Monday, April 27, 2015

Edsel Gómez: “Road To Udaipur” (2015) CD Review

Road To Udaipur is the new CD from accomplished jazz pianist and composer Edsel Gómez, who was nominated for a Grammy for his 2006 release, Cubist Music. One thing I love about this new album is that many of these compositions take us on various journeys, rather than just riffing on a theme. These tracks feel like living entities, like people, or at least like stories, changing, evolving, and expressing those changes, as well as excitement and joy. Also, these tracks explore several realms of music, not bound or restrained by any one style. Edsel Gómez is backed by some incredibly talented musicians on this release.

The album opens with “Tertulia Samba,” a fun, lively track, featuring some excellent work by Edsel Gómez on piano and Cássio Ferreira on saxophone. It’s a breezy number, and is over before you know it. But the following track, “Udaipur,” is the one that really blew me away the first time I listened to this disc. I love this track, the way it takes on this frantic pace, like some insane party preparations for a gypsy wedding or something, then drops it at moments for short breathers. There is a delightful humor to the opening section on piano, which Gómez returns to several times throughout the piece. This is a wild, delicious and uplifting tune.

Edsel Gómez then switches gears, following that title track with a soft, introspective meditation titled “Homesick Nostalgia.” I particularly like the way the bass and drums work as a steady, yet gentle pulse beneath Gómez’s playing, a reliable base for him to return to and take off from, a comforting reminder of home.

The pace picks up again with “Search And Build,” the title a play on the idea of search-and-destroy. There is a section of this song around a minute in that feels like a steady build, while other moments are unrestrained dance sections. It is Gómez’s playing around the two-minute mark that really makes me enjoy this track, particularly that brief chaotic moment. And then “Ninibilo Majulolo And The Bridge” features some sweet work on piano and a nice extended bass solo by Arismar Do Espirito Santo. This is one of my personal favorites. “Smile On” also features some excellent work on bass, this time by Alex “Apolo” Ayala.

“Spain-Ished Cubes” is Edsel Gómez’s own interpretation of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” and it’s a wonderful, exciting rendition. Chick Corea is one of Gómez’s major influences, and you can hear that influence on many of these tracks, not just this on this cover.

A stand-out track for me is “Charles Chaplin,” a tribute to the famous film star. As you might expect, there is a sense of humor about this piece. There is a joy, a playfulness, but with a strong emotional core, like the actor’s performances. Surprising is the vocal scatting (and even a bit of coughing) on this track. This is an absolutely wonderful composition.

Road To Udaipur concludes with “The Chant,” an enjoyable tune featuring some excellent work by Felipe Lamoglia on tenor saxophone, and of course some wonderful stuff on piano by Edsel Gómez.

CD Track List
  1. Tertulia Samba
  2. Udaipur
  3. Homesick Nostalgia
  4. Search And Build
  5. Ninibilo Majulolo And The Bridge
  6. Four Seasons And A Five
  7. Spain-Ished Cubes
  8. On Second Thoughts
  9. Charles Chaplin
  10. Smile On
  11. Bahia
  12. Brothers
  13. The Chant
Road To Udaipur is scheduled to be released on CD on May 12, 2015 through Zoho Music.

Ryan Montbleau Band: “Growing Light” (2015) CD Review

I got turned onto Ryan Montbleau five years ago, when he released Heavy On The Vine, an impressive album which found him mixing genres. His new release, Growing Light, might be even better, and once again finds him mixing various genres, including folk, rock, and a good bit of funk. This is a highly enjoyable disc, and it seems the whole band is having fun. All but one of these tracks are originals. Martin Sexton produced Heavy On The Vine, and at the time of that release, Ryan Montbleau Band both opened for Martin and worked as his backing band. There were some obvious similarities heard in Ryan Montbleau Band’s sound. And though the new CD is produced by Ben Ellman (of Galactic), the sound still at times reminds me of Martin Sexton, sometimes in the playful, lively approach to the music, like on “Inevitable.” And listen to those vocal chops on a song like “Throw Me Away.” Growing Light was recorded in May of 2013 in New Orleans, and certainly some of the energy of that great city can be heard on these tracks.

Ryan Montbleau Band opens this album with its title track, “Growing Light,” which starts off quietly, beautifully, and quickly proves itself a gorgeous and moving song. It’s one of my personal favorite tracks from this release. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I find myself nicer to my brother/Think about my family, I’ll even call my mother/Maybe tell her that I love her/Tell her I found someone who understands me/That I’ve been thinking about that scene from Bambi/I know that’s not all that manly/But I’m like a little kid on candy/And when we go out, the stars align/They align so bright/You and I in the garden growing light.” So beautiful.

The following track, “Inevitable,” is one that reminds me a bit of Martin Sexton. Ryan Montbleau gets quite playful on this track, particularly the way he sings the word “Inevitable” early in the tune. It’s totally delightful. And you can hear a Stevie Wonder influence as well. Things then take a funkier turn with “Pacing Like Prince,” which is also a hell of a lot of fun. And I love lines like these: “I learn to love the words/Learn the definitions/I wax poetic by the candlelight/And if it gets above my head, I get it/If it sinks below my feet, I learn to let it go.” And the main line of the song is “Pacing like Prince in Purple Rain.” (And just to note another connection to Martin Sexton, “Purple Rain” is a song that Martin has covered in concert – one of the two best versions I’ve ever heard, actually – the other being by The Evangenitals.)

Ryan Montbleau Band gets a little funky on “Those Things” as well, another of this CD’s highlights, a nice dose of nostalgic musings. The opening lines are: “Can we do the things we used to do/Be the way we used to be/When I used to see more of you/You used to see all of me.” I love the feel of this song, the somewhat relaxed groove. Ryan Montbleau Band keeps the funky 1970s-type grooves going with “Loving You,” the album’s only cover, a song written by Johnny Guitar Watson, and originally included on his 1973 LP Listen. The line from this song that always stands out for me is, “You’re all there is and then some.” Also having a bit of a mellow funk vibe is “Glad,” written by Ryan Montbleau and Matt Giannaros. These lines always make me smile: “What would you think if I asked you to dance/I'll watch what I do with my hands.”

Growing Light concludes with “Together,” a sweet and sad acoustic number that is one of my favorites. It's so bloody beautiful and depressing, opening with these lines: “I'm not the way I'm supposed to be/I'm supposed to be thankful for what I've got/Things are not the way they're supposed to be/She's supposed to be here, and she's not/And if I was younger, the stakes wouldn't seem so high.” I love this song, and I know it's one I'm going to be returning to often.

CD Track List
  1. Growing Light
  2. Inevitable
  3. Packing Like Prince
  4. Throw Me Away
  5. Never Gonna Be
  6. Those Things
  7. Loving You
  8. Our Own Place
  9. Glad 
  10. Together 

Ryan Montbleau Band is Ryan Montbleau on guitar and vocals, James Cohen on drums, Jason Cohen on keys, Matt Giannaros on bass and vocals, Yahuba on percussion and vocals, and Lyle Brewer on guitar.

Growing Light was released on April 21, 2015.

Chris Page: “Volume Vs. Voice” (2015) CD Review

More fantastic music continues to come out of Canada. Chris Page’s new release, Volume Vs. Voice, immediately, upon its first track, announces itself as one of the best discs of the year. This music has a wonderful folk sound, but with something of a punk attitude and rock influence. Chris Page is known for fronting bands like Camp Radio and The Stand GT, as well as for his solo releases, and on this CD he offers an excellent new batch of original tunes. This really is a solo effort, as Chris is unaccompanied on many of these tracks, performing the vocals and playing all the instruments himself. Lyrically, this is a seriously strong album. Check out these lines from “Chaise Lounge,” for example: “Speak to the kid, tell him that there’s merit in being wasted/And it was bad what we did/Gave up on a dream before we chased it/And I’ve got false hope now/And I should show you how/To hide your smile/Before it’s broken.” Excellent, right? The entire album is like that.

