Wishing Hoping Dreaming

When the musician Ian McLagan passed away late last year, I looked for the above song to post, but for whatever reason I couldn’t locate it.  I’m not sure if it wasn’t on YouTube or it was user error.  Anyway, it’s one of those beautiful songs that hits me emotionally ever time I hear it.  It’s the cry in your drink melody and the extremely sympathetic playing of the Bump Band.  It’s McLagan’s voice which constantly sounds on the verge of breaking up.  It’s the lyrics about reaching and failing, about people long gone, but most of all about carrying on.

My brother put it on in the car today as I was driving him to the airport here in Austin.  I immediately thought about the happy hours at the Lucky Lounge that McLagan used to play.  I realized that I was in Austin for a very special period, when seeing someone like McLagan, for free no less, was a regular event.  You just had to muster the energy to drive a couple minutes downtown.  Those Lucky Lounge happy hours are gone now, fading into the ether of the past more and more with every minute.  A special place in time, once full of life, gone now forever.  It was a beautiful dream while it lasted…

Ian McLagan’s United States Review

Ian McLagan and the Bump Band’s new album United States is an album of pure life affirming joy.  Even the heartbreaking ballads are so in the moment in their performances, that one feels more alive while listening to them.  I love all kinds of electronic music, but for those of you that want to know why nothing will ever beat the heart and feel of great musicians performing with each other, look no further.

I can’t not mention that the city of Austin lost one its greatest residents last year when Ian McLagan died.  However, it is due to his untimely death that I wanted to wait to review this album.  I didn’t want this amazing set of songs to be clouded by the immediate feelings of sadness that hung over his loss.  I also wanted to make sure that when I say this is a great record, it is because it is a great record, as I did not want my own reason to be informed by any sentimental feelings.  As Voltaire said, “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

And the truth is this is a fantastic recording by a group of musicians firing on all cylinders.  McLagan doesn’t need me to proclaim that he was one of rock’s greatest keyboard players, having been in the Faces and the Small Faces, having worked with the Rolling Stones and so many others.  However, this album sounds like a thesis statement of everything he learned in all of those years working and being part of rock royalty.  His Bump Band meets him at every turn, playing in complete synchronicity with their leader.

Lyrically McLagan almost never strays from tried and true rock n roll themes, but because of the passion that everything is sung and played with, this never hinders the events.  His ragged yet melodic voice, a perfect rock n roll voice if ever there was one, makes even phrases that seem as if they have been around since the foundation of rock n roll come to life.  Heart and soul can make even simple words become expansive and welcoming.  “Why would you ever want to run away,” he sings in the above song Pure Gold.  I would bet there are a million rock songs with this phrase in it, or slight variations of it at least.  However, when he sings it the intellect shuts down, the emotions take over, and you know in your deepest recesses what he means.  How can you not bop your head, tap your feet, and feel a little more alive when that song comes on?

On the track Don’t Say Nothing, which has simply outstanding piano on it, he sings:

If you can’t say nothing positive
if there’s not a kind word in your head
Don’t say nothing at all

Now this isn’t even a statement that I intellectually agree with.  First of all I love singers like Lou Reed and Morrissey, whose dark senses of humor have helped me survive many a day.  I also think in life that in order to make things better, you need to acknowledge what’s wrong with the world.  However, when McLagan sings that chorus with such perfect timing and feel, I find my heart with McLagan for every single syllable.

What a fucking band on this record!  Nothing they do is overly complicated, but if you know music you know that the kind of feel and subtlety they bring to these proceedings is the work of masters.  Every rhythm is in the pocket.  The guitars, keyboards, and bass weave in a way that, while each is masterful in its own right, the parts most definitely add up to a whole more powerful than the individual pieces.

The ballad Mean Old World is one of those heartbreaking cry in your beer kind of ballads.  But it is delivered in a way where you know the sadness is only a passing thing and that you will eventually transcend whatever mean circumstances you find yourself in.  It’s rock n roll partially rooted in gospel music.

When reading about McLagan, you know that like every human, he had his moments in the dark.  However, whenever I saw him at gigs in recent years, what I kept taking away was that here was a guy that was inspiring for the sheer fact that he made you feel better in the moment.  His gigs were joy, his stage banter was playful, and between sets he walked through the audience and made you feel like a friend even if you didn’t know him.  This is all thankfully captured on this recording.

The record simply sounds great too.  Everything has an organic quality that makes it sound alive.  Although produced by McLagan, partial credit must go to the legendary Glyn Johns who mixed it.  Johns has worked with everyone from Led Zepplin to the Rolling Stones to the Who and on and on and on.  The mix is crisp and clear but never loses the earthiness of the performances.  This is how a band playing together should sound on record.

