Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lindsay Bellows: “Wake To Dream” (2017) CD Review

The debut release from Lindsay Bellows, Wake To Dream, is a delightful EP of pop music with folk elements and soulful vocals, and plenty of positive vibes. It features all original material, written by Lindsay Bellows. Joining her on this CD are Ananda Vaughan on guitar, Jared May on bass, Beau Askew on drums, Makila Wind on keys, and Jason O’Keefe on percussion, with Spencer Williams on drums on certain tracks. This is a disc I appreciate more each time I listen to it.

Lindsay kicks off the CD with “Slow Steady,” one of my favorite tracks. It has a cool, kind of playful opening with a simple groove on keys and vocals, and I’m hooked from the start. There is also something quite catchy about this song, and it, like all the tunes on this EP, features hopeful and encouraging ideas. Check out these lines: “When I reach too far ahead, there is nothing to hold onto/Fall too far behind, and I’ll never catch up/Release the things I caught and crave/Make peace with things I hate.” Toward the end of the song she sings, “I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” How often do we feel that way? Spencer Williams plays drums on this track.

Lindsay’s vocals are the focus in “Wake Up,” which begins with lines delivered a cappella. In this song, she offers a positive image of a reality. “I woke up and I saw things in a different way/Words changed meaning, darkness faded/People I know, places I’d been/Didn’t look the same/But this is a beautiful world.” While she’s singing of her own personal experience, the fact that the song is titled “Wake Up” and not “Woke Up” indicates a reaching out to others, like she wants everyone to have the same positive experience that she’s had. Pretty cool. That’s what we need these days. “Heal each other/Listen.” Plus, I dig that bass line.

“Part Life” has more of a pleasant, bright folk vibe, and is another of my favorites. There is something catchy about this one too. These lines certainly speak to me: “Stuck in my head about my day, all I did and didn’t do/Set on a schedule, I can’t miss a beat/Gotta eat, fall asleep, wake up, work, cycle, repeat.” What strikes me especially is that part about being stuck on the things I’ve done with my day as well as the things I haven’t done. How often do we measure our days by little accomplishments and the things we did not accomplish? “This is only a part life that I’m living/Only part of me is alive/And that part is part of something greater, I know/And I can’t wait to feel what that’s like.”

“Wild And Free” has a cool, kind of sexy vibe and attitude, and features more good work on bass. “Climb the tree of life and I eat that fruit/Eyes opening now, I start seeing the truth/The only way to survive is to turn to our roots.” The EP then concludes with “Simple Gifts,” a cheerful pop song offering advice and reminders, such as “Don’t try to get rich, just surround yourself with friends” and “You don’t need an important job to do important work.”

CD Track List
  1. Slow Steady
  2. Wake Up
  3. Part Life
  4. Wild And Free
  5. Simple Gifts 
Wake To Dream was released on November 7, 2017.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 23” (2017) CD Review

The show the Grateful Dead did at the University of Oregon in January of 1978 is known mainly for Jerry Garcia’s jam on the theme to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in the second set. The spaceship is even incorporated into the artwork for the cover of Dave’s Picks Volume 23, which contains the complete show the Dead did on January 22, 1978 at McArthur Court. But that little jam is far from being the only highlight of the show. This was certainly one of those special nights for the band and for the audience. I attended the University Of Oregon, but fifteen years after this performance, and so saw the Dead play at Autzen Stadium rather than Mac Court. Still, those were some good shows (two in 1993, three in 1994). The band tended to feel at home in Eugene, and delivered excellent shows there.

The January 22, 1978 show begins with a bang – a rockin’ version of “New Minglewood Blues,” with Bob Weir going at it full-force, so that I actually believe him when he sings, “I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den.” Bob then tells the crowd that it doesn’t sound at all like it did during the soundcheck, but assures everyone, “We’re going to get our act together real quick here.” They do a pretty good “Dire Wolf,” and then a smooth, pretty, yet energetic rendition of “Cassidy.” The band then eases into a gentle and wonderful rendition of “Peggy-O.” Listen to the way Jerry’s voice breaks on the word “love” in the line “Our captain fell in love with a lady like a dove.” It’s kind of delightful and wonderful. “El Paso” is good, but things really get going with “Tennessee Jed.” Sure, Jerry’s voice is struggling a bit at moments, but that somehow only works to make the song more interesting, more passionate, more powerful. And, hey, there are unusual touches on guitar here too, and the jam toward the end of the song has its own particular flavor. It’s followed by a version of “Jack Straw” that likewise has its own alleys and avenues, the band trying different things, and everything they try seems to work beautifully. The song attains some wild, high level, a peak they maintain longer than you might think possible, but for exactly the right amount of time, before easing out again. That’s followed by a seriously nice “Row Jimmy.” The first set then concludes with that fun dance number, “The Music Never Stopped.” “They’re a band beyond description,” indeed (though we keep trying, don’t we?).

The second disc contains the first portion of the second set, the band kicking it off with “Bertha.” It’s weird, but it sounds like Jerry’s microphone is off for the first couple of lines; yet, I’ve heard an audience recording of this show where those lines were clearly audible. What’s up with that? “Bertha” leads straight into a rousing and totally fun rendition of “Good Lovin’.” They slow things down a bit then with “Ship Of Fools.” But this version has its own power, and is one of the best renditions I’ve heard. The second disc concludes with a high-energy version of “Samson And Delilah.”

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. And this, as you might guess, is where things get really interesting. The version of “Terrapin Station” that opens this disc is quite good, with glorious peaks and valleys. Listen to Bill and Mickey during the jam. It’s no surprise then that they launch into a drum solo following that song. It’s an unusual solo too, keeping a steady beat at the start, though with a trippy effect. And they just roll on from there. It’s a very cool “Drums,” giving the crowd lots of good grooves to move to. Toward the end, there are hints of where they’re going, and the crowd reacts. And then – bam – the band thrusts us all into “The Other One.” I’m always excited to hear how the band will tackle this particular song, because they’ve done it so many different ways. This time they begin with an energetic jam, more forceful than trippy. The band knows where it’s going and doesn’t want to let up or relax until it gets there, and maybe not even then. They do still venture into strange territory, of course, after the first verse, when things become a little weird, unsettled. And after the second verse, the song takes on a different tone, an urgent feel, and that leads into “Space,” the part of this show that every Dead fan is aware of, when Jerry Garcia takes an actual solo, and dips into that familiar Close Encounters theme. (And hey, to me, U of O always sounded like UFO anyway.) It’s certainly worth listening to, something that was never repeated. And it leads straight into the always-appreciated “St. Stephen.” This is a damn good version. From there, the band goes right into “Not Fade Away,” returning us to Earth with that and another early rock and roll number, Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around.” But listen to that fun stuff on guitar and bass at the beginning of “Not Fade Away.”  The band just continues to surprise us at this show. This version of “Not Fade Away” features a nice long jam. And even “Around And Around” is interesting, especially as they get really quiet with it at one point. The encore is “U.S. Blues,” something we all have these days. It’s a good, solid, rocking rendition.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. New Minglewood Blues
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Cassidy
  4. Peggy-O
  5. El Paso
  6. Tennessee Jed
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Row Jimmy
  9. The Music Never Stopped 
Disc 2
  1. Bertha >
  2. Good Lovin’
  3. Ship Of Fools
  4. Samson And Delilah
Disc 3
  1. Terrapin Station >
  2. Drums >
  3. The Other One >
  4. Space >
  5. St. Stephen >
  6. Not Fade Away >
  7. Around And Around
  8. U.S. Blues
Dave’s Picks Volume 23 was limited to 16,500 copies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sinne Eeg: “Dreams” (2017) CD Review

Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg’s new album, Dreams, her follow-up to 2015’s Eeg-Fonnesbaek, was recorded in New York with mostly American musicians. Unlike her previous album, this one features mostly original material, written or co-written by Sinne Eeg, and it shows just how talented a songwriter she is. I was already well aware from that last release of how great a singer she is. Joining her on this album are Jacob Christoffersen on piano, Larry Koonse on guitar, Joey Baron on drums and Scott Colley on bass. Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson and Jenny Nilsson provide backing vocals.