The album opens with “Rocket + Savings,” which begins sweetly with a nice bit of guitar. What I love about it is that it could lead in almost any direction (to a country song, or bluegrass, or rock or whatever), and it would work. And after a few seconds you just begin enjoying it for itself, without thinking about where it’s going. But it also ends up serving perfectly as an intro for this acoustic-based moody rock tune. This song has a great sound, but I think it’s its unusual lyrics which I most appreciate. “When I buy a rocket with my own savings/Take it to the river the first sign of spring/Shoot it for the stars and hang out where the space junk flies.”  And I really like this line: “Thank our lucky stars until our engines rust.” There is some gorgeous work during the short instrumental section. John Higney plays pedal steel and slide guitar on this track.

“Calling All Kids Reunion” likewise boasts some interesting lyrics. Here are the opening lines: “Keep your antenna up/With any luck, we’ll kill off this farewell/One ticket for the train/Enduring pain and one room cheap hotels.” The song then comes back to the first two lines at the end. It’s a really good song, but it is the following track, “Hunker Down,” that is one of my absolute favorites. It’s undeniably beautiful, with some loving lines that are anything but cheesy – lines like “You looked rather smashing/When you leaned in to kiss my cheek” and “And I ache to have you closer.” The mood of this one grabs me and holds me. It’s a song I've listened to over and over.

Another track that really stood out the first time through, and which continues to be a favorite of mine, is “Treatment Burns.” I love the way it establishes a dark mood with the instrumental opening before Chris adds his vocals, like an aging yet still ominous pulse. “The city’s claimed our hands/To guide us as the light dies.” This is a song that gets on top of you and is reluctant to release you. It’s followed by “My Focal Point,” which provides this album with its title in the lines, “Lend me power tubes/And let me work this through/Volume versus voice.” Bandeeto Colin and Morgan provide backing vocals on this track.

Bandeeto Colin and Morgan also provide backing vocals on “The Persuasive Injury,” another highlight of this CD. In some ways this song is really simple, but it’s so effective, and a big part of that is the backing vocals adding a beautiful power and urgency to the tone. “Save me from going down to the water/’Cause I can’t tell if I should stay/On this hill a little longer.”

“Disappointed A Few People” has my favorite song title of this album, and it features John Higney on pedal steel and slide guitar. The album then concludes with “Time To Dispel.” Like the album's first track, this one has a nice instrumental introduction.

CD Track List
  1. Rocket + Savings
  2. Calling All Kids Reunion
  3. Hunker Down
  4. Chaise Lounge
  5. Treatment Burns
  6. My Focal Point
  7. SOS For Sonny Rey
  8. The Persuasive Injury
  9. Disappointed A Few People
  10. Time To Dispel
Volume Vs. Voice was released on CD through Melting Plastic on April 21, 2015. There are also a limited number of copies available on vinyl. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Singing In Traffic

The stereo in my car does not work. It hasn’t worked for some time. There was a period when it was sort of working, when if I turned it on and off enough times it would eventually catch. But I mentioned the problem to my mechanic when he was working on another of my car’s issues, and so he fiddled with it for a bit, and the result was the stereo stopped working entirely.

And so I sing. Songs I know. Songs I love. Songs like “Friend Of The Devil” by the Grateful Dead and “She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan. Anyway, this has been going on for a while, and what I’ve noticed is that I keep going back to the same bunch of songs. Songs from my childhood, or at least ones I’ve known since my teen years. But nothing more recent.

Why can’t I add to my repertoire? There have been plenty of excellent songs in the last couple of decades. In fact, the whole point of this blog is to let folks know about all the good music that’s out there these days. So it’s certainly not for a lack of good material. So what is it? Could it be a question of memory, of having more difficulty learning as we get older. Or is my brain full?

Or is it something about this group of songs? The ones I constantly return to while driving are:
  • “Friend Of The Devil” by Grateful Dead
  • “Uncle John’s Band” by Grateful Dead
  • “Ripple” by Grateful Dead
  • “He’s Gone” by Grateful Dead
  • “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cooke
  • “Love Is Only Sleeping” by The Monkees
  • “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan
  • “She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan
  • “Tangled Up In Blue” by Bob Dylan
  • “Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan
  • “Heart With No Companion” by Leonard Cohen
  • “Lemon Tree” by Will Holt
  • “My Goldmine” by Ellis Paul
  • “Wake Up Little Susie” by The Everly Brothers
  • “Tears On My Pillow” by Little Anthony And The Imperials
  • “Whiskey In The Jar” by… well, lots of people
I don’t necessarily expect to find an answer, but I am interested in the question. And every once in a while, I still try turning my car stereo on and off several times to see if it will magically catch again. But no, it never does.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

America: “Homecoming” (2015) Hybrid Multichannel SACD Review

America is still probably best known for the hit single “A Horse With No Name,” which was also included on reprints of the band’s first album. But it was the band’s second LP, Homecoming, that included such popular tunes as “Ventura Highway” and “Don’t Cross The River.” Originally released in 1972, this album is now being issued on hybrid multichannel SACD, in a limited, numbered edition. (I’m not sure how many copies were made, but my copy is number 1062, so there are at least that many out there.) This album features mostly original material, with all but one song written by the band’s three members – Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley. They’re joined by some excellent musicians on this release, including Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine on drums (you’ll know Hal Blaine from his session work on Monkees recordings, among others). Three of the songs from this album were released as singles, but the entire album is really strong, and this multichannel edition sounds great. Check out that fantastic instrumental section of “Moon Song” for a taste of the group’s musical talent.

The album opens with “Ventura Highway,” which was also released as a single and was a top ten hit. It’s a really good song, though not my favorite on this album. There is one line that I always found questionable: “Alligator lizards in the air, in the air.” But I love lines like “Some people say this town don't look good in snow/You don't care, I know” and “Where the days are longer/The nights are stronger than moonshine.” And, long before Prince would use the phrase, this song mentions “purple rain.” “Ventura Highway” was written by Dewey Bunnell.

It’s followed by the sweet and pretty “To Each His Own,” written by Gerry Beckley and featuring some soft and moving work on piano. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Familiar faces that I've seen/Turning red and turning green/They just got caught with writing on their sleeve/I guess I'll leave/I'm gonna miss you, yes, I will/No matter who you are, I'll love you still/Will you cancel my papers and lock the door/’Cause I ain't gonna be 'round no more.” This is one of my favorite tracks.

Another favorite is “Don’t Cross The River,” which was a top forty hit for the group. It’s a fun folk tune written by Dan Peek, with lines like “If you want, you can ride my train/And soon forget the reason that you're leaving/Lose yourself and then some time/Maybe even save yourself some grieving.” This track features Henry Diltz on banjo. “Only In Your Heart” was also released a single, though only reaching #62 on the U.S. chart. It was written by Gerry Beckley, and has a catchy rhythm.

“Head And Heart” is the album’s only cover, written by John Martyn and originally released on his 1971 LP, Bless The Weather. America’s version is a bit shorter than the original, but is largely faithful to the feel and style of Martyn’s version, though with keyboard prominent in the instrumental sections. Gerry Beckley plays bass on this version, and Dewey Bunnell is on percussion.

“California Revisited” is an interesting and oddly catchy number. Check out these lines: “On your waters I see a strange reflection/Rumor has it I'll see you when I die/Everyone I meet is from California.” It was written by Dan Peek. The album then concludes with “Saturn Nights,” also written by Dan Peek.

CD Track List
  1. Ventura Highway
  2. To Each His Own
  3. Don’t Cross The River
  4. Moon Song
  5. Only In Your Heart
  6. Till The Sun Comes Up Again
  7. Cornwall Blank
  8. Head And Heart
  9. California Revisited
  10. Saturn Nights
This special limited edition of Homecoming was released on April 21, 2015 through Audio Fidelity and Rhino Entertainment Company.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rockabye Baby!: “Lullaby Renditions Of Grateful Dead” (2015) CD Review

If you missed out on the Rockabye Baby Grateful Dead Record Store Day exclusive (as I did), don’t despair. It is being released on CD next week. Okay, sure, the disc isn’t purple like the record, but that’s all right, as the songs are all there. Lullaby Renditions Of Grateful Dead contains instrumental renditions of some of the Grateful Dead’s best tunes, such as “China Cat Sunflower,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Truckin” and (my favorite) “Ripple.” This album is completely adorable, and even the packaging incorporates artwork that will bring to mind some of the iconic Dead imagery, such as bears, roses and turtles. The liner notes also contain little games for your children, and even a recipe (on a separate insert). By the way, on the back of the packaging it says: “Do you wake from the flood of tears, parents? If your little ones are dead set on staying up, play these blanket soft versions of Grateful Dead’s psychedelic rock favorites. You just might get some sleep tonight.” Grateful Dead fans will of course take delight in the references to album titles and songs in this paragraph, the last line being a reference to “Friend Of The Devil,” the song that opens this CD.

