Sunday, October 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few photos from the show:

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

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago DVD Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoney Spring: “The Natural Sweetness Of Cream” (2017) CD Review

Stoney Spring continues to impress and delight me with the band’s third release, The Natural Sweetness Of Cream (following 2013’s Right On Heliotrope! and 2015’s Don’t Let Me Die At Coco’s). One I thing I love about this band is its fearlessness in exploring different avenues, musically, thematically, philosophically – and, yes, humorously. There seem to be no preconceived notions of the path a song must take, but rather each song has its own peculiar journey, and these guys allow the music and themselves the freedom to see it through. How bloody refreshing is that? There is a great sense of play here, particularly with language, with words, but that doesn’t mean these tracks lack depth. Check out these lines from “Chasing An Abstract Dream”: “Oh, the things people do to each other/While chasing an abstract dream/Oh, the things I do to myself/While chasing an abstract dream.” Plus, Rob Waller’s is one of my favorite voices in music. He and Anthony Lacques share lead vocal duties on this CD. As on the previous two albums, all tracks here were written or co-written by Anthony Lacques, who also plays the majority of the instruments – piano, drums, guitar, electric bass and marimba. Paul Lacques is on dobro and lap steel, and Jimi Hawes is on upright bass. This release also features as guest musicians some members of The Brendan Eder Ensemble (Christine Tavolacci on flute, Henry Solomon on alto saxophone, Amber Joy Wyman on bassoon, and Rhiana Caterisano on clarinet), with Brendan Eder writing and conducting the woodwind arrangements.

The album opens with “I Think I Am A Rasta,” which has a sweet, cool folk rock sound. With many of its lines beginning with the words “I believe,” the first time I listened to this disc it made me think of the Buzzcocks’ “I Believe,” but of course sounds absolutely nothing like that song. Lines like “I believe that my mind is my science, and my science is philosophy” and “I believe this heat we feel, this heat we feel, this heat is how life began.” It’s like through stating his beliefs, he’s trying to get a handle on life and some of the greater questions, testing out how these beliefs sound, see if they’re right. After all, the title is “I Think I Am A Rasta,” not “I Am A Rasta.” There is a shift a little more than halfway through the song, with the music gaining in power. That song is followed by “Kindersound,” which is intriguing from the start, grabbing us immediately with its burst of an opening, and then going in some surprising directions before starting to rock. This one requires some volume.

Certain lines from “Revisiting The Past” really stood out for me the first time I listened to this CD, lines like “And if life is suffering, then I know for certain that I’m far from dead” and “For a guy like me, protection from tyranny means a lot/Thanks for the freeway and the parking lot/Safe from crime, more or less.”  This too goes in unexpected directions. Like I mentioned, I love that this band allows each song to exist on its own terms, in its own world, with its own structure, and this song certainly follows its own path. There is even a moment of surprising and honest laughter, and I like that it was left in. “If you can’t be righteous, be kind/If you can’t be kind, be still/If you can’t be still, be useful/If you can’t be useful, be peaceful/If you can’t be peaceful, be sane/If you can’t be sane, be righteous.”

Based on the opening sounds of “Life In The Western States,” the first time I listened to this disc I had certain expectations, certain ideas of what this song would be. But I’m a fool because this album has already made a habit of defying expectations. Sure, the theme is “western,” sort of, but the first lines are “The western states don’t know how to play football/That’s what they want you to think/The western states don’t know how to play baseball/That’s what they want you to say.” (Last night the Dodgers won the National League pennant, by the way.) “Life In The Western States” was written by Anthony Lacques and Paul Lacques. “Western States Part II” is another intriguing track, also delivered as spoken word, with both an intimate one-on-one feel and a sense that he’s speaking to anyone who might be listening, like he’s been directed to deliver thoughts on our current reality into a microphone. “And today, well, the skies are as big as ever/But it feels as if my feet are no longer on the ground/And I don’t know if anyone’s feet are really on the ground anymore/So we just stare upward, waiting for something to come down and grab us/Embrace us, perhaps, shake us out of our torpor, stupor.” There is a frightening science fiction aspect to it. I imagine him in a white room from which there may be no exit. Or perhaps I’m projecting; I should go for a walk.

