Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mark Winkler: “The Company I Keep” (2017) CD Review

Lyricist and vocalist Mark Winkler’s new album, The Company I Keep, includes some interesting choices of covers as well as lots of good original material. And the company Mark Winkler chooses to keep on this CD includes some excellent musicians and vocalists, many of whom worked with him on his 2015 release Jazz And Other Four Letter Words, the album that turned me on to this artist. Several of these songs are delivered as duets, Winkler accompanied on vocals by folks like Jackie Ryan, Cheryl Bentyne, Steve Tyrell, Claire Martin and Sara Gazarek. The musicians backing him on this release include Jamieson Trotter on piano, Rich Eames on piano, Eric Reed on piano, Josh Nelson on piano, John Beasley on piano, David Benoit on piano, Larry Koonse on guitar, Bob Mann on guitar, Lyman Medeiros on bass, John Clayton on bass, Mike Shapiro on drums, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Kevin Winard on drums, Bob Sheppard on saxophone and clarinet, Don Shelton on clarinet, Bob McChesney on trombone, Ron Blake on trumpet, Brian Swartz on trumpet, and Paul Cartwright on violin. The music on this disc is largely positive and uplifting, which of course is something we all need these days, regardless of our personal set of circumstances. The whole world needs a lift. The whole world needs a reminder of what is really important.

The album opens with a cover of Donald Fagen’s “Walk Between Raindrops” (here written as “Walk Between The Raindrops”). I absolutely love the wonderful work on bass by Lyman Medeiros that begins this rendition. This song is presented as a duet with Jackie Ryan, and their vocals are a reason why I prefer this version to the original. And then the horns sound like they’re about to sweep us off our feet and transport us to a magical land where leaders tell the truth and hatred is a rare emotion. The horn section is made up of Bob McChesney, Ron Blake, Brian Swartz and Bob Sheppard. I’ve never been a Steely Dan fan (though I love the band’s name), but I really dig this song, which was included on Fagen’s first solo album, 1982’s The Nightfly (it was also covered by Mel Tormé). Mark Winkler includes a little nod to “Singing In The Rain” at the end of this rendition. He follows that with a Prince cover, “Strollin’” (from Prince’s 1991 album Diamonds And Pearls). This one is also presented as a duet, this time with Cheryl Bentyne (of The Manhattan Transfer), who sang on a couple of tracks on Jazz And Other Four Letter Words. This is a delicious tune (sometimes I forget just how many excellent songs Prince is responsible for). “Let’s forget about the time/Let’s relax and ease and our mind/We deserve to just feel fine.” Oddly, Mark Winkler changes the line from “Buy some dirty magazine” to “Buy some arty magazine.” Halfway through, there is a great instrumental section featuring piano and bass and percussion.

“Midnight In Paris” is a delightful tune, and yes, it seems to take its inspiration from the Woody Allen film, mentioning those folks from the 1920s – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray and so on. Mark Winkler and Phil Swann wrote the lyrics, and Bill Cantos wrote the music. This track features good work on clarinet by Don Shelton, and some pretty work on violin by Paul Cartwright. I particularly love the moments when they engage each other. “What is old is strangely new again/When I’m with you again.” That’s followed by “But It Still Ain’t So,” another of the disc’s highlights, written by Louis Durra and Mark Winkler, and performed as a duet with Steve Tyrell. I love Bob Sheppard’s bright work on saxophone.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but you can’t go wrong with Gershwin. On Jazz And Other Four Letter Words, Mark Winkler covered “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and on this album he does “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” This rendition features some good work on bass by Lyman Medeiros. “Love Comes Quietly” is a tender, sweet, late-night love song with some very positive, yet honest lyrics. “You and I are captured in its spell/Like in a fairytale, we only know too well/There are no ringing bells or violins/When loves come in.” It was written by Mike Mish and Mark Winkler, and features a good bass lead by John Clayton.

“Rainproof” is done as a duet with Sara Gazarek. It has a sweet and playful tone. “We’re not rainproof, but we’re stronger than the rain.” I love Bob Sheppard’s work on saxophone. “Rainproof” was written by Angela Parrish and Mark Winkler. Mark Winkler delivers a wonderful cover of “Lucky To Be Me,” a song written by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolf Greene for the musical On The Town. I love the moment when the clarinet comes in, and the song takes on a happier tone. This song should put a smile on your face, and we can all use a reason to smile these days, right? The album then concludes with a gentle, heartfelt and positive song titled “Here’s To Life,” written by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary, and most famously done by Shirley Horn. On this recording, Mark Winkler is accompanied only by Rich Eames on piano. “No complaints and no regrets/I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets/And I have learned that all you give is all you get/So give it all you’ve got.”

CD Track List
  1. Walk Between The Raindrops
  2. Strollin’
  3. Midnight In Paris
  4. But It Still Ain’t So
  5. That Afternoon In Harlem
  6. They Can’t Take That Away From Me
  7. Stolen Moments
  8. Love Comes Quietly
  9. Rainproof
  10. The Sum
  11. Lucky To Be Me
  12. Here’s To Life
The Company I Keep is scheduled to be released on May 25, 2017.

John Weeks Band: “Dark Angel” (2016) CD Review

John Weeks Band, based in Denver, delivers some good blues on Dark Angel, the band’s second release, which follows the 2014 self-titled debut. The album features all original material, written by John Weeks, Stacey Turpenoff and Danny Haynes, and these songs feature both male and female lead vocals. The band is made up of John Weeks on guitar and vocals, Stacey Turpenoff on vocals, Danny Haynes on keyboards and vocals, Stephen Whitfield on bass, and Robert Fiorino on drums and percussion.

This album grabbed my attention with its very first line, which is, “I’ve got a body in the back seat, I’m going to move it on down the road.” And the way Stacey delivers this line, kind of matter-of-factly, makes me believe her. Don’t get me wrong – she belts out certain lines in this song, including the very next line, and hell, that makes me believe her all the more. She’s a bit unhinged, this one, and might be calm one moment, and then scratching at the ceiling the next. Makes for an interesting song, I can tell you. And besides, this character may have a very good reason for doing what she’s done. The electric guitar matches that sort of energy, screaming at a certain point toward the end. There are several other lines that stand out, like “I’m driving with the top down, but I guess you can’t feel it anymore” and “Your face and my frying pan sure make a mighty fine snack.” “The Hole” was written by Stacey Turpenoff and John Weeks.

Then the second song, “The Blues Just Got More Blue,” starts with some cool, relaxed playing on piano, and Stacey’s voice is more controlled, more beautiful at the start. Of course, the energy in her voice builds from there, in volume and power, but she is starting from a very different place. And perhaps it was because of that very difference, but it was during this song that I became more interested in this album. “I never thought you’d go/And leave me so alone/But now suddenly/Since you’ve gone, it’s just me/We had so much to do/But you left too soon/The blues just got more blue.” And I like the part with the backing vocals toward the end. This is a wonderful bluesy number, and ended up being one of my favorite tracks on this album, in part because of Danny Haynes’ work on keys. Danny Haynes wrote this one. It’s followed by another that Haynes composed, “Closer To Home,” the first song of the disc to feature male lead vocals. This one has a fun, somewhat relaxed vibe, and some more nice work on keys. “Sometimes I even have no regret.”

“How Can You Love Me?” is so bloody cool right from the start. I love that bass, as well as that great work on keys, setting the stage perfectly for Stacey Turpenoff’s entrance more than a minute into the song. Her vocal delivery is so sexy. “How can you love me/When you don’t like anything that I do or that I say.” A valid question. This is another personal favorite, in large part because of Stacey’s powerful and moving vocal performance. “My friends, they don’t come over anymore/Because they all think that I’ve lost my mind.” Also, there is a great lead part on guitar in the second half of the song. And I like that this song is in no hurry. “How Can You Love Me?” was written by John Weeks. A different version of the song was included on the first John Weeks Band CD.

