Monday, May 2, 2016

Sarah Vaughan: “Live At Rosy’s” (2016) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, known as both “Sassy” and “The Divine One” (testament to two very different aspects of her personality), possessed one of the most impressive and expressive voices. And it’s wonderful that we are still getting new recordings by her more than two decades after her death. Live At Rosy’s, the new two-disc set, features music recorded live at Rosy’s Jazz Club in New Orleans on May 31, 1978, when Sarah was fifty-four. Backing her on these tracks are Carl Schroeder on piano, Walter Booker on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. This music was originally recorded for NPR’s Jazz Alive! series. This special set includes extensive liner notes, including pieces by Carl Schroeder and Rosy Wilson (the club’s founder), and an interview with Jimmy Cobb, as well as several photos.

The first disc opens with a delightfully fast rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” a song written by Gene de Paul, Patricia Johnston and Don Raye. Here Sarah Vaughan is having a grand time, playing a bit with the song, and adding a whole lot of fun scat, which really becomes the center and heart of this version. And things are off to a great start. She follows that with “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. This one she delivers in its normal slower tempo, really digging into the song vocally, at times dipping into those great lower notes. She also does a really good version of Styne and Cahn’s “Time After Time.”

There is some stage banter included, which is great. I am usually saddened when the banter is cut from live recordings. However, also good is that it is presented as a separate track, so if you just want to listen to the music, you can easily skip over this. Anyway, she introduces the band, jokingly introducing herself as Carmen McRae after saying to Carl Schroeder: “They know who I am. They do, they do. They’re here. They didn’t come to see you.” There is more playful interaction with the audience later when someone requests “A-Tisket A-Tasket.” And listen to what she does with her voice on this ridiculously fun rendition.

“East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)” is one of my favorites, Sarah’s vocals accompanied by some cool work by Walter Booker on bass. This track too features some playful scat, and she ends the song by adding Count Basie’s name to the lyrics. Another highlight is “Somebody Loves Me.” As I’ve said before, you can never go wrong with Gershwin. This is a song that George Gershwin wrote with Ballard MacDonald and Buddy De Sylva, and this version features some nice work by Carl Schroeder on piano. And Sarah Vaughan really nails “Send In The Clowns,” turning in what is probably the best version I’ve heard. I am not a big Sondheim fan (attending a performance of Into The Woods was one of the most painful theatre experiences of my life), but this rendition is close to stunning, with Sarah Vaughan singing a cappella at one point toward the end. The first disc ends with an excellent jam, “Sarah’s Blues,” with the trio getting a chance to really demonstrate its talent. There is even a cool bass solo, which leads to a good, long drum solo, which interestingly at first focuses almost entirely on the snare, then gets a bit more wild.

The second disc opens strongly with “The Man I Love,” written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Sarah really owns this song, and there are wonderful touches on piano by Carl Schroeder. There is a definite joy in this rendition. On this disc she also covers the fun Gershwin tune “Fascinating Rhythm.” There is a brief drum solo, followed by more completely delightful scat. And there’s a surprisingly humorous section with Sarah accompanied by some strange baroque-type piano playing. I had to listen to that section several times in a row, and it made me smile every time. This track is one of my personal favorites.

Another highlight is “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” Sarah’s delivery gorgeous and moving and honest on this Duke Ellington/Paul Francis Webber composition. Listen especially to the way she ends this one. Wonderful! “If You Went Away (Preciso Aprender A Ser So)” likewise features an incredible vocal performance.

Sarah gets really playful on “I Could Write A Book,” particularly during the section where she repeats how it’s good to have a lover. “It’s good to have to a lover/Oh yes, it’s good/Goodie-good, goodie-good, goodie-good, goodie-good, goodie-good/To have a lover somewhere/Oh yeah/Good to have a lover in New Orleans/Good to have a lover in New York City/It’s good to have a lover in Chicago/Good to have a lover just all over the place.” And she laughs during that last line.

