By the time this month’s issue hits newsstands and mailboxes, spring will be under way. This usually signals a time to change fluids, plugs, etc., and get things ready for the coming months of warm weather riding. One area not to be overlooked is your bike’s sound system. A simple speaker or amp upgrade goes a long way towards dialing up a few more degrees of pleasure from one’s bike. Now’s the time to blow the dust out of the speakers, banish those rattles and fix that unwanted hum. The added demands of satellite radio and iPod/MP3 adaptors also require a check of the wiring to eliminate electronic bugaboos that usually seem to manifest themselves a few hundreds miles from home. No, a blown speaker or fuse won’t leave you stranded by the side of the road, but it can be a major irritant during longer trips. One minute you’re cruising along listening to (fill in the blank) and the next you’ve lost a whole channel.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the sights and scents of spring against a background of exhaust notes and motor cacophony. You don’t need to blast music every time you jump on your bike and there’s certainly nothing wrong with just the wind in your face and smells of spring. But for many, a little road tune-age makes the trip more enjoyable. Speaking of which, here’s a roundup of a few notable music releases for those spring cruises
King Mojo Records
Big Shanty may not be your standard-issue household name when it comes to the blues, but make no mistake; one listen to this release and you will most likely remember his name. Collection is the title of this double-disc retrospective that compiles 19 previously released tracks, plus a few rarer ones, some of which have been long out of print. Who knew? The press release says his sound has been described as death metal blues and heavy metal funk and mentions similarities to Hendrix, Neil Young, and Rob Zombie. But once you get past the hype, there’s definitely something brilliant going on here.
One thing for certain is you won’t hear music like this on terrestrial radio, which seems to be enamored with the trite and trendy. Big Shanty certainly flies under the radar of current pop culturetry Googling the name and you’ll end up with, among others, a famous civil war battle and a barbecue sauce. Big Shanty has been practicing his craft for a few years now and many are beginning to discover what may be one of the last honest musicians out there.
Of particular note to bikers, his song Whiskey Women, is an epic motorcycle tune, replete with Jim Morrison-style vocals and a groove made for headin’ out on the highway. Ditto Born Up In Trouble, a new instant blues classic. A few songs into this album and one will soon wonder, Wow, where has this guy been all my life? It’s definitely blues-rock, but advances the art far beyond the ZZ Top/Foghat/Cream era. Featured artists include bassist Jack Hall (Wet Willie), guitarist Spencer Kirkpatrick (Hydra), plus newcomer Liz Melendez and jam band alumni Col. Bruce Hampton. Together they lurch and grind out a driving groove that touches on everything from political commentary to love gone bad. It’s excellent riding music that goes well with the smell of 10w-40.
Album of the Month
If you’re old enough to remember Decade in its original form as a three LP set (as in vinyl 12-inch long playing records) from 1977, then move to the head of the class. You can quit reading now. There are few artists that come close to Neil Young for his influence and vast body of work. From his days with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY to his solo recordings with Crazy Horse, Neil’s career ranks him as one of modern music’s poet laureates, along with Dylan and Springsteen.
Decade, as the title indicates, is a 35-track, 10-year look back at Neil’s greatest hitsnot defined in terms of radio airplaybut critical success and seminal songs. Indeed, few Neil Young songs made their way as singles to the top of radio playlists. His songs are too complex, and don’t lend themselves to the required three-plus minute edits as singles. And they are devoid of pop music fluff like catchy lyrics and hooks. Yet they remain infinitely listenable and open to personal interpretation, which is what makes great art. And that’s what makes this album such a treasure. One would be hard-pressed to scroll through the Neil Young catalog online and select a better list of songs, if for no other reason than the fact that even Neil’s more obscure songs get better the more one spends time with them. Buy the CD set, or download the entire album because there is so much here that awaits discovery.
