DVD Review: Sting, “Live at the Olympia Paris”

There are two very clear sides to viewing Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting, the former singer/songwriter/bass player for The Police and solo star (since 1985).  One is the objective eye, which says he is, without question, one of the finest performers, musicians, singers, etc. of the last thirty-plus years and his concerts are wonderful executions of precision playing and flawlessness.  The other is the subjective eye, in which the word “insufferable” seems to always start the sentence, usually followed by expletives and hyperbole.  I would prefer to veer away from the latter as it doesn’t serve any purpose.

Here’s the takeaway from watching this new concert DVD, Live At The Olympia Paris:  it is, indeed, a flawless performance.  The man knows how to lead a band like a general with his troops; the musicians he has as his backing band (who he’s worked with for years, now) is a well-oiled, on point, tight machine.  The song selection is consistent, which is an important change, as in the past, Sting’s concerts have meandered into dangerously pretentious waters – there’s no escaping that irritating fact.  But here, he delivers the lion’s share of his last album, 57th & 9th (a very good, strong rock/pop album).  And that’s the point of this tour and DVD – this was Sting’s first “rock”-oriented tour in over 10 years (which I presume, means the last time he played rock was during The Police’s reunion shows).  The songs from that album works perfectly in a live setting – in this case, it was at the Olympia Theatre in Paris – and they have (as many songs or even total albums do) take on a greater punch and ferocity when played live.

Naturally, there are a good number of Sting “classics” from his solo canon and yes, he gives a fair number of The Police’s greatest hits their time.  All of which is to say, the audience certainly got their money’s worth from this performance.  From the academic standpoint, simply a great show – and the man’s voice is still pure, honeyed gold.

The problem is this is about as soul-less as you’ll get.  It’s a bland set of music – all the crackerjack musicianship doesn’t negate the fact that there’s nothing dynamic; nothing that makes you feel.  And I found that element distracting and off-putting.  Yes, musicians get tired and bored from doing the same songs on the tour cycle, but Sting is just too clinical, too antiseptic a performer to get the blood pumping.  At the same time, by seeing this DVD, it saves me the time, money and effort of having to actually go to one of his concerts since there’s no great warmth here.

Nevertheless, for the musical merits alone, he’s still one of the untouchables.  And there’s a lot to be said about someone who’s been doing it since 1977.  So full marks go to him and his band – and a very savvy choice of songs that provided a solid set.


Live At The Olympia Paris is currently available


Popdose Video Premiere: Hannah Williams & the Affirmations, “Late Nights & Heartbreak”

You could listen to Hannah Williams & the Affirmations’ “Late Night and Heartbreak” for the first time, but you already have.

Confused? The killer hook from this insane ’70s soul throwback track was used for Jay-Z’s bombshell “4:44.” Yeah, I thought it was a long-lost bleeding-soul, maybe Muscle Shoals record, too, and if a song can fool me, the Queen of Retro, it’s certainly proving its mettle as a timeless, classic sound.

I’ve honestly encountered few bands in the past decade that truly exemplify the iconic blue-eyed soul genre as much as Hannah Williams & the Affirmations. Williams’ voice falls somewhere between Linda Ronstadt and Gladys Knight, adding real depth to the horn-soaked instrumental tracks of her Affirmations. This track in particular, “Late Nights & Heartbreak,” showcases how that magic, time-honored concoction still really works and is still so, so important in music today.

Check out the beautifully shot video for “Late Nights & Heartbreak” below. Afterward, take another listen to “4:44” and be amazed at how seamlessly the clip complements Jay’s sick beats.

Album Review: Carey Frank, “Something to Remember Him By”

Ye gods, this is GOOD.  Like “mega-good”.  The moment the album started playing, I thought I was wrong and that this was an old Jimmy Smith album – A New Star, A New Sound Volume 2, perhaps – but that’s impossible since I know that album six ways to Sunday.  No, this astounding piece of work is courtesy of Carey Frank, who has been serving as the touring keyboardist in the Tedeschi Trucks band as of late.  Mr. Frank delivers here, with guitarist Bruce Forman, a devastating set of standards that screams “Blue Note, 1953”.  Fluid, warm and wholly embraceable, it’s a dynamic collection played by two obvious masters.  Something To Remember Him By is one of those albums you will, indeed, not forget.

