Clapton Weighs Retirement in New Tour Doc

Should Slowhand indeed retire from the road next year as he suggests, it won’t be because of a lack of passion or musical decline.

An Interview with Angela Moyra

'Sometimes I’m more open with my music than I am in my personal life,' says the singer/songwriter, underscoring the candor that informs her debut LP, 'Fickle Island.'

An Interview with Mac Wiseman

On the eve of his induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville legend discusses his 70-year career along with his new LP, Songs From My Mother's Hand.

Interview: Meiko Experiments, Gets Personal on New LP, 'Dear You'

Meiko discusses her new album, its minimalist, mood-driven electronica and the most personal lyrics of her career to date.

An Interview with Randy Owen of Alabama

The band's lead vocalist and songwriter of some of its greatest hits discusses the music that has made Alabama legends.

December 1, 2014

An Interview with Dwight Twilley

“That’s the story of my career,” says Dwight Twilley on the phone from his home in Tulsa, his hearty laugh and facetiousness belying the bane of what could’ve been: Mere weeks before his death in August 1977, Elvis Presley almost recorded one of Twilley’s songs. 

“It was being discussed with the publishers,” says Twilley of “TV,” two minutes, sixteen seconds of reverbed, shivering rockabilly in praise of the almighty boobtube. “If you think about it, that probably would’ve been a pretty damn good tune for him.” 

It would’ve been a pretty damn good time for Twilley to have caught a break, too.

“TV” originally appeared on Sincerely, the debut LP by the Dwight Twilley Band, which besides its principal singing and songwriting namesake boasted one-man rhythm section and erstwhile vocalist Phil Seymour and lead guitarist Bill Pitcock IV. Though it earned rave reviews upon its release in 1976 — Rolling Stone hailed it as “the best rock debut album of the year” — 
Sincerely was a commercial disappointment, due in part to disputes at the band’s label that, nearly a year after lead single “I’m On Fire” had entered and exited the Top 20, effectively squelched the band’s momentum. 

As Elvis himself had once famously bemoaned, “Who do you thank when you have such luck?”

Twilley’s troubles didn’t end there; in one way or another they’ve underscored most of his career. And yet from his formative days in the Dwight Twilley Band — the group broke up in 1978 following the lackluster sales of its sophomore LP, Twilley Don’t Mind — throughout such solo highlights as “Girls” (featuring former label mate Tom Petty) and “Why You Wanna Break My Heart,” Twilley hasn’t let his professional frustrations and misfortunes eclipse his musical enthusiasm. 

The latest installment of that enthusiasm is Always, Twilley’s third LP of original material in four years. Featuring such musical cohorts as Tommy Keene, Tractor’s Steve Ripley, and veteran session bassist Leland Sklar, the album boasts the sort of shimmering melodic pop and boisterous rock ‘n’ roll that longtime fans love. 

Sure, it’s familiar ground for Twilley, but few cover it so well. 

Always is your third studio album in four years. Are you a more prolific songwriter these days? Or have you always been prolific and you’re just now releasing more of what you write?

I was always very prolific, but I had so many problems in the music industry as a kid that, now that I’m self-contained and have my own studio and record company, it’s up to me when I want to record and how much. I never had that opportunity before. 

Is songwriting something you enjoy? Some artists like having written a song, but not sitting in a room with a pencil and a guitar trying to write one.

It’s a lonely feeling, because there’s nobody there to help you, usually. It just comes second nature with me. I’ve been doing it so long… The hardest part about it for me — it’s not the actual writing of the song because mechanically I just kind of do that second nature without really thinking about it — is the idea.

Coming up with the idea?

Yeah, coming up with the idea. “What am I writing about here? What am I trying to say?” Once I have that, I don’t have to think about it. The song just kind of appears.

To what length will you chase an idea or inspiration? Can it drive you nuts to the point where you just discard it altogether?

No. Sometimes if I don’t think about it, it works out better because those just come to me; and it’ll come to me at the strangest times. In fact, we’ve kind of promised ourselves that we’re going to stop recording for a while and do some other things — appear live more — and I have some other projects that I’m interested in doing. Even though you’ve promised yourself that you’re not going to write anymore or do anything else then you’ll come up with two or three good ideas.

