Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers: “Heal My Soul” (2016) CD Review

I really didn’t know what to expect when I put in Heal My Soul, the new CD from Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers. I wasn’t at all familiar with their music, so all I had to go on was the cover, which features a sexy woman seated in a large martini glass in front of a rough, odd, and dirty city scene, with certain items in bizarre and exaggerated proportions, as the sun sets (or perhaps rises?) behind her. The woman seems to be having a grand time, and so the title seems almost out of place. This woman needs no healing. Unless her posture and joy are all an act? I had planned on listening to just a few tracks to get a taste for the music (with the idea that I would return to the CD in a few days), but I was immediately drawn into the world of this band, in large part because of Lex Grey’s voice, which commands attention, in both upfront and sly ways. And there was no way I was going to be able to stop the CD before the end. Heal My Soul quickly became one of my favorite CDs of 2016.

It opens with “Factory,” a strange, cool bluesy rock number about wanting to live in a factory. Right away, I’m kind of intrigued by this woman, as she sings, “I want to live in a factory/I don’t care what it used to be/With metal doors and concrete floors.” Sure, it’s about having a lot of space, but clearly there is something else twisted at play here. After all, she sounds excited as she sings, “And urinals hanging on the walls” and “And a drain in the center of the floor.” And what will she do with the “antique machinery” that she sings about? I want to find out. I want to go live in this factory with this unusual woman, but first let a few close friends know of my whereabouts in case I’m not heard from again. It all adds to up to a great song. Plus, there are nice touches by Walter Tates Jr. on saxophone.

Lex Grey then turns toward folk and country for an equally odd and delightful tune, “Hobo Soup,” which is about working together to feed people. And as she sings, “From a rooftop of the city to the chicken coop/Everybody needs a little hobo soup,” it seems to also be about the need to be humbled. Kaia Updike is on violin, and Brian Dewan is on accordion. And there are chicken sounds on the track. So there.

“Ghost” is a rock song sung to a ghost, or to someone who might be a ghost. Check out these lyrics: “Are you lost or afraid/Will I see you again/Are you stranded/Hold my hand and/Tell me I’m not abandoned.” Those male backing vocals are unexpected and odd in their own way. I imagine Lex Grey’s voice surrounded by enslaved, doting spirits, minions. There is something dark here. Hers is the kind of voice I want to submit to, let it have its way with my flesh, with my soul, with whatever bits interest her. We could all easily become her backing vocalists, her spirits. And then near the end, there is the addition of fiddle. Holy hell, this song just gets better and better, more and more powerful.

“Quiet Place,” the next song, comes as a surprise too, with its relaxed, sweeter feel. Plus, it’s the album’s sole cover, a song written by Jaik Miller. But whatever journey Lex Grey wants to take me on, I am game. There is something almost haunting about this track, and I’m really drawn into it. Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers do an excellent job with this song. “Blues All Around” then slowly creeps in, which is quite fitting for the opening line, “Waking up in the morning, those crazy thoughts in my head,” like the song itself is reluctantly coming to, opening its eyes. This is a quiet blues number, and it is effective. And with “Survive,” this group and CD continue to be impressive and surprising. Lex Grey’s is an unusual voice, an unusual perspective, and I am fascinated. Check out what she does vocally on this song, with Alison Davy joining her. Wonderful!

Then the band delivers a playful, old-time number, “Junkman,” which – because of everything that’s come before it – also comes as a surprise. And I love it.  Though I admit I am a bit on edge at first, paying close attention, in case she suddenly sneaks a knife into my side or something. But no, this is just a delightful tune, with excellent use of backing vocals, and some great stuff on clarinet by Anthony Michael. “I could spend all night just digging through your treasures.”

“Black Stallion” is a sweet-sounding country number, and then “Lightnin’ (In A Jar)” is a country rock song, though the way “lightning” is repeated reminds me of the end of a certain song from Grease. These two tracks are good, but aren’t as intriguing as the rest of the album. The CD then concludes with its title track, “Heal My Soul,” which begins with a good groove and soon adds some sweet saxophone before Lex Grey’s vocals come in. She sounds so sexy and smooth, and of course doesn’t wait too long before getting wild. “Turn your light on bright for me/Heal my soul/You’ll never catch the midnight train/Running face first into the hurricane/Oh, can you hear me moan?” Lex does so much with her voice on this track, at times delivering a near-snarl, other times sounding sweet and soothing. This is an excellent song, with several lines standing out, like “We’re just two people trying to get somewhere” and “I can walk through the water in my high-heeled shoes.” And it becomes a good jam.

CD Track List
  1. Factory
  2. Hobo Soup
  3. Ghost
  4. Quiet Place
  5. Blues All Around
  6. Survive
  7. Junkman
  8. Black Stallion
  9. Lightnin’ (In A Jar)
  10. Heal My Soul
Heal My Soul is scheduled to be released on September 12, 2016.

All Things Must Pass DVD Review

As a music fan, I find the demise of record and CD stores troubling, to say the least. These stores aren’t just great sources of music, but also places where music fans can meet and learn from each other about bands, share information in a truly social way (so-called “social media” are not actually social). These stores are about community as much as about product. I’ve bought albums based on strangers’ recommendations in a store; I’ve also had strangers buy discs I’ve recommended (and at least one friendship began with such a recommendation). Tower Records, at its height, was such a giant chain that it might have felt less personal than some smaller stores, but that sense of community was there. And now, a decade after the last U.S. store closed its doors, All Things Must Pass recounts the story of Tower Records, its beginning and growth as well as its end, and focuses on that sense of community, particularly among those who worked for the company.

The documentary opens with a title card telling us, “In 1999, Tower Records had sales of over one billion dollars.” That is followed by another title card, “Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy.” At the center and heart of this film is an interview with Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records. He talks about his own passion for music and about the creation of Tower Records. Interestingly, it started in his father’s drug store, Tower Drugs, which had a jukebox and where used (and then new) records were sold. The record section expanded to the point where Russ ran it as a separate store. And eventually Russ happened upon a large store for lease in San Francisco. That was the beginning of the expansion of the business.

Many employees who rose through the ranks share their personal experiences, and they all stress the sense of community, of family they felt while working there. Stan Goman mentions another benefit was getting to play whatever music he wanted on the store’s record player. “So you could be an amateur DJ too.” Russ says he believes one key to the store’s success in the early days was that there was no dress code for employees, so people wanted to work there. What is striking is the passion these folks feel not only for the music, but for the business.

There is a lot of material on the store’s expansion, including interesting stuff about the first Tower Records in Japan (which occurred before the store moved to the east coast of the U.S.). And there is material on Pulse! (the Tower Records magazine). And then, as you might expect, the documentary delves into the problems the business began facing – from other types of stores (such as Target and Best Buy) selling CDs, from people being able to get their music online for free, and so on. And those interviewed talk about being fired. I was actually tearing up a bit before the end of this film.

