Author Archives: Jude Warne

Graded on a Curve: Nightfly: The Life of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen by Peter Jones

Lovelorn music man Lester the Nightfly, a major player on Donald Fagen’s 1982 solo album The Nightfly, is a character with a complex identity. At first contemplation, he’s a jazz DJ on the nightshift during the golden, Camelot era of American life in the early ’60s, fielding calls from a cornucopia of after-hour nutsos while holding steady with his jazz heroes whose music he showcases across the night and out into the airwaves.

But upon further inquiry, Lester is made of deeper more profound soul-stuff. He wishes he “had a heart like ice,” so that he wouldn’t have to feel so much, wouldn’t get attached to someone outside of himself, wouldn’t fall in love. But his heart isn’t made of ice, he isn’t invincible, and he ultimately cannot be driven solely by the cerebral prowess in his possession. Lester is a reluctant romantic.

And so is Donald Fagen, known primarily for his work alongside Walter Becker in the jazz-forward rock group Steely Dan. Part of what Fagen’s solo discography speaks to is his intense musicality and identification with traditional pop songwriting, that of Bacharach and David and Henry Mancini—writers of legend. Where Steely Dan went heavy on the cerebrally obscure lyrical content, sometimes belied by their ear-catching musical accompaniment, Fagen’s solo discography, with four studio albums thus far, has steered more toward the traditional, but of course never sacrificing the signature snark.

Donald published his own memoir Eminent Hipsters in 2013 which was a mix of personal memory and tour diary showcasing the plight of the rock legend thrust forward into the future, now older and forced to encounter the modern world in all of its misguided TV-baby misery.

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Julian Lennon,
The TVD Interview

PHOTOS: ROBERT ASHCROFT | “Get a little courage, find a little backbone,” urges Julian Lennon in “Every Little Moment,” the second track off his reflective new album Jude, in stores September 9th—and 10th on vinyl, in remembrance of his mother Cynthia Lennon’s birthday. Current and intensely relevant in its focuses of introspection and soul-searching—individually, and on behalf of the planet partly in turmoil—Jude was composed and produced over a span of years and shines as a beacon of authentic wisdom and earned insight, yet rooted in positivity.

The choice of album title, Jude, an allusion to Paul McCartney’s Beatles song written to Julian during a difficult time following his parents’ split—and his choice of album cover photo featuring his young self—suggests a kind of full circle of the individual. As in to know, understand, and feel close to one’s childhood self is to accept one’s truest, most uncompromised self.

In the past Lennon has alluded to having a love/hate relationship with the song “Hey Jude.” Releasing this album can be viewed as a revisiting of his childhood, and perhaps coming to terms with and accepting the past. Given that Get Back was released last year, which in part celebrated The Beatles’ legacy and brought the Let it Be era of the band’s career into a more finite documentation, that film’s journey in a way aligns with Lennon’s own journey as an artist, of revisiting feelings or episodes from one’s past and editing them differently and more comprehensively to reveal a more positive overall conclusion, and perhaps partly tying up loose ends in a spirit of enlightened acceptance.

Though Jude’s songs were composed and developed over a span of years, much of Lennon’s new album seems to encapsulate the shared mindset of humanity dealing with and trying to recuperate from the Covid era. “Save Me” speaks to someone seemingly unable to handle or cope with the darker sides of being alive. “You’re the only one I know / who lets the darkness come and go inside,” speaks to God maybe, the Universe, or just a friend who tolerates and who lives alongside the darker parts of the self and the world.

Dramatic, sweeping strings, commune with computerized effects to emotively articulate the reality of modern existence. “Breathe” highlights our common victimhood as we who keep the specters of despair at bay. Its lyrics detail the world’s collective feelings, that of generalized trauma accumulated by facing the state of the globe during these past number of bizarre and alienating years. “Breathe” as well should resonate with most listeners with its background sounds of children, an echo of lost innocence for the world.

On an album full of revelations, “Love Never Dies” is a standout, with a beautiful articulation of where our energy might go and what it might become once we die. There is evidence of earned wisdom, knowledge of what is important and real, and certainly what lasts. Lennon is in possession of a lush musical heritage given his parentage, but his individuality and unique artistic viewpoint transcend this fact, while still honoring it.

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Graded on a Curve:
A Song for Everyone:
The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival

When listening to band members John and Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” from their career-making second studio album Bayou Country (1969), one becomes immediately aware of several factors: the driving beat that begins and sustains the song through its conclusion, which never slows down for one moment complete with hand claps—and that wild guitar.

