Monday morning notebook

Jun 11, 2012

To see or not to see the Beach Boys, that is the question.

The band’s 50th anniversary tour plays Riverbend Tuesday amid some of the most conflicting publicity in years.

A recent spate of stories centers on the somewhat shaky rapprochement of Brian Wilson, the fragile creative genius behind the band’s legendary music, and his cousin, singer Mike Love, who has kept the flame alive while Wilson battled demons and band lost original members Dennis and Carl Wilson, Brian’s brothers.

There’s even a soundtrack to the drama: “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” a dozen new songs that celebrate the group’s sunny and surfy outlook, but also peek into the darkness that has occasionally engulfed the boys.

Newsweek, Rolling Stone and No Depression among others have weighed in on whether Wilson and Love, whose views on what the band was and should be are apparently very different, can co-exist and produce an entertaining performance.  

Concert reviews have been generally favorable, although Wilson has been accused of being missing in action on more than one occasion,  On the other hand, considering what he has been through over the years (he turns 70 June 20), he deserves kudos for simply being upright at this point. And remember, the songs are his, even if Love wrote lyrics for many of the hits.

Potter unleashes 'The Lion the Beast The Beat'

Keep two things in mind when listening to “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” the new album from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals that arrives Tuesday.

First, remind yourself that Potter is 28 years old, and this is her fourth consecutive record without a weak song. That puts her in heady company. 

Then imagine what these 11 songs will sound like performed live.

Guitarist Scott Tournet knows the drill. “I think what people love about us is the energy we generate playing together and feeding off each other,” he says in a press release. 

That’s the appeal of the Vermont-based band, which will be on stage July 1 at Paul Brown Stadium as part of the Kenny Chesney-Tim McGraw country extravaganza. It will be interesting to see how many PotterHeads come early to see the real stars of that show.

Actually, the real stars of the show are the new songs. Potter had a tough act to follow after the success of 2010’s self-titled third album (No. 2 on WNKU’s Top 89 of the year) that pushed her out of theaters like Oakley’s 20th Century into bigger venues (she headlined Riverbend’s PNC Pavilion last summer). 

With a bit of help from co-producer Jim Scott (Tedeschi Trucks Band) and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who co-wrote three tunes, Potter finds an almost perfect groove that straddles the band’s familiar sound with the notion of a giant step forward. And of course, kudos to the Nocturnals (Tournet, guitarist Benny Yurco, drummer Matt Burr and multi-instrumentalist Michael Libramento), who do much of the heavy lifting that sends the hairs on your neck standing.

The title track, which leads off, and “The Divide,” which closes, are classic anthems in the Potter tradition. They build slowly to a full-on sonic assault: close your eyes and picture Grace stomping her foot to The Beat as she sings above the cacophony. 

The temptation is to compare individual tunes to their predecessors: is “The Lion ...” this year’s “Paris [Ooh La La]”?; which is better,  “Keepsake” or “Tiny Lights”? Avoid that trap. These tunes stand tall on their own.

There is a new problem however: Potter is bound to disappoint someone when she chooses a concert set list.   

The band will appear on VH1’s “Storytellers” at 11 p.m. Thursday. 

'Gospel Plow' helps Cook grieve

Elizabeth Cook’s 2010 breakthrough wasn’t as dramatic as Potter’s, but “Welder” (No. 22 on the Top 89) made the Nashville singer-songwriter  a local favorite: she played the Tristate three times that year, and returned to Molly Malone’s last year.

The album’s title was a tribute to Cook’s father, Thomas, who became a celebrity in his own right in the wake of his daughter’s success. She talked him during an appearance with David Letterman (she returns to “The Late Show” Thursday night at 11:35 p.m., CBS), and he is featured pitching merchandise on her website.  

Thomas is central to Cook’s new EP, “Gospel Plow,” a seven-song set of traditional songs (with a version of the Velvet Underground’s “Jesus,” which Glen Campbell also covered beautifully a few years ago) that the singer says is the result of playing the Gospel Brunch at Northern California’s Strawberry Festival last year. And it’s a way for her to deal with the death of her dad a few months ago.

“(This project) helped in the midst of time marching on, to take a minute and reflect, and cry and wail and rock and cradle my grief the best way I know how,” Cooks says in a press release.

Listeners familiar with “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister” know Cook can write tunes that are hilarious and heartbreaking. Turns out she can pick songs written by others that are as emotionally fulfilling as well.

Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist dies

Bob Welch might be the least known of the guitar players on the Fleetwood Mac roster, but the first American in the band played an important role as part of the bridge from the group’s British blues band roots to one of the world’s biggest pop groups during the 1970s.

Welch, who replaced Jeremy Spencer in 1971 and was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham in 1974, died last week at his home Nashville at 66 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. 

The Los Angeles native teamed with guitarist Danny Kirwan and keyboardist Christine McVie on “Future Games” and “Bare Trees,” two albums that foreshadowed  the mid-tempo melodic sound that McVie would perfect with Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on the band’s eponymous 1975 album and 1976’s “Rumours” with original members Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass).

In all, Welch played on five albums, including “Penguin” and “Mystery to Me” in ’73 and “Heroes Are Hard to Find” in ’74. He wrote “The Ghost” and “Sentimental Lady” on “Bare Trees.

Album of the week

“Americana,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Whether it’s the wildly different arrangements of the familiar traditional songs or the intensity of the band, this is one of Young’s best records in a while.

On first listen, just stomp your feet and shake your head while enjoying the music. But then take the time to read’s Young’s notes on each songs, and follow the lyrics to hear some lines that you didn’t know were part of the original tunes. 

Young sounds re-energized playing with his Crazy Horse compadres – bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Poncho Sampedro – on their first album in nine years.

Bonus material: Check out Young’s conversation with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air.” 

Email Bill Thompson