Sunday, December 8, 2013

Best of 2013

I love end of the year best of lists.  I think anyone who is it with music, movies, books, whatever wants to share their opinions and take in those of others.  For me 2013 will be remembered for the songwriters and their songs.  It was such a good year for songs and I hope 2014 continues the trend.  So here it goes my favorite albums of 2013!

Album of the Year
Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Jason Isbell is the finest songwriter in America right now.  Hands down.  No questions asked.  After 3 really good records and powerful live album, Jason Isbell has created a timeless work of loss, love, longing, pain and redemption.  That is to say it is very much a record about life.  I've been gushing to anyone who will listen (and even those who could care less) since its release.  If you have not taken my advice up to now...go out and get it.  You will not be disappointed because right now nobody, and I mean nobody, does it better than Jason Isbell.

Holly Williams - The Highway
That's not to say that Holly Williams doesn't come close, because she most certainly does.  The Highway is a mature work by the one Williams that has done Hank proud.  A strong cycle of songs about life on the road and at home told with depth and emotion.  A fantastic record.

For those of you in the Metro NY area Jason Isbell and Holly Williams are playing at the Space in Westbury on January 31st.

The Best of the Rest

In no particular order here are the records that round out my Top 10.  All of them deserve a listen on your part if you haven't heard them yet.

The SteelDrivers - Hammer Down
This is the first album since Gary Nichols replaced Chris Stapleton on guitar and vocals a few years back and the good news for Steel Heads is they sound just fine.  A really good modern bluegrass album.  If you are not sure if you like bluegrass (and we all do...some people just don't know it yet) this is a pretty good place to start.

John Moreland - In The Throes
All you have to know about this record is that Bruce Springsteen probably wishes he could have made it.  He may not be a household name, but man can he write a song.

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - Cheater's Game
Sort of a Texas singer-songwriter royal couple turns in an album of tales of love gone wrong...and right.  Great songs and the incredible vocals of Kelly Willis.  I really like their cover of Robert Earl Keen's No Kinda Dancer.

Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain
I love country music.  I hate the current pop crap country that is found on the radio and CMT.  This is very much the former to make you forget the latter.  Brings Waylon Jennings to mind and I mean that as the highest form of compliment.

Dale Watson - El Rancho Azul

Dale Watson has made the perfect honkytonk record to waltz your baby across the dance floor.  Slow slow quick quick slow slow.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell - Old Yellow Moon

It's pretty great but what did you expect form Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell?

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby - Cluck Ol' Hen

I know bluegrass is not supposed to have piano but this set absolutely cooks with the talents of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder along with Mr. Hornsby.  Check out Ricky Skaggs taking the lead on Honrsby's The Way It Is.  Traditional?  Maybe not, but it sure as hell is fun.

Son Volt - Honkytonk

Jay Farrar finally gives in to his country heart, picks up the peddle steel guitar and makes the best Son Volt album since Trace (at least in my opinion).

How about 1 More....
Robbie Fulks - Gone Away Backwards

Robbie Fulks drops the yucks and turns out what may be the best bluegrass album of the year.  It's bluegrass in instrumentation and pure country in tone.  Brilliant.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours from Me and Mine.  Let's hope there is much to write about in 2014!
See ya' in 2014!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The "New" Madison Square Garden

I've been to the newly renovated MSG a few times over the past week and I have to say...really? Virtually every new improvement is directed towards the big bucks patrons.  Now the scoreboard is pretty damn spiffy, the only problem is you can't see it from a lot of seats.  The new "bridge" level blocks it for those of us who sit in the upper 200's when we go to a know the sections where you can still get tickets less than 100 bucks.   At least the view of the the ice is unobstructed from the 200's as you can see below from section 226 row 22.

The bridge does seem to make it sound a little too quiet in the building.  Maybe it's better down below...

Now there are still a few 400's left now renamed The Blue Seats.  As you can see the view is a little tunnel like.  These were in 416 row 5.
I would stay clear of any seats in the 400's in rows 6 and 7.  These are most definitely obstructed view seats.  I sat down in row 7 and you can't see past the opposite blue line.  The view on this end is the same as it ever was...slightly blocked behind the goal line.  They also have very limited bathrooms for this area...perhaps they think everyone there has a huge bladder.  Maybe rich folks are the only ones who need to relieve themselves.  And the worst sin of all...the beer selections is pretty weak this high up.

Was it worth 1 billion dollars?  I guess that depends on your annual income.  Those who can may get an improved experience.  Personally I think it was just fine at MSG before all the renovations.  But that's just me.

Oh yeah...the Dolans pretty much suck in my opinion.