You’d probably think a lullaby version of “Friend Of The Devil” would recreate the slower version of the song that the band performed in concert, but no, it’s similar to the pace of the original studio rendition from American Beauty. It gets this album off to a sweet, cute start, and it’s followed by “Casey Jones.” As these are instrumental renditions, there is no mention of cocaine in this version. The ending of “Casey Jones” is just perfect.

What a long strange trip it’s going to be for your baby when he or she begins his or her life hearing Rockabye Baby’s version of “Truckin.’” By the way, these tracks are basically lullaby versions of the studio versions of these songs, so there is no long jam or anything to this “Truckin’” – it is just over three minutes in length.

It always seemed to me that new fans of the Grateful Dead would cite “Sugar Magnolia” as their favorite song, so it’s appropriate to include that song here on an album aimed at the newest of fans. And again, there is no jam leading to “Sunshine Daydream,” and that section is fairly short. “Sugar Magnolia” is followed by “China Cat Sunflower,” which works really well in this setting.

“Scarlet Begonias” was always one of my favorites, and a song the band played at my first show back in 1988, and I am so happy that Rockabye Baby includes a version of this fun tune. This disc also includes “Fire On The Mountain,” but for some reason the two songs are split up. I think fans would have loved it if “Scarlet” went right into “Fire.” A missed opportunity, but no matter. Both tracks are delightful.

Perhaps the most delightful track, however, is “He’s Gone.” This is such a cute version. Seriously, it’s adorable. And as it’s an instrumental you don’t have to worry about your baby hearing about “A knife in the back.” I completely love this version. And at four and a half minutes, it’s also the longest track on this release.

If you’re wondering, yes, this CD includes a version of “Touch Of Grey,” the band’s only big hit, and the only song from the band’s final fifteen years to be represented on this release (the rest of the songs are from the 1960s and 1970s). This was the song the band opened with at my first show, and so it has a special place in my heart. But my all-time favorite song (not just of the Grateful Dead, but any band) is “Ripple,” from their American Beauty record. It’s one I never got to see the band perform live, but it’s the song that concludes this CD. This is a totally sweet and pretty rendition, as you might expect. The perfect song to send the little ones (or anyone) off to dreamland with smiles on their faces.

CD Track List
  1. Friend Of The Devil
  2. Casey Jones
  3. Truckin’
  4. Sugar Magnolia
  5. China Cat Sunflower
  6. Cumberland Blues
  7. Scarlet Begonias
  8. Uncle John’s Band
  9. He’s Gone
  10. Fire On The Mountain
  11. Bertha
  12. Touch Of Grey
  13. Ripple 
Lullaby Renditions Of Grateful Dead is scheduled to be released on CD on April 28, 2015. If they decide to put out a second album of Grateful Dead tunes, I’d like to suggest including “Eyes Of The World” and “Cosmic Charlie.” Also, “I Will Take You Home” is already a lullaby, but it might be sweet to include it as well. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mike Barth: “Dance This!” (2015) CD Review

You most likely know Mike Barth as a member of The Polkats, and on his new solo album, Dance This!, he includes a couple of tunes that were also featured on the most recent Polkats disc, last year’s Live From Highlandtown. Fellow Polkats band members Paul Margolis, John Shock and Steve Raskin join him on this release. Mike Barth also plays and records with The Stone Hill All-Stars (you can hear him on Away, their latest CD), and members of that band also join him on this release, which features mostly original material. Mike Barth draws inspiration from a wide range of musical areas, and the songs on this disc delve into pop, country, folk, even reggae. And though he has some excellent guest musicians and vocalists on this release, Mike Barth plays most of the instruments himself, including acoustic guitar, slide guitar, bass, keyboard, harmonica, drums, and glockenspiel.

Dance This! opens with “Just Can’t Make It Alone,” a really good and fun pop rock number that reminds me at moments of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” Plus, I totally dig lines like, “A simpleton on a holiday/What’s it take to find your way?” This is a strong opening track. Mike Barth follows it with “Blanket Of Misery,” which has more of a country vibe. I love this song immediately, even before its delightful opening lines, “Well, she’s so unhappy/She’s made me mean and nasty/She’s got nothing but troubles, everything under the sun/She’s making me screwy.” There’s a wonderful, slightly twisted humor to this song, and its title line is “She’s got me wrapped up tight in a blanket of misery.” And I love the way the harmonica is used as a lead instrument. Plus, John Shock plays accordion on this track, and Paul Margolis is on guitar. “Blanket Of Misery” was also included on the Polkats’ 2014 release, Live From Highlandtown. Joe McCarthy plays drums on both of these first two tracks.

Mike Barth then moves to more of a reggae feel for “Energy Called Love.” This one has a positive, kind of bouncy vibe, and while the title might seem a bit cheesy, the song includes some good lyrics. Here is a taste: “I need protection from the sun/And you might be the only one/To take the heat I generate/If I were you, I couldn’t take/The complications I provide.” Steve Raskin provides some wonderful work on drums and percussion on this track.

“Big Piece Of Chicken” is a playful country tune, and it features Linda Nelson on vocals: “Took a bubble bath and washed my head/Since you’ve been gone, it’s got me itchin’/Working my heart out in the kitchen.” It’s definitely on the silly side, but it makes me smile each time I listen to it, and I think it would be a fun one to see in concert. And then “Ring In My Pocket” has a pretty folk vibe, which I really like. Check out these lines: “You reached out and you gave me some loving/You gave me some luck and a dollar or two/I broke down and I showed you my problems/All of my problems.” Paul Margolis plays guitar on this track.

“The OWS And Me” is an excellent, lively folk tune, and it's a whole lot of fun. This track features Paul Margolis on guitar, Dave Jacobson on guitar, and John Shock on accordion. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I can't afford to pay my doctor bills/The children keep asking why/It breaks my heart to tell my kids that the American dream's run dry.” And of course I appreciate these lines: “I see a police camera everywhere I look/Where did my freedom go?

“Words Of Love” is one of the album’s two tracks not written by Mike Barth, and the vocal approach here is close to the way Buddy Holly sang it on the original recording. It’s a good, sweet rendition. The other tune that Mike Barth did not write is “A Thousand Times,” which was written by Polkats member John Shock and included on Live From Highlandtown. Interestingly, John Shock does not play on this track. Mike Barth delivers this tune as a pretty, earnest folk song, and it's one of my favorite tracks.

CD Track List
  1. Just Can’t Make It Alone
  2. Blanket Of Misery
  3. Energy Called Love
  4. Big Piece Of Chicken
  5. Words Of Love
  6. Ring In My Pocket
  7. Drink It All Today
  8. Grease Step
  9. The OWS And Me
  10. A Thousand Times
Dance This! was released on February 15, 2015.

Doheny Blues Festival 2015 Lineup Includes Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin

The Doheny Blues Festival 2015 lineup includes Bonnie Raitt, Paul Rogers, Boz Scaggs, Taj Mahal Trio, Otis Taylor Band and Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin. Not bad, eh? There are three stages - two large stages, and one smaller, more intimate stage. I'm generally not in favor of multiple-stage festivals, because inevitably there will be two bands I want to see playing simultaneously. But that's the way of most of these things. And apparently there is a microbrew tasting near the small stage. The festival will run May 16 and May 17, 2015, and is located at the Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive in Dana Point, California.

Here is the list of artists playing at the 2015 festival.

