Belated bimonthly roundup of the music playing in my head, March/April Edition.


I’m thankful to you for reading.

There have been 12,787 posts since October, 2004, and while I try to write about topics with some measure of resonance apart from the prerequisites of my own inner world, the blog still functions as a diary at least part of the time. Writing about music probably isn’t why you check in, and that’s fine. It’s something I do for me.

That said, I’m almost a month late in fulfilling my self-directed mandate to regularly summarize the music I’ve been enjoying, preferably at two-month intervals.

Following is a video sampler of the CDs purchased in March and April. They appear in no particular order, because I’m not organized enough to manage things like chronology.

The Vaccines … Combat Sports

The Decemberists … I’ll Be Your Girl

The Len Price 3 … Nobody Knows

Neon Waltz … Strange Hymns

Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth-Boogie in 1980s South Africa

The Charlatans …Tellin’ Stories (1997)

The Charlatans … Modern Nature (2015)

Travis … Where You Stand (2013)

Of these, Combat Sports is my favorite, with the three-year-old Modern Nature finishing second. Both proved to be ear worms, and Combat Sports probably will place highly in the year’s end Top-Something list. The songs are short, snappy and melodic, with traces of the Kaiser Chiefs.

One of my goals for the year in music, 2018, is to relax and allow myself to follow the passing butterfly. New releases were of spotty interest for me in March and April, so I did something I rarely do and indulged in a few “classic rock” tangents and digressions.

The 20th anniversary of Bring It On, the first album released by the British band Gomez, came on April 13. I celebrated by listening to all of Gomez’ albums. After an extended seven-year hiatus, it seems the group might be going back into the studios. This makes me happy.

Another anniversary (the 40th) of Van Halen’s debut album in 1978 had me thinking, and it appears my position has evolved. I wasn’t a fan of the band’s David Lee Roth era, which ended in 1985. However, I liked Van Hagar. Now, with greater distance, I can see how groundbreaking and revolutionary the early material really was; not just Eddie’s guitar, but the sound and attitude, too.

To be sure, Sammy Hagar — he’s 70 years old now — remains a rock and roll everyman, and an enduring performer to be appreciated. As for Van Halen’s mercifully brief third aggregation, my annual listen to the horrid Van Halen III has confirmed that after 20 years, it hasn’t gotten any better.

In early April, I accompanied my wife to her appointment for dental work, taking along a book and enjoying a couple of hours of reading.

Unfortunately, the Sirius channel of choice in the waiting room was devoted entirely to Top 40 hit songs of the 1970s, like “Afternoon Delight” and “The Night Chicago Died.” Several Bee Gees songs also were aired; at the dentist, as during high school, this band was inescapable. I subsequently retreated to YouTube to give a few Bee Gees hits a second listen.

It’s hard to do, but if you can ignore the clothes and wash the palate clean of pop culture at the time and focus on the music, it’s far better than I ever thought. The singing, songwriting and production are stellar. Pop music after the Beatles seldom witnessed such an epic, unholy roll as the Bee Gees enjoyed at the band’s peak. Here’s my favorite song, which was released in 1975 just before the tsunami. You never heard the lovely bridge on the radio; it got chopped.

“Play some Skynyrd,” crooned John Eddie back in ’03, and of course he was referring to “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” among other memorable songs from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s heyday in the 70s. Everyone knows about the plane crash in 1977, which put a premature end to the juggernaut, killing singer and principal songwriter Ronnie Van Zant.

Lynyrd Skynyrd later reformed, and has been on the road as a working band for decades, stocked by an ever shrinking number of plane crash survivors until now only guitarist Gary Rossington remains. Nothing against the reconstituted Skynyrd, which in its second life became something the same and yet far different, because it’s hard to imagine Ronnie Van Zant devolving into parody, like Charlie Daniels.

This prompts a question: exactly what is Lynyrd Skynyrd, and at what point does it cease being so? The farewell tour is underway, and along with the many other summer touring announcements coming in March and April, another rabbit hole opens.

Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from Fleetwood Mac may or may not be noticed by a majority of the ticket-buying fillers of arena seats, but for the pundit class, it ignited all sorts of commentary along the lines of when, if at all, an aging band’s replacement parts render it no longer original enough to pass muster.

The discussion is interesting, and ultimately ridiculous. Obsessive true believers like me always have been outnumbered 10-1 or greater by casual thrill-seekers, and so it will remain forever more. In music, you’re whatever you say you are, until people stop paying you. Then it changes.

The received wisdom is that older rock and pop artists still possessing the clout and back catalog to fill venues are referred to as “legacy” or “heritage” acts; few fans attend their shows for the purpose of hearing what they’ve recorded lately, but expect to hear the hits. Because the business model has been flipped, and performance is the money-maker, the hits are what these audiences are sure to hear.

The subtleties quickly become immersed in contradiction. To even casual fan, Buckingham and Stevie Nicks might seem integral to Fleetwood Mac, and yet the band began as a hardcore blues outfit featuring guitarist Peter Green, and it has taken a variety of shapes with various musicians before (and since) Buckingham and Nick first joined.

And, Buckingham left once before.

There are no original members in the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, currently touring with American Idol contestant Bo Bice as vocalist in the job made famous by David Clayton-Thomas. However, Clayton-Thomas wasn’t the band’s original singer; he came aboard after the group’s debut release.

Former singer Clayton-Thomas is 76 years of age and Bice is 43, and therein lies an important lesson, because it comes down to money, as in any business, and if many musical aggregations can plausibly say it’s all about the style of music paying customers want, and the songs they want to hear, then it’s of less importance who performs it.

Granted, there are on-off talents that cannot be replaced, like Jimi Hendrix, but at the same time, if people will turn out to hear passable renditions, then capitalism will provide them.

Accordingly, tribute bands have changed the world. Journey famously plucked singer Arnel Pineda from the Philippines via the internet. Current Chicago tenor Neil Donnell, the guy singing Peter Cetera’s and Jason Scheff’s songs, was a member of a Chicago tribute band in Canada.

KISS speaks of keeping the band alive with no original members at all, and Robert Lamm of Chicago confided similar thoughts to a journalist, and if this makes no sense to you, allow me to observe that in the past few years, I’ve seen multiple shows by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, neither of which might possibly have “original” members any younger than about 95 years of age.

Miller famously died in WWII, and neither Dorsey brother made it to the 1960s, and yet there’s nothing stopping musicians fresh out of college, as well as older players happy to have a regular gig, from performing Swing Era arrangements. The precise experience may not be the same. If you close your eyes, it’s also not tremendously different. Symphony orchestras have been doing it since Beethoven was still alive.

As age-depleted rock legacy bands and their tribute bands become one and the same, the chief considerations are legalities: who retains the rights?

Once the lawyers are happy, it’s all about selling tickets.

Another musical post from April, and the previous roundup:

Apologies for this rock-pop digression into my British musical tastes.

Roger’s Year in Music, 2018: The onset of a bimonthly roundup of the music playing in my head (January/February).