Friday, October 6, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Peter Wolf, Warren Zevon, Gary Moore (2002)

Peter Wolf's Sleepless

For every aging rocker like Carlos Santana that revives their creative fortunes with the help of a best-selling album, there is a Mick Jagger, who can’t get his solo career jumping even with the help of Lenny Kravitz. As the rock & roll pioneers of the sixties approach sixty themselves, the industry increasingly treats them as has-beens regardless of their talent and what great music they might still have left in them. A trio of excellent recent releases from three old school rockers illustrates this point and the absurdity of judging artists on their age rather than what they can still bring to the creative table.

Peter Wolf is best known for his work in the seventies and eighties fronting the hard-rocking R&B outfit the J. Geils Band. His own solo work has offered an inspired mix of roots-rock, blues and sweet soul music, and Sleepless (Artemis Records) furthers Wolf’s late-career blooming as a dynamic solo artist. Wolf spent a number of years in Nashville, working with local songwriters and honing his skills as a wordsmith, and it shows on Sleepless, with every song a finely crafted gem.

“Nothing But the Wheel,” Wolf’s duet with Mick Jagger, is unabashed country honk, a twang-filled, pedal-steel powered delight while “A Lot of Good Ones Gone” is a soulful remembrance of times passed that sounds like Stax circa ‘67. Wolf also revisits an old J. Geils’ favorite, “Homework,” reinventing the Otis Rush rocker as a growling, blues-fueled barroom brawl. “Some Things You Don’t Want To Know” offers the unlikely pairing of Wolf and country rocker Steve Earle, a lonesome prairie-styled waltz with some nice fretwork while “Too Close Together” is an old-fashioned romp, Chicago blues style, with Keith Richards of the Stones adding his six-string skills. Sleepless is a wonderful effort on Wolf’s part, a vibrant and enjoyable collection of songs destined to be overlooked in favor of more “marketable” artists…which doesn’t stop you from running to the store and buying it immediately!

Warren Zevon's My Ride's Here
Singer/songwriter Warren Zevon has served as the court jester of rock ‘n’ roll for so long that it will be hard to imagine the genre without him. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Zevon is spending time with his family and recording new songs rather than tour in support of his new album My Ride’s Here (Artemis Records). Zevon’s story-telling skills, macabre humor and dark wit will be sorely missed, but My Ride’s Here offers plenty of each in large measures. One of the most intelligent, erudite and frustrating word-wranglers in the biz, Zevon fills his songs with beautiful losers and dedicated fools, obscure pop culture references and more philosophical couplets than a roomful of monks could contemplate in a lifetime (even if they knew exactly what Zevon was singing about).

My Ride’s Here kicks off with the hard-driving “Sacrificial Lamb,” exposing the charlatans of religion while “Basket Case” is a tongue-in-cheek love song written with novelist Carl Hiaasen. “Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” might be a metaphor for life, with David Letterman adding crucial vocal flourishes and “MacGillycuddy’s Reeks” is a lively Irish reel written with poet Paul Muldoon. “Genius” is an insightful look at the turmoil of a broken heart while the album closing “My Ride’s Here,” with its brilliant imagery and imaginative storyline is, perhaps, the best epitaph that Zevon could have penned for himself. Working with a top-notch band that includes bassist Sheldon Gomberg and Garbage’s drummer Anton Fig and writing with partners like Muldoon, Hiaasen, Larry Klein and Hunter S. Thompson, Zevon has delivered one of the strongest albums in his storied career with My Ride’s Here.

Gary Moore's Scars
Guitarist Gary Moore earned his bones as a blues assassin, mentored by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green and fronting the late-sixties British “blooze-rock” posse Skid Row. After a handful of albums and mid-chart singles, Moore left the band to tool around Europe as part of the jazz-fusion outfit Colosseum before becoming a heavy metal hero as the primary axeman for Phil Lynott’s Thin Lizzy. A series of metal-tinged solo albums made Moore one of the best-loved cult guitarists in rock, but for the last decade or so the chameleon-like artist has returned to the blues with a handful of critically-acclaimed releases. With Scars (Sanctuary Records), Moore enjoys the best of both worlds, blending hard rock energy and his mastery of the blues, updating the Skid Row sound for a new millennium.

Scars burns with a white light/white heat that will blister your eardrums and tickle your id, Moore’s tortured six-string wailing like a metal machine monster. Copping his best Jimi Hendrix/Robin Trower attitude, Moore kicks off Scars with “When the Sun Goes Down,” an electrifying riff-fest that had this humble scribe believing that it was 1973 again. “Wasn’t Born In Chicago” rolls right off the tracks, Moore howling like he’s got Robert Johnson’s hellhounds on his trail, the band – former Skunk Anansie bassist Cass Lewis and Primal Scream drummer Darrin Mooney – hitting a funky groove and driving it like an out-of-control big rig down the listener’s throat. Another six-string lovefest, “World of Confusion,” conjures up the ghost of Hendrix (think “Manic Depression” and you’re in the right ballpark) while “Ball and Chain” is a powerful blues rave-up that will have you swaying your head and stomping your feet in spite of yourself. A strong effort that showcases Moore’s ability to both blast out power riffs and deliver subtle blues virtuosity, Scars is a reminder that sometimes an old blueshound doesn’t need to learn any new tricks to get by... (View From The Hill, October 2002)

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