musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: July 2018

David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down album is reborn as part of the upcoming Loving The Alien (1983-1988) box set

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David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down album, while frequently panned, then and now, by the musical elite (and by some fans) for not being his best work, holds a special place in my heart. It was at the time of this record’s release and subsequent world tour that I was most deeply immersed in my Bowie fandom. I had just begun publishing a David Bowie newsletter with legendary fan Rose Winters called ‘Bowie Bits’ (her name, not mine! It would soon be changed to ‘Sound & Vision’), and I followed the European and U.S. legs of that tour, reporting on the highly ambitious and wildly extravagant Glass Spider Tour shows. So now, 31 years later (egads!), the much-maligned Never Let Me Down album has been not just re-recorded but remade by former Bowie collaborators Reeves Gabrels, Mario McNulty and others, as part of an eye-popping 11-CD, 15-record box set called Loving The Alien (Warner Music/Parlophone), which will see its release on October 12.

Before I launch into all the info., which is head-spinning, have a listen to “Zeroes,” the first single from the collection.

Gone is the overbearing, leaden ’80s production, and in its place, a sleek, clean acoustic guitar centered mix that puts Bowie’s vocals up front and center, where they belong. From the original, they kept the best parts — David’s acoustic guitar and vocals, and Peter Frampton’s classy sitar lines, which come along like a delicate string of pearls to beautifully offset the otherwise sparse and understated instrumentation. The old version now sounds quite dated, but this sparkles brightly and sounds timeless. It’s exquisite.

As Reeves reveals in a recent BBC Radio 6 interview, David was not happy with the NLMD album. The year after it came out in 1987, he was already voicing his disappointment with the production. In 2008, he remixed “Time Will Crawl” with McNulty, recording new strings and new drums (courtesy of Bowie’s drummer from 1991-2004, Sterling Campbell, who is also on this upcoming release). In the album notes, Bowie wrote, “Oh, to redo the rest of the album.” He has now gotten his wish.

Other musicians featured on the reimagined Never Let Me Down album include David Torn on guitar and Tim Lefebvre on bass, who played on ★ (Blackstar). Also part of Never Let Me Down (2018) is a string quartet with arrangements by Nico Muhly and a special guest cameo by Laurie Anderson on Shining Star (Makin’ My Love).

The set includes newly remastered versions of Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down (original and 2018 versions), Glass Spider (Live Montreal ’87), the previously unreleased Serious Moonlight live album, Dance (a collection of original remixes) and Re:Call 4, a non-album, alternate version, b-sides and soundtrack music compilation.

Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988) was clearly designed with the fan in mind. NLMD’s new artwork features previously unpublished images from Greg Gorman’s original cover photo session. The 128-page booklet has rare images from many Bowie photographers of the time, including Gorman, Herb Ritts and Denis O’Regan; historical press reviews and album technical notes from producers/engineers Nile Rodgers, Hugh Padgham, Mario McNulty and Justin Shirley-Smith.

Read all the details and see the full track listing for the Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988) box set — and Pre-Order It On Amazon!

This is Parlophone Records’ fourth box set in a series of special releases that pays tribute to Bowie’s career from 1969. The other critically acclaimed sets include Five Years (1969 – 1973), Who Can I Be Now? (1974 – 1976) and A New Career in a New Town (1977 – 1982).

For Gabrels, the re-recording of Never Let Me Down was an emotional undertaking. As he explains in the BBC Radio 6 interview,

The first song I worked on was Zeroes… One of the things that we used to do all the time was David and I would often record the acoustic guitars facing each other, both of us playing at the same time. It gave it a little more of a natural feel. So, we would record together. I had my headphones on, and I had my guitar that I was playing in my right ear, and David was in the left ear, and his vocal was in the center in the headphones. I had my eyes closed while I was tracking. And in my mind’s eye, I saw David sitting across from me, and the way his body language was, and the way his eyes would look while he was playing. Because he would get this faraway look, but he was looking at you at the same time. I recorded a pass of me playing acoustic guitar with David, and when I stopped, I opened my eyes, and I expected to see David sitting there. I got that feeling out of the way early, because I knew at some point I was going to hear his vocal or something was going to happen that would bring tears to my eyes… In my mind, he was there.

david bowie official site | reeves gabrels official site | BBC Radio 6 interview (starts 45:00 in) | David Bowie – Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988) press release

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Kevin Blake Goodwin’s Dissonance Sheds Light (and Hope) on Addiction

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If this was just about a couple of amazing guitarists or a mind-melting sand animation artist, that would be enough inspiration for me. Add to the mix a mission to bring attention to the often taboo subject of drug and alcohol addiction, and it’s an unbeatable combination. Kevin Blake Goodwin (a.k.a. Blake Goodwin) is a “hybrid electric and acoustic guitar player” with fingerstyle and technical mad guitar skills. He performs what is known as Djent metal guitar, a rhythmic, progressive and technically complex style of playing. He is also a recovering addict, so this is personal. What he has done is to embark on a wildly ambitious project with some of the best musicians, artists and technical people in the business for an album, tour and 30-minute cinematic short film, raising $15,000+ (and counting) through his Kickstarter campaign.

