Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Dictators: “Go Girl Crazy! (40th Anniversary Edition)” (2015) CD Review

The Dictators’ debut album, Go Girl Crazy!, released in 1975, was one of the first punk records, and is now being re-issued in a special remastered and expanded edition. These tunes are screaming with attitude, sarcasm, and energy, and delivered with a delicious humor. Most of the tracks are originals, but the band also does a couple of interesting covers. This expanded edition contains a whole lot of bonus material, including several previously unreleased tracks, plus liner notes by band member Andy Shernoff.

The album opens with “The Next Big Thing,” which begins with applause, and then with a little pretend berating of a crowd: “I don’t have to be here, you know. I didn’t have to show up here… This is just a hobby for me. Nothing, you hear? A hobby.” This song sort of pokes fun at the boasting of rock and rollers, heard in the vocal approach to the title line, “I’m the next big thing,” while also possibly claiming that same thing for themselves. Who knows? After all, for sure this song has a rock hook, and it does get a bit personal with the (surprising) lines, I knocked 'em dead in Dallas/And I didn't pay my dues/Yeah, I knocked 'em dead in Dallas/They didn't know we were Jews.” There is certainly some humor in the lines, “But I won't be happy/’Til I'm known far and wide/With my face on the cover/Of the TV Guide,” trading Rolling Stone for TV Guide. (Dr. Hook’s “Cover Of Rolling Stone” came out a few years earlier.)

The Dictators follow that with a funny, cool rendition of the Sonny And Cher hit “I Got You Babe,” a great, loud, messy version. Sure, it’s a large part sarcasm, but still, they’re taking the time to play the song, so there must be some earnestness there. And I love the way they sing the “I got you to hold my hand/And I got you to understand/I got you to walk with me/And I got you to talk with me” part, which includes some kissing sounds after the line “I got you to kiss good night.” They also do a seriously fun cover of the Rivieras’ “California Sun.” “And I’d what?” “Cha cha cha.” The bonus tracks include alternate takes of both “I Got You Babe” and “California Sun.”

In “Back To Africa,” they sing about love for a dark-skinned woman, “Darker than a chocolate cake now/She wants to be a singer in America/I told her I could give her a break.” But even more interesting are these lines: “I think that I love you/You're too free to care/Religion will save you/Civilization's here.” In this one, they also sing, “Sometimes I wish I were black.” And then the band follows that perfectly with “Master Race Rock,” a song that is somehow ridiculous and simultaneously ridiculously fantastic, and is not at all about skin color, but rather about teenagers. Check out lines like “Country Rock is on the wane/I don't want music, I want pain!” and “We're the members of the master race/Got no style and we got no grace/Sleep all night, sleep all day/Nothing good on TV anyway/Gasoline shortage won't stop me now, oh no!” Oh yes, teenagers in the seventies! And then “Teengenerate” begins with some mellow organ at like a dull dinner party or something, before kicking in using that famous drumbeat from 1960s songs like “Be My Baby.” An alternate take of “Teengenerate” is included in the bonus tracks, with some playing around at the beginning. “Weekend” is also about those tough teenage years (“I might know better when I’m older”).

“Two Tub Man” has a silly introduction. But once it gets going, like a minute in, it’s pretty cool, with a lot of energy and some absurd lyrics (“I drink Coca cola for breakfast/I've got Jackie Onassis in my pants/I'm never gonna watch channel 13”) as well as some playful boasting (“What I want to do I do/Who I want to screw I screw”). The bonus tracks include a remixed version of this tune (humorously labeled “Remixed, Over-Produced And Totally Reimagined”), remixed from the original multi-track source tapes this summer. Gone is that introduction. (There is a similarly remixed version of “Weekend” on this disc.)

The original album concluded with “(I Live For) Cars And Girls,” a fairly straightforward rock number with some 1960s influences (listen to those backing vocals). “There’s nothing else in this gosh-darn world except for cars and good-good-good-good-good girls.” The bonus tracks include a single remix of “(I Live For) Cars And Girls.”

In addition to the other bonus tracks I’ve already mentioned, there is an outtake of “Backseat Boogie,” which is a fun, fast-paced rock and roll tune. “Don’t you think I’m cool?/Backseat boogie/I don’t follow no rules/Backseat boogie/I don’t go to school.” There is also an alternate take of “The Next Big Thing,” and an instrumental version of “Master Race Rock.”

CD Track List
  1. The Next Big Thing
  2. I Got You Babe
  3. Back To Africa
  4. Master Race Rock
  5. Teengenerate
  6. California Sun
  7. Two Tub Man
  8. Weekend
  9. (I Live For) Cars And Girls
  10. Two Tub Man (Remixed)
  11. Weekend (Remixed)
  12. Backseat Boogie (Take 1)
  13. The Next Big Thing (Take 1)
  14. I Got You Babe (Take 2)
  15. Master Race Rock (Instrumental)
  16. Teengenerate (Alternate Take)
  17. California Sun (Instrumental)
  18. (I Live For) Cars And Girls (Single Remix)
Go Girl Crazy! 40th Anniversary Remastered And Expanded Edition is scheduled to be released on December 4, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jeremy Spencer: “Jeremy Spencer” (1970/2015) CD Review

As great an album as Rumours is (and it is an excellent album), I’ve always preferred the early, more bluesy Fleetwood Mac material, before the girls joined the band. Then Play On might be my favorite of the band’s records. It came out in the fall of 1969. Early the following year, Jeremy Spencer’s self-titled debut solo album was released. But this is a solo album in nearly the same way that Bob Weir’s Ace is a solo album, for all of the Fleetwood Mac members play on it. And it has a little of that great bluesy rock, but also a lot of early rock and roll sounds. This is mostly original material, but Spencer does cover a couple of older rock and roll numbers here. While the intentions might not always be serious, I really love this album. As I said, this is essentially a Fleetwood Mac album, and one that has up until now not been available on CD. This CD issue contains a bonus track, as well as new liner notes by Richie Unterberger, including material from an interview he conducted with Jeremy Spencer.

This album opens with “Linda,” which has a definite and very strong Buddy Holly influence, heard both in the rhythm and in the vocals. Just listen to the way Jeremy sings the word “desire” in the lines “I know a girl called Linda/She’s my heart’s desire/This little girl called Linda/Sets my soul on fire.” This song was also released as a single. He follows that with a cover of an early rock and roll tune, “The Shape I’m In,” which was written by Lee Cathy and Otis Blackwell, and recorded by Kenny Lee Martin in 1958 and then by Johnny Restivo in 1959. Otis Blackwell also wrote “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and “Breathless,” and co-wrote such great numbers as “Fever” and “Great Balls Of Fire.” Here is a taste of the lyrics to “The Shape I’m In”: “I can’t go, I can’t stay/It’s your fault I’m this way/I ain’t ever been in the shape I’m in.”

