Saturday, April 19, 2014

Record Store Day, 2014

I've decided that poverty actually kind of sucks. It might have been okay when I was in my twenties. But it's fucking awful when I'm in my forties on Record Store Day and can't buy The Pogues live double LP. But I did get the Grateful Dead live double LP, and that was the most important thing today. I need to replace my turntable, but at least I have this record for when I do. The album features a good portion of a concert from 1979, Brent Mydland's third show with the band.

Freakbeat Records opens at 11 a.m. Parking can be tricky in that area because a lot of it is two-hour parking, and I knew I'd be there longer. But I found a space on Moorpark, not too far from the store. I got in line around 8:15 a.m., and was farther back than usual. The guy who got in line behind me had a young daughter who was getting antsy within moments of arriving. Then she started playing a video game. If you know me at all, you know that the sound of a video game is something certain to throw me into a desperate, murderous rage. So I said, "Sweetie, can you put that on silent mode?" And her father was nice enough to silence the game. But that led to her saying repeatedly, "Can't hear." How was this girl going to last two and a half hours? Well, she didn't. Once I told the guy that the store didn't open until 11, he took his daughter and left.

The rest of the time flew by. The guy who took the father's spot behind me in line was a Grateful Dead fan who had seen something like eighty shows, including shows in 1974 when the band had the Wall of Sound. So the conversation was good. And other than that, it was pretty quiet. So I was actually able to read a book.

I had planned on just buying the Grateful Dead record and the Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band 7-inch. But as I got closer, I started thinking seriously about getting The Pogues. And about Bruce Springsteen. And about the David Hess picture disc. As you walk in to the store, you have to hand over your wish list. So I put all five items on it, and decided to see what fate would deliver me. As it turned out, they had everything except the Ronnie Spector record. I was surprised they still had copies of the David Hess picture disc. I had read it was limited to 950 copies worldwide. Each is numbered, and it turns out there 1,500. But still, that's a small number. So I ended up buying that and not The Pogues.

But yes, I am already wishing I had bought The Pogues too. And the hell with my bills. Next year I will have money. Next year.

By the way, as far as goodies included with my purchase, this year there was just one record and one compilation CD. The rest were various postcards and stickers, advertising upcoming releases. For some reason they included a Justin Bieber sticker. It says "Believe" across it. Oh boy. I've never heard anything by Justin Bieber, but I am guessing the only person who might be interested in this sticker was the little girl with the video game.

Ellis Paul at Thousand Oaks Library 4-18-14 Concert Review



Ellis Paul performs "Hurricane Angel"

Seeing Ellis Paul in concert always makes seriously happy. He’s such a great songwriter, but also a wonderful storyteller and performer. And he was definitely in storyteller mode at the Thousand Oaks Library, in Thousand Oaks, California. From a look at the set list, it might seem like a short show, but it wasn’t. He told several stories throughout the performance, including the reason for the tape over a large section of his guitar (after it was cracked by some criminal handling by the airline).

He opened the show with the title track from his upcoming CD release, Chasing Beauty. He followed it with “Rose Tattoo,” from The Day After Everything Changed. After playing the always-appreciated “Maria’s Beautiful Mess” (I could listen to that song all day), he talked about how his rental car had all sorts of gadgetry yet no CD player. That led to a bit on the changing record industry, and how we’re losing physical touch with the albums due to downloads and so on, and while he talked he put a record on the small turntable he’d brought (The Beatles' “White Album”).  Of course, that got me even more excited for Record Store Day. And guess what? He’s going to be pressing his upcoming album on vinyl, as well as having a CD release. Very cool.  I definitely have to get a copy of that on vinyl, and I definitely have to get my turntable fixed (or replaced).

I’m always happy to hear new material from Ellis Paul, and at this show he played a couple of newer ones to finish off the first set – “Hold Me, Scold Me” and “I Never Want To Lose You.” Both are really good, but I particularly love “I Never Want To Lose You,” partly because of the line “one-man clown car.” What a great image. His guitar accidentally came unplugged during that song, so he finished it unmiked, stepping off the stage down to the audience.

The second set began with an improvised tune with Ellis at the piano. Called “Danielle’s Song,” it was sung for a woman who is having Ellis play at her birthday party this summer. "Oh Danielle, Danielle/You're probably wondering what the hell/I'm here to sing a song, to say/I am playing your birthday party, somewhere in New Hampshire."  He followed that with the wonderful “Jukebox On My Grave,” another that I am always happy to hear. “Alice’s Champagne Palace” is another fan-favorite. But I was especially happy to hear Ellis play Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” I love that song, though it always makes me a little sad. Ellis introduced it by saying, "It's like the best song ever written about growing up." I agree. An audience member requested “3,000 Miles,” and Ellis finished the second set with that song, playing it unmiked and in front of the stage.

