Ten Minute Review: Eric Clapton – I Still Do

eric clapton i still do.jpg

I grew up listening to Eric Clapton.  He’s one of the best guitarists of all time, and I even knew that when I was just a kid despite not really knowing the wide world of music.  As some of you may know, this album was widely known for the reunion between Clapton and his old producer Glyn Johns, who was at the helm for Clapton’s legendary album Slowhand.  This reunion couldn’t come at a better time, because this album, I Still Do, is the answer to the question “Does Eric Clapton still have it?”  Yes, he still does.  This album is largely a cover album like some of his albums of the past, with a few original tracks sprinkled throughout it for good measure.  This time, Clapton tackles some gems from the old blues world including Leroy Carr and Robert Johnson, along with a couple tracks by one of Clapton’s heroes, JJ Cale.  At 71 years young, Clapton’s not going anywhere and in fact this album is both a renewal to form as well as a vehicle to show how comfortable Clapton is now.  He’s just having fun.

This is the first of two tracks I’ll be posting off this album from Clapton’s youtube page.  The first is Can’t Let You Do It, which was written by his old buddy JJ Cale’s song.  Over the years, Cale and Clapton played together a lot, and now that Cale is gone, Clapton is still holding the fort down for him.  From the very beginning of this song, I can feel the Claptonian influences on where he took the song and made it something else.  As I mentioned, this song was written by Cale, but it didn’t go past the demo phase.  I won’t be able to here Cale’s version to compare the two, but I can’t imagine how emotional it must be to put together and play your recently passed buddy’s song in his honor.  It was light, fun, and has a little bit of funk, blues, and country in it.   When I picture this album being recorded, I can almost see him sitting on a couch playing this album with his buddies, like the album cover of Backless.  The track made me very comfortable and put me at ease.  I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy the music.

Clapton was joined by several other performers when making this album, including a lot of guys that played with him either in his touring band or from previous albums.  For instance, Dave Bronze joined him on the bass for the album.  Dave Bronze has played for several bands including Procol Harum (and Robin Trower separately) and Dr. Feelgood, but I know him best for his work on the album Pilgrim.  Pilgrim, which Clapton released in 1998, was one of the first CDs I remember receiving.  While CDs had been around for a long time before then, I didn’t own a CD player so I got it done with cassettes and my dad’s record player.  Besides, as a middle schooler, I didn’t need much to be entertained.  My tape deck served me well through high school until it was time to move on.  Yard sales were a great way to stock up on the music learning experience as tapes started to fall out of fashion…at least until the days of Napster rolled along.  That’s for another day entirely.  Back to Clapton – while I am quite aware that critically Pilgrim was not a popular album, it was significant to me as the first new music by Clapton since Journeyman at the end of the 80’s.  Journeyman, as some of you know, featured a track called Bad Love, in which Clapton was joined by Mick Jones of Foreigner and Phil Collins.  As a lifelong Phil Collins fan, I thought the collaboration would continue since they worked together previously on Behind the Sun.  Remember, the internet in the mid 90’s for a kid was not what it is now, so I didn’t have a way of finding out information or interviews about the album unless they were in a magazine.

This album has a couple standout tracks, including the cover of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passageway, but most importantly, the mysterious I Will Be There.  The internet went into a frenzy, as it traditionally does lately, trying to figure out who the additional member contributing to the track was.  The secret guest musician played only on that one track, and played acoustic guitar and sang on it.  There was a great deal of speculation on whether it was George Harrison singing beyond the grave because of the secret name Harrison used when playing along with other bands to not steal their thunder.  Being a former Beatle means that he would stand out and everyone would talk about him, so in line with his demeanor and presence, he preferred to play anonymously.  The Angelo Mysterioso name used as the secret member falls in line with Harrison’s MO, but no one will reveal the truth yet.  To help bolster that suspicion, Clapton and Harrison were buddies and played together all the time (starting with While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but you knew that it was Clapton on guitar in that song, right?)  Dhani Harrison, George’s son, was also speculated to be the secret guest musician, but who knows.  Only Clapton and the guys that played with Clapton know.