You live and work in Tulsa, which isn’t exactly the center of the music universe.

No, but it is well known for some of the most talented musicians in the world. It’s not known just here. People around the world are very aware of Tulsa being a place for musicians that have thrived. I’ve always said part of the reason for that is this town just treats their musicians like shit. [Laughs] It’s why so many of them leave here and become big successes, because they certainly couldn’t do it here. If you want to be in the music business and you’re in Tulsa you better really love it or you better be really good.

Can you discern how recording and writing in Tulsa has influenced how your music comes out? In other words, does your environment affect how your music ultimately sounds?

I don’t think geographically it makes that big a difference to me. I think it’s just the whole freedom that I have, having my own studio that I’m in total control of. And it’s built onto my house so I can just walk out of here and be home, and I can stumble out of the house and be in here in my secret laboratory. Most of my life I had to get the big record company to pay the big dollars to be able to afford an album to record on X amount of days at X studio and be done that date, this whole big to-do.

[With] this, I just have the complete freedom to work at my own pace and not have to worry about being thrown out of the studio at midnight or something; or some other artist is coming in; or the record company thinks you’re going over budget. I just don’t have those worries anymore.... I kind of take more of an artistic freedom to go, “I don’t really care what other people think or how a record is supposed to be structured, what the rules are anymore.” There really isn’t much radio anymore and there isn’t much of a record business anymore. 

For a few years now I’ve sat back and thought about it and thought, I’m a recording artist. I’m an artist at recording. People will say, “You should’ve done that; it’d have been more cool if you did this or did that,” I think to myself, I’m going to do whatever the hell I want to do because I’m in control of my art. This is the way I want people to hear what I do, and so that’s what they get. There’s nobody at any record company who can tell me to do it different.

Does the home studio complement your creative drive or does it lead to obsession?

Sure, you can become obsessive. You can take a long time to work on one record just to get it exactly the way you want it. I can be that way from time to time, but the proof of my discipline is in my last three albums. That’s a short amount of time to release three all-new studio albums, and I’m very proud of all three of them. My fans seem to appreciate them. That gives you a good feeling knowing when you release a record there are people all around the world that it makes very happy. That makes me feel good. I kind of stand behind my work in that way. Sure, I could get really obsessive, but at the end of the day I’m a recording artist and so I want to make a good product, a good piece of work. 

When you’re in the studio do you ever tailor a song — how it sounds or how it feels — to what you think it’ll translate to on the stage?

No, not usually. I do sort of a different stage show. I like my stage show to be more of a rock ‘n’ roll event, where records to me are more artistic and, in a way, prettier. When I go out on stage I really like to scream my guts out, though I do a few songs in the course of the album that are definitely good screamers for the live show. But I prefer not to — in the middle of my rocking show — slow down and do acoustic things, which I think are real important to have and you want them on the record, but you don’t necessarily want to do them live that much. 

You can kill the momentum of a high-energy show if, four or five songs in, you say, “We’d like to slow it down a bit.”

Yeah, that’s kind of the way I feel about it. I don’t like my live shows to slow down at all. [Laughs]

Do you know anything about the status of the documentary [Why You Wanna Break My Heart: The Dwight Twilley Story] that was being made about you?

As far as I knew that all crashed and burned. And now some people are working on the concept of trying to breathe new life into it. A portion of it was filmed. We’ve talked to a few people, and are looking around for somebody who might want to take over the project and complete it. And I have some ideas of my own in that regard.

What gives you the biggest thrill in making music? Is it finishing a song? Is it getting an idea in the middle of the night that inspires you to write one?

I think the most satisfying moment I have is when I lay down a guitar or piano and I put the main vocal on it correctly — in other words, the right words in the right place — and the song sounds like what I’d wanted it to be. That’s my most exciting moment. From then on it’s just the mechanics of building it into a record, which is a fun process. Don’t misunderstand me, now. I enjoy that process, but there’s nothing more thrilling… Because you know what the best song always is? The new one. And there’s nothing like having a new one. After you have the new song you have that excitement for a while. Then it becomes something you’re working on. Then you just look forward to the next song.

Once you’ve reached that point where the song has achieved that basic shape of how you imagined it originally, is it instinct that then tells you when you’ve finally finished the song? Some artists have trouble putting things away.

