Sunday, January 25, 2015

Macedo: “Paper Doll” (2014) CD Review

Macedo is a band whose core is sisters Michelle and Melissa Macedo, who also wrote all the material of their 2014 EP, Paper Doll. That EP features some seriously moving songs and gorgeous vocals. This group can lift you up and get you moving with a track like “Like Me Most,” and then move you in a completely different way with a song like the sweet “Remember.” This is pop, yes; but it’s pop with intelligence and heart. Plus, I’m a sucker for any album with cello. On this release, the band is rounded out with Caleb Bigler on guitar, Hunter Hunt on cello, Ryan Loui on bass, Sam Morgan on bass, Nabedi Osorio on drums, and Khris Kellow on keyboards, as well as special guest Ken Christianson on violin.

Macedo kicks off the EP with a glorious pop gem titled “Like Me Most.” This tune has a groove you can move to, and there is soul at the heart of it. There is a wonderful, bright feel to the music, particularly in the electric guitar part by Caleb Bigler. This group is based in Los Angeles, and the lyrics mention the Pacific Coast Highway. And check out these lines: “Need a change of pace to catch me/Like a heavyset hunter would/Artemis did never actually/Stick with Orion for good/Love you ‘cause you're a little bit dangerous/In a fairly responsible way.”  I love the energy on the line, “Crank up the music and play,” which leads, appropriately, to a brief instrumental moment.

“Like Me Most” is followed by “Remember,” a beautiful and moving song driven by excellent vocals, as well as piano and cello. Here are the opening lines: “I am the ruins of a song strung along to/Sound nice to everybody else/I am a mess of sounds and colors and ivory mistakes.” And I’m really fond of these lines: “I didn't feel the losing then/I only felt the need to leave.”

“Your Skin” begins with vocals and piano. And then when it kicks in, the song has a delicious and engrossing power. This is one to turn up and get absorbed in. It has lots of peaks and valleys, and a good lead guitar part by Caleb Bigler. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Remember when we couldn’t sleep/When you got back to town/We tried to get so tired and wound up/Driving around/Fixated on getting/Underground.” I also really like the section near the end where they repeat the lines, “Damn, you're a pessimist/Damn, I'm a cynic/Damn, I'm about to kiss my worst critic.” Macedo has released a music video for this song.

Macedo gives another strong, emotional vocal delivery in “17,” my favorite line being, “Some things in life don't just end with goodbye.” It’s simple, but so effective. And check out these lines: “He said I don't want to hurt you/But it's funny just how/We surprise ourselves with just what we allow.” And then the EP’s title track, “Paper Doll,” has a kind of beauty that includes something of an innocence, particularly in the music. There is almost a fairytale feel to it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I know/You care/Only as much as your shadow allows/I know/You care/If only you let yourself say it out loud/The past is like revolving doors/Only I am stuck in yours/In yours.”

The EP concludes with “Amazing,” a pretty love song driven by vocals and piano. “There is a child inside of me/Who functions out of fear/Though you shouldn't come closer/You should still stay here.” There is also some nice work on violin, and I love the way the vocals and violin work together. I also really like this line: “All your mistakes have led you to me.”

CD Track List
  1. Like Me Most
  2. Remember
  3. Your Skin
  4. 17
  5. Paper Doll
  6. Amazing
Paper Doll was released on February 4, 2014 on MoonGold Records.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mason Summit: “Loud Music & Soft Drinks” (2014) CD Review

Mason Summit’s new album, Loud Music & Soft Drinks, features some really good material, particularly "In A Lonely Place" and "Village Dogs." All of these tracks are originals, showcasing Mason Summit’s songwriting abilities. For example, check out these lines from “Flake”: “You’re the secretary of pretense/There’s only so much I can be against/But it all keeps coming up, bringing me down.” Also, this line from that same song: “Like a hearse, I always know just where you’re going to.” Even when he seems to resort to a cliché, as he does in the love song “Pretty Penny” when he sings, “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he saves it with the following line, “And believe me, my eyes are sore.” He then further improves upon it by adding, “But I feel better seeing you in that tight black turtleneck sweater.” (Amen!) And the phrasing of those lines is interesting too. He’s also quite a good musician, playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and even organ on one track.

And he has a great group of musicians backing him, including Carl Byron on organ and piano, and John McDuffie on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. You can hear Carl Byron on Anne McCue’s excellent new album. And, as I’ve mentioned before, John McDuffie’s presence always gets me interested in a project. You can actually hear both of those musicians on last year’s Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst CD, Endless Sky. In addition to them, the album features Jason Chesney on bass, Zander Schloss (from The Circle Jerks) on bass, Shawn Nourse (from I See Hawks In L.A.) on drums, and Lynn Coulter on drums. John McDuffie engineered, mixed and mastered this release, while Mason Summit produced it. I’m impressed by Mason's work here, and so am a bit shocked, perhaps even a little annoyed, to learn that he’s only eighteen. Imagine all the good things still to come from this singer/songwriter/musician.

Mason Summit kicks off his the CD with “Two Friends,” a fairly straight-forward pop rock tune about friendship. Here is taste of the lyrics: “Two friends sit down again/No awkward conversation, just friends/And the stubborn rock in his shoe/Feeling new and said/If you’ll lower your expectations/I’ll drop my affectations/We’ll commence negotiations.” It’s a decent song, but for me things start to get much more interesting with the second track, “Kaleidoscope,” a quirky little tune played on classical guitar, with the addition of flute in the second part of the song. (That’s James King, of Fitz And The Tantrums, on flute.)

Even better is “In A Lonely Place,” a strong, emotionally charged track. Mason Summit creates a vivid portrait of an area and its denizens, and he really sells it on the vocals. When he sings the title line, “In a lonely place,” you can hear the desperation. “Down on the corner making a deal/To try and fight that urge to feel/In a lonely place.” And he places the listener in the city, singing, “You shouldn’t believe her this time.” This track features John McDuffie on both lap steel and pedal steel, and is one of the best songs on this CD.

“Puddle” is the only instrumental track on the album. It’s a kind of mellow track which Mason Summit performs solo, playing electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass. “Later” is a very short, but kind of pretty track. It has vocals, but no lyrics.

“Right Mind” has something of an early rock flavor to it, both in the music and in the vocal approach (listen to the way he sings “I wanted you so bad/Tried so hard to hold on”). Plus, it benefits from the addition of James King on saxophone. Jason Chesney plays bass. I really like these lines: “I’m at your beck and call/You are a wrecking ball.” Another of my favorites is “Village Dogs,” which has a cool groove and vibe. “On the roof everything is all right/It’s warm now, but it’s so cold at night/I can see out to the lake/I can see past my mistake.” This one features John McDuffie on electric guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Two Friends
  2. Kaleidoscope
  3. In A Lonely Place
  4. Puddle
  5. Pretty Penny
  6. Cute One
  7. Flake
  8. Right Mind
  9. Later
  10. Village Dogs
  11. Interloper
  12. My Blank Canvas
Loud Music & Soft Drinks was released on November 11, 2014 on French Dip Records.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tom Paxton: “Redemption Road” (2015) CD Review

Tom Paxton is one of the most respected and influential singer-songwriters. He really helped shape contemporary folk music, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. His music has been covered by artists like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, John Denver and many others. And now in his late seventies, Tom Paxton is releasing an excellent new album, Redemption Road. All tracks but one are originals. After all these years, Tom Paxton is still writing effective and often moving folk songs, while of course maintaining that sense of humor and sense of fun. This album also features guest appearances by John Prine and Janis Ian.

Redemption Road opens with “Virginia Morning,” a sweet and positive tune with good, pleasant vibes. It’s a song designed to put a smile on your face, and does so for me every time I listen to it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “It’s good to be alive, Virginia morning/It’s good to feel your earth beneath my feet/Rise and shine, Virginia morning/You’ve got a sweet, sweet Virginia day to greet.”

“Virginia Morning” is followed by “Susie Most Of All,” one of my personal favorite tracks. It has a relaxed feel, and a delightful humor as well as love in the delivery. It opens with these lines: “Wish I had a nickel, wish I had a dime/Wish I had Susie, and Susie had time to play/Susie had time to play/The thing about Susie, Susie can play all day.” As much as I love Tom Paxton’s vocal delivery on this one, it’s probably the music that makes this track a highlight. It’s just totally delightful.

“Time To Spare” has the feel of a traditional Irish folk ballad, and so of course I bloody love it. It’s that great sweet ease of his vocals that makes this song so effective. “I’ve been thinking about you lately/I’ve been wondering where you are/It’s been years since we went rambling through the night/You were going to write your novel/I was going to be a star/We were young, and things were sure to work out right.” I love the fiddle.

“The Losing Part” is a wonderfully depressing song about aging. Somehow listening to this song makes it easier to accept, as the song is like a hand reaching to help you through. And it’s inevitable anyway, right? This one really affected me, nearly had me in tears the first time I heard it. “When it never came true/Never happened for you/It just slowly faded away/’Til it broke your heart/Some dreams die harder/Some are living yet/Sooner or later you get/To the losing part.” “Come On, Holy” is another of this album’s tracks that really moves me. It was co-written by Tom Paxton and Jon Vezner, and has a positive and friendly feel.

John Prine joins Tom on vocals for “Skeeters’ll Gitcha,” a fun and light-hearted little tune about mosquitoes (“skeeters’ll gitcha if your screens ain’t tight”) which also features some nice work on fiddle. My favorite lines are: “You were missing on the day they passed good sense around/If you had any sense, then you’d have to agree/If you had any sense, then you couldn’t love me/Give me a sweet little kiss.” Another fun track is the lively and affectionate “The Mayor Of MacDougal Street,” a good tune about Dave Van Ronk. “No one’s replaced him yet, and no one will.”

“Central Square” is another of my favorites. It’s such a beautiful song, and it’s one that grabbed me immediately. The first time I put this CD on, I was taking care of some things in my apartment, and this song made me stop what I was doing, and just sit down and listen. “I saw the road that led to home, but I took another way/I met the girl I came to love one night in Central Square.” Of course, this song speaks to me in part because I met the woman I love in Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. But I don’t plan on making the mistake that the character of this song makes.

Janis Ian joins Tom on vocals on “Redemption Road,” the album’s title track, a song that Tom Paxton co-wrote with Geoff Bartley. Geoff wrote the music, and Tom wrote the lyrics of this touching song. “Only time and time alone/Treats each weary soul the same/When my sum of days is flown/Time alone will know my name.” The album then concludes with its sole cover, a rendition of the tradition song “The Parting Glass,” with the lyrics delivered a cappella followed by a brief instrumental section.

CD Track List
  1. Virginia Morning
  2. Susie Most Of All
  3. Time To Spare
  4. The Losing Part
  5. Skeeters’ll Gitcha
  6. Ireland
  7. Come On, Holy
  8. If The Poor Don’t Matter
  9. The Mayor Of Macdougal Street
  10. Central Square
  11. Buffalo Dreams
  12. The Battle Of The Sexes
  13. Redemption Road
  14. The Parting Glass
Redemption Road is scheduled to be released on March 10, 2015 on Pax Records.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Roger Taylor: “Best” (2014) CD Review

I was ten years old when I got my first Queen album. It was a cassette of the band’s first greatest hits compilation, and we listened to it over and over on a road trip my grandparents took my brother and me on that summer. I was already a fan, but during the course of that road trip, I became totally hooked. While singer Freddie Mercury was the main songwriter of the band, each of the other members contributed songs. Drummer Roger Taylor’s tunes included “Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll” from their first album, “Tenement Funster” from Sheer Heart Attack, “I’m In Love With My Car” from A Night At The Opera, “Rock It (Prime Jive)” and “Coming Soon” from The Game, “Calling All Girls” from Hot Space, and “Radio Ga Ga” from The Works. “Calling All Girls” and “Radio Ga Ga” were also released as singles, the latter being a big hit for the band.  On certain tracks, like “Tenement Funster” and “I’m In Love With My Car,” Taylor also provided lead vocals.

Roger Taylor released two solo albums in the 1980s while Queen was still active, and then a couple more in the 1990s. His most recent studio album is Fun On Earth, released in 2013. Best collects tracks from those five albums, as well as singles. These tracks obviously showcase Roger Taylor’s songwriting, vocals and drumming abilities, but on his first solo album, Fun In Space, he plays all the instruments. Best kicks off with “Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else),” a cool track from that record. It reminds me a bit of The Police in its rhythm. That song is followed by “I Wanna Testify,” which was released as a single in 1977, and is a very fun rock song. It’s actually a cover of a single released by The Parliaments (who would later change their name to simply Parliament), but Roger Taylor’s version is quite a bit different. It is seriously good, and I love the “doo-wop” backing vocals. The overall sound is similar to that of Sweet.

From Fun In Space, Best also includes “Let’s Get Crazy” and “Magic Is Loose.” “Let’s Get Crazy” is one of my favorite tracks of this collection. It’s got a beat designed to get you moving, and lyrics to match. “Let’s get crazy, let’s get crazy tonight.” There is even a short, but delicious drum solo. And in “Magic Is Loose,” I love when the song suddenly bursts in, with Roger singing, “Magic is loose, magic is loose in the world tonight.” This one has more of a theatrical feel, which Queen fans should totally dig.

This compilation includes the first three tracks from Roger Taylor’s second solo album, Strange Frontier, which was released in 1984. The title track really takes me back to that twisted decade when politics were completely fucked. Check out these lyrics: “Freedom fighters come and go/Bloody righteous and mentally slow/We’re on the skids/We’re off the lines/We’re trapped inside these dangerous times/Now we’ve reached the borderline, you can start to smell the fear/People say it could never happen here/But this is a strange frontier.” This is another of this CD’s highlights. I also really like “Beautiful Dreams,” which has a sweeter, prettier sound.

Four tracks are included from Happiness? (which was released in 1994, and was Roger Taylor’s first album following Freddie Mercury’s death). “Nazis 1994” is a heavy and serious tune about the lunatics who deny that the Holocaust happened, with Roger repeating the line, “They’re saying now it never happened.” “Foreign Sand” is a song that Roger Taylor co-wrote with Yoshiki Hayashi, who also performs on the track. In “Happiness,” Roger Taylor sings, “No matter how, how hard you try/In your own life, and through your years/With every up must come a down/Enjoy the laughter and the tears/Of happiness.” This album was clearly colored by Mercury’s death.

Best features five tracks from Roger Taylor’s 1998 release, Electric Fire. “Surrender” features vocals by Treana Morris, in addition to Taylor’s vocals. There is something beautiful about this song, particularly with the repetition of the lines “You can’t hurt me now” and “I surrender.” “Where Are You Now?” likewise has something sweet about it, and I like these lines: “You don't have to bleed, you don't have to believe/You don't have to pretend to know what's right/Or what's real.” “A Nation Of Haircuts” has my favorite title of this collection, and is a harder rock song. “No More Fun” is also a hard rock song.

This collection also includes the single, “The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken),” which was originally released in 2009. A different version of that song was included on Taylor’s 2013 release, Fun On Earth. This is a really strong song, and the version included here is longer and a bit different from that on the album, with a bit more power to the music. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “God would weep/If he existed/And he saw what man can do to man/He'd think that we were twisted/His unblinking eye would blink and then/He'd say not in my name you don't/You stupid little men.” I also really appreciate these lines: “Five million cameras stare at us/They treat us like we're fools/Our privacy is meaningless/We're suffocating by ten thousand rules.” The only track from Fun On Earth to be included on this collection is “Sunny Day,” a sweet love song which concludes the CD.

CD Track List
  1. Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else)
  2. I Wanna Testify
  3. Let’s Get Crazy
  4. Magic Is Loose
  5. Strange Frontier
  6. Man On Fire
  7. Beautiful Dreams
  8. Nazis 1994
  9. Foreign Sand
  10. Everybody Hurts Sometime
  11. Happiness
  12. Surrender
  13. Where Are You Now?
  14. A Nation Of Haircuts
  15. Tonight
  16. No More Fun
  17. The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken)
  18. Sunny Day
Best was released on October 28, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lulu: “The Atco Sessions 1969-1972” (2014) CD Review

These days when I think of Lulu, I think about Absolutely Fabulous, and her wonderful appearances as herself on that program. And I hear Jennifer Saunders repeating her name, and suggesting she sing “Shout” or something. But of course she’s still probably best known for singing “To Sir With Love” and the theme from the 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lulu dipped a bit into soul (well, a mixture of soul and pop), and The Atco Sessions 1969-1972 collects two complete albums as well as singles and outtakes from that time. This two-disc set also includes liner notes by Richie Unterberger.

Disc One

The first disc contains the two complete records, New Routes and Melody Fair, both released in 1970. New Routes was recorded in 1969 at Muscle Shoals. It kicks off with a couple of Bee Gees tunes. The first, “Marley Purt Drive,” is a really cool track, with a vibe that might call to mind The Band. Lulu’s version is a bit less country rock, especially with the addition of horns, giving it more of a New Orleans feel. I love what she does vocally on “People In Love,” a song written by Eddie Hinton and Grady Smith. The energy in her voice is perfect. Lulu also does a groovy cover of “Feelin’ Alright,” a song originally done by Traffic, but also famously covered by Joe Cocker. Lulu’s version has a fun vibe and some nice work on horns. Also fun is her rendition of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Dirty Old Man” (co-written by Mac Davis and Delaney Bramlett). And I like her sweet version of “Mr. Bojangles.” The song that became a hit from this record, however, was “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby),” a mellow tune that would later be recorded by Aretha Franklin.

Melody Fair was recorded at Criteria Studios in the spring of 1970, and it opens with a strange cover of The Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine.” That was never one of my favorite Beatles songs, but Lulu does some interesting things with it. She follows that with a heartfelt rendition of “After The Feeling Is Gone,” a song that was also recorded by Five Flights Up. One of the coolest tracks on this album is “I Don’t Care Anymore,” written by Jerry Williams, Gary Bonds and Maurice Gimbel. This song creates a compelling character. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Then I met a guy as smooth as silk down in a midtown bar/Told me with my good looks I’d go very far/I didn’t know just what he meant/Well, I thought he was heaven sent/And all of his sweet talkin’ sent me streetwalkin’/That was the part that broke my heart.” (I love the way she holds onto the word “smooth.”) Lulu also does Bonds and Williams’ “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman).” As on New Routes, on Melody Fair Lulu covers a Bee Gees song from Odessa, this time the song providing Lulu with her album’s title. She also covers Randy Newman’s “Vine Street,” a song that Harry Nilsson also recorded. Lulu has some fun with this one; when the song switches from that opening, energetic section to the mellower section, there’s a bit of studio banter (“Nice one”). “Move To My Rhythm” is also a fun track, and I dig the horns. Melody Fair ends with “Saved,” a tune written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and originally recorded by Lavern Baker and also covered by The Band. She really gets into the gospel aspects of the song, especially with the backing vocalists.

Disc Two

The second disc contains singles and outtakes. And like the first disc, it opens with a Bee Gees song, this one being “Bury Me Down By The River,” a song from that band’s 1970 release, Cucumber Castle. She also delivers a seriously fun version of the Bee Gees’ “Back Home,” a song from 2 Years On. This is a good dose of rock and roll, and is one of my favorite tracks on the second disc. She does a peppy gospel-pop tune called “Got To Believe In Love,” written by Neil Goldberg. It’s an odd mix of gospel with bubblegum teen sounds. Interestingly, this song was also recorded by Robin McNamara in 1970. At the time, he was playing Claude in Hair, and several other cast members are on his recording of this song. There are two versions of this song by Lulu, the single version and an early version. I prefer the early version. There is also an early mix of “I Don’t Care Anymore” and a different version of “Hum A Song (From Your Heart)” (with a bit of studio banter at the beginning), as well as an Italian version of “Oh Me Oh My,” titled “Povera Me (Oh Me Oh My).” Lulu also covers Elton John’s “Come Down In Time.” The only track on the second disc that I don’t care for is “Things Are Getting Better.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Marley Purt Drive
  2. In The Morning
  3. People In Love
  4. After All (I Live My Life)
  5. Feelin’ Alright
  6. Dirty Old Man
  7. Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)
  8. Is That You Love
  9. Mr. Bojangles
  10. Where’s Eddie
  11. Sweep Around Your Own Back Door
  12. Good Day Sunshine
  13. After The Feeling Is Gone
  14. I Don’t Care Anymore
  15. (Don’t Go) Please Stay
  16. Melody Fair
  17. Take Good Care Of Yourself
  18. Vine Street
  19. Move To My Rhythm
  20. To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)
  21. Hum A Song (From Your Heart)
  22. Sweet Memories
  23. Saved 
Disc Two
  1. Bury Me Down By The River
  2. Got To Believe In Love
  3. Jokers Wild
  4. Come Down In Time
  5. Everybody’s Got To Clap
  6. Back Home
  7. Things Are Getting Better
  8. Love Song
  9. Goodbye My Love, Goodbye
  10. It Takes A Real Man (To Bring Out The Woman In Me)
  11. You Ain’t Wrong You Just Ain’t Right
  12. Even If I Could Change
  13. Hum A Song (From Your Heart) (Session Version)
  14. I Don’t Care Anymore (Early Mix)
  15. Got To Believe In Love (Early Version)
  16. Povera Me (Oh Me Oh My)
The Atco Sessions 1969-1972 was released on July 1, 2014 through Real Gone Music. 

Thoughts On The Grateful Dead’s Reunion/Farewell Concerts

The Grateful Dead was the best live band I ever saw. I caught forty-one shows between 1988 and 1995, and though nearly twenty years have passed since my last show (in May of 1995), I still miss this band. And I think about them on a fairly regular basis, and often revisit old concert tapes, CDs and records.

Now to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation, and the twentieth anniversary of their final concert in Chicago, the surviving band members are reuniting for three shows. The three original surviving members – Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums – as well as Mickey Hart, who joined so early on as to basically be an original member, and Bruce Hornsby, who was a member of the band in the early 1990s, will be playing together in Chicago in July. Joining them are Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, in place of Vince Welnick who died in 2006, and Trey Anastasio on guitar in place of Jerry Garcia who died in 1995. It’s this last addition of Trey on guitar that is the first thing to give me pause about these shows.

Jerry Garcia had such a distinct style. You could pick it out anywhere. Trey Anastasio likewise has a distinct style, but it is so different from Garcia’s. I’m afraid it’s going to sound like Phish covering the Grateful Dead (which of course they often did). And don’t get me wrong: I like Phish. I saw them in concert many times between 1990 and 1999 (the last show I saw, however, was so awful that I never went back). But Phish and the Grateful Dead are completely unalike, except for the fact that both bands have accomplished musicians and both bands jam. I don’t necessarily want to see them combined.

The second thing that troubles me is the ticket prices. If the band is taking its fans back to Chicago, then how about we return to the ticket prices of the summer of 1995? Not only are the tickets for these three shows very expensive, but the band is using tiered ticket pricing, something they never did back in the day and something that I find completely repulsive. (The only thing close back then was that the lawn at Shoreline was slightly cheaper than the seats.) Tickets range from $95.50 to $215.50 for the mail order (supposedly some cheaper seats will be sold later). This means that it won’t be the biggest fans at the front, but the richest. That is so unlike the Grateful Dead.

The other thing that strikes me as peculiar is that these three shows are billed as farewell shows. Now these guys have played together several times since Jerry’s death. I myself never went to any of those Other Ones or Dead concerts, because it just didn’t feel right. I did, however, go see RatDog and Phil Lesh And Friends and always had a great time. But now the band is saying this is it. My question whenever a band does a farewell show is, How do you know? I mean, what if next year you want to do another show? Will you abstain because of this year’s promise?

I’m so torn. I would love to see these guys play. I would love to see some of my favorite songs performed live again. But the tickets are so expensive. And the world is a different place. I don’t want to see a sea of cell phones at a Grateful Dead concert. I don’t want to see a lot of blue lights in front of me. And how much is a sheet of acid these days? I have no idea.

Mail order starts on January 20th, so I have a few days to decide (and to raise several hundred dollars).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trip Shakespeare: “Are You Shakespearienced?” (1988/2014) CD Review

Are You Shakespearienced? was the second release from Trip Shakespeare, and the first to feature band member Dan Wilson. The album’s title, of course, is a play on the 1967 Jimi Hendrix record, Are You Experienced. All of the album’s songs were originals, written or co-written by Matt Wilson. Like the band’s first release, Applehead Man, this album features intriguing, unusual lyrics. But this one is even more interesting with a more accomplished, distinct sound overall, with several excellent songs. The new expanded re-issue contains nine bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased, as well as new liner notes.

This CD kicks off with “Diane,” a song written by Matt Wilson and Dan Wilson. It has a bit of a bouncy pop feel, but it is that short bridge halfway through that really wins me over. Here is a bit of the lyrics: “Relax your hand/Trusted angel/Stranger than the things young men should know.” (This band has quite a few songs with women’s names as titles: “Diane,” “Patricia,” “Pearle,” “Mariah,” “Susannah,” “Lulu.”)

“The Lake” opens with a really good groove, and has more of a trippy vibe to it. It has a sort of early Jefferson Airplane feel at moments, which I love, and some excellent vocals, particularly at the end. This is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “Swing,” which also has a fantastic groove, and a vocal line that reminds me of something that Entrain would later do. It also has a cool, jazzy jam quality, helping to make it another highlight. Plus, check out these lyrics: “Swing! She swung down from a tree this spring/On a rope of white mercy with a bell to ring/Yeah, she swung down to my world hung down on a string.”

One of the oddest tracks is “Toolmaster Of Brainerd.” It has more of a hard rock sound and attitude (“He played guitar like a natural disaster”), but then with a strange, theatrical vocal section in the middle: “Up in Brainerd, where the children go to milking school/He learned to play the Gibson that his dog had found/And he came to haunt the bars of Minneapolis town/Now the spell-casters, the jeweled and cruel pastors/In town came to enchain the Toolmaster.” The total effect is strange and fun. It’s hard to dislike the tune, but I prefer the following track, “Vines.” It too has a bit of an odd feel, and features Elaine on xylophone. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Boughs hung heavy with the poison charms/Wrapped my body in their coiling arms/Stained my vision with the purple juice we know.” There is also some cool work on keys.

The original album concludes with “Reception,” a song about being drunk at a wedding reception, as Dan mentions in the liner notes.  On the steps I fell to darkness/And her friends came out around me/But I saw the darkness only/Drunk now, I will be lonely.”

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains nine bonus tracks, all but one of which were previously unissued. The first, “Earth, By Revolving,” is the one that was previously released, as the flip side to the “Pearle” single in 1990. It’s followed by “Car,” an absolutely delightful song with a cool groove. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Car, I’ve got to have one/I’m old, I’m old, I’m old not to have one/The woman that I’ll see tonight/She can take me where she will/She makes planes fall out of the sky.” This is one of my favorite tracks on this CD. “Look At The Lady” features some really nice vocal work, and “Stories End” is a good pop tune.

The bonus tracks also include early versions of “Reception,” “Bachelorette” (which would be included on Lulu) and “Snow Days” (which would be included on Across The Universe). This version of “Bachelorette” is a bit shorter, without that extended ending. “Snow Days” is one of my favorite Trip Shakespeare songs, and it's great to hear this early, longer version.

CD Track List
  1. Diane
  2. The Lake
  3. Swing
  4. Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler
  5. Spirit
  6. Thief
  7. Toolmaster Of Brainerd
  8. Vines
  9. Reception
  10. Earth, By Revolving
  11. Car
  12. Black Road
  13. 10,000 Watt Searching Light
  14. Bachelorette (early version)
  15. Look At The Lady
  16. Reception (early version)
  17. Stories End
  18. Snow Days (early version)
This special re-issue of Are You Shakespearienced? was released on December 16, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date also saw the release of the re-issue of Applehead Man