Thursday, February 16, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 21” (2017) CD Review

For the last few years, as a Christmas gift my parents have ordered me a subscription to the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings. They did so this year too, but for some reason the order didn’t go through, and by the time we realized it, it was too late to place a new order. But they were kind enough to order the first volume of the year from an independent seller (for quite a bit more money). And I certainly needed it today. I started my day by watching the press conference in which the supposed president was insulting and insane. Why are the reporters so polite to him? Why do they laugh when he insults them, like they’re in on some great joke? Ask your questions, demand answers, and write your articles. Don’t feed his ego. You don’t need to be friendly with the guy, no matter how often he asks for “friendly” questions. Anyway, it was a horrible and stupid way to start my day. So, fuck it, I decided today would be a day of drinking and Dead. I opened a bottle of wine, turned off the phone and settled in for a good day of the Dead.

The new three-disc set, Dave’s Picks Volume 21, contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed in Boston on April 2, 1973. Like a lot of folks, I think 1973 is the best year for the band. The first disc contains most of the first set. After the briefest of introductions, the band kicks off the show with a Chuck Berry rock and roll song, “Promised Land.” They then keep the energy up with “Deal” and then “Mexicali Blues.” Things start to get really good with a sweet rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women.” Ah, yes, this is what I need. There is some goofing around before “Beat It On Down The Line,” and that tune gets me dancing. I dig Keith’s work on piano. “Yes, I got a sweet woman, lord, and she’s waiting there for me/Yes, that’s where I’m going to make my happy home.”

The band then dips into some mellower material with a really nice “Row Jimmy.” “Broken heart don’t feel so bad/You ain’t got half of what you thought you had/Rock your baby to and fro/Not too fast and not too slow.” Bob then jokes about releasing big spiders in the front of the stage, and the band goes into “Looks Like Rain.” They follow that with “Wave That Flag,” the song that would eventually become “U.S. Blues.” In this earlier form, the music is the same, but the lyrics are quite different, including lines like “Ball the jack, chew the fat” and “Stretch the truth, pull the tooth,” which would soon be cut. I always enjoyed hearing “U.S. Blues,” and it never failed to get me smiling and dancing and singing along. This early version is certainly no exception.

For those folks in the Phil Zone, the band plays “Box Of Rain.” Then they do a fun rendition of “Big River.” But it’s when the band begins “China Cat Sunflower” that you can hear the crowd getting really excited. Ah yes, once you’ve done a bit of acid, those images never really leave you, and for that I’m thankful. Are our brains forever altered? Probably. And wasn’t that the point? I think so, though it’s difficult to recall at times. No matter, just enjoy that groove, because this is when the band starts jamming, this is when things start taking off. The transition to “I Know You Rider” is smooth, and it’s a damn good rendition.

They follow that with “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” a Loretta Lynn country song that the band played only for a brief time, with Donna Jean on lead vocals. “You ain’t woman enough to take my man.” That leads to the band singing, “We can share the women, we can share the wine.” Interesting transition, eh? This is a good “Jack Straw,” and that concludes the first disc, but not the first set. Yup, this is a nice long show. The first disc is more than seventy-four minutes.

The second disc picks up where the first let off, with the last couple of songs from the first set. A fun “Don’t Ease Me In” is followed by “Playing In The Band,” and yes, it’s everything you want and hope for from a 1973 “Playing,” with plenty of interesting jamming. Oh yes, this is what it’s all about, lifting me off this world into an alternate reality that often feels more like home than the one where we end up spending most of our time. Is that what draws us again and again to the music? Well, this is an excellent “Playing.”