The encore was a sweet rendition of “If I Had A Hammer,” done on piano. And he told a couple of Pete Seeger anecdotes.

Ellis Paul 4-18-14 Set List

Set I
  1. Chasing Beauty
  2. Rose Tattoo
  3. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. Hurricane Angel
  6. Hold Me, Scold Me
  7. I Never Want To Lose You 

Set II
  1. Danielle’s Song
  2. Jukebox On My Grave
  3. Alice’s Champagne Palace
  4. The Circle Game
  5. 3,000 Miles 
Encore
  1. If I Had A Hammer

The next stop on Ellis Paul's tour is Santa Barbara on April 19th.

Ellis Paul performing "I Never Want To Lose You"
During the set break, The White Album plays
Ellis Paul performing "Alice's Champagne Palace"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Patrolled By Radar: “Cool Your Jets” (2014) CD Review



Patrolled By Radar is one of the best Los Angeles bands going these days. They sound like the greatest bar band ever, except that they also write damned good lyrics. They mix rock, folk and country elements, and on their new release, Cool Your Jets, dip a bit into pop on certain tracks.

One thing I love about this band is its sense of humor. It’s kind of dry, and it’s often there at the heart of songs rather than as silliness on the surface. It’s inherent in the perspective. Lead singer Jay Souza’s voice has this delightful weariness which works well against the inherent comedy in many of their songs, in lines like “I live above a dry cleaner to the stars” in “Grain Of Sand,” which for me adds to the humor.

All but one of the songs on Cool Your Jets are originals, written by Jay Souza.

"Died With Money"

The album’s opening track, “Died With Money,” is told from the perspective of a person who died with money. It’s a mid-tempo rock tune, and is wonderfully absurd, especially as it’s sung with a sort of weary pride. Even after death, he’s not quite prepared to admit to anything wrong in his goals and approach to life, but there is something in the vocal delivery which betrays him. I never felt the need to get along/I may now be in flames/But I died with money.” There’s a short instrumental section that has elements of a ‘60s pop song (this section repeats just before the end).

“Grain Of Sand” features the lines, “I make plenty of green/at the village idiot bar/I live above a dry cleaner/to the stars.” That line makes me laugh every time, but it is far from this song’s only humorous lyric. These are the song’s opening lines: “Mental illness doesn't run in your family/It crawls quietly.” This one has something of a delightful pop vibe.

"Rally"

“Rally” is a song that gets in my head a lot. I saw them perform it in concert, and it pops in my head often enough that I was under the impression that it had been included on an earlier release (it wasn’t). The lines that I absolutely love are these: “It’s not the end of the world/It’s just the end of the day.” Sometimes we need a reminder, eh? I love this song.

“Lost Cause” opens with a spoken word intro, as by an old-time DJ at a dance hall or on the radio: “And now, friends, here’s an old favorite melody...” Then surprisingly this one has more of a raw and energetic rock vibe. This is a song that demands to be turned up. This song also provides the CD with its title in its opening lines: “Keep your shirt on/Cool your jets/You've been running fast enough/Ain't seen nothing yet.” And I totally dig these lines: “Anybody can sing/Sing a hallelujah.”

“El Norte” begins with a softer, acoustic instrumental section, and has kind of a sweet, pretty vibe. And lines like: “You know the pure will kill you if you stay/Send us money from the U.S.A./Take your broken heart to El Norte.” It then slowly builds into a kind of wonderful rock tune. “I miss you mama/You told me I should go.” Part of it is sung in Spanish.

"Hate Talkin'"

“Hate Talkin’” is a song you might already be familiar with. A video for this song was released last year, featuring the band at Cinema Bar, an incredibly small bar in Culver City that is actually a great place to catch live music. “Hate Talkin’” is a catchy country rock tune that will get you smiling. It starts as a series of insults which are funny, but where the song really grabs me is when Jay sings, “But wait I'm not through/I really hate talkin’ to you.” Those lines are so great, because clearly the person being insulted is walking away, ending the conversation, and the singer calls him back just to tell him he’s not enjoying the conversation. It’s wonderful. I also like these lines: “If you should reproduce/It would be child abuse/I say spare us your offspring.” And: “I wish you the worst.” The backing vocals echoing the title are a nice touch. 

