Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grateful Dead: “Dick’s Picks Volume Fourteen” (1999/2014) CD Review

Like a lot of Grateful Dead fans, I am especially fond of the recordings from 1973, one of the band’s best years. It was the year of Wake Of The Flood, when the band had created its own record label, and was really trying to do everything independently. It was a year of some really great jams. Dick’s Picks Volume Fourteen is a four-disc set containing much of two shows the Dead did in Boston toward the end of that year. The Grateful Dead did a three-night stand at the Boston Music Hall. This set contains the first show (November 30, 1973) and the third show (December 2, 1973).

Disc One: 11-30-73 First Set

The first disc opens with the beautiful “Morning Dew.” When I saw the Grateful Dead, this excellent song was always placed near the end of the second set. But here the band kicks off the show with it. (Read the liner notes included in this set for interesting information on the start of this concert.) And as you’d expect, there is some good jamming on this tune. After “Morning Dew,” Bob Weir says, “We’re making adjustments, as you can see,” and mentions that Donna Jean Godchaux wouldn’t be at these shows. She was pregnant at the time. And the band launches into the fun “Mexicali Blues.”

After a nice “Dire Wolf,” the disc skips to “Black-Throated Wind,” so we’re missing “Beat It On Down The Line” and “Brown-Eyed Women.” Interestingly, Phil comes in a bit late at the beginning of “Don’t Ease Me In.” And there is some cool stage banter after that song. “Big River” is placed next on the disc, though “El Paso” and “They Love Each Other” followed “Don’t Ease Me In” at the show. Because “Loser” is also cut, the disc then gives us “They Love Each Other,” to keep the Jerry-Bob-Jerry-Bob order of material. And it’s a really good version of “They Love Each Other,” with that great loose groove and that wonderful extra section they did in those days. (That extra bridge makes the 1973 versions of this song my favorites.)

The band then wraps up the first set with “Playing In The Band.” It’s somewhat odd to hear a “Playing” from the mid-1970s without Donna Jean’s vocals, but this track is definitely the highlight of the first disc, with plenty of great jamming. They explore without getting messy. It’s not a spacy “Playing,” but it is an exciting one, with lots of energy and passion.

Disc Two: 11-30-73 Second Set

The second disc contains most of the second set from November 30, apart from the first four songs. As the disc is only approximately sixty-six minutes, I can’t help but wonder why at least one more song wasn’t included, such as “Jack Straw,” which immediately preceded “Here Comes Sunshine.” But what is included is excellent, focusing mainly on material from Wake Of The Flood, including an excellent and interesting version of “Here Comes Sunshine” (probably one of the best versions of this tune I’ve heard). It’s followed by the entire “Weather Report Suite,” also from Wake Of The Flood. I love how it begins so sweetly, so delicately, and builds from there. It then slides right into “Dark Star Jam,” a very loose jam, which gives way to “Eyes Of The World,” one of my absolute favorites, and one of the songs that make 1973 my favorite year for Dead tapes. “Eyes Of The World” was always great, always welcome, but in this first year (the band debuted it in February of 1973), it sounded just perfect. I love the groove of this song. It always makes me happy. And at nearly twenty minutes, this version has a lot of great jamming, including that fantastic bridge they only included in these early renditions. This is the highlight of the second disc for me. They then wrap up the show with “Sugar Magnolia.”

Disc Three: 12-2-73 First and Second Sets

The third disc begins with goofy stage banter before the band gets things underway with “Cold Rain And Snow.” This dis contains some of the first set from December 2, plus the beginning of the second set. Just a couple of beats open this fun version of “Beat It On Down The Line.” A couple of tunes are then skipped, and the disc goes right to a sweet rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women.” And it’s followed by some playful stage banter and interactions with the audience, and a little bit of both “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” and “Beer Barrel Polka.” After a good version of “Jack Straw” and an excellent “Ramble On Rose,” we go to the end of the first set, with “Weather Report Suite.”

The second set opens with “Wharf Rat,” and you can hear the understandably excited crowd. This is an excellent, heartfelt version of one of the band’s best songs. Jerry’s vocal performance here makes it a highlight for me. And it moves easily into “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.”

