Rick’s Quick Takes for April

Short, sharp shocks this month: all albums and EPs reviewed below come in under the old school LP limit of 45 minutes! Purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; album playlists or samples follow each review.

Entransient, Ghosts in the Halls: My hometown’s very own prog-metal band lays out the cards for all to see on their Facebook page: “Melodic neo/post-prog rock from Michigan. Influenced by Anathema, Alcest, and Porcupine Tree.” The good news is that guitarists Matt Schrauben & Doug Murray, bassist Nick Hagen, drummer Jeremy Hyde and vocalist/keyboardist Scott Murray refine those influences into a distinctive blend, marked by rich atmosphere and a towering core sound. The opening epic “Parasite” grabs hold immediately with its games of acoustic/electric musical chairs; “Synergize” and “Last Strawman” drive forward without mercy, as Murray testifies fiercely over bare grooves and fuzzed chords alike. More reflective moments like the title track, “Misplaced” and “Where the Shadows Lie” dial down the tempos and the lyrical angst while keeping the edge intact as the band prowls lush, more aerated soundscapes. (Kudos for Hagen’s mixing and engineering, as well as for the mastering work of The Pineapple Thief’s Steve Kitch; the band’s dynamic and textural range is captured with crystalline clarity throughout.) Entransient has an open, readily appealing touch to their music; as they blaze a fresh trail in a style that easily collapses into cliché, they’re well worth a listen.

Envy of None: No, this sounds nothing like Rush, even with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work in the mix. (If that’s what you want, the new anniversary edition of Moving Pictures is now available — and getting glowing reviews from unlikely sources like Pitchfork, for pete’s sake.) Lifeson does provide satisfying crunch, acoustic contrast, and creative lead work in spades, bedding in seamlessly with fellow core players Andy Curran (bass & guitar) and Alfio Annibalini (guitar and keys). They weave a darkly enticing aural mesh that cradles the understated, seductive singing of Maiah Wynne; her breathily fragile volleys, playing off the sticky minimalist hooks embedded in EoN’s web, are what might really ensnare you. Musically, this is all about basic song forms deployed in ambient/industrial/goth/post-rock styles; the seasoned instrumental interplay and Wynne’s preternaturally mature vocal work are what elevate the album above the obvious genre markers. So it’s old-fashioned chemistry and star quality, from veterans and newcomer alike, that turn out to be key to Envy of None’s appeal. Try it on that basis and see if it grabs you.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for April”

Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!

I thought I didn’t have a big list of favorites from this year’s listening — until I revisited my six-month survey from back in June and added in the good stuff I’ve heard since then! The listing below incorporates links to full or capsule reviews, or other relevant pieces on Progarchy and elsewhere; albums I haven’t written about yet get brief comments, along with my Top Favorites of the year. Most of these are available to check out online in some form; if you find yourself especially enjoying something, use that Christmas cash and support your choice with a purchase! And the winners are . . .

Continue reading “Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!”

Rick’s Quick Takes for November

Discipline, Unfolded Like Staircase: a stone cold classic of late 1990s prog, freshly remixed by Rush producer Terry Brown. True, this Detroit quartet wore their influences (Gabriel-era Genesis, 1980s King Crimson, Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator) on their sleeves here, but they also gave them a fresh, arresting spin. As Jon Preston Bouda’s guitar, Matthew Kennedy’s bass and Paul Dzendel’s drums weave grim, mesmeric webs of sound, Matthew Parmenter’s flamboyant vocals and literate scenarios drill deep into existential desperation. Lush, dramatic and riveting, the four twilit epics included here, kicking off with the Dante-influenced “Canto IV (Limbo)”, will get under your skin in a breathtaking way. In short, I believe you need this music; get it on CD or LP from The BandWagon USA or download it at Bandcamp. (Here’s hoping Discipline’s studio follow-up To Shatter All Accord and the live This One’s for England get similar treatment in the near future.)

Ross Jennings, A Shadow of My Future Self: a superbly accomplished, immensely appealing solo debut from Haken frontman Jennings. Recorded during (what else?) COVID lockdown, he spans and mixes genres with ease, diving headlong into folk (“Better Times”), funk with lashings of metal (“Violet”), power pop (“Rocket Science”), cinematic ballads (the moving elegy “Catcher in the Rye”) — oh, and even extended-song-form-verging-on-prog workouts (“Phoenix” and “Grounded”). Jennings is at the top of his game on vocals and guitar, backed by stellar players. And the songwriting is outright wonderful; on every single track, the riffs demand air guitar, the verses demand your attention, and the choruses demand a cathartic singalong. Yes, all of this raises my hopes for Jennings’ upcoming collaboration with Nick D’Virgilio and Neal Morse, but that can wait; this thrilling, eclectic album is a genuine treat in itself. Unquestionably my pick of the month. Get it on CD or LP (merch and bundles also available) at OMerch.

