Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sam Llanas: "4 A.M." (2011) CD Review

The new CD by Sam Llanas, founding member of the BoDeans, is essentially his second solo album - the first being 1998's A Good Day To Die under the name Absinthe. His new album, 4 A.M., which follows right on the heels of the official announcement of his departure from the BoDeans, is a good mellow record. These songs are sweet and at times truly pretty. This album is really about Sam's voice. These tracks are not over-produced, allowing his voice to connect directly with the listener.

A few of these songs were at one time or another recorded by the BoDeans, but the versions included here are much different, like new songs. All the songs, with one exception, were written by Sam Llanas.

"Oh, Celia"

The album opens with "Oh, Celia." This song has an immediate start, almost like you're being dropped into the middle of the tune - the moment you hit "Play," Sam's voice sings, "Oh, Celia/Won't you come out." No instrumental intro, no fade-in. And this works to grab you and pull you in right away. It's a sweet song, though every time he sings the line, "Would it be a sin" I can't help but think of "Can't Help Falling In Love."

Apparently this song was recorded by the BoDeans many years ago, but not released. It's a song about seeing a beautiful woman and wanting to get to know her. A love song about hoping this will be a love.


Sometimes the odd strained quality of Sam's voice seems like affectation rather than truth, and that's particularly true on "Shyne." You can hear it on lines like, "But I don't want to go there right now." Still, this song has some good lyrics like these lines: "If just for this one time/If just for this moment/If just for this one kiss/I will remember this/Under the city lights."

"Shyne" was included on the BoDeans album Mr. Sad Clown (2010). On the BoDeans album is spelled "Shine." So why this change in spelling? I don't know.

"4 A.M."

The album's title track, "4 A.M.," captures that magical time in the land of song. This song sounds like 4 a.m. It has a tired quality, but also captures the idea of a coming dawn. That time on the edge, when you're hovering between two days, possibly two worlds, two realities - where you can't hold onto the past much longer and maybe aren't quite ready for what's to come. Is it still the night before, or the next day?

Anyway, this song begins, "4 A.M./Here we are again/Every night it's just you and me." It's a time when you can't help but be open. Who has the energy for airs at 4 a.m.? Sam sings, "You know all my secrets/And you've heard my lies/4 A.M. can be the hardest time."

Someday I'm going to make a mix CD of songs that take place at 4 a.m., and this song will certainly have its place on it. There are many songs about that hour, including the incredible "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen, "Four In The Morning" by Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos (one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my favorite bands), and "4 In The Morning" by Gwen Stefani. Other bands to have a song titled "4 A.M." include Closer Ocean, Kaskade and Avenged Sevenfold.

Another song on this very album that takes place at 4 a.m. is "The Only One," The opening lines are, "It's four in the morning/The hour of truth."

"All Through The Night"

The only cover on this CD is "All Through The Night," a song made famous by Cyndi Lauper, but written by Jules Shear, Pierre Delanoe and Claude Lemesle. This has always been my favorite Cyndi Lauper song. I was worried that I might not like this version because Sam Llanas had said, "The keyboards always ruined the song for me," and honestly that keyboard bit is my favorite moment of the song. But it's not like Sam really abandoned it. Instead, a somewhat muted version of that section is played on accordion. By the way, that's Bukka Allen, the BoDeans keyboardist, on accordion. In a way, his version is sweeter. Cyndi Lauper's version has something of an intensity, even a desperation, that is not present in this version. This version is truly pretty.

By the way, the BoDeans formed the same year Cyndi Lauper released this song on her wonderful She's So Unusual album.

"Nobody Luvs Me"

"Nobody Luvs Me" is another song that was recorded by the BoDeans. It was included on Resolution (2004). And again, on the original BoDeans release, no words were misspelled - the title was "Nobody Loves Me." The version included here definitely has a sweeter sound; it sounds more like a love song. Because, after all, the complete line is "Nobody loves me like my baby." Here is a taste of the lyrics: "And at the end of a long day/It's your eyes and your smile/And I just want to hold you/A long, little while."

"Cherry O"

"Cherry O" features the wonderful lines, "You know I never meant to hurt you quite as bad as I did/I only wanted to hurt you a little more than you hurt me." This is a song about a troubled love, and the man wanting revenge. But, as he sings, "Love can make you do some of the craziest things." There is a definite sense of humor about this song. There is a nice harmonica part by Terry Vittone toward the end of this track.

"The Way Home"

This CD concludes with the beautiful "The Way Home." This is probably my favorite track. I love how it's kept simple. It has the wonderful raw feeling of a demo, including Sam counting the song off at the beginning. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "And I'm walking with my friends and my daughters and sons/Walking with the ghosts of the land/On the way home."

CD Track List

  1. Oh, Celia
  2. Shyne
  3. 4 A.M.
  4. All Through The Night
  5. Nobody Luvs Me
  6. Fare Thee Well
  7. Janey
  8. The Only One
  9. Cherry O
  10. Oh How I Loved You
  11. The Way Home


Musicians on 4 A.M. include Sam Llanas on vocals and acoustic guitar, Ryan Schiedermayer on percussion, Terry Vittone on guitars and harmonica, Matt Turner on bass, Bukka Allen on accordion, and Gary Tanin on strings.

This CD is scheduled to be released on October 25, 2011 on Inner Knot Records.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Evan Seligman: "Fidelitorium 7-11 Recordings" (2011) CD Review

One of the wonderful things about writing music reviews is that every once in a while there will be a total surprise. Last year I received a disc from a band called Fools On Sunday, a band fronted by a 13-year-old. While that might normally sound like a gimmick, in this case it wasn't. It was a good album. I actually dug the band.

