The College Papers: Pop Concert Report

For my final paper in Enjoyment of Music, I was required to watch Beyonce’s 2013 Chime for Change concert, filmed live in London, England, and evaluate the performance. As with the Classical Concert Report, I have removed the in-text citations and placed links to the sources used in the paper at the end of the report. Also as with the Classical Report, I was required to deliver an objective, academic, “blow-by-blow” description of the performance and not allowed to give my opinion of the music itself. I will say in this introduction, however, that I am not a huge fan of 2000s/2010s pop and R&B.


 


School: University of Southern Mississippi

Course: MUS 165

Instructor: Professor Reyelt

Date: April 3, 2021

Score: 100

Pop Concert Report

Filmed live on June 1, 2013, at Twickenham outdoor stadium in London, England, pop star Beyonce’s headlining performance at the Chime for Change charity concert opened with an eight-piece string section, seated stage left, playing a brief introduction and backed by cymbals. A center-stage screen rose, revealing Beyonce, who soon began singing a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” while moving forward toward the audience. In response, the audience stood, cheered, applauded, and raised phones. The arrangement was supported by simple instrumentation with light percussion and bass joining the strings.

At time stamp 02:07, Beyonce formally introduced herself and the event, as strings played the intro to jazz standard “At Last,” which Beyonce had previously covered as a studio release. Like the preceding cover, “At Last” also sported sparse instrumentation, but with a driving piano. Both “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “At Last” were performed reverently, with little stylistic update to the Sam Cooke and Etta James versions respectively. 

After “At Last” ended at 05:02, the string players exited, and Beyonce took a moment to promote the Chime for Change charity, which she-cofounded, before launching into her 2011 Top 30 Billboard hit “Run the World (Girls),” with a call-and-response between herself and the audience. The band executed an accelerando at 07:01, keeping the energy level high and the audience on their feet. 

After “Run the World” ended, Beyonce asked the audience if there were any “survivors” in attendance, with emphasis on the word as a cue to her next song, the #2 Billboard hit “Survivor” from her time with R&B girl group Destiny’s Child. Picking up on the cue, the audience cheered. “Survivor” officially began at 09:45. Of note in this song was the loud and fluid drum work. Beyonce seemed to be struggling on the higher notes on this piece and was reportedly battling a sore throat. Around the 11-minute mark, the pop icon prompted the audience to join in, with pumping fists and another call-and-response. She also informed the audience of a tempo increase ahead of its 11:20 execution. The tempo increased even faster to its finish at 11:30, all to audience cheers.

At 11:45; Beyonce’s #1 hit “Irreplaceable” began with an acoustic guitar solo intro, joined by percussion two measures in. At 13:42, the bass guitar joined on the chorus, while a full drum kit arrived at 14:09. Backing vocalists joined with harmony in verse 2 at 14:11. The band executed a crescendo going into the bridge around 15:00, with a three-piece brass section spotlighted at 16:20 near the song’s finale.

After “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce exited while a video interlude with music and voiceover played. A heavy kick drum began at 18:42 while all other instrumentation dropped out at 18:48.

Beyonce soon returned and began singing her #3 hit “If I Were a Boy,” backed solely by bass drum. A heavily distorted electric guitar joined at 19:05, with more instruments joining at 19:23, and a synthesizer sounding prominently. At 20:43, instruments rose from a brief piano segment, and a crescendo followed, then a decrescendo to cessation. The audience cheered for several seconds, before Beyonce returned with vocals, accompanied by piano, at 21:32. Soon, the synthesizer, bass, and strings returned, followed by the entire band with heavy drum work. Following a powerhouse vocal variation of the chorus, the musicians performed another crescendo, then ended abruptly. Beyonce returned leading another audience call-and-response of a refrain of the song, before singing the final line a cappella. The band struck four chords in quick succession to end.

The band then launched into “Crazy in Love,” another #1 hit, prompting the audience to “go wild.” On this particular song, Beyonce sounded strained on her lower register, presumably due to her reported sore throat. At 24:50, Beyonce’s husband and original featured artist Jay-Z entered to thunderous applause.

At 26:48, the band rolled straight into yet another #1 hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” The performance was the most energetic of the night from both Beyonce and the band, with the performers seeming to keep the audience engaged more than any other song. Following the song’s end at 30:30, Beyonce once again exited for another brief interlude featuring heavy percussive elements and back-up vocalists singing the refrain “I’m a grown woman / I can do whatever I want.”

Beyonce returned at 31:58 for “Grown Woman,” a performance that, at times, engendered the feel of an improvised “jam.” At 36:13, Beyonce covered “I Will Always Love You” a cappella for the verse, while the audience sang along. An atmospheric synth joined her on the chorus. Beyonce’s version here was stylistically close to the rendition by Whitney Houston, to whom Beyonce dedicated the song at the end of its performance.

From the dedication, Beyonce rolled straight into her #5 hit “Halo” at 37:50, with full drums, bass, and heavy electric guitar joining the atmospheric synth with stabs. During this song, Beyonce walked downstage for a close interaction with the audience and led the crowd in an arm waving sing-a-long. Despite struggling with tone and pitch at various points throughout the night, Beyonce closed the concert with a near pristine vocal performance and inarguably the best vocal of the night, ending at 42:50 to wildly positive reception from the audience.

Overall, the set provided hard-hitting, rhythm-driven original hits, with a few covers of popular ballads sprinkled in, all designed to keep the audience engaged and showcase the vocal prowess of the show’s star. While, as previously mentioned, string and brass sections accompanied certain pieces, the core of the band comprised the standard pop music instruments of electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards/synthesizers, and drums/percussion. The band was positioned on a split raised platform at the back of the main stage, and while it was often difficult to see the area, it appeared two keyboardists, three backing vocalists, and one guitarist were positioned left to right on the left platform, and the bassist, brass section, and drummer/percussionist (also from left to right) shared the right platform. Much like the construction of the setlist, the band’s position was designed to keep the spotlight on the main attraction, and based on the audience’s reaction, I would say both the set and staging achieved their purposes.

