Sunday, September 23, 2018

Vince Guaraldi: “The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings” (2018) CD Review

When you’re compiling a list of the most joyful songs ever – as I am sure everyone is wont to do now and again – one tune you’d certainly include (unless of course you’d gone temporarily insane) is Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus And Lucy.” This song feels like pure joy, with innocence and determination. And that is the song that opens The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings, the new compilation of Guaraldi’s work. This two-disc set includes three complete albums, as well as several previously unreleased tracks. There are also new liner notes by Derrick Bang.

The first disc contains two complete albums – 1968’s Oh, Good Grief! and 1969’s The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi. On both of these, Vince Guaraldi plays electric harpsichord as well as piano. Oh, Good Grief! is, as you might guess from the title, made up of music for the Peanuts cartoons. All of the tracks are originals, written by Vince Guaraldi. As I mentioned, it opens with “Linus And Lucy,” one of Guaraldi’s two most famous compositions. This is the one people usually think of when they think of the Peanuts Theme. And this is an excellent version, lively and totally enjoyable. It’s followed by “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown,” which feels like a strange and magical amusement ride, something that is fun and light, and also loving and gentle. “Peppermint Patty” is one that perhaps isn’t as known and beloved as some of the other Peanuts themes, but I am kind of crazy about it. Peppermint Patty was my favorite character when I was kid, so that might be part of it. This track becomes a kind of intense late 1960s jam, which is wonderful. Then “Great Pumpkin Waltz” comes in great contrast, its delivery more traditional and sweet. Still, there is some really good stuff on guitar.

Joy simply abounds in “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” (which, as explained in the set’s liner notes, had been previously incorrectly titled “It’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown”). There is something comforting about this music, which, sure, might be partly due to my having first fallen in love with it when I was a child. The title track, “Oh, Good Grief!,” has a delicious Brazilian vibe. Geez, how cool were children’s television specials back then? I guess I’m lucky to have grown up when I did (though I assume they’re still showing these cartoons to kids, or at least I hope they are). One of the best tracks is “Red Baron.” It contains little nods to “Linus And Lucy,” but goes in a widely different direction, and is completely enjoyable. Oh, Good Grief! then concludes with “Rain, Rain Go Away,” a pretty and relaxing tune that begins with wonderful stuff on piano and also features some interesting, cool work on guitar.

The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi album then begins with “Nobody Else.” Immediately, you’ll notice a difference in the sound for this album, with the presence of strings. Another major difference is that most of the tracks on this album were composed by other people. “Nobody Else,” however, is one of the exceptions. I like some of the work on strings, and some of it I don’t care for, but I love Vince Guaraldi’s piano part. That’s followed by “Lucifer’s Lady,” a cool tune. To me at the beginning the piano sounds like it’s delivering an amped up version of The Classics IV’s “Spooky.” This one is all about the piano, and the piano is all about laying down a good groove and then at certain points exploring the areas around it, which I totally appreciate (although it might go on a bit longer than necessary). This track also features some good stuff on guitar.

We then get into the cover material, beginning with Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy,” which features vocals by Vince Guaraldi, and strings. This is the first of two Tim Hardin songs included here, the other being “Reason To Believe,” which is also the only other track to feature vocals. “Back Sheep Boy” is followed by a gentle, pretty rendition of Jobim’s “Once I Loved” and then by a strange rendition of Sonny And Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” which feels rather pointless and repetitive. We then get a romantic rendition of “Yesterday,” featuring strings, followed by the final of the album’s original tracks, “Coffee And Doe-Nuts.” There is a kind of sweet chaos about this number, and I like it. There is also a bass solo, as well as some nice work on drums toward the end. The album concludes with “It Was A Very Good Year,” a song written by Erwin Drake and most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra. This is a good version; it goes in some interesting directions.

The second disc includes one complete album, Alma-Ville, as well as the bonus material. It actually begins with the bonus tracks, as they were recorded before Alma-Ville. There are four bonus tracks, none of which were previously released. The first is a cover of “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and made famous by Dionne Warwick. This is actually a really enjoyable rendition, developing a good groove and a lively vibe, with some delicious stuff on guitar. That’s followed by an alternate take of “The Beat Goes On.” This is quite a bit longer than the album version, allowing you to really sink into the groove, but not offering much else. We then get a cover of Edwin Hawkins’ gospel song “Oh, Happy Day.” The last of the bonus tracks is the only original composition among them, “The Sharecropper’s Daughter,” a rocking, fast-paced number, with a bit of a late 1960s psychedelic flavor which I love.

