Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Tracks

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odin at The Slidebar Rock ‘N’ Roll Kitchen, 6-10-17 Concert Review

Odin performing "Push"
In my review of Odin’s recent show at the Whisky, I wrote that Odin doesn’t perform all that often. Well, that might be changing. It seems the band is excited to be gigging again. You can feel it in their playing, in their attitude, in the excellent energy coming from the stage. And the crowd is certainly responding to it. Odin did an afternoon show yesterday at The Slidebar Rock ‘N’ Roll Kitchen in Fullerton, a free show, and the audience – a good portion of which had been at the Whisky too – was singing along to a lot of the songs, excited to see them at such an intimate venue. Though, as someone said before the show, it’s strange to see a rock band in the daylight (Randy himself would mention during the band’s set, “We don’t play in daylight usually”).

This was my first time at The Slidebar, and I definitely enjoyed the place. The staff was friendly and attentive, and the venue had a very relaxed, loose vibe. The bathroom walls were covered with band stickers, including one for Fozzy’s Hero (curious about that one based solely on the name, have to remember to look into that band). Also, it was an all-ages show, and there were some very young hard rock fans in the audience (with ear protection). And though I mentioned this before, I feel a need to call attention to it again: metal fans have got to be the most considerate and cool audience of all. Anyway, all of these factors contributed to this being a totally enjoyable show. But the main thing, obviously, was the music. And after an opening set by Metal 101, Odin came on strong with “One Day To Live,” one of my favorites. They started their set just after 5:30 p.m. Though the venue is small, the Odin banner was displayed on the wall just behind the drum kit. And there was a plastic sound barrier in front of the drums, to protect us all. This venue was doing it right.

They followed “One Day To Live” with “Midnight Flight,” and then lead singer Randy O thanked bar owner Jeremy Popoff (whom you might also know as the guitarist for Lit) for inviting Odin to do this gig. After “12 O’ Clock High,” Randy playfully plugged the band’s merchandise, particularly the T-shirts, saying that it wasn’t that sales were paying the band’s rent, just “We want to see you wearing them.” They then went into “Over Your Head,” and it was clear the band was having a whole lot of fun, as was the audience, each sharing energy with the other. The band established a good rapport with the crowd, and during a great “Don’t Take No For An Answer,” Randy had audience members singing along. This song was certainly a crowd favorite, and it featured some excellent work on guitar by Jeff Duncan. After that one, Randy told the crowd the band was going to “mellow it out now” and “switch it up a bit,” and they went into “She Needs My Love.” Randy then told the audience, “None of these guys drink, but I do.” He joked about his own drug use in the early days of the band, mimicking someone asking him “What do you like?” and answering “Everything.” And the band also joked a bit about their appearance in The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, with bass player Aaron Samson telling the crowd, “I refer to that movie as ‘Decline Of My Reputation.’

Lit members Jeremy Popoff and A. Jay Popoff joined Odin for “Shining Love,” Jeremy likening this show to Jeff Spicoli having Van Halen play his birthday party. “Odin’s playing my fucking house right now,” he exclaimed. It was a really good rendition of “Shining Love,” with Jeremy on guitar and A. Jay joining Randy on vocals. The set ended just after 6:30 p.m., until an “Odin, Odin” chant brought them back on stage for an encore, “Judgement Day,” with Randy getting some help on vocals from his kids. A good ending to a fun set.

Set List
  1. One Day To Live
  2. Midnight Flight
  3. 12 O’ Clock High
  4. Over Your Head
  5. Push
  6. Modern Day King
  7. Don’t Take No For An Answer
  8. She Needs My Love
  9. Little Gypsy
  10. Shining Love
  1. Judgement Day
Here are some photos from the show:

"Midnight Flight"
"Midnight Flight"
intro to "Modern Day King"
"Modern Day King"
"Don't Take No For An Answer"
"Don't Take No For An Answer"
intro to "Shining Love"
"Shining Love"
"Shining Love"
"Shining Love"
"Judgement Day"
The Slidebar Rock ‘N’ Roll Kitchen is located at 122 E. Commonwealth Ave. in Fullerton, California. I hope Odin plays at this venue again. It was definitely worth the trek down from L.A.

The Slidebar before Odin's set

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bombadil at The Hotel Café, 6-9-17 Concert Review

Bombadil performing "Honeymoon"
From what I’ve been able to gather from my time on this planet so far, life is all about friends, family and good music. And sometimes you can combine those for something approaching magic. Last night I finally got a chance to see the band Bombadil, and it was one of those special nights. Though I went alone, I ended up meeting some good people, people who were as excited as I was to see this band. None of us had seen them before, and that helped unite us in a way. Each of us came to the music from a different place – one started with the latest album (Fences) and worked her way back, one started with the very first demo a friend had given her and has moved forward with the band, and I started somewhere in the middle in 2013 with Metrics Of Affection. But we’d all come to the same conclusion: Bombadil is an exceptional band, a band we should pay attention to.

Last night they took the stage just after 9 p.m., and right from the start their sense of humor and sense of play were apparent. They joked that they were going to start by playing a portion of a song. “We don’t want to play the whole thing.” And then, true to their word, they sang just a small a portion of “Is This Danger,” a song from Fences, delivering it a cappella. This show at The Hotel Café was the first stop on their west coast tour, and they talked about how their week had basically been spent on Interstate 40 “until about four hours ago.” They delivered a caveat as they got the show going: “So if we forget words, you can blame Interstate 40. I can give you their mailing address after the show.” And yes, they did at one point forget some of the words to the first song of the set, “Perfect.” And it worked strangely to bring the audience together with the band. A tiny error somehow brought the room together. And it was then I knew for certain that this was going to be a seriously good show.

