Tag Archives: music

Van Halen Versus Billie Eilish: Who Wins?

So today I saw Van Halen trending on Twitter. My first thoughts drifted to the recent disclosure that guitarist Edward Van Halen has been receiving treatment for throat cancer. Did something serious happen to the second greatest guitarist ever? Has the brilliant creator of numerous classic guitar riffs taken a turn for the worst?

Nope!

All the chatter centered around a single, simple confession. It seems the latest pop sensation doesn’t know who or what Van Halen is. But that’s to be expected, right? I mean, Billie Eilish, the pop singer in question here, is just 17 years old. She was born in 2001. Van Halen hasn’t released a successful album since 1995’s Balance, which sold 3 million copies (physical copies, no downloads back then) in the United States, and another couple million across the rest of the world.

Okay, I sort of get why some older people might be a little miffed that this kid doesn’t know who the once mighty Van Halen is or were. This is a band that has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They’ve had two albums pass the ten million (Diamond) sales mark in the United States alone. They’ve been at it for 40-odd years. Their tours are legendary. They’ve more than paid their dues. But do these same angry Van Halen fans know who Billie Eilish is? Most have admitted they don’t.

As stated above, Miss Eilish is just 17 years old (though she’ll be 18 this month). She wasn’t even born when the VH machine made legit music and world-conquering tours. That’s excuse enough right there. Yes, she’s a singer and musician. She ought to know more of the history of who and what came before her. But that is not mandatory. It doesn’t disqualify her from being legit herself because she can’t pass a pop-culture trivia quiz.

Billie Eilish is making some seriously good music. She is touring the world in support of her first album. She’s also released an EP. I own every Van Halen album (including the Sammy Hagar stuff).

I also own both Eilish releases.

I am a music fan.

Period.

I cannot wrap my head around the animosity going back and forth on Twitter. Both sides dissing each other. One side accused of being old and out of touch, the other side dismissed as young and ignorant. I couldn’t ever imagine myself dumping on a band like Bill Haley and the Comets simply because they had their success long before I was born. I like the music. I own some of The Comets CD’s. In fact, my collection of nearly a thousand CD’s (and countless downloads) contains music that traverses a wide spectrum. I have music from Django Reinhardt, a French jazz guitarist popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I also have many 1940’s Big Band swing jazz albums. Billie Holiday—the original Billie? I possess lots of her music. I own many titles from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Grace VanderWaal, Pink, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Tupac, Eminem, and, of course, the aforementioned Van Halen and Billie Eilish.

It’s a collection befitting any true music fan. In my younger days, if it wasn’t metal, it sucked. Then I grew up and my love of music matured. Good musicians always look toward the future with an eye on the past. There aren’t many successful musicians who rise to the top by not knowing the past. But here’s the cool thing: the past is so vast and filled with tons of great music and musicians just waiting to be mined by a new generation. And by that same token, the world today is filled with some incredible new music and talented young musicians. Why would anybody choose to dismiss a band or singer based on age? Music unites, ignorance divides!

For those who may not be familiar with Billie Eilish, have a serious listen:

Are you too young to recall Van Halen’s glory days? Let this seep into your mind:

 

Grace VanderWaal is at the Top of Her Game With Letters: Vol. 1

Rating: ★★★★★ Grace VanderWaal is on a roll. The rapidly ascending singer/songwriter opened 2019 with a brooding single called “Stray.” She closes the year out with a brand new six-song EP entitled Letters: Vol. 1. And just what did she accomplish in between? I’m glad you asked. Miss VanderWaal released a soundtrack single for a major motion picture (Wonder Park), opened a handful of gigs for none other than Florence and the Machine, entertained a massive crowd at the Railbird Festival in Kentucky, before taking to the road for a sold out headlining tour of her own. Oh, and did I mention she had to squeeze all that in while keeping her grades up in school? You won’t hear me complain about my schedule ever again.