Alma-Ville then kicks off with “The Masked Marvel,” which is an original composition, as are most of the tracks. It has a steady groove, and features some wonderful and playful work on both piano and guitar. That’s followed by one of the album’s few covers, “Cristo Redentor,” written by Duke Pearson, with Guaraldi adding a sense of cool to this meditative tune. Partway through, it suddenly changes, taking on a livelier feel. Then “Detained In San Ysidro” has a light, kind of fun sense about it, and is an enjoyable tune. On The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi, Guaraldi covered The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and on this album he gives us a good rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” featuring some great work on guitar. “Uno Y Uno” is kind of an odd one, driven by guitar (Vince Guaraldi plays guitar on this track). “Alma-Ville,” the album’s title track, is a composition that Guaraldi originally included on his 1962 release Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus. I like both versions, but the one here is even more fun than the first, with a certain energy and a spring to its delivery. This version does contain the bass and drum solos (I think I prefer the drum solo in the original version). That’s followed by “Rio From The Air,” which, as you might guess, has a strong Brazilian flavor. The final cover on the album is “Watch What Happens.” The CD then concludes with “Jimbo’s,” an energetic tune which had previously been incorrectly titled “Jambo’s.” This one features a whole lot of fun work on piano, particularly in the first half, then some cool stuff on guitar in the second half, and even a good lead on bass.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Linus And Lucy
  2. You’re In Love, Charlie Brown
  3. Peppermint Patty
  4. Great Pumpkin Waltz
  5. He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown
  6. Oh, Good Grief!
  7. Red Baron
  8. Rain, Rain Go Away
  9. Nobody Else
  10. Lucifer’s Lady
  11. Black Sheep Boy
  12. Once I Loved
  13. The Beat Goes On
  14. Yesterday
  15. Coffee And Doe-Nuts
  16. Reason To Believe
  17. It Was A Very Good Year
Disc Two
  1. Do You Know The Way To San Jose
  2. The Beat Goes On
  3. Oh, Happy Day
  4. The Sharecropper’s Daughter
  5. The Masked Marvel
  6. Cristo Redentor
  7. Detained In San Ysidro
  8. Eleanor Rigby
  9. Uno Y Uno
  10. Alma-Ville
  11. Rio From The Air
  12. Watch What Happens
  13. Jimbo’s 
The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings was released on July 6, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rudi Ekstein: “Carolina Chimes” (2018) CD Review

What music works best for you when you’re trying to fight the despair and horror brought on by a sick reality that allows a demented narcissist into the White House? I’m guessing that for a lot of folks it’s bluegrass. There is something bright and cheerful and honest about this music, and honesty is something that seems hard to come by in the world at large. Mandolin player Rudi Ekstein’s new album, Carolina Chimes, features all original bluegrass music. All tracks are instrumentals. Here is good, pure music played by some talented musicians. In addition to Rudi Ekstein on mandolin, this album features Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jeff Autry on guitar, Mark Schatz on upright bass, and John Plotnik on banjo and dobro, plus guest musicians on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Cornerstone,” a tune that features some fine playing, music to ease our worried minds. This kind of music is always so effective, particularly when played by skilled musicians like the folks on this disc. That’s followed by “Indian Rain,” which begins with more plaintive, emotionally driven work on fiddle. The feel then changes like thirty seconds in, with the pace picking up somewhat, and the track becomes a pleasant, somewhat easygoing number with a western vibe. Then “All Night In Kentucky” is a faster-paced tune with some glorious picking. Again, there is joy here, and the chance to get swept up by the music and carried far, far away.

One of my personal favorite tracks is “Hoot Owl Hop.” And, no, it’s not just because of its cool title, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. This is a delicious jam that has a strong groove at its base and goes in some wonderful directions. There is a delightful, playful quality about it, and it is a lot of fun, in addition to being rather catchy. Toward the end, the bass takes the lead for a moment, which I love. Then “Jessy’s Fancy,” a song named after Rudi Ekstein’s daughter, has a sweeter, prettier vibe, with a kind of western rhythm, a sort of horse-trotting-out-on-the-range kind of thing. Things then really take off with “Spikebuck,” one of those wild bluegrass races where everyone wins. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for these fast-paced bluegrass gems. They’re a whole lot of fun, and always seem to impress. Plus, I feel like this song could help us all lift right off the ground and fly off into some splendid, bright land of indeterminate alcohol content. Patrick Sauber plays banjo on “Hoot Owl Hop,” “Jessy’s Fancy” and “Spikebuck.”

