Here are selected music reviews taken from Goldmine’s January 2019 issue: from Lindsey Buckingham’s Solo Anthology to Doyle Bramhall II’s Shades album. (Note: Links on each cover image will connect you to where you can buy each release.)
STAX ’68: A MEMPHIS STORY
(5-CD Box Set)
Rating: 5 Stars
1968 was an incendiary year in Memphis, Tennessee. Growing racial inequalities led to strikes, riots and deaths, culminating in the murder of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1967 at the Lorraine Motel (now a civil rights museum).
It was a troubled year for Stax Records, too. The previous year had ended with the shocking death of Stax’s rising star, Otis Redding, along with members of The Bar-Kays in a plane crash on December 10. When Atlantic Records, who distributed Stax, was sold to Warner Bros., Stax’s owners learned they’d overlooked a clause in their contract that meant Atlantic owned everything Stax had released since 1960— leaving Stax forced to rebuild their catalog from the ground up again. And the city’s racial tensions had an impact on the integrated staff as well. After Dr. King’s murder, Stax founder Jim Stewart said, “Although we tried to bond together and continued to work together, from that point on it changed considerably. It wasn’t that happy feeling of creating together.”
But Stax carried on nonetheless. And this box set looks at the remarkable music the label put out during that heady year; classics like “I Thank You” (Sam & Dave), “Soul Limbo” (Booker T. & the MG’s), “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” (Eddie Floyd), and, of course Otis Redding’s signature song, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding), which became one of the biggest records of the year.
But Stax ’68 is much more than a greatest hits compilation; you get the A- and B-side of every single the company released that year, a total of 134 songs. It’s an intoxicating collection. There are commemorative songs: William Bell’s “A Tribute to a King” (about Redding), and Shirley Walton’s “Send Peace and Harmony Home” (which she was recording the night Dr. King was killed). Lesser known slices of soul like Linda Lyndell’s “What a Man,” and “Give ’Em Love” by the Soul Children. Unexpected covers, like the Eddie Henderson Quintet’s jazzy take on “Georgy Girl.” Isaac Hayes getting his career started with his second single, “Precious Precious.” And the Popcorn Generation’s “Kitchy Kitchy Koo,” the kind of light pop fluff you’d never expect to hear on a label like Stax.
Special mention should be give to the book included in the set, which features an essay by Steve Greenberg telling the Stax story, and an essay by Andria Lisle and Robert Gordon about the city’s political upheavals; the book’s also nicely illustrated with rare photographs.
It’s a first rate package documenting an extraordinary year for Stax Records—and for America.
—Gillian G. Gaar
Solo Anthology: The Best of Lindsey Buckingham
Rhino (3-CD Deluxe Edition)
Regardless of whose side one takes in the ongoing, all-too-public battle between Lindsey Buckingham and his former Fleetwood Mac bandmates, there is no denying that the vocalist/guitarist is responsible for shaping the sound of the hitmaking, super-successful music machine that was the Mac from the mid-‘70s on. What is not as well-known to the public-at-large is the visionary tunefulness that is Buckingham’s solo career, which has been artistically fruitful as it has been commercially hit and miss.
Most of Buckingham’s finest solo moments (along with two previously unreleased cuts) have been collected on Solo Anthology, which spreads 53 tracks over three CDs and provides a solid overview of the artist as mad pop genius, finger-picking guitar whiz, and master of the studio. (There is also a 6-LP vinyl box available, as well as a 21-track single disc edition, although the latter does not include the two new tracks.)
While disc three contains 13 fiery live performances culled from three Buckingham live records and showcases plenty of Buckingham’s awe-inspiring guitar (on his solo material as well as Fleetwood Mac staples such as “Big Love,” “Go Your Own Way” and “Never Going Back Again”), the real gold is in the 40 tracks that comprise the first two discs. Disc one contains Buckingham’s lone Top 10 hit, 1981’s “Trouble”; oddly, it’s the lone song here from Law and Order, Buckingham’s highest charting solo effort. The synth-heavy “Go Insane,” Buckingham’s only other Top 40 single, also makes an appearance on disc one, alongside such gems as “Rock Away Blind,” the boppy “Holiday Road,” (Buckingham’s signature tune from the film National Lampoon’s Vacation), the gorgeously elegiac “Treason,” and a handful of marvelous numbers from Buckingham’s woefully underrated 1992 masterpiece, Out of the Cradle.
Disc two is highlighted by the two new tracks (the catchy, brief “Hunger” and the mellow “Ride This Road”), the forcefully poppy “Love Runs Deeper” (one of Buckingham’s hardest rocking solo numbers), three more from Out of the Cradle (the hopeful “You Do or You Don’t” and “Turn it On” are damn near perfect examples of Buckingham’s inimitable songcraft), and a hushed, gorgeous cover of Jagger/Richards’ “I Am Waiting” (from 2006’s Under the Skin). The seven-minute “D.W. Suite” (written as a tribute to the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and included on 1984’s Go Insane) is an appropriately Brian Wilson-styled medley that plays up Buckingham’s experimental side while still remaining unfailingly melodic. It’s one of the many tracks that’ll lead the listener back to Solo Anthology time and time again.
