Saturday, November 22, 2014

Big Star: “Radio City” (1974/2014) CD Review

Big Star’s second album, Radio City, originally released in 1974, has been remastered and re-issued through Stax and Concord Music Group. There are new liner notes by Mike Mills of R.E.M. The liner notes cover Big Star’s first two albums and are included on the re-issues of both. After the band’s first album, #1 Record, didn’t do as well as it should have, Chris Bell left the group, and so Big Star became a trio for this album – Alex Chilton on vocals and guitar, Andy Hummel on vocals and bass, and Jody Stephens on drums. The album features all original songs, most of them written by Alex Chilton. There are no bonus tracks on this re-issue.

I absolutely love the way this album opens. “O My Soul” is such a fun track, with a great groove to kick it off. The song immediately tells you it was designed to put you in a good mood. Set aside your troubles for the length of a song. “We’ve got all night/You’re driving me mad now/You shouldn’t do that/We’re going to get on up/And drink till we drop.” This song also boasts a good little jam toward the end. (By the way, this song mentions the band’s name in the line “If I’m a big star.”)

They follow that with “Life Is White,” an interesting song with some surprising changes. There is also some nice work on harmonica (though no one is credited in the liner notes as playing harmonica).

The line from “Way Out West” that jumped out at me was “Sometimes I think she’ll make me forget/What I need most to remember.” There is just a bit of sweet sadness to this song, even as it ends on a positive, hopeful note about working things out. “Why don’t you come on back from way out west/And love me/We can work out the rest.” This is a really good song. Another that I really like from this album is “You Get What You Deserve.” It has a groovy vibe to it, with some nice work on guitar.

One of my favorites is “She’s A Mover” which has a bit of a 1960s vibe. It’s like a perfect rock and roll tune, tight while feeling loose, with good energy and a sense of fun. It’s basically everything you want rock music to be. And it’s followed by a bit of pop bliss, “September Gurls,” one of the band’s most popular tunes. “I loved you, well, never mind/I’ve been crying all the time/December boys got it bad.” I love when the guitar emerges for its lead spot. This is a song that’s been covered by The Bangles and Squire.

Radio City ends with a couple of short tunes. The first, “Morpha Too,” is an odd tune that features some really good vocal work. The second, “I’m In Love With A Girl” is kind of a sweet little love song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m in love with a girl/Finest girl in the world/I didn’t know this could happen to me.

CD Track List
  1. O My Soul
  2. Life Is White
  3. Way Out West
  4. What’s Going Ahn
  5. You Get What You Deserve
  6. Mod Lang
  7. Back Of A Car
  8. Daisy Glaze
  9. She’s A Mover
  10. September Gurls
  11. Morpha Too
  12. I’m In Love With A Girl
This re-issue of Radio City was released on September 2, 2014 through Stax and Concord Music Group.

Big Star: “#1 Record” (1972/2014) CD Review

Big Star’s 1972 debut album, #1 Record, has been re-issued and remastered, and it sounds great. There are also new liner notes from R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. The liner notes cover both this album and the band’s follow-up, Radio City, and are included on the re-issues of both CDs. This album features all original tracks, most of them written by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. There are no bonus tracks on this re-issue.

The CD kicks off with “Feel,” a great bit of that early 1970s rock but with a glorious pop angle. The energy of this track is mainly in its vocals.  And I love that great crunch with what sounds like horns and keys (though no one is listed as playing any horns on this album). I wish that section were longer. No one is listed on keys in the liner notes either, though online I found Terry Manning credited for this album.

Then the following track, “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” begins quietly with vocals and guitar, and is beautiful. And when it kicks in, it retains a certain beauty. This is such a good song. Sure, it’s still rock, but there is a folk or country rock feel to it as well. And I love the clarity of the guitar, the way you can hear each string so clearly you can almost see them. Another thing I love is that while this song is beautiful, it sacrifices none of the band’s power. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Years ago my heart was set to live/And I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds/It gets so hard in times like now to hold on.” This is my personal favorite track.

“In The Street” feels to me like it could be a cover of a mid-1960s rock song, mainly in the way the line “Not a thing to do, but talk to you” is delivered in the opening lines: “Hanging out down the street/The same old thing we did last week/Not a thing to do, but talk to you.” It has a bit of that 1960s rock thing there and in the “ahh” vocals, but then is mixed with a 1970s southern rock drive, a combination which really works. It’s a fun track. By the way, this song will be familiar to a lot of people as the opening theme to the television series, That ‘70s Show (though it was a cover version used there).

