Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers: “Heal My Soul” (2016) CD Review

I really didn’t know what to expect when I put in Heal My Soul, the new CD from Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers. I wasn’t at all familiar with their music, so all I had to go on was the cover, which features a sexy woman seated in a large martini glass in front of a rough, odd, and dirty city scene, with certain items in bizarre and exaggerated proportions, as the sun sets (or perhaps rises?) behind her. The woman seems to be having a grand time, and so the title seems almost out of place. This woman needs no healing. Unless her posture and joy are all an act? I had planned on listening to just a few tracks to get a taste for the music (with the idea that I would return to the CD in a few days), but I was immediately drawn into the world of this band, in large part because of Lex Grey’s voice, which commands attention, in both upfront and sly ways. And there was no way I was going to be able to stop the CD before the end. Heal My Soul quickly became one of my favorite CDs of 2016.

It opens with “Factory,” a strange, cool bluesy rock number about wanting to live in a factory. Right away, I’m kind of intrigued by this woman, as she sings, “I want to live in a factory/I don’t care what it used to be/With metal doors and concrete floors.” Sure, it’s about having a lot of space, but clearly there is something else twisted at play here. After all, she sounds excited as she sings, “And urinals hanging on the walls” and “And a drain in the center of the floor.” And what will she do with the “antique machinery” that she sings about? I want to find out. I want to go live in this factory with this unusual woman, but first let a few close friends know of my whereabouts in case I’m not heard from again. It all adds to up to a great song. Plus, there are nice touches by Walter Tates Jr. on saxophone.

Lex Grey then turns toward folk and country for an equally odd and delightful tune, “Hobo Soup,” which is about working together to feed people. And as she sings, “From a rooftop of the city to the chicken coop/Everybody needs a little hobo soup,” it seems to also be about the need to be humbled. Kaia Updike is on violin, and Brian Dewan is on accordion. And there are chicken sounds on the track. So there.

“Ghost” is a rock song sung to a ghost, or to someone who might be a ghost. Check out these lyrics: “Are you lost or afraid/Will I see you again/Are you stranded/Hold my hand and/Tell me I’m not abandoned.” Those male backing vocals are unexpected and odd in their own way. I imagine Lex Grey’s voice surrounded by enslaved, doting spirits, minions. There is something dark here. Hers is the kind of voice I want to submit to, let it have its way with my flesh, with my soul, with whatever bits interest her. We could all easily become her backing vocalists, her spirits. And then near the end, there is the addition of fiddle. Holy hell, this song just gets better and better, more and more powerful.

“Quiet Place,” the next song, comes as a surprise too, with its relaxed, sweeter feel. Plus, it’s the album’s sole cover, a song written by Jaik Miller. But whatever journey Lex Grey wants to take me on, I am game. There is something almost haunting about this track, and I’m really drawn into it. Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers do an excellent job with this song. “Blues All Around” then slowly creeps in, which is quite fitting for the opening line, “Waking up in the morning, those crazy thoughts in my head,” like the song itself is reluctantly coming to, opening its eyes. This is a quiet blues number, and it is effective. And with “Survive,” this group and CD continue to be impressive and surprising. Lex Grey’s is an unusual voice, an unusual perspective, and I am fascinated. Check out what she does vocally on this song, with Alison Davy joining her. Wonderful!

Then the band delivers a playful, old-time number, “Junkman,” which – because of everything that’s come before it – also comes as a surprise. And I love it.  Though I admit I am a bit on edge at first, paying close attention, in case she suddenly sneaks a knife into my side or something. But no, this is just a delightful tune, with excellent use of backing vocals, and some great stuff on clarinet by Anthony Michael. “I could spend all night just digging through your treasures.”

“Black Stallion” is a sweet-sounding country number, and then “Lightnin’ (In A Jar)” is a country rock song, though the way “lightning” is repeated reminds me of the end of a certain song from Grease. These two tracks are good, but aren’t as intriguing as the rest of the album. The CD then concludes with its title track, “Heal My Soul,” which begins with a good groove and soon adds some sweet saxophone before Lex Grey’s vocals come in. She sounds so sexy and smooth, and of course doesn’t wait too long before getting wild. “Turn your light on bright for me/Heal my soul/You’ll never catch the midnight train/Running face first into the hurricane/Oh, can you hear me moan?” Lex does so much with her voice on this track, at times delivering a near-snarl, other times sounding sweet and soothing. This is an excellent song, with several lines standing out, like “We’re just two people trying to get somewhere” and “I can walk through the water in my high-heeled shoes.” And it becomes a good jam.

