Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lou Volpe: “Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes (Songs Of Sinatra)” (2015) CD Review

Jazz guitarist Lou Volpe’s new CD, Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes (Songs Of Sinatra), features tunes that Frank Sinatra recorded and made famous. It’s interesting that a CD paying homage to Frank Sinatra is actually an instrumental album. After all, it’s not like Sinatra wrote any of these songs. What Sinatra is known for is his voice. That being said, this is a really good CD by an accomplished guitarist, capturing the spirit of Sinatra’s approach, his passion, and of course command of the material. Lou Volpe’s guitar work has a smooth, delicious flow, feeling effortless and clear, like speaking.  Lou Volpe is based in New York, and has recorded with many artists over the years.

The CD opens with a really good rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” a song written by Gene de Paul, Patricia Johnston, and Don Raye. This version has a good groove, and some nice work on drums by Buddy Williams, as well as wonderful work on guitar. Sinatra released his version as a single, and also included it on his Point Of No Return album.

One of Frank Sinatra’s most famous recordings is his version of “It Was A Very Good Year,” a song written by Ervin Drake and originally recorded by The Kingston Trio. Sinatra included it on his 1965 record September Of My Years, and his recording won him a Grammy. Lou Volpe’s rendition has more of a pronounced groove at the beginning, and some nice work by Leo Traversa on bass. There is also some nice interplay between guitar and keyboard, and then approximately halfway through there is a really cool and interesting section that makes me think of whales singing this tune. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear it. And Lou Volpe’s guitar really shines on the following track, “You Go To My Head.”

But one of my favorite tracks is Lou Volpe’s rendition of “A Foggy Day,” a song composed by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and originally recorded by Fred Astaire. It was included on many Frank Sinatra records, including Songs For Young Lovers and Ring-A-Ding-Ding! As for Volpe’s version, in addition to some great work on guitar, this one features some excellent work on keys by Mel Davis. It does feel odd that it fades out, but that’s all right. You can never go wrong with Gershwin. Another song that Sinatra included on several records is “One For My Baby,” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Lou Volpe gives it a bluesy edge from the start, and his rendition isn’t nearly as mellow as many versions such as Sinatra’s version from Only The Lonely.

Another song that Sinatra really made famous is “That’s Life,” which was written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, and originally recorded by Marion Montgomery. Lou Volpe’s rendition doesn’t have the same energy as Sinatra’s, and has a more bluesy feel, but still works well. “The Best Is Yet To Come” is another song closely associated with Frank Sinatra, though again other artists recorded it before he did. On this CD, Volpe gives it a bit of a bossa nova feel, with Gary Fritz on percussion. As a side note, “The Best Is Yet To Come” is the last song Frank Sinatra performed.

I love what Lou Volpe does with “All The Things You Are,” picking up the pace, his guitar flying over the wonderful groove by Leo Traversa on bass and Buddy Williams on drums. This is a total treat, and one of my personal favorite tracks. “All The Things You Are” was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. The CD ends with “Europa,” which was written by Carlos Santana, and is the one tune here not to have been recorded by Frank Sinatra. It is one of Santana's most famous compositions, and Lou Volpe delivers it as a guitar solo, dedicating it “to the Brilliance of Frank.”

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Remember April
  2. Speak Low
  3. It Was A Very Good Year
  4. You Go To My Head
  5. A Foggy Day
  6. One For My Baby
  7. Days Of Wine And Roses
  8. That’s Life
  9. Softly As I Leave You
  10. The Best Is Yet To Come
  11. I Get A Kick Out Of You
  12. All The Things You Are
  13. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  14. Europa
Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes is scheduled to be released on November 6, 2015 on Jazz Guitar Records.