“Music Is Like Exercise For Words” is a wonderful song, with something of a tribal vibe at moments. “Words sit around, withered on the vine/And I don’t even know if they’re yours or they’re mine.”  I appreciate the lines about dicking “around all day on Facebook.” I’ve been toying with the idea of getting away from that site, and such a move certainly has its appeal. Language and communication are so important to me, and it seems that online chatter somehow erases the power of words and brings every topic down to one dull level (and, yes, I’m fully aware that I’m posting this online). People are reaching out more and more, and saying less and less. “Destroy your temples and your pimples and all your fucking problems/Music is like exercise for words.”

“Class Of ‘72” is a very cool instrumental that has a loose, early 1970s feel, as its title might suggest, with some delightful work on keys. In a way, I’m a member of the class of ’72, as that’s the year I was born. Is that part of the reason I dig this tune so much? Could be, but let’s not worry about that. “Rhodes Scholar Figures It Out,” also an instrumental track, has my favorite title of the album. Both of these instrumental tunes make me feel pretty damn good. This CD concludes with another good instrumental track, “Black Vernissage” which has a wonderful jazzy vibe featuring the work of the members of The Brendan Eder Ensemble.

CD Track List
  1. I Think I Am A Rasta
  2. Kindersound
  3. Revisiting The Past
  4. Life In The Western States
  5. Music Is Like Exercise For Words
  6. Class Of ‘72
  7. Chasing An Abstract Dream
  8. Rhodes Scholar Figures It Out
  9. Western States Part II
  10. Black Vernissage
The Natural Sweetness Of Cream was released today, October 20, 2017 on Western Seeds Records.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A.J. Croce: "Just Like Medicine" (2017) CD Review

Just Like Medicine, the new album from A.J. Croce, has a whole lot of soul, and is filled with great vibes and musicianship. On several tracks, Croce is joined by gospel vocalists The McCrary Sisters, as well as by the Muscle Shoal Horns, and that should give you an idea of the fantastic sound of this disc. The band backing him consists of Colin Linden on guitar, David Hood on bass, and Bryan Owings on drums. There are also a few important guest musicians on certain tracks.This album features original material, each track written or co-written by A.J. Croce, with one important exception (more on that in a bit). It was produced by Dan Penn.

The album's first track, "Gotta Get Outta My Head," has a cool groove, and opening lines that I love: "Gotta get outta my head/'Cause I can't take the company." There is no pronoun at the start of the line, and so I first figured he was singing about himself, to himself, rather than to another person. You know, not being able to take his own company. It works well either way. The second stanza is clearly directed at another person: "Better stay outta my heart/'Cause you might fall in love with me." This is a bloody great song with a delicious, timeless vibe, and vocal work by Regina McCrary, Deborah McCrary, Ann McCrary and Alfreda McCrary. That's followed by "The Heart That Makes Me Whole," and I immediately dig A.J. Croce's work on piano. This tune has a delicious Stax feel, and there's a good reason for that: Steve Cropper plays electric guitar on this track (and delivers some excellent stuff, as you'd expect). This track also features the Muscle Shoal Horns (Charles Rose, Steve Herrman and Doug Moffet), and is great fun. "You played around with breaking my heart/Almost drove me out of my mind/You won't make the same mistake/'Cause there ain't no more heart to break." There is some wonderful work on backing vocals by the McCrary Sisters. Yeah, there is a tremendous amount of talent going into this one, and in fact it was co-written by Leon Russell, one of the amazing musicians we lost in the cruel year of 2016.