The album opens with an original track, “The Bitter End,” a very cool tune. I was kind of in love with this tune even before Sinne’s vocals began, with that wonderful work on bass and drums. And then when Sinne’s vocals begin, the first line, “I could whisper lots of stupid things,” increased my passion for this song. There’s also a wonderful instrumental section with some delightful work on keys. This is an excellent, positive track from beginning to end. It was written by Sinne Eeg and Søren Sko. “We might stand a chance to make it to the bitter end.” That’s followed by “Head Over High Heels,” and its playful title is matched by a playfulness in Sinne’s vocal line. What is remarkable is how her vocals somehow seem effortless, completely natural, like someone surprised her by handing her a microphone and she just let this song come out. I also love the bass and that wonderful guitar part. “Head Over High Heels” was written by Sinne Eeg and Mads Mathias.

Just as its title promises, “Love Song” is a timeless, gorgeous love song. I’m so glad to know songs like this are still being written. If you are in need of a little romance, playing this song should help you get there. “No matter where the road will lead us/Near or far/I won’t ever let you go.” It features some seriously enjoyable work on guitar. That’s followed by the CD’s first cover, “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Cole Porter, himself a master of the timeless love song. This is an interesting rendition, beginning with vocals and percussion, which will certainly grab your attention, and including some scat. Then, when the rest of the musicians join in, this track features wonderful work on piano and bass. It’s followed by another cover, keeping with the theme of questioning the notion of love, Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling In Love With Love.” Sinne Eeg delivers a pretty rendition, with some light scat.

“Dreams,” the CD’s title track, is likewise a pretty song, with vocals but no lyrics. It does have a pleasant dream-like quality to it, in part because of that lack of lyrics. Sinne’s vocals feel capable of gently and safely carrying you across a glorious landscape. This track, however, is not without a good groove. There is an instrumental section with some strong work on bass and piano, and the song has a beautiful build to it.

The album concludes with two covers, “I’ll Remember April” and “Anything Goes.” There is something kind of fanciful about her take on “I’ll Remember April,” a song written by Gene De Paul, Patricia Johnston and Don Raye. It features a bit of gentle scat. Sinne Eeg does an absolutely wonderful job with Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” accompanied only by Jacob Christoffersen on piano. This track is a lot of fun, and is one of my favorites. The song’s original lyrics featured then timely lines, and Sinne Eeg adds some lyrics pertinent to the state of things today: “There was a time when talent mattered/When singers were being flattered on TV shows/Now anything goes/A lie was once a lie, but actual/Fake news are now post-factual, I suppose/Anything goes/The world has gone mad today.” And these: “If people think it’s presidential/To rule thanks to influential Russian foes/Anything goes/I guess just about anything goes these days.” Yes, that is certainly how it feels these days.

CD Track List
  1. The Bitter End
  2. Head Over High Heels
  3. Love Song
  4. What Is This Thing Called Love
  5. Falling In Love With Love
  6. Dreams
  7. Aleppo
  8. Time To Go
  9. I’ll Remember April
  10. Anything Goes
Dreams was released on October 6, 2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Julia Weldon: “Comatose Hope” (2017) CD Review

Comatose Hope, the new album by singer and songwriter Julia Weldon, is something special. It features all original material, songs that resonate emotionally, songs of depth and beauty, songs you’ll connect to. Hers is a voice reaching out from the darkness, quite literally actually, as many of these songs came about after she emerged from a coma following surgery. There is something ethereal about her delivery, yet also something grounded, like she has taken something from that strange place where she dwelled and was able to shape it into these songs, and in doing so to share with us a piece of that experience. Julia Weldon plays guitar, ukulele and piano on these tracks. Joining her are Drew Morgan on cello, keys, synthesizers, guitar, bass, kantele and percussion; and Matt Brown on drums.

The album opens with “Til The Crying Fades,” a gorgeous and moving song. This one gets right to me, pulling me in, even before Julia’s vocals begin. This is the first song I heard from this release, the song that got me interested. It was released as a single, and there is a video for this song as well. The song was written for the victims of the Pulse shooting, and at the end of the video their names appear. This song does sometimes have me in tears, and yet it really has a positive vibe. “And they say you’re in a better place/But I think your death’s a big mistake/There are flashbacks that we can’t erase/So hold me ‘til the crying fades.”  That’s followed by “Kaleidoscope,” an absolutely wonderful love song that makes me feel good. It has an uplifting sound, and toward the end, when the drumbeat builds steadily, it feels like the song is ready to take on the world. And listening, I feel the same way. “We are the choices we make/We are the choices.”

“Comatose Hope,” the album’s title track, has more of a gentle folk sound at the start. As you might guess, this is a song that emerged as a result of Julia’s coma. “There’s a sadness I can’t say/’ Cause no words could come close/To my close look at dying/My comatose hope.” “Comatose Hope” is strangely soothing, almost as if to say that there is nothing to be afraid of. The song then suddenly deposits us at the beginning again, like it is giving us a look at the beyond, but safely returning us to the present, to our lives, as Julia herself returned. Yes, Julia Weldon is a remarkable songwriter.

“Take Me To The Water” is a beautiful song, with an uplifting feel (the positive sound is due in no small part to the presence of ukulele). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Love is not an anchor/In the sea/Oh, I am alive/But this deep blue could eat me/Never let me go/Don’t set me free/Take me to the water/And make me clean.” And I really dig that percussion. “Take Me To The Water” is followed by “Everybody Says,” a song about dealing with a painful breakup. “Everybody says/That this is for the best/And I listen with both ears/And I agree with them, I guess/But you’re this heart inside a cage/You’re the burning in my chest/You’re the reason that I stayed/You’re the reason that I left.” “Take It All Back” is one of my favorites. It’s a powerful and excellent song, also about the end of a relationship. “Yeah, I take it all back/’Cause you can’t hold me again, not like that/Not like that.” And I love the strings.