The trade off of Hammond B3 runs by Mr. Frank and the delicate tastefulness of Mr. Forman’s guitar stylings are immediately felt on Chet Baker’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is”; the sympathetic guitar notes that run parallel to the organ on Cole Porter’s “All Of You” is just so well-placed; of course, I get very emotional when I hear “I Remember You” (albeit the “hit” Frank Ifield version – one of my all-time favorite songs) but hearing this, I would SWEAR that Jimmy Smith did, indeed, do a version as well almost the exact same.  But nonetheless, I love the way this swings; this is done with so much soul.  As that songs reminds me of something mournful in the way I grew up with it, here it’s buoyant and joyful. On the legendary “September Song”, aside from the quiet ease of Mr. Forman’s guitar, my guess (and that’s all it is) is Mr. Frank is deftly playing an accordion (unless he’s a master harmonica player) – either way, it’s breathtaking.

Eleven songs that hopefully anyone with a musical sense and a quietly romantic side will take to heart.  This is an easily embraceable album and shines – with good reason.  Carey Frank and Bruce Forman have plumped from a very rich tapestry of true, classic music and not only breathe new life into these songs but introduce them (hopefully) to a new generation.

Absolutely outstanding.


Something To Remember Him By is currently available


DVD/CD Review: Jeff Beck, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”

I’ve been a fan and was influenced very early on by The Yardbirds.  I was never keen on Eric Clapton (and still am not) or Jimmy Page (although I do love Led Zeppelin).  I’m also not a great fan of guitar virtuosos.  Watching the uber-flashy style of someone like Eddie Van Halen was always a cringe.  But Jeff Beck IS the one true master – and he was, to me, THE Yardbirds’ guitarist who mattered.  Go back to “Over, Under, Sideways, Down”, “Shapes Of Things” or “Mr. You’re A Better Man Than I” – his playing was fluid, took good songs and gave them life and his sound was absolutely his own.  Hence, he’s the only guitarist whose career I’ve followed from the time he founded The Jeff Beck Group in 1968 through all his solo albums up to Flash.  There have been moments, I’m happy to say, when I’ve been able to cop a lick or two or nail one of Beck’s solos in my own playing but he’ll always be the guru as long as I play a Telecaster.

Even though he joined The Yardbirds in 1965, in 2016, Beck celebrated his 50th year as a living guitar legend with an unbelievable performance at the Hollywood Bowl and he did it in style with some incredible guests to help out – all heavy hitters in their own right.  Among the names on the bill include Beth Hart, Billy Gibbons and Steven Tyler.  Just from that alone, you should immediately understand that this was not going to be some ordinary concert with “special appearances”.  This also marked a major step forward for the newest gathering of players backing Mr. Beck, including powerhouse singer Rosie Bones and guitarist extraordinaire Carmen Vandenberg (both of the band Bones).  Longtime collaborator Jan Hammer is back behind the keyboards and there is no dearth of Jeff Beck classics in the mix of numbers performed.  Early on – the second song of this set – we’re immediately treated to the epic “Over Under Sideways Down” which follows into “Heart Full Of Soul” and “For Your Love” – three of The Yardbirds’ greatest hits and done with great energy with stellar vocals by Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie (!).  The monumental “Beck’s Bolero” is next (and what a magnificent band he has), leading into The Jeff Beck Group standard “Rice Pudding” and onto “Morning Dew”, again, sung by Mr. Hall.  One of my favorite pieces of Mr. Beck’s from 1980’s There And Back (probably my most-loved Beck solo album) is “Star Cycle”, where he’s joined by Mr. Hammer, who shoots keyboard melody to match Mr. Beck’s guitar fireworks.  Of the guest appearances that stand out (in a show filled with stand out moments), the incredible Beth Hart (who I’ve loved since she was on Atlantic Records when I worked there) rips through a version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” that induces chills; the legendary Buddy Guy joins Mr. Beck for “Let Me Love You” and Steven Tyler just tears the roof off the Hollywood Bowl with his near-perfect imitation of Rod Stewart on “Shapes Of Things”.  The finale is a tribute to Prince, as the group tears into “Purple Rain”.  All in all, a breathtaking collection and gathering of performances.

This release comes as a Blu-ray/DVD with 2 CDs; so thanks, Mr. Beck for your 50-plus years; because of you, my 39 years of guitar playing have always been infused with your influence and I’m grateful.  So too am I glad that there’s a document of this celebration, which is so richly deserved.