There is a goofy introduction at the beginning of “Mean Blues,” which goes on for like forty-five seconds, but once that’s over, the band then goes into that heavy blues rock that Fleetwood Mac was known for at the time. But here it’s presented with a sense of humor, heard in the vocal delivery and in lines like “I got a mean woman/She don’t do anything I tell her to/That’s the truth.” Jeremy Spencer then returns to early rock and roll with a cover of “String-a-Long,” written by Jimmy Duncan and Bobby Doyle, and recorded by artists like Fabian and Ricky Nelson (as “String Along”). Even though the band is clearly having fun, this rendition feels sincere and is actually really good. Peter Green plays banjo on this track.

“Here Comes Charlie (With His Dancing Shoes On)” is a bluesy tune that incorporates the Bo Diddley beat (think “Willie And The Hand Jive”), but also has a sense of humor about it, heard particularly in the backing vocals, which have a sort of falsetto at times. “He wears long black jeans that fit so tight/All the girls agree that he’s out of sight/He can give the girls most anything/That’s when they all begin to sing.”

Jeremy Spencer slows things down with “Teenage Love Affair,” a song which seems to poke fun at the very sound it’s employing – those serious early rock and roll songs about teenage heartache. Here he sings, “I’m feeling so mixed up/Sad and lonesome too/’Cause since that day you left me/Girl, I don’t know what to do.” And check out these lines: “It has been so long/Since I last saw your face/I feel so lost inside/And I just can’t think straight/My teacher thinks I’m a fool/So I’m working after school/I guess that’s just a part of a teenage love affair.” It has a fairly straight and earnest delivery. Likewise, “Jenny Lee” is about teenage romance and has a playful sense about it. “I asked you out the following night/You said, gee, it will be all right.” But even if they’re joking, the song is fun and works well, and you might find yourself bopping along to it.

But “Don’t Go Please Stay” is probably the best tune on this CD. It is a sort of mix of early rock and roll sounds with bluesy elements, and it’s great. Stephen Gregory plays saxophone on this track. And I love the vocals. “Please stay/Not just because I told you to/Just stay because you love me/I’ll do anything for you/Yeah.” That is followed by the final cover of the album, “You Made A Hit,” an early rock and roll tune that was recorded by folks like Charlie Rich, Ray Smith and Joe Fuller. It was written by Walter P. Maynard, Jr. Jeremy Spencer’s rendition is seriously good.

Things then get a little weirder with “Take A Look Around Mrs. Brown,” which begins with some belching and other goofiness, and then the line “You live in a semi-detached house.” It has a very loose, deliberately messy sound, with some direct references to The Beatles near the end. Then “Surfin’ Girl” is a playful take on the whole surfing music genre. The original album’s final track, “If I Could Swim The Mountain,” is also an odd one, kind of a mumbling goof on Elvis Presley’s vocal approach to some of his slower numbers.

The bonus track is “Teenage Darling,” which was originally released as the flip side to the single of “Linda.” It’s an original tune, another fun play on the 1950s doo-wop teen love songs. “Teenage darling/Please say you’ll be mine/Now and forever/Until the end of time.”

CD Track List
  1. Linda
  2. The Shape I’m In
  3. Mean Blues
  4. String-a-Long
  5. Here Comes Charlie (With His Dancing Shoes On)
  6. Teenage Love Affair
  7. Jenny Lee
  8. Don’t Go Please Stay
  9. You Made A Hit
  10. Take A Look Around Mrs. Brown
  11. Surfin’ Girl
  12. If I Could Swim The Mountain
  13. Teenage Darling 
Jeremy Spencer is scheduled to be released on CD on December 4, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lyn Stanley: “Interludes” (2015) CD Review

It’s amazing to me that Lyn Stanley’s singing career began only four and a half years ago. Listening to her new CD, Interludes, her third full-length album, you’d think she’d been singing professionally her whole life. On this CD, she does some jazz standards, but also delivers some surprising choices of material, all of the songs in some way related to love and relationships. And she has a great band backing her, displaying undeniable talent while remaining in support of her vocals. I absolutely love her style. She has a voice for night, and some of these tracks (like “The Island”) feel like that magic time when the night is basically over but there is still the possibility of squeezing some more intimate moments from it. That in-between time when everything is possible and the consequences seem distant and unimportant. It’s great to be able to visit that place through music.

Lyn Stanley opens this album with “How Long Has This Been Going On?” I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here: You can’t go wrong with Gershwin. Lyn delivers the first few lines a cappella, so right away you get an idea of what she can do vocally. It’s a fairly smooth, relaxed rendition, and it features Bob McChesney on trombone. Lyn Stanley follows that with “Just One Of Those Things.” Going from Gershwin to Cole Porter, she shows us what she can do with material from the greatest songwriters. “Just One Of Those Things” actually begins with percussion, and when Lyn’s vocals come in, they are accompanied at first by wonderful work on bass, then by guitar, then by piano in quick succession, an interesting approach. That is Chuck Berghofer on bass, by the way. This jazz rendition has a great pace, and again features excellent work from Bob McChesney on trombone.

Lyn then tackles a more modern song with Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” which was written by Christopher Ward and David Tyson. Lyn Stanley isn’t the first jazz vocalist to cover this one. In fact, not too long ago Hannah Burgé included a version of it on her debut album, Green River Sessions. Lyn Stanley does a really good job with it, having it open with finger snaps and bass, and giving it a kind of sexy vibe. This track features some seriously nice work on piano by the amazing Mike Garson. And those finger snaps are by Steve Rawlins. It’s really good, but even better is her rendition of “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” a tune written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and featured in the 1934 film Moulin Rouge. This is one of my favorite tracks, and it interestingly features both cello (an instrument I love) and harmonica. Lyn’s vocals are seductive and romantic. I love songs like this that transport you. For the length of the song, you can live in that world, or imagine that your life is actually much more interesting than it is. That’s Cecilia Tsan on cello.

Surprisingly, she follows that with a Led Zeppelin cover. Yes, seriously. She takes “Whole Lotta Love” and gives it a smoky, jazzy feel. There is even an instrumental section, where each musician takes brief lead parts in a round. I dig the piano, particularly during the extended ending. That’s Mike Garson again on piano. I should mention that while this is a Led Zeppelin song, Led Zeppelin completely ripped off Muddy Waters’ recording of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love.” I like Led Zeppelin, don’t get me wrong, but they totally stole this song (among others).

I love Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” a song she co-wrote with Arthur Herzog Jr. “Hush now, don’t explain/You’re my joy and pain.” Lyn Stanley does a really good job with it. It’s dangerous covering Billie Holiday, because how can anyone beat that voice? It might seem like covering her is setting one’s self up for failure, but Lyn Stanley makes the song her own. This version has its own feel from the start, opening as it does with some nice work on harmonica by Hendrik Meurkens. (By the way, Hendrik Meurkens also plays harmonica on that Hannah Burgé CD.)

Lyn gets kind of playful with her vocal delivery of “It’s Crazy,” making that track a delight. And then she gets quite playful and loose on the fun “I Was A Little Too Lonely,” written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston. “You promised me you’d come back/I promised to wait/But I was a little too lonely/And you were a little too late.” This tune also features a cool bass solo by Chuck Berghofer.