Something about the vocal line of “When You Die” reminds me a bit of Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians. It’s followed by another of my favorite tracks, “Failed To Find,” which begins quietly, almost sweetly on acoustic guitar. Check out these opening lines: “I saw my heart splitting in two/I saw the future when I kissed you/Last night in the calm our lips told the truth/You are the answer that needs no proof.” The song then takes a surprising turn. When it kicks in, we learn just how wrong things have gone:  I’ve cheated and lied/Chose wrong over right/I’ve waited for love on a corner at night/In the dark of a bar/And the strangest of lights/Oh, I have looked, but failed to find.” And yet, this song is ultimately positive. “Because I flirted with death and I came back to life.” The CD then concludes with “You Want It,” a gorgeous song that reminds me of Aimee Mann during the chorus. “You want it/You want it so bad/It’s on the tip of your tongue/And you can taste it/You want it/You want it so close/But still just far enough/You’ve got to chase it.” Jausmė Stonkutė plays kanklės on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Til The Crying Fades
  2. Kaleidoscope
  3. Comatose Hope
  4. Soon II
  5. Take Me To The Water
  6. Everybody Says
  7. Take It All Back
  8. Cursed And Blessed
  9. When You Die
  10. Failed To Find
  11. You Want It 
Comatose Hope was released on July 13, 2017.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cindy Lee Berryhill at The Federal Bar, 11-5-17 Concert Review

Cindy Lee Berryhill performing "The Adventurist"
The Mimosa Music Series continued today with a performance by Cindy Lee Berryhill, as well as an excellent opening set by Derrick Anderson (yeah, a good double bill). I love starting my Sundays with great music, food, drinks and people. There was plenty of all at today’s performance at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood. Before the show, we ended up pushing two tables together to accommodate our group. All of us, coincidentally, were from Massachusetts, that is until Ronee Blakley kindly joined our table. I ordered the bread basket again, as it was incredibly delicious the last time I was there (for the Paul Kelly concert), and this time I used my drink tickets to get a couple of mimosas. I don’t really care for champagne, but today the mimosas did the trick. Everything was working just right.

Derrick Anderson took the stage at 11:45 a.m., and delivered a fun set, focusing on songs from his new release, A World Of My Own, including “Waiting For You,” “You Don’t Have To Hurt No More,” “Something New,” “Phyllis & Sharon,” “Stop Messin’ About” and “When I Was Your Man.” Derrick plays bass, and he was backed by four musicians, all of whom apparently are part of the Wild Honey Orchestra. Guitarist Rob Bonfiglio sang lead on his “Trouble Again.”  They ended the set with “Spring,” the last song on Derrick’s new CD, but the crowd demanded one more song, and they obliged with a cover of The Beatles’ “She’s A Woman.”

After a twenty-minute break, series host Gary Calamar introduced Cindy Lee Berryhill. Her group for today’s show was similar to that for the show at McCabe’s in April, and included David Schwartz on bass, Robert Lloyd on keys and banjo, Renata Bratt on cello, Joyce Rooks on cello, Danny Frankel on drums, and Paula Luber on vibraphone. She kicked off her set with “Radio Astronomy,” a song from her 1994 release, Garage Orchestra. “That was from an old record,” she said afterward. “And this is from a new record.” She then played “Somebody’s Angel,” one of my favorite songs from her newest album, The Adventurist. There is no keyboard on this song, so Robert Lloyd took the time to read from his book. Later he was asked what he was reading, and it turned out to be a Walt Whitman book. I mentioned in my McCabe’s review the odd habit of the members of this band to read when not needed for a particular song, and this time around it didn’t seem as strange.

After “Somebody’s Angel,” Cindy asked the crowd how the overall sound was. “Everybody here is a musician,” she noted. She followed that with “American Cinematography,” and then “Horsepower,” both from The Adventurist. Actually, the rest of the set (with the exception of “Happy Birthday To You,” obviously) was made up of songs from that album. “This is fun for us because we haven’t played together since April,” Cindy said. “As a band,” she added. She did “I Like Cats/You Like Dogs,” and then Robert Lloyd switched to banjo for “The Adventurist,” a song which also features some nice percussion. Cindy then introduced the band, briefly mentioning the members’ accomplishments. A talented bunch, to be sure.

“An Affair Of The Heart” was beautiful, and Renata Bratt played the melodica during a section of the song before going back to the cello. The band then performed “Happy Birthday To You” for an audience member celebrating her birthday (even though she had to leave early), and the band finished the set with “Gravity Falls.” The show ended at 1:40 p.m., and the house music came on immediately. Apparently, the venue had another event scheduled soon afterward, so there wasn’t time for another song.

Set List
  1. Radio Astronomy
  2. Somebody’s Angel
  3. American Cinematography
  4. Horsepower
  5. I Like Cats/You Like Dogs
  6. The Adventurist
  7. An Affair Of The Heart
  8. Happy Birthday To You
  9. Gravity Falls 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Radio Astronomy"
"Somebody's Angel"
"An Affair Of The Heart"
The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Popa Chubby: “Two Dogs” (2017) CD Review

Last year Popa Chubby (Ted Horowitz) released a two-disc live album titled Big, Bad And Beautiful Live that featured mostly original material, but with a few covers, including a couple of Rolling Stones songs. In my review of that two-disc set, I mentioned how I wished his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” had been included. Well, he has a new album coming out in a few weeks, and though it is a studio recording, it includes two bonus live tracks, and, yes, one of those is “Hallelujah.” (The other is another Rolling Stones song.) So I was incredibly excited to pop this disc in. The studio recordings are all original songs, and there are some damn good songs included here. Popa Chubby plays guitar and percussion, as well as drums and bass on certain tracks. Joining him on this album are Sam Bryant on drums, Andy Paladino on bass, Dave Keyes on keyboards, Tipitina Horowitz on trumpet and Andrew Garrison on saxophone.

Popa Chubby kicks off the new album with “It’s Alright,” an energetic rock tune that really grew on me, particularly because of these lines: “I spent my whole life wasting away/I wait for the day when I’ll hear you say it’s okay/Hey, hey, baby, it’s alright/You tell me, hey baby, it’s alright.” Popa Chubby is really tapping into something there, putting a voice to something a lot of people are feeling to some extent. It’s followed by a heavier bluesy number, “Rescue Me.”

But for me, the third track, “Preexisting Conditions,” is when the album starts getting really good. This one made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it, right from the first lines. He begins the song by playing on a familiar line: “I got the rocking pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu.” For a moment we might think we’re in standard territory, but he follows it with this line: “And my knees don’t do what they used to do.” I love it, particularly as I’m waiting for an appointment with an orthopedic doctor after tearing the medial meniscus in my left knee at work. But this song isn’t just about aging, as its title lets you know. “I’m telling you I’m a man on a mission/I’m going to die of preexisting conditions.” The song addresses the fear of losing health insurance and calls out that prick Donald Trump directly at the end, which of course I appreciate. Plus, there is some wonderful work on horns.

