Sunday, January 17, 2021

Nalani Rothrock: “The Rock House Sessions” (2021) CD Review

The pandemic has put a lot of plans on hold, with concerts and entire tours postponed or canceled. Vocalist and songwriter Nalani Rothrock had started recording what was intended to be a full-length album last March, just before everything went to hell. We are going to have to wait for that album, but Nalani and her musical partner, guitarist Joshua Lamkin, have decided to release the three songs that had been completed before the pandemic halted the recording process. And that is excellent news, for these tracks are pretty damn good. Titled The Rock House Sessions, because the music was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s Rock House studio in Tennessee, this EP contains all original material, written by Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin. Kevin McEndree, in addition to recording and producing this release, also plays keyboards on these tracks. Also joining Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin are Steve Mackey on bass, and Kenneth Blevins on drums. Nicole Boggs and Jonell Mosser provide backing vocals.

The first thing that strikes me about the opening track, “How Long,” is Nalani Rothrock’s voice. It is powerful and soulful, with a good amount of country in her delivery. This song also has a good groove, one that gets me smiling. There is something of a timeless vibe, all of the elements working so well together, including some delicious work on keys. But it is her voice that really drives this song into our hearts. “I’m wondering if I still drive you wild,” she sings at one point. Oh, no question about it. “How long, darling/We can’t keep living like this.” That’s followed by “Try.” The guitar work at the very beginning makes me think we’re about to drop into some heavy blues, but as the song kicks in, the drum work has the feel of a march, giving it a sort of New Orleans vibe. And there is a bright energy to this song. “I don’t care if the mountain’s too high/Baby, don’t you want to try.” Hell yes! That is exactly the attitude we all need to have as we get into 2021. While this song may be on a more personal level, about a relationship, it has the power and spirit to work on a larger scale as well. Hers is a voice that should inspire and motivate people to put in their best effort, regardless of what it is they’re working on. The EP concludes with “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” which has a completely delicious groove and a wonderful, soulful vocal performance. “Was there something else that I could have tried/I’m doing the best I can to keep my head up high/I keep searching for the reason why/Every time I close my eyes.” This track also features some cool work on keys, plus some excellent backing vocals.

CD Track List

  1. How Long
  2. Try
  3. Every Time I Close My Eyes

The Rock House Sessions is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2021. And a full-length album will follow at some point.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Last Year’s Man: “Brave The Storm” (2020) CD Review

I was curious about Last Year’s Man, in large part because there is an excellent Leonard Cohen song by that title, and any Leonard Cohen connection naturally gets me interested. Last Year’s Man is the project of singer and songwriter Tyler Fortier, who is based in Eugene, Oregon. Brave The Storm, the debut album from Last Year’s Man, features all original material written by Tyler Fortier. And, as you’d expect from someone brave enough to risk soliciting comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Tyler Fortier clearly has a talent for crafting compelling lyrics. In addition to the vocals, Tyler Fortier plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano and keyboard on this release. He is joined by several other musicians on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “Brave The Storm,” a pretty and pensive number, with a gentle approach, as if not wanting to disturb someone who has at long last found a peaceful moment. “Now there’s rain at your window/It’s waking you up at dawn/Louder than the trains at night/That rattle in your head.” And then when Tyler’s voice is joined by that of Anna Tivel, the song becomes even more beautiful, offering comfort to us. “We can brave the storm,” they tell us, and I believe them. Anna Tivel also adds some gorgeous work on violin. Milo Fultz is on bass, and Lex Price is on tenor guitar. Then Erin Flood Fortier joins Tyler Fortier on vocals for “No Eye On The Sparrow,” a cool song with a somewhat darker, more somber atmosphere and a sense of impending trouble, particularly with the lines “There’s a storm coming” and “And the hammer is coming down.” Toward the end, the song takes on a greater energy or force. Bart Budwig adds some work on trumpet, which is interesting, for the lyrics include these lines: “The watchmen and their trumpets/Are not making a sound.” Jeremy Burchett is on drums, and Peter Perdichizzi is on electric guitar. Then the steady drum beat gives “My Own Ghost Town” a more positive, confident vibe, seeming to promise a favorable outcome even for those who might be troubled and “Burdened by the truth.” This track also features some nice work by Philippe Bronchtrin on pedal steel. Anna Tivel offers more beautiful work here as well. “And I told you stories you believed/There’s no looking ahead/With yesterday’s eyes.”