Another of my personal favorites is “Flapjack,” an interesting, kind of sneaky, groovy tune which features more fantastic playing. I just totally love this track. Then comes a tune to make you grab your partner and spin her around. Titled “Bacon In The Pan,” there is something innocent and joyful about it. This really is all about dancing. It’s followed by “Rockalachia,” another fun, light number, a rockin’ kind of bluegrass. Check out that bass; there is even a solo later on, but throughout the song the bass is just making the world a bit better. Rob Parks plays bass on this track, and Seth Rhinehart is on banjo. Then “Carolina Chimes,” the disc’s title track, is one that completely delights me, certainly another of the disc’s highlights. There is something incredibly catchy and even pretty about it. It’s happiness in the form of music. It’s followed by a slower, more somber number, a strange waltz titled “Dixie Sunset,” led by that work on fiddle. Well, it has a somber feel at the start; then it takes on a different, kind of exciting, perhaps foreign flavor. The disc then concludes with “Back Drag,” which opens like a horse race. And off they go! Listen as these musicians come recklessly down the stretch, hoping to be embraced by the arms of insanity. Yes, this is another of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. Cornerstone
  2. Indian Rain
  3. All Night In Kentucky
  4. Hoot Owl Hop
  5. Jessy’s Fancy
  6. Spikebuck
  7. Flapjack
  8. Bacon In The Pan
  9. Rockalachia
  10. Carolina Chimes
  11. Dixie Sunset
  12. Back Drag
Carolina Chimes is scheduled to be released on October 5, 2018.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tar & Flowers: “Indian Summer” (2018) CD Review

These days I often find myself seeking refuge in music, needing some beautiful or soothing or uplifting or honest – or even simply human – sounds to balance out the general, loud and unpleasant noises of the world. And occasionally, in this quest I stumble upon magic, upon an album or band that somehow exists on a plane completely separate from whatever insanity is driving the country into oblivion. It was like that with We Are The West. It is also like that with Tar & Flowers, another band based here in Los Angeles. Their music is basically in the folk and country realm, but sometimes with a haunting, ethereal and timeless quality that nevertheless works to make the listener feel better about life, because it immediately lifts us from the quagmire, from the chaos, and in effect obliterates ugliness. I don’t know how it accomplishes this exactly; that’s part of why I use the word magic. The band is the project of Taylor Hungerford, who plays guitar, sitar, banjo and percussion on the new release Indian Summer, as well as sings. He is joined by Wolf Kroeger on vocals, bass and percussion, and by Vern Monnett on pedal steel on one track. All of the songs on this album are originals, written by Taylor Hungerford.

The album opens with “Danny,” telling a deliciously compelling folk tale with a somewhat dark tone, reminding me a bit at times of Donovan, particularly at the beginning, before most of the instruments comes thumping in. “Danny traveled many lands in search of a queen/But no kingdom would take him.” That’s followed by “Summer At Michael’s House.” Some folk strumming on acoustic guitar is at the base of this one, but that is the only thing ordinary about this song. What’s built on top of it is strange and strangely beautiful. I am drawn to the vocals on this track. This track boasts some excellent vocal work, especially on lines like these: “And I find when I return again/Cursing what I gave/Because the light of time can amend/The changes our world made.” Also, those are some good lyrics. Then “Ten Ton Heart” begins with a more upbeat pop-country sound, but the vocals still have something of that haunted quality. Check out these lines: “I wanted the truth but I got honesty/Like a boxer who fights but doesn't know how to bleed/You don't get a prison, it comes in parts/And you learn to build it with a ten ton heart.” I especially love the line, “I wanted the truth but I got honesty.” To my ear, the electric guitar has something of a late 1960s psychedelic vibe. “I told the jester like I told the king/That everything I do doesn’t mean a thing.”