Then Vince Gill joins A.J. Croce on acoustic guitar on "Name Of The Game." This song is ridiculously cool - a bit of folk, a bit of rock, a bit of gospel (the McCrary Sisters are again on backing vocals), and quite a bit of country. If this one reminds you of A.J.'s famous father, there is a reason. It was written by Jim Croce. This is the only song on the album not written or co-written by A.J. Croce. Jim Croce never made an official recording of this song, but apparently had intended to include it on his next (and sadly never-recorded) album. "But I was just a born believer/Getting things to go my way/Baby, losin' ain't the name of the game I play." And Vince Gill gets a chance to demonstrate his talent on guitar.

The album's title track, "Cures Just Like Medicine," has a beautiful soul vibe, and features both the McCrary Sisters and the Muscle Shoal Horns. This is one of the album's highlights (though, really, there isn't a single weak track on this disc). "Raced across a thousand miles/Met my match and started fires/I lost myself in all the wreckage/Then I finally got the message/Someone had to show me the way." I particularly love the play on the word "match" in those lines. There is a moment when it seems the song is about to end, and suddenly the McCrary Sisters sing a cappella, leading to the last section of the song, which is just wonderful. The song gets even better at that point, with some wonderful stuff by the horn players, though it ends soon after that. I want this track to go on at least another couple of minutes, let 'em jam on that groove, see where it goes. "Move On," which follows it, includes a moving vocal performance by A.J. Croce and some sweet work on horns.

The first time I played this disc, I was taking care of other things while it was on, and - perhaps as a result - I misheard the lyrics of "The Other Side Of Love." I thought he was singing, "Homicidal Love." This song was co-written by Dan Penn, who also produced the album. It has the sound and feel of a 1970s smooth soul gem. "There was affection but never enough/Says his prayers to the man above/Hopes to find his way but all he sees today/The other side of love." That's followed by "Full Up." I love the piano on this delightful tune, which has a certain Randy Newman vibe. "I took a lot and now I'm through/You'll tell a lie 'til you believe it's true/I won't tell you what to do." And I appreciate the play on the phrase "there's a catch" in the lines "I took the bait a hundred time/'Cause there's a catch with every line." Then from "I Couldn't Stop," I like these lines: "No one could walk out the door/Love was the curse, not the cure/I couldn't stop." Jeff Taylor plays accordion on this track (though the CD's liner notes on my copy erroneously indicate that he appears on the first track and not this one).

The Muscle Shoals Horns play on "Hold You," a kind of sweet number that I really like. "Now you've gone away/And swear that you'll return/Though love is always short of sight/I can't fight the urge to hold you/I can't fight the urge to hold you." The CD then concludes with "The Roads," which has a bit of an Elvis Costello sound. "I don't want to find I came/This far to see it's all the same/But if I do I'll have to change."

CD Track List
  1. Gotta Get Outta My Head
  2. The Heart That Makes Me Whole
  3. Name Of The Game
  4. Cures Just Like Medicine
  5. Move On
  6. The Other Side Of Love
  7. Full Up
  8. I Couldn't Stop
  9. Hold On
  10. The Roads
Just Like Medicine was released on August 11, 2017 on Seedling Records, through Compass Records.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Josh Nelson: "The Sky Remains" (2017) CD Review

I've been residing in Los Angeles for approximately two decades, and there are things I've come to really love about this city. Certain places, certain buildings, even certain roads. There really is a special feel to this city, which when looked at in a certain light can be almost magical. Fellow Los Angeles resident Josh Nelson explores different areas of the city on his new album, The Sky Remains. He is interested in capturing and conveying the varied history of the city in these pieces, and does a remarkable job. And his love for the city comes through clearly. Most of the tracks here were written or co-written by Josh Nelson, but he does include a couple of interesting covers. Joining Josh Nelson on this CD are Anthony Wilson on guitar, Josh Johnson on alto saxophone and flute, Chris Lawrence on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Walsh on clarinet, Larry Goldings on organ, Alex Boneham on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums and Aaron Serfaty on percussion. Also, vocalists Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengpiehl perform on certain tracks.

