Tag Archives: John Mellencamp

MusiCares: Neil Young

Got to see the video of the show tonight, and I feel bad being disappointed, but that’s the truth.

Let’s start by separating the wheat from the chaff – MusiCares  is a first-rate organization, and I have nothing but respect for any artists that donate their time to help raise funds for charity. During his acceptance speech as Person of the Year, Young stated that it was the biggest crowd to date. I believe Barbara Streisand topped the total this year – it’s for charity, that’s a good thing, people! Neil’s philanthropy is well-known, and between his recorded legacy and his charitable efforts, I’m frankly surprised it took that long to honor him with the award.

But since the DVD was being heavily marketed during the broadcast, all bets are off. The performances are what they were, and that is – sad to say – particularly uninspired. With a wealth of amazing material to choose from, sometimes it was a bad match of artist and song, sometimes just an underwhelming performance. And surprisingly, two of the most banal came from a pair of legendary artists. Jackson Browne and James Taylor breezed through their songs as if they did not comprehend the lyrical content. Taylor, in particular, was innocuous despite the support of an all-star chorus of background singers.

People my age will remember the double take they did when Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, USMC) first opened his mouth and sang. I get the same feeling when Josh Groban’s voice comes out of Josh Groban’s head. Technically, a great voice, but eerily mismatched to the material for my tastes. And while it’s always nice to see Elton John perform – and I’m really thankful that he is making Leon Russell relevant again, I wish he shared more of “Helpless” with Neko Case and Sheryl Crow, who were reduced to background vocals (and phenomenal eye candy).

 Many of the other performers – Lady Antebellum, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, CSN – were good, not great, while others (Dave Matthews, Dierks Bentley) were immediate fast-forward moments. What did work wonders were John Fogerty (with Keith Urban) bashing out “Rockin’ In The Free World” and Wilco’s amazing rendition of “Broken Arrow“, an absolute jaw-dropper. Kudos also to Ben Harper’s rousing “Ohio“, a song he seemed totally invested in that one would think he was a Kent State alumni (no – I’m not checking).

If you pick up this DVD, your money (or some portion thereof) will go to a good cause, and there are a couple of strong performances worthy of multiple repeats. I’m just saying that you, too, are being charitable… to some of the performers if you skip over their tracks.

Get yer Neil on here.

Wilco hit the bulls-eye with "Broken Arrow"

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Tunes For Americans

Ding dong, the bitch is dead!

Yeah, I’m feeling patriotic this week. Who isn’t? Well, maybe not patriotic like Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” or James Cagney as George M. Cohan belting out “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. But after this week’s activities, why not let that freak flag fly a bit?

So here are Ten Tunes for Americans. Rock out with your face out!

(01) – American Girl (Tom Petty)

(02) – Dancing In The Street  (Martha and The Vandellas)

(03) – Celebration (Kool and the Gang)

(04) – Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young)

(05) – Get Together (The Youngbloods)

(06) – Pink Houses  (John Mellencamp)

(07) – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party (Beastie Boys)

(08) – People Got To be Free  (The Rascals)

(09) – Living In America (James Brown)

(10) – America (Simon and Garfunkel)

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Blast From The Past: Mick Ronson

God damn, he was great.

Always been a Ronno fan; loved his tone on all the Bowie albums and thought his collaboration with Ian Hunter was the perfect dynamic for both men. And while his first two solo albums (Slaughter On Tenth Avenue and Play Don’t Worry) didn’t hit those heights, they were enjoyable nevertheless. In later years I marvelled at how his magic touch would lend a spark to artists as diverse as Ellen Foley, John Mellencamp and Morrissey. I have plenty of great Ronson memories but thought of this one the other day when I came across an old review.

When I moved in June of 1981 I didn’t know a soul in my new town, but found out that Ronno’s band The New York Yanquis was playing a beach club about an hour from my apartment. I swear I was the only one in that club who was aware of the magician on stage, despite his more conventional appearance. Everyone else seemed to be getting hammered and ignoring the legend on stage, who simply went about his business blowing my mind.

It was the first gig of that tour, and the band had just gotten a cease and desist order from the Yankees baseball team, but even that introductory story didn’t make a ripple in this crowd of Budweiser swilling drunks. So he just played a myriad of rock and reggae and soul, backed by Shane Fontayne (guitar), Frank Cambell (bass), Tommy Gun (keyboards), and Wells Kelly (drums), with Ann Langte and Dede Washburn on vocals. I even got to talk to him for a while that night; he was exhausted and probably a little depressed but seemed relieved to know that at least someone recognized him and was excited about the band. It was the last time I’d see him.

His death hit me hard in 1993, and I assumed that there would never be another album since the others never sold that well and glam was the furthest thing from the current grunge on the radio. How delighted I was to come across Showtime in 2000, let alone the wonderful collections that followed.

