November 28, 2011

My Introduction to what was Ragweed

The best part about starting this blog has been going back and rediscovering the love I have for music in general, but especially the songs and artists that have helped make my passion grow.  Today I’ll review how one band truly opened my eyes to what else was out there.

In 2002 I was graduating college (albeit a few years late) and as a gift I received a ticket to what was then known as “The Pat Green and Cory Morrow Festival” in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  I was a casual fan of both the headliners and knew of a few of the other performing bands through friends of mine.  My expectations were small; ski, have a few drinks, meet some interesting people, and hear a few country songs.  Not a bad week, huh?

Part of my welcome packet contained flyers for different shows and a three song CD sampler that I am sure is long out of date by now. The name on the sampler was strange and certainly didn’t sound very country, and neither did the guys on the cover.  I didn’t pay it much mind, but kept hearing a slow building buzz the entire week about this band that virtually everyone was there to see and I had no clue whom they were.  The band in question proceeded to turn my musical world right side up and open the door to a flood of new artists that I still follow to this day.  The band was Cross Canadian Ragweed and though they are no more…they will always be music royalty around Texas. 

The CD sampler included “17” and ‘Don’t Need You”, which would not only go on to be staples of their set lists, but also spawned music videos.  The third, “Suicide Blues”, was also a mainstay of the set lists to a smaller degree.  The songs were part the Self-Titled/ Purple album that came out shortly after the Music Fest, an album that seemed to push them further into the stratosphere of national notoriety. 

What really got my attention was my first live show with the Boys.  After a week full of build-up they were closing out the festival in the ballroom of the main hotel in town.  I was told to get there early or probably miss out due to crowds.  All this excitement and talk, and seeing the faces of the fans virtually salivating led me to believe I was about to see something special, and did I ever.  I can now only wish I had a set list from that night, mainly just to see how different it was from their later years and to see the progression they took.  Stone Temple Pilots’ “Dead and Bloated” blared through the speakers and greeted Ragweed to the stage. And they handled the rest…knocking the socks off any and all comers and doing what Cody now likes to refer as “melting the people’s face off”.  It was like seeing a puppeteer pull the strings and having everything and everybody go right along with him.  The one song I do remember seeing was “Boys From Oklahoma”, which I know was a disdained song for them but on this night seeing every other lead singer do their own verse and turning the song into a 15 minute opus was truly special.  To see the obvious bond that this new-to-me-band had with all the other performers just further emphasized I was in the right place at the right time to see something special. 

It could not have been a better way to close out what become my new love of all things Texas Country (and Oklahoma, I guess).  The festival was never officially renamed “Skiing with Ragweed” or anything like that, but there is no doubt that after that trip, they owned that festival along with any other stage they touched.  I look forward to reaching into the vaults and discussing some other albums by Ragweed as well the brilliant work that is being done by the Departed, Cody’s new band.

