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Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

I have been vaguely aware of Kacey Musgraves since her debut Same Trailer Different Park (2013). All I knew is that she was a bit sassy and not conforming to Nashville standards. I listened to that album when it came out, but it never hooked me.

Golden Hour has received plenty of prerelease hype suggesting Musgraves was going to fly the country bird-cage and go full-on pop. I gave it a quick listen and was instantly hooked.

Golden Hour sounds more Laurel Canyon than Nashville. As she heads down the pop road, Kacey is taking her cues from Jenny Lewis vs. Taylor Swift. This is a near perfect synthesis of pop and country. The arrangements are pop with just a sprinkle of country. Similarly, the vocals are pop with a touch of twang. Lyrically, this is pure country. Musgraves has an easy and authentic style.

There is not a bad track on the album. A highlight for me is the opening cut “Slow Burn.” The song is about as country sounding as this album is going to get: acoustic guitars, banjo picking and a slight twang in Kacey’s voice. It has some great lines like:

Texas is hot, I can be cold
Grandma cried when I pierced my nose
Good in a glass, good on green
Good when you’re putting your hands all over me

Another highlight is “Space Cowboy.” The content took me by surprise based on the title. I assumed it was going to be about a stoner boyfriend, but it is a classic country song about a man with commitment issues. With clever phrasing, Kacey releases her man by saying “you can have your space, cowboy” with a powerful pause between “space” and “cowboy.”

You can have your space, cowboy
I ain’t gonna fence you in
Go on, ride away in your Silverado
I’ll see you around again
‘Cause I know my place, and it ain’t with you
Sunsets fade, and love does too
Though we had our day in the sun
When a horse wants to run, ain’t no sense in closing the gate

Warning: this is sweet country pop, but the sweetener is cane sugar not saccharin.

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Jack White – Boarding House Reach

It looks like some critics are panning Jack White’s new album. For example Pitchfork:

With the joy and wit all but absent from his songwriting, Jack White’s third solo album becomes a long, bewildering slog.

I don’t agree it is worthy of all that bile.  I like the album.

I respect Jack White and his various projects, but they never clicked for me. Boarding House Reach works for me.  I am at the point in my listening career where I can’t help but hear influences in almost everything I listen to. On Boarding House Reach I hear Bowie, Prince, Todd Rundgren, Led Zeppelin, Zappa and hip hop influences. But it is unmistakably Jack White.

The album is weird, but not unlistenable weird. Jack White is a certified weirdo; weird is his modus operandi. He is fun and interesting weird.

Not all critics hate the album. Steven Hyden loves the album and gives it a well thought-out review. He makes a not so crazy comparison:

For the past week, as I’ve listened to Jack White’s very good and pleasingly strange new album Boarding House Reach, I’ve thought often about Prince. Jack White reminds me of Prince. Is that an obtuse comparison? I’m not aware of anyone making the connection before, but the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. Not only is Jack White like Prince, Jack White might very well be Prince.

So what do I like about this album?

  • The elaborate hip hop influenced arrangements
  • The monster guitar riffs
  • Keyboards competing with those guitar riffs
  • The funk
  • Jack White’s career of reinventing the blues – this is yet another inspired twist
  • The weirdness: Jack raps, there are spoken word interludes, there are a variety of styles (hard rock, country, jazz, gospel, prog, hip hop, etc.), Dvořák is a co-writer of one song, etc.

The back story is that White wanted to shake up his routine for this album. So he used Pro Tools (White is legendary for his love of analog recording techniques) for the first time and played with musicians he has never worked with before – many of those musicians work in the hip hop space. Jack White’s experiment on Boarding House Reach is a success.

I was always more of a Black Keys guy vs. White Stripes guy, but I have faithfully monitored Jack White’s career. This is the first White album that has struck a chord with me. I was hooked on the first listen. It is the kind of album that has motivated me to re-listen to his entire catalog. Kudos to Jack White for continued risk taking.

Big Axe Brewing Company – Bourbon Coffee Bean Stout

I discovered this fine brew via my neighborhood liquor store Top Ten Liquor (St. Louis Park). I was shopping for some barrel aged brew and one of the staff suggested this special release from Big Axe. Although, not a barrel aged brew it has some similar features.

