Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing

willie

In 1962 a short haired, clean shaven 29-year-old songwriter by the name of Willie Nelson appeared on the cover of his very first record …And Then I Wrote wearing a dress shirt, suite jacket and tie, the album’s title alluding to the number of hit songs the young talented twentysomething had already penned for Country music stars Faron Young, Ray Price and Patsy Cline. In the 55 years since the ever prolific red headed stranger has not only substantially altered his image, he has amassed an unprecedented number of studio albums to his credit, over 100 in fact, when factoring in albums Nelson recorded himself or as part of a collaborating duo, trio or group. When tabulated accordingly this makes Nelson’s aptly titled latest release Last Man Standing his 101st album to date (take THAT Rob Pollard!). What’s even more amazing is how surprisingly spry the timeless 85-year-old Nelson sounds throughout. From start to finish this record swings with upbeat outlaw Country beats, its core sound indebted to the talents Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Jim “Moose” Brown on B3 organ and all three lap steel players Bobby Terry, Mike Johnson and Tommy White. Throughout Nelson, with the help of his 70-year-old song writing partner Buddy Cannon (who also produced the album) takes an unexpectedly upbeat approach when confronting loss and mortality, themes expected from a man of his advanced years, while joyously espousing the many benefits of growing old, most importantly not being dead. After outliving fellow Sun Records recording artists Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison, the last surviving member of the Million Dollar Quartet (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley) “Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis brazenly announced at the age of 71 through the title of his 2006 “comeback” album that he was indeed the Last Man Standing. 12 years later the 85-year-old Nelson (two years older than Jerry Lee) begs to differ. And with the passing of Chuck Berry last year at age 90 this could very well be the beginning of one downright colossal octogenarian battle between two titans of popular song fighting it out to the last breath for the title. According to Willie, “I don’t want to be the last man standing, on second thought, maybe I do”.

Rating: 8.3/10

Star Rating: 3.5/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 18/52

Advertisements

Van Morrison – You’re Driving Me Crazy

van_crazy

In a flagrant attempt at beating the ever prolific King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard at their own game, legendary seventysomething Van Morrison upped the ante recently by releasing his third album of new material in just seven months (Roll With The Punches September 2017, Versatile December 2017, You’re Driving Me Crazy April 2018). Australia’s psychedelic kingpins KGATLW took all of 12 months to release just five in 2017 so you be the judge. And with all due respect to Neil Young’s seemingly endless flow of New Releases, both new and archival, the casual listener can be forgiven for not giving a flying pluck of an upright bass that Van Morrison has a new record out. Much of this hurried trilogy focuses on selections from the Great American Songbook; Jazz, Blues, R&B standards and reworked numbers from Morrison’s vast back catalogue. The latest installment You’re Driving Me Crazy captures Morrison partnering with 47-year-old virtuoso trumpet player and Hammond B3 wizard Joey DeFrancesco. Accompanied by DeFrancesco’s crew of top notch jazz sideman, You’re Driving Me Crazy was recorded over a period of just two days in Sausalito, California. Consequently, much of the record comes across sounding like an impromptu live album recorded without the presence of an audience, like a weekend bill in the Catskills where nobody shows up. Recorded live off the floor in a limited number of takes these 15 tracks flow seamlessly through the albums bulging 71 minutes of material. Anyone who has ever been witness to Morrison’s penchant for loosey-goosey freefall vocal improv (e.g. The Last Waltz or his infamous Sinead O’Connor duet on Letterman) will not at all be surprised by much of his singing on this record. And just as surely as there are infinite examples of genius in music rubbing shoulders with madness so too can there be parallels drawn between indulgence and brilliance, especially in terms of Van Morrison’s decades old of love affair with jazz.