The second track available to listen to right now is the bluesy Spiral, which was one of the original creations by Clapton on this album.  He doesn’t miss a beat in this album, but he doesn’t take any chances to speak of.  He’s content right where he is, and he deserves that.  His body of work speaks for itself.  Unfortunately, other than the highlighted tracks I’ve mentioned, nothing on this album really knocks my socks off.  It’s good, and it’s Clapton, and he’s still got it.  However, and I mean this with all due respect because this genre title has a negative connotation with it, but this is an easy listening feel to it.  I can’t lock down one specific genre to this album, but I guess it’s more blues than anything.  Listening to the two tracks I posted, you would think it’s entirely a blues album, but it’s not quite.  It has some funk to it, some country, a little gospel, and plenty of soft rock.  For those of you who read my previous review about the Finnish band Perihelion Ship, this album also features the Hammond organ on the track Somebody’s Knockin’.  This album has a good vibe to it, but it isn’t terribly memorable.  Throughout the various tracks, I can feel wisps of old Clapton genius drifting in and out of the music, but lyrically I don’t think he’s going to top something like Tears in Heaven or Change the World, and he knows it.  Why try to do something crazy and complicated when he can kick back and play some songs he grew up listening to and have fun while doing it?

I enjoyed this album for what it was worth, knowing that it’s just Clapton having a good time and not trying to change the world.  I first found out that this album was happening a few months ago, and I’ve been excited for any new Clapton.  I’ll take anything I can get.  We’re losing musical legends left and right this year, so I’m glad he’s still playing and doing his thing.  The collaboration with Clapton and Johns again didn’t quite have the same magic as it did when they made Slowhand, but that was almost forty years ago.  He did the music justice and didn’t reinvent the wheel while doing so.  As far as Clapton albums go, this one isn’t particularly high up, and I’m going to have to give I Still Do 11 Ratings Units out of 15.  It was good enough, but maybe expectations are so high given that it’s still Eric Clapton playing guitar and singing to us.  I hope this isn’t the last album that Clapton makes, because I always want to hear more from him.

 

Oh yeah, he covered Bob Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine too.  It was alright, I guess.

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Ten Minute Review: Perihelion Ship – A Rare Thunderstorm in Spring

perihelion ship a rare thunderstorm in spring

Let’s switch gears now and travel across the ocean and time as well.  I want to take you on a trip to Finland and back to the 1970’s.  Let me add a disclaimer real quick: this album has some progressive death metal in it, along with some growling vocals, so it’s not for the faint of heart.  I know, the word death scares a lot of music fans off, and rightfully so.  There are not many death metal bands that I am a fan of, and I could probably list the ones I enjoy on Michael Scofield’s toes.  Yeah, Prison Break reference.  Pure death metal bands just don’t do it for me.  Cookie Monster on the microphone doesn’t appeal to me at all.  It’s actually why I haven’t written about the new Slice the Cake album that everyone seems to be raving about lately.  Vocals matter to me, and I can’t do ones that make my blood hurt.  I’ve been gradually getting used to them as I listen to more music, because there is some genius in bands like Between the Buried and Me, Periphery, and this new Finnish band, Perihelion Ship.

Instead of peppering this review with youtube links for you to click on, I am instead linking you to the band’s bandcamp page where you can choose to take a listen for yourself.  There are only five tracks on the album, but it still clocks in at a healthy 51 and a half minutes.  This is largely because of the final track, which is unquestionably the highlight of the album, hitting 21 minutes of wonderful and complex music.  I love extremely long complicated multi part tracks, and this one is no exception.  More on that title track shortly.

This album is the band’s debut album, and you could do much worse as far as prog metal debuts go.  A Rare Thunderstorm in Spring (ARTS for short) gives us a surprisingly delightful blending of 70’s prog metal with some more contemporary death/extreme metal elements.  The growling, the percussion, and aggressive guitar riffs bring out the more extreme portions of the band which frequently has an Opethian vibe, but it does have a softer side to it.  When the growling ceases, the clean vocals are reminiscent of Geddy Lee and I wish they were featured more.  Additionally, there’s something I haven’t highlighted yet directly but only touched on when talking about the 70’s.  This band heavily features a classic instrument from the 70’s – the Hammond B3 Organ.  I grew up knowing everything about that wonderful instrument, and its Leslie Cabinet, thanks to my old man and his experience with one in his band when he was growing up.  To those of you unfamiliar, a Hammond B3 is a powered two-tiered organ that you may know from church.  It’s been used by so many bands you love, I couldn’t even start on the names of them all.  You’ll hear the organ when you listen to the music, it’s right there and in your face.