Per Untapped:

Paired with StoneHouse Coffee to age their coffee beans in a bourbon barrel, then made cold press from the beans and added it to our chocolate oatmeal stout. Fragrant and rich, this is a sipping beer.

My first reaction is that it tastes like quality coffee ice cream. This chocolate oatmeal stout has a nice mild sweet coffee flavor.

It has the deep rich flavor of a typical bourbon barrel aged stout without the boozy flavor. It has a relatively low ABV for this style of beverage (6.8). There is a slight caramel and smoke after taste. This is a beer that should be sipped slowly as it gets more complex as it warms. The warmer it gets the stronger the coffee flavor and the sweetness is enhanced. It pairs well with sweets so this is an excellent desert or snack beer. Highly recommended.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour The Bootleg Series Vol. 6

It never ceases to amaze me the way Columbia, Miles’ & Trane estates continue to pull masterpieces out of their asses. I threw The Final Tour (AKA Boot-V6) on the other day while I was working and had to turn it off – it was too distracting – because it is that good!

All music-heads appreciate that Miles and Trane are musical GOATs. And I mean all-time/all genre greats, not just jazz, American or 20th Century. They are the best of what the human mind and heart are capable of: Art.

Just because you appreciate an artist does not mean you are an obsessive fan. I am close to the obsessive end of the spectrum with Miles and Trane. I have spent as much money on Miles and Trane as Dylan. I have been a bit overwhelmed by The Bootleg Series. A few of those releases have not resonated with me. Plus I have been distracted by other music.  I figured the playing on Boot-V6 would be awesome, but the audio subpar. I have listened and can report the playing and audio are A+.

Coltrane’s greatness credentials are impeccable. Miles’ are a bit stained. A drug fueled exodus from the world followed by a decision to go pop in the 80s – as if going rock was not bad enough in the 70s – will hurt your rep. Miles is greater than Trane. Defending that statement is a topic for another post.

Anytime these two titans play together it is a big deal. I am a huge fan of Kind Of Blue (who isn’t). Boot-V6 is a document of a spring 1960 European tour post the success of Kind Of Blue (summer of 1959) and just as Trane was launching into the stratosphere (Giant Steps had been released two months prior to this tour). The band is tight, comfortable with the repertoire (but not bored with) and the soloing is inspired.

If your exposure to Miles is Kind Of Blue, Bitches Brew and pop Miles – no shame in that – I lived there for twenty years – you might be under the impression that Miles can’t shred. When he played live he could shred – even in the 80s. On Boot-V6 Miles shreds and of course Trane shreds. Heck, the rhythm section shreds (Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums). This a legendary band on a very good run. Per Miles’ website:

The Final Tour is essential listening, an invitation to travel through time to experience the enduring beauty and magic of Miles and Trane at the peak of their collective powers.

I am a bit of an audiophile and the audio on this recording is top-notch. Which has me pretty gooey about this album. I am listening to it via the Tidal stream through my Oppo BDP-105D delivered by my Grado SR80 cans (I realize this is budget audio, but it is still audiophile quality). It sounds spectacular and once I get over that, I will be able to really listen to the music. I am in no rush to get past the brilliance of the recording quality. It is a nice hot tub to soak in.

Per Miles’ website:

The repertoire performed in this collection is a veritable Miles Davis “Greatest Hits” including “ ‘Round Midnight”, “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Walkin’ “, “All Of You” and “Oleo”, all of which he had made his own and had been performing for some time. As well as more recent additions to the repertoire which were composed by Davis – “So What” and “All Blues” — both from Kind Of Blue.

If you play Kind Of Blue to mellow out and ever wondered what the intensity would be like if you turned it up several notches – you have Boot-V6.

These guys cut loose in ways that we’re unimaginable on the studio recordings. The musical conversation is fascinating. Each solo is a revelation. And I have to admit, as much as I love Miles, Trane steals the show. His solos anticipate the histrionics that would come out of his horn over the next several years. Wynton Kelly’s piano solos are joyful. When Kelly is in rhythm section mode, he sets a firm foundation for Miles and Trane to blast away. Paul Chambers bass playing is so smooth it almost sounds bowed at points. Jimmy Cobb’s drumming is the most subtle of the five. I appreciate a great drummer who is comfortable as an accompanist and does not have a need to show off. The simpatico between the five is profound. The Final Tour is highly recommended if you are even a minor jazz fan.  This is an important release and will be on my best of 2018 for sure.

