Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Valentine's Day Music: Folk And Acoustic Songs For Your Holiday

Most people will agree that Valentine's Day is a greeting card holiday. But also most people will play along. So this year, instead of buying the usual chocolate, flowers, jewelry, why not make your love a mix CD? It's more personal and unusual. The folk and acoustic world offers a lot of sweet love songs that would be perfect for such a mix. Here are a few that you might not think of right away.

"Hard Love" by Brooks Williams

Brooks Williams is a darn-good songwriter, and he has a wonderful voice. "Hard Love" has always been a favorite among his fans, and is one of those songs guaranteed to move its listeners. It's a song not about being sweet for your loved one, but being strong.

Here is the chorus: "Hard love, I need you/Hard love/Tell me if you think I'm doing wrong/And if I'm sinking down, give me a strong arm/Hard love, I need you/Hard love/I can count on you to hold me tight/Can I count on you to steer me right?" And then at the end of the song he sings, "You're the one who knows me even better than myself/You can love me tender, can you love me tough?"

"Hard Love" was included on Brooks Williams' 1991 release, How The Night-Time Sings.

"I'm So Happy You're My Girl" by Dave Coffin

"I'm So Happy You're My Girl" is an unabashed love song. The title says it all. It's a song that celebrates love and a relationship, with great lines like, "When you open up your arms you'll find me in them." This song also benefits from some sweet violin-playing by Jane Park.

"I'm So Happy You're My Girl" is from Dave Coffin's 2010 release, The King Is Dead.

"In The Dark With You" by Greg Brown

Greg Brown has a deep, sexy voice. It's a voice that seems to be speaking directly to you, singing in your ear, and so his love songs have a special potency. And then his lyrics are so honest, and at times so sweet. Here is an example from "In The Dark With You": "Reaching out my hands/I know you are too/'Cause I just want to be in the dark with you."

"In The Dark With You" is the title track from his 1985 release.

"Just The Jester Fool" and "Give In, Give Up" by Ellis Paul

"Just The Jester Fool" is one of Ellis Paul's earliest efforts, and it still manages to hit home emotionally. It's a simple and beautiful song. Here are some of the lyrics: "She then says lovingly/If I were the queen and you were just the jester fool/I would love you as my king/Just because I do, I do love you."

"Just The Jester Fool" was included on Ells Paul's first CD, Say Something (1993). It was also included on the End Construction album, Resume Speed (1990). And before that, it was actually included on Ellis Paul's very first cassette, Urban Folk Songs (1989), which was released on CD in 2000.

Another of Ellis Paul's songs that would work well for a Valentine's Day mix is "Give In, Give Up," which is one of his best songs. It's so beautiful, and so positive, especially when he sings, "And the colors we choose/Are yellows and blues/Let's paint the sky over and over." His voice is amazing on this song. He sings, "If I fell down on my knees/If it came to pleading/Would you take me as I am/Your touch is all I'm needing."

"Give In, Give Up" is from Ellis Paul's phenomenal 2002 release, The Speed Of Trees.

"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" by Bob Dylan

"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" is a song about a traveler who finds it impossible to leave a town because it's impossible to leave a woman there. Yes, a song about a man changing his ways for a woman. What woman doesn't secretly (or not so secretly) wish for that?

The song begins, "Throw my ticket out the window/Throw my suitcase out there too/Throw my troubles out the door/I don't need them anymore/'Cause tonight I'll be staying here with you."

"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" is from Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline (1969).

"You're The One" by Stephanie Mechura

Stephanie Mechura has a pretty and distinct voice. "You're The One" is a perfect song for a Valentine's Day mix, with lyrics like, "Looking in your eyes I realize/I'm who I'm supposed to be/And supposing that for once I would succumb/You're the one."

"You're The One" is the opening track on her 1994 release ...Ellipsis.

"Good Enough" by Kate Jacobs

And for those who may be having a bit of trouble in their relationship, why not include a song that admits that? A perfect choice would be Kate Jacobs' "Good Enough" from her 2011 release, Home Game.

"Good Enough" is a sort of love song, about a not-so-perfect couple who manage to make it work. It includes both the male and female parts, and they sing, "If it’s good enough for you/it’s good enough for me/I never knew that making do could be just fine/And if it’s good enough for us/then darlin’ what’s the fuss?/Let’s call it love/It’s pretty good/Most of the time."

How is that for honesty in a love song? And listening to Kate's delightful voice, one gets the sense that this relationship has a much better chance of lasting than most.

That should provide a good starting point for a Valentine's Day mix.

Note: I originally posted this on January 18, 2011 on another site.

Valentine's Day Songs For Your Valentine

Yes, Valentine's Day is a greeting card holiday. But for those who are going to play along - and probably most will - instead of buying the usual chocolate, flowers, jewelry, why not make your love a mix CD? It's more personal and unusual.

You can choose some of his or her favorite songs, or songs that have played a significant part in your relationship. What song was playing when you met? What was the first song you danced to? What was the first concert you went to together? What song did you listen to over and over on a road trip?

But here are some ideas for other songs that might fit on a Valentine's Day mix. Songs you might not think of straight away.

"From Where I Stand" by The Loomers

Jon Svetkey, lead singer for The Loomers, wrote a lot of humorous and cynical love songs at the beginning of his career, songs like "Girlfriend For Sale." But then something happened, and he began writing love songs in earnest. One of the best is "From Where I Stand," from The Loomers 1997 release, Escalation.

Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Laughing as I tripped to greet you/Smiling at the frown on my face/I knew that moment I was gone forever/Knew that I was in the right place." The repeated line is, "From where I stand this world ain't nothing but you and me." Perfect.

"As We Go Along" by the Monkees

"As We Go Along" is the best song from the Monkees film Head, and one of the best songs of the band's career. It's a gorgeous song, with a wonderful folk bent. And it has some excellent lyrics, including these lines: "And you shouldn't be shy/For I'm not going to try/To hurt you or heal you/Or steal your star."

That line - about not trying to heal someone - is wonderful, and a rare idea in music, and in life. And as such, it's a perfect song for Valentine's Day, to express a rare and pure love for someone.
Head was recently re-released as a three-disc box set. The bonus tracks include an alternate mix of this beautiful song, with that great extended ending.

"Darling Be Home Soon" by The Lovin' Spoonful

"Darling Be Home Soon" is a beautiful love song written by John Sebastian. Check out these lyrics: "I think I've come to see myself at last/And I see that the time spent confused/Was the time that I spent without you/And I feel myself in bloom/So darling be home soon/I couldn't bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled/My darling be home soon/It's not just these few hours, but I've been waiting since I toddled/ For the great relief of having you to talk to."

Seriously, what other song can you think of that has the words "dawdled" and "toddled"?

(As a side note, The Lovin' Spoonful was the band that was originally going to be used for the television program that eventually became The Monkees.)

"I'm Sticking With You" by The Velvet Underground

"I'm Sticking With You" is such a silly, and yet totally sweet (and innocent) song by The Velvet Underground. Maureen Tucker sings lead on this one, "I'm sticking with you/'Cause I'm made out of glue/Anything that you might do/I'm gonna do too." And Lou Reed sings, "I'll do anything for you/Anything you want me to."

This was included as a bonus track on the Fully Loaded Edition of the Velvet's album Loaded. A different version was released on the soundtrack to Juno.

Velvet Underground and Lou Reed fans might also want to include "I Love You," two versions of which are also included on Fully Loaded.

"You Belong To Me" by Jo Stafford

This is a beautiful song about a somewhat possessive love. Jo Stafford's version features Paul Weston & His Orchestra. Bob Dylan also recorded a wonderful rendition of this tune. Dylan's version was included on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

That soundtrack, however, is the biggest mess - Trent Reznor has a lot to answer for his decisions on that one. There is even some stupid dialogue from the film playing over the Dylan track. Who would do that? Trent Reznor, that's who. He produced and assembled the soundtrack (my vote for the worst soundtrack ever - not in terms of the songs, for some of my favorite songs are included - but in terms of its production).

"Kiss You All Over" by Exile

One really can't go wrong with Exile's classic song, "Kiss You All Over." With its simple '70s disco beat, and its straight-forward lyrics: "I don't know what I'd do without you, babe/Don't know where I'd be/You're not just another lover/No, you're everything to me," it's sure to please (or at least tickle and amuse) your partner.

"I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen

There really isn't a sexier song than Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man." And any woman who doesn't completely melt to this song is clearly an android sent from another planet to destroy humanity, so watch out. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "If you want a lover/I'll do anything you ask me to/And if you want another kind of love/I'll wear a mask for you/If you want a partner/Take my hand/Or if you want to strike me down in anger/Here I stand/I'm your man."