The Pineapple Thief, Nothing but the Truth: whatever the substantial virtues of their studio efforts, The Pineapple Thief’s recent live albums have been where they’ve shone the brightest. Their latest is no exception; filmed for streaming in lieu of their cancelled tour for Versions of the Truth, this 90-minute set finds TPT as brooding, stylish and kickass as ever. Bruce Soord nurses his songs of disillusionment and division through the gathering angst, then opens fire on one blazing chorus after another; Gavin Harrison does the unexpected on drums with astonishing regularity — and yes, I bought the BluRay for the drumcam option! Steve Kitch’s atmospheric keys and Jon Sykes’ throbbing bass are essential ingredients here, not anonymous backing. The new songs gain heightened guts and strength; the dives into the back catalog aren’t just well-calculated, but passionately played, and essential to the set. This one makes me more eager than ever to see The Pineapple Thief when they return to North America next spring. Get it on CD, LP, Blu-Ray video and deluxe artbook box (CD/DVD/BluRay) at Burning Shed.

Radiohead, Kid A Mnesia: a band hard at work tearing down the sound that made them world famous, then rebuilding from scratch. Which somehow made them more famous, given that their first Number One album in America was the result. I’ve always found Kid A gripping stuff; with their wholesale shift to glitchy electronica beats, found-sound patchworks, soupy orchestral backing and sharp-edged noise, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and company achieved a genuine paradox — alienation embodied in music, that immediately connected with a mass audience. And when Radiohead walked backward into rock on Amnesiac, the success of their breakaway strategy made both guitar-based grooves like “I Might Be Wrong” and off-kilter art-pop like “Pyramid Song” even more effective. This triple-disc reissue pulls the era together with a bonus set of ear-tickling odds and sods: Yorke, the most deliberately unbeautiful of singers, reaches for actual purity of tone on the unreleased songs, while Greenwood scratches his avant-garde compositional itches, courtesy of a full string section. Get it on CD, LP, cassette or download from Radiohead’s webstore.

The War on Drugs, I Don’t Live Here Anymore: a recent immersion course in Adam Granduciel’s ongoing project — regrafting 1980s tropes like tick-tock rhythms and thick ambient textures onto the stock of classic rock — has proved enticing, though not consistently galvanizing. The War on Drugs’ latest slab of Big Rock Redux is their most organic album to date, integrating the blips and blobs with the rootsy muscle of a tight sextet. Whether a given track goes minimal or maximal, each musical backdrop is built in loving, precise detail, and the simple hooks become earworms before you know it. Granduciel’s vocals — his most individual to date — insistently ride the rhythms, his songs meditating on scenes of a dissatisfied youth (“Change”, “Victim”), then finding unanticipated serenity in the quiet victories and encroaching vulnerabilities of middle age (“Living Proof”, the widescreen title track, “Occasional Rain”). This one snuck up on me via multiple evening listens, and now it’s not letting go; see if it grabs you! Get it on LP, CD or cassette from TWoD’s webstore.

The Fall 2021 Box Set Bonanza

As previously promised, a look at the big reissues landing in the next few months — especially those available in one or more box set formats. Ordering links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out Now:

The Beach Boys, Feel Flows – The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions, 1969-1971: between their initial impact and their imperial phase as timeless purveyors of fun fun fun, Brian Wilson and his family pursued heaviness and relevance in a market that thought it had outgrown them — at least for the moment. This slice of the Boys’ catalog features less slick, more homespun takes on their timeless concerns (the same amount of girls, less cars, more daily life), with Wilson brothers Dennis (on Sunflower) and Carl (on Surf’s Up) taking the lead. The brilliant moments — “This Whole World,” “Forever,” “Long Promised Road,” “Til I Die” for starters — outweigh the embarrassingly dated ones, and music to make you smile is never too long in coming. Available from The Beach Boys’ webstore as 2 CDs, 5 CDs, 2 LPs or 4 LPs (colored vinyl).

BeBop Deluxe, Live in the Air Age: when Bill Nelson’s avant-glam guitar heroics didn’t generate bigger record sales, a live album was the next obvious move for this sterling British quartet. Better chart positions weren’t forthcoming, but 1977’s Live in the Air Age is an exquisite slab of BBD at work — Chuck Berry updated for the Apollo era, with a bit of Bowie/Mercury panache in Nelson’s vocals and blazing solos aplenty. Available from Esoteric Recordings as 3 CDs (adding the complete 1977 London concert) or 15 CDs/1 DVD (adding all surviving recordings from the 1977 British tour and a live television special).

