Category Archives: blog

Mikes Faves of 2019

So I’m a day late with my list. It’s been that kind of year. We’ve been a bit absent from the blogosphere but make no mistake, I’ve been listening and these are some of the albums that made up my 2019 soundtrack.

10. Revivalists.  “Oh No” actually a 2018 album but this song was released in 2019. Just a great tune which only gets better live.

9. Strumbellas “ Running Scared”  this band had a minor hit with “ Spirits” which was one heavy rotation in the OConnor house a couple years ago. This album by this Canadian group has a nice strummy good vibe feel.

 

8. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real “Turn off the News and Build a Garden”

Every year I manage to find an album that becomes my sittin’ on the beach album. This one by Willie Nelson’s son was it for this year. It checks all the boxes for me and the theme definitely resonates with me these days

7. Frank Turner “No Man’s Land” Frank went in a different direction with this one. An album dedicated solely to under appreciated musical or historical women that he wrote and performed with a female producer and an all female band. He paired the album with a series of podcasts highlighting the subject of each song. Worth a listen. This song got played at 11 in my car.

6 Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall’

Ive not really been able to totally appreciate this band but this album just clicked for me.

5. Black Keys “Lets Rock” After being away for a while on side projects, these guys came back with a simple mission. The album title says it all.

4. little Steven and the Disciples of Soul “Summer of Sorcery “ Steve has come back the last couple of years to bring us a master class in music. This latest album does it again with rock , R and B with a touch of soul.

3. The Menzingers. Quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. Love the hooks, love the music .

 

2. Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars” I wasn’t sure what to expect when this album was coming out. I was actually afraid this might be the first Bruce album that I might not like that much. Boy was I wrong. This album from a 70 year old man spoke to me. It’s not trying to be music for kids. It’s mature, thoughtful and really spoke to me. It was my driving with the dog on a Sunday morning or sitting on the deck on Friday night album all summer long.

1. Dave Hause “Kick” A couple of years ago, the song “We Could be Kings” got my attention, and then Dave Hause (rhymes with paws) opened for Frank Turner and ever since, I’ve been hooked. This album has one great song after another. Definitely influenced by 1980s rock with a touch of punk. Absolutely got the most play of any album I listened to this year.

 

 

 

Paul’s Favorites of 2019

So here we are again at the end of another year.  While I have not been very active in the blogosphere this year, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening to music and taking notes!  So, just under the wire, here are my favorites of 2019.

10. Vampire Weekend – This Life

The type of song that can  make you feel like the suns shining and the bird are singing, even if you’re in the middle of a cold foggy rainstorm.

 

9.  Nilufer Yanya – In Your Head

Heard this song on a new music playlist and it grabbed me from the first riff.  Can’t really tell what’s going on in her head, but the song kicks ass.

 

8. Bruce Springsteen – Stones

It took me a while to warm up to Bruce’s latest release, Western Stars, as it was so different from what I would have expected.  But its filled with gorgeous melodies and grand arrangements, and as we have come to expect from Bruce, brilliant characters.  This was one of my favorites from it.

 

7. Amanda Palmer – The Ride

A perfect song for a Sunday morning – a tour de force performance that tells you everything you need to know about this ride called life.  Favorite lyric:

Everyone’s trying to stay on the side where the water’s just boiling more slowly
Frogs in a pot, well that’s one thing I’ve got
At least some of the frogs in here know me

 

6. Better Oblivion Community Center – Dylan Thomas

This out of the blue paring between Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers is the perfect example of a collaboration that you hope isn’t just a one off.

 

5. Leonard Cohen – Happens to the Heart

I didn’t get into Leonard Cohen til towards the end of his life.  After his death, went back and listened to his catalog and wished I had paid more attention earlier.  This posthumous release is one last gift from this master songwriter.

 

4. The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me

I raved about this song back in Feburary, and the feeling never faded.  A great song from a great album which hits one of my wheelhouses – guitar power pop with a female singer.  And for some reason, the Southern Hemisphere (in this case New Zealand) seems to have more than its fair share.

 

3. Martha – Love Keeps Kicking

One of my favorite guitar riffs of the year from England’s punk pop masters Martha.  And the video is a hoot to boot!

 

2. Alex Lahey – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

You know what I said a bit earlier about guitar pop, female singer, and the Southern Hemisphere?  Exhibit B from Australia.  I could put this song on an extended replay loop and not get tired of it.

 

1. Little Steven – Superfly Terraplane

It was a great year for one of my favorite artists.  Springsteen’s extended break from E St. Bnd projects has allowed many of the band members the opportunity to pursue their own projects, and Little Steven has taken full advantage.  Releasing his first album of all new material in decades, he also toured extensively with the Disciples of Soul and continued to kill it live – definitely one of my concert highlights this year.

