Friday, December 17, 2010

Billy Miles Brooke- All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

The big question of the mid-sixties, The Beatles or The Stones, who do you like? The mop tops had the early advantage, they wrote their own songs, they had cool hair cuts, the pre-fab four was corporate.  The Stones on the other hand had bad teeth, they were surly, their image was strictly street.  Although the scrawny Stones weren't any tougher than the Fab Four, it was the public perception that they were that made the difference.  The Stones were blues, they were rockers, they had attitude and swagger.  By comparison the Beatles were pussies, your parents  liked their music.  

Whatever edge the Boys from Liverpool had gleaned during their days in Hamburg was gone by the time "Meet The Beatles" was released.  They sold out, pure and simple, blame Brian Epstein or blame Paul's natural tendencies to create muzak.  Either way by 1969 they were nothing more than four blokes in a studio, out of touch with their fans, swirling just above the drain.  In 1970 as internal squabbles and creative differences finished off the Beatles.  The Rolling Stones were in the midst of creating and releasing some of the greatest rock music ever.

The release of "Beggars Banquet" in 1968, marked a return to the band's primal roots.  The album hinted at the turmoil and drug abuse that would affect the band in the future. The next album was influenced by California's cosmic cowboys, "Let It Bleed" came out in 1969,  it was  released to the public the day after the infamous Altamont Concert, it was a darkly shaded dispatch.  Writer Stephen Davis described the album this way; "No Rock record, before or since, has ever so completely captured the sense of palpable dread that hung over its era."

"Sticky Fingers" released in 1971 followed on the heels of a bitter  split from their old record label Decca. It was the first recorded without Brian Jones (his input on the previous two had been minimal) It was also the first album on their new vanity label, Rolling Stone Records, featuring the familiar "tongue & lips" logo that would become their trademark. The cover designed by Andy Warhol, featured a working zipper, which of course led to people in stores, tearing the cellophane wrap in order to zip it open.   

The era would culminate with what many call the greatest rock album ever recorded, "Exiles on Main St."  Forced to flee the UK as tax exiles, the band members settled into the south of France. There equipped with their mobile recording studio they recorded tracks for their next album. Bill Wyman noted in his memoir "Stone Alone" that drug use was  widespread during the sessions, to the degree that Wyman refused to attend recording sessions at Keith's villa.  That something so cohesive would come out of the chaotic maelstrom that surrounded them is a miracle in its self.   Even though the album is often described as being The Rolling Stones finest moment, "Exiles on Main St." was in fact  the high water mark.  The next album "Goathead's Soup" would signal a creative slide, Keith addled by  addiction, deferred to Mick, who changed the band's direction. 

So what does all this have to do with a review of  "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go"  Billy Miles Brooke's first solo album.  For starters, CD Baby describes the album: "As the imaginary great lost studio album between “Let it Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers.”   The Stones influence is apparent, but while it pays homage to the Stones, it's not a tribute album. It's a mostly autobiographical collection of soul-in-torment songs.   Billy Miles Brooke writes and sings about coping with the reality of living the rock and roll dream. Billy has deep roots in the local scene, going all the way back to 1982 and Gypsy Rose, a true bar band in every sense.

They were all destined for day jobs, with one exception.  Lead singer Billy Brooke (then known as Billy Sundae)  rose out of the bush leagues and on to the majors.  In Billy's case that was Los Angeles and the Sunset Strip glam metal scene.  His next band, Tragic Romance was lean and mean, they hit the scene becoming a favorite of both fans and fellow musicians.  They seemed poised for prime time success, but the major labels never came calling.  Tragic Romance may have been ahead of their times, while most glam metal bands reveled in excess (drugs and sex) Tragic Romance was different, darker, more introspective.  They would sign with Century Media, who only gave them half-assed support, at best.  An album "Cancel The Future" (recorded live) was released in 1993, followed by a couple of appearances on MTV and a national tour. After the demise of  Tragic Romance, Billy Brooke took off for Europe, where for five years he traveled and played his way across the continent.