Listening to the tracks on the new EP, it’s easy to hear the time and effort that has been spent on creating this collection. The songs here are fresh and focused, filled with determination and life. The opening track, “Intro (Gucci Shoes),” is a short, playful piece. The lyrics seem poke fun at the vanity of self-make overs, of trying to be something other than who or what we really are:

I just bought some new Gucci shoes

Wasted my college funds just to look cute

Forty minutes to look like I did it in two

Maybe I am vain, so are you

 

So I got a new wig, got some new clothes

Then made some new friends that I don’t even know

And I got a new wig, got some new clothes

I learned a new dance, got a new nose

This theme runs through other songs as well. “Poser,” the second track in the collection, speaks to alienation and being fake, a poser, a person maybe not comfortable or confident in her (or his) own skin.

“I Don’t Like You” is another take on the age-old notion of being in love with somebody that you just don’t like. You simply cannot live with this person any longer—despite what you may still feel in your heart. This is a catchy number, one that will have fans singing along with VanderWaal for years to come, whenever she breaks it out during her live shows.

“UR So Beautiful” is a gem of delicate beauty; one of those songs that sticks in my head long after I’ve put my iPod away. It’s the vocal that sets the mood and carries with it a gentle vibe threaded throughout the song.

My current favorite of this collection has to be “Waste My Time.” As with the first track, there’s a playfulness embedded within the song. But there’s also a 1970s-esque bounce beneath the foundation of the track, one that will most certainly have them dancing in the clubs. I’ve said this elsewhere, but it deserves repeating: get this young lady a bass player, and her live band will rival the best in the business.

The final song in the collection is a guitar-driven piece called “The City.” Loneliness and frustration portray the lyrics in a melancholy haze. Grace’s vocal is both pleading and dismissive all at once, needing and wanting, but so over that selfish somebody. In this track I hear potential for lots of radio air play—or maybe as the soundtrack to a movie break-up scene.

Letters: Vol. 1 is solid from start to finish; it’s some of Grace VanderWaal’s best material thus far. If I were to utter a single negative, I would say it’s simply too short. But I’ll not lodge that complaint. I choose to be grateful for this wonderful bounty of new music.

 

Eclectic and Intriguing, Grace VanderWaal Returns with New Music!

Rating: ★★★★★

 ec·lec·tic   /əˈklektik/

adjective

  1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

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Eclectic. It’s a word that distills the very essence of singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal into a single definition—if that’s even possible. To those who have followed this young lady since her rise from YouTube vid kid to international musical acclaim, she’s simply a breath of fresh air in a world of sound-alike pop pablum.

“Stray,” VanderWaal’s latest single and video, pairs Grace’s raspy vocal with a lush, jangly guitar riff that sends this new music in a direction much different from her previous work. And this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity and of a fresh approach—rather than an attempted re-capturing of what has already been accomplished.

Her words are poetic and cautionary, filled with real and raw emotion. An undertow of fear and urgency is detectable just below the surface of her mournful voice. The anxiety of growing into an adult and facing a world of uncertainty is a central theme the singer has discussed in recent interviews.

“’Stray’ is close to me,” she explained. “Not because it’s the re-start of my continuing path, but because it explains the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up. Growing up feels like a storm you weren’t prepared for. But how do you prepare? By practicing and appreciating you.”

Her lyrics in “Stray” illustrate a fear of losing that one thing that has brought her this far: songwriting.

I gotta write a song

But I wanna feel my words

And I keep getting it all wrong

Think it out, write it out, rip it out

Throw it all to the wall

To be certain, this fear is unfounded. She hasn’t lost a step in the songwriting process. If anything, she’s unveiled a greater prowess in crafting melodies and moods and words within her music.

The video for “Stray” is a gorgeous visual steeped in creamy, earthy tones splashed across a canvas of loneliness, longing, and desperation. The desert setting finds Grace, garbed in a long flowing dress and barefoot, searching for something elusive and undefined—a yearning common to human beings since the beginning of time. Symbolism adds to the rich scenery, with VanderWaal riding a bike through desert scrub while blindfolded, adding to the narrative of, not only the song, but of its creator, and her incredible journey in just under three short years.

