Monday, December 31, 2007

Ronnie by Ron Wood

I just finished reading Ronnie by Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones and I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The book can be a little frustrating in times because at first Wood doesn't deal with things in a strictly chronological way which can be a bit confusing. And his discussion of his time in the Faces is pretty brief and mostly about destroying hotels. I would love to have heard a bit about the Rod Stewart solo album thing that Wood was involved in. Wood's book also seems to be mostly a series of anecdotes rather than a more organized look at his life, understandable since he spent most of it drunk or stoned. It appears that Wood is sober now although he still seems to have a rather casual attitude about drugs and booze. This is in sharp contrast to Clapton's autobiography which is really the story of his recovery. Wood's is a trip through his life of debauchery and, while he expresses regret at a few of the things that he did that were not very smart, most of the time he just laughs his way through them.

But, those issues aside, this is an engaging book and the writing is easy-going and fun. Wood's personality really comes through. It was my intention, since I'm not much of a Rolling Stones fan, to just dip into the book here and there. But the first chapter grabbed me so quickly that I soon found myself reading it all. Many of the characters in this book show up in the recent books by Eric Clapton and Patti Boyd (see my reviews here and here) so it is interesting to see yet another perspective on this. Ronnie is hardly the definitive biography of Ron Wood – it's not nearly comprehensive enough for that and there are too many anecdotes and not a complete look at his life. But it is an engaging look at someone who has lived the rock and roll lifestyle to the hilt and has lived to tell about it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Apple Stores

Grand Rapids has an Apple Store and my son, an Apple fan, often gets me to go in there with him. It's not a hardship for me because the store is a great place and they have cool stuff. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that way. Here is a New York Times article that says the same thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Phil Keaggy – The Master and Musician 30th Anniversary Edition

A little over thirty years ago, when I was a student at Calvin College, a band of Christian musicians came to campus to give a concert. The band was called Wing and a Prayer and it was many of the players from the influential band Love Song, which had recently disbanded. I got to hang out with them for the day as they set up and prepared to give the concert and their bass player Jay Truax asked me if I had ever heard of Phil Keaggy. I had not. He told me that I absolutely had to get a hold of his album, Love Broke Thru. I did and that was how I started listening to Keaggy's music. I have been doing it pretty consistently ever since. One of the first albums of Phil's that I bought as soon as It came out was The Master and the Musician, an instrumental album that was a real eye opener. Keaggy combined influences from rock, folk and jazz along with delicate arrangements to make a wonderful album that still remains one of his finest.

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Master and Musician, Keaggy has released a new edition, remastered and sounding wonderful, along with a bonus CD of out-takes, interviews and commentary. The sound on the remastered M&M is simply wonderful. The guitar sounds are clear and distinct and I am hearing things that I have never heard before. This has made a great album even better. The bonus CD is interesting but I don't think it is going to get lots and lots of play – it's the sort of thing you listen to while you're studying the album but not just for casual listening. The commentaries, interviews and alternate partial mixes are fascinating, though and will help me understand the album better as I listen to it anew.

This is a wonderful reissue of a landmark album. You can pick it up from Phil's website. (As you can see, I got a signed copy.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The internet allows us to see the ghosts of Christmas Past

This is, apparently, from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. This scene marks the "Life Day Ceremony." Any additional comment would be superfluous.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Musical Year - 2007

Throughout the year I have written about a number of the CDs that I spent time listening to. I was glancing at a couple of online top-ten lists and realized that I have listened to very few of the albums in these lists. This may be a factor of my advanced age but I really do try to stay up on things. I bought, for example, new albums by Rilo Kiley, A Fine Frenzy, Mae, Norah Jones, and Arcade Fire but I still feel like I've been out of touch with cutting edge music. I try to stay caught up by downloading the songs of the week from iTunes and by reading Paste magazine and listening to the sampler CD but, frankly, I end up deleting most of the stuff I get because I'm not wild about it. And even though I listen to songs by Brenda Carlisle and Amy Winehouse I just don't like it well enough to want to listen to a while lot more. I guess I'm just old.

So, with that disclaimer, here is my list of albums that really grabbed me this year. As in years past, this is not the best of the year, per se, it's the stuff that I spent the most time actually listening to. So this is the stuff that I clearly liked the most.