Saturday, May 16, 2015
  • Paul Rogers
  • Taj Mahal Trio
  • The Mavericks
  • Los Lobos
  • North Mississippi Allstars
  • Mud Morganfield and Kim Wilson
  • Eric Lindell And The Company
  • Anson Funderburgh
  • Nico Wayne Toussaint
  • Igor Prado Blues Revue
  • Candye Kane
  • Trickbag
Sunday, May 17, 2015
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Boz Scaggs
  • Beth Hart
  • Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin, with The Guilty Ones
  • Valerie June
  • Otis Taylor Band
  • Rebirth Brass Band
  • Lurrie Bell
  • Carolyn Wonderland
  • Big Jon And The Nationals
Weekend passes and single day tickets are now on sale. For more information, visit the official Doheny Blues Festival website.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wes Montgomery: “In The Beginning” (2015) CD Review

Thursday at work I happened to mention that if I got off a bit early I planned to listen to some new Wes Montgomery discs. In The Beginning, the new two-disc set of early, mostly previously unreleased recordings, had arrived the day before, and I was anxious to dig into those tracks. And so they let me go home maybe an hour or two early (well, maybe it had nothing to do with my plans, but no matter). It wasn’t yet nine o’clock, and I happily popped in the first disc, and was immediately caught up in the music. Wes Montgomery’s playing has always impressed me, but the entire band on these tracks just completely blew me away. There is some serious playing on these CDs. This two-disc set also includes extensive liner notes (more than fifty pages’ worth) which include several photos. In these liner notes, Zev Feldman provides information on where these tracks came from, and also has conversations with Dr. Larry Ridley and Duncan Schiedt. The liner notes also include a piece on Wes Montgomery by Ashley Kahn; a piece on this collection’s tracks by Bill Milkowski; excerpts from Buddy Montgomery’s unpublished autobiography, along with portions of interviews with Monk Montgomery, Buddy Montgomery and Ervena Montgomery; a short piece on the Montgomery family by Dr. Willis F. Kirk; a piece by Quincy Jones, who produced some of the tracks; and a piece by Pete Townshend. It’s a pretty amazing package, but of course it’s the music that is key here.

The first disc contains live recordings from 1956, with Buddy Montgomery joining Wes on piano on all but one track, and Monk Montgomery on bass for many of the tracks. This disc opens with a good rendition of “After You’ve Gone” recorded on August 22nd of that year. All three Montgomery brothers shine at various moments, and they are joined by Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson on saxophone and Sonny Johnson on drums. And that is the band for the first seven tracks (and a few others), all recorded at the Turf Club in Indianapolis in August, 1956. These tracks include a great rendition of Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” and an absolutely wonderful version of “Brazil.” Check out that pace and that rhythm! You can hear the joy throughout that track. I love how loose it all is. And then it’s followed by a sweet rendition of “What Is There To Say?” with “Pookie” Johnson leading for a while. But it is Wes Montgomery’s lead section on guitar that really grabs my attention.

“Wes’ Tune” is the only original composition on the first disc, and this is an excellent early rendition. This tune would be included on Montgomery’s record Far Wes. I love the playful energy on this early live version, and it includes a groovy bass solo. But it is the following track, an amazing rendition of Rodger and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still,” that really knocked my socks off.  There is so much going on in this track, so much joy, so many interesting conversations, the instruments dancing with each other, each inspired by the others, and all at a pace that is incredible. The band is seriously cooking, playing the hell out of this tune, and I don’t ever want this track to end. These guys are fueled by some mythic substance, spurred on by a group of frantic, delighted city nymphs. I’ve never heard a version of this song quite like this one, and it’s one of the highlights of this set. Man, listen to Sonny Johnson on drums on this one.

Another highlight for me is Montgomery’s rendition of John Lewis’ “Django.” It opens with that quiet, pretty section, and then when the tune kicks in, it immediately finds a great groove. This track is just so bloody cool, with the band creating this wonderful world, then letting you in, showing you around, making you feel like you should be there too. I love what Buddy Montgomery does on piano on this track.

The group raises things another notch or two on “Going Down To Big Mary’s” with the addition of a vocalist, Debbie Andrews. This is such a fun track. “We’re going to pull back the rugs, turn out the lights, get real high and stay all night.” Oh yes! This track was recorded in November of 1956, and also features John Dale on bass. From that same night we get “I Should Care,” also with Debbie Andrews on vocals. The first disc concludes with “Ralph’s New Blues,” with Buddy Montgomery on vibes, and Jack Coker on piano. Wes Montgomery plays bass on this track, which was recorded in September of 1956 at his sister Ervena Montgomery’s home. This is a good jam, and at seven minutes, is the first disc’s longest track.

The second disc opens with a few tunes recorded in November of 1958 at the Missile Lounge, beginning with a wonderful, somewhat relaxed version of Benny Goodman’s “Soft Winds” featuring Melvin Rhyne on piano. This and the following track, the delicious (and also somewhat relaxed) “Robbins’ Nest,” are two of the longest tracks in this collection, both coming in around twelve minutes, and, as you might expect, there is plenty of excellent playing. I love Richie Crabtree’s work on piano on “Robbins’ Next.” And there are some sweet, playful moments with Wes Montgomery on guitar, little teases of other tunes which you’ll recognize immediately. And I love the give-and-take section between Wes and Richie toward the end. The other long track is a great version of Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are,” which is also approximately twelve minutes. This was recorded in Chicago in 1957, and features some spirited playing by Wes Montgomery.

This disc also includes five tracks from a 1955 recording session for Epic Records produced by Quincy Jones. These tracks feature the same lineup as those Turf Club recordings from August of 1956: Wes Montgomery on guitar, Buddy Montgomery on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson on tenor saxophone, and Sonny Johnson on drums. The first of these tracks is a very cool rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale,” featuring some fun leads by Pookie and Buddy, with Monk providing some fantastic stuff beneath them. These five tracks include three Wes Montgomery compositions, the first being “Leila,” a tune that would see a release a few years later on Montgomery’s Far Wes. The second is “Blues,” one of my personal favorite tracks on this disc. This is a fun, groovy tune with a rhythm and blues vibe. “Pookie” Johnson really owns this one. The third Montgomery composition is an early version of “Far Wes,” which would later be a title track to one of his first albums. This version is somewhat shorter, but really good, and includes just a bit of studio talk at the end.

This incredible collection concludes with three studio tracks recorded in 1949, with Wes Montgomery on guitar, Roy Johnson on bass, Douglas Duke on piano, Gene Morris on tenor saxophone, and Earl “Fox” Walker on drums. “King Trotter,” written by Gene Morris, is a wild, fast-paced tune, with Duke sounding like he’s announcing a trolley on piano at the beginning. It isn’t long before Wes Montgomery takes a brief lead spot. “Carlena’s Blues” is a wonderful, slower number, featuring Sonny Parker on vocals (Parker also wrote this one). “Smooth Evening” is a truly fun tune written by Roy Johnson and also featuring Sonny Parker on vocals.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. After You’ve Gone
  2. Fascinating Rhythm
  3. Brazil
  4. What Is There To Say?
  5. Four
  6. Wes’ Tune
  7. My Heart Stood Still
  8. How High The Moon
  9. Django
  10. Going Down To Big Mary’s
  11. I Should Care
  12. Caravan
  13. Six Bridges To Cross
  14. Ralph’s New Blues
Disc 2
  1. Soft Winds
  2. Robbins’ Nest
  3. A Night In Tunisia
  4. Love For Sale
  5. Leila
  6. Blues
  7. Undecided
  8. Far Wes
  9. All The Things You Are
  10. King Trotter
  11. Carlena’s Blues
  12. Smooth Evening
In The Beginning is scheduled to be released on May 12, 2015 on Resonance Records. In addition to the two-disc CD set, it will be issued as a limited edition three-record vinyl set. 

