Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bill Phillippe: “Parade” (2016) CD Review

Bill Phillippe is a singer, guitarist and songwriter based in San Francisco. Inspired by his love of delta blues, he released his first solo album, Ghosts, a year and a half ago. That album contains some classic blues tunes like “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Death Letter,” as well as some original compositions. He has now followed that up with a new CD, Parade, which features almost entirely original material. This is bluesy folk, with some jazzy elements as well, giving it a very cool, laid-back sound and vibe, like a late night or early morning in New Orleans, when most people have gone to bed or passed out, but there are still things to be said, things to be felt and expressed for those strange denizens of pre-dawn dealings, that half-light of farewells and possibilities. And it’s not just jazzy because of the presence of the clarinet, but its willingness – or eagerness – to play a bit with form (like on “Everything I Have Is Grey”), sometimes going in unexpected directions. Ah, who knows just what the day will bring? And before that, the question is, “If I should lose my mind tonight, would you love me anyway?

Parade opens with “Blues Come Callin’ (Home),” a seriously cool tune with the bass having a strong presence. The clarinet acts like a voice perhaps doing the calling. I’m certainly ready to answer its call, as it sounds inviting, rising up from the streets like a possible angel among derelicts. Bill Phillippe’s vocal approach is like one singing almost to himself, not needing to belt out the lyrics, but knowing his voice will reach those it needs to, those it can reach within this environment. And he finds support by some nice touches on accordion.

That’s followed by “Proper Street,” which contains a reference to Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss” in the lines “I need you always exactly like this/I play the prelude to a kiss.” Duke Ellington is one of only two songwriters that Bill Phillippe turns to for covers on this CD. He does a version of Ellington’s “Solitude,” combining it with a song of his own titled “A Kinder Voice.” He performs “Solitude” as a guitar piece, without the lyrics by Eddie DeLange and Irving Mills.

A song that grabs me each time I listen to this disc is “14th Street,” with its line “Please find me” reminding me of the Leonard Cohen poem that goes “Marita/Please find me/I am almost 30.”  And I love the clarinet here. Both it and the accordion provide a kind of uplifting feel which we need. And check out that bass line. “As you wave goodbye/Memories refuse, refuse to fade/My penance, this solitary space.” Another favorite of mine is “Parade,” the CD’s title track. It has such a wonderful vibe. I particularly like the way the bass and accordion work together. “We danced round and round/And the circus band played.” I also really love “Red Beret,” which has a playful and cool tone and attitude. Ah, every girl, a song.

Perhaps Tom Waits will cross your mind once or twice while listening to Bill Phillippe. Clearly, Bill embraces this, as he actually ends the album with a cover of Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me,” a song from the Mule Variations album. Bill makes it a slow kind of waltz, with the clarinet taking a lead spot at the beginning before the vocals come in. It’s a really good rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Blues Come Callin’ (Home)
  2. Proper Sorrow
  3. 14th Street
  4. If I Should Lose My Mind
  5. Solitude/A Kinder Voice
  6. Everything I Have Is Grey
  7. Parade
  8. Tonight
  9. Little Zion
  10. Red Beret
  11. Take It With Me
The musicians on this release are Bill Phillippe on vocals and guitar, Ivor Holloway on clarinet, Swen Hendrickson on bass and Glenn Hartman on accordion.

Parade was released on May 17, 2016 on Arkansas Street Records.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Jane Kramer: “Carnival Of Hopes” (2016) CD Review

Jane Kramer’s new album, Carnival Of Hopes, is full of sweet, beautiful, honest songs in the folk and country realm. This is her second release, following 2013’s Break And Bloom, and contains mostly original material, written by Jane Kramer. These are songs I liked a whole lot the first time I listened to this CD, and which I appreciate more and more each time through. On this disc, the singer/songwriter is backed by Pace Conner on guitar, ukulele, mandolin and backing vocals; Michael Evers on dobro, banjo, mandolin and backing vocals; River Guerguerian on drums; and Eliot Wadopian on upright bass. And she has some special guests on certain tracks, including Nicky Sanders (of Steep Canyon Rangers), Franklin Keel (of The Blue Ridge Orchestra) and Chris Rosser on piano and harmonium. This CD was recorded at Sound Temple Recordings Studios in Asheville, North Carolina.

