Sometimes we get a letter from readers demanding to know what the heck music reviews are doing in a magazine about motorcycles. They cite the fact that Rolling Stone doesn’t do road tests of bikes (despite a preponderance of motorcycle ads) and that music reviews are best left to, uh, so-called experts.
On the surface, music reviews in a motorcycle magazine may seem like discussing the finer art of needlepoint techniques in a boating magazine. Yet music and bikes share obvious connections. The inherent rebellious nature of rock ’n’ roll and the freedom of expression in music make both intrinsically connected, especially when there are so many damn good songs that lend themselves as anthems for the open road. And both can be best when experienced loud. Like bikes, music comes in all flavors. The reason we tend to gravitate towards reviews of rock, blues, country, and classic R&B is that it sounds so good against the background of a large displacement V-twin motor at full throttle. One is perfectly free to ride, say, a BMW touring bike or even a Gold Wing. But somehow they just don’t fit the rough-and-tumble Americana imagery of the Doors “Roadhouse Blues”…
The Naked Flame
In 1977, Ivan Julian was a founding member of the punk movement’s Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Julian built up an impressive resume over the years which becomes fairly obvious the moment the laser hits the disc on his first solo effort, The Naked Flame. At times Julian could be mistaken for Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, or Garland Jeffreys. The pace is frenetic and the music is mixed so that it benefits from maximum playback volume. “Hardwired,” easily one of the best full-throttle rock songs of 2011, is a classic three-and-a-half minute track that easily bests anything coming from many bands these days. The album’s opener, “Waves,” is like the Stones “Paint It Black,” with drum punctuations driving out front of a virtual wall of sound. Phil Spector couldn’t have gotten this any better. “Constricted” and “You Is Dead” are other album highlights and showcase influences from the visceral feel that gave punk a firm foothold in America. There hasn’t been an outing so pumped since the Ramones burst upon the scene.
Recorded in his New York studio via long-distance collaboration with Argentinean indie group Capsula, plus members from his own tight circle of fellow musicians, The Naked Flame is a great summer highway album. Few artists set out to make great biker music, but Julian has unintentionally accomplished this on his first album. And it doesn’t matter if he rides or not.
Alter Bridge Recordings
Alter Bridge is Mark Tremonti, Scott Phillips, and Brian Marshall of Creed, reformed around Myles Kennedy. In essence, it’s a Scott Stapp-less Creed and this is their third release as a band. First, let’s get the accolades out of the way. Tremonti can shred guitar with the best of them. The band plays like all get-out, with complex song structure that outdistances many contemporary metal bands.
But what keeps AB III from succeeding is the songwriting. If the songs on this album are any indication, Stapp’s collaboration with Tremonti is sorely missed. Never has one album contained so many banal, overblown, clichéd rock lyrics—boring! It’s not immediately apparent, but halfway through, it’s obvious the songs are saying something, but mean nothing. We’re all in favor of bands that write their own material, but Alter Bridge needs some serious creative intervention. After a while the songs become just meaningless drivel. Even the rappers and Auto-Tune aren’t this bad (where is Kanye West when he’s needed?). Not only that but the signature multi-tracked soaring vocals on Creed choruses begins to irritate and annoy. This is a classic case of being over produced. Jeez, somebody, just tell these guys to shut up and play. Lesson to metal bands: if you don’t have anything to write about, just do instrumentals.
Elton John/Leon Russell
The concept behind this album was simple: to unite two legendary artists with mutual admiration for each other and let them make music. Leon Russell may be one of the most under-appreciated keyboard men ever, even though his induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is a slight correction of sorts. A superior session player who has played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Rolling Stones and arranged classic songs like Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Leon Russell has at last begun to achieve a measure of recognition not seen since he organized the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the ’70s.
And what can one say about Elton John? Lately it seems he had lost some of the creative fire from his Yellow Brick Road days and certainly it’s been a long while since his famous groundbreaking 1970 coming-to-America debut at the Troubadour (interestingly, Leon Russell had just recorded “A Song for You” for his first solo album and Elton recorded “Your Song” for his first solo album also. Coincidence? Hmmm…). While one certainly won’t find Elton anywhere near a roadhouse bar where bikers congregate, he brings a lot to the table on this CD. It’s interesting to hear both of them trading verses and choruses. Leon’s shuffling piano works in contrast to Elton’s almost delicate keyboard work. With plenty of country and gospel overtones drawn mainly from Leon’s background, both have turned in an inspired work far better than any of their recent albums. It’s a great album to enjoy on a Sunday morning ride and to both we say, “Welcome back.”
The Best of Leon Russell
This is the latest in quite a few Leon Russell retrospectives and it’s easily one of the best. The usual suspects are included, notably “A Song For You” (see above), “This Masquerade” (his song that George Benson made even more famous), “Hummingbird,” “Tightrope,” “Delta Lady” (a hit he wrote for Joe Cocker), and other familiar Russell standards. His rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is one of the best performances of a Dylan song ever. Plus, there’s even a bonus with the inclusion of “If it Wasn’t For Bad,” (from The Union collaboration with Elton, reviewed above), and the classic “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” live jam from George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.
It’s a pretty impressive body of work, though there are lots more to be discovered on Leon’s individual albums. Listening to all the various quirky influences and disparate elements that go into Leon’s work, it becomes obvious why he was highly sought-after back in the ’70s. Modern songwriters would be hard-pressed to create songs like these, drawn from so many colors of the landscape. It’s obvious Leon had a great ear for talent. His Shelter Records was home to a diverse lineup that included Tom Petty, J.J. Cale, Phoebe Snow, Dwight Twilley, bluesman Freddie King, and even “Duppy Conqueror,” the first American single by Bob Marley.
Lets hope Leon Russell keeps on touring and playing for many years. He’s a reminder of what made the Golden Age of Rock so special.