Tag Archives: Sam Cooke

R.I.P. Solomon Burke

We lost Solomon Burke yesterday.

Although he had been making records since the 60s, he never reached that huge level of fame that many of his gospel-to-pop contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke did, perhaps because he never had a crossover Top 20 hit to spread the word. But he ruled the R&B charts when recording for Atlantic Records in the 60s, and his music has been covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Blues Brothers . No wonder producer Jerry Wexler called him “the best soul singer of all time”.

Eight years ago, several of those major names who were influenced by his music collaborated and submitted songs for a comeback album with Joe Henry producing.  With Burke singing his own songs as well as tracks from Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Nick Lowe, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison and Elvis CostelloDon’t Give Up On Me took home the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Besides spreading the word to a whole new generation, it also woke up a lot of people who didn’t realize he had simply been cruising under their radar.

Burke was still actively touring the globe at seventy. He will be missed.

A message from his family from the website:

Early this morning, Sunday, October 10, 2010, the legendary King of Rock & Soul, Solomon Burke, our father, passed away due to natural causes. Solomon had just arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for a sold out show at Paradiso with Dutch band, De Dijk.  He was on his way to spread his message of love as he loved to do.

This is a time of great sorrow for our entire family.  We truly appreciate all of the support and well wishes from his friends and fans.  Although our hearts and lives will never be the same, his love, life and music will continue to live within us forever.  As our family grieves during this time of mourning, thank you for respecting our privacy.

Video: “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”

Solomon Burke website

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Music

Rock’s Darkest Day?

July 3rd is the anniversary of the deaths of both Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. Ask rockers about Morrison and you’ll get a highly divided camp; some revere his poetic lyrics and unique artistic expression with The Doors, while others see him as a bloated, self-indulgent hipster who yammered nonsense and called it art. 

I was a Doors fan and still enjoy their music – there are a series of great singles and many of the deeper tracks on the album were pretty fascinating. I thought L.A. Woman was a tremendous album and am saddened that they never got to continue that journey. But the drunken escapades, the supposed incidents of exposure, the pretentiousness of it all…yeah, I could understand someone resisting their work because they can’t get past that. 

But I’ll wrestle you to the mat about Jones

Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. Without him, there wouldn’t be a band, let alone a Sticky Fingers or an Exile on Main Street or a Let It Bleed. Because it was Jones the blues purist who set the course, charted the direction and marketed the band in the earliest days when everyone else was ready to fold the tent and quit

Mick Jagger would have graduated from the London School of Economics and been a prissy accountant. Charlie Watts would probably have joined a jazz band and would be famous to a whole other audience. Bill Wyman might have lived the suburban life he seemed to be drifting towards, playing in r&b bands on the weekend and still pulling birds half his age. 

And Keith Richards? He probably would have done the same damned thing – overindulge in life’s pleasures and play some of the most timeless riffs man has ever wrangled from an electric guitar. 

I remember being crushed when Jones died. I was just a kid – other iconic deaths like Buddy Holly either predated my awareness or (like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) involved people I liked but was not fully invested in. But The Rolling Stones were my lifeblood, and this was like losing a brother.

You have to realize that at the time, lines were drawn between Beatles fans and Stones fans; peer pressure said you had to be one or the other, and you’d better choose. All the cute girls chose The Beatles, of course…and that was reason enough for me to side with the Stones

He was the first rock star in my world; looked (at the time) like a golden god, played any instrument you put into his hands, added flavor to Stones singles that other bands would later copy and seemed like the coolest guy on the planet. When I saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan I looked right past Jagger and was mesmerized by him. And I wasn’t the only one…five hundred miles north of my New York City house, Andy and Greg of The Chesterfield Kings were watching the same program and getting their minds blown as well. 

And then he died – murdered, I still believe – and what had been this picture perfect vision of music and peace and utopia started to crumble. Soon it would be Jimi, and Janis and Jimoddly connected…and finally the nail in the coffin,  Altamont

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mick Taylor era of the band, and although he’s been underutilized in his tenure, Ronnie Wood is one of my all time favorite guitar players. But the London singles the early Stones cut? Pure magic

Listen to the magic!