Nicky Sanders joins Jane Kramer on the opening track, “Half Way Gone,” his fiddle announcing itself right at the start, adding to the bright sound of this delightful country and folk tune. “Babe, I’m so tired of missing you while you’re next to me.” There is a great lead section by Nicky Sanders on violin halfway through the song. I also really dig the bass line on this song. “I just want you all the way here instead of halfway gone.” That song is followed by the title track, “Carnival Of Hopes,” a pretty and emotionally engaging folk song that creates a strongly defined character through some good lyrics. Check out lines like “Just a woman getting older, holding a fraying rope” and “This fellow here knows I like whiskey, he don’t know nothing about my heart.” This is one of my personal favorites. Jane’s is a voice I trust, and when she sings “But I promise we’ll be fine” on “Your Ever-Green Heart,” I believe her.

Interestingly, she opens the next track by claiming to not be a good woman. “I lie and I cheat,” she tells us in “Good Woman.” This is another really strong and moving song, another of my favorites, in large part because of Jane’s passionate and vulnerable vocal performance. But it’s also because she creates a compelling character. Early on, she sings, “And I ain’t striving for greatness, I am just trying to sleep.” And these lines grab me every time: “So you’ve sent me a-packing/And it’s for good now, you say/If I were you, I’d have sent me long ago/Don’t get me wrong, love, I wanted to stay/But you dream of hopeful things/Like wedding rings/A settled down soul to share your days/I tried to settle down my soul/But the damn thing just wandered away.” How’s that for some excellent songwriting? The whole song is like that. Check out these lines: “The river bottom calls to me/It’d be so easy/But I can’t unlearn to swim.” This is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year so far. Nicky Sanders plays violin on this track, and Franklin Keel is on cello.

For the one cover on this release, Jane Kramer has chosen Tom Petty’s “Down South,” from his Highway Companion album. Of course, lines like “Gonna see my daddy's mistress/Gonna buy back her forgiveness” have a different feel when sung by a female voice. But I really like what she does with this song. The instrumental section has a sweet tone, and some really nice work on guitar. “I’ll give you all I have and a little more.”

Jane Kramer approaches “Why’d I Do That Blues” with a delightful playfulness that helps make this track another of this disc’s highlights. “Believe me, babe, I ain’t going to paint myself with any shade of virtue/If I had some to begin with, I lost it when I hurt you.” And then suddenly there is a wonderful section with trombone and trumpet, the two instruments as in conversation. That’s JP Furnas on trombone and Ben Hovey on trumpet. Jane concludes Carnival Of Hopes with “My Dusty Wings,” a fun bluegrass number which features Nicky Sanders on fiddle.

CD Track List
  1. Half Way Gone
  2. Carnival Of Hopes
  3. Your Ever-Green Heart
  4. Good Woman
  5. Down South
  6. Truck Stop Stars
  7. Why’d I Do That Blues
  8. Highways, Rivers & Scars
  9. Truth Tellin’ Eyes
  10. My Dusty Wings
Carnival Of Hopes was released on February 26, 2016.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Muffs: “Blonder And Blonder” (1995/2016) CD Review

Last year saw the re-release of The Muff’s self-titled debut album, with lots of bonus tracks. It was a whole lot of fun revisiting some of the great music from my college years. And now the band’s second album, Blonder And Blonder, is getting a special re-issue as well, with plenty of bonus material, including five tracks that were previously unreleased (actually six, including the unlisted track). This is the album that really got me into this band. I worked at a college radio station at the time of its release in 1995 (the same year The Muffs had a song on the Clueless soundtrack), and this disc was in heavy rotation, and for good reason. It’s seriously fucking fun, some great rock and roll delivered with punk energy, and excellent songs written by Kim Shattuck. Chris Crass Utting and Melanie Vammen had left the band after the release of the first album, and Roy McDonald had joined on drums, and so this CD was the first to have what would be the group’s steady lineup – Kim Shattuck on vocals and guitar, Ronnie Barnett on bass and Roy McDonald on drums. And this re-issue includes liner notes by all three members.

Blonder And Blonder opens with a bang, a great, tough little rock number titled “Agony.” “And when you think you're more clever than anyone/Now think again, we knew it all along/But in reality I know you'll never be okay/So now you're all alone/And you don't really like the way he went away/And now you're living in agony.”  I totally dig the ending of this song, like they are just not ready to let go yet. (By the way, both Roy and Kim talk about that ending in the liner notes – clearly, I’m not the only one to bloody love it.) The rhymes of “Oh Nina” always make me smile for some reason – “Pasadena,” “ballerina.” And I just can’t get enough of Kim’s screams and shouts. “You! You!

