Music Musings: Foo Fighters

It’s funny, if you watch the below trailer for the recent Foo Fighters documentary called Back and Forth, Foo Fighters lead singer and guitar player Dave Grohl says something along the lines of there being  a lot of people who resented him for carrying on with the Foo Fighters when Nirvana ended. I was definitely one of those people. As a teenager, I couldn’t get past the idea that he should have just been the Nirvana drummer forever, as if all of his own dreams and aspirations would just disappear when Kurt Cobain did. So, initially, I wasn’t a fan and did my best to avoid the Foo Fighters as a band. I would occasionally see videos of theirs for songs like “Big Me” and “My Hero” among others, but didn’t think too much of them because they were so goofy. Even after my shortsightedness wore off, I had trouble getting past the goofiness and just moved on, leaving the Foo Fighters behind and moving on to other bands. I wish I hadn’t been so close-minded because, I missed out on really experiencing the evolution of a true rock and roll band.

Towards the end of high school and into college, Grohl showed up on my radar all over the place and my respect for him grew. Within a pretty short period of time I heard that he played drums in bands like Tenacious D, Queens of the Stone Age, Tony Iommi’s solo record which featured a series of different singers, a metal supergroup-ish project called Probot and a lot more. He was all over the place and for whatever reason those projects sparked my interest more than anything he did with the Foo Fighters. In fact, I love the Tenacious D record, couldn’t get into QOTSA’s Songs For The Deaf (though “No One Knows” is an excellent song all around) and also that Iommi record called, of course, Iommi though I have no idea what happened to that disc.

Then, in 2002 they released their fourth record One By One which included songs like “All My Life” and “Times Like These.” These songs absolutely captured my imagination and wouldn’t allow me to ignore the Foo Fighters any longer. Around the same time, the self-titled Nirvana record that served as a greatest hits disc came out. I have very distinct memories of being in the shower in college with the radio blaring and hearing “All My Life” and then the unreleased-until-then Nirvana track “You Know You’re Right” within moments of each other. Hearing the tracks so close to each other made me realize that Grohl was carrying on the legacy of Nirvana really well. Also, by then, I wasn’t so pigheaded, which also helped. I should have picked that record up, but to be honest, I was a poor college student and not really looking to spend what little money I had on something I didn’t know if I would like.

In 2005, they put out their double record In Your Honor and once again I was excited. This time, I had a better plan for getting into the band though. The extended family on my dad’s side does a Secret Santa every year now where the names of everyone who will be at the Christmas Eve celebration gets their name put in a hat along with a few things you might want under a certain dollar amount. That year I put something very simple: Any Foo Fighters CD(s). Since I didn’t have any of them, it’s not like I would have gotten a double and figured this would be a good way to start off. And it did. My grandpa got me and picked up In Your Honor and their second record The Colour And The Shape. I really enjoyed both records, though didn’t get into the mellower second disc from In Your Honor until recently.

There’s a very simple reason why I’m drawn to Foo Fighters now: they rock. That sounds pretty simple and not very descriptive, but they seem like one of the few 90s rock bands to still be around kicking ass and making relevant music. My other favorites from around that time include Nirvana (done), Red Hot Chili Peppers (currently lacking a guitar player, I believe and nowhere near as funky as they used to be) and Green Day who actually keeps making records I like, but that’s a different kind of music.

A few weeks back the missus and I caught the second half of the Back And Forth documentary on VH1. I had a strange feeling while watching it, as if I was watching a movie about some kids I went to school with, but didn’t really know who had made good. I knew the basics of the story, but not the details and felt a weird sense of pride for people I never really knew. I think a big part of that is how accessible Grohl seems. He might look like a crazy metal caveman, but he’s just as likely to write an ass kicking rocker as he is a mellow track that rivals some of my favorite more laid back artists. Then you watch the documentary and you see him getting up early to get his daughter cereal and it brings a human elements to everything. I was also really taken by the idea of the Fighters recording their latest record, Wasting Light, in Grohl’s garage. Mind you, it’s a garage packed with cool gear and producer Butch Vig (who did Nirvana’s Nevermind among others), but the family aspects of the proceedings appeal to my increased age and soon-to-be-a-dad mentality. I also liked that guitarist Pat Smear was brought back into the fold (he had been in Foo Fighters and Nirvana at different times) and also the inclusion of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic on a track. It’s kind of like a tour down memory lane for grunge, but with a brand new tour guide taking a familiar but different route.

