Deer Tick, Divine Providence. Crawling the highways of America are great rock and roll bands that will likely never break through national consciousness in any significant way. Nor were they meant to. These musicians are the ones whose souls get possessed by sounds that can't be quantified or sold in bulk. Rather, they are enthralled with the idea of what two guitars, bass and drums can do in warding off the ominous threat of emptiness.
Deer Tick's John McCauley has one of those souls. Probably forged in the bars of his hometown Providence, Rhode Island, the singer-songwriter captures what it means to take a shot at making a stand. He is dearly devoted to showing all sides of a life lived day to day while waiting for the right time to make a play. That's not to say he doesn't know how to write amazing songs for the ages, because McCauley clearly does. From broke-down cars in "Chevy Express" to wishing on stars in "Make Believe," hearts haven't ached this heavy since Paul Westerberg put the Replacements out to pasture.
There have been other Deer Tick albums, as well as John McCauley's stirring stint in Middle Brother, but not until Divine Providence has the light burned so bright on him. Twenty years ago the world would have probably sat straight up and taken wild notice. Today, the reward will likely have to reside in knowing that rock and roll still rings loud in such good hands. So roll down the stairs, fall over the bar stools, and slip on the beer-wet floors: this band has spilled out a divine mess just in time to ward off the ghost of Christmas past and show us all how to live forever.
Willie Nile, The Innocent Ones. It wasn't fun getting tagged one of the sorta-new Bob Dylans in the '70s. Several singer-songwriters got caught in that net and it wasn't always easy to get untangled. Ask Steve Forbert. Willie Nile, however, quickly cut his way out with a sharp switchblade and never looked back. His songs may have had the laser-intense power of Bard Bob, but Nile was never anyone but his own man. All these years later, and he's stronger than ever.
Crossing the power of the Clash with the social consciousness of Woody Guthrie, Willie Nile's mission remains unbroken. He is swinging for the fences on "Singin' Bell" and "The Innocent Ones," just as he's aiming for the deepness within on "Sideways Beautiful" and "Far Green Hills." It's almost uncanny the ease with which the Buffalo-born rocker gets there. At this stage, there is nothing Nile can't do.
From all angles this should be Willie Nile's time. At the halfway point of a well-spent life and performing with an energy not many can top, if there is any fairness left in the music business life should open up for a survivor with this much to say. Not that Nile is asking for any favors, because he's not. He is making the very best music of his career, and has been for several years. There is no way he doesn't know it. The way he keeps moving forward, confident in what is inside him and the ability to bring it out, shows the man is the believer he's always been. Now it's our turn—once again.
The Rolling Stones, Some Girls. The last great Rolling Stones album gets remastered and expanded, proving again that band for band no one comes close to taking these Brits' crown away—or ever will. The original ten songs sound like a drunken night in New York City around 1975, ending up in some kind of gay cowboy bar at 3:30 in the morning playing ballads on the jukebox. What might have started as a respectable night out quickly swings from punk clubs, Studio 54, the meat market near the westside docks and a fast run through Harlem. No group ever got it so right.
The bonus material disc actually holds up just fine, much better than the extra tracks on last year's Exile on Main Street reissue. There are real songs here, and while none would have added much to the original release—how can you beat perfection?—at least ten of them would make a very respectable Rolling Stones album. Hank Williams' "You Win Again" and the throwaway "Petrol Blues" could best have served as a free single hidden inside the sleeve.
In a smart marketing move there is a concert DVD just released titled Some Girls, featuring a 1978 show in Fort Worth, Texas that includes several of the songs from the then-new album. Playing a small hall with no stage props, the Rolling Stones are lean, mean, and full of funky fire. Keith Richards looks almost healthy, and Ron Woods has the perfect make-up and guitar tone. Bill Wyman, as always, is a stone-faced statue playing perfect bass. And Mick Jagger? Well, he's doing his best to cop the current punk rock look with patches on his mylar pants complete in puddle-jumper shortened length. His dancing borders on the comic, though, like he's copping Rudolph Nureyev moves and then running them in reverse.
When Jagger starts licking the side of Wood's mouth, it's appears he's trying to make his longtime secret heartthrob Richards jealous. Or possibly show those Texans a thing or two about life in the big city. Bringing out fiddler Doug Kershaw to play on "Far Away Eyes" proves they knew exactly in what state they were performing. But like the Stones said: "It's only rock and roll and I like it." As long as Charlie Watts is sitting behind the maple Gretsch drums supplying the best beat known to man and hidden Stone Ian Stewart is playing the piss out of a grand piano out of the spotlight, all is right in the world.