Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Have You Ever Heard of Terry Reid?

The fun thing about being a music fan is that no matter how much music you have, there is always more great stuff out there to discover. I have recently gotten into the great lost works of Terry Reid. To most rock historians Reid is a footnote, notable for turning down Jimmy Page's offer to join his new group Led Zeppelin. The famous story goes that as Jimmy Page was putting together the line-up for his new group (at that time called The New Yardbirds), he and bassist John Paul Jones approached Terry Reid to offer him the vocalist spot. Reid, on the verge of breaking through as a solo act, declined, but suggested to Page that he go check out a group called Band of Joy, featuring singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. You know the rest of that story. Later Reid was offered the lead vocal spot in Deep Purple, an opportunity he also passed up.

In the liner notes to his re-released 1978 album Rogue Waves, critic Roger Dopson has this to say of Reid's career: "Terry Reid's story is a catalogue of lost/missed/squandered opportunities, tempered with ill-luck and frequent dashes of poor judgment - culminating in a serious case of underachievement." Ouch. And that is in the liner notes to his own record.

Reid started out with much promise (obviously). Most would agree that on vocal talents in the late 60's, he was on par with other great British rock vocalists like Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, etc. He had (has) an impressive range, but his signature sound is a full throttle raspy belt that, to me, sounds like the perfect blend of Plant and Stewart. He was also a good songwriter, penning many great tunes, and one minor classic in "Without Expression." Also a very good guitarist, one wonders what a duel guitar, Reid-voiced Led Zeppelin would have sounded like.

Reid's recording career is one of fits and starts that never could capitalize on momentum. The British and American music press both predicted huge things for Reid at various times, but it just never happened. Powerful music producer Mickey Most (Donovan, Yardbirds, Jeff Beck) took control of Reid's career in 1968, and after releasing the rushed Bang Bang You're Terry Reid and the now revered 1969 release Terry Reid, Reid and Most had a prolonged falling out that prevented him from recording for three crucial years, grinding his upward momentum to a halt. After finally getting out from under Most, Reid's career again seemed to have great promise. Signed to Atlantic, he inexplicably only released three records for the rest of the 70's. He just didn't seem to have a vision of where his music should go, although all three of those records have some outstanding music on them (surrounded by forgettable filler). Since the 70's, Reid has only released one other studio record, instead concentrating on session work for a laundry list of other artists, sunbathing on California beaches, and playing the occasional live gig to appreciative audiences. As Dopson states in a snarky comment in the above quoted liner notes, "That magnificent voice is still intact - let's face it, he's hardly worn in out; just half-a-dozen albums in 25 years" (now close to 40, as those notes were written in '92).

Rock history is littered with coulda-been-a-contender types. Those Alex Chilton or Roky Erikson's who should have been much bigger than they were. Add the great Terry Reid to that list.

Anyway, here's some Terry Reid to check out for yourself.

ABOVE: This is probably my favorite Terry Reid song, a Neil Youngish tune called "To Be Treated Rite" from his 1975 record Seed of Memory. Beautiful acoustic tune, but check out when he really gets going (vocally) at the end. Powerful set of pipes.

ABOVE: Great rocker, "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace." Sounds quite Cheap Trickish, who did a cover of this song.

ABOVE: His most famous song, "Without Expression"

ABOVE: Terry doing "Rich Kid Blues" on German TV in 1969. What a great rock vocalist.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dez Reviews Duran Duran's ALL YOU NEED IS NOW, 2010/2011

To this day it is difficult to get casual music fans to take Duran Duran seriously. After nearly 30 years and 100 million records sold worldwide, they are still inextricably linked with 80's synth-pop. But Duran was always more than that. Heavy on the synths for sure, but in Andy Taylor they had a fantastic guitar player, in John Taylor one of the smoothest bass players of the 80's, and in Simon le Bon the perfect New Romantic vocalist. Their records have always been mixed affairs, even their best ones have some filler on them, and they have released some admittedly bad albums over the years. But they were also responsible for Rio, a dance-pop masterpiece of the 1980's that sounds as fresh and daring today as it did when it was released in 1982. Which brings us to 2010's All You Need Is Now.

The band and producer Mark Ronson have made no secret of the fact that they wanted to recapture that Rio-era magic. Not surprising, since it was their most successful period as a band and also their most critically acclaimed (if mostly in retrospect, as often happens). What is surprising is how they have completely succeeded. This is the best Duran Duran record in a long, long time. Actually, I will say that it is their best effort since Rio. At least it is their most consistent effort. There is not a bum track here, it is packed from start to finish with top notch dance-pop music that is spilling over with melody and groove. This record is ridiculously good. On their not so good previous effort, 2007's Red Carpet Massacre, they made the mistake of trying to fit in with the times, dueting with Justin Timberlake and pulling in Timbaland to produce some tracks. Here, Ronson wisely forces Duran to be Duran. Hell, they were one of the pioneers of modern dance pop music, why do they need to fit in with the times? They should help to define the times. Most of these tracks will get many butts on to the dance floor of any club.

ABOVE: Duran Duran may be a little old to still be pin-up boys, but they still have style

AYNIN is currently available exclusively on iTunes, they will release a CD version with additional tracks in February of next year. Four of the original members are present, with estranged guitarist Andy Taylor missing (which is a shame, because he is so good).

Comparisons to Rio? Absolutely. From Nick Rhodes's rhythmic synth stabs to John Taylor's silky bass lines to Roger Taylor's drum beats and programming, Rio is referenced all over the place. What is great is that this sounds like it is referencing Rio, but it also sounds quite modern at the same time. "Leave a Light On" is the anthemic ballad in place of "Save a Prayer," while gorgeous closer "Before the Rain" is an update (using the same drum programming, even) of Rio's icy closer "The Chauffeur" (and it equals the power of its storied predecessor.) Another similarity with Rio lies with Simon le Bon's vocals. I don't know what he has done, but his vocals are especially strong on this record, sounding like he was transported, vocal prowess intact, from the mid-80's to here.