It’s hard to know where to begin in describing this massive undertaking. Here’s a bit of an explanation, with a delicious taste of some of the musical delights in store.

After beating his addiction in 2014, Goodwin won the 2015 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition, which brings together the best international acoustic guitar players. He’s gone on to advocate for worthy causes such as disabled veterans, addiction recovery and expanded opportunities for musicians. In 2016, he founded FRETMONKEY Records, an independent guitar record label that now boasts a roster of 23 guitar players from 10 different countries. But he isn’t just an outstanding guitar player who has a label — he’s also the audio engineer, videographer and producer.

Here’s a little more of his playing — a sneak peak at the Dissonance album.

And the world renowned sand animation artist, Joe Costello? You can see some of his previous work, for PlayStation’s “God of War”:

Costello’s incredible work will be featured in the Dissonance film as well as an art animation retelling of the story. This short film, with its accompanying soundtrack, addresses the “spiritual warfare of addiction” as well as offering hope for recovery. It chronicles Goodwin’s own harrowing journey through a dark and nightmarish setting, and he admits it’s not easy viewing. However, as he explains, it ends “with a strong message of hope, help, and redemption.”

The album features 8 highly complex guitar compositions, with collaborations from world-renowned guitarists Adrian Bellue, Jason Richardson and Felix Martin, plus metal vocalist Shayley Bourget and saxophonist Jameson Burton. The album is mixed and mastered by Arch Echo guitarist and engineer, Adam Bentley.

There are also plans to take this important message (and the music) on the road, with all sorts of special electronics, lighting, film and sound to be added as their budget allows. He has reached his initial goal of $15,000, but the more money they can raise, the more impressive the live show can be. So, donate to his Kickstarter campaign now! There are many great incentives, from MP4 digital copies and CD/DVD packages all the way up to private house concerts and high-end production of your own EP or music video.

web | facebook | twitter | instagram | soundcloud | youtube | fretmonkey records

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Lars Eriksson Conjures the Vitaliebröderna Pirate Gang of Gotland

photo by Adam Hultberg

photo by Adam Hultberg

To listen to the lush music of Lars Eriksson is to allow yourself to be transported to a distant shore. Recently released is the first single from his forthcoming 6-track EP. “I Love You Now” is a beautifully fluid piece that flows around a gypsy violin and Eriksson’s softly sensuous vocals.

Lars Eriksson is a Swedish-born musician who first came to public attention following appearances on the Swedish Idol TV show in 2008. By that time, in his late 20s, he had already written 200 songs. He played piano at age 5 and started writing music when he was 9, performing at his school. He took up guitar at 16 and played with friends under the band name “The Jisreels” at local shows and on tour.

His previous recordings, which can be listened to on Spotify, include Dictions and Contradictions (2012), Rust and Golden Dust (2011), two demo albums titled As It Were and If You Will, plus EPs Inconsequencia and Lonely Jim. Eriksson collaborated with Elin Sigvardsson on the single “Love,” which reached #5 on the Swedish singles chart, and also worked with Anders Bagge and Birger Pettersson (High Gear Music label).

The songs on the new EP were written on the Swedish island of Gotland, during a three-year period when Erikkson lived there. The mood of this special places infuses the songs, some of which incorporate mystic elements that conjure ancient times. The title, Guds vän och allas fiende (“Friend of God and enemy of all”), was the battle cry of the Vitaliebröderna pirate gang, who lived on the island of Gotland in the Middle Ages.

On the EP, Eriksson (who performs on acoustic guitar, vocals and pump organ), is joined by David Åhlén (studio technician Gotland, violin), Magnus Olsson (drums), Carl Ekerstam (electric guitar), Jonas Nilsson (double bass) and Elin Ivarsson (background vocals).

Artwork for the EP and singles are by the Spanish artist Lucía Espinós Bermejo The digital-only release of the EP is on September 15, preceded by the second single, “Breadcrumbs” (August 15).

facebook | soundcloud | spotify | patreon | wikipedia

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Instant Karma

There’s this particular off-ramp in Cambridge, Massachusetts that takes one from the typically fast-paced Mass Pike immediately into the pages of Dante’s Inferno. Though instead of the nine circles of Hell, if one wishes to turn left on Memorial Drive, one must quickly traverse the six lanes of hellish traffic. If you have the mixed fortunate of living or working in Harvard Square and you own an automobile, perhaps you know of what I speak?

