Saturday, January 1, 2022

Top Posts of 2021


We interrupt the annual In Memoriam theme for our seventh annual listing of the most viewed posts of the prior year.

Through our (usually) two-week long themes, our international roster of writers address many different kinds of music, and bring different perspectives to their pieces. This year, we had a lot of jazz songs, due to the surprising popularity of our Jazz Covers theme (from the middle of the year).  In addition to all that jazz, our top 11 (due to the fact that number 11 missed out by 1 view), includes a funk classic, a post that discussed, among other artists, the Band and Katy Perry (and the Beatles), famous music venues, alternative history about two acclaimed Americana acts, classic punk rock, songs about the so-called most important meal of the day, and a pairing of legends with songs about the north and south,

Every year, when I go through this exercise, I'm always surprised by which posts get lots of views and which don't.  Each year, some of my favorite contributions don't come close to making the cut, and the popularity of the artist or song written about seems to have little correlation to popularity on this site. So, take it away, Dave Brubeck, and everyone else....

1.  Jazz Covers--Take 5
2.  Feat/Feet--Get on the Good Foot
3.  Jazz Covers--Golden Brown
4.  Opposites--Awake/Asleep
5.  1971--Fillmores
6.  What If--Jason Isbell Never Left Drive-By Truckers
7.  Jazz Covers--Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix
8.  Fast-Fast Cars
9.  Fast--(Break)Fast
10. Jazz Covers--Spyrogyra
11. Opposites--Southern Man/Girl From The North Country 

Because so many of the most viewed posts are from earlier in the year, which makes sense, since they were available to view on the site for the longest, below are the top posts for each of our themes not represented in the total top 10:

In Memoriam (2020)--Three Crims
Over--Shakin' All Over
Walls/Obstructions--The Walls Came Down
Passed Over--Passed On
Double Entendres--My Butcher Man
Head--The Lemonheads-It's A Shame About Ray
Muscle Shoals--I'll Take You There
Bigger Strings--Danny Thompson
Woodwinds--Flute Loops
Cops-The Clash Covered
Rock Hall Snubs-Joe Cocker
Candy/Sweets-I Want Candy
Break/Broken--Broken Hearts and Auto Parts
Leftovers-Bigger Strings-Joanna Newsom
Mary and Joseph--Mary of the 4th Form
In Memoriam (2021)--Three Vaguely Prog Musicians

Thanks so much for reading our work this year.  If you are interested in joining our staff, contact information can be found at the top right of the blog.

And we promise more great music and writing in 2022, including our more In Memoriam posts, coming soon!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

In Memoriam: Three Vaguely Prog Musicians

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Chemistry

Kansas: Cheyenne Anthem

Brand X: Nuclear Burn

Part of it, I guess, comes from the fact that prog rock era musicians are getting to that age, but it seems like almost every year at about this time, I’m writing about some of them. This year, I’m taking a broad view of the genre, with one musician probably best known for ambient music, one for a distinctly American take on prog, and one who is more from the fusion world, but I like to do group In Memoriam pieces, and this is the best excuse I could come up with to write about these three artists together. And for no real reason, I’ll discuss them in the order that they passed. 

For some reason, I assumed that trumpeter Jon Hassell was European, but he isn’t. He was born in Tennessee in 1937, but did study serial music in Germany, where he befriended the future founders of Can, before returning to the US, where he performed on Terry Riley’s first recording of In C. He also was part of LaMonte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music (which also spawned John Cale) and also studied Indian music. 

I first became aware of Hassell when he collaborated with Brian Eno in 1980 on an album called Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics (and he also played on Eno’s 1982 album Ambient 4: On Land). Hassell used the term “Fourth World” to describe his work as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques.” Hassell used lots of electronic processing and effects on his trumpet, leading to strange, otherworldly sounds. He also appeared on the track “Houses In Motion” on Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, on Peter Gabriel’s Birdy and Passion soundtracks, along with a bunch of solo and group recordings, and guest spots with artists as diverse as David Sylvain, Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Ry Cooder, Tears For Fears, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and k.d. lang. 

Hassell had been in bad health for about a year before dying on June 26, 2021 of natural causes. 

I’d argue that Kansas was, during their strongest period, the best American prog rock band (I also love Happy The Man, but most people have never heard of them). Kansas fused the mostly European prog sound with American music, fitting for their origin in the country’s heartland. Most reviews of the band refer to them mixing prog with “boogie,” and I’m not sure I can really describe what that is, but you know it when you hear it. Their albums Leftoverture and Point of Know Return were staples of FM radio during my high school years and one key to the band’s sound was violinist/vocalist Robby Steinhardt

Steinhardt was born in Chicago in 1950, but grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, where he started violin lessons at age 8, and was classically trained both in the US and Europe. In 1972, he joined a band in Topeka, White Clover, which eventually became Kansas. Steinhardt was mostly known for his violin work, but sang harmony on most of the band’s songs, and lead on more than a few. He also acted as the “MC” during live performances. 

