Rock of Ages

As Neil Young said, “Rock and roll will never die.” 

Here we are, 66 years later, and he may just be right (well, if you don’t count Mozart and the Old Masters who chalk up hits centuries later, like Herb Alpert’s A Fifth of Beethoven). Maybe because they’re cool, maybe it was just Covid isolation, but a number of “classic” rockers have put out new albums, some of which are rather good, no matter what style of music you like. Not bad for a group of people of whom the youngest is 71. I’ve never been a huge fan of Neil Young’s solo work – he’s twangy, he’s whiney, he’s slow and drawling despite unspeakable talent, but his new album Young Shakespeare got me. Sure, the songs are old classics, but the acoustic guitar on this live album is absolutely exquisite. Even if you don’t particularly care for him, give this a listen just for the guitar music. I listened to the album three times in a row. And he’s not even in my top 50 musicians.

Alice Cooper is another rocker I never got into. His first album was in 1969; I was 4, and it would be many years before I caught on to rock. Now he’s back with Detroit Stories, his 21st solo album.  Some of the album is classic metal work, while some of it is bluesy. I found Our Love Will Change the World to be delightfully commercial, and Wonderful World to be both seductive and ironic. Hanging on By a Thread is a direct acknowledgement that not everyone was able to deal with quarantine isolation, and not to give up. The album feels uneven because of the variety of styles presented, but age is no factor here and Cooper’s still got it. There’s a song here for everyone.

Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1, is interesting because of its strangeness, in the way listening to Ironhorse play bluegrass Led Zeppelin is strange – good, but strange. Barry Gibb, the only surviving Gibb brother, sings many of their classic disco-era hits with top country singers, in a pleasant country-pop manner – such as Dolly Parton singing Words, and Alison Krauss singing Too Much Heaven. The effect is some nice easy-listening music, not too country and certainly not disco, with the benefit of the lyrics being suddenly understandable. Even if you don’t like country, this is something that should be easy for you to like. 

Paul McCartney released McCartney II in 1980. Now, 40 years later, he releases McCartney III. For someone with hits in five different decades (yeah, Elvis did that, but he was dead for two of them), it’s not likely he’s going to fail with this one. My favorite is Kiss of Venus, but check out the amazing blues guitar work on Long Tailed Winter Bird. This is classic McCartney unleashed, rock, blues, jazz, Beatles, and orchestration, sometimes all at once. Seize the Day sounds like classic late-60’s Beatles. He’s 79 years old and still plucking away like a master. You might not like all the tracks, but the album is worthy.

Badfinger: No Matter What: Revisiting the Hits is probably the weakest of this group. You might not immediately remember the name, but you’ve certainly heard their music, even if it was only the Brady Bunch doing a cover of Day After Day on their first album. One of the problems is most of the band is dead. Like Greenfields, having a different singer do a cover of one of Badfinger’s past hits isn’t a problem, but more like Alice Cooper, it’s the strange mix of styles that kind of sinks the album. Some sound deliberately tinny, 60’s British mono throwbacks. Some sound ethereal and Pink Floyd-ish. Some, because you know the song so well, just don’t sound right, as happens when – well, when someone remakes a favorite song in a very different style. Sometimes it’s done very right, such as The Art of McCartney (If you doubt Cooper’s talent, check out his Eleanor Rigby). This time, the greatness just doesn’t come together.

Peter Frampton hits his 50th year as a solo artist this year (he’s been in bands since the age of 12). His newest release is an instrumental cover album entitled Frampton Forgets the Words, an easy way to release old material. Imagine you’re at a massive outdoor concert – a rock festival somewhere, and you’re walking around the grassy fields picking your way through people, and there’s some really awesome band on stage playing a 50-minute instrumental improv and it’s just a groovy background soundtrack to your life. That’s exactly what this album is. Nothing sticks out, it’s just the perfect background music for your life, somewhat familiar and comforting without you really knowing why. 

If you know the artists, give these a try. If you don’t know the artists, give them a try anyway. You might just find you missed something good.

Versions and Duplicates (and Elvis)

I have a playlist on my iTunes called Versions and Duplicates. Here I stick all the various versions of songs I like by different artists – whether it’s Sons of Anarchy, Rod Stewart, or Bob Dylan singing Forever Young, or the Sons of Anarchy version of Bohemian Rhapsody vs. Queen, or six different versions of Hallelujah (I still like Leonard Cohen’s best from the soundtrack for Watchmen, followed by perhaps the Canadian Tenors, and a couple of on-line ones). I love Alice Cooper’s version of Eleanor Rigby almost as much as the original, so this file is actually kind of large.

Years ago, I’d read in the Book of Lists that Yesterday by the Beatles was the most-sung song ever, with more than a thousand people recording their version of it. Forty years later, it still holds the record, with more than 4,000 recordings. I only have two on my playlist.