And then we still have the entire second set! The band gets it underway with a seriously good “Ramble On Rose,” followed by “Me And My Uncle” and then “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” That’s followed by an excellent and energetic “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Geez, who would have thought that song would be a highlight of a second set from a 1973 show? But there you have it. And the band then does a very cool version of “Loose Lucy.” “Thank you for a real good time!” Everything is working so well. “Loose Lucy” is followed by a really good “El Paso,” which rolls along at a great pace under the momentum of the story. The band then brings things down a bit for a beautiful, moving, touching rendition of “Stella Blue,” one of my favorites. “It seems like all this life was just a dream.” The second disc then concludes with a Chuck Berry song, “Around And Around.”

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. And as good as everything has been so far, this disc contains most of the magic of the night. It opens with “Here Comes Sunshine.” The band played most of the tracks from the 1973 studio release Wake Of The Flood at this show, and “Here Comes Sunshine” is the song that gives that record its title. This is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard, with some excellent jamming and great communication among the musicians. The jam at the end is presented as a separate track, and this is where things turn both introspective and spacey. Let go or hold on, but see where it takes you. Dark corridors, to be sure, but with bright beads of light, as if from some playful sprites and twisted spirits dancing in the shadows. And soon they’re in control.

The band then eases out of that space into “Me And Bobby McGee” and then into an incredibly pretty “Weather Report Suite: Prelude,” another unexpected highlight of this set. And then, rather than going into the rest of the song, the band slides into “Eyes Of The World,” and as you probably know, nothing beats a 1973 “Eyes.” What a great jam! And as it’s getting wild, it suddenly relaxes into a beautiful rendition of “China Doll.” They then wrap up the second set with a couple of high-energy tunes: “Sugar Magnolia” and “Casey Jones.” The encore is “Johnny B. Goode” (the third Chuck Berry song of the show) into “And We Bid You Goodnight.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Promised Land
  2. Deal
  3. Mexicali Blues
  4. Brown-Eyed Women
  5. Beat It On Down The Line
  6. Row Jimmy
  7. Looks Like Rain
  8. Wave That Flag
  9. Box Of Rain
  10. Big River
  11. China Cat Sunflower >
  12. I Know You Rider
  13. You Ain’t Woman Enough
  14. Jack Straw
Disc 2
  1. Don’t Ease Me In
  2. Playing In The Band
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Me And My Uncle
  5. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  6. Greatest Story Ever Told
  7. Loose Lucy
  8. El Paso
  9. Stella Blue
  10. Around And Around
Disc 3
  1. Here Comes Sunshine >
  2. Jam >
  3. Me And Bobby McGee >
  4. Weather Report Suite: Prelude >
  5. Eyes Of The World >
  6. China Doll
  7. Sugar Magnolia
  8. Casey Jones
  9. Johnny B. Goode >
  10. And We Bid You Goodnight
Dave’s Picks Volume 21 was released at the end of January, 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Leonard Cohen: “Memories” (2017) CD Review

In the last few months, several unauthorized Leonard Cohen CDs have been released. Most of these are concert recordings that were originally broadcast on one radio station or another, and they are of varying sound quality. The latest unauthorized release, Memories, is something different. It contains snippets of interviews as well as a few songs that were recorded live at different shows. The main problem with this release is its lack of information about the tracks. The most we’re given about any individual track is the year in which it was recorded, but I’m not sure whether to even trust that bit of information (particularly as “Hallelujah” is misspelled as “Halleluja” on the back of the case). And there is one track on here that is another artist covering one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous compositions, and the artist is not even identified. My guess is that is to keep from having to pay her. The disc is only thirty minutes long, and will probably be of interest only to those Leonard Cohen fans like myself who want to own everything.

It opens with a sort of collection of Leonard Cohen’s thoughts about the song “Hallelujah,” apparently from three different sources. The first is from a live performance in which he introduces the song: “I don’t know the answers to anything. I just come here to sing you these songs that have been inspired by something that I hope is deeper and bigger than myself.” The other two sources are interviews with Leonard Cohen. In the first, he talks about his early version of the song, which he says he wrote five or six years before the interview. And in the second, he talks about the word “Hallelujah.” The live performance and the interviews are not identified even by year on the CD case. That’s followed by a cover of “Hallelujah” by a female vocalist who is not identified at all on the CD. On the back of the case, it simply says, “Tribute.” It’s actually an incredibly pretty rendition, with just vocals and guitar, and featuring Leonard Cohen’s more recent lyrics rather than those in the Various Positions version.

