Bob Seger has paid tribute to his long-time saxophonist Alto Reed following the death of his Silver Bullet Band bandmate, who died Wednesday at the age of 72 after a battle with stage four colon cancer.
“Alto has been a part of our musical family, on and off stage, for nearly 50 years. I first starting playing with Alto in 1971. He was amazing. He could play just about anything…he was funky, could scat, and play tenor sax and alto sax at the same time,” Seger wrote. “We worked with Alto often and when we booked our first headline arena gigs at Cobo Hall, we asked him to be a part of those shows. No doubt his iconic performance on ‘Turn the Page’ helped lift us to another level. He has been with us on that stage virtually every show, ever since. And whether it was ‘Turn the Page,’ ‘Mainstreet,’ or ‘Old Time Rock and Roll,’ audiences roared every time he played his part. In our band, Alto was the rock star.”
Reed — then recording under his birth name Tommy Cartmell, before Seger gave the saxophonist his memorable stage name — first appeared on Seger’s 1973 album Back in ’72, which featured “Turn the Page”; the 1976 version of the song from the Live Bullet LP, featuring Reed’s distinct intro, became a radio hit. Reed was also a co-founding member of Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, beginning with 1976’s Night Moves album.
As Rolling Stone noted in 2019, Seger originally recorded “Turn the Page” without a sax part, but just two weeks after Reed joined his group, they revisited the song in the studio. “Bob said to me, ‘I hear sax on this song,’” Reed told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I said, ‘I hear it, too.’ Tom Weschler, the assistant manager at the time, said to me, ‘Picture that it’s late at night. It’s a black and white movie, like the [1955 film noir] The Man with the Golden Arm. There’s some rain coming down in the alley. You’re standing by a street lamp and there’s a light mist off in the distance and you hear this plaintive wail. What does that sound like?’”
The best country albums of 2020 come from artists who set out to tell a great story. Beautiful lyrics, dynamic themes and a sensitive, melodic weave mark most of the albums that top our list for the year. And then there's one that's just too much fun to ignore.
Most of all, our team of music critics coveted a dynamic experience in rating and ranking the 5 best country albums of 2020. When they're played front to back, a vocalist needs to show a variety of influences, some range and an ability to cover different subject matter convincingly.
No. 5: Kip Moore, 'Wild World'
Kip Moore puts it all together in a way he hadn't before during the 13 songs on Wild World. With great urgency, he pulls you through stories of personal heartache, love and tragedy, mixing in just the right amount of optimism and American landscape. There are radio-friendly songs that don't feel like add -ons ("She's Mine," "Red White Blue Jean American Dream") and deeply personal expressions of his faith.
"Payin' Hard" is a fine album closer, and a focus track because it finds the singer opening up about his late father for the first time. Guitar-centric arrangements that steady songs such as "Southpaw," "Fire and Flame" and "Sweet Virginia" are just as exhilarating, however.
Moore's new album is his most patient and complete, with every verse mattering. That's rare in country in 2020.
No. 4: Ingrid Andress, 'Ladylike'
Ingrid Andress has made it clear that she hasn’t always considered emotional vulnerability to be her strong suit; in fact, she told The Boot that when she wrote her debut single, “More Hearts Than Mine,” she flinched a little bit at the rawness of the subject matter, and her co-writers had to talk her into keeping the song’s perspective vulnerable.
But for a performer who doesn’t always love being open about her emotions, Andress crafted a fantastically confessional, intimate project with her debut offering, Lady Like. “More Hearts Than Mine” is emblematic of the level of vulnerability you’ll find across the album, though Andress’ deft songwriting pen keeps the tracklist from ever becoming repetitive.
Andress is a practiced all-genre songwriter, whose tenure in writing for other artists included penning “Boys” for pop artist Charli XCX. “Boys” gets the singer-songwriter treatment on the deluxe version of Lady Like, though, appearing in the tracklist in Andress’ own confident and clear voice. And it doesn’t feel incongruous to have the pop hit on the album: Andress’ sure hand as a vocalist, pianist and songwriter is everything the album needs in order to feel cohesive, as she proves again on the album during an unlikely, two-song venture into what can only be described as a tropical aesthetic: first subtly, on “Bad Advice,” and then overtly on “Waste of Lime,” a song that even borrows a line or two from the Beach Boys’ 1988 hit “Kokomo.”
As Lady Like’s title track explains, Andress is unapologetically herself: the kind of person who keeps a lipstick in her cigarette pack, talks about politics while men are hitting on her and is “untameable, unframeable.” She may be a Lady Like that, and Andress’ debut prove she’s an artist like that, too.
