Thursday, February 15, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Will Weston: Meridian




Astute readers of this blog will recall that a couple of years ago, I reviewed an album by Will Weston called Heart of the Order. It was and has remained one that I enjoy listening to and reminded me that while the music being churned out by the commercial behemoth that is the music industry is cause for losing hope, there is still a lot of great independent music being made...you just need to dig a little to find it. After a couple of years, Will Weston and his band are back with their latest effort, Meridian.
From his website

"Sometimes it's simply in the blood. Despite a detached upbringing in the tropics of Hawaii, Will Weston's adherence to music runs deeper, the son of two accomplished touring and session musicians and grandson of 1950's Hollywood icons Jo Stafford & Paul Weston. Now ten years relocated to San Francisco, Weston's independent releases have refined a composite style of equally funky & soul driven rock songs, with a truest affection for melody. A lengthy residency at SF's iconic Boom Boom Room in 2015 forged both a loyal support base and core group of players behind him, earning Weston a seat at the table backed by session musicians responsible for some of the top recordings to emerge from the Bay Area. Teaming with East Bay funk-addict Nino Moschella at his own Bird & Egg Studios in 2016, Weston locked in ten ambitious new tracks due out this fall, comprising his third full-length, Meridian."

The band: 
 
Will Weston - Guitars, Vocals, Percussion
Nino Moschella - Bass, Drums, Synths
Max Cowan - Fender Rhodes and B3
Cyril Guiraud - Tenor Sax


Below is my track-by-track review of Meridian.


1. Able

The album starts off with computer processed drums before the melody comes in with a relaxed and lazy (in a good way!) groove. That groove is really insistent and there are some tasty guitar licks throughout. Lovely vocal harmonies on the choruses, too. A slightly understated but no less effective opener and we're off to a good start.  

2. (Not) So Good

A fast picked guitar riff opens the song before the drums playing a stomping four on the floor beat and the horns come in. This sounds very 1970s jazzy/funky. There are nice falsetto vocals in the chorus which remind me of mid-1970s funk. In fact, the song sounds like cross between Steely Dan and Sly and the Family Stone (and that's a good thing). There's a great tone on the guitar solo...gotta love those creamy Strat tones. Great bass propels the song during the outro and the horns are just so tight. I love the falsetto "whooo hooos" during the end...a very nice touch.

3. I'll Be You

It starts off with some fuzzed out guitar and organ and a syncopated tempo that lays down sparsely behind the vocals. It sort of reminds me of latter day Black Crowes in tone and overall feel. The fuzzed out horns sound really cool and help this cut stand out.

4. The Shadow

A change of gears, this time to a quieter ballad. It reminds me of The Police a little with the arpeggiated chords. It gets really pretty when the strings come in during the chorus. The cello playing a countermelody behind the vocal melody is very effective and moving. This is one of my favorite songs on the entire album.

5. Subtleties

There's a brief countdown of "3, 4!" and the song starts. The  bass and guitar sounds great as the drums and strings propel the song forward. Will does some great singing here. It has a really great late 1970s/early 1980s pop/rock sound and feel. The chorus really soars with the vocal harmonies and the sweeping strings. The song gets even better with a great saxophone solo where the band really lets loose for a bit. The saxophone continues to lead the way as it fades away in echo as the song comes to an abrupt end.

6. Set a Course

Radio chatter from what sounds like a NASA flight introduce "Set a Course" before some choppy guitar chords and syncopated interlocking bass and drums come in. The synthesizer swirls echo the vocal melody after the verses and the string swells sound a bit eerie and quite evocative.

7. Carry Me

This is a slightly slower paced song with beautiful acoustic guitar textures and percussion. The vocals are breezy and the melodies and harmonies are very pleasant.

8. Avalon

Another softer tune, but again it's one of the best cuts on the entire album. There is some aching, echoey guitar in this quiet ballad that fits perfectly in with the sound and feel of the track. Very, very beautiful.

9. Wounded Pride

This song opens up with a slightly funky bass line accompanied by dreamy guitar and organ. It sounds like what a 1980s pop song backing sounds like played with real instruments (which is a very good thing!). It reminds me a bit of XTC in terms of sound and feel during the chorus. Weston's vocals even sound a bit like Andy Partridge, who is someone anyone would be proud to be compared to. The instrumental bridge has a gorgeous organ backing while some tasty guitar licks lay on top. The vocals toward the end of the bridge are call and response and heighten the tension. Hands down, this is my favorite song on the album.