Disc Four: 12-2-73 Second Set

The fourth disc contains most of the rest of the second set from December 2, 1973. There’s just one song missing – “Sugar Magnolia.” This disc opens with “Playing In The Band,” which starts as a seriously fun version (listen to some of what Bill is doing on drums), and then just a few minutes in turns to a good jam. The band gets out there, but it’s also kind of intense, especially toward the end just before it goes into “Mind Left Body Jam,” or as it’s titled on this release, “Jam.” And that’s when things get really interesting. This jam provides the spaciest material on this four-disc set, and it’s fantastic – at some moments beautiful, at some moments pained. It’s nine minutes in when it gets to the familiar “Your Mind Has Left Your Body” theme (that’s probably when the second track should have actually begun), and it sounds so sweet. It leads to “He’s Gone,” which had a different tone at that time, due to Pigpen’s death earlier that year. It’s absolutely beautiful and moving, one of my favorite tracks. And then suddenly the band bursts into “Truckin.’” The groovy jam has a bit of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and slides gently into one of my favorite songs, “Stella Blue.” And this is a truly gorgeous rendition. The band ended this third show the way the first show began, with “Morning Dew.” And this is one of the best versions I’ve heard. This whole fourth disc is excellent, the band at its best.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Morning Dew
  2. Mexicali Blues
  3. Dire Wolf
  4. Black-Throated Wind
  5. Don’t Ease Me In
  6. Big River
  7. They Love Each Other
  8. Playing In The Band
Disc Two
  1. Here Comes Sunshine
  2. Weather Report Suite >
  3. Dark Star Jam >
  4. Eyes Of The World
  5. Sugar Magnolia
Disc Three
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. Jack Straw
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. Weather Report Suite
  7. Wharf Rat>
  8. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Disc Four
  1. Playing In The Band >
  2. Jam>
  3. He’s Gone>
  4. Truckin' >
  5. Stella Blue
  6. Morning Dew
This re-issue of Dick’s Picks Volume Fourteen is scheduled to be released on December 2, 2014 through Real Gone Music. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Slow Leaves: “Beauty Is So Common” (2014) CD Review

Last year Slow Leaves released their debut EP, Second Chances, and those three tracks were among the best songs of the year. That EP made me excited for the full-length CD, which was released in September of this year. Beauty Is So Common, the new CD, is an absolutely wonderful collection of tunes, somewhere between folk and rock, with some gentle grooves and 1970s influences. All of the tracks were written by Grant Davidson, and performed by him and Rusty Matyas. There is some really good, honest songwriting here, without artifice, without airs. This is one of my favorite albums of the year. By the way, if you missed last year's EP, this CD contains two of those songs.

The album opens with one of my favorite tracks, “Everybody Wants To Be In Love.” It begins as folk, but grows from there into something gorgeous and moving, with that steady pounding on the drum working in time with our hearts. When that drum comes in, it’s like we are ourselves are moving toward love. Before it, it’s like a distant wish to be in love, but when it comes in, it’s like we’re now actively seeking love. There is movement toward joy, and by the end, this song has us all feeling hopeful. “How does it feel when the world like a wheel/Spins fast under your legs, and your hips turn to steel/You rush to find the woman before whom to kneel/Everybody wants to be in love.” Dany Joyal joins them on bass for this track.

The second track, “Nostalgia,” seems to pick up from there, with a good, but more relaxed beat, and with country elements and smooth, beautiful vocals. This song has a friendly, laid-back vibe. “Every woman and every man/Holding onto someone the best they can/We were leaning, backs to the wind.”

Then “Life Of A Better Man” kicks off with a great rock groove. This is one of the two tracks that also appeared on last year’s EP. It clearly takes influence from some of the 1970s music, but in the short instrumental moments reminds me of a Belle And Sebastian song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Got to start life over to end up like this/There’s a creek in the floor, and a shadow at my door/And a fear of what’s at hand/It’s a ghost in the hall, an image that I call/The life of a better man.” Slow Leaves follow that with “Dreamer,” a delightful acoustic tune with a very positive vibe in lines like “Where no one has to ride alone/And those that fall behind will be waited for.” But when Grant sings, “And if we’re wrong, we’re wrong,” that’s when the song becomes even more effective for me, with a stronger emotional core.

“Second Chances” sounds like the very best of 1970s soft rock. It’s so beautiful, and yet so catchy too. This is the other song that was included on the EP, and is one I love more and more each time I hear it. “Neighborhood Watch” has a different feel from the other tracks, with a cool, meaner blues vibe that is delicious. I really like the guitar on this track.

“Only Sound To Hear” has a more intimate sound, particularly in the way the vocals are presented. It sounds like he’s so close, and there’s no need to project. There is a relaxed feel, like among friends. And even after the song kicks in, it’s able to retain a kind of intimacy that is sweet and moving. “I don’t have much money/And nothing to say/Just secondhand stories I’m offering free/And some old ideas I’ve forgotten to tell you/And stars that shine dimly and too far to see.”

I also really love the feel of “Institution,” another highlight of this CD. “Will the morning light see us through/Chase the shadows from the room.” Then “Country Of Ideas” is more of a country rock number, with kind of a bluesy rhythm.

Slow Leaves wrap things up with a nice country folk tune, “Rearview,” that even includes harmonica. There’s a humor there as well, for while he sings, “The lifelong drive to the gallows” (a great line in itself), there are backing vocals singing “sha-dooby-doo,” giving it a playful quality. Clearly, Grant Davidson is not taking himself too seriously. Toward the end, he sings, “Maybe you can take me along.” Absolutely. I imagine this disc will remain close to my CD play for quite a while.

CD Track List
  1. Everybody Wants To Be In Love
  2. Nostalgia
  3. Life Of A Better Man
  4. Dreamer
  5. Second Chances
  6. Neighborhood Watch
  7. Only Sound To Hear
  8. Institution
  9. Country Of Ideas
  10. Rearview
Beauty Is So Common was released on September 9, 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Amanda Kravat: “AK” (2014) CD Review

You might know Amanda Kravat as the lead singer of Marry Me Jane from the mid-1990s, or from her solo work. Her new EP, AK, her first release in a dozen years, is a collection of four strong, original tracks that have a very personal feel.