Two worlds smash together to make this album, and it works most of the time but when it doesn’t, it clashes fairly significantly.  In most of the tracks on this album, it flows along impressively, especially throughout the title track.  I wouldn’t think to put an organ like that in with heavy duty prog metal like this, but that’s why this band is starting out right.  They’re doing something that most prog metal bands haven’t done, and that is to openly and frequently feature this instrument throughout their music.  Some recent prog metal bands like Beardfish bring in the Hammond B3, but they usually only use it in certain parts of tracks to emphasize the music.  I can’t think newer bands that incorporate it in this way, and that is fine.  It’s the kind of sound that usually stands alone, so to have it as just another part of the show is intriguing.  I’m not married to the combination of growling vocals along with the organ, but this was definitely an experimental project for a debut album and I give the band credit for this.  It may be instinctual that I prefer to follow the lyrics as they flow around an organ in a song, and if I can’t understand most of the vocals, it just falls flat in that aspect.

In the final track, which if I haven’t made clear, is also the title track, the band goes all out.  I can’t imagine how this track would be played live, because it switches gears so significantly so many times that it would get exhausting.  When I talk to prog musicians after concerts, I gravitate towards asking them about how they can switch gears so fluidly and keep it all straight.  Sure, they memorize the music and it’s no big deal to them, but from the outside observer, it has to get incredibly complicated to keep track of multiple time signature changes and breakdowns and all of that.  Back to the final track – I feel like I need to listen to it a few more times to get the various parts, and I should probably read the lyrics to make sure I have the story all put together in my head.  Its ebbs and flows are heavy and very technically sound.  For a debut album, the band made sure to mix and produce the album well.  The riffs are killer, including the ones at the beginning and sprinkled throughout the the final track.  The computerized voice telling the history of what has happened helps fill in the gaps that we missed with the story is also a nice touch.

This album was released digitally back in January, however their physical release was on May 10th, so this review is still timely.  I had to take some time to digest this album when I first listened to it, because growl vocals are still grating to me.  I was able to get past them in this album, and they didn’t physically bother me like how Deafheaven does.  Still, and no disrespect to this band or other bands that utilize growl vocals, but they just aren’t for me.  I can get used to them but I’m that weirdo Opeth fan that prefers Heritage and Pale Communion to some of the previous more growly Opeth albums (but Blackwater Park stands above).  If you can sing, and sing well, then do.  I’ve said it plenty of times and I’ll say it one more time – lyrics matter.  Sure, growling vocals have lyrics, but good luck trying to decipher them.  While the vocals matter a lot, the rest of the band comes through and make a great sound.  The guitar is on point and doesn’t get too crazy, the drums are heavy but not too heavy, and most of all the organ is a surprisingly great addition to a heavy prog metal band.  I was a little skeptical when I first read a description of the band as “extreme progressive metal band that utilizes a sound from the 70’s” but I learned as many others will – it works.  I give Perihelion Ship’s debut album, A Rare Thunderstorm in Spring, 12 Ratings Units out of 15.  The vocals are by and large what took away from the album to me, but this will be a great learning experience for the band.  I look forward to hearing what’s next from them.  As a final note, the album art is terrific.

 

Ten Minute Review: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead a moon shaped pool

This album came out of nowhere!  Granted, I guess we could have picked up on something happening when Radiohead started deleting its entire social media presence.  Hey, maybe they were trying to show us how to disappear completely?  Yeah, we’re starting off here with a softball Kid A joke, it’s gonna be that kind of review, folks.  I have two tracks to share with you from the official Radiohead release, but unfortunately neither of those tracks are the marquis final track of True Love Waits, which was something special.  This album was shocking in many levels, because I pride myself in being fairly in tune with the music community, but I didn’t hear much more than a passing rumor about a new Radiohead release until it fell on our doorsteps.  Luckily, their webpage provides a digital version of the album so I was able to pick it up and listen to it immediately yesterday, and six minutes in to the album, I knew I would be writing about it for you all.  To paraphrase a character from a TV show I don’t want to think about any more, this album is hauntingly beautiful.

This first track, Burn The Witch, was the first sign of things to come.  It was released without any fanfare on May 3rd, just a week ago from today.  The internet picked up on it and went into a predictable frenzy (isn’t that what the internet seems to about everything these days?).  In the internet’s defense, this is their first album since The King of Limbs, so it’s been five years since we’ve heard much new work from Thom and the boys.  Sure, Thom came out with his solo album of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes a couple years ago, and it was fine with a decent combination of Thom’s floating voice with some more electronic tools, but it was no Radiohead.  I should admit before I go any further, I’m a relatively new fan of Radiohead.  I wasn’t really into them in high school, and it wasn’t until college that I started to get into them.  So, it may be misleading to say I’m relatively a new fan, having only been interested in them for a bit over ten years, but in Radiohead years that means the first “new” Radiohead album that came out after I started liking them was In Rainbows.