Tyler Fortier then offers us a love song, “Guide You Back To Me” It may not be an overly cheerful one, but is a true love song. “And I know that time is not our friend anymore/And our hearts too heavy/I will try to find you through the miles and miles away from home/And when you’re lonely/I will guide you back to me.” Erin Flood Fortier provides some gentle and tender backing vocals. Ehren Ebbage is on drums on this track. Both Erin Flood Fortier and Christopher Porterfield provide backing vocals on “Wild, Wild Heart,” a song with some striking lyrics, such as “Where the moon hung worthless/Like a burned-out bulb” and “If time is my captor/And the night is a thief/The past is the past/And the arrow of time is a one way street.” I also love the pretty guitar work.

“The Dark End Of The Road” begins softly, but soon builds in power, like it is determined to rouse us, to pull us together, and help us see how things can be better. There is still hope, as long as are able to move, even if we are going the wrong way. “But it got us where we need to be/It took our heart, our home, and stole our pride/From the dark end of the road to the other side.” Jesse Terry provides backing vocals on this one. That’s followed by “Feet Of Clay,” a love song with a pretty and uplifting sound. The lyrics, of course, are not completely straightforward, keeping things interesting. “She’s like a wild river/Always promising the sea/She’s never where she’s going/And I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” There is some moving work on violin by Erik Berg Johansen. Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie provide some good backing vocals. The album concludes with “The Valley Of Jehoshaphat,” which features a set of lyrics that will likely capture your attention, particularly if you’ve been following the crazy events in the news. “So grab your guns, your bullets, and your hats/Grab your whiskey and your bible.”  And I am reminded of another Leonard Cohen song in the lines, “The god that they pray to won’t rest your soul/These birds on the wire are from days of old.”

CD Track List

  1. Brave The Storm
  2. No Eye On The Sparrow
  3. My Own Ghost Town
  4. Guide You Back To Me
  5. Wild, Wild Heart
  6. The Dark End Of The Road
  7. Feet Of Clay
  8. The Valley Of Jehoshaphat

Brave The Storm was released on November 13, 2020.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone: “Clave Sin Embargo” (2019) CD Review

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone is a London-based group that formed in 2003. They released a self-titled album the next year, and followed it with Crossing The Line in 2011. The group has gone through some personnel changes since then, and for the latest release, Clave Sin Embargo, is made up of Loz Speyer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Manington on double bass, Maurizio Ravalico on congas, and Andy Ball on drums. The music is jazz, with heavy Cuban influences, a focus on rhythm, and a vibrant sound led by some phenomenal work on trumpet. Clave Sin Embargo features all original material, composed by Loz Speyer.

The album opens with “Stratosphere,” which when it begins feels like it’s already in progress, in motion. It features a great groove and some fantastic work from the brass players. It is their work that lifts this track up to a more glorious level – yes, up to the stratosphere. Yet the percussion, the element keeping us more grounded, is what I find most appealing about this track. It makes me want to take dance lessons. I’m from the completely unschooled group of dancers, just letting the rhythm move my body however it wishes, but music like this makes me wish I could move my partner across the floor, and right up into the air. There is a wonderful sense of movement and freedom and excitement to the playing. That’s followed by “Mood Swings,” and from the moment it starts I am in love with this track. That opening section has a sexy style and a whole lot of character, and it is delivered over a good rhythm. This is a piece that was with this group from the beginning, appearing on the debut album, where it was played by mostly different musicians. As you might guess from the title, the piece goes through several sections. For a time it feels like each instrument has a different mood, something different to say, taking the others in a new direction when it gets a chance to lead. There is something almost theatrical about it. You can imagine each instrument as a different character on stage, and each lead like that character’s main monologue. I particularly like that guitar part. And then that percussion section is absolutely fantastic. And even though at ten minutes, this is the album’s longest track, it seems to be over all too soon.