"I'm Your Man" is the title track from Leonard Cohen's 1988 release.

"Oh Jean" by The Proclaimers

The Proclaimers had an insanely giant hit with "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" (due partly to its inclusion in the film Benny & Joon). That's a great song, but the album it's from, Sunshine On Leith (1988), contains a lot of excellent songs, including the wildly energetic "Oh Jean." This song has a man professing his love for the woman who let him get lucky. Has ever a man been so thankful for a little action?

Still, it's a love song, with these lyrics: "I want you forever, I want you for good/So I'm gonna treat you the way that I should/For your soul and body my heart's gonna pound/Even after the day that I'm laid in the ground."

"Paradise By The Dashboard Light" by Meat Loaf

And for those who have been together a long time, why not include a humorous choice or two, such as Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light"? In a moment of youthful unbridled lust, he promises to love his woman forever.

Meat Loaf sings, "I started swearing to my god and on my mother's grave/That I would love you to the end of time/I swore that I would love you to the end of time/So now I'm praying for the end of time/To hurry up and arrive." The song ends with the repeated lines, "It was long ago, and it was far away/And it was so much better than it is today." But yet it's still a love song.

"Love Is..." by King Missile

And there is also "Love Is..." by King Missile. This isn't for everyone, but it might be for you. Check out these lyrics: "Love is beautiful/Like birds that sing/Love is not ugly/Like rats/In a puddle of vomit." Indeed. "Love Is..." is the first track on King Missile's 1994 self-titled release.
These, of course, are only a few of the many songs that might be appropriate for a Valentine's Day mix. Songwriters are constantly tackling the subject of love and relationships. And sometimes they get it right.

Note: I originally posted this on January 11, 2011 on another site.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Martin Sexton: "Fall Like Rain" (2012) CD Review

Martin Sexton has an incredible voice. It is powerful, and often beautiful. And it is unique. I've never heard anyone else who sounds quite like him. Ever since the early 1990s when I first heard Martin sing "The Way I Am," I've been impressed with his voice, and with his stage presence, and with his song structure. And because of that, I always have high expectations when he puts out a new CD. He hasn't let me down yet.

His newest release, Fall Like Rain, is five-song EP. Of the five songs, four are originals, and one is a perfectly timely cover. And two of these songs, "Fall Like Rain" and "Burlington," are among the best songs Martin has ever recorded. Martin said he released this as an EP because these songs are relevant today, and he didn't want to wait to release a full-length album. These songs really do get right to the heart of what folks are experiencing and feeling now.

"Fall Like Rain"

This EP opens with its title track, "Fall Like Rain." This is an uplifting song (without being the least bit sappy or facile), expressing desires that we all feel as we search for answers. It begins, "How do I know what I really need/Do I find it in church or watch it on TV/How far will I go just to feel alive/What crazy stunts will I pull just to see the other side." Martin Sexton has a way of plugging right into how his listeners are feeling, what they're experiencing. The message can be heard in lines like "You can't know the heat 'til you've been frozen cold/Can't feel young unless you've been growing old/How can you know love until you got a broken heart/You can't get anywhere until you make a start."

"Fall Like Rain" was written by Martin Sexton and Crit Harmon (who plays 12 string on this track). Duke Levine plays lap steel (there was a law passed in the late 1980s that any folk album had to feature Duke Levine on at least one track, and that's a law I fully support).

"One Voice Together"

Yes, "One Voice Together" is one of those songs about getting along, about thinking about what we all have in common, rather than focusing on our differences. There are a lot of songs like that. But this one is by Martin Sexton, so it's an earnest and good song. Martin sings, "Well, one voice can make a whole lot of noise/One voice singing out/But a full-blown choir can take the whole thing higher."

Martin's message doesn't come from some lofty position. There is a human honesty in lines like, "Sometimes I do not love my neighbor/Sometimes I feel like throwing stones/I'm sure that he'd return the favor/And we'd be left with broken bones."

What is it about these days that makes us feel we're at a crossroads, on the verge of something? This song clearly taps into that feeling. And also that we have something to say about where we're going, that we do have a voice. This song also feels like it's about moving beyond politics and countries to see citizens as people, which is wonderful. And I love this line: "There's no money to be made in forgiveness."

"One Voice Together" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie.

"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)"

"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)" is exactly what you'd expect from its title - it's a love letter to a longterm partner. And sure, six years might not seem like a long time to some folks, but it's the equivalent of a dozen Hollywood marriages. This couple goes through changes together rather than changing partners - what a wonderful idea. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Six years flipping the pancakes/Forgiving my huge mistakes/Six years in the blink of a baby's eyes" (and I really dig what Martin does vocally on those lines). The song's scope gets wider toward the end during that great build. And I love those surprising backing vocals near the end.

"Happy Anniversary (Six Years)" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie. Duke Levine plays mandocello on this track.


My favorite track on this CD is "Burlington." I would put this among the best songs Martin Sexton ever wrote. There is something so beautiful and even comforting about this song. Martin's is a friendly voice. It's a song that makes you feel a part of humanity, and that with all our troubles and with all the nonsense, we've still got a pretty good thing going here. I'm not quite sure how this song accomplishes that, because lyrically the song doesn't express these things explicitly. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "There's angels in the snow/And smoke curls from a chimney/There's whales along this road/They're diving deep/The barns are caving in/Their old red paint is fading/They lean into the wind." These lyrics aren't really happy, and yet they still make me feel hopeful. "She was never meant for me/We held on as long as we could hold/Time comes a fighter has to flee/Ahead there lies a long and open road."

"Burlington" was written by Martin Sexton and Dan Mackenzie.

"For What It's Worth"

Marty has always put his own cool spin on the songs he's chosen to cover (I always think of his version of "Purple Rain," which completely redefined the song for many people) and "For What It's Worth" is no exception. Originally released by Buffalo Springfield in 1967, this song is obviously quite timely (again). Martin performs solo on this track - just vocals and guitar.

"For What It's Worth" was written by Stephen Stills.

CD Track List
  1. Fall Like Rain
  2. One Voice Together
  3. Happy Anniversary (Six Years)
  4. Burlington
  5. For What It's Worth


Musicians appearing on this album include Martin Sexton on vocals, guitar, melodian bass and tambourine; Crit Harmon on 12 string; Duke Levine on lap steel and mandocello; Dan Mackenzie on guitar, bass, organ, saxophone and drums; Marty Ballou on bass; Dave Mattacks on drums; and Chris Ryan on drums.

Fall Like Rain was released on January 24, 2012 on Kitchen Table Records, a label Martin launched a decade ago. And by the way, the packaging is made of 100% recycled materials. Previous releases by Martin Sexton include 2010's Sugarcoating, Black Sheep (1996), The American (1998), Wonder Bar (2000) and Seeds (2007).

Martin Sexton is on tour now, and if you have the opportunity to see him, he is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wesley Woo And The Halftime Heroes: "Fall Again" Single Review

Wesley Woo And The Halftime Heroes' new single, "Fall Again," is a groovy folk tune, with some definite jazz influence heard on Wesley's guitar work.

It starts, "I don't believe in fate, no/And I don't believe in love." And yet it is a sort of love song. After all, he sings, "Well I believe in second chances/Second dates and second glances." This is also a song that's about music itself, with lines like "I don't need your dictionary to know what this song's about."

But the lines that made me laugh out loud are, "Well, I believe in you/And I believe in me/And I believe two wrongs will make a right eventually." That is wonderful.

This song is part sweetness, part sarcasm, and it's a combination that works. "Fall Again" also features some wonderful work on violin by Mejin Leechor.

This is the first single from what will be a full-length CD of all original material. Musicians to be featured on the album include Roger Kim on guitar, Mejin Leechor on violin and vocals, Brendan Liu on trumpet and flugal horn, Dario Slavazza on tenor saxophone, and Mark Shawver on percussion. (It will be Wesley Woo's second full-length CD; the first, This Always Works, Sometimes, was released in July of 2011.)

"Fall Again" is available as a download. Also, CD copies of the single will be available at Wesley Woo's concerts. The full-length album is projected to be released this summer. Wesley Woo And The Halftime Heroes are based in the San Francisco area.

Tony Rice: "The Bill Monroe Collection" (2012) CD Review

Anyone with even a passing interest in or a casual familiarity with bluegrass knows the name Bill Monroe, and with good reason. He is often referred to as The Father Of Bluegrass, and really helped to popularize the genre. He wrote some pretty amazing material, which Tony Rice presents in this collection.