This CD closes with a beautiful rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.” I absolutely love the way she delivers lines like, “Is your mouth, is your mouth a little weak/When you open it, when you open it, when you open it to speak.” This is such a beautiful and moving rendition.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. I’ll Remember April
  2. I Fall In Love Too Easily
  3. Band Intro
  4. East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)
  5. A Lot Of Livin’ To Do
  6. Time After Time
  7. Somebody Loves Me
  8. Poor Butterfly
  9. A-Tisket A-Tasket
  10. Send In The Clowns
  11. Sarah’s Blues 
Disc Two
  1. The Man I Love
  2. I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
  3. Watch What Happens
  4. If You Went Away (Preciso Aprender A Ser So)
  5. I Could Write A Book
  6. I Remember You
  7. Fascinating Rhythm
  8. Everything Must Change
  9. Like Someone In Love
  10. My Funny Valentine
  11. Ending Theme 
Live At Rosy’s was released on March 25, 2016 on Resonance Records.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dave Mason: “The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology” (2016) CD Review

Dave Mason has kind of a wild career. He was a founding member of Traffic, recorded with people like Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, and has put out several solo albums, with hits like “Only You Know And I Know” and “We Just Disagree.” He has recorded on several labels over the years, and between 1973 and 1980, he released seven albums for Columbia. The new two-disc compilation, The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology, features tracks from each of those seven releases. Most of the songs on this disc were written by Dave Mason, but there are a few covers as well. This disc includes liner notes by Bill Kopp.

The first disc begins with six songs from Dave Mason’s 1973 release It’s Like You Never Left, all of which were written by Dave Mason. The compilation starts with “Misty Morning Stranger,” which reminds me a bit of Steve Miller during the verses. This song boasts some good lyrics, like these lines: “The guilt that you feel will not heal you” and “Don’t ever doubt what your heart says/When everything round you says no.” “Baby… Please” likewise has some good lines, like “I’m a slave to the way that you move me” and “Well, I’m pacing the floor like a tiger.” And then “The Lonely One” features Stevie Wonder on harmonica. This is one of my favorite tracks, with its beautiful, sort of relaxed country rock vibe. “Through the truth and through the lies/There is really no disguise/To hide the lonely ones/You can find them on a card/Being matched with other hearts/The really lonely ones.”

Five songs are included from his 1974 record, Dave Mason, an album that reached #25 on the Billboard chart. Two of them are covers, “All Along The Watchtower” and “Bring It On Home To Me.” Dave Mason had earlier played on Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “All Along The Watchtower,” and his own version has some similarities to the Hendrix version, but definitely stands on its own. And Dave Mason’s rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” is one of my favorite tracks on this disc. It’s a wonderful rendition which begins a cappella, then builds, and features some wonderful work on both keys and guitar. The vocals are tinged with a gospel feel, and are beautiful. This has always been one of my favorite songs, and this version is one of the best I’ve heard (even if, like many versions, it leaves out the last verse). “If you ever change your mind/About leaving, leaving me behind/Oh, oh, bring it to me/Bring your sweet loving/Bring it on home to me.”

The first disc contains four songs from Split Coconut, a 1975 release that has something of an island influence, heard on particular tracks. David Crosby and Graham Nash contribute some vocals to this record. “You Can Lose It” is a really good song written by Dave Mason and Jim Krueger. “She tells you she loves you, and calls you her man/But you’re only just a small part of her plan.” “Split Coconut,” the album’s title track, is a whole lot of fun, with a groove to get you dancing. But the most surprising selection from this record is Dave Mason’s cover of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.” This is the one that really gets the island treatment, an interesting approach to this early rock and roll number. The Manhattan Transfer provide backing vocals on this track.

