Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Clash, Joe Strummer, and Me

Once referred to by critics as “The Only Band That Matters,” I started liking The Clash in my late teens. Like most people who came of age in the early 1980s, the first time I heard The Clash was when I heard Rock the Casbah from Combat Rock. I saw the video on MTV [back when they showed actual music videos]. Four guys playing music in front of an oil pump while an Arab and a Jew were getting off on their music. That was better than most videos of the time. I read about their politics. I didn’t think much of it. I was never unemployed, I never lived in an inner city, I didn’t know why punks were so angry. Growing up in suburban America, how can one relate to such things? Not very well I’m afraid. But Rock the Casbah? That wasn’t punk. That wasn’t angry. It was just straight-ahead rock and roll. Where was the anger I heard about? Little did I know, The Clash were on their last legs by then, and they left punk in the dust long before I ever heard them. Then a friend handed me a copy of London Calling. “Okay” I thought – still no anger here but there’s a lot of variety in the music. There was rockabilly, lots of reggae [who thought white English guys could play reggae?], ska, hard rock with the title track, and even pop [Train in Vain]. Still I thought “this isn’t punk, it’s The Clash’s version of The Beatles’ White Album.” They’re all over the stylistic map on London Calling. But this was great stuff. The same friend who loaned me London Calling then loaned me Sandinista! Not only did they cover all the styles they covered on London Calling, they added a few more. They added dub, rap [The Magnificent Seven – yes!!!]. a waltz, gospel, funk, psychedelic explorations. You name it, it was on Sandinista! But still, where was the angry punk of legend? I had to go back to their first recordings. I never owned them, but later in life I got a double cassette of The Story of The Clash, Volume 1 and there it was. There were quick two minute songs like White Riot, London’s Burning, I’m So Bored With the U.S.A. But even then they were starting to break the punk format with [White Man] In Hammersmith Palais and Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad. I liked it all.

One day in 1983 I read a small blurb in Rolling Stone magazine [before it became a fashion mag] that Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon fired Mick Jones. That was like Lennon firing McCartney. The Clash put out one more album called Cut the Crap. If they had indeed "cut the crap" there wouldn't have been an album. It was bloody awful. I wanted nothing to do with it [I still don’t]. In my mind there could be no Clash without Mick Jones. In 1986, The Clash were history. What a shame. Mick Jones formed his own Big Audio Dynamite. I got their first album This Is Big Audio Dynamite. There wasn’t a lot of guitar, but there was a lot of dub and sampling [before “sampling” has become big in hip-hop]. It was interesting. Their next album was No. 10 Upping Street. Imagine my surprise when I found that Joe Strummer produced it with Mick Jones. Apparently Joe Strummer realized his crass mistake and made up with Mick. Be that as it may, I never really caught on with Big Audio Dynamite. Shortly thereafter, Joe Strummer made an album called Earthquake Weather and promptly assumed a low profile for the next decade.

I didn’t give two thoughts about Joe Strummer or Mick Jones or anything Clash-related until 2002. I was doing my usual channel-surfing on cable when I saw a blurb on CNN that Joe Strummer had died right before Christmas. That day was eight years ago today. “How could that be?” I thought. He was still fairly young [he was only 50]. So as usual, when a rock star dies I decided I wanted to check out their work. I read up on his albums with his group The Mescaleros. All the reviews said “if you’re expecting The Clash, you’ll be disappointed.” The critics were right in one respect – the anger and venom of youth were gone, but they were also wrong because like the London Calling and Sandinista!, Joe Strummer was all over the stylistic map. I bought the albums and was surprised by what I heard. It was a shame that it took Joe Strummer’s death for me to rediscover him. He left some pretty good damn work behind. RIP Joe.

Director Julien Temple, a friend of Joe Strummer, made a documentary on Joe Strummer called The Future Is Unwritten. Also, Chris Salewicz [he of the New Music Express and The London Times] wrote a biography of Joe Strummer called Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. I have it - it's a good read. The Independent Film Channel showed Let’s Rock Again, a tour documentary by Dick Rude of Joe Strummer trying to get his name re-established in the music world while touring for his Global A Go-Go CD. When I’ve seen and read all of this I hope to write about them at a future date.