This film isn’t just about Tower Records, but about the music business in general, and the changes it’s gone through, from the shift in focus from singles to LPs, to the change from vinyl to CDs and then to digital. And it doesn’t just include interviews with employees, but also others in the music business, such as Dave Geffen, as well as musicians, such as Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Dave Grohl. Bruce Springsteen says, “There was the thrill of being surrounded by music,” and also talks about how there is that family aspect, how everyone in the store is like your friend for a little while. Elton John recounts how going to Tower Records first thing in the morning was part of his daily ritual. The film includes footage of Elton making purchases. (There is also audio of John Lennon promoting Tower Records.)

All Things Must Pass was directed by Colin Hanks, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on September 13, 2016 through MVD Visual. The DVD contains no special features.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Livesays: “Hold On…Life Is Calling” (2016) CD Review

The Livesays are a Florida-based rock band led by vocalist, songwriter, guitarist and pianist Billy Livesay (who is known also for his work with Clarence Clemons), and featuring Victor “Cuqui” Berrios on organ and vocals, Jorge Laplume on bass, and Eddie Zyne on drums (I saw Eddie Zyne play with The Monkees back in 1986). The band’s new release, Hold On…Life Is Calling, features fairly straight rock, but with a bit of pop and a bluesy touch, sometimes reminding me of the feel of early ‘80s rock. It follows their 2014 release, Faith, Hope And Love, and 2011’s Rose Colored Glasses. Former member Timothy Murphy joins them on piano for a few tracks. Also joining them on this release are Luke Sipka and John Quinn, both on piano, as well as Victoria Livesay, Erminia Laplume, Debi Berrios and Susan Zyne on backing vocals for one track. All of the songs are originals, written or co-written by Billy Livesay.

The Livesays kick off the new CD with “I’m Coming Home,” a good rock song in which Billy sings, “Tried to sell my soul, but I couldn’t find a buyer.” There is something rough and worn in his voice, which is perfect for this song of someone who sings of experience. It starts off quietly, easing in, then kicks in to become more of a rock tune right when he sings that he is coming home, like that idea gives him more energy, more power. Why is it that songs about going home always work, always have a power over us? I especially like the organ in this song. The band then turns bluesy with “Angels Of The New Millennium,” which begins with a cool groove on drums. “The angels mourned the simple days/When ghostly taps were heard/The knights they bathed in soldiers’ blood/Down in Gettysburg.” It’s interesting that both of the first two tracks employ the image of angels. “Angels Of The New Millennium” was written by Billy Livesay and Louie Lawent.

“Pop Star” is one of the tracks having an element making it feel like an early 1980s rock tune, particularly in the chorus, reminding me of bands like Foreigner. This works well with its theme of wanting to ignore world events and become a pop star, and the band uses this sound to a kind of humorous, tongue-in-cheek effect. Check out these lyrics: “All I want before we’re smoked/By a vengeful god or the nuclear vote/Is a whole lotta fame, and an entourage.” I also really like these lines: “But all I want is what Jagger had/To swallow up some gorgeous gams,” mostly because I’m happy at the use of the word “gams.”  “Pop Star” was also written by Billy Livesay and Louie Lawent.

“Call On Me” has a kind of sweet, friendly vibe, a voice reaching out to those who are troubled. And hey, who isn’t, in one way or another? Timothy Murphy is on piano and backing vocals on this track, which was written by Billy Livesay and John Bradley. That’s followed by “I’ve Heard The Truth Before,” which features the excellent line “I’ve heard the truth before, and I’m trying to get over it.” This one also has something of a 1980s rock feel.

“Why You Want To Keep On Lovin’ Me” is one of the disc’s strongest tracks, opening with the lines, “You live alone, but you say that you’re not lonely/And don’t need love to keep you company.” It’s a strange sort of love song about receiving mixed messages. It has something of a pop feel, with some nice blending of vocals. Timothy Murphy plays piano on this track. Check out these lines: “Wake up and greet the day, you’re sleeping far too long/And there’s really nothing else that I can say/We’ve seen a lot of years and I know you have your fears/Don’t let your damaged goods get in the way.”

The album concludes with “Turn It Around,” a bright and positive-sounding tune. “I was a fool under your spell/But a fool in love can always tell/When there’s no shoulder to cry on/When the teardrops fall/And one by one I’m counting them all.” Victoria Livesay, Erminia Laplume, Debi Berrios and Susan Zyne join them on backing vocals, making the track a family affair.

CD Track List
  1. I’m Coming Home
  2. Angels Of The New Millennium
  3. Pop Star
  4. No Promises
  5. Call On Me
  6. I’ve Heard The Truth Before
  7. I’d Change Everything
  8. This Side Of Town
  9. Libertine
  10. Why You Want To Keep On Lovin’ Me
  11. Pick Yourself Up
  12. It’s What I Have To Do
  13. Turn It Around 
Hold On… Life Is Calling is scheduled to be released on October 3, 2016. By the way, the proofreader in me was screaming as I read the liner notes. There are many typos and mistakes, such as “your” in place of “you’re” twice in the lyrics to “Turn It Around” (and once in “No Promises”). Also, “spend have the time” instead of “spend half the time,” and “lightning” is misspelled multiple times in the lyrics to “No Promises.” There is also “rap my head around” and “loose myself in the memory of you” in the lyrics to “It’s What I Have To Do.” And while the “thru” instead of “through” in “I’m Coming Home” might be deliberate, it is still incorrect. There are several other mistakes. Perhaps some of these can be corrected before the CD’s October release.

Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul (2016) CD Review

I remember watching a few of those after school specials in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They seemed cheesy and goofy even then. Do they still make programs like that? And are children still scared straight? Well, either way, the new CD compilation Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul is like a delightful trip back to the 1970s, when you just had to remember not to talk to strangers, take candy from them or get into their cars. The CD has nothing really to do with those television programs, but its title helps to recall very vividly that time. It features some funk and soul from youthful groups you might not remember, or perhaps never heard in the first place. It comes nearly a decade after the release of Home Schooled: The ABCs Of Kid Soul. Sure, some of these tracks are cheesy, such as “Because I Love You,” with lines like “I’ll walk a thousand miles/Just to see you smile,” but this is a ridiculously enjoyable journey back to childhood. There is even a very funky game of “Simon Says,” performed by Future Kind (though because of its cool groove I keep expecting something like, “Simon says touch me there, baby”).

The collection opens with Bethlehem Center Children’s Choir singing “I’m A Special Kid.” The song features children clapping and singing about doing normal childhood things (“Like cleaning my room and washing dishes/Going to school, and doing my homework”) and lists people in the kid’s life who might offer help (“The doctor, the nurse, the dentist, the fireman, the policeman, the teacher, my parents”). The song basically celebrates the ordinary aspects of childhood, while insisting “I’m a very special kid.” Things pick up with The Scott Three’s “Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You),” which is kind of funky. The group was made up of three brothers, and apparently this was their only single, recorded in 1968. That’s followed by Jimi Hill’s “Guessing Games,” which was written by Dan Greer and released as a single in 1973.

