ALBUMS: June 2023 In Review

Checking out the latest from Foo Fighters, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Tanya Tucker

Tanya Tucker (Image: Fantasy Records)

June was packed with albums, plenty of which I could have covered here.

There was Bob Dylan continuing his third act hot streak with Shadow Kingdom, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit’s rockier Weathervanes, Janelle Monae’s forward-thinking The Age of Pleasure, Queens of the Stone Age’s groove-centric In Times New Roman and Brain Worms, the stellar second album from Australia’s RVG (Check them out. Seriously).



Foo Fighters But Here We Are, Roswell/RCA 2023

This isn’t the first time a Foo Fighters album has come from a period of grief.

The band didn’t even exist when Dave Grohl spent six days in a studio six months after the death of Kurt Cobain. He recorded all the parts himself (save for some additional guitar by the Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli on one track). The name was a pseudonym. The songs were just to have some fun.

Those songs, having been duplicated and passed around from 100 inital copies on LP and cassette, got Grohl a record deal. He needed a band to tour the album and, thus, they became more than a pseudonym.

Artist: Foo Fighters

Album: But Here We Are

Label: Roswell/RCA 

★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars) 

A project that began by creating something in the wake of the death of a friend and the end of a band  turned into an ongoing juggernaut: seven platinum albums, successful tours, 11 Grammys and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But that juggernaut halted on March 25, 2022 when drummer Taylor Hawkins died. He wasn’t just valuable to the Foo Fighters behind the kit, but as a friend. His chemistry with Grohl had long been a strength–personally and professionally.

The surviving band members spent the rest of 2022 out of the public eye, outside of a pair of star-studded tribute concerts to Hawkins in London and Los Angeles.
In that downtime, Grohl was hit with another huge loss when his mother Virginia passed four months after Hawkins. She was the single parent who’d raised him for most of his childhood, a schoolteacher who was the ultimate supportive mom.

The status of the Foo Fighters’ future was left in the air, although it felt likely that the band would return when they were ready.

That impression was confirmed at year’s end when posts to the band’s social media that they were not breaking up, saying in part, “Without Taylor, we never would have become the band that we were — and without Taylor, we know that we’re going to be a different band going forward.”

In May, Josh Freese,who’d been part of the tribute shows, was unsurprisingly revealed as the new drummer, starting with their tour dates (Grohl handled the drums on the album). The list of bands he’s played with over the last 30-plus years a testament to his talent and adaptability–case in point, his appearances as drummer for both 100 gecs and Danny Elfman at 2022 Coachella.

But Here We Are arrived less than two weeks later, its existence having been confirmed in April.

While the band was touring their last (and, to be honest, weakest) album – 2021’s pop-inflected Medicine at Midnight — Grohl, who hadn’t written any songs for it yet, teased the possibility that it would be an “insane prog-rock record.”

Whether that was ever in the cards, But Here We Are is a sibling to early Foo Fighters, full of big guitars and big hooks.
“Rescued” opens the album sounding for all the world like it stepped off 1997’s The Colour and the Shape.

The hook becomes arena-sized on “Under You”, which has references to Hawkins (“Someone said I’ll never see your face again/Part of me just can’t believe it’s true/Pictures of us sharing songs and cigarettes/This is how I’ll always picture you”).

You can close your eyes and picture the late ’90s video for, complete with costumes that could possibly be banned in red states (“Why is he dressed like a stewardess! It’s a marxist plot with the Keebler elves!”).

Grohl doesn’t shy away from grief (“I gave you my heart, but here we are”), but it never feels as if he’s wallowing in it. While the senses of pain and loss are unmistakable, they are soothed with hope and determination. 

Say what you will, Grohl has maintained a level of earnestness throughout his career. It’s helped him maintain a likeability that lasts even if his seeming ubiqitousness veers towards becoming a punchline at times (the parody site Hard Times once had the headline “Desperate Dave Grohl Interviews Himself”). That earnestness helps sell the clear emotions on display.

Even with the hole left by Hawkins’ death, the Foo Fighters are still a tight unit, the surviving members having been together for years. They dip right back into the meat-and-potatoes, quiet-loud-quiet-loud, verse-chorus-verse structure that’s enabled them to last as a successful rock act in an environment where it’s become more difficult to do it.

There are enough additional elements to keep things from sounding completely samey — the haze over the melodic “Hearing Voices”, the lighter/cellphone sway of “Beyond Me”, the bopping verse tempo on “Nothing At All”, the almost shoegaze loveliness and melancholic resilience of “Show Me How” (with Dave’s daughter Violet’s soothing backing vocals).