Rating: 6.8/10

Star Rating: 2.75/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 17/52

John Prine – The Tree Of Forgiveness

prine

Between 1971 and 1991 legendary Grammy Award winning songwriter John Prine crafted an impressive body of work consisting of 10 exceptional studio albums. His debut, the self-titled John Prine album, has few equals. Not even Bob Dylan himself can lay claim to such an auspicious beginning. Released when he was just 25 years old the John Prine album alone contains at least a half dozen examples of some of the centuries most poignant and bittersweet contributions to the great American songbook (Illegal Smile, Hello In There, Sam Stone, Paradise, Donald And Lydia, Angel From Montgomery). Unbelievably, two decades later, after a 5 year break between albums Prine, the Cole Porter of Americana country roots folk music, equaled the first in every way with his triumphant return The Missing Years in 1991. His output slowed considerably in the years that followed with only two albums of original material to his credit in the ensuing 14 years (Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings in 1995 and Fair & Square a decade later in 2005). His latest, The Tree Of Forgiveness, is his first album of original material in 13 years. A ragged old soldier of song, the native of Chicago’s suburbs has survived not one but two bouts of cancer in the last 20 years. Sadly, his most recent battle with lung cancer in 2013 has left his singing voice greatly diminished resulting in Prine sounding like a shell of his former self throughout The Tree Of Forgiveness. Much of Prine’s latest dalliance covers old familiar ground populated by the usual oddball characters and range of topics that have come to be closely associated with his work over the years. Only his third album of original material in 26 years, die hard fans hungry for new material will no doubt eagerly lap up every last drop. First time listeners however would be better served focusing their attention where Prine’s lasting legacy ultimately lies, at the peak of his powers from 1971 through to the early years of the new century; prime Prine.

Rating: 6.5/10

Star Rating: 3/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 16/52

 

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

JACK-WHITE-Boarding-House-Reach

It’s been 4 years since former White Stripe Jack White released, from a purely structural point of view, possibly the coolest record of all time. The limited edition three-speed “Ultra” LP version of his 2014 Lazaretto album not only played backwards from the inside out into the first ever outside-edge locked groove it also proudly displayed a full-on 3 dimensional spinning angel hologram hovering atop of Side A as well as two hidden bonus tracks pressed underneath both paper center labels playable on 45 and 78 rpm respectively. How on earth does one top that?

As the driving force behind his beloved Third Man Records, the perpetually youthful 42-year-old White appears to be spending a great deal of his time these days plotting to take over the world one record at a time. More than just a record label, White’s Third Man location at 623 7th Avenue South in Nashville, Tennessee acts not only as the label’s corporate headquarters but also as a fully stocked record store, performance venue, screening room, photo studio, darkroom, storage facility, label warehouse, recording studio and record pressing plant. In addition to being home to The Blue Room, perhaps the only venue in the world able to record live shows direct-to-acetate while simultaneously producing vinyl masters in real time, Third Man’s Nashville location also boasts the fully functioning 1947 Voice-O-Graph vinyl recording booth made famous by Neil Young’s 2014 album A Letter Home which was recorded entirely at Third Man using nothing more than the refurbished antique recording machine.

White has been busy in the three years since announcing a prolonged break from live performance, collaborating with everyone from Beyoncé to The Muppets. In 2015 he oversaw the release of his band’s third Dead Weather album Dodge & Burn. The following year White released an exhaustive 85-minute-long double album of collected acoustic music works recorded between 1998 and 2016 appropriately titled Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016. White also found time to contribute to and appear in the award winning documentary film American Epic concerning America’s first ever electrical sound recording system dating back to 1925.

A true Renaissance man, much has been said of the formula White employed to create his latest opus Boarding House Reach. As the title may suggest, White reportedly holed himself up in a tiny unassuming Nashville apartment to write the album. In lieu of any instruments to aid in composition, White, using nothing more than a reel-to-reel tape recorder he has had since he was 14, simply recorded his running thoughts and ideas to construct the 13 tracks that appear on Boarding House Reach. Regarding the process, White told The New Yorker in March 2017 his goal was “to try to write songs where I can’t be heard by the next-door neighbor. I want to write like Michael Jackson would write – instead of writing parts on the instruments or humming melodies, you think of them. To do everything in my head and to do it in silence and use only one room.”

Perhaps it was this very writing technique which fostered much of the spoken word and sermon like vocal stylings present on White’s latest. Recorded throughout 2017 in Nashville, New York City and Los Angeles, Boarding House Reach was realized with the help of no less than 24 session musicians including Sean Lennon’s Ghost Of A Sabre Tooth Tiger (GOASTT) compadre Charlotte Kemp Muhl who expertly handled much of the electric bass on the album. As eclectic and unusual as one would expect Boarding House Reach fits right into White’s ever growing canon of swampy rag ass roots rock. Far reaching and explorative, White’s latest continues to challenge and aspire.

