Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers: “The Choosing Road” (2019) CD Review

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers are an excellent bluegrass band, delivering some warm and meaningful songs. Their new release, The Choosing Road, features mostly original material, most of that written or co-written by guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Jones. Beside Chris Jones, the band is composed of Mark Stoffel on mandolin and backing vocals, Gina Furtado on banjo and backing vocals, and Jon Weisberger on bass. Joining them on this release are Tony Creasman on drums, David Johnson on fiddle and pedal steel, Liz Carroll on fiddle, Megan Lynch Chowning on fiddle, and Tim Surrett on dobro.

I’m happy that bluegrass seems to be gaining popularity again, because this music raises my spirits, makes me feel that the world is a decent place, despite all evidence to the contrary. These instruments have a cheerful sound, and this album’s opening track, “Your Remarkable Return,” has an optimistic bent that I appreciate. “I’ll admit I dreamed about you/But I swore I wouldn’t dwell on things that couldn’t be/I thought time was a healer/And I believed that I was free.” “Your Remarkable Return” was written by Chris Jones and Jon Weisberger. It’s followed by “Letters To Brendan,” which has a more serious tone and subject, a tale told from the perspective of a young soldier, and features some nice harmonies. “I miss you more than you’d ever know/Not a sign this war is ending soon/I didn’t know Virginia nights could be so cold/More often now my thoughts have turned to home.” This one was written by Chris Jones, Thomm Jutz and Jon Weisberger.

“Looking For The Bridge” is an emotionally engaging song that moves at a good pace, and features some great playing. “And I’m finally giving in and admitting to the truth/Instead of just pretending that I’m not losing you.” Still, there is optimism here; I think that is inherent in these instruments. “And if I stare off in the distance, seeming kind of lost/Just know that I’m looking for the bridge.” Chris Jones begins “I Can’t Change The Rhyme” with some cool stuff on guitar. I dig his vocal performance here, particularly those moments when he dips low. The more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy this track in particular. The band really shines in that wonderful instrumental section at the end, a very cool little jam that hints at what this band must be like in concert.

The album’s only cover is Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again.” It’s an interesting and unexpected choice, though the original does include mandolin. David Johnson plays fiddle on this track. This rendition is giving me a fresh appreciation of this song. That’s followed by “Nyhan’s Regret.” My body and spirit have always responded to Irish music (for what are probably obvious reasons), and this wonderful instrumental tune lives and thrives in that common ground between bluegrass and Irish folk music. I absolutely love this track, which was composed by Mark Stoffel and Gina Furtado, and features Liz Carroll on fiddle. Then Megan Lynch Chowning joins the band on fiddle for “I’ll Watch Her Sail,” a song with more good harmonies. “And she’ll sail on an easterly wind/The same wind that blew her to me/And I know I can’t stand in her way/So I’ll just watch her sail out to sea.”

“Bend In The Road” is a cheerful-sounding tune to raise our spirits, its opening line reminding us “Sometimes a journey takes a little patience.” There is optimism, there is strength, there is a brighter tomorrow. We all need this now. That’s followed by “I Shouldn’t Even Be Here,” another tune that really works for me, perhaps because of these lines: “The board is clear, let’s start a brand new game/So pop the cork, make a toast/Drink in every drop of this new day/Everything from here on out/Is just another gift that came my way/I shouldn’t even be here.” Perhaps we can adopt that attitude without having to nearly lose everything. I try to refrain from taking things for granted, and am grateful for music like this that helps us through these dark times. There is a whole lot of good in this world, but we need to remind ourselves of that, for sometimes it’s not as apparent as it could be. You know?

“Who You Want Me To Be” has a kind of pretty, sweet vibe right from the start. And there is a humor to this one, its first line being “Somewhere in some other life I mastered almost everything I’ve tried.” I love the honesty of this song, and I love the work on banjo. “I can’t be who you want me to be/I can’t be who you want me to be.” This one was written by Gina Furtado and Chris Jones. Then “Own The Blues” has a kind of laid-back country vibe, with more nice harmonies. This is another of my personal favorites, in part because David Johnson adds some wonderful stuff on pedal steel on this track. And check out these lines: “I know too well those days are gone/In good time, I’ll move along/For now please just allow this dream to last.”  The disc concludes with “Glimpse Of The Kingdom,” which features Tim Surrett on dobro. “When I see someone reaching out to help a stranger/I get a glimpse of the kingdom.”