  • Memory Almost Full – Paul McCartney
    The single most listened to album of the year for me, hands down, is Paul McCartney's latest. It seems almost cliché that I would pick a Beatles album but, the fact is, I listened to this album a LOT this year. I just really liked it. See my review here.
  • The Circling Hour – Iona
    I spent a lot of time listening to Iona this year and The Circling Hour just might be one of their best ever albums. Outstanding music with great lyrics. My review is here.
  • Instant Karma – various artists
    The John Lennon songbook as interpreted by artists as diverse as U2, Green Day and REM. This one spent a lot of time on my iPod and also in my car. Great songs. My review is here.
  • The Song Within – Phil Keaggy
    I have loved Phil's playing for years and it is a real treat to have him hit one out of the park this year. This instrumental album is one of my all time favorite Keaggy albums. My review is here.
  • Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
    Bethany recently wrote about this on her blog and I waited for a long time to write about it because I felt like I didn't understand it very well. Musically it is quite dense and lyrically it confuses me but I really do like it – I'm just not sure why. Here is what Bethany had to say about it, though.

There were, of course, other albums that I enjoyed: Tell Me What You Know by Sara Groves, The Silence of Everything Yearned For by Ric Hordinski, both The Trumpet Child and Live from Nowhere, Vol 2 by Over the Rhine, Singularity by Mae, Overdressed by Caedmon's Call (my review is here) and Letters to the Editor, Vol 1 by Andrew Osenga (download it for FREE here) are all honorable mention albums but they just didn't have the staying power in my iPod and player that these other albums did.

So there is my list. I also rediscovered a lot of of music this year like the Andrew Osenga catalog and Iona's music and that was a lot of fun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paul McCartney - The McCartney Years - Another Review

Here is a review of The McCartney Years written by someone who was predisposed to dislike it. I found his take interesting.

In case you missed it, here is my review.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pattie Boyd – Perhaps Not So Wonderful

As a fan of both the Beatles and of Eric Clapton, I found the idea of an auto- biography of Pattie Boyd, the woman who had married both Eric and George Harrison, to be one that I couldn't miss. She had a front row seat to the all of the post Hard Day's Night Beatles and to Clapton's years with Derek and the Dominoes and his early solo Career. Boyd is Layla! So I was anxious to read Pattie's story called Wonderful Tonight. I thought this would be interesting not only as a person who has read a lot of Beatles books but I had recently read Clapton's autobiography. The difference between them is striking. I thought that Eric's book is, curiously, the better written of the two. I say that this is curious because Boyd's is basically written by her collaborator, Penny Junor, while Clapton rewrote his ghost-written book himself. More striking, though, is that Eric rewrote his book because he said it was too easy to blame other people in the ghost-written version. Blaming themselves is something that recovering addicts seem to do well. They know that the things that they do when they're drunk are not someone else's fault. In contrast, Boyd is eager to lay her problems at the feet of lots of other people; her parents, Harrison, Clapton, etc. I'm sure that living with these people was no picnic but Boyd seems to take little responsibility for her seemingly constant drinking. (She was bad enough that Clapton wrote the song "Shape You're In" about and to her.) Near the end of the book she simultaneously writes about being short on money but yet traveling to exotic places, something those of us who are not high rollers have a hard time understanding.

To make matters worse there are a couple of errors that, while they're not a big deal, are irritating. Boyd talks about the wonderful Harrison song, "Something," that he wrote for her. Unfortunately, she says that it's on the White Album instead of on Abbey Road, where it really is. Then, near the end of the book she said that she had to sell a rare guitar because she needed the money – she sold a "1960 Les Paul Stratocaster." As any guitar player knows there are Gibson Les Pauls and there are Fender Stratocasters. What she wrote is the equivalent of saying that she has a Cadillac Mustang. She clearly doesn't really know what we had.

But quibbles aside Wonderful Tonight is just not a great book. Her story, especially as it gets near the end, just isn't interesting enough, which seems hard to believe. Beatles fans who have read other books about them will learn nothing new here. Clapton fans might find this new perspective interesting but, frankly, she doesn't add much to that story either. So, if you want to read it, do what I did – check it out of the library. I'm unlikely to ever want to refer back to it.

