Sad Clowns and Hillbillies

John Mellencamp has released another incredible album. For those looking for the Mellencamp of yesteryear, who did the classic rock anthems, you won’t find him on this album. In fact, you haven’t been able to find him on the last couple of albums, No Better Than This and Plain Spoken either. This newest effort, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies, is right on target with those previous album, and for those of us who get where Mellencamp is going, it’s another awesome record.

Sad_Clowns_&_Hillbillies_Cover_Art

Sad Clowns and Hillbillies is a bit different than the two previous albums. It was originally slated as a duets album, although only a few of the tracks are actually duets. The album features vocal contributions from Carlene Carter and Martina McBride, drum work from Stan Lynch (of Tom Petty fame), as well as drum work by Kenny Aronoff, who played drums with John throughout the 80s and 90s. Other guests on the album include Christie Brinkley on background vocals and Izzy Stradlin playing guitar.

The sound of Sad clowns and Hillbillies is a bit on the country side, but that’s not surprising with Carlene Carter singing on five of the tracks. It’s also got some folk qualities and a healthy dose of blues. Mellencamp’s aging voice suits the the sound of the record well. It’s the gravelly old blues singer voice that Mellencamp has been waiting his whole life to sing with. It’s a voice that brings warmth and sincerity to the songs. If you don’t buy into Mellencamp’s sincerity, you ain’t got no money, baby.

sad-clowns-hillbillies-poster

The songs on the record cover a broad range of topics, from love to politics, to the very core of human nature. The songs are delivered with sparse instrumentation, simple arrangements, and heartfelt, if brutal, honesty. Most of the songs were written by Mellencamp, though there are a few co-writes, and even three tracks Mellencamp had nothing to do with writing. These are great songs on another great Mellencamp record.

Grandview, All Night Talk Radio, Early Bird Cafe, and What Kind of Man Am I? are some of the standout songs on the album. They’re all good, but these are my favorites. I’ve listened to the album three times, and each time I found something new to like about it. There are so many layers built into the lyrics and so many textures in the music.

“Mobile Blue”
“Battle of Angels”
“Grandview” (featuring Martina McBride)
“Indigo Sunset”
“What Kind of Man am I”
“All Night Talk Radio”
“Sugar Hill Mountain”
“You Are Blind”
“Damascus Road”
“Early Bird Cafe”
“Sad Clowns”
“My Soul’s Got Wings”
“Easy Target”

Even with new musical direction, somewhere beneath it all is the same John Mellencamp who’s always been there. Age has brought a bit more wisdom and new perspectives, but the John Mellencamp attitude is as alive on this new record as it’s been on any of his previous efforts. Hell, maybe even more so.

Advertisements

Under the Covers with Krokus

I’ve always liked Krokus a lot. They never quite got the recognition other hair metal bands did. Maybe that’s because they were around before the hair metal era. Their first album, a self-titled progressive rock offering, came out in 1976, but they really started hitting their stride with the 1980 release Metal Rendez-vous. That album was the first to feature Marc Storace. With Marc’s Bon Scott-ish vocals and a more commercial approach to songwriting, Krokus began carving out a place metal history.

Maybe you recognize some of their songs, maybe you don’t. There were some great ones. Bedside Radio, Headhunter, Eat the Rich, Midnite Maniac, Hot Shot City, Long Stick Goes Boom, and Screaming in the Night are just a couple of their originals. What I want to highlight here are some of the best cover songs Krokus has done.

krokus-big-rocks

Krokus had a talent for picking songs to cover. They made them sound like Krokus while maintaining the integrity of the originals. American Woman, Ballroom Blitz, and School’s Out are just some of the songs that got the Krokus treatment. They even did a Bachman Turner Overdrive tune called Stayed Awake all Night, which really kicks ass. It’s not surprising Krokus finally released an album of covers. The album is called Big Rocks. It’s full of songs you’ll recognize, all done with the Krokus attitude.

Some of the great tracks on Big Rocks include Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down, Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World, Spencer Davis group’s Gimme Some Lovin’, and Zep’s Whole Lotta Love. Other cool stuff includes Wild Thing, Born to Be Wild, and a wicked version of one of my favorite Stones songs, Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Big Rocks is a killer set of songs. Krokus brings out the best in each one. There’s enough of a tip of the hat to the original versions to do them justice, but enough Krokus injected into each of the songs to make them sound consistent. Lots of bands do cover albums to varying degrees of success. Krokus has perfected the art of covering songs by other bands. Big Rocks is a perfect example of that. Every song on the album is a classic, and with Krokus doing them, they are infused with a new life. If you’re a Krokus fan, check out Big Rocks. It’s a great jam.

