Classic Rock News And Views
April 20, 2011
Rush fans are likely to think of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson as the public faces of the group since they are the guys that always seem to show up for the awards shows, interviews and various publicity events. Their easy-going demeanor, quick wit and sense of humor serve the two long-time friends well as the default spokesmen for the band, but every so often we hear more than usual from the third and most reclusive member of the group.
It’s been explained a number of times through the years for the benefit of fans who wonder why Peart isn’t quite as visible as his band mates. Referring to Peart as “reclusive” should not be interpreted in a negative way. I can relate to the man. I’m no celebrity by any stretch, but the fact that I live in the woods with virtually no view of any other homes is no accident. I simply like my privacy.
Even so, I do enjoy a visit to the city now and again to enjoy a good meal or take in other attractions that are found there. As an author who is about to release a brand-new book, Neil Peart may soon find himself a lot closer to his fans than he normally would. Then again, perhaps not. It’s pretty common for authors launching new titles to embark on a book tour and arrange the customary book signings at various retail locations around the country, but with Rush in the middle of yet another leg of their Time Machine tour that will take them to Europe for the month of May, it seems unlikely that we’ll see any Neil Peart book signing posters in the windows of our local book stores.
Frankly, I’m not sure if Peart has ever done a book signing. Although he has already authored four books, I ‘m not able to find any evidence that he ever has, but maybe it eluded me. He’s not the kind of guy that’s known for casual banter with random fans, so my search for any reference to a book signing was probably a wild goose chase. I think most fans are content to appreciate the man for who he is and what he gives us as part of Rush.
Beyond that, his book and online writings often reveal more personal details about his life than we know about the affable Lee and Lifeson. Peart’s medium is the pen, or perhaps the laptop, depending on his preference I suppose, and there’s much to be learned from his work beyond the basics of BMW motorcycle maintenance.
Peart’s new book, Far and Away: A Prize Every Time, is another travel diary which chronicles his motorcycle journeys through North America, South America and Europe, much, if not all of them experienced as he traveled from venue to venue while on tour with Rush. Rather than opting for the tour bus, Peart is well-known for his motorcycle adventures which he has written about on his personal website as well as in his previous book, Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle.
“When I write about history or nature or geology, it’s from a first-person point of view. It’s me riding past a town and figuring out why something is the way it is,” Peart said in a recent discussion with Canada’s National Post. It’s clear that he views the world through lenses of a different color than most people. He’s obviously not content in the role of casual observer. Peart wants to know why.
That intense curiosity might best be confirmed by his comment to the Post when he said: “Not to be a spoiler, but in this book I really do come across what I think is the reason for living, and why we all live the way we do. I worked on this for two years, and by that point I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.”
Spoiler? Ha! This is one book that’s suddenly landed at the very top of my reading list.
April 14, 2011
I’ve admitted before that I’m hooked on American Idol – something I resisted for the first two seasons before both my wife and I were both sucked in by the powerful forces of the Idol vortex. I’m usually not inclined to watch talent shows, but there was something about Idol that just captured my attention almost as soon as we tuned in one night and I just wasn’t able to stop watching. I suppose it was the contrarian in me that kept me away from the show for the first two seasons. It was just so popular and there was so much buzz about the show that I initially decided I wanted nothing to do with it. What do you expect from a Rush fan?
On the other hand, as someone who appreciates and enjoys other kinds of music beyond just classic rock, American Idol can be quite entertaining, and some of the talent that they pull out off the street is just amazing. And how can I resist watching some of those contestants who show up for their first audition expecting great things with nothing to back to those expectations up? I especially enjoy the ones who couldn’t carry a tune with a bucket, yet still insist they belong on the show. After all, their mom, dad, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins all think they sound like Josh Groban or Mariah Carey!
Getting back to those who actually can sing, this season’s rocker, James Durbin, may have made American Idol history last night with a full-blown heavy metal rendition of a song that was originally done by Sammy Hagar for the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal. Other contestants have rocked out on the Idol stage before, but I can’t recall a performance that was as true to bona fide heavy metal as Durbin’s performance last night.
Zakk Wylde, who needs no introduction to dedicated metal fans, is a guitarist who may be best known for his time spent playing with metal legend Ozzy Osbourne. Wylde seemed as if he was recognized by at least a portion of the audience when he appeared, something one might not expect from an American Idol audience, but then again, perhaps they were just riled up by the appearance of a dude who looked to be about as metal as one can get.
