Ronnie Wood has long been associated with some of the biggest names in Rock, from Jeff Beck early in his career, Rod Stewart and The Faces soon after and The Rolling Stones for the past 35 years. Toward the end of his Faces stint, Wood decided to test the solo waters with his better than average 1974 debut, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. Wood clearly traded on his reputation as one of the sterling guitarists in the business, and while his vocal prowess was not quite on a par with his playing he sang with a boozy passion that made up for his lack of technical skill. My Own Album did fairly well as a result.
Wood might have gone on to a respectable solo career if Mick Taylor had decided to stay with The Rolling Stones, but when he split Wood’s old pal Keith Richards invited him to join, and he’s remained in the Stones’ second guitar slot ever since. Over the past three and a half decades, Wood has maintained a solo presence, although his last three albums (not counting live sets and compilations) have been released in intervals of no less than 10 years; 1234 in 1981, Slide on This in 1992, Not for Beginners in 2002.
For I Feel Like Playing, his first studio album in eight years, Wood stacks the deck with guests like Z.Z. Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, ex-Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and icons Kris Kristofferson and Bobby Womack, among many others. Coupled with some of the best songs Wood has penned or co-penned in a long time, I Feel Like Playing stands as a highlight in his solo catalog.
The album starts off slowly with the sedate melodic Blues of “Why You Wanna Go and Do a Thing Like That For,” a song that seems to be aimed at Ekaterina Ivanova, the girlfriend who left him this year after of domestic assault incident last Christmas, and the Reggae/Rock lope of “Sweetness.” Wood begins to emerge, peeling off muscular riffs that hearken back to his Faces days on “Lucky Man” and exhibiting the Stonesian chug and swagger that he’s perfected over the years on “Thing About You” and “I Don’t Think So.” Even Wood’s take on Willie Dixon’s overly traveled Blues chestnut “Spoonful” seems fresh and vigorous.
Wood has typically held back a few gems for his solo releases. With I Feel Like Playing, it feels like he’s finally put together an entire album’s worth.
To define Pete Yorn’s career to date as unconventional would be a ridiculous exercise in understatement. The Syracuse grad moved to L.A. in the late ’90s, made a name for himself at Cafe Largo, signed a deal with Columbia and wound up scoring the Farrelly brothers’ film Me, Myself and Irene before his first album, 2001’s gold-selling musicforthemorningafter. Since then, Yorn’s studio albums have been consistent sellers and acclaimed on year-end lists, he’s recorded two live albums (not to mention the 34 live acoustic EPs he released in 2006, recorded at music stores around the country), and last year Yorn released a pair of studio albums, his own Back and Fourth, which cracked the Top 40, and Break Up, his amazing collaboration with Scarlett Johansson
Yorn’s latest album, his eponymous debut for Vagrant, could hardly be considered an encore. After finishing Break Up with Johansson in 2008, Yorn started working on Back and Fourth, but in the middle of those sessions he took five days off to fly to Salem, Ore., to record a handful of songs with Pixies frontman Frank Black at Black’s behest. Yorn’s stated goal on Back and Fourth was to Rock out substantially harder than 2006’s dark Nightcrawler, so Pete Yorn follows a similar manifesto, a sonic direction made even more pointed by Black’s presence.
On his fifth full-length, Yorn channels his inner Paul Westerberg (“Velcro Shoes”), Ryan Adams (“Precious Stone”) and, yes, Pixies (just about everything else) with wild abandon and a raggedly raw energy (Yorn contracted the flu two days into the impossibly short session). Like Back and Fourth, Pete Yorn is a lyrical examination of dreams deferred or altered to suit the new realities of adulthood, relationships and the backward glance that comes with growing up and moving on. Most importantly, Yorn and Black have stripped these songs to their lyrical and musical essentials, making them irresistible in their raucous simplicity. With very little time and almost Herculean effort, Pete Yorn chalks up another Album of the Year candidate.
Joe Satriani has the kind of Rock résumé that would seem suspiciously padded if it weren’t all completely true: guitar teacher to the future stars (Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde, Charlie Hunter, Alex Skolnick among others); guitarist with Greg Kihn, Deep Purple and now Chickenfoot; founder of the G3 rotating guitar collective; prodigious guest vocalist and guitarist; frequent producer; and architect of one of the coolest and most Grammy-nominated instrumental solo guitar careers in music history (in the past 21 years, Satch has been nominated an astonishing 15 times, all without a win). Surfing With the Alien, Satriani’s 1989 breakthrough album, is an acknowledged classic (it was reissued for its 20th anniversary last year in expanded and remastered form), and he has released an album, on average, about every two years since his 1986 debut, Not of This Earth.
There is nothing particularly groundbreaking on Satriani’s latest studio release, Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards, another brilliant example of tone and technique. Satch’s skill is in his note-precise speed which he applies to compositions that show off his estimable chops in a variety of styles, including Prog, Jazz Fusion, Funk, Classic Rock and an odd brand of Americana built out of all of the above.
To call any one song out above the others from Black Swans’ set list is like picking your favorite child, but extra special child recognition should be awarded to the loping and breathtaking “Dream Song,” the insistent Funk throb of “Pyrrhic Victory,” the sinewy Jazz thread of “The Golden Room” and “Two Sides to Every Story” and the meandering, smoldering beauty of “Wind in the Trees.” It also bears noting that the caliber of Joe Satriani’s guitar magic is borne out by the appearance of former Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally … on keyboards. When you relegate a guitarist of Keneally’s Zappa-schooled stature to the 88s, you must be one ass-kicking six-stringer. Joe Satriani is one ass-kicking six-stringer.
Corin Tucker was at the forefront of the Riot Grrl movement in Olympia, Wash., in the early ’90s, first as half of the raw, visceral Punk duo Heavens to Betsy and then as guitarist/vocalist for the hugely influential and wildly successful Sleater-Kinney. When the trio went on an open-ended hiatus four years ago, Tucker’s intention was to concentrate on her home life.
She and husband Lance Bangs welcomed their second child into the family in 2008, and Tucker largely narrowed her focus to her family. But her music would not be denied. She was invited to submit songs for the Twilight: New Moon film, and then she previewed additional new songs at a Portland, Ore., benefit concert early last year, laying the groundwork for her debut solo project, the Corin Tucker Band, and their first release, 1000 Years.
Two decades and a veritable lifetime of experience have given Tucker an informed and mature perspective on 1000 Years, but it’s still filtered through the sensibility that helped advance the Riot Grrl cause in the ’90s. As a result, even when she quietly reflects on Bangs’ long and far-flung absences due to his filmmaking duties in the clockwork Folk/Punk of “Half a World Away,” a little of the old argy bargy can’t help but leak into the proceedings. That undercurrent of energetic calm punctuated by potential chaos runs throughout 1000 Years, from the barely restrained acoustic strum/electric howl of the title track and the similarly framed baroque Folk/Punk chamber twang of “It’s Always Summer” to the full frontal Patti Smith-channeled assault of “Doubt” and the piano-balladry-turned-Punk/Glam-anthemics of “Thrift Store Coats.”
With 1000 Years, Corin Tucker shows why we miss Sleater-Kinney so very much and proves that we don’t have to miss them at all.