Back to Burn The Witch now.  This track feels like the most upbeat one on the entire album, in terms of tempo and beat, not lyrically mind you.  It’s a lot less somber musically than some of the others.  This whole album has an aura of sadness surrounding it.  It’s not a concept album like some of their albums from before, but it cuts to the core dealing fairly head on with heartbreak and loss.  Something huge about this track that you Radiohead fans may notice right off the bat is the inclusion of strings.  This is a brilliant addition to their music and it fits perfectly within the album.  I would argue that the tracks that feature strings (ie Tinker Tailor, and True Love Waits, but more on that later) are far and above the best ones on the album.  I’ve always been a fan of a band using a string accompaniment, usually in the case of prog rock (or Kiss and Metallica), and Radiohead used it so well to add another element to the music.  Radiohead has always written complicated music with many layers and elements and hidden gems, and adding a string layer to the rest puts it over the top.  I can’t gush enough about how the strings improve the music.  They were mixed well with the rest of the instruments and don’t drown each other out, while Thom’s voice floats above it all.

This second track, Daydreaming, is also the second track off the album.  That’s all I have to give you now.  I have been looking for an NPR-style stream but to no avail.  You’ll just need to buy the album to hear more from it.  Unlike Burn The Witch directly before this, Daydreaming goes into an emotionally heavy piano piece that caught me completely off guard.  Thom sure loves that piano, and it pays off beautifully in this track.  They drop the strings and bring the piano to the forefront, seemingly leaving the rest of the band behind. This track, like a couple others featured on this album, almost feel like more of a Thom solo project when he’s on the piano singing by himself.  As far as Radiohead albums go, this one is fairly stripped and raw compared to their others.  They add in electronic twitches here and there, but in Daydreaming, there’s just Thom, the keyboard, the fuzzy Kid-A in and out vocal effects, and a very light bassline trailing in and out of the track.  As the track closes out, an electronically altered string element drones back and forth, until it all falls away back to the piano once again.  It’s a fascinating track and one that well captures the spirit of this album.

Moving from Daydreaming into Decks Dark, the band chimes in once again. The guitar and drums are back with us again, but they are quiet compared to the piano and Thom again.  It’s no accident that earlier I referred to this effort as “Thom and the boys”, because he is the main focus of this album by far.  Also, like I alluded to before, this album discards a lot of the more complicated electronic instruments they used in The King of Limbs (remember Lotus Flower?  Far cry from this album, eh?), opting for the simplicity of a piano.  On Decks Dark and a few other tracks, they also bring in a choir to back them up, and what a difference it makes.  The band still keeps some of their electronic tricks and effects, because they wouldn’t be Radiohead without them, including the distorted drum beat and wandering synths.  The album flows very well, despite each song usually being quite different from the one before it.  Decks Dark is dark and haunting, and then the next track, Desert Island Disk, opens right up into something more acoustic and welcoming.

Desert Island Disk is a very simple track, again pulling away from the strings of before and opting instead with an acoustic guitar and a very light drum tap behind it.  A keyboard pops in and falls away just as soon as you were getting used to it in the track, and then the track just fades away with the light drone of the guitar string.  Some elements of drone are fairly consistent in this album, whether they are in Thom’s voice hovering around one note for long stretches, or with the keyboards drifting listlessly, or something else entirely.  Ful Stop is a great example of that, as the notes go on for much longer than you think they should.  It makes a six minute song, and the second longest on the album, go by very strangely.  It is a track that I think will divide Radiohead fans, because it is very challenging to listen to.  The droning synthesizer stays through the song as Thom says things like “you really messed up everything” while the drum machine ticks along to the track.  About halfway through the track, the droning breaks down and morphs into more of an actual song.  I immediately get the reminiscent feeling of David Bowie’s Blackstar (read the review of Blackstar here!), with the vocals and instruments behind Yorke.  I can’t put my finger on it but it felt like something out of Blackstar.  It will take more listens to get to the bottom of that, but the feeling was definitely there.