Here is my review from Amplifier Magazine in 2000…

The first officially released live collection dedicated to Mick Ronson’s solo work is yet another stunning testament to the late guitarist’s versatility and passion. Showtime culls tracks from a 1976 performance of The Mick Ronson Band alongside excerpts from the 1990 Hunter/Ronson band tour. Lesser known tracks like “Takin’ A Train” and “I’d Give Anything To See You” shine while the cover of “White Light, White Heat” explodes with energetic fretwork. Extended versions of the instrumentals “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” and “FBI” are highlights, but “Sweet Dreamer”, as always, is the emotional showstopping performance that will leave you with heart in mouth.

Limited editions of this release include a bonus disc featuring four tracks recorded in Sweden in 1991, later versions of which appeared n the posthumous release Heaven and Hull. The label is reportedly assembling more Ronson releases including a CD spotlighting his instrumental work. Keep it coming folks, this is magic!

Listen to clips here.

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Blast From The Past – The BoDeans

The BoDeans released Mr. Sad Clown this year, and for all I know it fell on deaf ears like most of their work. But the fact that they’re still out there plugging and making great music after thirty years is a welcome piece of news.

I remember seeing them play a local club just after the crest of an early hit, and I thought we must have just missed a fire drill. Surely a band who even got plaudits from Rolling Stone and MTV could draw a decent crowd, but this one was so tiny that my friends and I barely outnumbered the band. No matter – they played a great set. Great bands always do.

As you can tell from this thirteen year old review of Blend, they were getting the same underwhelming response then that they are now. I’m not pretending they’re the second coming, but they are a good band that is well worth delving into if you’re looking for music that is atmospheric, straightforward, rocking, laid back, lyrical and guttural.

Yep, those are contradictions. Life is contradictions. Enjoy.

They’re still here, ten years later, creating solid, soulful records that should be making AAA radio programmers do cartwheels. So why is it that their only glimpse of the “big time” has come from the use of their song “Closer To Free” as the anthem from the television show Party Of Five? And unlike The Rembrandts, they can’t even maximize their opportunity – after all, the show is on FOX, not NBC.

No matter – despite lackluster sales, club tours and sporadic praise, Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann have forged ahead, mining the vein they know best. Somehow two vocalists who individually would be unspectacular twist their voices into a well-oiled and irresistible harmony; Llanas’ rasp smoothed out by Neuman’s silk. Think Everly Brothers with a Jason And The Scorchers edge, or a Springsteen lead with a Little Steven who can hang with him all the way through.

Blend incorporates New Orleans rhythms and instrumentation to fill out its sound. “Heart Of A Miracle” could have been plucked off a Willy DeVille record (speaking of under-appreciated artists), and “Red Roses” is that slow dance with a lover on a second floor balcony. When they rock, like “Count On Me”, it’s more akin to the sound of the Long Ryders or Mellencamp than 1-4-5 rock (again thanks to brushes and toms for a backbeat instead of the Big Drum Sound). Other standouts include “Hurt By Love” and “Hey Pretty Girl”, a song that Springsteen would have killed to record for The River.

Someone must like them – they still have a record deal in an age where record execs are preaching corporate liposuction. And they’re still making very good music, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a radio format ready to embrace them. Fans will be pleased to have another release that stays true to the course. Those new to the BoDeans will find yet another quality band toiling in the shadows. Looks like a win-win situation.

The BoDeans website

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Blast From The Past – Jack Green!

Life is like a bowl of tangents.

No, Forrest Gump didn’t say that. But it’s true! After writing about the Pretty Things I saw that they were now playing dates with other musicians filling in around Taylor and May. That started me thinking about bands who eventually have other players come through their ranks  in later years, from Bad Company to Foghat to Steppenwolf, so I decided to look up everyone who had been a Pretty Thing. And although I knew that Jack Green was in the band for a bit, I had totally forgotten it.

I didn’t discover Green from his tenure in the Pretties (even though I played Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye a lot) or as a member of T.Rex, either. My first conscious exposure to him came on an album that came out thirty years ago called Humanesque. Released at the cusp of the post-punk, corporate rock days, this fell into a group of refreshing albums with catchy songs, great guitar and a bit of a New Wave edge that this new channel called MTV would soon try to jump all over. But Jack Green wasn’t about posing and synthesisers and bullshit – he had crafted an album equal parts powerpop and Ziggy Stardust.

At the time I was both managing a small club and writing for an arts weekly called The National Rag, so I was fortunate enough to get pitched on bands from both angles, but his label never mentioned Jack Green. I was struck by the album cover – any veteran bin-browser has discovered many a favorite this way – and I think I remember reading a small clip comparing his voice to Bowie’s. I saw, I bought, and was conquered.