Lennon, 27 years later

On this 27th anniversary of John Lennon's death it's hard to believe that I continue to discover new things in his music but 2007 was a year of rediscovery for me with respect to Lennon's solo music. This was due mostly to the Instant Karma collection which helped me to realize that the songs themselves, not just the performances, were powerful. After hearing those I went back and listened to many of his original recordings to find that, even after all these years, they still sound great. I've written before about Lennon and his influence on my music. As a member of the Beatles he was a driving force behind their work and his writing and singing in that band set the standard for pop music for the next four decades. It certainly would have been interesting to see what would have happened had be not been killed so early – would he, like Paul, have continued to make music consistently throughout his life, expanding into classical music perhaps? I think that's unlikely. I think it is more likely that he would have, like George, led a mostly private life emerging occasionally with new music when it suited him and I think that, while that music would have continued to show remarkable growth, that he would continue being primarily influenced by the most basic of rock influences. John was a rocker and, when push came to shove, old rock and roll was not just one of his primary influences (as it was with Paul,) it was THE influence. I don't think he would have strayed far from that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Revolver – the best Beatles album?

I am once again going through all the Beatles albums in order on my commute. As I have mentioned before, I have a six-CD changer in my car and two of those slots have Beatles in them. I've allowed each Beatles album to stay in the rotation for two plays and then I switch it out for the next one. Today I heard what I have long considered the best Beatles album, Revolver, and I was reminded why I like it so much. It's almost all there – all the things that are great about the Beatles are present on Revolver. George Harrison has a rocker ("Taxman,") a song with Indian influence ("Love You To,") and a mid tempo song ("I Want to Tell You,") all of which are among his best Beatles era compositions. John Lennon is cryptic ("She Said She Said,") experimental ("Tomorrow Never Knows,") and produces a couple of great standard mid-era Beatles songs ("Doctor Robert," "And Your Bird Can Sing.") Paul McCartney is clearly starting to work outside the bounds of two-guitars-bass-drums with some of his songs adding strings ("Eleanor Rigby,") brass ("Got to Get You Into My Life,") and French Horn ("For No One,") while writing some of the most memorable melodies of his career ("Here, There and Everywhere.") Even Ringo's throwaway novelty tune is the iconic "Yellow Submarine." The performances are top-notch and we see that the band is starting to develop distinct individual personalities while still operating as a unit.

Revolver is sometimes overshadowed by it's successor, Sgt Pepper because it had such a huge influence on the culture when it was released. And, frankly, at the time, Revolver was "just another Beatles album." George has even said that he sees Revolver and Rubber Soul as basically parts one and two of the same album but I think he undersells this album. This is ironic, really, because this album has more of his compositions than any album before and it shows him stepping up as a composer. It also shows some of John and Paul's strongest work. This isn't to say that the albums made before and after this one were weak. It's hard to think of Rubber Soul and Sgt Pepper as anything other than unqualified successes. But time has shown that Revolver found the Beatles at the top of their game.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Rediscovering Iona’s Back Catalog – The Book of Kells

I've written recently about the latest album by Iona and how much I have been enjoying it. In addition to still listening to The Circling Hour, I have been also working my way, slowly, backward in their catalog and enjoying their older albums. I must say, this is a wealth of excellent music. I have worked my way back to their second album, Book of Kells from 1992, which I remember reading a long time ago was considered the best of their first four albums. I've had it for a very long time and I remember it being a sometimes tough album to "get." Reading reviews on Amazon and on iTunes, some of the people there clearly didn't think it was their best, in fact, the reviews were often lukewarm. This puzzled me so when it came time to start listening to Book of Kells I was anxious to hear it with new ears. Having listened to it a number of times over the past week or so I am more convinced than ever that this album is a highlight of their early years.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated copy of the gospels which was made in about 800 AD and is now housed at Trinity College in Dublin. On my trip to Ireland three years ago I actually stopped at Trinity College and was in the same building as this book. I nearly stopped in to see it but time was short. The Book of Kells is the inspiration for this album which is a reflection on the gospels as well as on this particular artisitic rendition of the gospels. The lyrics reflect the ancient character of the book itself and displays a reverence for God's word and for the saints who went before us. The music is ethereal and powerful. The band plays with both force and finesse. Joanne Hogg's voice is spectacular, of course. This album has some compelling melodies although a lot of the music is evocative more than it is melodic so a cursory trip though this album will not reveals all it's treasures. My suspicion is that the people who gave it a lukewarm review did not give it sufficient time to sink in. I think it is a wonderful artistic statement and a great album.