The Eagles - MSG November 8, 2013

Wow it's been a long time between posts.  Life just has a way of prioritizing things for you.  I did get a chance to catch The Eagles last week at the newly completed Madison Square Garden on the 1st of 3 nights.  I am an unapologetic Eagles fan.  I know, I know they aren't cool.  They are as mainstream as you can get but I have always been a fan...especially the first three albums.  

I've seen The Eagles on a few of the "farewell" tours since 2000 and they have always been a good time.  This year is no different.  Bernie Leadon is along for the ride for the first time since 1975 and he sounded good and played pretty damn fine on the early material.  Glen Frey dedicated Take It To The Limit to Randy Meisner who couldn't make it due to health issues.  Not a single Don Felder mention...he's suing them again.

The first set drew from the first four albums while the second was made up of cuts from Hotel California, The Long Run and several Joe Walsh tunes.  These were the only mis-steps for me...Joe was the only one who played solo material and I would have preferred a few more cuts from the early records.  A small quibble though as the show was really pretty damn fine as it was.

Here's the setlist:
    Set One

  1. Saturday Night
    (Don Henley and Glenn Frey only)
  2. Train Leaves Here This Morning
    (Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Bernie Leadon)
  3. Peaceful Easy Feeling
    (with Bernie Leadon) (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Timothy B. Schmidt)
  4. Witchy Woman
    (with Bernie Leadon) (Full band)
  5. Doolin-Dalton
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  6. Tequila Sunrise
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  7. Doolin'-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  8. Already Gone
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  9. The Best of My Love

  10. Lyin' Eyes

  11. One of These Nights
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  12. Take It to the Limit

  13. Set Two

  14. Wasted Time (Reprise)

  15. Pretty Maids All in a Row

  16. I Can't Tell You Why

  17. New Kid in Town

  18. Love Will Keep Us Alive

  19. Heartache Tonight

  20. Those Shoes

  21. In the City
    (Joe Walsh song)
  22. Life's Been Good
    (Joe Walsh song)
  23. The Long Run

  24. Funk #49
    (James Gang cover)
  25. Life in the Fast Lane

  26. Encore:

  27. Hotel California

  28. Encore 2:

  29. Take It Easy
    (with Bernie Leadon)
  30. Rocky Mountain Way
    (Joe Walsh song) (with Bernie Leadon)
  31. Desperado
    (with Bernie Leadon)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rhythm & Roots Festival - August 31, 2013

I decided to grab tix for this at the last minute and it turned out to be a pretty good decision on my part.  Rhythm & Roots is the sister festival of Grey Fox and I have been meaning to get here the past couple of years.  We have family about a half hour away so it is pretty convenient to get to and it's nice to have a place to stay so off we went to Rhode Island this weekend.

Rhythm and Roots is billed as a music and dance festival and it features a pretty interesting mix of artists.  On the day we went there was a little country, some blues, a bunch of Cajun, a little Tex-Mex.  Pretty much something for everybody.  The festival is held each year at Ninigret Park in Charlestown, RI and the large, flat site holds 5 stages and a ton of vendors.  Camping is also available but it appears that many in attendance come for the day.  There is plenty of free parking adjacent to the festival entrance.  Food and soft drinks can be brought in but no alcohol (which is for sale on the grounds).  You get your usual festival vendors and food choices with a couple of locals bringing a New England flavor to the event.

We arrived around noon and set up on the main field while Della Mae was playing.  My wife and I have seen them quite a bit over the past couple of years and they are indeed talented, although not my particular cup of tea.

Lindi Ortega was up next and I was looking forward to her set based on the couple of songs I had heard.  She has a pretty nice "traditional" country voice but did not really get the crowd going.  The sparse sound was a little too moody for that early in the day and she appeared to grow a bit annoyed as the set went on.

The Red Stick Ramblers are a string band that is a little Cajun, a little Bluegrass, and a whole lot of fun.  They were playing various stages all weekend and must have really kicked some ass in the dance tent at night.

One of the reasons I chose this festival was to see Holly Williams and she did not disappoint.  Playing with a base and additional guitar provided by her husband, she wound her way through most of the songs on her excellent LP The Highway, along with a cover or two.  Great Stuff.

The Texas Guitar Women and Marcia Ball brought the boogie in the next two sets.  Not my favorite style but entertaining none the less.

The other act I was looking forward to was Steve Earle who is touring in support of his album The Low Highway.  I've seen him quite a bit over the past 25 years, but it has been a while since I have been to a show with the Dukes (and Duchesses).  The set featured quite a lot from his newest along with some album cuts and a few "hits".  Very solid but it could have been a bit louder.  Not enough kick for me.