10. Only Hope

It quietly fades in and mainly contains a dialogue sample (which is where the title comes from). A mournful organ backing accompanies the voices throughout. A bit out of left field, but a very moving piece and a haunting end to the album.

Meridian has a much different feel and sound from Heart of the Order, but it still sounds unmistakably like Will Weston. It's a more somber, slightly darker sound than its predecessor and has more of a slow-burning intensity to it. Please make no mistake, though, that these are not bad things at all! Rather, Meridian has a different feel and vibe to it than Weston's previous effort, but it's no less of a strong, cohesive album. While it doesn't have the immediate earworms that the prior album has, repeated listening reveals a lot of great melodies and textures that stay stuck in your head for hours afterward. This is definitely an album that rewards repeat listens.

If you like the samples you heard above, you can buy Meridian here, and if you like what you hear  then go see Will and his band if they're playing near you! As always, I urge you to please support independent music and musicians by purchasing their music, going to see them live, and spreading the word. The artists (and your ears) will appreciate it!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Let It Reign




WARNING: I'm a lifelong New England Patriots fan, so if you're not a fan of the team (or if you're from one of the other 44 1/2 states that are NOT in New England), you may not want to read this. You have been warned!

As Super Bowl LII gets closer, I thought it would be a fun time, at least for me and my fellow Pats fans, to reflect on how impressive it is what the Patriots have done since 2001.

Since 2001, they have:

- had a winning record every season
- won the AFC East division 15 times, including the last 9 in a row (in 2002 and 2008, when they didn't win the division, they finished tied for the best record in the division but lost out on tiebreakers)
- appeared in 12 AFC Championship games, including the last 7 in a row
- played in 8 Super Bowls (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2017)
- won 5 Super Bowls in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, and 2016 (and lost the other 2, in 2007 and 2011, on last minute fluke catches)
- won 3 Super Bowls in a 4 year span (including 2 in a row: 2001, 2003, 2004)
- appeared in 3 Super Bowls in a 4-year span (winning the first two in 2014 and 2016, with this Sunday's game as their second back-to-back appearance)

All the while, they've been led during the entire run by arguably the greatest coach in NFL history and the greatest quarterback in NFL history (Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, respectively...as if you didn't already know). That unprecedented run of success, especially in the salary cap era where the NFL strives for parity by pushing all teams toward the same level of mediocrity, has no modern-era counterpart. Historically, what the Patriots are doing is on the same level as what the Boston Celtics did from the late 1950s to the late 1980s and what the New York Yankees did from the 1920s to the early 1960s.

Putting it into an even wider perspective, in my nearly 40 years on this earth, the Patriots have been to a total of 10 Super Bowls, which leads all NFL teams. Their 5 championships put them at second most all time, tied with the Cowboys and 49ers, and a win this weekend will tie them with the Steelers for most titles at 6. As a Boston sports fan, I've been spoiled beyond belief in my lifetime, and especially so over the last 20 years. However, the Patriots had long been the black sheep of the four teams in Boston. Prior to the early 1990s, they were an NFL laughing stock and apart from the Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in 1985 in which they were promptly destroyed by the historically great Chicago Bears, a perennial loser on the field. The nadir was reached in the early 1990s when the team very nearly picked up sticks and moved to St. Louis before Robert Kraft stepped in and bought the team to keep them in New England. The hiring of Bill Parcells and drafting Drew Bledsoe, both in 1993, helped make the team relevant and competitive; they even made it to the Super Bowl again in 1996. But it wasn't until hiring Belichick and drafting Brady, both in 2000, that the seeds for the dynasty were sown. I won't bore you with any more of the details because if you're a Patriots fan you already know them and if you're not, you still know them and are probably sick of hearing about them!

In closing, whether you're a Patriots fan or not, whether you're rooting for them against the Eagles this weekend or rooting against them, I hope you'll join me in taking a moment to appreciate what they've been able to accomplish over the past two decades as this is a run we aren't likely to ever see again in professional sports in general and (especially) in the NFL specifically. Win or lose this weekend, they go down as the latest dynasty in American team sports...and with the way Brady is still playing at age 40, they may not even be done yet.