Ferris And The Wheels: “Ferris And The Wheels” (2015) CD Review

Okay, I usually don’t review a CD unless I really dig the majority of the tracks. But I have to make an exception in the case of the new, self-titled disc by Ferris And The Wheels. When I first popped it on, I wasn’t all that into it. The first couple of tracks are hard rock, and the play on “dam hole” instead of “damn hole” in the first track wasn’t enough to win me over. But the third track, “Typical,” totally grabbed me. It’s a ridiculously catchy and goofy pop tune. At first I felt that I shouldn’t like it, that maybe something was wrong with me. But its charm is just undeniable (and it even has some “ooh la la” vocals). I ended up listening to it several times, and then getting online and watching the video several times. The video is even more ridiculous – and I don’t even like videos as an artistic medium – but I couldn’t stop watching it. The more I watched it, the more I loved the song, and the more I liked the band. They’re clearly having a goof. I’d had my doubts about this band after reading the press release, because it’s all about their nicknames and their marketing plans – targeting Chicago and Atlanta, and so on. And the band’s web site counts its own press release as a CD review. But whatever, no matter, because then the fifth track, “Last Parade,” is also seriously good. It has a quirky little groove that I totally enjoy, and some nice vocal play. Plus, I dig the lyrics, with lines like “These low expectations always save my day” and “Why do I always worry about things I can’t explain?” and “I’m not going to tell you what it means.” It’s such a damn good song, with a fun, positive bent (“We’ve got to take advantage of each breath we take”). I’ve been listening to this one over and over too.

As for the other songs, I kind of got into “Found It,” mainly because I let it play several times after “Last Parade,” and it began to work for me. It’s a slower number, with some good lyrics: “You don’t know what you do to me/You’re pushing me to the edge of insanity/And I’m always looking for a way out/And I – I – I think I just found it.” Ferris And The Wheels are based in Nashville, and are made up of Geoff Ferris on lead vocals and guitar, Jake Lentner on lead guitar and vocals, Dylan Ayers on drums on vocals, and Josh Ayers on bass and vocals. All the tracks on this CD are originals.

CD Track List
  1. Stuck In This Dam Hole
  2. I Got Something
  3. Typical
  4. Mania
  5. Last Parade
  6. Found It
Ferris And The Wheels is scheduled to be released on October 9, 2015. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gavin Chappell-Bates: “We Are The Ones” (2015) CD Review

“We Are The Ones” is the third single from Gavin Chappell-Bates’ debut full-length album (the album is planned for an early 2016 release), and the We Are The Ones EP contains two versions of the song, as well as another new song and his previous single, “95.” Gavin Chappell-Bates is from Cambridgeshire, England, and performs solo by creating loops on his guitar, much in the same vein as Keller Williams. All the tracks here are originals, written by Gavin Chappell-Bates.

“We Are The Ones” is youthful, though thoughtful pop, with kind of a pretty intro on guitar. “I remember when we were young/We used to chase the sun/It never set on us/We’re no longer seventeen.” Ah, so true: seventeen is long gone. Though there is something undeniably youthful about this song, about the perspective, it’s still a song about looking back. I guess it’s never too early to look back at what’s come before, and appreciate it. But this song is also (and mainly) about a strong present leading into the future, not getting lost in nostalgia or anything. “We still dream,” Gavin Chappell-Bates sings, and that is what keeps us youthful, and it is that part of us that this song speaks to. “I remember summer songs/We still sing along/They still turn us on.” The EP ends with an acoustic, softer rendition of “We Are The Ones.” The prettier aspects of the song are given prominence in this version, and it has a more intimate feel.

Then “95,” which was released as the previous single, is more firmly looking back. In this one, he says straight out “I want to be back in ’95.” Clearly, this was a fun and innocent time for him, and the song reflects that spirit. Of course, it’s difficult to hear a song about a specific year without thinking about what you yourself were doing that year. And for me, the summer of 1995 isn’t one I’d particularly want to revisit. Though it included a road trip (which I enjoyed), that summer also had a lot of deaths. That makes it hard for me to sing along, though there is certainly something catchy about this song. “And even when we cut our arms for those girls who came from Mars/Anyone can play guitar.”

