The summer is here. We've safely left our caves for the healing warmth of sunlight and the promise of a better tomorrow. Here's some new music to accompany your journey. While Covid kept us all in lockdown during the thaw of spring, the amount of music created was inevitable. No stadium tours, no wasted nights on tour buses, all summer music festivals canceled; bands and artists have created a tsunami of new "lockdown" music. Some release dates are scheduled for later in the summer and early fall. Numerous singles have been released. And some veteran singer/songwriters are releasing some amazing albums in the next few weeks, having been doing it for 50+ years!
If you a regular reader of my music reviews you will know my profound love and support of this NE Ohio-based band. 50 years old this year, and they drop what might be their finest album to date and one of my favorite albums of 2020. Cut live in the studio. 10 blistering tracks of "Country Eastern (like Country & Western)" as Bob Kidney corrected me the other day, each recorded exactly as they perform on stage -- no headphones, instruments bleeding into each other, played 6-8 times each to find that one perfect take. Looking for the magic that happens when you set up your gear and play it live in the studio. Music done with the telepathy -- like jazz or a well-oiled Rube Goldberg contraption -- that only occurs from playing together for so long.
I spoke to their leader/singer/songwriter/guitarist Bob Kidney and being the well-dressed, smooth talking cat that he is, he shared some insight into why this effort is such a sublimely special album:
"Everyone kept telling me that they love our Jimmy Bell live album. I've been wanting to cut a live album in the studio for years. I can't stand all I fuss that goes into studio recording. Let's set up and play like we do in the clubs. I don't have time for fussing with mixes. We just played these songs live, over and over again, until we got a take we liked, it was a consensus and obvious to everyone including David who usually nailed it."
And why not, I've seen them live for at least 48 years. Saw them open for Bruce Springsteen at Kent State in the early '70s. Danced and sweated with them at JB's on Water Street all through high school and college. Taped them live at Bowery Electric in NYC a few years ago. (That was amazing night of music.) I even see them when I head back home to visit my mother in Akron, OH. Selfishly, I try to make sure that they're playing the weekend I've scheduled my visit.
For you newbies, their current lineup consists of bassist Bill Watson, drummer Clint Alguire, and founding members Jack Kidney, Bob Kidney and Terry Hynde. That original triumvirate is the secret sauce that keeps their enduring flame burning so bright. Brothers in arms, on stage, soldiering on through thick and thin.
And what is about Endure that makes it so special? Most of these "autobiographical" songs will be familiar to their fans. "Back To Disaster" is one such tune and one of my favorites. I first heard Bob play it at The Golden Palominos reunion gig at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City in 2010. It's a riveting agro-blues stomp that ebbs and flows on the crest of Bob's pained lyrics and emotive vocal delivery punctuated by one of his trademark haunting guitar solos. This man makes us believe in his convictions and demons.
"I eat the blues for breakfast / Left over from the night before / The bad news is restless / The Devil's standing at the door"
Each song on this album is a mini-opera. Upon first listen two songs jumped out at me. Brother Jack's exceptional chuggin' "That's the Way the Railroad Runs" and Bob's heartfelt love ballad "Rosalee" -- covered by Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders in 2008 and first recorded for his solo acoustic record -- display what this band does best. Lock into a groove, fast or slow, and swing; thanks to the relentless groove provided by Clint and Bill, thus letting Bob, Terry and Jack to add their azure-hued paint to this glorious canvas.
Witness them in full majesty on the 8+ minute track "Blue Collar," an homage to the working man and the pecking order of greed and one of the most challenging tracks to record. According to Bob, it required Herculean strength from their drummer Clint to follow Bob's vocals and then for Bob to follow Clint's drumming, especially given that they recorded it 8 times. And real intricate tug of war. And lyrically? Bob says this is one of the most important lyrics on the album:
"Well, they say there's no rest for the wicked /
You can be sure there's no rest for the poor!"
Talk about currently relevant.
