Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rock Albums Post XVIII: Sturgill Simpson "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" (2016)

“A Sailor's Guide To Earth” by Sturgill Simpson (2016)

Genre: Alt-Country, Country, Alt-Rock, Country Soul

Label: Atlantic

Producer: Sturgill Simpson

Best Tracks: "Brace For Impact (Live A Little),” “Welcome To Earth,” “Keep It Between The Lines,” “Call To Arms”

Rating: A

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" 
Wow! That was my first impression after taking a listen to this album that was released in April 2016. This one is a bit older but is just catching on after Sturgill was nominated for two Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year). He won one Grammy for Best Country Album. I discovered the album just this week and this album is HOT! HOT! HOT! and in my mind should have won Album of the Year but of course Adele "25" won, which itself is an excellent album - but "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is far more diverse, versatile and overall a much stronger album than "25."

Sturgill Simpson shows bits of David Gray, Alex Clare, Van Morrison and Ronnie Milsap. He is an old soul at the young age of 38. He writes songs with the wisdom of a sailor who has sailed the seas of life for twice the amount of decades of his actual age.

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is categorized as a country music album and has climbed to #1 on both the country music and rock music charts as well as #1 on the folk music charts. It has also reached #3 on billboard's Top 200 albums chart. This week the album re-entered the Billboard chart at #44 with a bullet.

Though categorized as a country music album it is far more versatile than simply a country album. The depth in musicianship and lyrics puts the album in a category all it's own. This is quite simply one of the most intriguing albums of the past 20 years.

This album is full of introspection, joy and great guitar and synthesizer sounds... and Sturgill wrote all the songs to boot (except the cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom").

The album opens with the sounds of ship's bell chiming (a sound you hear on other songs throughout the album) and the beautiful tinkling of keyboards. "Welcome To Earth" sounds like a refreshing ocean morning relaxing in the mist of the ocean air. Three minutes in the song turns into a surprising upbeat Motown flavored experience with horns and R&B rhythms. As a matter of fact The Dap-Kings (famous for playing behind Sharon Jones) are the credited horn section on this song and several others on the album.

The otherworldly "Breakers Roar" is soothingly beautiful accented with country tinged steel guitars bringing out an ethereal sound that gives the song a floating feel. This song screams David Gray but so much more in it's intensity and beauty.

"Keep It Between The Lines" is a traditional country song that breaks out with a high-stepping brass section very reminiscent of 1979 era Ronnie Milsap. This immediately made me think of Milksop's '79 hit "Get It Up." The song features some hot licking slide guitar and awesome electric guitar. The rhythm section fires up the funk keeping it all in a traditional country music style.

"In Bloom" is the only song not written by Sturgill Simpson. "In Bloom" was written by Kurt Cobain and was featured on the 1992 Nirvana album "Nevermind." Sturgill took the song and made it all his own with an intense delicate power working into a storm of emotion and a wall of sound production.

Brace For Impact (Live A Little)" is my favorite song from the album for many reasons. I love the David Gilmour style guitar chords and the music video is eerie and amazing. Simpson sings this anthemic song with conviction and intensity like no other singer of this decade. "Brace For Impact" is not what you would expect to hear on a country music album. With it's pulsating electric bass opening it is a song that sounds like it could have been written for a Pink Floyd album all the while maintaining it's country music influence. "Brace For Impact" is a song about death and how different people react to it's inevitability. Sturgill's dark guitars and electronic synthesizer drive this song and turn it into an event in music that should not be missed.

"All Around You" is a great 1950s blues style country song while "Oh Sarah" is that country song filled with hurt, pain and joy.

The album closes with one of it's strongest songs. "Call To Arms" starts of with the distant sound of seagulls, ship bells and bag pipes. The bag pipes add this unusual sort of ocean sound to the song - it works quite well. Quickly the song turns funky with R&B honky tonk horns that makes the song feel like something you might have heard in the explosive 1980 film "The Blues Brothers." Let me tell you the guitar work in this song is absolutely killer. I am a huge fan of the guitar and Sturgill ranks right up there with the best of the best. The bluesy piano parts rock this song out which at points reminds me just a little bit of Elvis Presley.

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is one of those albums that has surprises around each corner. The musical texture is as diverse as it gets and best of all Sturgill Simpson is a really great singer. I highly recommend this album to anyone that is an avid fan of diversity in music.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Rock Albums Post XVII: Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. by Bruce Springsteen

“Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” by Bruce Springsteen (1973)
Release Date: January 5, 1973
Produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos
Genre: Rock, Heartland Rock, Folk Rock, Classic Rock
Label: Columbia

Chart Positions: #35 (Sweden), #41 (UK), #60 (US), #71 (Australia), #181 (Japan)
Certifications: 2xPlatinum (US), Gold (Australia), Silver (UK)
Awards: N/A

Singles and Chart Positions: “Blinded By The Light” (No chart data), “Spirit In The Night” (no chart data)
 Singles Certifications: N/A
Other Charting Tracks: N/A
Best Tracks: All Tracks – Solid album from beginning to end

Trivia: This is where it all started for Bruce Springsteen. It was a humble start as the album only made it to #60 in the US and #41 in the UK. But the critics loved him as they called nim a “daring new artists” with comparisons to Bob Dylan. It would take another 2 ½ years, with the release of “Born To Run,” before the public realized the genius of Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen and his first manager Mike Appel recorded the album at the low-priced, out-of-the-way 914 Sound Studios to save as much as possible of the Columbia Records advance and cut most of the songs in a single week.

