Monday, June 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Uncovered Vol. 2 (2016) CD Review

Bob Dylan is one of the best and most prolific songwriters of our time. Ten years ago, a collection of his songs covered by other artists, Bob Dylan Uncovered, was released. It featured artists like Cadillac Moon, Russ Seeger and The Walkers. And now, to celebrate Bob Dylan’s seventy-fifth birthday, we are getting a second volume, Bob Dylan Uncovered Vol. 2, featuring sixteen Dylan songs done by a variety of artists. Two of them, Russ Seeger and Caroline Doctorow, had tracks on the first volume, but the rest are artists new to the series. Included here are some of Dylan’s most well-known songs such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” but also some of his lesser-known gems, like “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” A portion of the money raised from sales of this wonderful compilation goes to Rock Can Roll, a non-profit hunger-relief organization.

The CD opens with Bill Shuren & The Cavalry doing “I’m Alright,” a song that was included on the eleventh volume of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, The Basement Tapes Raw. “I’m a three-time loser now, but I’m alright.” It’s a good version with a full-band sound and vocal performance that works perfectly with the lyrics. That’s followed by a fun rendition of “Hazel” by Allen Santoriello & The Gunslingers, with great stuff on keys. This is a song from Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves record. The version here has more of a positive groove and tone.

I love the Desire album, and it’s great to get this powerful, gorgeous rendition of “Oh Sister,” performed by Russ Seeger, joined by vocalist Michele Sivori. I always liked the violin on this song, and in this rendition there is a delightful, surprising moment with fiddle approximately three minutes in. It is followed by another of this disc’s highlights, a pretty and delicate rendition of “Time Passes Slowly,” a song from New Morning. This version by Caroline Doctorow is just absolutely wonderful; it’s the kind of song you want to reach out to, to meet it halfway. I love Caroline’s voice. Annie Mark and Chris James deliver a soulful rendition of “I Threw It All Away,” an excellent tune from Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record. Michele Sivori provides some backing vocals on this track, and then both Annie Mark and Michele Sivori provide some excellent backing vocals on Jenna Silverman’s cool version of “New Pony.” I also really like Chris Laybourne’s work on tenor sax on that track.

A lot of these artists take the songs in different directions, giving them their own personal spins. Bob Westcott gives us an interesting rendition of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” (here listed as “Love Minus Zero, No Limit”). It’s done almost like spoken word to just acoustic guitar accompaniment. There is something almost lullaby-like about this version, with a comforting late-night feel. Claudia Jacobs turns in an interesting rendition of “Buckets Of Rain,” giving it a New Orleans vibe, complete with delicious work on trombone by James Hubbard, very different from Dylan’s original. “Buckets Of Rain” was originally included on Bob Dylan’s fantastic Blood On The Tracks record. And the CD concludes with a surprisingly upbeat rendition of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Miles To Dayton, kicking off with a drumbeat that also has a New Orleans feel (you could imagine them going right into "Iko Iko" instead of this Bob Dylan number). This rendition features some nice blending of voices.

CD Track List
  1. I’m Alright – Bill Shuren & The Cavalry
  2. Hazel – Allen Santoriello & The Gunslingers
  3. Oh Sister – Russ Seeger featuring Michele Sivori
  4. Time Passes Slowly – Caroline Doctorow
  5. I’ll Keep It With Mine – Jack Licitra
  6. The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Pat Wictor
  7. I Threw It All Away – Annie Mark & Chris James
  8. Love Minus Zero, No Limit – Bob Westcott
  9. New Pony – Jenna Silverman
  10. Chimes Of Freedom – Gathering Time
  11. I Pity The Poor Immigrant – Hank Stone
  12. Queen Jane Approximately – Butchers Blind
  13. From A Buick 6 – The Hideaways
  14. I Want You – Joe Cumia
  15. Buckets Of Rain – Claudia Jacobs
  16. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight – Miles To Dayton
Bob Dylan Uncovered Vol. 2 is available now on Paradiddle Records.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tomato/Tomato: “I Go Where You Go” (2016) CD Review

Tomato/Tomato is the bluegrass project of the husband and wife duo of John and Lisa McLaggan. I was turned onto them a couple of years ago when they released their debut full-length CD, So It Goes, an album that made me happy from the moment it started. Their new release, I Go Where You Go, features mostly original tunes written by John McLaggan. As on the first CD, they are joined by Ray Legere on fiddle and mandolin (and guitar on one track). Also joining them this time around are Dillon Robichaud on banjo, Andrew Sneddon on dobro, Remi Arsenault on bass and backing vocals, Mark Hill on guitar and Kaitlyn Raitz on cello.

