Six Degrees of Separation: From new band Whitney to a terrible Chuck Berry in 6 reviews

From Whitney to Chuck Berry in 6 reviews. Click the links to listen on Youtube.

See last week’s: From Kid Wave to The Vaselines here

Whitney: New Band of the Week, Reviewed in The Guardian, Friday 12th Feb, 2016

‘Not sure where they got the name, but it’s not la Houston or indeed US sitcom star Whitney Cummings. They mainly write about breakups [..] Demos were initially recorded in a Wisconsin cabin, to give them the quality of lost recordings: think Bon Iver, with elements of folk and country, only given a Chicago soul makeover. If Curtis Mayfield fronted a stoner-rock band …

Whitney in the video for their song Southern Nights

While the music is buoyant, lyrically we’re in bummed-out territory. “The subject matter isn’t happy, but it sounds really happy,” Ehrlich offers, helpfully. No Woman opens with Rhodes keyboards, some sad trumpet and a wistful voice that skirts the perimeters of folk, country and soul. “I’ve been going through a change,” sings Ehrlich in his disarming high register, like Kurt Wagner of Lambchop after being kicked in the cojones…

Lambchop Album Review: Nixon, Reviewed in the NME, 12th September 2005

On this, their fifth and greatest album, Kurt Wagner‘s ever-expanding 17-piece country soul outfit aren’t fucking around. Absorbing and magnifying the territory explored on its immediate predecessors, ‘What Another Man Spills’ and ‘Thriller’, ‘Nixon’ is by any criteria an astonishing work.

Lambchop perform live with Yo La Tengo

Awash with delirious dream-bound strings, sanctifying gospel choirs, beautiful brass flourishes, pedal steels, Rhodes organ and, of course, open-end wrenches, it’s been called an alt-country ‘Pet Sounds’, Wagner (a Nashville-based floor-layer by day, genius by night) steering his inspired collective into areas of boundless musical wonder while keeping a sure and tender grasp on the emotional strings that tie these songs together.

Given the sheer sonorous delight of the Lambchop sound, the ‘Pet Sounds’ comparison is understandable if ultimately misleading. Once the magical opener The Old Gold Shoe’ – strewn with images of loss and abundance – takes flight you are borne aloft and thereafter free to explore a cosmic American ideal that would do Brian Wilson or Gram Parsons, or anyone proud. But as a singer and songwriter, Wagner operates at a remove from both his contemporaries and predecessors, his gentle imprecations, salty asides and off-kilter musings delivered in a raw falsetto that often sounds like a ravaged, confessional and mischievous ghost.

Gram Parsons: Grievous Angel album review in Rolling Stone Magazine 1st March 1973

Gram Parsons is an artist with a vision as unique and personal as those of Jagger-Richard, Ray Davies, or any of the other celebrated figures. Parsons may not have gone to the gate as often as the others, but when he has he’s been strikingly consistent and good. I can’t think of a performance on record any more moving than Gram’s on his “Hot Burrito No. 1,” and the first album of his old band, the Flying Burrito Bros.Gilded Palace of Sin, is a milestone. The record brought a pure country style and a wrecked country sensibility to rock, setting a standard that no other country-rock effort has begun to challenge.

Gram Parsons

Parsons is a south-Georgia boy with a Harvard education, a big inheritance, and a tendency to melancholy. His central theme has always been that of the innocent Southern boy tossed between the staunch traditions and strict moral code he was born to and the complex, ambiguous modern world. He realizes that both are corrupt, but he survives by keeping a hold on each while believing neither. Lurking in the innards of all those tunes about how the city is full of temptations for a good old boy, and how his girl has left him, lured away by Satan, is Gram’s ongoing preoccupation with loss and despair, much more personal and powerful than the banal sentiments that make the songs so enjoyable initially.

Ray Davies Live Review in The Telegraph, 25th July 2015

By now, Ray Davies should be a year into the Kinks’ 50th anniversary tour – a worldwide, stadium-packing victory lap, which, to judge by the trailblazing antics of his British Invasion antecedents, the Rolling Stones, would only end with infirmity or death.