The first track, “Not Myself Today,” is a rock song in which she opens herself up and in doing so opens us up as well. I mean, how often do we all feel like saying, “I’m all right, but not okay,” as she does in this song? What I like is that the word “today” is included in the line “I’m just not myself today,” implying that the trouble is temporary, that she’ll get through it. That we can all get through it. Music has a healing property, and this tune is like reaching a hand out to yourself. Plus, it’s a good rock tune.

My favorite track on this EP, however, is “I Could Tell You I Don’t Love You.” It’s a sweeter, sadder, more intimate-sounding song. The first line is sung a cappella, like it's just her and us. This track is mainly driven by her vocals and piano. “I could say that you don’t inspire me/But that’s not exactly true/Everything about me/Is a version of you.” There is a very naked quality to this song, particularly in her vocal approach, that is quite moving.

“Wouldn’t Be This” has a somewhat brighter pop flavor, and in this one she sings “I got nothing left to bitch about” and “It looks like this is my town... at last.”  “Wouldn’t Be This” was written by Amanda Kravat and Glenn Rosenstein.

The EP’s final track, “Somebody Else Is Driving,” seems to express an optimism, while also being grounded in a reality, and the sound of this song reflects that, with some positive energy to the vocals in the chorus, but also a steady base. “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got,” she sings. It sounds like she’s coming to terms with not being completely in control; after all, “Somebody else is driving.” My favorite lines from this song are “I got a couple of boyfriends/But I’m not in any danger of knowing what I need.” Amanda Kravat co-wrote this song with Richie Supa.

CD Track List
  1. Not Myself Today
  2. I Could Tell You I Don’t Love You
  3. Wouldn’t Be This
  4. Somebody Else Is Driving
AK was released on October 28, 2014. It was produced and engineered by Max Coane, who also plays piano and provides some vocals, and was mixed by Mark Saunders.

Dreaming Bull Finishes Residency at The Silverlake Lounge

"The Spell"
Last night was the final night of Dreaming Bull’s November residency at The Silverlake Lounge. I got there quite early, and the first band, Satellite Sky, was just setting up. The place was fairly empty, but I knew that that meant nothing. Los Angeles people aren't generally early to arrive, and by the time Dreaming Bull took the stage, the place would be packed with eager, hungry music fans. And as this was one of the band’s last shows of the year, my expectations were high.

They’ve already taped their segment for Last Call With Carson Daly, and it’s supposed to air in mid-December, so there is that to look forward to. And then a few breaths after that, the year will be over. Time seems to be in some kind of hurry, and I’ve yet to discover just what it’s rushing toward, what it’s so excited about. But it’s been a good month of music, with four Dreaming Bull shows.

The band took the stage around 10:30 p.m., and Gabe jokingly announced, “We are Cheap Trick.” They started “Lover Street” and were off and running. By the way, Gabe was wearing a Momma Stud T-shirt (I still need to get a copy of that band’s album). After “Lover Street,” they did “Coming Home,” and then Nic, to avoid any confusion, said, “We are Dreaming Bull.”

“Feed Us” was particularly good tonight, and they followed that song with three of their newest tunes – “Hearts State Penn” (which they introduced last week), “Pulling The Plug” (one of my favorites) and “Smile On Your Face.” They ended the set with “The Spell,” which they hadn’t played the last couple of weeks. Nic tuned his guitar in the middle of the song, then happily announced, “Now I’m in tune!” He also introduced the band during that song.

They clearly planned on doing “Bull Rida” as the encore (it was on their set list), but this venue has a habit of turning on the house music the second a band puts down its instruments. And though the audience was calling for an encore (one woman actually called out for “Bull Rida”), once the house music came on, everyone stopped, understanding that as the signal that no encore was forthcoming. But after a moment, the band decided to play it anyway, and came back on stage. It was a fun rendition. And it was a great set of music.

Set List
  1. Lover Street
  2. Coming Home
  3. Hippie Hobo
  4. Feed Us
  5. Hearts State Penn
  6. Pulling The Plug
  7. Smile On Your Face
  8. No Use
  9. The Spell 
  1. Bull Rida
Here are a few photos:

"Lover Street"
"Lover Street"
"Feed Us"
"Feed Us"
"Hearts State Penn"
"Pulling The Plug"
"Pulling The Plug"
"Bull Rida"

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Urban Renewal Project: “Local Legend” (2014) CD Review

I love it when music shouts out, “Yes!” And the way Local Legend, the second album from The Urban Renewal Project, opens, with those great horns, it’s like a delicious positive burst of encouragement. Yes! And then Aubrey Logan’s vocals come in with a power and bright energy, and there’s a beat to get you moving. “I’m going to do my thing the way I do/No matter what you try to tell me to/What makes you think that you can say I told you so.” Yes, “My Own Way” has lyrics that have an empowering effect. But it’s that great moment on bass that I love most (that’s Michael McFadden). A couple of minutes in, a second vocalist, Elmer Demond, comes in and does a bit of rap, which is interestingly followed by a clarinet. I love how this group takes from all musical corners and combines styles to create a joyous beast. (By the way, “You’re Beautiful” also has a cool bass solo, this time by Dustin Morgan.)