Until then, there’s a lot of Joe Strummer’s music on my iPod. Here it is:

The Clash
London Calling/The Magnificent Seven/Brand New Cadillac/The Leader/Police on My Back/Rock the Casbah/Should I Stay or Should I Go/Bankrobber/Armagideon Time/Know Your Rights/Straight to Hell/Rudie Can't Fail/The Guns of Brixton/(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais/London's Burning/White Riot/Somebody Got Murdered/Charlie Don't Surf/Kingston Advice/The Street Parade/Wrong 'Em Boyo/Death or Glory/The Card Cheat/Revolution Rock/Train in Vain/Clash City Rockers/Stay Free

Joe Strummer
BBC World Service/Tony Adams/Mega Bottle Ride/The Long Shadow/All In A Day/Global A Go-Go/Arms Aloft In Aberdeen/Willesden to Cricklewood/Bhindi Bhagee/Johnny Appleseed/Coma Girl/Ramshackle Day Parade/Burning Streets (London Is Burning)/ Get Down Moses/Shaktar Donetsk/Minstrel Boy [Black Hawk Down version]/Redemption Song/"Punk Rock Warlord"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here/Animals

With Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd faced the unenviable task of following-up the massively-successful The Dark Side of the Moon. The band were at a creative dead end. They had achieved all the success they had ever wanted, but the question became "now what?" They settled on two themes- the long-since departed Syd Barrett, and the music business. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a nine-part song written by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright. It's about Syd Barrett. It was originally intended to take up an entire side like Echoes [Meddle] and Atom Heart Mother [Atom Heart Mother], but the band opted to split the song after the fifth part and insert three songs - Welcome to the Machine, Have a Cigar, and Wish You Were Here. Welcome to the Machine centers on a young musician who is signed to a record deal by a record executive, who had been "provided with toys" and "scouting for boys" for the record company. Once signed, the musician is told by the record company what to sing [it's all right we told you what to dream...], so "welcome to the machine" [the "Machine" being the music business]. Have a Cigar picks up the sleazy record company theme with the question Oh by the way, which one's Pink? The cluelesss record company executive then tells the band they're "fantastic," they've got to get another album out because they owe it to their fans and the record execs are having a hard time counting all their money. Things are going very well [everybody else is just green, have you seen the chart, it's a helluva start, it could be made into a monster if we all pull together as a team...]. Roy Harper does the vocals on Have a Cigar. He was in an adjoining Abbey Road studio recording his HQ album while Pink Floyd were doing Wish You Were Here. Roger Waters was having a hard time getting the vocals right, so the rest of the band suggested Roy Harper sing it. The song Wish You Were Here is another tribute to Syd Barrett. In my opinion it's one of the finest songs Pink Floyd ever did. It is the perfect combination of David Gilmour's music with Roger Waters' lyrics. The album closes with the remainder of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It closes the album on what David Gilmour called a "funeral march."

I can summarize Animals as Orwell's Animal Farm set to music. Roger Waters breaks the human race in his Orwellian world into three kinds of people - Dogs, Sheep and Pigs. Dogs traces it's roots back to 1974, when it performed in concert with songs that became the album Wish You Were Here as You Gotta Be Crazy. That reference appears in the very first line of the song - You’ve gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need./You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you’re on the street,/you gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed./And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,/You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking. Dogs are depicted as the sort of people who will stab one in the back to get what they want. Dogs are cutthroats, opportunistic, but to survive in the capitalist Britain of the 1970s are "told what to do by the man" [who in this case are the Pigs], and are beaten into conformity of British society, "broken by trained personnel" and finally "dragged down by the stone." Pigs are at the top of the economic heap, those who think they're so morally superior they can tell the Dogs and the Sheep what they can and can't do. In Pigs [Three Different Ones] Roger refers to Mary Whitehouse, a British morals crusader [also immortalized in Deep Purple's Mary Long] as a "fucked-up old hag." There is another kind of "Pig" who is the greedy capitalist lording over the proletariat who are the mindless Sheep who do what they are told. Sheep began as Raving and Drooling, another song that traces its origins to the pre-Wish You Were Here days. The Sheep are "harmlessly passing the time in the grassland, clueless animals that have no idea about the "sudden unease in the air." But things aren't what they seem. The clue lies in a parody of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want He makes me down to lie Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by. With bright knives He releaseth my soul. He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places. He converteth me to lamb cutlets, For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger. When cometh the day we lowly ones, Through quiet reflection, and great dedication Master the art of Karate, Lo, we shall rise up, And then we'll make the bugger's eyes water.