“You Got Me Believing (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You)” is so positive, so youthful, so innocent, and energetic that you can’t help but enjoy it, especially when that horn comes in over that funky bass and drums. I wish that instrumental section were a lot longer. This song was released as a single in 1974 (actually, it was the flip side to “I Think It’s A Big One Coming”), and the full title is “You Got Me Believing In You (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You).”

As I mentioned earlier, some of these songs are cheesy. One of the cheesiest is “Because I Love You,” which even boasts a spoken word introduction (“You know, one of the most beautiful things in life is when a boy finds the girl he loves”) and another spoken word part that includes the line, “Shucks, doll, we’ve got to get it together.” This song, however, is by Brighter Side Of Darkness, one of the groups you’re likely to know, because they had a hit with “Love Jones.” And they actually refer to that song in this song’s lyrics: “Every time I think I have a love jones.” You might also be familiar with “Everywhere You Go (I’ll Be Around)” by the Next Movement, a group that is actually still together. This is a rather sweet song, and weirdly also uses the word “Shucks,” here as a sort of exclamation (unless I’m mishearing it). This compilation actually contains a second song by this group, “Girl Why Do You Want To Take My Heart,” recorded under the earlier band name Magical Connection.

The song “I Want A Little Girl” would be incredibly creepy if it weren’t sung by children, opening with the lines, “I want a little girl/All my own/She gotta be all alone.” It’s by The Bennett’s (and yes, that’s how the band name is written on the original 45 – not The Bennetts), and was the flip side to “Girl I’m Here.” One of the most interesting tracks is The Brother’s Rap version of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I love the original by Gil Scott-Heron, included on his 1971 record Pieces Of A Man. Here a child sings it, and it is rather odd hearing a child mention skag, beer, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. The kid seems to have a bit of trouble getting many of the words out (and gives up completely on some of them, “Humperdinck”). The percussion behind him dips into a Bo Diddley beat.  Another odd one is “James Brown,” in which children sing about James Brown, accompanied by piano. They also imitate him (“Uh, good god”), which is adorable and funny.

“Funky Breakdown” is a really fun track to get you smiling, get you moving, whether you’re a kid or adult, no matter. It’s by Little Man And The Inquires, and is for me one of the highlights of the disc. It’s followed by another of my favorites, “Love Got A Piece Of Your Mind” by Five Ounces Of Soul.  This is an excellent track, mostly because of that great jam. On the single, it was divided into two parts, but here it is presented as one track. Fantastic. (It seems Phish must have heard this single somewhere along the way – listen especially around the 2:47 mark.)

CD Track List
  1. I’m A Special Kid – Bethlehem Center Children’s Choir
  2. Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You) – Scott Three
  3. Guessing Games – Jimi Hill
  4. You Got Me Believing (Dreamin’ ‘Bout You) – Leonard (Lil’ Man) Kaigler
  5. I Love You Still – Cash
  6. Because I Love You – Brighter Side Of Darkness
  7. Everywhere You Go – Next Movement
  8. I Want A Little Girl – The Bennett’s
  9. Simon Says – Future Kind
  10. I’m Free, No Dope For Me – The Dynamics
  11. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – The Brother’s Rap
  12. We Don’t Dig No Busing (The Busing Song) – The Greer Brothers
  13. Funky Breakdown – Little Man And The Inquires
  14. Love Got A Piece Of Your Mind – Five Ounces Of Soul
  15. Girl Why Do You Want To Take My Heart – Magical Connection
  16. It’s Tie For Love – Soul Emotions And Co.
  17. Losing My Girl – Brotherly Five
  18. The Other Guy – The Mighty Mustangs
  19. James Brown – Nancy Dupree With A Group Of Youngsters 
Afterschool Special: The 123s Of Kid Soul is scheduled to be released on September 16, 2016 through The Numero Group.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Disaster Strikes: “In The Age Of Corporate Personhood” (2016) CD Review

I don’t often review hardcore punk, because I don’t often listen to it these days. But a few things got me curious about the new release from Disaster Strikes. The first thing is that the band is from Boston. Maybe not a great reason to want to listen to a band, but I’m feeling a bit homesick for that great city. The second thing is the song list. Some of these titles caught my interest, like “Deconstruct The Plot,” “Song And Purpose” and of course the title track. The third thing is that it’s on Jello Biafra’s label, Alternative Tentacles, and that Jello Biafra joins them on one track. His name still carries a lot of weight with me. I figured if he wanted to be a part of this disc, then it was at least something worth listening to. And it certainly is. And maybe hardcore punk is more relevant than ever, which in a way is depressing, because it means we have a lot to be angry about.

The disc opens with “The Fighting Path,” getting right into it, asking at the start, “How do I dare?/Where to begin in these two minutes I’m borrowing of your precious time.” And yeah, most of these songs are approximately two minutes – in, out. This track announces their political and social stances, wondering what one can do in such a short time (the length of a song, the length of a life), but not letting that stop them from trying. “We will not lick the boots of the one percent/We choose the fighting path.” That’s followed by “You Are Nothing,” which packs a lot of anger into a minute. Yeah, it’s only a minute long, and is totally effective, and is one of my favorite tracks.

But even better is “In The Age Of Corporate Personhood,” the CD’s title track and the one that features Jello Biafra on vocals. The band has plenty to say on this track. Of course, the idea of corporate personhood is a strange and complicated one, but it is frightening how much power corporations seem to have these days. It really does feel like they are the government, or somehow apart from it and all consequences, and this track tackles this subject, saying “corporations shall have the rights denied to you and me/Bestowed unto them shall be a life worth more than human life itself/Liberty from regulation, investigation, or prosecution.” This song also has a play on the Lord’s Prayer: “Our corporations, which art infallible, hallowed be our trade/Our kingdom is come/Our will be done across Earth as approved by the markets/And forgive us our treason as we vilify those who would speak against us/Lead us not into equality, but deliver them into more poverty.” Not bad, eh? I also really appreciate the line, “How many lies can our minds forget?

“Your Life = Their Lie” packs a pretty strong punch (though on the back of the CD case, it is misspelled as “Thier Lie” – yikes!). Check out these lyrics: “You dream the dreams that line their pockets/Manufactured aspirations masking quiet desperation/No cure for the sinking feeling that your life is their lie.” It’s a powerful song, and one that will have your wanting to break out of your skin as you dance around to its fast pace, trying to feel you have at least a little control over your life.