“Lost At Sea” has a different vibe, yet also seems to tell a story. After a minute, it takes a turn, picking up the pace, and the excitement, almost like it hurries for a block or two, then slows again when reaching a certain spot. Or it could be heard as a conversation between two people of different constitutions, different gaits. It’s funny, because for me it conjures a city environment, not what I was expecting from its title. But of course, one can certainly feel lost at sea in the middle of a city. Loz Speyer and Martin Hathaway really drive this one forward. Interestingly, approximately halfway through, it seems to be reaching a conclusion. Then that lone horn sets a different tone, pulling us together, and soon we are moving again, figuring out our way, and throughout this section there is a bright energy, a sense of optimism. Then “Full Circle” creates a more romantic, relaxed atmosphere at the beginning, and soon develops a light, almost bouncy vibe. There is something rather playful about this one at times. The track features some wonderful work on saxophone, and a guitar lead that is several shades of cool, especially the way it partners with the bass to create a sound and atmosphere that get me smiling each time I listen. Then the guitar begins “Checkpoint Charlie,” leading everyone into a rather pleasant, enjoyable tune, with a good groove. Checkpoint Charlie is, of course, the name of the most famous crossing point at the Berlin Wall, a spot with a rather serious history, but this track has a bright, cheerful sound and vibe. After all, that wall is a thing of the past. I’m looking forward to the destruction of the little bit of wall that racist sociopath Donald Trump put up in our country. This track gives us the sense that all is possible, and that things are going to be all right, and toward the end when the horns back off, we get the sense of taking part in the removal of pieces from the wall itself. That is a great section with guitar, drums and bass. That is followed by “Guarapachangeuro.” Though the horns play a major part in setting the tone, and in establishing a sense of excitement, this one is all about the rhythm, which carries us through, shows us how to move through whatever space it is we occupy.

The second album by Loz Speyer’s Time Zone was, as I mentioned, titled Crossing The Line. While that release did not have a title track, it now gets one belatedly on this album. “Crossing The Line” begins with some interesting play between saxophone and guitar. Then after a minute or so, a rhythm is established, a slower, unusual groove. Loz Speyer’s trumpet rises above that groove. Nearly halfway through, things seem to fragment, and we enter a different section, each instrument finding its own way through, in little spurts and jumps. Then we ease into the next section, which is kind of beautiful, though that beauty is almost immediately played with, before a rhythm is established again. There is some excellent work on bass. This is probably the album’s most interesting composition. Then when the album’s final track, “Dalston Carnival,” begins, it sounds like a party, just the sort of thing we need to raise our spirits in these dark and twisted times. The tune is a good time in itself, with a good deal of cheer. The guitar lead is probably the most surprising element of this track, and then there is a percussion section, something that should get your entire body shaking and moving.

CD Track List

  1. Stratosphere
  2. Mood Swings
  3. Lost At Sea
  4. Full Circle
  5. Checkpoint Charlie
  6. Guarapachanguero
  7. Crossing The Line
  8. Dalston Carnival

Clave Sin Embargo was released on October 2, 2019 on Spherical Records.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Richard Hell And The Voidoids: “Destiny Street Complete” (2021) CD Review