CD Track List
  1. How Long Has This Been Going On?
  2. Just One Of Those Things
  3. Black Velvet
  4. More Than You Know
  5. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
  6. Whole Lotta Love
  7. Last Tango In Paris
  8. Don’t Explain
  9. Nice ‘N’ Easy
  10. The Island
  11. It’s Crazy
  12. In A Sentimental Mood
  13. I Was A Little Too Lonely
  14. I’m A Fool To Want You

Musicians

The musicians on this release include Bill Cunliffe on piano, Mike Garson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass, Ray Brinker on drums, Paul Kreibich on drums, John Chiodini on guitar, Bob McChesney on trombone, Hendrik Meurkens on harmonica, Brad Dutz on percussion and Cecilia Tsan on cello.

Interludes was released on November 20, 2015 as a double album on vinyl and on SACD. 

Record Store Day, Black Friday, 2015

A few months ago I watched a documentary titled Revenge Of The Mekons, about a band I hadn't heard but which over the course of the film I came to love. I decided I had to own everything they ever recorded, and I went to Amoeba to purchase whatever CDs of theirs they had. They had none. Then a few weeks ago I went to Newbury Comics in Boston with the aim of picking up every Mekons CD I could find. They had none there, and couldn't order any. What the fuck? If Amoeba and Newbury Comics didn't carry The Mekons, who would?

Well, I knew a new Mekons record was going to be released on vinyl on Record Store Day, so I could at least purchase that.  That is, provided that I got in line early enough. The list of record releases this time around wasn't all that interesting, but there were two I was determined to get. In addition to the Mekons record, I really wanted the Dressy Bessy 7-inch. Both of these were in the "Limited Run/Regional Focus" section of the Record Store Day list, which means a very limited number were pressed. There were also two Kinks EPs that I was interested in, but I knew there would be more of those available.

Freakbeat is my record store of choice, and what they do there is ask each person in line for his or her number one pick. That way, each person is basically guaranteed to get at least one thing he or she wants. This works out fairly well. There is the danger, of course, of someone quite a bit behind you in line wanting what might be your second choice. So maybe I'd get The Mekons, but probably not Dressy Bessy. It all depends on what the folks behind me are focused on, as well as what the people in front me are ready to purchase.

I got to the store at 8:30, two and a half hours before it opened. Shockingly, only six people were ahead of me. So I figured my chances were pretty good. There was a scary moment when I told the guy my first choice was The Mekons and he responded, "There's a Mekons record?" But he went in to check, and sure enough, they had it, and so it was mine. So now I own my first Mekons album. I'm hoping to add to that soon. And, by the way, I was lucky enough to get the Dressy Bessy single as well (along with the two Kinks EPs). A good day.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 16” (2015) CD Review

The final Dave’s Picks volume of 2015 arrived recently, and it’s a good one. Anything from 1973 holds the promise of something special, and this show from March 28, 1973 at the Springfield Civic Center in Springfield, Massachusetts certainly doesn’t disappoint. I am one of the many people who consider 1973 to be the best year for the band. The jams had a great jazzy vibe then, and some of my favorite Grateful Dead tunes were introduced, such as “Eyes Of The World.” Also, there seemed to be a ton of joy and passion in the music, even more than usual. This show took place not far from where I grew up (though I had just turned one year old, and so was completely unaware of the band at the time).

Disc One

The first disc contains most of the first set (man, they played long first sets back then – the first disc is approximately seventy-five minutes). The first set kicks off with a seriously fun and smooth version of “Cumberland Blues.” They follow it with “Here Comes Sunshine,” which was a new song at the time, having been introduced just the previous month. The first set also contains “Wave That Flag,” the song that would eventually become “U.S. Blues.” This early version has a lot of lyrics that would later be dropped, and it’s great to hear them. “Hide in caves, walk on waves/Pull the tooth, stretch the truth.” Plus, it’s a great tune to dance to.

The band keeps things moving with “Beat It On Down The Line,” before slowing down with “Loser” and a nice “Jack Straw” and a wonderful “Box Of Rain.” One of the highlights of this first disc is “They Love Each Other,” another tune that was new at the time. This version has a lot of energy, played at a faster clip than it would be in later years. Also, at this time it has that other short bridge section that would later be dropped, and I really like that section. This rendition does seem to end abruptly and perhaps prematurely, but no matter. It’s followed by a sweet “El Paso” and a beautiful “Row Jimmy.” These lines always grab me: “Broken heart don’t feel so bad/You ain’t got half of what you thought you had.”

Disc Two

The second disc contains the last several songs of the first set and a good chunk of the second set. It opens with something of a rarity, Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” This was a song the Grateful Dead only played in 1973, and it features Donna Jean Godchaux on lead vocals, doing a country twang. There is a bit of stage banter before the next song, with Bob Weir telling the crowd, “If you gotta smoke, you gotta go out back and do it.” And then they do the Take-A-Step-Back bit, because, as Bob mentions, the people up front were becoming two-dimensional. They then go into a mellow and pretty “Looks Like Rain.” The first set concludes with “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.”

The second set then gets off to a rocking start with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” followed by “Loose Lucy,” which was another tune that was new at the time, having been played fewer than ten times. This song went through some minor changes, and here it is slower than it would be played later, and it has that backing vocal bit, “Round and round, woo, round and round,” which was later dropped. After “Me And My Uncle,” there is some stage banter about a demonstration for the legalization of marijuana that was to be held in Hartford. This disc also includes “The Race Is On,” a song the Dead played a lot in 1973, but not much in other years. There is also a really good version of “Stella Blue,” one of my favorite songs, and one that was still relatively new at the time (less than a year old). “It seems like all this life/Was just a dream.” This disc concludes with an excellent “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” (which was also less than a year old at the time of this show).

Disc Three

The third disc then contains the rest of the second set, as well as the encore. And it’s here that we have the biggest jams of the concert. It sounds like right from the start Phil is ready for “Dark Star,” but the band first plays “Weather Report Suite Prelude,” which the Grateful Dead did only a few times. It’s a pretty instrumental piece, and it leads right into a great, thirty-one-minute “Dark Star.” This begins as a mellow, relaxed jam, but of course gets more intense at moments, as the band gets into it, rising and deciding when to fall as well. The jam goes into some surprising areas, like around the twelve-minute mark, when what seems like a drum solo suddenly turns into some interesting stuff on guitar and piano. And then eighteen minutes in, the band returns to that familiar theme and we get the first verse. And after that, the band goes into weirder territory. And without ever getting to the second verse, the band segues into “Eyes Of The World,” another of my favorite songs, and another that was new at the time. Here they get into the first verse almost immediately. This is an excellent early version, though there isn’t all that much jamming until after the final verse. But that jam at the end is absolutely fantastic, and includes that great section that the band only did early on. I absolutely love it. This jam is probably the highlight of the show for me. Although what follows is also wonderful, as the band then ends the second set with an energetic “Playing In The Band,” which of course contains plenty of great jamming. The band keeps up the energy for the encore, “Johnny B. Goode.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Cumberland Blues
  2. Here Comes Sunshine
  3. Mexicali Blues
  4. Wave That Flag
  5. Beat It On Down The Line
  6. Loser
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Box Of Rain
  9. They Love Each Other
  10. El Paso
  11. Row Jimmy
  12. Around And Around
  13. Brown-Eyed Women
Disc Two
  1. You Ain’t Woman Enough
  2. Looks Like Rain
  3. China Cat Sunflower >
  4. I Know You Rider
  5. Promised Land
  6. Loose Lucy
  7. Me And My Uncle
  8. Don’t Ease Me In
  9. The Race Is On
  10. Stella Blue
  11. Big River
  12. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Disc Three
  1. Weather Report Suite Prelude >
  2. Dark Star >
  3. Eyes Of The World >
  4. Playing In The Band
  5. Johnny B. Goode 
Dave’s Picks Volume 16 was released in early November, 2016 (actually, it looks like my copy shipped on Halloween).