“Sad Tomorrow” is one of my favorites. Sure it’s an obvious choice of favorites, but that’s okay. The songwriting is spot-on, and there is something strangely and undeniably happy about the sound. Check out these lyrics: “I don't know why you're so glad/When my head's filled with sorrow/So maybe if I fade away/There'll be no sad tomorrow.” Is it perverse to dance around to someone singing, “Maybe one day I’ll die – who cares?

“Red Eyed Troll” is another favorite. It’s just a bloody fun, incredibly catchy song. It’s so much fun to dance around to, and I love hearing Kim shout, “And I don’t need your attitude/I don’t need no attitude/Oh yeah.” This re-issue contains another version of “Red Eyed Troll,” a demo version that was previously unreleased. On this demo, Kim plays all the instruments. “Won’t Come Out To Play” is another seriously fun number, and is also one for which the demo is included in the bonus tracks. At the end of the demo, she goes into “Become Undone,” just on vocals and guitar.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes Kim’s vocals remind me of Joan Jett’s early material, like on “Funny Face.” That’s followed by “Ethyl My Love,” a straight-ahead unabashed rocker. Oh yes! (By the way, a demo version of “Ethyl My Love” was included on the re-issue of the band’s first CD.) The original album ends with “Just A Game,” a sweeter-sounding song than the others. As Kim explains in the liner notes, this track is actually a demo. For me, it’s another of the album’s highlights.

Bonus Tracks

This disc contains eight bonus tracks. In addition to the ones already mentioned, the two tracks backing “Sad Tomorrow” on the 1995 European CD single – “Goodnight Now” and “Become Undone” – are included. The rest are previously unreleased demos, with Kim playing all the instruments. These include “Born Today,” “Look At Me” and “Pennywhore.” I can’t help it – “Pennywhore” just totally delights me. A different version of this song would end up on the band’s next album, Happy Birthday To Me. The version here is even shorter (just over a minute long), and features Kim playing slide guitar. And yes, at the end of this disc there is an unlisted extra track (as there was on the re-issue of the band’s first album).

CD Track List
  1. Agony
  2. Oh Nina
  3. On And On
  4. Sad Tomorrow
  5. What You’ve Done
  6. Red Eyed Troll
  7. End It All
  8. Laying On A Bed Of Roses
  9. I Need A Face
  10. Won’t Come Out To Play
  11. Funny Face
  12. Ethyl My Love
  13. I’m Confused
  14. Just A Game
  15. Goodnight Now
  16. Become Undone
  17. Born Today (Demo)
  18. Look At Me (Demo)
  19. Pennywhore (Demo)
  20. Red Eyed Troll (Demo)
  21. Won’t Come Out To Play (Demo) 
This special, expanded edition of Blonder And Blonder is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. In addition to CD, a vinyl release is planned, and I hear the vinyl will be a baby blue.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rachael Sage: “Choreographic” (2016) CD Review

On Rachael Sage’s new release, Choreographic, she delivers a sound that mixes pop and folk really well. She is backed by a band that features prominently both cello and violin, instruments I love, creating an emotionally moving and satisfying group of songs, nearly all of which she wrote. In addition to writing and providing lead vocals, Rachael Sage plays piano, guitar, Wurlitzer and Mellotron on this album. Her band, The Sequins, is made up of Ward Williams on cello, Kelly Halloran on violin and backing vocals, and Andy Mac on drums and backing vocals. Joining them on this disc are some excellent musicians, including Doug Yowell on drums, Russ Johnson on trumpet and Dave Eggar on cello, all of whom have played on some of Rachael’s earlier releases. Peter Himmelman also joins Rachael on one track.

Choreographic opens with a beautiful, bright pop song with an unusual title, “Heaven (Is A Grocery Clerk).”  Give me something to dance about,” she sings in this song. In the liner notes she mentions that this CD is a “love-letter to dance, to dancers everywhere, and to the cast of Solid Gold, the only show I was allowed to watch on a school night, growing up.” (Wow, mentioning that show really takes me back!) This is an excellent song, and is one of three tracks that I heard earlier, tracks that got me excited for this release. One of the others is the following track, “Loreena,” on which Rachael delivers a sweet vocal performance, of both innocence and love. “But I’m not scared of being someone who reminds you of/Who you were when you followed your bliss.” The strings are so beautiful; this music will lift you up.