Friday, January 12, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs


Countless book have been written on the Beatles with just about every aspect of their lives and careers touched upon. While their music has obviously been most heavily covered, there have also been numerous books about their fashion, relationships, solo careers, and influence. Thus, any time a new Beatles book comes on the market, it has to be very interesting and look at the band from a completely different angle in order for me to be interested. The new book Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs checks both of those boxes. In this book, author Joe Goodden has decided to look at the Beatles story through the lens of their drug use. Before anyone thinks that this book in any way glorifies drug use, let me assure you that it does not. Goodden states as much in his introduction and having read it myself, I can confirm that this is the case. It instead takes a scholarly approach at describing the Beatles' drug usage and how it informed and influenced their music and the relationships in the band. By remaining impartial and not passing judgments in either direction, the author has managed to write a book that is both informative and fascinating.



The central premise of this book is that the Beatles story is inextricably linked to their drug use, from their beginnings in Liverpool through the band's career, split, solo careers, and beyond. Riding So High is written such that each chapter is its own section dealing with a specific drug. There are chapters dealing with tobacco, alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and heroin. They're laid out in that order as well, from least harmful (relatively speaking) to most harmful, which also follows the general arc of when they entered the Beatles' orbit (which itself is no coincidence). While the chapters about tobacco and alcohol are somewhat innocuous, it's starting with the chapter on their amphetamine use where the book really starts to get interesting and begins to put their career into context through the lens of their substance use. Beat poet Royston Ellis first showed the band how to extract the Benzedrine from inhalers, but in a new revelation, it turns out Jane Asher's father, Dr. Richard Asher, also showed this trick to Paul after he moved into their house in 1963. From here, the Beatles fueled their grueling nights playing for hours on end in Hamburg and Liverpool with German amphetamine-based diet pills called Preludin. As they became famous and the demands of Beatlemania began to punish them mentally and physically, they remained indebted to speed in order to keep pace with their schedule. Eventually, pep pills gave way to strong amphetamines like Black Bombers and Purple Hearts, both of which became very popular with the Mod subculture in early 1960s London as well as with the hip crowd and rock cognoscenti of the era.


The infamous "Two Junkies" interview during which John & Yoko are stoned (& sick) on heroin

Another big revelation in perhaps the longest chapter, on marijuana, is that contrary to the legend that they first smoked it with Bob Dylan on their 1964 US tour, they had in fact tried it as far back as 1960. However, at that time they associated it more with jazz and folk musicians and didn't seem to care for it; there were also claims from the Beatles and those around them that they didn't really notice an effect from it. However, that all changed after the encounter with Dylan, and if one drug could be said to have influenced the Beatles' music more than any other, it would be marijuana. It was certainly the one substance all four of the band members used for the longest period of time. All of them grew to use it habitually, none more than Paul McCartney. His many brushes with the law (including the Japanese bust in January 1980) became infamous and it wasn't until the early 2000s that he finally announced he'd quit smoking it. LSD is the one other drug the Beatles are most commonly associated with, especially during their psychedelic period in the 1960s. While again, all four of them used it, it was George and most notably John who were regular users. Ringo was a less frequent tripper while Paul was the last one to use it and only a handful of times during the band's lifetime. While LSD opened up spiritual doors for George that lasted the rest of his life, for Lennon his daily usage of the drug for nearly two solid years led to ego death, reduced productivity, lessened aggression, a lack of confidence in his abilities, and some episodes that can be characterized as drug-induced psychosis. The return of his "normal" personality after he ceased regular use of the drug in late 1968 was anything but coincidence.



Even more interesting were the two chapters dedicated to substances the Beatles used (and are associated with) the least . Cocaine was only really used by Paul during the Beatles years of 1967 and 1968 and he stated quite clearly that he didn't much like it. In the post Beatle years, the other three indulged in it quite a bit. As for heroin, while Paul tried it once, John was the only one who used it regularly, and he and Yoko became full-blown junkies shortly after beginning their relationship in 1968. If one drug can be said to have actually had an impact on the end of the band, it would be heroin. While there were certainly numerous other contributing factors to the split, heroin did play a part as it sapped most, if not all of John's enthusiasm, energy, and productivity as a Beatle. While he somewhat spuriously blamed the UK press and the other three Beatles themselves for why he and Yoko started taking heroin, the book does shed light on the fact that it was a few years into the 1970s before he and Yoko finally got the monkey off their backs. After the chapters detailing individual drugs are additional chapters describing how substance use affected the four Beatles' solo careers and lives from the split to the present day.