I recently purchased Wasting Light, but haven’t gotten all the way through it yet. I have loved what I heard and really like how the guys are playing with guitar lines and riffs and taking real advantage of Smear’s addition to the group. I will be keeping my eye out this flea market season for the Foo Fighters records I don’t have yet and also really want to see the first half of the doc because I’m most curious about the very early days of the band and what happened with the various personnel changes that I know almost nothing about. So, while I do regret not giving the band the time of day before the mid-2000s, I do find myself in the enviable position of having a good, but not overwhelming amount of material to track down as well as history to learn.

Supergroup Showcase: Blind Faith

THE PLAYERS: Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals (The Yardbirds, Cream), Ginger Baker on drums (Cream), Steve Winwood on guitar (Traffic, The Spencer Davis Group) and Ric Grech on bass (Family).
THE STORY: Clapton and Winwood started jamming while Winwood was on a break from Traffic. One day Baker stopped by, but Clapton wasn’t sure about starting a new band with him a few months after officially disbanding Cream. He also had made a deal with Cream’s Jack Bruce that, if two of them got back together, all three of them would reunite. Grech left Family to join the band, they recorded an album, toured and broke up within a year. (via Wiki)

When I started really getting into Supergroup Showcase, Blind Faith was definitely a band and record I wanted to check out. Not only is it yet another Eric Clapton supergroup, but I also have almost zero experience with Winwood, so I was excited to get a taste of his talent. It’s kind of handy that they only recorded one album, because it makes the whole thing a little easier write about. The record has six tracks and I’m split right down the middle on liking and not liking them.

The album kicks off with “Had To Cry Today” which has a fun riff, but it got to be really repetitive and boring in the song’s nearly nine minute length. The vocals also have a high-pitched wail on this song which I’m not really down with. With Winwood, Clapton and Grech all singing, I’m not sure who to blame. “Can’t Find My Way Home” takes a more mellow approach which I like, but again, the vocals didn’t appeal to me. This song’s the shortest on the whole record at just over three minutes, but still feels repetitive. The thing I noticed two tracks into this record is that it doesn’t really feel like a cohesive record and these two songs don’t feel very well thought out. I like the idea of experimentation but they don’t sound like they’re doing anything different. Maybe that’s because I’m listening to this thing in 2011 and it was recorded in 1969 and a LOT of music has come out in between.

Things get a little more cohesive with “Well…All Right” which has a great riff, more integrated vocals and results in a song that feels like an actual song instead of a recorded jam session. “Presence Of The Lord” continues on that same track and includes an excellent wah wah fueled solo. But then things go downhill with “Sea Of Joy” for me. It sounds like the the vocals were sung in an echo chamber or something, that really makes the voice akin to a caterwaul. The album ends with “Do What You Like” which I didn’t think I would like because it’s just over 15 minutes long. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of long jams, but I do appreciate good ones. And luckily, this turns out to be a pretty good one because it’s not only based on a solid riff, but also has a pretty bitching organ solo followed by a great guitar one. There’s even some repetitive chanting type stuff, but even that didn’t get on my nerves. It reminded me of a Santana instrumental.

Ever since iTunes came along I wind up judging an album by the $0.99/song rule. Essentially, if an album has enough tracks that I like and add up to what I paid for it, it’s worth keeping. I’m not quite sure where Blind Faith winds up on the scale, partially because I don’t remember how much I paid for this used disc online, though I’m guessing it was more than $3. Those first two tracks really don’t work for me. I mean, they’re not “so bad I have to skip it” bad, but I also didn’t enjoy them. Sometimes I can ignore vocals I’m not into and just dig the music, but not always. I’ll probably keep this one around for now at least kind of like my copy of The Firm’s Mean Business which I don’t listen to very often. Or, listening to Derrick And The Dominoes might bump it out of the ol’ collection.