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: the quiet Beatle exploded on his first album after the Fabs’ breakup, immersing his radiant devotional compositions in Phil Spector’s patented Wall of Sound and drafting Ringo, Badfinger and the embryonic Derek and the Dominoes as his rock orchestra. The new remix scales back the symphonic swirl, brings forward George’s vocals, and gives the rhythm section a kick in the pants; just right to these ears. A serious contender for the single best solo Beatle album, well worth an immersion course. Available from the Harrison webstore in Standard (2 CDs or 3 LPs — limited colored vinyl available as well), Deluxe (3 CDs or 5 LPs), Super Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay or 8 LPs) and Uber Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay/8 LPs/various bespoke gimcracks/”artisan wooden crate” — you don’t wanna know what it costs) editions.

The Elements of King Crimson – 2021 Tour Box: the 7th annual compilation of tidbits from the Discipline Global Mobile archives, doubling as a concert program. This year’s selection of rarities focuses on the nine drummers that have called King Crimson their musical home (sometimes two or three of them at once). Studio snippets – like the one with Fripp, John Wetton on bass and Phil Collins on drums – live tracks, oddities, previews of coming attractions, and more. Available from Burning Shed or on Crimson’s current USA tour.

Lee Morgan, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse: never a mass media superstar, Morgan was nonetheless a jazz icon — one of the finest trumpeters of his day who played with heroes of the music like Art Blakey and John Coltrane, recorded more than 20 albums as a leader for Blue Note Records, and even managed to score a Top 25 pop hit with his funky “The Sidewinder.” This box (another product of jazz archivist Zev Feldman’s boundless energy) sets forth an entire weekend’s worth of recordings by Morgan and his dedicated, powerful 1970 band. Bennie Maupin on reeds, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums bring the sophisticated, challenging compositions and spirited solos and backing; Morgan takes it from there, lyrical and fiery in turn. This is a great potential entry point if you want to explore jazz as a newbie, and a serious desert island possiblility for those already into the music. Available from Blue Note’s webstore as 8 CDs or 12 LPs.

Clive Nolan and Rick Wakeman, Tales by Gaslight: keyboardists Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) and Wakeman (Yes, Strawbs) box up their out-of-print concept albums Jabberwocky (with dad Rick W. reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse) and The Hound of the Baskervilles, adding a bonus disc collecting rough drafts of a 3rd album based on Frankenstein. Separate booklets and art prints for each of the 3 CDs included. Theatrical as all get out, and surprisingly good fun if you’re in the mood for Victorian-flavored melodrama. Available from Burning Shed.

September:

Bob Dylan, Springtime in New York – The Bootleg Series, Volume 16, 1980-1985: Outtakes, alternate versions, rehearsals, live performances and more from the era that yielded Dylan’s albums Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Out September 17; pre-order from Dylan’s webstore and elsewhere in the following formats: 2 LP Highlights, 2 CD Highlights or 5 CDs complete. (There’s also a subscriber-only 4 LP set from Jack White’s Third Man Records.)

Marillion, Fugazi: the band’s 1984 album, perceived as a “sophomore slump” at the time, is much more than a bridge between the feral debut Script for A Jester’s Tear and the early masterwork Misplaced Childhood, with plenty of gripping moments to recommend it. A new remix by Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh compensates handily for the production nightmares recounted in this deluxe edition’s copious notes. Also includes a complete live set from Montreal; the CD/BluRay version adds bonus tracks, documentaries, and a Swiss television concert. Out September 10; pre-order from Marillion’s webstore as 4 CDs/BluRay or 4 LPs.

Van der Graaf Generator, The Charisma Years, 1970-1978: VDGG may have shared the stage with Genesis in each band’s formative years, but they were a thoroughly different beast. Peter Hammill’s desperate existential narratives and the wigged out instrumental web woven by David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans made for a unique, highly combustible chemistry — bonkers dystopian sci-fi narrative over free jazz one moment, raggedly soaring hymns to human potential the next. This 17 CD/3 BluRay set collects the band’s 8 studio albums from the Seventies, adding extensive BBC sessions, a live show from Paris, all surviving television appearances “and more.” Now available from Burning Shed; the four newly remastered albums in this box (H to He Who Am the Only One, Pawn Hearts, Godbluff and Still Life) are available as separate CD/DVD sets for those wanting a lower priced introduction to this underrated band’s indescribably stirring music.