The CD includes a live version of “Tower Of Song,” though again the date and venue aren’t identified. Leonard laughs after “But I hear him coughing,” and gives a funny delivery of the “golden voice” line, which gets both a laugh and a cheer from the audience. Partway through the song, suddenly there is a very brief snippet from an interview with Leonard Cohen, which is weird. There is a hiss on this track, and the song fades out abruptly. That’s followed by a live version of “Suzanne,” but again it is not known the date or venue of the show. That being said, it’s a really nice version. Leonard sings “lonesome wooden tower” rather than “lonely wooden tower.”

“My Guitar Is Come Home” is a snippet from a concert, in which he introduces “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” without identifying the woman who is the song’s subject. He says: “And there were many casualties, some famous ones, and some obscure ones. And this song is for a great singer who I once knew when she used to live at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.” And the track then includes part of the song. It’s cut after “and all of that jiving around.” I wish the entire song were included. I was curious why the track was titled “My Guitar Is Come Home,” and after a little searching I discovered this track is from a show in Barcelona in 1974, and in the full introduction to the song Leonard Cohen says: “For me, it is very special to be here in Spain. I want to thank you all for paying attention to my songs, and for giving me this opportunity to come here. I’ve played a Spanish guitar all my life, and for me this is as though my guitar has come home.” By the way, I listened to that recording multiple times, and I’m certain Leonard says “has come home,” not “is come home.” Yet the person who posted the recording titled it “My Guitar Is Come Home,” and so that must be where the makers of this CD got the title. But again, that part of the introduction isn’t included on this disc, so why use that title?

The next couple of tracks are snippets from interviews, the first identified as being from 1980, in which he talks about his work, about touring. “I think I’ll always play my guitar and, you know, I’ll always be interested in some kind of little expressions of my heart.” The interviewer’s questions are mostly cut. This thought might make those of us struggling creatively feel better about the struggle: “I know from my own experience I can work, I can go to my desk every day for a year and nothing happens, you know, whereas sometimes just a waitress handing me a sandwich can just touch me very, very deeply and suddenly everything will open up, the heart will open up.” The second snippet is identified as an interview from 1976, and in this one he talks about the commercialization of life.

The final two tracks are concert recordings. The first is a live version of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, “Coming Back To You.” This is a really good version, and in it Leonard sings “a thousand miles of silence” rather than “another mile of silence.” This track is one of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by a live version of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” from 1972 (according to the CD case). This is an oddly short version without the return to the first verse.

CD Track List
  1. Leonard Cohen About Hallelujah
  2. Hallelujah
  3. Tower Of Song
  4. Suzanne
  5. My Guitar Is Come Home
  6. Rare Interview
  7. FM Interview
  8. Coming Back To You
  9. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye 
Memories was released on February 10, 2017 through Laser Media.

Grand Funk: “Shinin’ On” (2017) SACD Review

Audio Fidelity continues its series of limited edition SACD releases with the 1974 Grand Funk Railroad album, Shinin’ On. The original vinyl release sported a cover that was in 3D, and included a pair of 3D glasses. This special limited edition release includes that original 3D artwork and glasses. Following 1973’s We’re An American Band, Shinin On features Grand Funk Railroad’s number one hit version of “The Loco-Motion,” a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and the album itself reached number five on the charts. It was produced by Todd Rundgren, who had also produced We’re An American Band. Rundgren plays guitar on one track – “Carry Me Through.” This is some really good mid-1970s rock music to get you moving, and is a good way to escape the current political horror show.