Rating: 8/10

Star Rating: 4/5

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 15/52

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Tearing At The Seams

nat

Soon to be 40-year-old Nathaniel Rateliff had been hanging at the precipice of a struggling music career since his early 20s. The Denver, Colorado based blue eyed soul singer released four albums in six years under various guises with little to no success before finding the winning combination in 2013 when he put together the Night Sweats with long time collaborating multi-instrumentalist Joseph Pope III. In addition to Pope (bass) and Rateliff (guitar & vocals) this soulful 8-piece revolves around the talents of Mark Shusterman (keyboards) Patrick Meese (drums) and Luke Mossman (guitar) as well as a joyously punchy horn section provided by Jeff Dazey (saxophones) Scott Frock (trumpet) and Andy Wild (saxophones). Building on the success of their Platinum selling 2015 self-titled debut album Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats these modern era Stax Records recording artists return to the fray firing on all cylinders with their relentlessly boisterous and powerfully uplifting Richard Swift produced sophomore album Tearing At The Seams. From the very first note of the searing Last Waltz era Band sounding opening track “Shoe Boot” to the final strains of its concluding title track this positively infectious record grabs hold of the listener and never lets go. An instant classic, even more triumphant than its predecessor.

Rating: 8/10

Star Rating: 4/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 14/52

The Sword – Used Future

The-Sword-Used-Future-800x800

Austin, Texas quartet The Sword (not to be confused with their 1980s heavy metal counterpart The Sword from Quebec, Canada) have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous tags and labels in the 15 years since their inception in 2003. For better or worse certain heavy metal enthusiasts insist on pinning their sound down with a vast array of qualifiers ranging everywhere from classic metal to retro metal, heritage metal, stoner metal, doom metal and so on. No doubt The Sword owe a huge debt to early metal trailblazers Deep Purple and Ozzy era Black Sabbath, however, through the course of six albums in just over a decade their music has evolved far beyond the narrow confines of any fixed definition. Witness their latest album Used Future which has more than just a mere whiff of arty ‘70s prog rock highlighted by John D. Cronise’s Greg Lake styled vocals throughout (particularly King Crimson era Lake “21st Century Schizoid Man” as well as early Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Lucky Man”). Used Future is a well-executed perfectly melodic hard rock record crafted by none other than famed Grammy nominated record producer Tucker Martine. Listed by Paste Magazine in 2010 as one of the 10 Best Producers of the Decade, Martine (who has worked with everyone from Karl Blau to My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens, Richard Buckner, R.E.M., Bill Frisell, Death Cab For Cutie, Abigail Washburn and Neko Case to name a few) recorded Used Future at his own studio Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, Oregon. Complete with prelude, intermezzo and reprise (not to mention a Nocturne surprisingly reminiscent of Gowan’s mid ‘80s mega hit “A Criminal Mind”) Used Future is as far reaching and sophisticated as one would think with its 13 tracks and 43 minutes of slickly produced guitar driven arty progcore. Furthermore, so as not to be outdone by their corporate contemporaries in KISS, The Sword would want you to know that if Used Future is not to your liking they will be more than happy to acquaint you to either one of their TWO brands of beer for sale (Winter Wolves Beer & Iron Swan Ale), their very own brand of hot sauce (Tears Of Fire) OR their specially branded BMX model bike The Stormwatch. And who can blame them? With no one very much interested in paying for music these days, musicians gotta pay the rent somehow. Long live Merch ‘n’ Roll!

Rating: 7.3/10

Star Rating: 3/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 13/52

Stone Temple Pilots – Stone Temple Pilots

stp

Sharing a title with its 2010 predecessor, the most recent of back-to-back eponymously titled Stone Temple Pilots records is as much a spirited new beginning as its predecessor was a final definitive end. The reenergized DeLeo brothers (guitarist Dean DeLeo and bassist Robert DeLeo) triumphantly return along with drummer Eric Kretz and newly acquired lead singer Jeff Gutt with a powerfully compelling re-boot for a band on their third frontman in five years. Putting the tragic and untimely deaths of original lead singer Scott Weiland and his subsequent replacement Chester Bennington of Linkin Park behind them (neither were active members at the time of their deaths, Weiland had been fired and Bennington had quit) Stone Temple Pilots have bravely soldiered on in the face of adversity. Often eclipsed by the sheer flamboyance and perpetual controversy surrounding Weiland during his tenure with the group, the three remaining original band members step out of the shadows and shine here, particularly Dean DeLeo, proving himself to be one of the finest most intuitive lead guitarists of his generation. With the benefit of 30 years’ experience at the core of STP behind them this power trio proves once and for all their adept musicianship and skill as songwriters has been at the heart of what’s been great about Stone Temple Pilots all along. Only their 7th album in 26 years, the most recent Stone Temple Pilots record manages to succeed where The Doors (another power trio of note with a similarly troublesome lead singer) failed, to successfully produce an album of worth and integrity in the shadow of absence cast by a legendary lost presence forever attached to their legacy. An unprecedented success!

Rating: 8/10

Star Rating: 3/5

 

2018 Song Of The Day Club Album Review 12/52