Josh Nelson begins the album with a thoughtful, interesting piece titled "Bridges And Tunnels." His piano part that opens the song has such a pretty, delicate fairy tale-like quality. Adding to that feel is the vocal work of Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengpiehl. Vocals, but no lyrics. Yet this track also has a grounded quality. I hate being on the bridges in Los Angeles, particularly during heavy traffic, because it seems one of the worst possible places to be caught during an earthquake. Josh Nelson seems to have no such fears, at least as expressed in this piece, which has touches of beauty, touches of majesty. That's followed by the title track, "The Sky Remains," a mellow, pretty track, featuring vocals by Kathleen Grace, who also co-wrote the tune. "What is a story/A picture in a frame/The city's different now/But the sky remains the same." Los Angeles has changed quite a bit in the time I've lived here, even just in my neighborhood. L.A. changes, though certain things seem to remain constant. This song is about the observatory in Griffith Park, and about the man whose violent attack on his wife let to its construction. And the song's main line is about how something lasting, something good can come out of a short, horrible moment.

Joshua Johnson wrote "On The Sidewalk," which has a different feel, particularly as it is driven mainly by the horn rather than piano. It takes its inspiration from writer and activist Charlotta Bass, and from the California Eagle, the newspaper she published in Los Angeles in the first half of the twentieth century, and it has some of the excitement and even the tension of those times. Alex Boneham adds some cool touches on bass. That's followed by one of my favorite tracks, "The Architect." This one too features some good work on bass by Alex Boneham (including a lead section), as well as some delicious work on drums by Dan Schnelle. And of course, there is plenty of great playing by Josh Nelson on piano.

"Ah, Los Angeles" features Lillian Sengpiehl on vocals. It's an interesting tune, as it has a rather lonely sound, and yet builds to become oddly inspiring. "I love you so much/You bitter town/I love you so much/You dark blossom in the sand." Then "Lost Souls Of Saturn" is playful and fun, opening with some cool percussion. This is one of the album's two covers, written by Russ Garcia and originally recorded for the 1959 album Fantastica: Music From Outer Space. This track makes it feel like a fantastic city in motion, old romantic gumshoes who moonlight as dancers rising from the shadows into the ether, followed by a loose, chaotic parade of characters. Yes, it feels like an entire history is being told, and all the musicians really contribute and shine here, cutting loose, making this one of the disc's highlights. "Lost Souls Of Saturn" is followed by the album's other cover, "Pitseleh," this one written by Elliott Smith. Kathleen Grace provides the vocals. There is something pretty about this track, particularly some of Josh Nelson's work on piano.

"Pacific Ocean Park" is another of my personal favorites. It begins with the distant sounds of an amusement park, with a disturbing hint of darkness over it. Josh Nelson's piano then leads us into the main body of the song, which has an old-time flavor.  My girlfriend said at one point it sounded to her like a New Orleans funeral. The tune rises to these boisterous, almost jubilant heights, and then ends quietly, thoughtfully, gently. That's followed by "Run," another of the tracks to feature vocals. This is probably my favorite of the tracks with lyrics. "Run, run/When you're lost and alone in the world on your own/Run, run/'Cause you don't need this kind of welcome back home." Kathleen Grace co-wrote this one. It has something of a 1970s mellow pop sound. And I love that sad, lonely horn. The album then concludes with "Stairways." This one too feels like it's all about motion, and according to the liner notes the song takes its inspiration from the many staircases of the Los Angeles hillsides. I don't think I've ever seen most of them. Is that possible? There is so much of L.A. I've yet to explore. I feel like this CD has introduced me to parts of Los Angeles I didn't know about.

CD Track List
  1. Bridges And Tunnels
  2. The Sky Remains
  3. On The Sidewalk
  4. The Architect
  5. Ah, Los Angeles
  6. Lost Souls Of Saturn
  7. Pitseleh
  8. Pacific Ocean Park
  9. Run
  10. Stairways
Bridges And Tunnels was released on September 15, 2017 on Origin Records.

