The Highwomen Deliver Emotional Effort, Sheryl Crow Going Out with a Bang

One of the things that the world of music has gotten hammered on over the past few years is the paucity of female performers, both on the radios and satellites of listeners and in the awards process (Grammys, CMAs, etc.). It is a fair argument too; in country music currently, you have to go down to #11 on the Billboard Country Singles chart to find the first female entry (Carrie Underwood) and, on the Billboard Hot 100, although the first three slots are occupied by women or male/female combos (Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Shawn Mendes & Camilla Caballo with “Senorita” and Billie Eilish’s mopey “Bad Guy”), there are only two other female contributors in the Top 20 (the Ariana Grande/Miley Cyrus/Lana Del Rey collaboration for the reboot of Charlie’s Angels entitled “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Ariana Grande with Social House). With two new releases out from top female artists, you might think that this situation would change, but you’d be surprised.

TheHighwomen

First up is the rather ostentatiously named The Highwomen, who have come out with their eponymous CD Highwomen. The quartet, consisting of Grammy winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires along with Grammy nominated songwriter Natalie Hemby, are all very accomplished performers and songwriters in their own rights. Coming together for this record, however, they put their egos at the door and come up with an emotional effort that delivers across the board for their purposes as a female country supergroup.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, however: they probably should have called themselves something other than “The Highwomen.” That name harkens back to the 80s when four of the titans of country music – the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – joined forces as “The Highwaymen,” a country supergroup that brought each man commercial and critical success. By branding themselves as “The Highwomen,” it seems that Morris, Carlile and Company are equivocating themselves as equal to the legendary male artists who made the name famous (plus they’re putting a HUGE target on themselves). Even Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – the closest thing there was to a female “Highwaymen” previously – didn’t have the audacity to call themselves “The Highwomen.”

If you can get by the quartet calling themselves “The Highwomen,” you’re going to find a very solid outing from the artists involved. Of course, they have to start off the album with their version of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and it is naturally called “Highwomen.” It follows the pattern that was set by Cash, Nelson, et. al., with a call-and-response song about repressed women in history. A woman subjected to and executed during the Salem Witch Trials; a Freedom Rider murdered in the South; and (poignantly starting the song) a refugee from Honduras who took the long walk to try to seek asylum with her family in the U. S before dying on the trek. It is an excellent update from the male oriented original and starts a very emotional trek that runs through the album.

“We are the Highwomen,
Singing stories still untold.
We carry the sons you can only hold.
We are the daughters of the silent generation,
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations,
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain…”

TheHighwomen2

Going deeper in the album there are some jewels for the listeners. Perhaps for the first time ever, there is a lesbian “kiss off” song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” that tries to subtly tell a cowboy that the woman he’s looking at picking up – Carlile’s secret lesbian lover – “thinks your cologne’s too strong, she’s into perfume” and that he has absolutely no shot. Another song that is noteworthy is “My Only Child,” a song from a mother to her child about why she didn’t have any more children for her child to play with.

The songs aren’t long on Highwomen, roughly three minutes in length for the 12 songs on the record, but each one packs an emotional punch that doesn’t get displayed often in music. If you’re a fan of the women in the group – or you just want to hear some damn good country (or maybe “Americana”) music – you’d be well advised to pick up the record.

SherylCrow

In her over 30-year career, Sheryl Crow has pretty much done it all. Originally a music teacher, Crow would in 1987 become a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She would eventually find success as a solo artist through her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are you listening?), it looks as though Crow is calling it a close for her album recording career with her CD Threads.

Why does it seem like the Missouri songbird is ending her recording career? Because it seems that she brought everyone and their brother out to play with her on the album! Both Morris and Carlile from The Highwomen make appearances with Crow and they rank as the MINOR players on the record. Artists such as Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, St. Vincent, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris all add their prodigious talents to the record, making it for a stellar outing. Let’s put it this way: if this is the way that Crow wants to bid adieu to her recording career, she’s done a hell of a job.

SherylCrowThreads

There are several highlights on the record. “Prove You Wrong” with Crow harmonizing with Nicks and Morris, starts the record with a bang that sets the ever-increasing standard for the rest of the record. “Beware of Darkness” is an ode about falling too far down “the rabbit hole” and letting everyday news bring us down, brought to life by the guitar work of Clapton and the vocals of Sting and Carlile.

It is a couple of collaborations you don’t expect that seem to steal the record, though. First is a stunning “Redemption Day,” a duet with the late Johnny Cash. The collaboration took a version of her song that Cash recorded before he passed away and mixed it with her voice, delivering a performance for the ages. From Crow’s lilting voice to the gravely rumble of “The Man in Black,” the song that Crow wrote about the U. S. involvement in Bosnia gains new life in these times. Crow comments in the liner notes that “online trolls say ‘shut up and sing…’ I’d think no one would have the gall to tell Johnny Cash to shut up and sing…he’d probably respond with the famous photo Jim Marshall took of him at San Quentin, the shot taken ‘just for the warden.’”

JohnnyCashFlipsBirdWarden

The other collaboration is surprising in the mixing of genres that comes together. Crow teams up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, soul singer Andra Day and guitar wizard Clark on “The Story of Everything,” a song that, according to Crow, “was born out of the feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America…so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division.” The foursome power through the song, calling out those who continue to push the divisiveness in the nation today, and they aren’t shy about laying it at a certain politician’s door. Musically the song is evocative, lyrically it is a protest from the people…and a warning that the people better pull their heads out of their asses.

The record could have been called “Sheryl Crow and Friends” because, without the ample assistance from Crow’s pals, the record wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. Crow’s steady, beautiful mezzo-soprano is accented by each and every performer and she’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let her guests do their thing. If it is goodbye to recording for Crow, this is one hell of a way to exit the stage.

Alas, it appears nobody is listening to these artists. The Highwomen are currently ranked #53 on the Billboard Album charts after peaking at #10 two weeks ago, while Crow’s record reached #30 on the Albums chart and #2 on the Country Albums chart before plunging off in a mere two weeks. This is a sad statement on the music industry today, but it is something that REAL music fans will appreciate by supporting these women.

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Who Will Be the Inductees for the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

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It is always a favorite time of the year for me. The announcement of the nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame always draw a great deal of commentary, either about how well the “keepers of the Hall” did in making the nominations or in how much they screwed it up. Thus, when the nominees list was released last week, it was a cause for celebration or debate, depending on how you liked the list.

First, however, let’s look at who WASN’T on the nominee list…

PAT BENATAR

Just what does it take to get the preeminent female rocker of the 1980s to even get a NOMINATION to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let alone inducted? A four-time Grammy winner, two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and rock anthems like “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love is a Battlefield,” Benatar should have been in LONG ago. As of yet, however, she has not received even a nomination.

DURAN DURAN

They were a seminal part of the success of MTV back in the day and they brought about (for better or worse) the “video” era of music. They were nominated previously (at least they have that) in 2015 and 2016, but were overlooked this year. Along with their importance in MTV’s formation and development, the band was highly successful with critics and fans (and the fact that they are the only band who ever had a theme to a James Bond film go to #1 on the Billboard charts – “A View to a Kill”). If you’re going to induct other pop icons from the 80s like Madonna and such, Duran Duran deserves consideration.

OZZY OSBORNE

Sure, he’s already in as a member of Black Sabbath, but Osborne’s solo career lasted longer than his tenure with the Sabbath. In addition, it is arguable that his solo work – along with his continued discovery of ace guitar slingers like the late Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Steve Vai and Zakk Wylde – has been more influential than his previous time with the Sabbath.

I could keep on going (trust me, there’s plenty of snubs out there), but that would be a distraction from what we’ve come together for…the breakdown of the nominees. Here are your nominees for 2018 (in alphabetical order), a bit of backstory and an examination of their chances for induction come Spring 2018.

BON JOVI

Whether you like it or not, Bon Jovi was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s. That Jon Bon Jovi has “kept the faith” for the most part with the other members of the band – save guitarist Richie Sambora – and continued to perform into the 21st century, it is difficult to conceive that they won’t be voted in by the Hall. Look for them on stage doing “You Give Love a Bad Name” next spring.

KATE BUSH

To be honest, I was completely stunned to see Bush nominated. Her ethereal voice and eclectic musical stylings were an acquired taste (one I tremendously enjoyed) and, thus, she never was a darling of the U. S. market (the U. K., her home country, LOVED her). If we’re looking at the critical aspect, Bush is a shoo-in; if it comes down to some perception of “popularity,” then probably not.

THE CARS

This might stun some readers, but I’ve had a complete 180 on whether the boys from Boston belong in the Hall. Last year I said that they weren’t good enough but, after I went back and reviewed their catalog, the diversity of their music swayed me. In the 70s, The Cars were a straightforward guitar rock band. As the 80s came along, however, they adapted to New Wave and then the MTV Generation, all while maintaining an unsurpassed quality to their overall efforts. It changed my mind and, hopefully, others will have reflected like I did and The Cars will enter the Hall this spring.

DEPECHE MODE

While I appreciate the music of Depeche Mode, it isn’t something that really set them out from the crowd of synthesizer bands of the 1980s. INXS, The Cure, The Human League…there’s a litany of bands that were similar in style to Depeche Mode that have just as much claim to a spot in the Hall. That’s why they won’t get in…it isn’t the Hall of Pretty Good, it’s the Hall of Fame.

DIRE STRAITS

This one falls under the category of “they weren’t in already?” Mark Knopfler’s exquisite finger picking guitar style is unique in the world of rock and makes for a distinct sound for the band. Add in a nearly 40-year career in creating smart, enjoyable songs and albums and it is long overdue for Dire Straits to be inducted.

EURYTHMICS

Here is another dilemma facing the voters. While Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame, there is a logjam in front of them for inductees. The problem with this (as you’ll see here in a second) is if you aren’t inducted early on in your eligibility, then you kind of get forgotten about. Unfortunately, that’s what I see happening to Eurythmics, who are more than qualified to be in.

J. GEILS BAND, LINK WRAY, LL COOL J, MC5, THE METERS, THE MOODY BLUES, RUFUS featuring CHAKA KHAN, and THE ZOMBIES

There was a reason I grouped all these artists together:  it’s because the explanation for their denial of entry into the Hall of Fame is based in the same reasoning. All had their moment in the sun in the History of Rock, but none of them ever made my jaw drop and say, “I’ve GOT to go see them perform!” About the closest one who would come to that criteria would be the J. Geils Band and MAYBE the Moody Blues. All of them together, however, are a part of that “Hall of Pretty Good” argument.

JUDAS PRIEST

If you’re going to recognize hard rock/metal in the Hall of Fame, it is incomplete without Judas Priest. Still pounding out their sound going on 40-plus years now, the Priest is, in many people’s opinion, THE preeminent hard rock/metal band. They definitely invented the “leather and studs” look that was prevalent for theirs and other bands and Rob Halford is one of the most memorable voices in the genre. As the ground breaker for a genre, Judas Priest should have been in the Hall long ago.

NINA SIMONE

Nothing against Simone or the massive amount of talent the woman had – and the travails she had to navigate through in the pre-Civil Rights era – but she’s just not “rock and roll.” There are at least a few nominees of this ilk every year for the Hall of Fame because, in some cases, while they are not traditional “rock and roll,” their style, attitude or actions has had an influence on the overall genre. Simone’s vocal abilities are legendary, but her overall influence on “rock and roll” is limited. Simone isn’t even a member of the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) Hall of Fame, making it tough to justify selection for the overall Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RADIOHEAD

Long a critical darling, Radiohead is one of those “fringe” rock bands that probably will come up in discussions over the next few years but never get in. Much like Television or Kraftwerk, they were seminal parts of the rock genre that inspired many acts that followed, but they’re just a little too obscure to capture the attention of many. As such, I don’t think that Radiohead will get into the Hall…but I’ve been wrong before.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Here is the only other slam-dunk choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2018. Over the span of only four albums, RATM spawned the “rock/rap” genre. Beyond that point, RATM brought back one of the purposes that originally drove rock & roll:  the political nature that tries to change society. The lyrics of the band – enunciated to their full power by Zach de la Rocha – and the searing guitar work of Tom Morello gave their protests full throat. Morello is trying to keep the passion going that RATM brought with Prophets of Rage (and Chuck D of Public Enemy), but he’d be better advised to get back with de la Rocha.

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

If you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, you can be forgiven. But the work done by the woman – playing rock & roll when there was NO SUCH THING – cannot be ignored. In the 1930s and 40s, Tharpe melded blues, gospel, bluegrass, and country into a brew that eventually would become rock & roll music, influencing some of the biggest MALE names that ever were uttered in the music industry. Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley all cited her as influential and her guitar work wouldn’t be out of place in today’s rock world. If you’d like to learn more about her, YouTube has a simply outstanding look at her life that is well worth the time to check out.

Guess it would be obvious that I personally think Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be inducted this spring!

Fans will be able to vote on the inductees, choosing up to five candidates per day until the vote closes. The top vote getter from that process is usually a lock for entry – the previous five winners of the Fan Vote (Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, and Journey) all were inducted – and there are usually six or more nominees inducted. We’ll find out next spring who will be the newest members of the Hall…and we’ll be back to debate the merits of those inductions!

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – The Final Four

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Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his stream of consciousness interview with the Associated Press that featured more errors than a five-year old T-ball game), I’ve decided to start something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball just recently completed the NCAA Basketball Championship, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

It’s been a long journey, but we’ve finally reached the pinnacle, the mountain – the Final Four. The four combatants have worked their way through their “regions” – the 1960/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s/10s – and are all champions. There can be only one, however, and they will now square off against each other to see who is the final band standing. In our first battle, the 1960s/70s will square off against the 2000s/10s:

ACDC

AC/DC (2) vs. Disturbed (1)

It was an incredibly tough vote, but longevity seemed to be the deciding factor in the battle between AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, despite the factor that the individual members of Led Zeppelin have had outstanding careers since the band dissolved. Over in the 2000s/10s division, Disturbed was finally able to end the run of Slipknot, sending the six-seed home and moving on to take on arguably one of the most loved bands in the history of hard rock/metal.

AC/DC has endured the slings and arrows of critics that labeled their three-chord grinding music as “mindless” and “simple” since their inception in the early 1970s, constantly touring and churning out new music for their legion of fans. How many records have they done? Sixteen studio albums, including the guaranteed classics Highway to Hell and Back in Black and their title tracks, with sales of over 200 million albums worldwide. Toss on 21 world tours in their history, basically touring from 1973 to 1986 without pausing, and there is no way that you can doubt the veracity of their fans nor their ability to give the people what they want.

Disturbed comes to their success during a different era of music, but they’ve garnered their own accolades through their success. As stated during the Elite Eight, Disturbed’s latest record Immortalized debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, making their fifth consecutive studio album to do that. Only Metallica and the Dave Matthews Band can say that they have done that – not Led Zeppelin. They have also sold more than 35 million of their seven albums over their 17-year existence and they show no signs of slowing down.

If you were to break down the band by members, the edge vocally would be a tossup. The late Bon Scott and then Brian Johnson left an indelible mark on AC/DC’s sound – really, could you imagine anyone else fronting the band (it remains to be seen if Guns ‘N Roses vocalist W. Axl Rose will remain with the group)? But Disturbed is as much David Draiman as Draiman is Disturbed and his immediately recognizable smooth bass vocals drive that group.

You might say that the guitar work of Angus and Malcolm Young stand out over Disturbed’s Dan Donegan, but Donegan has been just as instrumental (no pun intended) to his group’s success as the Young brothers were to theirs. Donegan has also added in work on keyboards (something key to the experimentation that Disturbed is known for) and, along with drummer Mike Wengren, are the only two men who have been part of the group since its inception.

Disturbed

The question will come down to which do you value more – do you value the length of the career and the virtuosity shown by AC/DC, or do you value the outstanding musicianship of a career that really is still just getting going in Disturbed?

And now for the matchup between the 1980s and the 1990s:

Metallica

Metallica (2) vs. Rage Against the Machine (2)

This one seemed to be dictated from the start, but both had to overcome the #1 seed in their regions to make it to this point. Metallica had to knock down the boys from New Jersey in Bon Jovi (and I can hear the screams already – Metallica was far more influential and critically acclaimed than Bon Jovi could ever hope to be) and RATM had to best only the “godfather of grunge” in the late Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Unfortunately, now one must go down.

So, who has the edge with creativity? Both bands have written and sung about subjects that you normally don’t find in hard rock/metal, such as religious and military leaders, rage, drug usage, anger, loss, and retribution (for Metallica) and political opinions related to not only the States of America but worldwide (Rage Against the Machine). Both bands have been the trendsetters in their genres, with Metallica considered the creators of “thrash” metal and RATM furthering the cause of “rap” metal with their work.

Even the band members are considered equals. Whether you are looking at James Hetfield (Metallica) or Zack de la Rocha (RATM) on vocals (Hetfield also wields a mean rhythm guitar), first Dave Mustaine and then Kirk Hammett versus Tom Morello on lead guitar, the triumvirate of the late Cliff Burton, Jason Newstead and now Robert Trujillo against Tim Commerford on bass and the thunderous drum work of both Lars Ulrich or Brad Wilk, they all are considered the best in the business in their respective fields. There is one thing that may swing the needle, however.

Metallica has been in this game since the early 1980s, grinding out their brand of hard rock/metal for more than 35 years solid. They’ve had a few pauses, especially after Newstead left the band in 2001, but they’ve been at the forefront of the hard rock/metal genre for decades. Although RATM was extremely powerful in their music, they also were more of a Roman candle in that they burned bright but burned out quick. Rage Against the Machine’s last studio album was in 2000 (of four; Metallica has 10 in its still-active career) and, although there have been teases in the past, there are no indications that the group is going to come back together for another run. In fact, Morello has taken the other two musicians in RATM and gone on to form Prophets of Rage along with Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill.

RATM

The evidence has been presented and now it is up to the voters. Who will move on to the Final Conflict? Who will vie for the crown and reign supreme as the greatest band in hard rock/metal history? By this weekend, we will learn the two that will battle it out…