October:

The Beatles, Let It Be: the Fab Four’s star-crossed attempt to return to their roots – recording live in front of movie cameras – ultimately became their first post-break-up release, drenched with Phil Spector’s orchestral overdubs to cover the rough spots. With a new 6-hour Peter Jackson documentary on the sessions hitting Disney Plus Thanksgiving weekend, Apple unleashes a fresh stereo remix (the 4th in the series that kicked off with Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary). Super Deluxe versions also include 27 sessions tracks, a 4-track EP and a test mix of Get Back, the proposed original version of the album. Out October 15th; pre-order from the Fabs’ webstore in Standard (1 CD or 1 LP), Deluxe (2 CDs with selected bonus tracks) and Super Deluxe (4 CDs/1 BluRay or 4 LP/1 EP) editions. (The companion book of photos and transcribed conversations from the sessions, Get Back, is released on October 12.)

Emerson Lake and Palmer, Out of This World – Live (1970-1997): a compilation of key live shows in ELP’s history: their 1970 debut at the Isle of Wight Festival; a career peak show at the 1974 California Jam; the 1977 full-orchestra extravaganza at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 1992’s comeback concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall; and a previously unreleased 1997 show from Phoenix, Arizona. Out October 29; pre-order from ImportCDs as 7 CDs or 10 LPs.

Joni Mitchell, Archives , Volume 2 – The Reprise Years (1968-1971): more archival recordings from the early days of Mitchell’s recording career. Home and studio demos, outtakes, unreleased songs, her Carnegie Hall debut and much more — a complete acoustic set recorded by a enraptured Jimi Hendrix, anyone? Out October 29; pre-order from Mitchell’s webstore on 5 CDs or 10 LPs (4000 copies only), The Carnegie Hall concert is available separately on 3 LPs (black or white vinyl).

Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Remixed and Updated): the 2019 remix of Floyd’s post-Roger Waters comeback from the opulent The Later Years box, now available on its own. “Sounds less like the 1980s, more like classic Floyd” is the party line here. Out October 29; pre-order from Floyd’s webstore in 1 CD, CD/DVD, CD/BluRay or 2 LP formats.

November:

Genesis, The Last Domino? Yet another compilation of Genesis’ greatest hits, fan favorites and core album cuts, released just in time for their first US tour in 14 years. No real surprises in the track selection, but the blurbed promise of “new stereo mixes” of four Gabriel-era classics is intriguing. Out November 19; pre-order from Genesis’ webstore on 2 CDs or 4 LPs. (The UK version of this compilation, out September 17, sports a slightly different track list.)

Elvis Presley, Back in Nashville: the King’s final sessions in Music City, stripped of overdubs a la last year’s From Elvis in Nashville box, that yielded material for three years worth of albums. 82 tracks encompassing country/folk, pop, religious music and Christmas music. Out November 12; pre-order from the Presley webstore on 4 CDs or 2 LPs.

In the Works (release date forthcoming):

Robert Fripp, Exposures: another exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) set from Discipline Global Mobile. This one promises to cover Fripp’s “Drive to 1981,” including his guest-star-heavy solo debut Exposure, the ambient Frippertronics of God Save the Queen and Let the Power Fall, and the egghead dance music of Under Heavy Manners and The League of Gentlemen. Tons of live gigs promised to supplement rarities and studio outtakes.

Marillion, Holidays in Eden: the new Marillion album (now officially titled An Hour Before It’s Dark) may push this further back on the release schedule, but Steve Hogarth’s second effort with the boys (an intriguing effort that tried and failed to go commercial) is next up for the deluxe reissue treatment.

Porcupine Tree, Deadwing: a promised deluxe set in the vein of 2020’s In Absentia. Internet gossip flared up when Steven Wilson, Steve Barbieri and Gavin Harrison were rumored to have reset the band’s legal partnership earlier this year; who knows how or when the Tree may blossom again?

Renaissance, Scheherezade and Other Stories: coming from Esoteric Recordings, the folk-prog quintet’s finest hour in the studio, melding orchestral grace with an Arabian Nights theme for the half-hour title track. If this is in the vein of other recent Renaissance issues, hope for a multi-disc set with a bonus live set and a surround remix.

— Rick Krueger

The Anchoress, The Art of Losing

A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.

Ascription for Psalm 102, King James Version

The Art of Losing, the second album by Catherine Anne Davies working as The Anchoress, hits where the listener lives. Lyrically erudite? You bet; Davies borrows the title from American poet Elizabeth Bishop, quotes a roster of literary titans from Julian of Norwich and C.S. Lewis to Margaret Atwood and Jorge Luis Borges in the liner notes, then depicted herself exhaling (vomiting?) her contribution to the conversation on the album sleeve. Musically sophisticated? Again, a slam dunk; beyond her compelling writing and powerful, nuanced singing, Davies plays most of the instruments with gusto, creates the unique sound world only a virtuoso producer could, and pulls influences from Depeche Mode to modern classicist Max Richter into the mix.