I think I may make this a regular stop on my summer festival circuit, but probably only of a day.  You really need to be a fan of the Cajun sounds to get the full experience and I am not the biggest fan...although I was definitely in the minority here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Cult - Roseland Ballroom

I want to start out by saying I am not the word's biggest Cult fan, but I really liked the Electric Album back in the day...loud, goofy riff rock.  I still break the album out on occasion when no one is home and I can play it LOUD.

That said I am getting a bit cranky in my old age.  Winter Kill opened with an 80 minute (are you fucking kidding me) set of distorted, wah wah stoner bullshit.  Far too long and most of the crowd seemed disinterested.  My son and a friend were there and he commented it was the worst live set he has ever seen.

The Cult hit the stage around 10 and kicked right into Wildflower.  Billy Duffy was a riffing machine and the band sounded great, that is until Ian Astbury started to sing.  Well sing is a word that does not exactly describe it...more like shouting along with some woops.  I had forgotten what an asshole he can be and this behavior was in full effect last night.  He kept yelling it was a rock & roll show and to stop with the cell phones, making bad jokes in some kind of NYC accent, generally being a putz.

After running through the Electric album there was some kind of short film and then the band returned to play a couple of hits and some newer material.  Ian seemed to be more into this section and it's pretty clear he finds the Electric material boring.  My question is why bother in the first place?

For me this was a nostalgia night 25 years on.  Hard rock hasn't been my cup of tea in a very long time and it is unlikely I will see this kind of show again in the future.  I especially hate ballroom shows at 51.  I'm more the small theater, tiny club or outdoor festival type of person.  Knowing all of this in advance doesn't squash the feeling that I was ripped off last night...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Glen Campbell - See You There

It seems like Glen Campbell has been a part of my generation's collective musical subconscious for what seems like forever.  Never at the forefront but back there in our minds.  If you are of a certain age you can't hear Wichita Lineman or Galveston or Gentle On My Mind and not be taken back.  His performances of these Jimmy Webb songs are classics in America's songbook.
I have to say up front that his records have not consistently found their way onto my turntable over the past 40 years...that is until Meet Glen Campbell came out in the early 2000's.  I had forgotten Glen's way with a song and his great vocals and guitar playing.  Most folks probably don't realize how many records they have heard his playing on over the decades during his time as part of LA's The Wrecking Crew. In 2011 he released what I consider one of the finest records of that or any year. "Ghost On The Canvas" whose compositions were made even more poignant by his recent Alzheimer's diagnosis.
The songs on See You There were recorded during the sessions for Ghost On The Canvas and the tracks include several of his biggest hits recorded in a more modern, Americana approach.  No strings, just Glen and a crack group of musicians.   It's so nice to hear the peddle steel shine through opposed to the strings.  In addition to the tracks mentioned above there are also new versions of By The Time I Get to Phoenix, Rhinestone Cowboy and Postcard From Paris along with some newer Campbell tunes.  Each and every one is a great listen...not necessarily better than the originals, but more emotional.  Rhinestone Cowboy in particular hits far harder than the original with a depth that enormous hit was missing in the original arrangement.

This isn't a record for the kids, although they could probably use a dose of superior songwriting, singing and playing that this record has in spades.  Our musical institutions are getting old folks, we need to take advantage of whatever we get from performers who are still vital and making great music in their later years.  There are still great records being made by the "old guard" and See You There is one of them.  You should check out.

Here's the official video for Hey Little One

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gathering of the Vibes 2013

As you read this please keep in mind that my user name is OldRockr1.  I am not a kid by any stretch of the imagination so please know that someone younger may have a different impression of this festival.
Vibes is huge!  There had to be over 20,000 attending and Bridgeport's Seaside Park turns into a mini city for a week in July.  We didn't camp so I can't comment on that experience but the Holiday Inn was very welcoming to the "Vibe Tribe" and shuttle service was OK back and forth to the festival.  Security varied...tough on some and easy on others with lots of cans of beer seen on the festival grounds each day.  Security on the concert field was pretty much nonexistent and there was a police presence but they didn't seem too engaged.
The setup allowed you to get pretty close if you arrived by noon each day but it got very crowded by the time Phil Lesh played each night.  The problem for me each night was the younger, douche stoners.  I have no patience for these assholes.  Do what you want but just blasting through peoples chairs to get a good spot down front just sucks.  Most of these losers are play acting a Dead show experience having never been there themselves.  Given the choice I think I will be leaving these shows to them in the ruins the day for me when I want to punch some little turd in the head.  So those of you of a similar age and mindset should keep this in mind if you are thinking about one of these huge jam fests.
Aside from this the music was very good at Vibes and that was the main reason we all go in the first place.  Four days of music for $170 is a hell of a deal and if you get there early each day you can set up pretty close as I said and move down to the front of the stage for most of the acts, which I did each day.
Some highlights for me: 

Dark Star Orchestra - A great first set by this long time Dead tribute band.  Sometimes these guys are more fun than Phil or Bobby on their own (I know, I know that's sacrilege but true).  The Spirit of the Dead is alive and well in DSO.