Judy Collins Announced As Keynote Speaker For 2016 Folk Alliance

Judy Collins will be the keynote speaker at the 28th annual Folk Alliance conference, which is scheduled for February 17-21, 2016, at the Westin Hotel Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Judy Collins will perform on February 19th. The full lineup includes many other excellent artists, including Perla Batalla, Catie Curtis, Hot Buttered Rum, Hot Club Of Cowtown, Bill Kirchen, Miss Tess And The Talkbacks, Steve Poltz, and Henry Wagons. And of course the conference is a chance to check out and get turned on to other artists you might not yet be aware of.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The RAZ Band: “Madison Park” (2015) CD Review

The RAZ Band has apparently been around for quite a while, playing under different names at different times. While you might not yet have heard of them, their new album, Madison Park, might be just the CD to get the band some wider recognition. The band is made up of Michael Raz Rescigno on vocals and guitar, Jeff Hutchinson on drums and vocals, Jim Manzo on bass and vocals, Joey Molland on guitar and vocals, and Joe Vitale on keyboards and vocals. These are musicians you’ve likely heard play with other artists. Joey Molland was a member of Badfinger, and Joe Vitale has played with Joe Walsh and The Eagles. The songs here are originals, though some of them have been around for a while. For example, while “Love Me Do” was written by band member Joey Molland, it was originally released by Badfinger in 1970. A lot of these songs have a 1960s vibe, but the band ventures into several musical areas on this release.

The album opens with “$1.50 For Your Love,” and the first couple of seconds of it led me to believe it would be standard rock, but once the horn kicked in, the song grabbed me. It has the charm of certain 1960s rock songs, while also have the sound of a really good rock and roll bar band. “I’ve got a dollar fifty for your love/Is that enough?” A buck fifty seems like a bargain, but then he offers, “I’ll do anything for your love.” Uh-oh, now he’s in for it. This is a damn good rock song, and a nice opener. “What Love Can Do” also has something of a 1960s pop rock vibe, with a delightful innocence mixed with a bar sound (which you don’t really associate with innocence). “Then I fell in love with you/And you know what love can do/When I fell in love with you/I didn’t have a clue.” This is a song that was recorded earlier under the Older Than Your Parents band name. “The Road Of Love” too has that delightful innocence. This song offers a pledge of love, which is timeless: “You know that I love you/I’ll always be true/You know that I love you/No matter what you do.” This tune features some nice work on saxophone and keys. (Paulie Cerra plays saxophone on this CD.) This song has a false ending, then kicks back in, but with a much slower groove.

“Say Ya Love Me” has a different feel, reminding me a bit of The Cars. By the way, while the title is “Say Ya Love Me” on the back of the CD case, it’s listed as “Say You Love Me” on the inside. I’m not sure which title is correct. And then “Time Marches On” has a Beatles influence that is apparent right away, even before we hear the direct references to George Harrison and his songs (“Here Comes The Sun,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “My Sweet Lord”). This song uses a hook from Harrison’s “Love You To,” and also quotes lines from that song (“I’ll make love to you/If you want me to”). There is a very positive feel to this tune, that great music and musicians won’t be forgotten, that the music still has an impact and importance. This is a song that was written by Michael Raz Rescigno, with a different version released on a 1987 compilation, The Best Of Los Angeles 1987. Joey Molland was on that recording as well.

“You’re My Love” stands out for some obvious reasons. First off, it features female vocals. Also, it has more of a folk feel, mixed with pop. So it has quite a different sound, and ends up being one of my absolute favorite tracks. There is something so sweet and delicious about this song, which was written by Michael Raz Rescigno. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “When you kiss me in the morning/And we greet the day/I can tell it’s a good one/You’re here to stay.” This one also has a sort of false ending. And “The Paths That We Take” has something of a country vibe. This is a sweet, positive tune. “The paths that we take/Aren’t always what they seem/It might not go the way you planned/It might not be your dream/The wind that blows late at night/When the clouds are moving fast/A slow freight train from New Orleans/Reminds me of my past.” And I love when the horns suddenly come in, a wonderful surprise that works really well. This is another of my favorite tracks. It really grew on me, and I love it more and more each time I listen to this album.

There is a certain amount of nostalgia in much of this music, with its 1960s flavors. And toward the end of the album they have a song titled “High School Reunion,” about the passing years. “Ten years, I couldn’t believe it/Twenty years, I had to see it/Thirty years, fifty years/Been to a high school reunion.” This tune has a great classic rock and roll vibe, particularly during the instrumental section, and I love the keys. “The girls from the park, they still rule.”

As I mentioned earlier, “Love Me Do” is the Badfinger song, not the Beatles song. Of course, Badfinger is a band closely associated with The Beatles, signed to their Apple label, and with some material written and produced by Beatles members. But this tune was written by Joey Molland. It’s followed by “Shoot ‘Em Up,” which is also an older song, originally appearing on Joe Vitale’s album Roller Coaster Weekend. It’s a cool tune. The album then concludes with “When Dogs Fly South,” a kind of humorous song making light of the unlikelihood of the band having a hit, with some of the vocals performed by a child. The song mentions the band members by name. At the end, there are animal sound effects, ending with the rooster from The Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning” (and then a quick bit of that song).

CD Track List
  1. $1.50 For Your Love
  2. What Love Can Do
  3. The Road Of Love
  4. Say Ya Love Me
  5. Time Marches On
  6. You’re My Love
  7. Searching Forever
  8. You’re The Magic
  9. The Paths That We Take
  10. Start Your Engines
  11. You Don’t Know A Thing
  12. Barbara Operator
  13. High School Reunion
  14. Love Me Do
  15. Shoot ‘Em Up
  16. When Dogs Fly South
Madison Park was released on November 20, 2015.

Pat Boone: “R&B Duet Hits” (2015) CD Review

R&B Duet Hits finds Pat Boone covering some classic soul songs as well as some disco tunes. And why not? Pat Boone has tried a lot of different things in his career. Remember his heavy metal album? On this one, he is paired with some of the folks responsible for these well-known songs, each song presented as a duet. Though it’s mentioned nowhere on the packaging, this CD was actually released earlier under the title We Are Family: R&B Classics back in 2006. If you missed it then (as I did), you can check it out now.

