Tag Archives: traveling wilbury

Tragic Wilbury Shortage Continues

As always, I’m a day late and a dollar short with this post, but I had to say something on the passing of legendary rocker Tom Petty. Petty was a staple on the classic rock radio I grew up listening to, so he was an important musical figure in my early life. I distinctly remember seeing him play “Walls” on Saturday Night Live and seeing the video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” when it premiered in the early 1990’s. I saw Petty live once, in the mid-1990’s, and remember the show being really good.

But, like most things, I took Tom Petty for granted. The last album I bought and listened to from Tom was THE LAST DJ. My musical tastes shifted in high school away from rock towards blues. I know that everything eventually ends and we are all destined to one day die, but for some reason, I never thought I’d have to exist in a post-Tom Petty world. But here we are.

history-band-2

Of all the things Tom Petty was a part of, probably my favorite was The Traveling Wilburys. I don’t hear very many people talk about them anymore, but the Wilbury’s quirky brand of rock always impressed me. On paper, super groups should always produce amazing music, but the reality is that, for most, the sum is never greater than the parts. The Traveling Wilburys were the exception, though they only released two albums, they’re one of my all-time favorite bands. Tom Petty was the “young” guy in the group, the one who (at the time) was the mortal among the legends. That Tom Petty was able to fit into a band with Bob Dylan and George Harrison should go a long way in proving Petty’s exceptional talent. With Petty’s death, the world is now down three Wilburys: Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Tom Petty. To think that Dylan outlived Tom Petty is actually pretty mind-blowing and just goes to show you that you never can tell who has how much time remaining.

When I think of Tom Petty, I’ll always think of the Wilburys, my parents vinyl copy of SOUTHERN ACCENTS, and how he chose to not go after The Strokes for ripping off “American Girl” with their breakout hit “Last Night.” If you haven’t heard “Last Night” in a while, go back and listen, the guitar riff totally rips off “American Girl.” A young band like The Strokes could have had their careers ruined by a lawsuit from a powerful rock star, but Petty (and/or his management) never saw fit to take the NYC hipsters to task for their blatant plagiarism. Now that I’m older, I actually see how generous and kind this act was on Petty’s part.

Rest in Power, Tom Petty. Your catchy, southern-infused brand of rock will live forever in the hearts of rock fans forever.

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George Harrison’s Final Masterpiece: BRAINWASHED

I still can’t believe that George Harrison has been dead for 10 years. It seems like only yesterday we lost him. Of all The Beatles, I think George has the strongest, and more overlooked solo material. Paul and John always stole the limelight while they were together and in their solo careers they continued to overshadow poor George, which is a shame because he had a bunch of really sublime songs.  His first solo record, the first solo record from any Beatle, ALL THINGS MUST PASS is stupendous work that is probably one of the finest rock albums of all time.

After his triumphant first release George put out a bunch of really strong, but mostly ignored records in the 1970’s and then slowed his output to only 3 records in the 1980’s. There were two awesome Traveling Wilbury records and 1987’s CLOUD NINE, the nothing. When George died in 2001 after a long battle with cancer, my first thought was a selfish one: no more George Harrison songs. Thankfully, George was hard at work on a new record right up till his death. He finished most of the recording and left detailed notes behind so that Jeffy Lynne and his son Dhani Harrison could finish the record.

brainwashed

Posthumous releases are, quiet frankly, pretty shitty normally. Think about it: you’re dying are you really going to do your best work? But amazingly BRAINWASHED turned out to not only be a good record, but one of George’s best. In fact, I’d say it’s nearly tied with ALL THINGS MUST PASSED.  And the only reason ALL THINGS edges it out in my mind is because it’s a double album and thus, has more songs.

So what makes BRAINWASHED so good? For starters, the songwriting. Harrison learned songwriting from arguably the two greatest songwriters of all time so of course he was going to be able to write a good song. Besides being immediately accessible and catchy, the songs on BRAINWASHED all have a very down-to-earth feel. While not a concept album, the album’s songs all tend to be about assessing one’s life. That shouldn’t come as any big surprise considering that Harrison was knocking on death’s door. But whereas my death-album would be a series of pathetic screams of “Dear God not me!” George not only puts on a brave face, but appears beautifully serene in the face of his end. Entire books could be written about Harrison’s spirituality, and while I’ve heard many people question just exactly what he believed (and how strongly he believed it) there’s no arguing that whatever he let into his heart gave him a tremendous amount of strength and comfort. How do I know? It’s all here, persevered forever on BRAINWASHED.

The album opens with the playfully philosophical “Any Road” which points out that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. It’s a great song to open the album; its footloose and breezy attitude encourages the listen to embark on an adventure, any adventure. “Looking For My Life” is the first in a series of songs where George turns inward and examines his life. It’s a song about being through the wringer and separated from God but not really knowing it until things get rough. All of the problems raised by “Looking For My Life” are immediately answered in the very next song, “The Rising Sun.” Through spiritual re-birth and the actual re-birth of the day George found the answer to his problems. “The Rising Sun” is such a beautiful, hope-filled song I can’t believe it was penned by a man who knew he wouldn’t live to see many more sunrises. And don’t get me started on that slide guitar, has there ever been a more beautiful sound than George playing slide guitar? It’s Harrison’s signature guitar tone and on “The Rising Sun” in particular it’s used to great effect.

glowing inner light

The album’s single, “Stuck Inside A Cloud,” is ironically the records biggest downer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song, but it’s a depressing final single.   “Stuck Inside A Cloud” seems to be about a lasting, incurable depression brought about (or perhaps causing?) a break-up. I think it might also be a metaphor for how disconnected we all are.