Music Musings: The Vines

I’ve been thinking way too much about how best to write about music on the blog here. Every week, I move the “Music Musings” block further and further into the week on my calendar checklist, usually to wind up deleting it. It’s strange because, unlike movies and comics which I absorb and then write about, I feel the need to write about music while I’m listening to it. There’s so much going on on every CD that I find it hard to focus on things to write about, plus I worry that I’m just saying that same stuff that’s been said by others. I also have a different relationship with music than I do those other formats of entertainment. To me, movies and comics are an experience that I live through, meaning, I absorb them and then move on to something else, but I live with music. It stays with me and it’s more readily absorbable to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’ve decided to play Russian Roulette with my iPod to figure out my weekly music subject. This week it’s Australian retro rockers The Vines who made a big splash in the early 00s only to completely fade away from my personal memory. I picked up their first two records Highly Evolved and Winning Days and apparently my iPod wanted me to listen to them today, so that’s how it went down.

Like a lot of other people, I first heard The Vines thanks to their first big single “Get Free” which was all over the place in the summer of 2002. That was such a strange time in music because it seemed like rockers might actually be taking over pop music. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing someone talk about The Strokes (a band I never personally got into). Plus, bands like Jet and The Hives were getting some much deserved notice thanks to the surge of garage-influenced rock. Of course, it wouldn’t last, but some really interesting music came out of it. I remember purchasing the black plastic-covered CD while visiting the missus-to-be in New Hampshire, but the record didn’t make quite the impact on me I thought it would have. I think a combination of negative thoughts about the follow-up Winning Days and reading about lead singer Craig Nicholls losing his mind thanks to touring put me off to the record. Plus, you know how it is, there’s always more music out there to listen to, so unless something really smacks me in the face and demands my attention and devotion, I’m probably going to move on to something else.

With that in mind, I was a little skeptical about listening to Highly Evolved again, but that was all for naught because this is a pretty good record. The Vines did a great job in the early days (I can’t speak to their more recent albums because I haven’t listened to them) of combining some of the more psychedelic sounds of the 60s and 70s with the raw energy of punk rock and funneling all those obvious influences into something that sounded both modern and complimentary to their influences. The album starts strong with the title track, shows off its mellow side with “Autumn Shade,” a track that I probably didn’t like in my younger, more straight-up rock oriented state of mind but dig now and then kicks it back into high gear with “Outtathaway!” For me, the high point of the record is “Factory” with it’s bounciness and walking bass line.

There’s a few missteps, though. “In The Jungle” has some great musical ideas and riffs in it, but they don’t feel connected enough to be an actual song. This one really feels like several other song segments that were kind of mashed together without much of a through line which is too bad, because I think they could have been broken down and turned into even better songs than the last three tracks which are kind of boring to me. I dig 60s and 70s rock, but not so much the droning stuff. Anything that’s too repetitive gets on my nerves. I wouldn’t say tracks like “1969” and “Mary Jane” get to the annoying place, but they verge on it. Overall I was kind of surprised with how much I liked this record.

Unfortunately, Winning Days doesn’t seem to hold up nearly as well, even thought it starts pretty damn strong with a great rock song like “Ride.” This isn’t a bad record by any means, it’s just not the kind that I’m super interested in listening to over and over again. Like with their previous effort, the musical talent of The Vines–who I should mention are Nicholls on vocals and guitar, Ryan Griffiths on guitar, Brad Heald on bass and Hamish Rosser on drums–is very clear on this record, I’m just not sure if the place their at with their music is one that’s super interesting to me. They seem more intent on exploring slower, more melodic compositions, which is great for them as artists, but I’ll be honest, I want to rock! Instead of the psychedelic tinged rock songs I want to listen to, I’m getting alright explorations. I think the problem might be that the songs might be new ground to the band, but they’re not for me as a listener, so I kind of gloss over them in my head.