It opens with its title track, a song that was popular enough to be included on the Best Of cassette compilation I owned in the 1980s. “Shinin’ On” has a good groove, and the band jams on it, letting loose a bit in the middle of the track. I particularly dig the work on keys. By the way, Grand Funk Railroad is made up of Mark Farner on vocals, guitar, harmonica and organ; Don Brewer on drums and vocals; Mal Schacher on bass; and Craig Frost on vocals, organ, clavinet, piano, Moog and Mellotrone. “Shinin’ On” is followed by “To Get Back In,” which has something of a brighter, fun sound. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But there’s a question standing where I stood/You know you act just like the person that’s been lied to/You ain’t been treating me like you know you should/There’s been a change in your way/Remember what it's like when love is good/And remember the chorus 'cause I wrote it for us.” There is some jamming on this one too toward the end of the track, with more cool work on keys.

“The Loco-Motion” is the big hit from Shinin’ On, and is actually the only cover song on the album. It was originally recorded by Little Eva, who also had a number one hit with it (hers in 1962). This is also the shortest song on the Shinin’ On album, without any extended jamming. It’s one of those innocent dance numbers, with lines like “My little baby sister can do it with ease/It’s easy as learning your ABCs/So come on, come on and do the loco-motion with me.” “Please Me” is a good rock and roll tune written by Mark Farner and Don Brewer. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Too many times, I've seen them abuse her/Just like the times I've been deceived/The touch of her starlight makes me happy/I can see her shining through in my dreams/And I wake up crying.” And that little line tossed in at the end made me laugh out loud: “And suck it.”

“Mr. Pretty Boy” is a slower, bluesy tune. It’s followed by a lively, high-energy rock and roll song titled “Gettin’ Over You,” which begins with a good groove on drums. And the instrumental section in the second half of the song is totally enjoyable. Turn this one up and get lost in its great 1970s rock vibes. This is one of my personal favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Shinin’ On
  2. To Get Back In
  3. The Loco-Motion
  4. Carry Me Through
  5. Please Me
  6. Mr. Pretty Boy
  7. Getting’ Over You
  8. Little Johnny Hooker
This limited, numbered edition of Shinin’ On was released on January 27, 2017. I am not sure how many copies were issued, but mine is number 0274.

I See Hawks In L.A. at The Hi Hat, 2-14-17 Concert Review

I See Hawks In L.A. performing "The River Knows"
Music continues to be the best way to combat the depression and anger that threaten our existence daily. And I See Hawks In L.A. is one of those bands you can count on to deliver the goods, to lift your spirits, to brighten your day every time. Last night they continued their February residency at The Hi Hat in Highland Park. I think I mentioned this before, but The Hi Hat is a really cool venue. There is plenty of space, the people are friendly, it has a relaxed atmosphere, and the sound is good.

Sarah Kramer opened the show with a good set. I particularly enjoyed the jams toward the end with the horn section. Sarah plays trumpet as well as guitar. And she and a few members of her band would later join I See Hawks In L.A. near the end of their set, which was a total treat.

I See Hawks In L.A. kicked off their set at 10:03 p.m. with “New Kind Of Lonely,” a perfect sort of tune for Valentine’s Day. One thing I love about this band is their vocals, and it wasn’t long before their voices were blending beautifully last night. And toward the end of that song when they sang, “Everything’s all right,” you bet I believed them. And you know what? Everything was suddenly all right. After that song, Rob Waller told the crowd the show was about “Love and loneliness tonight.”