The other track on this EP is “Loneliness (A Song For You And Me),” which was recorded specifically for this release. It too has a youthful feel, capturing those moments after a break-up when you feel completely alone and unloved, a feeling which is certainly exaggerated in one’s younger years, when everything seems so bloody important. Lines like these can only come from someone young: “I'm growing into this skin and no one will notice me/Hiding in my own world, nothing can touch me.” But the line “My only love has gone until I find another one” has an absurd and humorous truth to it, which I love. It’s like even within his brooding, this character can’t help but look to the future, to another girl.

CD Track List
  1. We Are The Ones
  2. 95
  3. Loneliness (A Song For You And Me)
  4. We Are The Ones (acoustic)
We Are The Ones was released on October 5, 2015.

Grateful Dead Online

You can find nearly everything on the internet. Someone has been kind enough to put up a lot of Grateful Dead shows. So this morning before work I listened to part of the first set from June 17, 1991. I saw forty-one shows between 1988 and 1995, and this was probably the best one. Certainly it was up there in the top five or so. And I almost didn’t go to this show. My friend and I had been separated the night before (the first of a two-night run at Giants Stadium) and upon meeting back up at my van agreed that it had been the worst show either of us had attended. In fact, it was so lackluster that we considered giving away our tickets for the next show and just going home, finding some other band to obsess over. But then again, we were already there, so we might as well stay for the next concert. After all, it was a bit of a hike from Jersey back up to Massachusetts. We were parked at an all-night diner, so we got a bit of food and eventually fell asleep in my van.

Well, the next night we got separated again. And a little bit before the show I lowered myself over the wall and landed at the back of the floor. A light rain was coming down, and the blue tarp over the field quickly became a slip and slide. It was so much fun that I was actually a bit surprised when the band took the stage, and much more surprised when I heard what they decided to open the show with. “Eyes Of The World.” One of my favorites, and one that is almost always played deep in the second set. To kick off the show with it was something special, and everyone there was aware of it. It was like the band was determined to make up for the previous night, and wanted to let us know straight away. The whole first set was fantastic, with a fun “Loose Lucy” and an excellent “Cassidy” (another of my favorites) and a rocking “Might As Well” closer. My memory is that everyone was smiling, dancing. The place was thumping with joy. And the second set was, of course, tremendous, and included “New Speedway Boogie.”

I remember the parking lot that night after the show as a scene of jubilation. We’d all shared one of those magical moments, and we knew it, and were also reluctant to let go of the night so quickly. This morning I had time to listen to only a few numbers, but it brought me right back to that time. So now I plan on enjoying a little of the show each day before work, to put me in a great mood. It’s wonderful that the internet makes it so easy for us to revisit these magical times. Thanks to everyone who helps share the music.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Michael Stanley: “And Then…” (2015) CD Review

Michael Stanley has been putting out good records since the 1970s, with the Michael Stanley Band and then with the Resonators. You’ll probably remember The Michael Stanley Band’s hit tune “He Can’t Love You,” mainly because that music video played almost constantly on MTV, but there has been a lot of great material over the years. And Michael Stanley continues to release some really good tunes. His newest album, And Then…, contains mostly original material, in the rock and country realms (though a song like “Shifting Gears” is a little more bluesy). This album has Stanley backed by The Resonators, as well as by Ed Caner on violin and viola, and Don Dixon on backing vocals. It was produced by Michael Stanley, and mixed by Bill Szymczyk. By the way, the CD boasts a pretty interesting cover, and Michael Stanley assures us in the liner notes, “And believe it or not, the cover photo is not Photoshopped.”

He kicks off the new CD with “All Together Now,” a happy summertime rock tune with a great beat. The song begins with just drums, and when it kicks in, it becomes a quite catchy song. It’s hard not to get into the spirit of the song, especially when the backing vocalists join him for a little “Sha la la.” And there is some groovy work on bass during an instrumental section. This is just a good rock and roll number, and you’ll probably find yourself singing along.

