Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Sweet Little Ninety"

While the coming of spring is being delayed again by the rain, sleet, and sloppy weather of the east, it is a perfect time to reflect on the adventurous life and career of Chuck Berry who passed away yesterday. Bob Dylan called Berry "the Shakespeare of rock & roll" and Leonard Cohen termed him "the Kafka of the blues." Cohen, once compared Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" to Walt Whitman's joyful noise – his "barbaric yawp." "If Beethoven hadn't rolled over," he said, "there'd be no room for any of us." Chuck Berry's duck walking way through his life and his music combining country, blues and all that was rising below the sameness of the pop music of his time made room for the likes of the Beach Boys, the Stones, the Beatles, and much that followed and continues to roll on in rock n roll.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Standing Pat with Poeterson

Yesterday, I passed by the sparkle, dazzle, and spectacle of the glittering "La La Land" for the grit, heartache, and poetry of everyday life in the struggling industrial town of "Paterson." While I grew up in Paterson, I witnessed sides of it that I had not seen before, through the eyes of a poetic bus driver, his energetic dream-driven wife, his observant dog, and the muses of P-town's past poet William Carlos Williams. It is wonderful that the movies are reviving a place for musicals and romance, but it is possibly more amazing that there is a place for the poetry of common day-to-day life. In Paterson, the poetry can be tattered and destroyed, only to be reborn again.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in Review: Visions of the End and Back

2016 was a brutally challenging year for rock, yet was bitter sweet.  Death stalked the year 2016 at both ends of the candle, but in between, some joyous new music was heard.  The year hardly got started with the news of an adventurous new jazzy rock album by David Bowie, “Black Star,” dropping in January.  We then had a brief day to listen and ponder the promising year ahead, when we were haunted with the sad news of Bowie’s sudden death.  The songs of the album suddenly had new and more clearly defined messages and meaning, and this made it clear from the beginning that this was a year that could be risky and drifting toward the edge.  It clearly closed the book on a more sedentary 2015, and continued with the sad death of Prince three months later, and in November, the loss of Leonard Cohen, who had just put out a new album that was an ingenuous and introspective look at facing mortality.  The year finished with the surprising death of George Michael, a superstar of the flashier 80s.  In the year, we also lost George Martin, Paul Kantner, Emerson and Lake, Glen Frey, Maurice White, and Leon Russell, and we also lost Sharon Jones way too young and soulful.  This was a year that some felt needed to peacefully end.

Although rock is newer than its other musical cousins--jazz, blues, folk, and classical music--it has never been a stranger to death and suffering, and the fears of its own death.  Danny and Juniors in 1957 prophetically stated that “Rock ‘N Roll is Here to Stay,” but in its early years, it lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, on “the day the music died.” And rock was sidelined and lost some of its energy for a few years in the early 60s, but it reinvigorated itself with the looking back, looking forward genius of the Beatles and the Stones and others part of the British Invasion.  

In 1971, when rock was in its late teens, rock lost some of luster with the deaths of newer icons, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.  I was actively reviewing rock then and I had seen the signs of decline despair, loneliness, abuse, and excess that they wore heavily on their faces and bodies.  Filled with 60s optimism and more than a touch of innocence, I had hoped to help save them with interviews and critical and constructive reviews, but alas, the then-excessive world of rock was eating some of its young.  Rock, of course rejuvenated itself again, rebounding quickly with the 1971 Bangladesh concert, but lost one of its giants in the late 70s with the bloated death of its first real superstar, Elvis.  Michael Jackson deteriorated in an Elvis kind of way in 2006, and rock lost Freddy Mercury along the way, but it was not until 2016 that the year in rock was once again dominated by death.  Chuck Prophet shared that “It Was a Bad Year for Rock and Roll.”

