Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tom Killner: “Live” (2017) CD Review

Lately I’ve been listening to more blues and blues rock than usual, and I think that’s because of the sorry state of the world. I need music to absorb my despair and anger, and turn it to something better. You know? The live album from Tom Killner, simply titled Live, is full of energetic, heavy blues rock, with Tom’s rough vocals sounding like he’s giving it his all, like by completely draining himself he’ll be able to drain the world of its blues. That might just be my reading, of course, but I appreciate the effort and the energy. The songs here are covers, including several 1960s rock tunes, such as “Crosstown Traffic,” “Whipping Post,” “The Weight” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.” This is Tom Killner’s second release, following 2015’s Hard Road. It’s interesting to me that for his second release, he decided to put out a live album of covers. It was recorded at The Old School House in Barnsley, England. The band is Tom Killer on vocals and lead guitar, Jack Allen on guitar and backing vocals, Oliver Tallent on bass, Jake Ashton on drums, and Wesley Brook on keys.

The album begins with an introduction in which someone urges the crowd to make a lot of noise: “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, this is going out live. So I want you to make as much noise – dance, scream, shout – as possible.” Tom Killner then kicks things off with “Like It This Way,” a seriously cool song from the early days of Fleetwood Mac, when they were still a great blues rock band. Sure, I like Rumours as much as the next fellow, but I still think the band’s best material is that early work before the girls joined. Tom Killner does a really great job with this one, and I have to imagine the audience was dancing to it. There is plenty of good blues guitar work over that fun, pounding, moving rhythm, and the tune features some damn good jamming. That’s followed by Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee,” here titled simply “King Bee,” and introduced as “a little Muddy Waters’ track.” Muddy Waters did indeed record this song, but did not do the original version. This rendition by Tom Killner has more of a heavy blues rock sound than most renditions I’ve heard – a full, loud, driving sound. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” is a song by Cage The Elephant, a song that Tom Killner included on his previous album, Hard Road. Tom’s rendition is somewhat slower than the original. My favorite part is that quieter instrumental section approximately halfway through; it always grabs my attentions, and leads so well into the rest of the song.

“Have You Ever Loved A Woman” features a really nice intro on keys by Wesley Brook. This one also has peaks and valleys, and Tom Killner does some interesting things with his voice on this track, sometimes getting a bit playful. There is some strong work on guitar, and more wonderful stuff on keys, with a lead section halfway through. This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Billy Myles and first recorded by Freddie King. That’s followed by a blues version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” There is still a bit of funk to it, of course, but it keeps pounding ahead. “People keep on dying/While powers keep on lying/World keep on turning/’Cause it won’t be too long.” Then halfway through, Tom Killner breaks it down, engaging the audience, having the crowd echo him.

Tom Killer delivers an intriguing and engaging version of “Cocaine Blues.” I’m so used to Johnny Cash’s version of this song, that at first I didn’t even recognize it. This rendition is much slower, meaner. It took me a while with this rendition, but now it is really working for me. This song was also included on Hard Road. Tom Killner covers two Jimi Hendrix songs on this album, the first being “Crosstown Traffic.” His version is fairly faithful to the original. The second is “Foxy Lady,” with the band stretching out a bit, jamming on this one. There are also band introductions during this song, as well as a little tease toward the end of the jam. He also covers a couple of Allman Brothers Band songs, the first a later number written by Warren Haynes, “Soulshine” (from the band’s 1994 release Where It All Begins). This song is kind of beautiful, and Tom Killner delivers a powerful and moving version. That’s followed by a much earlier song from the Allman Brothers repertoire, “Whipping Post,” which was included on that band’s first studio album as well as the Live At Fillmore East album (where the song clocks in at twenty-three minutes). The version here is only five minutes or so, but is still pretty damn good.

