Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jerry Garcia & John Kahn: “Santa Cruz Blues” (2017) CD Review

Okay, first I have to point out that they misspelled John Kahn’s name on the CD cover. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the company putting out this release. This is another of those unofficial releases taken from radio broadcasts. On October 16, 1985, Jerry Garcia and John Kahn did two short shows at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz Blues contains almost both complete sets; it is missing just one song, “Rubin And Cherise,” which ended the early show. This disc was released once before, in 1997, with a different cover, and “Rubin And Cherise” was also missing from that one. Also, on that disc “Little Sadie” is listed as “Jericho.” And apparently these shows were also released on vinyl as Comin’ Up For Air, which is also lacking “Rubin And Cherise.”

I love acoustic Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia recordings, and so this disc is a treat. It’s just Jerry on guitar, and John on upright bass, and so has a loose and intimate feel. They kick off the early show with “Deep Elem Blues,” a song Jerry also did with the Grateful Dead (you can hear a good version on Reckoning). The version here is a bit messy, but still cool. They follow that with “Friend Of The Devil,” and it’s the slower version that the Dead did in concert. I love those moments when Jerry gets real quiet. “Little Sadie” follows, and is one of the highlights for me. The Grateful Dead did this song a few times in 1969, 1970 and 1980. Here it has the feel of being sung around a campfire, which works so well. And then I love Jerry’s delivery of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” Plus, that guitar part a few minutes in is excellent, making this track another of the disc’s highlights. Jerry sang this one with the Grateful Dead a few times in 1985. And “Jack-A-Roe” is a song the Dead played at the very last show I ever saw (in Portland, 1995). The version here is okay. But it’s followed by an excellent rendition of “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie,” a song written by Elizabeth Cotten. And, with “Rubin And Cherise” missing, that’s the end of the early show.

The late show opens with “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a song that Bob Weir sang with the Grateful Dead. Jerry gives it a delicious energy, particularly in the vocals, and there is also a delightful jam. “Someday everything is gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.” That’s followed by a good rendition of “I’ve Been All Around This World” (here titled “Been All Around This World”). This is a traditional song, but the back of the CD case erroneously indicates Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir as its writers. It’s great to hear an acoustic version of “Run For The Roses,” a song that the Jerry Garcia Band often did, and I dig what John Kahn does on bass here. Then the crowd gets excited when they start “Bird Song.” You might not think there’d be a lot of jamming on this version, what with only two guys playing, but you’d be wrong. This is actually a seriously good rendition of “Bird Song,” with them taking it in some interesting directions. And it’s nearly ten minutes long. That’s followed by a really nice take on “Gomorrah,” a song from Cats Under The Stars. But of course for me the best track is the one that concludes the show, “Ripple,” my all-time favorite song. I never got the chance to see Jerry sing this one in concert; I wish I’d been at that show in Landover in 1988. This song works beautifully every time, and the rendition on this disc has a sweet feel to it.

By the way, the sound of this recording is quite good, and though it is a radio broadcast, there are no interruptions or weird cuts.

CD Track List
  1. Deep Elem Blues
  2. Friend Of The Devil
  3. Little Sadie
  4. She Belongs To Me
  5. Jack-A-Roe
  6. Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie
  7. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  8. Been All Around This World
  9. Run For The Roses
  10. Bird Song
  11. Gomorrah
  12. Ripple
Santa Cruz Blues was released on February 10, 2017.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Hangabouts: “Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives” (2017) CD Review

The Hangabouts are a groovy pop band based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a trio delivering fun pop music with a certain 1960s feel on their new release, Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives. This album features all original material, written by the band members. The Hangabouts are composed of John Lowry on vocals, guitar, organ, mellotron, piano, synthesizer, bass and percussion; Gregory Addington on vocals, guitar, bass, drums, piano, synthesizer and percussion; and Chip Saam on vocals, bass and guitar. Several musicians (including Molly Felder) join them on various tracks of the new CD.

The album opens with its title track, “Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives,” a song with a playful Beatles vibe and some delightful blending of voices. It’s followed by “Cricket Time,” which has a more straightforward feel. Of course, in this song’s title could be another nod to The Beatles, as The Beatles took their name because of their affection for The Crickets, Buddy Holly’s band. “Beetles are lighting/Mosquitoes are biting/It’s cricket time.” Then “Sinking Feeling” has kind of a sweet sound, even with lines like “I love you, yeah, but it’s a sinking feeling/I’m never coming up for air/I’m lying here, staring at the ceiling/Wondering how I got here.” It’s a duet, featuring Molly Felder (from Swan Dive) on vocals.

There is something catchy about “Evelyn Wood,” and I found myself enjoying it almost immediately. “Evelyn Wood, what’s the hurry, babe/We’re going faster than I think that we should.” It’s a delightful pop song, with a cool little instrumental section at the end. “Turrialba” is an incredibly short instrumental track (approximately thirty seconds), a mood piece. I’m curious in what direction the band would take it if it were to go on longer. For me, things then get even more interesting with “Selling Out,” an intriguing pop gem. “But everybody’s worried that you’re selling out/When you know you ought to be telling us/What’s in your heart instead.” This one too shows its Beatles influences. It’s followed by “Mrs. Kite,” another of this album’s most interesting songs, with some psychedelic vibes. And is this one’s title also a nod to The Beatles (“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”)?

“Too Hot To Sleep” has a mellower folk vibe, which works quite well with their vocals. I particularly like their voices on these lines: “Watching headlines on the wall/Hear your breathing rise and fall/By tomorrow you won’t recall/Tonight.” This is one of my favorites, and of course it’s a great song for the summer. “Sensation Overnight” also has something of a sweet folk sound, and is another of the disc’s highlights. Plus, check out these lines: “Cautiously glamorous/I rule the universe/And now/It’s turned upside down.” Yeah, the phrase “cautiously glamorous” stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc. The album then concludes with “Follow The Sunshine,” an innocent and fun pop song.

CD Track List
  1. Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives
  2. Cricket Time
  3. Sinking Feeling
  4. Evelyn Wood
  5. Twelve Songs
  6. Turrialba
  7. Selling Out
  8. Mrs. Kite
  9. Taking You To Leave Me
  10. Too Hot To Sleep
  11. All Day All Night
  12. Sensation Overnight
  13. Follow The Sunshine 
Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives was released on April 28, 2017 on Futureman Records.

The Brian Kinler Band at Vitello’s, 7-23-17 Concert Review

Brian performing "I Know, Madame"
Last night The Brian Kinler Band returned to Vitello’s to celebrate the release of Euphoric. It was the first time the band had played at that venue in several years, and in the meantime the whole look of the room had changed, with even the stage placed in a different spot. The band’s original drummer, Jon Weiner, returned for this gig, and though a lot of new material was played, the show had something of a classic feel to it because of Weiner’s presence. It was also an emotional night, as Brian’s father had passed only the day before. Brian mentioned that at the start of the show, and opened with a solo piano rendition of “Angela,” the song Bob James wrote as the theme to Taxi, dedicating it to his father who was a Bob James fan.