“August” has a kind of sweet, gentle folk sound, particularly at the start. Its first line is “It was hot that winter and it was hot that June,” a perfect line for Los Angeles. And check out these lines: “I felt your hand, was cold to the touch/Had I given too little or kept too much?/But I think you wanted it that way.” In addition to some excellent lyrics, this song has an undeniable beauty. “Because all I had and all I had done/Was turned to dust under your bright sun/Like the lies we tell that we wish were true.” And “This Machine” has a beautiful and engaging tone from the start. In an album full of excellent material, this is probably my favorite track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I am the poison in the well/I am the garden in which we fell/’Cause even then I still could see/The snake was crawling in this machine.” Something about this song is so effective, so moving, so intriguing, that I find myself listening to it repeatedly to make sure I take everything it’s giving.

On “Lost,” it is the guitar work that first pulls me in. There is also some interesting percussion. And of course there are some good lyrics, like these lines: “Sleep comes to the proudest of the weary/As life does to the stillest of the dead./So rest your head and try not to figure the weight and cost/To find your way starts with getting lost.” There is some optimism in there, which I appreciate. That’s followed by “Opium,” which has an unusual type of beauty of its own, gathering us in its shadowy embrace. “Opium has clouded my mind/And though I do not want to die/She never treats me unkind.” “Rumor” comes on strong, with glorious bursts of color. “And if you listen very still/You'll hear the past you just can't kill.” This absolutely wonderful album then concludes with “The Lovin’ Kind,” which is the track that features Vern Monnett on pedal steel. This one takes place in Los Angeles, mentioning Echo Park in one stanza. But for some reason, these are the lines that always stand out for me: “In the morn, he looks to the west/And sees her risin’ there/He moves his hand across his chest/Making shadows with her hair.”

CD Track List
  1. Danny
  2. Summer At Michael’s House
  3. Ten Ton Heart
  4. August
  5. This Machine
  6. Lost
  7. Opium
  8. Rumor
  9. The Lovin’ Kind 
Indian Summer was released on March 2, 2018.

The US Festival 1982: The “US” Generation Blu-ray/DVD Review

The first US Festival was held in September of 1982. This three-day music festival featured bands for a fairly wide range of musical tastes, with The B-52s, Eddie Money and Santana among the acts. Apparently, it was a glorious financial failure. But for those who attended – both on stage and in the audience – it was an incredible success. The US Festival 1982: The “US” Generation is a documentary recounting the story of that festival, and how it came to be. It features interviews with the people behind the festival, as well as some of the performers, and of course also includes plenty of concert footage. The Blu-ray/DVD package also includes some special features.

You can’t help but like Steve Wozniak, the man who had the idea for the festival. His passion for the project is still apparent when he speaks of it all these years later. And his heart seemed to be in the right place. Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple, and so in the early 1980s he had quite a bit of money. He’s also a big music fan, and he decided to spend some of his money to put together a music festival. He wanted it to be about the whole experience, including camping and so on, not just the music, and so the event was planned really well. As Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart says in an interview: “Woodstock wasn’t really thought out. This one was.” Peter Ellis (the president of UNUSON Corporation, which was created for the purpose of putting on the concert) says the concept of the festival was “the idea of community, the idea that technology’s going to make us a community.”

There are interviews with several of the musicians, including Mick Fleetwood, Mickey Hart, Stewart Copeland, Kate Pierson, Eddie Money and Joe Sharino. Joe Sharino tells a wonderful anecdote about being late. Kate Pierson talks about the appeal of the “Unite Us In Song” idea (which is what UNUSON stands for), making it “more than just a concert, more than just a party.” There is also a bit of footage of interviews conducted at the time, with people like Danny Elfman, Fred Schneider and Joey Ramone. And there is some backstage footage. The stuff about the gold backstage passes is funny.

We are treated to The B-52s playing “Big Bird” and “Strobe Light,” The Police performing “Can’t Stand Losing You” (that’s an awesome version), Eddie Money playing “Gimme Some Water,” The Cars playing “Bye Bye Love,” Santana playing “Black Magic Woman,” Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers performing “Refugee” (which is fantastic), and Fleetwood Mac playing “The Chain.” There are also short snippets of most of the other bands, including The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, Dave Edmunds, Talking Heads and the Grateful Dead. Noticeably absent from this documentary are The Kinks and Pat Benatar, both of whom performed on the second day. Of course, I wish there was more footage of the Dead (we get just a few seconds of “Truckin’”). The Grateful Dead’s involvement is what led me to hear about this festival in the first place. But there is a bit of footage of the Dead at a press conference, where they talk about how they’ll be playing at nine in the morning. And in fact their part of the show was billed as “Breakfast With The Grateful Dead.” There is also footage of Bill Graham talking about the Grateful Dead: “I think they should be here, because they’re the only ones who do what they do.” Indeed!

As much as I love the concert footage, some of the most interesting footage comes in the section on securing and creating a venue for the festival, including footage of a meeting where citizens expressed their concerns regarding a festival taking place in the area. And the material about the creation of the site is fascinating, all that had to be done, including building a special off-ramp from the highway. I love the footage of Bill Graham at the site as the stage is being built.  I also love that the success of the festival – then and now – is judged by how happy people were, not by whether it made a profit.

Special Features

The special features are on both the Blu-ray and the DVD, and include a commentary track and three extended interviews. The first of the interviews is with Steve Wozniak, where he talks about his passion for music, and the way music affects people. “Music was something that just relaxed my soul,” he tells us. He also talks a bit about Apple computers, and how technology began being used in music, and talks a bit about hiring Bill Graham. This interview is approximately sixteen and a half minutes. The second interview is with Mick Fleetwood, who talks about being approached to play the festival, and about the size of the crowd, and about the involvement of Bill Graham. This interview is approximately six and a half minutes. The third interview is with Stewart Copeland, in which he talks about some of the things that made the US Festival special. He too talks about Bill Graham, recounting an interesting anecdote about him from before The Police. This interview is approximately nineteen and half minutes.

On the commentary track, director Glenn Aveni tells some anecdotes on the making of the film and the conducting of interviews, and about the festival itself. Interestingly, the festival was filmed for Wozniak’s own enjoyment, with no intention of the footage being released. He talks about The Kinks not being filmed, so that explains why there is no footage of them in this documentary. He also tells a pretty humorous anecdote about The Kinks at this festival. And he does get into the reasons why there isn’t more footage of the Grateful Dead. He has plenty to say about The Police. But he also at times lets minutes go by without providing any thoughts or information.

The US Festival 1982: The “US Generation was directed by Glenn Aveni and was released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on August 10, 2018 through MVD Visual.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Blue Largo: “Before The Devil Steals Your Soul” (2018) CD Review

Blue Largo is a band started by guitarist Eric Lieberman and vocalist Alicia Aragon nearly two decades ago. They had to take a rather lengthy break at the end of 2006, while Eric Lieberman worked to overcome focal dystonia that affected his right hand. In 2015, they were back with Sing Your Own Song, and are now following that up with Before The Devil Steals Your Soul, which features mostly original material written by Eric Lieberman. This album addresses our troubles and concerns, but also gives us – or reminds us of – reasons for celebration, for joy. And for that, I am thankful. This is an album I’ll be returning to often. It gives me nearly everything I am craving, needing. It is full of soul and good grooves, wonderful vocals and plenty of sax. The musicians on this release include Marcus P. Bashore on drums, Mike “Sandalwood” Jones on bass, Taryn “T-Bird” Donath on piano, Rafael Salmon on organ, Dave Castel De Oro on tenor saxophone and organ, and Eddie Croft on saxophone, plus several others on certain tracks.

This fantastic disc opens with “Wash Away,” the beginning of which is sung to the accompaniment of organ, the vocals delivered with a lot of soul. The song then becomes a good bluesy number, with some wonderful work on guitar. This song is about the horrid mess our country has gotten itself into. Alicia sings, “Seems these days we’re hanging on by just a thread/All this talk of nuclear war/We might all soon be dead.” But she then follows that line with a more optimistic thought: “But I still want to believe that it ain’t too late/If we just unite, stop preaching all this hate.” I dig the instrumental section too. There is something both timely and timeless about this one. The music has a timeless or classic quality, giving the impression that our current troubles have been going on for a long time. And hell, that’s how it feels, doesn’t it? It feels like Donald Trump and his ugly group of racists have been in power for decades. “I’ve been waiting such a long time for love to return.” Nena Anderson, Missy Andersen and Nathan James provide backing vocals on this track.  Then “If I Can Make It To Augusta” has a more cheerful vibe, and again with a classic sound, which is wonderful. I love the sax, which functions as a voice, almost cheering Alicia on. Jonny Viau joins the group on tenor saxophone. There is also some wonderful work on piano, particularly in that instrumental section. There is optimism here, something we need. “I’m gonna get me a job/And find a good man too.” The way she delivers these lines, I’m certain she’ll accomplish what she sets out to do. And indeed, as the song fades out, she tells us, “I got a good man too/We’re going to settle right down.”

“Monrovia” becomes fun, particularly on the repeated title line, with the backing vocals and horns. Am I crazy or is there a bit of a “Ghost Riders In The Sky” vibe when the vocalists sing, “Monrovia, Monrovia”? Nena Anderson and Missy Andersen provide backing vocals, and Steve Ebner is on trumpet. This song tells a story, and that story turns deadly, proving that no one should go to Monrovia. It’s followed by “Same Race,” another song about the current, depressing state of our country, but a song that should unite people. The chorus is “Black lives matter/Police lives matter/Your life matters/My life matters/We’re all the same race/We are the human race/So please don’t tear us apart,” and – unless you’re a racist prick that voted for Donald Trump – you’ll likely find yourself singing along by the second time it comes around.

The album’s title track, “Before The Devil Steals Your Soul,” has a delicious and rousing gospel bent. “We all gotta jump before it’s too late/We all gotta shout before it’s too late/We all gotta dance before it’s too late/And the devil steals your soul.” Is it too late? Not while we’re breathing. This excellent song features more cool work on sax, plus nice stuff on keys. This one will get you on your feet, and will raise your spirits too. Vocals are provided by Diane McCalester, Jacqueline Haynes, Nathaniel Greene Jr. and Andre Buck.

The album’s first cover, “Bodas De Oro,” takes things in a different direction, and features some nice work by Taryn Donath on piano. Then “I’m Alive” is a celebration of music, of life, and contains a damn good jam. Steve Ebner plays trumpet on this one. That’s followed by “The Long Goodbye,” which is one of those beautiful, soulful blues tunes in the same realm as something like “It Hurts Me Too.” This one is about losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s. “You started drifting, slowly drifting away/I feel I’m losing you little by little, day by day/And I can’t keep from crying inside/It is such a long goodbye.” Yeah, it’s hard to keep from being moved by this song. It features some wonderful stuff on guitar and on piano. And that sax hits the spot.

Blue Largo delivers a cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted,” here titled “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted.” Nathan James plays baritone guitar on this one. That’s followed by another cover, “Feeling Good,” the beginning of which is delivered a cappella, as Nina Simone did it. In general, I prefer the original tracks to the covers on this album, but this song is just so damn cool, so damn glorious. “It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life for me/And I’m feeling good.” We all want that. And I love that sax. That’s followed by “Grinder’s Groove,” an absolutely wonderful instrumental track with a classic groove and vibe to remind us of what life can be like. Music like this feels like the opposite of Donald Trump’s grotesque world. I love it, and I love that sax!

Blue Largo then gets jazzy with “Five Till Eight,” a song written by Nena Anderson. That’s followed by “Every Time You Call My Name,” a fun, positive tune. The first line is “I really like it when it rains.” That line makes sense here in Los Angeles, but when I was living in Oregon, well, I would have had different feelings about it. The last song listed on the back of the CD case is Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” and Blue Largo does a really good job with it, with each musician getting a chance to shine. Though that is the last listed tune, there is one more track, “Lose Your Money.” This is an acoustic blues number that is a total delight, with just Eric Lieberman and Nathan James on guitar. Really, this is a solid album from beginning to end.

CD Track List
  1. Wash Away
  2. If I Can Make It To Augusta
  3. Monrovia
  4. Same Race
  5. Before The Devil Steals Your Soul
  6. Bodas De Oro
  7. I’m Alive
  8. The Long Goodbye
  9. What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted
  10. Feeling Good
  11. Grinder’s Groove
  12. Five Till Eight
  13. Every Time You Call My Name
  14. Work Song 
  15. Lose Your Money
Before The Devil Steals Your Soul is scheduled to be released on October 19, 2018 on Coffeegrinds Records.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dulcie Taylor: “Better Part Of Me” (2018) CD Review

Dulcie Taylor is a singer and songwriter from South Carolina, now based in Arroyo Grande, California. Her latest release, Better Part Of Me, features all original material, with all but one of the tracks written or co-written by Dulcie Taylor. (Interestingly, it is the title track that was not written by her, but more on that in a bit.) In addition to providing the vocals, Dulcie plays acoustic guitar, dulcimer and percussion on this release. Joining her are George Nauful on guitar, piano, bass, percussion and vocals; Damon Castillo on guitar, bass and backing vocals; Joey Landreth on acoustic guitar and electric slide guitar; Dominic Castillo on electric slide guitar; Abraham Robles on drums and percussion; Tracy Morgan on drums and percussion; Kristian Ducharme on organ and piano; Dylan Johnson on upright bass; Cameron West on bass and drums; Erin Snedecor on cello; Bob Liepman on cello; Tyson Leonard on mandolin; Valerie Johnson on backing vocals; and Peter Whitfield and Realstrings on string orchestration.

