Monday, November 28, 2016

Annie Marie Lewis: “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas In The USA” (2014) CD Review

It’s that time of year, there’s no denying it. I was stopped at a light on Gower earlier today, and was surprised to hear Christmas music blaring from the car next to mine. But why not?  There is plenty of bad Christmas music out there, but fortunately there are some good CDs available to help get you in the holiday spirit. Annie Marie Lewis’ A Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas In The USA is one of the better ones. I do need to point out first that there is an error in the album’s title. It is listed as “A Rock N’ Roll Christmas,” but of course the “N” needs an apostrophe on either side for it to mean “and” (Guns N’ Roses has the same issue, and is one reason I just can’t stand that band). On this album, Annie Marie Lewis delivers rock and roll and rockabilly-flavored takes on some of the holiday’s standard fare. And the music is clearly in her blood; she is the niece of Jerry Lee Lewis, the daughter of Linda Gail Lewis, and the cousin of Mickey Gilley. She is joined by Danny B. Harvey on guitar, piano and bass. This is a really good album, despite its opening with what I consider to be one of the worst songs ever written, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For my analysis of that song, click here.

She follows “Rudolph” with “Santa Baby,” one of the holiday’s sexier songs. There is always a wink in the vocals when singing the line, “I’ve been an awful good girl.” As a side note, no matter how many times I sing this song, no one has slipped a sable coat under the tree for me. Of course, I don’t have a tree, but that is beside the point, isn’t it? Maybe this year… Anyway, Annie Marie Lewis delivers a playful, delicious rendition. “Come and trim my Christmas tree.”

The album’s title track, “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas” (or, as it’s printed, “A Rock N’ Roll Christmas”), is an original tune written by Danny Harvey, though borrowing a bit from The Ramones’ “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.” “It’s the night before Christmas, and all through the house/Everybody is rocking, even the mouse/The whiskey is flowing while the records play/We’re going to rock it ‘til the break of day.” Not a bad way to spend the holiday, eh? And this is certainly a great song to play at your Christmas party. Everyone can get into the action, no matter his or her normal demeanor: “The Grinch is boppin’ with Ebenezer Scrooge.” Then her version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” really swings.

One Christmas song that is perfectly made for this album is “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and originally done by Elvis Presley. I really dig Annie Marie Lewis’ vocal delivery, and I can’t help but love that piano. It’s followed by “Frosty The Snowman,” which is one of those holiday songs that I could do without. That being said, this is possibly the best version I’ve heard. It has a classic rock and roll feel, with a youthful innocence about it, and has a nice instrumental section. I also like what Annie Marie Lewis does with “Deck The Halls,” making it cooler than it’s probably ever been before. I like the sort of steady rhythm in the vocal line that works with the drums. It’s kind of simple, but effective.

“Hush Lil’ Baby (Merry Christmas)” is a tune attributed to Danny Harvey, but it’s really a combination of other songs. It has a Bo Diddley beat, and sounds quite a bit like The Strangeloves’ “I Want A Candy,” but with lines from “Hush, Little Baby,” the traditional lullaby. For “The First Noel,” Annie Marie Lewis offers a more traditional interpretation, not adding much rock and/or roll to it.

“Little Drummer Boy” has always been one of my favorites of the traditional Christmas tunes, even before Joan Jett released her version (though it was her rendition that cemented my love for the song). Annie Marie Lewis gives this one a fast and full drum beat, with a classic rock and roll guitar over it. This is one that will be perfect for your holiday party. She then ends the CD with “Merry Christmas Baby,” another of the holiday’s best tunes. She delivers a good rendition of this smooth and sexy rhythm and blues number. At one point the guitar does a little “Jingle Bells” tease. And I love that piano part in the second half of the song. Annie Marie Lewis whispers the last line of the song, and thus of the album, as if directly to each of us, “Merry Christmas, baby.” Oh yes!

CD Track List
  1. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  2. Santa Baby
  3. Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas
  4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  5. Santa Claus Is Back In Town
  6. Frosty The Snowman
  7. Deck The Halls
  8. Hush Lil’ Baby (Merry Christmas)
  9. O Come All Ye Faithful
  10. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
  11. The First Noel
  12. Blue Christmas
  13. Little Drummer Boy
  14. Merry Christmas Baby
A Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas In The USA was released in December of 2014 on Rockabilly Records, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Steven Graves: “Captain Soul” (2017) CD Review

Steven Graves is a singer, guitarist and songwriter based in Santa Cruz, California. He has six albums out, with a seventh on the way. This new one, Captain Soul, has a different feel from his previous release, Mission Bell. While that album is largely dominated by folk and country sounds, Captain Soul is more of a rock album, apparent right from its opening track, the lively and bluesy “Light Turns To Day.” That of course doesn’t mean that the lyrics don’t have substance. Here is a taste from that opening track: “A seer and a seeker/A warrior of the light/Two worlds collide/And waves crashing through the night/I’m carried away, I’m carried away/Carried on down the road/Try to find the will to live/So I can carry this heavy load.” I like the backing vocals on this track, provided by Alysha Antonino, Tammi Brown and Bryan Dyer. The familiar message here that “Love conquers all” is one that we need to be reminded of these days, as our frustrations and shock easily turn to anger. The song becomes a good jam toward the end.

That’s followed by “Man From A Different Planet,” in which Steven Graves sings, “I’m a man from a different planet/My people look kind of strange/I don’t know what I’m doing here/But some things have got to change.” Oh yes, a lot of us feel that way these days, eh? And we’ll all be turning to music more than ever, I imagine, for answers, or at least for some comfort. This song has a fun, upbeat energy, and then nearly three minutes in, it takes an abrupt turn, toward a Pink Floyd sort of vibe, and ends with a little nod to David Bowie. Apparently the song was being recorded when they got the news of David Bowie’s death.

I like that song a lot, but “Walk With Me” might be my favorite. It has a sweeter vibe, and is a song you can really latch onto. You know? It features some gentle horns and nice work on piano, plus a good, passionate vocal performance. Yes, it’s exactly the kind of song I’m looking for and needing now. “Won’t you walk with me/To a better day.” Wonderful.

There are more positive vibes on “Somewhere, Somehow,” in which Steven sings, “I don’t want to hear about all the things that are wrong/I just want to feel your love and keep singing my song/It’s all right, baby, yeah, it’s all right now/We’re all going to find some love someday somehow.” Armen Boyd adds some great touches on saxophone. Then in “Fly Like The Dove,” Steven sings, “You gotta find peace/You gotta find love,” a good message for these days. And yes, with the children’s choir singing, it’s a song that ordinarily I would find several shades of cheesy, but things have shifted enough that this song is actually hitting me in a fairly strong way. I would still cut out the child talking at the end, however.

“Heaven In Your Hands” has a mellow, passionate beauty which I appreciate. “They said we’d be together/’Til death do us apart/What we had was eternal love/Straight from the heart/Minutes turn to hours/Hours turn to days/Before you know it, it’s come and gone/As the time just slips away.” Bruce Wandmayer plays pedal steel on this track, and Art Alm provides some sweet, sad stuff on piano. The CD then concludes with another of my favorites, “Another Day.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I want to know before I go/That I gave it all I had/That I loved everyone I could/Through the good and the bad/Life is what you make it/Or so they say/I’m just hanging on/Because tomorrow is another day.” And in these questionable times, these lines have a special and clear meaning: “There’s so much love in this world/But darkness has a way/Of taking all that is good/And stealing, stealing it all away.”