I’m No Angel – Gregg Allman

i'm-no-angelThere’s little I can say about Gregg Allman that won’t be said by peers and fans alike. He had an awesome voice and the music poured from somewhere deep within him. Instead I’ll talk about an album from his catalogue that tends to be overlooked. With his passing, there will be lots of discussion about his work, but his solo album I‘m No Angel, released in 1987, will probably not be one of the most talked about. That’s not because it isn’t a good album, but because there are many more, both solo and with the Allman Brothers Band, that tend to get looked at more frequently.

I’m No Angel was a bit more commercial and accessible to the mainstream than some of his other albums. The songs on I’m No Angel are bursting with catchy melodies and hooks that could land a whale. The title track was a huge hit. It’s a great song. Another standout track for me on the album is the ballad Faces Without Names, which details the love he has for one special girl who stands above the rest.

The first seven songs on I’m No Angel are aimed more at the mainstream. The last three have a lot of blues and gospel elements, more in line with what you hear in most of Gregg Allman’s material. That’s not to say there isn’t a healthy dose of the blues throughout this album. Even when he’s doing more accessible mainstream songs, Gregg Allman’s soulful, bluesy approach is evident. Anything Goes is a song that demonstrates a great blend of commercial appeal with a bluesy foundation. Two more songs that stand out for me are Evidence of Love and Can’t Keep Running.

I said earlier that this album may not be one of the most talked about. I think that’s fair. Some hardcore fans of Gregg’s may not feel this album as much as they do some of his other records. On the other side of the coin, he probably reached some new fans. For me, this is a killer effort. I love the album and always have. I listen to it frequently.

  1. “I’m No Angel” (Tony Colton, Phil Palmer)
  2. “Anything Goes” (Gregg Allman)
  3. “Evidence of Love” (Chris Farren, Steve Diamond)
  4. “Yours for the Asking” (Allman, Dan Toler, Frankie Toler)
  5. “Things That Might Have Been” (Allman, D. Toler)
  6. “Can’t Keep Running” (Michael Bolton, Martin Briley)
  7. “Faces Without Names” (Allman, D. Toler)
  8. “Lead Me On” (Allman, D. Toler)
  9. “Don’t Want You No More” (Spencer Davis, Eddie Hardin)
  10. “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” (Allman)

The Boys from Doraville

boys_from_doraville The Atlanta Rhythm Section has been one of my favorite bands since I first heard A Rock and Roll Alternative back when I was a teenager and driving my mom’s Trans Am. She had a bunch of eight track tapes. A Rock and Roll Alternative was one of those tapes I listened to constantly. I remember catching a bus and going through questionable neighborhoods to get to downtown St. Louis one fourth of July to watch the band play at the VP Fair. I stood right in front of the stage. It was a blast. While A Rock and Roll Alternative remains one of my favorite albums of all time, there’s another ARS album that comes pretty damn close to matching it. That album is The Boys from Doraville. It doesn’t quite nudge A Rock and Roll Alternative out of the number one ARS album spot, but it comes pretty damn close.

It’s Christmas, 2016. I hadn’t heard this album in two decades at least. I got it as a gift this year and eagerly played it, remembering the greatness of the songs on this album as I listened to them again. The Boys from Doraville is truly an awesome album. The songs are tight and to the point. It’s a dose of southern rock and roll at its finest.

  1. “Cocaine Charlie” (Buie/Hammond)
  2. “Next Year’s Rock & Roll” (Buie/Daughtry)
  3. “I Ain’t Much” (Buie/Cobb)
  4. “Putting My Faith in Love” (Buie/Daughtry/Cobb)
  5. “Rough at the Edges” (Buie/Daughtry)
  6. “Silver Eagle” (Buie/Cobb)
  7. “Pedestal” (Buie/Hammond)
  8. “Try My Love” (Buie/Hammond)
  9. “Strictly R & R” (Buie/Nix/Daughtry/Walker)

The album opener, Cocaine Charlie, is a killer character study with an awesome groove.  Pedestal is one of my favorite ARS ballads and Silver Eagle matches Georgia Rhythm from A Rock and Roll Alternative as a definitive life-on-the-road song. Rough at the Edges is another cool character study and Strictly R & R is a tribute to what the band does best. Simply put, there is not a bad song on this album. In fact, I think it’s one of their underrated masterpieces. There’s a great balance of mid tempo, uptempo, and ballads here. The songwriting is top notch and the production is killer. I’ve missed this album over the years. It was a great Christmas gift this year and a reminder of just how great the Atlanta Rhythm Section are as a band. While the members aren’t all the same today, they are still doing shows and doing justice to this music, which is why they remain one of my favorites.