“Radio Waves” is a slightly more serious, thoughtful song, but still has a lively energy. It’s a good, honest rock tune, reminding me of some of the best ‘80s music, like Tom Petty or John Cafferty. And there are some good lyrics, like “But lines get drawn and lines get crossed” and “There’s too much me and not enough us/Too much hate and not enough trust/Too much confusion between love and lust/And sure as hell not enough time.”

“Soul Of A Train” is a slower number, with something of a country vibe to it. This is a love song of yearning, of longing with lines like “Lonely rooms, they wrap their arms around you/Spin you down to your knees” and “Think of all those nights that I held you/Close my eyes, I’m there again/Just take me there, take me/You’re everywhere, and I’m waiting/For the sound of a train.” It’s interesting that train imagery is still so effective, even when most people these days haven’t ridden the rails. “All I need to hear is the sound of a train.” This one was written by Marc Lee Shannon and Michael Stanley.

The CD’s title track, “And Then,” is on the pretty side, with an emotional vocal delivery. “So tell me a story and make me believe/And let us begin/’Cause I’m gonna hold you closer and closer/Over and over, closer and closer/And then...” I love the idea of being open to the possibilities, and that the title line “And then” is delivered without continuing the thought aloud, without giving specifics. There is magic and hope in that simple “And then.” And I really like these lines: “And the shadows hold their secrets/And the wise men hold their tongues/And the lovers hold the moment/When they know it’s begun.”

“Snakes,” a harder bluesy rocker, contains a Hamlet reference in its lyrics. In this one, Michael Stanley sings, “And don’t stand a chance and there lies the rub.” The phrase “There’s the rub” is from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy: “To sleep? perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.” “Snakes” has some interesting and amusing lyrics, such as “Church ain’t over ‘til the snakes/Are back in the bag” and “Or the ones that keep looking for Jesus on toast.” Michael Stanley follows that with an absolutely wonderful and sweet country song, “Sweet Spot,” which is one of my personal favorites. This song had me smiling from the moment it started. Partly that’s due to the wonderful work on fiddle, but I also really like the lyrics and overall feel. “I’m a man who’s got/No problem with directions/So tell me what you want/’Cause we’re in this thing together now/Lookin’ for that sweet, sweet spot.”

Then “Long Ohio Winter” is one of those gloriously sad songs about missing someone. A long winter is just longer without the person you love, and this song perfectly captures and conveys that feeling. “I am so tired of waiting/For the sun to slip on through/Been a long Ohio winter without you.” The nights, and even the days, are darker when you’re missing that special someone. And check out that beautiful violin as the song fades. This is another of my favorites.

The album’s sole cover is “Good Day For The Blues,” written by David Grissom of Storyville, and originally included on that band’s 1996 release, A Piece Of Your Soul. Michael Stanley does a good job with it, and I like Bob Pelander’s work on piano on this rendition. That’s followed by “In Your Kiss,” another sweet, beautiful love song. Check out these lines: “I know you watched the moon tonight/And how I wish that I was there/And having bathed in both your lights/Well, that moon just can’t compare.” So sweet, right? And besides, this song features some lovely work on violin.

CD Track List
  1. All Together Now
  2. Radio Waves
  3. Sound Of A Train
  4. Shifting Gears
  5. And Then
  6. Snakes
  7. Sweet Spot
  8. Long Ohio Winter
  9. Hang On To This Heart
  10. Don’t Say Nothing
  11. Good Day For The Blues
  12. In Your Kiss
  13. Circadian Rhythm 
And Then… is scheduled to be released on October 16, 2015 through Line Level Music.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes And The Course Of Country Music (2015) CD Review