CD Track List
  1. Factory
  2. Hobo Soup
  3. Ghost
  4. Quiet Place
  5. Blues All Around
  6. Survive
  7. Junkman
  8. Black Stallion
  9. Lightnin’ (In A Jar)
  10. Heal My Soul
Heal My Soul is scheduled to be released on September 12, 2016.

All Things Must Pass DVD Review

As a music fan, I find the demise of record and CD stores troubling, to say the least. These stores aren’t just great sources of music, but also places where music fans can meet and learn from each other about bands, share information in a truly social way (so-called “social media” are not actually social). These stores are about community as much as about product. I’ve bought albums based on strangers’ recommendations in a store; I’ve also had strangers buy discs I’ve recommended (and at least one friendship began with such a recommendation). Tower Records, at its height, was such a giant chain that it might have felt less personal than some smaller stores, but that sense of community was there. And now, a decade after the last U.S. store closed its doors, All Things Must Pass recounts the story of Tower Records, its beginning and growth as well as its end, and focuses on that sense of community, particularly among those who worked for the company.

The documentary opens with a title card telling us, “In 1999, Tower Records had sales of over one billion dollars.” That is followed by another title card, “Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy.” At the center and heart of this film is an interview with Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records. He talks about his own passion for music and about the creation of Tower Records. Interestingly, it started in his father’s drug store, Tower Drugs, which had a jukebox and where used (and then new) records were sold. The record section expanded to the point where Russ ran it as a separate store. And eventually Russ happened upon a large store for lease in San Francisco. That was the beginning of the expansion of the business.

Many employees who rose through the ranks share their personal experiences, and they all stress the sense of community, of family they felt while working there. Stan Goman mentions another benefit was getting to play whatever music he wanted on the store’s record player. “So you could be an amateur DJ too.” Russ says he believes one key to the store’s success in the early days was that there was no dress code for employees, so people wanted to work there. What is striking is the passion these folks feel not only for the music, but for the business.

There is a lot of material on the store’s expansion, including interesting stuff about the first Tower Records in Japan (which occurred before the store moved to the east coast of the U.S.). And there is material on Pulse! (the Tower Records magazine). And then, as you might expect, the documentary delves into the problems the business began facing – from other types of stores (such as Target and Best Buy) selling CDs, from people being able to get their music online for free, and so on. And those interviewed talk about being fired. I was actually tearing up a bit before the end of this film.

This film isn’t just about Tower Records, but about the music business in general, and the changes it’s gone through, from the shift in focus from singles to LPs, to the change from vinyl to CDs and then to digital. And it doesn’t just include interviews with employees, but also others in the music business, such as Dave Geffen, as well as musicians, such as Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl. Bruce Springsteen says, “There was the thrill of being surrounded by music,” and also talks about how there is that family aspect, how everyone in the store is like your friend for a little while. Elton John recounts how going to Tower Records first thing in the morning was part of his daily ritual. The film includes footage of Elton making purchases. (There is also audio of John Lennon promoting Tower Records.)

All Things Must Pass was directed by Colin Hanks, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on September 13, 2016 through MVD Visual. The DVD contains no special features.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Livesays: “Hold On…Life Is Calling” (2016) CD Review

The Livesays are a Florida-based rock band led by vocalist, songwriter, guitarist and pianist Billy Livesay (who is known also for his work with Clarence Clemons), and featuring Victor “Cuqui” Berrios on organ and vocals, Jorge Laplume on bass, and Eddie Zyne on drums (I saw Eddie Zyne play with The Monkees back in 1986). The band’s new release, Hold On…Life Is Calling, features fairly straight rock, but with a bit of pop and a bluesy touch, sometimes reminding me of the feel of early ‘80s rock. It follows their 2014 release, Faith, Hope And Love, and 2011’s Rose Colored Glasses. Former member Timothy Murphy joins them on piano for a few tracks. Also joining them on this release are Luke Sipka and John Quinn, both on piano, as well as Victoria Livesay, Erminia Laplume, Debi Berrios and Susan Zyne on backing vocals for one track. All of the songs are originals, written or co-written by Billy Livesay.