The audience was – as always – supportive, and after that song, both Brian and the crowd immersed themselves in the music. The band – Jon Weiner, Matt Whitney and Andrea Whitney – joined Brian on stage, and they played a couple of tunes from the new album, beginning with the CD’s opening track, “I Know, Madame,” and following it with one of my favorites, “Norway.” It was a beautiful rendition of “Norway,” particularly Andrea’s work on violin. Andrea then left the stage for an old favorite, the fun “Wookiee Boogie,” a song included on Stories From The Quarter. Andrea returned for another fan favorite, “Rosedown,” also from Stories From The Quarter. That was followed by a cover of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” And then they did another song from Euphoric, “I Can’t Remember Your Face,” followed by the wonderful “The Fall,” a song from Not Your Everyday Amateur.

For many years, Brian has been joined by different vocalists for a portion of his concerts. But it wasn’t until 2015, with the release of The Race Against Time, that one of his albums featured vocals. That singer, the talented Francesca Capasso, joined him last night for several songs. Three audience members were celebrating birthdays, so she did an a cappella rendition of “Happy Birthday To You” before going into “Bombshell,” the fun dance song that kicks off The Race Against Time. They followed that with an excellent rendition of “I’d Give Up Everything But You,” which ended up being one of the highlights of the show for me. This version was slower than that on the album, and, as Brian mentioned before the song, this was the way he originally envisioned it. I hope he’ll include this slower version on a future release.

“Once Is Not Enough” is one of my favorites from the new album, a tune written as a sort of James Bond theme. It’s a gorgeous piece, and last night Brian and Andrea performed it as a duet, another of the show’s highlights. That was followed by “Orange Blossom Special,” and then by “Slobbertongue,” another fan favorite, with the audience providing finger snaps. Francesca then returned for a couple of energetic covers to end the set – “Chain Of Fools” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” I love listening to her belt out those tunes. Delicious. The show ended at 9:31 p.m.

Set List
  1. Angela (Taxi Theme)
  2. I Know, Madame
  3. Norway
  4. Wookiee Boogie
  5. Rosedown
  6. The Devil Went Down To Georgia
  7. I Can’t Remember Your Face
  8. The Fall
  9. Happy Birthday To You
  10. Bombshell
  11. I’d Give Up Everything But You
  12. Once Is Not Enough
  13. Orange Blossom Special
  14. Slobbertongue
  15. Chain Of Fools
  16. Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I Know, Madame"
"Wookiee Boogie"
"The Fall"
"I'd Give Up Everything But You"
"Chain Of Fools"
 Vitello’s is located at 4349 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City, California.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Korby Lenker: “Thousand Springs” (2017) CD Review

Korby Lenker’s new album, Thousand Springs, was recorded at various locations in Idaho, where he grew up. Places he has a connection to. And perhaps that’s one reason this album (his seventh) has a passionate and personal feel. Other portions of the album were recorded in other states, Lenker traveling to different places to record contributions by several musicians. And that might be part of the reason for the relaxed and playful vibe the album has at times (like on “Book Nerd”). Thousand Springs features all original music, written or co-written by Korby Lenker, and the writing, for me, is what really makes this CD one worth paying attention to.

The album begins gently, easing us in with “Northern Lights,” a song written by Korby Lenker and Jon Weisberger. This is a pretty and intimate tune, and it works so well to pull us into the album. Its chorus has something of a hopeful sound, which I appreciate. “All the way to Chicago/Wonder what will I find/And I’m leaving behind/The stars and the northern lights.” And I love these lines: “The night sky’s a chandelier/Windshield makes a frame/Radio I turned down low/I thought I heard your name.” The second song, “Friend And A Friend,” also finds him on the road. It’s a song about traveling and human connections (what else do we need?). “You wake up feeling low/And then you get behind the wheel and go/Some days it’s wide open/Some days it’s a dead end.” And check out these lines: “This is the life, the life I’ve chosen/Not even I can see the cards I’m holding/And if tonight doesn’t go my way/Well, there’s always tomorrow.” “Friend And A Friend” was written by Korby Lenker and Molly Tuttle (Tuttle also provides harmony vocals on this track). I will be adding this song to my road trip play list.

“Nothing Really Matters” is a delightful, happy-sounding tune with mandolin, banjo and fiddle. The vocal approach reminds me a bit of some of Paul Simon’s material. “Nothing really matters when I’m here with you/Clouds rush in, the sky’s still blue/Storm is just passing through/Nothing really matters when I’m here with you.” This one was written by Korby Lenker and Stoll Vaughn. Annie Staninec is on fiddle, John Reischman is on mandolin, and Molly Tuttle plays clawhammer banjo. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“Book Nerd” was written by Korby Lenker, and features Kai Welch on accordion, and Chris “Critter” Eldridge on baritone ukulele. This is one that has a very playful feel, and of course I appreciate the literary references. However, my friend Jan will flip out if she hears that line about To Kill A Mockingbird. This one is followed by another of my favorites, “Uh Oh,” written by Korby Lenker and Holiday Mathis. I love the vocal approach here, and Caroline Spence provides harmony vocals.

“Father To The Man” is another happy-sounding pop-folk tune, this one written by Korby Lenker and Amy Speace. Amy provides harmony vocals on this track, and Korby plays ukulele. “Everything was spinning/But in the middle of the room/I saw my younger self/To my surprise, he recognized me right away/He said, ‘I know you well.’” Perhaps the best song on the album is “Love Is The Only Song,” written by Korby Lenker and John Martin. I can’t help but love this beautiful song. Certainly it doesn’t hurt that this track features cello, an instrument I love. That’s Mai Bloomfield on cello. Angel Snow provides backing vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Love, it has no pride/And love is the only reason/In this world gone wrong/When everything else is gone/Love is the only song.” And it’s always good to hear someone tell us, “But remember, it’s been like this forever/You are not alone/We’re all in this together.

CD Track List
  1. Northern Lights
  2. Friend And A Friend
  3. Nothing Really Matters
  4. Last Man Standing
  5. Book Nerd
  6. Uh Oh
  7. Stormy Seas
  8. Father To The Man
  9. Late Bloomers
  10. Love Is The Only Song
  11. Mermaids
  12. Wherever You Are 
Thousand Springs was released on July 14, 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London (1968/2017) CD Review

I still haven’t seen Peter Whitehead’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, a film documenting the late 1960s London scene, but after listening to the soundtrack, which includes some dialogue from the film as well as music, I am certainly interested in checking it out. The film was released in 1967, the soundtrack in 1968. The soundtrack features some excellent tunes from artists like Pink Floyd and Small Faces, as well as snippets of interviews with folks such as Michael Caine and Mick Jagger. The new re-issue is a digitally remastered edition, from an original master tape, and – unlike the original vinyl release – presents the dialogue as separate tracks, which I appreciate. It’s actually a really nice package as well, folding out like a double album, with the liner notes on one side, and the CD on the other, with the CD in an inner sleeve as records are packaged. The back of the CD case is basically the same as the back of the original vinyl release, with the tracks mentioned in paragraph form rather than a list (and Pink Floyd called “The Pink Floyd”). The people responsible for this remastered edition obviously took the time and care to get it right.

