Sunday, October 23, 2016

Grateful Dead: “Cambodian Refugee Benefit” (2016) CD Review

A lot of Grateful Dead concerts were broadcast live on the radio for folks who weren’t able to get tickets. And lately some of these recordings have been popping up as CD releases. The latest such release is Cambodian Refugee Benefit, which, although is only a single CD, actually contains most of the concert the Grateful Dead performed on January 13, 1980 at the Oakland Coliseum. It does not, however, contain the entire show, despite the claim in the CD liner notes. This seems a rather hasty release, as the liner notes contain other bogus information – such as crediting the drum solo to Robert Hunter and Bob Weir. Robert Hunter was one of the band’s main lyricists, and Bob, of course, was on vocals and guitar, so neither had anything to do with the drum solo. And, interestingly, a good chunk of the text in the liner notes was lifted from a blog titled Lost Live Dead (specifically the entry from December 4, 2014).

Anyway, it was a short show because the Grateful Dead were not the only folks on the bill that night. Also performing were Joan Baez, The Beach Boys, Carlos Santana and Jefferson Starship. So the Dead did just one set. What is missing from this CD release is the first song of the set, which was “Jack Straw,” and the encore, which was “U.S. Blues.” The CD kicks off with “Franklin’s Tower,” and again it is a bit odd to be missing “Jack Straw,” because “Jack Straw” leads directly into “Franklin’s Tower,” and so you can hear just the very end of “Jack Straw” at the beginning of this disc. It’s a good, fun rendition of “Franklin’s Tower,” with some jamming. The sound isn’t perfect, with a bit of hiss, reminding me of some of my old tapes. By the way, this was the first show of 1980, and at the time of this show, Brent Mydland had been a member of the band for only nine months or so. He provides some tasty stuff on “New Minglewood Blues,” which follows “Franklin’s Tower.” (Did Bob forget where he was? He sings, “It’s T for New York City.”) There is certainly a lot of energy at the beginning of this set, and both “New Minglewood Blues” and “Tennessee Jed” are crackling at times.

From what we can hear on the disc, some people in the audience are very excited when Bob starts “Looks Like Rain,” the only mellow song of the set. The band follows that with “Don’t Ease Me In,” which has a strange shift in sound near the beginning. “Playing In The Band” provides the only real opportunity for the band to get out there, and though they definitely jam on this one, they never get into truly weird territory. The energy level remains pretty high, and they seem to be having a great time, keeping that engine flying down the tracks. It slides right into “Drums” (though this CD still has it as the same track; then, like two minutes into the drum solo, it becomes a new track). At one point the audience becomes part of the drum solo, providing hand claps. This “Drums” is actually for me one of the highlights of the disc, and I wish it were longer. It leads into a cool jam (not “Space”) which very quickly announces itself as “Not Fade Away,” but doesn’t quite go into that song for a little while, though definitely does so before this disc starts a new track. The new track point indicating the beginning of “Not Fade Away” seems arbitrary, especially as by that point the band has clearly already been playing the song for a while. On the back of the CD case, it says that Carlos Santana plays with the band on “Sugar Magnolia,” but it sounds to me like he’s playing on “Not Fade Away.” And I’ve read in a few sources that indeed he plays with the band on “Not Fade Away” as well as “Sugar Magnolia.” I’ve also read on two websites that John Cipollina plays with them on “Not Fade Away.” At any rate, it’s an unusual and pretty cool  and incredibly energetic rendition of “Not Fade Away,” and it leads directly into “Sugar Magnolia,” which concludes the set (and this disc).

Strangely, “Sugar Magnolia” fades out near the five-minute mark. So this disc is missing all of the “Sunshine Daydream” part of the song. I am assuming this is due to time constraints on the CD.  However, the CD is 75 minutes 54 seconds, and the missing part of “Sugar Magnolia” is less than three minutes, so it should have fit. But again, this seems like a hastily assembled release. While it’s good to have this show on CD, there are actually better quality recordings available online.

