3 Albums I Am Looking Forward To In 2013

PTSA_CoverFar too often we think of the past. Especially this time of year. Best of emails, lists, ideas overwhelm the blogosphere and news shows. What were the best movies, singles, albums, tv shows from 2012? You know what? As much as I love myself some lists I have decided I am going to look forward instead. So I bring you my list of 3 albums that I am looking forward to in 2013.

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push Away the Sky (February 2013)
    Their past two albums (2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig) have been incredible. An example of a band that has aged like a good wine. They just seem to get better with each album. Seeing The Bad Seeds perform at the 9:30 Club during the Lazarus tour I realized just how incredible this band is not only on record, but live as well. If you want intense musicianship, witty lyrics about death, religion, and sex, then look no further. What I have come to expect with each new Bad Seeds album is to not expect anything. From one to the next they seldom sound the same, yet, sound the same if you know what I mean.
  2. Queens Of The Stone Age – Title/Release Date Unknown
    You could argue that no rock band this side of the pond has had a better run of consecutive great albums in the past decade than Queens has. From 2000’s Rated R through 2008’s Era Vulgaris they have not put out anything short of mind blowing. Though they have had some pretty big hits (“No One Knows”, “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”) QOTSA have sorta flown under the radar or been labeled “that band that Dave Grohl played drums on…for one album.” But if I know anything about band leader Josh Homme it’s that he seldom repeats himself and always surrounds himself with incredible musicians. A great songwriter, producer, and guitarist in his own right, the new album supposedly will contain guest spots from Dave Grohl (on drums of course), Trent Reznor, and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters. Queens have always been a communal band and one of the few non hip hop acts to embrace guest musicians on their records.
  3. Atoms For Peace  – AMOK (February 2013)
    This “supergroup” and step brother of Radiohead have already done a tour and the live shows have been available online for some time. Though I was not as into Thom Yorke’s solo record as much as I thought I would be, something tells me that him stepping outside his Oxfordshire brethren might open him up some. With Flea on bass and Nigel “how great has my career been” Godrich in tow, I don’t really see how this album won’t at least be listenable.

Best Albums of 2012: Not Just a List!

I knew when the Fall new-album schedule had Bob Dylan, the Avett Brothers, and Patterson Hood releases on the same Tuesday morning that it would be the best September 11th ever.

Sure enough, none of them disappointed.  Bob Dylan returned with Tempest, a gritty and at times scathing stew of blues and folk serving as an amazing reminder of the late-career consistency he’s shown on record in the new century. Great Bob Dylan records are the reason people like me make lists like this every year.

Whether willingly or unconsciously, the Avett Brothers and Patterson Hood (lead driver and navigator of the Drive-By Truckers) are indeed disciples, descendants, and torchbearers of the folk-rock tradition personified and perfected by Dylan. And neither act seems to cower from the challenge, even if they’d scoff at my assertion that they belong in the same sentence as the legendary Dylan.

Seth and Scott Avett are blessed with much sweeter voices of course; and the songs (from the Beatlesque harmonies and tearjerkers to the more rockin’ numbers) on The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter are perfect showcases for their natural talent.

phood-hlritdPatterson Hood’s Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance might actually be his best album to date. Fronting the Drive-By Truckers, Hood had already built a career as a gifted storyteller and master painter of pictures, and now the solo Heat Lightning flashes it right in our faces. There’s one scene where he shows up just after midnight at a liquor store in the next county cuz it’s Monday now and the liquor laws allow them to start selling again. It’s sad and lonely, but then Hood’s protagonist sees some “friends.” Even sadder, there’s already a line of “zombies” there when they flip the sign to open. This all transpires within the first verse of the first song.

From that first track on, it’s apparent that this will be a strange and telling ride, from that bleak scene at the liquor store in “12:01” all the way to where it “winds around dead-man’s curve where the lady from the Sunbeam bread wrapper was killed in that head-on” in “Untold Pretties.” Easily one of my Top 3 Albums of the year.

The other two were Chuck Prophet’s Temple Beautiful, reviewed here, and Jack White’s Blunderbuss (which I wrote about over the summer in this Heavy Rotation column). Other albums that I blurbed about in the first half of the year that make this Best Albums of 2012 list are:

Dr.John – Locked Down
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
KRS-One – The BDP Album
DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion
Father John Misty – Fear Fun

soundgarden king animal artOne of the most pleasant surprises of the year was Soundgarden’s King Animal. They were always a good band, and made a few great records back in the day. But after such a long layoff, I was only expecting a shell of a bland Soundgarden-by-numbers album. I was wrong, this album really is great. The first two tracks might fit that bill of as-expected uninspiring rockers, but from track 3 through the end King Animal sits right up there with the bands’ finest moments from their Badmotorfinger-Superunknown peak.

At the end of the year, December saw the release of an album called Carry On, by a guy named Willy Mason. Never heard of him, but started noticing some good reviews so I checked it out. Really glad I did, as this album is both instantly likable and a slow-burning grower. Terrific songwriting meets production that ranges from trippy and atmospheric to stripped down and raw. Think Beck meets Daniel Lanois. Or just forget my half-assed attempts at catchy descriptions and just go buy Willy Mason’s Carry On right now. It’s like a secret gem. An out-of-the-blue underdog landing on my list of Best Albums of 2012.