The recording never takes a breath, almost as though the whole track is sustained by one long inhale and exhale. And at the moment of transition before every “Good Golly” chorus—when Fogerty issues out the same set of lyrics—it’s almost as though he will run out of musical notes on which to detail the song’s thoughts and he’s rushing to squeeze them all in. This kind of intense energy, the exercising of which can only lead to total exhaustion, is what true rock ’n’ roll is made of.

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the 1960s and ’70s, of John Fogerty’s drive and determination to become a true artist and performer, songwriter, and lush compositional mythmaker, is a fascinating one. CCR was a band who in part defined the sound of the late 1960s in American rock, who had its share of issues and squabbles, who was ultimately run by John and the vision he had for himself and his music which led to immense commercial success and a fair share of legal battles and artistic frustration in the decades following.

A Song for Everyone: the Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival (Hachette Books) by journalist John Lingan, seeks to tell the real tale of CCR, from its earliest incarnations under monikers the Blue Velvets in the 1950s, then the Golliwogs, and finally Creedence Clearwater Revival, to its dissolution in 1972. Well-researched and drawing from new interviews with Clifford and Cook and from John Fogerty’s 2015 memoir Fortunate Son, Lingan’s biography is straightforward and historically focused. He does a fine job of weaving the CCR story through American cultural history of the their era, helping to bring the tale to life for the reader and widen its scope.

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Needle Drop: Brynna Campbell, 1,000 Masks

1,000 Masks is a new album release from California-based singer-songwriter Brynna Campbell. Its title track, whose themes run throughout the album, is a quick-paced and racing meditation on the various roles we inhabit throughout the course of a day, and the corresponding masks we wear to communicate these roles to the world around us. The result is an energetic sprint of a song that inspires the listener to reflect on their own mask-wearing, and the seemingly endless chase we are all on to maintain a successful balancing act for the needs of others, of our immediate selves, and of our individual ego dragons that never sleep.

In part, most of the album’s seventeen tracks swim through waters of the inner mind. Brynna Campbell offers a wry yet sensitive voice depicting the female experience amidst wistful piano lines that offer hope among somberness. Her musical character is in the spirit of intelligent chanteuses such as Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette, but with two feet planted firmly in 2022 and in full view of the year’s trials and tribulations.

Many of the songs’ voices are full of angst that only a pandemic era could have inspired, or at least brought out into the light—thoughts previously half in shadow. There is social anxiety (the title track) and a standout on the album,“Party” which cleverly articulates the tug of war that goes on inside the mind of a person who does—and does not—want to go into the party, and who focuses a great deal of energy amid the song’s chorus with the mantra “just get out of the car.” The songwriting brings to mind Andy Shauf’s similarly focused “Early to the Party,” yet offers a fresh female perspective.

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Needle Drop: Evan Toth, The Show

The Show is the latest studio album drop from New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Evan Toth. Its stylistic tone and overall sound are reminiscent of classic ’70s singer-songwriter records released during an era when The Album reigned supreme.

And, this nostalgic quality is brought even more to the forefront by the album’s backing band members themselves who are, in effect, Billy Joel’s core group from the ‘70s: drummer Liberty DeVitto, saxophonist (and organist) Richie Cannata, and guitarist Russell Javors. Classic Billy Joel albums Turnstiles, The Stranger, 52nd Street, Glass Houses, and the Nylon Curtain all featured these experienced instrumentalists, who today perform on their own as The Lords of 52nd Street. Original bassist Doug Stegmeyer sadly passed away in 1995, and Malcolm Gold has assumed the role.

Consider for a moment the sonic grandeur of such classic recordings as “New York State of Mind,” and pretty much the entirety of The Stranger, recordings for which The Lords are partly responsible. Echoes of this particular studio sound are ever-present on The Show, and Toth being a piano man himself, serves as an ideal frontman for such a band in this recording context, whose original songs are instrumentalized with the experienced studio musicians they deserve.

The Show offers the cohesion that ’70s concept or thematically-conscious records also did over the course of its ten original songs. Echoes of Billy Joel’s influence, via some song composition and vocal and piano delivery, can be heard throughout. Joel’s “self-conscious performer” songs like “Piano Man” and “Zanzibar” are echoed in Toth’s title-track “The Show,” which narrates his character’s experience surrounding a concert appearance.