— John M. Borack
Yep Roc Records (CD, LP)
In response to an outreach from The New Yorker about why longtime Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau dropped Alejandro Escovedo by phone, the first and only artist outside of the E street realm that he has signed, Landau said: “We tried everything we knew how to do. It remains an injustice that such a great guy and great talent has not become more widely known and appreciated for the superb artist we know him to be.” This is a weak retort from a guy who hasn’t had to do much marketing to make his own lean roster shine. In the right hands of someone who actually knows how to market musicians, Escovedo would enjoy the renown that Landau describes. Given the hot press Alejandro has received for his most recent release The Crossing that moment may have just arrived—organically.
After years of knocking out some amazing records and supporting them with band tours that blister and dreamlike one man engagements, Escovedo met the Landau news with the same tough immigrant spirit that sits at the center of this new masterpiece. Like the characters in this musical epoch, Escovedo and his family’s journey are marked with tough moments that unfortunately define a part of the collective American experience. His take is in turn authentic, personal and moving.
The Crossing is a big broad undertaking with 17 tracks. The story, a telling of two men—one from Mexico, one from Italy—and their trials and tribulations entering the U.S., is told through a variety of musical expressions from the late-night eeriness and tart guitars of “Footsteps In The Shadows”, to the punk-driven raucousness of “Outlaw For You” and “Sonica USA”. They are knitted together by Mexican instrumentals like “Amor Puro” and Tom Waits meets Los Lobos spoken word tracks like “Rio Navidad”. The entire record unfolds more like a movie than a rock ‘n’ roll offering with cinematic earmarks and imagery. It closes with the title track, a song that Escovedo sings with an exasperation and exhaustion that reflects the personal burden that this immigration experience carries. It will leave you at times wondering if the record is about that, the path of his career, or both.
Maybe what is most admirable about Alejandro Escovedo is his inextinguishable inner fire. While he has not publicly referenced the management shift as an influence to this creative output it is instead just one more demonstration of survival, a focus on the larger prize—one that defines how American immigrants have always moved through conflict. In that sense The Crossing is another inspirational effort from an extraordinary artist—one that mixes important messaging with music that moves the listener. That’s something that Jon Landau should be able to work with. It’s great to see that others have.
— Ray Chelstowski
THE ATLANTIC SINGLES COLLECTION 1967-1970
Rhino Records (2-CD, 2-LP)
With early 1967’s smoldering “I Never Loved A Man,” Aretha Franklin proved herself the queen of soul, bringing pop music the raw passion of the black church music that had nurtured, consoled and inspired her amid her woes both at home and in a Jim Crow world. The road to stardom had been long: 10 albums and many singles that had rarely unleashed her power. Only one single (a cover of Al Jolson’s “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” on Columbia) had cracked pop’s Top 40. Finally, she signed with Atlantic, where producer Jerry Wexler turned her loose as a vocalist, reaping quick success. Nine of the 34 tracks here went gold, though only one (the pop-flavored “Don’t Play That Song”) came after 1968.
Yes, Aretha Louise Franklin (1942-2018) was the queen, but at the same time she was everywoman as she asked for a little respect on an Otis Redding cover whose roaring revamping (thanks to her sister Carolyn) gave the song dimensions Redding hadn’t envisioned.
With her piano leading her rhythm section, she was a master of improvisation. The Heaven-bound shout of ecstasy closing her stunning restyling of bluesman Howlin’ Wolf’s “Going Down Slow” (originally merely the B-side for “Baby I Love You”) came straight from her minister father’s church music. She fashioned Civil Rights Movement slogans (“I’m free at last!”…“Freedom!”) into brief chants within her songs. From country hit “Gentle On My Mind,” the phrase “free to walk” took on new implications in an era of political marches.
Her singles often combined a shouter with a ballad. The box’s notes say that in general she brought in the black covers (Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” Don Covay’s “See Saw”), while Wexler proposed white covers. The testifying preacher’s daughter worked wonders redoing Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” Duane Allman’s wire-sharp slide guitar opened her take on The Band’s “The Weight” and now begins this package’s second CD as well. As time went on, Arif Mardin shared the producer’s seat, softening her roar and moving the arrangements toward pop/soft jazz.