Songwriting Magazine – A Songwriter’s Treasure

Songwriting-Magazine-Summer-2016

There have been precious few magazines devoted to the craft of songwriting for as long as I can remember. Lots of music magazines, yeah, but not great songwriting magazines. I can remember way back when I first started writing songs, the best I could find was a magazine called Song Hits that published lyrics to popular songs. Not a bad study for songwriters, but I could get lyrics by listening to the records. Besides, they didn’t discuss writing the lyrics, they just reprinted them. That was all there was, though. As the years went by, guitar players, bass players, drummers, and keyboard players all got great magazines devoted to those instruments, but the songwriter was always forgotten.

No more, folks. I’ve been subscribing to Songwriting Magazine for a while now. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who writes songs, regardless of your skill level or where you are in your career as a songwriter. This is our magazine, and it doesn’t get better. Songwriting Magazine gets it right. They understand what goes on inside our heads.

Every issue of this magazine is packed with articles that promote the craft of songwriting. There are interviews with songwriters, articles that focus on the musicians who perform the songs, articles about songwriting craft (lyrics and music), articles on music theory, articles detailing the business side of songwriting, music reviews, and reviews of all the latest and greatest tools for songwriters. It’s all here. Anything a songwriter might need or be interested in reading about is in the pages of Songwriting  Magazine.

It doesn’t matter what kind of songs you write. Songwriting Magazine is for all songwriters. They understand the craft. They understand what it takes to write songs. That’s why the magazine covers such a broad spectrum of material. It’s not all about craft and technique (although, I’m happy to say, there’s plenty of that between the covers). It’s also about the thought process and the passion that goes into writing songs. The magazine addresses songwriting with respect.

The writing in, and composition of, each issue is of the highest quality. There simply isn’t another magazine out there that meets the needs of the songwriter like Songwriting Magazine. If you write songs, you need a subscription. It’s one of the best gifts you’ll give your songwriting.

I’m passionate about writing songs. I wouldn’t waste space or time talking about a magazine on the subject if I didn’t believe in it. If you live and breathe songwriting, Songwriting Magazine will live and breathe it with you.

Songwriting Magazine is available in print or for iPad, Android, and Kindle devices. Whatever your preference, you’ll be able to enjoy all the great stuff this Songwriting Magazine has to offer to songwriters everywhere.

Visit Songwriting Magazine and get your subscription now.

Ten Dynamite Debut Album Follow Ups

I recently did a post called Ten Dynamite Debut Albums. This is the follow up to that post, which takes a look at the follow up albums to those debut albums. Follow me?

Kiss Hotter than Hell

Hotter than Hell (Kiss) – Not happy with the sonic integrity of the first album, Kiss wanted to follow up with something darker and heavier. The result was Hotter than Hell. I don’t think they were happy with the results of this one either, but I think it turned out pretty damn good. I might even prefer it over the first. It doesn’t have as many concert staples as the first album, but there are some great tunes here. Got to Choose, Parasite, Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Comin’ Home, and the title track are all great songs. Peter Criss does a killer vocal on Mainline and Ace does an amazing solo on Strange Ways (with another cool Peter Criss vocal). There’s also an underrated Gene Simmons song called All the Way. While this album may not be considered as “classic” as the first, it certainly holds its own.

Boston Don't Look Back

Don’t Look Back (Boston) – Following the perfection of the first Boston album was no doubt a difficult proposition. Don’t Look Back does a decent job, but it never quite reaches the same level of excellence. There are some great songs here. The title track, of course, was a pretty big ht, and a good song, and A Man I’ll Never Be, Party, and Feelin’ Satisfied are all good songs too. Not a bad album, but not as awesome as the first one.

Van Halen II

Van Halen II (Van Halen) – I like this album at least as much as I like the first one. Not sure if I’m in the minority or not. Dance the Night Away is just a fun song. It’s my favorite from the album, and one of my favorite Van Halen songs all around. Somebody Get Me a Doctor, Bottoms Up!, D.O.A., Beautiful Girls, and their cover of You’re No Good are great tracks too.

