Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cait Brennan: “Third” (2017) CD Review

Cait Brennan’s recent release, Third, is the third studio album she’s recorded, but only the second she’s released, following Debutante. In addition, the album’s title is a nod to Big Star’s Third, which apparently is Cait’s favorite album. In fact, Cait’s Third was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Big Star recorded their albums, and Cait was able to use Chris Bell’s Gibson and Alex Chilton’s Mellotron on this album. All of that is interesting, of course, but wouldn’t matter if the music weren’t so damn good. All of the songs on Third are originals, written or co-written by Cait Brennan. And nearly all of the instruments heard on the album were played by Cait Brennan and Fernando Perdomo (there are guest guitarists on two tracks). I didn’t know that the first time I listened to this disc, and so the second time was even more impressed. This is a wonderful album, mixing pop, rock, glam, and even soul, some of it with a 1970s flavor.

I was on board from this album’s opening line, “Yeah, I’m the asshole who stole your boyfriend.” That line might get a laugh, but “Bad At Apologies” is kind of a serious song, and it rocks. At moments, it actually reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann, just in the phrasing on lines like “So let’s go direct to the scene of the tragedy.” And I love these lines: “Kinda tried to hide it, but I never denied it/And if you think that you can resist, then you’ve never tried it.” “Bad At Apologies” is followed by “Stack Overflow,” a song that demands some volume. It’s another powerful (and seriously fun) rock tune with a steady beat and some great vocals. Think of some of Eurythmics’ best rockers, and you’ll have an idea of the sound and feel of this one. And check out these lines: “I went before the lord/I begged him for a chance just to sing my song/He said ‘you’ll sing it loud, but you won’t sing it long.’” This one got me dancing.

“He Knows Too Much” is a song about having to kill someone, but with a pleasant early rock sound, even hand claps, and something of a Sweet sound to the vocals during the chorus. “Well, he knows (he knows)/Too much (too much)/I think we’ll have to kill him.” There is a humorous spoken word part at the end, which first explains that Cait is not really going to kill anyone, then reverses that position slightly in the final line, “So give the girl a break, and treat her with some respect, or she just might lose her shit.” Ah, you’ve got to love a kick-ass, slightly off-kilter chick with a sense of humor. And then suddenly she delivers a sweet love song, “At The End Of The World.” Sure, it’s an apocalyptic love song, but it’s heartfelt. “At the end of the world/When all of it’s through/I’ll be with you.”

“A Hard Man To Love” is a fun tune, with a seventies feel, reminding me a bit of ELO. This one was written by Cait Brennan and Fernando Perdomo. And then there is something strangely beautiful about “Caitiebots Don’t Cry.” I think you’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear it. That’s followed by “Benedict Cumberbatch,” a song that just makes me feel good. It’s a response to an ex, saying the guy doesn’t even deserve the song, and so it’s being given to Benedict Cumberbatch. And why not? He seems like a good guy. And he’s played Hamlet. And yes, there is a certain 1970s aspect to this song. And to the following song as well, “Shake Away,” which was written by Cait Brennan, Van Duren and Fernando Perdomo. Van Duren also plays guitar on this one. This song deals playfully with a near-death experience in 2016, the year of one death after another. (Boy, 2016 just completely fucking sucked from beginning to end. Any year that takes Leonard Cohen and leaves us with Donald Trump is a year that should be knocked senseless and left in a ditch at the side of the road.) “I said, the year’s trying to kill me but I’ll be fine/’Cause I ain’t great enough to slaughter by the deadline.” That’s followed by another song that deals with the same subject, “The Angels Lie.” This one calls out by name a few of the great musicians we lost last year – “Everybody let me go/Like Haggard, Prince and David Bowie/Gotta get me to the show.” Both of these songs are a lot of fun, and this one includes a bridge, during which she sings “Insert the bridge here/I think the bridge goes here.” Cait delivers this song with the energy and passion of a Meatloaf song, just really going for it, giving it everything, the way Meat Loaf does. And at the end, she sings, “Insert the end here/I think the end goes here.”

“Collapse” is a mellower tune, and one that really grew on me. Something about this is quite moving. Robert Maché (from the Continental Drifters) plays lead guitar on this track. “Everything you want, I’ll say it now/Any price you want, I’ll pay it now/Everything I am, just take away/Tired of being this every day.” And check out these lines from “Perish The Thought”: “When I see you/I see the worst of myself/The part I left in some corner of hell/When I see you/I kind of want it back.” Yeah, Cait can certainly write some damn good lyrics.

CD Track List
  1. Bad At Apologies
  2. Stack Overflow
  3. He Knows Too Much
  4. At The End Of The World
  5. A Hard Man To Love
  6. Caitiebots Don’t Cry
  7. Benedict Cumberbatch
  8. Shake Away
  9. The Angels Lie
  10. Collapse
  11. LA/Amsterdam
  12. Perish The Thought
  13. Goodbye Missamerica 
Third was released on April 21, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Leonard Cohen: “From The Shadows” (2017) CD Review

From The Shadows contains the show that Leonard Cohen performed on June 5, 1976 at L’Oympia in Paris. It’s another of those unofficial releases based on radio broadcasts, but I will take whatever Leonard Cohen I can get. Strangely, on the back of the CD case the show is listed as being from May 5, 1976, but that is not correct. The front of the case has the correct date. From what I can gather, this disc contains approximately half the concert that Leonard Cohen performed that night, and it includes a couple of songs some folks may be unfamiliar with – “Store Room” and “Do I Have To Dance All Night.” Neither of those songs was included on Leonard Cohen’s studio LPs (at least not originally). This disc contains more than an hour of music, and features some absolutely fantastic performances.

It opens with “Bird On The Wire,” which was the first song Leonard Cohen played that night. It’s a beautiful rendition, with Leonard Cohen singing some of it in French. By the way, he is backed on vocals by Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan, and they are gorgeous here. That song is followed by “Who By Fire” (it seems that this disc skips “So Long, Marianne”). Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan have a strong presence on this track as well. Sid McGinnis is on guitar, and Johnny Miller is on bass, and both deliver some interesting stuff here. The band is rounded out by Fred Thaylor on keys and Luther Rix on drums.

“Store Room” was not originally included on a studio release, but was later included as a bonus track on the 2007 re-issue of Songs, his first album. This live version is a lot of fun, with some wonderful stuff by Fred Thaylor on keys. What’s interesting is that the lyrics are almost completely different from that of the studio recording. Sure, we know that Leonard Cohen sometimes continued working on a song after releasing a studio version. The obvious example is “Hallelujah,” which gained a few new verses over the years. But this song wasn’t even released back then, and it’s interesting to me that he continued working on it without releasing it. Anyway, here is a taste of the lyrics: “Shakespeare, he said it all/Then he said no more/And he left me feeling just like a two-bit whore/Well, the silence broke my heart/But I spread my legs apart.”

That’s followed by “I Tried To Leave You,” a song from New Skin For The Old Ceremony. This song would later develop into a showcase for each member of his touring band. But here it is a cool, jazzy number, with Fred Thaylor’s work on keys standing out. Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan deliver a wonderful vocal section which makes this rendition something special. Then in “Lady Midnight,” instead of “Where I kneeled on her floor,” Leonard sings, “Where I begged like a dog on her floor.” After a high-energy version of “There Is A War,” Leonard Cohen does “Do I Have To Dance All Night.” This is a song he performed fairly often at the time, but which he did not include on a studio LP. It was, however, released as a single in 1976, paired with “The Butcher.” The version here is a lot of fun, especially with that prominent bass line. There is a crackling sound near the beginning of “Avalanche,” but it is a good version. It’s followed by “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” at the end of which Leonard sings, “That’s all, baby, I don’t even think of you that often.” After this song, there is a radio station identification, in French. It’s kind of odd that the station identification is left in, since a lot of this show is apparently cut.