The second disc begins with five tracks from Certified Live, a double live album from 1976. The first track is a very cool, funky version of what is probably Dave Mason’s most famous composition, “Feelin’ Alright,” which was originally recorded by Traffic. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, and Joe Cocker had a hit with it. This live version by Dave Mason is excellent, with a lot of energy and a great groove. He follows that with “Pearly Queen,” another song from the same Traffic record that included “Feelin’ Alright.” This live version doesn’t have that mellow intro, but basically gets right into it. “Pearly Queen” was written by Steve Winwood and James Capaldi. Mason then does an Eagles cover, “Take It To The Limit.” I am not an Eagles fan, but this isn’t a bad song, and Dave Mason does a good job with it. Also from Certified Live is a good version of “Only You Know And I Know,” a song that Dave Mason included on his 1970s release Alone Together, and which was subsequently a hit for Delaney And Bonnie. Interestingly, Bonnie Bramlett played on Alone Together, and Dave Mason played on D&B Together (the album which includes their version of “Only You Know And I Know”).

This compilation includes six tracks from Let It Flow, Dave Mason’s 1977 release, including “We Just Disagree,” one of Dave Mason’s biggest hits, which was written by Jim Krueger. “I’m going back to a place that’s far away/How about you, have you got a place to stay/Why should I care when I’m just trying to get along/We were friends, but now it’s the end of our love song.” “So High (Rock Me Baby And Roll Me Away)” was also released as a single, but didn’t chart nearly as high as did “We Just Disagree.” “Let It Go, Let It Flow” is the most fun track included from this album. This one was written by Dave Mason.

Only two songs are included from the 1978 release, Mariposa De Oro, an album that I really like (I still have it on vinyl). The first is the album’s lead-off track, “Don’t It Make You Wonder,” an excellent song written by Dave Mason and Kathy Nicholas. The other track is a cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and originally recorded by The Shirelles. It’s not a bad cover, but there are other tracks from this record that I would have chosen instead. And two tracks are included from the 1980 release, Old Crest On A New Wave (a title that reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 record, New Skin For The Old Ceremony). Neither song was written by Dave Mason, and neither is all that great. The first, “Save Me,” features Michael Jackson on backing vocals.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Misty Morning Stranger
  2. Baby… Please
  3. The Lonely One
  4. Head Keeper
  5. It’s Like You Never Left
  6. Every Woman
  7. All Along The Watchtower
  8. You Can’t Take It When You Go
  9. Show Me Some Affection
  10. Bring It On Home To Me
  11. Relation Ships
  12. You Can Lose It
  13. Split Coconut
  14. Crying, Waiting, Hoping
  15. Long Lost Friend
Disc Two
  1. Feelin’ Alright
  2. Pearly Queen
  3. Take It To The Limit
  4. Sad And Deep As You
  5. Only You Know And I Know
  6. We Just Disagree
  7. So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away)
  8. Then It’s Alright
  9. Seasons
  10. Let It Go, Let It Flow
  11. Mystic Traveler
  12. Don’t It Make You Wonder
  13. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
  14. Save Me 
  15. Paralyzed
The Columbia Years: The Definitive Anthology was released on March 11, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

Holland & Clark at HM157 in Los Angeles, 4-30-16 Concert Review

Holland & Clark performing "I Found Fun"
In September of 2002, I saw The Peak Show open for The Disco Biscuits at The House Of Blues in West Hollywood. I won the pair of tickets from a local radio program. It was the best thing I ever won in my life. It’s crazy to even imagine the amount of great music I might have missed out on had I not won those tickets. For it’s not just all those amazing Peak Show concerts I attended, but everything those band members have done in the decade or more since that band’s breakup. They continue to create some of the best music I’ve ever heard, and put on some of the best shows. Their music – collectively and individually – has made me happy on countless occasions.

Take last night, for example. Holland Greco (former lead singer of The Peak Show) has a new band with Clark Dark. They’ve played together a lot in the past, of course, but this new configuration is fantastic. Titled simply Holland & Clark, the new band is a six-piece and includes saxophone and a backing vocalist. They played at a venue called HM157 (which stands for Historical Landmark #157), in the Lincoln Heights section of Los Angeles. It’s a cool venue, with a big stage out back. They took the stage just before 10:30 p.m., and opened with “Speedway,” a song that Holland has been playing since the days of Heartkour, and one I’m always happy to hear. “Let’s play a game where you do everything I say.”  Oh yes! Holland then moved to the keyboard and the band went into “I Found Fun.”

