Saturday, July 26, 2014

Red Molly: “Light In The Sky” (2011) CD Review



I’ve been listening to Red Molly a lot lately. The group’s most recent CD, The Red Album, features a lot of excellent original material, as well as a cover of the Richard Thompson song for which the band was named. Their previous release, Light In The Sky, contains more cover material, including songs by Gillian Welch, Doc Watson and Mark Erelli. They do a pretty and sweet rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” as well as a wonderful rendition of Amy Speace’s “It’s Too Late To Call It A Night,” featuring Herb Gardner on altoon. There are only a few original tunes, but this is a group that is able to do a lot with its choices of covers, making the songs their own while not forgetting the spirit of the originals.

Gillian Welch

Light In The Sky opens with “Dear Someone,” delivered a cappella to show straight away the gorgeous qualities of their voices. It’s a beautiful way to open the album, and their rendition gives the song a delightful timeless quality. “Dear Someone” was written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

They also cover Gillian Welch’s “By The Mark,” a gospel tune from her 1996 debut album, Revival. Red Molly's version is a more upbeat and lively take on the song.

“Walk Beside Me”

Red Molly does an excellent cover of “Walk Beside Me,” a song written by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. Red Molly delivers this song with an energy and passion. Again, it is the vocals that really drive the song, but there is also some wonderful work by Jake Armerding on both fiddle and mandolin. The original version appeared on Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott’s 2005 release, Real Time.

“Come On In My Kitchen”

Red Molly does some interesting stuff with “Come On In My Kitchen,” the well-known Robert Johnson song. The vocals are at the fore, and they actually begin it a cappella. There is that blues base, but there are times when Red Molly strays from it (such as the way they do the “wind howls” part). It certainly has quite a different feel from the original, with a bit of a quicker tempo. There are some additional lyrics by Abbie Gardner, and they also toss in a bit of “It Hurts Me Too.” Herb Gardner plays organ on this track.

“Oh My Michael”

“Oh My Michael” is one of the album’s original songs, written by Abbie Gardner and Jonathan Byrd. It’s a slow, gorgeous tune. Abbie sings, “If I were a siren I’d call him ashore/And on the rocks I’d be lonely no more.” Ah, but the voices of these women would seem to have that very power. Plus, personally I’m happy to have such a beautiful song with my name in the title. I hope this one can establish itself in my brain to the point of finally evicting “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.”

“Hold It All” is another of this CD’s original songs, Molly Venter’s songwriting contribution to this album. It’s a beautiful song, with the voices at the fore and the guitar quietly behind them. “Trying to do what I can/Trying to be who I am/And I’m tired, I’m tired.” This is one that got right on top of me, and is one of my personal favorites. “God, I don’t know what to do with this love that I’ve tasted.”

The CD’s third original song is “Hello Goodbye,” written by Abbie Gardner and Herb Gardner. It’s a playful tune with a delightful instrumental section. Herb Gardner plays piano on this track.

Mark Erelli

The women of Red Molly are fans of Mark Erelli, having covered his song “Pretend” on their most recent release. And on this CD, they cover two of his songs. The first is “Ghost,” an incredibly moving song of loss and holding on to what is lost. Mark Erelli is a seriously talented songwriter, and Red Molly does a really good job with his material, getting right into the emotional center of “Ghost.” “And nobody answers when I call out your name/And I need you the most when you’re not around/I’m in love with your ghost.”

They also cover Mark Erelli’s “Why Should I Cry,” a fun, peppy tune about being lonely. Jake Armerding provides some wonderful touches on fiddle. Both of these songs were included on Mark Erelli's 2001 release, Compass And Companion.

“Fever”

The CD ends with a cover of “Fever,” a song I absolutely adore. It’s a song that you really can’t go wrong with, unless you’re Madonna (I still can’t get over how she completely missed the mark with her shitty rendition - someone please spank her for me). Red Molly’s version feels a bit faster than a lot of versions, but is still kind of sexy. Craig Akin is featured prominently on bass. (Is it just me, or are they singing "flame in you" instead of "flaming youth"?)

CD Track List

  1. Dear Someone
  2. Walk Beside Me
  3. Come On In My Kitchen
  4. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
  5. Oh My Michael
  6. Does My Ring Burn Your Finger
  7. Ghost
  8. Hold It All
  9. Hello Goodbye
  10. Your Long Journey
  11. By The Mark
  12. It’s Too Late To Call It A Night
  13. Why Should I Cry
  14. Fever

Red Molly is Laurie MacAllister, Abbie Gardner and Molly Venter.