The version of “The Partisan” on this disc is interesting because of Luther Rix’s drum march which begins halfway through. There is another radio announcement after “The Partisan,” again in French. The backing vocalists nearly overpower Leonard Cohen at moments in “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s an unusual rendition, certainly not my favorite way that I’ve heard him perform it. He ends it with the spoken line, “Sincerely, a friend.” And for some reason there is yet another radio announcement. It’s kind of irritating at this point. I want nothing to interrupt a Leonard Cohen recording. And there is another radio interruption after “Lover Lover Lover.” What the fuck? Well, I totally dig this version of “Is This What You Wanted,” which has some interesting changes. This disc then concludes with “Suzanne.” “And you know she’s half crazy, but that’s why you want to be there.” Oh yes.

CD Track List
  1. Bird On The Wire
  2. Who By Fire
  3. Store Room
  4. I Tried To Leave You
  5. Lady Midnight
  6. There Is A War
  7. Do I Have To Dance All Night
  8. Avalanche
  9. Chelsea Hotel #2
  10. The Partisan
  11. Story Of Isaac
  12. Famous Blue Raincoat
  13. Lover Lover Lover
  14. Is This What You Wanted
  15. Suzanne 
From The Shadows was released on April 7, 2017.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Harding Theater 1971” (2016) CD Review

Ah, early 1970s Grateful Dead. It’s hard to beat it. Harding Theater 1971 is a three-disc set containing the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at the Harding Theater in San Francisco on November 7, 1971. It’s another of the releases taken from radio broadcasts, but it’s a good package, with liner notes written by someone who is actually familiar with the band (sometimes they’re not), though it might be that portions of those notes were lifted from a Grateful Dead fan website. Anyway, it’s an excellent show, and the radio station identifications always come between songs, never over the music.

The first disc, at nearly 79 minutes, contains most of the first set. Yeah, this was a nice long show. The disc opens with some tuning and stage banter from Bob, Jerry and Phil, who address the radio audience. Jerry tells them they’ll hear the music faster than the folks inside the venue. They then get things off to a great start with “Truckin’,” which features a good jam. Bob then mentions that the monitors have cut out, and they don’t know what to do. “Hey, anybody out there?” They refer to Bob’s yellow dog story. As annoying as I’m sure it was to have their monitors cut out, from my perspective all these years later, it’s a good thing, because we get plenty of stage banter, something we didn’t get much of in the later days. And the radio station doesn’t interrupt it or cut away, which is wonderful. Eventually, they get things working and go into “Brown-Eyed Women.” But then the feed to the radio station becomes problematic, and the song cuts out a few times at the beginning, for just a second each time, and a few more times at the end, and again between songs.

Bob introduces “Beat It On Down The Line” as “the drummer’s choice.” And they begin it with sixteen beats (“Sweet sixteen”), many more than usual. This is a seriously energetic and fun rendition. And after it, Bob announces that the monitors have cut out again. Those technical difficulties lead the band to play “Hide Away,” an instrumental tune written by Freddie King. This was the first time the band ever played it, and actually they would play it only one other time, eighteen years later, when once again they were suffering technical troubles. It’s a good, full version here – reason enough to own this three-disc set.  Technical troubles may be at an end, and the band goes into “Sugaree,” with some interesting vocal phrasing by Jerry. He’s clearly having a good time, and the results are good for us. “Sugaree” is followed by “Jack Straw” and a rockin’ “Tennessee Jed.” There is a station identification after “Tennessee Jed.” It takes a moment to get “Cumberland Blues” underway, but it ends up being an absolutely excellent rendition. More stage banter and tuning follow before the band goes into “El Paso.” Bob’s vocals seem a bit low in the mix, but it’s otherwise a good version. It’s followed by a high-energy rendition of “Big Railroad Blues.” The first disc then concludes with a passionate “Comes A Time.”

The second disc begins with the final couple of tunes from the first set – “Mexicali Blues” and “One More Saturday Night.” There is a station identification between those two songs, and just before they begin “One More Saturday Night,” Bob says, “Oh boy, are you ever gonna love this one.”

The second set opens with “Ramble On Rose.” There is a sound problem at the start, but it seems like it’s the radio feed rather than something from the stage. That’s followed by a sweet rendition of “Me And Bobby McGee.” Someone then calls out a request for “Jack Straw.” The response: “We already did it.” What they choose next is “Loser.” It’s a seriously good version, and is followed by “Sugar Magnolia.” Bob forgets some of the lyrics, but it’s still a fun version and should get you dancing around your home or car or wherever you listen to this disc. It feels like a set closer, but the second set is really just getting going. What follows is the big juicy section of the show, beginning with “Dark Star.” It’s mellow at the start, the band is in no hurry, just exploring, see where it takes them, nothing to prove. And as you might expect, that leads to a damn good version. There are hints of “The Other One,” and then a drum solo leads into that song. And what a delicious rendition! The band does only the first verse, then gets into some spacey territory before emerging cleanly into “Me And My Uncle.” And then the moment they finish “Me And My Uncle,” they are right back into “The Other One,” and back into a good spacey jam before pounding into the second verse. After “The Other One,” the band stops to fix a broken string, and there is a longer radio station identification. Then, after a bit of tuning, the second disc comes to a close.

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. It begins with an energetic “Deal,” followed by a pretty rendition of “Brokedown Palace” and then “Playing In The Band.” This is one of the best versions of “Playing In The Band” from 1971. The song was still fairly new, and most versions from this time lacked those wonderful long jams you’d get later on. But this one has a good bit of jamming. There is another radio station identification after that song. During more technical troubles, Bob does his “dead air” joke, and Jerry asks, “Get it?” They engage the audience in some jokes. The band then gets things going again with a rockin’ rendition of “Casey Jones.” The second set concludes with “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” The band is on fire here, particularly during “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” Some of the crowd noise is cut before the encore. The encore is “Johnny B. Goode” and a wonderful “Uncle John’s Band.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Intro
  2. Truckin’
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Hide Away
  6. Sugaree
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Tennessee Jed
  9. Cumberland Blues
  10. El Paso
  11. Big Railroad Blues
  12. Comes A Time
Disc Two
  1. Mexicali Blues
  2. One More Saturday Night
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Me And Bobby McGee
  5. Loser
  6. Sugar Magnolia
  7. Dark Star >
  8. Drums >
  9. The Other One >
  10. Me And My Uncle >
  11. The Other One 
Disc Three
  1. Deal
  2. Brokedown Palace
  3. Playing In The Band
  4. Casey Jones
  5. Not Fade Away >
  6. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  7. Not Fade Away
  8. Johnny B. Goode
  9. Uncle John’s Band 
Harding Theater 1971 was released on February 12, 2016 through Left Field Media.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82” (2011/2017) CD Review

Real Gone Music is re-issuing the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series of live recordings, starting at the end and working their way backward. They began with Vol. 4 No. 5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76, which came out in June. The second re-issue in the series is Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82. While most Grateful Dead live releases focus on the seventies (and with good reason), the band put on some excellent shows throughout the entire thirty-year career, and it’s great to have some early eighties recordings. Road Trips Vol 4 No. 4 contains the complete concert the Dead performed on April 6, 1982 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia (along with some songs from the previous night at the same venue).

The first disc contains the entire first set. “Cold Rain And Snow” is always a good opener, and Jerry Garcia’s voice sounds really good here. The energy builds well toward the end. Bob Weir then keeps things going with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” with Brent Mydland delivering some nice stuff on keys. At this point, Brent had been with the band for a few years, though still, from what I understand, felt like the new guy. This version gets a bit messy, but is still pretty good. For me, things start getting exceptional with “Candyman.” This is a beautiful and interesting rendition, with Jerry on top of things musically, vocally, emotionally. And Bob matches him vocally on “C.C. Rider,” which follows. This is a seriously good rendition, in large part because of Bob’s vocal performance. And Jerry’s guitar sounds wonderful. Plus, they let the groove stretch out a bit. This is not a song I usually consider all that much, but this version is making me take another, closer look. This is certainly one of the best versions I’ve heard the band do.