Live At The Hollywood Bowl is currently available


Soul Serenade: Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”

In this column, I’ve written about everyone from superstars who ran numerous hits up the charts to one-hit wonders who only had that single moment in the sun. Then are those who broke out of the gate with their big hit and then never repeated that initial success. It has to be the most frustrating feeling of all. Such an artist is Barbara Lynn who, while she had other chart records and even some R&B hits, never managed to equal the enormous success of her first release.

Lynn was born in Beaumont, Texas and began her musical pursuits as a piano player before she switched to guitar. Surely a female, African-American, left-handed electric guitarist who wrote her own songs was a rare thing at the time. Lynn’s influences were a mixture of blues artists like Jimmy Reed and pop purveyors like Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Lynn began her career playing in local clubs and her break came when singer Joe Barry caught her act and introduced her to producer Huey P. Meaux.

Barbara Lynn

Meaux owned SugarHill Recording Studios in New Orleans along with a few record labels. But when it was time for Lynn to record her debut single she went to Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studio. The song that was chosen was one written by Lynn and Meaux called “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” Among the session players was one Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John. Jamie Records released the single in August 1962 and it shot up to the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart while also nudging into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the success of her debut single, Lynn hit the road with some of the biggest stars of the day including James Brown, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, and Marvin Gaye. There were appearances at the Apollo theater and on American Bandstand. Lynn continued to release singles for Jamie until 1966. Among them were “You’re Gonna Need Me,” “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’),” a Lynn-written song that was covered by the Rolling Stones, “Don’t Spread it Around,” and “It’s Better to Have It.” All of these titles were Top 40 R&B hits.

After leaving Jamie, Lynn signed with Meaux’s Tribe label where she had another R&B chart hit with “You Left the Water Running.” In 1967, Lynn signed with Atlantic Records. Dissatisfaction with the label together with the desire to raise her growing family led Lynn to mostly opt out of the music business in the 1970s although while living in Los Angeles during this time she did play a few club gigs and released one-off singles here and there.

In 1984, Lynn toured Japan where she recorded a live album. After her husband died, Lynn returned to Beaumont in and 1994 she recorded her first studio album in over 20 years. Several more albums followed most recently Blues & Soul Situation in 2004. Lynn received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty-Five

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Forty Five (just like the 7″ record that spins with one glorious song on the “A” side and maybe a hidden gem on the “B” side)

2017 was a tumultuous year for many individuals and, it seemed, for the world in general.  Jon and Rob wrap up the first eleven months of Radio City by assessing the how’s and why’s of where things went, where they stand and what can be done in moving forward.  This is a very savvy, deep and thoughtful conversation (albeit permeated by the laughs our intrepid hosts can muster in the light of seriousness AND ridiculousness).  Listen in and you may find a spark of hope in the words these two have to offer.

Radio City just may be the answer; it’s certainly a light at the end of the dark tunnel known as 2017…

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty Five

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Album Review: The Rockin’ Bricks, “Rockin’ Bricks Compleat”

To start 2018 off the right way, it’s time to step into the Wayback Machine, circa the late ’70’s/early ’80’s in the New York/New Jersey area.  My band was part of that scene; Two Minutes Hate began in August, 1983 and was a going concern until 1985 (soon morphing into The Punch Line).  It was a wonderfully ripe time for local bands and a plethora of clubs in the area.  Maxwell’s aside, there were places like The Court Tavern, The Jetty, The Dirt Club and so on, as well as the clubs in Manhattan; local bands were everywhere, a good portion of which were doing original music, the same as we were.  A few of those bands made it to national/international prominence.  But there were quite a few great bands who didn’t and have had the years neglect to give them their due.  So I’d like to correct this oversight.

The Rockin’ Bricks, from New Brunswick were one such band (the name was conceived as a quasi-humorous perversion of Flamin’ Groovies, a band much-admired by guitarist Pete Tomlinson).  The Bricks rose out of the ruins of Big Help in 1979 – Big Help being the late Fran Kowalski’s songwriting/group vehicle following his stint with Alex Chilton’s Cossacks.  Chris Breetveld (bass, keyboards, vocals), Bill DiMartino (drums) and Pete Tomlinson (guitar, vocals) had played together for years in Central New Jersey, prior to their time with Big Help, so continuing on as a unit made sense.

In early 1980, the trio recruited Joe Vocino (guitar, vocals) and Tom Priester (keyboards). While failing to progress past rehearsal stage, the band provided a workable structure for Vocino and Breetveld’s original material. Unfortunately, Vocino left in late ’80 (sadly, he passed away in 2007, writing and playing to the end). Subsequently, the quartet began to play the occasional show at clubs that featured original music, like Trenton’s City Gardens. It was around this period that the Bricks began to feature, in addition to their own material, spontaneous versions of songs as far afield as Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky”, the Stones’ “All Sold Out”, and, on one beer-soaked occasion, “Light My Fire” – having fun and winging it onstage remained a Bricks’ hallmark.