Holland recently spent time at the Joshua Tree Highlands Artists Residency, where she wrote some new material, and after “I Found Fun,” she said, “Now we’re going to move into some compositions that were created at Joshua Tree.” She switched to guitar, and the band then went into a really pretty song titled “Solace.” “You are my solace in the night.” This song became an immediate favorite, and it was followed by another mellow gem, “The Flight.” “That’s for those who are departed,” Holland said at the end. Things then got more fun with “Fool Around,” with a great old country rock and roll vibe. They kept things moving with “Freak Flag,” and then slowed things down a bit with “Spirit,” which featured some nice touches on saxophone, and a moving and gorgeous vocal performance by Holland, as well as some really cool stuff on guitar by Clark.

An unusual and totally delightful choice of covers was “Deeper And Deeper,” which is actually a song from Deep Throat Part II. For this song, Holland played keys, and the saxophone player took over on vocals. It’s actually a really good song. Seriously. I think I need to find a copy of the Deep Throat Part II soundtrack. After that, they did another cover – Sia’s “Be Good To Me” (a song from her 2010 CD, We Are Born, and one which Clark actually had a hand in writing). I particularly like what Holland did on keys.

After a good rendition of “What Is Dark” (the song Holland opened her record release party with at Andaz Hotel a couple of years ago), Holland said, “Okay, I’m calling an emergency tango.” And they went into a strange, slow tango version of “Batman Theme.” “Batman Theme” is a song that Holland has covered several times over the years, but never quite like this. After that, they played a couple of old fan favorites: “Guilty Pleasure Zone” and “Only Up From Here.” Both of these were highlights of the set, and Clark took over on drums for “Only Up From Here,” with the drummer moving to keys. And I love the addition of saxophone on that song.

We’re going to close with a classic,” Holland said, before stepping back to let the backing vocalist take over lead vocals. And the band closed out the set with a cover of The Coasters’ “Down In Mexico” (a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller).

Set List
  1. Speedway
  2. I Found Fun
  3. Solace
  4. The Flight
  5. Fool Around
  6. Freak Flag
  7. Spirit
  8. Deeper And Deeper
  9. Be Good To Me
  10. What Is Dark
  11. Batman Theme
  12. Guilty Pleasure Zone
  13. Only Up From Here
  14. Down In Mexico
Here are a few photos:

"I Found Fun"
"Fool Around"
"Deeper And Deeper"
"Only Up From Here"
"Only Up From Here"
"Down In Mexico"

Tickets were $10. HM157 is located at 3110 N. Broadway in Los Angeles.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Higher Ground” (2002/2016) CD Review

On Spirit Of The Century, the 2001 release from The Blind Boys Of Alabama, the gospel group did a few surprising covers, including songs by Tom Waits and Ben Harper. On their 2002 album Higher Ground, which is now being re-issued, they also do some interesting covers, including material by The Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder and Prince, moving more in the direction of rock and roll, but this time they are actually joined by Ben Harper on a few tracks, and they’re backed by Robert Randolph And The Family Band. But gospel fans needn’t worry – there are also some classic gospel songs to delight your ears, such as “Wade In The Water.” And this disc actually contains an original tune, “Stand By Me,” written by Clarence Fountain, one of the group’s founding members. This special re-issue includes several bonus tracks, material recorded live for KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” program on November 27, 2002. There are also new liner notes by David Seay.

The CD opens with “People Get Ready,” a song written by Curtis Mayfield and originally recorded by The Impressions. I think the first version I ever heard was that by Vanilla Fudge, which as you might guess is quite a bit different from this version by The Blind Boys Of Alabama. But on this version the group is joined by Ben Harper on vocals and guitar, and by Leon Mobley on percussion. (Leon Mobley is a member of Ben Harper’s band.) This rendition has a great soul vibe, and it’s followed by an Aretha Franklin song, “Spirit In The Dark,” which was the title track to her 1970 record. This version has a delicious gospel flavor, but when it kicks in, it certainly gets closer to rock and roll.

