Kris Kristofferson

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

JOHNNY CASH – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010 American Recordings)

Seven years after Johnny Cash passed, Rick Rubin released American VI: Ain’t No Grave. It is billed as the “final Johnny Cash studio album”. Listening to it is simply an awesome experience. It’s one of the finest of Johnny’s American Recordings.  I think my favourite is American IV: The Man Comes Around, but American VI is a contender.

Beginning with the dark, powerful “Ain’t No Grave”, Johnny is defiant. He does not fear death. “Ain’t No Grave” has more accompaniment than most of the tracks on this album, which are adorned only by the odd piano keys, steel guitar, or rhythm. Johnny’s voice is weak, yet that baritone is still so defiantly powerful. Even in illness, Johnny refused to stop making music, his aching voice a shadow of what it once was. Yet even that aching voice stirs powerful emotions through the music. Only Johnny could sing these songs the way he did.

Mortality is a common theme.  Other highlights for this listener included:

  • “Redemption Day”, a track written by Sheryl Crow and an upbeat number.
  • Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times”, lush with acoustic guitars.
  • “I Corinthians 15:55”, Johnny’s sole writing credit, taken from the Bible. Truly an inspiration. Johnny’s faith kept him going in those last days.
  • “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, a song about a dream of world peace. Maybe Johnny was also imagining the place he thought he’d be after death took him.
  • “Aloha Oe”, an upbeat Hawiian melody, ending the album with the haunting words, “Someday, we’ll meet again”.

I know Rick Rubin lovingly produced these final six Johnny Cash albums, befriending the man and earning his trust. Knowing that, I trust that Rubin finished these songs the way that Johnny would have wanted them to sound.  Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers are among the musicians involved.

IMG_00000581I do love what Rubin did with the packaging. A picture of Johnny as a boy on the front, a ghostly Johnny gazing through a window on the back, no song list on the cover. Inside is a booklet with a copy of Johnny’s handwritten lyrics to “I Corinthians 15:55”, a really cool touch. No liner notes. Rubin lets the music speak for itself.

All of the American recordings (which also included the fine box set Cash Unearthed, and 1998’s live VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson) will go down in history as some of the most important country recordings of our lifetimes. Personally I cannot think of another artist in any genre who was so prolific in his or her last days. The fact that these final recordings are so diverse, so strong, and so powerful are a testament to the Man in Black.

5/5 stars. Rest in peace Johnny.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Crazy Heart (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

CRAZY HEART  Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2010 NewWest)

Produced by T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton

I grew up on this kind of music. I remember long drives to the cottage, singing away to the hits by Hank Jr., Hank Sr., Johnny, Willie, and Waylon…all those great artists. So to hear Jeff Bridges perform his character Bad Blake’s songs on this soundtrack is already in the ballpark of music I love. The great thing about this soundtrack is that it’s loaded with awesome original tunage such as “Fallin’ & Flying'” and “The Weary Kind”, but it also has great oldies by Townes, Buck and Waylon. There’s even a classic Lightnin’ Hopkins blues.

CRAZY HEART_0004Buck Owens’ “Hello Trouble” (1964) is lyrically as apt as ever.  Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” (1972) is laden with emotion within an inventive dual-track lead vocal.  But it’s “Once A Gambler” by Hopkins that I am spellbound by.  It’s shocking how vibrant this old recording is, and it’s gotta be 50 years old.  Much like the singer’s name, the playing, singing and song itself are electrifying.  You couldn’t record this better today with all the computers in the world.

Meanwhile, Jeff’s performance on “Somebody Else” is more rock n’ roll; this is an original tune by T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton. It has a live sound to it.   Bridges’ lead vocal edges into nasal territory, but the dude was 61 years old at the time.  Another new tune, “I Don’t Know” by Ryan Bingham is firmly in 80’s Steve Earle territory, and that’s fine by me.