Release versions: The full release is available on streaming services, downloaded services and CD. There is a single LP of the Copenhagen show available in stores. There is a double LP of the Paris show, but that is an exclusive Vinyl Me Please release.

Robert Plant – Carry Fire

“Led Zeppelin is one of the great bands of the classic rock era” – Captain Obvious.

Various sources estimate the Zeppelin’s record sales at 200 to 300 million units worldwide. Not that sales equate to greatness, but sometimes it is an indication (e.g. Beatles, Stones, Doors, Nirvana, etc.). Led Zeppelin are hugely popular, yet critically scorned (at least back in the day). They are influential on indie darlings like Jack White and Soundgarden to name a couple. They continue to influence young rock bands, for example Greta Van Fleet.

Led Zep is extremely important to forming my taste. In my youth, they were so obviously great, that they were almost taken for granted. For me they have stood the test of time.

When they disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, I assumed guitarist Jimmy Page would have the most distinguished post Zeppelin career. We all assumed he was the musical genius and Plant was merely a peacock lead singer. But in the nearly forty years since Led Zeppelin’s demise, it has been Robert Plant that has been the most productive and interesting. I have enjoyed all his post-Zeppelin work. Jimmy Page’s post-Zeppelin work has been unremarkable – his greatest accomplishment has been shepherding Led Zeppelin reissues.

Which brings us to Plant’s most recent solo album Carry Fire – just another excellent album in his catalog. For the last decade Plant has gone down a very interesting route combining folk, electronica, atmospheric, world music, blues and rock to create a sound that is uniquely his own, yet not out of character of his Zeppelin roots. Plant has aged gracefully and his LPs have been consistently adventurous without being weird. Zeppelin is so big, it is easy to forget that Plant’s solo career has been three times longer than his Zeppelin career. He has refused to be defined by his membership in an iconic band. If you have not followed his career post-Zeppelin, you are missing out on one of the greatest second acts in rock music.

Plant long ago shelved his scream for a coo on his solo work (although as late as 2007 he still had “it” as evidenced by the live concert film Celebration Day released in 2012). The coo has reached perfection on Carry Fire. This is his second album with his band the Sensational Space Shifters. On their first album, lullaby and …THE CEASELESS ROAR the band overshadowed Plant a bit.  The band was so cool and interesting that is was a bit distracting. On Carry Fire the band dials it back a bit and the result is Plant’s vocals.  They are appropriately spotlighted and not lost in the elaborate arrangements of the band. Although, I fully appreciated the bold ambition of lullaby and …THE CEASELESS ROAR, Carry Fire is the more successful album for my taste.

The LP opens with “The May Queen” which has a deceptively simple acoustic guitar riff. If you are a fan of Zeppelin’s “Going To California” you will dig “The May Queen” and most of Carry Fire. Plant’s quiet storm is on full display here. Early listens suggest a mellow vocal, but the more you listen the more you hear the subtle histrionics.

“New World…” goes electric with a nice heavy riff.  Lyrically Plant reminds us of the greatness of our immigrant nation.

“Seasons Song” is a gorgeous love ballad that has a Daniel Lanois feel. The song is chiming guitars and Robert singing with his sweetest coo.

“Dance With You Tonight” continues the Lanois vibe with another love song. This one has a more epic feel.

“Carving Up The World Again…a wall and not a fence” is a solid rock song with Robert singing in a quick cadence. He has a lot to say about the world powers abusing their powers.

“A Way With Words” has an amazing piano part.

“Carry Fire” is the titular track and is a doozy. It has a cool middle eastern feel. It builds in intensity over the course of the song.  If you only have time and patience to check out one song from this album this is the one.

“Bones Of Saints” is the most Zeppelin-like song on the album. But it is fresh and not a reprise.

“Keep It Hid” has a cool electronica feel, yet has an earthy blues feel too. This is classic Plant synthesizing several styles to come up with his own thing.