But one of my favorite tracks is a more tradition gospel tune, “Wade In The Water,” which begins with the group singing a cappella and sounding glorious. When the band comes in, the song gains a very cool groove while not losing any of its great gospel appeal. It’s followed by another highlight, “Stand By Me,” written by Clarence Fountain (so no, not the Ben E. King song), and featuring some good work on guitar.

Prince is on many people’s minds these days, and we’re certainly hearing a lot of versions of “Purple Rain.” But back in 2002, The Blind Boys Of Alabama did an interesting rendition of Prince’s “The Cross,” a song from his 1987 double album, Sign O’ The Times. It’s a pretty good version, and this re-issue is rather timely. (Now I want to hear The Blind Boys Of Alabama cover “Darling Nikki.” Sorry, can’t help it.) It might be surprising to hear this gospel group cover Prince, but it’s perhaps just as surprising to hear them cover Jimmy Cliff. The first reggae album I ever bought was a Jimmy Cliff cassette, a live album, and “Many Rivers To Cross” was one of my favorites on it. The Blind Boys Of Alabama do something really interesting with this song, making it a pretty and moving soul tune, with some touches of country. And it works beautifully, feeling like a very personal and meaningful interpretation.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama then get funky with the CD’s title track, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” a song from his 1973 album Innervisions. Ben Harper and Leon Mobley join them again for this track. They also join the group on the following track, “Freedom Road,” a cool gospel tune. The Blind Boys Of Alabama do a Ben Harper song on this album, as they did on Spirit Of The Century; this time it’s “I Shall Not Walk Alone,” from Harper’s The Will To Live.

Bonus Tracks

This disc contains seven bonus tracks, all recorded live on November 27, 2002 for the KCRW program “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” None of these tracks have been previously issued. The first is actually a song the group included on Spirit Of The Century, “Run On For A Long Time.” This is a good version, with some nice work on bass, and it’s followed by the gospel number “My Lord What A Morning.” This track is all about the vocals, and it’s wonderful. Delivered a cappella, this song is gorgeous and powerful. And then they get into some of the songs from Higher Ground, including “Freedom Road,” “Higher Ground,” “People Get Ready” and “Wade In The Water.” The CD then wraps up with “Amazing Grace.” Like the version on Spirit Of The Century, this rendition of “Amazing Grace” is done to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun.”

CD Track List
  1. People Get Ready
  2. Spirit In The Dark
  3. Wade In The Water
  4. Stand By Me
  5. The Cross
  6. Many Rivers To Cross
  7. Higher Ground
  8. Freedom Road
  9. I May Not Can See
  10. You And Your Folks/23rd Psalm
  11. I Shall Not Walk Alone
  12. Precious Lord
  13. Run On For A Long Time
  14. My Lord What A Morning
  15. Freedom Road
  16. Higher Ground
  17. People Get Ready
  18. Wade In The Water
  19. Amazing Grace 
This special re-issue of Higher Ground is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date will also see a re-issue of The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s 2001 CD Spirit Of The Century, which likewise has several bonus tracks.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Spirit Of The Century” (2001/2016) CD Review

The Blind Boys Of Alabama are a gospel group that have been performing and recording for many decades. They formed in 1939, when they were just young boys. Spirit Of The Century, the 2001 release by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, is now going to be back in print, and with a lot of bonus tracks. This album finds them performing some classic gospel songs, while also covering tunes by Tom Waits, Ben Harper and The Rolling Stones. Three of the group’s founding members sing on this album. (George Scott died in 2005, four years after this album’s original release.) The bonus material was recorded live at The Bottom Line in New York in 2001, and was previously unreleased. This CD also contains new liner notes by Davin Seay.

The album actually opens with a Tom Waits song, “Jesus Gonna Be Here,” from his 1992 album Bone Machine. This is a really good rendition, beginning with Clarence Fountain’s vocals accompanied by just Danny Thompson on bass. And then the rest of the band comes in, but maintains a cool bluesy pack porch vibe. On this CD, they also cover Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” from his 1987 record Franks Wild Years.

“No More” begins with electric slide guitar playing a bit of what sounds like “Amazing Grace” (which is interesting, particularly as the version of “Amazing Grace” on this CD sounds like another song). That’s David Lindley on electric slide, by the way. Jimmy Carter sounds great on lead vocals here, and he’s backed gorgeously by Clarence Fountain, George Scott and Joey Williams. “Down on my knees, down on my knees/I’m crying lord, if you please/I’ll never turn back no more.” I like this track a lot, in part because of the good groove by Michael Jerome on drums, but mainly because of the vocals. George Scott then takes lead vocal duties on “Run On For A Long Time,” a song that is also known as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and “Run On.” It’s been covered by a lot of artists over the years, including Johnny Cash, Odetta and Elvis Presley. The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s version was also included on compilation titled Real World 25.

One of my favorite tracks is “Good Religion,” which has a great bluesy feel and some delicious, passionate vocal work. Another favorite is their version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” This too has a wonderful bluesy vibe, and they slow it down a bit, giving it more power. And those vocals are excellent. “If I die and my soul be lost, ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”

The Blind Of Boys Of Alabama cover Ben Harper’s “Give A Man A Home,” a song from his 1995 CD Fight For Your Mind (an album that also has songs like “Power Of The Gospel” and “God Fearing Man”). This version by The Blind Boys Of Alabama has a fuller and more uplifting sound. And I like the addition of Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. But perhaps the most interesting rendition here is this version of “Amazing Grace,” which is done to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun.” It’s such an interesting combination, because of course the girl in “House Of The Rising Sun” has led a life she’s not proud of. Perhaps she’s not found grace, but she’s trying to keep her younger sister from making the same mistakes, so the line “Was blind but now I see” can certainly apply to her. (And if you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, then you’ve only heard The Animals’ version, which changes the gender and thus much of the feel of the song. Still, I do love that version.)

The first time I remember hearing “Motherless Child” was Richie Havens’ passionate version in the documentary film of Woodstock (and on the soundtrack). So I think I’ve measured every other version against that one, and this rendition by The Blind Boys Of Alabama stands up well alongside it. Does the very beginning remind you of the very beginning of Robert Plant’s “Big Log,” or is that just me? They follow that with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “I Just Want To See His Face,” here titled “Just Wanna See His Face.” The original album then concludes with “The Last Time,” a gospel song that is usually titled “This May Be The Last Time,” not to be confused with The Rolling Stones song (though that song was very loosely adapted from the gospel song). The Blind Boys Of Alabama perform it a cappella, and it is another of this CD’s highlights.

Bonus Tracks

This new re-issue contains seven bonus tracks, all live versions of songs from this album recorded at The Bottom Line in New York in 2001. The first is a wonderful rendition of “Good Religion,” followed by “Way Down In The Hole” and “Give A Man A Home.” Interestingly, the guitar at the beginning of this version of “Motherless Child” doesn’t remind of “Big Log,” but rather “Born Under A Bad Sign.” Again, it might just be me. At any rate, it’s a really good version. That’s followed by “No More,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “The Last Time.” I am particularly fond of this live version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Wonderful. There isn’t really much stage banter included on these tracks, but that's all right. These live tracks were previously unreleased.

CD Track List
  1. Jesus Gonna Be Here
  2. No More
  3. Run On For A Long Time
  4. Good Religion
  5. Give A Man A Home
  6. Amazing Grace
  7. Soldier
  8. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  9. Way Down In The Hole
  10. Motherless Child
  11. Just Wanna See His Face
  12. The Last Time
  13. Good Religion
  14. Way Down In The Hole
  15. Give A Man A Home
  16. Motherless Child
  17. No More
  18. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  19. The Last Time 
This special expanded edition of Spirit Of The Century is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. At the same time, their 2002 album Higher Ground is also to be released, also with bonus tracks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nudie: “Everything’s Different In The Night” (2016) CD Review

It was more than a decade ago that Matt Putnam formed Nudie And The Turks. And when he went solo, the name Nudie stayed with him. At the end of 2013 Nudie released his first solo album, Remember This, one of my favorite country CDs from the last several years. He’s now followed it up with another excellent CD, Everything’s Different In The Night, which features mostly original material. Like his previous CD, this one boasts some excellent songwriting. I love these lines from “That’s All That I’ve Got”: “Bathroom’s just down the hall/My money’s all gone/Did everything wrong/The heartache you brought/Is all that I’ve got.” Joining him on this new release are Chris Altmann on pedal steel, lap steel, electric guitar, fiddle, piano and organ; Rob Foreman on bass; and Justin Ruppel on drums. And he has a couple of excellent guest vocalists on a few tracks.

Nudie kicks off the new disc with “It Ain’t Gonna Happen Today,” which oddly has a false start. But once we’re past that false start, this track is one of my favorites. It is a playful country number with some really good lyrics about procrastination in divesting one’s self of certain habits, such as cigarettes and alcohol. And then: “And when I find the strength to leave you/That’s when the good times will really start/I’ll finally know what it feels like for a man/To walk around without a messed up heart/I’ve been living with the pain too long/You’d better listen to what I say/It won’t be long before you see me walking out the door/But it ain’t gonna happen today.” It’s followed by “The Royal Tavern,” which has a more serious sound and is about a man who is betrayed by both wife and kin. I love Nudie’s vocal delivery here; there is a sadness, a weariness there, perfect for the character of this song. “My wife started screaming, I could barely hear/All I had on my mind was eight or nine cold beers/Tonight I’ll cash my check at the Royal Tavern.” This is a seriously good song that tells a good tale. “At the end of the night you’ll be glad that you’re living.

Sylvie Smith joins Nudie on vocals for “Mr. Why’d You Come To Texas?” This song is a strange and sweet duet, in which the woman asks the man why he came to Texas if he can’t dance. There are some delightful lyrics, and I particularly love this line, which Sylvie sings, “And help me forget in three quarter time all the things that make me blue.” By the way, Sylvie Smith sang with Nick Ferrio on one of my favorite songs of 2015, “Come Hell Or High Water.” And you might know her from Evening Hymns and The Magic. And then Melissa Payne joins Nudie on backing vocals for two tracks. (Melissa Payne is, of course, a damned good singer/songwriter in her own right. You should check out her 2014 release, High And Dry.) The first of these two tracks is “Island Girls,” which has something of a pretty sound, in large part because of the blending of their voices on lines like “Come on home/Can’t make it here alone/I miss your smiling face/And the warm safe place/I felt in your arms/I miss all your charms/Things we use to do/No good without you.” Nice, right? Melissa Payne also joins Nudie on the CD’s title track, “Everything’s Different In The Night.” Check out these lines: “When daylight comes, our words slip away/We thought this time they might last until the day/But all that’s gone now that the sun’s in the way/Everything’s different in the night.”

The only cover on this release is “If You Really Want Me To I’ll Go,” written by Delbert McClinton, who released the song in 1965. Nudie’s version is quite good, and largely faithful to the original.

“I’ve Been Here Before” is one of my favorites. It has something of a Johnny Cash vibe. It describes an interesting relationship, with a woman who is slightly less than faithful: “It’s not her to blame/Because I have no shame/I’m happy about what she’s dishing out/Monday morning I know that I’ll be king/When I’m allowed to fulfill all her needs.” Ryan Weber joins Nudie on trumpet on this track. Another song I’m really fond of, and another about an unusual relationship, is “I Had To Learn About Sheila The Hard Way,” which also has my favorite title of this CD. “When we met I was down on my luck/I fell hard for her looks and her pluck/That she mixed with a vulnerable air/Sometimes needy, sometimes seeming not to care/I had to learn about Sheila the hard way.” I also really like this line: “Each day with her was akin to a dare.”

“Train, You Took My Baby” is yet another highlight. It has a late 1960s/early 1970s country rock vibe which I love. If you enjoy bands like The Byrds, you should definitely check out this tune. “Train, you took my baby/And I’m starting to think maybe/That I may never see that girl again.”