The band tackles unlimited corporate power again on the CD’s final track, “Now Or Never.” “Will you let this moment pass?/That’s exactly what they want.” And do the closing lines, “Why are we still fighting/It’s because you’re not,” make me feel a bit guilty for checking out of politics completely? Yes, a bit.

CD Track List
  1. The Fighting Path
  2. You Are Nothing
  3. In The Age Of Corporate Personhood
  4. Deconstruct The Plot
  5. Drone Strike
  6. Song And Purpose
  7. Your Life = Their Lie
  8. The Harvest
  9. A New Solidarity!
  10. Now Or Never
In The Age Of Corporate Personhood is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2016 on Alternative Tentacles Records. By the way, that awesome cover artwork is by Bill Hauser.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pansy Division: “Quite Contrary” (2016) CD Review

I first got turned onto Pansy Division in 1993 or 1994, when I was in college. I worked at KWVA, and the band’s first disc was in the stacks there, and song titles like “Femme In A Black Leather Jacket” and “The Cocksucker Club” made me curious. So I listened to several tracks, and I loved what I heard. And the next album got a lot of airplay as well, especially “Groovy Underwear,” which people just couldn’t get enough of. And then of course there was their great rendition of “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond Of Each Other” from their 1995 release Pile Up. Then, as sometimes happens, I lost track of them after college. But I am excited to get back to them, and their new CD, Quite Contrary, gives me the perfect opportunity. And I’m glad to find they’re just as much fun as I remember them, still writing quirky, humorous rock numbers. But, of course, we’ve all gotten a bit older since then, and Pansy Division certainly takes that into consideration; that is, their own aging. In a song like “Love Came Along,” they refer specifically to their own aging, reminding us of one of their earlier songs, and the changes since then. So perhaps they’re not writing about dicks that can peak at you from around the furniture (that line in “Curvature” still makes me laugh), but they have plenty to stay. Most of these songs are originals, the only cover being “It’s A Sin,” the Pet Shop Boys song (which still sounds suspiciously like Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to me).

Pansy Division kicks off the new album with “He’s Trouble,” which has a great punk energy, but also a bit of a fun early rock and roll thing in the “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and “Down, down, weighing him down” backing vocals. And the line “He’s always broke, but always has a drink” paints for me a very vivid image. We all know this guy, right? That’s followed by “Love Came Along,” a delightful song about sex and love and how sometimes they’re combined. And yes, they address how their goals have changed as they’re getting older. This song opens with a reference to “I’m Gonna Be A Slut”: “I once wrote a song about being a slut/Nothing meant more to me than busting a nut/Now I’ve grown older and that life ain’t making the cut.” (Interestingly, the first verse of “I’m Gonna Be A Slut” begins with this line: “The older that I get the less I want to settle down.”) There is a sense of humor to this song, acknowledging that sometimes it’s more fun to hear about sex than love, ending with these lines: “I’m the happiest guy in the world now that love came along/I know you’ll grow tired of hearing it, so I’m ending this song.”

Several of these songs are love songs, actually. Take “Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve),” for example, a really good tune in which they sing, “’Cause I know how I want to bring the year to an end/So kiss me at midnight on New Year’s Eve/Ring in the New Year with me.” It’s unabashedly sweet. “I’m The Friend” is a song about being the person others confide in, lean on, but don’t date, the person always hoping for more. It’s a different kind of love song. Check out these lines: “Not the one you’re waiting to see/Overlooked/Taken for granted/Know my role even when I can’t stand it.” Interestingly, “My Heart Aches For You” is also about being in love with a friend. “Though I love that we’re close friends/I hate that’s where it ends.” Both “I’m The Friend” and “My Heart Aches For You” were written by Jon Ginoli.

“Blame The Bible” is one of the CD’s best songs. This is the first song I heard from this album, the song that got me excited about this release, the song that let me know the band is still putting out great material, that they still have something to say. I think this is among the best songs the band ever recorded, with lines like “Promoting all the Bible’s libel with words but not their deeds.” It’s the perfect song for our election year. Though I have the urge to include the entire set of lyrics here, I’ll refrain. Here is just a taste: “Isn’t it about time we gave up on Christianity?/I mean really, it’s so unnecessary and so deceitful/Using verses from the Bible to validate their hate/Just look at all the damage they’ve caused/So let’s take away the one thing they use to perpetuate this worldwide fraud/And tear up the Bible.”

Another personal favorite is “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old,” in part because I can relate to it so well, with lines like “I’ve got more aches and pains than I used to/And now I’ll avoid a big crowd.” But it’s also kind of a bright, peppy number, which is wonderful, keeping the lyrics from being depressing. I love this song, even before the whistling. I ended up listening to this track over and over, wanting to memorize the lyrics. Of course, my brain can’t seem to retain the lyrics to new songs (another part of getting older), but I was able to retain the chorus, “Is this what it’s like, is this what it’s like/Is this what it’s like getting old?” Well, as they sing here, “I don’t want no sympathy, but my mind ain’t what it used to be.”  “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old” was written by Chris Freeman.

“Too Much To Ask” is another song, sadly, that is perfect for our times, with the band asking, “Is a small amount of courtesy just too much to ask?” This is a common topic of discussion among my friends, how somehow it’s become acceptable to be unreliable. It used to be a trait that people would not admit to, and now shockingly people have embraced this awful bit about themselves rather than trying to improve. “To simply show up at a time and date that’s set/To merely keep your word, is that too hard a task?

CD Track List
  1. He’s Trouble
  2. Love Came Along
  3. You’re On The Phone
  4. Kiss Me At Midnight (New Year’s Eve)
  5. Halfway To Nowhere
  6. Work On It, Babe
  7. I’m The Friend
  8. Blame The Bible
  9. Mistakes
  10. It’s A Sin
  11. My Heart Aches For You
  12. (Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old
  13. Too Much To Ask
  14. Something Beautiful 
Quite Contrary is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2016 on Alternative Tentacles Records.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Coal Men: “Pushed To The Side” (2016) CD Review

On The Coal Men’s new release, Pushed To The Side, the band delivers some compelling narratives and interesting characters, all set in the country realm. These songs boast some excellent lyrics, and many are, in one way or another, about trying to make connections between people. All of these songs were written or co-written by Dave Coleman, who also produced and mixed these tracks. The Coal Men are Dave Coleman on vocals, guitar, mandolin, pedal steel and percussion; Dave Ray on drums, percussion and backing vocals; and Paul Slivka on bass. On this album they are joined by Seth Timbs on keys. This is the band’s fifth full-length CD, following 2013’s Escalator.

They kick off the CD with “Depreciate,” opening with a cool drumbeat, before the song settles into a gorgeous, dark country groove. That vibe fits well with the song’s lyrics, the first lines being “I'm running out of steam, friends/I need a pint of blood.” The song is from the perspective of an old car, drawing on that strong connection between people and automobiles. Because of course these lines apply to people too: “I'm nearly ready for the junkyard/Counting down the miles/I can't remember all my travels.” Yes, it’s kind of depressing, especially as lines like these feel more and more relevant as we get older. But there is something sweet about the feel of this one too. And check out these lines: “Thank you for all the cold nights/Thank you for summer days/I hope to stay in your memory/After you send me on my way.” “Depreciate” was written by Dave Coleman and Seth Timbs.

That’s followed by the CD’s title track, “Pushed To The Side,” which was written by Dave Coleman and Taylor Bates. This song is peopled by sad characters that might seem familiar in a peripheral way, touching on how sometimes people you don’t know can strongly affect you (if perhaps only for a brief moment): “Ooh, don’t the lonely break your heart/Ooh, don’t some people just break your heart/Ooh, it’s the lonely, lonely broken ones that break your little heart.” And I love these lines: “Well, she can’t go back on the things that are already done/She just crossed her fingers and stuck out her thumbs/It is what it is when you leave someone/It is what it is when you leave someone/Can’t hold on to the light of the setting sun.” Interestingly, the following song, “The Payoff,” opens with these lines: “The world is full of people capable of things you thought/Nobody could be capable of/They’ll break your heart and that’s the start/They’ll cut you and laugh at your scars.” And so there is an initial connection between the two songs, though the tones are quite different. “The Payoff,” written by Dave Coleman and Seth Timbs, has more of a country pop vibe. These are the lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc: “Another star that wants to shine/Twice as bright for half the time.”  Great, right?

“Willy Jett” is one of my favorites. It’s one of those songs that create a strong character and story, in this case a man working in the coal camps who tries to create a break from work for himself. “Bought a new suit of clothes, pinstripes and rows/Trying to hide the worn out away.” Though probably few of us work with coal, most people can relate to being desperate for something more, and failing to have it realized. My favorite lines are: “Willy came down from the coal camp/Dreaming of a woman on his arm/And he found one down at the corner/Lilly took him with all of her charms/The voice he heard was the sweetest sound/But it was only for that night/It was lonely he found still hanging around/Come the morning light.” (And Lilly gets her own song in “Lilly Hurst.”)  “Willy Jett” was written by Dave Coleman and Jeff Wickland.

“Speeding Like A Demon” is a fun country driving song about trying to get to a show on time. This is one I’ll be adding to my road trip mix CD song list. It was written by Dave Coleman, Stephen Simmons and David Palmer. “Stones River” has something of a sweet folk feel. It was written by Dave Coleman and Bob Delevante (whom you likely know for his own solo career). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Cleared the land with bare hands/Get a fire going, it's gonna be cold tonight/Yes we're losing light/Down on Stones River.”

Another favorite is the CD’s final track, “The Singer (In Louisville),” which begins like a punk song, with that great bass line, and maintains a sort of punk attitude. It’s country punk, and is based on a short story by Tommy Womack. This song is about an aging singer who has reached a certain level on a local circuit, but whose career hasn’t gone any farther. “I know he's hurting, in fact in pain/Now that they're asking for ‘Fire And Rain.’"

CD Track List
  1. Depreciate
  2. Pushed To The Side
  3. The Payoff
  4. Willy Jett
  5. Fast Rider
  6. Lilly Hurst
  7. Faithless Eyes
  8. Travis
  9. Speeding Like A Demon
  10. A Name
  11. Stones River
  12. The Singer (In Louisville)
Pushed To The Side was released on August 19, 2016 on Vaskaleedez Records.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Beach Boys: “Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions” (2016) CD Review

Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions is kind of an amazing set of recordings. This new two-disc set features the earliest recordings from one of the most popular bands in the history of pop music, The Beach Boys. It features just nine songs, but sixty-three tracks (more than two hours of music), providing a great document of the development of some of their early material, including such well-known tunes as “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl,” as well as some lesser known material. There are eight tracks of “Surfer Girl” alone. Sure, perhaps this set isn’t for the casual Beach Boys fan, but the serious fans will certainly appreciate it. And most of these tracks were previously unreleased. The set features liner notes by Jim Murphy, author Becoming The Beach Boys, 1961-1963, as well as some photos.

“Surfin’

The first disc opens with “Surfin’” which was the band’s first single. Here we get a great, raw demo, the only percussion being some finger-snapping. The demo is followed by several takes of the song, presented in order, including false starts and bits of studio banter. The master is also included. This song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and was included on the LP Surfin’ Safari.

“Luau”

“Luau” was the flip side to The Beach Boys’ first single. This disc includes three takes of the demo. And yes, the first is a bit messy, but that is definitely a large part of its charm. At the end they shout “Keep rolling,” and we get the second demo. There are several takes of this song as well, including a few false starts (“No good”). The master is included.

“Lavender”

“Lavender,” written by Dorinda Morgan, is one I didn’t really know before listening to this disc. And it’s quite good. Three rehearsals of the song are included, with the group singing a cappella. They sound great, even as they goof a bit. We hear some banter between rehearsals, and also in the middle of a take: “Hey, go slower, guys.” These are some of my favorite tracks from this set. There are then three takes of the song, these with guitar and bass.

“Surfin’ Safari”

The first disc concludes with “Surfin’ Safari,” one of the band’s many popular tunes, and one of its many hits. With this set, we get to enjoy the earliest recordings of the song, with some different lyrics, such as “Some honeys will be making the scene” rather than “Some honeys will be coming along” and “With the boards on top” instead of “With the boards inside.” And toward the end they sing, “The surf is big at Sunset Beach/They do it in South Africa too/They’re all getting stoked on this surfin’ craze.” There is some studio banter between takes. Overdubs and the master are included.

“Surfer Girl”

The second disc opens with another of the band’s hits, “Surfer Girl,” written by Brian Wilson. There are six takes of this popular tune, plus the master and an overdub. Listen to how different these early recordings sound from the version we all know and love. This version is slower, more sparse, and kind of wonderful. That first take ends suddenly, “Stop the whole thing.” And at another point, at the end of the sixth take, Brian asks, “Can I do this without the bass this time, and dub the bass with our voices next time?” I really like this early version, and these tracks are more highlights of this two-disc set.

“Judy”

“Judy,” also written by Brian Wilson, is a song I don’t think I’d heard before listening to this set. It’s a fun, kind of goofy tune. This disc includes two takes, plus overdubs, a master and a demo. There is just a bit of studio banter.

“Beach Boy Stomp”

“Beach Boy Stomp” is another I hadn’t heard before. It’s also known as “Karate,” and was written by Carl Wilson. It’s a fairly straightforward instrumental, though features some good work on guitar. And on the last couple of tracks, they shout out “Karate” at the end, sort of like “Tequila.”