But how awesome is that video? The record is kind of a bummer because it’s bookended with such great songs. “Ride” very simply kicks ass and the final track “F.T.W.” which stands for what you think it does, is so much fun. It’s too bad the middle of the record is filled with stuff that isn’t super interesting. I found it interesting that the track “TV Pro” shares some of the same problems to my ear that “In The Jungle” did on the previous record: too much crammed into a small space with no through line. Again, there’s elements in there that could have made for a few different great songs. Instead we get one that’s uneven and other tracks that don’t really do much for me.

Even as I write this, I feel apprehensive about posting because writing about music is such a different animal to me. I didn’t take nearly as many notes while listening to Winning Days as I did to Highly Evolved. Was I being lazy or were there just fewer noteworthy elements to talk about? Am I being fair? Does any of it matter because I’m writing about six year old records that don’t seem to come up in regular music discussion? Those kinds of thoughts don’t really plague me when I’m writing about movies, but I do like writing about music, so I guess I better get used to it.

Favorite New Old Albums Of 2010

After listing my favorite new albums of 2010, I figured I’d also have some fun with a list of records I really dug that I bought this year, but didn’t come out in 2010. I’ve mentioned this before, but I buy a LOT of CDs on the cheap at garage sales, yard sales, flea markets and at stores. I rarely spend more than $7 on something new and get all kinds of deals at those other places, so I’ve been able to acquire lots and lots of music I missed out on in previous years. This list has a whopping 12 records and/or bands on it, but I’ve written about a few of them previously, so I won’t get into too much detail on those. Hit the jump for all the goodness you can handle! Continue reading Favorite New Old Albums Of 2010

My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

I actually had a pretty good time compiling last year’s list of my favorite albums of the year and figured now’s as good a time as any to get around to this year’s. The funny thing about this year is that, while I probably acquired more CDs than I have in quite a while thanks to flea markets, garage sales and sales, I didn’t actually buy a lot of new music. New to me of course, but not new new. So, with that in mind, I’ll probably do another post about my favorite new-to-me discs of the year next week. Anyway, my favorite records of the year are a mix of smokey rockers, soul sisters, pop rock stalwarts, metal dudes, collaborators, introspective song writers and more. Hit the jump for the full list! Continue reading My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

Music Musings: Grace Potter And The Nocturnals

I first heard about Grace Potter and the Nocturnals when I saw a half hour show featuring them on VH1 earlier this year. I was pretty excited to check out their self titled record which came out this year. I’m a big fan of their rock sound with heavy blues and country (maybe more accurately labeled as southern) influences, though I was a little bit disappointed in the record for not kicking serious ass throughout and maybe blowing its load a little early. I’ll get to more of that in a minute. The band got a pretty huge exposure boost over the weekend thanks to their awesome performances on VH1’s Divas Salute the Troops (check out my favorite segments here, here, here and here).  It’s well deserved in my opinion. First off, you don’t see a lot of legit rock bands around in big leagues anymore and second, none of them have a strong, sexy woman singing and playing the gee-tar like Grace here.

I knew next to nothing about the band before writing this post, but here’s a few choice tidbits I dug up on the nets. The band consists of Grace Potter on vocals, guitar, organ and anything else she wants, Matt Burr on drums, Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco on guitar and Catherine Popper bass, though she didn’t appear on the Divas show, anyone know why? They got together in 2002 and have put out three records so far (2005’s Nothing But The Water, 2007’s This Is Somewhere and this year’s self titled record), plus Potter put out a solo record in 2004 called Original Soul. After touring in support of bands like the Dave Matthews Band and Government Mule they built up a pretty big fanbase in the jam band scene. There was even talk of Potter collaborating with T-Bone Burnett but that project was apparently shelved in favor of the group’s 2010 album I’m listening to right now. Hopefully someone will dust that project off at some point, maybe sooner rather than later to capitalize on their newfound popularity.