But that’s all secondary, picked up on repeated listens, trailing in the wake of this music’s overwhelming initial impact. Davies’ keenly honed portrayals of mayhem, trauma, loss and grief (reflections of her recent life) suck you into a maelstrom where happiness is barely a consideration. The question she seems to insistently ask on The Art of Losing is: how to endure?

How to endure being treated like a possession — by responding in kind? (“The Exchange”, duetting with Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield) How to endure in a world where the wicked and unjust prosper and even gain greater influence (“Show Your Face,” rocking like a truck full of bricks as Davies snarls the chorus)? How to endure the ache of separation, the innumerable endings that life inevitably brings (the uneasily propulsive title track and “Unravel”)? The preternaturally quiet “5 AM” arrives at the abyss: just piano, cello and Davies’ unflinching vocal, recounting incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault and baby loss, implacably inventorying the damage that comes for no reason, beyond what others think you are or owe them.

Groping for a path forward, Davies broods on the nature of sacrifice in “The Heart Is A Lonesome Hunter”, then explodes on the fierce incantation “My Confessor”. “With the Boys” brings another hushed, apocalyptic reckoning, as Davies tallies up the price of her choices– and concludes the outcome has been worth it:

All of my life I’ve been waiting for something I might call my own
And learn to hold something inside
A voice unworn that gets a little louder when you laugh at me
And tell me not to speak

And she goes round and round
Chasing circles with the palm of her hand
She got to be good got to be certain if she wants to play
With the boys . . .

But I can’t and I won’t shut my mouth this time
Can’t control what you don’t know
What was it you were hoping for guarding all the doors?
Guarding all the doors?

The Anchoress’ answers to the inherent ache of life — of embodiment in a broken world where, seemingly beyond redemption, we choose to love things and use other people — aren’t cheap, easy or sentimental. But they are bracing and genuinely moving. At the end of The Art of Losing, endurance is the only viable solution (and quite possibly its own reward); the acceptance of time’s passage and the willingness to continue is the only possibility worth pursuing. Where the strength to do it comes from — yourself? Others? Someone you pour out your complaint to? — may remain a mystery. But by channeling her (and our) dilemma into 40 minutes of ambitious, unforgettable art-pop, Catherine Anne Davies has given us an undeniable gift. Open it for yourself and listen below:

The Art of Losing is available on LP and CD at Bandcamp and Burning Shed.

— Rick Krueger

In Concert: Todd Rundgren’s Clear Humanity

With multiple attempts at a 2020-21 tour yanked out from under him, Todd Rundgren has pulled a fresh concept out of his back pocket in turn. In lieu of a one-off worldwide livestream, Rundgren kicked off the “Clearly Human Virtual Tour” on February 14.

Sporting a setlist focused on the ambitious 1989 album Nearly Human, Rundgren and his 10-piece band (including bassist Kasim Sulton and synthesist Gil Assayas from the 2018 Utopia reunion tour) are now midway through a 25-date residency in Chicago; original talk of limiting each show’s streaming market via “geofencing” quickly gave way to a few visual and verbal nods to a different city each night. Intrigued, I ponied up $40 for February 25’s “Indianapolis” show; for more cash, you could control what camera angle you were seeing, order the usual merch, have your face projected onto video screens the band can see, or even attend in person (the last option subject to being one of 19 people to pay VIP prices, then pass a COVID test within 72 hours of the show).

It’s a great concept: cutting down overhead by staying in one place, Rundgren has added a horn section (Steven Stanley on trumpet and Nearly Human sax man Bobby Strickland), three backup singers (Nia Halvorson, Grace Yoo and Todd’s wife Michele), guitarist Bruce McDaniel and second keyboardist Elliot Lewis to his usual rhythm section of Sulton, Assayas and drummer Prairie Prince. The musical results all night were pretty marvelous, ranging from a smooth purr to a raucous roar, with lots of guts and grace to spare. Pin-sharp after two weeks with the material, the band eagerly powered through most of Nearly Human plus selected classics from the 1970s (the 10-part vocalese in “Can We Still Be Friends” was downright awe-inspiring), a few Utopia tunes and later R&B-inflected gems (with the precision funk of 2nd Wind’s “Love Science” and the slow burn of “God Said” from 2004’s Liars proving especially effective). Rundgren’s occasional forays into lead guitar on his iconic green instrument “Foamy” were spaced out for maximum impact; the rest of the time he stalked the lip of the stage, strutting his stuff while the players did their thing. His obvious delight in his “nebbish as soul man” persona was utterly endearing — and once he shucked his suit jacket to reveal a bit of a pot belly and comfy athletic shoes, you were in on the joke as well.