The main song from the soundtrack is “Fallin’ & Flying”, which appears twice:  Once sung by Jeff, and once as a duet with his co-star Colin Ferrell.  A couple years back, I sent Aaron a CD with the Jeff/Colin version of “Fallin’ & Flyin'” on it.  His comment:

I saw Crazy Heart and I thought they did a fairly credible job, but I very rarely like it when Hollywood types do these types of films. Leave the singing to the singers (I’m looking at you, Gwenyth Paltrow!). Still, this Bridges/Ferrell track is roadhouse-worthy.

Sure, in some cases I would agree with that. Nobody needed Eddie Murphy to make an album for example.  In the case of “Fallin’ & Flyin'”, I really like this track.  It was written to suit Jeff’s leathery but expressive singing voice.  Jeff Bridges is no slouch; I’m sure Kris Kristofferson taught him a few tricks when they jammed behind the scenes during Heaven’s Gate.   Jeff’s slant on “I Don’t Know” is more country than Bingham’s and features piano and squeezebox.  I believe I am well on record for being a fan of the Dude in the first place.

There’s only one tune I didn’t like, which is “Reflecting Light” by Sam Phillips (2004).  Sorry Sam.  It’s not you; it’s me.

My only regret is picking up the single disc version before I knew there was a double disc with even more tunes. At some point in the future I’ll trade up. I got this used, at Encore Records, so not a huge expense (I paid $10) and I can always trade up.

4/5 stars

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 2

Missed part 1? Click here.

Here’s part 2 of 3 – 30 albums essential to Meat’s being, that should be essential to yours, too!  So, without anymore preamble, I’ll leave you with Uncle Meat, as he discusses 10 more albums, in alphabetical order by title, that you need to visit (or re-visit).

 

HIGH TENSION WIRES  –  STEVE MORSE (1989)

Simply put, Steve Morse is my favorite musician of all time.  I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Morse a total of 6 times when you combine The Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple and The Steve Morse Band.  Unlike the releases of some of his contemporaries, High Tension Wires is not your typical shredder album.  Oh it shreds alright, but Steve Morse is much more than a trickster.  There are beautiful compositions, unforgettable solos and some just plain ol’ rocking too.  Included is the link to a live version of a track perfectly named “Tumeni Notes”.  For more examples of the greatness of Steve Morse, introduce some Dixie Dregs into your collection.  You can thank me later.

 

HOT HOUSE  –  BRUCE HORNSBY (1995)

When Bruce Hornsby said goodbye to The Range, he immediately said hello with Harbor Lights, a heavily jazz-infused turn that completely changed the music world’s perception of him.  Hot House sees Hornsby taking that one step further.  The album’s cover speaks a thousand words.  It is a painting of an imagined band session between Bluegrass legend Bill Munroe and Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Nuff’ said there.  This recording contains many musical giants including Pat Metheny, Jerry Garcia, Bela Fleck and Chaka Khan.   Hot House is very addictive.  I know most of the words off by heart on this record.  Hopefully someday you will too.

JEFF BECK GROUP  –  JEFF BECK GROUP (1972)

This album definitely falls under the underappreciated category.  Sometimes known as  The Orange Album, Beck’s playing has never been better on this collection of original compositions and covers.  I would call this more of a Soul album than anything.  The incredible vocals of Bobby Tench seem to highlight this record at times, as you will see on the live performance of “Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You” I have included for this entry.   Also worth noting, this album is one of the first recordings of the late Cozy Powell’s career.  The guitar work alone on “Definitely, Maybe” is enough reason itself to seek this record out.  Perhaps a rock n’ roll legend’s best work.

JOHN PRINE  –  JOHN PRINE (1971)

I actually discovered the music of John Prine while working at the same record store chain that Mr. Ladano speaks of in this blog.  There is no one quite like John Prine.  Some artists write great songs.  Some artists write great lyrics.  Only a select few truly do both this well.  There is no doubt that John Prine’s self-titled album contains some of the best lyrics ever written.  “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.  Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose?”  That is just brilliant shit.  “You may see me tonight with an Illegal Smile.  It don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while”.  I have said this many times and I am still saying it now.  John Prine is THE best lyric writer …. Ever.  Fuck Bob Dylan.  Yeah, I said it.

