AC/DC “Power Up” (2020)

     The last few years leading up to 2020 had been a rough ride for AC/DC.  Band founder and leader Malcolm Young was diagnosed with early-stage dementia in 2014, and ultimately passed away in 2017, leaving his brother Angus alone and in charge to lead the band.  Compounding that tragedy was the not-surprising hearing loss from singer Brian Johnson that left him unable to perform with the band.  I have “only” seen AC/DC live four times, and each experience left my ears crying for mercy, so I can only imagine what scars those eardrums must have.  As a short-term solution, Angus asked Axl Rose to take over the lead vocals, and while it seemed crazy to me, it worked much better than I expected.  All of that said, it wasn’t Brian Johnson and it wasn’t really AC/DC.  Drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams had also left the band after their 2014 tour, so it was really just an AC/DC tribute band with Angus on lead guitar.

     Through the modern miracles of science and medical treatment, Johnson was able to return to the band, and they returned to the studio to record “Power Up”, their 17th studio album.  Steve Young, who was Malcom Young’s nephew, replaced his uncle on rhythm guitar, and the other four joined him to record a dozen new songs.  I had no idea what to expect, although I remained hopeful.  Beyond his hearing troubles, the vocal duress Johnson must endure each time he performs with the band, either in studio or on stage, is unreal.  At times, on songs like “Thunderstruck”, it seems like those bionic vocal chords were finally wearing down over the years, so I didn’t know if he really had anything left to give.

     I remember being stunned and amazed the first time I heard the lead single on the record, “Shot In The Dark”.  It was as if time stood still, and I was back in the mid-1980s.  Not only did the song have a wonderfully filthy lead riff, Johnson sounded EXACTLY like he did almost 40 years before.  I honestly don’t know how they did it, but they delivered a song that stands tall with any of their best songs.  If only for “Shot In The Dark”, this record was a phenomenal triumph.

     The rest of the album is a lot like every album they released after “For Those About to Rock”.  There are some highlights which I will note, and the rest are standard fare, if not spectacular.  My other favorites include “Witch’s Spell”, “Demon Fire”, and “Wild Reputation”. 

     None of us get to live forever, and the band will never again have Malcolm Young on the side corner of the stage, pounding power chords and blasting backing vocals, but Angus and Brian Johnson continue to “Power Up” and power on, and as one who attended his very first rock concert ever seeing AC/DC in 1982, it was heartwarming and absolutely awesome to see and hear this triumphant return.

Taylor Swift “Folklore” (2020)

     Today we have another Taylor Swift album, but in the spirit of artist diversity, “Folklore” released in the depth of the pandemic in 2020, is a respected and appreciated change of pace for this creative songwriter and performer.  Like many performers, and certainly the rest of us, her plans for 2020 were turned upside down with the pandemic.  She had planned a big tour that year, but quarantined herself as we all did, waiting for the world to make sense of this new and unexpected twist of fate.  As a tradeoff, she recorded and released “Folklore” as a reaction to our collective isolation and loneliness, and it proved to be the #1 selling album of 2020.

     Much more contemplative, reserved and subdued than some of her mega-hit albums like “1989”, the songs speak again to the sadness of broken relationships and loneliness, with a much softer tone.  This sound seems to suit her well, and I found this record to be very pleasant and appealing to listen to, even if I didn’t personally recognize any of the songs.  I realized that part of the reason these songs may have seemed to new to me was an alteration in my own routine.  Without long commutes in the car, my limited exposure to new music on the radio was pretty much completely vanquished unless I or one of my friends discovered something intentionally.

     For whatever reason, one song stood out to me above the rest.  The opening song on the album, “the 1”, really caught my ear from the first listen.  It builds off a simple two-chord melody on the piano and speaks to the melancholy sentiment of a lost relationship and the sad but accepting sentiments of that outcome.  It just is a really pretty song and will definitely be my primary takeaway from this album.

