgroove’s 4,000+ LPs, 3,000+ CDs and 200+ 45s.

A great example of one of my blind spots would be Pavement. I was aware of them back in the day, as they were a pretty big deal in the 90s. But somehow never listened to them. When Stephen Malkmus went solo I got hooked on him and then backtracked to Pavement and felt kind of dumb for missing that train in real time. This seems like an interesting enough topic for a special feature: A Catchgroove Blind Spot.

My debut of Catchgroove’s Blind Spotis the Drive-By Truckers (DBT). My wife saw they were going to be at one of our favorite breweries in Minneapolis: Utepils. They have always been on my list to check them out. With shorthand descriptions like they are the bastard love child of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Replacements, I should be a huge fan. They appear to be a country rock band with a punk rock attitude and progressive politics. Decided to get tickets to the show. In preparation for that show I decided to get schooled on their catalog.

Starting with their latest, Welcome 2 Club XIII – I like it and it has me wondering why I have not gotten into this band. The album sounds great. Great story telling, big riffs, infectious melodies. Brilliantly sloppy in a Neil Young & Crazy Horse sort of way.

Welcome 2 Club XIII (2022)

Reading up about the band, they have been focused on a contemplation of America’s flaws for the last few albums and Welcome 2 Club XIII represents:

…a detour, an opportunity to focus on the personal rather than the political for a while, and most of the songs are rooted in memory, a look into the past as a filter into the present.

Allmusic

Welcome 2 Club XIII is easy to play over and over and this will be on my best of 2022 list. I like it enough to commit to the vinyl.

But I can’t afford to get too into this album as I have bundle of studio albums to digest before the show. I am working through the studio catalog aimlessly (that is, not in release order).

Southern Rock Opera (2001)

I remember when this album came out and it got a lot of positive buzz. Per Wikipedia: “The album weaves the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd into a narrative about a fictitious rock band called Betamax Guillotine, whose story unfolds within the context of the South during the 1970s.” Concept albums rarely work, but this one does. It can be enjoyed song by song and it is not a slave to the concept. This begins an album hat trick set of releases (Decoration Day and The Dirty South) that established the band as something to be reckoned with.

Decoration Day (2003)

I actually have this album on CD, but forgot it was in my collection. Prior to purchasing Welcome 2 Club XIII, this was the only DBTs in my collection. This is considered Patterson Hood’s divorce album. He is quoted as saying: Decoration Day is “more or less … an album about choices, good and bad, right and wrong, and the consequences of those choices.” Although, it never clicked for me back in 2003 when it was released, it clicks now.

Gangstabilly (1998)

What an amazing debut, DBT remind me of a profane version of the Georgia Satellites – that is, playing red necks with an ironic wink. Highlights for me are “Steve McQueen.” I am old enough to know the accuracy of the lyric:

When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up to be
Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
The coolest goddamn mothefucker on the silver screen
(Yee-haw)

But it isn’t all fun and games, on the opening track “Wife Beater” they highlight the horror of domestic abuse.

The Dirty South (2004)

This might be my favorite in the back catalog so far. It has some great Jason Isbell songs. Well paced between the rockers and the more mellow tunes.

A Blessing And A Curse (2006)

After three masterpieces in a row (Southern Rock Opera, Decoration Day and Dirty South), the band is still on a roll with their triple guitar/songwriter attack. They are showing no signs of weakening.

Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)

This is the most diverse sounding of the DBT albums so far. At points rocking and almost punk, but at other points pure country (“Lisa’s Birthday”). Isbell has departed, but his ex, Shonna Tucker, takes a few lead vocals.

Pizza Deliverance (1999)

This the DBT’s second album. Musically it sounds simplistic compared to what would follow it, but it is still good. This is where they sound like a country rock version of The Replacements.

The Big To Do (2010)

Wow this is a bleak one: a father abandoning his family, losing a job, alcoholism, hooking up with a hooker as a birthday gift, justified homicide, etc. It is kind of a millennial version of Springsteen’s The River, that is, the bleakness is transcendent.

Alabama Ass Whuppin’ (2000)

Wow – pure live cow-punk! This is a fun treat. Highlights for me were: the Jim Carroll cover “People Who Died,” “Steve McQueen” and “18 Wheels of Love.” Didn’t mean to be distracted by any of their live albums, but once I started this one I couldn’t stop.