The album opens with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” with James Brown himself joining Pat Boone. But actually, before the song starts, there is a very goofy introduction, which sets a bizarre tone, like telling us we shouldn’t take this album at all seriously, that it’s all a bit of a joke. I mean, the line “I’d like to know, are you ready for some super dynamite soul?” is even followed by some brief fake applause. Some of the songs we’re going to hear are then listed. Positively silly. The version of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” is a bit odd, with pop vibes. And at one point James Brown sings, “Pat got a brand new bag.” What are we to make of this? I’m not sure. It’s so strange to hear Pat Boone and James Brown trading riffs at the end, like when James urges, “Get funky, Pat.” And Pat jokes about doing the splits: “Help me up now, man.”

That is followed by “Soul Man,” with Pat Boone joined by Sam Moore (the Sam of Sam & Dave, who had a hit with the song). And actually, it sounds like this rendition begins with the opening of the original recording. So, can we believe Pat Boone when he sings that he’s a soul man? Obviously, there is something comedic about this, which is amplified a bit by the fun backing vocals (“shadoop shoop shoop”). But it’s cool to hear Sam Moore.

Boone then dips into disco with KC And The Sunshine Band and their song “Get Down Tonight,” and suddenly I’m dancing around my apartment to Pat Boone. Life is strange, isn’t it? By the way, I saw KC And The Sunshine Band in concert several years ago, and they were fantastic. Seriously. Pat at one point asks us, “How low can you go?” It’s odd for someone as homophobic as Pat Boone to cover disco songs, but there you have it. There are more dance vibes with Pat Boone’s odd rendition of “Celebration,” in which he actually sings, “Getting jiggy with it, getting jiggy with it, getting jiggy with it.” On this track, Boone is joined by Robert Bell of Kool & The Gang.

Ray Parker, Jr. joins Pat Boone for “A Woman Needs Love,” Raydio’s big hit from 1981. Here Pat Boone sings, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking old fashioned/Times have changed from yesterday.” Okay then. Pat Boone then sings “We Are Family” with Joni Sledge, one of the sisters of Sister Sledge. And again, it opens with some silliness, a bit of spoken word: “Hey, live it up, you all/And hand me some of that mayonnaise/Who put the anchovy in here?” Oh yes, sounds like a crazy party. And then they sing, “I’ve got all my brothers and my sisters with me.” Joni sounds great, by the way. At one point she sings, “Sing that funky music, Pat Boone” (to the line “Play that funky music, white boy”), and Pat responds, “I’ll sing it for you, Joni.”

This album actually ends with an original tune, “Backbone,” which Pat Boone wrote with David Diggs. Kool Moe Dee joins him on this one. I don’t care for rap, so this track doesn't really work for me. It’s also the longest track on this CD, approximately seven minutes.

CD Track List
  1. Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag
  2. Soul Man
  3. Get Down Tonight
  4. Tears Of Clown
  5. Celebration
  6. I Can’t Help Myself
  7. A Woman Needs Love
  8. We Are Family
  9. Shotgun
  10. That’s The Way Of The World
  11. Backbone 
R&B Duet Hits was released on October 16, 2015 through Goldenlane Records.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Speedbuggy USA: “South Of Bakersfield” (2016) CD Review

Speedbuggy USA is a Los Angeles country rock band that both salutes the twang of country and really rocks. Their new release, South Of Bakersfield (their first new album in several years), bursts with energy and attitude, and features some seriously good material. Speedbuggy USA is made up of Timbo on vocals, guitar and mandolin; Seth Von Paulus on lead guitar; Brady Sloan on bass; Christos Hansen on drums; and Gregg McMullen on pedal steel. On this release, they’re joined by Eddie Baytos, Billy Pitman, Robert Columbus, Dan McNay and Bunny West.

The CD opens with “Still Movin’ On,” a song I will be adding to my road trip play list, with its lyrics about “Rolling down Highway 99.” (And it even urges, “Come on now, get that lead out,” a phrase I haven’t heard in a quite a while, but still use myself on occasion.) This is a fun rockin’ number, and is one of several tracks on this release to mention Bakersfield: “Farewell to Bakersfield, I gotta go.” And it ends with the line, “Ha ha, we got a long way to roll,” again making it a perfect tune for a road trip mix CD. It’s followed by another track that would be good to have along on a road trip, “1000 Miles From Nowhere,” with lines like, “Open road, two-lane blacktop highway/A thousand miles from nowhere/And I’m trying not to slow down/I’m trying not to lose my ground.” The lines I really love are, “I’m falling to pieces again/One piece at a time/I’m starting to drink again/One sip at a time/One tear at a time.” And I love Timbo’s vocals, particularly on those lines.

As much as I love that song, I think “Wrong Side” is even better. It’s one of my favorites on this release, and it features Bunny West on vocals. This is such a strong song. Check out these lines: “Pockets oh so empty/And my memories these days run dry/Wish I could remember the reasons why/I’ve got a little left to get by/There’s a hole in your heart.” And these, which Timbo and Bunny sing together: “I grow weak and tired/My worries weigh heavy sometimes/Wish you’d love me a little more than you hated me/Wish you’d help me a little to get by.”

Can you have a country album without at least one song about drinking? I don’t know, but “Set ‘Em Up” fits the bill on this CD, with lines like “Hurry up, I need another round” and “I drank through Sunday.” But the lines I particularly appreciate are “I’m just living like a country song” and “Happy hour ain’t happy no more,” certainly not a celebration of the bottle.

“Liars, Thieves And Ramblers” contains a little nod to “Worried Man Blues.” “Git Yer Wagon Rollin’” is a short instrumental track (but with a spoken – and goofy – introduction), and the CD then concludes with “Bakersfield,” another of the album’s highlight. “A long walk to Bakersfield/From L.A./Truck broke down forty miles away.”

CD Track List
  1. Still Movin’ On
  2. 1000 Miles From Nowhere
  3. Wrong Side
  4. Set ‘Em Up
  5. Rusted Cars
  6. Liars, Thieves And Ramblers
  7. Git Yer Wagon Rollin’
  8. Bakersfield
South Of Bakersfield is scheduled to be released on CD on January 29, 2016, but is available now as a download.

Sara Syms: “Way Back Home” (2015) CD Review

Sara Syms is a talented singer and songwriter currently based in Nashville. Her debut album, 2013’s Fade To Blue, was nominated for the International Music And Entertainment Association’s Americana Album Of The Year. Her new CD, Way Back Home, the follow-up to that acclaimed debut, features some excellent original material and a good band backing her, including Nick Africano, Chris Cubeta, Jeff Berner, Spencer Cohen, Brett Bass and Thad DeBrock. Chris Cubeta and Nick Africano also produced this release.