If you appreciate masterful dance-pop music with some substance, you can't go wrong with All You Need Is Now.

Rating: **** out of *****

ABOVE: Check this tune out, "Girl Panic!" All of the songs are this catchy and this good. Classic Duran Duran sound, and how about John Taylor's bass!

ABOVE: Give a listen to closer "Before the Rain." Rio fans will note its close relation to "The Chauffeur."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Always searching, never perching"

My buddy JMW over at ASWOBA posted an unintentionally hilarious music video from the late 70's by one Dennis Parker here. Watch it. I enjoyed it so much that I went to YouTube to find some more Dennis, and evidently he made several videos for his "hit" disco classic. I actually prefer this one to the one John posted, I'll call this the "night version." He was also a porn star in the 70's. Really.

Latest Cuteness

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Today it is official, the Class of 2011 in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be what I leaked over the weekend. In addition to Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits being inducted in the main Performer category (discussed in the post directly below), Leon Russell will be inducted in the Sidemen category and Art Rupe (founder of the legendary Specialty Records label) and Jac Holzman (founder of Elektra Records, a great induction) will be inducted in the Non-Performers category. Congrats all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2011 (leaked)

The official announcement is not due until Wednesday, but as has happened in recent years, this year's Class has been leaked by credible sources (at least the main Performer inductees). Recall back in September I revealed the nominees here. For the record, in predicting the 5 inductees from the list of 15 nominees, I got three out of five correct. Not bad at all. Better than many other prognosticators out there.

My main observation regarding this class is that out of the five inductees, I think that only one is really rock and roll. That is not to say that I am not a fan of the others, I like them all actually. But one has a clear line all the way back to Brill Building pop (literally, he was a writer there in his early days), one is R&B and pop and two are iconoclastic songwriters who primarily perform in genres and with influences that pre-date rock and roll. But then we get into the argument that cannot really be settled, and that is "what defines rock and roll?" All of these five artists have been influential on rock and roll at least, and perhaps that is enough. While none of these jump out immediately like a Zeppelin or Stones (there aren't that many of those obvious choices left, and since the Rockhall has decided to ignore the 80's), when thinking about this class I rather like it. And Bon Jovi didn't make it.

The Class of 2011...

Alice Cooper: The only real rock artist here. Very influential in the shock rock / glam rock genres. A pioneer for shock tactics onstage. Bands from KISS to Marilyn Manson trace their roots back to Alice Cooper (the band is being inducted, not just Vincent Furnier). But some of the music is quite good too. "I'm Eighteen" is one of the best teen angst tunes ever written, and "School's Out" is required listening whenever June rolls around.

Neil Diamond: I can already hear the howls of protest from rock purists on this one. But Diamond is one of the most successful songwriters in the modern era. His rock credentials are a bit suspect, but he has earned the respect of many rockers over the years. The cheese factor is huge here (and folks who may ask incredulously "Neil Diamond, but still no [insert egregious snub here]?" will have a valid point), but Neil has stood the test of time with a slew of hits, not only his but great pop songs that were big for others ("I'm a Believer" for The Monkees, "Red, Red Wine" for UB40, etc.) And if you dig deep enough in his own catalogue, there is some legitimately great rockish stuff in there, like "Solitary Man" and "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." On this one, I go both ways. I acknowledge the complaints, but for some reason his induction still does not bother me.

Dr. John: Now this one surprised me. I love the Doctor, especially his early Night Tripper period, but...I don't know. He is one of the most important New Orleans musicians, and New Orleans music is certainly one of the strongest roots of rock and roll, and his first several albums were heady blends of voodoo psychedelic gumbo greatness, but his career since the mid-70's has veered away from rock and roll and he has been more of a traditionalist of New Orleans R&B. I have always thought a better way to slip him into the Hall (because he does have a place there) was as a Sideman, since he played piano, guitar and a host of other instruments as a sessionman on many other rock artists' records (which may explain his induction, since many of these artists whom he backed up are also voters). But I guess they thought that bringing him in as a Sideman would somehow diminish his own very successful solo career. Hard to get too angry here, because I really am a fan.

Darlene Love: As someone on the Future Rock Legends website said, "Little Baby Steven Van Zandt gets his bottle once again." Last year Little Steven pushed The Hollies through, and this year Love was his pet project. Bruce Springsteen has also been whining loudly for years that Love needed to be inducted. So they get their way. Again. Look, Darlene Love is hugely talented, and she was a crucial piece in Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. But like Dr. John above, she would be more properly placed in the Sideman (er, Sideperson) category as opposed to the main Performer category. She sang back-up on many huge hits. Her actual solo career was, well, not Hall-worthy.

Tom Waits: Love this one. Not sure he's rock and roll, but he is an iconoclast in the true sense of the word and a brilliant songwriter. His music may not always be rock and roll, but the spirit often is. And that is what counts lots of the time. He just makes sense here. He has been influential on many rock artists as well, with Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and Shawn Colvin all covering his tunes, while albums like Swordfishtrombones and Heartattack and Vine are just awesome and totally unique in mainstream music.

So there you have it. These will be confirmed on Wednesday, but I would be shocked if this information is incorrect. I will update you on other smaller categories, as those have not leaked.