“Rooftops & Parking Lots” has some nice R&B grooves and tones, creating a sweet vibe that is designed to produces smiles, and is totally effective. “And our laughter sounds like ice in a glass of memories.” I have mixed feelings about the rap intruding on the smooth vibe, but overall I really dig this track. Aubrey Logan belts it out at times, and sounds fantastic. And I like the fun “nah nah nah” vocals toward the end.

Things then turn funky for the start of “Make Like You Mean It.” I’m really fond of the bass on this album, and on this track in particular. There are more positive vibes and lyrics, such as these lines: “Make like you mean it/Get up there and let your colors show/Take just a minute/And seize the night, don’t wait till tomorrow.” And for me this one best incorporates hip hop. It flows so well form the main structure of the song, and feels an integral and natural part of it, rather than added on. This one got me dancing.

Any song that opens with a drum solo, as “Redshift” does, is probably something I’m going to be into. And then when the bass comes in, the tune becomes a very cool swinging number, with some great stuff on horns. It takes a moment to adjust to the hip hop vocals, but they work, particularly in conjunction with the slower groove on bass. But it’s the instrumental sections that I most enjoy on this track. That's Satoshi Kirisawa on drums.

“We Big Tonight” begins with a delicious bouncing beat. Then when Elmer Demond comes in on vocals, the music relaxes a bit at first, but soon regains that joyous bounce, and when it does that’s when I absolutely love the tune. Interestingly, when Aubrey Logan comes in, the song takes on a bit of a disco feel, reminding me of Boogie Patrol Express (the Oregon band from the early 1990s). This is another that really got me moving. I love what Elmer Demond does here. And there’s a cool trumpet solo by Elliot Deutsch. This is an all-round excellent track.

“Prophecy” is another fantastic track, with a great groove, and just a fun, positive attitude. It's clear this group approaches the music with joyous hearts. This is a perfect dance tune with a nice lead part on alto sax by Alexander Meyers.

CD Track List
  1. My Own Way
  2. Rooftops & Parking Lots
  3. Make Like You Mean It
  4. You’re Beautiful
  5. Redshift
  6. Change
  7. We Big Tonight
  8. Prophecy
  9. The Belief 
Local Legend was released on September 23, 2014 on Lombardy Records.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Curtis McMurtry at The Hotel Café, 11-23-14 Concert Review

"Sparks In The Wind"
Curtis McMurtry did an excellent set tonight at The Hotel Café. He jumped right in, no introductions, no nonsense, and the shortest soundcheck ever. That might have been in part due to the fact that the previous show ran a bit late (something basically unheard of at this venue).

Curtis is the son of James McMurtry and the grandson of Larry McMurtry. Clearly, the ability to tell a good story is in his genetic makeup. He quickly proved himself able to hold his own in the writing department. Check out this line from “Sparks In The Wind,” the first song of his set: “We betray the ones we love for those we love a little more.” And check out these lines from “Down To The Wire”: “Please don’t pretend you’ve forgotten/The night that I gave you that bruise/We made love and you asked me to hurt you/I wish I could say I refused.”

Like all good storytellers, Curtis has a sense of humor. He talked about doing only sad songs and mean songs, and said the next one was a mean song, in introducing “She Loves Me More.” Something in his humor and demeanor reminded me a bit of Jim Infantino, but Jim in like the early 1990s. After “Foxhole,” he asked the crowd, “How’s your sad-to-mean ratio?” A couple of people responded, “Meaner,” and he said, “We can do that.” And he launched into “Lonely In The Beehive.”

At one point during “Eleanor’s House,” he did a bit of whistling. And while he did, a siren went by outside, not quite matching his tone but making the effort, which both Curtis and the audience appreciated. The last song of his set also had a whistling section, but this time there was no siren outside to accompany him.

Set List
  1. Sparks In The Wind
  2. Eleanor’s House
  3. She Loves Me More
  4. Whiskey Sweat
  5. Chaplinesque
  6. Foxhole
  7. Lonely In The Beehive
  8. Down To The Wire
  9. Rebecca
Here are a few photos from his performance:

"Sparks In The Wind"
"Down To The Wire"
"Down To The Wire"

Magnolia Memoir: “Pale Fire” (2014) CD Review

Magnolia Memoir lead vocalist Mela Lee used to work on Wall Street. But somewhere along the way she realized that what she should be doing is fronting a very cool band. Wall Street’s loss is our tremendous gain, for we now have Magnolia Memoir. I saw this band in concert a couple of times before hearing their new CD, Pale Fire, and so I experienced firsthand the joy that propels this group. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing them perform. But don’t worry, that joy is really well captured in the recordings on this CD, particularly in tracks like “Odds & Ends” and “Pale Fire.”