Tony Rice himself is almost as well known as Bill Monroe. He is an amazing guitarist who was a member of The David Grisman Quintet for the first several years of that band's existence. He's also played with Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia, among others. It's not only his playing, but his voice that endears him to fans of music. Tony Rice has one of those voices that sounds so friendly and so true - a perfect voice for bluegrass. It also has power, as can be heard on a song like "Molly And Tenbrooks."

This is a collection of previously released music.

"I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home"

The Bill Monroe Collection opens with "I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home," one of those joyous fast-paced bluesgrass tunes to set the mood and raise your spirits. In addition to featuring some wonderful playing by Tony Rice on guitar, this song boasts some excellent banjo-playing by J.D. Crowe. This recording was originally released on The Bluegrass Album (1981).

"When You Are Lonely"

"When You Are Lonely" is a slower, sweeter tune written by Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe. Tony sings, "You told me you always would love me/And no one would ever come between/But it seems to me you've forgotten/All those things you told me/Someday sweetheart when you're lonely/And have no one to care for you/Remember the heart you have broken/And the one that has loved you so true." Ah, the true, faithful heart of the bluegrass singer, and the woman who can't appreciate him. For some reason, bluegrass music is really adept at expressing that predicament, and the resulting emotions.

"When You Are Lonely" was included on The Bluegrass Album Volume 4 (1984).

"Jerusalem Ridge"

"Jerusalem Ridge" is an instrumental. In this tune you can really hear the connection between bluegrass and Irish folk, especially in the fiddle. And at six and a half minutes, this is a nice long tune with a good jam. "Jerusalem Ridge" was originally included on Unit Of Measure (2000).

This collection features three other instrumental songs - "Stoney Lonesome," "Gold Rush" and "Cheyenne." "Cheyenne" has some interesting changes and some sections that are beautiful.

"Muleskinner Blues"

"Muleskinner Blues" is obviously a song not written by Bill Monroe, but one that Monroe became known for. He recorded his version of this song in 1940. And Tony Rice's version is simply perfect. I absolutely love his voice on this one - listen to him hold that note around three minutes in. Ooo-wee!

"Muleskinner Blues" was written by Jimmie Rodgers and Vaughn Horton, and is the only song in this collection not written or co-written by Bill Monroe. This recording was originally featured on Cold On The Shoulder (1984).

"On And On"

"On And On" is one of my favorites from this collection. It's a great song, and Tony's guitar-playing is particularly impressive. Again, this is one about a true heart, and the woman who doesn't appreciate him - but with a surprising twist in this great lyric: "I've cried, I've cried for you, little darling/It breaks my heart to hear your name/My friends, they also love you, my darling/And they think that I am to blame." That's wonderful. This song was originally included on Tony Rice Plays And Sings Bluegrass (1993).

"You're Drifting Away"

The Bill Monroe Collection ends with one of those Jesus songs that pop up in bluegrass from time to time. I have mixed feelings about these songs ("River Of Death" is the other one on this CD). One one hand, musically "You're Drifting Away" is a great song. There's no denying that. On the other hand, the message is a bit off-putting for those of us who are non-believers. But I do wonder how earnest these religious tunes are, though maybe I'm just projecting. There is a line in this one that makes me laugh: "You're drifting away/On down the dark river, I'm sorry to say." It's the "I'm sorry to say" that I love. That line tells me they're not completely serious.

CD Track List
  1. I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home
  2. When You Are Lonely
  3. Jerusalem Ridge
  4. Muleskinner Blues
  5. Sittin' Alone In The Moonlight
  6. Stoney Lonesome
  7. Molly And Tenbrooks
  8. River Of Death
  9. Gold Rush
  10. On And On
  11. I Believe In You Darling
  12. Cheyenne
  13. Little Cabin Home On The Hill
  14. You're Drifting Away

The Bill Monroe Collection is scheduled to be released January 31, 2012 on Rounder Records.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Suwannee Springfest Adds Tea Leaf Green To The Lineup

The 16th Annual Suwannee Springfest has announced the addition of several more artists to its lineup, including Tea Leaf Green. Tea Leaf Green's 2011 release, Radio Tragedy!, was one of my favorite albums of last year, and I'm guessing this band puts on a great show.

The lineup also features sets by Yonder Mountain String Band (one of my favorite bands), Great American Taxi, Hot Buttered Rum, Guy Clark, Donna The Buffalo, and Ryan Montbleau Band, among others. In addition, incredible guitarist Tony Rice (whose new compilation of Bill Monroe songs will be released this coming Tuesday) will be sitting in on sets with Larry Keel & Natural Bridge and Infamous Stringdusters.

The music festival takes place March 22 - 25, 2012 at
the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. Three-day weekend passes are available for $150. Children age 12 and under get in for free. Discounts are offered for students and retired and active military. On March 15, weekend passes go up to $165.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ruthie Foster: "Let It Burn" (2012) CD Review

Let me just say this about Ruthie Foster: This woman can sing. She has power, heart, and an earnestness that is seriously sexy. It's no surprise to learn that she was named Best Female Vocalist at the Austin Music Awards in 2008.

Most of the songs on her new album, Let It Burn, have a good groove, and some of them, like "Everlasting Light," feel pretty loose, which is nice. Let It Burn features a good mix of original material and covers - and Ruthie has a distinct way of making those covers her own. I was surprised by what she did with "Ring Of Fire," for example, and completely blown away by what she did with "If I Had A Hammer." Even her more straightforward renditions boast her signature - songs like "It Makes No Difference" and "Long Time Gone." And of course it doesn't hurt that she has an excellent band backing her. As of this writing, Ruthie Foster is on tour, and after hearing this CD, I am really looking forward to seeing her in concert.

"Welcome Home" Features The Blind Boys Of Alabama

Let It Burn opens with "Welcome Home," a gospel-flavored song written by Ruthie Foster. The first thing that hits you are these glorious vocals - Ruthie's, as well as the backing vocals by The Blind Boys Of Alabama. The first lines are "When my mind didn't know how to get there/I trusted my heart and I swear my soul came to welcome me home." Those lines are repeated several times. This is one of those songs whose lyrical repetitions serve it well, pulling you farther in, hitting you harder each time. You get the feeling she could tell an entire story with one repeated line. This song seems over too soon.

Another song that features The Blind Boys Of Alabama is "Lord Remember Me," also written by Ruthie Foster. And this is amazing gospel. The first minute or so is a pure vocal performance, done unaccompanied - no other instrument is needed. But when the band does kick in, the song takes on another layer of intense beauty. I love this song. It's almost enough to make me a believer.

"Set Fire To The Rain"

Ruthie Foster's vocals on "Set Fire To The Rain" remind me at times of Tina Turner. She has that power, a voice whose great raw honesty burns in each note. She sings, "I feel you here forever/You and me together, nothing gets better/'Cause there's a side to you that I never knew, never knew/All the things you'd say that were never true, never true/All the games you played you would always win." There is an instrumental section toward the end of the song where the music feels so simple, yet retains an intensity - it has an insistent, steady bass line which makes you feel like something is going to explode at any minute.

"Set Fire To The Rain" was written by Adele Adkins and Fraser T. Smith, and was originally released on Adele's second album, last year's 21.

"This Time"

Ruthie Foster's rendition of the Los Lobos song "This Time" has a bluesy groove, and some nice work by Ike Stubblefield on keys. This is a good rendition, and is stretched out a bit, clocking in at more than a minute longer than the original Los Lobos version. "This Time" was written by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, and was the title track from the band's 1999 release.

"You Don't Miss Your Water"

"You Don't Miss Your Water" is a slow blues tune, here performed as a duet with William Bell, who wrote the song. It features a great sax solo by James Rivers that really makes me love this rendition. Just so cool. And the fade-out is fantastic, with some more nice work on sax over some bass and cymbals. Seriously, how often is the fade-out of a song impressive?

William Bell's original version of this song was released in 1961 on Stax. It was his debut single.

"Ring Of Fire"

Ruthie Foster does a strange, interesting, slow, bluesy take on "Ring Of Fire," the song written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore, and made famous by Johnny Cash. It takes a moment to get used to, to put all other renditions (and there are a lot of them) out of your head. But once you do, you'll enjoy sinking into this slow, thoughtful version.

"It Makes No Difference"

"It Makes No Difference" is one of my absolute favorite tunes by The Band. It's so beautifully sad. This rendition is driven mainly by Ruthie's vocals, and also by the organ. Her vocal performance feels more intimate than the original. "It Makes No Difference" was written by Robbie Robertson, and was included on The Band's 1975 release, Northern Lights - Southern Cross.

