Saturday, July 20, 2019

Cheyenne James: “Burn It Up” (2018) CD Review

Cheyenne James is a vocalist with power and passion and a great taste for the blues. Her latest release, Burn It Up, features a good mix of original material and covers. Joining her on this album are Rock Romano on bass and ukulele, Dave Carter on guitar, Mark May on guitar, Jim Brady on drums, Steve Krase on harmonica, Randy Wall on keys, Eric Demmer on saxophone, and Lamar Boulet on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Cheyenne opens the album with a cover of “Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around The World),” written by Titus Turner and made famous by Little Milton. This is some fun rhythm and blues, with a classic vibe, a wonderfully funky rhythm and a horn section, the track driven by a powerful, lively vocal performance. There is something delightfully goofy about the chorus to this tune: “Because you know I love you, baby/Oh, you know I love you, baby/And if I don't love you baby, I tell ya/Grits ain't grocery/Eggs ain't poultry/And Mona Lisa was a man.” Someone once explained to me what grits are, but, well, I don’t remember. I grew up in Massachusetts, you understand. There is so much energy to this tune, not just in the vocals, but in the guitar, the horns, the rhythm section. This is a track to wake you up, get your blood pumping, a perfect opener. It’s followed by an original tune, “Gypsy Mama.” This one also has a great, moving rhythm, but before that’s even established we are treated to some nice bluesy harmonica playing. And there is more of that throughout the track. At some points it really is a duet, with the harmonica being the second set of vocals. There is also more lively guitar work. This is a number to get your feet tapping. We need as much joy as we can get these days, right? “I’m your gypsy mama, baby, moving on down the road/Ain’t got nowhere to be, ain’t got nowhere to go.”

“I Didn’t Know” begins with some cool, laid-back bluesy guitar. But it is when the song kicks in that I really start to dig it, particularly because of the fantastic work from the horn section, which is just delicious. And then at the end the horns are the focus during that groovy, delightful jam. This track also features a kick-ass vocal performance that I love. “Don’t you touch me, thought I couldn’t tell/You can pack your shit and go straight down to hell.” This is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by another original tune, “Lay Me Down,” which has an interesting and wonderful style. Certainly she has the blues here, singing “Lost most of my friends/Can’t pay my bills/Can’t do much of nothing except choke down these pills.” I also really like the work on keys here, particularly toward the end.

Cheyenne James delivers a cool rendition of “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” This is one of the songs that I first heard performed by Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs And Englishman album. Since then, of course, I’ve heard a whole lot of great versions, including those by Ray Charles and Big Mama Thornton, as well as the original by The Coasters. This rendition by Cheyenne James features some nice work on keys and electric guitar, plus a really good, loose lead on saxophone. And of course Cheyenne gives us another dynamic vocal performance. That’s followed by “Rock,” which has a more relaxed blues groove, but still a powerful vocal performance. This track features more good stuff on harmonica, but it is the bass line that I tend to focus on when listening to this tune. I get kind of caught up in that bass line.

“Roll Your Coal” features the horns right from the start, and some jazzy work on guitar which I like. I also really dig Cheyenne’s varied vocal delivery here. This one was written by Russell Mayes and Cheyenne James. Then her cover of “Steal My Heart Away” has a somewhat different sound and vibe from the rest of the album, in large part because of the presence of ukulele, which gives it a sweeter feel. This track also features some nice work on keys. “What Does It Mean” is a mellower and moving song. The guitar part that opens it reminds me quite a bit of “Taurus” by Spirit (which Led Zeppelin borrowed for “Stairway To Heaven”). “I’m so choked up, I can hardly breathe/So tell me, does this mean that you love me.” The disc then concludes with a cover of Freddie King’s “You Know That You Love Me (But You Never Tell Me So),” here titled “You Know You Love Me Baby,” another fun tune with an enjoyable rhythm and more excellent work on harmonica. “The way you twist when you walk and the way you smile/Makes me want to be around you every once in a while.”