Ellnora: The Guitar Festival 2015 Lineup Includes Los Lobos and Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Ellnora: The Guitar Festival has announced its 2015 lineup. This three-day festival, which will be held September 10-12, 2015 in Urbana, Illinois, includes performances by Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Los Lobos, and Rodridgo Y Gabriela, as well as free shows by Star Rover, and David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot. Yes, some of the festival's events are individually ticketed performances, while others are free. Event tickets and festival passes go on sale on August 15, 2015. The festival passes include access to ten of the ticketed events. Here is the schedule:

Thursday, September 10
  • Opening Night Party - 6:00 p.m. (Tickets: $5 for the night)
  • Terakaft -  6:30 p.m.
  • Mia Dyson  -  7:00 p.m.
  • AJ Ghent Band  -  7:30 p.m.
  • John Jorgenson Quintet  -  8:30 p.m.
  • North Mississippi Allstars  -  8:45 p.m.  
Friday, September 11
  • Valerie June/Andy McKee  -  noon (Free)
  • Squonk’s Pneumatica  -  2:00 p.m.  (Free)
  • Keynote: A Conversation with Sharon Isbin  -  3:00 p.m.
  • Star Rover  -  4:00 p.m. (Free)
  • David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot  -  5:00 p.m.  (Free)
  • Squonk’s Pneumatica  -  6:00 p.m.  (Free)
  • Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn  -  6:15 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$29)
  • Rhonda Vincent and The Rage  -  7:30 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$44)
  • Drive-By Truckers  -  9:00 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$49)
  • Earth with Dylan Carlson  -  10:15 p.m. (Free)
Saturday, September 12
  • Squonk’s Pneumatica -  9:15 a.m. (Free)
  • Dan Zanes and Friends Celebrate Lead Belly!  -  10:00 a.m. (Tickets: $5-$15)
  • Keola Beamer and Jeff Peterson with Moanalani Beamer  -  10:00 a.m. (Free)
  • Sharon Isbin with Colin Davin  -  11:00 a.m. (Tickets: $10-$39)
  • Squonk’s Pneumatica  -  noon (Free)
  • Min Xiao-Fen, solo pipa: Mao, Monk, and Me/Simon Shaheen, Sashank Navaladi, and Juan Pérez Rodriguez  -  1:00 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$29)
  • Punch Brothers  -  2:30 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$44) 
  • Bucky and John Pizzarelli  -  4:00 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$44)
  • Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear  -  5:30 p.m. (Free)
  • Jessica Lea Mayfield  -  6:30 p.m. (Free)
  • Los Lobos  -  8:00 p.m. (Tickets: $10-$34)
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela  9:30 p.m.  (Tickets: $10-$49)
  • Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint with Dither, Mark Stewart, and Friends  -  10:45 p.m. (Free)
  • John Scofield and Jon Cleary  -  11:00 p.m. (Free)
This is the festival's sixth year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Record Store Day Adventures, 2015

When I woke this morning with a bit of a sore throat, I thought for a moment about skipping Record Store Day entirely and going back to sleep. But I knew if I did that, it wouldn't be long before I would be wondering, "What if?" I'd read a couple of places online that the Miss Tess And The Talkbacks single was delayed. Delayed until when? Who knows? But that explains why record stores didn't get any of that particular record in stock. Of course, now I'm wondering how I'll get myself a copy of it.

Anyway, I arrived at Freakbeat at 7:30 a.m., a half hour earlier than I usually get there, and there was already a line. I took my spot at the end of it, and noted that this was the farthest back I'd ever been in line for this store, but I had a chair with me and a bottle of water and a granola bar, and figured, "Okay, we'll see." Freakbeat doesn't open until 11 a.m., so I had plenty of time to think about what I might want to purchase. There was a bit of talk about how many of these records are already being sold on Ebay, and of course the general feeling was one of hatred toward those bastards. But the crowd at Freakbeat is a mellow, optimistic, friendly bunch, and the conversation quickly turned to music and baseball (and where to park). And of course there was interest in people's lists.

Just before 9:00, the owner came out with slips of paper for everyone in line to write his or wish list. He said half the time people would forget paper, and try to show him their lists on their phones, so this time around he was providing the paper himself. Though I had plenty of paper with me, I took the small sheet and wrote my list:
  • The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: "You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover" 7"
  • The Buzzcocks: "The Way" 7"
  • Asleep At The Wheel (with Willie Nelson and Blind Boys Of Alabama): "New Spanish Two Step" 7"
  • The Reverend Horton Heat: "It's A Rave Up/Beer, Write This Song" 7"
  • The Kinks: "You Really Got Me (Live)" 7"
  • Rockabye Baby: "Lullaby Renditions Of Grateful Dead" LP
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show Time Warp EP 10"
  • The Pretty Things EP 7"
Of course, I wasn't sure how many of these they'd actually still have by the time I was at the front of the line. And some of them the store might not have gotten at all. So I added two under a "Maybe" heading:
  • The Kinks: "Kinksize Hits" 7"
  • The Kinks: "Kinksize Session" 7"
A little while later the owner came by again to ask us what our number one choices were. The way it works at this store is everyone is guaranteed to get his or her number one choice, provided that no one else ahead had already claimed the last copy. I told him The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, and hurrah, it turned out no one in front of me had chosen it. The store had just one copy, and it was mine. I was feeling pretty good by this point.

It's really after we were all settled on getting our number one picks that people felt freer about sharing their wish lists, and so that's what we did. And then the store opened a bit early, which was great. The line moved fairly quickly. I ended up with half of what was on my list. This is what I got:
  • The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: "You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover"
  • The Reverend Horton Heat: "It's A Rave Up/Beer, Write This Song"
  • The Kinks: "You Really Got Me (Live)"
  • The Kinks: "Kinksize Hits"
  • The Kinks: "Kinksize Session"
My total came to just under fifty dollars. I knew the store got only one copy of the Buzzcocks single (though they'd ordered ten), and wondered which person in line ended up with it. And I learned that they didn't get any copies at all of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Time Warp EP, though several had been ordered. Well, we know who got them. Just take a look at how many are for sale on Ebay already. I'm trying not to let that anger me. It's no big deal, right? I just hope that no one makes any purchases from those sellers. Let those sellers hold onto those records until their deaths. That's what I say. Meanwhile, I have a lot of music to enjoy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The End of Record Store Day

Well, nothing good can last, I suppose. I remember the first Record Store Day. It was basically a party, and a nice, mellow one. I drove to at least a half dozen stores in Los Angeles, and got a whole lot of great stuff, and met some very cool people. I had a lot of great conversations about music that day. One record store was even giving away beer. Sure, it wasn't the best beer (it was Heineken), but it was free. And the whole day was fun. No one was camping out for it. No one was arguing. No one was pushing. No one was in a hurry. And no one talked about selling the records; they only talked about listening to them. It was for music enthusiasts, not for online dealers.

That has all changed.

There are three records that I really want to get tomorrow:
  • Miss Tess And The Talkbacks: "One Match Fire"/"Nobody Loves Me" 7"
  • Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: "You Can't Just A Book By Looking At The Cover" 7"
  • The Buzzcocks: "The Way" 7"
So I called my favorite local store, and was sad to learn it didn't get a lot of what it had ordered. I started calling some other stores, and got the same story.  "Where did these records go?" I asked.

"Many of them are already on Ebay," was the answer.

No, that can't be. These records aren't even out yet. How could they be sold on Ebay? But I checked on the Buzzcocks record, and sure enough, there are a lot of copies for sale already. Only 1,200 were made, and only 300 of the white vinyl version, and some of those are being sold online. What gives? Are some record store owners ordering more than they plan to sell at their stores, and instead sell them online for a much higher price? Who is doing this, and how is it being allowed?

This is no longer fun. I think it's time to call an end to Record Store Day. It's no longer about saving small businesses; it's no longer about reigniting an interest in vinyl and in music. Now it's about making a lot of money. Once again, it's the rich that are able to get these items, not the fans. So I call an end to this before it gets even worse. It was a great idea, but it's gone all to hell. Rest in peace, Record Store Day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jesse Winchester: “Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live In Montreal 1976” (2015) CD Review

Last year saw the release of the final studio album from Jesse Winchester. A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble was released in September, five months after Winchester’s death. But that, of course, doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last from this seriously talented singer and songwriter. Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live In Montreal 1976 captures a performance that was broadcast live in both Canada and the United States (the first time a concert was broadcast internationally via FM stereo). Recorded in front of an audience in a small Montreal studio on October 13, 1976, this album features mostly original material from his first five albums. And this marks the first official release of this performance.