The Sheep rise up and slaughter the Dogs [Have you heard the news? The Dogs are dead...]

I have always considered both Wish You Were Here and Animals as being two sides of the same coin. The songs came from the same period, and to there ears they sound very similar. Not only do they sound like they were recorded at the same time and place, there's a bitterness to all the lyrics that suggest to me that once Roger Waters got on a roll, he couldn't stop. Here's how I've got things sequenced: Pigs on the Wing Part I/Have a Cigar/Wish You Were Here/Welcome to the Machine/Sheep/Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-VII (from the Echoes "Best of" CD)/Dogs/Pigs [Three Different Ones]/Pigs on the Wing Part II.

Related link:

Monday, December 13, 2010

David Gilmour: About Face

This second album from David Gilmour, the guitarist and singer from Pink Floyd, came out in March 1984. At that time, the last I had heard from Gilmour was on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut from 1983. While I liked The Final Cut then [and still do] I felt there was something missing, and that “something” was David Gilmour. For that final album with Roger Waters, Gilmour was just the guitar player. He didn’t have any of his own songs on the album, he sang only one song [Not Now John], and he did not receive any production credit as he had on the Floyd’s previous album, 1979’s The Wall. Where The Wall saw loads of input from Gilmour, The Final Cut had none. The Final Cut was seen by many [including me] as Pink Floyd’s swan song. So when About Face came out I was keen to hear what David Gilmour had been up to since The Wall. I remember back in the day that Rolling Stone magazine [and Kurt Loder in particular] had given About Face a three-star [out of five] rating. Loder grudgingly gave a positive review. But shortly after About Face’s release [a month], Roger Waters put out his own album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Where Loder’s review of About Face was somewhat positive, his review of The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking was downright scathing. Loder stated that when comparing the two Floyd solo albums to each other, it was perfectly clear to him who had the patent on Pink Floyd’s sound. Loder’s verdict on that question: Gilmour. He even stated that About Face gained more luster in comparison with “this turkey.”

Every Pink Floyd album between The Dark Side of the Moon and The Final Cut is based [in some cases loosely, in others explicitly] on some sort of concept or theme. About Face is not like that. It is simply a collection of songs. Some of the music on About Face is very Floydian. These songs would include Murder [a song addressed to John Lennon’s killer], You Know I’m Right [Gilmour’s open letter to Roger Waters], Near the End [another open letter to Waters], and the ballad Out of the Blue, where Gilmour voices his concerns about nuclear war. Each of these songs has what many songs from The Final Cut do not have – melody. Murder starts with an acoustic guitar which reminds me of Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown], has a wonderful fretless bass solo from Pino Palladino, and finishes with some fierce electric guitar at the end. Near the End is similar in structure to Murder, but instead of having a “big guitar” finish, Near the End ends with a double-tracked acoustic guitar solo that morphs into a single electric guitar solo. You Know I’m Right has a simple electric guitar introduction, a big orchestral sound, and then a minute-and-a-half of somewhat atonal guitar soloing at the end. The instrumental Let’s Get Metaphysical is an orchestral piece with Gilmour soloing over the top. It serves as an introduction to Near the End and would also seem at home on a Floyd album.

The rest of About Face is a different kettle of fish. Until We Sleep, which leads off the album, has vocal harmonies that sound like they came from The Byrds, humongous Fender Stratocaster tones, and a massive synthesizer sound courtesy of Deep Purple’s Jon Lord. The second side of the album [back when there was such a thing] begins with the headbanging All Lovers Are Deranged, co-written by Gilmour and Pete Townshend. When asked about this song, David Gilmour said he fancied a bit of headbanging before he got too old for it. The ballad Love on the Air is another tune co-written with Pete Townshend. In 1985 Pete Townshend played two shows for charity at the Brixton Academy under his own name [rather than as a member of The Who]. David Gilmour served as lead guitarist for the band [he had played on Pete’s White City album then currently out], and during his solo spot he played Love on the Air. Blue Light is David Gilmour trying to be funky (?!?), complete with a horn section. This song is more of a curiosity than something that should be taken seriously, but I like it anyway because it’s so “out of character” for him. Cruise is another acoustic-driven song that has a reggae (?!?) breakdown in the middle. It’s the one song on About Face that makes me hit the “skip” button on the CD player every time.