All along as rock matured, it had lost some of its heroes along the way, but it was this year that once again set it apart.  It was a year of dying, but also a year of energy and longevity in rock.  Many of its heroes were maturing and were still performing at festivals in October, and in new albums, by the Stones, Paul Simon, Dylan, and Sting, and even the 90 year-old iconic Chuck Berry announced a new record, youthfully named “Chuck,” coming out in a couple of months.  

Rock is maturing and even claimed (or did not) a Nobel Prize for Literature, and shedding some of its youth, but it is resilient as it climbs into maturity.  Streaming has breathed new life and new accessibility into the music, and there were many other signs of resilience and continuing to experiment with the forms of music in this year of rock, and it is evident in the year’s best albums.

1  David Bowie left us a “Black Star,” an innovative mix of glam rock, maturity, mortality, and jazz.
2. Leonard Cohen sensed that “You Want It Darker,” delivering sparsely on its title without excessive sadness; the man and his songs were ready....
3. Radiohead formed “A Moon Shaped Pool,” of guitars, innovation, and exploration.
4. Mitski explored "Your Best American Girl" in “Puberty 2,” with a non-formulaic odyssey of B’klyn indie, techno and sincerity.
5. Solange earned more than a “A Seat At The Table” with her honest and sparse exploration of modern life.
6. Her sister Beyonce used sparkle and shine to set soulange on fire to mine the same world with “Lemonade.”
7. Case/Lang/Veirs teamed great collaborators of pleasant sounds in the three melodic worlds of “Case/Lang/Veirs”
8. Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle also shared another great, genuine and easy going collaboration in “Colvin and Earle”
9. Allen Toussaint passed away in this year of passages but left us a New Orleans-tinged storeful of “American Tunes.”
10. Kaleo took us tripfully to the electronica of Iceland with the tuneful “A/B”
11. Xenia Rubinos shared an energentic Latinista natural force that is a "Lonely Lover" in “Black Terry Cat," 
12, Sia filled a tuneful ear worm with “Cheap Thrills” from “This is Acting.”
13. A Tribe Called Quest confessed that “We Got It from Here” and we “Thank You 4 Your Service.”
14. Twenty-One Pilots flew a string of pop pearls in “Heathens.”
15. Lake Street Dive “Called Off the Dogs” and freshened its delivery of sounds in “Side Pony.”
16. Lori Mckenna further shared her melodic yesteryear “Girl Crush” tinged country folk in “The Bird and the Rifle.”
17. Maren Morris showed her potential in new freedom, country bridging on rock in “Hero.”
18. Margo Price unleashed her strong yet thrifty vocal talents that climbed the “Hand of Time” on “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.”
19. Angel Olsen is an “Intern” for stardom and I see echoes of Orbison and many others of the past, present, and future in “My Woman.”
20. Rihanna continued her happy exploration of sound and longing in “anti,” and it is hard to be against that.
21. Whitney smartly built with “No Woman” recalling “Those Golden Times” from the fumes of Smith Western, and filled the air with good vibes in “Light Upon the Lake.”
22. North Sea Radio Orchestra encased the chamber with a playful tribute to Robert Wyatt’s “The British Road” in “Dronne.”
23. Jeff Rosenstock made his third solo album an elegy to ska/punk and contemporary themes in “WORRY.”
24. Islands got in some good easy energetic beats on their twin releases, “Should I Remain Here, At Sea” and “No Milk, No Sugar” from “Taste.”
25. Band of Horses made it easy to know “Why Are You OK" 
26. Joanna Wang introduced and exalted the art and the artist in “The Rightful Heir” in “the Art of Bullying.”  
27. Teen was "All About Us," and its bouncy dancey energetic echoing of Enya in "Love Yes," 
28. School of Seven Bells was synthetically built yet personal and evocative honoring the memory of member Ben Curtis in “SVIIB.”
29. Emma Pollock reached to the “Dark Skies” and took an “Intermission” with the Electric String Orchestra and sounded like a latter day Chissie Hynde “In Search of Harperfield.”