 

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON  –  KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (1970)

For the sake of alphabetical order by album, this Kristofferson follows the John Prine album on this list.  Really it should be the other way around.  While I stand by my earlier praise of Prine lyrics, I would certainly listen to the argument that there wouldn’t be a John Prine without Kris Kristofferson.  The songs on this album show a huge diversity and a sense of patience that just makes him so cool.  “Best Of All Possible Worlds” is just insanely-good storytelling and “Me and Bobby McGee” became a mega-smash for Janis Joplin.  Of all the great concerts I have seen, watching Kris Kristofferson and a guitar for two hours in 2006 will always be one of the best concerts I will ever see.  The true greats just need to show up.

LEGALIZE IT  –  PETER TOSH (1976)

After being a key member of Bob Marley & The Wailers for years, Peter Tosh embarked on a solo career.   On his first solo release, Legalize It, I personally believe Tosh recorded the greatest Reggae album of all time.  Fuck Bob Marley.  Yeah, I said it. (Wait why am I so hostile? Ha.)  Remember that one of Marley’s biggest hits “Get Up Stand Up” was co-written with Peter Tosh.  I love this album from beginning to end, and the album’s cover remains a visual anthem for Marijuana activists everywhere.  Sadly, Peter Tosh was taken from us when he was shot in the head during a home robbery.  Rastafarian music at its finest.

LITTLE EARTHQUAKES  –  TORI AMOS (1992)

There is only one way to put it.  During the spring of 1994 I became a literal disciple of Tori Amos.  By the end of 1996 I had seen her live 7 times.  Several of them in 2nd or 3rd row center seats, since this was back when you could actually wait all night for tickets and be rewarded for it.  This album spoke to me in a way no other album has, or really could.  Frustration with women, with Christianity and with life, I didn’t want to hear about hope in the horizon.  I obviously needed to experience the frustration of someone who understood.  I still have a red-head obsession because of Tori.  This is in my ten favorite albums of all time and always will be.  Little Earthquakes is full of intense and pretty compositions. The humor of “Happy Phantom” contrasts the pain of “Me and a Gun”.  And the included track here is “Precious Things”, which sees Tori Amos exposing herself as the angry and sexual piano player she truly is. Myra Ellen Amos is quite simply a beast.

 

MELISSA  –  MERCYFUL FATE (1983)

Mercyful Fate’s first two albums are among the best Metal albums of all time.  When you realize that this album came out a full year before Kill ‘Em All did you can start to see just how important this band truly were.  Mercyful Fate are the High Priestesses of underappreciation.  Yes King Diamond looks kinda ridiculous. And yes their lyrics are nothing short of evil incarnate.  Lines such as “Drinking the blood of a new born child” and “I’ll be the first to watch your funeral, and I’ll be the last to leave” sometimes are  so over the top that I guess it is understandable how an album this good could be ignored.  If Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden had a baby, and that baby grew up listening to nothing but Black Sabbath, the end result would have to look and sound something like Mercyful Fate.  It’s no coincidence that the best thing Metallica has recorded since …And Justice For All is their medley-cover simply-titled “Mercyful Fate”.  One of the greatest Metal albums of all time hands down.  Click on the YouTube link and hear the start of “Curse of the Pharaohs”.  If you don’t immediately recognize “2 Minutes to Midnight” you are lying to yourself.

 

NEVER, NEVERLAND  –  ANNIHILATOR (1990)

After Annihilator’s first album, Alice in Hell, it was time for a new lead singer.  Out was the awful singing of the ridiculously-named Randy Rampage, and in was ex-Omen singer Coburn Pharr.  The second album of this Ottawa, Ontario band was a vast improvement  over the first album in every way.   Without question the guitar playing of Jeff Waters alone makes this an absolute must-have recording for fans of thrash guitar or just guitar in general.  If you can think of a better Metal album to  come out of Canada then I would love to hear it.  If you have never heard this album, and you consider yourself a “Metal guy” then you are missing out huge.  I am having a hard time trying to pick a song to post here for listening purposes.  That is how truly great this record is from beginning to end.

