Steven Wilson – Transience

Four time Grammy nominee Steven Wilson is one of the most creatively talented recording artists around today. Yet so many people have not really heard of him. If you happen to fall into that category, the album “Transience” is a great place to start.

Consisting of three sides of music recorded between 2003 and 2015 (the fourth album side is etched with lyrics to one of the songs) “Transience” is a collection of songs taken mostly from Steven Wilson’s previous solo albums. Three of them are reworked exclusively for this album and differ noticeably from their original incarnations. There is also a new re-recording of the song “Lazarus” which was previously recorded by Wilson’s former band Porcupine Tree.

If you haven’t given any of Steven Wilson’s music a listen, you owe it to yourself to do so. He has received praise from critics, numerous other musical artists, and most importantly, those who have bought his records. He writes and records some of the most adventurous music being produced today. Sometimes intricate and complex, it quite often falls outside of the mainstream, but in no way does that mean his music is extreme or excessive.

The songs on “Transience” are selections that fall more in line with modern contemporary music. This is music that departs from the commonplace and defies being a mere musical backdrop. This is an album that is enticing and unique. It demands to be listened to; not just once but over and over. Because, as with all of Steven Wilson’s albums,  there always seems to be something new to hear.

Led Zeppelin IV

There are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection…

There is a reason Led Zeppelin’s fourth record is so iconic. It is an incredible collection of songs that few bands have been able to equal. The album practically defines rock and roll from the ’70s – the golden age of vinyl. It has become an influential and inspirational focal point for generations of rock band. It became the goal of almost every rock guitarist to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven”.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was the first record from the band that was well received by most critics, their previous album “Led  Zeppelin III” being the most severely panned. Record buyers obviously agreed with the positive reviews, as it has become one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Referring to the album as “Led Zeppelin IV” is actually inaccurate. But then,  how do you refer to an album that has no name?  Zeppelin decided to officially not give it one. They even deferred from putting the band’s name anywhere on the album cover.

Fans often refer to it as “Led Zeppelin IV” for a couple of reasons. First off, It’s Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and it came out following “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III”. Secondly, the inner sleeve shows four symbols that were created by each of the four band members. The album is also commonly referred to as is “Zoso” because the first of the four symbols was created by guitarist Jimmy Page which dolts that word.

Although it has sold millions of copies, it can be hard to run across an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album that is in excellent condition.  Partly because many people in the ’70s did not know how to properly care for vinyl records (vinyl takes a little more TLC than CDs) and also because when CDs came out, unless someone decided to get rid of their entire collection, this was one of the few the had to hold on to. After all, there are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather

There was a huge pawn shop just outside gate 4 of Fort Campbell. When I was stationed there back in the ’80s, I want to that pawn shop all the time to see if there were any goodies that I could pick up for a steal. When I visited it one particular day in 1984, my favorite radio station in Clarksville, Tennessee was doing a remote broadcast in the parking lot. When I approached the tent, they told me I could win a free record if I could correctly answer a music trivia question. I don’t remember the question I was asked, or answer, but I do remember the album I chose from their selection: “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I didn’t choose a Stevie Ray Vaughan album because I was a fan. I had never had of him. But the album had a add sticker on it that said he had been voted guitarist of the year by a guitar magazine. I figured “well, then the guy should be pretty good”.

I had no idea.

There will never be another guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had it all – the tone, the feel, the emotion, the skill. He was the kind of player that could make you stop dead in your tracks, forget what you were doing and just listen. He was, in my opinion, the best blues guitarist that ever lived.

Sadly,  the world lost Stevie Ray on August 27, 1990 when the helicopter he was flying in while on tour crashed shortly after takeoff.

This 2011 reissue version of “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” includes a second album of songs that were never released while SRV was still alive; many of them appearing on his posthumous  album “The Sky is Crying”. Included on the second album is Arvo incredible version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing”. Stevie Ray never had a chance to record the vocals for the song, but with the way he could make his guitar sing, none were necessary. I still get goosebumps listening to it.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (white vinyl)

Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album, “Rumors”, is one of the best-selling albums of all time.  It has sold over 40 million copies and is one of the only albums to give Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” a run for its money as the all time best-selling album ever.

The album was recorded in a tumultuous period Fleetwood Mac’s history. There were members of the band having relationships with other members – sometimes multiple members. This caused a lot of tension in the studio.   But it was that tension between the band members that caused huge spark of creativity and resulted in an incredible work of art that stands the test of time. “Rumours” sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1977.

