soundstreamsunday #97: “Mistral Wind” by Heart

heart2As a commercially successful American hard rock band fronted by two women in the 1970s, Heart was unique, and while it’s Patti Smith and the Runaways that have turned legendary (with merit, no doubt) for their stories, Heart’s impact on women in rock is, must be, outsized, and deserving of the same attention.  While their 80s albums were marred by a soft rock sheen (but still, wildly successful), the early catalog resonates strongly: “Barracuda” with its gallop and biting reaction to a record company and music press that wanted, badly, to portray the Wilson sisters as objects of sexual intrigue; “Crazy on You”; “Magic Man”; “Straight On”; “Heartless”; “Dog and Butterfly”; “Dreamboat Annie.”  For what they did and when they did it, Heart’s story is that of women in rock and roll itself, playing off and pushing against an industrial complex bent on making them something they weren’t.

What Heart was in the 70s was a band with a heavy jones for Led Zeppelin, a singer with unearthly vocal breadth and firepower, and a band with the chops to back it up.  They could bring it live and in the studio, and even if their records had the typical filler allowed for groups tasked with putting out an album or two a year, Ann Wilson’s vocal flights had every bit of Plant-ish Zep swagger with room to spare.  Nancy Wilson’s light acoustic touch was given heft by Roger Fisher’s advanced, melodic shredding, and was propelled by a cracking rhythm section.  They could lay waste.

“Mistral Wind” is straight out of the school of Houses of the Holy, with, in its no-nonsense thundering second section, a darker lean towards Sabbath.  Written with friend and co-writer Sue Ennis for Dog and Butterfly (1978), the song never received radio play but maybe describes Heart — both the music and the relationships and tensions in the band –as well or better than any of their other work.   Along with the studio version here are two live versions, one from the year of its release and the other from the 2007 Dreamboat Annie anniversary show.  All are worthwhile in their way, but the 1978 Largo version, even with all its bad lighting and video dropouts, is most compelling, the song still fresh, growing as a performance piece.  Get out your lighter….

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.

soundstreamsunday #95: “Jezebel” by Anna Calvi

calviYou could do worse than follow the 1951 Wayne Shanklin song “Jezebel” as a guiding aesthetic for launching a recording career.  A hit for Frankie Laine (1951), Edith Piaf (1951), and, remarkably, Herman’s Hermits (1966),  “Jezebel” is built around a flamenco figure that adapts itself well to pop drama and, as Anna Calvi demonstrated on her first single, shows a sympathy to the reverb-y guitar dynamics and thundering tom-driven drumming favored by surf guitarists and Italian directors of Spanish-set westerns.

Taking rough cues from Piaf’s French version of the song, Calvi here adds a visually arresting, emotional core lacking in many of “Jezebel’s” versions, setting the table for the feast of her self-titled debut (2011), a record ripe with passion and shadow, with unified sonic and narrative themes that you might call cafe goth.  Siouxsie and the Banshees comparisons certainly apply, but there’s an Americana bent to it, too, inhabiting the same territory Chris Isaak mines to such great effect, or even the darker work of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood in the 1960s.

The video for “Jezebel” is a live performance by Calvi and her band, Daniel Maielen-Wood and Mally Harpez.  It is a power trio upended, confounded, confirmed by Harpez’s harmonium, transporting the song to the bars of Sevilla, approaching midnight, as the walls jump to the shadows of a guitarist and her dancers….

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.

soundstreamsunday #94: “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac

fleetwoodmacThere is a little irony that Fleetwood Mac hit superstardom ten years into its existence, having jettisoned numerous guitar heroes — including the group’s founder, the inimitable and brilliant Peter Green — and did so as a West Coast soft rock band rather than the grimy British hard blues act that inspired contemporaries and was absolutely formative for Jimmy Page in his vision of Led Zeppelin.  By 1975, beleaguered and getting old in the rock and roll tooth, and years since it had anything approaching a hit, the band made a last ditch, daring sea change that saw them bring on the largely unknown singer-songwriting couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who radically reshaped Fleetwood Mac’s sound.  1975’s Fleetwood Mac was their breakthrough, while 1977’s Rumours proved the formula worked, as Nicks and Buckingham brought a finesse of songcraft sorely missing since Peter Green left the band.  More than this, though, the two Americans integrated, rather than overlayed, their sound on Fleetwood Mac.  Onstage, Nicks became Green’s “Black Magic Woman” incarnate, a gypsy witch with a unique vocal power (and a sexual presence that didn’t hurt the band’s progress), while Buckingham, a gifted, complete guitarist, could play lines summoning the group’s bluesy manalishi ghosts while feeding the ravenous pop machine he was building.

The last song on Rumours, Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman” is an ode to coke, interwoven with the legendary California cartoon of disintegrating relationships and romantic triangles making up Fleetwood Mac’s lore.  It completes side two of the LP as assuredly as “The Chain” begins it, the two songs dancing at the edges of Peter Green’s blues terrors, advancing into soft rock classic dark jazz torches like “Lush Life” while setting the stage for future L.A. creatures like “Babylon Sisters.”  Like the LP it finishes, the song is a dark star, a downer completing one of the unlikeliest of pop albums.  “Rock on, gold dust woman.”

