I have to introduce this one myself; I’ve known Steve J since our first day at University in Dundee. You’ll be able to read about it in his memoir coming up soon, and possibly mine when I create a spare few weeks to write it (so not in the immediate, then…). We have a lot of things in common, but love of music is right up at the top of the list. I’ve loved Steve longer than I’ve loved my wife (and that’s a long, long time) and I’m flattered that he’s given me a couple of mentions here. No money changed hands but there was the matter of a copy of “Eminent Hipsters”, although I think he earned that for his lovely speech at my significant birthday a few weeks ago where he even surprised me when he said that I’d done a DJ support for John Peel in Dundee. How do you forget you’ve done that? Anyway, I always love to read his work so here you go (oh, it’s Allan, by the way, but you’ll work that out anyway). Take it away Mr J:

It’s been an odd year. Because I haven’t been around as much as I would like to have been due to various personal stuff and because of various things that have happened, I’ve not been as receptive to new music as I might have normally been and so I found myself going back. Way back…..and remembering stuff.

The Sweet

I’ve reviewed this so I won’t spend ages repeating myself. Read the review from the Holmfirth Picturedrome. If you want to inhale the seventies, hold it in and exhale slowly, have a night out with this bunch. We Just Haven’t Got A Clue What To Do. It’s ugly, a bit awkward, exuberant and a bit tacky. It’s a Teenage Rampage Now. Now. Now…..Rebel Rebel…

The Doobie Brothers (Photo by Dan Harr/Invision/AP)

The Doobie Brothers

A lot is said about Americans. Some of it is very critical. Some of it is very fair. Some of it misses the things they are Really Good At. You want sparkling, harmonically – perfect, every single tune you want we’ll play, give the people what they want magical, without a note out of place, without a single bedraggled harmony, with a repertoire which would embarrass The Eagles, these are the lads. Oh my God it was perfect. Even when the house lights at the O2 decided to send a subliminal message to the massed ranks of 50 something males to go for a pee, they still came on and slaughtered 20,000 with pitch perfect “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin’”. Time in a Bottle.

Roy Wood

One of the great joys of being a director of a couple of commercial radio stations is on the odd occasion you get a good lig. Roy Wood was kind enough to open our Derbyshire Dales / Staffordshire station, Ashbourne Radio in 2008. He lived nearby at the time and as we’d virtually had a standing order to buy his singles in the seventies, we were just overwhelmed to be sitting next to him and shooting the breeze with him whilst preparing to play “Flowers in the Rain” by the Move just as Radio One had for their first tune. Didn’t quite work out that way due to technical reasons which are part of a forthcoming book, as it turned out; but anyway, we were delighted to be Roy’s guests at the Buxton Opera House a few weeks back.

Once onstage he explained to us that he’d fallen for that 4 – saxophone rock n roll thing, hence the rock n roll band – and it was for life. Jeff Lynne clearly thought otherwise and went all fiddles and everything and fair play to him – it did, after all, work out Quite Well. But you can just see the parting of the ways in that simple transaction; you do the strings and stuff, I’ll do the saxophones and we’ll see how it pans out. See you, mate. And so The Move split and became ELO and Roy Wood’s Wizzard.

But first…..’Going to a Party, meet me on after school…..’ and Roy hits the audience with The Move’s 1972 top five hit, “California Man”. Straight off the back of that into ‘Ball Park Incident’ – and we’re off and running.  Yes of course he plays bloody Christmas Everyday, what do you want for your money? But it’s a whole lot more than that. Great musicianship from a band who can really rock n roll and a guy who really understands how it works. A master musician, still turning his trick with pride and rightly so; and hugely, hugely respected by those who feel just every now and then, we Brits did actually get to the very heart of the matter. I mean. Did you ever hear a better impersonation of Bill Haley and the Comets than “Are You Ready to Rock?” With bagpipes?

Graham Parker

Very weird, this. MusicRiot Ubersnapper Mr A McKay and I saw this guy in action in Scotland when we were DJing there back in the seventies – we did a support gig with him and Allan took some ace shots of him in action.  We also sat with him and the rest of The Rumour – his stunningly soulful band – whilst he watched himself on Top of the Pops singing “Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions” in the TV lounge in the venue before he went on. Which is a very strange feeling.