Yes, she was regal in her sepia majesty, but she showed her emotional vulnerability. When she revised the first line of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” to be “I’m Eleanor Rigby,” how many listeners identified all the more with the ballad? The queen was in fact a natural woman simply seeking R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
— Bruce Sylvester
Doyle Bramhall II
When Doyle Bramhall II (DB2) released Rich Man in 2016 it caught a lot of us off guard. It had been 15 years since his last solo release and the time between records found him in supporting roles, performing as one of the most sought after guitarists in the business. These gigs often established defining moments for the bands he joined. His solo work with Roger Waters, especially on “Comfortably Numb,” was so transcendental that it now enjoys a mythic place and proportion on YouTube.
His style of play is entirely unique, playing the guitar left-handed and strung upside down. The tone DB2 creates and the technical fluency of his execution is even more striking. Rich Man quickly became a critics’ darling and I caught his tour in support of the record on its first stop—my hometown of Fairfield, CT. There in the backdrop of my youth DB2 proved without exception that he is that “something special.” He embodies the kind of rarity that has made him the ultimate guitarist’s guitarist.
Fresh on the heels of all that, DB2 releases the extraordinary new album Shades. Here he establishes what can only be described as a neo-soul, ’70s urban R&B—inspired expression of what the blues can be if properly reimagined. The songs employ the use of melodies that are equipped with wide, welcome funnels. These are surrounded by arrangements that showcase the musicianship of one of the best backing bands around. Here he is joined by Chris Bruce, Adam Minkoff, and drummers Carla Azar and Abe Rounds; with them DB2 moves through music that in one moment ladders to Lenny Kravitz (“Love and Pain”), and in the next ties loosely back to Curtis Mayfield and “Across 110th Street.” The cadence isn’t choppy, awkward or forced. Everything flows forward effortlessly. He even finds room for some Cream-inspired psychedelia (“Live Forever”). It all works.
However it’s on the collaborations with Eric Clapton, Norah Jones and The Tedeschi Trucks Band where the music really stands apart, where things really shine. With Clapton, DB2 not only delivers a new modern soul gem in “Everything You Need.” They trade off with guitar solos that blister above the melody without softening any of the song’s inherent fire. Moreover, the exchange here demonstrates why they have worked together for so long. Their sounds complement each other in the most compelling of ways.
With Norah Jones he presents the slow ballad “Searching For Love.” It sways about until the end when it opens up wide and becomes a jazz-driven musical showcase. The vocal pairing is remarkable in that both Jones and DB2 operate within the same kind of range and framework. This hopefully is the beginning of a much longer, fruitful collaboration.
The showstopper though is the album closer, “Going Going Gone”. This Bob Dylan cover from his 1974 Planet Waves record is almost DB2’s “Purple Rain” moment. The original enjoyed a firm footing with The Band there to back Dylan. Here, Tedeschi Trucks does the honors and each element of that great band has something to contribute. Whether it’s the distant wails of Susan Tedeschi, the slide work of Derek Trucks, the horns or the back-up singing, TTB (like The Band) brings an atmosphere to the song that wraps everything together tight but also allows the song to remain firmly in DB2’s hands. It just soars.
With Shades, DB2 seems to have found a musical lane that he can own, that is entirely his. It’s as if all of his solo work and the contributions made to others have culminated into this single expression. Doyle Bramhall II is on a roll and it’s exciting to imagine what might come next.
— Ray Chelstowski
EARmusic (CD, LP)
Joe Jackson has enjoyed a very unique musical career. Few artists have been given the kind of freedom that Joe has had to explore creative influences and frankly there-in-the-moment whims. Both his labels and his fans have loyally followed him as he has journeyed down what can be considered a fairly eclectic path. This has found him operating within the realms of jazz, punk, pop, jump and classical —often all at once. Sometimes it has worked—others, not so much. It has simply been a long time since any of this output has been as commercially and critically received as his standout work from the ’80s. That however may soon change.
As the New Year arrives, so will a new record by Jackson—maybe his best since 1982’s Night and Day. Fool is a quintessential Joe Jackson record. Almost all of the genres he has dabbled in can be found here. Punching in with only 8 tracks and just over 40 minutes of running time, the record is a very tight presentation, one of his most concise offerings. It has a very determined and thought through approach in both the topics it tackles and through the sound boundaries it sets.
Fool is the 20th studio album of Jackson’s career and was cut at Tonic Room Studios directly after he wrapped up his 2018 summer tour at The Egyptian Theater in Boise, Idaho. The energy and cohesiveness that he felt on the road with his band was something Jackson wanted to quickly bring to the music he had set aside for the studio. “The road to this album is littered with the wrecks of songs and half-songs that didn’t make the grade. There are eight survivors, which I think is enough. How significant the resurgence of vinyl is, I’m not sure, but I did think of this as an album, with two complementary sides of about 20 minutes each…” said Jackson.