One of best things about Riding So High is that the author maintains an objective and dispassionate voice throughout, never glorifying, condoning, or making light of the Beatles' drug use. Rather, Goodden only shows how their drug use influenced their behavior, relationships, and of course their music. The book has a lot of interesting new tidbits that kept even a longtime Beatles obsessive like me engaged and informed (and with as much minutiae on the Beatles as I know, that's no easy task!). One common thread that ran throughout the book was the cautiousness of Paul McCartney. Alone among the four Beatles, he routinely was the last to try something and, with the exception of marijuana, was the lightest user of said substance. The author also does a great job of following each Beatles' drug use and the consequences of their behavior into their solo careers, from Paul's multiple marijuana busts to Ringo's alcoholism, George's cocaine binges, and John's out of control behavior during his "Lost Weekend" of 1973-1975.  Unique among Beatles book in the angle it takes in telling their story, Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs is one of the most interesting and informative new Beatles books I've read in years. I highly recommend it to any Beatles fan, including seasoned Beatles fans and scholars. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am confident any Beatles fan will, too.

MY RATING: 10/10

Friday, December 15, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Who: I Was There



The Who were one of what I like to call the "Big Four" British rock bands to come out of the 1960s, the other three being the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Kinks. While these bands were and are still known for their legendary albums from that era, all four were also at varying times heavily touring and playing to fanatical audiences across the globe. However, of these four it was the Who who were the ultimate road dogs, relentlessly playing anywhere and everywhere throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s. While the Beatles retired from the road in 1966, the Stones slowed to sporadically touring certain regions in alternating years, and the Kinks were banned from touring the US from 1965 to 1969, the Who started in 1964 never slowed down until the end of 1973. Even then, they played several large concerts in 1974 and returned to large full scale touring in 1975 and 1976 before taking 1977 & 1978 off. Sadly, Keith Moon's death in September 1978 ended the original line-up of the Who and while they toured from 1979-82, again in 1989, and have been basically touring nonstop from 1996 to the present, it's the original (and in my opinion, the only real) incarnation of the band the evokes the most awe for their live performances.
  
Continuing on in the same vein as the previous books in this series which document fan memories of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones concerts during their vintage 1960s/early 1970s years, I recently reviewed this next book in the series focusing on The Who. While the book is around 450 pages long, the first 410 pages are taken up with the Keith Moon era, to give an idea of where the focus of the book is (and rightly so). Starting with their earliest shows from 1964 in hotels, pubs, and small clubs and tracing their career to the stadiums and arenas they headlined upon become rock superstars in the late 1960s, the book contains memories (and memorabilia) from those who saw the band at all stages of their legendary career. As with the other books in the series, the gigs of the 1960s, especially, hearken back to a more innocent and inexpensive era for seeing top acts in concert. In additions to countless small gigs all over the UK and US before the band became megastars in 1969, some of The Who's most famous concerts have recollections from those lucky enough to attend. These include the shows at Leeds University in 1970, their Woodstock and Isle of Wight shows from 1969, their legendary 1970 Isle of Wight show, Monterey Pop in 1967, the Cow Palace (1973) and Boston Garden (1976) debacles, and Keith's two final shows at Kilburn (1977) and Shepperton (1978). Speaking of Keith Moon, a common thread running throughout the book is his kindness during interactions with the lucky fans who shared their memories in this book. While most people quoted in the book remember John Entwistle as friendly and Roger and Pete as hit or miss (either prickly or gracious), everyone who was fortunate enough to meet Keith couldn't say enough of how nice and friendly he was. There is even a story from a man whose father became friends and (briefly) business partners with Keith in the early 1970s. Being the self-proclaimed "biggest Who fan in the world," it's easy to see how Moonie would act this way with fellow Who fans. It's yet another thing that makes him one of the real characters in rock history and reinforces how tragic his passing in 1978 really was.