Although his Rise and Shine album contains several of my favorite McLagan songs, before this record I would probably say his last album, Never Say Never, was his best front to back, as the songs were not only great, but the production had that same masterful touch that is apparent here.  However, Mac might have gone out on top with this one.  If you are a rock n roll fan that fears that no great rock n roll albums have been made lately, or you are a musician that wants to hear musicians playing at the top of their game, get this record now.  We shan’t see the likes of him pass this way again.  Luckily for us, recordings like this make his death only a temporary thing.  When you put this record on, whether today or at some unknown date in the future, you will be in that moment completely, alongside Mac, with a shit eating grin and a gleam in your eye…

Ian McLagan Slips Away…

The great Ian McLagan is no longer with us.  He played keyboards for the Small Faces and the Faces.  He worked with an incredible amount of musicians, everyone from Paul Westerberg to the Rolling Stones.  He also had a great solo career along with the Bump Band.  Ian was from England, but he chose to live the later part of his life in Austin, Texas.  I now live in Austin and might not even have moved here if not for him.  I have him to partially thank for all of the friends I have made here and for the musical career that I found in this city.

My brother and I wanted to move to a city that had a larger music scene than our home town.  At the time he was dating someone whose mom lived in Austin.  We had heard great things about the city and we wanted to check it out while we were trying to make a decision on where to move.  We were only down here for a couple days and we wanted to check out some live music.  Our friend’s parents just happened to take us to Ian’s free happy hour at the Lucky Lounge.  Although I knew his music, as I was a Faces fan, I was not really aware of him.  Our host mentioned something about his storied career, but it was only after his show that I checked out more about him and realized just how many amazing records he was involved in.

Seeing him live for the first time was one of those magical musical moments where every song struck some chord in my being. I remember walking out of that show feeling more alive than when I had walked in.  I couldn’t believe I could see someone like him for free on a weekday night.  The feeling we had leaving that show was one of the things that influenced our final decision.  He was also the first artist we went to see when we moved here.  He put on another amazing show as our plans that we had been dreaming of so long came to fruition.

Although I have seen his show countless times since those nights, have met him several times, and even got to sing on stage with him once, I highly doubt he would know me by name.  (I shared the stage with him at a show dedicated to the British Invasion at the ACL theater.  Shinyribs played that event and some of us got on stage for the big finale with Eric Burdon and the Animals.  Ian MaLagan was on stage as well.)  Yet even without knowing me, he was one of the kindest and friendliest musicians that I have ever met.  Usually people will make that bullshit up after someone dies, but with Ian it was true.  Even though he was a two time Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, he would walk through the crowd at his shows like he was just another part of the audience.  Several times when I was catching a smoke between his sets he would also come outside to take a break from the bar.  He would smile and talk to you as if he had known you for years, even if you were what I was, just another face in the crowd.  I can be somewhat quiet by nature sometimes, but he would always initiate the conversation with myself and whoever was standing around.  His ego never separated him from the people that came to see him perform.  At the British Invasion show he wasn’t holed up in his dressing room or only talking to people that were “names”.  He was right down in the thick of things talking to everyone, including me, a simple bass player in one of the opening acts.  I’m just trying to get across that this was a warm guy, that lacked any kind of visible pretension.  I walked away from every meeting I had with him thinking that there goes someone truly decent.

His music is fantastic, but that really goes without saying if you know any of it.  His keyboard playing was good enough for so many top tier artists, and his voice was sensitive and gruff, honest and true.  I’m especially a fan of his album Never Say Never, which is one of those front to back great albums.  The title tack is the song above.  However the song that will always mean the most to me is his song Wishing Hoping Dreaming from his Rise & Shine album.  It is one of those songs that creates its own world.  It’s sad and happy at the same time and you never want to leave its orbit once it is on:

You could have stayed a little longer
But you slipped away instead..

RIP Ian McLagen – Oboe Concerto

Oboe concerto
All the best ones are dead
And there’s a song I can’t stand
And it’s stuck in my head

There’s a song I can’t stand
And it’s stuck in my head

Oboe concerto
All I do is drink to absent friends
And there’s a song I can’t stand
And it’s stuck in my head

There’s a song I can’t stand
And it’s stuck in my head

The older generation have tried, sighed & died
Which pushes me to their place queue

Round, rhythm goes round
Round, round rhythm of life goes round
Round, the rhythm goes round
Round, round rhythm of life goes round
Round, the rhythm goes round
Round, round rhythm of life goes round
Round, the rhythm goes round
Round, round rhythm of life goes round

By Morrissey.  This fantastic video was directed by Sharon Jheeta.

I just got back from Australia tonight.  I arrived to the sad news that Ian McLagan, Austin fixture and member of The Faces and The Small Faces, passed away tonight.  I’m exhausted as one can imagine.  I will post more on Ian in coming days.  I actually have a lot to write about after my trip and reading a great deal on the Civil War while away.  I might not have moved to Austin if not for Ian McLagan.  I saw him on my first trip to Austin at The Lucky Lounge.  It was one of those magical nights that helped me to fall in love with the city.  Anyway, I’m upside down from traveling halfway across the globe.  For some reason when I heard the news I thought instantly of the Morrissey song Oboe Concerto.  It says so much with such an economy of language.