The set focused mainly on material from the new album, and they followed “Perfect” with “Good News Sadie.”  There is a lot to love about this band, but certainly one key element is the vocals. And when the three harmonize, the music reaches some pretty high plateaus. During “Good News Sadie,” there was plenty of beauty in that regard. They went straight into “Not Those Kind Of People,” another song from Fences. They dedicated the next song to their friend Brittany, then before playing it asked her a favor – to bring up glasses water for them. “Does anyone else need water?” they asked the crowd, offering to have Brittany fetch it for them if they did. The song they dedicated to Brittany was “Fence,” the (almost) title track from the new album, and they delivered a moving and uplifting rendition.

James asked the audience if anyone takes the subway in L.A., having heard from a friend about some of the art and decorations at certain stations. Actually, I took the subway to the show, because of some new parking restrictions on the street where I used to always find a spot. The subway in L.A. isn’t like the subway in Boston or New York. It just doesn’t go everywhere. But for certain places, it’s great. And The Hotel Café is just a few blocks from the Hollywood and Vine stop (on the way to the show, I got off a bit early, at Hollywood and Highland, but no matter). Anyway, James continued, “So if you would like to tell me after the show where your favorite subway art is in L.A., I would love to go there, probably immediately following the show.” He then mentioned that the next song is about riding the subway, leading Daniel to comment, “I was wondering where you were going with that story actually.” They then launched into “Coughing On The F Train,” the first song of the night to not come from Fences. It’s from the band’s 2015 release, Hold On, and it’s a fun tune.

They followed that with “Long Life,” which James dedicated to his niece, Elizabeth. “Long Life” is my favorite song from the new album, and actually is one of my favorite songs of the year so far. It’s one of those songs that just always work. You know? And it featured some beautiful blending of the three voices last night. Absolutely wonderful and sweet. A strange instrumental section connected that song with the following tune, “Binoculars,” also from Fences. “Binoculars” is a great example of how this band can both make an audience laugh out loud and move them within a single song. That was followed by “So Many Ways To Die,” one of my favorite songs from Tarpits And Canyonlands, which was originally released in 2009 and re-issued in 2014. “You are exactly who you choose.” Yes. Bombadil then concluded the set with another highlight from that album, “Honeymoon.” Several people in the audience sang along from the very first line, which, by the way, is “Throw the body in the lake.” Yes, I love this band. And after seeing them in concert, I like them even more.

Set List
  1. Is This Danger
  2. Perfect
  3. Good News Sadie >
  4. Not Those Kind Of People
  5. Fence
  6. Coughing On The F Train
  7. Long Life >
  8. Binoculars
  9. So Many Ways To Die
  10. Honeymoon
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Coughing On The F Train"
segue from "Long Life" to "Binoculars"
The tour continues up the coast, the next stop being Davis, California. If you’re in the area tonight, or can get to that area tonight, I highly recommend checking out this band. From there, they go to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle (and then back down to Oregon for a few more dates). By the way, for you fellow vinyl fans, at the merchandise table they have three of their releases for sale on vinyl. I ended up purchasing Tarpits And Canyonlands, which is on 180 gram colored vinyl. If you want the color of the vinyl to be a surprise, stop reading now. It’s peach marble (though apparently some copies are a rose color).

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Ronan Conroy: “Blood Dread” (2017) CD Review

You might know Ronan Conroy from his work with Oh Halo, a New York band he was a member of for several years before he embarked on a solo career in 2014. Since he left that band, he’s released four CDs, the newest being Blood Dread, a five-track EP of all original material. In Oh Halo, Ronan played guitar and sang backing vocals, with Julie Dicterow taking lead vocal duties on most tracks. Obviously, in his solo work Ronan sings lead, and it is his voice that is immediately striking on this new CD.  It is deep and personal and hurt and haunted, without much ornamentation or obstruction by way of overproduction or embellishments. Take “Autumn Sun,” the CD’s beautiful lead track, for example. This song has a dark, haunting yet intimate vibe, Ronan’s voice accompanied and supported only by his guitar and by fellow Oh Halo band member Charles Nieland on piano (Nieland also produced this release). His voice grabs you and holds you. Plus, it boasts some good lyrics, like these lines: “Shadows move across the floor/We don’t live here anymore.” There is something so sad in those lines, the situation perhaps even more depressing than if this song were to take place at night. For who is to share in one’s heartache during the day?  This is a song of loss, and its last line, “Nothing beside me, just an empty space,” is certainly a downer. And the song ends right there. What else is there to say at that point? (By the way, there is a brief odd popping sound just before the line “Clouds are moving through the sky,” but that might just be my copy.)

It’s followed by “The Dark,” and this song’s title is not misleading. This one too has a dark, haunted feel in the vocal delivery, and in the music. Also, this song provides the EP with its title in the line “My head, the blood dread.” On this track, Ronan Conroy is joined by Charles Nieland on bass and synthesizer, and by Justin Wierbonski on drums. Then “Primordial” has a brighter sound right from the start. “And she is looking at you as the sun shines through her hair/In the close shot/And she is smiling at you as the lens of the camera blurs.”