The CD includes the introduction as a separate track, which is presented first in French and then in English, mentioning the U.S. cities that were able to hear the performance live – Boston, New York, Hartford, Providence, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C.  Jesse Winchester then kicks off the show with the fun, bluesy rock number, “Laisse Les Bons Temps Rouler (Let The Good Times Roll)” from Learn To Love It. He introduces “Silly Heart” by saying, “The next tune that we’re going to play is kind of a little love song sung by someone, a hypothetical someone, who’s not particularly happy, to someone who seems to be enjoying him or herself on this earth.” “Silly Heart” has a bright, bouncy feel, with a touch of reggae to its rhythm. This song was originally on Jesse Winchester’s second album, Third Down, 110 To Go.

Also from Third Down, 110 To Go is the fun country rock tune, “Midnight Bus,” with the line “I’m young and I’m curious.” This is one of my favorite tracks, and is a perfect one for a road trip mix CD. Another of my favorites is “Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” a song from his first album. This is such a gorgeous song, and I want to put it on a mix right after Leonard Cohen’s rendition of “Tennessee Waltz.” Check out these lines, which open the song: “Oh my, but you have a pretty face/Why, you favor a girl that I knew/And I imagine that she is back in Tennessee, lord/And by God, I should be there too/'Cause I've a sadness that's too sad to be true.” And this line is just perfect: “Because love is mainly just memories, you see.” This is an excellent song, and this rendition features some good work on pedal steel guitar by Ron Dann.

After that song, Jesse introduces the band, then goes into in the fun and silly country rock song “Let The Rough Side Drag.” This one features some nice work by Jesse on piano. The lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to it (and which are still my favorite lines) are: “It’s a good thing to be young and strong/Such a good thing that we’re not old for long/What a good thing that making love is so much fun.”

“All Of Your Stories” is another highlight, and another that features nice work by Jesse on piano. It’s so beautiful and moving. I definitely have a weakness for this song, and particularly for this rendition (which I think is better than the original album version). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You sorry old soldier, go home/You sorry old bad girl, go home/’Cause by now you've seen it all/Just relax now and recall/All your stories forever and ever/Well, who will stand by you, no one/No brother and no cousin, no one.” The backing vocals joining him on “no one” somehow make it even sadder. And I love these lines: “If you lit up the occasional candle/You're allowed the occasional curse.”

I like the joke about legalization in “Twigs And Seeds.” And then in his introduction to the following song, “Isn’t That So,” he says, “where you sort of tell yourself that it’s all right if you be bad, because the lord is an all-forgiving father,” then adds, “But we’ve got no proof of that, do we?” And from a song about pot, he goes to song that includes a joke about alcohol, with the line, “Because his own son got a reputation/Just from turning water right into wine.” Great, right?

One of the few covers on this release is “Bowling Green,” the Everly Brothers song. Jesse Winchester’s rendition is quite a bit slower, with a sweet, nostalgic vibe. One of the other covers is “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” the song that gives this album its title, a very cool country tune written by Stoney Edwards. He also covers “I Can’t Stand Up Alone,” a song written by Martha Carson and done by Clyde McPhatter, performing it basically a cappella (with hand-claps).

The CD concludes with “Blow On, Chilly Wind,” a sweet tune from Let The Rough Side Drag.

CD Track List
  1. Introduction
  2. Laissee Les Bons Temps Rouler (Let The Good Times Roll)
  3. Silly Heart
  4. Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt
  5. Bowling Green
  6. Midnight Bus
  7. Everybody Knows But Me
  8. Brand New Tennessee Waltz
  9. Let The Rough Side Drag
  10. All Of Your Stories
  11. Seems Like Only Yesterday
  12. Mississippi You’re On My Mind
  13. Black Dog
  14. Twigs And Seeds
  15. Isn’t That So
  16. Yankee Lady
  17. I Can’t Stand Up Alone
  18. Blow On, Chilly Wind
Seems Like Only Yesterday: Live In Montreal 1976 was released on April 7, 2015 through Real Gone Music and Rhino Entertainment Company.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jimmy LaFave: “The Night Tribe” (2015) CD Review

The first time I popped in The Night Tribe, the new disc from Jimmy LaFave, I was doing my taxes. I wanted some music to keep me in a good mood, keep me sane, and this album did the trick far beyond what I’d hoped. This is such a great CD, filled with mostly original material, as well as a couple of interesting covers. Jimmy LaFave’s vocals are so wonderful, so emotionally engaging, especially on the slower numbers. Listen to the way he delivers the lines “I could tell you I love you/But I cannot lie/It’s all on you/No, it’s not on me” in “It’s Not On Me.” Or “I guess I didn’t know that you would be leaving/And I keep believing/You’re going to come back again” on “Island.” And he has an excellent band backing him.

The Night Tribe opens with “The Beauty Of You,” an absolutely beautiful and sweet song. This one puts me in great spirits every time I listen to it. The first time I heard it, I immediately wanted to share it with my girlfriend, and when she got home I played it for her. She loved it too. If you’re in a relationship, play this for your loved one. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “In this world filled with wonder/As we circle round the sun/Well, every moment, it is measured/And not just the treasured ones.” LaFave’s vocals remind me of some of Brent Mydland’s work, on those sweeter love songs that Brent recorded when a member of the Grateful Dead. This track also features some wonderful work on keys. That is Radoslav Lorkovic, by the way, a musician I’ve been enjoying for years. He often plays with Ellis Paul.

Jimmy LaFave follows that track with another pretty and moving love song, “Maybe.” “Always you/Standing in my way/You’re my heart’s one desire/What can I say/Maybe I could take you home/And maybe we could fall in love/Maybe you could be my girl/That’s what I’ve been thinking of.” And is it just me, or does the chorus have a little bit of a 1980s feel? “Talk To An Angel” is another beautiful track, this one written by Kelcy Warren and Jimmy LaFave, and featuring gorgeous work on strings.

It’s not all slower numbers on this album. Check out “Trying To Get Back To You” for a little roadhouse country blues. “Just let me say this/You’re the only thing that I miss/And I’m trying my best, baby, just to get back to you.” And check out the bluesy rock tune, “Dust Bowl Okies.” “Oklahoma girls make the world turn around/Spending some time up in Tulsa town/With the ghost of Woody Guthrie/And just hanging around.” And I love that section with the lead on keys, which leads to a very cool bass solo.

One of the covers Jimmy LaFave includes on this release is Neil Young’s “Journey Through The Past,” and he does an absolutely excellent job with it. This track is actually one of my favorites on the album. It is so delightfully sad, and features more good work from Radoslav Lorkovic. The other cover is Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,” from his Highway 61 Revisited album. This is a really good rendition, and I especially like the backing vocals. By the end, you’re no longer comparing it to Dylan’s version. And this is, of course, not the first time that Jimmy LaFave has covered Dylan.

The album’s title track, “The Night Tribe,” is a darkly cool tune about the people who live and thrive at night. This one also features some nice work on strings. And check out these lines: “How many years ‘til the soul is torn/And how many strums ‘til the strings get worn/I’m playing all the songs that the heart prescribes/And staying out late with the night tribe.” I also like the electric guitar on this track.

The album concludes with “The Roads Of The Earth,” a song that really speaks to me, especially these days. Lately I've been thinking about the larger questions, concerning time and purpose and so on. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “In the click of a photograph/It all passes way too fast/And when your part is cast/There's no time to rehearse/May all your joy be true/That's what I wish for you/As you're traveling the roads of the earth.” What I love is the positive and friendly feel of this song. Hey, we're not alone.