They start this one off with a wonderful, fun tune titled “Ain’t Dead Yet,” in which they sing “I may be living on borrowed time/But that don’t matter a bit/There may be a bounty on my head/Oh no, I ain’t dead yet.” Ah, sometimes that’s the most, the best we can say about our current situation: “I ain’t dead yet.” But if you’re going to say it, you might as well sing it. Kaitlyn Raitz plays cello on this track, and Remi Arsenault is on bass. There is also some nice work both on banjo and dobro. By the way, they put out a video for this song, which shows them recording the tune, as well as some concert footage. This song is followed by “I Go Where You Go,” the album’s title track. It is a sweet, kind of corny tune designed to make you feel good. “I hope you’re feeling it too/’Cause everything’s better with you.” Oh, I am definitely feeling it.

One of my absolute favorites is “Steal Ya.” Right from the beginning I am in love with it, with the fiddle and its great old-time European vibe. About the woman’s affection, is it flattering or frightening? Maybe a bit of the first and a whole lot of the second. “The time for talk has found its end/Say goodbye to your little friend/Grab your coat and follow me/Let’s go make some history.” I love the way Lisa delivers the lyrics to this one. Her vocal performance is one of the elements that make this song something really special. And of course how can you help but love that fiddle? Another of this disc’s great tracks is “I Never Knew Her Name,” a slow, wonderful waltz, about missing a woman who once came to the diner where the guy worked. “Well, she don’t come round here no more/I keep looking to the window, staring at the door/Though I never knew her name/Still, I miss her just the same/No, she don’t come round here no more/No, she don’t come around here no more.” John sings lead on this one. And when the man of this song first sees her, he sings, “It felt like a movie about to begin.” Ah, such a good feeling. Then later he sings, “Our movie was over before it’d begun.”

“Peg Leg Joe” begins with some wonderful guitar, and features some nice blending of voices. “I need to get across the river/I need to see the other side/The way I’m living ain’t fit for a dog/I shouldn’t have to say it, but it ain’t right.” This song has a great, cool vibe, and I dig Lisa’s work on washboard. Mark Hill plays guitar on this track. Mark also plays guitar on “The Best We’ll Ever Know,” a really sweet tune that is another of this disc highlights. I’m also quite fond of the beautiful folk song “Back To Eden,” again featuring some good vocals as well as some nice touches on mandolin. “It’s a long way back to Eden/The road is overgrown/It’s a long way back to Eden/We’re traveling alone.”

The CD concludes with its only cover tune, “Rabbit In A Log,” a fast-paced fun bluegrass number which has been played by a lot of artists over the years. Folks like Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and The Hillbilly Goats have delivered renditions of this song. This version by Tomato/Tomato is really good, and it is this track that features Ray Legere on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Ain’t Dead Yet
  2. I Go Where You Go
  3. Steal Ya
  4. Lemon Pie
  5. I Never Knew Her Name
  6. Peg Leg Joe
  7. Running Like Hell
  8. The Best We’ll Ever Know
  9. Everything You Need
  10. Back To Eden
  11. Rabbit In A Log 
I Go Where You Go was released on June 10, 2016.

