The Volume is a Little Lower: Goodbye Glenn Frey

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Identity and youth is such a strange thing. What one is willing to grasp on to in order to fill a void can seem like a whim but have implications that last a lifetime. For whatever reason, the music of the Eagles was what attached itself to me, and I in return, clung to them for more years than they themselves remained together in their initial run.

I remember hearing them from the crackling transistor AM radios that my older siblings owned and through the fuzz of the car stereo on the trips up north as a child. There was something that made them stick. I wasn’t even 10 when Hotel California was released, but it was the first album that I didn’t just want to buy, but somehow be a part of. More than the Beatles or the Stones, the Eagles were who I identified with. Of course, as a kid it was an oversimplified Scooby Doo type community I craved, but at that age you’re allowed to project those desires into your favourite tunes.

As I became a teen, my notebooks and textbooks would have the lyrics of their songs hand written into the covers. I knew that J.D. Souther was a frequent collaborator and that Jackson Browne had co-written “Take It Easy.” I was familiar with previous bands too; that Randy Meisner had once been in a band called Poco, that Bernie Leadon had been a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, that Joe Walsh had opened for the Who as a part of The James Gang and mostly, that Glenn Frey and Don Henley were members of Linda Ronstadt and ultimately the masterminds behind my favourite band.

This wasn’t in the days of Google and Wikipedia. Every bit of information you got about the artists you loved was from careful study of an LP’s liner notes; gathered from magazine articles you were lucky enough to have picked up; or even books you searched for in the library… which was strange, because I only seemed to be there for this very reason. I learned about these artists from the radio itself. For years, I was tuning into Q107’s Six O’Clock Rock Report to get any little scrap of information about all my favourite bands. Before I even hit high school, I was a huge music fan with a doctorate in The Eagles. I could wax poetic about tons upon tons of rock bands; bore you with details about groups from the Beatles to Barnstorm, but the kings of the Southern California sound were my first love.

To that end, the passing of Glenn Frey hits home and hits hard. No, I never met him, and to be honest, his image as seen through History of The Eagles is that of someone who is wrapped in arrogance… but that doesn’t mean much to me. What mattered was that he helped provide a soundtrack to my life. His music gave me a reason to socialize and interact in a world that I felt desperately alone in during those early formative years. When I later lost interest in their music, it was still that initial connection that drove me to take a further interest in the sounds of other bands. Even as a music journalist, I would hear artists through a lens, that for better or worse was established with the same enthusiasm I had for The Eagles when I was child. As an adult now, I can both sing their praises and slam them in a single breath… but the truth is; every record from their debut to Eagles Live is sitting just a few inches from my turntable. In the basement, where an old stereo with a cassette deck is ready to resume work with a single button push, my old Eagles/Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Joe Walsh and James Gang cassettes wait to roll.

Earlier in the week, as I was discussing the death of David Bowie with an acquaintance, I said to him that “I’m hitting a crappy age.” It’s a time when the heroes, friends and mentors of our childhood start to disappear; a time when we seemingly attend more funerals than celebrations. Glenn Frey will live on through his family and his music… but platitudes seem rather empty at the moment. Today another part of my youth died, and no matter how much I wish for it, life will never sound the same. Still great sounding, but the volume is forever a little lower.

RIP Glenn Frey

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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.

Have we met? or Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind

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For some music artist’s success is the beginning of that quest for more success and growth is the drive towards a more popular sound. History has given us so many examples and it’s hard to even pick the most relevant story. The end result though is a popular record that you hear playing while a hygienist has weird metal instruments in your mouth at the dentist’s office.

Like Phil Collins era Genesis, or for a more modern example Coldplay, Mumford & Sons has become a band that plays it safe. They drive at the speed limit, obey all the road signs and are the perfect band to play when your mom is in the car with you.

Of course, that doesn’t make this a bad album, songs such as “Believe” and “Cold Arms” are reminiscent of Don Henley’s “The End Of The Innocence” and The Eagles “I Can’t Tell You Why,” while “The Wolf” and “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” lean towards Joshua Tree style U2. However such familiarity with something that is released today makes me wonder about artistry and originality. Wilder Mind is original in that it was created by a group of people writing songs that did not previously exist. From there they spent time in a studio putting together the best possible mix for the songs to take on a life of their own. These guys worked their tails off to put out music the masses would enjoy and for that I greatly admire their dedication towards the craft.

Wilder Mind could become a monster of an album. It has all the ingredients of a blockbuster record. However, like the Hollywood re-boot phenomenon of recent years, it seems like I’ve seen this all before, it’s just a different cast.

You can pick up Wilder Mind everywhere they sell music…

Playlist March 22/15

Here is this weeks playlist. I will update the song stuff as I go.

March 22/15 Playlist

1. “Bottle Of Fur” – Urge Overkill

Saturation is one of my all time favorite records, which I am really wanting to find on vinyl, at a reasonable price…

2. “Three Women” – Jack White

Yeah yeah, Lazaretto, great record… not much more you can say.

3. “Freak Scene” – Dinosaur Jr.

From Bug, because Spotify doesn’t have Bug Live, “Freak Scene would kinda be considered the hit, if such a thing really existed for a cult classic. You can pick this up at some of the better record stores out and about, but the special purple splatter vinyl is sold out.

4. “In The Clear” – Foo Fighters

Great record that keeps finding its way onto my turntable.

5. “Born To Run (Live) – Bruce Springsteen

Did a write up on this a while back. Still think “Born to Run” is the perfect classic rock tune.

6. “20th Century Man” – The Kinks

7. “Everybody Makes A Mistake” – Otis Redding

8. “Little Wing” – Jimi Hendrix

This arrived from Newbury Comics last week. Sounds frickin great and is still available here.

9. “Witchy Woman” – Eagles

10. “Can’t Feel My Soul” – Teenage Fanclub

11. “Do You” – Spoon

12. “Crestfallen” – Pernice Brothers

13. “Neither Here Nor There” – Sloan

14. “A Very Sorry Christmas” – The New Medicants

15. “Things” – Paul Westerberg

16. “Crazy For You” – The Dirtbombs

Such an awesome sound on this band, just had to get a couple of their records. Listen and you might agree. If you do click here.

17. “Wild Eyes” – Vivian Girls

Couple years ago I was listening to these guys and thinking how great they were. Finally picked some up on vinyl.

18. “I’m Shy” – The Juliana Hatfield Three

What I said just a few days ago.

19. “Willow” – Said The Whale

20. “Kitsch Trick” – The Seasons

 

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.