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Gerry Beckley,
The TVD Interview

One of the running tenets that makes up the current incarnation of America the band’s creative creed is the idea that while Dewey Bunnell writes the group’s “outdoor songs,” like “A Horse with No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” and “Tin Man,” his bandmate and creative partner for the last fifty-one years, Gerry Beckley writes “I Need You,” “Daisy Jane,” and “Sister Golden Hair”—the “indoor songs.” Possessing a penchant for self-examination and introspection, Beckley favors the navigational terrain of the ever-elusive human heart—and its frenemy the mind—and the moments when they do and do not work together when carving out compositions.

America (originally a trio until band member Dan Peek departed the group in ’77) has left quite a number of ’70s-So-Cal-and-beyond culture-defining songs in its wake since debut hit single “A Horse with No Name” arrived in late 1971 in the UK, and in early 1972 in the US. And the band has led a corresponding road-life to keep such a legacy and long discography alive, having celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in the strangest of all last years, 2020, which was accompanied by the release of an all-encompassing boxed set, an authorized biography penned by yours truly, and a fiftieth anniversary multi-national tour, which has of course been delayed.

Gerry’s compositional character, like that of his bandmate Dewey, is an interesting one. As a songwriter his philosophy is in the school of “write ten to get two” good songs—which not surprisingly has resulted in a plethora of material since he began writing songs as a teenager. Although America has continued to record and release some quality studio albums in recent years, Gerry Beckley’s work has also led to his intermittently releasing solo studio recordings since 1995 with Van Go Gan.

Last month, Beckley released a solo best-of through Blu Elan Records entitled Keeping the Light On, which spawned an associated release of Beckley covers by an all-female cast of Blu Elan artists entitled Watching the Time. Available digitally, on CD, and on transparent double vinyl, the compilation is comprised of fifteen of Gerry’s favorite solo songs from his seven past solo records and five newly recorded tracks.

Keeping the Light On, taken as a whole, stands as a thorough overview of Beckley’s musical output as a solo artist, displaying in full his artistic totems: twin lyrical focuses of time and its passage, and romantic love and its myriad of complications and possibilities for ultimate bliss or total annihilation; intricate studio production; and of course, his McCartney-esque gift for crafting melody.

In a fun, lively, and enlightening chat with Beckley from his home in Sydney, Australia, we learn more about Keeping the Light On – the Best of Gerry Beckleys genesis, Gerry’s long-standing working relationship with the home recording studio, and how his compositional career’s lyrical theme of time is about as universal as it gets.

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Hearty Har: Shane
and Tyler Fogerty,
The TVD Interview

Hearty Har, whose creative nucleus consists of Shane and Tyler Fogerty, possesses a plethora of creative influences. And while the duo did cut some of their performative teeth backing up their dad—rock legend John Fogerty, the co-founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival—during recent live tours, Hearty Har’s true gift for musical expression appears to lie in recording studio prowess, or so the band’s debut studio album Radio Astro, released last month, would suggest.

The eloquence in execution and a simultaneous demonstration of artistic risk that Hearty Har’s album incorporates offers creative traits that in other quarters could cancel each other out. Here, in the making of Shane and Tyler Fogerty’s music, they coexist and amplify one another. Radio Astro sounds new, as it should, but it also sounds steeped in knowledge of the history of recorded sound—founded not only by the Fogerty’s familial musical legacy, but by Tyler and Shane’s acute listening and absorption of great albums from the past. Yet, instead of regurgitating sounds from previous eras, Hearty Har rebirths them into brand-new listening experiences.

The album’s songs are varied and experimental—psychedelia and heavy-horn sounds are sonic characters here. It’s admirable that Hearty Har chose to craft a song like “Radio Man” that relates to and reflects upon radio itself which many of us now associate with the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll—the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s—when radio was king and played a vital role in shaping people’s musical tastes and steering them toward records they should buy—a role which nowadays has more or less been assumed by the internet.

“Radio Man” is another contribution to that canon of songs that are in conversation with radio somehow, or with famed DJs like Wolfman Jack, as Todd Rundgren (“Wolfman Jack”) and The Guess Who (“Clap for the Wolfman”) chose to do. Hearty Har has also crafted an an epic instrumental number for the album. “Canyon of the Banshee” serves as a cinematic dream portrait set in southern California with echoes of Morricone’s spaghetti western scores. Such unique creative decisions point to the vastness of the group’s aesthetic ideology.

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Devon Allman of
The Allman Betts Band,
The TVD Interview

Much like the families and groups from which it was bred and sprung, The Allman Betts Band has consistently thrived as a live performance act. But just last year they proved their studio mettle by releasing a debut album Down to the River, and in late August of this year—and what a strange and volatile year it has been for the universe—they released Bless Your Heart, a versatile, expansive, and guitar-driven record that serves as a testament to the band’s studio abilities.

Possessing a penchant for live performance The Allman Betts Band has configured themselves to operate within the newly outlined confines of these strange days. They are in the midst of a socially-distanced live tour—at select venues across the United States that vow to honor safety precautions—to share works from the new album. And what works they are. For those music fans still possessing some interest in the legacy of the guitar, Bless Your Heart does not disappoint.

The band is spearheaded by talented offspring of the legendary Allman Brothers Band: Devon Allman, son of Gregg, and Duane Betts, son of Dickey—not to mention bassist Berry Duane Oakley, son of founding member Berry. Through songwriting, production, and instrumental acumen, both Devon and Duane prove themselves to be worthy of their own independent musical footprint, while—to the probable satisfaction of longtime Allman Brothers fans—still being wise and thoughtful enough to honor the enduring legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.

Bless Your Heart is a modern album that seeks to make the old new again. There’s the authentically collar-grabbing album opener “Pale Horse Rider,” the 1970s-romantically charged epic “The Doctor’s Daughter,” the cross-country road trip of “Much Obliged,” and the scene-stealing, tripped-out yet sophisticated instrumental piece “Savannah’s Dream,” amidst a sea of solid and varied songs to create an album experience. The album proves that the echoes of classic rock are not dead and finished but instead still malleable and up for grabs. Plus, it’s been released as a nice-looking coke bottle clear, 180 gram vinyl double record.

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Matt Beckley,
The TVD Interview

Living through a time in which live performance on a grand scale is more or less impossible, Matt Beckley is hanging in there. He’s a gifted guitarist and songwriter, but his creative interests truly lie in music production, so it’s no wonder his talents are faring well during the current pandemic, rather than being inhibited by an inability to tour.

The son of rock legend Gerry Beckley of America, Matt was a part of the professional world of popular music since birth. He grew up on the floors of recording studios in Los Angeles in awe of his father’s artistic prowess and the magic of making music, while at the same time understanding the realities of the recording artist’s vocation and its tangibility. While some young people exposed to such a situation might take it for granted or rebel against it, Matt possessed the intelligence and inherent artistic impulse to desire knowledge and experience, knowing he held an innate ability and interest to add something new to the ongoing legacy of recorded music.

Which is exactly what he’s done thus far in his career. Matt Beckley’s been involved in an astounding amount of number-ones and chart toppers from our era’s most successful pop singers. This is no coincidence; he understands what a listener seeks from “a voice” and the indefinable something that goes into the making of a recording star. Katy Perry, Kesha, Avril Lavigne, Leona Lewis, Britney Spears, and Camila Cabello (including her single “Havana” which reached one billion streams on Spotify in 2018) are just a few of the vocalists who Matt has produced.

In a fun, lively, and appropriately audiophilic conversation with Matt Beckley, we learn more about the earliest moments of his journey into music production, his familial influences and personal inspirations, and his knack for being behind some of the most successful pop singles of recent times.

Were there projects that you were involved in leading up to 2020’s pandemic? Did you have creative plans that were affected by all of this?

Clearly everything live was shut down. And there’s work that I’ve had to turn down because we just can’t do anything in a studio right now. But I got really lucky—right around the beginning of this, a friend of mine started doing this kind of film project that needed original music and he asked if I would score it, which is something I’d like to do more of. It’s kept me really busy.

We’re all just looking for shit to do while we’re holed up. The industry is shut down, but in a lot of ways, a lot of what we do is pretty isolated anyway. Everyone’s doing the best they can to stay busy. But anybody that does what is predominantly live is hosed. And the other irony is, that if you’re going to release a record, you can’t promote it. Nobody can tour. So in a way, for somebody like me who is mostly behind the glass these days—I’m sad that I can’t do my bar gig that I would do every month with friends to stay sharp—but I’m doing OK, you know. I consider myself very lucky, but I try to remain cognizant of the people who are suffering greatly.

Do you recall a particular moment in your artistic upbringing when you knew production was one of your primary musical interests—when you realized you had a knack for it?