Then “Try Try Try,” the other song from this CD to be released earlier, opens with more of a rock feel. There is a really good energy to this tune, but it is the violin part that I love most about this song. This is actually the first song I heard from this release, more than a month ago. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “He wrapped his arms around me like a blanket/He spun a web around me like a spell/He flung an anchor through my ship and sank it/I never knew that I could drown so well.

This CD includes another excellent song titled “Home,” though this one also has a parenthetical title, “(Where I Am Now).” I know I’ve said this before, but I really need to make a mix CD of songs titled “Home.” There are so many good ones. Check out these lines: “Home is where you’re taken in/Fearlessly breathing with the wind/Home is where you set your spirit down/I’m at home in all this beauty, everything about it moves me/I may be from another place but home’s where I am now.” This disc features a second version of this song at the end, and I actually think that version might be even better. “Home” was written by Rachael Sage and Fiona Harte.

I really like the jazzy elements to “French Doors,” particularly that wonderful lead on trumpet toward the end. And Rachael’s vocal delivery has something of a delightful vulnerability. And the opening lines of “I’ve Been Waiting” are great: “I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone who is/Nothing anything like you at all my love.” That song also has a good groove, a vibe you can totally sink into.

“Learn To Let You Go” is the album’s only cover song. It was written by JP Hoe, and included on his 2012 release, Mannequin. It’s a really good song, and Rachael does a wonderful job with it. It’s followed by “Five Alarms,” a gorgeous song that draws me in every time I listen to this disc. There is something sexy and oddly haunting about its sound, with that great percussion and the wonderful work on strings and Rachael’s excellent vocals. Lyrically, it’s not the disc’s strongest song, with the line “A watched pot will never boil,” and yet it’s one of my favorites. “Now you’re here in my arms and we’re on fire/Five alarms.”

And then “7 Angels” is one of the most moving tracks on this CD, and this one features some excellent lyrics. Check out these powerful lines, which begin the song: “In a sea of all the faces that I have ever seen/In a crowd of all the strangers whose shoulders I have touched/In an ocean of unfathomable loss and need/I see seven small coffins and it’s just too much.” Peter Himmelman joins Rachael Sage on this track. That’s followed by the beautiful “It Would Be Enough.”

CD Track List
  1. Heaven (Is A Grocery Clerk)
  2. Loreena
  3. Try Try Try
  4. Home (Where I Am Now)
  5. I Don’t Believe It
  6. French Doors
  7. Clear Today
  8. I’ve Been Waiting
  9. Learn To Let You Go
  10. Five Alarms
  11. 7 Angels
  12. It Would Be Enough
  13. Home (Acoustic) 
Choreographic is scheduled to be released on May 20, 2016 through MPress Records.

Janis: Little Girl Blue DVD Review

Janis: Little Girl Blue is an excellent and completely engaging documentary about Janis Joplin. It takes an interesting approach to its subject, using letters that Janis wrote to tie concert footage to her ongoing internal struggles, to provide a more rounded and personal perspective. And this approach is incredibly effective.

Interestingly, the first letter read begins, “Dear family, I managed to pass my twenty-seventh birthday without really feeling it.” It’s interesting, because as we all know, Janis wouldn’t see her twenty-eighth. In that letter she talks about talent and ambition. The letters, by the way, are read by Chan Marshall. After that first letter, the film goes back to her youth, and essentially from there goes in chronological order. A lot of information is supplied by her younger sister, Laura, in an interview. Also interviewed are her younger brother Michael and several childhood friends, one of whom mentions being stunned the first time he heard Janis sing an Odetta song. Another friend recounts the time that Janis was voted “ugliest man” by fraternities. “And it crushed her,” he says. It was soon after that that she moved to San Francisco. There is also footage from several interviews with Janis, including one where she says, “I couldn’t stand Texas anymore and I went to California, ‘cause it’s a lot freer.”

Of course the documentary provides plenty of live concert footage of Janis Joplin with Big Brother And The Holding Company, including them performing “Down On Me.” The film includes interviews with Big Brother members Dave Getz (who says early on she was afraid of drugs), Sam Andrew and Peter Albin. And Bob Weir provides some funny anecdotes. Janis was romantically linked to the Grateful Dead’s Ron “Pigpen” McKernan for a time, and in a letter home she writes, “Isn’t Pigpen cute?” She had included a photo of herself and other members of Big Brother on the steps of the Grateful Dead’s house on Ashbury, and the documentary includes that photo as well.