“Bluebirds Over The Mountain” is the only cover on the album. It was first popularized by Richie Valens and then The Beach Boys. Naturally, Plant reinvents into something totally unique. Plant is joined by The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, whose voice is a perfect foil to Plant’s. Plant has never been shy about sharing the mic with amazing female vocalists.

“Heaven Sent” ends the album on a quiet spooky note. This song gives us some wise advice from the after life:

All that’s worth for doing, is seldom easy done

All that’s worth for winning, is never easy won

All the long goodbyes, all the goodbye songs

All the love for giving, never really gone

This album came out in the fall of 2017 and I have been sitting on this post since then due to other distractions.  I have found that I have consistently come back to this album more than most of 2017’s releases.  It somehow missed getting on my best of 2017 list – which was a huge oversight.  What recently pushed me over the finish line was a great interview with Plant by Steven Hyden on his Celebration Rock podcast.

Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds

Every Friday I go to the Electric Fetus web site to check out new releases. Recently this blurb caught my attention:

Jonathan Wilson had a busy 2017, producing Father John Misty’s Grammynominated Pure Comedy and touring arenas around the globe as a guitarist and vocalist for Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters (for whom he also contributed to the lauded Is This The Life We Really Want? album.)

I navigated over to Spotify and gave the album a listen and I was instantly hooked. First impressions are that it reminds me of: Pink Floyd, War On Drugs, George Harrison, Radiohead, Father John Misty, Tom Petty, Gerry Rafferty, Gordon Lightfoot, Imperial Bedroom era Elvis Costello, Court and Spark era Joni, Wings era McCartney and Roxy Music. Yet it sounds original. The music is elaborate, ambitious and epic. This is the best Pink Floyd album since Ray LaMontagne’s Ouroboros.

I picked up the indie record store edition – which is a beautiful piece of packaging.

“Trafalgar Square” opens the album in true Pink Floyd style: slow, spacey, psychedelic and with a giant Floyd rhythmic riff. Wilson’s voice even sounds a little like David Gilmour. You can see why Roger Waters would hire this guy for his band.

“Me” again has the Floyd feel. The music floats and feels like a warm blanket. There is even a wild sax solo juxtapositioned on top of the mellow grooves to close out the song.

“Over the Midnight” has a nice long intro that evokes flying. When Wilson gets to the hook, he goes with R.E.M. harmonies – which is perfect. He has wonderfully bubbling sounding drums for the bridge. He then teases his David Gilmour meets Jerry Garcia guitar sound with a short solo. If you only have time to sample one song this is the one.

“There’s a Light” sprinkles a little country with some pedal steel on the lush George Harrison sounding song.

“Sunset Blvd” is a piano driven tale of carousing that is so mellow and lush that it sounds like a beautiful sunset looks.

“Rare Birds” combines the spacey rock of Pink Floyd with the a bridge the steals the hook from Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.” Believe it or not, that actually works.

“49 Hairflips” opens with a brooding piano that would not sound out-of-place on Joni’s Court and Spark. It has a bit of a McCartney “Maybe I’m Amazed” feel to it (but lyrically darker). It soon evolves back to the Floyd sound.

“Miriam Montague” could have been on Elvis Costello’s 1982 masterpiece Imperial Bedroom. Father John Misty is a guest on the track, but his contribution is undetectable. The song is dreamy.

“Loving You” has an exotic middle eastern sound thanks to Laraaji who sings and plays zither. Lana Del Rey is on this track, but like Father John Misty on the last track, she is undetectable.

“Living with Myself” is a luscious ballad with Lana Del Rey in a more prominent role.

“Hard to Get Over” is a psychedelic mashup of Radiohead and Tom Petty. It has a beat and melody that recalls “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

“Hi-Ho the Righteous” is alt-country due to Greg Leisz’s pedal steel guitar.

“Mulholland Queen” ends the album on a somber note with a piano driven dirge.

It is a gift when an album blindsides you – Rare Birds is such a gift – it is guaranteed a spot on my 2018 best of list. The album has a beautiful sound to it: great arrangements, lush production values and lots of separation over a wide soundscape. If you are a fan of Pink Floyd and spacey jams that make you feel like you are floating, you will love this album. Jonathan Wilson has two more LPs and one EP in his catalog – he has caught my attention and I will be checking those out. I will be listening for his contributions on the Father John Misty albums too.