As I sit here listening to the self titled record again for probably the fifth or sixth time, I think I came at it from the wrong angle upon first listening. See, the original VH1 special I saw seemed to be packed wall to wall with ballsy rock songs like “Paris” but the record itself has a more laid back, southern blues vibe to it which makes it perfect to listen to while working, though maybe not driving. When I drive, I like to rock out and sing along, banging on the steering wheel like it’s the finest of drum kits and there are surely tracks on this record that facilitate such behavior, but the slower tracks like “Oasis” or “Low Road” tend to slow things down. Now, those aren’t bad songs, but just bad driving songs (for me at least). After the first few listens, most of which I believe were in my car, I walked away feeling disappointed. I thought this was gonna be a rock record, partly based on my viewing experience, but also because of how strong and amazing of a rock song “Paris” is. I heard that song and expected more of the same, but that’s not the case as the record has all kinds of musical influences that it wants to tell you about.

Take “One Short Night” for example. This was a song I wasn’t super into the first few times around, but I find myself a little obsessed with it this time (along with just about every other track, I think this record will be on repeat for a while). The album version’s a little softer and more mellow than the live clip above, but you get the general idea with the fast, yet melodic strumming of the guitar and lyrics about cheating on a lover with a stranger. It’s a great song that tells a story and a sad one at that.

Enough with the sadness. How freaking sexy is this band? Potter’s got a real Tina Turner thing going with her awesomely short skirts and dressed and why not? She’s an attractive woman in a kick ass rock band, why not flaunt it? I would. But, her band’s no group of slouches either, especially if you have a thing for that long haired and bearded look from the 60s and 70s. I’m no expert in what attracts women to men, but I’m sure there’s ladies out there who would find these guys irresistible. Popper’s got it going on too and she represents in the long line of sexy lady bass players like Nicole Fiorentino, Melissa auf der Maur, Kim Gordon and Tina Weymouth. It can’t be easy rocking out in high heels. More often than not, that sexuality comes through in the records too most obviously with the lyrics and Potter’s bluesy way of singing but also in the raw rock and roll riffs and thumping bass/drum combo. From the videos I’ve seen, they carry that presence over to their stage shows in a big bad way. I’d like to see them live, but I think the best venue for them would be a hot, smoke-filled honky tonk in the middle of the night where everyone has a good buzz going.

Thanks to the Divas special and the performances therein, I metaphorically dug out my copy of the CD (meaning, I turned on my iPod) and gave it a few more listens which have turned me into a big fan of the record once again which makes VH1 doubly responsible for me liking this band. I would suggest this record for anyone who likes good old rock and roll who also doesn’t mind some country and blues influences. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of GP&TN to bands of the 60s and 70s to which I would agree, but I would note that listening to this record is like digging up a long lost album from that time period, but not a greatest hits. By which I mean, don’t go in, like I did, expecting a big huge record with lots of rocking tunes, but instead a well thought out journey from rock to soul to blues to country with lots of stops along the road and hops from one genre to the other. If you dig the tracks I’ve shown clips for on this post, then I think you’re pretty well prepared for the record itself. It’s too bad I already made my Christmas list up because I would have definitely added the albums I don’t have had I listened to the record again just a few weeks ago. Oh well, maybe I’ll get some gift cards.

80s Odyssey: Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads

As I mentioned last week in my rambling post about my history with being a big-time fan of music, I wrote 80s music off almost entirely in my formative years with the exception of my favorite bands who happened to release their first albums in the latter part of that decade like Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Well, clearly that was a shortsighted approach to the world of music and, as a result, there’s a lot of music from the 80s that I mostly missed out on, so I’m trying to make up for that now with 80s Odyssey. There’s a lot to explore from New Wave to Hair Metal and, of course, the early days of hip hop, but I seem to be drawn towards the more pop and somewhat experimental bands of the time. I’ve picked up a few Genesis records with both Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on vocals, Collins’ No Jacket Required, a Police record or two and a few others, but the one that I can’t stop listening to is Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which I think I got at a flea market this summer. For the record, yeah, I know Talking Heads started out in the mid 70s, but I’m considering them an 80s band anyway.

