Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Lucky Losers: “In Any Town” (2016) CD Review

The Lucky Losers are a San Francisco-based band featuring both female and male lead vocals. The vocalists – Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz – each have successful solo careers as well, and teamed up a couple of years ago. They put out their first full-length CD, A Winning Hand, last year. Now they’re following it up with In Any Town, featuring mostly original material. The music has a bluesy base, yet this is overall a very fun album. And with all the craziness going on in the world today, we need this music, which is largely enjoyable and positive. Joining them on this CD are Marvin Greene on guitar, Chris Burns on keyboards, Tim Wagar on bass and Robi Bean on drums. Several other musicians join them on certain tracks.

They begin the album with “So High,” which was written by Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron. Berkowitz and Caron have been writing together for a while, having co-written several tracks on Berkowitz’s solo album All Night Party, which Caron also co-produced. The track opens with a bit of studio banter before kicking in with a bluesy rock feel and some nice work on harmonica by Phil Berkowitz. The tune is a fun love song, opening with these lines: “Me and my sweet baby got a good thing going on/Got a love so strong that will never grow old/Because every time we kiss, we’re like two little kids/Forever young and forever bold.” Kit Andersen plays lead guitar on this track, and Lisa Leuschner Andersen provides backing vocals. That’s followed by “It Ain’t Enough,” which was written by Cathy Lemons. This one has a meaner and cooler blues vibe, and features Cathy on lead vocals. “Give me a prayer/I’m sinking fast/I’m outta time now/My best days are past.” In one verse, the backing vocals repeating “Change it” have an early 1970s R&B feel, which is wonderful. I also like the work on keys. A longer version of this song was released as a single, and the album version is lacking my favorite verse (which has lines like “You love me for my crimes/And all my sins/My mind is just a shallow grave/That you can whisper in”).

“Jackson” is one of the album’s two covers, and it comes as something of a surprise, since I’m mainly familiar with the country versions of this song. But it was co-written by Jerry Leiber, who is of course known for co-writing (with Mike Stoller) many of the early rock and roll hits. The version by The Lucky Losers is closer to that by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood than to, say, that by Johnny Cash and June Carter. The Lucky Losers have a lot of fun with this song, tossing in little responses like Phil’s “Don’t mind if I do” after Cathy sings “We’ll go on down to Jackson,” and Phil’s “What’s left of it” after Cathy sings “Go comb your hair.” Sure, it’s a bit goofy, but it’s fun.

It’s followed by what is probably my favorite track of the CD, “Don’t Let ‘Em See Ya Cry,” which was written by Cathy Lemons. This song has an excellent old blues vibe, with wonderful work on keys, a seriously cool lead guitar part, and a fantastic horn section. Michael Peloquin is on saxophone, Mike Rose is on trumpet and Mike Rinta is on trombone. All of that is great, and there is a delicious instrumental section, but it is Cathy Lemons’ voice that really sells this track. “They say I sold my soul/They say I don’t love you, baby/Now I got nowhere to go/But I don’t pay it no mind/I just walk the line/And I won’t, no I won’t ever let them see me cry.” The horn section also plays on “Blind Man In The Dark,” with Terry Hanck doing the tenor saxophone lead part.

“I Can’t Change Ya” is another fun tune, with a wonderful energy. I have to imagine this one must be a highlight of the group’s live performances. There is some goofy vocal play at the end that actually made me laugh out loud. Phil sings, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” to which Cathy responds, “But baby we’re always broke.” Phil then says, “Yeah, but you said we were going to stick together through thick and thin,” to which Cathy says, “Yeah, but if things get a little bit too thick, I’m going to have to thin out, kind of like your hair.” Franck Goldwasser plays guitar on this track.

“In Any Town,” the CD’s title track, is mellower, more intimate and serious tune. There is a vulnerability to the vocals, and a beauty to the song. “Oh, I’m so tired/Of people telling me/What I can and cannot do/This little town is driving me mad/Trying to keep me away from you.” I love Phil’s work on harmonica. This song is another of my favorites. It’s followed by another serious number, “Devil’s Dream,” which has something of a heavier feel. “Come on, show your face/Show it to me now/Ain’t got no more to lose/No more, no how.” The album concludes with its other cover tune, “Small Town Talk,” a song written by Bobby Charles Guidry and Rick Danko. Both Bobby Charles and Rick Danko recorded the song, as did Boz Scaggs, Paul Butterfield, Paul Thorn and Shannon McNally, among others. The Lucky Losers do a really good job with it.

CD Track List
  1. So High
  2. It Ain’t Enough
  3. Jackson
  4. Don’t Let ‘Em See Ya Cry
  5. Blind Man In The Dark
  6. I Can’t Change Ya
  7. Still Enough Time To Cry
  8. Give Me A Sign
  9. In Any Town
  10. Devil’s Dream
  11. Small Town Talk 
In Any Town was released on July 15, 2016 on Dirty Cat Records.

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