The album opens with its title track, a good tune with a steady groove and a full-band sound. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Whisper tenderly to me and hold me/In your arms/Find my way, find my way back home.” And I like these lines: “And the sea, it calls to me/Every drop on my skin screams your name.” These songs of longing for home seem to always work for me. “Way Back Home” is followed by a peppy and kind of catchy country number, “Running Away From Me,” about that desire to take a step back and try to get a hold of one’s life, something most of us can relate to. “Wish upon whatever star/As long as it will take me far from here.” And it ends with a good, energetic jam.

One of my favorites on this CD is “Almost Home.” This is a slower, more beautiful track, with a passionate vocal performance and a timeless, hopeful feel. “Sometimes I feel like I’m almost there/Like I’m almost home/When I feel I can’t make it one more mile/Will you take my hand and smile and say/We’re almost home.” Wonderful. “Almost Home” was written by Nick Africano. Nick Africano also wrote the following track, “Hard Work Pay,” and provides the male vocals on this duet. “I know you still love me, babe/I know it in my heart/I know that ain’t the reason we grew apart.” He also adds some nice touches on harmonica.

“Real Bad Low” is cool bluesy number, written by Sara Syms and Nick Africano. It opens with these lines: “I don’t know what’s right/I don’t know what’s fair/But standing still won’t get you anywhere.” This track has a great sound, and I dig the percussion by Spencer Cohen. This song too is about going home, with Sara singing “The road home is day by day/The road home is mile by mile, day by day/How did I, how did I get so far away?

Then on “Crossroads,” Sara delivers a moving, emotional, delicate vocal performance. This is a tune written by Robert Johnson, originally titled “Cross Road Blues,” and this version has some additional lyrics by Sara Syms. First, of course, she changes “Asked the lord above, have mercy, now save poor Bob if you please” to “I asked the lord above for some mercy please.” I love the way she delivers that line, with a slight pause before “please,” and then “please” is almost whispered, and the vulnerability and need in her voice are nearly palpable. And then she adds these lines: “I’m trying to run from this town/I’m afraid to leave/Afraid of what’s in front of me/And dark’s gonna fall, fall around/Rising sun sinking down/Maybe it’s just what I choose to see.” The lines about “sweet lovin’” and “Willie Brown” are cut.

“Take Me On” is another of my favorites from this album. It has a mellow, pretty feel, with gorgeous vocal work. “People these days got a lot to say/About the way I live my life/The stories I’ve told/The way I’m growing old/Says a lot about me/But time is on our side/Even if the sand is surely draining.”

CD Track List
  1. Way Back Home
  2. Running Away From Me
  3. Almost Home
  4. Hard Work Pay
  5. Bright Dreams, Lonely Days
  6. Real Bad Low
  7. Crossroads
  8. Land Where The Blues Began
  9. Take Me On
  10. In Time
Way Back Home was released on October 9, 2015 on Rusted Ruby Records.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kenny Neal: “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (2015) CD Review

Every year, a whole lot of Christmas albums are released, and so much of that music is awful. However, there are some good CDs that celebrate the holiday, and one of the best ones this year is Kenny Neal’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Kenny Neal takes his well-known Louisiana blues sound and applies it to some traditional Christmas fare such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Silent Night,” as well as some more modern holiday favorites such as “Merry Christmas Baby.”

The album opens with one of the modern tunes, Amos Milburn’s “Christmas Comes But Once A Year,” which Milburn wrote with Albert Shubert. Kenny Neal makes it a sort of upbeat blues number, with some prominent and excellent work on harmonica. There is a bit of humor to this tune, mentioning at least one of the drawbacks of the holiday: “It’ll take the next six months to pay them bills/Every time I think about it, it gives me chills/But I don’t care/Christmas time comes once a year.” But this tune is positive, making Christmas sound like a good time: “I’m getting ready to have myself some fun/I’m gonna really, really party ‘til New Year’s Day/And I don’t care what I have to pay/Let the good times roll/Christmas time comes once a year.” It’s a very good opening track, and he follows it with “Silver Bells.” I absolutely love what he does with this song, giving it a cool groove. This is certainly one of the best versions of this popular holiday song that I’ve ever heard, and I really dig the bass line by Darnell Neal. Kenny Neal also offers some really nice work on guitar, particularly during the instrumental section halfway through.

And then he makes “Winter Wonderland” swing. Here Syreeta Neal takes lead vocal duties. There is an interesting lyric change: “And pretend that he is Clarence Brown” instead of “And pretend that he is Parson Brown” (a nice nod to a fellow Louisiana blues musician). Kenny Neal Jr. is on bass and drums on this track. Syreeta also provides vocals on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” here simply titled “Merry Little Christmas.” Interestingly, Kenny Neal doesn’t play on this track. Syreeta is accompanied only by Joel Joseph on keyboard. This one doesn’t quite work for me, as the vocals seem a bit much; I prefer a mellower, sweeter approach vocally. Syreeta Neal and Joel Joseph also perform this CD’s rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which for me is the weakest track.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the CD’s title track, is an original tune (not to be confused with the “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” that Bing Crosby recorded). This is a groovy, bluesy number featuring Kenny Neal on harmonica. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Sing Christmas carols under the mistletoe/Oh, what a Christmas it will be/Spending my time at home where I always wanted to be.”

“Merry Christmas Baby”

Kenny Neal provides two versions of “Merry Christmas Baby,” one of my favorite holiday songs, which was written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore and recorded by Charles Brown (in the liner notes, the song is attributed to Brown). This song has been recorded by many artists over the years. I’ve always been partial to Chuck Berry’s version myself. Kenny Neal’s first version (which is actually titled “Merry Christmas Baby #2”) is a more rockin’ version than many I’ve heard, and his voice has a nice, rough quality. It’s kind of similar to Otis Redding’s approach. The second version on this disc, titled “Merry Christmas Baby #1,” is a slower rendition, and it’s the one I prefer. I just really like the groove, and there is some delicious guitar-playing in an extended instrumental section (this version is six minutes long). Plus, this slower version includes the line about being “lit up like a Christmas tree” at the end.

One of my favorite tracks on this disc is “Lonesome Christmas,” a tune written by Lloyd Glenn and originally recorded by Lowell Fulson. This one features some great work on harmonica right at the start, and a good groove. “I won’t be home this Christmas/To help you decorate the Christmas tree/I’ll be thinking of you, baby/And hope you’ll be thinking of me.” The album concludes with “Silent Night,” with Syreeta Neal on vocals. This is a fun bluesy rock take on the tune, and at one point Syreeta urges Kenny, “Play the guitar, Daddy.”

CD Track List
  1. Christmas Comes But Once A Year
  2. Silver Bells
  3. Winter Wonderland
  4. Merry Little Christmas
  5. Please Come Home For Christmas
  6. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  7. Merry Christmas Baby #2
  8. Lonesome Christmas
  9. Merry Christmas Baby #1
  10. O Come All Ye Faithful
  11. Silent Night 
I’ll Be Home For Christmas was released on November 6, 2015 on Cleopatra Records.