It opens with Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” I don’t ever again want to hear The Wall, but man, do I still love this early Pink Floyd stuff. It’s all about Syd Barrett for me, and this early instrumental number is wonderful. The full version of this recording is nearly seventeen minutes long, and was later released on London ’66 – ‘67. A nearly-ten-minute version was included on Pink Floyd’s first album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. The tune has a delicious psychedelic and improvisational sound. Though the original vinyl soundtrack credits this one to just Barrett, Piper credits it to Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. The soundtrack includes two more snippets of this instrumental tune.

One of my favorite tracks is The Marquis Of Kensington’s “The Changing Of The Guard.” It’s a delightful and odd tune about the troubles of the rich British folks. “We’ve had to sell our stately homes to pay our debts and taxes/And no one can afford a chauffeur-driven Rolls/If we ever get invited to the palace/Then we’ll all get there by bus.” It’s a playful tune, with a joke on “naval”/ “navel.” I’d never heard this song before, and I love it. It’s followed by another tune that’s new to me, “Night Time Girl” by Twice As Much. It was included on the band’s first LP, Own Up, and has a kind of sweet pop sound.

This soundtrack includes two Rolling Stones covers, both done by Chris Farlowe. The first is “Out Of Time,” which Farlowe released as a single in 1966 (he had a big hit with it in the UK), and also used as the title track for an LP. It’s a good version, though I prefer the second Stones cover, “Paint It Black,” which is another of my favorite tracks. It’s a very cool rendition, with some great backing vocals, though fades out to include an interview with Alan Aldridge before kicking back in again. The Stones connection is interesting, as this soundtrack album was originally released on Instant, a sub-label of Immediate Records, which was started by Andrew Loog Oldham, a man who also at that time managed the Rolling Stones and produced the band’s records (though obviously not on his own label). Snippets of an interview with Oldham are also included on this soundtrack (in which he talks about being proud of his work with the Rolling Stones, and about money). It’s also interesting that Mick Jagger is interviewed, but that the Rolling Stones songs are done by another artist. By the way, Mick Jagger talks about violence and anger, and about songwriting. He also mentions that audiences in the U.S. didn’t like the Stones until “Satisfaction.”

Another interview that stands out is that with Edna O’Brien, who says: “This thing of falling in love, you know, it’s such a nuisance. And I think women – no man will agree to this, but I’m sure it’s true – women are more devoted and committed to the notion of falling in love, and therefore they fall in love, than men are, because it is the one territory of adventure that a woman has.” And Julie Christie talks about The Beatles. “We were lucky enough that they were quite cool and hip, and there weren’t an awful lot of cool, hip people around. Not a majority. And that they became idols, and like any idol, they were copied. So that’s why London perhaps is now cool and hip.” Michael Caine, in his second interview, talks about short skirts, and is funny when distinguishing English men from other men. Lee Marvin also mentions miniskirts. The soundtrack ends with Allen Ginsberg reciting “Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London.”

CD Track List
  1. Interstellar Overdrive – Pink Floyd
  2. Interview 1 – Michael Caine
  3. The Changing Of The Guard – The Marquis Of Kensington
  4. Night Time Girl – Twice As Much
  5. Interview – Genevieve
  6. Out Of Time – Chris Farlowe
  7. Interview – Edna O’Brien
  8. Interstellar Overdrive Extract 1 – Pink Floyd
  9. Interview 1 – Andrew Loog Oldham
  10. Winter Is Blue Extract 1 – Vashti
  11. Interview 2 – Andrew Loog Oldham
  12. Winter Is Blue Reprise – Vashti
  13. Interview – Mick Jagger
  14. Interview – Julie Christie
  15. Interview 2 – Michael Caine
  16. Paint It Black – Chris Farlowe
  17. Interview – Alan Aldridge
  18. Paint It Black Reprise – Chris Farlowe
  19. Interview – David Hockney
  20. Here Come The Nice – Small Faces
  21. Interview – Lee Marvin
  22. Interstellar Overdrive Extract 2 – Pink Floyd
  23. Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London – Allen Ginsberg 
Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London was released on June 2, 2017.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lightnin’ Willie: “No Black No White Just Blues” (2017) CD Review

Ah yes, blues is the order of the day, what with the nation having firmly lodged itself in dark and horrid territory and not taking any of the escape routes that seem open to it. People are acting oddly these days, without logic or reason, and things are uncertain all around. But one thing that you can rely on is the blues to lift you from the mire by letting you know you’re not alone. And Lightnin’ Willie’s new album, No Black No White Just Blues, is a perfect choice for that. This album is full of great grooves, excellent work by all musicians involved, and positive vibes so potent you’ll be smiling as the world crumbles around us. This disc features all original material, though much of it has such a familiar ring to it that you’ll be surprised you hadn’t heard it before. And you’ll definitely want to hear it again.

Lightnin’ Willie kicks off the disc with “Can’t Get That Stuff,” a tune with a good groove (reminding me a bit of CCR at times), about how things are changing, and so much you once could get is now gone. There is a playful element to this song. “Selling homemade whisky for a dollar a jar/You can’t get that stuff no more.” My favorite section is that delicious lead part by Doña Oxford on keys. “There was a pretty woman up on top of the hill/Used to let me kiss her for a one-dollar bill/You can’t get that stuff no more.” That’s followed by a fun number titled “Eyes In The Back Of My Head,” a song about a cheating woman – yes, one of those great blues subjects. “Last night you come home and kiss me/I lost all of my hope/Sweet lips taste like cigarettes/Girl, and you don’t even smoke/I can’t take it.” There is some nice work on harmonica.

“Locked In A Prison” has a very cool, late-night vibe, featuring some wonderful, light work on the keyboard, and a smooth and sweet saxophone. And if I’m not mistaken, there is some pride, as well as heartache, in Lightnin’ Willie’s voice as he sings, “She used to love me/She used to call my name.” But guess what? It ends with him telling us he has to stop talking to us because “I hear the sound of her shoes.” In “Note On My Door,” I dig the way the bass shapes this song. This is another blues tune about losing his woman, and in this case being unable to cry. And this one, too, takes a turn at the end. “Birds are calling, she smiles at me/That’s when I realized it was all a bad dream.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Heartache,” which has a delightful groove. Lightnin’ Willie’s voice reminds me a bit of Jim Bianco on this track, in the style and approach. “This woman I was loving/Took my heart when she left/Gotta find my heart/So I have something to break.” And I love the horn. There is something fun about this song, and the guitar work has a friendly feel to it. Another favorite is “Thinking Of You,” a love song with a sweet, delicious classic feel, a looking back at a relationship. “I’d spend all my money/Just to hear your voice one more time.” This song is beautiful. Lightnin’ Willie then leaves us dancing with a good, playful rockin’ tune titled “Shake My Snake.”