November 15, 2011

Guns N Roses ~ Houston, TX: 11.04.11

I was too young to see them in their heyday; strife, disagreements, and pettiness took away many more lost opportunities, and then there was the Chinese Democracy debacle.  So after way too many years of cancelled tours and millions of dollars being wasted NOT giving the fans what they have been salivating for over the years, Guns N Roses held up their end of the bargain and brought the circus to town.  And subsequently… blew the fucking roof off of it!  
There was a great mix of old, new, and covered music thrown in with Axl’s voice sounding like it was 1988 all over again.  For a man who has the range from an opera singer high to South Park chef low, it is amazing he still even has a voice.  He even dusted off every dance move you remember seeing in the videos from back in the day for good measure.  The song selection was dominated by the bookends of their catalog with Appetite for Destruction and Chinese Democracy getting a majority of the attention.  The usual favorites from Use Your Illusion I and II were sprinkled in as well.  Some notable exceptions were “Civil War”, “Yesterdays”, “Shotgun Blues”, “My Michelle”, and “Anything Goes”.  There was such a rebellious, ‘us against the world’ nature to their earlier music that so many people associated with and is why they became such anthems.   It would have been great if some of these could have taken the place of a few Chinese Democracy cuts, but as a beggar I cannot be choosy.  Then again this is a business and you always need to be pushing forward, even if your current product isn’t the flavor that your fans crave.   I won’t go through the entire set list—but you can see it for yourself (below).
Though Slash is irreplaceable, the collective band that Axl has put together is great; on point and professional and they know to let the lead guy do his thing.  Each member was given a chance to show off his goods with a solo and showed why they were selected by a notoriously picky front man with an astute eye for perfection.
For a guy on the downside of his 40’s, Axl still has the aura about him that makes a lead singer.  The ability to take the audience with him and say here’s where we’re going for next three hours.  And yes I said three hours.  Like I said, they brought it! 
All in all, it was a childhood dream show I can cross off my bucket list and I have absolutely no complaints.  I can only hope Axl can keep the train on track and bring the circus back to town again.
Dexter Intro
1.   Chinese Democracy
2.   Welcome To The Jungle
3.   It's So Easy
4.   Mr. Brownstone
5.   Sorry
6.   Better
7.   Estranged
8.   Rocket Queen
9.   Richard Fortus Guitar Solo  -- (James Bond Theme)
10.  Live and Let Die -- (Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
11.  This I Love
12.  Riff Raff -- (AC/DC cover)
13.  My Generation -- (The Who cover)(Tommy Stinson on Lead Vocals, w/Band Intros)
14.  Dizzy Reed Piano Solo -- (Baba O' Riley)
15.  Street Of Dreams
16.  You Could Be Mine
17.  DJ Ashba Guitar Solo -- (Ballad Of Death)
18.  Sweet Child O' Mine
19.  Instrumental Jam -- (Another Brick in The Wall Pt. 2)
20.  Axl Rose Piano Solo -- (Someone Saved My Life Tonight/Goodbye Yellow Brickroad)
21.  November Rain
22.  Bumblefoot Guitar Solo -- (Pink Panther Theme)
23.  Don't Cry
24.  Whole Lotta Rosie -- (AC/DC cover)
25.  Knockin' On Heaven's Door -- (Bob Dylan cover)
26.  Nightrain
27.  Instrumental Jam
28.  Madagascar
29.  Out Ta Get Me
30.  Instrumental Jam
31.  Patience
32.  Shackler's Revenge
33.  Instrumental Jam
34. Paradise City

November 11, 2011

Jack Ingram ~ Self Titled

Jack Ingram is a bit of an anomaly.  He sang the National Anthem at game 6 of the World Series, yet he didn’t even headline the last festival where I saw him.  His songs have hit the top 40 on national radio, yet I saw him perform at the Firehouse Saloon here in Houston only a few months ago.  Every time he plays he displays the same energy, same drive to please, and is always looking like he is having the time of his life. It’s almost as if he truly doesn’t care if he is performing in front of 100 or 10,000. And he always closes with his signature statement, “I’m Jack Ingram and I play Country music.”

When I first saw Jack perform it was at a high school dance circa 1994/1995.  He had a self-titled album to his credit and the crowd in the palm of his hands.  I purchased the album that night and for some stupid reason tucked it away for a couple of years until I finally came across it and gave it a chance.  I could kick myself for delaying my introduction to what has become Texas Country.

The album is a straight forward introduction to a man trying to live out his dreams.  Eight original cuts with four additional covers of Collin Boyd, Merle Haggard, Robert Earl Keen, and the great Willie Nelson.  I guess if you are going to aim high you might as well shoot for the moon by covering some of the biggest names in Country.  And he pulls it off with ease with his songs flowing right along with the other masters of their craft.  From the love songs of “Me and You”, “Make my Heart Flutter”, and the beautifully haunting “Drive On”, to the down on his luck-just trying to make its of “Beat up Ford”, “Beyond my Means”, and “Mama Tried”, Jack sings with an attitude of having been around the block and knowing just what he’s doing. 

