Born 2B Blue by Steve Miller

May 12, 2013

Born 2B Blue was a unique stop for Steve Miller in that it remains the only album attributed just to him alone and not to the Steve Miller Band. Did this fact make a difference? The answer to that question may not be answerable but it was one of the weaker efforts of his career. It may have been a solo album but he used some familiar faces as supporting musicians including bassist Billy Peterson, keyboardist Ben Sidran, saxophonist Bob Malach, keyboardist Ricky Peterson, and drummer Gordy Knutson.

Miller had produced some of the finest psychedelic rock and pop/rock albums of his era, selling tens of millions of copies along the way. Born 2B Blue was neither as it crossed over into the easy listening/jazz medium with some homogenized pop thrown in for good measure.

The choice of songs was far removed from what one would expect from Miller and the results were varied but none came close to equaling his best work. He did seem to have had a vision when choosing the material as the songs sort of fit together. Unfortunately they did not fit him very well.

The best of the lot is a subtle interpretation of the Billie Holiday blues standard, “God Bless the Child” and a jazz laden vocal on “Willow Weep for Me.” He also provides an acceptable vocal of Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann” and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” but neither have the energy and passion of the originals.

On the other hand his covers of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” “Born to Be Blue,” and “When Sunny Gets Blue” are at best bland and at worst find an artist just going through the motions.

In the final analysis there is a sameness to the music and when this unites with the overly mellow nature of the music, you have one of the more forgettable albums of Miller’s career. Miller has a huge fan base and no doubt there are some who appreciate this album but it is only for the hardcore Miller aficionado.

Article first published as Music Review: Steve Miller – Born 2B Blue on Blogcritics.

Fly Like An Eagle by The Steve Miller Band

January 23, 2013

The May 1976, release of Fly Like An Eagle completed Steve Miller’s transition from bluesy, psychedelic rock musician to a pop rock icon. He came close with The Joker but it lacked the overall cohesiveness and smooth pop sheen of his latest release.

His basic backing band had been reduced to bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Gary Mallaber while he provided the vocals, guitars, keyboards, and even some sitar work. He filled in the sound with an array of guest musicians including harp player James Cotton, guitarist Les Dudek, dobro player John McFee, and organist Joachim Young. It all added up to an album that has sold over four million copies in the United States, produced three hit singles, and is recognized as one of the better albums of the 1970s.

The singles were perfect for AM and rock radio airplay as they were both catchy and memorable. The title track is driven by Miller’s guitar riffs and Young’s B3 organ that joins together to support his vocal. The short album opening “Space Intro” is the perfect set up for the track. “Take the Money and Run” and “Rock’n Me” are the perfect combination of catchy pop and album-oriented rock.

Many of the lesser-known songs are the equal of the big hits. “Wild Mountain Honey” is a laid-back track that would have fit in with the hippie movement of the late 1960s. “Serenade” is a rocker on which Miller overdubbed his vocal. “Dance Dance Dance” may have been a little short, but his guitar work and John McFee’s dobro play united together and took the track in a country direction. He transformed the blues song “Mercury Blues” into a rock epic.

As good as everything is, the best song may be “Sweet Maree,” which is powered by James Cotton harp. It was a presentation of his new vision but acknowledged his past as well.

The only track that does not fit is his cover of the Sam Cooke classic “You Send Me,” which pales next to the material that surrounded it.

Fly Like An Eagle is an uplifting album of excellent pop rock. It may be a tad dated but is still an excellent listen. It will always be in the discussion for the best of the Steve Miller studio albums.

Article first published as Music Review: The Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle on Blogcritics.

The Joker by The Steve Miller Band

January 15, 2013

Anyone who followed the first part of Steve Miller’s career was in for a big surprise when The Joker was released during October of 1973. His early albums had been firmly rooted in a psychedelic rock and blues sound. Now he began to change his sound as he moved in a pop/rock direction. While The Joker may not have had the pop sheen of Fly Like An Eagle or Book Of Dreams that would follow, it was nevertheless a radical departure from his previous sound.

Miller was the only member left from his original band except for bassist Lonnie Turner, who appeared on one track. He kept it fairly simple as he was backed by bassist Gerald Johnson, keyboardist Dick Thompson, and drummer John King. The only other musician on the album was Pete Kleinow who contributed the pedal steel guitar sound on “Something to Believe In.”

“The Joker” was Miller’s commercial break through as it became a million-selling single. The music was catchy and melodic, but it was the lyrics that made it memorable. Lines such as “gangster of love,” “the space cowboy,” and “pompitous of love” may not have changed the music world but they made it a lot more enjoyable.

“Sugar Babe” is a sometimes overlooked track, but it was catchy pop/rock and the equal to just about anything he would produce in the future. “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash” was a rhythm & blues hit for the Clovers in 1954, but Miller smoothed it out and put the emphasis on the keyboards and guitar, which turned it into a pop creation. Add in the enjoyable jam, “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma” and the catchy “Lovin’ Cup,” and you have the foundation of the album that launched the second half of his career.

The two live tracks, Robert Johnson’s blues tune “Come on in My Kitchen” and his own composition “Evil” are fine but a little misplaced as they pulled the album away from the pop/rock style of the better tracks.

The Joker is sometimes overshadowed by the focus on the albums that would follow, but it remains a good listen as it catches Miller honing his new sound. I don’t know how his old fans reacted to the album, but his new ones made it a huge commercial success.

Article first published as Music Review: The Steve Miller Band – The Joker on Blogcritics.