In fact, the difference between the audience’s reaction to this concert and the classical audience’s reaction during the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s 7th is striking. While the audience at Concertgebouw remained practically stoic throughout the performance, saving a standing ovation for the post-finale, the audience at Twickenham was loud and mobile from start to finish—and I don’t believe the artist would prefer it any other way. 

Sources:

Beyonce Battled Sore Throat During Sound of Change Charity Show

Beyonce headlines ‘Chime for Change’ charity concert for women in London

The Unlikely Story of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come

Chart History Beyonce

Chart History Destiny’s Child


 

 

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The College Papers: Classical Concert Report

For Enjoyment of Music class, I was required to watch the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and evaluate the performance. As I am not classically trained, I was a bit shaky on the terminology, so if I got anything wrong…well, the instructor didn’t count off for it! Also note, that, for this post, I have removed the in-text citations and placed links to the sources used in the paper at the end of the report. I was not allowed to opine on the music itself but was tasked with delivering an objective description and analysis of the execution. Here, I am under no such restrictions and, therefore, say, without hesitation, that the piece is exquisite.


 

 


 

School: University of Southern Mississippi

Course: MUS 165

Instructor: Professor Reyelt

Date: March 16, 2021

Score: 100

Classical Concert Report

In January 2014, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands, renowned conductor Ivan Fischer lead the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The first level of the stage contained the majority of the string section. Level two featured a percussionist on timpani plus four players from both the string and woodwinds sections, including two cellists, two flautists, and a clarinet player. The third level rounded out the woodwinds and also boasted the entire brass section, with two trumpeters and two French horn players. The fourth and final level housed four double bassists. 

The orchestra opened the piece’s first movement (Poco sostenuto – Vivace) with a burst of music in major mode, played forte, at a moderate tempo, in 6/8 time, with the string section and timpani sounding prominently. The burst was followed by a flute solo played pianissimo and backed by rising strings. At 00:13, another burst—I believe what would be appropriately called a sforzando—sounded, followed by more activity from the woodwinds and rising from the brass section, adding to the overall volume of the quiet segments. Following another sforzando at 00:19, the French horns sounded prominently. The alternating loud bursts and quiet melodies effectively created an oscillating emotional effect of invigoration and relaxation in the space of mere seconds.

The musicians executed a shift in both melody and dynamics around 00:28, with something of a short “call-and-response” between the strings and woodwinds. The former played arpeggios up the scale while the latter sounded brief, gentle, three-note statements. With each statement, both sections grew louder, with the segment culminating in an epic crescendo at 00:54. A string-dominant passage ensued, segueing with a decrescendo at 01:22 into a woodwind-heavy segment, featuring a prominent showcase from the clarinet. 

Another crescendo from the full orchestra began around 1:58 and ushered in a minor mode shift at 02:17. Although the orchestra returned to the major mode at 02:30, the brief shift seemed to serve as a bit of foreshadowing for the second movement.

Around the 03:50 mark, a flute rose from a near-silent passage with a melody seeming to act as a harbinger of an important event. Over the next twenty seconds or so, the strings and woodwinds, with the flute remaining as lead instrument, oscillated in volume, with a tune denoting quick motion. Around 04:17, the orchestra ascended the scale with a heroic crescendo, building anticipation for the entire orchestra to pick up the “motion” theme initially heralded by the flute. The passage was played lively and brought to mind the idea of “racing” or “adventure.” 

For the next six and a half minutes, the orchestra played variations of the theme with alternating changes in dynamics, culminating around the 11:00 mark with an accelerando followed by a ritardando and a brief stop. At this point, the clarinet rose as the lead instrument, continuing the theme softly, then switching to minor mode. A crescendo ensued as the entire orchestra played the theme in minor mode. The ensemble eventually returned to the major mode and at last concluded in rousing fashion at 14:15.

Under the masterful direction of Fischer, the orchestra successfully delivered the first movement with regularly shifting dynamics and heavy interplay between the strings and woodwinds, with the brass shoring up the melody and the timpani adding depth to the affair.

The orchestra began the second movement (Allegreto) at 14:45, immediately noticeable as a marked departure from its predecessor. The movement is in a minor mode, and the low strings at 14:50 produced the sombre feeling of a funeral procession. The orchestra occasionally struck a major chord, but overall, the piece remained melancholy. The high strings rose at 16:34, adding to the haunting atmosphere. A slow crescendo began around 17:05, and the rest of the orchestra burst forth at 17:23, to chill-inducing effect. 

18:17 saw a shift to a major mode, producing a much happier sound that seemed more compatible with the first movement. Around 19:40, however, the strings descended the scale, signalling another shift which began properly around 19:50. The new theme returned to the darkness of the piece’s beginning, but the rapidity of the melody hearkened back to “quick motion” feel of the first movement. 

At 23:08, the woodwinds took center stage as the orchestra repeated the main theme piano. During this portion, at least two violinists used a pizzicato technique, adding another dimension to the segment. Around the 24:00 mark, the orchestra played a brief crescendo, before all music ceased, signalling the end of the movement—an abrupt and unexpected finale conducted to perfection by Fischer. Once again, the orchestra delivered a performance of great feeling, conveying a dark and chilling piece.

In stark contrast to the morosity of the preceding movement, the orchestra began the third movement (Scherzo. Presto) with a lively performance, which, as with Movement I, brought to mind imagery of rapid movement—the chase, the hunt—in other words, exciting action. Elements of note in the performance, included a chromatic shift around 28:00, a ritardando at 30:46, with the woodwinds once taking a starring role, and finally, a race to the finish beginning at 32:29 and ending the shortest and briskest movement yet at 33:52. 

