Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Interview With Brian Kinler

Brian Kinler at Kulak's Woodshed
Brian Kinler is an incredibly talented jazz pianist who on his newest release, The Race Against Time, offers some tunes that are more firmly in the dance realm. In concert, he plays with The Brian Kinler Band, mostly in the Los Angeles area, and always puts on a great show. Though Brian is based in Los Angeles, he is from New Orleans, and that certainly informs his music. In this interview, he talks about songwriting, his new album, and his musical influences.

At your recent show at Kulak’s Woodshed, you mentioned wanting to be a drummer when you were a child, and how a broken snare contributed to your becoming a pianist. How did you end up learning piano? And how did that learning process not include reading sheet music?
There was music constantly in my house growing up. My Dad always had his records playing and my Mom taught beginner piano to the neighborhood kids. She could teach very basic lessons to five-year-olds, but she basically plays by ear. I never wanted to learn piano, but my Mom would teach me snippets here and there about chords and logical chord progressions. I absolutely believe she passed on her musical gene to me because picking out songs came very natural to me. So I started getting serious about it around 7th or 8th grade. And let’s face it - if you grow up in New Orleans and don’t know how to play an instrument, you are shipped to Mississippi.

Were there any specific players you emulated when you started?
My Dad always had his Motown records going, so Stevie Wonder was just the King to me. Super funky with absolutely impossible chords, which made it so great. A huge moment for me was when I was a freshman at LSU. I saw Tori Amos at a tiny club in the French Quarter. It was Sept 11, 1992 (I still have the ticket). It was just her and a piano in front of two hundred people. I had never seen someone up alone on a stage with a grand piano telling stories and ripping your heart out. And I remember crying the whole time thinking this is what I need to do.

When composing a new song, do you have something specific in mind that you want to write about or capture? Or does a phrase or piano lick come first, and then you let that see what it evokes for you? 
Both. Usually the best songs come when I’m down. Depression is a great catalyst for me. I love to travel too, so there’s quite a few songs inspired by the places I’ve been. And one entire CD of mine is inspired by New Orleans. But I truly have no idea how a song is written. One could take five minutes, another has taken me a few months. A test I always use is this: when I come up with a short melody (usually the chorus), I’ll play it over and over again the first day. If I can remember it the next day, I know there’s something there my brain obviously doesn’t want to let go of.

You’ve had a few different drummers play with the band over the years, and at your most recent show introduced a new drummer, Pete Merriweather. There is a great energy and definite joy in his playing. How did he come to join the band?
He’s played with Francesca many times and we needed a drummer for that date. He is loads of fun to play with. And he plays loud and rowdy, which are requirements!

Several excellent singers have accompanied the band over the years. For the last few years, it’s been almost exclusively Francesca Capasso. And now you’ve even collaborated with her on some songwriting. What is it about her style and voice that makes her such a great fit, and makes you want to keep working with her? 
I am honestly the world’s worst singer, so I am always shocked by the enormous power of her voice. Every time we play, it shocks me. Her voice is like a giant hand that takes you by the neck, rattles you around, throws you to the ground, then softly caresses your cheek, then picks you right back up again. If I could pick any voice to have, that’s the one I’d want.

The new CD, The Race Against Time, has quite a different feel from your earlier releases. A lot of the music you listen to is more in the pop and dance realm, so I was curious what took you so long to release a CD that is more along those lines. And what led you to decide to include vocals on the new album? 
I’ve just always been good at writing melodic instrumentals, so the jazz genre just fit right. But yes, I definitely listen to way more pop/rock than anything else. So last year, I wrote this one song on my piano (like always), then put a dance track just for the hell of it. I really liked it and knew Francesca could sound great on it. I sent the instrumental over to her and she said, “I will kill you if you don’t let me sing on this!” And I believed her. She came up with a counter-melody in the chorus and then we wrote lyrics to "Bombshell." She recorded all the vocals in two hours. My producer, the great Andre Mayeux, looked at me and said, “We need more songs like that!” So nine more tracks later, it was done.

Could you talk a bit about the jazz influences vs. the pop influences on your style? 
The dance music I love is from the early 90s, very piano-driven with big vocals. That’s what we wanted to create with The Race Against Time. If you listen to the piano on that, there’s a ton of jazz licks. I would say there’s more piano here than on some of the other releases. I have always mixed the two genres. This time though every track has a dance beat to it.