10,000 Maniacs: “Playing Favorites” (2016) CD Review

Natalie Merchant left 10,000 Maniacs more than two decades ago, so it’s interesting to me that a new album from the band titled Playing Favorites would still concentrate on material that she wrote or co-wrote. Ten of the fourteen tracks were written or co-written by Merchant. Of course, there is no denying that they are great songs, that they are among fans’ favorites. It’s also interesting that they’ve returned to a live album of old favorites following 2015’s album of folk covers, Twice Told Tales. The core of the band remains the same: Jerome Augustyniak on drums, Dennis Drew on keys, Steve Gustafson on bass, and John Lombardo on guitar and vocals, along with now long-time members Jeff Erickson on lead guitar and Mary Ramsey on vocals and violin and viola. Joining them on this release are Melanie Luciano on backing vocals and acoustic guitar, Bryan Eckenrode on cello, Oliver Chezliak on trombone, Eric Crittenden on alto saxophone and Robert Browning on tenor saxophone. These tracks were recorded at the show the band did in Jamestown, New York on September 13, 2014. It’s not the full show, but more than an hour of music. There is no stage banter. The liner notes contain several photos.

The CD kicks off with “What’s The Matter Here?” which was a big hit for the band. It was included on In My Tribe, which was the first 10,000 Maniacs record for many of us. I bought it on cassette when it came out (so, yeah, my copy has “Peace Train”). This song really struck me at the time, because while it has a kind of bright pop feel, its lyrics are on a serious subject, which surprised me then. “If you don't sit in your chair straight/I'll take this belt from around my waist/And don't you think that I won't use it.” I love the way they present that section in this rendition. And Mary Ramsey really delivers a powerful and emotional reading of the following lines: “Well, answer me and take your time/What could be the awful crime/He could do at so young an age?/If I'm the only witness to your madness/Offer me some words to balance/Out what I see and what I hear.” This song was written by Robert Buck and Natalie Merchant. It’s followed by “Like The Weather,” another hit from In My Tribe, though I should mention that this isn’t delivered like a continuous live performance. The tracks fade out. The songs on this CD are not presented in the order that they were performed at the concert. That being said, this is a really good version, with some humorous touches on guitar. Also from In My Tribe, they play a really fun rendition of “My Sister Rose” (one of my favorite tracks) and “Hey Jack Kerouac,” both with the horn section. (“Hey Jack Kerouac” closed out the show that night.)

“Love Among The Ruins” was the title track of the first album the band released with Mary Ramsey as the new lead vocalist. It has a happy and innocent vibe. The song is credited to the band and Jules Shear. Other songs from Love Among The Ruins that the band plays here are “Rainy Day” and the cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” (a tune written by Bryan Ferry). “More Than This” was also released as a single, and 10,000 Maniacs had a hit with it. I love the strings on this live version. It’s followed by one of the CD’s highlights, “Can’t Ignore The Train,” and part of what makes this version so wonderful is the work on strings right at the beginning. Also, it has a great energy. “Can’t Ignore The Train” was written by Natalie Merchant and John Lombardo. And that’s followed by another of the CD’s highlights, a cool, long version of “Stockton Gala Days,” which includes a wonderful instrumental intro. This track is excellent from beginning to end, probably my favorite on this CD; it features some fantastic playing by the entire band. There is also an excellent cover of “Because The Night,” a song the band included on another live album, MTV Unplugged.

CD Track List
  1. What’s The Matter Here?
  2. Like The Weather
  3. Love Among The Ruins
  4. Trouble Me
  5. More Than This
  6. Can’t Ignore The Train
  7. Stockton Gala Days
  8. Because The Night
  9. Rainy Day
  10. Candy Everybody Wants 
  11. My Sister Rose
  12. Hey Jack Kerouac
  13. These Are Days
  14. My Mother The War
Playing Favorites was released on June 3, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Air Supply: “The Columbia & Arista Years: The Definitive Collection” (2016) CD Review

My parents listened to a lot of Air Supply while I was growing up, and so I listened to a lot of Air Supply while I was growing up, and I remember thinking that the band must have been contractually obligated to put the word “Love” in their song titles. Their hits included “Lost In Love,” “All Out Of Love,” “The One That You Love,” “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” “Young Love,” “The Power Of Love” and so on. All of these songs are on the new two-disc compilation, The Columbia & Arista Years: The Definitive Collection. And these songs still hold up, still have the power to move me. A decade or so ago Air Supply did a free show in a park in Woodland Hills, and I’m still kicking myself for missing it. Somehow I still haven’t seen these guys in concert. For now, I’ll just enjoy this new set, which includes thirty songs from the years 1977 to 1987, as well as liner notes which tell the story of the band.