If I was king of the universe, this song would be a massive #1 hit worldwide.  Alas, I’m not but its still my song of the year.

 

Wishing everyone worldwide a Happy New Year!  Looking forward to more great music discovery in 2020!

Merry Christmas!!

I discovered this Dylan cover last year and decided it would be my new Christmas Eve blog tradition. Things have been very busy personally this past fall and so the blog has been on somewhat of a hiatus but we are hoping to change that in the new year.

I just just love this video with the party going on and Dylan popping up in a white wig and hat (what’s that about?) or Santa hat, ending up with Santa on the porch.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy holidays to everyone!

Greeting from Germany!

Paul is vacationing in Germany! Yesterday we spent the day in Cologne – a really beautiful city, including the stunning cathedral. And yes we climbed the 500 step spiral staircase to the top!

When we were leaving this group of young people set up in the public square in front of the cathedral in the rain to busk. As you can see from video this wasn’t just one or two on guitar or horn but a group of 10 – full horn section with percussion. I have no idea who they were or what they were playing but I thought it was pretty cool to hear.

Credence Clearwater Revival Green River turns 50

Great article on NPR Music on Green River and also what made CCR such a phenomenal band reposted below.

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Green River’ At 50: Our Essential Guide To Early CCR

The original lineup of Creedence Clearwater Revival, at London’s Heathrow Airport. L-R: Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, John Fogerty.

Michael Putland/Getty Images

 

The official history of rock and roll in the late 1960s is usually written festival-to-festival, Fillmore lineup to Fillmore lineup. Here are the reputation-making gigs, here are the moments when youngsters became rising stars.

But there’s an alternate history, and it involves those same bands as they were presented to America on television variety shows. By 1968, rock was well established as a cultural force; even hosts antagonistic to the music were regularly showcasing it. The best-known and most coveted platform was The Ed Sullivan Show, which, after introducing The Beatles to the U.S. in 1964, became an essential stop on the promotional train to mainstream success. But there were other, less-watched shows also booking bands — the Carson Dalys of their day — which were regarded by artists and managers as necessary stepping stones.

Which explains how Creedence Clearwater Revival wound up on crooner Andy Williams’ NBC show in the summer of 1969.

The performance, taped shortly before Woodstock, opens with a troupe of smiling young people in marching band uniforms, holding tambourines and trumpets while cheerfully high-stepping around the small set, singing. The refrain: “In this world of troubled times, we all want survival / One solution seems to be… Creedence Clearwater Revival.”

YouTube

 

A fog rolls in — and there’s John Fogerty, in a fringed brown-suede vest, clawing the opening guitar line to “Green River.”

YouTube

 

Fogerty and the band lean into the tune, doing their best to evoke the idyllic mysteries of a place where bullfrogs call and kids play on rope swings. But the quartet is, oddly, still surrounded by the marching troupe – human props, frozen in place and lit in silhouette, trumpets aimed skyward. The only time Fogerty shows emotion is around 1:50, when there’s an unwanted surge of feedback, prompting a live reverb rejiggering. He shakes his head, smiles in that “whatever” way and then gamely plunges back into the song.

It’s not surprising that TV producers didn’t get Creedence Clearwater Revival. During its rapid ascent in 1969, even those inside rock culture didn’t really know what to make of the band. Here was a group from San Francisco that was pointedly not interested in, or aligned with, the city’s most intriguing (and best-known) export, psychedelic rock. A band that was not into drugs, that positioned itself as counter to the counterculture. A band that mythologized the American South with an exotic mixture of blues, New Orleans R&B and rockabilly, despite being a product of California. A band that had a sound built for FM radio, but songs that adhered to the tight verse/chorus requirements of AM.

The commercial rise of Creedence seems torrid, almost paranormal, in hindsight — by the end of 1969, Creedence had three top-10 albums on the Billboard 200, and four top-five singles on the Billboard Hot 100. But that pales in comparison to its artistic evolution: During an incredibly prolific 18-month stretch — approximately from the recording of Bayou Country around October 1968 to the recording of Cosmo’s Factory around May 1970 — the band developed a distinct and instantly recognizable sonic signature. It applied that soundprint to direct, tuneful, incandescent songs that enchanted pretty much everybody – hippies and new suburbanites, Vietnam protesters and war veterans.

And though those songs have been canonized as individual works, arguably the band’s most striking accomplishment is the way its music registers now – as a set of brilliant, interconnected flashes, elements in a mythology. We smile when any of Creedence’s songs leap from the radio, maybe at the beach — because they’re great songs, and also, possibly, because the sound puts us in close proximity to the mystical realm Fogerty and crew conjured like a magic trick, over and over again.