American Band (2016)

I posted on DBT Facebook group about this quick tour of the DBT catalog that I am on. I mentioned that I was committed to listening to the whole catalog, but I was seeking advice on what to focus on and not breeze by any classics in my rush. This album was a frequent suggestion. The album sounds different (it certainly looks different without cover art from Wes Freed). I checked to see if it was produced by frequent collaborator David Barbe – it was. This is a band that loves the south, but isn’t blind to it’s dark side. They are political in the way Springsteen is political: they describe their neighborhood honestly, but not bitterly.

This album seems more serious and urgent – this was released in 2016 – the beginning of the age of Trump. They are not just their usual keen observers of their world, but now worried observers of their world. As the AllMusic review states the album: “is an op-ed column with guitars, and it presents a message well worth hearing, both as politics and as music.” The song “What It Means” is honest portrayal of current day racism without sounding preachy. I see why this album was frequently suggested by the DBT’s Facebook group.

Go-Go Boots (2011)

This band is remarkably consistent. 10 studio albums in and over a decade as a band and they are still delivering quality (remarkably 10 plus years later and 6 more studio albums later and I could say the same thing). This album is a bit mellower, but still has plenty of bite.

English Oceans (2014)

I am running out of things to say about this band. I love the opening track: hard rocking and fantastic horns (please show up in Minneapolis with horns!). A great long winded chorus:

Shit shots count.
If the table’s tilted, just pay the man who levels the floor.
Pride is what you charge a proud man for having.
Shame is what you sell to a whore.
Meat’s just meat and it’s all born dyin’.
Some is tender and some is tough.
Somebody’s gotta mop up and eat one.
Somebody’s gotta mop up the blood.

The New OK (2020 – October)

Overtly political, but I am OK with that given how artfully it is delivered. Sonically this album sounds different – still the DBT’s, but some alternative sounds. It includes a great Ramones cover (The KKK Took My Baby Away). Mike Cooley only gets one song: “Sarah’s Flame” which is a poke at Sarah Palin and how she set the stage to make Trump presidency possible.

The Unraveling (2020 January)

I probably should have listened to this before The New OK. They both came out in 2020 and to some extent The New OK represents songs the did not make it on this album. Again this political and sonically slightly different than the rest of the catalog – a bit more intentionally modern.

Wow is this a great band and I can’t believe I have never got into these guys. They check so many of my boxes:

  • Americana/country rock.
  • Lots of guitars (typically it is a three guitar attack like their heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd).
  • Traces of some of my favorites: Neil Young, Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt), Georgia Satellites, The Replacements, Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Springsteen-like narratives, The Faces swagger, Flaming Lips psychedelia, etc.
  • David Barbe production is perfect: no gimmicks, just bringing out the best of the band.
  • Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are wonderfully different songwriters and vocalist, yet totally complementary. The Jason Isbell era is delightful too.
  • A consistency from album to album – they don’t appear to have any duds in their catalog.

I mentioned earlier in this post that I posted on a DBT’s Facebook group looking for advice on what to focus on in such a large catalog. What I learned was that there are no duds in the catalog and I can certainly attest to that. I am now a fan and I am looking forward to going back and exploring the catalog at a leisurely pace. There are live albums and solo albums to explore. I am also looking forward to the live show – the Facebook group unanimously insisting it will be an revelation.

The show: The DBT live are everything I had hoped: fun, serious, great musicianship, energetic, earnest, etc. They played for two hours with a nice cross section of their catalog. They are dialed into the audience, but they don’t pander. As for horns, the road crew did double duty as a horn section! Here was the set list:

Shake and Pine
Birthday Boy
The Righteous Path
Women Without Whiskey
The Driver
Every Single Storied Flameout
Plastic Flowers on the Highway
Made Up English Oceans
Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun
One of These Days
Goode’s Field Road
Where the Devil Don’t Stay
Tornadoes
A Ghost to Most
Used to be a Cop
Three Dimes Down
Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
Slow Ride Argument
Let There Be Rock
Surrender Under Protest
Angels and Fuselage

After working through the studio catalog I was feeling a preference towards Mike Cooley’s songwriting and voice, but after seeing them live, no slight to Patterson Hood, just Cooley is my guy. He is the consulate cool rock guy on stage, not Keith Richards cool, but pretty damn cool. He is a great guitar soloist. He also has great hair (I am 63 year old bald guy with a ponytail – I am easily impressed).

The show was outdoors on a beautiful night. Utepils Brewing is experimenting as a concert venue. It is just a parking lot with a portable stage. But it worked well despite the simplicity. The beer helped.