The orchestra then began the fourth movement (Allegro con brio), determined to continue the musical race from the previous movement at a gallop. Performing the swift piece at the direction of Fischer, the group turned toward “darkness” with minor shift around 36:05, modulated upward around 37:00, and finally ended in grandiose fashion at 40:50, giving the trumpets a moment to shine toward the piece’s conclusion. Following the conclusion of the fourth movement, Fischer and crew were met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from their audience—a clear testament to the masterful craftsmanship of the night’s performers and their conductor.

Sources:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major


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Indie Success on Jamendo: “Christmas Alone” Passes 10k Plays; “Not the One” Added to Playlist

I first heard about Jamendo around three years ago. An indie streaming and download service based in Europe, Jamendo is free to both listeners and artists. Although Jamendo neither charges nor pays for streams or downloads, Jamendo offers licensing and YouTube monetization programs which can become a source of revenue for artists.

While it’s nice to earn some dough on original content, I’ve always been more interested in having my music heard than sold, and at this point in my career, I’m less interested in turning a profit than ever. Not because I couldn’t use the money (I mean, who can’t, right?). I’ve simply embraced an “art for art’s sake” attitude…with the caveat that I will not necessarily turn down any financial compensation for my art. Let’s call this philosophy “ars gratias artis and the money too.” (I call dibs on that for an album title! Dibs will hold up in a court of law, right?) 

Anyway, I said all that to say I decided I’d try Jamendo for the Southern Gentry Music Review (yes, not “Revue”) version of “Christmas Alone” late last year. I had nothing to lose and possibly something to gain. Well, after 7 months, I’m happy to announce that “Christmas Alone” has passed 10,000 plays on the service.

“10,000? That’s it?” Okay, okay. Yeah, that’s not a lot by many standards. But for someone whose following is concentrated in Southwest Mississippi, and who retired from performing live 5 years ago due to health issues, and who has been at home educating and caring for a couple of monst–er, uh, “children” and doing little to promote his music since, this is truly a spectacular statistic and stands as a testament to not only the music itself, but also to Jamendo’s platform and the international indie fan community at large. 

In addition, I also released the single version of “Not the One to Say (I Told You So)” to the service earlier this year. There was a copyright kerfuffle when I originally uploaded (their system thought I was plagiarizing myself; Fantasy v. Fogerty, anyone?), so there was a significant delay in the availability of the track after the official release date which seemed to greatly impact the track’s discoverability. In other words, the track didn’t perform near as well as “Christmas Alone.”

Jamendo, however, emailed to let me know their team really dug the track and would be including it on an upcoming playlist. Now, if I had a dollar for every time an entity (individual or business) said they would soon be doing something great for free that might give me a career boost, but then didn’t, I’d be typing this post from my private island in the Caribbean. Actually, no, I wouldn’t be typing this post at all. Regardless, my thought was, “Well, that’s a nice email, but…yeah, probably won’t happen.”

After several months passed and no playlist placement materialized, I felt my reaction had been validated. Well, a few days ago, I logged onto to my Jamendo account to see that my play count on NTOTSITYS had increased by over a thousand plays since I took a good look at it a week or so earlier. True to their word, Jamendo had indeed added the track to their Singer/Songwriter playlist featured on their homepage, and the track has now gained over two thousand plays since.

Now, as a bit of a skeptic, I’ve been waiting to uncover some kind of angle which would make things less rosy than they appear (e.g. Are these bot plays?) But I can’t find any reason or evidence that things aren’t exactly as they seem, so at this time, I can do nothing but thank Jamendo for providing a service which allows me to freely and easily distribute my music to an international audience of eager listeners and for also adding one of my songs to an official playlist.

If you’re an independent artist less interested in making money from your original content and more interested in sharing your music with the world, I recommend giving Jamendo a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it. (But if you do, I call dibs on not being held legally liable for your remorse.)


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The College Papers: Music Critical Thinking Essay

For my second paper in Enjoyment of Music, I was commissioned to summarize and opine on Leonard Bernstein’s remarks on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

It’s a bit outside my normal music industry posts, but I did enjoy delving into a few of my other interests of politics, history, and philosophy. 


Course: MUS 165 Enjoyment of Music.

Instructor: Professor Reyelt

Date: April 2, 2021

Score: 100

Critical Thinking Essay

At the outset of remarks on the Kennedy assassination, composer Leonard Bernstein recaps a recent performance and the public’s reaction to it:

Days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra performed Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. The performance apparently raised eyebrows, however, due to the piece’s association with themes of hope and triumph, with some believing that a requiem would have been a more appropriate choice for honoring the fallen president. 

Bernstein then responds to his critics by asserting that the piece represents not just hope for the resurrection of the recently deceased leader, but the resurrection of hope for the nation as a whole. Bernstein explains that every musician he knew loved Kennedy because Kennedy held art and creativity in high regard. This regard for mental ability would have been represented in the last speech that Kennedy was scheduled to deliver before his death. “America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason,” read a line from Kennedy’s intended remarks. Bernstein declares that those two items—learning and reason—were clearly absent from the mind of Kennedy’s assassin, and is a motto by which we, as a nation, should live moving forward. 

After postulating that America’s feelings of remorse and revulsion are magnified by the violent nature of Kennedy’s death, Bernstein poses this question: Whence comes this violence? “Ignorance and hatred,” Bernstein answers—the antitheses of learning and reason. Although Kennedy was never able to deliver these words, Bernstein encourages us all to embrace them, using rational intellect (the power of the mind) to achieve victory over violence.