Had the Stones broken up after Exile, they would have that same unfinished legacy that Buddy Holly, The Beatles and James Dean have – a permanent snapshot of genius in its prime.  No chance to stumble and fall, or go ages between artistic releases, or climb on stage long past their prime and sing about want and boredom and being unsatisfied…right before pocketing millions per gig and taking a private plane home. 

What would Brian Jones have done after he got over the heartbreak of being squeezed out of his own band? I can only wonder. But I can also revel in what he left behind, which is a brilliant anthology of classic music that is as powerful to me now as it was as the impressionable boy with a transistor radio and a dream. 

What a drag...it is getting old.

And Happy Birthday to (among others) Kurtwood Smith, Fontella Bass, Franz Kafka, George Sanders, Dave Barry, and the late, great Ken Ober.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Music

New Album! Scott Morgan

Longtime favorite Scott Morgan has a new one out, a mix of originals and great covers (Sam Cooke, Bobbie Gentry, Holland-Dozier-Holland, among others). Morgan has always paid respect to other’s music alongside his own, and as usual he’s chosen wisely and done them justice. Recorded with a crack band of fellow devotees, this new self-titled album is another rock’n’soul testament from a man who deserves to be far better known. He’s Detroit rock royalty, and his kingdom deserves rezoning.

Guitarist Matthew Smith, drummer Dave Shettler and bassist Jim Diamond all contributed background vocals and shared production duties on the album, recorded at Diamond’s legendary Ghetto Recorders in Detroit. (Powertrane axeman Chris Taylor is the critical fifth piece; Morgan primarily plays organ and piano.) It’s tight but not pristine; indeed it’s five guys jamming for the shared love of the material getting soulful and wonderful results. There’s probably not a radio format eager to play it and I doubt any of them saddled up with that in mind. I’m reminded of a couple of albums Jon Tiven issued several years ago, which similarly flipped the bird to the naysayers and said “this is for the believers”.

Morgan is equally adept at introspective blues as he is with joyous expressions; standouts include “Since I Lost My Baby”. “Memphis Time” and “She’s Not Just Another Woman”. There’s some Stonesey rock, some psychedelic nods, some serious name-checking and most of all an organic and honest feel to the selected songs. I’m not certain how long they spent in the studio but I’ll bet it was relatively quick and dirty, guys looking for the groove and not an Auto-tune in sight. (What a refreshingly ancient concept!)

It’s been wonderful to have so many of Morgan’s projects released in the past couple of years. Some new, some long unavailable, work from Sonic’s Rendesvous, Powertrane, The Solution and even The Rationals is now there for the asking. For anyone who hadn’t followed his career it’s an amazing legacy of work that is obviously still chugging along in full gear. While Scott Morgan doesn’t blister like many of his other albums, it will move you.

Visit Scott’s website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

Semi-Semisonic

The law firm of Wilson-Munson-Wilson is back!

Doesn’t seem like that long ago that Semisonic was a staple of our radio diet. “Closing Time” – both song and video – seemed to spool in an incessant loop for about a two year period. Fortunately the band had both chops and songs. Like the Gin Blossoms, they seemed like they’d pump out pleasing melodic pop rock for a long time, and then – like the Gin Blossoms – they were yesterday’s hot band.

Before there was Semisonic there was Trip Shakespeare, where the Wilson-Munson-Wilson axis was firmly in place. Now those three are involved in related projects as artists and producers (damn, Minneapolis is a fertile ground!). And Jacob Slichter? Well, he only wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read about being a musician and getting tossed into the star-making machinery. I heartily recommend you go read So You Wanna be A Rock And Roll Star as soon as possible – it’s literate, funny and poignant.

But on to these two records; a semiSemisonic, if you will.

One of the things I liked about Semisonic was that even when they weren’t really rocking (“FYT”, “Brand New Baby”, “Across The Great Divide”, “If I Run”, etc.) they had a punch to their songs. Sure, much of it was powered by piano and acoustic guitar; maybe it was the way Dan Wilson’s vocals soared above it all that hooked me. The slower paced songs (“Secret Smile”) seemed more fragile by comparison. I could listen to something like “Falling” all day long.