David Gilmour has often said that he finds it easier to express himself musically rather than lyrically. About Face shows David Gilmour to be an average lyricist, especially when compared to an outstanding lyricist like Roger Waters or Pete Townshend. That being said, it’s better than anything I could ever attempt. The appeal of About Face lies in the music contained therein. David Gilmour is an outstanding musician with a keen melodic sense. He's also my most favorite guitar player. In places it sounds a lot like Pink Floyd. Though he is a very fluid soloist, he demonstrates that he can play piledriving riffs if the song requires it. About Face is Gilmour at the crossroads between The Wall and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It is essential for any Pink Floyd fan who does not think that Pink Floyd began and ended with Roger Waters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rolling Stones: Very Cool Songs [according to ME]

What defines a cool Rolling Stones song? Everyone has their own definition, but for me the answer is very simple – you never, ever tire of hearing it. It’s the kind of song you want to have stuck in your head. Here are my picks, in no order whatsoever.

Gimme Shelter [Let It Bleed, 1969] – There are no words to describe the coolness of Gimme Shelter. It’s so cool that Keith once recorded it live for a B-side for one of his own singles [Eileen if you’re looking…]. This song is Keith Richards’ vision of the apocalypse. Merry Clayton did the female vocals. They were so good that this song is primarily for what she is known. Once you hear the arpeggioed beginning, you know something ominous is about to happen.

Live With Me [Let It Bleed, 1969] – What makes this song cool? It starts with the very first notes played on the bass by Keith Richards. When he felt like it, he'd relieve Bill Wyman of the bass and play it himself. This is one of those times. The bass is very prominent in the mix – it’s like he’s playing “lead bass.” Bobby Keys takes the solo instead of one of the guitar players. Live With Me is one of the first songs with Mick Taylor. Mick Jagger’s lyrics are about as racy as they come. This song was never released as a single, but it should have been. In my humble opinion, the only song better than this from Let It Bleed is Gimme Shelter.

No Expectations [Beggar’s Banquet, 1968] – Brian Jones played a very good acoustic slide here. It’s one of the last best things he did before he left Planet Earth. Nicky Hopkins accompanies with an understated piano that doesn’t get in Brian Jones’ way. The song has the feel of an old-time blues classic.

Stray Cat Blues [Beggar’s Banquet, 1968] – Before there was Live With Me, there was this tale of backstage debauchery with under-aged girls. This is Mick Jagger at his sleaziest. He was 25 when he first sang it – now he’s 67 [ew...]. About the only thing missing from the lyrics are the words “would you like some candy little girl?” Keith Richards played all the guitars, and I think he played the bass as well.

You Got the Silver [Let It Bleed, 1969] – Keith Richards takes the lead vocal for the first time on this tune. Critic Richie Unterberger from Allmusic describes this song as the closest the Stones would get to the roots of acoustic home-down blues. I disagree – it could be the flip side to No Expectations. Keith performs it on-stage today, and without a guitar! Ron Wood plays acoustic slide on the Shine a Light version.

Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ [Sticky Fingers, 1971] – Play this one back-to-back [this one first] with Sister Morphine. The classic Keith Richards human-riff rhythm playing sets the table, and then keeps the song going while first Bobby Keys delivers a blistering sax solo, to be followed by Mick Taylor soloing out of his mind. By the time it’s over after seven minutes of jamming, you think the song was over too soon. It ends with you wanting more.

Sister Morphine [Sticky Fingers, 1971] – This song is best heard while driving around Los Angeles at night. If you can’t get to LA, just turn off all the lights, sit back and enjoy this very dark overdose tale. The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my ears/Tell me, Sister Morphine, how long have I been lying here? What am I doing in this place? Why does the doctor have no face? Sticky Fingers has lots of songs with a drug reference or two. Ry Cooder plays the slide guitar, Jack Nitzsche on piano. Both of these contributions contribute to the scary atmosphere [which seems to work better for me after dark].