A song that has really grown on me is “Impossible,” written by Stacey Turpenoff and John Weeks. It has a bittersweet feel. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And the world seems so impossible/We’re cutting time in half/We’re bringing your love back/I don’t see things your way/You don’t see things my way/Everything is so impossible.” It’s followed by “What Does It Take?” which has a peppy, fun vibe. It’s a bit goofy, a bit silly, but totally enjoyable. It was written by Danny Haynes, as was “The One,” another of the disc’s highlight. This one is interesting from the beginning, with a kind of urgent feel to the work on keys at the song’s start. Things settle down a bit when Stacey’s vocals come in. And check out these lyrics: “I’ve been trying to express myself/But each time I try, I become someone else/I’m not the one who goes to work/I’m not the one who comes home/Sometimes I’m not even the one who sits alone.” The album then concludes with its title track, “Dark Angel,” a cool blues tune written by John Weeks and featuring another really good vocal performance by Stacey Turpenoff. “Stop trying to take me back, you know that I can’t go there anymore/You make me feel so good, I just can’t let you through the door.”

CD Track List
  1. The Hole
  2. The Blues Just Got More Blue
  3. Closer To Home
  4. How Can You Love Me?
  5. Devil In My House
  6. Impossible
  7. What Does It Take?
  8. Side Number
  9. The One
  10. Dark Angel
Dark Angel was released on November 9, 2016.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Greg Lake: “Greg Lake/Manoeuvres” (2016) CD Review

Almost everyone can agree that 2016 was a complete disaster of a year. In addition to the horrors of the presidential election, we lost a remarkable number of excellent and influential musicians last year, including both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Greg Lake died from cancer in December of 2016. But earlier in the year, we were treated to a special two-disc re-issue of his two solo albums, 1981’s Greg Lake and 1983’s Manoeuvres, with some bonus tracks. Joining Greg Lake on both albums are Gary Moore on guitar, Tommy Eyre on keys, Tristram Margetts on bass and Ted McKenna on drums (though several other musicians also appear on the first album). This two-disc set contains extensive liner notes by music journalist Malcolm Dome, featuring some candid thoughts by Greg Lake on these albums and on specific songs, including the bonus tracks.

Disc One: Greg Lake

The first disc contains Greg Lake’s self-titled debut solo album, along with three bonus tracks. The album opens with “Nuclear Attack,” which comes on a bit harder than what you might be used to from ELP, with a hard rock guitar kicking off the tune, and there’s a reason for that. The song was written by Gary Moore, who was Thin Lizzy’s guitarist. It’s about the unlikelihood of surviving a nuclear war. The album came out as the U.S. was entering the Reagan years, a horrible time politically. But hey, guess what, we’re once again in a seriously precarious situation, with the most unstable president in the history of the country, a man who could start a nuclear war over something said on Twitter. “Out on the streets, they’re all living in fear/You can feel their hearts pound as the moment draws near/One push of the button is all it would take/To dress the world in black/One fault in the system, a fatal mistake/And you’ll never come back from a nuclear attack.” Yup, this song is still timely, still relevant. Donald Trump is the fault in the system; I just hope he doesn’t prove to be our fatal mistake. Oh, what happened to that progress we’d been making? “Nuclear Attack” was also released as a single. Gary Moore would record his own version, including it on his Dirty Fingers album. That song is followed by “Love You Too Much,” which was also released as a single (and was also the flip side to the “Nuclear Attack” single, as well as the flip side to the German single for “For Those Who Dare”). This one is a lot more fun. It’s a good rock tune, even including a reference to “Blue Suede Shoes” (“Well, you can take me, honey, and steal my money/You can step on my blue suede shoes/’Cause I love you too much”). And there is plenty of great work on guitar. This is one of the album’s best tracks, and it was co-written by Bob Dylan. It was written by Bob Dylan, Helena Springs and Greg Lake (Greg Lake talks about it in the liner notes).

Another highlight for me is “Black And Blue.” It begins with a sweet, kind of dreamy sound. “Oh, darling, don’t stop loving me/No, I never meant to fill your dreams with heartaches/Or to send your true love crashing to the floor.” And then when the song kicks in, it has kind of a catchy pop vibe. This one was written by Greg Lake, and is one I enjoy more each time I listen to it. “’Cause no one else ever touched me the way you do/So darling, don’t you leave me, I’ll never get over you.” There is something about “Long Goodbye” that I really like. It’s a good, energetic, pulsing rock song with some decent lyrics, with lines like “You know I’ve driven all night/But the landscape screams your name” and “I know your smile’s so warm, but you’re causing grief/’Cause you’ve taken my tongue in your flashing teeth/And you’ve ruined my soul, because your love’s still out of reach.” “Long Goodbye” was written by Greg Lake, Tony Benyon and Tommy Eyre.

I am also really fond of “Someone,” which was also written by Greg Lake, Tony Benyon and Tommy Eyre. It has a quirky, strange yet delightful vibe, with a certain power. “Feeling your hunger/Ringing your number/Listening to your voice/I'm drunk and I'm calling/Tripping and falling/Wishing I had a choice.” And I love that work on keys. This might actually be the album’s best track. That’s followed by “Let Me Love You Once,” which was written by Stephen Dorff and Molly Leiken, and was released as a single. This song was recorded by Barbara Fairchild in 1976, and by Dusty Springfield, who released it as a single in 1977. The first verse of Greg Lake’s rendition is different from that of those other two versions. Yes, this song is a bit cheesier than the other tracks on this album, but it’s still a good song.

The three bonus tracks feature a different band playing with Greg Lake. And that band is Toto. Interestingly, the first song, Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” is one that Dusty Springfield also covered (her version appearing on 1979’s Living Without Your Love). But, according to Greg Lake in the liner notes, it was The Beatles’ rendition that inspired his version, and there are a couple of moments on this recording where he sounds very much like John Lennon. The other two bonus tracks are also covers: “You’re Good With Your Love,” which was written by Eddie Schwartz, and “Cold Side Of A Woman,” which was written by Kerry Chater and Roger Karshner. Tom Scott plays saxophone on “You’re Good With Your Love.”

Disc Two: Manoeuvres

The second disc contains Greg Lake’s second solo album, Manoeuvres, as well as one bonus track. While Manoeuvres is not quite as good as Greg Lake, there are still some excellent songs here, making it worth listening to. Interestingly, it is the second half of the album that really stands out. The album opens with its title track, a fairly solid rock song with a good vocal performance by Greg Lake. “I’m skating over thin ice tonight/I never thought it could be this cold/What you’re giving me in Fahrenheit/You’re taking back in solid gold.” It was written by Greg Lake and Gary Moore. It’s followed by a more rockin’ number, “Too Young To Love,” about being attracted to a girl who is, as he says, too young. “If making love’s a crime/I’m gonna end up doing time/There ain’t no way that you can be mine/You’re too young.”

“A Woman Like You” was written by Gary Moore, but unlike Moore’s contribution on the first album, this is actually a kind of mellow love tune, with a hint of blues. “Baby, you are everything to me/The only one I’ll ever need/Because I love you.” It’s followed by a harder rocking song, “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight,” which was co-written by Lake and Moore.