They follow that with a damn good “Brown-Eyed Women.” Just listen to Jerry sing the “Daddy made whiskey and he made it well” verse. Excellent! Hell, even the pair of “Mama Tried” into “Mexicali Blues” has a certain flair. The band is on. “Big Railroad Blues” seems the natural choice to follow those two songs, flowing well thematically, and this is a good, rockin’ version. Bob then slows things down for a pretty and passionate rendition of “Looks Like Rain,” with some unusual stuff toward the end, making this a version worth paying attention to. That’s followed by an energetic “Jack-A-Roe.” The first set is rounded out with two more rockin’ numbers, “It’s All Over Now” and “Might As Well.”

The second disc contains more than half of the second set, as well as a portion of the first set from the April 5th show. Yeah, it’s set up weirdly. I understand and appreciate that they don’t want to break up that post-“Space” section, and I’m happy to have this music from the night before, but I would have put it on a fourth disc rather than sticking it in the middle of the second set. Because basically you need to take this disc out after “Space” and put the third disc in, and then return to the rest of this disc later. Anyway, the second set opens with “Shakedown Street,” which features a good, groovy jam. I dig that vocal jam, and especially that interplay between Jerry and Brent, a bit of call and response. That ends up being one of the highlights of the show. The band follows that with an okay “Lost Sailor” straight into a pretty good version of “Saint Of Circumstance.” “Terrapin Station” is really good, but oddly mellow, right? And for just a moment do they dip into “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”? Wild. “Terrapin” slides into the “Drums/Space” segment. “Drums” is quite good, becoming a beast at times, exploring interesting peaks and valleys, and sometimes becoming almost hypnotic. As “Drums” becomes “Space,” the drummers remain on stage for a short time, which is cool. This is kind of an intriguing “Space,” certainly one of the better ones I’ve heard.

And that’s where the second disc should end. But we’re treated to a few tunes from the first set of the previous night. Though the music is good, it is jarring to be ripped out of the middle of one show and deposited into another. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a terrible idea to include this music. It would have been better to just not include it at all rather than break up the flow of the second set. That being said, the three songs are “Deep Elem Blues,” from the middle of the first set, and “Althea” and “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” which concluded the first set that night. “Deep Elem Blues” is a lot of fun, a jaunty rendition. This is a nice, relaxed “Althea.” And “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” is designed to get us all dancing.

The third disc then takes us back to the second set of April 6th, as “Truckin’” emerges from “Space,” with Bob Weir blowing that whistle. A moment of forgotten lyrics, and then a bizarrely changed lyric – the line “Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine” switched to “Ever since she went and had her sex change.” Very strange. This is a fairly short “Truckin’,” without any jam to speak of, leading straight into an even shorter “The Other One.” It’s wild, but includes just one verse – the second one. And just as suddenly we’re into “Morning Dew.” This is an excellent version of “Morning Dew,” with Jerry’s voice sounding wonderful. It’s an incredibly moving rendition, getting delicate toward the end before building in power at its conclusion. This is definitely another of the show’s highlights. The second set then ends with “Sugar Magnolia.” The encore is a sweet and beautiful “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” concluding the show with another highlight.

The third disc then includes the first half of the second set from the night before, beginning with “Bertha,” which has something of an abrupt ending. That’s followed by a fantastic “Playing In The Band,” with a jam that gets into some interesting territory. It eases into a nice “Ship Of Fools,” and then into a “Playing In The Band” jam. Great stuff. I wish this release had a fourth disc with the complete second set, particularly as the band goes back into “Playing” again after “The Wheel,” so the segment contained on this disc feels incomplete.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow >
  2. Promised Land
  3. Candyman
  4. C.C. Rider
  5. Brown-Eyed Women
  6. Mama Tried >
  7. Mexicali Blues
  8. Big Railroad Blues
  9. Looks Like Rain
  10. Jack-A-Roe
  11. It’s All Over Now
  12. Might As Well
Disc 2
  1. Shakedown Street >
  2. Lost Sailor >
  3. Saint Of Circumstance >
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Rhythm Devils >
  6. Space
  7. Deep Elem Blues
  8. Althea
  9. Man Smart, Woman Smarter 
Disc 3
  1. Truckin’ >
  2. The Other One >
  3. Morning Dew >
  4. Sugar Magnolia
  5. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  6. Bertha
  7. Playing In The Band >
  8. Ship Of Fools >
  9. Playing In The Band 
Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82 was released on September 1, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rocker-T: “The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman” (2016) CD Review

Though I do like reggae, I don’t listen to a whole lot of it, partly because it sometimes begins to feel repetitive to me. But Rocker-T (Toby Petter Herskind Sorensen), on his CD The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman, does some interesting and delightful things with the form. And he’s joined by several guest musicians, including Mykal Rose and Ras Indio. This album really grew on me. Yes, it deals with a lot of the same subjects, same themes as most reggae music – peace, marijuana, and so on – but so much of it feels new here, even as those particular subjects are tackled. The main thing is that this music makes me happy, and we can all use some of that these days.

“Yankee & Yardee” is reggae with a heavy dance beat. I have absolutely no idea what he’s singing here, at least for much of the song, but I’m enjoying the groove. And toward the end he calls out a few familiar names: “Sugar, Dennis and Gregory/Peter, Bunny, Bob Marley.” Folks that current musicians acknowledge a debt to. Gappy Ranks (Jacob Lee Williams) then joins Rocker-T on “Need Some,” which has more of a familiar feel and has a positive sound. Mykal Rose and Mr. Williamz join him for “Disgrace.” “Why is it that they can’t unite?/Why is that they can’t stand together?” Good questions, and presented over a catchy groove.

The song that really got me excited about this disc is “Herbalist.” It is so catchy, so joyful, and it features Mama-T on vocals. The first time I listened to this album, this is the song that grabbed me, the song that turned my day around with its positive, bright sounds. It’s a wonderful track, dedicated to the herbalists “who bring all the healing,” and knocking the ridiculous war on drugs. “Let go the herbalist, you let him be/Let go the herbalist, you set him free.” And of course you can dance to it. So there. It’s followed by another stand-out track, “Man Ah Warrior.” It has just a bit of a New Orleans Dixie jazz vibe that makes me love it. It’s an overall fresh sound, and by this point in the disc I was totally in.

Bass player and vocalist Skip Wicked (Spencer Burton) of Indubious joins Rocker-T on “Chillum,” an unusual and excellent song with something of a tribal rhythm and some impressive vocal delivery. I want to lose myself in the beat, close my eyes and dance until the walls disappear. It has that kind of power, you know? And it’s followed by yet another highlight, “Garden Of Goodness.” It’s funny that a song celebrating marijuana should begin with the sound of someone coughing. But there you have it. This song is a lot fun, and has a delightfully fresh and bright feel. “In the garden of goodness/There’s a weed for releasing my stress/Oh yes, it’s the best/In the garden of goodness/Marijuana caught my interest.” Jah Wave and Ras Indio join Rocker-T on this track. Then Prezident Brown joins Rocker-T on “Blazing Everyday,” obviously another song about smoking marijuana.

Just a couple of months before the release of this CD, Rocker-T put out a disc titled Tru Ganjaman: The Remixes, which contains twenty-three versions of “Tru Ganjaman.” If that CD didn’t provide enough of that song for you, this CD gives you “Tru Ganjaman Megamix,” which I suppose is the title track. Oddly, I don’t find this track nearly as compelling or enjoyable as everything that precedes it. This one ends with coughing. And the tracks that follow it are all remixes of earlier songs, including two versions of “Real Singer Smoker” (I prefer the Phibes Remix) and two versions of “One Million Matches.”

CD Track List
  1. Yankee & Yardee
  2. Need Some
  3. Disgrace
  4. Herbalist
  5. Man Ah Warrior
  6. Chillum
  7. Garden Of Goodness
  8. Blazing Everday
  9. Life Over Death
  10. Tru Ganjaman Megamix
  11. Ganja Slengin (Nickynutz Remix)
  12. Real Singer Smoker (Mt. Analogue Remix)
  13. One Million Matches (Yungg Trip Remix)
  14. Militant & Real (Ill Text Trap-A-Lot Mafia Remix)
  15. Real Singer Smoker (Phibes Remix)
  16. One Million Matches (Mylk Remix)
The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman was released on June 17, 2016. By the way, the digital release of this album contains three more tracks.

