While most kids ran around the park, scrapping elbows and playing Pirates, I sprawled out on my bed and copied the lyrics of my favorite Petula Clark song. My name is Melanie, and I am the oldest 25-year old that ever lived.
I was born with the heart of a 1960s hippie, twenty years too late. I blame my folks for this. My parents spent their youth as bell-bottomed teens with a penchant for the classics, particularly music birthed from Great Britain. In turn, they passed their “peace and love, man” ideals to yours truly. In middle school, I was the musically misplaced ‘oldies fanatic’ during ‘NSYNC mania. I hummed doo-wop songs before I even knew what ‘hip-hop’ was, and Justin Timberlake had nothing on a young Paul McCartney, bowl-cut and all. (To this day, I’m pretty sure I can belt out any Beatles tune if you ask nicely.)
What’s the point of this pretentious anecdote? To showcase the moment I nearly lost faith in contemporary music, upon stumbling across Justin Bieber’s “Baby” video on MTV. Once I had processed the mind-numbing chorus of: “Baby, baby, baby, oh // Like baby, baby, baby, no // Like baby, baby, baby, oh // I thought you’d always be mine, mine,” I could only sit on the sofa, absolutely dumbfounded. I felt as if I had just witnessed the decline of all human effort, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the only person in the world who would actively campaign to get his songwriter fired.
To my relief, Bieber soon went bye-bye and a new video emerged like a musical Godsend. A solo artist named Gary Clark, Jr. swooped in to restore my optimism in the modern music industry. For the next five minutes, I was in guitar-riff heaven; captivated by this musician who shredded his way into my heart with a classic Gibson ES335.
Brazenly referred to as the modern-day Jimi Hendrix, Gary Clark, Jr. is the Texas-based crooner making waves with his commanding “cool cat” persona and fuzzy guitar rhythms. Though he has gained some notoriety on the indie-blues rock scene, Gary Clark, Jr. is relatively under wraps. For someone who has harnessed old-school influences to produce a modern blues vibe, this is one artist truly deserving of global recognition.
Listen to his first single, “Bright Lights,” a song chronicling his journey of self-exploration in the unforgiven metropolis of NYC. What’s your take on this up-and-coming artist? Is Gary Clark, Jr. the reincarnation of old-school rock?
RIYL: Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Guess Who, Aerosmith
If you dig classic rock, but are sick of hearing the same Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Steve Miller Band tunes, sometimes it’s nice when one of these acts releases something new after all these years. Sometimes it’s not nice, but that’s a comment for another review. In this case, we have Bachman & Turner’s debut album, but it’s not really a debut. They were the two front guys for ‘70’s rock institution Bachman Turner Overdrive, a band that created some of the greatest, well, classic rock tunes in history – “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Ya Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” being among the biggest. So after a few decades, Randy Bachman was working on a solo album and asked Fred Turner to sing a few songs, and the rest is history. But here’s the thing: aside from more strained vocals, this stuff is almost as good as the stuff they released in the ‘70s. It’s not a band trying to sound current; it’s Bachman and Turner being Bachman & Turner. The album is a complete set of 12 songs, but a few stand out: the rocking “I’ve Seen the Light” and gang-vocal driven “Rock and Roll is the Only Way Out,” as well as “That’s What It Is,” which sounds a bit like Bachman backed by Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren; and “Moonlight Rider,” which has a Clapton-esque feel and could have easily been a hit in 1976. These songs are timeless, the duo’s playing is timeless, and this just may give classic rock radio a few new songs to add to the format. (RBE Music/Fontana 2010)
If you’re a fan of Heart, you probably have an affinity for their early stuff, as in the Dreamboat Annie days. Or you might have been hooked in the ‘80s, when, as singer Ann Wilson says, the band “made a devil’s bargain” – i.e. they wrote pop songs that the label wanted them to, such as “Never” and “If Looks Could Kill.” Not that those songs were bad; in fact, some would argue that this is when Heart really arrived. Still, these sisters and their band mates appear to long for the “good old days,” when they could emulate their biggest inspiration, Led Zeppelin. And now with Red Velvet Car, Heart’s first studio album since Jupiter’s Darling in 2004, they have succeeded. A big reason is producer Ben Mink, who has re-created the best of the “old” Heart but has given it a slick, current feel as well. The songwriting is top-notch, and while Ann Wilson’s voice is showing signs of weathering, you can put this album up against any heritage act’s new material and it will stand up, and above, just about anything.
“There You Go” kicks off with a similar rhythmic riff to one of Heart’s biggest hits, “Straight On,” and it’s a solid start. And the Zeppelin vibe is in full glory on “WTF,” “Queen City,” and in particular on “Death Valley,” with Nancy Wilson emulating Jimmy Page’s tone and playing with sick precision. But the band shines big on the title track, on which Ann belts it out like in her heyday, and on a track Nancy sings, the acoustic driven “Hey You.” “Safronias Monk” feels like 1978, and the closer, “Sand,” also sounds like classic Heart, but maybe more like an anthem from the ‘80s. It can’t be easy to say you want to go back to your roots and actually do it, but Heart appears to have done just that. And despite the fact that the sisters Wilson have been rolling along for years on tour, Red Velvet Car is the type of effort that should, and might, win “comeback of the year” awards. (Sony Legacy 2010)
It’s easy to judge anything Peter Frampton releases based on his body of work, which includes Frampton Comes Alive, arguably one of the greatest live albums in rock history. So we almost have to cut him a bit of slack if he’s lost a bit of that powerful rock voice and some of his ability to write good hooks. But as he shows on his latest, Thank You Mr. Churchill, Frampton can still play the guitar like a madman; and as he was reunited with producer/engineer Chris Kimsey (who produced Frampton’s 1972 solo debut), he can still deliver epic classic rock songs with guitar solos that linger like they did in the ‘70s. It’s also what Frampton calls an autobiographical record, as the title stems from him thanking Winston Churchill for bringing his dad back safely from World War II and therefore giving Frampton a life. Rockers like “Solution” and the slow burning “Asleep at the Wheel” are the best retro sounding numbers, but Frampton also shines on the powerful instrumental, “Suite Liberte,” and the funky “Restraint.” Oh, and don’t miss the old style fuzz box tone Frampton uses on “Invisible Man,” which evokes memories of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album. On “Restraint” and a few other tracks, Frampton touches on world politics a bit (“Restraint” is about the Wall Street bailout), but admittedly his strength is in making his guitar scream, and the ability to make the classic rock meter needle jump like crazy. For the most part, Peter Frampton does just that, yet again. (New Door 2010)
When Brad Delp, lead singer of iconic rockers Boston, took his own life in 2007, it sadly marked the end of a musical era. But consider that there were four other original members of that band, and that they were all amazing musicians in their own right. Fast forward over 30 years from Boston’s debut, and two of the original members, guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian, have formed a new band called Ernie & the Automatics. This band was named after guitarist Ernie Boch Jr. and features the lead vocals of keyboardist Brian Maes, but the elements of Boston are there – the big classic rock guitar riffs and pounding backbeat, as well as bluesy elements throughout on their debut, Low Expectations. It’s hard to re-invent the wheel in this genre, and Ernie & the Automatics don’t try to. But even though the songs are less than memorable, it’s the musicianship, and in particular Maes’ Joe Cocker-esque growl, that drives the band. The best tracks are “The Good Times Never Last,” which sounds a lot like Boston’s “Rock & Roll Band,” as well as the driving, bluesy (and quite creepy) “I’m Gonna Haunt You.” (LABEL: Open E)