As good and as compelling as these first three tracks are, the CD’s final two tracks are the ones that really stand out for me. “No Friends Of Yours” pulled me in immediately and held onto me, its repeated title line working almost as a strange mantra, along with its slow groove. “Mirror’s got something to say to me about/Words that I use that I don’t understand/Like ‘closing’ and ‘cutting’ and ‘curing’ and ‘friend.’” And then “Tonight,” which concludes the EP, is probably my favorite track. It features Charlies Nieland on bass and glockenspiel, and Justin Wierbonski on drums. Both provide some good work, but it is Ronan’s voice which really sells this one. And I love this line: “None of the choices felt like choices at all.” What’s interesting here is that though many of the lines might seem a bit depressing, this song ultimately has a positive, even optimistic feel, this CD leaving us with shouts of “Tonight!” And in those shouts I hear hope.

Track List
  1. Autumn Sun
  2. The Dark
  3. Primordial
  4. No Friends Of Yours
  5. Tonight 
Blood Dread was released on March 11, 2017, and is available digitally.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Andy T Band: “Double Strike” (2017) CD Review

The Andy T Band is a cool blues band based in Nashville, with a delicious classic, timeless feel to their music. Their new album, Double Strike, features Alabama Mike on vocals on half the tracks. The band’s previous singer, Nick Nixon, provides vocals on the other tracks. He left the band last year for health reasons, and Andy includes a sweet note regarding his work on the back of the CD case. The CD contains a good mix of covers and original material. The Andy T Band is made of up Andy Talamantez (Andy T) on guitar, Anson Funderburgh on guitar (Funderburgh also co-produced the album with Andy T), Michael A. Benjamin (Alabama Mike) on vocals, Nick Nixon on vocals, Larry van Loon on piano and organ, Mike Flanigan on organ, Johnny Bradley on bass, Jim Klingler on drums and Greg Izor on harmonica. They are joined by the Texas Horns: Kaz Kazanov on tenor sax, John Mills on baritone sax and Al Gomez on trumpet.

They open the album with “I Want You Bad,” some classic rock and roll sounds mixed with blues, the results being totally delicious, and featuring good work on horns. “I want you bad, baby/I don’t want to be alone/I need you so bad, I can’t take it/Got me shook up, and I can’t shake it/Don’t know what I’m doing half the time/I got nothing but you on my mind.” Yup, I know that feeling, and it’s damn good. “I Want You Bad” was written by Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming. And as you’d expect, this track features some good work on guitar. It’s followed by “Somebody Like You,” which was written by Larry Van Loon.  It’s a love song with a positive feel, and a great soulful vocal performance by Alabama Mike.  I’ve been a bit rowdy/I’ve been a bit lost/This could be my time/You’ve been lonely too/Oh, I’ve been looking for somebody like you.” We need love songs these days; we need music to bring us together. And this tune features some good work on organ. Check out these lines (which feel just exactly right for these uncertain times): “Today wasn’t promised/And tomorrow’s not sure/But when it’s all over/When we all get through/I’ll be looking for somebody like you.

“Deep Inside,” written by Andy Talamantez, is the first of the CD’s tracks to feature Nick Nixon on vocals. It’s a different sort of love song, as Nick sings, “I know that you really want me ‘cause I’m deep inside of you.” Hey, quit your bragging, man. Ah, but then he adds “I’m deep inside your heart.” Okay, I misunderstood. This song is fun and playful, and I love Greg Izor’s work on harmonica, which dominates the track. Nick Nixon also sings lead on “Sweet Thing,” which has more of a pop feel at the start, but with plenty of soul. “She wakes me every morning/She’s my sweet thing.” Depends on what time she wakes you, I suppose. “With a hug and kiss from a girl like this, it’s a brighter day.” Ah, to wake up every morning with the love of your life. What could be better? Well, the addition of saxophone certainly doesn’t hurt. Nixon also wrote this song.

Nick Nixon sings lead on a good cover of Chuck Willis’ “I Feel So Bad.” This song has always amused me, with the line “Feel like a ballgame on rainy day.” To follow it, the band chooses another 1950s Chuck Willis number, “Juanita,” and this track is one of my favorites, with its classic R&B sound and that wonderful work on horns. “Things got to get better.” I agree, and this album is certainly helping us in that direction. It’s making me feel better.

“Mudslide” is a catchy, groovy blues instrumental, the only instrumental track of the album, and it features some wonderful work on organ. The organ then leads the band into the next tune, “Sad Times,” an original number with a great, old-time feel. It was written by Nixon but features Alabama Mike on lead vocals. “I’m trying to learn to deal with these sad times that come around.” Aren’t we all? That’s followed by the very playful and totally enjoyable “Doin’ Hard Time,” in which he refers to his woman as his warden. “And you got me doin’ hard time.” I love the way Alabama Mike holds onto the word “hard.” There’s no question what he’s talking about, and those horns are sexy and swinging in support. “I’ll keep on loving you, baby/I’m wrapped up in your chains/I don’t want to be free, no/I’ll suffer with your pain.” Oh yes! The whole band is grooving beautifully on this track, and it’s one of my favorites.

