Heart – Beautiful Broken

Heart has a knack for taking things other bands have done and doing them better. One case of this was their Greatest Hits/Live album which offered much more than any other greatest hits or live album ever did. But perhaps the most prime example is Heart’s 2016 album “Beautiful Broken”, a combination of three new songs along with revisited, reimagined versions of songs from earlier in the group’s musical history.

Classic rock bands releasing new versions of their older songs is certainly nothing new. Kiss, Styx, The Police, Journey and many others have succumb to the temptation. All too often, the new versions pale in comparison to the originals, at least to long time fans of the originals. There are memories that go with those familiar versions. There are solos that have been memorized note for note on air guitar and beats that can be tapped out effortlessly on dashboard drumkits. Why would you want to mess with those songs?

With “Beautiful Broken” Heart knew better than to touch the familiar tracks that their long-time fans loved. Instead, they reinvent obscure deep cuts from their back catalog; album tracks that were almost never played on the radio. Unless you owned the earlier Heart albums where these songs first appeared, you might not have ever heard the original renditions. The Wilson sisters even dig so deep here as to grab a bonus track that was only available on a Best Buy exclusive version of one of their later CDs, re-recording the song with guest vocals from Metallica frontman James Hetfield. As if to drive the point home of what they were trying to accomplish with this project, Heart chose to use that updated version of a former obscurity to be the title track for this album.

All of this, makes “Beautiful Broken” come across sounding like an album of totally new material. Some of the songs may have an aire of familiarity to Hearts long-time fans but it’s a familiarity that can be easily be reimagined and reinvented. Old memories are not infringed upon and there are plenty of new air guitar solos and dashboard drum beats to be learned.

Well done Heart.

Alice Cooper – Trash

I will forever relate Alice Cooper’s phenomenal 18th album with my time at WKQZ, “Thee Rock and Roll Tradition” in Midland, Saginaw, Bay City, Michigan. Being on-air talent at a radio station like this was a dream come true for me. It being at a time that Alice Cooper had one of the hugest comeback albums of all time, was just icing on the cake.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been working in radio even a year when I started at WKQZ. I mean, this was a legendary rock radio station in mid-Michigan, and here I was, barely into the game, spinning Alice Cooper’s comeback single, “Poison”. How cool was that? Granted, it was a weekend overnight slot, the least listened to, but it was on a legendary station in my home state. So who cares? I sure didn’t. If I didn’t make it beyond this point in my on-air career, I didn’t care. This is was what I wanted to be apart of; and here I was.

“Trash” is one of the greatest comeback albums ever. It’s one of the best metal albums ever recorded. It is one of the best records ever made by Alice Cooper, a true legend in rock history. It is also one of the best memories I have from my years in radio.

I will always love this album.

The Who – By Numbers

Quadrophenia” was not an easy album for The Who to follow-up in 1973. There was a lot of pressure for a new album and writer’s block was setting in. Some time was bought by releasing the “Odds and Sods” compilation in ’74 and working on the collaborative “Tommy” film and soundtrack in early 1975. But a record of new songs is what Who fans really wanted and it’s what we got when “The Who By Numbers” came out near the end of ’75.

With the strength of the songs on “By Numbers”, it’s surprising The Who was having a hard time coming up with new material for their seventh album. This is easily one of their most solidly consistent albums from start to finish.

Outside of the music, my favorite thing about “By Numbers” is the album cover, designed and drawn by bassist John Entwistle. The sketched caricatures of the band members perfectly captures the essence of each. But to truly appreciate it, you have to complete the dot-to-dot drawing. I always was able to withhold temptation and not draw on mine. But I just got a great idea. After I finish writing this, I’m gonna scan a picture of the album cover, print it out, and complete it “By Numbers”.

Sometimes I love technology.

Christmas With Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins was considered to be a country music artists, but he was every bit as much a contemporary jazz guitarist as he was country. Incorporating his fluid finger picking style with a bit of country twang, he helped create what became known as “The Nashville Sound”, bringing a more a more mainstream audience to the genre.