The final 30-40 pages of the book contain memories of concerts from the post-Moon era of the band, mainly the immediate 1979-1982 aftermath (including the Cincinnati disaster on December 3, 1979). Beyond that are scattered memories of the 1989 "Who on Ice" tour (as it's derisively called by many fans) and their endless greatest hits tours from 1996 to present. One such show in 1997 I was lucky enough to attend, and while I didn't send my memory in for the book, I wrote about it here on this blog...you can read it HERE.



As with the other books in this series, you won't learn anything new in terms of facts about the band or their music. On the contrary, many of the memories contained within have factual errors as far as which songs were played or when/where certain concerts were; I put these down to the length of time between the when the shows occurred and the fan recollections coming decades later. What this book does offer is another trip back to a simpler time when seeing a great live band only cost a few dollars, musicians were approachable, and rock was in its infancy. As it always should be, it was only about the music and the experience of seeing fantastic bands playing right in front of you. On those terms, The Who: I Was There is another fun time capsule and one any Who fan or fan of 1960s music in general should enjoy.


MY RATING: 9/10




Friday, September 8, 2017

Still Here...

Just a quick update for everyone who reads this blog...I'm still here! I've been so busy with work, life, settling in to a new home, and family life that I haven't had much time to post anything on here. I still have lots of ideas and I've got a lot of writing on different things in progress, but it's been difficult to find the time to finish anything and publish it. Bear with me and be patient and I hope it'll be worth the wait!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Traffic

Traffic: (left to right) Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood, Steve Winwood (bottom) Dave Mason (ca. 1968)

It's been a while since I've done a band profile, so I thought it was time to write on about one of my favorite bands of the late 1960s/early 1970s: Traffic. Known mainly as the band that brought Steve Winwood to prominence, Traffic were one of the best and most influential bands to emerge in the latter half of the 1960s. Blending British psychedelic rock with folk, jazz, R&B, and blues music, the first half of their career from 1967-1969 saw them release three excellent albums and several hit singles with their original line-up. After a short break-up, they regrouped in 1970 to embark on the second phase of their career which saw them evolve into a jazzier, free-form style, going through several line-up changes until a final split in 1974. What they left behind was a legacy of great music that influenced many of their contemporaries, as well as future musicians.



Traffic formed in 1967, emerging from the Birmingham rock scene. Steve Winwood (guitar, bass, piano, organ, keyboards, vocals) was the eighteen year old prodigy who had fronted the Spencer Davis Group (whose hits included "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man"). Through sessions at The Elbow Room in Birmingham, he jammed with Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, keyboards), and Dave Mason (guitar, sitar, vocals). They decided to form a band, named it Traffic, and were signed by Island Records. Decamping to a Berkshire cottage for several weeks, they wrote the songs that would become their debut singles "Paper Sun" and "Hole in My Shoe." Both were hits in the UK and were a harbinger of things to come in terms of their composition: Winwood and Capaldi (and often, Wood) wrote together and developed the songs in a band setting, while Mason wrote alone and presented finished songs to the others, dictating how he wanted them to play. Additionally, Mason was fond of more traditional British pop song structures, while the other three tended to be more experimental and drew from wider influences. The blend worked musically, although the personality clashes between Mason and the others made things difficult. Their debut album Mr. Fantasy was released in 1967 and included the rock radio staple "Dear Mr. Fantasy" in addition to several other very strong tracks ("Heaven is in Your Mind," "Coloured Rain," "No Face, No Name, No Number"). Even on this first album, one can hear the jarring dichotomy between Mason's songs and those by Winwood/Capaldi/Wood. After the album was released, Mason left the band for a short time before returning to record their second, self-titled album. Released in 1968, Traffic was another strong album that actually featured a fair amount of collaboration between Mason and the others. The biggest song from that record was Mason's "Feelin' Alright," which would go on to be covered by numerous other artists (most notably Joe Cocker). The record had less psychedelia and featured a more stripped-down rock feel as was common in 1968 (see, for instance, the Beatles' 1968 self-titled album as another example). Other standout tracks included "Pearly Queen," "40,000 Headmen," and "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?" At this point, though, the conflicts between Mason and the others came to a head and he left the band for good. Traffic decided to split up shortly thereafter, most notably due to Winwood joining forces with Eric Clapton (of the recently split Cream) to form Blind Faith. A final album, Last Exit, was released in 1969. While it was clearly a record-company cash-in "farewell album," it contained several strong non-album singles and B-sides such as "Medicated Goo," "Withering Tree," and "Shanghai Noodle Factory." It also had two live cuts featuring the three-man Mason-less band that were quite interesting. During the late 1960s, the band members were also in demand to play on sessions with their friends and peers, most notably Jimi Hendrix, whose 1968 masterpiece Electric Ladyland featured contributions from Winwood, Wood, and Mason. This now brings us to phase two of the Traffic story...