“Sam Lay’s Pistol” is a very cool, mean blues tune about drummer Sam Lay. This song begins with just a beat on the hi-hat, and then the vocals come in over it: “If Sam Lay were behind that kit/And the wolf turned around, said shoot that shit/He’d do it/Sam’d do it/And I’d do it too/’Cause I’m meaner than Sam Lay’s pistol.” Oh yes. And then the rest of the band comes in. The wolf mentioned in those lines is Howlin’ Wolf, one of the artists Sam Lay played with. Popa Chubby makes that clear in the line, “And the wolf was howlin’ at a strawberry moon.” The “cha cha cha” ending certainly surprised me. That song is followed by “Two Dogs,” the CD’s title track, a song with a good, prominent beat and some wonderful work on guitar. This is another song that really stood out the first time I listened to this disc. It’s kind of twisted and excellent, and is also a bloody good jam.

As I anxiously await more news from the investigation into Donald Trump and the screwed up 2016 election, lines from “Shakedown” really strike a chord. “There’s going to be a shakedown/Truth is going to be told.” Of course, that’s not what the song is directly about, but I can’t help but think of Trump’s imminent demise when I hear these lines. “You keep talking about fiction/Truth’s gonna burn your soul.” That’s followed by another of my favorites, “Wound Up Getting High,” a thoughtful, mellow tune that really works for me. “I sit down and read the papers/I hang my head and cry/I turn on the TV and watch the news/A thousand people died/Think about getting coffee/I wound up getting high/As time slides by.” There is a pretty instrumental section. I love this song, despite its use of the teardrops/rain cliché (“A thousand teardrops fall like rain/They fall down from the sky”).

The studio album concludes with an instrumental track titled “Chubby’s Boogie,” a fun, rocking little jam with good stuff on keys and a catchy guitar part. That’s followed by the two live bonus tracks. The first is a good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” recorded in France. This track features Andrea Beccaro on drums and Francesco Beccaro on bass. The second (and final track on the CD) is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the track I was most excited to hear. It was recorded at The Falcon in Marlboro, New York. Though the date of the concert isn’t given in the liner notes, it was within the last year because Popa Chubby introduces it by saying “This is a song by the late great Leonard Cohen.” The sound isn’t perfect, and you can hear people talking in the background, which is weird and rude. But it’s a good rendition. One thing that makes this version interesting is Popa Chubby’s choice of verses. He begins it, naturally, with the “secret chord” verse, then follows it with the “love is not some kind of victory march” verse. He then does the “You say I took the name in vain” verse, which is often left out these days. That’s followed by the “What’s really going on below” verse. Popa Chubby changes this one slightly, singing the first two lines as “Was a time not long ago/You showed me what was down below” instead of “There was a time you let me know/What’s really going on below.” Popa Chubby adds “Oh yeah, oh yeah” to the end of each chorus. There’s a really nice instrumental section, featuring good work on keys and then guitar. Popa Chubby addresses the audience after that section, asking the folks if they’ve been having a good time. He then sings the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse, and follows that with another instrumental part to end the song. So he left out the “Your faith was strong” verse and the “I did my best” verse. This is interesting, as I’ve seen live recordings of Popa Chubby performing both of those verses (while leaving out others). As far as I know, Leonard Cohen himself never performed all the verses together, as the song changed over time. Anyway, Popa Chubby’s reading of the song is passionate, and is of course one of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. It’s Alright
  2. Rescue Me
  3. Preexisting Conditions
  4. Sam Lay’s Pistol
  5. Two Dogs
  6. Dirty Old Blues
  7. Shakedown
  8. Wound Up Getting High
  9. Cayophus Dupree
  10. Me Won’t Back Down
  11. Chubby’s Boogie
  12. Sympathy For The Devil
  13. Hallelujah 
Two Dogs is scheduled to be released on CD in the US on November 27, 2017. Apparently it was released in Europe last week. (Note: the tune “Cayophus Dupree” is listed as “Cayophus Dupree” in the track list on the back of the CD case, but is referred to twice as “Clayophus” in the liner notes.)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Chris Barron: “Angels And One-Armed Jugglers” (2017) CD Review

John Irving is one of my favorite writers (after William Shakespeare and Kurt Vonnegut, of course). Last year I reviewed an album by a band called Owen Meany’s Batting Stance, and it was the band’s name that got me interested. Likewise, it was a song titled “The World Accordion To Garp” that initially attracted me to Angels And One-Armed Jugglers, the new solo album by Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron. Plus, that’s a damn good album title (apparently, the album was originally going to be titled If I Stop Laughing, I’ll Cry). (Side note: I can’t believe it’s been twenty-three years since I saw Spin Doctors in concert.) The CD features all original music, written or co-written by Chris Barron, songs with some excellent lyrics. Lines like “Loneliness, it’s not the best party dress” and “There’s a saint in every crowd” and of course “I’m tired of songs about angels/I could use a punch in the face” stand out. Joining him on this release are Andrew Carillo on guitar, Jesse Murphy on bass, Shawn Pelton on drums, Rob Clores on keys, Erik Lawrence on saxophone, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Jeff Nelson on tuba, Jonathan Dinklage on violin and viola, Anja Wood on cello, and Kevin Bents on accordion. Backing vocals are provided by Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Arne Houda and Erik Roe.

Chris Barron opens the album with its title track, which is one of my favorites. Ah, there is something attractive about songs populated by characters like these. “Angels and one-armed jugglers/Sword swallowers and smugglers/Good old Adelaide, she must be long gone/She once was a looker/And a hell of a hoofer/And we never stayed thirsty for long.” And this one has a wonderful sound, with some nice work on horns. There is a good late-night vibe to this song. Pour yourself a drink, sit back and let it take you on a little journey. “Angels And One-Armed Jugglers” is followed by “April And May,” which has more of a pop sound. “The vodka spreads her fingers and I am like a thumb/I can’t drink myself back to the place where May and April come.”

“Gonna (Need Someone)” is a mellower, more reflective song, an effective combination of folk and pop, and is another of my favorites (though I’m not sure why “Need Someone” is in parentheses in the title). Check out these lines, which begin the song: “On some other sunny day/When it used to be child’s play/You could get up and walk away from yourself/Now that the sun is gone/And the shadows are strange and long/You try and try to be strong, but it’s wrong.” Yeah, there are a lot of excellent lyrics in this batch of songs. These lines from “In A Cold Kind Of Way” always make me smile: “She’s as cold as ice/My friends think she’s nice/She could use a little blush/And of course her brains are mush.” I already mentioned my favorite lines from “Saving Grace” (the “punch in the face” lines), but I also really like these lines: “Well, if home is where the heart lies/And my heart is in your hands.”

The title of “Still A Beautiful World” carries a much-needed message in this completely screwed up time when a hideous, incestuous, mendacious creep sleeps in the White House. And the song is quite good. It begins as a sweet-sounding folk song, then develops into a cool pop song with horns. “It’s still a beautiful world/But we destroyed it long ago/Sha la-la, sha-la la-la la.” That’s followed by “The World Accordion To Garp,” the song that initially drew my interest. And it’s another of the album’s highlights, though the second line, “Boozy Susie on my arm,” reminds me of a different John Irving novel. And, yes, an accordion plays a strong role in this song. There is also a tuba, perhaps thanks to the line “The tuba has been drinking.” Check out these lines: “If you listen for her song/In your memory you can keep it/Even if you get it wrong/She plays it on your heartstrings/Starting just as it gets dark/On the world accordion to Garp.”