“Christmas With Chet Atkins” is one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums and one of my favorites by “The Country Gentleman’, as Chet was often referred to as. Vocals on the songs are sparse, as it focuses more on his guitar stylings which lean more towards his jazz side; a joyful mix of traditional arrangements interspersed with a mix of improvisational phrasings and flourishes. It is as relaxing as it is enticing to listen to; a perfect hot cocoa and fireplace kind of album.

I almost wish “Christmas With Chet Atkins” wasn’t a Christmas album. I could listen to it year round, but it seems odd listening to Christmas songs outside of the season. So it’s only this time of year that this record makes it onto my turntable. Then again, I guess it gives me something else to look forward to every Christmas season.

Merry Christmas from The Vinyl Jungle.

The Tragically Hip – Day For Night

Day For Night is a film technique wherein filters or underexposure are used to make a movie scene shot in daylight or a well-lit studio a little darker, to make it look like it was shot at night. It is also title of The Tragically Hip’s fourth album; easily the darkest in their canon.

Compared to other Hip albums, the songs on “Day for Night” definitely have a darker feeling. The deep, moody bass lines are more dominant and the guitars are more sustained and droning. Gord Downie’s lyrics, as always, emphasize multiple layers of interpretation, but here convey a slightly more somber, sometimes more aggressive quality than on The Hip’s earlier records.

The Tragically Hip are not inherently a dark band and “Day for Night” is not by any means a dark album. But it is dark for The Hip, and that is what makes it one of their most intriguing albums. “Day for Night” is an album that exposes The Hip through a filtered lens; one that gives the listener a chance, if only for 80 minutes or so, to trade in their day for night.

When I started rebuilding my vinyl collection I knew Tragically Hip records would find their way into it at some point. What I didn’t know was that I would run across a great deal on a box set that included all 14 of their albums on vinyl. The box set also came with a poster and a turntable matt that has the band’s logo on it, including their gargoyle mascot.

Roxy Music – Stranded

The third Roxy Music album; their first without Brian Eno. Yet Eno would cite it as Roxy’s best. I just might have to agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Brian Eno and the influence he had on the first two Roxy music albums. His replacement, Eddie Jobson, may not have had Eno’s flamboyance but he’s every bit the musician; maybe more so. Along with synthesizers and keyboards, Jobson added the dynamics of a violin to Roxy Music’s sound.

The biggest factor that gives “Stranded” the potential to take the top spot among Roxy Music’s eight albums is, of course, the songs. They were a tad bit more toward the mainstream. That’s not to say the music on “Stranded” is commercial pop in any way – I don’t think that can be said of any Roxy Music record. There was plenty of experimentation and eclecticism to go around on “Stranded” but at the same time, the music was more accessible, with some great hooks that get stuck in your head. It was a style that would influence the sound of future bands like the Talking Heads, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox, and Japan, among others.

When I started rediscovering vinyl, I was very disappointed to realize that I had gotten rid of all my Roxy Music albums, replacing some of them on CD. But it turns out, that wasn’t really a bad th thing. A couple of years ago, I ran across a box set collection of all of Roxy Musics records. All of the albums are half speed masters that sound absolutely exquisite. Every time I listen to one

Michael Stanley Band – MSB

The National spotlight was something that was forever elusive to the Michael Stanley Band, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t find success or dedicated fans. Easily the most popular band in Cleveland, Ohio and well-known throughout America’s heartland, MSB’s perfect blend of straight forward rock, pop hooks, and ballads had them filling arenas as headliners and opening up for huge national acts throughout the mid ’70s into the ’80s. Outside of the US Midwest however, they could have a hard time filling bars.

“MSB”, should have been an album that broke the Micheal Stanley Band out to the rest of the country – and the world for that matter. Then again, you could have said that about any of their records.