Grohl hadn’t written anything for the album before last year, but he gets closer to prog on “The Teacher”, which shifts tempos, feeling almost like any number of epic-length classic rock tracks that were multiple songs in a mashup.

Between the title, the video with its old home video footage of a young Grohl, it’s a poignant reminder that he’s had a mom to mourn, too. A mom who, if you ever saw them interviewed together, you can see where he learned to be someone who got a reputation as one of the nicest famous people. All the while, the band whips up a holy racket in the louder passages, ending the song on speaker-blowing distortion.

It’s followed by the album’s other affecting wild card — “Rest”, which ends the album. Grohl sings, almost in ASMR, over gentle strumming. It’s a changeup from the throat-shaking screams he often deploys (the kind that would be good for a lozenge commercial).

Rather than maintain that tone over the rest of the song, it’s as if they collectively remembered they’re the Foo Fighters.

There comes the extreme distortion over the slow tempo, as Grohl repeatedly sings “Rest, you can rest now/Rest, you will be safe now”, before at the very end, things get quiet again with the parting words “Wakin’ up, had another dream of us/In the warm Virginia sun, there I will meet you”.

If there’s a quibble to be had, it’s the production, which veers too often into distorted midrange, using a mallet when a scalpel would be more effective. As easy as it would be to put that on producer Greg Kurstin’s shoulders, it’s an issue that predates his involvement (the brittle moments on 2002’s One By One come to mind).

But at the end of the day, this album avoids the traps of the Foos’ disappointing work post-Wasting Light, which sounded at times like obligatory product. But Here We Are feels like the band knew the best tribute to the departed would be an album of them doing what they do best, an album that would do the departed proud and a reminder of what made Hawkins glad to join them in the first place. They definitely succeeded.




Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Council Skies, Sour Mash Records 2023

We’re not there yet, but we are getting closer to the point where Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds will have lasted longer than Oasis (due to happen sometime in 2028).

Ever since Noel–the band’s main songwriter–left in 2009, leading to their breakup, he and brother Liam, the singer, have traded endless jibes over social media and in interviews, some no doubt dating back to when their kids (Liam referring to Noel as “little potato” has grade school written all over it), with no sign of a reunion happening.

Which, you know, is fine. If they decide to bury the hatchet somewhere other than the other guy and milk the cash cow, fine. If they continue to put out their own material individually, fine.

Artist: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Album: Council Skies 

Label: Sour Mash Records 

★★★★1/4 (4.25/5 stars) 

Liam, without Noel around, had to step up his songwriting after some initial attempts that weren’t highly-ranked in Oasis’ canon. He’s done exactly that, first with Beady Eye (which was Oasis sans Noel), then solo.

Noel, meanwhile, pretty much picked up where he left off, never straying too far from the craft he showed in Oasis, albeit more subdued early on, then more experimentally on 2017’s Who Built the Moon, his best post-Oasis album to that point.

Council Skies pulls back from that album’s experimentation, but it’s not a retreat. Rather, it’s the sound of a craftsman at ease without coasting as he incorporates various elements.

Oasis at its peak was undeniably snotty, but Liam made for a charismatic frontman with his unmistakable way of drawing words out (shine as “shiiiieenuh”). And Noel had hooks to burn, not just the ones he blatantly and obviously lifted from Stevie Wonder, The Beatles or an old soda commercial.

These days, the guitars aren’t quite as loud and the copious amounts of cocaine disappeared. What remains is his his knack for mining pop classicism.

Take the way he uses strings. They give heft to the driving title track, sweep to “Trying to Find a World That’s Been And Gone” and warm atmosphere to “I’m Not Giving Up”. In the Oasis days, those strings would have been put way up there (like the not-quite-as-“Hey Jude”-as-Noel-thought “All Around the World”). Here, they fit seamlessly without overwhelming.

Gallagher can be a funny speaking on tape (his original Christmas rant that ends with the interjection of “And they never show Star Wars enough!” comes to mind). But he can avoid sounding like Abe Simpson yelling at a cloud lyrically.
“Pretty Boy”, one of two songs to feature Johnny Marr, wears its romantic heart openly, Marr’s guitar keeping that heart beating over the drum machine.
The lovely “Trying to Find a World That’s Been and Gone” and
“Love is a Rich Man” almost jangle, driving along in a manner that would have had it a perfect fit on one of Oasis’ underrated latter albums.

“Dead to the World” showcases Gallagher’s subtlety wonderfully, as the swooning instrumentation never goes over-the-top. As the song, one of the prettiest he’s ever written, plays, you can picture the movie montage it would be a needle drop for.

Not that the man has completely eschewed the big hook. “Easy Now” would have been a huge hit for him back in the day, with its indelible hook. But even though he hearkens back to sounding big, the song avoids the excess of the old days, wrapping up in just under four minutes instead of seven.
“Open the Door, See What You Find” incorporates the previous album’s psychedelia (as if the title weren’t a hint) with a driving chorus.