Railroad Earth - I love these guys.  I have watched them grow from 200 seat venues up to some of the larger theaters in the NYC area and they just get better.  I am a huge fan of acoustic instrumentation and they take that roots/bluegrass base to places no one else even attempts to go.  They should have an even bigger audience.  Check Railroad Earth out live if you get the chance.

Tedeschi Trucks Band - I initially thought their first album was just OK but a bunch of friends got me to play it a few more times and boy did it grow on me.  Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks have put together an outfit that makes bluesey-soulful sounds that positions them to be at the top of the jam heap for years to come.  They play songs folks.  Yes Derek is a guitar legend but the band plays really good songs which is often missing from many jam band repertoires.  They were my favorite act of the entire festival.

Wavy Gravy - What more can you say?

Gov't Mule - I've been on the Mule bandwagon since sometime in 1997 and I still love seeing them live.  They played a bunch of new songs which were good, but I don't know how often I'll play the new album.  Like a lot of the acts at Vibes I am starting to lose a little interest.  Maybe it's age, maybe it's just a shift in my listening habits, but I had the same feelings during a lot of the festival.  I liked it but I didn't love it.

Phil & Friends - I have always liked the Phil & Friends shows I have seen.  It's usually an interesting group of musicians playing some of my favorite songs in new and different ways.  The line-up with Scofield and Medeski was no exception.  I would have liked to have seen and heard more but the crowd just pissed me off too much to stay each night. 

Some of the other acts had some interesting moments, in particular Galactic and The Revivalists doing Gimmie Shelter which absolutely killed.  The Funny Meters were pretty good as were Assembly of Dust, but I was a bit disappointed in Grace Potter.  Ms. Potter has moved far away from what I liked on her first two records into more of a heavy pop sound.  Not my thing.  Here's a few more pictures.

So all in all it was a fun weekend with some good and sometimes very good music.  Will I be back?  Probably not, but it may work for you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival 2013

I look forward to this festival every year.  This year was no exception.  A great line-up, camping with my wife, son and his girlfriend, good food, good drink and HEAT.  It was freaking HOT this year.  We arrived around 9:00 on Wednesday morning and were totally set up and sweating in the heat by 10:30 at our favorite spot right near the Catskill Stage (the dance tent).
Thursday was the first day of music and we stuck around the tent most of the day due to the heat.  We did check out Mama Corn on the Creek side Stage and I liked them quite a bit along with the 23 String Band on the High Meadow (main stage) but the heat was brutal so we went back down to the dance tent and checked out the Kickin' Grass Band who were pretty good along with The Duhks who were more enjoyable than I expected.  After dinner we headed up the hill for Devil Makes Three who most folks seemed to enjoy more than I did.  Too much beer and too much heat and I fell asleep pretty early but there was some very good music on day one.
Mama Corn

23 String Band

Kickin' Grass Band

Devil Makes Three

The Duhks

Day 2 was just as hot but the tent was pretty cool so we set up camp there for the day and watched a string of really good acts play some great sets.  In particular my wife and I really liked I Draw Slow a string band out of Ireland.  My wife asked me to get both of their CD's which is something she never asks me to do.  The SteelDrivers were their usual great selves both in the dance tent and on the late stage for their headlining set.  The Infamous Stringdusters just killed on the main stage with one of the biggest dance crowds of the festival.  These guys just continue to grow. 
I Draw Slow
The SteelDrivers

Saturday had a little cooler weather and even hotter music.  We caught another set from I Draw Slow, one from Monroeville and the Carolina Chocolate Drops with Cedric Watson.  I was really looking forward to the Carolina Chocolate Drops but was disappointed by their first set.  So much so that I almost missed them on the main stage later that night which would have been a major mistake because they totally killed later that night.  They are a musical encyclopedia of styles.  Just wonderful.  Jerry Douglas and band did a straight Flatt & Scruggs set and the late night jam band was a blast.  A great day of music.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Jerry Douglas

The Magnificent Late Night Grey Fox Allstars


All in all another great Grey Fox Festival.  I am already looking forward to next year and the great music and good times at the Walsh Farm.  Oh yeah and you have to love the sunsets...