Sweet Virginia [Exile on Main St, 1972] – the Stones go country. Here the influence of Gram Parsons emerges [he might even be in the chorus]. Got to scrape that shit right off your shoes…

Turd on the Run [Exile on Main St, 1972] – no particular reason – I just like the song, and it segues into…

Ventilator Blues [Exile on Main St, 1972] – I think of all the songs on Exile this one captures the essence of the whole thing.

Street Fighting Man [Beggar’s Banquet, 1968] – This one is inspired by riots in London and Paris during the summer of 1968. The cool factor - the song sounds electric, but in fact the only electric instrument was the bass. Keith played an acoustic guitar into an overloaded cassette player that gave it a metallic sound, and Brian Jones provided the sitar and tambura. The rhythm section was solid. The drums were very loud and in your face. It’s a very good song that starts off Beggar’s Banquet.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash [single – 1968] – This one was recorded during the Beggar’s Banquet sessions but released only as a single. It took me many years to figure out what Mick Jagger was singing. I could not for the life of me decipher the words. But then Al Gore invented the Internet, and presto…instant comprehension! What makes this song cool – the riff. It’s one of the most indestructible riffs in rock music, like Sunshine of Your Love or Smoke on the Water. Once you hear the riff, you never forget it.

The Last Time [Out Of Our Heads, 1965] – This is the first big UK single written by Mick & Keith. The reason for this song’s coolness is the same as Jumpin’ Jack Flash – the riff. It digs into your ear and stays there for several years.

Paint It Black [Aftermath, 1966] – Another great riff, but with a twist; Brian Jones plays the riff on a sitar, which gives the song a Middle Eastern flair. This song has death written all over it - I see a line of cars and they're all painted black…With flowers and my love both never to come back…I could not foresee this thing happening to you…You’ll find it at the end of Full Metal Jacket.

Under My Thumb [Aftermath, 1966] – This is the musical equivalent of The Taming of the Shrew. Brian Jones shows off his musical versatility again by playing the signature riff of this song on marimbas.

2000 Light Years From Home [Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967] – the Stones succeed at getting trippy. It’s a bit dated, with Brian Jones getting to show off on the mellotron. This is the furthest that the Stones would stray from their blues roots, a mistake they would correct with Beggar’s Banquet. But despite the album’s flaws, I love this song.

Satisfaction [Out Of Our Heads, 1965] – Do I really need to explain this one? Even my mother liked this one. This is probably the best rock-and-roll song ever done. Period. End of discussion.

Bitch [Sticky Fingers, 1971] - the riff, the horns, Charlie Watts kicking the band’s ass.

Moonlight Mile [Sticky Fingers, 1971] - one of the best ballads the Stones ever recorded about life as a rock star on the road. It closes Sticky Fingers.

Wild Horses [Sticky Fingers, 1971] – a country ballad written originally by Keith about him missing his son Marlon. This is one of two country songs on the album, the other one being Dead Flowers.

Dancing With Mr D [Goats Head Soup, 1973] – This is the leadoff song from the first of the Junky Trilogy, Goats Head Soup. The song begins and ends with a riff that repeats often throughout the song. Mick Taylor plays a stinging electric slide as well as the bass. Charlie is flawless as always. Mick Jagger’s lyrics allude to dalliance with death: Down in the graveyard where we have our tryst/The air smells sweet, the air smells sick/He never smiles, his mouth merely twists/The breath in my lungs feels clinging and thick/But I know his name, he's called Mr. D/And one of these days, he's going to set you free. I wonder if Keith’s descent into full-blown heroin addiction prompted this song.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) [Goats Head Soup, 1973] – This song tells two stories: the accidental shooting in New York of a ten-year-old boy, and a ten-year-old girl dying in an alley of a drug overdose. Billy Preston plays clavinet on the intro, then is joined by Mick Taylor playing wah-wah guitar in unison. Keith plays the bass. But what makes the song standout from other Stones songs is the horns. Usually they’d have Bobby Keys’ sax, but this song uses sax and trumpet giving the horns a beefier sound. Underneath it all is Keith’s bass playing holding down the fort while Mick Taylor plays one of his many lyrical solos.