The Sound

What became the Creedence “sound” began in a junior high school in El Cerrito, California. Fogerty, drummer Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, who started on piano and switched to bass later, ran in the same circles, eventually becoming friends based on the music they liked, playing assemblies and dances as high school students. They discovered Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together. They learned the basics of theory together. They each grew separately on their instruments – John Fogerty was obsessive about capturing riffs and phrasing tricks from Berry and Howlin’ Wolf records note for note – but learned the delicate art of being in a band by being in a band together.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River was a landmark release for the band, but just one of three albums the group put out in 1969 alone.

Courtesy of the artist

 

It seems obvious to say it, but: When musicians play frequently together, cohesion develops. And trust. First in the Blue Velvets and then the Golliwogs, the members of Creedence learned how to take chances as a unit, and how to recover, together, when things went off course. They survived turbulent gigs and developed the intuitive sense that all great bands share. Fogerty recalled the early dynamic this way, in Hank Bordowitz’ history of CCR, Bad Moon Rising: “We were just all on the same wavelength, really.”

That’s audible, from the very beginning. Drop in on “Suzie Q” or anything from the self-titled debut album and what first captivates is the groove: How relaxed it is, how much space there is within it, how the recurring guitar phrase stings in slightly different ways as the song unfolds. These players are not merely copying the Dale Hawkins version — using its outline as a general guide, they go off into a rhythmic pocket that is thicker and nastier, and also more streamlined. Heavy and light at the same time, it slithers and slinks in ways that get people moving before they’re even aware they’re dancing. Where other rockers chased the showboating blaze of electric blues, this band preferred a subversive emphasis on rhythmic basics, trusting that the elemental, nothing-fancy pulse would create a kind of hypnotic intensity.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty in the studio in 1969.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 

And if for some reason that didn’t work, the heat shimmers and surreal waves of tremolo coming from John Fogerty’s guitar would probably take care of it. Fogerty and his rhythm guitarist brother, Tom, found ways to gently underscore a song’s vibe without adding more information. Like so many of the bluesmen they idolized, Creedence used tense single notes and hovering chordal drones, along with echoey reverb and other textures, to establish atmospheres that elude capture on the sheet music. The sounds are elaborate, sometimes epic. But they caught them on the cheap: Each of the first three records were made for less than $2,000.

The Songs

(Don’t see the playlists? Click through to listen on Spotify or on Apple Music.)

Fogerty seized on the atmospheric vibe of those first singles and used it to guide his songwriting – it became the DNA of CCR. “We stepped into the next dimension with ‘Suzie Q,’ ” he recalled to Michael Goldberg in a 1997 article. “It was obviously another place from where we had been for ten years.”

Hear The Essential Songs

 

What followed was an unusual creative blossoming. Fogerty wrote image-rich songs in bunches – the three (!) albums released in 1969 contain not only the band’s most enduring single, “Proud Mary,” but “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Fortunate Son” and “Down on the Corner.”

All of these, and the lesser-known album cuts besides, are streamlined and plainspoken, miles from the marathon guitar meanderings of acid-rock. Fogerty prized concision as a writer and as a guitarist — even when his band did “go long,” as on the 11-minute cover of “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” his solos begin with melodically memorable declarations, not torrents of shredding. Similarly, his compositions focus on crisp verses and big takeaway refrains. This forthright style sometimes contrasts powerfully with the arty cutting-edge, contemporaneous writing of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others, who were opening up the architecture of pop through unusual chord progressions, torrents of lyrics, elaborate instrumental interludes and other, sometimes radical, alterations.

Fogerty stuck to bare-bones, barrel-strength basics, appropriating familiar templates from American folk and blues – the 12-bar blues form, the gospel jubilee, the one-chord drones, the Bo Diddley beat. He outfitted them with melodies that seemed almost eternal (see the hymnlike “Long As I Can See the Light”), or as joyous as children’s playground rhymes (“Down on the Corner”).

These types of songs can be tricky to write. Their cadences pretty much demand simple, honest lyrics; fancy metaphors and flowery images don’t really work. A student of the declarative style of Hank Williams, Fogerty mirrored the discipline of his music with terse lyrics. His characters talked the way people talk, and he placed them in situations that were usually relatable: In “Lodi,” a woeful tale of bad luck on the road, he pauses his story just long enough to acknowledge its universality, with the line, “I guess you know the tune.”