Not surprisingly, given the personal conflicts going on within the band, most of the lyrics “Rumors” are introspective poetry that speaks of love, relationships, and emotions.

This edition of “Rumors” is a limited edition, pressed on white vinyl. There is no reason albums need to be pressed on black vinyl other than that’s the way it was always done. The color of the vinyl doesn’t affect the sound quality so every now and then, limited runs of albums are pressed on colored vinyl. They usually cost a little more, but every now and then I have to splurge. After all, colored vinyl is cool.

Pink Floyd – A Dark Side Of The Moon Live

This is not an official Pink Floyd album. Some would call it a live concert bootleg. Others would call it an Italian import.

Copyright laws are not the same in every country. Italy in particular, has some of the least restrictive when it comes to live performances. I’ve never looked up all the legal mumbo-jumbo, but however their laws are written, there are a lot of unofficial live recordings that come out of Italy on obscure record labels.

Typically, Italian Imports are from a specific concert performance. “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live” is a recording of a Pink Floyd concert at the Wembley Empire Pool in London, England on November 16, 1974. It’s a double album on which Floyd performs their incredible 1973 album “Dark Side Of The Moon” in it entirety as well as their epic song “Echoes” from 1972’s “Meddle” as an encore. It is an incredible performance one of the best I have heard actually. But It’s not without its flaws in both performance and recording.

You see, that’s the good and bad of Italian Imports. On the good side, you get a rare recording of a band performing live, with no studio overdubs or post production cleanup. If the band makes a mistake, or there’s tape malfunction, It’s going to be on the record. But you really get the feel of the performance. On “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live”, there is a part of the song “Breathe” that is chopped out with a horrible edit in the very beginning. Other than that, the recording is flawless. And the sound quality is excellent.

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing with Italian Imports. Because they are unofficial, the original source of the recording could be through the mixing board or some dude out in the audience with a microphone. Decades ago, it was hard to know what the quality of an Italian Import record was until you bought it. Today, with the Internet in your pocket, it’s easy to do a little on the spot research to get an idea.

Italian Imports are typically for the hardcore fans of a band. I am a huge Pink Floyd fan, and have a few Italian Imports by them. Some are on CD, and some, like “A Dark Side Of The Moon Live” are on vinyl.

Felt – Goldmine Trash

It’s funny the way music can bring back obscure sentimental memories.

Felt was a British alternative band that was around in the 1980s. They never gained a lot of popularity in the U.S., except for one song, and even it was a minor hit. In America, Felt kind of came and went without much notice. But I noticed – for at least one album anyway – but I had some help from a friend.

In the mid to late ’80s, I was somewhat of a regular at the Harmony House nearby my home. Harmony House was a Michigan based chain of record stores. I loved shopping there because they could always special order records that they didn’t have in stock and could have an album transferred from a different store to your local one in just a few days. (Remember, this is a time before the Internet, online stores, and home delivery.) A couple of the clerks at the Harmony House in Grosse Pointe got to know me pretty well. Or they at least got to know my musical tastes.

I remember talking to my favorite clerk at my local Harmony House one day about bands we both liked, and she said I needed to check out a British band called Felt, most especially, their song “Primitive Painters”. I told her I would.

Apparently she wanted to hold me to it, because the next time I went there, they told me my order for “Gold Mine Trash” by Felt was there – and to my surprise, I had apparently pre-paid for it. I knew my favorite clerk there was responsible for this and I wanted to thank her, so I asked if she was there. I was told she had quit a few days earlier. Nobody at the store seemed to know where she went.

I never saw her again or had the chance to thank her for “Gold Mine Trash”. I actually hate to admit it, but I don’t even remember her name. But I do remember the album and song she made sure I heard before she moved on. “Gold Mine Trash” is one of my most memorable albums from that period in my life. And “Primitive Painters” is one of my all time favorite songs from any era.

So, to whoever you were, wherever you are now, “thanks.”

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves

Bob Seger used to be known locally as Detroit’s best kept secret. By the time Seger’s ninth studio album was released, everything had fallen into place to ensure that the long kept secret was out.