CD Track List
  1. Your Remarkable Return
  2. Letters To Brendan
  3. Looking For The Bridge
  4. I Can’t Change The Rhyme
  5. Back In The High Life Again
  6. Nyhan’s Regret
  7. I’ll Watch Her Sail
  8. Bend In The Road
  9. I Shouldn’t Even Be Here
  10. Who You Want Me To Be
  11. Own The Blues
  12. Glimpse Of The Kingdom
The Choosing Road is scheduled to be released on March 29, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson: “Amour” (2019) CD Review

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson are two talented guitarists with impressive credits, and they’ve now teamed up for Amour, an excellent and totally enjoyable album of covers that focus on romance and love (as its title suggests). The band backing them, called The Tennessee Valentines, is made up of Dominic Davis on bass, Bryan Owings on drums, Fats Kaplin on violin and accordion, and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ. Plus, this album features several special guests, including vocalists Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu. This isn’t the first time Luther Dickinson has been involved in a project covering some classic material. Just a couple of years ago he was part of that wonderful tribute to Sun Records, Red Hot. In addition to guitar, Colin Linden plays electric dobro on this release, and produced the album. It’s clear that these guys took a lot of pleasure in this project, and I’m guessing I will be far from alone in taking great pleasure in listening to it.

The album opens with an interesting bluesy instrumental rendition of “Careless Love.” It begins with a sort of haunting atmosphere, creeping up on you like daylight in the desert, and halfway through develops into a strange and strangely pleasant back porch sound. Seriously, by the end it will probably make you happy, something you might not have expected when it began. That’s followed by a cool rendition of Jesse Stone’s “Don’t Let Go.” I first heard this song at a Jerry Garcia Band concert in 1989, and immediately loved it. The rendition these guys deliver has the right amount of rock, the right dose of blues, a great measure of soul, and a lot of pep. It’s fun and loose, turning into a good jam that has at least a couple of people laughing by the end. Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu provide vocals on this track.

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson give us an absolutely wonderful rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” its appeal due in large part to Rachael Davis’ vocals, which have a timeless quality and rise beautifully over that steady blues rhythm. “Don’t you know that I love you/Honest I do/Oh, I’ve never placed no one above you/Please tell me you love me/Stop driving me mad.” And damn whoever it was that made her feel “so bad.” The album then returns to “Careless Love,” which is an unusual and interesting choice. This time it has a sweet and easy folk vibe right from the start, and features a gorgeous and moving vocal performance by Rachael Davis. This track is a total gem, with some wonderful stuff on both guitar and violin.

Then Sam Palladio joins them on vocals for a bluesy rendition of “Crazy Arms,” which retains a certain country charm and sweetness in this raw and delicious treatment. At the end, it seems to be going into another song, but then fades out. That’s followed by “For The Good Times,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson. This version establishes a beat before the guitars and bass come in. Then when Ruby Amanfu’s vocals come in, they have a powerful intimacy. She pulls us in as if without effort. “Let’s just be glad we had this time to spend together.” Indeed. Oh, she can melt your defenses, and move even the most soulless of men. This track is another of the disc’s highlights. Both “Crazy Arms” and “For The Good Times” were number one hits for Pay Price.

Things get hopping with a delightful rendition of “Lover Please,” a song that was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in 1962. It was written by Billy Swan, who joins Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson on vocals for this version. What a treat, and reason enough to add this CD to your collection! Rachael Davis provides backing vocals. Then Ruby Amanfu delivers another intimate and passionate vocal performance on “What Am I Living For,” a song written by Art Harris and Fred Jay, and originally recorded by Chuck Willis. This rendition has that classic sound, and features some absolutely wonderful stuff on guitar. That’s followed by a version of Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” that has a great raw vibe, almost like a rehearsal or improvised number. I like music that feels immediate, real. Colin Linden provides vocals on this one. The album concludes with an interesting rendition of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” which was written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers and recorded by Elvis Presley. This rendition has a strange, dreamlike quality, which perhaps works well with the idea of forgetting to remember to forget. It’s like a lullaby being sung to one’s self in a science fiction realm, perhaps just before machines put you to sleep permanently, a final and lasting memory. Jonathan Jackson provides the vocals on this one.