“The Weight,” that great number by The Band, is one of my all-time favorite songs, and on this album Tom Killner does a nice job with it, not trying to pump up the energy or add too much of a blues rock vibe to it, but rather sticking to the spirit of the original, which I appreciate. This is a song that always resonates strongly, with an inherent beauty. Here some of the lyrics are changed slightly (or perhaps forgotten), and there is good work by Jack Allen on guitar. The album concludes with a cover of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends,” this version certainly owing a lot to that great Joe Cocker rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Like It This Way
  2. King Bee
  3. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked
  4. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
  5. Higher Ground
  6. Cocaine Blues
  7. Crosstown Traffic
  8. Soulshine
  9. Whipping Post
  10. The Weight
  11. Foxy Lady
  12. With A Little Help From My Friends
Live was released on June 2, 2017 through Cleopatra Blues, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Laura Benitez And The Heartache: “With All Its Thorns” (2018) CD Review

Time is flying by (although it does seem like Donald Trump has been occupying the White House for 144 years), and it’s been more than three years since Laura Benitez And The Heartache released Heartless Women, an excellent country album. Now they are following that up with With All Its Thorns, featuring all original music, written or co-written by Laura Benitez. As on the previous release, Bob Spector plays guitar, and Ian Sutton is on pedal steel. Joining the group this time are Mike Anderson on bass, Steve Pearson on drums, Billy Wilson on accordion, Steve Kallai on fiddle, and Jim Goodkind on backing vocals. This group is based in Berkeley, California, and performs mostly in Northern California. But these musicians have classic country sounds running through their veins, though without a fear of mixing in other elements.

The album opens with “Something Better Than A Broken Heart,” in which Laura Benitez laments the end of a relationship that should have been the one, singing “I always thought I’d get that diamond ring/Always thought we’d take that trip to Spain.” But it is not a depressing-sounding song. The accordion is what really makes this song for me; it has a happy sound, a bit of Cajun party vibe added to this country tune. Something you can dance to. Yes, it’s always best to dance away our troubles, our disappointments, maybe even our longings. “Something Better Than A Broken Heart” was written by Laura Benitez and Doug Tieman, and it one of my personal favorites. It is  followed by “Easier Things To Do,” a gentle, sweet country tune, with some really nice work on pedal steel. “Might have been easier things to do/Than love you/But I do, but I do.” I love the truth and experience in Laura Benitez’s voice. There is more good work on pedal steel on “Our Remember Whens,” another love song, this one with a lighter vibe. Check out these lines: “Looking back is something I look forward to/’Cause I can’t wait for our remember whens.” Nice, right? Yes, this song makes me want to kiss and squeeze that special someone.

“In Red” has a more serious tone. There is something of a haunted, doomed sound to the approach of this story and character, which is kind of delightful and perfect, particularly as the song is largely about a wine stain on a wedding dress, and how that was a portent of the marriage to come. This is another of my personal favorites. I love that guitar part in the second half of the track. “Why did I wear white to our wedding/I should have married you in red.” That’s followed by “Whiskey Makes Me Love You,” which has my favorite song title of the album. “I love you when you’re sleeping, darling/I love you when you open those blue eyes/I even love you when you’re mad and when you’re keeping score/But whiskey makes me love you more.”

“Ghostship” is another of this album’s highlights. Right away I love the violin, the way it sounds both sorrowful and hopeful over that simple strumming on guitar, setting the mood. This song features probably my favorite vocal performance of the album as well. This is a wonderful, gorgeous and moving song, about the fire in a warehouse in Oakland in which thirty-six people died. “Why Does It Matter” is an unusual, pretty, gentle tune with the feel of a waltz. It is yet another favorite, and features another striking and moving vocal performance by Laura Benitez. “It doesn’t matter how much you would take with you if you walked away/I’d still have what I need and more if I didn’t have us/But if it doesn’t matter, than why does it matter so much?” I love this song. The album then concludes with “Nora Went Down The Mountain,” which begins with the line “On a cold and sunny day in January,” which seems timely. Not for us here in Los Angeles, of course, but for those elsewhere in the country. This song has a cheerful vibe, and some nice work on violin. “Someone heard she went to New York City/Someone said she’d been seen in Paris, France/The only thing that anyone could ever say for sure/Is Nora went down the mountain and she never came back.

