Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan – Tony’s Picks

Well, I was going to wait a couple of days to post another Bob Dylan blog, but I missed my connection in Atlanta [what a shock!]. Today is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. 70! Wow! I used to think that was really old since my mom was 70 when she died. But Bob has held up a lot better than my mother, and he doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. I guess he's only as old as he thinks he is since he still plays about 100 dates every year. he's been doing that since 1990 [I think] on what he calls The Never Ending Tour.


Today I thought I would pull together the songs of Bob Dylan [as sung by the man himself] that I could listen to at any time. There are quite a few of them. I'm not sure how to put it into words, but I think after all these years I "get" Bob Dylan. Many of these songs you've heard of - some of them are fairly obscure, but they're all good. I dedicate this list to my niece Mikayla Warr. She's a high school junior who is discovering the finer things in life, including music that her crazy uncle likes. So without further ado, the list [not arranged in any order whatsoever]:

Tangled Up in Blue [Blood on the Tracks, 1975]

High Water [for Charley Patton] [“Love and Theft,” 2001]

Political World [Oh Mercy, 1989]

Tweeter and the Monkey Man [The Traveling Wilburys Vol 1, 1988]

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ [Together Through Life, 2009]

Forgetful Heart [Together Through Life, 2009]

It Ain’t Me Babe [Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964]

Like a Rolling Stone [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

Masters of War [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]

Thunder on the Mountain [Modern Times, 2006]

Dreamin’ of You [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006, 2008]

Love Sick [Time Out of Mind, 1997]

Things Have Changed [The Essential Bob Dylan, 2000]

Lonesome Day Blues [“Love and Theft,” 2001]

Ballad of a Thin Man [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

Desolation Row [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

Highway 61 Revisited [No Direction Home- The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7), 2005]

Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat [No Direction Home- The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7), 2005]

Visions of Johanna [No Direction Home- The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7), 2005]

Honest With Me [“Love and Theft,” 2001]

Ain’t Talkin’ [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006, 2008]

Blind Willie McTell [The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991, 1991]

Someday Baby [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006, 2008]

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]

Gates of Eden [Bringing It All Back Home, 1965]

Cold Irons Bound [Masked and Anonymous, 2003]

Down in the Flood [Masked and Anonymous, 2003]

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

Tombstone Blues [Highway 61 Revisited, 1965]

Talkin’ World War III Blues [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]

Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues [The Bootleg Series, Vols 1-3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991, 1991]

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]

Shelter From the Storm [Blood on the Tracks, 1975]

Isis [Desire, 1976]

Forever Young (Continued) [Planet Waves, 1974]

Dirge [Planet Waves, 1974]

Wedding Song [Planet Waves, 1974]

Oxford Town [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963]

Chimes of Freedom [Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964]

My Back Pages [Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964]

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere [The Basement Tapes, 1975]

This Wheel’s On Fire [The Basement Tapes, 1975]

The Times They Are A’Changin’ [The Times They Are A’Changin’, 1964]

When the Ship Comes In [The Times They Are A’Changin’, 1964]

Happy Birthday Bob!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Traveling Wilburys - Tweeter and the Monkey Man

The story of the Traveling Wilburys has been told by many [including me], so I won’t bore you with their history. The whole album was done for a laugh, and by far the funniest song on the album was Bob Dylan’s Tweeter and the Monkey Man. Until I heard this song I never knew Bob Dylan had a sense of humor. I always saw him as a “serious” guy. After Tweeter and the Monkey Man my perceptions of Bob Dylan changed forever. I first thought this was Dylan taking the piss out of Bruce Springsteen. The song even takes place in New Jersey, with a couple of places called out by name [Rahway Prison, Jersey City]. The song is filled with words that often crop up in Springsteen lyrics: Vietnam, nobody gives a damn, freedom, Jersey, highways, young marriages, car crash, surrender, gun, prison and to run out of gas. With all the Springsteen song titles present [Stolen Car", "Mansion On The Hill", "State Trooper", "Factory", "Mansion on the Hill", "The River" and a Tom Waits song covered by Springsteen “Jersey Girl”] how could it not be? But I’ve since learned it was just a playful homage since Dylan actually likes Bruce. Oh well…