CD Track List
  1. Light Turns To Day
  2. Man From A Different Planet
  3. Walk With Me
  4. Somewhere, Somehow
  5. Take You For A Ride
  6. Fly Like The Dove
  7. Forever Wild
  8. Called Her An Angel
  9. No One Left To Blame
  10. Heaven In Your Hands
  11. Another Day 
Captain Soul is scheduled to be released on January 4, 2017.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Don Rich And The Buckaroos: “Guitar Pickin’ Man” (2016) CD Review

Guitar Pickin’ Man is a new compilation of some great tracks Don Rich recorded as a member of The Buckaroos, the band that backed Buck Owens. And yes, Buck Owens plays on a few of this disc’s tracks. A lot of these songs were written or co-written by Don Rich, some with Buck Owens. A third of the collection’s songs are instrumentals. This CD does contain one track that was previously unreleased, and includes new liner notes by Don’s sons, Vance and Vic, as well as several photos.

This compilation opens with its title track, “Guitar Pickin’ Man,” a fun country song written by Don Rich. “I do everything that I want to/And I do it every time I can/I’m a woman-stealing, double-dealing, guitar pickin’ man.” The version here, “Hee Haw Version,” was recorded on May 22, 1973, and this is the CD’s previously unissued track. It features Jerry Brightman on steel guitar. “So don’t you try to change me, even if you think you can.”

That’s followed by “Chaparral,” the first of the disc’s instrumental tracks. It was composed by Bob Morris and Don Rich, and originally appeared on The Buckaroos’ A Night On The Town. “Bossa Nova Buckaroo Style” is the collection’s most unusual instrumental, dipping as it does (as you’d expect from the title) into bossa nova. There is some great guitar work here. Maybe my favorite instrumental on this disc is “Chicken Pickin’,” which is really cool, with a catchy, playful guitar part. The other instrumental tracks are “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch,” the playful “Aw Heck” and “Ensendada,” the last of which was written by Don Rich and Buck Owens.

“Wham Bam” is another fun country song featuring the line “Wham bam, thank you ma’am,” a line also used in David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” later on. Prior to this Buckaroos recording from 1965, the line was used as the title of a Charles Mingus tune appearing on the 1961 record Oh Yeah.  I’m not sure if that’s the origin of the line or not. If anyone knows, please let me know. I’m curious. “Wham bam thank you ma’am, I’ll be on my way/Thank you , but no thank you, not today/First thing is matrimony and next thing is alimony.” I love the little laugh in Don’s voice on the word “I’ll” in the first line. This track was on the Buck Owens And His Buckaroos album I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail.

“Out Of My Mind” is one of those delicious sad country songs about unrequited love and pain and threats of going completely mad. “I’ll go out of my mind completely, it’s true/If you don’t start to love me the way that I love you.” Ah yes. “Out Of My Mind” was written by Red Simpson and Don Rich, and is one of my favorite tracks. It was originally included on the 1967 release America’s Most Wanted Band. That’s followed by “I’m A-Comin’ Back Home To You,” which features some nice work on piano. “But now I’m sure that it’s you for me/And none else will ever do/So get your wedding dress on/’Cause when I finish this song/I’m a-comin’ back home to you.” This one was also written by Don Rich and Red Simpson.

“Down At The Corner Bar” is another fun tune about going to the bar rather than going home. It was written by Barney Carl and Johnny Booth, and included on the 1969 record Roll Your Own (and also recorded by Tony Booth in 1972). “And like as not, I’ll have some old floozy in my arms/Down at the corner bar.” Maybe it’s just my mood, but the one that’s really hitting me this evening is the sweet “You Bring Out The Best In Me,” which was written by Bob Morris, and features Tom Brumley on steel guitar. Check out these lyrics: “I used to be a lonely man/Without even one single plan/I didn’t really care before/Who walked in or out my door/Darling, then you came along/Then all my loneliness was gone/Now my life’s more than just a dream/You bring out the best in me.” Wonderful, right? And Don’s vocals are perfect.

I also love “One More Time,” a groovy tune which has some gospel flavor in the backing vocals. This is from the 1970 record Rompin’ & Stompin’ and is a lively number with nice touches on harmonica. The collection then concludes with “Sally Was A Good Old Girl,” the earliest recording to be included here, from the 1963 album On The Bandstand. You’ll be singing along with this one before long. “If you wanted just a kiss or a little bitty squeeze/She was always willing to do her best to please/Yeah, girls were made to love and not made to tease/Sally was a good old girl.”

CD Track List
  1. Guitar Pickin’ Man (Hee Haw Version)
  2. Chaparral
  3. Wham Bam
  4. Bossa Nova Buckaroo Style
  5. Out Of My Mind
  6. I’m A-Comin’ Back Home To You
  7. Chicken Pickin’
  8. Down At The Corner Bar
  9. Hello California
  10. Meanwhile Back At The Ranch
  11. Take Care Of You For Me In Kansas City
  12. Aw Heck
  13. Number One Heel
  14. You Bring Out The Best In Me
  15. Happy Son Of A Gun
  16. Ensenada
  17. One More Time
  18. Sally Was A Good Old Girl
Guitar Pickin’ Man is scheduled to be released on December 16, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Eddy Arnold: “The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings” (2016) CD Review

Every autumn brings us the release (and re-release) of many Christmas albums. Boy, has any other day on the calendar inspired so much music? St. Patrick’s Day certainly has the best music of any holiday, but most of it wasn’t composed specifically for that day. Many artists have recorded more than one Christmas record, and such is the case with Eddy Arnold, who released a Christmas LP in 1962, as well as several holiday singles. The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings collects all of Eddy Arnold’s holiday releases from between 1949 and 1967 on a single disc. Here he delivers some of the holiday’s most popular songs, as well as some more interesting, less known tunes. On this disc, he sometimes gives us more than one version of a particular song, and unlike a lot of compilations, these different versions in most cases really are noticeably different. He’s not repeating himself. And while I might not need two versions of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” or three versions of “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S,” I’m very happy to have the two renditions of “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” and the two versions of “White Christmas.” He mixes country and pop elements on these recordings, but it is his beautiful voice that is the star here.

This collection opens with the 1949 version of “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S,” a song that Eddy Arnold co-wrote with Jenny Lou Carson. This one is much more firmly in the country realm than some of his later recordings. “When I was but a youngster/Christmas meant one thing/That I’d be getting lots of toys that day.” This compilation includes two more versions of this song, the first from 1950, which features organ, the other from 1962, which uses a different effect on Eddy Arnold’s vocals, and has more of a folk feel.

Eddy Arnold also co-wrote “Will Santy Come To Shanty Town,” along with Ed Nelson Jr. and Steven Nelson. This compilation includes two versions of this song. The first is from 1949, and was the flip side to “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S,” and is a much better song than that A side. “Will Santy come to shanty town/To a poor little boy like me/Will he bring me some toys/Like the other girls and boys.” This is a wonderful country Christmas tune. The second version is from 1962 and is somewhat shorter and more polished. There are also two versions of “White Christmas,” the first, featuring organ, was released as a single in 1950. The second version is from 1962, and begins with guitar. Both versions are good, but I think I prefer the second one.

One of my favorite songs on this disc is “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away,” written by Boudleaux Bryant, who co-wrote the great “Rocky Top” as well as several excellent hits for The Everly Brothers. This song has a sweet vibe, which I love. And Eddy Arnold’s vocal performance is wonderful. “Mom will get that doodad she’s been craving/And Dad will get his usual Christmas tie.” Ah, poor Dad, always so difficult to shop for. There is a second version of this song, a somewhat slower, passionate rendition. I love both versions.