CD Track List
  1. Grits Ain’t Groceries
  2. Gypsy Mama
  3. I Didn’t Know
  4. Lay Me Down
  5. Let’s Go Get Stoned
  6. Rock
  7. Roll Your Coal
  8. Steal My Heart Away
  9. What Does It Mean
  10. You Know You Love Me Baby
Burn It Up was released on October 30, 2018.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Lil Sue And The Cow Tippers: “Lil Sue And The Cow Tippers” (2019) CD Review

I had an excellent time a few months ago at the Roots Roadhouse Festival, and met some good folks, some who were performing that day and some that were in the audience. Though many of those who were in the audience could have just as easily been on the stage. Such was the case with a couple of folks from the band Lil Sue And The Cow Tippers that I got to talking with between acts. They gave me a copy of their self-titled debut CD, and I finally had a chance to listen to it today (yeah, sometimes work and other things get in the way of music). This EP contains a totally enjoyable group of honky tonk country and rockabilly tunes to raise your spirits and perhaps get you on the dance floor. You all have a dance floor in your homes, right? The band is made up of Susan “Lil Sue” Barrera on vocals, Danny Herrera on lead guitar, Nick Green on steel guitar and acoustic guitar, Tony “T-Mac” Macias on upright bass and backing vocals, and Aaron Fleener on drums.

The disc opens with a lively rendition of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” here titled “Cheatin’ Heart.” Susan Barrera’s vocals have a bright, appealing sound, and it is her voice that drives the song and draws you in. There is also some nice work on guitar, though I think that lead part could have been a bit longer. This track is certainly a good start to the EP. It’s followed by another cover, this one of “Two Long Years,” written by Hugh Ashley and recorded by Janis Martin. This one also features a really good vocal performance that has a delightfully playful quality at times. I really like the way this song moves. And in fact this entire disc has something of a breezy, bopping feel. You know, no time to stand still. If we keep moving, keep grooving, maybe all the other stuff will just fade away and the world will be a brighter, more cheerful place.

We then get the first original number of the CD, “How Can You Love Me,” written by Tony Macias and Susan Barrera. Aaron Fleener gets this one going on drums, establishing a good groove and getting the song off to a fun start. It’s about receiving attention from someone you’re not at all interested in, and wondering what’s up with the guy. I love these lines: “How come you will when I won’t/How come you do when I don’t.” This track features some wonderful work on guitar, and is my personal favorite on the disc. It’s followed by another fun one, a cover of Hank Thompson’s “A Six Pack To Go.” How can you not love a song that opens with the line “Hey, Mr. Bartender, please don’t be so slow”? And I dig Susan’s delivery of the line, drawing it out just a bit. This is about enjoying your Saturday, even if you don’t, say, have money to cover your rent. A song about living in the moment, and not having any cares, even when you know trouble will be heading your way come morning. This track features some delightful work on bass and on steel guitar.

Lil Sue And The Cowtippers deliver a fun rendition of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” here titled “Hallelujah, I Love Him So.” Of course, there is no horn section here, but there is some nice stuff on steel guitar, and it works so well. I especially like that interaction between the steel guitar and electric guitar halfway through the track. That’s followed by the disc’s other original composition, “Where Were You,” written by Tony Macias and Susan Barrera. This one is about worrying that the man you love is being less than faithful. “Your tender loving/Is one of a kind/Don’t take that away, I’ll go out of my mind/Hey, hey there, baby, where were you last night.” Oh, how can you leave that woman at home, guessing? So cruel. The disc concludes with a seriously cool rendition of “5-10-15 Hours,” here simply titled “5-10-15.” It was written by Rudy Toombs, and originally recorded by Ruth Brown. Here Lil Sue And The Cow Tippers get good and bluesy, and Susan really digs into it vocally, belting out some of the lyrics. So delicious! This disc was just what I needed today after being rudely awakened by some men working right outside my window at 6 a.m. (hey, isn’t there some city ordinance against that kind of thing?). Instead of following my initial desire to throw empty beer bottles at them, I put on this disc, and within moments my anger was gone. Isn’t it wonderful what good music can do for us?

CD Track List
  1. Cheatin’ Heart
  2. Two Long Years
  3. How Can You Love Me
  4. A Six Pack To Go
  5. Hallelujah, I Love Him So
  6. Where Were You
  7. 5-10-15 
Lil Sue And The Cow Tippers was released on January 19, 2019.