CD Track List
  1. The Beauty Of You
  2. Maybe
  3. Journey Through The Past
  4. It’s Not On Me
  5. Trying To Get Back To You
  6. Talk To An Angel
  7. Queen Jane Approximately
  8. Island
  9. The Night Tribe
  10. Never Came Back To Memphis
  11. Smile
  12. Dust Bowl Okies
  13. The Roads Of The Earth 

Folks appearing on this album include Jimmy LaFave on vocals and acoustic guitar, Anthony Da Costa on electric guitar, Radoslav Lorkovic on piano and organ, Andrew Pressman on bass, Bobby Kallus on drums, Larry Wilson on electric guitar, Garrett Lebeau on electric guitar, Noelle Hampton on backing vocals, Jaimee Harris on backing vocals, Emily Shirley on backing vocals, Will Taylor on viola, Javier Chaparro on violin, James Anderson on violin, Tony Rogers on cello, Brian Standefer on cello, and Delaine Leonard on harp.

The Night Tribe is scheduled to be released on May 12, 2015 on Music Road Records.

The Coasters: “Magical Favorites” (2015) CD Review

The Coasters recorded and released some of the best music of the late 1950s, including such well-known and loved songs as “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” “Searchin’” and “Poison Ivy.” Fantastic records, all. The band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987, but sadly, none of those inducted band members are still alive (the only original member of the band still living is Leon Hughes). Magical Favorites, a new album from The Coasters, was recently released, but there are no original members on it. In fact, a sticker on the CD case hails this as the band’s first studio album in thirty-five years, and none of the members on it were even in the band at the time of that last release. So this is really a whole new band. Also, the songs are all covers. So I do have to wonder what exactly the point of this release is.

That being said, these are good songs, songs you most likely already know and love, most of them in the oldies but goodies category. And these members, though not original Coasters, can certainly sing, and do decent renditions of these tunes. The CD opens with “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” the most familiar version of which is that by The Everly Brothers. They follow that with “Cool Jerk” and then “Don’t Be Cruel.”

The first surprise on this release is “If I Had A Hammer,” as it’s a track that this group does something a bit different with. They take Pete Seeger’s folk tune, and give it a kind of early 1960s doo-wop feel, with a bit of a gospel thing as well. They add a groovy “Yeah, oh yeah/I said yeah, oh yeah” section between verses. This is definitely different, and it works.

The group dips into the 1970s with their covers of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (the original version of which was released in 1971), Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” and The Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes.” They do a really fun rendition of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” doing the later verses with a sort of spoken word delivery which is wonderful. This track is, for me, one of the CD’s highlights. I could, however, do without “Lyin’ Eyes,” but then again I just can’t stand The Eagles. Another surprise on this album is also from the 1970s, Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe,” the original version of which was released in 1974.

They do a cover of “Shout,” and what I really like about their version is the way they do that middle section. They leave out the “Yeah, yeah” bit and include just the organ accompanying the vocals, giving the song more of gospel vibe at that moment, like the man is preaching the gospel of feeling-good-with-your-woman. Amen. I do wish they’d left out the water sounds at the beginning and end of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” I know there were wave sounds on the original, but it doesn’t seem necessary or desirable to duplicate that.

They do a couple of Sam Cooke numbers – “You Send Me” and “Twistin’ The Night Away.” I love Sam Cooke, and they do a good job with these songs, particularly with “Twistin’ The Night Away,” which they seem to be having fun with. And they end the album with a really good, sweet rendition of “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream),” a song first recorded by Roy Orbison.

CD Track List
  1. All I Have To Do Is Dream
  2. Cool Jerk
  3. Don’t Be Cruel
  4. If I Had A Hammer
  5. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
  6. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
  7. Lyin’ Eyes
  8. Shout
  9. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay
  10. Turn Back The Hands Of Time
  11. You Send Me
  12. Twistin’ The Night Away
  13. Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Baby
  14. Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)
Magical Favorites was released on March 31, 2015 through Stardust Records, a subsidiary of Cleopatra Records. The Coasters on this release are Dennis Anderson, Joe Lance Williams, Primotivo Candelaria and Edward Whitfield. Joining them are Jurgen Engler on guitar, bass and keyboards (Engler also produced the album); and Chris Lietz on keyboards and drums (Lietz also mix engineered the CD).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Perry Beekman: “S’ Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Gershwin” (2015) CD Review

Perry Beekman is a jazz vocalist and guitarist who in the last few years has been exploring some of the great American songs, approaching them by composer. In 2013 he released So In Love, in which he covered some of the work of Cole Porter. And then last year he released Bewitched: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers & Hart, on which he played some of those wonderful standards from that great songwriting team. And now he dives into the work of another amazing songwriting team, George and Ira Gershwin. Joining him once again are Peter Tomlinson on piano and Lou Pappas on bass. This album covers some excellent Gershwin compositions, all of which should be familiar to you. And though they’re all familiar, this album shows how fresh these songs still are.

Perry Beekman kicks off the CD with “Oh Lady Be Good,” a song from the 1920s, used in the musical Lady Be Good. This version features a really nice lead section on guitar, though I do wish the piano lead that follows it was a bit more prominent in the mix. There is also a cool bass solo. That’s followed by “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” a 1937 song written for the film A Damsel In Distress, where it was performed by Fred Astaire. This one, too, features some delightful work by all three musicians during the instrumental section, and that is my favorite part of the track.

I really like the instrumental version of “Fascinating Rhythm” on this CD, which has a great, lively vibe. At one point, during Peter Tomlinson’s lead part on piano, Perry Beekman uses his guitar as a percussion instrument. (He does that again on “Soon.”) The only other instrumental on this release is “But Not For Me,” a very different instrumental version of which was included in one of my favorite films, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, a film full of great Gershwin music. This rendition by Perry Beekman has a nice bit of swing to it, and a good lead section on guitar, as well as some wonderful work on piano.

Perry Beekman begins his version of “How Long Has This Been Going On” with the line “I could cry salty tears,” leaving out that opening section that I’m familiar with because of Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film version of Funny Face. And speaking of films, a few days ago I re-watched Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed, one of the most enjoyable films, and one that also stars Audrey Hepburn. That film includes Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “They All Laughed,” which was, of course, written by George and Ira Gershwin. Perry Beekman covers that tune on this CD, again leaving off the opening section, and beginning with the line, “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.” This song was originally in the 1937 film Shall We Dance. Perry Beekman delivers a really good rendition.

“Someone To Watch Over Me” is another Gershwin song to provide a film with its title, this one to a 1987 movie starring Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers. This is one of my personal favorite Gershwin songs, and Perry Beekman does a good job with it, his vocals accompanied by only piano. Peter Tomlinson really shines on piano throughout this track, including a nice solo. I always love hearing this song.

One of the highlights of Bewitched: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers & Hart for me was “It Never Entered My Mind,” which Perry Beekman first played as a pretty solo guitar instrumental before adding his vocals a couple of minutes in. He similarly approaches “I’ve Got A Crush On You” on this new CD, delivering a sweet solo guitar instrumental for the first minute and a half of the track and then adding his vocals. And yes, it’s a highlight of this album. Another highlight for me is “Love Is Here To Stay,” particularly because of the way his vocal line plays over that great bass line, a wonderful approach to this song. This song was originally in the film The Goldwyn Follies, where it was performed by Kenny Baker (not R2-D2, but that other Kenny Baker).

Perry Beekman covers “’S Wonderful,” which is for some reason re-titled “S’ Wonderful.” The album is likewise titled “S’ Wonderful.” So perhaps instead of “Is Wonderful,” the idea is “So Wonderful”? That’s my guess, anyway. Or it’s an error. Anyway, Perry Beekman delivers a pretty sweet, relaxed version. The CD concludes with “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” which is always fun. I really like Lou Pappas' lead on bass on this track. And I appreciate the playful ending.

CD Track List
  1. Oh Lady Be Good
  2. Nice Work If You Can Get It
  3. Fascinating Rhythm
  4. Now Long Has This Been Going On
  5. They All Laughed
  6. I’ve Got A Crush On You
  7. Soon
  8. Love Is Here To Stay
  9. Liza
  10. But Not For Me
  11. S’ Wonderful
  12. Love Walked In
  13. Someone To Watch Over Me
  14. I Got Rhythm
  15. Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off 
S’ Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Gershwin is scheduled to be released on June 5, 2015.