A Few Notes From Honk! Festival 2017

Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band 
Usually my trips to Boston are built around at least a few key concerts. This trip, however, was all about getting up to the White Mountains to celebrate my girlfriend's birthday (the Kancamagus Highway from Conway to Lincoln is beautiful). That doesn't mean, of course, that we didn't get to see any bands perform. We made it back to Boston in time for the later portion of the Saturday lineup at Honk! The festival started at noon in Davis Square, with bands starting at 1 p.m. - this was on October 7th (the festival is actually three days) - and we got there a little after 6 p.m. My girlfriend had been telling me about this festival for years, but this was the first time I was able to attend.

Honk! is a free music festival in Davis Square, focusing on bands that are either largely or entirely brass, most of them playing at the same level as the crowd, usually among the crowd, without amplification. As you might guess, it's a whole hell of a lot of fun. The bands play in several different locations around David Square, and we started at the statue, with an all-female brass band called Damas de Ferro. They were good, but we left before the end of their set, as we wanted to get over to the plaza before 7 p.m., so we wouldn't miss any of Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band's set (this was my girlfriend's favorite group from previous years, though every time she mentioned them I thought she was saying Edward Norton's Marching Band). Though we got to Davis Square Plaza approximately ten minutes before 7, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band was already performing.

Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band 
These guys were excellent. I think I counted fourteen musicians, but it was difficult to get an accurate number as they were constantly moving around, and the dancing crowd partially blocked my view. They did a Michael Jackson medley that included "Billie Jean," "Happy Birthday, Lisa" (from The Simpsons), "Thriller," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." For a mainly instrumental band, they have surprisingly good voices. I particularly liked the accordion player. As they finished their set at 8 p.m., the next band moved in, so there was really no break in the music whatsoever. That next band, The Party Band (yeah, not the most imaginative band name), started up just behind where most of the crowd had been standing, so folks basically just turned around to face them and kept dancing. Pretty cool. We caught a good portion of their set, then headed over to the park to see Hungry March Band. There was more room to breathe, more space to dance over there, and I really enjoyed Hungry March Band's set, their group including dancers as well as musicians.

Hungry March Band
When they finished, we expected them to lead us to some central place where the rest of the bands would gather. From what I've heard, that's what has happened in previous years, the bands all playing together, with the audience joining them in some delirious march around the area. Last year that march apparently took the crowd down into the subway station. But this year it was not to be. Hungry March Band finished, and that was that. We went back to the main part of the square, thinking perhaps some other bands would take part in a march, but after a band there (I'm not sure of the band's name) played "When The Saints Go Marching In," the music ended. Still, I enjoyed the evening, and I hope to make it back for the festival next year.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Recommended Music: Choking Victim's “No Gods/No Managers”

Nearly every day, someone recommends an album or band to me. I always write down the name of the band or album, with the intention of checking it out later. And then sometimes I do check it out, on those occasions when I’m able to actually read my writing after discovering the little slip of paper in my pocket or bag or under the seat of my car. On a recent job, one of the actors (who is also a musician himself) recommended (among other things) Choking Victim’s No Gods/No Managers. I trusted his taste in music, in part because he’s so passionate and articulate about the things he loves, and in part because I ran into him at a Cat Stevens concert last year and so I knew his musical tastes weren’t limited to a single genre, and so I purchased the album.

It’s fantastic. And perhaps it carries even more weight in these days of brazen Nazis, these days of Trump, these days of anger and frustration, these days when we turn to music as both refuge and weapon (or at least shield). The combination of hardcore punk and ska feels like the perfect answer to the dismal state of our country. No Gods/No Managers is the only full-length studio release of Choking Victim, who broke up immediately after finishing the album. (Scott Sturgeon then created Leftover Crack.) The album has a ton of energy and a whole lot to say. It opens with “500 Channels.” Check out these lines: “Five hundred channels of a daydream stimulation/Helps me to resent my life and raise my expectations/Locked into re-runs, your memories repeating/And all your ideals seems so self-defeating/For you and yours, the Pepsi generation/And when you’re discontent, you change the TV station.”