After one hugely successful album and US tour, Blind Faith split in late 1969. Winwood decided to write and record a solo album and asked Capaldi and Wood to contribute. One thing led to another and it instead ended up becoming the next album from a reunited Traffic. John Barleycorn Must Die was released in 1970 and was one of Traffic's biggest and most acclaimed albums, with many people to this day claiming it as their best. The album saw Winwood handling all of the guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals while Capaldi would drum on a Traffic album for the final time until 1974. The opening salvo of "Glad/Freedom Rider" became a radio mainstay and one of their most well-known songs, and the rest of the album didn't contain any weak tracks. "Empty Pages" and the title track are stunning while the remaining songs are excellent and cover a variety of styles. Shortly after the album's release, Traffic once more expanded to a four-piece configuration by bringing in former Family and Blind Faith bassist Ric Grech. Later on in 1971, the band further expanded by adding drummer Jim Gordon (formerly of Derek and the Dominos), percussionist Rebop, and Dave Mason (for a third and final stint in the band). This line-up played six concerts in the UK which resulted in the live album Welcome to the Canteen. While this album divides many Traffic fans, in my opinion it's a solid and enjoyable document that showcases some of Mason's strongest solo material and Traffic's more extended jamming. However, Winwood made it very clear to Mason that he was only back in the band for these six shows, after which he left; the remaining line-up then went on to record The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Released in late 1971, this album is, depending on who you ask, either Traffic's best or second-best album. The eleven minute title track was (and still is) a regular presence on FM radio, but the tracks bookending the album ("Hidden Treasure," "Many a Mile to Freedom," and "Rainmaker") showcase the best of the band's writing and musical interplay with their perfect blend of guitars, keyboards, and woodwinds. The line-up continued to turn over, however, with Gordon and Grech being dismissed from the band after the tour supporting the album due to their drug habits, while the Muscle Shoals rhythm section of David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums) were brought in to replace them.  This incarnation of the band toured in 1972 and recorded 1973's Shootout at the Fantasy Factory, an album that has always felt like a sequel of sorts to Low Sparks. Much of this is down to the similar album art, as well as the overall feel of the songs. The writing and performances are a bit more understated (apart from the aggressive title track) and overall the album is a bit overlooked, although "Roll Right Stones," "(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired," and "Evening Blue" stand alongside anything else they recorded. It was during this period that Steve Winwood was suffering from complications due to peritonitis, while Chris Wood was sinking deeper into alcoholism and drug addiction.  A European tour followed in 1973, for which the band was augmented by Hawkins and Hood's Muscle Shoals bandmate Barry Beckett on keyboards. The resulting document from this tour was the 1973 album On the Road, showcasing material from the previous three studio albums in extended versions.  By the end of the tour, Steve's health was poor and Wood's addictions were becoming a liability, so Winwood dismissed the Muscle Shoals guys and brought Rosko Gee in on bass for the final Traffic line-up. This version of the band recorded 1974's When the Eagle Flies, which would prove to be the last album for the band. The songs were more somber and moody, most notably "Dream Gerrard" and "Graveyard People," while "Walking in the Wind" and the title track sounded more upbeat but had fairly bleak lyrics. In the midst of a UK tour in 1974, the band quietly split up.