CD Track List
  1. Can’t Get That Stuff
  2. Eyes In The Back Of My Head
  3. Locked In A Prison
  4. Sad ‘N’ Blue
  5. Note On My Door
  6. Heartache
  7. Fuss And Fight
  8. Phone Stopped Ringing
  9. Thinking Of You
  10. Shake My Snake

Musicians on this album include Lightnin’ Willie on guitar and vocals, Pete Anderson on bass and harmonica, Michael Murphy on piano and organ, Skip Edwards on organ and accordion, Doña Oxford on piano, Jesper Kristensen on drums, Jerry Olson on drums, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, and Luke Miller on strings.

No Black No White Just Blues was released on June 16, 2017 on Little Dog Records.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Aaron Burdett: "Refuge" (2017) CD Review

If you're looking for some well-written and engaging new folk music, you should check out Refuge, the latest album from Aaron Burdett, a singer and songwriter based in North Carolina. All of the songs on this disc were written by Aaron Burdett, and they feature some excellent lyrics. Joining him on this album are Jeff Hinkle on bass, James Kylen on drums, Jackson Dulaney on lap and pedal steel and David Johnson on fiddle. There are also some guest musicians on certain tracks.

Aaron Burdett kicks off the CD with "Pennies On The Tracks," a song tackling those perennial folks subjects - trains, working men, death. Aaron's is a trustworthy voice spinning a good tale, delivering it without unnecessary adornment. Check out these lines: "Mind your job, boys, and take your work to heart/One wrong move and we'll all be torn apart/There's no room for error, sure death for mistakes/If pride in your work won't guide you, let the fear of God today." The song builds in intensity, until it gives way to a wonderful instrumental section halfway through. I love David Johnson's work on fiddle. That instrumental section deftly divides the song into two connected parts, the second having a more personal feel.

That's followed by "It's A Living," which has a fuller, happier country sound, and is about working an office job one is not passionate about. "There's a paycheck at the end of the week/It seems a little smaller every time to me." No kidding! "After all this time, if I was gone two weeks, they'd forget I was ever here/It's good to have the bills paid/But it's a precious trade/Spending half of my time at something I don't like to pay for the half I do/But it's a living." We can all relate to this, though some of us work more than half our time. "And this office job, it ain't too hard/Easy on the back, but hard on the heart."  But as I mentioned, this song does have an upbeat sound, and it seems to urge us to maintain a positive attitude and live our lives to the fullest whenever and however we can. Joining Aaron Burdett on this track are Tim Surrett on rhythm guitar and Jeff Collins on piano.

Aaron Burdett then returns to a nice folk vibe with "Looking For Light," one of my personal favorites. There is some impressive guitar work on this track, with Jackson Dulaney playing the second acoustic guitar. However, the focus is the vocals, the lyrics. Check out these lines: "Let the pain pass/We're left with the scars we all have/The signs of a well-lived life." And these lines feel especially relevant and important these days: "But lies from the talking heads repeating what the TV said/Can fill the day with fears that have no bearing on me/In the end, nothing's as bad as it seems when first brought to light." Yes, ultimately this is a positive song. Then in "Last Refuge," he sings, "We all need a place to hide/A quiet room off to the side/Let the party rage on while you pass right through."

Another of my favorites is "A Couple Broken Windows," with its sweet folk vibes. "Giving up ain't the same as giving in/And living rough ain't a sin/Choices made in the heat of yesterday/They add up to the shape I'm in/The add up the to world I'm living in." There is some wisdom and experience in his voice, but enough youth to provide the song and listener with hope. You know? But perhaps the best song of the album is "Thieves And Charlatans." It is so honest, so beautiful, so vulnerable and strong simultaneously. This song features more good work by David Johnson on fiddle. "And I've spent some time with thieves and charlatans, it's true/And I can't promise all those days are through/But I can say with full conviction and the road ahead in view/I'll do anything it takes to stand next to you." This is an excellent song, a song of both maturity and excitement. The CD then concludes with "Wolves At The Door," with Aaron Burdett's vocals reminding me a bit of Van Morrison. And by the end he's howling like Warren Zevon. Jason Webb plays organ on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Pennies On The Tracks
  2. It's A Living
  3. Looking For Light
  4. Last Refuge
  5. Rock And Roll
  6. Another Nail In The Coffin
  7. A Couple Broken Windows
  8. Poor Man
  9. Thieves And Charlatans
  10. Wolves At The Door
Refuge was released on May 12, 2017 on Organic Records.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Raging Fire: "These Teeth Are Sharp" (2017) CD Review

In the mid-1980s, Raging Fire was formed in Nashville, the band originally going by the name Ring Of Fire. The band released one LP in that decade, Faith Love Was Made Of, and then by 1990 broke up. Fortunately, their story did not end there. A compilation of their material, Everything Is Roses 1985-1989, was released in 2015, a few years after the death of guitarist Michael Godsey (Godsey and Mark Medley started going through the old recordings in 2012 with the idea of putting together that compilation). To celebrate that release, the band reunited for a show, and that show got the band going again. And in May of this year, the band put out its first new album in thirty years. The CD, These Teeth Are Sharp, is dedicated to Michael Godsey (and to Jim Ridley, a fan of the band). Some of the songs on this disc were written early in the band's career, songs that were not recorded before (as well as two that were recorded before and included on the band's first album), while others are new. The lineup for this album includes founding members Melora Zaner, Mark Medley and Les Shields, as well as John Reed and Rusty Watkins, both of whom played in the band in the 1980s. Joining them are Joe Blanton and Jeff Cease on guitar, and Giles Reaves on keys.
The album kicks off with its title track, "These Teeth Are Sharp," a song from early in the band's existence, one with very cool vibe, a rock sound with some country elements and a punk attitude and energy, particularly heard in Melora Zaner's vocal delivery. And it's this combination of sounds and vibes that got me excited about this CD. There is also some delicious work on guitar. This song is a great start to the album, and features some interesting lyrics. "Maybe there's only one way out/One way out of this life of pain/One more flash, and the pain is gone." And I love that moment where Melora delivers the title line a cappella. That's followed by "A Narrow Sky," a song that was originally recorded for and included on the band's first album, Faith Love Was Made Of. This song is a good dose of rock and roll. "Do you know the feeling when the air closes in/As quiet as the grave/Well, it's a narrow sky here in Tennessee, babe/It takes much tolerance."

The only cover on this CD is "Walking The Dog," the Rufus Thomas song that for a while every band seemed to cover. But I hadn't heard a new version in a while, and the only female singer I can think of offhand that tackled it is Sandie Shaw, back in the 1960s. This version by Raging Fire has a cool, slow groove, and Melora Zaner delivers the lines with a cute girlishness, even a teasing whisper. It's a damn good rendition, no question. (And hey, this song is perfect for today, as it mentions the fourth of July in its lyrics.) That's followed by "After Loving One Man From East Texas," a song that was originally included on the band's first album. The version here is quite different. It is more of a rock tune, and contains hints of The Cramps, right? In the music, not the vocals. Anyway, this is one of my favorite tracks, and Melora's delivery is full of attitude. I love the original version too, but the direction the band took the song on this album is bloody brilliant, and it features some catchy work on guitar.