Green was a great guitar player but didn’t flash out just to show off; his solos (“Babe” is a great example) were tasty without wanking. He sounded as comfortable with pop-reggae (“Life on The Line”, “So Much”) as with more raspy rocking (the Bryan Adams-ish “I Call, No Answer”, featuring some Ritchie Blackmore axe work). “Thought It Was Easy” is a very pretty slow-tempo rocker that showcases his knack for a hook and his very appealing voice; ditto “Valentina” which features some nice tempo changes. And  “Murder” should have been as big a hit as Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”.

Video: “Babe

“Factory Girl” starts out is a pretty straightforward pop rocker – fat chords, short sharp chorus – but morphs into a nice guitar workout. And the hypnotic closer, “This is Japan”, cleverly integrated Oriental arpeggios with a churning rock beat. (When I moved to Rochester a local band making good named Duke Jupiter covered it on their album; I’m pretty sure someone else had a minor hit with it as well). Frankly, there’s really not a duff track to be found here.

My favorite was the three-minute killer “Bout That Girl”, which did indeed sound like a Ziggy outtake. Great vocal, punchy guitar and a chorus that I found myself humming immediately. I played that song over and over; I thought it might be the greatest hook I had heard in years. The cassette player in my old Pontiac got quite a workout in those days, and anytime I had anyone in the car I would play it for them and blast the chorus…and to a person I’d get that nod of agreement: indeed, this is a hit record!

That was until the day I was giving Ed Hamell (yep, Hamell on Trial) a ride home. The first time through he stared intently at the tape deck (why do people stare at radios and tape players?) before breaking into a wicked grin. When the chorus came around the second time he sang loudly, and in perfect rhythm…the first line of the chorus from The Byrds‘ “Chestnut Mare”. 

Damn. “Somebody should have told me about that girl“…”I’m gonna catch that horse if I can“…that was a perfect fit.

Reeling, I let buzzkill Ed out of the car, probably as amazed that he nailed the reference so easily as I was that I missed it in a hundred listens. No wonder that one line struck me so immediately – it had been in my brain for years! But lest you think I’m accusing Mr. Green of deliberately swiping a hook, I’m not. The rest of the chorus, let alone the rest of the entire songs, are as different as night and day. The Byrds never said anything, and I never heard anyone else but Ed make the connection. Just another happy accident in rock and roll.

But that anecdote is as fresh in my head as if it happened yesterday, and whenever I think of that song I think of Ed and that Pontiac and that time of my life. It’s just one more occasion where a song and a time and an experience are linked together and burned in my memory. And those are the things that will continue to put a smile on my face as long as I live.

Video: “This Is Japan

Copies of this album are going for ridiculous prices on Amazon; I have no idea what the situation is regarding ownership of the masters or whether anyone even cares enough to try to re-release them again. Lord knows there can’t be a ton of money in that. But I’ve got a rack full of albums from that 3-4 year period surrounding 1980, and it’s a gold mine of greatness. Gary Myrick, The Sinceros, Phil Seymour, The Photos, The Fabulous Poodles, Pearl Harbor and The Explosions…trust me, it’s a long list of people who mostly had two albums before having the plug pulled.

I own both Humanesque and Reverse Logic; I never saw the other two or I would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. His later efforts provided a hit for Roger Daltrey and an association with John Mellencamp, and he’s enjoyed a successful artistic career in and out of music.

Some of the CBS artists have been lucky enough to have their work re-issued as 2-fers, giving a new generation an opportunity to discover albums that didn’t get their due. It would be really great if whatever conglomerate owns these RCA albums would do the same for him to remind the world how special these Jack Green albums are.

The Jack Green Appreciation Society

Don’t confuse him with this guy.

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New Album! Mitch Ryder

And Mitch Ryder ain't doing so bad himself...

I must start off with the disclaimer that I am a huge fan of Mitch Ryder‘s music. I’ve written enough pieces here and elsewhere touting the underappreciated master of gritty, soulful, Dee-troit rock’n’roll, mostly complaining that the general public is largely unaware that he didn’t hang ’em up after a few blazing years with the Detroit Wheels.  Ask most people about Mitch Ryder today and they’ll shrug their shoulders; most will only remember the 60’s, and a few might remember the comeback album John Mellencamp produced…in 1983.  Only the most devout of fans is even aware that there’s been a steady output of albums in Germany where he has been a superstar since establishing residency a generation ago. He remains an important, vital artist

I held off on publishing this review for months because I was hoping to release it when it would have done the most good; coinciding with whatever concerted effort was in play to promote the first American album in over a quarter-century from a bonafide legend. But it’s now months later, and…nothing. Apparently I’m too close to the flame and in the vast minority , but either this album was criminally underpromoted, or no one gives a shit about Mitch Ryder anymore. I sure hope it’s the former.  