Thoughts? Comments?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

RIP Sherill and Leslie

Sherill, 1943-2010

ABOVE: Sherill on the right with my father-in-law and my daughter

Technically speaking, Sherill was my stepmother-in-law. The subsequent wife to my wife's father. She was a remarkable woman with a strong, fighting spirit. From the first time that I met Sherill, she was welcoming, kind to me, and engaging. A woman of many talents and interests, bursting with life and energy. In fact, on our first meeting she beat my ass quite handily on the tennis court, and I was playing hard. Thinking she was an old lady, I tried to hit shots on opposite ends of the court to make her run and tire her out. But since she was one of the highest ranked senior doubles players in Texas, I didn't really have a chance. It seems that Sherill had the same strategy in mind, and her shots were much more precise than mine. By the end of our match, I was the one panting and needing to rest. From that first day on, I really liked Sherill. Kindred spirits in some ways, we both didn't like to lose. The lady had spunk.

She was a educator and school administrator for 25 years, a tax specialist, and generous volunteer for a host of local charities. She continued into the last year of her life to teach, designing and teaching continuing education courses for seniors on topics from the First Ladies of the U.S. to the Wives of Henry VIII (a course that she completed teaching only months ago as she was battling the end stages of her cancer). I can recall many an evening visiting her and my father-in-law, where we would engage in a spirited political debate, discuss some historical minutia that we found intriguing, or even pull out some cards and play poker (she was a killer card player, too). She visited all 50 states of the Union just to do it, worked as a park ranger one summer and drove to every county in the state of Texas with her husband in an RV, photographed and researched each county courthouse, and published a book on the subject.

I admired her and loved her a great deal. Sure she was my step mother-in-law, but she was also a good friend. She battled her cancer valiantly. It seems like we've been hearing that Sherill's diagnosis was "six months to live" for years, but this last Saturday it finally did catch up with her. She had an indominable spirit, and as late as Friday night she was wrestling with that f*cking disease like a fighter in the ring. Fortunately I was not there to witness it, because from what I was told by my wife it was a horrific evening, but she was fighting to the last. She had a strong faith in God which gave her the strength to battle her disease for these last years, so I have to believe that if such things exist, she is now walking peacefully in His presence. God bless you Sherill, and thank you for your years of friendship, kindness, and wonderful conversation. I always looked forward to visiting with you. I wish that my daughter could have gotten to know you better, since you seemed to really enjoy her.

Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010

Believe it or not, I have a personal connection of sorts with Leslie Nielsen. My Dad, for several decades, looked exactly like Nielsen. So much so that he would be stopped in airports and approached at dinner by fans asking for autographs. Sometimes he would politely inform them that he was not, in fact, Frank Drebin. When he was feeling cheeky, my Dad would oblige and then sign his own name for the suddenly very confused Leslie Nielsen fan. I was not even immune to his trickery. When I was quite little, Nielsen was on TV doing some PSA. My Dad proceeded to convince me that he was on television.

ABOVE: Neilsen's earlier career consisted mainly of heroic and serious parts, such as in the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet

I have always been fond of Nielsen not only due to his uncanny resemblance to my father, but also because he has provided our popular culture with some wonderful comedic moments. Nielsen spent most of his career playing the stoic leading (or often supporting) heroic man in such films as Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure. But evidently he always wanted to try comedy, being a notorious jokster on the sets of his films. It wasn't until he was almost 50 that he was able to give comedy a shot with his immortal turn as the deadpan doctor in 1980's Airplane!, and he hit it out of the park. After that he was Frank Drebin in the short lived Police Squad TV show and three Naked Gun films, continuing to explore his newfound comedic greatness.

ABOVE: Some dude on YouTube re-edited Airplane! scenes and added music to make a trailer like it was an intense thriller instead of comedy. Very creative. Some great Leslie Nielsen scenes are here, of course.

RIP Sherill and Leslie Nielsen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dez Reviews Bruce Springsteen's The Promise, 1978/2010

Bruce Springsteen continues his vault clearing ways with this 2 disc release of Darkness on the Edge of Town-era outtakes. It is much anticipated by Springsteen fans, though. Bruce was prevented from releasing a record from 1975 (after Born To Run) until 1978 due to a bitter lawsuit with his estranged manager. He and the E Street Band were not idle during these lost years. They toured relentlessly, and also recorded about four records worth of material. What finally emerged was the bleak classic, 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town. These tunes (along with other tunes that were released on the Tracks box set) are the ones that were left behind. It wasn't a quality issue, but more that Springsteen had a particular album in mind for 1978. As he states in the liner notes to this collection, these are the "lost sessions of music that could have/should have been released after Born to Run and before the collection of songs that became Darkness on the Edge of Town...the music that got left behind was substantial." On the whole, I agree with his assessment.

Is this a lost masterpiece along the lines of Born to Run or DOTEOT? No. It does not flow as its own cohesive album as the Springsteen people seem to be advertising. It feels like what it is, a compilation of great outtakes. And while all of these 21 songs are quality and listenable, some were wisely left in the vaults. On the other hand, there are some truly great additions to the Springsteen canon here. Overall, these tunes portray an exuberance that is in stark contrast to the bleak DOTEOT tunes, so the jump between BTR and DOTEOT is much more clear with the bridge of The Promise. These songs reflect Bruce's love for big, melodic pop songs. Here he is often looking back to the Phil Spector 60's pop sound that permeated BTR. I think the choices that he made for DOTEOT were a deliberate effort to move forward and strip his sound down. Again, listening to The Promise makes the DOTEOT choices more logical and clear.

The highlights? The opening tune is by far the strongest and deserves a place in the all time Springsteen greats. It is entitled "Racing in the Street '78," and is a dramatically different take of the heartbreaking ballad that appeared on DOTEOT. Whereas the version that appeared on DOTEOT was subdued, this take is a powerful, driving epic that would have felt at home next to "Jungleland" or "Backstreets" on BTR. It is a stunner, and blows the previously released version out of the water.