Wes Montgomery: “One Night In Indy” (2016) CD Review

Oo-wee, a new recording from Wes Montgomery! Well, “new” in as much as the material on One Night In Indy has not been previously released. This is a live recording from January 18, 1959, recorded in Indianapolis, and it features Eddie Higgins on piano. This is the only known recording of Montgomery and Higgins playing together, and in fact is the only known performance of the two together, and for that reason it obviously has historical importance. But you don’t have to care about such things to thoroughly enjoy this new CD. The music is so damn good. Walter Perkins is on drums, and as of now it’s not known who is playing bass on these tracks (perhaps that mystery will be cleared up later). The disc includes liner notes by Zev Feldman, who also produced this release.

One Night In Indy opens with “Give Me The Simple Life,” written by Harry Ruby and Rube Bloom. I love Wes Montgomery’s easy-going guitar playing at the beginning of this tune. It just puts me in a great mood. There is joy in the playing of all four musicians. The lead parts don’t get too crazy or anything, but it’s clear these musicians are having a good time. There is a bass solo approximately halfway through. And the second half finds Montgomery and Higgins trading fantastic little bursts, and this is probably my favorite part of this nine-minute track.

It’s followed by Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss,” which begins with some gorgeous deep tones on guitar and bass, the two working so well together. The song is inherently pretty, though this rendition isn’t quite as romantic as some that I’ve heard. I love what Eddie Higgins does throughout this song, sometimes adding delightful touches while the focus is on other players. Things then get swinging with “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” written by Edgar Sampson, and famously recorded by both Benny Goodman and Chick Webb (who are also given writing credits). This is a really cool rendition, with things getting loose. There is a brief drum solo by Walter Perkins. And as with the first track, Montgomery and Higgins trade licks toward the end of the track. Wonderful!

Wes Montgomery does a sweet, tender version of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.” Actually, it’s Eddie Higgins who really sets the tone here, and then Wes Montgomery follows. I really like this rendition, and it ends with some nice playing by Montgomery. By the way, Terry Adams includes a version of “Ruby, My Dear” on his new album, Talk Thelonious. This CD then concludes with a totally delightful version of “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” a popular song written by Cole Porter.

CD Track List
  1. Give Me The Simple Life
  2. Prelude To A Kiss
  3. Stompin’ At The Savoy
  4. Li’l Darling
  5. Ruby, My Dear
  6. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
One Night In Indy is scheduled to be released on CD on January 15, 2016 on Resonance Records. It will also be released on vinyl on November 27, 2015 in a limited-edition pressing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cruising Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2015) Hybrid SACD Review

The soundtrack to the 1980 film Cruising is finally getting a proper CD release, thanks to Audio Fidelity. And it’s a limited edition, numbered hybrid SACD. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this film during its production and upon its initial release, with protests centering on the film’s depictions of the gay community. But there is of course no controversy regarding the soundtrack, which features music by Willy DeVille (of Mink DeVille), The Cripples, John Hiatt, and even a track by the Germs. This is a very cool soundtrack, with a mix of punk, rock and funk sounds. Lots of great, raw energy here. The liner notes include some photos from the film. This SACD was mastered by Kevin Gray at Coherent Audio.

Willy DeVille

Willy DeVille, known for his work in his band Mink DeVille, has three tunes on this soundtrack. The first, “Heat Of The Moment,” opens the CD. It has kind of a disco beat, but a heart of rock. “In the heat of the moment, don’t you forget/All the things that we haven’t done yet.” “Pullin’ My String” has a good driving beat, and a playfulness in the vocal line. “Oh mercy me, now I’m down on my knees/Something, something, something, something is pullin’ my string/Pullin’ my string, pullin’ my string, pullin’ my string, pullin’ my string.” The third song, “It’s So Easy,” is the closing track on this CD, a rock song with a beat to get you moving.

The Cripples

The Cripples are a punk band that I’m not all that familiar with. They have two songs on this soundtrack, and they’re both really good. “Loneliness” has a rock feel, but the lyrics are delivered in great punk fashion, with energy and a snarl. “This loneliness is eating me up/Eating me, eating me up/I said, eating me, eating me, eating me up.” And then, perhaps related to the film’s title, they sing, “Hey, baby, I’m cruising in my automobile…I wish I could be a rock and roll star.” “Hypnotize” is a good punk song delivered at a nice pace. “You’re hypnotized/And you forgot why you do these things.”

John Hiatt

John Hiatt is a seriously talented singer/songwriter, perhaps most known for his wonderful song “Have A Little Faith In Me,” which also was featured in several movies. His music has delved into several styles over the years. Here, he delivers a strange, slow, excellent rock number titled “Spy Boy.” Check out these lyrics: “Oh, this music is hell/Man, why don’t you turn it up real loud/I’m a stranger here in town/I hope this is the wrong kind of crowd.”

Germs

The Germs, during the band’s initial run with Darby Crash on lead vocals, recorded only one full-length album, (GI), which was re-issued a few years ago. They also appeared in The Decline Of Western Civilization, which was released in a box set earlier this year. Apparently, they recorded several songs for Cruising, but only one, “Lions Share,” ended up being used. It’s a good, high-energy tune. Darby Crash committed suicide the same year that Cruising was released.

This soundtrack also includes a really cool rock number from Madelynn Von Ritz, “When I Close My Eyes I See Blood.” This is a fantastic, raw number with lines like “I don’t take no shit where I come from/Please don’t apologize/The damage is done, you’d better dry your eyes” and “I’m going to go to your boyfriend and smash his face.” There is a delicious (though perhaps a bit repetitive) funky number from Mutiny titled “Lump,” and a great driving tune from Rough Trade, “Shakedown.”

CD Track List
  1. Heat Of The Moment – Willy DeVille
  2. Loneliness – The Cripples
  3. Spy Boy – John Hiatt
  4. When I Close My Eyes I See Blood – Madelynn Von Ritz
  5. Lump – Mutiny
  6. Shakedown – Rough Trade
  7. Pullin’ My String – Willy DeVille
  8. Lions Share – Germs
  9. Hypnotize – The Cripples
  10. It’s So Easy – Willy DeVille 
This special SACD issue of Cruising Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is scheduled to be released on November 27, 2015 through Audio Fidelity and Sony Music Entertainment.

Nat King Cole: “The Christmas Song” (2015) Hybrid SACD Review

It’s that time of year when Christmas music is all but unavoidable. And while there is a lot of bad holiday music out there, one album you can still turn to and count on is Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, which has now been re-issued as a limited edition hybrid SACD. The record was originally released as The Magic Of Christmas in 1960, and then was re-issued as The Christmas Song with the addition of its new title track in place of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” And now on this hybrid SACD, it sounds better than ever. It was mastered by Kevin Gray at Coherent Audio. By the way, this disc also plays on regular CD players, so no worries.

The album opens with its title track, “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You),” which was written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. This is that gorgeous classic recording that you’ve likely heard every year of your life, and a song that should be in everyone’s music collection. This recording has the warmth we often associate with the holiday, but perhaps don’t often feel. It’s one of the few recordings that really make us want to spread holiday cheer. “Although it’s been said many times, many ways/Merry Christmas to you.” And I really like the delicate piano during the instrumental section. Light a fire, grab a bottle of wine, and curl up in a chair with your loved one while this song plays, and all will be right with the world.