Here’s my review from the current Bucketfull of Brains:  

 
Subtitled The Promise, Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet is the first American studio album for Mitch Ryder in over twenty-five years. It’s really, really good, and I sure hope you have the chance to hear it because like the tree that fell in that forest, when it fell there was no one around…and whatever sound it made wasn’t heard. This album has been out for months, and were I not a Mitch Ryder lifer, I wouldn’t have known about it.
  

With old Detroit buddy Don Was on hand to twirl knobs, Ryder’s newest finds him bringing the funk as well as singing the blues and rocking out. The greasy, kinetic and keyboard-churning “Junkie Love” not only channels vintage James Brown, but is among the finest tracks Mitch has ever recorded. “Everybody Looses” (sic) scores with the Eric Burdon blueprint, and like Burdon, Ryder has found a new depth to his soulful voice in his post-golden years. Listen to his pipes on “Get Real” as he bends and plies notes with as much power and rasp as he did in his youth. Most of his contemporaries are scaling down arrangements to hide their limitations while Ryder seems to be expanding his to new horizons.  

“My Heart Belongs to Me” might steal a riff from “I’ll Take You There” (the Staple Singers classic) but is the perfect vehicle for Ryder’s gruff soul; lyrically witty and timeless in its appeal. Ditto “If My Baby Don’t Stop Cryin'”, a funky urban ramble that could have easily been a roadhouse jukebox hit in his prime. And a live cover of the Jimmy Ruffin classic “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” (oddly placed within the studio tracks) trumps anything Rod Stewart has attempted to do in his last five albums of interpretations. Less appealing are “Lets Keep Dancing” and the Dylan-esque “The Way We Were”, but two clunkers out of twelve is a batting average I’ll take any day.  

Oddly enough, for an artist who wants the American audience to realize that he is creating new and vital music, the packaging of the album signals apathy in that regard. The cover is a cut-and-paste of a photo of a twenty-ish Mitch, not the sixty-plus visage of his current self. The liner notes, preceded by a quick note  of “Hello England” (?) are merely a reprint of an old bio from 2003  focusing upon Mitch’s early days and how a great career got derailed. At the tail end of the essay there’s a quick note about the Mellencamp project happening after a couple of European solo albums. And lastly – ironically – a statement that “it would be a mistake to consign Mitch Ryder to the past“.  

Fair enough, Mitch. But if that’s the case, why is there no mention of all those albums you’ve made since 1983? How about the events that led to this new stab at an American career? Most of America has no idea that you’ve made any music at all since Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, so why would you issue an album of new music in packaging that screams repackaged oldies? Fire your publicist/manager – or hire one – but don’t blame your audience for ignoring your new music if you can’t even muster the energy to acknowledge it yourself. I’m not certain if this excellent album would fly or fail in such fickle times, but to have it die in the womb because of poor marketing is inexcusable.  

Still rocking at 65

I grew up in New York City, and when I first heard Mitch Ryderand most of the magical music of the 60’s – it was on a transistor radio whose dial constantly spun back and forth between WMCA and WABC. Long before the power of Al Gore’s Internet and the availability of magazines from Creem to Mojo, AM radio was it, unless you had the stones to buy a magazine aimed at teenage girls (“Win a date with Paul McCartney!”) to get your rock and roll fix. (I did – Gloria Stavers‘ trailblazing 16 Magazine was my guilty pleasure and my salvation). When I was growing up, those DJ’s were stars, and one of those legendary voices leading the charge was silenced by a heart attack today.  Ron Lundy, you took that musical journey with me…R.I.P., my friend. Seventy-seven, W-A-B-C!  

And R.I.P. Peter Graves, who would have been eighty-four this Thursday. Mission Impossible was cool as hell, but like Leslie Nielsen, you knew not to take yourself that seriously and are legend thanks to Airplane.  Now you’re really under, Ouver!  

Has it really been thirty years since Airplane??  

 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten For Independence

Canada Day, Independence Day, freedom! Have a safe and happy holiday!

fireworks_animated-gif 

Marvin Gaye with his incredibly soulful version of the National Anthem.

Canadian Neil Young ably echoed American sentiment with “Ohio”

Ditto American John Fogerty with “Fortunate Son”

What can a poor boy do? Ask The Rolling Stones.

Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July“. The X classic.

John Mellencamp sings his own national anthem, “Pink Houses”

Yes, Independence Day was a bit cheesey. But Bill Pullman rules.

Jimi Hendrix, a former paratrooper, with “Freedom”

U2 with the anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

And last but not least – my favorite actor of all time, James Cagney. I grew up loving his work, especially gangster flicks like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces and White Heat, any of which should have brought him the Oscar for Best Actor. He only won one, and it was for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. No one danced like that before or since, and if you think that’s good, check this out from the same film.

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