The record flows with ease and enjoys an overall sonic brightness that is quickly contagious. Album opener “Big Black Cloud” is a very big, broad song. It’s firm and exceptionally open, vast and anchored to the Joe Jackson signature power pop chord progression. Like much of his best known work, the track relies heavily on both keys and percussion, making it another song that will translate wonderfully to the jazz trio lineup he tends to toss around quite a bit on the road.
The first single, “Fabulously Absolute” is a guitar-driven rocker that is fresh, full of drive and a kind of energy that’s found more in the work of frustrated teens than aging boomers. It’s very authentic and fun. That said, it was an odd choice for a single as it stands alone on the record and doesn’t properly represent what else is to be found here. Instead songs like “Dave” and “Friend Better” deliver that kind of bright upbeat crisp sound that his best known songs embody. They have a soul influence that, in the case of “Friend Better,” becomes even more hypnotic through the heavy slaps of a very prominent tambourine. Simply put, nothing is wasted on this record or appears by accident.
There are the requisite ballads and familiar nods to lush late ’60s jazz- pop like the album closer “Alchemy.” They round out the record and provide a proper amount of pacing. They may even add a bit of sparkle. All in, Fool is a pretty terrific offering and will anchor what in 2019 will be a tour that celebrates Jackson’s 40 years as a recording artist. The shows will draw from five albums, each that represents a specific decade: Look Sharp (1979), Night and Day (1982), Laughter and Lust (1991), Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). This new record in turn comes at a perfect time as it can and will sit proudly alongside these world class albums from the Jackson canon, and at times might just shine a bit brighter. Nothing “foolish” about that at all.
— Ray Chelstowski
100% Records (CD, LP)
Following on from their outstanding 2017 album Street Rituals, Stone Foundation have come up with another winner. The band, led by founders Neil Sheasby (bass) and Neil Jones (vocals and guitar), have crafted a soulful and socially conscious gem of an album that makes the most of the guest artists appearing on it. This is Stone Foundation’s fifth album. It was recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Surrey, England and was produced by Jones and Sheasby with engineering by Charles Rees. Horns and strings enhance the album’s sound.
The first track, the funky and soulful “Sweet Forgiveness,” is about wanting to fix the ills of society through kindness. Among the song’s lyrics are “Nobody can do everything / but everybody can do something.” Jones and vocalist Kathryn Williams share the vocal on “Don’t Walk Away,” trading off on the vocal at first and then singing together. It’s an effective pairing. “Carry The News” is something of a Style Council reunion as that band’s Paul Weller, Mick Talbot and Steve White appear on the track. The song starts out mellow with Jones on vocals. Weller joins in on vocals later in the song. It picks up pace considerably toward the end and features a terrific performance by White on drums. The somewhat funky “Only You Can” features a guest turn by Hamish Stuart from the Average White Band, who adds some nice guitar work to the track. Another socially conscious track, it includes the lyric “Only you can see the warnings / Know they happen every day.” The Blow Monkeys and Dr. Robert also contributed to the album.
Other highlights of the album include: the bass-heavy and soulful “Standing On The Top”; the funky “Give The Man A Hand”; the mellow “Next Time Around”; and the funky and soulful “Please Be Upstanding.”
— John Curley
Hatch Records (CD)
This, the third album by the Watford, England-based quartet, is their best and most diverse yet. The band (lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Billy Sullivan, bassist Sam Long, drummer Matt Johnson, and keyboardist George Moorhouse) have drawn on their wide range of musical influences to create a socially-conscious piece of work that is at times introspective and necessarily in-your-face in others. The brass accompaniment on several of the tracks adds a good bit of color and punch to the mix.
The albums kicks off with the powerful “Remains The Same,” which deals with the degradation of working-class culture and trying to fight back against the system. The lyrics include the refrain, “The times may change / but the bulls—t remains the same.” The strident rocker “Frontline” continues the social commentary with lyrics like “The cracks in our system are starting to show.” And the band’s influences show with the bouncy, Madness-like track “Over And Over Again.” The slower dub cut “Something Worth Fighting For” is a bit of a departure for The Spitfires and is somewhat reminiscent of The Clash’s attempts at reggae.
One of the highlights of the album is the wonderful, piano-led ballad “By My Side” that Sullivan sings with guest vocalist Emily Capell. Their voices complement each other quite nicely.
The need for social change rears its head again and again. “Sick Of Hanging Around” is about trying to escape from your hometown to move on to bigger and better things. A lyric in the rocker “The New Age” claims “The better days are all but gone.” And the reggae-style “Dreamland” states “Some set out to divide us / some set out to abuse” and proclaims “I’m not optimistic / I can’t help how I feel.”
But it’s not about giving into hopelessness. Rather, it’s a musical call to arms, that those listening will relate to Sullivan’s lyrics and the power of the music and will build on that to push back against the forces that are oppressing them. It’s a standout piece of work, quite reminiscent of the best British New Wave and Mod albums of the late 1970s.
— John Curley