Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016- Year In Review

2016 Year In Review

2016 has been a wild year. From the 2016 Presidential Election to the terrorist attacks, it hasn’t been the easiest year. It’s also been quite the year for music. While we mourned the loss of many icons, some great music came out this year. Personally, this is what my year was like in music.


New albums

  David Bowie - ★
David Bowie
Blackstar
Rating: ****

FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

            If David Bowie hadn’t died earlier this year, would I still say this is my favorite album of the year? It’s hard to say but I think Bowie knew it would be his last, although producer Tony Visconti says otherwise, saying Bowie had demos for a follow up ready. Whatever the case may be, I think this was David Bowie’s goodbye. Bowie died only two days after the release of the album. In that time span, I enjoyed Blackstar and thought it was a wild experimental jazz album. With Bowie dead, the album take on a whole new meaning- which I think was intended. It’s a bleak yet intriguing album dealing themes such as death and loneliness. Bowie really put his heart into this one and the end result is amazing.

Highlights: Blackstar, Tis Pity She Was A Whore, Lazarus, Girl Loves Me


  John Cale - M:FANS
John Cale
M: FANS
Rating: ***

            After years of being out-of-print, John Cale’s 1982 bleak classic Music For A New Society was reissued on CD. Along with reissuing the album, Cale decided to re-record the album. As much as hate to say it, M: FANS is just okay for me. I do like the idea behind re-recording this album. Cale recorded the original during a difficult time in his life. With M: FANS, it’s Cale’s first album since the death of his former band mate Lou Reed. The main problem I have with the new album is that most of the re-recordings aren’t too different from the originals. Still, there are some interesting re-workings of these songs- most of them dabbling in dubstep.

Highlights: If You Were Still Around (Reprise), Changes Made


 Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
Iggy Pop
Post Pop Depression
Rating: ****

            It has been a while since Iggy Pop has recorded a proper solo album. Pop did release two French themed albums in 2009 and 2012- as well as reunite with the Asheton brothers (and later James Williamson) in the reformed Stooges before then. With both of the Asheton brothers deceased, the Stooges name seems to have been laid to rest. With that, Pop decided to make a new studio album, with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme producing. The album, Post Pop Depression, was supposedly recorded with the idea of it being a sequel to Pop’s first two albums- The Idiot and Lust for Life. While the production for this album is very different from those two album, Post Pop Depression is a fairly consistent album from Pop. The songs do sometimes feel like they fit with the songs from The Idiot and Lust for Life. Pop, now 69, shines throughout the album. Even at his age, Pop’s voice is still strong.

Highlights: Break Into Your Heart, Gardenia, Sunday, Paraguay

 Scorpion Child - Acid Roulette
Scorpion Child
Acid Roulette
Rating: ****

            If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because Scorpion Child are a reasonably recent band. However, after listening to their music- you would think they came from the 1970s. Coming from Texas, Scorpion Child are a hard rock band that are heavily influenced by classic rock- specifically Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and even Thin Lizzy. Their debut album from 2013 was a fun old-school hard rock album. With their sophomore effort, Acid Roulette is a more psychedelic offering- sometimes teetering near heavy psych. In this year of 2016 where almost everything is overproduced or uses Autotune, it’s refreshing to hear an album that utilizes the droning sounds of a hard rock organ. Something tells me the late Jon Lord would’ve been proud.

Highlights: My Woman in Black, She Sings I Kill, Twilight Coven, Tower Grove

  Lucifer's Friend - Too Late to Hate
Lucifer’s Friend
Too Late to Hate
Rating: ****

            German hard rockers Lucifer’s Friend reunited a year or two ago for a number of reunion shows. This reunion, along with last year’s release of a compilation featuring new songs, have all led to the band releasing a brand new studio album. Too Late to Hate is the band’s first album decades (whether it be 1981’s Mean Machine or 1994’s Sumo Grip as Lucifer’s Friend II- it’s still been a long time). It’s a shame that Lucifer’s Friend are only known by a few people because Too Late to Hate is a very good album. In terms of sounds, Lucifer’s Friend have changed their sound from album to album. If you liked and/or owned any of their earlier albums, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Highlights: Demolition Man, Sea of Promises, Straight for the Heart, Jokers & Fools

  Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct
Metallica
Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
Rating: *** ½ or 3.75

            After a universally loathed collaboration with Lou Reed and a 3D concert movie, Metallica are back with a brand new studio- their first since 2008’s Death Magnetic. Although a double album, the 77 minutes on Hardwired could’ve easily fit onto one disc. However, the problem with this one is that the music isn’t all that exciting. The album’s first disc is quite strong but the second disc is where it falls apart. Still, does that make the album bad at all? No, not really. When it’s good, Hardwired delivers with some strong metal tracks. In fact, I’d say most of the album has good songs. However, it could’ve been kept to eight songs instead of twelve.

Highlights: Hardwired, Moth Into Flame, Halo of Fire, Atlas Rise, Spit Out the Bone


 Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome
The Rolling Stones
Blue & Lonesome
Rating: **** 

            The last time The Rolling Stones released a brand new studio album was in 2005 with A Bigger Bang. At this point in their career, the band doesn’t need to write any new material. When going into the studio to record an album of new material, the band ended up recording this album of blues covers- live in the studio with no overdubs. For what it is, Blue & Lonesome is a strong album. The band are pretty tight and the production isn’t too over-the-top. The band have gone back to their roots, covering the music they hold near and dear to them. With it being a blues album, it can be boring at times. However, this is not a bad album at all. In fact, I wouldn’t have a problem with this being their last one.

Highlights: Just Your Fool, Bring ‘Em On Down, Everybody Knows About My Good Thing, Blue & Lonesome  

           


Rankings
1.      David Bowie- Blackstar
2.      Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression
3.      Scorpion Child- Acid Roulette
4.      Lucifer’s Friend- Too Late to Hate
5.      The Rolling Stones- Blue & Lonesome
6.      Metallica- Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
7.      John Cale- M: FANS


Archival/reissues

 John Cale - Music for a New Society
John Cale
Music for a New Society (1982)
Rating: ****

            Along with the new M:FANS album, John Cale’s long out-of-print Music for a New Society was finally reissued on CD. The album was released on CD sometime in the 1990s and quickly disappeared. You’d be lucky if you found it on eBay for less than $30. During my time in college, I was able to find my college radio station’s copy of the album on vinyl- which I used my USB turntable to rip. I didn’t expect for album to come out on CD so soon!

            As an album, Music for a New Society is a wonderfully bleak album. It’s not the easiest album to listen to but the minimalism and emotion in the songs is quite remarkable. When in comes to the Velvet Underground and their solo careers, most would think Lou Reed was the only member who released anything worth listening to. While not as great as Reed’s, I’d say John Cale’s solo albums are really underrated. If you’re new to his solo material, I wouldn’t start with this. Get yourself Paris 1919 and The Island Years set (which includes Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy) first. If you like those, you might like this one. Also, it’s now easier to get the album with it back in print.


Movies
Note: not all of these movies were released in 2016. The ones that aren’t from 2016 were at least released on home video in some way in 2016.

We Are Twisted F***ing Sister
Rating: *** ¾

            Twisted Sister were pretty big back in the 1980s when they released Stay Hungry in 1984. However, the band had been around for nearly a decade before then. Going into this documentary, I thought this documentary would be an in-depth look at the entire history of the band. This isn’t the case, unfortunately. To be fair, Behind the Music covered their successful period quite well. The story that hasn’t been told is the story of the band prior to the release of Stay Hungry. That’s exactly what this documentary is. Is it good? Yes, it is. Without giving too much away, the things that Twisted Sister went through just to make a name for themselves is astounding. While the documentary does show some archival footage of the band performing, most of the time is taken up by talking heads. There’s nothing wrong with this but with a runtime of 137 minutes, that’s a lot of information for someone new to the band to process. Even with its long runtime, some things are missing. I noticed there was no mention about the impact the 1979 cult classic The Warriors had on the band. Dee Snider has mentioned many times that they adopted their look based on the gangs depicted in the movie. However, this movie was partially funded by fans through a Kickstarter-like campaign. I’m guessing they didn’t have the money to do some things. Given what they had to work with, this is a pretty decent documentary.