They then went into “Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies,” a fun song from the band’s 2013 release, Mystery Drug. They followed that with “Baby,” a beautiful mellow tune from early in the band’s career. Rob told the crowd, “This next one is one of the first songs I guess we wrote together, one of the first batch, which was about 1999.” Paul Lacques played lap steel on this one. “Baby, do you mind if I call you baby?” They followed that with “Highland Park Serenade,” an appropriate choice for the evening. This song is from New Kind Of Lonely, and its lyrics mention Mr. T’s Bowl, which used to be my favorite music venue in Los Angeles, before they changed the way they ran the place. Back in the day, you could see some fantastic bands for no cover and no drink minimum, and the place boasted probably the best sound man in the city, a guy named Arlo. I have fond memories of that place; I saw some incredible Peak Show concerts there.

“Your Love Is Going To Kill Me” is another great choice for Valentine’s Day, and it’s another song from New Kind Of Lonely. They followed that with “If You Remind Me,” a pretty song from Mystery Drug. A line from this song mentions the corner of Gower and Sunset. This band’s songs are full of Los Angeles locations. Afterward, Rob said, “Every love song is a sad song, I think.” And then Paul Marshall took over lead vocal duties for “Truth Is You Lied,” a delicious country song. “Call me a fool/I really did believe/That would you stay/Here by my side/Truth is you lied.” They followed that with another good one, “Open Door,” from the Hallowed Ground album. “I’m not going to be untrue/For anyone, not even you.” Rob then introduced “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet” by saying “It’s a love song to New Orleans, I suppose.”

Sarah Kramer and a few members of her band joined I See Hawks In L.A. for the final two songs of their set, the first being “Duty To Our Pod,” which Rob introduced as a “whale love song.” This was probably the best and most beautiful rendition of this song I’ve ever heard. The additions of trumpet, two saxophones and keyboards added a whole lot to it without letting it get messy or too involved. You know? The instrumental section was gorgeous. This was definitely a highlight of the set. They then wrapped up the set with “The River Knows,” the song that closed out the Mystery Drug album. And again, those additions of keys and horns were wonderful, particularly in the jam. A great way to end the set, which wrapped up at 10:59 p.m.

Set List
  1. New King Of Lonely
  2. Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies
  3. Baby
  4. Highland Park Serenade
  5. Your Love Is Going To Kill Me
  6. If You Remind Me
  7. Truth Is You Lied
  8. Open Door
  9. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet
  10. Duty To Our Pod
  11. The River Knows 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Rock N Roll Cymbal From The Seventies"
"Highland Park Serenade"
"If You Remind Me"
"Truth Is You Lied"
"Duty To Our Pod"
"Duty To Our Pod"
"The River Knows"
"The River Knows"
The Hi Hat is located at 5043 York Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bombadil: “Fences” (2017) CD Review

Yes, I first became curious about Bombadil because of the band’s name, I admit it. I’m a fan of the Lord Of The Rings books (and films, even though that character was cut from them). The first album of theirs that I heard was 2013’s Metrics Of Affection, and I became a fan of the band immediately, enjoying their catchy blend of pop and folk, and particularly their vocals. The band has gone through some changes since then. Bryan Rahija left the band, and then, after their 2015 release, Hold On, Stuart Robinson also left. Later that year, Stacy Harden joined, and so the band now consists of James Phillips, Daniel Michalak and Stacy Harden. As perhaps a result of these changes, the band’s new release, Fences, has something of a different sound, though this is also a result of the different approach the band took to this material. Also, Bryan Rahija returned to play guitar on this release. There is a sweeter, pretty folk feel to much of this material, a sound that I love. All tracks on this CD are originals.

The CD opens with “What’s So Great About You.” I can’t help but think this song is about Donald Trump. Perhaps I’m reading something into it that isn’t there, but the lyrics certainly fit. Here are the first several lines: “The thing about you/Only you think you’re special/What’s a person to do/When there’s no room on the pedestal/What’s so great about you.” There is a soft beauty to this song, and the harmonies rise gloriously above the instruments at moments. That’s followed by “Not Those Kind Of People,” which reminds me a bit of Cat Stevens, particularly in the vocal line. And check out these lyrics: “And if you looked in our basket/We’ve got hate that’s just fantastic/Funny how well we’ve masked it/Living so long/And even if we were/Bred for jubilation/Like a peacock in fur/I believe/We’ve been led to temptation/Washed down the river/And hooked on the lure.” There is a strange joy in the approach, and even hand-claps, helping make this one of my favorite tracks.