The first disc opens with “Empty Pages,” from the album Love And Other Bruises. And actually this was a newer version of a song from their first album, 1976’s self-titled Australian release. “Love And Other Bruises” was likewise originally included on the band’s self-titled debut. The version included here is the one from Love And Other Bruises. These are songs I wasn’t all that familiar with (my parents must not have owned these first few records), but am enjoying now. But by the third track, “Lost In Love,” we’re into the band’s big hits, and the ones I remember so well from my childhood. This song was included on the band’s Life Support album, and then re-recorded to be the title track of their next album, and it’s this second version that is included here. It’s still so pretty. “You know you can’t fool me/I’ve been loving you too long.” This song makes me want to slow dance with a girl in a school gym. Who’s up for it?

I feel so silly, but these songs are having a stronger effect on me than I’d expected. “All Out Of Love” still works so well. “And what would you say if I called on you now/And said that I can’t hold on/There’s no easy way, it gets harder each day/Please love me or I’ll be gone, I’ll be gone/I’m all out of love/I’m so lost without you.” Beautiful. And it’s followed by another big one, “Every Woman In The World.” “Girl, you’re every woman in the world to me/You’re my fantasy, you’re my reality.” “Just Another Woman” was also included on both Life Support and Lost In Love, and is more of a dance song. Check out that groovy bass line.

“The One That You Love” was the title track to the band’s next record, with that famous hot air balloon cover. This record was everywhere in 1981, and this song was played a lot, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is beautiful, and I love the way it builds, starting off somewhat quietly with just vocals and keys and then becoming something powerful. Their voices are just incredible. “Love is everywhere, I know it is/Such moments as this are too few/Oh, it’s all up to you, it’s all up to you.” This was always one of my favorites. Also included from that record are “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You),” which was another hit for the group, “Don’t Turn Me Away,” “I Want To Give It All” and “Keeping The Love Alive.” The version of “Sweet Dreams” included here is the single version, which is a bit shorter than the album version. “Close your eyes, I want to ride the skies/In my sweet dreams/Close your eyes, I want to see you tonight/In my sweet dreams.”

The first disc then concludes with a couple of tracks from the group’s Now And Forever album – “Come What May” and the title track. “Come What May” was written by Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil, and is about a special love. “When she looks at me/I know the girl sees things nobody else can see/All of the secret fears inside/And all the craziness I hide.”

The second disc begins with more tracks from Now And Forever (seven of the album’s ten tracks are included in this compilation), beginning with another of the group’s big hits, “Even The Nights Are Better.” This one was written by J.L. Wallace, Kenneth Bell and Terry Skinner. “I never dreamed there’d be someone to hold me/Until you told me/And now that I’ve found you/Even the nights are better.” “Young Love” and “Two Less Lonely People In The World” were also hits, though didn’t reach as high a position on the chart as did “Even The Nights Are Better,” both reaching #38 on Billboard Hot 100.

One of Air Supply’s best songs is “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” from the band’s 1983 Greatest Hits compilation (it was not released on an LP prior to its inclusion as a hit, though was released as a single). This song was written by Jim Steinman, who is known for writing all of the songs on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell (including “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” one of my favorite songs).  He also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” another fantastic song. When “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” peaked at #2 on the chart, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” was in the #1 spot. “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” features such a great vocal performance; the song demands it, in fact. It sounds like a Meat Loaf song. By the way, Max Weinberg plays drums on this track, and Roy Bittan is on keys (both are members of The E Street Band). And those great backing vocalists? They also sing on “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.” “And I don’t know how you do it, making love out of nothing at all.”