This year that singer, Evan Seligman (now fourteen), has released a solo EP, Fidelitorium 7-11 Recordings. In fact, he plays all the instruments with the exception of bass on two tracks (the bass being performed by his father, Marc Seligman also of Fools On Sunday). Evan also wrote five of the six songs (the obvious exception being "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker").

This is a talented kid. But you'll forget about his age when listening, because the songs are good. Of course, rock has always been performed by teenagers. George Harrison was fourteen when he joined The Beatles (though at that time they were still a skiffle group, and not yet known as The Beatles).

"Sugar Free"

The EP opens with "Sugar Free," which begins simply, with a repeated rhythm and guitar part. It soon attaches itself to you (in a good way) and feels like a pretty mood piece. Seriously, it could have just continued like that for a long time, and I would have been happy. And then approximately a minute and forty-five seconds in the vocals come in, the first lines being "I guess I should have been more prepared/But oh well, I'm doing the best that I can."

It's kind of a wonderful opening for an album. A great jumping off point. This song is simple, but effective, and it builds in power toward the end, a steady thumping on the snare leading into an excellent joyous sustained energetic section. This is probably my favorite track on this EP.

"Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"

The only cover on this EP is "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," the famous Ramones song. This is an interesting acoustic version, with hand claps. It's a cool cover, but it is in this song that Evan's young age is most noticeable in the vocal performance.

When Fools On Sunday formed in 2009, they began by covering punk songs (before turning to original material), so the inclusion of a Ramones song on this EP isn't a total surprise.

"Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" was first included on The Ramones album Rocket To Russia (1977), and was also released as a single. Rancid and Husker Du have also covered this song.

"Ominus Crunch"

"Ominus Crunch" is a heavier song. This one is a bit repetitive, but lacks some of the charm of the first track (not that charm was necessarily intended).

By the way, there is a heavy metal band called "Ominus," also from the same area of New York.

"Going Nowhere" is a much brighter-sounding song, right from its opening. It has a definite pop rock bent, and it totally works.

Marc Seligman plays bass on "Ominus Crunch" and "Going Nowhere."


The final track, "Doubt," is a wonderful song. After a short sweet intro, it comes on strong and glorious. The opening lines of this song are "Now the time has come/I can only hope I won/In the end it never counts/But then I have my doubts." There is something joyous in the music - in its exuberance - and it's that power that makes the song's quieter moments all the more effective and wonderful. "Doubt" and "Sugar Free" are the strongest tracks on this EP, and they work well as bookends.

CD Track List

  1. Sugar Free
  2. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
  3. Ominus Crunch
  4. Going Nowhere
  5. Feelings
  6. Doubt

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Christa Couture: "Loved" (2011) CD Review

Halfway through the first song, I fell madly in love with Christa Couture. By the end of the second song I was making promises to the voice coming through my speakers. That song gave me a smile so big my face couldn't contain it, and it burst out on its own (the last I saw it, it was traveling north on Route 5).

Loved is a sort of "best of" EP, with five fan favorites recorded between 2002 and 2010 and previously released on her two full-length CDs. This music reminds me a bit of some early work by Ani Difranco, particularly the first track. There is something so honest and intimate about her delivery that all her lyrics feel true.

"I Will"

"I opened the floodgate on us/I opened my mind too far/The ocean came between us/And it made a star/We wish upon it/We wish for love/Because we like each other/But it's not enough." These lines open "I Will." Wonderful, right? And yes, her voice reminds me at times of Ani Difranco. And sometimes she sounds totally cute and sweet. It's a voice you'll want to take to bed. You'll want to take it everywhere. In addition to that, I love the work on guitar on this track, which was originally included on Fall Out Of Oz (2005). And the drums are fantastic.

"Sad Story Over"

"Sad Story Over" is my favorite track on this excellent EP. I absolutely love this song. It has a great build. The steady pounding of the drums is perfect, my heart wanting to keep time with it. And of course Christa's vocals are adorable and incredible. She can do a lot with a simple "ha ha" and then "ah-ah." Also, the music is so surprising throughout - glorious and wonderful. Every time I listen to this song, it excites and delights me. Like a symphony that fell in with a gypsy carnival and came to be conducted by angels with a sense of humor.

"Sad Story Over" was originally included on Christa's 2008 release, The Wedding Singer And The Undertaker.

"Jennifer Grey"

The first words of "Jennifer Grey" are spoken quietly, almost whispered into your ear, "Today is the last day I'm 23/It's been a good year/Well, a good year for me." Assuming yours is a friendly ear. This is a beautiful and honest song. She sings, "I don't know which way is up/I don't know which way is down/But as I'm starting another year/I'm happy to say I'm happy here." And she ends with the line, "It's a very good day."

"Jennifer Grey" was included on Fell Out Of Oz (2005).

(Speaking of Jennifer Grey, did you guys ever catch the show It's Like, You Know...? She played herself on that totally underrated and overlooked television show.)

"Day 4"

"Day 4" begins with Christa's voice right in your ear - you can almost feel her mouth on the microphone as she sings, "I cannot sit still/I will twitch/I will travel/I am leaving what remains of me as I unravel." There is a gorgeous and excited joy that sneaks into her voice at times. She has a wonderful way of speaking directly to you. It's so disarming. You can't help but be drawn in, drawn to her voice, drawn into her world, into her songs, her stories. She picks her moments - it's not like the whole song is done that way. Because once she has you, she can take you along wherever she likes, sometimes to great heights.