I also love “I’m Your Private Santa Claus,” a fun, playful song with some surprising, perhaps unintentional, sexual innuendo. “On Christmas eve, you’ll find me/Climbing down your chimney/With love and kisses in my pack/And baby, I ain’t climbing back.” That’s followed by another playful tune, “A Present For Santa Claus,” which has a delightful innocence. It’s presented as duet with a child, and actually that’s Eddy Arnold’s daughter singing with him. I love the way she sings lines like, “I’ll give him candy kisses if it won’t seem bold.” I’ll be adding these songs to my holiday playlist.

I also really like his slow, thoughtful rendition of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” And he delivers a really pretty and moving version of “Silent Night.” What a great voice! “This World Of Ours (Cette nuit-là)” is a beautiful song that I don’t think I’d heard before, and again features an excellent vocal performance. This CD also includes two brief spoken greetings, the first a Christmas message, the second a New Year’s message.

CD Track List
  1. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S
  2. Will Santy Come To Shanty Town
  3. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S
  4. White Christmas
  5. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
  6. Christmas Can’t Be Far Away
  7. I’m Your Private Santa Claus
  8. A Present For Santa Claus
  9. Sittin’ On Santa Claus’ Lap
  10. Christmas Greeting
  11. Christmas Can’t Be Far Away
  12. Will Santy Come To Shanty Town
  13. Jingle Bell Rock
  14. White Christmas
  15. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
  16. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S
  17. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
  18. Winter Wonderland
  19. Up On The Housetop
  20. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
  21. Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
  22. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
  23. Silent Night
  24. The Angel And The Stranger
  25. This World Of Ours (Cette nuit-là)
  26. New Year’s Greetings
The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings was released on November 4, 2016 through Real Gone Music. Also released on that date was The Ventures’ Christmas Album Deluxe Expanded Mono & Stereo Edition.

The Ventures: “The Ventures’ Christmas Album Deluxe Expanded Mono & Stereo Edition” (2016) CD Review

Some of the best Christmas albums are the instrumental ones, in part because a lot of Christmas songs have terrible lyrics. One of the coolest, and more unusual, instrumental Christmas records is The Ventures’ Christmas Album, which has now been released in an expanded edition, featuring both the mono and stereo versions. Though this record has been re-issued several times over the years, apparently the mono version has never before been available on CD. On this album, The Ventures take an interesting approach to some familiar Christmas songs, combining them with pop hits of the day (it was 1965 when the album was first released), hooking you with a well-known bit from a rock and roll song before sliding into the holiday tune.

The album opens with “Sleigh Ride,” which actually starts with the opening of “Walk, Don’t Run,” a song The Ventures used as the title track of their 1960 debut LP. And it’s remarkable how well and how easily they are able to combine the two tunes. And yes, this version makes me appreciate “Sleigh Ride” more than I otherwise would. After all, this is a seriously fun rendition. That’s followed by what sounds like “Greensleeves,” but which is titled “Snow Flakes,” The Ventures’ own take on that traditional song.

The Ventures’ version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” opens with the beginning of “Wooly Bully,” a song they covered on another of their 1965 releases, The Ventures A Go-Go. Yeah, this band put out a lot of records; if you include all the live albums and compilations, the total is something like two hundred. Holy moly! So how does a band go about making “Jingle Bells” a cool song? Pair it with Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” That’s what The Ventures do here, getting us excited by beginning the track with a bit of “What’d I Say” before going into that overplayed holiday song. Fortunately, they return to “What’d I Say,” using that rhythm under the “Jingle Bells” theme. This is as good as “Jingle Bells” is ever likely to get, folks. They follow that with “Jingle Bell Rock,” which they combine with Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” Oh yes, help me, information, get in touch with my Marie. And then wish her a happy Christmas for me. The Ventures then do more of a straight forward rendition of “Silver Bells,” giving it a kind of folk-rock vibe at the start, which works quite well. This is one of my favorite renditions of this song.

One holiday song I really detest is “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (you can read my critique of that song here), but The Ventures add some Beatles to it, beginning their version with a bit of “I Feel Fine.” This track, for me, has the most awkward and forced transition, and maybe that’s because The Beatles are one of the best bands ever, and “Rudolph” is one of the worst songs ever. Whatever the reason, this track just doesn’t work for me. They follow it with another of the holiday’s weaker offerings, “Frosty The Snowman,” pairing it with “Tequila.” (Adding tequila to your Christmas celebration is certainly a good idea. It’s hard to imagine getting through the holiday season without it, actually.) They give us a good amount of “Tequila” before going into “Frosty,” and then return to “Tequila” frequently throughout the track.

“Scrooge” is an unusual tune. First of all, there are lyrics. Well, a lyric. The song begins with a shout of “Humbug!” That is followed by a demented laugh. Also, this is an original composition, written by Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, Mel Taylor and Don Wilson. It doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the songs on this album, but I like it. They follow that with a good, rather jovial rendition of “Blue Christmas,” which has a bit of that folk-rock feel. They wrap up the album with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “White Christmas.” The mono album is presented first, followed by the stereo version.

CD Track List
  1. Sleigh Ride
  2. Snow Flakes
  3. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
  4. Jingle Bells
  5. Jingle Bell Rock
  6. Silver Bells
  7. Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
  8. Frosty The Snowman
  9. Scrooge
  10. Blue Christmas
  11. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  12. White Christmas
  13. Sleigh Ride
  14. Snow Flakes
  15. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
  16. Jingle Bells
  17. Jingle Bell Rock
  18. Silver Bells
  19. Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
  20. Frosty The Snowman
  21. Scrooge
  22. Blue Christmas
  23. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  24. White Christmas
The Ventures’ Christmas Album Deluxe Expanded Mono & Stereo Edition was released on November 4, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Reverend Freakchild: “Illogical Optimism” (2016) CD Review

Reverend Freakchild’s new album, Illogical Optimism (a title I really like), is a three-disc set full of blues, as well as rock, folk and country related to the blues, with some interesting covers. The second disc is a series of variations on “All I Got Is Now” (a song from his previous release, Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues), while the third disc is actually a Ramblin’ Jennings CD.

Disc 1: Odds, Ends And Other Amazingness

Reverend Freakchild kicks off the first disc with a strange, bluesy take on John Lennon’s most famous and most moving song, “Imagine.” In general, I don’t like when people put their own spin on this song, but I have to admit I dig this interpretation. His vocal approach reminds me just a bit of Martin Sexton. He then gives us a great dose of New Orleans fun with “Hey Pocky A-Way,” a party song originally done by The Meters (though the first time I heard the song, it was a version by the Grateful Dead). Reverend Freakchild does a great job with it, and there is a section with just drums and vocals. I also love the piano. Have yourself a little Mardi Gras party any time of the year. The fun continues with “I Still Have Joy,” with a delicious choir joining in this gospel celebration. “Thank God I still have joy.”

Reverend Freakchild then dips into country with a good version of “Cryin’ Holy Unto The Lord.” Of course, this rendition has a good dose of blues, and features a wonderful vocal performance, as well as some great stuff on guitar. And then check out the harmonica on “Who You Do Love.” Reverend Freakchild changes the age of the character of that song, singing, “I’m just forty-three but I don’t mind dying.” He then delivers an interesting and surprising rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” It begins sort of like a rock rendition, then suddenly goes in a different direction, toward ska, and with a sort of spoken word delivery. Yes, unexpected, and yet it works really well. “There are many here among us that feel that life is but a joke/But you and I, we’ve been through all of that/And by no means is this our fate.” And, oddly, in the next line, “So please let us not talk falsely now,” he starts to sing, “So please let us talk falsely,” but catches himself on “ta-”and then corrects himself: “not talk falsely.” And what’s that, a didgeridoo solo? What a crazy version. And it leads into “Shark Boogie,” a silly song that begins with a nod to Jaws, then goes into ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” sort of. “So I had this strange dream about Jennifer Tilly and the Dalai Lama/We was in the studio, doing some remixes, man.” There is one lick on guitar that is repeated a few times which reminds me of The Misfits. And there is a joke about jumping the shark.