The other notable songs do not quite scale those heights, but they are still quite good. "Wrong Side of the Street" is a catchy as hell rocker that could have been a hit, while "Talk To Me" is poppier than anything he released in the 70's. We finally get a definitive studio version of "Because the Night," his brilliant rocker that he gave to Patti Smith for her biggest single. We also get a steamy studio take of concert favorite "Fire" that actually outdoes the live versions out there. "Breakaway" is a gorgeous ballad, and "The Promise" is a full band version of what was originally released on 18 Tracks as a piano demo. It is a powerful and beautiful ballad that name checks Bruce characters Johnny, Billy and Terry as he sings of driving down "Thunder Road" once again. Inspiring stuff.

Overall, this is essential for Bruce fans, takes us back to a time when Bruce ruled the universe, and gives us a fuller look at what he was doing during what was arguably his most vital period. It is also a great listen to even casual fans.

***1/2 out of *****

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Halloween

Baby's first Halloween costume was a ladybug. I was Nixon. I handed out candy for 2 and 1/2 hours in character. That mask was hot for 2 and 1/2 hours.

This is one of my favorites...

She can also stand up now...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Congratulations To Team X

In this equation, X = Whoever Beats the Yankees. I'm not even a Rangers fan, but I sure was rooting for them against the Yankees. Now I do not care who wins the World Series. As long as The Yankees are not there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Team Gasol (This Time On Purpose)

Earlier this week I participated in my draft for my NBA fantasy basketball league. This is about the fifth year I've been involved with this league, and it is something I look forward to every year. Our league is scored in rotiserie-style, using the following stats: points, 3-pointers, shooting %, free throw %, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and turnovers.

Draft order is determined randomly, and I ended up with the 11th spot out of 11 teams. So I knew that I would not end up with a superstar, but that also gave me the 12th pick as well. I wanted either one of the top four picks or to be at the end, I did not want that middle section of the draft this year. That is because the players in the first round that should be picked there are all serious injury risks that I wanted to avoid (I'm talking about Kobe, Wade and Granger).

Recall a few years back I made the mistake of the draft when I accidentally picked Pau Gasol in the first round (a mistake due to not understanding the new Yahoo draft settings) when he could have been had at the end of the second round. (By the way, Gasol ended up with top 10 value that season). This year, at pick #11, I grabbed Gasol on purpose for my first pick. With Bynum out until December, Gasol will dominate the Lakers middle. I am expecting near 20-20 (points/rebounds) nights. That is the best I could do at #11.

ABOVE: This time I grabbed Pau Gasol with my first pick on purpose

The first round of our draft went like this: 1-Kevin Durant (no-brainer 1st pick), 2-Chris Paul (possible injury risk and unhappy in NO), 3-Lebron James (douchebag, but will still get his numbers), 4-Dirk Nowitzki (boring but reliable), 5-Dwayne Wade (a bit high considering injury risk and competing with Lebron for the ball), 6-Stephen Curry (a risk, but could be top three value by the end of the season, I really wanted him), 7-Kobe Bryant (with Jackson already talking about limiting his minutes for the first part of the season and him recovering from knee surgery, I wanted no part of Kobe this year), 8-Deron Williams(solid), 9-Danny Granger (it is not a matter of "if" but "when" will Granger get injured again), 10-David Lee (a bit high) and 11-Pau Gasol.

My full roster looks like this: Russell Westbrook at PG, Manu Ginobili at SG, Mo Williams at G, Gerald Wallace at SF, Corey Maggette at PF, Robin Lopez at F, Pau Gasol at C, Andrew Bogut at C, Wesley Johnson and Eric Gordon at UTIL, and I've got George Hill, the injured Andrew Bynum and Reggie Williams sitting on my Bench. Decent team, but I am not overwhelmed with optimism. I think Gasol and Wallace as my first two picks were as good as I could do at 11th and 12th. Westbrook and Bogut both have huge upside (if Bogut can stay healthy). I was excited to grab Hill at the end of the draft. He is the 6th man for the Spurs, but he is so talented and Popovich loves the guy, and he is ready to start when either Tony Parker or Manu get hurt (which they will). Also, word is the Spurs are trying to trade Parker, and when that happens, Hill is the starting PG. That could be the pick of my draft if that happens.


ABOVE: George Hill could be one of my best picks if the Spurs are able to unload Tony Parker

Sunday, October 10, 2010

RIP Solomon Burke, 1940-2010

One of the last of the original great soul stars has died. Apparently he was on the way to a gig in Amsterdam and died today at the airport in the Netherlands.

Solomon Burke had many soul hits through the 1960's, most notably "Cry To Me," "Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," which has been covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Blues Brothers. Burke was equally at home as a soul shouter or singing beautiful ballads, and the line between church music and soul music was especially thin for him, as he was a deeply religious man. Interestingly, he also worked as an undertaker, even after his soul stardom.

Burke experienced a surprising and welcomed career revival this last decade with the release of a series of outstanding modern soul records which were modernized in all of the right ways while keeping the warmth of classic soul intact. Burke was one of those rare artists whose vocal powers remained intact as he aged. Two highly recommended records are Don't Give Up On Me (2002) and Make Do With What You Got (2005). Forget the usual caveat of "these are great considering how old he is" or anything along those lines. These are two straight up killer soul records, regardless of time period. Of course, it helps that he had a stellar group of admiring songwriters who contributed new or unreleased tunes for him to sing (these, for the most part, are not simply covers of well known tunes), including Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan and Nick Lowe. But Burke puts his warm and emotional stamp on all of them. His version of The Band's "It Makes No Difference" is gorgeous.