Ray Davies, one of the forefathers of mod

In advance interviews, Davies had noted that this might be the last time he will perform these songs. He has written an album inspired by the Stateside life experiences he described in his recent book, Americana, and after touring that, he plans to come off the road for a while. When he unveiled two of those songs, everyone sat down, wet seats or not. “You see?” he quipped drily, “it takes balls to do that”.

It was a rollercoaster show, then, miraculously beset by only a few further spits and spots of rain, but turbulent in its undercurrents. There were several swipes at Ray’s younger sibling, Dave – their unceasing fraternal spat has been the stumbling block to a Kinks reunion. “The Kinks will live on forever!” he trumpeted at one point, then added in mock paranoia, “No, don’t cheer, my brother’s spies are here!”

The Rolling Stones Album Review: The Rolling Stones on The BBC website

The Rolling Stones’ debut single was a Chuck Berry cover, their second a Lennon-McCartney tune, and third a Buddy Holly number. Their first EP was packed with similarly cynically mainstream and/or romantic fare. Only with the release of their eponymous debut LP did they reaffirm the bluesiness in which they were steeped and which had obtained them a record contract in the first place.

Released in April 1964, The Rolling Stones was – according to guitarist Keith Richards – half-comprised of rough mixes precipitously rushed onto the market by their manager (and the album’s nominal producer) Andrew Loog Oldham. It’s a testament to the group’s brilliance that the result was still the best album to emerge from the early 1960s British blues boom.

The Rolling Stones cover shot for their debut album

It can’t be seriously posited as a heavyweight artistic statement insofar as the Jagger/Richards songwriting team had yet to develop: only three of the tracks are originals. Moreover, Mick Jagger sounds like the Welfare State whitey he is.

Set against the dependency on covers and the inexperienced vocalist, however, is a truly cooking and imaginative band. Drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman provide a brawny frame for the intermeshing guitars of Richards and Brian Jones as the ensemble lovingly deliver some of their favourite shots of rhythm ‘n’ blues.

Between the breakneck travelogue opener Route 66 and the madcap parting shot Walking the Dog, however, the Stones crucially sidestep the mistake committed by many others on the scene in thinking that high quality is enough. The shimmering surrealism of Mona, the sensuality of I’m a King Bee, the romanticism of Tell Me and the soulfulness of You Can Make It If You Try create a variety of moods and textures that obviates ‘blueswailing’ one-dimensionality.

Chuck Berry Live Concert Reviewed in The Dallas Morning News, February 13th 2016

Chuck Berry practically invented rock ’n’ roll, and at 85, he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants onstage. He knows it. We know it. And if you don’t like it, the exit is on your left.

So his rare appearance Saturday night at the Fort Worth Convention Center Ballroom wasn’t so much a concert as it was an hour long test of audience loyalty. In what might be the last Chuck Berry show they ever see, the fans were far more loyal than they probably should have been.

Chuck Berry onstage

To Berry’s credit, he readily admitted how awful the show got at times.

“That was not a good one,” he said, after forgetting the lyrics to “Maybellene” and aborting the song. He quickly abandoned another tune, explaining with a smile, “That was supposed to be ‘Nadine.’”

After starting and discarding a particularly wretched version of “My Ding-a-Ling,” he said, “When I make a boo-boo, I expect boos, so give me a ‘Boo!’” he said.

But not a single fan took him up on the offer. The seated crowd of a few hundred had come to praise the master, not heckle him.

Backed by a tight quintet featuring his son Charles Berry Jr. on guitar, Berry found the groove every now and then — duck-walking for a few feet in “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and nailing the bent-string notes in “Carol” that he scolded Keith Richards for missing in the documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll.

But those were exceptions in a set where Berry struggled repeatedly to stay in sync with his band. He jokingly offered up lots of excuses, including his failing eyesight and hearing loss suffered from years of excess volume. “I’ve been playing rock ’n’ roll since 1840,” he quipped. “Sometimes I hear B and it sounds like C.”

Last week’s Six degrees of separation: From Kid Wave to The Vaselines


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