There is also some interesting stuff about the Monterey Pop Festival, and how the San Francisco bands didn’t sign the movie releases, which led to director DA Pennebaker (who is interviewed in the film) and others convincing Big Brother to do another set so that they could film it. In a letter home afterward, Janis talks about things going well for her, about moving into a house and about her new boyfriend, Country Joe McDonald. McDonald is interviewed, and he says: “We were never in love with each other. There was no sizzle going on.” The footage of the band in the recording studio is great, especially as the band discusses the song “Summertime.” The film does a good job of stressing the sense of community among the musicians of San Francisco, and how when Janis left Big Brother it was like she also left that feeling of community.

This documentary does a great job of showing the connection between her life and her music, like in that awesome version of “Cry Baby.” And because most of the letters included in the film are letters to her family, the ties to her childhood dreams and fears are maintained, and the connection between her music and her personal life is thus strongly illustrated. Through the letters and interviews, the film gives us a sense of being really close to her, and because of that, at times, this film is heartbreaking.

Special Features

The DVD includes a few extra scenes, including one about San Francisco venues the Avalon and the Fillmore. In this scene, Bob Weir talks about the venues being dance halls, and Dave Getz and Peter Albin talk about the differences between the venues. Another scene shows members of Big Brother doing a little impromptu acapella jam. The third scene is about Janis Joplin’s influence on music and singers, and includes interviews with Chan Marshall and Melissa Etheridge. The last scene is footage of the ceremony on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, when Janis Joplin’s star was presented.

Janis: Little Girl Blue was directed by Amy J. Berg, and was released on DVD on May 6, 2016 through MVD Visual.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bobby Darin: “Another Song On My Mind: The Motown Years” (2016) CD Review

Bobby Darin went through a lot of musical changes in his short life (he was only thirty-seven when he died). His career really took off in 1958 with the release of “Splish Splash,” a fun and kind of goofy rock and roll song that he co-wrote with Murray Kaufman. He followed that with several other hit singles, much of which he wrote or co-wrote, including “Early In The Morning” and “Dream Lover.”  He also covered other people’s material, including standards. And in the early and mid-1960s he recorded both country and folk albums, while also continuing to put out pop albums. He recorded on many different labels, including Atco, Capitol and Atlantic. And at the end of his career, in the early 1970s, he recorded for Motown. Another Song On My Mind: The Motown Years is a new two-disc set collecting the material he recorded for that label, including two complete albums, singles and alternate versions.  Most of these tracks are covers, but there are some original tunes as well. This set includes liner notes by Joe Marchese, along with a few photos.

The first disc contains the complete self-titled 1972 record, as well as single versions of several songs. It opens with a good version of Randy Newman’s “Sail Away,” the title track to one of Randy Newman’s best albums. Bobby Darin sounds a bit like Randy Newman, especially as he delivers the song’s first line, “In America, you get food to eat.” I really like the backing vocalists on this version, giving the song something of a gospel vibe. These backing vocals feel so natural to the song that it now seems odd they weren’t in the original. The first disc also includes the original single version of “Sail Away,” which is slightly shorter. Bobby follows “Sail Away” with “I’ve Already Stayed Too Long,” a sweet country tune written by Ben Peters.

“Something In Her Love” is the only song on Bobby Darin to be co-written by Bobby Darin (with Tommy Amato). It’s a touching love song in which Bobby sings, “As long as she’s around there’ll be a morning sun/Even when the sky is grey above/All she has to do is say good morning, hon/’Cause there’s something in her love I love.” The song has a full sound, with strings, but it is the little touches on piano in the first section of the song that I really like. This disc also includes the single version of this song.

One of my favorite tracks on this first disc is “Who Turned The World Around,” in large part because of Bobby Darin’s vocal performance. He delivers this one with such passion. But it’s also just a really good song, written by Scott English and Richard Kerr. It’s followed by “Shipmates In Cheyenne,” another good tune. This is one I’m curious about. The liner notes indicate it was written by Joe Henry and Kerry Chater. But on the 1975 John Denver record, Windsong, where the song is listed as “Shipmates And Cheyenne,” it is credited to Joe Henry and John Denver. Obviously, the Bobby Darin version came out first, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the title and credits are correct. If anyone has the answer to this, please let me know.

I’m a big Cat Stevens fan, and on Bobby Darin, Bobby covers “Hard Headed Woman.” Here he employs some backing vocalists, which add to the power of this rendition. Bobby changes the line “People who can glide you on a floor” to “People who can slide you on a floor,” and the line “And how you do” to “And they always do.” Also included is the single version (this song was the flip side to “Sail Away”), which has a slightly shorter fade-out at the end.

Another highlight of the first disc is “I Used To Think It Was Easy,” a song written by Pat St. Clare. This is such a playful song, and I love the keys at the beginning. This song has a great opening line: “When the sun is hot and my old lady is not.” Bobby Darin is clearly having a good time with this song. Nancy Sinatra also recorded this one, including it on Woman (singing, “When the sun’s too hot and my old man’s not”). I also really like the live version of “Simple Song Of Freedom” that is included on the first disc. This song was written by Bobby Darin, and was released as a single. It was from the album Live From The Desert Inn, which was intended to be Darin’s first Motown LP, but ended up not being released until 1987. It’s an excellent tune. The flip side is a wonderful cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” also recorded live.

The second disc contains the complete album of Darin 1936-1973, which, as you can guess from the title, was released after Bobby Darin’s death. It wasn’t an album planned by Darin, but rather assembled after his passing. And yet it includes some excellent tracks. It opens with a cover of the Paul Williams/Roger Nichols song “I Won’t Last A Day Without You,” which was a hit for the Carpenters. I don’t know what it is about this song, but it always seems to affect me, no matter how cheesy it might be. This disc also includes an alternate CD version of this song, which was included on the 1991 CD release of this album.

This album includes a different mix of Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.” That’s followed by an original song, “Another Song On My Mind,” written by Bobby Darin and Tommy Amato, the song that gives this compilation its title. It’s an odd, mellow tune. “But I cannot sing your melody with another song on my mind.” That’s a kind way of saying that, eh? “Happy (Love Theme From Lady Sings The Blues)” is a song that Bobby Darin released as a single, and that single version is included here, as well as the full-length album version, and also the alternate CD version, which is actually even longer (approximately six minutes). It was written by Michel Legrand, with lyrics by Smokey Robinson, and was also recorded by Michael Jackson.

Bobby Darin goes back to the 1950s with a cover of “Blue Monday,” which he begins a cappella. This is a fun rendition, and the bass line is given prominence. The alternate CD version is also included, which has a different beginning. Darin also covers Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and delivers it with a kind of rough, tired quality to his voice. This disc also includes the alternate CD version.

Live versions of “If I Were A Carpenter” and “Moritat (Mack The Knife)” are also included. These are tracks that would be released on Live At The Desert Inn. The alternate mix single versions of the other two live tracks – “Simple Song Of Freedom” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – are also included on this disc. The compilation ends with the stereo single versions of “Melodie” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Sail Away
  2. I’ve Already Stayed Too Long
  3. Something In Her Love
  4. Who Turned The World Around
  5. Shipmates In Cheyenne
  6. Let It Be Me
  7. Hard Headed Woman
  8. Average People
  9. I Used To Think It Was Easy
  10. My First Night (Alone Without You)
  11. Melodie (Original Single Version)
  12. Someday We’ll Be Together (Original Single Version)
  13. Simple Song Of Freedom (Original Single Version)
  14. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (Original Single Version)
  15. Sail Away (Original Single Version)
  16. Hard Headed Woman (Original Single Version)
  17. Average People (Original Single Version)
  18. Something In Her Love (Original Single Version)
Disc Two
  1. I Won’t Last A Day Without You
  2. Wonderin’ Where It’s Gonna End
  3. Sail Away
  4. Another Song On My Mind
  5. Happy (Love Theme From Lady Sings The Blues)
  6. Blue Monday
  7. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
  8. The Letter
  9. If I Were A Carpenter
  10. Moritat (Mack The Knife)
  11. Happy (Love Theme From Lady Sings The Blues) (Original Single Version)
  12. Simple Song Of Freedom (Alternate Mix Single Version)
  13. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (Alternate Mix Single Version)
  14. I Won’t Last A Day Without You (Alternate CD Version)
  15. Wonderin’ Where It’s Gonna End (Alternate CD Version)
  16. Happy (Love Theme From Lady Sings The Blues) (Alternate CD Version)
  17. Blue Monday (Alternate CD Version)
  18. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Alternate CD Version)
  19. Melodie (Stereo Single Version)
  20. Someday We’ll Be Together (Stereo Single Version)
Another Song On My Mind: The Motown Years was released on May 6, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Johnny Paycheck: “Take This Job And Shove It: The Definitive Collection” (2016) CD Review

“Take This Job And Shove It” is one of those songs I think I knew before I ever actually heard it. It was just a part of the world of my childhood. People referred to it a lot. I would sing its chorus long before I ever had my first job. It was a number one hit on the country chart, but had plenty of mainstream appeal. It was written by David Allen Coe, but it was Johnny Paycheck who first recorded it and had a hit with it. The song was so popular that a film was later named after it (with both Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe having small parts). Johnny Paycheck (whose real name was Donald Eugene Lytle) had several other hits during his career, and many of them are included on the new two-disc compilation, Take This Job And Shove It: The Definitive Collection, which covers his years with Epic Records, from 1971 to 1982. Sure, a few of these tunes are a bit on the cheesy side, like “Somebody Loves Me” and “Mr. Lovemaker,” but overall these songs are such a delight, and some are even kind of beautiful, such as “My Part Of Forever.” This compilation includes liner notes by Chris Morris.

Johnny Paycheck recorded a lot of love songs early in his career at Epic. In fact, seven of the first thirteen tracks have some form of the word “love” in the title (compared to only one of the remaining twenty-seven tracks). Several of these were written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice. The CD opens, however, with “She’s All I Got,” a song written by Jerry Williams Jr. and Gary U.S. Bonds. Freddie North was the first to record this song, but this version by Johnny Paycheck reached #2 on the country chart. In this song, Johnny begs his friend, “Please don’t take her love away from me,” adding, “She’s all I got.” (By the way, this song was recently covered by The Bo-Keys on Heartaches By The Number.) It’s followed by one of the Foster/Rice numbers, “Someone To Give My Love To,” a good song that reached #4 on the country chart in 1972. “I will follow you to the ends of the earth/For my place will be with you/I have taken you for better or worse/Someone to give my love to.”

“It’s Only A Matter Of Wine” is one of those glorious sad country songs about trying to forget a woman, when of course the very act of singing it keeps her in mind. Johnny introduces it by saying, “Here’s one for the boys.” “While inside I’m washing her memory away/’Cause it’s only a matter of wine.” And yes, I love the song’s playful title. This was written by Larry Kingston and Frank Dycus, and is one of my favorite tracks. Johnny then turns to gospel for “Let’s All Go Down To The River,” a track that becomes a rousing number.

“Song And Dance Man” is kind of goofy, but is also fun. It’s about singing for money and alcohol, and has some playful lyrics, like these lines: “Just name your pleasure, then dig down in your jeans/My body needs a beverage and my guitar needs some strings.” “Song And Dance Man” was written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice, and reached #8 on the country chart. Another fun tune is Johnny Paycheck’s rendition of Paul Simon’s “Gone At Last.” This is a song that Paul Simon included on his Still Crazy After All These Years album, and also released as a single, having a hit with it in 1975. Johnny Paycheck released his version as a single in 1976, and had a minor hit. This song has a bit of a “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” vibe, and this version features some nice work on harmonica, as well as some great vocals by Charnissa. “I’ve had a long streak of bad luck/But I pray it’s gone at last.”

Fun in its own way is “All-American Man,” a song that is very much of its time, a reaction to the Women’s Liberation movement, with lines like “American woman, why can’t you agree/God made man for himself, and he made you for me/American woman, why can’t you understand/That all you’ve got to do is love your all-American man” and “Well, I’ve tried my best to understand/Why you want to replace man/And give up all the luxuries we give you/We work our fingers to the bone/And all we want is you at home/And you’re gonna go too far to forgive you.” Wow.

Johnny Paycheck dips into the blues with “11 Months And 29 Days,” a song about being in jail and looking forward to his release. “Keep your hands off my woman/I ain’t gonna be gone that long.” It’s a very cool tune, and I love the way it mixes blues and country. This one was written by Johnny Paycheck and Billy Sherrill. Another song I like a whole lot is “Slide Off Your Satin Sheets,” in which he sings, “Slide off of your satin sheets/Slip into your long, soft mink.” Oh yes!