It’s followed by the much lighter “Deck The Hall,” which feels a bit goofy to me. It's my least favorite track. But no matter, as this track is only a minute long. Nat King Cole then turns to more serious fare with “Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful).” I am not the least bit religious, but there is a beauty and power to this recording that can’t be denied. I also like his pretty and bright rendition of “O Tannenbaum,” with orchestral arrangement, and his version of “O, Little Town Of Bethlehem,” particularly the strings.

“I Saw Three Ships” has a lighter, more playful feel, but is a much better song than “Deck The Hall.” This version is really about the vocals. Nat King Cole is backed by a full chorus, but not an orchestra, giving it almost the feel of the best caroling group to ever walk the streets in the snow. And I love Nat King Cole’s vocal performance in “O Holy Night.”

While most of the songs on this album are traditional and popular Christmas tunes, “A Cradle In Bethlehem” is one that might not be as familiar to you. It’s certainly not that familiar to me. It is a sweet, mellow song, written by Alfred Bryan and Larry Stock. Here is a bit of the lyrics: “Sing sweet and low a lullaby/’Til angels say, ‘Amen’/A mother tonight is rocking/A cradle in Bethlehem.” The other song on this release that might not be quite as well known is “Caroling, Caroling,” which was written by Alfred S. Burt and Wilha Hutson. It has a happy vibe. After all, how can a song with “Ding dong” in its lyrics be anything but? “Ding dong, ding dong, Christmas bells are ringing.” The album then concludes with a really nice rendition of “Silent Night,” with full chorus.

CD Track List
  1. The Christmas Song
  2. Deck The Hall
  3. Adeste Fideles
  4. O Tannenbaum
  5. O, Little Town Of Bethlehem
  6. I Saw Three Ships
  7. O Holy Night
  8. Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
  9. A Cradle In Bethlehem
  10. Away In A Manger
  11. Joy To The World
  12. The First Noel
  13. Caroling, Caroling
  14. Silent Night
This special SACD issue of The Christmas Song was released on November 13, 2015 through Audio Fidelity and Capitol Records.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Flagship: “Faded” (2015) CD Review

Flagship is a fairly new band out of Charlotte, North Carolina, formed a few years ago by Drake Margolnick and Michael Finster. Their new EP, Faded, is a seriously good album with a dreamy pop sound that works on you immediately. On this release, the band’s third, Margolnick and Finster are joined by Leonardo Solis on bass and guitar, and Kellie Solis on backing vocals.

The CD opens with “Merry Us, Carry Us,” a tune which begins slowly, easing in, like a fog rolling in off the shore at dawn. The vocals are kind of mellow at first, but have a strength and a maturity that is noticeable from the first lines. A voice of some experience. The voice is really the driving force of the song. It pulls you in, and carries you along. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Now I feel alive, I’ll never fall asleep/We’re going to build it up/Spark an open fire in the heart of man/We are serious/Keep me up all night/Break this heart of man.” And I really like these lines: “I’m your dawn’s red light/You’re my sleepless night.” The band recently released a video for this song, which has a strange, kind of haunting vibe. (I want the guy’s fur coat.) It was directed by Jared Hogan.

“Merry Us, Carry Us” is followed by “Not So Bad,” which also has an interesting intro, like some kind of twisted parade of traffic approaching, before the song takes on a good, catchy pop-rock groove like twenty seconds in. The groove gets me swaying in my apartment, but it’s the lyrics that I especially appreciate. “I’m missing you every day/That’s all there is.” And I believe him when he tells us “It’s not so bad.” And each time I listen to this song, these lines make me smile: “I wanted you to bake a cake/You never do.”

“Faded,” the CD’s title track, might be the best track here, boasting an excellent and moving vocal performance and some catchy work on guitar. And I love that the lines “I don’t know where I’m going/I don’t know where to go” are soon followed by “I think I find this funny/I think I’m going to take it slow.” Each of these songs has these great moments lyrically like that which give the album some depth, give it a true human quality.

“I Want You” was the first single released from this EP, and a video for it was released in June. The song has kind of an urgent feel, making the declaration of “I need you, I want you” feel a bit manic, a bit mad. Giving those familiar lines a different context, a different vibe. “Nothin’” then has a nice, relaxed pop groove, with lines like “I’m a self-deluded time bomb/Tired of not being myself/Trying to be someone else/Trying to find my way back home,” before building from there to an intense energy as the line “Nothin’ will ever be the same again” is repeated in the second half of the song. This one ended up being another of my favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Merry Us, Carry Us
  2. Not So Bad
  3. Faded
  4. I Want You
  5. Nothin’ 
Faded was released on July 10, 2015 on Bright Antenna Records.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Town Mountain: “The Dead Session” (2015) CD Review

Twenty years after the death of Jerry Garcia and the end of the Grateful Dead, the music is still vibrant, moving and very much alive. And I just couldn’t be happier about it. It’s interesting to me how many groups are now finding within that music something they wish to say or express. I always thought there was a lot of heart in the Grateful Dead’s music, and that was one of the keys to its longevity. Well, you can certainly hear that in the excellent new CD from Town Mountain, The Dead Session.

The CD contains two songs, the first being “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” the opening track from the Grateful Dead’s 1973 studio release, Wake Of The Flood. It was written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, and was one of those tunes that Jerry could really sink his teeth into vocally during live performances. Here “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” becomes a sweet country tune, with some wonderful work on fiddle by Bobby Britt. I love Robert Greer’s vocals, which have kind of a natural, honest feel, which works so well with this tune. The line that always stuck out for me from this song is “I nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather.” The band is clearly very comfortable with this material, the music feeling like it’s flowing from within them rather than something they’re attempting to imitate. You know? Basically, what I’m saying is it’s a damn good rendition, with a nice jam at the end.

The second song on this disc is not a Grateful Dead original, but rather a Johnny Cash tune that the Dead often covered. “Big River” is a song that Bob Weir sang lead on, and one that I recently saw him do with Dead & Company in Worcester, Massachusetts. Town Mountain kicks it off with the fiddle, and right away I’m on board. There is a sense of fun about this rendition. I love the way Robert Greer plays with the line “I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota,” a line that always makes me smile. Jesse Langlais’ work on banjo also makes me smile. Jack Deveraux joins the band on pedal steel on this track, a very nice addition.

CD Track List
  1. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  2. Big River
Town Mountain is based in Asheville, North Caroline, and features Jesse Langlais on banjo and vocals, Robert Greer on guitar and vocals, Phil Barker on mandolin and vocals, Bobby Britt on fiddle, and Adam Chaffins on bass. Joining them for this release are Evan Martin on drums, Jon Stickley on bass and guitar, and Jack Deveraux on pedal steel.

The Dead Session was released on November 13, 2015. By the way, the cover art for this CD was done by Taylor Swope, who also designed one of the official posters for the recent Fare Thee Well series of shows, as well as the official poster for the Furthur 2009-2010 New Year’s show.