Pale Fire is the group’s third full-length release, and it features all original material. This is a group that doesn’t hold back, but just really goes for it. Check out “Hemingway,” for example. Mela Lee’s voice has a power, but also a vulnerability, which she uses well on a song like “Silence & The Ache.”

The album opens with “Ash & Bone” a wonderful pop tune with some nice work on bass. Of course, the main thing that hits us is Mela Lee’s distinct voice, which is sometimes sweet and innocent, and then exploding with a glorious power and energy. (There are moments when her voice reminds me of Holland Greco’s earliest work with The Peak Show.) “A house is not a home/when you walk away/and let it burn.”

It’s followed by “Odds & Ends,” one of my personal favorites. This song just makes me so bloody happy. Sure, it’s catchy, but there’s more to it than that. Check out these lines: “You had a brilliant turn/But it’s over now/But somehow/Your heart knew what you’ve got/You’ve been drifting through/A fundamental fog.”

Listen to Mela Lee sing the title line to “No One Like You,” and try to not be moved, to not be impressed. This track is really all about her vocals, accompanied by Alexander Burke on keys. This song is a direct message from her heart to our ears, stripped of all baggage and armor. “I would love you/If you let me/You can crush me/‘cause you get me.”

“Peeling Paint” is another excellent track. It begins quietly, almost tentatively, but then the energy comes at you like a force that could knock you on your ass if you don’t jump aboard at just the right moment. Here the group comes closest to rock, and it’s a song to get you moving. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Waking up every day just to suffocate/In old buildings with peeling paint/Day after day/Click clack on the track/Remind me I want back/Everything that they took from me.”

The vulnerability and passion are so apparent in Mela Lee's vocal delivery on “The Wait.” There is something heartbreaking about this song of longing and hope and desire. Check out these lines: “And I'll be true to the moment/I will hold on as long as I can/Baby, you're worth the wait/And I'm hoping that/You'll want to come home to me.” And then near the end she sings, “I'll keep holding on to the wait.” The waiting itself becomes the object, in place of the other person, during his prolonged (perhaps indefinitely) absence. This is a wonderful song.

Pale Fire ends with “Resurrected,” a joyous and beautiful track that builds perfectly. (Mela's voice at moments reminds me of Cyndi Lauper.) On this track, the group is joined by Joe Berry on sax, Ryan Franks on sax, Alex Budman on clarinet and Mike Bolger on accordion.

CD Track List
  1. Ash & Bone
  2. Odds & Ends
  3. No One Like You
  4. Hemingway
  5. Silence & The Ache
  6. Peeling Paint
  7. Pale Fire
  8. The Wait
  9. Life Before
  10. Resurrected

Magnolia Memoir is Mela Lee on vocals; Alexander Burke on piano, vibraphone, B3, keyboard, mandolin and synthesizer; Aron Forbes on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Matt Lucich on drums and percussion; and Gordon Bash on bass. Joining them on this release are Javier Orman on violin, Joe Berry on tenor sax, Chris Woods on violin and viola, Ryan Franks on tenor and baritone saxophone, Alex Budman on clarinet, Mike Bolger on trumpet and accordion, Mark Gasway on guitar and vocals, and Dan Antunovich on bass.

Pale Fire was released on September 16, 2014. You can check out Magnolia Memoir's music  and purchase it on their official site. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this group. By the way, I don’t usually mention album covers, but I absolutely love the cover of this CD. The photography is Matthias Haker and the artwork is by Leo Canneto.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Big Star: “Live In Memphis” (2014) CD Review

Live In Memphis is a recording of a show that Big Star did on October 29, 1994, when the band was made up of Alex Chilton on vocals and guitar, Jody Stephens on drums, Jon Auer on guitar and Ken Stringfellow on bass (the latter two being members of The Posies). There is a lot of great straightforward rock and roll, mixed with pop. This CD on Omnivore Recordings marks the first time this recording has been available. The show was also filmed and has been released on DVD as well. This CD includes liner notes from Danny Graflund, who recorded the show, as well as notes from band members Jody Stephens, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

The album begins with a bit of stage banter, and they kick off with a song from their first album, “In The Street,” a really good rock tune with a fun pop attitude. The sound isn’t perfect for this track. It’s a bit tinny. A note on the inside of the CD case explains that the sound for this track comes from the camera microphones rather than soundboard. They follow it with a couple of other tracks from their first album, first “Don’t Lie To Me,” which is more of a hard rock tune, with a bit of blues to its base and some raucous guitar work, and then “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” a good, fun, feel-good rock tune with the line “When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry.”

They do play one song from original member Chris Bell’s solo work, “I Am The Cosmos,” and afterwards say, “One for the late great Chris Bell.” Chris Bell had left the group after the band’s first album, and died in 1978 (one of the many musicians who died at age 27).