The second disc has lots of drinking songs, more tunes fitting that famous outlaw personality of his. And it opens with his most famous recording, “Take This Job And Shove It.” This song still works so well, and it’s hard to keep from singing along with it, regardless of how you feel about your current employment. “I’d give the shirt right off of my back/If I had the guts to say/Take this job and shove it/I ain’t working here no more/My woman done left and took all the reasons/I was working for.” This tune reached #1 on the chart. It’s followed by “Me And The I.R.S.,” a great tune about how working folks get screwed over by the government. “You know, the I.R.S./Ain’t gonna rest/’Til they think they’ve got it all.” And addressing the I.R.S. directly, he tells them to take his name off their list. I love these lines: “Well, it’s hard to keep my hands on my woman with Uncle Sam’s hand in my pants/And if I can’t afford the music, how the hell am I going to dance?

Like “It’s Only A Matter Of Wine,” “The Spirits Of St. Louis” has a nice, playful title. And like that other song, it’s about drinking to get a woman off of his mind. “Drank every bar dry in this city/But all the spirits of St. Louis can’t get you off of my mind.” It’s followed by another drinking song, “Colorado Cool-Aid,” which tells a story that is delivered as spoken word. This is actually a drinking-and-fighting song, and includes someone cutting off another guy’s ear. But there is an odd sense of humor to this song, as Johnny says, “But he was a gentleman about it/Bent over, and with a halfway grin/Picked it up and handed it back to him.”

“You Can Have Her” is fun and delightful, with great groove and some wonderful backing vocals. Here the man is looking for a real love, but finds a woman who is just looking to play. “Drinkin’ And Drivin’” is another song about drinking a woman off of his mind, but this one adds driving to the mix. “Five dollars’ worth of regular/Three dollars’ worth of wine/Just hand me a road map/Show me the state line.” “(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train” is another of the second disc’s highlights. “Lord, it’s hard to get off the old white train.”

Johnny Paycheck covers three Merle Haggard songs on the second disc. He opens the first one, “Someone Told My Story,” by saying, “You know, for fifteen years I’ve been listening to songs that Merle Haggard wrote. They’ve helped me make it through many a night.” In 1981, Johnny Paycheck released an album of Merle Haggard’s material titled Mr. Hag Told My Story. The second song is “I Can’t Hold Myself In Line,” and features Merle Haggard on vocals. It was released as a single, reaching #41 on the country chart. The third is “Yesterday’s News (Just Hit Home Today),” and it includes a spoken word introduction.

“In Memory Of A Memory” is a really wonderful and emotionally engaging song, and one of my favorites. “Oh sure, you think I’m crazy/And hell, I just might be/But as for tonight/I’m here in memory of a memory.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. She’s All I Got
  2. Someone To Give My Love To
  3. It’s Only A Matter Of Wine
  4. Let’s All Go Down To The River
  5. Love Is A Good Thing
  6. Somebody Loves Me
  7. Something About You I Love
  8. Mr. Lovemaker
  9. Song And Dance Man
  10. For A Minute There
  11. My Part Of Forever
  12. Loving You Beats All I Ever Seen
  13. Keep On Lovin’ Me
  14. Gone At Last
  15. All-American Man
  16. 11 Months And 29 Days
  17. I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)
  18. Slide Off Your Satin Sheets
  19. Hank (You Tried To Tell Me)
  20. The Man From Bowling Green
Disc Two
  1. Take This Job And Shove It
  2. Me And The I.R.S.
  3. Georgia In A Jug
  4. The Spirits Of St. Louis
  5. Colorado Cool-Aid
  6. Proud Mary
  7. Friend, Lover, Wife
  8. Thanks To The Cathouse (I’m In The Doghouse With You)
  9. Look What The Dog Drug In
  10. You Can Have Her
  11. Drinkin’ And Drivin’
  12. Fifteen Beers
  13. (Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train
  14. You Better Move On
  15. Someone Told My Story
  16. I Can’t Hold Myself In Line
  17. Yesterday’s News (Just Hit Home Today)
  18. D.O.A. (Drunk On Arrival)
  19. In Memory Of A Memory
  20. The Outlaw’s Prayer
Take This Job And Shove It: The Definitive Collection was released on May 6, 2016 through Real Gone Music.