Monday, July 15, 2019

I See Hawks In L.A & The Good Intentions: “Hawks With Good Intentions” (2019) CD Review

One of my absolute favorite voices in music today belongs to Rob Waller, lead singer of I See Hawks In L.A. There is something so true about the way he delivers a lyric, whether it’s a serious folk or country number that makes you reflect on your own life, or one of those fun (and sometimes funny) lively jam rock tunes, both of which the band does so well. His voice can soothe you, and can energize you. And Rob’s voice is just one of the elements that make the Hawks one of the best Los Angeles bands going. Their harmonies, Paul Lacques’ work on lead guitar, Paul Marshall’s wonderful bass lines, Victoria Jacobs’ grooves on drums, and of course the songwriting all contribute to the group’s great appeal. The band’s new album, Hawks With Good Intentions, finds them joining efforts with The Good Intentions, the British folk and country duo of Peter Davies and Gabrielle Monk. The two groups first met several years ago during The Good Intentions’ first tour of the U.S., and since then have shared the occasional stage. Now they’re sharing songwriting credits. The album features all original material, co-written by members of both groups. It has a somewhat different feel from other I See Hawks In L.A. albums, in as much as it really focuses on the folk aspect of their music. But as some of their sweeter folk and country songs are among my personal favorites of the band’s entire catalogue, I love this approach here.

The album opens with a sweet-sounding and fairly straightforward folk song, “Blue Heaven,” written by Peter Davies, Paul Lacques and Rob Waller. It’s a song about being musicians, and seems to celebrate the friendship between the two bands, with Hawks even mentioned in the first stanza: “Do you remember the times when we used to say/That there was nothing but songs and dreams and days/We had guitars and we flew with the Hawks, and hey/It was blue, blue heaven.” Peter Davies sings lead on this one, and Paul Lacques adds some wonderful touches on dobro. A nice opening number. Rob Waller then sings lead on the following track, “Things Like This” also written by Peter Davies, Paul Lacques and Rob Waller. This is a song in which a highway plays a central role, certainly not an unusual element to Hawks’ music. This is one of those wonderful folk songs that tell a story of a troubled man. Check out these lines: “Neighbors said that he'd been having trouble off and on/Lost his job in China Lake, lost his mind at dawn/Sheriff said there'd only been three murders all year long/Things like this don't happen around here.” I also really like those backing vocals, like witnesses to the story.

Rob Waller and Peter Davies share lead vocals on “Rolling The Boxcars,” Rob’s voice rising and moving right from the song’s opening moments. And together their harmonies are wonderful, particularly with Paul Marshall and Gabrielle Monk joining in. This is one of my favorite tracks, and is the first song that Peter, Paul and Rob wrote together. It touches on some perennial folk subjects, like gambling and jail and being broke, yet still having hope. It’s a folk song you might be singing along with before too long, one of those songs that just feel good to take part in, you know? Raise your voice and join in. “Rolling the boxcars, rolling the boxcars/Find me an angel to bless my bones.” By the way, rolling boxcars means getting sixes on both dice. Gabe Witcher joins them on fiddle on “Rambling Girl,” a pretty song written by Peter Davies and Paul Lacques. Peter’s lead vocals have a gentle and moving quality. “And the only thing he will ever crave/Is a lonely road to an empty grave/And pretty girls like you to lay him down.” This one too features some gorgeous harmonies.

“Steel Rails” is a folk song about trains, and about how time has left the trains behind, though the romantic notion of traveling the rails persists. It is interesting that trains automatically create these wonderful, positive feelings in us, when many of us have never – or rarely – traveled any great distances by train. Songs about trains are always appealing. Will they still be when trains are a thing of the past? Probably. “Steel rails/Still sing their lonesome song/But the times/The times are moving on.” Rob Waller sings lead on this one. Then Victoria Jacobs sings lead on “Hills On Fire,” a song she wrote with Paul Lacques. This one has a gentle, sweet, somewhat mellow vibe, and is about the California fires (which are only going to get worse if something isn’t done about the climate change crisis). Usually a song that mentions sirens singing is referring to mythology, so I like that Victoria delivers a play on that idea in the line “The sirens sing a song for the coyotes in flight,” the sirens here obviously belonging to fire engines. This song features some gorgeous backing vocals, as well as some nice work on guitar. Richie Lawrence adds some sweet playing on accordion on this track. That’s followed by “White Cross,” which has a good, kind of slow folk groove. Rob Waller sings lead on this one. “Good friend, if you’re a gambler/Don’t bet on me too long.  Paul Lacques really gets a chance to shine on this one, and I love Gabrielle Monk’s backing vocals. “I know the angels love me, even though I did them wrong.”