This CD was done in large part in your home studio on keyboard. How did that change your approach to the material, and to recording it? 
Well, the best part about that is working in the middle of the night whenever you want to. When we recorded Stories From The Quarter, I was constantly stressed about time and money. We had eleven musicians on that album, and it turned out great. But I was a nervous wreck the whole time.

What has been the response to the new CD? Did longtime fans of your jazz releases get on board? And has it attracted a different audience? 
I love all kinds of music, and I know most people do too. When the melody is good, and the piano is funky, and Francesca is belting it out, people like the song, period. We can easily add an upright bass and a swing section and turn it into a Bourbon Street party, but ultimately it’s the performance and the melody. I think people are attracted to it because it is essentially a “live” album. The vocals are real and the piano playing is real. We haven’t heard a whole lot of that in the EDM genre, so that was really important to us. And yes, we are getting great response from a much-younger crowd.

You and Francesca performed the dance single “Bombshell” at Rage recently. Are there plans to perform this again there or at other dance clubs, or to perform full shows at similar clubs? What are you planning for the next release?
The bottom line is we love to play, so if we’re at a place where there’s only room for a keyboard and a singer, we’ll do it. Obviously I would love to have a Yamaha baby grand with me at all times. And yep, I’m constantly writing, but I do need a breather before we do it all over again. And yes, we will do it all over again.

If you could have any living musician sit in with you for a set, who would it be?
I would die a happy man if I played at the Hollywood Bowl. On stage there would be five pianos. Stevie Wonder, Bob James, Elton John, Tori Amos, and myself. Utterly ridiculous, but would that be amazing!

The Race Against Time is available now through CD Baby and Amazon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sinne Eeg with Thomas Fonnesbaek: “Eeg - Fonnesbaek” (2015) CD Review

Sinne Eeg is an accomplished Danish jazz vocalist who has released several CDs in the past decade, her last, 2014’s Face The Music, winning the Danish Music Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album. On her new album, Eeg - Fonnesbaek, she teams up with bass player Thomas Fonnesbaek to deliver wonderful covers of some standards, as well as an original tune that Fonnesbaek co-wrote. This album is just bass and vocals, and so Sinne Eeg’s fantastic voice is really showcased here. It is laid bare, with no lush instrumentation to get immersed in. And yet the album also does not feel like it’s lacking anything. There’s never a moment when you’re wishing for another instrument.

Sinne Eeg and Thomas Fonnesbaek open the album with a delicious rendition of “Willow Weep For Me,” a song that has been covered by Sarah Vaughan, Diana Krall and Chad & Jeremy, among others. They begin it with the bass, and when Sinne comes in, she delightfully teases us with a brief bit of humming before singing. Her voice is gorgeous and strong and sexy. And with just the accompaniment of the bass, her voice has an intimate quality. And although intimate and sexy, she also allows herself to be playful here.

They follow that with the album’s original tune, “Taking It Slow,” which was written by Thomas Fonnesbaek and Helle Hansen. It begins, “Here we are once again/Fondly sharing stories of way back when/Recalling all that we were/We both feel forgotten emotions stir.” And after those lines, it is Thomas Fonnesbaek that offers a bit of playfulness on bass. And soon Sinne Eeg delves a bit into scat, but with a voice that is smooth and soars at times. It is when she dips into her lower registers that you’ll find yourself smiling, perhaps even laughing. There is a joy here in both her singing and Thomas’ playing, a joy that is contagious.

Even more playful and fun is their rendition of “Evil Man Blues,” written by Lionel Hampton and Leonard Feather, here the main line becoming “I’m an evil girl.” There is something sly in Sinne’s delivery. And when she sings, “I’m an evil girl, a real mean chick/If you don’t believe me, baby, I could change your mind real quick,” you can bet I believe her. And her following “Yeah, yeah, yeah” line soon leads to some scat, which is absolutely wonderful. And Thomas’ bass matches the playfulness, the two working so well together.