CD Track List
  1. Franklin’s Tower
  2. New Minglewood Blues
  3. Tennessee Jed
  4. Looks Like Rain
  5. Don’t Ease Me In
  6. Playing In The Band
  7. Drum Solo
  8. Jam
  9. Not Fade Away
  10. Sugar Magnolia
Cambodian Refugee Benefit was released on October 7, 2016 through Golden Rain.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll (2016) CD Review

Adam Carroll is a talented and respected singer and songwriter based in Texas. He’s released several CDs over the past fifteen or so years, and his songs have been covered by other singer/songwriters. Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll features an excellent line-up of artists, including James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves and Band Of Heathens, playing songs that Carroll wrote. I’m actually more familiar with some of these artists than I am with Adam Carroll’s own recordings. And, in part because of this, I realize that this CD could work well as an introduction to the songwriter’s material. Interestingly, each of the artists on this CD introduces the song he or she is covering, often simply stating the song’s title, which is also in itself a little tribute to the songwriter, as Adam Carroll does the same thing on some of his own albums. Most of the folks on this album are, like Adam Carroll, based in Texas, and they let these songs speak for themselves, delivering heartfelt renditions without adding anything unnecessary. Every one of these songs has lines that will stand out, such as “My only luxuries are my memories/And they make room for my dreams” from “South Of Town” and “Waiting in the dark/For anything that shines” from “Rain.” The CD also includes a song by Adam Carroll at the end. And why not? It’s like the guest of honor being given a chance to speak. Seems right to me.

James McMurtry kicks off the CD with a cover of “Screen Door,” the song that opens Adam Carroll’s 2000 release Lookin’ Out The Screen Door. James McMurtry is such a great songwriter and storyteller, and it’s clear here that he can convince you of a character’s truth even if he didn’t write the tale. Joining James McMurtry on this recording are Cornbread on bass and Daren Hess on drums. That’s followed by the closing number from Lookin’ Out The Screen Door, “Girl With The Dirty Hair,” here performed by Hayes Carll. Hayes Carll had previously recorded Adam Carroll’s “Take Me Away,” including it on his Little Rock album. He does a really good job with “Girl With The Dirty Hair,” though oddly changes the opening line to “Scarface in the corner, he’s stumbling for a fight” (the original is “looking for a fight”). I love the weary quality to his delivery, which works perfectly.

Slaid Cleaves chooses “South Of Town,” the title track to Adam Carroll’s 2001 release, and delivers a good version. Slaid sings, “You can think of me in terms of how it used to be/But you’ll never hear me complain.” The original line is “You can think of me in terms of your memories.” Both lines are actually really good, and also effective. This isn’t the first time that Slaid Cleaves has covered Adam Carroll’s material. He included a rendition of “Racecar Joe” on his 2006 release Unsung. Then Band Of Heathens does a wonderful version of “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler,” a perfect choice for this band. As I mentioned earlier, these songs all have lines that stand out. The ones from this song that caught me my first time listening to this disc were “He did it with a guitar late into the night/Trying to live just like the songs that he would write.” By the way, Adam Carroll had co-written “Maple Tears,” a song on The Band Of Heathens’ 2008 self-titled release.

You probably know Jamie Lin Wilson (and her own songwriting abilities) from her work with The Trishas. She also released her debut solo album last year, Holidays & Wedding Rings. On this tribute album, she covers Adam Carroll’s “Hi Fi Love” (here titled “Hi-Fi Love”). This song certainly contains some surprising lines, surprising rhymes, particularly these: “But I just can’t get enough/Of your old French ticklers, no one in particulars/And your sundown hi-fi love.” I love the way Jamie Lin Wilson delivers those lines. (And the last line of this song makes me laugh.) She is joined on this track by Lloyd Maines. Lloyd Maines also joins Verlon Thompson on the cover of “Lil' Runaway,” a song from Adam Carroll’s 2014 release, Let It Choose You. Verlon Thompson is a songwriter whose own material has been covered by many artists over the years, including Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood and Kenny Rogers. On “Lil’ Runaway,” he follows Adam’s near-spoken word vocal delivery. This track also features Diana Burgess on cello, an instrument I always appreciate. The last line of this song is “Come on back and make it rain.” It is then followed by Scott Nolan’s rendition of “Rain,” a nice touch. BettySoo, of Charlie Faye & The Fayettes joins Scott Nolan on vocals. Scott Nolan was featured on a track of Carroll’s Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll album, the CD most covered on this tribute.