I’m not a particularly good singer and I’m an OK player. It became one of those things of “we don’t really want to go see your band… but can you work on a record?” My dad is constantly working. So I grew up on the floor of studios; even when it was the converted garage, it was still a studio and I would watch him. He’s a very, very underrated producer. In fact, my mom was told by George Martin “Gerry needs to get off the road and really be a producer because he’s got a knack for it.”

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TVD Radar: An exclusive excerpt from America, the Band: An Authorized Biography by Jude Warne

As if recovering from a raucous dream of the 1960s, Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Dan Peek arrived on 1970s American radio with a sound that echoed disenchanted hearts of young people everywhere. Celebrating America the band’s fiftieth anniversary, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell share stories of growing up, growing together, and growing older in America, the Band — an Authorized Biography. The Vinyl District writer Jude Warne weaves original interviews with Beckley, Bunnell, and many others into a dynamic cultural history of America, the band, and America, the nation.

Selections from “Chapter One – The Song”

The single wasn’t right; that much was clear. Warner Brothers had listened to the final version of America’s self-titled debut album and its proposed first single. “I Need You” was a ballad by Gerry Beckley, who, as a pop composer and unrelenting romantic, was on the path to becoming Uncle Sam’s Paul McCartney. The song encapsulated the nineteen-year- old’s delicate dance between innocence and experience, acknowledging the earnestness of romantic curiosity, with an unmistakable undertone of sex appeal. “I Need You” was set indoors, where Gerry’s writerly character would reside for the majority of his artistic life.

The song’s theme was what Lennon and McCartney had dubbed “The Word” in their 1965 song on Rubber Soul and in 1967 had declared to be all you need. A generation of young people had recently seized the word in their quest to redefine what mattered for society and for culture, what was important – and just how far and in how many different directions it could fly. It was something that the cumulative youth ideology of the recently closed decade had assumed for its main tenet. It was something thought to have been the answer: love.

But it was 1971 now. The Beatles had broken up. The ’60s were literally—and in many ways figuratively—over. The year 1969 had witnessed the manifestation of the decade’s full potential in the freedom- laden beauty of Woodstock. But it had also witnessed its seeming demise in the heinous murders by the Manson Family, as well as the ill-fated Altamont Free Concert on what Rolling Stone would call “rock ’n’ roll’s all-time worst day.” Disappointment was palpable. Malaise and indifference threatened. A widespread sense of trust in freedom had been violated. What would happen to love? Where would it go? Who would reclaim it?

Gerry Beckley, at least for his own band, America. “I Need You” was Beatlesque, simple and beautifully melodic, a slow song, a pop standard. It immediately established Gerry’s musical character as one foot in the past—the tradition and history of the songwriting craft—and the other in the future—the ever-evolving technological possibilities of the recording studio. Gerry was a born music producer who felt at home in the studio and was intellectually curious about its creative opportunities. He was a big-picture man, able to consider the totality of a song and understand what made it work—and what could make it better.

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Sasha Dobson,
The TVD Interview

Smack in the middle of an era full of complications—and amidst a year of fear and confusion—singer-songwriter Sasha Dobson has released her four-song EP “Simple Things” that reminds all of us to divert our attention toward what truly matters.

A child of hardworking musical parents from Northern California, Dobson first garnered traction as a jazz vocalist who crafted a sonic and spiritual space for herself amidst New York City’s West Village jazz scene. Sasha befriended recording artist Norah Jones, who recognized a similar musical inclination toward the subtle, nuanced elements of artistic approach that she herself possessed, and together they co-founded the girl group trio Puss N Boots along with Cat Popper.

But Sasha’s rock inclinations were left unattended. A vow to write and write and write was held to, as Dobson devoted herself to the craft that she was simultaneously used to from her upbringing, and coerced into pursuing via her many artistic collaborations as a young artist in California and New York.

“Simple Things,” the captivating four-song EP recently released under her own name, is Dobson’s testament to the potentials of the rock idiom. And it’s a beautiful experiment heralded by the guidance of veteran producer and Blue Note Records label head Don Was who believed in Sasha from day one. A stellar San Rafael session at Bob Weir’s TRI Recording Studios with Jay Lane on drums, Was himself on bass, and Sasha leading on guitar and vocals, resulted in a lovely and authentic product by which to showcase her talents.

You’re from California originally—what brought you to the New York area? Have you lived here for a long time?