Obviously there’s no better place to spend time with this double disc set than on the road. Mr. Soul, Down By the River, Southern Man (the song that inspired Lynyrd Skynrd’s Sweet Home Alabama), Like A Hurricane, Cortez the Killer, and Long May You Run, are all candidates for Biker Music Hall of Fame hits. Go find a nice two-hour ride and road-test all the songs in this collection. Drop us a line and tell us what you think!
The Best of the Original Mono Recordings
Last year Sony released an over-the-top nine-CD collection of Bob Dylan songs called The Original Mono Recordings. It made for a great living room presentation, but it definitely wasn’t a saddlebag-friendly package. Perhaps realizing the realities of the economy, Sony wisely decided to release The Best of the Original Mono Recordings, a single-disc, 15-song sampler culled from the box set. Much better for us bikers.
You know you’re getting old when you wonder why no one seems to play Bob Dylan on the radio anymoreat least not here in L.A. which has millions of people and not one really good terrestrial radio station that plays more than the usual, tired top 100 classic rock tracks (nothing wrong with Bachman Turner Overdrive, but how many times does one really need to listen to Takin’ Care of Business?). But I digress
Fortunately the national treasure that is Bob Dylan is still out there, putting out albums and doing live shows. But it becomes mind boggling when you listen to these songs in the context of today’s music and realize Bob writes circles around most songwriters. Sure, much of it is personal retrospective and socio-political commentary, but there’s a certain innocence and passion about these early songs, born of a different time. And now, since the likelihood of Jay-Z discovering a great Dylan song to sample seems remote, all we Baby Boomers are left to rediscover Bob courtesy of continued reissues like this.
When Bob debuted in the early ’60s, stereo records had been out for a few years but mono still reigned supreme. Most artists did both stereo and mono mixes anyway, and there’s a good argument for both. Listening to these versions is more like it was way back when they were first released. Despite all the various Dylan hits collections, this gets my vote for the best-constructed set. And let’s not forget that many music critics feel Dylan’s famous mysterious motorcycle accident marked a turning point in his life and his music. Good stuff to ponder when you take these songs along for a ride.
Low Country Blues
The Allman Brothers burst forth from the south like a category five hurricane propelled by a perfect storm of Duane’s guitar and Gregg’s organ work. The band tore it up throughout the country in the early ’70s gathering friends and fans in their wake. While there have been plenty of bands to originate south of the Mason-Dixon line, few have come as close as the Allman Brothers Band in achieving lasting critical and commercial success. It could even be argued that the Allmans paved the way for groups like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Lynyrd Skynrd. Forty years later, even their very first album ranks up there as one of the best debuts ever. Motorcycles played a tragic role in the band’s history when both Duane and Berry Oakley perished in separate accidents within a mile of each other, albeit at different times. The music left behind though is as perfect an accompaniment to touring as the sound from true duals.
It’s been 14 years since Gregg’s last album, the slick Just Before the Bullets Fly. Low Country Blues, produced by the prolific T Bone Burnett, marks a welcome return to Gregg’s Allman Brothers blues roots, and he’s in fine form. This time out, Gregg borrows from a well-chosen songbook of artists such as Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Junior Wells and more (personally, I keep wishing for Gregg to cover Loan Me A Dime from Boz Scaggs’ first solo album that also featured Duane on guitar). Still, the songs chosen here are like starting a custom build project with the best parts money can buy. Mac Rebbenack, a.k.a. Dr. John, lends his patented frolicking keyboard work that establishes a Crescent City vibe throughout and the rhythm section of bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose add enough spice to keep things cooking. Gregg’s organ could be kicked up a few notches, but overall, the band simmers and at times boils things up into a tasty bluesy gumbo.
Gregg’s familiar smoky vocals have even more of that familiar gruffness; call it perfect agingand they greet the listener like a pair of well-worn boots. Ultimately that’s what’s so pleasing about this album. It’s like meeting up with a long-lost buddy, another refuge from the road, and sharing a few stories; a perfect excuse for a bike trip.