Some of the best guitar work on this CD is by Matt The Electrician on his excellent rendition of “Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll.” He is joined by Rich Richards on percussion, and by Curtis McMurtry (James McMurtry’s son) on banjo. One of the lines from “Smoky Mountain Taxi” that stood out for me was “He was hitting on a waitress with a good set of teeth.” Banjo player Danny Barnes delivers a really good version of that song on this CD. He plays both banjo and guitar, and is joined by Lloyd Maines on mandolin. The other line that caught me the first time I put this disc on was “I heard more bluegrass music than I wanted to hear.” Danny Barnes’ rendition has more of a bluegrass feel all the way through, even before that great, fast section at the end. That ending section in this version has a different sound, as from an old recording.

Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh’s rendition of “Karaoke Cowboy” has a different feel from Adam Carroll’s original from the Lookin’ Out The Screen Door album. It has an appropriate country bar vibe, and features Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and Jeff Plankenhorn on dobro. That is followed by one of my favorites, Mando Saenz’s version of “Home Again.” “I see his name in everyone/Just like I see myself.” These lines also stand out for me: “Old times always stay the same/And brand-new days are strange/But you never lose yourself/And all you do is change.” Walt Wilkins delivers an earnest rendition of “Highway Prayer,” the song chosen as the title for this collection. Walt is joined by Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and Diana Burgess on cello, while BettySoo provides harmony vocals on this track.

This CD concludes with a new Adam Carroll song, “My Only Good Shirt” (and yes, he does introduce it). Interestingly, this song is actually a tribute of sorts to Lloyd Maines (and his shirt). “I’m a long way from my roots/I’ve still got sand in my boots/They call me the spiritual kind/And they say this shirt’s damaged goods/And I’d trade it in if I could.

CD Track List
  1. Screen Door – James McMurtry
  2. Girl With The Dirty Hair – Hayes Carll
  3. South Of Town – Slaid Cleaves
  4. Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler – Band Of Heathens
  5. Hi-Fi Love – Jamie Lin Wilson
  6. Lil’ Runaway – Verlon Thompson
  7. Rain – Scott Nolan
  8. Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll – Matt The Electrician
  9. Black Flag Blues – Tim Easton and Aaron Lee Tasjan
  10. Smoky Mountain Taxi – Danny Barnes
  11. Errol’s Song – Jason Eady
  12. Red Bandana Blues – Terri Hendrix
  13. Karaoke Cowboy – Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh
  14. Home Again – Mando Saenz
  15. Highway Prayer – Walt Wilkins
  16. My Only Good Shirt – Adam Carroll
Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2016 on Eight 30 Records.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Michael Robertson: “All My Stories” (2016) CD Review

Michael Robertson has been making music for decades in various bands, including The Robertson Brothers Band, Maybe August, and Honesty And The Liars, all based in Michigan. He has now released his first solo album, All My Stories, featuring all original material. On this CD he plays guitar, lap steel and mandolin. Of course, it’s not exactly a solo album, as he is backed by many of the musicians from his other bands, including Scott Robertson, Honesty Elliott, Rosco Selley, Keith Carolan, Mike Thomas, Donny Brown and Andy Reed.

Michael Robertson kicks off the album with its title track, “All My Stories,” which has a sweet, positive country vibe, and a nice blending of male and female vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The voice outside sounds just like you/Saying some dreams do come true/And you know all my stories.” This is one of my favorites, and it leads straight into “The Highway Song,” a song I will be adding to my road trip play list. There is a powerful beauty to this song, tinged by a sadness that makes it all the more poignant, with lines like “All of my wishes didn’t get us too far.” I love that harmonica part halfway through. “Take your maps and the pictures and throw ‘em away/With the plans that you’ve made for the rest of your days.” Jim Alfredson plays organ on this track.