"Long Time Gone"

Ruthie Foster includes a cover of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song "Long Time Gone," written by David Crosby. It takes a moment to get used to the more prominent drum beat and the loose, almost funky feel to the bass. Ruthie's voice does have the emotional power needed for this song. And the music is allowed to get loud and intense, which is also needed for this one to work. It's actually a good version of the song. And what really makes this rendition work is the presence of The Blind Boys Of Alabama.

The original version of this song was included on the self-titled debut record by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

"If I Had A Hammer"

A slow, low-down, dirty, sexy version of "If I Had A Hammer"? Yes! And shockingly, it works. I'm not kidding. You have to hear it to believe it. It's like the "Death Don't Have No Mercy" version of "If I Had A Hammer," and it's bloody brilliant. Ruthie really goes all out on this one, giving a seriously impressive vocal performance. And then there is some sparse sax at just the right moments.

"If I Had A Hammer" was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes, and most famously done by Peter, Paul & Mary. Ruthie's version is absolutely nothing like that well known version. Enjoy.

"The Titanic"

The album ends with another gorgeous gospel song, "The Titanic," again with The Blind Boys Of Alabama. This one is done completely acappella. And again, it's almost enough to make me a believer.

CD Track List

  1. Welcome Home
  2. Set Fire To The Rain
  3. This Time
  4. You Don't Miss Your Water
  5. Everlasting Light
  6. Lord Remember Me
  7. Ring Of Fure
  8. Aim For The Heart
  9. It Makes No Difference
  10. Long Time Gone
  11. Don't Want To Know
  12. If I Had A Hammer
  13. The Titanic


The musicians on this album are Ruthie Foster on vocals, Ike Stubblefield on Hammond B3 and piano, George Porter Jr. on bass, Russell Batiste on drums, Dave Easley on guitar, and James Rivers on saxophone. The Blind Boys Of Alabama perform on "Welcome Home," "Lord Remember Me," "Long Time Gone" and "The Titanic." William Bell performs on "You Don't Miss Your Water."

Let It Burn is scheduled to be released on January 31, 2012 through Blue Corn Music.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bill Medley: "100%/Soft And Soulful" (2012 re-issue) CD Review

When The Righteous Brothers broke up in early 1968, Bill Medley recorded a couple of solo albums for MGM. Those two albums, 100% (1968) and Soft And Soulful (1969) make up this CD. The first is an album entirely of covers, a mix of soul tunes and pop standards. The second includes several songs penned by Bill Medley himself, including "I'm Gonna Die Me" and "Reaching Back."

Both albums have some great tracks, but the second is more consistent, feeling more like the results of a solid vision. When you think of the Righteous Brothers, you usually think of those great, powerful earnest love songs - and that type of song is represented in this collection. But some of the best are tunes like "Brown Eyed Woman." On the first album he strays into lounge singer territory with tracks like "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" (made popular by Dean Martin), though his effort on that is excellent. The first record is uneven, not as far as the merit and quality of the songs, but in the type of song chosen, the style. I mean, "Let The Good Times Roll" and "The Impossible Dream" on the same record? Odd.

By 1974, Bill Medley had re-united with Bobby Hatfield, and they continued to perform together as The Righteous Brothers until Hatfield's death in 2003. Bill Medley also continued recording and performing solo material (certainly you'll recall his big hit with Jennifer Warnes in 1987, "I've Had The Time Of My Life" from Dirty Dancing). He is still touring.

This album will let you relive and re-experience Bill Medley at his prime.

"Brown Eyed Woman"

Bill Medley opens 100% with "Brown Eyed Woman." The music of The Righteous Brothers was sometimes known as "blue-eyed soul," and this song features the opening line, "You look at me and baby all you see are my blue eyes." Bill Medley has such a great voice, and in this song he's in Otis Redding, Ray Charles territory. He has raw emotional power, and it's put to great use in this song, with lines like "All of the years, all the hate and the fears/Have twisted your heart/Now you turn away/You won't trust what I say/And it's tearing me apart." This song also features fantastic backing vocalists singing "Stay away, baby," and then answering Bill's "I could love you so" with "No, no." I love that the backing vocalists disagree with him.

This is an excellent song, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who had written "(You're My) Soul And Inspiration" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (the second written with Phil Spector), both #1 hits for The Righteous Brothers.

"Let The Good Times Roll"

I've always loved the song "Let The Good Times Roll," written by Sam Theard. (The disc credits Leonard Lee as the songwriter, but that's actually a different song by the same title. That's a great song too, as is basically every other song with this title.) It's a lot of fun, with some great work on horns. And because this is 1968, Bill Medley says, "Sock it to me, baby," which was the law back then.

I love that this version doesn't feel too polished. It feels more immediate, like a live track. Oddly, he introduces his guitarist in the middle of the song, as if this were a live performance. Just remember, "It makes no difference if you're young or old/You'd better get yourself together and let the good times roll."

"You Don't Have To Say You Love Me"

"You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" was a big hit for Dusty Springfield in 1966, reaching #4 on the U.S. chart, and #1 on the UK chart. Bill Medley's take on it is good, as he completely commits himself to it.

"The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"

An odd choice of covers is "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)." It seems so out of place. But actually a lot of folks were covering this song at that time, including Cher, The Supremes, The Temptations, Roberta Flack and Elvis Presley. It was written by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh for the 1965 musical Man Of La Mancha. Sure, Bill Medley throws himself into the performance of this song, but it still seems so weird.

"Can't Make It Alone"

Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote a lot of great tunes in the 1960s ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Some Kind Of Wonderful," "The Loco-Motion," "I'm Into Something Good," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Porpoise Song," just to name a few). And their contribution to 100%, "Can't Make it Alone," is one of the record's best tracks.

It's one of those wonderful, earnest songs that begins quietly and builds so naturally to that level where Bill Medley feels at home, pushing his vocals. In this one, he sings, "I wouldn't blame you if you hurt me now/The way I hurt you then/But who else can I turn to/Baby I'm begging you/Please reach out to a dying man and let him live again." (Dusty Springfield also recorded this song, her version appearing on her 1969 record Dusty In Memphis.)

"Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)"

Bill Medley ends 100% with "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)," a song written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the musical The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd (1964). And it definitely has a theatrical sound. This has a bit of a showy presentation, lacking the heart of some of the other songs. Dusty Springfield included this song on her 1966 record You Don't Have To Say You Love Me.

"Peace Brother Peace"

Soft And Soulful opens with a tune written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, just as the first record did. This one, "Peace Brother Peace," is definitely of its time. A late 1960s plea for folks to get along (back when people thought this was still possible, before we became cynical and selfish and even apathetic). Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Time for giving your hand to your brother/Time for changing the man that you are/Time to work out love on each other/Time for peace/Time for peace." It's not a bad song, and Bill's delivery of it is honest and impassioned. I really like the second half of the tune. There is a very definite break halfway through.

"100 Years"

The song "100 Years" was featured in the 1969 film Riot starring Gene Hackman and Jim Brown. This is a song about a man in jail - "Ain't never seen a man like I was going to be/But now I'm doing time and time is killing me" - but who in his mind escapes at night to visit his woman. This is a good song, and I really dig how low his voice gets on the penultimate line.

"Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye"

"Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" is a wonderful tune that was a hit for The Casinos in 1967. And Bill Medley's rendition is excellent, helped by some wonderful backing vocals. This is the kind of material that seems written specially for him. This is where he thrives. "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" was written by John D. Loudermilk.

"I'm Gonna Die Me"

Bill Medley wrote several of the songs for Soft And Soulful, including "I'm Gonna Die Me," about being true to yourself, being your own person. It's also about race with lines like "I've tried so hard to feel my brother's pain/But when you're white it's just not the same." It's a good song. But when he sings, "I pity the fool," I can't help but think of Mr. T.

Bill Medley also wrote "Reaching Back" and "Something's So Wrong," and co-wrote "Street Of Dirt."

"When Something Is Wrong With My Baby"

"When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" is a great powerful slow song, the kind that gets under your skin. Again, this is the type of song that Bill Medley handles best. "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and was a hit for Sam & Dave in 1967.

"Winter Won't Come This Year"

Soft And Soulful concludes with "Winter Won't Come This Year," another tune written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. This has a cool, jazzy late-night feel, with some nice work on piano. This one starts, "The leaves may tumble from the trees/Autumn may whisper in the breeze/But as long as I'm holding you here/Winter won't come this year." (And with its mention of snow and mistletoe, it might work well on a Christmas mix.)