“Till The Cows Come Home” is a kind of sweet love tune that becomes a delicious jazzy late-night number. Yes, this is another of my favorites. “No matter where you go/You’ll never be alone/I will love you till the cows come home.” The CD then concludes with “Too Young To Fade,” a song about a friend. “His movie ended before they shot a couple of scenes.” When I come across lines like that, I always think of Ken Kesey’s sage advice to “always stay in your own movie.”

CD Track List
  1. Angels And One-Armed Jugglers
  2. April And May
  3. Darken My Door
  4. Gonna (Need Someone)
  5. In A Cold Kind Of Way
  6. Raining Again
  7. Saving Grace
  8. Still A Beautiful World
  9. The World Accordion To Garp
  10. Till The Cows Come Home
  11. Too Young To Fade 
Angels And One-Armed Jugglers was released on October 20, 2017.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Andrea Marr: “Natural” (2017) CD Review

Andrea Marr’s new album, Natural, is bursting with horns and soul, and has a classic sound, though it features mostly original material. In fact, there are only two covers on this album; the rest were written or co-written by Andrea Marr. Several of these tracks were recorded five years ago and appeared on Andrea Marr’s Sass & Brass EP. The rest were recorded this year, with a mostly different set of musicians (though Dave Reynolds on guitar and Sean Rankin on trumpet play on all tracks). Andrea Marr is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Andrea Marr kicks off the album with “Force Of Nature,” a song that comes on strong, with a whole lot of energy, like the song itself is trying to be the force Andrea sings of – though the force spoken about in this song is a man. “I’m like a leaf in the wind, blowing all out of control/His love is like a whirlwind blowing right through my soul now.” I dig the horns.  And though Andrea is belting out the lyrics here and there is a lot of energy behind her vocals, I feel some of the other tracks feature her best vocal performances. One of those tracks is the following song, “Rock Steady,” one of the album’s two covers. It’s a funky gem written and originally recorded by Aretha Franklin. Andrea does a great job with it, though I do miss the backing vocalists echoing “What it is” from Aretha’s original version. Andrea really lets loose here, getting into it, living it, working it, and seeming to have a lot of fun. What a good groove. And of course I love the horns. In the second half of the song, the backing vocalists come in to repeat “Rock steady, what it is, what it is,” while Andrea gets even more wild. And check out that guitar work at the end.

“Mama Got It Wrong Sometimes Too” is a seriously a cool tune, in which Andrea pays tribute to motherhood while also keeping in mind that mothers are human.  Mama held your hand, did the best that she could/You’ll never know until you stand where she stood/Hey, child, do what your mama told you to/Hey, child, do what your mama told you to/But you got to remember mama got it wrong sometimes too.” This song has a great rhythm, and features a sort of spoken word section, where Andrea is backed by some sparse percussion that grows as she continues. And the song then builds again from there. This is one of my favorites, and is one of the songs from the earlier EP. That’s followed by “Grateful,” also a strong track, in which Andrea sings, “Every day that I’m breathing, I’m grateful, I know/Every day that I’m walking, talking, dancing, flying/Grateful, I know.” I feel this way a good deal of the time, but a reminder is still needed at times, particularly in these days of rampant lies and horrors from the cretins occupying the nation’s capital, days when it is so easy to slip into anger and despair. I’m guessing a lot of folks are going to appreciate this song.

Another favorite is “That’s Where Love Ends,” a delicious, classic-sounding soul number that was included on the earlier EP.  This one features an excellent vocal performance – strong, emotional, heartfelt. Listen to her sing, “Like a note that hangs in the air after the song ends/Oh, that’s where my love will find you.” And her voice rises to some wonderful heights after that. Plus, this track features some excellent work on saxophone. This is a fantastic track from beginning to end. It’s followed by the fun “Let’s Take It To The Bedroom.” No, nothing subtle about this one. “So if it’s all right with you, let’s take it to the bedroom/Never too soon, baby/Take it to the bedroom.” Hey, it’s all right with me! And then there is a sexy kind of spoken word section. “You know I wrote this song/Because men think that women want to talk all night long/You know, sometimes I don’t want to talk at all/I just, I just, I just want to get busy.” My girlfriend is going to appreciate this one. I have to play it for her soon.

“What Do I Have To Do (To Prove My Love To You),” the album’s other cover, is a kind of funky and groovy number written and originally performed by Marva Whitney. Andrea really sinks her teeth into this track, and the results are seriously good. And there is plenty of cool work from the horn players, particularly in the jam in the middle of the track. The next track, “Snakes,” also has a funky vibe. And guess which people I think of when I hear a line like “Some people walking around, lies dripping from their tongues” (hint: they are pretending to be the leaders of the country). And, hey, supporters of the current administration might want to pay attention to this line: “’Cause when a liar keeps lying, only a fool is gonna trust.”

CD Track List
  1. Force Of Nature
  2. Rock Steady
  3. Mama Got It Wrong Sometimes Too
  4. Grateful
  5. That’s Where Love Ends
  6. Let’s Take It To The Bedroom
  7. Credit
  8. What Do I Have To Do
  9. Snakes
  10. Real Good Man
  11. Sticks & Stones 
Natural is scheduled to be released on October 31, 2017.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Acting Natural: “Acting Natural” (2017) CD Review

Looking at the cover of Acting Natural’s self-titled debut EP, it’s easy to guess this trio was influenced by The Beatles. And of course the band’s name makes me think of the Buck Owens song “Act Naturally,” which was famously covered by The Beatles in 1965, with Ringo Starr on lead vocals. And, sure, The Beatles are among this young group’s influences. But they’re not trying to copy that band, and their sound takes inspiration from other places and other decades than the 1960s. They possess a good sense of fun, and they seem to have given a good deal of attention to getting the vocals just right. The band is made up of Eric Carnevale on vocals, guitar, piano, organ and percussion; James David Maney on bass and vocals; and Jesse Leonard on drums and vocals. Originally from Tampa, Florida, they are now based in New York.

The CD’s opening track, “The One,” has a distinct 1960s pop rock sound, both in the music and in the vocal delivery, especially in the way they harmonize. But it is not an attempt to imitate a particular sound, but rather it shows a mix of influences. For example, the cool bass line has a more contemporary feel. And partway through, the song takes on a different groove for an interesting bridge. The lyrics are fairly straightforward: “I don’t wanna play games/I don’t wanna be the fool/I just wanna be the one for you.” And who doesn’t want to hear that? That’s followed by “Nicole,” which has a mellower pop sound. This one has more of a 1980s thing happening, particularly in the chorus.

For me, this EP starts to really get going with “Pairadice,” a fun and catchy tune, its title obviously a play on the word “paradise” – that love is both a glorious thing and a gamble. They play on that idea throughout, with lines like “You can’t win every time” and “Sometimes I think I must have lost my mind.” But it’s the sound of this one that really makes it a memorable track, with elements of disco and a catchy vocal line in the chorus. It’s ultimately a positive-sounding tune. As good as it is, it’s the following track, “Bloom,” that is my personal favorite. This one has a sweeter folk-pop vibe that is absolutely wonderful. And check out the opening lines: “Oh, the snow, the birds and the bees/And the gin and the weed and the love.” I love how they start to establish a sort of cheesy vibe with that first line, “the birds and the bees,” then immediately work against that with the second line, which is a continuation of the thought, but in a more realistic direction. “The years tick by/The toys and the bikes and the games/And the spies, they just don’t shine like they used to/Holidays just aren’t the same.” This is a really good song.