ABOVE: Here is the video for his tune "None of Us Are Free" (performing with The Blind Boys of Alabama) from 2002's Don't Give Up On Me, a surperior modern soul record.

RIP Solomon Burke.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dez Reviews Neil Young's Le Noise, 2010

Neil Young is quietly having yet another creative renaissance. Last year’s blog-post-as-album Fork in the Road was a blast of energy and spontaneity that was as much fun as it was charming (in that uniquely Neil way). Now he joins forces with producer Daniel Lanois for another potent burst of Neil idiosyncrasy. Here Neil is without a band, just grinding out six tunes of raw electric maelstrom (with two acoustic tunes thrown in to give audio relief) filtered through Lanois’s brilliant production techniques. Neil’s haunting wail is thrown through reverb and echo and an electric crunch that is primal.

At eight tunes it is rather short, but it makes its point, any more length would be overkill. As usual, there are a couple of throwaway songs (“Sign of Love” and “Rumblin’”), but the rest of the songs are quite good. “Walk With Me” opens the record with a wall of distortion, yet there is a catchy melody underlying the crunch. “Angry World” is an arresting listen, where his guitar is so distorted that it sounds like your speakers are busted. “Love and War” is an intriguing tune (one of the two acoustic numbers), because it addresses Neil’s well publicized and somewhat notorious Iraq protest album and show Living With War (a record which I consider to be one of his weakest efforts, regardless of politics). What I find interesting is that while he is unapologetic about his motives, he admits “I sang for justice but I hit a bad chord,” but he asserts that he will continue to sing about the duel topic of the title. Young is one of those rare artists who is loved by his fans as much for his failures as for his triumphs.

The other acoustic tune is a noble attempt at a historical epic, “Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” that fails, but just barely. Neil has always used American Indian imagery wonderfully in his music (from “Pocahontas” to “Cortez the Killer” to “Inca Queen”), and the first part of this song is beautifully constructed while addressing the conquest of the American West with memorable imagery ("...before the railroad came from Kansas City / and the bullets hit the bison from the train...") It loses some steam as he tries to bring it to a modern environmental message in the latter half of the tune, though. Again, noble effort with a haunting acoustic accompaniment which Lanois renders as open as the Plains that Neil sings about.

The highlight here is clearly “Hitchhiker,” which already ranks with Neil’s all time greats in my book. It is actually a tune he has had lying around since the late 70's, by some accounts. I have a bootleg of him doing an acoustic version back from about 1992. But here he and Lanois transform it into a savage journey into Neil’s heart of darkness. It is great to hear Crazy Horse-esque crunch sans Crazy Horse. It is the sound of Neil playing the distorted electric part of a song that is waiting in vain for its drums and bass. That tension just adds to the desperation of the tune. Neil goes through a litany of drug experiences, giving hash, grass, cocaine, valium and amphetamine each a verse, while tracing his life from his Toronto beginnings to the current times (“how many years have come and gone / like so many friends and enemies”), and tellingly adding a verse of Aztec and Incan mysticism. It is a harrowing song and is what makes Neil Young such a vital artist going into his fifth decade as a recording artist. I can’t think of anyone else who has stayed so vital and so relevant for so long in rock and roll.

ABOVE: The video for "Hitchhiker." Well worth watching and cranking up to 11. This is a revitalized Neil Young. Sorry for the ad they make you watch before the video.

Dez says: **** out of *****

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

The nominees for the Class of 2011 of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. I don’t know how to feel about this batch. The powers that be seem to be increasing the number of nominees, but have not said anything about how many of these nominees will be inducted. If they follow the precedent of recent years, it will be five of these fifteen nominees.

The nominees are: Alice Cooper (the band), Beastie Boys, Bon Jovi, Chic, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Dr. John, J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, Joe Tex, Tom Waits and Chuck Willis.

As a refresher: to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, at least 25 years must have passed since the release of your first album or single. The criteria is rather vague, for the longest time it was stated as having “a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” More recently, the Rockhall has added that “We shall consider factors such as an artist's musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.” Whatever the hell that means. Does it just come down to the personal preferences of the Nominating Committee? The Nominating Committee is comprised of industry insiders (for a more detailed discussion of the Nominating Committee politics, check out my post here). Then approximately 500 voters (industry insiders, critics, other Rockhall inductees) vote on the inductees. The actual inductees will be announced probably sometime in December or January, with the induction ceremony occurring in March of 2011. This process is for the main “Performer” category (which is the one that most people focus on). There are also specialized committees who choose inductees in “Early Influence,” “Sidemen” and “Non-Performer” categories.

ABOVE: Will Neil Diamond be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011?...

ABOVE:...or will it be Dr. John?

ABOVE: Or perhaps Alice Cooper?

First, the good. With 15 nominees, they can afford to be eclectic. We’ve got singer songwriters, a New Orleans legend, psychedelia, rap, disco, soul, shock rock and mainstream pop/rock all represented in this group. Some have been nominated before (such as Beastie Boys, Chic, LL Cool J, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, Joe Tex), and there are some first time nominees as well (Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Bon Jovi, Donovan, Tom Waits).

Now the bad. Genres and entire time periods are still woefully underrepresented in the Rockhall, and this list of nominees does not really rectify some of the Hall’s glaring problems. Beyond Genesis (who got in last year) and arguably Pink Floyd, prog rock as a genre is still MIA. With groups like Yes, Rush, King Crimson and The Moody Blues yet to even be nominated, that is inexcusable. The Committee’s failure to understand or appreciate the 80’s music scene continues. Bon freakin’ Jovi? Really? That is the token 80’s nomination (beyond rap)? Crucial 80’s movers and shakers like The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel, Sonic Youth and others remain on the outside. Hell, even a band like Motley Crue at least influenced a genre that exploded in the second half of the decade. Stevie Ray Vaughan, who would seem a shoe-in, has yet to be nominated despite loud protest. Metal also continues to get the shaft. Other than Black Sabbath and Metallica, metal is mostly ignored. How about Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc.? All are yet to be nominated. But you give us Bon Jovi?