And if I could just keep my tongue out of my cheek, I might not be condemned to eternal damnation” is a line that really stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc. It’s a great line from the beginning of “Sale On Salvation,” a song about people struggling with their various issues, a song with a sense of humor. “So he cashed in his pension/Drove to a place we can’t mention/And laid it all down on Red 44.” (Though maybe I’m mishearing that, because I don’t think roulette wheels go up that high. Maybe it’s supposed to be Red 34.) At the end, Michael sings a bit of “Amen,” that song made popular by The Impressions. Jim Alfredson plays organ, and Bill Silverthorn plays drums on this track. This is a song that Michael has performed with Maybe August, and that band also included the “Amen” section.

“It’s Not What You Think” is one of the most interesting songs on this release. It begins like a dirty limerick, “There once was a man from Nantucket...”  But when we expect a certain rhyme, Michael surprises by instead singing, “One day he woke up and said… funny how there’s no one to blame.” And while there are other humorous lines and wordplay, the sound of this song is rather serious, pensive, melancholy. “It is what it is, it’s not what you think.” There is some wonderful stuff on guitar during the instrumental section in the second half of the song. Ryan Fitzgerald plays bass and Mike McHenry plays drums on this track.

“Blame It On You” is kind of catchy and has something of a 1970s vibe, particularly that guitar part. And check out these lyrics: “But I don’t know which me I’m supposed to be/And it takes too long to get from your head to some place I understand/It takes too long to heal the wounds from the holes in your hands/It takes too long to get down off of this mountain where you stand/Maybe I’ll just turn and walk away like I don’t give a damn/And blame it on you.” This is another of my favorites.

The album concludes with an acoustic version of its title track, which is quite pretty. I think I actually prefer this version. “Take me now for what I am.”

CD Track List
  1. All My Stories
  2. The Highway Song
  3. Old Man
  4. Sale On Salvation
  5. It’s Not What You Think
  6. Blame It On You
  7. Little Man
  8. Shut Up And Go To Sleep
  9. All My Stories (Acoustic) 
All My Stories was released on June 2, 2016.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

James Young: “Songs They Never Play On The Radio” (2016) CD Review

I think anyone who has ever heard Nico sing is struck by her voice, her style, her… well, struck by her, really. James Young performed and recorded with Nico in the 1980s, playing keyboard and piano in The Faction, the band that backed her. He published a memoir about those times titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio (some editions are titled Nico The End). Then in 1994 he released a CD also titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio, featuring songs based on his memoir, as a tribute to Nico. Now he is releasing a new CD titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio. This isn’t exactly a re-issue of the 1994 album, though a few tracks from that album have made their way onto this disc. Most of the songs were written by James Young, the only exception being a cover of “My Funny Valentine,” a song that Nico And The Faction included on the 1985 record Camera Obscura. James Young plays most of the instruments on this CD. And, as you might expect, a lot of this music has a beautiful, haunting quality.

The album opens with its title track, “Songs They Never Play On The Radio,” which was also the title track to the 1994 release, and features Henry Olsen on guitar and drums. Olsen also produced the track, which was the closing track on the 1994 album. The vibe is mellow and thoughtful, with a strong, steady heartbeat on drum throughout, making the song feel like a living entity, or the clear memory of one. There is something oddly comforting about this song. “One night we’ll laugh at nothing at all/Like we used to do/And we’ll close the window on it all/Just like we used to do/And I’ll do the best I can/And you’ll try to understand/And we’ll slowly dance the night away/As we listen to the songs they never play/On the radio.”

That’s followed by “Breathe For Me,” an instrumental piece that feels like part strange lullaby, part mechanical expression, all the while with the sound of a life support apparatus going. Nico had wanted to incorporate that machine into a recording after her son had been hospitalized. She never got to it, but James Young has done it here. Is the person on life support taking part in the music through the machine, or does the music work to almost mask the sound of the machine and what it means? And that last breath – is the person suddenly able to breathe on his own, or is it the person’s final breath? Either way, the music is over.