Durbin, who shunned the advice of this season’s full-time coach, music producer Jimmy Iovine by choosing a full-on metal number, may have taken on a big risk, but if the reaction of the audience and the judges was any indication, it was a risk worth taking. It seems doubtful that Durbin will find himself among the next “bottom three” after all the attention and praise he picked up last night, but with American Idol, one can never be completely certain of anything.
Speaking of the Judges, I haven’t said a whole lot about Steven Tyler’s high-profile role as a judge this season, although there was certainly plenty of friction within the ranks of Aerosmith (particularly between Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry) when Tyler decided to accept the invitation to sign on for the show.
I think Tyler has been a decent addition to program and has handled himself pretty well. At times he still seems a bit hesitant to criticize contestants or offer more than a token amount of advice, but given that it’s his first season, he may just be settling in trying to get comfortable with this new gig.
I expected there to be a bigger hole left in the wake of Simon Cowell’s departure and even questioned whether I would continue to watch the show without him, but so far, I have not found myself missing his presence at all. Admittedly, I had a few good belly laughs over some of his no-holes-barred comments to contestants, but I guess it really comes down to the contestants themselves, and as long as those kids keep coming and sounding as good as they have been this year, the show will still be interesting enough for me.
One thing viewers can expect from American Idol is surprises. It’s nearly impossible to say who the winner will be. There have been some excellent choices in past years, such as Carrie Underwood, who has gone on to enjoy tremendous commercial success and others such as Taylor Hicks who seems to have all but disappeared from the public eye.
Does Durbin, a rocker and hard core metal fan have a shot at the title? On Idol, it’s anyone’s game, so sure, I think Durbin has a shot. There are seven or so shows left (not including the eliminations) and a lot can happen between now and the finale. Either way, it had to be a pretty cool experience for metal fans to see Durbin and Wylde rock the house last night and from all appearances, be genuinely appreciated for their work.
April 11, 2011
Although time does not allow to me to become familiar with all of the new “contemporary classic” artists that come onto the scene, I’m always happy to share news of artists that fall into that category and are appealing to my tastes. One such artist is Jeff Green, a California native who currently resides in Ireland.
Jeff’s background includes a stint with the Eagles tribute band Illegal Eagles, which he found himself fronting after being asked to join during 1997. His new album, Jessica, is likely to resonate with fans who share his passion for some of the classic groups that were influential in his own musical development. Yes, Rush, The Who and Pink Floyd are cited as some of Green’s most important influences, and are the influences he leaned on most heavily during the creation of Jessica.
Although the music that makes up Jessica may bring joy to fans, it was a result of Green’s own personal grief that he suffered due the tragic loss of his daughter during childbirth in 1996. Despite the tremendous grief he experienced, he was eventually able to come to peace with his grief and realize that he had to honor her the best way he knew how: With music.
The musical influences that led Green to become the kind of writer and performer he is probably goes a long way towards my appreciation for this album which might best be described as progressive rock with almost palpable pensive overtones. However, the musical content of this album is not limited to ballads, as might be assumed after knowing about the events that inspired it.
“Future,” the first track, features up-tempo segments with soaring guitars and a “classic” synthesizer piece that is certainly reminiscent of many hits from the 70’s and 80’s that are so familiar to many of us. “On This Night” delivers similar up-tempo content, once again featuring guitar and synthesizer that’s held together with solid performances by both the bass player and drummer. I certainly cannot find fault with the musicians Green enlisted to record this album with him.
The remaining ten tracks will escape my attempts to adequately describe them, but for me, I found something worthwhile in every one. In other words, it’s one of this albums I can just queue up and listen to from start to finish without any nagging desire to hit the “Forward Track” button. That’s not likely to be true for everyone, of course, but it’s these kinds of albums that are easy for me to talk about. When I come across something I don’t care for, I find it extraordinarily difficult to say too much beyond “I don’t care for it.”
Eleven years in the making, Jessica is not only a tribute to his daughter, but also an effort to help other parents who have to endure the pain that results from bearing a stillborn child. All proceeds from the sale of the album will be donated to Southend General Hospital for the purpose of constructing a dedicated space or bereavement room for grieving parents.
April 7, 2011
Things are looking up for Jon Anderson. Health problems and the friction between himself and his former Yes band mates seems to be behind him. The former Yes front man will be getting a spring tour underway on April 23rd which will feature him performing in the more intimate venues he has been booking in recent years compared to the larger audiences he was in front of back in the glory days of progressive rock legends Yes.
This tour appears to be limited to the northeast, but with an obviously healthy Anderson picking up steam and getting himself involved in various new projects, it would not be surprising to see him include more of the country in a future tour.