You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and on this CD, Sinne Eeg and Thomas Fonnesbaek tackle “Summertime.” This is a song that has been recorded by an incredible amount of artists over the years, including Billie Holiday, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Ricky Nelson and The Zombies, and so, as you can guess, has been done many different ways. The version by Eeg and Fonnesbaek is one of the quicker-paced offerings of the tune, with the bass delivering a good groove. This version has a fairly happy sound, and includes some scat, as well as a nice bass solo. They then deliver a slow, gorgeous rendition of “Body And Soul,” which for me is one of the album’s highlights. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Also wonderful is their rendition of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (here titled “Come Rain Or Shine”), which begins beautifully with Sinne Eeg delivering the first line a cappella. And I love the way she holds onto “me” in the line “’Cause I’m going to be true if you let me.” And the tone changes partway through, gaining more energy. This track also features a good bass solo. “Come Rain Or Come Shine” was written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. (By the way, Sinne sings the line as “Come rain or shine,” not “Come rain or come shine,” until near the end, that is.)

The album concludes with “Fellini’s Waltz,” which was written by Enrico Peiranunzi, with lyrics later added by Lorraine Feather. On Lorraine Feather's album Tales Of The Unusual, she titled this song “I Took Your Hand.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I was trembling badly, but I took your hand in mine/Though in all my life I never once believed in second sight/Something odd indeed but just as real came over me that night.”

CD Track List
  1. Willow Weep For Me
  2. Taking It Slow
  3. Evil Man Blues
  4. You Don’t Know What Love Is
  5. Summertime
  6. Body And Soul
  7. Beautiful Love
  8. Come Rain Or Shine
  9. Fellini’s Waltz 
Eeg – Fonnesbaek is scheduled to be released on September 15, 2015 on Stunt Records.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dylan Howe: “Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin” (2015) CD Review

In the mid-1970s, David Bowie moved to West Berlin. He released three studio albums in the next few years that are considered a trilogy of sorts, the Berlin Trilogy. Those albums are Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Earlier this year, jazz drummer Dylan Howe released Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin, featuring interesting interpretations of David Bowie’s compositions from that time. These are renditions of songs from Low And “Heroes,” including the entire side two of Low and two tracks that were recorded for Low but only released later in expanded editions. Nothing from Lodger is included, which is a shame, as that is one of my personal favorite Bowie albums (but then again Lodger doesn’t have instrumentals). But what is included here is excellent. And you don’t necessarily need to be a David Bowie fan to appreciate this album, especially as the tunes Howe covers are not your typical Bowie tunes. I think the album will be more interesting if you are a Bowie fan, but as long as you appreciate jazz, you’ll be able to enjoy this disc regardless of your feelings about David Bowie. Joining Dylan Howe on this CD are Ross Stanley on piano and synthesizer, Mark Hodgson on bass, Brandon Allen on saxophone, Julian Siegel on saxophone, Nick Pini on bass, Adrian Utley on guitar, and Steve Howe on koto.

The album opens with “Subterraneans,” the odd, atmospheric mostly instrumental track that concludes Low. Here it has a similar feel, which can be dark and haunting at times, but then also has a human feel because of the saxophones. This version is a few minutes longer than Bowie’s original. Interestingly, it’s followed by “Weeping Wall,” the instrumental tune that actually precedes it on Low. This is a strange, sometimes eerie number. Dylan Howe begins his rendition on drums, playing for half a minute or so before the other musicians come in. I really like this track, particularly because of Ross Stanley’s work on keys, which actually gives it something of an uplifting vibe at times, and brings it more firmly into the jazz realm. As with “Subterraneans,” this version of “Weeping Wall” is a few minutes longer than David Bowie’s original.

“All Saints” was recorded for Low, but wasn’t included on the original record. It was later included as a bonus track on the CD. It has a heavy, intense, electronic, industrial vibe.  The version on this CD begins with some really nice work on bass by Mark Hodgson, giving the piece a more introspective and exploratory feel at the start. But when it kicks in, it gains that heavier atmosphere and an electronic pulse. Then it surprisingly goes in a more traditional jazz direction, with even a bit of a swing to it, and there is some excellent stuff on saxophone. It goes back and forth between these two musical worlds, finding lots of interesting places to play, and includes a wonderful lead spot on bass. At eleven minutes, this version is quite a bit longer than the original. It is followed by “Some Are,” the other track that was recorded for, but not included on, the original pressing of Low. This one does have some lyrics, though an instrumental version was included on Bowie’s compilation All Saints. The version on this CD, of course, is instrumental. I love Ross Stanley’s work on piano.

“Neuköln” is a moody instrumental track from Bowie’s “Heroes” that was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno. Dylan Howe gives us two interpretations of this composition, “Neuköln – Night” and “Neuköln – Day.” Interestingly, while the saxophone plays such a key part in Bowie’s original, there is no saxophone on either of Howe’s tracks. It’s even more interesting when you consider that every other track on this CD, with one exception, has saxophone. Instead, it is Ross Stanley on piano that adds wonderful touches. These two tracks are the only ones to feature Nick Pini on bass.