CD Track List
  1. Brown Eyed Woman
  2. Let The Good Times Roll
  3. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
  4. Run To My Loving Arms
  5. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You
  6. The Impossible Dream (The Quest)
  7. Can't Make It Alone
  8. That's Life
  9. One Day Girl
  10. Show Me
  11. Goin' Out Of My Head
  12. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
  13. Peace Brother Peace
  14. 100 Years
  15. Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
  16. I'm Gonna Die Me
  17. For Your Precious Love
  18. Softly
  19. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
  20. Any Day Now
  21. Reaching Back
  22. Street Of Dirt
  23. Something's So Wrong
  24. Winter Won't Come This Year

This special issue of 100%/Soft And Soulful is scheduled to be released on January 24, 2012 through Real Gone Music.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Glen Campbell: "Live In Japan" (1975/2012 re-issue) CD Review

Glen Campbell's 1975 record Live In Japan is finally being released in the United States. It's really surprising that this album was not previously available here (except as an import from Japan). After all, his previous live record, 1969's Glen Campbell Live, reached #2 on the country chart.

Glen Campbell is currently on his final tour. As most people are probably by now aware, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease last year, and that is the reason this will be his final tour. He also released a new album, Ghost On The Canvas, in August of last year. So while you're getting ready to see Glen Campbell for the last time, you can check out this live record from 37 years ago, with Campbell's glorious mix of country and pop. He chooses some great tunes to cover, including songs by John Denver and Mac Davis, and of course a few by Jimmy Webb.

"Intro/I Believe In Music"

An orchestral instrumental intro leads to a bright burst of pop as Glen Campbell comes in with "I Believe In Music." Yes, it does feel a bit cheesy all these decades later, but it's wonderful in all its cheesy glory. And the audience is loving it, clapping along. "I believe in music/And I believe in love/Well, music is love and love is music/If you know what I mean/Everybody that believes in music/Are the happiest people I've ever seen." So true.

"I Believe In Music" was written by Mac Davis, and was the title track of his 1971 release.

"It's Only Make Believe"

I love the song "It's Only Make Believe." Some people say that all the best love songs are the unrequited ones, and this song might be all the proof those folks need. And this is that rare unrequited love song in which the people in question are actually a couple, as the first lines show: "People see us everywhere/They think you really care." While some folks might want to get out of a situation like that one, this song's protagonist wishes that his love would become truly involved: "My only prayer will be that someday you'll care for me/But it's only make believe." This song builds like some of the best Roy Orbison tunes. It's a fantastic song, and Glen Campbell does a great job with it.

"It's Only Make Believe" was written by Conway Twitty and Jack Nance, and released as a single by Conway Twitty in 1958 (reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100). Glen Campbell's version, released as a single in 1970, reached #10.


A different kind of love song is "Lovelight," written by bass player Billy Graham and Glen Castleberry. This one begins, "There were two people/Who loved each other/They had it all together/Then something happened/To all their good times/Somehow their laughter/Turned into cry time." This song has such a good beat and energy that you somehow get the feeling that maybe things will work out for this couple.

"I Honestly Love You"

I honestly love Olivia Newton-John, and Glen Campbell does a good job on his version of "I Honestly Love You," a song originally included on Newton-John's 1974 record, If You Love Me, Let Me Know. This is a beautiful song, written by Peter Allen and Jeff Barry. (By the way, if you don't own that Olivia Newton-John record, it's worth checking out - she covers the Beach Boys tune "God Only Knows.") The following year, 1976, Glen Campbell hosted a television special with Olivia Newton-John called Down Home, Down Under.

"Annie's Song"

John Denver is one of the world's best songwriters, and "Annie's Song" is so pretty. It's clear that Glen Campbell loves John Denver as much as I do, from his earnest, delicate rendition of this wonderful song. For those who don't recognize the song by its title, it's the one that starts, "You fill up my senses like a night in the forest/Like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain." Beautiful.

"Song For Y'All"

"Song For Y'All" was written by guitarist/banjo player Carl Jackson. Glen jokes about it in the song's introduction, calling it a country version of Leon Russell's "A Song For You." But what it is is a damn fine and fast bluegrass instrumental.

Hits Medley

The medley on this album doesn't do it for me. You only get a bit of "Try A Little Kindness" and "Gentle On My Mind." I'd prefer to hear the entire songs. But of course this is how he did it then.

"William Tell Overture"

The band gets to show off with a seriously cool western version of the "William Tell Overture." I've always thought this was a fun tune, and this rendition really captures the great spirit of the piece.

The album then concludes with the always wonderful "Amazing Grace." (No matter how many times I hear this song, I can only recall the first verse when I try to sing it.)

CD Track List
  1. Intro/I Believe In Music
  2. Galveston
  3. It's Only Make Believe
  4. Lovelight
  5. I Honestly Love You
  6. Annie's Song
  7. Song For Y'all
  8. Coming Home (To Meet My Brother)
  9. Try To Remember/The Way We Were
  10. Hits Medley: By The Time I Get To Phoenix/Try A Little Kindness/Wichita Lineman/Honey Come back/Gentle On My Mind
  11. My Way
  12. William Tell Overture
  13. Amazing Grace
Live In Japan is scheduled to be released on January 24, 2012 through Real Gone Music. Again, this is the album's first United States release.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Grateful Dead: "Dick's Picks Volume 33" (2012 re-issue) CD Review

The Grateful Dead took basically all of 1975 and the first half of 1976 off from touring. But when they came back, they came back in full force, with a renewed vigor and focus. As this collection of music shows. This four-disc set includes two complete concerts - from October 9th and October 10th, 1976, at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium in Oakland, California.

Disc One Contains The First Set From 10/9/76

The first disc opens with the band saying "Good morning" to the crowd. The Grateful Dead actually went on at 11 a.m. These shows were known as "Days On The Green," a series of concerts presented by Bill Graham. The band starts with the Chuck Berry rock and roll tune "Promised Land," a great energetic opener.

I like a lot of what Keith Godchaux does on keys during the jam of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo." But it's the end of this song that really does it for me - the great power in the vocals on the "across the lazy river" section.

"Cassidy" is one of my favorite Grateful Dead tunes. This version features some interesting stuff on drums - different from most versions - it makes this rendition feel faster than usual. And then check out Jerry's guitar toward the end.

Before "Looks Like Rain," Bob says, "I want to thank the Oakland A's for making this afternoon possible...by losing." (The Oakland A's finished in second place in the American League West, so it was the first time in six years that they didn't make it to the playoffs.)

It's so odd to hear "Scarlet Begonias" on its own, without its being paired with "Fire On The Mountain" or "Sugar Magnolia" - and in the first set! This is a great rendition. I've always loved this song. And though it doesn't lead into "Fire On The Mountain" (that was still several months away), this version features a nice long jam. They do some seriously interesting stuff here. This is absolutely a highlight of the first disc.

"Lazy Lightnin'" and "Supplication" were fairly new at the time of this show, being first played by the Dead in June of that year. These songs were first released on the self-titled debut record from Kingfish, a band Bob Weir joined during the Dead's hiatus. I always liked the intensity of "Lazy Lightnin'," particularly in the chorus.

The first disc concludes with a wonderful rendition of "Sugaree."

Disc Two Contains The Second Set And Encore From 10/9/76

This is a crazy, delicious, rockin' second set. Oddly, there is not a single slow song - no "Stella Blue" or "Ship Of Fools" near the end to calm folks a bit. Maybe that's due to time constraints (at the beginning of the set - after a bit of the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents - Bob jokes, "You know, Uncle Bill says we only got an hour from when we start playing, so we're not going to start playing for a little bit"). The second set (not including the encore) is only 65 minutes. After this set, The Who were scheduled to take the stage.

But though short, this is a fantastic set of music. Everything goes right in this second set.

From the first note of "St. Stephen," the audience goes wild. This song was re-introduced into set lists in June of 1976, after a five-year absence. Is there a better way to start the second set? It's a sweet version, though short. After the line, "One man gathers what another man spills," the band goes into a fantastic version of "Not Fade Away." And then the band finishes "St. Stephen." It's really happening for the band this day, flowing so easily from "Not Fade Away" back into "St. Stephen."

And things get even more interesting after that. The band does "Help-Slip-Frank" from 1975's Blues For Allah. At this point they still sing "Diga" during "Help On The Way." But what's really wild is that they break up the trio of tunes by inserting a drum solo and "Samson And Delilah" into the middle of "Slipknot!" Weird and wonderful. This is a great version of "Slipknot!" by the way. And dig Bob's vocal delivery in "Samson And Delilah."

The encore is "U.S. Blues," which is fun despite some trouble with the lyrics.

Third Disc Contains The First Set From 10/10/76

The Grateful Dead open the second show with "Might As Well," a fun rock tune from the Garcia solo album Reflections (1976). The Dead first played this song in June of 1976, so it was still fairly new at the time of this recording. This version has good energy, though is perhaps a bit messy.