There was a dispute not long after the record was recorded—Appel and John Hammond preferred the solo tracks, while Springsteen preferred the band songs. As such, a compromise was reached—the album was to have five songs with the band ("For You", "Growin' Up", "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City", and "Lost in the Flood") and five solo songs ("Mary Queen of Arkansas", "The Angel", "Jazz Musician", "Arabian Nights", and "Visitation at Fort Horn").

However, when Columbia Records president Clive Davis heard the album, he felt that it lacked a hit single. As such, Springsteen wrote and recorded "Blinded by the Light" and "Spirit in the Night". Because pianist David Sancious and bassist Garry Tallent were unavailable to record these songs, a three-man band was used—Vini Lopez on drums, Springsteen on guitar, bass, and piano, and the previously missing Clarence Clemons on saxophone. These two songs bumped "Jazz Musician", "Arabian Nights", and "Visitation at Fort Horn", leaving a total of seven band songs and two solo songs. The album was originally slated to be released in the fall of 1972, but it was moved back to early 1973 to avoid the pre-Christmas crush.

Both "Blinded by the Light" and "Spirit in the Night" were released as singles by Columbia, but neither reached the US charts. Manfred Mann's Earth Band released a version of "Blinded by the Light" on their album The Roaring Silence, which reached #1 on both Billboard's Hot 100 and the Canadian RPM chart. This recording of "Blinded by the Light" is Springsteen's only number one single as a songwriter on the Hot 100. His best showing on the Hot 100 as a performer was in 1984, with "Dancing in the Dark", which peaked at number two for 4 weeks.[4] Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. first charted in the United Kingdom on June 15, 1985, in the wake of Springsteen's Born in the USA tour arriving in Britain; it remained in the top 100 for ten weeks.

Blinded By The Light

According to Springsteen, “Blinded By The Light” came about from going through a rhyming dictionary in search of appropriate words. The first line of the song, "Madman drummers, bummers, and Indians in the summers with a teenage diplomat" is autobiographical—"Madman drummers" is a reference to drummer Vini Lopez, known as "Mad Man" (later changed to "Mad Dog"); "Indians in the summer" refers to the name of Springsteen's old Little League team; "teenage diplomat" refers to himself. The remainder of the song tells of many unrelated events, with the refrain of "Blinded by the light, cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night".

"Blinded by the Light" was the first song on, and first single from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Springsteen's version was commercially unsuccessful and did not appear on the music charts.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band's recording of the song changes the lyrics. The most prominent change is in the chorus, where Springsteen's "cut loose like a deuce" is replaced with "revved up like a deuce." This is commonly misheard as "wrapped up like a douche" (the V sound in "revved" is almost unpronounced, and the S sound in "deuce" comes across as "SH" due to a significant lisp). Springsteen himself has joked about the controversy, claiming that it was not until Manfred Mann rewrote the song to be about a feminine hygiene product that it became popular.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band also released their version of “Spirit In The Night” which made it to #40 on the US Billboard singles chart. The song was originally featured on their 1975 album “Nightengales and Bombers” and was released as a single to moderate success. After the huge success of “Blinded By The Light” they rerecorded the and rereleased as a single in 1977.

Although "Spirit in the Night" was one of the last songs written for the album, it did grow out of an earlier version of the song that Springsteen had played live prior to receiving his recording contract. The lyrics themselves describe a group of teenagers — Wild Billy, Hazy Davy, Crazy Janey, Killer Joe, G-Man and Mission Man, who is the person in the song telling the story — going to a spot called "Greasy Lake" near "Route 88" for a night of freedom, sex, and drinking. But their escape to the freedom of Greasy Lake is short lived, the emphasis is on the friends' togetherness. The lyrics of the song echo the Crazy Jane poems of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
The follow-up album to “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle,” features a song entitled "Wild Billy's Circus Story".

In an attempt to capitalize on the success of “Blinded By The Light” and to a lesser degree “Spirit In The Night,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band” recorded and released a third song, “For You,” from “Greetings For Asbury N.J.” They only made it to #106 in 1981 with the song.

The lyrics of “For You” are about a woman who has attempted suicide. She does not need the singer's "urgency" even though her life is "one long emergency" as Springsteen sings in the chorus (along with "and your cloud line urges me, and my electric surges free"). The singer is committed to doing anything to save her, and admires her ability to hang on. Once again, the lyrics are evocative of images and not details.



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