“Sweet Sweet You” comes as a surprise, with a kind of dark folk feel and lyrics that mention John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson. “The only thing missing was you/Sweet, sweet you.” It’s one of my favorite tracks. That’s followed by a fantastic, hard, powerful rendition of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” another of the disc’s highlights.

Reverend Freakchild opened the album with a John Lennon song, and toward the end of the first disc does another John Lennon composition, “Yer Blues,” from The Beatles’ self-titled double album. He really focuses on the song’s heavy blues edge, and this rendition seems to have a more serious feel than the original. Then, after “Even hate my rock and roll,” the band changes tempo, and gives it more of a rock feel, turning the tune into a jam. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is another song I first heard from the Grateful Dead, and here Reverend Freakchild delivers a cool, loose rendition.

The first disc concludes with “Plastic Jesus/Working On A Building,” an interesting combination, and a bizarre track. “Plastic Jesus” contains the sound effect of a car starting after the line about the “Plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car.” And then it just gets weird, going from John Cougar’s “Jack And Diane” to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” to lines from Hannah And Her Sisters, and eventually getting to a funky version of “Working On A Building.”

Disc 2: Everything Is Now

The second disc contains variations on “All I Got Is Now,” a song that was the lead-off track on Reverend Freakchild’s Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues, which was released last year. This disc contains a lot of different sounds, different types of music, such as blues, reggae and punk. Some are wonderful (like the folk version), others less so (like “The Bardo Of This Life,” which got on my nerves after a while). The first track, “Once Upon A Time Called Right Now,” is a bit of goofy funk – goofy mainly in the exaggerated vocal delivery. “Use some extra psychedelic mayonnaise on it.”  That’s followed by a blues rock version of “All I Got Is Now.” “Yesterday’s a history/Tomorrow’s all a mystery/All I got is now/I keep forgetting that somehow.” Oh, we all tend to forget that, don’t we?

There is also a slow reggae rendition, with an appropriate change to the Jesus line. One of my favorites is “All Gotta Na’,” a folk version featuring harmonica. This take on the song works really well, and has a loose, lively vibe. I also really dig the French version. I wish this three-disc set contained more information about these tracks; for example, who is singing on this track? Well, whoever it is does a great job.

“Everything Is Now…” is a slow, deliberate rendition with a haunting quality. It’s the longest version on this disc, at more than eight minutes. The second disc then concludes with a cool, slow bluesy instrumental version titled “Now?” This is another of the disc’s highlights.

Disc 3: Kairos

The third disc is from Ramblin’ Jennings, and features mostly original material. This is acoustic blues, with a great raw feel and a gospel bent. The disc opens with “Safe In The Storm,” with a prominent harmonica. “Lord, keep me, keep me safe in this storm/You know I’m just a lonely pilgrim.” One of my favorites is “Please Send Me,” which begins with some loose guitar. Ramblin’ Jennings’ vocals have a soulful, rough quality. This song feels like it comes at the end of an eventful, tough, tiring day, or even life. Then on “Sinner Blues,” his vocals are accompanied only by harmonica. “Lord help me, Jesus/Help me change my wrongs to rights.”

Now let’s try something a little bit different here,” he says before starting “Silver Sandals,” another of my personal favorites. This one has something of a sweeter, more intimate tone. “She is part of something that is beautiful/A pretty little part of a great big plan/Somebody loves her/Somebody holds her.” It’s a passionate, wonderful song. Ramblin’ Jennings follows that with a rendition of “John The Revelator” delivered a cappella. The third disc then concludes with “Last Train Blues,” a lively number featuring harmonica. “I’m going to ride that train to freedom/Won’t be coming back.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Imagine
  2. Hey Pocky A-Way
  3. I Still Have Joy
  4. Cryin’ Holy Unto The Lord
  5. Who Do You Love
  6. All Along The Watchtower
  7. Shark Boogie
  8. Pretty Boy Floyd
  9. Sweet Sweet You
  10. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
  11. Big Mouth Blues
  12. Hell Hound On My Trail
  13. Yer Blues
  14. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
  15. Plastic Jesus/Working On A Building 
Disc 2
  1. Once Upon A Time Called Right Now
  2. All I Got Is Now (Low Society Remix)
  3. All We Got Is
  4. All I Got Is Now (DJ Billy E Remix)
  5. Alla Gotta Na’
  6. All I Want Is Now!
  7. The Bardo Of This Life
  8. Ich Hab Nur Diesen Augenblick
  9. Tout ce que j’ai, c’est maintenant (All You Need Is Now)
  10. All Is Now
  11. Everything Is Now…
  12. Now?
Disc 3
  1. Safe In The Storm
  2. I Saw A Wheel
  3. Please Send Me
  4. Sinner Blues
  5. Livin’ And Dyin’
  6. Silver Sandals
  7. John The Revelator
  8. Last Train Blues
Illogical Optimism was released June 1, 2016 through Treated And Released Records.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Marcus Corbett: “Every Little Spirit” (2016) CD Review

Marcus Corbett is a talented guitarist, singer and composer who divides his time between England and India. His new album, Every Little Spirit, shows the influences of these two places on his music. This CD follows his 2013 release, Strung Deep, and its opening track, “Strung Deep,” is actually a reworking of a tune from that earlier CD, “Castanets.”  “Strung Deep” is a beautiful, wonderful track that immediately transports me out of my current surroundings. And hey, isn’t that what all of us in the U.S. want right about now? America has proved itself a failure, and so all escape routes seem attractive, none more so than music. And this song features some excellent vocals by Saylee Talwalkar, Sam Williams and Marcus Corbett. “Yeah, I woke up from a deep sleep.” There is a very positive, bright feel to this music, an optimism that I want to hold onto. Nitin Gaikwad is on tabla and Milind Date is on bansuri.

“Strung Deep” is followed by “Loving Kind,” a song that had me smiling approximately fifteen seconds in. This too has a positive energy. Something about that main guitar line works on me in a delightful way, like gently insisting that the world is a good place and that we really have no option but to be grateful for its beauty. And the flute is a part of that beauty. Sharanappa Guttaragi is on tabla on this track.

“No Time” begins with tabla, before the strings come in. Sachin Ingale and Sanjay Upadhye are on violin, and Bruno Guastalla is on cello, and for a while this track is a rather relaxing instrumental. Then, it seems to me, slight touches of chaos are introduced to the sound. And yet the pulse of the song remains true, which again seems to offer hope. “No Time” leads directly into “Get Set Free.” “And when am I going to get my money back?” That line surprises me every time, seeming at odds with the sort of spiritual, beautiful sounds created.

“Loving Kind (Extended) Pt. I” takes that wonderful feel of the second track and expands upon it. The first time I listened to this CD, something about this one reminded me of certain tunes by Donovan, some of the tracks from his Hurdy Gurdy Man album. This is a nice long track, more than thirteen minutes, and it slides straight into the next track, “Loving Kind (Extended) Pt. II,” with the percussion playing a prominent part.

“Sitting On A Cloud” has a different vibe, with a somewhat darker sound at the start, the way the guitar is tuned, and the way it works in conjunction with the violins. Anjali Singde-Rao and Sanjay Upadhye are on violin on this track. Also, it seems to have a strange progressive rock bent at certain moments, and some lines are delivered almost as spoken word. This is a really intriguing tune, and it takes a couple of interesting turns. At almost seventeen minutes, it certainly has the room to explore those different avenues. The song leads directly into “Nothing More Than This,” which concludes the CD. “Nothing more than this will pass my lips.”