The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes And The Course Of Country Music is the soundtrack to the documentary film of the same name about the Carter Family and their influence on country music. It includes some great old recordings by The Original Carter Family, as well as more recent tracks from folks like John Prine, Grey Delisle and Roseanne Cash. It’s probably impossible to enjoy country and folk without having a deep appreciation for The Carter Family and what they’ve done for music, and this CD will remind folks of just how great their influence is, and, more importantly, how great their music is. This CD includes liner notes by Beth Harrington, who directed the documentary. I do wish the liner notes contained specific information about the sources of each song, where and when the recordings were made, and the albums the songs were originally included on. But that is a relatively minor complaint. The liner notes do include some good information, as well as a few photos, and besides, it’s the music that is important here.

This disc opens with John Prine’s fantastic rendition of “Bear Creek Blues,” a song he included on his album Fair & Square, getting things off to an energetic start. This is folk with country and bluegrass elements, including that delicious pace. John Prine also included this song on In Person & On Stage. It’s followed by a sweet folk rendition of “Lord, I’m In Your Care” performed by Grey Delisle and Murry Hammond. Grey Delisle also had a song on the 2007 compilation Anchored In Love: A Tribute To June Carter Cash. And Murry Hammond is of course known for his work with The Old 97’s. This disc also includes Hammond’s rendition of “In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain.”

Then the album gets into some recordings by The Carter Family, beginning with one of their most famous tunes, “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow Tree.” For anyone who is not familiar with it, here are some of the lyrics: “My heart is sad and I'm in sorrow/For the only one I love/When shall I see him, oh, no, never/’Til I meet him in heaven above/Oh, bury me under the weeping willow/Yes, under the weeping willow tree/So he may know where I am sleeping/And perhaps he will weep for me.” That is followed by one that is perhaps not quite as well known, “Single Girl, Married Girl.” “Keep On The Sunny Side” is a song that always makes me happy, but the version here is only like fifteen seconds long, just a little tease. It’s a live recording with an introduction, and then goes straight into an introduction of “Cannon Ball Blues.”  In the liner notes, Beth Harrington includes an interesting anecdote about a performance of “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blues Eyes,” and that song is included here as well. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Oh, you told me once, dear, that you loved me/You said that we never would part/But a link in the chain has been broken/Leaves me with a sad and aching heart.”

In addition to tracks by The Original Carter Family, there are songs here by other configurations of Carter family members, including a version of “Wildwood Flower” by Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters, “Sweet Fern” by Maybelle and Sara Carter, and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by Johnny Cash and The Carter Sisters. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” is a live track, with a nice introduction from Cash about first hearing this tune on the radio, and about his relation to the family.

This CD includes George Jones’ rendition of “Worried Man Blues,” a song he included on The Carter Family tribute album, The Unbroken Circle. This is a song that has been recorded by many artists over the years. I think the first version I heard was by Pete Seeger, but it’s also been done by Woody Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (and, oddly, by Devo). I really like this version by George Jones; it has a playful vibe. Carolina Chocolate Drops do a good, faithful rendition of “Hello Stranger.” That shouldn’t be a surprise, as this group won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album a few years ago. “Hello Stranger” is another tune that has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Emmylou Harris.

Kris Kristofferson joins The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a sweet version of “Gold Watch And Chain,” a song that was also included on The Unbroken Circle. It’s followed by a fun live rendition of “Step Light Ladies,” performed by The Home Folks, Joe Carter and John McCutcheon. The album concludes with Rosanne Cash’s pretty rendition of “The Winding Stream,” another song included on The Unbroken Circle, and the perfect closing number. What a ridiculously talented extended family.