CD Track List
  1. Something Better Than A Broken Heart
  2. Easier Things To Do
  3. Our Remember Whens
  4. In Red
  5. Whiskey Makes Me Love You
  6. Almost The Right One/Casi Mi Cielo
  7. Ghostship
  8. The Fool I Am Right Now
  9. Secrets
  10. Why Does It Matter
  11. Nora Went Down The Mountain 
With All Its Thorns is scheduled to be released on January 26, 2018 on Copperhead Records.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Music Memories From The Old Refrigerator

My refrigerator – which I’ve owned for something like twenty years – woke me up the other day, angry, shouting at me for attention. This went on for fifteen or twenty minutes; then, exhausted, it fell silent. But it did not remain silent for long. Every time the motor kicked in, the bugger got damn ornery. Having basically no knowledge of electronics whatsoever, I did what I could – I cleaned the back of it (something I apparently had never done before – holy shit), smacked it a few times, scolded it, and pleaded with it. None of that worked. So I ordered a new refrigerator. That meant taking off everything I had taped to the refrigerator door, including some music-related items.

These items included a little promotional card for a Gaelic Storm concert at O’Brien’s in Santa Monica. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I went to that bar quite a lot. Gaelic Storm was the house band back then, playing every Sunday night, and doing nice long shows (several sets). There were drinking contests between the band and the audience (during “Seven Drunken Nights”), and it was basically the same crowd each week, so it felt like a party. Fuck, it was a party. Of course, that – like everything else – had to come to an end. Gaelic Storm became more popular and started touring fairly heavily. But on at least one occasion they came back and did a show at that little bar. The card tells me it was a Sunday, in keeping with tradition. It doesn’t list the year, but the cover of Special Reserve is pictured, and that album came out in 2003, so I’m guessing that was the year of the show. I have vague recollections of the concert – that it was more crowded than before, that a lot of the old gang attended, and that it was shorter than before. I think the band played only two sets. But the music was fantastic. It always was.

Another item is a similar card for a Los Abandoned concert at The Echo. Actually, for two Los Abandoned concerts at the Echo – one on July 18th and one on July 25th. I’m not certain of the year. I probably attended both shows, though I can’t be sure. Los Abandoned was one of the bands that I was turned on to through The Peak Show. There was a really fantastic music scene based in and around Highland Park back in 2002, 2003, 2004 (oh, Mr. T’s Bowl, how we miss you). Los Abandoned was a band I loved seeing perform, and I think I saw them play at The Echo several times. Los Abandoned – as far as my memory tells me, anyway – seemed to do more club gigs than did The Peak Show. The card indicates that these two shows were free (unless you were younger than 21, in which case admission was $5).

Over the years, both of these cards got wet. Or something spilled on them. Who knows? There were also several Grateful Dead photos and Leonard Cohen photos on that refrigerator, as well as one photo of The Monkees, one of Go Betty Go, and one tiny ad for a concert by The Submarines. Some of those will end up on my new refrigerator. Onward!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bob Holz: “Visions: Coast To Coast Connection” (2018) CD Review

Visions: Coast To Coast Connection, the new album from accomplished drummer and composer Bob Holz, features compositions co-written by Bob Holz, most of which were also included on earlier releases, though in often very different versions. Interestingly, this is his third release in as many years to include the word “vision” or “visions” (following 2016’s A Vision Forward and 2017’s Visions And Friends, both of which featured Larry Coryell on guitar), and his group itself is called A Vision Forward. Music is considered largely an auditory experience, but some of this music could certainly create strong visions for the listeners. Just let your imagination follow the music. Joining Bob Holz on this release are (on various tracks) Stanley Clarke on bass; Ralphe Armstrong on bass; Andrew Ford on bass; Randy Brecker on trumpet; Louis Ludovic on trumpet; Jeff Jarvis on trumpet; Billy Steinway on keys; Alex Machacek on guitar; Chet Catallo on guitar; Frank Stepanek on guitar, bass and keys; Dave Porter on vocals; Ada Rovatti on saxophone; David Goldberg on saxophone; and Andrew Lippman on trombone.

This disc kicks off with “Split Decision,” a tune that combines progressive rock, jazz and even some soul elements. This track builds well, and its energetic conclusion is my favorite section. There is some great work by Louis Ludovic on trumpet, and by Andrew Lippman on trombone. “Split Decision” was also the title track to an earlier release by Bob Holz. It is followed by “Espresso Addiction,” which features Dave Porter on vocals. It’s the only track on the album to feature a vocalist, and the only track to have not been included on an earlier Bob Holz CD, and it is dedicated to guitarist Larry Coryell, who died last year. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The world keeps spinning/And when the madness gets too much/When you, when you’re feeling so right/You’d better let your guitar play.” And later in the song, Dave sings “You know the world will remember you.” Oh yes.

“Next In Line” goes in some interesting directions. It starts with a slow groove, with some cool and prominent work on bass. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play bass on this one, delivering some great work here, some seriously impressive playing. As far as visions go, this is one of the tracks that will probably take you on an intriguing journey if you let it. This tune was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by another tune was included on Split Decision, “Jammin’ Man,” which – as you might guess from the title – has a bit of a reggae thing happening in the rhythm, but with some interesting work from the other musicians rising above that groove, including Randy Brecker on trumpet and Ada Rovatti on saxophone. The tune then ventures into a more progressive rock landscape, before returning to the reggae feel. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play on this track as well. Bob Holz then revisits a song from his Pushin album, “Richie’s Trip.” On that album it’s titled “Richie’s Trip (A Tribute To Richie Hayward),” whereas here it is simply “Richie’s Trip,” but then dedicated to Richie Hayward. It starts off okay, but when it takes on this cool groove, verging on space disco, I start to love it. And that work on keys gives it a very different feel from the version included on Pushin. This song has a delicious vibe at times, like some wonderful jazz fusion party. And I love the horns in the second half of the track.

Okay, I admit it: the title of the sixth track, “Pink Fur,” is what got me interested in putting on this CD in the first place. It’s a fun, playful, sexy image, so I figured this track would also be fun. And it is. It’s funky and totally enjoyable, with some great work on bass and keys, and of course drums. This track would have been one of my favorites, no matter the title. “Pink Fur” was written by Bob Holz, Steve Weingart and Frank Stepanek, and is another composition that Bob Holz is revisiting here. It was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by “West Coast Blues,” a blues number that was also included on Pushin. This one too becomes a fun jam, with some delightful work on trumpet. I particularly like that section with the bass taking lead. “West Coast Blues” was written by Bob Holz, Paulie Cerra, Billy Steinway and Joel Kane. “Light & Dark,” a tune also on Split Decision, features Alex Machacek on guitar.

“Spanish Plains,” written by Frank Stepanek (it’s the only tune on this release not co-written by Bob Holz), was also included on Bob Holz’s Higher Than The Clouds album. This one features some wonderful, impressive, effective and moving work on guitar. Frank Stepanek plays guitar, bass and keyboard on this track (the only track he plays on), and it’s one of my favorites. The album then concludes with a live track, “Flat Out,” recorded in May of 2017 at a club in Hollywood, featuring nice work by Jeff Jarvis and David Goldberg and Billy Steinway, as well as some cool, even humorous playing by Ralphe Armstrong on bass. This tune was also included on Bob Holz’s 2017 release, Visions And Friends.  

CD Track List
  1. Split Decision
  2. Espresso Addiction
  3. Next In Line
  4. Jammin’ Man
  5. Richie’s Trip
  6. Pink Fur
  7. West Coast Blues
  8. Light & Dark
  9. Spanish Plains
  10. Flat Out
Visions: Coast To Coast Connection is scheduled to be released on February 23, 2018 through MVD Audio.

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters: “Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters” (2017) CD Review

I was turned onto The Honeycutters a couple of years ago when they released On The Ropes. Most of the songs on that album were written by the band’s lead vocalist, Amanda Anne Platt, and – as I mentioned in my review of that album – the songwriting is one of the band’s strengths. Well, after that album – the band’s fourth – Amanda decided to include her name in the band’s name. And so for their 2017 release, the band’s name, as well as the album’s title, is Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. But that is all that has changed. The songwriting is just as strong, and the band is still recording excellent tunes. All of the songs on this release are originals, written by Amanda Anne Platt. As on the previous release, Matthew Smith plays guitar and pedal steel, Rick Cooper is on bass, and Josh Milligan is on drums. Joining them this time is Evan Martin on keys. Tim Surrett, who co-produced the album, provides backing vocals on a few tracks.

Lately, songs about birthdays and aging have spoken to me a bit more strongly, and I suppose there’s no question about why that is. In this album’s opening track, “Birthday Song,” Amanda Anne Platt sings, “Fall is settling in/Days are getting short again/And the morning’s getting real nice for sleeping/Every time it gets colder, I get another year older/I start looking for lines in the bathroom mirror.” And we’re finding them, aren’t we? A bit later she sings, “I’m just so damn glad to be here,” and I think, oh yes. With all the craziness in the world and all the problems these days, I still can’t help but be so damn glad to be here. This is a wonderful song, with ultimately a positive vibe, which I appreciate. This is one of my favorite tracks. “I know you worry, but what’s your hurry, baby/We’re all going to get there in the end.”

That’s followed by “Long Ride,” a sweet and moving country tune about death and life, looking forward and being present. The line “This is goodnight, not goodbye” is of course not exclusive to this song, but it’s still effective. And check out these lines: “We were dying but you couldn’t tell/If you only would have dreamed the same dream too/Maybe then you wouldn’t worry what we’re coming to.” And I really like these lines: “You say your life has been a study of goodbye/Oh, but honey, can’t you feel your hand in mine?” Then some nice pedal steel sets the tone of “What We’ve Got,” an unabashed love song that is going to make you want to hold that special someone in your life.  Maybe I’m just an emotional wreck, but this one brought tears to my eyes (I can hear my girlfriend saying, “Oh god, you’re goofy,” but there it is). “It makes me want to/Call you up and say I’m coming home tonight/’Cause all the time I thought that I was wasting/I was just learning how to look into your eyes/And say I want you, I want to call you mine.” Beautiful, right? And there is some nice work on both keys and pedal steel toward the end.

There is an important message in “Diamond In The Rough,” something we need to be reminded of these days, when many of us are quick to anger: “That woman in the check-out line/Ruining everybody’s day/You know nobody’s born that angry/How you think she got to be that way/So when a stranger meets your eye, be the one that smiles first/Nobody ever died from a little kindness no matter what you’ve heard.” We’re all struggling, we’re all trying to figure out what the hell is going on, trying to make something of our lives, and wanting affection. Yes, even those goddamn Trump supporters (though sometimes that is difficult to remember). “But it’s only ‘cause I want you to be happy, baby/And tell me what’s so wrong with that?

“Eden” is a song with a sweet folk and country vibe. There is a bit of nostalgia to its sound and feel, and perhaps all songs that take place in the middle of the country have that element. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We moved back here from Boston ‘cause I lost my job and this is where I’m from/And the kids seem pretty happy, they don’t miss their dad too much/I can’t answer all their questions but they never lack for love/And that’s what I tell my mother when she calls.” I do have mixed feelings, of course, on the desire for ignorance, in lines like “It’s what I don’t know that makes this living easy/The more I learn, the more it brings me to my knees/And I say please/Let me back inside the garden/I won’t eat anything that’s fallen from that goddamn tree.”  But you just can’t argue with these lines: “We don’t keep a TV ‘cause the news is always bad/And it teaches us to want all the things we’ll never have/And there’s always someone getting hurt cause someone else was feeling too let down.

“Learning How To Love Him” is a bittersweet love song about a marriage, a song of looking back and taking stock, and ultimately realizing things aren’t so bad. “We raised our children, we raised our voices/Made mistakes, made our choices/We’ve both been right and we’ve both been wrong/And after all these years, I’m still quick to draw.” This is a beautiful song, delivered in a perfect, unadorned way, giving more weight to the vocals and lyrics. “And after all these years, this is what love is.” That’s followed by “Brand New Start,” another song about taking stock in a long relationship, though this one seems to be going in a different direction.

I love the sweet feel of “Rare Thing,” another of this album’s highlights. This one is really making me miss a certain someone, a rare thing herself. “Oh, honey, you’re a rare thing/Since the day I started caring, I’ve been hooked/You keep writing the book, I hope you don’t ever stop/I know they said that it would never last/But these years go by so fast.” That’s followed by “The Things We Call Home,” a playful country tune that I can’t help but enjoy, moving my head to the bass line and smiling at Amanda’s vocals and the delicious work on keys. The album then concludes with one of its strongest tracks, “The Road.” I appreciate the perspective here. I mean, it’s about an end, but there is no real bitterness, nor glee. There is hope and kindness and sympathy. “I hope the road is good to you ‘til then.”

CD Track List
  1. Birthday Song
  2. Long Ride
  3. What We’ve Got
  4. Diamond In The Rough
  5. Eden
  6. The Guitar Case
  7. Learning How To Love Him
  8. Brand New Start
  9. Late Summer’s Child
  10. The Good Guys (Dick Tracy)
  11. Rare Thing
  12. The Things We Call Home
  13. The Road 
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters was released on June 9, 2017 on Organic Records.

Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus DVD Review

The documentary Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus is actually just a repackaged version of the documentary Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes. In fact, the title on screen is still Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes. All that has changed is the DVD packaging. And what’s particularly shitty about this is that there is nothing to indicate that on the box. There should be a warning or notice saying, “Previously released as Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes.” And the copyright on the back of the box is 2015. That is the only date mentioned, so it would like seem like a newer film. It doesn’t say anything about the program’s contents being from 2010, which would also indicate that it was previously released. So basically the people behind this DVD release are sneaky, greedy, dishonest bastards, trying to put one over on Leonard Cohen fans.

That being said, the rest of this review is about Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes, which was released in 2010. The film is about the influences on Leonard Cohen’s work, and features interviews with music journalists and biographers (though no interviews with Leonard Cohen himself). At the beginning, there is a bit of biographical information on Leonard Cohen. Cohen biographer Stephen Scobie talks about Leonard Cohen’s early poetry and its relation to his music: “There is the same care for language, the compulsive revision that goes into so many of his songs, that meticulous craftsmanship which he brings to songwriting.” But this film is largely about those people who influenced him and played a part in the development of his craft, with sections on Federico Garcia Lorca, Irving Layton, the Beat poets, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins.

While there are no interviews with Leonard Cohen, there is footage of him in concert, performing “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Take This Waltz,” and “Tower Of Song,” as well as talking about Federico Garcia Lorca. There is also some footage of those who influenced him, including Allen Ginsberg reading from Howl, Jack Kerouac reading from On The Road, and Bob Dylan performing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The best section is that with Judy Collins, in large part because the film actually includes an interview with Collins. She talks about meeting Leonard Cohen and hearing him sing his first few songs, and about his first performance. There is one very weird choice, however. As we hear a bit of Judy Collins’ excellent rendition of “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” what we’re shown on screen is a doctored image of part of the suicide scene from The Rules Of Attraction.

The film also explores the influence of country music on Leonard Cohen’s work, as well as the spiritual element to his life and music. The film is narrated by Thomas Arnold.

Special Features

The DVD includes Judy Collins On Leonard, which is more of the interview with Judy Collins. She talks about her In My Life album and about her Leonard Cohen tribute album, Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy. There is also a bit of footage of her performing “Bird On The Wire,” and footage of Leonard Cohen performing “Suzanne.” This feature is approximately seven and a half minutes.

There are also brief written biographies of the folks interviewed for the documentary.

Leonard Cohen: The Daughters Of Zeus was released on June 9, 2015, but was originally released as Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes on October 19, 2010.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Art Pepper: “West Coast Sessions! Volume 6: Shelly Manne” (2017) CD Review

The final volume of Art Pepper’s West Coast Sessions! features Shelly Manne on drums. As a way of dodging contractual restrictions on his recording, Art Pepper pretended to be a sideman for different musicians, and six albums were released as a result. Those have now been reissued as West Coast Sessions! and include bonus tracks. Originally titled Hollywood Jam, this album features Bill Watrous on trombone, Bob Cooper on tenor saxophone, Art Pepper on alto saxophone, Pete Jolly on piano, Monty Budwig on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. The band was originally called Shelly Manne And His Hollywood All Stars. This CD re-issue includes one bonus track, as well as new liner notes by Laurie Pepper. Like most of the recordings of this late period in his career, there is a lot of joy and freedom to the sound of this album, which I relish these days.

This CD opens with “Just Friends,” a popular song from the 1930s written by John Klenner and Samuel Lewis. This rendition has a joyous swing to it, and the horns rise like the voices of friends, full of affection and excitement. The lead on piano is an absolute delight, with lots of playful touches. And there is a brief drum solo near the end, as you might expect since this album was led by Shelly Manne. In the liner notes, Laurie Pepper says that of the six volumes, this is the one time when Art Pepper truly was the sideman, as Shelly Manne did act as leader of the band for this 1981 session. Interestingly, this tune was also included on West Coast Sessions! Volume 4: Bill Watrous.

Art Pepper turns toward romance with a beautiful rendition of “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You).”  I think I prefer instrumental versions of this song, as I’m generally not a big fan of list songs, even if the list includes great lines like “The smile of Garbo and the scent of roses/The waiters whistling as the last bar closes.” (I love lists, but not list songs. Go figure.) I dig the late-night vibe of this track, particularly Pete Jolly’s work on piano. This rendition is gorgeous, warm, loving. This is a song that Art Pepper had recorded before. He included a version of it on his 1959 album with Sonny Redd, Two Altos, as well as the late 1970s LP Today. “These Foolish Things” is followed by “Hollywood Jam Blues,” the only original composition of the album, written by Shelly Mann, Art Pepper and Bill Watrous. This is probably my favorite track. It has such a cool, sexy vibe right from its opening. Ah, here is a tune you can just sink into, wrap yourself up in, get into bed with. Light some candles and treat yourself right, and be ready for a powerful, glorious climax to the song. This was sort of the title track of the original release.

“Lover Come Back To Me” is another fantastic track. Included on West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon is a tune titled “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” which originated in the 1928 musical The New Moon. “Lover Come Back To Me” is from that same source (with the line “The moon was new, and so was love” making it a sort of title track). This rendition from Art Pepper is quite a bit different from other renditions. It has its own energy, its own pace (it’s fast, man), and is probably the best version I’ve heard. No sentimental nonsense here, just a great time. This band takes this song and makes it cook, makes it live. Plus, this rendition has a very cool lead on bass. So there. That’s followed by “Limehouse Blues,” which has a delightful easy-going attitude at the start, as if to say things are good, and the world is ours. There is a sense of play here, helping to make this another highlight for me. This one too has a wonderful bass section, with just some light touches on drums and piano to accompany that instrument. And listen to those horns!

The original album then concludes with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” written by George Bassman and Ned Washington, and famously recorded by Tommy Dorsey And His Orchestra in the 1930s. Art Pepper also included it on Among Friends, an LP released in 1978, with a distinctly less sentimental feel. The version on this album is somewhere in between as for its vibe and sense, and is really good. This re-issue contains one bonus track, an alternate take of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” that was originally included in the 2001 Art Pepper box set The Hollywood All-Star Sessions. This is a significantly longer version, and features some wonderful work by all the musicians, especially Art Pepper and Pete Jolly. It is the better of the two takes.

CD Track List
  1. Just Friends
  2. These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)
  3. Hollywood Jam Blues
  4. Lover Come Back To Me
  5. Limehouse Blues
  6. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
  7. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (Alternate Take) 
West Coast Sessions! Volume 6: Shelly Manne was released on September 29, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings. West Coast Sessions! Volume 5: Jack Sheldon was also released on that same date.