Review: Wily Veterans & Classic Rock?

Summer’s here and the time is right for some classic rock.  Or more accurately, new music from artists that at one time made classic rock and pop music.  Cynics might look at these people as once-vital artists who now have to cash in on past glory in order to keep the utilities on.  But I prefer to keep a warm spot on my heart for these folks, who are all too happy to remind us why we loved them in the first place.

Al Jardine is the only member of the original Beach Boys who wasn’t a blood relative of Brian Wilson.  Even so, Jardine’s new A Postcard from California manages to evoke the spirit of the Beach Boys more successfully than the recent work of even the Sandbox Genius (that would be Brian, who’s about to release an album of George Gershwin covers).  And by evoking the spirit of the Boys, I mean not only that sublime surf-and-hot-rods sound but also the goofy social commentary and cracked sense of humor that characterized a lot of the Beach Boys’ later work.  At 68 years old, Jardine’s voice is just as perfect as it was when he sang “Help Me Rhonda” in 1965.

Now Jardine isn’t the most prolific songwriter so he covers a handful of old Beach Boys tunes that won’t make you forget the originals – despite the presence of guest performers like Neil Young, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell of America, Steve Miller and Norton Buffalo, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Brian Wilson his own self.  One of those oldies is “Don’t Fight the Sea,” which is actually an unreleased Beach Boys track that features harmonies by the late Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Brian Wilson and Mike Love (Carl and Bruce cut their parts in the 1980s, Brian and Mike recorded their parts more recently).  This environmentally conscious song, like the others on this album, take on a new urgency with the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Brian Wilson turns up again on “Drivin’,” a duet that features self-serving vocal backgrounds from America … some of that weird humor here.  Another highlight is Jardine’s revisiting of his “California Saga” epic, this time with harmony help from Crosby, Stills and Young and with a spoken-word piece from Alec Baldwin (!).

Listening to A Postcard From California over the Fourth of July weekend, the album managed to grow on me.  You have to be in a certain place to enjoy this kind of Grandpa Rock – being an AARP member and qualifying for senior discounts doesn’t hurt – but if Al Jardine can take me back to another time and another place even for a fleeting moment,  I’d sign on for that trip any time.

Track samples from A Postcard From California at Al Jardine’s website

YouTube: “Help Me Rhonda” (with Steve Miller, Norton Buffalo and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Jimmy Webb made his name by writing classic hit songs in the 1960s like “MacArthur Park,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman.”  As a singer, he’s no Al Jardine … but Webb also gets big-name vocal help from the likes of Glen Campbell, Michael McDonald, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, Billy Joel and others on his new album Just Across The River.  There’s one new song, “Where Words End,” which is a great duet with former Doobies frontman McDonald.  The rest of the time Webb goes to the well of his greatest accomplishments: Campbell turns up on “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” and Lucinda Williams gives “Galveston” an authentic Texas feel.   On the other hand, Billy Joel is all wrong for “Wichita Lineman” and it’s really the only false note on an otherwise fine album.

MP3: “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by Jimmy Webb with Glen Campbell & Mark Knopfler

Judy Collins has been making albums for nearly 50 years and she’s managed to shine a spotlight on literally hundreds of songwriters.  Paradise is her 36th album and she has a voice that’s still bracing and tequila-clear as it was in 1961 (she’s 71).  And her song choice is eclectic as ever – from the haunting traditional “Dens of Yarrow” (with Stephen Stills) to the current “Kingdom Come” (a tribute to 9/11 firemen with Joan Baez).  “Diamonds and Rust” also features Baez, who wrote the song about then-boyfriend Bob Dylan; her voice blends perfectly with Collins to send shivers down your spine.  Tom Paxton’s “Last Thing On My Mind” is also excellent, Stills on guitar and vocals gives it a 1970s CSNY vibe.  Like the rest of the albums here, I didn’t expect to like Paradise on first listen.  It didn’t take long to get me hooked.

MP3: “Last Thing On My Mind” by Judy Collins with Stephen Stills

Buck Dharma rips a solo in Baytown

Blue Öyster Cult doesn’t have a new album, but I can’t let this occasion pass without mentioning their free show in Baytown, Texas, on July 3.  Led by founding members Eric Bloom on vocals and rhythm guitar and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser on lead guitar and vocals, the Cult ripped through a rousing 10-song set that reached deep into their catalog but never failed to entertain.  They turned “Then Came The Last Days of May” into a guitar showcase for Roeser and multi-instrumentalist Richie Castellano.  BÖC’s secret weapon is bassist Rudy Sarzo, whose history with Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne was showcased in an entertaining bit midway through the show.  Too old to rock and roll?  Not these guys!

YouTube: “Burnin’ For You,” July 3 in Baytown Texas

Thanks to cqlove12 for the video

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