After the 1974 split, the four original members of Traffic embarked on solo careers of varying success. Mason had success throughout the 1970s and continues to be in demand as a session player. Winwood started his solo career in the late 1970s and found megastardom in the 1980s and early 1990s with a series of hit singles and albums. Wood recorded solo albums although his addictions continued unabated, tragically leading to his death from pneumonia in 1983. Capaldi released some successful albums and continued his songwriting with and apart from Winwood. The two even recorded a final "Traffic" album, 1994's Far From Home. Capaldi eventually succumbed to stomach cancer and passed away in 2005. Musically, however, their legacy as Traffic remains intact and influential. In Winwood, the band had one of the most talented singers and instrumentalists of his generation. While he is rightfully highly regarded as a singer, piano/keyboard player, and songwriter, his talents on bass, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar are equally exceptional. His writing partner, Capadli, wrote many great lyrics for their songs and while he abandoned drumming from '71-'73, his talents behind the kit were excellent and augmented their songs. Chris Wood may be the most overlooked of the three core members, but his contributions should absolutely be appreciated for what they were. He was a great saxophone and flute player who always played to the song and functioned almost in the same way as a rhythm guitarist, supporting the song and emerging to the spotlight when it was his turn. The various members who drifted in and out of the band over their career (including founding member Mason) all brought something positive to their sound, but the core three of Winwood, Capaldi, and Wood were what gave Traffic its soul.



Getting personal now, Traffic were one of those bands that not too many people I grew up with in the 1980s and 1990s knew about, but I sure did. As far back as I can remember, my dad (who had been a Traffic fan since the 1960s) played their records. I grew up hearing songs from Mr. Fantasy, John Barleycorn Must Die, and The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys on a regular basis, as well as a lot of the earlier tracks on the compilation LP Heavy Traffic. I also recall being a bit confused/surprised that the Steve Winwood who was all over the radio and MTV with these slick AOR songs in the 80s was the same long-haired "muso" on all of those Traffic records from the 60s and early 70s. What drew me to them, besides Winwood's soulful and powerful vocals, was the instrumentation. I was used to listening to guitar-driven rock music, so to hear a band where the main driving force was piano/keyboard and where even the guitar-based songs weren't as in your face as other bands...this was something quite interesting to me. I was also really intrigued by the prominence of woodwinds as one of the main instruments in the band, and in a different manner than, say, Jethro Tull. Ultimately, what drew me in beyond all of this were the great songs and the juxtaposition of tight instrumental arrangements coupled with loose groovy improvisation (especially on their live stuff). Simply put, Traffic had a wholly unique and identifiable sound that captivated me the way it had captivated my dad and countless others in the 1960s. The fact that their music is still enjoyed and influential is a testament to their impact. If you haven't ever heard their music, I encourage you to check it out...as you can see, I think it's fantastic and I don't think you'll be disappointed. They continue to be one of my favorite bands of all time and I constantly find new things of interest and enjoyment in their songs, which I don't suspect will ever change.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: LENNONOLOGY: Strange Days Indeed (A Scrapbook of Madness)



With all of the words that have been written about the Beatles, both collectively and individually, I usually find myself asking if there's really a need for yet another book about them. While there have been many excellent well researched and well written books on them, those are vastly outnumbered by others that are little more than cash-in hack jobs. However, from the minute I heard about Lennonology several years ago, I knew it would be in the former category. For years, Chip Madinger and Mark Easter's book Eight Arms to Hold You has been an indispensable volume in my Beatles library, so when I heard that Chip was working on a new book, it was at the top of my list for  books worth checking out. As you'll gather from the following review, the book was more than worth the wait.


In a similar vein to excellent books like Mark Lewisohn's Complete Beatles Chronicle (which I will be reviewing at a later date), Doug Hinman's All Day and All of the Night, or Glenn Povey's Echoes, Lennonology is a day-by-day diary. However, for this book the authors have focused on John Lennon's life from the moment he met Yoko Ono in late 1966 until his murder in 1980. With their meticulous research, the authors have detailed just about every day in their lives during this fourteen year period. The entries for each day contain not only the big events that were happening in the lives of John and Yoko, but contemporary press accounts, media appearances, record releases, recording sessions, and even documents (notes, letters, memos, etc.) that they wrote, mailed, and published. There are even entries where the authors have determined the dates that John or Yoko wrote postcards, notes, and other scribbles. Through all of these entries, the evolution of John from latter-day Beatle to wannabe avant garde artist, solo musician, and political activist can be traced in real time as it happened.



