New Album Reviews: Beck/Depp, Journey, Christine McVie, Drive By Truckers, Pink Floyd

This is kind of a mish-mash of different releases; new stuff I have played and think deserving of some words.

Jeff Beck / Johnny Depp , 18.

At first glance I thought this was some kind of novelty joke. I’ve been a fan of Beck for 50 years, although I find his more recent material not very accessible. Beck has always been a rebel, like Neil Young, if he likes you like something of his, he will immediately go in a different direction and leave you scratching your head.

Teaming up with Hollywood Vampire rocker Johnny Depp is a weird partnership. I obtained a copy of their new release 18, and put it in in the background as I read. That’s how invested I was. Shockingly, I rather liked what I heard. These are mostly covers, I believe there are only two originals. Usually, when Beck does a cover, he makes it quite beautiful in his own way. These covers are interesting and at times, even pleasing.

Depp plays a lot of guitar, bass and handles the vocals. He’s functional and adequate, next to Beck’s magical guitar. Depp’s vocals are uneven, but that’s not the prime motivation for this album. Most of the reviews seem to focus on Depp’s recent legal issues, which I won’t. The other criticism is aimed at why the world needed more cover versions of these songs. One could ask that about any cover of a past song.

The new criticism involves plagiarism of a poem that was allegedly incorporated into the song “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade.” Some words from the poem “Hobo Ben,” by convict Slim Wilson, ended up in the song attributed to Depp and Beck. Just credit Wilson and pay the royalties, or remove the song, which wouldn’t hurt my feelings, it’s a tasteless thing anyway.

Journey, Freedom.

Did the world need another Journey album, and another one without vocalist Steve Perry, who left in 1996? While I find current lead vocalist Arnel Pineda an acceptable replacement for Perry, it’s like Jon Davidson replacing Jon Anderson in Yes. Just not the same, in part because the songwriting is not the same caliber.

Having voiced my concerns, I found Freedom to be quite good. It’s a 73 minute album, which trimmed to an hour would be stronger and easier to absorb in a single listen. The songwriting is by guitarist Neal Schon, keyboard player Jonathan Cain, and guest drummer/producer Michael Narada Walden. The group is essentially Schon, Cain and Pineda, with guest players on bass and drums.

Freedom follows the basic Journey template, a lot of slow and fast love songs, a few anthem-type arena-rock songs and a lot of Schon riffs. Maybe it sounds good to me because it does sound so familiar. Freedom is no classic, it is weak in originality, but it you want to hear a great job of Journey imitating Journey, try this one.

Christine McVie, Songbird.

At first, I though this was a collection of her Fleetwood Mac songs. Wrong! Most of the 10 tracks are from there solo albums, there are a couple of unreleased songs, and the vocals from “Songbird” with a new music track. But wait, there’s more!

McVie asked legendary music producer Glyn Johns to remix all the songs and add additional instruments where he saw fit.

I have to admit, I’m not very familiar with McVie’s solo material, so this was quite refreshing. If you like McVie’s voice and the gentle confessional-type nature of her songs, this collection of songs will not disappoint.

“Songbird” with the new orchestration is exquisite. It you liked the song before, you’ll love this version.

Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII.

I have always been intrigued by this band. I don’t own any of there music, but they have a great reputation.

I found a copy of their new album, Welcome 2 Club XIII, and gave it a listen. This led me to finding some of their past releases, which I’ve been enjoying.

DBT is a rocking, Southern band, but not what you might think a Southern rock band might sound like. They can give you the Marshall Tucker or Allman Brothers vibe, but they sound more like a rough bar-band. They are fine musicians and I especially like their political and socially conscious lyrics.

Welcome 2 Club XIII may not be their best album and it is far from being a message album. They intentionally toned down their messaging for more personal reflection. If you are interested in this band, there are better albums to start on

The opening song “The Driver” is seven minutes of riffy rock and roll. The two closing song are also really good, “Billy Ringo in the Dark” and “Wilder Days.”

Pink Floyd, Animals.

Arriving five years late, we get the 2018 remix of the classic 1977 album. Why did we have to wait five years? The David Gilmour/Roger Waters feud. Was it worth the wait? It depends on your perspective. Remixes are like asking, do you like your son or daughter better as a child or adult? It’s a different experience.

For me, it is easy. I like the adult Animals better.

The 1977 album never quite grabbed me. It was dense and very prog-like, not a rock and roll album. Through the years it was relegated to the back of my collection. When the remix was announced, I preordered it, even without having heard it. Why did I do this?

The was was the remix of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the first non-Waters Pink Floyd album. Some of the 1980s production goo was removed and new drum tracks recorded. It sounds much improved. While Animals was not having any new parts, the album’s sound was going to be freshened by mixing it with state of the art technology.

The result is wonderful. The album that was dense and murky to me, is bright and inviting. The songs are the same, but the listening experience is much improved.


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