Time Waits For No One [It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1974] – There are two cool songs on It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll; this is one of them. Why is this song cool? Mick Taylor. Like Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’, Mick Taylor starts his solo about 2/3 of the way through the song and carries it to the end. He just carries the song, period.

Hand of Fate [Black and Blue, 1976] – After finishing Exile on Main St, the Stones recorded three more albums which I have dubbed The Junkie Trilogy. I gave these albums this name because they were made as Keith Richards slipped deeper and deeper into the grips of heroin addiction. This had the effect of Mick Jagger taking over as the Stones’ musical director. Mick Taylor left the band after the release of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll [the second of the Junkie Trilogy], so the Stones used several lead players to make Black and Blue, the third and last Junkie Trilogy installment. Who else but the Stones would use recording sessions as auditions for a departed guitarist? American Wayne Perkins did the honors on this song. His solos are as fluid and blistering as anything Mick Taylor laid down during his tenure in the band. In fact, the first time I heard it I thought it was Mick Taylor. The ever-present Keith Richards rhythm playing locks in tightly with Charlie Watts. Hand of Fate is without a doubt the best song from Black and Blue.

Fingerprint File [It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1974] – This is the other cool song from It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, the second installment of The Junkie Trilogy. Mick Jagger plays the heavily-phased rhythm guitar, Keith plays the guitar with the wah-wah pedal, Mick Taylor plays the bass, Bill Wyman on synthesizers, and Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins also join in the fun. The lyrics express paranoia about wiretapping and other FBI surveillance activity, which actually did happen to John Lennon. The funky/dance sound of this song is so uncharacteristic of the Stones one has to put it in the “cool” category.

Thru and Thru [Voodoo Lounge, 1994] – Another Keith vocal, quiet and menacing, this one sounds like it was recorded in a small blues club after hours. There’s minimal instrumentation – one or two guitars, piano, bass & drums. Keith uses that nasty rhythm tone of his again. Why is this one cool? It appeared on The Sopranos, dammit. What could be cooler?

Too Much Blood [Undercover, 1983] – This song has Mick Jagger written all over it. It’s a horn-driven dance song where Mick Jagger laments the amount of violence depicted in pop culture [wanna dance, wanna sing, wanna bust up everything…]. Consider this pseudo-rap from Sir Mick:

Did you ever see "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"? Horrible, wasn't it. You know, people ask me "is it really true where you live in Texas, is that really true what they do around there, people?" I say, "yea, every time I drive through the crossroads I get scared, there's a bloke running round with a fucking chain saw. Oh! Oh! oh No, he's gonna cut off, Oh no. Don't saw off me leg, don't saw off me arm.

Ok, it might not fit any definition of “cool,” but it’s damn funny and that’s good enough.

One Hit (To The Body) [Dirty Work, 1986] – This is the lead-off track from Dirty Work. This was recorded at a time when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards couldn’t stand to be in the same room. The cause of so much discontent? Mick Jagger wanting a solo career. Keith’s guitar tone throughout is big, nasty, loud and very angry. Ron Wood’s acoustic backing cuts through the noise like the Grim Reaper wielding a scythe. Jimmy Page provides all the solo work. Mick Jagger spits out the lyrics with much vitriol. Put all these pieces together and you’ve got a very aggressive track. The video that was filmed for this song barely disguises the ill-will between Mick & Keith. This is a great song from an otherwise crappy album.

Worried About You [Tattoo You, 1981] – This was an outtake from Black and Blue. I can’t figure out why it was an outtake because this song is far better than Black and Blue [with the exception of Hand of Fate]. This is a “sleeper” track on Tattoo You. Start Me Up and Waiting on a Friend were the singles that got all the radio airplay. Worried About You sticks out from the rest of Tattoo You, but in a good way. As with Hand of Fate, Wayne Perkins provides the soloing. That’s the bit that sticks out for the listener because when you hear it, you know immediately it isn’t Keith or Ron playing the solo. Neither of those guys could play as fluidly as what you hear Wayne Perkins doing on this song.