“Thirteen” is a prettier acoustic song, with a sweet innocence and references to a couple of other tunes – “Paint It Black,” “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay.” Wilco covered this song on the tribute to Big Star, Big Star, Small World.

“Don’t Lie To Me” is a kick-ass rock tune, with some blues at its base. There is a bit of messing around at the beginning of the track, but this is a straightforward Don’t-fuck-with-me song that demands to be turned up. Just listen to those guitars! “Don’t cross me, babe,” they repeat toward the end. It doesn’t quite feel right for this one to fade out. It should explode instead. It’s interesting that “Don’t Lie To Me” is sandwiched between two softer, beautiful tunes. “The India Song” is a delightful, playful tune written by Andy Hummel, and is one of my personal favorites from this album.

“Try Again” is another that I really like. It’s mainly an acoustic song, with an electric country rock-type guitar lead over it during the instrumental section. It’s a simple, honest statement, an assessment of self in a moment of struggle and hope. “Lord, I've been trying to be what I should/Lord, I've been trying to do what I could/But each time it gets a little harder/I feel the pain/But I'll try again.” Nice, right?

CD Track List
  1. Feel
  2. The Ballad Of El Goodo
  3. In The Street
  4. Thirteen
  5. Don’t Lie To Me
  6. The India Song
  7. When My Baby’s Beside Me
  8. My Life Is Right
  9. Give Me Another Chance
  10. Try Again
  11. Watch The Sunrise
  12. ST 100/6
This re-issue of #1 Record was released on September 2, 2014 through Stax and Concord Music Group.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gun Hill Royals at The Hotel Café, 11-20-14: Photos

"Under The Covers"
Last night I was able to make it to two concerts: Lady Low at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, and then Gun Hill Royals at The Hotel Café. It worked out well, as those two venues are only five blocks away from each other, and though Lady Low got a late start they did a short set.

Gun Hill Royals are a Los Angeles band delivering some really good country rock, with a joy that transfers so easily to the audience. They also write some damn good songs (I’m particularly fond of “Restless,” “Let Love In,” “Anahata” and “The Valley Floor”). They did mostly original material last night, apart from a cool cover of Buck Owens’ “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (and you can never go wrong with Buck Owens). They closed their set with a fun, high-energy number, “Crazy Dreams.”

Set List
  1. Under The Covers
  2. Firefly
  3. Restless
  4. This Ship Ain’t Takin’ Water
  5. I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail
  6. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
  7. Let Love In
  8. Anahata
  9. The Valley Floor
  10. Give Me A Smile
  11. Burn This House Down
  12. Crazy Dreams
Here are a few photos from their set:

"Under The Covers"
"I've Got A Tiger By The Tail"
"Let Love In"
"Let Love In"

Lady Low at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, Los Angeles, 11-20-14

"Goodnight My Love"
Lady Low celebrated the release of their first single tonight with a show at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, in Los Angeles. They got a late start, due to some issues with lights and so forth. They were scheduled to go on at 9 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until just after 10. In addition to the core trio of Jimmy Sweet on vocals and guitar, Sami Jo on vocals and drums, and Rachel Maxann on vocals and synthesizer, the band featured an additional guitarist and two violinists.

They kicked off their set with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man,” with a little “Hey Jude” tease thrown in at the end, then went into “Rainy Day” (the violinists sat that one out). The set also featured “Burning Like A Fever” (a song from Death By Sexy, Jimmy Sweet’s other band) and a short a cappella “Goodnight My Love.” They ended the set with the two songs from the single – “When I Do Wrong” and “Baby Baby,” the latter being a cover of the Vibrators song. It was a good set, but very short. They ended precisely at 10:30 p.m. (so the set was twenty-eight minutes).

Set List
  1. I’m Waiting For The Man
  2. Rainy Day
  3. Burning Like A Fever
  4. Goodnight My Love
  5. I Wanna Be Your Dog
  6. When I Do Wrong
  7. Baby Baby  
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"Rainy Day"
"Burning Like A Fever"
"When I Do Wrong"
"Baby Baby"
Good Times At Davey Wayne’s is an odd, but kind of cool venue, with 1970s décor. You enter through a refrigerator at the end of a short hallway. I’m sure the first couple of nights the venue was open, the doorman enjoyed answering the befuddled patrons’ questions about how to get in, but now is thoroughly tired of the comments about the door. There are a couple of couches in the middle of the room, limiting the dance space. It doesn’t seem to be designed for concerts, and has more of a groovy lounge feel.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Sandman’s Orchestra: “Crying For The Moon” (2014) CD Review

The new CD from The Sandman’s Orchestra, Crying For The Moon, the band’s third full-length release, is an unusual album with a sound that is at times haunting, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes even with spiritual flavor (like the uplifting vocal section at the end of the title track). The best way to first appreciate this album is to lie down in the dark and let it play without distraction. Let it take you where it will, or where your mind chooses. “I just love the way we float,” they sing in “Crying For The Moon.”