That’s followed by “I Can Wait Forever,” a song from the 1984 soundtrack to Ghostbusters. It was written by Graham Russell, David Foster and Jay Graydon. There are a couple of tracks from the 1985 self-titled album, including “Just As I Am” and “I Can’t Let Go.” The version of “The Power Of Love (You Are My Lady)” is the single version, which is more than a minute shorter than the album version. The album version, by the way, is simply titled “The Power Of Love.” Four tracks from the 1986 record Hearts In Motion are included here. “Lonely Is The Night” was written by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren; it reached #76 on the Billboard chart. “Lonely is the night when I'm not with you/Lonely is the night/Ain't no light shining through/’Til you're in my arms/’Til you're here by my side/Lonely am I.” This collection concludes with “Love Is All,” a song from The Christmas Album, the group’s final Arista record.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Empty Pages
  2. Love And Other Bruises
  3. Lost In Love
  4. All Out Of Love
  5. Every Woman In The World
  6. Just Another Woman
  7. Chances
  8. The One That You Love
  9. Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)
  10. Don’t Turn Me Away
  11. Sweet Dreams (single version)
  12. I Want To Give It All
  13. Keeping The Love Alive
  14. Come What May
  15. Now And Forever
Disc Two
  1. Even The Nights Are Better
  2. Young Love
  3. Taking The Chance
  4. Two Less Lonely People In The World
  5. One Step Closer
  6. Making Love Out Of Nothing At All
  7. I Can Wait Forever
  8. Just As I Am
  9. The Power Of Love (You Are My Lady) (single version)
  10. I Can’t Let Go
  11. Lonely Is The Night
  12. One More Chance
  13. It’s Not Too Late
  14. Stars In Your Eyes
  15. Love Is All 
The Columbia & Arista Years: The Definitive Collection was released on June 3, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Jocelyn Michelle: “Time To Play!” (2016) CD Review

Jazz organist Jocelyn Michelle’s debut CD, Time To Play!, features a lot of original material, with Latin, soul and pop influences. But it was her cover of “The Pink Panther Theme” that initially got me interested in this disc. It’s a tune I love, and she does a great job with it (but more on that in a bit). On this CD, Jocelyn is joined by John Rack on guitar, Bruce Forman on guitar, Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, Steve Mann on tenor saxophone and alto saxophone, Stan Martin on trumpet, Andrea Lindborg on trumpet, Sammy K on drums, Brad Dutz on percussion, Gina Saputo on vocals, and Regina Leonard Smyth on vocals. By the way, in addition to organ, Jocelyn Michelle plays guitar on one track and piano on another.

The disc opens with one of Jocelyn’s compositions, “Englewood Cliffs,” a light, fun, happy-sounding tune, with some great work on guitar by Bruce Forman (who, as you might know, is a band leader himself). I also appreciate Stan Martin’s work on trumpet. And yeah, I can’t help it, but the sound of the organ at times makes me think of being at a baseball game, particularly around the five-minute mark, and perhaps that’s part of what makes me happy about this tune. After all, I love being at baseball games. And then check out those drums toward the end! “A Sister’s Love” also has a bright, positive vibe, with a good groove. This was also written by Jocelyn Michelle. It goes in a wilder direction toward the end, with more great drumming by Sammy K. One of my favorite tracks is “Sunnier Days,” another original tune, and this one too features some wonderful drumming. Several short solos help make this a highlight for me. But everyone just seems to really groove on this track, having a great time, and this tune makes me happy as a result. I love that guitar work by Bruce Forman.

“Sylvia’s Song,” another original composition, is a cool tune, with the saxophone really acting like a voice. In fact, it surprises me that there aren’t lyrics to this one; at moments I wanted to sing along with it. Of course, perhaps I’m just mad. But it has such a strong voice, a strong lyrical quality to this tune. There is also a groove to get you moving. One track that does have lyrics is “Oh No, Could I Be In Love,” also written by Jocelyn, but sung by vocalist Gina Saputo. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Oh no, could I be in love/It’s the last thing I was looking for.”  There is a kind of laid-back feel to this track; even the impressive guitar work seems to flow naturally, easily. The album’s final track, “The Loss,” is the other to include vocals, this time provided by Regina Leonard Smyth. This track is another highlight for me, and Jocelyn plays piano on this one, as well as organ. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “What can you say when it’s all said and done/At the end of this life that was yours/And you just don’t know how to face what comes now/What, tell me what, is it for.”