Bernstein concludes his speech by speaking on behalf of musicians, declaring that, while musicians are as incensed over the event as all others, they will refuse to retaliate in kind, and instead will respond with music. Music will never be the same, for in response to Kennedy’s death, musicians will strive to create superior compositions.

Mr. Bernstein’s sentiment is nice, to be sure, and undoubtedly sincere. But there is a central problem with the extracted line from President Kennedy’s speech. While “America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason” makes for a fine surface-level pull quote, the statement ignores the danger of education and rationality when lacking certain supporting elements.

Acquiring knowledge (learning) but being devoid of wisdom, which I would define as “the ability to use knowledge correctly,” can be at best an empty exercise and, at worst, a global detriment. Whence comes wisdom? Is it a natural ability? A gift of Divinity? The result of experience? Or does its origin fluctuate on an individual basis, sometimes one, sometimes two, yet other times all, of the above? Whatever its genesis, individuals who have gained information but are deficient in the ability to correctly use that information may have very well wasted their time. Yet others armed with information but lacking wisdom, may be able to leverage their education (“wisdom on paper,” if you will) to achieve positions of power. So, what happens to a society when those in power are knowledgeable but not truly wise? A similar analysis can be applied to reason, for reason un-tempered by empathy can lead to rigidity and callousness. 

Bernstein’s further assertion that Kennedy’s murderer was devoid of learning and reason simply based on the perpetrator’s act of murder is also fundamentally flawed. A heinous act in and of itself does not necessarily indicate a lack of education or reasoning, for if a person’s goal is to perpetrate evil, the goal itself may be born of a reasonable thought and enacted through a logical plan of achievement, no matter how morally reprehensible the act may be.

One needs only glance at some of the greatest villains of history to see that learning and reason alone do not necessarily coincide with peace and pacifism. Genocidal dictators Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, for instance, were intellectually inclined and received quite a bit of education. No doubt the pair also possessed a strong ability to reason, otherwise, neither would have been able to accomplish their political goals and remain in power. The same can be said of Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe, a school teacher-turned-violent guerrilla revolutionary-turned-life-long dictator.

Simply put, presuming that hatred cannot live in the hearts of rational and educated people is itself unreasonable and smacks of ignorance. I think the larger issue here is a question of morality. But to answer that question, we would be required to enter a philosophical debate of moral relativism vs. moral absolutism, and that would be too great a digression from the topic at hand.

I also take issue with Bernstein’s statement that every musician he knew loved Kennedy. While this may be true, it is an anecdotal account which implies that Kennedy had the support of all musicians, and possibly the arts and entertainment community at large. Although it’s true Democrat Kennedy enjoyed support from quite number of entertainers, in the 1960s, the celebrity world was not quite as politically one-sided as it is today, with many actors, singers, and musicians actively supporting Republican candidates. For example, within five years of Kennedy’s death, African-American jazz singer and former Kennedy supporter Sammy Davis, Jr. would throw his weight behind Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon—the man Kennedy beat in 1960.

Despite my quibbles with Mr. Bernstein’s remarks, however, I do believe in the ability of music to soothe in times of sorrow, for I have experienced this power personally. Music possesses the singular ability to affect human emotional states with a simple series of sounds. A heroic score can raise the listener from the depths of despair to the grandiose heights of elation, and a fast-paced piece in major mode can invigorate and exhilarate even the most downtrodden of spirit. That isn’t to say a slow, minor piece can’t be a healing balm as well, serving as a release mechanism for the listener’s grief. But under the circumstances in November 1963, while I dispute some of Mr. Bernstein’s assertions, I can’t say I disagree with his choice of music.


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CCR Review: COSMO’S FACTORY at 50

  • ccr-cosmos

Earlier this year, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory celebrated 50 years of existence. Considered by many to be the group’s magnum opus, Cosmo’s features nearly every positive element the band had to offer, all polished into a fine, commercial package. 

You can get an idea of how I’m going to rule here by going to this post from February, but if you’re interested in a full track-by-track breakdown, keep scrolling!

Side A:

1. “Ramble Tamble”

Possibly the best album opener in CCR’s catalog, “Ramble Tamble” begins as something of a sequel to “Commotion” from the band’s Green River album. Like the latter track, RT opens with a harder-edged rock intro before shifting to a neo-rockabilly feel. Also like “Commotion,” “Ramble Tamble” laments the socio-political climate of the period with lines such as “There’s garbage on the sidewalk / Highways in the back yard / Police on the corner / Mortgage on the car.” Both songs are even in the key of D.

However, after two blistering verses bookended by a brisk refrain, “Ramble Tamble” begins switching gears, gradually slowing to a stop over the course of 20 seconds. The respite is short-lived, though, as the band immediately returns, changing time, tempo, and, effectively, keys, beginning an Am, C, G, D chord progression.

Over the next four minutes, the experimental instrumentation incrementally builds in layers, intensity, and speed, culminating in an anthemic “wall of sound.” Clearly, the intent is to create a psychedelic jam-band feel, but this is no jam. No, this is master producer Fogerty meticulously directing the band to create one of their best works.

Then, around the 5:30 mark, just as quickly as it began, the epic experiment ends, and the rockabilly returns for Fogerty to wrap up the lyrics with a shot at the Nixon administration:

They’re selling independence
Actors in the White House
Acid in digestion
Mortgage on my life

The song is unquestionably one of the band’s best.

#3 – Southern Senses 10 Best CCR Album Cuts

2. “Before You Accuse Me”

Keeping their tradition of including a handful of covers in their projects, the group proceeds with a rendition of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.” It may not be as inventive as their interpretations of other classics like “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Midnight Special,” but it’s a competent rendering featuring that unmistakeable Creedence sound.