"I Don't Play Piano"

"I Don't Play Piano" starts with just piano - some simple playing. After about thirty seconds, Christa's voice comes in to tell us "Well you know I don't play piano/Oh no, but I wish that I could." And yes, this is a song about wishing she could play piano, with references to Gershwin and Cole Porter (as well as to her grandmother, Irene). I love the lines, "And I know if I played on those keys/My love would find me." I think we've all felt that at one time or another. This song has a strange short section in the middle.

"I Don't Play Piano" is from Christa Couture's The Wedding Singer And The Undertaker (2008).

CD Track List

  1. I Will
  2. Sad Story Over
  3. Jennifer Grey
  4. Day 4
  5. I Don't Play Piano

Loved was released in June, 2011. Also released at the same time was another EP titled Lost, which features songs recorded between 2002 and 2010 that weren't released until now. (Get it - Loved and Lost? Of course you do.) By the way, on the back of the CD case it says, "Unauthorized duplication is totally awesome."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Phranc and Peter Case at California Plaza, 8-20-11

Phranc and Peter Case performed on August 20th, 2011 at California Plaza as part of the Grand Performances series. When I've seen concerts at this venue in the past, the stage has been set up across a small pool, so the audience can't really get close to the stage (which I don't care for). But for this show, they set the stage up in a different area, so that the water was behind the stage. It was a much more intimate set-up, and worked much better (at least for me).

Phranc is someone I've listened to for decades, but for one reason or another never got the chance to see in concert. When I was working as a radio DJ in Oregon, I used to play her stuff quite a bit. She's a folksinger with punk sensibilities and a great sense of humor.

Peter Case is also someone I've wanted to see in concert for a long time. He was actually a replacement for Exene, who was double-booked and decided to do the Seattle gig instead of this one. He put on a great show, having fun even when the cord came out of his guitar pedal - he joked that it was like playing in a hotel room.

Phranc's Set List
  1. Yer The One
  2. Amazons
  3. Bulldagger Swagger
  4. The Handsome Cabin Boy
  5. Handicapped
  6. All Roads Lead To Boyle Heights (title?)
  7. Tzena, Tzena
  8. Ozzie and Harriet
  9. Griffith Park Pony
  10. Everywhere I Go (I Hear The Go Go's)
  11. Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter
  12. If You Don't Want To See What's Going Down, Don't Look Up (title?)
  13. Hillary's Eyebrows
  14. Hey, Michelle (title?)
  15. The Bell That They Call Liberty (title?)
  16. It's Cool To Get Old

  1. I Enjoy Being A Girl
  2. Lifelover
Phranc played ukulele on "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" and "If You Don't Want To See What's Going Down, Don't Look Up." "I Enjoy Being A Girl" was performed acappella.

Peter Case's Set List

  1. This Town's A Riot
  2. Underneath The Stars
  3. Million Dollars Bail
  4. The House Rent Jump
  5. Entella Hotel
  6. Bumble Bee
  7. House Rent Party
  8. Words In Red
  9. Thirty Days In The Workhouse
  10. Ain't Gonna Worry No More
  11. First Light

  1. Space Monkey
"Bumble Bee" is a Memphis Minnie song. "Space Monkey" is a John Prine song.

This concert was free, as are all Grand Performance shows. These concerts are held at 350 S. Grand Ave. in Los Angeles.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Megan Jacobs and Holland Greco at The Sunset Strip Music Festival, 8-19-11

The Peak Show was one of the best bands ever. No question. Since they disbanded in 2004 I've followed each band member's subsequent projects. And these guys continue to write fantastic songs and put on excellent shows. They never disappoint.

Two of the band members - keyboardist Megan Jacobs and lead singer Holland Greco (the two goddesses of The Peak Show) - performed tonight at The Jack Daniel's Experience Outdoor Stage as part of the Sunset Strip Music Festival. They each now perform in a trio.

Megan Jacobs' Set List
  1. Time To Find
  2. New Orleans
  3. Trust
  4. Hope Street
  5. No Need
  6. All I Ask
  7. Still Alive
  8. No Turning Back
Megan dedicated "All I Ask" to Holland, saying she wrote the song when she visited Holland in New York.

Holland Greco's Set List
  1. 100 Proof
  2. Bedford Stuyvesant
  3. Guilty Pleasure Zone
  4. Speedway
  5. Only Up From Here
  6. Stupid Cupid
  7. Flashback
  8. Vampira
  9. Stuck
Before Holland took the stage, Michael Papillo and Princess Frank did a little impromptu number on bass and drums. "Speedway" also had a really cool bass and drums intro.

Megan Jacobs went on at approximately 7:45 p.m. Holland Greco went on at approximately 8:30 p.m.

The shows tonight at the Jack Daniel's stage were free. The Sunset Strip Music Festival continues tomorrow, but there is a cover.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Grownup Noise at The Silverlake Lounge 8-15-11 Concert Review

In September of 2009 I caught a set by The Grownup Noise at TT The Bear's in Boston. They opened for Kay Hanley, and they immediately won me over. I'm a sucker for cello, so they had that going for them right away. But it was their songwriting that really impressed me. Then when they came out to L.A. in August of 2010 I made a point of seeing their show. On that tour, Katie (the cellist) was not with them. Neither was Aine, their current drummer - their original drummer was filling in. Likewise, another keyboardist filled in. And the show was still phenomenal. Now on their current tour, they have their full lineup, and last night's show at The Silverlake Lounge was excellent. I can't say enough about this band. Each show has been better than the last. I love this band. Love them.

And the word is starting to get around. There was a good crowd, and on a Monday in Los Angeles (that's saying something). I asked some folks before the show which band they were there to see (because of course there were like five bands on the bill), and they all said The Grownup Noise. And none of them had seen the band before. So I highly recommend seeing this band as soon as you can, before everyone else catches on, and they start playing large venues. And if there is any justice in the universe, any sense to things, this band will make it, will start playing large venues.