Big Star does a good cover of The Kinks’ “Till The End Of The Day” performing it with the right energy, and delightful abandon on the drums and some good stuff on guitar. They follow it with what is probably my favorite Big Star song, “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” a sweeter tune. I just love the sound of the vocals as they repeat the line, “There ain’t no one going to turn me around.” This song was originally from the band’s 1972 debut release, #1 Record.

There’s just a tease of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” due to an audience member calling out for it. (Though I have to wonder if the person might have meant Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Who knows?) They also do a cool cover of the T. Rex tune “Baby Strange,” written by Marc Bolan.

They introduce “For You” by saying, “Jody’s gonna yodel for you a little bit now.” “For You” is one that Jody Stephens wrote and which was included on the band’s third album. It’s a love song; here is a taste of its lyrics: “Sometimes I can't help but worship you/I love you and all the things that you do/I thought I'd sit and write this song just for you/To let you know that I am thinking of you.” (Is it just me, or does the kick drum sound odd on this track?)

They do a good rendition of “September Gurls,” one of the band’s most famous tunes, written by Alex Chilton and originally included on 1974’s Radio City. It’s followed by one of my favorites, the quieter “Big Black Car,” written by Alex Chilton and Chris Gage, and originally included on the group’s third record. Something about this song grabs me. His vocal delivery has a strange matter-of-fact feel as he sings, “I can’t feel a thing/No, I can’t feel anything at all.” There is also a kind of slightly warped humor to it, like in the lines “Driving’s a gas/It ain’t gonna last.” At end of track Alex introduces the band.

This CD ends with a trio of interesting choices of covers, the first being “The Girl From Ipanema,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Norman Gimbel. They joke around a bit before the song, and their version is pretty short. They follow it with Dick Campbell’s “Patty Girl,” and then wrap things up with Todd Rundgren’s “Slut.”

CD Track List
  1. In The Street
  2. Don’t Lie To Me
  3. When My Baby’s Beside Me
  4. I Am The Cosmos
  5. Way Out West
  6. Till The End Of The Day
  7. The Ballad Of El Goodo
  8. Back Of A Car
  9. Fire
  10. Daisy Glaze
  11. Jesus Christ
  12. For You
  13. Baby Strange
  14. Feel
  15. September Gurls
  16. Big Black Car
  17. Thank You Friends
  18. The Girl From Ipanema
  19. Patty Girl
  20. Slut
Live In Memphis was released on November 4, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Big Star: “Radio City” (1974/2014) CD Review

Big Star’s second album, Radio City, originally released in 1974, has been remastered and re-issued through Stax and Concord Music Group. There are new liner notes by Mike Mills of R.E.M. The liner notes cover Big Star’s first two albums and are included on the re-issues of both. After the band’s first album, #1 Record, didn’t do as well as it should have, Chris Bell left the group, and so Big Star became a trio for this album – Alex Chilton on vocals and guitar, Andy Hummel on vocals and bass, and Jody Stephens on drums. The album features all original songs, most of them written by Alex Chilton. There are no bonus tracks on this re-issue.

I absolutely love the way this album opens. “O My Soul” is such a fun track, with a great groove to kick it off. The song immediately tells you it was designed to put you in a good mood. Set aside your troubles for the length of a song. “We’ve got all night/You’re driving me mad now/You shouldn’t do that/We’re going to get on up/And drink till we drop.” This song also boasts a good little jam toward the end. (By the way, this song mentions the band’s name in the line “If I’m a big star.”)

They follow that with “Life Is White,” an interesting song with some surprising changes. There is also some nice work on harmonica (though no one is credited in the liner notes as playing harmonica).

The line from “Way Out West” that jumped out at me was “Sometimes I think she’ll make me forget/What I need most to remember.” There is just a bit of sweet sadness to this song, even as it ends on a positive, hopeful note about working things out. “Why don’t you come on back from way out west/And love me/We can work out the rest.” This is a really good song. Another that I really like from this album is “You Get What You Deserve.” It has a groovy vibe to it, with some nice work on guitar.

One of my favorites is “She’s A Mover” which has a bit of a 1960s vibe. It’s like a perfect rock and roll tune, tight while feeling loose, with good energy and a sense of fun. It’s basically everything you want rock music to be. And it’s followed by a bit of pop bliss, “September Gurls,” one of the band’s most popular tunes. “I loved you, well, never mind/I’ve been crying all the time/December boys got it bad.” I love when the guitar emerges for its lead spot. This is a song that’s been covered by The Bangles and Squire.

Radio City ends with a couple of short tunes. The first, “Morpha Too,” is an odd tune that features some really good vocal work. The second, “I’m In Love With A Girl” is kind of a sweet little love song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m in love with a girl/Finest girl in the world/I didn’t know this could happen to me.

CD Track List
  1. O My Soul
  2. Life Is White
  3. Way Out West
  4. What’s Going Ahn
  5. You Get What You Deserve
  6. Mod Lang
  7. Back Of A Car
  8. Daisy Glaze
  9. She’s A Mover
  10. September Gurls
  11. Morpha Too
  12. I’m In Love With A Girl
This re-issue of Radio City was released on September 2, 2014 through Stax and Concord Music Group.