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.

Rick’s Quick Takes: From the Fires by Greta Van Fleet

“Rock & roll isn’t really going on right now and it’s something the people need.” — Josh Kiszka, Greta Van Fleet, quoted in Rolling Stone.

If Frankenmuth, Michigan is known at all, it’s usually as a tourist spot that channels a kitschy “Little Bavaria” vibe  — complete with chicken dinners,  a Christmas superstore that my wife described as “obscene” after a visit, and its local polka band heroes.  (To be fair, it began as a mission colony, founded by Bavarians who crossed the Atlantic to minister to Michigan’s Chippewas.  These “Franconians” became key players in the founding of my spiritual home, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — but I digress.)

This year, a different kind of band from Frankenmuth is on a new mission; the incredibly young quartet Greta Van Fleet (named for a octogenarian hammer dulcimer player) aims to stoke the “rock & roll revolution” Bono predicted in his recent Rolling Stone interview.  Their weapon of choice: a heavy, howling sound that reconnects to the energy of Chicago blues, early pre-mellow Bob Seger and the British hard rock boom — especially to Led Zeppelin.

Be warned: there’s a whole lotta Zeppelin influence on this compilation of two EPs — so much so that my longtime buddies from high school were comparing the music to 1970s German Zep-alikes Kingdom Come when we got together recently.  And it’s fair to wonder how the band — twin brothers Josh Kiszka on vocals & Jake Kiszka on guitar, baby brother Sam Kiszka on bass and pal Danny Wagner on drums, ranging in age from 18 to 21 — could possibly have been so well marinated in the classic sounds they emulate.  (Parents with great record collections and a musical family that jams together on long weekends seem to hold the answer.)

But let’s face it: Robert Plant & Jimmy Page were these kids’ age once, and they did all right for themselves.  More than anything, it’s the explosive energy of youth that these boys are bringing to the table, and they surf that energy on From the Fires until it soars.  The opening “Safari Song,” the semi-acoustic “Flower Power” and the surprise radio hit “Highway Tune” work as brazen, thoroughly convincing new-Zep; the strong covers of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge” showcase their eclectic, well-formed taste, and at a short, sharp 32 minutes, the whole set oozes potential.

Not that there won’t be some growing pains along the way; while Greta Van Fleet has sold out every headline show they’ve played this year, there were credible grumbles about their live sound and management in the wake of their recent Grand Rapids gig.  Still — a rock band from the Midwest with nationwide, possibly international potential!  It’s been a while since that’s happened.  On the evidence of From the Fires, I think they have what it takes to go for it, and I wish them the best.  But feel free to judge for yourself below. — Rick Krueger


The Albums That Changed My Life: #8, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

by Rick Krueger

The good Dr. Birzer did a fine track-by-track survey of this milestone album for its 50th anniversary in 2016.   While I’m tempted to say “just read his article,” it wouldn’t answer the implied question this series poses.  How did hearing Pet Sounds change my life?

Though I always liked the Beach Boys, I didn’t glom onto Pet Sounds until I was in my 30s. My older brother had a few of their early records; I remember borrowing the In Concert album and subjecting my family to repeated plays on one vacation.  Some of their songs from the 1970s filtered through to FM rock radio in my high school years, too; “Sail On Sailor” was particularly popular.  I even arranged a medley of the band’s 1960s classics for my final choir concert at Lutheran High School East.  But I typically thought of the Beach Boys as a group with cool harmonies, a Chuck Berry fixation, and decent songs about surfing, cars and girls.

Then, on a whim, I picked up the 30th anniversary edition of Pet Sounds in 1996.  Which included liner notes featuring Paul McCartney quotes like “this is the album of all time” and “no one is educated musically until they’ve heard that album.”  I figured I’d better give it a serious listen.

Continue reading “The Albums That Changed My Life: #8, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys”

soundstreamsunday #92: “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin

kashmirConsider Blueshammer.  Fictional, yes, short-lived, definitely (seconds at most).  Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff made no bones in their film Ghost World (from Clowes’ graphic novel) about white blues musicians — that is, Blueshammer — who drowned out the source of their inspiration through sheer volume, and the thoughtlessness of the fans who followed them.  It’s easy pickings, sure, but there’s also some truth there, and as practitioners of the art of the blues hammer, it wasn’t the first time Led Zeppelin and their peers were skewered in pop culture (see Spinal Tap), nor would it prevent other very capable white bro’ blues artists from on the one hand shredding and posturing, and on the other (and doubly suspect I think) donning the Ray-Bans and porkpie hats and a-how-how-howing through thousands of dollars of instruments, cables, amps, etc. to legions of adoring fans.  Shall we name names? No.  You and they and I know who they and I and you are.