Light In The Sky was released on October 4, 2011.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chris Smither: “Still On The Levee” (2014) CD Review



I first heard Chris Smither back when I got into folk music in the late 1980s. And then when I was a DJ in Oregon, Up On The Lowdown was released, and we used to play a lot from that disc. I knew he’d been around for a while, but I no idea just how long. His new two-disc set, Still On The Levee, celebrates fifty years of music. Fifty years. That’s incredible.

Still On The Levee is not a greatest hits compilation. In fact, it’s not really a compilation at all. Chris Smither has gone back to record new versions of some of his best material. It’s a celebration of his work, but is a look forward at the same time as being a look back, as these songs take on a new and fresh and different life.  This is folk and blues, and the age in his voice really adds another dimension and depth to these songs. For example, in “Rosalie” when he sings, “I’m walking along, I’ve been singing a song about Rosalie,” the age in his voice gives the impression that he’s been walking a long time, carrying the woman around in his head. And it seems the older you get, the better the blues work, the more they feel believable, real, lived. You know? Check out “Another Way To Find You,” for example. His vocals have an authority. I love the brutal, beautiful reality and honesty of this music. Nothing is overproduced. He also displays a wonderful humor in a song like “Lola” (with lines like “She says the love ain’t cheap, but the pain is free/And I say, ‘But that sounds good to me!’”).

Some good guests appear on these recordings as well, including Loudon Wainwright III, Allen Toussaint, Kris Delmhorst and Dana Colley. This excellent two-disc set includes a book, featuring the lyrics and lots of photographs.

Chris Smither gets things going with a sweet, even pretty rendition of “Devil Got Your Man.” There is a wonderful and appropriate weariness to Chris’ vocal delivery. It’s a voice of experience.  And adding to the song’s beauty is Anita Suhanin on backing vocals.

I love the sense of humor to “Don’t It Drag On.” The song has a sweet, relaxed vibe to it, and the humor kind of sneaks in through that straight-forward vocal delivery, lines like “I’m just a lazy man falling in love again/I got too much time to spare.” And the age (and wisdom) in his voice really adds another layer to this song. Originally it was the title track to his 1972 release. There is some nice work on harmonica on this track.

“Love You Like A Man” is a fun bluesy bit of bliss. “You’re coming home sad/You’re laying down to cry/What you need is a man to hold you/Not some fool to ask you why.” There’s a great strain in his voice. I love that moment when he goes from certainty to a more honest assessment in the line “I could – I think I could be your lover man.” It’s delightful and funny.

“Song For Susan” is one of my favorites. I find it so moving, the simplicity and honesty of it.  And with experience, he sings, “’Cause Love ain’t easy/Who told you that it would be.”  There is something heartbreaking about his delivery here. “’Cause someplace I know you need me.”

This album includes an absolutely wonderful rendition of “’Deed I Do.” This was one of my favorite songs from Up On The Lowdown. And this rendition on Still On The Levee features Catherine Norr on vocals. It has a sweet sadness to its sound. “Why does all this heartbreak call me lovingly?/How does it know how to open my door?” Chris Smither follows it with another tune from Up On The Lowdown, a slightly more stripped down version of the cool blues song “Link Of Chain,” with a nice little intro not featured in the original version.

The second disc kicks off with a great bluesy folk tune, “Hold On,” that has a beautiful back porch feel. It has a delicious vibe, in part because of the great work on harmonica by Jimmy Fitting. This is one of my favorite tracks. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “My freedom will be measured/By the length to which I’ll disobey/Tell me where to go/And I’ll freely tell you no/And I will hold on.”

He follows that with a cool slow blues tune, “Shillin’ For The Blues,” the original version of which was on his 2006 release Leave The Light On. Here Chris gets deliciously low and mean in his vocal approach. He sings, “I’ll say I ain’t surprised, my sense of humor’s paralyzed by the blues,” and a moment later, he delivers a deep repetition of “by the blues” that sounds so damn good. Making things even more interesting is the presence of Dana Colley on baritone sax.  This is definitely one of this CD’s highlights.