Gun n Roses Lies

G N’ R Lies ( Guns N’ Roses) – Let’s face it, Guns N’ Roses never matched the power and beauty of Appetite for Destruction. Never. Their second album, G N’ R Lies, is not a bad album by any means, but it wan’t quite the follow up it should’ve been. Patience (great power ballad) and Used to Love Her (tongue in cheek funny) are the best songs on the album. There’s also a much different version of You’re Crazy (originally recorded on the first album) and a couple of songs from Axl Rose’s previous bands. The album does include the full EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. too, which is a plus. While it wasn’t a great follow up, it does stand as a pretty cool album on its own.

Cinderella Long Cold Winter

Long, Cold Winter (Cinderella) – Despite the fact that this album has some of my favorite Cinderella songs on it (Gypsy Road, Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone), and Coming Home), I don’t think it’s as good as the first album. The band really hit their stride with the third album, Heartbreak Station. Still, three of my favorite songs, plus a couple other decent tracks, make this an admirable follow up to Night Songs.

Tesla the Great Radio Controversey

The Great Radio Controversy (Tesla) –  I thought this was a good album. I still do. It had a few hits, Hang Tough, Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out), Love Song, and The Way It Is among them, but the album didn’t make my ears smoke like Mechanical Resonance did. It was considered by many to be a worthy follow up, though, and it’s definitely got some killer stuff on it. Tesla is a great band that never really disappoints.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping

Second Helping (Lynyrd Skynyrd) – Like I said, the legacy left behind by Lynyrd Skynyrd after that plane crash was created in the first five albums. Second Helping opens up with Sweet Home Alabama. How could you go wrong? Don’t Ask Me No Questions, Workin’ for MCA, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, The Needle and the Spoon, and Call Me the Breeze are some of the fine southern delicacies offered on Second Helping.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers You're Gonna Get It

You’re Gonna Get It (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – The second album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers continued the tradition of the sound that would define the band. While the album is pretty good (I’d never turn it off), I don’t think it comes near being as cool as the first album. There are two excellent Tom Petty classics here, I Need to Know and Listen to Her Heart, but the rest of the songs just don’t measure up. That’s not to say they’re bad. Magnolia, Baby’s a Rock ‘n’ Roller, and Too Much Ain’t Enough are pretty good too. Overall, not a bad album for Tom Petty fans, but not a great album like the first one is.

Ozzy Osbourne Diary of a Madman

Diary of a Madman (Ozzy Osbourne) – Ozzy’s second album was a killer follow up to his first, and in my opinion, an even better album. Over the Mountain, Flying High Again, and You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll are my three favorite Ozzy songs. Believer, Tonight (one of the original power ballads), and the title track are classic Ozzy, and along with the remaining songs, help make this a successful follow up.

Matchbox Twenty Mad Season

Mad Season (Matchbox Twenty) – Following up an album as phenomenal as Yourself or Someone Like You had to be a challenge, but  Matchbox Twenty did it. Mad Season is full of some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Again, Rob Thomas is just a master songwriter. He knows how to reach down and touch your soul. If You’re Gone (such an intense song), Last Beautiful Girl, Bent (a powerful song), Rest Stop, and Bed of Lies are some of the great songs on this album. There’s never been a Rob Thomas or Matchbox Twenty song I didn’t like.

Ten Dynamite Debut Albums

I’m not saying these are the best debut albums ever, although I think a few of them certainly qualify. There are too many great debut albums to make such a claim, therefore, any list of “best” first albums would be subjective. The albums here are excellent albums, not only for their own merit, but for their place in music history. I could make a few more lists like this one and not have trouble coming up with albums to fill them.

KISS

Kiss (Kiss) – The first Kiss album is amazing. One look at the track list and you’ll see nothing but songs the band has played in concert from day one. Most of them are still played live today. The album is a virtual “best of,” and it’s only their first. Kiss isn’t happy with the production, but the songs stand the test of time. Cold Gin, Strutter, Nothin’ to Lose, Black Diamond, Firehouse, and Deuce are just some of the classics on this album.

BostonBoston

Boston (Boston) – You’d be hard pressed to find a slicker, or more iconic, debut album than the self-titled first album by Boston. Eddie Kramer, the legendary producer, was faced with the decision of producing Kiss Alive or the first Boston album. He struggled with the decision, but after listening to the demo for the first Boston album, he basically said it was great as is and there was nothing he could add to it. Tom Scholz, Boston’s leader, is known for his pristine production, and it shows here. Almost the entire album has been in classic rock radio heavy rotation since it came out. Long Time, Peace of Mind, More than a Feeling, Rock & Roll Band, Let Me Take You Home Tonight, and Smokin’ set the bar.