Final note: just listened to Wilson’s 2013 release Fanfare – wow that one sounds great too. I think I have a new obsession.

Boz Scaggs – Boz Scaggs – Original 1969 Manning Mix (SD 8239) vs 1977 Perry Mix (SD 19166)

This LP is famous for the session guitarist who graces it with his Dobro and slide: Duane “Skydog” Allman. In addition, there is the almost thirteen minute “Loan Me A Dime.” That song was a staple on early 70s progress rock FM radio. DJs liked to cue it up and take a smoke break. It is a great song, not just a long song.

The album was originally released in 1969 on Atlantic and went out of print in the mid-70s. In 1976 Boz Scaggs had a huge hit album with Silk Degrees. I assume Atlantic wanted to ride the wave of Silk Degrees and dusted off this album with a remix by the same engineer who recorded Silk Degrees (Tom Perry). The original was mixed by Stax Records’ engineer Terry Manning (uncredited).

I recently purchased an LP of the remix not realizing it. I had an LP of the original in poor shape and I assumed this was an upgrade. When I dropped the needle and sat down and examined the jacket I realized this was a remix. I pulled my old copy and sure enough it was an original Manning mix. Most of my experience with this album is via the CD, which is the Perry mix. I was unaware there were two versions of this album. This is not going to be a straight album review, but a comparison of the two versions with the goal of crowning a champion. I know I come to the table with a familiarity bias towards the Perry mix.

The Spotify version is the Perry mix:

I just picked up a cleaner copy of the Manning mix to make it a fair fight.

“I’m Easy”  The Perry mix is vastly superior. The Manning mix is muddy and distorted. The Perry mix is crisper and has more separation. This will become a recurring theme.

“I’ll Be Gone”  Is a quieter song than the first cut. Similar to “I’m Easy” the crispness and separation Perry mix wins out.

“Another Day (Another Letter)” is a ballad, that with a different arrangement, that would not have sounded out-of-place on Silk Degrees. Clearly Perry is giving it the Silk Degrees treatment. However, I like the more organic Manning take.

“Now You’re Gone” sounds better with the cleaner Perry mix. All the unique instrumentation gets a bit lost in the Manning mud.

“Finding Her” benefits from the softer Manning mix – especially the songs ending: a gorgeous Duane Allman guitar solo. The Perry mix is a bit to sharp.

“Look What I Got” Although the background vocals are cleaner and more upfront on the Perry mix, I prefer the filthy dose of Allman’s Dobro on the Manning mix.

“Waiting For A Train” is a beautiful Jimmie Rogers country blues. The Manning mix is perfectly old timey. The Perry mix stays pretty close to Manning, but it is a bit too clean and so it sounds more like an impersonation, than the organic Manning original.

“Loan Me A Dime” is the song that made this album. The Perry mix is pristine and highlights all the instruments. Duane Allman is at his bluesy best. Boz’s voice is soulful. But this is a down and out song and it sounds better a little dirty (the Manning mix). As much as I like the pristine nature of the Perry mix, it is worth the mud of the Manning mix to fully appreciate the perfection of Duane Allman’s solo.

“Sweet Release” – the song remains the same: Perry is bright and clean and Manning is down and dirty.

Overall it is a bit of a draw, but in general I prefer the cleaner, tighter and more spacious sound of the Perry mix. Perry is pretty faithful to the original. He brightens it without distorting it. I would love to spin a mint copy of the Manning – perhaps my version is too worn. My guess is if I found a mint Manning it would win. As much as I prefer the Perry mix, the Manning mix serves Duane Allman better. And let’s face it this album’s specialness is Duane Allman. Sorry, to be so indecisive, buy both. If you are crate digging you should be able to get respectable copies of both in the five dollar range. But no matter what this is a great album. Realistically you are likely to find better quality versions of the Perry mix. If you can’t remember the catalog numbers they are pretty easy to tell a part – the Perry mix is clearly noted on the back cover. Don’t settle for a Perry mix that is not gatefold or matte – the picture of Duane Allman on the inside cover is classic and you don’t want miss it or see it shiny.