All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Going Back to Roseland in Style

Dennis DeYoung - 26 East, Volume I
2020, Frontiers Records    

During the late 1970's and early 1980's there weren't many bands who could keep up with Styx.  From 1977 to 1980 Styx released four consecutive multi-platinum albums (The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.)  Styx was a mix of musical contradictions and complements that worked, in large part, due to the vision of Dennis DeYoung.  Forty years later, and 20+ years since DeYoung was pushed out of the band, Dennis remains the heart and soul of Styx to many fans.  His shows recreate the past for Styx fans 150 nights per year (or did pre-Coronavirus), and do so with an energy and vocal intensity that few 73 year old could match.

DeYoung thought he had hung up his spikes for new material under old friend Jim Peterik (Survivor, Ides of March, Pride of Lions) pulled him back in from the recording pasture.  Working together, DeYoung and Peterik wrote close to 20 songs.  One, "Proof of Heaven", appeared on Peterik's 2019 album Winds of Change.  DeYoung was just getting started, however, and dropped 26 East, Volume I in late May.  It mixes the best of Styx' rock sound with classic DeYoung ballads and wonderfully tongue-in-chic rock/pop.  

The album opens with "East of Midnight", a Jim Peterik tune enhanced with some classic DeYoung keyboard work.  The song fits nicely with DeYoung's looking back to look forward concept album, and sounds like a classic Styx tune.  "With All Due Respect" unleashes DeYoung's dad-humor style of the cognoscenti of television's talking head class in an irresistibly danceable rocker.  The chorus, "with all due respect, you are an asshole..." rings true with most people regardless of your thoughts on current events.  "Run For The Roses" and "Damn That Dream" take altering looks at the pursuit of success; the former a Pilate-like soliloquy on what really matters, the latter a paean to siren call of the life of a creative.  These two songs perhaps perfectly capture the tension that has driven DeYoung all of his (now eight) decades.  Longtime fans will appreciate DeYoung's ode to the American dream, "The Promise of This Land", calling for all Americans to work together to ensure the dream remains alive for all. 

The magic moment that seems to have inspired DeYoung to undertake this recording is the duet with Julian Lennon on "To The Good Old Days".  The song was written as an ode to his musical roots and where be began, and the inclusion of Lennon brings it full circle.  Musically this is the biggest surprise on the album; the song doesn't have the same tenor as the rest of the album, and I suppose that's the point.  It's well written, but will probably be hit or miss depending on what fans are looking for.  The album wraps with A.D. 2020, an ode to Paradise Past.  Get out the tissues, it's an appropriate ending to a brilliant career.

Except it's not the end.

26 East, Volume II has seven songs in the can with two to be recorded.  If Volume I is any indication, Dennis DeYoung still has plenty of gas in the tank.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2020

 One of the many casualties of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 is San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  Scheduled for October 2-4, 2020, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival cannot celebrate it's 20th anniversary in person, but will offer an online show entitled Let The Music Play On.  The show, live from Buddy Miller's studio, will include live performances as well archival footage from festivals past.   Announced guests include:

 Emmylou Harris

Buddy Miller

Amythyst Kiah

The War and Treaty 

Steve Earle & The Bluegrass Dukes, featuring Tim O'Brien and Dennis Crouch.

The festival's organizers also launched the Hardly Strictly Music Relief Fund in 2020 in support of the music community as it grapples with the COVID-19 crisis.  The fund includes $450,000 for musician relief and additional support for local music venues and their employees.  Musicians interested in grant opportunities can visit Venues can visit

Details on the broadcast and lineup will be announced in the coming weeks via  

Hello, long lost friend.

 I remember you.

It's been a long time since I've walked these halls, but your face is still familiar.

A lot has happened since we last ran into each other.  The world has changed in so many ways.

Yes, it's good to be back.  I am not exactly sure of how I fit in here now.  But I think I'd like to give it a try.

Music is constantly changing.  Social mores are constantly straining the bounds of what past generations consider to be the norms, and it all runs in one big cycle.  

I plan on talking a lot about music.  Conversing with you.  I also want to talk about the world.  About ideas and philosophies as they apply to our world and our experience.  I am happy to talk politics in the form of ideas.  Keep your candidates to yourselves.  There's enough name calling elsewhere.  But ideas are always open season.

And health.  It's a scary world out there right now for many of us.  For some it's something to power through.  Some wear masks and view the world through a community lens; others say, "to hell with everyone, I'm doing my own thing."  The good news is that no masks are needed here, and the transmission rate is zero.  But if you're going to be out around others, put on a damned mask.  It costs you nothing but may save everything for someone else.  And if you feel it impugns your manhood or your right to choose, then you don't have either to begin with.

One thing I do note that's important in its way is the continued march to devaluing music.  I am talking to those of you who make the music here.  We continue to push for more streaming and less physical product (or highly overpriced decomposing product, where necessary.)  This benefits those in record labels and streaming services and has little long-term benefit for the creators.

Your recordings are a record (not the vinyl kind) of your work.  When you don't invest in creating physical product you devalue your own career and work.  Let me explain.