“Crack Rock Steady” is a ridiculously fun ska tune, and you might start singing along before you realize just what they’re singing. “Crack rock steady/Are you ready to stop/The rotten blue menace/Let’s go kill us a cop.” But how serious are they? The line “See a frown? Turn that cross upside down” is pretty damn funny, so I don’t think the lyrics are meant to be taken at face value. And is that crack or pot that he’s smoking at the beginning? I’d guess from the song’s title that it’s crack, but later in the song they mention ganja. And in the next song, they seem to be advocating suicide, but again, I don’t think it’s meant to be taken seriously. (Though there are some people currently in power whose ends by their own hands I would applaud.) “Suicide (A Better Way)” is a good song to dance to, to really let loose. “In My Grave” then seems to me a reaction to the false promises and scares of an afterlife. And again, it’s a good song to dance to.

“Money” begins with a spoken word piece by Michael Parenti, that is, a brief bit from one of his speeches (you can hear his audience at moments). And when the song begins, it begins with lyrics I think we can all relate to: “I am sick and tired and my money's always spent/And though their jobs are killing me, their money pays my rent.” “Hate Yer State” begins with some backward vocals. I bought the album on CD, so I can’t spin it the other way to hear what’s being said. An old turntable I had when I was a kid had a neutral speed, and I used to listen to that one section of “Stairway To Heaven” backward on it. That was different, of course, since you couldn’t tell just from listening to the song that there was a backward message in there at all. With this song, it’s obvious. Fortunately, someone took the trouble to post this Choking Victim song backward on You Tube, so you can listen to it there.

There is another spoken word piece by Michael Parenti at the beginning of “Fuck America,” and I appreciate this piece more than the first speech. “I don’t like to use to the word ‘U.S. interests.’ That’s why I wish some other critics, friends of ours, would stop saying ‘we go into this country, we go into that country, we do this, and we do that.’ We don’t do anything. They do it to us.” By the way, the line “Fuck World Trade” in “Fuck America” would later be the title of a Leftover Crack album. “Fuck America” leads straight into “War Story,” which I think is one of the strongest tracks lyrically. “I tried to tell you time and time again/The only war worth winning is the war that’s within.” The album ends with “Living The Laws,” which has perhaps the angriest sounds of the album. Well, actually, that song doesn’t conclude the CD; there is a hidden tune on that same track, a very different and totally delightful version of “Crack Rock Steady.” And before that there is a line from Mother Night (an excellent film based on an excellent book), “They say that a hanging man hears glorious music. I wonder what it sounds like.”

CD Track List
  1. 500 Channels
  2. In Hell
  3. Crack Rock Steady
  4. Suicide (A Better Way)
  5. In My Grave
  6. Fucked Reality
  7. Money
  8. Hate Yer State
  9. Fuck America
  10. War Story
  11. Five-Finger Discount
  12. Praise To The Sinners
  13. Living The Laws 
No Gods/No Managers was originally released in 1999 on Hellcat Records.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Nestor Torres: “Jazz Flute Traditions” (2017) CD Review

Jazz flautist Nestor Torres recorded his new album, Jazz Flute Traditions, at WDNA Studios, but it has the feel of a concert recording. Clearly, there is some audience there, for we can hear applause. Whether it’s a small group of friends, or folks who work at the station, or fans, it doesn’t matter. It gives the recording an exciting and dynamic feel. And the music itself is lively and often beautiful. On these tracks, Nestor Torres pay homage to those flautists who came before him, choosing many compositions written by other flute-players like Moe Koffman and Esy Morales. Joining Nestor Torres on this release are Silvano Monasterios on piano, Jamie Ousley on bass, Michael Piolet on drums and Jose Gregorio Hernandez on percussion. He also has a few special guests joining him on certain tracks.

