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Paul Simon “Under African Skies”

Earlier this year Paul Simon re released his classic solo album “Graceland” in a variety of packages that include bonus tracks and new information about the recording and reception of this great LP.  The centerpiece to this campaign is the great, feature length documentary “Under African Skies”.  The film is directed by Joe Berlinger, the documentarian who filmed the Metallica “Some Kind of Monster” movie.  A must have on Blu Ray, Paul Simon is shown making the album, dealing with the aftermath of Graceland’s success and criticism and reuniting with the original musicians in South Africa in the summer of 2011.  I have included links to the LP release and the Blu Ray documentary as well as the official trailer.


Mark Knopfler will be releasing his new solo album “Privateering” on September 11th.  The album is being released on the same day as tour mate Bob Dylan’s “Tempest”.  The two artists will be touring North America together in the fall, reprising … Continue reading

Cheap Trick – I Can’t Take It

“Then I tell myself I’ll put you down,
Don’t wanna see your face around…don’t call me up anymore.
When I hear your voice it’s in my ear,
You’re kissin’ on the phone…it makes it all come clear.”

Cheap Trick are the ultimate cult band in modern rock n roll. Although their early hits have been defining statements, in the process of becoming radio staples, they have sustained one of the most productive and varied catalogs in modern music. From their formative years in Rockford, Illinois to continuing to record and tour with their original lineup, the band continues to push the limits and release unconventional, yet always innovative power pop.

The album “Next Position Please” from 1983 was released at a crossroads in the band’s career. Founding member and bassist Tom Petersson was on a several year hiatus and they had turned to famed producer Todd Rundgren (Eutopia, Meatloaf, etc.) to guide the recording process for this, their eighth relase for Epic Records. ‘I Can’t Take It’ was the album’s second single, edged out by ‘Dancing the Night Away’, the only song on the album not produced by Rundgren. ‘I Can’t Take It’ is the superior song, however. Written by vocalist Robin Zander, the song features a strong melody line and an infectious chorus…a hallmark of all Cheap Trick classics.

While the album failed to chart highly, it is a fan classic that features great production, sonwriting and musicianship. The band would ultimately come back into commercial favor with 1987’s ‘The Flame’, but it is on “Next Position Please” that the band show their true strengths as an American original.

Joe Cocker – You Can’t Have My Heart

“You can keep that diamond ring.
Take it downtown and find out what it will bring.
You can ask me to give you almost anything….all except my heart.”

It is essential for an artist to evolve if they are to survive changing times and tastes in the music industry. Joe Cocker began life in the late sixties as a counter culture icon with his iconic performance at the Woodstock festival and subsequent “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour with Leon Russell. Establishing himself with classic songs like “You Are So Beautiful” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”, by the mid seventies Cocker had faded from public view but had established a reputation as the preeminent rock interpreter of some of the greatest writers in the modern era.

His comeback in the eighties was miraculous to say the least, with the ballad smash “Up Where We Belong” returning him to the top of the charts. He continues to ride that wave of success, especially on classics like 1989s “One Night of Sin” and 1987s “Unchain My Heart”. While old fans stay mired in the sounds of his early days, those willing to investigate these newer albums will find many hidden gems.

One of his best efforts in years was 2002s “Respect Yourself”, his 18th studio album. Produced by John Shanks (Chris Isaak, Stevie Nicks, etc.), the album never veers too far from his soul and blues roots. The original track ‘You Can’t Have My Heart’, written by Shanks and frequent Cocker cohort CJ Vanston, is a classic example of why Cocker still is vital in the genre he helped to define.

Pearl Jam – The Fixer

“When somethings broke, I wanna put a bit of fixin on it.
When somethings bored, I wanna put a little exciting on it.
If somethings low, I wanna put a little high on it.
When somethings lost, I wanna fight to get it back again…”

Of the bands to emerge from the Seattle scene of the late eighties, Pearl Jam has endured and continued to make consistently good music while many of their peers have either faded away or broken up. The release of the documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty” highlights the ups and downs of an intensely personal and tightly knit group of individuals who do not usually invite the critical eye to view their creative process. Many only know Pearl Jam from their days as cultural icons of the early nineties and the hits found on their 1991 debut, “Ten”. For devotees, the band has a rich catalog of songs to delve into and examine, songs as diverse as the influences of the group, which range from arena rock to blues to punk to folk and beyond.