Big Star: “#1 Record” (1972/2014) CD Review

Big Star’s 1972 debut album, #1 Record, has been re-issued and remastered, and it sounds great. There are also new liner notes from R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. The liner notes cover both this album and the band’s follow-up, Radio City, and are included on the re-issues of both CDs. This album features all original tracks, most of them written by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. There are no bonus tracks on this re-issue.

The CD kicks off with “Feel,” a great bit of that early 1970s rock but with a glorious pop angle. The energy of this track is mainly in its vocals.  And I love that great crunch with what sounds like horns and keys (though no one is listed as playing any horns on this album). I wish that section were longer. No one is listed on keys in the liner notes either, though online I found Terry Manning credited for this album.

Then the following track, “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” begins quietly with vocals and guitar, and is beautiful. And when it kicks in, it retains a certain beauty. This is such a good song. Sure, it’s still rock, but there is a folk or country rock feel to it as well. And I love the clarity of the guitar, the way you can hear each string so clearly you can almost see them. Another thing I love is that while this song is beautiful, it sacrifices none of the band’s power. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Years ago my heart was set to live/And I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds/It gets so hard in times like now to hold on.” This is my personal favorite track.

“In The Street” feels to me like it could be a cover of a mid-1960s rock song, mainly in the way the line “Not a thing to do, but talk to you” is delivered in the opening lines: “Hanging out down the street/The same old thing we did last week/Not a thing to do, but talk to you.” It has a bit of that 1960s rock thing there and in the “ahh” vocals, but then is mixed with a 1970s southern rock drive, a combination which really works. It’s a fun track. By the way, this song will be familiar to a lot of people as the opening theme to the television series, That ‘70s Show (though it was a cover version used there).

“Thirteen” is a prettier acoustic song, with a sweet innocence and references to a couple of other tunes – “Paint It Black,” “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay.” Wilco covered this song on the tribute to Big Star, Big Star, Small World.

“Don’t Lie To Me” is a kick-ass rock tune, with some blues at its base. There is a bit of messing around at the beginning of the track, but this is a straightforward Don’t-fuck-with-me song that demands to be turned up. Just listen to those guitars! “Don’t cross me, babe,” they repeat toward the end. It doesn’t quite feel right for this one to fade out. It should explode instead. It’s interesting that “Don’t Lie To Me” is sandwiched between two softer, beautiful tunes. “The India Song” is a delightful, playful tune written by Andy Hummel, and is one of my personal favorites from this album.

“Try Again” is another that I really like. It’s mainly an acoustic song, with an electric country rock-type guitar lead over it during the instrumental section. It’s a simple, honest statement, an assessment of self in a moment of struggle and hope. “Lord, I've been trying to be what I should/Lord, I've been trying to do what I could/But each time it gets a little harder/I feel the pain/But I'll try again.” Nice, right?

CD Track List
  1. Feel
  2. The Ballad Of El Goodo
  3. In The Street
  4. Thirteen
  5. Don’t Lie To Me
  6. The India Song
  7. When My Baby’s Beside Me
  8. My Life Is Right
  9. Give Me Another Chance
  10. Try Again
  11. Watch The Sunrise
  12. ST 100/6
This re-issue of #1 Record was released on September 2, 2014 through Stax and Concord Music Group.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gun Hill Royals at The Hotel Café, 11-20-14: Photos

"Under The Covers"
Last night I was able to make it to two concerts: Lady Low at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, and then Gun Hill Royals at The Hotel Café. It worked out well, as those two venues are only five blocks away from each other, and though Lady Low got a late start they did a short set.

Gun Hill Royals are a Los Angeles band delivering some really good country rock, with a joy that transfers so easily to the audience. They also write some damn good songs (I’m particularly fond of “Restless,” “Let Love In,” “Anahata” and “The Valley Floor”). They did mostly original material last night, apart from a cool cover of Buck Owens’ “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (and you can never go wrong with Buck Owens). They closed their set with a fun, high-energy number, “Crazy Dreams.”

Set List
  1. Under The Covers
  2. Firefly
  3. Restless
  4. This Ship Ain’t Takin’ Water
  5. I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail
  6. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
  7. Let Love In
  8. Anahata
  9. The Valley Floor
  10. Give Me A Smile
  11. Burn This House Down
  12. Crazy Dreams
Here are a few photos from their set:

"Under The Covers"
"I've Got A Tiger By The Tail"
"Let Love In"
"Let Love In"

Lady Low at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, Los Angeles, 11-20-14

"Goodnight My Love"
Lady Low celebrated the release of their first single tonight with a show at Good Times At Davey Wayne’s, in Los Angeles. They got a late start, due to some issues with lights and so forth. They were scheduled to go on at 9 p.m., but things didn’t get underway until just after 10. In addition to the core trio of Jimmy Sweet on vocals and guitar, Sami Jo on vocals and drums, and Rachel Maxann on vocals and synthesizer, the band featured an additional guitarist and two violinists.

