ONE MORE LIGHT Linkin Park (Warner Brothers) ****
Linkin Park’s latest studio album was released a month before singer Chester Bennington’s suicide. I would’ve gotten to it eventually, but his desperate, final act has made that time now. The first words we hear him sing are, in retrospect, chilling; “I’m dancing with my demons/ I’m hanging off the edge/ storm clouds gather beneath me”.
Linkin Park is a genre-defying band, equally at home on stage with Metallica and Jay Z. Few other bands have as effortlessly blended genres, emotions and ideas yet maintain a signature voice as these guys. One More Light is a moment in time, built on personal stories. “In the beginning, we wanted to challenge ourselves musically, but then it became more about our lives” Chester said shortly before his death. “I sang things in the lyrics of this album that only my wife and closest friends know. I did it because I know there are other people out there who have gone through the stuff I have, and it feels better to know you’re not alone.” Vocalist/ producer Mike Shinoda recalls that “Normally our songs start with a riff or a beat, but these songs started with a conversation. We’d say what do I feel like singing about today? What’s on my mind?”
I can’t compare One More Light to Linkin Park’s previous work- this is the first time I’ve actually listened to a whole record of theirs, believing (and correctly so, I think) that their work belongs to the generations that came after mine. I’m not a fan of the machine made noises and skwonks that they employ and that are common in modern pop music, but I can appreciate the melodic structures and the potency of the lyrics, especially given the circumstances I find myself listening to them in. The diversity of style on a single short album (10 songs, 35 minutes) is kind of thrilling. Linkin Park’s creativity, like the six people in the band, is connected, complex, adaptable and full of life.
It’s a sad fact that death is great for sales figures. One More Light is a deep, multi-faceted pop statement that deserves a better fate than being that album, you know? The obligatory cleaning out of the vaults aside, it is also a noble epitaph.
ESSENTIALS: Battle Symphony, Nobody Can Save Me, One More Light
RENEGADE Derwood & The Renegades (independent) ***
Who knew that Melville, Saskatchewan was a hotbed of rock & roll activity? In the early 90’s The Rheostatics released Melville, and now we have Derwood & The Renegades aiming to be the soundtrack of your summer with a gaggle of heavy hitting rock tunes known as Renegade – so roll the windows down and turn the volume up!
Renegade feels, out of the gate, like early 80’s April Wine with a touch of AC/DC. Recorded at Calgary’s Alchemy Studios and engineered & produced by Jeff Muller (who also plays drums and guitar) with guitar, bass and vocals credited to Derwood. This disc has a hairy, knuckle dragging classic rock vibe that you’re going to really enjoy. Looking at the cover I thought “Jeez, that looks like a cross between Love Gun and Destroyer (by Kiss)”, so it was no shock to pour over the credits and see that it was painted by the same artist, Ken Kelly. Based on all of that and the decidedly 80’s rock & roll nature of the lyrics themselves, it would seem that Derwood & The Renegades are right on target with what they’re trying to put across.
Renegade is no more deep and meaningful than a collection of good time rock & roll songs, and that’s not a criticism. It’s a physical collection of riffs and melodies, the musical equivalent of getting hammered and shouting “WOOOOOOOOOOO!!” all night long. 12 tracks here, including a decent remake of the AC/DC classic Highway To Hell, though they changed a couple of the words and that doesn’t sit well with me – not unlike when Nickelback re-did Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.
Lyrics are also included with Renegade but that hardly seems necessary – just turn it up and let ‘er rip.
ESSENTIALS: Reckless, Cruel Angel, Walk Away
ALL YOU GOTTA DO The Nighthawks (Eller Soul Records) *****
This Washington D.C. band has spent nearly 5 decades perfecting the electric Chicago blues, and it shows on their brand new album. You’ll go from “Hey this is pretty good” on the opening track to “this is seriously excellent” by the time you get to the last cut.
Recorded at Montrose Studio in Richmond, Virginia and produced by the band, All You Gotta Do has a loose, good time vibe that makes for fine company. The playing is excellent, and the bg vocals on tracks like When I Go Away add some real magic dust to these songs. There’s some great original stuff here, but The Nighthawks also cover songs by Jerry Reed, Randy Newman, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson and R.L. Burnside, playing each as if it belonged to them instead of coming from somewhere else. These cats really know how to inhabit a song!
All You Gotta Do is more eclectic than your average full-on blues album. The rockin’ opening title cut is a Brenda Lee number, the sort of pop rockabilly that was happening around the end of the fifties. The centerpiece of the record (for me at least) is a sleazy rendition of Randy Newman’s Burn Down The Cornfield with some greasy screaming slide guitar by Paul Castle and evocative harmonica stabs by Mark Wenner. Sound like maybe it would’ve been at home on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack, at least spiritually.
The band is rounded out by bassist Johnny Castle and drummer Mark Stutso and, according to the back cover, “EVERYBODY SINGS”. They feel and sound like a dirtier version of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and I hope the group takes that as the compliment I mean it to be. All You Gotta Do is bursting with hot playing and gutbucket soul but before we start taking all of this too seriously, the words of Hound Dog Taylor apply; “Let’s have some fun!”
ESSENTIALS: Burn Down The Cornfield, Ninety Nine, Blues For Brother John
LIVE AT BRIGHTON ROAD Dani Wilde (VizzTone) *****+
Oh wow. It’s not very often an album by somebody you’ve never heard before comes along and gives your heart a good squeeze, but Dani Wilde’s brilliant new set has done just that. The title can be a bit misleading – rather than performing in front of a crowd in a club or theatre, this is Dani and her band playing live in the studio. Split into halves labelled The Acoustic Session and The Electric Session for obvious reasons, Live At Brighton Road is absolutely stunning.
I have no doubt that this British Blues Award winner wins over audiences wherever she plays. In reviewing one of her gigs, Music News Magazine said “The entire audience was silenced and caught in the spell of deep emotion… she won the hearts and souls of everyone in the crowd- outstanding.” Her voice is delicate and intimate, and so is her guitar playing. Stepping into her songs is almost effortless, not unlike listening to a James Taylor record, as each tune just sort of invites you in.
Most of the songs on Live At Brighton are originals, with 4 of the 10 being covers such as Memphis Minnie’s Bumble Bee and the classic Hound Dog by Leiber & Stoller, first a hit for Big Mama Thornton and then of course made world famous by Elvis. Dani’s version of The Living Years nearly stopped my damaged heart. It was originally a hit for Mike & The Mechanics, Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford’s side group, in 1988. It’s about his father passing away, and as it came out the year after my dad died, it’s always been a meaningful song for me too. But here, with acoustic guitar, cello and chorale-like backup vocals on the choruses, damn… it almost had me crying like a big baby. I even made my wife listen to it as soon as she got home from work.
Live At Brighton is a two disc package, including a DVD of the performances and an interview that you won’t want to miss. This is one of my favourite albums of the year – hell, the decade.
ESSENTIALS: The Living Years, Bumble Bee, Don’t Quit Me Baby
STAY ABOVE WATER Scottie Miller Band (Independent) *****
Here is a supple new disc of southern fried grooves, soul and blues out of Minnesota of all places, with a hint of New Orleans. Throw this baby on and you’ll be feeling good in no time. Tom Hyslop of Blues Revue Magazine says this “Sounds like Dr. John meets The Band at Bruce Springsteen’s house”… now who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?
Miller is a multi-instrumentalist and he’s good at everything he touches, inducted into the Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame in 2008. His lyrics are intelligent, the grooves are fat, and that wonderful voice is full of heart and soul. The tunes on Stay Above Water are a lively good time, while ballads like Guardian Angel and Goodbye are delicate and introspective. You can just dance to this stuff if you feel so moved, but for me at least I found myself really listening and being drawn into his narratives time and time again.
Keep This Good Thing Going was an early favourite for me, featuring the amazing Ruthie Foster – turns out Scottie has been her touring keyboardist for 9 years now. Stay Above Water, produced by Miller himself, sounds perfect… and by that I mean when you listen you’ll find yourself thinking “Man, I wouldn’t change a thing.” The instrumental balance is perfect as his band knows when to step up and when to lay back with no unnecessary grandstanding, with every note played and sung in service of the song at hand – not to mention just the right amount of oomph. It’s also the kind of record you can’t pin down to just one thing; you’ll hear elements of blues, jazz, R&B, funk and even country, but this rockin’ blues concoction has the capability of being all things to all people.
Stay Above Water is one of those rare albums where you can honestly say there’s no filler, not a weak track in the whole lot. Feels good, sounds great – I am so in!
ESSENTIALS: Keep This Good Thing Going, It Better Groove, Come Along