On his previous studio releases, Seger had put together a top-notch group of local players to back him up. They had one of the tightest rhythm section anywhere and were the perfect match for Seger’s compositions. They were his Silver Bullet to success. The “Beautiful Loser” album grabbed the ears of music lovers across the U.S. It was followed by “Live Bullet”, which had unprecedented success for a live record by an artist who had no huge hit album to date.

Enter “Night Moves”.

“Night Moves” was the album that finally gave Bob Seger the recognition he had so long before earned. It was kind of sad, knowing the secret was finally out. But I think most of us around Detroit who grew up with Bob Seger’s music, were happy to see him finally make it.

Bob Seger was always dedicated to Detroit – and Detroit always supported him. Struggling to make it for so long, he represented to many of us the spirit in the city of Detroit – the spirit of never giving up. He was the local underdog who had finally made it. The best kept secret was out.

The Kickstand Band – Puppy Love

My sister-in-law is an artist. She teaches sculpture at Wayne State University in Detroit. There are cities in Michigan that have her sculptures on permanent display. She has done exhibitions at art galleries across the United States. I am very proud of her. I am also thankful to her for being responsible for my discovering The Kickstand Band – in a roundabout way.

A little over a year ago, my sister-in-law was doing an exhibit at the opening of the 333 Midland gallery in Highland Park, near Detroit (you should Google it, it is really cool). They had bands playing there. And while I do appreciate visual art, I am by my nature, drawn to music. And there were local bands there. One of the bands was The Kickstand Band. I loved their stage presence and more importantly, their sound. So I went up to meet them afterwards and support them by buying some of their music. I was astonished to find they had their debut album, “Puppy Love”, on CD and vinyl. Of course, I had to buy the vinyl record – it’s always my first choice.

Having just seen The Kickstand Band play live, I already knew their sound. DIY/indie pop and power chords with great boy/girl vocal harmonies. Listening more closely, once I had the record playing at home, I could also hear influences of doo-wop, surf music, punk, and of course, Motown – they are from Detroit after all.

And then there’s the album cover. As if to flaunt the DIY attitude, the cover of “Puppy Love” is a picture that would feel right at home on the “Awkward Family Photos” website (you should Google that too)

I can’t help but hope The Kickstand Band get a break somewhere down the line. They deserve it. Their music is a joy to listen to. It’s as unique as it is addicting. Not overly abrasive but still rebellious. I will be keeping eye and ear out for them.

Wings Over America

Okay, I’m breaking an unwritten rule. But it’s my rule, so I can take liberties. I have to admit, it’s not the first time either. I do try to keep it to a minimum though. But sometimes, every now and then, I have to make an exception. This is one of those times.

It’s not like anyone gets hurt if I break the rule. Not even close. Sometimes my friends even enjoy it when I break the rule. Most often, that’s when I choose to break it – when I know a friend wants me to. That is, they would want me to if they knew the rule even existed.

The thing is, I’ve never told anyone of the rule, so no one knows about it. But it’s been in place for years. … no, decades. It’s a rule that every now and then, needs to be broken. Usually, it’s for someone else, but tonight, it’s all about me. Tonight, I make no apologies. I will break the rule and I have no regrets.

I am going to listen to another entire album by the last band I just listened to an entire album by. This morning, it was Wings “At The Speed of Sound”. Tonight, it’s “Wings Over America”. But how can I resist?

A lot of bands can release a successful single live album. Fewer could be successful with a double live album. It’s unheard of to make it a triple. Unless you’re a band as talented as the Wings.

This is the only triple album to take the #1 a spot on the U.S. charts. An incredible accomplishment that may never be broken.

But then again, accomplishments are often hard to break. Breaking rules is easy; especially when the rules are your own.

Wings – At The Speed Of Sound

I remember listening to an interview with Paul McCartney where the former Beatle was very persistent in saying that the band Wings was not an avenue for extending his solo career. He said that he wanted the band to be strictly referred to as Wings, not Paul McCartney and Wings. As if to drive that point home, “At the Speed of Sound” featured the other band members singing lead vocals on its songs more than its four predecessors. There was also more participation in the song writing from the other band members.

“At the Speed of Sound” spawned two singles “Let ’em In” and “Silly Love Songs”. Those singles helped place the album by Wings at the top of the US charts. It also hit number two on the British charts. Like it’s a predecessors, the album contain a solid mix of mid-tempo rock songs That focused on composition and song structure that incorporated a wide range of influences and styles. The album never totally jams out, but it’s not a mellow album either. It’s always a pleasure to listen to it.