Almost Hear You Sigh [Steel Wheels, 1989] – This one is a leftover from Keith’s Talk Is Cheap album from 1988. A song about a difficult breakup, this one is a very melodic, medium tempo song with an acoustic guitar solo from Keith. It also has the classic Keith Richards rhythm guitar sound that I have no idea how to replicate. Charlie’s timekeeping is flawless.

Slipping Away [Steel Wheels, 1989] – Keith sings! I guess having done Talk Is Cheap the year before gave Keith the confidence to sing more on Stones albums. Both Slipping Away and Almost Hear You Sigh are excellent ballads. Both songs are tearjerkers without a doubt – a sign of a great song.

Love Is Strong [Voodoo Lounge, 1994] – this slow, snakey song kicks off Voodoo Lounge. To me it sounds a lot like Keith’s Wicked As It Seems from his second solo album [Main Offender]. Where Steel Wheels had a fairly slick production, Voodoo Lounge sounded like the producer [Don Was] was trying to get back to the Exile on Main Street sound. It has the same dry, sparse sound of Keith’s Main Offender, which is ok with me.

Low Down [Bridges to Babylon, 1997] – on Bridges to Babylon, there were really two albums in one. Mick worked with the Chemical Brothers [he was always trying to get the latest club sounds onto a Stones album], and Keith worked with Rob Fraboni to keep the Stones doing what they do best. This one is one of the Fraboni tracks. Big, beefy horns, and Keith’s snarling rhythm guitar – just what a good Stones song needs. How does he get that sound? I know he plays in Open G with only five strings, but he has a very distinct sound I would kill for.

It Won’t Take Long [A Bigger Bang, 2005] – see Low Down, only without the horns. Keith and Ron Wood practice their ancient form of weaving.

Does anybody care to disagree with my choices?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Taj Mahal: Maestro

Taj Mahal has always been a different kind of bluesman. For over forty years he has incorporated acoustic blues, rock, folk, jazz, gospel, reggae, various African styles of music, even traditional Caribbean styles into his music. His latest album, Maestro (2008), is an excellent example of Taj Mahal's eclecticism. He shows no sign of not doing whatever his muse tells him.

If you like the albums Taj Mahal did with the Phantom Blues Band [1993's Dancing the Blues, 1996's Phantom Blues, 1997's Señor Blues, and 2000's Shoutin' in Key], then you'll love Maestro. After a nine year hiatus, The Phantom Blues Band returns on four blues tunes - James Moore's Scratch My Back, Willie Dixon's Diddy Wah Diddy, Further on Down the Road (a duet with Jack Johnson), which he wrote with the late Jessie Ed Davis that first appeared on 1969's Giant Step, and Slow Drag, a funky slow blues that is another Taj Mahal original. A band called the New Orleans Social Club (the core of which - George Porter, Ivan Neville, and Raymond Weber - is Warren Haynes' new band away from Gov't Mule) appears on Taj's houserocker I Can Make You Happy and Fats Domino's Hello Josephine. He's off to R&B territory with Los Lobos on Never Let You Go, and rejoins with Los Lobos on the Delta blues TV Mama. Ziggy Marley and his band make an appearance on the reggae tune Black Man, Brown Man, and Ben Harper and company drop in for some blues rock on Dust Me Down. For more variety, Taj Mahal revisits Africa on Zanzibar, renewing the collaboration he started with Mali Kora master Toumani Diabate on 1999's Kulanjan. Maestro is Taj Mahal's first release in 5 years, and is a showcase for both his talents and eclectic musical interests.

As a bonus, in 2009, Taj Mahal lent his talents to a collaboration with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and a San Francisco Bay-area band called Los Cenzontles ["The Mockingbirds"]. On the album American Horizon, Taj Mahal contributes three original tunes - La Luna [which he sings completely in Spanish], No Hay Trabajo, the bluesy One Hot Mama, Sueños and La Fuerza. A multi-instrumentalist, Taj Mahal contributes organ, piano, electric bass, electric guitar, ukelele, acoustic guitar, banjo, and harmonica. He definitely likes to stay busy. He doesn't sing on all the songs, but he either co-wrote and/or played on them. Good stuff.

If you want to hear some good music from Taj Mahal, these two CDs are good places to start. Enjoy!