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.

On Our Shelves: New Music for March

Music comes in more flavors than Bernie Bott’s Beans. No matter what your taste or style, there’s always something new being released – even from musicians long-deceased.  Here are a few recent releases on our shelves:

Life, Love, & Hope  by Boston

    Boston’s been around forever, it seems – their first eponymous album debuted in 1976 and reached number 3 on the album charts, and subsequent albums only climbed higher.  With the untimely death of lead singer Brian Delp in 2007, Boston underwent some changes, and to be honest, hearing them live in concert, they didn’t seem to have it anymore.  However, with the release of Life, Love, & Hope, their sixth album, Boston seems to have recovered: not quite the same, but with enough of the old magic to bring back the spark that gave them their identity. The same driving beats, the same luscious harmonies, but a little lighter, a little crisper, a little fresher to attract a new generation.  For a band that’s been around almost 40 years, that’s a difficult – and truly wonderful – thing to do. If you want something new or are longing for some updated nostalgia, this is a great album to try.

High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen

        High Hopes bills itself as a rare, unreleased tracks album, which it may indeed be, but we’ve heard some of these before.  It’s wonderful to hear a non-live version of 41 Shots, but the album doesn’t add any real surprises. There’s not a bad track on it, but nothing particularly stands out. If you love Springsteen (and there’s a lot to love), then this album will give you exactly that – more. Not better, not bad, just more quality music, a long encore to a fabulous concert from a musician who’s as strong as ever.

The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches

   They pronounce it “churches,” but I pronounce the V anyway.  A synth-pop band from Scotland, Chvrches is a group that bridges a number of different music styles.  Like light modern popular radio music?  This is a great album.  Like a techno electronic sound with actual understandable lyrics to go with it? This is a great album.  Miss some of the 80’s pop from bands like Human League or The Fixx, or the sweet sounds of Sixpence None the Richer?  Then you will love this album.  Light, joyful, and not overpowering, there’s a wide variety of song styles to keep you entertained.  It’s been  a long time since I found a new popular band that has caught my attention this much, and I hope to hear more from them in the future. Give them a try!

Croz by David Crosby

Like Springsteen’s High Hopes, if you like Crosby, Stills, & Nash, you will probably enjoy David Crosby’s new album. Harking back to the band’s late-60’s melodies, this is more of the style you remember, an open, wandering melody with a touch of Eastern feel that could almost be filed under Jazz. Nothing jumps out and grabs you, it’s just a solid continuation of the old-style catalog.

 

 

Music Review: Scratch My Back/ And I’ll Scratch Yours by Peter Gabriel

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Are you more loyal to a particular song, or to the artist who sings it? Does one artist “own” a song, is it destroyed when someone else sings it? Or can a different interpretation make it better – maybe worse – or just ‘different.’

                That’s the question put forth by Peter Gabriel’s pair of albums, Scratch My Back (which was originally released in 2010) and And I’ll Scratch Yours, the just-released companion. In the first release, Gabriel sings the songs of other artists, putting an often-times melancholy spin on popular songs. In the second release, other artists sing songs Gabriel made popular.

                I must say, while I have several collections of a single song done by many artists (I have at least five different major artists singing the Mama’s & the Papa’s California Dreaming, and I love all of them), I’m of the artist-loyal group. Sometimes an artist can really rock a song (can you really say who sings Proud Mary better – Tina Turner or Creedence Clearwater?), other times they destroy it so painfully you want to cry (Willie Nelson, I love you, but please, for the love of Arlo, don’t – just don’t – sing City of New Orleans ever again). Yet, on the two albums combined, there was only one song I did not care for.

                Do not expect this to be an album you will get up and dance to, unless it’s a slow, hypnotic pas de deux. Gabriel’s songs are backed up by full orchestration, with chirping violins beautiful in tone, making the album slide back and forth between the sounds of symphonic Pink Floyd and soft Dire Straits a la Brothers in Arms. The songs are slow, aching, haunting, jazzy, and gorgeous, as if Gabriel had stopped by, started playing around with your piano, and tapped out some random torch songs from the top of his head, and you caught them on tape. No shocking monkeys here. While I still prefer Springsteen, Philadelphia would seem to have been written for this album, this style, and this singer.

                In the second half, And You Scratch Mine, the songs are a bit more upbeat, but still in that somewhat aching, torch-lounge style, while each artist still twists the songs to fit themselves. Arcade Fire’s Games Without Frontiers remains strong, if not particularly inventive. Randy Newman leaves his mark on Big Time, so much that it’s hard to believe he didn’t write it. Paul Simon cannot be anything but mellifluous on Biko. The only song I did not care for was Lou Reed singing Solsbury Hill. I’m all for twisting things up, but it’s a light, sweet bouncy melody; Reed seems to unroll the song, pound it flat, and leave it wounded in the gutter. I tried twice, but could not finish listening to the end of it. If you really like Reed’s style, you may love it, but to me it was a bad fit.