Throughout the album, Gallagher realizes that things have changed, that the places and people of decades ago aren’t always there, but it’s not morose or regretful. Rather, he manages to carry a POV that feels alive without straying into “How do you do, fellow kids” territory.

By the time the album finishes with the horn-lavored, head-moving optimism of “We’re Gonna Get There In The End”, it’s a reminder that all these years later, Gallagher can be a consummate craftsman. With Council Skies, he’s crafted the best album of his solo career.




Tanya Tucker Sweet Western Sound, Fantasy Records 2023

It was a welcome comeback, one that made the listener exclaim,”About damn time!”

Tanya Tucker had been pretty low-profile for the better part of two decades, only releasing a covers album — the quite good My Turn in 2009. Then came Shooter Jennings and Brandi Carlile.

They coaxed Tucker back into the studio. Carlile and her longtime bandmates and collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth wrote the bulk of the songs with Jennings and Carlile co-produced. The result, 2019’s While I’m Livin’, was both one of that year’s best albums and one of the best in Tucker’s career.

Artist: Tanya Tucker

Album: Sweet Western Sound 

Label: Fantasy Records 

★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars) 

All the key parties returned for the follow-up, with Carlile wanting Tucker to have more of a hand in writing. The singer, who had one co-write on While I’m Livin’ (its perfect wrapup “Bring My Flowers” now), has a hand in four of the 10 tracks here.

The first voice you here isn’t Tucker, but her fellow Texan and longtime friend Billy Joe Shaver, his aged outlaw country voice singing on a voicemail (“She looks like a heavenly angel/But Tanya is meaner than hell/Tanya, your colors are showin’/Tanya, you’re black and you’re blue/Sometimes, love lurks in strange places/And pounces on people like you”).

The album continues its prdecessor’s way of fitting Tucker’s voice (which has caught up to her age), sensibility and her history, making it feel autobiographical whether she co-wrote it or not.

The weight of that history informs the tender “Kindness”, a reminder that even a woman with a lifetime persona of being a take-no-shit Texan can be vulnerable. That weight takes a witty turn on “The List” (“I don’t livе in the past, it ain’t gonna last/And the years ain’t always been kind/But that list of things you don’t likе about me/Is gonna be shorter than mine”).

The soulful “Ready As I’ll Never Be”, co-written by Tucker and Carlile, wears its lived-in feeling proudly, possessing a comfort in making the most of her later years, as bittersweet as that can be.

Tucker also tackles love, the end-of-the day yearning of the Jennings-penned piano ballad “Waltz Across a Moment” positively aches, with backing vocals straight from church.

“City of Gold” is less melancholic, as Tucker carries herself with a spirit connected to her younger self, only so much wiser.

The wild card name in the credits is Bernie Taupin who co-wrote “Breakfast in Birmingham” with Carlile, who joins Tucker to duet on it. It’s classically constructed, with its details of life on the road reading like a memoir and the pair’s voices fitting together wonderfully.

The most poignant moment isn’t looking at Tucker’s life, but rather “Letter to Linda”, a heartfelt salute to the influence of Linda Ronstadt, who was starting to be a hitmaking force in the ’70s at the same time as Tucker’s career was just beginning.

There’s even a song co-written by Tucker’s boyfriend, Craig Dillingham, and Billy Don Burns years before, which surprised Tucker.

Carlile sang on a demo of “When The Rodeo Is Over (Where Does The Cowboy Go?)”, sending it to Tucker the night before sessions began. Tucker liked it, but wanted Dillingham to hear it to his opinion.

She told Woman’s World, “About a minute later he came back and said, ‘Hell, I wrote the son-of-a-bitch!’ Can you believe that? He wrote it 20 years ago. That’s God pitching me a song.”
It’s good she answered that pitch, as her performance sells what could be cliched mythologizing in lesser hands. She knows men like that, coming from the same place. Her vocals are aided by the backing musicians, who always strike the right tone throughout the album.

Shaver, who died in 2020, fittingly has the words after the final notes of the song have faded — “Up where the small roads grow bigger/Somewhere on Music Row/A cowboy was a-takin’ his chances/Hopin’ that Tanya will show.”

Tucker has indeed shown. Soon to be one of the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, If While I’m Livin’ was a well-earned victory lap, Sweet Western Sound is irrefutable proof she still has a well-run race or two left in her.



Kara Tucker
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Kara Tucker

Kara Tucker, after years of sportswriting, has turned to her first-love—music. She lives in New York City with her partner and their competing record collections.

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