The only weak link, for this show at least, was Rundgren’s voice. His melodies, especially on his soul material, are fairly fearsome, multi-octave constructions; they require a sturdy vocal instrument, a comprehensive range, consistent breath support, and lots of stamina! On this night, Rundgren’s bottom and top were strong, but a little phlegmy and forced, and the midrange between the two was unsteady to the point of outright disappearance at times — including during the opener “Real Man”. (l’ve had to sing for numerous worship services or concerts with a dry throat, sinus congestion or a cold, and I think that’s what may have been going on. Take it from me, it ain’t much fun.) Previous reports have found Todd in great vocal form on this tour (and Cirdec Songs’ Cedric Hendrix reported that he was up to snuff for the next night’s show); hopefully, this was a one-time glitch that some rest — or maybe hot tea and honey — fixed! And in my book, Rundgren earned “show must go on” bonus points for his perseverance in difficult circumstances.

In short, Todd Rundgren’s come up with an enjoyable cure for the no-concert blues — one that, even on a bit of an off night, was highly effective, impressive and fun! If it’s been too long since you rocked out in your favorite venue, I recommend you check out the remaining livestream dates for the “Clearly Human Virtual Tour” at NoCap Shows.

— Rick Krueger

Setlist:

  • Real Man
  • Love of the Common Man
  • Secret Society (Utopia)
  • Something to Fall Back On
  • Parallel Lines
  • Unloved Children
  • Love in Action (Utopia)
  • Compassion
  • Can’t Stop Running
  • The Waiting Game
  • The Smell of Money
  • God Said
  • Love Science
  • Feel It
  • Sweet
  • Change Myself
  • Can We Still Be Friends
  • Lost Horizon
  • Rock Love (Utopia)
  • Hawking
  • The Want of a Nail
  • Hello It’s Me
  • I Love My Life

Neil Young’s Archives II: The Fourth Dimension

Previous installments in our thrilling saga:

Neil Young tries to sort out the shambles his Archives Volume II pre-order process became one more time, at the NYA Times-Contrarian:

A DELUXE edition with subtle art differences is coming for those who couldn’t get the limited first one because of the demand and shortage. Those who got the first limited one will get a letter of authenticity sent to them. The Deluxe set is coming March 5 2021. I really hope you all enjoy the music as much as we did making it back then.

Love and be well, Neil and NYA

Links to pre-order the Deluxe Edition (which features the “II” in red, for the same price as the sold-out Limited Deluxe Edition) and the Retail Edition (smaller box, smaller book, $90 less) from Young’s online store The Greedy Hand are now active.

So what have we learned from all this?

  • If you’re Neil Young, you’ve learned that these days it takes a minimum of four months for a second pressing of a box set, no matter how loudly you complain to your record company;
  • If you’re Warner Reprise, you’ve learned that Neil Young will never, ever let go of a bright idea unless he does so on his own — so for pity’s sake, don’t tell him something can’t be done;
  • If you’re a Neil Young fanatic, you’ve learned never to pay $3000 for a Limited Deluxe Edition on eBay — you never know what might happen;
  • If you’re me — well, at least I’ve learned I don’t have to wait four months for my copy. Just don’t expect me to frame my Certificate of Authenticity!

— Rick Krueger

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to Us

“Is it a letter to your younger self?” I ask. “Is it to your children? Your wife? Your fans? To me?” Springsteen chuckles at the question: “It’s to you! It’s a letter to you! Whoever is listening. And, yeah, it is a summing up of what I’ve tried to do over the course of my 45, 50 years now, working.”

— Bruce Springsteen, interviewed by the American Association of Retired Persons magazine

Scoff if you will at the idea of Bruce Springsteen talking to AARP – but he is 71 now. And as I get closer to 60 than to 50, I’ve started to resonate, ever so gradually, with the ideas of summing up and finishing strong. Between my childhood love of the Beatles and my late adolescent discovery of prog rock, Born to Run was an early personal milestone: an album with operatic musical ambition, a formidable grasp of rock history, and a yearning to explore the ins and outs of freedom and community, their costs and their consolations. (It’s also the first album I remember wanting after I read about it, in Newsweek’s infamous cover story; thinking about it, that might be when my itch to write about music started.)

As Springsteen’s career flared, climbed, peaked, then settled into the after-life of a legacy rock star, he’s never really stopped exploring those core concerns, whether his immediate subject matter was escape, desperation, love, abandonment, friendship, loss, grief or jubilation. The good news is that Letter to You dives into all this and more, remembering friends now dead, reviving songs once abandoned, and — the best part — rocking out with a rejuvenated E Street Band.