As for cover tunes, Jocelyn Michelle delivers a cool rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” a song which had some jazzy elements to begin with. Doug Webb really shines on tenor sax on this track, and Brad Dutz provides some nice percussion. Andrea Lindborg plays the trumpet intro, and Stan Martin’s trumpet later interacts so well with Doug Webb’s sax. But I am particularly fond of what Jocelyn does on organ here. This is an instrumental rendition. As I mentioned, I’ve always loved “The Pink Panther Theme.” Even when some of the later Pink Panther films (such as Trail Of The Pink Panther) failed to live up to expectations, the music was an element you could count on to work perfectly. And Jocelyn does a fantastic rendition here. It’s so cool, loose at the right moments, and just wonderful throughout. It makes me want to revisit the films (well, the first several, anyway). Jocelyn Michelle also does a sort of odd rendition of “Last Tango In Paris,” with something of a dance beat. This rendition has more of a 1970s vibe than the original, which actually came out in the 1970s, and features some fun work on organ. The CD’s final cover is a version of “Never Let Me Go,” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and recorded by folks like Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington.

CD Track List
  1. Englewood Cliffs
  2. Sylvia’s Song
  3. Trouble Man
  4. A Sister’s Love
  5. Oh No, Could I Be In Love
  6. The Pink Panther Theme
  7. Last Tango In Paris
  8. Sunnier Days
  9. Never Let Me Go
  10. The Loss
Time To Play! was released on May 10, 2016 on Chicken Coup Records.

Tommy Womack: “Namaste” (2016) CD Review

Tommy Womack’s remarkable new album, Namaste, is several shades of wonderful. It features all original material, written or co-written by Womack, and this is truly some excellent and witty songwriting. The music combines elements of country, folk and blues, sometimes used humorously, but always honestly. This album had me laughing aloud several times, but also moved me. It’s a very human collection of songs. Take a look at the cover photo. It was taken at a benefit concert after Tommy Womack was in a horrific car accident, busting ribs and pelvis. He’s clearly thankful, but he also seems both relaxed and joyful. And it seems that all of what he was feeling at that moment is in the songs on this disc. It’s one of those albums that I liked almost immediately, but which by the end I was completely adoring.

The album opens with “Angel,” which has kind of a sweet, catchy older folk rock vibe, coming as a delightful surprise the first time I popped in this disc. “Angel, you got me on my knees/I got problems.” That’s followed by “Comb-Over Blues,” one of the tracks that had me laughing out loud. It’s a very humorous blues tune, with funny lines, such as “I ain’t got a lot to lose/I got the comb-over blues” and “I look good from the front, but I’m not fooling anyone” and “I’ve got every last follicle doing the work of five.” When my hair went away, I ended up giving up and shaving my head fairly soon, my way of dealing with these particular blues.

“End Of The Line” also has some catchy elements, with a strangely positive vibe mixed with lines that might not seem all that positive. Lines like “I had to hock my old guitar at the end of the line/The end of the line is where you will find a loser’s blues like mine/Just getting by at the end of the line.” The tone makes it all seem okay. “End Of The Line” was written by Tommy Womack and Rich McCulley. It’s followed by one of my favorite tracks, “It’s Been All Over Before,” an excellent folk song that reminds me a bit of some of Bob Dylan’s work, the basic structure. I loved this song the first time I listened to this CD, and I love it more and more each time I put it on. Check out these lyrics: “I can tell the way you nurse that drink you’ve had a rotten year/I can’t touch it anymore, but I still like to hang out here/I take it from your screams he doesn’t love you anymore/So you’re saying it’s all over, but it’s been all over before.” And these: “I’m closer to the day when Father Time shows me the door/I didn’t cry when it was over/It had been all over before.” I just can’t get enough of this song. It’s one of those wonderful tunes that simultaneously makes me happy and brings tears to my eyes.