Jaco
Rating: ****

            While he wasn’t exactly rock, Jaco Pastorius has had an incredible influence on bassists in the genre. Co-produced by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, Jaco tells the story of the influential bassist. Pastorius’ story not the most uplifting but it’s a story that needs to be put on film. Among the interviewees are his friends, his band mates, his family and the bassists who were influenced by him. If you’re a stranger to Pastorius and his music, this movie serves as a perfect introduction.  


Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents
Rating: ****

            With a band as mysterious as the Residents, how do you make a documentary on them? You make the documentary about their mystique, their history and their influence. I usually prefer it when a documentary presents the story in chronological order. This movie doesn’t exactly do that and sort of swifts into other directions- which I’m okay with. This might be more of a movie for those who don’t know about the Residents but either way, it’s a good movie.


I Am Thor
Rating: ***

            After retiring from his career as a bodybuilder, Jon Mikl Thor decided to take his love for heavy metal music and form a band of his own. I Am Thor is a decent movie about Jon Mikl Thor, as well as his band of the same name. I really wanted to like this movie but I have some problems with it. While I like that the story is told chronologically, it’s done in a way where a majority of the movie is showing things that happened in the past. It isn’t until the last 20 minutes when the present day kicks in. Even then, I didn’t feel there was any conflict in Jon Mikl’s story. As I type this, I’m even having a hard time remembering the movie. Usually with documentaries like this, I become intrigued by the artist and want to listen to their music. With I Am Thor, I really wasn’t all that interested. Still, this isn’t a bad movie. It told me about someone who I had no idea existed. For what it is, it’s okay.


Janis: Little Girl Blue
Rating: ****

            Little Girl Blue has been getting a lot of praise from movie critics all around, as a heartbreaking documentary covering the life of Janis Joplin. Having seen it, I enjoyed this movie too- however to a certain degree. Even though a good movie, it’s missing some information. Anything about her getting her start at Threadgill’s or even some of her music is completely overlooked. I always found E! True Hollywood Story’s episode on her to be very strong and full of information. Sadly, that’s a hard video to find. I think the focus on this movie was more so about Janis Joplin as a person- which I’m completely fine with. I think this comes pretty close to THS and it acts as a nice alternate documentary to 1974’s Janis (similar to how the Hendrix doc Hear My Train A Comin’ was a good update on 1973’s Jimi Hendrix).


The Beatles: Eight Days A Week- The Touring Years
Rating: ****

            Ron Howard decided to make a Beatles movie this year. With there being dozens of documentaries on the band and its individual members, what makes this one different from all the others? This one focuses on their touring years. Even with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr giving new interviews for the movie, Eight Days A Week doesn’t really reveal anything new for diehard Beatles fans. I’d say about 15% of the information is new to me while just some of the video footage looks new (I can’t tell at this point). So we really didn’t need this movie. Is it still worth seeing? Yeah, sure. It won’t hurt. It’s always good to hear from Paul and Ringo but I feel the movie benefited from the interviews with Larry Kane, who went on tour with the band for their US tours.


Expected releases for 2017
Black Star Riders will be releasing their third album, Heavy Fire, on February 3rd
Steel Panther will release their fourth album, Lower the Bar, on February 24th
Deep Purple will release Infinite on April 7th
Quiet Riot will also be releasing an album of new material with new singer Seann Hayes

In terms of reissues, the delayed reissue of Paul McCartney’s 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt will finally be released on March 24.


RIP
Dale “Buffin” Griffin- drummer for Mott the Hoople
Glenn Frey- guitarist for the Eagles
Jimmy Bain- bassist for Rainbow and Dio
Paul Kantner- co-founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship
Signe Toly Anderson- original member of Jefferson Airplane, singer prior to Grace Slick
Keith Emerson- keyboardist for the Nice and Emerson Lake and Palmer
Andy Newman- member of Thunderclap Newman (“Something in the Air”)
Henry McCullough- guitarist for Wings (1971-72) and Joe Cocker’s Grease Band
Alan Vega- co-founding member of Suicide

Greg Lake- bassist for King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rock N Roll Hall of Fame: Class of 2017

The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame announced the inductees for 2017. The ceremony will take place on April 7, 2017 in Brooklyn.

