Early Seger Vol. 1 by Bob Seger

December 22, 2009

Bob Seger has now sold tens of millions of records and CDs and is safely enshrined in The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Between 1976 and 1986 he released a series of commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums. Titles such as Night Moves, Stranger In Town, Against The Wind, Like A Rock, The Distance, and Live Bullet continue to sell well decades after their initial release as they contain some of the most memorable tracks in rock ‘n’ roll history. Songs such as “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Against The Wind,” “Fire Lake,” “Shame On The Moon,” and “Shakedown” are instantly recognizable by several generations of American music fans.

Seger has raided the vaults for his latest release, Early Seger Vol. 1, which consists of six remastered pre-1976 tracks and four previously unreleased songs.

He reaches back to 1972’s Smokin’ O.P.’s for “If I Were A Carpenter” and “Someday.” The first is an organ-based folk/rock tune and the second is a simple, moody slow song that looked ahead to his better ballads to come.

The Back In 72 LP yields Seger’s cover of the old Greg Allman tune, “Midnight Rider,” which had been out of print for years. He gives it a straightforward rock treatment with a loud drum mix providing the foundation.

Three songs are taken from Seven. “U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)” features a smooth vocal and picks up steam as it progresses. The always entertaining “Get Out Of Denver” has been refitted with a new guitar solo but retains it frenetic uptempo style and energy. “Long Song Comin’” has basically been re-recorded as horns and a stinging guitar sound have been added to give it a more polished sound.

The four unreleased tracks consist of two interesting songs and two unearthed gems that are seeing the light of day for the first time. “Star Tonight” was covered by Don Johnson in 1986 but here Seger provides a gritty vocal to his own composition. “Gets Ya Pumpin’” builds on the 1973 tune “Pumpin’” and is essentially a power ballad. “Wildfire,” recorded in the mid-1980’s makes for a wonderful surprise. This polished, up-tempo rock cut was originally slated to be the title song of the Like A Rock album. “Days When The Rains Would Come” stems from the same period and is an up-tempo ballad with lyrics that paint a picture of love remembered. The song is equal to any he has ever created and that is saying something.

Bob Seger has returned with an interesting release that plugs a lot of holes in his career. Early Seger Vol. 1 is a must for any Seger fan as it presents some well-crafted music from an old master.

Greatest Hits by Bob Seger

June 15, 2009

Bob Seger’s studio releases were becoming few and far between in the 1990’s and so in October of 1994 he issued his first Greatest Hits album. It was a wise decision as it not only introduced some of his best and most popular material to a new generation, but millions of fans who only had his music on vinyl also bought this CD. The album would become his biggest seller, topping the eight-million mark in The United States alone. It was a testament to the enduring quality of Seger’s music.

The title may be somewhat of a misnomer, though. It contains a lot of excellent music but does not represent all of his best. It contains only nine songs that charted as singles and it ignores his early period. I can’t help but think that they had more volumes in mind at the time and so saved a number of his most famous tracks for the second volume. Tracks such as “Beautiful Loser,” “Fire Lake,” “Katmandu,” “Betty Lou’s Getting Out Tonight,” and his Number One single, “Shakedown,” are nowhere to be found. Still, what is included represents what his music is all about.

Bob Seger basically produces two types of songs: energetic rockers and ballads about love and life.

Five slow and mid-tempo ballads form the heart of this release. “Night Moves” and “Main Street” are thoughtful and, in a way, nostalgic as they transport the listener back to a time and place in their own lives. “We’ve Got Tonight,” “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” and “Against The Wind” are all inspirational love songs that present varying degrees of desperation.

Bob Seger produces mainstream rock ‘n’ roll as well as just about anyone. “Hollywood Nights” still thunders and “Old Time Rock & Roll” remains a joyful celebration of what rock is all about. I would also include “Like A Rock” if not for the omnipresent truck commercial that spoiled the song for me.

It’s also nice to hear “Turn The Page” again. This weary but brilliant song of life on the road dates from a time when he was wondering if he would ever make it in a big way.

There are two new tracks included here. The old Chuck Berry tune, “C’est La Vie,” is excellent but the original song, “In Your Time,” is less so and is the album’s weakest song.

Overall, though, the quality of Greatest Hits is superb. It’s an album for Seger neophytes to start and for hardcore fans to further enjoy.