“Darling Let Your Free Bird Fly” is a bluesy song full of references to all sorts of musicians, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Hank Williams, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sting and Ronnie Van Zant. The David Lee Roth reference cracks me up (adding “Scooby Doo” to his odd little scat in “I Ain’t Got Nobody”). And the title is a reference to the song that is still (usually jokingly) requested at concerts of all kinds. And the next song, “God Part III,” has a reference to John Lennon’s “God,” in the title and also in the line, “I believe in Beatles” (playing on John’s “I don’t believe in Beatles”). The title is Part III because U2 has a song titled “God Part II,” which is also referring to the John Lennon song. In that one, Bono sings, “I believe in love,” which Tommy Womack also sings in “God Part III.” “God Part III” is one of the best songs about Jesus I’ve ever heard, and appropriately Womack chooses a classic country style to tackle the subject. “The sermon on the mount is a treasure to behold/Not a word is wasted, every line is gold/It should be required reading for every girl and boy/It’s one part of The Bible I actually enjoy.”

When “I Almost Died” began, I didn’t expect to be singing along to it, but within two minutes I was. This album is so ridiculously strong. “I almost died, I almost died/The lord or the devil nearly had my hide/Everything ground to a halt inside/God in heaven, I almost died.” Suddenly there is a live track, which Tommy Womack introduces, “This is a work in progress called ‘Nashville.’” He delivers it in a spoken word style, with a beat jazz vibe. And yeah, it’s perfect that this is a live recording. I can’t imagine a studio rendition; it wouldn’t have the right energy, the right vibe, the right honesty. You know? It’s great that we hear the audience laughing, hear their reactions to lines like “Nashville is boiling over, people/Astronauts can see us from space/Spill a glass of expensive wine in the front yard/And watch a condominium sprout up in its place” and “Writing songs by committee is like making laws or sausage/You don’t want to see it being done/It’s best you just don’t know.” And I dig the female backing vocals. Holy shit, this is a good tune. “Nashville” was written by Tommy Womack, Will Kimbrough, Lisa Oliver Gray, Paul Griffith and Matt Fell.

“Hot Flash Woman” had me laughing out loud. “She’s a hot flash woman, wearing me out/Baby, won’t you turn that furnace down/Tossing and turning, wicked and strange/Hot flash woman feeling the change/She looks at men who could be her son/Gotta have chocolate, I gotta run/Can’t show skin, can’t get to sleep/My baby’s losing what she can’t keep.” I have to remember to play this song for my girlfriend. Will she laugh or slap me? Either way, it will be fine. She’s not quite there yet anyway, but, bugger, we are getting older. How are you doing? “Hot Flash Woman” was written by Tommy Womack and Lisa Oliver Gray. This album then ends with a sweet and pretty folk tune titled “It’s A Beautiful Morning.” Am I mad, or is there a bit of “On Top Of Old Smokey” to this? “It’s A Beautiful Morning” was written by Tommy Womack and John Hadley. “Wherever you’re going, I’m on your way.”

CD Track List
  1. Angel
  2. Comb-Over Blues
  3. End Of The Line
  4. It’s Been All Over Before
  5. Darling Let Your Free Bird Fly
  6. God Part III
  7. I Almost Died
  8. When Country Singers Were Ugly
  9. Nashville
  10. Hot Flash Woman
  11. It’s A Beautiful Morning 
Namaste is scheduled to be released on June 24, 2016.

Leslie Stevens Band at Bootleg Theater, 6-7-16: Photos

I caught a great night of music at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. Miranda Lee Richards kicked off the show with a really good full-band set. Then Henry Wagons delivered a phenomenal solo set (while suffering from jet lag after his flight from Australia). He was the artist I was there to see. But I had listened to a couple of tracks from Leslie Stevens before heading out, and I liked what I heard, and so stayed for her set. I’m so glad I did. She did an excellent set, with several special guests. I was particularly impressed by the blending of vocals when she was joined by her Dear Lemon Trees bandmates. I also appreciated her charmingly awkward sense of humor, and was glad she did “Everybody Drinks And Drives In Heaven” (one of the songs I’d listened to earlier in the day). Here are a few photos from her set: