Friday, March 07, 2014
Waldrop (lead vocals, guitar, composer) is joined by Greg King (lead guitar and backing vocals), Jeff Nelson (bass and backing vocals), and Jason Brewer (drums and percussion). While the sidemen are listed as the band on their ten song debut, Falling Slowly, they only play on two of the tracks. Here, on the new disc, King, Nelson, and Brewer are the full time supporting cast and they lay down a solid foundation for Waldrop's vocals and songs.
The change in personnel hasn't done much to alter the sound of the group. They still have the same DNA as Arizona's Gin Blossoms and they also owe a debt of gratitude to a host of other bands who preceded them including Fountains of Wayne who sound like they've penetrated Waldrop's soul too. This means that music lovers who have an affinity for rock that is straightforward, well sung, well played, and professionally produced have some new stuff to add to their collections.
It also helps that King is a very good lead player. With his brief solo on the EP's single "Only Lonely (The Shovel Song)" he proves he can hang with a whole lot of famous axemen.
Waldrop is not a newcomer to the music business. In addition to fronting his first band in the mid-90s he worked as a producer on two Paul McCartney tribute albums that raised money for cancer research in honor of the former Beatle's late wife, Linda. The compilations featured a host of well known and highly regarded contributors. Among them were Matthew Sweet, They Might Be Giants, Semisonic, The Finn Brothers, Barenaked Ladies, and Robyn Hitchcock. Read more about both CDs with their complete track listings here.
Learn more about Nine Times Blue at their website. You can buy Matter Of Time on CD or mp3 at Amazon.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Chicago 16, the group's first album released by Full Moon/Epic after Columbia Records fired them, is not only their comeback album it's one of the exceptions. It's also the first of three records with new producer David Foster, and singer, keyboardist, guitarist, Bill Champlin who joined them the year before it was released.
16 is the album where Chicago began to use outside musicians extensively (the members of Toto were major contributors). In addition to the loss of Kath Chicago's heart and soul, Robert Lamm, was largely absent for health and personal reasons. Peter Cetera, who had become the group's most visible member by this time, sang lead on most of the songs but he gave up his bass playing duties to the studio hands. The original horn section of James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, and Lee Loughnane were still onboard as was drummer extraordinaire, Danny Seraphine.
Despite a few very good contributions that elevated some ordinary songs into a higher realm the horn section was often a footnote or completely absent from several tracks as Foster modernized the band's sound with layers upon layers of synthesizers and keyboards.
16 was the first time Chicago used outside songwriters in addition to the band members and most of the hard rock, blues–rock, and R&B influences were mined from their arrangements. The rock songs often wore too much of the era's glossy sheen but what would really ruin the band's reputation in the coming years was the inclusion of hornless power ballads that were quickly becoming their bread and butter commercially.
Even with all of the criticisms above 16 is Chicago's best long player of the 80s and it returned them to the top of the charts after a long absence. Pankow's crisp horn charts possess a lot of passion. Cetera's tenor voice, as always, is superb. "What You're Missing," given to the group by Toto's Joseph Williams, and "Waiting For You To Decide" are fine examples of both. "Chains" rocks even though the brief brass chorus may actually be synths and Champlin's vocal on Pankow's "Follow Me" is a typically fine example of the new singer's earthiness.
Side one ended with the Windy City boys' second American #1 hit, "Hard To Say I'm Sorry," a bombastic ballad, sans horns, with a full string section. It's saved by a good melody and another top shelf Cetera vocal. The LP version of the single redeems itself because the hard rocking "Get Away" was tacked on to the end of the song. It's Lamm's sole contribution to the album and although he shares composing credits with Cetera and Foster the song has his fingerprints all over it. It's the most original piece on the disc and Pankow's horn arrangement is terrific.
The ten song set concludes with two tracks that drag down the proceedings. "Rescue You" is not one of Cetera's better moments and the second single, "Love Me Tomorrow," that closes the LP is an over-produced, melodramatic catastrophe featuring way more strings than necessary. It makes "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" seem subtle by comparison.
While not a masterpiece, I like to take this platter out for a spin on the old turntable once in awhile because when Chicago broke away from their new formula, which they were allowed to do on occasion here, the results are quite enjoyable. The problem is that Foster didn't set them free often enough.
The rest of 16 is way better than the singles would indicate and it's a lot better than Chicago's stiffer, more robotic, followup, Chicago 17, a blockbuster album that became their biggest commercial success ever.
If you don't already own a copy you may want to seek out the vinyl record. When Rhino released the album on CD they used the edited, single version of "What You're Missing" and an abbreviated take of "Love Me Tomorrow" instead of the tracks issued on the original twelve inch back in '82.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
It's been written on more than one occasion that the group has been influenced by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers but to this reviewer's ears the band is a louder, more rocking version of Southern California's Eagles. The melodies, high harmonies, and country guitar flourishes they add to hard rock songs are everywhere on this fourteen track, sixty minute, iTunes bonus version of their album. (Unusually, the extra tracks are worth the money.) The difference between The Wild Feathers and their elders is that today's production values allow artists to fill up every space of their recordings and they take full advantage of this by making their Warner Brothers' debut much louder than the records of any of their influences.
Highlights include the radio friendly "The Ceiling," "Got It Wrong," and "Backwoods Company." The last one is a butt-kicking stomper that opens the album with some serious guitar riffage that reminds the listener of "Life In the Fast Lane."
These newcomers like to call themselves an American band, shunning the Americana label that so many artists are branded with today. Regardless of what they call their music The Wild Feathers have set themselves up as a force to be reckoned with for a long time.
Visit The Wild Feathers website.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Normally, I would save a post such as this one for opening day but since I can't wait to put the snow shovels away and smell some freshly groomed grass let's listen to a sampling of baseball related songs before your star pitcher's newly torn rotator cuff knocks your team out of the race before Memorial Day.
First, take a look at Bloggerhythms' review of High & Inside (2011), the second CD by The Baseball Project, Scott McCaughey's quartet staring Peter Buck on guitar and featuring nothing but songs about America's popular summer game. Their modern rock music is good but you have to be more than a casual fan to fully appreciate the concept.
Gamble & Huff slugged their way into the lineup by producing a 1968 hit for The Intruders, "(Love is Like a) Baseball Game," in which the Philadelphia soul stars advised the world that it's "three strikes you're out" when it comes to love. It was a typical record from the soon-to-be very successful Philadelphia label owners.
Those perennial hard luck losers, The Chicago Cubs, are always a favorite topic. The late folksinger, Steve Goodman, gave us "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" and even Eddie Vedder wrote a tribute to the boys from the North Side in 2007, "All The Way."
Apparently Celtic–punk bands love baseball too. Listen to "Tessie" The Dropkick Murphies' ode to the Boston Red Sox from 2004.
What would summer be without Terry Cashman's treacly and nostalgic "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, & The Duke)" and the overplayed "Centerfield" by classic rocker John Fogerty?
We'll close with a non-music related baseball video. The amazing young woman featured here is a rhythmic gymnast from South Korea. Notice the smug, self-satisfied look on her face after she threw the greatest first pitch ever. The video is very brief so you can watch it over and over again in total disbelief.
Sunday, February 09, 2014
|Larry Kirwan in 1998|
CR: What year was the play written?
LK: I can't remember the exact date I began the play, but it was first produced down on the Lower East Side of NYC in Summer 1986.
CR: What was the inspiration behind the original play?
LK: Reading that "John Lennon would have been a success in whatever field he entered." At first, I thought that this was true but began to doubt it when I considered the number of Lennon-types that I knew back home. Great musicians, songwriters, etc. but with some of Lennon's flaws too - brutal honesty, not great people skills, self-righteous and always sure they are right, etc. I figured that somewhere along the line - without the "smoothing" influence of McCartney - that John would have self-destructed.
CR: What made you decide to turn the play into a novel? Did you enjoy writing the book? Do you find it as rewarding as being a playwright?
LK: Well, I decided to write the book because so many people have enjoyed the play over the years in its various productions. But plays are ephemeral - they're done, and then gone. I wanted to preserve the experience in book form so that people, who might not be able to see a play production, could still share the experience.
The book was hard to write but got easier as I gained more experience. I also had the benefit of two great editors, Paul Witcover and Dan O'Connor, who worked very hard with me and gave a lot of themselves. I enjoyed it and am finding that it's follow-up, Rockin' The Bronx - a novel - is easier because of the experience of writing Liverpool Fantasy.
Well, there is a special experience that playwriting gives one - the collaboration with so many other people. That can be wonderful or exasperating, depending on the production. Novel writing has none of that magic. I always hope to be able to go back into the theatre. It's a very special place for me. Right now, I don't just have the time but...
CR: Other than the obvious differences between a stage play and a novel how do the two differ in personality, plot line, and characters?
LK: Well, I think they're closer than people think. But the essence of playwriting - to me - is cutting as many superfluous lines as possible and letting the actor take over from you. If you can delete a paragraph and get the actor to deliver it with a particular nod of the head or look in the eye, then you've succeeded. Sparseness is a virtue in playwriting.