It was a lovely day… for a funeral” is the first line of “Down By The Wannsee,” a strange, distant, haunting song, which creeps up on you, then recedes. James Young plays piano and harmonium on this track, and is joined on vocals by MacGillivray (Kirsten Norrie). Her beautiful vocals remind me of backing vocals on certain Leonard Cohen recordings. This song mentions Nico by name: “They said Nico was in town/She needs a bed/Down by the Wannsee.” (Wannsee is a lake near Berlin, but it was also the name of the conference in which the Nazis discussed the implementation of the so-called “final solution.”)

I love the way “She’s In My Eyes” draws you in, slowly, carefully, almost sweetly. James Young plays melodica on this track. The song feels like a loving meditation, particularly in the first half. It becomes more lively, more awake in the second half.

The CD case and liner notes list “Planète Poussière” as the seventh track, but actually “The Cigarette Ends” is before, not after, that song. Here is a taste of the lyrics from “The Cigarette Ends”: “When the cigarette ends/I rush to your defense/When the cigarette ends/It’s the end of our pretense.” My favorite lines are “The wall fell down/Now it’s a postcard town.” Not bad, eh? “Planète Poussière” is one of the tracks that was included on the 1994 release, though under the title “Planet Pussy.” In this one, James sings, “I could go out and dance all night/I could make love by candle light/Buy a long-stemmed rose in a Chinese restaurant/Get down on my knees, give you everything you want/All I can do/Is look at you.” “Listen To The Rain” and “Curious” were also included on the 1994 release (though “Curious” was titled “Curious (Elvis Has Left The Building”). (By the way, “Curious” contains a reference to The Tempest in its use of the phrase “into thin air.”)

Exploding Plastic Inevitable was a series of multimedia performances in the 1960s organized by Andy Warhol and featuring The Velvet Underground and Nico. James Young switches the name around a bit for his “Plastik Exploding Inevitable,” an interesting track that gives you that sense of several different realms coming together for an event.

The last two tracks on this CD – “Dog” and “My Funny Valentine” – were recorded live in Berlin in 2008, as part of a tribute to Nico titled Nico 70/20. The name of the event was 70/20 because it was held when Nico would have been seventy years old, twenty years after her death. The name is also a play on her song “60/40” (which is also written as “Sixty Forty”). “Dog” is a haunting, compelling piece, performed on piano. “My Funny Valentine” is the CD’s only cover, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It’s a song that Nico covered on her 1985 record Camera Obscura, and one which she also performed in concert. Here James Young delivers an instrumental rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Songs They Never Play On The Radio
  2. Breathe For Me
  3. Down By The Wannsee
  4. The Door
  5. Burn Away
  6. She’s In My Eyes
  7. The Cigarette Ends
  8. Planète Poussière
  9. Listen To The Rain
  10. Plastik Exploding Inevitable
  11. Curious
  12. Dog
  13. My Funny Valentine 
Songs They Never Play On The Radio was released in the UK on August 19, 2016, and is scheduled to be released in the US on November 4, 2016.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Boomtown Rats: “Live Germany ‘78” (2015) DVD/CD Review

When I was in my early teens I bought The Fine Art Of Surfacing on cassette, after hearing “I Don’t Like Mondays” on the radio, The Boomtown Rats’ biggest hit, a song written after a sixteen-year-old girl fired a gun into an elementary school, killing two and injuring several others. It was right around the time that I bought that cassette that Bob Geldof recorded the Band Aid record, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and soon after that organized the Live Aid concert. But before Live Aid, before Band Aid, before Bob Geldof starred in Pink Floyd: The Wall, even before The Fine Art Of Surfacing, The Boomtown Rats put out their first two records, and it is from these two albums that most of the songs from Live Germany ’78 come. Gonzo Multimedia released this concert last year as a two-disc set, a DVD and CD, along with a booklet of photos and, interestingly, a copy of the tour contract rider.

The show was recorded at a fairly small venue, with the audience in the front seated around tables. I had listened to the CD first, and assumed from the energy of the music that the audience was dancing. Before they start the set, Bob Geldof tells the crowd: “This is the first time we’ve played in Germany. We did our record in Cologne, but this is the time we’ve played here.” The band then kicks off the set with “Close As You’ll Ever Be,” a tune from their self-titled debut record, and right away Bob comes alive, jumping off the stage and rushing at one of the cameras in the audience. He really plays to the cameras, even beckoning one of them to come closer at one point. But what’s up with that weird green light?