I started losing interest in Kansas after 1979’s Monolith, after which the band turned toward a strong Christian influence and began to splinter. Steinhardt left the band in 1982 for “personal reasons,” although one article I read referred to his substance abuse during this time. He was part of a band, Steinhardt-Moon, and performed with other acts until rejoining Kansas in 1997, but tired of the pace of touring, and left for good in 2006. In 2013, Steinhardt suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery but began making guest appearances with Stormbringer (which had formed from Steinhardt-Moon). 

In 2020, Steinhardt began work on a symphonic prog-rock project that included contributions from, among others, Ian Anderson, Steve Morse, Billy Cobham, Patrick Moraz, Chuck Leavell, Liberty Devitto, Pat Travers, and Lisa Fischer. Unfortunately, the album, Not In Kansas Anymore, was not released until October, 2021, a few months after Steinhardt died on July 17, from complications of acute pancreatitis. 

Back in 2014, I wrote a short piece about Brand X for our “Side Projects” theme, because it was, for Phil Collins, a side project from Genesis. But one of the few consistent members of that band, and one of its founding members, was guitarist John Goodsall. Goodsall was born in 1953 in England and picked up the guitar at age 7. He went pro at age 15, touring with a few bands, including Atomic Rooster (which also included drummer Ric Parnell, who later played Mick Shrimpton in This Is Spinal Tap, the drummer who spontaneously combusted, and then toured with the Tap as Mick’s twin brother Rick). Brand X performed and recorded from 1975-1982, and to my ear produced a great deal of interesting music. 

Starting in 1979. Goodsall moved to Los Angeles, and also worked as a session musician, appearing on albums with Peter Gabriel, Bill Bruford, Bryan Adams, and yes, even on Toni Basil’s hit “Mickey.” He was a member of Zoo Drive in the mid-1980s, and after that, the Fire Merchants, before reforming Brand X in 1992. Later, he appeared with various combinations of musicians and recorded music as a leader and session musician. According to Wikipedia, Goodsall appeared on a few soundtracks, ranging from mainstream films such as No Small Affair, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Point Break, and the somewhat less mainstream Anal Intruder 9

Goodsall died on November 11, 2021, possibly of complications from pneumonia.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


When I wrote this piece, a little over 3 years ago, I had little inkling I would be now having to pen this one, so well did appear the near 80 year old I had marvelled at on stage only a few months before. And saw again, a year or so later, still in the same small Birmingham venue, once more marvelling at his dexterity, nimble fingers all over his guitar, and his voice, like ashes on a shovel, fresh out a furnace. 

So many have said so much about him, since his sudden and unforewarned death in September that it seems insidious to try and say anything more or to add anything. His obituary in the Guardian newspaper says enough. I was a fan, especially of his late life renaissance, and his last two records sit as proudly on my shelves as his first two, despite the near half century between their making. I had bought his first two releases, way back in the day, taken by his odd way with words, his strangely sibilant tones and his clearly masterful guitar play. Rainmaker came out in 1969, followed by Fully Qualified Survivor a year later, with 50 coming out in 2017 and True North just two years later. Sure, there were a host of releases in between, as he fell from his initial recognition, plugging away regardless, an increasingly lone voice, ahead of being "discovered" by a bevy of americans half his age, drawn back into a limited centre stage. He seemed to thrive on their acclaim, if also a little mystified. Which made for a delightful stage presence, as his self-deprecating tales of the road introduced his timeless songs and tunes, the old and the new entwined seamlessly. It was, frankly, a privilege to witness.

The SMM post I link to in my introduction contains, within its own body, a link to  a review I wrote, for a private members music platform I am a member of, of his 2017 show. Rather than to regurgitate that piece in full, I thought it may be apt to reproduce the addendum, following the show two years later:

"OK, so here I am again, 2nd time in a week, again revisiting an act already reviewed, a year or so ago, so tacked on here. This time Michael Chapman was with his band, who, minus the rhythm section, absent tonight, were the folk from his latest LP, True North. Namely Bridget St John on vocal and occasional 2nd guitar, Sarah Smout on cello and the incomparable B.J. Cole on pedal steel. Now the album is good, as good if not better than 2017’s North, but live this was a doozy. Despite a heavy cold, Chapman was on impeccable form, Smout and Cole incandescent. I was sitting perhaps a foot away from the side of Cole, watching his playing over his shoulder. :Phenomenal, and the bonkers freeform shimmers and chicanery he contributed was just stupendous, adding rather than detracting from the sense of wonder, evident aplenty all about the densely packed room of grizzled hipsters. 2 shortish sets, maybe 40 minutes apiece, each with about 5 or 6 long expositions based around, mainly, songs from these 2 albums. At one stage I wonder why St John, until a fabulous song where she sang lead, accompanied only by her own playing and of Chapman’s, getting it, and her, in a moment. (This was the song she does so well on the Chapman tribute album of a few years back, and which I commend.)

What a wonderful way to spend a monday night in, just, April. Michael Chapman is 78."

That was written in April of 2019. The song below could be his epitaph: 'Sometimes You Just Drive'.

R.I.P., Michael. 
And thank you.