Richard Hell And The Voidoids released two studio albums back in the day – 1977’s Blank Generation and 1982’s Destiny Street. Richard Hell (Richard Meyers), who was also a member of Television and Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers, was apparently never really satisfied with that original release of Destiny Street, and in 2009 released a different version of the album, called Destiny Street Repaired, with new vocals and guitar parts. That too did not quite meet his expectations or desires for this particular album, so when most of the original masters were found, Richard Hell went back to work on them, and we now have, as a result, Destiny Street Remixed. All three versions are included in the new two-disc set Destiny Street Complete, along with a bunch of demos and a booklet of liner notes. At the beginning of that booklet, Richard Hell writes: “I have to smile and roll my eyes when I think of this, this package, but I was determined to do it. Nobody made me, or even asked me. I take full responsibility for it. Three plus versions of the same album. It’s ridiculous, but I’m glad.” I’m glad too. And anyone who is a fan of punk music will likely share that feeling.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the original album and Destiny Street Repaired. The songs on both versions are in the same order. The album opens with “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” an odd and totally enjoyable song that is somewhere between punk and pop, a song you can dance to even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. But if you do pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll enjoy it all the more. Check out these lines: “(Look out!)They say he's dead, he's my three best friends/(Look out!) He's so honest that the dishonest dread/Meeting the kid with the replaceable head.” What does it mean? I can’t say for sure. But it’s refreshing listening to something this goofy and fun, especially as it provides a needed escape from the present troubles. The version from Destiny Street Repaired might be clearer, but I’m not sure if it’s better. It features additional guitar work by Marc Ribot. That’s followed by the first of three covers on the album, The Kinks’ “I Gotta Move,” a song that was originally included on the All Day And All Of The Night EP. Richard Hell And The Voidoids do a good job with it, mixing that cool garage sound with punk, and this features some excellent rock and roll guitar work. The second cover is Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” a song from his Planet Waves album. This is a slower tune, and I like the way these guys approach it. “I don’t really care what happens next/I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone.” Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version.

“Lowest Common Dominator” is of course a song title that I completely love, a play on “lowest common denominator,” an expression I have found myself using more and more. During the 2016 election, it seemed to be in the air, right? But “Lowest common dominator” would have also been completely apt during that election, and since then. This is a fun song, as you’d probably guess, with a delicious beat. I love that bass line. And when it opens, it feels like a punk version of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” What I love about the version from Destiny Street Repaired is the backing vocal work by Ruby Meyers-McEnroe and Sheelagh Bevan. There is a very playful vibe about it, and because of it, I prefer this version. “Lowest Common Dominator” is followed by “Downtown At Dawn,” one of my personal favorites. I recommend listening to it with headphones, for there are lots of little touches and elements that kind of surround you, creating a fuller landscape. It’s sort of a pop song, and these guys kind of jam on it too. It’s nearly six minutes, pretty long for a punk record, but it never drags, never feels repetitive, and it’s over before you know it. And again, Richard Hell writes some unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “By indolence and insolence, the lovers realize/Yeah, only dropout dancehall offers love so undisguised/That you just get all de-civilized/And coalesce, you feel your best, and think about it less and less.”  The version on Destiny Street Repaired is actually like a minute and a half shorter. I prefer the original, longer version.

In the liner notes, Richard Hell includes some brief thoughts on each of the album’s tracks, and about “Time” he writes, “I was hoping Linda Ronstadt would pick it up.” That made me laugh out loud when I read it. But, you know, I thought about it for a moment, and she could totally have done this song justice. She would have nailed it. It’s another of the album’s best songs. Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version. “Time” is followed by “I Can Only Give You Everything,” the third and final cover of the album, this one originally recorded by Them. This is another cool song, and Richard Hell’s rendition retains a lot of that great garage rock sound. Plus, it has one of my favorite vocal performances of the album. I even love the way it falls apart at the end. Marc Ribot adds some guitar work to the version on Destiny Street Repaired. Then “Ignore That Door” comes on strong with a heavy pulse and a scream that get this one pumping and moving along. “And the only human warmth comes/From decomposing whores.” The scream at the beginning is dropped from the Destiny Street Repaired version. Ivan Julian adds some guitar work to this version.

