Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Chris Cornell – Chris Cornell – 64 songs / 5 hours
This boxset that chronicles the life’s work of the Seattle native and Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden, and Audioslave frontman shows just how incredible his impact on 90s and 2000s rock really was. Oh, and he released some badass music as a solo musician also, just for good measure.
As if you weren’t already aware of just how ubiquitous Mr. Cornell’s wail was in your life, this chronological batch of songs will make it crystal clear. For the purpose of this review, I am going to move past the amazing list of songs that dominated rock radio over the past 25 years: “Hunger Strike”, “Rusty Cage”, “Black Hole Sun”, “Spoonman”, “My Wave”, “The Day I Tried To Live”, “Fell on Blak Days”, “Can’t Change Me”, “Like A Stone”, “Cochise”, “Show Me How To Live”, “Been Away Too Long”, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart”, and many more are included on this 4-disc boxset.
Instead, I want to briefly discuss the more obscure songs as well as a few absolute gems of live recordings, most of which are solo acoustic Chris. These are the best because he had the uncanny ability to cover a song and revamp it in his image, and because, if we are being honest, there is not a rock vocalist alive today that had a voice (or scream) that could touch what Chris could do. Ever since I was a kid I believed that Chris Cornell’s scream came straight from Heaven and the Almighty Himself, and even as he aged he was able to keep it – proof that maybe I was right. Sadly, for reasons none of us can understand since we didn’t know the man, he decided to end his ride here on Earth. This release is massive but serves as a fitting tribute to a talented musician, vocalist, and songwriter.
Three tracks that were previously released on soundtracks are here and worth your attention: “You Know My name” (Casino Royale), “Misery Chain” (12 Years A Slave), and “Stay With Me Baby” (Vinyl). The latter has some groovy synths and is about as close to pop as Chris successfully ventured. Another previously released highlight – and one that I was somehow not aware of – is the lethal combination of Mr. Cornell and Carlos Santana covering Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. They play it straight here, and absolutely nail it – surprise, surprise.
The gold here is the live recordings, and here are a few favorites: “Call Me a Dog” (2011) finds the man at age 47 and still sounding heartbreakingly beautiful, especially when he wails at ~3:20 that “it doesn’t bother me, as long as you know that bad luck will follow you; if you keep me on a leash and you drag me alooooooong, you draaaaaag me aloooooong”. No tricks here, just the man and his guitar, live in front of a grateful audience. Incredible. He also crushes a few covers armed with only his voice and a guitar, including Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Metallica’s “One”, and Zep’s “Thank You”.
The fact that we have lost both this guy as well as Tom Petty recently leaves a gaping hole in the world of popular rock music – these guys are truly the stuff of legend. Tom had the gift of crafting fun and pretty melodies, and Chris (although clearly pained and flawed) could sure sing his guts out in the prettiest way I have ever heard. To this day I can still vividly remember him playing a solo acoustic version of “Fell on Black Days” when I saw him at the Morrison Center in Boise circa 2000 – I was in a trance for four minutes that I never fully recovered from. RIP, sir.
Key Tracks: “Call Me a Dog (Live)”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Nothing Compares 2 U (Live)”
Spotify album link:
Mark Knopfler – Down the Road Wherever – 16 songs / 1 hour, 18 minutes
Another compelling solo recording from the guitar maestro most famous for his time leading Dire Straits.
Down the Road Wherever finds Mark and his band in familiar and comfortable territory, as they continue to fuse blues rock and jazz into a sound that is at once recognizable as Mr. Knopfler’s work. At this point in his career, it may be more accurate to say that he is best known for his solo work and “oh by the way” he used to be in a band, but Dire Straits had such a great run that I will always think of him in that light.
Lead track “Nobody’s Child” is a tale of a vagabond who started life on the road at a young age and got tough along the way. This song has a great sound and such a slow tempo and sparse instrumentation it almost lulls you to sleep (in a good way, folks). Then the occasional guitar noodling wakes you right back up. “The ragged kid, nobody wanted, left alone to ramble on; now he rides, beside the devil, nobody’s child”. Mark’s whispered cowboy yodel that follows is excellent and helps set the mood.
On “Just A Boy Away From Home” Mark recalls some life lessons, singing “Well the years go by, and you get to see, a dream is not the same as reality; well a dream or two, gonna crash and burn, and that’s the way that you live and learn”. As is a theme on this album (and most of his solo work), the guitar here plays a backseat to the bass, drums, keys, and horns. It’s as if Mark is aware that we already know he can shred, and he is only willing to show off in small doses these days. One exception is the soft-spoken ballad “Drovers’ Road”, which has guitar front and center throughout.