The sound at the Silverlake Lounge wasn't as good as it was at Room 5 (the last venue they played in L.A..), but it was good enough. All the lyrics were clear, and that's important with this band. These guys write good songs - songs you want to pay attention to, lyrics you want to hear. Most of the songs in their eight-song set list were from their newest CD, This Time With Feeling, which was released earlier this year (and is one of my favorite albums of 2011). But there was also some new material. It's always a pleasure to hear new stuff from this band. They never disappoint.

They opened their set with a newer song, "New Outsiders" before going into several songs from This Time With Feeling, including "Six Foot Solemn Oath," "The Artist Type," "The Same The Same" and "Flower." I love Katie's vocals on "Six Foot Solemn Oath." And "The Artist Type" is one of my favorites, with the line "When beauty is gone, will you come back to me."

Paul took over on keyboard on "The Artist Type" and "The Same The Same." Todd played accordion on those songs. Between the two songs, Paul said the band had been on the road approximately ten days and "so we're just starting to lose reality." Their tour takes them through San Francisco and Sacramento next.

"The Fight Against Paranoia" is a new song. Paul said, "It goes out to everyone's personal demons." Todd played both accordion and keyboard on this one. The song has a strange, dissonant section in the middle that I absolutely loved.

Katie stepped away from her cello and played keyboard on "Carnival," probably my favorite tune from their new album. It's a fun, joyous song, with some wonderful rhythmic playing on guitar.

They closed their set with the wonderful "Outside," from the band's Shall We? EP. This is the song that features that great line, "You're breaking in, but you're bringing the sunshine with you." They played a nice long version of the song last night. After that song, some folks called out for an encore, but the venue turned on the house music; after all, there were several more bands to go, so they had to keep on schedule.

Set List
  1. New Outsiders
  2. Six Foot Solemn Oath
  3. The Artist Type
  4. The Same The Same
  5. Flower
  6. The Fight Against Paranoia
  7. Carnival
  8. Outside

The Grownup Noise are Paul Hansen on lead vocals, guitar, and keyboard; Adam Sankowski on bass and backing vocals; Katie Franich on cello, keyboard, and backing vocals; Todd Marston on keyboard, accordion and backing vocals; and Aine Fujioka on drums.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jackie DeShannon: "When You Walk In The Room" (2011) CD Review

If you've listened to the radio or gone to the movies in the last forty-five years, you've heard Jackie DeShannon. She's an important songwriter in pop music. She even opened for The Beatles. And that was in 1964, before her biggest songs had even been written. Her songs have been covered by the likes of Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Ella Fitzgerald, Marianne Faithfull, The Temptations and The Carpenters. She also recorded songs with (a pre-Led Zeppelin) Jimmy Page and has co-written songs with Randy Newman. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, a totally deserved recognition.

And now on her newest release, When You Walk In The Room, she takes some of her most well known and beloved tunes and gives them a new life. These are songs you know, songs you probably love. But these versions will cause you look at them anew, with a fresh perspective, as she has done. They're stripped down, played more in a folk vein than pop.

Jackie DeShannon wrote or co-wrote all but two tracks on this album (those two being "Needles & Pins" and "What The World Needs Now Is Love").

"When You Walk In The Room"

The album opens with "When You Walk In the Room." The guitar is so pretty on this track. And then when the vocals come in, it's immediately apparent that Jackie's voice is still beautiful, and full of emotion. The age in her voice only adds to the song's emotional impact. This song seems stronger than ever. By stripping the song down, her voice and lyrics are allowed to shine. She sings, "I close my eyes for a second, pretend it's me you want/Meanwhile I try to act so nonchalant."

In the original (recorded in 1963, when she was only nineteen), her vocal performance had an eagerness that has been replaced in this version with affection and warmth. It sounds more like genuine love, and that gives a slightly different meaning to the lyrics. It gives them more weight. Also, that early 1960s pop element is gone.

"Put A Little Love In Your Heart"

"Put A Little Love In Your Heart" is probably her most famous song, at least of the ones she wrote. It's a song I've always loved. Her voice is excellent on this version, but I have to admit I do miss the backing vocals on the chorus, especially the echo of "And the world."

It's an odd version because it still has the drums, so it's not completely stripped down. It's like half-stripped. I'd almost prefer if she'd gone all the way with this - just vocals and guitar - and given a truly raw version that would be completely different from the original. The original reached #4 on the Billboard chart.

"Put A Little Love In Your Heart" was also recorded by Annie Lennox & Al Green. That version was included on the soundtrack for Scrooged in 1988, and actually reached #9 on the Billboard chart. It features some glorious backing vocals over a 1980s pop rhythm.

"Put A Little Love In Your Heart" was written by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers and Jimmy Holiday.

"Bette Davis Eyes"

"Bette Davis Eyes" was a huge hit for Kim Carnes in 1981, but it was written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss, and was recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1974. Jackie does a bit of Kim Carnes in her vocal performance this time around, finding those places of raw emotion in her voice, particularly on lines like "She'll lay you on her throne" and "She'll take a tumble on you/Roll you like you were dice." This is a great song, and I really like this version.

Interestingly, this version is much closer to Kim Carnes' rendition than to her own original 1974 version, which has a kind of upbeat feel, fun backing vocals and even a horn section. It's like Jackie DeShannon is doing a cover of Kim Carnes' cover of her own song.

"Come And Stay With Me"

"Come And Stay With Me" was a big song for Marianne Faithfull in 1965, and her version is really pretty. But the version included here is so honest and soulful. It feels new. It's one of the strongest tracks on this album. Jackie's vocals are just wonderful on this tune.