Well, if you like great vocals, those of John Munson and Matt Wilson as The Twilight Hours are stellar. Stereo Night kicks off with the ambitious “Dreams”, weaving hook and melody between foreground and background like a delicious hypnotic dance. But after ten tracks I was in serious need of something more uptempo, although the closing track “Never Mine To Lose” is a solid exit.

“My Return”  and “Queen of Tomorrow” are probably the standouts as far as the more energetic tracks go, while “Forgot Me Now” reminds me of Semisonic’s finest slower moments. (It actually reminds me more of a song called “Fall” by The Tender Idols, but that’s really stretching a reference!). And “Winter Blue” is a pretty stunning exercise in twee-pop, with some nice arrangements that will remind you of another guy named Wilson.

It’s pretty, well-crafted and consistent. For me, it’s just lacking that intangible oomph to force its way to the top of the pile. Give a listen and decide for yourself.

The Twilight Hours on MySpace

***

I’m rabid for tribute albums, and by a similar nature, always game when established musicians do cover songs because they want to. That’s a long way from the days when you had to cover the du jour pop tunes in your corner bar to put food on your table, so if you’re going there now, I’ll go there with you.

Thanks to Chan Poling’s piano and Steve Roehm’s natty vibes, the album does swing. I won’t say that their version of “Androgynous” will make me forget Paul Westerberg or Joan Jett, but it’s clever and catchy and retains all of the original playfulness. And there are some loopy jazz moments within “Watching The Detectives” that remind you that Steve Nieve would totally do that if Elvis only let him.

But the bottom line for me  is too many albums, not enough time. The New Standards are great musicians, offer some class arrangements, and John Munson (with Poling) are solid vocalists. There will be moments when this album will be a joy to encounter. But there’s no way I’ll ever play it as loud or as often as The Hot Rats, who were just as inventive but (1) selected better songs and (2) rocked the snot out of them.  (Caveat: I didn’t realize they had a prior album out, and some of those songs look killer, so I’m headed there to check them out myself).

But this album is well worth a listen as your mileage may vary.

The New Standards website and MySpace

***

And let’s not forget Dan Wilson, who has been pretty busy himself.

1 Comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

Under The Radar: The Downbeat 5

No smoke, no mirrors. Just IN YOUR FACE rock'n'roll

No smoke, no mirrors. Just IN YOUR FACE rock'n'roll!

The Downbeat 5 was formed a decade ago by legendary Boston rocker J.J.Rassler, whom many of you might know from the band DMZ (along with future Lyres member Jeff Connolly). Rassler’s then-wife Jen shared a love for all things Dolls, Stooges and garage, tempered with a melodic pulse yet a fiery pace, and her prowling, howling vocals were the perfect complement to the piston engine that drove most of the songs in their repetoire.

Smoke and Mirrors was recorded live in a studio full of friends and guests, and the band proved it doesn’t know any speed but full. Plowing through some well chosen covers from The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Velvet Underground along with a few of their own songs, The Downbeat 5 sound like The Detroit Cobras on a Red Bull buzz. I would have loved to have had my ears pinned back that night at Q Division studios!

Jen – now called Jen D’Angora – has the same gutteral yelp as The MuffsKim Shattuck, while Rassler plays the Johnny Ramone role by thrashing out infectious power chords and stinging guitar fills. But the band wouldn’t be half as much fun without the piledriving rhythm section of bassist Mike Yocco and drummer extraordinaire Eric Almquist (a monster player). Plus you have to love a band that thanks Ed Koch, Ratso Rizzo and the Olsen Twins in their liner notes…

The band’s 2005 release Victory Motel is sadly out of print (ping me if you have it!) but Ism is still available, and with a cut on the latest Little Steven Coolest Songs collection getting attention, hopefully there will be more albums to come. You’d be hard pressed to top this one for pure adreneline, though. 

The Downbeat 5 website.

The Downbeat 5 MySpace page..

The Downbeat 5 rip the stuffing out of “Shake“.

A rousing  “Dum Dum Ditty“, now rocking the Underground Garage.

downbeat 5 live

2 Comments

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music, Reviews