CD Track List
  1. Strung Deep
  2. Loving Kind
  3. No Time
  4. Get Set Free
  5. Loving Kind (Extended) Pt. I
  6. Loving Kind (Extended) Pt. II
  7. Sitting On A Cloud
  8. Nothing More Than This
Every Little Spirit was released on October 17, 2016.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Holly Bowling: “Better Left Unsung” (2016) CD Review

My favorite song is “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead. For the title of Holly Bowling’s new CD, Better Left Unsung, she chose a phrase from the lyrics of that song (from the lines, “The thoughts are broken/Perhaps they’re better left unsung”). And though she doesn’t cover “Ripple” here, it’s still a perfect title for an album of instrumental renditions of Grateful Dead songs. This is a two-disc album of solo piano versions of some the band’s best material. And if you think that because it’s a solo effort,  there will be no exploration, think again. Even in the first track, Holly Bowling finds some interesting places to go. And the second disc contains some fairly lengthy tracks, including a half-hour “Dark Star.” Better Left Unsung is Holly’s second release, following last year’s Distillation Of A Dream: The Music Of Phish Reimagined For Solo Piano, on which (as you might surmise) she covers material by Phish. Better Left Unsung contains more than two hours of music.

Holly Bowling kicks off this two-disc album with “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot!” The Dead often opened a set with these tunes, and so it feels a rather appropriate way to get things going. And as with the Dead, Holly Bowling uses the “Slipknot!” portion of the track to explore. And as the Dead did, Holly goes from “Slipknot!” directly to “Franklin’s Tower,” which is presented as a separate track.  This is a delicious (though fairly short) version. I especially like that delicate moment where Holly plays softly; I found myself drawn in, listening more intently.

“Cassidy” is one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, and Holly’s rendition begins beautifully. She really focuses on the sweet and magical elements of the song, and the results are remarkable. This is one of my favorite tracks. It took me a moment to recognize “Bird Song,” but this is another tune with an inherent beauty, and Holly seems to know intuitively how to capitalize on that aspect of the material and bring it to the fore. This rendition is at times uplifting, though it does seem to end prematurely.

Who thought a version of “Wharf Rat” without Jerry Garcia’s vocals could be so moving? Of course, it’s impossible to listen to this rendition without hearing the lyrics in my head. “But I’ll get back on my feet someday.” Holly follows that with “Unbroken Chain,” a Grateful Dead song that isn’t often covered. In fact, the Dead themselves didn’t begin performing it in concert until what would turn out to be their final year. So it’s a treat to hear this really nice rendition. This song translates so well to this kind of treatment, and this is one of my favorite tracks. It’s absolutely wonderful.

After an interesting take on “Crazy Fingers,” Holly delivers a nice “Cryptical Envelopment,” which works really well on piano. “The Other One” isn’t quite as powerful on just piano as it is with the bass and drums (I always love Phil’s monster lick leading into this song), but it’s still cool. Holly then goes back into “Cryptical,” and I love how she chooses to end this track. She then concludes the first disc with a nice, sweet “Row Jimmy.”

The second disc, much like the Grateful Dead’s second set, contains longer tracks. It opens with “Terrapin Station (Suite),” a song that fans were always excited to hear the Dead do in concert. However, the Dead didn’t perform the complete song as presented on the 1977 record. They did the first couple of sections, going off into other tunes before “At A Siding.” On this CD, Holly does the entire song. She follows that with another personal favorite, “Eyes Of The World.” This was one I was always excited to see the band perform in concert (they played it at my very first show). The band did some pretty amazing versions of this song over the years, particularly in 1973 and 1974, when there was an extra section to the jam. Interestingly, Holly Bowling chooses a particular concert rendition of “Eyes Of The World” to translate to solo piano, that being the one from the show the Dead did at Freedom Hall on June 18, 1974. An excellent choice, as that is a very jazzy, groovy version. And yes, she does that extra bridge that I love. At that show in 1974, the Dead followed “Eyes Of The World” with “China Doll,” and here Holly does likewise, going straight into it, and delivering a gorgeous and moving rendition.

Holly then concludes this CD with that nice, long version of “Dark Star” that I mentioned earlier. It’s more than twenty-seven minutes long, and goes in plenty of interesting directions. This is one you want to listen to in the dark, with eyes closed, just letting the music take you where it will. It sounds like there is more than just piano here. This is a pretty amazing version of one of the Dead’s most beloved compositions.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Help On The Way > Slipknot!
  2. Franklin’s Tower
  3. Cassidy
  4. Bird Song
  5. Wharf Rat
  6. Unbroken Chain
  7. Crazy Fingers
  8. Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One
  9. Row Jimmy 
Disc 2
  1. Terrapin Station (Suite)
  2. Eyes Of The World
  3. China Doll
  4. Dark Star
Better Left Unsung is scheduled to be released December 9, 2016 through Royal Potato Family.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show Blu-ray Review

Two concert films from the mid-1960s are now being released on Blu-ray – The T.A.M.I. Show and The Big T.N.T. Show. These movies feature performances by James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Ray Charles, Donovan and many others, and are excellent documents of the music of the time. The films are being released as a two-disc set, which includes bonus material and a 35-page booklet.

Disc 1: The T.A.M.I. Show

The T.A.M.I. Show has been known under several titles, and the one on this disc is actually Teen-Age Command Performance. It a filmed concert that took place at The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1964, featuring Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and The Rolling Stones (among others). The concert is hosted by Jan and Dean, who ride in on skateboards, and who also perform a couple of songs themselves: “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” and “Sidewalk Surfin’” (during the latter, one takes a skateboard out of a guitar case and rides around on the stage). Most of the acts are joined by dancers on platforms behind them. The choreography is by David Winters, who is assisted by Toni Basil. Basil will always have a special place in my heart because of her dance with Davy Jones in Head. And actually, one of the dancers in this film is Teri Garr, who also appears in Head.

There are some excellent performances here, and the film is worth watching especially for James Brown And The Flames, who easily steal the show. Chuck Berry opens the concert with “Johnny B. Goode” followed by “Maybellene.” Interestingly, as Chuck is playing, Gerry And The Pacemakers take up their instruments, and then actually take over “Maybellene” halfway through. Very weird. They then go into “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” followed by “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” The audience of screaming teenagers is quite loud. Hey, it wasn’t just The Beatles that received that sort of wild adoration. There is also one older guy in a suit in the audience, who seems to be enjoying himself. Chuck Berry and Gerry And The Pacemakers trade off songs for a bit, with Chuck doing a very short version of “Sweet Little Sixteen,” as one hot chick with feathers dances behind him (apparently that’s Pam Freeman). By the way, you can’t see much of the band backing Chuck, but it’s The Wrecking Crew, which includes Leon Russell (look at him at the piano with short hair).  

Smokey Robinson And The Miracles do “That’s What Love Is Made Of,” “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Mickey’s Monkey.” And hey, are those cops in riot gear in the background? Marvin Gaye does a really good rendition of “Hitch Hike.” There is very little stage banter from the performers, but Jan and Dean do joke a bit occasionally while introducing an act (as with a fire extinguisher when introducing James Brown And The Flames). When introducing Lesley Gore, they sport sweatshirts that read, “Gore Gore Gore Gore.” Lesley Gore does one of my favorites, “You Don’t Own Me,” which was later covered by Joan Jett. Hey, what’s with the Vaseline on the camera lens for the close-ups? And yes, she does “It’s My Party,” taking it straight into “Judy’s Turn To Cry.”

