Across the Pond – Little Brother Eli and The Dø

Three years ago I happened across the newly formed British band Little Brother Eli (2013 post) while checking out the music blog Read and Hear.   The band released an EP that year and has now released a full-length effort “Cold Tales”.  The new album features solid rock and roll, as well as some eclectic tracks with deep, bluesy feels.  Check out “This Girl” in the rock and roll vein, and the title track to hear the band’s more eclectic side.

Somewhere over the Atlantic I spent a couple of hours sampling the musical offerings of AirFrance’s in-flight entertainment system. Found some crazy things on there (did you know that Hugh Laurie – the “House” guy – sings old blues tunes?)  Also came across an engaging song by the French duo “The Dø”. “At Last” is from their first album “A Mouthful” released in 2008. Their most recent release “Shake Shook Shaken” has swapped the guitar for synthesizers and a decidedly more electric sound, as you’ll see on “Anita No!”

Red Hot Chili Peppers Are Back, And An Unreleased Track Surfaces

In mid-June the Red Hot Chili Peppers will release “The Getaway”, their first new album in almost five years.  Breaking a 25-year, 6-album string with uber-producer Rick Rubin, “The Getaway” is produced by uber-producer Danger Mouse.  “Dark Necessities” is the album’s first single, and it features Flea playing piano as well as bass (remember that Flea’s first instrument was the trumpet).

Dave Navarro played guitar for the band for five years in the mid-90’s, a tenure that by all reports featured a clash of musical sensibilities between Dave and the other band members.  Recently an unreleased track from that era surfaced, “Circle of the Noose”, which reveals Dave’s straight rock influence and little of the funk that had been the band’s hallmark. Give a listen to this piece of newly recovered history, and also to the Number 1 single “My Friends” from the only album Navarro recorded with the band, “One Hot Minute”.  Dave’s guitar work on “My Friends” is really special.

A Shredder Lost Before His Time – RIP Prince

We’ve recently had to face the shock of Rock and Roll royalty of the 60’s and 70’s, now in their 60’s and 70’s, leaving us in increasing numbers. David Bowie, Maurice White, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson and Paul Kantner – to name a few – have all received their homages and retrospectives in the first few months of this year.  Prince was of a slightly more recent vintage, though, and losing him at age 57 was an especially rude shock.

I can’t add anything to what’s been written in the past few days about his amazing talent and career, but I can share a few favorite videos recalling that when it came to playing guitar, “Baby there ain’t nobody better”.

First, his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison in 2004. The solo starts at about 3:30 and is worth the wait.

This next video tends to get pulled off YouTube quickly, so enjoy it while you can. It’s a performance Prince gave at a press conference in the run-up to his 2007 Superbowl halftime show. May be the purest rock guitar playing I’d ever seen from him, and I’d never seen anyone else play with his arm around a girl (5:30)!  Darn he made it look easy.

Finally, from an MTV Unplugged set, his acoustic playing was a rarely seen treat.

Upcoming Releases from Sir Elton and Lake Street Dive, plus a Glenn Frey Tribute

Elton John’s new album “Wonderful Crazy Night” will be released February 5th.  It’s Sir Elton’s 32nd studio album (or 33rd depending on what internet page you believe).  Long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin is still writing lyrics, and uber-producer T Bone Burnett is back after helping out on John’s 2013 album, “The Diving Board”.  Here’s “Looking Up”, one of a few live-studio performance videos made for the new release.

On February 18th Lake Street Dive will release “Side Pony”, their first release with new label, Nonesuch Records.  Nonesuch is a great label, being home to acts as diverse as The Black Keys, Wilco, Ry Cooder, Pat Metheny, and Emmylou Harris. Hopefully it will mean a new level of exposure for LSD.  Unlike Elton’s new album, no cool videos have yet dropped for “Side Pony”, but the band previewed the track “Close to Me” at last year’s Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.

While I wasn’t planning a Glenn Frey tribute this week, I tripped across this Lake Street Dive cover of “Take It To The Limit”. Written by Frey, together with Don Henley and Randy Meisner, it was the only Eagles single on which Meisner sang lead. Here’s the song with Rachel Price singing lead.

David Bowie’s Last Shape Shift

David Bowie’s prolific and inventive recording career began over 50 years ago, and he achieved fame early on with the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969 (see our post from 2013).  Over the decades he was called a “shape shifter” for surprising us regularly with changes in look and musical style.  It is a bittersweet final chapter to his story that he passed away on the day he released “Blackstar”, with its full serving of new musical direction.  We won’t have the opportunity to hear Bowie expand and expound upon this new direction in interviews or performances, so let’s make sure to do a little examination of his last work on our own.

Blackstar was recorded with the backing of jazz musicians saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner.  Bassist Tim Lefebvre was on hand as well.  Bowie met McCaslin in 2014, and McCaslin, Monder and Guiliana played in the orchestra on Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”.  The track is in a straighter jazz vein than the more eclectic sounds the group created on “Blackstar”.

The songs from “Blackstar” getting the most early attention are its nearly 10-minute title track and “Lazarus”. Both are the subjects of elaborate videos, the latter taking on a special meaning in light of Bowie’s passing.  But the videos can frankly be a distraction from hearing the music, so let’s start with “Dollar Days” which has no video – but close your eyes for good measure.

Now that you’ve practiced listening with closed eyes, listen to “Lazarus” once that way, then take the last look at one of Rock and Roll’s geniuses he apparently intended us to take.