I don’t think I have any great insights here. I just rushed through the catalog and wrote a few words about each release and provided a short show review. I have gone back to a few of the albums for second and third pass and damned if each listen they get better. Having studied the catalog positioned me well for the live show – I recognized most of the songs and they definitely played some of the songs that had resonated with me. Grateful to the DRIVE-BY TRUCKER Facebook group for all their fine advice and good vibes. I am now officially a Drive-By Trucker’s fan!

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Toast

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Toast (2022)

This release is being billed as a “lost album.” The problem with that is that Neil has lost albums like most people have lost socks. That being said this is a very nice release with a unusually laid back vibe for Neil and the Horse (but with plenty of the Horse’s signature grime that oddly inspires Neil).

Toast (named after the San Francisco studio where it was recorded) was originally shelved in 2001 because Young says it “was so sad that I couldn’t put it out. I just skipped it and went on to do another album in its place. I couldn’t handle it at that time.” But he is also quoted at another point saying: “It’s a mind-blowing record, and I don’t think it’s a commercial record, but it’s great rock and roll, very moody, kind of jazzy, there’s a lot of heavy stuff in there.” Despite Neil’s hippie image he is the consummate PR hype-master.

Some of songs from Toast made it on to 2002’s Are You Passionate? (the album that replaced Toast using Booker T and the MGs vs. Crazy Horse). Toast works better than Are You Passionate? Songs that ended up on Are You Passionate? are surprisingly similar given two very different bands. The overall vibe of Toast is more consistent. Is it sad? Yes, but I love sad Neil.

Opening track “Quit” was on Are You Passionate? in a similar arrangement/mix – just slightly longer. In anyone else’s hands this would be a sappy love song, but Young has perfected pathos and so this works.

“Standing in the Light of Love” picks up the pace and is a full on rocker.

“Goin’ Home” was also on Are You Passionate? It has a clichéd Native American vibe – like it was inspired by a 50s western. Kinda of a cheesy song.

I have no idea what this song “Timberline” is about, but it has a nice chooglin’ vibe.

“Gateway of Love” opens with cool surf rock riff intro before it moves into classic Neil and the Horse territory. It is a simple lost-love song that the boys turn into a meandering (in a good way) jam.

“How Ya Doin’?” was “Mr. Disappointment” on Are You Passionate? This is a pretty ballad that shows the softer side of the Horse.

“Boom Boom Boom” is the highlight of the album. It is both big riffs and jazzy vamps. It is long (a touch over 13 minutes) but never drags. This is hardly great poetry, but I like the sentiment:

The touch of my woman can soothe my soul

When she make me feel right that’s when the good times roll

I also love the horns that show up at about the one-third mark. In the last third, the Horse is augmented by a muted trumpet that is the perfect seasoning for the song.

In summary this is not essential Neil Young & Crazy Horse, but it is a must have for Neil completists. It is a nice footnote to the Horse catalog.

Neil is not on Spotify, but is on Tidal:

https://tidal.com/album/236954607

Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders – Garcia Live Volume 18: November 2nd, 1974 Keystone Berkeley

I am a longtime fan of Jerry Garcia’s work with keyboardist Merl Saunders. Saunders brought out the jazz side of Garcia. There is lots of recorded material of this pair in various settings. The most famous Live At The Keystone.

This release is a complete & previously uncirculated two-set Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders performance at the Keystone in Berkeley CA originally recorded to 1/4” analog reels by Betty Cantor Jackson (legendary taper of Garcia and the Grateful Dead). The band includes bassist John Kahn, drummer Paul Humphrey and saxophonist Martin Fierro (who also plays flute).

The album starts with “Neighbor, Neighbor” a cover of a ZZ Top song from their first album. Garcia and company make ZZ Top’s blues boogie unrecognizable turning it into a mellow jazzy blues with Garcia’s unmistakable vocals.

Next is Danny Hathaway’s “Valdez In The Country.” The original is an instrumental and basically jazz fusion – it could have easily been mistaken as Crusaders’ cut. Garcia and band’s version starts out as a faithful cover and then deconstructs the three minute original into a seventeen minute jazz rock freak out. This is a highlight of the album and perfect representation of the Garcia/Saunders thang.

Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” is a track on nearly every Garcia/Saunders set list I have heard. Nothing new here, but if you have never heard these guy’s version you will be delighted.

“You Can Leave Your Hat On” is a Randy Newman song from Sail Away. In the 80s it was a hit for Joe Cocker. Merl takes the vocal lead. The band fully reveals the original’s subtle horniness by turning it into a filthy funky masterpiece.

“That’s The Touch I Like” is a Jesse Winchester cover. The band transforms the country/folk rock of the original and makes it a blues jam.