Director Blythe Thomas skillfully captures mood and vibe and real feeling with an artistry one would expect from a master filmmaker. Her partnership with Grace routinely produces stark and unforgettable results. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s work, I recommend you visit her website. CLICK HERE

The song itself is a haunting piece of guitar-driven beauty—which is something we don’t normally hear in Grace VanderWaal’s music. It is this driving guitar that adds an indie-rock element throughout the track. It stands in contrast to the “Clearly” single, released last March. And “Stray” would show out as markedly different among the tracks on her brilliant Just the Beginning album. This is what elevates her above the mechanical, formulaic pop singers inhabiting today’s musical landscape.

Grace’s music has soul. It has life. It sounds the way music is meant to sound—alive.

A Quest for Vision!

Visionary.

It’s a word that we’ve all heard bandied about from time to time, usually attached to some famous figure in history known for inventing something important that has changed the nation—or the world—in ways modern generations could not contemplate living without. Take Steve Jobs for example. Mr. Jobs is considered a true visionary. He’s the father of the modern personal computer, a device with which a life without would seem unimaginable in this modern world. Or consider Henry Ford, automotive tycoon. Mr. Ford certainly didn’t invent the automobile, but he did perfect the assembly line, bringing costs down, allowing for the common people to afford their very own car—and through employment in Ford’s factories, a stronger middle class arose.

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The Oxford American College Dictionary contains multiple definitions for this complex yet simple word. The definition I like best reads as stated: a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

The Oxford could be very well be describing a writer. Writers, by nature, are visionaries. Writers, in the name of creativity, must envision worlds that do not exist, populated with people that are not real. But the above definition mentions only the future. What about the past? Can a writer be a visionary in regards to a time that has already faded? The answer is most certainly yes. We construct alternate accounts of real events—like making Abraham Lincoln into a vampire hunter. A program on an internet site’s streaming service poses a world in the 21 century seen through the lens of a Nazi victory in World War Two.

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But being a visionary, it runs deeper than merely being a creative writer—or musician or artist. In a sense, everybody is a writer. If you write emails or texts, you are a writer. Here’s where the differences come into play. Not everybody is an author. Writers are not all authors. There are those who write down their personal thoughts and experiences in the pages of diaries or journals, never intending any other living soul to pry. Authors, they have to be bold and brave. They write to be read. If the words we seek to share with others are not visionary, you can bet you’ll hear from those who invested the time in sentences we’ve strung together.

Diaries, texts, personal correspondences; these are not meant to entertain the reader.  These are merely there to convey a message or to act as reminder to the future self that, on this particular day, so-and-so made me angry or happy or sad.

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Authors, writing to be read, must envision their story from beginning to end—before the writing process begins. We must see what does not, at this juncture, exist anywhere in this world. This will almost certainly require research of some sort—unless you’re creating your own Middle Earth setting. Research itself requires vision.

In beginning my work on Jazz Baby, I needed a road map through the 1920s. I am just past the half-century mark, having drawn my first breath of life in 1967. I had nothing by way of personal experience to shade my notions of the America of 1925. And we can’t just assume, either. Assumption is an enemy of the visionary.

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As I started to dig into my research, scenes from my story began to construct themselves behind my eyes. Scraps of paper quickly filled with ideas found within the pages of an old U.S. history book; situations came to life while watching documentaries on PBS or The History Channel. They didn’t have radio in their cars until 1932—so scrap the scene where the characters are driving to New Orleans singing along to jazz tunes on the radio. So how do we fill that void? Dialogue! These characters are now forced to speak to one another, sharing hopes and fears, and in the process, introducing their deeper selves to those who would come to read the finished product. A visionary finds ways to stay on point when something like reality cuts in and says, um, that can’t be. We make it work. And we don’t just make it work; we use it for the profound or the poignant. Statements are made in those quiet moments between Emily Ann and Tanyon—statements that wouldn’t exist had I stuck a radio in that car.

Being visionary is about seeing what’s not there, seeing it in multiple views, and possessing the ability to determine the best view. It doesn’t work very well to write about characters of which we know little or nothing. Vision allows us to see these characters, to meet them, to discover the personalities behind mere words on a page. To the visionary writer, his or her characters truly come alive before they ever occupy space on the page.

The fact is anybody can write a story. But the visionary writes the sort of stories people will want to read. The really good ones build a following of readers just waiting for the next story to unfold. The best storytellers throughout history possessed vision. And it’s that vision that gives both the writer and the story life eternal. Those without vision, well, nobody recalls the stories they’ve told. Nobody remembers their names.

 

 

Michigan Rockers Widetrack Return With A Brand New Album

Rating: ★★★★★

Widetrack is an alterna-prog band based in my home state of Michigan. One description tags them as: “Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling holds a group therapy session with members of Pink Floyd and Soundgarden.” The band has recently completed their third album, entitled Widetrack III. This latest offering is filled with great hooks, catchy jams, and some incredible musical moods and addictive vibes.

Widetrack’s lineup consists of Ron Tippin on drums, vocals, and guitar, Ron’s son Zach Tippin handling bass duties, and Brian Burleson on lead guitar.

Long-time band producer Andy Patalan twisted the knobs once again on this latest effort. Patalan, known for his stellar work with 90’s Detroit alt rockers Sponge, offers a great ear in helping the band capture its incredible sound in the studio.

The album kicks off with an infectious rhythm weaving its way through a track called “Burning the Sun.” Solid all the way around, this tune calls to mind a time when music was fresh and exciting. The lyrics draw the listener into soul-searching mode:

The last run
Before the darkness descends

Seasons cycling
Through one constant frame
Only vices left
To relieve your wait

Demons on your back
Feeding off your faith
Knowing not for certain
If its real or feigned

Feeling all the while
Nothing’s bound to change
Knowing something more
is somewhere

There’s no let-up as the band segues into a mesmerizing number entitled “Zero Hour.” The vocals on this one modulate between pleading and demanding, pulling the listener along for a trippy ride.

“Gift” is the third track on the album. The bassline drives an incredible vibe through the center of the song, painting a mood that feels both new and yet still familiar.

“Unknown” kicks into high gear with a frantic chase going on between drums and guitar. The vocals conjure a dreamy state of mind floating above the fray, watching it all unfold.

A nice Queens of the Stone Age-influenced jam called “The Other” follows. The guitar work on this number is stellar, verging on shredder-mode. There are even elements of classic Pink Floyd sprinkled into moments.

“Loveless” is a haunting melody drenched in flourishes of darkness. The vocals are incredible in their delivery of emotion, anguish, and, in brief moments, they even carry a hint of menace.

Bouncing along on a pulsing rhythm, “Desolate” recalls a time when bands had the talent and the skill to flex their musical muscles without even needing to add words. This instrumental tethers Widetrack to some of the great bands of the past while teaching those coming up today that musicianship should always take precedence over image or attitude.

Tracks like “Ghosts” and “Hindsight” and “Life Force” add their own flavor to the stew that makes up this incredible album. But it’s the song called “Transcend” that is the true standout here. The elements that make up this song mesh so well. It transports the listener to another plateau in some far away universe—the way really good music will do. This is currently my favorite track on Widetrack III.

“Still Here” closes out the set. There’s something subtle going on here, underneath the tone of this track. It’s a tension and a volatility that threatens to snap and take over. But it never loses control. The vocals of Ron Tippin keep the mood on an even keel—even as the music itself works up to an almost manic pace toward the end. This is another excellent track on an album loaded with great music.

Widetrack is a band fueled by many contributing influences. These all coalesce into a sound that is both familiar and uniquely their own. The best songwriters in the world are those who, when crafting their music, are able to interlace differing moods within each song. This is what the Beatles and Rush and Pink Floyd did so well. It is refreshing to know that this skill is very much still in use. You won’t find any computer-generated beats on this album. Neither will you find filler material. For those who appreciate the talents of real musicians playing real instruments, Widetrack has an album just for you.

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Check out WIDETRACK’S cover of the Pink Floyd classic “Welcome to the Machine”

Grace VanderWaal Concert – Cambridge, MA – February 5, 2018

Here’s a pleasant surprise from the FANderWaal News YouTube channel. They were kind enough to share a live video recording of Grace VanderWaal’s Cambridge, MA, show from February 5, 2018. So, I’m sharing the video here, simply because the more I see and hear from this gentle old soul, the more in awe I become! Have a look and a listen.

Young Girl, Old Soul: Grace VanderWaal Shines on Debut Album

Rating: ★★★★★

Every so often, when the stars line up just right, and the angels find themselves all in agreement, there comes to Earth a talent so unique, so otherworldly, that even the staunchest of skeptics begin to consider the notion of reincarnation.

By outward appearances, Grace VanderWaal is a mere child. The world first glimpsed her as a contestant on the hit NBC television program America’s Got Talent. With her distinctive voice and skillful ability on ukulele, this girl dazzled viewers with an original song during audition week. She impressed the judges, who then sent her into the next round with the Golden Buzzer—an honor reserved only for the very best perfomers. With each subsequent week, Grace, like an onion, peeled back the layers and showed the world what lies beneath.

What we saw is a very old soul masquerading as a young girl. Grace VanderWaal, at the tender age of twelve, won season eleven of America’s Got Talent. And now, as if gifting the world, she’s released her debut album entitled Just the Beginning.

So, what does an album from a now-13-year-old sound like?

Pure heaven. Joy. Bliss. A sweet addiction that stirs up all those pleasure receptors in the brain.

I kid you not.

This 12-song full-length album is chock full of catchy tunes and sparkling gems that will still be relevant enough for airplay decades from now. On the album, she works with some award-winning producers that really capture the pure essence of the voice that first got America to take notice. And the fact that young Grace wrote or co-wrote every tune in this package boggles the mind.

The album opens with the ukulele-fueled “Moonlight,” a track that has listeners conjuring summer evenings under the night sky, when holding hands felt like the greatest thing in the world. “Sick of Being Told” moves us quickly into those teenage years of rebellion, when we felt old enough to make our own way, only to be reminded (by every adult) we still had a long road ahead of us.

Beneath lush piano, there’s a torment in Grace’s vocals on the darkly tinged “Burned,” a warning against continuing to do those things you know will only hurt you. “Just A Crush” dares listeners to sit still while hearing the honesty of a person who knows what she wants—and it isn’t the one she’s singing about. “So Much More Than This” is a bouncy number capable of painting even the grayest of winter skies with the lemon-yellow of summer sunshine.

“Talk Good” is a reminder of those moments when the mind wants to say the right thing but the tongue refuses to cooperate.

“Florets” is dreamy and gorgeous, filled with little bits of heaven. This one had been my favorite for the first few listens of Just the Beginning. But then I found myself entangled in the dark poetic beauty of the album’s closing track, “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me.” Anybody who has ever fallen under the blackness of depression can connect with this number. The maturity in her lyrics contradicts Grace’s age:

Opening my eyes
Seems like it gets harder sometimes
Look at the skylight
Would you mad at me if I tried running away to it in the night?
I tried to fight
But I’m not strong enough
I just want you here but I also wanna be alone
I don’t know what I want anymore

This is not a child singing here; this is a wise old sage taking refuge inside a young girl.

Have a listen to “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” and find out what I’m talking about. If this song doesn’t touch you on some level, you just might want to check your pulse.

“Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” (with lyrics) 

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Click Here to Buy Just the Beginning

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