“Early Morning,” to my ears, has the most obvious nod to The Beatles in its sound. “Left my heart open like a door that I kept cracked/Just for you.” The EP then concludes with a fun, solid rock song titled “Missed The Train.” “I missed the train/Wondered why I came/Addicted to the pain/In every memory that we made.” And I love that lead on guitar in the second half of the song.

CD Track List
  1. The One
  2. Nicole
  3. Pairadice
  4. Bloom
  5. Early Morning
  6. Missed The Train
Acting Natural was released on CD on October 27, 2017. It was released digitally on September 22nd.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Blueblack Hussar DVD Review

There is a bit of narration at the beginning of The Blueblack Hussar about how in the 1980s Adam Ant was at the height of his fame. So true. Adam And The Ants had several hits in the UK, and then when Adam started his solo career he began having success in the US as well. “But then tragedy struck, and after a nervous breakdown, he found himself sectioned under the Mental Health Act, locked up and forcibly sedated, putting him in a state of artistic oblivion,” the narrator tells us. “This is the story of his brave return from exile,” the narrator promises.

Except it’s not, at least not exactly. The movie hardly mentions his breakdown or mental health again, and doesn’t really show us Adam Ant’s struggles. And the narration completely disappears. That’s not to say that The Blueblack Hussar isn’t interesting. But it is certainly not the film it promises to be. It basically has the feel of home movies rather than a documentary. People on screen are never identified. So either it’s assumed we know who all these people are, or it doesn’t matter who they are. The camera basically follows Adam Ant around, and sometimes he speaks directly to the camera, as at the beginning when he tells us that the blueblack hussar is the follow-up to his famous white stripe across his face, but more often he’s speaking to those around him, but for the benefit of the camera and the film’s audience as well. On the way to a gig, he pulls out the night’s set list. “It’s a long one.” Indeed, it is. He also says the two places he’s happiest are on stage and in bed, and I wish someone were there to ask him further about this, to explore the reasons why he’s not as happy when he’s not performing, one way or another.

There are a lot of ordinary details captured in this movie. We see Adam Ant applying makeup, posing for photos, getting a tattoo, and so on. And there is some weird footage of him dancing in his home and some woman trying to follow his steps and gestures for some reason. It’s really bizarre. Why is she doing this? Who is she? I really wish those on screen were identified. Likewise, the locations. There is some seriously enjoyable concert footage, but the venues and dates of the shows are largely left unmentioned. He sings, “I want to make my intentions very clear/I want to fuck you in the ass/I want to fuck you on the floor.” And I like the footage of him performing “Press Darlings,” a cool punk tune.

Interestingly, before you know it, you’re sort of immersed in his world, like you’re one of the odd characters surrounding him. Was that the intention behind not identifying people, to make us feel like we must already know them? Though there are no proper interviews done specifically for the film, there is footage of Adam Ant being interviewed on the radio, and footage of him being interviewed by someone else in a house. That’s actually in some ways more interesting, because we are detached from the process a bit, looking on as someone else struggles to set up and work the camera while Adam waits – something that the filmmaker of this documentary could very well have had to deal with had he chosen to go the normal route with this film. There is even a dog that gets in the way.

The film includes footage of him meeting Charlotte Rampling. Apparently, Adam is a big fan of the film The Night Porter (hell, so am I), and wants her to perform one of his songs. He jokes about doing a “world tour of London,” causing Charlotte to laugh. I also like the footage of him in a recording studio, singing “Ca Plane Pour Moi.” And wow, check out his backing vocalist’s amazing fuzzy sweater. And I love the footage of him with artist Allen Jones. It seems this film is often at its most interesting – and Adam is at his most interesting – when he is with someone he respects, and the focus is shared. Perhaps it is then we see a bit more of who he really is.

Though the film doesn’t get into any of his troubles, or even the reasons for his returning to music (other than he’s happiest when on stage), there is something of a progression shown. From small gigs to a show at Hyde Park before a large crowd, which concludes the film, showing that he is clearly back in the spotlight.

Special Features

The DVD includes some bonus footage, more concert footage. Interestingly, this footage is clearly identified. The first bit is a snippet (approximately two minutes) from a show Adam Ant did at The Scala in London on November 21, 2010. The sound isn’t great. The second is from Jazz Café on March 31, 2011, and this footage features Adam singing “Young Parisians” with Boy George. It is approximately three and a half minutes, and is totally delightful. The third is from The Electric Ballroom on December 16, 2010, with Adam Ant performing “Deutscher Girls.” Very cool.

The special features also include a Q&A with Jack Bond and John Robb recorded at Riverside Studios on June 24, 2013. Jack Bond talks about meeting Adam Ant for the first time. “When I met him, I was kind of entranced by him.” And that led to him deciding to make the film. He talks about the style of filmmaking used in this documentary. He says: “I think it does create its own narrative. But finding that narrative and eliminating what you don’t want is the hardest part. I think that is the struggle.” This is approximately fourteen minutes, and includes snippets from the film he made with Salvador Dali. Jack Bond does compare Dali and Adam Ant.

The Blueblack Hussar was directed by Jack Bond, and was released on DVD on October 16, 2015.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Rick And The All-Stars: “The Sighting” (2016) CD Review

There is a certain number that seems to come up every single day for me. That number is 37. It is my birthday: 3/7 (and I was born during the reign of the country’s 37th president). It is the number of plays that Shakespeare wrote (unless you count The Two Noble Kinsmen, which I don’t). It is the height in feet of the Green Monster at Fenway. It is the number of dicks that Dante’s girlfriend sucked in Clerks. In Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the man that Arthur called old says, “I’m 37.” There is an episode of The Simpsons where Homer tells Marge to guess a number between 1 and 50, and she immediately guesses 37 (leading Homer to say “D’oh!”). The other day at work, a truck drove past the set with “37” in large black letters on the side, and no other writing. No idea what that was about. Anyway, it comes up every day. When I began reading the liner notes for The Sighting, the latest release from Rick And The All-Stars, the first thing I saw was “Day #37, 7 am.” The number is mentioned two more times in the liner notes, liner notes which incorporate the titles of the CD’s tracks into a log entry. I bring this up because it could be important. Like Richard Dreyfuss says in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, “This means something.”

Anyway, The Sighting is the second release by Rick And The All-Stars, following 2015’s The Invisible Session. Like that previous album, this one was recorded in a single day (on July 8, 2016, not the year’s 37th day, in case you’re wondering). It was recorded live at the Invisible Sound recording studio, with only two overdubs added. Rick And The All-Stars consists of Rick Pressler on guitar, John Shock on keys, Hoppy Hopkins on drums, Dan Naiman on saxophone, and Paul Margolis on bass and guitar. (You might also know Shock, Hopkins, Naiman and Margolis as The Stone Hill All-Stars.)