This whole album was a little bit like that. One of the things about it — it was a hard record to make — was when towards the end of recording the last album, Soundtrack, my dear friend and companion and co-worker, Bill Pitcock IV, passed away. Bill had been with me since “I’m On Fire,” and the last ten years or so we really worked closely together in the studio, all the time. We’d just do things… I could just sing a note to him and he’d know exactly what I wanted. It was kind of one of those things where you barely needed to talk. My wife, who engineers the records, would say, “Pitcock speaks Twilley,” because we just had a way of communicating. 

We didn’t have Bill there every step of the way. We’d record some songs completely by ourselves and kind of feel proud of ourselves: “We didn’t even need Pitcock on that.” Now we don’t feel so proud. It doesn’t feel quite as good anymore, the feeling of knowing that he is just not here.

So it was suggested, “Why don’t you call on some of these friends who you’ve had through the years and get them to play on this record?” I thought that was kind of a good idea, but it kind of made it take longer waiting for the availability of different players and putting it together. There were times we called it “the record that wouldn’t die,” but eventually it did finish. 

But you can get caught up on a little tangent — and it’s a real thing — because you’ll hear the record and think, It’s all there but there’s some little thing missing. You just know there’s some little thing missing. Most of the time — if you rely on your instinct and don’t freak out on it — you just put that one little thing in there and it makes the record sit. It will settle down and say, “Okay, I’m fine now,” because usually the record will tell you what it wants.

Despite all the setbacks and frustrations that have occurred throughout your career, you must feel a sense of satisfaction that you’re still doing what you love exactly how you want to do it.

Very much. I would guess you would most likely be able to hear that in the album, Always

Always is available now on Big Oak Records. For more information on Dwight Twilley, please visit his official website

November 17, 2014

DVD Review: Eric Clapton - Planes, Trains, and Eric

In interviews of late Eric Clapton has suggested he will retire from touring in the wake of his seventieth birthday next year. And with seven performances scheduled for next May at the Royal Albert Hall commemorating both his seventieth birthday (which actually falls on March 30) and the fiftieth anniversary of his first appearance at the hallowed London venue, the prospect seems all the more likely.

That prospect likewise looms throughout the new Eagle Rock documentary, Planes, Trains, and Eric, which chronicles the music legend’s tour of the Far and Middle East earlier this year. In watching the live footage it’s abundantly clear that should Clapton indeed walk away from the concert stage for good, it won’t be because of a lack of passion or dramatic musical decline. Quite simply, the synergy here between Clapton and his band — bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Chris Stainton, organist Paul Carrack, drummer Steve Gadd, backing vocalists Michelle John and Shar White — is seamless.

Even on the most familiar material — songs like “Cocaine,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Wonderful Tonight” — Clapton’s commitment to his talent and craft is palpable, underscoring that this is a real-time collaborative exchange among these musicians rather than a routine greatest-hits revue. Bits of accompanying rehearsal and soundcheck footage illustrate this further, manifesting in scenes where Clapton repeatedly leads the band through an intro or a chord change until it meets his satisfaction.  

While ostensibly a concert film, some of documentary’s most compelling moments come by way of select commentary in which Clapton reflects on his near life-long kinship with Asian culture. Japan, he notes, occupies a particular and often personal significance in his history spanning four decades of memories, friendships, and performances. At times Clapton seems conflicted about leaving all that behind.

Whether or not to bid farewell to life on the road altogether — and to live performance specifically — no doubt weighs on his mind even more. 

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October 24, 2014

Interview: Nashville Legend Mac Wiseman Reflects on New Album and Timeless Memories

Long before it became his calling, music was Mac Wiseman’s greatest passion. In fact, the 89-year-old Nashville legend, who will be inducted on Sunday night to the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Ronnie Milsap and the late Hank Cochran, was fascinated long before he ever learned to pick a guitar or carry a note in tune.

Stricken with polio as an infant, his childhood in Crimora, Virginia overshadowed by the specter of illness as well as the adversities wrought by the Great Depression, he found that listening to music afforded him solace and, in a sense, autonomy. “My dad had one of the first hand-wound phonographs in our community, bought it about 1927,” Wiseman tells Write on Music. “When I was ill or couldn’t go out in the bad weather and such he’d sit that down on the floor with some of the records that were pretty worn and let me just sit there and play them over and over and over.”