Nestor Torres kicks off the new album with a rendition of Moe Koffman’s “The Swingin’ Shepherd Blues,” here titled “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues.” This is wonderful stuff, and it put me in a great mood immediately, even before that cool bass solo. The piano intro is a delight, but of course it’s that flute that really works to lift me up and hold me up. Moe Koffman was a flautist (and also played saxophone), so the composition is custom-made for some wonderful work on flute, and Nestor Torres delivers an impressive performance. He follows that with Herbie Mann’s “Memphis Underground,” another composition specifically for flute. That good groove at the beginning is more pronounced than in Mann’s original, sounding like the jazz version of an early Stax recording. Yeah, it’s great bloody fun.  I dig that percussion. The rhythm changes, taking on a much stronger Latin feel as the tune goes on. This track features Miguel Russell on percussion and Ian Muñoz on alto saxophone. That lead on sax is exciting, and the crowd at the studio is certainly appreciative. And toward the end, there is a wonderful section with just percussion backing Nestor’s flute.

“Jungle Fantasy,” written by flute-player Esy Morales, establishes a great rhythm in its opening moments, with piano, bass and percussion. Though technically I suppose a piano is a percussion instrument, and here it is certainly helping to create and keep the rhythm. Morales’ playing on the original recording is extraordinary, and here Torres is also truly impressive, paying homage to the original version but adding his own style. Silvano Monasterios also gives us some great work on keys. Miguel Russell joins the group on percussion.

After that, Nestor Torres plays the first tune on the album not written by a flautist – a combination of pianist/guitarist Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Adagio From Concierto De Aranjuez” and pianist Chick Corea’s “Spain.” It is rather pretty at the beginning, and brings to mind Italian westerns. It has that flavor, you know? It then suddenly kicks in with a surprising force and joy. This track features some wonderful work on piano and bass. “Serenade To A Cuckoo” is another highlight. This one grabs me right at the start with that cool bass line. And then I love the way the flute plays over that line, like adding to the conversation, to the story. “Serenade To A Cuckoo” was written and originally recorded by Roland Kirk, and a few years later covered by Jethro Tull on that band’s first album. Ian Muñoz plays alto saxophone on this track. Nestor Torres combines Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza I” and Eric Dolphy’s “Gazzelloni,” a pairing that totally makes sense, as Berio apparently wrote “Sequenza” for flute-player Severino Gazzelloni. “Sequenza I” is presented as a flute solo, as Berio originally recorded it. And then things suddenly get delightfully, magically chaotic during “Gazzelloni.”

Nestor Torres covers a second Chick Corea composition with “Windows.” I like that the pretty and mellow intro on piano is allowed to go for a little bit before Nestor Torres comes in on flute. This version has something of a late-night vibe, but then suddenly at times it’s like bursts of sunshine come in, and halfway through, it’s like day has broken. That’s followed by a pretty rendition of Cole Porter’s “So In Love,” from the musical Kiss Me, Kate. The CD then concludes with “Miami Beach Rhumba,” written by pianist Irving Fields, John A. Camacho and lyricist Albert Gamse. Nestor Torres begins this one with a flute solo, and it just takes off from there. The group stretches out a bit on this one, with some wonderful solos, particularly by Silvano Monasterios on piano (and check out the playful nod to “Tequila” during the percussion solo).

CD Track List
  1. Swingin’ Shepherds Blues
  2. Memphis Underground
  3. Jungle Fantasy
  4. Adagio From Concierto De Aranjuez/Spain
  5. The Golden Flute
  6. Serenade To A Cuckoo
  7. Sequenza/Gazzelloni
  8. Cute
  9. Windows
  10. So In Love
  11. Miami Beach Rhumba 
Jazz Flute Traditions was released on September 15, 2017 on Alfi Records.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Leonard Cohen: “Angels At My Shoulder: Live 1993” (2017) CD Review

In 1993, a Leonard Cohen promotional CD was released. It was titled Live! From The Complex, Los Angeles, Calif. April 18, 1993, and apparently was distributed to several radio stations. Since then, this recording has been released several times unofficially, on both CD and vinyl. I own it as Coming Back To You, which was released a couple of years ago. And now I own it again as Angels At My Shoulder: Live 1993. The difference is this new release includes three additional tracks, all from the Austin City Limits broadcast from July 12, 1993. I tell myself that I bought this disc for those three tracks, and that’s true, but the complete truth is that I want every Leonard Cohen release, official or otherwise, even if it’s an old release with a new cover. This new CD does include liner notes and a few photos, including one of Leonard Cohen with Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla, his backing vocalists on this tour, the angels of the CD’s title.

