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Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 26, 2015 0 comments
It’s hard to believe, but the eternally youthful blues maestro Robert Cray is celebrating five decades of plying his craft with the imminent release of 4 Nights of 40 Years Live. So, uh, Robert, do you mind if we call you an “elder statesman” at this point in your career? “Well, we’re doing what we do, and I’m having fun doing it. To me, that’s the most important thing,” says Cray. “It’s funny; whenever it’s mentioned that we’re ‘getting up there,’ I always revert back to my heroes — John Lee [Hooker], and B.B. [King] — and I just think about those guys as being ‘the guys.’ I never consider myself as being on the same ship.” Sorry to disagree with the man, but Cray is most definitely onboard with being on par with the masters of the blues art form. I called Cray, 62, at his hotel during a tour stop in the Pacific Northwest to discuss the sonics of 4 Nights, the ongoing merits of vinyl, and why live woodshedding is vital for bands who want to improve. “Oh yeah, there’s been a lot of change over the years,” Cray observes about his storied career. I guess he showed us.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 13, 2015 0 comments
In a band of equals, some can appear to be more equal than others. “I always like to have the first word and the last word on albums,” laughs keyboardist Tony Banks, one of the main songwriters in Genesis. Banks has always felt making an impression right as a song commences to be paramount. “You make an impact with those first few bars. It sets you up for the next 5 minutes, so you ought to try and get it right,” he says. Just cue up the majestic “Watcher of the Skies” from 1972’s Foxtrot for prime evidence of that thesis being put into action. Besides his storied career in Genesis, Banks also tried his hand at a solo career, the highlights of which have been compiled in the four-disc box set A Chord Too Far (Cherry Red/Esoteric Recordings). While Banks puts the future of his longtime band to rest — “the chance of Genesis getting back together again is pretty slim, I have to say”— we have plenty of Chord music to sink our collective ears into. Banks, 65, called from across the Pond to discuss the, er, genesis of his signature keyboard style, his deep love for surround sound, and the importance of sequencing. As Bankstatements go, this one is rich in high-fidelity rewards.
Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 07, 2015 1 comments
Performance
Sound
The Rolling Stones are at it again. The world’s greatest band has rolled out the big guns for its 15-date North American stadium run that’s been dubbed the ZIP CODE Tour, a 19-song walk, stomp ’n romp through a half-century of impeccably unimpeachable classics. That taut live set places an emphasis on digging deeper into cuts culled from the perpetually seminal 1971 album Sticky Fingers, which has just been given the Super Deluxe box-set treatment by Polydor/UMe. A club gig at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on May 20 saw The Stones rip that joint up 16 times, including their first stabs at Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move” since 1976 and the dreamily soothing “Moonlight Mile” since 1999, both Sticky tracks having since made their way into regular rotation as part of the stadium set lists. (Longtime fans like yours truly feel The Stones should do intimate clubs gig like the Fonda outing more often, as it helps loosen up the vibe of songs that often become broader and less adventuresome in stadium settings.)
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jul 29, 2015 0 comments
Dave Grohl is often acknowledged as being the nicest, coolest/cheeriest guy in rock & roll, and while I can indeed confirm Messr. Grohl is (to use a technical term) an absolute mensch amongst mensches, I also happen to think Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen could give Dave a run for his money. Collen is also passionate about sharing his creativity beyond the lighted stage, and he's the mastermind behind the self-titled debut of Delta Deep. “You could call it a punk/blues mixture,” Collen says of the album. “We just made music that made us feel great, and there are loads of people out there looking for that who appreciate that. There are a lot of people out there who dig real music.” Recently, Collen, 57, and I got together to dive on down into Delta Deep’s sonic origins, rediscovering the joys of vinyl, and the signal he gets when he’s in the right improv zone onstage. Pour some blues sugar on us, Phil.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jul 15, 2015 0 comments
Leave it to Dave Edmunds to always want to take things a little bit left of center. “I’ve never liked listening to albums, and I’ve never liked making them,” admits the Welsh-born guitarist and producer known for his modern rockabilly sensibilities (see Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure and solo hits like “Slipping Away” and “Girls Talk”). “I’m a singles guy; always have been.” That said, Edmunds agrees he found the right album-length formula for the 15 songs he compiled for 2013’s …Again (RPM), but he decided to shift gears for the just-released all-instrumental On Guitar… Dave Edmunds: Rags & Classics (RPM). “The album tracks are pretty similar to the originals, but you’re shocked when a guitar comes in instead of a vocal,” he explains. I called Edmunds, 71, across the Pond to Wales to discuss the one-man-band approach to Rags & Classics, delve further into his stark view on loving singles vs. LPs, and find out what he thinks the two best-sounding songs of the rock era are. Subtle as a flying mallet, indeed.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jun 25, 2015 Published: Jun 24, 2015 0 comments
Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records, believes the key to The Doors' sound lies in how the band and its ace production team — producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick — all pulled together to make sure the integrity of the band’s sound was preserved on record. “We made albums so carefully,” Holzman notes. “I think the attention to the detail and the fussing over getting everything just right and not letting it go out otherwise are some of the reasons The Doors have held up over time. We had it right to begin with.” I rang Botnick up in California to discuss how he helped orchestrate The Doors’ formidable sonic legacy, how he translated said legacy into surround sound, and why he also still digs vinyl. Their music is your special friend, until the end.