In mid-1981, Priester left to attend Hunter College, and the “classic” Bricks lineup was born with the addition of Joe Hosey (guitar, vocals). High school pals with Mr. Tomlinson, Mr. Hosey had most recently been in Trenton’s Shades, at that time probably the most popular “original” band in that region. He brought with him songs like “Heartbeat” and “Can’t Say No”, both to feature on the band’s Having A Wild Weeknight EP.

Lineup finally solidified, the Bricks struck upon a bit of serendipity when several bars in New Brunswick (notably, the Court Tavern) decided to feature local combos for cheap entertainment. Combined with the then-drinking age of 18, and New Brunswick’s enormous student population (as the home of Rutgers University), the forces were aligned to generate a vibrant local scene, and The Rockin’ Bricks were on the proverbial ground floor. The Court Tavern and the numerous clubs that sprung up in its wake comprised the heart of the live circuit they thrived in for the remainder of their lifespan. (It should be noted that the most renowned band to emerge from this scene were The Smithereens, friends of the Bricks from early on. Drummer Dennis Diken would, in fact, substitute for DiMartino on more than one occasion.)

Recording was always an aim of the Bricks, mostly encouraged by Breetveld, an avid 4-track reel-to-reel devotee. The Bricks not only worked in professional 24-track studios (where they recorded the aforementioned …Wild Weeknight, engineered by Andy Wallace, who went on to great acclaim as a producer/engineer with an impossibly long list of credits – most notably as mixer of Nirvana’s Nevermind), but several smaller facilities. This has proven fortunate in hindsight, as they have plenty of examples of the breadth of their material, collected on this magnificent retrospective, Rockin’ Bricks Compleat. “Pop” (as in the questionable genre “power pop”) was always their primary thrust, but the far-flung influences of the group members (all of whom wrote) gave their sound an unidentifiable quality.

Of course, their eclectic nature did not lend itself to easy definition, which did them no favors when presented to “big time” record company A&R personnel, all of whom passed on the group. By this time (early 1983), entropy and the time-honored “personal differences” had overtaken the Bricks’ early optimism, and Breetveld was the first to leave. He was replaced by Peter Tutak, a stellar instrumentalist (seen in the group’s only “official” video, “Heartbeat”), but by this time, the Bricks’ days could be counted on one hand (well, maybe both hands: still, their time left was brief).  By late 1983, the Rockin’ Bricks were no more.

And here we find this remarkable document of the Bricks’ recorded output which is a must.  Starting with the percussive throttle of “Planning My Weekend”, it has all the best elements of the early ’80’s new wave:  angular, jagged guitar lines, an incessantly catchy rumble, tongue in cheek lyrics and instantly makes you sit up and take notice.  “That Ain’t Right” is a definitive power pop classic; harmonies galore and built around 7th chords, it should have been on F.M. radio; “I Won’t Give It Up” is a pure punk piece with 100 m.p.h. tempo (comparable with The Buzzcocks’ style but with a hint of The Stranglers’ organ punches); “Trial And Error” has a Cheap Trick vibe with a heavier sounding guitar and “tougher” sound but still with top form melodic structure and “Foreign Girl” definitely gives The dB’s a run for their money with the sound and texture of the guitars – another “lost” radio gem.  “Someone To Love” would have fit so well on the playlists of WLIR or WHTG, sandwiched between R.E.M. and The Police as it embodies the era, but doesn’t sound dated and “T.V. Station” could easily have been their “crossover” hit!

Twenty-three tracks; not a “this is just okay” one in the bunch – all great; all varied and full of youth, excitement and life.  As it was meant to be.  This album definitely captured a band and a time beautifully and I’m so glad it’s available for all to hear.

Considering there was a vague feeling of unfinished business that hung in the consciousness of the various members for many, many years, in December 2017, The Rockin’ Bricks (including keyboardist Priester) re-formed for a single show. Slowed (perhaps) a step by age, but still brimming with the rock & roll spirit, the show was a complete success, and sent what once upon a time were one of New Jersey’s finest groups out on the high note they so richly deserved.  But let us hope that there may be more to come from The Rockin’ Bricks; it would only be fair.


Rockin’ Bricks Compleat is currently available