One of the film’s highlights is the set by The Beach Boys (which apparently was taken out of several prints and wasn’t available on the bootleg videocassettes of this film). They start with “Surfin’ USA” and “I Get Around.” Then Brian Wilson takes over lead vocals for “Surfer Girl” (with more Vaseline on the camera lens). They wrap up their set with “Dance, Dance, Dance.” The Beach Boys are followed by Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas, who start with their big hit, “Little Children.” Interestingly, the other three songs of their set were all written by Lennon and/or McCartney, including the wonderful “From A Window,” a really cool tune. The Supremes do some of their hits, including “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go.” The Barbarians do just one song, “Hey Little Bird.”   

As I mentioned, James Brown And The Flames are easily the biggest attraction of the film. The dancers disappear, since James Brown does his own dancing, accompanied by The Flames, and needs no help. He starts with “Outta Sight,” and follows it with “Prisoner Of Love.” One of the drummer’s sticks goes flying. But things really get going with “Please, Please, Please.” Each time James Brown falls to the stage, the guys pretend to help him up. It’s a captivating performance. And then during “Night Train,” when James Brown asks, “Are you ready for the night train,” the crowd goes wild. It’s a fantastic set, and when The Rolling Stones follow, it’s a bit anti-climactic. However, it’s wonderful seeing this early footage of the Stones. There are no dancers on stage during the Stones’ set either. They interestingly begin their set with a Chuck Berry song, “Around And Around.” They also do “Off The Hook,” “Time Is On My Side” and “It’s All Over Now.” Then, introducing “I’m Alright,” Mick Jagger says: “Thank you very much. This is one we do. It’s called ‘It’s All Right.’” Mick plays maracas on that tune.

The dancers then do come back out, as do the other bands, and they close out the show with “Let’s Get Together.” The T.A.M.I. Show was directed by Steve Binder.

Disc 1 Special Features

The first disc contains several special features, including a commentary track by director Steve Binder with music historian Don Waller. Steve Binder talks about how the project came about, and about the movie’s theme song. He also explains that T.A.M.I. stands for Teenage Awards Music International. The stuff about how the whole thing was filmed and put together is really interesting and unusual. (“I was sitting in a makeshift control room, basically doing the camera cutting as they were performing,” Steve Binder says.) They talk about the dancers, the audience and about each of the acts, including about how The Beach Boys were cut out of the film and then put back in. This is a really good commentary track, and will be of interest to all music fans.

The special features also include an interview with Steve Binder, four radio spots, and the film’s trailer (the trailer’s narrator erroneously says The Beach Boys play “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena”). You can also watch the trailer with an introduction and commentary by John Landis, who was in the audience when the film was made.

Disc 2: The Big T.N.T. Show

The Big T.N.T. Show is a filmed concert from 1965, and originally released in 1966. It features performances by Joan Baez, The Byrds, Ray Charles, Donovan, The Lovin’ Spoonful and several other artists. During the opening credits sequence, there is a shot of The Trip, and on the marquee is Lovin’ Spoonful with The Grass Roots as the opener. Coming soon are The Miracles and Marvin Gaye, both of whom performed in the first film.  The Big T.N.T. Show was produced by Phil Spector and directed by Larry Peerce. The concert opens with David McCallum leading the band in an instrumental rendition of “Satisfaction,” which is interesting, as the Stones closed out the first film, but it’s a rather lackluster beginning. Things then get going with Ray Charles performing “What’d I Say,” which is fantastic. Some of the crowd goes nuts, but others are remarkably sedate. Petula Clark then sings “Downtown,” performing it from within the audience.

The Lovin’ Spoonful do “Do You Believe In Magic,” with a false start. It’s cool that it was left in the film. They follow that with “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice.” Both of these songs were hits for the band. It’s a treat then to see Bo Diddley perform, though it always seems weird that he sings about himself. Here he performs “Hey Bo Diddley” and “Bo Diddley.” I love that one of the three female backing vocalists also plays rhythm guitar. It’s odd to have Joan Baez follow Bo Diddley. Talk about a shift in gears. Joan plays within the audience, doing “500 Miles” and “There But For Fortune,” performing them solo. We then go back to Ray Charles, who does a really good, though very short, version of “Georgia On My Mind” and a fun rendition of “Let The Good Times Roll.” (Hey, look at the little boy with his fingers in his ears, trying to block out the sound of the screaming girls.) Joan Baez, seated next to Phil Spector on piano, then sings “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” which is a bit weird, as you might imagine. The Ronettes do their famous “Be My Baby” and “Shout,” accompanied by dancers. The band is in the orchestra pit rather than on stage this time.

It’s surprising how much the teenage girls freak out when Roger Miller is introduced. I like him, don’t get me wrong, but I would not have expected such a reaction from young girls. He does talk a bit about his music: “It’s not exactly rock music, it’s not exactly folk. It’s sort of depressive jazz.” And yes, he does “King Of The Road.” He follows it with the goofy “England Swings.” Check out the dancers during that song. David McCallum introduces The Byrds by quoting “Turn! Turn! Turn!” And that’s the song The Byrds choose to start their set. Wow, David Crosby looks impossibly young. They also do “The Bells Of Rhymney” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Donovan, and in this film he plays “Universal Soldier,” “Summer Day Reflection Song,” “Bert’s Blues” and “Sweet Joy,” performing them solo, the last of them from within the audience. Then Ike And Tina Turner get things cooking with “Shake,” which leads straight into “A Fool In Love” and then “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” “Please, Please, Please” was a highlight of the first film, and it’s also a highlight of this film, with Tina going out into the audience, singing directly to certain people. They then end with “Goodbye, So Long.”

Disc 2 Special Features

The second disc contains three short interviews. The first is with Petula Clark, who talks about Phil Spector. John Sebastian then talks about that false start on “Do You Believe In Magic,” and about the two songs his band plays in the film. Henry Diltz, of The Modern Folk Quartet, talks about getting the gig, recording the theme song and about not getting on camera. The Big T.N.T. Show – An Eclectic Mix is a featurette which contains more from those three interviews, as well more from the interview with Steve Binder. The second disc also includes the film’s trailer.

The T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show is scheduled to be released on Blu-ray on December 2, 2016 through Shout! Factory, as part of the Shout Select series.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leon Russell Is Gone

This is such an awful year. Soon after learning about Leonard Cohen's passing we get the news that Leon Russell too has died. I consider myself fortunate that I saw him in concert earlier this year at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, and got a chance to meet him. He is certainly going to be missed.

Here are a few photos I took at that festival.

sitting in with Booker T on "Green Onions"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leonard Cohen

I didn’t think I could take any more bad news after the election. But coming so close on the heels of that disaster is another, this much worse. Leonard Cohen has died.

I am listening to Various Positions, one of my favorite albums. “Coming Back To You” is on, and as always I am struck by his lyrics, his poetry, his honesty. “Even in your arms I know I’ll never get it right.” I know I am fortunate to have seen him in concert several times. Those shows were as close to religious experiences as I am likely to ever have. I am also tremendously fortunate to have met him. He was so generous and kind, and he signed a CD for me, as well as one for a friend who was too nervous to approach him. That was a decade ago. How cruel time can be, flying by at such a terrifying and thoughtless clip.

Sorry, folks. I really don’t know what to say here. The world just became a much sadder place.