They kicked off their set with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man,” with a little “Hey Jude” tease thrown in at the end, then went into “Rainy Day” (the violinists sat that one out). The set also featured “Burning Like A Fever” (a song from Death By Sexy, Jimmy Sweet’s other band) and a short a cappella “Goodnight My Love.” They ended the set with the two songs from the single – “When I Do Wrong” and “Baby Baby,” the latter being a cover of the Vibrators song. It was a good set, but very short. They ended precisely at 10:30 p.m. (so the set was twenty-eight minutes).

Set List
  1. I’m Waiting For The Man
  2. Rainy Day
  3. Burning Like A Fever
  4. Goodnight My Love
  5. I Wanna Be Your Dog
  6. When I Do Wrong
  7. Baby Baby  
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"I'm Waiting For The Man"
"Rainy Day"
"Burning Like A Fever"
"When I Do Wrong"
"Baby Baby"
Good Times At Davey Wayne’s is an odd, but kind of cool venue, with 1970s décor. You enter through a refrigerator at the end of a short hallway. I’m sure the first couple of nights the venue was open, the doorman enjoyed answering the befuddled patrons’ questions about how to get in, but now is thoroughly tired of the comments about the door. There are a couple of couches in the middle of the room, limiting the dance space. It doesn’t seem to be designed for concerts, and has more of a groovy lounge feel.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Sandman’s Orchestra: “Crying For The Moon” (2014) CD Review

The new CD from The Sandman’s Orchestra, Crying For The Moon, the band’s third full-length release, is an unusual album with a sound that is at times haunting, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes even with spiritual flavor (like the uplifting vocal section at the end of the title track). The best way to first appreciate this album is to lie down in the dark and let it play without distraction. Let it take you where it will, or where your mind chooses. “I just love the way we float,” they sing in “Crying For The Moon.”

The Sandman’s Orchestra is composed of an uncle and niece team, Pierre Laplace and Léonie Gabriel. They are based in Lille, France, but the songs are presented in English. All of the tracks are originals, written by Pierre Laplace. Pierre also plays nearly all the instruments on this release, with the exceptions of drums (JB Hoste takes drum duties) and cello (that’s Nicolas Fahy).

The album starts off with “If This Is Our Swan Song.” I love its delicate, pretty opening, even before Léonie Gabriel’s gorgeous vocals come in. (Of course, there is something amusing about the first line of an album mentioning it being the swan song.) There is something in the song’s sound that gives it a great timeless feel, giving the impression that this could have been composed a few hundred years ago. And so if you let it, this track will take you out of your day’s concerns, transport you from your current surroundings.

In the following track, “No Other Way,” the male and female vocals work together in an interesting way, particularly when Pierre hits the lower notes while Léonie’s vocals take on an airy quality, making the song both grounded and ethereal, part earth, part sky. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “There’s evil on the road/There’s beauty and grace/She walks past places darkened by fear/Haunted by dreams of falling/And she knows there is no other way.”  The instrumental section has a beautiful, dark feel, helped greatly by the presence of cello. And then partway through, the addition of banjo gives the song a lighter, brighter feel, which carries it to the end. And it’s this last section that is actually my favorite part of the song.

One of my favorite tracks on this release is “The Rememberer.” This one has an oddly haunting vibe. One thing that’s interesting is how in certain sections of this song, different instruments add little touches, accents, rather than acting as constant voices. There is even a kalimba. In those moments, I have images of a tribe, each member contributing some small but important part to a ritual. That being said, it’s the vocals that really pull me into this track.

Pierre’s vocal approach to “Sands Of Time” makes me think of Donovan (particularly his work in the late 1960s) and also a bit of Belle And Sebastian. “A blanket of grass and branches underneath the moon/We lie there waiting for a ghost to come round/Promises and pledges, secrets that we share/While the stars light up the deep summer sky.”

My favorite track, “1949,” comes on as a sweet folk song, akin to something Joni Mitchell might have done years ago. Léonie sings, “I rode a train through the winter landscape/Sleepy towns, churches and frozen lakes/When I got to your place I saw the changes.” Then the banjo comes in, automatically causing me to smile. Those strange breaks between sections, with Pierre’s vocals, are interesting. They’re darker, so they make the switch back to the main sections even more effective, due to that contrast. Then there is a pretty instrumental section with guitar and piano to end this song. This is one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Black River Moan” then goes is a very different direction, with more of an angry pulse, a disturbed sound, which is intriguing. “The night dragged you along/We got to the black river and I watched you drown/You sank without a sound.”

Crying For The Moon concludes with “Now The Circle's Broken,” which ends with a really sweet, pretty instrumental section.

CD Track List

  1. If This Is Our Swan Song
  2. No Other Way
  3. The Rememberer
  4. Crying For The Moon
  5. Sounds Of Time
  6. 1949
  7. Black River Moan
  8. The Silent Kind
  9. Man In The Shade
  10. Now The Circle’s Broken

Crying For The Moon was released on November 14, 2014. You can check out the music on The Sandman's Orchestra's Bandcamp page. By the way, the album's artwork was done Félix Laplace, Pierre's sixteen-year-old son. Pretty cool.