It’s followed by another favorite, a delightful cover of Goree Carter’s “Drunk Or Sober,” with Nick Nixon on vocals. “I love her drunk or sober/And there’s no one to take her place.” And that sax sounds so good. Then “I Was Gonna Leave You” is a fun song about wanting to be the one to initiate a break-up, but being beat to the punch. “The day you left me, I was gonna leave you.” Of course, perhaps he’s just saying that. Either way, this song features more great work on horns. The CD then wraps up with the energetic rock tune “Dream About You” and the wonderful classic-sounding R&B tune, “Where Did Our Love Go Wrong,” which has a delicious Fats Domino vibe.

CD Track List
  1. I Want You Bad
  2. Somebody Like You
  3. Deep Inside
  4. Sweet Thing
  5. I Feel So Bad
  6. Juanita
  7. Mudslide
  8. Sad Times
  9. Doin’ Hard Time
  10. Drunk Or Sober
  11. I Was Gonna Leave You
  12. Dream About You
  13. Where Did Our Love Go Wrong 
Double Strike is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017 through American Showplace Music.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Greta Gaines: “Tumbleweed” (2017) CD Review

Greta Gaines seems to be having an interesting career, from snowboard champion to television show host to actor to singer and songwriter. Of course, it’s just the music that we’re interested in here. (She’s also an activist for the legalization of marijuana, but more on that in a bit.) Greta Gaines released her first album in 1999, and has put out several CDs since then (for my fellow Grateful Dead fans, she covered “Sugaree” on her 2003 release, It Was Hot). Her newest, Tumbleweed, is a seven-song EP featuring all original material, written or co-written by Greta Gaines. In addition to lead vocals, Greta plays guitar on these tracks. Playing basically every other instrument is Eric Fritsch, who also mixed the CD, though there are guest musicians (including Bucky Baxter) on a few tracks. Greta Gaines is based in Nashville.

She opens the EP with its title track, “Tumbleweed,” an unusual and compelling song of innocence lost and reclaimed. Well, a desire to reclaim it, at any rate, looking back at an earlier time. “Tumbleweed, roll on back to me/Back to when our world was still sweet.” Ah, yes. I think a lot of us would like to go back to an earlier time, even just to last October. Remember that time, before the nation went sideways? Seems ages ago. There is a lot of passion in Greta’s vocal delivery. “I can’t believe you’re so far away/I miss your company every day.” The guitar at times reminds me of Neil Young with Crazy Horse. Bucky Baxter joins Greta on pedal steel, and Courtney Little provides backing vocals on this track.

“Tumbleweed” is followed by “Leo For Real,” which has kind of a cool, loose vibe, particularly in the drums. It also has something of an early rock style in the vocal line. “You do get higher than an astronaut/You never need to, but I gotta stop/Are you the Sun King or his evil twin?” Then “Only Lonely” has a mellower groove, and some good lyrics. The line that always stands out for me is “I don’t want to fight but I’m so good at it.” And the way she delivers it, her voice bittersweet but with a hint of playful bragging, is wonderful. Bucky Baxter adds some nice work on pedal steel, helping to make this one of my personal favorite tracks. (Bucky Baxter has played pedal steel with Bob Dylan and R.E.M., among others.) “You know you’re not the only lonely one/You know you’re not the only lonely face in the crowd/Singing along/Just want to jive and to belong/To someone.”

At the very beginning of “Begin Again,” Greta Gaines reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann (on the line “Like night and day, my friend”). This song has a raw power that overtakes you, and is another of the disc’s strongest tracks. “This is a temporary madness that you’re in/It feels like it’s over when it’s time to begin/Begin again, begin again.” Then “Sweet William” is more in the folk realm, and is one of my favorites, in part because of Ward Stout’s work on fiddle. But also this might be Greta Gaines’ best vocal performance on this disc. Courtney Little provides backing vocals on this track. This is a song that would feel at home on Dylan’s Desire album, and is one I love more and more.  It’s followed by “Heal Me,” also in the folk realm, and featuring another good vocal performance.

The CD concludes with “Light It Up” (it’s identified as a bonus track on the back of the CD case, but as this is the EP’s first release, I’m not sure how it qualifies as such), and this is where Greta Gaines’ activism in regard to marijuana laws comes in to play. All money raised from downloads of this song will go to the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Patients Out Of Time and Tennesseans United. It’s wonderful that we’ve seen quite a bit of progress in recent years regarding marijuana laws, but of course – like everything good about this country – that progress is now in danger because of the current administration. Ah, I certainly enjoyed some marijuana this week – at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, then at the Dead & Company shows. I need to share this song with some friends. This is closer to rock, and there is certainly some joy in this song’s delivery. This is the one track on the disc that Greta Graines wrote with someone else (L. Altman). “These green leaves helps me remember/What it means to be free/Let it grow/Earth and sky/Roll it up, let’s get so high/Strike a match, raise your cup/Just don’t tell us we can’t light it up.”

CD Track List
  1. Tumbleweed
  2. Leo For Real
  3. Only Lonely
  4. Begin Again
  5. Sweet William
  6. Heal Me
  7. Light It Up 
Tumbleweed is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017 on Big Air Records.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records (2017) CD Review

Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records is a cool tribute album honoring the famous Sun Records label started by Sam Phillips. It was recorded at Sun Studio and Sam Phillips Recording Studio, and features Luther Dickinson on guitar, John Paul Keith on guitar, Cody Dickinson on drums, Amy LaVere on bass and Rick Steff on keys. Yes, those talented musicians are basically the house band for folks like Valerie June, Bobby Rush, Jimbo Mathus and Alvin Youngblood Hart, who all contribute lead vocals to tracks. The song selections are numbers that were originally recorded on the Sun label (and Phillips International) by folks like Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich and Johnny Cash (with one exception, an original song by Bobby Rush). This CD includes liner notes by Alanna Nash, as well as several photos. By the way, all proceeds from this compilation go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (if you needed another reason to pick up this CD).