The album opens with “Used To Know It All,” in which Dulcie Taylor sings “Up to my neck in uncertainty/Ignorance is bliss/Lord, I sure do miss/When I used to know it all.” I know the feeling. These days nothing makes sense. The train has gone off the rails, and people are not just ignorant, but stupid. (Have you tried to hold a conversation with a Trump supporter? It’s like they’ve been living on a completely different planet, a horrible place that has now collided with our world.) Dulcie has one of those fantastic voices seemingly custom-made for country and folk music, though this song is also a bit of blues. Here are some lines I need to keep in mind these days: “Help me to remember it’s all about love/And forgiveness, and let that be enough.” “Used To Know It All” is followed by “God Did Me A Favor,” which has a sweet, pleasant, loving vibe. This song seems the natural follow-up to “Used To Know It All,” because here it really is all about love, just as she said. “At first, you were hard to trust/Because I had just about given up/I was ready to run/Now look what you’ve done/You put the song in my soul/You put the beat in my heart.” Nice, right? This album features a lot of good lyrics, like these lines from “Watch Me Hurt”: “But you don’t trust love/Trouble’s what you want.” “Watch Me Hurt” is one of the album’s most intriguing and effective songs. “I know you broke my heart on purpose/You needed to watch me hurt.”

My favorite track is “The Moon Is Cold,” a beautiful folk song that grabbed me, with Dulcie Taylor’s intimate, quiet delivery pulling me in close. And, like all of the songs on this album, this tune features some really good lyrics. Check out these lines: “Deceit has many faces/It can even look like love” and “The moon is cold and has no light/It mirrors the sun when it shines in the night.” Then the first line of “I Do” is “Everybody gets scared sometimes.” Sometimes? It’s nearly a constant state in these days of unhinged, demented and thoroughly stupid leaders. First thing we do each morning is get online to see if the country still exists. But this song is not about any of that, don’t worry. It’s actually a comforting, soothing promise that we’re not alone. “You don’t ever have to wonder who/Has got your back, I promise you/I do.” Ah, just having one person say that to us – and mean it – can pull any of us through, right? “Whatever comes down the road/We’ll face together, you won’t be alone.”

The next song, however, is about our current troubles – at least our environmental ones. “Halfway To Jesus” addresses climate change, a serious and terrifying problem (and anyone who denies climate change should be smacked across the face over and over until he or she comes to his or her senses). The phrase “Halfway to Jesus” here means halfway to death. “The polar caps are melting/Hear them cracking on the wind/Like the sound of distant gunfire/In a fight no one will win/We’ve only got this one world/We’re all here together/If we want to keep on sailing/We’ve got to fix it, now or never.” This song feels particularly appropriate today, as yet another storm batters us. I dig the intense instrumental section in the second half of the track. And remember: “It ain’t like we haven’t been warned.” “Dove Crying In My Window” has a somber, sad tone. The album then concludes with “Better Part Of Me,” the album’s title track and the one song that Dulcie Taylor did not have a hand in writing. This one was written by George Nauful. Lines like “Things you can’t deny are true” and “In a world full of illusions” feel so apt these days, don’t they? This song has a kind of subtle power.

CD Track List
  1. Used To Know It All
  2. God Did Me A Favor
  3. Watch Me Hurt
  4. Long Gone
  5. The Moon Is Cold
  6. I Do
  7. Halfway To Jesus
  8. Hearts Have To Break
  9. Shining In His Eyes
  10. Dove Crying In My Window
  11. Better Part Of Me 
Better Part Of Me was released on March 9, 2018 on Black Iris Records.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Matthew de Heus: “Silk Purses” (2018) CD Review