Anderson will be treating fans to new material from his forthcoming new CD entitled Survival and Other Stories. In addition, he will be including select material from his Yes years as well as from his successful solo career. Fans are certainly in for a special evening with a performer who is known for his ability to connect so easily with his audience on an emotional – some would say “spiritual” – level.
Anderson recently finished up a European tour with his old Yes band mate and renowned keyboardist Rick Wakeman after the release of their collaborative CD The Living Tree, which was released last October at concert venues and for general distribution in November.
In a somewhat unexpected development, Anderson’s vocal work can be heard on can be heard on Kanye West’s new track “Dark Fantasy,” a cut from his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy CD which has risen to the top of the Billboard chart as the nation’s number 1 album. Andersons vocals from his work on Mike Oldfield’s 1983 album Crises were sampled for the recording of “Dark Fantasy.”
Anderson’s upcoming tour and CD release are not the only things keeping him busy these days. He’s also worked on a soon-to-be-released CD from composer and producer Jonathan Elias which will also include guest work by well-known artists such as Sting, Jonathan Davis of Korn and Sinead O’Connor as well as a few names that might not be as recognizable to U.S. fans like Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Fans won’t have too long to wait for the release of Jon Anderson’s new CD, which is said to be set to his the street before summertime.
Anderson’s U.S. tour itinerary follows:
4/23/2011 – Somerville Theatre – Somerville, MA
4/26/2011 – Havana New Hope – New Hope, PA
4/28/2011 – Infinity Hall – Norfolk, CT
4/30/2011 – B.B. Kings Blues Club & Grill – New York, NY
5/02/2011 – Musikfest Cafe ArtsQuest Center at Steel Slacks – Bethlehem, PA
5/04/2011 – Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
5/06/2011 – Princeton University – McCarter Theatre – Princeton, NJ
5/07/2011 – New Jersey Performing Arts Center – Victoria Theatre – Newark, NJ
5/09/2011 – Rams Head On Stage – Annapolis, MD
5/11/2011 – Rams Head On Stage – Annapolis, MD
5/13/2011 – The Flying Monkey Movie House & Performing Center – Plymouth, NH
5/15/2011 – Bates College Olin Arts Center – Concert Hall – Lewiston, ME
5/18/2011 – Tupelo Music Hall – Londonderry, NH
5/19/2011 – Tupelo Music Hall – Londonderry, NH
5/21/2011 – Woodstock Town Hall Theatre – Woodstock, VT
5/25/2011 – Ellsworth Grand Auditorium – Ellsworth , ME
April 1, 2011
When I heard recent scuttlebutt suggesting that ZZ Top was in the recording studio working on a new album I wondered if I was having a flashback. Similar news surfaced about three years ago which makes me wonder whether the Tres Hombres simply put their album work on the back burner for a while or whether they consider the making of a new album a process akin to making a fine wine.
There was that unfortunate tour experience they had to work through with Aerosmith a couple of years back, so perhaps that kind of threw things off the tracks where the new album was concerned. They also hit the road again towards the end of last year for their Necessity Is a Mother Tour which probably kept them busy in rehearsals for a while leading up to the tour and then the actual tour itself which started in early September and ended toward the end of October.
With the latest announcement hinting that the new album could be ready to hit the streets before the end of the year, perhaps fans will finally be able to get their hands on the first new ZZ Top studio album since Mescalero was released in 2003.
In addition to the work required to finish up the new album, ZZ Top is scheduled to begin touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd next month when the Rebels & Bandoleros tour gets underway The two groups have a long history, touring for the first time together in 1974, although the Skynyrd line-up has changed quite dramatically since those days due to the tragic plane crash in 1977 and other more typical circumstances that tend to change bands that try to keep things together for such a long stretch of time.
ZZ Top fans who need a dose of the Texas Trio can hope that the tour is scheduled for a venue not too far from home, since it may not be a good bet to count on seeing the new album before the end of the year if the comments from 2008 are any indication. These three guys are taking their time getting the new record out and there could be any number of good reasons for that. I don’t want this to come across as a slam against them since I’ve always been somewhat of a fan.
I say “somewhat” only because there are just a handful of ZZ Top songs that I really like, but it’s one of those situations where they are songs that I really like. Cranking the volume up to 11 and firing up “La Grange” is hard to beat and “Cheap Sunglasses” is a close second in my book. As for “Tush,” well that song is just legendary. That opening guitar work has to be some of the most recognizable in the history of rock.
Beyond my passion for those songs, let’s face it, who doesn’t think those guys are just plain cool? Here’s hoping they’re able to get that new album out according to their current timetable, and although I know it’s a long shot, wouldn’t it be nice if there was something that came close to “La Grange” or “Cheap Sunglasses” on it?