This collection opens with John Paul Keith covering “Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache,” a fun rockabilly song that Warren Smith recorded back in the day. It’s been covered by Brian Setzer and Bob Dylan, among others. This version by John Paul Keith has a good, relaxed vibe, and features Jim Spate on saxophone. The sound, including the vocals, has a classic Sun feel. It’s followed by Valerie June’s take on “Sure To Fall (In Love With You),” a song written by Carl Perkins, Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and originally recorded by Carl Perkins (and also done by The Beatles). I absolutely love Valerie June’s vocals on this country tune, and it is her performance that makes this one of my personal favorites of this CD. I also really like Rick Steff’s work on keys. Jimbo Mathus and Amy LaVere provide backing vocals. Valerie June, by the way, was born in Tennessee and is based in Memphis.

Shawn Camp delivers a fun rendition of “Lonely Weekends,” which was written and originally recorded by Charlie Rich (on Phillips International). Lauren Mascitti and John Paul Keith provide backing vocals, and Jim Spate adds some nice touches on saxophone. “Well, I’m makin’ all right/From Monday morning ‘til Friday night/But oh, those lonely weekends.” That’s followed by “Ways Of A Woman In Love,” a country song written by Charlie Rich and Bill Justis and recorded by Johnny Cash, here done by Bryan Hayes. You know, when it started I thought it was describing someone suffering from depression, with lines like “You’ve cut out your dancing, you never see a show/Friends drop by to pick you up, and you hardly ever go.” It turns out the woman in question is in love, the other end of the spectrum. If only I’d been looking at the track list. This is a good rendition, with Emily Barker and Amy LaVere on backing vocals, and some more delicious work on keys.

I don’t really watch television, apart from Red Sox games (I do watch some series, but only after they’re released on DVD), so I wasn’t aware that there was a show titled Sun Records. On this disc, some of the cast of that show sing the CD’s title track, “Red Hot,” a song that now brings to mind Selma Blair dancing in John Waters’ A Dirty Shame (a movie I totally love). The version used in that film is that by Billy Lee Riley And The Little Green Men, which was released on Sun Records. It was previously recorded by Billy “The Kid” Emerson, also on Sun Records (Emerson also wrote the song). I’ve always enjoyed this song, and this rendition by the cast of Sun Records is a lot of fun, especially that work on keys. Featured cast members on this recording include Kevin Fonteyne, Drake Milligan, Christian Lees and Jonah Lees, along with Chuck Mead, the series’ music director. “Well, she walks all night, talks all day/She’s the kind of woman got to have her way.” Ah yes, this track is a perfect party song. Enjoy!

This CD then gets bluesy with Bobby Rush’s “Tough Titty,” the disc’s sole original track (though a song that Bobby has included on other releases, such as Undercover Lover and Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History Of Bobby Rush). The version on this disc is bloody great, with some wonderful stuff on harmonica and a seriously good vocal performance. Things then get swinging with Amy LaVere’s rendition of “Ten Cats Down,” which was written by Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and recorded by The Miller Sisters on Sun. Amy LaVere delivers a delightful version, featuring Will Sexton on guitar and Emily Barker on backing vocals. This is kind of a goofy tune, but I love what Amy LaVere does with it, and this track ends up being one of the highlights for me. The music gets even more lively with Jimbo Mathus covering Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential,” which Lewis wrote with Ron Hargrave for the movie of the same name. It’s hard to get that same energy that Jerry Lee Lewis seemingly has an endless supply of, but Jimbo Mathus is certainly the guy to do it, and this rendition is a lot of fun. “Okay, kiddoes, let’s boogie woogie.”

Alvin Youngblood Hart tackles Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and gives us a fantastic version. Oh yes, this is another of my favorites. I don’t think he’s hanging his head and crying at all. That “Woo-hoo” after that line sounds more like a reflection of his own attitude rather than the train whistle. This CD then concludes with a nice, long two-part version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ At Midnight,” a song he recorded on Sun, but which was later released on Chess Records. The version here, which is on two tracks (for a total of more than thirteen minutes), is by Luther Dickinson, with Lightnin’ Malcolm on guitar. I love this bluesy jam, and it is yet another of the disc’s highlights. “Whoa, I wish I had, whoa, my baby in my arms.” By the way, each of the two tracks can stand on its own, as the first one has a definite ending and doesn’t lead straight into the second.

CD Track List
  1. Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache – John Paul Keith
  2. Sure To Fall (In Love With You) – Valerie June
  3. Lonely Weekends – Shawn Camp
  4. Ways Of A Woman In Love – Bryan Hayes
  5. Red Hot – Sun Records Cast
  6. Tough Titty – Bobby Rush
  7. Ten Cats Down – Amy LaVere
  8. High School Confidential – Jimbo Mathus
  9. Folsom Prison Blues – Alvin Youngblood Hart
  10. Moanin’ At Midnight Part 1 – Luther Dickinson
  11. Moanin’ At Midnight Part 2 – Luther Dickinson 
Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration Of Sun Records is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017 through Americana Music Society.

Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier: “Let The Steel Play” (2017) CD Review

Wednesday afternoon, before the first of two Dead & Company shows at The Hollywood Bowl, I was looking for something to listen to, you know, to get in the mood. While I was considering some options, this disc by Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier, Let The Steel Play, arrived in the mail, and the track list included the Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers,” so I popped it in immediately. And it was just exactly what I was looking for – some damn good playing by two talented musicians. The album consists of instrumental tracks of some familiar material and some originals. Andy Hall is of course known as a member of The Infamous Stringdusters, but he’s also played with Phil Lesh. Roosevelt Collier is a member of The Lee Boys, and has also taken part in Grateful Dead tributes, including working with Unlimited Devotion. So perhaps it’s no surprise that they cover a Grateful Dead song on this release, their first album together. The project and the CD’s title come from their mutual love of slide guitar.

They get things off to a fun start with a lively take on “This Little Light Of Mine,” a traditional gospel song. And right away I’m digging the groove and the style and the energy. Life really can be perfect for the length of a song, and this tune ought to do the trick if you’re in need of having your spirits lifted. This song also certainly got me in the right mood to go out to catch some live music. This recording feels live; it has that fresh, immediate vibe, like they got one chance at it, and everything worked out beautifully. And the jam goes in some interesting directions toward the end, where some of the best work of this track is to be found. They follow that with another traditional tune, “Maiden’s Prayer,” which has a sweeter, gentler and friendly country sound. Things get a little more playful with “Singing Steel,” an original composition on which the two musicians deliver some delicious licks.

“Crazy Fingers” is the track that initially sparked my interest in this disc. It’s a song that originally appeared on Grateful Dead’s 1975 record Blues For Allah, and is one of my favorite Dead songs (okay, I guess I can say that about a whole lot of Dead tunes). It has a different feel from much of the Dead’s material, with a gentle reggae groove on the studio version. It also has some wonderful lyrics, the lines that always stand out for me being, “Gone are the days we stopped to decide/Where we should go, we just ride.” And, of course, these lines: “Life may be sweeter for this, I don't know/Feels like it might be all right.” Wonderful! Those lines aren’t in the version on this disc, obviously, but this rendition still retains that vibe, which has always felt very positive and sweet to me. I like this track a lot, and it has an interesting ending. “Rosebud” is an original tune, though it does feel a bit like another Grateful Dead song, “Liberty,” which happens to be the last song I ever saw the Grateful Dead perform. Only a certain section of this song reminds me of “Liberty.” This too has a very positive feel to it, which I appreciate, and a delightful ending.

“Remington,” another original composition, is a lively number with a certain bluesy edge. Though I love the positive, friendly vibes of most of this album, one of my favorite tracks is the more serious-sounding “The Darkest Hour,” also an original song. This one feels like it’s telling us a tale where not all the characters emerge unscathed, and some perhaps don’t emerge at all.  Anders Beck joins them for the CD’s final track, “Colfax Boogie,” a tune to get you smiling, grooving, tapping your feet or whatever it is you like to tap, and leaving us feeling good and satisfied.

CD Track List
  1. This Little Light Of Mine
  2. Maiden’s Prayer
  3. Singing Steel
  4. Crazy Fingers
  5. Rosebud
  6. Reuben’s Train
  7. Remington
  8. The Darkest Hour
  9. Power In The Blood
  10. Colfax Boogie
Let The Steel Play is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2017.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dead & Company at The Hollywood Bowl, 6-1-17 Concert Review

The first of the two Dead & Company shows at the Hollywood Bowl, the one on Wednesday, was really good. But last night’s show was fantastic. It was the best show I’ve seen this band do so far (admittedly, this was only my fifth Dead & Company show). A glance at the set list will tell you that the song selection was excellent, but that’s only part of it. Their playing was remarkable throughout the night (apart from possibly a few minor points in the first set), full of heart, full of joy, and there were several times when I was surprised at the direction a song took (and these are songs I’ve heard countless times). They were jamming basically straight out of the gate, and they really went for it throughout the show, and to a large degree got there.

My friend and I got to the venue much earlier this second night, but for some reason they were late opening the gate, so we ended up getting to our seats at exactly the same time as the night before. It was weird while waiting at the gate, a sort of uneasy vibe. There was a lot of gathering of forces, lots of preparation. And then, seemingly, a standoff, as both groups looked at each other across a thin stretch of pink tape. We were just waiting for someone to yell “Play ball,” I guess. Some folks got a little impatient in line and made stupid comments. But at 5:48 p.m., eighteen minutes later than we were told, the gates did open and we did pass through them.

Our seats were in a different section last night, N3, closer to the audience left side (or stage right side), and slightly closer to the stage. We could see the Hollywood sign from our seats, nestled between two hills. And then there was the fun of getting to know our neighbors. There’s always a brief moment of question or doubt. Is that guy in that hat going to be obnoxious? I had a great couple to my right. They’re doing much of the tour, but have to miss at least one show to go their granddaughter’s wedding. Personally, I would choose a concert over a wedding, and maybe they ultimately will too. Who knows? The woman was sweet. She said to my friend, “Did anyone ever tell you you look like somebody?” My friend responded, “All the time.” She continued, “I don’t know who, but somebody.” And holy moly, it’s a workout getting to the loo on this side of the venue. You’ve got to struggle up the steepest hill, through the woods, past a campsite, and so on. Shit, just walking up the stairs to get to the path was a workout. And these edibles got right on top of me, erasing the reality I’m not facing. You know? Hard to remember what’s supposed to be there anymore. But talk was about how good Bob sounded the previous night, and everything seemed right.