"Needles & Pins" and "What The World Needs Now Is Love"

"Needles & Pins" is one of only two tracks on this release that Jackie DeShannon didn't write. It was written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono - but it was written for her, and she recorded the first version in 1963. It's the rendition by The Searchers that we all know and love. But on this album, Jackie really takes control of the song - the cry in her voice adding something new to the classic hit.

The other song she didn't write is "What The World Needs Now Is Love." That song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, but it is her version that everyone thinks of, that everyone knows. Jackie originally recorded this song in 1965. That version reached # 7 on the Billboard chart, and was nominated for three Grammy awards.

The version included on this disc is great - just vocals, acoustic guitar and bass. And Jackie's vocals are as good as they've ever been on this song. Sure, some people think this song is a bit cheesy, but those folks should give this version a chance. And the fact is this song's message still rings true.

"Bad Water"

I love the raw power of her vocals on "Bad Water." This is probably the most powerful track on this album, and it's mostly due to her vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I've got to lose this feeling and change the way I'm living/I could use a helping hand/I'm walking through bad water."

"Bad Water" was written by Jackie DeShannon, Randy Myers and Jimmy Holiday.

The Raelettes - the backing vocalists for Ray Charles - recorded this song and released it as a single in 1970.

"Will You Stay In My Life"

When You Walk In The Room concludes with a new song, "Will You Stay In My Life." The instruments are more prominent on this track, but it's her voice that really sells this tune. And this song features some excellent lyrics: "I don't want your freedom/I don't want your soul/I'm just watching you moving/So easy and slow/I'll bring you white horses under stars that don't lie/And I'll ask you one question/Will you stay in my life."

Clearly, Jackie has not lost her ability to write a good tune, as this song proves. It stands up well next to these other famous songs. In fact, this track is probably my favorite from the album.

CD Track List
  1. When You Walk In The Room
  2. Put A Little Love In Your Heart
  3. Bette Davis Eyes
  4. Heart In Hand
  5. Come And Stay With Me
  6. Don't Doubt Yourself Babe
  7. Needles & Pins
  8. Breakaway
  9. What The World Needs Now Is Love
  10. Bad Water
  11. Will You Stay In My Life

When You Walk In The Room is scheduled to be released on September 27, 2011 on Rock Beat Records.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Slaid Cleaves: "Sorrow & Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge" (2011) CD Review

Sorrow & Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge is Slaid Cleaves' first live album, which is somewhat astonishing as he's been performing for more than twenty years and is known for connecting with audiences at his live performances. Slaid certainly knows his audience, and on this release he plays a lot of songs that have to do with bars, including a tune titled "Horseshoe Lounge." Drinking plays a part in many of the tunes, and this CD even includes a coaster (see photo).

Recorded on April 20, 2010 and June 29, 2010 at The Horseshoe Lounge in Austin, Texas (where Slaid makes his home), this two-disc set is full of great material. Sure, there is a sadness to a lot of his songs, but these songs aren't depressing. They're the kind of sad songs that make you feel good, and that's partly because Slaid has a good sense of humor, and he infuses his material with it. For example, in "Tumbleweed Stew," he asks the important questions, "Where can a good man go crazy? Where can a cowboy get stoned?"

Slaid Cleaves has a good rapport with his audience, who feel free to respond to him between songs (and even during songs). At one point, he asks if people want to hear any particular tunes. Folks shout out several requests. He responds, "Okay, that's enough. I can only keep two or three in my head at one time." He has a disarming honesty and sense of humor about himself. That adds to his appeal. The audience is right with him, and he's able to use that on a song like "Breakfast In Hell," for example, which includes an insane audience participation section. He also has a friendly troubadour voice which is instantly likeable.

"Hard To Believe"

The album opens with a song whose first verse is about a bar. But it's the second verse that I really love, with lines like, "Street girls hop from foot to foot/Tying to keep warm/Trying to pay down a few bills/Before the next big storm." Actually, this song is full of good lyrics, like "I would have gone with her that day/I just watched her as she drove away/I guess one of us had to leave/It's hard to believe."

Written by Adam Carroll and Slaid Cleaves, "Hard To Believe" was originally included on Slaid's 2009 release, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away. With the opening track, Slaid shows that he's an excellent storyteller. He can paint a scene, a mood with ease. And pull in an audience.

"Horseshoe Lounge"

The audience cheers as soon as it recognizes this song, named for the very venue where this album was recorded. This isn't an audience that sits still and remains quiet; they shout out and respond whenever they see fit, and they cheer even during this song. I love the line, "Maybe God left us out of the plans he made." This song was originally included on Slaid's 2000 release, Broke Down.

"Drinkin' Days"

"Drinkin' Days" opens with the line, "My drinkin' days are over." Is there a sadder opening line? This song also mentions the venue, in the line "I used to hang out at the Horseshoe," which the crowd predictably cheers. This is a sad sort of tune of a man with a few regrets. I love these lines: "I never knew what time it was/Til closing time came round/My drinkin' days are over/But I'm still trouble bound." He relates the disastrous effects of alcohol and the lifestyle that sometimes accompany it. But the absence of alcohol doesn't solve the singer's problems; he's still "trouble bound."

At the end of the track he talks about how when he first moved to Austin he lived near the venue but didn't have the courage to go to the Horseshoe Lounge.


Slaid introduces "Below," a song that was requested but one he hadn't played in a while. He says that newer songs push older songs out of the set list. "The old songs - they get jealous. And when I try to do them after several months, they try to embarrass me."