Bob Weir dedicates "Mama Tried" to the equipment crew. This is a good, rousing rendition. And this version stands alone; it doesn't go into "Big River" or "Mexicali Blues," as would generally be the case later.

I love Jerry Garcia's vocals toward the end of this version of "Ramble On Rose," when he sings, "Goodbye Mama and Papa/Goodbye Jack and Jill/The grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter/Either side of the hill." There is great joy as well as great force in his voice. That song always builds so well.

Bob Weir picks a few of the same songs the band played the day before - "Cassidy," "Promised Land," "Samson And Delilah." But no matter, I never tired of "Cassidy." It's one of the band's best songs. I love John Barlow's lyrics, and when I met him it was one of the songs we talked about. It turns out to be one of his favorites too. "Let your life proceed by its own design."

They play a nice, slow, sweet "Friend Of The Devil," with a really pretty, extended jam.

And then the band goes into the revamped, 1970s-style "Dancing In The Streets," which would be included on the following year's studio release, Terrapin Station. And this is when the band really lets go, stretching out in a groovy jam that goes off into some wonderful territory, eventually leading into "Wharf Rat," one of Jerry Garcia's most powerful songs. And that moment after "live the life I should" is particularly intense in this version, leading to a beautiful "I'll get up and fly away."

The only awkward moment is Bob Weir coming in again with "Dancing In The Streets" when Jerry was still finding more places to go in "Wharf Rat." A very awkward transition. But once everyone's on board, it's a fun reprise of the tune to end the first set.

Fourth Disc Contains The Second Set And Encore From 10/10/76

At the start of the second set, Bob Weir leads the crowd in saying "Thank you, Uncle Bill" to Bill Graham for putting the concert together.

This disc contains a high-energy rendition of "Playing In The Band." It gets right into a groovy jam, that at first is heavy on bass, before Jerry's guitar finds those high notes. Something about Jerry's guitar feels like swimming through an electric sea filled with gorgeous creatures that brush against your skin but don't hold you back or push you on. This is what the Dead are all about. When they're on, their music really does transport you. It's these magic moments that kept folks coming back for more.

"Playing" leads into a short drum solo, which then goes into one of those gorgeous slightly slower mid-1970s versons of "The Wheel." And it's the jam out of "Wheel" when the band starts to get Weird. Wonderfully Weird. Then into another short drum solo, which leads to Phil's heavy bass lead-in to "The Other One."

And man, this version of "The Other One" comes on strong and fast. Like a monster bursting from its cage, then looking around to see who it will devour first. And it doesn't let up. What a great version. And around 4:20 to 4:30, listen to that little guitar bit, like a cat or something commenting at the end of a line.

And that leads into the beautiful "Stella Blue." This is one of my favorite songs, and this version is phenomenal. Put it on and close your eyes. "All this life was just a dream."

CD Track List

Disc One

  1. Promised Land
  2. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  3. Cassidy
  4. Tennessee Jed
  5. Looks Like Rain
  6. They love Each Other
  7. New Minglewood Blues
  8. Scarlet Begonias
  9. Lazy Lightnin' >
  10. Supplication
  11. Sugaree

Disc Two

  1. St. Stephen >
  2. Not Fade Away >
  3. St. Stephen >
  4. Help On The Way >
  5. Slipknot! >
  6. Drums >
  7. Samson And Delilah >
  8. Slipknot! >
  9. Franklin's Tower >
  10. One More Saturday Night
  11. U.S. Blues
Disc Three
  1. Might As Well
  2. Mama Tried
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Cassidy
  5. Deal
  6. El Paso
  7. Loser
  8. Promised Land
  9. Friend Of The Devil
  10. Dancing In The Streets >
  11. Wharf Rat >
  12. Dancing In The Streets
Disc Four
  1. Samson And Delilah
  2. Brown-Eyed Women
  3. Playing In The Band >
  4. Drums >
  5. The Wheel >
  6. Space >
  7. The Other One >
  8. Stella Blue >
  9. Playing In The Band >
  10. Sugar Magnolia
  11. Johnny B. Goode (this was the encore)

The Grateful Dead at the time of this recording were Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass, Keith Godchaux on piano, Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Mickey Hart on drums.

Dick's Picks Volume 33 is scheduled to be released on January 24, 2012 through Real Gone Music. Dick's Picks Volume 32 is also to be re-released on that date. Both volumes were originally released in 2004.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Grateful Dead: "Dick's Picks Volume 32" (2012 re-issue) CD Review

While most of the Grateful Dead live recordings have understandably focused on the band's 1970s shows, it's great to hear some music from the 1980s. And 1982 in particular was an interesting year for the Dead. That was the year they introduced some of the material that would eventually find its way onto their 1987 studio release, In The Dark, including "West L.A. Fadeaway," "Touch Of Grey" and "Throwing Stones." And at the time of this concert, Jerry Garcia had just turned 40. This two-disc set contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on August 7, 1982 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, in East Troy, Wisconsin. (The encore is moved to the end of the first disc, because it wouldn't fit at the end of the second.)

By the way, the liner notes include a copy of a local newspaper review of the show. I always find those interesting, and often the writers get the songs mixed up. The writer of this review is no exception, declaring the band played "Me And Bobby McGee" that night. They did not; they did play "Me & My Uncle," the song most often played by the Dead during their career.

First Disc Contains Set One

The Grateful Dead opened that night with "The Music Never Stopped," always a fun song to dance to. The mix is a bit strange - Brent Mydland's keyboards are a lot louder than Jerry Garcia's guitar. And then it suddenly goes into "Sugaree," which is a surprise. Jams like that didn't often open shows in the 1980s. Usually the first set was a start-and-stop sort of affair, with the boys pausing between songs to choose the next tune. This "Sugaree" doesn't really stand out until the jam halfway through, which is pretty good. And then, after a somewhat hesitant link, the band goes back into "The Music Never Stopped," and it's a fun little jam. All in all, a very good start to the show.

"Big River" features a good jam, particularly Brent's work on keys. This is an excellent rendition of this tune. The band is starting to really cook here.

Jerry's voice is straining at times during the first set, but that only adds to the emotional impact of a song like "It Must Have Been The Roses."

It's fun to hear an electric version of "On The Road Again" (a song that was featured on the band's 1981 live acoustic release, Reckoning). And Bob Weir's laugh in the middle of the song is delightful. Bob is clearly enjoying himself on this one, and that helps this little gem become one of the first disc's highlights.

The first set ends with an excellent version of "Let It Grow." Jerry's guitar is gorgeous at moments. And listen to that guitar rhythm around the 1:40 mark - it last only a few seconds, but is fun. And then the song takes on a sort of Latin feel a little before the three-minute mark. This song features a nice long jam with lots of changes. And I love that sweet moment when it comes out of the jam just before that great ending, with Bob giving it his all.

Disc Two Contains The Second Set

The Dead start the second set with "China Cat Sunflower." The jam toward the end of "China Cat Sunflower" has a groove the song usually doesn't have, and it's definitely cool - a great energy. And that leads into "I Know You Rider." Jerry's playfulness at the beginning of that tune is wonderful. And the vocals sound perfect. Ooo-wee, a nice fast-paced rendition.

From there, they go into another great tune to dance to, "Man Smart, Woman Smarter." This is a song that is led by its beat, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart are completely grooving on it.

Maybe it's me, but something sounds really off during the beginning of "Ship Of Fools." And though Jerry had just turned forty, he still sang, "With thirty years upon my head." Jerry's vocals are really straining on this one.

"Playing In The Band" starts off as nothing special, but the jam really takes off. It is the drummers who get the jam up to a good level, with everyone following the pace they set approximately five minutes in. And check out some of the crazy stuff Brent is doing. Wow. What started as a sub-standard "Playing" becomes the highlight of this disc. Seriously, you have to check it out.

"Playing" leads flawlessly into "Drums," and Bill and Mickey really go at it. They keep up the pace for the first two and a half minutes of their solo before going off into Weirder territory. And "Space" begins with the drummers still on stage, which is always great. And this is a pretty intense "Space" - no hesitant notes here, no meandering. This is loud, insane, haunting and dangerous. I love it. It's due in large part to the presence of the drummers through the first three minutes. After they leave, "Space" calms down quite a bit.

"The Wheel" begins sweetly, as all the great versions of this song do, then builds in energy. I never get tired of this song, and I always thought it was a great tune coming out of "Space" (they played it out of "Space" at my first show).