3. “Travelin’ Band”

Speaking of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” the band was sued over the next track for its similarity to the Little Richard hit. Although eventually settled out of court, the lawsuit was ludicrous, as “Travelin’ Band” only sounds like “Miss Molly” in the way all  ’50s-style rock ’n’ roll songs do. The music is a spectacular homage to that era, while the lyrics chronicle touring musicians’ life on the road. TB is also one of six songs from Cosmo’s to hit the Billboard Top 5.

4. “Ooby Dooby”

A cover of a song originally released by Roy Orbison, “Ooby Dooby” is essentially the original version with John singing—which, for a CCR and Roy fanatic like me, is a winning combo.

5. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”

Another Billboard hit, “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” is perhaps the apex of Creedence’s country/folk/rock sound. The laid-back feel and Dr. Seuss-inspired lyrics make for a happy, toe-tapping sing-a-long.

6. “Run Through the Jungle”

A metaphorical commentary on the Vietnam War, “Run Through the Jungle” presents a darker, harder side of the CCR swamp sound—and yields another deserving Billboard hit.

Side B:

1. “Up Around the Bend”

Side B kicks off with hit #4. Opening with one of Fogerty’s most recognizable licks, “Up Around the Bend” is an iconic ‘70s rock song, and with its head-bobbing groove and lyrics about traveling, it’s the quintessential “driving song.” I may not own a convertible, but if I did, “Up Around the Bend” would be at the top of my open-road playlist every summer.

2. “My Baby Left Me”

The band’s rendition of this Billy Crudup R&B tune is more than fine but also the weakest track on the record. Personally, I would have preferred another Crudup tune, “That’s All Right,” which is essentially “My Baby Left Me” with different lyrics.

3. “Who’ll Stop the Rain”

Cosmo’s fifth hit single, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is not only perhaps the most recognizable song from the album but possibly the greatest ballad of a generation. Inspired by CCR’s not-so-spectacular Woodstock experience, the song incorporates many cultural themes of the day through the use of vivid imagery and sets them atop a melancholy, country/rock tune, with folk sensibilities. 

4. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

While a slimmed-down edition would earn CCR a final hit 4 years after their breakup, the 11-minute jam cut of “Grapevine” included here showcases the exceptional musicianship of the group. For my money, their rendition is the best version of the song ever produced, Marvin Gaye’s included. 

5. “Long As I Can See the Light”

As perfect as “Ramble Tamble” was as the album opener, “Long As I Can See the Light” is equally exceptional as the closer. A slow-blues tune, ”Light” evokes images of weariness, restlessness, longing, loneliness, and wandering. Yet it’s ultimately an uplifting song about homecoming. There’s a distinct gospel and spiritual feel to the entire affair, and the song’s “candle in the widow” could easily be construed as the Light on the other side of this world. 

(On a side note, it’s my favorite song of all time.)

The album may not be as coherent as, say, Willy and the Poor Boys, but the individual tracks are so good, coherency is rendered irrelevant.

Conclusion:

Packing in a fantastic selection of covers and peak quality originals, Cosmo’s Factory is not only Creedence’s best album but one of the greatest albums ever produced by anyone.

Rating:  10/10

*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form! – Cole

Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival – PENDULUM (50th Anniversary)

  • ccr-pendulum

 


Note: A version of this review originally appeared on Southern Senses 12/07/15.


 

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Pendulum, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s sixth album and the last to feature all four members of the group. The record, which followed the band’s most successful effort, Cosmos’s Factory (released earlier the same year), was seen as a comparative failure at the time by both critics and fans. In retrospect, however, the album has been viewed more favorably as demonstrative evidence that the group was capable of far more than 2 and 1/2 minute hit singles. 

Side A: 

1. “Pagan Baby”

The album kicks off in classic CCR fashion: hard-hitting swamp rock driven by Fogerty’s signature guitar licks and vocal howling. What separates this track from previous efforts is the upward tempo shift a little over 1/3 of the way through, followed by an extended jam segment. Although the tune is many of the band’s strengths in a nutshell, the track is not indicative of the rest of the album…for better and worse. 

2. “Sailor’s Lament”

About as odd of a tonal shift as could be, track 2 is a quirky little ditty with folk-influenced lyrics and soul sensibilities. The entire band delivering hi-pitched backing vocals throughout the track is a bit weird, but effective. The track benefits from the introduction of Stu Cook’s funky-ish bass and Fogerty’s saxophone section. This is the track the signals the listener: This is not a typical Creedence record. 

3. “Chameleon” 

Another interesting choice for the band, “Chameleon” is a straight-forward, up-tempo Motown, tune replete with a boisterous horn section. It’s reminiscent of “Call It Pretending,” a largely unknown tune from the group which was both the last single to be released under the “Golliwogs” moniker and the first to be released under CCR. This track continues to show that the band (particularly J. Fogerty) is not confined to a particular genre. 

4. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” 

Indisputably the best track on the record, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is another enduring Fogerty classic which has withstood the test of time. From its signature bass line to its unforgettable lyric hook, everything about this song is magnificent. The lyrics are a metaphor discussing (and dare I say “prophesying”) the pending demise of the band. A sad fact, but one which makes the track that much more poignant. Another element that I’ve rarely heard discussed is the elevation that Fogerty’s organ work adds to the second half of the track. (Spoiler Alert: The instrument becomes more prominent as the record continues.) Despite being the best song here, it’s also probably the most “safe” tune, as it hearkens back to the softer pop/rock side the group displayed in past endeavors. 

5. “Wish I Could Hideaway” 

Possibly the saddest song Fogerty has ever written, “Wish I Could Hideaway” metaphorically chronicles the breakdown of John’s relationship with brother and bandmate, Tom. The lyrics are set atop a dark, haunting chord-progression, expertly delivered by John on organ. The lines “What’s there to say? / We’re all bound for the graveyard / Ooh I wish you well” are particularly powerful, considering the brothers’ ultimate lack of reconciliation.