The song has a somewhat darker, haunting western feel, and is about the effects of so-called "progress" on a small town. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "They tore down the church, and the schoolhouse burned/They dug up the graves, the wheels of progress turned." This song was originally included on Wishbones (2004).

"Sinner's Prayer"

"Sinner's Prayer" starts, "I'm not living like I should/I used to be a better man." It's a bluesy folk tune about disappointing yourself. There are some wonderful moments on guitar on this track. The audience is duly impressed, as you can hear in the hoots and applause. This is a seriously cool song, which first appeared on 2004's Wishbones. It was written by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott.

"Broke Down"

"Broke Down" is an audience favorite, and the folks at the Horseshoe Lounge cheer the moment it starts. (Earlier, when folks shouted out their requests, this was one that was called for.) The title track from his 2000 release, this song features some nice lyrics like, "There's a picture locked up in an old suitcase/Billy closes his eyes, but he still sees her face." It was co-written by Slaid's friend Rod Picott. It was this song - and this album - that really started to help Slaid get national attention. And it's a wonderful song, one of this CD's best tracks.


The second disc opens with "Cry," a sort of seemingly pessimistic and cynical love song that opens with the lines, "New love like a diamond/Like a twinkling star/But it's a whole lot of heartache/To get to where we are." This song features some great lines, like "Every blue sky fades to grey/Everything you love will be taken away." This is one of my favorites from this release. Oliver Steck plays trumpet on this tune, and it sounds wonderful, just perfect. This is actually a beautiful song, despite its negative-sounding lyrics.

Yodeling Songs

Slaid does a series of yodeling songs on the second disc. He starts with "Horses," which he calls a "yodel warm-up song." The song features the line, "If it weren't for horses and divorces, I'd be a lot better off today." And of course there is some nice yodeling, which the crowd applauds. Slaid also once again mentions the venue, this time in the line, "He bought me a beer last night out at The Horseshoe Lounge." Though with this one, the lyric was changed for this performance; on the original release, it was the Lost And Found, not the Horseshoe Lounge.

Then he moves onto two yodel tunes written by Don Walser - "Texas Top Hand" and "Rolling Stone From Texas." He gets tongue-tied during "Texas Top Hand," and gives himself a little laugh. That song ends with some serious yodeling. But after the song he jokes that that one was an eight on the difficulty scale, and that now he was going to really go for it on "Rolling Stone From Texas." And he does. It's a fun rendition of the tune. Oliver Steck plays accordion on this one. It also features some nice work on guitar by Michael O'Connor. At the end, Slaid jokes, "I'm warmed up now. Let's start recording."

There is an untitled eleventh track on the second disc. It's not a song, but rather a snippet of conversation with Slaid, Michael and a guy who calls himself T-Bone.

CD Track List

Disc One:

  1. Hard To Believe
  2. Horseshoe Lounge
  3. Drinkin' Days
  4. Black T Shirt
  5. No Angel Knows
  6. Below
  7. Tumbleweed Stew
  8. Sinner's Prayer
  9. Broke Down
  10. Wishbones
  11. New Year's Day

Disc Two:

  1. Cry
  2. Lydia
  3. Green Mountains And Me
  4. Horses
  5. Texas Top Hand
  6. Rolling Stone From Texas
  7. Breakfast In Hell
  8. Key Chain
  9. One Good Year
  10. Go For The Gold


Musicians on this release are Slaid Cleaves on vocals and acoustic guitar; Michael O'Connor on acoustic lead guitar and vocals; and Oliver Steck on accordion, harmonica, trumpet and vocals.

The painting on the CD cover is by Maine artist Kathleen Mack.

Sorrow & Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge is scheduled to be released September 6, 2011 on Music Road Records.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Heavy Guilt: "In The Blood" (2011) CD Review

In The Blood is the second release by The Heavy Guilt, a San Diego-based band that mixes indie rock with some elements of garage, folk and even the jam-band universe. They formed after K23 Orchestra disbanded, K23 members Alfred Howard and Josh Rice having accumulated material that hadn't fit in with the previous band. They soon teamed up with singer Erik Canzona, and the other members were added quickly.

There is a definite power to this music, but it has heart as well. And intelligence, which comes through in the material. They do a good job of marrying the lyric to the music. For example, toward the end of "Fever" during the repeated "Open up your heart," it sounds like the music itself is opening, showing its own heart through the song's build.

"It's Time"

The music of "It's Time," the opening track, is sparse and simple at the beginning. I love the way lead vocalist Erik Canzona's voice lifts, as if with hope, at moments in the opening lines - like on the word "before" in "I know you've been down before." It's such a well structured song. For example, the song kicks in immediately after the line, "It's time to put the past to rest," the music punctuating the thought, giving it a wonderful honesty.

I love the lines, "Time will take care of all wounds/I hope that time is coming soon." This is such an emotionally charged song, and a great way to open an album - get right in there under the listener's skin. A wonderful tune, and one of the album's best tracks.

"The Cost"

"The Cost" starts with electric guitar. Then the vocals come in, and that combination has a great raw edge and power, which is not lost when the rest of the instruments come in. And later the guitar leads into a fantastic instrumental section, a jam that is my favorite part of the song. But there are also some good lyrics, like these: "Got some aspirin and decisions/Two to take and one to make/Been so biased by these visions/From a flood we wait to wake."


"Wyoming" is a prettier, mellower tune. Though this song is prettier, it is no less powerful than the previous track. At the beginning, this band gives you just enough of an instrumental introduction to completely change your mood before the vocals come in, immediately setting the tone, and setting you up. This song makes a home for itself in your head. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Another slow wind speaks your name/Another candle burning bright/And as I sit and watch the flame/Growing dimmer over time." I really like this song.