Brave New World by The Steve Miller Band

November 27, 2012

Change was in the air for The Steve Miller Band as keyboardist Jim Peterman and guitarist Boz Scaggs had departed. Keyboardist Ben Sidran was selected to join holdovers Miller, bassist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis. Sidran was a good addition as he would co-write four of the nine tracks with Miller. Producer Glyns Johns filled in on guitar and provided some backing vocals. As an example of the band’s burgeoning popularity, Nicky Hopkins and Paul McCartney each appeared on one track.

Despite the changes, they released their third excellent album in a row. Brave New World was very representative of the late 1960s. It had a summer of love and anti-war vibe. It was a fine fit for the growing hippie culture of the day as it explored peace as the Vietnam War was expanding.

From the opening crescendo of the title track, the music was a call to the young people of the country to unite. Both “Brave New World” and “Celebration Song” are up-beat explorations that found Miller fusing the psychedelic music of his present with the pop leanings of his future.

The center of the album contains a trio of songs that are equal to any Miller would produce. “Kow Kow (Calqulator)” is an anti-war or peace song that features some of Miller’s better guitar work plus pianist Hopkins filling in the gaps. The production is also impeccable as the sound has a layered feel. “Seasons” is a gentle acoustic ballad that contains a nice echo sound. “Space Cowboy” is the quintessential Miller song that was cool in 1969 and remains cool today.

The last track, “My Dark Hour,” features Paul McCartney (billed as Paul Ramon) on bass, drums, and backing vocals. His bass work is actually very creative on this track and would have fit in nicely on Fly Like An Eagle.

Brave New World is very cohesive as the songs fit together well. The music may not have been as creative or surprising as their first two albums but it was an easier listen. It remains an album worth revisiting.

Article first published as Music Review: Steve Miller Band – Brave New World on Blogcritics.

Thank You Les by Lou Pallo

September 6, 2012

Lou Pallo may not be a household name but if you are a Les Paul fan, then he is instantly recognizable as the longtime rhythm guitarist of his backing trio. He met Les Paul during 1963 and they formed a music relationship shortly afterward. Beginning in 1984, until 2009, he took the stage with Paul every Monday night; first at Fat Tuesday’s in Greenwich Village and then for the last 15 years at the Iridium Jazz Club in Times Square.

He has now put together a new album which is a tribute to his former friend and mentor. Thank You Les gathers a number of Les Paul’s classic tracks, plus a few more songs from The Great American Songbook for a grand total of 21. While he may not be a household name, most of the cast of supporting musicians are very well-known. Steve Miller, Keith Richards, Billy Gibbons, Jose Feliciano, Nokie Edwards, Slash, Johnny A, Bucky Pizzarelli, and a number of others were all willing to lend a hand to honor one of music’s brightest stars and guitar/recording innovators. Also contributing were other long time members of his trio, including pianist John Colianni, guitarist Frank Vignola, and a trio of bassists: Paul Nowinski, Nick Parrott, and Gary Mazzaroppi.

The album begins appropriately with former trio members Vignola, Pallo, and Nowinski just being backed by drummer Vince Ector. It makes one quickly realize just how much talent the trio members had in their own right. “Avalon” is a good introduction of Pallo’s style and technique and he demonstrates his ability as both a lead and rhythm guitarist. His lead guitar work on “Tennessee Waltz” has a soulful jazz feel to it.

When guest stars are present he is wise enough to step into the background to provide rhythm support unless called upon to share the lead guitar chores once in a while.

Steve Miller is the vocalist and lead guitarist for the medley of “Mr. Day/Tell Me What’s the Reason.” Les Paul was Miller’s Godfather and here he reaches back to the early blues era of his career. The old Duke Ellington tune, “Caravan,” features fine interplay between Pallo and Nokie Edwards of the Ventures and even includes some scat vocals. They return for an encore with “Out of Nowhere.”

Keith Richards shares the guitar spotlight and vocals on “It’s Been a Long Long Time.” It’s interesting in that it takes him out of his comfort zone and far from the music of the Rolling Stones. “September Song” with Billy Gibbons is the only performance to fill in the gaps with some brass, which gives it a very different feel from the music that surrounds it. Perhaps the best guitar work is Slash’s interpretation of Paul’s own composition, “Deep in the Blues.” Melinda Doolittle brings the album to a satisfying conclusion with a simple rendition of “Over the Rainbow” backed by a trio and highlighted by Pallo’s subtle riffing.

Lou Pallo has created an entertaining and fine tribute to the music of Les Paul. The different musicians make it an album full of surprises as they interpret his music rather than just play it note for note. It is an album worth exploring for fans of the old master while serving as a good introduction to guitarist Lou Pallo.

Article first published as Music Review: Lou Pallo – Thank You Les on Blogcritics.

Living In The USA 45 by The Steve Miller Band

July 6, 2009

Steve Miller is primarily remebered today for his string of catchy pop singles that he issued in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties. Songs such as “Jet Airliner,” Abracadabra,” “The Joker” and many more sold milliuons of copies and received constant radio play.

The Steve Miller Band of the late sixties was a far different affair. They were one of the first groups to become popular and sell millions of albums despite not having any hit singles to drive sales. The Grateful Dead were another such group. Singles were issued to drive album sales but Steve Miller managed to receive airplay on the flegling album only radio stations on the strength of his album tracks.

Leading The Steve Miller Band commercial charge was the song “Living In The USA” It was a track from his second album, SAILOR, which was released in October of 1968. It is probably his most popular and best known pre-pop period song.

This mostly instumental track is catchy and is a wonderful fusion of hard and pop rock. The guitar and keyboards join to create a wonderful sound. The fact that it was not issued as a single at the time was a poor decision. It was released a number of years after the fact and so quickly disappear840ced.

Nevertheless if you are partial to 45’s this is an essential for your collection.

Somebody get me a cheeseburger!