The acoustic guitar and bass that drive “Floating Away” would sound at home on a Jack Johnson track, and finds Mark looking in the mirror – literally. “Heavy Up” might be a little cheery and cheesy for your taste, but it is a fun six-minute jam and has the terrific chorus line “why should I lighten up for you, if you can’t heavy up for me?”. Closer “Rear View Mirror” is full-on jazz mode, with stand-up bass, drums that sound a bit like trash cans (although not a la St. Anger), and horns galore.
Key Tracks: “Nobody’s Child”, “Drovers’ Road”, “Rear View Mirror”
Spotify album link:
Holly Golightly – Do the Get Along – 12 songs / 42 minutes
Another fine solo album from the British songwriter who has been at it for over twenty years now – and yes, that is her real name (her mother named Holly after the Breakfast at Tiffany’s character).
My first introduction to Holly was her appearance on The White Stripes song “Well, It’s True that We Love One Another”, the excellent track that closes Elephant. If you are not familiar with that tasty morsel, I encourage you to go check it out, for it is three and a half minutes of loose, goofy, and fun lyrics that has a distinctly live one-take feel to it. When she released the wonderful Slowtown Now! in 2015 it cemented her a place on my radar.
Something about her simple songs (riding the border between rock and pop, with traces of country and rockabilly here and there) just has a classic and deep sound. To start, her band and their use of diverse instrumentation is a delight. The true magic is somewhere in the percussion, which is basic yet really lively – but most importantly, Holly’s voice is lovely without being remarkable, but has just enough of that country twang to give these songs a rustic edge. This album is consistently enjoyable, with very few weak spots, and fits squarely into my definition of “worth your time”.
Leadoff track “Obstacles” is a ballad of overcoming long odds and basically ignoring the fact that something may seem difficult or impossible. “Bring it on there’s nothing I can’t face, there ain’t no one gonna put me in my place; as hard as it maybe to understand, it’s not for you to tell me that I can’t.” She sings this in a way that is more aloof than preachy, and the guitar solo that follows is pure gold. “Quicksand” is a funked out three minute realization that she has gotten in too deep and can’t get out, and comes complete with some sounds that are not frequently found in her music.
The bassline of the title track is a booty shaker and when Holly opines about someone who wants too much and “bitches and moans” too often, she has some advice: “Why don’t you do that thing that everybody does, why can’t you just do the get along?”. On “Hypnotized”, she finds herself yearning for someone’s affection, singing “just one kiss, from your lips, I’ll be satisfied; just a touch, that’s enough, I been hypnotized”. “Lost” has that dusty plains blues feel that I adore so much, while the flourishes of piano in the background give “Like Time” an elegant feel to close out the album.
Key Tracks: “Obstacles”, “Do the Get Along”, “Like Time”
Spotify album link:
Also released (and not strong enough to recommend):
The Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1
This reunion album is yet another mediocre effort from this band that can’t seem to harness the goods of the 90s. It’s no Zwan, by any stretch (thank goodness), but it’s not as good as Zeitgeist, either. “Seek And You Shall Destroy” and “Solara” are both enjoyable tracks so this is not a total loss by any stretch.
Vance Joy – Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Don’t misunderstand – this is a fine recording from the Australian songsmith, and I applaud an artist taking a singular performance and releasing it. My only complaint is that the songs are so similar to the album versions that you are better off listening to them there, sans crowd noise and lengthy banter/introductions for each and every song. Two standouts are the finest song he has written so far (“I’m With You”) and the strongest from a musical standpoint I’ve heard from him (“Lay It On Me”), both from this year’s marvelous Nation of Two.
NEEDTOBREATHE – Acoustic Live Vol. 1
There are highlights here, to be sure – see the excellent cover of “Stand By Me” or the mellowed-out version of their rave-up “Drive All Night”. Similar to the Vance Joy album referenced above, this is a fine recording but doesn’t quite live up to required listening for me.
P.O.D. – Circles
Well, I hadn’t thought of this band in years so figured I would give it a listen. It is just about what I expected: some good-not-great rock/rap/nu-metal. The title track and “Panic Attack” are highlights, but you have better uses of your time, I assure you.