One of the most interesting songs, especially when I first heard BRAINWASHED was “Run So Far.” I had a strange bit of déjà vu where I was able to predict all the lyrics. I thought I was going insane until I was finally able to figure out where it was I’d heard the song before: Eric Clapton’s 1989 solo effort JOUNREYMAN. George wrote the song and gave it to his friend/wife-stealer and then waited a decade to record it himself. I must say, I like George’s version better, but only for the same reason I always prefer Dylan’s version of his songs: it’s always better to hear it from the author.

There’s a nice bit of whimsy near the end with a cover of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” on which George plays the ukulele. I smile every time I hear this song, mostly because I know that had a very special place in George’s heart. He and John Lennon famously bonded over the ukulele. George’s choice in instrument adds a jaunty-nautical feel to the song. It’s probably my favorite version of this song.

The album concludes with “Brainwashed,” George’s final ode to God, whom he loved so dearly. Of all the songs on BRAINWASHED, “Brainwashed” feels the most like a Traveling Wilburys song. I’m not sure if it’s the songs humor (his grandma was brainwashed while working for the mob?) or the excessive Jeff Lynne production, but until the song transforms into the prayer “Namah Parvait” it could have easily fit on the Wilburys VOLUME 3.

George began his solo career with a phenomenal album and he thankfully was able to finish his solo career with a phenomenal album.  I’ve read that BRAINWASHED was a bit of a disappointment commercially, which is a real shame and one of the reasons I decided to write this post.  If you like The Beatles, rainy day music, hope in a hopeless world, ukuleles, top-notch songwriting, strong hooks, slide guitar, and Eastern chanting you owe it to yourself to check out BRAINWASHED.

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Robin Zander’s Secret Country Album: COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

I’ve been on a roll with the country-themed posts, so I decided to do one more.  I’ve been meaning to reviewing COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.,  Robin Zander’s long-gestating (country) solo album with a complicated release history.  The record was supposed to come out a few years ago but has been stalled for reasons no one seems to know.  Apparently it was for sale on the Zune music service for two days before the record label spontaneously removed it. Since this is 2012, I of course have a bootleg copy of the album which I have been enjoying…

Robin Zander, a real rhinestone cowboy.

So why the delays? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that, on paper at least, a country album from the lead singer of Cheap Trick would be a train-wreck–an utter mess of twang and vanity, fit only for the most fervent Cheap Trick/Zander fan.  I adore Cheap Trick and think Zander can (almost) do no wrong, but even I was skeptical when I first heard about COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  But after giving it a few listens I can honestly say that it’s really good.

The key to COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. not being an epic pile of shite is this: the album isn’t really hard-core country.  It’s a rock album with country overtones and twangy guitars (and some fiddling).  Robin Zander did not record a Garth Brooks record by any stretch.  Like many solo albums of those involved in major bands, there are many songs that sound as though they could have easily fit onto the next Cheap Trick record.  If like me, you’re starved for Cheap Trick, then this is a very good thing.  If Cheap Trick ain’t your bag, then you’re probably not going to find much to like on COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.

The album opens with “Every Dog,” which sounds like a weaker Traveling Wilbury’s number.  It’s not quite rock, not quite country  and right away there are Hare Krishna references.  It’s a good song and pretty representative of what lies ahead: Wilburys-esque rockers with an eccentric-lyrical bent. I’m sure Zander’s vocals have been touched up, but damn does he still sound good.  Even if it is a special effect, one can’t help but admire how great he still sounds.  I especially was impressed with his cooing on “Love Comes*.”  It might seem like a silly thing, but I don’t think it’s easy for most singers to belt it out one minute then come all the way down to a gentle coo.

Standouts on the album include the gentle ballad “Heart of Glass” and the barn-burner “Say You Will.”  The former being a countrified version of the epic tender-jams Cheap Trick are famous (notorious?) for.  “Say You Will” is a solid rave-up that finds Zander wailing á la Little Richard.

The best song, though, on COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. is “Pamela Jean.”  However, the first time I heard it I thought that my iTunes had skipped, or that the album was over, and I was hearing Cheap Trick.  “Pamela Jean” really stands out as a great song, but it doesn’t have much in common with the more countrified-songs on the record.   So here I am, saying that the best song on the record is the one that seems to fit-in the least.  I guess that’s a crappy backhanded compliment to both the song and the record, and perhaps this is the fatal flaw that’s doomed COUNTRYSIDE BLVD. from ever being properly released.

And so, while COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  is a mind-blowing revelation,  it’s by no means the terrible album many have inferred it to be.  Hell, with all the hoop-la surrounding the album’s release (or lack thereof), the fact that it’s not an embarrassment comes as a relief.  I think this would be an awesome album to take along on a long, moonlight drive.  It’s a shame we all cant’ go to the store/iTunes and buy COUNTRYSIDE BLVD.  but in the meantime take a listen to “Pamela Jean”.  Just don’t tell the label.

Zander and his two best friends: his dog Buddha and the hat that hides his receding hairline.

*Which, all you hard-core Cheap Trick fans know is from the band’s 1985 album STANDING ON THE EDGE.

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