If I had to pick a favorite song off of “MSB”, I suppose it would be “In Between the Lines”, the album’s opening track. But thinking about it now, I really think that’s only because it primes me for what I know is coming: More great songs, more great hooks, more great ’80s rock.

Personally, I think “MSB” is one of the 100 greatest rock albums of the ’80s, even if it didn’t make that Rolling Stone list. They didn’t know what they missed out on back then. Neither did the rest of the world. Except for Cleveland and the rest of America’s heartland. We knew.

Dire Straits – Making Movies

I don’t care what Dire Straits album I am listening to, I always love Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing. He had a fluid, finger picking elegance in his playing that had a twinge of country and the roots of rock. An almost forgotten record today, “Making Movies” was Dire Straits’ third album and one of their best, despite not having any really big hits. It was the consistency of the songs, Knopfler’s distinct sound, and the rest of the band’s ability to accentuate that sound perfectly that propelled this 1980 gem to platinum sales (over a million copies sold) in the US and double platinum in the UK. It also ranked #52 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties.

When I grew up listening to my dad’s music on the record player, Chet Atkins was always a guitarist I admired. It came as no surprise to me decades later when I read an interview in which Knopfler cited Atkins as a big influence. Chet Atkins also had that same fluid finger picking style that affixed me to Knopfler’s sound. Chet just had more of a country foundation with a touch of jazz. But you know, in the end it’s all the same. When you get right down to it, innovation and talent will always inspire innovative and talented players. And in rock and roll, Mark Knopfler is one of the most innovative and talented guitarists that has ever been.

I really wish I had a copy of “Making Movies” that had a cover in better condition. I picked this copy up from a local library when they were selling off their old records. Like an idiot, I tried to remove the catalog card from the cover and it tore a section of the artwork off with it. At least the record itself is in pristine shape. In the end that’s what really matters the most.

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

Novel may be a bit of an overstatement here, but there certainly is a story that is told by the songs on “White City”. It’s a blithe story of society; a society where violence has long been viewed as a sign of being a man, yet one where that will now land you in jail. It also speaks of racism and racial identity, sexual identity an sexuality. It speaks bluntly of 1985’s view of society’s past, present, and questions of its future. It’s the story of tolerance and intolerance, the tolerance of intolerance, the intolerance of tolerance, and intolerance of intolerance. It is a story of both the need for and resistance to a change in society.

Yeah, this is a lyrically complex album. It’s easier to comprehend if you watch the accompanying 60 minute film. If you don’t want to take the time for that, just filter out the deeper meaning of the lyrics and simply listen to the music. It’s awesome.

David Gilmour – About Face

The future of Pink Floyd was uncertain in 1984. The band was going through turmoil and fans like me were guessing there may not ever be another album by them. That’s why I grabbed a copy of David Gilmour’s second solo album when it came out in 1984.

I had been somewhat disappointed by Pink Floyd’s album that came out the previous year. It’s not that “The Final Cut” was a bad album, it was just that it treaded no new territory, sounding like a continuation of the mostly Roger Waters epic “The Wall”. To me, Pink Floyd was always about doing something different new; going in a direction they hadn’t before. One album always sounded distinctly unique from its predecessor, yet still sounded like Pink Floyd. Enter “About Face”.

I’m not saying that “About Face” sounds like a Pink Floyd record; at least not totally. I remember reading that some of the musical ideas on it were presented as ideas for “The Final Cut” but were rejected by Roger Waters who made that album more of a solo project than the next Floyd album. His loss.

There are strong influences of where Gilmour had come from on “About Face”. His guitar had the same distinct tone heard on Pink Floyd albums, but there was more. Reggae influences on “Cruise”, funk/R&B on “Blue Light”, full orchestration on the instrumental “Let’s Get Metaphysical”, a couple straight ahead rockers – it was nothing like an album Pink Floyd would have ever done, which is why, to me, “About Face” sounded like what the next Pink Floyd album could have been. It wasn’t though. It was a David Gilmour solo record, which in the end, was just as good.