The song selections from April 18th are all from Various Positions, I’m Your Man and The Future. The disc opens with “First We Take Manhattan,” with a brief introduction by Leonard Cohen: “Thank you so much, and thank you for the items that you sent me – the monkey and the plywood violin.” This is the opening track of I’m Your Man, which was the first Leonard Cohen album I ever purchased. By the way, the sound quality on this release is excellent. “First We Take Manhattan” is followed by “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” which also follows it on I’m Your Man.

And then we get “Coming Back To You,” one of my favorites. Various Positions is my favorite Leonard Cohen record, for “Night Comes On,” “Heart With No Companion” and “Coming Back To You,” among other excellent songs. I should mention here that the song order on this disc is different from that on Coming Back To You, and in this spot on that CD is “Dance Me To The End Of Love.” But on Angels At My Shoulder, the order is the same as that of the original promotional CD. This is an absolutely beautiful rendition of “Coming Back To You.” “You see, I looked for you in everyone/And they called me on that too/I lived alone, but I was only/Coming back to you.” In this version, Leonard Cohen sings “It’s a hundred miles of silence while I’m coming back to you.” And I love the way Perla and Julie add their voices to the “comfort in the night” line. That’s followed by “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” also from Various Positions, and the song with which Leonard Cohen opened each of the concerts I was fortunate enough to see him perform. There is a radio station identification after “Dance Me To The End Of Love.”

Leonard Cohen then gets into material from what at that time was his most recent release, The Future, beginning with a good rendition of “Democracy.” He follows that with “Waiting For The Miracle.” This version opens with some wonderful work on flute by Paul Ostermayer. Leonard Cohen then delivers a really good rendition of the title track from that album. “I’ve seen the future, baby/It is murder.” The music from April 18th concludes with the title track from I’m Your Man. In this version, he sings, “If you want a doctor, yeah, I’ll uncover every inch of you” (instead of “I’ll examine every inch of you”). And I love the way he sings the line, “And I’d howl at your beauty like a beast in heat.” Yeah, he sings “beast” rather than “dog,” and pauses slightly before the word. The second time he sings that line, he says “dog.”  There is another radio station identification after “I’m Your Man.”

As I mentioned, this release includes three songs from the Austin City Limits show from July 12, 1993. These three songs are from earlier in his career. The first is “Bird On The Wire,” from Songs From A Room. This is a sweet version, with saxophone, and with a wonderful lead guitar part by Bob Metzger. “If I have been unkind/If I have been unkind/Well, I hope you can find a way to let it all go by/Just let it all go right on by.” That’s followed by “Sisters Of Mercy,” which was originally on Leonard Cohen’s first album. This version has two beautiful instrumental sections. This CD concludes with “There Is A War,” and Leonard Cohen’s introduction is included. “About a thousand years ago there was a very brief period of time that is now referred to as the sixties. It lasted eleven or twelve minutes before the hustlers and hucksters poured in, and it has become a kind of black hole in the national cosmos, into which all the noblest and fiercest aspirations of a generation sunk and disappeared. A kind of Bermuda Triangle of idealism. And this is the song I wrote many, many years ago, when I refused that seductive invitation to join in the general celebration of another silly idea.” There seems to be a very slight glitch during this song, at the 46-second mark, but it’s a good rendition, and I like the saxophone.

CD Track List
  1. First We Take Manhattan
  2. Ain’t No Cure For Love
  3. Coming Back To You
  4. Dance Me To The End Of Love
  5. Democracy
  6. Waiting For The Miracle
  7. The Future
  8. I’m Your Man
  9. Bird On The Wire
  10. Sisters Of Mercy
  11. There Is A War 
Angels At My Shoulder: Live 1993 was released on August 4, 2017.