Whalebone: “Mirabilia” (2016) CD Review

Election day for me was one of shock, disgust, heavy drinking, anger and despair. And as I felt myself slipping more and more toward my worst self, I decided to combat these feelings with the one weapon I know to work, that, of course, being music. The first disc I chose to put on was Mirabilia, the new release from Whalebone. I’m not sure exactly why I chose that CD. It was partly because of its cover, I suppose, but also because it was close at hand, and I was too flustered to go looking through my stacks of CDs for anything in particular. I just needed some good music, and I needed it straightaway. Well, it turns out, Mirabilia was the perfect choice. It calmed me almost immediately, reminded me of the beauty and goodness of people and the world, and how that has a much longer-lasting life than any pseudo-politician. This music taps into something eternal that we all feel inside of us. On a night I thought happiness impossible, this album lifted my spirits and made me smile.

Whalebone is the trio of Steve Downs on guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, bass and percussion; Charlotte Watson on guitar and bouzouki; and Sarah Ibberson on fiddle. They are based in Shropshire in the UK, and their music has a wonderful Celtic sound. Whalebone has been performing for more than a decade, and Mirabilia is the group’s sixth album, following last year’s As Turn The Seasons. All of the tracks are originals, written by the group. All are instrumentals.

The first track, “Anglicana,” eases in, catching our interest with the two separate voices of violin and guitar. And then when the guitars gain in power, the song becomes quite pretty, and also friendly, comforting. Again, exactly what I needed. But even if you are not troubled by the election in the U.S., this music will work its magic on you. “Angelicana” is followed by “Chalk Heart,” which has a slightly more somber tone at its start. But when the fiddle kicks in, we are lifted up with the instrument. “Momentum” then gets going right away, those guitars picking us up and carrying us off into a brighter world. Likewise, “Thynge” has a driving rhythm, like a train venturing confidently into the highlands. This tune should have you smiling even before the fiddle’s voice rises into sky, then joins the guitars in that rhythm. Wonderful stuff to get you grooving. “Butterfly” has a sweeter, more delicate sound, certainly appropriate to its title. Though it isn’t long before the tune takes on a stronger voice. It does feel a bit repetitive at times, but also has some interesting changes.

“Hiraeth” has a beautiful and familiar feel, like revisiting a dance with a childhood sweetheart, and features Charlotte on bouzouki. “Mouse 16” has quite a different feel, like running with someone through the winding, narrow streets of some foreign town. “Lost Borders” is pretty and moving, with some wonderful work on guitar. But perhaps my favorite track is “Floodplains.” It is gorgeous and uplifting, and halfway through goes in a different direction, at one point delivering some excellent work on guitar over a steady, insistent rhythm. The CD then concludes with “Pure,” which is pretty and seems to offer comfort, a warmth, a place to relax for a while.

CD Track List
  1. Anglicana
  2. Chalk Heart
  3. Momentum
  4. Thynge
  5. Butterfly
  6. Hiraeth
  7. Bedrock
  8. Mouse 16
  9. Echoes
  10. Holding Aces
  11. Lost Borders
  12. Floodplains
  13. Pure 
Mirabilia is scheduled to be released on November 13, 2016 on Two Wild Women Records.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 20” (2016) CD Review

I am always happy when a new Dave’s Picks volume arrives in the mail. Volume 20, the final set of 2016, contains the complete show that the Grateful Dead performed on December 9, 1981 at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Yes, some early 1980s Grateful Dead, a period that isn’t often represented by these concert releases. As we desperately desire some escape from the current political landscape, we can still turn to the Grateful Dead for refuge. And interestingly this show was from the beginning of another horrific era, that of the lousy bastard Ronald Reagan, who’d also promised to “make America great again.”

The first disc contains most of the first set. The band gets things going with “Cold Rain And Snow.” “Well, I married me a wife, she’s been trouble all my life/Run me out in the cold rain and snow.” Jerry is so passionate when he says he’s not going to be treated that way, and we raise our own voices with his. We aren’t going to be treated this way. The crowd sounds excited as the band tunes for “Jack Straw.” The Grateful Dead were basically always going for it, though they didn’t always get there. Sometimes they completely fucked up, getting lost along the way. This “Jack Straw” is one of those times. It seems they lose track of where they are, and that leads them off the rails. Still, they keep at it, not abandoning the line completely, and so there are a couple of powerful moments near the end. But they need to regroup, and so go into the mellow, reliable “Friend Of The Devil.” And it’s beautiful, the vocals sounding so good. The jam at one point features Brent prominently on keys, before we get that great stuff from Jerry on guitar. Just wonderful. This version has excellent peaks and valleys, everything going just exactly right. The Dead are back on track, no question. Wanting to keep it going, they slide right into “Little Red Rooster,” featuring some delicious stuff on keys over that good groove. This is a really fun version of “Rooster,” and they keep the jam going.

I love the little “Bird Song” tease before they actually start the song. This version feels a bit faster than most versions I’ve heard, and it contains an excellent jam that should have all Dead fans smiling. Bob says, “This next one’s dedicated to our crew,” and the band goes into “Mama Tried.” The sound is suddenly a bit weird on this one, the vocals sounding like they’re in a cavern, where they’d been so clear up until now. “Mama Tried” leads directly to “Mexicali Blues.” The sound is still odd. It’s like we switched from soundboard to audience. And then suddenly, nearly two minutes in, the sound switches again, becoming clear once more. The change is rather dramatic.

This disc also contains good versions of “Candyman” and “Cassidy,” the vocals sounding so sweet on “Let your life proceed by its own design.” And during the jam, the music surrounds me, such a great feeling, just what I’m looking for, just what I’m needing. Interestingly, they do two Bob songs in a row, following “Cassidy” with “Looks Like Rain.” I don’t recall hearing any other versions where Bobby spells “R-A-I-N,” and it’s weird. He does it a couple of times. “I wish these fucking clouds would just blow away.” The first disc ends with the opening of “China Cat Sunflower.”

The second disc starts where the first left off, with “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” to end the first set. It’s a fairly short “China Cat,” with little jamming, but a nice, smooth transition to an energetic “Rider.” “See you in a minute or two,” Bob says. Well, it was probably a bit longer than that, but yeah.

The rest of the second disc is the first hour or so of the second set, starting with “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On The Mountain,” a pairing that was always cause for happiness and dancing among the audience, and these versions got me dancing around in my apartment. Is it me, or does the sound get weird again in the “Scarlet” jam? Yeah, for like a minute or two, then it’s back to being clear again. Some interesting stuff in this jam, by the way, just before the band slides into “Fire.” I wonder where my “Fire On The Mountain” T-shirt is. I bought it from a guy after a show, and it had a picture of the dragon that’s loose on the town. Hmm, I’ll have to look for that, though it may no longer fit me. This is a really good “Fire.” I particularly like where it goes just before the end.

“Estimated Prophet” has always been one of my favorites (granted, I have a whole lot of favorites when it comes to the Grateful Dead, but still, this is a damn good song), and Bobby really gets into it here. From there, they ease into a sweet, smooth rendition of “He’s Gone.” I love the vocal jam at the end. And then, holy shit, check out that great jam with the prominent keys and drums. This is one of the highlights of the show, and it leads so well into the “Drums/Space” segment. The second disc fades out just as “The Other One” begins to emerge from “Space.”

The third disc opens with “The Other One” thumping and beating and clawing its way out of “Space.” That leads to a wonderful “Stella Blue” that is at times delicate and other times powerful, but always moving. Yes, this is another of my favorite Grateful Dead songs. “It seems like all this life was just a dream.” The band then ends the second set with a couple of rock and roll numbers, “Around And Around” and “Good Lovin’.” The band keeps things lively with the double encore of “U.S. Blues” and “Satisfaction.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Jack Straw
  3. Friend Of The Devil >
  4. Little Red Rooster
  5. Bird Song
  6. Mama Tried >
  7. Mexicali Blues
  8. Candyman
  9. Cassidy
  10. Looks Like Rain
Disc 2
  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Scarlet Begonias >
  4. Fire On The Mountain
  5. Estimated Prophet >
  6. He’s Gone >
  7. Drums >
  8. Space
Disc 3
  1. The Other One >
  2. Stella Blue >
  3. Around And Around >
  4. Good Lovin’
  5. U.S. Blues >
  6. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Dave’s Picks Volume 20 is limited to 16,500 copies, and was released in October, 2016. My copy arrived on Halloween.