The death of lifelong friend George Theiss left Springsteen as the last living member of his first band, The Castiles. That and the gift of an acoustic guitar from a fan inspired a weeklong burst of writing, followed by five days of live-on-the studio-floor recording. These new songs are urgent, forward looking yet haunted by the past; but they also revel in gratitude for the moment and for the memories of those no longer around. The performances range from hushed to full-out, crossing the boundaries of folk, country, blues, the British Invasion and more; a mix of old and new bandmates are at the ready with guitars that chime and growl, churchy keyboard work ranging from Gothic to gospel, rhythm section grooves spanning the subtle and the bombastic, and much, much more.

The E Streeters are in full flight throughout, no matter the dynamic and the mood, smoothly gliding behind Springsteen on the folky opener “One Minute You’re Here” and the R&B-inflected love song “The Power of Prayer,” then soaring in a magnificent meld of The Byrds’ jangle and the Band’s grit on the cowboy gallop “Burning Train” and the transcendent rocker “Ghosts.” The early Springsteen songs “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans” show that the man’s surreal wordplay earned his early “new Dylan” hype, and the band backs him with full-on psychedelic blues rock, the “wild mercury sound” the actual Dylan talked about back in his heyday.

And through all of this, Springsteen — looking back on a world-conquering career, 30 years of marriage, the raising of three now-grown children, and looking toward what comes next — grounds himself where he always has: on the power of music to connect with others and tell their stories back to them, with each side of the conversation reflecting the other . . .

Rock of ages lift me somehow / Somewhere high and hard and loud / Somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd / I’m the last man standing now

“Last Man Standing”

. . . on music’s vast potential to create, support and sustain community, even if it’s a community of lost souls, brought together for one night only . . .

Here the bitter and the bored / Wake in search of the lost chord / That’ll band us together as long as there’s stars / Here in the house of a thousand guitars

“House of A Thousand Guitars”

. . . on rich, unsparing empathy for the faces in the crowd, even the ones who’ve made bad bets, or trusted the wrong people.

They come for the smile, the firm handshake / They come for the raw chance of a fair shake / Some come to make damn sure, my friend / This mean season’s got nothing to do with them / They come ’cause they can’t stand the pain / Of another long hot day of no rain / ‘Cause they don’t care or understand / What it really takes for the sky to open up the land

“Rainmaker”

But there’s also something fresh here, and it’s what lifts Letter to You above standard-issue Bruce. In both “Ghosts” and the album’s moving finale, Springsteen sings to the ones who’ve died while pondering his own horizon, facing the homestretch of his life with a hope that disavows denial or facile optimism. (Possibly one rooted in his Catholic background?) It’s a hope that points toward life after death, but also asserts that the dead still live on, here and now, in the memories of those they loved:

I’ll see you in my dreams / When all our summers have come to an end / I’ll see you in my dreams / We’ll meet and live and laugh again / I’ll see you in my dreams / Up around the riverbend / For death is not the end / I’ll see you in my dreams

“I’ll See You in My Dreams”

And while the album was done and dusted before coronavirus reshaped the landscape, there’s another promise implicit in it all:

“All I can tell you is, when this experience is over, I am going to throw the wildest party you’ve ever seen. And you, my friends, are all invited.”

Bruce talking to the AARP

Consider Letter to You Bruce Springsteen’s reminder to save the date for that party, as well as one of his finest efforts — in my mind, ranking up there with Born to Run, Tunnel of Love, The Rising and Working On A Dream. When the man has something big to write about, he can cut straight to your heart, even from a secluded home studio in deepest New Jersey, and he’s done it again here. With the E Street Band on fire behind him, Letter to You could be the basis of a tour to top them all for Springsteen; but even if that never comes to pass, this album is something special, a hard-rocking reminder that yes, our days on this earth are numbered — but also that love is strong as death.

Listen to Letter to You on Spotify.

(This review is dedicated to the memory of my parents Carl & Carol Krueger, who bought me Born to Run for my 14th birthday.)

— Rick Krueger

Neil Young’s Archives II: On 3rd Thought …

Neil Young has walked back his walkback at the NYA Times Contrarian:

Reprise Records, my record company for about 50 years, underestimated the demand for Archives Volume II.  We were all surprised.  It is a beautiful package that I am proud to have made for you.  I do feel badly that we did not deliver it to many who were waiting so long for it.

We don’t feel that offering more of a product sold as a limited edition is a good thing to do.  Thank you to all who purchased this set.

In 2021 we will be offering more Archives Volume II products as Reprise had originally planned, available in all outlets.  These, while not the boxed set, will offer all of the music and discs with a smaller book.  The original large book will be available for separate sale.