ABOVE: Bon Jovi? Really?

So, I am both pleased with a decent list and frustrated by infuriating snubs that continue to challenge the relevance of the Rockhall.

Assuming that they will still induct five artists, I will give you my predictions of who will get in out of this group, and then who I would like to see get in. With 15 nominees, this is really a shot in the dark as far as predictions are concerned, but here goes. I think that the following artists will be inducted for 2011:

* Beastie Boys (they’ve been on the ballot recently, and it is time for another rap inductee)

* Neil Diamond (finally nominated, respected as a great songwriter despite the cheese factor)

* Alice Cooper (one of the more egregious snubs until now, Alice Cooper [the band] will get in on their first ballot)

* Tom Waits (Leonard Cohen surprised a few years back by getting inducted, Waits is even more respected and better known)

* Donna Summer (nominated several times, Summer was one of the most important disco artists of the late 70’s. The Bee Gees are in, so she will finally get in too)

Who I would like to see get in:

* Alice Cooper (along with KISS, Alice Cooper brought a sense of shock theater to rock and roll in the 70’s. Crucial early influence on glam rock)

* Beastie Boys (it is time to move cautiously ahead with honoring more groundbreakers in rap)

* Neil Diamond (a great songwriter, superstar of the 70’s, and the cheese factor works mostly to his advantage actually)

* Donovan (underrated pop/folk/psychedelic craftsman from the 60’s and early 70’s. He is a longshot to make it in this crowded field, but I am glad to see him at least nominated. I think he made some of the finest music of the 1960’s)

* Tom Waits (one of our great songwriters and a critic’s darling)

What are your thoughts on the nominees this year? Predictions? To see a full list of the Rock Hall Inductees by year, go to their website here. I have been working with a fellow group of Rockhall obsessives over the summer at in creating our own, alternate universe, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We voted for each induction “year” once a week over the summer, and of course discussed and argued. Check out our picks here. Ours is better.

ABOVE: Although unlikely, Dez hopes that Donovan makes it in the Class of 2011. Above is Donovan (right) hanging out with Hall of Famer Bob Dylan.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dez Predicts....

The Texans will be victorious today over the Cowboys. And all of Dallas and San Antonio will weep. It will be a good day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dez Recommends The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses, 1989

The great thing about being a music fanatic is that regardless of how much you think you know, you can always come across something that blows your mind. In the latest installment of "I can't believe that I missed this the first time around" comes the remakable debut record from Manchester, England's The Stone Roses. It's not like this was exactly under the radar, as it helped to launch the "Madchester" music movement and while it didn't really make a dent Stateside, in Britain it is considered one of the greatest British records ever released. After doing some research, I found that it ranks in the Top 10 in a host of British music polls of the Greatest Records Ever variety, and in 2009 NME declared that it was the "greatest debut album ever." So, there I am this last weekend, sitting on the couch watching VH1 Classic's documentary on British indie music, and almost half of the freakin' show is dedicated to The Stone Roses. I'm sitting there like a dumbass asking, "who are these guys?"

Naturally I have since rectified that problem. The Stone Roses came out of the music hotbed of Manchester in the late 80's along with Happy Mondays, James and other English notables. They were sort of a second wave, as New Order, The Smiths and The Fall had all come out of the same city earlier in the decade. In many ways, they were the precursor to Oasis, even down to their egos. Before their debut came out, lead singer Ian Brown was loudly crowning his band the greatest band in the world. But damned if their debut didn't, at least for a very short time, back it up.

Full of bold and brash British rock, it is brimming with grooves and hooks every second of its running time. What makes the record so great (and rare) is that it balances equally melodic and hooky pop songwriting with hypnotic grooves and jams. I think this is why they were embraced across the musical spectrum in England at the time. It touches equally on rock, house, psychedelia and pop.

TSR opens with my current favorite song, "I Wanna Be Adored," where singer Ian Brown is more demanding to be adored than asking. While Brown is a potent force, it is guitarist John Squire who makes this band so special. His deft guitar work lays down riffs, glorious arpeggios and a rhythmic touch that is masterful. The rhythm section of Mani on bass and Reni on drums provide a firm foundation that can rock hard or get you out on the dance floor.

The first three tunes were all singles and are all ridiculously great. "I Wanna Be Adored," "She Bangs the Drums" and "Waterfall" are all perfect rock/pop songs. Following "Waterfall" is "Don't Stop," which takes the "Waterfall" track and plays it backwards, creating a mesmerizing groove of its own. After these tunes, I was thinking that it could not stay this good all the way through, but it pretty much does. They had another single with the beautiful "Made of Stone" (which to me sounds like the best Oasis song I've ever heard) and the record closes with the epic "I Am the Resurrection," another British hit for them that clocks in at over 8 minutes.

After TSR came out, they were the toast of the British music scene. But the familiar story of drug excess, clashing egos and record label lawsuits stopped all of the momentum. They would only release one other record (1994's disappointing Second Coming) and then call it quits. Their legacy is a mere two albums and a handful of brilliant non-album singles and b-sides (collected on Turns Into Stone), but what a great band. Get The Stone Roses.

ABOVE: Here's one of the singles, "Made of Stone"

***** out of *****

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Still Here, Upcoming Tunes (and Bonus Pics)

ABOVE: Daughter of Dez

Hello readers, sorry for the quiet around here these days. I will get some good new stuff up soon. After the explosively exciting Presidential List, I thought I needed to let my reader(s) catch their breath.