"Through The Tangles"

These guys really know how to get the greatest effect from a repeated phrase or line. In "Wyoming" it was "All in all, it is all right" and "As long as day comes from your night" that were repeated, with wonderful results. In this song, it's "Don't ask me why." Erik gives a bit more and holds just a bit longer on the word "why."

This tune has a great, loud build, and then suddenly drops to let the vocals speak directly to the listener over a simple, good beat.


"Alibi" has a very different feel, a different mood. This song has a fun groove and a really cool, catchy guitar part that repeats at various points throughout the song. I would not be at all surprised if this one got some serious airplay on mainstream radio. And I dig these lines: "And I can't put it all together like I used to do/I trace your place in puzzle pieces cause I'm used to you."

"Blistered Hands"

"Blistered Hands" also has some wonderful work on guitar. I particularly like the instrumental section, the guitar at first tentatively finding its way through the song's environment over a good rhythm provided by Jason Littlefield on bass and Jenny Merullo on drums. And then it's as if the guitar is gaining confidence, strength, force and vigor. And they let it carry on as long as it needs to rather than keeping it short. So the song has a certain freedom. These guys must put on some good shows. Again, they choose a line to repeat; this time it's "Something comes next" after the jam. Perfect.


This CD concludes with "Fallen," a cool, more acoustic-type song. This is one of my favorite tracks from this album. The vocals are very different on this one - smoother, with hints of a late 1960s sound (think Velvet Underground). This song has some good lyrics too, like "I'll take the medicine of minutes/Swallow hollow pills of hours/Takes a little time to show." And I love the line, "I fell in love and I fell in war."

CD Track List

  1. It's Time
  2. The Cost
  3. Wyoming
  4. Through The Tangles
  5. Alibi
  6. Blistered Hands
  7. In The Blood
  8. Fever
  9. When It Comes Down
  10. Train Station
  11. Fallen


The Heavy Guilt are Erik Canzona on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Sean Martin on acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Josh Rice on piano, Rhodes, Hammond, Elka organ, Jaymar and acoustic guitar; Jason Littlefield on upright bass and electric bass; Jenny Merullo on drums, percussion and backing vocals; and Alfred Howard on Casio SK5, circuit bent radio, short wave radio and percussion.

Joining them on this recording are Heather Marie Janiga on backing vocals, John Mailander on violin and viola, Chris Davies and acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and Timin Murray on sonic soundscaping.

In The Blood was released on July 5, 2011. The Heavy Guilt's first album, Lift Us Up From This, was released in September of 2009.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 2011 Concert Calendar

Here is a list of concerts by bands that I've reviewed (and some bands that i haven't yet written about, but really like). If you can, try to check out at least a few of these shows. I will be adding listings throughout the month, so please check back again later.

August 1, 2011 (Monday)

August 2, 2011 (Tuesday)
Antioquia - Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA - 8:00 p.m.
Bullied By Strings - Subterranean, 2011 West North Ave., Chicago, IL - 8:30 p.m.
The Submarines - Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON

August 3, 2011 (Wednesday)
The Evangenitals - Villains Tavern, 1356 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles, CA - 9:00 p.m.
Free show
The Grownup Noise - Danger Danger Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Matisyahu - Club Nokia, Los Angeles, CA
(with special opening act, Tea Leaf Green)
The Submarines - Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, OH

August 4, 2011 (Thursday)
Antioquia - Autumn Cafe, Oneonta, NY - 9:30 p.m.
Marshall Chapman - San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Entrain - Arts Jubilee Concert, N. Conway, NH - 6:00 p.m.
The Grownup Noise - Velvet Lounge, Washington DC
John Hiatt - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA
The Submarines - Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH

August 5, 2011 (Friday)
Anita And The Yanks - The Novel Cafe, 1713 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA
Antioquia - JerryFest Shartlesville, Shartlesville, PA - 11:45 p.m.
The Grownup Noise - Kafe Kerouac, Columbus, OH
Ellis Paul - Bridge Street Live, Collinsville, CT - 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $20.00
Keller Williams - Weekend Off Festival, Warsaw, NY

August 6, 2011 (Saturday)
7 Walkers - Salmonstock Kenai Peninsula, Ninilchik, AK
The Grownup Noise - Uncle Slayton's, Louisville, KY
Moonalice - The Mint, Los Angeles, CA
Patrolled By Radar - 3 Clubs, Los Angeles, CA - 10:00 p.m.
Ellis Paul - Collinsville, CT - 12:30 p.m.
Special family show; Tickets: $10.00
Keller Williams - Elysian Fields, Boyce, VA

August 7, 2011 (Sunday)
Judy Collins - Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, ME
The Grownup Noise - South Park Tavern, Dayton, OH
Ellis Paul - Curtis Arboretum, Wyncote, PA - 5:00 p.m.