Even stranger as we both watched him performing as Special Guest of Stone Foundation at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire a mere 40 years later. He negotiated his way through a back-catalogue of his greatest hits and should-have-been-hits, in an acoustic stylee, and then came on during the final stages of Stone Foundation’s victorious headline appearance to light up the proceedings with a blistering version of ‘(I’m Gonna’) Tear Your Playhouse Down’, courtesy of Ann Peebles via Paul Young.

This was a classic case of ‘it’s the songs, stupid’. Much though Graham Parker is a great singer and can wrangle the soul out of a lyric like few others, at the time he was accused of writing chants and slogans rather than songs. Oh, really? Try “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, or “White Honey”. He had hits, he toured successfully, he did all the stuff you’d expect a successful writer and musician to do. But he was undoubtedly sold short by a music business that didn’t quite know what to do with him. I profoundly hope that one day soon, whilst he remains the sprightly and able musician he is now, he will tour with a full-on soul band with a wicked horn section, cracking rhythm section and all that that implies. Whether or not that means a reformation of The Rumour remains to be seen. Never say never again. Please.

Donald Fagen

A night out with Mr McKay to the O2 as part of an amazing cultural long weekend with the maestro of the telephoto. We had both been fans of the darkly amusing Don and Walt show since probably about 1972 when we both bought copies of the life – changing ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Rikki Don’t Loser That Number’ a year or so later. ‘Send it off in a letter to yourself’ i.e. post yourself a joint, you’re unlikely to get nicked.

Funny.

He’s in his late sixties now and his long time partner in crime, Walter Becker, has just died. ‘That’s something I’m just gonna have to live with’, he explains to us at the O2 with typical understatement (with huge undercurrents.)

Send It Off In A Letter To Yourself.

Donald Fagen’s newly ‘solo’ Steely Dan ‘Organisation’ is a sort of jazz/funk  collective which regularly kicks into gear and plays extremely direct and passionate ‘Dan’ classics; occasionally it meanders around, jazz noodles a bit, picks up the thread, plays a stunning version of Fagen’s solo “New Frontier”, and strips the paint off of “Peg”. I can’t help feeling the lack of “Do It Again” and “Rikki” should be punishable by at least a mild flogging and not performing “FM – No Static At All” whilst in the presence of broadcasting royalty is of course unforgivable. However  and despite Fagen’s understandable breathlessness, they blast through “My Old School” with something approaching venom and give “Reeling In The Years” a poignant and heartfelt airing which brought more than the odd tear to the eye, I’ll tell thee. Ironically.

Have you had enough of mine?

Fair enough. The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand.

Steve Jenner December 2017

Rackhouse Pilfer - 'Love and Havoc' - cover (300dpi)‘Why don’t we open the album with a song about busting out of prison, I mean it worked for Thin Lizzy, didn’t it?”. Well, it certainly did and just as “Jailbreak” set the tone perfectly for the album of the same name, “Dust on the Road” does the same for Rackhouse Pilfer’s “Love and Havoc”. The frenetic banjo and fiddle interplay drives along a tale of freedom or death that’s only resolved with the half-speed coda signifying success. By the end of the song, you know you’re in good hands. Rackhouse Pilfer is an Irish six-piece outfit and, if I can’t use the catch-all term Americana, I’d have to say they play original songs influenced by country, bluegrass and a hefty dose of seventies Laurel Canyon troubadours and another hefty dose of homegrown Irish fun. If you can carry that off, you’ve got something a little bit special and they don’t just carry it off, they heave it into the air and juggle it with one hand. OK, I admit it, we’re a bit behind the curve on this one; it was released in 2014 but it’s just popped up in the Riot Towers inbox ahead of a Rackhouse Pilfer UK tour.