30. Sturgill Simpson strummed and sang husky big country rock in “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.”
31. Wilco proved that an average Wilco “Smilco” album was better than none.
32. Parquit Courts gave a very respectable third album “Human Performance.”
33. Badbadnotgood shared some not bad smooth jazz and hip hop Canadian style in “IV.”
34. Anna Meredith exploited the sounds of electronica and acoustica in “Varmints.”
35. Esperanza Spalding, the jazz singer and bassist continued her funk/hip hop/jazz voyage and wanderings into her potential in “Emily’s D+Evolution.”
37. Carla Dal Forno added some electronical dreamy sounds in “You Know What It’s Like
38. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids played cosmic soulful jazz so that “We Be All Africans.”
39. The 1975 changed their formula a bit to live within their title,” I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.” 
40. DJ Diamond used electronica beats to do some fancy “Footwork Or Die.”
41. Anderson .Paak adventured forth to explore soul/funk/rap beyond Compton in Malibu
42. Shabaka and the Ancestors explored the roots of jazz and funk and showed the “Wisdom of Elders.”
43. Jessy Lanza capped nervous pop, electronic, and experimental energy and pizzazz into “Oh No
44. Savages shared their haunting effort to “Adore Life.”
45. OneRepublic issued another catchy set of high quality songs that made you want to say “Oh My My.”
46. Cactus Blossoms went back 60 years to snag the early Everly Brothers sound, casting a spell of gorgeous harmonies when “Your Dreaming.”
47. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam merged their Walkman/VWeekend pasts “A 1000 Times” into the future “I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.” 
48. The Strumbellas showed off their catchy roots marching beat on “Spirits,” and that is cause for “Hope.”
49. Four Wishes shared some pleasant folk rock out of Detroit and “Under the Milky Way” (cover of Churches song) that left them “Adrift
50. Pinegrove showed the Jersey group to debut in a friendly Wilco-ish way that is no “Cardinal” sin.
51. Quilt softly yet catchily explored their “Eliot St. and Boston pyschodeli roots that fell into place comfortably and hauntingly in the “Plaza.”
52. Fitz and the Tantrums “Hand Clap” their way through their solid roots in “Fitz and the Tantrums.”
53. Lucinda Williams handled the “Dust” in her haunting voiced songs alongside “The Ghosts of Highway 20.”
54. The Record Company took themselves “Off the Ground” and kept their roots intact while they "Give It Back To You"
55. Sylvan Esso synced up their wavelengths on the “Radio.”
56.  Car Seat Headrest “Filled in the Blanks” with their rockin “"Teens Of Denial"
57.  Massive Attack (feat. Hope Sandoval) got the The Spoils." 
58. Hope Sandoval and Warm Inventions asked “Isn’t It True,” while they implored “Let Me Get You There” in “Until the Hunter.”
59. Paul Simon came back with catchy yet lighter tunes like “Wristband” on “Stranger to Stranger.” 
60.  Chance the Rapper brought excitement and had “No Problem” in sharing his “Coloring Book.”
61. The XX were talented yet waiting “On Hold” for their new breakthrough album to be released in 2017
62  Andrew Byrd showed his versatile talents that almost “Capsized” on “Are You Serious.” 
63. Warpaint wore the colors in their ever catchy “New Song” to give us their latest “Heads Up.”
64.  Sharon Jones and Dap Kings bravely offered “I’m Still Here,” a strong autobiographical tale.
65. Flatbush Zombies rapped a journey into the year “3001 A Laced Odyssey,
66. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds mine the usual topics of his songs, but on "Skeleton Tree" he takes a more somber and haunting tone in the aftermath of a death in his family.
67. The Sachel Ensemble make the world a smaller place in "Song of Lahore" with wonderfilled east-west collaborations like one with Tedeschi and Trucks on Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm,"

Live Extra: Taylor Taylor, a talented singer songwriter from Lansing is honing her Afro-American/Columbian roots and is fun to see and hear live.

So, Hallelujah and goodbye to a mournful and yet hopeful 2016.