“Barbie” and “What Is A Young Girl Made Of”

“Barbie” and “What Is A Young Girl Made Of” were written by Dorinda Morgan (though credited to Bruce Morgan), and according to the liner notes The Beach Boys don’t play any instruments on either track. Both tracks existed, and The Beach Boys were asked to add vocals to them. These two songs were released as a single under the band name Kenny And The Cadets. Several overdubs of each song are included, as well as the masters. One overdub of “Barbie” ends with “I forgot the words.” Interestingly, the first version of “What Is A Young Girl Made Of” included here features an unknown lead vocalist (so no Beach Boys actually are on that track).

Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions is scheduled to be released on August 26, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Corinne Mammana: “Under An August Moon” (2016) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Corinne Mammana turns to some familiar numbers for her excellent debut EP, Under An August Moon, giving the songs her own personal spin. She is joined by accomplished guitarist Frank DiBussolo, who also co-produced and arranged these tracks. Corinne is also joined by David Leonhardt on piano, Bruce Kaminsky on bass, Lorenzo Branca on drums, and Gregory Edwards on clarinet and tenor saxophone.

The EP begins with a Cole Porter song, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” a song that has been covered by Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, among others. Corinne’s rendition opens with some beautiful guitar playing by Frank DiBussolo. Then Corinne Mammana’s vocals, at first soft and intimate, soon gain a joyous power, like she gains confidence in her suit, in the idea of coming home to this other person, perhaps knowing she’s won him over. There is an interesting change near the end, returning to a theme on guitar similar to that which began the track, but this time with Corinne’s beautiful vocals. And that might be my favorite moment of the song. By the way, this is also the song that gives the CD its title.

Corinne follows that with “A Wink And A Smile,” a tune from the film Sleepless In Seattle (but don’t hold its presence in a Nora Ephron movie against it). This rendition by Corinne Mammana features some wonderful work on piano by David Leonhardt. And Corinne’s vocal approach is sweet and playful. There is a wide smile in her voice here, a smile you will likely soon find yourself sharing. And that instrumental section with the lead on clarinet by Gregory Edwards is delicious. I also love that work on bass by Bruce Kaminsky. “We’re so far away from yesterday.”

Corinne covers “Baubles, Bangles And Beads,” using it to take us on a sweet and mellow bossa nova journey, her voice accompanied by Frank DiBussolo on guitar. And it is the guitar solo partway through that really shines. The EP then concludes with “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe,” a tune sung by Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls. I love what Corinne does with this song, opening it with a great bass line and prominent hi-hat. Then this one becomes a fantastic, very cool, kind of slow groove. I love that instrumental section, featuring a great piano part, which is followed by sax, a delightful surprise, and then guitar, at which point I am hoping they can find a few more instruments lying around in order to extend this one indefinitely. As wonderful as that instrumental section is, Corinne’s vocals drive the song. She does a lot with her voice on this track, going from intimate moments where she almost whispers to moments where she rises to great peaks, always demonstrating a control without ever sounding too tight or sacrificing a feel of spontaneity. This is my personal favorite of the CD.

CD Track List
  1. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
  2. A Wink And A Smile
  3. Baubles, Bangles And Beads
  4. On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa FE
Under An August Moon was released on August 12, 2016.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Smoky Greenwell: “South Louisiana Blues” (2016) CD Review

Lately I’ve been grooving on some good blues discs. Sometimes the blues hit you just the right way, you know? One of the discs I’ve been enjoying a lot is the new CD from Smoky Greenwell, South Louisiana Blues, which features some great work by Smoky on harmonica as well as vocals. This CD contains some original material by Smoky Greenwell and Jack Kolb, as well as a few Cornelius Green tunes and other covers. Jack Kolb is on guitar, David Hyde is on bass, and Doug Belote is on drums. They are joined by some guest musicians, including Joe Krown, Johnny Neel, Willie Pankar, Pete Bradish, Lynn Drury and Dana Abbott.

Smoky kicks off the new CD with an original song, “Animal Angels,” which he co-wrote with Jack Kolb. This tune has a very strong Booker T vibe right from the start, as well as a bit of a Canned Heat thing (think of their “On The Road Again”). So, yes, it’s got that great groove, with a 1960s power. Joe Krown is on the B3. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Animal angels, that’s what we are/Animals angels, we’ve come so far/We wear our bodies like our clothes/Deep down we know/It’s a journey, let’s enjoy the ride.”  I love the groove and his vocals, but it is that harmonica that really gets me excited here. And he then follows it with a song that was a hit for Canned Heat, Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” (also known as “Let’s Stick Together”). This is a really fun, kind of bouncy rendition. Johnny Neel plays piano on this track, and Lynn Drury and Dana Abbott provide some nice backing vocals.

“Boogie Twist” is an instrumental track, the first of several on this disc. It was written by Cal Valentine and Wally Cox, and seems to be sometimes titled “Boogie Twist (Part II).” Johnny Neel plays B3 on this one. There is also some nice work on electric guitar. There are two other instrumentals, “The Hunch” (a delicious, groovy track written by Jack Kolb) and “Walking With Mr. Lee” (written by Lee Allen, and featuring Smoky on sax), which concludes the CD. And “Pick It Up,” an original tune written by Smoky Greenwell and Jack Kolb, is nearly an instrumental, apart from Lynn Drury and Dana Abbott’s “Pick it up” line repeated a few times. That’s another fun track.

One of my favorite tracks is Smoky Greenwell’s rendition of “Lonesome Lonely Blues,” a wonderful, somewhat mellow blues number written by Cornelius Green and Jerry West. This is the first of three Cornelius Greene numbers. Greene is better known as Lonesome Sundown. Smoky plays sax on this track, and Joe Krown provides some cool work on piano. “I’m so tired/Tired of living here alone/I used to have a good woman/Oh yeah, but now she’s gone.” This is a completely enjoyable version of an excellent tune. Smoky also covers Green’s “I Had A Dream Last Night” and “I’m Glad She’s Mine,” the latter co-written by Jerry West. Both of those tracks are also highlights, and I particularly love “I’m Glad She’s Mine,” which is some delicious rhythm and blues. Lynn Drury and Dana Abbott again come in with some delightful backing vocals. Johnny Neel is on piano. This is one of those songs that just keep me smiling the whole way through.

CD Track List
  1. Animal Angels
  2. Let’s Work Together
  3. Boogie Twist
  4. Lonesome Lonely Blues
  5. You Can’t Take It With You
  6. Pick It Up
  7. I Had A Dream Last Night
  8. I’m Glad She’s Mine
  9. Two Headed Woman
  10. The Hunch
  11. Dirt Road Blues
  12. Walking With Mr. Lee
South Louisiana Blues was released on August 6, 2016 on Greenwell Records.