No. 3: Tenille Townes, 'The Lemonade Stand'
After years of introductions, acoustic EPs, private party performances and the other trappings of the “new artist on a major label” blueprint, Tenille Townes finally got to properly re-introduce herself with The Lemonade Stand. Though it’s technically her third album (she released two independently in Canada), The Lemonade Stand is Townes’ major-label coming-out party, helmed by the venerable Jay Joyce and featuring all the character we hoped to hear from a voice as unique as Townes’.
Many of us have been listening to different iterations of songs such as “Somebody’s Daughter” and “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking)” for years now, so it should come as no surprise that the rest of the album is equally thoughtful and unafraid to peel back the personal layers -- you know, the reason many of us fell in love with country music in the first place. Joyce’s production footprints are all over this thing, which is what you want when you’re dealing with a singer who is equal parts rockstar and coffeehouse hero, depending on which switch she chooses to flip.
Though still in her 20s, Townes brings a certain, worn-in weight to her lyrics, which spend much of their time exploring faith, personal identity and love — and how, for her, they’re all intertwined. Perhaps the most notable feat of The Lemonade Stand is how Townes and company manage to turn songs that are truthfully all ballad bait into a dynamic album that seems to rise and lull in all the right places.
No. 2: Chris Stapleton, 'Starting Over'
If Chris Stapleton's catalog were a body of water, he'd be a deep river: familiar, dependable but never predictable, unafraid to press up against boundaries and (if you'll allow some hyperbole) a reservoir for life.
The main current is driven by his big, soulful voice, but songs such as "Cold" on his new Starting Over album begin new tributaries. Over time — much less time than you'd think — the shape and direction of his artistry changes into something quite unique but equally spectacular and important. Remember that, once, this man was just a songwriter, then the lead singer of the SteelDrivers, and now one of precious few artists bringing credibility to a genre beyond willing to give in to commercial realities.
Heavy blues riffs dominate Starting Over ("Devil Always Made Me Think Twice," "Worry B Gone"), but these songs are necessary bridges to lyrically potent hits including "Maggie's Song" and "Old Friends," a Guy Clark cover. "You Should Probably Leave" and the title track are the most centered of the 14 songs, and the two most likely to produce radio hits. But a survey of fans of this album will reveal a disbursement of favorite songs. "Starting Over" feels like the best choice today (those opening guitar chords just set the perfect mood for closing this troubled year and beginning a new one), but ask us again in April and we may have the must-have road-tripper "Arkansas" turned up to 10.
No. 1: Little Big Town, 'Nightfall'
Little Big Town's Nightfall is a textured album that is every bit the cinematic experience the band promised. Lyrically, they don't just ask questions, but draw conclusions that won't alienate. "Problem Child" gets lost after Karen Fairchild's signature performance during "Sugar Coat," but here, Jimi Westbrook says what we're all thinking but never found words to say: We need to show more love and less skepticism to today's youth.
That sensitivity is really the thread of this album, the group's ninth and first since The Breaker in 2017. Fairchild leads and thrives across this album because she has the support of her bandmates, and with great humility, they all play vital roles. Husband Westbrook joins her for a duet during a Laurel Canyon-inspired ballad called "River of Stars" that could hang on a wall. Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman quite capably lead "Forever and a Night" and "Throw Your Love Away." It's their shared vision that truly makes this project special.
Sessions for the Eagles' follow-up to Hotel California were dragging on, and executives at Asylum Records had grown concerned. Everybody needed a break.
"The record label was bugging us because The Long Run was, at this point, 6.8 months behind schedule," producer Bill Szymczyk told Miami's WPLG in 2015. Then Don Henley had an out-of-nowhere idea: "Well, maybe if we give them a Christmas single, they'll get off our back," Szymczyk remembered.
It proved to be just the rejuvenating time-out everybody needed. Problem: Eagles were holed up in Szymczyk's Bayshore Recording Studios – a converted motel at Coconut Grove, Fla., which was certainly no winter wonderland. "It was hot as hell," Glenn Frey later told Rolling Stone with a smirk. "Perfect for a Christmas record."
Henley suggested the recently reformulated Eagles cover an old Charles Brown song he remembered as a kid growing up in east Texas. Unlike the rest of what would become the Eagles' final classic-era album, "Please Come Home for Christmas" was quickly completed. A song devoted to holiday melancholy seemed to have finally ended their creative stalemate.