And then suddenly Raging Fire gives us a ridiculously positive pop tune, "Free To Be," which is absolutely wonderful, and certainly needed these days when things seem to be going wrong in all sorts of ways. Here are the opening lines: "Such a beautiful day/I'm so unafraid/Blue skies above/I'm so full of love." And here are some lyrics you might appreciate: "I'm free to be/In control of my own destiny/You see, that's the way it has to be/For you and me." Indeed. We need a bit of reminding now and again, don't we? "Free To Be" is followed by "Hush Angel Blue," a song that was included on Everything Is Roses. It's the only live track on that compilation, and on that disc is titled "Angel A Blue," though you can hear Melora introduce the song as "Hush Angel A Blue." It was recorded in 1989, and the sound quality of that live recording isn't perfect, so it's great to have this new clear version, particularly as it's a really good song.

But perhaps my favorite song is "Hopeful While In Bed." Certainly, it has my favorite title of any song on this album. Something about this song has dug its way into my brain and made a home for itself in there. Part of it is Melora Zaner's vocal performance, which is nuanced and intriguing. But there is also something familiar about the groove of this song, something that pulls me in. It's a wonderful song. "Curse this house and curse this home/Dream about living alone." "Raindances" then has the most straightforward rock sound of the album. And the disc concludes with "Dreams From Under The Love Seat," which of course has my second favorite title. "Dreams you might forget in a week/Who can we ask and who might know/If dreams stay in your head, then where do they go?"

CD Track List
  1. These Teeth Are Sharp
  2. A Narrow Sky
  3. Walking The Dog
  4. After Loving One Man From East Texas
  5. Free To Be
  6. Hush Angel Blue
  7. Hopeful While In Bed
  8. Raindances
  9. Dreams From Under The Love Seat
These Teeth Are Sharp was released on May 12, 2017. Let's hope there is more to come from this band.

Music in Boston (And Nearby), Summer 2017

I try to organize my trips east in such a way that I'm able to catch at least a few good concerts. This time there were so many to choose from that I ended up missing artists like Dead & Company, Ellis Paul, Cloud Cult, Huey Lewis And The News, Aimee Mann, and Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin, all of whom were playing in the area, and all of whom I would have loved to see. But I did see Josh Ritter, Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars, Air Traffic Controller, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band.

Josh Ritter

I got to Massachusetts very late on the 14th (or very early on the 15th, depending on your politics), and the first concert of the trip was on the 16th in Derry, New Hampshire, at a place called Tupelo Music Hall. It was the first time I'd been to a show at the venue's new location. The place was nice, and had a relaxed atmosphere, but the stage lights for some reason were not very bright. Lots of deep blues, which tended to create a distance between the audience and the band, and also made some of us rather sleepy. Both Josh and opener Amber Rubarth delivered good sets to an appreciative audience. For me, the energy was a bit low, but several people were dancing, so the low energy might have been from me rather than the band. Either way, it was still a good show, and Josh played my favorites. His band included Mark Erelli, and toward the end of the show Mark sang lead on a song, which was cool. I didn't write down the set list that night, but rather just enjoyed the music.

Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars

My girlfriend and I attended two concerts on June 24th, the first being Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars at the Plough And Stars in Cambridge. Though billed as a CSARs show, the band was basically the Country Pleasures duo, with just the addition of trombone, and with Emily on vocals for certain songs. Things are loose in the summer, Josh explained before the show.  See, the lineup of the Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars changes from show to show, depending on who's available for a particular gig. That's part of the charm and excitement of those gigs. I love what Josh and Mark Earley do in the Country Pleasures, so I saw the lack of a lot of musicians as a positive thing. They did two sets, kicking off the first at 4 p.m. with "Baby What You Want Me To Do," followed by "France Blues" and "Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses." Mark Earley then chose "Sittin' On Top Of The World." Emily joined them on vocals for "Rockin' Chair Money" and "Jackson," the latter featuring a playful mock fade-out. The first set also included "Sugar Mama," "Stewball," and "You'd Better Mind." Emily then returned to sing on the last two songs, "Sweetest Waste Of Time" and "Step It Up And Go." The first set ended at 4:55 p.m., with Josh joking about the band's name, conflating Country Pleasures and Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars.

Josh said they'd be back in fourteen minutes, and thirteen minutes later they kicked off the second set with "Bright Lights, Big City." During "Long Way From Home," the trombone and harmonica sounded so damn good together. They followed that with "Outside Blues." We left partway through the second set in order to get to my brother's house early for the second concert of the day - Air Traffic Controller.

"Baby What You Want Me To Do"
"Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses" 
"Rockin' Chair Money"
"Outside Blues"

Air Traffic Controller

My brother hosts a series of house concerts in Billerica (outside of Boston), and during this trip Air Traffic Controller did an acoustic show there. I'd seen Air Traffic Controller a couple of times before, but never the acoustic version of the band. For this show, they were a four-piece band (Steve Scott wasn't there). It was the night before the official CD release show for Echo Papa at The Sinclair, but the CD was available for those of us in attendance, and they played some of the new material. They opened the show, however with "Pick Me Up," a song from Nordo. The first set focused on selections from the band's 2016 release, Black Box. From that album, they played "What You Do To My Soul" (with Adrian on mandolin), "Get It Over With," "Water Falls" and "Island." "Island" actually ended the first set, with Casey performing it solo. They also did "This Road," with Dave first mentioning, "This is a song that was written while driving," revealing it's about nearby Route 3. Before Casey played "Island," Dave said they'd play new songs in the second set. "We're going to go out to the van and learn them real quick."

They opened the second set with "Doubt," a song from the new CD, and followed it with a couple of favorites from Black Box: "People Watching" and "The House," the latter of which is one of the most ridiculously catchy songs I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. And it worked just as well in an acoustic setting. In introducing "Ready Or Not," Dave told the audience that it's not a breakup song, though many people think it is. "It's a let's-try-to-keep-it-together song." They followed that with a really nice version of "Warrior," before playing some more songs off the new album, including "It's You," "Live In" and "After Party." They also played "The Work" (I love Casey's work on bass on that one) and "Bad Axe, MI" (with Adrian on harmonica), and ended the show with "Are You With Me?"

(By the way, I picked up the new CD, and it's really good.)

"Water Falls"
"You Know Me"
"You Know Me"
"The House"
"Bad Axe, MI"

Yonder Mountain String Band

On June 27th, my brother and I headed up to New Hampshire for an outdoor concert by Yonder Mountain String Band. The show was part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. The music was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with Tyler Childers doing an opening set, but you could put blankets down starting at 3 p.m. On the way up, we drove through a hard rain and saw lightning in the distance. But the rain was supposed to stop by 7 or 8, so we weren't worried. When we arrived, a little before 4, it was raining, but several people had already staked out territory with blankets and chairs. Surprisingly no one had claimed the very front, so we put our blanket there, holding it down with several rocks we found in the area in case a strong wind accompanied the storm. Then we went off to get some dinner and beer at a local brewery, and to get dry.

Tyler Childers started his short solo acoustic set at 7:20 p.m., and I was particularly impressed by some of his lyrics. Several times during his set, certain lines grabbed me. And the rain had stopped. Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at 8:09 p.m., kicking off their set with a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues," leading straight into "Kentucky Mandolin," which featured a delicious bass lead and then a mandolin solo. There were some sound issues with Dave's microphone at the beginning of "Just The Same," but it was still a good version. As at the Troubadour show I saw recently, the band did several songs from their new album, Love. Ain't Love, which was released on the 23rd, playing a really nice "Bad Taste," "Last Of The Railroad Men" and "Take A Chance On Me." Dave introduced "Take A Chance On Me" by clarifying for the audience that it was not an ABBA song. During "Only A Northern Song," we could see lightning behind the band, and it wasn't long before the rain started to fall. And then suddenly it was announced the show was over, they had to shut down because of the lightning. It was 9:06 p.m., and so this was by far the shortest Yonder Mountain concert I'd attended. People were surprised, but everyone seemed to understand that it wasn't worth the risk to continue playing.

Tyler Childers
Yonder Mountain String Band

Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band

Josh Lederman, in addition to Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars and The Country Pleasures, leads a brass band called Be Nice Or Leave. On June 30th, they played at Bull McCabe's, which used to be Tir Na Nog, a venue where Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos often played (yes, I saw some excellent shows at this location). The band took the stage at 9:34 p.m., and during the first number, the cymbal attempted an escape. It didn't get far, and the band then played "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," followed by "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." The first set was a lot of fun, and it ended at 10:15 p.m. After a twenty-minute break, the band came back for a second set, which was even better and included "I'll Fly Away" and "Oh, Didn't He Ramble," as well as a fantastic rendition of "Blue Monk." Toward the end of the set they did "Down By The Riverside" straight into "This Little Light Of Mine." The second set ended at 11:21 p.m., with Josh saying, "Go Sox." The Red Sox were in extra innings at that point, and Josh said they'd play until the game was over. The Red Sox would win that game in the eleventh inning, but my girlfriend and I left after the second set.

Make Music Harvard Square, 2017

There is always music in Harvard Square. I started seeing concerts there in my teens, mostly at Passim, and noticed there were lots of musicians playing on the streets. These weren't untalented, poor bastards who couldn't get a gig elsewhere; often they were people that I'd seen at venues in the area, sometimes people I'd already paid to see. And they simply set up on a sidewalk or in a subway station, with a jar or opened guitar case for tips. Sometimes the music on the streets is better than what is in the clubs. And sometimes the music in the streets is organized, as it was on June 17th, the date of the tenth annual Make Music Harvard Square festival.

No stages were set up, and it seemed each artist was responsible for his or her own amplification, but there were spots reserved throughout the area for bands and singer/songwriters to set up, and there was a schedule which was (for the most part) adhered to. I wasn't familiar with anyone on the list, so I figured to just wander about and catch what I happened to catch. Sometimes you stumble into magic. But we needed to start somewhere, and my girlfriend saw that there was a ukulele player doing 1980s pop songs at 4 p.m. A perfect start to the afternoon, we figured. But when the guy playing before Chelsea Girl (the ukulele artist) left, taking the microphone and speaker with him, no one arrived to take his place. The only thing remaining to indicate that music would happen there was a sign. We waited for fifteen minutes, but no ukulele. Not a great start. By then, there were eight of us in our party, and we went off in search of music.

Playing just behind the entrance to the subway was a group calling itself Boston Area Brigade Of Activist Musicians,  a group made of horns and percussion. They were kind of fun, but so loose as to seem to be not really paying attention to each other at times. Somewhat out of tune, somewhat messy, but still kind of enjoyable. At moments, I wondered if they were having us on. And some weird guy started dancing next to the band, waving around a sign that read, "I Love Orrin Under These Constitutional Circumstances."

The kids (we had three children in the party - my niece and nephew, and some stray they'd picked up along the way) were hungry, so we went to a pizza place whose name escapes me at the moment. On the way, we caught just a bit of a blues rock set by Erie Blue, just a song or two. We might have stayed longer had there not been a need for food.The pizza place was nice, with good people, and a delicious sandwich with homemade hummus. The beer selection was really its only weak factor. None of the kids ate much, but whatever. It was a nice break after so little music.

After lunch (or was that dinner?), we split up, as the kids wanted to see a pop band, and I felt a need to see something that had a chance of being good. According to the schedule, a bluegrass band was playing back at the subway entrance. Called The New Englanders, they certainly had bluegrass instruments - fiddle, banjo, stand-up bass - but were not, in fact, a bluegrass band. They did some folk and pop songs - both covers and originals. They were good, but their sound was set up in such a manner that they were impossible to really hear. They had two speakers, and the guitar, vocals and bass were coming out of the stage left speaker, while the fiddle and banjo (or mandolin or dobro, depending on which instrument the banjo player chose for a particular song) came out of the stage right speaker. We were close to the stage left speaker, and so could barely hear the fiddle or banjo. But they had a sense of humor, and did some good tunes. They ended their set with a cover of "Friend Of The Devil," which made me happy, though they didn't repeat those last two verses as the Grateful Dead did.

We decided to meet up again, though at this point we lost one member of our party to fatigue. The rest were watching a rock band. Well, the kids weren't really paying attention to the band, but my brother and his wife were. My brother said there was another bluegrass band set up by the Coop, so, as I was still itching for some bluegrass, that's where we headed. But soon it was clear that the people who organized this festival just have no clue what bluegrass music is, because this bluegrass band turned out to be a folk singer. He was good (when we got there, he was singing "I've Been All Around This World," a song I first heard on an old Grateful Dead tape), but was not bluegrass. As that stage was just across the street from the subway stop, we once again went to that area, where we caught a jazz band, The Sultans Of Sax.

The Sultans Of Sax were for me the best band of the day. And as far as I can recall, this was the first time I'd heard an all-sax rendition of "Tequila." As we'd managed to get a table, we decided to stay put for the next band, a pop/punk band called Lily Black. They were teenagers, except for the bass player, who (I'm guessing) must be the dad of one of the other members. The kids' parents helped them set up, and though their set-up took longer than any other band, it was kind of adorable watching them get ready. And these kids weren't fucking around. They had a merchandise table and everything (several people in the audience sported Lily Black T-shirts). The lead singer wore a David Bowie T-shirt, and I wondered if my niece ever listened to the Bowie CD I got for her earlier this year. And you know what? They were not bad. Not bad at all. And perhaps my favorite bit of the entire day was watching one of the dads rocking out just stage right of the band.

We didn't stay for their whole set, however, as some people were smoking near us, and we all started getting a bit queasy. On the bus ride back to Davis Square, the stray child (who was still with us) told me she loved punk music. "Oh yeah? What's your favorite punk band?" I asked her. "Lily Black," she said. So there you have it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer: “Two Of A Kind” (1961/2017) CD Review

I was in the mood for something fun and light, and popped in the recent re-issue of Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer’s Two Of A Kind. It turned out to be even better than I’d expected. Right from the start, it’s apparent that both singers are having a ridiculously wonderful time singing together, and their joy transfers easily to the listener. Seriously, this disc is a delight. The selections include some tunes that Mercer co-wrote, but the choices seem to have been made almost entirely based on how much fun they could have with them. Darin and Mercer also wrote one song together, the album’s title track. The arrangements are by Billy May, and the album was recorded with Billy May’s orchestra. This special expanded re-issue includes seven bonus tracks, all of which were previously unreleased. There are also new liner notes by Cheryl Pawelski, as well as the original liner notes by Stanley Green.

The album opens with an abbreviated rendition of the title track, a delicious big band number that sounds fairly straight until suddenly there is a playful pause in the action for a bit of stage banter. “I think we ought to do a standard, John.” The response: “Yeah, I think we ought to get to work.” And then, bam, they go into “Indiana,” written by Ballard MacDonald and James F. Hanley. They are clearly having a blast, tossing in some casual responses to certain lines, like “You know about that jazz” and “Sounds like it could be fun.” And toward the end, they deliver some scat. This track is just a whole lot of fun.

They follow that with “Bob White,” a song written by Johnny Mercer and Bernie Hanighen. This one too is delightfully playful. How can anything be wrong in the world when songs like this one are playing? The bonus tracks include a different take of this song, and that take features different word play. For example, in this one, the response to “neophyte” is “Where do you dig up those words you find?” rather than “John, what does that word mean?” (In the album version, John answers, “Amateur.”) So that shows you they were really in the moment, playing off each other, rather than delivering rehearsed banter. And I think that’s why the album is such a joy.

“East Of The Rockies” is a delicious, swinging number with some wonderful work on horns. It was written by Sid Robin and Lou Singer. There is an alternate take of this one as well in the bonus tracks. One of my favorites is “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll,” a breezy gem written by Clarence Williams and Spencer Williams. This rendition features more of their playful banter, as well as some fun, catchy playing by the band. The bonus tracks include a different take of this song, which lacks that added bit at the end. There is more delightful play between the vocalists on “My Cutey’s Due At Two-To-Two Today,” right from the start. In fact, the first line is an added comment, “Sounds like a train song if you ask me.” This one had me laughing out loud, and apparently I’m not the only one. At one point you can hear a laugh in the vocals (on “stayed home nights”). The bonus tracks include a different take of this one, and this take is totally enjoyable too.

“Mississippi Mud” begins with a bit of banter too, with Bobby asking, “Hey, John, you ever been to Mississippi?” John responds, “No, man, but I sure would like to visit down there.” And guess what? The bonus tracks also include an alternate take of this song. And the banter is different. John responds to that opening question, “Oh, that’s a little bit further south than where I come from, but I think I could manage it, Robert.” The original album concludes with its title track, and they first mention how they started to play it on the other side of the record. Here they give us the entire thing, without interruption. And it’s a sweet, innocent and completely enjoyable song. “What’s so wrong thinking life is a song/And reaching for a star/And who’s to say if we’ll go the whole way/At least we got this far.”

Bonus Tracks

In addition to the bonus tracks I’ve already mentioned, this disc includes a wonderful rendition of “Cecilia,” which features plenty of joking around, even joking about joking, with comments like “Oh, we’ll be very big in Buffalo.” There is also a nice take of “Lily Of Laguna,” adding a little nod to Billy May to the lyrics.

CD Track List
  1. Two Of A Kind
  2. Indiana
  3. Bob White
  4. Ace In The Hole
  5. East Of The Rockies
  6. If I Had My Druthers
  7. I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll
  8. Lonesome Polecat
  9. My Cutey’s Due At Two-To-Two Today
  10. Medley: Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home/Row Row Row
  11. Who Takes Care Of The Caretaker’s Daughter
  12. Mississippi Mud
  13. Two Of A Kind
  14. Cecilia (Take 4)
  15. Lily Of Laguna (Take 7)
  16. Bob White (Take 17)
  17. East Of The Rockies (Take 6)
  18. I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll (Take 5A)
  19. My Cutey’s Due At Two-To-Two Today (Take 10)
  20. Mississippi Mud (Alternate Take)
This special expanded edition of Two Of A Kind was released on March 24, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Scout Durwood: “Take One Thing Off” (2017) CD Review

Scout Durwood’s new CD, Take One Thing Off, is a combination of fun pop tunes and stand-up comedy, though the songs are often pretty damn funny too.  She alternates between comedy and music, with the comedy generally working as introductions to the tunes. The comedy was recorded live, while the music was recorded in a studio. And though I was laughing through much of this disc, Take One Thing Off certainly isn’t devoid of substance. Scout has something to say, and now is the perfect time to listen. While Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge Pride Month, the rest of us – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification – can support the ongoing fight for equal rights, the fight against discrimination. And why not laugh while doing so? I firmly believe the world is a better place while people are laughing.

Take One Thing Off begins with an introduction, which of course is the right place for an introduction. This track isn’t needed, but is short (less than a minute). It basically just explains that the comedy and music were recorded separately. We’re then treated to the first of the comedy tracks, “Sex Positive,” in which she tells the audience that she would release a sex tape of herself, then adds “But I am a lesbian, so I don’t feel like the world is ready for that much meaningful eye contact.” That leads to the title track, “Take One Thing Off,” a goofy fun song about stripping (“Trust me, less is more”), with a dance rhythm. “Now shut your mouth and dance.” Obey her. Get on that dance floor, friends!

“Drinking” is a comedy bit about… well, drinking. “I love alcohol so much.” This functions as a good introduction to “All The Pretty Bottles,” a pop love song to those glorious vessels of spirits. “All the pretty bottles/Pretty, pretty bottles/Prettiest that I have known/All the pretty bottles/I can hear you calling/Pretty soon.” Oh yes. Pretty much everyone I know has been drinking a lot since the election (which feels like sixty-five years ago), and I think this song will be appreciated.

“Baseball Game” is comedy bit about being hit on by a moronic and juvenile man. I think this was the first track from the album that I heard. It’s followed by an earnest love song titled “Fallin’ In Love.” This pop song really works for me. By the way, the musicians backing Scout Durwood on this CD are Dave Darling on guitar and programming, Arlan Oscar on keys, Rich Ruttenberg on keys, Alfredo Ballesteros on saxophone, and Ismael Pineda on percussion. Backing vocals are provided by Bernie Barlow, Gary Pinto, Natasha Pinto and Dave Darling. (Darling also produced and mixed the album).  

A lot of the comedy on this album has to do with being a lesbian. In “Men In LA,” she says: “They want to know if I’ve ever had sex with a guy. That’s a fair question. And the answer to that is yes. But in my defense, it was the week I moved from New York to Los Angeles, and the men in L.A. look so much like the lesbians in New York.” In the final stand-up piece on this CD, she takes on a serious subject and actually finds humor in a horrific incident. “Being gay and straight, it’s basically the same thing. In fact, except for once, I have never been beaten up in a violent hate crime. It’s like one violent hate crime, but otherwise zero violent hate crimes.”

My favorite track is “The Wedding Song.” I fucking love this song, in which a demented bride-to-be explains everything that is going to happen at her wedding, everything she demands, this woman being the first to establish all the nonsense that has become tradition. “I feel like it should cost as much as college, but have no meaning to anyone but me,” she says. “Also, I want presents, but I get to pick the presents.”  There is a really funny video she made for this song. I showed it to my girlfriend, but she didn’t find it quite as funny as I do. (If you haven’t seen it yet, click here.) That’s followed by “I’m Cool, Right?” which is a song too, so in this case one song follows another, though this song certainly mixes in a healthful does of comedy, with lines like “I am both beautiful and prone to fall down/But I’m cool, right?” This song also actually refers to her career as a comedian.

Then out of nowhere comes a serious, pretty rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. This is the CD’s only cover, and it comes as a wonderful surprise. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Scout Durwood is accompanied only by piano, and by the end she’s belting out the lyrics. She concludes the CD with “Here We Are,” a song that slowly pulled me in. It becomes more powerful and engaging as it goes on, and ends up being one of my favorite tracks. “They fear our love/But we won’t fear back/Your hand in my hand.”

CD Track List
  1. Intro
  2. Sex Positive
  3. Take One Thing Off
  4. Drinking
  5. All The Pretty Bottles
  6. Baseball Game
  7. Fallin’ In Love
  8. Men In LA
  9. Brooklyn Ca. 2009
  10. The NFL
  11. The Wedding Song
  12. I’m Cool, Right?
  13. My Funny Valentine
  14. Strip Club
  15. Go Go
  16. Anxiety Lions
  17. Taxi Take Me Home
  18. Hate Crime
  19. Here We Are 
Take One Thing Off was released on May 19, 2017 on Blue Elan Records. As Scout sings in “Go Go,” “If you came here to get noticed/Go the fuck home/If you dream of being POTUS/Go the fuck home.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ronan Conroy: “Not A Part Of Anything” (2016) CD Review

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ronan Conroy over the last week or so. His new release, Blood Dread, a five-song EP, has a compelling dark intimate sound, with the vocals and lyrics taking the focus. Its personal and often haunting sound pulled me in. Since I first listened to that EP, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and listen to earlier releases, and discovered that each CD has its own distinct feel, its own vibe. Take his previous release, for example, 2016’s Not A Part Of Anything. It has quite a different sound than Blood Dread, much more of a hard rock feel and attitude on many of the tracks. As on Blood Dread, Ronan Conroy is joined by his Oh Halo band mate Charles Nieland on bass, piano and synthesizer, and by Justin Wierbonski on drums. On this release, he is also joined by Chealsea Conroy on drums on two tracks, and by Satoshi Inoue (Echoscape) on bass on three tracks. All songs are originals, written or co-written by Ronan Conroy. In the liner notes, a year is written next to each of the song titles, and it seems that most of these songs were written a while ago, when he was with Oh Halo, and even before that.

This album opens with “Apart,” a song with a raw rock energy, a bit of punk in the delivery and its rhythm. Quite a bit different from the sound of Blood Dread, but perhaps equally compelling. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Take a bow!/What a great performance, now/You arrive and leave without a warning/In the sun – we lay in the water/You asked me what was on my mind and in my heart.” His vocal approach is markedly different. And yes, I appreciate that the album’s title includes “A Part,” while the first track is titled “Apart.” That’s followed by another rock song, “Terms,” and here the vocals sound more like what I’d heard on Blood Dread, though the guitar and other instruments have at least as much power as the vocals. But that doesn’t mean the lyrics aren’t worth paying attention to. Check out these lines: “Come on, little darling, all the baggage that we’re holding – let’s let go/Holding on won’t do nobody no good/Catalogue and file all the crimes and the lies – we made mistakes/It doesn’t last, doesn’t matter, doesn’t change me and you.”

“Fire Escape” has a bit more of a folk vibe, but is still delivered with a raw, powerful and yet vulnerable feel, and is one of my favorite tracks. It creates vivid images right from its opening lines, “Through the bars across the window/Through the bars of the fire escape/Bleak tall towers stop the sunlight from coming in/Your sad face in the shadows.” There is something desperate and sad about this song, about this character, and yet you somehow know he came through it. After all, he’s singing of these things from a certain perspective. Perhaps escape is possible. That’s followed by “Driving South,” an intriguing track with some good lines, like “Whose opinion are you wearing now?/Paralyzed by your fear of ghosts/You and I – are we circling the drain/Or are we orbiting the stars?” Partway through, this song takes on a harder rock feel briefly, with that electric guitar taking prominence. That line “You couldn’t keep all of your promises if you tried” strikes me each time I listen to this track, because of course it implies that she didn’t try.

“You Little So-And-So” is a heavier punk song, delivered with a snarl, with disdain and anger. If you’re feeling angry these days – and who isn’t – you can enjoy this song while thinking of whichever bastard is irritating you (there’s no question just which orange menace I have in mind). “The neighbors on the street know it/The pole-dancers at 13th Street know it/The telephone solicitor knows it/The bouncers at the door know it.” Oh yes, it comes at you fast and strong, just as it should. There is something raw and deliberately messy about this one, as the emotion of it is in control, so it can’t be clean. You know? Of course you do. “Capitulation Advance” has a heavy rock vibe, with something closer to a hardcore punk energy, particularly in the vocal delivery. It then slides right into “Song #1,” and a good groove emerges. “So sick of being lied to/Why do I even care?” It’s hard to keep the current government from mind when hearing lines like that, regardless of what the actual topic is. Chealsea Conroy plays drums on both “Capitulation Advance” and “Song #1.”

“Memory Afterbirth” is a darker acoustic tune. This song, more than any of the others on this CD, contains a hint of the direction he’d be taking on his next release, and is one of my favorite tracks. “Beyond the point of no return/Beyond the point of anger/There is nothing left to burn/I don’t have your answer.” The CD then concludes with its title track, “Not A Part Of Anything.”

CD Track List
  1. Apart
  2. Terms
  3. Fire Escape
  4. Driving South
  5. Thursday’s Song
  6. You Little So-And-So
  7. The Promise
  8. Capitulation Advance
  9. Song #1
  10. Step By Step
  11. Stop Talking
  12. Memory Afterbirth
  13. Not A Part Of Anything 
Not A Part Of Anything was released on March 10, 2016.