I’m a little over twenty years in New York. I spent ten years in Manhattan and ten years in Brooklyn. And I just saw myself cycling into this routine of gigging every night. I was working and I was busy, but I wasn’t building anything beyond that. And I knew that if I distanced myself from the city, that I would only say yes to gigs that made financial sense or that I really, really wanted to do. Because as musicians we’re starving for work, and so you get into this momentum.

I come from a long line of musicians who were eternally overworked. So I moved to Far Rockaway, New York for the beach and the lifestyle, but I actually ended up working more because at the same time, my career opened up more. But I did start really making sure that when I said yes to a gig or project with someone that it made sense. Certain artists like myself who are musicians’ musicians, we burn ourselves out. And I come from a long line of really hard-working musicians, blue collar musicians if you will, like people who work with other musicians and spread themselves so thin. And so for me, I just thought, I think that my life path, aside from singing jazz, is writing music.

Even though it’s not what I set out to do, and even though I fell into it kind of guilty by association—I worked with all these songwriters, I dated and lived with a great songwriter for many years who’s a dear friend of mine. My life has been deeply influenced into this category that it fell into and I needed the space to sort of dive into that. And ever since then, “Simple Things” and the last Puss N Boots record, and my next project—this jazz record I’m about to put out—they’re all a product of making the room to write all the time.

I’m getting a lot of work done. The only real drag, for me, aside from losing all the big tours that we had planned this year, is that my social life—as dorky as it sounds—was also my work. And so whatever isolation that I kind of created by living out here and kind of love—I don’t get to balance it out by going and doing a gig every night or a session. But it’ll pass.

So you had a tour planned around the release of this record originally before quarantine started?

This year was the busiest year of my adult life. I’ve never had so much going on at once. I can’t even believe I have the financial structure to survive this pandemic period, because if it were last year and I didn’t have savings from making a record with Puss N Boots—my band with Norah Jones… we also put out a record this year, which kind of afforded me this project. I really had planned my whole year out. And the universe was like, “fuck you!”

But I’m not the only one; we’re all kind of going through that. I think a lot of us were hoping to have a great year. So you just keep going. On the other hand, my new jazz project was just sort of a trail off of this. You know, you get into a zone with whatever productivity you’re into, and I was just in this really super hustling zone at the beginning of the year, and my jazz band is a big deal for me. That’s kind of like another topic, but it’s something that I think, because I was so fired up about “Simple Things” and that coming together, I just knew that as soon as the tour was over with Puss N Boots, I was going to want to have something else in the mix after “Simple Things.” The point is that if I didn’t have these two projects to work on right now during this pandemic, I’d be just so lost. I have them to focus on and push out into the world, and it could be worse.

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Marcus Eaton,
The TVD Interview

“Seems impossible to tell seasons apart, or know exactly which way the weather’s going to go,” states singer-songwriter Marcus Eaton in “Closer,” the third moodily introspective track on his EP “Invisible Lines,” released last month on vinyl. New and timely in its themes of isolation, sociological questioning, and nature awareness, Eaton’s EP stands as a semi-unintentional testament to the wild, sad, and unpredictable times we are currently living through.

The release date of mid-May was chosen months before the pandemic took center stage. But over the course of the EP’s five original tracks and one cover song, Eaton makes it clear that he is the ideal artist for the right now. He puts forth thoughtful and comfortable-in-uncertainty reiterations and spin-offs of his “Closer” observation. The revolutionarily minded “Step Aside” that inspires personal power and potential political change, the flight-focused “Shadow of a Bird” that encourages risk-taking and assuages fear of failure, and the responsibility-oriented “Handed Down” that investigates the concept of cultural inheritance, all address eternal themes of the human experience: physical and emotional solitude, penning one’s own most authentic creed, and trying to do the right thing while also honoring personal spiritual and material desires.

Different musicians who surmised the same truths that Eaton has on “Invisible Lines” could have reverted to rebellion, rage, ridicule, or disenchantment. But he appears to have chosen an alternate path, that of pursuing newness and insisting on hope. Even his choice of cover song, Sting’s classic world-conscious “Fragile,” merges with these same themes and fits perfectly alongside originals. Eaton’s guitar prowess, carefully cultivated over years of inquiry, practice, and spiritual searching, has served as his artistic calling card for much of his career and once again takes center stage—and exquisitely so—on “Invisible Lines.” As does his compositional penchant to get to the heart of the matter—for the universe at large—via the most musically captivating route.