"Do You Know A Love Song"

“Do You Know A Love Song” is my favorite track, and not just because of the addition of accordion (that’s Jason Eoff on accordion). This is just an overall very cool tune. I love the vibe. Plus, there are some wonderful backing vocals by Annette Summersett (she had also joined the band on Be Happy). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Don't say you weren't cryin’/You know I could hear you/On the last day of summer/I want to be near you/This world's changing form/How will we ever keep warm/Do you know a love song/Do you know a love song/There's got to be/one we can sing/when we can't get along.” Wonderful, right?

Randy Newman

Cool Your Jets ends with its sole cover, a nice rendition of Randy Newman’s “Ghosts” (a song that Randy Newman included on his 1979 release, Born Again).  While Randy Newman's version was basically vocals and piano, this version by Patrolled By Radar is a full band affair, and it's seriously good. It has that great mixture of humor and despair that Randy Newman was so great at creating before he sold his soul to Disney. “I don’t want to be all alone anymore/I’m sorry.”

CD Track List

  1. Died With Money
  2. Grain Of Sand
  3. Rally
  4. Lost Cause
  5. El Norte
  6. Fool
  7. Hate Talkin’
  8. Do You Know A Love Song
  9. Velocipede
  10. Ghosts 
Musicians

Patrolled By Radar is Jay Souza on vocals and guitar, Bosco Sheff on guitar, Preston Mann on organ and piano, Ben Johnsen on drums and vocals, and Peter Curry on bass.

Cool Your Jets is scheduled for an official release of May 1, 2014. But if you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to hear these songs earlier. Patrolled By Radar is doing a special record release concert at Three Of Clubs in Los Angeles on April 24, 2014.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Record Store Day 2014 Wish List

This Saturday is Record Store Day. I have to admit I'm not as excited about it as I usually am. But that's because I'm broke, and won't be able to buy more than one or two records (and really shouldn't even buy those, but honestly, I can't let that Grateful Dead record slip through my fingers). If I suddenly come in to some funds in the next two days, here is my list:
  • David Bowie: "1984" picture disc
  • Grateful Dead: "Live At Hampton Coliseum" double-LP
  • David Hess: "The Last House On The Left" 12-inch picture disc
  • The Julie Ruin: "Brightside/In The Picture" 7-inch 
  • The Pogues: "Live In London" (with Joe Strummer) double-LP
  • R.E.M.: "Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions" box
  • Ronnie Spector & The E Street Band: "Say Goodbye To Hollywood/Baby Please Don't Go" 7-inch
  • Bruce Springsteen: "American Beauty" 12-inch
  • Harry Dean Stanton: "Partly Fiction" 7-inch
  • various artists: "The Folk Box 50th Anniversary" box set

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

David Wilcox: “Blaze” (2014) CD Review



When I started getting into folk music in my late teens, David Wilcox was one of the first people I saw in concert. He used to play at a place called The Old Vienna Kaffeehaus in Westboro, Massachusetts, and always had a good rapport with his audience. He was so adept at connecting with his listeners, both live and on his albums, and that clearly remains true today. His newest CD, Blaze, boasts many excellent songs with intelligent lyrics, songs you can sink into. The album features all original material, written or co-written by David Wilcox. Blaze has a full band sound, but its heart is still that of a singer/songwriter. And for those who prefer the more stripped down acoustic sound, you can enjoy gems like “Drift” and “Single Candle.”

“Oil Talking To Ya”

The opening track, “Oil Talking To Ya,” premiered online before the CD, and it got me excited for the full-length album. It has a cool vibe, and a good message. There is kind of a rock and roll thing happening, with touches of blues. David Wilcox sings, “That’s just the oil talking to ya, it says you got no choice.” And it sure feels that way sometimes. But the song has an optimistic bent, as he adds, “But there’s a brighter voice.”  Yes, there is a positive outlook, which is appreciated. “Oil Talking To Ya” was written by David Wilcox and Ric Hordinski.

“Ocean Soul” is a love song with a sweet sound. The chorus reminds me a bit of Tom Petty – that is, the guitar part, not the vocals. “You’re so beautiful/You’re the ocean soul I need/You’re so beautiful/And I’ll be with you always.”