Face The Promise by Bob Seger

June 15, 2009

It had been eleven years since his last studio release when Bob Seger returned in September of 2006 with Face The Promise. While not the overwhelming commercial success of some his classic albums, it nevertheless reached platinum status by selling over one million copies in The United States. Critically it was a vast improvement over the 1995 It’s A Mystery. It was also the first time since 1975 that The Silver Bullet Band was not credited.

Over a decade is a long time between albums and in his defense there were some health issues involved. He was wise enough not to re-invent himself musically. He stays close to the formula’s that worked so well in the past and while he may not have produced a spectacular album, at least it’s solid and provides a good listening experience.

The center of the album is just some of the good old straight forward rock ‘n’ roll that he is so good at producing. “Wreck The Heart” is the lead track and sets the tone for much that will follow. It is energetic and the lyrics are fine. The title song rocks a little harder as it explores the American dream.

There are two duets that are excellent. “Real Mean Bottle” is a country tune written by Vince Gill. Here it is given a rock ‘n’ roll performance and his pairing with Kid Rock was genius. It has an old time boogie feel and is the strongest track on the album. “The Answer’s In The Question,” is a duet with Patty Loveless. It is a gentle song that works well but Seger’s voice strains here and there. It’s a reminder that he was in his early sixties and his voice was not as supple as in his prime.

Not everything works well. “Simplicity” has a funky feel that moves Seger outside his comfort zone. “No More” is a political statement with strings. “Won’t Stop” is an excellent song but the simple and mostly acoustic performance puts the spotlight on his vocal which again is a little strained.

Any new Bob Seger release comes with high expectations. Face The Promise may not take his loyal fan base to the mountain top but it is a fine addition to his catalogue. It is also one of those albums that sound better with repeated listens. In the final analysis it proved that Bob Seger could still produce a good album and that was enough.

It’s A Mystery by Bob Seger

June 14, 2009

It’s A Mystery was released October 24, 1995 and proved to be the least popular Bob Seger album since Seven (1974). While it would sell close to a million copies in The United States and Canada, his Greatest Hits album which was released just the year before would sell close to 11 million. It was proof that the public preferred his older material to what he was currently producing. The real mystery is how could he go four years between studio albums and only come up with this mostly mundane group of songs. In fairness the music is not terrible, but fairly or unfairly his post The Distance work would always be compared to that of his classic period when he produced such works of art as Against The Wind, Stranger In Town, and Night Moves.

In some ways this music, while pleasant, is just not interesting. His sense of melody remains intact but the lyrics are for the most part strained. His desire to be current with political views and comments on the state of the world are far from the popularity and appeal of his blue collar rock roots which served him so well in the past.

He does try and “Rite Of Passage” and the title song both rock hard. Seger’s voice may have lost a little power over the years but it is still unique and good enough to fuel his music. “Lock and Load” and “Hands In The Air” are the best of the lot and interestingly both are co-written with Craig Frost and Tom Mitchell rather than being solo compositions.

“Revisionism Street” at least has a little bite as he takes on the entertainment industry but beyond that there is not much there. Even his cover of a Tom Waits song, “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six,” who had provided interesting cover material in the past, rings hollow.

He took four years to produce the album so it was not time that was the issue. Maybe he was tired or his mind was elsewhere but the music has an unfinished feel to it. It’s A Mystery is ultimately forgettable. I would have hoped for more from an artist of Bob Seger’s stature and talent. Why I didn’t get it on this release is indeed a mystery.

The Fire Inside by Bob Seger

June 14, 2009

When I took this CD off the shelf late last night to give it a play, there were only a couple of songs with which I was familiar. I can almost sing along to many of the tracks from Stranger In Town or Against The Wind, but here we have one of the more unfamiliar albums in the Bob Seger catalog.

The Fire Inside, released five years after Like A Rock, found Bob Seger in his mid-forties, his place in American rock history having already been secured. His new music was refined and perhaps a little too familiar. I have always thought that maybe he should have played a few more bars rather than just the 15,000-seat areas. All in all, I guess his music had become a little too predictable.

This album would begin on an upbeat note. “Take A Chance” may not have been the best rocker that he produced in his career but it is very good. It’s instantly recognizable and finds Seger in his comfort zone. “The Real Love” is a beautiful and poetic ballad with his voice intermixed with some layered guitars and backing vocals.