Dylan Howe’s rendition of “Art Decade” has a kind of loose feel from the start. This is an instrumental track from the second side of Low. It is followed by the tune that precedes it on the Bowie album, “Warszawa.” Bowie’s version does have vocals, which come in more than halfway through the song. Howe and company really delve into the world of this composition, stretching it out to just over eleven minutes, taking it in some different directions. This is the only track on the CD to feature Adrian Utley on guitar. Ross Stanley delivers some wonderful stuff on keys in the second half of the song.

Dylan Howe concludes the CD with “Moss Garden,” a track from “Heroes” that was written by David Bowie and Brian Eno. On the original version, David Bowie plays koto, a Japanese string instrument. And on the version here it is Steve Howe on koto. Steve Howe is, of course, known for his work as the guitarist in Yes and Asia, and he is also Dylan Howe’s father. Other than Steve Howe, the only musicians on this track are Dylan Howe on drums and synths, and Ross Stanley on piano. There is a more calm, almost pretty feel to this one.

CD Track List
  1. Subterraneans
  2. Weeping Wall
  3. All Saints
  4. Some Are
  5. Neuköln – Night
  6. Art Decade
  7. Warszawa
  8. Neuköln – Day
  9. Moss Garden 
Subterranean: New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin was released on January 20, 2015.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Auburn: “Mixed Feelings” (2015) CD Review

Auburn is a British band that was formed by vocalist and guitarist Liz Lenten in 1999, then temporarily separated approximately a decade ago. They reunited in 2011, coming on strong, with Indian Summer the following year and then Nashville in 2014. And now they have a new CD, titled Mixed Feelings, on which the band dips into a good range of musical realms, including folk, blues, country and pop. All of the tracks are originals, written or co-written by Liz Lenten. This album, like the previous one, was recorded in Nashville, and features musicians from the area rather than the official band members from the UK. Those assembled for this release are all accomplished musicians, and most of them played on Nashville as well. The album was produced by Thomm Jutz, who also plays guitar on it (you might know Jutz from his work with Nanci Griffith).

Auburn kicks off the new album with its title track, “Mixed Feelings,” a tune which has a nice bluesy edge. There is also a cool rhythm on drums by Lynn Williams, and some good work on guitar. But it is Liz Lenten’s vocals which are the focus. Hers is a voice with a lot of character, a voice that seems to almost effortlessly draw in listeners. “I’ve got mixed feelings/Of love and hate/And I can’t function in this state.” “Mixed Feelings” was written by Liz Lenten and Mark Gustavina. And then “Love Lost Its Way” has something of a relaxed 1970s vibe, particularly on the chorus. “This time, I know/Love’s lost its way home/My tears roll slow/Love lost its way home.”

“Friends” is a sweet, gentle, warm song that I really love. The song is like a needed reminder that we’re not alone. But it refrains from making impossible promises, and so it has a beautiful honesty. Check out these lines: “I can’t mend your broken dreams/But I’m your friend/Won’t pretend that I can keep/The demons from your sleep/I’m your friend.” Wonderful, right? This is one of my favorites. And it’s followed by a delightful, quirky, humorous song, “Hell Hath No Fury.” This one is told from the perspective of an obsessed nut, beginning by saying “Sure we can just be friends,” but soon saying, “So you don’t forget me, I’ll keep messing with your head” and then “I’ll call every hour just to check that you’re all right/I’ll intercept your mail so no one else can write.” By the way, the line “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is a slight rewording of a line written by William Congreve (not William Shakespeare, as many believe). The line is, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned/Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

“Crystal Stairs” has a really cool, catchy groove, helping to make it another of this disc’s highlights. This one also features some good harmony vocals, as well as excellent work on guitar. I’m also really fond of “Out There,” mainly because of Liz Lenten’s vocals, as she sings, “You won’t be alone, I swear/You will find love out there/You don’t need to be scared/Of a new life out there.” “Wood For The Trees” is another favorite. It has such a delicious vibe, and I love Justin Moses’ work on both fiddle and banjo. “I know I’m losing you/I know you’re just moving through/You’re slipping fast/My time is past/Oh, I know I’m losing you.” This is an excellent song.