Streaming services are not for true music fans.  True music fans are the sorts who establish relationships with artists that last the whole or at least parts of a lifetime.  These are not people who simply taste and spit out the latest pop hit before quickly replacing it with the next thing.  These are people who buy all of your albums and go to shows and buy merchandise.  Granted, there are less of those people than there used to be, perhaps.  People have been conditioned to go digital by corporate marketers and shortened attention spans.  The ease of having every song available has conditioned people to consume whatever the labels want to push rather than investing in artists.

It is a scheme designed to maintain and enrich record labels while making artists disposable cattle.  It is very similar to the Hollywood studio models of the 1950s and 1960s.  It is easier to find listeners in the digital world, but more difficult to keep them.  Labels used to invest in artists and build them up.  They rarely make those investments anymore.

One of the benefits to physical product is the resale market.  Many of the artists out there bristle at this concept, because you don't get any money from these transactions.  The record labels hate the resale market, contending that it deprives them of revenue.  But is this true?  

There is an entire world of music fans out there who traditionally went to the resale market because they couldn't afford everything they might want to try.  The ability to purchase a used CD or LP for a few dollars means those individuals build relationships with artists by trying their music.  Those inexpensive sales can lead to other sales, of albums, tickets, merchandise, etc.  Records, CDs, cassettes etc. are also passed along to family members and friends as interest wanes, allowing for the discovery of new music for the receivers.  In this way discovery of an artist might occur months or years later than the initial fan, but those discoveries are facilitated through the natural trade and transfer of physical copies.  Digital is not the same.

Digital music is not something you own.  It's a rental or "license".  It can be revoked at any time (have you ever read the Apple user agreement?).  It is paying for a privilege rather than a relationship.  Investing in a relationship continues even if your most recent work wasn't the music fan's favorite.  It's very likely that the good will built from an established relationship will keep you eating even if your most recent work wasn't your best or your most well accepted.  Paying for a privilege has a much higher bar.  Why would I pay for it if I didn't like your last album and I can get it for free on a streaming service anyway?

The other consideration, and I recently had this debate with the merch people for a band I adore.  This band (who will remain nameless out of respect), recently released an EP of songs and did not make any physical copies available.  Now I don't buy digital copies of anything (my choice), so I did not provide any revenue to the band based on this recording.

But somewhere between 20 and 25% of music sales are still generated based on hard copy sales.  Those who buy hard copy are predominately of an older demographic; the one with the most disposable income.  These are generally the people most likely to pay premium prices to come to a show or to own/buy memorabilia.  Some of those folks don't have strong comfort with digital product, for various reasons.  So the failure to provide physical product means a loss for perhaps 20% of revenue from the release...  but continued failure to produce physical copies may mean an eventual loss of connection with the band... meaning loss of those ticket and memorabilia sales.  And let's face it, that's where most musicians make their money.

To those who say they can't afford to produce physical product, I would argue you can't afford not to.

And then there's legacy.

If you are relying on streaming services to make sure you are remembered, I would offer an analogy.  The next time you're at a large body of water (Ocean, Sea, large lake), take a bottle of bottled water and pour it in.  Wait even five minutes and try to identify or find the water you poured in.  This approximates the lasting impact that most musicians have in the digital world.  If you're Springsteen or Madonna or Taylor Swift then you'll be remembered, but the likelihood that someone will discover you one day is almost nil.

Those pesky CDs and records passed on by others, however, are enduring record of who you are, or at least who you were at the time you made them.  This is why ancient rock acts continue to see young fans come to their shows.  Artists who go all digital are unlikely to see the same benefits are they age.

And one final word about vinyl versus CDs.  Pick what you want, but I'll go with the small silver discs that are cheaper, easier to store, provide better sound re-production and don't degrade every time you play them.  The resurgence of vinyl only benefits the record labels.

When CDs were introduced, the labels increased the per unit cost of an album.  LPs generally retained for about 8.98 in the late 1980's.  CDs were introduced at a price point of 12.98 - 14.98 in spite of being cheaper to produce.  CD prices were beginning to crack $20 for major artists (list price) when the digital revolution hit. That digital revolution (file sharing) arose largely in response to the price gouging by record labels.  Most new albums actually sold in 12.99 - 14.99 range in department stores, but obscure artists weren't often discounted.  This didn't benefit the artist, but labels made a lot of money off of it.  Then, when LPs were introduced a few years back, two things happened.  First, the price points for new LPs were 24.99 - 29.99 in the US.  This significant increase persisted despite the rate of increase being wholly out of proportion to the increased cost of producing an LP as opposed to a CD.  Second: Labels began actively encouraging stores to decrease the amount of CDs they offered for sale.

Vinyl degrades every time a needle touches it.  CDs only degrade if they are mishandled.

More expensive + Less durable = greater profit for the record label.

Inability to trade resell (digital)  = greater profit for the record label.

Neither of these benefit you, the artist.

Something to think about.

Comments here are moderated by me.  I welcome discussion, disagreement, thoughtfulness and passion.  Personal insults to me (which may well be valid) or to other comments, will not got published.  Diagreements will not be restricted.  Free speech that adds to the conversation will always be respected.

Finally - I will review music here periodically, as in the old days.  If you have an album you would like to have reviewed, please contact me for info on how to submit a physical copy for review.  Digital submissions will not be accepted.  I am also available on a freelance basis to generate copy for artist websites and promo materials, including artist bios, mailings, articles and blog posts.  You can reach me at