Dave Rudolf: “Let It Roll” (2016) CD Review

Dave Rudolf has been writing and performing for quite some time, and has released approximately thirty albums, including Halloween and Christmas CDs  (I’m interested in hearing the Halloween ones, of course), with much of his music aimed at children. One of his latest releases, Let It Roll, is a folk album not aimed at children (though children may still enjoy it). It contains mostly original material, with some tracks, such as “You’re Getting Old,” showing his sense of humor. On this release, he is joined by Rick Ariail on keys, Jim Widlowski on drums, Scott Ashley on guitar, Wally Hustin on bass, Gary Victorine on pedal steel, John Lawler on harmonica, Mark Adrian on electric guitar, Pat Otto on mandolin, and Al Joseph on violin. Backing vocals are provided by Marsha Lynne Smith and Dianne Laffey.

This CD opens with its title track, “Let It Roll,” a song with a positive, friendly vibe, a song about not allowing ourselves to get too stressed out, not holding onto troubles and anxieties. “It’s easy to let it roll,” he tells us. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s good to keep in mind. And this song’s comforting feel should help. “This world is stressful/It’s such a mess/They don’t listen to you/So don’t get stressed.” This song also contains a Hamlet reference: “There are slings and arrows.” Dave follows that with a more bluesy folk tune titled “Gandy Dancers,” about railroad workers (“gandy dancer” is a term for the workers who laid the tracks). The song has that steady rhythm of repetitive work, creating the atmosphere of the railroads. It’s a cool tune.

Dave then chooses a sweeter, sadder sound for “Missing You,” a song about people who have come to lead separate lives through they are living in the same home. “Yes, I’m missing you/I’m still missing you/Though you’re right here.” He follows that with one of the CD’s two covers, a cool folk rendition of “The Glory Of Love,” a song that was a hit for The Five Keys, and has been covered by many artists over the years, including Peggy Lee, Otis Redding, Tom Rush and Paul McCartney. Dave Rudolf’s rendition has a positive, happy groove and feel. You can basically hear his smile in his vocal delivery. Plus, there is a nice instrumental section, including some good stuff on violin by Al Joseph. Doug Lofstrom plays stand-up bass on this track.

The acoustic guitar part at beginning of “Get In The Game” reminds me of “Mother Nature’s Son.” But when the song kicks in, it takes on a different feel. This is another with a positive message, as Dave sings, “Don’t think that you can’t make a difference/That your help is meaningless.” On the more humorous side is “Procrastinate,” a cool, bluesy number celebrating procrastination, a song I appreciate. He sings, “I was late coming out of my mother’s womb/I’ll probably be late when they lay me in my tomb.” I love that play on that other meaning of “late.”  I myself was a week late entering the world. I was in no hurry. I never cared to rush, even then. This song features some good backing vocals. Felton Offard pays guitar on this track. Also humorous is “You’re Getting Old.” And yes, these songs about aging have become more pertinent and dear to me, and seem to be speaking more directly to me than before. “You’re getting old when your body starts creaking/You’re getting old when your memory is leaking/You can grow hair on your rear/In your noise and in your ears/But on your head it’s disappeared/Let’s face it, you’re old.”  Oh god, that is me all right. My bones creak, and my memory frightens me at times, and yup, hair is appearing in areas it has no business being, this after it has abandoned my head. Also, I love these lines: “When you getting lucky means finding your lost keys” and “And your back goes out more than you/When you hate things because they’re new.” This is delivered as a country number, featuring violin and pedal steel. Jim Frels and Steve Wing provide backing vocals on this track.

The album’s second cover is “Bedlam Boys,” also known as “Tom O’Bedlam,” a traditional piece. This one too features some nice work on violin. The CD concludes with “That Girl’s Not Right,” which is more in the pop and rock realm. “You get so lost and desperate/You might lose your soul/So tighten up your seat belt/Because it’s a bumpy night.”

CD Track List
  1. Let It Roll
  2. Gandy Dancers
  3. Missing You
  4. Glory Of Love
  5. The Deceivers
  6. Get In The Game
  7. We’re Family
  8. Procrastinate
  9. Adios Mi Amigo
  10. Common Ground
  11. You’re Getting Old
  12. Bedlam Boys
  13. Rhythm Of Your Heart
  14. Arms Of The Sea
  15. That Girl’s Not Right 
Let It Roll was released on April 13, 2016 through Moneytree Records.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cure For Gravity: “Cure For Gravity” (2016) CD Review

Cure For Gravity is a rock trio made up of Joe Markert on lead vocals, guitar and keyboard; Chris Gamper on drums and percussion; and Dave Walcott on lead guitar. The band is based in Oakland, and just released a new self-titled album, following the 2012 EP Fallen Stars. Joining them is Dan Feiszli on bass and Casey Cameron on keys. It’s an interesting CD, the tracks combining different musical influences, though largely in the pop realm, at times going in surprising directions and creating an unusual atmosphere.

The first track, for example, “Tonight,” begins as an eerie instrumental journey, with some electronic sounds, and it seems like we’re going to go off on one of those grandiose science fiction-like ventures that progressive rock bands often seem so fond of. You know, where humanity is divided into various sects and must get on a spaceship and find a new world because we’ve fucked this one up beyond repair. But then just when I’m about to lose interest, the song goes in a completely unexpected direction, taking on a sweet tone, as the vocals have a smooth quality for the first line, “Whatcha going to do tonight?” The vocals are delivered with power and emotion, and the song has a pretty pop vibe. And I’m surprised at how much I’m sucked into the world of the song. Louise Nalbandian joins the band on backing vocals.

“Tonight” leads straight into the following track, “Sunspots,” which has a darker rock feel at the start, but which also features a really good vocal performance by Joe Markert. He allows himself to explore his ranges, both vocally and emotionally, without ever getting too wild or self-indulgent, and I think that is a great part of the appeal of the music. This is a voice we want to have guide us through these songs, these realms. This one develops into a good jam. Ray Puzey joins the band on keyboard on this track.

Something about the electronic sounds at the beginning of “Just Like Candy” call to mind certain 1980s music. “Violence on the dance floor/She wants less, but he wants more.” This one too goes in a surprising direction toward the end, the drums leading to an energetic rock section. I also dig the rhythm of “Blackmetal.” These are all good songs, but “Push” is by far my favorite track. The first time I put this disc on, this is the song that made me decide to pay much closer attention the second time through. And actually I ended up listening to the disc again straight away, in large part because of this song. There is something beautiful and moving about this song, in both the vocals and the guitar. “I couldn’t push you/I couldn’t push you away.” Louise Nalbandian again joins the band on backing vocals. I’ve now listened to this song several times, and it is always effective. Toward the end, it kind of drifts off. The CD then concludes with “Killing For The Queen,” in some ways perhaps the most interesting track, beginning with a beat that actually reminds me just a bit of Phish’s “Bouncing Around The Room,” but then building from there into something that is more in line with the sound of Depeche Mode.

CD Track List
  1. Tonight
  2. Sunspots
  3. Just Like A Candy
  4. Blackmetal
  5. Push
  6. Killing For The Queen
Cure For Gravity was released on October 14, 2016.