The Sandman’s Orchestra is composed of an uncle and niece team, Pierre Laplace and Léonie Gabriel. They are based in Lille, France, but the songs are presented in English. All of the tracks are originals, written by Pierre Laplace. Pierre also plays nearly all the instruments on this release, with the exceptions of drums (JB Hoste takes drum duties) and cello (that’s Nicolas Fahy).

The album starts off with “If This Is Our Swan Song.” I love its delicate, pretty opening, even before Léonie Gabriel’s gorgeous vocals come in. (Of course, there is something amusing about the first line of an album mentioning it being the swan song.) There is something in the song’s sound that gives it a great timeless feel, giving the impression that this could have been composed a few hundred years ago. And so if you let it, this track will take you out of your day’s concerns, transport you from your current surroundings.

In the following track, “No Other Way,” the male and female vocals work together in an interesting way, particularly when Pierre hits the lower notes while Léonie’s vocals take on an airy quality, making the song both grounded and ethereal, part earth, part sky. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “There’s evil on the road/There’s beauty and grace/She walks past places darkened by fear/Haunted by dreams of falling/And she knows there is no other way.”  The instrumental section has a beautiful, dark feel, helped greatly by the presence of cello. And then partway through, the addition of banjo gives the song a lighter, brighter feel, which carries it to the end. And it’s this last section that is actually my favorite part of the song.

One of my favorite tracks on this release is “The Rememberer.” This one has an oddly haunting vibe. One thing that’s interesting is how in certain sections of this song, different instruments add little touches, accents, rather than acting as constant voices. There is even a kalimba. In those moments, I have images of a tribe, each member contributing some small but important part to a ritual. That being said, it’s the vocals that really pull me into this track.

Pierre’s vocal approach to “Sands Of Time” makes me think of Donovan (particularly his work in the late 1960s) and also a bit of Belle And Sebastian. “A blanket of grass and branches underneath the moon/We lie there waiting for a ghost to come round/Promises and pledges, secrets that we share/While the stars light up the deep summer sky.”

My favorite track, “1949,” comes on as a sweet folk song, akin to something Joni Mitchell might have done years ago. Léonie sings, “I rode a train through the winter landscape/Sleepy towns, churches and frozen lakes/When I got to your place I saw the changes.” Then the banjo comes in, automatically causing me to smile. Those strange breaks between sections, with Pierre’s vocals, are interesting. They’re darker, so they make the switch back to the main sections even more effective, due to that contrast. Then there is a pretty instrumental section with guitar and piano to end this song. This is one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Black River Moan” then goes is a very different direction, with more of an angry pulse, a disturbed sound, which is intriguing. “The night dragged you along/We got to the black river and I watched you drown/You sank without a sound.”

Crying For The Moon concludes with “Now The Circle's Broken,” which ends with a really sweet, pretty instrumental section.

CD Track List

  1. If This Is Our Swan Song
  2. No Other Way
  3. The Rememberer
  4. Crying For The Moon
  5. Sounds Of Time
  6. 1949
  7. Black River Moan
  8. The Silent Kind
  9. Man In The Shade
  10. Now The Circle’s Broken

Crying For The Moon was released on November 14, 2014. You can check out the music on The Sandman's Orchestra's Bandcamp page. By the way, the album's artwork was done Félix Laplace, Pierre's sixteen-year-old son. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ronnie Fauss: “Built To Break” (2014) CD Review

Ronnie Fauss’ new CD, Built To Break, his second release on Normaltown Records, features a good mix of country rock tunes and quieter acoustic songs. Sure, there’s plenty of great guitar work and energy, but for me, it’s this album’s lyrics that really drive the tunes. I love these lines from “A Place Out In The Country”: “I’ve got a lot of love inside me/And that’s where it’s gonna stay.” And check out these lines from “I Can’t Make You Happy”: “Ask anyone you know and they will tell you/That everyone you know will somehow fail you.” All but one of this CD’s tracks are originals, written by Ronnie Fauss.