                This was planned and released as a concept album pair; it is a type of experiment, and in all experiments, some things will hit the mark and some won’t. Is it the song that propels a singer to fame, or does a singer pull a particular song into the history books? Would we love Stairway to Heaven as much if it were sung by Britney Spears? Would we even remember Love Me Tender if it were sung by anyone but Elvis? What would The Scream look like if it had been painted by Rembrandt? That’s the question to ponder as you explore this fascinating piece of musical concept art.

On Our Shelves: New Romance

heartHere’s a selection of Romance paperbacks added to our collection this month.

The House On Main Street by Shirlee McCoyInterior designer Tessa McKenzie has built a good lifefar from her Washington hometown. She intends to get back to it – as soon as she sells the cluttered Victorian house and antiques shop she inherited from her sister, Emily. But leaving Apple Valley a second time won’t be so easy. There’s her grieving nephew, Alex, to consider. And there’s Sheriff Cade Cunningham, the adolescent crush who could easily break her heart again if she let him.

Barefoot By The Seaby Roxanne St. Claire – Tessa Galloway is a gifted nurturer-her verdant garden at Barefoot Bay’s new resort is living proof. If only the woman who can grow anything could grow what she wants most: a baby. Her friends think the right guy will come along, but Tessa doesn’t want to wait. All she needs is the perfect donor to make her dream come true. Then John Brown is hired at the resort. If anyone could make beautiful babies, it’s this gorgeous, mysterious man. So why does Tessa suddenly find herself wanting so much more?

If You Were Mineby Andre Bella – The last thing Zach Sullivan wants is to take care of his brother’s new puppy for two weeks. That is, until he meets the dog trainer. Heather is bright, beautiful…and she just might be the only woman on earth who wants nothing to do with him.

Heather Linsey can’t believe she agreed to train Zach’s new pup, especially since his focus seems to be more on winning her heart than training his dog. Having sworn off love, she has vowed never to fall for a charming man. But Heather’s determination to push Zach away only fuels his determination to get closer—and the sensual and emotional connection between them grows more undeniable.

Wild Child by Molly O’Keefe – Monica Appleby is a woman with a reputation. Once she was America’s teenage “Wild Child,” with her own reality TV show. Now she’s a successful author coming home to Bishop, Arkansas, to pen the juicy follow-up to her tell-all autobiography. Problem is, the hottest man in town wants her gone.

Take Me Home For Christmas by Brenda Novak – Everyone in Whiskey Creek remembers Sophia DeBussi as the town’s Mean Girl. Especially Ted Dixon, whose love she once scorned.

But Sophia has paid the price for her youthful transgressions. The man she did marry was rich and powerful but abusive. So when he goes missing, she secretly hopes he’ll never come back—until she learns that he died running from an FBI probe of his investment firm. Not only has he left Sophia penniless, he’s left her to face all the townspeople he cheated.…

Sophia is reduced to looking for any kind of work to pay the bills and support her daughter. With no other options, she becomes housekeeper for none other than Ted, now a successful suspense writer. He can’t bring himself to turn his back on her, not at Christmas, but he refuses to get emotionally involved.

Will the season of love and forgiveness give them both another chance at happiness?

On Our Shelves: New Children’s Fiction

Looking for some newly released fiction to peruse? Here are some of the newest additions to our children’s fiction collection that just might catch your fancy.

Zero tolerance by Claudia Mills
Seventh-grade honor student Sierra Shepard faces expulsion after accidentally bringing a paring knife to school, violating the school’s zero-tolerance policy.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn, ancient Sugar Man, and his raccoon-brother Swamp Scouts Bingo and J’miah try to save Bayou Tourterelle from feral pigs Clydine and Buzzie, greedy Sunny Boy Beaucoup, and world-class alligator wrestler and would-be land developer Jaeger Stitch.

Mister Max: the Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
When Max’s parents leave the country without him, he must rely on his wits to get by, and before long he is running his own–rather unusual–business.

The Truth of Me: About a Boy, His Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
Robbie and his dog, Ellie, spend the summer at his grandmother Maddy’s house, where Robbie learns many things about his emotionally distant parents and himself.

Salt: a Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
Twelve-year-olds Anikwa, of the Miami village of Kekionga, and James, of the trading post outside Fort Wayne, find their friendship threatened by the rising fear and tension brought by the War of 1812.

Still want more? Well here are a few more to help fill your library bag; Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ghoulfriends Just Want to Have Fun by Gitty Daneshvari, My Homework Ate My Homework by Patrick Jennings, Gone Fishing: a Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissingerl, The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos, and Write This Book: a Do-it-Yourself Mystery by Pseudonymous Bosch.