The two standout tracks to me are “Sight Unseen” and “Things get Cloudy”, with the former about the search for life and trying to find your niche whenever obstacles get in your way.  “Searching for a feeling I call home” is an easy enough line for anyone to relate to.  It is always funny to me when you hear an upbeat song and automatically assume that the guy gets the girl at the end of the song, but then he does not.  “Things Get Cloudy” is that song where the girl in question is always just beyond your reach, but you know in your heart of hearts she is the right one. 

If you are looking to hear any of these songs live I wouldn’t hold my breath, as I believe the only one I remember hearing anytime recently was a remade version of “Make my Heart Flutter”.  The album is probably only available on his website or, if you get lucky, at a used music store (they still have those, right?).  It is a quick listen as half the songs are under three minutes, and if you already enjoy his music it will be a great addition to the library.  I will always treasure it as my introduction to a whole new scene of music, and Jack will always have my thanks for that.

November 10, 2011

Bleu Edmondson ~ Southland

When trying to figure out how to start this blog I could only think of starting with someone who I was familiar with and whose music I already had a working knowledge of, Bleu Edmondson.  I decided to do things differently in that I wanted to start from the beginning with his first album, Southland, and see how it has fared over the years and to see where it has in fact led him.  To me it is always amazing to see the transformation an artist makes along the way to becoming who they want to be. 
Southland was released in 2001 and was produced by the famed Lloyd Maines which, in its self, is amazing to get a highly respected producer to even consider helping you after only learning how to play the guitar a few years prior.  Obviously Mr. Maines saw something in both the man and the music that others did not see.  As far as the album goes, it is a solid effort put forth all the way around that produced some great sing along songs, insight into the workings of a young twenty something, and glimpses into where Bleu wanted to go lyrically. 
“$50 and a Flask of Crown” is not only the first song on the album and his first ever single but still widely the song most associated with him.  It is a song penned by Matt Powell who is also a very talented and gifted songwriter/performer and is just a good natured song about hitting the town up big and having a good time.
My favorite song on the album will always be “Travelin Man”— not for the scene it paints of driving down the blacktop late at night and observing all that is around you, but more so as just a simple song about wanting a drink and every damn store being closed along the way.  This was Bleu’s second single and is a great number to get your feet moving.
“It’s About You”, “What I left Behind”, and “Further Down the Line” seem to all trace back to failed relationships that we all go through and the struggles that can be had by someone who chooses Bleu’s line of work.  They speak of the past, misfortunes, longing for, and ultimately coming out on top and getting the last laugh.  He has a keen wit that seems to always prevail when love has lost.
Looking back on “Coming Down”, it may have been the pivotal song on the album.  Not from the standpoint of that it should have been a breakout single but from Bleu being able to paint a portrait outside of himself and tell the story of a fictional character.  It is very graphic in its portrayal of a man who does what he thinks is necessary to provide for his family though the end result is jail time and postcards from your woman living with her new man.  It is not so much the story but the way Bleu was able to see outside of himself and create a set of characters.  This was main instance on the album where you saw Bleu painting outside the lines and would lead to some beautifully crafted songs in future albums.
A clever ‘ode to the truck driving man’ written by Brian Rung is “Hell on 18 Wheels”.  Who knew that truckers and band mates had so much in common but it makes a lot sense when you think about it. 
“You Don’t Know Me” seems, as a song, to be Bleu’s defense after a difficult breakup.  It features one of my favorite lines, “a drunken king with a handmade crown”, and seems to be just a song about a man beating himself up over and over again not thinking he’s good enough and not letting others get close to him because of how he feels.
The album is rounded out on a positive note with “Live Oak Lullaby” and “Laughin Right Out Loud” as they are songs about finding new love and making plans for the future as well as sitting around drinking and enjoying the smaller things in life. 
In the end, it’s certainly not Shakespeare but it is a very solid freshman effort from a man that was young and was trying to find his way in the ever evolving music scene that is/was Texas Country.  He has gone on to release three more studio albums and two live albums that are stellar and will be reviewed in the coming future and is a relentless touring act that can now be caught throughout the country.