The Rest Of The Best:

Jimmy Cliff  Rebirthjimmy cliff rebirth
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Jason Isbell – Live in Alabama
Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day (reviewed here)
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Various Artists – Country Funk 1969-1975
Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream
Bill Fay  Life Is People
Band of Horses Mirage Rock

Rush – Clockwork Angels. That’s right, I’m risking what little credibility I might have by putting the polarizing RUSH on this list. Fact is, or my opinion is, this new Rush album rocks. There’s no synthesizers or cheesy electric drums. It’s not just guitar-driven, but the guitars actually sound like guitars. I realize most people hate the sound of Geddy Lee’s voice, and I’ll admit I can only take it in small doses. But this is a solid showing by the aging-but-legendary trio from Canada. I know it’s not cool to admit liking Rush, that’s why I hid this part all the way at the end.

Celebrating Zeppelin

led zep art

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

― French poet Charles Baudelaire, a quote later immortalized in the movie The Usual Suspects.

The greatest trick that Led Zeppelin ever pulled was not reuniting. Okay, it’s not a perfect analogy, but poetry, cinema, and a satanic reference…. It just seems so Zeppelin.

The greatest reunion that Led Zeppelin ever played, a 2007 one-off gig in London with Jason Bonham on drums, is now available in the recently released amazing CD/DVD set Celebration Day.

It’s become a semi-annual ritual to speculate on the various rumors concerning a possible Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Maybe they’ll play the Super Bowl, fans think (and TV executives pray), and then launch a massive world tour! And yet every year it never happens, and Robert Plant puts out another acoustic-based album with Alison Krauss. Now, from all reports, including word from Jimmy Page in recent interviews, we’re all getting used to the fact that a Zeppelin reunion tour will never happen.

But a funny thing happened on the way to what is and what should never be: the Mighty Led Zeppelin have somehow managed to satisfy us by not coming back at all. Confused? Well, a Led Zep tour would likely feature ticket prices in the $100-250 range and even if you could afford it, I’m sure the internet machines would tell you they were all sold out a minute after they went on sale, while Stub Hub and all the eBay “ticket brokers” magically managed to land all the good seats. So, none of us would actually get to attend a Led Zeppelin concert anyway.

By releasing Celebration Day, from their stunning performance as part of a show honoring the late founder and president of Atlantic Records Ahmet Etregun, Zeppelin is basically letting us all have the best seat in the house for a mere $15-20 (the cost of the regular CD/DVD set available now, and probably what you would have paid to park at the Led Zeppelin reunion concerts that aren’t happening). Thanks guys!

We don’t have to lament that we missed the tour or had to settle for the DVD… cuz there is no reunion tour. And while Page, John Paul Jones, and Bonham have all sounded like they’d be game to do it, I have to respect the refreshing honesty of Plant, who’s leaving millions of dollars on the table because he admits that his heart wouldn’t be into rehashing the glory of his younger self as part of some massive cash grab. Bummer for hardcore Zeppelin fans, but good for him. (I think his quote was something about no one wanting to hear a man his age singing about juice running down his leg.)

Meanwhile, the forests are echoing with laughter perhaps to the point of tears. Because listening to this set (I haven’t even watched the video yet, but the audio has been in heavy rotation), it’s obvious that this older/wiser version of Led Zeppelin, more-than-capably driven by late drummer John Bonham’s son on drums, put some real rehearsal time into just a one-night only concert. They are absolutely bringing it on every tune, proof that IF they had ever done a full tour they would have blown all expectations out of the water. There wouldn’t have been any cries of over-the-hill disappointment. They would have kicked our asses and melted our faces, just as they still do every time some unsuspecting 14-year-old discovers them.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about this set: it shows and proves that “Hey, we made sure that we would NAIL it for a one-off gig… so imagine how good a reunion tour would’ve been? That’s right, we woulda killed it… but we’re not doing it. So for less than $20, you can see/hear it in all its glory. You’re welcome.”

Page and Jones are as vital as ever. Page has always been a legendary rock god and guitar hero, and still sounds the part. Jones was always been underrated, and his versatility and subtle musicality are on full display here. The older, gentler Plant sounds great; he’s still in fine voice but knows his limitations. He’s not my-ma-MY-my-my-my-ing his way through every single line of every song.

As for the kid on drums (who I think is 40-something years old by now), Jason Bonham is just ON every one of these songs. He is simply badass, in that he knows when to tip his cap to his father’s famous fills (often) while still providing the rock-solid backbone these legendary songs demand and deserve. I assume (and it sounds like) this dude has studied this stuff inside out his whole life, knowing that if/when called upon to sit on daddy’s throne, he’d have to be ready. (Seriously, I’m not sure if being Bonzo’s son makes it easier or harder. Imagine the sheer weight of this assignment.) And it’s not just the drum parts, he’s obviously well versed enough in all the nuances of the other three guys’ parts that he can interact and complement them in the live setting, not just try to recreate the original versions.

To keep with the movie analogies, this is not some bland sequel or terrible remake. If you prefer a sports analogy, this isn’t Johnny Unitas on the Chargers or Michael Jordan on the Wizards. (Speaking of sports, just as the game-day stadium and arena experience has priced most of us out, and huge TV’s and the RedZone channel have made watching at home more enjoyable, perhaps getting the Led out in hi-def in our basement, sad as that might seem, has become the modern concert experience.)

As for the songs, all the usual suspects are here, from the hits to the deep cuts, including one that Plant mentions is a first attempt in public, the crunching “For Your Life,” from the criminally underrated Presence album. At one point you can hear Plant admit between verses, “it still feels pretty good up here.”

In a previous column lamenting the brutal murder of Led Zeppelin at the hands of Classic Rock Radio, I wrote that a Led Zeppelin reunion tour was #1 on my Top 10 Awesome Zeppelin Things That Can’t Be Killed. Well, it looks as though it’s on life support, and yet it’s still cause for celebration.

So, to Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham, in the words of one song title not included here: “Thank You.”