From Ful Stop, we move on to Glass Eyes, which is the shortest track on the album and is quite nice.  Sure, the piano and Thom are again at the forefront, and the strings chime in to make the song very smooth and comfortable.  I could swear I even heard a bird chirping in the background of the song as well.  It’s a lovely track from start to finish, and leads straight into Identikit, which I feel is one of the most Radiohead-esque tracks on the album.  It’s hard to describe what a typical Radiohead song is like, much like my debate earlier this year on what genre is the band Deftones, because I don’t know if there is one single quintessential Radiohead song and I’d be hard pressed to fit Radiohead into one main genre unless I could pick art rock.  This album has a lot more folk influences than some of the previous ones, but it has so much more.  The complexity of Identikit is refreshing and features everything I would expect to hear in a general (maybe even generic) Radiohead song.  The twangy guitar, the “I can’t tell if it’s a drum machine or Phil Selway” drum tapping, Thom hitting all sorts of notes, the smooth bassline holding everything together, and the out of nowhere but surprisingly decent guitar solo.  It’s all just so Radiohead to me.  It may be one of my favorite non-stringed tracks on the album, but maybe it’s because it hit all my expectations.

Identikit ends almost abruptly after the slow rolling guitar solo, and The Numbers comes out of the silence like an acoustic lite-Zeppelin.  The riff sounds so familiar, and yet so far away.  I didn’t think I’d ever find the comparison between Radiohead and Led Zeppelin, so there it is.  I don’t even need to describe the song beyond that.  Let’s move on to Present Tense, shall we?  Surprisingly, the guitar stays out again for two tracks in a row, but along with an egg shaker until the drums chime in.  I can also hear in the background of this track that Jonny brought back his Ondes Martenot again, which is the wavering woo-ing sound along with the choir in the background of Present Tense.  He uses it elsewhere in the album, and I’ll have to listen for it when I go through the album many more times.  After Present Tense, we get to the penultimate track, Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief.  I’ll only type that out once.

Tinker Tailor’s drum beat in this track immediately makes me think of a steam engine.  Seriously, the cymbals sound so modified that they sound like a locomotive letting off steam.  Again, though, a very somber and simplistic song.  The strings really tie this track together, just like the rug really tied the room together, did it not?  The almost muted drums seem like an afterthought, but I’m fine with in this instance the strings getting the highlight towards the end of the track.  They’re beautiful and haunting.  That’s three times I’ve used haunting in this review.

Let’s wrap this up by diving into True Love Waits, which as most of us know was originally written over twenty years ago, but only existed in a live format.  You may have heard a live bootleg of it before if you haven’t seen them in concert, and it was always something special you hoped you would hear again.  They did release it on a live album in the early 2000s but I never picked that album up.  This is the big one, though.  It’s the one everyone was waiting for, and it’s the perfect track to end this incredibly impressive album.  I don’t have much negative to say about this album, because it was a shock from the very beginning.  A few of the tracks on this album, including True Love Waits, were written a long time ago, so for them to come out all together on this album was a wonderful surprise to Radiohead fans.  It’s arguably the simplest track on the album, composed almost exclusively of Thom on the piano singing this song.  You may be more familiar with Thom on the acoustic guitar for this one instead of the piano, and the piano version is far superior.  It’s heartwrenching, and one of the few tracks that the lyrics popped out at me right off the bat.  With lyrics like “don’t leave, don’t leave” it’s hard to miss what he’s talking about in this track.  I guess some purists could be upset with this re-version of a track they’ve listened to for many years, but both versions are out there and this one doesn’t delete the earlier one.  I think it expands upon it, and you can think what you like as well.

Overall, this album was a revelation.  This review got a little longer winded than I expected, but it really invoked a lot of emotions and had some amazing moments within it.  I won’t say that this album is the best Radiohead album since blah blah favorite album, because that seems to upset diehard fans that like certain albums over others, but it’s terrific.  I’d be crazy not to give this album a very high score, like 14 out of 15 Ratings Units.  The flaws were minimal and can be brushed over, and this album is deep.  You could spend a lot of time digging deep into this album to pull things out that I merely glossed over.  You could break down the lyrics and get a whole new meaning to the album.  Remember the term “hauntingly beautiful” that I tossed out way at the beginning?  That.  That’s what I have to say about the new Radiohead album.  Well done.

 

Thanks for reading, everyone, and for sticking through this whole review.  I should have another review posted this week to make up for lost time.  I can’t guarantee it’ll be of the quality that this album was, but it’s worth writing about for other good reasons.