So when a disk came through my hands – Train Does Led Zeppelin II, I had to listen to it. I liked Drops of Jupiter, their biggest hit, and I liked Led Zeppelin. I love, love, love Iron Horse’s bluegrass version of Zep, Whole Lotta Bluegrass: A Vocal Bluegrass Tribute to Led Zeppelin (it really works, and you can understand the lyrics), and the Rock a Bye Baby lullaby series’ version, played on marimba of all things, is strangely beautiful and calming.

Although the first track, Whole Lotta Love, is perhaps the best of the album, it blew me away. Outside of a word or two, and perhaps the depth of a couple of riffs, Train nails the music dead on. It’s hard to tell it’s not Zep or Robert Plant himself. Truly, if you’re a fan, this is an album you should listen to.  Most of the criticisms of the album revolve around “Why did we need this album?” “Who is Train to think they can play Zeppelin?” I say, “Why not?” and “Who cares?” These are proficient musicians; if they want to play Zep, then let them play it.  Those critics have never heard me pick out Stairway to Heaven on the piano, the only two-handed piece I know.  And here’s why those critics don’t matter:

On the internet (stupid move) I wound up poking into a bee’s nest of Led Zeppelin tribute albums in a mind-boggling array of styles. If you don’t like rock music, if you don’t like screechy lyrics, that is absolutely no reason to skip Led Zeppelin. The music triumphs over the style, and the true genius appears.

Is banjo your favorite instrument? Check out Iron Horse’s album.

Just like bluegrass?  Try Pickin’ on Led Zeppelin, by the Pickin’ On series. A lot of harmonica mixed with banjo and fiddle. Yes, Led Zeppelin on the harmonica.

Prefer Metal? Dead Zeppelin: A Metal Tribute, by Dead Zeppelin. The Immigrant Song sounds like someone left the crypt open and all the demons are headbanging.

Classical tastes?  Chamber Maid: The Baroque Tribute to Led Zeppelin. Imagine you were invited to visit Louis XVI, and a quartet was playing in the corner, and you realized you knew that tune. Like that. Light and flutey, and always beautiful.

Prefer classical guitar? Richard DeVinck plays classical nylon strings on his album Going to California. Too plinky for me, but remember, Stairway to Heaven is a guitar song anyway, so it sounds lovely.

Celtic roots? High step to A Celtic Tribute to Led Zeppelin. The rhythm’s a bit faster, but it’s catchy!

Too laid back for rock? Prefer the reggae beat? Try Dread Zeppelin: Dejah Voodoo: Greatest and Latest Hits. This isn’t just a band that travels around singing Zep songs in reggae style, but with a lead singer who’s an Elvis impersonator.  Definitely a more funky beat, but the style, to me, was lacking, and sounded way too much like a guest star in a pretend cabaret on The Love Boat. I warned you.

Prefer to chill? Try Dub Tribute to Led Zeppelin, full of ethereal dub beats that will put you into a trance to familiar (or maybe not quite so familiar in this style) music.

And all that diversity doesn’t begin to touch on the number of top musicians paying tribute by cranking out serious Zeppelin tunes.  Troll elsewhere, critics.

Now, Zeppelin’s not the only band that attracts cover artists. I wouldn’t begin to count the number of Beatles covers, or Rolling Stones. Rock a Bye Baby covers everything from AC/DC to ZZ Top. Iron Horse does an amazing array of artists in bluegrass style, including Modest Mouse and Metallica. So dare to be different. Try a familiar song done in a new way, or by a new artist. You may just find a new favorite.

Man-Oh-Manilow

Not everyone can keep a career going for fifty years. Desk workers get bored, factory workers get sold out, artists get stuck in a groove and lose inspiration (et tu, Thomas Kincade?) Musicians are not immune, either – anyone remember a recent hit song by Rupert Holmes, B.J. Thomas, or Debby Boone?

Thought so.

Some talents, however, can’t be squashed. Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, and Tom Petty are just a few of the extremely talented musicians who are still pumping out music in various new forms, rock, classical, jazz, or folk, after more than fifty years.

So is Barry Manilow.

Barry Manilow first hit the charts forty-four years ago. An easy two generations. And with his latest album This is My Town: Songs of New York, Manilow shows he’s still at the top of his game.

Sure. Manilow isn’t for everyone. Say his name and images of white disco suits, sunshiny bright smiles, and Dr. Pepper come to mind (Manilow wrote or sang the hottest 70’s jingles for Dr. Pepper, McDonald’s, Band Aids, and more). Say you’re a Manilow fan and people smile politely and take a step sideways. But whether you like him or not, he’s a musical powerhouse.