Even though this album has more of a folk feel, it certainly does not feel like anything traditional. This band continues to create its own way, its own sound, delivering songs with its own particular perspective. And even with the changes in the band’s lineup, that is something that remains constant. Take “Binoculars,” for example (though, really, you could take any of these tracks as an example), with its deceptively simple folk sound on acoustic guitar at the beginning. The vocal line also begins with an easy, direct sound. But then the harmonies come in, and the song is taken to a different level. “I raise up my binoculars/And I see everything everywhere/I see detail, of that I’m sure/But I don’t see me/And that hurts/The most.” And you realize that the song has completely pulled you in, immersed you in its beautiful vocals, in its world. And this band is able to do that with every damn song. It’s remarkable.

“Perfect” seems the perfect song for Valentine’s Day, a sweet tune that looks forward to a long life together, but still with the band’s delightfully quirky vibe. Take these lines, for example: “What would be the name of our first kid?/I know you like Emma Jean, but I can’t stand it.”  Here are the song’s opening lines: “What would be the color of our first house/Would we have two bedrooms if we can’t work it out.” Yes, it is a love song, a song that is making me feel pretty good. “And I would kiss you/And you would like that/And you said/And you said/You said everything was perfect.”

That’s followed by a different sort of relationship song, “Fence.” Check out these lines: “I am a fence/In your back yard/Why is it so hard/And it’s hardly love/If I can’t let you run/Down to the gate/The latch is undone.” “I Could Make You So Happy” also reminds me a bit of Cat Stevens at the beginning. This is another sweet song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Oh, I tried to let you let yourself go, but then my arms won’t let you/Oh, I tried to hold you hold yourself up, but then my arms always caught you/Let’s put our fingers in our fingers and oh my what are those brown eyes that look back at me/If I’m a singer you’re a singer, we’re a duet of those low and highs that make harmony/I could make you so happy.” And that one is followed by “Long Life,” which is incredibly pretty and sweet. This actually might be my favorite track on this CD, in part because lines like these hit me so hard and bring me to tears: “So I hope you can believe in me even though it’s gotten so damn hard/To be counting down the days until we get to wake up in each other’s arms/I’m hoping for a long life/Yeah, a long life/A long life for you and me.”

CD Track List
  1. What’s So Great About You
  2. Not Those Kind Of People
  3. Binoculars
  4. Math And Love
  5. Perfect
  6. Fence
  7. Good News Sadie
  8. I Could Make You So Happy
  9. Long Life
  10. Is This Danger
  11. No Snow In The Valley 
Fences is scheduled to be released on March 3, 2017 on Ramseur Records.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Scott Nolan: “Silverhill” (2017) CD Review

Friends, as you know, the world has gone sideways, and sometimes it can be too much to handle. We try to find that balance of being informed without being overwhelmed, without succumbing to anger and despair, and it’s difficult. Music is the one reliable antidote to the lunacy perpetrated by our current administration and a significant (though dwindling) segment of the population. It’s a good idea to take a break from the news reports of Donald Trump’s latest lies, and put on a good CD. We need this to retain our health, our sanity. One disc that will help in this regard is Scott Nolan’s Silverhill. I sometimes think if it weren’t for the calming, friendly, honest sound of songs like these, I would completely lose it. The best writing, whether it be in songwriting or novels or whatever, succeeds in doing one thing – letting us know we are not alone. Sounds simple, but this message is extremely important for us to hear regularly, perhaps especially now. And this album does it well. On this disc, Scott Nolan is joined by the group Willie Sugarcapps (Will Kimbrough, Anthony Crawford, Savana Lee, Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes). All tracks are originals, written or co-written by Scott Nolan.