 

OPUS EPONYMOUS  –  GHOST (2011)

I know, I cannot believe it either.   Only the second of twenty (so far) albums to be released after 1999 that appear on this list.  This album by Swedish band Ghost is nothing but special.  Before I heard this album I was told that it sounded like a cross between thrash metal and Blue Oyster Cult.  As it turned out that description really was right on the money.  Melodic background vocals nestled in between heavy riffing.  I have to say that this album is my favorite Metal album in probably the last twenty years.  The PERFECT blend of melody and heaviness.  This is the only album that since I have got my iPod, every time I switch the music on it I leave this whole album on there.  Every minute of this album is pure genius and I am super-stoked for their upcoming 2nd album titled Infestissumam that will be released this spring.  Hail Satan!!!!

 

That’s it for now, stay tuned for part 3, coming soon…

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 1

By Meat

Music fans love lists.  Maybe it’s the Ten Best Bass Lines of the 1990’s or a list of the songs you wish you lost your virginity to.  I have always been a lists guy as the whole Sausagefest Top 100 thing would attest to.  So here is yet another list.  The albums listed below are not my favorite albums of all time, even though many of my favorites are included.  The point of this list is to possibly introduce to, or maybe even remind, this blog’s readers of 30 albums that I think need to be heard.  Maybe an album that in my opinion was under-appreciated.  Perhaps even an album that inspired me in some way.   Anyways, here are 30 albums that Uncle Meat wants you to visit … or re-visit.  They are in alphabetical by album title.  Enjoy

A EULOGY FOR THE DAMNED  –  ORANGE GOBLIN (2012)

I could have easily listed several other Orange Goblin albums here, but their latest album is an absolutely killer album.  Almost fusing some Black Crowes into their brand of Metal, these British stoner-rockers put out maybe the best Metal album of 2012.  And considering that there are only 3 albums on this whole list that were released before the year 2000, it feels good to actually get some new content in here.  The album ends with the title track, which almost plays out like its own Rock N’ Roll Western.   The band finally tours Canada for the first time coming up in spring of 2013.  As the late Billy Red Lyons used to say, “Don’t ya dare miss it!”

 

ACT III  –  DEATH ANGEL (1990)

Death Angel’s first two albums are pretty sloppy, sound-wise and in song structure.  Some very heavy moments, but at times it just sounds annoying.   On their third release, Max Norman (Megadeth) got his hands on them and it resulted in a polished sound and the best album of their career.  Gone were the high-pitched shrieks of singer Mark Osegueda that littered their first two records.  It really does seem that the band simply matured.  One of the best Metal albums of the 90’s indeed.  Definitely among the most progressive metal albums I can think of.  A must-have album for every true Metal fan.

 

ARGUS  –  WISHBONE ASH (1972)

It is fair to say that Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy would never have the musical identity they have, if it wasn’t for Wishbone Ash.   Innovators in twin- lead guitar harmonization, this band never really got its due.  Interestingly enough, the sound engineer on this record is none other than Martin Birch.  Coincidence?  Meat thinks not.  I remember this album sitting in front of my Dad’s stereo for years when I was very young, and then seeing Star Wars and thinking that Darth Vader looked a lot like the guy on the cover of Argus. Check this album out and discover a part of where it all came from.   When you listen to the beginning of the song-clip included here, “Throw Down the Sword, think “To Live is to Die” by Metallica.  Sounds like Lars and the boys were paying attention as well.