If it is late at night or very early in the morning (say, 3 a.m.), it’s a relatively simple journey across those half-dozen lanes. However, at most times of the day or night, it is a merge-happy nightmare, not at all helped by equally annoyed motorists who are loath to allow entry, even though they might have every intention of heading to the right, in the opposite direction.

So, it happened one fine day that I was driving to my friend Victor’s place. As I came off the exit ramp and approached the first perilous crossing, I saw the wall-to-wall vehicles, appearing to all the world like colorful rows of angry, snorting bulls. My heart sank. I put my left turn signal on and gently, pleadingly, tried to slip in front of a car that seemed to be slightly lagging. Immediately, a man sitting in the passenger seat put is hand up, palm out, as if to say, “STOP. NO.” He had a stiff, sour expression on his face, which instantly soured my own mood and made me very angry.

Suddenly, I hated Massachusetts drivers, despised Boston traffic, and wondered if my decision to stay in the area and not move to the West Coast was the wrong choice. I am often way too affected by others’ bad moods, and this was an extreme example. I yelled out profanities (which of course, neither he nor his driver heard), and my stomach tightened.

I let them pass, and the very next car let me in, but that act of kindness did nothing to wipe his ugly, contorted face from my mind. Then, I saw her. She was old, in tattered clothes, standing by the side of the road with a shopping basket of belongings. The homeless often panhandle for money in that spot, as there are so many trapped motorists, all day long, and who knows? Someone might be kind enough to spare a few coins or even a dollar. I usually don’t. But today, I saw her, and my heart broke. I thought about how horrible and selfish our world had become, epitomized by that severe man with his icy hand gesture.

The woman hobbled over on a cane, her clothes hanging off her. It was very cold out, and I wondered if she was warm enough. Probably not. I quickly handed her a dollar through a hastily opened window, as the lights had changed and the cars started to move again.

As soon as I had done this, I felt the weight of anger and hatred lift. I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually lighter. It was immediate.

I drove the rest of the way to Harvard Square. I usually have trouble finding parking, but that day, I turned the corner onto Victor’s street, and there was an empty space right there, waiting for me.

Was this a good deed returned?

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Tanglewood Magic with Emmylou Harris and Ry Cooder

Disclaimer: In the interest of transparency, I will reveal that I’m writing this remembrance a half year after the event, which was on July 1, 2018. However, it was such a wonderful experience, I feel I must mark it in some meaningful way, even as tardy as I am.

This is one of those amazing events that you occasionally stumble upon, entirely by accident. I had heard that Ry Cooder was touring, and knowing the my friend Victor is a big fan, I had done a little research to see where he’d be playing. I think there was a local show, but then I saw, to my astonishment, that he would be performing with the legendary Emmylou Harris — at Tanglewood, no less!

I’ve never seen either of them, so this was too good to pass up. I had been to Tanglewood Music Center, summer home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was with my parents, when I was very young, and it was most certainly for classical music, which Mom and Dad favored.

This time, Victor and I took the drive out to Lenox, Massachusetts, for a well-deserved road trip. Just getting away from my demons and the mile-long To Do list was well worth the time and expense. Lenox is a charming town in the Berkshires. The entire area, once you exit the Mass Pike, is laid back and relaxing.

And the show? Magnificent. Emmylou opened (imagine that goddess as an opening act!), and her glorious music was matched only by her warm, funny and humble spirit. Her band was great, with fiddle, banjo, guitar and drums accompaniment, but her powerful vocals were front and center, as they should be. Yes, she still sounds great. You can see the setlist, and suffice it to say, several tears were shed throughout the course of her set. And when Townes‘ goosebump-inducing “Pancho and Lefty” came around, I was done for.

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After a brief intermission, Ry Cooder and his band took the stage. Augmenting his tight band was North Carolina R&B trio the Hamiltones, whose breathtaking tenor vocals and close harmonies brought the classy proceedings to an even higher level. There were rockers, there were ballads, there was a lot of delicious sax and of course, Cooder’s trademark slide guitar. Yowsa. Special ‘shout out’ to Robert Francis, an awesome musician in his own right, whom I was stunned and delighted to see grooving along on bass guitar.

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Tanglewood, yes, is a bit of a hike, but as an acoustically marvelous amphitheater, it’s one of the best places to see your favorite musicians. If you have the ways and means, do it!

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