The Livesays kick off the new CD with “I’m Coming Home,” a good rock song in which Billy sings, “Tried to sell my soul, but I couldn’t find a buyer.” There is something rough and worn in his voice, which is perfect for this song of someone who sings of experience. It starts off quietly, easing in, then kicks in to become more of a rock tune right when he sings that he is coming home, like that idea gives him more energy, more power. Why is it that songs about going home always work, always have a power over us? I especially like the organ in this song. The band then turns bluesy with “Angels Of The New Millennium,” which begins with a cool groove on drums. “The angels mourned the simple days/When ghostly taps were heard/The knights they bathed in soldiers’ blood/Down in Gettysburg.” It’s interesting that both of the first two tracks employ the image of angels. “Angels Of The New Millennium” was written by Billy Livesay and Louie Lawent.

“Pop Star” is one of the tracks having an element making it feel like an early 1980s rock tune, particularly in the chorus, reminding me of bands like Foreigner. This works well with its theme of wanting to ignore world events and become a pop star, and the band uses this sound to a kind of humorous, tongue-in-cheek effect. Check out these lyrics: “All I want before we’re smoked/By a vengeful god or the nuclear vote/Is a whole lotta fame, and an entourage.” I also really like these lines: “But all I want is what Jagger had/To swallow up some gorgeous gams,” mostly because I’m happy at the use of the word “gams.”  “Pop Star” was also written by Billy Livesay and Louie Lawent.

“Call On Me” has a kind of sweet, friendly vibe, a voice reaching out to those who are troubled. And hey, who isn’t, in one way or another? Timothy Murphy is on piano and backing vocals on this track, which was written by Billy Livesay and John Bradley. That’s followed by “I’ve Heard The Truth Before,” which features the excellent line “I’ve heard the truth before, and I’m trying to get over it.” This one also has something of a 1980s rock feel.

“Why You Want To Keep On Lovin’ Me” is one of the disc’s strongest tracks, opening with the lines, “You live alone, but you say that you’re not lonely/And don’t need love to keep you company.” It’s a strange sort of love song about receiving mixed messages. It has something of a pop feel, with some nice blending of vocals. Timothy Murphy plays piano on this track. Check out these lines: “Wake up and greet the day, you’re sleeping far too long/And there’s really nothing else that I can say/We’ve seen a lot of years and I know you have your fears/Don’t let your damaged goods get in the way.”

The album concludes with “Turn It Around,” a bright and positive-sounding tune. “I was a fool under your spell/But a fool in love can always tell/When there’s no shoulder to cry on/When the teardrops fall/And one by one I’m counting them all.” Victoria Livesay, Erminia Laplume, Debi Berrios and Susan Zyne join them on backing vocals, making the track a family affair.

CD Track List
  1. I’m Coming Home
  2. Angels Of The New Millennium
  3. Pop Star
  4. No Promises
  5. Call On Me
  6. I’ve Heard The Truth Before
  7. I’d Change Everything
  8. This Side Of Town
  9. Libertine
  10. Why You Want To Keep On Lovin’ Me
  11. Pick Yourself Up
  12. It’s What I Have To Do
  13. Turn It Around 
Hold On… Life Is Calling is scheduled to be released on October 3, 2016. By the way, the proofreader in me was screaming as I read the liner notes. There are many typos and mistakes, such as “your” in place of “you’re” twice in the lyrics to “Turn It Around” (and once in “No Promises”). Also, “spend have the time” instead of “spend half the time,” and “lightning” is misspelled multiple times in the lyrics to “No Promises.” There is also “rap my head around” and “loose myself in the memory of you” in the lyrics to “It’s What I Have To Do.” And while the “thru” instead of “through” in “I’m Coming Home” might be deliberate, it is still incorrect. There are several other mistakes. Perhaps some of these can be corrected before the CD’s October release.

Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul (2016) CD Review

I remember watching a few of those after school specials in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They seemed cheesy and goofy even then. Do they still make programs like that? And are children still scared straight? Well, either way, the new CD compilation Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul is like a delightful trip back to the 1970s, when you just had to remember not to talk to strangers, take candy from them or get into their cars. The CD has nothing really to do with those television programs, but its title helps to recall very vividly that time. It features some funk and soul from youthful groups you might not remember, or perhaps never heard in the first place. It comes nearly a decade after the release of Home Schooled: The ABCs Of Kid Soul. Sure, some of these tracks are cheesy, such as “Because I Love You,” with lines like “I’ll walk a thousand miles/Just to see you smile,” but this is a ridiculously enjoyable journey back to childhood. There is even a very funky game of “Simon Says,” performed by Future Kind (though because of its cool groove I keep expecting something like, “Simon says touch me there, baby”).