There is a guitar intro to “Staring In Her Eyes,” and then the song kicks in with a good beat. There is something oddly sweet, even pretty, about this song. “No one could stand feeling that way for long/So I, I chose to regard all the world as the wrong/And to, and to make my own long assertions in song/I decided I just didn't care/That I'd look and I could see nothing there.” Plus, this song includes the line “And stare like a corpse in each’s eyes.” The guitar intro has a slightly different vibe in the version on Destiny Street Repaired, and the line “I chose to regard all the world as the wrong” becomes “I chose to regard the whole world as the wrong.” The final song of the album is its title track, “Destiny Street,” which has a certain funky flavor. The lyrics are delivered sort of as spoken word, which works well with the story he’s telling us. This is another of my favorite tracks. “Yes, I seduced myself/I took me home.” On Destiny Street Repaired, Richard Hell still presents the lyrics as spoken work. It’s interesting, the way those opening lines about age feel different as delivered in this version. This track is significantly longer than the original version, two and a half minutes longer, becoming a jam with lots of interesting guitar work toward the end.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the new remixed version of the album.  Before Destiny Street Repaired, Richard had wanted to remix the album, but discovered that the company had misplaced the original masters. But in 2019, those masters were found. Well, three of the four original tapes were found, anyway. And so Richard went back to work on the album, remixing it from those tapes. So this version of the album contains the original guitarists again, at least for the most part. For the three tracks contained on the one tape still missing, he used the Destiny Street Repaired versions, remixing those. Those songs are “Lowest Common Dominator” (so this version has those great backing vocals), “Downtown At Dawn” and “Staring In Her Eyes.” Anyway, the album sounds fantastic. Mission accomplished.

In addition to the songs from the original album, those tapes contained one previously unreleased track, “Don’t Die,” written by Richard Hell and Ivan Julian, and that track is included on this disc. It’s a seriously cool and strong song (another version of it had been released). The rest of the second disc is made up of demos and single versions, beginning with the single of “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” in which Richard sings “They say he’s done” instead of “They say he’s dead.” This single was released in the late 1970s. The flip side, “I’m Your Man,” is also included here. This totally fun song was also included on Richard Hell’s 1984 compilation, R.I.P., as well as the 2002 compilation Time. That’s followed by demos of “Crack Of Dawn” and Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone.” I particularly like the demo of “Going Going Gone,” because of Richard Hell’s vocals. Oddly, this might be my favorite version contained in this two-disc set. The demos of “Funhunt” and “Smitten” were previously included as bonus tracks on Destiny Street Repaired.

Another highlight of this disc is the demo of “I Lived My Life,” the Fats Domino song. It has that familiar Fats Domino groove, and so has quite a different feel from the rest of the tracks in this two-disc set. This song was previously included on Richard Hell’s R.I.P. album. That’s followed by the demo of “Ignore That Door,” which features some really good work on guitar. Also included is the single version of “Time.” Hey, I’ll take as many versions of this song as I can get. That’s followed by the single version of “Don’t Die.” As much as I like the other version of “Don’t Die” included on this disc, this version is even better. I love those backing vocals by Kitty Summerall, as well as that guitar work. There is something seriously delicious about this track. This disc contains two more previously unreleased tracks – the demo of “Staring In Her Eyes” and a live version of “Time” recorded in 2004 at the memorial for guitarist Robert Quine.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  12. I Gotta Move
  13. Going Going Gone
  14. Lowest Common Dominator
  15. Downtown At Dawn
  16. Time
  17. I Can Only Give You Everything
  18. Ignore That Door
  19. Staring In Her Eyes
  20. Destiny Street

Disc 2

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. Don’t Die
  12. The Kid With The Replaceable Head (Radar single version)
  13. I’m Your Man (Radar single version)
  14. Crack Of Down (demo version)
  15. Going Going Gone (demo version)
  16. Funhunt (demo version)
  17. I Lived My Life (demo version)
  18. Ignore That Door (demo version)
  19. Smitten (demo version)
  20. Staring In Her Eyes (demo version)
  21. Time (Shake single version)
  22. Don’t Die (Shake single version)
  23. Time (live)

Destiny Street Complete is scheduled to be released on January 22, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates: “October 1993” (2021) CD Review

I am a big fan of Harry Dean Stanton’s acting work (especially in films like Paris, Texas and Alien and even Pretty In Pink), but I didn’t really become familiar with his music until several years ago when Partly Fiction was released, a soundtrack I love. The world lost Harry Dean Stanton in 2017, but now, thanks to Jamie James and Omnivore Recordings, we are getting a new CD release of his music. October 1993 contains two different sections, the first being studio recordings and the second being some live recordings from a gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Harry Dean Stanton provides lead vocals, and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica on these tracks. The Cheap Dates include Jamie James on guitar and backing vocals, Slim Jim Phantom (from the Stray Cats) on drums, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (from The Doobie Brothers) on pedal steel, and Tony Sales (from Chequered Past and Tin Machine) on bass and backing vocals.