Side B: 

1. “Born to Move” 

Side B kicks off with my second favorite track from the record, “Born to Move.” The track is a severely underrated dance jam, with more of Fogerty’s spectacular organ and horn work and Cook’s funk-bass. It’s clear here that Fogerty is taking his organ cues from then-ultra-hip band and friends Booker T. and MGs. 

2. “Hey Tonight” 

The the second half of the album’s double-A-sided single (w/“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” ), “Hey Tonight” is also the only other well-known song from Pendulum. There are elements of classic CCR here, including a signature intro, but there is something undeniably “‘70s” about the track that denies it the timeless quality of most of the band’s hits. 

3. “It’s Just a Thought”

My third favorite track from the record, “It’s Just a Thought” is perhaps the oddest bird out of the record’s many odd birds. Here, Fogerty waxes poetic about the fleeting nature and general incomprehensibility of life. It’s a melancholy, mid-tempo tune driven by more funky-sounding bass and organ work. 

4. “Molina” 

For years, the only CCR song I claimed to not like on any level; however, I eventually came around. Yes, I like “Molina” too. It’s a throw-back, ‘50s rock ’n’ roller replete with more great sax work from Fogerty. Still, it isn’t as fun or inventive as other throwbacks like “Travelin’ Band” and “It Came Out of the Sky.” 

5. “Rude Awakening #2” 

Probably the most maligned John Fogerty composition in CCR’s catalog, “Rude Awakening #2” is a rare instrumental from the group. It starts off beautifully, takes a very dark and engaging turn, gets a little too weird, then finally derails into near-unlistenable audio garbage somewhere around the 4:20 mark. Like much of the album, “Rude Awakening” seems to be an attempt by Fogerty to silence critics who claimed that the group was a “singles band,” incapable of producing a “rock album” and jam tracks. Until about 3 and a half minutes in, the track sounds like something Led Zeppelin would’ve produced around the same time, though with Zeppelin, Robert Plant would likely have been singing, and later, screaming, words over the music. And perhaps that’s what this track needed: Fogerty howling. Maybe that and the last three minutes scrapped or replaced with something listenable. 

Overall, the album isn’t the group’s best effort, but it is definitely their most original and well-produced. I would’ve loved to have heard a follow-up with more organ and sax from J. Fogerty, more funky bass sounds from Cook, and more jam tunes that showcased the excellent musicianship of the group. But unfortunately, the record’s relative failure was the tipping point of increasing tension in the band. Tom Fogerty left CCR within a month after the album’s release, and the fractured collaborative effort of the remaining trio yielded the band’s swan song (“swan album”?), the universally panned Mardi Gras. 

Final verdict: A record which highlighted the best of the band’s established attributes while demonstrating their capability of much more, Pendulum stands as a must-listen for all CCR and John Fogerty fans, fifty years later. 

Rating: 9/10


*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form! – Cole

Every John Fogerty Studio Album Ranked

Today, John Fogerty dropped the expanded edition of his live-from-quarantine family band project, Fogerty’s Factory, and to celebrate, I’m counting down all ten JF studio albums from worst to best.

10. Eye of the Zombie (1986) – 2/10


 

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Coming off the smash success of Centerfield, Fogerty went all-in on exploring ’80s studio sounds, and…the results were less than stellar. The songs sound like over-produced ’80s fare, but not quite mainstream enough to be successful as such.

The singular exception is “Change in the Weather,” a less produced, swampy tune that hearkens back to John’s CCR days. But even this tune is hampered by production trends of the period and, thus, doesn’t quite live up to its older brothers.

9. Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2009) – 4/10


 

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Thirty-six years after his original one-man country band experiment, Fogerty returned with a hotly anticipated sequel. Unfortunately, Rides Again fails to hit most of the marks that made the first outing so interesting.

Whereas the original Rangers featured a prime-voiced Fogerty belting out unique renditions of classic country/western tunes (while also playing every single instrument on the record), the follow-up finds the mellower, more nasally elder John crooning mostly safe covers with an ace backing band (including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, and Timothy B. Schmidt.)

That doesn’t sound too bad on paper, but in practice, the result is far less satisfying. (A notable exception on the project is a rawer, more Creedenc-y remake of the aforementioned “Change in the Weather.”)

8. Revival (2007) – 5/10


 

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Returning to Fantasy Records in 2005, Fogerty appeared poised to embrace his Creedence past with the seasoned sensibilities of a sage veteran and deliver a truly special project. I feel I’m in a minority here, but I think Revival fell far short of its potential.

Although it garnered Fogerty a Grammy nod for Best Rock Album, for me, the effort was less an homage to, or continuation of, John’s glory days, than a repetition of much better work that had gone before. The country/folk tunes “Don’t You Wish It Were True” and “Broken Down Cowboy” are probably the best songs on the record, primarily because the older Fogerty’s voice and songwriting fit better with the genre. 

Lyrically, the project is bogged down by heavy-handed, now incredibly dated political commentary, mostly directed at then-president George W. Bush. Fogerty has always been political, of course, but the beauty of politically charged classics like “Fortunate Son,” “Run Through the Jungle,” and “Ramble Tamble” is in the timelessness.

Even though the U.S. military draft has been inactive for some time now, “Fortunate Son” still plays well on the radio. Conversely, Revival lyrics that name drop Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney already have the majority of the post-millennial generation scratching their heads and saying, “Who?” (If any of that generation is actually listening, that is.)