     The rest of the album is another collection of appealing songs, if from a softer vein, and if I had to pick a few more favorites, I would go with “cardigan”, “exile”, featuring another appearance from Bon Iver, and “this is me trying”.

     As I approach the end of this experience, my respect and appreciation for Taylor Swift has never been higher.  Whether it is an incredibly bubbly song like “You Need to Calm Down”, which she released in 2019 and is my favorite all-time song of hers, or the subtle approach of “Folklore”, her versatility as an artist is impressive, and I look forward to watching the rest of her career unfold.

The Zumbyes “To My Left” (2019) & “Tender Time” (2020)

     Today is certainly a unique blog for me to write, but one I have greatly anticipated since this journey began.  As much as I love all the music I have listened to on this list, that connection obviously runs deeper when your own son shows up on the list.  Watching and listening to him has always been one of my greatest pleasures and proudest moments in life.  It became evident very early in life that he loved to sing and was seemingly always on pitch whenever he did.  Thankfully, we were able to pair him up with a fantastic vocal instructor named Natalie, and from then on, he was singing in some type of structured environment.  It started with recitals, and for years after, that was his primary venue, along with the occasional talent show.

     As he entered high school, he combined his participation in theater with music by auditioning for his first musical, “42nd Street”.  Warmly embraced by the other performers, and his coaching staff, Gary, Steve and Kim, the show was a big success and that led to him joining his first performance, the Orlando Rep Power Chords.  Over the next four years, community events around central Florida became commonplace for this group, and this, along with his other musical theater endeavors, offered me countless opportunities to continue hearing and seeing him perform.  In all those years, I only missed one performance, and I was at least able to see the dress rehearsal the night before.  Through his time performing in high school theater, he was able to make many great friends, including two awesome people, Ivan and Phil, who remain close friends of Zach and our family to this day.

     As he went off to college, I wondered if he would stay active in performing, and thankfully for both of us, he overcame a high fever one night and chose to audition for the Zumbyes, the oldest a capella group at Amherst College.  Originally formed in 1950s, their alumni include David Eisenhower, grandson of Dwight Eisenhower, actors John Michael Higgins and Ken Howard, and hundreds of other students over the past 72 years.  Up until recently, the Zumbyes were an all-male group, and I’m very proud that during Zach’s time with the group, they opened the aperture wider to accept their first female, Emma, into the group.  Amherst College has proven to be a highly inclusive and thoughtful community, and this was an excellent step forward for this great tradition.

     Most of the members of the group are not lifetime performers, and many of them are and were members of other activities including the college’s sports teams and other clubs.  However, the quality of their performances is always highly entertaining, and from time to time they enter the recording studio to capture some of their best work and arrangements.  The two albums I have featured today, “To My Left”, released in 2019, and “Tender Time”, released in 2020, are the two albums available on most streaming services and the two where Zach can be heard.

     Like all albums, each one has my favorites, and these are no exception.  On “To My Left”, my two favorite songs are sung by one of Zach’s closest friends, Markus.  Markus was one of the baritones of the group, and his deep crooner voice is fantastic on “L-O-V-E” and his signature song, “Stardust”.  From this album, I also love their arrangement of “More Than Words”, the rock ballad by Extreme.  I also enjoy hearing the super-deep bass voice of his other closest friend, Jacob on this album.  Markus and Jacob are always there for Zach (and me) whenever anything is needed, and they are two of the best friends any person could ever hope to have.

     As much as I enjoyed “To My Left”, I will of course always be partial to “Tender Time”, when I was able to realize a dream of hearing my son sing in a lead role, singing on multiple music streaming platforms.  Since his freshman year, Zach took the lead on their rendition of “Sara Smile”, a Hall and Oates classic, and by his estimate, he probably performed this song over 100 times during his time at Amherst.  The studio version on “Tender Time” is amazing and sharing it with others has given me great joy and pride.  His other primary solo during his tenure at Amherst was “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees, and I love that I can find these, and many other performances archived on and elsewhere on the internet.