I'm pretty stoked about some upcoming music releases on the horizon. Hopefully at least a couple of them will live up to expectations. Kings of Leon have a new one coming out, as does Pete Yorn. Coldplay is supposed to release a new record before the end of the year. I am particularly excited about some new product from a couple of Dez favorites, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Neil has a new one coming out in about 10 days called Le Noise, and I am quite excited about this one. Produced by Daniel Lanois, it features Neil alone, playing acoustic and electric with some heavy treatments courtesy of Lanois. I've heard snippits, and it sounds really promising and a bit out there. I'll give you a review in about 10 days.

Springsteen is finally releasing his long promised remastered/box set of the Darkness on the Edge of Town-era in November. This could be huge for Springsteen fans. It will have three CDs and three DVDs. The CDs include a remastered version of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album, plus two discs of previously unreleased tracks from the same period. Those knowledgable in Bossology will note that after Born to Run in 1975, Bruce was legally prevented from releasing new material for a three year period due to a lawsuit with his former manager. He recorded a mountain of music in those years that has never seen the light of day, and so here it finally is. He put some great tracks out on the 4-disc set Tracks, but that was just a taste. By many accounts, this material is epic, classic Born to Run-esque Springsteen. He himself said that had he been legally able, this is the stuff that would have been put out on a quicker follow-up album to Born to Run, before he changed sonic directions with what eventually would be DOTEOT. He had over 70 songs he was considering for DOTEOT. As for the DVD's, there is the requisite documentary and commentary. But the real prize is a full show from Houston captured on the 1978 Darkness tour. The Darkness tour has long been acknowledged as his most vital and exciting tour, and now we've got a full show on DVD from that legendary jaunt. And in Houston, no less!

ABOVE: Here is a studio version of "Fire" that will be on the new set(a longtime live staple, but I dig this more subdued, groovy studio version).

Anyway, here's some more Daughter of Dez...

ABOVE: "What do you mean you don't like the new Springteen tunes?"

Monday, August 30, 2010

August Cuteness

Hard to believe, but Daughter of Dez is 6 months old. Here is some of what she was up to this last month...

She seems to be at the stage where she investigates most objects by putting them in her mouth. Here she tries to eat a laptop screen...

The dog is a bit wary of her because she enjoys pulling on his ears...

A true milestone in life: sitting up unassisted!

Another milestone: this is a photo of her enjoying her first taste of food other than mama's milk. It is some rice cereal. She also likes bananas.

I mentioned earlier that the dog was wary of baby. The wariness vanishes if there is food around. And since half of what is intended for her to eat ends up on her hands, elbows, feet, the floor, her tray and various other locations, it is a bounty for dog. Here dog does her the favor of cleaning her hands of some rice cereal...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dez Reviews John Mellencamp's No Better Than This, 2010

I had given up on John Mellencamp awhile ago. The last consistently interesting records he made were in the early to mid-1990's. His latest, No Better Than This, is defiant evidence that it is never too late to recapture that magic. This is a record that he could not have made in his younger days. It is a significant record for him too, one that may set him up for musical relevance for the next 20 years or so if he can continue down this path in inspired ways.

I say it is defiant, and it is. It is stubborn music, down to how he recorded it. Recorded all in mono using vintage 50's and 60's recording equipment, he even carefully chose the three recording locations to ensure the right mojo: Sun Studios in Memphis, The First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga. (a church dating back to 1775) and most interesting to me, in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel here in San Antonio, which is where Robert Johnson conducted one of the only two recording sessions of his life back in 1936. As you can imagine by now, this music has a retro feel. It is more rockabilly, country, folk and blues than modern rock and roll (and not coincidentally, it is Mellencamp's debut on Rounder Records). Which is fine, because this music really suits Mellencamp these days. His lyrics have always been connected to these older musical genres of the common man, but he rarely made records that committed 100% to those styles musically. He would add elements to be sure (Lonesome Jubilee is a brilliant example of combining those elements with modern rock), but he always kept one eye on the pop charts. Evidently he has given up on mainstream chart success.

As he approaches his 60's (!), his voice is rougher through years on the road, smoking cigarettes and hard living. It works perfectly with gritty rockabilly beats and bluesy/folky acoustic guitars. He tentatively set off down this road on his most recent records (Trouble No More, Freedom's Road and Life, Death, Love and Freedom), but he hedged his bets on those records. Here he finally commits. A reviewer on stated that this record reminds him of the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash records during the musical renaissance in the last decade or so of Cash's life. I could see Mellencamp filling that gap easily for the next 20 years, recording gritty records of Americana based in folk, blues, country and rockabilly idioms, and only occasionally veering into rock and roll.

That is why this record is significant. Mellencamp has set himself up for the next few decades in a musical world where he is at home and where he can age gracefully instead of trying to belt out more "Jack and Diane"-clones in his 60's. It also helps that the tunes here are quite good, catchy and the record has a wonderful organic and coherent sound to it.

ABOVE: This is the video for the title track, "No Better Than This." Far from the best tune on the album, it does at least give you a feel for the sound. (It was the only tune from the album I could find on YouTube.)

Rating: **** out of *****

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dez Prez Rankings: American Zeus

#1 of 39:
George Washington (1st president)

It was a close call on whether to put Lincoln or Washington at #1, but I asked myself this question: could anybody else have accomplished what he accomplished? While Lincoln was a rare individual indeed, George Washington was the only man who could do what needed to be done in his time. Yes, Lincoln saved the Union (and ended slavery), but there probably would not have been a Union to save by the 1860's if we didn't have Washington.