"Morning Dew" is always appreciated, and this version is great. Jerry gets really quiet on "I guess it doesn't matter anyway," and the entire band gets quiet behind him. It's beautiful. And of course it then builds again before the end. It ends abruptly, going into a somewhat messy "One More Saturday Night" to end the second set.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. The Music Never Stopped >
  2. Sugaree >
  3. The Music Never Stopped
  4. Me And My Uncle >
  5. Big River
  6. It Must Have Been The Roses
  7. C.C. Rider
  8. Ramble On Rose
  9. Beat It On Down The Line >
  10. On The Road Again
  11. Althea
  12. Let It Grow
  13. U.S. Blues

Disc Two

  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Man Smart, Woman Smarter
  4. Ship Of Fools
  5. Playing In The Band >
  6. Drums >
  7. Space >
  8. The Wheel >
  9. Playing In The Band >
  10. Morning Dew >
  11. One More Saturday Night

The Grateful Dead at the time of this recording were Jerry Garcia on lead guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass, Brent Mydland on keyboards and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Mickey Hart on drums.

Dick's Picks Volume 32 is scheduled to be re-released on January 24, 2012 through Real Gone Music. Also being re-released that day is Dick's Picks Volume 33. Both volumes were originally released in 2004.

Dick's Picks Volume 34 was re-released on November 22, 2011. Volumes 35 and 36 were also released on that date.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meet Me At Mardi Gras (2012 Compilation) CD Review

Now that Christmas is safely in the past and good Christian folks have tossed their trees to the curb, we can get ready for the real holidays - Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. These are also the two holidays with the best music. No question about it. First up is Mardi Gras, which falls on February 21st this year.

If you've never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I highly recommend you make the trip. Until then, you can use this compilation, Meet Me At Mardi Gras, to create the carnival atmosphere in your own home. It will definitely put you in the right mood, in the right frame of mind. And if you play it loud enough, don't be surprised if your neighbors gather beneath your window, demanding you flash your tits or toss them some beads. And you'll be happy to comply.

Meet Me At Mardi Gras features a good range of artists such as New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Larry Williams, Al Johnson and Marcia Ball.

"Say Na Ney"

This compilation begins with "Say Na Ney" by The Soul Rebels. This is a song that describes New Orleans during the celebration, with lines like "People walking around/Party all over town." It has a good groove, but it does feel just a bit too slow after a while. But then there is a cool horn section which saves the song right at the moment when it otherwise might start to wear on you.

"Goin' Back To New Orleans"

The album really picks up with its second track, "Goin' Back To New Orleans" by Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers. This is a great old tune that is so cool that you actually become a hipper person just by listening to it. Seriously. Try it. There is something sly and sexy in the horn solo, and the piano lead is wonderful too. If some of those nasty New Orleans vampires were draining me of blood, I'd be okay with it, as long as this song was playing. That's how cool this song is.

"Funky Liza"

For more recent New Orleans music, this compilation presents "Funky Liza" by New Orleans Nightcrawlers, a band that formed in 1994. This is one of those songs that creates the atmosphere of a party by having a lot of background noise - folks shouting and talking and sometimes singing along. Sometimes that sort of thing can be annoying, but this band makes it work. This song is nice extended jam, and you'll catch little teases of other Mardi Gras tunes. "Funky Liza" was originally included on their 1997 release, Funknicity.

"Jockamo A.K.A. Iko-Iko"

A Mardi Gras compilation has to include a version of "Iko Iko," and this one presents a 1950s rock version by Larry Williams. This song is always fun, but this particular version surprised me. I'd never heard it done quite this way before, being more familiar with the Dr. John and Grateful Dead versions. The only problem with this version is it's over so quickly. It's only a minute and a half long. What a tease. Program your CD player to repeat it a few times. (Remember when you first heard this song, and you tried to decipher the lyrics - a friend of mine thought it was "chuck morphine all the day.")

"Carnival Time"

Al Johnson's "Carnival Time" is one of the most famous songs associated with the holiday, and it's the song Johnson is most well known for. This tune was recorded in 1960, and it totally holds up. It has that great New Orleans energy and vibe. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Well if you put in a nickel, well now I'll put a dime/We can get together now and drink up some wine/All because it's carnival time." I don't think those prices are still valid. If you head to New Orleans, be sure to take more than fifteen cents. But however much money you have, you'll be sure to hear this song. After all, "It's carnival time and everybody's having fun."

"Go To The Mardi Gras"

Another seriously fun song is Professor Longhair's "Go To The Mardi Gras." It features some whistling to get you going before the vocals even start, setting the tone. This song's beat will have you shuffling through the streets with a big smile on your face. (This song is also called "Mardi Gras In New Orleans.")

"Do Whatcha Wanna, Part 3"

The fun vibes continue with ReBirth Brass Band performing "Do Whatcha Wanna, Part 3." That's sort of the message or philosophy behind the celebration of Mardi Gras - Do what you want to do. It's all good. People get really loose during this holiday, and this is a loose party song to go along with it. Grab a drink and a few inebriated dance partners and enjoy. And, as they shout right at the end of the song, "Shake that ass."

"Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On"

This compilation concludes with Chuck Carbo's "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On," from his 1993 release, Drawers Trouble. This is by far the bluesiest (is that even a word?) song on Meet Me At Mardi Gras. But that doesn't mean it's a downer. Far from it. This song has a good groove, and some nice work on horns.

"Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" was written by Jeannie & Jimmy Cheatham (and originally recorded by them in 1984). Here is a taste of the lyrics: "You don't have to worry/I'll never leave you all alone/Baby, you don't have to worry/I'll never leave you all alone/If you need me, baby, meet me with your black drawers on." Sure thing, that's not too much to ask. And that line "I'll never leave you all alone" straddles that fine line between comforting and stalking.

CD Track List

  1. Say Na Hey - The Soul Rebels
  2. Goin' Back To New Orleans - Joe Liggins & The Honeydrippers
  3. Mardi Gras Mamo - Zachary Richard
  4. Funky Liza - New Orleans Nightcrawlers
  5. La Danse De Mardi Gras - Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys
  6. Jockamo A.K.A. Iko-Iko - Larry Williams
  7. Carnival Time - Al Johnson
  8. Big Shot - Marcia Ball
  9. Go To The Mardi Gras - Professor Longhair
  10. Do Whatcha Wanna, Part 3 - ReBirth Brass Band
  11. Tipitina - Bo Dillis & The Wild Magnolias
  12. Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On - Chuck Carbo

Meet Me At Mardi Gras was released on January 10, 2012 through Rounder Records.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Keller Williams: "Bass" (2011) CD Review

Keller Williams has since the beginning of his career tried different things, never being one to stick to the path of the tried and true - and the results have been wonderful. His has always been an original approach to music, often performing as a one-man jam band, playing to his own loops. (That's how it was when I first saw him open for RatDog more than a decade ago.) Keller Williams doesn't shy from exploring new musical territory. It's one of the things his fans appreciate about him. He even released a children's record, simply titled Kids (though I suppose these days that's not an unusual thing for an artist to do).

Once again, with Bass, his 17th album, he's trying something new. For this album he has recorded no guitar parts. That's right, no guitar whatsoever. Also, no looping.

Bass is not a solo album. The music on this release is that of a trio, which they refer to as Kdubalicious. The album is full of bass (as the title suggests), and so full of good grooves that Keller fans will certainly appreciate. And those who are new to Keller will find themselves getting blissfully immersed in these tunes. And Grateful Dead fans take notice: one of these tracks was co-written by Robert Hunter.

Keller infuses this material with humor, often self-referential humor. Also, he's not afraid of putting the album's longest track first.

"The Sun And Moon's Vagenda"

The lack of guitar is immediately apparent with the album's opening track, "The Sun And Moon's Vagenda." The bass takes a prominence that it usually doesn't. The song is driven by bass and keys. The bass even takes a lead part a few minutes in, and it's delicious, my favorite section of the song. The band functions as a jazz trio during an extended instrumental section. A funky jazz trio. But can someone tell me what a "vagenda" is?

"2 B U"

The band switches to a fun reggae groove for "2 B U." This is music that makes me want to turn off my lights, light up a joint, and dance around my apartment. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "And where do you go when your body stays behind?/I want to go there just for a minute/How do I get there/Will you show me the way/Will you please share?" I absolutely love the keys on this song. And there is a moment when the keyboard reminds me a bit of Jerry Garcia's guitar from the late 1970s (around the three-minute mark).

"Hey Ho Jorge"

Because of the prominence of the bass, a lot of this album has a great funky feel, and "Hey Ho Jorge" in particular has a heavy funk edge. Even in its lyrics - "I eat the funk." This song features some humorous lines, like "I don't think I've been right since I cut my hair." Also, as in several songs from this release, Keller makes playful references to his own music and collaborators, like in the line "I just want to be with you and grow a beard like Larry Keel." Larry Keel, of course, performed on the Keller & The Keels albums, Grass (2006) and Thief (2010).