CD Track List
  1. Careless Love
  2. Don’t Let Go
  3. Honest I Do
  4. Careless Love
  5. Crazy Arms
  6. For The Good Times
  7. Lover Please
  8. What Am I Living For
  9. Dearest Darling
  10. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
Amour was released on February 8, 2019.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Cleverlys: “Blue” (2019) CD Review

Like the Ramones, the members of The Cleverlys have all taken the name of the band as their last name; and so we have Digger Cleverly on acoustic guitar and vocals; Ricky Lloyd Cleverly on upright bass, kick drum, vocoder and vocals; Sock Cleverly on fiddle and vocals; DVD Cleverly on banjo and vocals; and Cub Cleverly on mandolin and vocals (okay, I’m beginning to think their first names might be invented as well). Supposedly they’re based in Arkansas, but who knows? I mean, with these fake names, can we trust any of their biographical information? But none of that matters, for the music is totally enjoyable. It is bluegrass with a sense of humor, as the band delivers bluegrass versions of pop and rock tunes. Yeah, the songs are covers, but some of the material is new to me, as I haven’t heard the originals. So I could take those tracks sort of at face value. You know? Like the first track, for example.

The album opens with “Baby,” a song originally done by Justin Bieber. I have to admit, the first time I listened to this disc, I had no idea that this was a cover. While I had heard of Justin Bieber, I’d never actually listened to him (and no one has given me a convincing reason to change that). My guess is that his version couldn’t possibly be as cool and surprising as this bluegrass rendition by The Cleverlys. When all their voices join in, the song is lifted to a wonderful place, and then that “baby, baby, baby” part is sweet, almost gorgeous. Seriously. That’s followed by another song I hadn’t heard before, “Milkshake,” which was originally done by someone named Kelis Rogers. While writing this review, I attempted to get through the original version, but could stand only thirty or forty seconds of it. However, I am totally digging The Cleverlys’ take on it. They deliver a playful rendition, featuring some nice work on fiddle. I haven’t had a good milkshake in a while, and I am developing a craving.

I love the fun vocal play in their version of “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” the disc’s title track (and a song I feel I might have heard once before, as the chorus feels familiar). There is something delightfully silly about this, and it is certainly raising my spirits. I appreciate the joy and humor behind this cover, and behind this entire project. Plus, this song features some nice stuff on mandolin. “I have a girlfriend and she is so blue.” That’s followed by “She’s Not There,” the first song on this album that I actually already knew and loved. This was always one of my favorite Zombies songs, and these guys do a wonderful rendition of it. Then they give us a cover of “Wait A Minute,” a song by bluegrass band The Seldom Scene. Yeah, it’s the first song on the album that was originally bluegrass, though the disc’s liner notes strangely credit the song to the people who wrote that awful Pussycat Dolls song, also titled “Wait A Minute.” Anyway, there is something undeniably beautiful about this rendition, a slow country bluegrass song, particularly the work on fiddle.

“Party Rock Anthem” is another song I wasn’t at all familiar with. I’m guessing I would hate the original (it is by a group called LMFAO, a name I completely despise), but here it is kind of goofy and enjoyable, with a nod to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” That’s followed by BeyoncĂ©’s “Irreplaceable.” Yeah, it’s silly, and I can’t help but laugh as this song begins, but the thing is, these guys can play, these guys can sing. Now I wonder if they can write too. I’d love to hear some original material on their next release. Anyway, they follow “Irreplaceable” with a good rendition of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” a song I liked from the moment I first heard its original version back in college. That’s followed by another song that I love. The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith is still one of my absolute favorite albums. The most famous (but not the best) track on it is “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” in part because of its use in Benny & Joon. Here The Cleverlys deliver a fun rendition. Sure, it takes me a moment to get used to the lack of that drum beat, but this version totally works and features some great stuff on fiddle.

Things then get really weird. They cover “Oh Death,” a traditional song most famously done by Ralph Stanley. But whereas the band gives us bluegrass renditions of pop songs, here they give us a strange pop rendition of a folk song. They stand the tune on its head, and give us some kind of electronic pop version, giving us a sound completely unlike everything else on the album. These guys clearly like surprising us. The disc then concludes with “The End Of The Record,” which is not a song at all. It is just the guys fucking around, imitating characters from various movies and television shows. It is totally pointless, and something I would have cut. I recommend taking the disc out before this track.

CD Track List
  1. Baby
  2. Milkshake
  3. Girl In The Sky
  4. Blue (Da Ba Dee)
  5. She’s Not There
  6. Wait A Minute
  7. Party Rock Anthem
  8. Irreplaceable
  9. What’s Up?
  10. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  11. Oh Death
  12. The End Of The Record
Blue is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Mitch Woods: “A Tip Of The Hat To Fats” (2019) CD Review

If you love music, then you undoubtedly love Fats Domino. There’s just no way around it. The man possessed that special, magical, undefinable something, and there was a lot of joy to his music. On A Tip Of The Hat To Fats, pianist Mitch Woods celebrates The Fat Man’s music. However, the album doesn’t limit itself to Fats Domino tunes, and is a celebration of Domino’s home town, New Orleans, as well. In the disc’s liner notes, Mitch Woods talks about his love for that city. This is a live album, recorded at The New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival on April 29, 2018, six months after Fats Domino’s passing. In addition to songs done by Fats Domino, it includes original material like “Solid Gold Cadillac” and “Mojo Mambo.” The band on this album includes Amadee Castenell on tenor saxophone, Brian Cayolle on tenor saxophone, Roger Lewis on baritone saxophone, Cornell Williams on bass, John Fohl on guitar, and Terence Higgins on drums. By the way, the brief banter between songs is presented as separate tracks, so it’s possible to program your player to just play the music should you desire to do so, something I appreciate.

The album opens with “Solid Gold Cadillac,” which was the title track to a 1991 release by Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s. The tune is just a joy, with lots of energy and plenty of good playing, particularly on keys, as you’d expect. Hey, we could all use “a little leg room” and “a bar in the back.” You can hear the crowd getting excited. The Blues Tent must have been rocking. Things keep moving with a hopping rendition of “Down Boy Down,” a song written by Henry Glover and Fred Weismantel, and recorded by Wynonie Harris. This track features some great stuff on sax, and a playful vocal performance. Oh yes, this album should get you feeling good. Then we get “Mojo Mambo,” an original tune dedicated to Professor Longhair.  If you want to have a ball, you gotta go to New Orleans.” Yeah, it certainly does feel like a Mardi Gras celebration. Mitch Woods plays to the crowd a bit, calling out “Are you with me, New Orleans, Louisiana?” And clearly everyone was with him, as the music is a whole lot of fun. Both “Down Boy Down” and “Mojo Mambo” were included on the 1984 Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s release Steady Date. ‘Mojo Mambo” is followed by “Crawfishin’,” a tune that swings and grooves, with some wonderful work on guitar. It’s a party, to be sure. In my mind, the sound of this song is the constant sound of New Orleans, day or night. Maybe that’s because the only time I was ever in that city was for Mardi Gras, but I just have the sense that people there basically dance their way through their lives, a smile on their faces even when they’re mourning. The way life should be, you know?

Mitch Woods then gets into the Fats Domino material, first mentioning that the festival is dedicated to Fats, who had died the previous year. He also says that Fats Domino was an inspiration to him. “So we’re gonna do a whole bunch of Fats for you, You ready for that? Because he will live on forever.” They start with a delicious, faithful rendition of “Blue Monday,” the horns sounding just exactly right. Man, I just love this song, and today in particular this song is striking a chord with me because of its lines “I’ve got to get my rest/’Cause Monday is a mess.” Tomorrow is Monday, and I have to get up at 3 a.m. for work, on a show that attempted to shoot at this same location twice before with no results. Will Monday be a mess? Oh, you can count on it. The crowd appreciates Mitch Woods’ rendition, and so do I. The party continues with “Jambalaya,” a song I always associated with Fats Domino, as Mitch Woods clearly does, but was written by Hank Williams. Mitch Woods delivers an energetic version that pops and moves, and features more great work on saxophone. Yeah, it turns into a fun jam. Mitch adds some lines at the end: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine/Baby, I’m so glad that you are mine/Two, four, six, eight, ten/Baby, please don’t leave me again.” “Walking To New Orleans” is another song that always makes me smile. I dig its casual yet totally catchy groove, and Mitch Woods does a wonderful job with it.

Mitch Woods delivers a rockin’ rendition of “Rocket 88,” a song written by Jackie Brenston and recorded by Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm. This of course is a fitting choice of covers, as Mitch Woods’ band is called The Rocket 88s. This version features plenty of fun stuff on keys. Mitch Woods keep things jumping with “The House Of Blue Lights,” which wraps up the disc. “Everybody, let’s get up and dance,” Mitch shouts out at one point. Oh yes, that there is some advice I can gladly follow.

CD Track List
  1. Solid Gold Cadillac
  2. Spoken: Welcome
  3. Down Boy Down
  4. Spoken: Gonna Have A Ball
  5. Mojo Mambo
  6. Spoken: Thank You
  7. Crawfishin’
  8. Spoken: Fats Dedication
  9. Blue Monday
  10. Spoken: Band Introductions
  11. Jambalaya
  12. Spoken: More Band Introductions
  13. Walking To New Orleans
  14. Spoken: Intro To Rock 88
  15. Rocket 88
  16. Spoken: Intro To The House Of Blue Lights
  17. The House Of Blue Lights 
A Tip Of The Hat To Fats is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2019 on Blind Pig Records.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Luca Kiella: “Figure It Out” (2019) CD Review

Luca Kiella is a pianist based in Chicago, his music a combination of blues, soul and pop. Figure It Out, a five-track EP, is his debut release, and it contains some original material as well as a couple of covers. He plays piano and organ on these tracks, and provides the vocals. Joining the pianist on this EP are Dave Forte on bass, Rick King on drums, and Aaron Weistrop on guitar.

Figure It Out opens with “Ten O’ Clock Blues,” a delicious, lively, jumping instrumental number, driven by the piano. This is a tune that will put a smile on your face and might get you dancing too. It rocks and swings and moves, a tune to drive away your blues. That’s followed by a cover of Jon Cleary’s “Unnecessarily Mercenary,” a song that was also recorded by Bonnie Raitt. This one too has a good energy. The opening lines are “Well now, you’re just into looking after number one/Only thing you worry about is having your fun.” I’m not sure what to make of my tendency to relate anything negative to the man pretending to lead our country, but looking out for number one certainly applies to that cretin (though obviously he is not what the song is about). I can’t wait until that mendacious, incestuous traitor can be buried and forgotten. Anyway, my favorite part of this track is that lead on keys in the second half. Great stuff.

The EP’s title track, “Figure It Out,” has a delightfully cheerful sound, especially to the vocals. The lyrics have a bit of a nostalgic quality, to be sure, which probably has more appeal these days than ordinarily. I mean, don’t we all want to look back to a better time? Here is a taste of the lyrics: “No reason to worry/A smile on my face/Every day was happy/No trouble to chase.” The song also has a positive groove, and the instrumental section halfway through begins with a somewhat sweeter vibe that I dig, and builds from there toward a strong finish. That’s followed by the EP’s second cover, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a song made famous by Ray Charles and recorded by a whole lot of artists over the years. Luca Kiella delivers a groovy bluesy rendition. However, his voice sounds so positive that when he sings lines like “Those happy hours that we once knew/Though long ago, they still make me blue,” I don’t necessarily believe him. He needs a little more hurt in his voice. This track provides a chance for Aaron Weistrop to shine on guitar. There is also some fun stuff on organ. “I can’t stop loving you/I’ve made up my mind/To live in a memory of the lonesome times.”

The EP concludes with “So Many Questions.” This one has a different feel right from the start, in its more thoughtful, introspective sound. And that’s even before the vocals come in. Luca Kiella also gives us something different vocally in large sections of it, imbuing the song with a good deal of soul. “I crossed the ocean/Went far from where I’m from/Left my home, my love and my best friend.” It’s a blues song with something of a pop vibe, and it has personal truth and relevance, as Kiella moved from Italy to the United States. The band does not back him on this track; it is just vocals and piano, and is quite effective. “Things don’t change/I just don’t understand/Why this sadness just won’t go away.”

CD Track List
  1. Ten O’ Clock Blues
  2. Unnecessarily Mercenary
  3. Figure It Out
  4. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  5. So Many Questions 
Figure It Out is scheduled to be released on April 10, 2019.

Kenny Carr: “Departure” (2018) CD Review

Kenny Carr is a talented guitarist based in New York. You might know him from his work with Ray Charles (you can hear his playing on Just Between Us and see him on the DVD Live At Montreux 1997). Since Ray Charles’ death, Kenny Carr has been enjoying a solo career, featuring his own compositions. His most recent album, Departure, contains all original material, with Carr playing both guitar and guitar synthesizers. Joining the guitarist on this release are Donny McCaslin on saxophone, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

The CD opens with “Intervals,” creating this delicious alternate reality, where the entire world is a cool, exciting city, pulsing with music and desire and joy, with the saxophone flying around above us, and the bass inviting us to some specific magnetic establishment, where the guitar can then intoxicate us, so we reach that point where everyone else already seems to be, all the while the drums keeping us moving. What a wonderful track to get things going. It’s followed by “Time Change,” which has a slightly darker, more serious tone at the start. But there is still movement here, the world sliding beneath us, as the sax seems to tell us to climb above so that we can better see what’s happening on the ground. This is exciting music, keeping us on our toes, unsure what is around the corner; the pulse quickens, with the tune’s rhythm, and soon we are all situated on some new plateau, almost without being aware of the entire climb. And, hey, things are good up here.

“Tell Me I Can’t” begins with a strong, funky bass line that I love. It holds everything together, and keeps us propelling forward into some delightful realm. While the bass grooves, the guitar then dances above it. This is one to get your entire body moving. It is fun, with some wonderful stuff on saxophone. Toward the end, the guitar seems to rise like giant flowers bursting through concrete, changing the landscape. Things then mellow out a bit for “Warmth,” which has a more romantic bent at the beginning. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be some interesting and exciting work on guitar. Plus, this track features a cool lead on bass. Yeah, the track may begin in a mellower place, but it certainly does not remain tame or restrained. As it approaches its climax, it gets wild, especially the saxophone. That’s followed by “D&P,” which has a delicious groove featuring more wonderful work on bass and some great stuff on drums. The saxophone seems to sing joyously above that great beat, moving and breathing, like some large, wondrous electric animal weaving its way among skyscrapers and dodging meteorites.

“Departure,” the album’s title track, is a mellower tune with something of a romantic feel. The guitar has a dreamlike quality at times, making you wish it could just carry you away into the night. When “Bear Call” begins, it has almost a progressive rock sound, in that brief moment before the sax comes in. The sax then takes it to a different level. I really dig the drums on this track. This one at times brings to mind a busy street, with the hustle and activity and energy. The disc then concludes with “Parallels,” which has kind of a light vibe at the start. It becomes a good jam, with plenty of nice stuff on guitar and a cool bass lead a little more than halfway through.

CD Track List
  1. Intervals
  2. Time Change
  3. Tell Me I Can’t
  4. Warmth
  5. D&P
  6. Evolutions
  7. Departure
  8. Waiting
  9. Bear Call
  10. Parallels
Departure was released on November 1, 2018.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Chocolate Watchband: “This Is My Voice” (2019) CD Review

Before I even removed the plastic wrap from the CD case, I was appreciating This Is My Voice, the new release from Chocolate Watchband. And that’s because of its cover, which includes that insane quote from monster Rudy Giuliani, “Truth is not truth!” (actually, he said, “Truth isn’t truth!”). That single line really sums up the entire Trump administration, doesn’t it? And right next to that line is a photo of a woman holding a sign that says “Me Too.” The CD cover’s artwork addresses several other important issues, including authoritarianism and climate change. And the music, though it often has something of a classic psychedelic vibe, also addresses this strange and disturbing reality we all find ourselves struggling against these days. The album features mostly original material, along with a few excellent choices of covers. It’s something of a feat that this band is still composing and recording worthy and relevant material. This is an album I’m going to be listening to a lot.

The album opens with “Secret Rendezvous,” which comes on strong, a solid rock song written by David Aguilar. The band, by the way, is David Aguilar on vocals, harmonica, synths, and guitar; Tim Abbott on vocals, guitar, synths, sitar and harmonica; Gary Andrijasevich on drums, percussion and vocals; Alec Palao on bass and acoustic guitar; and Derek See on guitar and vocals. “Secret Rendezvous” is kind of a fun rock tune. “See me when I’m back in town/See me when you’re done with that clown.” Things then get more interesting with “Judgement Day,” also written by David Aguilar. This is a raw, bluesy, mean tune with some cool, atmospheric work on harmonica. The vocals have a wonderfully angry and worn sound, singing about how things these days aren’t going well. “I need a miracle here today/I feel like I’m going to be swept away.” Ah, yes. Halfway through, the tune kicks things up a notch, becoming more powerful. Check out these lines: “Something in America just ain’t right/I feel like I got to punch someone tonight.” I know the feeling, and I hope I never run into anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, because those Nazis all deserve a severe beating, and I’m not sure I could hold back. And, man, I am so tired of being so angry. This song itself delivers a great pounding, a raw, thumping rhythm. It is a fantastic track.

“This Is My Voice,” the disc’s title track, has something of a classic psychedelic sound, mixed with a bit of a 1980s new wave vibe, but with lyrics that address our current ugly reality, with lines like “It’s easier to lie today/Facts don’t get in the way” and “It’s easier to hate today/Be invisible and troll away.” And yet there is optimism to this track, a positive bent that I really appreciate. This one was written by David Aguilar and Tim Abbott. It ends with percussion. We then get the album’s first cover, a cool rendition of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” (here listed as “Trouble Everyday”), a song from the first Mothers Of Invention LP, Freak Out!  This song is certainly still pertinent, its opening lines being “Well, I'm about to get sick/From watchin' my TV/Checking out the news/Until my eyeballs fail to see.” Seriously, if you didn’t know, you’d think this was a new song. Well, some of the lyrics have been updated a bit. Check out the telling changes to the original lyrics in these lines: “And all the mass stupidity/That seems to grow more every day/Every time Fox News brays/Because the color of your skin/Don't appeal to them.” Daryl Hooper joins the band on keys, and Alby Cozzette plays electric guitar on this song.

“Take A Ride” has a Bo Diddley beat, which always works for me. Of course, I could do without the sound effect of the engine at the beginning, but no matter, as it’s a fun track. That’s followed by the album’s second cover, “Talk Talk,” a song by The Music Machine, and one I don’t recall hearing very many artists cover (other than Alice Cooper, anyway). I used to listen to the original rendition on one of those Baby Boomer Classics 1960s compilation cassettes. Chocolate Watchband does a good job with it, and I particularly like that brief instrumental section toward the end, with its delicious psychedelic edge. Then “Bed” is one I think a lot of folks are going to relate to, its first lines being “I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/But I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” It’s difficult these days, isn’t it? It’s like we’re exhausted before we even begin. Another line that stands out each time I listen to this song is “My breath smells like I’m dead.” There is something catchy about this tune, and something kind of playful, though the snoring sounds at the end are unnecessary.

“Bombay Pipeline” is a cool, psychedelic instrumental tune (its title being a nod to that famous rock instrumental by The Chantays). This one was written by Tim Abbott. That’s followed a nice rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” a song I saw the Grateful Dead perform several times, and then a groovy cover of The Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine.” The album concludes with “‘Til The Daylight Comes” (which is erroneously printed as “Til’ The Daylight Comes” on the CD case).  This track opens with a bit of that frightening “Make America Great Again” song from one of Donald Trump’s twisted ego-driven celebrations of himself. Do you remember this? It was performed by a full choir at the official Independence Day celebration in 2017, honoring Trump rather than the nation or any of its ideals. My brain had done me the favor of temporarily forgetting I’d ever heard it, for it’s not only a terrible song, but a terrifying one. There is then a sound snippet from Trump, reminding people that what they are seeing and reading is not what’s really happening. Oh hell, if only that were true! Anyway, this is a seriously good song. There is something incredibly appealing about it, in large part because it is hopeful, which is a wonderful way to conclude the album. The daylight can’t get here soon enough.

CD Track List
  1. Secret Rendezvous
  2. Judgement Day
  3. This Is My Voice
  4. Trouble Everyday
  5. Take A Ride
  6. Talk Talk
  7. Bed
  8. Bombay Pipeline
  9. Desolation Row
  10. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
  11. ‘Til The Daylight Comes 
The release date for This Is My Voice is different depending on the source you turn to. The press release I received lists the date as February 22, 2019. Bandcamp has the date as February 28th. Amazon claims it will be released on CD on April 26, 2019. And Discogs says it was released in 2018. At any rate, this album is or will be available on both CD and vinyl, and it follows the band’s 2015 release, I’m Not Like Everybody Else