Studio Recordings

The album begins with four studio tracks, the first being a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” The first version I remember hearing was that by Rita Coolidge, which I still love. This version by Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates is more of a rocking country number. Harry Dean’s voice sounds so smooth, so good. I love the way these guys approach this song, particularly vocally. There are some interesting little surprises with the way they handle certain sections, especially on the lines “You won’t regret it/Take your shoes off, do not fear.” As on Dylan’s original recording, there is some nice work on pedal steel, which is prominent throughout the track. They follow that with a really good cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a song that was also included on Partly Fiction. This version is different from the one on that album, this one being a full band country rock version. There is a whole lot of energy here. When they deliver the song’s final lines, and they do so with great gusto, the track is only a little more than halfway through. After that, the band jams and Harry Dean delivers some strong work on harmonica. Then they return to the last couple of stanzas to wrap it up.

This disc also features a wonderful rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Unlike Bell’s original recording, Harry Dean Stanton begins his version with the song’s title line, featuring some nice harmonizing. The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this one, and there is some beautiful work on harmonica. The final studio track is a cover of “Across The Borderline,” a song written by Ry Cooder, Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt. Harry Dean Stanton and The Cheap Dates deliver a pretty and moving rendition. “‘Cause when you reach that broken promise land/Every dream slips through your hand/And you know it’s too late to change your mind/‘Cause you paid the price to come so far/Just to wind up where you are.” Those lyrics still pack a punch, don’t they? They could have been written in the last four years. By the way, in 1993 Willie Nelson also covered this song, using it as the title track to an LP.

Live At The Troubadour

The live tracks begin with another Chuck Berry song, “You Never Can Tell,” sometimes referred to as “C’est La Vie” and here shorted to “Never Can Tell.” Harry Dean Stanton asks the crowd how they’re doing, then launches into the song, providing some great work on harmonica before getting into the lyrics. They have fun with this one, growing softer for a moment for the line “But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell.” There are some other playful touches. That’s followed by “Spanish Harlem,” written by Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber, and originally recorded by Ben E. King. This version has a sweet, romantic vibe, and features some truly wonderful vocal work. The track ends with a little banter about the band’s name.

Jamie James takes over on lead vocals for Warren Smith’s “Miss Froggie,” a fun rock and roll song. This track boasts some great stuff on harmonica and of course some cool work on guitar. Jamie James cuts loose vocally too. By the way, you might know him from his work with The Kingbees, and Harry Dean Stanton mentions that at the end of the track. The group then gets into the blues with a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” this version mixing blues and country elements. This song has of course been covered by country artists, most notably Sonny James. The album concludes with “Canción Mixteca,” and at the beginning of the track Harry Dean Stanton mentions that it was featured in Paris, Texas. By the way, if you are not familiar with that movie, you really should make an effort to see it. Harry Dean Stanton also sings this song on Partly Fiction. The version here is excellent, and rather beautiful.

CD Track List

  1. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  2. Promised Land
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  4. Across The Borderline
  5. Never Can Tell
  6. Spanish Harlem
  7. Miss Froggie
  8. Bright Lights, Big City
  9. Canción Mixteca

October 1993 is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Joyann Parker: “Out Of The Dark” (2021) CD Review

The album title Out Of The Dark carries an optimistic and positive message, one we can all appreciate, for we are all seeking a way out of the darkness that has enveloped the land, a darkness brought by both the pandemic and the existence of a cult of racist and violent imbeciles who have now attacked the U.S. Capitol. We can sense a light coming on January 20th, but that will be just a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Music will help us through. Music will be a companion on this crazy journey, and it will help us maintain at least a portion of our sanity. We need music like vocalist Joyann Parker’s new album, Out Of The Dark. This follows her 2018 release, Hard To Love, and like that album, this one contains all original material written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine.  Lamoine also plays guitar on these tracks. Tim Wick once again joins her on piano and organ, and Brad Schaefer is on bass, and Bill Golden is on drum and percussion. The album also features several guest musicians.