The first night they started at 7:08 p.m., so at 7:13 p.m., I got a little nervous, thinking that perhaps something has gone wrong. It can be so easy to leap to the worst these days. But a few minutes later, at 7:16 p.m., the band took the stage and launched into “Hell In A Bucket.” It’s interesting how excited everyone is for this song nowadays. I always loved this tune, but I recall that love not being shared by everyone in, say, the late 1980s, when the band played it often. Bob sounded excellent, and things were off to a great start. They then went into “Next Time You See Me,” a song that had been in my head often the previous several days. John Mayer sang lead on this one, and delivered some wonderful stuff on guitar. They followed that with “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Hey, did it get almost eerily quiet at one point in this one, just before bursting back into the chorus? The group is doing good stuff with this song, and this was a superb rendition.

But it was with “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” that the first set really became something special. And everyone could feel it immediately. All the folks around me were singing along. And I dig that echoing of the vocals they do with this song these days, sort of like in the round. This was a wonderful rendition. After that, there was a bit of a pause before the band went into a very bluesy and delicious “Little Red Rooster.” There was a little pause after that song too, during which we attempted to determine what the next tune would be. Whatever guesses I had were all wrong, as the band surprised me with “Uncle John’s Band,” and this was where the jamming got even more interesting. That led straight into “New Speedway Boogie,” which a lot of us guessed would be the last song of the first set. But they surprised us again by going straight into “U.S. Blues.” At this point, the whole country has the U.S. blues, right? The first set ended at 8:34 p.m. (that is, if I recall correctly; I meant to write it down, but sometimes I will think something and not write it but believe that I have written it; such was the case often last night).

Spirits were very high in my area during the set break, and that guy in the hat had settled down. During the break I went to the bathroom on the opposite side of the venue, figuring I’d rather go the distance than struggle up the steepest incline this side of Devil’s Tower to get to a toilet. At 9:14 p.m., the band returned for the second set. And as good as the first set was – and it was fucking great – the second set was where the real magic was.  They kicked it off with “Estimated Prophet,” a song my friend had been eager to hear. Bob’s in the habit of tossing in long pauses between lines in a few songs these days, eh? Listen to him growl, “Might and glory gonna be my name” indeed. This is when things started getting good and weird, and the band tossed in a bit of “Eleanor Rigby” at the end. When they started “St. Stephen,” the crowd went nuts. Certainly this song was a highlight of an already-fantastic show, and the jam here was great. They kept things going in the right direction with “Terrapin Station.” The jam became delicate and soft for a bit, and was wonderful. It eased so subtly into “Dark Star” that it took some folks a moment to recognize it. Interestingly, after jamming a bit on it, they essentially did an instrumental version, with John Mayer’s guitar doing the vocal line, and then after that actually kicked into the song. As that slid into drums, I realized they’d only done the first verse.

“Drums” quickly established a great rhythm, and just got better and better from there. This was a seriously fun “Drums,” the energy kept high by the presence of a guest drummer up there with Bill and Mickey, Jason Hann (who also sat in with the band last year at the show in Irvine). In a second set that was delicious from beginning to end, this “Drums” was actually one of the highlights. Soon we got into some Mickey weirdness, which led into “Space” and then back into “Dark Star,” with Bob repeating “nightfall.” This was an excellent and unusual version of “Dark Star,” and it led into a stellar rendition of “Morning Dew.” Yes, it was an otherworldly set, and “Morning Dew” was the perfect conclusion. The band then lifted us up and brought us together with the encore of “Not Fade Away.” The show ended at 10:55 p.m. As we made our way back to the shuttle bus, I heard over and over different people saying what a fantastic show it was. Absolutely.

Set List

Set I
  1. Hell In A Bucket
  2. Next Time You See Me
  3. West L.A. Fadeaway
  4. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  5. Little Red Rooster
  6. Uncle John’s Band >
  7. New Speedway Boogie >
  8. U.S. Blues
Set II
  1. Estimated Prophet
  2. St. Stephen >
  3. Terrapin Station
  4. Dark Star >
  5. Drums >
  6. Space >
  7. Dark Star >
  8. Morning Dew
  1. Not Fade Away

Dead & Company next head up north to Mountain View for a couple of shows at Shoreline.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dead & Company at The Hollywood Bowl, 5-31-17 Concert Review

Dead & Company kicked off their summer tour a few nights ago in Las Vegas, and last night I caught the first of a two-night run at The Hollywood Bowl. Parking at that venue is a nightmare, so we parked at a lot on Ventura and took a shuttle over the hill. It costs $6 round trip. Not bad. A boy of like twelve or thirteen years gave us instructions on how to find our particular bus on the way home. No way any of us was going to remember that, but we all nodded and said we’d do our best. I was just glad they got an adult to drive the bus. I worried for a moment that this boy was going to get behind the wheel. There were metal detectors on the way into the venue, so the line moved rather slowly. I don’t recall seeing those the last time I was here. When was that? Three years ago? Five? Eight? No idea. “How many of you are there?” the woman at the metal detector asked me. How many of me? One, I hope. “One, I hope,” I said. But my friend, answered, “Two – me and him.” Oh yes, one of me, one of him. We put our keys and phones together in a little grey plastic dish, and a moment later were inside the venue, looking at the T-shirts for sale (a bit too expensive for me), and then heading to the bathroom. There was a bit of confusion, as the guy in the stall next to me in the loo said to some other guy, “Turn a blind cheek,” which made me smile. A moment later he asked, “Is that it?”