Another highlight is an excellent rendition of “What They Say,” featuring Loudon Wainwright III on vocals. There is a joy to this track, and a great loose vibe. Something that makes you feel you’re listening to friends sing and play, and you’re almost a part of it. This is a more recent song, included on 2012’s Hundred Dollar Valentine.

This disc also includes a really good version of “Up On The Lowdown,” the title track from his 1995 release. This version features some more good work on harmonica, and a good familiar feel to the instrumental sections.  There is also a playful aspect to the vocals, which I love. “It would shake a more suspicious mind/But I just like the sound.” And I love his delivery of “This simple secret is the key to my attraction.”

Interestingly, both discs end with a version of “Leave The Light On.” Both versions are really good, and both feature Rusty Belle, but each is quite different. The first has a nice, sweet, vibe, an almost happy feel to it. Chris Smither’s daughter, Robin, is featured on this track. The second version begins with Kate Lorenz on lead vocals, and has a kind of underlying intensity. Chris takes over lead vocals on the second verse: “I’ve never seen my life in such a hurry.” And later when their vocals blend, there is definitely a beauty. “I’ve been left for dead before, but I still fight on/Don’t wait up, leave the light on/I’ll be home soon.”

CD Track List

Disc One

  1. Devil Got Your Man
  2. Don’t It Drag On
  3. No More Cane On The Brazos
  4. Love You Like A Man
  5. Rosalie
  6. Lonesome Georgia Brown
  7. Song For Susan
  8. Another Way To Find You
  9. ‘Deed I Do
  10. Link Of Chain
  11. Train Home
  12. Lola
  13. Leave The Light On 

Disc Two

  1. Hold On
  2. Shillin’ For The Blues
  3. No Love Today
  4. What They Say
  5. Slow Surprise
  6. Can’t Shake These Blues
  7. Call Time
  8. Up On The Lowdown
  9. Seems So Real
  10. Small Revelations
  11. Winsome Smile
  12. Leave The Light On

Still On The Levee was released on July 22, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bobby Patterson: “I Got More Soul!” (2014) CD Review



A lot of what is called R&B these days has neither R nor B. So it’s great to hear a new rhythm and blues album that is steeped in blues and soul, with lots of great rhythms. This album is a serious amount of fun, while the quieter songs (like “Let Me Heal It”) also work beautifully. This is mostly original material, but has a great, timeless feel, from an amazing singer who earlier this year turned 70 but sounds much younger.

I Got More Soul! opens with its title track, a ridiculously fun tune, with a beat to get you dancing. This song features horns and a bit of boasting:  Like the finest wine, I’m here to stroke your mind.”  This song also mentions fellow musicians Little Johnny Taylor, Al Green, and BB King.

That’s followed by “Your Love Belongs Under A Rock,” one of only two covers on this album. It begins with a classic groove that immediately gets me smiling. It’s a song about a woman who is just no good; after all, she has “the heart of a cobra,” as Bobby Patterson tells us. Understandably, he decides: “I got to put you down, woman/You’re getting out of control.” And then there is a fantastic sax lead toward the end. “Your Love Belongs Under A Rock” was written by Mick Collins and originally performed by The Dirtbombs. The album’s other cover is Sly & The Family Stone’s “Poet,” capturing the groovy, funky feel of the original.

Bobby Patterson then brings things down a bit for “Let Me Heal It.” I really love his vocal performance on this track. There is something so tender in his voice, like his voice itself has the power to help and heal. He’s trying to make us feel good, and he's succeeding. “Why don’t you talk to me/So I can see, baby, what I can do/Try to get through to you/Come on, baby, just reveal it/Whatever’s ailing you, I can heal it.” This wonderful track is one of my favorites.

“I Feel The Same Way” has a nice, easy groove, reminding me of some of Sam Cooke’s material, like “Good Times.” It’s a sweet love song, with lines like “Now I wrote this song to show you how I feel/Even though I tell you every day/We took the time to make the thing real/You’ve heard it all before, but I really want to say/I feel the same way about you/Don’t think I could live without you.”

Things get a bit funky with the sexy “Can You Feel Me?” This song features some very cool work on bass. “Well, I’m one of a kind/And I’m here to shock your mind/Can you feel me.”  There is some intimate-sounding spoken word vocals over a groovy jam toward the end.