As for my thoughts on each of them....


Electric Light Orchestra
It's about damn time! Jeff Lynne and the gang were one of the most successful bands to come out of the 1970s- with hits such as "Do Ya?", "Don't Bring Me Down," "Telephone Line," "Evil Woman," and "Can't Get It Out of My Head."With Lynne in the all, that means all of the Traveling Wilburys have been inducted!

Members inducted: Bev Bevan, Jeff Lynne, Richard Tandy and Roy Wood


Joan Baez
How she wasn't inducted any earlier is a mystery. It seems that Steve Miller's efforts of ripping the Hall a new one has paid off. Baez, like Bob Dylan, was one of the most important singer/songwriters of her time.


Journey
I'm going to be honest: I really don't like Journey. I think they're overrated and they re overplayed on classic rock radio to the point where I just might hate them. However, they won the fan vote so that means they had to get in. To be fair, they probably should be in there: while dismissed by many as "corporate rock," Journey were very successful during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Members inducted: Jonathan Cain, Aynsley Dunbar, Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Steve Smith and Ross Valory.


Pearl Jam 
With their critically acclaimed debut now 25 years old, Pearl Jam were a shoo in to get inducted on their first nomination. While I can't say I'm a fan, I'm okay with them getting in. Along with Nirvana and a few others, Pearl Jam were one of the most successful grunge rock bnds during the height of the genre's popularity.

Members inducted: Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Dave Krusen, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder.


Yes
After years and years of being snubbed, Yes are finally in the Hall of Fame. Progressive rock was at its peak in the early 1970s and Yes were one of the many bands to come from that era. While progressive rock was never a radio-friendly genre, the band were able to nab hits with "Roundabout," "I See All Good People," "Long Distance Runaround" and later in their career "Owner of a Lonely Heart."

Members inducted: Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White. It seems that the Hall has decided to induct the classic line-ups and all of the original members- with the exception of the late Peter Banks.

While Chic were turned down once again, Nile Rodgers is being awarded for Musical Excellence. With this, it seems the Hall will finally stop nominating Chic after being nominated a whopping ELEVEN times.

Oh...and some dead rapper is getting inducted too.

 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Greg Lake dead at 69

Gregory Stuart Lake
November 10, 1947 - December 7, 2016


Greg Lake, bassist and founding member of King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer, died yesterday after a "long and stubborn" battle with cancer- according to a Twitter post made by his manager. Lake was 69 years old. Lake's death comes just months after the passing of ELP keyboardist Keith Emerson, who committed suicide by a gunshot back in March of this year. 

Growing up the suburb of Oakdale in Poole of Dorest, England, Greg Lake came from a poor family. Despite this, Lake cited that his upbringing was happy. Lake learned to play guitar at the age of 12 and wrote from memory the future ELP hit "Lucky Man." It wasn't until he was 17 years old when he decided to pursue a career as a musician. Prior to joining King Crimson, Lake was in a few bands- one of them being the Gods- with future Uriah Heep members Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake. By 1968, Lake had become friends with guitarist Robert Fripp. Along with drummer Michael Giles, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and lyricist Peter Sinfield- King Crimson were formed. Lake served as the band's lead singer and bassist. In 1969, the band released their influential debut album In The Court of the Crimson King. Lake would stay in King Crimson until 1970 during the recording of the band's sophomore effort In the Wake of Poseidon when he left the band. 

After leaving Crimson, he joined up with former Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and former Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. With this- Emerson, Lake and Palmer were formed. Throughout the 1970s, ELP became one of the most successful progressive rock bands around. While music critics dismissed them as overblown and pretentious, it didn't stop people from listening to the music. During his time in ELP,  Lake was able to score a solo hit single with "I Believe in Father Christmas" in 1975. ELP would splt in 1979 but did reform several times until 2010. 