In the novel, you are the God on the page. Everything comes from the writer and you must judge exactly what is needed. But you are acting as the eyes, ears and conscience of the reader and must provide that background. And yet, I don't find the forms as different as many people do, but I may have a facility for going between disciplines as I can summarize a play into a song too. I've done that with the song Liverpool Fantasy and with another play of mine Poetry of Stone (the song from that will eventually appear on a Black 47 CD.) Perhaps, I'm kidding myself but I seem to be able to move relatively effortlessly between different formats.
CR: I think that The Beatles fictitious alternate lives parallel very closely to how most of us think things would have really turned out for them if they did not become "The Beatles." Did some of the ideas for writing the play come from thoughts you may have had about yourself and how your life would be different if Black 47 hadn't become successful?
LK: No, but what would have happened to me if there had been no Beatles - that was a big issue. Without the Beatles, there wouldn't have been the 60s, as we know it and my life would have been irrevocably changed. I don't just know how. I always wanted to leave my small home town, Wexford, and live an adventurous life, so I would eventually have gone somewhere but the influence of the 60s/70s definitely sent me to NYC and into the life I'm leading now. I might have stayed a folk singer, but more than likely would have become a writer of some sorts. My other big influence was politics - so maybe I would have had some career in that field - but then I've always been interested in revolutionary politics so I might have had a bad ending. I was very much - and still am - into change. It would be interesting for people to write or just think about how their lives would have been different without the Beatles. It makes for great speculation.
CR: The book seems to be doing well with the critics. How is it doing commercially?
LK: It's doing really well commercially and went into its second printing this week. As regards critics, I very rarely read what they say. Of course, I would love them all to love the book to death - I'm very human - but I find that if I get nine good write-ups and one bad one - it's the bad one that stays in my head, so I very rarely look at what critics say, amazingly. You'd think by now, I'd be able to put things into perspective, but I don't seem to be able to. Still, the book seems to be selling. I think it will have strong word-of-mouth. I feel it's a people's book. It would be one that I'd find interesting, because it raises a lot of issues but doesn't preach them at you, just leaves thoughts out there for people to chew on in their own good time. I know that for a fact, because of the experiences that surfaced around the play. I wouldn't be surprised if the book brought some more productions of the play to the fore. I'm about ready for it again.
CR: What do you think of the idea of turning Liverpool Fantasy into a musical with you composing the music and Black 47 playing some or all of the music?
LK: I would think that would be disastrous and wouldn't touch it with a 40-foot pole. I commit the great conceit of writing a song for John Lennon in the play/novel. It works but I'm quitting while ahead.
CR: I believe the subject matter and the popularity of the Beatles may cause Hollywood to become very interested in the book. Would you be interested in turning it into a movie?
LK: Yes, I would be interested in that. I think it's made to be a movie. Back in 1994 I received a firm offer from Fox TV to turn the play into a "movie of the week." I was very much interested, but my manager at the time talked me out of it - said that eventually Liverpool Fantasy would become a feature movie. I was a bit bitter about the lost opportunity for some years, but perhaps he was right. You always were, weren't you, Elliot???
CR: Have any of the Beatles or anyone associated with them ever reacted to either the play or the book, or contacted you personally regarding Liverpool Fantasy?
LK: Back when the play was performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1987/88??? (can't remember which year) we received a telegram of congratulations from Paul. We promptly went to the pub to celebrate and show off the telegram. In our stupors, we left without the telegram. That's the only communication that we've received ever.
CR: Finally, what are your future plans? I understand that Black 47 has a new CD coming out in the fall called New York Town. Can you tell me about it?
LK: It will be delayed until January 1st. I'm still in the process of working on it - and in fact should be listening to rough mixes right now. It's pretty much done and is being mixed as we go along. All the songs deal with New York City - in all its forms and boroughs and troubles - some of the songs are post 9/11 influenced. It's really a big love letter to the City in Black 47's inimitable way - it's not in any sense sloppy and yet some of it may be very poignant. The most interesting thing - apart from the songs and the band's outstanding performance on it (I think the rhythm section work of Hammy and Andrew is the best we've ever had - the interplay between pipes and brass is also outstanding) is that we'll have a number of women vocalist guest stars on the CD. I'll keep you posted. I had the idea for this CD last Sept. 11th while sitting in the Friends Meeting House in Gramercy Park. It seemed like our city was going through great trauma at the time and I wanted to do something to say thank you for giving me a home and teaching me so much about life. Hopefully, New York Town will go a small way to repay my particular debt of gratitude.