It was Wiseman's mother, however, who seems to have encouraged his musical enthusiasm the most: An avid radio listener, she would jot down song lyrics as she heard them being sung live on the air, perhaps getting just a snippet one day and having to tune in on subsequent days (when the songs would be performed all over again) to get the rest. Her transcriptions ultimately filled 13 composition books.

Wiseman, in turn, soaked up the words and the stories they told. And soon enough he was singing along to these old ballads playing on the radio — by the time he was a teenager he’d learned to accompany himself on a $3.95 Sears & Roebuck guitar — unwittingly gaining musical and narrative insights that would prove invaluable and, in a way, prophetic.

Indeed, a dozen of these most formative musical memories are the foundation of Wiseman’s latest LP, Songs From My Mother’s Hand (Wrinkled Records). Produced by Thomm Jutz and Peter Cooper, the album finds Wiseman revisiting titles like “Answer to Weeping Willow,” “The Wreck of the Number Nine,” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues,” investing each age-old tale of universal burden and common tragedy with the sort of empathy that comes only from personal experience.

Known as “The Voice with a Heart,” Wiseman has recorded over 60 albums and more than 800 songs, having performed with a diverse range of artists including Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, and John Prine. Behind the scenes he forged a similarly varied career with stints as a disc jockey and record executive, as well as having been the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Country Music Association. “I’ve moved around a lot,” says Wiseman, “but I always had a purpose. Let’s put it that way. I wasn’t just a rambler.”

In a lifetime of remarkable achievements, Songs From My Mother’s Hand may be his best one yet.

In reading about Songs From My Mother’s Hand, it’s evident how enthusiastic for music these songs made you at such a young age. 

I have very good memories of my childhood from about four years old. Some of those old songs I learned at that age. The ballads were always fascinating to me, the ones that told true stories of life — a slice of life, so to speak — whether it was love songs or tragedies or whatever. I could identify with them. The songs that painted word pictures, so to speak, were the ones that really stuck with me. 

Your mother wrote down the lyrics to these songs as she heard them playing on the radio. How did the music carry over all these years, though?

Well, I learned them as a young fellow by listening to the same radio programs that she copied them from. It was no such thing as a disc-jockey concept back then. It was all live radio…. To my knowledge most of [the songs] don’t have any sheet music or written arrangements. They were hand-me-downs from the old countries as they migrated over here. 

The experience you had as a child of listening to a record player or to the radio had to have not only informed your appreciation for music but also must have planted the seed of your ambition later on.

It really did. Having such a love for those ballads and story-type songs, as I mentioned earlier, they stuck with me. I still remember the lyrics to a lot of them and melodies to a lot of them because I just lived them in the circumstance. Later on when I got into it actively I tried to paint a word picture when I was on my concerts and stuff. 

What made you believe you could do music as a craft?

Oh, I never entertained that idea until I was 17 or 18 years old, going to live shows. I was absolutely blown away by them. I started doing local radio shows just for the pleasure I got out of it. 

As a songwriter this must be a perpetual challenge, but how do you write a song that is both relevant to its moment and hopefully timeless in the years to follow?

I think the secret there — I’m not the best writer in the world; I was always very quick at getting ideas but I always thought other people wrote better songs than I did — [is] you’ve almost got to live that experience or have some connection with it. If you haven’t had some tragedies or lived through them or known about them up close, it’s hard to describe them in a song in a condensed way.  

You were never especially thrilled with having your music categorized, particularly as bluegrass. 

Thank you. Your observance is right. And it’s not a malicious thing. Back in the Fifties and Sixties when I was having my best success with records I worked a lot of package shows with Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills, Maddox Brothers and Rose, people of that vintage… Ray Price. I got as much radio airplay on country stations as they did, but then when they started categorizing bluegrass in the mid-Sixties a lot of the radio stations started to change their format. So that’s where the segregation came in. And when they tagged me as being bluegrass because I had a banjo on quite a few records, they put me in that category. But they really got their hands deep in my pockets when they did that. 

But you liked Art Tatum and other jazz artists, too. There were all different kinds of music that influenced your taste. 