This book took me a long to get through for the simple fact that there is so much information contained within that I read it very carefuly, going through it with a fine-toothed comb so as to not miss anything. At more than 500 pages, Lennonology is a staggering work of reference and information on John and Yoko's life and career. Going through the book, what struck me was the difference in contemporary public and media perception of John and Yoko versus how those events have been portrayed since his death.  While the conventional wisdom since 1980 has been that John and Yoko's exploits were hugely influential and covered enthusiastically by a press that waited with bated breath for their every move, the contemporary information presented by the authors shows that after the initial confusion, interest, and ridicule their relationship garnered, by late 1969 most of the press and fans grew weary of their constant need for attention. Furthermore, their somewhat egotistical chronicling of the minutiae of every aspect of their life, whether via record, film, or interview seemed to wear thin fairly quickly. Even John's status as a Beatle couldn't shield him from the press and fellow figures in the music business taking swipes at him (most strikingly DJ John Peel, who rightly sneered at John and Yoko's call for peace and activism while they rode in limos, flew on private jets, and lived in an enormous mansion). Indeed, by the time the Beatles officially split up in 1970, the press (and many fans) were quite tired of John and Yoko's media oversaturation.



Lennonology also gives some fascinating insight and context into the end of the Beatles. While much of the information has been known for a long time, here it's presented in chronological order to the exact day. Furthermore, there are a lot of little nuggets of information that were new to me, most surprising that John and Paul were still working on songs together and bouncing ideas off of each other as late as the spring of 1969. In addition to the Allen Klein problem, it's also shocking just how much the lack of effective communication between the four of them was to blame for the disintegration in relations. Even though John stunned the other three by declaring that he was leaving the band in late 1969, the door didn't seem to be completely closed until Paul issued his statement in April 1970. While it surprised George and Ringo, it infuriated John and ensured that any chance at further band discussions were remote, if not impossible. The naivete and silliness of much of John and Yoko's politics is also on full display through contemporary media coverage, especially in their early-to-mid 1970s period. John was well-known for finding a new craze or idea, jumping wholeheartedly into it with all-consuming enthusiasm, and then quickly losing interest and moving on to the next thing. His activism was no exception and as a reader, I felt embarrassed for him...no doubt he would be as well were he still alive to read Lennonology.  John's immigration battle to remain in the USA and gain permanent resident status was described in fine detail and sets the record straight on a lot of things regarding the motivations, political and otherwise, behind his nearly six year battle through the court system. As the 1970s progressed, it was interesting to track how John's life settled down after he spiralled out of control during his Lost Weekend of 1973-74. Once his son Sean was born in 1975, he took his hiatus from the music business, finally got his Green Card, and embraced getting older and being a father. However, it was also sad to read of the events in 1980, especially with how fulfilled and happy John seemed to be as he approached 40. Since we all know what happened on December 8th of that year, reading the events leading up to that moment have an almost fatalistic sense of doom that makes it very emotional and difficult to get through. The authors do a nice job of sticking to the facts and letting John and Yoko's words tell the story. The chronicle ends right as John steps out of his limo and onto the sidewalk outside the Dakota that evening, which is as tasteful (yet melancholy) a way to end the book as there could be. The final sections of the book consist of several appendices detailing John and Yoko's discographies as well as a plethora of information such as all of their residences, hotels, and the like during their time together. As an added bonus, there are more than 150 pages of electronic indices available at www.lennonology.com for further research and insight.



The long and short of it is that, if you're a serious fan of the Beatles and/or John Lennon, this is an essential and valuable book for studying their life and career together. The attention to detail is exceptional and while it's densely packed with information, it's very readable. In fact, I would recommend a thorough beginning-to-end reading of the book. Even though it can also be used as a reference book for looking up specific events and dates, the telling of their story and career predominantly in their own words is really enjoyable. There are many new tidbits of information throughout the book that, when read in their proper context, help certain events make more sense than they ever have. Simply put, this is an excellent book that no serious Lennon fan should be without. The true challenge is now waiting for volume two to be released in order to see what new information the authors have unearthed. Lennonology is an exceptional work on the life and career of one of music's true geniuses and his equally interesting (and misunderstood) partner.

LENNONOLOGY can be purchased at www.lennonology.com

MY RATING: 10/10