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Mike Mettler Posted: Jun 12, 2015 0 comments
Graham Parker has a surefire way of ensuring his longtime backing band The Rumour understands exactly how to execute the arrangements of his new songs: “You have to kick them a lot, very hard!” he says with a devilish laugh. He is, of course, joking (I think). Parker and The Rumour are quite in sync on Mystery Glue (Cadet Concept/UMe), as evidenced by the hard-edged wink/nudge narrative of “Pub Crawl,” the rollicking swing state of “Railroad Spikes,” and the silver-screen teardown on “My Life in Movieland,” which features Parker going to Tinseltown with (yes) a killer kazoo solo. Parker, 64, called from across the Pond to discuss his overall sonic goals for Mystery Glue, how and why his voice has improved over the years, and what he thinks of his earliest work. His passion for quality ain’t manufactured or just another sound.
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Mike Mettler Posted: May 28, 2015 0 comments
For musicians of a certain era, it was either The Beatles, Elvis, or the blues that inspired them to start making their own music. For singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading, all it took was the furniture in her house. “This is what I was born to do,” says Armatrading, who’s originally from Antigua. “My mother bought a piano and put it in the front room. She didn’t buy it because she thought somebody was going to play it; she bought it because it was a great piece of furniture. Literally on the day it arrived, I started writing songs.” To get a further, purer taste of her songwriting prowess, it’s worth checking out the two-disc Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading Classics (1975-1983) collection, mastered in 96/24 by Erick Labson, which showcases a key segment of her decade-plus run on A&M Records. The lost-in-scat-and-strings vibe of “Love and Affection,” the raw-nerve toucher “Down to Zero” (complete with wafty-cool pedal-steel support), and the ’80s-fueled fury of “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” are all prime evidence that Armatrading has always been at the forefront of matching a songwriter’s emotional intent with a particular sound-quality standard, without compromise. During a recent tour stop in Chicago, I called Armatrading, 60, to discuss the nuances of her live show, her in-studio sound-quality inclinations, and her initial music-making inspirations. Everybody gotta know this feeling inside.
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Mike Mettler Posted: May 13, 2015 1 comments
How does he do it? How does the eternal Beach Boy Brian Wilson keep composing all-new harmonically gorgeous and sonically seductive pocket symphonies (as he likes to call them), 50-plus years into his career? The answer, he says, is quite simple: “I know in my head — in my brain — how to do it.” Wilson’s marvelous brain has dreamt up scores of timeless classics, such as the instantly hummable singalongs “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “California Girls,” and “Love and Mercy” (to name but a few), and he’s just added 16 more gems to his storied canon on the Deluxe Edition of his 11th solo album, No Pier Pressure (Capitol). The angelic choral joy of “This Beautiful Day,” the pop confection perfection of “Saturday Night” — which features Wilson blissfully trading lead vocals with Nate Ruess of fun. — and the jaunty nautical shanty “Sail Away,” the latter a reunion with onetime Beach Boys bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, all reinforce the fact Wilson remains very much in touch with his beautiful muse. Wilson, 73, and I recently discussed some of his production benchmarks, the difference between inspiration and influence, and what he thinks sounds the best on radio. God only knows — when it comes to six decades and counting of creating the soundtrack for an endless summer, Wilson continues to put forth nothing but good vibrations.
Mike Mettler Posted: May 08, 2015 0 comments
Ahhh, reggae. What is also known as Jamaican dance music has become nothing less than an international phenomenon, thanks in no small part to the pioneering sounds of Bob Marley, who would have been 70 this year. (Marley died of cancer at the relatively young age of 36 in 1981.) Calling Marley the king of reggae is a bit like saying 4K Ultra HD looks fantastic—it’s a fairly obvious statement, but no less profound. The seminal ’60s and ’70s work of Bob Marley & The Wailers literally defined a music genre that continues to engage people the world over—in fact, it may be the most universal music there is.

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