The album opens with “Her Most Recent Missive,” a seriously cool, slow bluesy dark jazz number. Dan Naiman’s saxophone is the strong voice of the piece, calling out to us from a concrete corner, a place from where hope is perhaps retreating. But the keyboard and guitar march in, providing light, but maybe also announcing danger. And then, bam, we’re led straight into a joyous number that caught me off guard. In this one, titled “Como Altar Kuchu,” the horn sounds so happy, and seems to want to make you happy too. And why not? I totally dig the rhythm created by Hoppy Hopkins on drums and Paul Margolis on bass. Plus, there is some cool stuff on keys and guitar. This is a tune certain to get you smiling, tapping your toes, and we can all use tunes like that these days.

The band then goes into a funky, hip number called “The Sighting,” the album’s title track, one of my personal favorites. I imagine some against-the-rules detective following some suspicious individual into a parallel universe where prime numbers dress in flashes of light and the air has drug-like qualities and mirrors pay your bar tab. This tune develops into a cool jam, with all the musicians grooving and shining. That’s followed by “Mrs. Bianchi,” which begins as a mellower bluesy number, then halfway through picks up a groovy rhythm, those brushes playing across the snare. There is some wonderful work on guitar here.

“Camp Ephilus” is another of my favorites. It begins with just saxophone, then takes on a sort of strong, tribal rhythm. At a certain point, the guitar and keys remind me a bit of Phish, a kind of electronic, insistent rhythm, but the percussion continues that raw, delicious thing it’s got going on, and the saxophone is coming from a tough smoky old jazz club. It all adds up to something fantastic, a track I enjoy more each time I listen to this disc. And then it gets quieter, maybe sneaky, and you wonder what this track is up to, and suddenly it’s over. Then a New Orleans kind of rhythm starts the next track, “I Am No Captain.” When the other musicians come in, the tune moves far from any relation to that city, and creates its own strange landscape. I love the way the instruments all work together here, having reached some agreement, then begin having their own things to add. I particularly like the guitar on this track. And check out Hoppy Hopkins’ work on drums toward the end. Then there is something a bit funky about “Physical Evidence,” and you get the feeling it wants to break out into more chaotic territory, but is restrained in some way. The CD then concludes with “Refolding And Creasing The Paper Bag,” which sports my favorite title of the album. This track has a loose, fun, optimistic vibe that I like.

CD Track List
  1. Her Most Recent Missive
  2. Como Altar Kuchu
  3. The Sighting
  4. Mrs. Bianchi
  5. Camp Ephilus
  6. I Am No Captain
  7. Physical Evidence
  8. Refolding And Creasing The Paper Bag
The Sighting was released on December 3, 2016.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Paul Kelly at The Federal Bar, 10-22-17 Concert Review

Paul Kelly performing "Life Is Fine"
What better way is there to spend a Sunday morning and early afternoon than drinking and listening to some excellent music? Gary Calamar hosts the Mimosa Music Series at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood, and today Paul Kelly performed there. I am always excited to see him, and today’s show was with a full band, reminding some people of those earlier days with The Messengers. This was a rockin’, energetic set, focusing mainly on his new album, Life Is Fine, which was released in August. 

The music began at 11:42 a.m., with Great Willow opening the show. They did a good set, playing some songs from their recently released album Find Yourself In Los Angeles, including “Many Things” and “Petaluma,” the latter with a fun pop vibe. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the band features cello, an instrument I love. While the band fits into the general country music realm, their songs also have a bit of folk, a bit of pop. “Last Boyfriend” has a Buddy Holly feel, particularly at the start. They ended their 34-minute set with “Earthquake Weather.”

Paul Kelly took the stage at 12:31 p.m., launching straight into “Rising Moon,” the opening track from Life Is Fine. Paul had a five-piece band backing him, including vocalists Vika Bull and Linda Bull. Without a pause, the band followed “Rising Moon” with “Finally Something Good,” which happens to be the second track on that album. “Something good this way comes,” Paul sings. Indeed. This music makes me feel so damn good. (That line, by the way, is a play on a line from Macbeth.) Paul Kelly played the first four tracks of the new album in order, following “Finally Something Good” with “Firewood And Candles” (featuring cool work on keys) and “My Man’s Got A Cold,” with Vika Bull on lead vocals. “My Man’s Got A Cold” is one of my personal favorites from Life Is Fine, and it was also one of the highlights of the set. It’s an incredibly cool tune, and Vika owns it. Linda Bull added some interesting percussion. She had a plastic bucket of hand percussion instruments, and at certain points she would drop the bucket on the stage to create a sort of jangly thud. I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’d seen someone do that in concert (though my memory is not always to be trusted).

There wasn’t much stage banter between songs, but Paul did introduce “Josephina”: “This is the story of Josephina and the ne’er-do-well who loves her.” “Josephina” is so catchy, and Vika and Linda added some hand claps. Linda Bull got a chance to sing lead on “Don’t Explain,” and then Paul switched to the keyboard for “I Smell Trouble,” while both Vika and Linda took a break. “I Smell Trouble” was kind of an intense jam. Paul performed “Life Is Fine” solo, the only song of the set he played without the band, and the last of the songs from the new album. He played nine of the CD’s twelve tracks.

He followed “Life Is Fine” with a couple of songs that were included on The Merri Soul Sessions  – “Righteous Woman” and “Sweet Guy,” Vika Bull singing lead on the latter. The set then ended with “Look So Fine, Feel So Low.” The encore was a couple of Paul Kelly classics – “Stories Of Me” and “Before Too Long.” The show ended at 1:25 p.m.

Set List
  1. Rising Moon >
  2. Finally Something Good
  3. Firewood And Candles
  4. My Man’s Got A Cold
  5. Josephina
  6. Letter In The Rain
  7. Don’t Explain
  8. I Smell Trouble
  9. Life Is Fine
  10. Righteous Woman
  11. Sweet Guy
  12. Look So Fine, Feel So Low
Encore
  1. Stories Of Me
  2. Before Too Long
If you missed this show and you live in or near Los Angeles, you still have a chance to see Paul Kelly today, for he’s playing at The Roxy tonight. I highly recommend checking him out.

Here are a few photos from the show:

beginning "Rising Moon"
"Finally Something Good" 
"Firewood And Candles"
"My Man's Got A Cold"
"Letter In The Rain"
"Letter In The Rain"
"I Smell Trouble"
"I Smell Trouble"
"Life Is Fine"

The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago DVD Review

Chicago was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. I was twelve years old. The band was touring to support 17, which was a huge record at the time, and – as far as I know – remains the group’s best-selling album. It was after that album and tour that Peter Cetera left the group to pursue a solo career. The band’s next album, 18, wasn’t as good, though it did have a few hits, including a reworked version of “25 Or 6 To 4,” and after that I lost track of the band’s progress, though I never lost my passion for their early material. So, I was excited to learn more about the band through Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago, a documentary film telling the story of the band from its inception to the present. The film’s title comes from the final section of “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” from the band’s second album.