Crucially, Creedence avoided love songs — on purpose. Fogerty once explained that decision this way: “I heard love songs that didn’t really have much meaning. By the time I was 18, I made a conscious effort to steer away from that kind of songwriting.” He wrote instead about income inequality and entitlement (“Fortunate Son”), bad omens rising out of the swamp at night (“Born on the Bayou”), misfortune (“Lodi”), the relief of returning home from a tour (“Lookin’ Out My Back Door”), nostalgia for the giddy joy of early rock (“Up Around the Bend”), the frantic pace of modern life (the surprisingly prophetic “Commotion”). There are a few relationship songs on the records, however; one of the most memorable, on Green River, is “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” in which he marvels at how a songwriter can communicate profound ideas to the world while struggling to have an ordinary conversation with his partner.

Legacy

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival – a word-salad name inspired by a friend of Tom’s named Credence and a line from a beer ad, combined with the band’s ersatz mission statement – has its share of typical classic-rock plot points. There have been multiple lawsuits, including one where Fogerty was accused of plagiarizing himself. The band members have squabbled for decades, acrimony that spilled over into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 1993. They’ve also been lionized by successive generations of artists who drew inspiration from the band – including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Kings of Leon.

At least some key historical details are getting long overdue clarity. Creedence was one of the headliners at Woodstock ’69, but it declined to appear in Michael Wadleigh’s myth-making concert film, and a only a few audio tracks from the performance have been released. The circumstances of the show are partly to blame: The band had been scheduled to go on at 10 p.m., but the Grateful Dead’s set went hours long, and as a result Creedence began after midnight on Sunday, August 17, after many festivalgoers had returned to their tents.

The members of Creedence Clearwater Revival during a street performance and photo shoot in Oakland, Calif. for the band’s Willy and the Poor Boys album, also released in 1969.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

 

Fogerty has maintained, over the years, that those conditions affected the band’s performance. At the time, he said no to the filmmakers who wanted to use “Bad Moon Rising” because, as he recently told Billboard, “I just didn’t feel it was our best work.” His position on the release of audio from the Woodstock performance has shifted, he explained to Billboard: “Maybe around the late ’80s I began to think that, historically, it is what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s well done or not well done, it became more a fact of history.” As a result, today (August 2) Concord is releasing the complete Creedence performance from Woodstock. It joins expanded anniversary editions of Bayou Country, Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys that each contain spirited live versions of some tracks.

Listening to those 1969 releases in chronological order, you can’t escape this band’s uncanny, warp-speed development – it’s one of the most dramatic evolutionary bursts in the history of popular music. The individual songs are plenty impressive, even the ones that have been burned into memory through overexposure. But it’s the totality of the output – and its interrelated and multi-dimensional sound-world – that emerges as a freakishly rare achievement.

Lots of acts managed a long string of hits. Very few were able to thread that string into a coherent and sustained evocation the way Creedence Clearwater Revival did. The songs offered scenes of placid rural life far from the purview of most pop – peering into shadowy swamps and bayous populated with all manner of creatures, characters with deep flaws and big hearts. Fogerty told Musician magazine’s Paul Zollo in 1997 that his breakthrough in that regard came late at night, during a period when he was struggling with insomnia.

“I was probably delirious from lack of sleep. I remember that I thought it would be cool if these songs cross-referenced each other. Once I was doing that, I realized that I was kind of working on a mythical place.”

Out of that place came a series of deceptively simple songs that stand alongside the works of Mark Twain and William Faulkner – musical-literary inventions that conjure the idyllic waters and mists and wildness of a remote America, and in the process, reveal clues about the whole country’s soul.

 

https://www.npr.org/2019/08/02/744929605/creedence-clearwater-revivals-green-river-at-50-our-essential-guide-to-early-ccr

 

 

Sweet Child O’ Mine as performed by a Double Bass Orchestra

Some of you know that my teenage son plays the double bass.  Every summer for the past few years he has attended a week long music camp in Baltimore called BassWorks – all bass players, just bass players.  One of the highlights of the week is the final concert where the entire orchestra of 82 bassists plays a classical number and a “pop” number.

I was excited when I heard they were going to be doing Guns N’ Roses, and it doesn’t disappoint.  See what you think!

Song of the Day Sunday Morning 7/21/19 David Bowie – Space Oddity (Mercury Demo)

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing yesterday, here’s a demo version of Bowie doing Space Oddity with John “Hutch” Hutchinson that appears on the Mercury Demos (released this past June) and I believe was also on the Sound + Vision box set.  Fascinating to hear this classic song in such an early form and to put yourself in the shoes of the people listening to the demo – must have blown them away.  Also funny to hear Bowie say some of these songs might be single material –  ah, I think so!