The story tells the story of two drug dealers, -- Tweeter and the Monkey Man -- their nemesis, "The Undercover Cop", and the nemesis's sister, Jan. It is hinted that Tweeter is a male-to-female transsexual, in the lines: "Tweeter was a boy scout / before she went to Vietnam..." Throughout the song, Bob tells the story of the the fall of Tweeter and the Monkey Man [Tweeter and the Monkey Man were hard for cash/they stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash to an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan/for reasons unexplained she loved the Monkey Man...]. Jan kills her brother, because she loves the Monkey Man [even though she was married to a racketeer named Bill], and the story climaxes with a shootout on a bridge: "She took a gun out of the drawer / and said 'It's best if you don't know' / the undercover cop was found face down in a field... /" and "The monkey man was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield / Jan said to the Monkey Man, 'I'm not fooled by Tweeter's curl' / I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl'...". The verse that always got me laughing was “Now the town of Jersey City is quieting down again, I’m sittin’ in a gambling club called the Lion’s Den/the TV set was blown up, every bit of it was gone/ever since the nightly news show that the Monkey Man was on...” The line in Jersey anything's legal as long as you don't get caught brings The Sopranos to mind. Just sayin'... :-)


George Harrison’s twelve-string slide was the hook that got me interested in Tweeter, but with lyrics as humorous as these, how could you not like it? And not only that you can actually understand what Dylan is singing. That was a rarity at that time, or so I thought until he came out with Oh Mercy in 1989. So if you haven’t heard it before, take a listen. If you have heard it, listen again and enjoy!


This is my last blog before I head out to parts west tonight. Tomorrow Bob Dylan turns 70. With that said, Happy Birthday, Bob!


Tweeter and the Monkey Man

"Bobfest"

The first Bob Dylan album I bought wasn’t really a “Bob Dylan” album at all. I liked Bob Dylan’s songs, but I didn’t think much of him because I could never understand what he was singing. Covers of his songs sounded better than their originals [to me anyway]. All that changed with one concert. On October 16, 1992, Columbia Records staged a celebration of Bob Dylan’s 30 years in the music business at Madison Square Garden. As Kris Kristofferson said in his introduction, one of the finest collections of talent ever assembled came together to celebrate the music of one man – Bob Dylan. Kristofferson did not exaggerate. What ensued was a four-hour show that put all previous all-star extravaganzas to utter shame. Booker T. & The MGs [with Anton Fig and Jim Keltner subbing for the late Al Jackson Jr] served as the house band, and served well they did. They proved they could play anything. Titans from soul music [Stevie Wonder. The OJays], country music [Johnny Carter & June Carter Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson], rock and roll [Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Johnny Winter, Lou Reed], and Irish folk [the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem] all came to pay their respects to Bob Dylan.

One of the most amazing performances came from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Liam Clancy quipped “I bet you never thought you’d hear Dylan with an Irish accent,” and he was right. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that Dylan and the Clancy Brothers had a shared history, but in 1992 then I wondered “who are these guys and why are they here?” That question became moot when they turned When the Ship Comes In into an Irish folk song. It was simply amazing. When I listen to it 19 years later, it is still amazing. Such is the power of timeless music. Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam turned in a mesmerizing performance of Masters of War. It was a powerful song when Dylan first recorded it in 1963, and was made even more so with Eddie Vedder’s venom. His performance was simply brilliant. Lou Reed came up with the most obscure Dylan song to play. He found Foot of Pride, an Infidels outtake that had recently been released on the first official Bob Dylan bootleg collection. It went on for eight minutes, but it didn’t feel like it was that long – Lou Reed was on. When Johnny Winter came on a he whipped out a blistering rendition of Highway 61 Revisited. He had recorded it for his Second Winter album back in the day, so the song wasn’t new to him. Would there be any more guitar heroics on this night? Johnny Winter certainly threw down the gauntlet with his performance. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Roseanne Cash did a very nice version of You Ain’t Going Nowhere. Those ladies harmonized well together.

The weirdest thing that happened that night happened when Sinead O’Connor came out to sing, of all things, a Bob Marley song [War]. The week before, she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. The New York audience didn’t take to kindly to that, and they booed her off the stage. How does one follow something like that? Ask Neil Young, he did it. He came out and played a stirring rendition of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. He was obviously having fun but he wasn’t done. He introduced the next song with “this song’s for you Bob, Thanks for having Bobfest” [I remember this show by that name ever since]. He followed that with a version of All Along the Watchtower that was more electrifying and apocalyptic than anything Jimi Hendrix did. Booker T. & The MGs helped Neil put the spook into the song. Who knew they could summon the spirit of Crazy Horse? When Neil was finished I remembered thinking to myself wow, I hope that comes out on CD sometime…