“Flying Now” is a beautifully sad song, with an optimism one doesn’t necessarily believe. Check out these lines, which open the song: “My bed has been made/With the last of my dreams/I can see a few stars/Through the wind in the trees/I'm flying now.” And I love these lines: “The girl that I loved/She was faithless and cruel/Well, that suited me fine/I'm a natural fool/But I'm flying now.” Peter Davies’ vocals have a gentle yet passionate sound that is wonderful. Richie Lawrence adds more sweet work on accordion on this track. And I really like the bass line, which has a gentle, grounded quality, as if to say, Let him believe he’s flying, I’ll be here to catch him if he actually does. Peter Davies also sings lead on “Epiphany On Town Hall Square.” The line from this one that really stands out for me is “My childhood grips me still,” something I think will hold meaning for everyone. This track also features some good work on lap steel. The album then concludes with “Will You Watch Over Me From Above,” another sweet and beautiful song, this one with Rob Waller on lead vocals. “And why a summer day/To board that westbound train/I guess she couldn't wait for the evening/Sweet summer evening.”

CD Track List
  1. Blue Heaven
  2. Things Like This
  3. Rolling The Boxcars
  4. Rambling Girl
  5. Steel Rails
  6. Hills On Fire
  7. White Cross
  8. Flying Now
  9. Epiphany On Town Hall Square
  10. Will You Watch Over Me From Above
Hawks With Good Intentions was released on June 20, 2019.

Lauren Henderson: “Alma Oscura” (2019) CD Review

Lauren Henderson is a jazz vocalist and songwriter based in New York. She released her first CD in 2011, a self-titled album that featured some Latin and jazz standards. Her new album, Alma Oscura, features all original material, written by Lauren Henderson, Michael Thurber and Leo Sidran. Some are sung in English, some in Spanish. The group backing her includes Michael Thurber on bass, Sullivan Fortner on piano, Damian Sim on piano, Allan Mednard on drums, Joe Saylor on drums, Moses Patrou on percussion, Tessa Lark on violin, Lavinia Pavlish on violin, Brendan Speltz on violin, Charles Overton on harp, Gabe Schneider on guitar, Mark Dover on clarinet, Emi Ferguson on flute, Jon Lampley on trumpet, Rose Hashimoto on viola and Tara Hanish on cello.

The disc opens with “From The Inside Out,” an absolutely enchanting number. There is something so sexy about Lauren’s delivery. She grabbed me from the moment this song started. And she has plenty of good lyrics to deliver, like these lines: “You burn just like a fire/You cut just like a blade/You walk along a wire/And claim you’re unafraid/When you’ve been profane/And when you’ve been devout/I can feel your pain/From the inside out.” I love the way she holds onto the word “burn” there.  Oh man, how can you not fall for her voice? And then suddenly, her voice gives way to a male vocalist, his voice somehow matching that sexy vibe of hers. That is Leo Sidran, who composed the song. I love the strings backing that section. Then, when I figure, okay, the song can’t get any better, a horn rises from the wind and takes the track to another gorgeous level. The two voices then join together in a duet. This is a wonderful track from beginning to end, certainly a highlight of the album. It’s followed by “Something  Bigger,” a sweet, somewhat fanciful number written by Michael Thurber. It contains some playful lyrics, particularly at the beginning: “Cheeks and eyes, lips and nose/None of these are things I chose.” Yet the song touches on a serious matter, and one that is especially relevant today (when the so-called president used yet more racist language to attack certain women in Congress): “Class and race, hateful names/Those are lies, hurtful games/They are small/They are so petty and small/I am more, I am something bigger.”