“Freedom Jazz Dance” is a jazz tune composed by tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris in 1965. Harris’ recording was hugely influential at the time, but the version by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles is better known. The Garcia/Saunders version is closer to the Harris version and more of a jazz rock take than either version.

“Tough Mama” is a Dylan song from Planet Waves, Dylan’s only studio album with The Band. Garcia/Saunders play the song pretty straight – they just jam band the hell out of it.

“Wondering Why” is a Saunders original with Saunders on vocals. The original version from Saunders’ 1974 solo album was under four minutes. This version rambles on for over twenty one minutes. Garcia solos extensively and there is a cool flute solo from Fierro. Saunders weaves in and out on electric piano.

“People Make The World Go Round” is an R&B song by the Stylistics. The original had falsetto vocals and this band subs those with Martin Fierro’s flute.

“Mystery Train” is an Elvis song and a regular on the Garcia/Saunders set list. Like the Jimmy Cliff cover nothing new for long time fans of Garcia/Saunders. Their train-like shuffle is classic – one of my favorite covers.

This is a great addition to the Garcia/Saunders catalog. There is over two hours of music and it is cool to have a complete two set show. Recording is pristine as we have come to expect from Betty Cantor Jackson. Highly recommend if you are a fan of Garcia/Saunders and a great introduction for newbies.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon I. Crescent

My favorite album of 2021 was the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s (TTB) take on Layla. TTB has now doubled down by creating over two hours of original songs inspired by the Layla’s source material: the “eastern Romeo and Juliet” tale of star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjav. For more details on the album background see David Fricke’s essay on the TTB website.

If you are not a fan of TTB, think of them as the successor to the sophisticated blues rock of the classic rock era: Clapton, Allman Brothers (where TTB guitarist Derek Trucks served for many years), Bonnie Raitt, etc. They are a “big band” – 12 pieces including two drummers and a horn section. The main feature is Derek Trucks’ tasty slide guitar and Susan Tedeschi’s vocals (and she is no slouch on slide either). There are multiple songwriters, vocalist and soloists. Although, songs get stretched, TTB doesn’t sound like a jam band – the sound of this band is more deliberate.

The album leads off with “Hear My Dear” featuring Susan on vocals. This is a good sample of who the TTB are: Susan’s bluesy/soulful vocals, Derek’s slinky solos with his fat tone, the twin drums, the horns, the organ, and rich background vocals. Lyrically the song sets up the story: “Hear my dear is your melody.”

“Fall In” features long time TTB vocalist and songwriter Mike Mattison – who was a major instigator of the album’s concept. The song has a New Orleans feel.

“I Am The Moon” is a gorgeous vocal duet between Susan and keyboardist Gabe Dixon. This sets the table of the star crossed lovers:

I am the moon, you are the sun
And look at you, flaming out in front of everyone
You are the star, I am the stone
Up here spinning along

“Circles ‘Round The Sun” has an infectious raga-like groove. Lyrically it suggests there is trouble ahead: “Do you know my name? Can you save me from this love?” The band is cooking here – lots of mini solos.

“Pasaquan” sounds like a lost Allman Brothers classic – an instrumental long jam – including obligatory drum solo (just long enough but not too long to become tedious).

Derek Trucks / Guitar
Susan Tedeschi / Guitar & Vocals
Tyler Greenwell / Drums & Percussion
Isaac Eady / Drums & Percussion
Mike Mattison / Harmony Vocals
Mark Rivers / Harmony Vocals
Alecia Chakour / Harmony Vocals
Kebbi Williams / Saxophone
Elizabeth Lea / Trombone
Ephraim Owens / Trumpet
Brandon Boone / Bass Guitar
Gabe Dixon / Keyboards & Vocals

TTB is taking an intriguing album release cycle. They are releasing the 24 songs over four albums over several months. I was initially disappointed about only getting 5 of the 24 songs, but now I am kind of digging that you are forced to savor each course of the meal.

With each release there will be a companion film (available on YouTube). The schedule is as follows:

I Am The Moon: I. Crescent
Film Premiere: May 31st
Album Release: June 3rd

I Am The Moon: II. Ascension
Film Premiere: June 28th
Album Release: July 1st

I Am The Moon: III. The Fall
Film Premiere: July 26th
Album Release: July 29th

I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell
Film Premiere: August 23rd
Album Release: August 26th

I am enthusiastic enough to have preordered the full deluxe vinyl package (now sold out from the band):

Can’t wait for the next installment!