I say “I think” because I bought roughly a metric butt-ton of used CDs this summer for no more than $3 apiece and honestly lost track of what I’d gotten. I’d put a stack of CDs in my car to drop off at our storage unit, but before I did, I needed something to listen to and stumbled across Stop Making Sense, popped it in and have been listening to it ever sense. I didn’t realize when I bought the CD that it’s the disc that goes along with the Brian Demme-directed concert video of the same name, I was just excited that it had so many songs I recognized like “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House” and “Take Me To The Water.” Now, this isn’t my first foray into the world of Talking Heads. I actually bought the second disc of their two disc greatest hits set called Sand in the Vaseline, but I didn’t listen to it much and didn’t really give it much of a chance.

One of my preconceived notions about New Wave and a lot of 80s music in general is that’s it’s too computerized and soulless. Obviously, that’s not the case for everything, but it’s something that still rattles around in my brain. What surprised me about this record is that, even while using synthesized drums and other production elements on stage, there’s still a soul to the drums and bass lines, which reminded me that anything and everything can be used by excellent musicians to make really interesting music. Speaking of interesting, it’s the perfect work to describe Byrne’s approach to vocals. He kind of sounds like that kid in school who always used a funny voice, no matter what, but while that kid came off as annoying, Byrne really adds character to the folks he’s singing about.

I was also surprised at how poppy the record sounds. Even knowing the singles, I went in expecting a more serious record for some reason. I guess I’ve always thought of Byrne as ultra serious (I have no idea why, it’s just a preconceived notion I had), but after listening to the record, I got a better sense of his humor and unconventional look at life. So, the real question is, where do I go from here? What other Talking Heads records are required listening (my buddy Jesse said not to go beyond this point)?

Music Mondays: Jay-Z

Back in 2003, I fell in love with Jay-Z’s music. Three of my friends from high school got a house together in Toledo that I would hang out at a lot when I wasn’t at school. One of those dudes, Toth, worked at the radio station and had piles of CDs in his room. I borrowed a few discs from the piles, one of which was Jay-Z’s then recently released Black Album and my mind was blown. I listened to it a lot on my trips to and from everywhere, but eventually I gave it back. I didn’t actually buy the record for myself until a little while later, but it stuck with me. This album was supposed to be Jay’s swan song, his last record and even though I figured he’d be back, I wondered who would fill the void with him gone. There would be lots of attempts, but no one has captured my attention like Jay, though I understand that I might not be the target audience of current hip hop and rap considering I’m a 27 year old white dude.

That 2003 near-obsession with the Black Album wasn’t my first interaction with Jay-Z. Like anyone else my age, I’d known his music since he blew up, but especially in college when “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” sort of became my theme song. For some reason, my roommate Hatem started singing the lyrics to that song using my last name; “D to the izzo, ietsch [pronounced “eech”] to the izzay.” For the rest of my college career I’d hear that song and put his lyrics to it. Why fight it, right?

Since then, I’ve gone on to pick up four of his eleven records, mostly thanks to flea markets and yard sales. I’ve got The Blueprint, Volume 2…Hard Knock Life, The Black Album and The Blueprint 3 which not only held special significance for me but was also one of my favorite albums of last year. What I dig about Jay-Z’s records is a combination of things. The flow of his rhymes is amazing. The man can put some phrases together, to say the least. He also works with the best producers who invent some sick beats for him. You’ve got guys like Kanye West (back when he wasn’t just that annoying guy), Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes and tons of others. The various producers give his albums a variety and scope that some other records don’t have. Finally, dude’s got swagger. No matter what you think of his records or his music, you can’t deny that the guy knows how to carry himself. Just like he says in plenty of his songs like “Empire State of Mind” Jay-Z has a lot of the outward qualities that draw me to Frank Sinatra.

I dig that the guy has grown up and has started dressing like he has. You don’t see a lot of this in pop music, rap or otherwise, but I like how he’s grown into an elder statesmen role without completely giving up the game. I’d like to think when I get older, I’ll have enough scratch to class the ol’ wardrobe up. I guess it’s a little weird to like a musician for what he wears, but maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have found a new Sinatra to be a fan of.