7. Deja Vu (All Over Again) (2004) – 6/10


 

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Fogerty’s first album of new material since the Grammy-winning Blue Moon Swamp was a decidedly mixed bag. As with most of John’s later material, the album’s strength lies in softer, “folkier” material like the Roger Miller-esque “Honey Do,” the sweetly sentimental “I Will Walk with You,” and the rare Fogerty love song “Sugar, Sugar (In My Life),” probably the best song on the record. (It’s certainly the catchiest and my personal favorite.)

Other tunes don’t fare so well. The title track, for instance, sounds like a musical rehash of “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” while lyrics equating Vietnam with Iraq ring hollow. Meanwhile, Fogerty’s attempts at punk (“She’s Got Baggage”) and hard rock (“In the Garden”) fall flat.

6. Wrote a Song for Everyone (2013) – 6/10


 

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The star-studded duet album. It’s certainly…interesting to hear legends and hot modern artists collaborate with Fogerty on unique versions of some of the Master Swamper’s best songs, though the tunes featuring country artists land the best—no surprise considering Fogerty’s gravitation toward country in his later years.

The best songs on the record, however, aren’t the duet remakes; they’re the two new original solo tracks, “Mystic Highway” and “Train of Fools.” Both tunes are catchy and unmistakably Fogerty, with “Mystic” channeling a country/folk sound somewhere between Willy and the Poor Boys and Blue Moon Swamp and “Train” leaning into the patented CCR swamp vibe. Here’s hoping John uses these two tunes as a template for the next album.

5. Hoodoo (1976) – 7/10


 

Having never been officially released (thus, no cover banner), Hoodoo is the stuff of legends. I’ve reviewed the record at length before, but in short, it isn’t as bad as John and the Asylum Records people thought at the time.

Basically, many of the best songs on the record sounded outdated for 1976, and the tunes that tried to channel then-current music trends mostly didn’t work. Still, there are some spectacular tracks on the record (“Evil Thing,” “Telephone,” and “Leave My Woman Alone”), and it’s the last time Fogerty can be heard sounding like his old Creedence self.

4. Blue Ridge Rangers (1973) – 8/10


 

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 As strange as a post-CCR, pseudonymous, one-man-band, country/western cover project sounds, Blue Ridge Rangers is actually a fine record.

John’s choice of covers is ever interesting, and while some tracks are competent, reverent renditions of old favorites, Fogerty shines the most with clever, blues- and rock-infused arrangements of classics like Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya” and gospel standard “Working on a Building.”

3. Centerfield (1985) – 9/10


 

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Considering songs like “Old Man Down the Road” and the title track, it’s no wonder Fogerty’s iconic comeback record is also his most popular solo LP. Honestly, though, I’m not personally a huge fan of the record.

I have an aversion to ’80s music in general, and Centerfield is steeped in musical trends of the decade. Even the “Green River”-esque  “Old Man” is, in my eyes, held back by an electronic drum sound. Still, with Centerfield, Fogerty achieved something he never had before nor ever has since:

He successfully adapted his classic music sensibilities to a newer commercial era.

And for that feat, Centerfield sits at #3.

2. Blue Moon Swamp (1997) – 9/10


 

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The Grammy-winning second comeback album.

I reviewed BMS in greater depth several years ago, but for this list, I’ll simply say that Fogerty managed to create a post-CCR blend of country, folk, rock, and blues that felt simultaneously familiar and original. There are some lesser tracks, but the standouts more than make up for the deficiencies. 

1. John Fogerty (1975) – 10/10


 

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Another record I’ve touched on before, John’s eponymous sophomore effort tops the list because…well, it’s the most “CCR” album in Fogerty’s solo catalog. John’s voice is at its howilin’ prime, and his guitar work ain’t far behind.

Any song on here could’ve easily been on a Creedence record. Originals like “Rockin’ All Over the World” and “Almost Saturday Night” are as singularly iconic as any of Fogerty’s CCR work, and the cover choices are excellent.

Sure, in 1975, the project was considered “dated” and was essentially a flop. But good music is good music regardless of perception, and I remain optimistic that, one day, JF will be widely recognized as a woefully underrated work.

Bonus Album: Premonition (1998) – 9/10

Recorded in front of a live studio audience, Premonition was on the borderline of being numbered in the main list. Why? Although I was unable to verify the claims, it’s been alleged that Fogerty engaged in some post-production studio overdubbing, which would explain why the album was not originally marketed as a “live” release.

Whether truly live or studio-finagled, Fogerty’s mature renditions of classics and under-the-radar tunes are masterful, and his performances of a few BMS tunes may be better here than on studio cuts, particularly the kicked-up “Joy of My Life.”

*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form!

Review: Four Way Stop – LANDMARK LIVE SESSIONS (2020)

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After a stellar first appearance on the Landmark Live concert series, Mississippi band Four Way Stop returned to the platform with a mission: record and release a live EP.

Culled from some four hours of live-tracked music, the Landmark Live Sessions features renditions of some of the band’s most popular tunes.

From Zeppelin and Crowes covers to signature originals, this debut release features the best of the group’s “classically soaked” brand of rock.

1. “Wicked Woman”

The band kicks off the record with “Wicked Woman,” an original penned by singers/guitarists Ryan Purser and Kyle Graves. The song is a swaggering rocker about a femme fatale and reminiscent of the work of another current throw-back band, Greta Van Fleet. Unlike GVF, however, “Wicked Woman” sounds less like a Zeppelin rip-off and more like a Zeppelin homage with a signature stamp—much like Four Way Stop as a whole.

2. “Whole Lotta Love”

The group keeps the energy high with a reverent version of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” There isn’t necessarily anything that sets this version apart from the original, but, from Purser’s Plant-esque wailing to drummer Wyatt Brady’s hammering licks, FWS’s execution is masterful.