There is also something intimate and so bloody honest about his delivery of “I Know How It Feels.” This is another highlight for me. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever fall in love again/Or if she’ll come back – she might come back and ease my pain.” I love his delivery of “She might come back,” full of hope and yet also, most likely, delusion. This woman is gone, and deep down he knows it. But when he starts to think about possibly falling in love again, his thoughts and his heart immediately turn back to this woman, which is so sad. I love this song.

Things then turn toward gospel with “Everybody’s Got A Little Devil In Their Soul.” The Relatives provide backing vocals on this track. Sure, the song is a bit repetitive, but it’s delicious. The album concludes with “The Entertainer Pt. 1,” which features some more delightful (and humorous) boasting: “See, I’m the real deal with the master skills, and the longer you listen the better you feel” and “I don’t care if you’re in the ‘hood or in the trunk/Ain’t no way you can get away from my funk/I’m the entertainer.” And I love this line: “I got something for everybody that woke up on the right side of the wrong bed with a bad head and no bread/Ha ha, it's called soul.”

CD Track List

  1. I Got More Soul
  2. Your Love Belongs Under A Rock
  3. Let Me Heal It
  4. I Feel The Same Way
  5. Can You Feel Me?
  6. Poet
  7. It’s Hard To Get Back In
  8. I Know How It Feels
  9. Everybody’s Got A Little Devil In Their Soul
  10. The Entertainer Pt. 1

I Got More Soul! was released on July 22, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Vogue Dots: “Toska” (2014) CD Review



Vogue Dots are a Canadian electronic pop duo made up of Babette Hayward and Tynan Dunfield. Toska is their debut release, an EP full of slower grooves and interesting, somewhat haunting vocals. Three of the five tracks are originals. They also cover a couple of fellow Canadian artists – A.A. Wallace and Cousins.

“Skinny Thing” starts off in a kind of pretty mood, then takes on more of a club beat, though still with a slower groove. It’s when the vocals come in that I begin to really appreciate what they’re doing. Babette Hayward has a good voice, and the vocals have a light, ethereal quality. Also, there is kind of a 1980s vibe to the song during the verses which I really like. “I’ll let the symptoms save me/Or just play the baby/Why can’t you pull your weight/Freedom makes you hesitate.

They follow that with a cover of A.A. Wallace’s “Temporal Suspension,” kind of a slow tune with a steady rhythm. In Babette’s vocal delivery, she seems to hold back a bit, to keep something from us. “I don’t believe that a temporal suspension is out of reach/I don’t believe that a massive collision is all we need/To prove that we’re alone, there’s nothing where we’re going/So we should fight the future because it’s so impressionable.” And a few minutes in, her vocals seem more at a distance for a moment, like she’s getting lost or enveloped by the surrounding sounds, by the environment she finds herself in. I really like this track a lot. There is more of a beauty to this version than is heard in A.A. Wallace’s original. By the way, I love the line “As far as evil goes, it keeps me on my toes.”  

That is followed by the EP’s other cover, Cousins’ “Thunder.” Vogue Dots’ rendition is quite a bit different from Cousins’ original. This has a harder, tenser, more industrial sound at the beginning. Babette’s vocals then come floating in through the surrounding static, and they have an almost angelic quality at first, in wonderful contrast to some of the sounds.  She then breaks through, suddenly closer to us, but even then there is something of a distance, as her vocals are like a repeated message coming over the radio waves, while the thumping of our own heartbeat seems in the fore. As always, I could do without the rain sound effect at the end. (It’s not in the original.)

“Mercy” has a strange, otherworldly feel to it, like breath pulled in hard, a reversed life, but with gorgeous, angelic vocals over it. A voice from beyond, perhaps, but friendly, gentle, pretty. This, to me, is the most intriguing track of the CD.

“Turns And Turns” begins with an electronic landscape, just this side of dreaming. It then comes in as a wonderful pop song, perhaps the closest to a mainstream feel of all the tracks, but certainly not dull. In fact, there is something quite beautiful here, and it might be the CD’s strongest track. It’s always interesting to see which lines are chosen for repetition. Here, it is “Honey, I’m bored.” Seamus Dalton plays guitar on this track.

CD Track List

  1. Skinny Thing
  2. Temporal Suspension
  3. Thunder
  4. Mercy
  5. Turns And Turns

Toska was released on May 6, 2014 on Indica Records.