 

ARGYBARGY   –  SQUEEZE (1980)  

Think The Beatles meets The Clash.  The first two songs on this album are both stellar pop moments.  The melodies are McArtney-esque, and that is truly saying something.  “Pulling Mussels From a Shell” is pure song-writing genius“Another Nail in my Heart” is one of my favorite songs of all time.  Check out the incredible guitar solo in this song.  Funny enough, like the 2 previous albums listed, this was the band’s third album.  Maybe a trend is happening here.

 

BIG WORLD  –  JOE JACKSON (1986)

For Joe Jackson’s 8th release, he decided to go all out. An original studio album, recorded live in front of a New York City audience who were told to be silent throughout.  Capturing the excitement and spontaneity of a live performance, in which absolutely no post-recording mixing or overdubbing was done, this record is ambitious as it sounds.  It is all here.  You get Jazz, Pop, Punk and everything in between.  Jackson possesses one of the classic all-time voices.  When this double-album was released, it contained three sides of music, leaving the fourth side blank.  A landmark recording.

 

BLUE  –  JONI MITCHELL (1971)

This album came in at Number 30 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All-Time chart, the highest placing for any female artist.  So why is this album on this list?  Honestly because I still believe this album is truly under-appreciated.  Too many people do not realize how great this album is.  Simply, some of the best lyrics of all time are here.  If this album was any more personal it would contain a video of Joni Mitchell going to the bathroom.  Listen to this front to back when you want to feel like someone understands your pain.   A truly cathartic experience, when she played this album originally to Kris Kristofferson he was reported to respond, “Joni… You really should keep some of that to yourself”.  I am glad she didn’t take heed of his advice.

 

DOGMAN  –  KING’S X (1994)

It seems as soon as Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam/STP/Black Crowes) got his hands on King’s X, the band’s sound fattened up.  Thick, lush and pounding would be a good overall description of the sound on this album.  The songs are great too.  I saw King’s X at the legendary El Mocambo in Toronto and was standing literally beside Dimebag Darrell and the rest of Pantera.   While I love almost every song on this album, the title track is an absolute killer.  When the first Woodstock concert in 25 years began, it was King’s X who took the stage to kick it all off.  Check out this live performance from the old Jon Stewart show from back in the day and crank it.  One of my favorite youtube videos ever.

 

DUKE ELLINGTON & JOHN COLTRANE   –  DUKE ELLINGTON & JOHN COLTRANE  (1962)

This might be my favorite jazz album of all time.  Duke was 63 and Trane was 36 when this album was recorded.  With a running time of 35:05 this album is short and oh so very sweet.  Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” starts this album off and it never lets up.   “Big Nick” is just a wonderfully happy shuffle.  True story: I once got so fed up with Metal that I became a Jazzatarian for a few months, listening to nothing but old school Jazz.  I started with John Coltrane and went from there.  I never did find a jazz artist after him that I enjoy more.

 

EL CORAZON  –  STEVE EARLE (1997) 

Simply put, this album is easily in my Top 3 albums of all time, of any genre.  True storytelling at its finest, El Corazon is a complete masterpiece.  It seems that sobriety allowed Steve Earle to realize how great of a songwriter he really is and on this album he branches out and removes any constraints of style.   Of all the 30 records included on this list, this is the one I am not asking you to check out, but I am TELLING you to check out.  Comparing the laid-back intensity of “Christmas in Washington” to the sheer power of “Here I Am” truly makes you appreciate the diversity of this record.   Steve Earle is THE man.  A lifetime Bro-mance going on here.

 

HEAD HUNTERS  –  HERBIE HANCOCK (1973)

Quite possibly the greatest jazz fusion record ever recorded. This record is a funk buffet.  Only 4 songs and all of them are great.  The YouTube clip here of “Watermelon Man” is the shortest song on the album, and is as original as it is velvety-smooth.  I find it hard not to do some sort of jig when this I hear this song.  “Chameleon”, “Sly” and “Vein Melter” complete one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.  Half of this album made 2012’s SausageFest countdown.  I suspect the other half will not be far behind.

Stay tuned for Part 2!