Van Halen

Van Halen (Van Halen) – Any guitarist understands this album. Eddie Van Halen came on the scene and lit a fire. Gene Simmons (Kiss) heard the songs and produced a demo. Songs from the album are still staples of classic rock radio. Runnin with the Devil, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Jamie’s Cryin’, a cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me, and the groundbreaking guitar solo Eruption are all on this first album. Solid an still kick ass.

Guns n Roses Appetitie for Destruction

Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses) – I bought this album because I was going to see Ace Frehley and Y&T in concert. Guns N’ Roses was supposed to be the opener for them. I wanted to hear the record before I went. I was blown away by the album, but the Guns N’ Roses never showed. Faster Pussycat did instead, and I loved them too (another great debut album). Appetite for Destruction, however, stuck. Great album. Listening to it, I thought they were the next classic rock band that would last forever, and they could have been, but you all know the story. Still, songs like Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City, Mr, Brownstone, Nightrain, and It’s So Easy make a lasting impression.

Cinderella Night Songs

Night Songs (Cinderella) – Something about the mix of this album didn’t sit right when I first heard it (I think it’s been fixed since), but the songs knocked me out. Tom Keifer, Cinderella’s songwriter and front man, has since become one of my favorite songwriters. He’s brilliant. Shake Me, Night Songs, Somebody Save Me, Nobody’s Fool, Nothin’ for Nothin’, Push, Push, and Back Home Again are just some of the great tracks here. Jon Bon Jovi recognized the talent of Cinderella right away and pushed for them to get a deal. Cinderella have only recorded four studio albums and two live albums (as well as some compilations), but those few albums are gems.

Tesla Mechanical Resonance

Mechanical Resonance (Tesla) – This album, in my opinion, tends to get overlooked as a fantastic debut album. It’s a bombastic production with ear-splitting sound. Seriously, I feel like my ears smoke when I listen to it. Modern Day Cowboy and Little Suzi were the huge hits, but lots of the songs got massive airplay and are well known. Tracks like Gettin’ Better, We’re No Good Together, Cover Queen, Love Me, and EZ Come EZ Go make Tesla’s first album one of the best first albums I’ve ever heard. Listen to it and you’ll hear what I mean.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced

Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd  (Lynyrd Skynyrd) – It’s amazing when you realize the hits this band had were all recorded on their first five albums, one of which was released after the plane crash that killed most of the band members, including singer Ronnie Van Zant. This first record reads like a greatest hits package. I Ain’t the One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, and Simple Man open up the album, and if that isn’t enough, the closing number is Freebird, with a couple cool tracks rounding it out in between. One of the undisputed classics rock, both the band and the album.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – I’ve always loved this album. It’s a kick ass platter full of the types of iconic songs Tom Petty would produce throughout his career. Not only are Breakdown, American Girl, and Strangered in the Night from this album, there’s the UK hit Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the uptempo Rockin’ Around (With You). Initially the album was only successful in the UK, but the American record-buying public eventually figured out this was a fine first effort indeed.

Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Ozz

Blizzard of Ozz (Ozzy Osbourne) – While I prefer the follow-up album Diary of a Madman, there’s no denying the importance of Blizzard of Oz, not only to Ozzy’s career, but as a standard for all metal albums that followed in the 80s. Featuring a young guitarist (Randy Rhoads) who set new standards for metal guitarists before he was killed in a freak plane accident, and songs like I don’t Know, Crazy Train, Goodbye to Romance, Suicide Solution, and Mr. Crowley, Ozzy’s debut solo effort made a mark. After years singing in Black Sabbath and the release of a powerful first solo album, it can be reasonably argued that Ozzy is the father of modern metal. Blizzard of Oz is a point in his favor.

Matchbox 20 Yourself or Someone Like You

Yourself or Someone Like You (Matchbox Twenty) – Yeah, I know this album sort of stands out from the others in the list. It’s a much later album, and more of an indie/alternative rock thing than a classic rock or metal thing. It doesn’t matter. Rob Thomas is one of the finest songwriters around, and this debut Matchbox Twenty album proves it. The songs on this record have great hooks and melodies, and the lyrics and stories are filled with love, anger, laughter, and tears. Genuine, heartfelt, human stuff. Real World, Long Day, 3 A.M., Push, Back 2 Good, Girl Like That, and the haunting ballad Hang are just some of the masterpieces on Yourself or Someone Like You. This is truly one of the best albums ever.

Check out my follow up post to this one that looks at the follow up albums to these debut albums. It’s called Ten Dynamite Debut Album Follow Ups. Confused yet?