The opening track, “Another Town,” comes on strong, with a loud burst of energy, then settles into a really good country rock tune, with lots of guitar. I would love to see him perform this one in concert. “So don’t ask me when I’ll be coming back through that door/’Cause, honey, you don’t ask the questions around these parts anymore.” That’s followed by “A Natural End,” which is just a bit more mellow, but then rocks on the chorus: “Let’s have a natural end before we begin/And maybe then we’ll have a chance to win/Let’s have a natural end before we begin/And maybe then you and I will have a chance to win.”

“The Big Catch” is more in folk and country realm. It has a quieter, sweeter sound, but the lyrics are certainly not sweet. Check out these lines: “And there’s something your parents never told you/That the place in between where they slept/Was filled up with lies and resentment/The only things your parents ever kept.” This is a song about how sometimes the mistakes that parents make are then internalized and carried on by the children when they too become parents. It’s a really strong track, one of this CD’s many highlights.

Another highlight, “Eighteen Wheels,” is one of my favorites, a seriously excellent country rock tune. This track features Rhett Miller (from Old 97’s) on vocals, plus some very cool work on piano by Chris Tuttle. I love the energy of this song. This would be a good one for a road trip mix CD. Its lyrics contain references to country artists like Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris, and also Bob Dylan. “I Can’t Make You Happy” also refers to Bob Dylan, specifically “Tangled Up In Blue.” (By the way, one thing I find interesting in that song is the repetition of “Even if I tried” at the end, for it indicates that he actually hasn’t tried to make her happy.)

“Never Gonna Last” is more in the acoustic country realm, and is another of my favorites. This one is a duet, with Jenna Paulette providing the second set of lead vocals, and is about a problematic relationship. Jenna sings, “I’ve been planning for the future/You’ve been living in the past.” And Ronnie responds, “All we know about tomorrow/Is that it’s never gonna last.” In addition to excellent vocals, this track has a really nice instrumental section.

After that one, Ronnie gets back to rock with “I’m Sorry Baby (That’s Just The Way It Goes),” yet another excellent tune. It’s strange, because the lyrics totally depress me, but the music makes me want to grab a beer and dance. It feels a bit odd to dance to lines like “That emptiness it fills you from your head down to your toes.” But perhaps dancing is exactly what we should be doing, as the music of this song sort of tells us to make the best of it, even as the lyrics have a fatalistic quality. “And the days go by so slowly where they used to go so fast/And whiskey does not taste as good when you only pour one glass.”

“Song For Zula” is the album’s only cover. It was written by Matthew Houck, and originally recorded by Phosphorescent. I really like these lines: “See, the cage, it called. I said, ‘Come on in’/I will not open myself up this way again.” This one refers to Johnny Cash, specifically to “Ring Of Fire,” in its opening lines.

CD Track List
  1. Another Town
  2. A Natural End
  3. The Big Catch
  4. Eighteen Wheels
  5. A Place Out In The Country
  6. Never Gonna Last
  7. I’m Sorry Baby (That’s Just The Way It Goes)
  8. Song For Zula
  9. I Can’t Make You Happy
  10. Old Life
  11. Come On Down 
Built To Break was released on November 4, 2014 through Normaltown Records.

Dreaming Bull at The Silverlake Lounge, 11-17-14: Photos

"Let's All Jump In"
Dreaming Bull played a phenomenal set of music at The Silverlake Lounge last night, the third night of the band’s November residency. Each time this group plays, they just get better and better. And this night everything was working was just right. There was a high level of joy in both the band and the audience.

Dreaming Bull introduced a new song, “Hearts State Penn,” a very cool rock number. My favorites of the night, however, were “Pulling The Plug,” a song the band introduced the first night of its residency, and “Feed Us.” They ended the set with their version of “Low Rider,” which they call “Bull Rida.”

Set List
  1. Lover Street
  2. Hippie Hobo
  3. Let’s All Jump In
  4. Hearts State Penn
  5. Pulling The Plug
  6. Smile On Your Face
  7. Feed Us
  8. No Use
  9. Bull Rida 
Here are a few photos from their set:

"Lover Street"
between songs
"Hearts State Penn"
"Hearts State Penn"
"Pulling The Plug"
"Pulling The Plug"
"Pulling The Plug"
"No Use"
"Bull Rida"
"Bull Rida"

Dreaming Bull finishes up its Silverlake Lounge residency next Monday, November 24th.