"We needed a break from the daily routine," Henley told Cincinnati's The Enquirer in 2017. "So, I suggested that we record a Christmas song, and I went on to suggest this song that I had remembered from my teenage years. The band members, and our producer, welcomed the idea."
They paired "Please Come Home for Christmas" with a goofy original titled "Funky New Year," then added a suitably ironic sleeve image. The completed 1978 single served as an official introduction to new bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who'd replaced Randy Meisner after the Eagles' most recent tour completed.
"We knocked it out in a matter of two, three days," Szymczyk told WPLG, "gave it to the label and then they indeed did get off our back until we were finished."
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons has announced a livestream concert to be broadcast from Austin on New Year’s Eve.
The sixth-annual Jungle Show will find the classic rocker teaming with an all-star lineup of blues musicians, including Jimmie Vaughan, Mike Flanigin, Sue Foley and Chris Layton. Under normal circumstances, the group would perform in front of an audience at Antone’s in Austin, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, Gibbons decided to go virtual with the show.
“For five years consecutive years we’ve looked forward to putting the Jungle Show together between Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s been a great way for all of us to cap the old year and bring in the new in rockin’ style. Despite the reality of 2020, we were determined to keep our streak going, so we’ve decided to go viral — the good kind of viral — and offer the Jungle Show to the world beyond Austin.”
“I look forward to playing with Sue, Chris, Mike and Billy at the end of every year, and this year is no different except for the fact that, in a sense, we’ve moved the show ‘way out in the woods’ and directly into your house,” Vaughan added.
The Jungle Show will air at 8PM on New Year's Eve in various time zones around the world, including ET and PT in the U.S. Tickets for the broadcasts are $25 and can be purchased now at the Jungle Show’s website. Several bundled packages are also available, including bonus material, a special VIP bandana and a show poster signed by the band.
The Band's 1970 LP Stage Fright will be the subject of an expanded 50th anniversary box set.
The upcoming reissue will feature a remixed and remastered album presented in its originally planned song order. “I’m enjoying this new version, this story, this musical journey,” Robbie Robertson, who oversaw the set's creation, said in an official statement. “It feels like a fulfillment, and I know my brothers in the Band would definitely agree.”
The multi-format Super Deluxe box set includes two CDs, two Blu-rays, one vinyl LP, and a 7-inch single of "Time to Kill." It's accompanied by a photo booklet featuring new notes by Robertson and touring photographer John Scheele.
Bonus material offers an assortment of unreleased recordings, including alternate versions of “Strawberry Wine” and “Sleeping.” Meanwhile, a collection of field recordings – dubbed Calgary Hotel Recordings, 1970 – unearths seven songs performed during a late-night hotel jam session featuring Robertson and bandmates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel.
A classic concert recording will also be part of the set: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, June 1971 captures the Band in the midst of their European tour, delivering material from all three of their LPs at that time.
The Band originally recorded Stage Fright in the Woodstock Playhouse in upstate New York. They initially envisioned the release as a true live album performed in front of a crowd, but those plans were scrapped in favor of recording in an empty theater.
Stage Fright arrived less than a year after their massively successful, Americana-leaning self-titled effort, and found the Band delving into more rock-focused material. The LP reached gold-selling status with such memorable tracks as “The Shape I’m In” and the title song.
Fans can pre-order the 50th anniversary set now, before it officially arrives on Feb. 12.
Director Peter Jackson, who’s partway through work on his movie The Beatles: Get Back, presented a montage of moments collected from previously unseen footage from the band’s 1969 studio sessions.
While the "sneak peek" video isn’t a trailer for his documentary, he said the nearly six minutes of film offer an idea of the “vibe” fans can expect when it premieres next year. He also confirmed he had 56 hours of archive film at his disposal.
The clip shows Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr playing around as they work. McCartney and Lennon are seen claiming they can’t be argued with because they’re “stars” and attempting to sing without moving their mouths, while both break into fake fistfights. “It gives you a sense of the spirit of the film that we’re making,” Jackson explained.
You can watch the video below.
The unseen material appears to support McCartney’s recent comments about the project. Earlier this month, he said it was “reaffirming” to see it, because it proved the Beatles were still enjoying each others’ company as they neared their split.
“I bought into the dark side of the Beatles breaking up and thought, ‘Oh, God, I’m to blame,’” he explained. “I knew I wasn’t, but it’s easy when the climate is that way to start thinking, so … at the back of my mind there was always this idea that it wasn’t like that, but I needed to see proof. There’s a great photo Linda took, which is my favorite, of me and John working on a song, glowing with joy. This footage is the same. All four of us having a ball.”