The Sheepdogs – Future Nostalgia or Everything Old Is New Again…

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As the album title suggests, The Sheepdogs are a band lost in time. With absolutely no pretense to suggest anything else, they are what they are, and you can accept it or move along. The choice is yours.

So here is Future Nostalgia, an album that sounds like it was recorded at Muscle Shoals during the studios glory days. Opening track “I’m Gonna Be Myself” is instant proof as you get the Skynyrd riffs and Boz Scaggs vocal styles that were so recognized from the legendary southern studio.

Of course, if you are going to play with the sounds of the classic rock era, you might as well be as expansive as possible. “Downtown” throws in some Eagles harmonies and references them again on “Bad Lieutenant.” The swampy Bernie Leadon like guitar lead is reminiscent of the 1972 classic “Witchy Woman.” From there you get another Eagles guitarist, Joe Walsh, being reflected in The Sheepdogs “Take A Trip.” If you add the easy listening, Michael McDonald era Doobie Brothers sound, coming off “Jim Gordon”, and add in riffs that could come from rock stalwarts like Spirit, Free, Rick Derringer, James Gang and even Canada’s own Lighthouse, you have a pretty insane package.

The thing about the Sheepdogs is they’re not so much influenced by “classic rock” as actually sounding as if they stepped off a time machine from the era direct. If most any other band on the planet tried this, I’d be tossing out tired accusations of being poseurs. However, the songs are just too damn catchy for me to get a hate on for them. Yes you could slip them into a 70’s rock mix and someone could confuse it as a deep cut from an unknown, yet awesome, band from back in the day; but rock ‘n’ roll is nothing if not one giant recycling project.

So, how does that saying go? “Everything old is new again!” It’s kinda hard to argue with that when Future Nostalgia is spinning.

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Between My Heart & My Brain A Battle Rages or The Eagles Studio Albums 1972 -1979

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Sitting uncomfortably on a fence is not a pleasant place to be. It isn’t that I’m worried about outside opinions at this point in my life. My friends and relations will still be the same regardless of my commentary on the Eagles. Although, I know that many would be in shock to find me not coming to the defence of my once favorite band and side with critics on many levels… but still…

I spent a decent amount of cash to buy this limited (5000 copies) edition copy of the Eagles Studio Albums all of which have been re-mastered for this 180 gram audiophile vinyl re-release of their six albums proper. Six studio albums that were inspired by the sounds and formula laid out entirely by others and turned from coal into diamonds by the combo of Henley/Frey and associates.

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The best explanation for why a large group of people hate the Eagles was best represented in the Big Lebowski by “the Dude” himself. On the other hand, the cab driver in that same scene shows exactly how much a ‘real’ Eagles fan wants to hear that… not only can a ‘real’ Eagles fan not comprehend your criticism, but they could resort to violence just to get you to “shut the fuck up.”

So about this fence… well in one previous blog I spoke about my past and reviewed Eagles Live… sort of. It’s just that those thoughts and feelings come from a decade when I had my head stuck up the ass of classic rock. While it wasn’t called “classic rock” in the 80’s, it was a genre type that most people recognize today that encompasses a large amount of bands that rose to prominence in the 60’s, 70’s and a bit into the 80’s and then stopped cold. In the world of ‘Rock Radio’ it was if music stopped being made one day. I’m not sure what day that was. Maybe it was the death of John Lennon or John Bonham; maybe it was when Van Halen became Van Hagar; maybe it was the release of one too many Asia records; whatever the reason… “Rock Radio” became “Classic Rock Radio” and the airwaves became filled with, well – crap. That is when the fence went up.

It isn’t that I hated the music I had once loved. That couldn’t happen. But I did get bored. Seven thousand, nine-hundred and thirty-seven listens to the same songs by the same bands just made me search for something new instead of being fed the same old shit. So, my cassette copies of the Eagles sat in plastic racks by the stereo gaining dust while I listened to Dinosaur Jr. Boston sat quietly in a box while Nirvana (yes I know what you’re going to say) was spinning on a nice carousel CD player. And… Uncle Tupelo had me searching out the influences to the band I once loved (the Eagles), because they offered those similarly influenced groups praise where the Eagles rarely did.

Here’s the thing, I never heard Henley or Frey once refer to Gram Parsons. Sure they dropped the names of the Burritos and the Byrds, but… not the guy who convinced them to go in that country direction. That’s just something that, to quote Homer Simpson, “grinds my gears”. Then there is the soulless nature of the music. Sure Frey can turn a phrase, and Henley can go all epic about the death of the American dream or environmental causes… BUT, it all seems very manufactured. Manufactured in a way that manipulates an emotional response like so many animated Disney films that would rather create your response than allow a story to ‘move you’ by a true emotional connection to the subject matter.

Oh… I hear ya. You want a better example. OK, I can do that.

“The Long Run” is a classic boy meets girl, boy might lose girl cliché driven song. It is harmony gold sung by a great vocalist and given power by an amazing band. You can hum, sing along and even play air guitar to it, but in the end it says shit-all about the truths of being in that relationship. “We can handle some resistance, if our love is a strong one…” is hardly what one would see as depth.