“Famous Last Words” was released as a single, the only single from the album, and the only cover. It was written by Chris Bradford, Andy Scott and David Most. It’s not a bad song, but it’s kind of cheesy and is certainly not my favorite track. The following track, “Slave To Love,” is a more interesting song, particularly with that guitar work. Plus, I really like the lyrics to this one. “You may have a dream or second sight/Yesterday’s hero or a star overnight/Walking on the water, there’s no land in sight/You’re just a slave to love tonight.” This is one of my favorite tracks, and it’s followed by “Haunted,” which may be my very favorite track. It features, for me, Greg Lake’s strongest vocal performance of the album. It’s a captivating song. “Lonely and empty/I'm searching for laughter/For memories brought alive/Places and faces and traces of you.”

On the original vinyl release, “It’s You, You Gotta Believe” was placed as the first track on the second side. And on earlier CD releases, it was put in the same position (as the sixth track). But on this CD release, for some reason it is placed as the last track. Wherever it is placed, it is another of the album’s highlights. Check out these lines: “You look for a friend/There ain't one in the end you can turn to/Somehow you learn to/Fight like a storm from the day that you're born/You duck and you dive/But it's all for nothing/Nothing's for nothing/Must realize it is just a disguise/That they wear/Nobody cares.”

The bonus track is “Hold Me,” and while the bonus tracks on Greg Lake were all written by other people, this one was written by Lake. It is a love song that is a bit on the cheesy side. “Oh, help me/Because I need your love so badly/You know I love you madly/I’m so in love with you.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Nuclear Attack
  2. Love You Too Much
  3. It Hurts
  4. Black And Blue
  5. Retribution Drive
  6. Long Goodbye
  7. The Lie
  8. Someone
  9. Let Me Love You Once
  10. For Those Who Dare
  11. You Really Got A Hold On Me
  12. You’re Good With Your Love
  13. Cold Side Of A Woman
Disc 2
  1. Manoeuvres
  2. Too Young To Love
  3. Paralysed
  4. A Woman Like You
  5. I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight
  6. Famous Last Words
  7. Slave To Love
  8. Haunted
  9. I Don’t Know Why I Still Love You
  10. It’s You, You Gotta Believe
  11. Hold Me 
Greg Lake/Manoeuvres was released on February 5, 2016.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kwame Binea Shakedown: “Roots Rock N Universal Love” (2017) CD Review

Roots Rock N Universal Love, the first full-length CD from Kwame Binea Shakedown (the band released an EP in 2015), is some delicious pop and rock music with plenty of soul running through it and lots of positive vibes. It’s exactly the kind of thing to raise your spirits during these dark, completely screwed up political times. Most of the songs on this album are originals, written by Kwame Binea and Justin Wilcox. Kwame Binea Shakedown features Kwame Binea on vocals, Justin Wilcox on guitar and backing vocals, Medley Shabazz on drums and backing vocals, Art Vanterpool on guitar, Phil Bassaragh on bass, Kengo Yamada on saxophone, Brian Varneke on trumpet, Daron Jonathan on keys, Jerry Ramos on keys, and Charles Mack on keys. Dietrice Bolden and Jindai Joseph provide backing vocals. The album was produced by Vernon Reid (yes, of Living Colour). Born in West London, Kwame Binea now lives in New York, where the band has done many of its shows. And after listening to this CD, I have to imagine this group puts on one hell of a live show.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Ain’t Your Woman,” which is a kind of funky rock gem. Man, I love those horns. And that thumping rhythm should put a smile on your face and get your feet to moving. And check out the energy and joy in Kwame Binea’s vocals. “Ain’t Your Woman” is followed by “Far Away,” another energetic tune with a funky edge and some really good work on drums. If you’re into Stevie Wonder’s more rowdy and spirited material, you will certainly dig this. “Work and work, we break our backs for someone else/And for what, so they can risk our health/So in this life you can’t let no one in your way.” This song is dripping with power. There is more great drumming on “Setting Sun.” “Come on down for the setting sun/This could be the last one.” Feels that way these days, doesn’t it?

Then in “Love Surreal,” Kwame Binea sings, “They say love, when it comes, it takes control/I’d play the fool for you, roam the earth if you ask me to.” Oh yes, I know the feeling – best feeling in the world. This song comes on strong and features some good work on guitar. “Love Surreal” was written by Vernon Reid and Kwame Binea. It is followed by “Mona Lisa,” which has a delicious bass line and a bit of a Santana vibe in the guitar work and the percussion.

I dig the groove of “Back To You,” a song about regretting letting a relationship go. “Like a fool, I took her for granted/Now she’s gone/And now I know that I won’t find anyone better than you.” Now that he’s realized that, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the woman back, even getting on his knees. This tune features more good work on horns. “John James Poe” has a great funky energy. “He’s a liar/Make you think he cares for you/Don’t let him in, no no no no no no no/He’ll take and take and take and take ‘til there’s no more.” Yup, sounds about right. The album then concludes with its sole cover, Jimmy Cliff’s “Universal Love (Beyond The Boundaries),” here simply titled “Universal Love.” This is a perfect song to revisit now, and Kwame Binea Shakedown does a great job with it. “Go beyond religious boundaries/And beyond political boundaries/Yes, beyond commercial boundaries/And beyond sexual boundaries/Yes, beyond racial boundaries/Universal love.

CD Track List
  1. Ain’t Your Woman
  2. Far Away
  3. Setting Sun
  4. Love Surreal
  5. Mona Lisa
  6. In Your Eyes
  7. Back To You
  8. World On Fire
  9. John James Poe
  10. Universal Love
Roots Rock N Universal Love is scheduled to be released on May 30, 2017.

Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen at The Hotel Café, 5-19-17 Concert Review

Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen performing "Pretty Bird Tree"
Friends, life is fine. Paul Kelly says so, and I believe him. At least, it’s fine while listening to some great music. Music really has a magical way of putting things into a brighter, more positive perspective. Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen put on a wonderful concert last night at The Hotel Café in Los Angeles, with a little help from Paul’s daughters, Memphis and Madeleine. The show was sold out, and the audience was definitely into the music. Crowds at The Hotel Café are not always the most attentive, but last night’s audience was there to listen and enjoy the music, and these folks were respectful. The music put me in a ridiculously good and positive mood, and it seemed to do the same for the others present.

After a seriously good opening set by Cat Clyde (I should pick up her CD at some point), Paul Kelly took the stage at 7:47 p.m., opening with one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Sonnet 30. Paul Kelly released a Shakespeare-themed album last year titled Seven Sonnets & A Song, which combines my two biggest passions in life: Shakespeare and music (okay, the Red Sox are up there too, a close third). Interestingly, Sonnet 30 is not included on that disc, but it’s certainly a good one. Here is its closing couplet: “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,/All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end” (though Paul delivered it as “All losses are restor’d, all sorrows end”). He performed it a cappella. Then Charlie Owen joined him on keys for “Hard Times,” the lead-off track from their CD Death’s Dateless Night, which was also released last year. Toward the end of the song, Paul played harmonica.

Memphis and Madeleine Kelly then joined them on stage, Paul mentioning it was their first time performing in Los Angeles. He then talked about his two 2016 releases, indicating that the focus of the first half of the concert would be music from those two CDs. He said they would also do “some older songs that we think fit the mood of the night.” They then did Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live Is To Fly,” which follows “Hard Times” on Death’s Dateless Night. Memphis sang backing vocals. Madeleine played keys on this song, as well as providing backing vocals, while Charlie switched to dobro. I love this song, and they did an excellent, moving rendition of it at this show.

Charlie switched back to keys for “Pretty Bird Tree,” also from Death’s Dateless Night. Interestingly, they basically played the songs in the order they’re in on the album (though didn’t do every song from it). Paul played electric guitar on this one, and Memphis and Maddy provided backing vocals. In introducing “Pallet On The Floor,” Paul said: “Some people say it was written by W.C. Handy, father of the blues. It’s ‘Pallet On The Floor.’ But I think it goes farther back than him.” He also mentioned it was one of the first songs he learned to pick on the guitar, joking “I’m still learning how to pick it.” And there is certainly humor to this song, as he sings, “Make it soft, make it low/I swear he’ll never know/When your good man comes, I swear he’ll never know.” The audience appreciatively applauded Charlie’s work on dobro.

Paul introduced “Nukkanya” by saying, “This next song I wrote my very own self.” It’s a song that was originally on his Wanted Man album, as well as on Death’s Dateless Night. Memphis and Maddy sang backup, but it was on the next song, Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” that they really had a chance to shine, and their wonderful voices helped make this tune one of the set’s highlights. My favorite songwriter is Leonard Cohen, and Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen covered “Bird On The Wire” on the CD, and performed it last night. In introducing it, Paul said: “I had the honor and the pleasure of working with this gentleman, the gentleman who wrote it, a few years back, and what a gentleman he was. He says, ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’” I had the great pleasure of meeting Leonard Cohen once, and I too found him to be a gentleman. I was struck by how kind and courteous he was. Anyway, Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen did a great job with “Bird On The Wire” last night, Charlie on keys. They followed that with “Let It Be,” featuring more wonderful work by Paul’s daughters on backing vocals. Charlie’s synthesizer sometimes was a bit overpowering, but it was otherwise a good rendition.

Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen then switched from Death’s Dateless Night to Seven Sonnets & A Song, performing three sonnets in a row, beginning with Sonnet 60. In this rendition, he sang the sonnet twice, the second time through with Madeleine echoing him. It was a compelling interpretation. They followed that with Sonnet 73, with Memphis providing backing vocals. This one has a much happier and brighter sound. They then did Sonnet 18, which is probably the most famous of all the sonnets. It’s like Shakespeare’s hit single. You know it; it’s the one that begins, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Paul sang it twice through, jokingly referring to Herman’s Hermits, “Second verse, same as the first.”

They then dipped into some of Paul Kelly’s older material. The moment he began “To Her Door,” the audience went wild, and sang along. Charlie delivered some really nice work on dobro. Charlie switched to keys for “The Pretty Place,” and at one point was cracking me up, playing a single note then lifting his hands as if to say, “There.” Paul played harmonica on this one. They followed that with “Deeper Water,” another of his well-known songs. One of my favorite Paul Kelly albums is 2012’s Spring And Fall, and last night they did one of that album’s best tracks (maybe the very best, actually), “Time And Tide.” On the album, Vika and Linda Bull provide backing vocals. Last night Paul’s daughters did a wonderful job with it. Then, in introducing “Careless,” Paul said it was now “one of my favorite parts of the night – potato and avocado time.” And his daughters held up shakers that looked like a potato and an avocado. This was another that the audience recognized immediately. It’s on his Greatest Hits: Songs From The South Volumes 1 & 2.

They then played a new song, “Life Is Fine,” which Paul told the crowd was based on the Langston Hughes poem. As he had set some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, here Paul Kelly set a Langston Hughes poem to music. “Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!” Indeed it is. At least it certainly seemed so while I was at this show. And they followed that with two audience favorites, “How To Make Gravy” and “Dumb Things.” "In the middle of a dream/I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings/I've done all the dumb things." They then wrapped up the set with “Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air,” a song that was included on both Foggy Highway and Death’s Dateless Night.

Paul Kelly came back on stage to begin the encore by himself, playing “Little Aches And Pains” without Charlie or his daughters. “Little Aches And Pains” is from the beautiful Spring And Fall. Charlie, Memphis and Madeleine then returned for “Cities Of Texas” and “From Little Things Big Things Grow.” I love “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” and from the audience’s reaction, it seems I am far from alone. A lot of the crowd sang along, and cheered certain lines at the end. “How power and privilege cannot move a people/Who know where they stand and stand in the law.” The show ended at 9:23 p.m.

Set List
  1. Sonnet 30
  2. Hard Times
  3. To Live Is To Fly
  4. Pretty Bird Tree
  5. Pallet On Your Floor
  6. Nukkanya
  7. Don’t Fence Me In
  8. Bird On The Wire
  9. Let It Be
  10. Sonnet 60
  11. Sonnet 73
  12. Sonnet 18
  13. To Her Door
  14. The Pretty Place
  15. Deeper Water
  16. Time And Tide
  17. Careless
  18. Life Is Fine
  19. How To Make Gravy
  20. Dumb Things
  21. Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air 
Encore
  1. Little Aches And Pains
  2. Cities Of Texas
  3. From Little Things Big Things Grow 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Don't Fence Me In"
"Careless"
"Life Is Fine"
"Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air"
end of set
And here is a shot from Cat Clyde’s set:


The Hotel Café is located at 1623 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cowbell: “Haunted Heart” (2017) CD Review

Cowbell is the London-based duo of Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle. On their new album, Haunted Heart, they deliver some fantastic tunes, mixing rock and roll and rockabilly and soul, garage and 1960s sounds. Though there is a classic feel to some of these tracks, the songs here are all originals, written by Sandham and Lyle. Jack Sandham plays guitar and keys, and Wednesday Lyle is on drums and percussion. Both provide vocals. They have several guest musicians joining them on various tracks. This is the group’s third full-length CD.

The album opens with its title track, “Haunted Heart,” which eases in, then suddenly takes on a great rockabilly rhythm, and we are on our way. “You feel him standing there/But he’s gone/And it’s been so long/And now you know/It was a lie/He said girl, I’m gonna love you until the day that I die/You’ve got a haunted heart/Until death do us part/Girl, you’ve got a haunted heart.” There is some delicious work on guitar on this track. And Simon Trought joins the duo on autoharp. There are also some wonderful backing vocals by Amie Tridgell, Ali Murphy, Reid Morrison, Sam Ford, Mitzi Trought, Bruna Magor and Pablo Millan, adding to the fun of this song. That’s followed by “None Of Your Business,” a tune to get you on your feet. Yes, as the news from Washington, D.C. gets weirder, and while we wait in hope that Robert Mueller will help bring an end to the horror, this music should keep us relatively sane. That work on keys has a cool 1960s feel. Richard Coulson is on keys on this track. Pour yourself a drink and turn your home into a club, even if you’re alone. Close your eyes, spin around, and imagine the world is better than it is.

They crank up the energy on “Downlow,” with Wednesday Lyle on lead vocals. This is one of my favorite tracks. Don’t you love songs you can dance angrily to? The fuck-you dance is one I’ve turned to often since my early childhood, and, boy, these days it’s needed on a daily basis. “You’d better have eyes in the back of your head/Keep one eye open when you sleep in your bed/Don’t drag your heels, you’d better disappear/Never come back, nothing for you here.” And yes, I want to shout those last two lines to Donald Trump as he ventures forth on his first overseas trip. That’s followed by “Doom Train,” a fun, loose number with a great rhythm.

Cowbell dips into blues with “Neon Blue.” Man, everyone I know has a serious case of the blues these days. I love the blending of their voices on “Didn’t want to lie, didn’t want to lie to you.” This song has a delicious vibe and features some great work on guitar. That’s followed by another of my personal favorites, “Something’s Gotta Give.” “You don’t want to give up/But enough is enough/Something’s gotta give/Yes, it has/Something’s gotta give.” Oh yes, I’ve been saying this for months. Of course, this song is not about the current political state of the United States, but about deciding what to do in a troubled relationship (so, okay, it could very well be about our situation here in the states). And it features some good work on horn by Chuchi Malapersona. Sam Beer joins Cowbell on guitar for this song.

Things then get rocking again with “Nothing But Trouble,” with a 1960s sound. “She’ll break your heart, she’ll take your soul/You might never recover.” That’s followed by “What Am I Supposed To Do?” This is a good rock song about being a total fucking mess and not knowing what to do about it. “Ain’t the man that I used to be/I’m a shadow of what I was before/Look in the mirror and what I see/It don’t look like me no more.” And I love these lines: “I’ve got a bit part in my life/My baby’s playing the lead.” Richard Coulson provides more wonderful work on keys on this track, and I love the backing vocals, “Room service, woo, room service.”  The fun continues with “New Kinda Love,” which has kind of a 1960s loose vibe and is another of this CD’s highlights. Wednesday Lyle is on lead vocals. “When I look into my baby’s eyes/I get a feeling I don’t recognize/I’m sure/I never had it before.” Richard Coulson is on keys on this track too.  It feels so good/Yeah, it feels so good.” As does this song.

“Stop Breaking Your Own Heart” has a garage rock sound, with a 1960s flavor, particularly in the chorus. The CD then concludes with “No Wrong,” a mellower, soulful number featuring a really good vocal performance by Jack Sandham. Joining Cowbell on this track are Richard Coulson on keys, Chuchi Malapersona on horn, Sam Beer on organ, and Reid Morrison on backing vocals. “When it feels like nobody’s on your side/Feels like nobody is true/I’ll find you no matter where you hide/Yes, I’ll come running, running, running, running to you.”

CD Track List
  1. Haunted Heart
  2. None Of Your Business
  3. Downlow
  4. Doom Train
  5. Neon Blue
  6. Something’s Gotta Give
  7. Nothing But Trouble
  8. What Am I Supposed To Do?
  9. New Kinda Love
  10. Stop Breaking Your Own Heart
  11. No Wrong 
Haunted Heart is scheduled to be released on June 2, 2017 on Damaged Goods Records.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Calabria Foti: “In The Still Of The Night” (2017) CD Review

How is everyone doing out there? I think it’s important to check in with each other fairly regularly these days, because it’s so easy to slip into a horrid state. Things are going wrong, in large and small ways, and people seem to become dumber each day. I went out to get groceries – out of necessity, not desire – and while driving down a one-way street I was alarmed to find a car heading toward me. I flashed my lights and honked, but the driver was oblivious. Then moments after I swerved out of that idiot’s way, a large group of people decided to wander into the street in front of me. They were in the middle of a conversation and maybe surprised to find they were also in the middle of a street. What’s going on, people? Is it that things have gotten so awful that many people have simply shut down their brains completely? Or maybe wandering into traffic and driving the wrong way down a one-way street indicate a death wish among some of the population. Is it perhaps the idea that a life under the Trump administration isn’t worth living? It’s understandable, I suppose. Things have become incredibly ugly out there. But instead of trying to hurt ourselves, instead of shutting down, we should to turn to those few things we can count on to keep us up.

Like Cole Porter, for example. His songs will always work. And these lines from his song “Anything Goes” seem more apt than ever before: “The world has gone mad today/And good’s bad today/And black’s white today/And day’s night today.” Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Yet no matter how mad things get out there, Cole Porter’s music will be there for us, to help distance us from the daily lies of the current administration, that horrible buzzing noise coming from Washington, D.C. By the way, I am convinced that no one in Trump’s soulless regime listens to music. “Anything Goes” is one of the songs Calabria Foti chooses to cover on her beautiful new album, In The Still Of The Night, a tribute to the work of Cole Porter. And it’s one of my favorite tracks. Joining the talented vocalist are Eddie Daniels on clarinet, Gene Bertoncini on guitar, Michael Patterson on piano, Richard Locker on cello, Jared Schonig on drums, Bob McChesney on trombone, and Ike Sturm on bass.

The album opens with “Just One Of Those Things,” a wonderful song written for the musical Jubilee. I love the way Calabria Foti approaches it. There is a nostalgic quality to her delivery, but also a kind of relaxed feel which then builds into something stronger, like the memory is taking hold of her. Partway through, Eddie Daniels has a nice lead section on clarinet. Calabria Foti follows that with “Miss Otis Regrets,” a song from 1934 first performed by Douglas Byng in Hi Diddle Diddle. This rendition has a cool, late-night vibe, and features nice work by Michael Patterson on piano, and by Richard Locker on cello.

Another highlight is Calabria Foti’s rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” That beautiful, gentle work on piano keeps things grounded for her so that when her voice rises above it, she still has a place to land, so perhaps love won’t completely carry her away. This track features more great work by Eddie Daniels on clarinet. “I Concentrate On You” is a wonderful song, and this rendition begins beautifully and tenderly with cello, an instrument that never fails to move me. And Calabria Foti’s vocal delivery at first matches that tenderness. Then, interestingly, the song takes on a different vibe, with a happier Latin rhythm, and a nice lead on trombone by Bob McChesney. There is more wonderful work on cello on “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” This track features one of my favorite vocal performances by Calabria Foti.

“It’s Alright With Me” is a fun, light, playful tune written for the 1953 musical Can-Can (and often written as “It’s All Right With Me”). I love this song, as it has plenty of delightful lines such as “Though your face is charming, it’s the wrong face” and “You can’t know how happy I am that we met/I’m strangely attracted to you/There’s someone I’m trying so hard to forget/Don’t you want to forget someone too?” I really like the bass line in this rendition, and Eddie Daniels provides some wonderful work on clarinet. This is another of the CD’s best tracks. It’s followed by an interesting rendition of “So In Love,” featuring some unusual percussion for this song, and more great work on bass by Ike Sturm. The CD then concludes with its title track, “In The Still Of The Night,” which begins gorgeously with cello. This is an intriguing and arresting rendition of one of Cole Porter’s most popular compositions, and I’m particularly taken by the way her vocals work with the cello at the beginning of the song. This is a stand-out rendition and is my favorite track of the album.

CD Track List
  1. Just One Of Those Things
  2. Miss Otis Regrets
  3. Anything Goes
  4. What Is This Thing Called Love?
  5. Night And Day
  6. I Concentrate On You
  7. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
  8. Get Out Of Town
  9. It’s Alright With Me
  10. So In Love
  11. In The Still Of Night 
In The Still Of The Night is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2017 on MoCo Records.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chris Price: “Stop Talking” (2017) CD Review

It was May of 2012 when Chris Price released his first solo album, Homesick. Now, five years later, he is following that up with Stop Talking, an excellent album featuring some impressive and interesting songwriting. On this album, Chris plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, synthesizer, piano, mellotron, bass and percussion, in addition to providing the vocals. But he does have some other musicians joining him, including Kyle Fredrickson on electric guitar, Emeen Zarookian on electric guitar, Fernando Perdomo on bass, Corey Perez on bass, Ben Lecourt on drums and percussion, Adam Perez on drums, Kaitlin Wolfberg on violin and viola, Corrine Olsen on violin and viola, Matt Fish on cello and bass, and Joe Seiders on piano. All songs are originals, written or co-written by Chris Price.

About a minute into the album’s first song, “Stop Talking,” its title track, I got excited. It suddenly has this energy that makes me feel that this album could go anywhere, and I like that, the idea that this music can surprise me. And it does. Nothing about this music feels standard. Check out these lyrics: “Stop talking about you, it’s too late to be fixed/I’ve already lost you in my self-indulgent fits/Stop thinking about you so I am not possessed/The thought of going upstairs and taking off your dress/Stop talking about love, I don’t think it’s real.” This first track grabbed me, and I was happily in the album’s grasp the rest of the way through.

“Hi Lo” then begins quietly on acoustic guitar, a somewhat mellower tune with a kind of beauty, particularly in the vocal performance. “All I do is drag you down/So turn away, don’t turn around/And so long, I can’t go where you go/Make this easy, I don’t have the strength to run/So tell me that it’s done and I can go.” Sure, the song might be mellower, but there is nothing mellow about the emotions of these characters. The same might be said of the following track, “Pulling Teeth.” While the music might be relaxed, even pretty, there is an intense feel to these characters. And I love these lines: “You and me, we’re not good people/You and me, we don’t have patience for the world/And our friends, and all their problems/’Cause it’s just like pulling teeth.” Yes, I love the humor of this song. And these lines surprised me to the point that I burst out laughing: “Got a heart, got a soul/I’ve got a condo.” This song is one of my favorites. Nadeem Majdalany did the string arrangements for this track.

“Man Down” has a lighter vibe at the start, with some pleasant work on piano. This song has a ‘70s feel, reminding me at various moments of both Billy Joel and Chicago (but also with some Beatles touches on guitar). This one and “Sigh” also contain hints of Electric Light Orchestra.

“Father To The Man” tells the story of an interesting and changing father-son relationship. “Once he was terrifying/I wouldn’t dare to say a word/To stand up to my old man/Now he wouldn’t dare to stand/Without someone’s helping hand/He says, ‘Go on, put me away.’” I appreciate that there’s a bit of humor to this sad story (“Go on, put me away/Go on, don’t hesitate”), something we’ll all be facing sooner or later, I suppose. Are any of us prepared? This song is presented on acoustic guitar, with some beautiful touches on cello, and has some powerful changes.

One of my favorite tracks is “One Of Them,” an absolutely delightful and totally catchy song. “You’re just like one of them/When I thought you were different/You’re just like one of them/When I thought that I knew you/You’re just like one of them/When I thought you were special.” Two people – Emeen Zarookian and Alex Jules – play tambourine on this track. So there. “One Of Them” was written by Chris Price and Rachel Goodrich. It’s followed by “Just In Time,” another of the disc’s highlights. The line “We showed up just in time for the end of the world” made me burst out laughing the first time I heard it, then almost had me in tears right afterward as I realized this could very well be the end. Certainly we are in dark times, but this song will make the disaster more palatable. Ease us into annihilation. “What a beautiful day today is/What a shame it is to say goodbye.” The album then concludes with “Anhedonia,” which has sweet-sounding vocals, but what he says is “I want to turn you off/I want to push you away/I don’t want to make you stay.” Yes, this is an album to pay attention to.

CD Track List
  1. Stop Talking
  2. Hi Lo
  3. Pulling Teeth
  4. Man Down
  5. Father To The Man
  6. Once Was True
  7. You And Me (And Everyone Else)
  8. Algebra In The Sky
  9. Sigh
  10. Darkness
  11. Contrition
  12. One Of Them
  13. Just In Time
  14. Anhedonia
Stop Talking is scheduled to be released on May 19, 2017 on Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Blackfoot Gypsies: “To The Top” (2017) CD Review

Blackfoot Gypsies began as the duo of vocalist and guitarist Matthew Paige and drummer Zack Murphy. After a few CD releases (including a couple of EPs), bass player Dylan Whitlow and harmonica player Ollie Dogg joined them. This band has a great, full sound mixing classic, true rock and roll with some raw country vibes. The other day, when I wanted something energetic and strong, something to help me shake off the growing frustration and irritation with our sad country, I put on the band’s new album, To The Top, and it was precisely what I was looking for, precisely what I needed. And it might be what you’re itching for as well.

The album opens with “I’m So Blue,” coming on like some great old rock and roll, like The Kinks (one of my all-time favorite bands). They sing, “Oh, I’m so blue/Because I don’t have you,” and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t sound blue. It sounds like a party, and I dig the harmonica. Missing someone and being lonely should always sound this good. Then none of us would have the blues. The party continues with “Everybody’s Watching,” a lively song containing this declaration of love: “Yeah, yeah, a hundred times yeah/I’ll love you ‘til my dying breath.” Man, it is so great to hear some real rock and roll.  It does have an odd, false ending, but soon the drums lead us back to the party. And while dancing to “Promise To Keep,” I decide that I’ve got to see this band in concert. “I dream about my baby and how good she feels.”

Then the band gets into an absolutely delicious country rock number, “Potatoes And Whiskey,” which ends up being one of my favorites. “Now I’m wondering where you are, and I’m sick of being alone/And I’m trying to keep up with your life as I’m staring at my phone.” Those lines made me laugh, but there is something so sad about keeping up to date with someone via posts on social media on a small computer screen. “Potatoes and whiskey are keeping me alive/They’ll never be enough to keep your memory from my mind.” I completely fucking love this song.

Another of my favorites is “Back To New Orleans.” It sounds like a New Orleans parade is approaching us as this song fades in, or like we’re getting closer to the right house, the one with the band, with the folks dancing on the lawn, hanging from the balcony, tossing strings of beads to any wild animals who might pass by. “Night time becomes the morning and you’re still dancing through the French Quarter/Sitting still on an old rooftop, making love with who you got/It’s a voodoo queen with a skinny waist who seems to like the way you taste.” This song sounds so good, particularly with the addition of horn players, and it is getting me itchy to get back to New Orleans. I’ll likely be there later this year, and I’m even more excited about the trip now. And I’m relieved to hear the band sing, “You’ll have the most fun without any money.” “Back To New Orleans” is followed by another fun one, “Lying Through Your Teeth,” which has a bit of a folk rock feel, but is still very lively. Guess which orange-tinted fascist this song’s title makes me think of?

Blackfoot Gypsies then dip more into country and folk with “Velvet Low Down Blues,” featuring fiddle and pedal steel. Yeah, just when I thought this album couldn’t possibly get any better, they give me this wonderful tune. This album is just so goddamn good. “Woman Woman” has a cool country rock feel, reminding me a bit of certain Bob Dylan songs. Then “She Was Mine” has some lines that stand out, such as “You’re looking like I dreamed you and I’m looking like I’m slowly dying” and “Now when you walk away, take your time.” They follow that with “I’ve Got The Blues,” and this time when they tell us they’ve got the blues, I almost believe them. I mean, I’m still smiling, and it still sounds like a whole lot of fun, but the song is undoubtedly the blues – delicious, loose, cool blues, with lots of great work on harmonica.

Of course this album has to have at least one song with a Bo Diddley beat. Really, it was the only thing missing from this excellent album, and so they fill that void with “Gypsy Queen,” which, as you’d expect, is fun. This beat always moves me the right away, whether it’s “Who Do You Love” or “Willie And The Hand Jive” or “I Want Candy” or “Not Fade Away.” “Gypsy Queen” has a loose, raw power. Like I said, this album might be just what you need to shake those U.S. fascist blues for a little while. “Come on, take me just a little bit higher.”

CD Track List
  1. I’m So Blue
  2. Everybody’s Watching
  3. Promise To Keep
  4. Potatoes And Whiskey
  5. I Had A Vision
  6. Back To New Orleans
  7. Lying Through Your Teeth
  8. Velvet Low Down Blues
  9. I Wanna Be Famous
  10. Woman Woman
  11. She Was Mine
  12. I’ve Got The Blues
  13. Can I Get A Warning?
  14. Gypsy Queen
  15. Why Should I Try 
Musicians

Matthew Paige plays guitar, mandolin, violin and banjo; Dylan Whitlow is on bass and piano; Ollie Dogg is on harmonica; and Zack Murphy plays drums and percussion. Joining them on this release are Spencer Cullum, Jr. on pedal steel, Micah Hulscher on piano, Taylor Powell on drums, Shannon Pollard on drums, Paul Thacker on saxophone, Diego Vasquez on trombone, and Joe Hunter on sousaphone. Margo Price and Alexis Saski provide backing vocals.