Leo Bud Welch: “Live At The Iridium” (2017) CD/DVD Review

In these times of disasters and division, we don’t have a leader to pull us through. Instead, we have a president who is himself a national (though perhaps unnatural) disaster. So it is to music that we turn, and often to the blues. Blues guitarist and singer Leo Bud Welch is someone from whom we can take inspiration. Though he’s been playing guitar since his teens, he did not have a recording career until he was in his eighties. How is that for an example of never giving up! His debut album, Sabougla Voices, was released in early 2014, when Welch was eighty-one. His latest release, Live At The Iridium, is a two-disc set (a CD and DVD) recorded on March 7, 2016 (my birthday) at The Iridium in New York. Accompanied by only a drummer (Dixie Street) and by a backing vocalist (Vencie Varnado) on certain tracks, Leo Welch delivers a loose, intimate and honest performance of mostly covers. And though much of the material might have been written by others, Leo Bud Welch seems to have lived it, giving us the sense that this is the real thing.

Before launching into “Praise His Name,” Leo Welch says, “I don’t know what you come to do, I come to sing my songs.” “Praise His Name” is the lead-off track from Sabougla Voices, and is the only original track in the set. This track features Vencie Varnado on backing vocals. By the way, the DVD is a minute longer than the CD, and includes Vencie’s introduction, in which he says “We’re gonna bring you some gospel, some blues, more gospel, more blues” (a line that made me smile). That’s followed by a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Still A Fool,” which Leo introduces as “old school blues.” He doesn’t talk much between songs, however, and instead usually gives barely a pause. He gets rocking on “Got My Mojo Working.” On the DVD, watch him moving on his chair. It’s clear that even in his eighties, Leo Welch has his mojo working. For that tune, Vencie Varnado returns on backing vocals (and to dance around, totally grooving to the music).

Leo does offer a brief introduction to “Woke Up This Morning”: “When I woke up this morning, I don’t know about you, but my baby was gone. I ain’t had no love since my baby been gone.” Wait, so he hasn’t had any love since last night? That’s not so bad. Someone calls out during a pause in the song, surprising the drummer and making her laugh. I dig Leo’s rendition of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe.” This one is just fun. And then he totally owns “Sweet Little Angel.” Listen to the crowd respond to the way he delivers the first line, “Got a sweet little angel.” In this song, he sings, “I asked my baby, I asked her for a nickel/And she gave me a twenty dollar bill/When I asked her for a little, just a little drink of liquor, do you know what she did/She bought me a whiskey still.” Now that’s a good girlfriend! And I believe him when he sings that if she quits him, “I do believe, I believe I would die.”

For “Cadillac Baby,” Vencie Varnado returns on backing vocals and goofy dance moves, like he’s driving a giant Cadillac. That’s followed by “Po’ Boy,” one of my favorites. “I’m a poor boy/I’m a long way from home.” Oh yes. Interestingly, Vencie says to the crowd, “I’d like to ask Leo to pay a tribute to the legendary B.B. King.” Weird, because I get the sense this set list was planned pretty well. Anyway, he continues: “Leo and B.B. go back a long way, eh? Actually, B.B. had offered Leo an audition back in the fifties, but unfortunately B.B. couldn’t afford Leo’s room and board for one night in Memphis, so he didn’t pursue the opportunity.” He talks about B.B. King working as a radio DJ, and how Pepticon was one of the sponsors for his show. So he asks Leo to perform the jingle B.B. wrote for that sponsor. A strange tribute, eh? One of the oddest choices of covers. Dixie Street sits this one out at first, then adds a little hi-hat and hand percussion toward the end.

I’ve always dug “Good Morning, Little School Girl,” though the older the folks who sing it are, the more twisted it gets. However, when the singer is in his eighties, it becomes innocent and adorable, particularly as he sings, “Tell your mother and your father I am a little schoolboy too.” I love Leo’s take on this song. He turns to country for a good rendition of “Walkin’ The Floor Over You.” Leo Welch then stands up for his final number, “Me And My Lord,” with Vencie echoing Leo on backing vocals.

DVD Bonus Feature

The DVD includes an interview with Leo Welch, in which he talks about his youth and his work cutting timber. He tells a great anecdote about playing his first guitar (which wasn’t really his). During the interview, he plays “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” and there is also some footage of him recording “Walkin’ The Floor Over You.” Leo talks about what the blues mean for him, and about never giving up. Also included in this feature in a bit of an interview with Vencie Varnado about his connection to Leo.

Track List
  1. Praise His Name
  2. Still A Fool
  3. Got My Mojo Working
  4. Five Long Years
  5. No More Doggin’
  6. Woke Up This Morning
  7. My Babe
  8. Sweet Little Angel
  9. Cadillac Baby
  10. Po’ Boy
  11. You Don’t Have To Go
  12. Pepticon
  13. Don’t Let The Devil Ride
  14. Rollin’ & Tumblin’
  15. Good Morning, Little School Girl
  16. Walkin’ The Floor Over You
  17. Me And My Lord 
Live At The Iridium was released on March 31, 2017.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Little Mike: “How Long?” (2016) CD Review

I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately, partly as a way of coping with the awful state our country has so rapidly slid into. Shit, I thought we had largely moved past that angry racism and homophobia, thought we had made some progress, and yet Nazis proudly march in the streets, and with the support of the president no less. What went wrong? What went so horribly wrong? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that the blues can help ease the pain, make us feel less alone. Ah, if only the blues could kill Nazis. Has anyone tried it yet? Anyway, I’ve been enjoying Little Mike’s 2016 release, How Long? It features mostly original music, written by Michael Markowitz. Little Mike is a talented harmonica player, and that instrument figures prominently in most of these tracks. The band also includes Cam Robb on drums, Dave Sweet on drums, Troy Nahumko on guitar, John Edelmann on guitar, Joe Fontenot on bass, Ken Stearns on bass and guitar, and Mitch Margold on organ.

The album gets off to a great start with “Cotton Mouth,” an original instrumental composition, driven by Little Mike’s harmonica. This song feels like a party, and already has me in a better mood. Just listen to that harmonica! And he doesn’t really take a break, just keeps it going. That’s followed by “How Long,” the album’s title track, on which Little Mike plays piano. This song was written by J.B. Lenoir, and has a verse familiar to those folks who enjoy “I Know You Rider.” “I laid down last night, tried to get my rest/Now my mind started rambling like the wild geese in the west.” There is a kind of easygoing jam that is perfect. At the end, Little Mike sings, “Well, then I want my body on that Brooklyn line.” He then adds, “That’s Brooklyn, New York, baby,” clarifying it for anyone who might have confused it with Brooklyn, Indiana or Brooklyn, Michigan or Brooklyn, Iowa (yes, those are actual places).

“Smokin’” starts with harmonica, and quickly develops into a fast-paced little gem about the lethal aspect of cigarettes, and how hard it is to quit the habit. He has no doubt about it, as he sings, “Well, cigarettes killed my mama and my papa too/And I know someday, lord, they’re gonna get me too/Cigarettes gonna kill me/They’re gonna make me die.” Nothing subtle about that. I’d love it if everyone quit smoking cigarettes, as the smoke makes me ill, and I’m so bloody sick of seeing cigarette butts on the ground. If you need to smoke something, switch to pot, folks.  “Smokin’” is followed by “Moanin’,” a cool instrumental written by jazz pianist Bobby Timmons. Interestingly, Little Mike plays harmonica, not piano on this track, and the tune gets a delicious blues treatment. In addition to harmonica, there is some really nice work on guitar here. And I love that bass line.

