Rick’s Retroarchy: Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull

By Richard Krueger

The Hand.

Retrenching after the thwarted theatrical ambitions of A Passion Play, War Child and Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die, Ian Anderson moved from London to Buckinghamshire in 1976.  The Jethro Tull album that followed Anderson’s country retreat, Songs from the Wood, showcased a fruitful new path for both the writer and the band.

With Anderson’s withering cynicism relaxing (ever so slightly) into amused, skeptical acceptance of human folly, David Palmer’s energetic keyboard counterpoint refreshing the group’s core sound, and a focus on traditional British folklore and festivity (courtesy of PR guy/manager Jo Lustig and Anderson’s production work with Steeleye Span), the surprising results included increased record sales, higher chart positions, and expanded tour dates, especially in America.  Parlophone’s latest reissue box, released for the 40th anniversary of Songs from the Wood, ably showcases this incarnation of Tull’s appeal.

Continue reading “Rick’s Retroarchy: Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull”

soundstreamsunday: “Jogue Au Plombeau” by Leyla McCalla

leylamccalla3 - EditedFree and blue and beautiful, those moorings Leyla McCalla holds to in her music sway and pitch like the gulf waters from Hispaniola to Lousiana, rolling through her cello and voice and coursing through her songs, lifeblood to an American music heart.  In the weaving lines of the music she plays — a snaking, sliding creole so suited to, and perhaps partly a consequence of, the playing of fretless instruments — is the sound of an America taking shape as its many diasporas meet and mix and move, intersecting lines on a map that triangulate on New Orleans.  Like the best Americana musicians, McCalla achieves something at once utterly contemporary but steeped in an authenticity of sound that says so much about the heart that makes the music.  There’s no affected vocal, no hokum on the one hand or academic archness on the other.  And there could have been, so easily.  McCalla’s classically trained; she jumped from a New Jersey upbringing to a New Orleans residency; she’s an American born to Haitian rights activists in the thick of a struggle for democracy; she was an important member of the last incarnation of the much-loved Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Her road was ripe for opportunity to leave the music behind in bringing a message that might not have resonated as strongly as it does.  But instead she chose on her first solo record, Vari-Colored Songs (2014), to artfully adapt poetry by Langston Hughes and punctuate it with Haitian folk songs.  Her second record, A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey, is also cloaked in a music-first approach that makes the underlying messages — because they are indeed there, as they were in her curation of Hughes’s work — so much more compelling.

Like all achieving musicians, Leyla McCalla makes great records and is better in concert, her performances enlivened by the physicality of her musicianship and the communication among her band.  In this 2016 performance of “Jogue Au Plombeau,” the band is killing it, in a droning country blues jug-on-pommel trance that I could listen to for hours should they ever decide that that could make sense.  Accompanied by violist Free Feral and McCalla’s husband Daniel Tremblay on triangle (who also happens to be one of the more light-touch guitar players I’ve ever seen play live), Leyla McCalla convinces me that all the blues I’ve ever listened to begins here.

Leyla McCalla on bandcamp

Leyla McCalla on Amazon

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

Left Hand Path

“This is so hardcore”, responded one of my colleagues at work. At that time, ‘Left Hand Path’ CD was running in my Jeep stereo. So, along with the engine, ignition turned on some Swedish death metal also. My usual reflex is to adeptly switch the channel, but he insisted on listening. Perception is really an evolutionary product; going headlong into the margins of a genre might just inspire bewilderment, not fascination. So, without that musical context, he was also quite puzzled about the incoherent riffs and that defiant buzz saw guitar sound.

Early death metal is a blend of punk like structures with melodic guitar. But, 90s Swedish scene exhibits significantly more punk influences. Someone evolving from hardcore punk to metal would certainly find Entombed and Dismember more familiar than Obituary. One of the main hurdles to grasping Entombed is also that punk like dissonance. It’s that same dissonance which separates Slayer from Metallica, and also Motörhead from Judas Priest.

Pitch and tempo progressions will sound chaotic; it sort of contradicts our mental conception of melody. These compositions will simply not progress in those familiar comforting directions. 80s crossover thrash also seems to be a part of this whole cross-pollination. They illustrate similar blast beat and riff patterns, but with significantly less speed and distortion. In fact, last month D.R.I played at SF, and it was difficult to ignore the striking similarity across these seemingly different genres.

Entombed’s first two records are absolute death metal classics. Especially ‘Left Hand Path’, it’s an unrelenting train of melodic guitar hooks, heavy down tuned riffs, exploding drums and deep growls. Even the leads are down tuned and always layered with grinding riffs. But, in between endless growls and distant echoing screams — almost like an accident – we have a full total of two seconds of desperate clean vocals. Undoubtedly, lyrics are even more morbidly tailored, and intended to finish off anyone who does manage to survive this buzz saw assault.


Within this broad genre, Entombed is an icon. I had actually weathered 60 miles of rain storm and flu on a weekday night to see them live. A relatively small venue, crowd was sparse and probably not more than a few dozen. Set list was dominated by songs from their first two records – it was an absolute head-banging feast. Swedish death metal legends, tiny venue, and tickets priced at an affordable $19 — the perks of listening to sounds not many care about.

IMAGE Attribution:

By commons: Lilly Mpl.wiki: Lilly Mreal name: Małgorzata Miłaszewska (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Cornell and Allman

Gregg Allman died today, a couple weeks after Chris Cornell.  On the face of it these are not related events, but make no mistake, rock vocalists of their firepower and presence always made a fairly exclusive club.  Who else, we might ask, are members? Their loss — inevitable, of course — provokes a wondering at the world, in the sense of the permanence of art versus the fragility of the human body, the physicality of their presence as they walked the earth.  What they leave behind forever looms over the sum of chemistry and animation that motored them through their time here, hungrier in their rock-and-roll instincts and purpose than the rest of the lot of us.