CD Track List
  1. It Ain’t Gonna Happen Today
  2. The Royal Tavern
  3. Mr. Why’d You Come To Texas?
  4. That’s All That I’ve Got
  5. Why’d Ya Do It?
  6. If You Really Want Me To I’ll Go
  7. I’ve Been Here Before
  8. Island Girls
  9. I Had To Learn About Sheila The Hard Way
  10. Hearts & Flowers
  11. Train, You Took My Baby
  12. Everything’s Different In The Night
Everything’s Different In The Night was released on April 22, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst: “I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head” (2016) CD Review

In the fall of 2014, Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst released an EP titled Endless Sky. At that time, I was mostly excited to hear it because of John McDuffie’s presence. I’ve always enjoyed his pedal and lap steel work (as well as his guitar playing), no matter what group he’s sitting in with. But it certainly didn’t take long for me to become a fan of the whole group, which includes Steven Casper on lead vocals and guitar; Herb Deitelbaum on bass and back vocals; Jay Nowac on drums; and Carl Byon on piano, accordion, organ and other assorted instruments. Now Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst have a new EP out. Titled I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head (and yes, I totally dig the title), it features six new tunes written by Steven Casper. Like Endless Sky, the new CD was produced by Ira Ingber, who also adds some guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals.

The CD opens with “For A Few Dollars Less,” an instrumental track, its title being a play on the title of the 1965 Sergio Leone film For A Few Dollars More, the sequel to A Fistful Of Dollars. And it feels like part of a soundtrack to a wonderful new western, a movie where things are going to go delightfully wrong, and where the hero isn’t a completely laudable and virtuous character. It’s followed by “Driving Fast,” which is more of a rockin’ tune, with a bluesy edge. This is one I’m going to add to my road trip play list, with lines like “I got no good reason why/Just want to know what it’s like to fly/The engine’s kicked in overdrive/And I’m driving fast tonight.” Plus, it just has that road vibe, and it’s going to be hard to stay off the accelerator during that instrumental section, with great work on both guitar and keys. By the way, this is the song that gives the CD its title in the lines, “The empty road stretches out ahead/Lord, I hope I don’t wind up dead/I feel like I’ve got snakes in head.” There is a second version of this song included at the end as a bonus track. This version has a slightly mellower, more acoustic feel, and features good work on accordion. Both versions are good, but yeah, as the title of the second version suggests, this one feels more like a late-night tune.

“Restless Heart” has something of a sweeter, passionate pop sound. “But there’s something in your eyes/Something I recognize/Won’t you help me still this restless heart.” That’s followed by “She’s Bad,” a tune that is great fun in its style, energy and attitude. “She might look like an angel/But she’s bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.” Oh yes! On this track, they are joined by Charity McCrary and Linda McCrary Fisher on backing vocals. (They had also joined the band for one track on Endless Sky.) “Some say they saw her working at a rundown bikers’ bar/Some say she killed a man for taking things too far/Some say you can hear her laugh on the empty highway wind/They all say if you hear her knock, you’d better not let her in/Because she’s bad.”

“Maria” is also fun, but with a totally different vibe. It has a happy, Mexican sound, and is something of an innocent love song. “I love your long black hair/You’ve got the prettiest brown eyes anywhere/Maria, you make me stop and stare/Maria, come out tonight.” And I like these lines: “Some people say I’m full of shit/Don’t believe a single word of it/I just get misunderstood/’Cause bad things happen when I’m trying to be good/Some say I got the devil in me/But you’re the angel that’ll set me free.” And then “Slow Dancing” has something of a sweet, nostalgic feel. Sharon Bautista provides harmony vocals on this track. “I see you smile as you move close/I feel your body through your clothes/As we go slow dancing tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. For A Few Dollars Less
  2. Driving Fast
  3. Restless Heart
  4. She’s Bad
  5. Maria
  6. Slow Dancing
  7. Driving Fast (4 A.M.) 
I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head was released on March 10, 2016.