“Alma Oscura,” the album’s title track, begins with some pretty work on flute, and features a gorgeous vocal performance. This one is sung in Spanish, and there is something intriguing, compelling about this track, particularly because of her vocals. But also that work on bass functions to keep me enraptured, especially the use of pauses. There are also nice touches on piano underneath that pretty lead on flute halfway through the track. Then “El Arbol” begins with a great explosion of sound. This song, written by Lauren Henderson, has a stimulating rhythm and vibe, and features some excellent work on piano. This one is also sung in Spanish, as is “Ven Muerte,” which follows it. This one has a romantic sound, a timeless sound that is tremendously appealing, especially with the strings. I also love the lead on horn. “Ven Muerte” was written by Michael Thurber, apparently for a production of Macbeth (which, yes, makes me love it all the more).

“Where Are You Now?” is an interesting song that has a somewhat haunting sound at times, and features a mesmerizing vocal performance. “When all the dust has settled/And all your cards are played/Was it worth the price that you’ve paid/It’s too late now/You’ve lost control.” The strings rise up through the mist in a beautiful way. This is another of my favorite tracks. It was written by Michael Thurber. It is followed by “Protocol,” yet another of the disc’s highlights, this one composed by Lauren Henderson. “Protocol” is compelling, building in some unexpected and absolutely wonderful ways, such as when the rhythm is established, and then when the strings come in. Fantastic work there. There is some wonderful stuff on piano as well. This track has a timeless and alluring sound. “Tired and contrite/I repent for every night/Love was molded to hate/And stained our beautiful fate.” The album then concludes with “Dream,” a song with a late-night vibe, Lauren’s voice supported by piano, a perfect closing number.

CD Track List
  1. From The Inside Out
  2. Something Bigger
  3. Alma Oscura
  4. El Arbol
  5. Ven Muerte
  6. Where Are You Now?
  7. Protocol
  8. Dream
Alma Oscura was released on June 28, 2019.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Eilen Jewell: “Gypsy” (2019) CD Review

Eilen Jewell is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter based in Boise, Idaho. Her style of music is folk, with strong country elements as well as a bit of blues. On her most recent release, Down Hearted Blues, which came out in 2017, she offered covers of some delicious blues numbers. Now on her new album, Gypsy, she goes back to original material (with one exception). She plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar and organ on this release. The band backing her includes her husband Jason Beek on drums and backing vocals, Jerry Miller on electric guitar and mandolin, and Shawn Supra on upright bass. There are also several special guests on various tracks.

The album opens with “Crawl,” which immediately establishes a good strong beat before Eilen Jewell’s vocals come in. Her voice here has a lot of country in it, and it is that powerful, raw, serious country, the kind that you can dig into, that digs into you. The music also has more than a dash of blues, as she sings “I want solitude/Don’t want to be alone/Want to put down roots/Want to be a rolling stone.” This track features some nice work by Katrina Nicolayeff on fiddle. And then that electric guitar is seriously cool, that jam reminding me a bit of CCR. It’s a solid track to get things going. That’s followed by “Miles To Go,” a beautiful song with a mellower folk vibe and some good work on bass. Of course, her vocals are the key to this track being one of the disc’s highlights. I love her honest delivery here. And there are lyrics that could work for any period of time: “I’ve got a wandering soul/It takes me down the line/Ain’t got a nickel, baby, ain’t got a lousy dime/Ain’t got a nickel, ain’t got a lousy dime/Lord, I got plenty of these hard times.” Another line that stands out is “Miles and miles to go before I sleep.” Now there’s a line that should be a part of anyone’s road trip mix tape.

Then we get into undeniable country territory with “You Cared Enough To Lie,” the disc’s only cover. It was written and originally recorded by Pinto Bennett, and also recorded by Reckless Kelly (a band that was formed in Jewell’s home state of Idaho). “If you never really loved me, you cared enough to lie.” I can’t help but think of the scoundrel in the White House whenever I hear a song about dishonesty, though I don’t think that bastard cares enough (or at all) about anyone other than himself. His lies are self-serving, and he’s been doing that shit all his life. Remember how he called reporters in the 1980s, pretending to be John Barron, his own spokesman? Anyway, this track features more nice work on fiddle, and some cool stuff on steel guitar. It is followed by one of my favorite tracks, “79 Cents (The Meow Song),” which is about the inequality of pay between men and women. As serious as the subject it, the song is a total delight. “But don’t complain/Or they’ll call you insane/People call me left-wing swine.”  What I love is the way she almost celebrates being called that, for then the backing vocalists join her in singing, “Left-wing swine, left-wing swine.” If you’ve been paying attention at all lately, if you are even slightly conscious, you probably think that men suck. Hell, I am a man, and I can’t help but think we suck too, what with men like Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein and Brett Kavanaugh all enjoying positions of power and some sort of inexplicable immunity, getting away with horrible crimes against women (though it looks like maybe finally one of them will be taken down). By the way, the “Meow” part of the song mentioned in the title is a direct reference to that rapist in the White House. Eilen Jewell sings, “He’s grabbing us right in the meow.” What we desperately need is some strong female energy in the White House. I am fervently hoping that a woman will be leading our nation after the next election.