3. “Caliente/Blueberry Jam”

Next, the band switches gears a bit with an original instrumental jam, probably the best track on the EP. The “Caliente” portion, written by bassist/keyboardist Joe Cranfield, is a keys-based romp with a Latin groove. Graves overlays smooth jazz-tinned licks until the song begins transitioning to Graves’s own “Blueberry” section. The transition plays like the jazzier side of the Allmans, perfectly segueing into the slow, blues-rock closing segment, which sees Graves slaying on axe.

The song is a masterpiece of musicianship, but with one curious element: Cranfield’s keys drop out on the transition. It’s unclear what the creative intent was there, but, for me, it’s a notable distraction. Regardless, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise spectacular track.

4. “Morning Song”

Penned and sung by Graves, “Morning Song” is another “Van Fleet-ian” tune, but Graves’s lower, more country-rock voice lends enough differentiation to the track to separate it from similar ilk. 

Aside from a few pitch problems on the vocals, the track is another solid offering and sports the best lyrics on the record:

Hey, darling, wanna be my lover? 
How can I be another?  
Come show me some mercy. 
Take me where I can dance in the streets.
Forget reserved seats. 
Let’s write a new story. 
 

It’s a standard flirty theme, but the “streets/seats” bit is a creative metaphor which, to my knowledge, is wholly unique to this song.

5. “Everlong”

A Foo Fighters cover, “Everlong” is distinguished by Purser’s “Southern grunge” vocalizing and Brady’s channeling of his inner-Dave Grohl on kit.

6. “Hard to Handle”

Technically an Otis Redding song, Four Way Stop’s version is clearly based on The Black Crowes’ hit cover, with vocalist Graves doing his best Chris Robinson. It’s a great sound for Graves, and the song’s sassy, country/blues/rock vibe serves as the perfect closer to the project.

As a whole, there’s only one criticism I’d lob at the record, and it’s probably just me. I watched the performances when they were originally streamed and, from the audience perspective, Purser is on the left, Graves right. On the EP mix, the two band members’ guitars are directionally inverted, with Purser’s on the right and Graves left. Meaning, if this mixed audio were synced over the original performance video, the audience would be hearing the instruments coming from opposite directions from their physical location. 

Yeah, no such video exists that I know of, and even if it did, most people wouldn’t notice or care. It’s simply unclear why the record was mixed from a stage perspective, and, for me, the decision is a bit bothersome.

I know. I wax critical over minutia.

Bottom line:

With a perfect tracklist, exemplary musicianship, and a fitting raw sound, Landmark Live Sessions marks a strong debut for a rising, retro rock band.

Rating: 9/10


 

Four Way Stop
is
Ryan Purser – Vocals/Rhythm Guitar
Kyle Graves – Vocals/Lead Guitar
Joe Cranfield – Bass/Keys
Wyatt Brady – Drums
 
Recorded by Topher Brown at Landmark Live
Mixed by Brennan White at The Fairview Sound
 
Cover art by Autumn Hendrix
From original photography by Lizzy Tate
 

*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form!

Book Review: KING’S FOLLY (KINSMAN CHRONICLES Book 1) – Jill Williamson (2016)

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Written as a clean alternative to modern fantasies such as A Song of Fire and Ice, King’s Folly serves as an outstanding inaugural installment to the epic Kinsman Chronicles saga. Though it’s targeted to a Christian audience, the book never shies away from mature themes; instead, it opts to present adult content delicately, refraining from graphic descriptions and never glorifying immoral behavior. 

The ensemble cast of characters is expansive but perfectly balanced, and, whether dealing in physical landscapes, intra-kingdom politics, or fractious religious sects, the world-building is exemplary. Williamson also draws from other genres, including western and spy thriller, deftly blending a variety of elements with standard high fantasy tropes. 

For me, the only weak point of the entire affair is the frequent occurrences of one character recounting to another character events which the reader has already witnessed unfold. These instances seem to be presented to further flesh out character dynamics through a question-and-answer-flow dialog. Sometimes, it works; other times, it feels repetitive and slows down the narrative pacing. Still, this is a minor criticism and not a grievous enough offense to detract from the novel’s overall excellence. In fact, it may just be a personal problem on my part!

With all the black magic, palace intrigue, and shocking plot twists, King’s Folly is ready-made for a live-action TV adaptation—which, unfortunately, will probably never happen due to the Kinsman saga’s status as “Christian fantasy” (though not a single reader nor Hollywood executive bats an eye at Lord of the Rings or Narnia, two blatantly religious fantasies from unabashedly Christian authors). It’s a true shame, because Williamson’s book is seriously that good.

Rating: 10/10

 


(This review originally appeared on this site as part of Cole Powell’s 2019 Reading List feature.)

Mini Book Review: BLEAK HOUSE – Charles Dickens (1852)

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A bit of a departure for Dickens, Bleak House sports two distinct narrators and narration styles: a third-person omniscient, presenting the story in present tense, and a first-person limited, recounting portions of the tale in past tense. 

Surprisingly, Dickens delivers a far more engaging narrative using the latter voice, a young woman named Esther Summerson, bringing a genuine feminine touch and an almost Austenian quality to the work. The style feels natural, and, unlike many other instances in Dickens’s novels, the primary female protagonist seems like a “real woman.“

By contrast, the omniscient third person, while not that far from Dickens’s usual style, reads unusually overly descriptive and dull (though the acerbic tone employed throughout, intended to skewer the British court system and politics of the time, is good for a few laughs). These tendencies of excess and drollness, however, eventually bleed into Esther’s narrative, resulting in a climax and epilogue, which should have taken no more than fifty pages, ballooning to three times that number. 

It’s a fine novel, but far from the upper echelon of Dickensian canon. 

Rating: 8/10


 

(This review originally published on this site as part of Cole Powell’s 2019 Reading List.)