     Of course, the Zumbyes are more than just one person, and the rest of this album has some more great tunes as well.  “It’s Alright”, “Nothing Can Change This Love”, and their version of “Freedom! ‘90” are my other favorites from this release.  On “Freedom! 90”, just like the other songs, I love hearing Zach do some additional riffing, and it also is fantastic to hear Emma and the other female voices in the mix.

     I don’t know what the future holds for Zach with regards to singing, but I hope he and all his friends continue to find an outlet for their creative talents, wherever life takes them.  Collectively, they have given me some of my favorite memories as a music fan and a father, and nothing can ever take any of that away.  I love you, my son.

Post Malone “Hollywood’s Bleeding” (2019)

     One of the best examples of “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, or least, I can’t judge a book by its cover, is Post Malone.  His appearance, complete with lots of face ink (and everywhere else), led me to believe his sound was pretty hard-edged, and perhaps some of it is, but on the album “Hollywood’s Bleeding”, which was the #1 selling album of 2019, I can’t reiterate enough what a wonderfully chill and enjoyable record this ultimately proved to be.  I had some foreshadowing of this, as I had latched on to the mega-hit “Circles” not long after its release, and have loved that song for some time now.  However, I still thought it might be an exception to the rule, and while there is some straight-up hip-hop, particularly from some of his collaborators, but in total, this is just a really laid back and well done record that is very easy on the ears.

     I will say that in general, I prefer the straight pop and R&B blend on this record.  Not that I don’t love hip-hop, but most of the collaborations feel a bit oddly placed and disruptive to the tone and sound of the songs.  There is one collaboration that surely caught me by surprise, and one that oddly worked as well.  Just about the last person I expected to hear on this record was Ozzy Osbourne, but there he was, appearing on yet another current and radio-friendly hit, “Take What You Want”.  He has a performance shelf-life that easily extends beyond his peer group.  As far as collaborations go, I did also enjoy “Staring at the Sun”, featuring SZA.  This was not released as a single, but it is definitely one of my favorites out of many on this album.

     Aside from “Circles”, which is still number one for me, my next favorite song is “Myself”, which also was not released as a single.  It is a great melody and very infectious from the first listen, just as I like it.  Other favorites, most of which were not singles, include “Saint Tropez”, “A Thousand Bad Times”, and “I’m Gonna Be”.  Another great song “Sunflower – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, which came from the soundtrack of the film, features Swae Lee, who also has a great voice.  One last song I loved that I would highlight is “I Know”.

     I knew I loved “Circles”, but I completely underestimated how much I enjoyed the rest of this album.  I look forward to adding many of these tunes to my master playlist, and exploring more of his catalog, whether it be past, present or future.

100 gecs “1000 gecs” (2019)

     Charles Mingus, Taj Mahal, Vashti Bunyan, Gil Scott-Heron, Kate Bush, Uncle Tupelo, Cornelius, The Avalanches, and The Shins.  When I asked my son to pick 10 albums of his choice to add into my mix of albums, I knew I would get a diverse mix of genres and sounds, many of which I had never heard before.  He didn’t disappoint, and perhaps no album opens the aperture wider than today’s record, “1000 gecs” by the act 100 gecs, which is a duo composed of Laura Les and Dylan Brady.

     I’m not exactly sure what to say about this album.  It is short, very short, with only 23 minutes of content.  It is highly processed electronic vocals and music, but in an oddly appealing way.  Often, I find songs like these to be brutally redundant and painfully annoying, but something about these songs keep them from excessive sound loops and are basically just good pop and rock songs that have been pulled through an extensive electronic distortion.  While reading up on 100 gecs, I saw many terms that were used to describe or reference this music.  They include “hyper pop”, “bubblegum bass”, “post-dubstep”, “trance”, “happy hardcore”, and my favorite, “chiptune”.  I desperately wanted to believe that that “chiptune” was a reference to Alvin and the Chipmunks, but apparently it is a play on electronic micro-chips that are a fundamental component for this form of music.

     As far as which songs to highlight, I will note they had one single, “money machine”.  It may not be quite “happy hardcore”, as there is a little bit of pent-up anger in this song, along with another one of my favorites, “stupid horse”.  I think if I had to pick one single favorite, I would select “…ringtone”.  It actually is a happy little tune, at least as near as I can tell, and although I couldn’t listen to any of this music indefinitely, “…ringtone” will certainly work its way onto my master playlist.

     To my son… well done.  You definitely expanded my range and gave me a lot to think about and listen to over this experiment, and you never fail to impress me with your depth and range of musical knowledge.


     Today is my day to write about one of the youngest performers on this list, Billie Eilish and her debut album, “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?”.  This remarkable talent reached #397 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time with this debut, which was recorded in a bedroom with her brother as her only real accompanying performer. Already, I was somewhat melancholy realizing the end of this project is near, and that this is the last release to be included from that Rolling Stone list.  After several listens, I had several things I wanted to say about Billie and this record, and I will get to those in time, but a real-time discovery has shifted my train of thought so we will go there first.

     Yesterday marked an unbelievable occurrence in the world of music, particularly with regards to influential female vocalists, when Joni Mitchell, accompanied by many artists, joined a full-set performance of her music at the Newport Folk Festival.  In some cases, she watched or sang along with the lead performer, but as the show progressed, her engagement increased, and by the end she was taking the lead on several songs, and even stood up to play some guitar. 

     The world of music in every genre has not always been an equal-opportunity landscape for female performers, and one of the true pioneers in establishing women as not only capable, but brilliant singer-songwriters was Joni Mitchell.  As you may recall, her album “Blue” was previously featured in this blog and is the #3 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Watching this renaissance performance was as moving and emotional for me as when Aretha Franklin commanded the stage at the Kennedy Center to honor Carole King.  They are and were generational talents, and I was both elated and saddened to see Joni perform.  As powerful as this moment was, it reminded me yet again that in the next few years, we will say goodbye to the rest of an entire generation of performers from the 1960s who changed music like no others in modern history.  As you watch all the other legends onstage with Joni, there isn’t a dry eye on stage as she sang “Both Sides Now”, one of her most profound and relevant songs, particularly at this stage in her life.  If you haven’t watched it, I highly encourage you to do so.

     As I tie this back to Billie Eilish, I realize that our children and their children will each have their own generational talents they look to for inspiration, hope, and impact.  It is very early in her career, so only time will tell, but from her highly successful start, it appears Billie Eilish has the potential to be one of those artists.  Stylistically, even her tone and delivery bear some comparison to Joni Mitchell.  There are roots of folk music in both of their sound, although a better label for Eilish might be indie rock with a really thick bass.  There were some songs that were difficult for me to properly hear, as she sings very softly, but if you turn them up loud, the bottom really drops on that house bass line.  It is a compelling mix indeed, but I probably need an isolated space to play it at a volume that it deserves.

     The songs she wrote and performed with her brother are dark, compelling, intellectual, and seemingly wise beyond her years.  My favorite is “wish you were gay”, which confronts that disheartening moment in a relationship when your partner just isn’t into you, so you are left clutching for reasons why and wishing there was a way out that shifted your view of the blame somewhere else.  My second favorite track is “all the good girls go to hell”, as it branches out a bit from the whispering delivery buried in a heavy bass mix.

     I really do enjoy her songwriting, and I think the world has a lot more to see and hear from Ms. Eilish.  Someday, long after I’m gone, someone will hopefully get to witness one of her last live performances at a ripe old age and reflect with warmth and a little sadness back on a shared life of experiences and beautiful music.

The Struts “Young & Dangerous” (2018)

     By now, we have established that the British glam rock act the Struts is my favorite contemporary act.  No other band blends new with old quite like they do, and certainly not with the flair and drama Luke Spiller and the band brings to the stage every night.  Best experienced in a live setting, their music translates well to the studio as well.  Their second album, “Young & Dangerous” isn’t quite as consistently great as “Everything Wants”, but there are many tracks on this album I rate equally high.  As it turns out, I will take several of these on in several groupings.

     Starting things off, the first two songs are “Body Talks” and “Primadonna Like Me”.  In recent concerts, they have been opening their shows with these two songs in reverse order, and if it was my choice, I would have done the same on the album.  “Body Talks” is definitely a fun song, including the alternate mix featuring Kesha, but “Primadonna Like Me” is the perfect song to start any show or album.  High octane and brimming with the ridiculousness of Luke at his flamboyant best, this song ranks with “Kiss This” as the rocker I share with any new fan I’m trying to introduce the band on the rowdier end of things.  Like always, Adam Slack and Jed Elliott drive the pace in tandem, and their ability to rock on guitar and bass while filling in high quality backing vocals is fantastic.

    “Bulletproof Baby”, “People”, and “Freak Like You” are three songs that speak to another element I love about the band.  No matter your age, race, gender, preference, shape, size, or style, everyone is welcomed and usually spotted at a Struts show.  I love the diversity of their crowd, and these songs all speak to acceptance and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks as long as you are making yourself happy.  “Freak Like You”, in particular, is a really great track, and “Bulletproof Baby” has my favorite Gethin Davies drum fill.

     Luke Spiller, the lead vocalist, is truly the center of attention of the band, and it is both beautiful and highly entertaining to watch him do this thing and hold court for the audience.  “In Love With a Camera”, “Tatler Magazine”, and “I Do It So Well” all play into the vanity and adoration of celebrity.  In my opinion, some vanity and confidence is healthy when blended and balanced with humility and self-awareness, and I think Luke and the Struts “do it so well”.

     “Fire – Part 1” and “Ashes – Part 2” are not my favorite songs musically, as they drift a bit further towards pop and away from guitar rock, but they are both very well written, and go well together as a two-piece vignette.  “Fire – Part 1” celebrates a relationship at its highest point, and “Ashes – Part 2” brings you back down to the canyon of sadness.  Emotions and music go hand-in-hand, and that ride is represented here in a meaningful and powerful way.

     “Somebody New” stands alone from the rest of the album.  It happens to be one of the best songs they have ever written, featuring Luke on piano, and like many other songs, this power ballad captures a feeling and an emotion.  In this case, the song speaks to the devastation of a failed relationship and the self-acknowledgment you just might not be ready to commit your heart again, even if some other willing party is there and eager to try.

     As you have figured out by now, I love everything about this band, and “Young & Dangerous” is no exception.  At the beginning of the pandemic, they recorded a third album, “Strange Days”, in ten days of isolated lockdown.  It is a different record, rawer in its production, and contains collaborations with Robbie Williams, Joe Elliott & Phil Collen, Tom Morello, and Albert Hammond Jr. They even recorded a single with Paris Jackson as well, and their reputation as top-notch performers continues to grow. They continue to tour and deliver their formula of fun to venues around the world, and if you get the chance, I hope you take my word for it and check them out.  I don’t think you will be disappointed at all.

Soundtrack – Various Artists “The Greatest Showman” (2017)

     My Fair Lady.  Peter Gunn.  The Sound of Music.  Camelot.  West Side Story.  Hello, Dolly!  Mary Poppins.  Woodstock.  Jesus Christ Superstar.  Saturday Night Fever.  Titanic.  High School Musical.  Throughout all the years of my blog, soundtrack albums, whether they be from Broadway shows or cinematic releases have been a constant.  (I didn’t include several other films that were either concert performances or albums that eventually inspired a film, like “Tommy” or “The Wall”).  Today we have what I think will be the last soundtrack, with the #1 selling album from 2018, “The Greatest Showman”.  Based on the life of P.T. Barnum, this movie starred Hugh Jackman in the lead role, with Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Ziv Zaifman, Keala Settle, Loren Allred and Zendaya, among others, appearing in the cast and on the album.  Special props to Zac Efron, I must give the guy credit for completing the trilogy along with “Hairspray” and “High School Musical”.

     As far as albums go, this soundtrack is standard fare.  The songs, particularly the opener, “The Greatest Show”, and the last track, “From Now On”, are dramatic, bombastic shows meant to capture the energy of the cast and inspire the audience.  They are high energy tunes that fulfill that mission, and even though I’m not prone to frequently replay songs from this record, clearly it caught the eyes and ears of America and beyond, given its huge success.

     I think my favorite song may be “A Million Dreams”, sung primarily by childhood actor Ziv Zaifman.  It is genuine, sincere, and sweet, a quality not easy to find in the jaded world we live in today.  The two singles released are “This Is Me”, performed by Keala Settle, and “Rewrite the Stars”, performed by Efron and Zendaya.  Both are big songs performed by big voices, and absolutely fit the bill as emotional drivers in the show.

     Like all the soundtracks that came before “The Greatest Showman”, they represent a snapshot of the world we lived in during a certain time, and I appreciate the intent and purpose of musical film and theater.  Blending our desire to believe in the unbelievable with a love of song, dance, and story, I have nothing but good words for this album and I love that it did so well during a time in our history when the arts and performance aren’t always supported by those we look to for leadership.  The Greatest Show… indeed.

The Glorious Sons “Young Beauties and Fools” (2017)

     Back on June 28, 2019, I was at the Gothic Theater in Denver, waiting to see my current favorite band the Struts perform, and had invited my sister and her boyfriend to join me.  As the crowd was building and the opening act was preparing to come on, I started talking with two people next to me.  They indicated that they were there primarily to see the opening act, a band I had never heard of before, a band from Canada known as the Glorious Sons.  I viewed that as a positive sign and prepared to rock.

     Opening acts are an interesting phenomenon all on their own, and today’s selection and blog are dedicated to all opening acts.  We usually aren’t there to see them, and the range of support they get goes from rejection to disinterest to mild applause to the occasional home run.  I know I have witnessed all of these moments at a show.  Back in my younger days, my friends and I (at least most of us) were pretty close-minded and impatient when it came to opening acts, unless it was some other highly established name.  Over the years, among the big-name artists I have seen perform as openers include Jethro Tull, John Cougar, Def Leppard, Joan Jett, and Sheryl Crow.  Some were enthusiastically welcomed, and others, like John Cougar, left the stage dodging cups and flipping off the crowd.

     Thankfully with age and maturity, and reinforced by several good experiences, I try to remain much more positive about opening acts.  One of my favorites was a piano player and vocalist named Chantal Kreviazuk (also Canadian) that I saw open for Five for Fighting.  Two others worthy of honorably mention also surfaced when seeing the Struts.  Made Violent, a punk trio from Buffalo, opened the very first Struts show I saw, and they remain a favorite to this day.  You should check out “Two Tone Hair” or “Dirty”, they are great songs I’m sure you have never heard before.

     At the most recent Struts show, I witnessed something I had never seen before.  Not only did Nick Perri put on a stellar show as the opening act, but he also actually filled in for Adam Slack when the Struts performed, and the band barely missed a beat.  Now that is what I call impressive, and all of us appreciated that the show was able to go on.

     Sometimes you just don’t get there on time.  One time when I was seeing the Struts in Baltimore, my arrival was much later than I hoped, and I completely missed the opening act.  I was told they were good but didn’t think much of it afterwards until someone asked me the next year if I was at the show the year before when Greta Van Fleet, who have ultimately experienced significantly more commercial success than the Struts, had opened the show.  I really, really would have liked to have seen that… even though the Struts are still a better band.

     Of all the opening acts I have seen, and I have seen some of the best and some of the worst, the Glorious Sons remain my all-time favorite opening act.  They caught me completely by surprise the first time I saw them, with the infectious and equally hard rocking blend of songs that were instantly favorites.  That type of “love at first listen” almost never happens, especially with a live track, but they had several songs that remain all-time favorites for me to this day.