Thanks!  NYA

So what are the implications here? These thoughts hit me:

  • Note that Reprise was already planning a cheaper version of Archives II. Back in 2009, the basic edition of Archives I (pictured above) dropped the same week as the more expensive DVD & Blu-ray versions (which weren’t considered this time around due to the Archives‘ migration online). It’s arguable that this staged marketing effort was a major reason Archives II’s limited edition sold out; nobody told Neil Young fans that a lower-priced version would eventually be available! (Of course, I wanted the limited edition no matter what, so mission accomplished.)
  • As physical product’s market share in the recorded music industry has eroded, first in favor of downloads, then streaming subscriptions, marketing strategies have also shifted. For the big boys (tech companies and the three major labels) the industry’s physical product (7 percent of US sales in the first half of 2020, measured in dollars) is now mostly a means to wring maximum amounts out of legacy fans with money to spend. The mass market belongs to streaming (85 percent of US sales) — which furnishes them the lions’ share of those proceeds, through paid subscriptions and advertising. Hmm . . . that couldn’t have skewed Reprise’s estimates for Archives II’s limited edition sales, could it?
  • These new realities have also strengthened the power of major labels in relation to artists. If Neil Young — one of the true 800-pound gorillas of rock culture, absolutely used to throwing his weight around to get his way — can’t get Warner Music to pony up a second printing of the limited Archives II, what chance does a start-up artist have pushing back on anything against Warner, Universal or Sony BMG? As David Lowery famously wrote back in 2012, “meet the new boss; worse than the old boss.”
  • The focus on streaming has also changed how legacy musicians and their support staff (or their estates) conceive of box sets and high-end collections. For example, the new super-deluxe edition of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times has a bonus track listing explicitly designed so fans can assemble their own playlists without having to purchase digital or physical versions. And let’s face it, Neil Young wants to sell you a subscription to the Archives website if at all possible; in 2020, downloads (6 percent of US sales) and physical sales are the gravy on top, not the meat and potatoes.
  • In addition to streaming online, the relative shift to LPs offline (currently accounting for 62% of income from US physical sales — it’s the product with a higher value per unit, that outsells CDs about 3 to 1 at independent record stores and still has a small footprint for impulse purchases in big-box chains) has tilted manufacturing and distribution accordingly. What does it say about the industry’s current capacity for physical media that the new indie album by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Love Is The King came out online this past week, but CDs and LPs won’t be available until January? If the big guns are simultaneously bearish on physical sales and hogging CD and vinyl production, how do the little guys get a shot?

In some ways, all of the above is irrelevant to the main thrust of this website. Progressive music in all its forms is, whether we admit it or not, an incredibly small niche in today’s recorded music industry — but one that, between two solidly-funded labels that can get product to the mass market (KScope and Inside Out, which seems to have considerable freedom as part of Sony BMG), a multitude of independent and artist-run ventures and potent distribution channels like Bandcamp and Burning Shed, has proved remarkably resilient. The persistence of prog is a big part of why we love it so.

On the other hand, the music industry already caught one bug in 2020, with US physical sales declining in the second quarter of this year due to the first wave of the COVID pandemic. And if the Goliaths come down with another economic cold . . . could the fallout spread to the little guys with slingshots that we want to support?

–Rick Krueger

Neil Young Archives II: The Saga Continues …

Neil Young apologizes at the NYA Times Contrarian:

As many of you know, the sales of my NYA Archives Volume II did not go quite as expected. I’m sorry so many of you were disappointed in not being able to snag one. Let me give you a little background and tell you what we’re going to do to make this right.

WBR/Reprise, my record label, is responsible for estimating the sales and then producing the product. Estimates are always difficult to predict with the world moving away from tangible, but they clearly failed to anticipate the demand we experienced. I would have preferred to have sold fewer and not have many of you disappointed.

Leading up to the release, we wanted to give you the same convenience of purchasing wherever you are in the world, so WBR built a Greedy Hand Store in the UK and another in Canada. But they were completed and came online late, just before Volume II went on sale, which added to the confusion. We later learned a WBR link for pre-ordering was apparently leaked. Obviously, I’m disappointed in how all this was handled, and will address this.

I read many of your comments, especially from those unable to make a purchase. Here’s what we’re going to do.

I’ve asked WBR/Reprise to create another version of Archives Volume II that will have all the same content, but with some changes in appearance to differentiate it from the first 3000. For those that pre-ordered with the expectation that there would only be 3000, we will allow you to cancel your preorder, if you choose. The new version will be sold at the same price and will come with the same hi-res digital downloads and free NYA membership.

Thanks for all your support. For those still with questions contact the customer support team on your Greedy Hand store or the NYA team.

My deepest apologies to all of you who were disappointed. The leaked preorder link from Warner Brothers is particularly disconcerting to us here at NYA. Warner is usually very reliable. We will be looking into who placed orders using that leak if we can. The second edition will be identical with a minor color difference to identify it.

Sorry, NYA and Neil — be well

— Rick Krueger