Supergroup Showcase: Velvet Revolver

THE PLAYERS: Scott Weiland on vocals (Stone Temple Pilots), Slash and Dave Kushner on guitar (Guns N Roses, Wasted Youth respectively), Duff McKagan on bass (GNR) and Matt Sorum on drums (GNR).
THE STORY: The GNR guys got together with Kushner and were looking around for a singer. They auditioned a bunch of people, Weiland’s name came up, but he was still with STP at the time. Once they “broke up” he joined the band. The band put two CDs–Contraband and Libertad–before Weiland got back together with STP. The band claims to still exist, though they’re working on other projects.
The mid-2000s were a really interesting time for supergroups. Dave Grohl was running around recording albums with all kinds of different groups (not the solid definition of a supergroup in my opinion, but still interesting). Meanwhile, Chris Cornell from Soundgarden essentially took over for Zach Larocca in Rage Against the Machine, calling the result Audioslave and Scott Weiland joined a group of former Guns N Roses musicians. I haven’t listened to Audioslave yet, but I did pick up Velvet Revolver’s first record. My memory of Contraband wasn’t very positive, but when I gave the record another listen today I found myself generally liking it.

I wasn’t really a huge fan of either Stone Temple Pilots or Guns N Roses, but I’ve always had a lot of respect for Slash. He and the rest of the band do their thing and it’s pretty fun for the most part. Weiland does his usual vocal thing. He’s got a good voice for rock and roll, but doesn’t really do much for me. Overall, they’re a pretty good band, but I think I would like anything involving Slash (his most recent solo album with a series of different singers is awesome). I’ll be keeping this one in the collection/on the iPod now, but I don’t know how often I’ll go back to it.

Supergroup Showcase: The Highwaymen

THE PLAYERS: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson on guitar and vocals.
THE STORY: The four baddest outlaws in country music got together to sing some of the best damn story songs in the history of music. They recorded three albums before Jennings passed away in 2002. Nuff said.

I remember the very first time I heard about The Highwaymen. I was an intern at Wizard, rooming with Brian Warmoth at Nyack College over the summer and he played a few songs from one of their records on his laptop. At the time I might have picked up one of those Walmart Johnn Cash Super Hits CDs or that might have come later, but I did have a general disdain towards country–you know the stuff they play on the radio or even VH1 sometimes. I didn’t realize there was so much better country out there. Anyway, he explained the supergroup to me, that it included Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. The idea of it was very intriguing. Later, during my senior year of college, I went to Walmart once again (there’s not a lot to do in Delaware, Ohio) and picked up a Super Hits Highwaymen CD. Damn, it’s good stuff. Since then, I’ve gone on to listen to lots more Cash and was blown away when I got Nelson’s Stardust earlier this year. The most I’ve listened to Jennings is on Highwaymen records and the only extra Kirstofferson stuff I’ve heard was on my SNL DVDs when he hosted way back in 1976 (he was better known to me for his turn in the Blade movies).

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to come across the Highwaymen’s first record which was just called Highwayman. At the time, the band didn’t really have a name, they just went by their last names. It wasn’t much of a leap from Highwayman to Highwaymen and there you have it. Many of the tracks on the first record are on the Super Hits version I have, so they were familiar to me by the time I listened to it, but there were a few newbies like the Cash/Nelson sung “Committed To Parkview” a haunting track about two men in a mental institution. On their own, these guys were masters of the story-song, but together they’re like a Voltron of the form.  Much like the Traveling Wilburys these four men came together to play some amazing music which retained their individual skills but also sounded awesome together. I’ve only listened to the Super Hits and the first record, but I’ve got my eye out for the other two and will look around to see if there’s any performance DVDs on Netflix. My one complaint about the recordings is that they’re kind of over-produced. You could have just put these guys in a room with their guitars, amps and a few mics and just put it on wax like Rick Rubin did with Cash towards the end of his life and also Neil Diamond on 12 Songs. Maybe a more lo-fi remaster is in order.