The first thing that strikes me about Silk Purses, the new album from singer and songwriter Matthew de Heus, is Matthew’s voice. There is some authority to it – a strange, haunted authority when he tells us, “It’ll never be the same around this town,” the first line of “Never,” the disc’s opening track. This is a song I can relate to because of lines like “I’ll never be a rich man or a king.” For a long time, I believed I would be. Didn’t we all? Not a king, mind you, but having some degree of wealth. But that optimism – like a lot of optimism these days – has died. When Matthew says “Never,” I believe him. It is the depth of his voice, coupled with the way he delivers the line, that makes it feel so final. But then the sax comes in, offering some comfort. That is J Blum on saxophone (Matthew de Heus and J Blum also perform together as Catfood Sandwich). “I never thought I’d dance upon your grave/I’m not here in anger/I thought you could be saved.” Silk Purses, by the way, is the second album released by Matthew de Heus, following 2016’s Town & Country. It features a mix of covers and original material. “Never” is an original song, written by Matthew de Heus. That’s followed by another original, “Bitter Rain.” The rhythm guitar has a brighter sound from the start, and there is a more upbeat feel, even as he tells us “I’ve always been a fan of the dark side of town.”

The album’s first cover is a very cool, kind of sly, sexy rendition of Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record),” here titled “You Spin Me Right ‘Round.” It’s quite a bit different from the original, and right now I’m thinking it’s better. It’s darker, and that horn is perfect. That’s Jacob Wisenbach on trumpet. This rendition has such a great vibe, and is one of my favorite tracks. It’s followed by “Fly,” an original tune that has kind of a cheerful pop sound that is totally working for me. Andy Reed delivers some nice stuff on both keys and bass. Then Matthew gets back into cover material with John Denver’s “Poems, Prayers And Promises.” Yes, Matthew de Heus clearly draws inspiration from quite disparate musical sources and realms. This song has always made me both optimistic and somewhat sad, as it is about looking back rather fondly but also looking ahead at death. “The days they pass so quickly now/The nights are seldom long.” Matthew de Heus gives us a really good, thoughtful rendition, and it’s having a strong effect on me. Perhaps that’s partly because death has been on my mind lately. Death is in the air these days – and not just of famous musicians and people we’ve known. We’re also looking at the death of democracy, the death of intelligence, the death of grammar, of coherent sentences, of truth. “And what about tomorrow?

Matthew de Heus then picks us up with a straightforward rock song, “Like A Song,” featuring Scott Van Dell on guitar. He follows that with another original composition, “Let The Song Speak,” a song that looks back at teenage years. The line that always stands out for me is “Having no comparisons, I thought it was love.” Yes, when we were sixteen, what constituted “love” was quite a bit different from what I now know is love. This track features some nice work by J Blum on mandolin, giving it a cheerful sound. (How many instruments does J Blum play?) That’s followed by a cover of “America.” This is one of my favorite Simon And Garfunkel songs, and the one that most often gets in my head. There are lines in this song that sometimes bring tears to my eyes, such as “Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping/I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.” This song has a different feel these days, doesn’t it? Less hopeful. I mean, can any of us hope to find America anywhere now?

The album then takes another interesting turn, this time to the land of Sinatra with a cover of “Fly Me To The Moon,” written by Bart Howard. This is a cool rendition, with a strong bass line by Allison Scott, and when the trumpet comes in, it is glorious and appreciated. The trumpet is followed quickly by saxophone, and then by some delicious work on guitar, each instrument taking its turn, having its say, because we are in the wonderful land of jazz now. Jacob Wisenbach is on trumpet, Michael George is on saxophone, Scott Van Dell is guitar, and Andy Scott is on drums. We then go back to rock with “She Makes A Sound,” which has a wonderfully positive vibe. “She makes a sound/Sound like a love song.” The final cover of the album is Leonard Cohen’s “Traveling Light,” a song from his final studio album, You Want It Darker. It’s a seriously cool song, and this rendition features Michael Robertson on both mandolin and guitar. I just want to immerse myself in the world of this song, to say goodbye to everything else and travel light in a place where nothing is needed. There was never a better songwriter than Leonard Cohen, and I am so thankful that I was able to see him in concert several times. Silk Purses concludes with “Last Train To Anywhere,” another of the disc’s highlights. Matthew de Heus sings, “We started this trip without any sense of direction,” but this song has a sense of possibilities, and that is something. There is an optimistic feel to the music, a great way to leave us.

CD Track List
  1. Never
  2. Bitter Rain
  3. You Spin Me Right ‘Round
  4. Fly
  5. Poems, Prayers And Promises
  6. Like A Song
  7. Let The Song Speak
  8. America
  9. Fly Me To The Moon
  10. She Makes A Sound
  11. Traveling Light
  12. Last Train To Anywhere
Silk Purses was released on August 10, 2018.