The collection opens with Bethlehem Center Children’s Choir singing “I’m A Special Kid.” The song features children clapping and singing about doing normal childhood things (“Like cleaning my room and washing dishes/Going to school, and doing my homework”) and lists people in the kid’s life who might offer help (“The doctor, the nurse, the dentist, the fireman, the policeman, the teacher, my parents”). The song basically celebrates the ordinary aspects of childhood, while insisting “I’m a very special kid.” Things pick up with The Scott Three’s “Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You),” which is kind of funky. The group was made up of three brothers, and apparently this was their only single, recorded in 1968. That’s followed by Jimi Hill’s “Guessing Games,” which was written by Dan Greer and released as a single in 1973.

“You Got Me Believing (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You)” is so positive, so youthful, so innocent, and energetic that you can’t help but enjoy it, especially when that horn comes in over that funky bass and drums. I wish that instrumental section were a lot longer. This song was released as a single in 1974 (actually, it was the flip side to “I Think It’s A Big One Coming”), and the full title is “You Got Me Believing In You (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You).”

As I mentioned earlier, some of these songs are cheesy. One of the cheesiest is “Because I Love You,” which even boasts a spoken word introduction (“You know, one of the most beautiful things in life is when a boy finds the girl he loves”) and another spoken word part that includes the line, “Shucks, doll, we’ve got to get it together.” This song, however, is by Brighter Side Of Darkness, one of the groups you’re likely to know, because they had a hit with “Love Jones.” And they actually refer to that song in this song’s lyrics: “Every time I think I have a love jones.” You might also be familiar with “Everywhere You Go (I’ll Be Around)” by the Next Movement, a group that is actually still together. This is a rather sweet song, and weirdly also uses the word “Shucks,” here as a sort of exclamation (unless I’m mishearing it). This compilation actually contains a second song by this group, “Girl Why Do You Want To Take My Heart,” recorded under the earlier band name Magical Connection.

The song “I Want A Little Girl” would be incredibly creepy if it weren’t sung by children, opening with the lines, “I want a little girl/All my own/She gotta be all alone.” It’s by The Bennett’s (and yes, that’s how the band name is written on the original 45 – not The Bennetts), and was the flip side to “Girl I’m Here.” One of the most interesting tracks is The Brother’s Rap version of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I love the original by Gil Scott-Heron, included on his 1971 record Pieces Of A Man. Here a child sings it, and it is rather odd hearing a child mention skag, beer, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. The kid seems to have a bit of trouble getting many of the words out (and gives up completely on some of them, “Humperdinck”). The percussion behind him dips into a Bo Diddley beat.  Another odd one is “James Brown,” in which children sing about James Brown, accompanied by piano. They also imitate him (“Uh, good god”), which is adorable and funny.

“Funky Breakdown” is a really fun track to get you smiling, get you moving, whether you’re a kid or adult, no matter. It’s by Little Man And The Inquires, and is for me one of the highlights of the disc. It’s followed by another of my favorites, “Love Got A Piece Of Your Mind” by Five Ounces Of Soul.  This is an excellent track, mostly because of that great jam. On the single, it was divided into two parts, but here it is presented as one track. Fantastic. (It seems Phish must have heard this single somewhere along the way – listen especially around the 2:47 mark.)

CD Track List
  1. I’m A Special Kid – Bethlehem Center Children’s Choir
  2. Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You) – Scott Three
  3. Guessing Games – Jimi Hill
  4. You Got Me Believing (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You) – Leonard (Lil’ Man) Kaigler
  5. I Love You Still – Cash
  6. Because I Love You – Brighter Side Of Darkness
  7. Everywhere You Go – Next Movement
  8. I Want A Little Girl – The Bennett’s
  9. Simon Says – Future Kind
  10. I’m Free, No Dope For Me – The Dynamics
  11. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – The Brother’s Rap
  12. We Don’t Dig No Busing (The Busing Song) – The Greer Brothers
  13. Funky Breakdown – Little Man And The Inquires
  14. Love Got A Piece Of Your Mind – Five Ounces Of Soul
  15. Girl Why Do You Want To Take My Heart – Magical Connection
  16. It’s Tie For Love – Soul Emotions And Co.
  17. Losing My Girl – Brotherly Five
  18. The Other Guy – The Mighty Mustangs
  19. James Brown – Nancy Dupree With A Group Of Youngsters 
Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul is scheduled to be released on September 16, 2016 through The Numero Group.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Disaster Strikes: “In The Age Of Corporate Personhood” (2016) CD Review

I don’t often review hardcore punk, because I don’t often listen to it these days. But a few things got me curious about the new release from Disaster Strikes. The first thing is that the band is from Boston. Maybe not a great reason to want to listen to a band, but I’m feeling a bit homesick for that great city. The second thing is the song list. Some of these titles caught my interest, like “Deconstruct The Plot,” “Song And Purpose” and of course the title track. The third thing is that it’s on Jello Biafra’s label, Alternative Tentacles, and that Jello Biafra joins them on one track. His name still carries a lot of weight with me. I figured if he wanted to be a part of this disc, then it was at least something worth listening to. And it certainly is. And maybe hardcore punk is more relevant than ever, which in a way is depressing, because it means we have a lot to be angry about.

The disc opens with “The Fighting Path,” getting right into it, asking at the start, “How do I dare?/Where to begin in these two minutes I’m borrowing of your precious time.” And yeah, most of these songs are approximately two minutes – in, out. This track announces their political and social stances, wondering what one can do in such a short time (the length of a song, the length of a life), but not letting that stop them from trying. “We will not lick the boots of the one percent/We choose the fighting path.” That’s followed by “You Are Nothing,” which packs a lot of anger into a minute. Yeah, it’s only a minute long, and is totally effective, and is one of my favorite tracks.

But even better is “In The Age Of Corporate Personhood,” the CD’s title track and the one that features Jello Biafra on vocals. The band has plenty to say on this track. Of course, the idea of corporate personhood is a strange and complicated one, but it is frightening how much power corporations seem to have these days. It really does feel like they are the government, or somehow apart from it and all consequences, and this track tackles this subject, saying “corporations shall have the rights denied to you and me/Bestowed unto them shall be a life worth more than human life itself/Liberty from regulation, investigation, or prosecution.” This song also has a play on the Lord’s Prayer: “Our corporations, which art infallible, hallowed be our trade/Our kingdom is come/Our will be done across Earth as approved by the markets/And forgive us our treason as we vilify those who would speak against us/Lead us not into equality, but deliver them into more poverty.” Not bad, eh? I also really appreciate the line, “How many lies can our minds forget?

“Your Life = Their Lie” packs a pretty strong punch (though on the back of the CD case, it is misspelled as “Thier Lie” – yikes!). Check out these lyrics: “You dream the dreams that line their pockets/Manufactured aspirations masking quiet desperation/No cure for the sinking feeling that your life is their lie.” It’s a powerful song, and one that will have your wanting to break out of your skin as you dance around to its fast pace, trying to feel you have at least a little control over your life.

The band tackles unlimited corporate power again on the CD’s final track, “Now Or Never.” “Will you let this moment pass?/That’s exactly what they want.” And do the closing lines, “Why are we still fighting/It’s because you’re not,” make me feel a bit guilty for checking out of politics completely? Yes, a bit.

CD Track List
  1. The Fighting Path
  2. You Are Nothing
  3. In The Age Of Corporate Personhood
  4. Deconstruct The Plot
  5. Drone Strike
  6. Song And Purpose
  7. Your Life = Their Lie
  8. The Harvest
  9. A New Solidarity!
  10. Now Or Never
In The Age Of Corporate Personhood is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2016 on Alternative Tentacles Records. By the way, that awesome cover artwork is by Bill Hauser.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pansy Division: “Quite Contrary” (2016) CD Review

I first got turned onto Pansy Division in 1993 or 1994, when I was in college. I worked at KWVA, and the band’s first disc was in the stacks there, and song titles like “Femme In A Black Leather Jacket” and “The Cocksucker Club” made me curious. So I listened to several tracks, and I loved what I heard. And the next album got a lot of airplay as well, especially “Groovy Underwear,” which people just couldn’t get enough of. And then of course there was their great rendition of “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond Of Each Other” from their 1995 release Pile Up. Then, as sometimes happens, I lost track of them after college. But I am excited to get back to them, and their new CD, Quite Contrary, gives me the perfect opportunity. And I’m glad to find they’re just as much fun as I remember them, still writing quirky, humorous rock numbers. But, of course, we’ve all gotten a bit older since then, and Pansy Division certainly takes that into consideration; that is, their own aging. In a song like “Love Came Along,” they refer specifically to their own aging, reminding us of one of their earlier songs, and the changes since then. So perhaps they’re not writing about dicks that can peak at you from around the furniture (that line in “Curvature” still makes me laugh), but they have plenty to stay. Most of these songs are originals, the only cover being “It’s A Sin,” the Pet Shop Boys song (which still sounds suspiciously like Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to me).

Pansy Division kicks off the new album with “He’s Trouble,” which has a great punk energy, but also a bit of a fun early rock and roll thing in the “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and “Down, down, weighing him down” backing vocals. And the line “He’s always broke, but always has a drink” paints for me a very vivid image. We all know this guy, right? That’s followed by “Love Came Along,” a delightful song about sex and love and how sometimes they’re combined. And yes, they address how their goals have changed as they’re getting older. This song opens with a reference to “I’m Gonna Be A Slut”: “I once wrote a song about being a slut/Nothing meant more to me than busting a nut/Now I’ve grown older and that life ain’t making the cut.” (Interestingly, the first verse of “I’m Gonna Be A Slut” begins with this line: “The older that I get the less I want to settle down.”) There is a sense of humor to this song, acknowledging that sometimes it’s more fun to hear about sex than love, ending with these lines: “I’m the happiest guy in the world now that love came along/I know you’ll grow tired of hearing it, so I’m ending this song.”

Several of these songs are love songs, actually. Take “Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve),” for example, a really good tune in which they sing, “’Cause I know how I want to bring the year to an end/So kiss me at midnight on New Year’s Eve/Ring in the New Year with me.” It’s unabashedly sweet. “I’m The Friend” is a song about being the person others confide in, lean on, but don’t date, the person always hoping for more. It’s a different kind of love song. Check out these lines: “Not the one you’re waiting to see/Overlooked/Taken for granted/Know my role even when I can’t stand it.” Interestingly, “My Heart Aches For You” is also about being in love with a friend. “Though I love that we’re close friends/I hate that’s where it ends.” Both “I’m The Friend” and “My Heart Aches For You” were written by Jon Ginoli.

“Blame The Bible” is one of the CD’s best songs. This is the first song I heard from this album, the song that got me excited about this release, the song that let me know the band is still putting out great material, that they still have something to say. I think this is among the best songs the band ever recorded, with lines like “Promoting all the Bible’s libel with words but not their deeds.” It’s the perfect song for our election year. Though I have the urge to include the entire set of lyrics here, I’ll refrain. Here is just a taste: “Isn’t it about time we gave up on Christianity?/I mean really, it’s so unnecessary and so deceitful/Using verses from the Bible to validate their hate/Just look at all the damage they’ve caused/So let’s take away the one thing they use to perpetuate this worldwide fraud/And tear up the Bible.”

Another personal favorite is “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old,” in part because I can relate to it so well, with lines like “I’ve got more aches and pains than I used to/And now I’ll avoid a big crowd.” But it’s also kind of a bright, peppy number, which is wonderful, keeping the lyrics from being depressing. I love this song, even before the whistling. I ended up listening to this track over and over, wanting to memorize the lyrics. Of course, my brain can’t seem to retain the lyrics to new songs (another part of getting older), but I was able to retain the chorus, “Is this what it’s like, is this what it’s like/Is this what it’s like getting old?” Well, as they sing here, “I don’t want no sympathy, but my mind ain’t what it used to be.”  “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old” was written by Chris Freeman.

“Too Much To Ask” is another song, sadly, that is perfect for our times, with the band asking, “Is a small amount of courtesy just too much to ask?” This is a common topic of discussion among my friends, how somehow it’s become acceptable to be unreliable. It used to be a trait that people would not admit to, and now shockingly people have embraced this awful bit about themselves rather than trying to improve. “To simply show up at a time and date that’s set/To merely keep your word, is that too hard a task?

CD Track List
  1. He’s Trouble
  2. Love Came Along
  3. You’re On The Phone
  4. Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve)
  5. Halfway To Nowhere
  6. Work On It, Babe
  7. I’m The Friend
  8. Blame The Bible
  9. Mistakes
  10. It’s A Sin
  11. My Heart Aches For You
  12. (Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old
  13. Too Much To Ask
  14. Something Beautiful 
Quite Contrary is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2016 on Alternative Tentacles Records.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Coal Men: “Pushed To The Side” (2016) CD Review

On The Coal Men’s new release, Pushed To The Side, the band delivers some compelling narratives and interesting characters, all set in the country realm. These songs boast some excellent lyrics, and many are, in one way or another, about trying to make connections between people. All of these songs were written or co-written by Dave Coleman, who also produced and mixed these tracks. The Coal Men are Dave Coleman on vocals, guitar, mandolin, pedal steel and percussion; Dave Ray on drums, percussion and backing vocals; and Paul Slivka on bass. On this album they are joined by Seth Timbs on keys. This is the band’s fifth full-length CD, following 2013’s Escalator.

They kick off the CD with “Depreciate,” opening with a cool drumbeat, before the song settles into a gorgeous, dark country groove. That vibe fits well with the song’s lyrics, the first lines being “I'm running out of steam, friends/I need a pint of blood.” The song is from the perspective of an old car, drawing on that strong connection between people and automobiles. Because of course these lines apply to people too: “I'm nearly ready for the junkyard/Counting down the miles/I can't remember all my travels.” Yes, it’s kind of depressing, especially as lines like these feel more and more relevant as we get older. But there is something sweet about the feel of this one too. And check out these lines: “Thank you for all the cold nights/Thank you for summer days/I hope to stay in your memory/After you send me on my way.” “Depreciate” was written by Dave Coleman and Seth Timbs.

That’s followed by the CD’s title track, “Pushed To The Side,” which was written by Dave Coleman and Taylor Bates. This song is peopled by sad characters that might seem familiar in a peripheral way, touching on how sometimes people you don’t know can strongly affect you (if perhaps only for a brief moment): “Ooh, don’t the lonely break your heart/Ooh, don’t some people just break your heart/Ooh, it’s the lonely, lonely broken ones that break your little heart.” And I love these lines: “Well, she can’t go back on the things that are already done/She just crossed her fingers and stuck out her thumbs/It is what it is when you leave someone/It is what it is when you leave someone/Can’t hold on to the light of the setting sun.” Interestingly, the following song, “The Payoff,” opens with these lines: “The world is full of people capable of things you thought/Nobody could be capable of/They’ll break your heart and that’s the start/They’ll cut you and laugh at your scars.” And so there is an initial connection between the two songs, though the tones are quite different. “The Payoff,” written by Dave Coleman and Seth Timbs, has more of a country pop vibe. These are the lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc: “Another star that wants to shine/Twice as bright for half the time.”  Great, right?

“Willy Jett” is one of my favorites. It’s one of those songs that create a strong character and story, in this case a man working in the coal camps who tries to create a break from work for himself. “Bought a new suit of clothes, pinstripes and rows/Trying to hide the worn out away.” Though probably few of us work with coal, most people can relate to being desperate for something more, and failing to have it realized. My favorite lines are: “Willy came down from the coal camp/Dreaming of a woman on his arm/And he found one down at the corner/Lilly took him with all of her charms/The voice he heard was the sweetest sound/But it was only for that night/It was lonely he found still hanging around/Come the morning light.” (And Lilly gets her own song in “Lilly Hurst.”)  “Willy Jett” was written by Dave Coleman and Jeff Wickland.

“Speeding Like A Demon” is a fun country driving song about trying to get to a show on time. This is one I’ll be adding to my road trip mix CD song list. It was written by Dave Coleman, Stephen Simmons and David Palmer. “Stones River” has something of a sweet folk feel. It was written by Dave Coleman and Bob Delevante (whom you likely know for his own solo career). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Cleared the land with bare hands/Get a fire going, it's gonna be cold tonight/Yes we're losing light/Down on Stones River.”

Another favorite is the CD’s final track, “The Singer (In Louisville),” which begins like a punk song, with that great bass line, and maintains a sort of punk attitude. It’s country punk, and is based on a short story by Tommy Womack. This song is about an aging singer who has reached a certain level on a local circuit, but whose career hasn’t gone any farther. “I know he's hurting, in fact in pain/Now that they're asking for ‘Fire And Rain.’"

CD Track List
  1. Depreciate
  2. Pushed To The Side
  3. The Payoff
  4. Willy Jett
  5. Fast Rider
  6. Lilly Hurst
  7. Faithless Eyes
  8. Travis
  9. Speeding Like A Demon
  10. A Name
  11. Stones River
  12. The Singer (In Louisville)
Pushed To The Side was released on August 19, 2016 on Vaskaleedez Records.