They may not be the best songs on the album but the most interesting are the two Tom Waits covers. He gives a nice, bluesy vocal on “New Coat Of Paint” and he takes “Blind Love” in a country direction. He would flirt with country music a number of times on his latter-day albums and I can’t help but wish that he might have gotten a little more serious about this musical direction.

The title track would be the album’s only real memorable song as it would receive considerable airplay. Now only was it graced by some classic piano work by Roy Bittan of The E Street Band, but it also had a catchy melody.

The remaining seven tracks all struggle just to be average. “The Mountain” has some nice lead guitar lines by Joe Walsh but not much else. “Always In My Heart” is a rare failed ballad. The album closer, “She Can’t Do Anything Wrong,” is a rocker where he unfortunately shows his age.

Bob Seger was still a formidable presence in concert but this release was not indicative of that fact. The Fire Inside is forgettable and bland — especially when you compare it to Live Bullet or Nine Tonight — making it an album for hardcore Seger fans only.

Like A Rock by Bob Seger

June 14, 2009

When Bob Seger is good he is very good and when Bob Seger is bad he is just average.

Like A Rock, issued in April of 1986, was his first studio album release since 1982’s The Distance. The ever increasing lag time between releases would not serve him well as the overall quality of the albums were not as high. While this latest release would contain several classic performances, there would also be a number of filler songs.

Bob Seger may have become a tad complacent or maybe just too secure. The music marked a slight turn from the blue collar rock upon which his reputation had been built. The increased keyboards and synthesizer sound on some of the tracks was his adjusting to the music of the eighties.

The first three tracks are excellent. “American Storm,” with its driving beat, is one of those rock anthems that he was so good at creating. At the time “Like A Rock” was equally strong. But listening to this track today I can’t help but think about that Chevrolet commercial, where a great song was used in a bad context. “Miami” was Seger turning in a soft rock direction that was becoming so popular at the time and would foreshadow his future releases.

The final track, “Fortunate Son,” was not present on the vinyl edition but was a bonus track on the CD. It also was the flip side of the single release of “American Storm.” It was taken from a live 1983 performances and just crackles with sound and energy. Very few artists have been able to cover Creedence Clearwater Revival well but this was just a great performance.

The rest of the album does not reach the heights of the four previously mentioned tracks. “The Ring” has excellent lyrics about marital problems that are lost in some average music. He tries on “Tightrope” and “The Aftermath” but they do not quite take off. While “Somewhere Tonight” is enjoyable, “Sometimes” and “It’s You” are unimaginative and just fill out the album.

There are a lot better albums in the Seger catalog. Like A Rock remains a hit or miss affair and is only memorable for about half the tracks.

The Distance by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band

June 13, 2009

Bob Seger returned in December of 1982 with his first studio album in almost three years. While The Distance would be the beginning of his commercial downturn it would be on a creative par with his best work.

The Distance would be the last truly consistent album of his career. The time between studio releases would increase and the quality of the material would vary from excellent to average. Here, however, he would continue in the vein of Against The Wind and Stranger In Town, as it would contain energetic blue collar rock ‘n’ roll and sensitive ballads.

The album thunders out of the gate with two high octane rock tunes. “Even Now” is equal to anything that he had produced in the past and “Makin’ Thunderbirds” is just a cut below. His ability to create a memorable melody would always be his strength and both songs were both catchy yet powerful. They would be the appetizer for a lot of the good music that would follow.

“Roll Me Away” is probably the strongest song on the album. It tells a story and contains wonderful lyrics that would have fit one of his classic ballads. What makes the song unique and memorable is that he surrounds these lyrics with a beat. This song of searching and keeping at it remains a staple of his live show over a quarter of a century after its release.

“Shame On The Moon” would become a huge single and be the song most associated with the album at the time of its release. Written by Rodney Crowell, it was the only non-original tune on the album. It had a country flavor to it and featured smooth harmonies and great piano lines. It would become one of his biggest hits, reaching number two on the National charts.

Several other songs of note help to make the album memorable. “Love’s The Last To Know” is one of his poignant ballads. “House Behind A House” contains wonderful imagery and is a fine example of how he could make his ideas come alive through the use of words. The album closer, “Little Victories,” is a fitting finale as it deals with the hopes and triumphs of everyday life.

27 years after its release, The Distance sometimes gets lost in Seger’s vast catalog. It certainly measures up to his best work and is a perfect companion while driving in your car or just relaxing with the head phones on.