“Another Dirty Joke” rattles along in the same light-hearted way with a theme of drunken and stoned escapism, but it’s not just about the craic; there’s a serious side to the album as well. “Me and a Polar Bear” is an uptempo piece with an environmental theme while “Angela” tells the story of a woman who wants to escape a relationship by murdering her partner. You can hear more traditional string band influences on the slow “A Sailing Song” with its mournful unison fiddle and mandolin and the rollicking “Shady Grove”, which gives all of the players a chance to show off their skills with short solos.

And the Laurel Canyon influence? Well “Two Oceans” evokes early Jackson Browne perfectly; the song, the vocal and even the title could have featured on any of his first three albums. You can hear an Eagles influence in the harmony-laden midtempo country-rock of “Calico Sky” and “I’ll Find a Way” (maybe a hint of Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” in there as well) and “Bright Lights” could be Bernie Leadon era Eagles.

“Love and Havoc” assimilates a huge number of influences, weaves them into a bunch of diverse and memorable songs and tops the mix off with a touch of Celtic good humour. And I’m willing to bet they do a cracking live show, so maybe you should look out for dates near you on their UK tour.

“Love and Havoc” is out now.

Days are GoneHaim are in a minority of artists who also form part of the majority where influences from chart music over the last thirty years can be heard clod-hopping all over their work but who are also pushing forward musically, and sound strikingly different from their current, retro-obsessed contemporaries. The three twenty-something sisters from LA write their own material and play their instruments, they aren’t an electronic act and neither do they aspire to be urban makeover superstars. But there are some fascinating deep and dark synths here and an R’n’B spirit is shadowing almost every song to the point where it does, albeit briefly, finally jump into the driving seat. “Tango in The Night”-era Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Sheryl Crow, The Police and eighties soft rock are the most dominant and easily-spotted influences for the Haim sisters debut though. Time and again you’ll hear these mentioned in reference to the group but importantly at the core of “Days Are Gone”, is a sound that is all theirs.

The first third of the album is home to all four heavily-promoted singles and with the possible exception of the worryingly Shania Twain tendencies of the overly-perky “The Wire” (not forgetting the Eagles “Heartache Tonight” drum intro – Ed), all still sound spring fresh, funky and with plenty of space for instruments and vocals to stretch out and sparkle. “If I Could Change your Mind” has a fidgety, skipping melody line which brings to mind freestyle electro pop from eighties artists like Cover Girls and Lisa Lisa, and the title track, a surprising co-write with UK new-house artist Jessie Ware, has plenty of tension and bustles along with an urgent agenda and rhythm.

It’s on the futuristic R’n’B of the oddly titled “My Song 5” where the band really surprise. If this were the lead single from Beyonce’s near-mythical, possibly forthcoming album or even more excitingly, another attempt at a comeback from Missy Elliott then either would be rightly lauded. Three seconds of dirgy, descending buzz bass and then massive slow pounding drums introduce vocals which mimic Wendy and Lisa doing their Purple Rain residence; dead eyed and dangerous, pitch black promising ‘honey I’m not your honey pie’. A dizzy and delirious middle eight where tight angelic harmonies flip forward and then just disappear and it’s one of the one of the most exciting and weird four minutes you’ll have experienced since the first time you heard “Get Ur Freak On”.

Continuing with the genuinely thrilling and experimental final third of “Days Are Gone” where the sound that we’d already heard from the band is both intensified and stripped away, “Go Slow” is a gorgeous and gently skulking “True Colours” but with all of the sonic fuzz wiped away. “Let Me Go” is the angriest sounding moment here, building from the sixties girl group chants in the dark into a tribal thud and clanking, dubby outro and “Running If you Call my Name” closes the album in a traditional way as a down-tempo mass of drums, guitars and those beautiful harmonies.

“Days Are Gone”, maybe more than anything else, is very welcome at this point in pop culture. Pop music is more female-driven and dominated than ever before; Gaga is eaten by Lana is eaten by Taylor is eaten by Miley. It happens so quickly and all have their place and merit but none sound like Haim. Image, although clearly very much considered, seems less of an issue to the group than the music itself, you can listen to the songs here and you don’t necessarily feel hijacked by a carefully constructed persona and brand as you may do when listening to “Born This Way” or “Video Games” say. This is a charismatic and superior release, real musical talent and love of performing that doesn’t sound cynical or short-sighted. Probably most satisfying of all, you can almost guarantee that this really is only the beginning for Haim and the best is still to come.