‘The Fixer’ is a classic pop rock single from their first true indie release, 2009’s “Backspacer”. The album was the first release for the band after finishing their tenture on the J Records label. After years of releasing their own bootleg series albums on their own Monkeywrench Records, Pearl Jam decided to completely take the major labels out of their business model…a paradigm shift that has worked for other groups like Barenaked Ladies and Radiohead.

The album saw the band branching out into more mellow sounds on songs like “Just Breathe”, a conceptual precursor to Eddie Vedder’s second solo release, 2011’s “Ukelele Songs”, also on Monkeywrench Records. ‘The Fixer’ is as song that came to the band originally from drummer Matt Cameron and it shows. The driving beat and infectious rhythm make this the bands catchiest song since their pop heyday on “Ten”. The song was featured in several Target commercials, as it was the official retailer of the album and it was also one of the bands only official music videos of the new millenium.

The film “Pearl Jam Twenty” is a must see for any music fan. It truly conveys why Pearl Jam is as important and relevent today as they were at the height of their greatest commericial exposure.

The trailer for “Pearl Jam Twenty”:

Bob Seger – Wait for Me

“I’ll be around…if you’ll wait for me.”

In 2006, Bob Seger released his first album in a decade, “Face the Promise”. His previous release of all original material, 1995’s “It’s A Mystery”, was not only a lackluster album but was vastly overshadowed by the 1994 “Greatest Hits” album that became one of the biggest catalog sellers of all time.

Seger spent the following decade raising a family and living a quiet life on the outskirts of Detroit when he reemerged with an album worthy of his cannon of classic material. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and toured to sold out arena crowds in support of “Face the Promise”, which hit #4 on the charts and eventually went platinum.

The gem on this album is ‘Wait for Me’. Produced and recorded in Nashville, this song is worthy of inclusion with his seventies and eighties megahits. The instrumentation and vocal hooks convey the message of the lyric…a simple yet declarative plea for a straightforward, simplistic lifestyle.

Billy Preston – That’s the Way God Planned It

“Why can’t we be humble like the good lord said?
He promised to exalt us…for love is the way.
How can men be so greedy when there’s so much left?
All things are God given…and they all have been blessed.”

Never an artist to shy away from his gospel roots, Billy Preston created a new sound by melding the sounds of the church with the beat of the dance floor. His prodigious use of the Hammond organ has become his trademark, making him one of the most in demand studio musicians of the modern rock era. He began his career before entering his teen years, backing Mahalia Jackson on tour and later being featured in the cast of the film “St. Louis Blues” in 1958 as a young W.C. Handy. His ability to move between the worlds of gospel and rock was an asset as the sixties loomed, as Preston soon was touring with Little Richard and sitting in as a resident organ player on ABC Television’s “Shindig”.

Session work was an important part of Preston’s career and it brought him to the attention of George Harrison, who welcomed him into The Beatles sessions for the “Let it Be” and “Abbey Road” albums. Harrison had seen Preston perform with Ray Charles in London, and felt his presence would help to alleviate the stress ever present at Abbey Road Studios. The musical influence of his organ playing added a new dimension to the songs and brought a gospel flavor to The Beatles sound. His appearance on these albums helped to cement his status as a rock icon, but also earned him a recording contract with Apple Records. The George Harrison produced “That’s the Way God Planned It” was released in 1969, with George Harrison, Keith Richards, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton making up his backing band. Preston wrote the title track, one of several Gospel tinged tracks on the release. What sets his religious music apart is the spiritual nature of the lyric. Never a heavy handed lyricist, he focuses on humanity as a whole, never excluding any belief or religion from his messages of love and harmony.

Billy Preston went on to record multiple top ten hits throughout the seventies, ‘Will It Go Around in Circles’ and ‘Space Race’ among them. He also wrote the classic ‘You Are So Beautiful’ for Joe Cocker, an international smash. Continuing to work with George Harrison on the 1970 release “Encouraging Words”, he was the first artist to commit ‘My Sweet Lord’ to vinyl. He also appeared at the “Concert for Bangladesh”, performing ‘That’s the Way God Planned It’ and playing organ for a majority of the historic show. Spending much of the seventies and eighties performing with the Rolling Stones, both on tour and on record, Billy Preston died of complications from liver and heart problems in 2005. Leaving behind a body of work that helped to introduce gospel music into the popular lexicon, Preston will continue to be a musical influence.

The 1969 studio version:

From the “Concert for Bangladesh”: