Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “We’ve Got Tonight” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Some artists are so consistent that it almost makes them underrated. They don’t have the valleys, so their peaks tend to be taken for granted, and they can’t make any well-publicized comebacks because they don’t really have any low point from which to come back. I thought of this the other day when I heard a bunch of songs from Bob Seger’s latest album, on which the 69-year-old writes with the same plainspoken eloquence and sings with the same verve and fire as he did on his finest records.

While his churning rockers have rightfully earned their hallowed place in rock history, Seger has also shown a deft hand with the slower ones throughout his career, such as the sublime “We’ve Got Tonight” from his 1978 smash Stranger In Town. Something about that plinking piano riff that starts the song immediately tugs at your heart. On the surface, the narrator is trying to convince a woman to stay the night, but really the song is about two wounded souls seeking a temporary respite from loneliness.

Much of the song’s success depends on Seger’s soulful vocal. He starts off all fragile and vulnerable, but ratchets it up onto another level as the music rallies around him. It falls away again in the final verse, leaving him to build it all up one more time. “Why don’t you stay?” he belts at the very end, and we’re left hanging on the answer.

Since I consider this song a Weeper, I guess I must believe that she says no. But even if she says yes, there’s always the day after, when the spell wears off and these two have to go back to their isolated lives. “We’ve Got Tonight”, a rhapsody for all those futilely hoping that the short dash of a one-night stand can mitigate the long run of solitude, takes Bob Seger’s consistent excellence and raises it a few notches, which is saying a whole lot.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Be Back Next Week

Sorry, CK fans, but some deadlines and work on the Stones book (coming Summer 2015 if you’re wondering) caught up with me next week. That’s the reason there were no Tuesday Touts of Wednesday Weeper of the Week, and there won’t be a Retro Review today. The plan is to catch up and get back on schedule next week, so I apologize for the delay, and I’ll talk to you in a few.


CK Retro Review: I’m Alive by Jackson Browne

After spending most of the 80’s expounding on the problems of the world at large and the evil that men in power tend to do, Jackson Browne brought it all back home with a break-up album. 1993’s I’m Alive finds Browne shedding the trendier sounds that made his 80’s efforts so erratic, sounding at folk-rock ease here even when the lyrics betray pain and anguish. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of his 70’s masterworks, there are more than enough echoes of that dizzying greatness, especially in the strong second half of the album, to make it a fine return to form. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

10. “Miles Away”- Browne is joined throughout the album by three members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers; Scott Thurston is essentially his right-hand man on the disc while Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench pop up sporadically, including on this track. Alas, Browne seems a little lost in the grinding rock beat here, which could have used some of the attitude inherent in Petty’s drawl.

THREE STARS

9. “Everywhere I Go”- Browne continues his 80’s tradition of including a reggae-tinged track for some musical color. He even breaks into a quasi-rap that he pulls off better than you might expect.

8. “I’ll Do Anything”- The moodiness of the acoustic guitar makes the titular promise seem dark and desperate, as if nothing he does is going to turn the tide. It’s a bit one-note in terms of its approach, but it certainly sustains the tension bubbling to the surface of the relationship in question.

7. “Take This Rain”- The gentle sway of the music and the catchiness of the chorus help to take the sting out of the fact that the narrator is admitting that there is no saving matters between his woman and him. “You’re going to be free,” he sings, almost encouragingly, treading the high road because contemplating what’s below is just too painful.

6. “My Problem Is You”- Actually, it would have been more accurate for him to have said, “My problem is the lack of you.” Some soulful backing vocals help in enliven an arrangement that’s too tasteful to draw much blood. The humor at the end, where Browne claims to not care about the ozone layer (we don’t believe you) or Madonna’s latest exploits, earns this one a couple extra points.

5. “All Good Things”- Don Henley and David Crosby stop by to lend backing vocals, the latter’s appearance extremely appropriate since Campbell plays a particularly Byrds-y guitar part. Browne widens his focus a bit here, so that his pronouncements about finality could apply to a love affair or a life. Maybe a bit of an anticlimax after the towering “Sky Blue And Black”, but I guess you really couldn’t put a song with this subject matter anywhere but album’s end.

4. “Too Many Angels”- This is a beautiful set of lyrics and music that gets a tad too fussy production and arrangement-wise for my liking. The excess atmosphere and too-prominent backing vocals distract a bit from Browne’s unsparing look at the uncontrollable downward spiral of a relationship. “But there’s no end in sight,” he sings, referring to the inner torment one suffers in the midst of a dying love affair. “Only the dead of night.” That kind of powerful moment doesn’t need any embellishment.

FOUR STARS

3. “I’m Alive”- On the title track and opener, Browne comes out the other side of a spent relationship, incredulous that he survived it. While he doesn’t skimp on the painful details or darker emotions, the light-footed rhythm, airy electric guitars, and subtly exotic percussion touches leave him sounding buoyant in spite of all the wounds where he’s been run through. Out on the open road again and looking forward instead of back, his narrator ends up more triumphant than tortured.

2. “Sky Blue And Black”- The kind of sprawling love-and-loss song that Browne trademarked and perfected circa ’73, “Sky Blue And Black” is centered by his piano, all plaintive chords and a yearning five-note riff that’s repeated throughout the song. The backing vocalists (Arnold McCuller and old Browne buddy Valerie Carter) provide powerful counterpoint to Browne’s wordy ruminations. When he says, “That’s the way love is” at the end, you believe him, because he really hasn’t left anything relevant out of the equation.

FIVE STARS

1. “Two Of Me, Two Of You”- The most underrated songs by rockers with longevity tend to be their non-singles from late-period albums, songs that tend to be known and considered to any degree only by diehards. This stunningly pretty and fearless dissection of the causes of  relationship fissures is a fine example of this phenomenon. Browne’s melody is resigned and sorrowful even when it soars, and the lyrics, simple on the surface, cut as deep as heartbreak. This is the man doing what he does best: depicting the hollow tradeoff when insight is gained at the expense of love.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

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CK Retro Review: World In Motion by Jackson Browne

1989’s World In Motion continued Jackson Browne’s foray into social and political issues, albeit without the same grace and deftness that he managed on his previous release Lives In The Balance. A big problem was the music, which was listless and pock-marked with some of the 80’s most egregious production excess. As a result, some lovely tunes and effective lyrics were somewhat lost in the shuffle, adding up to an album that is far more admirable than memorable. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

10. “Chasing You Into The Light”- Repetitive musically and forgettable lyrically. Browne’s narrator wants to come off like some kind of savior to the girl he’s addressing but comes off more like a stalker.

9. “World In Motion”- It sounds like some of the synthesized blues with which Steve Winwood was having success at that time. Not so much for Browne. It’s well-meaning, and having Bonnie Raitt around helps, but it’s not a good harbinger, as the title track and opener, for the rest of the album.

8. “How Long”- There’s a decent piano ballad hidden in here, because the melody has all the heart-twisting peaks and valleys of Browne’s 70’s classic work. But those overbearing synths drown a lot of the charm from the music and there’s nothing really that he hasn’t said before about social issues like hunger or nuclear war.

THREE STARS

7. “My Personal Revenge”- Some of the sentiments may get a little lost in the translation between Spanish and English, but the undeniable prettiness of the music is enough to make this one a pleasant diversion.

6. “When The Stone Begins To Turn”- Browne, never known as the most rhythmic rocker, actually sounds more at home in the reggae setting of this plea for the freedom of Nelson Mandela than in some of the fussier productions elsewhere on the album.

5. “Enough Of The Night”- The lyrics are actually quite nice, an affecting character sketch that means a little more because of the narrator’s emotional connection to the girl being profiled. It never quite settles on what it wants to be musically though, making for a bit of a bumpy ride.

4. “Lights And Virtues”- Old buddy David Lindley gives the album a pleasant benediction on the closing track with his slide work. Browne drinks a toast to some positive intangibles and leaves us on a note of ambivalence, hinting at what means the most in life and how we should deal if the pursuit of it comes up empty: “The pleasure of love and friendship/The courage to be alone.”

3. “The Word Justice”- The specificity of Browne’s diatribe here, targeted at the connection between drugs, weapons, war, and profit made by those in the halls of power, sets it apart from some of the more generalized protests found in other songs. It’s still overproduced by half, but the audible fire in his belly for the cause enlivens the entire enterprise.

2. “Anything Can Happen”- Every single sound on this song sounds manufactured instead of played. Yet Browne damn near overcomes it all with a tune that rises from sorrow to majesty and a lyric that balances the personal and political as well as anything on the album. “We change in ways a life demands,” Browne sings, a line that speaks to the transformation he believes can occur on a larger level, and you might believe it too when he hits those piercing notes in the refrain.

FOUR STARS

1. “I Am A Patriot”- Steven Van Zandt’s protest song comes from the heart and the gut, and Browne seems absolutely liberated to sing it after all the heavy, cerebral stuff he labors to spew throughout the album. So too does the music avoid the bloat that weighs down other songs by gliding lightly on a skittering rhythm and buoyant acoustic guitars. Maybe it’s a bad sign that the best song on the album is a cover, but Browne deserves some credit for doing such justice to a track that was relatively obscure at the time.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

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Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Ghost Town” by Cheap Trick

In 1988, Cheap Trick were up against it with their record company following the commercial failure of their previous album and were forced to use outside songwriters. The resulting album, The Flame, was a big hit with a pair of Top 10 smashes, so sometimes the suits are right; as strained as the title track may have sounded, it went to #1 and revived the band’s career.

Perhaps the most surprising of the songwriting contributions came from Diane Warren, she of the endless Michael Bolton and Celine Dion ballads and a ridiculous streak of Best Song Oscar contenders in the early 90’s. While rock purists might not be able to stomach her helping out these power-pop legends on principle, “Ghost Town,” the song that she wrote with Cheap Trick’s chief songsmith Rick Nielsen, turned out to be quite the affecting heart-tugger.

My guess is that Warren penned the lyrics here, which are workmanlike but do find a relatively novel way to depict a broken heart in the refrain of “It’s like a ghost town without your love.” Nielsen’s sighing melody has all the right peaks and valleys for lead singer Robin Zander to give an appropriately tortured performance, sounding like a man about to break down in a heap at any given moment. Nielsen also chips in some stinging lead guitar to up the angst well into the red.

I heard this song  recently on the 80’s channel on Sirius/XM advertised as a lost hit, which suggests that a lot of folks might not know it. I was 16 at the time of its release and really vibed with Zander’s dramatic delivery and the song’s woebegone sentiments, so I knew it well. What surprised me hearing it again was how well it holds up, how timeless it sounds despite being released in an era that tended to put its unerasable stamp on songs.

So if it’s new to you, prepare to be enjoy the soothing sorrow. And if it takes you back to that time when everything meant everything and only the most passionately rendered sentiments rung true, maybe I’ll see you there.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

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CK Retro Review: Lives In The Balance by Jackson Browne

In a just world, Jackson Browne’s 1986 album Lives In The Balance would have been hailed as the kind of mass-audience masterpieces that peers like Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon achieved in the second half of the decade. Not everybody was ready for the unflinching truth-telling, often at the expense of America’s leaders, that defined the album. Agree or not, the message was searingly spoken against a more diverse musical backdrop than Browne had ever before attempted. And, sadly, the album sounds eerily relevant still. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

8. “Soldier Of Plenty”- This is the one song on the album that gets a little too fussy production-wise and doesn’t do enough musically to leaven some of the bile being spewed, which makes it a bummer to endure even when the points being made are valid.

THREE STARS

7. “Candy”- Imagine a more in-depth look at the inner workings of the girl from “Somebody’s Baby” and you’ve got the gist of this moody track. It’s not as thorough as it could have been but it’s solid nonetheless.

6. “Lawless Avenues”- Browne catalogs the lives and deaths of a rough Latin neighborhood and adds in a couple anti-war shots for good measure. “Fathers and sons’ lives repeat,” he sings, suggesting the endless cycle of poverty and violent crime that hamstrings these hard-luck characters. Nice use of the Spanish vocals as well to add some authenticity to the tale.

FOUR STARS

5. “Till I Go Down”- The kicky reggae might have signalled a softening of Browne’s withering approach some other time, but not on this album. Instead it serves to soundtrack his promises of eternal vigilance as long as the atrocities he sees persist. By the time it’s over, “Till I Go Down” has turned into a rousing if unlikely anthem.

4. “For America”- With the charging guitar and the saxophone piercing the night, Browne sounds like he’s invading the territory of his buddy Bruce Springsteen with this opening salvo. The desperation in his performance sets it apart though, as does his willingness to castigate his younger self for not being more aware of the lies and governmental sleight of hand he now sees everywhere he turns.

3. “Black And White”- Browne brings it back down to a personal level on this elegant closer. He challenges the protagonist to reach back to his former self, the one ready to fight for his ideals no matter the cost, before it’s too late. The refrain of “Time running out” works on that micro level but it also serves as a larger warning that echoes the politicized rants elsewhere on the album. That Browne manages this so seamlessly without an ounce of strain is just par for the course for this gifted songwriter.