Grateful Dead Add Two California Farewell Shows, And Demand Your Firstborn Just To Park There

I got so excited when I learned the surviving members of the Grateful Dead would be performing a couple of farewell shows in Santa Clara, California, a bit closer to where I'm residing these days than is Chicago. But then I started looking at the details. They're going to charge $60 per car to park at the venue. And if you have a bus or RV, you'll be charged $180. Just to fucking park. Why don't they just rape us right here in our homes instead? Seriously. This whole venture seems to have less and less of what I would consider the Grateful Dead spirit. Also, the varied ticket pricing is disgusting. For example, the general admission floor isn't really general admission floor, because there is also something called "reserved front of stage seating." Apparently, they've put some expensive seats right up front. So the general admission floor won't get you near the stage. This is just all wrong. It won't be the biggest fans up front, but the richest. You can forget about revisiting the good old days. This just seems like a way to completely rape the fans and utterly destroy our memories of the band. Sixty dollars to park a car? Also, you have to get a prepaid parking pass in order to park there. Yes, you have to pay your sixty dollars ahead of time. You can't just show up at the venue and pay. Ridiculous.

Anyway, the shows are scheduled for June 27 and 28, 2015. Tickets range from $59.50 to $199.50, but that doesn't include the $4 facility fee or the service fees (whatever those might be). And don't forget to buy your parking pass. And after all that, try to forget that it's Trey Anastasio on guitar, and maybe you'll have a good time. Sorry if I seem overly cynical about this thing, but it's truly upsetting. The Grateful Dead ended twenty years ago. This thing - whatever it is - is certainly not a Grateful Dead concert.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dusty Springfield: “Faithful” (2015) CD Review

In early 1971, Dusty Springfield recorded tracks for an album which until now was not released. Produced by Jeff Barry, who also has a couple of writing credits on this album, Faithful features Dusty’s wonderful vocal talents. Two singles were released, but did not chart. The album was intended to be released on Atlantic Records, but after the singles failed to do well, and after Dusty signed with a new manager and then a new label, Faithful was shelved. Now Real Gone Music is putting out the album as it was intended, along with one bonus track, “Nothing Is Forever,” which was the flip side of one of the singles. This CD includes liner notes by Joe Marchese, along with a few photos.

The album opens with the sweet and beautiful “I’ll Be Faithful,” written by Ned W. Albright, Michael F. Soles and Steve Soles. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Now I would be your music if you would like a song/I would sleep beside you when the winter’s cold and long.” This song has a nice groove, and is one of those tunes that make you feel good. Dusty’s vocals have more of a vulnerable edge at the beginning of the following track, “Live Here With You.” There is something youthful and innocent in her tone as she sings, “You ask me to live here with you/f I could, love, you know I would/I can't give you my heart or my hand, though you want it/I can't give you the love I know I should/And I tell you there’s nobody else/It’s not you, I’m just afraid.” “Live Here With You” was written by Gilbert Slavin and Michael F. Soles, who also wrote the album’s closing track, the excellent and powerful “I Found My Way Through The Darkness.”

“Haunted” is one of the tracks that was released as a single (with “Nothing Is Forever” as its flip side). It’s also a track co-written by Jeff Barry, along with Bobby Bloom (those two also wrote the hit “Montego Bay”). It’s easy to understand why it was chosen as a single, and not as easy to understand why it didn’t do well. There is something very cool about this song, which finds Dusty haunted by the memory of a man. It opens, “I can't eat right/I can't sleep nights/Oh, honey look at what you've done to me/Life is nowhere/And it's no fair/'Cause you've got me by the memory.” And I love those backing vocals occasionally singing, “Haunted.”

Jeff Barry also wrote “I Believe In You,” the other song from these tracks that was released as a single, and one of my personal favorites. There is something sexy and soulful about this tune. And it features a powerful and delicious vocal performance by Dusty. “It's gone way beyond just lovin'/And for a long time now/It's been more than just a thrill/Oh, honey, I, I believe in you.”

Songwriter Neil Goldberg provides several of the tunes on this album, including “Natchez Trace,” which he co-wrote with Gilbert Slavin. This track finds Dusty giving a ballsy vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And I had his child in Memphis/And we watched him ride away/And now you know what a girl like me is doing here today/I'm sorry mister, you can't stay/Hungry together, racing the weather/Into the Natchez Trace.” There is also a cool, though brief instrumental section, helping to make this another of my favorites.

Dusty Springfield delivers a good cover of Bread’s “Make It With You,” a song written by David Gates. This song was relatively new at the time of this recording, Bread’s version having come out only the year before. There is something easily seductive about Dusty’s breathy rendition. And the way she ends the song lets you know she is ready and eager. She also covers Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” which was most famously done by James Taylor. Both King’s and Taylor’s versions were released in 1971, the same year that Faithful was intended to be issued. I really like Dusty Springfield’s take on this song.

The bonus track is “Nothing Is Forever,” which was released as the flip side to “Haunted.” Like “Haunted,” this song was written by Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom. This one has an older feel. “Nothing is forever/Always is a dream/Life goes by so fast/You try to make it last/The future turns to past/And summer turns to snow.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Be Faithful
  2. Live Here With You
  3. Haunted
  4. Someone Who Cares
  5. Make It With You
  6. Love Shine Down
  7. I Believe In You
  8. Have A Good Life
  9. Natchez Trace
  10. All The King’s Horses
  11. You’ve Got A Friend
  12. I Found My Way Through The Darkness
  13. Nothing Is Forever 
Faithful is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Les McCann: “Invitation To Openness” (1972/2015) CD Review

Les McCann’s Invitation To Openness is an incredible album, featuring a 26-minute improvised track. Originally released in 1972, the album has now been issued on CD by Omnivore Recordings. This new issue includes a bonus track – a live version of “Compared To What” recorded in Germany in 1975, featuring Buddy Guy on guitar – as well as new liner notes by Peter Relic, which include material from his interviews with band members. There are also liner notes by Les McCann, Joel Dorn, Ron Neal and Pat Thomas. This re-issue was produced by Pat Thomas.

The album opens with “The Lovers,” a 26-minute tune that took up the entire first side of the record when it was originally released. It takes me a little time to get into this one, as it opens tentatively, sort of eerily, dreamily. But this is a track that slowly puts its hooks into you, and before you know it, you’re caught up in it, curious and excited to see where it will take you. And it really starts to get interesting around the five-minute mark, when you feel you’re on some sort of Egyptian spaceship. It’s beautiful and fun and groovy and just fucking fantastic. A great jam, which just gets better and better. Check out that wild stuff on guitar around the eleven-minute mark. The song relaxes a bit for a while, but then builds against toward the end with a great groove.

The second side of the original record opened with “Beaux J. Poo Boo,” a tune that wasn’t new. In fact, it had been the title track for a 1965 Les McCann album. That version was quite a bit shorter than the rendition included on this album. While I do really like that earlier version, with McCann on piano, I think I actually prefer this version, with McCann on keyboard and with Yusaf Lateef on flute. There is a lot of energy, and a groove that keeps me smiling and feeling oh-so-good, with a few nice little touches of madness.

The original album then concluded with “Poo Pye McGoochie (And His Friends),” which begins quietly, and then suddenly kicks in with a great soulful groove that might get you dancing. There are intriguing breaks in the tune, first for an interesting bass solo, with a few touches on keys and drums, and then later for a little conversation between sax and guitar. After each, the song kicks in again with a delicious force. And then near the end, there is a very cool drum solo. I absolutely love this track.

This re-issue includes a bonus track, a live version of “Compared To What,” a song written by Gene McDaniels and included on Les McCann’s Swiss Movement. The version here is from a show in Germany in 1975, and was previously released on Doldinger Jubilee ’75. It’s an excellent, lively rendition, and is the only track on this CD with vocals. “Compared To What” has also been recorded by Roberta Flack and Ray Charles, among many others.

CD Track List
  1. The Lovers
  2. Beaux J. Poo Boo
  3. Poo Pye McGoochie (And His Friends)
  4. Compared To What
This special issue of Invitation To Openness was released on March 3, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings.