The Old Guard Still Bringin’ It

They say that Rock is dead, but don’t tell that to the bands that have been in the game for decades and are still delivering new music.

At it for thirty years, with three of four original band members on board, Smashing Pumpkins will release their eleventh studio album, Cyr, on Black Friday. The thick guitars of their earliest hits like “Cherub Rock” have been replaced by synths, but Billy Corgan’s voice is as distinctive as ever. Here’s the music video from the album’s title track.

Foo Fighters formed in 1995, after the release of the album Foo Fighters on which Dave Grohl played every instrument on every track, save guitar on one song. Grohl has been a standard bearer for guitar rock, from the first track of that first album “This is a Call”, to “Shame” performed for the first time on Saturday Night Live last night.

Though founding member Malcolm Young passed away in 2017, brother Angus, long-time lead singer Brian Johnson, and original drummer Phil Ruud, will release Power Up this week, with tracks that sound like they were made in their early days. Here is “Shot in The Dark”, the first song released form the new album.

Top of the heap of artists who still bring the rock and roll is “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen. Letter to You was released on October 23rd and it made Bruce the first artist to have a top 5 album in 6 consecutive decades. The title track has gotten a lot of airplay in the past few weeks, but here is the second video released from the album, “Ghosts”, that is vintage E-Street Band. You know you want to see this live!

Joni Mitchell’s Archives

My last post was about Elton John’s Jewel Box collection due out in two weeks, but this past Friday Joni Mitchell beat him to the market with a 5-disk box set of her own. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) features her very earliest recordings and wraps up before the release of her first album, 1968’s Song to a Seagull.

Rolling Stone has a nice article on the box set that links to an August 1965 recording of Joni’s first original composition, “Day After Day”. Joni had been singing folk songs in cafes in her native Calgary, and this song, her vocals and guitar playing sound very much born out of that background.

Less than two years later, in March 1967, Joni recorded this performance of “Both Sides Now”. It was not long after Mitchell had written the song and about the same time Judy Collins released her Grammy Award winning version. Witness Mitchell’s rapid evolution as a writer, lyricist, singer, and musician with a unique style as you compare this performance to “Day After Day”.

Apologies to Joni for bringing up Elton John twice in her post, but since announcing his Jewel Box collection, Sir Elton put out a really special recording not included in that set. “Come Down in Time” from Tumbleweed Connection, an album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a personal favorite. This jazz version apparently was recorded before the album version, and it features an extended jazz improvisation.

Vibes Master Gary Burton Calls It A Career

A few weeks ago jazz vibes player Gary Burton announced he was staging the final tour of his 50-plus-year career, and this past Friday he played his last show at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis.  Not many artists have devoted themselves to this unusual instrument, and I wonder if anyone will ever again play it with Burton’s virtuosity.

According to a feature by NPR, the first use of the instrument in a jazz recording was by Lionel Hampton in 1930 on “Memories of You” by Louis Armstrong.  Legend has it that shortly before this recording, jazz drummer Hampton had come across the instrument at NBC studios, where it was sometimes used to play the network’s distinctive 3-tone identifier chime.

Thirty years after Hampton introduced the instrument, a 17-year-old Burton began his career recording with guitar virtuoso Hank Garland.  Here’s a track from that era with Burton right up front.  The drummer on this track is Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck’s longtime collaborator.

Here are some pure shots of Burton from 1966 and 2010.  Jaw dropping.

And here’s a duet with frequent collaborator Makoto Ozone from 1995. Burton chose Ozone to accompany him on his farewell tour. And if you haven’t had enough, here’s a link to a post from a couple of years ago featuring Burton and  another frequent collaborator, Chick Corea.

Anderson .Paak – Grammy Bound?

At the 59th Grammy Awards, airing tomorrow night, the Best New Artist category is quite diverse.   There are two new country singers, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, a DJ duo, The Chainsmokers, who had a hit called “#SELFIE” that has almost a half-billion YouTube views (don’t add one, I warn you), and two hot hip-hop artists, Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak.

While he might be a long shot for the Grammy, .Paak’s music is in the hip hop vein I really like.   Thanks for the introduction to him, Ben!  His arrangements use real instruments, which may owe to .Paak being a very fine drummer himself, melodic vocals, a solid foundation of R&B, and Southern Cali jazz fusion mixed in.

.Paak performed “Am I Wrong” live on French TV about a year ago, and closed the song with an apropos David Bowie tribute.

It didn’t take American TV too long to catch up to the French. Steven Colbert hosted Anderson’s first American TV performance in March of last year.

.Paak produced a video for “Come Down” from his recent album “Malibu” using friends and family from Oxnard, California. And, yes, he apparently honed his drumming skills backing a gospel choir as a kid.

If you want to hear a bit more from .Paak, how many hip hop artists can pull off an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.  Forward about 3-1/2 minutes into the set to hear “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”.

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) On To New Things

Hip hop artist and actor Yasiin Bey, whom most of us know by his long-time stage name Mos Def, announced last year that he was retiring from music and the screen at age 43.  For his final concerts he chose a three-night run this past New Year’s weekend at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.  He promises to stay in the arts, and I hope someday he’ll head back to the recording studio.

His entertainment career began as a child actor, with small TV parts, and he’s since appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. He was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his starring role in the HBO movie “Something the Lord Made”, based on the life of Vivien Thomas.

His music career took off with the release of “Mos Def and Talib Kwali Are Black Star” in 1998.  Bey’s brand of hip hop was often on the musical side of the genre’s spectrum, and his lyrics were socially conscious and most often playable in polite company.  Though not the most famous song from “Black Star”, “K.O.S. (Determination)” is my personal favorite.

A year later he released his major solo debut “Black on Both Sides”.   A personal favorite on this album is “Umi says”, any my taste has been validated on this one.  President Barack Obama included it on his 2015 summer playlist.

Of course Bey collaborated with many of his hip hop contemporaries, but his global reach may have been broader than many. Here is a nice track from the 2009 album “Soundtrack 2” by Japan’s DJ Deckstream.