“Beat The Drum” eases in at first, but soon comes on strong, like a force that is moving at us and shows no signs of weakness. Good thing too, for we need that strength to pick us up, to carry us through. “If we resist, we win the fight/If we don’t persist, our hope will die/Our hope will die, our hope will die.” And there is more good work on fiddle. This is yet another strong track. “I believe in you and me/I believe in the dream.” Eilen Jewell then gives us a prettier, more delicate number, “Gypsy,” the album’s title track. This one has a comforting, relaxing effect on me, which I certainly appreciate (like a lot of you, I’ve been on edge lately). That’s followed by another unabashed country number, “These Blues.” “Some fine day these blues are going to leave me alone/But at least for now they’ve made themselves at home.”

“Working Hard For Your Love” is an interesting love song that has a somewhat darker country and blues sound. That’s followed by “Who Else But You,” a completely engaging song, intimate and revealing and beautiful, with Eilen’s vocals clearly in focus, the other musicians unobtrusive in their support of her. “Why do I play it all so safe/Why can’t I let my true face show/I don’t know, it seems I lost the way/But there’s one thing I’m still certain of/My love for you has no end.” This is yet another of my favorites. “Witness” is an adorable tune, with something of a classic rhythm. Then “Hard Times” is a bluesy song that addresses hard times directly: “Don’t want to be mad no more/Hard times, get away from my door/Don’t want to be scared no more/Hard times, get away from my door.” The album then concludes with “Fear,” a wonderful folk song that tells us “Don’t take fear to be your guide,” a good message to leave us with.

CD Track List
  1. Crawl
  2. Miles To Go
  3. You Cared Enough To Lie
  4. 79 Cents (The Meow Song)
  5. Beat The Drum
  6. Gypsy
  7. These Blues
  8. Working Hard For Your Love
  9. Who Else But You
  10. Witness
  11. Hard Times
  12. Fear
Gypsy is scheduled to be released on August 16, 2019 through Signature Sounds.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Melbreeze: “Amethyst” (2016/2019) CD Review

Melbreeze is a jazz vocalist who was born in Turkey and has her own distinct approach to music. On her new album, Amethyst, she takes familiar songs and gives them a new sound, a new flavor. The first thing I noticed, however, was the album’s striking cover, with that sexy purple wig. Interestingly, the cover is basically the same as an earlier release, Turquoise, the only difference being the color of the wig and title. Amethyst follows last year’s Animazonia, on which she gave her spin to Brazilian songs like “One Note Samba” and “How Insensitive.” On this one she is joined by Scott Kinsey on keys (Kinsey is also responsible for the arrangements), Gary Novak on drums, Jimmy Haslip on bass and backing vocals (Haslip also produced the album), Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion and backing vocals, James Zota Baker on guitar, Oz Noy on guitar, Jeff Richman on guitar, Doug Livingston on pedal steel guitar, Larry Koonse on guitar, Brad Dutz on percussion, Judd Miller on electric valve instrument, Bob Reynolds on saxophone and clarinet, and Naina Kundu on backing vocals.