CD Track List
  1. Bear Creek Blues – John Prine
  2. Lord, I’m In Your Care – Grey Delisle and Murry Hammond
  3. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow Tree – The Original Carter Family
  4. Single Girl, Married Girl – The Original Carter Family
  5. Worried Man Blues – George Jones
  6. Hello Stranger – Carolina Chocolate Drops
  7. Keep On The Sunny Side – The Original Carter Family
  8. Cannon Ball Blues – The Original Carter Family
  9. I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes – The Original Carter Family
  10. Wildwood Flower – Mother Maybelle And The Carter Sisters
  11. Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Johnny Cash And The Carter Sisters
  12. In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain – Murry Hammond
  13. Sweet Fern – Maybelle And Sara Carter
  14. Gold Watch And Chain – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Kris Kristofferson
  15. Step Light Ladies – The Home Folks, Joe Carter and John McCutcheon
  16. The Winding Stream – Roseanne Cash
The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes And The Course Of Country Music is scheduled to be released on October 16, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. Now I need to see the film.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Chris Laterzo: “West Coast Sound” (2015) CD Review

Chris Laterzo’s new CD, West Coast Sound, is full of excellent folk and country rock vibes, with something of a groovy laid-back atmosphere, which of course perfectly suits the album’s title. Though currently based in Los Angeles, Chris Laterzo is not from this city (which is the way with basically everyone I know here), and so there is something of a familiar perspective. And this isn’t the first time Laterzo has sung about the west coast. On WaterKing, he included a song titled “Welcome To California.” As you might guess, this album would be a good companion on a road trip, and there are at least a couple of songs that I’ll be adding to my road trip mix list. This is Chris Laterzo’s fifth album, following 2009’s Juniper And Pinon.

The similarities to Neil Young are clear right from the beginning of the first track, the album’s title track, “West Coast Sound,” in both the vocal approach and the overall country rock sound. And that’s certainly not a bad thing. This is a sound I love. (There is also a Byrds influence.) And check out these lines: “Well, I’ve been here now for so long/Why, I can’t remember my way out/There’s a blue moon high over California.” Maybe that is the way for all of us here; it sounds about right. He plays a bit with the pronunciation of “California” toward the end, giving it another syllable: “Cal-i-for-nee-uh.” Rami Jaffee (of The Wallflowers) plays B3 organ on this track. (Jaffee also plays B3 organ on what is probably the most interesting track, “The Ray Bradbury.”)

That’s followed by “Tumbleweed,” one of the songs that I’ll be adding to my road trip mixes. After all, it opens with the line, “Rolling down the highway, looking out the window,” and also features lines like “The grass may be greener when I round the next bend” (that line, by the way, is followed by “I reckon odds are one in ten,” which I just love). This song has nice country vibes, and a reference to “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds.” The other song that I’ll be putting on my road trip mix list is “Someday Blue,” a wonderful, pretty acoustic song, which begins with these lines: “Sometimes I feel, I feel like sliding behind the wheel/And go driving down an open road/Ride with me shotgun – let’s blow right through the dawn.”

As good as that song is, “Echo Park” is even better. It’s probably my favorite song on this album, and is about a neighborhood in Los Angeles, a place where I’ve seen a good number of concerts. In fact, he sings about that concert venue in the lines, “And I like the feel and sway of old L.A./I like my easy stroll to the Grand ole Echo.” This tune also mentions Neil Young. Dan Wistrom plays pedal steel on this track, and he and Devon Rowland provide backing vocals. Chris Laterzo plays harmonica on this track.

“Subaru” has kind of a fun, playful vibe, and its main line reminds me a bit of “Itchycoo Park,” the way he sings “You drive a Subaru” sounding sort of like the way the Small Faces sang “It’s all too beautiful.” My parents owned a Subaru when I was growing up, and I hated it. It was a two-door car, and I couldn’t stand being trapped in the back seat. That hasn’t changed, actually. Rachel Dean and Jennifer Gibbons provide backing vocals on this track.

CD Track List
  1. West Coast Sound
  2. Tumbleweed
  3. Drag
  4. Someday Blue
  5. Echo Park
  6. Subaru
  7. The Ray Bradbury
  8. Chaperone
West Coast Sound is scheduled to be released in November, 2015 on Yampa Records.