Well, yeah, because I majored in radio in college and back then a disc jockey was not a known thing. I played a four-hour set with records every afternoon, but all we had were the pop records because the country labels didn’t service the stations. So I was just as well-versed with Artie Shaw, Harry James, people like that. And later I recorded some of those. I made a recording with Woody Herman, the big band leader, that did quite well. 

The bottom line for you, it seems, is whether you believe a song is good or not.

Exactly. Things like the John Prine album… We recorded Bing Crosby’s old theme, “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day).” Later I recorded a CD with Charlie Daniels. I have one I’ve just recorded with Merle Haggard that hasn’t been released yet. 

What did you record with Haggard?

He called me about it, and of course I was excited. It took about 30 seconds to say yes. [Laughs] I assumed that he’d want to do his songs, which I was in favor of because he’s written so many good ones. But he insisted on doing six of my songs and six of his, so I did six of my most successful songs…. We did it live, the whole thing. It was not the overdub thing that is the big pattern these days; we went into the studio. It’s not bluegrass, but it’s entirely acoustical, with the best acoustical pickers you can get in this town. 

Any idea when that will be released?

Well, it’ll be out around the first of the year, next year. It’s very hard to get a distribution arrangement because of the advent of the Internet these days. 

The Internet has been great as far as exposing music to a broad audience, but it’s not been so great in terms of people paying for music.

That’s right. It’s a double-edged sword, of course, getting a lot of exposure to a different class of people — especially the younger people on YouTube and things of that nature — but at the same time people are downloading a lot of just single records for 99 cents and not buying the CD. 

Right. And it used to be, particularly in pop and rock of the Sixties and Seventies, that the singles weren’t even on the albums. 

Exactly right. I know the major record companies are having a difficult time at this time, but I don’t have much sympathy for them because they created that monster. Back when I first started recording, it wasn’t a law but it was a professional understanding that a record company didn’t have a publishing company because of the conflict of interest. Then it became the big thing. Every record company’s got a major publishing company, and when they sign artists they make them write. If they can’t write they don’t keep them. So what they did was they’d do a song they published and get a single cut on an album running real well and then they’d put on nine pieces of junk that they published and you had to buy the whole damn thing to get the one you wanted!

Just a bunch of filler to make up the rest of the time on an album.

Exactly. That’s what’s happened. That’s where the Internet came in and stole their thunder. 

Some artists, who when asked why don’t people buy albums so much anymore, say it’s because there just isn’t much good music being made.

Exactly right. I know this to be a practice: The record companies will sign an artist and if he shows any potential, put him in a room at nine o’clock in the morning and make him stay there ‘til three trying to write whether he can or not. Because they’re going to publish this stuff. That’s no good. You’ve got to be inspired by some occasion, whether it’s tragedy or happiness, to write a song.

So you’ve never been one to write by assignment.

No, sir. I’ve written a few, but the situation would come up and I’d try to translate it into a song. 

Do you recognize your influence in younger artists?

I really do, and that is one of the most rewarding things, [reading] comments on YouTube, on the Internet… The younger artists, the fact that they’ll do songs I’ve recorded and give me credit and say that they were influenced by my music. 

You’ve received a lot of honors in your career. What does it mean to you to now be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame?

It’s a highlight of my entire career, which at this particular point is my seventieth year professionally in this business. I’ve worn a lot of different hats. I heard a little saying that I’m gonna use here. It says, “If you’ve actually done it, it’s not bragging.” I’m the only living member of the original board of directors of the Country Music Association, and I was the first Secretary-Treasurer. So this is really a highlight for me to be able to be of sound mind and be able to recognize it and witness it while I’m still here. 

Songs From My Mother’s Hand is available now on Wrinkled Records

— Photo © Stacie Huckeba

October 15, 2014

Interview: Dutch Singer/Songwriter Angela Moyra Makes American Debut with Beguiling New Album

Having already charmed audiences in her native Netherlands with her winsome singing and insightful songwriting, Angela Moyra is poised to likewise beguile a whole new audience in North America with the release this week of her debut LP, Fickle Island.

The music is deceptively laid-back, even whimsical in moments, its acoustic and often tropical distinctions at times belying some rather solemn lyrical sentiments. Such contrasts are complemented by Moyra’s voice, an unaffectedly pristine and sensuous instrument that enriches universal emotions with intimacy and candor.

“I knew I was never going to be a rock singer,” Moyra admits. “Over the years I knew where my strengths were in my voice, and that’s what I focused on and I guess I became better and better. Still, even now, I find out different things in my voice. It’s really amazing. I’m still learning.”

When you finally decided to pursue a career in music, was there some kind of epiphany or some tipping point where you said, “This isn’t just a hobby for me now?”

Well, I’ve always been singing. I’d graduated from business school. I’d always wanted to go to school and get my degree, but then when I was done with that — when I was working — I realized that this was not… My heart was not there. After work I would write songs ‘til five in the morning sometimes, and then after a year of doing that I realized, “Oh, this might be good.” Then I started doing songwriting competitions and from there is where I started to take it seriously.

Is songwriting something that you’re always aware of and doing? Or do you have to set aside time to focus on writing?

It’s funny, because if I need to write — if someone tells me, “Okay, write a song now” — I could probably do it. But the best songs always come from special moments in my life, really, and I can’t predict when it happens. It just comes to me. Those are the best songs, I think.

Do you ever fear of giving too much of yourself away in what you write? Is that something you’re conscious of when you’re writing?

No. I really open up when I sing and when I write. Sometimes I’m more open with my music than I am in my personal life. I’m not afraid to share feelings in songs, or share them with the world. That’s what everyone should do, share their feelings. I think it’s important to always put yourself into songs. Otherwise people won’t feel it.

How are you with stage fright?

Well, I’m always a little bit nervous to go on stage, and I think I will be forever. But I have performed in Holland so many times on big stages and small stages and every time it’s special and it’s exciting. So I’ll always be a little nervous, but I think it’s also something I’ve accepted. I used to hate feeling like that, having butterflies in my stomach and being scared to go on stage. But I’ve just accepted it. That’s just who I am when I’m on stage. I [feel] a little nervous, but then I open up throughout the show. That’s also something that’s maybe nice to see when you’re in the audience.… I go on stage and take them on kind of a journey and explain what the songs are about and involve them in it, really. It’s always a lot of fun. I love it. 

How do you measure your own success going forward? What are your ambitions at this point?

I’m a very realistic person, and as I say to my family and friends, I’m just going to really have fun with it and enjoy that I get this opportunity, shooting in a studio in Malibu or doing a gig in New York. It’s just really something special…. I don’t expect anything, but I do have a goal. I just want to reach many people and I hope they all listen to my music and visit my blog and [view] my pictures and get to know me as an artist. 

Fickle Island is available now on Zip Records. For more information, please visit Angela Moyra’s official website.

Photo © Sophie van der Perre

October 2, 2014

DVD Review: Queen - Live at the Rainbow ‘74

Before conquering the airwaves with made-for-stadium anthems and bombastic rhapsodies, Queen was a vicious, take-no-prisoners rock ‘n’ roll band. At least that’s what Live at the Rainbow ‘74 brilliantly affirms. Sure, there are glimmers here (“Killer Queen,” for instance) of the sort of kitsch and musical frivolity that would increasingly characterize Queen’s output in the years to follow, but this gig is more punk than pomp.

Sheer Heart Attack was the album of moment, and the band accordingly blazes through some of its fiercest songs (“Stone Cold Crazy,” “Keep Yourself Alive,” and “Flick of the Wrist,” among them), with Freddie Mercury already earning his legend as one of rock’s great frontmen. The 3,000-strong audience is barely visible in the film, oddly, but it’s hard to imagine that everyone in the venue wasn’t enthralled by Mercury’s charisma and unfailingly vibrant voice.

While Mercury was for the most part the focal point on the stage, however, it’s worth noting that each member of the band wrote songs. It's a crucial reason that Queen's catalog as a whole is so eclectic. Even in this performance, early as it is in the band’s career, such diversity is evident, from “Seven Seas of Rhye” with its brazen grandiosity, to “Son and Daughter,” anchored as it is by a grimy riff that would’ve served Black Sabbath well in the same era. This performance (half of a celebrated two-night stand) captures Queen’s emergence into immortality as a band with muscle and snarl to spare.