"I Am Elvis"

"I Am Elvis" sounds a lot like Paul Simon - Paul Simon in the 1970s, that is. It has that sort of easy groove, that friendly vibe that marks Simon's 1970s output. But it is then mixed with a bit of a reggae beat for the chorus: "And it's all in my mind/I live inside my imagination/It's all in my mind/My imagination stays on vacation/And I like to go there when I have the time/Which is all the time." There is even some playful whistling halfway through the tune. I don't think it's possible to dislike this music.

"Thinking Out Loud"

"Thinking Out Loud" is another reggae tune with a wonderfully playful vibe. That playfulness is matched in the lyrics: "Contemplating and thinking out loud/Can you hear what I say/Was that out loud?/I think I'm thinking out loud/I'm thinking out loud/I think I'm thinking out loud." This is one of my favorite tracks from this release. The pace picks up a bit around the five-minute mark, during a groovy little jam. There is some studio banter at the end of the track that I could do without, but no matter - this is fun song.

"Super Hot"

"Super Hot" is probably the album's best track. This song made me burst out laughing. And I have to wonder when guys first hear this song in concert if they suddenly let go of the girl in front of them. Because Keller sings, "For every super hot girl in the front row/There's a super insecure dude standing behind her/Holding onto her waist as she pelvic thrusts the stage."

This song, more than any other, lifted me out of my home and carried me to a concert venue. The picture this song paints is so vivid. And of course it's got a great groove. It's a song about performing, including jokes about teleprompters. Most of the jokes are about Keller himself, in lines like: "People ask me why I play with my eyes closed/Is it a form of concentration" and "Or are you just high/And you want to hide your eyes," and then a bit later "I'm just probably high." I completely love this song. I'm fairly certain you will too, unless you've never been to a rock concert.

"Hobo Jungle"

"Hobo Jungle" was co-written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. For anyone expecting "Terrapin," forget it. Think rather of some of the sillier, lighter fare of his solo albums. That's not to say this is a bad song. Not at all. In fact, I really dig this tune. It's seriously fun. And it does have something to say. But it's not one of those sublime lyrics that Hunter delivers on occasion.

Check out these lyrics: "I don't want to tell you, honey/What your baby does for money/I wouldn't tell you if I knew/But I can guess, and so can you/I don't want to tell you, honey/What your neighbor does for money/I don't know what she does for cash/But it just might've give you the rash/But money doesn't come for free/The last time I checked my memory/Ways to get it run the gamut/From 'praise the lord' to plain 'goddamnit.'" Pretty damn good, right? And I love Jay Starling's work on keys.

CD Track List

  1. The Sun And Moon's Vagenda
  2. 2 B U
  3. Hey Ho Jorge
  4. I Am Elvis
  5. Hollywood Freaks
  6. Thinking Out Loud
  7. High
  8. Buena
  9. Super Hot
  10. Hobo Jungle
  11. Positive


The musicians on this album are Keller Williams on bass and vocals, Jay Starling on keyboards and vocals, and Mark D. on drums and vocals.

The cover art is by Richard Biffle.

Bass was released on December 13, 2011.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sons Of The Never Wrong: "One If By Hand" (2000) CD Review

Sons Of The Never Wrong are a Chicago-based folk trio. One If By Hand is the band's third album (and the first on Gadfly). There is a joy and an exuberance and an intelligence in this music. I'm really taken with this band's sound. All but one track are originals. And each of the three members contributes tunes to this album. Deborah Lader also did the cover artwork, as well as some of the photography.

"Madame Butterfly"

For a moment at the beginning, the album's opening track, "Madame Butterfly," is sung acappella, the three voices each saying "Hello." Then the acoustic guitar comes in, with the three voices coming together, and then each taking its own part. I love their voices - each powerful, each distinct, but the beauty is truly realized when all three are combined. This song has a sweetness, in its instrumental section as well as in the vocals.

Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I gotta go now, I hear the beating of her wings, and every few days she gathers up five or six of us/and she makes us sing songs of how we love her, of her beauty, and all that it belies/hopeless refrains from the cocoon of madame butterfly." I really love this song. It's folk, but this band has its own style, its own sound. "Madame Butterfly" was written by Bruce Roper.


"Comet" is beautiful. It's a sweet song, almost like a prayer from one heavenly body to the rest. And with humor; check out the song's last two lines: "And that's me I'm a lonely planet, and that's you old William Blake/and that's love sometimes lost in heaven: God's first and His last mistake." "Comet" was written by Sue Demel.


"Jonah" reminds me a bit of The Nields, something in the vocals and the spirit of the piece (also, at times, this song calls to mind Laura Love). This one is driven by a full percussion sound, which is wonderful (think Clan Dyken or Entrain). Even with these similarities, the song is original. And even a cliche like "you can run but you cannot hide" feels fresh on their tongues. "Jonah" was written by Bruce Roper.

"Hallelujah For The Getaway"

"Hallelujah For The Getaway" is folk-pop ("folk-pop" is kind of fun to say; try it), and it has a bright energy. This song has a reference to one of my two favorite writers in the line, "With her good friend Vonnegut." (There is a reference to my other favorite writer in the album's final track, with its line "We can be Romeo and Juliet.") "Hallelujah For The Getaway" was written by Bruce Roper.

"Getting Better"

For the album's only cover song, the band tackles The Beatles' "Getting Better" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. They certainly make it their own. It takes a moment to recognize it. But their bluegrass-like take on it works. And during the song's most serious lines, the song's tone becomes more serious too. It really drives those lines home (also by pausing just before them): "I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved." And then the song's brighter tones return on the lines "I'm doing the best that I can/I admit it's getting better." It's actually really effective.

"Magnetic Poetry"

The odd phrasing in "Magnetic Poetry" completely hooked me right from the start. The first line is "Words can bleeding, hearts we're reading, this one's for thee." Then it's revealed this is poetry on a refrigerator - those individual words we all like to play with, arranging those few words into something interesting. Thus, "magnetic poetry." The last lines are "I fell for your magnetic, technical, genetic, kinetic, apoplectic, frenetic, apathetic, phonetic, cryogenic, metallic, eclectic, italic, magnetic poetry." I could do without the bit of laughter at the end; my own laughter suffices. This one was written by Deborah Lader.


Some of "Teva" (and yes, the title refers to the sandals) is done in a sort of talkin'-folk style. This song is about looking for answers in that usual, crazy places. These lines had me laughing: "Soon became a Unitarian shortly after the dawning of the age of Aquarius ending up in an ashram to proclaim reality/She was married to a Mormon, she was a pastor for Zoroaster, and her personal trainer was in bed with Shirley MacLaine/And L. Ron Hubbard had a web page that she was taken with at a certain age, but when I found her she was standin' in the rain." (The female echo of "Shirley MacLaine" is great.) And sure, L. Ron Hubbard is an easy target, but one we should take aim at whenever possible. (I think the only way to deal with Scientology is to ridicule it out of existence.)

"Teva" was written by Bruce Roper, and features David Lader on harmonica.

"Home Hymn"

"Home Hymn" really took me by surprise. It's gorgeous, while of course being sad too, with lines like "I'm ready now come pick me up, I'm sick and tired of this earthly stuff." I am astonished at how much I love this song. Usually songs with such strong and obvious spiritual tones turn me off. At times, it reminds me a bit of Stephanie Mechura. It also has hints of "Amazing Grace." "Home Hymn" was written by Sue Demel.

CD Track List

  1. Madame Butterfly
  2. Comet
  3. Jonah
  4. My Last Boyfriend
  5. One Simple Question
  6. Hallelujah For The Getaway
  7. No 1-4 Me
  8. Getting Better
  9. Secrets
  10. Magnetic Poetry
  11. Teva
  12. Home Hymn
  13. Sleeping Bag


Sons Of The Never Wrong are Bruce Roper on vocals, guitar and keyboard; Deobrah Lader on vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin and spoons; and Sue Demel on vocals, guitar and strumstick.

Joining them on this recording are Al Ehrich on stand-up and electric bass, Heath Chapell on drums and bongos, Carlos Cornier on congas and Latin percussion, Paul Dawidczyk on jaw harp, Cathy Kuna on cello, David Lader on harmonica, Bob Long on keyboard, Victor Sanders on electric guitar, Ira Sullivan on tenor sax and flute, Evan Silver on vocals, and Barb Silverman on washboard.

One If By Hand was release on August 15, 2000 on Gadfly Records.