At 7:08 p.m. (by my phone anyway; my friend’s phone said 7:09 p.m. – aren’t these things run by satellites?), Dead & Company took the stage and got things going with “Shakedown Street.” A disco ball was shown on the screen behind the stage at the beginning, embracing what some folks have always said about this song. And the way Bobby delivered “You gotta poke around” that one time, I felt I had no option but to start poking. Then suddenly John Mayer was singing, “Shake it down, shake it down, shake it down now.” Is that new? Did I hear that right? The band got into a good, relaxed kind of jam to groove to. Then for a moment it was unclear what song they were starting. Where is this going? There was a collective sigh and cheer when they launched into “Cold Rain And Snow.” The music came in waves, and I could feel it in my teeth. “Ain’t gonna be treated this a-way.” I had to remind myself to look at the guys on stage, not the guys on screen. Stick with reality, man whichever bits are handy or available.

A nice “Black-Throated Wind” led straight into “Ramble On Rose.” Was there a bit of crackling in the speakers at a few moments in the last couple of songs, or was that just me? “Ramble On Rose” contained a good jam, with nice stuff on keys. The energy was feeling right. And don’t worry, Bob, none of us can remember all the lines to that song. At moments during “Cumberland Blues,” their voices sounded perfect together, like on the word “mine” at the end of one of the line “Gotta get down to the mine.” There was more good stuff on keys. Ooo-wee! And what was Mickey Hart banging together? On the screen, it looked like a pair of old wooden Dutch clogs. The word is that John Mayer loves “Althea.” Well, so do I, and I was happy to hear it last night. I always appreciate that Hamlet verse. They then wrapped up the first set with Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land.” The first set ended at 8:16 p.m. (though probably 8:17 on my friend's phone).

During the set break, the bathroom line wasn’t very long. Some long pink hair halfway to the stage was bright in the venue lighting. The child to my right was wearing a KISS sweatshirt. The feeling in the place was mellow and good, relaxed, happy. The band returned to the stage at 9:04 p.m., and kicked off the second set with a jam that led into “Truckin’,” and then after another jam eased into “He’s Gone.” I enjoyed the vocal jam at the end of the song. But then afterward, some people came on stage, and suddenly everyone was gone and the lights went out on stage. And then the lights around the stage also went out. This was just before 9:30 p.m. After a few minutes, a lot of us sat down. We’re old. The world has gotten so fucking weird, and people were surmising maybe something was tossed onto the stage – a rose or a joint, most likely – or perhaps there was a bomb scare. Hey, what kind of talk is that? People are tripping around you, for fuck’s sake, don’t mention a bomb. Bloody hell, our world is so fucked up that it’s even hitting us here. A Dead show was always a haven from that sort of thing. Someone said he saw dogs being led across the stage. I don’t know. At 9:36 p.m., someone on stage (I think it was Bob) said, “All clear, kinda.” And the band oddly went back into “He’s Gone,” starting with the line “Like a steam locomotive rolling down the track.”

The band then played “Help On The Way,” leading into “Slipknot!” and then into “Franklin’s Tower.” It was during “Slipknot!” that the band delivered some interesting jamming. During “Franklin’s Tower,” it hit me again that I’m still not entirely sold on John Mayer’s voice, but this was a fun, bouncy version of the song. It led into “Drums,” which had a steady electronic beat, a pulse, and after a while I felt like I was at the Dead’s version of a club. Then suddenly that beat broke in order to venture into stranger terrain and then they transitioned smoothly into “Space.” Some of the sound seemed to be coming from behind me, enveloping me until I was part of the sound, if only briefly. It began like a great hum behind me, but then it was a giant engine on the stage gaining power, and all the sound shifted. But the sound soon became gentle, as we touched down lightly into “Stella Blue,” one of my favorite songs. Ah, some really nice vocals from Bob Weir. There wasn’t much power on the “Dust off those rusty strings just one more time” part, but it was still a really good version. They concluded the second set with “Sugar Magnolia.” A minute later they returned for the encore. When my friend saw John Mayer with an acoustic guitar, he said to me, “You might get ‘Ripple.’” And indeed, they finished the show with my all-time favorite song, “Ripple.” Perfect. The show ended at 10:47 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Shakedown Street
  2. Cold Rain And Snow
  3. Black-Throated Wind >
  4. Ramble On Rose
  5. Cumberland Blues
  6. Althea
  7. Promised Land 
Set II
  1. Truckin’ >
  2. He’s Gone
  3. He’s Gone (reprise)
  4. Help On The Way >
  5. Slipknot! >
  6. Frankin’s Tower >
  7. Drums >
  8. Space >
  9. Stella Blue >
  10. Sugar Magnolia
  1. Ripple

Dead & Company’s tour continues tonight with the second Hollywood Bowl show.