Lake is survived by his wife Regina and their daughter Natasha. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Rolling Stones- Blue & Lonesome album review

 The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome
The Rolling Stones
Blue & Lonesome
Rating: **** (a low one, leaning towards 3.75)

It’s no secret: many of the bands that came out of the British Invasion in the early 1960s were influenced by the blues music coming out of the US. Around this time that one of those influences, blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson, came over to the UK. When speaking about the backing bands that were with him, Williamson was quoted to saying “Those British boys want to play the blues real bad, and they do.” In the next five decades or so, many of those British boys have become rock legends in their own right. The Rolling Stones are one of those bands Williamson might’ve been referring to. 54 years after their formation, the Rolling Stones have decided to go back to their roots on their latest album. The album, Blue & Lonesome, is the band’s first studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. However unlike their previous albums, Blue & Lonesome is an album consisting entirely of blues covers. When going into the studio to record their next studio album, the band went in with the intention of making an album of new material. While jamming one day in the studio, something just clicked and the band were able to crank this album out in just three days without any overdubs. While it might not be the album fans were expecting, Blue & Lonesome is still an album worth listening to.

            Reviewing an album like Blues & Lonesome is difficult: not only is it an album of covers but it’s also an album of blues covers. When it comes to the blues, it’s a fairly simple genre: it can be slow or it can be fast. However, it’s a genre of music that requires a lot of heart and passion. While the Stones might be in their 70s now, the guys have always been passionate about the blues. Hell, the band even got their name from a Muddy Waters tune. It seems only natural that they make an album like this. If you’re looking for some toe-tapping numbers, “Just Your Fool” and “Ride ‘Em On Down” should do the job. Both are catchy tunes and the band sounds very tight. If one of the four members stood out the most on this album, it would be Mick Jagger. Not only is his voice in good shape but his harmonica playing on this album is impressive. While he’s best known for his showmanship on stage, Jagger is a damn good harmonica player. Some may think he isn’t as impressive as the late Brian Jones but I think the casual music listener may forget that Jagger has many other talents. All of the guys are in fine form here. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are still a great guitar duo while Charlie Watts and Darryl Jones make a great rhythm section. With this being a blues album, there are many songs that heavily feature the piano. Longtime back-up member Chuck Leavell is good on this album. Just listen to the slow blues of “All of Your Love” and hear how he works the keys. Eric Clapton even makes a guest appearance on the album for two songs- “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” The former has Clapton shining on slide guitar while the latter might sound familiar to some listeners as Led Zeppelin covered the song on their debut album.

            While a very good album, Blue & Lonesome has its downsides. With this being a blues album, some listeners may get bored during some of the slower songs. In fact, I would say the album’s second half leans a little on the weak side. “Hoo Doo Blues” and “Little Rain” aren’t the worst songs ever but then again, they aren’t the most exciting songs either. As expected with modern day albums, the production is another downside. While passable for the most part, there are times when the album sounds too loud. However, Blues & Lonesome does deserve some praise when compared to the band in the last few years. For a little over two decades now, fans have criticized the band’s need for a backing group- complete with back-up singers and many other musicians. On Blue & Lonesome, it sounds like there’s less than ten people playing on the album. For the most part, it’s just the four Rolling Stones plus Darryl Jones and Chuck Leavell.

            For what it is, Blue & Lonesome is a fine album from the Rolling Stones. While some might be disappointed in it being a covers album, try and think about this: at this point in their career, the Rolling Stones have released a lot of music. While the band’s last few albums were met with mostly positive reviews, those who said otherwise called the band out for their lack of creativity- the same creativity we heard on Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street or Some Girls. With that being said, the band doesn’t need to make anymore new music. In fact, I wouldn’t have a problem with this being their last album. Think back to their debut album: with the exception of “Tell Me,” all of the songs were covers. Blue & Lonesome would serve as a nice book ending to a career. Regardless of what the future may bring, Blue & Lonesome is at least worth a listen.