George Washington is difficult to humanize. He didn't wear his foibles on his sleeve like a John Adams, Alexander Hamilton or even Thomas Jefferson. Everything he left us in writing was self-consciously composed with posterity in mind. What was he really like in his off hours? We will never know. He was always playing the American Zeus, even when he claimed to just be a "simple" farmer (when in fact he was one of the wealthiest men from the wealthiest state, Virginia). Even the great Abraham Lincoln has had time periods where historians have dug up the dirt, but never Washington. To this day he remains unblemished in our history and memory. Washington should be honored not only for what he did, but also for what he did not do. Much like how Miles Davis is great in part for his silences, so was Washington.

What was so great about Washington? As a general, he lost more battles than he won. When he presided over the Constitutional Convention, he offered no ideas or substantive comments. In fact, most accounts are that he hardly uttered a word as our Founding Fathers hammered out the Constitution. His administration was filled with men more visionary and brilliant than he. Jefferson gave Washington the faint praise of "his mind was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion."

The place to start with Washington is his unshakeable moral character. That is really the key. As an infant country, and despite the fact that we had just fought a war to throw off the yoke of monarchical rule, the people yearned for strong, patriarchal leadership. A Republic of this sort was uncharted waters, and they wanted a sure captain to at least guide them out of the harbor. George Washington was the only man in America universally respected by the people and without enemies, as he had led the colonists to independence. He was above faction. Virtually drafted by the people to be their first president under the new Constitution, a reluctant Washington was the only president to receive a unanimous election in the electoral college (in 1789.) It must be remembered that a democratic-republic was a new type of government that was expected to fail. The vast majority of the rest of the civilized world lived under authoritarian rule of some sort. Washington was popular enough (and many wanted him to) to make himself King George I of America. But he did not. He instead surrendered his sword to Congress and resigned his position as General of the United States Army before he took office as Chief Executive.

There was no precedent to follow. He was the first so he set the precedents. He decided to only serve for two terms, when he could have easily been re-elected for the rest of his life. He fulfilled the peoples' need for patriarchal leadership by insisting on formality and royal iconography. But he balanced that with republican (small "r") values.

ABOVE: This is the artwork on the ceiling of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. It is called "The Apotheosis of Washington," where George Washington is depicted taking his place amongst the gods (remarkable in this nation supposedly founded on Judeo-Christian principles). Washington was indeed viewed as more than a mortal man, and it was essential that he be the first president of the new nation. (Click the picture for a closer look).

The United States was far from a long term prospect in the early days after the Revolution. In many ways, winning independence from Britain was the easy part. Now what? He was the only man with the stature to keep this thing from falling apart. And he knew it. Historian Gordon Wood has pointed out that in the early days Washington's birthday was a bigger celebration than the 4th of July, and he allowed this cult of personality to flourish in the early days to take the place of an absent patriotism. But one of the things that separates him from a Stalin or Castro is that he allowed it to take root only for a short time when necessary, and then walked away from it. That is remarkable. He personally toured the young country several times to give the people a direct connection to their federal government (vs. their state governments, which they were often more loyal to.) One of the last things he did before leaving office was to personally help design the new capital city that would bear his name.

He had help, of course. George Washington's administration is the most impressive group of men that a president has ever had to serve under him. Hard to go wrong with Alexander Hamilton as your Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Jefferson as your Secretary of State and John Adams as your vice-president. Washington recognized that each of these men were more brilliant, and he leaned heavily on their advice. But the buck always stopped with Washington. He would consider their counsel (often asking for memos) and then make his decision. Washington's administration was full of intrigue and vehement disagreement. Hamilton and Adams hated each other, Adams and Jefferson distrusted each other, and the rift between Jefferson and Hamilton was the beginning of political parties in America. During Washington's second administration, the first two political parties formed within his very own cabinet with what started as a personal feud between Jefferson and Hamilton! The administration would have fallen apart had it not been for Washington himself keeping these men in check. A lesser man would not have been able to reign in the likes of Jefferson and Hamilton. James Monroe simply said that "[Washington's] influence carried this government." Jefferson said that "the moderation and virtue of [Washington] probably prevented this revolution from being closed."

ABOVE: An All-Star Cabinet (L-R): Washington, Secretary of War Henry Knox, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Hamilton is appropriately in the center and standing, as he dominated Washington's administration.

What did he actually do as president? Keeping this infant nation from falling apart was the primary thing, but he did have other accomplishments during his administration as well. He allowed Hamilton to establish the Bank of the United States in the face of vocal opposition from Jefferson when we needed financial stability. He supported the unpopular Jay's Treaty with Britain that helped us avoid a war that we probably would not have survived. He was an early supporter of internal improvements. He was involved with designing Washington D.C. (D.C.'s location was the result of a backroom compromise deal between Hamilton and Jefferson. Jefferson secured the capital near Virginia and he in turn did not oppose Hamilton's wish for the federal government to assume state debts).

Washington may have surrendered his sword, but he was always a military man at heart. During the infamous Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania (where backwoods farmers instigated a tax revolt and refused to pay taxes on whiskey), Washington personally led the military into Pennsylvania to put down the revolt. Once Washington showed up on his horse, the rebellion immediately ended. That was the first and last time that the commander-in-chief actually led the military on the battlefield. We have not had a tax revolt since.

ABOVE: Washington arrives to personally squash the Whiskey Rebellion

His famous Farewell Address both set policy for the next 100 years (he warned of entangling alliances and many interpreted his message, although it is not entirely clear, as one of isolationism) and was prescient of future problems, warning against extreme partisanship and stressing the importance of preserving the Union. Historian Gordon Wood states that "Although Washington had aristocratic predilections and never meant to 'popularize' politics, he nonetheless performed a crucial role in creating that democracy. He was an extraordinary man who made it possible for ordinary men to rule."