There is barely a pause after the first song before they go into “Never Bite The Hand That Feeds You.” The energy is fantastic. How is the crowd remaining so still? Maybe they were asked to, as this seems to have been filmed for a broadcast. In a couple of shots, you can see one of the cameras, and it looks like one of those large television cameras. And during “Neon Heart,” look at the guy in the front. He’s playing with a rat puppet or plush toy. Later you can see it on the table. Was that supplied by the band, or was that something that fans brought to shows?

In introducing “(It Feels) So Strange,” Bob says, “The next song is about when you wake up in the morning and you realize that you’ve just lost a war.” Check out the audience member in the black leather jacket. He looks so distrustful, so wary of what Bob might do next. Well, what he does next is introduce “Kicks” by telling the crowd, “In England, they think the next song is an excuse to kick people, especially the person beside you.” He also says the song’s title is “I Get My Kicks From You.” I like it when Bob tries to direct the camera, pointing at which band member should be featured in the shot, and then giving the camera man the thumbs up when he complies. Bob also interacts with some of the audience members, at one point asking: “What? Gabba gabba what?” That’s just before the band goes into “(She’s Gonna) Do You In,” one of the highlights of the set. Bob Geldof plays harmonica on that one.

This is a very energetic and totally enjoyable set. Even if you’re not familiar with the songs, you’re likely to enjoy this performance. The concert on the DVD is approximately fifty-one minutes, while on the CD it’s a few minutes shorter, as the song introductions are cut for some reason. The DVD includes two bonus songs: “Banana Republic” from a television appearance in November of 1980, and “House On Fire” from a television appearance in May of 1982. It’s difficult to tell if the band is really playing on these two songs or not. It seems like they are, but then often Bob doesn’t have the microphone anywhere near his mouth, and you can hear him just fine, which makes it seem like a pre-recorded track. And then it seems like the songs are fading out, but both times the picture cuts before we can really tell.

Track List
  1. Close As You’ll Ever Be
  2. Never Bite The Hand That Feeds You
  3. Neon Heart
  4. (It Feels) So Strange
  5. Kicks
  6. She’s So Modern
  7. Joey’s On The Street Again
  8. Don’t Believe What You Read
  9. (She’s Gonna) Do You In
  10. Do The Rat
  11. It’s All The Rage
  12. Mary Of The 4th Form
  13. Lookin’ After No. 1 
Live Germany ’78 was released on August 7, 2015 through Gonzo Multimedia.

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps: “Bonafide” (2016) CD Review

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps are a cool blues band based in Los Angeles (though Teresa James is originally from Houston), and have released several albums over the past fifteen years or so. Their new one, Bonafide, features mostly original material written by bass player Terry Wilson. It follows the band’s 2012 release, Come On Home. The Rhythm Tramps have gone through a lot of configurations over the years, and the lineup for this release is Terry Wilson on bass, guitar, organ, percussion and backing vocals; Billy Watts on guitar and backing vocals; Red Young on organ; Mike Finnegan on organ and piano; Phil Parlapiano on piano; Lewis Stephens on piano and organ; Tony Braunagel on drums; Jay Bellarose on drums and percussion; Jim Christie on drums; Herman Matthews on drums; Lee Thornburg on trumpet; Darrell Leonard on horns; Mark Pender on horns; Ron Dziubla on saxophone; Sean Holt on saxophone; Jerry Peterson on saxophone; Richard Wedler on bowed saw; and Greg Sutton on vocals. And of course at the heart of this recording is Teresa James on lead vocals and piano. Her voice is one of those delicious blues voices that can get rough and raw when necessary, but also can soothe and woo you if she so desires.