CD Track List
  1. Mixed Feelings
  2. Love Lost Its Way
  3. New Years Day
  4. Friends
  5. Hell Hath No Fury
  6. Crystal Stairs
  7. Lovers Lullaby
  8. Out There
  9. More Than Everything
  10. Wood For The Trees
  11. Quiet Life
  12. Feel The Sun 

Musicians on this release include Liz Lenten on lead vocals; Lynn Williams on drums; Mark Fain on bass; Justin Moses on fiddle, banjo and dobro; Barry Walsh on piano, Wurlitzer and organ; JT Brown on harmony vocals; and Thomm Jutz on guitar.

Mixed Feelings is scheduled to be released on September 11, 2015 through Bat Country and Scarlet Records.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pugwash at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub, 8-28-15 Concert Review

Pugwash performing "Answers On A Postcard"
Pugwash is currently touring the states to help promote their excellent new CD, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends), which comes out September 4th and is the band’s first CD to be released internationally. I was turned onto this Irish band only a year or so ago, when a compilation was released in the U.S. through Omnivore Recordings, and so last night’s show at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub was the first chance I had to see them in concert.

And what a great show it was. I got there early in order to grab one of the few tables near the front. Soon it started to get crowded. People seemed to arrive all at once, like a wave crashing upon the stage then receding to the back of the room, leaving behind this strange assortment of people. Definitely an older crowd, which made me happy. These are folks who made the effort, people to whom music is important. My kind of people. The Cherry Bluestorms opened the show at 9 p.m. with a set of 1960s-influenced pop tunes (and actually, they kicked off their set with a good rendition of “She Said She Said,” one of my favorite Beatles tunes). The volume was loud enough without being too loud, and I was glad that the sound man wasn’t one of those deaf and daft guys who mistake their small clubs for Madison Square Gardens.

Just before 10 p.m., Pugwash was introduced, though the venue’s house music was still playing, leading the band to joke, “Amateurs.” They kicked off the show with the opening tune from the new album, “Kicking And Screaming.” And after it, they joked, “Good night.” Pugwash is a band that jokes around quite a bit, keeping things loose. They had a great and immediate rapport with the crowd. After “Kicking And Screaming,” they played “Kings And Queens,” a tune from their first album. It’s been insanely hot in Los Angeles the past week or so, and Molly Malone’s is a fairly small room so I figured it might get a bit warm in there. And indeed it did, leading Thomas Walsh to say early on: “We are very honored to sweat. We come from a land sweat doesn’t exist.”

After “Keep Movin’ On,” they did a bit of “Suspicious Minds,” and then played one of my favorite tracks from the new album, “Hung Myself Out To Dry.” They played my other favorites too – “You Could Always Cry” and “Oh Happy Days” – after I shouted out requests for them. And after “Oh Happy Days,” they talked a bit about recording that song, and how Ray Davies came to be on it.

They dedicated “Finer things In Life” to a woman named Amber, who is getting married soon. And after that tune, they shouted out random things to see if the audience would cheer, and the crowd happily played along. They did a few covers, including The Idle Race's “Morning Sunshine” and XTC's “Love On A Farmboy's Wages.” At one point they jokingly did a bit of Abba’s “Fernando.” They stopped, but then started again, in earnest this time. And a joke about “token applause” led to a rendition of The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” But one of my favorite humorous moments was when they joked about The Beach Boys covering Kraftwerk, “Fun, fun, fun on the autobahn.” Sure, there’s quite a bit of fucking around during the show, but Pugwash is a lot of fun, and the music is great.

Nelson Bragg (of The Brian Wilson Band) joined Pugwash for “Your Friend” and a cover of Tom Petty’s  “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” playing tambourine and maracas. At the end of “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” he shattered the maracas by banging them together (then quickly left the stage). Pugwash then ended the show with “The Fool I Had Become” (from the new CD) and “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” They said “It’s Nice To Be Nice” was essentially the encore, because they didn’t want to walk off and come back, as it’s too much work. That didn’t stop the audience from calling out for an encore, of course. The show ended at 11:44 p.m. And though the audience kept the call for an encore going for a while, the band did not return to the stage.

Set List
  1. Kicking And Screaming
  2. Kings And Queens
  3. Keep Movin’ On
  4. Hung Myself Out To Dry
  5. Finer Things In Life
  6. Apples
  7. Be My Friend Awhile
  8. Fernando
  9. There You Are
  10. You Could Always Cry
  11. Answers On A Postcard
  12. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
  13. Morning Sunshine
  14. Here
  15. Love On A Farmboy’s Wages
  16. Oh Happy Days
  17. Anyone Who Asks
  18. Fall Down
  19. Your Friend
  20. Runnin’ Down A Dream
  21. The Fool I Had Become
  22. It’s Nice To Be Nice
Here are a few photos from the show:

Pugwash introduction
"Kings And Queens"
"Finer Things In Life"
"Be My Friend Awhile"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
"Fall Down"
"Your Friend"
"The Fool I Had Become"
"It's Nice To Be Nice"
Tickets for this show were $15. As the new CD from Pugwash is the first to get an international release, I am guessing word will spread quickly about how good this band is, and the next time they come through town they’ll be booked in a larger venue. I am so glad I got to see them in such an intimate room. Molly Malone’s Irish Pub is located at 575 S. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dave Davies: “Rippin’ Up New York City: Live At City Winery NYC” (2015) CD Review

Last year Dave Davies released a new studio album titled Rippin’ Up Time, and now he has a new live album coming out, which was recorded at the City Winery in New York and is appropriately titled Rippin’ Up New York City. It was actually recorded last year, on November 24 and 25, just a month after the studio album was released. It has that raw energy we always expect from Dave Davies, and features a good mix of material from the new album and some great Kinks classics (including my all-time favorite Kinks song, “Strangers”).

The CD opens with the title track from last year’s release, “Rippin’ Up Time.” (Actually, there is a 38-second introduction, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be a separate track.) “Rippin’ Up Time” is harder rock tune, and a good one with which to kick off the show. This version is oddly almost an instrumental rendition, with only a bit of the lyrics near the beginning and again near the end. And it’s actually a bit shorter than the studio version. It’s followed an early Kinks song, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” which was written by Ray Davies but on which Dave sang lead, and then “I Need You,” another early Kinks tune, a great rock and roll number. This version has a lot of energy.

That is followed by a couple of tunes from early Dave Davies singles. “Creeping Jean” was released as the flip side to Dave Davies’ single, “Hold My Hand.” The version on this live CD is titled “Creepin’ Jean,” and it has a nice little rock jam in the second half. “Suzannah’s Still Alive” is a really cool tune, one of my favorites on this CD. It was originally released as a single in 1967, then spelled “Susannah’s Still Alive” on most of the copies, and as “Suzanah’s Still Alive” on some. The new spelling seems a combination of the two. He also does “Death Of A Clown,” his first solo single.

Dave Davies introduces “See My Friends” as one of his favorite Kinks song. Though it is listed as “See My Friend” on the CD case, Dave clearly refers to it as “See My Friends” in his brief introduction. This is a fantastic psychedelic tune with Indian influences, and the version on this live album is a wonderful, extended rendition (at approximately seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the CD). Dave introduces the band at the end of the track. “See My Friends” was written by Ray Davies. It’s followed by my favorite Kinks song, “Strangers,” from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround Part One, one of my personal favorite records. Dave introduces it by saying: “None of us are really strangers. We are all connected.” Interestingly, this rendition begins with the drumbeat which ends the studio version. I absolutely love this rendition. Dave Davies delivers such a great vocal performance here, giving the song nuances that the studio version doesn’t have. It is so moving. Just listen to him sing lines like, “I’ve killed my world and I’ve killed my time” and “So I will follow you wherever you go/If your offered hand is still open to me” and “This love of life makes me weak at my knees.” There is also some added stuff on guitar that is wonderful. I highly recommend checking out this track. Dare I say it might be better than the original? Yes, yes, yes.

After “Strangers,” he asks the audience if there are any requests. A lot of things are shouted out, and Dave picks “Flowers In The Rain,” a truly pretty tune from his 2002 solo album Bug. He does a couple of other tunes from Rippin’ Up Time – “Front Room” and “King Of Karaoke.” Both of these songs look back at the 1960s, including nods to specific Kinks songs. They’re good tunes, but I do wish he would have done “Nosey Neighbors” and “Mindwash,” two of my favorites from the studio album.

The most recent Kinks song Dave performs on this CD is “Living On A Thin Line” (here titled “Livin’ On A Thin Line”), from the 1984 record Word Of Mouth. I’ve always loved this song, and I listened to this cassette (yes, cassette) over and over when it came out (that album includes the hit “Do It Again,” but “Living On A Thin Line” might be the record’s best tune). The album then concludes with three classic Kinks rock tunes: “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” “All Day And All Of The Night” and “You Really Got Me.” “You Really Got Me” holds a special place for me, for when I got my drum kit at the age of thirteen and my friend across the street got his guitar, it was the first song we ever tackled (unless my memory is faulty or dishonest).

CD Track List
  1. Intro
  2. Rippin’ Up Time
  3. I’m Not Like Everybody Else
  4. I Need You
  5. Creepin’ Jean
  6. Suzannah’s Still Alive
  7. See My Friend
  8. Strangers
  9. Flowers In The Rain
  10. Front Room
  11. King Of Karaoke
  12. Death Of A Clown
  13. Livin’ On A Thin Line
  14. Where Have All The Good Times Gone
  15. All Day And All Of The Night
  16. You Really Got Me
Rippin’ Up New York City: Live At City Winery NYC is scheduled to be released on September 4, 2015 through Red River Entertainment.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rick And The All-Stars: “The Invisible Session” (2015) CD Review

The Stone Hill All-Stars continue to surprise and impress me. Earlier this year they released Away, one of my favorite CDs so far of 2015, and one which they recorded in a single day. Now they’ve collaborated with jazz guitarist Rick Pressler on a new project, Rick And The All-Stars, and the debut album, The Invisible Session, was likewise recorded in a single day. The Invisible Session was recorded on July 3, 2015 at Invisible Sound Studios in Baltimore, and was largely improvised (with one or two exceptions), with no second takes or overdubs. As a result, the album has a loose and exciting feel, and includes bits of studio banter at the beginning or end of several tracks. These are instrumental tracks, with no composition titles. When asked about the decision to leave the tracks untitled, Paul Margolis told me, “It just seemed odd to go back to the results of this spontaneous event and assign names to the tracks.” So the CD’s eight tracks are simply referred to by number (though, interestingly, the tracks do have titles on the CD Baby site and Amazon, but those titles are not the official titles). The lack of song titles also gives The Invisible Session’s title another meaning. By the way, Paul Margolis and Rick Pressler had worked together before, on projects like 32 Lions and The Bongo Division. The Invisible Session was mixed and mastered by Dave Nachodsky.

The first track begins loosely with bass, and then the other instruments quickly come in, trying things, like getting to know each other. It is Dan Naiman on saxophone who first really announces himself in a lead spot, and then John Shock finds a good groove on keys, and that’s when the song seems to really get its footing (you can hear someone exclaim “Yeah” in the background when John starts that groove). The tune definitely retains its loose, cool vibe throughout, and there’s a bit of banter at the end of the track. And then the second track begins with some banter: “What was that rhythm, Hoppy, because I wasn’t playing it?” Clearly these guys are having a good time, and that’s reflected in the wild and delightful second track. Hoppy Hopkins gives us a great and unusual groove on drums. The only problem is that this track is over way too soon.

The third track is one of my favorites. It has a kind of funky thing happening. Fans of Phish are going to love this track. Just imagine if Phish had a saxophone, as occasionally they have had (“What is a band without a saxophone?”). I totally dig Paul Margolis’ work on bass here. And Rick Pressler does some seriously interesting and cool stuff on guitar. The whole band just has everything going just about exactly right. This tune will get you moving, get you smiling. “Great moments there,” someone comments at the end. Yeah, every moment of this track.

There is a bit of goofing around at the start of the fourth track, giving us the feel of being in a rehearsal space with the band. But then the tune itself is pretty tight at times, with a good, full sound. The fifth track also begins with a bit of banter, and then the bass leads the band into a cool, somewhat mellow groove. And I love the way it builds from there, making this another of the disc’s highlights. This track has a fairly steady feel, yet goes in some interesting directions.

It is followed by a bluesy tune, which is one of the two tracks that was conceived of earlier, this one by Paul Margolis. (The other is the eighth track.) Interestingly, it is only on these two tracks that Paul Margolis plays guitar and Dan Naiman picks up the bass. So there is no saxophone here. But there is plenty of nice guitar work. The eighth track is another of my favorites. This is the one that was written by Rick Pressler ahead of time, and it has such a great vibe. I love music that transports me to some other land, time, realm, and this track certainly takes me outside of myself, while simultaneously putting a smile on my face. I love this track.

The Invisible Session was released on July 28, 2015. The band plans to record a second album next year.