Scott Nolan opens the album with “Forever Is A Long Time,” a beautiful, mellow tune. The first lines are: “The highway’s a ghost that you can see/Hey, don’t forget about me/Freezing rain, Texas to Tennessee/Slept right through Arkansas/In the back seat.” Hey, don’t worry about sleeping through Arkansas. You didn’t miss anything, trust me. I’m going to add this song to my road trip play list. It’s followed by “The Last One,” which might also work on a road trip mix CD. The line that always stands out for me is “Saying my prayers through a bullhorn.” Not bad, eh?

“Shake It Loose” is a fun, bluesy tune, with the backing vocalists providing that needed humorous, delightful element as they repeat “Shake it loose, shake it loose.” How can you help but smile? And check out these lines: “My heart strings fall out of tune/The house is on fire, baby, dinner was ruined.” That is followed by one of the album’s most beautiful and moving songs, “Trouble & Love.” This one was written by Scott Nolan and Mary Gauthier. “Blizzard outside, blizzard in your heart/Lonely travelers and cheap motel art/Snow’s falling on snow that fell on snow/I said hold on, baby, please don’t let go.”

“When Can I See You Again” is another highlight, with its sweet sound. And with my girlfriend at the other end of the country, the question “When can I see you again?” feels rather pertinent and personal. This song works to bring us closer, like a shared mental caress, which will have to suffice until we get that next physical one. “Can’t stop thinking about you/You’re always on my mind/Starting over now/Going to get it right this time/When I get that sinking feeling/I can’t drown the pain/When can I see you again.” And I love that fiddle toward the end. Then in “Curls & Curves,” Scott sings, “Love’s a crazy game, sometimes you get what you deserve.”

“Silverhill,” the album’s title track, is an interesting track in as much as it seems to be about the very writing and recording of the album. The song’s lyrics mention some of the other musicians: “Kimbrough’s cracking jokes,” “Grayson Capps is tops,” “Corky’s steel guitar moans.” My favorite line, however, is, “And me here trying to type poetry into a cellular phone.” Though he is based in Winnipeg, Scott Nolan recorded this album in Loxley, Alabama, near Silverhill. The title track is followed by “Twister,” a playful country number to lift your spirits. It’s a song about playing Twister, with lines like “Right hand red, my left foot blue/I got myself all tangled up in you.” Hey, red and blue – is this song really about our nation getting twisted, or am I reading too much into the choice of colors? That line also strikes me as a play on Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.”

The album concludes with “Leave It Alone,” which was written by Scott Nolan and Hayes Carll, and features some beautiful playing. “With no plans worth making/All the good dreams were taken/When you leave this world/You leave it alone.”

CD Track List
  1. Forever Is A Long Time
  2. The Last One
  3. Fire Up
  4. Shake It Loose
  5. Trouble & Love
  6. When Can I see You Again
  7. Curls & Curves
  8. One Little Spark
  9. Silverhill
  10. Twister
  11. Little Dreamer
  12. Easter At The Waffle House
  13. You Leave Alone 
Silverhill was released on February 10, 2017, though it seems it was released with a different cover a year ago.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Capitol Theatre Passaic NJ ‘78” (2016) CD Review

There are suddenly a lot of these concert radio broadcasts seeing unofficial CD releases. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I am happy to take whatever Grateful Dead I can get, particularly these days when I want to escape to a better time. And really, there was no better time than a Grateful Dead concert. Capitol Theatre Passaic NJ ’78 is a three-disc set containing nearly the entire concert the Grateful Dead performed on November 24, 1978 (it is missing one song from the first set). The show was broadcast on WNEW, and apparently some interviews with band members were included in the original broadcast, though those are not included here. This three-disc set does include a booklet with notes from the original concert program.

The first disc starts with a radio introduction which actually ends up going over the band introduction from the stage. Then the band opens with “Jack Straw,” with Donna Jean’s vocals fairly prominent in the mix at the beginning. Bob tells the crowd the band is going to take a moment to adjust things, “And take pause to wonder what we’re doing here.” And they go into “Sugaree,” which the crowd welcomes with a whole lot of cheering and applause. Jerry’s voice is straining a bit, but this is still a really good version. That’s followed by “Me And My Uncle” going straight into “Big River,” with Keith providing some nice stuff on keys.

Bob addresses the radio audience: “And a big hello to all you radio listeners who are listening out there. We certainly hope you’re enjoying the show as much as we are. I just wish they’d get these elephants off the stage.” Jerry’s voice strains again during “Stagger Lee,” a song included on Shakedown Street, which was released just before this concert. Jerry was sick during the show, and the next show was actually canceled due to his illness. Bob then jokes with the radio audience again before the band goes into “Passenger,” a song the Dead played for only a few years. It has a bit of an awkward ending.

After a nice “Candyman,” Bob says they’re going to take a little break for the radio stations to identify themselves, and we do hear a brief radio announcement. Bob then jokes about deciding what they want to do next. And what we hear is “From The Heart Of Me,” a song featuring Donna Jean Godchaux on lead vocals. This song was also included on Shakedown Street. But what’s missing here is “New Minglewood Blues,” which the band played before “From The Heart Of Me.” It’s unclear why it’s not included. It’s not due to time constraints, because this first disc is only an hour long. Interestingly, this very version of “New Minglewood Blues” was included on the extended version of Shakedown Street released more than a decade ago, so if you have that, then you have the complete show.

The second disc then starts with the final two songs of the first set – a good version of “Loser” followed by “Promised Land.” And then at the start of the second set, Bob again addresses the radio listeners before the band launches into “I Need A Miracle,” which I believe is the first Grateful Dead song I ever heard. I remember it got airplay on the local rock station at the time, and specifically I recall hearing it on the school bus radio on my way home from school when I was really young. Of course, I had no idea that it was the Grateful Dead. I just really liked the song, and still do. That leads straight to a fun cover of “Good Lovin’,” a song which the Dead included on Shakedown Street. Actually, the Dead played most of the songs from Shakedown Street at this show, the only exceptions being “France,” “Serengetti” and “If I Had The World To Give.” Bob mentions the presence of cameras (the show was filmed as well as broadcast on radio), and the band goes into a really nice rendition of “Friend Of The Devil,” which is the final song of the second disc.

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. There is a brief radio announcement as the band tunes for “Estimated Prophet.” “Estimated” is, for me, one of the highlights of the show, with a good jam. This is where things start getting interesting, and the jam leads into “Shakedown Street,” which gets a little wild and messy toward the end, but has me dancing around. The drum solo follows, and then Hamza El Din joins them for “Ollin Arageed.” Just a couple of months before this show, the Dead performed in Egypt, where they were joined on stage by Hamza El Din. They performed this song at each of those three shows by the pyramids. Hamza El Din then joined the Dead in the U.S. a few times for this song. The Dead follow that with “Fire On The Mountain.” Jerry’s voice again strains, but it’s still a good version, and it leads directly to “Sugar Magnolia” to close out the second set. The encore is Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Jack Straw
  2. Sugaree
  3. Me And My Uncle
  4. Big River
  5. Stagger Lee
  6. Passenger
  7. Candyman
  8. From The Heart Of Me
Disc Two
  1. Loser
  2. The Promised Land
  3. I Need A Miracle
  4. Good Lovin’
  5. Friend Of The Devil 
Disc Three
  1. Estimated Prophet
  2. Shakedown Street
  3. Drums
  4. Ollin Arageed
  5. Fire On The Mountain
  6. Sugar Magnolia
  7. Johnny B. Goode 
Capitol Theatre Passaic NJ ‘78 was released on July 15, 2016 though Air Cuts.