Eaton released his first album with his jazz fusion-forward group The Lobby in 2003, which was followed by three solo albums before “Invisible Lines.” And his ongoing musical collaboration with the legendary David Crosby ultimately spawned last year’s acclaimed Grammy-nominated documentary Remember My Name, directed by Eaton’s brother A.J. and for which Marcus wrote and recorded a stark and stellar original guitar-based score (with Bill Laurance). And really, what better than intense instrumental acumen and sonic sophistication, to prepare a younger musician for working with an eminent and complex artist like David Crosby?

In conversation with Marcus Eaton, we learn more about the genesis of “Invisible Lines,” his myriad of guitar heroes, and his musical collaboration with one of the most talented and paradoxical artists in rock history.

You produced this new EP, “Invisible Lines,” yourself, but the whole thing—the sound quality, the mixing is very impressive.

Thank you. I’m really proud of this new project because I did it myself. My friend Billy Centenaro mixed it, and he took it way beyond what I expected. When I got the mixes back from him, it was the first time I heard the emotion that I put into the album come back to me. It really affected me; the emotion was translating—before, the emotion wasn’t hitting people. So that just shows you how important mixing is. My friend tracked the drums for me in his studio. We did the strings at my home, the violin parts on “Invisible Lines.”

Those were live players?

That was one live player named Lizzie Ball, she’s incredible, she used to play with Jeff Beck, a top violin player in London. I’d had some temporary synth parts that were replicating strings. She got into it, just went crazy, did like thirteen or fourteen tracks.

Can you discuss working with David Crosby in the past, and your connection to him, as a younger person? Did it feel special, like “not everyone gets to do this,” working with the legends, the masters?

The Crosby thing—what I love about it is that it was so organic. It happened through my friend Norm Waitt, who saw me open for Tim Reynolds, this incredible guitarist I’ve always idolized who plays with Dave Matthews. I started listening to him at 18 and thought if I could ever play with him, that could be the thing. And I ended up touring with him a lot. So on one of these tours, in Aspen, I met Norm Waitt, who asked if I wanted to play at his Christmas party in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a blast, and then Norm said “I really think you need to meet my friend David Crosby.” I found out that Norm had a record label, which he’d built around Crosby, because he loved his music so much. So that’s how I met David. A couple of months later he asked if I’d like to come and play on his album which became Croz (2014). So it was very organic, not through management, or lawyers—a lot in music happens that way—but this was organic. A ’60s-style “hey man, come and jam in my living room” sort of thing. It was very special.

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Needle Drop: Mike Jacoby, From London
to Long Beach

Long Beach Calling is the latest album release from SoCal Alt Country rocker Mike Jacoby; its title and that of its corresponding song—as well as its pink-and-green-lettered cover image—offer direct allusion to London Calling, the quintessential career-defining Clash album released in 1979.

London in the late seventies was riddled with cross-class strife, uneven economics, and dissatisfied plebeians. Long Beach, California in 2019—according to Jacoby’s song—is in a similar state, albeit of a mellower and narrower sort. The town, the area, has an element of Golden State beauty but mainly exists in varying states of decay—the truth of which Jacoby’s vocal snarl, and the simultaneous multiple guitar lines that drive the track—some aggressive, some playful—indicate.

“Long Beach Calling” sets the LP-length precedent for humorous songwriting and impressive instrumentals that the listener will experience over the course of eleven original tracks. From the record’s earliest notes, it becomes clear: this is very much a Guitar album. Songs like “Here & Now” and ‘Smile” possess the abundant energy of songs off the Clash’s London Calling album, but musically wear clothes in a style more akin to ’90s rock, in the vein of early Wilco and Monster-period R.E.M.

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Donald Fagen and The Nightflyers, The TVD Interview

“I wish I had a heart like ice,” Donald Fagen—or rather his character, uber-hip yet lovelorn jazz DJ Lester—yearns in “The Nightfly.” The track is a high point on an autobiography-infused nostalgiAlbum of high points. The Nightfly, Fagen’s debut solo recording—which also featured classics “I.G.Y.” and “New Frontier”—was nominated for seven Grammy awards and released in 1982.