Strange coincidence: on the day of the evening Cornell died, I traded in my Soundgarden Louder Than Love LP, which I’d owned since its release way back in those hoary days before grunge was called grunge, when Robert Plant was still bemoaning all the Zep copycats while steadfastly refusing to bring the goods himself.  A solid, riffing record, though not their best, and unlikely to get many future spins — its value to others outweighed its use to me.  Do you remember the context of this album? It came on the heels, well, or a year or two later (and I’m not going to stop and look it up now), of Guns’n’Roses bellwether Appetite for Destruction, and outwitted that band’s lackluster followup.  I remember a couple years on and guitarist Kim Thayil saying they were always trying to be Sabbath without the parts that suck, and that about summed them up, because generally they were.  At their core, always, was Cornell, the definition of gifted, who somewhere between Louder than Love and Badmotorfinger found his voice, a cocksure combination of Plant and Rodgers, but so goddamn powerful and so much his own thing.  Henry Rollins once said that Cornell’s voice could peel the paint off the walls, and he was right.  That Cornell could do it in tune and with shifts in timbre and light and tone made him all the more remarkable.  At his death he was still making good records and at the top of his game as a performer.  Soundgarden’s King Animal from 2012, though now unbelievably five years distant, was as good as any record they made, despite the fifteen-year gap between it and Down on the Upside.  His method of exit was undeniably, tragically sad.  Does it match the music? Should it? I’ll be thinking this over for some time.

Today, this first day of a three-day holiday weekend, I spent some time going through my LPs, thinking of the next batch for trade, as I am in the middle of my own vinyl renaissance, with the idea that a good record or book is better played or read than sitting on a shelf.  In the trade stack went a double-album compilation of recordings by the Hourglass, Duane and Gregg Allman’s band prior to the Allman Brothers.  When I later heard of Gregg’s death, I had the thought, following on my Soundgarden trade earlier last week, that somehow my record tastes were guiding the lives and deaths of rock stars.  It’s not a stretch.  They become part of the fabric of life, their music has a profound personal effect, and so the butterfly beating its wings, in the shape of me making the decision to, you know, ditch the Hourglass, becomes causal in Gregg’s death.  Gregg’s death to me, how it effects me.  Me me me.  But like Chris Cornell, Gregg Allman is still Gregg Allman on record.  The life there is indelible.  It’s a human cry, a channeling of the Spirit.  I spun up the first Allman Brothers LP (one I would never trade) this afternoon, and rocked out like I did when I first heard it, back in 1984 when I was working in a photo darkroom in Ft. Worth and my hippie boss always had the radio tuned to the station that would and did play “Whipping Post” on a regular schedule.  When I saw Gregg play with his band in 1987 at Red Rocks in Colorado, opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was aware even then that I was witnessing a legend.  That voice.  Like Cornell, Gregg Allman had a voice that defined an authenticity transcending boundaries of culture or race — it was the sound of the human soul.  I understand he never got over the death of his brother (who would?), and according to Derek Trucks would consult with the spirit of Duane fairly regularly as to the artistic direction of his various bands.

Rock and roll at the level that Chris Cornell and Gregg Allman played it hits hard.  We know their work brought them vast number of fans, but I think for each of us (well, for me at least) there is a connection that is personal, even in some sense private.  I associate memories, there are feelings unnamed, some primal, that accompany passages of their work.  I can write about the riffs, the freedom, the bellow and power of the sound as it moves air, it but ultimately it can’t be intellectualized.

They were only human.  They are dead.  They are here.  I am listening even now.

A Return to Brilliance: THE OPTIMIST by Anathema

Review of Anathema, THE OPTIMIST (Kscope, 2017).

anathema optimist
A return to brilliance.

THE OPTIMIST is a wonderful album, a true expression of the best that is in, ironically enough, a band named Anathema.

When the band returned to the music scene after a five-year absence in 2008 with a reworking of their previous music, HINDSIGHT, I was pretty much smitten.  Then, in 2010, with the release of their first proper album in seven years, WE’RE HERE BECAUSE WE’RE HERE, up through their 2013 live album, UNIVERSAL, Anathema was not only not only gloriously on fire but, perhaps, unstoppable.

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The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…

Back in March 1994, shortly after Soundgarden’s masterful Superunknown was released, Melody Maker‘s Everett True wrote a detailed and often insightful piece about the band on the road (in Tokyo, specifically). Chris Cornell spoke openly with True about his struggles with depression and fear:

“I write songs best when I’m depressed,” Chris tells me. “No one seems to get this, but Black Hole Sun is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it’s almost chipper, which is ridiculous. Fell On Black Days is another one. Like Suicide is a perfect example.”

We’re they inspired by specific events?

“Fell On Black Days was like this ongoing fear I’ve had for years. It took me a long time to write that song. We’ve tried to do three different versions with that title, and none of them have ever worked. Someday we might do an EP…

“It’s a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realise you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realise one day that everything in your life is F—–!”

Exhibit A for a “chipper” version of the huge hit is this snappy, big band-ish, “are you kidding me?” version by Paul Anka (yes, the same Paul Anka who wrote the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”—one of the very few Sinatra songs I find annoying, even revolting). And in the past few days, understandably, there have been a number of singers and bands playing the song as a tribute to Cornell, who took his life on May 18th, after a reportedly ragged show at Detroit’s famous Fox Theater.

Continue reading “The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…”