Yeah, it was that good. Ok, there were some guitar heroics from Lou Reed, Johnny Winter, and Neil Young – would there be any more? My question was soon answered when Eric Clapton appeared. He took Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and made it into a great blues number. At this stage of his career he had slipped into “Adult Contemporary hell” after the death of his son, but on this night the old Eric made an appearance. Each Clapton guitar lick and vocal cut to the bone. He ended the guitar hero portion of the show. The Band performed a wonderful rendition of When I Paint My Masterpiece, which they first recorded for their Cahoots album. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders [who performed I Shall Be Released earlier in the show] made this announcement – “can you handle another guitar hero? Let me give you a little clue – Hallelujah , Hare Krishna, Yeah Yeah Yeah, George Harrison!” George made his first appearance on a New York stage in 18 years and played 2 songs – Absolutely Sweet Marie and If Not For You. New York gave George a hero’s welcome. It is criminal that George’s If Not For You wasn’t included in the CD and DVD of the performance. EC’s performance of Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Booker T & the MG’s Gotta Serve Somebody, and Dylan’s own Song to Woody weren’t on the CD either. The reason cited was “technical difficulties,” which I thought was bullshit since I thought they sounded fine on my 20-year-old POS Zenith TV.

Tom Petty and the heartbreakers played License to Kill [from Infidels] and Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 [Everybody must get stoned!], then brought out Roger McGuinn to play Mr. Tambourine Man. George Harrison then introduced the guest of honor, who played It’s Alright, Ma [I’m Only Bleeding]. The whole “cast” assembled and played My Back Pages and the obligatory Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, with some of the aforementioned guitar heroes swapping vocals and guitar solos. After the satellite feed shut down, Bob was left all alone to play Girl From the North Country. It was a perfect ending for an almost-perfect show.

My wish that the show would be released on CD came true a few months later while I was stationed in Korea. Believe me, after hearing lots of rap, hip-hop, and Top 40 crap on Armed Forces Radio, this album was a more-than-welcome relief for me. Some of the people who took part in this show [George Harrison, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Rick Danko] are no longer with us. For those who can’t get by Bob Dylan’s singing but like his songs, this 2-CD set is an excellent primer. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tony's Imaginary Ronnie James Dio Box Set

Yesterday marked one year that we lost Ronnie James Dio, the finest heavy metal singer that ever was or will ever be. I am mindful that there have been several compilations of Ronnie’s music, to include Catch the Rainbow, Stand Up and Shout, and Black Sabbath: The Dio Years. Stand Up and Shout came the closest to capturing the essence of Ronnie’s entire career, but for me two discs aren’t enough to commemorate the man’s achievements. So I thought if I was a record executive for a day, what would a four-disc box set of Ronnie James Dio’s career look like? This is what I came up with. People will take issue that I didn’t include anything from Elf. While that music was pretty good, I didn’t think it had that “metal” aesthetic, so I arbitrarily picked Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow [1975] as my starting point.
Disc 1 includes the Rainbow years and material from Ronnie’s first album with Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell. There is a “sameness” to the production of these songs since Martin Birch produced [or co-produced] all of them. The Rainbow albums sound more like hard rock than heavy metal, and I believe Heaven and Hell fit into that category. Black Sabbath hadn’t been heavy since Sabotage [1975], so I don’t think I’m being too terribly blasphemous here. Not only that, but Bill Ward’s drumming has a lighter touch, especially compared to the man who followed him, Vinny Appice.
Disc 2 includes songs done by Ronnie’s own band Dio between his two stints with Black Sabbath. I like the Holy Diver album very much. I often wonder what Rainbow in the Dark would sound like if he had remained with Sabbath and done that song with them…I don’t have any songs from Lock Up the Wolves. I tried hard to like that album, I just didn’t have it in me. What surprised me as I was compiling my list was that I like Dream Evil now more than I did when I first bought it in 1987.
Disc 3 picks up the Dio journey after Ronnie left Black Sabbath the second time in 1992. Strange Highways gets a lot of love here because in my mind [and to my ears] it sounds like it could be Dehumanizer Part II. Ronnie was still in his “angry” phase that began with Sabbath’s Dehumanizer, and Strange Highways has a production sheen on it unlike any other Dio album. Equal love was given to Magica and Killing the Dragon. Some Dio fans don’t like those albums, but I do. I found one song from Angry Machines that I liked [Hunter Of The Heart], hence its inclusion here.
Disc 4 is the Heaven & Hell period. It is true that both Mob Rules and Dehumanizer are credited to Black Sabbath, and The Devil You Know is credited to Heaven & Hell. The bottom line for me is that all the music on Disc 4 was created by the same four guys – Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, and Tony Iommi. So in the interests of continuity, and to show that despite the years separating those albums, there’s a good body of work there. Finishing my box set is Shadow of the Wind. It’s one of three new tracks recorded especially for Black Sabbath: The Dio Years. It’s my favorite of the three then-new tracks [The Devil Cried and Ear in the Wall being the other two].
I’m sure that I left off somebody’s favorite, but these are my favorites from Ronnie James Dio. He had quite a career, and it’s not for nothing that he became such a revered figure in the metal world. One year gone and I still miss him.
\m/
Disc 1
Man on the Silver Mountain/Neon Knights/Lady of the Lake/Children of the Sea/Lady Evil/Catch the Rainbow/Kill the King/The Shed [Subtle]/Die Young/Lonely Is The Word/Stargazer/Gates of Babylon/Tarot Woman/Heaven and Hell
Disc 2
Stand Up And Shout/Holy Diver/Don’t Talk To Strangers/Rainbow in the Dark/Shame on the Night/We Rock/The Last In Line/Egypt [The Chains Are On]/King of Rock And Roll/Sacred Heart/Rock ‘N’ Roll Children/Hungry For Heaven/Night People/Dream Evil/Naked in the Rain/I Could Have Been a Dreamer
Disc 3
Jesus Mary & The Holy Ghost/Strange Highways/Evilution/Bring Down The Rain/Hunter Of The Heart/Fever Dreams/Turn To Stone/Eriel/Challis/Losing My Insanity/Killing the Dragon/Scream/Push/Cold Feet/Master of the Moon/In Dreams
Disc 4
Turn Up the Night/Voodoo/The Sign of the Southern Cross/The Mob Rules/Falling Off the Edge of the World/Computer God/After All [The Dead]/TV Crimes/Master of Insanity/Time Machine/I/Bible Black/Fear/Follow the Tears/Shadow of the Wind