Fagen’s latest solo venture comes in the form of a touring band appropriately dubbed The Nightflyers. From July through September, the bunch will play in a myriad of venues across the US, as well as the Yokohama Blue Note Jazz Fest for a tour closer. The Nightflyers are new for Donald, more or less; he first ran into the twenty-somethings bunch—Connor Kennedy (guitar, vocals), Lee Falco (drums, vocals), Brandon Morrison (bass, vocals), and Will Bryant (keyboards, vocals)—on the Woodstock-area music circuit. Stepdaughter and musician Amy Helm, also based in the Woodstock area, had worked with them in the past. Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers’ current setlist mainly borrows from Donald’s four stellar solo albums—The Nightfly (1982), Kamakiriad (1993), Morph the Cat (2006), and Sunken Condos (2012)—with some innovative covers and Steely Dan classics, too.

Fagen first formed a reputation as vocalist-pianist and songwriter, along with his musical partner Walter Becker, creating the Steely Dan nucleus. Influenced by literature and jazz, science fiction and noir, and all things Beatnik, Fagen and Becker created one of the most cerebrally complex yet often-mass-marketable song catalogues in the American popular music of the 1970s. Consider for a moment the miraculous and sometimes twisted perfection of the band’s lyrics—no topic seemed off-limits for songs, and many dealt in the murky nether regions of human relationships—which can sometimes get creepy. Steely Dan’s characters, however dastardly or morally questionable their intentions were, always possessed a layer of relatable loneliness.

As a solo artist, Donald Fagen is perhaps under-recognized for the romantic view of life expressed in his music. Frequently and rightfully lauded for his impressive cerebral prowess, he is sometimes snubbed for the more emotional side of his unique aural persona—one that is ridden, however coolly, with noble feeling, steadfast mensch-ness, and a lushly detectable yet fittingly understated sex appeal. A persona that’s the sonic equivalent of Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, decked out in a white dinner jacket—solitary, strong, sarcastic, and unavoidably ardent when it came to the gal he loved. Like Lester the Nightfly, Rick insisted he’d “stick his neck out for nobody.” He yearned for “a heart like ice”—but couldn’t swing it.

In conversation with Donald Fagen, and Connor Kennedy of the Nightflyers, we learn more about the current Nightflyers tour, their musical and lifestyle influences and inspirations, and Connor’s recently released solo album, Somewhere.

Donald, a great deal of your solo material features seemingly cynical characters who also possess an undertone of a romantic worldview, a worldview that I’ve found to be pretty popular in the great noir protagonists of literature and cinema—like Philip Marlowe.

That’s fair, that’s fair.

Do you envision yourself in this way too, as the protagonist of your own life experience, having a soft spot for what you love, despite your intellect’s best intentions?

I think that’s a very fair way to describe the music. It’s hard to say. I think it’s sort of egotistical to put myself in a position of having the same kind of bigger-than-life personality as, you know, some of the people in noir literature, like say, Philip Marlowe, something like that. But I am attracted to that sort of thing, and I always think that the best of noir literature—you know, “noir” is actually a word that is fairly recent. They didn’t call it that when it was written. But there’s something about that vision of life to me that seems true to real life, I think. I think you’re right—there’s a romance to it. There’s a cynicism to it, skepticism, and humor, also. So I think that’s become part of my style.

Yes. I was watching the film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep again recently and Philip Marlowe seems like this knight in shining armor that’s trying to work his way through this muck of all these crazy and corrupt characters, even though he seems that he’s a bit cynical.

Right.

He does stand out as being the one guy who’s doing the right thing.

Yeah, it’s like Al Franken, you know.

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Needle Drop: Honey West, Bad Old World

“I’m crazier than ever—I don’t wanna get better!” Ted Zurkowski sings in “Dementia,” the cleverly catchy single off Honey West’s Bad Old World album. Honey West is a band—not a woman—and they’ve released their debut record this past May via Readout Records.

As the single’s title and group’s name suggest, New York-based Honey West has a soft spot for the long-lasting. Perhaps this soft spot isn’t too surprising, given Honey West’s intimate relationship with rock and roll legacies. Vocalist-guitarist (and actor, founder of New York’s Shakespearean Co. Frog & Peach) Ted Zurkowski makes up one half of the group’s songwriting and conceptual nucleus. Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald makes up the other half—you might know Ian too, in fact, if you’re a classic rock regular, you probably do.

McDonald is perhaps most immediately recognizable via his major roles in the foundation and subsequent super-success of rock bands King Crimson (1968-9) and Foreigner (1976-80). The versatile musicality, innovative composing, and production prowess that McDonald displayed during his stints with both bands is impossible to deny. The creative hand that he wields now with confidence and grace on Bad Old World, re-proves these same truths.

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