And as song builds to a final crescendo with a fury of drums and cymbals and Bob's guitar howling, it stops abruptly, pause... Bob states empathically:
"They worship that Green Jesus / And kneel at a bottom line"
Equally impressive is the engineering/mixing/production chops provided by longtime fan Dave Sacchini, who also owns Son of Moondog studio in Kent, Ohio where the album was recorded. He was able to capture the vibe on this track by grafting the ending from another take to create a seamless whole.
Major props to one of the baddest harp players on the planet Brother Jack and his three original tunes on the album -- "Railroad Runs," "Getting By," and "In Stride." It's another album corker and plays like a soundtrack to some Raymond Chandler novel. People who love this band know how important his contributions are to the band's mojo. Besides his vocals and transcendent harp blasts, he plays killer sax, percussion, and keyboards.
And the cerebral Terry Hynde on alto and soprano sax. Bob so values him and says, "he's one of the best sax players of his generation." Watching him on stage he appears to possess the vibe of a transdimensional time traveler, even when he's providing hypnotic percussion while waiting to step up. One just needs to listen to his soloing on "Wolf" on Endure and then compare it to the live video above. Like Charles Lloyd meets Charles Gayle, he creates a tension that mounts and releases just at the right time, Bob dropping back in with a vocal phrase and guitar riff or Jack adding a keyboard line or doubling his line on another sax. It's hypnotic. It makes you dance. You can't help but move your body to this music. Until it's made available digitally, order the CD here. It's the perfect driving music.
Much has been written about the "lost" Neil Young albums. Homegrown is one such affair. Suffice it to say, it was worth the wait. Neil is so prolific it is understandable how this one got shelved. He was busy recording -- On The Beach, Tonight's The Night, Zuma, and touring solo and with Crosy, Stills, Nash & Young during this time period -- 1973-1975. Some of the songs found their way to other releases, but these are the originals. Ragged and real, just like you love Neil. Heartfelt songs worn on his plaid flannel sleeves. Nothing pretension. Songs of keen observations about life. Poetic and moving. Comfortable melodies to play over and over again. "Love Is A Rose" was released on his Decades compilation, "Pardon My Heart" was heard on Zuma, "Star of Bethlehem" on America Stars 'n' Bars, "Little Wing" and "The Old Homestead" on Hawks & Doves. The album will be released on June 19th.
This is Bob's first new album of original material since Tempest (2012). Will it be his last studio effort? He's got much to unpack, too. The world and his/our place in it. Sir Bob is not pulling any punches. If the lyrics of the first 3 singles are any indication, this may well be his an epic swan song. It was pointed out to me that the melody of "False Prophet" sounds just like the 1954 song by bluesman Billy "The Kid" Emerson "If Lovin’ Is Believing". Regardless, many folk singers have "borrowed" melodies from old folk songs from the past, and Dylan has done so in the past. It's Dylan's lyrics that distances himself from "The Kid's" original song:
"Well I'm the enemy of treason / Enemy of strife /
I'm the enemy of the unlived meaningless life /
I ain't no false prophet / I just know what I know /
I go where only the lonely can go"
Karma is real. Cause ands effect. Placing your happiness in things that really don't amount to much will not deliver salvation. Gotta serve somebody. Sure, they may us "feel" better, but that's fleeting. That is a false prophet to pleasures that will never bring true happiness.
Two previous singles have already been released in advance of the album "I Contain Multitudes" and the 17-minute, loss-of-innocence "Murder Most Foul," a song that begins thusly:
"Twas a dark day in Dallas, November '63 /
A day that will live on in infamy /
President Kennedy was a-ridin' high /
Good day to be livin' and a good day to die"
President Kennedy's assassination may have killed the dream of a better future for all of us, but perhaps it was liberating in the sense that true Utopia will never be found on this mortal coil. All of things we think bring us happiness, pinning our hopes on our leaders is just another "False Prophet" to lead us astray. The album will be released by Columbia Records on June 19th.
Here's the full track listing:
01 I Contain Multitudes
02 False Prophet
03 My Own Version of You
04 I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You
05 Black Rider
06 Goodbye Jimmy Reed
07 Mother of Muses
08 Crossing the Rubicon
09 Key West
10 Murder Most Foul
For the times they are a-changin'...