“Thirteen” is a classic boy meets girl, boy might lose girl song. It is driven by the desperation of young person who hasn’t got a clue how the world works and just wants to be with the girl he has fallen for. The first two lines as sung by Alex Chilton blow the crap out of the tired cliché by giving it desperation and emotional resonance. Without the benefit of harmony vocals and big honkin’ guitar solo (which they were quite capable of doing), Big Star stick to an acoustic guitar and a singer who places himself in the part.

In the end, what has me buying Eagles records is nostalgia, what has me buying Big Star records is a connection with the music.

Anyway…

I’m not regretting buying the box. In fact, I was rather blown away by the quality of the recording to vinyl. Using “Witchy Woman” from the debut Eagles record and listening to my old cassette, a CD, Spotify, and the 180 gram vinyl, the wax wins by far. It has a clear and crisp detail that just doesn’t even come close on a digital transfer, and seeing as my tape was 30+ years old, and crossed the country a couple times over, its best days were left behind a few miles back.

If you’re a fan, you will love the box, I do, but at the same time, I love discovering new things even more, and the Eagles didn’t offer that even when they were one of the biggest bands on the planet.

Eagles Live – Musical Memories

“Two chewed, one stolen, leaving this one running strong – Eagles Live IV – Winnipeg, Manitoba”

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Recently I found these words that I had written in my cassette copy of Eagles Live. I purchased it as I waited for a train to take me to Portage La Prairie a very long time ago… (1985). It was the beginning of a journey that saw me through most of my 18th year – Katimavik.  It was a youth volunteer program that saw participants doing work throughout the country and even had a military option, which I was chosen for.

I walked up to the counter at the train station and in my best (which was horrible) French accent asked for a ticket to Portage La Prairie, a city that until only a couple days previous I had never even heard of. The guy behind the counter snickered at me as if I was from Mars – “You mean Portage?”

Me – “Sure.”

Him – “Here”

Me – “Could you tell me where the nearest record store is?”

Him – “It’s out there” (pointing at the door)

Me – “Um. Thanks. That’s very helpful.

Him – “You’re welcome”

Somehow I seem to just bring out the best in people.

Fortunately, the people outside were more helpful and I found my way to the record store. My copy got chewed in my Walkman during the flight from Toronto to Winnipeg, and not having it would be like a three year old having his Teddy confiscated… all, my security in the world just gone. This wouldn’t do.

While I didn’t realize it then, the Eagles in general and more specifically Eagles Live was like a lifeline to social well being. Nobody I knew hated the Eagles. Every teen and adult and… well, everybody liked them. During my “oh woes me” – “teenangsty” – depression filled adolescence, they gave me a social tool to talk about something other than my lack of a meaningful life. So damn, I began to know this band inside out. I owned the James Gang and Walsh solo material. I had seen Henley, Frey and Walsh on their own tours and knew who was backing them on the stage. I could tell you their past bands, who co-wrote what songs and their earlier influences… let’s face it – I was an Eagles geek. Sure you could find a lot of other music with me. I was a big music fan and could be found pontificating about the finer points of Van Halen, or Springsteen; maybe waxing poetic about Hendrix or the depth of the Beatles, but at this point in my life, the Eagles were my favorite band.

This cassette saw me move from November frost bite in Manitoba to a food poisoning Christmas in Quebec and finally rappelling of cliffs outside Victoria, British Columbia. It was my personal soundtrack to entertain myself as I got stuck doing ‘kit musters’. Yep, as a part of the Canadian Armed Forces – Naval Reserves, I found myself in minor trouble on a few occasions and ‘kit musters’ were the punishment. This involved your superior ripping apart your locker and bed and then you had to fix it and stand at attention while it was inspected and ripped apart again.

Much to everyone’s delight, I would put Eagles Live on the little tape deck, and go about my punishment with a smile, shutting it off only a few seconds before inspection. It was a little dance played out numerous times. The last few notes of “Life’s Been Good” would ring and I’d shut the deck off and a second or two later someone would arrive. They would leave, side two would start and by the time “Take It Easy” let out the last chords, it was time for another inspection.

Even at the end of the program, as I took a bus from Victoria to Toronto, it was the music of these guys that got me through. Walsh’s The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get and Barnstorm, Henley’s Building The Perfect Beast, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty and the Eagles.

Like the three year old in need of the teddy, I eventually stopped my obsessive need to use the Eagles as a crutch as I found other music and artists. Actually, I found a whole lot more music and artists. The Eagles became more of a name amongst many in an ever growing music collection… but recently, I started looking back. So when I spotted used copy of Eagles Live on vinyl the other day, I couldn’t resist. An old familiar friend just leapt out my speakers and put me on memory lane… which is a pretty cool place to be for a few hours. Now if I could only get that picture disc vinyl edition of The Smoker You Drink, my life would be complete. (Yep – still a music geek)

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Thank You Eagles