As the disc’s first track starts, I know I’m in for something unusual. The song is Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, but it begins with a strong and simple dance beat, already unlike other versions I’ve heard over the years. The music then has a funky, jazzy feel, with keys being the prominent instrument. And this is all before any of the lyrics are sung. Her vocals have a relaxed, alluring quality. The tune goes into this odd, dreamy segment nearly halfway through. After that, the percussion is more unleashed, getting loose. There is also some really good work on guitar on this track. Based on that first track, I was wondering how Melbreeze would handle “Sound Of Silence,” which follows it. This one begins as you would expect it to – gently, with an acoustic sound. Perhaps it is delivered just a bit faster than usual, but other than that, it is fairly standard. However, when it kicks in, it takes on an electronic sound, and a pronounced beat. Yet the vocals remain pretty. That’s followed by another Gershwin tune, “The Man I Love.” This too has a different feel from other versions I’ve heard, with a cool, cheerful rhythm. And I absolutely love the clarinet, helping to make this one of my favorite tracks. The way it combines classic and current sounds and styles is wonderful. Plus, this track features some nice work on keys. In addition to all that, Melbreeze gives us an absolutely delightful vocal performance here. The more I listen to this rendition, the more I feel it is one of the best I’ve heard. I certainly recommend checking it out. Then she gives us a nice take on “God Bless The Child.” I particularly enjoy the bass in this rendition of the classic Billie Holiday song, and there is a good little jam in the middle of the track.

These days I often find myself saying, “Everything must change.” And it must change soon. Doesn’t it feel like we’re heading straight into trouble that is so great that once we’re there it will be too late to stop it or fix it? With gun violence, and the destruction of the environment, and with an administration so corrupt that scandals sit atop other scandals and yet nothing brings it to an end. It feels like we’re rushing into an abyss from which there will be no return. Everything must change. Melbreeze’s rendition of “Everything Must Change” features more good stuff on bass, and the work on keys is again prominent. “Everything must change/Nothing stays the same/Everyone will change/No one stays the same.” There is a cool, kind of funky instrumental section toward the end. While most of the songs Melbreeze has chosen to include on this release are oft-covered tunes, there is one song I don’t believe I’d heard before, “Sailor And Widow.” It was written and originally recorded by Keren Ann Zeidel. Melbreeze’s rendition has a dance beat and an interesting vocal delivery. That’s followed by “Cry Me A River.” The first version of “Cry Me A River” I ever heard was Joe Cocker’s (from Mad Dogs & Englishmen), and so it is to this rendition that I can’t help but compare all others. This version by Melbreeze is smoother, with a decent groove, and I like the jam, which features some good work on guitar. “Greensleeves” is such a beautiful piece of music, and Melbreeze’s rendition retains that beauty, while adding modern touches, including a beat. I really like this version, and the jam toward the end kind of rocks (something you probably wouldn’t expect from this song), with some great work on electric guitar.

There were a few things that drew me to this album. The first, as I mentioned, was the cover. The second was the presence of two Gershwin songs (you can never go wrong with Gershwin). But the main reason I wanted to hear this album was the inclusion of a Leonard Cohen song. Leonard Cohen is my favorite songwriter, and I am always excited to hear an artist’s take on his material. Melbreeze chooses “Hallelujah,” and yes, that’s an obvious choice, but still a good one. This version is unlike any other I’ve heard, beginning with percussion, and developing a loose, jazzy groove. It is nearly a minute before the vocals come in. And the song is delivered at a faster clip than usual. As you probably know, there are several verses to this song, and Leonard Cohen changed them over the years. Here Melbreeze chooses four verses for her rendition. The first verse she sings is, of course, the “secret chord” verse; the second is the “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof” verse; the third is the “I used to live alone before I knew ya” verse.  She ends with the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse. This version features some really cool stuff on bass. Well, it might seem an odd choice to follow Leonard Cohen with a Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet, but that is what Melbreeze does, giving us “Islands In The Stream,” a song written by the Bee Gees (who recorded their own version nearly two decades after the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers rendition). The country is basically gone from this rendition, but I still like it. The disc then concludes with another interesting choice, John Waite’s “Missing You,” a song you just couldn’t avoid in 1984. Melbreeze’s rendition is fairly faithful to vibe of the original.

CD Track List
  1. Summertime
  2. The Sound Of Silence
  3. The Man I Love
  4. God Bless The Child
  5. Everything Must Change
  6. Sailor And Widow
  7. Cry Me A River
  8. Friendless
  9. Send In The Clowns
  10. Greensleeves
  11. Hallelujah
  12. Islands In The Streams
  13. Missing You 
Amethyst is scheduled to be released on July 26, 2019. It was released as an import a few years ago.

Mitch Ryder: “Detroit Breakout!” (2019) CD Review

A couple of years ago I saw Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels at the Simi Valley Cajun And Blues Festival, and their set was a highlight of the weekend and reignited my passion for this band. Then late last year, Mitch Ryder released a Christmas record, Christmas (Take A Ride), one of the more enjoyable holiday albums of recent years. Now Mitch Ryder is rocking again, letting loose with Detroit Breakout! This album finds him covering some classic rock and soul numbers, with special guests on each track. The album’s title, of course, brings to mind the 1966 Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels LP Breakout…!!! (the album that included “Devil With A Blue Dress”).

This disc opens with a new rendition of “Devil With A Blue Dress,” a song that was a huge hit for Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels in the sixties. As back then, the song is paired with “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and it rocks, with a true rock and roll sound, and plenty of good guitar work from special guest James Williamson (from The Stooges). Mitch Ryder follows that with a version of “Cool Jerk,” a song that was a hit for The Capitols in 1966. This version is fairly faithful to the original, and features Wayne Kramer (of MC5) on guitar and Brian Auger on piano, and it is their work which elevates this rendition to something special.

I am from Massachusetts, so “Dirty Water” holds a special place in my heart (they still play it at Fenway). It was originally recorded by The Standells, who were from Los Angeles, not Boston, but no worries there. Mitch Ryder’s rendition here is quite a bit different from the original, apparent right from its opening, with that screaming guitar. Mitch Ryder puts his own spin on this one, with the help of Sylvain Sylvain (from the New York Dolls) on guitar and backing vocals. The guitar is certainly more prominent, wailing above that delicious rhythm. Mitch also changes the river, moving it from the Charles to the Detroit, thus taking the song away from Boston. But I still enjoy it. Another track that really rocks is “Have Love, Will Travel,” which features Paul Rudolph (of the Pink Fairies) on guitar and backing vocals. This one has a solid and glorious and raw garage rock sound, and it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun. That’s followed by “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” a song that was a hit for The Monkees (one of my all-time favorite bands). Of course, this song was originally done by Paul Revere And The Raiders. There have been some interesting covers of this one over the years, including versions by Sex Pistols, Minor Threat and Johnny Thunders. Mitch Ryder really sinks his teeth into it, finding the song’s pulse and ripping it open, letting the tune loose. This version owes something to the punk versions, and features Walter Lure, who played with Johnny Thunders in The Heartbreakers, on guitar and backing vocals.

Mitch Ryder delivers a cool, unusual take on “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream),” featuring Cherie Currie (of The Runaways) on backing vocals. This is certainly a bit of a departure from Roy Orbison’s original version, having more of a raw sound. There is even some panting audible toward the end. I really dig this version, and like it more each time I listen to it. That’s followed by “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of A Bay,” a song I love. Mitch Ryder does a good job with it. Here he is joined by Arthur Adams on guitar and backing vocals. Arthur echoes Mitch, and adds some other vocal riffs throughout the track. Mitch Ryder offers a jumping rendition of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  He is clearly having a good time with this one, and that means a fun time for us too. This track features Joe Louis Walker on guitar and backing vocals.

Mitch Ryder gives us his takes on a couple of Sam Cooke tunes. The first, “You Send Me,” features some really nice work by Linda Gail Lewis on piano. Mitch’s vocals have a sweet, endearing quality here. The second is a fun and lively rendition of “Twistin’ The Night Away,” with Joe Louis Walker again joining Mitch on guitar and backing vocals. I particularly enjoy his guitar lead halfway through the track. Perhaps the oddest choice of songs to cover on this album is Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer,” but Mitch’s rendition fits right in with the rest of the tracks on this disc. It has a swinging soul groove, and features some wonderful work on piano by Linda Gail Lewis, who also provides backing vocals. This track is a delightful surprise. Linda Gail Lewis joins Mitch again for the album’s closing number, “Shout.”

CD Track List
  1. Devil With A Blue Dress
  2. Cool Jerk
  3. Dirty Water
  4. If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time
  5. Have Love, Will Travel
  6. (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  7. Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)
  8. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay
  9. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
  10. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
  11. You Send Me
  12. Twistin’ The Night Away
  13. If I Had A Hammer
  14. Shout
Detroit Breakout! was released on June 14, 2019 on Cleopatra Records.