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Buyer’s Guide to John Lennon

John Lennon is my favorite Beatle. He is not my favorite ex-Beatle. That distinction goes to George Harrison. “What’s the distinction” you might ask. It’s very simple – I like John’s Beatles songs the best. Of all that was recorded by all the ex-Beatles after the split, by and large I like George’s the best. I still like John’s stuff more than I do Paul’s or Ringo’s. For anyone who cares to know what to buy and what to avoid, look no further than this blog.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band [1970] – what Sgt Pepper and Revolver were for the Beatles, this one is the same for John Lennon. This, his first album after the split, is his masterpiece. It is music for adults. This album is as bare-bones as one gets without it being a home-recorded demo. John recorded this with just Ringo and Klaus Voorman. Phil Spector plays the piano on Love, Billy Preston plays the second piano on God. After having gone through months of primal scream therapy with Dr Arthur Janov, John’s feelings about everything were pretty raw. If his fans were expecting something as well-produced and lush as Abbey Road, they weren’t going to get it with John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The names of the songs indicate what they’re about [Mother, I Found Out, Working Class Hero, Isolation, Love, God…] John went about exorcising his demons in public. The first song Mother opens with a church bell one expects to hear at a funeral. Mother you had me but I never had you/I wanted you, you didn’t want me... Father you left me but I never left you/I needed you, you didn’t me…At the end you hear Mama don’t go/Daddy come home…[John repeats as he shreds his vocal chords]. In I Found Out, he returned to that theme of abandonment with I heard somethin’ ‘bout my ma and my pa/They didn’t want me so they made me a star! But he also debunks gurus, drugs, religion, and Paul McCartney [There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes…I’ve seen junkies, I’ve been through it all…I’ve seen religion from Jesus to Paul…]. The BBC described I Found Out and Well Well Well as “proto-punk fury.” I’d agree with that. Working Class Hero finds John castigating English society for beating its children into middle-class conformity. As soon as you’re born they make you feel small. They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, they hate you if you’re clever and they depise a fool ‘til you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules. Not everything is anger and rage as there are moments of tenderness with Love, Hold On, and Look at Me. With God, John dismisses everything, including the Beatles [I don’t believe in Beatles! I just believe in me – Yoko and me, and that’s reality] and tells his listeners the Beatles are gone and they aren’t coming back [The dream is over…]. The album ends with My Mummy’s Dead, sung to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.” Essential.

