Monday, March 12, 2018

What is a "Greatest Hit" anyway?

Steve Winwood's sold out "Greatest Hits" tour stop at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby was not so much this

as it was this:

What I'm saying is that, with the exception of the No. 1s "Roll With It" and "Higher Love," the 69-year-old blue-eyed soul singer/keyboardist/guitarist ignored the 1980s, the period of the bulk of his greatest hits.
The first inkling this might happen came as Winwood  took a seat behind a Hammond organ. That keyboard's distinct and classic sound would probably rule out the more synthesized sounds of "Valerie," "While You See a Chance" and "The Finer Things." It should be mentioned that the gifted multi-instrumentalist in Winwood's rock-solid band freed "Higher Love" from its '80s sonic prison by playing the song's chirpy synth hook on saxophone.

Sure I absolutely expected to hear Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith songs -- the 1970 Traffic song "Empty Pages" still sounds quite fresh -- but was not expecting something branded as "Greatest Hits" to so grossly under-represent Winwood's most commercially successful decade.
"Did Steve Winwood just not have a good time in the '80s?," I wondered.     
Then I read something he said to Digital First Media's Gary Graff: "I remember, at some point in the '90s, there were people who were following me for my work in the '80s who weren't familiar with either Traffic or Spencer Davis, and didn't know that I was the same person that sang 'Gimme Some Lovin'' or the same person that sang 'Can't Find My Way Home' (both big-time crowd-pleasers at the Tower). I do specifically remember one person coming up to me after a show to say: 'I loved the show, but why did you finish with a cover of a Blues Brothers song?'
So I have these different sort of levels and phases I've gone through, and one phase isn't always familiar with the other phases."
 From what I could tell, Winwood's Philly faithful skewed close to Winwood's age, and therefore found "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" to be satisfying enough. The audience was also appreciative of the opening set by Winwood's daughter, Lilly (who appears in my "Roll With It" video above), who has a storytelling singer/songwriter thing going that would fit in very well at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.
Later I discovered Winwood recently released a "Greatest Hits Live" album, culled from the tour, that features "Back in the High Life Again," "Arc of a Diver" and "Freedom Overspill" -- songs I really wish I could have heard.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When you really want to like a smokey whiskey, but just can't

It's a better than average Friday when a free whiskey sample crosses your desk.
"This is Stolen?" What's that about? And is that a 45 rpm record jacket?
Taking inspiration from a quote from Picasso that "great artists steal," Stolen is the name of a new-to-the-U.S., 46% alcohol by volume, aged 11 years artisanal spirit that originated in New Zealand. The gimmick is using charred whiskey barrel staves, plus a secondary barrel-finishing process -- where what the makers refer to as "the juice" is continually analyzed for taste and nosed for aroma till it meets the boldness test.
"Drink it like it's stolen," they seductively say.
Smokey whiskey is quite manly, and I feel like I should've sipped it while smoking a cigar. But just like with Jim Beam Black, I have a hard time getting into it because the smoke flavor is overkill. but that's nothing that ginger ale can't fix. Does that make me a wuss, or a whiskey snob? I mean I do know the difference between whiskey with an "E" and whisky without it.
Give me Evan Williams' Honey or Cherry, or Jim Beam Apple on the rocks any day!
What I wish Stolen would've sent me is a link to cocktail recipes so I knew what the heck to do with it. I took the liberty of supplying it to you here. 
They also have a smoked rum and something called "Overproof" rum.
Since Talk About the Passion is mostly a music blog, I need to mention what was in the 45 rpm jacket in the package, besides cards introducing me to Stolen Whiskey. No, there was no record.

 Rapper Phranchyze and alt country singer Nikki Lane and rocker Jonathan Tyler (did they spell his name wrong on this photo?) are into Stolen.

However, I think Phranchyze prefers Hennessey and Horchata. He has a song about it.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Whoa, am I actually a better DJ than Moby?

For the last year, I've come to rely on my Spotify at work more than I ever thought I'd have to.
CNN, a staple in our newsroom, is slowly discovering the dire consequences of prioritizing entertainment value over journalism by not holding Trump's feet to the fire. Cannot stand all the idiotic talking heads trying to brainwash us that a repulsive bullying fascist is normal. So to drown out that nonsense, I've created this playlist that borrows heavily from 30 Days, 30 Songs (which it looks like is morphing into 1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs), and a little from Moby's imagined playlist if he were to DJ the inauguration.
 WARNING: Some of my playlist songs contain rather strong language. But too bad. These are my not-so-subtle thoughts on Dumb Donald, and it keeps me from losing my mind by reminding me I am not alone.
What's disappointing is Moby's Spotify leans too much on Vietnam War era protest songs. Sure, you can nitpick me for choosing W-era songs like "Mr. President" by Doylestown native Pink & The Indigo Girls, folk songs from the World War II era (when Americans shot Nazis instead of electing them), an impeachment-urging song from the Nixon years and an '80s new wave throwback by Heaven 17 that quaintly references President Ronald Reagan (which the British group pronounces "Ree-gan"). But don't my songs fit the nightmare we're in a little better than John Lennon's "Imagine?"
I look forward, albeit reluctantly, to adding more tunes as they come out. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A look back: 2016 Philadelphia Folk Fest

Shoutout to IRadioPhilly for rebroadcasting Folk Fest Nov. 23-27! It gives me an excuse to offer my own unique flashback from this year's Fest.
This one will stand out in my memory because I was granted access to the areas that only performers, Folk Fest stage/technical crew, and other VVIPs are allowed -- making for a perspective of Folk Fest I never imagined possible.