“We Came To Ride The Road”

I really dig the slow groove that begins “We Came To Ride The Road.” The song then has some interesting changes, each section with a very distinct sound. I love David’s vocals particularly on this track – those smooth, deep tones are delicious. And then the chorus has a sweet feel to it, helped by the backing vocals of Andrea Summer. As David Wilcox says in the CD’s liner notes, this one is about, and inspired by, a long-distance bicycle trip, and the song has the light, uplifting, beautiful feel you’d get from a trip like that. The song itself puts you in that frame of mind, where whatever is binding you somehow is looser.

“Guilty By Degree”

“Guilty By Degree” begins like a heavier rock song, which is something of a surprise, the drums kicking it off. But when David’s vocals come in, the tune breaks to a higher plateau. The chorus then returns us to a cool, heavy blues riff and feel, and David really makes it work. There is something tough in his vocal approach to the chorus. Like I said, this one surprised me. It then continued to do so by becoming one of my favorites the more I listened to it.

He then takes us in a completely different direction with “Bail My Boat,” a happy, positive-sounding tune. This has a certain catchy rhythm, giving the song a fun vibe. “If I’m there in despair/Getting pounded by the waves/In the up-and-down world affairs, unprepared/Sure, the sea is gonna crash, but it doesn’t have to take me there.” This is another favorite of mine. Dan Joseph Dorff plays Fender Rhodes on this track. 

“Guilty By Degree” and “Bail My Boat” were written by David Wilcox and Ric Hordinski.

“Drift”

“Drift” is a slow, incredibly pretty acoustic tune. David’s vocals and acoustic guitar are joined by Carol Sharar on violin and by David’s wife, Nance Pettit, on backing vocals, adding to the beauty of the song. “Each lonely drop of rain will be delivered/To the sea someday.” There is something sad in this song’s sound – something lonesome though loving. It’s a wonderful song.

“The Sacrifice”

“The Sacrifice” is a bluesy tune from the perspective of a policeman, and features a nearly spoken word type of delivery on some of the lines, giving a sense of immediacy to the story David relates. “I touch beneath his jawline for life under the skin/And he’s face down on the pavement, his neck feels cold and thin/So I’ll need some information from the two who called it in/’Cause the moment that it’s over is the moment it begins.” But then other sections are sung, and the contrast works to give the song an interesting power. I really like this line: “My badge covers my own heart, but these questions hurt my head.”

It could have been me, it could have been you/It could have been anyone we knew.”

“Single Candle”

Blaze concludes with “Single Candle,” a softer, acoustic tune with a positive message. “But that simple truth’s insistence melted your resistance/’Til all at once you knew that what you knew must change.” Life sometimes seems too short for us to feel we can effect any true and meaningful change. But this song urges us to go for it anyway, with Martin Luther King as the example of what can be accomplished. “Your quick life had time enough to shine like the sun.”

CD Track List

  1. Oil Talking To Ya
  2. Ocean Soul
  3. Tip Of My Tongue
  4. We Came To Ride The Road
  5. Guilty By Degree
  6. Bail My Boat
  7. Drift
  8. It’ll Work On You
  9. Don’t Look Back
  10. The Sacrifice
  11. Single Candle 

Blaze was released on February 25, 2014 through What Are Records?
 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Howlin’ Brothers: “Trouble” (2014) CD Review



The Howlin’ Brothers have quickly become one of my favorite bands. They put out excellent albums, and put on astoundingly fun and energetic live performances. And from a glance at their tour schedule, I’ve come to the conclusion that these guys never sleep. Somehow in their insane schedule, they’ve found time to record another album, Trouble. And, like their previous releases, Trouble is full of excellent tunes, and is just so much bloody fun (though there are some gorgeous darker, sadder tunes here). How do they do it? Perhaps they channel the spirits of some insane Kentucky moonshining family, and produce the music like automatic writing. I don’t know. All I know is I fucking love this band, and I can’t wait to see them in concert again.

Trouble features original material, written by each of the three band members. It gets off to a great start with “Pour It Down,” a fun tune that kicks off like an old rock and roll song, then quickly takes on a back-porch gospel feel, with backing vocals echoing Ian, who sings lead on this track. Though of course the lyrics are far from gospel; the song just has that feel. You know? Each of these lines is echoed: “She goes crazy/This time of year/When the sun is high/And the moon is low/We go dancing.” Plus, this song has some kick-ass instrumental sections.