To The Top was released on April 14, 2017 on Plowboy Records.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Lighthouse Sweden: “Silence In The City” (2017) CD Review

Lighthouse Sweden is a band based in Uppsala, Sweden, and led by married couple Linda Brandemark and Mats Brandemark (each of whom had released albums with other bands before teaming up). Lighthouse, the band’s first CD, was released in 2014. They’ve now followed that up with Silence In The City, a delicious blend of pop, folk, country and even blues sounds. Both Mats and Linda provide lead vocals on different tracks, but it is often when their voices are combined that the real magic happens. In addition to Linda and Mats, Lighthouse Sweden is made up of Tobias Bergstrom on electric guitar, Marc Gransten on bass and backing vocals, and Thomas Bjorklund on drums. Joining them on this release are Johan von Feilitzen on drums, percussion, guitar, keys, harmonica and backing vocals; Martin Hogvall on mandolin and lap steel; Sven-Olov Kontio on pedal steel; Magnus Larsson on lap steel; Derrick Big Walker on harmonica; and Olof Aslund on saxophone. All of the songs on this album are originals.

Silence In The City opens with a love song; that is, a song about love. It’s titled “Love Can Seriously Damage Your Heart,” and is an interesting song for a married couple to use to kick off their new album. “Love is the blessing, love is the curse/Is it for better, is it for worse?/Make you crazy, even insane/Love can seriously damage your brain/Making a promise, taking the vow.” It has a good bluesy edge. It is followed by a pop song titled “Neon Signs,” with Linda on lead vocals. This song features some excellent lyrics, with certain lines standing out, such as these: “I’m changing to another station where I can hear you breathe” and “Closer to sanity than you ever were.” This song has something of a 1980s vibe to it.

The band then gets bluesy with “Everybody’s Been A Fool,” with Mats taking lead vocal duties. It starts with lyrics from those trusted blues subjects: “You’re on the street/You got no money/You got no job/You got no honey/Pick up your guitar/And start to play/Everybody just walks away.” Partway through this one, there is a cool and kind of sexy blending of the two voices, the harmonica providing a third voice. Something about this song reminds me of some of Leonard Cohen’s late work. So yes, I love this track. It’s one of my favorites on this album, and it does have a positive bent in lines like, “So when you think you’re on your own/Don’t forget you’re not alone/Everybody’s been a fool.” Lighthouse Sweden then turns toward country with “Easier To Lie,” with Linda on lead vocals. She gives a great vocal performance here. The song has a country pop feel, fitting for lines like “My life feels like a country song.” This is a song that really grew on me. “Now you’re asking me, am I all right/And you hear me say I’m fine/Oh, why is it easier to lie?

“Hole In My Soul” has kind of a disco beat and a bit of a funky edge. Wow, these guys dip into all sorts of musical territories. And yes, this one is fun. Linda’s vocals here have a kind of Pretenders thing happening. And the second time she sings, “I got the blues now,” we get a bluesy guitar lead, as if cued, as if obliging her. They follow that with a lively country song, “Silver & Gold,” that features some good moments with saxophone. Then “Silent City” has a cool western sound and another wonderful vocal performance. This song provides the album’s title in the line, “Silence in the city when I walk with him.” There is something sweet and pretty about this song that I really like. “The things I see, the things I feel all took me by surprise/I just want to listen and look into your eyes.”

Mats then takes lead vocal duties on “We Used To Be Lovers,” which has a cool vibe. “And I know your life has taken its toll.” I like this song a lot, but perhaps my favorite track is “Can’t Find My Way,” which is a fun, upbeat folk rock tune, again with Mats on lead vocals. While the sound is very positive, the main line of the song is “I can’t find my way to your heart anymore.” They stay in the folk and country realm with “Window To The Sky,” with Linda on lead vocals. “Please don’t ask, please don’t tell/Plenty of people go through hell/Couldn’t tell the truth from the lies/Looking up at the sunny sky, I really want to cry.” The album then concludes with a beautiful, moody pop song, “Angel,” with Linda again on lead vocals.

CD Track List
  1. Love Can Seriously Damage Your Heart
  2. Neon Signs
  3. Everybody’s Been A Fool
  4. Easier To Lie
  5. Hole In My Soul
  6. Silver & Gold
  7. Silent City
  8. We Used To Be Lovers
  9. Can’t Find My Way
  10. Window To The Sky
  11. Angel
Silence In The City was released on CD and vinyl on April 22, 2017.

Eric Sommer: “Brooklyn Bolero” (2016) CD Review

Brooklyn Bolero, last year’s release from guitarist, singer and songwriter Eric Sommer, is an unusual album dipping into various styles of music, like blues, folk and rock, with a sense of fun about it. The band for this album is Eric Sommer on guitar, vocals and harmonica; Jim Oakley on percussion and backing vocals; and Zach Smith on bass and backing vocals.  This album features all original material, written by Eric Sommer.

He kicks off the album with “Red Dress,” and that blues guitar sounds so good right from the start. The rhythm is a steady thumping, and the vocals sound almost like they’re delivered by folks at a party shouting in the direction of a microphone. So loose, so cool. It’s kind of a goofy song, and I love it. The lyrics are fairly simple, repeating “Honey, put that red dress, that red dress on.” And then it becomes like the Dr. Seuss of blues songs: “Red dress, blue dress/Red dress, green.” Yup, this is a whole lot of fun. The band kind of keeps that up with a back porch blues song that will appeal to children, “Cereal Song,” its opening lines being “I got my cereal in the bowl/With lots of milk and it’s nice and cold.” And further lines mention various sugar cereals: “Count Chocula can be scary/But I just love my Franken Berry.” Yeah, it’s silly, but I dig the harmonica and the rhythm. Did breakfast cereals ever sound like such a party? I wish I had this much energy in the morning.

Then “Best Foot Forward” is a mellower tune with a positive, optimistic feel. Its opening lines are: “Small motel/Large suitcase/A new road out/From the same old place/Open the door/Kick out the past/The sun is shining/And a new die is cast.” The song has a pleasant, relaxed feel, but is encouraging. And don’t we all need that these days?  Eric Sommer switches gears again with “Doin’ Wrong,” which has more of a rock and roll sound. Check out these lines: “I got a serious job in a room full of clowns/The sun came out and my tires were flat/I ended up living in a laundromat/Well, tell me what I’m doing wrong/This can’t be going on/You tell me that you love me, and that sounds good/I told everybody in the neighborhood.” The chorus is catchy, and I was singing along with it the second time I listened to this disc.

“Cover My Soul” is more in the folk vein, but with a nice rhythm. What I really like about this track is Eric's work on guitar. There is also a cool section where the bass gets swinging. “What A Day I Had” also has something of a folk feel. “I took my hand, covered my eyes.” Ah, that’s what I want to do every time I see photos or footage of that creep currently pretending to be president. And a song with a title like “Death Ray Cataclysm” must have a positive, peppy sound, right? Indeed, it does. “Carnival atmosphere where you stand/Black and white movie that got out of hand.” The CD then concludes with “Hold Your Hand,” a bluesy, energetic rocking number to get you off your seat.  

CD Track List
  1. Red Dress
  2. Cereal Song
  3. Best Foot Forward
  4. Doin’ Wrong
  5. Cover My Soul
  6. What A Day I Had
  7. Death Ray Cataclysm
  8. Hold Your Hand
Brooklyn Bolero was released on September 15, 2016.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Kelley Ryan: “Telescope” (2017) CD Review

Kelley Ryan has released several CDs over the past two decades, both under her name and the name astroPuppees. Her new album, Telescope, contains original material, written or co-written by Kelley Ryan (including one song co-written by Marshall Crenshaw). The music is pop, but an unusual brand of pop, featuring a wonderful combination of folk and even some jazz elements, interesting lyrics and Kelley’s distinct voice. Joining her on this CD are Don Dixon on bass, Jim Brock on drums and percussion, Jon Thornton on horns and Marti Jones on vocals.

The album opens with “The Darkest Stars,” also known as “For Sylvia Plath And Anais Nin With Regards To Marilyn,” which has something of a haunting folk sound at the start, but also a sexy, bluesy horn. “Underneath the sheets tonight, oh boy/Several people dancing in my bed/I am indiscreet tonight, oh boy/I’d be better off if I was dead/It’s all for me, it’s all for me/It’s all for me, it’s all for me/The good die young.” (Of course, Anais Nin wasn’t young when she died.) This is a cool song, but I’m even more fond of the following track, “Cigarette.” This one also starts with a sort of folk vibe, but with a pop beat. And it is an absolutely delightful song. The first time I listened to this album I wanted to cheer, just out of sheer joy, when she sings, “Ah-ooh.” Might sound silly, but just wait until you hear it. “I pick you up and I put you down/But I haven’t lost you yet/Gotta, gotta quit ah-ooh.” This is an adorable song, with some sweet touches on horn. “Oh la la la/Oh la la la/Oh la la la.”

“Save Me” is a song that Kelley Ryan wrote with Kimm Rogers, and this one has a sweet, friendly vibe. Check out these lines: “If heaven is a lie with no one to defy/I got a roaring need to feel my love exploding here and now/Save me/Come save my life/Save me.” That’s followed by a song that Kelley Ryan wrote with Marti Jones Dixon, “Flake White Heart” (apparently also titled “Sacred Monster”), which features some beautiful blending of vocals. “Feel the fire, feel the fire, feel the fire/Let it go and break my flake white heart.

There is something strangely pretty about “The Broken News,” especially in the way Kelley Ryan sings, “You, you, I’m nothing without you.” This one has a way of slowly but certainly making a home for itself in my head. “You are my dusk and dawn/A dish, a cup, a tender bruise/I love you so/You, you, I’m nothing without you/I’m nothing without you now.” Then “Pulling For Romeo” is the song that gives the album its title in its opening lines, “You’re at the end of your rope/Don’t need a telescope/I saw it, yeah, I saw it.” No matter how many productions I see of Romeo And Juliet, each time I think, well, maybe there’s a chance Romeo will get news of the Friar’s plan and it will all work out. It never does, of course, but we can live in hope, can’t we? And that’s in part what this song is about, pulling for the guy you know has no chance, pulling for love to work out (assuming you believe that what Romeo and Juliet feel for each other is love). It’s a good song, reminding me just a bit of Aimee Mann.

The “Passing Through” on this album is not the song that folks like Leonard Cohen and Pete Seeger used to play. This “Passing Through” was written by Marshall Crenshaw and Kelley Ryan, and Marshall Crenshaw actually recorded his version several years ago, including it on his Jaggedland album. On this song Kelley Ryan reminds me a bit of Amy Rigby, in the style of her vocal approach to certain lines. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We traced our steps from the past/Shadows in the curtains on the second floor/I used to have a key to that front door/We didn’t know it then/But you and I were passing through/Passing by/Let’s hurry on.”

CD Track List
  1. The Darkest Stars
  2. Cigarette
  3. Save Me
  4. Flake White Heart
  5. Secret Life
  6. The Broken News
  7. Pulling For Romeo
  8. Passing Through
  9. Crack In The Sky
  10. Real Gone Girl
Telescope was released on January 6, 2017 on Manatee Records.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

John McNamara: “Rollin’ With It” (2017) CD Review

Australian blues artist John McNamara released his debut album in the summer of 2014. A track from that CD, “Burn, Burn, Burn,” won the Australian Blues Music Award for Song of the Year. And now he has a new album out, Rollin’ With It. It was released in Australia on March 1st, and is now getting a wide release. It features mostly original material, written by John McNamara, but also a few really good covers. I love the combination of soul and blues, and his voice has just the right sound, the right quality, to make it real and true. I saw a promotional video that he did, and was shocked by how young he looks. Must have an old soul, as they say, because that voice is coming from some deep experience. Though John McNamara is from Australia, this album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and John is joined by some accomplished and familiar musicians, including Steve Potts on drums, Michael Toles on guitar, James “Jimi” Kinard on bass, Lester Snell on piano and organ (he also co-produced the CD), Marc Franklin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Lannie McMillan on tenor saxophone and Jim Spake on baritone saxophone. Backing vocals are provided by Iseula Hingano and Nicole Nehemia.

He kicks off the album with “One, Two Of A Kind,” a good song with something of a classic soul sound to his vocals, especially on certain lines like “Build it on up just to tear it on down,” while his lead guitar says blues all the way. The horns also help give the song that great Stax feel. “One, Two Of A Kind” is followed by “Bad Reputation,” a fun song with a catchy bass line. It’s a song about leaving his questionable past behind to focus on being a good man to his woman. “That’s all done, that’s all over/I’m all about loving you/Yes, I’m all about loving you.” Do you think by repeating that line he is more convincing? Or is it a case of protesting too much? Ah, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

The first time I listened to this album, the song that started getting me really interested was John McNamara’s cover of “Ask Me ‘Bout Nothing (But The Blues”), here titled “Ask Me Nothing (But About The Blues).” It was written by Don Robey and Henry Boozier, and originally recorded by Bobby Bland. John McNamara delivers an excellent rendition, with the perfect amount of ache in his voice. “Ask me why does a tree have to shed its leaves/I don’t know, oh I don’t know/But ask me how does a man feel when he’s got the blues/I’d say, misused, abused, oh, downhearted and blue/The reason that I know this/Is ‘cause the blues is all I was left with.” Everything comes together here to create a powerful and moving version of this song. And it’s followed by another seriously good track, “Wild Out There,” written by John McNamara. I love songs like this that have something of a classic R&B quality, both in the music and the vocal delivery. I love Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and this song could keep company with the work of those artists. Something about this kind of music always works for me. “And the city ain’t been kind/And I’ve seen a thing or two/I’ve been down so long/Could really use some time with you.” Yes. And yes, it is certainly wild out there. I love John McNamara’s vocal performance here, and of course the horns are excellent. This is one of my favorites.

“Under The Weight Of The Moon” has such a cool vibe right from the start, with those finger snaps and that delicious organ, with that blues guitar adding comments, all before the vocals even come in. “I’m just gonna lie here, baby/You know it feels so good, feels so good.” Yes, it does. And the following lines give the CD its title, “Gonna roll with it, roll with it/I’m gonna roll with it.” This is another of my favorites. It’s followed by another tune with a good groove, “One Impossible Night.”

As I mentioned, songs from this album would feel at home in the company of the work of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. Well, John McNamara actually covers an Otis Redding tune, “Security,” delivering a good rendition. How can you help but dig that groove, those horns, those excellent vocals? John McNamara follows that with another cover, and actually another song done by Bobby Bland, “Blind Man,” written by Don Robey and Joe Scott. He also ends the CD with a cover, this time a song written by Lloyd Pemberton and Teddy Conyers, “Suffering With The Blues.” This one has been recorded by several artists over the years, including Joe Medlin, Little Willie John, Nancy Wilson, James Brown and Lou Rawls.  On this CD’s version, John McNamara gives us a heartfelt, passionate vocal performance. Listen to that heartache. “Why does your love taunt me/And haunt me through the night/’Cause I know you don’t want me/If you did, you’d be right here by my side.” Come on, lady, go see the guy already!

CD Track List
  1. One, Two Of A Kind
  2. Bad Reputation
  3. Ask Me Nothing (But About The Blues)
  4. Wild Out There
  5. Under The Weight Of The Moon
  6. One Impossible Night
  7. Security
  8. Blind Man
  9. You Wouldn’t Wanna Know
  10. Suffering With The Blues
Rollin’ With It is available now on Bahool Records.