Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu. Just when it looked like it was safe to go back in the water, Lou Reed and Metallica caution us to watch our step. History has a way of repeating itself and Reed has a genius for turning that history inside out. When he started the Velvet Underground in 1965, the ultimate New Yorker wanted to write songs equally as serious as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Why shouldn't he? So that's exactly what Reed did on "Heroin," "White Light White Heat," "Murder Mystery," "Cool It Down" and all the others. The Rock & Roll Animal was just getting started.
In the '70s Lou Reed veered from Sally Can't Dance to Metal Machine Music. Interestingly enough it's actually one long trip. For those who refused to sign up for the full journey it must have been discombobulating at best. Same today. It's not that far from the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired album The Raven to Lulu, which originated as a play.
At the center of his songs is the ability to slice their way into the heart, unafraid of what he might find along the way. The man is a spelunker of the soul, and could care less about the collateral damage it could cost. Reed is going there, and that's just the way it is.
Metallica is the perfect mate for songs like "Pumping Blood," "Mistress Dread" and "Dragon." Their muscular music ramps up the aggro volume of Reed's vision to maximum effect, but also catches the deep and depraved humanity that lives so gloriously inside it. As he cruises to 70, Lou Reed's rock & roll heart beats stronger than ever. He is still fighting his way through the emotional jungle with an electric guitar and an unshakeable desire to tell us what life is like for Lulu, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Sister Ray, Little Joe and all the beautiful misfits as they hustle headfirst into the abyss. But oh what a view it is.
Stephen Brower and the Silent Majority, SB/SM. The cowpunk coterie of mid-'80s Los Angeles enlivened that city's scene right down to its bleached roots. Of course long before that, artists like the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers had steered their way onto the country & western trail, but stuck a little closer to the genre's true Southern and Bakersfield roots. After punk had jacked up the rhythm and views of rock & roll, leave it to Rank & File, Lone Justice, and the Long Ryders to marry that blast with Merle Haggard and George Jones to birth yet another musical movement.
Stephen Brower and his band SM have long gone to school on all of the above and with their latest release turn up the volume even more. There are clearly strains of hard rock and even a little heavy metal running through the DNA of songs "This City," "You'd Better Come On" and "New Tattoo," but because Brower is an actual Southern man, that only means he comes by his heritage righteously with plenty of pride and volume knobs twisted to twelve. Plus he sings like he means it, which makes all the difference in the world.
Music usually gets best when the waters are the muddiest, and SB/SM are perfectly fine doing their damnedest to stir things up. Anyone who isn't afraid to mess with a Neil Young classic like "Time Fades Away," as the players do here, have earned their stripes. Country, metal, rock and a shade of folk all get tossed into the blender, held together by Brower's ability to sing winningly over churning guitars and pounding drums with an absolute heated cool. Surely Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam are smiling somewhere.
The Blues Project, Projections. The Blues Project wasn't a blues band. What they were was one of the most creative groups of the mid-Sixties, a quintet that approached music like it was a big playyard where they could follow their creative urges wherever they wanted.
Maybe that's why the BP never quite found their spot: being so good at so many different sounds they ended up confounding all but the converted. That's okay too, because the band left behind this perfect album, recently reissued in all its eclectic glory.
Featuring fellow Morton Report columnist Al Kooper on vocals and keyboards, the Blues Project came out of the Greenwich Village cauldron right alongside folk-rockers like the Lovin' Spoonful, the Youngbloods and the Magicians. But imagine a band that could race from roaring Chuck Berry songs to jazzy instrumentals and knocked-out Jimmy Reed ballads without blinking an eye.
Fueled by Danny Kalb's mesmerizing lead guitar and Kooper's expansive keyboards, they were full of surprises, just like the '60s and actually suffered from an embarrasment of riches. Kooper, Kalb and second guitarist Steve Katz all sang and were admirably able to skirt sounding like anyone but themselves.
For a brief moment it seemed like the Blues Project was going to enter the upper realm of American pop music. "Cheryl's Going Home" felt tailor-made for AM radio. With the counterculture exploding around every corner it looked like only a matter of time before all doors would open.
Bob Dylan and Velvet Underground producer Tom Wilson helmed Projections, and everything pointed to the stars, nothing more than the shaking and shimmering music on these nine songs. Like a lot of sure things, though, it didn't quite happen. Listening now it's hard to understand how the album missed. Then again, maybe you had to be there. Listen and learn.