“When My Baby Left” is a good, solid blues tune with plenty of wonderful work on harmonica. That’s followed by a cover of Johnny Young’s “Slam Hammer,” an instrumental tune with a ton of energy. This one is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and is over before you know it. “Sam’s Blues” is a slow, very cool blues instrumental, led by harmonica. “Not What Mama Planned” is another cool tune, opening with a simple but catchy bass line, and developing into a good blues tune with a nice jam. How Long? ends with a delicious, slow blues tune, “Sittin’ Here Baby,” mainly bass and vocals. It’s interesting, as it sounds like it’s almost difficult for Little Mike to be this quiet. The song feels restrained in a way, like it’s eager to burst open and swallow someone whole, and so even though it’s a mellow song, it kind of has me on edge. “Sitting here, baby, worrying all night long/Worrying as the nighttime, nighttime turns into dawn.

CD Track List
  1. Cotton Mouth
  2. How Long
  3. Smokin’
  4. Moanin’
  5. When My Baby Left
  6. Slam Hammer
  7. Whatcha’ Gonna Do?
  8. Sam’s Blues
  9. Bad Boy
  10. Not What Mama Planned
  11. Tryna’ Find My Baby
  12. Sittin’ Here Baby
How Long? was released on September 1, 2016 on ELROB Records.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gina Sicilia: “Tug Of War” (2017) CD Review

Last summer I was turned on to blues vocalist Gina Sicilia when she released a five-song EP titled Sunset Avenue. If you missed that release, no worries, as all five songs from the EP are also included on her new full-length album, Tug Of War, featuring mostly originally material written by Gina Sicilia. A lot of the songs on this album are about acknowledging and handling pain and adversity, but always with the idea that we’ll get through our troubles. As such, it should be particularly poignant for a lot of folks right now. The country is in shambles, and it’s difficult to remain unaffected by that. In addition, it seems that more people are having personal troubles these days. Maybe that’s just a matter of getting older, I don’t know. What I do know is that most people in my life feel they are at a crossroads of one kind or another, and that something has to change soon. I think people in that situation should find a kindred voice in Gina Sicilia, and in this album especially.

The album opens with “I Don’t Want To Be In Love,” a cool mix of blues and pop, a song about a woman who’s in love, much to her chagrin. “I thought I was happy here on my own/’Til you came along and showed me I was wrong/But I don’t want to be in love.” Arlan Oscar plays piano on this track, and Matt Tecu is on drums. “I Don’t Want To Be In Love” was written by Gina Sicilia and Dave Darling (Darling also co-produced the album with Glenn Barratt). Even though the next song, “Damaging Me,” is about life trying to beat her down, it ends up a more upbeat song, as the repeated line is “Picking up my pieces off the floor.” So even though she is in pieces, the song is about not giving up, no matter how shitty life can be. “I’m on my knees/Tired of this strife/It’s much too much/I’ve had enough.” I love the cool ending of this song. She expresses a similar (and stronger) resolve to not give up in “I’ll Stand Up,” in which she sings, “My feet ache/My legs shake/But I’ll stand up/My hands are weak/No words to speak/But I’ll stand, I’ll stand up.” “I’ll Stand Up” is one of my personal favorites.

“He Called Me Baby” is the first cover song of the album. It was written and recorded by Harlan Howard, though it was then titled “She Called Me Baby.” Gina Sicilia’s rendition is less country, more blues. It features a good groove, over which Gina delivers a powerful vocal performance. This is my favorite of the album’s three covers. I dig Joel Bryan’s work on organ here. The other covers are a fun rendition of “Tell Him,” which was written by Bert Berns and recorded by The Exciters, and a slow, passionate version of The Beatles’ “All My Loving.”

“Tell Him” was included on the Sunset Avenue EP. The five songs of that EP are presented together on this CD, though not in the same order as the EP. The first is “Never Gonna End,” the song which provides the album’s title in the lines “In a tug of war/We closed the door/On trying to make peace/With each other.” This song mixes some gospel elements into the blues/pop sound. That’s followed by another of my favorites, “I Cried.” Sometimes crying is the best thing we can do, get it all out rather than keeping it inside, and this song has a very positive and friendly feel. “Tomorrow I’m going to get up/Hold my head up high/But until then I’m going to hang it low/And cry, cry, cry.”  “They Never Pay Me” was, for me, the most interesting of the songs from the EP. It has an unusual and compelling sound, which works for me every time I listen to it. “What can I say/To prove I am worthy/What will it take to find/The respect I deserve/For what I have given.” “Abandoned” is a groovy blues song. “Love is who/Taught me to kiss you/Gone without a clue/Left me to miss you.”

This CD concludes with “Heaven,” an upbeat song with a gospel bent. This is probably the most fun, enjoyable song on the disc. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have done a lot of things/That I can’t undo/And I know and I know/You’re going to see me through/There’s no light to be seen/From the place I stand/Tell me how to cross on over/To your land.”

CD Track List
  1. I Don’t Want To Be In Love
  2. Damaging Me
  3. He Called Me Baby
  4. I’ll Stand Up
  5. Never Gonna End
  6. I Cried
  7. They Never Pay Me
  8. Abandoned
  9. Tell Him
  10. All My Loving
  11. Heaven 
Tug Of War was released on June 2, 2017 on Blue Élan Records.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Chickenbone Slim: “The Big Beat” (2017) CD Review

I figured from the cover of this album that I was in for some fun, maybe with a bit of a classic rock and roll sound (because of the title). And we could all use some fun these days, right? Chickenbone Slim is the stage name of Larry Teves, a blues musician based in San Diego, and The Big Beat is his second album, following Gone. The Big Beat features all original music, written by Teves, and yes, it is some good blues to lift you from the mire and get you on your feet.

The album opens with its title track, a fun blues tune, with touches of rock, a strong rhythm and some great work on harmonica. This song kind of invites the listener to dance, “Once you got the beat, you just can’t get enough/We got the big beat/We got the big beat/The way that you move makes you feel the heat/We got the big beat.” I fucking love that classic 1960s-sounding guitar, and this song develops into a good and totally enjoyable little jam. I wish it went on longer actually. Chickenbone Slim takes us in a more blues rock direction with “Long Way Down,” a song with a catchy rhythm. “You never try and you never fail/You won’t get shocked if you don’t touch that rail.” This song features some excellent work on guitar.

Chickenbone Slim then dips into country with “Hemi Dodge,” a fun driving song which I’ll be adding to my road trip play list. This one has more good work on harmonica, and a playful vocal performance. “Ain’t no tread left on my wheel/But I’m waking up the dead with this souped up Detroit steel.” “Vodka And Vicodin” is more in the folk realm. Maybe I’m crazy, but something about this reminds me of Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again,” maybe if you speed it up just a bit. Anyway, I dig this song. “Get myself some chemical motivation, because sometimes reality sucks/I wouldn’t tell you how to live your life/Everyone does what they think is right/I medicate my blues away.” Then we get more heavily into the blues with the delicious “Long Legged Sweet Thing,” which features some nice work by Marty Dodson on drums. There is more great drumming on “Do You Like It?”

“Me And Johnny Lee” features a good, meaty blues jam led by the harmonica, and then later by guitar. That’s followed by “Man Down,” which is blues with a funky edge, and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. The CD then concludes with “Break Me Off A Piece,” another fun track. Yes, the album cover did not steer me wrong. “It’s hard to keep on traveling/Keep on moving all the time/I need a little something/To ease my worried mind.”

CD Track List
  1. The Big Beat
  2. Long Way Down
  3. Hemi Dodge
  4. Vodka And Vicodin
  5. Long Legged Sweet Thing
  6. Do You Like It?
  7. Me And Johnny Lee
  8. Man Down
  9. Break Me Off A Piece 
The Big Beat is scheduled to be released on September 15, 2017.

Whitney Rose: “Rule 62” (2017) CD Review

I became a fan of Whitney Rose’s music upon hearing the first song of her 2015 release, Heartbreaker Of The Year. Then earlier this year she followed that with South Texas Suite, an excellent six-song EP. Well, her new CD, Rule 62, is even better. It is a masterful and delightful album of mostly original material. Whitney Rose is in control here, her excellent voice driving, or at least guiding, the music, and our mood as well. So just give in, and let her take over for forty-four minutes. It will be the most enjoyable forty-four minutes of your day.