The album opens with “Gone So Long,” which eases in with a beautiful vocal section, a soulful humming that pulls us in and unites us, reminding us of the power of the human voice, even apart from language. It is a wonderful way to start the album. This song is a blues tune about how trouble follows us around, and good things can turn bad as we sometimes lose our way. I think we’re all in touch with that feeling. This song, because of Joyann Parker’s vocal performance, has the power of a gospel number. Toward the end, there is a section where her vocals are supported by the kick drum, which is very cool. There is also some good work on guitar. “I’m gone so long/I can’t find my way back home.” It feels that in one way or another we are all trying to find our way back home, particularly these days. “Gone So Long” is followed by “Carry On.” There is a cool, funky edge to this one, but again the power is in the vocals, in the way she delivers a line. Plus, the song has an uplifting vibe in lines like “‘Cause there’s no mountain too high to conquer/No sea too wide to swim/No valley that can’t be forged through.” Hey, we could all use some support and encouragement these days, eh? And some companionship. This track includes some really good backing vocal work too, by Laycey Dreamz and Patricia Lacy. There is a beautiful section with just vocals toward the end.

In the last four years, we have seen the absolute worst this country has to offer, and it has brought out the worst versions of everyone. I had never been so full of hatred and anger as I have been during this administration. So right away I was ready to relate to a song titled “Bad Version Of Myself.” There is a strength in Joyann Parker’s voice even as she sings about maybe one day being strong, and as she delivers lines like “I don’t want to act this way/Feel like I have to change/Why should I care what you have to say.” Another thing I especially love about this track is that work on harmonica by Rory Hoffman. These lines also stand out, for reasons I assume are obvious to everyone by now: “But it’s hard to know what’s true/When my mind is clouded by lies/For now I just keep on this way/Hoping for the day/When I see you for who you really are/You twist reality/Manipulate what I see/So I believe I can only be/This bad version of myself.” Then “What Did You Expect” has a lighter, more fun vibe from the start, and so I’m surprised by the lyrics, such as “Did you think there was a chance I wouldn’t break your heart.” That’s followed by a mellower, prettier number titled “Either Way.” Oh, what a voice Joyann Parker has. There is a moment in this song where she summons more power to deliver the line “Do you need me, I asked,” and at that point I am completely swept up in the music. Isn’t it wonderful when an artist can have that effect? Paul Mayasich plays slide guitar on this track.

We enter a delicious, jazzy realm at the beginning of “Predator,” a song that provides a warning about a particular type of man. “He’s the evilest kind/Comes on so sweet/A devil with an angel’s face/And he’ll distract you with pretty words and a warm embrace.” Dave Foley provides some wonderful stuff on trumpet, contributing a lot to the flavor and style of the track. And in the second half, there is nice lead on keys. That’s followed by “Dirty Rotten Guy,” but this one isn’t a warning about another crummy man. In this totally fun number, she is actually looking for a rotten guy. Part of the fun of this one is Dave Budimir’s presence on trombone. That work on piano is also part of the track’s great appeal, but the song’s main strength is Joyann’s boisterous and spirited vocal performance. Check out these lines: “I’m going to find me a no-good, low-down, dirty rotten guy/He’ll buy me drinks ‘til I’ve had my fill/And he’ll dance with me all night/He’ll have all the good looks, but none of the class.” But by the end, she’s rethinking her desire for a rotten guy. Then “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” has more of a classic rock and roll vibe, fitting for the subject of going out dancing, something I miss tremendously. I can’t wait for this damn pandemic to come to an end so we can go out dancing to live music. This track features a wonderful lead by Rich Manik on saxophone.

“Fool For You” has a good, strong groove. In this one, Joyann Parker sings “I’m a fool/And I made my own hell/By loving a man who’s got somebody else/I’m a fool, I’m a fool for you.” Ah, even someone with such a strong and powerful voice can make mistakes, I suppose. There is the question of whether we do actually learn from our own mistakes. “Don’t know if I like where you’re taking me/But I sure am enjoying the ride.” Those lines are a sort of variation on the Grateful Dead’s “I may be going to hell in a bucket/But at least I’m enjoying the ride.” That’s followed by “Hit Me Like A Train,” a tune that rocks, both in its groove and in that vocal delivery. It’s a whole lot of fun. “Hit me so hard, you knocked me off my track/Thought I knew what I was thinking, now I’m rethinking that/Things that used to make sense now I just don’t understand.” The disc then concludes with its title track, which begins with a more somber, introspective tone. “Trouble breathing/Air is getting thin/Back is breaking/Weight is too great to hold.” It is a song about trying to escape, about getting out from one’s own darkness. “So tired of feeling helpless/Sick of being weak.” This album has largely been a fun ride, but she leaves us with one to think about, one that we can connect to on both an emotional and intellectual level. She offers a positive message here: “Forgive yourself for your past/When you were too weak to stand/Let go of the anger/‘Cause there’s a bigger plan/You’re no longer beholden/To what once held you down/And you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

CD Track List

  1. Gone So Long
  2. Carry On
  3. Bad Version Of Myself
  4. What Did You Expect
  5. Either Way
  6. Predator
  7. Dirty Rotten Guy
  8. Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)
  9. Fool For You
  10. Hit Me Like A Train
  11. Out Of The Dark

Out Of The Dark is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Shakin’ Woods: “The Blues Groove Sessions #1” (2020) CD Review

Shakin’ Woods is a blues band based in Washington, D.C., a strange place to be these days (though I suppose every place is strange in these uncertain times). The band is made up of Rich Russman on vocals and guitar, Paul Dudley on drums, George Belton on bass, and Austin Day on keyboards and guitar. George Belton had played with Rich Russman before, performing on his 2015 solo album, First In Line. You might also know Rich Russman from his other bands, The Creaky Bones (formerly known as The Virginia Southpaws) and The Jones. The Blues Groove Sessions #1 is Shakin’ Woods’ debut release, a four-song EP featuring mostly original material. It is the first of three planned releases, all of the tracks for these three EPs apparently already recorded. The music on this first release is blues, but with funk elements.

The disc opens with “Like A Superman,” a groovy blues rock number featuring some good percussion, some exciting work on bass, and something of 1970s vibe. “You might think it’s a shakedown, but I’m hanging on.” In the second half of the track, the band delivers a short, but delicious jam. That’s followed by “The Place To Be,” which is still blues at its base, but with a funkier style. This one has a groove designed to get you moving, and everything is working just right. And I love that moment when it breaks down and we can focus on that great bass line, a seriously cool section. When this crazy pandemic is over, and concert venues re-open, I hope this band goes on the road, because this track is making me think they’d be fun to see. “You don’t know what’s right/Dropped the ball on life/Took the wrong hand/Thought the offer would stand/Thought you give and you get/It all came back to regret.”

Things get even funkier on the group’s cover of “Cayman Review,” the only cover on the disc. This song was written by Trey Anastasio and included on his 2002 self-titled album. Though I used to enjoy seeing Phish in concert, I basically got off that train in 1999 (after a particularly lackluster show down in Orange County), and so wasn’t familiar with this tune. But it is a totally enjoyable song, definitely a good one to dance to. Shakin’ Woods is into it, seeming committed to making folks dance, making folks smile. This track features good leads on guitar and keys. I particularly like that work on keys. The EP then concludes with “Still Alive,” a slower, more serious-sounding blues song. This one has a heavier sound, to be sure, driven by guitar. “You weren’t all there/Well, maybe I didn’t care/But living life without you/Is a pain I couldn’t bear.”

CD Track List

  1. Like A Superman
  2. The Place To Be
  3. Cayman Review
  4. Still Alive

The Blues Groove Sessions #1 was released on October 15, 2020.