In This is My Town, Manilow gives tribute to New York City. Maybe it’s refinement, maybe it’s age – he’s now 74, but his voice has gained a maturity, a deeper tenor that says he’s in command and making a hit is easier than crossing a New York City street. The album is short – just ten songs – and contains a variety of styles.  The first track, This is My Town, is breathtaking, a huge, glorious, Broadway-esque song that begs to be turned into an entire musical. Unfortunately, putting your best first means the rest of the album tends to fade.

Not that the tracks are bad; they just aren’t my style. Manilow drops into several tracks of smooth jazz, more in line with a Las Vegas lounge act than a hot New York club scene. While Manilow is no Petula Clark, his mashup of “Downtown/Uptown” is quite likeable. My only issue with the closing track of “NYC Medley” is that he starts with a cut of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”; I wish he’d sung the entire song. He does end with a vibrant rendition of “New York, New York,” which is both fitting and energizing, reminding  you exactly why he is so popular.

Listen to it, even just for the first track. Barry, team up with a good playwright, and get that song made into a musical. It needs it. If you like smooth jazz, Broadway, cheerful music that is easy on the ear, New York City, or even just Barry Manilow, this is an album you won’t want to miss.

Which brings up the question – can Manilow write a song that isn’t upbeat? Sure, Could it Be Magic is in a minor key, and Mandy isn’t exactly a cheerleading tune (replace Tony Basil’s Mickey with Mandy?), but it’s not a throw-yourself-in-the-grave tearjerker like Goldsboro’s Honey or Clapton’s Tears in Heaven (written on the death of his five year old son). Chase Holfelder’s a musician who takes upbeat songs (like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, or Disney’s Kiss the Girl), works them in a minor key, and turns them into haunting pop tracks. Maybe Manilow should be the next thing he tackles.

Quick Read: Mozart: A Life

Mozart: A Life by Paul Johnson is a short and simple biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is only five chapters long! However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that it doesn’t provide a decent account of his life and music. It describes Mozart in a way that is easy to understand by all. The author also gives the reader new insights into information about his life, and a good understanding both of what his music is about and just how prolific a writer he was. I would have preferred it if this book had been longer and more detailed, but it works well with its simple approach.

Did you know that Mozart wrote over 600 pieces of music in his lifetime? This is especially impressive since he only lived for 35 years.

Did you know that Mozart had a brief a relationship with his wife’s sister?

Did you know that Mozart was literally kicked in the rear by one of his employers when he was fired?

Genre: Biography

Setting: Different parts of Europe from 1756-1791

Is this good for a book club? Yes, if the book club is interested in biographies, music, or just a quick read.

Objectionable content? Yes, but it is not detailed. Religion, sex, violence, incest, and death are referenced, but nothing is explicitly described.

Can children read this? Yes, if they have interest in Mozart and a good vocabulary regarding history and music. Teenagers would be the most likely to be interested.

Who would like this? Anyone who is interested in Mozart and his music. It is also good for people who like quick and interesting reads.

Number of pages: 164

Rating: Four stars

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Road to El Dorado

The Road to El Dorado is a wonderful movie for the entire family. It is about two Spanish con men, named Tulio and Miguel, who, after gambling for a map, getting captured and escaping from Cortés himself, and taking his horse Altivo along, find themselves somewhere in South America. They follow the map to find the legendary city of gold. Upon arriving, they meet a wonderful cast of characters, they are worshiped as gods, Tulio forms a relationship with a woman named Chel, and they get caught up in the sinister plans of a man named Tzekel-Kan. All the while, Cortés is drawing closer…

This movie is one of my personal childhood favorites. It is a musical comedy that is perfect for children and adults. The plot is well-paced. At no point does one feel as if things have slowed down too much, which is especially good for children. The songs are memorable, the jokes are consistently funny, and the portrayal of Indigenous people is done very well.

Did you know that the people of El Dorado are meant to represent many different cultures of South America? Each aspect of the society (i.e. the buildings) is taken from a different civilization of South America.

Setting: Spain and the continent of South America in 1519.

What is this movie rated? PG

What is the run time? One hour and twenty-nine minutes.

Is there any objectionable content? There is cartoon violence in this movie, allusions to violence that is unseen, two on-screen deaths (one is a human and the other is a seagull), and two short scenes that show blood. Chel is a bit scantily clad, and there is a suggestive scene between her and Tulio. Tzekel-Kan has some scary scenes when he uses dark magic and when he is trying to sacrifice someone. This character also presents dark views of religion. Also, there are several adult jokes that are aimed at parents. However, as mentioned above, the portrayal of the people of El Dorado is not done disrespectfully.

Is this movie appropriate for children of all ages? Younger children may be scared or upset at a few scenes, but they should be fine otherwise. They will probably miss the adult jokes.

What themes are found in the movie? Themes of friendship, romance, good vs. evil, making mistakes, and adventure are found throughout this movie.

Who would like this? This movie is good for most families who like music, adventure, and comedic family fun.

Rating? Five stars.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save