The new CD opens with “I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out).” This song has a glorious old-time country sound (I can imagine Dolly Parton or even Patsy Cline singing this one), and yet it’s an original tune, written by Whitney Rose. Boy, she can really tap into that timeless country magic, and she has the voice for it. She’ll be able to draw tears from her audience if that’s her goal, or make them fall for her if she so desires. This song is about the end of a marriage. I love this line: “You take the house, dear, I’ll take the train.” And the lines about the cat make me laugh: “And you can even keep the cat/I never liked that selfish brat.” This song features some nice work by Aaron Till on fiddle, and by Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. “Well, don’t you worry about me, or what becomes of my life/It’s already better now that I’m not your wife.” Whitney follows that with a more lively and fun number titled “Arizona.” This is one I saw her perform in Burbank in March of this year, and I’m glad she decided to include it on this album. Max Abrams joins her on saxophone, adding to the joyous atmosphere of the track.  At that show, she also covered Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and Whitney’s own “Better To My Baby” has something of that early 1960s pop feel. Her voice is perfect for this kind of material, as well as for that great country stuff.

One of my personal favorites is “You Never Cross My Mind,” with Whitney giving us an intimate and beautiful vocal performance. “Everything can be controlled/No one here’s growing old/This life goes by so slow/It don’t fly right on by/You never cross my mind.” Really, it’s a captivating performance, over some beautiful playing by Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. Raul Malo also contributes some wonderful work on guitar. And here is where Whitney Rose may draw some tears from your eyes, as she tries to deny the truth of her feelings while simultaneously baring them. “You Never Cross My Mind” is followed by “You Don’t Scare Me,” another song I saw her perform in Burbank earlier this year. She paired it with Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” to conclude the first set.

“Can’t Stop Shakin’” is another of my favorites. It has a fun mid-1960s feel, like a song a band would be playing in one of those scenes taking place at a go-go, with girls in sweaters and tall boots dancing with clean-cut but somewhat enthusiastic boys. That rhythm, that guitar – and then the horn! That’s Max Abrams again on saxophone. And Jen Gunderman provides some wonderful work on organ, particularly during the instrumental section. This is pure fun. At least, the music is. But then listen to the lyrics. Here Whitney sings, “Someone please turn off the news/I’ve got the six o’clock blues/I can’t stop shakin’/No, I can’t stop shakin’/I ain’t going to let him win/No, I ain’t giving in.” So while the sound might take us back to another time, the lyrics are firmly in the present, in a very screwed up time where a delusional racist twit occupies the White House. And perhaps she’s helping us deal with our anxiety and fear, by turning one kind of shaking to another, to a more positive kind. It’s a case of dancing our blues away, and this is the song to do it.

Whitney Rose then turns to sweeter tones for “Tied To The Wheel,” one of only two covers on this album. This song was the title track to Bill Kirchen’s 2001 release, and Whitney Rose’s version features Jen Gunderman on accordion. The other song on the album not written by Whitney Rose is “You’re A Mess,” which was written by Carol MacQuarrie. It’s kind of a delightful pop tune that opens with these lines: “I’m trying to love you, baby/But it’s so hard.” Whitney Rose then ends the CD with a rockin’ country number titled “Time To Cry,” with a 1950s rock electric guitar part and plenty of good vibes. Yeah, she leaves us in a good place. “But now you’ve got the nerve to say you need me/To say you can’t believe I said goodbye/You watched me shed a thousand tears and then some/And now it’s your time to cry.”

CD Track List
  1. I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out)
  2. Arizona
  3. Better To My Baby
  4. You Never Cross My Mind
  5. You Don’t Scare Me
  6. Can’t Stop Shakin’
  7. Tied To The Wheel
  8. Trucker’s Funeral
  9. Wake Me In Wyoming
  10. You’re A Mess
  11. Time To Cry 
Rule 62 is scheduled to be released on October 6, 2017 through Six Shooter Records and Thirty Tigers.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sven Curth: “People Never Seem To Amaze Me” (2017) CD Review

People Never Seem To Amaze Me, the new release from Sven Curth, is an excellent album mixing folk, country, rock, bluegrass and other styles, sometimes tackling serious subjects but doing so with a sense of humor and a largely friendly vibe. These tracks feature a lot of seriously good lyrics, lines that stood out to me the first time I popped in this disc, like these from “Better Off Alone”: “No matter what I try, I keep on getting it all wrong/But as long as I stay pessimistic, I'll always be pleasantly surprised.” Oh yes, that sounds just about right. By the way, this really is a solo album, for in addition to writing all the tracks, Sven Curth plays all the instruments on every track (with one exception). Sven Curth is based in Lake Placid, New York.  This is his third solo release, and it’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

The album opens with “Get Out,” a playful tune about being a stranger when traveling, and not liking strangers when at home. The chorus has a country swing feel, which I totally dig. “They say, ‘Get out, I don't like strangers/You don't look like me, you don't talk like me/You don't come from where I'm from/Ain't no doubt, your life's in danger/Get on out the same way you got here, and go back where you belong.’” Yes, it’s that old message about treating folks the way you yourself want to be treated, but delivered with humor, particularly in relation to the use of guns.  So, from here on out when some funny-looking stranger comes to town/I'll resist the urge to shoot him, and turn my frown upside down/Of course, it's all for selfish reasons that I'll be acting so nice and sweet/So as when I travel someplace else those folks won’t shoot at me.” And, well, it seems we need to be reminded of this lesson again. This song gets in one last laugh at the end.

“You Don’t Walk Alone” has something of a classic sound, and is one of my favorites. This song offers a shoulder to lean on, but no solutions, and often that’s what people need – just to know they’re not alone. Check out these lines: “When you come out of the shadows/And when you weather the storm/You may have lost a few battles/But you're in good fighting form/Maybe you tested your courage/Maybe you sank like a stone/As long as I'm breathing/You don't walk alone.”  And I really like that lead guitar section, over the simplest drum beat. This song works so well, and each time I listen to this disc, I appreciate this song even more. “You may feel like no one out there cares at all/But this is me saying I do.” “You Don’t Walk Alone” is followed by “It’s Our Last Night To Get Drunk,” a playful but honest song with bluegrass elements and an Irish folk feel (and I’m not saying that just because it’s about drinking, so quit stereotyping). It opens with this line: “It’s our last night to get drunk, our last night to get drunk, our last night to get drunk ‘til tomorrow.” Here Sven is joined by Lowell Bailey on mandolin and Ichabod Gunn on accordion. This is the only track to feature any musicians other than Sven, and there is a nice instrumental section with the mandolin taking a prominent role. This track also features an excellent vocal performance, and some wonderful lyrics. “But I make no excuse for the shape that I'm in/I may one day give out, but I’ll never give in.”

We don’t always fall for the right person, but most of us don’t get it quite as wrong as the fellow in “She May Be Fat But She’s Definitely Crazy,” an absolutely delightful song with a fast-paced bluegrass chorus.  Well, she may be fat but she's definitely crazy/She's a big old, batshit, wild and wacky lady/You can't hold her down, you can't fill her up/No matter what you've got, she can't get enough/She's got a real mean tooth and a deep sweet streak/She's got a sunny disposition once or twice a week/She's a whole lotta trouble, and the trouble is she’s mine.” I love this tune, with some delicious work on banjo. And check out that guitar-playing at the end! If you’re looking for a fun tune, you should definitely check out this song. That’s followed by “What A Day To Be Alive,” which features more good work on banjo and some sweet vibes. This one has both folk and pop elements. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I often wonder how the people 'round me seem to know exactly where to turn/I've got no answers, only questions, the more I know the more I know I have to learn/Some days my doubts command the upper hand and leave me laying helpless in a hole/Some days it's all too clear: my doubts and fears are mainly what support my self-control.” Have I mentioned how good this album’s lyrics are? “I went to bed last night not feeling right, my mind consumed with worries of the day/The more desperate I am for sleep, the more the chances of its coming slip away.

Another of this disc’s highlights is “I’m Getting Old,” with these opening lines: “I'm getting old, and that's okay/In spite of my objections, I keep waking up each day/One day I won't, and that's okay too/At least I will have spent a couple of sunny days with you.” It has a great folk feel at the start, and then it takes a surprising turn early on, turning serious with a spoken word section, and that section ends up being the main part of the track. “And we're pointing our fingers, we're boiling with rage/But don't the Chinese deserve a living wage?/They're building us exactly what we require/The affordable garbage that we so desire/And we'll use it twice and then throw it away/It'll end up in the ocean, or just trucked away to be buried somewhere/Out of sight and out of mind/Gotta make some more room, so that we can keep buying.” At the end, it returns to that opening folk vibe, and boy, it certainly has a different feel this second time around, following as it does that spoken word section – an interesting effect. “What If All You Are Is…?” seems to perfectly capture and reflect the current state of humanity. It would be depressing if it weren’t delivered with bluegrass flair. The album then concludes with “The Trouble With Earth Is The Humans,” another song about the sad state of humanity. “What do you do when you wake up each day and you don't like the person you are/And you don't like your family, and you don't like your friends/And you're bored with your house and your car/And you're sick of your country, but you hate all the others.” Like “I’m Getting Old,” this one also has a spoken word section offering a different perspective. “And what a ludicrous joke it is to obsessively engage in the pursuit and maintenance of such mundane trivia when we are such fleeting participants in a such a wildly enormous cosmos.”

CD Track List
  1. Get Out
  2. You Don’t Walk Alone
  3. It’s Our Last Night To Get Drunk
  4. Better Off Alone
  5. She May Be Fat But She’s Definitely Crazy
  6. What A Day To Be Alive
  7. GDM (Goddammit Margarete)
  8. I’m Getting Old
  9. Of Weddings
  10. I Don’t Like You
  11. What If All You Are Is…?
  12. The Trouble With Earth Is The Humans
People Never Seem To Amaze Me was released on May 24, 2017.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Jerry Garcia Band: “Calderone Concert Hall Hempstead NY 29 February 1980 Late Show” (2016) CD Review

Sometimes after a long day of work, the only things that will satisfy me are a cold beer and some Jerry Garcia Band music. I’ve had a week of such days, and turned to a two-disc set titled Calderone Concert Hall Hempstead NY 29 February 1980 Late Show. No, not a very imaginative title, but an accurate one. It’s another of those unofficial releases based on radio broadcasts, and it includes the complete late show that The Jerry Garcia Band performed that night. Though it’s a radio broadcast, the opening tuning is included, which I appreciate (often that is cut). The crowd is clearly excited. And Jerry leads off the late show with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” The sound might not be perfect, but Jerry’s voice sounds great. “I want to stop and thank you, baby.” Interesting to hear this version from a time before Jaclyn LaBranc and Gloria Jones joined the band on backing vocals. I miss them here at times, but it’s still a good version. They keyboard lead part is strange, with a very electronic sound, a sound I don’t really associate with Jerry Garcia Band. But Jerry’s lead is exactly what I’m looking for. And this song makes me think of that special someone in my life, a person I want to celebrate the way this song celebrates that unnamed woman. The band, by the way, at this time consisted of John Kahn on bass, Ozzie Ahlers on keys and Johnny DeFonseca on drums. No backing vocalists. Ozzie Ahlers played keys with Jerry Garcia for only a year or so, and Johnny DeFonseca was with the band even less time.

After a pause, Jerry follows that with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” When the Grateful Dead did this song, it was Bob Weir who sang lead, so it’s cool to hear Jerry’s take on it. (You can also hear him sing this one on Santa Cruz Blues.) The band gets a nice easy-going jam going, but the lead keyboard section still seems odd to me, that electronic sound seeming to come on suddenly, as if popping in from another concert. The jam after the next verse picks up some steam and Jerry really starts to take off. Man, I love the way Jerry delivers certain lines, like “On a train ride so bumpy that I almost cried.” The way he dips low for “cried” surprised me. He did that on a couple of other lines too.

But for me, things start to get really good with “Russian Lullaby.” Jerry’s take on this Irving Berlin song is so cool, sometimes surprisingly smooth. The band strikes a kind of delightful tone, with a smoky jazz feel and then switching to a fun, peppy old-time feel, all flowing so well. And the keyboard does not strike me as out of place here. In fact, I love that lead section on keys. And it’s followed by a bass lead by John Kahn, which is wonderful. Jerry Garcia Band really is going in a jazz direction here, with each musician taking a turn at a solo (except there is no drum solo). The bass solo is allowed to go on for a while, John Kahn given a chance to strut his stuff, and this is a highlight of the first disc.  Of course, there is plenty of excellent stuff from Jerry on guitar. This track is a delight from start to finish. Then Jerry Garcia Band turns to reggae for a fun cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come.” You get the sense Jerry Garcia is trying to keep it relatively quiet and restrained at the beginning, holding back a bit so that he’ll have a place to go to. And yes, he gets there, his guitar rising and singing over that good groove. The keyboard part, once again, initially catches me off guard, but soon I’m into it. The first disc contains nearly the first hour of the show.

Robert Hunter was one of the two main lyricists for the Grateful Dead, co-writing (with Jerry Garcia) songs like “Uncle John’s Band,” “Eyes Of The World” and “Ripple.” He’s also released several albums of his own, including Tiger Rose. The second disc opens with Robert Hunter joining The Jerry Garcia Band for two songs. Jerry introduces him: “We’re gonna get Robert Hunter out here and have him sing some songs.” The first song they do is the title track from Tiger Rose, which is a whole lot of fun. It takes a second for his vocal microphone to come on, but this is a really good version. “Come on and show me something I don’t know.” In addition to vocals, Robert Hunter plays harmonica on this tune. They follow that with a powerful rendition of “Promontory Rider.” These two tracks are the main reasons I purchased this two-disc set, and certainly they are highlights. I still have the Robert Hunter material on cassette, and I hope someone re-issues these albums soon. I think the CD versions are currently out of print.

After Robert Hunter exits the stage, Jerry Garcia gives us a good “Dear Prudence.” His guitar work during the jam is particularly wonderful and expressive. The ending is a bit abrupt and awkward, and that’s actually the end of the set. I love that this disc includes the crowd noise before the encore. Often that is cut, even on the official releases, or at least shortened. But here we get the whole thing, which gives us a stronger sense of being there. The encore is an absolutely delightful rendition of “Midnight Moonlight.” I love Jerry’s guitar here. But, hey, does it remind you at all of “Throwing Stones,” just that one repeated phrase, or is it just me? This two-disc set contains no radio station identifications. There is an outro at the end, but it was done from the stage, as we hear the crowd react.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
  2. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  3. Russian Lullaby
  4. Harder They Come
Disc Two
  1. Tiger Rose
  2. Promontory Rider
  3. Dear Prudence
  4. Midnight Moonlight
Calderone Concert Hall Hempstead NY 29 February 1980 Late Show is available through Keyhole CDs.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tom Craig And Soul Patch: “Get Ready For Me” (2016) CD Review

Tom Craig And Soul Patch are an east coast band, playing good blues and soul music, led by Tom Craig on vocals and guitar. Get Ready For Me, which was released late last year, features all original music written by Tom Craig. The band consists of John O’Connell on drums, Rando Branning on bass, Eric Johnson on keys, Vince Gleason on tenor saxophone, Mark Gallagher on baritone saxophone, Skyler Hagner on baritone saxophone, Dan Young on alto sax, and Sean McCusker on trombone. On certain tracks, Dave Gross joins on bass and backing vocals, and Mikey Junior plays harmonica and contributes backing vocals.

The album opens with a seriously cool and catchy tune titled “Louita.” What initially made me really dig this tune is the work on horns, particularly that bit where each horn player responds in turn after Tom sings, “Louita.” Each time it happens, I am just completely delighted, and I think you will be too. Check out this song when you get the chance. “Well, early in the morning until supper time/Got this feeling deep down, can’t help but pay it mind/Got to have some of what you’re serving up/Satisfy my hunger with your lovin’ stuff.” Oh yes, seems the best way to spend a day. This song has a classic rhythm and blues feel which is wonderful. “Louita” is followed by “How Did I Break The Rules,” with more nice touches on horn. This is an easygoing, groovy blues number, a perfect summer blues tune, so pop it on while the weather is still warm. It has that innocence, heard in these opening lines: “Did you lie to me, baby, when you told me that you liked my moves/Were you for real when you said that you thought that we’d really groove/You said to take it slow, we got nowhere to rush off to/Come on, baby, tell me how did I break the rules?” I really like John O’Connell’s playing on this track. Dave Gross plays bass on these two opening tracks.

“Get Ready For Me,” the album’s title track, has a kind of slower, heavier groove, with a bit of funk to the playing. More good drumming by John O’Connell and some nice work on organ by Eric Johnson make this one worth paying attention to. But it is Tom Craig’s bluesy lead on guitar halfway through that stands out. That’s followed by one of my personal favorites, “Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” This is a track that I can’t help but love immediately, with its delicious, playful and catchy groove. Plus, Mikey Jr. plays harmonica on this track, delivering some wonderful stuff. This song also features what is probably my favorite vocal performance by Tom Craig. “I’m having one of those days/With everything going wrong/Every day has been like this/Since you’ve been gone/And I’m sad, lonely and blue/And I just can’t stop thinking about you.”  Then in “She Did It To Me (She’ll Do It To You),” there is an excellent section when the organ leads, and the horns help keep that good groove going.

“Ballroom Dancer” has a classic Sam Cooke-type feel, which I always love. But its first line caught me off guard, with its use of the word “flip flops.” Is this the only rhythm and blues song to make use of that word? I think so. At least, I can’t think of another one offhand. “Couldn’t even finish my beer” is one of the saddest lines I’ve heard. I am fortunate to have never suffered that particular trouble. “Please Forgive Me Baby” also has a classic vibe, and features some wonderful work on guitar. “Don’t know why I do the things I do/No matter how hard I try, I just keep on disappointing you.” And I love Tom Craig’s delivery on these lines: “I’ll give you anything that you want/Baby, please give me what I need/I’ll even spill some blood for you, baby/Just tell me who needs to bleed.” Fantastic!

Both Dave Gross and Mikey Jr. join the band again on “I Can’t Help Myself,” and their backing vocals echoing “I can’t help myself” add a great deal of fun to this tune about a man with a certain weakness for women. And I love that sax (hey, is there just a bit of a nod to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” or is that just me?). Tom Craig delivers more fun with “Nothing That A Man Can’t Do,” a playful, innocent, fast-paced tune. The album then concludes with “Every Woman,” a sweet love song. “You wouldn’t want her to cry/When you hang up the telephone/You don’t want her to be lonely/When you have to leave her alone/Gotta tell her how you feel/Let her know she’s your whole wide world/Because inside every woman resides a little girl.”

CD Track List
  1. Louita
  2. How Did I Break The Rules
  3. Get Ready For Me
  4. Can’t Stop Thinking About You
  5. She Did It To Me (She’ll Do It To You)
  6. Ballroom Dancer
  7. Captain Funk
  8. Please Forgive Me Baby
  9. Tornado
  10. I Can’t Help Myself
  11. Nothing That A Man Can’t Do
  12. Every Woman
Get Ready For Me was released on December 28, 2016.

Grateful Dead: “50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey” (2016) CD Review

Yes, 50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey is another of those unofficial releases, based on a radio broadcast. And yes, I have mixed feelings about the title. And though the liner notes say this two-disc set contains the complete show that the Grateful Dead performed on April 7, 1987, it’s actually missing one song – the encore, “Quinn The Eskimo.” I should also note right away that there are a few station identifications, as heard in the original broadcast.

This show was exactly one year before my first show, and the band opens it with “Touch Of Grey,” which is the same song with which they’d open my first show a year later. The sound isn’t perfect (a bit muddy), but the energy is high, and the band is clearly ready to deliver. Oh, “We will get by.” I still believe it. The band then goes right into a good, thumping “New Minglewood Blues,” and we get some delicious bursts on organ from Brent during the jam, followed by Jerry taking it higher on guitar, and all the while that pulsing rhythm continues to keep us all on our feet – like a train cutting through a jungle. “And it’s T right here in Jersey where the little girls know what to do.” Though it’s a radio broadcast, it sounds like an audience recording rather than a soundboard. But I’m into it. A lot of my old tapes are audience recordings, and I kind of miss that certain sound quality. It puts me there, you know? Gives us more of the atmosphere of the place and all.

Jerry delivers a good “Friend Of The Devil.” The jam is sweet, with some nice work by Brent on keys, and perhaps a little more energy than some later renditions. There is a radio station identification over the sound of the audience before Bob leads the band into a slightly relaxed rendition of “Beat It On Down The Line.” There is a bit of a false start to “Stagger Lee,” and does Jerry laugh? He seems to be having a damn good time with this one, and as a result it’s a really good version. Another station identification comes after it, however, breaking up the energy. Then Bob goes into a breezy, fun pairing of “Mama Tried” and “Big River.” The guys are really cooking on “Big River.” There seems to be a weird cut as they go into “West L.A. Fadeaway.” It’s a pretty good version, and they follow it with another song from In The Dark (which would be released a few months after this show), “Hell In A Bucket.” This one has a false start, the band humorously adding a big finish to its false start. “At least I’m enjoying the ride.” They then finish up the first set with “Don’t Ease Me In.”

The second disc contains the complete second set. It’s eighty-three minutes. For some reason, I’d been under the impression that CDs could only be eighty minutes. I was wrong. Anyway, Phil kicks off the second set with “Box Of Rain,” joking with the Jersey crowd by singing “What do you yous want me to do?” They follow that with “I Need A Miracle,” which very quickly leads to an energetic “Bertha.” Jerry then slows things down with a really good rendition of “Ship Of Fools.” Which is more expressive here – his voice or his guitar? Both make this one of the set’s highlights. After a pause (rare in the second set in those days), the band launches into “Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” It’s not the best version, but it’s still fun to dance to. The crowd claps along at the end, and “Drums” flows straight out of that, holding onto that rhythm for a little while, and making this a damn good “Drums” segment. The energy is fantastic, and you can hear the crowd responding. Even though this is a good show, there really isn’t a lot of jamming. No “Playing In The Band” or “Eyes Of The World” for the band to stretch out on, and it turns out that at fourteen minutes, “Drums” is the longest tune of the night. And as it builds, we actually get the addition of guitar, which is surprising and wild. The guitars begin to overpower the drums as the band slides into what turns out to be a really nice “Space.”

From there, “Gimme Some Lovin’” emerges. It’s a halfway decent version, and it breaks down to give way to “Morning Dew.” Jerry’s vocal performance is fantastic, emotionally charged, powerful – and so, even though the version is a bit messy at moments, it ends up being another highlight of the set. The jam at the end is beautiful. But the band isn’t done. As they start “Throwing Stones,” there is a radio station identification, the only one to actually interfere with the music. This is a good “Throwing Stones.” “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” It leads straight into “Not Fade Away” to end the second set. As I mentioned before, the encore is not included.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Touch Of Grey
  2. New Minglewood Blues
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Stagger Lee
  6. Mama Tried
  7. Big River
  8. West L.A. Fadeaway
  9. Hell In A Bucket
  10. Don’t Ease Me In
 Disc Two
  1. Box Of Rain
  2. I Need A Miracle
  3. Bertha
  4. Ship Of Fools
  5. Man Smart, Woman Smarter
  6. Drums
  7. Space
  8. Gimme Some Lovin’
  9. Morning Dew
  10. Throwing Stones
  11. Not Fade Away 
50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey was released on October 7, 2016.