“Boogie” is a mellower, but quite catchy old-time country folk tune about a girl who loves to boogie, and does it wherever she is (“Boogies in her car, and she boogies in her seat”). Ah, the kind of girl we all want to know. “Ain’t no telling if my baby’s coming home/She might boogie and shake it ‘til dawn/Boogied all night ‘til the band was gone/And then she came home and she boogied on the lawn.” Ben Plasse wrote this one and sings lead.

Things get good and rough and raw with “Night And Day,” a bluesy gem that will have you tapping your toes and nodding your head in time with the beat. It features some nice blowing on harmonica. “Night And Day” was written by Ian Craft.

The Howlin’ Brothers add a New Orleans flavor to the album on “Monroe,” a wonderful folk tune written by Jared Green. This song had me smiling immediately. Adding the “o” to the end of lines for the rhymes to work creates some funny bits, like “wine-o” in the line “with a glass of red wine-o.” (Do people still use the word wino? I do.)

“World Spinning Round” has a sweet and delicious sound, with a rhythm like a horse slowly trotting across the plains, sadly taking our hero away. Ian Craft sings this one with a sad longing in his voice that is beautiful. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Which way is up, dear?/I can’t find the ground/I can’t get over you/My world is upside down/I’m stuck in this fantasy.”  Plus, this tune features some nice work on violin. And Mike Fried adds some really wonderful touches on pedal steel.

“Troubled Waltz” is a slow, very cool, darker number (you might even call it kind of sexy). A different version of this song was included on an earlier release, The Sun Studio Session. I absolutely love this song. Ben Plasse’s lead vocals have a both a power and a need. And I dig the way the backing vocals interact with him.

“Sing A Sad Song” has a more mainstream feel, with a kind of positive, uplifting vibe. “If you need a place to fall/Honey, come on down/You’ll feel right at home.” Yes, I love this song. “When we sing our songs/I can hear the angels singing along/To a sad, sad song/’Cause it feels good.” Indeed.

Ooo-wee, they pick up the pace with “Pack Up Joe,” a great, frantic bit of bluegrass bliss. “Let’s hit the road again.” Oh yes, this needs to be on everyone’s road mix tapes. They really demonstrate what great musicians they are on this one. “Pack Up Joe” was written by Jared Green.

“Love” is probably the most surprising of all the tracks on this release. It has more of a reggae thing happening, and reminds me a bit of Entrain. Ben Plasse wrote this one. “And thank you for the loves that went wrong.”

“Hard Times” is a delightful bluegrass track, taking troubles and turning them to joy. “I wonder why I ain’t makin’ no money/Hard times are knockin’ on my door again.” I absolutely love this song. There is something in Jared’s voice on this track that reminds me at times a bit of Michael Nesmith.

“I Was Wrong” is probably my favorite track on this release, and not just because there is a Mr. T reference, and not just because its rhythm brings to mind something from The Muppet Show. This song, perhaps even more than the others, puts me in a fantastic mood. The first lines are: “I thought you was funny/I thought you was fine/I thought you might be the apple of my eye/Well, I was wrong.” I love the vocal approach to this one. There is something delightfully playful in the delivery of several lines. I only wish it were longer.

“Louisiana” is another tune with a really nice, positive vibe, and with a rhythm like a horse joyfully dancing along, no cares in the world. Yet, the lyrics speak of troubles. “I got pieces of my heart in Texas/I got pieces up in Tennessee/I got pieces of my heart that are gone/And they’re never coming back to me.”

Trouble ends with a gospel-sounding tune, “Yes I Am!” The sound of this track is different, like it was caught live, like you stumbled into their tent in the middle of things. It’s very short, like we’re just catching a piece of an ongoing celebration.

CD Track List

  1. Pour It Down
  2. Boogie
  3. Night And Day
  4. Monroe
  5. World Spinning Round
  6. Troubled Waltz
  7. Sing A Sad Song
  8. Pack Up Joe
  9. Love
  10. Hard Times
  11. I Was Wrong
  12. Louisiana
  13. Yes I Am! 

Musicians

The Howlin’ Brothers are Ian Craft on vocals, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and kick drum; Ben Plasse on vocals and upright bass; and Jared Green on vocals, guitar, harmonica and piano. Joining them on this release are Ricky Skaggs on mandolin; Gregg Stocki on drums; Brendan Benson on vocals, washtub bass and tambourine; Etta Britt on vocals; Bridget Baumgartner on vocals; Phil Madeira and Matty on accordion and scrapeboard; and Mike Fried on pedal steel.

Trouble is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2014 on Readymade Records.