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps kick off this CD with a great cover of The “5” Royales’ “I Like It Like That,” a song written by Lowman Pauling and originally released in 1954 as the flip side to “Cry Some More.” Oh yes, back to the roots of rock with some excellent rhythm and blues. And just listen to the way Teresa delivers the lines, “Well, me and my baby fuss and fight/And then we get together, make love all night.”  Wonderful! Plus, she delivers some delightful stuff on piano. I am always a sucker for that kind of playing; it works for me every time. This is one of only two covers on this release.

They follow that with the CD’s title track, “Bonafide,” a blues tune with a cool, quirky rhythm. In this song, she is taking charge, and her vocals leave no question about it. “I got your bags all packed out on the front lawn.” She’s determined to get her life together – something we’re all attempting, right? Perhaps this song will help. Just turn it up and get to work. “Spit It Out” is another cool blues tune, with some nice touches on horns by Darrell Leonard. “I’m just saying what’s on my mind/Trying to get close to you is sure taking some time/I ain’t complaining, just telling it like it is.” Horns also add to the great vibe on “The Power Of Need.” This time Mark Pender and Ron Dziubla are on horns. I really like Teresa James’ vocal performance here, both powerful and intimate.

Then “Hollywood Way” shows something of a playful side that I appreciate, with that great pause in the line “You might catch it on You Tube… eventually,” and a bit of a funky edge. This song also contains a reference to The Picture Of Dorian Gray, as the dream in Los Angeles is of not aging. Just have your image captured by the camera, and in a way you never do age. There is the play on the meaning of “Way” here, as both method and the street that leads to the Burbank airport. And how literal is she when she sings, “We’re all on shaky ground”? That playful sense is also prominent in the following track, “My God Is Better Than Yours,” which has the positive message that we shouldn’t let religions divide us, that the fighting between religious groups is insane. I particularly like these lines: “A thousand years later came the Crusades/Now two thousand years, no progress made.” No kidding! I also really like the backing vocals by Terry Wilson and Billy Watts: “Oh no, no, no, you’re wrong again.”

My favorite track is “You Always Pick Me Up.” I love the classic, powerful feel of this song. It features another excellent vocal performance by Teresa James, and also some great stuff from Ron Dziubla on saxophone and Lee Thornburg on trumpet. “You had dreams you could remember/Oh, where did they go/Another place, another time/Baby, we’ll never know.” I love this song, and I can’t believe it hasn’t been a part of my life for years already. It has that feel, you know?

I hate the marketing slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” which seems designed to appeal to the worst aspects of human nature, encouraging people to cheat and then keep it secret, while of course spending plenty of money. Part of it is that I despise Las Vegas, which I think exists solely by appealing to those worst elements inside of all of us. So I have a bit of trouble getting into “What Happens In Vegas,” though the song seems to be a warning of sorts (“You’d better watch out, there ain’t no doubt/You’re going to lose your honey if you lose your money”), and features some nice work on piano by Mike Finnigan.

One of this CD’s highlights is “No Regrets,” another with that great, old feel, a thoughtful song of passion and love. “Love seems to come so easily to you.” Plus, there is some really nice playing by Sean Holt on saxophone, as well as great stuff on keys. The CD concludes with its second cover, John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me.” It’s interesting that Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps decided to begin and end the album with covers. This is such a beautiful song, and certainly not a bad choice with which to end the album. I love the way Teresa delivers these lines: “When your back’s against the wall/Just turn around, just turn around and you will see/I will catch you, I will always catch your fall/All you got to do is have a little faith in me.” Jerry Peterson plays saxophone on this track.

CD Track List
  1. I Like It Like That
  2. Bonafide
  3. Spit It Out
  4. The Power Of Need
  5. Hollywood Way
  6. My God Is Better Than Yours
  7. You Always Pick Me Up
  8. What Happens In Vegas
  9. Too Big To Fail
  10. Funny Like That
  11. No Regrets
  12. You Want It When You Want It
  13. Have A Little Faith In Me 
Bonafide was released on October 14, 2016 on Jesi-Lu Records.

Velvet Crush: “Pre-Teen Symphonies” (2016) CD Review

Velvet Crush is a rock band from Providence, Rhode Island, getting its start in 1989, and releasing its first full-length album in 1991. Probably Velvet Crush’s most popular album is Teenage Symphonies To God, released in 1994. Leading up to that album, the band recorded some demos, which are included on Pre-Teen Symphonies, along with some live tracks from November 1994. These tracks were previously available on the band’s own label, Action Musick, on Melody Freaks and Rock Concert. Now they’re available to a wider audience through this new compilation by Omnivore Recordings, with liner notes by drummer Ric Menck. Most of the songs were written by the band’s three members, Paul Chastain, Jeffrey Underhill and Ric Menck.

Melody Freaks

The first eight tracks of this compilation were previously included on Melody Freaks. These are demos of songs which, in large part, would end up on Teenage Symphonies To God. The disc opens with “Hold Me Up,” which would be the lead-off track on that album, and would also be released as a single. It’s a good, solid tune, with lines like “Time down the road/Nothing much to show/Suffer as the days/Linger on and on/Miles and miles away/You hold me up when I'm gone.” That’s followed by “My Blank Pages,” which also follows it on Teenage Symphonies To God. The lines that always stick out for me are “All I do, all I say, never close enough/All I do, all I know, doesn’t mean that much.” (Interestingly, those lines would be changed slightly on the album to “All I think, all I say, never close enough/All I know, all I do doesn’t mean that much.”)

“Time Wraps Around You” has a mellower, sweeter sound, and is one of my favorite tracks. This song would also be included on Teenage Symphonies To God. “This time wraps around you/And I'll wrap around you/You know I'll stay.”

“Turn Down” is one of only two songs on this CD not written by the band. It was written by Darren Cooper and originally recorded by his band, Three Hour Tour, and included on the Valentine’s Day seven-inch. It’s one of those positive, peppy-sounding pop songs, with the line “We’ll take something bad and turn it around.” And it works. I was in kind of a shitty mood the first time I put this disc on, and this track brought a smile to my face.  Of course, it’s followed by a song titled “This Life Is Killing Me,” a harder, rawer rock number that seemed more fitting to my mood that night with lines like “It's your saving grace, but it's not saving me” and “I can’t go out, the sky is closing in on me.”

There is a bit of 1960s jangly folk-pop to the sound of “Weird Summer,” another tune that would be included on Teenage Symphonies To God. It’s one of those tunes you can’t help but like. “Star Trip” kicks right in, without that intro on the album version. By the way, joining the band on the Melody Freaks tracks are Phil Hurley on guitar, Mike Deneen on keyboards, Mitch Easter on guitar and David Gibbs on backing vocals.

Rock Concert

The second half of this disc is from a concert the band did in Chicago in November 1994, and features live versions of some of the songs from the first half of the CD. These tracks were previously released as Rock Concert. The first track is “Window To The World,” an energetic rock number with plenty of guitar. Tommy Keene had joined the band at this point, adding another guitar and voice. This song was the lead-off track to the band’s first full-length release, In The Presence Of Greatness. It’s followed by “My Blank Pages,” with the lyrics to those lines I mentioned earlier delivered as they are on the album.

Also from In The Presence Of Greatness they do “Ash And Earth,” but most of the songs are from Teenage Symphonies To God, including “Time Wraps Around You,” an energetic rendition of “Atmosphere,” “This Life I Killing Me” and “Hold Me Up.” This CD ends with its second cover, “Remember The Lightning,” written by Ron Flynt and originally recorded by 20/20, included on that band’s first album. Velvet Crush does a really good, fun rendition. There isn’t much stage banter between songs, just some thanks and very brief song introductions (like “This song is called ‘Atmosphere’”).

CD Track List
  1. Hold Me Up
  2. My Blank Pages
  3. Time Wraps Around You
  4. Not Standing Down
  5. Turn Down
  6. This Life Is Killing Me
  7. Weird Summer
  8. Star Trip
  9. Window To The World
  10. My Blank Pages
  11. Ash And Earth
  12. Time Wraps Around You
  13. Atmosphere
  14. This Life Is Killing Me
  15. Hold Me Up
  16. Remember The Lightning
Pre-Teen Symphonies was released on July 22, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.