The film begins with an excited concert crowd moments before the band takes the stage. But before we hear a note, the documentary takes us back to the beginning. The film is divided into chapters, each marked by a Roman numeral, much like the band’s albums, and goes in chronological order, each year appearing briefly on screen to keep us aware of just when each event happened. The band members themselves, through a series of recent interviews, tell their story. Not everyone from the band’s history, however, is interviewed. Of the band’s original lineup, there are interviews with Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, Walt Parazaider, Danny Seraphine and Jimmy Pankow. Conspicuously absent from the movie is Peter Cetera, who declined to be interviewed. The film is actually produced by the band, so perhaps that has something to do with it. It’s a shame, whatever the reason, because obviously Peter played a huge role in the band’s history and success.

It’s interesting that – like many bands – Chicago began as a cover band. Lee Loughnane mentions that the band got fired once for playing an original song. And actor Joe Mantegna tells an anecdote about his band being asked to play because Chicago Transit Authority was going to be fired. Jimmy Pankow provides this colorful description of the band’s early days: “Our first gig was at the club GiGi, an upholstered sewer on the south side of Chicago. The only people in the audience were my parents.” Of course, the band would soon find success, after moving to Los Angeles. There are plenty of interesting anecdotes from this time, like how they all lived in one house, and about the band touring with Big Brother And The Holding Company. Walt Parazaider tells the story of meeting Jimi Hendrix, and the way Hendrix complimented the band: “The horns are like one set of lungs, and your guitar player is better than me.” One thing that is not mentioned, oddly, is the band’s name changing from Chicago Transit Authority to simply Chicago (actually, they don’t really talk much about the name at all, how they came to be called Chicago Transit Authority in the first place).

They do talk about their success, about certain songs such as “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” (which apparently was the first thing they ever recorded together), “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon” (which is one of the chapter titles for the film) and “25 Or 6 To 4,” including that song title’s meaning. It “indicates the time in the morning, twenty-five minutes to 4 a.m.” And though Peter Cetera did not take part in the making of this documentary, he is of course discussed. It’s interesting that when he began writing songs like “If You Leave Me Now,” not everyone in the band appreciated it, and Terry Kath did not want to do ballads, but rather wanted to continue doing more jazzy material. Nor did everyone in the band appreciate Peter Cetera becoming the face of the band during those days when music videos became so popular. By the way, David Foster, who co-wrote material with Peter Cetera, is also interviewed, and he comes across as rather full of himself, pointing out his Grammy trophies. At least he admits, “I think I gave them a lot of success, but I think I softened their sound past the point of where I should have.”

The anecdotes about their chartered plane being flown by military pilots are pretty wild, and all the material about Caribou Ranch is particularly fascinating. It was a recording studio that was far enough away from any town that the authorities did not interfere at all, and so things got pretty crazy there. And of course the film does get into the changes in the band’s lineup, and includes interviews with more recent members like Chris Pinnick (who replaced Donnie Dacus who replaced Terry Kath after Terry’s death), Jason Scheff, and Tris Imboden. There are also some snippets of old interviews with band members, as well as some good footage of the band performing. But the film really rushes through the nineties and more recent years, just basically mentioning album releases and further additions to the band. I would have liked more information about this time period. It does, however, spend a bit of time on the band’s long-overdue induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The film feels like a celebration of the band, which might not be surprising considering it was produced by the band. But this is a band that deserves a celebration, and the film has an optimistic and positive tone which I appreciate.

Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago was directed by Peter Pardini, and was released on DVD on October 13, 2017 through MVD Visual. The DVD contains no special features.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Beth Whitney: “The Wild Unrest” (2017) CD Review

Certain albums seem to come at the exact point when we are in need of them. So it is with Beth Whitney’s new release, The Wild Unrest. Feeling a bit lost and lonely (as I suppose we all do at times these days), I put this disc on, and Beth’s voice joined me in the darkness, the perfect company to lift my spirits. You might be familiar with Beth Whitney through her work with The Banner Days, the band she has with Bradford Loomis, or through her earlier solo releases, but for me this album served as an introduction to her talent. Joining Beth Whitney on The Wild Unrest are Aaron Fishburn on upright bass and percussion, Natalie Mai Hall on cello, Jonathan Berry on violin and backing vocals, and Brandon Bee on – well – a whole lot of different instruments including mountain dulcimer, guitar, banjo and piano. Brandon Bee also produced the album. On backing vocals are Ellen Whitney, Carina Lewis, Sarah Gerritsen and Kate Lynne Logan. All tracks on this CD were written by Beth Whitney (though one is based on a poem by Linda Pastan).

The Wild Unrest opens with “Raven,” a song that kind of sneaks up on you. It begins somewhat quietly, and before you know it, you’re pulled in by the beauty of the vocals, by the subtle but effective percussion, by the strings. It becomes a rather gorgeous song, and it provides the album with its title in the lines, “See her body flying over/With a song of wild unrest.” It’s followed by “Shadows Of A Man,” which has something of a haunting tone. “The war has not been won, he said/The dying’s just begun.” This one builds in power at moments, with both the percussion and the strings gripping us.

Then “Tumwater” has a beautiful folk sound. This is exactly the kind of song that first drew me to folk music when I was in my teens in the late 1980s. Its tone, the sound of her voice, the way she delivers the lyrics all work on me the way the music did then, when everything was fresh and I was eager to learn from each song I encountered. Wonderful that music can still affect me that way. “I thought that I’d do better than this/I thought that I’d be better than this.” And the strings are perfect. “Tumwater” is one of my favorite tracks, and it’s followed by another favorite, “Tides Are For Sirens,” which starts with a gentle, comforting sound, something we need right about now. “Which heartbeat is yours and which one is mine/Am I the water, the mist or the sky/Your sorrow’s heavy here mingled with mine/And it’s lighter that way.” And suddenly there is a playful, sweet, joyful vocal section that builds and had me nearly in tears. I love how a song can move us like that. Beth returns to that section at the end of the song. I am completely in love with this song, one of my favorites of the year. “So tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine/It’s lighter that way.” If you’re feeling lonely in the night, let Beth reach out to you through this music. The next song, “Morning Star,” also has a friendly, comforting feel. “Don’t fall, don’t fall, please don’t fall,” she sings, but it feels like this song itself is capable of catching us and lifting us. (Apparently, this song was originally titled “Don’t Fall.”)

While Beth Whitney doesn’t belt out her lyrics, there is a definite strength behind her voice, and that strength comes through in her being open to pain as well as joy. “Days Of Nights” is a moving and engaging song, told by the haunted voice of a woman who has endured much, but has by the end perhaps come through. “He said don’t fight it/He said it’s too late/He said I’m just like the others/As he gave me away/To that red light/Where my days are made of nights/And he said won’t nobody love you like this.” The CD then concludes with “Fireflies,” which is Linda Pastan’s poem set to music, with certain lines repeated. This song is beautiful and uplifting, leaving us in a good place.

CD Track List
  1. Raven
  2. Shadows Of A Man
  3. Tumwater
  4. Tides Are For Sirens
  5. Morning Star
  6. Days Of Nights
  7. Fireflies 
The Wild Unrest is scheduled to be released on November 11, 2017.