Mother

I Found Out

Working Class Hero

Love

God

Imagine [1971] – a worthy follow-up to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. This one, like its predecessor, is worth having in its entirety. George Harrison plays on five of the albums songs. My two favorites from Imagine are Gimme Some Truth and How Do You Sleep. George Harrison contributes slide guitar on both. With Gimme Some Truth, John uses his studio as his soapbox. Unfortunately, its also foreshadowing for Sometime in New York City. How Do You Sleep is much more personal. Since the Beatles’ break-up, John and Paul traded barbs any way they could – interviews, album covers, and music. Paul wrote in Too Many People [from Ram] about too many people going under ground…too many people preaching practices…that was your first mistake, you took your lucky break and broke it in two, now what can be done for you? Like a bull reacting to the proverbial red flag, John responded in kind with How Do You Sleep. He writes about Sgt Pepper going to Paul’s head, being married to a nag who’s always telling him what to do [pot, meet kettle], and perhaps he was dead after all. John never mentions his victim, but you know who he’s talking about. Jealous Guy was a leftover from the White Album [Child of Nature] that John re-wrote as an apologetic love song to Yoko. Crippled Inside could have been on the previous album, but there’s more instrumentation here, including George on the dobro. Oh My Love and How? showed more of John’s insecurities in beautifully arranged ballads. Oh yeah, there’s that title song that annoys conservatives. Essential.

Gimme Some Truth

Paul McCartney – Too Many People

How Do You Sleep

Sometime in New York City [1972] – avoid this one at all costs. The only people who need this one are the completists – people like me. To the casual fan, run away from this one screaming. John and Yoko took a critical beating for this one, and rightly so. There are two, and only two songs on this album worth having. They are New York City and [Well] Baby Please Don’t Go. New York City is The Ballad of John and Yoko, Part II. It chronicles the Lennons’ arrival in NY and what they did once they got there. [Well] Baby Please Don’t Go was recorded live at the Fillmore East with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in June 1971. After recording these two songs, John would rock this hard only one more time. The rest of the songs are rantings of the political kind, and she sings half of them. The above-mentioned songs are available as MP3s – buy those instead.

New York City

[Well] Baby Please Don’t Go

Mind Games [1973] – this album was recorded as John and Yoko were separating. Mind Games is an album where John is going through the motions. It’s certainly a lot better than Sometime in New York City. It may be good, but it’s a bit of a snoozefest. John stepped back from the political agitation of Sometime in New York City and made this inoffensive contractual obligation. He did have other things on his mind at the time [separation from his wife, fighting deportation, etc]. There’s one great song on it – the title track. The one song where John rocked out as hard as he did on New York City is Meat City. It’s the last track on Mind Games. What is it about? Who knows? Who cares? It’s a mindlessly fun track. There’s a very touching song to Yoko that’s an apology for his transgressions called Aisumasen (I'm Sorry). It would’ve fit right in with John’s next album, Walls & Bridges.

Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)

Meat City

Walls & Bridges [1974] - Redemption. Walls & Bridges was made during his separation from Yoko Ono. Though not in the same league as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, Walls & Bridges is superior to the two albums that came before it. John’s first #1 solo single, Whatever Gets You Through the Night, came from Walls & Bridges and showcases his partnership [albeit brief] with Elton John. Many Lennon fans like this song, but it does nothing for me. I prefer Elton John’s remake of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, featuring the reggae guitars of Dr Winston O’Boogie [aka John Lennon]. My favorites from Walls & Bridges are #9 Dream, Steel & Glass, Scared. John always had an affinity for the number 9, and yes, this song came from a dream. Close your eyes and this one sounds like Across the Universe. Steel & Glass is another missive from John’s poison pen, much like How Do You Sleep. The two songs even have a similar string arrangement. Only here John’s bile is directed at his former manager Allen Klein. Paul McCartney must have felt vindication when he heard this. Scared is John’s commentary about living alone. Surprise Surprise [Sweet Bird of Paradox] was written for his paramour, May Pang. Going Down on Love and Old Dirt Road [co-written with Harry Nilsson] are also very good. Nobody knew it at the time, not even John, but Walls & Bridges would be John’s last album of original material until 1980. A good addition to your collection.

#9 Dream

Steel & Glass

Scared

Rock and Roll [1975] – this was recorded immediately after Walls & Bridges was finished, and features the same musicians that made that album. I refer to this one as Moldy Oldies. Ben E. King’s Stand By Me was a hit for John. I especially like John’s versions of Be Bop a Lula and Peggy Sue. The rest of the album is for completists only.

Be Bop a Lula

Peggy Sue

Double Fantasy [1980] & Milk & Honey [1984] – both of these are subtitled “A Heart Play.” They alternate songs written and sung by John and Yoko. John’s songs are good. Two of them are great – Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy] and Watching the Wheels. As sappy as Woman is, it’s always been one I liked a lot. Milk & Honey has some good Lennon tunes on it as well. The best one is Nobody Told Me. That being said, a better version of this song exists on John’s Anthology set. It’s a first run-through of the song with the studio musicians, but despite it having Lennon’s instructions to the band while they were playing it, this version sounds a lot more fun. Another highlight is the home demo of Grow Old Along With Me, which was inspired by the poems of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. If you buy them both, use the magic of technology and edit out most of Yoko’s songs and create a single CD. Your ears and your stomach will thank you. I say “most” of Yoko’s songs because there are two exceptions. One is Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him. John sings this one. The other is Walking on Thin Ice. It has the dubious distinction of being the last song John Lennon ever recorded. In fact, they finished it the night he was killed.

Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

Watching the Wheels

Nobody Told Me

There are non-album singles too. Everyone has heard Give Peace a Chance. You’ve also heard Happy Xmas (War Is Over). In this house it just isn’t Christmas until you’ve heard it on the radio. Cold Turkey was done by John after Abbey Road was completed. He even offered it to the Beatles to record as a single. They passed, so he put it out himself. John debuted it live in Toronto in September 1969, but the arrangement changed drastically between then and when he recorded it in the studio. It is about what one suspects – withdrawal from heroin. It isn’t vey melodic, but it is very stark and harrowing. Instant Karma was put out by John in early 1970. He wrote it, recorded it, and mixed it all in one day. He even “performed” it on Top of the Pops. John’s break from the Beatles wasn’t public yet. Produced by Phil Spector, Instant Karma doesn’t sound at all like a Beatles song. This one is drenched in echo. The drums sound as if one was beating a dead fish on a slab of marble. There are lots of pianos pounding out the same tune, and John’s voice sounds otherworldly. Power to the People is more sloganeering from John. I can take it or leave it.

Instant Karma

Cold Turkey

John Lennon’s solo career was a frustrating one. There are still some moments of genius, but there are just as many moments where he mailed it in, like he was content on resting on his Beatle laurels. He earned that right, but he could’ve done much better. Paul McCartney finally found his mark with Band on the Run, and after that he was content to be a rock star. John Lennon never found that post-Beatle rock stardom, but after 1975 he had other priorities, namely the blissful domestic life he never had as a child.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Warren Haynes - A Tale of Two Albums

In 1994, Warren Haynes was pulling his first stint as a member of the Allman Brothers Band. By this time, the Allman Brothers had recorded three studio albums [Seven Turns, Shades of Two Worlds, Where It All Begins] and one live album [An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: First Set]. He and ABB bassist Allen Woody were both hired guns for the Allman Brothers. There was lots of downtime between tours and both men had the itch to play in front of paying audiences more often. They decided to form a power trio with drummer Matt Abts, whom Warren Haynes knew during his [and Matt’s] tenure in the Dickey Betts Band before the Allman Brothers reformed in 1989. They called this power trio Gov’t Mule. Originally it was just a side project in between ABB albums and tours. But then the ABB studio albums stopped. I still don’t know the reason they quit making studio albums, but the effect was to stifle an outlet for Warren Haynes’ creativity.

After the Beacon Theatre run in the spring of 1997, both Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers to concentrate on Gov’t Mule full time. They made three studio albums [Gov’t Mule, Dose, Life Before Insanity] and two live albums [Live at the Roseland Ballroom, Live…With a Little Help From Our Friends] before Allen Woody died in a New York hotel room in 2000. Other Gov’t Mule albums followed. There’s the three-album Deep End project [The Deep End Vol 1, The Deep End Vol 2, The Deepest End] that paid tribute to Allen Woody. Once that project was put to bed, Gov’t Mule settled on a permanent bassist – Andy Hess. They recorded three albums with Andy Hess [Déjà Voodoo, High & Mighty, and Mighty High] before they parted ways. And since Woody’s death, Warren Haynes rejoined the Allman Brothers in 2001. Warren is a prolific writer who needs several outlets for his creativity. Recently he recorded two albums back-to-back – By a Thread with Gov’t Mule, and Man in Motion under his own name. Here are my thoughts on a “tale of two albums.”

By a Thread, like High & Mighty before it, was recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio. Warren Haynes co-produced the album with Gordie Johnson. Unlike previous albums where Warren would show up with completed songs ready to record, By a Thread boasts many tunes credited to the entire band. Most of these songs were created in the studio from scratch. This was a very different approach for Gov’t Mule, but one that appears to make the others in the band happy.

Broke Down on the Brazos kicks off the album with Matt Abts and new bassist Jorgen Carlsson leading the way. Jorgen Carlsson replaced Andy Hess a couple of years back. With his inclusion, Gov’t Mule has some of its “in-your-face” swagger they had when Allen Woody was still alive. Jorgen plays his bass loud, aggressive and dirty. I like his sound. When the guitars kick in, the astute Mule listener will immediately notice it isn’t Warren Haynes, but none other than ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the Rev. Willie G. himself. Warren mentioned one time the song itself was inspired by early ZZ Top. It was the last song written and recorded for By a Thread. Warren called up Billy Gibbons, sent him the track, and got a call back to say “let’s do it.” And so they did.

Steppin’ Lightly oozes that 70s vibe. LOTS of guitar solos abound.

Railroad Boy is a Celtic folk tune that gets the Led Zeppelin treatment, most especially from drummer Matt Abts. Matt channels his inner John Bonham on this tune. A rarity among Mule tracks, Warren plays a Les Paul 12-string capoed at the 7th fret. After Warren’s blistering slide solo he makes way for Danny Louis and his Hammond. If you close your eyes you could swear you were hearing Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, vintage Made in Japan. His Hammond has that same fire-belching, uncaged beast sound that Jon Lord used so effectively as a counterpoint to Ritchie Blackmore. My favorite song on By a Thread. I can listen to it anytime.

Monday Mourning Meltdown is a rip on the Bush Administration. “Shame on you for fooling me, shame on me for believing. Who would have thought your Patriot Act would be so damn deceiving? What’s happened to you?” The music strikes me a cross-between of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix with backwards guitar solos to boot.

Gordon James is a folk song about an arms dealer. It starts of which churchy organ and acoustic guitar. Then when the drums kick in, you can also hear a violin or two. This song is very out of character for Gov’t Mule, but its fun to listen to.

Any Open Window is a fast track, especially for Gov’t Mule. When I heard the riff and Matt Abts pounding out the drums, something inside told me “Hendrix – Stone Free.” Wouldn’t you know that I opened the CD booklet, and between the songwriting credits and the lyrics, you see the words “Dedicated to Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles.” I like it when Warren says “excuse me” before he rips into a solo. I’ve heard Albert King do that numerous times.

Frozen Fear – Gov’t Mule flirted with reggae on High & Mighty on the song Unring the Bell. They return to that reggae-ish vibe on Frozen Fear. This is the lighter side of Gov’t Mule, like Beautifully Broken from The Deep End Vol. 1.

Forevermore – I first heard Warren play this on his Live at Bonnaroo CD. On that CD he played it solo and acoustic in front of 250,000 people. Apparently Gordie Johnson talked him into recording it with the band. On By a Thread it starts out the same way – solo and acoustic through the first verse. Danny Louis adds organ tones starting with the second verse. Right at the 2:00 mark, Jorgen and Matt Abts join the song, and Warren plays electric. At 3:03, a scorching wah-wah drenched solo, until the 3:45 mark, where the song ends as begun- solo and acoustic.

Inside Outside Woman Blues #3 is Warren’s answer to Cream’s Outside Woman Blues. It has a big, fat Les Paul tone with greasy wah-wah to boot. It’s called “#3” because they recorded two other versions, which [according to Warren] are going to see the light of day one way or another. Each version had a different vibe – they chose this one to release. If jamming is what you like, here it is.

Scenes from a Troubled Mind and World Wake Up. Both are leftovers from High & Mighty with Andy Hess on the bass. If there is a Gov’t Mule, it’s that Warren saves the slow, moody tunes for the end of an album. By a Thread is no exception.

Man in Motion is Warren Haynes’ first solo studio album since 1993’s Tales of Ordinary Madness. The album’s title is appropriate. Since the death of James Brown, Warren Haynes has assumed the title of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” When he is not touring or recording with Gov’t Mule, he’s one of the guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band. To underscore his importance to that band, Gregg Allman often refers to Warren as “my right arm.” Whenever The Dead want to tour, Warren usually gets the call to fill in for the late, lamented Jerry Garcia. He was an integral part of Phil Lesh & Friends for three years, appearing on that group’s lone studio album There and Back Again. In his spare time he produced a few tracks for Taj Mahal’s Maestro album. And when most people are sleeping, he’s usually sitting in with somebody else at a gig.

The antithesis of a Gov’t Mule album, Man in Motion is a vocal driven affair. According to Warren, "before I started playing guitar, I wanted to be a singer, right from the age of five or six, and what I wanted to sing was soul music. My brothers and I had just a handful of albums. First they were the ‘Best of' collections by Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, the Temptations, Aretha Franklin…and eventually albums by the three Kings of the blues, Freddie King, B.B. King and Albert King. In fact, it was hearing B.B. and Freddie that made me realize you could be a great singer and a great guitar player. So I decided to model myself after them." Fear not guitar lovers, there’s plenty of Warren’s playing on Man in Motion. It just isn’t the face-melting variety one is used to from his work with Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers. According to Warren, there’s a heavy influence of the “Three Kings” [Albert, Freddie, and B.B.]. Instead of his trusty Les Pauls, Warren utilizes vintage Gibson semi-hollow body instruments — ES-335 and ES-345 models from his extensive collection.

After Gov’t Mule finished recording By a Thread, Warren Haynes recorded Man in Motion. He worked in the same studio [Pedernales Studio], same producer [Gordie Johnson], but he swapped out Gov’t Mule with a different set of players. He put together his soul-band “dream team” - a New Orleans based trio of George Porter Jr. on bass, Ivan Neville on keys and Neville’s Dumpstaphunk bandmate Raymond Weber on drums. This lineup soon expanded with the addition of second keyboard player Ian McLagan from The Faces, as well as vocalist Ruthie Foster and Ron Holloway on saxophone. Also present are the Grooveline Horns [Carlos Sosa, Fernando Zastillo, Reggie Watkins]. This may be a band of all-stars, but they sound like they’ve been playing together for a long time. Putting Ivan Neville and Ian McLagan together was a stroke of inspiration from co-producer Gordie Johnson. It gives Man in Motion that Richard Manuel/Garth Hudson feel. A testament to the skill of these musicians, Warren Haynes and company recorded this gem in six days.

Man in Motion – Who starts an album with an eight-minute song? Warren Haynes does. “Still life is overrated.” What would Warren Haynes know about being still? When I first heard this song, I was reminded of Booker T. & The MGs, which is fitting since this album was released on Stax Records. From the opening notes of George Porter, Jr.’s bass line to the wah-drenched rhythm guitar on the title track, this album is all about groove and soul. Warren describes the title track as "a snapshot of someone who is evolving and in constant change, and I can certainly relate to that. I feel that musicians are students for life, so it's important for me to always seek new experiences and throw myself curve balls, to remain inspired and challenged, and to grow. And while I've been thinking about getting back to another solo studio album for a long time now, I've had other things demanding my attention." You think?

River’s Gonna Rise – Warren has been playing this with the Allman Brothers. If they ever do another studio album, they could do this one and Gregg Allman’s Just Another Rider, which Warren co-wrote with Gregg. I can always dream… Ruthie Foster is all over this one while Warren solos the last two minutes – think Merry Clayton on Gimme Shelter.

Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday – written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell, this is the lone cover on the album. I haven’t heard the original (yet), so I don’t have a frame of reference. This version is pretty good.

Sick of My Shadow – sax man Ron Holloway plays his tenor sax through a wah-wah. That’s something he used to do when he was in a band called Root Boy Slim. He swaps call-and-response solos with Warren for the last two minutes. Warren sounds almost…jazzy.

Your Wildest Dreams – Gospel! When I hear this song, I hear Otis Redding. I’m reminded of Dreams to Remember. I’ve heard Warren sing that song, and this one sounds like that one. He shows off his vocal chops here – his best vocal on the album. Ron Holloway gets to stretch out during the last minute. It’s a toss-up between this one and the title track for my favorite song on the album.

On a Real Lonely Night – funk! There’s a formula emerging on this album – when you think the song is over, and then Warren starts a solo that takes the last two to three minutes of the song. Sometimes it’s just him, sometimes he swaps solos with Ron Holloway. On this number, he trades off with the entire horn section. Nice!

Hattiesburg Hustle – this is about as close to Gov’t Mule that Warren gets on Man in Motion. There aren’t the face-melting solos you’d normally hear on any Mule CD. This song is more along the lines of Banks of the Deep End or Beautifully Broken. I foresee Gov’t Mule and/or the Allman Brothers doing this one live. There’s a great lyric on this song – Ego is a muscle – just add fame and watch it swell.

A Friend To You – a slow song about unrequited love that has a tempo change in the middle. That kind of dynamic keeps things interesting – it does for me anyway. This one is very laid back, and I mean that in a good way.

Take a Bullet –This one reminds me of In the Midnight Hour. Somewhere Wilson Pickett is smiling – Steve Cropper too.

Save Me – the album closer, this opens with both Neville and McLagan taking things to church while Warren’s vocal sounds like it was recorded during a Sunday morning service. Save Me has a false ending – in the coda you can hear just a little bit of Warren’s guitar. A great song and a great way to finish an album.

So there you have it – two sides of Warren Haynes. If you like good original music played by fantastic musicians, these two albums are a good addition to your music collection. Enjoy!