Upon his return to the States, he lived in Nashville for a year, there his solo project was conceived and brought to fruition. On "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go", Billy ponders the question that has plagued musicians from Mozart to Jagger, what to do after the cheering stops?  Searching for answers Billy takes us back to Villefranche-sur Mer in 1971, or Muscle Shoals in 1969, back to a time when The "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom"  was sucking up nose powder like a damn shop vac.  Billy doesn't do well with women, he loves them, they leave him, maybe it's the type of women he's drawn to, as he sings about the  "the moulin rouge and raven haired dancers, I dreamed of all my life"  with their cocaine eyes and speed freak jive, high maintenance gals, for sure. 

Sticking closer to Tragic Romance than the Stones, the eternal quest continues,  under "The Lights on Lonely Blvd. "You think that I'm not there, but I'm all around you", but love is blind and you soon will find "I ride the wind, it's freedom I adore" ultimately that's all we really have to lose.  Billy continually goes back to common themes  on "Tears and Wine" he just can't seem to drink her off his mind  "Raise a glass to old memories, all the times we had it made in the shade"  you don't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need  "I'm blown away when I said stay and you stayed"  Never blow a second chance on love.  "All Wound Up", is a Tragic Romance tune redone by Billy  "Many's the time that I thought that I knew you" haunted by a girl, who's been less than faithful, "I know when I look in your eyes"  Billy sings with a steady urgency, shadowed by a circling piano, "I know about all them lies...I don't care...if you must know the truth...I'm still in love with you." Romance it seems is not out of fashion, for if it were, that would truly be tragic. 

"Around the World" is an achingly personal narrative, the road beckons, "when there's a whole world calling, you've got to hit the road"    Billy's vocals always resonate without resorting to the thunderous shrieks so common to  the metal genre.  "I've been around the world, I've seen so many things, But I still can't tell a Joker from a King." 
The "Midnight Rain" keeps coming down and she just hydroplaned his heart  "a reflection on wet pavement as my whole world slips away" when he tries to sleep he keeps having a recurring dream "I'm in the desert, lost and forgotten, and then I hear you very far away" No dream analysis is needed "just as I'm getting close... you start to fade"  The last of the romantics or just a glutton for punishment?  Billy soothes his pain with some "Sloe Gin" and a long lost weekend  "Oh! I hear that strip and those lights beckon"  ying yang, you're my thang!  "I'm back in Vegas again!" let's "light up the city of sin"  where there's many a barroom queen, ready to love you until your money's gone. For Billy that happens fast "My stash was gone like the wind" it's only money, you say with a sigh,  we'll drink a round to this town and bid goodbye.  

"Moonlight Boogie" is a straight up boogie rocker "I was searching for a long legged lover  late on Saturday night"  Seek and you shall find, Boogie rock was a sub-genre that sprouted from the Blues Rock of the late 1960's and early 1970's.  While Blues Rock bands preferred to play slow songs with each instrumentalist taking long solos, the Boogie rockers started uptempo and just plowed ahead. It was quite the style for a while, giving birth to such sayings as "Boogie on", "Boogie Down", "Born to Boogie" and of course "Boogie till you Puke."  A bleary eyed Billy finds himself alone in New York City to face "The Raging Light of Dawn" mournfully  he sings  "It was just a dream, opened my eyes you're nowhere to be seen"  solitude is overrated "I can see you in that Hudson River rain, and if I cry that don't ease the pain" putting the Big Apple behind him, he returns to L.A. where he proceeds to  "Drown my sorrow in a pool of alcohol"  a pool equals how many bottles of gin?   

The rollicking  "Tearin' up the Town" closes the album in fine fashion, the album is in the can, it's time to let loose "looking fine in your leathers and lace and eyetalian (sic) shoes" it's a classic working for the weekend song,   "Work like a dog just to get to the weekend, count the minutes down till Friday night, it's 5 o'clock and you know I'm busting"  Billy throws everything at the wall, rockabilly, boogie, honking sax and cascading piano in a mad dash to the clock and out the door.  "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go" is an objectively good record of retro 70's guitar rock. It's neither flashy nor rough, the music is lean and concise, the singing is controlled and effective. The lack of  instrumental excesses allows Billy's  soul to wrap around each song.  

Billy Miles has stayed busy since his return to New Mexico, he was an integral part of The Dirty Novels and is currently involved with Dirt City rockers, Panic.  Always classy and gracious, he's also an advocate for live music in his home of Santa Fe.  Billy Miles Brooke is one of the most important and influential musicians  to come out of the Albuquerque music scene, and the hardest working man in rock and roll.