     I selected “Young Beauties and Fools” from 2017 as my tribute to all opening acts, as it contains my all-time favorite Glorious Sons song, “S.O.S.”.  To be fair, some may be caught a bit off guard by this song in today’s world, but even as it might be a delicate subject for some, I still love it as a spot-on rock tune with a great melody and powerful drum beat that just lifts the entire crowd into a frenzy.  Brett Emmons is the lead vocalist for the band, and Chris Koster, who is also unusually tall for a rock musician, is the lead guitarist in the band.  Adam Paquette also stands out on this track and others with a drum tone and rhythmic burst that is exceptional on all counts.

     The rest of the album, although rather short at just over 30 minutes, has several other highly listenable and enjoyable songs.  “Hide My Love” is my favorite “new” discovery, and “Josie”, “Everything is Alright”, and “Thank You for Saying Goodbye” are all not only great songs, but very different from each other in their sound.  The common themes are great hooks and riffs that leave you with a really favorable impression on the first listen.

     My two other all-time favorite Glorious Sons tracks are from other albums but worth a mention and a listen.  “Mama” is another anthemic rocker that is a great crowd sing-along, enhanced by one of my favorite riffs in modern time (man do I miss hearing more of the guitar in today’s music!), and “Closer to the Sky” is a different kind of track, more subtle in its delivery but equally enrapturing in its melody.

     After that first night, I was hooked and was able to see them open for the Struts three more times in the next 6 weeks.  Those shows remain some of my all-time favorites, as I truly felt like I was getting two great concerts in one.  The last few years have been challenging for the band, as they make their living playing shows, mainly as a headliner across the United States, and being a Canadian act, their exile north of the border due to COVID ran for an extremely long and frustrating period of time.  Thankfully, they are back on the road this summer and fall, as an opener and a headliner.  If they are anywhere near where I am, I will be there, and I hope you check them out as well.

Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.” (2017)

     Back to Kendrick Lamar today, and for my tastes, “DAMN.” is by far my favorite of the albums I have listened to in his catalog.  The mix of songs is more aggressive, in many cases tapping into a heavier dose of bass, beats, and hooks.  By most critic’s standards, this album is not as highly acclaimed as his last two albums, but it is much more in line with my preferences for hip-hop.  It is rated as album #175 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     Like many hip-hop albums, “DAMN.” opens with a subtle, somewhat haunting opening track, “BLOOD.”.  However, that pace shifts dramatically with “DNA.”.  This is one of two songs (naturally my two favorites) that just drop the bass, beat and vocal with reckless abandon, and it is a thunderous treat indeed.

     My son tells me that his favorite sequence on the album is the trilogy of “DNA.”, “YAH.”, and “ELEMENT.”.  It’s hard to push back on that concept.  All three are among the best on the record.  “YAH.” is a bit more low-fi and subtle, but it comes with a trance-like groove.  “ELEMENT.” steps up the intensity level again, with some of Kendrick’s very best flow featured on this song.

    Other highlights include “LOYALTY.”, featuring Rihanna.  The second single on the album, these two are a perfect pairing and gel so wonderfully on this mid-tempo jam.

     As much as I like this entire album, my number one favorite song is the first single from the album, “HUMBLE.”.  Like “DNA.”, the intensity and power of this song are stunning.  Kendrick is not only phenomenal, but the production around this track raises it to a level that justifies its success as a #1 single.

     I can’t say I’m completely surprised to hear U2 on this album, as they and Kendrick have displayed a willingness to take on just about any unexpected collaboration.  Even though their role on “XXX.” is somewhat limited, Larry Mullen Jr. kills it on his drumbeat, and Bono’s instantly recognizable voice again raises this song to a higher level.  They add to a good song and make it great and serve as the power of talent from different genres making each other even more impactful.

     More than ever, I now understand and respect why Kendrick Lamar is the unquestioned king of today’s hip-hop world.  I don’t know at this point what, if any, role Dr. Dre contributed to the more concise and tighter structure of this album, as he is credited as Executive Producer, but this masterpiece definitely portrays the very best of current hip-hop.