Out now.

Wrote a Song for EveryoneSo, what’s this all about then?  John Fogerty, former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman and highly respected solo artist has decided to revisit some of his back catalogue with a few collaborators and throw in a brace of new songs for good measure.  It’s not a new idea and it can be either a cynical attempt to cash in on a few good, old songs or a chance to invite fellow musicians to put their stamp on your songs.  I’m really pleased to say that “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is a fascinating look at the heritage of one of the great rock songwriters and performers.  You have to approach this with an open mind; some of the songs, in their original incarnations, were massive teenage favourites of mine through happy and sad times but there are some radically different interpretations here.  The conventional view is that Eagles popularised the country-rock genre, but you could make the same case for Creedence if you take your country influences from New Orleans rather than Bakersfield; just a thought.

The album opens with “Fortunate Son”, which is amped-up by the Foo Fighters to a full-on rocker (no surprise there) before Keith Urban delivers a banjo-led country-rock version of “Almost Saturday Night” which takes the song back to its lyrical roots and “Lodi” (probably my favourite John Fogerty song) gets the Status Quo “Rocking All Over the World” treatment with John’s two sons Shane and Tyler Fogerty.  Incidentally, this is the only collaboration that Fogerty arranged, pulling rank with his two sons when he didn’t like their country-rock arrangement.  “Mystic Highway” is one of the new songs and breaks down into 3 sections, the main song, an instrumental section and an a capella breakdown with a strong feel of the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”.  “Wrote a Song for Everyone” features a Miranda Lambert vocal and some exceptional  guitar work from Tom Morello; so far so good.

The Zac Brown Band reworking of “Bad Moon Rising” in a Cajun style works less well for me, losing the brooding menace of the original version.  “Long as I can See the Light” with My Morning Jacket sticks fairly close to the original, retaining the organ riff which characterises that version and is followed by Kid Rock’s take on “Born on the Bayou”.  Apparently it’s now a violation of several federal statutes to record a collaboration album without including a Kid Rock track.  The album’s second new song “Train of Fools” follows, exploring similar territory to Springsteen’s recent “Land of Hope and Dreams”.  It’s obvious that John Fogerty can still write a good song and the new songs sit very comfortably alongside his earlier work on this album.

“Someday Never Comes” with Dawes has Taylor Goldsmith singing the verses about the things we tell kids (and adults) to shut them up while Fogerty takes the choruses as the gruff old bad guy who tells us that it’s all lies.  Bob Seger delivers the Woodstock song “Who’ll Stop the Rain” very much in the style of his 1976 classic “Night Moves”, which works very well.  If any singles are to be released from the album, “Hot Rod Heart” should be top of the list.  It’s a great driving song (maybe it’s time we had an alternative to the lazy radio programming of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” every time the sun shines for more than five minutes) and the last couple of minutes consists of Fogerty and Brad Paisley trading superb guitar solos and generally having a good time.  I bet Paddy McAloon wouldn’t like it.

“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” with Alan Jackson works perfectly with a pure country arrangement with banjo, fiddle and steel guitar filling out the sound and leads us into the last track of the album.  I’ve heard many versions of “Proud Mary”, but nothing quite like this.  The first verse and chorus are pure gospel with Jennifer Hudson backed by a gospel choir and the wonderful Allen Toussaint before speeding up to a Cajun boogie with the full band and accordion and horns for good measure.  I used to think the Ike & Tina Turner version was over the top, but they only used one kitchen sink and  I think there’s about three here.  It’s a glorious way to end a great album.

John Fogerty has survived in the music business for a long time with all of the usual peaks and troughs that anyone big in the sixties and seventies went through including the publishing disputes, particularly the publishing disputes.  The reason he’s still around is that he loves what he does and he’s very good at it.  “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is a very, very good album.

Out now on Vanguard (88765487152).