Getting A Cat Stevens Ticket

I’ve been a fan of Cat Stevens’ music since I was a kid, even before I saw Harold And Maude (which, by the way, is my all-time favorite film). I remember the only time I ever enjoyed a church service was when the organist was replaced by a female singer/guitarist who covered “Morning Has Broken.” Songs like “Miles From Nowhere,” “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Wild World” get in my head almost daily. “Trouble” makes me cry every time I hear it. I get excited when a movie like Rushmore features a Cat Stevens song (in that case, “Here Comes My Baby”). Basically, I just fucking love his music. And yet I’ve never seen him in concert.

Today, however, I purchased a ticket for a show he’s going to do on October 6th at the Pantages Theatre here in Los Angeles. It was a pain to get the ticket – there was a lot of incorrect information being given out – and it is the most expensive ticket I’ve ever bought, but I am thrilled to be going. I learned about the concert from an actor on Those Who Can’t, who was as excited as I was about seeing Cat Stevens. I saw that the price range of the tickets was $89.50 to $265.50 (which turned out to be one of the lies, but more on that in a bit), and that they were going on sale August 15th at 10 a.m. (or 9 a.m., as it was listed in at least one place on the site). I decided I had to take the day off, and ended up turning down three separate jobs for today. I knew I couldn’t be working and getting tickets at the same time, and my plan was to go down to the box office. That way I’d have a physical ticket, and perhaps I could avoid some of those criminal Ticketmaster fees. I called the venue, and was told that tickets would be available at the box office starting at 10 a.m. The guy didn’t think people would line up all that early for these tickets.

Last night I set my alarm for 5 a.m., and was out the door today by 6. I took the subway (there is a stop directly across the street from the venue), and arrived at the Pantages by 6:43 a.m. I know that because at 6:43 a.m. I sent my girlfriend a message saying, “I am first in line.” Then at 8:18 I sent her another message: “I am still the only person in line.” This didn’t worry me. I knew I was in the right spot, because a man had gone in through the door next to me, and he had assured me this was the spot for the box office. But at 8:35 a.m. another man came out and asked if I were there to purchase Cat Stevens tickets. He then informed me that the venue wouldn’t be selling any tickets, that all tickets had to be purchased online through Ticketmaster. “But I called the box office last week and was told you would have tickets here,” I said. He apologized that someone had given me that information, and told me that it wasn’t the venue’s decision, it was the artist’s. Apparently, in an effort to eliminate ticket scalpers, there are no paper tickets whatsoever, and you have to bring the very credit card you use to purchase tickets to the show and swipe it as you enter. You also have to type in your friend’s name if you’re going to purchase two tickets. So, I guess you can’t just purchase two tickets and decide later whom you wish to take with you. Crazy.

So I got back on the subway and went home. I got online and got everything ready by 9:15. And at 10 a.m. I attempted to purchase a ticket. The first few times I did, the site would tell me a seat was available, then tell me it was processing the transaction, then tell me that someone else had purchased that ticket. This happened at least three or four times. Then I started noticing that the tickets down front that were still available were much more than the $265.50 that was supposedly the high end. In fact, they were more than $400. What gives? Finally I was able to purchase a ticket for $265.50, but it is not anywhere close to the front. It’s in row SS. But it’s on the aisle, which I appreciate. With all the fees, the price came to $313.45, the most I’ve ever paid for a concert ticket. (Prior to this, the most expensive was a Leonard Cohen ticket for approximately $250.)

I wanted to go both nights – Cat Steven is playing on October 7th, as well as the 6th – but at that price, there is just no way I can do it. Still, I am incredibly excited that I will finally be seeing Cat Stevens in concert. By the way, even though he goes by Yusuf Islam these days, all the concert information has him listed as “Yusuf/Cat Stevens.” The word “Islam” appears nowhere in any of the promotional materials.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Michael Fracasso: “Here Come The Savages” (2016) CD Review

Michael Fracasso is a singer and songwriter based in Austin who has performed with Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams, and has released several CDs as well as a cookbook. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve certainly been enjoying his latest CD, Here Come The Savages. This album features some wonderful original material, as well as some interesting choices of covers, including songs by Brian Wilson and The Young Rascals. The album was produced by Mark Patterson, Jim Lewis and Michael Fracasso. Patterson and Lewis also play on some of the tracks.

The album opens with an original song, “Say,” which has a dreamy atmosphere from its start. I love these lines: “Fly anywhere you choose/You’re not mine to lose/And you never were.” There is an oddly positive feel to it. There is something of a Beatles influence here (in its sound, and in the fact that it ends with the line “Love is all you need”), and on other tracks, especially in “Open,” which follows “Say.” “Went to sleep last night/And my dreams were strange/Woke up in the morning/And the world had changed/I’ll keep an open mind/I’ll keep my mind open.” There is a bit of Rufus Wainwright too in the sound. Gary Newcomb adds some nice touches on electric guitar.

The first cover on the album is “Caroline, No,” which was written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, and originally released as a Brian Wilson solo single (it was Brian Wilson’s first solo record). It was also included on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, where it concludes that album (along with sounds of a train and a barking dog). Michael changes “Break my heart” to “Don’t break my heart” the second time he sings that stanza: “Don’t break my heart/I want to go and cry/It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die/Caroline, why.” That’s followed by “Daisy,” an original tune that has something of the sound of a 1960s folk song – in the music, in the guitar, if not the vocals. Gary Newcomb plays pedal steel on this track. “Daisy, come out of there/Let me see you step into the light/You’re in some lonely place/And nothing there is going to make it right.” It’s interesting to have this song follow “Caroline, No,” because both songs look back at a girl, and both have a sweet sadness to them.

As good as “Daisy” is, it is the following track, “Boy In A Bubble,” that is probably my favorite of this album. There is something completely delightful, almost magical about this song, about the overall sound of it. Something about it makes me bloody happy, even though the lyrics wouldn’t suggest it: “He couldn’t feel a thing and he never got in trouble/He couldn’t feel the rain falling on his skin/Couldn’t feel the changes of season in the wind.” Jenni Wieland joins on French horn, which is wonderful. I love this song. (And that’s Mark Patterson bouncing the basketball.)

The Monkees seem to be on many people’s minds these days (check out my review of The Minus 5’s Of Monkees And Men), which makes me happy. “Here Come The Savages,” the title track, mentions Davy Jones in its opening lines: “I recall the night/That Davy Jones died/How suddenly/You started to cry/But you didn’t know him/Never heard his songs/But you were touched/As we sang along/To ‘Daydream Believer.’” This song also directly refers to “Here Comes The Night” by Them. It’s a really good and moving song, with Michael Fracasso on vocals and piano, unaccompanied by other musicians.

“How Can I Be Sure” is an interesting choice of covers. It was written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, and originally recorded by their band, The Young Rascals (later shortened to The Rascals). This song has been covered by several artists over the years, including Dusty Springfield, Helen Reddy and David Cassidy. Michael Fracasso’s version sounds quite a bit different from all of those. It has a stronger, more pronounced groove, and doesn’t have horns or that French cafĂ© sound. BettySoo (of Charlie Faye And The Fayettes) and Gina Chavez join him on vocals. And I love the piano toward the end, reminding me just a bit of that fantastic piano part to David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane.” That’s Jim Lewis on piano.

Michael Fracasso also covers Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me,” here titled “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No).” Dawn Penn recorded a reggae version of the song, and that version is also titled “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No).” Michael Fracasso’s version is bluesy, and interestingly contains a sort of march beat on the snare drum at times, as well as some psychedelic elements. Whit Williams and Jim Lewis play guitar on this track. This song is delicious. “Yes, I love you/I’ll do anything you say.” The other two covers are Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” (with Whit Williams adding touches on banjo) and The Kinks’ “Better Things.”

CD Track List
  1. Say
  2. Open
  3. Caroline, No
  4. Daisy
  5. Boy In A Bubble
  6. How Can I Be Sure
  7. Here Come The Savages
  8. You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)
  9. Little Scar
  10. Blind Man On A Bicycle
  11. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory
  12. Interlude
  13. Better Things 
Here Come The Savages was released on June 10, 2016 on Blue Door Records.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Minus 5: “Of Monkees And Men” (2016) CD Review

When I think of the bands that have had the biggest impact on my life, The Monkees have to be at the top of the list (well, second to the Grateful Dead). They were my first favorite thing, years before I listened to the Dead, even before Star Wars, even before baseball. And in a year that has already given us a new Monkees studio album (which is really good, by the way), we now get Of Monkees And Men, the new CD from The Minus 5 (though actually this album was previously released on vinyl as part of a Record Store Day exclusive box set). Obviously, The Monkees had some impact on Scott McCaughey, the leader of The Minus 5, too. Of Monkees And Men features not Monkees covers, but songs about The Monkees written by Scott McCaughey. Scott plays the majority of the instruments on this disc, but is joined by other members of this loose group, including Peter Buck and Joe Adragna. I am seriously enjoying this album. The CD cover is also pretty cool, being a play on those teen magazines, and very specifically 16 Magazine, which featured The Monkees on its cover several times.

Each of the four members of The Monkees gets a song on this album. “Michael Nesmith” is more in the folk and country realm, certainly fitting for a song about Michael Nesmith. There is some good pedal steel by Tucker Jackson. This song is great long story (more than nine minutes), opening with these lines: “Michael Nesmith was a fine young man/Took up a guitar in big Texan hands.” And yes, it does mention that famous hat from the television series. It also contains a reference to “Circle Sky” (“And he dreamt of a circle surrounded by sky”), and even contains a little nod to the Solid Gold dancers. And check out these lines: “You choose what to write like you choose a wife/An alternate version of your own life/Accept all the blessings along with the wrath/Veer on and off of each spiritual path” (with the reference to his alternate name, Michael Blessing).  My favorite lines, however, are: “The difference between begging and praying/Between going home and never staying.” Scott adds some nice work on harmonica. And there is even a playful nod to the length of the song: “He told a long story that was almost too long/Ran out of air as he finished the song.”

Davy Jones’ song, “Davy Gets The Girl,” is a sweet-sounding, kind of funny song referring to how in the television series David Jones always got the girl. This song also contains references to a couple of the songs Davy Jones sang in the band, including “I Wanna Be Free” (“He wants to be free, but that’s not the way it’s going to be”) and “Daydream Believer” (“And he believes in all of her daydreams”), as well as a reference to his appearance in an episode of The Brady Bunch (“Saved the day for Marcia Brady”). By the way, he also appeared in the absolutely wonderful 1995 film The Brady Bunch Movie, sort of poking fun at that episode. The backing vocals on this track always make me laugh, echoing “Davy.” Laura Gibson provides the backing vocals here.

Scott McCaughey delivers a somewhat more trippy tune for Peter, “Song For Peter Tork,” with a sound a bit like that of the Velvet Underground. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You find something new but don’t forsake the past/You can play the blues, folk songs, and rock ‘n’ roll/Sing in a choir, try to satisfy your soul/And it works, yeah it works, when you keep on working.” Scott also directly mentions “For Pete’s Sake” (the song used in the closing credits in the show’s second season) in the line “For Pete’s sake, keep on working,” and the follows it with a line from that song, “Love is understanding.” And then Scott adds some banjo toward the end, which is a perfect touch.

“Micky’s A Cool Drummer” contains a “Randy Scouse Git” reference right at the beginning, in its drumbeat. This is a fun song that includes a nod to that hi-hat swipe from “Last Train To Clarksville.” It mentions Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon, who played drums on many of the album tracks (though not on Headquarters, which according to a line of this song is Scott’s favorite Monkees record). There is also a humorous play on the “walk a mile in my shoes” idea with the line “Never criticize a man/Until you’ve walked a season in his TV show.” There is also a direct reference to “Mary, Mary” in the lyrics.

This CD also contains a song about the songwriters. Well, two of them anyway – Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote songs like “Last Train To Clarksville,” “She,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Words” and “Tear Drop City.”  “Boyce And Hart” is not only about their Monkees material, but mentions how they are singers and musicians too, with albums released on A&M with songs like “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” It also refers to their appearance in episodes of I Dream Of Jeannie (“Jeannie The Hip Hippie”), Bewitched (“Serena Stops The Show”) and The Flying Nun (“When Generations Gap”).

Those five songs made up the record’s first side. The second side contains songs not about The Monkees. However, “Blue Rickenbacker” does refer to The Byrds, The Kinks, The Who and The Move. Peter Buck plays a 12-string guitar on that track. Dennis Diken is on drums, and Mike Mills is on bass. By the way, the version on this CD is remixed, and so different from that on the vinyl release. “Robert Ryan Is Among Us” is about the actor who appeared in films like The Naked Spur, The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch. I really dig the organ on this track. Ezra Holbrook plays drums on this one. And then “Richmond Fontaine” is a really good song about a Portland band. “We feel the light and darkness all the time/We feel the light and dark at the same time.” The CD concludes with “Weymer Never Dies,” a song about a music-lover, with the feel and power of a eulogy at a service. “What special tune was in the room, what harmony in his head/When he last laid himself down on that Lynnwood motel bed/I ask myself why I wasn’t there, but you know, I just wasn’t/And when it’s going to stop hurting, but you know, it just doesn’t.” Scott plays mellotron and harpsichord (among other instruments) on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Michael Nesmith
  2. Davy Gets The Girl
  3. Song For Peter Tork
  4. Micky’s A Cool Drummer
  5. Boyce And Hart
  6. Blue Rickenbacker
  7. Robert Ryan Is Among Us
  8. Richmond Fontaine
  9. Weymer Never Dies 
Of Monkees And Men is scheduled to be released on August 19, 2016 on Yep Roc Records.