New Prince Album Reveals the Creative Process; Slash Just Rocks the Joint on His Return

In the world of music, there is nothing that is more interesting than the creative process. Hell, with ANY artistic endeavor, the most interesting thing is the process of bringing disparate parts together into a cohesive and entertaining form. The late Prince Rogers Nelson were arguably one of those people that had a tremendous artistic process, something that he often kept in secret for simply privacy’s sake. With his new CD, Piano and a Microphone 1983, we see the artist just before his big explosion on the musical scene, working out the kinks on some compositions that would go on to be huge for his career and some that have never seen the light of day. On the other side of the dial, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash is continuing on without Axl Rose (again) and his new collaboration, his third time teaming with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, just flat out rocks.

Prince1983

In 2016, the music world lost one of its greatest voices and one of its greatest creative musicians when Prince passed away from an opiate overdose. But back in 1983, Prince wasn’t the icon he had become by 2016; Prince was still a man looking to make his mark in the music world. Coming off a highly successful double album in 1999, the man known as the Purple One was considering his next step. One night, with only a microphone and a piano as accompaniment, Prince put some of those ideas onto a simple cassette tape.

The result of the recording session was the latest release from “The Vault,” the treasure trove of Prince material that was locked up for decades in his Paisley Park home. Entitled Piano and a Microphone 1983, the nine-song CD clocks in at less than 40 minutes (37, if you’d like the exact number). But what Piano and a Microphone 1983 shows is the artist in the midst of the creative process as well as some of the genius behind that process.

Leading off the album is “17 Days,” one of your typical Prince-type songs that one would expect but, stripped down to just the piano, is riveting. The fact that it is a “Prince-type song” isn’t surprising as Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, who were part of The Revolution, helped in the writing of the song (along with Revolution keyboardist Matthew “Doctor” Fink). From there, Prince goes into a little noodling of what would become “Purple Rain,” but the version found on this album is melancholier then you might expect. Other songs that Prince would become known for – “International Lover” from 1999 and “Strange Relationship,” which would show up on 1987’s Sign O’ the Times, also make their experimental debuts here.

PrinceAtPiano

It is when Prince delves into new material that the CD takes on a life of its own. Prince performs a cover of the African-American spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” with a blues styling for the song bringing out so much emotion you can actually feel what Prince is trying to say. The song was used in director Spike Lee’s latest film BlacKKKlansman because Lee felt it was perfect for the film. After unveiling the emotions for “Mary Don’t You Weep,” Prince then goes back into his “funky era” with a song called “Cold Coffee & Cocaine,” complete with James Brown-esque yelps and howls. He wraps up the compilation with a beautiful song called “Why the Butterflies,” an amazing coda to a short practice session.

Even though it is fascinating to listen to the creative process that Prince is going through with the creation of this music, I’m still a little bit disappointed. It is obvious that Prince never meant for these tapes to be released; at certain points in the recording, he clears his throat, speaks directly to the technician in the studio recording this session (surprisingly, Prince tells him to turn the tape over, as if he knew how long he had been playing) or clears his throat with a cough. For Prince’s family to release these songs from “The Vault” as the first posthumous music from Prince, I feel it takes a little bit away from not only the man himself and his tremendous process in creating such wonderful music but also cheapens what should have been a grandiose occasion.

Even with this criticism, Piano and a Microphone 1983 is a priceless piece of music from what was one of America’s greatest artist. Prince may not be with us anymore, but “The Vault” should provide us with decades of music to come. Just imagine what jewels await us from Prince? Piano and a Microphone 1983 is simply the first chip off the diamond that Prince and his music was.

SlashMylesKennedyConspirators

Somebody who may be as prolific as Prince in the musical output department is Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. While Axl Rose was sitting around for the decade or so after Guns N’ Roses’ last release in 1993, Slash would go on to do his own music with a dizzying array of talent backing him up. Counting the five albums he did with the Gunners, Slash has also put up two albums with Velvet Revolver, two with Slash’s Snakepit, and one straight solo album, not to mention guesting on several songs by such artists as the late Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Bad Company’s Paul Rogers and Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, Alice Cooper and Rhianna. Slash’s latest album is Living the Dream (technically his 13th studio release) and it features some of that talent in vocalist Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge and an array of talented musicians called The Conspirators, who are joining Slash for their third album together.

Although his time in Guns N’ Roses has made him a hard rock and metal icon, Slash goes into his own style when he picks up with Kennedy and The Conspirators, a simply hard driving, blues-based rock and roll approach that you really don’t hear much of anymore. From the start with the song “The Call of the Wild,” Slash and Kennedy groove together instantly, with Kennedy’s soaring vocals only outdone by Slash’s crunching guitars. This continues on through such songs as “My Antidote”  and “Mind Your Manners,” but there are two songs in particular that deserve mention from this record.

SlashMylesKennedy

First song of note from Living the Dream is “Lost Inside the Girl,” a very good up-tempo rocker that is a love song about a lady that has entranced Kennedy. The song that is really the piece de resistance on the album is its first release, “Driving Rain.” It is a typical trope for rock musicians – a song about being out on the road and having to come through a whole lot of pain and torture to get to the one that you love  – but it displays both Kennedy and Slash at the top of their game. Both of these tunes are well worth the price of admission for Living the Dream.

Whether you’re looking for the remembrance of a great artist that has passed far too soon or you’re looking for something from a rocker who is still cranking it out at 53 years old, you can’t go wrong with these two releases.  Piano and a Microphone 1983 from Prince and Living the Dream from Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, while offering greatly diverse material, will give you plenty of enjoyment if you’re willing to take the ride.

Advertisements

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Sweet Sixteen Part 2

HardRockMetal

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, especially his painfully visible attempts to recreate the film Wag the Dog by rattling the battle sabers against…well, whoever he thinks will distract attention from how corrupt and owing to the Russians him and his Confederacy of Dunces are), 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 – yo’u 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?

We’ve gotten down to crunch time – the Sweet Sixteen. With these competitors, you could probably make a solid argument for any of them to be the eventual winner of the tournament. But the thing is, we’re not looking for sixteen winners – we’re trying to determine who is the best. As such, we’re forging onward by working one side of the bracket – the 1980s and the 1990s – down to the four competitors who will vie for two of the Final Four seats. Who do you think should be there?

Let’s get things started with the 1980s bracket:

Gunners

Bon Jovi (1) vs. Guns ‘N Roses (4)

At first glance, these two bands are about as different as you can get, the gritty gang from L. A.’s Sunset Strip versus the Jersey Boys. But if you actually look closer, there are more similarities between them than you think. Both had enigmatic front men in Jon Bon Jovi and W. Axl Rose and both had virtuoso guitarists in Richie Sambora and Slash. Popularity wise, it is arguable that the Gunners were just as big as BJ, if not more popular, and they definitely had more of an impact on the music and served as inspirations for future headbangers. The big kicker here may be longevity, as GNR has disappeared from the scene for long periods of time; while they weren’t at the apex that they were through the 1980s, Bon Jovi has been consistently together (until the recent Sambora/Bon Jovi split) since their inception in the early 80s.

Metallica (2) vs. Slayer (6)

You knew this clash was coming between two of the monsters of metal. The problem is that it is a one-sided battle. Metallica defeats Slayer at virtually every criterion that we’ve set:  longevity, creativity, influence, popularity, and accolades. Slayer can lay claim to being the father of death metal, but Metallica were the ones who ensured that bands like Slayer could get heard somewhere. Metallica, despite their detractors who say they “sold out” when the Black Album shot them to superstardom, has always carried the banner for metal fans worldwide. Ask yourself this:  if there were no Metallica, would we have ever heard of Slayer?

And without further ado, here’s the 1990s bracket:

PearlJam

Nirvana (1) vs. Pearl Jam (4)

It was thisclose between Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters for the right to face Nirvana, but the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees were able to stave off Dave Grohl and Co. at least this time around. Now they have to face off against Grohl’s first band, Nirvana, in what is an intriguing matchup.

It is really easy to say that Nirvana started the “Grunge Era” of hard rock/metal, but Pearl Jam was right along with them in breaking that ground. In fact, Pearl Jam’s Ten was released BEFORE Nirvana’s Nevermind hit the shelves (Ten was released on August 27, 1991; Nevermind was released September 24, 1991), making the argument for Pearl Jam to be the innovators of the grunge sound. Both of their vocalists perfectly captured the grunge attitude, with the late Kurt Cobain somewhat channeling Bob Dylan’s indecipherable vocal stylings and Eddie Vedder bringing an intensity to his aural assault. If there were one area that sets the two apart, it would be critical acclaim; from their start, Nirvana was always endorsed more by the critics than Pearl Jam ever was.

It’s a tough battle – but if it were easy, everyone would do it!

Rage Against the Machine (2) vs. Green Day (3)

In my opinion, this is a no-brainer, but I am sure there are plenty out there who might argue. Rage Against the Machine was damn close to being the “punk” band here, with their politically influenced lyrics, hammerhead guitars and “in your face” attitude. That has always been one of the criticisms of Green Day is that they were “punk-lite” and not a hardcore punk band (an insult to the members of Green Day, though).

Outside of that fact, the battle is a pretty close one here. Critical acclaim has to go to Rage, but in the other categories they are about dead even. You can give Green Day the edge as to longevity and maybe popularity (I am pretty sure that more people have heard of Green Day than Rage) and that might sway some of the votes. We’ll have to hear from the voters as to who gets the victor’s flag here.

RATM

Get your votes in quick because in a couple days we will take it to the Elite Eight! The middle of this week, we will see who has survived the carnage and will vie for the chance to reach the Final Four. By the end of the week, we will crown the champion and answer the question:  who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all time?