Finally tracking down Philly rising talent Hurricane Hoss after her "first big rodeo" on the Main Stage, she was still in costume, but transitioning back to her real-world self, Sarah Larsen. She knew that my day had been more challenging than it ever should have been. Maybe that's why she was able to talk me past security.

She said that Hurricane Hoss represents "all the best parts of myself." It was after our interview for my Friday coverage for Digital First Media Philly, when she introduced me to Saturday evening Main Stage performer Si Kahn, who instantly welcomed me by bringing me an urgently-needed plate of really delicious food. Kahn justified it by coining a phrase he attributed to Thomas Jefferson about it being important to freedom of the press by feeding them. I haven't been able to verify that, but THIS GUY GETS IT!
Kahn is a fascinating cat, who really deserved a story unto himself. But a blog post will have to do. The son of a rabbi, he grew up in State College, moved to the south to be an activist for the civil rights movement (Kahn informed me that "We Shall Overcome" actually has 12 verses), and also founded the Grassroots Leadership organization. Among the other causes close to his heart is Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay. Kahn's been recording since 1974, he knew Pete Seeger, has written four books, has a degree from Harvard, plus a Ph.D!! If I didn't have a deadline to meet at the time, I would've hung out and picked this guy's brain through the night. But you'll have to settle for this playlist instead.

When I asked him about the state of folk music, he said, "It's fabulous," and appropriated the quote by Mark Twain that the reports of the death of folk music "have been greatly exaggerated."
But wait, there's more! Who should I encounter on my way out, but the Where's Waldo of the festival circuit -- Souderton native, singer/songwriter and renowned Forrest Gump impersonator Paul Dengler, who has a new Instagram.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A chick-lit standout of 2016

As soon as I cracked open "Finding Tambri" by Georgia Author of the Year finalist Sherry Meeks, I knew this was a book for my wife, who is a bathtub reader. That means you don't lend her any reading material that you don't want wrinkled from water exposure.
Yes, I know I passed the buck. Don't judge me.
Tambri is a bitter, lost soul after her young son dies, leading to her marriage to her high school sweetheart falling apart. However, it looks like she could be on the cusp of finding love again.
The author uses a non-traditional narrative of short stories from different character perspectives, which my wife said made "Finding Tambri" hard to follow because of the way it jumps around.
"It's about the trials and tribulations of marriage and relationships. She's an excellent writer and brings you close to the characters," my wife says.
The 211-page "Finding Tambri" is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and you can find more at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Beatles' unique connection to Philly

It was terrific meeting John Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, this year when she came to Sellersville Theater with The Mersey Beatles. One thing she said that sticks with me, because of how mind-blowing it is, is that there are 5,800 Beatles tribute bands worldwide. You can't say the same thing about the Backstreet Boys!
Julia is a tiny lady. At right is my good friend, Rick White.

 Hey, wot's that Mersey Beatle doing? Messing with my hair?

A little before that encounter, I paid a visit to Plymouth Meeting dermatologist Steve Binnick. In his clinical room, I was surprised to see a photo of the genuine Beatles that looked something like this.
Dr. Binnick explained that his dad, Bernie, was a co-owner of Philadelphia's Swan Records, the label of Freddy Cannon, Danny and the Juniors, the early records of The Three Degrees, and Link Wray in the pre-"Rumble" days. Swan also was the first American record company to release The Beatles' No. 1 "She Loves You." 
Other small American labels that put out Beatles singles, before Capitol Records assumed control of their American releases, included Vee Jay and Tollie. They're highly collectible.

Dr. Binnick has retired, and sadly, that's likely the last chance I'll see that picture. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

WMGK proves every time that Southeastern Pennsylvania's Got Talent

My ears were ringing judging this year's 102.9 WMGK House Band Competition. However they were also treated to some high quality live bands in the quest to see who gets selected to represent Philadelphia's classic rock radio station during major events such as the Big Bad Bonfire, Brew Blast and opening for classic rock acts during their annual summer concert. The official house band also gets the coveted prizes of $1,000 of new gear and two days of recording studio time.
So far, advancing to the finals are Taggart, Green Machine, and a band I personally got to witness rise to the cream of the crop, Kategory 5 (Obviously spelling doesn't count).
It's a challenge coming up with a score for vocals, stage presence, crowd reaction (Full disclosure: stupidly over the top fans hurt your score!), musicianship and adherence to/understanding of MGK's playlist.
Each band must play the same assigned song by MGK. That night's was "Desire" by U2. Since I was in a cover band for 6 and a half years, and that was one of our go-to tunes, I paid close attention to each band's reading. I was impressed that all four showed their attention to detail by having a harmonica for the solos at the end.

Party Hat was quite fun, with a set that featured "Back in Black" (AC/DC), a well-executed "Jump" (Van Halen), an inspired version of The Doors' "Break on Through" with the Jim Morrison spoken word "Dead Cats, Dead Rats" -- which unfortunately was spoiled by a drum hardware malfunction --and a song rarely done anywhere -- "One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx. They stood out because of their keyboards-forward approach. Would like to know they sequenced The Who's "Baba O'Riley!"

For the record, I LOVED AM Radio. I want their clothes! What ultimately hurt their chances was they leaned classic pop, rather than classic rock.

Before you send hate mail, it's because that I know the difference that MGK keeps asking me to judge. I was in the radio biz 15 years; I know what I'm talking about.

Chester County's Exit Strategy had the unenviable task of following Kategory 5. Here's their rendition of .38 Special's "Hold on Loosely."

My favorite part of their set was a spirited performance of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog."
Upcoming semi-final rounds are taking place Aug. 11 at Havana in New Hope, and Aug. 18 at Chickies and Pete's near the sports complex in South Philly. The finals are scheduled for Parx Casino the 25th. 8 p.m. is the start time, 7:30 for the finals.