Even at their emergence, many rock royalty decried the bludgeoning the mighty Zeppelin gave the blues, and certainly their excesses were as clear as their achievements.  But, they achieved a lot:  between their approach to traditional music of all stripes (they bludgeoned everything equally, often with finesse), their revolutionary production techniques, Jimmy Page’s ability to find the sweet spot between technique and feeling (and Robert Plant’s cock-of-the-walk wail, and John Bonham’s pounding, and John Paul Jones’s rock steady everything else), and their marketing prowess, it’s hard to sell Led Zeppelin short.  As they would have it, it might be blues hammer, but it was blues hammer of the gods, straight outta Valhalla.  And they were pretty much right, the most powerfully potent rock band of the 1970s, so successful that the only thing they risked was radio fatigue from overplay — a risk that proved all too real for a lot us (I’d never surrender my Zep LPs, but do I listen to them….?).  When Bonham drank himself to death it probably wasn’t the worst thing to happen to the band in terms of its own legacy: across eight seamlessly consistent studio albums they managed not to make one dud, as they threw most everything against the wall.  It all stuck.  Their apex was 1975’s Physical Graffiti, a double album opus that sprawled and summed, peaking with the epic “Kashmir.”  It was a landmark of progressive hard rock, an ego-driven nod to world music in all its variegated unfolding, and even as Zep dressed their song in the North African and eastern themes that captured their imaginations as strongly as the Mississippi Delta or the Welsh hills had, there was never any doubt that this music was completely theirs, and that it was nobly and spiritedly done.

Here is “Kashmir” from Celebration Day, the concert Zeppelin gave in 2007 in honor of Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records founder.  It may be their greatest live moment, even minus their legendary drummer, as the band (with Bonham’s son Jason ably thundering), healthy and aged and all in, describe why they were worth listening to in the first place, and why, really, they were never just a hammer of the blues, but indeed a hammer of the gods.

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.

Pat DiNizio, 1955-2017

According to Variety,

Pat DiNizio, vocalist-guitarist-songwriter for the tough yet tuneful New Jersey rock band the Smithereens, died Tuesday. He was 62.

The group announced his passing on their web site. No cause of death was given, but the musician had been beset by health problems in recent years; in 2015 he was sidelined after losing the use of his right hand and arm following a pair of falls that incurred serious nerve damage.

I remember being knocked sideways hearing the Smithereens’ “Behind the Wall of Sleep” on the radio in 1986.  I was always scanning record stores and the airwaves for tuneful, Beatle-ish power-pop, and this filled the bill nicely:

Three things about the song grabbed me: the misquote of H.P. Lovecraft in the title; the 1960s callbacks in the lyrics; and the killer combination of catchy melody and hard-rock groove — more Cheap Trick than Marshall Crenshaw.

After that, I was always excited to hear the Smithereens on the radio.  Maybe the melancholy skew of their lyrics (“Blood and Roses,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Only A Memory,” — sensing a theme yet?) was another factor in their favor during my self-pitying single years.   When they had an actual hit (“A Girl Like You”) off a solid album (11, also featuring Belinda Carlisle’s duet with DiNizio on the Rubber Soul homage “Blue Period”), it felt like a triumph!

The window to mass culture closed on the Smithereens after their next album Blow Up, but not before they came to Grand Rapids and played a free show at the Civic Auditorium the night before my 30th birthday.  You had to go to the main location of the local chain Believe in Music to get tickets, which is where the band autographed the t-shirt pictured above.  It was a good show; I remember lots of audience interaction, including guitarist Jim Babjak venturing into the audience for the guitar solo on “Blood and Roses.”

The Smithereens made one more major label album, A Date with the Smithereens (first line of lyrics: “Guess what, there’s a black cloud inside of my head”) before fading into where-are-they-now territory.  Which turned out to be their original stomping ground of Carteret, New Jersey.  They made occasional albums:  some new material — including a Christmas disc; some live retreads; some tributes to the Beatles and the Who — for my money, their take on Tommy has more guts than the original.

The Smithereens were planning live shows in 2018, but it wasn’t to be.  In one of his final Facebook posts, Pat DiNizio turned to thoughts of Christmas:

In early December the church that I live directly across the street from here in Scotch Plains builds a life size classic manger scene that is among one of the most beautiful and detailed one that I have ever seen. I can’t say that I’m a church goer, but I was raised Catholic, and the aforementioned church was where I was baptized, received Holy Communion was confirmed, where my parents were married (as well as every other member of my family) and where the funerals were held for my father, grandfather, grandmother, aunts, uncles and virtually every member of my family. Most of them were married there too. So when Hollingsworth House, the home that I have lived in the past 20 years or so became available, it seemed to me a stroke of good fortune to be able to live a hundred yards away across the street from the church that was and has been such an important part of my life.

dinizio in memoriam

Here’s hoping that Pat DiNizio now enjoys the peace embodied across the street from his house.  Buona Natale!