August 8, 2011 (Monday)
The Grownup Noise - Schubas, Chicago, IL

August 9, 2011 (Tuesday)
7 Walkers - Art Quest Center Winery, Bethlehem, PA
The Grownup Noise - Five Spot, Nashville, TN
The Submarines - Showbox, Seattle, WA

August 10, 2011 (Wednesday)
7 Walkers - The World Cafe, Wilmington, DE
Judy Collins - The Flying Money, Plymouth, NH
The Submarines - Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR

August 11, 2011 (Thursday)
7 Walkers - Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ
Entrain - Colburn Park, Lebanon, NH - 7:30 p.m.
The Grownup Noise - Hi-Dive, Denver, CO
The Submarines - Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA

August 12, 2011 (Friday)
7 Walkers - Backstage at the Nancy Marine Studio, Torrington, CT
Judy Collins - Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta, NY
Entrain - Green Love Fest, Starks, ME
Aimee Mann - The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, CA
Ellis Paul - Boothbay Opera House, Boothbay Harbor, ME - 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $17.00
Martin Sexton - South Park Ampitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
The Submarines - El Rey, Los Angeles, CA
Keller Williams - Outer Banks Brewing Station, Kill Devil Hills, NC

August 13, 2011 (Saturday)
7 Walkers - 6th Annual Bears Picnic, Lauerlton, PA
Cake - CD101 Summerfest, LC Pavillion, Columbus, OH
Entrain - Seaside Pavilion, Old Orchard Beach, ME
Aimee Mann - Burton W. Chace Park, Marina del Rey, CA
Ellis Paul - The Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, ME - 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $20.00
Yonder Mountain String Band - Targhee Bluegrass Festival - Grand Targhee Resort, Alta, WY

August 14, 2011 (Sunday)
Entrain - Bethlehem Musikfest, PA
B.B. King - Pacific Amphitheatre, CA
Aimee Mann - Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, CA

August 15, 2011 (Monday)
The Grownup Noise - Silverlake Lounge, Los Angeles, CA

August 16, 2011 (Tuesday)
Yonder Mountain String Band - CEFCU Center Stage at The Landing - Peoria Riverfront, Peoria, IL

August 17, 2011 (Wednesday)
Judy Collins - The Bull Run, Shirley, MA
Go-Gos - Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
The Grownup Noise - The Uptown, Oakland, CA
Aimee Mann - The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
Yonder Mountain String Band - Crossroads, Kansas City, MO

August 18, 2011 (Thursday)
Dave Alvin - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA
Entrain - Crane Castle, Ipswich, MA
The Grownup Noise - Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco, CA
The Happy Hollows - The Echo, Echo Park, CA
Aimee Mann - The Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA
Yonder Mountain String Band - The Slowdown, Omaha, NE

August 19, 2011 (Friday)
Anita And The Yanks - Ireland's 32, 13721 Burbank Blvd, Van Nuys, CA - 9:30 p.m.
The Evangenitals - Villains Tavern, 1356 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles, CA - 10:00 p.m.
The Grownup Noise - The Distillery, Sacramento, CA
I See Hawks In L.A. - Grand Performances Summer Concert Series at Cal Plaza, 350 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA - 12:00 noon
Megan Jacobs - The Sunset Strip Music Festival, Los Angeles, CA - 7:00 p.m.
Aimee Mann - The Center For The Arts, Grass Valley, CA
Ellis Paul - Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, ME - 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $22.00

August 20, 2011 (Saturday)
Judy Collins - The Stephen Talkhouse, Amagansett, NY
Entrain - MV Agricultural Fair - 7 p.m.
The Evangenitals - Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, Pioneertown, CA - 8:00 p.m.
Aimee Mann - Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR
Keller Williams - Sunseekers Ball Music Festival, Chance Harbour, NB
Yonder Mountain String Band - Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO

August 21, 2011 (Sunday)
Judy Collins - Two River Theatre, Red Bank, NJ
Aimee Mann - Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

August 22, 2011 (Monday)
Judy Collins - The Barrington Stage Company, Inc., Pittsfield, MA
Ellis Paul - West Mountain Inn, Arlington, VT

August 23, 2011 (Tuesday)
The Grownup Noise - Knife Shop, Portland, OR
Aimee Mann - Britt Festival, Medford, OR
Ellis Paul - West Mountain Inn, Arlington, VT

August 24, 2011 (Wednesday)
Marshall Chapman - Nashville, TN
The Grownup Noise - Seamonster Lounge, Seattle, WA
Ellis Paul - West Mountain Inn, Arlington, VT

August 25, 2011 (Thursday)
Judy Collins - The Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts, Old Saybrook, CT
Ellis Paul - West Mountain Inn, Arlington, VT

August 26, 2011 (Friday)
Anita And The Yanks - The Tam O'Shanter, 2980 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Keller Williams - Mishawaka Amphitheatre, Bellvue, CO

August 27, 2011 (Saturday)
7 Walkers - Music On the Mountain Festival, Boone, NC
The Brian Kinler Band - M Bar, 1253 Vine St., Hollywood, CA - 7:30 p.m.
Cover: $10 (+ $10 worth of food)
Keller Williams - Mishawaka Amphitheatre, Bellvue, CO

August 28, 2011 (Sunday)
I See Hawks In L.A. - Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake, Altadena, CA - 7:00 p.m.
Keller Williams - Lake Tahoe Bluegrass Festival, Sand Harbor, NV

August 29, 2011 (Monday)

August 30, 2011 (Tuesday)
Entrain - Concerts On The Square, Exton, PA - 6 p.m.

August 31, 2011 (Wednesday)
Shannon Hurley - Hotel Cafe, 1623 1/2 N Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA - 9:00 p.m.

August 2011 Update

Howdy, everybody. At the beginning of each month, I'll include a link to the blog that lists all of my articles, arranged by subject, so that they're easy to find. That link is this:

List Of All My Music Articles

It's been my intention with this blog to write about CDs and bands that I like. Sure, there might be an exception now and again. But I have no desire to tear apart some new band that's out there struggling to find a fan base. What I want to do is let people know about new bands they might not have heard of yet, and to remind them of some bands they might have forgotten. And to keep people up-to-date with all the great new releases, as well as concert listings. Basically, to share my love of music with anyone who cares to read this.

Today is (or would be) Jerry Garcia's birthday. It's been sixteen years since he died, and I still miss him. My favorite song is "Ripple." For those who haven't heard it, check out this beautiful version from 1980: "Ripple" at Radio City Music Hall.