FIVE STARS

2. “Lives In The Balance”- Browne steals some of Paul Simon’s thunder by imbuing this unsparing protest song with hauntingly sad music featuring exotic Spanish folk song overtones. Not that he’s trying to sweeten the medicine: His lyrics about the questionable reasons that countries use to justify wars are as harshly eloquent as he’s ever written. If anything, the beauty of the music only intensifies the senselessness of the situation as perceived by Browne. “There are children at the cannons,” he sings, an image of madness that drives his point home with excruciating accuracy.

1. “Shape Of A Heart”- On this album full of topical material, Browne realizes that the topic of tortured romance is always a hot-button issue. This poignant, warts-and-all reflection on a past relationship allows him to theorize that the flowery stuff of love songs and the ugliness of real life are usually at opposite poles, and never the twain shall meet. “People speak of love don’t know what they’re thinking of,” Browne sings, and you get the sense he’s including his past songwriting self as one of those “people.” The moment when he drops his former flame’s old ruby into the hole in the wall from one of their former fights, a symbolic act of letting go, gets me every time.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

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CK Retro Review: Lawyers In Love by Jackson Browne

The early 80’s were a rough time for a lot of heritage rockers, so it’s understandable that Jackson Browne’s entry into the MTV arena was marked by a stumble or two. But even if 1983’s Lawyers In Love is a bit of a mixed bag, with the non-singles ranging from OK to forgettable, it showed Browne lightening up slightly and rocking more freely, which was a necessary career correction after so many consecutive somber affairs. And, in the title song, he delivered one of the most stinging critiques of the era in a glistening pop-rock package. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

8. “Knock On Any Door”- Musically, it has the same strutting-down-the-street vibe as Browne’s soundtrack smash “Somebody’s Baby.” It doesn’t have nearly the same hooks though and it gets repetitive fast.

7. “Say It Isn’t True”- The anti-war, pro-sanity sentiment is admirable, but it’s also obvious. For a song like this to work, the music and the message have to somehow transcend the common sense of it all like a prayer would, a la “Imagine.” “Say It Isn’t True” wants to be a slow-building anthem, but it doesn’t justify repeated listens with any new insight or musical potency.

THREE STARS

6. “Cut It Away”- As if reacting to Craig Doerge’s too-prominent synthesizer part, Browne sings part of this song in a robotic monotone. Luckily the choruses open up to provide the kind of sympathetic spotlight the anguished lyrics need before things get too synthetic.

5. “On The Day”- The Walking Dead chanting and the Blue Oyster Cult-style riffs would seem to run counter to what Browne’s all about, but his musings on love sound surprisingly fresh in the new setting. With no David Lindley on the album, Danny Kortchmar and Rick Vito add the era-appropriate pyrotechnics on guitar.

4. “Downtown”- The synths are integrated a bit more seamlessly here, adding color to a gritty rocker about the ups and downs of urban life. Browne’s narrator revels in the squalor but has his eyes wide open: “Darkness falls on the vast machine/Where the future stalks the American Dream.”

FOUR STARS

3. “Tender Is The Night”- Even at a measured tempo, this one offers up enough musically to be engaging even before you add in Browne’s wonderful lyrics. He utilizes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s phrase as a kind of contrast to the acrimony between two lovers. “The benediction of the neon light” is one of my favorite phrases in the whole Browne catalog.

2. “For A Rocker”- Yet another in a long line of Browne tributes to those who have passed on, although you’d never know it here unless you guess from the title or analyze those lyrics real close. The music is too fiery and attention-grabbing to let anybody wallow in sadness. Browne wants us to party “Till the morning comes, till the car arrives/Till we’ve killed the drums, till we lose our lives.” That’s the kind of send-off a rocker can appreciate.

FIVE STARS

1. “Lawyers In Love”- Right off the bat, Browne lets us know how the 80’s are treating him: “I can’t keep up with what’s going down.” Designer jeans, Russians, and TV dinners only add to his incredulity, to the point that his Tarzan yells seem like the only sane response. It’s as funny as anything he’s ever written, even if the humor flew over everybody’s heads at the time. Even those missing the joke could understand the dynamism of the music, which updated Browne’s mid-tempo rock with glossy production sheen that vivifies everything without overdoing it. Top-notch.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs

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Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs

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